working the redwood gateway
Debris under the overpass,
dust-road deadend & the huge
graffiti, “Open Your Eyes.”
I jump out of the car, place
a phonebook at the foot of
every mailbox, check the time.
What holds now?
10 PM a man stands
at a gas pump with a push cart,
doesn’t know where he is, tries
to bum a cigarette, & I
just keep handing out detritus.
These towns like a self-erasing
page, the redwood gateway—I
just want to get paid. Still
milling, trees give way
to thousand acre vineyards,
warehouse subdivides for seasonal labor.
That deadlight fillingstation gaze,
say, God bless, but wanting only
the cold, hero’n freeze, wool-mouth pills—just to
visit that place again. Someone overheard
my brother angry on an Oakland street calling
a cop to report a minor theft just one
night before swat came down on Ed who opened
fire even though a sniper already had a mark
on him (he went out quick as if
he’d put the bullet to his own head).
So the next day a couple men with autos,
thinking that he’d snitched, went to get my brother
bit, to smack-slap his body into ribbons.
But he got word of danger & left the Bay
to work a while up North with me
where place is possessed
of an almost perceptible pulse.
My brother & I walk & work off one more
pallet of books, banal-awing
summits of newly listed doctor’s
offices & flophouse motels.
We feel the sea breeze come in, cleanse
mill-dust & firefighting flame
retardant from the air & ruffle our Tshirts
this evening, while we put more books down
on the one dozen houses of the Cahto nation—kids
scratch dirt with shoes, full-gorgeous
women say don’t have a phone anyhow,
a guy jokes goodnatured hey,
something to burn now, drinks a miller light,
& the job is done. We have
given all that we had
to this rubble: now—red-wine
ecoconscious housewives, & pros still
backing it up in Oaktown
trying to make it hard to get inside,
& one more kid bust open outside some rental car, all
taking what has been apportioned them.
with sloan, in poughkeepsie, new york
Youngling the sunglow
flush. Eyes tired.
Trying to get out of bed.
Yard frost out the window, fire pit,
a red canvas chair. The clang & rattle
of the radiator coming on again—
you give a little yawning stretch.
I take some bottles out to the recycling.
A man is already working a spray gun on the building.
All four stories in two days.
Back inside you are getting dressed, & I
rub your back & undo your progress.
We sit still a moment hear
the hiss of dull green paint
new over an old white-board frame. You check
the time & we of a sudden rustle & rush.
Drawing away from the day
as we compose it, answering
to so many predictions; just out the door
I am caught
by a mockingbird imitating
the screech of a broke-down car braking.
The good surprise of winter making
my hair entirely brittle, still wet from the shower,
good, to make mind over
to the actual hour
of a world recalling itself.
The garage next door’s a thicket
of garbage tumbling into crusts of snow,
cruddy archipelagoes that embranch & swirl in leaves.
A dog named Woody digs about,
fifty geese fly overhead,
& the high flat blare of a radio comes on
behind a kitchen window—
all of it reminds me
of growing up in prefabs up
in pine country, of my old playmate Joe,
cutting trail now in the Tahoe national forest
the couple part time hours that they give,
& of my brother getting tased
sixteen times by cops in the East Bay, manic & cocaine-sick—
& somehow all this
makes me miss California,
the land, at least, the one
part of my home-state I’m not afraid to see.
It is approximately twelve hours until
I see your particular legs
again, small knees, hamstrings
firm feeling length of you,
belly breathing lifting beautifully,
high whine of the rafters,
& the wind knocking hard the hall door shut.
Vincent Hiscock grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and the northern reaches of the San Joaquin Valley in northern California. He currently lives in Ithaca, NY, where he is a Lecturer in the Department of English at Cornell University. His poetry is published in the current issue of The Cincinnati Review, forthcoming in Poet Lore, and has been featured in A Poem a Day, an art book, in performances at the Institut für Raumexperimente and the Neue Nationalgalerie, and in an installation at the Belgian art museum Mu.ZEE. He’s thankful for the council & comradeship of his mentor Alice Fulton.