Trained Bears

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My fifth summer between my long-haired parents, rolling East in our blue ’64 Dodge truck, California to Nova Scotia, all we own out back under flapping mackinaw blankets. Truck a barge floating the earth and we, Mister Man, are the Bargers. For weeks on the highway I am wind, the blue truck bone. We roll to a stop in the woods. At night beyond our wicklight, the truck a dark mammal in a larger darkness, heavy among the singing frogs. We drive an old brown horse —eyes gaping, lips loose— slow as the truck will go along the dirt road. In Halifax, Dad backs up to my window. The blue truck sleeps years in a coma, going turquoise. Then, gone. Gentle peasant, big hands, dirt under the nails. Silent big-boned uncle with PTSD. When Dad turned off the ignition it shook for a few seconds. I felt rather than saw how it shook. I feel it still,

now thinking of how, years before, Neal Cassady shook after driving the Prankster Bus all night on speed, and his wife Carolyn held him. Gabbing too fast, too much, amok. Sight gags. He gallops, prances, dances, story-tells, pill-pops, driving, driving, driving! His anachronistic parlance— kundalini, state troopers, Armageddon, John 15:1 —paranoic riffing without climax, whirlpools of words turning, turning as if by their own power. You were the Beat who could not write. Skinny, tense, smile a trip wire. Fallen gnomic prophet out of a Blake poem, pestilential monk out of The Canterbury Tales, whose monologues charm us for a few pages. Sweet, social, obedient. A trained bear, Carolyn called him. One day in ’68, in Guanajuato, Mexico, Cassady, in T-shirt and jeans, blind drunk, staggered into a wedding party, drank wine, ate tortillas and secobarbital. Later crawling on hands and knees out into the rain. At forty-one, past tired, his body quit. On that railroad track they laid a tarp upon him.