I Need the Highway Like Kerouac Needed His Road.


Driving out on State Highway 539, I find myself extremely lucky to live in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. How could I have ever hated family outings into the forests?

The only thing I know to grow in sandy soil is pine trees. What else springs forth vividly in a plot empty of nutrients? They are the oddest thing, I see sand and I think beach, but here they are all spindle-needle and pinecone-floret. I used to hate how skeletal they looked in winter, but now in the 90-degree heat, and a humidity index of who-knows-what, they look like the only alive thing flourishing in Hell.

There is nothing barren about them.

Highway 539 is endless, open road winding forward for miles with this forest around me. The sun twists rainbows off the blurring haze rising from the tar, and the air conditioner is going full blast on my cherry tomato cheeks. Carole King tells me, “Nobody’s gonna kill your dreams.”

It has been hard to dream during this pandemic, to hold on to anything I cannot see, to see further than right below my nose. But this road goes on and on.

Hope. I believe it grows on farm stands in America. Where this pandemic has made everything right seem wrong, the only real thing I can make sense of is this highway. The undulating green hills, uninterrupted corn stalks, and the horses and their languid grazing in the heat.

Blue skies and birds floating suspended like time stands still up there, all one has to do is open their wings and let that infinite blue hold them.

I needed this green open expanse of highway like I suppose Kerouac needed his road. When the drink couldn’t help him escape anymore.

Last night I read the tarot and I pulled the Tower. We often imprison ourselves in towers of our own making, we need to leave the scenery for a new vibe.

Driving on this highway is similar to the way in which newborn babies sometimes need the lull of the engine, the rolling tires over pavement. Driving is my lullaby. When I get too deep in my own head, I need a wheel in my hands, a road that stretches out like my stiff limbs, and a song I snap my fingers and roll my shoulders to.

And I need the simple things, like flowers and vegetables and smiling faces excited by sunshine and homegrown harvests.

I live in a state that is really three states. Pick a direction and you have the best of all worlds. I chose West because West is always synonymous with vastness, and when the world feels suffocating, I need to see the spaces where things can grow freely. Homes spaced out and front porches.

No gas station or Wi-Fi for a while, connected to nothing but my own sweat forming on my upper lip and in the crook of my elbow. Cute farm stand boys, tall and tan. Fields of flowers, and in autumn, fields of pumpkins.

I like bright orange things — marigolds and their pungent smell, the crisp crunch of their stalks when scissors cut through them as I fit them into a cup. There is something inherently beautiful about farms and gardens and the overflowing ripeness of what grows when tended.

It is not like the sea or the city. It’s a lighter layer of feeling. A gauzy film in high heat, it calms. There is no layer of ferocity like at the roaring lip of the shoreline or the frenetic buzz of the hive that is Times Square.

During this pandemic, the roar and the electric no longer hum and the silence is deafening. No clean soft cotton comforts, only the white silence of padded cells.

Out here in these fields, it’s supposed to be quiet. It’s the earth working beneath your feet. Everything at its own circadian rhythm. You can hear the swish of the horse’s tail and the dragonfly’s wing. You notice the monarch, another bright orange thing, her fast flitting wings flagrant against the highway.


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Alise Versella
Alise Versella is a poet living at the Jersey Shore. She has published three volumes of poetry which can be found at her website, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. Her work has been featured on Elephant Journal, Women's Spiritual Poetry blog, ultraviolettribe.com, The Tattooed Buddha, and of course here. She considers herself a coffee enthusiast and self-proclaimed dessert whore, who believes with every fiber of her being that poetry, beautiful poetry, can come from the ugliest of pain. Poetry can be the salve for all the broken parts, and it can make us whole.
Alise Versella
Alise Versella