Aspects of Travel



Because we are humans we have created a room that will carry us across a distance. I begin in a car. A person maneuvers the room through the city of Providence carrying me, my bags, my clothes, and books. Left here, I say. The day is perfect for travel. We still talk this way although I will not set foot outside for the rest of the day. It remains important that the sky be clear as you move through it. Have fun, we each say, in all its iterations. We touch. When traveling movement becomes intentional. I move to get somewhere. We meet to say goodbye, to say, it will be some days before I see you again. On the train my back faces our destination. I do nothing but sit. If I were bigger, trees would be weeds, brush in the yard.



Because I get off the train at the wrong terminal, because I am early, I don’t worry. I walk the length of the airport. I discover a church inside the airport. Here—not anywhere yet—is the place to bless yourself.



Beneath a disco ball in an airport in Texas, a waitress calls me sir and then becomes confused and then covers her face with a menu so she can resolve my gender with another employee. I am standing in front of her while she does this. I move on. The next bartender calls me Bud, eyes me. Dallas has made me male, though I still use the women’s room and am watched there too. This is how public spaces make assignments. In Texas in Providence in California in every place I am made to endure the resolution of confusion. The resolution is the long stare, the long question, the long apology, the long disgust, the long distrust, the long assertion, the long erase. I wait. I wait. I refuse to be resolvable. I wait. I wait for confusion to become a resting place for resolution to become a moving organism, an evolution foretold by my body.



In the air is the sound of air—pressure against a frame. The veins of the earth are visible, and the craters of terrain. Some places look soft. If we fall from the sky let it be in the tilled dirt of a farm, the smooth give of a forest, the wash of a lake. All of my fear has left me. Even here where I don’t belong, where I rely on machines and tired strangers, on weather and the good will of travelers, where I move without moving high above the earth—even here I am untouched. How could this happen? In the sky you must feel everything at once and watch it leave you.



Above earth I do not belong to the earth. I belong to space. I belong to the plane to the plain. There are lines where water traveled once, or where the ground began to crack. There is nothing else. The desert doesn’t want you to live, but you will.



In Joshua Tree, there is so much wind it sounds like water. I wake up and think of waves. The oasis of the desert. KG is measuring sunflower seeds, bagging them. The desert looks like itself—vast, wild. The houses are small. I have to walk through the bedroom to get to the bathroom. Fox looks at me, rolls over.



When traveling, all experiences become gifts, something unexpected. I control nothing and so give myself to the desert, to the dog licking my coffee cup, to the food placed in front of me, to the doves in the rafters. I retrieve duct tape from a wheelbarrow. I toss wood to Fox, who is on the roof battling the wind. I am cleaned by someone else’s soap, the smells of my friends. A strong thumb presses into the lip of my shoulder blade, works away at a knot. I eat a bowl of seeds, let dust and sand blow over me. None of this belongs to me, I can feel that when I travel, will try to remember it when I return. I simply move in a direction, engage with what I find.



We collect juniper sap from the tree. We collect the skeletal cholla. Heat turns wood blue. There is a lot of blue in the desert, the sky practically reflects off the sand. The sun chars all the plants to silver. My hair and my eyes blend me into the ecosystem. I am sand. I am sky. My hand swings into a cactus. A row of spines line my finger like a fence. I pull my skin through their hooks one by one. I flatten oleander flowers in a book.



I am energized by this place and still must adhere to the limitations of my body. I still must sleep for a long time. I still must say, I can’t walk much more right now. It is still necessary to rest even when I’d rather not. KG and I, mirroring, outnumbering the well for once, try to place fatigue in the body, try to spell its definition. We are pulled like strings tied to our ribs threaded into the ground. It comes from deep inside. You are pulled, you sink. You hit a wall. The metaphors are imprecise. Language should be specific. Fox says, what do you want to do? There is no way to answer this question. We still must turn to need.



In the desert I am visited by benevolent ghosts. I watch baby doves learn to fly. Fox and I get matching mood rings. If I were to leave Providence, this is where I would go. This place used to be under water. The landscape betrays this—giant boulders gathered in piles like pebbles pushed by a hand. The rocks are so large that to be moved gravity must have suspended itself or have been forced to suspend. Only water could create the landscape of space. You feel it here: the rules of a city do not apply to anything you do. If you thought that it mattered what you did with your life you were mostly wrong. When the water runs out it’s just gone. When you say it’s good to meet you, you mean it. You say, I feel like I know you already, I have a lot of love for you already. Your body can’t live as long as you want it to, but it can live for a while. You let it.

S.E. Tourjee is a writer living in Providence, RI. She is the author of Ghost, a chapbook out from Anomalous Press. She collaborates widely and enthusiastically with artists of all mediums, and received an MFA from Brown University. She is a recipient of the John Hawkes Fiction Prize, an &NOW Award for Innovative Writing, and was a finalist for the FC2 Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize. She is a director and teacher with Frequency Writers, a writing community and school located in Providence. More from this author →