On a bridge over the Pace Freeway
a junkie held a knife to my throat
and said: your coat has many pockets.
I took it off very slowly,
the cars passing under me.
I was sure nothing could go wrong
while I was trying to help.
His voice was slurred
as if by great distance
but the blade was steady.
I began telling him a story:
how I’d hitchhiked from Pueblo to Cheyenne
looking for work, and found a job
painting the white lines in the road.
I could feel the prick of the blade
against my adam’s apple. I thought:
if you’re telling this story,
you must live through it.
Somewhere there was a cricket.
The bridge rocked constantly.
He held the jacket between his legs,
extracted the billfold with one hand,
counted the money with a sidelong glance.
He nodded, as if there were a sum
I owed him, and moved back a step
to let me pass. Then I feared him:
I was no longer entirely at his mercy.
I waited. Traffic passed.
There were snatches of music
and voices telling the news.
I said I was waiting for a friend
who was to meet me at dawn.
He answered: there is no one,
but he’d begun to back away
with the coat under his arm,
ten steps between us, twenty,
and I was on the other side:
a street of shops that seemed miniature,
the lamps still lit though it was daylight.
In front of a shuttered grocery
someone had left hampers of milk and bread.
The silence was absolute.
On the grate of a cantina
there were signs for last year’s dances.
The gaunt dogs, that sniffed as they pleased,
flinched when they saw me, then caught my scent
and knew I had no power to hurt.
I walked through them as if on stilts.
I came to a phone and dialed a number.
There was a holding voice and music.
Another number: another voice, music.
I had no more change. I looked behind me.
I walked quickly past tiny houses.
I smelled toast and heard children arguing.
A sprinkler winced, despite the drought.
I could hear the clink of a tame dog
moving on a chain, clearing its throat to bark.
I broke into a run. Already
I could hear the hum of the next huge road.