A car on the highway is a thought nurtured by the blurred landscape. And you were moving swiftly inside of this thought with the stereo silent and your passengers asleep. Part of your mind was tracking the lines of the road, the bumpers, the wind against the broadside of the car; part of it was in the backseat resting against a pillow, picking up pieces of the future and setting them back down again.
Then you saw a cluster of towering spotlights in the highway median. You immediately thought “art,” though you can’t say why. They could simply have been floodlights for nighttime construction or even lights for a film crew shooting a road scene. But the lights looked like descriptions of themselves, you thought, like you were supposed to notice that they were lights before seeing what they were lighting. They were closer together than one would expect. And there was a sense of a hand lingering about each spotlight’s placement, authorship. As how, under a confluence of chiseled mountain, tree, and lake an atheist might slip and think God, it seemed as if a mind had thought these spotlights into being and so your mind reflexively thought of that mind.
It was an invitation that mind issued, and you loved the feeling of responding to it. Okay, let’s go, almost like a romance. It was daylight and the lights were not on—or at least not visible—but before flashing by at a speed you hoped was not worth a trooper’s time, you saw that they were pointed not at the highway but at the land on the opposite side of the road. It was a field of corn planted on a hill sloping gently up and flanked by trees. The object of five magnificent spotlights was simply this: a field of corn.
The richness made your breath catch. Flying down the highway, the landscape like a radio between stations, you are on your way and movement feels famous—the eye, the camera follows you. And then suddenly, For Your Consideration: corn as bully crop, corn as rows of nostalgia, corn as what is most fecund and simple and rabid about America. The spotlights said, Here is celebrity, here is event. You on the highway are the white noise. You could do worse than to wait and watch, the piece suggests, while knowing that you won’t, there is no pause. And you will take along only a flash of this ordinary, famous highway.
You hoped this was a series and in a month, a year, you would look down and find a specimen dome over a weed coming up through the sidewalk.
It might, after all, have been construction floodlights. It was summer and every highway in the country was being chewed up and frosted smooth. But it was the best piece of art you’d seen in a long time.
Amy Benson is the author of The Sparkling-Eyed Boy (Houghton Mifflin 2004) and teaches writing at Columbia University. New work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as diagram, Seneca Review, Hotel Amerika, Black Warrior Review, and Pleiades.