Chief Willard Wells, almost always drunk--often on vanilla extract--would knock on my log cabin door at any hour of the day or night. Sometimes he had a black garbage bag full of freshly netted salmon to sell for booze money. Other times he wanted a ride into town, or back out past the marsh and down to his shack by the Fraser River. On one of those latter occasions the Chief, riding shotgun in my '54 Mercury flatbed, glanced at the stack of books between us on the seat.
“Books?" he exclaimed, running a hand through his black hair. "Books? The only book you need to read, son, is the Great Book of the Bush!" He said this with a sweep of his arm, indicating the marsh just off the road, and the Douglas fir-covered mountains rising straight up all around us in the late afternoon sunlight. Slowing down, I could see Mt Hope looming over its reflection surrounded by cattails in the marsh. Its peak, still capped with snow, glowed amidst a cluster of shimmering white clouds.
I pulled to the side of the road and shut off the engine. Chief Will rolled down his window. I rolled down mine. A breeze filled the truck with the scent of black cottonwood buds. The Chief pulled out a brown-bagged bottle, took a swig, and passed it to me.
old growth forest
each call of the raven
--published in Mariposa 35, 2016
"Jesus gave it to me!"
Dale pointed to an old clunker he had just parked on the steep dirt road leading up to my cabin. It was a Cadillac from the late 50's, primed for a paint job long forsaken, its dented chrome bumpers covered with rust.
I laughed. Dale smelled like an empty beer glass. A dozen of 'em.
"Who gave it to you?"
"Jesus!" Dale slurred. "Brakes shot, but hell, the price was right!" He collapsed onto the bottom porch step, and fumbled for a cigarette. I leaned against the rail.
a raven feather glistens
in the morning light
"Last night this old logger sits next to me at the pub," said Dale, watching his attempt at a smoke ring fade. "White ponytail, scraggly white beard. Born here, he claims, but I never seen him before. Seemed tired, like he's been tired forever. Can't get him to say much, so I end up telling my story--which you, my friend, know's a sorry one. The whole time he just sits there, 'casionally nodding, hardly touching his beer. Then, when I say I'm a logger too, but can't work 'cause I can't afford a car to get anywhere, he grins. Geezer grins. I was about to ask what's so funny, when he stands up and tosses a pair of keys on the counter. I thought he wanted me to check out his lucky charm. Carved cedar, man. Fit in my hand like I was the one worn it smooth over the years. When I looked up--bugger was gone."
a wild twisting chinook
hooked through the mouth
by a key ring
"A joke, right?" Dale continued. "I finish my beer--and his too, of course--and head outside looking for the guy. Straight off I see this banged up Caddy parked a ways down by the river. Kinda spooked me. I look up and down both sides of the street. Nobody, nowhere."
a chainsaw carved bear roars
"I'll be damned. The key fit, and the beast started up! Hallelujah! I've been driving around this mountain all night, thanking the good Lord for crossing that guy's path with mine. Once there was a siren. Y'hear it? Just before dawn, from somewhere below. Scary. Thought it was for me, for being behind the wheel. Hey, what was I gonna do? Sit there by the river and wait for my angel to maybe come back?"
a gull rides
a chum downstream
Dale flicked his cigarette butt and stumbled back to the car. I followed, trying to talk him into staying for a cup of coffee. He managed to climb into the Caddy by himself, and rolled down the window.
"Have a little faith, brother. I just came up here to share the good news. He's looking after me, he is." Dale arched his brows toward the clear, Douglas fir encircled sky.
"What makes you think it was Jesus?" I asked. "Maybe it was your karma, Dale. Your carma."
Dale gunned the engine coupla times, smiled. "Hell no. Had to be Jesus. That karma guy don't give me nothin'!"
the logging road's sharp turn
at the cliff's edge
--published in Modern Haiku 48.1, 2017
Is Where The Car Is
How on earth'd he do it?
The main thing in mind as I sit here in my eGolf, trapped by morning traffic at the northbound entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge. How'd he do it?
Should be concerned about the accident ahead. Instead, I mutter the usual litany of complaints--I'll be late, drivers here the worst, since when am I a commuter.
Even if I could, would I move back to my one-stoplight town by the Fraser River?
cedar raven cedar
First saw the guy back on Sunset. As I was passing his old Fairlane, he looked straight at me with tiny, dark eyes set close above a hooked nose--no expression whatsoever.
cedar raven cedar slowly
I was not the first to pass him, and in my rearview mirror I could see that I was not the last. Wasn't long before his car fell back from view.
cedar raven cedar slowly cedar
Yet here it is now--the same Fairlane, idling next to me. Staring at me, the same deadpan face.
cedar raven cedar slowly cedar coursing
The hell? Wasn't an accident after all. Our holdup, not the police cars flanking the empty grey Civic parked on the southbound side of the bridge.
cedar raven cedar slowly cedar coursing through
Of course. The looky-loos.
Here comes the helicopter, its shadow skimming across the brown headlands toward the bay.
The Fairlane--did it fall behind again? Or did it swerve into the swarm of traffic now racing ahead to make up for lost time?
Slipping into the slow lane, I take a deep breath and ride, ride the current up into the rainbow-arched Robin Williams Tunnel.
cedar raven cedar slowly cedar coursing through cedars
—published in Modern Haiku 49.2, 2018
—nominated for a Pushcart Prize