[encore] 575: How I Learned Bliss

[encore] 575: How I Learned Bliss

[encore] 575: How I Learned Bliss

This episode was originally released on December 27, 2021.


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I love a good road trip. Well, to be honest, I love a road trip when someone else is driving. Not because I don’t like to drive. I like to drive, I just like staring out the window more. I like pointing out the different crops, the different billboards along the roads. When my husband and I first started dating, we took a short road trip from Red Bank, New Jersey to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. So much corn. I pointed it out every time I saw it, “Corn, corn, corn, corn,” until to my delight, I shouted, “Christmas Trees!”

There’s something about the interstate highways, the different roadside diners, and gas stations, the feeling when the landscape shifts entirely and you know you’re someplace new. I used to do book tours with two friends who are also poets. If we had time before the reading, we’d stop at anything we’d find interesting along the way. The odd museums off the interstate, the original diner that supposedly invented the milkshake, the good bookstores in small cities and towns, the record stores, the graveyards.

But even more than that, sometimes I just loved the open spaces, that feeling when mountains or prairie land or forests felt like they were endless, expansive. It was almost like standing at the edge of the ocean, feeling a little smaller than before. On one road trip, from Kentucky to New York, we listened to music the whole way there. By the time we got out of the car, after twelve hours, the dog on my lap, we were almost hoarse from singing and it felt like we had earned the city. We had earned it by driving through winding roads and frozen rivers and now our destination was not just a destination but a prize.

In today’s poem, we see how driving alone across the country can change you. How the landscape, the road, the car, and even the music you’re playing can meld into one blurry experience until taking in the world becomes the most important job there is.

How I Learned Bliss
by Oliver de la Paz

I spied everything. The North Dakota license,

the “Baby on Board” signs, dead raccoons, and deer carcasses.

The Garfields clinging to car windows—the musky traces of old coffee.

I was single-minded in the buzz saw tour I took through

the flatlands of the country to get home. I just wanted to get there.

Never mind the antecedent. I had lost stations miles ago

and was living on cassettes and caffeine. Ahead, brushstrokes

of smoke from annual fires. Only ahead to the last days of summer

and to the dying theme of youth. How pitch-perfect

the tire-on-shoulder sound was to mask the hiss of the tape deck ribbons.

Everything. Perfect. As Wyoming collapses over the car

like a wave. And then another mile marker. Another.

How can I say this more clearly? It was like opening a heavy book,

letting the pages feather themselves and finding a dried flower.

“How I Learned Bliss” by Oliver de la Paz from REQUIEM FOR THE ORCHARD © 2010 by Oliver de la Paz. Used by permission of University of Akron Press.