Another Highway 61, Cautiously Revisited

It is decommissioned, off-limits, outright verboten,
Yet is traversed nonetheless,
Its patrons a mix of the pruriently curious,
The thrill-seeker, the merely woebegone.
As they have time on their side,
The hub-bub of school buses and suburban commuters
No concern as they navigate the buckled and broken asphalt
(The conflagration underneath changing the topography
Daily, sometimes even hourly)
They will stop to paint some phrase, some bon mot
On this roadway-cum-canvas:
Mostly the narcissistic monologue we bray at the universe,
The assertion that we were here, are here,
And (though it is plaintive yet unspoken) that we always may be,
Augmented with light hearted double entendres
And grim, hectoring Biblical quotations,
While not far away, the re-directed two lanes of blacktop
Carry onward, indifferently proceeding on its way
Through these stolidly scruffy old anthracite towns,
Their landscapes and the ground beneath them
Quiet as the sepulcher, the vagaries of their fates above the sod,
Stalking them impassively yet implacably.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: At one time, Pennsylvania Highway 61 ran through Centralia, a town where property values are not what they once were.


15 thoughts on “Another Highway 61, Cautiously Revisited

  1. Love the images that you created in this poem. Have you traveled 61 recently? The Judge (and my late father, Hugh) is a sucker for the “road less traveled.” In my younger years, I was quite game to venture off the main drag and meander on some roads that ultimately ended and then became narrower and narrower until only grass and dirt clods made up the road way. Those were the days when we did not care about cell phone coverage, where should we run out of gas or suffer a flat tire, we viewed such misfortunes as opportunities for adventure.

    1. The whole North-Central tier of the Keystone State can be a bit depressing at times, and there are plenty of spots where there still isn’t much in the line of cell-phone coverage.

  2. that coal mine fire in centralia as discovered while watching the movie ‘the town that was’ is one of the ultimate reminders to me that the tide is coming, maybe not today, but possibly tomorrow, snuffed out.

  3. These places — ghost townships — do sing like the canary in the cage. There are stretches of my commute in Florida that make me wonder if the next “Road Warrior” is being filmed nearby. Thus we follow the bow of the Titanic.

  4. I followed your link to the info page – what a truly amazing story. Fiction could not be founded on greater human error. As is always the case, I read your poem as I would a novel, so finely wrought is the spirit of place and person. Just fascinating to read.

  5. Quiet as the sepulcher, the vagaries of their fates above the sod,
    Stalking them impassively yet implacably.

    Such evocative closing lines!

  6. The sadness of a deserted road is so well illustrated in your writing, however that former highway through a forgotten town may well breathe a sigh of relief as it recaptures quieter times.

  7. Beautiful images that one feels one travels through reading. You know I was on the NYC subway the other day wondering at how crowded it has become at all times of day and in part it is bad management and perhaps over population but also simply a lot of people wanting to be in this place rather than one (perhaps) like the one you describe, and though I have an affection for the place you describe, in the face of current politics I can also understand why people flock , for example, to brooklyn. Anyway, your poem has a beautiful and seductive understatement that works very well. Thanks. K.

  8. ah the plaintive refrain of the dangerous / endangered (can never quite tell which) real estate agent. here in socal, the ‘property only ever goes up’ is the mantra. once in the biz, went thru 2 down swings including the 2008 collapse, which also booted me out. again, the prices froth, and the plastic additions compile (read that as you will). when the seas rise, i suspect coal country will look damn good. ~

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