Before Phoenix

Michael Rodriguez

Michael Rodriguez

This submission is in response to the call for the theme of The American Road, in coordination with the MSU Broad's exhibit Interstates of Mind. Michael is a librarian at MSU Libraries and part of the MSUL Short edition team.

Miles and hours in that
hot, tiny cab through Texas, New
Mexico, and now Arizona to
the West. For two days you've
fought an evening sun so
fierce you almost couldn't recognize
it or yourself in its path. Occasionally
during the day you've pulled
over, balanced a camera on the hood
of the truck, tried to pose yourself
in front of some impossible desert
scene that reminds you of Jesse
James, some grim spaghetti western,
or the Marty Robins you play in
the cab. You think you'll somehow
look different in these photographs
and you want to mark the change.

Before Phoenix the sun dips
so low over the road that even the
visor and glasses won't help. You
squint like some vigilante who's
got tough on his past, on his midwestern
root, his failures, fallen love. Everything
is behind me, you tell yourself. I'm a
going West, goddamit, and I wish
I had a gun.

But this shoe-leather countenance
cracking in the unfamiliar dust and
black tar and soon you're looking for
some respite to pop out of the emptiness,
a place to wait out long enough
for that big orange ball to dip behind the
mountains, and maybe look for something
to drink, plan the next stop.

You're expecting the one-pump
station with the old man out front having
his chaw, some tumbleweed passing
through, a few howdy strangers. But you're
thirsty and'll settle for this convenience
place with the computerized pumps and
the showcase souvenirs. You find the
fountain drinks that slosh endlessly in
their sweaty glass tanks and they look foreign,
dark, a little dirty even, and you ask the boy
in front of you for help. He gives you a
stranger's look and answers in Spanish,
a language you've heard all your life
but never learned.

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