Encounter on Route 66

Across the vast landscape
full of nothing
save for an asphalt ribbon
and brown grass tied by telephone wires,
I drive west.

Brassy Arizona sky
whitens the distant mountains,
part of the Cerbat Range.
An hour has gone by
since I last shared this bleak space
with another moving object.

Birthing from the mountains ahead,
a long line of railroad flatcars
snakes toward me
carrying stacked semi-containers
and pulled by a half-dozen struggling engines:
Maersk, J.B. Hunt, Schneider
like names on a baseball lineup card.

As I observe this passage of containers
bound for the assuaging of human hunger,
a single dot grows on the road ahead, hurtling,
glinting in the sun, to a millisecond of communication.

I am an Iowan venturing to California
on the most desolate stretch of Route 66,
between Ash Fork and Kingman, somewhere
just past Peach Springs, when the other car
is suddenly there, blue-on-white license plate visible.

(Remember those long journeys as children, packed
in the back of the station wagon, when we would compete
to see who could find the most license plates
from a different state?)

It is from Black Hawk County.
I am from Black Hawk County.
I want to stop and spin the car around,
overtake the speeding messenger
to hold colloquy in the desert.

But they diminish, disappear into the eastern haze.
I still must go on, cross into California
and across the dreaded Mojave
(perhaps those other Iowans were turned back
by the heat: it will reach 120 degrees later this afternoon)
to continue my journey to the sun.

—James P. Roberts, Madison, WI