Here's a road trip back to the mid seventies. The Viet Nam War has just concluded. The protagonist is eighteen. These word sketches were written on paper place mats at a truck stop. Like rocks in a creek they slept for thirty-seven years. I recently wiped them off and placed them here for you to look at. -with a tip of the hat to J.P Donleavy.
Up from the basement like a catfish gulping for air. Eyes stuck together from last night's drinking. Stocking-footed stumbles through halls to greet my step-father's cat. Thunderpussy is haughty but wants me to stroke his slate gray fur. Dreaming of his next catch while digesting his last. Bathroom mirror. Which archetype am I this morning? The spiritual road self? Coffee addict? Cigarette fiend? Emptier of bottles? The coffee maker's final runny-nosed note summons me into the kitchen. Filling a huge brown mug decorated with a fireplace scene. Stepfather's first wife had given it to him.
Plastered therunto like a wet leaf. The Want Ads. Narrow columns of "Must Be's". Not really wanting a job. My apple eye heading straight for RESTAURANTS. An ad for a full-time, live-in, short-order grill-cook at a 24 hour truck stop! The Tumbleweed Cafe on Maui Ridge. Imaginary reels of of holy Zen truck stop life. Solitude in the mountains. Elder-father oneness of the highway. Holding black plastic in my paw. Somewhere in the mist-shrouded mountains, a down-trodden waitress shuffles words into the other end. The lady to talk to isn't in.
await her call.
Answering the phone. Sooner than is decent. Asking questions. Fewer than is wise. Her husband can bring me this very night! A job in the mountains. Food around the clock. Bottomless coffee mugs. 24 hour pancakes. Downstairs again. Taking toothbrush, socks and guitar. Bounding upstairs. Colliding with Mum just in from her work. A hearty knock. Bud O'Bannion is on the stoop. Ready to spirit my happy ass up country. Quickly out the door. Eager to put some miles behind me. Thunderpussy like a granite lion in the passenger seat. Said feline refusing all coaxing to vacate. Finally handing the hissing ball of indignation down to little sister. All hands laughing nervously.
on the blind.
Chugging past Lam's grocery. Trying to remember if the window was open before I got in. North Shore small streets in sundown orange light. Bud speaking intimately of the road. Stylish leather shoes, fuzzy socks and green plaid pants. Nylon shirt sleeves gaping at the circumference of his arms. These tapering into thick cow-milking wrists. Angling out again into wide, big-fingered hands. Laying one on his face and rubbing its entirety while talking. Replacing a strand of fallen hair on his eyebrow with two fingers. Cleanest truck driver I ever saw. Telling his story from when he was my age. Asking about his latest venture.
Driving across the bridge to skidrow. Cruising narrow funky streets. Pulling into a huge produce depot. Trailers lined up. Termites with their heads in harmonica holes. Bud pointing out his rig. An orange White Freightliner. Up the long ladder. Depositing my gear in the cab. Bud strolling into the cavernous building. Chinese guy lashing out wristwatch hands. Flinging crates into the open ends of trailers. Laughing mouth full of dirty teeth like busted boxcars. Me glad to be a cowboy cook on my way North. Trucker next to me occasionally flashing a 38 caliber smile. Gaze wandering over the dials, buttons, knobs, clocks, odometers, swithches, handles, levers, slides, pulls and bars.
on the intructions
of the Jacob Brakes.
Bud telling me the lettuce will be four hours late. Down the ladder to join him. Chicano trucker on the grimy pavement grinning and spitting on his tee-shirt. Wiping his license plate. Revealing the word TEXAS in white caps on a field of blue with grasshoppers rampant. Lifting a cantaloupe from his load. Dissecting it with a five inch pearl-handled fruit knife. Spilling the seeds like guts on the cement. Bits landing on his boots. A limping man coming toward us. Steely blue eyes and clothes shiny with his own grease. Tejano se dice, "Jijo de la gran puta del mundo,
surely a Devil
Bantering about their sexual exploits, these two. Bud and I fading away to an Irish joint he favoured. Learning that the Tumbleweed had its Christmas parties there. Some gals even danced on the table. Fine old linen, mandolin music and a whiskey mist coming into Bud's eyes. Sitting at the very table. Telling Bud I've already eaten. Fingering my last seven dollars. Sipping several gifted beers. Tapping toes to an Irish trio. Telling Bud about my seven dollars. Chowing on the savoury stew that got the railroads built.
to the rig
like old friends.
Four A.M. A weak pool of yellow light on the cold shoulder of the highway. A bank of bug lights atop a battered sign giving the mileage to Katmandu, Anchorage and Lima. Bud pecking his wife on the cheek. Rushing out to the remaining five hundred miles of his lettuce loop. Strange laughter floating like dirigibles across the tables and booths. One Jiminy Cricket look-alike pointing out a cheery blonde who is laughing like a fiddle reel. "Watch out for her. She's the troublemaker."
Gales of mirth
A massive boar's head mounted on the wall. The physical graffitti of a cigarette protrudes from its jaw. Further adornments are bop plastic sunglasses and a red ball cap. Tilted at a rakish angle. Missus O'Reilly showing me to my motel unit without further ado. Stretching out on the swaybacked bed. Trying the shower. Unpacking my alarm clock and tobacco can. Leaning guitar on the wall furthest from the heat register. Rolling a smoke. Winding the time-piece.
they could all
see me now.
Waking to the klaxon of my alarm clock. Watching it dance off the desk to quiver spastically on the floor. Lurching out of the sack. Rubbing face and brushing teeth with water hard as a banker's heart. Remembering I am "on" at twelve noon. Figuring I had best get down to the kitchen early and scope out the menu. Striding into the fray in my best jeans and cleanest tee-shirt. Long hair flowing down my shoulders. A holy faced local St'át'imc woman surveying me from the griddle. Agreeing to show me the ropes immediately.
is the eye
of my storm.
A walk-in cooler clad in shelf-paper. A quasi-wood panneling pattern. Adding more prints to the chrome handle. Discovering apples, pears, peaches, oranges, lemons and boxes of lettuce. Celery, carrots, potatoes and parsley. Another door opening to a freezer. Frozen stacks of autistic hamburger patties sulking in dirty metal boxes. Silent hordes of bacon sleeping in salty stacks. Guarded by cords of homemade sausages. Two plastic breastfulls of pancake batter with spoons protruding. Buckwheat and buttermilk. Salisbury steaks, tubs of yogurt and bins of mushrooms. Plastic cottage cheese containers choc-a-block with sliced tomatoes. Pickles 'n' onions 'n' relish 'n' the Works. Pots of mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup. A broad low pan of congealed gravy.
brown jelly waves.
A wall of horrific fly-blown shelving. A three gallon can of powdered soup base is holding court. The jury: one gallon cans of ketchup stare down at the accused. A green plastic bag of sandy white refined sugar. A shiny metal scoop juts out like a smoking gun in an evidence room. The deputy, a big paperboard can marked "Spud White" dominates the space. Next to the shelf is a potato guillotine. "Fry-cutter" is the accepted euphemism. Below, an empty five gallon bucket awaits the guilty. Cans of salt, pepper and oil are the audience. God's own can-opener mounted next to the cutter. A trace of ketchup on the wall.
A vinegar trinity:
Guiding me to the griddle. The kang. The teppan. Der stahltafel. A mighty fine tablet of heated stainless steel on four legs. Canals running down all sides carry the poor gone fritters to the infinity hole. Polished to a mirror and wiped with a miniature mop which lives in a can of clean oil like a pet octopus. A burnt wood handled spatula perching on the edge like a favourite pipe. Two tin pots capitulating. One speaking of peas and the other of gravy. Murmuring to the stained canopy suspended by four globby grease-blackened chains. Exhaust fan ceasing long ago. Peering through the stilled blades.
day lit pines,
rocks and clouds.
Right of the griddle hamburger fixings arrayed in little metal boxes. Oak-handled spatula projecting from each. Center-stage a mustard-spattered, crumb-festooned cutting board of maple. Outfield stacks of pre-buttered soft white bread waiting for sandwiches. Lifting my gaze over the bar, out the window and across the highway. Trucks basking like lizards on the hot edge of a surging ravine. The river is long and the road tortuous. After threading through seven tunnels, the truckers gather to rest at this place before another uphill push.
also bunch up.
Left of the griddle against the south wall, a big chrome Hobart dishwasher and a deep stainless-steel double sink. Both faucets chronically drizzling. Eyes front . A set of old-time swinging doors. One tied open unreligiously with a dirty gray string and the other closed. From certain of the seats at the trucker's bar one may peep into the secrets of the kitchen. Taking a menu to study. Bidding my gracious teacher adieu. Giving my order for breakfast.
to a table
near the back.
Opposite a small banquet room furnished in knotty-pine. On one wall a massive bearskin. Claws splayed and fangs grimacing at a dark blue Mexican velvet painting. A cowboy brujo pausing near a creek to water his horse and light a smoke. Silver creek water matching the stars overhead. A group of English ladies sitting underneath the painting. Cups of tea and platters of crumpets daintily disappearing. Animated chatter.
by wary glances
at the grizzly.
Grub arriving quick from Marie's capable hands. Hot, black, strong, long-haul coffee. A plate of the best easy-overs I've encountered. A stack of buckwheats groaning under the weight of butter. I add a thick swatch of marmalade. Hand-shredded hashbrowns. Dry gold seared then smothered on the onion-side of the griddle. Greedily soaking up Tobasco splashes. Three rashers of farm-cut bacon stretch out like drying socks. Alongside a pair of pompous sausages. Fully cooked yet swollen with juices. Making the wolf clan a proud new record for food inhalation. Handing Bud's wife Carla my seven dollars. Smiling to learn that employees don't pay for food and board. Toddling off to the kitchen for a chunk of Carla's apple pie.
after two pieces
that I don't eat pie.
Asking corps of waitresses the subtleties of an "open" or "closed" Denver. Local variations of properly poaching an egg. Struggling to decipher the scrawl of order tickets on the spinner. Realizing these poor pearls are hidden deep within shells. Shells exuded by a jukebox in the flickering red neon night. Within a cafe whirling steadily toward the millenium. A blonde, dimple-cheeked lass with an attractive mark under her left eye is teaching me. Fries go on the hot stuff and potato salad goes on the cold stuff. Checking her name-tag and thus meeting Jenna.
Marvel of God's
presence of mind
All goes well for a time. September adds a discernable nip to the air in spite of the hot sun. Tourist busses come and go. All-a-ma-sudden, a serious fire is raging on the mountain just behind my kitchen. Flames sprint across soft pine needles and jump from trunk to trunk. An ancient ritual. Looking out the backdoor screen at thirty smoke-jumpers. Single file up the steep trail. Characters from an old sepiatone photograph swagger forth. Old hard-faced St'át'imc men born under salmon skies. Raised on spruce tea and venison. Strapping long-haired country boys from towns far and wide. Climbing with shovels, pails and mattocks.
powders and liquids.
Old truck stop hands creasing their wrinkles in apprehension of the inevitable rush. The first shift is at the door. Pushing past busloads of tourists. Smelling of pine smoke, sweat and tobacco. Hungry boys and men order all at once. Eggs to soup to Denvers to DeeLuxes. Carla buzzes around making pies. Keeping a weather eye on me. Feeling that I'm losing the battle under extraordinary circumstances. Smiling when Marie appears in silent moccasins. Without a word deals out two dozen DeeLuxe patties.
that I chop
Alone again. After the storm. Here is a laugh that would make cats dance on the ceiling. Meet Dusty, the Jiminy Cricket man. Pushing through the swinging door. A St'át'imc man about five feet tall with eyes like a baby seal. A heart hard as a pine knot. A fine black western shirt with red piping and pearl snaps. His little hands are black from working the gas station next door. An accomplished cee-bee operator, electronic technician, mechanic, ladies man and the fastest mop in the canyon. My new friend has a jumbo corned beef with extra gravy on the fries.
Long day passing into night. Sun disappearing behind the west wall of the canyon. Wind warns of evening. Washing the pots and pushing a mop across the floor. Punching the clock and gathering fresh goodies for my sanctum. Only thirty feet from where I have toiled. Out the front door and past the laundromat. North toward the gas station. East to a row of motel rooms. Pausing at number 17.
of the mountain.
Clock dancing again. Frenetic discord of passing vehicles. Silent mountains run down to the sea blocking out new ideas. Dressing fireman style. Enjoying a smoke at the backdoor to the kitchen. A stranger washing dishes peers through the torn screen. Jet hair and eyes. Coffee skin and a Mayan nose. Paco is from Peru. For the several weeks of his employ his conversations had been limited to the words yes and no. I am fairly fluent in present tense Spanish. We work around that handicap.
almas del Sur
en el Norte.
Jenna comes on shift. Silken hair confined in a tight bun. Conch shell cheeks and cotton boll eyes behind serious glasses. Busying herself as Paco and I talk of fishing. Gulf of Mexico VS the South Pacific. Talk of variations of ceviche. Jenna coming and going. Our eyes meeting and beginning to wander up through the trees and rocks. Only to fall off the cliff of love. Days and nights pass in a flow of three different shifts. Forty hours a week followed by forty eight contiguous hours that begin and end at the oddest hours imaginable. Encountering the balance of employees.
All the classic
Jung and Freud.
One waitress is dubbed MacBlight. A Scots descended bitch who wears three abortions like Purple Hearts. A body long ago vacated. Currently rented to swine that stare out of her bloodshot eyes. Using her mouth to issue words of ruin to all that is good and pure. Grabbing my ass and laughing like nails on a chalkboard. "She", my grandma would have said,
in your ass
if your guts was on fire."
There's Davy Stoneboy. Wine guzzling mascot of the O'Bannions. What the St'át'imc might call an apple. Face in a perpetual yassuh smile. Fawning over the bosses and absolutely caustic the rest of humanity. One handsome son of a bitch. He drives a faded blue tractor to the dump each day. "Maybe", a Newfie would have said,
"He's like the Devil,
Not half as bad
as he's cracked up to be."
Bernita Horsechild is a wild-eyed, black haired St'át'imc gal. Laughs easily from deep inside. Hardened just enough. Deflects emotional erosion, spiritual vampirism, glassy stares and morning character assassination with the panacea, "FUCK YOU." Sitting in a booth playing Rhinestone Cowboy on the juke and kissing her boyfriend. J. J. is a young Navy vet. Friendly as a guide dog. He works the gas station with Dusty.
on the side.
Chatting with Jenna in the afternoons. She's a German scholar, a poetess and very fond of Goethe. Halfway into the cap and gown, four-square world of one's betters. Trys to conceal her surprise at hearing philosophical concepts spoken with a drawl from behind a griddle. Carla's brood spill into their kitchen with schoolmates in tow. Jacketed and cocky. Making fries for all. Big sister fondling Mom's car keys and munching on a Deluxe.
not to talk
to the help.
Trying to engage J. J. and Bernita in conversation between shifts. Give up and play guitar and sing to them instead. Jenna watches and thinks, "Now he's with his hillbilly kind." Tilting her head like a dog that hears a perplexing sound. I may interact with her, but she will never raise cups with any of these peons, save Paco. As she watches,
Enjoying a hot bath in my room. Contemplating a missing tile. Reading Gargantua and Pantagruel. Imagining Rabelais spending a night in this truck stop. Feeling a need to gather some belongings that are strong in my magic. Writing these words on the back sides of cheap paper place mats.
type them up
three decades later.
Putting orange peel in my tobacco can to hydrate it in the arid climate. Dreaming of my books, awaiting retrieval one hundred and fifty miles away. Writing long letters to a friend in town. Horsechild brings me stamps. She's seen this before. Her and J. J. roar off on his motorbike to mail them. Days already a stifling routine. Three shift changes per week. 4-12, 12-8 and 8-4. I meet some of the regular long haul truckers.
on so many stumps.
Pen sliding across paper like a ski on good snow. Veering off track. Imperceptibly out of bounds. Writing on love. A poem for Jenna. Back to reality to answer a knock on my door. Jenna walks in and hands me a blueberry muffin and a root beer. Back to the dream like a spark from a bonfire. Our conversation becomes nervous. Playing my guitar and singing for her.
not having to talk
still being listened to.
Beginning my forty-eight hours off. Convincing a reluctant trucker to transport me to town. A steady stream of disaster stories on the way. "See that big patch there. Whole busload of school kids head-on into an an eighteen wheeler. Big ole mess." Says the canyon regularly fell in on itself, as well. "Had a three day layover at Maui Ridge just last year." Bidding the man goodbye when we get to town. Walking through a sore throat fog toward a bridge that connects me with my things.
for a steamy piss
in a pastel dawn.
Walking the windy bridge through shrouds of fog into the city. Soon at Lam's grocery for a snack. First I saw the grocery man half a year ago. He was dangling his son out the window by one ankle. Admonishing the child in Toi Sanese. Lam was a man of principal. One principal. Which he constantly repeated. Nothing is free. I buy some yogurt, smokes and a lighter and tell him to keep the change.
He eyes me
like a rooster
sizing up a cricket.
Greeting my Stepfather in Danglish. He is cutting tiles to make a coffee table. "Hvordan har du dej?" "Jag er bra" "Du gammel Svenska Skraeling. Vil du hae en ol, fur helvena?" "Nej tak." Bounding upstairs to phone several friends. Soon we have packed my books, albums and stereo components. Off to the Greyhound station with three incredibly beat boxes of treasure. Standing in the cold waiting for the big dog. Stowing the boxes.
a window seat.
Falling into an exhausted sleep. Replete with a nightmare of missing my stop. My dream self trudges up the canyon with three Muranawa Farms radish boxes on my back. Almost living the dream. Starting awake exactly one bend in the road before the wooden shelter that serves as the stop for Maui Ridge. Watching the bus get smaller. Humping the boxes across the asphalt to my room.
9000 feet above.
Listening to Bo Hansson while unpacking the books. I can make it now, come what may. Jenna drops in for a visit. Hands behind her head on the old bed. Talking of our backgrounds. Handing her a few of Richard Brautigan's books. Jenna disappears with this literary prescription. Falling into a better sleep. Wandering my soul path until the bell.
is upon me
like killer butterflies.
Days pass and the river roars. White furies of foam carving jade sculptures under denim skies. Each day made unique by a random collection of vehicles passing and pausing. The back door hammered by a dry wind sounds like an old man's fingers drumming a table top. Suggesting that winter is surely on its way. Looking at the moon and feeling it bend the earth beneath my feet. There is a lithograph on my grandma's wall in Texas. A jet-braided native woman under such a moon. She is stretching to pick wild grapes that hang in gnarled clusters from an oak. An inquisitive deer monitors her efforts from the soft dark trees beyond. She has many names in many lands.
Waddling over to the cafe from the safety of my room one such night. Drifting past the coffee makers into the kitchen. To swim in the eyes of Jenna. She is wearing braids instead of the bun. Gives me a faux angry look awhile opening a gallon can of ketchup. Daintily filling the rank and file of newly washed bottles. Filling up the salt and pepper shakers and three kinds of vinegar bottles.
into test tubes.
After her shift Jenna suggests bowls of fresh yogurt with black berries. Taking our food in the banquet room. In the soft babble of simultaneous conversations we overhear our names. Returning to the kitchen to drop our spoons and bowls a jangle into the sink. One side of which is kept half full by utilizing a cut-down overflow pipe. Constant leaking keeps it fresh. Our utensils flutter to the bottom.
en la manana.
Horsechild trots in. Adding her dishes to the underwater collection. Giving Jenna a knowing eye. An approving toss of her pony-tail for me. We gather by the sink to chat. Horsechild intimates that the cook I replaced committed suicide in this very sink. "Stabbed himself in the stomach with one of his carving tools. Bled to death before Marie found him." Yogurt rising in my gorge. Horsechild scampers out. Pauses at the swinging door,
his old room."
Simultaneously suggesting a walk. In the moonlight. Up the mountain behind the truck stop. Just the medicine we need at this time. Climbing past an old water-wheel. Night wind blows our hair. The wooden wheel speaks of another day, another dream. Uphill slipping on dusty pebbles and pine needles. Both feeling we had done this long before. Both feeling we were in a party of three.
accounts for ghosts,
the world is very crowded.
A stiff north wind tearing sheets of darkness and polishing heavenly bodies. Jenna loses purchase on the hill. Hand shooting out across a thousand ages. Touching for the first time. Picking our way like goats past hamburger neons and truck headlights. Way up where trees are small. Alighting on a lichen-spattered rock for a shared smoke. One-eyed light of a freight below snakes through the canyon.
Our thoughts flit
round a yellow light.
Suddenly a sweet light illumines the ground at our feet. Silver edge of the moon attains the east ridge behind us. Two actors on this stage watch pine shadows grow in the lunar light. The mammoth orb rises rapidly and pauses to clear the ridge. Wobbling and shuddering. A newly blown soap bubble. Hoping it won't pop. It floats across the sky.
and grow opposite.
Jenna contemplating the play of light and shadow. I dream a cabin of fragrant timbers for the two of us. Planning midnight raids on the Tumbleweed. Eventually we're shivering noticeably. Time to descend. Highway roar increasing steadily. Blundering in poor light after the moon falls over the west wall. Scrabbling through a burnt area. Charcoaled from ankle to knee.
in from their play.
Jenna fetches two mugs of hot tea. We pass Dusty on the way. He has moved into the unit next to mine. Anticipating Cee-Bee static, short-wave whine and the bang of his headboard. Surely Carla's guiding hand in this. Unlocking the door to admit Jenna. A demented rooster who lives on one of the gas pumps crows loudly. Flies down to the porch near my feet and starts pecking one of my boxes. Three black kittens mewling lustily inside. Tilting the box slowly.
A feline trio
under my bed.
Putting on a record and joining Jenna already propped up on the bed. Chewing gum and smoking. Blood flutters through my ears like hummingbirds working an azalea bush. Telling her I want to be her friend. Being told that first it's friends, then it's lovers, then it's you know what.
moves us to stage two
of her trivium.
Reaching out for her many times in my sleep. Sun in the window brings music and when my eyes clear, Jenna smiles at me from a chair across the room. Three kittens adorn her lap. We sit awhile on the beer bottle brown porch. I play guitar and tighten my suspenders. Showing my collection of snapshots. Palming under the ones she need not see. Old rooster crowing at random moments. Carla strides by and casts a glance. My arm is around Jenna's waist.
back with a heart
two sizes too big.
Returning to the kitchen routine. Putting in my eight while Jenna camps out in my room playing records. Tempo increasing. Cooking and talking to Paco in Spanglish. Fine tuning my work skills. Dusty starts to hang out in the warm kitchen. Talks of his parents and of Mary Sparrow, his latest lover. Little Mary has a good cry once a day. Keeps her whole. Dusty drinks and talks on the radio each evening. Having coffee with Marie each shift-end just before hers.
Her smile is genuine
and she only speaks
when spoken to.
Returning to my room. Showering. Reading. Sleeping til the door opens and life begins again. Clomp of Jenna's boots. Depositing muffins, juice, cigarettes and gum on the desk. Sits across the room chewing and relating all the shop talk of the eight hours I missed. Playing with the kittens.
not to hear
A note on the wall near the washrooms. MacBlight's tortured script. Pertaining to myself, Jenna, our work habits and sleeping arrangements. Rolls off my back. I see Jenna trembling with rage and indignation. Her anger becomes a Lincoln double parked in my mind. Searching for an intellectual retaliation. Something to bring the authoress to her cringing knees. Poring over books by great men for just the right axiom. Concluding that even if found, it would have no effect on her calloused soul. Flames of anger subside.
smoke of revenge
Feeling like sailors in the desert. Knowing we couldn't let ourselves submerge. Talking with the others who are soon pulling for our side. They admit not liking the stone hearted water witch. Confronting MacBlight one day. Her aggression shrinks into indifference and feigned friendliness.
to make us strong.
Reading Whitman in bed. Jenna starts awake and cries out. Embracing me like the whole of humanity was in imminent peril. Tells me that a drunken man had entered her sleep and sat on the edge of the bed weeping and cursing over the mess that was his life. My neck hairs stand up like antennae. Beginning to feel a lingering presence. Sometimes I cannot sleep either.
I found in the room.
One copper penny day an old man appears. Horsechild says he's a new cook. Takes a seat under the kitchen calendar. Impeccable in full cook's whites. Says he's Moe and grabs my elbow. Whispers that he is in secret negotiations to buy the cafe. Has already owned and run several. Bigger than this. Takes me outside to meet his friends. Two snaggly ass poodles pacing the back of his muddy Rambler. There are pine needles in tufts behind the wipers and in all the fenders. I invite Moe to my room for a beer.
It is auspicious
a new boss.
All around are the signs of a woman. To me lighthouses on a storm-wracked coast. To Moe they are caution signs. Snapping open beers like I was entertaining relatives. Having a big time. Feeling like Abraham Lincoln for befriending the old man. Lighting the pilot-light of his room heater. Playing my guitar. Showing my various skills. Moe slaps his knees at my jokes and agrees with all my beliefs. Then the beer runs out. Before going to his room, my future employer proves to be an intolerable fuck-wit.
on a waffle iron.
Next day Jenna reports the bastard can't make toast or fry an egg. My ego drops like an elevator. Even here in the piney woods? On the night streets of San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Portland, Denver, Dallas, Vancouver, Monterrey and every other city; jabbering fire-tongued, drug-fueled piranhas will strip one of innocence. Sculpting us all into world worthy people by leaving only the bones.
named for saints
are the worst.
Moe disappears in about three days. Full of beer and pie. Looking for the next ship of fools. Routine back to normal. Cooking, loving, reading, writing and doing the laundry. J. J. and Horsechild kissing in the booth. Dusty laughing up mountains and Little Mary crying out rivers. Jenna leaves to visit her parents for three days. Marie goes up country to see her mum. All this diminishing me considerably. Eating less and the others sense weakness. All but Dusty and Paco angling around for the kill.
hard to talk to,
one hard to take.
Second day of solitude. Wondering what Jenna's folks were like and when I would meet them. Carla's children bring their schoolmates to the kitchen for a round of fries. After gorging like seagulls, they blindfold one of their friends and begin to play a game. Guess what you're touching? A little girl is led to the electric meat slicer and her hand is placed on the tray. I explode in fury. Giggling, they run out the back door when I banished them. Sarcastic gurgling of the sink the only sound til Dusty comes in to order and asks if I miss Jenna.
I really do.
On late shift the fourth night. It's slow and I sit by the fireplace under the hatted boar. In walks Jenna wearing a long flowing gown and a homespun peasant blouse. Her flaxen hair radiant white gold in the firelight. When she leaves the room time stops. Hurriedly walking the frigid steps to my room. Jenna inside proudly displaying three joints of homegrown on the table. Putting down the kittens she has been cuddling. Opening a drawer she indicates I look inside. Among the letters and Marlboros is a packet of birth control pills.
a ghost ship
in Pearl Harbor.
We are living an old Bogart movie. We laugh, chatter and listen to records. We smoke and read to each other from poetry books. Feeling happy and ready for some romance. Suddenly, like snow falling off a branch, she's up staring out the window. Her silence is tortuous and absolute. My words bounce off and lie scattered on the floor. Thought itself becomes impossible. Being in my company becomes intolerable. My door slams shut. Turning on the radio and crashing in a heap.
"Take it easy.
Don't let the sound
of your own wheels
drive you crazy."
Several hours later she's at my door with coffee mugs and a big smile. Rising up and putting on my suspenders. Both acting like nothing happened. Walking up past the water wheel with the guitar in a cool wind. A frigid blast spilling down from the alpine sends us shivering to bed. Sunlight illuminating the venetians, heater ticking and kittens mewing. A pure good tumble of tangled hair and laughter. Young lives again made worthwhile.
Time set free,
taking new shape.
One evening a trucker drops off two young gals. Big city east coasters fresh in from a trek to the salt grass mobile home jungles of Florida. Debbie is sweet and packs around her math and sociology texts to study at night. Christie is tough and looks out for both of them on their journey through the hair-matted drain of humanity. They pull me out the screen door constantly to get high. Dusty admonishes us between pulls on his whiskey bottle. We invent cannabis inspired recipes for ourselves. Jenna takes poached eggs and perfectly buttered toast to a higher level of perfection. Within a week, Dusty is bragging about adding Debbie to his trophies. Little Mary cries alone no more.
Oh, dark hallways
of this world
let no man breathe peace
til you crumble in the light of truth.
Marie makes an outline of my feet on a paper bag. Her mum will make me the best pair of chewed-moosehide, beaded, fur-lined moccasins possible to get. She is my best friend and confidant when Jenna is away. Next time they are both gone I get Carla to buy me a bottle of red. I polish it off alone in my room in an hour. Sadness and lonliness overiding any feeling of being drunk. Out the window across the highway a comet shoots across my teary field of vision. Six months later in Mexico, I saw it again.
a maiden's eye.
Some days are like silly putty. Distorting our faces, stretching our truths. Spirit smouldering like coffee left on the burner all day. Delicate as the dust on moth's wings. Pewter-coloured afternoons flux into vacuum nights. Standing on cold dusty pavement by the gas pumps watching J.J. fix flat tires. Looking hillside at three rusty cars disappearing under a mantilla of sacred brown pine needles. Huddled together like junkies in a bathtub listening to Benny Goodman. Frost puffing out my nostrils dances in the wash of headlights. Feeling no hope, yet no dispair. Turtle-breath in the morning may be all there is. The wind pushes me back down trail.
that got me here.
Debbie invites me into her room for a smoke. We sit on chairs covered with crumpled piles of girl clothes. Out her window Davy chugs by on the blue tractor. Pulling another load of spent grease, old fries and coffee grounds out of the reach of hungry bears. Hungry bears.... I get a notion. It was simple deductive reasoning. Truckers have all been to Texas. I'm from Texas. I like to eat. Truckers like to eat. Truckers like gumbo. Carla authorizes immediately. Jenna, Debbie, Christie, and Marie form up the work detail.
We set to
with five big
Christie draws on the chalk-board to advertise. Carla sets the price. Dusty hits the short wave and cee-bee. First in was a short-haul man who hated my long hair. Red bellies up to the swinging door. Sees me and orders Carla's pie. Before long we hear trucks gearing down across the highway. In a few hours there are a steady half dozen long-haulers at the bar. Some are wearing cowboy hats, some are wearing ball caps. Everyone of them is chomping bowl after bowl of gumbo and spinning every Texas yarn in their repertoire. The forty quart stock pot drains in one shift. Red has two bowls. Bellies up to the swinging door again.
you look like girl
but you can cook!"
Conjured by the gumbo, a new waitress appears a couple of days later. Dale has soft brown eyes and washed-out bee-hive hair. She wears her anguish in defensive speech and fickleness. I feel sorry for her without knowing exactly why. Forcing myself to stay friendly under her barrage of petty bitching. Our first mutual shift grinding on. Eventually she confines herself to helpful advice. From her I receive my second professional secret poached egg recipe. There are a million Dales in a million cafes.
all that lives
Thick cold foggy morning. Dale's husband, Tim comes in for breakfast. Nervous blue eyes and thin sweaty hands. Sits in the corner like Christopher Robin just in from killing tadpoles with corn-cob holders and wanting his toast. Clean jeans, green suspenders and shiny little boots. Dale drops down a plate of eggs without sound, emotion or feeling. Just a function she performs. Taking my coffee over to his table. Talking trout fishing, sawmills, rockslides and tobacco. Finishes his breakfast and rises to leave. A lumberjack with a cotton-candy handshake.
is like a tornado
in a vacuum cleaner.
Watching the truckers being entertained by Dusty at the truckers bar after my shift. Talking how he's gonna stick his you know what into you know who tonight. Demonstrating by clasping air with two hands and drawing it up to his chest, while ramming his buttocks forward. Head to one side like a war horse, snorting with each thrust. Six or so thrusts and he's done. Looking each trucker in the eye then exploding with laughter.
A tree falls
In the forest
as Dusty walks away.
Watching TV. Tells me to send powdered milk to the starving infant on the screen and deliver a hoe into the hands of his father. Next telling me to buy a microwave oven, take a trip to Mexico, get some tooth whitener and a remote garage door opener. A white anorexic woman cries and kisses the scab covered baby. Asks for donations between sobs. Hands the doomed child to its starving mother when its little hand becomes entangled in her pearl necklace. I snap off the set.
to send books
if I send anything.
About to cry again. The Greyhound just took my reason around the bend. She is gone for good. Looked deeper into her heart. Found no room for me. Only unfathomable sorrow, which I was welcome to share. Walking up out of the pit. Sitting in her room. The others had already picked it clean of her memory. Love waited restless behind her eyes, in her fingertips and her words came out like scattered birds squeezing past the big lump in her throat. She never let that dam burst.
that the river
would run dry.
Rising each morning like the sun in these parts. Starting all over again. Every yesterday is a poem to savour or rue or laugh at. Our paths only lead to us. We all share the road. Life is a spiral not a circle. I sing constantly in the kitchen. I have a reputation for being a good whistler as well. Sounds like a pedal steel guitar and just about covers up the sound of the sink.
live in the pines
and visit once in a while.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.