Writers-in-Residence Excerpts of Work

Gordon Christenson - Essayist

From "Red Wagon"

The following is the conclusion to "Red Wagon":

Imagine that! I and the red roadster might leave this road and soar together beyond all boundaries and the stars in a blazing red "chariot of fire, and horses of fire... by a whirlwind into heaven" directly, just as Elijah went." But, please, Lord, not the way Travolta and Newton-John went in a pink Cadillac with fins, fill of eros and jejune song and dance. I know as well as you do, Lord, that my red roadster is just a symbol of a dramatic last journey, an illusion of the little boy still placing wagers against the darkness and still betting on magical powers. Please, let me go like Elijah!

Later, while driving on the Appalachian Highway, east toward Athens not long ago, 1 opened up my roadster for the first time. In no time at all that red chariot was up to l2O miles per hour, going faster than I had ever driven my old silver BMW or my '53 Chrysler. Growling, she wanted to go even faster, but I eased up on the gas pedal and slowed her down. This eternally new red wagon was really something else. She'll never rust, I thought. And sitting inside I could see all the other cars I ever owned and all my loved ones and the places we went and things we did, living with them and through them, reflections from myriad gems. As Ortega might view it, I and my circumstance might be like those of a tramp "who does not stay in one place; a fugitive from all customs, [who] ... arrives, takes a look around, and leaves. He is a Don Juan of the small towns, of trades and of landscapes. He crosses all places without staying in any of them. He has the dynamic soul of an arrow that forgot about its target after it was in the air."*

If I really let this red roadster go right now, I thought as we went faster, I believe that together we shall leave the road and our place entirely like Ortega's arrow, beyond human boundaries. We might wreak great destruction, like Phaethon who took the sun chariot of his father the sun god Phoebus and lost control of its reins, scorching the earth and incinerating the universe.

Ovid's lament would be our epitaph:
Here lies Phoebus' boy who died
In the sun's chariot.
His strength too human, and too hot
His courage and his pride.**

Whenever I get into this roadster all alone, by myself, it does seem like I might be climbing back again into my first red wagon. Except this one has mirrors which catch reflections from all different angles. I am I and my circumstance. Instead of incinerating the universe or blasting to heaven in fire, I move along joyfully for now, with top down, accepting all of nature like the Polynesian navigators, in tune with their universe, seeing illness in dark emptiness beyond the stars as one with light now lived in sunshine at the fulcrum of balance here in this place, which embraces death and life the same.

*Ortega y Gassett, Meditations on Quixote, quoted in Julian Marias, Jose Ortega y Gassett: Circumstance and Vocation (transl. by Francaes M. Lopez-Morillas) p. 289.
**Ted Hughes, Tales from Ovid: Twenty-four Passages from the Metamorphoses (1997) p. 43.

Gordon Christenson
Professor Emeritus
College of Law
University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

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