Friday Poem

On the Pennsylvania State Road Atlas

I didn’t know where we were going
But that, I guess, was our goal.
He would say only it was time to go,
Saturday afternoons before he died.
Chambersberg. Bedford. Lockhaven.

We got in the car and drove until
It got dark, exits sounded exotic,
And a few turns found a stoplight,
A drive-through and a hotel.
Tarentum. Nazareth. Warsaw.

He knew that taking your leave
Takes practice. I remember headlights
Pulling us between two rows of pines,
The stiff smell of cleaned linens.
Shay. Freeport. Saxonberg.

But what did he tell my mother
Sundays when we came back?
“I want to wet my feet and wade
Into not being John of Swarthmore.”
Palmyra. Burbank. Spring.

I want these words to be the map, not
To steer him home but to get me back
To a town off I-80 where no one stops
Except relatives and whoever can’t go on.
Milton. Mifflinburg. Scotts Run.

I want to return to two beds, a curtain
Outside which windless rain fell,
The highway whispering with travel,
His sleeping breath, steady, certain.
Drakes Mill. Transfer. Mount Joy.

by H.L. Spelman
from Blackbird, Fall 2011