Turtle Tries to Travel, Take 3: The Muse

by Rina Caldwell

The Muse 2

Much like recalling a movie watched once in early childhood, reflections of my drive from Michigan to L.A. are strange and opaque.

I know that two dear friends came with me and that I loved them. I know that I was afraid of the new life ahead of me and did not find humor during the trip.

While images worshiped on Instagram and pasted on social media platforms told me that road trips are lush and sexy experiences of summertime fun and youthful extravagance, I did not find this to be true. I did not feel like a young and carefree recent graduate. I felt ridiculous, like my hands were too big and my arms were too small and my thoughts were nothing and nowhere at all. I felt out of place and clueless, as if adulthood was a dangling thread somewhere in my peripheral which I kept trying to brush aside — except for one night.

One night I drove from sunset until sunrise. I drove through the night, from Colorado to California, through mountains, in between mountains, and over mountains — right before my car hit its stress point, just before I crossed into a new state and a new state of mind.

It was the first time I encountered the cool muse that follows travelers on night drives. We were never again better friends than that night.

Through the Rocky Mountains, indigo mountains; black-blue skies and lavender mountains and blueberry-stained skies, and stars.

These stars weren’t normal visitors of the sky or familiar to my imagination; stay alert. Staying alert did not take the least effort; be present. Noticing the understated movements of my mind and heart up against the black road and the undulant mountains was as natural as breathing; breathe. The night and the drive were pure and clear and gold, and I hoped that dawn wouldn’t come too soon.

All night drives, you know?

Turtle’s inner thoughts unraveled and unwound. She did not fear loneliness because it was her evening companion. The friend stretched out next to her in the reclined passenger seat was in a deep sleep. Turtle imagined that the sleep was an enchanted one so she could believe her friend would not awaken and disturb her watch. Her thoughts were in unison and communion with the western breeze and the chapters in Turtle’s mind unrolled one into the next. Uninterrupted thoughts glided over the mountain sides like the spring muse chases the winter away. Nothing made sense but everything was poetry and a lyrical perfection. The storm always comes during night drive and the ships that drive in mind’s eye always settle their sails and turn towards the wind. No matter what happens, you’ll never get lost.

It’s like little red riding hood after her first real-life lesson about wolves. It’s like pearls from your grandmother without strings attached.

Every few weeks or so, I would go through a new existential crisis. The time I spent in California was one long intrapersonal existential crisis, magically turbulent like Poseidon’s storms and bitter, like too much baking soda — because this is where my deepest talents lie (they’re tricksters).

Each warm Saturday morning would find me a new soldier with a new banner and a new cry, desperately grasping onto the wisdom I had picked up in my previous life:

Childhood lessons admiring
a King and his new triumph,
Gods who walk disguised among men to disturb or to heal,
loss on the field and loss at home.

Poetry that rang in my ears as I locked eyes with the cold winter sky
and memorized my own past
to secure a future,
that my heroes would find worthy.

A reckoning of caffeine and cold ink painting further mountains to climb
weakening the resistant boundaries of truth and intellect,
that each day may carry unforeseen and untouched limitless opportunities—
no fences or walls to stop me; this was my wisdom.

This is where my talents rest.
This is where selfish purposes flower and foster,
Where narcissistic waves of rhythm intoxicate.

And these are the desperate and empty ramblings of a Plato’s poet without discipline.

What I wished was that the wisdom of my youth was no more than the follies of wanderlust. My new and developing poetic epigrams were, in other words, two gaskets short of a machine, shades of color off from creating real beautiful dissonance that diffuses health and discovery. This was flower-flavored mud. This was deceptively bad decision making — delusion. This was what I now understand to be the kingdom of a millennial — a royal city of bullshit that tries to grow up and become the real deal.

These poetic rambles and fantasies were my liquid strength. They got me through the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada mountains as much as the gas in the car, and finally landed me underneath a lemon tree somewhere in Los Angeles.


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