“O beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening”
“The End of the Innocence”
Taking the secret detour, the one the natives use,
I fly down Highway T to Z,
past the Cates family farm but really,
it’s the dips and swales and curves
and hills and valleys and long slopes up
and ridge roads that feel impossibly high
for Wisconsin that let me know I’m in a zone
where fiction could happen and also perhaps
some magic but for me, partly panic–
I get agoraphobic on some of these rises
where all you can see past the crest
is the sky. It reminds me of Eastern Montana
a little (except for more trees on both sides),
where I once drove up a long brown hill for so long,
for an hour, forever, I stopped believing in Canada.
I couldn’t imagine anything north of where I was.
Nothing but a sheer drop-off to Hell, maybe,
over the top, nothingness, a crevasse, the crimp-
edge of the known world, no ditch, just–
The trip up, the torture, doesn’t last that long here.
Just when I’m wanting to pull over,
figure out how to turn around or back up,
which is impossible–the road’s too narrow,
the curve’s too sharp, the hill’s too steep–
well, there we are, around the bend
finally, a stretch of open road, another red barn.
Another falling-down house tucked in behind
a mess of blooming lilacs, under which,
if this really is a David Cates novel, someone’s having sex
RIGHT THIS MOMENT, and probably with someone they shouldn’t.
And later the woman, or maybe she’s a girl,
would take a dandelion and say “make a wish”
as she blew the white seeds everywhere at which point
the man, or maybe he’s still a boy,
would think “tampopo” but not say it, not wanting
the girl to feel bad for not knowing Japanese,
and he might also think, but not say,
some racy, clever thing using the word “blow.”
What he probably would say would be “Great.
Now there are more weeds everywhere,”
but then regret having said anything at all.
Because you have to remember, the moment you think
“Anything can happen,” that something bad could.
Just because it’s almost June and everything’s green,
every shade of green, just because the blue sky
is paint-chip sky-blue right overhead, even when
you’ve got Don Henley cranked on the radio,
you can glance in your rear view mirror and see
how the bright blue turns to pale blue and then haze
and then gray along the horizon.
You can see farms you can’t get to on Highway Z.
The people who live there are happy or sad.
But you’ll never get there. You’ll never know.
Coming home, you’ll stop at the T of Highway T and 23
and you’ll see Frank Lloyd Wright’s wind mill
and it won’t impress you this time. Not at all.
I left Southern Illinois to go to graduate school in Missoula, Montana, and there met David Cates, who’d come from Spring Green, Wisconsin, where I live now.
His latest book is odd and beautiful and haunting and two trips to Dodgeville recently I really have felt as though I entered some sort of parallel universe. If you read the book now, there’s probably a silver station wagon taking a curve a little too fast. I’ll be waving.
The latest novel by David Cates (wonderful to read, odd to drive in)