Hitch

(from Mass for the Grace of a Happy Death)

Heading for Berkeley, 1972,
hitched up Route 99,
the Central Valley, night
chill coming down the groves
as the last heat flickered
up from the blacktop, big
rigs blasting by, sucking
wind, diesel smoke bittering
the sky, and when the last
truck hit the airhorn and never
even slowed, we walked
the long hill up to a field
of cotton, crept among
the rows and laid ourselves down,
my belly to her back, the skinny
girl who had been my partner since
Bakersfield, those last
hundred miles, my hands clasped
over her small breasts
our cover a wool rack-blanket
I had carried from the Navy
when I left. Once or twice
something sped by out on the road,
cowls of light opening in the air,
but we didn’t move. The ground fog
puddled up around us dreaming
its way along the ditches, cold
as water seeping into our denim,
and we dozed, the slightest
motion from either of us
making a pocket where the chill
wedged in, and we clung through
fitful sleep to keep it out.
I woke later in the false dawn,
heard the low rumbling in the earth
understood that human voices carried
through the boles of mist and saw
the yellow headlights of the truck
crawling the ditchline, a flatbed
loaded with braceros coming into
the field.  The girl sat up
suddenly and we watched them pass,
one man seeing us, whistling
shrilly through his fingers
and waving a quick sharp wave,
a warning, Get out of here,
and we let them go by and crept
up to the road, still joined
by the blanket, shivering,
banging each other at the shoulders
until we huddled again at the roadside,
gray light now rising in the valley,
a motor climbing the long crease
of highway, somewhere still beyond sight,
and we let that hope rise, too,
that this was it, the ride out,
and when we laughed it seemed
for no reason, but I remember
what it felt like then, believing
that something brilliant waited
just beyond whatever it was that cradled
our skins, and that we moved to it
every time we moved at all, simply
because we could.  And when the semi
wheeled by, hauling a mountain of
gnarled sugar beets, and the driver
stabbed his thumb over his shoulder
back down the hill and kept on going,
we only laughed again, sat
on the road’s edge, lit cigarettes
and cupped our fingers around the tips,
breathed the smoke deep and waited.

 

Another Poem from Mass for the Grace of a Happy Death:

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