THE WHITE ROAD

I am walking along the dazzling ruin of a road I knew
When I was fourteen, summer, and the days stretch out
Like the road itself, or like that song about a road heading
Somewhere far off into the unseen and the one walking,
Caminante no hay camino, knows he’s come upon his life
Rising up to him in white quartz macadam and heat-haze.
Along the slapdash shoulder a few almost teenage boys
Are shaving down stalks of goldenrod in afternoon sun,
The better to whip the heads off weeds, or whip each other
Before nothing much calls them to loiter off elsewhere
To Grossi’s Junkyard or the Shale Pit or, today, saunter
The dirt lane down to the Lower Lake where in three years
Dante Tedeschi will fashion a ramp out of cast-off
Plywood and scrap, aiming to accomplish something
No one has dared before–to tear down Heart Attack Hill
Past Hendershot’s house, in full view of the ball courts,
The beach where Patty Curiale, all glistening skin and breasts
In her string bikini, suns her blonde self, her feet dangling
From the wooden dock; or she’s out on the raft readying
To dive with a lithe grace into the unseeable-into-murk
Of the middle of that dammed up pond we called a lake–
Which is, approximately, the medium into which Dante aims
To take flight, hauling from the hill top at top speed
Toward the ramp he’s sturdied beside the bridge, as if
He were on his father’s Harley and not some souped-up
Almighty Schwinn, its raised handles, its roll bar,
The flared banana seat, as though this were a road bike
And he some mythical Easy Rider twisting the hand grips
To gun it beyond sound or sense into a catalytic future.

We called him Boone, even our fathers called him Boone,
Our mothers, arrayed in neon polyester like kitsch
Statuary outside their jerry-built summer houses—
Coolers of beer and whisky sours all evening long
Under citronella torches, weekend parties that made
The rounds from porch to patio while their children
Wandered off. Here he comes now, Dante aka Boone,
With his incongruous swagger and coke-bottle glasses,
Twirling a cut-down stick in his left hand that he now
Pretends is a Louisville Slugger he summons to swing,
A dead pull hitter blithely turning on the invisible,
The fastball deposited somewhere deep in the vetch
Across the sweltering pitch and glitter of the White Road.
His laugh was a kind of rapid-fire staccato, shuttling
Between a case of hiccups and a howitzer, unfettered,
Pure enjoyment admixed to a purer derision.
Like when, playing chess on Garrity’s lawn, he’d stare
Expressionless at his opponent’s spread of forces, pawns
Advancing, bishops slicing slantwise over the squares,
And in no time their Queen taken, King checkmated,
So it shot up uncontrollable, infiltrating the canopy,
The shade trees sheltering the picnic table, echoing
Off the rusted shed: that impishly jocular spattering
Of genius immodestly, no surprise to us, surprising
Itself once again with its own manic and rarified life.
Always he attained whatever he desired, slaughter
On the game board, sliding catches in left-center
On Power’s Field, even the soft-limbed Patty of dreams.
He’d take her nightly to Schuman’s porch, the house
disused, or abandoned, the rest of us pent and waiting
With the unkempt fevers of our bodies that longed
To trespass beyond their churning borders. Like a spoon
Slipping into honey, he’d say, letting his simile float
In the air awhile among us like a fraying wing of smoke,
The blazon of his carnal knowing.

 

He was first to go,
The buzz coming by phone one winter evening
After those summers had disbanded to intimations
Of more necessary longings, for jobs, for departures,
The bullet passing clean through his skull at a sister’s
Wedding, the trigger pulled by the groom’s hand.
What he had done or said, none of us would come
To know, though all of us could hear inside
That rapid fire laugh, haughty, untamable, and saw
His shambling, self-assured walk as in a heatwave
Off the White Road, Dante alias Boone, in saddle
On his Schwinn wheeling breakneck from on high
Down Heart Attack in the mind’s would-be perpetual
Now, hair flying, pot-holes loose gravel be damned,
Down to where the rigged ramp rose upward above
The waiting lake, our crowd of bored numb-nuts cheering
As bike and rider flew treacherously up into the air
And out beyond the shore, and disappeared—circlets
Of waves radiating out like visible ticks from a clock face,
Slowly softening into nothing one by one by one
As we waited for the quick-eyed, impudent head to rise.

 

 

Daniel Tobin is the author of seven books of poems, most recently Belated Heavens (winner of the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry), The Net, and From Nothing, as well as the critical studies Passage to the Center and Awake in America: On Irish-American Poetry.  He is the editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: Selected Early Poems of Lola RidgePoet’s Work, Poet’s Play and The Collected Early Poems of Lola Ridge (Spring 2017). His awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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