Three Poems by Tim Kahl

Ode to a Tomato Truck

It must be told what happens in late summer.
They roll like unholy thunder through
the highways of The Valley, dropping
their red bombs along the berm.
The bumps throw a bunch more across
the gravel to become a pox upon the road.
The asphalt is sick from the harvester’s
excess. Each conveyance carries its
transfusion of cells. Each red globe
is the flesh of the sun’s dream,
and it races to the cannery
on the back of the two-trailer beast.
Oh how the windshields shine!
How the giant tires spin like
the maniacal black eyes of wild animals,
and the rigs sing the song of the pavement saw,
digging into the hot-baked surface
of the empty lane ahead. It’s this song
that keeps the drivers awake: one who
used to work the railyards, another
who wants shorter waits between loads,
one more who worries about cargo theft.
They all fear the tale of the tip over
and some wiseacre making a crack about
salsa with bits of roadkill. They are haulers
in the high seat on the newly extended
Camino Real. They tow those Romas
to be skinned, diced and puréed for soup.
Mmm-Mmm good. God bless
the Campbell’s plant for its
smooth red stew that doubles in a pinch
as blood on an old white work shirt.

 

After the Wheatland Hop Riot

The raisin crop in Turlock was in dire need of hands.
A boy’s power in the fields measured itself in dollars.
Old Glory floated in the breeze and the school authorities
sent them on to gladden the hearts of pea growers.
Deaf mutes from Berkeley came to harvest Yolo County.
The Woman’s Land Army of America, California Division
was formed for the duration of the war. Their duty
fortified the slogan: if you can’t fight, farm.
There were flickers of strikes that were followed by
arrests. Detectives served as deputies to bring
the agitators to trial. The deputies also stood along
the bridge to the capitol with their rubber bludgeons
and kept the blanket stiffs and bohunks from
crossing the river. They stayed vigilant, and with their
pick handles invented their own brand of vigilantism.
Transients were starving in the great valley of
the San Joaquin, transients in the season of heavy rains
and floods — who might be swallowed up by
fertile earth to some day sprout up into
their full discontent, old city oaks amid
the slickened streets. They train the traffic
to see the worn down groove on the way to gain.

 

Crowd Control

We pass through the body scanners
into the arena. Sleep Train reaches out
to gather the throngs in the name of
achievement. The Class of 2016
assembles in their orange robes,
and the parents pile into the cheering
seats. Occasional whoops and hollers
hit the rafters. I imagine this is what
prison must feel like — people
warehoused in close proximity
with periodic incoherent shouts
to serve as companions. Bodies
pass by as distractions in this
former house of sport. Who knows
what they’ll turn it into next.
My guess is a growth industry,
something like Security Enterprises,
Control Systems Solutions, Detention
Unlimited. It should be something
with a name worthy of the modern
state while the Pizza Guys ad looks down
and DeMarcus Cousins’ mug tells us
to “do good.” The contradictions abound.
The airhorn sounds, a salutation for
another graduate promoted to the rank
of steadfast citizen. The path is uncertain,
but the future is invoked. The number of
people who have college degrees is now
the same as those with criminal records.
Which group beckons as we are led
down the ramp outside, a clot of
human feet. It feels like a break.
The flashing lights in the parking lot
warn that there’ll be trouble if
anyone makes mischief, so we behave
as we push, push to the outer limit
where our cars await. We drive to
the highway, remembering someone
authorized a lot of money to
change hands so that this herd-like
moment might feel like an event.

 

Tim Kahl is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW Books, 2009), The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012) and The String of Islands (Dink, 2015). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Drunken Boat, Mad Hatters’ Review, Indiana Review, and many other journals. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog The Great American Pinup and the poetry video blog Linebreak Studios. He is also editor of Bald Trickster Press and Clade Song. He is the vice president and events coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center. He also has a public installation in Sacramento {In Scarcity We Bare The Teeth}. He currently teaches at California State University, Sacramento and houses his father’s literary estate—one volume: Robert Gerstmann’s book of photos of Chile, 1932.