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Journal, Day One

By Major Jackson

Against my better judgment, last night I drove from Burlington, Vermont, to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Intermittent rain and a broken headlight made for a harrowing trip. However, probably unlike other regional transplants, I am both thrilled and terrified by the danger of driving in Vermont, referred to fondly by southern New Englanders as “The Sticks.” Frost nailed it: the woods are “dark, and deep.”

Since moving here in 2002, I have had two near-death experiences in inclement weather: Once, I spun out into a ditch just over the Vermont/New Hampshire border in a light snow-storm that barely coated the blacktop; then, driving north on VT-22, a road east of Lake Champlain, I lost visibility due to an endless stream of thick snowflakes obscuring the road with drift and filling the windshield so fast my wipers could barely keep up—a phenomenon I’ve come to learn as “whiteout,” which for a black man in these northern regions tends to take on more metaphorical weight than I care to admit. In both instances, I came close to tragically colliding with two 18-wheelers, their swerving headlights suddenly appearing then disappearing behind me.

Early last month, my wife Kristen and two sons Romie and Langston, returning on an evening full of harvest moonlight, ran over a bear on I-89 that had seconds before been rammed by a freight truck. The car went up into the air (as did the car ahead of them) and they nearly tipped over, but landed, somehow for the grace, upright in a field. In the Northeast Kingdom, signs abound that say, “Brake for Moose: It Could Save Your Life!”

When the folks at Poetryfoundation.org indicated that they’d like for me to contribute this week to their series of journals, I thought about how driving in the evenings, on occasion, I like to turn off my headlights so that I can immerse myself into pitch darkness, the road barely illumined by the vellum of moonlight and constellations of stars above. Then, I’d turn them back on, having abruptly given in to a fit of fear of running over skunk, deer, bear, or worse, moose. Then, the game would begin, whereby I’d test myself as to how long I could brave the dark woods without headlights. (Don’t ask; I won’t tell how long such idiocy overcame me.)

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me: I speed, only pay tickets after the authorities have hunted me down through a series of letters from your local DMV, and generally, when alone in the car, drive dangerously in spontaneous fits of thrill-seeking, vehicular adventure. (Is this a confession?) I’m not sure how or where it begins, but I’ve come to realize I am excited by the combination of Marinetti’s exaltation of speed and Frost’s mysterious “the deep,” of shuttling mindlessly through the unknown at strange velocities. At times, the windows go down and the rooftop slides back, and I sanctify the night with a soulful song from my speakers. Sometimes, if it is terribly late and a stillness permeates one of Vermont’s proverbial, quaint town centers, I’ll slow down in front of a statue of a local, war hero, or in front of the town hall, turn off my lights, crank the volume of a hip-hop song, then take off, satisfied that Luchini or Malik B has just blessed these people with his beats, rhymes, and life.

It’s gonna be a crazy ride, a hasty ride, but who knows what’s ahead? May this weblog serve as a virtual travelogue, for I’ll be heading to University of Indiana this week to give a reading. I’ll report on Cave Canem’s 10th Anniversary Reading tonight at the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge. Most likely, I’ll touch upon Cave Canem’s significance and impact on my life. Journeys.

I’ll likely not use the word “blog,” too much, for its mundane “blather” and “blah blah blah” quality irks me; so, on that note, I’ll be Blog-Lite, hoping to avoid the risks of topicality and verbosity. Unlike a poem, which presents “a stylized self,” a blog hopes to capture a voluminous speaker, who reveals all of his/her loose, baggy, catch-all (and some more) aspirations. I hope to keep my weblog tight and neat, driven by some overriding metaphorical proposition.

Hopefully, I’ll arrive on time, but, if you know me, a third of the time, that’s wishful thinking. I’m old enough now to share some stories from the road, having traveled and lived in various parts of the country from Eugene, Oregon, to New Orleans to the tip of Cape Cod. As a result, I am terribly nostalgic; so I might reveal some juicy tidbits about friends.

But, know also, I am an equal-opportunity blogger, so if you have a request or a query, by all means, fire away. Beginning tomorrow, I’ll include a few embedded columns: a “Tip of the Day” for aspiring readers of poetry and a “Dopest Rhyme of the Day,” harkening back to old-school issues of The Source magazine. I’ve been immensely shaped by bearing witness to certain kinds of violence. I’ll rap ad nauseum on that topic and the desire for tenderness in poetry. That’ll be my Rated “R” weblog, maybe NC-17. Who knows?

Keep me locked in gear. I’ll be back, faster than you can say “Wendell O. Scott.” So, let the poppers pop, and the breakers break.

Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, November 13th, 2006 by Major Jackson.