I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror
By Agha Shahid Ali
By dark the world is once again intact,
Or so the mirrors, wiped clean, try to reason. . .
This dream of water--what does it harbor?
I see Argentina and Paraguay
under a curfew of glass, their colors
breaking, like oil. The night in Uruguay
is black salt. I'm driving toward Utah,
keeping the entire hemisphere in view--
Colombia vermilion, Brazil blue tar,
some countries wiped clean of color: Peru
is titanium white. And always oceans
that hide in mirrors: when beveled edges
arrest tides or this world's destinations
forsake ships. There's Sedona, Nogales
far behind. Once I went through a mirror--
from there too the world, so intact, resembled
only itself. When I returned I tore
the skin off the glass. The sea was unsealed
by dark, and I saw ships sink off the coast
of a wounded republic. Now from a blur
of tanks in Santiago, a white horse
gallops, riderless, chased by drunk soldiers
in a jeep; they're firing into the moon.
And as I keep driving in the desert,
someone is running to catch the last bus, men
hanging on to its sides. And he's missed it.
He is running again; crescents of steel
fall from the sky. And here the rocks
are under fog, the cedars a temple,
Sedona carved by the wind into gods--
each shadow their worshiper. The siren
empties Santiago; he watches
--from a hush of windows--blindfolded men
blurred in gleaming vans. The horse vanishes
into a dream. I'm passing skeletal
figures carved in 700 B.C.
Whoever deciphers these canyon walls
remains forsaken, alone with history,
no harbor for his dream. And what else will
this mirror now reason, filled with water?
I see Peru without rain, Brazil
without forests--and here in Utah a dagger
of sunlight: it's splitting--it's the summer
solstice--the quartz center of a spiral.
Did the Anasazi know the darker
answer also--given now in crystal
by the mirrored continent? The solstice,
but of winter? A beam stabs the window,
diamonds him, a funeral in his eyes.
In the lit stadium of Santiago,
this is the shortest day. He's taken there.
Those about to die are looking at him,
his eyes the ledger of the disappeared.
What will the mirror try now? I'm driving,
still north, always followed by that country,
its floors ice, its citizens so lovesick
that the ground--sheer glass--of every city
is torn up. They demand the republic
give back, jeweled, their every reflection.
They dig till dawn but find only corpses.
He has returned to this dream for his bones.
The waters darken. The continent vanishes.
Sunday after spending the morning and having brunch with Todd, Stephanie et al, we drove into Oklahoma, stopping for lunch in a wooded rest stop and eating the rest of the chicken Stephanie had barbecued for us the night before as well as some of her cheesecake. We then headed directly for the KOA in Clinton/Elk City, with a brief stop at a Cherokee trading outpost where the kids were thrilled to find toy bows and arrows. So I had two people who thought they were Legolas shooting at plastic targets in front of our cabin. We took the kids swimming, heated canned spaghetti over a gas burner because there were no open fire pits, and I fell asleep ridiculously early while the rest were out taking showers.
I woke up at about 1 a.m., walked outside and saw a thousand times more stars than can be seen in the suburbs; I always forget what the sky looks like in the middle of the prairie until we're back there, and then it's incredible. I was afraid I would wake everyone if I went to get my binoculars, though, and something medium-sized was digging in front of the cabin next to ours, so I decided to go back to sleep and save star-watching for Devil's Tower. In the morning we saw the biggest grasshoppers I have ever seen -- at least four inches long, with legs another inch or so -- and the kids found lots of larva casings on the playground before we left.
We drove to Amarillo, TX for lunch, where we ate at a Subway that was less than a mile from Cadillac Ranch. We'd been following I-40, which follows old Route 66 and in some places covers where the older highway used to run, so many of the same tourist traps are still there. Cadillac Ranch consists of ten Cadillacs planted upright in the ground by a group called Ant Farm in 1974; the tail fins had been painted black in memoriam for artist Doug Michels, one of Ant Farm's founders, who died two weeks ago, but the cars were already covered with new graffiti and tributes to Doug. Besides this stunning display of Americana and the yellow soil for which it is named, Amarillo is best known for being the site of an atrocious battle between the US Army and the Comanche and Kiowa nations who were refusing to be sent to reservations in Oklahoma, though there are maybe 100 words about that on the proud Texas historical plaque by the Texas Trading Post.
The geography changed fantastically as we drove: from slightly hilly and grassy in Oklahoma to completely flat and treeless through the upper part of Texas, with only scrubby bushes and cows to break the monotony. Then as we entered New Mexico it became hilly and drier, until we were seeing huge mesas with red and yellow stratified rock covered by a variety of evergreen with which I am not familiar. There were antelope grazing at the side of the road as well as long-horn cattle, horses, and occasionally prowling hawks. The kids decided that we should watch Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron as we drove in honor of the landscape, so that was my soundtrack through eastern New Mexico.
After a brief stop in Clives Corner for incense, taffy and beaded necklaces, we drove through to Albuquerque, where the overpasses are decorated in southwest colors and designs -- dark pink with blue trim, mostly. We took the kids swimming at the hotel and ate boiled Thai noodles for dinner (suites pay for themselves on long trips by making dining out unnecessary!) I snuck out to get Paul an anniversary card for the next morning but could only find cowboy and cowgirl cards -- oh well! We talked briefly to my Uncle Mickey, whom we are meeting in Las Vegas in two days and then seeing again in L.A. over the weekend, and wrote postcards. I had forgotten that we would gain an hour crossing the timeline, so the sun remained up forever, it seemed.
In other news I finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the car, loved it, thought it was better edited than Goblet of Fire and while I didn't think it was either as tightly written nor as creative as Prisoner of Azkaban, this is the first time I've wanted to read one of Rowling's books again immediately after finishing it. Am sure I will have more coherent thoughts on it when I have more time to think coherently, which is difficult with kids around 24/7. The day before I attacked OOTP behind my kids' back as I am supposed to be reading it aloud to them and not rushing ahead, I finished Dan Brown's Digital Fortress, which was a good fun thriller but already dated and nowhere near as creative as Angels and Demons or The Da Vinci Code. Next I'm going to read Jewish women's mysticism to review for GMR.
And I have not written a thing besides these trip reports. Sorry, no fic. Heard about Hepburn, made me sad but at the same time she had a very long, full life.
I did get a message from my doctor telling me that he had my full biopsy results and that my mole was in the moderate range for abnormality, meaning that it likely wouldn't have caused any real trouble for 5-10 years but he still wants to biopsy the surrounding tissue and take a closer look at pretty much every blemish on my body. I'm somewhat out of the mood to go to the beach in L.A. unless it's raining. We are having a replay of our weather in England -- gorgeous, sunny -- so I am glad I did not complain about all the rain in D.C. in the spring.