Road Trip to Duke
by Bill Glose
Not once on the long trip down
do we mention our motive,
the manila-enveloped passenger in back,
the magnetically-resonanced images
and sheaf of medical assessments.
We play games instead, racing
through alphabets, cataloguing
state slogans, slug-bugging a shoulder
now and then. A Virginia sign proclaims
This county invented Brunswick Stew,
and you tell me about the time you visited
a Ruritan Club where gallons of stew
cooked in a five-foot vat, stirred
with an oar meant to paddle a boat.
Arriving early at Duke University,
we stroll through campus, all those
Gothic spires and crenellations,
grand arches fit for a parade.
Our last stop is the Medical Center,
avoided till the weight we’re dragging
sticks in its furrow,
ploughshare snapped on stone.
The trip home is quiet,
you, reclining, pretending to doze,
me, staring at the double-yellow line,
wondering how anything
can be so straight and simple.
We stop for dinner
in Brunswick County,
but no restaurants have stew
on the menu, and all the stores
on Main Street are boarded up.
There is potent contrast in the poem; the lightness of road trip games versus diagnosis. “The weight we’re dragging/sticks in its furrow,/ploughshare snapped on stone” is an apt metaphor for facing a reality of illness upon arrival at the medical center. The couplets, shorter lines, and diction allow a reader to travel the poem with an ease that belies the fear underneath. I, too, was left “wondering how anything/can be so straight and simple” and knew it was not so.
After being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, my girlfriend sought a second opinion. I drove her to Duke University Hospital where an oncologist said he was willing to operate with a radical procedure that had as much chance of killing her as saving her. If it succeeded, she would be tethered to an oxygen tank for the rest of her life. It was on this backdrop that I wrote the poem, “Road Trip to Duke.”