I’d examined the photograph hanging
above our master bathroom’s toilet.
The contrast of black and white
gave depth to the desert landscape.
I wanted you to take me West. Help me escape
where the sky slapped itself down
like a blue slab onto flat earth,
or where mountains crowded the horizon.
You’d driven cross-country four times.
Saw more of the states than I could imagine,
and I envied you. Take me, I’d begged.
Intrigued, you smiled while I pulled
a map down from the closet’s shelf.
I unfolded it like a quilt across our bed,
highlighting routes that headed West.
I didn’t care about the price of gas,
and laughed when you worried
that our baby might forget us.
Please. We could leave her with your mother.
Once you agreed, I spent fifteen dollars
to get feathers in my hair. I dreamed
of being Cherokee. Of meeting Anasazi
at Mesa Verde, channeling energy
from the Four Corners. I wanted to buy
jute-soled shoes because rubber soles,
I learned, disconnect us from the Earth.
My head buzzed with excitement,
and soon you picked up your old
Epiphone, plucking and fumbling
at melodies your fingers had forgotten.
We decided on a ‘campfire playlist’—
songs you’d learn for the trip.
I joined you in singing hits by Brandi Carlisle,
Jeff Buckley, and Ryan Bingham.
July, you’d said, when the wildflowers bloom.
I yearned to be like you, an old soul,
full of cynicism and free from naïveté.
I thought of the man I never met:
his drugs and wanderlust, blond ponytail
and rough beard. That life’s in a box, you’d said.
Pictures, letters, and fragments kept
contained neatly in cardboard, smelling
of incense and cigarettes; an elegy.