Tuesday, November 5, 2013

cold was the night and hard was the ground

            Promise that you’ll make wishes on the grain elevators that blow by off the highway as it screams along with me. Give the pan to a caboose or two, and the faces of geniuses camel up the worst of it, then the splatter bugs get their fate decided for them by wind and glass. Gone by in the giving that graces the presented gallop of information, like the way a horse gets when it whips full of beans, and you’ve got those catalpa tress of course, maybe lining a wide boulevard, or it could be just sand on the dashboard, and the cold shivering foetus of it all making irreverent speeches in platform shoes tooling alongside burnished triumphs of amphibian-breathed holiness, and all of this rudimentary gall-giving crater-happy silent treatment doesn’t do a burp of good among wardens and stalled vehicles. But getting the side view is necessary. In fact, speaking to Luddites with pin-tail souls is pergola-watching at its finest. After you retreat. The gaping Sunday-faced marrying along bloodlines, and the shoulders sag and the armpits drip and the lint sticks to chewed gum in breast pockets and flints and is flicked away, those who do such things, we make the dandiest little greeting cards, well, those who worrying are we-ing and whoopee-ing under the hard-packed dirt of another day to have to suffer through, those are plenty and they are left to themselves in keeping pennies and playing keep away with a box of doughnuts. “Come on over and get your reward,” sing the chariot racers, but there’s nobody to listen. Cascading past the ruins of the highway’s scarry past, sucking up all the sugar cubes, making speeches, getting tired of window-looking, fiddling around with a pocket book and scotching a few canceled checks, and the wind plays tricks on the stereo while a passel of july-bugs shadows by. Cordial, and willing at any cost, to bemoan the youthier currents of any suitable event, the boss stays put and paints murals on the ceilings of outhouses. He trims the gristle from the marrow of what you used to be, and then tells you to put a lid on it. Keeping the bulge and the glitter alive, manila-envelope skin and telegrams from outer space, knowing that the end of man is to know, or just passing the afternoon going north-east out of the city. People pray for their own demise at certain times of the year, when the weather won’t stop playing games with their god-fearing spirits, and that great big eye slowing them down from upstairs somewhere. Tilling the backrooms for spare gold coins, we sift through what’s left and bag the rest. Love’s tablecloth stays stained with who you are in my dreams, nothing too dramatic, not like weaving in traffic, not like tossing peanuts in a panhandler’s palm. More like getting in on the joke, swanky and loose in the tongue, sporting a boiled shirt, cussing high and low and not upset at all. And the commissaries are streaking down the line, holding off colds, playing spoons with a few shirtless dweebs, and patches of chokeberry and meadowsweets and photinia rub the hillsides with splotchy dashed color while you run errands and play fetch with ballots and cure your own shyness with watery ebullient cheers like hey-ho-let’s-go stuff. Sure. Run a hay-wagon through it and take off all your clothes. Go pantomiming the great potato, tousled hair crinkled and matted down with perspiration over his forehead, the pudgy face, cagey, the trenches in his eyes, the seven-fifty seersucker that’s long in the pants with the cuffs crumpling down over high black shoes, the tissue-papered tie, imbibing orange soda with two straws at once. But assuming the nicest of things about all involved you can lead a cemetery tour group to flat-out indecent or just drowned decisions, and you with your taffy hair, you’ve got to lead a duck, even with famished cheeks and an unfinished smile treading water on your swimming-pool face. So, please do not rest in peace or chaos, like when you’re reaping profound things from a private conversation, and then somebody else walks in the room and it’s like everything is dead and you can’t talk anymore. Wonder comes in bunches and blooms like crepe myrtle. You leave it at smokestacks. You leave it at love-vine clambering up out of the weeds, to those of the wool-hat and cockle-burr variety casting their lot with the jumping-jack-flashers. You leave it at b-b-b-b-as-tuds with spit flying and screechy tires rubbering the dirt shoulder off the high shining bright slab. A gun holstered like a tumor under an arm. Tamarisk and hobo décor strangling the gaps between here and way way way way over there. Nothing more to keep you brightly lit. Make sure you count the telephones poles as they spool by fishing for compliments, stringing along the race of the wires, as your eyes dance bumpy and troubled, a shade pulled down over your features by an unknown hand that no matter what you’ll never get to know, not the way you could’ve, once, long ago, before the cold-glove grip of the past caught up and strangled the guts from you. As you were. Taps plays. Quiet prevails. Your heart breaks over and over again. Blaming the deviant nature of one on the whole’s nurturing. And you run like a cat escaped from a sack, and you part ways with mahogany wainscoting and the massive stonework of the cellarage, and you crowbar your way back into the wreck of your past. Don’t answer the phone for a stretch. Guess what’s for dessert. Leave your name and number on a velvet jacket’s cuff. Let’s shake the dust off our inner-selves and gussy up the fraternities of now for mud-shack parties that just might never end. Hopelessly redeemed. You get weary making plans. Divorced from the higher things in life, handling it all too well, after the well’s dry and the moon’s gone, and we’re waking up in different beds. The coffee’s taking too long to work, and nothing’s resolving on its own. Sundown’s got its own mess to clean up, or what’ll do until the mess arrives, but then we’ve still got the awful responsibility of time, on our side and against us too, with the highway lowing off scrubbed and matted, sounding out distance into more distance.  
            And in the slow muscle of the evening foaming with a greasy, slush-like moan there would be the cries of strays and the hee-haw squawk of seagulls, and near the church-bell melody of stoops cluttered with posy and feline purrs and mechanical trinkets that hum and bump and rattle, and the swinging of doors; and now, because you’ve kidded the hotel chippies long enough, you take the charm of hand-holding clowns, you set the saucepan away for good, you toss aside filmy gowns and the punched-through spackle of deteriorating drywall. A purpling mass of sky descends, or seems to, as everything is close and all around. The marsh sings, half repulsed by the flash of car headlights, half unaware of even itself. People drive on and over things--the thin, crackly crust of the present--with vowels that clack like spoons.
             He was a flypaper-souled guy, and his ambitions lent towards card tricks and needle beer. Nothing made sense about him. He’s the kind of guy who’d instantly make comradely raillery turn to dour subjectivity. Skin rough and worn on his tooled and tan face, fresh bloody crust in nick-cuts from shaving peppered here and there on the sag of his cheeks, gumball-blue eyes always squinting, peering circumspectly at whatever happened to be passing their way. A huff and a spleenish groan. A self-serving public servant. Nothing but poly-ticks.
             The backyards with their patchwork fences of chicken wire, mesh hexagons rusty and sagging in places, the grass sopped with rain, muddy puddles pocking humps and clumped weed-flowers, and their chimneys so lonely, cobbley, smoking above tin or sheet-metal roofs where the rain patters and thumps and makes those below sink into a somnolence, an almost-trance that keeps the yawns coming and the coffee brewing all day, and then there’s time for to listen to the train whistles as those hunkering gray beasts smoke and screech into the station to remind all that life is motion, even when it’s being still, even on a late rainy afternoon while the moths are still toying with the idea of playing hover over the flicker of yellow bulb light, even when this here train is grumbling and grinding to a halt, the people inside just shadows, just figurines, just chattel awaiting another destination in an endless line of destinations, none of which will, as they never should be, the end. A rumble stirs through the dining car, dishes and wine glasses awkwardly cavorting on tremored tops of tables. Windows frame rectangles of the forlorn landscape. A water tower leans gawky over rows of corn. Klee-klee-klee whines from a tidings of American Kestrels. Squares of fallow farmland checker the flat stark terrain, the bland similarity of monotonous pastures, a place where nothing can hide, where nothing can be obscure, and the sun sets fire, and the sky’s so big it’s like it just wraps around everything and makes you dizzy and lost in it. The porches are warped and creaky and covered with wind-blown dirt. A man chewing on a pipe pauses for a moment, sets down his newspaper, sits up in his rocker, and stares at the ruddy and scaly flesh of the world, his drifting mind now settling on something, something that curtains his sight’s movie screen, something that bread-and-roses his instincts, and he might even chance to catch wind of dogwood and redbud, or part ways with dreaming Chickamaugas and Chattanoogas in an attempt at expiation, short-lived as it may be, for the horded company of his past. The skyline trembles.

             In a wild, electric way her hair, cut off at that crazy length, very black and choppy, by itself could make you fall in love with her at a glance. Something disinterested strolled around in her eyes, which were glassy and moon-like, and which would sparkle at you but only if it was necessary. Being close to her was an occupational hazard, though one you’d risk every time, as the summer dwindled and the lawns faded to a burnt sienna and cow smell crept in to chase away the cedar and pine. There were certain times when that graceful turn of her hips, her luxuriant and languorous stride, the way she stood on tiptoe to spoon sugar into the coffee or playfully shadowboxed with your palms, were enough to make you stick around. So, then you step off the train and it’s cold, a biting cold that pinches and slaps at your face. You weren’t made for weather like this. The gravel scrunches like dry Quaker Oats as you step away from the platform. The houses clap and board up your dreams. A shiver warms beneath the pavement, and you carry your bags to the terminal bar where you’ll sit and smoke cigarette after cigarette and drink beer after beer until they oh-so-politely ask you to leave with the utmost brevity and class, and you’ll go, quietly, without causing a ruckus, lugging along ghosts in gray suits with plastic daffodils sleeping in their lapels, dragging your feet, on your way home.
            The road sweeps, tilted and crumbling, and mulls in a wash of moonlight. Rabbits and prairie dogs mingle and dart and artfully dodge drool-hungry wolves out in the chaparral’s dark. Rounding bends is a serious high-risk situation, but it’s got to be done, without the aid of streetlights, so you do it, matching wits with the Doghobble and Barberries and Corkwood and Hollyleaf Buckthorn and Smoketree invading your mind’s garden. For a minute there, as the horizon marbles and the guardrail corkscrews and culverts clunk underneath making your head rattle like a clogged Hoover, you start to think you’re drowning, but then you realize it’s just the hogwash of terrible gutless remorse suffocating and botching up your reason from clear-headed to sappy wilted-lettuce numb. There’s a sneeze’s moment where you know just what needs doing and just how it will be done. You walk along the side, mud clinging to your boots, scratched by thorns and wiry branches, socks brambled, eyes peeled for headlights, ears wary of engine sounds, treading along careful and hurried, carrying yourself like a carton of eggs, awe-struck, an iota of kindness still hell-or-highwatering down your swallows, slicing at the mean-stitched blimp of what it currently means for you at this moment to be alive.

            You’re the rattletrap scream slapped on the smudge-slick walls, like murals murked with a copper glaze, as the horizon’s brushed with a mirage of distant painted mountains, some flat-topped and rubbed raw, the clay and creosote terrain like a valley on mars, bent crosses of ancient telephone-pole shadows on it and the scrub bush patchy in places on the streaks of flatland punctuated by these tiny hillocks of grassy yellows and burnt red, faces in the rubble of a thousand jagged rocks jutting out like rusty scars, and above giant stationary swaths of cloud hanging like discarded moth-eaten sheets, lonely semis plugging along on invisible roads in the midst of nothing, and the telephone wires racing along, and the sudden blur of a passing train in the shadow of yours, and then that slight slam and whisk and swoosh of it as you charge through the desert on a track in the middle of nothing.
            Through the dry-raindrop stained glass the squatting mounds of tree-laden hills roll, and the low-lying wiry stems of future tumbleweeds flail in the hunch of a light breeze. Mustard blurs and blowsy greens scuffle for breath in an instant’s spotty sea of blue-green. The Colorado river, lazy and sparkling, meanders away through the ghosts of boxcars and rocky debris. Windswept gullies striped from blood-red to roseate. The hitched pull of a turn. The gentle rocking gone to a thrust and yawing rumble of a switchback, and the tracks screech and whine as the whistle howls all’s well through a rain-splashed night.      
             A thrashing well past midnight as the bunk slips and lunges, as you’re bumped and shook out of dreams to a coffin-low ceiling and gurney-like straps hemming you in. Spun and dazedly muddied into fits of half-turns and pillow-squashed horror, you balance your sanity on a burnt-out match tip. A constant turn that beckons your body close to the plastic cabin partition, and then a sweeping roar buried deep within the confines of night’s massive black curls. A crunched tilt, weary and dolorous, squints on borrowed sightlines, and you are sweaty and lost in a whirl’s list and bob. Staring tiredly into a blankness that borrows stars from your eyes and makes everything spin, you wind and unwind at once that spool of your life’s thread, and somewhere behind the thick pulled curtains the moon’s out there harvesting the sky’s leftovers, and you wish for rest and roll over, head still hung with bluebells and cedars and the golden sparkles of aspen leaves on the river.    
            Rushing through forests on a dining car. Coffee cups jackhammering their saucers, silverware jostled from napkin to tablecloth, the puttering whine of it all: that high-pitched howling train whistle, the tracks’ metallic silver screech and bumpy plaints, and the discordant smattering of about two dozen getting-to-know-you conversations. A tacky glint of a seriousness that welds smiles into place, and you’re off and on to a lush sprint through treetops and gaping boulders in the hillside: a verdurous landscape littered with crackled red-yellow-orange leaves and the thick webs of a thousand cypress and cedar branches huddled and spread in massive bunches all the way up and down impossible-to-believe valleys and river-cut gorges. Moods waning gibbous in a felled tree’s former shade, and you’re chalking it all up to misery’s biding time in the duality of perspective’s constant flash and flurry, passing, always passing, always just ahead and a tad behind. Wider strains of being wise smile backwards while a protective coat of idiocy covers what’s left of the surface. The snack bar’s open late. Somewhere kindly beyond any cocktail you’ve ever known lies the path of most likely resistance. You are under a table. Hot dogs are served with mayonnaise and avocado. A few passengers have been thrown out an emergency exit marked For Conductor’s Use Only. There are kites tangled in the ceiling lights. You have become rather obsolete.                       
            Vast farmland stretches skimming by, tracts of light trapped and warped in sloped distance pull me into some very serious contemplation over my life, where it’s going, and to whom I am going to attach it. My jokes on loan for the night to an upstart ribbon salesman, reappearing loyal and jumpy to the rest of the at-hand mourners. To just say things to fall out of love over and over, to just hold rust-steady for making a jerky start at wildness. Hankering on to other Wyomings, I’m sold long, insufficiently interested in what others have got to say. Appended and lunky, very lorded over and sometimes serious. A honked horn of guilt stabbed blind in a rather ornery hurry that, let’s say, is making do. Let’s just say.    
            Last time around everything was sloped. Vanishing acted its part. The men were less wise than they should’ve been. The yard sales lost their feathers. If the thread of steamed passiveness let on anything but the parts it never played, if the yearn of doubt overstayed its wellness, then a shallower cup might follow what’s left of now’s substance. Around this time or next I’ll be shoveling loose gravel from my smile onto somebody else’s road.
            Cramped quarters, narrow halls, stooped shoulders and a sailor’s mouth, fingerprint smudges on the window. Stirred and settled. The lights flicker. Nobody’s comfortable. A staticky voice crackles over the ceiling speakers: “Is it afar? Bought slowly. In chance per the leaving rate. You had us. It was wrapped in clover and bacon. There’s a cuss word I can’t guess. It’s putting up with. It’s jotting up too. We don’t dump coffee all over anything, except ourselves. Stronger still. Oil slicks what remains. Try to pass the rolls. We’ve got all the jelly in the world at our disposal. Bumped and brambled to stink alone. It is not beautiful.”