I haven’t touched enough of America to conjure an archetype or a memory that can stand in for the names of these corners and borders. But where I have traveled my ears tingle at the mention of their names. Navajo Nation. Denali. California. Atlanta. Utah. Names followed by numbers, numbers followed by faceless ghosts.
Numbers. Numbers that are announced, day after day, at the close of business. A death toll from a nightly news pulpit. There are no church bells or gothic choirs to accompany the address. The woman on the television states more places, places I’ve never been, as her voice is laid over short scenes of downtown Lincoln crosswalks or roadside diners in North Dakota.
It’s the sense of infinity in these numbers that haunts the most. It’s not unlike looking up at the innumerable stars of the night sky, somewhere deep in Alaska. Each star unique, special, and distant; unknowable by me, but glorious in its power; yet lost in the whole. But where there is awe in the sanctity of stargazing, the numbers flashing across the television are a disappearing act of so much starlight I haven’t yet known.
There are hardened souls who turn their backs to these coffins. These coffins carry someones we can’t know but someones we can fathom. Mothers with the perfect rainy day soup recipe. Fathers who ultimately came around to embrace their son. Siblings who found reconciliation after years of distance. Religious leaders who acted as family to the lonesome. Grandparents who were making plans to surprise the grandchildren at Christmas.
Proud Alaskan teachers, dedicated Brooklyn nurses, new retirees to the sunbelt. Numbers. Ghosts. A thousand today, another thousand tomorrow. Starlight sealed away in coffins and memory.