Philly's Italian market

After the squalid grandeur of Baltimore, the vivid human crucible of Philly's Italian market, the labyrinthine social experiment of Brooklyn, and the rolling green miles of the Catskills, returning to Chapel Hill feels like driving into a shoebox diorama or pinhole photograph. Physical volumes and amplitudes diminish and encroach upon the sense of unbounded freedom I enjoyed while spending five days on the road, putting upwards of 2000 miles on my car and not so much as glancing at the Internet.

After a whirlwind poetry reading tour with members of Lucifer Poetics, I'm back in Chapel Hill, chained to the keyboard, trying to catch up on emails and deadlines I blew off in order to take my poetry off the page and out into the world. Traveling is a strange state of being, you enjoy more hospitality from strangers and new friends (hi, Moistworks posse!) than you do from companions where you call home, and below the dust and sweat you accrue, a faint nimbus pulses out that marks you as a creature of pure motion.

In order to preserve the buzz a little longer, as mundane stress begins to overwrite the constant epiphany of travel, here are four road songs. In each, we sense the road and all points it contains as a bundle of tensions that set the wanderer in motion and keep him or her in that state - the swift current of the road leads toward home or rest, but at rest, the gravity of the road sucks you back out the door to ride that dark stream again. The concept of destination becomes an unfathomable abstraction if you keep moving for long enough, as I learned on a three month ramble through Europe a few years back and on subsequent travels, and the world becomes simply a place where one exists, not a collection of points on a map.

Nowhere is the tension between road and shelter more deftly articulated than in Leonard Cohen's "Stranger Song", as Cohen clips off precise, complexly ramifying images ("You've seen that man before / His golden arm dispatching cards / But now it's rusted from the elbow to the finger") that alternate almost stroboscopically between the dark allure of trains and the comfort of a warm hearth. Steve Earle, meanwhile, takes on the call of the road with an inclination just as epic as Cohen's, but trades darkness for brassy light, his voice sparkling like flecks in black asphalt. Roman Candle captures the bone-deep weariness of the itinerant soul, and Dan Bryk uses an unfinished highway as a metaphor for false starts and romantic dead ends.

I'm home again, and I'm starting to relearn, already, what the term "home" means, an understanding that atrophies astonishingly quickly on the highway. But listening to these songs, my gaze is pulled toward the window, beyond the parking lot, the apartments and treeline, penetrating the blank horizon, sensing into a murky void where who knows what awaits.

PS - James told me it was quite all right to plug things here when I had things to plug. As such, those of you who are into experimental poetry (yeah, both of you) should take a look at Octopus Magazine's New Poets issue, which includes work from my manuscript F7 and a terrific introduction by Moistworks guest poster Tony Tost, as well as a typically gorgeous and attentive batch of poems from my good friend Randall Williams.