Wolverine and White Crow, Motivations, Insurrection and Resurrection
WOLVERINE AND WHITE CROW
Piss-legged, drag-assed khakis tucked into jump-boots,
a sleeping-bag coat torn by river-bank blackberries—
parks himself across on the bench opposite the man
writing at a riverside picnic table. Clears his throat:
Asking you a favor—guess my age.
Thirty-eight this year, okay. Ask me a question,
any question. Know I'm Indian, yeah?
Montana. Damn Indians, all they know is how
to do one thing: drink. Okay, here's the joke.
How do you track an Indian? Go on, guess—
I'm listening. No? Put your ear to the wind
for the sound of the guy crying, Hey bro, I'm thirsty.
He unstraps a sweaty watchband, pushes the watch
across the table. Digs one pocket for change—nickels,
pennies, a dime—pours them around the watch.
Three knuckles are bloody, the forearm protruding
from his sweatshirt scored with long cuts, some scabbed,
some fresh. He parts the midnight hair over his eyes:
Hey bro—another favor: drink with me? Take
that watch for a dollar or two, go up to Hop Sing's
and get us a beer. You got to get it, bro,
Hop Sing won't dispense to me, damn Indian.
So ask me a question, I'm listening.
Only know how to do one damn thing—
He raises two fingers, points at a clutch of children
in a wading pool. Cocks his thumb, cradles one arm
like a gunstock, squints through an invisible scope.
The neck tightens, pulling his lip into wolverine snarl;
then rifle-recoil. Then the benign gaze of a full-time drunk.
My first rifle? Pellet gun. Plinking quail. Plink
the rancher's chickens when they strayed. One day
saw this hippie thumbing on the highway
while I was beating through sagebrush. Thought,
Why not? Just a bigger sort of target. Didn't guess
I'd score at that distance, but plink—he claps
his leg like a big horsefly nailed him, Ow!
Goddam Ow! No idea who ambushed him.
So I see I got a gift to sell to Uncle Sam.
Groomed as a marksman, flown to Kuwait. Sniper duty
plinking Saddam's waterboys wading the dunes. Their hair
black as his, heads poking out at sunrise in the crosshairs.
They don't fall to be found, pocketed like quail, they fall
away behind dunes, unconfirmed kills. He can hear
their water-cans leaking through the sand of his dreams.
Push the shirt up my arm. Farther. You got
to push, bro, this other arm's broke. Yeah,
see that? Dog soldier. That's the mark,
like a crosshair, north east south west,
grandfather's four directions. Cut it myself.
I'm a killer and I'm hurting. I can see you're scared,
a quail in the sage—don't know which way
to run. No fear, bro, my woman outranks me.
Traded my rifle for Uncle Sam beans and cheese.
He's got a warehouse in Montana where
our women line up to change bullets into beans.
He wants the white man to rouse himself, take coins
and wristwatch, raise him by his good arm to see Hop Sing
about a canister of eight percent oblivion. He wants
the invisible woman to trade him back one bullet full
of all the water telescoped in the desert to plant
beneath his wolverine chin. He wants a quail to claw
his eyes, a mother to say No, a grandfather to sing
West South East North, raising burnt sage in his palm.
Hop Sing's is two blocks south. Drink a beer
with me or walk me home, I'm hurting.
This park's a graveyard where clouds bury
old water. Don't turn round, bro,
the black and whites are talking about us—guess
Hop Sing told them I was on the way, damn Indian.
A police cruiser idles across the street. It's a good day
to walk away, the white man thinks. Then hands back
the watch he has bought, and helps Wolverine to his feet.
My woman outranks me. Should I snipe her?
Yes or no. Tell me my mother says No, tell me.
Can you feel the shotgun pellets in my shoulder?
Like stars in the river of grandfathers. Go on
and touch them, bro, keep your hand there—
When their feet reach the edge of the park, jump-boot
and sandal, black and whites bracket them. "Hold up,
chief," one blueshirt says. Another bends to his shoulder-radio,
hand on holster. "Hands out of pockets. Sit on the curb.
Name?" The white man expects to hear Wolverine;
the answer is White Crow, Leroy. Date of birth? 1967.
Home? The riverbank. The blueshirts ask the white man
the same questions; the radio pronounces him free to go.
"Walk away, professor," the blueshirt advises. It's sunny,
mayflies unregulated as a drunk sniper's thoughts blow east.
The writer walks north to his car, the black and whites
separate, east and west, and Leroy White Crow,
too thin for his jump boots, wobbles south.
His father is jailed two counties south for stabbing
a logger in the cheek; he could use a visit.
Somehow Leroy must get there—burrowing
through roadside nights like Wolverine, or floating
just above Interstate 5 fog like White Crow—
and he will. Even if his good arm breaks
against some windshield, even if he's knocked
out of piss-legged khakis by a logging truck
and reduced to a cloud of mayflies over a ditch,
he will go south to bring drink to his father's lips.
In the room where life turns into books
he singles out the word motive. Now
that nothing moves but his head, this noun
thumbs his neck where nerves are fused,
circular pressure each evening that asks,
Where did you hope to end up, if not here?
His eyes stall over text where the sooty young
of Heerman's gulls are distinguished from
their ashen cousins the ringbilled gulls—
Look, he's back in that Army Recruiting Office
on two legs, look, his right hand signs his name:
contracted to the service of his country a wink
past boyhood: pushups, the rope course,
wrestling a machinegun tripod onto his back,
rewarded with the ballet of nine-ball played off-base,
some nights a girl's blue-jeaned buttocks against
his belt buckle, sway and grind. Motive enough
for the next step up the gangway of a cargo jet
to apply his gift for raking fire at a map coordinate
twenty hours east in the night where a friendly regime
required rapid deployment to contain a desert
insurgency. Insurgent: one more word that plummets
down his unfeeling spine. Tomorrow the nurse
will roll the skin-wrapped freight of his body
off its pressure sores: sponge bath, leg work,
joint massage, toward the moment she pours him,
clothed, into the mobile chair for his walk.
Her breasts, bound in white, infuse him
with a surge that stiffens only his tongue.
When will you open your booby hatch? he jokes
and she answers, When the dead rise, baby—
and zips his pants. Some nights he could outline,
with fifty caliber tracers, a clay rooftop
where insurgents set up mortars: silhouette them
against Baghdad's clay skyline for artillery to zero in,
reduce roof and hostiles to martyr rubble.
He let his long barrel relax toward a sky
shot through with the phosphorous of stars,
immoveable, migratory, white eyes
studying this firefight where he'd connected
what was and what might have been
and interdicted it. He had not yet seen how
the same stars examine the faces of the dead
and the living; he was hale, young, half-deafened
by love of his weapon's mobile power.
On outings in the chair he studies
the motions of postmen—postcards home here,
junk mail there, bills everywhere—and the squads
of small birds: chickadees anting twig and limb
while nuthatches stutter (nyuk nyuk) comic relief
and downy woodpeckers machine-gun the trunk
to stun pale grubs to light. A logical
choreography, pleasing the dart
of his eye—leaf-shiver, grass-ripple—traceries
over the stillness radiating wherever
his immobility is parked. The woman hired
to wheel him outdoors respects his wish
to watch birds, mailmen, kids on swings
without comment, alone. With a wave
she strolls off, with cell phone and smokes
until the flocks have flown and swingchains
are slack and whatever can be delivered
has been delivered. He doesn't tell her he lives
for her return—the sole upright thing moving
toward him, a long-skirted sway, as though propelled
by a reason beyond wages. Her motives are his
to imagine, and he never wants to know more,
because no woman will touch her tongue to his
now for nothing, or undress to glory his eyes
for less than ninety dollars. When she wheels him
home on the rootcrazed sidewalk, the world
is a zigzag waltz, and the boy in him calls out
Faster! Hit the bumps faster! to make her laugh
and risk spilling him. If he did, she'd have to struggle
up close with his cargo weight, and that might look
like love—her hair in his face, arms locked
around his back in a power lift he remembers
not from her or the nurse who handles him day/night
but the instant his vehicle tripped piano wire
that triggered the bomb that launched him
from the rooftop gun hatch in a slo-mo somersault
beyond the fireball toward that tablet of stone
Moses broke in half at the sight of such dancing.
Do not kill, the stone read, but he had, and lay
broken from the neck down. Back in the room
of motionless books, he's parked amidst
the consolations of dead philosophers,
field guides of birds drawn as still lifes, atlases
and dictionaries designed to answer nothing
or everything. Alone with a darkening interior
screen that projects a father in a mortared bazaar
crying Allah akbar! over the bloodied rag of a boy,
and the magnesium sprint of his tracers catching
a group of leadfooted gunmen in an alley,
he says, I signed my hand to it and it was done.
He says, Fuck me, I'm a star going nowhere
in everywhere's black. A webpage on the rivers
of the west lies open on his eye-level stand;
with a stylus between his teeth he clicks plasma
to a topographic view of the last one undammed.
If he had an ounce of reserve power he'd strap himself
to a backboard and launch headfirst into it
and the eddy would spin him like a compass needle
before settling steadily southwest. Ospreys overhead,
kingfishers, fresh cold dousing his eyes, baptism
after baptism until whitewater cadences
go beyond alleluia or goodbye and reduce all
he was to the speed of summer snowmelt
shouldering glacial boulders and hemlock snags
toward the Pacific. He does not need books
to picture the knots binding him, wrist and ankle,
to the fluent board. Does not need a woman's tongue
to recite how the river flooding each inch
of his body will keep it pointed downstream
toward the ocean they all mistook for earthly peace.
INSURRECTION AND RESURRECTION
In the shoulders and haunches of horses, there's meat
and an autumn without meat
justifies the pistol that made the mare's ear flick.
The young man who was
the boy the mare carried (high summer forests:
they made charcoal and raki
and carved madonnas to barter for sacks of coffee
and bandoliers of bullets)
whispered, Remember? then fired and backed away
from the black scarves and skirts
with skinning knives, toward the fire where a glass
of white heat was his reward.
Listen to the flames, said a toothless beard who lit
his cigarette: You can hear her
gallop away. He put head between knees to erase
the hoofbeat. Behind him
the women's voices rose, and men recited
the ragged annals of invasion—
Mongol, Turk, Hapsburg, Nazi—name heads on pikes,
number all doused with oil
and set afire to run to the forest where women hid children.
Always the stories came back
to one man, one rifle, one bullet, the dead rising up
to win back forest and hill,
horse-pasture and springs to prepare the choral moment
when winter dictates they kill
their last horse once more. How strange to survive beneath
the palms of California
in linen and fedora among bettors who never saw
a man felled in a shallow grave,
much less eat the soul who carried him, boy and man,
from forest to market
where so many were beheaded or shot it was impossible
they lived long enough
to coax cheese from cream or grind beans for coffee.
Here, it's the seventh race
at Del Mar, the form in his lap guarantees someone
happiness against odds. Here
he bets and sometimes wins, here the hooves
pound the message
that horses, at last, have command of the earth
and their pleasure carries men
in a circle dance until men see the earth is a pasture
without barbed wire.
He closes eyes to grandstand shouts and ticket confetti.
The dry air concentrates
a liquor he tips his head back to receive in a snore
while losers shuffle past
to execute their dreams in roadside taverns.
His hat falls behind the seat—
lost bets, crushed cups—and a hand shakes him:
Sir? You can't stay here,
go home. He stoops into the taxi's cushioned dark
to be sped to a room
where a glass of white fire sits on the bedside table
like a boy in saddle.
In its depths, the keening of women is transmuted—
black trains in the night,
trumpeting at intersections more and more distant.
On the blind muscle
of his bed he lies back, trusting its sense of direction—
no rider, no horse,
just this rhythm bearing him into the forest on fire.