Snow on Cerrillos Road
Behind the big stores the desert is hoary.
Beneath the snow it will be the colour of night.
The trailer homes, shut up, no lights on,
bed cold under roofs the somnolent white of the sky.
Our airport shuttle is dark and trembles.
Every car sheds its own aurora.
At the intersection the red goes deep as midnight.
To the wipers’ slow applause we turn
into the forecourts: Sleep Inn, Days Inn, a half-lit lobby,
a gleam of tile, our turn-signal pulsing on the glass.
AutoZone and Long John Silvers, the Chevron
and the Lamplighter – the ballad of Cerrillos Road:
a serious business, this artery of tar and rubber,
the local life-support. The bus splashes its ankles
in the slow lane. We crunch and slurp through slush,
bounce down a block streaked white.
Close to town, parked cars bear dutiful loads
on roof and hood, houses are hung with lights.
Winter here is a time of retreat and hearth-smoke,
and the Oriental trees are from an old painting.
Just the elderly couple and me now, chortling
down the long red wall to the last hotel.
Mightn’t be this ain’t the last run of the day, says the driver,
and whichever way the negatives work he’s right.
A day like this, swamped by night and snow,
you don’t know when your last chance might come.
It’s falling again, a swarm coming thicker and faster,
until it is all the wipers can do to keep the dark clear.
What are you doing in these cold hills
far from warm nights and peeling hotel rooms?
Some forebear hitched a ride on a banana boat,
and between the fires and radiators got by.
You look as if you’ve fed on more than blood.
I think of those distant cousins l whipped,
stealing about bare rooms in the semi-dark
of yellowing bulbs. Do you miss the hot nights –
slick black river sliding under breadfruit trees,
a town alive with skinny dogs and naked children,
and the song of a million of your kind?
And the thousand warm places to hide in the dark.
You have learned to lie low in these hostile hills,
where if a newspaper doesn’t get you the cold will.
You hang there right where you want
to be, still as a crack in the wall.
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