Uncle Chet's Boiled Coffee
My Uncle Chet boiled coffee
for a week. The tar in the pot
tasted like a miracle--
not the one of loaves and fishes
but the one no gospel recounts
for fear of a libel suit.
The woolen but rainless sky
disappoints. The garden soil
cracks like Egyptian pottery.
Red squirrels squeak in the hemlocks,
taunting each other in language
ornate as the plaster ceilings
of mansions. I can't contain
this runaway afternoon--
visions of children on bicycles
run down by reckless drivers
scar the soft parts of my brain.
This hurts like an old-fashioned band
concert, the kind I once suffered
at Weirs Beach, where my parents
had dragged me in the full blush
of adolescence. The year before,
Count Basie's orchestra had won
my attention and respect,
and two years before, Duke Ellington
had battered his piano silly
right under my bluff little nose.
The lack of rain has saddened me
in shades of tepid gray and taupe,
but there's still a month of summer,
in theory, and the nights still ring
with coyote howls and barks.
Uncle Chet's been dead for many years,
but I can still taste his coffee—
which he learned to make on beachheads
in the Solomon islands, the guns
coughing and banging everywhere
and the tropical rain so sticky
he sometimes mistook it for blood.
Thirteen years since the murders.
The house slouches in the brush,
the windows punctured by rocks.
No one’s gone in, though. Thick dust
carpets the pine board floors.
Faint chalk outlines remember
the slump of bodies. Furniture
lies askew, just as struggle left it.
Spiders, black and pink bulges,
have webbed the corners of the rooms
and booby-trapped the doorways.
I enter swinging a stick
to dissipate both spiders and gloom.
The three people who died here
meant nothing to me alive,
but have troubled my dreams since death.
So I’ve flown to San Francisco,
rented a sporty white Saab,
and cruised up Highway One north
to discover how remote from me
and the world this fatal canyon is.
Redwoods loom over the crime scene
and filter the sunlight, allowing
only the bleak of the spectrum
to shine on this fragile house.
No one has looted, no one
has even browsed the spilled books—
beat classics, mostly, Burroughs
and Genet. Blood spatter has sunk
so deeply into the wallboard
not even fire can erase it.
But willing to try, I pour
the five gallons of gasoline
I think sufficient for the job,
step outside, ignite a newspaper
and toss it in. The eruption
howls more loudly in the mind
than in the world. A fine gray ash
fills me. Rain blows off the sea
to keep the fire from spreading.
I walk a mile back to my car,
confident that that any ghosts
that survive are only ghosts of me,
bored silly by staying alive.