Las Vegas, NV / Jen Bervin

We woke up in the Econolodge in Flagstaff to brilliant cold and free waffles. The headlines in the morning papers:

“Baking Bread Still Satisfies”
“Arizona is the Dumbest State”

The Guardian in London wanted something from the Poetry Bus so the Remington Quiet-Riter typewriter at the back of the bus has been accruing three lines from each person. The headline works its way in: “face it, I’m a lot like Arizona.” It can be traced back to Stephanie Young and Eileen Myles but by no clearly identifiable path.

We had our biodiesel rendezvous and Matthew Zapruder bought a black stocking cap with red and yellow flames for Juliana Spahr. It looks good.

In Seligman on Route 66, we paused for lunch. I wandered off to see the four-street town. There were small apples heavy on the trees, unpicked, and more rotting on the ground. Grasshopper season was on—the loud ones that flash red when they lift off sputtered around. Old corrals and a lone horse. Beautiful old carcasses of cars everywhere, some painted with giant googly eyes on the windshield. A curvaceous old white New Yorker up on blocks missing a rear wheel.

There was a yard sale on Main Street with a few tables and some hand-painted signs. A young guy and a woman in her fifties were hanging out there with their 14 cats and 7 dogs. In a Missouri accent that was simultaneously thick and choppy, the woman was loudly policing the cats that squabbled over a massive dish of wet food. A week-old Rottweiller named Kitty ran around, policed by the cats.

The young guy was flirtatious in a quiet, distinctively polite Western way. I petted the cat that normally doesn’t let anyone and it continued to brush up against me as I sifted through a dish of cool old metal pins.

The young guy’s mom showed up with beer and announced some free chicken lunch they were giving away one street over. An older guy who collected the pins showed up and sat down. A lot of years in that collection, he said, when you collect stuff, people just bring it to you. I bought pins for everyone on the bus. They chose:

Liz Black: an old enamel one, ATC a little opalescent with good colors
Joshua Beckman: a yellow bus
Matthew Zapruder: Sheriff star
Stephanie Young: a brassy megaphone
Juliana Spahr: a tiny bear in profile
Jen Hofer: a fly-sized angel with one wing
Liz Willis: a round racing pin, blue with a good helmet
Barbara Wright: Bud Light "EVERYTHING ELSE IS JUST A LIGHT."
Charlie Wright: Route 66
Joshua Clover: a little red and white one
Linas Phillips: a gold armadillo
Lori Shine: a black oval with ME SOUVIENS in white letters
Eileen Myles: passed—doesn’t like metal—but bought a Route 66 potholder
Bill Wesley: a little rainbowy looking thing with some initials
And I got one that said, I (heart) EVERYBODY / and you’re next.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, in the New York, New York Casino, the poets Matthew Rohrer, Anthony McCann, and Deborah Landau join up. Throughout the casino, Manhattan neighborhoods are caricaturized very similar to the way zoos evoke animals’ natural habitats. Everything I love about that city is missing, except some of my friends, and I follow them around rather dumbstruck and kind of hollowed out. The casino is bright and disorienting with horrible carpet, and you can smoke everywhere. There’s a big sign that says “New York the Best City in Las Vegas.” The gambling machines are a hair more appealing than ATMs, but some of us try them out and Lori Shine comes out the big winner at $50.

Matt Rohrer’s dad, in town for the big dental convention, photographs the LED sign announcing the reading: October 18, 2006 / WAVE OF POETRY / Brooklyn Room / Reception 8:00 – 11:00 pm, amid the B’nai Brith, American Dental Association, and other events.

Eileen Myles calls Roden Crater “God taking a jewelry class.” Travis Nichols calls Vegas “God taking Crystal Meth.” We just saw the casino, not the city, so who knows. Nice people came out for it. The readings were intense. My jetlag was intense. As was the shift from an environment that felt absolutely, sublimely right to one that felt in every way proportionally wrong.

Charlie and Barbara Wright, Joshua Clover and Elizabeth Willis leave us. On the bus we have buddies who will account for us before the bus leaves each rest stop. Mine was Barbara. No replacement for Barbara.

Originally Published: October 18th, 2006