Emily Strauss

Barstow Series

Used to be I could drive up to
Barstow for the night
Find some crossroad trucker
To demonstrate his might –
Sheryl Crow, “Leaving Las Vegas”


highway graffiti
modern petroglyphs
rudely painted
on cement embankments
hitchhikers sailing
the desert sky—
over the pass always windy
with ranks of turbines
to the oil fields, roustabouts
sweating in petroleum heat

throw some pipe
for a cot and beer
scrawl a message
eastbound 58
past potatoes, cotton
almonds, thick heat waves
obscure the white sun


start again— desert hub
shipping lanes radiate
east, north, old LA Highway
ends at the Vegas Strip
parallel, criss-crossing
lines of rails, asphalt
converge, fan out
the bare sage earth
cut, gouged
permanent marks of
faint wagon trails
alkali springs
tiny pup fish
endangered in
remnant lakes
sinks, invisible
river just outside


Barstow Yard
6000 feet long
the end of the Burlington
Northern, Santa Fe
railroad, trans-
continental trains split
couple, re-directed
down to LA
out to Needles, Winslow
the Yellow Swoosh
engine chuffing
huffing up the pass
12,000 head of Cajon Ranch
cattle ranging
branded with the cross
and curved bar
rail cars the blood
of commerce
just about everything
passes through Barstow


five truck stops on
High Desert Road
Rimrock Road
line up, gas up
shower, groceries
radio parts, doggy park
sweatshirts, Carhartts
Sunday prayer meetings
best pancakes in town
a/c on all night and still
12-volt TV, coffee maker
two weeks of laundry
waiting for your next load
back across the Colorado
on to Texas, the Gulf,
K.C., South Pass
with snow curling
highway slick
desert dis-remembered
rear view mirror


pizza oven heat
with outlet stores
overloaded circuit board
of switches, rails, roads
11 PM and everyone's
wired, still 94 degrees
alive time, hot air
glows under the lights
instant death waits
out there
highways bisect bare
earth, blacktop
blinks under a full moon
vagrant roads
vagabond drifters
hitchhiking the on-ramps
concourses of the common
man catching a ride
a rail, a patch of shade
serendipity where they meet
the severity, mystery
majesty of this land
obvious to those
who look
who actually live
in Barstow

Emily Strauss has an M.A. in English, but is self-taught in poetry, which she has written since college Over 250 of her poems appear in a wide variety of online venues and in anthologies, in the U.S. and abroad. The natural world is generally her framework; she also considers the stories of people and places around her and personal histories. She is a semi-retired teacher living in California.

1 comment:

  1. These poems are so dynamite! Emily, you're my new favorite poet (for today anyway). It's been a long time since I've been through Barstow and I was hitching at the time, so just remember a blur of hot concrete.


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