Not Every Highway Has a Number

Steering the lazy S-curves
that descend to meander beside a creek
then angle up the walls of a ravine
onto undulating flatland again
and a view of ranges
blue and icy with the distant cold

Or in blown snow
that crosses the pavement in waves
higher than my vehicle, the gusts
increasing in force and duration
until I enter a whiteout
of buffeting flakes: only the hood visible
ahead, and a white line on asphalt to my right
intermittently glimpsed
in the storm’s brief lulls
Geared down to low, tensed for
a wreck splayed across the blizzard
or someone overtaking me who misjudges
the friction possible on this frozen surface
I inch onward, the cabin around me
with its ordinary seats, pile of CDs,
more real that the bright blankness
streaming past every window
Then the shock of
a blurred figure in the centre of the road
gesturing at me
with the bulk of a jackknifed tractor-trailer behind
slammed into a pickup, another shadow
signaling me to crawl past
groups of men, a row of cars
stopped beyond the catastrophe

Or the freeway that cleaves to a valley bottom
until the route lifts higher inland to avoid a bluff
before dropping again to scud on by a wide river
Engine and wheels and blacktop
rolling smooth as sky, as flame
as a quick-tempo, mellifluous folk tune about
a wanderer’s love of
both city blocks and open country

The two-lanes and four-lanes we accelerate down
are not only artificial constructs
but breathe through our encounters with them
–each highway a colossal sculpture
whose shapes and textures our tires, our presence
touch and respond to
just how a symphonic work
takes form via notation, rehearsals and an eventual cascade of
phrasing, key changes, inflections, pauses
that exist in the ear, the mind
–engineering of culverts and surface
leveling, compacting, the requisite
bank to curves, all
performed, traveled, that carry us
across stretches of time and distance
–every road with its own essence: signatures, bars, movements where
our thoughts drift, and other passages
that rear up foremost in our being: where we live
in this music, this art, this
transport that out of so much labor and
chord progressions, infelicities and solutions
reaches from the past to offer
a crafted, communal

~ Tom Wayman

Tom Wayman currently teaches English and creative writing at the University of Calgary, after a long career teaching in mainstream and alternative post-secondary writing programs in B.C. In Winter 2007 he was the Fulbright Visiting Chair in Creative Writing at Arizona State University, and in October 2007 will hold the Ralph Gustafson Chair in Poetry at Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, B.C. His most recent books (2007) are a collection of poems, High Speed Through Shoaling Water, and a first collection of short fiction, Boundary Country. He is president of the board of Sheri-D Wilson’s Calgary International Spoken Word Festival.

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