Poetry » Guinotte Wise »


Death Valley Lake

Cataclysm’s mysticism made the desert flood one day
made cactus climbers out of creatures prone to burrow
prone to stay

Sluice and surge, alluvion, what the hell is going on,
desert dwellers have no johnboats, jet skis, yachts
but lots of boron

That lake was no mirage even though it seems surreal
it’s so real enough if frozen over, pucking Zamboni
would be ideal

Joshua trees don’t need much water nor do Saguaro,
gravel ghosts, phacelia, all blue and lavender with
colors by Pissaro

Death Valley disclaimed its given name with bloom
after a thousand-year-flood-event saturated the arid
lifeless seeming tomb

The Timbisha Shoshone never called the desert dead
called it waiting, called it silent, called it many shades
of ochre red

Tinbisha means red ochre and they understand the
land that others shun and dread, who hesitate to tread
the ochre sand

The desert basin soaked it up, flora loved it for awhile
it’s back to reds and rust, devils made of sand and dust
suited for reptiles

Natives of this place Shoshone never dreaded it at all
floods or drought they take in stride with certain pride
in its source, alluvial

On Call at the Ice House

Cold, that work. Parka in July. Boots, wool socks.
Like you’re going hunting in some boondocks
be gone a long time, winter gloves, watch cap to
pull down over your ears, nose freezes, drips, you
had to work hard to stay warm whirl around with
tongs catch that big ass block comes down the chute,
you throw an elbow around a pole to keep from
going with it to the wall, slow it down some, make
a circle on the ice floor, crystals fly, it must weigh
three hundred pounds, if it hits the wall it busts
apart in jagged pieces, they don’t want that some
already hit it gone to pieces dream about the ice
at night on call, score it break it make it small to
feed into the grinder for bag ice people buy to
put in coolers, cold so cold, dream of other work
outside, sunburn work, thirsty work, work that
made a coke taste good, then a beer, hell yeah.
I shiver when the phone rings, goose bumps in
the summer heat, can’t be good to twist my
psychic thermostat back and forth that way but
it’s the only work I find these days, pays okay,
but ice house cold gets in the bones like where
they send dissidents in Russia, poets who scare
them with their words, try to freeze their fire.
Jeez I made it noble, this work for hire and it’s
just a job, but better than busing tables maybe,
no humiliation on the crystal floor, just glacial
arctic numbing cold. And they could use some
lights in there. It’s always frosty-ass twilight.

Lying to Work

Ever lied to get a job? Ever lied to keep one? Sometimes lying
to the man is not essential but sometimes it sure as hell is fun.

He never had to lie in Tulsa. He just shined shoes and shagged
golf balls at the driving range and collected hangers from the
neighbors, sold them back to the cleaners at Utica Square. At
the country club, caddying required a sort of lie, that being a
smile and “nice shot” to asshole doctors and lawyers who tipped
him with melted Hershey bars from their golf bags, what a shit
tip to a kid who needed money, so he gave up caddying and dug
some holes, mowed some lawns, trimmed some trees and didn’t
notice that he was growing strong and muscled, that every job
had its workout benefits, and when he was a little older he
worked labor on the bridges and lied to the labor union guy
about his sick wife and children, that he’d join when he could
get a little money ahead, and he lied to the teamster rep when
he drove the steel truck, and he hid behind the crane when he’d
come around looking for him on days he wasn’t driving the
steel hauler. He lied to get the driving job, had never driven
bigger rigs before, learned on the job not to blow by weight
stations at seventy, eighty, and wave back when he saw them
waving wildly. They meant for him to stop loaded or unloaded
his luck that smokey wasn’t parked behind ready to go and
discovered what the granny gears that held him back would
do when he pulled that button on the gearshift, leapt ahead
to speeds for cars not trucks. He lied to the trooper when asked
if he’d unloaded anything in-state, and the smokey-hatted man
said if you hadn’t lied I would give you a warning but I watched
you unload equipment in Lincoln, ripped a ticket from his
book, said get proper plates and you got a mud flap missing get
that on there too, put your lame ass away next time hear me?
Turned into a decent driver learning on the road that way.

And he told a federal lie to the post office when they said they
were only hiring those who wanted a career when all he wanted
was a summer job to earn tuition, learned the Texas Scheme they
called it for sorting mail, a job he hated so much he volunteered
to unload mail trucks out on the back dock in Kansas City, fresh
air at least. He lied to a sheriff’s patrol when they said they only
wanted men who meant to make enforcement their life’s work
and lied by omitting saying that he thought blacks were treated
shitty there. All the lies he told or didn’t didn’t amount to anything
they all came true or turned white in the glinting light of day or
sometimes they just went away. You got to lie he said, no lie,
just to get by. Degree, you ask? Degree of lie, oh you mean
Bachelor of Arts or MBA or some shit, sure I did, got ’em all.
Those initials, code to get in the secret handshake room, got
there and found it empty, hollow, they couldn’t even spell, but
had a sheepskin, they were liars too it seems, that ain’t no lie.