In the early spring, Luthor’s concern for Noah
kept me searching across many cold, saucer valleys —
coffee rimmed by low hills, and your eye carries across them.
I came to a water tower and hardware store
next to an iron-wall bar, where the bartender sold me beer —
telling me a lot of things about an old Packard.
She didn’t smile as she did.
A tall, skinny man — too nice, wide smile —
and he never said his name.
He’d come in once in a while, driving up in that old Packard.
They didn’t like him. All his stuff was weather beige
with a stove piped outta the roof.
Friendly, quiet, clean — they didn’t like his clothes
or care for him, because he wasn’t like them.
I remember the bartender’s name —
Lindy … Lindy Crawslad.
Searching through the dry cold
for a restless man in the straight-motor Packard.
The cattle shivered because they had to stand for it.
A month later, I went into the iron-wall bar again.
Lindy didn’t say as much … fewer cows.
Hasn’t been around, knows somebody wants him:
they told him about my odd motorcycle
and sent me up the Colorado.
I kept working north through the freezing spring.
One night inside a roadhouse,
I heard a travel song from a jar band.
They sang about one of those ruin places
on the north end of a dry plateau with a cold night wind,
where a musician’s van lost its water pump,
releasing the fan into the radiator.
The singer seemed to recognize me at the break
and came through the small crowd,
introducing himself as Mike:
a goatee guy, offering to buy me a beer.
I nodded at Mike —
and felt something involving Noah coming on.
He said they’d been doin’ gigs
in the high desert below the rock country —
playin’ badlands for a month or so.
After their fourth or fifth gig, they left one night
drivin’ an old van — Mickey’s Econoline — under a ringed moon.
Mickey’s cranked, everybody’s tired,
and they got two hundred miles to go;
so they’re in the hum, drivin’ alone at three …
maybe four … in the morning.
When Mike got startled by a steel scream — a rattle pound — they’re
in trouble: those high speeds, they grind up and go.
Then the death knell of their water pump
sent the fan ripping into the radiator. Everybody shakes,
and they’re traveling musicians in the breakdown lane.
I said, “That’s pretty good, Mike.”
But it got cold in Mickey’s van; they sat there a while,
in that metal box, before they start pullin’
blankets — thinkin’ burn everything they got.
Was Mickey all right? Well, Mickey’s pissed, but what the hell.
Then after a bitter hour, out of the east came quivering yellow lights —
glowing almost like a heat on an old weather-beige Packard:
the one with the block-long motor, a stove piped out of the top.
I wasn’t surprised, so Mike paused … sipped his beer,
swallowed, and said, “Mickey wanted me to tell you this.”
Well, the car stops, and the window went down.
A thin, shaking grin asked if there was motion.
He called himself Noah, and offered to haul ‘em into town.
Noah pulled ‘em into town with a ship rope —
the band in the van, Mike ridin’ with him,
with Noah listening to the radio.
He asked Mike his name, so Mike said “Mike.“
Then Noah told him he was the kind didn’t want to be found:
a Roy was lookin’ for him, sent by a Luthor.
“He’ll hit the bars, Mike, to find the music.
You’ll like the beard, the winter suit, and bike.
You tell him, ‘Let it go, I’m alive, doin’ good,’ like tonight —
here’s the shop, Mike.”
Mike offered to pay anything; Noah shook his head, “No no.”
He offered again, but all Noah wanted was some Crusty Flakes.
So Mike stumbled across the street into the all-night.
Hollered, “Gimme some Crusty Flakes.”
Nervous clerk didn’t have any idea what they were —
kinda like a Zoom cereal, but they had none.
So he grabbed another clerk, and he pointed out
a case a flakes out back.
So they bought forty-eight boxes
of those Crusty Flakes with gig cash.
Mickey and the band broke down the forty-eight
and crammed ’em into the Packard.
Mike stopped, put his hands flat on the bar.
Noah, silent … gets in … drives off … stops … backs up …
window down … looks out,
“You tell Roy not to follow me — he’s not good at it.”
Mike looked a searching chord at me.
I shrugged it off and thanked him.
I left the roadhouse; and it was black-cold outside,
with shivering handlebars along the muddy river ice.
Even icier the following morning,
so I left my Buffalo on a cattle ranch.
An aging cowman gave me a ride on his way to auction …
because the winter froze half his herd — cattle might go
for sixty-five cents a pound.
He needed sleep, so I drove him across the plateau.
Then I kept going into the auction town, leaving him there
with his window cracked and the motor running.
On the far edge of town past a slaughterhouse,
the hood was up on a wheelless Packard
mounted on some jack stands between a gas station and diner.
Noah was inside the diner eating chili.
His mouth ends dropped as I sat down and ordered some too.
He looked away, and we waited in silence
till my own cracked bowl came.
After two spoons of chili:
Noah had heard I was wandering for him.
I didn’t say anything, and we continued
with our chili in a callous diner.
Three spoons: as it darkened outside the yellow rivet booth,
the drone of big-truck hauling drifted through the window,
while our images were reflected in the glass
with a page-turner music box in between.
So it became indirect-image eye contact,
with our mouths full of chili,
as I watched him talk to the window.
Noah was over his head —
exhausted from burning Raye’s body on the sandspit … didn’t know
why he wrote Victorville, maybe for confusion,
it didn’t go anywhere.
Then Noah’s crackers spilled, while he whispered about ashes.
I smashed my own crackers into the chili, and sodas to mash.
Maybe Noah was grieving, or just giving stuff away — but his eyes
went down to my bowl, and I had maybe half a bowl left.
It took two days to burn Raye, and he wanted
to give the money to her family in L.A.
Riding in rain all the way up the coast,
he got to Pasadena soaking wet.
But they didn’t want any part of Raye — just shut their door hard …
So he spent a couple of hours riding in the storm near 6th and Main.
Tired, he parked at the gas station and walked
up and down the Wilshire before he got under a roof
by a block wall in a paved schoolyard.
A school called Saint Anne’s;
and there was a wet sense of two a.m.
when he woke to the slick sound of a federal Ford creeping in.
Rain kept pouring, while the car paused on the asphalt.
It seemed unaware of him,
with its lights beaming on the main entrance.
He had Raye’s cash and felt exposed
when the halogens came on.
And another sort of used car arrived from the main side.
Both cars faced each other —
headlights switched off in the downpour.
A quick fellow stepped out of the first car
to set down a Pepsi can
where poles go in the center of a game circle.
Then the man retreated into the federal Ford
like he expected something —
maybe police rotor roar.
Instead, the opposing passenger door opened
too fast, slammed back, reopened — no dome light —
and a single lean guy got out … stumbled
in the storm, and gathered the Pepsi can in.
Holding it between his index and thumb,
he scattered glances at the gaps in the walls
and through a cyclone fence.
Then a startled one at him.
As he briefly stood on the reflected lines of the game circle,
a few seconds passed in the rain before he returned to his car.
Both cars started and left the way they came in.
Then backing out the incline, Federal’s cone of light rose,
flashing stained windows — so the ceremony was over.
The can was just a goddamned middle-of-the-night drug deal.
Half hour later, the clouds cleared; and walking back,
a round-faced man slumped on a bench.
Noah had the cash already wrapped in two packages —
wrote nonsense on the outside of one,
and the rest stayed in his pants.
Then the bus came. The coat was Raye’s, too.
Noah waved our waitress away,
asking me the man’s name on the bench.
“Clifford Leamas. Linda’s his sister in Moab;
the grandmother’s Eileen.”
Noah hesitated before saying he hoped he found his shoes.
On my eleventh chili spoon:
I asked Noah along, but he needed more time …
and just handed me a package —
telling me and Luthor to leave him alone.
After a dozen spoons with Noah Ingram:
I took the rest of Raye’s money on the rough Greyhound
rough because its tires were chained …