The dust bowl got us moving. I’ll never forget that billowing monster looming on the horizon, inching closer hour by hour, tumbling over itself and infecting all it touched. Sometimes I still see it: a black cloud, spitting venom and creeping into the boundaries of my consciousness. It shouldn’t happen to a dream. We cultivated all we could and got out. The road crumbled underfoot, weary old expansion. Millions of stars played tag in the sky. Summers at Itasca were just memories. Flashes of moonlight, Lakeshore, tiny little rocks in my hand. A signpost outside Pipestone read hash-mark, N, G. We set up camp outside town and scavenged for wood. We were sleeping in our tents when the Earth cracked apart and something terrifying emerged from the unknown. The glow of smoldering embers lit the creature’s face orange. Horns dripping sticky waste, wounds all over. Minotaure of the Beyond. It receded after it saw nothing to fear. The next morning we came to a train yard sprinkled with rust and tags. A teenage boy with a guitar and little more lay hungry amongst the cargo. His case was covered in a story written in white paint. Words, pictures, symbols. The story of his life. We left him with a can of beans and hopped the switchbacks west. A couple days later we came to a taconite mine and managed to flee without being seen. The sound of dynamite blasts echoed through the Range. An aging ship captain let us rest in his home for a day and night. His wife took a shining to Maria, gave her a crushed velvet dress and some pearl earrings to boot. We hadn’t eaten so well in days. They sent us on our way to St. Paul to meet a 7th St. swing dancer who, they said, could help us in our travels. The road became grey as the season changed over. Frost came and went. Tunnel passage. The map shifted again and again. Smoke signals emanated from the valley to the east. Ancient beacon. We huddled around the fire, singing 'Carryin' On' until our voices ceased. Our last day on the road led us to a farm knee deep in repairs; it had encountered a devastating tornado weeks prior. The fields were cloaked in splintered wood and uprooted crops. The farmhands never stopped working. A photographer from out east photographed a migrant mother with the pea pickers. The negative reached out to me, I reached back. The sharecroppers gave us a jug of their moonshine for lending a hand. It was brown, bitter, and reeked of rotten tree bark. That night we passed it around and stumbled into the city’s outer limits. A bluesman repeated a lick on the corner, while a stranger dressed in all white improvised to the chaos. Blurs like long-form exposure. We woke to one of our party lying dead on his back, the concoction poisoned him. That was one gloomy Sunday. Blast furnace… wondering why. I broke bottles all day in an alley behind the depot. Entry static resonated through the brick. I ran away through the broken glass, cuts in my palms. Trail of blood down St. Peter cobblestone. I ran into a bearded plainsman with a hatchet and a pocketwatch; he clutched me tight, smearing ashes across my face. Light embedded eyes blinded me. I tried to squirm free but it was no use. The traffic stopped and we walked across River Road, down to the embankment. On an island I saw my traveling party, my family. They smiled and waved and yelled for me to join them. The plainsman heaved me into the river. I flailed, unable to swim, desperately kicking. The water started to fill my mouth, I began sinking. I touched down to the muddy river bottom. As all hope ceased, I saw their faces emerging from the darkness. They carried me to the surface; I coughed and rolled over on the island shore… Closed my eyes under a full moon and dreamt of the parallel.
- DAN BLACK