Elizabeth Whittlesey


The Highway Is Beautiful

The stock that betrayed us was not agape,
but afterthought, affluence, and aggression.
We’d started a magnificent counterpoint
between the botched imaginings of our elders,

and the unheeded hindrances from the past.
Rolled in the chorus: it rots, and it rotted; it just
wasn’t working. But what slouch my slouch
has yearned to match, what mussed hairs,

whose stance at the curb in the cold? I, too,
have wanted to be joined. I have wanted
to enlist some in my service. I asked my doctor
about adjusting my parents’ genetics;

I prayed for forgiveness of others but received
only forgiveness of myself. I prayed for four
roses and got one lily and three cacti, but these
commiserated better. “Shut down the river

at its brisk mouth, cement to the magmic core
the ripples of salmon pushing upstream for the end
to finally reach to the end of movement,”
we heard some executives suggest, we watched

as secretaries xeroxed such proposals onto multi-
purpose paper. I found I could only congratulate
the cricket hidden in my carpet for filling
the summer room with the immense sound

of one tiny friction. I could only congratulate
the dust mite in my eyelashes for working out
a gargantuan survival invisibly at the hands
of a giant. The audience applauded wildly when

the presenter concluded “we must celebrate plastic
surgery, the greatest achievement of our time,
which has given us the ability to offer immunity
from individuality to a greater number of individuals,

which, studies have shown, can greatly increase
the flow of self-esteem—and sunlight—to the brain.”
I’m not sure this is doing the kind of work
you want it to. He says, “The mall has a length

the immensity of the great Abe Lincoln’s shadow,”
and her psyche turns to him: “Why trammel
the one remaining invisible gray flower—shadow—
by sullying it with monuments, compromise,

commerce?” There’s no way it would have ever
worked out between them. The highway is jammed
if there is a highway. The highway offers infinite
freedom and possibility if there is no car wanting

to get somewhere on it. The highway is beautiful
if there is a man walking along its shoulder dwarfed
by Shiprock’s landscape before him. It is a good
workout. And not pity, with its condescension,

nor material provision, with its unsubstantiated
angel claims, can marry happiness to happiness
like an umber sandstone canyon. I think this
could work well here: the night sky. Possibly

it could do the work you want it to if you just
move it. Do the three stars in the hunter’s belt
always point to the right way, even if north
is merely the agreed-upon point of reference?

I think this might work if you end on an image.
I endangered many by turning off the headlights
in order to see the night sky stars after having been
so long in the city. That night, every reflective

roadside guide resembled the eye-shine of a rabbit
hunkered in the grasses, or a coyote investigating
a carcass, or an elk that could leap out at any moment.
Or the elk that did. Now, of an earlier time,

the famous historicist said, “It was over,
so I went under.” And of this time I say,
every cap on every bottle now seems much
easier for me to tighten than to loosen.


Dialogue

Whiffle-breath conundrumming
Is a kind of happy drum machine
With which to slapstick one’s self
To insanity.

Incomprehensibility
Has always been my flavorite
Of smorgasboards (O you naughty-hoo
Who found the ‘orgasm’ within that!!)
I’ve busted out my red satin corset
Of finest material and I am confident
We shall soon blossom into persimmon.

Uch, mater, all this ‘materiality’
Is making me sick. I’m over it—
‘The word is not the thing.’
The word is not the thing
But I use it to get the thing, so
Is this or isn’t this magnificence?

[He lightly caresses her ear at the corner table]
“The frost may make this year possible,
By which I may mean sorrowful,
For both have three syllables.”

Then crank out some delight-crunks, cranky,
A green chunk to put here, an oily blue one there.
But won’t you let me phloof your maddening
Palette and make it soft to lay my head upon?

Poof! What can I say?
From here in my sandbox I play,
Spitting out my well-meaning gravel,
By which you can’t possibly know
I mean a peach tree, or its pits—
To suck to spew the succulent juice,
‘Tis mine all mine to bite to taste!

Guitar case without the guitar.
Strummed G-string without the G—
Merely to pluck?—Good luck!

(Regarding me, they kept saying I was
Many, but I could find only one: a dog
Shaking its coat in violent paroxysms
To find the water still there.)

But prove to me your thesis cinnamon
And I will do the shuffle-dance for you,
And all may be forgiven—
But without rejoicing:
All of us in our little silver capsules
Harrowing through space with no one
To tell through our windshields about the stars.