At the desk where the boy sat, he sees the Chicago River. It raises its hand. It asks if metaphor should burn. He says fire is the basis for all forms of the mouth. He asks, why did you fill the boy with your going? I didn't know a boy had been added to me, the river says. Would you have given him back if you knew? I think so, the river says, I have so many boys in me, I'm worn out stroking eyes looking up at the day. Have you written a poem for us? he asks the river, and the river reads its poem, and the other students tell the river it sounds like a poem the boy would have written, that they smell the boy's cigarettes in the poem, they feel his teeth biting the page. And the river asks, did this boy dream of horses? because I suddenly dream of horses, I suddenly dream. They're in a circle and the river says, I've never understood round things, why would leaving come back to itself? And a girl makes a kiss with her mouth and leans it against the river, and the kiss flows away but the river wants it back, the river makes sounds to go after the kiss. And they all make sounds for the river to carry to the boy. And the river promises to never surrender the boy's shape to the ocean.
A few hours after Des Moines the toilet overflowed. This wasn't the adventure it sounds. I sat with a man whose tattoos weighed more than I did. He played Hendrix on mouth guitar. His Electric Ladyland lips weren't fast enough and if pitch and melody are the rudiments of music, this was just memory, a body nostalgic for the touch of adored sound. Hope's a smaller thing on a bus. You hope a forgotten smoke consorts with lint in the pocket of last resort to be upwind of the human condition, that the baby sleeps and when this never happens, that she cries with the lullaby meter of the sea. We were swallowed by rhythm. The ultra blond who removed her wig and applied fresh loops of duct tape to her skull, her companion who held a mirror and popped his dentures in and out of place, the boy who cut stuffing from the seat where his mother should have been— there was a little more sleep in our thoughts, it was easier to yield. To what, exactly— the suspicion that what we watch watches back, cornfields that stare at our hands, downtowns that hold us in their windows through the night? Or faith, strange to feel in that zoo of manners. I had drool on my shirt and breath of the undead, a guy dropped empty Buds on the floor like gravity was born to provide this service, we were white and black trash who'd come in an outhouse on wheels and still some had grown— in touching the spirited shirts on clotheslines, after watching a sky of starlings flow like cursive over wheat—back into creatures capable of a wish. As we entered Arizona I thought I smelled the ocean, liked the lie of this and closed my eyes as shadows puppeted against my lids. We brought our failures with us, their taste, their smell. But the kid who threw up in the back pushed to the window anyway, opened it and let the wind clean his face, screamed something I couldn't make out but agreed with in shape, a sound I recognized as everything I'd come so far to give away.