I was driving home on an autumn evening
Accidentally on a backroad route
John Mellencamp on the radio station – I’ve always loved the oldies –
Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Probably die in a small town
He says with his chest
And I’m coming back to my small town
Where both of my parents were born and raised
Oh how the leaves are turning
On this backroad route
I’ve never seen such gold and fire
Yet these are not my roads – I drive solidly at the 55 mile-per-hour
Speed limit, much to the disdain of the Honda tailgating me –
I do not trust myself not to drive off a curve and run into the pines or white fences
Lining the road. My grandmother’s old car is too precious, and maybe my own life too.
The winding roads at home are no more my friends, though I love them so.
At night I sometimes think about the county fair,
With its whirring machines flying children through the air,
Its bright neon lights, the darkness of the racetrack slumbering beside it
Underneath not-quite bright stars
Cars streaming in one by one to park in the dead brown field.
And I think about the friends I used to have
Who bickered back and forth about who was brave enough to ride the rides
With me being the one who always dragged their feet
But without friends, what reason do I have to go back?
Bright lights and funnel cake have always been substantial enough for me.
How translucent must I be to gloriously subsist on so little?
If I walked between the candy apples and the merry-go-round and ferris wheel now,
Who would I know? Who would recognize me?
My homecoming is not so much the end of a long journey,
But rather a save point, a warm meal, a cause for bitter reflection.
After every respite I must return,
But not before I pay my dues
To one graveyard
And then another.
The first: the town graveyard, sun-covered
and uniform, filled with names I know.
I have not visited since –
The wounds too recent.
I see in my mind’s eye the photo of my grandmother
In front of the casket.
I drive by, I feel myself there and I am
there, but my hands
Gripping the wheel
Do not move. I continue forward.
To the church cemetery; this place knows me well.
Moss over stone, old trees reaching over, cradling me.
My shoes soaking in the mud
This is my other grandmother, who had leathery skin and whip-sharp humor
and grace and grit.
I confide, I confess, I reminisce
The cool bright air breathes reminders of what it means to be alive.
I ask of homecoming:
Who am I now and why am I here?
Someday even what I have left in my hometown will be gone;
Fewer friends at the fair, more gravestones to visit.
I will wreck my grandmother’s car or maybe I will be fortunate enough
That it breaks down on its own, without my human intervention.
Homecoming repeats in my life and in my mind like Groundhog Day
(A movie I may never watch with my father
I am no stranger to joy, but these thoughts chase me
Up and down 29, every road I take.
Even with my hand out the window and music blasting,
I must mourn what I can.