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tearing the rag off the bush again

Day of Questions

Previously a tire shop     
a converted kiosk
in the middle of a parking lot
has the best potato and egg tacos
on Marbach.  It sounds simple.

“Where’d you get the walking stick?” I ask.

“Disneyland       This place called Africa. 
No one else got one, I wanna be different.
A lot of black owned businesses
they got the same kind. All they canes the same
 So everybody got them.   All made in Mexico,
you know one person carve one section and
pass it along to the next guy, so all the tigers
got the same damn eyes.”

“They’re hand carved?”

The waitress is from Saltillo. 
The cooks, the waitresses, everyone
works for the sign
Taqueria de Saltillo.
In a vacant store front window 
a white candle burns in Mexico.
The streets lonesome of some voices.
The candle burns for sons and daughters. 
Burns for their safety.  Their refuge.
Their home.  Their coming.
Their journey.

The waitress interrupts, “Sir, can I take your order?"
“Yes, give me your number girl?”
The waitress smiles so big
he’s smiling
I’m smiling
she offers a polite silence
not her number.

“Allright I mess you all up, right, I did. 
Ok, now seriously, I’ll take four potato
and egg tacos, flour.”

The waitress returns to the kitchen.

“You divorced?”  I ask.

“Well yes,” he says, “yes.”
(“Yes”      implies a false finality      his deeply locked eyes, the secret.  We all fight this
desperate loneliness.  An empty stomach.  A meal eaten, one plate.  One glass. The
company of knife and fork.          Nobody forgets any of the touching.  We were heroes of
making due, getting by, picking up and moving on.  What was left behind, filled novels
and boxes.  It was in the cracked sky      the clear eyes     the quick smile     somewhere
that smile said something         we’d barely escaped the drowning.)

“Right now, she got Tina in Florida
I can’t get anywhere near her.  Even
if I could afford it.”


I am thirsty.  A beautiful young lady      reads a book at the cash register.  This is unusual.

“What are you reading?” I ask.

Husna reveals the cover of the book without speaking; the title facing me:  Emily
Dickinson’s Collected Works.

“She’s fantastic.”
“I know.”
“What does this taste like? 
Is it a juice or nectar?”
Husna lifts the bottle into the light as a jeweler and reads,

“Mango puree, water, sugar.”
“Ok, sounds good.”
(Pakistanis own the convenience store at the beginning of a cu de sac subdivision,
Fairfield.  No warning signs declare  that pop- up book houses are slapped next to cracker
jack house.  Sure the colors change.  The street names.  Camelot Garden.  Rock Springs.
  Castle Creek.  Valhalla Estates.  Ox Daisy.  Andromeda Vale.  What does any of that
mean?  Without the numbers, we’d end up in each other’s living rooms sharing stores.
  On Thursdays          a truck with homeland vegetables arrives for a produce aisle that lasts
four days:  eggplant        kafir leaves        dill         gourds         roots of all sizes colors
textures.  On Thursdays          the beer tubs are drained and moved to the side for a
market of fresh vegetables and spices.  Women in saris     clean men with belts and
straight pants           maybe a manicured moustache or two      Starcrest and Loop 410.
No kidding, this is America.)

I ask “May I rent a movie. 
Something mythical.”

“How’s this?”

Husna does not charge for the DVD.  I walk home to watch ChaalBaaz. 

(I am elated      exactly as Los Angeles, extravagant, reflective clothing and convertible
cars worth a whole village.  Unfortunately it is a promotional affair.  The cars        the
beautiful people        the elephants        the mountains        sitar loop over and over.  My
forearm wounded but bandaged       the bone drilled       a stainless steel screw in the
hand.  The vulnerable monotony of Demoral.  The wound, eight years old, finally became
unbearable.  Now, I am able to afford the operation.  I am not whining.  It can take a
whole lifetime to reach the breaking point, it came early for me. I count myself lucky.
When I return to the store        Bahaar, her brother, stands behind the register.)

“Do you have another movie,
this is just advertisements?” I ask.

“Actually, no sir, they are
all alike.”

Bahaar turns to the movie rack and grabs another.

“I love ChaalBaaz. 
I give it to you.  A gift.”

“Is it a movie?”
“No, they are just
advertisements.  See, all of
these are the same.        The
people do not return the
movies.  If I call the people
with the movies          I will
humiliate them.  What can I
do?  My boss says, ‘Let God
be God.’”
Bahaar smiles a gift
a cardboard box
with silver elephant wrapping paper.

The Last Time I Use Sign Language


The shed is empty.  My skin crawls.  The hinge is snapped.  Lock gone.  The compressor
gone.  The router       the drill       the nail gun       the saw       gone.  This is the third time
my tools have been stolen in three months and not even at the same place.  An aching
smile      quickly remembering weeks hungry for the extra forty a week, working. 

8:38 AM

The homeowner is a woman.  Dignified and elegant       this is what joins the mannerisms
together        it would be hard work to please her and not unrewarding, 

Did you know there was a human shit
in the wine room.  Two actually?
She says as if they are mine.  Both placed in the corners.

I say,     How did that happen, I was here
               Saturday and Sunday.   I keep this
               place locked up, we haven’t had any
               break-ins.  Wait a second, I drove by
               last night, 10:30, 11:00.  There was
               a car here.

Was it Delvin’s car?  A Cadillac?
No, it was gray.
She stops looking into the air; woman-gut taunt for she has reasoned,

Which one of the kids wasn’t there
last night?  Was it a Mercedes?
I don’t know.
(It is quiet.)  I say, Well, let’s take a look at
       this cabinet, do you want a matte finish?  
      Maybe semi, or gloss?”

9:11 AM

The two cleaning ladies describe,
You workers, nasty.  Uh huh, take a dump at the drop of a
dime.  Now I bag the little turds up.  I put them on my
boss’s desk so he knows I’m not bullshitting.  I get ten
dollars a bag.

10:53 AM

The cop is grown but younger.  I get this a lot now.  You know     sadly      he’s scared.
It’s the ape in us, which makes mine something that says confident, a pheromone.  But I
let him know, “Sir” is how I will call him.  He does all the driving,

Well I’d go look for the compressor
in the pawn shops, try Walzem, Rittiman,
and 35.  If you can prove that it is yours
with a SERIAL NUMBERS from a receipt
you can call Home Depot or check your CREDIT
CARD RECORDS.  We’ll take it off the shelf
and you can get it back.  It takes a long time.  

He smiles at the inevitability of justice and erosion. We enjoy the geology of the process.
Now you have the right to get the scene dusted for
prints.  But I can tell you from experience there
isn’t anything here.  The wood doesn’t hold prints.
You can still get the shed dusted if you want, that is
your right.
8:00 AM 

I work non-stop for three months, seven days a week, seven to seven at my first job and
evenings, sheet-rocking Paul’s house until twelve.   Work that could not be slept through
or put off.  It is time to finish or accept an eternity of small details.  Time runs together
during exhaustion.  There is no escape       only the surety that your eyes will remain
open:  devoured by the sinewy muscles of direct sun light.  The body awakens
accustomed to Doing and needs little instruction.  Quite often, I find myself not even
thinking, yet there is the body       cutting sheet-rock        taking measurements
scrapping out the house.  There,
       those worn-out hands Do their thing       two stringy legs with enough will to run
forever.  This is how you wake from five or six hours of closed eyes.  Like you never quit
same dirty jeans        same work shoes.  A prison built by me.  If the mind revolts?   If the
body revolts?  We have the cure        morning coffee        I will not! entertain that kind of

8:09  AM

I walk down the street to the convenience store across from the Bun N’ Barrel.  Austin
Highway is a large busy street with four lanes and wide shoulders.  Of course, one truck,
far off.   I’ve crossed this street my whole life        plenty of time.  I cross the oncoming
lanes.  The truck is still several blocks off.  I have two lanes left to cross.  I hear the truck
throttle.        I sink into my spine, cause I don’t have…
I’m tired.
I don’t want to run.
I will not be intimidated by a truck on the street I’ve been crossing as long as I’ve been
alive.  This is my town.

I do not blink at the accelerating truck.  As my heel sets down BBBBDDDDDDBBB
BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBB.  Chevy screams a breath from me at
sixty miles an hour.  I still do not look at him as I raise my arm high        saluting one
Red brake lights lock in a cloud of burnt rubber smoke.  My adrenaline hits the base of
my balls.  I know        death turns around. A beautiful and impossible three point turn. I
face him cause the crazies        never show your back. 

A parked car is just to my right.  I edge behind the car in case he’s going to run me over.
It is bright ungodly August 8 o’clock sun at ninety-five degrees with humidity you have
to chew through, yellow jackets to sip.  Through his window he yells,
You little shit.  You piece of fucking shit.
I’m going to kick your ass.
Man you are in a truck. 
I’m just walking across the street.

He gets out of his truck.
Come here pussy. You fucking piece of shit.
I’m going to you, fucking shit.  Kick the fuck
out of you.
I know how far I can get with this space. 
You fucking little shit.  You little fucking shit
bitch.  Pussy.  Fuck.  I’m going to beat your
fucking ass on this street.
Now I am scared and everything turns stone as time slows. I clench my hands. It is a
good day. 
I’m not scared of you mother fucker. 
What did you say little shit?  I’m not scared
of you either.  You fucking piece of shit.
YOU fucking shit.  I’ll kick you ass to hell.
Good cause you’ll be there soon.

The hottest bolt of August.  His hand darts to his hip       a gun holstered on his hip. 
I am in the parking lot across the street,
headed to the convenience store.
His fierce skull turns on his chest. 

8:11 AM

I’m inside the convenience store.  Safe.  Safe as glass feels.  Safe as hunted feels.
I need a phone that man has a gun.
I need the cops.
White, everyone turns white, there are about four of us secretly thanking the end for
being so predictable.  I stare out the wall of windows        his truck warbles in the heat
evaporating, he drives off.  The cops never arrive.

8:38  AM

I leave the store.  The customers are relieved.  No one asks a thing.  A slight suspicion
that someone is trying to murder me      not intentionally, but nonetheless I get a little
nervous.  When is the breaking point?  When is enough, enough?  Is it will?  Am I
willing this patience?   A calm amnesia to obliterate the bombings.

This Kind of Right Is Habit Forming

Max was on Paul’s porch again. 

“Hello sir,” I say.
 “God almighty don’t call me sir.”
“Max, how are you?”
“Hollywood!  You got one of those fancy

Eagle hands him a pre-rolled.
“They’re stealin my electricity      I don’t got
nothing, not a lick of it.  Electricity all that’s
left and they stealin it.”

Max was knocking on Paul’s door off and on for months. 
“Paul, you talk with the landlord because I
don’t have a phone        nor the patience.”
Max is eighty-two. These circumstances had stuck themselves real good.  We were
thinking he was losing his mind, like a bunch of us, slouch backed and grumbling.  Since
his wife died, Max was over at all hours knocking on the door telling Paul,
“They’re stealing the electricity.”
“Check under my bed.  Ferny and some
faggot are sucking dick under my bed and I
can’t sleep.  Check under my bed.  Serious,
take a look.” 

We walk to his house, it’s the same thing.  A house so full of old soup bowls and stacks
of empty cat food cans.  You couldn’t put a sheet under the bed let alone two full grown
lovers.  It was like that.  We didn’t want to call attention to the fact that we didn’t believe
him.  You can really drive someone crazy that way         I should know that real good. 

Max’s face was cut and scabby in crisscross patterns.
“What happened to your face?”
“Does it look bad?”
“It looks fresh.”
“They steal my electricity.  Now they stole it
from my bike light.  I was riding home last
night and I couldn’t see a thing without that
ole light.  They steal anything!  I couldn’t
see a thing.  Poof       the light went right
out.  It was real busy         real dangerous.
Those people in their cars don’t care, they’ll
hit you and leave you, young or old.  They
don’t care.”

His blue eyes pierce        I know they don’t care.
“They don’t have any respect, young or old.
Me and my wife, God bless her, we stuck
together.  We married in Houston and
moved here forty-seven years ago.  Back
then San Antonio, shit Texas real
prejudiced.  The Mexicans say, what you
with that no good lazy nothing of a man?
And the whites say, what you doin with that
no good Mexican?   But me an her we stuck
through it, thick and thin.  We always had
each other to trust        yes when it comes
down that’s all there is         so it never
mattered how others got along        or what
they thought of our getting.”
“Some say, why some say, I’m the richest
man in the world.  Yes there is a rumor goin
round that I’m the richest man in the
He let the pause go.
“Well you hear anything?”
“Maybe they just waiting to tell me, cause, I
don’t got two to rub together, but I believe
them if they ever come.”

He smiled, waiting for me to tell him,

“Max, you are the richest man in the world.”


We are painting Paul’s house.  Glass breaks and continues to break, Paul rolls his eyes
and we walk around the corner.  Max stands in the window with a hatchet.

“I’ll get this motherfucker over here.  Ferny
is the laziest son of a bitch in San Antonio.
He can start by fixing this window right

Max breaks out the edges of the glass with the hatchet.

“Max don’t hurt yourself.”
“I need new windows in this house.”

The sound of breaking glass       garbage truck exhausts down the street        the whistles
of the brakes        the whistles of the men riding on the bumper        the soft concussion of
bags and hydraulics      the whistling of the neighbors.


The next day, I return Paul’s caulk gun.  We move his drums into the van.  Glass begins
to break again.  Neither Eagle or I can take it. 

“Max there is a different way
to change out those windows.”
“Ferny is the laziest son of a bitch in San

“Ferny’s in jail.”

Max busts the windows out with the hatchet.
“Go head.  Go head and look.”
We do.  There are two black and white televisions tuned to static, a radio crackles
between stations.  There is no relief from this frequency until I unplug them.  His
blackened sandal is full of calm, black blood.
 “Hey its much nicer than the back house,” Paul says.
Max smiles.
“Yes it is.”
I pour him some water from a kitchen sink full of broken glass. I wash out the cup and
serve him a prayer full of water, while we wait for the ambulance          Max says,        
“Yes.  I will.  I will.  I will.”
The house      condemned. Max         condemned to the State hospital.  I see him in my
mind, beaten up        in his old clothes         the cooling autumn sun, grisly and fighting.
a dirty lawn umbrella        a chair          two cinder blocks for a table
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