American Zen

is sitting for twelve, or twenty-four, or thirty-six hours
in the cab of an 18-foot Ryder rental truck
until our buttocks begin to rot.

We move and meditate
behind the wheel at the same time.

My friend is leaving Flagstaff for Chicago
where streets and basements flooded
for the second time this summer.

He’s searching for the place
to make his family happy.

Some things I can’t figure out:
how, at 5 a.m.,
desert roadsides in New Mexico look like water

in the distance as sunlight slants off
candy wrappers and crushed beer cans,

or road signs in Oklahoma: for instance,
Hitchhikers May Be Escaping Inmates
and Don’t Drive Into Smoke.

Of two fatigues I can feel,
this morning I feel both.

I mistake the prison for a motel.
There are few rooms anywhere else.

But the foldaway’s springs and foam mattress feel so sweet,
I know why the Villa in El Reno is
The Friendliest Motel in Town.

When we stop to fill up the truck’s tank,
I eat shrink-wrapped beef jerky
and watch the moon rise

out of barbed-wire fences,
remembering Han Shan

who left all his possessions behind,
moved to Cold Mountain
and took its name as his own.

“The poor travel light,” I mutter
to the attendant pumping gas.

He stares me into the need to pee.
Walking around back
to the one working rest room,

I see the license plates on wrecked cars claim
Oklahoma is OK.

An Indian leaning against the urinal turns
and asks me if I want to buy some hubcaps.
For a moment, he looks like Han Shan.

I shake my head, thinking, “Poor bastard,
we’ve all but forgotten you.”

Like any man, he shakes himself dry, zips up
and begins to disappear
in the roadside smoke,

holding his thumb out like a mark of punctuation,
exclamation point or half of a parenthesis,

hoping to hook up
with anyone who’ll take a chance, stop
and offer him a ride.

:: Antonio Vallone, at GistStreet online

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