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 …