WHITEOUT, BOONDOCKS, IOWA
The cold saps the world of breath and the snow surrounds us, closes
in. We have come to this place, this truck stop in central Iowa off
Interstate Thirty-Five, huddled together in two small rooms, gathered
like prisoners, forced off the highway to become more than we are.
We gather chairs and stools into a tight ring and smoke. One of the
drivers relates casually losing his truck, panic stricken, on harrowing
mountain roads. Once you're committed, he says, you have to go through
with it. You have no choice. You ever hear a truck go by whoosh, you
know. He grins ands drops his eyes, then opens them wide suddenly
and stares at us, from one to the other. We scrape our chairs, our
Another driver, one without long underwear peeking through his shirt front, without even a tee shirt, circulates, refuses to join us. Ashe paces the room, he relates loudly the intimate details of his life. He punches holes into the air with his cigarette fist. The heat in here is enough to suffocate you, he says again and again. Damn it, don't they know there is never enough cool air?
A blonde, high-school-aged waitress rushes through the room, the hem of her tan and brown checked uniform rising and falling, rising and falling, like hours passing, twelve, twenty-four, thirty-six. Food is running out in the restaurant, she shoots to us, to the cashier across the room, to anyone who will listen. Her eyes, too, are wide, large light brown, but she turns quickly away from us and heads back into the restaurant. Food is running out, she calls one last time on her way out.
A man who looks like Hemingway comes in out of the night, his full gray beard frozen like crystal. He walks directly to the corner of the room and stares at the brown wall and talks. My God, he says, he has just come in off the road. The snow swirled around his lost vehicle for two hours, and now all he can do is look at the dark wall and talk. He was driving straight into the air, he says. And the white. So white everywhere. Before he joins us, he touches the wall finally, the brown, his fingers caressing it like it is skin.
There are even blacks here in central Iowa, in off the road form Des Moines,
on the way to St. Paul and Minneapolis. They cluster together among
this Midwestern prairie white, in the midst of all this incredible
white snow. They move together about the filled rooms, caroming enclaves
of black. But as the hours pass, they stop moving about and look from
one to the other. They grab chairs and stools and slide easily into
the circle, into the spaces we provide for them.
Cigarette fist man crowds in among us, too, finally, and admits, whispers
softly, his breath, his words almost visible, how in Viet-Nam helicopter
blades swirled the jungle, vibrated the jungle, moved the grass like
snow on his feet, his legs, to his waist. It was like life there,
he says, but it was the heat, waves of substantial air trapping his
breath in his throat. And now, since, he can't get cool enough. He
will never again be cool enough. He strips his shirt then, there in
front of us, to his naked, sweat-beaded skin. Cool, he says, and then
tells about actually punching holes into the walls of his house for
cool, cool air. As he talks, we hear wounds in the night, snow sanding
the windows, tapping like fingers, as it swirls around us, then over
But the wind and the snow die suddenly, as if they had never been. At once we rise and step lightly, nearly jaunting, out to our vehicles, as If nothing ever happened, as if the world remained the same the whole time. The drivers move on to their jobs without thinking, blowing down mountain roads whoosh. And the blacks move back into the white world.
I wait, lag behind, then head to my own vehicle, along, last, after
all are gone. Half way there I stop and feel the world, dark as death
out in the night. And it cracks suddenly - I can hear it crack - splits
us apart, hard, complete, sundered, like logs beneath the axe.