Helga’s Tomatoes


I had dropped off the Skyline Drive
Like a swallowtail from a flower
To drift down and catch up time
From the dizzy heights to Charlottesville

Like a swallowtail from a flower
I dropped away from the Skyline Drive
And drifted downwind to catch up with time
For I had been losing myself in the dizzying heights
Where black bears played hide and seek with tree shadows
And the daily procession of Harleys and vista seekers

Watching swallowtails
Dropping off the skyline
Drifting down to Charlottesville
Catching up with lost time

A year ago –
And then this.

Charlottesville, Virginia, one hour later
I skimmed your city limits
Headed slightly south to Helga’s house
My destination, dinner, bed
Charlottesville, Virginia
A year ago
Your first couchsurfer

And then this
Of all things
Not a stone’s throw

I remember the tomatoes you grew
That we harvested – a big tray of whoppers
Heritage varieties you called them
Fat and juicy with VA sun
I was your first couchsurfer
We watched fireflies from the decking
Can’t remember your husband’s name
We became friends

I’d dropped off the Skyline Drive
Been watching swallowtails
Tried capturing them on my camera
Black bears that never appeared

You said
Take them to your next host
Mimi and Rob in Edenton, N Carolina
Almost ran out of gas on that stretch
Charlottesville, Virginia to Edenton, N Carolina

Almost exactly one year ago
Helga’s tomatoes
And then this

I came back your way
But we didn’t connect
Our paths didn’t cross
You were up at the cabin
Feeding Luca the black bear
By hand

Silly, fearless, generous Helga

I came back your way
Through Kentucky and Virginia
Past confederate flags
America’s slumbering trailer home masses
Stayed in Charlottesville
Worst motel on the whole trip
A brothel

No Helga’s juicy tomatoes

Drove the whole length of the Skyline
No dropping off this time
No swallowtails either
Just plenty of mist

And then this.




she steps outside
thru the broken screen door
straight into humid heat
southern Louisiana
high pitched cicada noise
all around unnoticed
unsteady on hard bare feet
on weathered wooden boards
railings for support
t-shirt stained with sweat
daily chores
children dribbles
a Bud Light in hand
her drunken heady poise
she exhales smoke spirals
takes two steps down and
sways to the swing seat
thru scattered yard toys
thrift store bargains
Walmart remnants
church offerings

he follows her scented trail
bare but for baggy gray shorts
his hand inside
full of himself
manly desires begging
night threats releasing
his time to entreat
dark neighborhood streets
sound of shouts
tired air con units whining
yet more background noise
add it to the cicadas
the voices in his head
volatile cocktails
street corner dealings
no work just more heat
deep south swamp heat
dripping sweat summers

her mouth full of cold beer
holding it back to enjoy
then sliding down throat
draws another
he calls her his
lips tits and bum whore
she takes his hot lusting
sticky as candy sweets
abandoned in sweating cars
this token moment of love
dirty and indiscreet
a pleasure for her Sonny Boy
distracting for a moment
defence methods deployed
it uncripples her from the past
childhood horrors
recurrent nightmares
he wanders sated back indoors
cicadas scream from trees
hands over bursting ears
heart beating like a drum

and later
for absolution
she showers off the guilt
the smell of him
the taste of him
the all and every
last stinking piss of him
with the water running
she can’t hear the cicadas
the air con and the children
or the cripple next door
wheelchair bound and blind
who shouts foul obscenities
to anyone who will listen
and this is her life
of welfare benefits
food stamp grocery shops
and of course she loves him
his lips tits and bum whore
who beats her now and then
but still she prays to her god

deep south2small




That feeling
When something is out of place

The track wound up
Through pine enclosures
Water trickled down
Quartz sandstone glistened
The imprint of treads left
In grey and white sands
Boot and tyre
Bird and deer
And here and there
A fence post rubbed smooth
Traces of coarse hair
On barbarous wire

An abandoned hut
Door shut and fastened up
Standing still in limpid air
The will of the wild
Mild on this occasion of passing

Winding up
Opening out

An abandoned pickup
Chassis snapped
Doubled up in pain
A rictus grin on the grill
No laughter or gain
A truck stopped in mid ascent
Spray painted message
Adorned in livid letters


The doors unlocked
Keys dangling from the ignition
Spent shotgun shells in the truck bed
And away to my right
Something caught my eye

My vision sped down the length
Of a double barrelled twelve bore
To the smooth wood stock
The hand that once gripped with vigour
The finger still closed on the trigger
Steady and ready
To aim and fire

Now severed from limb and life
An abandoned hand heartless
Lying there with gun companion
An odd union
Of flesh and bone
Wood and steel

And that feeling
When something is out of place

And you move on with your questions
As the sun breaks through the early morning cloud cover
Sweat breaks through your skin
Acid rises from your bitter gut
You wash it down with cool water from your canteen
It trickles down
Quartz sandstone glistens
You head on up


(spray painted message on car taken from ‘Into the Wild’ by Jon Krakauer. You can read more about this book and how this poem came about on my other blog:

https://slideaways.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/currently-reading-into-the-wild-by-jon-krakauer/ )

Grill and Chill

I ordered up the $6 Deluxe Cheeseburger Meal Deal
and sat by the window rubbing the road from my eyes
The babble of fast food voices blanket bombed my brain
The waitress was telling me to ‘enjoy’ without
the slightest
hint of
in her thin voice

Everyone likes a window seat

She was just a kid doing menial work for a low wage
to go buy some shit to get high with her friends and forget
the mind numbing dullness of her meaningless existence
in this mid-western hicksville of horrors

To make matters worse
she only looked like Sissy Spacek in Carrie
I couldn’t help but think of her covered in blood
at the high school senior prom
as she disappeared through the swing door marked
‘Employees Only’

The food was disgusting
the soda watery and flat
I thought about Sissy Spacek naked in that shower scene
added ketchup to the fries and unconsciously
tuned in
to the conversation
going on between
the family in the seating booth opposite

The twin girls
dressed in identical but different colored summer dresses
sat upright and answered their mother’s questions diligently
The mother appeared twitchy and anxious
picking at her Caesar salad suffering I thought
from a case of serious over-parenting
She talked like a typical ‘helicopter’ mom
dissecting her precious girls’ every utterance
hovering over them
on the lookout
for potential
or imagined problems

No wonder they were so careful with their words
I named them the Test Tube Twins
the products of magical medicine
the hope and determination in a thousand failed fucks

They spoke of summer camp
their goals for the new semester
which books they should be reading before the end of year
their father more interested in his 1/2lb flame thrower
nodding along in agreement with everything his wife said
however nonsensical it sounded
licking his lips and jerking his head spasmodically

Unintentionally I caught the eye of the nearest girl
I smiled and winked and she nervously returned
a weak and worried stare
her father followed her gaze and found
the remnants of mine
He flew into a rage
first at her
then at me

You take your eyes off my daughter you disgusting pervert
I saw you looking her up and down like you wanna molest her
Do you hear me?
He was shouting through burger gristle
You turn away and don’t look back in this direction
else I’ll come over there and smash my fist in your goddamn face
You hear me?

I heard him alright
so did the whole restaurant
The silence was crushing
You just look away you hear?

I turned away but my eyes only found Sissy Spacek
bent awkwardly over a table
cloth in hand
head tilted in my direction
mouth open
work temporarily suspended

I felt the urge to push up her tiny black skirt
and force her face into the spilt salt and grime
telling her all the time to imagine it was a substance
for snorting
with a plastic straw
up her cute little
white trash nose

my pulse quickened
the feeling of injustice growing like an embolism
as I left the Grill and Chill
as I watched myself do all of those things
with every head turned in the direction
of my own misguided rage

(Everyone likes a front row seat.
Fucking Casey Affleck and Mel Gibson -
They’d give them both an Oscar for that)


I Stole the Soul of Samuel Thomas

Was it okay to take his photograph?

He said yes


Canyon de Celly South Rim lookout and thunder

I’d been skirting the storm clouds since leaving Ganado

Aware at Chinle they threatened to catch up with me

The usual visitor centre

The park for lunch

Bread, cheese, tomatoes

Sweet mesquite potato chips

A dog, some trees, scattered picnic tables

Just me and some off-duty rangers


Is history ever planned?

He said yes


One thousand foot high sheer cliff faces

One thousand year old ancestral stronghold

Red rock scoured by ages

Sunrise and deluge

Teeter on the edge and relive the past

Bareback braves and gatherings

Col. Kit Carson in sixty three

Surrender and removal

Return and reclaim


Do you ever come back?

He said yes


Every spring and summer after the thaws

We open up the hogan with eight walls

The door facing east toward the rising sun

Pick a peach or two on the remaining tree

In days gone by the crop would be dried

Laid like sunsets on baked ledges

Preserved alongside the corn

Winter’s rainbows

Now I drive a pickup and live in town


How much? Ten bucks? I’ll be back

He said yes


It was part of the bargain

The waiting and negotiating

White European invader with single lens reflex

Follow the trail, find the clues

Read the unfinished story

Listen to the thunder applaud your glory

And see. Now I am ready to honour my word

The money buying his family time

Carefully skirting around the canyon between us


Did you paint that?

He said yes


It wasn’t that good

Some representation of things I knew not what

Spirits and stuff for tourists on the back of a board

Crude but hey, it’ll look good on my book shelf

But I didn’t say any of that

He was packing up

The storm clouds were catching up with us

Day turning to night

A time for retreat


Can I take your photograph?

He said yes


And posed without smiling

Held his artwork without pride

I held out my hand and we shook like men

Looked him in the eye but his was cast to the ground

An uneasy truce ensued

The first drops of rain falling first upon his cheeks

They all seeming to miss mine

I wondered did he ever smile

Samuel Thomas, Navajo, August 2016


It’s been nice meeting you I said

He said yes


And then, looking away

I have to be here

This is my home

This is my life

If I leave

If I have to go somewhere

It is like somebody broke my journey

I dream of hearing wild horses again

The sound of peaches falling into buckets




On the road out of Chinle

Still within the Indian reservation

The storm had come and gone heading north

Great floods of water surrounded shacks

Island trailer homes and tied-up dogs

The summer hail swept to the sides of roads

Eighteen-wheeler-dealers thundering through

And me? I’m on my way to Horseshoe Bend

The next stop on my whistle-stop tour de force.



Overnite Exposure

What can I say about driving across the desert?
Interstate 15 would take me up past Mounts Baldy and Belknap
before joining the 70 heading east to Denver.
King of the road in my rusting 1974 Cadillac Eldorado coupé,
I planned to make Vegas by evening and stop at the Tropicana overnight.
Everyone should stay a night or two in Vegas,
it’s mad; truly and utterly mad,
Creation’s folly in the middle of the Mojave.
The hotels rise from the baked earth like offerings to the gods.
Along the Strip’s neon bejewelled aisle massive entertainment complexes
swallow every last inch of sacred real estate,
cathedral halls to mankind’s lust for all things gaudy and gambling.
To enter the very depths of these pretend palaces is like a manifestation of
Heaven and Hell.
The slot machine cacophony and drunken crowds combine to test the soul.
There is no point questioning the logic of Vegas,
you just have to go with the flow of insanity, enjoy
and have a nice day.

Fifteen floors up,     
standing at the barred windows of my hotel room I listened to the sound
of a distant police siren echoing through the desert night,
a sad Paiute wailing that grew louder as it neared the intersection below
before sweeping left to enter the unsanctified Strip in search of trouble.
The siren is replaced by screams as the New York New York rollercoaster
looped behind the replica Liberty and disappeared from view.
I heard a knock at the door and called out for the person to enter.
‘Hi guy.’
A bleached blonde woman of indeterminate age hobbled in
on painfully red high heels,
a bling cross dangling from her neck with uncertain meaning.
‘Been a long time honey, what’s happening?’
‘Hey, how’s my favourite muchacha?’
I opened my arms and she stepped willingly in,
snuggling her chin in my neck like a puppy dog.

The smell of her cheap perfume was momentarily overpowering.
Thick ridges of sprayed hair bristled against my stubble.

‘You staying long in town honey?’ she asked.
‘Just long enough to get reacquainted with your lovely curves,’ I replied,
my hands wandering across the back of her short sequinned dress to settle
on the plump mounds of her buttocks.
‘I think you’ve been putting on a few pounds since I saw you last.’
‘That’s just a little bit more for you to hold on to honey.
An extra five bucks worth I reckon.’
She unbuttoned my shirt,
kicked off her high red heels.

I unzipped the sequins from shoulder to thigh.
The outfit dropped to the floor revealing more than enough olive skin
and the folds of a woman passing her prime but still holding her own,
just, or should I say, still being held together, by lace frilly underwear.
‘I wore the red and black you like honey.’  
She unbuckled my trouser belt and knelt down,
an acolyte at the altar of the high white priest.
The morning sun reflected in the wing mirrors of the passing cars.
I continued my journey to Denver wistfully thinking of last night’s pleasure.
Wasn’t it all just a game, this business of life,
who we expose ourselves to and choose to worship?


El Camino Real

I'm driving on the historic El Camino Real
Joining forces with saints from faraway places
Francisco, Antonio and San Juan Capistrano
The Spanish came and left their names in traces

From Isla Vista traffic chaos constricts the reaches
Of Santa Barbara's northernmost districts
Cormorants stand crucified along the ocean frontage
We stop start stop like a snaking concertina serpent

Angry rows of fuming stubborn four wheeled burros
Braying for some California missionary forgiveness
Whilst overhead on surveillance the pelicans fly
Scoping the west coast waves with a fisherman's eye

The highway and railroad here run parallel lives
South US 101 a high pitched scabby concrete slab
Of echoes and clacks like the neighbouring tracks
And crows dodge the trains next to Santa Claus Lane

Towards Carpinteria the outside carpool is emptier
No crazy drivers switching left right and back again
Just some Screaming Eagles and Korean War vets
Names regally etched on green gantry memorial signs

At Ventura I venture east on a road of racing royals
The freeway basks in a summer of garish sunrises
Where Southern alligator lizards fill the air
And the free wind blows right through your hair

One more hour the 101 takes me where the songs were sung
Mayall, Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
In Laurel Canyon a counterculture was begun but now
It's time to swing on south to San Diego and Tijuana brass

Find my favourite girl in Rosarito, Baja California
We'll take a trip to where the weed grows sweeter
Become the next big Acapulco Gold wheeler dealers
Dollars flowing through shifting Spanish sand

Offering prayers to Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde
In a pina colada drug fuelled kaleidoscopic land
Of borderland smugglers, outlaws and narco-bandits
That's where we'll make and stake our home


(a couple of lines here lifted from the song 
'Ventura Highway' by America - with thanks)

Chance Meetings

I was never planning to do the Route 66 pilgrimage but flooded interstates in South Louisiana pushed me north to Memphis and it seemed an opportunity not to miss. Much of the original highway has been lost to time and the creeping sideshoots of  modern day expansionism but there are stretches and towns which still retain some of the flavour of bygone travel.

My point of first contact was northeast of Oklahoma City at the historic Round Barn and POPS angular steel-beamed gas station which displays and offers for sale a mind boggling array of bottled sodas and beers. I bought a Route 66 grape soda and a Dublin Vintage Cola.

In El Reno the 1892 hotel, red barn and museum contained a treasure trove of antiquities. One of my constant beefs is the way larger museums feel the need to minimise their exhibits, picking just a chosen few choice objects for display in interactive isolation. I wanna see the whole collection. Don’t hide it away in the vaults. It’s well worth visiting and supporting these small town museums run by volunteers.

So I planned to make Amarillo by sunset but all my dalliance was running me late and I didn’t want a repeat of yesterday’s long drive. I managed to pick up some decent wi-fi at the Domino’s in Texola before crossing the state line into Texas. Shamrock up the road seemed a good place to stop and the Country Inn had good reviews. I made it there in Texas quick time.

Shamrock turned out to be one of those chance layovers that revealed more than I could ever have hoped. It was a photographer’s dream with its rusty old scrapyard cars and Route 66 memorabilia.

I was taking pictures of the famous Conoco Tower Gas Station and U-Drop Inn when I noticed a guy on the opposite side of the street doing the same. We got chatting and it turns out he’s a photographer who likes documenting back roads US highways.

He’d been to the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo and his kids were still covered in paint from adding their mark to that weird roadside installation. As the sun set behind us we snapped away and one by one the neon lights of the old building came on. From the clutter in the trunk of his car he produced a shrink-wrapped copy of his book Garish, a collection of colour Polaroid shots taken on his travels and promptly signed and wrote a message inside for me. Did I say I was glad I’d stopped in Shamrock? His name is Robert Jones btw and the e-book is available on Amazon.



Lorraine Motel

I stood outside

the Lorraine Motel

it was worth the drive

all that way downtown

through Memphis blues

and torrential hell

you see the roads

in South Louisiana

were mostly underwater

and the weight of traffic

was re-routing north

in endless convoys

of eighteen wheelers

queuing to be weighed

at each state border

but anyways

that’s kinda by the by

I’m glad I came here

on this rainy Tuesday

the museum was closed

no need to pay

just insignificant me

and a few curious others

wandering about outside for free

standing, looking


this landmark location

in a nation’s history

the murder scene

that’s little altered

since April 1968

when that fatal shot of hate

was fired

from a boarding house window

across the yard

a moment captured

for us future generations

in black and white

a testimony for the world to see

on that famous motel balcony

and right outside room 306

now hangs a wreath

a reminder of the weight

he likely carried

the knowledge that

his days were numbered

and I am truly humbled

not knowing what to think

or feel

but some kind of sadness

I turn to leave

maybe one more witness

to this black guy

a taxi driver

who offers to take my picture

under the motel sign

with a cheery smile

and have a nice day

I’m humbled

once again.


4th April 1968


16th August 2016