Tamale lady

bus stopTamale lady knocks at the door,

waves, smiles. On the drive,

a paper bag steams in a two-wheeled cart,

the kind old people push to bus stops.


In winter, the sweet ones, with raisins,

hot and precious in foil,

do more than the hearth for the inside of a man.

In summer she makes them with peaches

from old man Rodriquez’s tree,

sunshine dripped with honey.


When her cart’s empty

before she goes home to work,

she reads a little book

at a bus stop on the Avenida.


droughtGrass burns blond.

Tree leaves droop.

Old men with gardens

douse azaleas with spouted cans.


Corn in the garden

died a while back,

stands skeletal

yellow, hard cracked.


People rush home

through brown haze to huddle in.

Evening, a hush falls along sidestreets.

Tire swings sway empty.

pulling carpet


underneath here, there must be a wheat penny,

a reassurance from the roosevelt administration

things will be all right and people, here and to come,

will have had children with truck-spring backs,

joints strong as steel,

and minds like wells filled with sweet, cool water


so far, rows of shark-tooth carpet strips

with foot molding jaws bite before they come up,

and again later in ratcheted, skeleton piles

thrown onto the refuse out back—

tarantulas in the sun like bad memories


decades of skin dust, carpet glue, dog hair,

fingernails, a light bulb, a capsule–

in a lipless hole, on a dusty bed of insulation

a hospital bracelet: “Ronnell James Harlan, 4/10/98,

newborn, mother, Katrisha Lorene”


strings of weave trail across the floor

to rolls at one end of the room—

old times, old faces lifted,

new times to form the room into a thing

useful and needful of people who make it


before the boss comes, I look into dog-stain corners,

under the roof incline, behind the knotty pine,

into the attic at either side, where a wheat penny

might have rolled after slipping from a pocket,

dropping from a dresser, falling from a child’s hand


new pad, new carpet, new ideas;

a room that smells of the modern age

and under this carpet or the next,

a wartime, red-painted zinc lincoln,

say 1943, when times were tough

and people bought things with coupons

First night of July

Sun-in-SkyBuzzing heat murdered

children’s squeals and shouts at noon.


Swings hang plumb to center,

chains and seats too hot to touch—

brittle grass, frying-pan asphalt.


At dusk, the kids peer out front doors,

turtle back where they came from.


Down the street, machine rattle and hum,

not a soul stirs, dogs pant under cottonwoods,

even cats cower under the shrubs.


Hammocks flutter in a hallway of front porches.


bridgeA funny little man with a bent back and one foot—

the other he lost in the “big freeze of ’83”

while drinking the last of his Sterno

and breaking rock with a can of tuna—

smells of wood smoke and burning tires.


He runs calluses through his John the Baptist wave,

and says the denim in his jeans

is greased with the handshakes he’s had

since he picked those pants up

at the Salvation Army.


He mutters as he listens

to the semis snap steel plates above,

in his hand, he holds cards with tattered edges,

and crayon pictures, memories, he says,

of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Father’s Day.


blackbird cloudstarlings rise

like smoke in a cold city

cat claws the window


branches, skeletal stiff,

grow lithe, buds sprout overnight

wind, storm, lightning, hail


two chinese bakers

sit in bright, spring sun, eyes closed,

dream of sparkling streams




the fifty-ninth minute slides into the hour

somewhere between arch of spinal column

and curve of hip and stumbles up

nervous, hands crossed behind its back

eyes turned down to the floor a little sleepy,

embarrassed, cheeks flushed

farm kid

he jerked about the hospital bed

like a moth in the bottom of a porch lamp


family had become strangers

pictures on the wall, more strangers

a retirement party, a wedding, a grandchild’s baptism

a paper clipping with his grandchild’s namefarm kid

and one more picture, another stranger,

somewhat familiar—a boy, floppy ears, narrow face,

bow tie in a one-room schoolhouse


the man in the bed, his eyes

free from worry, looked like those of the kid

for the first time in seventy years