Never have I felt more American
than lying on my back in a middle Illinois
gas station, duct taping my car together,
a Mucho Mango Arizona waiting
cold in my cup holder and the Midwest
spread like a tablecloth beyond my feet.

Never more American than
slicing through twilit West Virginia
interstates, playing Pokémon on my
Gameboy, wedged between friends
with Guster on replay.

Never more American than
curled in the back seat,
submerged in sunlight
and slumbering among the hum
of engine and murmur of One Direction.
The road sliding below me like fresh linen.

The Road, amalgam of a nation,
metonym for haggard towns and staggering cities
punched like nails through the sacred landscape, wishing
plates made tectonic their revulsion. And as I drive, I am
reminded that every state is green.

This is the culture we share: not Constitution
and Founding Fathers but pork rinds in Quik Marts
and green signs shining like will-o’-the-wisps.
Stepping sweatpantsed from the driver’s seat
and walking toward a Wendy’s, I feel the deep freedom
and shallow gild of America. Gold leaf falling fragile
to November asphalt, exposing shivering limbs.

And yet, I feel a foreigner in the Indiana Wendy’s
where three hours south people already speak a drawl.
I gawk at the man in camo, tar-crusted and family with
twelve teeth between them. My friend and I wonder aloud
how they voted and laugh as if we know better.

But the young man who keeps my Frosty from toppling
reminds me that the panache I find in the Podunk is not cheap
but paid for by lifetimes of servitude to fast food franchises
and systemic disenfranchisement
as communities are eroded by the relentless
rush of highway and appetites of the transient.
His eyes tell me I’m a tourist in his America.

Never have I felt more American
than with my hands on a steering wheel,
the reification of liberty as I make manifest
my destiny with subtle slights of hand.
And I do not care about my carbon tiretrack
or traffic accident stats so long
as I have the right to turn this wheel.
And I know I would overlook deaths to keep
my hands on the vibration of this freedom.

Never have I felt less American
than knowing with each border I cross
that my rights and those of my friends
become conditional,
that new definitions of “American”
are cut by the legislature, and
that society is so quick to change
the locks. And I think back to that Wendy’s
and don’t always feel so guilty.

Never have I felt more American
than in my family’s van, revisiting
a familiar route through blue mountains
where stone rises up on either side
like a sea perpetually parted,
my sisters’ heads lolling inward
like dandelions in the summer.

Never have I felt more American
than soaring through a galaxy of snow,
stars erupting on my windshield
in all their familiar and new constellations.
All is dark and quiet, and I’m reminded
that I’ve never felt so at peace
or so alone as fixed behind a windshield.

But the longer I’m on the road
the more I want to be at home,
and if not mine, another: a couch
overlooking the fog of San Francisco,
clean sheets eddied by an open Iowa
window, a hushing fireplace in Ohio,
sharing words and tea with an old friend
as outside the first snow swirls.

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