Monday, March 23, 2020 • Dispatches from Pioneer Road
Day 8: A Wind
Last night, sometime before sleep and the snows of early morning, a sickly wind blew through my open window. I lay still and dared not stir, for I felt the wind dangerous with malicious intent. It searched for me. And, for a moment, the world quavered and all was lost in the darkness, as the wind revealed itself.
The wind had traveled long distances–wearily its breath dragged at my window screen. The wind’s breath smelled of evergreen and a stubborn winter, so I guessed it had come down from the piney ridge beyond the neighbor’s house. Beyond the piney ridge, the wind must have passed over the Thruway–there had driven a man with shaking hands as he escaped the City, his thoughts bent on his father and mother, the wind bent by his exhaust.
At midnight the wind had crossed New York State, sailing the shale-colored skies, haunting the eaves of guarded homes, tapping the siding and casting nightmares into the heads of children anxious with their parents’ fear. And I saw the thousand nightlights flicker, as they fought their small, important battles against the dark rooms.
The wind came from far away, from the West.
In the night, only hours before my window beckoned, the wind had cracked the frozen lakes of Michigan and loosed the docks and their rusty nails–so that someday those docks will collapse, fall into the water, and never see another summer sun. The wind had lifted trash in alleyways of broken cities; had withered cozy smoke that reached for hidden heights; had stolen promises from businesses on Main Street; had spoke in political rhyme without reason; had shivered the poor who are all of us, surely, but in our private, quiet desperation we think mostly of Me.
But the wind was older than Michigan, and, likely, older than the poverty of Myself.
In the fading colorless light of yesterday evening the wind had raced the long-haulers across the Upper Midwest interstates. It had spun windmills, sent their burnished blades screaming so the people who heard, faltered and dropped their heads. The wind dropped low and whistled across the empty fields and wide expanses; over the Plains it fiercely churned, like the first great engine of all-time, humming a monstrous tune, breaking the necks of cornstalks and killing the weak in their small nests and frozen burrows.
The wind was powered by cruel downdrafts, had spiraled down from cloud peaks high above the flatness. In the thin atmosphere of yesterday’s noon, as we shouted at each other, the wind looked down upon us and plotted its strategies.
And from there, before the fields and sky and shouts, well, I could not promise to know it’s history; it was hidden. Perhaps the wind came like a great exhale from the lungs of the Rockies. Perhaps it began with the opening of an umbrella on the coast. Or, perhaps, it began with the swinging of an axe splitting Oregon wood. I did not know where the wind was born, but I doubted it a foreign wind; for as the wind stalked my room last night, it was filled with faint voices in a language I knew.
Somewhere in the wind, as it paced the floorboards and hunted my breath, I heard within it the voices of the people, the voices not only of this time’s people, but of all hard times. Listening further, I glimpsed stories, tattered and frayed, phrases blown like rags hung to dry. I heard the telling of dust and drought and my grandmother’s people—that raspy wind which was her final gasp when she faded alone in the hospital bed. I heard the telling of unmarked gravestones huddled low in canyon bottoms—that grizzled wind in the grassy draw where the wheel tracks end. And I heard the telling of masses who crowded the city squares and I felt their rumbling complaints and opinions beneath my feet—that righteous wind which sings for justice and pride against a foe which so often is merely itself.
The wind sounded of all that had failed, and though past generations might have fought against it and prevailed, now the wind had come again through my window; strengthened now by the anger of the lands it had passed this night, renewed by the self-centered madness of a country that had forgot something vital and true, a wind now blowing hard and invisible through the mouths of the country’s people.
The wind came from America; it was us. And seeing how terrible the wind had become, and knowing it was us, made it all the more terrible.
I wish I could tell you that I braved the wind last night; that I rose from my covers and shut the window to it, or trapped it inside rendering it incapable of doing more harm.
But I did neither.
I simply lay there and painted grim reapers in the shadows, until finally I fell into a restless asleep, until the wind died down, until morning light came through my window.