Death on the Road

I drove east on a two-lane rural road and listened to sports talk radio.

Rain fell.

Ahead of me, in the oncoming lane, I saw a duck leading her chicks across the road. The mother had waddled into the shoulder. I counted seven chicks and marveled. They were incredibly small, mere cake decorations.

A second later, a colossal black truck drove through the chicks. Five were smashed, two left writhing. I swerved a bit when I saw it.

I slowed down and passed the carnage. I thought about stopping—but why? I couldn’t stop. A vehicle tailgated me and there was nowhere to pull over. I thought about William Stafford’s Oregon poem of a dead deer on a rural highway, “Traveling Through the Dark.” I began crying, and then verged on sobbing. Then I sobbed. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve sobbed in my life. Until now, never while driving a car.

Metaphors attacked my mind like a contagion. I couldn’t fight them. I turned off the radio.

What had been left back there? Was I the writhing ones?

There was no Barry Lopez to come along and carry the roadkill off the road to dignity and offer an apology for humanity. I doubt he ever did that. Writers always lie for the literary effect.

I’ve lived 54 years and this was the worst thing I’d ever witnessed. Perhaps that makes me lucky when it comes to this world.