Durham, NC; Asheville, NC; Athens, GA / Carrie St. George Comer

On the plane to Durham. I’m reading poetry so I’m paranoid, but the family around me is paying less attention to me than I am to them. Turbulence. The dad and the kids whoop with glee. Dad says, “Did you feel that?” Mom says, “You’d have to be dead not to feel that.” I burrow deeper into Blue Colonial by David Roderick and hope that reading really hard will keep us from crashing. Mom says, “This is jarring my bones . . . David, I’m ready for my pillow now.” I’m sitting between Mom and Dad. “Ooh, my back and legs are killing me. When we get home I’m gonna get my heating blanket.” No response from anyone. “Ooh, my back hurts.” Should I say something? Do I speak English? “Mike Wallace looks like he don’t feel good.” The dense grey outside the window clears and we can see a brown body of water, mounds of red dirt, houses going up on clearcut. We land roughly. As we pull up to the gate, Dad says, “That looks like a brand new plane, don’t it?” Mom says, “Honey, I wouldn’t know a brand new plane if it, if it—”

Oo ya—it’s cold. I’m wearing flip flops and hoping the rum didn’t shatter in my suitcase.

In line for the restroom—Southern accents, chitchat, Duke sweatshirts. For a number of reasons, Duke sux.

Switch to boots. Rum bottle intact. Sweater. Do people think I’m a terrorist? Like, ever?

A taxi takes me downtown. I’m standing on a desolate sidewalk. They’re trying to revive the city parts of the city. Orange cones. Piles of brick. Work trucks. The old buildings are beautiful but no one’s around. Such is the case with lots of American cities. The downtowns abandoned. Life takes place on the outer rim, in shopping centers and on interstates. Everyone wants a new house on clearcut. Everyone wants to be close to Home Depot and Applebee’s. It’s not that I can’t understand this. Everyone wants space and convenience. We’ve got kids to raise, after all. I can understand this. But still. “A pile of junk is a kind of faith,” says Roderick. True that. But this other kind of junk is a pile of fucking shit, in my estimation.

Did NC go red or blue? Red. Red or blue, the language I live and judge by. My state also went red. Like a bloody foot hanging off the corner of the nation. But scratch that. Some people are evil. Some people don’t care. What’s the difference?

So the reading went down in the Baldwin Lofts. Matthew closed it down with “a dress of lapping glass.” Ken Rumble read first: “seizure suit.” Sierra Nelson went after him: “Forgive me, we were made of wood when we made our wedding bed.” And also Mark McMorris: “the dog that is a star in the sky.” To mention a few.

Now it’s grey and drizzly and we’re headed to Asheville.

We’re climbing a mountain. Some fall foliage, a casual light over the trees.

Asheville’s had success with its downtown revival. People stroll the streets on Saturday night, bundled in shawls and hats. Lots of babies in slings. And sometimes when you look to your left there’s a mountain face glowing pink and yellow. We read at Malaprop’s Bookstore. Props to those guys. Big turnout. Very cozy. Just what I wanted from NC. Matthew’s friends Steve and Nava were kind enough to let us crash in their lovely bungalow with little

Sunday and off to Athens. Long drive through the drizzle. A stop at a gas station where Linas has Mark read a poem to a local guy. A stop at the bus wash where Linas has Valzhyna read a poem to the guy who washed the bus. Linas skateboards round and
round us with his camera.

Joshua cracks open the rum and the bus gets a little warmer and a little more fun. We arrive late in Athens. A long country road takes us to the ATHICA Gallery Space. There are lots of questions on the poetry bus—Why are we stopping? What time do we leave? What’s that? Who’s this?—and sometimes an answer or two. You just gotta roll with it. Roll with the poetry bus.

In the ATHICA, a circle of orange cones and a hand welded toy soldier sculpture that looks like a dead soldier in a mound of sand. On the walls, big posters of Bush and Rove prez and sez dispensers. A great big cotton mushroom cloud with a hole in the top and a ladder hanging out of the hole. A cluster of Bush voodoo dolls hanging from the ceiling. People start to show up—this always surprises me. The reading was killer. Here’s another taste. Bob: “Why don’t you just crawl off and die? That’s just the way I roll.” Joshua: “spiritually, I’m all full of cookies.” Travis: “can you find God? / He’s hunting you / with a pencil." And the Athenians went ga ga for Valzhyna: “I’m telling you this is not pain. This is just the embrace of a very strong god, one with an unshaven cheek that prickles when he kisses you.”

Vic Chesnutt closed it down, and he was brill. His voice is delicious. I wish he’d gone on. The audience was tuned in. The space was cool. Sabrina Orah Mark (she’s funny, The Babies is brilliant) took us to The Globe after. And Tonya Foster joined us last night, cool. She’s now headed toward home—New Orleans. But first, Tuscaloosa. T-town. Bama.

Originally Published: October 9th, 2006