By late spring, the Rio Grande
was a dry, narrow stream. Carrot processors
had me pulling irrigation lines in front of a digger.
Adding their money to Raye’s, I went northwest to Amarillo;
slept on a roadside and made
four hundred miles the next day —
across a small piece of Utah and a lot of Nevada.
The Sierra came over the horizon by evening.
There were forty million people on the other side.
I hadn’t seen my attorney
since just before my mother’s funeral,
so I headed southwest toward John’s refuge:
an empty resort hotel, in an endless escrow,
situated on a long-term Indian lease — 184 empty rooms,
TVs gone, rats at the mattresses,
and raccoons alive in its convention center —
an ugly white house with customers’ histories
scattered in the lobby on reservation forms.
John had me reading the watershed years,
1959 to ’64 in the Presidential Suite:
books stacked on an unlevel floor
with a Yamaha grand piano on the mound;
books dried on the high ground after a southern storm.
Altogether, it was air-conditioned shelter.
A potential buyer thought it either the worst hotel
or best campground he’d seen so far,
but the escrow had gone on for years.
Most rooms had courtyard views
of graveled roofs or the simple golf course
backing into a canyon and windshield mountains.
Its windless condition meant exploring my high, short game
and John’s putting out on the burning-hot course.
“Crazy Mama” helped the stroke
as John asked about the money in his safe.
He said it made him nervous, so I told him
there’s nothing illegal there, just some of Noah’s cash.
Then he made a really nice shot.
Every year my lawyer looked more like Ben Franklin
as his gift for friendship increased
and led to tickets everywhere:
A big man in the shoulders, neck, and head,
John drove the golf cart and putted like an architect.
But his heart was disciplined from caring
for an older, disabled brother.
Just in case, I scribbled a note,
This cash went from Raye to Noah, and he gave it to me.
That night’s power outage smelled kind of like
a rat in the wiring, so we went out for the power
in a grill. John ordered a pair of steaks
and asked me if I was writing any farm pieces.
“Just one about who’s got seed bags, who doesn’t.”
A month later I left the cash in his safe
and headed for the South and maybe Austin again.
All the warmth ran away from desert summer nights.
Most times I pulled off to ground sleep in the blue plaid bag —
my head kept warm inside an aviator’s leather helmet.
Waking to bright, chill mornings,
with sunny, hot days peaking in tall arcs.
Then evening closed — asleep
near Piacacho, Deming, and Van Horn.
Once more through the Davis Mountains near Ozona.
What did I know of the Texas Hill Country?
I located a pair of paper bags and wrote this in the grit wind:
First bag complained to the second,
“I’m so lonesome in Fredericksburg —
they got no Hank Williams, just the Air Cav
and their girlfriends dancin’ to oompah-pah;
most of ’em drinkin’ beer or swallowin’
potato salad at an outdoor picnic.”
The second bag confessed,
“Who really gives a damn
if we’re lonesome in Fredericksburg, Texas?
If my name was Whayn, I’d rotor away
to Memphis women in Tennessee.”
I trashed those bags, since
there wasn’t any fluid in the words,
and continued into Fredericksburg
on the western end of the Texas Hill Country.
I fried the Buffalo’s wiring there,
working around the rest of the summer washing dishes
or throwing heavy landscaping sod in September.
October was turning bulls into steers.
November, meant vineyard staking
for a Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Harry Sabieknas.
And while my Buffalo was rewired, I ate Thursday meals
at Böheims, where my friend Uwe was the chef
and his food was Bavarian. A nervous Hungarian
posing as a Czech owned the place —
Otto must have been a retired spy in a witness program.
Most of my bike-repair cash
came from washing the dishes.
Nights were spent reading Daniel Boorstin
on creativity, in Sabieknas’s vacant farmhouse.
Rent meant feeding eight cats, three cows,
and maybe a horse. Sabieknas used an Airstream trailer
on a hill. I slept in the freezing house on the flat —
cat litter inside per instructions. My room had Harry’s cot
with the plaid bag and travel clothes.
Vineyard days … and icy nights asleep in the moon suit —
waking from mobile dreams under a bare lightbulb.
I left before Christmas after staking the vineyard;
going west on the 290 with the latest dream on my mind,
that spoke in the voice of a blackboard scolding a windmill:
“Just below the Flat Rock Forest,
what kind of windmills they got? And how far
are they from the 98th meridian?”
The windmill bet they were turbines,
several degrees east of the 98th meridian —
as I left the silver oaks of a hill country,
climbing from 290 onto the 10.
After the turn, going further west into a dry land
without any windmills, the 290 fell behind;
and the grade sliced through limestone eras,
with scrub oaks advancing on the hills.
Yet going west on the 10,
I still wondered about that blackboard land.
Written on or about, the line
can be a border, a scrawl, or just a line.
It wasn’t a color or a kind, but a condition —
flat, clean, and simple … not easy.
They got no windmills on my Westside;
its conditions left water deep beneath the ground.
It started me thinking at sundown in the Davis Mountains …
thought most of the way through.
After hours, I could see the road scrawl;
my headlight cone was the finder.
Air passage came back at a moderate speed —
the right side wind, and the motorcycle leaned against it.
I rode crooked … headlight … air pass …
moderate side wind … lean … crooked … deep in thought.
Several years before, I’d abandoned my past
and lived on the streets for a time —
bought motorcycles, remembering not to forget them.
I thought of my children for ten miles or so
till I turned into the Ozona truck stop.
Inside the diner, names on some truck doors
and reefer vans got me writing down farming
places — Three Rocks, Five Points, and Four Corners —
then stolen trucks and river scramble.
A poem called “Those Trees” took most of an hour.
Afterwards, I went west on a reconstructed orange road —
where the color orange controlled the weeds.
Afraid of road scramble,
I turned off the freeway for southern hours.
For the next two months my home was a metal trailer,
belonging to a Texas separatist,
who was also a grain hauler.
So I hauled grain for a split-axle man named Avenal —
a large mixture of a Baptist
enjoying machine guns below Alpine.
It’s all those bearded guys do
while misreading the Constitution.
The last night over too many Lone Stars,
Avenal reacted poorly after hearing that “We the People”
was lifted from an Iroquois treaty.
So I left him by the fire and rode north a few hours.
Back on the 10, weather changed to blowing sand
and Russian thistle across the freeway.
The motorcycle steered badly, and my hand hit
the kill switch accidentally in the dark.
A couple of chilly hours
with no power in the median’s weeds —
before turning the switch on in the middle of nowhere.
“C’mon, Roy,” got me through the chill and blowing sand —
until a wax-haired waitress sold me chicken-fried steak
in the next town, … spilling gravy
on a letter to my children there.
I mailed it to them anyway, and felt too tired to go on —
falling asleep till the waitress woke me at midnight.
Outside, it was bitter sand beaten into dust storm,
blowing the motorcycle sideways —
bitter sand and damn wild all the way into Van Horn.
Headwinds into the upper end of the Rio Grande,
past cotton sections, scarred overgrown ditches,
and buried mainlines — as jackrabbits ran
shifty slants through the tools and rusty cans of west Texas.
Two more hours into better farming above El Paso.
In the predawn, Juárez’s lights
and smoke were across the river.
El Paso was the usual nightmare at sunrise.
A few farmers were preirrigating cotton in Las Cruces —
there seemed to be more pecans than I recalled,
large lines of naked sleepy trees.
The sun rose on the climb away from the river valley.
Lordsburg’s for fuel … brakeline air was bled in Bowie …
enchiladas were eaten before Tucson.
I left sundown behind in the red and beige desert.
The Salt River Valley was ahead,
and I was tired after eight hundred miles.
The Buffalo steered hard; bearings tightened;
brakes weakened; moving conservatively … low on money.
On my way to see my attorney,
a day away from the Spirit Room —
which I’d never really heard of, because it lay in the future,
north in the mountains and past my attorney’s path.
The passing headlights moved on toward Phoenix
as my rotor kept expanding, contacting the disc.
Needing to bleed my lines again,
I pulled into a stop and bled them in a harsh place —
not soothing, more like a new prison than a park.
Toward the washroom were notices
on ashtrays, … loitering, … and vague maps.
A scrawled plea was taped on the door of the men’s,
saying, We’re in the bushes and need money.
After washing, I came out — writers had written
words over the plea: blue requests for sex, or
just total yellow nonsense. They obviously viewed
themselves as righteous. I turned away from the plea.
A curly-haired man waited beside the motorcycle —
sunburned, blistered, and frightened —
took a breath, pleaded for time …
because they were stranded somehow.
His name was Donnie, on the way to L.A.
Their car had blown up in El Paso.
Hanging around all day, people had given them food,
not money. He’d worked building house trailers in Tennessee;
now they’re going to L.A. for the earthquake work.
His wife appeared off to the side.
She was scared, too, and looked
ill and pale in the sunlight —
with wide-set eyes in a bleak, frypan face;
maybe seven months pregnant.
The motor was ruined on a late-seventies
Chevrolet — the worst kind — and
their car doors were already in Juárez.
The L.A floor’s no place for a baby.
I had ninety dollars: they took forty and a can of sardines …
a tired, pregnant, hill woman
and a sunburned man in the desert.
Back on the 10, my steering got harder,
my brakes wondered what the hell was going on —
when I spent some of the fifty dollars for gasoline in Phoenix,
paying a surly man behind bulletproof glass.
Afterwards I passed a cemetery
where one of my brothers was buried.
But I rode north on the 17,
leaving Phoenix behind. And my fork seals
almost disappeared pulling into the Yellow River Bar.
Inside, the Yellow River ran meatloaf
with mashed potatoes and beer. I played Sun records
from Tennessee like a horse’s ass and slept out back.
Drunk under the stars in the blue plastic tarp.
The next afternoon, going further north in the mountains,
a sign for an artist colony called Jerome came along.
I turned uphill, and the road zigzagged to the old copper town.
Thirsty, I stopped in a silver shop to ask, where’s a bar?
The shop woman was pretty, with olive green eyes.
She called herself Angela Silvermetal
and sent me to the Spirit Room for sundown —
leading me to believe she wanted a beer with sunset.
It wasn’t too far, and I ordered two dark beers inside,
then sat waiting under an old ceiling
with west-facing windows.
A valley twenty miles or so across
was backed by three-tiered mountains.
Winter day had a half hour to go with ranging shadows,
as the sun lowered and I waited for Angela Silvermetal.
But all I got was the final reflection off the Mogollon Plateau.
The valley gray-white melded into rise —
becoming reds, and oranges, and a nightgown purple.
Over all was the sun — then most of the sun
and a line of white yellow
above the line of mountains
opposed to copper Jerome.
Both beers gone with the extreme colors …
a fading … then none of the sun.
I paid for sunset and put the Spirit Room in the past.
My fifty dollars had eleven left;
most of the rest was spent in Havasu for fuel.
The journey closed over breakfast with my attorney.
He liked the sound of Angela Silvermetal.
I didn’t tell him about the nightgown purple.
The tip was paid with my last dollar and forty-seven cents …