See America: A Suite of Poems

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.

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3 thoughts on “See America: A Suite of Poems

  1. Hi Tom,
    Do you remember me from Bennington? I hope so! I am writing to ask if you would be willing to send a poem to be published in Flights, Sinclair Community College’s creative writing magazine. I am guest editing for this fall and have been asked to invite my writer friends to forward a submission.

    Flights regular editor, Jamie Dunham, is an award-winning poet and graduate of Bennington’s MFA program. He has turned Flights into a delightful literary journal. He has published the renowned poets Nin Andrews and David Lehman along with others whom you will recognize. I hope you will submit one of your poems along with a brief biography. Our turn around time is short since we are hoping to have the next edition published by September 8th when school starts.
    Best,
    Adrienne

    Adrienne Cassel, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor of English
    Sinclair Community College
    Dayton, OH 45402
    937-512-2896
    adrienne.cassel@sinclair.edu

    “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey

    • Hi Adrienne,

      Of course I remember you! What a nice surprise to wake up to on a Sunday! And, of course, I’d be happy to send along a poem or two. Should I send it directly to you or the magazine?
      Thank you for thinking of me, I really appreciate it!

      Let’s keep in touch!

      Tom

      • Hi Tom, Oh good!! Yes, send it directly to me @ the sinclair e-mail address. Thank you! I enjoyed the poems on your blog. I am going to be in Tacoma, WA in a few weeks. E-mail me at pilgrim257@gmail.com and let’s trade info so we can at least meet for a coffee. Thanks again for sending a poem. I am also trying to find Christine Holland. Do you keep in touch with her? Her old e-mail is not working. If you know where to find her, let me know.
        Best,
        Adrienne

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