In the club car that morning I had my notebook
open on my lap and my pen uncapped,
looking every inch the writer
right down to the little writer’s frown on my face,
but there was nothing to write
about except life and death
and the low warning sound of the train whistle.
I did not want to write about the scenery
that was flashing past, cows spread over a pasture,
hay rolled up meticulously—
things you see once and will never see again.
But I kept my pen moving by drawing
over and over again
the face of a motorcyclist in profile—
for no reason I can think of—
a biker with sunglasses and a weak chin,
leaning forward, helmetless,
his long thin hair trailing behind him in the wind.
I also drew many lines to indicate speed,
to show the air becoming visible
as it broke over the biker’s face
the way it was breaking over the face
of the locomotive that was pulling me
toward Omaha and whatever lay beyond Omaha
for me and all the other stops to make
before the time would arrive to stop for good.
We must always look at things
from the point of view of eternity,
the college theologians used to insist,
from which, I imagine, we would all
appear to have speed lines trailing behind us
as we rush along the road of the world,
as we rush down the long tunnel of time—
the biker, of course, drunk on the wind,
but also the man reading by a fire,
speed lines coming off his shoulders and his book,
and the woman standing on a beach
studying the curve of horizon,
even the child asleep on a summer night,
speed lines flying from the posters of her bed,
from the white tips of the pillowcases,
and from the edges of her perfectly motionless body.
Much has been said about being in the present.
It’s the place to be, according to the gurus,
like the latest club on the downtown scene,
but no one, it seems, is able to give you directions.
It doesn’t seem desirable or even possible
to wake up every morning and begin
leaping from one second into the next
until you fall exhausted back into bed.
Plus, there’d be no past
with so many scenes to savor and regret,
and no future, the place you will die
but not before flying around with a jet-pack.
The trouble with the present is
that it’s always in a state of vanishing.
Take the second it takes to end
this sentence with a period – already gone.
What about the moment that exists
between banging your thumb
with a hammer and realizing
you are in a whole lot of pain?
What about the one that occurs
after you hear the punch line
but before you get the joke?
Is that where the wise men want us to live
in that intervening tick, the tiny slot
that occurs after you have spent hours
searching downtown for that new club
and just before you give up and head back home?