Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Salt Works

She drives up the coast, tracing the trail
the pioneers took coming up from California
using the hard packed sand as their highway
until they reached Mount Neahkahnie,
whose cliffs plummet straight down to the sea.
There they were forced to haul their wagons up the steep slopes
with pulleys and ropes, perhaps pausing on the bluffs
to gaze back at where they’d come, admiring the view
just as she does now, parking by a stone wall 
overlooking the glittering Pacific.
Directly below, the waves ripple towards Manzanita,
where she has just come from, having stopped
to walk along the beach with her little mop of a dog
who after seventeen years she’s recently had to put down. 
He minces along the foamy hem of the surf, 
just like he used to when he was alive, chases 
the shade of a gull away from the feathery lump 
it had been clinging to. Now, high up on her vantage point, 
she reads a placard that outlines the history
of the Pacific Coast Highway, reminding travelers
of how resistant these parts have been to being tamed. 
She descends the other side of the once-sacred mountain,
swimming against the current of Tsunami Evacuation Route signs.
Stopping beside every historical marker she passes,
she learns about the various things which have washed up
on the Oregon shore: a cannon from a freighter chewed up
and spat from the mouth of the Columbia, 
a whale whose fatty hide fed the starving explorers. 
She’s heard that overgrown in the woods
there are empty machine gun nests still waiting
for the Japanese submarines to surface from the depths.
Curious, she follows the signs to the Salt Works,
which turns out to be nothing more than a rustic oven
cobbled together from stone and concrete
and surrounded by an iron fence to mark the site 
where Lewis and Clark's salt makers
lugged buckets of sea water to boil away to crust
so they could finally start preserving meat again.
Her ghost pup makes ghost piddle in the sand,
rolls around in a pile of pungent sea mess.

She scours the sand for shells but finds only shards.
They stroll along the concrete boardwalk,
where he yips hysterically at the whale skeleton
suspended in the window of the aquarium,
a cage for its own ponderous ghost.
Inside, she pays a dollar for a carton of sardine heads
to toss to the seals, who splash and roll 
their fat, sleek bodies through the water 
the way they always have, since before anyone 
was around to hunt them, and for the first time all Summer
she laughs at of their whiskered muzzles, 
their soft brown eyes. She snaps photo after photo
to look at when she’s back at home, alone
in the quiet apartment, where the leash 
she can’t quite bear to part with 
still dangles from the doorknob, 
its collar looped around the neck of a past 
that still scratches at the door, begging to be let out.

for Stacy and Oscar

Friday, September 20, 2013

Queasy Rider

     Claude thrusts his gloves into the sleeves of his leather jacket and straddles his hog. He stamps the starter and with a roar rips down the highway. The wind yanks Claude’s ponytail back as bugs paint his mirrored shades psychedelic greens and yellows. Crumbs and scraps of lunch are whisked from his beard. The desert vermin who cross his path bug their eyes and shriek before being suddenly rendered two-dimensional –Gila monsters, jackrabbits, scorpions and tarantulas. A huge old desert tortoise finds his shell smashed to shards and pulls a dusty hubcap up to cover his wrinkled nakedness. The highway zips and is yanked after him, becoming unstuck from the earth like a ribbon of elastic. Clouds of exhaust fart from his tailpipe. Claude spits tobacco that sizzles on the scorched gravel of the shoulder. The painted backdrop looms before him, covered in craggy buttes and rockf formations that look like the splintered stumps of ravaged windmills. Claude runs right into it, leaving a Claude-shaped hole in the cloth behind him as he plunged into the void behind hit, hanging suspended in the air for a full minute before plummeting straight down.

     As he mounts his powerful steed, Claude notices four kids skateboarding off the curb, doing little skips and jumps and trying to spin their boards in midair. “Fucking punks,” he yells, hurling his half-full can of Schlitz at them. The can beans the smallest  kids just above the eye. The kid screams in pain as a jet of blood spurts from his eyebrow. Claude guffaws and speeds away.
     Fifty miles down the highway he pulls into a truck stop to take a leak, and does a double-take: there doing stunts on the edge of the parking lot are the same skaters. The smallest one is missing. They kids stop and glare at Claude. “You fucking rugrats, get a paper route!” Claude bellows, and pulls a lug wrench from his saddlebags. He chucks it at the kids. It bounces off one of their mop-headed skulls. The kid collapses into the dust. Oh shit, thinks Claude, and rockets off.
     It’s dark when he stops at the Paul Bunyan Motor inn. As he’s dismounting who does he see but, yes, the two remaining kids, trying to ride the railing heading upstairs, but mostly falling and cursing. When they see Claude they stop and stare at him, clutching their boards. Claude is not sue what to do. Suddenly there’s a loud bang from his cooling bike and a hunk of no-longer-duct-taped shrapnel flies from the undercarriage, slicing right  through the throat of one of the boys like a ninja throwing star. The kid falls to his knees at the foot of the stairs, gushing like a crimson geyser. “That time wasn’t my fault!” Claude whines, and tries to start his hog. After a few attempts it chokes into life and zooms off.
     Claude drives through the night, his bike rattling and clanking but still going. He pops his last remaining uppers to keep his eyes wide and fixed on the tiny smear of light dribbling from his headlamp. The needle on his gas gauge slips closer and closer to empty and Claude finds it harder and harder not to think about what  might happen when he is forced to stop.

     Claude swings his axe back and forth before him. The leather-clad figures who surround him in the dusty parking lot beside the bar just laugh and tell him to come back inside and have another beer. Claude shrugs and follows them in, axe resting peacefully across his shoulder. George Thorogood stutters on the jukebox and Claude chugs a couple of brews and feels better. His leather jacket is made from the hides of an entire head of cattle, his belt the flayed skins of a pit’s worth of snakes. His bandana was once a gigantic flag flying above a Perkins. Claude rides his massive blue chopper through the dense forested roads. Slamming down his dozenth mug he he looks across the room and there she is, a tray of beers balanced on her tiny palm: a midget transvestite with a face like a toad. Claude is instantly smitten. She toys with him all night, then when her shift is over disappears into the men’s room, reappears wearing nothing but a motorcycle helmet and a pair of fishnets. Once the Paul Bunyan of the highway, Claude has been reduced to a feeble, delusional shadow of himself. He takes his Dulcinea on the back of his steed and rides off to swing his ax at the windmills that stand guard atop the hilltops, rows of three-armed giants silhouetted against the sky.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Year of the Rat

You have a tail
and I just might yank it.
if only to stop its restless lashing
The sick whiff of garlic and gorgonzola
curdles the air
Your sharp whiskers scratch my cheek
You lick the sticky from your palm
with your pink rasp
Plump raisins plop one by one from the pipe
plunk into a tumbler filled with milk
Silverfish, spider's milk, segmented eyes and a
compound heart, sipping stories through a straw
instead of gulp by gulp, spitting shells,
bones, stones, pips, seeds,
stems, rind, crimson blizzard of rust,
mudslide of mercury, avalanche
of plaster dust. Black socks strewn
across the sky. One silver stocking, pulsing with
cockroaches. Tear a hole in the toe and watch
them stream like sand from a sack. Cocaine
from a condom. My cupped palm
overflows with melted wax
rapidly coagulating, turning stiff
and milky in the cracks. Lips squirting
grease like a fountain,
our hearts beat like rodents
lapping at the splatter.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wither Into Yourself

Comes a time
Everything that’s going to happen
Has, and the rest is all repeats
Rehashes of the same old arguments
Reheated leftovers and it feels
Like you’re just going through the motions because
What else is there to do, really
You can’t drop out, though some do
You can’t just sit and do nothing, you’re not
That far gone yet. But still
The endless rehashing grows old
You laugh at the same old jokes
More out of habit than delight
Recite the same old lines
With slightly different inflections, in different voices
That all somehow still sound exactly like your voice
This is where I’m at, it’s not that bad
But it’s not that great, either
And I lack the imagination it would take
To think of some new thing to do, and new way to act
And anyway at this point it would feel false
Like I’m trying too hard, a middle aged man
In a toupee and a convertible, vaguely aware
That he looks ridiculous but driving too fast
And too desperately to care