Once, Driving West of Billings, Montana

By Susan Mitchell b. 1944 Susan Mitchell
I ran into the afterlife.
No fluffy white clouds. Not even stars. Only sky   
dark as the inside of a movie theater
at three in the afternoon and getting bigger all the time,   
expanding at terrific speed
over the car which was disappearing,
flattening out empty
as the fields on either side.

                                             It was impossible to think   
under that rain louder than engines.
I turned off the radio to listen, let my head
fill up until every bone
was vibrating—sky.

                            Twice, trees of lightning
broke out of the asphalt. I could smell
the highway burning. Long after, saw blue smoke twirling   
behind the eyeballs, lariats
doing fancy rope tricks, jerking silver
dollars out of the air, along with billiard cues, ninepins.

I was starting to feel I could drive forever
when suddenly one of those trees was right in front of me.   
Of course, I hit it—
branches shooting stars down the windshield,
poor car shaking like a dazed cow.
I thought this time for sure I was dead
so whatever was on the other side had to be eternity.

Saw sky enormous as nowhere. Kept on driving.

Susan Mitchell, “Once, Driving West of Billings, Montana” from The Water Inside the Water. Copyright © 1983 by Susan Mitchell. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: The Water Inside The Water (Wesleyan University Press, 1983)

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Poet Susan Mitchell b. 1944

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Nature, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Landscapes & Pastorals, Activities, Travels & Journeys

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Susan Mitchell is the author of three collections of poetry, The Water Inside the Water (1983); Rapture (1992), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and a finalist for the National Book Award; and Erotikon (2000). Her poems have appeared in magazines and journals such as the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Fence, among others. The recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, Mitchell’s other awards include fellowships from the . . .

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SUBJECT Nature, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Landscapes & Pastorals, Activities, Travels & Journeys

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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