A Nostalgist's Map of America

by Agha Shahid Ali

The trees were soon hushed in the resonance
of darkest emerald as we rushed by
on 322, that route which took us from
the dead center of Pennsylvania.

(a stone marks it) to a suburb ten miles
from Philadelphia. "A hummingbird,"
I said, after a sharp turn, then pointed
to the wheel, still revolving in your hand.

I gave Emily Dickinson to you then,
line after line, complete from heart. The signs
on Schuylkill Expressway fell neat behind us.
I went further: "Let's pretend your city

is Evanescence-There has to be one-
Pennsylvania-And that some day-
the Bird will carry-my letters-to you-
from Tunis- or Casablanca-the mail

an easy night's ride-from North Africa."
I'm making this up, I know, but since you
were there, none of it's a lie. How did I
go on? "Wings will rush by when the exit

to Evanescence is barely a mile?"
The sky was dark teal, the moon was rising.
"It always rains on this route," I went on,
"which takes you back, back to Evanescence,

your boyhood town." You said this was summer,
this final end of school, this coming home
to Philadelphia, WMMR
as soon as you could catch it. What song first

came on? It must have been a disco hit,
one whose singer no one recalls. It's six,
perhaps seven years since then, since you last
wrote. And yesterday when you phoned, I said,

"I knew you'd call," even before you could
say who you were. "I am in Irvine now
with my love, just an hour from Tuscon,
and the flights are cheap." "Then we'll meet often."

For a moment you were silent, and then,
"Shahid, I'm dying." I kept speaking to you
after I hung up, my voice the quickest
mail, a cracked disc with many endings,

each false: One: "I live in Evanescence
(I had to build it, for America
was without one). All is safe here with me.
Come to my street, disguised in the climate

of Southern California. Surprise
me when I open the door. Unload skies
of rain from your distance-drenched arms." Or this:
Here in Evanescence (which I found-though

not in Pennsylvania-after I last
wrote), the eavesdropping willows write brief notes
on grass, then hide them in shadows of trunks
I'd love to see you. Come as you are." And

this, the least false: "You said each month you need
new blood: Please forgive me, Phil, but I thought
of your pain as a formal feeling, one
useful for the letting go, your transfusions

mere wings to me, the push of numerous
hummingbirds, souvenirs of Evanescence
seen disappearing down a route of veins
in an electric rush of cochineal."

for Philip Paul Orlando