The old woman, rolling away
on a stretcher, clawed the air,
leaving goo an inch deep
in her frying pan, a sink
and counter conquered
by crusty plates, countless
bottles, and the odor of cat deep
in the carpet. I had once
stared at heart-shaped leaves
of the coleus, timeless,
my grandmother timeless too
as she washed dishes in a patch
of sunlight before my mother
returned. The dog and turtle
at home shared the secret
with the toad, the swallow,
the columbine, the tiny creek
in the neighborhood, before
I was called back and scolding
broke the spell. I was afraid
of the war like everyone, sure
that it would drag on
until my turn came, and I forgot,
waking to the alarm clock
so that I could see my father home
from work before I got ready
for school. I believed then
that we had one chance
to forget the clock,
that we could conquer those
who fed us time--we could
because we knew we were
a family that included
the turtle and the dog, the reed
and the minnow, and we could see
the secret in each other's eyes,
gazing hard a long time
because we had to.


Shadows feel through the window
past reflected branches swaying
before his face in the glass. His eyes
follow tiny blackened stars of blood

on the concrete. He pulls his salvaged
wagon out to where the valuables wait--
a mirror, houseplants, stuffed animals,
a stray hand--and stares, timeless, at himself,

the journey already beginning, the dirt
peeling away from the street
as if the cells of everything
were sloughing off into the wind.

Everyone is moving. Back rent unpardonable.
No one allowed to squat on the lawn. No one
allowed to run around. A new owner, a new
manager, and a thirty percent raise in rent.

The old woman who had pinned his Nina, Pinta
and Santa Maria to her frig with a strawberry
magnet might steer a shopping cart
out the door, and he could curl up

below the carriage, dragging the cart
forward like a turtle, his shell heavier and heavier
as they trek down the alley. He goes back inside
and curls, legs up, on his bed, then ferries a Matchbox

ambulence in a stray sandal to bundles of wash,
the Canary Islands. Through the window, he sees
a bus lurching forward, floating into a cross-street
two lights away, vanishing downtown....



Settling into seventy five, he glanced at almond orchards,
the rows between evenly spaced trees slanting south,
south-east, or east as his eyes shifted focus. The trunks
of the nearest trees floated, the orchard dropping to earth

exactly as his car passed, like a net falling short of him.
Another dry river. A night heron, crooked thumb, jutted
from a dead limb in the river bed. He thought of loose hands,
worn out, single gloves plucked from melon boxes

and clothespinned to the conveyor. The case sealer
crushed slow hands that struggled to pull jammed
boxes clear. Anorexia's calm fingers inserted coins
into the slot, pressed a button, and scooped up

a soda, just before she turned, slid boxes
to one side, and rested a .45 against her husband's head,
a hand splattered with mud as it slapped
the gun away. Her husband had abandoned her

near town, and she trudged twenty miles through the fields
to the compound. They used to bet about who would kill
whom at the "Okie Flat" packing shed. Frank once smoked
after the conveyor broke down again while others loaded

by hand--wasn't in his job description. Frank was found
dead in a car by the road, dents in his skull the size
of a police baton, the case "inconclusive." Steve murdered
Anorexia, cutting her up like a grape stalk and burying her

in his big red toolbox. Everyone silently suspected something
was wrong when he hadn't shown for work on Sunday--
time and a half. Nor would Fifi do the shuffle for the ladies
while waiting his turn to shower in that outhouse

with a shower nozzle. Fifi had been released
from the "vocational institute" until he was beaten
and raped repeatedly. Driving by the last gas station
for miles, he imagined the land without people, the canals

almost empty, the floodplain of five rivers in wet years
extending from the mountains to north of Tulare,
subsiding into networks of marshes and shallow lakes,
webbed by teeming sloughs and channels, a refuge

from dunes and alkali sinks for birds along the flyway.
Once, while he pissed, so drunk he could hardly stand,
he teetered above the body of a great blue heron,
its neck a question mark, the wings extended

in the dirt. He was done as an activist after losing
his job at the big box store for chewing gum
and not coming in on his days off--he knew it
as he neared houses of cardboard thrown together,

just as he recalled again the ash tree
in the compound, a tree dreamed
in childhood that revealed a fate no one
wanted to believe, the trunks

of loaded fruit trees blending
into one as the sun raced
on the horizon, the last light logged
on the walls of the shed.

Open a punished door.
Crawl away from an accident.