A Hundred Ninety to Bismarck

While, dustily, the dawning sun arose
To light a bleak Dakota’s winter day,
I swung a mattock on a fracking rig
And slavish, sweated, saving up my pay.

My cellphone buzzed; I dropped my pick to pick
It up. My wife, with labor in her voice
Began to shout: “The baby’s on the way!”
I found the boss and said: “I need to go.”

“Like hell you will,” he puffed, “I need you here.”
A crowd of roughnecks gathered round to watch
Him swell and pop: “There’s drilling to be done;
There’s riches to be dug up from the dirt!”

“You keep your dirt,” I shouldered past; he sagged.
“And keep your natural gas. My wife just called;
My baby’s coming fast; I’m gonna see
It born.” He blustered as the roughnecks cheered.

I bounded to my diesel GMC,
A ’93, and started her in third.
In Bismarck, ‘cross the mountains, lay my wife,
A windy hundred ninety miles away.

When five and twenty miles had felt my tread
In fifteen minutes, maybe less, my dash
Began to beep and whistle quick and shrill
To warn me I was nearly out of gas.

I glimpsed a hovel, half-abandoned, with
A pump; I braked and barreled in and told
The gas-boy “Fill her up” then found I’d left
My wallet down beneath my bunkroom bed.

I told the kid; he spat and drawled: “No cash,
No gas: now hit the road.” “You listen up,”
I snapped, “A hundred sixty miles from here
My baby’s being born–I need that gas.”

He smirked: “You know the mountain road is closed,
Because of snow? A blizzard’s blocked the pass.”
I said: “I’m gonna see that child born.”
He thought, then smiled, then topped my tank; I left.

Ahead, across the barren plain, a range
Of sheer and sudden snow-cased mountains loomed,
Their upper slopes enshrouded by a mist
Both grey and grim, and menacing to see.

A lowered gate, with flashing lights across
The road on sentry stood and bore a sign
That warned: “Turn back; it’s suicide to try”
I chained my tires there, then drove on by.

Up gorges carved by wind-borne daggers, cold
And sharp, above a jagged precipice
That dropped into a frozen stream a mile
Below I steered, two-handed, knuckles white.

With tires slipping, losing traction on
The ice, I shifted low, and locked the hubs,
Until, now blinded by the swirling fog,
I dropped her into four and inched upslope.

Three times, I dropped a tire off the edge,
And twice retreated down a grade too steep
To cursing, grab a running start, then floor
Her, rear-end swerving, through the drift.

I topped the peak! And skidded slowly down
The back-side to the mountain’s far-off base;
I rode the brakes and smelled them burn, and watched
With dread each minute, fearing I’d be late.

I twisted down the turning way until
I hit the winter-brown Dakota plains
Beyond the storm’s domain, then dropped my chains
And, laughing, punched my petal through the floor.

Just when before me rose up Bismarck-town–
A slender-spired city beckoning
To me like Eden never lost–behind
Me in my mirror pulsed a trooper’s lights.

For speeding recklessly and license-less
He tried arresting me, and, though I told
Him I was gonna see my child born
He wouldn’t quit; I doored him, then escaped.

Careening closer to my soon-born child
I counted closing on a dozen cops
Behind me, sirens blaring, but I dodged
Their roadblocks. Then I hit the city streets.

I blasted through the traffic lights, and squealed
Around the corners, two-wheeled, leaning on
My horn and on the sidewalk passing cars
With swarms of sirens swirling close behind.

I ditched my truck still running, cycloned through
The spinning doors, and found a tended desk
Where, calmly as I could, I said my name
And asked: “My wife? What number room is she?”

Policemen, like a pack of savage apes
Burst hooting, hollering, onto the scene;
I split; they followed, knocking over beds
And sleeping patients hooked to fluid bags.

I slammed my shoulder through her door. She smiled,
She screamed; she gasped, then sighed, and, as they cuffed
Me on the floor I heard, from out a pair
Of once-used lungs, a warm and tiny wail.


Photography © Shabunawaz

Photography © Shabunawaz


Peter Storey is a poet and a performer from Chelmsford, MA. After attending Umass Amherst, he’s read his work in Boston, New York City, Washington DC, and Antarctica at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. In his free times, he drives his truck and hopes it doesn’t break, and prepares for another summer fighting wildfires in the west.