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Issue Date: December 2004 Issue


Ode to the Road


George Bilgere

I sing the open road,
Sang Whitman, although no one
Could hear him singing now,
As the five o'clock sun,
Glinting off traffic, turns
Rush hour on 480
Into a gleaming Cuyahoga
River of steel, a roar
Louder than Whitman's
Barbaric yawp
Rising from the valley,
From the great sound barriers
Lining the highway, a roar
Meaning,

Day is done,
It's time for you to climb
Behind the wheel
And fire up
Some internal combustion,
Turn the music to loud
And hit the four-lane,
High-speed horizon,
The day's-end coma,
The collective unconscious
Of 480, whose concrete tongue
Is chanting its daily mantra
Of billboards and smokestacks,
Brook Park exit and antenna masts,
Transportation Boulevard
And the PD building,
Streetlights arcing over
That vast, unvisited
Metropark of a median strip,
Past State Road and Ministorage
And big-box stores and fast
Food and gas, past men at work,
And mute, abandoned shoes
Along the shoulder, past the wilderness
Of junked cars and the naked
Back yards of the poor
And under a great bridge
Where the world's last
Surviving pedestrian looks
Down with a strange pity
At you and the vast procession
Of blank faces behind the glass,

Hurtling past Action Door
And Broadway Tractor
And the terrible destiny
Of big-box stores again, and yet
Again, and Ministorage yet again
And the indoor golf ranges
And crumbling bridges
As you cross over
Into the West Side now,
And there are the smokestacks
Of Ford, the tongues of flame,
There are the white plumes
Of steam and smoke,
And there's the vast
Abandoned pit of LTV
Where all this steel
You're riding
Used to come from,
Where all those houses
At the valley's edge
Used to grow bright at evening
With steel men having dinner,
Steel men with jobs,
Where someone tells me
They're planning to blow
That blast furnace sky high
Next week, as if you could
Blow your own mistakes,
Your own dark history
Into silence, but there's no time
To think about that now,
This ride's over, 480's
Through with you for today,
And here's your exit.


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