chicken feathers

a photo from the road

a photo from the road

Those chicken feathers blew like pillow feathers in the wind. Somewhere in Middle America — maybe it was Wisconsin, South Dakota, or Minnesota — somewhere in big sky country where the horizon didn’t end and the highways were filled with gangs of bikers without helmets we had been talking, laughing, listening to bluegrass music when white feathers flew into the windshield. We looked up and saw an entire truck packed with what looked like hundreds of pillows, but alive and rustling, going eighty on the open road.

I looked at you and you looked at me. You saw the look in my eyes and without speaking, you stepped on the gas pedal. There we were, on our grand American adventure, you and me, after half a decade together in New York City, with all your things packed in the trunk of your new car, driving three thousand miles to your new life on the west coast.

Before our eventual arrival, before we entered the land of hundred-foot tall evergreen trees and salty wildflowers lit by sun, before the air smelled like rain-soaked wood and fire — clear and wet, yet smoky, wild, and dark — we were driving through those great plains for weeks. The world felt flat then, and I thought: what if I keep doing this forever with you?

When we stopped at at cheap motels and B&Bs you fell asleep first, snoring like a boy while I sat in bed drawing these landscapes I was afraid of one day forgetting. When we stopped at gas stations, you snuggled into my collarbone and said, “I’m going to fill up the car. Which means I get to keep you for a little longer.” When we stopped in the hot springs of Colorado, you looked at me hard and said, “This is hard for me, isn’t it hard for you?”

And then we were on that smooth grey road again, you driving and me drawing or looking out the window — at hay bales and sunflower fields, roadside attraction signs and biker gangs. In Montana we drove slowly through hills dotted with elk and bison, disappearing over centuries, then at night, a coyote sulking in moonlight. Three times we passed a morning crowd waiting with binoculars for wolves or eagles, no wolves or eagles in sight.

For months after I returned to New York City, I couldn’t eat chicken without thinking of those feathers, those breathes of life contained and transported through the open highway, and how you were there, right next to me, how you stepped hard on the gas pedal like you were trying to protect me from some sad truth.

I remember how it started to thunderstorm, how the roads became slick and smooth, and there beyond the fields I saw a bend at the edge of the horizon, a tsunami made of cloud. The earth had opened up a seam big enough to swallow me whole and spit me out on the other side of my life — to a world after you, after us. Now it’s just a one way portal. To that moment driving on the highway in Minnesota, feeling so safe sitting next to you, chickens dying, feathers blowing behind us, how we’re laughing and talking, listening to bluegrass music, and I’m feeling like I could keep doing this forever.


Thank you for reading. I took this road trip summer of 2016, and wrote this in August 2017. You can see the visual diaries from that trip here, and postcards I created from that journey here.

I’m an artist and writer making beautiful things, spinning poetic essays about love, tango, and homesickness, and sharing ideas about art as transformation in our lives.

LoveKening Zhu