I imagine. I imagine I am hovering just below heaven, looking down on the earth lying quietly in the darkness of its own shadow. Looking down, hidden from the sun, to witness man discontent with the darkness, and his inventing of light. His fires, created or stolen from nature, the consequence of lightning and dryness, the divine manifestation of that singular holiness in the sky, broken off and fallen to earth as power and control, kept and reverently stoked, smoldering slowly in a sacred lacquered box, full of more problems than Pandora's.
I watch as man's fires flicker and expand into the darkness of the unknown, within which community is forged both to survive and enlighten, where language and, through language, art become the accidental occurrences of community, art then a consequence of survival. Watching as those fires are slowly tamed, flattened and thinned, poured like liquid lightning into tin containers and aluminum boxes, and flickers to life again in imitation of human form, captivating surely as its cousin had millennia ago.
Fire is the heart of technology, beating in the chest of each angry machine; the life blood of revolution; the crude cousin of electricity, a poorer relation whose coal inspired furies fund electricity's smooth transduction from power grid to homestead. Now fire and art flicker a thousand generations later in the darkness of the known world, a darkness in which there is no space for the gods, fires grown large and bright prod it ceaselessly leaving little space for the mysterious or divine that inspired us to capture the light in the first place. A darkness now that is no larger than the living room of each unit, eerily familiar, camp-fire companions long abandoned for the solitary comforts of our inviolable spaces, wedged tightly between strangers on either side, laughing and crying with familiar strangers made of fire and glass, whose history and association are limited to a half an hour one night a week, until they make syndication, sitcom heaven, and I am inundated with their stories five nights a week at seven and seven thirty.
I imagine all of this hovering just below heaven. Experience as translated by the abstract and arbitrary clusters of lights reaching weakly upward and outward in electric desperation, a kind of photometric Braille whose surfaces are interpreted by my eyes and translated into the voice of fire as amplified by the machination of man.
I take all of this in, the intensity of this luminescent topography burning into the backs of my eyes, these cities scattered across landscape rendered empty by the blindness of darkness in contrast to the ever-burning omniscience of cities, its dynamic and varied landscape flattened into nothingness by the all consuming, ever-hungry dark, only momentarily alleviated by the flickering flame for an evening by a candle or an eon by the sun, every flame is eventually extinguished and the darkness goes on, unquenched.
So I stare, and stare hard. Taking in all of the light that I can, its memory necessary when my flesh gives way and the darkness swallows me, but can not consume completely, because of the memory of light. I take it in, my eyes wide, full of light until there is blindness, until the light becomes a darkness, until nothing is distinguishable. The presence of complete light a blindness itself.
Darkness. Almost. Between me and the dark is the memory of light, now inverted, hanging like a translucent silk screen separating me from the distance. I consider this image, a thing in my periphery, a will-o-wisp that I must not chase, but instead observe without looking. I discipline myself, and observe these dark places-turned-light by virtue of the negative values of my eyesight, the exhaustion of rods and cones by the unrelenting intensity of the light, so that those unaffected, those resting in the darkness, come to accidental prominence, incidentally highlighting what I hadn't previously noticed.
These dark paths measure the distance between glowing points, thin strings of asphalt across the dirt that, if plucked, might vibrate, giving off a low and melancholy note, a flatted fifth that does not belong in any respectable scale, but is a necessary sound bridging the distance. Focus on these thinning distances, victims of an ambitious light, where I attempt separate myself from its glow, some fragment of the star chipped away, flaked off and thrown out ahead of me, reflecting the road where there is nothing, but the asphalt and the paint, the only reminders that I am neither the first nor the last, but the only.
I am on the far side of the heartland, moving through the broken hearted land, through these lanes of darkness, the nation's veins and gutters where its food comes from and its garbage goes to. Wheel country, where miles are marked by mid-city metropolises, truck stops and silos, miles of frontage road and irrigation, crop dusting and corn rows. The strip of road between the fields, the expressway where speed and distance exist as the long sighs of uninterrupted tedium, the near constant sound of rubber against the road, the sound of constant impact, replacing the hard sound of hooves that once carried in the opposite direction in eager exploration of a savage land now tied down by concrete and steel, veins opened pouring out coal, salt, silver, gold, and oil used to finance and create this new artificial geography laid across its top: a leash or a cage.
This is the broken hearted land where the sky tells the story, and the houses merge so poorly with the landscape. This is the road which is never a destination, but the long, hard consolation of having-a-place-to-be. The strange assurance and calm of purpose in I-am-going-somewhere, and the hard reality of direction and motion without physical responsibility, of incredible distances covered in a single day at the helm of the beast with fire in its belly, of incredible exertion without tiredness.
But there is a ghostly exhaustion in travel, a stiff sore emptiness at passing so much and seeing so little, being seen so little; moving through worlds without interaction, strictly a passerby, an uncounted un-included member of no community, only a citizen of the road, despite the concrete appearances of my driver's license. The consequence of being neither here nor there, part of no life at all, having left one behind, about to begin another. The weariness of invisibility that takes away something in exchange for its powerful anonymity, punctuated occasionally by piercing moments of powerful resumption of responsibility when the officer asks for my identification and the illusion of fading away forever is punctured completely.
Perhaps it is the hard certainty of destination that so tires, its thick gravity ultimately inevitable. The hard consolation of knowing there is somewhere to be. Hanging loosely between one point and the next, belonging to neither, a soul in transit is a tense type of freedom. At the mercy of the surroundings, praying to Saint Christopher through cell phone static, and the idle caprice of shitty truck stop telephones. Piercing the surface of the scenery for a moment to lie submerged, bathed in grease and heat, wondering how people can still be allowed to smoke indoors. Succored by the tenderness of coffee and chemically preserved road side rations, by café waitresses, never as ugly here as they would be in the city.
Then, caught staring, one foot still in the dream, I am suddenly aware of my unintentional left coast sophistication, aware that my knowledge is of no use, that my car, parked outside, is of little use, its sleek lines no faster than the landscape, almost plain without the stark vertical contrast of its usual urban context. Here, among the momentary detritus of the highway, I am symbolic of what is wrong or right with what I accidentally represent. Suddenly a cipher with no words of my own, I have only my consumption to mark me, emblematic of technology or sophistication or culture or money as they see fit. As saint or sinner, the excesses of style and culture contrasted against the hard work and no-nonsense attitude of a pragmatic people suffering slow starvation at the hands of a mechanized giant whose heart is made of crystal and whose brain lives near the sea. Just like that I am myself again, aware of my presence and my limitations, who I was, who I am, and who I am going to become. To be, as Berkeley said, is to be perceived.
This is the sharp joy of the wheel: to become aware of myself, to appreciate more fully the contrast between the slow churn of the soul against the ragged red teeth of the passing desert, an introspective froth that fills up the silence between the wheels and the road. To pull off the freeway full of this foam, these idle crystals grown on the road, to be filled completely with myself, all body fallen away into invisibility, and then to stop and enter into physical memory, to become aware of who I physcially am to these people staring at me in the gas station because there is nothing else to do while the earth coughs up another fifty gallons of fuel. To become aware of the thin physical shell, less than an inch of flesh between me and their organs, to become one more tired traveler, another sad sack of bones passing through, unaware of the subtleties playing their way through the dining room, much less the community.
And then I am gone. The meal is consumed, the plate is empty, and the car is full. There is a moment of rest as the boulder reaches balance, pausing for a moment at its nadir to enjoy the novelty of stillness, sighing once and burping before rising from the vinyl seat to pay the bill at the counter, scribble a tip to the waitress, maybe more than usual because of the rings beneath her eyes or the way I heard her other tables treat her. The reason doesn't matter, and neither does the money; it's ghost money, hardly tangible, almost invisible, and certainly never seen again. Money paid to Charon, necessary tender for my safe passage, a small offering to those under the protection of St. Christopher: road-side saints cleaning toilets and waiting tables. Because these are the only road-side shrines left, blinking 'food and gas' well into the night. Because out there is nowhere, not somewhere, because in-transit never was a place. Because if we believed it was the journey and not the destination, things would be different out there, but we don't, and they're not. So I leave a little extra when I tip, because I can, because I understand what it is to be a stranger everyday. Then I'm inside my car again, almost invisible, up the
on-ramp and onto the freeway, striving as quietly as possible to disappear