It was the time insects splattered against the windshield.
Begin again. It was the time I splattered insects against the windshield,
the beginnings of rain like transparent stars as my pickup truck
shot down the interstate, pollen damp on maroon steel. I gathered the arguments: There are no moral phenomena, only a moral interpretation of phenomena.1
the needle of the speedometer trembled at eighty-five.
I was late. My fiancée three counties away warned me
not to develop a pattern, lateness like her father.
The trees went by at a steady rate, bristling with wind
that made me keep both hands on the wheel, and focus.
I wanted to watch the trees, radiant foliage to my left and right,
a hawk circling above with a dark underside. I imagined talons
stained everlasting by the fortifying blood of rabbit.
From that height and with those eyes, one is ruthless.
* * *
Hours ago in the mall bathroom two teenagers entered
loud and dressed as skinheads, their jackboots and T-shirts ridiculous to a human being conscious this century.
The stink of beer and cigarette smoke wafted off them. I finished at the urinal and glanced towards their laughter,
rejecting how they pissed broad zigzags on the wall.
I washed my hands. The peripheral vision of the mirror
warned me when the taller one stood beside me, his smile
an upturned corner of bone when the lights went out.
“Faggot!” and a fist grazed my temple. I had sidestepped
the power delivered to the mirror, the crash and his scream bringing the other on top of me and into a wall, hard.
* * *
The mileage was full of nines, the odometer turning
a message in black and white—as if I cared. Outside the cell tower blinked in three places,
a metal scaffold built to a point and growing larger
with each erasure in the windshield. I’d climb there to think, past the diminishing Xs of steel lattice work,
up where the ladder rungs quit, but I don’t, the antennae and I together at one hundred and eighty feet—where nothing matters
but grasp and the speeding headlights below.
A prince, therefore, must not care about being criticized for cruelty . . . it is much more secure to be feared than to be loved.2
The rain would be cold with such thinking. Never mind the lightning.
* * *
A punch to the face, another in the stomach, blackness gave way
to stars exploding, the whirl in my head and knees
tempting to sink to. I heard the flush of a woman’s toilet
and dropped back into pain, reached down to that place
where only survival matters and hit through what was on top of me.
Each knee and elbow, each punch and kick shot out from my body
till I had the satisfaction of hand holding throat, squeezing
until my hammer fist collapsed nose, the crack that of an ice tray and the immediate flow, warm, as I dropped him.
* * *
The left lane was clogged. A Mercedes bumped along at the speed limit
parallel to an RV. I tried not to tailgate, flashed my lights
then high beams. The Mercedes driver tapped his brake lights at me
and slowed to fifty, waving at me with his middle finger, his eyes
felt in the rear-view mirror, believing that his time and behavior
were superior, that he could do as he liked with impunity.
High beams on and accelerating, I could see the registration numbers on his license plate as I neared and ever-so-gently nudged his bumper.
His response: a dramatic increase in speed and the desired lane change.
War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will . . .
to secure that object we must render the enemy helpless . . . 3
I cut my lights and outdistanced all nearby cars.
* * *
Only breath moved in the men’s room. I listened to labored inhalations while moving along the tile, felt the pipes shudder as toilets flushed. Light hurt in the awakening. The burst of fluorescent lights
revealed a spider-webbed mirror, a hundred replicas of my face
distorted and bloody, shimmering with each movement.
On the floor writhed two pitiful excuses, the remains of one
nursing his crushed fist and rolling in glass, the other
blood spilling from his misshapen nose. He quivered, was pale,
the last image as I ran out the door and bumped someone.
* * *
The interstate exit announced itself finally, and I took it. My lights shone on a sign
riddled with buckshot. I slowed to a stop, looked behind me and both ways,
nothing but my idling pickup truck awaiting my commands.
I signaled left and listened, signaled right and listened to the repeating blink.
In the distance, above the trees, the town’s upper hemisphere glowed:
a halo of lit homes, closed shops, street lights, and traffic light eyes.
I turned left for town. The way, punctuated by farmhouses,
curved and rose alongside property boundaries, wooden fences that ceased on the outskirts of town where the first stoplight
The light overhead remained fixed. Past the intersection, past the familiar
right turn was the driveway to her house. There she waited.
I imagined her in the dark with television, the phone beside her, holding a pillow.
The stoplight unchanged and no one around, I drove through the intersection
and continued my way. I thought of rationalizations and my convictions.
I thought of consequences, the police, the rest of my examined life.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche from Beyond Good and Evil
Niccolò Machiavelli from The Prince
Karl von Clausewitz from On War