from The Flame Throwers

These two excerpts from Rachel Kushner’s The Flame Throwers are really speaking to me as I’m navigating a new city and new ideas about what it means to love someone.


“But he was elsewhere. I was alone and rootless. I had fallen through a hole and landed in a massive crowd of strangers, this stream of faces, a pointillism of them. Face after face after face.” –p. 278

“Lovers offered only what they offered and nothing more, and what they offered came with provisos: believe what you want and don’t look carefully at what isn’t acceptable to you.” –p. 279

On Loneliness

Headlong into my third week in Portland. Still sitting on the floor.

But–here’s the bright sunrise–the couch is on its way. Like me, it’s traveling

from coast to coast. The dog has cataracts, maybe. I have bags

under my eyes, new like Christmas presents. Alone, a person feels

her heart changing. What may have been exciting once is a deflated

beach ball past its season. The wind got taken out of her sails. Watched Robert Redford

in his sinking sailor movie last night. He looked old & tired. But (spoiler alert)

he made it through that ordeal. Today, I swear, the world’s more silent.

The homeless man on his corner tells me that Virgos like to bake,

that he loves to bake. The newspaper dispenser is his oven, an empty beer can

his cookie dough. I watch him do it, open the oven to check on things.

I didn’t imagine starting over like this, not with the bracing undertow, the waves.

Josh makes me a surfing metaphor. Because of him, I know how surfers talk,

I understand the physics of the wave. I tried to call Ben today but have been

cut off. No answers. No replies. The bleak October of my heart.

On Empathy

We have not been taught to have the empathetic capacity to clearly see another person’s pain when that pain is caused by our own actions. But we do have infinite capacity to dream up justifications.

“I Don’t Want To: Two Possible Responses” by Frances Dinger




Ruins of an old factory: graffitied cinderblock, boarded windows.

Snakeroad. Pinetrees. An abandoned school bus, some empty animal pens.

A gas station attendant in Rock City tells me there are 252 days

of sun in eastern Oregon, & if it gets too rainy in Portland to head back east,

back over the mountains. It’s always green in Portland for a reason, he says & winks.

Along the Columbia River, rock formations like harp strings.

Outcroppings are sturdy 10-gallon hats. Everything dripping, glistening.

I’m all choked up. I have nothing except this inexplicable, unthinkable bravery…





Just outside of Boise, the sky is red.

Listened to The Art of Fielding today, mechanical windmills

in the foreground, mountains behind them, & cried because I remembered

possibility, the moment of discovery—Universe, I would love

to live another 50 years. Can we do that? In the marriage of these rocks,

as I drive through hills turning yellow & orange with fall,

give me another 50 years & I’ll give you my best, my very best.

The red striated outcroppings, trains snaking through them

into the crevices of hills, no cars but mine.

Into the shards & angular rock faces. I’m the only one here!

On the hillsides brush is turning red with intimations of Fall,

strange outcroppings of new houses, small swaths of farmland, greenhouses,

long, narrow chicken coops, a carrier train heading east along I-84

with hundreds of small army tanks strapped on.

Why do semis smell like hair salons? This part of Idaho is rolling flats.

I met a couple with a mastiff at a gas station. They were moving

from Seattle to Florida. There we were, x-ing each other.

This is horse country & tractor country. A beautiful shiny gray horse.

Haybale country & crop rows. It’s 84° like summer hasn’t even left the building.

The point of a road trip just to be on the road,

to experience the road as an object moving through space.

My car has gathered the bugs of the whole nation.

I should’ve left him years ago, maybe, but I had faith that he wanted to be

something more. A beauty in striving.

Out here on the road, I am. Wanderer, observer, recorder.

The shift is seismic. Its dimensions like girders around me.



I slammed into the Rockies today, then veered north.

A cowgirl looked me in the eyes at breakfast

& smiled. She had a long side-braid in her hair. I loved her instantly.

I forgot about chilly air like this morning’s, a sun that paints piano keys

onto the buildings. I woke up without a racing heart, I’m tentative about this.

According to his biographer, for Einstein music was a connection

to the harmony underlying the universe. There’s no better sound

than a dog eating carrots in the backseat. I’m trusting the sky today.

I keep seeing Ben’s face, wishing I could pick up the phone

& call him but there’s no one home. There’s nothing here

but hills & plains & fences. I can feel my heart starting to hurt,

the familiar loneliness. Clouds shadow-stop the landscape.

Is bravery a choice? Father and son gypsy cowboys in the convenience store.

For the next twenty miles, I fantasize that the son can teleport & joins

me in the car. When the time comes for action will you know what to do?

There are no signs for Jesus out here—just rubber tire scraps,

cattle, yellow grass, & trucks. I’m the only car for miles.

The mountains are running away from me.

You don’t know distance until you’ve been out here,

you don’t know time until it has you by the balls right in the middle of it all.

I can’t imagine how I got so small.

My heart doesn’t want me to forget my sadness.

Ben, I didn’t want you to be the person you were trying to be for me.

The landscape looks like tight little curls on a giant’s head.



This hotel in Kansas is like a frat house,

filled with guys working oil contracts,

or gas contracts, I don’t know. I cried a lot on I-35

to Wichita. One thought, I imagined all men were good

because my father was good. Sadness makes you more human.

A sign on I-70: Claiming America for Christ.

Would Christ, the character we’ve claimed as ours,

want to claim territory? If you see a person crying,

does she look beautiful? Suddenly, riding into the hills,

cows are grazing, the sky is wide-mouthed, windmills

everywhere waving like children at the sky.

Into the sunset listening to Bad Religion sing

about the burning hills of L.A. I smiled

in my ribs for the first time in ages. The landscape

opened up & I could breathe. Stands of trees shading

trailers & mobile homes, broken down fences.

The grass is burnt. I’m out here by myself,

& for the first time I almost don’t want it any other way.

The guy who painted the lane lines in this part of Kansas

was definitely drunk. Ben really screwed the pooch.

I know what it means to get kicked when you’re down.

Another sign asks, If you died today, where would you

spend eternity? Where would you want to go?