Place in the Placelessness–it’s one of the themes of an upcoming radio program I’ve been editing over the last handful of weeks. It took almost thirteen hours for me to drive from hometown to hometown–each adopted hometowns by situation and opportunity. In the last year I’ve learned to live in borrowed definitions of home–cars and couches; sleeperless arms; borrowed beds; empty coffee shops; rest stops and welcome centers. Spend half a day behind the windshield and it’s easy to be reminded how much life is all destination and distance. The space you occupy moves under you feet–as temporary as snow on interstate asphalt under the midday sun.
Crossing into Indiana, my car was a cross section of ice, salt, and road slush from three states. On the far end of Indianapolis, the sky was a flare of endless blue streaked with a deep gray–an exclamation of fading bright–as if the day would grow crow’s feet, crease with worry lines, and sigh world weary under the gravity of sunset. Thirteen hours is endless behind the wheel. Even when broken up with a good night’s rest–another borrowed space–you pushpin into a paper map, tack yourself to a steering wheel, and drive until you’re just the past participle of go.
Somewhere in some undergrad psych class, I remember learning about body language–if you talk to someone who has their feet pointed towards the door, they are waiting for their chance to end the conversation and go. I always sat in the front. It was near the exit. When I started driving, my old man would tell me to always have an escape route as you drive in order to avoid accidents. To avoid bad drivers. To avoid construction. To avoid the cops. To avoid sitting in traffic. To avoid wasting time. Escape. Exit strategies. It wasn’t a plan, it was to be aware, to carry the instinct of escape in the field of vision. Always ready to go, get gone. Escape. I just carried the metaphor too far.
It was an excuse. It was an excuse to be somewhere–to define place for me. The page was home; four-walled and sheltered. It was as permanent as typefaces and digital footprints. It stayed. You went. You came and went. You could go to it, you could come to the page, and go of your own accord. You could have it close, tucked away on a desktop–a file folder, an attachment, a book on the shelf collecting dust, a dog-eared poem written on a dinner napkin or hotel stationary. Words with place. Home. Your choice for me. It stayed. I could go.
I was back east for two weeks but I was gone for so much longer.
I had originally planned on writing about being home for the holidays, but it’s not home. Danville, Scranton, NEPA–it’s a place. It’s where I lived and it’s as permanent as the page, but it’s also not home. It’s books on a shelf. It’s where I went. It’s where I can go, it’s a choice to take or leave. It stayed. I can go. I am going. Gone. Left.
Maybe going gets that way. That said, Springfield feels closer to home than anywhere has in a while. I want place to feel less temporary. At night, I can feel my roots struggle for depth here in all the best ways. It has a resonant gravity. It feels located. It’s given pause to how I feel about staying. Not going. In the rearview mirror of the east coast, it feels like sun and open road. Direction and distance. In my blind side mirror I caught a flash of gray hair running along my part. I’m counting exits on Interstate 55. I’m ten minutes from home.
Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in various journals including The North American Review, PANK Magazine, and Drunken Boat. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. He lives in Springfield, IL. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.