The sun had been in my eyes the entire trip so far, and I was grateful it had set when I crossed the Hudson and got on the New York State Thruway, heading west, at Amsterdam. By the time I passed Canajoharie, it was completely dark. There weren’t too many cars going in my direction. In the opposite lanes, a steady pulse of truck traffic moved east, their yellow lights unthreading like a topaz string along the gentle curves of the highway. The night was quiet; I was alone.
On the tape player I’d been listening to some recorded poetry – 20th century poets reading their own works. A lot of it was unfamiliar to me, and since there was no identifying narration, I found myself guessing whose voices I was hearing. Women read poems about their lovers, giving birth, their aging bodies, their femininity, their blackness, their depression. Men read about death, work, drink, lovers, their depression. I listened, and didn’t listen, the voices went on.
I thought ahead to the hospital and my own father, and thought back to previous trips to visit my mother. My mind felt for her in the emptiness of the night, but there was no answer; she felt as absent as the stars. Instead I tried to think of my father, who was only wounded, not dying. The weight of the past three years seemed to have settled on my neck and shoulders. I massaged my neck with one hand, stretched my shoulder blades, tipped my head from side to side. Love and death; death and love: I felt…old.
My ancestors had made this same trip, on horseback or in wagons, from other parts of New England on their way to settle new farms in central New York. The many-branched Cherry Valley Turnpike loosely followed the Mohawk River that lay nearby and unseen: a black satin ribbon against the black homespun of field and forest. In early days the Turnpike was little more than a path through impenetrable wilderness populated by hostile Iroquois – the infamous Cherry Valley massacre had taken place a scream’s distance from here in 1783 - but by the late 1790s the turnpike had become a toll road, dotted with taverns for travelers going by horse or stagecoach. That trip had taken courage too.
Chords from an acoustic guitar broke into the drone of recorded voices, and then Leonard Cohen began singing about Abraham and Isaac:
You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children --
You must not do it any more.
For when all has come to dust,
I will kill you if I must,
I will love you if I can.
The continuo of the trucks throbbed into the blackness, and over my right shoulder, a golden moon rose like a cello. I knew I’d find the strength to do whatever I needed to; another hour and I’d be home.