Suburbs, Cheyenne

Whatever happened to Kimi, I wonder?
The kid across the canyon from us
in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains.
We never saw him when he wasn’t making surfboards,
their white and yellow stripes
bright as Christmas wrapping.

I’m not sure he even surfed,
but a builder, in his garage,
sure hands laying fiberglass on polyurethane foam.

In southern California folks ease
Buicks and VWs into carports
after doing time on the Santa Monica Boulevard,
and when they take them out,
dreams attach.
They come spooling like coaxial cable.

It takes me back, these corn maze sidewalks
on Saddle Ridge: block after block,
the perfume of someone’s laundry
side-venting into the street,
tidied lives, tapped up, tucked up
against one another.

And how I love them in retrospect, the way
I love big data, the sprawl off Highway 80,
close enough to smell sweet-crude,
Emerald City winking of refinery towers,
turrets topped with flame.
There are football stadiums
that hold more people than this city does.
We’re in the nose-bleeds:
by the school house dark,
a night-shift cop, cruiser gone.
House dark, shades down, house dark, another.

But then blazing, on a leatherette couch
where the garage door would be, some guy
with a video console, eyes fixed like a ferret’s
his eight or nine-year-old brother
on the lawn with an electric gun
flashing pinball lights, gunning me.
Yeah, you got me, kid.
But I’m a poet.
I got you first.

Getting the test back and discovering I am .5% black

Not enough to make a difference, perhaps —
and if it did, what would the difference be?
I am the near-beer of the black community,
which is to say, barely there.
An online book peddler hasn’t heard the news.
They send offers for heirloom editions
titled Your African-American Heritage.
It’s a proud history, they tell the black me

though, according to family rumors
my African-American heritage is the possibility
a paternal great-great-great grandfather
once owned slaves in Guadeloupe:
he is far enough gone to distance from,
close enough to make it real.

In some seller’s database, then, in this wide
uncomfortable place where Plymouth Rock
landed on me, I’ve been co-opted.

When we hung around
the Oakland Dyno-Burger
they didn’t seem to care
I was the only white guy for a mile
in every direction / it was all
warm smiles, bro hugs, fist bumps
like I was a mascot, a leucistic bird
from the hood, wrong-wayed, at sea.
As if it didn’t make a difference
and if it did, what would the difference be?

More than we’d think, or care to think
between our blood and our experience:
we bleed red, yes, but I bleed less.
More than I want, perhaps, but less.

The Bear in the Buckwheat

In Cape Breton, perhaps, some fiddler
could tell me what it means:
it’s the only place I’ve tracked the phrase —
a reel by that name that plays in the Dungreen Set
after “The Primrose Lasses”.

And for him, I’m sure,
there was no connection
when he offered up the line
one morning in a sales meeting,
off-hand, slightly abashed.
He said, “So I told him where
the bear goes in the buckwheat.”

I know very little about bears
but I do know it’s
always the imagined bear
that disturbs our sleep.
The real bear roots in the furze,
tunes out the hiker,
and then turns away
to his termites and his truth.

The image remains from that day —
the animal’s brown flanks
disappearing among the grain,
the stalks shuffling shut behind,
the rooks wheeling in the prairie sky,
and the field left
undisturbed for memory.

For Jeff B, dead of a heart attack