Interstate 5 Ode

By Craig van Rooyen

To adopt a highway, say
between Kettleman City and Coalinga,
you don’t need to love
the shorn stockyards or the Holsteins
drowsing in the haze of their own stink. But it helps.

You don’t have to sing
to the rows of uprooted almond trees
next to the angry sign about the “Dust Bowl”
Congress has created.
You don’t even have to believe
“Jesus Saves.”

To adopt a highway, you need
only walk its shoulder, bending from time
to time for a plastic lid
skewered by its straw, a pair
of pantyhose with reinforced toes
and a crotch thicket of goat head thorns.

When you come upon
a ruptured suitcase at the center of its galaxy
of intimates sprayed across two lanes,
look both ways before stepping
onto the scarred asphalt to harvest
the cloth pieces, worn soft on a stranger’s skin.

To adopt a highway, say
between Avenal and Chowchilla,
you don’t have to listen for the inmates
on their side of the gun towers or
even remember their names, the ones
whose sins you spoke aloud to cover your own.

If you walk the shoulder long enough,
stepping over roadkill gore and
tire carcasses, your face may dry up
and Haggard may rise from the heat shimmer
to sing his creosote songs; and still
you need not let the lonely in.

But it helps. To adopt
a highway you must walk
through the fumes of a spent afternoon
looking for its leavings. And if you’re lucky
a red-tail will swoop ahead of you in the dusk,
a hawk-flame lighting post after post.

Craig van Rooyen holds an MFA in poetry from Pacific University. He lives and works in San Luis Obispo, CA. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Narrative, Rattle, Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. He is the winner of the 2014 Rattle Poetry Prize, and runner-up for the 2018 Auburn Witness Prize.

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