blackbirdonline journalSpring 2015  v14n1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Lodge: A Lyric Essay

When the Sleepwalkers at dawn finally stumble into their rooms, or slump over the steering wheels of their hubcapless Impalas, the seagulls land and become a landscape over a landscape, as snow does: a contour line, a living topography of the Budget Inn on the corner of N. Lombardy and Brook in Richmond. When the flock lifts, it lifts at once, proportional to its placement across the steep roof, the cars, and open lot, so it seems something essential, even soul-like, rises—the way in movies a ghost flickers over a body at death: superimposed blue, see-through and shining: confused, maybe even smiling, until it looks around and sees itself, or who it was, there, on the ground.


I dreamed I wandered lost in a city in only a lace nightgown, a blanket over my shoulders. I’d escaped a high-rise hotel after an elevator crashed into the basement, a column of fire rising and lashing through the steel doors on the top floor, the stairs blocked by avalanche. I don’t remember how I got out, and therefore wasn’t sure I had. (Was I a ghost? a projection?) I came to on a sidewalk in a deserted part of town (the buildings boarded up, the garbage in heaps on the curb uncollected) without knowing where I was or where I was going. But then I found my car double-parked, running, the key in the ignition.


Frank Zappa wanted to buy up billboards along the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System and plaster them with two words: DOUBT EVERYTHING


Today, two suns: one in the rearview, one in the side mirror. The meter money rattles in the door to the bass drum on Feist’s “The Bad in Each Other.” As I turn a corner, my shadow laps me.


I drive from Richmond to Raleigh, Raleigh to Fredericksburg to Gettysburg, on two-lane highways for two days. I keep my notebook open on my lap to write down the names of motels I pass, partly because they’ve devolved from Technicolor postcard destinations with mod geometric signs, to roadside slumps of peeling paint and mediocre marquee promises, housing stereotypes and imagined meth-dens—and I admit, I love ruin, and therefore, seeing them, a quarter plunks into the vending machine of my heart and down drops that generic American Nostalgia—

* Waterbeds *

Clean Room  *  HBO




Travelers Welcome
Micro Fridge

Vacancy / Single Double / Color TV

—and partly because they seem like my late anxieties become totem: unrest, excess, (anonymity).


Driving from Gettysburg to the Baltimore Amtrak, I listened to a Hopkins radio segment on the link between sleep cycles and depression. A neurologist advised listeners emotional health could be improved by turning off the television and computer at least two hours before bed, as electronic screens emit a blue light whose rapid frequency fools the body’s circadian into thinking it’s a time for wakefulness, a bright re-beginning.


One summer, at age ten or eleven, I couldn’t sleep and so watched the full run of Nick-at-Nite, Lucy at nine to Mr. Wizard at five, sucking on Mayfield banana popsicles and chipping away at Rita’s Italian ices with a tongue depressor, crawling beneath the uncurtained back windows from the den to the kitchen so no one, no intruder surely there, could see me. My mother, severely depressed, slept all night with a hair dryer on to drown out noise; she held it like a drowsy cowboy on watch with his gun. I was terrified, and rightly so, of fire, and so I stayed awake, for when I closed my eyes I saw her shadow moving down the hall, eyes aflame, smoke sibyling from her mouth.


The insomniac speaker of Larkin’s “Aubade” is terrorized by this thought:

The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,   
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

For three years I’ve had bouts of nighttime terror: about my ten-year-old half brother’s death and my diagnosis of stage IV melanoma a year later. With cancer, it helps knowing where the cells are; when one doesn’t know, Not to be here, one feels one can’t control it, contain it.

With my brother’s death, my great transgression—which I grieve but cannot help—has been to imagine his body underneath the soil, in his last Halloween costume, a Superman uniform, the premortem atrophy turned postmortem decomposition. I wish he were ash. Not to be here, / Not to be anywhere, so that he could be free again to dwell in thought.


When dark times loom, we cliché. Night is coming. Whenever we have hope, we cliché. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Both used as metaphors for the approach of death.


Once a black bag was wheeled out of the Budget Inn. Police tape cracked like a whip in the wind. Another time, another day at the red light, I look through an open door, second from the end; inside, a shirtless man with Manson-esque beard and hair, danced in front of the television rabbit-eared to the news.





(some recent favorite church marquees)


My mother tells this story:

The father of my first best friend, the preacher at the Grace Reformed Baptist Church, asked me, age four, if I’d died that day, where would I go, heaven or hell?

I answer again and again in the retelling: My mom doesn’t let me go places like that by myself.


Miscellaneous roadside signs, line breaks original.

Girl Staff




On an unsalted stretch, bested by ice, I submit to $51/night and color television at the Boston Inn in Westminster, Maryland, the only place open. The incandescent light reviving a moth’s orbit that had stilled in the darkness preceeding my artless entrance on the chain gang of shadows, anxious and shaking. My pack slumped on the chair. The odor fecal, of cigarettes. My mind wanders: Whose knees were burned on the geometric carpet? A hole melted into the bedspread’s vanitas of flowers. The dead bolt latches but the doorframe’s busted, gold chain thin as a necklace. My tire tread caked in snow.

On the lobby RCA, a football game in whiteout conditions in the snowy reception of antennas where we lose the players in a huddle.

Entering this room, I enter a room inside myself with four corners and a human form, crouched in a shadow the bathroom light falling on me and falling on me again in the mirror. I want to hear the form speak to me, my own voice echoing off the tile before I leave with a refund, but as I recall absence can only be heard by dogs.


Weeks apart, I drive past two abandoned churches. First, a one-room wooden with peeling white and copper-green paint, broken glass windows, on Mt. Olive Lane in Southern Virginia. Alongside the No Trespassing signs, a little one:

The Wedding Chapel

The other’s outside Biglerville, Pennsylvania. I barely got a look at it, except its yellowed marquee:



Bachelard: “It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.”

Which is why it is better to live in language rather than out of language.

But a word might change us, our landscapes, our movements, how we see our country, literally and figuratively. As if by traveling on the interstate, we might actually move between states of being.


On our way to see our first place in Richmond, we got lost on a street that was the same name as the street we were supposed to be on but didn’t connect to it. As we were driving, slowly to see the numbers, I caught sight of a woman on the concrete porch of one of the craftsmen. She had on several layers of skirts in autumn colors, a peasant shirt, her hair wrapped in shimmery purple. She looked like one of the vintage coin-op fortune tellers, a gypsy, although I have never seen a real gypsy, and worry now even calling her that I’m buying into America’s greatest product: cliché.

She beckoned to us, waving come in, come in, come in.


I fantasize about inventing a downloadable voice setting for GPS: VIRGIL™ who might provide us with more insightful directions. Ex. You will leave everywhere I guide you, we hope.


A partial concrete list of my abstract fears:

Vibrating bed. Shag carpet. Blacklight forensics. Synthetic waffle batter hissing on a press at the continental breakfast. Candy bars in the minifridge with the little bitty bottles of Jack. Bedbugs. Plastic mattress covers. Oily telephone receivers. Bedside table Bibles. Peed-in pools. Sticky and/or stained sheets. Fist-sized holes in the wall. Bullet-sized. Busted-in door frames. Snapped door chains. Snuff films. A friend’s coke cut on my bedside table. Thin walls. Thin doors. Peepholes. Hair in the drain. Unidentified fluids. Unknowns, ineffables. Unspeakables.


The preacher, I remember, had a waterbed.

Was it to be more like Noah?


I’ve always sympathized more with the unnamed thousands, millions who died in the flood, who didn’t believe Noah or in the coming apocalypse. I like to think they weren’t jaded with God but rather hopeful that they would keep what they had, that they wouldn’t get washed away. Their bodies are never mentioned, not during the flood. Not after the arc lands. I like to think that those people lived, a kind of Calvino-esque city, a world under the surface world—permanent against the changeable winds, the temporary currents.


So many of the old tourist motels outside of Gettysburg National Park are now low-income apartments. Often, driving home in the early evening, I’d spot residents in the parking lot igniting charcoal in a scrap-metal grill with lighter fluid.

A baby draped over a shoulder like a rifle.

A car hood up.

Or no one at all.

One still has a vending machine, the only light for a mile.


Before my mother married him, my stepfather—addicted to pain pills, recovering with pain pills after a car wreck caused by falling asleep at the wheel after a handful of pain pills—lived in the Extended Stay America. We would bring over beef tips and baked potatoes from Steak-Out and eat them out of to-go Styrofoam, Law and Order on the television.

Before that, we lived with my father near a cemetery, the thought of which, lingering just beyond the dark shape of the woods, would keep me up at night, as if ghosts could travel underground and rise into my room like radon. I had recurring nightmares of tombstones erupting through the floorboards.

A cemetery seemed then as much a transient space as a motel, or a mobile home like where my husband grew up.

These places seemed not to create life, but carry it.


I pass an empty field bordered by trees, a tattered billboard in its center:

Future Home of the

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