July 31- Roadwalkers

Those nights were black nights,
but not dreary like the ones before.
And often we would see a drunk
on the side of the road, hitchhiking,
and my father,
he’d pull over and wait,
as the man shuffled towards us.

They’d always come up to the window first,
try for the door.
But my father always honked
and they’d climb into the back.

Typically, he only helps them
when he drives alone
but once or twice, when I was younger,
I was with him
and I remember their bright eyes
reflecting in our headlights
like wild animals:
their frayed hair and
backs stooped,
carrying all that they owned
in discarded backpacks.

My father always told me:
“Never do this, ever.
These men are sick and you can’t save them.”
I’d wanted to ask why, then,
did he help them?
Wouldn’t he also get sick?
But my father and I didn’t have that type of relationship:
he’d say something and I listened,
no questions.

Later, when I learned
how my father had spent his youth,
with people like that,
how he was a man like those men,
I understood.
And I’m glad I never asked.
Now I know he was being kind.
How he was already sick like them
but was suppressing the symptoms
successfully one day at a time.

I used to think he was callous:
how he told me I couldn’t save them.
I’d thought my pastor-father better than
the bigots:
believers in bootstraps
and “poor people and addicts”
who “keep themselves there.”
Thought him smarter than the part-time bigots,
who underneath good intentions,
still think pity and dollar donations
win the poverty wars.

And true, perhaps he believes
in the micro-truths:
an advocator of addicts who can save themselves.

But when our head lights
reflected back from the roadwalker’s eyes,
my father would blink
and see himself from before my birth.
So, he’d stop and they would sit behind us;
back to back,
and watch the miles
they would have had to walk alone
shrink along white lines,
now hopefully to think about hope
and not about how their feet hurt
or how each passing car is no more soulless
then their drivers.


July 9

Shoes II

There were three men who shared the same name:
Michael, who bought baby Jordans
for his two year old son.
Micky, who smiled at all the pretty girls
and knew within two minutes if she
had children
was under thirty
and didn’t have a boyfriend.
(the answers were important in that order).
Then, there was Mike,
the simple one, the honest one
and the one I hurt the most.

[Cont from here]


July 3

I spent my teens watching though a looking glass,
but not like a stalker or a voyeur, peeking through the shutters.
Because the people with experiences, and hate and lust,
always needed an audience.
Even a mirror eye, glazed and shining.
Maybe non-judgmental
but still always watching.

I worked at Denny’s in my late teens.
I’d been a fortunate one.
I was only a temporary fixture.
I’d graduated, I could read and I could write.
Not to say the others were illiterate
but only that everyone had told them they were.

The men I worked with were fathers,
or if they weren’t they were soon to be.
None of them were married and even fewer
were faithful.

But even if they didn’t love the mother
they loved the child.
However if love were currency
the sentiment would mean more.

They worked and they drank
and then they worked while they buzzed.

I’d drive them home.
I could fit four prone people side by side
in the bed of my truck, but only myself
and one other in the front.

I’d drive them to places
where I’d never get out of the truck,
to the black places between the cracks
in the canyons.

But that was where they lived
and they had to get home to feed their babies.

[Cont on July 9]


June 30

I had a bear, a little wizard with moons and stars on his hat.
He was a constant companion and if he wasn’t shoved under my arm,
I’d loop the tip of his hat through my belt and he’d face-butt my thighs as I’d walk.
My mother named him Whimsy but I always called him Bear.

I remember one day in specific:

We never (Bear and I) had seen a pond before.
Had never heard the ruffle shuffle as
a cool breeze misted though the reeds.

There were deep storm clouds approaching
and Bear, I was sure, was afraid.
They stalked across the sky,
breaking away from the wolf pack
of black thundercaps haunting the mountain,
hunting us, dripping saliva from gaping maws.
They were heavy and impatient,
sending a shiver of anticipation though the wind.
Bear was most afraid when the birds fell silent,
waiting for the coming storm.

But mother had taught me to face my fears.
So we crossed towards the shore line.

Cradling Bear’s paw in my hand,
I tugged a long green shaft of reeds from the ground.
We had found our weapon,
and it made Bear feel better to
snap out a couple of practice swings.

We could hear the rumble growl of the wolves behind us
and I squeezed my bear close.
‘You are a mighty wizard’
I whispered in his ear.

The first bead of rain dropped on my forehead,
dripped between my eyes and down the side of my nose.
Bear reached up and wiped the drop from my cheek.

And I looked at Bear and saw in his black beady eyes,
a willingness to fight despite his fear.
And I know he smiled and I smiled back.


June 29

My mother has two infant pictures of me.
She tells me I didn’t smile much
but that I had bright eyes and strong fingers.

I remember that first picture.
The one where I sat
on my own, outside, for the first time.
Rough hand woven wool rug
beneath me and the grass surrounding.

But at college, my roommate informed me
that infants never remember.
They are incapable of processing images,
that long term memory lies dormant.
Then, my first would happen as follows:

When I am four,
at school for the first of many first days,
we are all brown, and anxious and excited.

Or so I seemed to think.
True, I was nervous
and true, I was excited.
But I wasn’t brown.

Not in the way they wanted me to be.
Not in the prided native way.
Pure, lean and rugged:
persons with blood deep in the stones
that survived the fires and the sickness.

I was tainted.
Brown by father
but white by my mother,
whose people brought
fire and brimstone,
beer and broken homes.
Snakes with white hot venom.

So, now I close my eyes
and choose to remember:

The rug beneath my thighs
the sun though the trees,
the air as clear as spring rain;
the joy of sitting alone,
strong enough for the first time.

And the flash of a camera,
and the open happy faces of my parents
because I’d smiled for the first time.


June 28

My dad’s father stepped in front of a train 31 years before I was born. 
I can imagine he had brown eyes and black hair.
Short, Mexican, maybe a swagger in his shoulders.
But mostly, I’m sure of his smile.
It’s mirrored by my father.

My Grandmother had long hair and a stern jaw, 
four not husbands and seven children. 
Of the sons, father is the youngest, the softest
and the most mostly sober.

He stopped before I was born
and down the road from my house
red eyed men with knarled, crooked steps
and stale dragon breath,
dare me to imagine my father in their shoes.
He is a kind, amusing man and I almost can’t believe.
But his front teeth are cut straight across
ground down by snapping the caps off bottles,
and he has a little box of coins on his dresser.

But today, they are all gone.

I believed in his strength
and his smile and his humor.

Now, I believe in his sickness,
and fear the reflection of his father in his smile.

Memior, Poetry

June 27

Specters follow behind
who seek to prove we are villains.
And while he is gone
I contemplate many things.

But mostly the specters
because each face favors a different feature:
friends before they were lovers
father before his drowning
and mother before she drew back her raft.

From sisters
who like me, slither between spaces
with electric eyes and shorted circuits
so similar we spark rebellion against one another

And sometimes
we prefer an empty road
broad in the horizon before us
and guiltless because no one follows
to remember who we left behind.