Fuck this country I only have one and it’s my dad playing air guitar with his mouth stretched wide.
Bruce Springsteen wrote Born in the U.S.A., which doesn’t mean what everyone and frat boys think it means, eleven years after my dad and his brother protested the Vietnam War. But back to my country: of hot dogs with him, then gorging myself on hot dogs trying to get back to him. Shorts with holes in the crotch, hating the president (him: Reagan, Bush. Me: take a guess.)
Also: defiant hair, a love of camping, and a hole where an earring once was. Stories never told.
Someone once told me we get our God complex from our dads. I don’t know how I feel about God but I sure know my land: my dad, a mountain, our National Parks, swallowing me whole with fir-tree arms. Launching me into a vast, distant lake to snap out of it all. Gas stations: cold drinks named for colors, not flavors. We are not our ghastly flag, but red, white cherry, blue raspberry. We are godless. Ice.
Dad and I step into a car, a model Bruce would approve of. Not ostentatious, but something to outrun whatever it is we need to outrun. Bruce joins us in the backseat, hot in his black denim but never complaining (he knows where that gets you.) We let him choose the music and in his excitement he kicks the back of our seats. An hour in, we pass a man in the road who looks like he has a story to tell, so Bruce leaves us and goes to him. He will become a song. Why is it that men always become songs?
We take some of Bruce’s land with us: youth, long stretches of road, nights so cool you could sleep outside. Traffic slows. We wield our nerve like brand-new guitars. We joyfully take the blazing sun. Are these our glory days? What of our birth?
Blinding mornings, I chase rabbits I think might be my dad and remember I am desert.
Buzzards watch for a fall. I take in air, iron soil. Live to sweat, to forge inclines. Not a place for my plump ass, so I descend into. Become crag.
Even that which has been here forever is warped: red rocks contort into vortex, bent trees. Cacti like linebackers, Gilded Flickers nested in their rot. Teal McDonald’s arches in the distance (only in Arizona.)
The rabbits fail me again and again. I roast one over a small fire.
The way I’ve made sense of it all: later, we come back out here. Pull up on our own horses to wave “hello” to the others, voices a low drawl. The knowing raised eyebrows of the afterlife. Still nights; a blanket of stars. We dead are dazzled.
I try to picture his childhood: borough stoops, Medieval games, Carvel. But it’s all my imagination. The ones still around to tell it, I don’t want to ask. Don’t you know?
Grab your knapsack: it all ends in a sizzle.
Annie Hulkower is a poet and copywriter living in Bed-Stuy. Her work is also forthcoming in Glittermob.
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