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Marilyn Nelson

Marilyn Nelson

Photo credit: Curt Richter

I Imagine Driving Across Country

I imagine driving across country
with my sister and brother.
In California we buy caps,
the kind truck drivers wear,
bright colors that keep the sun away.
We take turns at the wheel
and sing all the songs we know.
My sister’s voice is like mine
and I stop singing to listen.
All night we drive through the mountains.

My brother pulls the car over
at noon in the desert
and we get out to stretch our legs.
A strange man takes our picture
standing beside the car
in our decorative skins.

In the car again
we make the other trips,
through Kansas and Oklahoma
in the pink Lincoln and the Kaiser.
We count Uncle Sam mailboxes
and white horses,
we sleep at dusk-to-dawn drive-ins.

I catch the beautiful slow smile
of our dead brother
in the rearview mirror,
and our father in his uniform
drives 80 and when the cop stops us
—What do you think you’re flying, boy?—
he answers: B-52’s.

Now we are telling jokes in the farmland,
playing the dozens, getting down.
In Maine we get out to see the ocean.
We have come home again,
our old house there on the hill.

That night none of us can sleep.
In our separate rooms we lie awake
in the shared darkness
and imagine ourselves
still driving across country,
still falling home down the highway.


for Aaron Shalom Ungar

For each child that’s born,
a morning-star rises
and sings to the universe
who we are.
—“Sweet Honey in the Rock”
Welcome to you, little Aaron Shalom,
now the youngest under-Ungar
in the family home,
but soon to be known as
a whole, new me,
unique as a snowflake
miles above the dreaming sea.