Copyright 2007 by Phillip Good

May not be printed or electronically reproduced without permission.


openbook.gif Prologue


When wild woods have found a way to outrun fences,

And hawks fly higher than a frightened gun,

Fleeing from hovering eyes and hands

Truth bursts through preconceptions,

Then I'll come . . . like a Navajo

Across the burning desert.


Nothing is satisfying:  Noises?

Dead brown-green images burnt in the retina?

The coastal hills are green and brown;

Just before twilight,

The sun paints the hills with chiaroscuro touches

And the eucalyptus blaze.

I watch the sunset (glimpses of it)

Through a mesh of branches.

I want something, I've never experienced before

. . . Oranges, apples?  Cookies raisins-in?

I came charging.  (English is boring and Latin is dead

and the song of the cookie-man runs through my head.)

. . . In the bins of avocados, spotted yellow gourds,

Humped and twisted, shiny and shellacked,

On the shelves of brand names,

Regular or jumbo, old not new,

The instant kind?


(You can run, run as fast as you can,

But you can't catch me . . .)


If it is not here, it may be there.

To the supervisor of my division, room 200:

I thank you for your attention,

Your time, and your forgiveness.

My trip will not entail important business.

I am content enough

And yet the Welfare State cannot imagine,

Could fulfill, I grant you, any reasonable request;

But cannot imagine:

New higher causes wait, new Helens in the western isles.


I came charging . . .

The saddlebags caught fire just outside of town;

Toilet articles dribbled the length of the road;

Car wheels crushed razor, canteen, and freshly toasted bread.

The rearview mirror fell off; the road was bumpy;

He took a wrong turn at night and buried the cycle in the sand.

Whimpered when it came time to look for a place to sleep,

Stumbled wearily from campsite to campsite

Looking for the right place.

Important to find the right place, not to forget

Anything; but he kept dropping, leaving things behind.

If he went back, it should be before he'd driven too far.

Turning back would be an adventure too.

He could not enjoy:

Scurried to lay out his bedroll,

Went supperless, unable to sleep because he was hungry,

Because he was afraid

Of being a trespasser, of being a victim.

He shut his eyes but the roar of the cycle persisted

While a filmstrip of the roadway unrolled continuously.

A sound!

An animal in the underbrush? Someone else, a man?

The stars sifted warily through the trees overhead;

The shadows did not move any closer.

"I will go on for one more day," he promised.


The next day, the desert road headed into the sun;

The glare from the stony flats seared his eyes.

The crash helmet, white and lined, stored the heat.

He stopped, wet the lining with a bottle of Coke,

And lay down beside the highway.

(Parsons and Barcus were for number one.  Wood was merely

unaware of others, unaware so much of him was others, his

conversations someone else's phrases, the words as little

theirs as his.  Though he knew the boundaries of his world,

the road's edge, the double solid lines one should not cross.)

The shadows gave the desert's colours context.

The inverted ocean's bottom writhed for fifteen living miles:

Whole fields of anemones between the pebbles,

Shadow of cholla where no cholla grew,

Life without form that invited hands to grope where eyes had been.

Wood wondered if he watched long enough,

If he would ever come to know,

Or if his first glances,

Colored by his past experience

Were in a mirror taken for a window.

The open view through unfocused light

Trapped a lizard

Shedding his skin on a jagged rock

A bird hunting him,

The shadow of the hawk's wings,

And the looming mountains.

Truth bursts through preconceptions . . .

. . Then I'll come, like an unshod Navajo across the burning desert.

The free ferry cut across the Gulf between marshy islets.

A cyclist in boots, black leather jacket, goggles

Back from the slimy beach, a final swarming of memories

Mounts his dented red cycle, the laughing message

"Jesus Saves" painted on the front fender.  Bugs

Attracted out of the dust

Sweep over the handlebars into his face.  Bug

Blood smears across Wood's cheeks and cakes the dust.

He leaves the oil cities Orange, Port Arthur;

Crosses the Sabine River;

Passes the rice fields, cotton fields, cane fields;

The rain begins just as the road widens.

He passes a dog, a colored man;

A horse leads a wagonload of cotton into Opelousas.

Speeds through oak-shaded streets, then

The highway Huey built through swampland

From Opelousas to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, along the Mississippi.

The rain comes down in sheets.

The cycle loses all contact with the road.

No place to stop on the highway

And no way to stop.  The cross winds

Threaten to blow him against the railings

or into the oncoming traffic.

Ridiculous: no way to stop;

The caked dirt dribbles beneath his undershirt.


The rain-swollen rivers thunder beneath the bridges.

A flock of Negroes crowd round to greet him.

Mademoiselle du Maupin, pigeons over Alexandria.

The town smells of perique and exhumed flesh, coffee and ripe fruit.

The cycle slips sideways in a failed U-turn.

A spray of oil mixed with water;

A cloud of steam from a muffler-scorched pant leg.

Three black faces, sullen and closed,

The only witnesses, other than Lafayette's statue.


He wheeled the two-banger for one block, then two.

Across the street, the entrance to the St Charles hotel,

A doorman sheltered under a long canopy,

Uniform embroidered with gold braid, and

A coat that fell long and heavy past his knees.

Wood unlatched one scorched and sodden saddlebag,

Strode into the lobby, wet and filthy,

Ripped trousers showing a dirty, gray expanse of leg.

"Yassuh, Yassuh, follow me."

Wood asked for a room with a view.

Would he pay then or when he checked out?

(The bellboy took his oil-smeared saddlebag.)

"When I check out," Wood said.


New Orleans 1960