for Steve on his 27th birthday

If you had hesitated
I wouldn't have come.
As it was
I packed my faded flowered skirt,
some blouses and a bathing suit
and off we drove
across the continent.

Each morning
I'd bring you coffee
while you lay under your red car,
tuning it up.
You loved its engine.

On the pebbly shore of Lake Erie we picnicked.
Disturbing, a sea with no tides.
I told you stories
of when you were a baby.
I laid out my childhood for you,
and the lives of your grandparents.
You talked of the Amazon,
the jungle that spread its green flourishes in you.

On the banks of the Mississippi
we ate catfish in a diner
—fried puffs of air. The waitress
pretended to think I was your date. She said
she could listen all day to our accents.
The father of rivers swirled and flowed
and turned to myth before our eyes.

By the Platte River, you read Mark Twain to me,
and in Nebraska
I wept to see the covered wagon tracks
still crossing the prairie.
We drove through starry darkness in Wyoming
across fragrant sagebrush plains.
The little town we finally stopped in
was black and shuttered from one end to the other,
except for the cardboard hotel. For some reason
we spent most of the night drinking whisky.

We reached Salt Lake City one sunset:
a Turner sky, mountains and clouds on fire —
tender azure going to rose, to gold,
to lavender, and, as we passed, a state trooper
handcuffing a hitchhiker.
On the shore of the Great Salt Lake,
sepulchre-white, huge boulders spelled out names:
Lisa, Ruthie, Ann. We never found out
the deeper meaning.

Approaching Reno, the landscape
became sinister. Was it the casinos
lining the only street of every town?
The hotel where we lunched
glittered and sparkled and rang with gambling.
You lost a pocketful of quarters.
There was no daylight anywhere.

At last, the Sierras.
Would your little car
make it up the mountains? We gazed,
enthralled, at the side-routes for trucks
whose brakes had failed.
We imagined them going on forever,
flying frictionless down the mountain.

After a week on the road
we reached the coast and your college.
I flew back in one day.
Looking out the window, I saw
we were crossing the Mississippi.
I knew then how fast our lives go by.