The one-room courthouse and the overgrown
creosote and the window the shape of a door
and the pickup's tracks settled in maroon mud.
Jenny and her baskets: crosslets woven red
and white, both colors bleached and bled, but
you can't blame her for that; the stitching
is tight and clean. Her earrings are longer
than her hair, tucked behind full ears, looped
back under her chin.
I've never been in a saloon, but you have,
standing at one end of the bar, five of them
at the other, hands on belts like they were palming
revolvers, buckles like sex. Wood there
was old and varnished, auburn but pale
in parts, like skin.
You had to smoke so we stopped, idling
in so much heat, hot from your mouth,
blowing up into wind I could not feel.
I left you and walked behind the red trailer
and spit in the grill's ash. I found a purple
and white dress crumpled in the switchgrass.
It was a four, your mother's size.
Your Dodge has more rust than blue but God
the paint that remains cools my palms while
I wait for you, inside with that cashier, college
across her low chest, eyes speaking light
words. I hope she knows what she will never
get but I could be wrong; Lord knows
that Happiness is Being Indian,
as the sticker says above the gas cap.
You sleep with your glasses on
but they never break (I am all over the place,
limbs on limbs, but you are solid and cold, and
you hate it when I call you chief
even though we share the same blood).
I never believed you about Bill Pickett
until your brother showed me that 16mm
reeling across the pocked concrete walls,
how Bill kissed the bull to bring it down,
falling while keeping his mouth
on its mouth, arms heavenward.
I laughed and you hated that I laughed,
kept on with your Hot Damn shots,
cinnamon lips worse than salt
and said you were going to the bathroom
but left, went outside, hiked
the paddock and rustled the cows
awake, but I stopped you
and that decision will stay in your mind.
In four years not a single moment
forgotten, good or bad. I should
be thankful for that, for your thighs
and the crease of your nose, your
able hands nearly black, but I
am not thankful. I want to leave.
My father found the canoe far from water:
an hour's walk, at a steady pace, from Keilen Pond
or even the weak stream that curled parallel
to the red trail. You need a foot of water
for this, he said, but I knew that wasn't true,
not untrue maybe, but false. You can drown
in an inch so you can float in the same.
After brushing away branches he found
two cases of Old Milwaukee, drained
but returned to the cardboard cases. So we
had bottles but no beer. Cases but no oars.
And not even a drop of water to stay afloat.
In 1961 my mother stopped reading
books, magazines, pamphlets pinned
beneath windshield wipers, fliers
stuffed in mailboxes, letters written
longhand or typed. She would not
receive anything printed or transcribed,
so I had to read everything, delivered
in an even monotone, thumbs up
to note the end of a paragraph.
I thought structure had significance,
but she was sold on content and context,
and when I repeated words she savored
the sounds like good caramel.
People asked me how she got by, how
anybody could unlearn words; I said
she saw the red of a stop sign
and ignored the white, the blue
of half-priced peaches, green
grass bleached yellow at noon.
You only need words for words.
They are not the end of all things.
After Theodore Roethke
It could have been the breeze
that tongued through the cracked glass,
spooling and spinning, feathered chervil
fluttering like paused breaths, the boot-
stomped shit curdled between floor
boards, yellow feed pressed against cedar;
or the faint life light wambling in parallel,
pulsing rows that allowed saltwort to grow
in a Blaine cellar, dead as duff.