The original poem can be found here: Wanderlust.
Three years ago today I was parked on top of a mountain outside of Denver taking a catnap because my buddy Phil and I had driven sixteen hours straight from Illinois to Colorado. We intentionally left late in the afternoon on Sunday so we’d be driving through Nebraska through the middle of the night.
Driving through Nebraska at four in the morning is a surreal experience. I’d not driven such a long hike before and everything was so straight and flat that the world stopped existing. All that there was was the front seat of my Saturn Astra and Phil snoring in the passanger seat. At some point I began following a semi-truck.
The will-o’-the-wisp is a Celtic myth. In America we’d call them “ghost-lights” or “orbs.” They show up in many different cultures and are cousins with “fairies,” “sirens,” and “jack-o’-lanterns.”
The story goes that the will-o’-the-wisp would appear to lost and weary travellers at night and begin guiding them.
The first draft of this poem was written a year before I took my road trip. That draft began when I remembered how my Grandma Pearl once told me that if I was ever lost driving that I should just follow a semi-truck because they knew where they were going. I used to work for Starbucks and because I’m awful at waking up whenever I had an opening shift I’d just stay up the whole night, usually I’d arrive an hour or more before my shift began at two or three in the morning to write and read. The store I worked at was near a highway and the sound of the trucks one night, along my grandma’s advice became the seed of this poem. But that first draft felt stiff and dead – the only line I liked was:
The thundering engine/ and shifting of gears/ fills the empty night/ with a percussive symphony
But America is a myth as fantastic as Arthur’s Camelot. America is a fairy-tale. The American knight-in-shining-armor is found questing on the interstate. Crossing the Mississippi River into Iowa I felt like Odysseus. The adventure of moving accross the country by myself – the drive through Nebraska at night, the sun chasing us over the hills in Colorado, the puckish monsters in Goblin National Park – brought something alive in me that made me return to that draft I had scrapped.