- Stem and Root
Mah ate garlic raw, the peels whispering down his trousersacrid petals blooming at their night campsit pinched his nose, punched it like a thiefthe brothers called himstinkbreath,bulbhead,medicine mouth,green stemsand would not sleepface-to-face as they leaned on stumpsin the northern Sierra Nevada forests,darkness so pubic-thatch thick thatamong the trees they felt likeminnows thrashing in a dry sock net.
Remembering the smooth cool angles ofwomen left behind (or so they imagined)one-night, one-week, one-month wives(mothers, perhaps, now)in the smoking darkness, lost names;each star a letter, a joint that achesin a cosmos of bones and steel ribs, each city a pelviswhere fortune turns amniotic, or rolls in dice, spots like eyesor flecks of pepper stirred in someone else'sclear hot broth. [End Page 258] He never complained about hands thatcouldn't unfurl from a hammer grip, or aback that quivered during the arching streamof hot morning water, steaming upan orange-mossed stone.
He lived one day short of ninety-nineriding a train aloft in the skyracing through Vancouver, saltwater citywith a small sack, almost scrotal, red plasticloaded with good garlic bulbs, fifty cents each,fastened to his belt with a hiker's shiny hook, as if he were stillscaling mountains, layingdust tracks, fresh tracks, lost treksand they still waited for him beyond the gray sea frothed with frost,seeking again the green stems of youth,the dependably stubbornroot-stink of life. [End Page 259]