Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins
Rocket Across Texas
The yellow center stripe unrolls electric under a dead-grey sky.
"When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner
of my eye. I turned to look but it was gone, I cannot put my finger
on it now, the child is grown, the dream is gone, and I...I have become
comfortably numb...". * *
Rocket across Texas, Highway 24, at 85 miles an hour.
Some who survived the malestrom feel an overwhelming guilt
when the names of the dead are read from the lists.
Our names aren't on them, but there are other lists.
I was a boy in this country, once, years ago. I knew these woods, these
rivers, these fields. My cousin, Grant, and I hunted sparrows here
with Daisy air rifles, then later, squirrels with Remington, and Winchester.
Later still, I hunted men with Colt, and fired howitzers named
Little Moe and Wild Bill across nameless miles of jungle to explode
in perfect cataclysm on nameless people who must have been very
surprised as they died.
Now I am back and something is missing, sucked out by the vampire of
the war. I'm looking for it.
Every mile or so on these farm roads is a sharecropper's house, fallen in;
the same faded color as the sky, sagging porch, shattered windows,
ripped screens, cotton crops done in by acrylic, polyester, and
big-time agribusiness. Time drifts loose here, like a derelict schooner,
no future in it, moved to the city. Grandfathers in aging pickups
lift a hand from steering wheels in friendly salute. Howdy.
Tired, old eyes look straight on, not at the gray, fallen farms.
Spark's Theater in Cooper, 1952, showed movies for a quarter,
Cokes for a dime, and popcorn for fifteen cents. One half dollar
thrilled little boys for a saturday afternoon. Grant and I
saw Errol Flynn in a pirate movie, ran home barefoot,
and were about to set sail on the bounding main of the fishpond
in a #3 galvanized wash tub, armed the swords and flintlocks made
from scrap lumber, when his mom caught us. A bath-towel on a
broomstick was the mailsail.
Where did all that go?! It all slid backward in time like the
highway that unzips behind me, releasing the past, like smoke.
I can look in all the eyes and feel disconnected. What was sucked
out in VietNam was refilled with the knowledge of how to kill a man
with a knife, the color of ChiCom tracer bullets, how to clean a
bloodsmear off my glasses with my shirttail, the whisper that
'incoming' makes just before it lands. Somewhere out here in these
woods, these rivers, these fields is the boy who went to war.
Most weekends, I try to find him.
Getting close, now. Grant and I flew kites near here. We made them
ourselves with paper and sticks, glue and string. On holidays
we popped firecrackers that flashed and threw off shards of
Chinese newspaper which revealed mysterious and magical writing as we
carefully peeled them open. How slowly time moves when you're
ten or twelve. We could catch frogs, slay dragons, climb trees,
all in an afternoon; then sip our grandma's lemonade in the evening,
under the streetlight where bats swooped in to catch moths on the
summer night. But... I have heard B-52's play an Arclight Sonata
with 500 pound bombs, seen the earth leap and ripple, felt the
Here it is, where the roadway crosses the river. I park the van
at the roadside, pull on the boots, chamber a round in the rifle,
pocket the little Beretta, and walk off into the woods...
Later, this afternoon, all these actions will reverse. History
will re-zip itself as I rocket across Texas, going the other way.
I think I've made this trip often enough to finally see some difference.
Maybe the void doesn't pull so hard now, maybe, I don't know...
Maybe I'll make this trip forever...
A pair of Cardinals lives in this grove, maybe I'll build a birdhouse
and nail it up here. Maybe I should build a lot birdhouses, somehow
I don't think it would be enough. I guess that I need to sit on this
riverbank some more.
OK, I'll be back next Saturday.
Turn the key, start the engine, heading back west toward the low, grey
clouds, showing a little rain, coming this way...
Computer Graphic Image: "TxHiway",J.M.Hopkins, 1996
* * from "Comfortably Numb" - Pink Floyd