Heartland

Matthew Bailey

There’s an old road that traces

what’s left of 66 and crosses the Red Sea

of the plains, lost to the ever moving

traffic of the great interstate veins

crisscrossing America’s breasts.

Kicking up rusty plumes in my wake,

I once left the well-trodden lines of the contemporary

map and drifted to this all but forgotten place lost

amongst the relics of yesteryear, tucked away

with worn technicolor postcards

and the American dream.

Remnants of the Roman roads, the desolate

ruins of asphalt stretched to the horizon

and led the way to an ancient place

housed at the center of bygone years.

A loan winking stoplight illuminated my path and

the skeletal remains of something I couldn’t quite place

my finger on, lingering in the brick and mortar of

abandoned storefronts and just beneath the worn lines that

guided the way.

As dusk settled, I couldn’t help

but feel the closing of the eye, the dying

of a town whose looming buildings

have been abandoned by everyone

save a handful of hermits cleaving to

an all-consuming ideology

faltering in the hands of Modernity.

Hesitating at the light, I saw a figure

moving in the stillness of the lonely

intersection, breathing life

into the lifeless for a transitory moment so brief

I would have missed it had I blinked.

In the shadows cast by the rural dangling lighthouse,

I slowly made out an elderly gentleman

clad in a plaid shirt tucked into

a tattered pair of Wranglers spilling

over worn brown boots resting on the soles of

feet that had been everywhere.

In that darkened, dilapidated expanse, we

caught each other’s eye and I traced

the sunbaked wrinkles carved into

his neon face

glowing orange in the intermittent

flashing at a nexus between nostalgia and death.

In the midst of that moment,

shared between travelers from different worlds,

the man raised his arm in a gesturing wave,

his limb remaining outstretched, gingerly prodding

the fragile amber atmosphere,

beckoning for a reply.

I returned the motion, but the mirror image rang hollow

and I could see a soft frown form on the visage

of the keeper of this town.

Reflecting on that instant, strange and shared, I am left

with the image of a man who seemed to be

offering less of a greeting

than an unspoken question.

But the world forgets and the engine starts,

taking us far away from the forgotten,

slowly erasing their lines

for the cityscapes of anonymity.