The Lutheran Yard

Mostly women drove the U-Hauls.
They’d pass in the dark with a traveler’s glance,
and the Buffalo rode easy through the cold.
Tired, I parked the motorcycle in New Mexican scrub
and slept till the afternoon sun woke me outside of Santa Rosa.

My mother was slowly dying back in Fresno,
but I bought coffee, gas,
and the Richard Reeves book on Jack Kennedy.

The rest of my day
went by the large round bales of hay farms,
with junkyards on the corners.

That night, I slept late by an abandoned cotton gin —
spent the following afternoon
reading about Kennedy —
slept there again.

The next day’s no conversation at the gas pumps
as the big trucks blew past.
And there’s a sulfur smell in the Texas air along I-10.

The Davis Mountains swallowed a pastel sunset in the distance.
I stopped and ate oatmeal bars
while the Texas light changed to a complete moon.
Back on the bike, through an endless land of lifted limestone,
an up and down geography of exposure from wind and rains.

Fort Stockton after midnight.

A couple of hours later outside of Ozona,
needing cigarettes, I pulled into a rest stop to roll Drums.
Smoked two, reorganizing my thing —
a ragged leather jacket wrapped around a flat brim hat,
and the Richard Reeves book on Kennedy
with most of a hundred dollars inside.

Noah’s old Water Buffalo had dangerous tags;
its tank was three-quarters full of gasoline.

I’d thought to begin writing in Memphis — or New Orleans.
But a Fresno poet named Luthor Rollins
believed their summer rains were too constant.
So I was probably riding towards Austin.

The next four hundred miles
detoured away from the 10, and it took
more than a day to arrive at downtown Dallas
at three in the morning, a quiet time
rolling toward the dead end — parking in back
of that knoll where the Reeves profile on power stopped.

Downslope, Dealey Plaza
seemed diminished at night with a softer kind
of yellow glow than the harsh Zapruder Film had.
The road looked steeper, and there was no one — quiet in the city.

I wandered alone on the Elm side
of a divided triangle common in street glow.
Zapruder framed Kennedy’s death in the sunshine
as the world changed when it was over from his right side …
a cab passed down the Elm Street about that slow.

I rode south from Dallas and stopped in Waco for fuel;
then the sun rose before my arrival
in the outskirts of Austin with sixty dollars.

Austin used simple street math, so I parked on the 24th,
resting a few hours in the shade under live oaks.
Refreshed, I caught a bus through tree-lined residential streets.

My seat was at the front, and there were many kinds
on and off at the stops before an old woman climbed on.

Wearing a pretty dress, in her late seventies;
she had fine white hair, a Northern European face:
a stroke victim inside her declining years.
The old woman nodded, taking my seat.

Over the next few stops I imagined her as maybe an Anne —
possibly a widow in the dawn
surrounded by early bed light and their old things —
maybe on her way to the midday symphony …
because she’d played the oboe, but her oboe had been put away.

Then the driver dropped me south of the Capitol,
next to the river with my first Austin story framed behind me.
Looking north from a smaller Colorado,
the Congress was a long avenue lifting to a dome.
If the river was zero, the Capitol might be the 12th or 15th Street.

A few blocks away, Rueben, a street man,
knew where to get coffee.
He said over on the 7th Street
in the old warehouse area
where truck docks were turned into bars and clubs.

The Asphalt Café used six of my sixty dollars
for an average sandwich and some coffee —
I was caffeine-driven until three
in the morning reading Reeves again.

After the café closed,
I walked west on the 6th Street
past used cars and a wall
with a glass mosaic of an Austin street man.

Moving closer, I discovered the mosaic was made
from bottle ends and the artist signed himself as Night Train.

Looking for shelter off the 6th Street,
I went further north past houses converted to law firms,
and found shelter in a Lutheran schoolyard near the 15th Street.
In the daylight there was a tunnel next to the jungle gym.

I walked back to the 24th and drank more coffee,
then rode the Buffalo downtown,
weaving in and out
of jarring traffic on Congress
till rush hour slowed us all to a crawl.

Traffic crept forward in solid lines through the morning swamp.
Red-suited Texas women strode down sidewalks
like they’d come from cluttered bathrooms.
After parking, I went against them
while they looked through my farm clothes.

Politics was the same new conservative
except for downtown’s better core of old.

Austin trash swirled after lunch;
off in the distance, scattered clouds
made it a humid rainfall country.

Back on the bike,
riding to the east side of I-35,
midafternoon rain poured from the trees.
I parked on a greasy side street in front of a bar —
a kind of damp, smoky place that played Ray Charles.
I drank sparingly, nursing the cash.

It poured outside the Austin bar for several hours,
and I returned to the Lutheran schoolyard after dark —
it seemed wise to be gone from the tunnel by sunrise.

A few hours later, the click sound
of halogens woke me to another storm.
It was raining out there, and a police car turned at the corner.

I saw a flattened leather ball by the jungle gym
that must have bounced strange and rolled wrong for quite a few.

Opening the Reeves book to a blank page,
my watch looked like two o’clock when I spoke out loud.

Phrases come as odd lots.

I started jotting them down in the Lutheran yard.
Tried writing out of gas in the garlic sacking crews,
where postwar Indochinese men
sacked on even days,
women sacked on the odds.
Watched them work their asses off
to pay for growing snow peas.

They were additionally financed
by refugee resettlement acts.
I went ahead and wrote that stuff down —
before deciding to get to a shelter in the morning,
to get what’s needed, and then get the hell away …