We only met the one time
but she spoke down low asking me to join her.
A striking woman in a sleeveless dress,
we left the crowd and the torches
and walked down to the river below the yellow house.
The moon showed far side sycamores
as she stood smoking by the river sound.
She said her living came from satisfying men,
usually by the month and her friends called her Mrs. Holmes.
I said go on.
Several years before, she’d stalled her car
on the other side of the river as a horse and rider
pounded along the bank in and out of those trees.
They veered and rode over in the heat. His horse was lathered,
rearing as the rider asked if she had trouble.
She said yes to the old man and he left.
Twenty minutes later a truckload of mechanics arrived.
The following day, she waited by the river in the sycamores.
That’s how it began…
Women liked my grandfather because he was a brilliant man
with a fine cast to his head and his life was desirable.
She doubted if he ever really saw himself,
which made him even more attractive.
Also he was dying at the time and probably didn’t know that either.
I asked about her clients; she mostly passed. Did he understand?
Not at first but when she told him, nothing really changed.
A widower wrapped around several hundred thousand acres,
she imagined him changing the land and never saying very much.
To her he was a legend with a yellow mansion
describing young Jack Kennedy or getting wide on the guess rows.
She told him some of the shocking things in her life.
He watched his father die after a crop failure.
They met several times along the river before the pain got too bad,
talking about the boy running table after table in the pool halls.
Or seeing his wife fade before living it out
as an old man with a tremor by the wash of a stream.
I wish Mrs. Holmes had gone on
a voice calls out to “Naomi”.
but someone called out from the torches.
Facing them on our way back from the river sound.
She spoke of working men for money, said she still did,
Closing towards the crowd, she kept touching my arm,
so we paused before the torches with that last thing left between us.
It came when she moved off, turned
and asked if he’d driven himself to the hospital.
Later on, I rode out of Fresno on an oily gray motorcycle
and down through the years inside a national poem,
I’ve never forgotten her face when I said that he had …