When I returned from the Westside,
Luthor had a few gaps in his sheet metal.
And it wasn’t till Tuesday morning that he told me why,
saying Noah rode a yellow motorcycle over to the south coast,
where his best old girlfriend, Raye, had hepatitis —
on the muddy side of Morro Bay by Montaña de Oro.
But the metal sculptor froze on the final hour over to the coast.
Shaking from coastal fog,
he saw a canoe and stole some firewood.
Pushed a canoe into high tide
and paddled over the shallows to the mud flats —
wearing a motorcycle helmet all the way.
Don’t smoke … paddle … darkness … stroke.
Crossing the shallows to the sandspit.
I imagined moving through the fog
without seeing anything while hearing breakers on the other side.
Her spit was out there somewhere.
Ocean’s a foot deep, scatters of fog, and a single canoe.
Hundred and forty pounds of Noah landin’ on the sandpile.
No boat … so she must have crossed the mud at low tide.
Climbing the pile as fog cleared under a moon,
Noah looked down on a small fire and Raye …
and slid down the dune to a skirt laid open on the sand.
A wasted, naked woman in a wine stupor,
warmed by her own stolen firewood.
She was camped nowhere, dying across his legs.
He had to love her … it made sense, he had to:
It felt pretty damn bad, but she’d asked him to —
and offered everything she owned if he burned her body.
Then Raye leaned into all the right places.
And Noah ran out of ideas till she died.
Then he just held her … and the wood and fire were his.
Luthor said it was the following night
before Noah burned a driftwood pyre to ashes —
then scattered her over the sandspit as fog walls
rolled in … he found the cash before navigating back.
Losing his paddle halfway; the canoe left stranded on the flats.
Now a year or more had weathered Raye into the winter sea
leading to a bitter cold evening on my way out of Fresno …
“I need some change.
Nah, I’m not farming anymore. Lookin’ for a guy named Noah.”
When you’re early, you hide behind garbage cans —
and the stench doesn’t capture the feeling of the city.
Your mind is dried up, and you count everyone’s steps.
But it’s the not so damn bad, the not so damn bad.
A cop presides over the cars and sounds
and windblown voices.
The barkeep don’t notice you’re filthy —
a morning beer, and you don’t either;
’cause you really haven’t slept in days,
watching the buildings rise and fall.
But it’s the not so damn bad, the not so damn bad …
but it’s the not so damn bad, the not so damn bad.
It’s the not so damn bad, the not so damn bad …
but it’s the not so damn bad, the not so damn bad …
but it’s the not so damn bad, the not so damn bad …
yeah, it’s the not so damn bad, the not so damn bad.
“Thanks a lot, man” …
In the early spring, Luthor’s concern for Noah
kept me searching across many cold, saucer valleys —
coffee rimmed by low hills, and your eye carries across them.
I came to a water tower and hardware store
next to an iron-wall bar, where the bartender sold me beer —
telling me a lot of things about an old Packard.
She didn’t smile as she did.
A tall, skinny man — too nice, wide smile —
and he never said his name.
He’d come in once in a while, driving up in that old Packard.
They didn’t like him. All his stuff was weather beige
with a stove piped outta the roof.
Friendly, quiet, clean — they didn’t like his clothes
or care for him, because he wasn’t like them.
I remember the bartender’s name —
Lindy … Lindy Crawslad.
Searching through the dry cold
for a restless man in the straight-motor Packard.
The cattle shivered because they had to stand for it.
A month later, I went into the iron-wall bar again.
Lindy didn’t say as much … fewer cows.
Hasn’t been around, knows somebody wants him:
they told him about my odd motorcycle
and sent me up the Colorado.
I kept working north through the freezing spring.
One night inside a roadhouse,
I heard a travel song from a jar band.
They sang about one of those ruin places
on the north end of a dry plateau with a cold night wind,
where a musician’s van lost its water pump,
releasing the fan into the radiator.
The singer seemed to recognize me at the break
and came through the small crowd,
introducing himself as Mike:
a goatee guy, offering to buy me a beer.
I nodded at Mike —
and felt something involving Noah coming on.
He said they’d been doin’ gigs
in the high desert below the rock country —
playin’ badlands for a month or so.
After their fourth or fifth gig, they left one night
drivin’ an old van — Mickey’s Econoline — under a ringed moon.
Mickey’s cranked, everybody’s tired,
and they got two hundred miles to go;
so they’re in the hum, drivin’ alone at three …
maybe four … in the morning.
When Mike got startled by a steel scream — a rattle pound — they’re
in trouble: those high speeds, they grind up and go.
Then the death knell of their water pump
sent the fan ripping into the radiator. Everybody shakes,
and they’re traveling musicians in the breakdown lane.
I said, “That’s pretty good, Mike.”
But it got cold in Mickey’s van; they sat there a while,
in that metal box, before they start pullin’
blankets — thinkin’ burn everything they got.
Was Mickey all right? Well, Mickey’s pissed, but what the hell.
Then after a bitter hour, out of the east came quivering yellow lights —
glowing almost like a heat on an old weather-beige Packard:
the one with the block-long motor, a stove piped out of the top.
I wasn’t surprised, so Mike paused … sipped his beer,
swallowed, and said, “Mickey wanted me to tell you this.”
Well, the car stops, and the window went down.
A thin, shaking grin asked if there was motion.
He called himself Noah, and offered to haul ‘em into town.
Noah pulled ‘em into town with a ship rope —
the band in the van, Mike ridin’ with him,
with Noah listening to the radio.
He asked Mike his name, so Mike said “Mike.“
Then Noah told him he was the kind didn’t want to be found:
a Roy was lookin’ for him, sent by a Luthor.
“He’ll hit the bars, Mike, to find the music.
You’ll like the beard, the winter suit, and bike.
You tell him, ‘Let it go, I’m alive, doin’ good,’ like tonight —
here’s the shop, Mike.”
Mike offered to pay anything; Noah shook his head, “No no.”
He offered again, but all Noah wanted was some Crusty Flakes.
So Mike stumbled across the street into the all-night.
Hollered, “Gimme some Crusty Flakes.”
Nervous clerk didn’t have any idea what they were —
kinda like a Zoom cereal, but they had none.
So he grabbed another clerk, and he pointed out
a case a flakes out back.
So they bought forty-eight boxes
of those Crusty Flakes with gig cash.
Mickey and the band broke down the forty-eight
and crammed ’em into the Packard.
Mike stopped, put his hands flat on the bar.
Noah, silent … gets in … drives off … stops … backs up …
window down … looks out,
“You tell Roy not to follow me — he’s not good at it.”
Mike looked a searching chord at me.
I shrugged it off and thanked him.
I left the roadhouse; and it was black-cold outside,
with shivering handlebars along the muddy river ice.
Even icier the following morning,
so I left my Buffalo on a cattle ranch.
An aging cowman gave me a ride on his way to auction …
because the winter froze half his herd — cattle might go
for sixty-five cents a pound.
He needed sleep, so I drove him across the plateau.
Then I kept going into the auction town, leaving him there
with his window cracked and the motor running.
On the far edge of town past a slaughterhouse,
the hood was up on a wheelless Packard
mounted on some jack stands between a gas station and diner.
Noah was inside the diner eating chili.
His mouth ends dropped as I sat down and ordered some too.
He looked away, and we waited in silence
till my own cracked bowl came.
After two spoons of chili:
Noah had heard I was wandering for him.
I didn’t say anything, and we continued
with our chili in a callous diner.
Three spoons: as it darkened outside the yellow rivet booth,
the drone of big-truck hauling drifted through the window,
while our images were reflected in the glass
with a page-turner music box in between.
So it became indirect-image eye contact,
with our mouths full of chili,
as I watched him talk to the window.
Noah was over his head —
exhausted from burning Raye’s body on the sandspit … didn’t know
why he wrote Victorville, maybe for confusion,
it didn’t go anywhere.
Then Noah’s crackers spilled, while he whispered about ashes.
I smashed my own crackers into the chili, and sodas to mash.
Maybe Noah was grieving, or just giving stuff away — but his eyes
went down to my bowl, and I had maybe half a bowl left.
It took two days to burn Raye, and he wanted
to give the money to her family in L.A.
Riding in rain all the way up the coast,
he got to Pasadena soaking wet.
But they didn’t want any part of Raye — just shut their door hard …
So he spent a couple of hours riding in the storm near 6th and Main.
Tired, he parked at the gas station and walked
up and down the Wilshire before he got under a roof
by a block wall in a paved schoolyard.
A school called Saint Anne’s;
and there was a wet sense of two a.m.
when he woke to the slick sound of a federal Ford creeping in.
Rain kept pouring, while the car paused on the asphalt.
It seemed unaware of him,
with its lights beaming on the main entrance.
He had Raye’s cash and felt exposed
when the halogens came on.
And another sort of used car arrived from the main side.
Both cars faced each other —
headlights switched off in the downpour.
A quick fellow stepped out of the first car
to set down a Pepsi can
where poles go in the center of a game circle.
Then the man retreated into the federal Ford
like he expected something —
maybe police rotor roar.
Instead, the opposing passenger door opened
too fast, slammed back, reopened — no dome light —
and a single lean guy got out … stumbled
in the storm, and gathered the Pepsi can in.
Holding it between his index and thumb,
he scattered glances at the gaps in the walls
and through a cyclone fence.
Then a startled one at him.
As he briefly stood on the reflected lines of the game circle,
a few seconds passed in the rain before he returned to his car.
Both cars started and left the way they came in.
Then backing out the incline, Federal’s cone of light rose,
flashing stained windows — so the ceremony was over.
The can was just a goddamned middle-of-the-night drug deal.
Half hour later, the clouds cleared; and walking back,
a round-faced man slumped on a bench.
Noah had the cash already wrapped in two packages —
wrote nonsense on the outside of one,
and the rest stayed in his pants.
Then the bus came. The coat was Raye’s, too.
Noah waved our waitress away,
asking me the man’s name on the bench.
“Clifford Leamas. Linda’s his sister in Moab;
the grandmother’s Eileen.”
Noah hesitated before saying he hoped he found his shoes.
On my eleventh chili spoon:
I asked Noah along, but he needed more time …
and just handed me a package —
telling me and Luthor to leave him alone.
After a dozen spoons with Noah Ingram:
I took the rest of Raye’s money on the rough Greyhound
rough because its tires were chained …
By late spring, the Rio Grande
was a dry, narrow stream. Carrot processors
had me pulling irrigation lines in front of a digger.
Adding their money to Raye’s, I went northwest to Amarillo;
slept on a roadside and made
four hundred miles the next day —
across a small piece of Utah and a lot of Nevada.
The Sierra came over the horizon by evening.
There were forty million people on the other side.
I hadn’t seen my attorney
since just before my mother’s funeral,
so I headed southwest toward John’s refuge:
an empty resort hotel, in an endless escrow,
situated on a long-term Indian lease — 184 empty rooms,
TVs gone, rats at the mattresses,
and raccoons alive in its convention center —
an ugly white house with customers’ histories
scattered in the lobby on reservation forms.
John had me reading the watershed years,
1959 to ’64 in the Presidential Suite:
books stacked on an unlevel floor
with a Yamaha grand piano on the mound;
books dried on the high ground after a southern storm.
Altogether, it was air-conditioned shelter.
A potential buyer thought it either the worst hotel
or best campground he’d seen so far,
but the escrow had gone on for years.
Most rooms had courtyard views
of graveled roofs or the simple golf course
backing into a canyon and windshield mountains.
Its windless condition meant exploring my high, short game
and John’s putting out on the burning-hot course.
“Crazy Mama” helped the stroke
as John asked about the money in his safe.
He said it made him nervous, so I told him
there’s nothing illegal there, just some of Noah’s cash.
Then he made a really nice shot.
Every year my lawyer looked more like Ben Franklin
as his gift for friendship increased
and led to tickets everywhere:
A big man in the shoulders, neck, and head,
John drove the golf cart and putted like an architect.
But his heart was disciplined from caring
for an older, disabled brother.
Just in case, I scribbled a note,
This cash went from Raye to Noah, and he gave it to me.
That night’s power outage smelled kind of like
a rat in the wiring, so we went out for the power
in a grill. John ordered a pair of steaks
and asked me if I was writing any farm pieces.
“Just one about who’s got seed bags, who doesn’t.”
A month later I left the cash in his safe
and headed for the South and maybe Austin again.
All the warmth ran away from desert summer nights.
Most times I pulled off to ground sleep in the blue plaid bag —
my head kept warm inside an aviator’s leather helmet.
Waking to bright, chill mornings,
with sunny, hot days peaking in tall arcs.
Then evening closed — asleep
near Piacacho, Deming, and Van Horn.
Once more through the Davis Mountains near Ozona.
What did I know of the Texas Hill Country?
I located a pair of paper bags and wrote this in the grit wind:
First bag complained to the second,
“I’m so lonesome in Fredericksburg —
they got no Hank Williams, just the Air Cav
and their girlfriends dancin’ to oompah-pah;
most of ’em drinkin’ beer or swallowin’
potato salad at an outdoor picnic.”
The second bag confessed,
“Who really gives a damn
if we’re lonesome in Fredericksburg, Texas?
If my name was Whayn, I’d rotor away
to Memphis women in Tennessee.”
I trashed those bags, since
there wasn’t any fluid in the words,
and continued into Fredericksburg
on the western end of the Texas Hill Country.
I fried the Buffalo’s wiring there,
working around the rest of the summer washing dishes
or throwing heavy landscaping sod in September.
October was turning bulls into steers.
November, meant vineyard staking
for a Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Harry Sabieknas.
And while my Buffalo was rewired, I ate Thursday meals
at Böheims, where my friend Uwe was the chef
and his food was Bavarian. A nervous Hungarian
posing as a Czech owned the place —
Otto must have been a retired spy in a witness program.
Most of my bike-repair cash
came from washing the dishes.
Nights were spent reading Daniel Boorstin
on creativity, in Sabieknas’s vacant farmhouse.
Rent meant feeding eight cats, three cows,
and maybe a horse. Sabieknas used an Airstream trailer
on a hill. I slept in the freezing house on the flat —
cat litter inside per instructions. My room had Harry’s cot
with the plaid bag and travel clothes.
Vineyard days … and icy nights asleep in the moon suit —
waking from mobile dreams under a bare lightbulb.
I left before Christmas after staking the vineyard;
going west on the 290 with the latest dream on my mind,
that spoke in the voice of a blackboard scolding a windmill:
“Just below the Flat Rock Forest,
what kind of windmills they got? And how far
are they from the 98th meridian?”
The windmill bet they were turbines,
several degrees east of the 98th meridian —
as I left the silver oaks of a hill country,
climbing from 290 onto the 10.
After the turn, going further west into a dry land
without any windmills, the 290 fell behind;
and the grade sliced through limestone eras,
with scrub oaks advancing on the hills.
Yet going west on the 10,
I still wondered about that blackboard land.
Written on or about, the line
can be a border, a scrawl, or just a line.
It wasn’t a color or a kind, but a condition —
flat, clean, and simple … not easy.
They got no windmills on my Westside;
its conditions left water deep beneath the ground.
It started me thinking at sundown in the Davis Mountains …
thought most of the way through.
After hours, I could see the road scrawl;
my headlight cone was the finder.
Air passage came back at a moderate speed —
the right side wind, and the motorcycle leaned against it.
I rode crooked … headlight … air pass …
moderate side wind … lean … crooked … deep in thought.
Several years before, I’d abandoned my past
and lived on the streets for a time —
bought motorcycles, remembering not to forget them.
I thought of my children for ten miles or so
till I turned into the Ozona truck stop.
Inside the diner, names on some truck doors
and reefer vans got me writing down farming
places — Three Rocks, Five Points, and Four Corners —
then stolen trucks and river scramble.
A poem called “Those Trees” took most of an hour.
Afterwards, I went west on a reconstructed orange road —
where the color orange controlled the weeds.
Afraid of road scramble,
I turned off the freeway for southern hours.
For the next two months my home was a metal trailer,
belonging to a Texas separatist,
who was also a grain hauler.
So I hauled grain for a split-axle man named Avenal —
a large mixture of a Baptist
enjoying machine guns below Alpine.
It’s all those bearded guys do
while misreading the Constitution.
The last night over too many Lone Stars,
Avenal reacted poorly after hearing that “We the People”
was lifted from an Iroquois treaty.
So I left him by the fire and rode north a few hours.
Back on the 10, weather changed to blowing sand
and Russian thistle across the freeway.
The motorcycle steered badly, and my hand hit
the kill switch accidentally in the dark.
A couple of chilly hours
with no power in the median’s weeds —
before turning the switch on in the middle of nowhere.
“C’mon, Roy,” got me through the chill and blowing sand —
until a wax-haired waitress sold me chicken-fried steak
in the next town, … spilling gravy
on a letter to my children there.
I mailed it to them anyway, and felt too tired to go on —
falling asleep till the waitress woke me at midnight.
Outside, it was bitter sand beaten into dust storm,
blowing the motorcycle sideways —
bitter sand and damn wild all the way into Van Horn.
Headwinds into the upper end of the Rio Grande,
past cotton sections, scarred overgrown ditches,
and buried mainlines — as jackrabbits ran
shifty slants through the tools and rusty cans of west Texas.
Two more hours into better farming above El Paso.
In the predawn, Juárez’s lights
and smoke were across the river.
El Paso was the usual nightmare at sunrise.
A few farmers were preirrigating cotton in Las Cruces —
there seemed to be more pecans than I recalled,
large lines of naked sleepy trees.
The sun rose on the climb away from the river valley.
Lordsburg’s for fuel … brakeline air was bled in Bowie …
enchiladas were eaten before Tucson.
I left sundown behind in the red and beige desert.
The Salt River Valley was ahead,
and I was tired after eight hundred miles.
The Buffalo steered hard; bearings tightened;
brakes weakened; moving conservatively … low on money.
On my way to see my attorney,
a day away from the Spirit Room —
which I’d never really heard of, because it lay in the future,
north in the mountains and past my attorney’s path.
The passing headlights moved on toward Phoenix
as my rotor kept expanding, contacting the disc.
Needing to bleed my lines again,
I pulled into a stop and bled them in a harsh place —
not soothing, more like a new prison than a park.
Toward the washroom were notices
on ashtrays, … loitering, … and vague maps.
A scrawled plea was taped on the door of the men’s,
saying, We’re in the bushes and need money.
After washing, I came out — writers had written
words over the plea: blue requests for sex, or
just total yellow nonsense. They obviously viewed
themselves as righteous. I turned away from the plea.
A curly-haired man waited beside the motorcycle —
sunburned, blistered, and frightened —
took a breath, pleaded for time …
because they were stranded somehow.
His name was Donnie, on the way to L.A.
Their car had blown up in El Paso.
Hanging around all day, people had given them food,
not money. He’d worked building house trailers in Tennessee;
now they’re going to L.A. for the earthquake work.
His wife appeared off to the side.
She was scared, too, and looked
ill and pale in the sunlight —
with wide-set eyes in a bleak, frypan face;
maybe seven months pregnant.
The motor was ruined on a late-seventies
Chevrolet — the worst kind — and
their car doors were already in Juárez.
The L.A floor’s no place for a baby.
I had ninety dollars: they took forty and a can of sardines …
a tired, pregnant, hill woman
and a sunburned man in the desert.
Back on the 10, my steering got harder,
my brakes wondered what the hell was going on —
when I spent some of the fifty dollars for gasoline in Phoenix,
paying a surly man behind bulletproof glass.
Afterwards I passed a cemetery
where one of my brothers was buried.
But I rode north on the 17,
leaving Phoenix behind. And my fork seals
almost disappeared pulling into the Yellow River Bar.
Inside, the Yellow River ran meatloaf
with mashed potatoes and beer. I played Sun records
from Tennessee like a horse’s ass and slept out back.
Drunk under the stars in the blue plastic tarp.
The next afternoon, going further north in the mountains,
a sign for an artist colony called Jerome came along.
I turned uphill, and the road zigzagged to the old copper town.
Thirsty, I stopped in a silver shop to ask, where’s a bar?
The shop woman was pretty, with olive green eyes.
She called herself Angela Silvermetal
and sent me to the Spirit Room for sundown —
leading me to believe she wanted a beer with sunset.
It wasn’t too far, and I ordered two dark beers inside,
then sat waiting under an old ceiling
with west-facing windows.
A valley twenty miles or so across
was backed by three-tiered mountains.
Winter day had a half hour to go with ranging shadows,
as the sun lowered and I waited for Angela Silvermetal.
But all I got was the final reflection off the Mogollon Plateau.
The valley gray-white melded into rise —
becoming reds, and oranges, and a nightgown purple.
Over all was the sun — then most of the sun
and a line of white yellow
above the line of mountains
opposed to copper Jerome.
Both beers gone with the extreme colors …
a fading … then none of the sun.
I paid for sunset and put the Spirit Room in the past.
My fifty dollars had eleven left;
most of the rest was spent in Havasu for fuel.
The journey closed over breakfast with my attorney.
He liked the sound of Angela Silvermetal.
I didn’t tell him about the nightgown purple.
The tip was paid with my last dollar and forty-seven cents …
The pain was everything — and I didn’t know
what day it was or how far to the next town:
because my lower left molar ached to the bone …
at three in the morning, three-thirty, four, eight o’clock.
Finally turning into a truck stop,
I ripped their phone book to the dental A’s — nobody in.
Then relief at the V’s in Dr. Valenzuela.
Valenzuela tried running the keeper words: root canal.
I said, “Rip it out,” and put the tooth in a blue box.
Back on the bike …
the pain kept going into sundown,
and there wasn’t any magic in the handlebars —
just a rhythm at fifty miles an hour
hour after hour, till sunrise …
A big gray house in the sycamores —
late night thoughts and who they’re for.
Children of mine, children of theirs,
the crops I lost — my Buffalo thoughts …
A river of cars through broken fields.
Cold, tired, and climbing hills.
Memories are the stay behinds
connecting life form and time.
Late night Buffalo thoughts …
Twisted rim in the sand,
fix that tire again.
In the sand,
fix that tire again.
A jumbled pile called a town,
Las Cruces is falling down.
Down to the old sea bed,
loud metal bird is bleeding red.
Children of mine, children of theirs,
the crops I lost — my Buffalo thoughts …
Twisted rim in the sand,
fix that tire again.
In the sand,
fix that tire again.
I spent another hour wasting time.
Sunrise, sunrise, sunrise …
I spent a month at my attorney’s hotel,
and rode through the Westside in June.
My family’s farming position had weakened,
as world cotton cheapened. And my father grieved —
struggling with another Cheney trap.
A month later during a storm,
he called my children on the telephone.
They spoke during a night of summer rain:
of not knowing where I was and what to do if I showed …
what could I want or need? … and, yes,
my children were fine.
I was in a Fresno bar two miles south of my father,
restlessly thinking of crops lost
because of summer rains. My job
was to sell them over the telephone.
But that night they rotted in the same storm.
I kept ashing into rough ashtrays in a steamy bar jangle —
my hand on the empty glass, looking at the dregs.
After turning on the stool to go outside,
there was a lonely hardwood in the rain —
a crepe tree grown slow from mint in its bed.
Touching wet wood, I noticed glistening asphalt
and its weather cracks.
A downward glance at sandaled bare feet
beside me … then another glance
up at the strange face of a deeply gorgeous woman.
We left in the rain … I’ll say it again,
we left. Walking around, talking till four about rockets,
our fathers; and the rain-pour noise made us talk real loud.
Jan said her house had wine,
so we drank it all in her wet backyard,
while her washing machine filled from the garden hose.
In the morning we wore clean clothes,
riding past the average blackeyes.
I told Jan they were beans,
on our way into the mountains.
After breakfast in the early mill country,
there were scattered showers
along the Sierra base during our slow climb.
It was the Buffalo’s final ride
to where a pair of creeks joined,
where their division stopped.
Then the rains passed, and Jan showed me
her sycamores overhanging swollen streams.
Over the next month, I was unemployed after the storm,
slept through many dawns in her backyard,
till we said good-bye under the sycamores.
The next day, cracks in the Buffalo’s radiator
meant Luthor and I went downtown
and got Noah’s yellow trail bike.
I headed to Eugene, and we never spoke face-to-face again.
The small motorcycle went through the mill country
without passing anyone —
because its fifteen horsepower only made
thirty-five miles an hour … hour after hour …
climbing hills in low … and down them in the second gear.
Nights inside the blue tarp.
Mornings started on the roadsides
from what engineers called the “borrow pits.”
Sunlight never cleared pines by breakfast time;
and no one cared if the sun ever cleared those trees.
Oregon was constant shade.
Eugene had heroin sold from the corners.
And after a while I rode up into the Willamette Valley,
where the mint was gathered in a night harvest —
I stayed until the mint was in.
Then the rains drove me south through those Cascades
for Juárez — but it was too long a ways on a trail bike;
and the clutch shattered twenty miles above Fresno,
going downhill at the oak tree line.
It took a few days to hitchhike down to the desert,
where I spent a week spreading drywall mud
for Wiley Post’s grandson — which paid for Lindbergh’s
Autobiography of Values and a bus ticket to Juárez.
Slipping into illness in Juárez,
I used Yolanda from Las Cruces to get well —
and made friends with her father,
siphoning water into pecans at night.
Angel was the man who forgave me his daughter.
A few days later, I bought a green bike
and moved to my tent for a couple of months of irrigating.
Reading most afternoons; changing pecan water at dusk,
and again at dawn.
Then my imagination returned
through the breakdown on worn motorcycles.
Images were banked as storms of small objects
in a landscape of no age.
And the Westside unfolded in outlines.
When I called on Luthor for his views,
Noah answered the telephone
and told me Luthor was in coma.
That evening, I helped Angel finish changing the water —
he reminded me of the roofing men,
shouldering bundles of siphon hoses into the groves.
Later there was almost a sense of closure out on the 10 —
the green bike went faster than the Buffaloes.
My headlight just drilled into a cold New Mexican night,
while my thoughts went toward Fresno:
and what I’d heard was Luthor’s flat brain.
Another hour of rising and falling land
made me question the flatness.
Rough construction over a bridge
reminded of my mother’s death.
I increased my speed till a Freightliner
pulling a dry load of something passed.
Windblown, I reconnected to Luthor’s
leaving … not waiting for me, but for something.
Another half hour passed with a half-moon
rising into black sky.
Fueling in Lordsburg, I paid and kept on traveling;
Lordsburg cost five dollars for gasoline.
Back on the 10, lights and occasional traffic …
I wondered, where would Luthor go, and what would he read?
The next few miles edged near the mountains.
Noah had told me old girlfriends were checking charts
and shouting Luthor’s own material at him.
I parked the green bike along the edge.
Walking along a New Mexican road,
an Airstream pulled by someone almost hit me —
a surprising wind could have left me a broken man.
But the travel home passed;
so I got out my cigarettes to roll a Drum …
done with shaking hands in the borrow pit …
rolling and blowing smoke. More taillights went away
and their sounds did too.
Surrounded by large darkness
except for my cigarette under the night —
I looked up at the stars and thought of shouting girlfriends.
My hands stopped shaking as I kept remembering
our earlier dialogues. Luthor had taught his convicts
to organize their words around proposal poems.
But an empty coma must be a busy thing:
“No, man they’ve left me alone and I’m just lying here.”
I looked around as a car slowed …
like it wanted Luthor to continue.
And after waving it by and watching its taillights disappear,
Just the echo of a hacking cough —
like he wanted me to let you know where you’re going.
So I asked him, how?
“Just goddamn tell them, Roy — start with Max Gonzales.”
“What if he’s imprisoned or dead?”
“Then dig him out.”
“What about you?”
“Go on to Gila Bend and your brother Russell.”
“So you’ll follow my brother?”
“Yes, Roy, that’s my proposal poem … ”
On the way west to bury an old friend,
I stopped in close to where the Gila bends,
to respect one of my brothers.
The Gillespie Ranch is ugly —
surrounded by rocky outcroppings of great beauty.
The old fortress house is still standing,
diminished and cleaner.
The tamaracks are thirty-seven years further along …
taller, wider, and shaped as driftwood,
with sparse gray green foliage topping them.
To the south, the canal —
the water course from the Gillespie Dam.
A young college student planted awkward flowers
while I poured coffee; he called me sir,
which amused me.
I wandered through the aged hangar,
crossed the runway, and climbed the canal bank;
looked down into the water,
to remember Russell’s place in the flow.
On a hot day, from the shade of younger tamaracks,
I could see Sarah stumbling from the canal,
calling for Hazel.
Russell was drowning,
trapped in the trash up against the siphon fall.
My parents carried him to Phoenix.
Russell died on the way at five years old.
I’ve watched my father during funerals for other children,
his face a mapped mountain fronted with death weather.
Russell laid in the Catholic cemetery
in Phoenix for thirty-three years.
He’s buried next to my mother now;
my father saw to that.
He leaves Gila Bend the hell alone.
In the timber-framed ranch house,
on the kitchen wall,
Russell used to dig holes in the adobe
with spoons — happy, laughing.
It’s probably mudded over now.
Existing pictures are touched and yellowed,
memories bright and unseen … unspoken.
Hazel explained leaving and loss to me,
on a visit to Arkansas.
Crops come and become:
Hazel’s gone now —
an old, black, rainfall woman,
who colored my feelings
of death times in the Gila desert.
My sister suffered for years over Russell.
Sarah has twin girls now.
Gila Bend meant Russell’s death,
Sarah’s rabies, and Amanda’s recognition
that I would grow and that she could not.
My father’s grief shaped him into a kind promontory,
standing and aiding in receding sands, till he is over.
Gila Bend in 1959:
the heat crack of sunset;
echoes of life and death sound;
Several times over the years,
I’ve come to see Russell’s place in the flow
— as a taller, wider piece of driftwood myself —
surface slowly moving to other fields
while the water listens.
I returned to the motorcycle under the tamaracks.
The flowers were in.
I wished them a good stay
and rode to Fresno …
Luthor’s coma was four months old
by the time I parked in front of the Chicken Empire.
Unstrapping from my travel clothes —
Noah said I looked like a bearded Romanian peasant woman.
The coma remained unchanged
as I slept through the afternoon behind the café.
I awoke to Noah handin’ me a cup of coffee.
And after a little while, he told me he’d bought an old house.
I asked if there was a couch, and he said there was —
and that his backyard needed clearing out.
So we closed over runny eggs at the Chicken Empire.
The next day we sat in Noah’s overgrowth
for several hours before driving downtown
to Luthor’s coma.
Everyone had called it a tragicomedy,
from hospital to coma house and back again.
Still I was surprised when he
didn’t look like Luthor anymore:
toothless, the platinum eyeglasses gone;
his misshapen face, clean-shaven;
and his feet looked strong.
Dying in a room full of chanting dancers,
while surly nurses adjusted his straps.
He seemed ready to go,
but rancid old girlfriends wouldn’t let him.
After the chanting stopped and the nurses left,
I almost killed him there.
But Noah calmed me down,
reading elegies scrawled on breathing machines.
Then we said a good-bye of sorts —
kissed his eyes, and held his feet.
After the hospital, Noah dropped me at the Chicken Empire
where a young woman named Sara ran its four to close.
I’d met her briefly the year before.
Sara had flawless skin and eyes that made things,
so I bought a coffee to go.
But something came into our voices
as she maneuvered me outside by the entrance.
We went over the New Deal out there,
because she’d studied Roosevelt in acting school:
FDR was a slippery old bastard,
and the sidewalk was made by the WPA.
Late the next evening, leaning over the counter,
Sara wondered about women from my past.
I didn’t say, just asked if I could visit her home.
Sara started, stopped — clearly responding she’d like that.
She was almost twenty-one,
putting me at ease in her first house.
Both in over our heads, as Sara told me about herself,
her dreams of drama, and family stories.
The following night my bike was loaded for travel.
Sara wore gloves and was wrapped
in my walkable sleeping bag.
We rode out of town with reefer and whiskey,
and turned into a rocky vineyard,
and climbed uphill into Marilyn’s muscats —
city lights to the south,
rolling papers under the moon …
just smokin’ with our thoughts in the vineyard.
But we didn’t stay long.
It was a struggle getting the bike down the deeply pitted road,
before riding slowly over the dam, then through the river valley.
Back in town, we parked by an old churchyard,
drank the whiskey amongst the statues,
and became lovers that morning.
Looking back, Luthor’s closing season
was mostly wrapped around picks and shovels.
Our ebb and flow became yard days,
dusk visits to Luthor, most nights with Sara.
Noah had vast ambitions in the morning light
like you’ve got on desert farms.
And he loved the ramshackle old roof.
But we began with the wraparound yard
overwhelmed by hard sunflowers and horsetails.
We cut them down —
discovering four rusty appliances
and eleven frying pans in the tangled trash:
maybe chicken feeders.
Also found a rotting carpet used as weed control.
A round, plastic pool was behind the garage.
We put the carpet and the other trash in the cracked pool
and dragged it out behind the back alley vines.
I pulled unhealthy trees so the good ones would grow
and dug deep basins to water those trees …
then dug them deeper.
Noah turned to the garage —
boiling, mopping, and wood oiling.
Doors were repaired because of Noah’s insistence
about morning light — so we also doubled the window.
Pruning, leveling, bracing:
we built stays and supports
after transplanting the back alley vines.
Nocturnal friends with beer and whiskey
brought us stories
about one of Luthor’s journeys fueled by astrological charts
he’d done for waitresses on the way.
Blazing fires split the darkness on moonless nights,
coloring our yard receptive yellows.
But his lungs were going —
perhaps drowning with memories
of the women he’d loved
or the poetry he’d taught to convicts.
Then we ate over warm coals in the mornings
as dusty garden hoses watered the trees.
Our work went on except for the
shaggy spires by the garage …
every day deciding to leave those palm trees alone.
Instead, we kept enlarging berms
around the fire pit
and around the grapefruit tree too.
One evening, I turned the loam
into garden beds by lantern,
while Noah painted the east garage wall
a pastel orange.
Next we colored the north side aqua,
cleaning our rollers on the back side.
We thought the cleaning wall was the strongest.
Several nights I enjoyed Sara’s stories,
and she seemed amused by my gigantic tree basins…
laughing at my imagined canyons …
as Noah moved his easels into the cold garage.
Tables were warped doors;
supplies were kept in old trunks.
His first work was painting my motorcycle tractor green.
Then a quick study of the yard:
clean trees, massive beds,
and bare grayish browns without any grass.
We let it age a little more before
Noah used sand rakes to ridge the loam,
around an old flask and junk.
Candles stretched out the shadows
and defined the effects.
The grapefruit tree was wise.
Basins were shadowed canyons.
And the made beds held mysteries.
When Sara came, she laughed, cried, and slept in my arms.
The following morning, we walked down to the Empire,
talkin’ dust on the garden hose.
I heard from somewhere behind me that Luthor Rollins
died — you know, that brain-dead writer guy — the
pneumonia took him.
But Noah had gotten a hold of Luthor’s teeth and glasses
before they buried him with a backhoe.
We tossed one of Luthor’s poems into the hole …
the one about the three poets in his class
who robbed the Mars Drive-In.
His memorial was in the afternoon,
so we went to see my mother’s grave.
Egg-hungry after that, we ate at the Empire —
Luthor put the place on the map with his chicken poems.
There wasn’t much religion at the service,
just seven hundred people
and a lot of Luthor in front of an altar.
Huge pictures, astride motorcycles:
one naked by a canyon;
another as a child in the woods;
a third, with the false teeth exposed.
A barrage of stories honoring a big, booming guy.
Luther Rollins was a poet in this town …
Whoa oh, ahhhhh … whoa oh, ah-hah …
whoa oh, ah-hah … whoa oh, ahhhh.
Crisscross wires in the glass.
Everyone passed the class.
Hard wire fences.
Relax … backhoes …
raised on the hard clay … raised on the hard clay.
Stray fabric on the door … stray fabric on the door.
Plea take that cash … plea take that cash …
plea take that cash — runway coyote cash.
Got his verb wrong. Got his verb wrong.
Punctuate it, somehow … punctuate it somehow.
Yes sir, ah-hah …
yes sir, ah-hahhmm.
Whoa oh, ah-hah … whoa oh, ah-hah …