December 19, 2009

Judith Quaempts

Frontier Night on the Rez

We're doing a hundred and twenty miles
an hour in our '67 Mustang, my husband at the wheel,
Big D in back screaming, Goddamn it, partner, slow down!

It's Friday night, the work week done
and we're on the way to the Frontier
to celebrate with friends.

When we walk into the smoky tavern
we make the rounds, shake hands,
How you doin? Then get our beer.

Leo is at the bar drinking 7-Up.
Lutie and Don are shooting pool,
making impossible shots and trading insults.
Lutie's big body shakes with laughter. ­
Don must be winning the war of words tonight.
The Spencer brothers sit at a corner table
one-lining each other; their loud Aiees
follow every sentence, making everyone laugh.

Too soon the barmaid yells last call.
Too soon. But then someone cries,
Let's go 49! We look at one another,
grin, and rush the bar for six packs to go

We form a long procession back to the rez
driving on our best behavior
to avoid Sheriff and Staters
parked in the shadows along Mission road.
Indians are easy pickings.
Who needs a license anyway?

A quick stop at Taz's for his drum.
He sits in back with it
clasped between beefy arms.
The J grounds are gonna rock tonight!

We hang a right off the highway,
follow a dirt road to a clearing and park.
Taz and D climb out to start a fire.
Car doors slam one by one.

Kay's husky voice rises,
Anyone got a cigarette?
Another voice, maybe Stella's,
Lotsa monkey vine growing here;
roll your own.
Oh you! Kay shouts,
choking on laughter.

I start to move.
Wait, he whispers in my hair
and pulls me to him. His kiss
is long and sweet—tobacco, beer
and chewing gum.

Someone says, where did those two go?
Big D snorts. They're in the car making out.
Vernon shouts, What in hell?
They already got four kids.
Everyone laughs, including us.

We join our friends in the deep warm night.
In the darkness I can barely see
the shapes of trees but oh God,
how bright the stars.

Taz beats his rawhide drum. Arm in arm
we dance, the men singing in high voices,
I can't kiss you cuz I'm married
Ay, ay, ay…

Gone now—husband,
Taz, Big D—all of them.
Where we drummed and danced
bulldozed flat, filled with offices,
a clinic, a Longhouse with the entrance
facing east the way it should.

But every time I pass the place
I see the ghosts of cottonwoods
against a star-bright sky.
I hear laughter around an open fire.
And in my heart I sing:

I can't kiss you cuz I'm married,
Ay, ay, ay…

—the first stanza originally appeared in 50 to 1


Judith Kelly Quaempts lives in rural eastern Oregon and is an active member of Internet Writers Workshop. She has been published in 50 to 1, Flash Fire 500, Drunk and Lonely Men, and T-Zero.

No comments: