I’m currently working on a suite of poems called “See America.” The title is taken from a series of drives my family has taken over our lifetimes. Each poem centers on a particular drive, whether short or long, deep in our histories or of-the-moment, but each is filled with incident. Some of them are historical relics and contain imagined moments that members of my family might or might not have experienced. Others are specific to experience. All of them deliver our family through good and bad times.
Our father has always referred to these trips we’ve taken as “See America” trips. I had no idea where this phrase was derived from until this winter when I asked him. It was coined by his mother, who took my father and his brother on a cross-country journey from Los Angeles to Niagara Falls in 1947 – the summer after their father suddenly died when they were young. They criss-crossed the country and, according to my father, had an extraordinary time before their lives diverged again with college, sports and a new husband for my grandmother.
See America: Los Angeles to Niagara Falls, 1947 is the first poem of the suite and is imagined from my Grandmother’s point of view..
Coming from fragrant rows of citrus,
This small band of travelers, my sons,
Aching for a lost father in the fall.
We’re driving out, buds have borne
Tiny fruit no bigger than my thumb,
And me driving, driving, driving, away
From what we lost, away from the fetid
Fields and trees of diminished dreams.
The stacks of wood can wait, the
Garden will lay fallow, the gophers
May run rampant over empty acres.
The boys of ’46, one close to the bone
Of leaving, the other, a bucket of
Bewilderment and need. I found my
Husband slumped to the floor and
Two days later he was dead and gone.
It is time to see America. We’ll leave
The angels of our city, through
California’s heart, the swaggering
Heat and my boys, arms sailing,
Bringing the wind inside, renewing
The dwindled furnace of home, into our
Old Chevrolet, riding high the highways,
To Niagara Falls through this desert and
That forest, long, flat prairie stretches
And farms sending up barley shoots and
Wheat, the endless stretch of sky and
Cirrus smoke above and in the coffee
Shops and roadhouses where we’ll eat.
Oh boys, this last freedom summer lies
Before us, the ache of letting go in all
These miles, songs over the airwaves,
In truck drivers faces, waitresses, farm girls,
And women carrying their families aloft in
Their dreams, their needs, their fingers
Touching the pulse of their lover’s necks,
Future fathers of boys becoming men,
And their part in it. Through the underbelly
South, salt marsh islands, Chesapeake,
Williamsburg, our history encased in a
Marble city and along 95, Independence
Hall, the cracked bell, battlefields and
Turnpikes to the great granite canyons
Of New York. Ending at Niagara Falls, where
Lover’s dream and families begin, we’ll
Renew ourselves in water’s tumbled mist.