Here are the places we’ve traveled.
To the valley in the palms of my hand. I place them down against the ground and feel the road vibrating through my skin, up my arms. The hum of it winnows its way into my bloodstream, through the musculature, into my soul. One night years hence when I’m singing to my newborn daughter, the back of my throat pulsating with the lullaby, it will come flooding out, rocking her awake and calling my name, whispering to me from the deep hollow inside my bones.
It will say: Come.
But I have a home, a new family.
The road will not give a fuck.
The interstate highway traces the map of my body to my inner thighs.
Here, when I’m almost thirteen and wearing the one and only bikini, crimson and white, that I will ever own. I only wanted to go swimming, to look like the other girls, to be admired by the boys. But Daddy said no. We are different and here’s the proof: red scores in long, tapering lines like track marks only it is not heroin but the road that leaves them there, gouged out depressions I try to hide. Branded like cattle, the marks from the uneven furrows on the bed of the truck, blazing like proof of where I belong.
In the legend in the corner of the map, stars are for cities but in reality, they sit beneath my eyes. I cry new ones each time we leave a city I like. I laugh each time we find a new town, even though I know we will not stay long. Stars on the map are shallow pools of near violet, half crescent moons full of things I’ve seen and forgotten as we rode–standing treasure like the sandstone monoliths carved by wind and time in the Garden of the Gods during our drive through Colorado. I still have the photos, me and my siblings sidling against the pink hued walls like teen fans posing with their favorite musician, the camera snap and whirr, the silence of an apathetic divinity.
A narrow path circles around my arms. Here are the curving lanes of the Pikes Peak highway careening through the Rockies. At each switchback I am sure the truck will fly out over the crevasse, an imaginary road to obliteration. Sometimes I would welcome the change, the disruption. But this the road knows. It has always known and it will not let me go so easily—no matter how much I pretend otherwise.
Tucked under my arm, faithless Rand McNally and in my Daddy’s hand a cup of coffee in 1980s Styrofoam. Suitcases in the trunk. Momma and six siblings. We are all portable, transportable, lightweight, unstationary. Our life is the road and movement is the only name I know.
Down the middle of my chest, that singular, sculptural breastbone my one true highway—to heaven or hell is irrelevant. The journey comprises the only destination worth mentioning. But I don’t cry too hard or laugh too much because in the end there is no escape from the only home I will ever truly know, the one where I am always that wandering nomad; a girl, unspooling.
Across my shoulders is a desert highway as wide as the Mojave, as quiet as Death Valley.
Remember the story he told us as we crisscrossed the desert floor? The girl abandoned in the night, arms and legs severed, crawling inch by inch to find the road. I understood then that the road leads nowhere but on and on–incessant, inescapable, infinite, unraveling, meandering, indifferent and heartless.
One day I will have built a home, birthed a family on the other side of the world. But still the blacktop of a narrow country lane in the backwoods of Georgia will call my name and I will obey. Because the road is like a parent, irascible, abusive, never satisfied.
And I am its child.