Interstate 40

For Charles Bukowski

You already have your plans
your image of the women coming to you
and used to the water
you smell salt in the air
and money
when you close your eyes
and you decide to come

You pack your toothbrush
you try it on your friends
you stop for cigarettes in a gas station

And it takes you coming out again
      the wind
      the way the trucks pass

I think how you stand there
feeling for your wallet or your breathing
striking a light then
as you step down off the curb

They do it the same way in the movies
first with the wind
and then
      a Greyhound sign
      a kid with a botched haircut
      and a dufflebag maybe
      two girls seen only once
      laughing and turning away
      outside the terminal
a drunk and his paper suitcase
get tagged and separated
      one ticket apiece
someone puts his last nickel
in the pinball machine

They get it right
      the producer
      the director
thin as it is and sad as it is
they get it right

And we sit there
watching the places we start from 
the places we wind up in
      sooner or later
pass over us
and no one blinks
no one wakes up afterwards

Everyone but everyone
a moviegoer
Even the drunk great once
at following the hero and the waving grass
at stepping over the derelict
with the rest of us
Before the bottle took him
and the fog inside him rose
and left him a six-part 
ticket to the coast
and forty maybe fifty cents
      The westbound express
      is now boarding passengers
      at gate five
Places everyone

It was 
just like in the movies
the way I remember it
There was hardly anything
left of him then
except for the eyes
      except for the way he sat there
      with the light on him
      looking out
      and me across the aisle the whole time

"It all comes easy to him
the storefronts and railroad crossings here
the lumber yards
car bodies 
it all comes easy"
But for me
this is how it is in the towns
The children run
and you pass them
At the crossroads
      women's faces most of them
      turning away from you
      inside the glass
      outside the glass
      the same
I have never found it easy

I find it the way it is
the land like a flatiron there to here
the towns small
and broken at the hinges
      and wind
      and too much light
all of it out of our reach now anyway
no matter what my friends tell me
who rub their hands together
and the dust escapes them
who walk through looking at scenery

I have no respect for the land I think
I think of you
shielding your eyes when you travel
the sun at noon
standing on the broken ridgelines

"Half chalk" you think
"half fire
standing like that..."
But you go on following electric wires
letting your eyes glaze
      your weight
      shift a little
and when the weather changes
you watch the Indian beside you
the one with the crewcut and bow tie
fold his hands

He's made the trip before
      this Indian
or his uncle has
or his sister

      Forgetting the hawk
      the shadow where their horses go to water
      forgetting the slap of the wind
      and the broken rock standing like that
      they pack overnight
      and make their way here with you

they all come here to California
where everything 
stays close to the heart
everything works
      so they think
and they come
I know the way they come to it finally
leaving the smell of sweat and alcohol behind
      the uneasy breathing
They roll their magazines
and step down blinking
in their new sunglasses
they get picked up
or walk toward town against the wind
in pairs

And when I look again
cypresses and redwoods cover them
girls with copper earrings
      lemon groves
      fire in the hills
(if they're lucky)

I know
I have been here ten years now
doing what they all do when they need to eat
or stop for a smoke
or be remembered

I check the mail
put the water on for coffee
      find my way downtown
I come home at night
and open up my curtains over
California palm trees
"And when it's like this"
      I think
"I could come to it still
      the way they do
      the way you do
all heart and teeth"

But after ten years
the suntan oil and chlorine and success
run in me like a river
cheap thrills cheap thrills on signs
burning under the offramps
      acres of carpeted hallways
      doors with numbers on them
      and regret
something like regret always part of it
come morning

It weighs too much with me
the traffic and the leaden air
      the way my neighbors work at it upstairs
      with the lights on and the TV going
all this time
and it never changes

There's a swimming pool in Burbank
      like they say
a yacht
a white sand beach in Venice
lettuce in the desert
And in Hollywood a man I admire
stumbles in his bedroom
undoubtedly drunk again
and I think
and his arms around it 
and the wind in it
making something for his middle age and mine"
while people pull up in their cars outside
      and park
      and walk away
while I sit up half the night
with a light on still
and curtains blowing
listening to the palms outside my window
bend and rattle
      and it weighs with me

It weighs with me
the way you'd imagine

William Timberman