ROAD SIGN ON INTERSTATE 5
San Diego, California
They are holding hands, or rather, their silhouettes
are joined at the arms like a chain link fence.
Their bodies lean forward, like italic letters.
They are running: the man is pulling the woman,
the woman is pulling what must be her child,
and the child is lifted, by the speed, off her feet.
It is the same type of sign that might contain
the antlered shape of a generic black buck,
or tell drivers that the road could be slippery when wet.
It is a warning sign, it says: watch out for this.
Every time I pass, I scan both sides of the freeway,
expecting to see a family of three, gathering
up loose belongings, timing the cars, preparing
to run across eight lanes of high-speed traffic.
I have never seen them, this desperate family.
I only know their shadows, how they tilt toward
the bright yellow space in front of them, scrambling
to reach the outlined edge of the thin metal sign.
I have never wanted anything this much, for myself,
let alone to pull those closest to me into flight.
There is so much I could say about growing up
on the border of Mexico. It is not the corrugated
fence, or even the river of sewage, that defines
the scar that joins one world to the next,
but a one-hundred-foot width of sun-soft asphalt,
streaming with commuter traffic, day and night.
The man is pulling the woman, the woman is pulling
her airborne child, whose pigtails flail back.
On the other side is the ocean, salt marsh and a beach
that stretches north, into the source of the wind.
They are holding hands, and smelling the salt in the air.
At night, their pupils contract as the headlights expand.
What begins like a distant starlight grows to a spotlight,
a floodlight, a wash of whiteness, and engines made of wind.
Then reddened, like coals, like dying suns, the lights
recede, a river of cherry redness, a syrup of taillights.
The man is pulling the woman is pulling the child,
who rises as though winged in a blaze of light.
from Rattle #30, Winter 2008
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention
Robert Peake: “I transferred out of the computer engineering program at U.C. Berkeley during the height of the dot-com era to study poetry instead. They made me sign a form stating that I had considered the implications of my decision, and would not try to beg my way back in. So began my understanding of what it means to be an artist.” ( website)