“The great gifts are not got by analysis. Everything good is on the highway.”
R.W. Emerson, “Experience”
Before I fully register what I’m looking at —— a border with images of fruit decorating the port-side base of a semi-trailer —— we pass the rig on its left. It recedes behind us at a passive rate. Benjamin and I continue on into the slow roil of Wyoming high-country on our way from Utah to Colorado.
There were similar strips of fruit where walls converged with ceiling in the house where I grew up: paper borders of panels of bright yellow pears, grape clusters. The bedroom I shared with my brother was papered with one, too, though more foliate, venous, less fruited. For years my mother wanted to replace this bedroom border with a nautical, maritime theme: ships’ wheels, barrels, gulls, telescopes. Despite her intentions, my bedroom’s interior imagery never progressed from agricultural to mercantilist tropes. I remained arborescent, autochthonous. But make remaining present tense. For, as Deleuze writes, “there is always a way of reterritorializing oneself in the voyage: it is always one's father or mother (or worse) that one finds again on the voyage.”
The train from Salt Lake to Provo, which I take from the airport to attend my brother’s wedding, veins a route through northern Utah’s industrial corridor. Along the way, you can observe a procession of low-ceilinged storage facilities, foundries, warehouses, stone wholesalers, scrap-yards. Just off work, a commuter sits across from me and plays a video game on his phone before sliding into a light nap. Between Lehi and Orem, since it runs parallel to the freight line, our train draws up alongside and keeps pace with what feels like miles of tanker and hopper cars, as well as some empty platforms and some flatbeds stacked with plastic-wrapped pressed particleboard.
The commuter wakes and watches the paneling of train. He chats for a while to some men sitting across the aisle, and they wonder about the contents of the freight cars. The commuter says he has a friend in the hauling business who would transport bulk quantities of milk in a tanker car north, then carry gas in the same car south. Between loads, they would steam-clean the interior so that gas didn’t get into the milk.
“Of course, you can’t get everywhere,” he adds. “Think of the nooks and crannies in there.”
Overhearing this, I imagine the inside of a tanker car no longer as a smooth cylinder, but as a topological crumple. A body of seams and rims and rivets and edges where parts-per-million of milk and gas get trapped. An uncleanable interior. A receding-from, spiking and folding into itself.
That taste in your mouth? It’s you. You can’t get rid of it. Nor your internal topography of nooks and crannies and rooms and deeper rooms.
Deleuze, again: “In fleeing everything, how can we avoid reconstituting both our country of origin and our formations of power, our intoxicants, our psychoanalyses and our mummies and daddies?”
The first visual representation of string beans appears in the scrolling, illuminated margins of a book of hours painted by Jean Bourdichon in 1515. The illustrations he conjured to accompany the prayers of the hours also feature foxglove, lilies of the valley, dragonflies, the tip of the wing of which gliding just across the frame of the border, breaking realistically into the space of the text, Psalm 119. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. Seven times a day a song. Times a day a song.
Bourdichon uses the imagery of abundance as an accompaniment of praise. By beautifying a prayer of praise, the string beans and dragonflies and other good things of this world participate in that prayer’s purpose. In Bourdichon’s hands, form itself becomes a form of praise, praise of the law that form is.
To praise the poet, crown him with a wreath from the laurel tree.
Pricked by gold-tipped arrow of Eros, Apollo gave chase to Daphne, a nymph self-promised to Chastity, who, being pursued, prayed to her father Peneus once it became apparent that Apollo would stop at nothing to possess her: “Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!” So foot into root, root into ground. So branches are snapped and plaited together to crown the poets, who also stop at nothing, who also hunger and thirst to no end, who have to stop at something, who are rebuffed once the object of their desire retreats into the form of an actual object, recedes into the world, into the borders, the overgrowth.
The object, always an object of desire, escapes into form —— in this case, the form of a tree. Instead of consummation, now you have materials with which to adorn, to honor and praise those who sing the songs of desire.
By virtue of their virtual reality, Bourdichon’s images of abundance are encoded with desire, desire for the real dragonfly, the real bean. The things of this world dwell in the margins and the borders, unbordering the text, which, here, is a prayer in praise of the law. The dragonfly is quick, quickened into itself. The hours are long. To pass the time, I catalogue the company names of the trucks on the freeway. Stevens Transport. Illy. Prime Inc. ABF. FedEx. Xtreme Leasing. Killer “B” Trucking. Forward Air. Crown Group. Greatwide. CR England. R and R Transportation. Mercer Transportation. YRC Freight. Atlantic and Pacific Freightways. KLLM. Werner Enterprises. John Christner Trucking. CRST Expedited. Toad Transport. Crete Carrier.
I keep an eye out for a truck with the same port-side border I spotted earlier. The next time I see it, I want to study it more closely. But my search is fruitless. All I have is this other, endless list. Content, yet discontented.
Benjamin will start his MFA in documentary filmmaking at Northwestern in the fall. As we snake the scenic byways of northern Utah, then arc into Wyoming, I tell him that my problem with film is I can’t quote it. My problem is it eludes reference in my writing. It is already its own thing. Since it is fully imaged, it is fully imagined. Unlike text (which can be easily snapped in or out of a secondary text, easily incorporated since it lacks sensory corporeality), film has already been realized.
As soon as the hand closes around a piece of fruit, and plucks it from the branch, the fruit metamorphoses from a living organism to a dead object —— the stuff of a still life, or nature morte. It can be placed on a kitchen table. It can be arranged in order to beautify.
I ask Benjamin what it is about film, for him, as medium. He answers motion, movement. He answers that he moved around a lot as a kid, trucked from place to place and state to state by his parents in the back of a minivan. He came to love the world in its slippery variety. A banner unfurling from a window, looking out. Compounding forms of movement —— the movement of the shot, the movement of the plot —— film reproduces for my friend his lived experience. To-go, on the move, everything quickening-in.
Though film is hard for me, Benjamin and I agree on the relevance of the documentary and long-form journalism. After all, the actual world is all we have to work with. In the age of data, given such access to events —— unfettered to the plenitude of the world, to the viral meme of living —— it is impossible to fathom anything that isn’t.
And anything that isn’t should stay that way. Because there is enough of it already.
Bushels of multi-colored coolant tubes bob between the prime mover and the trailer of the semi-trucks we pass.
In the kinds of documentary we agree we like, what is in the background is what is at issue. Take, for instance, this jar of salsa on the gift and souvenir at the Little America truck-stop in Sweetwater County, Wyoming. Why did it get here? What drove the decision to stock this brand? The jar says it was manufactured in Kentucky. It is also a bible verse printed on the label which goes, the heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.
Who does this refer to? In praise of whose laws?
As we look at the jars of salsa and pickled quail eggs and jalapeños, Benjamin tells me about his favorite documentarian, who has made a film that traces whatever moral values there are that inform corporate production in America. That is, values other than more for the sake of more. What drives production beyond, outside of, production.
The reality is we know nothing about this apple butter. Everything about it is in the background. It falls to the documentarian to bring it all forward. To establish a lineage. The provenance of provender. The wormhole that the search for the roots of plenty can become.
Benjamin records some of our trip on his MiniDV camcorder. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, says the product description. The view-screen can flip and pivot. Because he hasn’t figured out how to take the video off the camera and onto his laptop, Benjamin uses the view-screen to show me some footage from a few months prior, scrubbing through shots of: a Standing Rock protest on Hollywood Boulevard; the super bloom, families in sun-visors bending down to take photos in the midst of the super bloom; the interior of an L.A. mansion, chandeliers, headless busts, angel statues on the landings; a woman trying on a pair of virtual reality goggles, ducking and reeling drunkenly into the images she must be seeing. As I watch I notice on the surface of LCD screen the whorl of Benjamin’s thumbprint. The tent and whorl of him. His overlay of oils, unguents. His issue. The foregrounder that he is.
Forward Air. Greatwide. Shuttler. Trucker. Eater-up —— of freeway.
In the spring of 1842, 24-year-old Henry David Thoreau remarked in his journal, “How simple is the natural connection of events. We complain greatly of the want of flow and sequence in books, but if the journalist only move himself from Boston to New York, and speak as before, there is link enough. Is not my life riveted together? Has not it sequence? Do not my breathings follow each other naturally?”
For Thoreau, the body is enough of a transporter. The lung is the long form of journalism. Breathe, and there are rivets. Look, and you are riveted.
I guess I can’t help it. I guess I can’t help this growing not-knowing. For my very existence is sequence, is synthesis, and synthesis is riveting. And along those rivets, in the heads and seams of the flush, there is nothing I can do about what gets caught in there, what recedes from reach inside me, and roots. What milk, what gas, what oils and unguents. In there, it blooms and re-blooms, that border of flowers and fruit, the overgrowth that obscures me from myself, until the self itself is a kind of tree, and with it I will wreathe and sing and wreathe.
Kylan Rice has writing published in The Kenyon Review, RHINO, West Branch, The Seattle Review and elsewhere. He has an MFA in poetry from Colorado State University and is currently a PhD candidate in literature at UNC-Chapel Hill.