After mailing everything to Luthor,
I left Kansas low on money;
ran into storm clouds near the Four Corners —
where a Baptist farmer needed his hay hidden from the bank.
I worked there a couple of months,
hauling it into his canyons and had about finished
when an irrigator answered a question
I hadn’t really asked him:
the answer came when I changed his water
in exchange for something to eat.
“Hey, Clifford, I can fix these ends
if you do the cooking tonight.”
“Hell yeah, Roy, I’m hungry and thirsty;
let’s eat by the blue chairs where the canyon winds rise.
I’ll take the tractor for groceries; the trucks have died.”
“That’d be swell, Clifford.”
He drove the Farmall to the store
while I straightened his sprinkler lines.
Clifford was paid to keep
the rolling wheel lines straight and defined.
An irrigator with woman problems, he ran from all of them.
Always smiling, watching his water
through the rolling pipes as the sprinklers
started at the far end cap and back pressured
to where he stood — holding the world harmless
while his wheel lines meandered.
For ten years he’d been a sous chef
along the Wilshire Boulevard —
he was a Ute Indian everywhere else.
Clifford Leamas did fine things with corned beef hash
and washed it down nightly with most of a case of beer.
We usually slept in a trailer between
the Four Corners Point and the town of Yellow Jacket.
Our friendship was based on the poetry in Clifford’s voice.
The last evening was spent in the southeast quadrant
under the Four Corners stars
as he prepared his generous hash
and a story about stashed and oily money.
“You ever have any big money?”
“Whaddya do with it?”
“I used it to grow cotton — how about you?”
“Mmm, yeeaaah, once I had a lot of money.”
“Did you do good?”
“Maybe, I think so.”
He poured a little wine into the hash,
started working the clams in, saying,
“I wish the stars were money.”
“‘Cause the stars rain down on those they love.”
“Have the stars done that for you, Clifford?”
“Yes, they rained down on me in L.A.
when I got drunk at Benny’s, too drunk to see.
It wasn’t too long ago —
and I ended up on a Wilshire bench;
sat there a while before this other guy joined me.
A tall, thin man wearing pants inside his boots.
We sat quietly on the bench ends, watching the street —
he first, then me, asleep. I woke up at dawn, day to come,
the city starting. Deliveries were being made,
busloads humming and going.
The tall thin man started up, too,
giving everything a nodding wide smile.
He left on the six a.m. downtown — we never spoke.
In about twenty minutes, a fog moved in, bringing a chill.
I saw that he’d forgotten his coat, an old green driller.”
Clifford’s stirring stopped when he asked,
“Roy, how much hash you want?”
He returned to stirring, then glanced skyward:
“Roy, some of these stars are curling coming down.”
“A few, it’s busy tonight, I don’t know why.”
Our Four Corners night
was full of light shards from far away.
Infrequent streamers sailed over our heads,
crossing west over the mountains.
Shipping affection beyond our horizon, Clifford said.
He returned to his hash and story, saying,
“I carried that coat — a driller — with me up the street,
the moon lowered over the end of Wilshire
before the fog completely covered.
Sleep-cold and fog-chilled, I put it on as I walked away.”
“It smelled faintly of earth and maybe wine
and had sort of marks or arithmetic on one of the sleeves.”
“You always talk like this telling a story?”
“Every time, Roy — I’m a perfected Ute in a rhythm
under the full moon, and we’ve got chips in the sky
and a crackling fire to warm this hash.
We’ll eat it and wash it down with spirits.”
We ate gift hash together;
it was magnificent, chased with more beer;
bellies full, resting on smelly old recliners,
as galaxies susaned slowly overhead.
The sky seemed to close as I wondered
about Ute story traditions. Would Clifford follow this one,
or would he lazy back trailing this alone to his own horizon?
“Mmm … ”
“Wearing that drab coat all through the weekend
made me feel good — loquacious is what I was.
Went all over town talking to folks,
like when I quit tending sheep
in North Dakota. Damn words just poured outta me.
Met this mystic Iranian film student from Montreal —
we talked most of Sunday about landed spirits …
whether they come from above or below.”
“Where do they come from?”
“It depends, Roy, the spirit water mostly from above.
Sometimes it travels the seams to where you live.
Larger forces control these things,
and they’re inside of memories.”
“Yeah, memories are the stay-behinds
and spiritual lessons connecting time and life forms.”
“Come on, Mr. Leamas, what’s that mean?”
“Collections … recollections of aged hues
flowed on a rough raised surface or ocean-made winds,
wearing that mountain shape down to her base.”
Or me telling this story to you — a traveler — an event
happened far and away and told now.
We’re in a surveyed land, all right:
but you’re from somewhere,
and I’m from here — where these stars
are pretty constant teachers,
listeners, no matter who we are.”
“I kept talking to the film student.
She told me I was a beautiful man —
no one’s ever said that to me.”
“You surely are, Clifford.”
The story paused as he gazed
down at the fire, reshaping the embers.
The glow increased on the round-faced little man
with shaggy eyebrows and a missing tooth.
Clifford’s eyes warmed over the fire with affectionate film
running in his mind; his profile showed insight and confusion.
We both laid back and watched the sky breathe —
in the altitudes the cosmos is richer, fuller, and alive.
“Well anyway, Roy, I wore that coat through the weekend
and into work; hung it where the dishes get cleaned.
Everybody sliced, and tossed,
and sprinkled for the next three days.
I almost forgot the coat hung wet over the washing machines.
Hill fires were doused in the rains that week.
Pouring outside when I finished my shift,
so I reached for my damp coat, on the way out the door,
noticing a paper sticking out of the inside pocket.
I put the driller coat on going to Benny’s.
It was a loud rain, sheeting sails of rain.”
“Not bad, Clifford.”
“At Benny’s, I talked to the Strolling Bimbo
about horses a bit — mudders mostly.”
“She’s a woman likes to spend her time at the track —
owned a piece of a horse named Strolling Bimbo,
so we called her that.
I used to love her till I broke my leg,
feeling awkward about my cast and exposed toes —
she wasn’t a healing spirit, Roy.”
“After the rain stopped,
she made me uncomfortable,
talking up a horse named Terror Orange.
Guess I drank some; then went outside for a walk —
head down walking right into that bench,
and I cracked my knee on the angel bone …
and fell off the yellow curb
on my face in the street. Got up on the bench,
and my knee was just growing:
It hurt like hell; I cried like a child with my nose running,
feeling sad and lonely.
I reached into the drab driller for a smoke —
don’t know why … I quit years before.
When I did, I found this package — bag-wrapped, solid,
but not too thick —
you’ve been afraid?”
“I am now, Clifford.”
“Well, I was scared, damn spooky;
white-light night-street; a forty-two-year-old Ute cook,
alone, childless; a gin-fooled lover of used women;
and my knee swoll up like a big tuna.”
“Are Utes afraid of writing?”
“Like snakes that fly: I’m a talkin’ Ute.”
“What about the package?”
“Ripped it open, and found forty-one $100 bills inside.
I sat there — shocked, stunned, like a newly shorn sheep
on a cold sellin’ day — just staring at the money.
My knee still hurt; so there’s no such thing as painless cash.
Lookin’ and feeling completely suspicious,
I limped off the Wilshire into safety
in the men’s stall at Benny’s.
Closed the door and thought it over, checkin’ it out —
there were lines drawn in the wrapping,
and between the lines were words.”
“Plea take this Runway Coyote Cash and go to Victorville.”
“Say it again?”
“Plea take this Runway Coyote Cash and go to Victorville.”
“What did you do?”
“Took the cash and stayed the hell away from Victorville.”
“All right, Clifford.”
He looked through me for a time;
got down by the fire out of the wind — it was warmer there.
“You know something … I sure feel you do.”
“Maybe I did — maybe again tonight, Clifford — keep going.”
“I left on the southern bus trails outta L.A.
The money weighed good and smelled sort of oily.
Gambled with it in the desert
and won some for the only time.
I kept it and bought an old Yamaha
for the ride to Colorado —
before camping up around Mancos,
in the Blind Horse Canyons.
Cold, so I wrapped up in that fatigued driller.
It also had marks on the sleeve that led me to believe
the money was part of a larger whole.
I made fires, and sweated, and swam. I didn’t think:
I pondered. After a week, I went to the reservation
to see my grandmother —
she’d raised my sister alone — I told her some of it.
She doesn’t know about my life,
she feels it; so I gave her the money to use.”
“How’d that work out?”
“I did good: My sister traveled on some of the money;
now she lives in Moab and paints elders
smoking around fires. You’d enjoy Linda, too, Roy.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
Listening to the molten coals quietly settle,
our night canopy rained old time through us.
Clifford watched me get up and wander
over to the canyon edge. I gazed across
the moon-yellowed abyss; couldn’t see anybody
or anything and leaned out over it.
The wind took my hat straight up — all ways.
The upwind brought changed sound from far away,
maybe long ago. I was just about complete … aired out,
leaned back, and returned to the fire.
Clifford stretched supine on the ground near the heat.
In the still, that unusual wind — a foot over his head.
I gathered and settled also; then we just peered
at each other, and opened two more beers,
and studied them … but they didn’t teach us much.
“You know, Clifford, this fire’s almost done —
those white ashes remind me, looks like driller’s paste.
Driller’s mud partly comes from ground-up money.
I’ve heard our Treasury Department
grinds up the cash and sells it
as a constituent product to manufacturers.
A guy named Gino buys some
and makes Gino’s Well-Driller’s Mud.
Gino’s mud saves wear on the well-driller bits
and cleans their well walls, even on the deep holes —
according to a Polish stand-up bass player
and well-driller’s son.”
We studied our beer a little more till Clifford asked,
“Do you know something about this? I feel that you do.”
“Something — yeah, a lot, I do — but it’s okay.
You told it right, and a fine thing came out of the transfer.”
“Roy, why are you here hiding hay from the bank?
Do you come from things, are you going back,
or are you running? What, Roy?”
“My mother is dying in Fresno.”
“Will you be on time?”
“Aren’t you in pain?”
“No, I’m just hiding alfalfa while my life cures out of sight.”
“Go on, Roy.”
“We’re here thinking of what you called ‘stay-behinds’ —
both thinking the other guy feels their memories are weird,
both knowing they aren’t, Clifford.”
“That’s no answer.”
“No, it’s not — but what’s this coat about, this driller thing?”
“Hell if I know — I just liked the word.”
“Where you got it?”
Clifford went to the trailer and returned
with an old, ragged, oil-stained fatigue jacket.
I held it close and looked it over. It smelled of grayed sweat,
distant earth, and red wine, with a fresh overlay of beer.
“Did you say the man on the bench smiled?”
“Yeah, almost a headshake grin.”
“How much did you win?”
I looked up at the chips in the wheel sky.
“Noah Ingram left that cash on the bench,
Clifford. Noah did that.”
“How do you know?”
“As a boy I became friends with a marine.”
“Noah was in between Asian combat tours,
working in a summer boy’s camp
when he taught me to high jump —
before returning to Indochina and the wars,
which almost destroyed him.
Asia used up his humor and his God —
and made him afraid of memories or the stay-behinds.”
“What was he like?”
“A loner — I never completely understood
— a really sad, killed person.Sometimes
he’s a metal sculptor in a place called Devil’s Den,
and he’ll spend the fall in the winery crush as an oiler.
Noah calls wages ‘Runway Coyote Cash.’
When you said headshake grin, that meant ‘Noah Ingram.’”
“I’m a drunk Ute outta the wind, Roy, running from wives,
ex-wives, and girlfriends. I’ve always thought beer
or uneven sprinklers, except when I see
across the hollow land. Noah had that look —
maybe he could see that far,
maybe he’s right for it … I’m not.
It’s usually a pain in the ass.
My grandmother’s that way: sees fields and events,
sort of. I got some of that from her,
but it adds up to ‘screw up’ with me.”
“Maybe, maybe not — you didn’t lose the coat,
not see it, or give it to the beer fairies.”
“Why, aren’t you surprised, Roy?”
“Noah could have been building guilt on the rundown …
ready to unload. Maybe you just had a good face —
you do, you got one. And I guess
he slept with you on the bench,
maybe thinking you’d perform all right.
Whatever. He left the coat with the money.
There’s not much accidental about this —
that motorcycle I ride was his.”
“Why runway coyote cash?”
“He was kind of a medic on the Laotian Plain of Jars,
where ashes and old teeth
are memorialized in clay containers.
He used to have a clay jar, ash full
with a couple of old teeth settled in it.
He could have given you that —
instead, he gave out wandering cash
and something for you to do.
So you got some of both, Clifford.”
“You’re talkin’ strange teeth from Asian plains —
you going back to any truth?”
“I’m getting tired.”
“The sleeve, Roy?”
“Those marks list the things he may have wanted to do.
My guess is he might have just meant
to confuse you with the Victorville.
He probably hoped a good thing would happen.
It did: a restart for you, and your sister is painting in Moab.”
Clifford rearranged the fire while I looked behind me
and reached for a stone and put it by the fire ring
in the southeast quadrant; his eyes expanded.
“You know from who about marking stories with stones?”
“Noah … others.”
He nodded, and then again, when I wondered,
“Clifford, can you ask your sister
to paint a smiling man by a stone-ringed fire for me?”
“Sure, Roy, I’ll tell Linda when it’s aged and right.
I know you’re leaving soon, but you come back when you can.
And when you do, you check by the reservation or Moab.”
Our sky lightened
as the stars faded. It was almost a windless time
for the dawn water changes. I’d hidden all the hay
from the farmer’s creditors. Couldn’t find my hat.
I hope to see Clifford Leamas again; and when I do,
I’ll tell him whatever I learned about Noah Ingram.
Maybe get my hat back …