Literary Imagination, Volume 20, Issue 1, March 2018, Pages 56–57.
We went for a drive, those two old men and I.
I drove, and Milo, whose car it was, rode shotgun.
Earle, in back, wrinkled his nose
in the rearview mirror. “That smell—what is it?” Drove west,
the river, glinting with sunlight, running beside us,
the redwoods lunging sunward out of view,
and then—so steep were the cliffs
and such a long way down it was to the shoreline
whose rocks the ocean kept pawing with foam
even while swimming sleekly, if not
forever outward, all the way to the sky—
south along the coast and inland. “Mice gnawed
through the wiring,” Milo said of his vintage T-Bird,
which shared the garage with this car. “Must be
a mouse.” “In here, you mean”—Earle shifted
his weight—“somewhere in here there’s a carcass?”
We lean, my host and I, on his wooden railing.
“Last night, did you hear it—the wildcat?”
So that’s what it was! Lying awake in the dark,
I pictured from schooldays a planetarium’s dome
of heavenly bodies, the night sky whole
as I, a city boy, had never seen it,
while to my ears they seemed, those planets and stars
(among which there were some that weren’t there now,
were tributaries only, sourceless streams
of milky light), to clot and drown in globs
of rain, through which somehow a sharp
scream like a probe had stabbed me awake.
“The Mexicans,” Milo remarks, “were scheduled to start
at 2 a.m.” I watched them yesterday early
creeping with plastic tubs along the rows
of vines—how they’d each grab a purple bunch
and slice it off with a short, curved blade. “Too wet
today. No rain, though.” Milo gestures: “See
the silver linings?” The clouds—they’re gray;
where puffy, white. “Maybe,” I say. He squints
at me. Testing me is he? “Can you,” he says.
Tonight we charcoal steaks (today was my birthday),
uncork a years-old red from when our host
made wine. He sniffs it, wrinkles his nose and tastes,
pokes out his bottom lip and shakes his head.
“Wine is a living thing, and this Merlot—
either it was getting really good,
like nothing the two of you have ever drunk,
or else it was going bad.” I quaff it. We toast
with one of his Syrahs. The night sky’s back
to spilling milky light from many points.
That river’s running. I drift as though downriver.
Earle and I, when driving in,
had to brake for a wolf. The dashboard clock
told midnight and there on our left in moonlight lay
the asylum. “Look,” I said. “An inmate’s escaping.”
Milo scoffed when told. “A prairie wolf
you mean.” In one of those tipsy cuplike boats
I drift, becoming sage or not. It scampered
under our high beams, a werewolf. “We’ll start tomorrow,
the Mexicans will, on the Cabernets. Small grapes,”
Milo observes, “they yield less juice,
but the flavor is more complex.”