Pilgrimage to the Shrine

by Garrett Hongo

Garrett Hongo

Six hours since
the Paradise Cutoff
and running on empty.
No gas stations or rest stops,
no weigh station, no cops.
Just miles of straight road
and a long double-yellow
unrolling in front of us.

Alan recognized nothing.
Lawson pops the glove,
pulls out a penlight,
and fingers the map,
pronouncing a few mantras.

Our headlights slide
over a scarecrow
made of tumbleweeds
standing by the road.

He’s wearing a kimono,
a dark-blue stovepipe hat,
his shoulders cloaked
in a wreath of chrysanthemums.

We pull over,
back up,
and he disappears
into the pale-
grey darkness.

It’s smoke.
We can smell it,
so somebody’s
got to be
close by.

But our eyes
go blined, fill
with tears and ashes
as we stumble
down the off-ramp.

The smell of
frying trout
and steamed rice
reaches us when
we come to.

An old hermit,
dressed like the scarecrow,
crawls out of his barracks
and brings us tea.

“Drink!” he says,
“It’ll pick you up!”
And so we drink,
feeling drugged.

Soft blues
in the key
of sleep
suffocates the air.

From up the mountain,
the sound of obsidian,
flaking in the wind.
Clouds of black glass
waltz around us.

We dress ourselves
in shrouds of tule reeds
stitched with barbed wire,
stained with salt and mud.

We refuse to cry.

We drift back
to the highway,
holding our fists
like rattles,
shaking them
like bones.

Last updated September 09, 2022