Loaves and Fishes
Marathon Motel, 60 miles north of Big Bend
Wildly electric, one of those desert storms―knocks out power for miles.
The air now tart with wet sand and creosote. On a West Texas trip, my husband and I wander deep in research for a book of poems. No power, no problem. We bring out candles, start a fire on the covered patio, open a bottle of wine. We become friends with a terrier named Rex from the RV park, his people too, Danger and Debbie.
Then two white vans with sixteen French tourists arrive to dark cabins, restaurants closed, an office manager who has finetuned unhelpfulness to an art You’re on your own.
They’re tired and hungry. Debbie conjures a big casserole, I empty our cooler. Bread, olives, cheese and beer. Pistachios from Costco. The French unfurl a small liquor store onto a picnic table. I scrounge paper plates.
Danger is a magician. He captivates the crowd with tricks. Rex carries cards in his mouth, a four-legged sidekick. We charm music from our bags to make them feel at home, Jacques Brel. They ooo and ahh, lean on each other and sing like moony teens.
The women gather to me ask about poems, my search for the Burro Lady. They ask for poems aloud. They listen rapt. That wandering woman. We understand her. Somehow all twenty of us are sated.
Shoulder to shoulder, the women warm by the fire. The men mesmerize with stories, one translates. The storm has fled west, I ask the women to follow me, we wander through brushy sage away from the fire until we stand silent on the highway.
Look up, I murmur. They burst into tears, greet their first Milky Way.
The finest example of earth-wreckage in Texas. ~ Walter Prescott Webb
Big Bend’s Chisos Basin, a six-mile climb
from the desert floor into a ring of mountains,
a dental mold of granite teeth, so steep
cars sputter and stall.
My love says I’m not sure why
but you need to do something hard.
Distance cycling’s new to me but
I am primed by October light.
Crisp shadows march up layered lavas, and
I follow. Begin among Lechugilla spikes and
Chino grass, up, up. Ocotillos wave me on,
up, up, I catch a cadence,
hear live-cry of ravens, stride on through creosote shrub,
gaudy Madrone—the BEAR CROSSING sign
puts fire in my legs. Halfway up, he waits,
cheering me, Matheny pouring from the
door of the van The Truth will Always Be
rousing with its rhythm and triumph,
my legs now steady, sweat nips my eyes,
lemony piñon fills my nose, then switchback after
switchback slows me to a crawl
but just push—one, two, one,
two, lean forward
rock me up the rock.
He meets me at the crest,
waving a wind jacket, woo-hooing—
but no, I am screaming my victory,
fist to the heavens,
as I slip over the lip
to slide down to the Basin
no longer the woman who started the climb.