Austin Close

A couple of weeks later
it was a cold morning walk wearing Birkenstocks
after cold sleet changed to ice, making it slick on the sidewalk.
I limped sore-toed into the Asphalt Café.

Landis was staring at the ice, and he looked sick and pale.
I asked him why.
Landis said it was last night’s wake.


“Well, Dave Redmond fainted and his girlfriend
found me in the phone book.”

So, they carried unconscious Dave
out of his bathroom, loaded into his car,
and took him down to the Austin hospital —
where the CAT scan read burst aneurysm all the way.
Dave died at three o’clock.

Then Landis played a bar
where the musicians knew Dave Redmond.
After it became Dave’s wake, a customer wandered into the music,
saw and heard the odd strains, and asked why.
Landis told him it was a wake for dead Dave Redmond;
the customer’s eyes tightened as he murmured
“What’s goin’ on?” and that his name was David Redmond —
the CAT scan tech for a dying man with the same name.
Shook him up so bad: he’d gone to that bar to relax.

Outside, Austin was closed down by ice storm.

We left the café, wandering a few blocks to the restored capitol —
they’d reworked the joints and columns in the legislature,
but the halls were lined with pictures of old men.
We went past them, talking about segregation
and the “One Man, One Vote.”
On our way through the legislature,
echoes under the rotunda reminded me
of my grandfather’s house —
then the rough Texas paintings of white men
showed us out of the capitol
with no more mention of Plessy v. Ferguson.

Outside on the cold ice again,
we slid past law firms and my old Lutheran yard;
and turned the corner into reconstruction
of the intersection at Congress and Martin Luther King.
We counted six heaters helping red-faced men
make overtime on the backhoes —
then Landis wondered if the farming was like that.

No, our heat came from burning stakes in barrels —
why those buried water lines cost several farms just to build,
and you’ve got more fingers in the urban pie
with less speed than the rural.

We looked around at the average Southwest
or the white man’s Mexico
and left the operators to their backhoes.

Up the street, he refined our history even more,
walking four blocks to his university’s memorial:
“Rita No. 8” was one of the old crude-oil pumpers,
salvaged from the East Texas Oil Field,
which endowed the university.
She represented the revolution of oil,
as the guitarist stood beside the huge
squared oak of her counterbalance,
marveling how the rig was a single tree
that paid for school.

We wondered about overdrafting the field
with roustabouts from Carolina,
waiting for Ohio to send more steel.
Could Rita remember the twenties?
And if she could, would her counterbalance beam
balance down for running our cars and utilities
or balance up for school?

We left there too, heading back to the café.
Landis asked for a legend. He needed
one — we all do — it’s freezing.
Something for a pair of guitars, and he’d pay in Guinness.

I was almost ready to leave Austin,
but my writing hadn’t shown what it needed to.
So I kept trying different things in the Asphalt Café —
tried wooden tables out of prison years based on Max Gonzales,
then I chased my son through a farm dream.
But they were put aside as I wrote for another week in the café —
alI I’d gotten was Anglo-Saxon
over Romance language and the “So What Rule.”

“You all right, Roy?”

“I’m sorry, Eleanor.”

“What’s the ‘So What Rule’?”

“Ahhh, sometimes it’s written beautifully,
doesn’t say fuck all: the ‘So What Rule.’

“Have a beer, Roy.”

Sunday morning I started writing under the middle dogs;
swerved, then began again with the phrase
the hot tar life …
writing on a pad all afternoon and into the evening.
I broke for a movie called Dr. Strangelove. Liked it.
Then finished the piece on the sidewalk that night. Liked it.
It wasn’t the legend Landis required,
just a long untitled paragraph.

I read it out loud to Eleanor
over a morning beer, an’ she liked it.

She needs more roofing, Roy, try stacking it as verse.

The next afternoon,
Intelligent Moe served Landis
a pitcher of Guinness and some little fish crackers.

Behind us on the dirty walls,
there wasn’t any legend in remove and recover —
just a dog in a woman’s arms still evolving left to right.

Landis read the first page;
I sauntered over to the middle dogs.
He ate his little fish, sipping beer,
reading, handing the pages to me when I came back —
recording the hot tar piece was my Austin close.

Landis thought those industrial guitars
should be called a “Roof Sun, Spoken” …