Route 66 Blues
Outside Tucumcari the road is straight and flat.
I fix the needle on 65 and drive west. The cool
desert night lingers into the dawn, so I roll down
the side window and rest my arm on the ledge,
as Dad used to do. My contrail of dust swirls
through roadside sagebrush and tumbleweeds.
The radio station fades to static, so I tune to another
with the same twang of heartbreak and regret.
News breaks seem irrelevant here. It starts to get hot,
so I crank up the window, thank the Almighty for A/C.
Most of the time, there’s no car ahead or behind.
Just me. I could acquire the habit of solitude here.
Beside the road there’s a pickup truck with no tires;
it just sits there, corroding itself to a rusted hulk.
Road signs are perforated with bullet holes.
A faded billboard hypes nutritious Wonder Bread.
The sign for a store has a four-digit phone number.
I’ll need gas soon, but the first station I come to
has old glass-top pumps and ethyl posted at 35.9¢.
Ahead there’s a diner and gas. After I fill up,
I wipe bug splats off the windshield and grille.
A sign in the window of the diner says Lucky Lager,
and I’m thirsty. Hungry, too. The dyed-blond gal
behind the counter is 40-something, has a smoky voice.
She passes my order of burger and fries to the cook,
opens a beer, slides a bottle of ketchup along the counter,
and says to call her Lil. I leave a good tip, and press on.
Before the interstate, this land had no limits, but now
everything has moved on into the salmon sunset.
After a while I come to a motel with peeling paint
and no cars in the court. A flickering neon sign
says Vacancy. I pull in. My sciatica’s acting up.
I’m not as young as I used to be, but then,
neither is anything else. Time to call it a day.
Reprinted from After Hopper & Lange
Dempsey & Windle, 2021