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

 

 

DAY 7: CALDWELL, IDAHO TO PORTLAND, OREGON

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…

 

 

 

DAY 6: ROCK SPRINGS, WYOMING TO CALDWELL, IDAHO

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.

 

DAY 5: COLBY, KANSAS TO ROCK SPRINGS, WYOMING

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.

 

DAY 4: OKLAHOMA CITY TO COLBY, KANSAS

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?

 

DAY 3: LITTLE ROCK TO OKLAHOMA CITY

My dad used to make bananas & saltines fried in butter.

I’m thinking about him because I dreamed of him last night.

He was wearing pajamas & hugged me hard.

My cat follows me. I have a hair that grows out of a mole on my cheek.

I rented a whole house in Oklahoma City for the night.

The street outside is messing with my equilibrium.

Or else a ghost just passed through my head.

If my head’s haunted I won’t know what to do. I  do have

the Gerber next to the bed, for non-ghosts. I played with Chad’s

two blond children at the park. Ate a lovely meal with him & his wife.

We talked about things. Old friends polish the soul.

My face is red & blotchy & I’m starting to see how I’m getting older.

My shoulder is sore from when Pikey tried to eat the giant rubber ball,

yanking me to it, except I didn’t move. I only drove 5 hours today,

but it seemed like a lifetime of letting go. Chad decided I’m rebirthing.

This morning, all those ages ago, I walked around the Clinton Library

& its park in Little Rock. Beautiful black-eyed Susans in the wetland.

I drove hilly, empty Ozark roads. I ate salt

& vinegar chips for lunch, shared an apple with the dog, as usual.

I saw casinos. I listened to Philip Glass a lot, & a bunch of stuff

I didn’t pay attention to. I gave myself a car massage.

I thought about my next job. I imagined a steamy affair

with that one minor actor. I marveled at how my pants don’t fit.

DAY 2: BIRMINGHAM TO LITTLE ROCK

Highway 22 West from Birmingham is empty, too hilly for cruise control. I fly downhill at ninety, Willie Nelson serenading me.

It’s so windy on I-40 that my car’s getting batted around. It’s so windy that I can see the wind.

I’m angry in waves.

Stop-and-go traffic at the back-end half-moon of Memphis, getting from one highway to another where the map tells me to go. A sign reads, Memphis: The Distribution Capital of America.

I wonder if the cops in Arkansas are sympathetic to poets.

Too many trucks on the road.

What if people every day spontaneously combusted? We’d never feel safe holding or being held by anyone.

La Quinta in Little Rock is next door to Hooters. My hotel neighbor invites me to go. I take a bath in a dirty bathtub instead.

I’m scared in waves.

My animals camped out on the hotel bed with me.

Anthony Bourdain in Shanghai. (I should have gone to Hooters.)