Helga’s Tomatoes

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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
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
Harleys

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
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
Scary

No Helga’s juicy tomatoes

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

And then this.

 

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

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


The Keeper of Thoughts

so Bill

I was just wondering

when will you be done

taking your photographs

you were never this long

in the roll of film days

when you had a couple dozen shots

but now there’s no stopping you

 

my mother had always been

just wondering

patiently sat filing her nails

flicking through glossy magazines

Harpers and Queen

Vanity Fair

the breathtaking scenery

had never interested her

 

we’d drive out each weekend

take the Oldsmobile panting up

The Skyline Drive or

Blue Ridge Highway

there were swallowtails

and black bears

if you knew just where to look

and point your toy pistols

 

mother watched

from the passenger seat

window wound down

breeze blowing her mini beehive

the ten most alluring women

in the world

she would read out loud and

how to marry a billionaire Bill

 

poor father was a delivery man

never an ambitious bone

in his weary body

the long hours delivering parcels

exacted a price on his arthritis

but you would not hear him complain

just a few more minutes honey

he would quietly say

 

all those Kodachrome slides

he never showed or looked at them

they sat boxed

gathering dust

like his simple thoughts

over time he feared he would one day lose

our sunny days wandering Big Meadows

with mother in the car wondering

 

the names of our favorite places

still sing in my ears

they echo out from overlooks

call me back each year

to Riprap Trail

Hawksbill Gap

Elkwallow and

Bacon Hollow

 

now I am the keeper of his thoughts

unlocked and free to wander

projected overhead

we watch them on the big screen

there’s me I point

pistols at the ready

and mom smiling and waving

a cripple with withered legs

 

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The Sundance Kid

Leaving Sundance, Wyoming –

It’s where the Kid got his name

There’s a definite sense of

Heading home now

Of being called back

Returning

 

Exit 205 to Beulah –

Also a town in mid-Wales

Another reminder

A chat head pops up on my phone

How many tables needed for the Green Fayre in November?

I fire the information straight back

 

Welcome to South Dakota –

The Black Hills hang heavy to the north

A massive white teepee greets me

Gold Wings electro glide next to me

No sign of Rocky Racoon

Just roadkill skunks

 

Rest area tourist information –

I pick up my free state map

The woman advises me which way to go

But when I get there I’m not looking at the scenery

I’m looking out for rocks on the road

Dislodged by last night’s rain

 

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway –

I’m stuck behind two Polaris buggies

Filled with spades and maintenance gear

Thirty five miles per hour

A selection of waterfalls

No passing zones

 

Reminds me of Snowdonia –

Those twisty narrow roads

Claustrophobic

Cold

Wet

Even in summer

 

I grab a Clif Bar –

Sierra trail mix

Peanuts

Chocolate

Raisins to be cheerful

Part 3

 

I laugh at my own joke –

Laugh at the bikers putting on their waterproofs

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Feels like I’m driving through the back end of the tourist season

Lead-Deadwood High School

Welcome back students!

 

The autumn lull –

Fall’s faltering

A time to change the stock on shelves

Snow globes, gloves and winter gifts

Skiers and snowboarders are coming

A different crowd altogether

 

I drift into Deadwood –

The stagecoach departed years ago

Just gun shops galore

Mock wild west saloons

Whip cracking away

I’d like to stay a while but

 

I turn right for Mount Rushmore –

The road feels like it could be slippy

Greasy truckers

Boondocks fifties town is deserted

Stuck behind a pair of careful Corvettes

Forty five miles per hour

 

Experimental Forest Road –

I’d stop to take photographs but

The rain is washing us away

Feels like the land is purging itself of visitors

Turning its back on the summer

I connect up my iPod

 

Bobby Dylan sings –

Where have you been?

What did you see?

What did you hear?

Who did you meet?

And what’ll you do now?

 

Mt Rushmore –

Waste of time

Obscured by clouds

I put away my camera

The Sundance Kid is on the run

Returning

 

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Deliverance

Sometimes the road can be a bastard

When all you need is a quiet place to pull over

A picnic bench in a sunny spot

Take a break

Eat a sandwich

Pee behind a tree in peaceful solitude

 

But all you get are shit loads of people

Men in camouflage

Holiday weekend hunters

Mad Maxing it out in their black

Fume spewing monster trucks

Nothing with Providence

 

All you solar powered meat free

Save the planet tree hugging

Veggie growing hippies

Won’t stand a chance come the day

When, for whatever reason

We have to survive for a living

 

Those redneck gun toting

white trash hoodlums

Will break down your doors

Steal your carefully preserved stash

And leave you to starve out the nuclear winter

For sure

 

Endless traffic

I thought this road would be quiet

Seems like all of humanity and their dogs

Are emptying out down each side

Of the Continental Divide

I can’t leave Colorado quick enough

 

I’ve nothing against your ruddy rocks

You’re just too damn busy

I want my Wyoming back

Or forgotten small towns on Route 66

This is not the place for a solo traveller

I’m just passing through

 

Everyone has their pre-booked itineraries

And then there’s me in my rental car

On a journey with no real start or finish

Making notes for a story that might never happen

A poem that might never be written

Or perhaps already has.

 

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Wyoming Wanderings

Your mind can wander out here

That’s not always a good thing

And time can be a distraction

I try to leave my windows open

Allow the scenery to breeze right in

Absorption without discussion

 

A while back

My speed touched 70

I wandered out into the scrub

Clambered down into a dried up river bed

It twists and turns alongside the road

Meandering like my thoughts

I wondered what it would be like in winter

Or during a flash flood

In full spate

 

I imagined being bitten by a snake

Should I keep my leg up or down?

Would I make it to a hospital?

How far is the nearest town?

 

I stop to photograph a graffitied boulder

Two Dogs Was Here

Imagine one of those tumbling down

Crushing my car

Futile attempts to steer out the way

Two seconds of panic

Then

 

When you start to wander you see things

Nature’s sidewalk secrets revealed

A fox disturbed from his shady nook

Signs of wild animals

Tracks, scrapes

Holes, faeces

Tread carefully

Broken glass

Grasshoppers

 

See how the rain shapes the land

Makes the plants bloom

And the sun cracks the sand

It’s alive and dead

Weathered

Lived in

Worn

 

This place makes you feel alive

The wind and the potential

Danger lurking

I have to move on but I am drawn

To the contorted pock marked boulders

The dried grasses

Pale straw yellow

The sound of their seed heads

A solitary purple flower

Everything

 

I’m standing near to where I saw the fox

But he’s long gone or well hidden

Perhaps keeping an eye on me

Mistrustful beings both

Hunters and murderers

Wary wanderers

 

I turn with a smile

Take one last photograph

I found what I came looking for

A bend in the road

Sweetwater County

Wyoming State Highway 430

Rock Springs to the Colorado border

 

But now it’s time to move on.

 

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Daniel

cutting across Wyoming

the mountains appear just far enough away

to hold back the storm clouds

 

over Cottonwood Creek

past Cottonwood Ranch

the fence leaping deer make light work

of this rolling, undulating land

 

sudden outcrops of red rock

elephant footed in appearance

the wind gusting

nothing to stop it

 

you could get lost out here

in a ravine or gulch

befriend the black crows

the mighty eagles

 

become the next wilderness man

as far away as you want

just follow the telegraph poles

back in time to Daniel…

 

I took a chance

headed out west from Chicago

joined the Emigrant Trail

supplies loaded in a covered wagon

spades, picks, long handled axes

enough wire to demarcate what was mine

a thousand acre plot of sagebrush

hard truths and honest labour

a new way of living

pioneer

settler

adventurer

 

this is my story

part truth

part myth

 

I wasn’t the first man to brave this frontier

there were others before me

natives

trappers

gunslingers

government forces

 

go plant the Stars and Stripes

they told us

find water

a hollow for your cattle

trees for stakes

hurdles

firewood

shelter from the summer heat

the ingredients for success

 

the first year was the hardest

some never made it through

dust driven droughts turned

to winter snows

the big sky our canvas canopy

our kingdom

heaven

hell

godforsaken

god given

 

we fixed

we made good

sharpened our tools

honed our skills

saw out that first harsh winter

with prayers

determination

 

we scrimped and saved

every dime and dollar counted

for in the spring

the cattle men came

our chance to pick the finest

barter prices

share whiskey

stories

fights

 

to have a herd

was to be a herdsman

some might say a cowboy

a rancher

a dream believer

 

with the first calves

some cash to reinvest

a proper cabin

long, dark days planning

cleaning gun barrels

stoking fires

flaming our faces

fortune telling

 

and maybe in a year or two

a wife and family

the privilege to provide

for town and country

 

the old Pony Express route

well that’s long gone

the telegraph poles came

and you can still find me

just follow them down through time

find the town that bears my name

 

Daniel

Population 150

Elevation 7192

Wyoming

USA

 

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(this is a reimagining of history. Daniel, Wyoming is a real enough place. I drove through it today. There’s not much to see but, as with most places, history is never far behind us. I’ve just mixed it around a bit that’s all)