With no walls or ceiling to block it, the breeze shuffled my hair.
I was chained, but to a comfortable chair on a single, electric boxcar
that rolled through the world at thirty-five miles an hour.
IVs kept me fed and watered and a catheter kept me clean.
My jumpsuit, white at sentencing, splotched in the wind and rain.
Its knees threaded. Seams puckered and the ankles frayed.
At first, the camera welded to one corner made me safe, watched over,
but its red eye never blinked. I fantasized about the distant sentry
till I loved her. At a bank of screens, perhaps she knew mine and preferred it.
I tried, for her sake, to be dignified, intelligent, and brave, or to seem so
as I crossed the canyons and the marshes and the flats of blue-green hay.
Still, I often cried. More in the beginning, but years later too.
Every day I woke with God’s face in my face. My crime had been a breed
of blasphemy I didn’t understand, but that is not to say I didn’t know
that I was guilty. Even my bride said twenty-five to life seemed fair.
Then she was gone, along with everyone, and it was only sunflower fields
for hours black and golden sliding back toward the hills. Time dilated,
and at night, in the cold, coniferous air, every star was young.
My skull baked in the desert. And when the tracks led over oceans
my eyes baked in the brightness of the sea. Elsewhere, sleet
ticked hard off the boxcar, soft off my skin and the chair.
Sometimes I imagined other criminals on craft like mine, spaced far
enough apart to not be seen. I tried to find some way my eyes
might leave a mark on the horizon, to say something, even only I was here.
Mostly I suspected that the world of human beings and our things
was gone. Or I was gone to some far planet, indistinguishable
but for its perfect solitute. There was nothing that reminded me of me.
Until. Until, one dawn I woke beside a caved-in depot: scattered boards
and shingles by a creek and sunlight tonguing something metal in the grass,
a rotten deck of antique bricks…. I fought to turn, to crane my neck
as I went past, but then my shuttle slid around the bend and I sailed on
into a plain of tulips, blue and pink. So fast. It was so fast.
But I knew what I saw. And that was the beginning of my rehabilitation.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.