Another arm-load churns the trapped water.
The stove’s jacket invests a thermal glow,
circulating stored sunlight, years later.
Summers turned to snowy crust long ago
now wedges, gold-orange alder firewood.
And the stock-pot aromaticates,
savory chunks the children masticatre
chattering schoolyard gossip through their food.
Then Momma allocates the clean-up chores
while Dad sits back, index nail to his teeth,
deciding work’s unstructured load’s a bore
and, since his wife bespoke the urge to sleep,
promises another night of the drudge,
packing his bean with law’s illusory rules
believed to be compelling by the fools
who, lacking knowledge, swallow that foul sludge.
All work, he thinks, and no play dulls the blade
that five hours daily commute, full time Wall
Street and night school’scerebral muggings made
of what, once, Eden’s apple tripped to fall
now left behind as victims of new wars.
So glistening is the moonlight on the frost
as the broad pasture, in the Ford, is crossed.
Then, turning upstream, dozen miles, no cars
are met, and yet his first glimpse of an elk
as it dove down the stream bank to the right.
An older man, a hermit. Yurt’s warm spell
an herbal refuge from the State’s might.
A patronizing side-kick for the ride.
Good company while driving rough log roads
to where the sneaker-wave and the rip-tide
abut the Californicated coast.
“You know,” the driver said, “the portents bode
well since I’ve not seen elk in all my days
but did see one tonight, while on the way
to pick you up, as it leapt off the road.”
Just then, cresting a rise, they saw lots more.
A herd munched on a clear-cut’s fare beneath
the sparkling spectral moon’s crystalline wreath
which promised snow-fall surely was in store.
“It never rains but that it pours” he sighs
as, passing him a beer, the hermit grinned
out through his long gray beard with elfin eyes
and the car traced road’s track ’round gravelly rim
of vertical drop some hundreds feet down
to valley some actress was said to own.
The hermit told of driving off and groaned,
remembering one night’s return from town.
“The pick-up hung up in a Hemlock’s branch”
he said while staring out into the past.
“Ten hours twenty feet up don’t pass fast.
I thought I’d bought the proverbial ranch.”
So, chatting, swigging beer the miles wound down
and roads widened from gravel to hard tar.
They popped out of the hills to a coast town
and parked the auto across from the bar
whose owner was, that night, seventy-seven
so the town had turned out for the fete.
Whereas most nights it offered peaceful haven
this night it proved a hoppin’ scene, you bet.
The hermit once had often spentnights there
just slammin’ PBRs and talkin’ trash
to women who were charmed when he would flash
his smile. This night you couldn’t find a chair.
The driver, not a pushy sort, hung back
as old friends welcommed hermit, long not seen.
He bought a beer, then two more, tipped his hat
onto the back of his de-pressured bean
and found himself the object of the jibes
of an old regular, sheet-rock hanger,
not recognizing him from local tribes
of immigrated hippies and head-bangers.
With winks for the crowd he attended to
some xenophobic local ritual:
To NOT nose wrestle made a man a girl.
The driver made the red-neck quit first. “Guy
had never lost before” the hermit said
“You made a lot of friends, not backing down
when those ham-like hands took hold of your head
and he started to flog your face around
with his inflated, red potato-nose.”
The peace-pipes passed around the bar without
the locals’ paranoia bleeding doubt
and, twisted, tribute to the owner rose
to toasts about his cowboy past and how
he’d weathered fifty bouts inside the ring
and nobody messed with him, even now
though he was quiet, past remembering.
And winding up the party later on
the daddy-driver and the hermit split.
The sea-salt air had thickened, starting to spit
a sleety rainfall in the early dawn.

The car warmed up and they reviewed the night.
They laughed over outrageous womens’ lies;
who sought relief from macho-donkey guys,
and swore to deliver of their delights.
His second dozen elk the driver’d see
as they drove East into the Coast Range, home.
The herd surrounded one huge Wapiti
then scattered off while he remained, alone.
He glared at the two men then turned around
and for at least a mile he proudly strut,
the swinging, soft-ball sized roots of the rut
presented rearwards as he traced his ground.
© James T. Risdon 1991


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