for Richard Hugo
You hear the roadhouse before you see it,
Its four-beat country tunes
Amplified like surf through the woods,
Silencing bullfrog and red-tailed hawk,
Setting beards of moss dancing
On dim, indeterminate trees
That border two-lane blacktop.
Docked tonight, you reveal the badge
Of the farmer, that blanched expanse of skin
Where cap shades face, babyhood
Pallor above the sun-blackened jaw
Bulging uneasy with a concrete grin
And some inevitable need to weep.
Don’t you think we live and breathe
In the meantime, in lockstep
With dawn, sunset, brawling dawn?
Even now, you await secrets worse
Than the few known ways a seized sky
Will come to survive your pity.
But on another far field, celebrated
For its arrivals and evictions, you learn
To be beautiful, never leading
A sensible life, playing ball in the early dark,
Fighting for a taste of the sweet spot,
In this uncut land, this straight-edged air.
Whadya want to know that isn’t yet a mystery
Somewhere, a confidential stumble, heat
Lightning, a first-rate backseat turndown?
So it is that later you track high above
Familiar tamarack and ash, beginning
The next inaccuracy alone, and again,
Remembering that everything east of you
Has already happened, on the same cold ground,
In a swarm of time, finally spiked home
To your surprise, nails flung to the air.
And us all thumbs to the hot hammer-licks
You hear from the roadhouse before you see it.