by campbell mcgrath

from ‘the paris review’

i’m sit­ting on a hill in nebras­ka, in morn­ing sun­light, look­ing out across the val­ley of the plat­te riv­er. my car is parked far below, in the lot behind the rest stop wig­wam, beyond which runs the high­way. beyond the high­way: stitch-marks of the rail­road; the sandy chan­nels and bars of the plat­te, a slow wide bend of cot­ton­wood saplings metal­lic in the sun; beyond the riv­er a hazy, cézanne-like geom­e­try of ear­ly blues, greens and browns fad­ing, at last, into the dis­tance. bar­rel music ris­es up from the traf­fic on i‑80, strings of long-haul truck­ers rolling west, rolling east, the great age of the auto­mo­bile burn­ing down before my eyes, a thing of colos­sal beau­ty and thought­less­ness. for lunch, in a paper bag: three ripe plums and a cold piece of chick­en. it is not yet noon. my sens­es are alive to the warmth of the sun, the smell of the blood of the grass, the eupho­ria of the jour­ney, the taste of fruit, those plums, suc­cu­lent and juicy, espe­cial­ly the plums.

so much depends upon the image: chick­ens; aspho­del; a numer­al; a seashell;

one white peony flanged with crim­son;

a chunk of black ore car­ries up from the heart of anthracite to be found by a child along­side the tracks like the token ves­tige of a for­mer life—what is it? coal—a touch­stone pol­ished by age and han­dling, so famil­iar as to be a kind of fetish, a rab­bit’s foot worn down to bone a tal­is­man pos­sessed of entire­ly per­son­al, asso­cia­tive, mag­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

why do i still car­ry it, that moment in nebras­ka?

was it the first time i’d been west, first time dri­ving across the coun­try? was it the promise of open space, the joy of set­ting out, the unmis­tak­able good­ness of the land and the peo­ple, the first hint of con­nec­tion with the deep wag­on-ruts of the area, the liv­ing tis­sue through which the val­ley of the plat­te has chan­neled the mor­mons and the 49ers, the pawnee and the union pacif­ic, this rib­bon of high­way beneath a sky alive with the smoke of our tran­sit, the body of the past con­sumed by the engine of our per­pet­u­al rest­less­ness? how am i to choose among these things? who am i to speak for that younger ver­sion of myself, atop a hill in nebras­ka, bathed in morn­ing light? i was there. i bore wit­ness to that moment. i heart it pass, touched it, tast­ed its mys­te­ri­ous essence. i bear it with me still, an amulet smooth as a flesh­less fruit stone.

plums.

i have stolen your image, william car­los williams. for­give me. they were deli­cious, so sweet and so cold.

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