Alison Traweek - "Room Enough, Road Enough" and "The Dry Father"

 

"Room Enough, Road Enough"

If I were in Texas I could make sense of everything.

If I had 3 hours and 215 miles of

United States Interstate 10

I would know which way to go.

 

In March the bluebonnets spread across the flat open fields

like old blue curtains carelessly dropped.

On close inspection their stalks are thick and light green,

their leaves downed with soft white fur;

they look too frail to survive in this harsh landscape.

My heart explodes with tenderness.

They have no scent but they fill the air with a promise of freshness.

In March it is too early for the grass,

swaying in a slow waltz with the cedar trees,

to have been burnt yellow by the relentless Texas sun.

 

On I-10 at night at about mile 600

I once saw God.

I was 16 and I remember I wept.

I was alone in my pickup with all my possessions,

I was leaving my mother’s house forever.

I cried because God was all I had and

because the stars were bright enough to hurt my eyes.

On I-10 at night around mile 600

the stars are blinding.

 

5 years later in my Honda

which had seen

Redwoods-

Vancouver-

2 oceans and the Gulf of Mexico-

the desert-

tornadoes-

a swarm of cicadas-

and me in every aspect-

I sang at the top of my lungs

and laughed to breathe that old Texas dust.

 

Scatter my ashes in that dust.

 

On US I-10 I know the rhythm of the road

when you get close enough to Houston to smell it:

it bounces beneath my car like a good horse in a strong canter.

I know my way by that.

On US I-10 I always know my way.

I know all the billboards and gas stations

and TruXtops

and where to get the cheapest Blue Bell Ice Cream

and how far to the next grilled cheese sandwich

and how many miles from my mother’s house to mine

and if I can make it on the amount of sleep I’ve had.

 

In Texas the oak trees have leaves like the elms have everywhere else

and grow stooped like old women bent by remembering.

In Texas I never need a scarf and coat and gloves,

just jeans and a jacket and my car.

At my grandmother’s house in Texas it was 54 degrees on Christmas Day.

 

The sky there is large enough to house my uncertainty

and there’s room left over for hope.

 

In Texas I am barefoot

I am sitting on porches

drinking sweet tea

swatting mosquitoes and dodging roaches.

I would never walk anywhere.

If I were in Texas I would be

Well On My Way,

I would be

Almost Home.

I would be tipping my hat to the white blue sky

which would tip its hat back in a slow sunset

reflected in my rear view mirror

blinding me to everything I’d already driven through.

 

Even the birds have a drawl in Texas

and wear many different hats

and respect a good pair of boots.

 

I would make my peace with God

on US I-10 at about mile 600,

halfway to everywhere.

By mile 600 I will have had enough time to pick my path carefully

and time enough left to relax.

The flowers are quiet but not shy in Texas

and didn’t I learn from them?

 

"The Dry Father"

In August 1985 we moved to San Antonio.

I remember that was when I started praying

and just before I gave it up.

I remember my father was loved in church.

I remember the air was dry.

 

In church my mother let me lay my head on her lap

and sleep through the sermon

and she didn't tell my father when I took

The Body of Christ

home as bloody medicine to save my dying dog.

I remember the incense stifling my thoughts

and I remember the air was dry.

 

Ten years later, in the desert,

absorbing the full force of the Santa Fe sun

I laughed out loud and raised my arms to heaven

because I was Master of the Universe and

powerless to change it.

The air was dry, I remember,

and my throat was dry too.

 

In 1985 I didn't know about "deserts"

or "God" or "powerless to change it"

but I remember waking up those mornings After‑

shadow of my father still heavy on my chest

shadow of impossibility slapped across my mouth.

Alone in the dry air of my room

I was praying for options

I was choking down truth‑

bloody medicine to save myself.

 

Having grown up in Houston-

port-city-

bayou‑city‑

flooding thunderstorm water to my thighs city‑

I always noticed how dry it was in San Antonio.

And that my father had at least two faces.

And I couldn't get the stink of incense off my clothes

and my dog died anyway.

One of my father's faces could only be seen at night,

the other needed water to breathe.

In San Antonio at night, I remember,

the air was always dry.

 

Alison C. Traweek, a native Texan, teaches Greek, Latin, and writing in the Philadelphia area. Her writing has been published in AmphoraQuartoThe Journal of Classics Teaching, and Women and Social Movements. She has a Ph.D. in classical studies and is currently working on an annotated translation of the Iliad.