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Been Thinkin' About...The crossroad sun

The lone traffic light swings lazily, sole crossroads in a lonely farm town. On the edges of the Ozarks, farmland replaces hills and hollers. Roads run east, west, north and south. Here they cross, an X on the map, center of the universe. It's true. From this crossroads, you could go anywhere. The light blinks green, then yellow, then red. The universe stops but stark shadows deepen. Grain elevators tower over the town, dominating the horizon. A flock of pigeons startle, flapping and cooing far up and away. Somewhere but not far off, the sound of country music.

Dusty are the sidewalks, dusty and cracked. Boarded up doors, black windows, unblinking eyes with dark souls, old stores once full of life. Reminders all that nothing lasts forever, not even glory, or the flag of the Republic, or our hopes, dreams and half-remembered ideals. A boy trundles down the sidewalk, toy airplane in hand, walking westward home. Like the rest of us, he is following the sun, following inescapable need. Boys are funny things, always looking for challenge, for a fight, for meaning born in conflict, dreams of eternal glory.

The sun is lower now, orange light through dirty windows and half-opened blinds, dust motes in the air, angled, geometric shapes of light casting prisms on the dark cement floor. An old man lifts a shot of booze into the sun, eyeing its bourbon complexities, gnarled fingers tracing patterns in the late. His is a diatribe lost in time, lover's lips remembered but never kissed. They call it toxic, this manhood, a new form of hate, the strength of the sun in its waning. Boys are forever fighting, fighting even the passage of time itself. The astronaut, the cowboy, the buccaneer, the pilot, contrails arching the sky, tracing the heavens, reminding of wars and conquering epics, the great Viking gods of old, the warriors, the Valkyries, of fire and forever glory as the bomber went down to save the West. The old man is a survivor, silent.

For one brief, tremendous moment, those men were flaming, eternal gods of the sky. The old man downs the shot and winces. There were once laurels of victory on his head, relief and grief in having lived when so many others did not. One laurel on the brow for victory, another on somber staff, reminder that victory cannot come without loss. That great and horrible moment when boys become men is the moment when mortality becomes inescapable.

There is truth in that melody, alchemy in those three chords. The door to the bar opens then closes, last glimpse of the sun gone. The young men on the dark stage begin another song even as the fabled green flash of sunset crosses the old man's heart and echoes another time, another boy running down a cracked sidewalk, toy fighter plane in hand, hope and dream and challenge in his heart.

Sun magic is a hard thing at the end of the day, reminders of greatness, reminders of mountains yet unclimbed even as the sun whispers that none of us will ever truly be survivors. Outside in the dusk and dust, the lone traffic light turns green, then yellow, then red in the dark, swinging lazily, sole crossroads in a lonely farm town.

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