Issue 9: Horizontal vs. Vertical
A Publication of the USF MFA in Writing Program

Five Movements in the Key of Transience

Janice Bockelman



Ticket stubs, Bible-paper receipts, napkins with notes, crinkled maps, paper aching to disintegrate along with time; perfected mimes and missed connections. 

The collective longing sounds like the hum of locusts in the summer air, the slap-slap of sandals on the road.

A single fragment of the allure: not owning up to any one place, rather living in the cracks that open up.

42 cities in a month, 1 city in four months: dotted villages along the riverbank, wish you were here, slouched minutes in a visa office, gone but not forgotten, rummy at the bus station, on the road again. Cracked feet, weary eyes, the tinkle of temple bells. The next bus is to nowhere; one ticket, please, life is short and the world is wide. Here too, ruts exist.

After post-op recovery, a diagnosis with a terminal illness, divorce, death, estrangement, tragedy. If not now, then when?

We need this now, before it’s too late. Because it is only the beginning, because it is almost over. We invent occasions and reasons and excuses and logical responses for something buried in our roots. Why?

The backdrop of the mind is a map cloaked in a throbbing heat-sensitive blanket. The places that effect us, push us, pull us, are fiery red with a pulsating blue core. These are the familiar places, the places with our histories that roll off the tip of our tongue: Mahoning Valley and Shadylake Drive and Lakewood and Athens, Pittsburgh and Pig’s Alley, Chiang Mai and Calle 31 and Tulum, San Francisco and Pacifica. Other pulsate a warm orange, places with burgeoning connections, potential: Bonaire, Futaleufu, Prague, Chicago, the Teton Mountains, Indianapolis, Ormond Beach.

This map blazes and fuels with every turn of an engine, roar of a train, sight of a sail, crack of a guidebook, crinkle of map, spin of a globe.

Step over the imaginary black line, the paper boundary, into the country, city, province, town, the rolling hills of the village unknown to us, and the imagined is snipped to shreds and discarded like steel shrapnel; over there reality lies just beyond the pile of rubbish, desnudo, nearly always more     FILL IN THE BLANK   .

Wanderlust: the name of a song by 17 different bands, the name of 2 albums, a popular term in fantasy novels, particularly prevalent in elves.  “Afoot and lighthearted…”–Walt



Americans created automobile culture, but this did not abate our jittery nature, it did not rid us of our collective wanderlust. We are a restless bunch, politically, culturally, intellectually, physically. We thirst. We seek.

Have coffee, will travel.

Products of a mobile culture.

The idea of a return to anywhere is nausea-inducing; visa extensions, one-way flights make even a seasoned pulse quicken.

Transit therapy.

Fitful sleep on overnight trans, serene early morning arrivals, a comforting, warm gray sky becomes our familiar pillow. In the erratic, we find rhythm.

It is the glittering and matte possibility that a horizon upholds. If we can see this, we move on.

Every time we move on, possibility widens, clarity has a better pick-up line.


The remnants of transience reside in the fine lines of travel left upon a person’s face, a person’s mind.

When we reach our destination and cannot bear to stop: Pilgrim’s dilemma. This occurs whether we are lost or found.

A map is found and lost: a road, a river, a current, an expectation, a goal, a dream, a movement. A map is the most unstill of stagnant, static, tangible objects.

In another breath, the map is the uncooperative foil, bristling at every fleeting moment. It is motionless, consistent, unvarying—it is the dreaded pragmatic cousin. Plan, itinerate, program, route, schedule.

We discover it at every intersection of travel, in the bus and train stations, the flip-flip of pages, in the packing and re-packing of bags, in the questioning: “where are you from, where have you been, where are you going?” It is in the moments of walking and waking, standing still and sleeping. It seeps into the crevices and cracks of every journey, until absorption occurs. Perhaps it is as scientific as osmosis, as mystical as Indigo children.

It sees eye to eye with the act of putting shoe to Earth and pen to paper, defies the desire to linger in life and in the written word, scoffs at preservation and the nature of writing. Scoffs at the search for the constant in the fleeting and fragmented: the remains. We and the essay are in a delicate realm, wanting to make the transitory eternal.

This kind of movement maintains only the sporadic spontaneity, the eruptive, arrhythmic temperament of insanity. Even so, it is perhaps the way of life nearest to music we experience. 

By necessity of experience, travel brings forth in us the frayed edges, the rust, the patina particular to ourselves.

The architecture of travel is unexpected, imaginary, and constantly reinvented. Perhaps it is composed entirely of scaffolding, unannounced and unwarranted stucco and fresco. Discordant rods of steel and screws jut out here and there. Brick by brick cemented solidly by mortar and logical process, here makes no sense. In this, there is room for unravel, collapse, expansion, change.


In Japanese culture, mono no aware is a spiritual and aesthetic concept that represents desolate poignancy, the acceptance of the impermanence of all things. This is a cursory definition; there is no easy Western translation. American culture is some steps removed from this philosophy.

A related term: wabi sabi.

Wabi has a number of meanings: poverty, simplicity, living in nature, remote from society.

Sabi refers to the visual and psychological effects of aging: weathered and worn, loneliness and serenity. It has been translated as the “bloom of time.”

In the 17th century, the Japanese poet, Basho, combined the concept of wabi sabi in his craft. The haiku was born.

Wabi sabi is understood to be an aesthetic term that nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging that

nothing lasts,
nothing is finished,
nothing is perfect.


Feet flattening the
blades of grass you can almost
hear the sounds of time.


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