Stephen Benz
2006 Poetry Chapbook Contest

U. S. 77

This frozen rain has made
the highway slick.
We're stalled in traffic outside Corpus Christi,
accident ahead.

Ice blinds the road signs
and swells the pools along the verge.
Styrofoam cups bob like geese heads
in drainage ditch slush.
Mall lights maroon
wet parking lots
where cars congregate
around islanded trees
tricked out for the holy days.
Backed up for miles,
trapped travelers can't help
but think of all that horsepower
corralled, balky,
sleek flanks steaming in cold air.

Such comforts, such ease of travel,
yet drivers end up dozing off,
crossing lanes, crashing head on,
or churning headlong into fallow fields.
Wreckers come to haul the carcasses
away on hooks. The rescue squad
straps victims into gurneys.

Traffic processes past, staring faces
pressed to glass, misted breath erased
by a blast from defrost vents.

Hours ago, we sat in a sterile diner
drinking coffee, mountain grown
in a poor country.
Steam obscured the pane,
and plastic ferns,
arranged into an inert rainforest,
separated our booth from others.
We read the news and brooded over
global warming, urban violence,
heart disease, and famine.

Now I forget the most telling statistics,
the leading indicators of concern,
and as we reach the site of the wreck, splintered
glass is all that's left for road crew brooms.
Here's the trooper to wave us through,
the road up ahead gleaming
and wide open.

© 2006 Stephen Benz

Author Biography

Stephen Connely Benz is the author of two travel narratives, Guatemalan Journey (University of Texas Press) and Green Dreams: Travels in Central America (Lonely Planet Publications). Travel has been a consistent theme in his life and writing. He has taught at universities in Central America and Eastern Europe as a Fulbright Scholar. His work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Washington Post, TriQuarterly, Creative Nonfiction, and River Teeth. After teaching in Florida for many years, Benz moved to Atlanta, where he currently lives with his wife, Cheryl.

Critical Response

Stephen Benz's "American Journey" takes the reader on a roadside spin from Florida to Texas to New Mexico to California and back East again. Benz's poems travel by bus, car, and by way of the poet's thumb, one eye cocked to the litter of our lives, one ear cupped to the particular cadence of our own American tongue. If Benz tracks the rough-and-tumble of the American road, he finds there is also its mitigating music, and sings that song.

—Stephen Haven, author of "The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks" editor, Ashland Poetry Press

©2009 Longleaf Press at Methodist University | Fayetteville, NC