American Zen

is sitting for twelve, or twenty-four, or thirty-six hours
in the cab of an 18-foot Ryder rental truck
until our buttocks begin to rot.

We move and meditate
behind the wheel at the same time.

My friend is leaving Flagstaff for Chicago
where streets and basements flooded
for the second time this summer.

He’s searching for the place
to make his family happy.

Some things I can’t figure out:
how, at 5 a.m.,
desert roadsides in New Mexico look like water

in the distance as sunlight slants off
candy wrappers and crushed beer cans,

or road signs in Oklahoma: for instance,
Hitchhikers May Be Escaping Inmates
and Don’t Drive Into Smoke.

Of two fatigues I can feel,
this morning I feel both.

I mistake the prison for a motel.
There are few rooms anywhere else.

But the foldaway’s springs and foam mattress feel so sweet,
I know why the Villa in El Reno is
The Friendliest Motel in Town.

When we stop to fill up the truck’s tank,
I eat shrink-wrapped beef jerky
and watch the moon rise

out of barbed-wire fences,
remembering Han Shan

who left all his possessions behind,
moved to Cold Mountain
and took its name as his own.

“The poor travel light,” I mutter
to the attendant pumping gas.

He stares me into the need to pee.
Walking around back
to the one working rest room,

I see the license plates on wrecked cars claim
Oklahoma is OK.

An Indian leaning against the urinal turns
and asks me if I want to buy some hubcaps.
For a moment, he looks like Han Shan.

I shake my head, thinking, “Poor bastard,
we’ve all but forgotten you.”

Like any man, he shakes himself dry, zips up
and begins to disappear
in the roadside smoke,

holding his thumb out like a mark of punctuation,
exclamation point or half of a parenthesis,

hoping to hook up
with anyone who’ll take a chance, stop
and offer him a ride.

:: Antonio Vallone, at GistStreet online


Apollo over Texas

It was 1969 and Apollo was on its way to the moon,
but we were down in the Texas panhandle, working the pipeline.
We got up before dawn and drove across the pampas and into the scrub fields
where cactus and briars were kings, drinking coffee
and staring out at the blue light coming up over the silos.
Old men on sagging porches, beginning a long, hot day of doing
nothing with a vengeance, spat tobacco juice into their dirt yards as we passed.
I followed the line through Oklahoma and Texas with my father
that summer, grading roads and cutting fences for the pipe trucks. It
was life near the bottom of the labor chain, where rednecks
worked twelve-hour days, seven days a week, drank themselves
into a mumbling stagger every night, and arrived in stupors
the next morning, thick-tongued and guzzling water
until the numbness burned off. They drove shiny red macho trucks
with gun racks in the back window and Confederate flags
crossed on the bumper. At midday when the rocket
was almost there, the radio was out of breath
with the momentum of it all, the pipelines jigged around the sand dunes, cracking
jokes about the moon, about the man in the moon,
about moonings under red lights. That night I slept
with my face on the windowsill just to get some breeze
in a dust-bucket apartment that had no air conditioning
and that I shared with my mother and father.
The next morning my mother woke us a half-hour early, saying
“Y’all get up! That thing is landing!” and we sat around
yawning at a half-broken television with foil-enhanced rabbit ears
and reception saturated with static and snow and hog prices
breaking in from another channel. “Hot-damn! Something, ain’t it?”
my father said as he put on his work boots.
“Yeah, and what will they be doing next?” my mother said
as the astronaut stepped out onto the moon,
and it was the same moon you could see if you looked out the window
and up into the sky above that Texas town.

:: David Tucker, Late for Work (2006)


The Farmer

Each day I go into the fields

to see what is growing
and what remains to be done.
It is always the same thing: nothing
is growing, everything needs to be done.
Plow, harrow, disc, water, pray
till my bones ache and hands rub
blood-raw with honest labor—
all that grows is the slow
intransigent intensity of need.
I have sown my seed on soil
guaranteed by poverty to fail.
But I don’t complain—except
to passersby who ask me why
I work such barren earth.
They would not understand me
if I stooped to lift a rock
and hold it like a child, or laughed,
or told them it is their poverty
I labor to relieve. For them,
I complain. A farmer of dreams
knows how to pretend. A farmer of dreams
knows what it means to be patient.
Each day I go into the fields.
:: W.D. Ehrhart, Beautiful Wreckage (Adastra 1999)