March 9, 2013
In 1969 I went to school in Nacogdoches, Texas driving back and forth to Houston on weekends. There was a honky tonk I’d pass near Diboll called the “Tired Moon”. I was 19 and except for communion wine had never tasted alcohol but I was drawn to the place by its name. Once I pulled into the clam shell parking lot determined to go inside but came to my senses, believing if a guy such as myself should enter the Tired Moon he might as well be wearing a t-shirt that said, “Kick my ass for 5 dollars” and I better damn sure have the five. I was big and had the muscles of a working man but was always always told I had the eyes of a woman. A mistake to be born that way in Texas. Five years went by.
My first wife, Shelley and I were living with our baby daughter, Ananda Lorca, in a stone house outside Huntsville, Arkansas. Ananda means “Bliss”. Lorca is the last name of my favorite poet at the time. I wanted her to be called Lorcananda, meaning “the Bliss of Federico Garcia Lorca”. But no… One weekend we traveled deeper in the Ozarks to spend the night in Eureka Springs, a turn of the century town built over mineral hot springs where, in the off season you could get a double bed in a beautiful old hotel for $12 a day. We were planning to spend one night there. The town had built a replica of the old city of Jerusalem and held a regular Passion Play for $1.50 per, but in the off season they weren’t playing. While eating lunch in a cafe I heard the rumble of motorcycles and saw at least a hundred parading into town. Soon the cafe was filled with large, ugly men and with women who had forced themselves into leather pants but let it all hang out above. Greasy hair, tattooed snakes forming the numbers 666, chains and cigarettes! I was eating with my head down like an evangelist at a banquet, literally minding my own peas and cucumbers, when I heard one of the women ask, “Are you stayin’ over Saturday night?”
The man who answered had a face like a fistful of teeth swimming in a bowl of chili. “No, I gotta be back to teach Sunday school in the morning.” It was a Born Again Christian motorcycle club. Had several more sightings of them in the years to come and was told by a deputy sheriff they were pretty good old boys as long as you stayed away from topics such as sprinkling versus baptism by immersion and the whole question of using real wine or grape juice in the communion service. God help the paid preacher or the Catholic stumbling unarmed into their midst. Twelve more years went by.
I was divorced and living with Ananda and my son, Eli Luke, in Fairfield, Iowa. Eli means “the Highest”. Luke means “Light”. So his name means, “The Highest Light”. We were driving back to Houston in our 1978 Datsun King Cab for a visit when I had a lapse of attention. I didn’t go unconscious or fall asleep at the wheel. I was driving perfectly fine but still ended up 300 miles off course in Paris, Texas. Paris was the home town of my former father in law, Peyton Bryan. I also had an uncle, a brother and a brother in law named Peyton and felt I understood them better for having lost my way. We stayed the night in a motel with a swan motif, pink chenille bedspreads and framed photos of the Eiffel Tower in every room.
We were eating breakfast early the next morning sitting next to two couples. Listening to their conversation I could tell the husbands worked for a big rig construction company and traveled from job to job with their wives. None of them seemed to know each other well. Even the married couples were strangers to themselves but I was struck by one fact, the wives were staying with their husbands, not running off to California leaving them with kids. Right then I wanted to write a country song about these folks which Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter would sing. On a napkin I wrote the words, “She followed her man while he swung his wrecking balls from state to state. “ That was as far as I got. Twenty-six years went by.
In 2012 I remembered the Tired Moon, looked for and found the napkin I had written on. I wrote a poem in rhyme called “The Flood Plain”, still wishing it could be sung by Jesse Colter, Waylon Jennings having died some years before. But I admitted to myself that no one would ever sing this song so I rewrote it in a conversational voice from the woman’s point of view. It is somehow better for a poem to be unread than a song to be unsung, I believe. The song was sad and hopeless but the poem ends with a possibility for happiness. I believe now that joy is as inevitable as sorrow. One comes as unsought as the other and stays or leaves as it will.
THE FLOOD PLAIN
One year in ten with bloated cattle washing on its back, the Brazos will engorge and try to drown us.
Two hours drive from where I labor, is a night spot on the Brazos
called the Tired Moon.
We got married there when he could still light cigarettes with his eyes.
Good luck was wished on us by women dressed as cowboys
living on the flood plain
while fiddle music slithered through smoke and coiled around our heads
like lassos or like a halo’s blessing.
On that day I held a photo of my mother in an apron, unlit Marlboro in her left hand
like an extra finger.
Her hair was a cotton candy tower with a yellow rose of Texas in its turret.
In two months I began to notice that the pleasure lit between us was a fire
that registered as pain.
Five years I followed my husband working big rig construction in thirty states.
He swung his wrecking balls from Lansing to El Paso and from San Diego
east to Galveston.
Six months a year we lived in trailers parked in clam shell lots
or motels behind biker bars
where mornings you might see a stranger’s blood drying in gravel.
Fire ants feeding on that blood were the color of the sun setting through diesel.
Six days a week in false dawn I’d hear him rise, let down his water
draw a razor cross his face and throat.
Once I watched him kindly part the polyester curtains to look down and say a prayer
for all night girls lined up for jail.
Standing in each others’ shadow, flinching from the headlights of each passing
they were smoking Camels down to glittered nails, their eyes faded
as blue tattoos.
I grew tired living on the road
so we bought a trailer, placed it down among some willows grown too near for comfort
on the old and fickle Brazos.
From our bedroom you could hear the highway
and on moonlit nights coyotes ripping road kill neatly from the bone.
One weekend per month he was at home.
We sat at evening by the river, watched the sun set fire to willows green
Sometimes he’d cry after his beer
never believed he’d be this old and this alone.
Five hundred miles of highway in his eyes where the only thing on radio was static.
He listened to the road noise from our bedroom
heard it howling through the marrow of his bones and knew
that even if he stayed he’d be alone.
So he called me from El Paso and he called me from Las Cruces
and he called me once from Phoenix, Arizona.
As he drove there were signs and there were warnings on the radio
of flash flood.
One hour east of Lancaster in the red Mojave Desert where the mountains in his
looked like butchered white men bleeding on their knees
he lifted his tired eyes to heaven like two moons of Uranus
and there across the carcass of the sky believed he saw the hand of God
start writing his parole.
He stopped his rig beside a dry arroyo where water once was flowing
felt the floating dead he carries in his body rolling over on their backs
to look and see with a child’s expectant eyes
the new moon.
Sitting in the cabin of his truck, the engine ticking
and the smell of grease softening the desiccated leather of his seats
he felt the desert suddenly split open with the ripe crack of a melon from Luling, Texas!
Then a fearful and a shuttering elation opened in his heart as if the world was ending.
Dry lightning in the distance looked like Jesus on a palomino pony come to save him.
But waves of river mud were also rising and he knew he could be drowned
forever buried under sand piled six feet high against dry runoffs in the desert.
All banks could be broken in another flash of lightning
giving way by force of water.
So he turned his rig around and started home.
Somewhere he got lost, drifting off the highway, found himself in Charlie, Texas
where the dawn comes on like peaches grown along the Wichita.
Thirty six hours without sleep, the dead within him washed with weeping
he parked his truck under the willows and saw me in a sun dress
There were nights I drove two hours to the Tired Moon.
I drove alone to dance with strangers.
Straps would fall from my shoulders, my hair would come undone.
If you hear this song and think you know me, if my number’s written
on a matchbook in your pocket
I’ll call it kindness if you keep it, if you keep it to yourself.