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Peter Cooper

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Cross Country
by Peter Cooper

Friday, November 30, 2001

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           >> View all 28


I

The clouds limn crimson
as we turn our backs on San Francisco
gaze above the long away mountain tops
like Amsterdam hookers
in their second and third story windows
the neon winking away the day

Two boys sit like gold
in the stone miner's wide pan
they smile as we approach
to snap their picture

they know their worth



Cathedral fortresses
etched by the sharp, immutable fingers of god
climbing the levels of white, red, grey
some rock, some stone
sparse green clinging like minor worshippers
to reach these often flat-topped
sometimes craggy spires

"This is a good place to bring someone
who doesn't believe in God,"
you say

Scarred and designed by aliens
the flat granite canvas hangs
behind the Rockville cemetery
spitting its mineral stained teeth

there is no reasonable explanation



Scarlet pagodas
pyramids painted in the subtle striation of eons
the ages of rock
carved by ancient water
constant winds

Pebbled promontories
leveled flat by the heavy steps of gods
gone with their parishoners
the air sings their warm songs

up ahead
a greater canyon awaits



The land is their temple
where they worship silently, unseen
instead they pump gas
make up rooms
for the heathens driving through

But behind their eyes
burns the flames of parents
and grandparents
the long line of others
that have arrived at now
through them

Look in their faces
and they will turn away
avert
protect the past
accept the change of the present
while the future gurgles in their loins

They are New Mexico
Arizona
the children of Yellow Horse
themselves moving like golden ponies

knowing eventually one of them
will become chief

while the others wait in line

II

The cold will expand the crack by winter
this rock borne star in the windshield
will trace across this driving sight

They say if you touch it often enough
it will turn to stone

and so it is with one's heart
after so many fingers
so many eyes
clawing into this beating wound

fighting for access through
your hands
your legs

rumpling the dark flowing hair
of your real beauty
on their way to find this misunderstood treasure

I do not blame you for not loving me
(at least not all the time)
all across your face
I see the measure of their trespass

your fences torn down
so early in childhood
you were convinced it was their right
to poach upon your sweet furry creatures
this herd of warm emotions

Even the one who bought a license
killed over the limit

and now you stare at me
with stone eyes
mocking my simple, law-abiding nature

when I hug you
I hold rock
when I kiss you
my lips hit granite
when I smile at you
there is no reflection

reduced to Neanderthal reactions
Cro-Magnon moments
I stumble around the entrance
to this cave where we lived
looking for traces of former domesticity

In the days before this glacier's arrival
we hunted laughter
chipped away at each other's flint lips
making a cutting tool out of our sex
waited for the honey of our together
to ferment
so we could lie languidly
in the sun

Noting the features of those hidden gods
outlawed by the clouds
heard in the rustling whisper of the wind
through ancient mustard in the grass
drinking their sacramental blood in drops of rain

The ice age is over, gone to stone

III

The awful decisions of life
never correspond to the wishes
of the heart

and as we drive across the ancient ruins
of erosion by eons of wind
and now invisible rivers

the continent barely forgives our trespass

This is a honeymoon in reverse
a long trip to celebrate an unnecessary divorce

we are not married
did not stand before a judge
or jury of gods
made no vows

simply accepted the stunned offering
of being together, together

But the landscape retells our times
the Nevada gamble of ever touching at all

the Salt Lake of old bitterness
we tried to drive so quickly past
Zion, the narrow walls of monumental nature
that surround each of us

The great and deep canyon
which now separates us

the long stretches of clay
reddened by spilled blood
and the arid desert whose hot winds
tangled our hair
dried our eyes

burned our hearts

This honeymoon will soon be over
as we arrive at opposite ends of a long tunnel
through a mountain neither knew existed

There will be no decree
no divvying up possessions
no announcement in the newspaper
no family to inform

no gifts to return

IV

Charleston bobs in the pool
his round Navajo face
be-frogged by orange goggles

one stick of a boy from South Carolina
dives a silver fish
cut through the chlorine

Two others -- brothers
white as the moon
circle the cement perimeter
amazed that two other fourteen-year-olds
should be so small

"We come from Chingling, north of here"
Charleston says
as we grasp the edge
kicking our feet

across the corner
you lean your head back into the water
your hair becoming a dark, collapsed flag

You wonder why I speak to the boy
I wonder why you won't speak to me



The baby in the Tulsa cafe
wears a Japanese head band
light blue ribbon
poking like a frozen sun flower
above her eyes

In her grandmother's arms
she tries to focus on ceiling fans
a dark-haired woman smiling above a magazine
and the black bottle track lighting
that surrounds the room

Her mother's yellow blouse
catches her attention
her father's purple shirt
blooms across the way

This is her garden of dyed cotton
and lip-colored smiles

Nestled in the crook of her mother's mother's arm
she waits for the first scolding
will disbelieve it when it comes

V

Asleep first
I awaken as you come to this
bed of an uneasy truce

we travel side-by-side
sleep side-by-side

yet face out away from this togetherness
at opposite angles

Tonight
drunk with beer and the soak
of a warm water pool
you reach out one of your magic hands
your foot caresses mine

I cannot tell if your sleep
is real or feigned
but my fingers come alive
and travel the hum of your drowsy sense

Around the thumb
between forefinger and middle
I begin to eat, digest
the rhythming hum of your insides

After slow excruciating minutes of touch
I roll toward
reversing the opposing angle
take your thumb in my mouth

is it the pleasure or dream
I hear in response from you

One finger at a time
deep in my mouth
I close around you
as if my jaw were legs
working at the bias

Now two digits
wet inside me
now three

like a neon nub
one of your breasts escapes the sheet

A spider
my hand webs across
begins to spin this new meal
but not for later
only now

In the dark
your right nipple grows larger
red without danger
your ribcage expands
widening arching

Slipping under the sheet
my fingers find your ardent left breast

this nipple grows

Is this what you want from me tonight
after these weeks of silence

I am beyond understanding
caught within an old forgotten hunger

I have no moral to match this moment
only touch

The spider hand crawls down your stomach
(your sweet plane)

between your legs
the hair is a brittle covering
your legs move apart
as my finger slips the tangled nest
to find the bulby ego

Now my face
my vagina mouth
penis tongue

you water my cheek
irrigating the abrasions of shaving
with a cheap double-blade

Your hands pull me up
and I moisten dry breasts
with your own liquid

My real penis enters
but the long drought creates an immediate explosion

Your hips pull shuddering out of me
a long, pulsing dream

it seems as if you have almost awakened
almost said yes
nearly said no

I kiss your cheek
caress your face
it may be that you wanted me
it could be that I have just raped you

I dream of turning myself in

explain to the shadowy police
that though we were once lovers
we are no more

and I cannot explain sufficiently
why we are traveling together
why we are sleeping together

But if they want to send me to jail
it's okay

as far as I can tell
I'm already there

VI

You rise at the sound of first voices
it is six-thirty
hours before your eyes normally open

The calamine on your legs
makes you a pink leopard
the pierce in your eyes
makes you a darker cat

It is the end of another night
of angry sleep

me naked
you in your cotton dress

The voices pull you downstairs
I roll over

Last night I suggested cortisone
for the angry welts
bug-bites
rising up your ankles like a slow plague

"It burns," you say
before returning to the bathroom
and scrubbing with a cold washcloth

Earlier on in the drive
between Salt Lake City and the Grand Canyon
a sore on your mouth frightened you

"I don't think it's herpes" I said
(referring to your one-night stand
with the nearly ex-husband
the day before we left)

"It's too soon"

At least these sores on the leg
have a genuine, identifiable source

They are all over my legs too
but I am not as sensitive
I don't need to scratch

I can wait for them to heal
on their own



You return at 9:30
smiling, a third of the way back
to where we once enjoyed each other's company

"How was your friend?" you ask
of a high school pal last seen
two decades earlier

"Rich, successful, now a grandfather"

You laugh
(he and I are the same age)

"You don't mind if we leave Wednesday?"

"No," I say, and it's true

We are staying with your sister and brother-in-law
in easy comfort
after camping and bad motels

You look at me, smile
"Can I borrow a lot of money?"

"How much," I say, "I don't have a lot left"

"Seventy-five dollars,
Linda and I are going to get tattooes tonight"

I nod
"Sure, but I have to go to the bank"

"I'll pay you back when I get home,
I have $150 left in my savings account"

Again I nod
we both know that your savings account
was money to be used to get a place
maybe together

It would be so easy to pin you to this point
or casually wonder aloud at how nice you are being
after a week of sullen harsh treatment

But that poison is not within me

We are both far away from the mutual humiliation
of your small material needs

"Would you come down and have a cigarette with me?"
you ask, rising from the bed

I dress, noting your sister hanging laundry in the yard
knowing that I will smoke alone
and still find a way to slip you the money
unseen, later in the day

VII

We leave Tulsa
wade dark pavement to St. Louis
where the Mississippi
is supposed to be flooded

But we find only an ordinary
summer's evening
listen to a public radio talk show
where poets read
laugh about their minor success
at being on a radio station
with only enough wattage
to reach the outsirts of town

We fade with them
drive through to Columbus, Ohio
where you buy a cigar from an East Indian woman
who excites you

I laugh as we sip espresso
on the steps in front of the courthouse
in a struggling downtown

This journey across America
is nearly finished

So many times I have traversed
this country's midsection

wondered at the mystery of being alive
of being unsure of my patriotism

blamed so many women like you
for my subtle miseries

realize that you
like each before you
are really innocent

realize
that I am innocent

the guilt comes with travel
the forgiveness with staying
in one place long enough to breathe

long enough to know
what can only be known by staying

VIII

We arrive in New York

Smokestacks eat the crimson sunset
as the long away spires
argue mountains with my stigmatic eyesight
neon winks with tired humor

Two towers sit like boys
in this Dutchman's panorama
no smile as we approach
and a toll taker snaps our picture

What is our worth?

Three thousand miles
were enough to seal the end
of this doomed relationship

Part of me loves you
for this trip

Part of you hates me
for our arrival

There is no truth within either
about any notion of an us

I park the tired car
in front of your parents' home
consider leaving without saying hello to them

Your fear of this place
is my parole

to touch you in the future
feels like an ill-considered crime

like driving away
without saying good-bye

like just driving away
without a word

Chaos Refreshes the Structure
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Reviewed by Suzianne 7/10/2002
Peter, This journey drew me in like slides from anoher person's trip along roads I once traveled. I enjoyed glimpses of the familiar with the fresh perspective of another's lense. It is an echo of the universal experience that traveling is hard on relationships. Somehow, the miles change us, as though the backgrounds of mountains, farmland, cityscapes, etc., each cast a different light on our traveling companions. By the time you cross a continent, you have seen every aspect and have tired of that person, and pray for a quick, clean get away.

Excellent visuals - you described well without lapsing into cliches. The effect was almost wistfull. Very well done.

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