By Diane Wakoski

I too like to wear them,
but to me they mean white trousers
after a salty day at the beach, or a busy one on the boat,
yanking bowlines and plying halyards,
while to you, it seems, they wave like a flag on your head,
impetuous, obnoxious, aggressive--
you're the bull wearing your own red flag.

And who knows what has enraged you,
not the color surely, for its where
your eyes cant see it.

I see
you come in the door wearing it
and sigh to myself, knowing there will be more snorting
and stomping and unlike Hemingway I couldn't
care less about the running of the bulls,
don't see you as a challenge
but a mistake,
a middle class man overwhelmed
by this tough Marlborough world you have been
washed with
through TV, and maybe even you think you recognize in me
the tough Western sheriff,
maybe you think
you want to shoot it out,
you quick
and me dead.

I don't know
how we could be friends, though you wave that red flag at me
as if perhaps you think I'm another bull, or a cow puncher who'd ride you;
or perhaps its just a desperate sign of truce
in your war with a world too big for you right now,
too hostile, too impersonal, too uninterested in you?
I guess I feel something, though not much.

In my cowgirl days, I tried to rescue Sheriff Day from fascination with guns
and men, and in my tight Western jeans, I married a man
who followed sailors home at night. My ex-husband is a red square on THE AIDS QUILT,
and Sheriff Day has disappeared into some bullring of his own
while I seem now only to be charging at red flags of artistic and academic deceit.
Still, I am the sailors daughter, born in the Old West, a girl who dreamed of
riding silver-bridled horses and being at the yacht club with the rich.
I try to stand or sit, tall and firm in my white jeans
and not to let young bullfighters like you
bother me very much. I like to think I have come through,
survived a world of false seductions.

I too, as I say, like to wear red bandannas, but to me
they are like wearing the sunshine
on my head
or around my neck, and I
didn't think anyone could look at me
with my red bandanna smile,
wide as the Rio Grande River on my face,
which despite the summer is as white as a sailors summer uniform,
and not smile back. But you didn't, and I don't know why I am surprised. If I can change,
why cant the world? In the past I would have tried to
win you over, seduce you into poetry or truth. But today, you've left me
not smiling, and even less interested than I was before I met you
in bull fights,
in blood sport,

less willing to smile at you or
at any young matador or new sailor with my
once deductive, though never dishonest,
red-bandanna smile.


By Diane Wakoski

They burn you
like the berries of mountain ash in August,
standing by the road,
clearly defined,
Autumnal brilliant, heads
scorched from waiting
in the sun.
How can
you pass them up?
But you do,
and dream each night of a hell,
where you are a hitchhiker,
and no one will ever stop to pick you up.

I'm a woman alone;
I'm moving all my books;
I need the time for thinking;
One of them might murder me;
but really, it is the look each one gives me
of need,
desperate need,
pick me up, or Ill fail to reach my goal,
and that need frightens me,
so I look away,
speed on,
dream each night of a mountain ash
with its bunches of orange berries gleaming
like the failures of my life,
burning beautifully on the tree,

Oh, hitchhikers, hitchhikers,

And they remind me
that I drive across country often, looking for your face
in each car I pass,
or which passes me, knowing you would not hitchhike, either,
thinking of the two years I spent with you,
reliving them over and over,
knowing I had everything I wanted,
but like Midas was silent and stiff with the gold I had touched,
felt always as if I had been buried under a ton of diamonds,
still feel the dust of them glinting on me as I drive across country,
my hair sparkling with the brilliance you left,
and those hitchhikers,
reminding me of hell. That I had what I wanted once,
and lost it,
failed, watched myself failing,
still not understanding why I failed,
but knowing I did,
and still passing--65, 75, 85 miles an hour,
those hitchhikers,
burning by the side of the road,
like the berries of the beautiful mountain ash,
burning like my tongue
on fire,
burning me, as I sleep protected in my rings of fire,
the gleaming car which hurtles me through America,
and all I have
is not enough.

Mountain ash, not the ash from out of which a bird
with glinting neck feathers who flies suddenly up on the road
in front of the swift car, would come,
not the ash on the foreheads of holy sinners,
not the ash of immortality.

Ash--a tree, with its berries not the colour of any jewel,
not the colour of blood, but a rare and exceptional colour, given only
to plants,
and I see each one of you,
as I pass on the road,
burning like the autumn berries,
and the beauty makes me pass by quickly.

In my car, is an altar, sacrificial stone and knife,
the tears of blame and understanding,
and blood; all the blood my body has lost;

Oh, hitchhikers, hitchhikers,
you would not want to travel with me.
You would not want to travel with me.

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