My son wasn’t around the desert town.
Light spilled from a doorless frame.
I stumbled in and out of the shadows into a ragged place.
The interior had ripped Sheetrock walls
lined with emaciated small men, sweating shoulder to shoulder —
with stick legs stretched towards the center of an aqua carpet.
Quiet men smoking opium, smelling raw, heavy, and inviting.
Each man’s smoke stayed down close —
no movement showed in the humid den.
I shook one, then slapped another, asking them about Moses;
then I shook and slapped them all, asking everyone.
But he wasn’t there, so I left the desert town.
An hour later in the dark, standing beside a road,
several thousand farmworkers went to separate fields.
I tried to join the one-way procession of old dusty sedans
followed by battered vans with gear piled and roped to roofs.
But I failed and stood outside the lights,
shouting at the caravan on the way to yesterday’s field.
Then Moses roared by in a melon truck.
I ran down the oiled road after hanging wires and crooked lights —
like a runner in the gaps between the future and the past.
The future kept moving away,
while the past kept coming up my back —
till I staggered to the borrow pit,
gasping at muddy undersides with hanging tailpipes
and stray fabric on the door bottoms.
After the hidden side of tires passed,
I wondered which patch Moses was in —
fell down on the road as light gathered
below layered clouds. Then dawn never really showed
on the kind of morning that usually began with a sunrise.
But Helen’s cat wailed
as my tent snapped and rattled in the Kansas wind.
It felt like wet sweating, sitting up for a cigarette,
ashing into a Drum can. Believing in old dreams
inside new dreams and smoke.
I fell back to sleep inside more dreams as a small boy:
Hot afternoon rides through the cotton
in a dusty four-door beige Chevrolet —
body odor mixed in with the smell of wet carpet,
from leaky dash-mounted air conditioners
and Viceroy cigarette smoke —
in a wilder country with more tumble than fallow.
My father had more land than water,
and his impact sprinklers smacked the cotton —
as concise Spanish rattled from sight-line radios,
using a long antenna bolted to the back bumper,
then latched to the front, over car roofs
so they wouldn’t tear off under bridges or in trees.
They gave and received on rough roads,
made brick hard from traffic
through the overthrow of sprinkler lines.
Spilling Cokes on the hot seats,
I napped on my back in the heat,
as the car swayed and turned through the fields
for twenty years — changing me to an older boy
inside a jarring sensation of circling through turbulent air,
before slamming down hard to a stop,
by reversing some turboprops on a white King Air.
Landing down below the ledge
of a sandy hill where the old tools lived,
the airplane’s door opened —
there was hidden-away evidence of wear
and changed minds by the sound
of our north well engines and the water rotation
of ten thousand Rain Birds.
Both sides of a dry wash
had mismatched cottonwoods —
a dusty sound in the breeze as they held on
for rolling colors of exposed profiles.
Whitened dry grass struggled across the wash
on some ground made in shades of brown.
The grass lifted, and my needs changed
to new straw walkers, in an unfamiliar heavy country
where solid lines of red tractors rested
on cracked clay from drought.
I was early — an hour before the farmers’ tools
were auctioned; and I hate an auction of that kind.
Needing new crankshafts, fruit chains, and straw walkers —
maybe they were lying around in the brisk morning sun.
But all the scrawny auctioneer offered
was acid coffee, a bad taste poured on the ground.
Then Helen’s anxious cat scratched again …
waking me to a dead bird in Kansas.
Accepting her strange mangled offering,
I fell back on my sleeping bag.
And then the images hardened
into black ice on the asphalt —
with Moses calling out from some wet weeds.
A car started spinning at me and blocked the road.
Flashes of round eyes — mine, theirs —
as I veered into the corn snow.
I slid to a stop in the greasy reeds;
got off shaken, kneeling in a cold field
in a low corner stand of hollow femurs.
Moses slapped me and stopped that dream …