My eyes cannot see enough, cannot take in everything so crisp and burdened with meaning: blue glint on the train track’s steel rail, half-demolished building, sunset over an alfalfa field. Every single thing a brilliance. The skin of the world I am hungry for.
The last thing standing in the demolished bank is the vault. The last time I see Pittsburgh, it is from a bridge. The last time I run from the cops, I am in Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, I share a bed with a line drawn down the middle of the headboard in permanent marker. I live in half. I am blowing bubbles on the quad the day my grandfather dies, the last class of that life. He hears me tell him he can go, but he cannot speak back.
I ride by men lifting weights in their driveways on the side of town I have been warned away from. The fish fry shack is on the warned-away side of town in central Illinois, and who knows where they get the fish from, but the train tracks dead-end in a field by an old depot where I stop to watch the shrubs growing through its gaping windows. A yellow-hot summer day with bike chain links printed on my calf in black grease. Every slow-rolled street is a texture to memorize, all the seeing there is to do.
Midnights, I ride in figure-eights through the intersections and practice skidding the back wheel in an open-air arc; I carry the bike up the stairs on my shoulder, go home to my three empty rooms, but they are mine, all mine, no line down the headboard, and I am keeping a promise to myself so who cares about having furniture. I ride dead-down the middle of the streets, in the orange grin of streetlights, wind in my ears, legs thrumming from the effort, hands off the bars and raised above me—look, I am not afraid. I get good at the rescue.
I have an alarm clock, the same one I dragged from Pittsburgh that I dragged from my bedroom in my parents’ house in Buffalo, the same one I had throughout high school. Sometimes I take pictures of that alarm clock because at least it changes. It rains in my bedroom in central Illinois—rains right across the bed, my boat. On warm nights I can hear the roar from the football stadium clear across town. I listen to wind stir the gravel. Listen to the cat stalking a mouse.
The night David Foster Wallace dies, I am alone in central Illinois with the windows open, lights off, candle lit, bottle of wine, homecoming game on the wind. From behind the dumpster in the gravel lot comes an opossum with its tell-tale prehistoric gait, but I think I am seeing the old pale ghost of a raccoon and I am drunk enough to think it has been sent for me and oh lord, oh lord, what a thing to be shown.
Winter on the plains is a cold, clanging affair, an angry man in the basement pipes with a mallet. Ice pack over the thermostat and I can trick him into coming on. I put a broiled tilapia on a black plate and it shatters into a million pieces. I take a picture of that, tint it red.
When I cross the Missouri for the first time, I see how land rises out of the land. I cry at how a country such as this one can open for the seeing like a bird loosed from a palm. Those Montana scree slopes. I am known to pack up my car and drive away again and again. Say I am moving, today, load the boxes and get the hell out of someone else’s life.
They say it is rare to see a wild porcupine in the day but up a logging road on the back side of Jack Mountain, Montana, a storm is breaking free from the sky. The porcupine crosses all slow, black, and yellow, head low, from forest back to the forest. It is rare to see a wild porcupine in the day, but I saw it. I did.
Lillian-Yvonne Bertram is the author of the forthcoming book of computational poetry Travesty Generator (Noemi), Personal Science (Tupelo), a slice from the cake made of air (Red Hen Press), But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise (Red Hen Press), and the artist book Grand Dessein (Container).