Scott Archer Jones

Scott Archer Jones is currently living and working on his fifth novel in northern New Mexico, after stints in the Netherlands, Scotland and Norway plus less exotic locations. He’s worked for a power company, grocers, a lumberyard, an energy company (for a very long time), and a winery. Now he's on the masthead of the Prague Revue. He cuts and splits all his own firewood, lives a mile from his nearest neighbor, and writes grants for the community.

Lost Man in White Vinyl Gloves

The Poem Interprets the Reader

Blood

Lost Man in White Vinyl Gloves (September, 2014. Issue 46.)

The year 2010. He's nothing I want to befriend, and I'm dripping in exhaustion, unable to rub two thoughts together. Spaced three feet apart, a gulf between us. A recumbent child, a dwarf, a lifetime could fill the hole between us on the bench. He says, “You missed a belt loop. And your pants are unzipped.”

I've dodged across the US all day, flown from Oklahoma to get to Texas to find Los Angeles to arrive in Albuquerque, all in pursuit of an additional forty-five dollars of savings. Now, in the late afternoon, I wait for a magic coach to carry me miles out to my car. I wait on a bench with a morose, humped-over man in black pants and a white shirt. With epaulettes and patches, a little American flag on his shoulder, a phone but no gun. In his hands he cradles gloves, the semi-transparent kind you stretch and stretch to fit your hands, that you snap loudly. The kind that make bulges where they bind your wrists.

I flick my eyes down to my crotch. He's right. I shimmy in my seat to jerk my zipper up. What do you say – thanks? I grunt.

He begins to talk, and he may not stop. “It's okay, the zipper I mean. I see it all the time. Mankind is nothing if not unbuttoned and hanging out. You all are clueless as to what you look like. And judgmental, Jesus Christ! All day you and your fellow travelers troll past me, curse me, roll your eyes when I ask you to take off your shoes. All day I'm reviled as I work to keep the airplanes safe from some yo-yo with C4 stuffed down his underwear and a primer in his ass. Day after day you frequent fliers stare at me like I'm shit. It's okay. It's a living.”

Alarmed, I shoot him a glance. Now that I stare at him, I see the sad trenched lines of a perpetual sigh, the dusky skin of the New Mexico Hispaño. I see a man blessed by too much airport food, with dark glossy hair marred by dandruff. His shoes are scuffed and look as old as he. I need something to say. “I guess I didn't get the belt threaded right in Tulsa. No sense in messing with it now. But I wonder how long I've been . . . .”

“Walking around with the barn door open? It doesn't matter. You don't have anything we all haven't seen somewhere else.” He turns away, stares out into the edge of the night as the sun does its fast desert disappearance.

“You're TSA?”

“That's right.” He has the slightest Mexican accent.

“Who made up that rule about the four ounce container?”

“You mean one hundred milliliters. Not me. But I catch the blame. When I taught English, years ago, I used to think my students would catch on. I thought they'd figure out from literature what motivates people. But now that I work for the Feds, I think we're all like pinballs, just banging into things and complaining about the loud noises and bright lights. Rules are like the flippers and rails; they wake you up some.”

I perk up a bit. A bench-born philosopher. A little bit of Americana. “You must meet some interesting people.”

He snorts. “You got to be kidding. Your average traveler hurries through as fast as he can, so he can shuffle down the concourse, buy a three dollar Coke and dump down in some waiting area. The only thing I meet is people's possessions, and their disapproval.”

“Possessions, huh? What's the weirdest thing you've ever found?”

“We found an antique doll once, with a knife stuck clear through her. That's what the X-ray saw, the knife. The doll herself was invisible until the bag was open. She lay there, her dress ripped apart in front. Sweet face I thought, with her eyes open and accusing. Well, I took it that way. We kept the knife of course, but we had to give the doll back to the passenger. The passenger was something – her face was worn all to hell and her lips stretched back in a rictus – you know what a rictus is, like a skull's grin? She was crazy, and poison on top of it. I felt bad for the doll, having to go on with that woman.”

“Ummm. What's the most repulsive thing you've found?”

“A connoisseur for the off-beat, right?” He gives me the eye, one brow lifted up and his head tilted back.

“I'm a writer.” Or think I am.

“Oh. Makes me your source material, I guess. Repulsive? At least once a week we have to open up a bag, to find the crap people bought while they were on vacation. The stuff from Mexico, that crap shows up on the tube as something bizarre. Lumpy.”

“How's that repulsive?”

He coughs out a short little bark of a laugh. “It's always wrapped up in dirty underwear. Does it never occur to anyone that their trophy haul means we have to pick through crusty stained underwear? Takes a strong stomach.”

I feel I should apologize. Or lie. “Not me. I never buy anything.”

He threw me a pitying glance. “Sure. Any other questions?”

“How does this job make you feel overall? What strikes you the most?”

He stares down at the sidewalk in front of him. “You don't ask for much, do you? You don't make small talk, either.”

I flap a hand. “It comes with the territory. An excuse for rudeness.”

He leans back, stares way off, like he could read something out there on the side of the parking garage. “What strikes me is how pitiful we all are. It fills me up with despair sometimes. I know I'm not a pretty picture myself, but some of my fellow humans! They all squawk about their privacy and how embarrassing security is as they line up for the L-3 scanner. Well, when we walk them into the can and the scanner shows who they are! – A hundred pounds of gut hung over a dick they haven't seen in years. An ass the size of the bus they came in on. Or even the scrawny ones, with the ribs we can't quite make out, tit-less and all stooped over by their anorexia. What about my feelings, having to stare at humanity past its sell-by date?”

I grunt again.

He takes it as an opportunity to hammer home his anguish. “And guess what's the best part!”

My mouth opens and closes. I have no words to say, no guess to offer for this man who sees his job akin to pumping out cesspools.

“The best part is I got cleared for searches. Now if there's a suspicious character, I'm the one who gets to do it, in a locked room with another cop, monitored to protect everyone's rights. I have to actually touch you people. Thank God for vinyl gloves.”

A shuttle trundles close, its sign reading “Employee Parking.” He groans as he levers himself up, stiff from a long day of seeing mankind at its worst.

He turns to me in the door. A grin flashes out, showing coffee-stained teeth under green florescent light. “Have a wonderful evening, sir.” The door flaps shut.

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The Poem Interprets the Reader (July, 2014. Issue 44.)

Who can guess which poems become yours? You can be taught to read poetry and you can be taught to analyze – but only some poems place you on the stage of your life, in front of your own footlights. And what is it? – Aesthetic reaction, emotive creation, a phrase or a word that triggers neural firing across your mind as intense as a lightning storm and as subdued as moth's wings that brush at the edges of consciousness. Don't analyze, don't read: listen to the poem, listen deeper into yourself.

Pam Uschuk's piece “Who Today Needs Poetry” comes dense and roiling in image, chattering with ambiguity, rife with sensory ties to the reader. She starts …

“Who Today Needs Poetry”
Not the California quail clucking for millet
or gold finches glutting on thistle seed, not
last night's bats jittering between the end
of desert heat and Cygnus rising …

The reader, bound and trapped, flashes that image of the quail working under the field stubble, then makes the springboard in a twist of the mind, a recollection just revealed of that perfect afternoon in late fall, a walk across the stubble of a field with Grandpa before he went mad and became hated. Then the gold finches pecking, a sensory impression of flitting, crazy-moving birds living off the best and worst of the plants, the thistle. The back memory of Scotland's thistle, the sign of pride and recalcitrance, the dour people who choose as their device only something a finch could love. Then the bats and a wash of ammonia smell from the feet-deep layers of guano in the cave entrance when the reader turned six and visited Carlsbad Caverns for the first time. And the conscious mind gets control again and intones, “Interesting, right away she makes a case that beauty in nature exists outside of poetry. Surely not.” Then Uschuk marches on into the reader's subconscious …

… nor the hands of the torturer
screaming questions and dunking again
and again the drenched head of the unindicted
into a breathless barrel of ice water, not Congress
that sanctions waterboarding nor
the rubber wheels of a trash can
nattering my neighbor's drive awake …

What happens to the reader now? A shock, a cold sweep of air on the back of the neck. This is not Wordsworth's poetry. The poem drives the reader into flashes of remembered television image – torture, maiming, an appalling realization and affirmation. From sixteen to sixty the reader has learned how inhuman a human can be and Uschuk won't let you forget. And under it like that cold sweep of air on the neck, an emotion unnameable somewhere between sorrow and anger and defeat. Then into the culpability, the US smugness jarring the reader. To believe ourselves exceptional and fall so far below extraordinary: it reawakens the wash of anger when My Lai first cascaded into a young life. And then Uschuk thrusts us into the trivia of a single sensory event, the rumble of trashcan wheels – the reader mutters, “I've heard that, I've been angry as it woke me, I've grinned at the recognition of that sound as I sipped my first cup of coffee.” Coffee taste and smell floods some receptor in the brain. And Uschuk has taught us everything from a simple domestic sound to the brutal do not need poetry. Except what redeems or marks the passing of these realizations? …

… not coffee steam
alerting my cup to the dying syntax of dreams,
not the healing odor of white oleanders
fencing the yard …

Suddenly reflective, the poem shoves the reader into that memory when a stare down into a cup of hot coffee in a chill morning brought out an awakening, the thought that counted, the decision made that changed everything. “I will marry her. I will move to New York. I will always remember last night's dream, even though it has no words.” And then the exquisite image of the yard shrouded private in stiff vertical bushes, remembered from some child's morning. But the poem links again, the brain chains in and tells the reader, “The oleander, a poisonous flowering shrub, beloved in the Middle East where nothing goes right and life seldom surfaces above subsistence.” And Uschuk shows the reader, or the reader tolls it off, that poetry matters not, except to chronicle tiny moments of being human, tiny memories of places from childhood, connections surprising and global.

… not cool blackberries
in a glass bowl on the breakfast table, not
a belt unbuckling or the snap of a triggering
device on the homemade bomb about
to blow in a Kabul market, not the black widow's web
spun to catch wings for her children …

A flicker of the taste of blackberries, a leap to the side and the reader stares down at scratched fingers bloody from picking raspberries. The poem stops, a comeuppance and frisson at the belt unbuckling. Three memories flash at once, firing across the brain like sheet lighting; punishment – a whipping as a child, the stripping of clothes before a shower in a moment of exhaustion and despair, a shared intimacy with two white entwined bodies beneath an electric-blue cloudless sky. But then the reader interprets the buckle as a threat, as a trigger, a way that opens up the six o'clock news to show us blood and scorch and gray brain matter. The reader smells burned nitrate and hears wailing. A camera in the cerebral cortex zooms forward across the market into tight focus and the reader shivers to see a black widow, allegory of a world that poisons its way along, but mutated into a mother image. The reader slides into a snapshot of Mother, busy in the kitchen, the smell of cookies, the feeling of pleasure delayed until the oven chimes.

In the final poetic images Uschuk shows why the reader lives without poetry and should yet need it; to become integrated with self, with memory, with opinion and prejudice, with wisdom and insight and rebirth . . . and with sadness …

… not
the blue burka slipping over a mother's head,
not a father's prayer rug clotted
with his son's blood. No, not any of these.
Not these.

[This poem appears in Wild in the Plaza of Memory. I thank the Poet for allowing the extensive quotes above.]

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Blood (May, 2014. Issue 43.)

En boca del discreto, lo público es secreto (In the mouth of the discreet, what people say is a secret).

A simple job. Take a car, turn it into a flat metal pancake, haul the block of metal away. David's Department of Transportation crew were at work in a homemade junkyard up near Cuba, New Mexico, an acre where a family had been piling their rusted metal for a hundred years. Mick fell into that metal.

The day was emborregao with racing shadows and sunlight rippling across the murderous scrap piles. The Crusher misbehaved, groaned out a protest and refused to pulverize cars. Now they tried to diagnose the problem. Parked along a fence made of old roofing tin, with cars sprawled around them on three sides. Behind the fence a mound of metal – scraps and pieces. A hill of rust, sharp edges, tarnished steel teeth soared up.

His two Norteños had predicted rain based on the sky, fleecy, moving fast. David Alvarez could only smell dry, caked dust in his nose – no ozone hint of a mountain rain. A balding middle-aged man in coveralls, heavy with the fat of a fried foods diet, taller than most Hispaños, he gazed at the sky again. David had sent the owner of the junkyard away, told him they would call when the Crusher could run again. Now all of them searched for the break.

David sent Mick, his only Anglo, up on top of the Crusher to search for a hydraulic leak in the deck, though they should have been able to see the spray of fluid. The other three huddled, heads together. They argued about air in the lines, lack of pressure. They squabbled about the main pump, transducers, valves.

With a scream Mick toppled from the deck. The other three jerked up their heads to see him fall, behind the fence, into the scrap. They heard the clatter and the grunt of his landing, and the shouts. His voice a clot of fear, not surprise or pain. “Ah! Ahh! Shit! Shit!”

David, Matt and Frankie tore down to the end of the fence and around. When they got to Mick, scrambling up and over the scrap heap, they found him on his back, cradled in a depression of metal refuse. His rigid neck held his head up. His right hand outstretched, grasped a metal rod. He stared wild-eyed at its blunt end.

The rebar, straight up out of the scrap, stabbed through Mick’s armpit and out of the top of his shoulder. No blood on the rod's end where it protruded rusty and blunt above his frame, but blood seeped out around the shoulder into the man’s work shirt.

Kneeling, David asked, “Mick, are you okay?” He shook his head, said to the other two, “We're a hour and a half out of Albuquerque. Estamos nuestro proprio.”

Matt said, “, like always, on our own.”

Dave collected himself, “Frankie, get to the pickup and bring the first aid kit.” David knelt on the steel and iron scraps, hovered over Mick, said anything he could to the man.

“Okay, it looks bad. But we really don’t know. I don’t want you to move until we can see what’s going on. Lay still till we can figure out how to get you up. Frankie will be here in a minute. Can you feel anything?” Mick’s face was pale, his eyes wide and unfocused. He lay rigid, mute.

“Shit, cabrón,” said Matt. “This ain’t nothin’. I been hurt twice as bad and drove myself home.”

Mick rolled his eyes at the two men – focused on the steel pushed out through his body. “Unh, unh, unh. Stay with me. Get it out of me!”

Frankie sprinted back with the NM DOT first aid kit, a skinny brown man darting up through the scrap. He tore open the orange box and pulled out two packets. “Here. Remember the training. Enfermedad de la sangre.” He thrust a pack at David.

They rolled on latex gloves. Frankie cut open the shirt and probed around the exit wound. David reached beneath to check out the entrance wound. Fingers like a caress, trying to not cause pain.

Frankie reported, “Nomás, I think it missed the muscle on top of his shoulder. See, here’s the muscle in front of the rod, and the rebar, it comes through close to the bone.”

“I can feel where the bar sticks up into the armpit, into the soft part. Not the muscle, not the tendon.” Mick grunted softly as David’s fingers pushed into the wound beside the iron rod.

David stuck his head down sideways in the scrap, felt metal bite his temple. “Aguate! I want you to raise him up three or four inches so I can see the bottom of the rod. Go slow. Mick, this is going to hurt.”

Matt and Frankie reached beneath Mick, and with a grunt, pulled at him. Nothing happened at first, then the man’s torso jerked up by a half foot. He let out a keening sound. David, his head below Mick’s shoulder, could see blood dripping out. Large fat drips. “Okay, bueno, hold him there, don’t let him back down. The rebar held back the blood, but now he’s opened up.” David sat up on his knees and dug in the first aid kit for a gauze pack. He ripped open the packet, then dropped down again. He pressed the gauze upward, wrapped it around the rebar and pushed hard against the wound. He clinched his hand in a fist around the rod to hold it steady. “Wait there. I got to see if we can get the rebar loose.”

Only then did he stare at the rebar’s butt. With his other hand, he dug in the scrap to see the better, and shredded the latex glove. Two fingers stung, cut up. The rebar wasn't deep in the pile, but a hook in its base, an angle where the rod had been bent, pinned it in the heap. “Okay, keep him there. I’m going to get the rebar loose down here.”

David scrabbled in the metal and then he saw that, if he rotated the rod and the hooked end, they would come free. “Mick, this will hurt. I’ve got to turn the rebar.”

“Noo.” David twisted it. Mick let out another shriek of pain.

Frankie spoke, “Jefe, he’s gone all espectro and he’s sweating pretty good.”

“I think I can get the rod loose now – I want to leave it in him because it's slowing the bleeding. Sí, set him up slow when you feel me push from here.”

The three men brought Mick to a sitting position. Frankie packed a gauze compress around the wound in front. The rusty iron stuck out of the man by two feet and its butt angled down out of his back by six inches or so. Mick humped over the rod, panted hard.

“Frankie, go and bring the pickup as close as you can. Matt, get an arm under his right shoulder. I want you to ease him down the pile here and I’ll help as much as I can from the left.” David grabbed Mick’s belt and bore some of the weight. With much shuffling and slipping, they got the man down the mound. The two gauze packs fell loose and lay bloody on the scrap behind them. They all panted and wheezed as they stumbled free of the scrap.

When the men reached the end of the fence, clutched together in a single body, Frankie waited with the pickup. “Now this will be tricky,” said David. “He’s got to sit sideways because of the rebar.” He and Matt faced the door with Mick between them – wrong way around. “Matt, circle him around to your right and we’ll back him up to the door.”

They stumbled towards the open passenger door of the truck. “Frankie, he's coming your way. Pull him back into the truck.” David and Matt shuffled Mick up into the door, with David wedged back in the triangle between the door and the truck. “Matt, on three. One, two, three.” They eased him up through the door of the truck, his head lolling forward on his chest. “Okay, Frankie. No – don’t grab him by the shoulders. Pull him by the belt.”

Frankie slid Mick back into the truck, leaving his legs hanging out the passenger door. “Now,” said David. “Matt, get the kit again, we’ll rip off his shirt and strap more gauze and tape on him.

It was done. David turned back to Matt. “Stay here with the trucks. Call it in and let ER know we're coming in. Once we're there, we’ll radio and let you know what to do. Frankie, get behind the wheel. Brace him. I need to turn him enough to tuck his feet in.”

David clambered into the back seat, hung forward, his arms bracing the injured man in place. They had Mick in the seat sideways, the butt of the rod stuck out over the console. David cradled Mick, immobilized him. “Let’s go. Slow until we’re on the black top.”

At four in the afternoon, David and his Norteños waited in the hospital sitting room, the pickup and one of the semi tractors out in the parking lot.

The Doctor, a tired looking gringo with the unlikely name of Arguelito, explained. “There are some tears at the edge of the muscle, right here, see?” His hand swung up, patted at the muscle across his own shoulder. “The good news – the metal hasn’t cut any big veins or arteries. The bar did rip up some small blood vessels and nerves. I made a lot of internal stitches. They'll dissolve themselves. I used ten small staples on the outside that have to be removed later.”

David asked, “So, he's not in any danger?”

“Infection is the thing now. Some of the shirt got carried into the wound. I fished out pieces and thread, everything we could find. Gave him a tetanus shot. But the chance of infection is high. We'll keep him on antibiotics for a while.”

“What should we do?”

“I'll get you a prescription or two to fill, antibiotics and pain killers. The rest is the healing process – he'll be fine to go home in a couple of hours.”

“How long before he can go back to work?”

“I'd say two months minimum.”

Matt leafed through the same People magazine over and over. Frankie, slumped down in his chair, faked sleep. David stared at a vending machine, rather than at the TV up in the corner of the room.

He nudged Frankie. “Wake up cabrero, the three of us have to talk.”

Frankie’s eyes snapped opened quick. He hadn’t been asleep at all. Matt stared up over the magazine at David, elbows on his knees. “So, you been thinking about what happens next?” asked Frankie.

“Oh, adevina! Our little gringo, he’s going to get fired.”

“What do you mean?” asked Matt.

Frankie said, “So he’s been hurt. It will be on the insurance, and David has to fill out this safety report.”

Oyé,” said Matt. “They will do one of those – what is it? Safety incident reviews."

“That’s right. Only Mick, he wasn’t wearing no hard hat and he wasn’t tied off up there on the deck.”

“But that wouldn’t have done much good, since he fell about five feet. The line, it’s ten feet long.”

David said, “Yeah, but that won’t matter. We all know the rules. Mierda, we helped write them. He should still have had that line clipped up. He could have fallen off the front side.”

Después,” said Matt. “They make us all sweat, and you don’t get promoted into the office this year.”

David flapped a hand, dismissive. “No, they'll fire him. It's the best job the chingadeo will ever have, working for the State. Mick will end up back with those meth-head framers in Española.”

Matt nodded, “Es cierto, Mick, he’s new, he’s only got a year. He don't even know how good he's got it.”

David said, “I don’t much like being the dedo here.”

“That would be some bajeza, yeah, but you know Mick, he’s a such a muñiga.” Matt leaned back in the plastic chair, folded his arms, unmoving.

“Well, our muñiga, he’s going to be unemployed,” said Frankie.

“What’s that to us, he’s a real pain you know, an agregado?”

David said, “Yeah, well he’s our agregado.”

“So what you want to do?”

“I want to hide the accident. It’s not on the state insurance yet. I haven’t made out the report.”

“Oh,” said Matt. “I knew I wasn't going to like it.”

Frankie snickered. “I noticed you didn't check him in on the insurance card. We'll have to pay something going out the door, or they'll look him up with the insurance companies, find he's got a job. Tenemos el dinero?”

“Well, I got two hundred from the per diem, you know, when I stayed with my relatives. I can chip that in,” said David. “I would have done no good with it anyway.”

Quizas, I got fifty I’m ahead,” said Frankie.

Tal vez, … shit, for el más agregado … I got a hundred I can put in, but I need it back for my kids, tardo o temprano. Mick better have something in his pants.”

Gracias, Matt.”

Por nada. We got to do it.”

Frankie paused, then asked, “But how do we keep him on the time sheet?”

Está bien. He’ll be all strapped up, but he can come out to the job with us.”

“We got four vehicles. We can’t run a shuttle.”

“That’s alright too,” said Matt. “I can get a portable tow bar from mi padres. We can tow the pickup everywhere.”

“Good,” said David. “And we can hang an orange vest on Mick. He can wave traffic through with his good arm. Es posible.”

“What happens at night? You baby sit Mick?”

David answered. “We’re working down the Valley from Velarde through Española. Mick, he lives with his mom near Pojoaque. I can get him home each night. We’re working in the area for a couple of months.”

“Now you the taxi, ?”

“Better that than letting the cabrónes in Albuquerque have him. It could have been one of us,” said Frankie.

David sat back in the chair, satisfied. He smiled, folded his hands across his big belly. There were still some lies ahead, still the paper work and the payment schedule. But now they were doing the wrong thing, for the right reason, for familía. Even if he was a muñiga.

Norteño Slang:

Adevina! – (from Spanish Adivina!) Guess, Guess What!
Agregado - (from Spanish Agregado, - attaché) sponger, idler, helper, assistant
Aguate! – Be careful! Watch out!
Bajeza – a low, mean and vile act.
Cabrero – (from Spanish Cabrea – goat) goat herder
Cabrón – (from Spanish cabro – billy goat) cuckold, pimp, SOB
Chingadeo – fucker
Dedo – finger, fink, squealer
Emborregao - an adjective describing sky filled with a kind of cumulus clouds that resemble flocks of lambs - borreguitos.
Muñiga – cow dung, cow chip
Nomás – no sooner, not even. Sprinkled in to conversation nearly as “like” is in Anglo conversation.

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The Legendary