Bill Meissner

1959: Bob Dylan Hitchhikes on Highway 61 Somewhere Outside Hibbing, Minnesota

He’s dancing with the tattered wind.
Though it might look like he’s standing still,
he’s always dancing with the wind
that scrapes across the open iron ore pits.

Tonight on this roadside there are no cars,
no Buick 6 roaring past, leaving him behind, dust devils
circling around his black boots.
The night’s so quiet he can almost hear
the stones in the ditch begin to hum.
So he thinks of pulling his guitar
from that battered black case and strumming it,
though he hasn’t written a note yet.
He imagines that first song:
Mountains and seas, cannonballs and doves, aching notes
and the sudden vacuum.
He’ll write it some day, he has to believe that:
With Woody Guthrie’s ghost standing over his shoulder,
he’ll sit down at his typewriter, slide in a blank sheet and
search behind his sunglasses for the ragged poet,
then snap out a verse or maybe
sixty-one, about neon madmen and chief preachers and diplomats
riding chrome horses,
all of them crumbling like statues slammed by the
hammers of his notes,
about Ramona and Jane and Johanna and Sarah,
each of them coming alive for a few minutes
until he crumples the paper in his fist.

He remembers his old high school--
his Tom Thumb classmates during the talent show,
their boos dropping like lead weights from their
lips to the hard floor.
He thinks about the stage curtain they closed
on him in the middle of a song, trying to suffocate him.
Instead it gave him breath, made him
play the piano even louder to keep away all that silence.

Tonight there are no cars,
no whirr of tires,
no red taillights fading like tired eyes.
He looks down the empty highway, that asphalt arrow
pointing toward the distant horizon, and he knows
his future is out there, always pulling farther and farther away
no matter how much he walks toward it, or stands still.


Just before dawn he thinks he hears the stars fading,
their last shimmer making a jingle-jangle tambourine sound.
He stands there in the first blinks of sunlight:
He’s a silhouette, the first dark note
of a song that will play
for a hundred years.

Bill Meissner's Bob Dylan Hitchhikes… poem is also part of a video by Wayne Nelsen and Bill Reichelt, presented in this edition of Sleet.

Bill Meissner has published four books of poems: American Compass, (U. of Notre Dame Press), Learning to Breathe Underwater and The Sleepwalker's Son (both from Ohio U. Press), and Twin Sons of Different Mirrors (Milkweed Editions). He has published two books of short stories, including Hitting Into the Wind, The Road To Cosmos, and a novel, Spirits In The Grass, which won the Midwest Book Award. He teaches creative writing at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. His web page is: His Facebook author page is:

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