(A Red Rose, Miss Messiah Wakes The Sleeper)

With my back against the bricks
of a condemned building,
I sat on the sidewalk, begging.
The proud world walked by in a hurry,
wearing new shoes, domestic and Italian.
Now, some of these shoes shook with fear,
longing to stomp me, as if I were a snake;
and some of these shoes shivered with
loathing, as if I were dog shit.
Every once in a while a New Testament
penny would bounce into my hat;
now and then an Old Testament curse
would bounce off my bald head.
As I was about to doze off (thinking
that life was more fun back in the sixties)
a miracle green one-hundred-
dollar bill floated into my hat.
I looked up to see a young woman
bobbing down the sidewalk, like
a red rose coursing on a mountain stream —
but having a very nice butt.
The next day I took a long shower
at the Bread of Life Mission
and bought some new clothes at Kmart.
I soon got a government job
teaching Life Skills to boozers and shirkers.
Then I joined the YMCA,
where I work out every day.

(In A Fast Red Car, She Comes To The Rescue)

I was hitchhiking at a crossroads in the desert.
The Arizona afternoon sun
bounced baseballs off my head,
and fumes from diesel trucks
choked my throat with both hands.
I’d suffered there since sunup
(American hearts were bigger, it seems,
before they were squeezed into Japanese cars)
and was just about to give up and drag
my body — that cross of blood and bone —
uphill five miles back to town
to throw myself on the mercy
of the local Arizona Gestapo,
when a cherry red convertible —
a ’58 Pontiac Bonneville Special —
stopped to pick me up.
The driver was a young woman
nearly bursting a black bikini.
She gave me a smile and a huge paper cup
full of iced tea with slices of lemon.
When the sun went down, the car top did, too,
and we flew 85, the sky dripping stars.
We stopped at a minor-league motel
with a pool, at the foot of a mountain.
We dove and splashed in the pool —
dark in the mountain’s moonshadow —
then ran to our room for a shower.
The next morning after breakfast —
peaches and cream and Wheaties —
I telephoned my daddy,
who owns a bank in Mississippi,
to ask if the job that he’d offered me
thirty years ago, back in the sixties —
Vice-President in Charge of the Vault —
was still available. He said:
“Sho ’nuff, Son. Come home,
come home, my prodigal son.”

(The Sinner Is Saved By The Light From Her Eyes)

I was sitting in the hot seat of a courtroom,
facing a charge of first-degree
felony worthlessness, facing a judge
who looked like the Orkin Man, facing an alien
jury — twelve good Martians, perhaps.
And the DA wore very nice boots —
ax-toed armadillo —
and had notches on his briefcase,
and my court-appointed attorney — a mere boy —
was more afraid of the judge than I was.
Then, from out of the hissing audience
came a young woman in a black business suit,
wearing an Islamic veil.
Her voice was iced tea, and her eyes
were as kind as the young Barbara Bush’s.
She told the judge and the jury
that I was a baldheaded hero,
that I had once given her brother —
an Iranian terrorist kamikaze cabdriver —
a burger and fries from Dick’s Drive-In.
My act of Christian kindness
had stopped her brother from dynamiting
both himself and the Bremerton ferry.
Thus I’d saved the lives of many Americans,
many Japanese cars, and a very nice boat.
The judge dismissed the charge and gave me a job
as his gardener and personal chauffeur.
I moved across the lake to Medina,
into a garage apartment on the judge’s estate.
Now, when I’m not delving or driving,
I write mystical Japanese haiku
with a camel’s-hair brush
dipped in black ink.