Tracks

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

THIS PIECE OF SHIT HAS BEEN ABANDONED
WHOEVER CAN GET IT OUT OF HERE CAN HAVE IT

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
interest
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)

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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.

 

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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?

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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

santa-claus-lane3

(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.

http://www.robertjonesphoto.com/

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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

contemplating

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.

entryimage

4th April 1968

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16th August 2016

Time Traveler

I navigate my solo course by means of GPS, visitor centre maps and basic intuition. Mostly it works but the dash mounted Garmin likes to take me on the toll roads, especially in Sunpass Florida. So I use my UK smart phone or phablet which can be set to avoid such complications and is happier leaving the interstates for the more scenic and smaller highways.

But this is not without its own issues. When the connection drops out I find myself temporarily flying free and if needs be having to pull over into a gas station or grocery store car park to take stock of my whereabouts. This happened on the way down to Edenton, North Carolina with the added bonus of running out of gas in what was soon becoming a gas station free zone.

I was lucky with the Garmin. Having decided not to pay for one with the rental car it soon became apparent that it would be indispensable on my travels across the States. My couchsurfing hosts in Edenton kindly lent me theirs which they never used. Such kindness from strangers who had already opened their home to me, fed and treated me like their prodigal son returning.

So between the Garmin and the phablet and a dash of intuition I’m now doing okay. I cruise through interstate intersections with comparative ease and wonder at the layers of concrete human construction that curve and pan out in all directions like a child’s spirograph doodle.

Yesterday my Google sat nav lady unexpectedly welcomed me to Alabama. I pulled into the visitor centre for my free map and restroom break. There to the side was my selfie photo opportunity. I shared it to Facebook and my mum commented that I looked like a giant hedgehog. Well thanks mum!

And then it got a little weird. My phone and car started showing a different time to my watch. I was heading to a couchsurfing host in Mobile and texting my ETA. It suddenly occurred to me that there are time zones in the US, something that had completely escaped my attention in all the months of planning.

As a footnote to this traveller’s tale of confusion, I have decided to head north to Memphis Tennessee and the home of Elvis. I have a couchsurf host arranged in Tupelo where the man himself was born. It also means I get to avoid the weather chaos in southern Louisiana which has left the Interstate closed between Baton Rouge and north New Orleans.

And from Memphis I can strike out west to pick up the fabled Route 66. Won’t you come with me, as Billy Connelly might say.

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Vanishing Point

Will you join me chasing asphalt mirage pools

Where ibis bathe under bald cypress wings

Dripping old men’s beards over palm fronds.

 

In Jefferson County –

 

Dragonflies crisscross the two lane blacktop

People live out here in these swamplands

The roadside mailboxes are giveaway clues.

 

So many perspectives –

 

Pylons cut diagonals through the pine stands

Poles carry their electric charges to communities

Florida state troopers prowl like stealth bobcats.

 

In Leon county 10am –

 

The sun rifles between bare upright plantations

Shadows and lights flicker a silent movie dance

A flipbook fantasy of my moving milescapes.

 

V-shaped formations –

 

Journey ends at the last but one intersection

Gas station central on highway twenty seven

I throttle thru and set the cruise control to max.

 

Vanishing point

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