hunter/hunted

Lakeview

I hauled twenty-three loads this week, he said. I’m drinkin til I pass out.

We hefted oversized mugs of gold beer to our faces. The manager and bartender eyed us. A racist-sounding country singer drawled from the overhead speaker.

He said: Worst of em was Reno to Chicago. I rode a storm the whole way. Truck blowin this way and that.

His name was Nick and I met him at this shitty bar one hour and two mugs ago. Truckers are a lonely bunch. Nick came here to drink. I walked over from the stop because I was bored.

I said: I did twenty last week, so I feel you.

We’d started to settle into a drinking rhythm, a locomotive just catching full speed.

My wife’s asleep by now, he said, flipping his phone on the bar top.

We don’t ask after another trucker’s family, even if there’s something we want to know, even if we freely offer those details about ourselves. I looked at my watch.

Where you from? he asked.

We drank. I said: I’m from everywhere but right now I live in Vermont.

Vermont, he said, staring into the distance.

I noticed he was near done with his beer, so I gulped mine down. I motioned for the bartender to pour us another.

Nick said: Thanks.

You got the last one, I said.

Let me ask you, he said. You ever do time?

I thought it an odd question. Because I’m black? I wondered.

I made no expression, no movement.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha I’m just fuckin with you, man! he laugh-shouted, smacking my back.

I drank and nodded. This beer would be my last. Darkness at the windows kept me from seeing night in Spokane. It was almost closing on a Tuesday night. Only a few other losers wasted their time in the place. Most of them worked there.

I fuckin did time, he said, humorless. Then he distracted himself with the monitors above the bar and drank down half the mug. A minute passed and he turned his head toward me, his eyes shiny and unfocused.

He said: We should get a hooker and tag team her.

I smiled. I thought he was joking, but he was serious. He lowered his voice to a whisper.

I can get us something young, he said, drunk, looking over his shoulder, then mine. I know a guy here in Spokane.

His eyes reached for mine and landed. The skin on my back rippled to my shoulders, riding a wave to my scalp. Again I made no expression. I nodded solemnly and drank.

Young as you want, he whispered, looking back to the TVs above the bar.

I must have misunderstood him. What we talked about after that is blurry, indiscernible. I don’t know how I got back to my rig. Most of the trucks were gone when I woke at dawn.

I saw him again ten months later in Colorado Springs. I’d thought about him every day, wondering if I’d imagined the episode. I saw him refueling at a hauler station and reintroduced myself.

Oh yeah, he said, eyeing me suspiciously before shaking my hand. Snow and cold swarmed us.

Yeah I remember you, he said.

You need a coffee? I asked, motioning toward the cafe next door.

I said: I’m buying.

He nodded.

Once seated at the table we layered down and thawed and danced around small talk before he leaned in and whispered to me, his breath smoke and coffee, cold sores, rotten teeth.

Last time we talked, he said.

He squirmed in his chair.

In Spokane. I mention anything to you about —?

I looked at him and sipped the coffee.

He said: I don’t know how to put this.

We told each other we’d both done time, I said. That’s what I remember.

Yeah, he said, relief refracting about the asymmetry of his eyes.

He leaned back in his seat.

I said: We said to keep in touch and I never gave you my card.

I plucked a business card from the back of my iPhone and handed it to him. He handed me his card and I put it in my pocket without looking at it.

If you’re ever in Vermont, I said, shaking his hand outside the cafe.

I pulled his card from my pocket once back in the cabin of my truck.

Nick McKesson. Address in Louisville, Kentucky.

Weeks passed and I couldn’t forget him. His odor. I trained both body and technique with him in mind.

Negotiations with crew mates and surreptitious questions to office personnel yielded nothing to Kentucky. When I finally landed a shift to Louisville, the load was light as the spring rain and I drove as long and hard as law allowed. I arrived at dusk and took a cab to three blocks away from the address on Nick’s card. It was hot and humid on foot, but breezy.

I knocked on the building door, unsure of my purpose. It was a trucker warehouse with no lights on. I waited. Footsteps, then the door cracked open. His eyes: squinty and hard and uneven.

What’you want.

Nick, I said, my voice as non-threatening as possible. My body language was bad.

We don’t want none, he said, and closed the door.

You gave me your card, I said to the door. Vermont. Remember?

I waited and the door cracked open again. A fly wandered in.

He sent a hard, suspicious look.

Sorry, he said. Round here don’t get a lot of.

It’s cool, I said. Just stopped in to say hey. I was in Louisville and remembered your card. 

He nodded once, eyeing me.

Want a quick beer? I’m closing up.

Sure, I said, walking into the darkness after him.

Crazy you got me today, he said. I got in last night and I’m leavin in the morning.

The shop was empty of people and machines except one truck, likely his.

I said: I didn’t think anyone would be here.

He opened the refrigerator. Budweiser cans. I took one.

Just me, he said.

I don’t remember our conversation over the next several minutes as I drank the Budweiser. I was too far into my head. The can was empty and fragile in my hand.

Hey, I said, and paused.

I lied to you back in Colorado.

What? he said.

In Colorado, I said. I wasn’t honest with you.

What happened in Colorado? he said.

I remembered our conversation from Spokane, I said.

He was suspicious.

What’you talkin about, man? he said.

Then I hit him. All the attempts in my mind, all the square shots and the misses, the temple grazes, all the scenarios I’d played and replayed over the past eighteen months were nothing compared to the pulpy sensation of his nose and left cheekbone meeting the fist at the end of my right arm, bent slightly at the elbow as I leaned in lighting quick from the waist, a solid strike in any storm, any war, under any circumstances, just or unjust.

He staggered. He could take a punch. Adrenaline rocketed through his body and mind but mine was already in orbit. I pounced atop him with the other fist, then both. My physical shape and training made quick work. I knew what he was going to say when I arrived at the door, about not getting a lot of black folk around there. I thought about pissing on him but hit him once more instead. He lay there like the little girls he — I thought. Then I left.

Library, by Roberto Bolaño

Wreckage

Books I buy

Between the strange rains

And heat

Of 1992

Which I’ve already read

Or will never read

Books for my son to read

Lautaro’s library

Which will need to resist

Other rains

And other scorching heats

— Therefore, the edict is this:

Resist, my dear books, 

Cross thy days like medieval knights

And care for my son

In the years to come

 

 

(From Two Poems For Lautaro Bolaño)

Eviction

WWDNW

The writer who does not write arrived two days ago at dawn. He did not call ahead. He pulled a choking white pickup onto the driveway, unleashing a sonic assault from the neighborhood hounds. Into the house he skipped with his baggage and distractions. From one bag of tricks he pulled a television show designed to arrest two dozen hours of my attention. I told him to leave, that I didn’t want him around. He showed me a new engaging hobby to try. I told him to never return. He forced me into social obligations, he reminded me to exercise. I escaped to a secluded room in the house to read The Overstory by Richard Powers. I hoped my sudden and prolonged absence would drive him away. But he found me and interrupted my solace, he filled the room with balloons and feral animals. Finally I’d had enough and picked him up by his bloated habits and tossed him out to the April snow. Fuck off! I shouted, or he shouted.

The garage

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Take the staircase

up

fluorescent light flashing

concrete + steel loneliness

new stains

past the sleeping man

with no legs

up

out to dark city morning

cars speed on First Ave

headlights like lightning

sporadic pedestrians

wraiths in fog

a taxi idles in the alley

exhaust and headlights

city of skunk

I arrive at work

less human than yesterday

when I walk out that last time

on both legs

singing

the legless man will be gone

but not my car

vessel of freedom

I speed from the garage

to reclaim my life

the poet sleeps

NotebackAlways another page to fill; the size and shape of the page is inconsequential. I keep my pen in my hand and my hands on the steering wheel.

*

The poet sleeps

while driving

during live broadcasts

the poet dreams

of the future

with folded hands

cigarette dangling

no one speaks to the poet

fearing fire in his eyes

the poet takes note

as always

to return to sleep

deep as abandoned mines

and dream across

landscapes of horror and delight.

Gunman

tree

The gunman’s eyes

shined like his gun

bullets of sunlight

across shadow-expanses

of night.

Murder is hot and nameless

unlike the dead

who yearn for ground

like rain

seeping through history.

All minds affixed to

the poet’s

disappearance

as if it were a poem

in a book of poems

penned by false gods.

campfire tales

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Three friends sat at a campfire in the dark beneath trees thrashing in the mountain wind. It was a cold night and had been a cold day during the search for the missing woman. Groups camping nearby had already doused their fires and retreated into tents for the night. The three friends by the fire took turns telling stories, huddled under blankets, with one friend recounting a tale from her youth in which she believed a ghost occupied her basement.

She said: I can’t express the doom I felt, the darkness inside my chest every time I went down there.

The second friend told a story about a small boat that set sail from her childhood town in Virginia and was never seen again. A storm had arrived just before the boat departed, and the vessel had likely been swallowed up.

She said: A handful of times through the years, and only at night, when the bay was particularly foggy, people have claimed to see the boat cutting through the water just off the shore, as if it were searching for land, searching for home, for a place to dock.

The third friend, the male in the group, spoke of an encounter that happened to him years earlier. He’d been repeatedly visited by a spirit as a child, he said.

He said: It wore a dark cloak and it was tall. Its face was always hidden in its hood. He — I don’t know why I assigned it a male identity — he would suddenly appear by my bedroom window and just stand there watching me. I was terrified in place, unable to move.

The man seated near the fire readjusted his body in the chair. He reached down for a thermos on the ground and hefted it to his mouth. Wind gusted at them, through them. The fire tossed orange ribbons and splashes of light into the air.

He said: The figure appeared at my window less frequently as I grew into adolescence. My life became more like a normal boy’s. I moved away from my childhood home and enrolled in college. Eventually I pushed those early experiences so far into the depths of my memory that I forgot about them entirely. I forgot about the figure and the terror he caused. I forgot about the nightmares, the fear of being alone in my bedroom at night.

He continued: Then on my 40th birthday, just a few months ago, I woke in the night to use the toilet and grab a snack. My feet were cold on the wood floor. I remember feeling something strange in the air of the kitchen, like an inaudible hum or threads of invisible waves pulling tight around me. It reminded me of when I was a kid, the feeling I’d have just before the cloaked figure appeared by my window. All the hairs on my body stuck out like needles from my skin. There in the half-light of the kitchen I made out the shadowy figure that had often visited me in youth. It was just as tall, just as terrifying. I acknowledged it and closed the refrigerator door, surprised to see the faint but identifiable features of a human face deep in the hood.

He continued: I wasn’t scared like I’d been as a child. I was only curious or interested as I stepped toward the figure and peered into its face. It did not move as I approached. I looked past him to the window and out to the snowy expanse of my backyard. I was close enough to smell him (he smelled like the whisper of a tree) and to feel the odd vibration emanating from him. When at last I leaned in to peer closer at the face in the hood, I realized it was a woman’s face. The room was too dark and her features too gray and indistinct, but I could tell it was a woman. Then it began to communicate with me, it spoke without words, without sound, her ideas transmitted directly to me from her mind.

The man stopped talking to wrap the blanket tighter around himself. Both women watched him with their eyes wide. One woman took a long drink from her thermos while the other bent forward to toss another log onto the fire.

Friend Two asked: What did the figure say to you?

She told me she was a witch, he said. And that she was probably two hundred years old, but she didn’t know exactly how old because she stopped counting long ago.

Friend One asked: Do you know what she wanted from you?

The man stared into the fire. Its light reflected on his face.

He said: She told me that her face would be the last I’d see in this life.

The three of them listened quietly to the wind rushing through the trees. They watched the fire dance before them, hypnotized by the heat, the flashing light, the unpredictable movement. They each thought of the missing woman and how they’d spent the day combing the mountain for her. Not one of them would speak about it, but they all thought the missing woman was already dead, that they’d likely stumble into her carcass rather than hear her crying out for help or see her waving from a distended rock. Each of them hoped secretly that it wouldn’t be them to find her.

They agreed to extinguish the fire and retire to their tents. The following day would be long and exhaustive. The man had a strange dream in the night in which the cloaked figure from his past returned to him. In the dream he was seated at the fire just as before, except his two friends weren’t there. He was alone. A noise behind him made him turn in his chair to behold the cloaked figure standing tall and facing the light of the fire. She reached an arm up to remove her hood and reveal the half-decomposed, worm-eaten head of the missing woman.