Two Pieces by James H. Duncan

West Texas Skyway

In the west there was a highway and my father drove us beneath the stars. My sister and I, and the summer, the endless void ahead. They were the kind of stars and skies unseen in the east, from the cities and suburbs and even the rural farm roads in upstate New York and Vermont. It was never so dark anywhere else in our lives as it was along that empty highway in western Texas with my father and sister. Town after town, no traffic lights. Hardly towns, hardly anything. A hotel we passed still had a stop on the local railroad line but had no parking lot aside from dirt. Stones turned white in the daytime and ran infinity black against the skies of night. Those skies, their lights palpable, their ghost echoes, ethereal blue and green in the shadows of mountains. Car headlights cut like razors against the black film of night, falling to the editor’s floor, and my father is somewhere else now, my sister somewhere further, all of us tangled up down and low by circumstance and distance and medical financial emotional burdens. And if you take all this sky in as one, all these strips of black film lying cut and looping in the darkness of the universal projection room you’ll see us still out there in the night, on that highway, beneath those stars, talking about observatories and motel pools and how much we love each other and no matter how old we get we’ll always have that. We’ll always have that, father. We’ll always have that, sister. Endless stars of the universe so far above you’ve become one within me all this time.


We’ll Take a Trip to See

we’ll take a trip to see,
maybe something remains
in the sleeping little town
we left behind that night

when you turned off the stove
just as the pasta softened enough
to eat and finally told me
the truth about our love and all of our
silent evenings

maybe there’s something left
after all that crying and terrible last
attempt at romance, maybe

we’ll take Route 22 all the way up
from New York City and slip
into Vermont at the edge of night,
right when the mountains
look bluest against the black Atlantic sky

black all the way to Berlin, Moscow,
Tokyo, San Fran, and all the way ‘round
to Vermont again, nothing but mountains
of rock and water and wind, nothing
but empty aisles in our old pharmacy,
our old park bench, our old café

when we arrive, we can take two of the empty stools
in that coffee shop at the four corners where
you’d work on lesson plans and I read
the local weekly newspaper and circled the typos
how does that sound?

but we already know, don’t we?
a long ride to find that stale emptiness
everywhere, that same old
heartache we hid behind our eyes
during those frigid winters
we know what we’ll find, won’t we?

the wind trying to push its way
into our third-floor apartment, just as
it did that last morning before we rose
at dawn and gave up the gold

ten bills and two rings were all we left
in an envelop for the landlord,
our taillights saying all there was left
to say, and still

I wonder, and I’ll wonder

until those mountains
turn to valleys in the bottom of the sea
just whatever became of you and me


James H. Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review, the co-host of the Troy Poetry Mission reading series, and the author of We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine, a new collection of poetry from Unknown Press. His work has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Drunk Monkeys, Up The Staircase Quarterly, Pulp Modern, American Artist, and other publications. For more, visit

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