The wind grabbed the skirt and shirt-tails of the silk desert silt hovering over the furnace. Is this how poems begin?
Blacktop shimmer. From movies.
The wheels, wailing, shed hunks of dry fire. Something liquid that the sun weeps, the daylight milk made of stagger-juice flows from gaps in the chalky sky, too burned to be blue, it cracks like husked skin. I’m saying the day was fucking hot and air was scarce.
You think a pickup truck gassing hard up an unfinished red-rocked road happened here? Yeah, I think the wheels bounced and slipped at the rutted turnoff, away from the melted state-owned two-lane. Those hands are old webbed things gripping a chrome and plastic wheel jerking ten o’clock, two o’clock, snake-smooth tires paw at that and pebbles whip.
“My eyes are weak.”
“I know, ” the young man said, “but I am leaking and my drinks have buzzed me apart. This is shit, you mummy, but I want to live through the night.”
“That doesn’t give my eye nothing. Still so weak. Don’t make me do this. I am old.”
But the kid’s shirt was red,red,red and his lips white, white, dumb-ass eyes slipping into glass, then snapping up sharp and mortal. The gun was awake, that’s for sure. His little hand was alert and dog-nervous.
With shit eyes, scummed over milky with years of oppressive sunlight rays, he could see that, clearly, in the dull light cast off the AM radio dial the kid was not fucking around. The moron would shoot is wrinkled ass, if it came down to it.
Always willing to asses things prom a positive perspective, the old dude thought, “If this is it, I hope he’s got them hollow-bullets and I hope it takes me in the ear, my brain on the window all at once.” And aloud, “I don’t want to bleed out like a goat.” The boy didn’t know why the man said that out loud. What’s a goat? Like a small cow, right?
Did the rutted road widened out to a flat bit, squared off neatly by a little old Airstream, an optimistic little aluminum tube? Yeah, again. It did.
Sure, that trailer squatted down in the zig-zag layers of history’s rust seems to be the thing you you write off, write in a poem (like this one), write in a tourist’s dream, surrounded by curious and lazy, lazy movie makers with tanned dicks. One ball of bulb-light circled the door in a fuzzy bug-haired cloak. Out back, piles of TV-food boxes gathered a flies and otherwise lost color and got carried off by the wind. Work for microwave ovens. Food, not-food.
You are gripping the hood of the truck, such a curious witness. What is this place? You say you’ve never been there? No, you have not.
See? There are places in the world hidden by tall fists and veined arms of red rock. Some are snugged down in old trees that reach out with ginger hands. I’ve seen some embedded in ice and nearly consumed by writhing vines. They are all guarded by a ghost-free veil of churches and Advil tablets. They are wrapped in invisible tents of tax-tables and sex-magazines. Stranger, these deep places, hidden inside the minute ticks of a clock need Charmin-rolls, propane gas and Hot Pocket dinners. They need frozen waffles and a decent satellite signal.
To hear her say it:
“I sleep out here because I won’t crap in the toilet. Everyone has to go in that aluminum box, I have noticed, yeah? Every genuine mistake in the El Marko valley comes here. Everyone, including the skidding wheels I can see and hear.”
She sometimes adds, if anyone gives a fuck:
“This body is still just a body. I don’t make the rules.”
Rumor called her a conjurer or a satanist but that was just so the local penguins could feel good about themselves. If you like fucking kids in the ass, you could convince yourself of anything. No matter, the Vaticanists were right.
Some of these assholes had the gall to call a meeting.
“Father Mechanisto, we are concerned that the local wogs have been seen leaving small bundles of cash at the door of a trailer in Coyote Peak.”
“She does not ask for payment, but the donations have been quite generous, we are told.”
And so on. It always comes down to fucking coin with these types.
Hiss. Tick. Bang. Metal and water cool, even a bit, and contract and a few drops of oil mingle with a few other drops of oil. How small do you want me to get? Oil drops,man!
“My eyes are still weak.”
Inside the trailer, there is a cool deep-amber dark. Little razor slices of gloom and lightbulb are swiped with Lysol vapor, old farts. I can hear popular TV songs finger past the modern air-conditioning bed of noise. They are singing about soap and insurance hawked by dancing lizards. The dishes piled up.
He got too much, chewed too much,this stupid kid. He was full to bursting. If he had half a brain, he would have seen this and let the sprout stagger around the parking lot of The Aztek Grill until he got clipped by a semi full of insecticide or he finally just lost his juice and tipped over into a culvert, like any other bluejean with piss and alcohol in him.
That didn’t happen. Of course not. Who has luck that good, you know?
And here’s what happened.
Mr. Rojo and his son (more on him later) would hold court on the etched yellow Formica rippling across the lunch counter at The Aztek. Jerry Crow, former cook from the state hospital, lost a little bit of money every day he kept The Aztek open, but Mr. Rojo (or his insane kids) made it clear that his Ford truck and single-wide Bounder would be reduced to soot and smudge if the grill wasn’t hot every morning at seven and the beer wasn’t on ice by four.
To make this point clear, Rojo’s needle-eyed daughter, Rainbow, (everyone secretly called her Cortó Vage, because it was rumored that she had performed her own hysterectomy with a soldering iron) took Jerry’s cat, Shamrock, and slit its skin with a box-cutter, radially like a hotdog ready for the campfire sing-along. Jerry found the cat in his bathtub and stomped it to death right then and there before the sweet critter could suffer another moment.
Jerry counted few blessing in his life, but he was surely glad he had the snap to put a hard boot-heel into into Shamrock’s howling face.
(when Jerry Crow was dying he prayed for nothing else but that Shamrock would be waiting for him on the other side, a plump orange thing, content, dozing on the arm of his Lay-Z-Boy chair. Jerry knew Shamrock forgave him. )
This morning, the sun slanted into the frost, so bright, sparkling on the chile harvest. In the Aztek, a few short-line truckers and chile-pepper harvesters, up early and hungry, hid behind a rack of state-tourist brochures Jerry had placed by the front door near the register to give the place a false, entirely unbelievable appearance of civic inclusion. Of human normalcy, as if this place existed on a kind and gentle earth. It did not. The sleep-stuffy men nearly had their backs turned to the vacant seats and booths of the restaurant. Inside the Aztek was for an insane man whose gaze meant nothing but trouble, and they were so close to this insane man right now.
The truckers and machinists and farmers, all done up in denim and tanned leather, rock-eyed check-cashers too old to be simply shifting gears on the farm roads, stood still and kept their eyes down, waiting for egg tacos, rolled tight as cigars and styrofoam coffee cups. Sure. They looked away. This morning Mr. Rojo lectured an almost-empty dinette about the coming fascism of state-mandated heath insurance and compulsory gun confiscation.
What did he say, you are asking?
“It’s time for you bent-over fuckers to wake the hell up! You need a clue! You ever take the pills for to stop being depressed? They take your gun, man! You fight on the Iraq or on the Afghan and then you have PTSD now? You now can’t have no guns no more! If you have kids in the city and they tell doctors you have guns, then they will take the kids an put them in camps to have new education, that’s right! And then they take your gun too! Get a clue because you ain’t got no clues at all, man!”
Rojo sat splay-legged on a yellow vinyl mushroom-cap stool at the end of the empty lunch-counter. (he sat this way because he wanted people to think is dick was too huge to keep his legs together, which was no joke: his cock was utterly massive but he found almost nothing sexually exciting so it remained unused but threatening like a snake on a rock) His thin, tea-tinted fingers were weighed down by fake-gold and fake diamond. Above his wrists, the cuffs of his canary shirts and plum plastic-fiber suit flapped against his bones as he jabbed his extended finger to the lights, to the booths, to the chipped linoleum tiles.
“You know that they going to keep up and escalate the taking away of guns from the veterans? The Army has to tell the FBI all that now! Your doctor gotta tell Obama if you don’t like Democrats or Hillary and then they take you and put your guns in a safe where you can’t get them!”
Sure, truckers, not a diploma or degree of any kind among them, thought M. Rojo sounded utterly insane. And yet each one of them carried a sawed-off blaster or at least a .38 like a 70’s TV show cop. In the deep farmlands in the pockets of green and terra-cotta, people were simple and honest as necessary, as each bit of well-known road and land carried a family name, reputation was almost cut right in to the red sandstone. It was easy to avoid trouble, if you knew where it was. But you never could say for sure. Bad men had bad kids, you see? And you kept the iron loaded under the car-seat.
Still, as I said, Rojo sounded nuts and even more so to the quiet diner and the backs of so many denim jackets studying on state-brochures and boot-tips.
Rojo had gone nearly dick-bald when he was 18 and now, at 50, he slicked a spindly swipe of jet-black strands, laminated back from his tall forehead to his red, diamond-creased neck. The intention was (by his thinking) to create the image of a robust man with hair (and a hard cock). It fooled no one. His head looked as though a black spider was grabbing his shiny skull, maybe to pull it into a web, suck it dry .
“You gotta stop showing your momma and your sweet girl the funny pictures on email. What monkey does what thing with kittens? Those are fakes! That dog wants to eat a birthday cake? Your computer is a liar! That’s how I know you have been not giving yourselves any education, ” Mr. Rojo continued, “I have been looking at the real ‘PROOF ‘and you have been looking at other things and having big laughs! HA. HA. Hey, also don’t even make me talk more about them FEMA camps. You ‘email‘ monkey’s need to get a clue or you die there.”
The line of hungry, nervous truckers thins out as Crow, thankfully, finally, at long fucking last, finishes the egg tacos and gets them out the door into the desert morning, each order, wrapped in foil (rolled tight as cigars), tucked inside a denim jacket, headed to farms, shops and silos on the valley floor.
The morning is done and the sun stands up to the melting frost.
Jerry scrapes at the grill with a stainless spatula. Burger meat for lunch. Chicken fingers deep-fried for lunch. Burritos and carne for lunch. Tomato crowns and cottage cheese for the “Health Plate.”
“Bad soldiers want to pry that gun from your cold, dead hands,'” Mr. Rojo announced.
The diner was deserted now, except for his worst kid, a moon-faced boy in his teens (Pinto? Puto? Paco?). “And who gonna say why all them bankers jumped off the hotels? Nigger in the White House gonna kill all you and you won’t have no guns to fight back because of PTSD!”
The kid, (Paco? Paolo? Pedro?) stretched out in an empty booth, nodded and stroked his skinny whip-thin pony tail. His papa smart. (Paolo? Pepe? ) fell asleep some nights thinking about his father ordering REAL AMERICAN ARMIES to GO KILL all the ATHEIST SCUM and take back the GUNS from DEMOCRAT SOCIALISTS.
The Aztek door banged open at 11:32 as Crow sliced pickles for hamburgers and tuna salad. No one looked up.
(Pedro?) scanned his phone new “tit pix for his dix pix”. Rojegio Protracto Rojo sipped warm full-fat milk out of a thick coffee mug and looked at it thumbnail. He thought to himself, as vague as a dog, “I sure do like all of my real guns. Guns.”
A young man, in his thin logo-shirt, his Goodwill jeans, in his flappy rubber shoes, stiff-armed a “real gun” in front of his hairless chest. Crow, now slicing iceberg with a curved knife, saw it all unfold in slow-time, and kept working. Lunch was lunch. In his best escape-fantasy, he knew someone with tighter balls than his would come here and find Mr. Rojo. This was it. Keep working. Crow always knew the bullets would weave around him not so much as skimming his cook-whites. It took an eternity for his thin mouth to bloom into a grin as time slipped into a corn-syrup glaze. You see, time ran down to ice-chips?
This kid let his face get wet as he blubbered about a car-wash by the interstate. The slobber-eyed boy knew about a sandwich franchise that was set afire in one night, to hide a crime. He had something to say about a good girl, a sweet girl, a close cousin that never came home from school. Fury from his mouth as he used Rojo’s name like “ass-wipe!”, “Little tyrant,” “big fish in a small pond, “right-wing nut,” “gun-fucker, ” “rape!”
Rojo was genuinely, truly surprised. Maybe even a little hurt. He was like a father to the valley and, really, he never thought he’d enjoy yanking his Sig 9mm out of his vest as much as he did. He’d dreamed of it, prayed for it, pleaded to God for it.
“PLEASE GIVE ME A CHANCE YOU WORTHLESS FUCKING GOD TO FIRE THIS FUCKING THING INTO THE BODY OF ANOTHER FUCKING MAN.”
This was sweet. This was eternal. It was bliss.
Brief, stupid explosions.
Some of the last words spoken in The Aztek:
(but not all of them)
“You gotta gun!? FEMA camp, bitches! That nigger don’s say nothing!”
“She is all ruined now!”
“Papa, he got a heater!”
“She was a saint!”
“You a bitch.”
“Take him out, papa!”
“I loved her”
“Mommy I’m a good boy, yeah?”
Everything that can be expressed in this way was expressed. Fully. Completely. Bang! bang! as they say. The problems that are solved this way were, utterly, fully, completely solved this way.
Do you see this?
Cortó Vage found her father and one of her brothers (Pedro, Pietra?) in an industrial freezer, solid as red granite. That was happening later.
The boy turned his gun on a passing pickup truck (driven by a man who was becoming younger by the second, although he did not know that) and directed him to a trailer he’d heard about as the grass simmered down in his blood. A place where maybe dreams stepped out. Maybe not. I’m beginning to think he was just insane, really and it was all campfire bullshit. But Jerry wasn’t sure about anything. He was slicing onions and iceberg lettuce. Small smile, too.
You are so sure the papers said everything they said was gospel, yeah? No guns! No stabs! Just blood. And Mr. Crow gone like a ghost, even his trailer gone! Jerry don’t remember nothing except he got a half sister in Ohio that he gots to see so bad right now that meat burned to ash on the grill, nearly took The Aztek with it. Police find small red footprints in the door, walking out to the highway.
But, man, I remember that boy. His face was so soft and radiant. Eyes that saw love and a kind mouth, ready to frame a good sentiment. His knuckles were smooth but his palms were hard, like a good guy who built things. Only someone like that (a good guy) steps out with his fists up, really. Bullies look for someone weak.
“He don’t, ” Jerry Crow said aloud.
The leak in his ribs ended (all exhausted) but that was forgotten as devils and angels (real ones, I’m saying) auctioned his worth under the haze of tall stars. Things that called themselves spirits swarmed his young body (the feathers and bones are just cheap theater props, by the way) and clawed out everything, the ultimate “going out of business sale!” the spirits said. They understood irony. The kid was was ribs and spine. With no lungs or working guts, the trailer was relatively quite, other than the AC unit, thrumming.
If you could see in two places at once, this is what you would know:
The spirits ran wild and flooded the valley: a rain flowing on bad crops and on good men and also on bad men and bad crops, an umbrella of falling stars, fine as snow. Dust-fine sparks,man.
Normal stuff for this phase.
If you were in the line of fire you might get a tumor in five years or you might have a blood vessel pop in your skull right then and there while you are jerking it on the toilet. You also might win a Lotto ticket and get the stove replaced. Sometimes you could see into the dark and split your jeans with a monster erection. Invisible beings, ancient, rattled off the names of mountain-gods.
“Bible shit, man.”
He immediately knew that he was changing. Volts exploded in his bones.
“i can see well now. i want to fight. i’d like some pussy.”
“this trailer will make a good home for someone. someday.”
“i can’t wait to take a hard swing at some white boy’s chin!”
“no,man, I really want to lick pussy!”
“god says ‘hello'”
‘i’m gonna fuck myself stupid”
My man rolled down the window and howled into the cool whoosh of highway air. He took up cigarettes again, too! Why the fuck not? The world was ending! Praise Jesus and the White Gods!
Now, a faint bruise smeared against the blue night. We will have to explain this to someone later.
The truck ripped across the mesa, trailing smoke, lust, violence, a fist up to the fading moon, butter-color headlights jiggling toward Reno. There were drugs in that town and Eastern/Minneapolis black girls who pretended they liked slurping jizz. Close enough.
In the city, the police were quite baffled. What cut this young woman into to pieces? Why the poor diner? They were animals. Drunks.
Let them roam the canyons and die of thirst.
I mean, mysteries, right?
Text and Images © Andrew Auten – All Rights Reserved