Premium Sun in the Redwoods

After Luthor died I didn’t feel like writing …
so I just kept going up the coast
till I passed Moe Inch’s Inn,with pasture on three sides
and ocean down below. I recalled Luthor, the Fresno poet,
mentioning a windmill by a leaning tree above Moe’s
I slept by the windmill into the following afternoon,
then rode the motorcycle down to the white building.

I parked in front and walked
into a long narrow room with a scarred oak bar.
Some time passed with nachos and beer,
until an older white-haired man wandered in.
I wasn’t surprised when the bartender called him Oscar.
Luthor had mentioned him—a retired man in the redwoods;
a more muscular Einstein,
a rocket-fuel specialist from Huntsville, Alabama,
who became a physicist
at Ernest Lawrence’s lab in Livermore.

Oscar sat a stool away and ordered a beer
After it came, I introduced myself and told him
Luthor had fallen from a ladder and died in a coma.
Oscar murmured that was too damned bad.
He’d known the poet in the coastal woods ten years before.

Sometimes you get along because you both know someone.
After swapping a few more stories, Oscar asked,
“Where you been sleepin’?”
I answered, “By the windmill with half its vanes.”

Ordering us both another beer, Oscar queried, “Why?”
“Well, I’ve put the writing down for a while.”

Afternoon shadows lengthened as Oscar spoke
in the southern tones of a sixty-year-old man
in overalls from where those white sheets got damn mean.
Then we shifted into farming and motorcycles.
Our connection became the land,
and we ordered a round for tractors
and motorcycles in the same patterns,
then drank another for the postwar farm changes.
We had a few more for his strange rockets:
Oscar explained the twisting forces
and effort of controlled escape.
Dysfunctionally knowledgeable about many things,
we enjoyed democracy and the absurdity of beer.

Currently he was engaged in repairs
for single women’s washing machines—
and if necessary their dryers—up and down the coast.
“It’s just switches and belts,” Roy.
Then Oscar invited me to stay at his place in the woods.
“You’ll run down and won’t make size sleeping
in the cheat grass, or you’ll get to groveling
with the banana slugs.
Recover from Luthor’s death at my place,
get some rest … we’ll build a redwood deck together.”

We left the Inn just before dusk,
driving uphill in a blue-and-black striped Rabbit.
Heading east on the Gainfill Road,
we passed a ragged house
with a couple of dozen feral cats asleep
on a pair of rusty Mustang convertibles.
Their cat food was stacked under a tarp on the roof.
We turned right through the mudhole
and drove into the Pygmy Forest.
“It don’t drain, the roots won’t go deep;
and those trees only make size to their roots.
So we’re in a hard place, with digitalis in the borrow pits,
and dwarf trees of many kinds.
The soil’s poor and overdrawn,
our perc tests are bad, no drainage.
Everyone in the Pygmy, even Glenna, pees outside.”
“Who?” “Her driveway’s back beside that mud hole.”

The Pygmy Forest ended abruptly—
it’s three hundred yards wide and two hundred miles long.
Further uphill, the subsurface changed to better drainage—
and the redwoods took over, narrowing the chalk road,
climbing through tall stands and scattered cabins.
A fog and rainfall country.
Blue and orange tarps shielded some possessions—
mostly old rusty beaters and moldy brokens
that needed hauling . . . but stayed.
At dusk we turned in to a small clearing,
which ran with the sun I supposed.
His home was a rough couple
of redwood rooms above a working area.
A second cabin stood alone in Oscar’s shamble
of discarded appliances, wood carvings,
and other diverse fascinating clutter.

Pointing to an older washing machine,
he called it “Glenna’s Whirlpool”
as we climbed irregular stairs to his apartment
with unfinished windows propped open for morning light.
A shimmed door faced a small-planked deck
the wood grain, planed to smooth,
had a polished bowl at its end.
Your eye followed the grain to the bowl,
till you came to Bob. A gray-black cat, “Bob Cat.”
From wherever he was, Oscar spoke in a soft tone,
“Hey, Bob.” Bob would turn, peer, and lift his tail.
He never knew those mustang cats,
and played with raccoons. Lonely Bob.

As the night closed, we descended to his shop,
which had the things shops should—a beaten bench
with its vise, a welder and old torch, splattered cabinets,
plus a giant wood stove. On cold nights, the old stove
burned sawdust or one of the failed projects.
His cabin and the other cabin were both strapped
to a pair of redwoods so they wouldn’t slide downhill.
Oscar showed me the Murphy Ladder
with a counterbalance rock that let me up
into my room full of moldy books.
Oscar left, and I made up the bed, lay down on the wool,
then listened to a low horn sound all through the night.

And the sound continued in the morning
when we explored Oscar’s woods.
We walked on a thick carpet of needles
that softened the tone
as Oscar mourned the loss of his tallest tree—
a stump called Eleanor couldn’t speak to him anymore.
Well, it’s a tough old world,
especially when you cut ‘em off at the stump.

Oscar used the kind of voice that cats like,
so Bob arrived and drank from Oscar’s domestic water supply,
a half-covered child’s pool at the edge of the clearing.
Raising the lid, I saw he used toilet hardware
to regulate his artesian stream —
carefully soldered copper lines.
Among them a few frogs slept in the darkness.
I still heard that warm soft horn from the night before.
Oscar said it was the ocean filtered through the trees.

I asked Oscar why he had come to the coast.
He said he’d retired from Lawrence Livermore,
met Glenna in Moe Inch’s Inn,
and bought some of her land to make a home.
His first one was a fast, plastic stretch frame …
which didn’t really matter
because he was there for the sound.

I brought the green bike up the following afternoon
and finish moving into the other cabin.
A Buddhist gardener hired me the next day.
My wages were spent on beer,
cigarettes, and the only food they had, nachos.

Over the next few weeks, Moe Inch’s Inn
served many kinds hiding in the fog
and the ongoing shade of the evergreen.

On clear evenings,
I rode the green bike down through the trees
opening into running pasture with standing sheep …
and the Pacific became a dusky slate changing to black.

Spring had passed by the time we began Oscar’s deck,
which meant digging holes downslope
to the hard, about four feet deep.
Oscar decided to reinforce his cabin—
unstable tied to a tree with ship cable.
“If my house slides downhill, they’ll find my body
on top of those buried pot-reefer vans.”
Bob watched us digging further down for footings;
and our slow pour made us gray-faced in Moe’s most nights.
The deck would sit on redwood posts set down in the holes;
the uprights were formed from his tallest redwood.
And as I’ve said, he cried over Eleanor.

Over the next few weeks, her redwood deck
slowly took shape … except when Oscar was hungover,
or in love with a washing machine’s owner.
During those times I did a little straightening
around his junkyard, changing it
to a simpler pile of things.

In the prior disorder, I discovered grow bags;
they were unsightly, and we loved putting dirt
in the holed bags— Oscar said a pot grower invented them,
but nobody remembered who.
Our scheme of landscaping was grow bags
with anything grow-bag-able.

Early summer passed with our building of the deck
Or my straightening the junkyard.
Then Glenna came over for her washing machine
and brought us some Alaskan Daisies.
We transplanted them into grow bags
before strapping the Whirlpool on top of her Scout.
Oscar’s job was done, mine was to help her unload.

Driving down to her place in the Pygmy Forest,
I found Glenna to be a red-haired, seductive woman.
I’d heard she gardened naked
in the sunlight and raised her son alone.
Then, while I unloaded the washer in her driveway,
she told me about losing everything when her house burned,
leaving only hot nails, except for her son’s toys—
Oscar had gone into the fire to save as many he could carry.
Manhandling the Whirlpool into her home,
before Glenna murmured something about Oscar’s demons,

I learned they’d rebuilt her small cabin
at the base of the Pygmy bowl.
After we loaded all her clothes into the machine,
I made to leave. Instead she invited me
to stay for a garden salad and got a little wicked
in the eyes and cleavage over wine.
But I spent the night on the couch.

In the morning, we drove her Scout
up the coast, even though it had dangerous tags.
We parked above an inlet
and clambered down a cliff to the sand.
Walking through sheets of wet foam to a cove,
we saw expectant birds resting on the edge of what they knew
and afternoon gulls perched on brown, beached seaweed.

Glenna calmly dove into the bitter cold sea,
and ripped pairs of abalone shells away from rocks.
We were frozen climbing up the cliff by sundown . . .
even colder at Moe’s after a shivering hour of playing pool.
Oscar bought the brandy; Glenna always won,
having learned the game as a weather girl
in LA where it was a useful skill.

Back at her place, Glenna lit her stove,
introduced me to pot and her body in a hot bath.
We never made it up to her bedroom
and made love by the stove, my body
tangled up in her thighs as she stroked my hands
Then she wandered through my brother’s death
and my dislike for school, before we slept at dawn.

That night we went to Oscar’s for dinner
and helped him steam artichokes and pound beans.
His stove was also lit while I chopped peppers into rice.
He said for openers,
“Glenna’s bones and these beans are a paradise.”
That’s right, chop ‘em into the rice with that Zen pole.
He continued his ramble into complex holes,
collisions tried in Livermore, and subatomic reductions
where every hole was the same.

After Glenna left, Bob licked his paws on my motorcycle
while I climbed the Murphy ladder into my room.
I couldn’t sleep and lit a fire —
wood roared and rattled the tin,
and the heat moved me to the window.
Appliances down below around the wood stack
encouraged me, but I ignored my writing piled on the floor.
Then Bob came in and lay on the writing; all it was,
was a couple of hundred poems
and a fragment about Oscar’s demons …
I thought about my own.

Next door Oscar slept in his complex hole,
Bob yawned, and I went to bed after the fire burned down.
Grow bags weren’t enough,
but the Alaskan Daisies grew well in my sleep.

In the morning, I woke from an ocean dream:
Searchlights lit offshore transactions,
plastic bales on the swells exchanged for bags of cash.
My dream closed with Moe Inch
unloading his pot boats to buy the Inn …
which was common knowledge around the bar.
Also, his dangerous girlfriend loved cocaine,
and her son had prenatal brain damage;
so Moe had been away, because his girlfriend’s crisis
required special care, money, and Moe.
Moe loved her son, but she was a bad soup for anyone.

That afternoon, in the Inn, I finally met Moe.
He was deep in the money shadows,
wearing a bookkeeper’s headlight.
He looked pleased to see me and said he’d buy the next pint
if I’d pay down my tab. We started comparing literary bars
and farms, after the bill was paid off.
I was struck when he said over our third beer his life
had become about closing the deal,
so I asked, “What are you here for?”
Emptying his glass, Moe said,
“I came for the woods down to the sea.”
Pleased to know the outlaw from Mindanao,
I restarted my tab.

A few weeks later the sound of things
was shattered when Moe and his family died in a fire.
The Inn never closed, and I didn’t go to the funeral,
but I heard all about it. Moe’s death tore deeply into Oscar,
driving his Rabbit through a grief-stricken bender
played out in the winding darkness up his narrow road.

Our friendship changed
when I hid my motorcycle behind a tree.
After scattering the gravel, an angrier Oscar
bellowed at the cat. Bob’s ears would flex,
cat eyes widening, an almost witless howling moan.
Night after night, something inside
drove Oscar up that road.
Bob slept with me, and I considered
asking Glenna for guidance.

Instead, I just allowed
the white-haired drunkard to slide
till the zebra-striped Rabbit
finally crashed into the redwood stack.
I got out of bed in the darkness,
and I heard him hit the stack again;
the second smash sent me tumbling down the ladder.
The deck was all over the car when I got there,
with Oscar sprawled on the ground;
among crumpled black-and-blue stripes
and disarrayed boards,

Oscar’s face was cracked open,
gushing blood from the nostrils while he shook.
He was mumbling about redwoods,
subatomic wrongs, and Eleanor,
while I carried him to the domestic water supply,
sat him by the child’s pool, and washed his face.

His Rabbit’s chest was broken in,
and his deck needed a restart.
Bob kept growling, and Oscar wouldn’t go to the doctor.
I called Glenna, and she repaired him early in the sunrise;
he fell asleep by midmorning,
while Glenna and I propped the deck.
She described his cycle of burn death and grief
begun when he’d lost his daughter,
Eleanor, in a gasoline fire.
Oscar had named his tallest tree for his daughter;
snapped after cutting her down; crashed after Moe burned.
We kept making rough repairs while Oscar slept on.

By two o’clock, both Glenna and I wanted to get away,
so we left for a motorcycle ride.
Fog wet our clothes before we cut inland for the heat—
our afternoon shadows
stretched down the road in the trailing light.
And our night was spent between some oaks.

The following afternoon we returned to the coast
and stopped at the Inn.

A little worried about Oscar,
Glenna went up to see how he was doing.
I climbed the stairs into Moe’s and sat at the bar.
A window let the pasture and ocean through.
Regulars gazed at the offshore fog
creeping in over the sheep
and listened to a languid story
drift around the heavy bar.
The bartender brought me a Guinness;
I picked up a newspaper and started reading
an article about the Cold War.

Another hour passed, then Glenna entered and sat down,
wearing pearls and looking hard at me—
so we walked outside to the bike.
She sighed past the mustang cats …
again when we turned into her low mud.
We walked her rough path through the Pygmy Forest,
sat on the counters in her kitchen. Lonely Bob was there.

Glenna described what was under the deck
made from Eleanor’s redwood,
the deck braces, and the extension cord he’d used.
We called the cops, but the sheriff came.
And we all felt like intruders on Oscar’s shady drive.
They brought him out,
laying him dead-faced next to his router table.
An ambulance hauled him away.
Then we dictated statements
and signed them back at Glenna’s.

Over the next few days, Glenna made the arrangements.
A mob from up and down the Coast came.
I didn’t go to the service, but I heard all about it.
Glenna told me later at her home;
then she listened to music in her garden.
That night we smoked in Glenna’s bed
beneath fluorescent stars — our smoke rings
rose and broke down against her false cosmos of a ceiling.
We canned her autumn garden over the weekend,
before I thanked Glenna and said good-bye.

I went up to Oscar’s and counted his trees,
counting to fifty-nine.

The counting seemed to follow me
down through the forest on the bike.
I nodded at red-faced women with jailed boyfriends
and rode out the Gainfill Road.
Then I climbed a mile-long rise
with a broken windmill on my right side.

Parking the motorcycle, I bent down
and stepped between two crusted fence wires,
and kept walking across spotty grass while the sheep ran off.
They run from everyone, they’re sheep.
Then, walking through scattered gorse and rocks,
I worked out ways to put things into foundations—
while closing to the windmill that’s lost half its vanes.

In my valley of farming,
I’d always thought of drainage as a reference to leaving.
I crossed to the twin mounds beneath the aging frame.
Understand: People don’t use permits on the North Coast.
They just put things in places.
So I left behind two Alaskan colored daisies . . .
and nodded at Oscar, and at Moe,
buried alongside beneath the windmill
next to where the sheep drink.
I won’t go to the redwoods that close to the sea again …