Rattlesnakes! Exit Now!

November 18, 2009

For Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Written on Amtrak; posted in Cincinnati in a gorgeous empty train station

I see a highway sign on the Montana plains. Curios! it says. Western Moccasins! The rest is gone before I can record it, and I am reminded of a poem I wrote while traveling through the west as the signs yelled their messages across every scenic vista:


W-OZ, 2005

The roadside barkers shout


only ten more miles to world famous bones

meteorites fireworks snakes and items galore

see the buzzard the rattlesnake

the buffalo the genuine arts and crafts

the world’s largest turquoise fossils live ostrich

blankets three for twenty-four t-shirts four for ten

authentic moccasins for the entire family

only here hillbilly figurines dinosaurs

FREE petrified wood FREE coffee FREE Pepsi

best prices lowest prices discounts bargains cheap

beware false discounts!!! only five more miles to

ride the rabbit sleep in John Wayne’s room

visit Chief Yellow Horse see the wolves

walk inside a teepee tour a real hogan.

Martians welcome. Take pictures now. You won’t be sorry.

And I hope not

for even the whisper of the trees and

the gentle murmur of flowers and fields

can overwhelm me.

Clouds call their differences from high in blue, blue skies:

wispy strings of Halloween spider web or

piled upon themselves in whipcreamed lavishness.

Sunsets cannot be ignored. And mountains?

Incredible, I write. Incredible.

And how to see it all? I long to see it all, really see.

But blink or drift or daydream and a sight a state a memory

is gone.

This current train trip is taking me back to my fears that I will miss the very things I ought to be seeing while I am distracted by the shiny objects of fascination. I know that this is related to my sometimes-not-so-easily-overcome perfectionism. When I have a paper to write or a project to complete, I am endlessly delighted by unexpected connections that appear during the research process, and I find it difficult to stop searching, certain that I will uncover something crucial in the next source I look at. Stopping and getting on with completion is an ongoing struggle. I  know from talking with other students that I am not alone.

I wrote in my journal during our trip across country that “the road is relentless, mile after mile of onrushing possibility. We have barely begun what friends and family call our trip of a lifetime and I am overwhelmed. I thought this coast-to-coast trip would give me time to wallow in uninterrupted creativity. Instead, ceaseless interruptions fly by the windows.” They are doing so now. There is too much that fascinates and distracts me.

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, is home to the Torture Museum. There it is, right across the tracks, a plain white building shouting its purpose in black capital letters several feet high. The train only stops for a couple of minutes so people can detrain and board, frustrating since I’d love to visit. The conductor warns of trackulence and I wonder if this is a word that appears in the dictionary or if this is Amtrak lingo or if he made it up, and I write it down so that I can check when I’m online again. (Note: The computer just changed this word to truculence without asking. You have to watch these machines carefully.) I see an umbrella factory, my second since the trip began and I wonder why I don’t remember ever seeing one before in all the miles I’ve traveled. Now I’ve seen two. These are not important things, but who knows when or where I’ll use them?

What distracts you?

What you’re looking for isn’t always what you find.

• Overheard in Cody, Wyoming, August 2005




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