Luthor’s Proposal Poem

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.
Slowing down,
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,
What followed?
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 … ”