James Willis
Visitation
 
 
It was as a call to high drama
When neighbors across the street
Phoned us up late and said to hurry
And see all these lights in the sky could be something.
We dressed and went onto our dark porch
And they onto theirs over in their darkness,
Watching dumbstruck the mystifying globes
Hurled this way and that through cloud-shadows
And we became for awhile the first earth-beings
In our darkness and thus also in the neighborhood
To feel welcome for this coming of other life-forms,
Four human-beings who couldn’t see each other
Yet in their immanence biology’s lone experiment
Of higher intelligence each with a thrilling sense that aliens
Might smash the beakers, phials and the petrie dishes,
Felt this night also assurance of one another’s presence.
 
Then it was painfully that the pattern emerged
And it was slowly the clouds started to lift
And how quickly did our hearts tilt to that abyss
Out of which the searchlights must strive upwards
And each beam attach to its particular alien globe,
Aimed into the farthest reaches, far as it could reach.
 
Naturally the men first and then the women
Onto the lifeboats of raucous abuse for those origins
From which such light emanates, origins of disappointment,
We shouted out in darkness and the quiet neighborhood
Clearance Sale! The AutoPlex! Wonderman’s Chevrolet!
And so on until each of us finally called out their goodnight.
 



Small Change
 
 
 Today I dropped a dime
And was startled it made no sound.
Even as I looked round on the street
I knew it had fallen into an interval
Like the misspent dime of time
Having brought me to present impasse,
And now nickel-and-dimeing me to death
Every intsant exchanges a world I knew
For one newer that once took years to know,
Borne upon minds of poets and philosophers
Becomes now a binary world of just two numbers
And those other numbers no longer turn up.
Yet strangely people are now impelled more onwards
To become today the world stars and meteorites,
Who once may have lived without such hopes,
Now blurring not only distinctions but the intervals
As obsolete as the dime that once bought me coffee
Now becomes our little joke -- “that and five dollars
Might buy you a cup” -- to describe this sense of loss.
 



Night
 
 
We spoke late last night on the phone,
I was on my way up to bed
When he called, he was in his truck,
Even later there, and then he had to apologize,
He was out on the Insterstate
Somewhere in a line of trucks
Working out in front of a milling-crew,
Whatever the hell that was,
They were digging up a lane on the Interstate,
He had to explain to me how it worked,
He’d line up and this milling-machine would load him
When his turn came,
Then he’d take it off and dump it somewhere.
Anywheres? I said, Yeah, he said, in somebody’s frontyard
If they aren‘t careful, and we had a laugh; he’d return, line up again.
He explained to me the glaring lights,
And beyond them nothing but the pitch-black
With cars slowing then easing past the work crews
Their mouth-steam hanging in the frozen air,
Men resentful to be out in this kind of weather.
I imagined it like a war-zone with the huge machines
I could hear them through his cell-phone
The grinding crashing of their iron teeth
As they’d bite down into the asphalt and take it in big slabs.
Iron -- do they still? Am I right? I asked him,
Still use it? And we had another laugh
But I could tell he was puzzled and wondering
If I was really as out of it as I sounded.
 
Then we remembered together
The time I’d been on the road out in Utah
And on impulse I’d stopped at an all-night diner
To call him down in L.A.
It turned out to be the night before he’d gone
On the street and he’d stayed homeless then
And cranked for two years,
Now he was between relapses again
And explaining everything over again to himself
And I too felt there was always only one thing missing
Before I would understand all there was to understand.
 
Then shouts, angry exchange of voices,
A thumping against metal, scratching of his cell,
Then silence, the connection broken.
I settled down with a book
And awaited the call back.
There’d been a near fight
Out there in the darkness
With the bright work-lights on the road crews
In that cold night, him and this crew-boss
A real asshole, they’d nearly gone at it right there,
The crews are bitter bastards, dad, you have to understand
I guess they resent just about everybody else
Because they’re stuck out there and it’s cold,man,
And I’m snug as a bug up here in my cab
The heater’s going, kicked back, got me some music amped-up
But I missed my turn, we were talking I guess,
I guess I must have screwed their routine, big-time,
My turn to back up to their fucking milling-machine
And this guy starts hitting on my truck.
Don’t hit on my truck, I said,
If you do I’ll fuck you up and I was getting out of the truck
I was ready to go right there, dad, screw their routine, screw them,
But he was chicken and he walked away.