"68 Miles to Barstow" — a poem by Heather Lang
68 Miles to Barstow
You say something
about the world’s largest thermometer,
which just now reads 87 degrees.
Near Baker, along Highway I-15,
millions of desert flowers. We slow down:
traffic. You should know
Zzyzx Road is exit 239.
This is, after all,
all about the numbers.
45 miles to Barstow
and another line that we shouldn’t
cross. And one call box every mile.
It is California: power lines
like giant robots. Arms. Legs. Playing
cat’s cradle, like when I was a kid,
something you can’t remember.
It’s 3 pm and brush makes long
shadows on the moon-like terrain.
The desert, a place where people shouldn’t
be. Even layers of mountains lose
their detail due to aerial perspective.
This desert is not high enough
for Joshua trees, and there are palm
trees where none should be. We come up
on Peggy Sue’s Diner. We’ve never
been, but we’re four miles
from Barstow, and I ask if that’s dust
or fog in the distance. I don’t want
it to be San Diego smog. I tell you
it’s okay to lie to me. Four miles
is fifteen minutes in traffic. But it was
never really about the numbers.
Heather Lang is a poet, editor, and literary critic. She serves as an adjunct professor at Nevada State College. www.heatherlangwrites.com