I looked in the motel mirror and felt a rind on my face,
my own face a stranger, furtive, my eyes
blackened with fatigue from the pounding thruway,
sick lines in the forehead, cheekbones showing
like death. I looked at the vile black coffee
streaming beside me at the counter, like a cup
set down by another driver, myself, ages ago before he dropped
a dime in the phone booth and listened to
something in the cosmos that answered croaking
before it dropped the phone.
You'll not make it, a voice estimated inside my head.
The speeds are eighty and the cops are faster.
It's too long, I tell you,
without sleep. Whereupon
the fish spoke sideways from my mouth:
"We made it to here, we made it
crawling on fins that frayed out into feet,
while cool wet scales
turned black and shriveled
in the desert air; this planet
is something you make or don't make. Quit dropping
dimes in the instrument,
nothing you hear there, no address
will be pleasant or give you
the road ahead. Keep going, you just
might make it," the fish said.
I flapped the ends of my fins and left
a tip on the counter.
Ichthyostega, the old fish, has made it this far,
maybe he even knows
a way by the cops at the toll booth,
maybe he has a word
from the squawking phone.
Maybe he knows, but I don't.
I drive with fins on poisoned air through the night.
I drive with claws on the wheel I don't dare look at.
I drive hearing that voice in the engine, hearing
the background noise of the thruway
bucking the cosmos into shattered glass.
I drive with fins, but why, why? I've forgotten.
We've made it this far
to the steaming coffee on the all-night counter.
Don't touch the phone again,
don't look in the mirror, no one will see
what glove is drawn over your wrists.
If the fish doesn't know
the cops for sure don't.
Drive till you feel
this mind, this engine
go out of control.
Whoever said it had any,
not in three hundred million years.
Drive with fins, claws, hands, anything,
but drive and don't listen to the phone or the sirens.
Pass the toll gate skidding
years from the dial.
Count one million,
count two million,
Gulp your coffee, man, get going, get lost.