When people see writing going on in a Shoney’s or a
Cracker Barrel at 6:30am in a state like Tennessee, fair weather,
post deep night, the moon a rocking egg, a silent hum originating
from almost-smiles spills out over the room like a bottle
of Sugar Bee honey tipped over. It’s not so much about
the writer, sitting there, pensive, hunched over tossed salad,
the sun creeping up into the window frame next to him like
a mischievous thirteen year-old learning how to not make a
sound around Mom and Dad’s room, with the door slightly
jar, coming home from a night that included her first beer,
a pasture of cows, and the prospect of a first kiss. It’s
more about the act of writing, the physicality of it, that
subtly attracts attention. First, the table for four behind
the booth you’re in notice, most likely when a little
after they’ve sat down and ordered the breakfast buffet.
Then, when you go on line for more bacon, a cute young lady
with a middle part offers her spot with a smile. Maybe, it’s
like having a magician in the room, a clown on lunch break
at the family party, or a dirty thought in church. Maybe it’s
like opening the door for the boy who just walked an old lady
across the street. Whatever it is, it’s sweet and sticky,
goes great with milk, and has nothing to do with the writer.
What I like about Tennessee is that you can smoke anywhere-
before meals, after meals, between meals, between bites if
you have to. I think it has something to do with the circulation.
There’s an ashtray on every table this morning and not
a scent of smoke pervades our nostrils when we down our hash
browns. There are no visible fans, either. Home of the free
and the brave.
But there is the menu and the waitress says it sounds like
this: “pork chops eggs tripled over light scattered
smothered and covered” “steak and eggs medium
well over light scattered and covered” “1/4 cheese
double plate scattered smothered covered peppered in like
two out like one.”
Most of this country is made up of land. Land, of course,
is made up of countries, lots of them, and in those countries
are states or provinces, and in those are towns, villages,
so forth and so on. This prompts us to have last night’s
discussion of atomic universes all over again. Substance,
we derive, is organized matter- things brought together. And
what about the time between collisions? Can you pass the ketchup
please? What does that say about our distance to Pluto or
how long it will take to get to Memphis from here? Mornings
after full nights spent driving are filled with questions
that leave us as balanced as an old barn built on a hill more
than a century ago in the dark.
Last night, we stared at the giant poster billboards like
they were some secret tenant houses for undercover aliens.
The way we see it, two guys driving south through the country
to visit an old friend in Memphis spent a whole lot of money
and put up one long poem divided into lines on every billboard
advertisement they passed- one line per billboard. Together,
they created the penultimate poem. When the aliens came, they
were fascinated by the abstract congruency of the project.
They took to studying it, reverted everything back to normal
afterwards and made it so any memory of such an event had
be respective locals and travelers would be erased, and have
used the advertisements as dorms ever since. The guy behind
Timmy doesn’t believe us, either. Look for yourself
- if you dare.
The trees are satellites. The night is a foil. Somewhere through
a hole, an egg rocks and is split imperfectly by a sliver
of black aluminum. The light bulb is inside the lampshade.
Thinking of this, we pass billboards illuminated with misplaced
stage lights, this belly of the country, the levitation of
a ghost (silo-colored, reddish hues), the dirt overturned.
We leave for Nashville.
The reason has a splinter. The witness has been beaten. Each
region has its winter. Some are colder, some are warmer, and
some are almost dressing warmer.
It’s lunchtime in Nashville, Sunday, the day after Christmas.
Apparently, there’s a game on- Titans maybe. The Market
Street Pub is dark and so is the beer- dark hops the leprechaun
(who happens to be a farmer with overalls in these parts)
must’ve sampled because of the wicked skip in his step.
The waitress is sweet and the bathrooms are clean the way
ashtrays are in new cars. I order a cheeseburger with a side
of barbecue and eat the whole plate when it comes. Somewhere
in Nashville, someone with a moustache is clapping while number
nine is dancing in an end zone and an instant replay stands
for an encore. Somewhere in Nashville, there’s a river
with a carousel next to it and a bridge over it. Somewhere
in Nashville, someone’s still asleep, but it’s
unlikely though. Most people here are waking to the brighter
colors of a blooming city before the opening day of the season.
Merry Christmas, Nashville. Happy Birthday, too.
When a writer gets going, into the world of words, it’s
a lot like sitting near the Christmas tree and wrapping the
presents. You tend to get into little runs where you forget
about numbers and time and what’s for dinner and work.
You’re too busy bending corners and measuring each ribbon
with the eye, stretching, and tightening- a mantra of wrap.
We’re on the music highway riding into Memphis, now.
Tennessee is the home of giant, oversized, franchise, family
restaurants. They surround Memphis like a team of hired bodyguards,
beefy on top, but secretly, and sometimes even on duty, wishing
themselves in some other place or some other thing (perhaps
their cousin, the factory outlet?). There is a flea market
and there are signs for it from the road. There is a lot of
out of use farm machinery that looks like artillery in cold
weather. The troops are on call, just in case.
A man in a super market standing on a checkout line of three
is arguing about what amounted to be sixty-two cents. After
about seven and a half minutes and two managers later he says,
“It’s not worth it,” and swallows the loss.
Someone is waiting for you, so you continue.
The foothills of mountains are gigantic dinosaur feet blazoned
with treetops of hair the aliens told us. Do we really have
to come all the way to the top of the Smokies to find traces
of a white Christmas? Do my ears really have to pop? I could
make a few snowballs out here and leap around like a cougar
or some mountain cat with eyes the color of bark and a memorization
of the symphony of the falling. This is where the dream splits
in two. 1. The sign said “Dangerous Waters,” and
I wanted to take a picture of Tim squatting on the bank under
it. This river had a dam. We were minutes outside the Atomic
Speedway when we both noticed our old conversation dancing
in an arena with hundreds of gnats, the contours of their
outlines visible like tiny halos in the sunlight. There was
no one watching, no one in the stands, just the sound of wings
spinning, folding into themselves, motion weaving, until I
looked through them into the light embracing the hill, and
the shapes were gone. 2. A sign for a quiet walkway in the
Smokey Mountains states that a short walk on this easy trail
offers close-up views, subtle aromas, and the serene quiet
of a protected woodland. You will be walking in one of the
last great wild land areas in the east, but you won’t
need a backpack or hiking boots. Take your time. Have a seat
on a rock or a log bench. The trail has no particular destination
so walk as far as you like and then return.