The Canadian writer Dionne Brand says when you go on a trip, you leave the table, the book on the table, everything behind; the book and the table know you’ll be an entirely different person when you get back.
That’s hyperbolic even for a poet-traveler like me. And yet, a little road trip across New Mexico and Texas has affected me; the strange beauty of the American desert has me saying, ya know, maybe this place isn’t that bad. (I guess I am a different person).
There are cities — humans in their settlements — and suddenly there are none. You strike out ahead on the straight and narrow into myth, the road and its companion big sky. You speed by land that is patterned with strange geometry of desert yucca, reoccurring over and over so that what you just passed is what you are still seeing. Bleached out, quiet. Empty scruff with shifting colors and light. Little tufts of cactus sprout on the bald land, dead but full of life. The road.
We were seeing ghost towns and big sky and lots of road. Baby antelopes feasting on desert agave, on desert willow and scruff.
When the land gives way to settlements again, one wonders about pressures that shape the human. We came to Roswell, a town where people swear UFOs landed. Out of town, a scent rises over the plain — stockyards, cattle squeezed into small spaces, then oil rigs and pumps. Then the relief of groves of pecan trees. The peaceful desolation on the sage desert gives way to industrial ravage. Boomtowns like Carlsbad sprout from the business of fracking, and people are slick and giddy with money. I’ve never seen so many trucks or ads for liability lawyers (“Get burned in an oil rig? Call the big guy.”)
The faces, the drawl, the ten-gallon hats, the gang of four cheerful sheriffs coming into a wood-paneled joint for their breakfast of huevos rancheros; even Tony, the Trump enthusiast who wanted to buy me dinner — all make rich the human landscape along the strange road.