for Evie Shockley
One week alone on campus
spoiled us to everything real in the world
but a heightened camaraderie
quick to reach fever pitch: writers
at conference. We stopped only to eat
(on scheduled beat) and to sleep,
restless skiffs in the boathouse of dreams.
Huddling in clusters, we chatted
into the night about everything
process. (How could so much fun
be so exhausting?) I’ve left it now,
thank god: a few hours out of Raleigh,
mind unspooling the truth-serum
pontification a workshop tends to extract
from its leader. About to fall asleep
inside this numb corridor of I-95—
what the hell—I turn down
the potholed off-ramp
into the trough of Philadelphia.
Just my luck: the Phillies are at home
and I’m stalled, dead center,
inside this stadium parking crush,
bumping forward inch by maddening inch.
The radio announces that if they lose,
the Phils will have accrued 10,000 losses,
some fan’s punched gut of a stat.
I don’t care, wanting only the traffic
to open up—which, when Broad parts
its tributary mouth to kiss the wooden teeth
of this old city, it eventually does.
I’ve got Evans’ Explorations on the deck,
LaFaro’s groove pulse carrying me
through the afternoon: murals and store-
fronts and center-lane parked cars; one
homeless soul pushing the world’s shopping cart
brimming with crushed cans. Two blocks
and I’m in the land of Starbucks and sky-
scrapers. Men in suits, women in pairs
walking fast. There’s enough coffee
in my system to stun-gun an elephant.
There’s a square, a wrong turn and, for a few
lost minutes, one-way streets send me
around in circles. The route looked straight
enough on the map, a simple drive up
into pastoral green; I was hoping
Highway 611 would escort me
up its urban spine into the river-lined,
wheaty heart of rural America.
Rolling down my window to ask
an elderly couple, Am I still on Broad?
Will it take me out of the city?
the man throws me a look that says,
You know where you’re headed, white boy?
Then he nods: Just keep going straight.
I want to tell him that the same year
LaFaro recorded “Detour Ahead,”
with Evans and Motian on drums,
possibly the most synchronized trio ever,
he also played on Ornette’s Free Jazz,
that ultimate firework of an album,
before wrapping his young man’s Firebird
around a tree six months later
on New York State Route 20 outside Geneva,
which is like orchestrating
a game-ending double play
then preparing the five-star meal
that night at some hot new bistro,
sauce pans exploding into mini bonfires
of applause, then, tented by a box
of cardboard, marinated in piss and dirt,
sleeping on a grate passersby agree
to overlook. A friend’s first night in Philly,
he’s driving down Broad in a rental truck,
worried by the conspicuous absence of street-
lights, rundown buildings leaning in
like field oaks, when he comes upon a car
on fire. No one around, no police.
Windows rolled down, he takes in
the burning rubber, the crackling heat
off the pyre. Me, I’m the only white face
in a square mile, a white boy bubbled
by cool jazz, wide awake now, thank you,
absorbing as much as I can, open
to the heat, the city’s talk squabbling
with the music. Then, when the road bends,
I’m in the suburbs, just like that: the long
snake of sprawl, pod mall after pod mall.
First one township then another. Up
in the country now, a green chant
of trees, river dancing in and out of sight,
small bridges popping brief drum solos
under my tires. Pretty soon I’m in
the long, cool embrace of the Delaware Gap,
breeze washing my face, heading
northeast to 84, Evans’ “My Foolish Heart”
subsumed in light: rush of wind; tires whirring
inside a brushed snare; the day suddenly mine,
body resurrected inside moments
framed by the windshield, catching them like fish
in its porous net.