On the Road. After All
Have you ever wondered why no long distance hauliers are renowned epic poets? As someone who has spent a lot of time in the saddle I’ve puzzled over it for years. You would be wrong to leap to bourgeois conclusions of class and erudition, that is lazy thinking.
If you have never driven long distance, and I specifically mean as the driver rather than a passenger, you may wonder at my premise. But those who have sunk over hours into the drivers seat, feet nursing the pedals, hands caressing the wheel will know. With part of the brain occupied and preoccupied with speed and traffic, distances and lanes, hazard perception and directions the rest of it is freed. The higher mind is alone at last, its noisey sibling distracted and silenced, the demands of doing and achievement delegated.
The road has rhythms, be it at an over the limit blatt or a congested crawl, although in truth it is empty miles and darkness that are the most conducive environment. The rhythms give a pace and order to thoughts, but even at constant velocity there are variations and dissonances. You pass, or are passed, there are imperfections in the tarmac, changing lanes, on ramps, off ramps, lights all weave in and out of the beating heart of the engine. And that too has its complexity, whether a four, six, eight or more part percussion of pistons, conducted by the throttle and played by great lung fulls of air to the intake manifold.
It is in the regular irregularity, the tapestry of complexity, that epic poetry lives. My faithful motor and I have shared almost a hundred thousand miles, over the years and with other partners you could double that. In those vacant hours I swear I have bettered Queen Mab and Coleridge, shaded Shelley and The Mariner. But it was a fleeting brilliance. It faded as the engine ticked and cooled and by the time pen and paper were assembled to bear witness to genius it had fled leaving only the glass slipper of mocking remembrance.
Of course, that is not all of it, that is not it at all. Today I am hands free, voice recognised, recorded. So why haven’t the tattoed hoards erupted into todays whateverthefuckosphere howling and yawping, claiming their place beside Whitman, bouncing Ginsberg off the bonnet?
Surely there is more to be had from trucking poetry than CW McCall?
The road lends itself to introspection, which is rarely a happy indulgence. There is time to rake the coals of fires long extinguished, or pursue flights of fancy like lost inland gulls. Gloomy thoughts and dark roads are a poisonous blend, Sobranie Blacks, seductively sickly sweet and yet filling the body with toxins. All the better. Happy poems are for hacks and Hallmark.
The blurring barriers become extremely dense, urging you to drift inwards with a new and more potent gravity. The shadows under the roadside verdancy promise eternal youth, androgyne elves and faerie queens. Dwell too long and the camber may sway you left or right and off the narrow path of safety. Survive the temptation and the passing juggernauts seek to suck you beneath their wheels.
Permit me a brief change of tack, I’m driving and my mental sat nav abhors straight lines. It is ironic that it is now, in the depths of night and on the dark of the road that I am making the choice to live. And appropriate perhaps that earlier this evening I have met briefly with the friend that introduced me to Dar Williams, and After All is playing on the stereo.
“When I chose to live, there was no joy it’s just a line I crossed, I wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost.”
I’ve had the end planned out in intricate detail for some time. No farewell note, that would be crass, just final touches of care and consideration. Paperwork neatly filed, bank accounts left in an orderly state allowing for the delays of probate, cash in the house for out of pocket expenses. The method would be calm, private, quiet. An undisturbed moment to prevent any hitches. And if I have not wholly made my peace with God, at least we have come to an understanding.
I’ve quashed it all in these melancholy miles. There is no way to tie up all the loose ends. I’ve picked apart my scheme meticulously, forensically, and found the unfixable flaws. What’s worth doing is worth doing well, and if I cannot do it well I will not do it.
That detour brings me back to hauliers and poets. In the end it is just a question of attention and concentration, and perhaps natural selection. It is about what the eye sees, what the heart feels, and what action the mind takes. And it is in this moment of darkness and choosing life that I learn the reason why no long distance hauliers are renowned epic poets.
Have you ever seen an articulated lorry jackknife? From behind and approaching at speed it seems implausible for something of such enormous weight to swing laterally. It draws the mind that is seeking the turning, pivotal moments in a grand rhythm. It calls “here is the foot on which you spin your great reveal”. It is that explosive writing rush when the finale becomes extraordinarily clear. Ink spills from the pen like gasoline from a ruptured tanker, the instant in which you know you have at last bested Queen Mab and Coleridge and the page catches fire.
Life did not choose me after all.