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Garrison

Tom Wayman
From:   Did I Miss Anything? Selected Poems 1973-1993. Madeira Park, B.C. : Harbour Pub., c1993.


A man is running across Wyoming.
Away out on the high plains,
nothing around him but the wind and sky,
a man runs along the paved shoulder
of the great Interstate crossing Wyoming from west to east.
Cars pass him; the faces of children
stare out of rear windows.
And trucks pull by, the drivers high above the road
watch him run a long way ahead as they approach and go on.

Garrison is running across Wyoming.
He has always run. He ran in military school
and in the Army's summer camps.
"They wanted us to get up at 5:30 A.M.
So at 5 I'd be up doing laps. They couldn't believe it."
He went to college on a scholarship for track.
"I was good, but I wasn't that good.
I never could get into competition. I'd place,
but I think I only won in a meet once or twice.
I just liked to run. We'd have a good time,
me and a few others. I remember one relay
where the first guy on our team was great,
the second guy was good,
then they gave the baton to me.
I ran full out, but I lost most of the lead we had.
When I passed to my friend
he could see we weren't going to win:
he was even slower on that distance than I was.
So he ran one lap
then out of the stadium
into the dressing room
and was sitting outside having showered and changed
when the coach caught up to him.
The coach didn't know what to do.
He'd never seen anybody run right out of a race."

Now Garrison strides down a long hill in the afternoon sun,
his T-shirt plastered to his back, above the pavement,
face contorted with the strain.

"At college," he says,
"I used to run down from the jock dorm
about a mile to a little amusement park
where they had this miniature railroad
parents would take their kids on for rides.
There was a cinder track that paralleled the train tracks
so I'd run on that. Pretty soon
a train would come up behind
and I'd put on a burst of speed
to see if I could beat it.
The guy at the controls of the little engine
would open the throttle
nuh nuh nuh-nuh nuhnuhnuh and I'd tear ahead
trying to do better. People on board
would shout and wave
but I had to leap a couple of ditches
and in any case by the time I ever got to the park
I'd already run a ways so I wasn't exactly fresh.

"One day, though, I got into strip
and drove my car down.
I got out and hid in the bushes
on the further side of the worst ditch.
When the train came around the corner
I leaped out and yelled in the driver's ear
Let's go and took off up the track.
He opened her up nuh nuh nuh-nuh nuhnuhnuh
and took off after me, the people
screaming and cheering as he drew closer.
They thought they were helping win the race
but actually they were just sitting there yelling
and he would have gone faster if they weren't aboard.
Anyway, that time we were neck and neck
when we got round to the ditch again."

His feet, in Wyoming,
pull the asphalt behind him, stroke after stroke,
breath hauled in and pushed out with his long legs;
eyes blue under the blue sky.

He went to graduate school
in ROTC, studying education. He listened
to what people said about the War
and asked the Army about it,
so they let him go. After that,
he asked his professors about their work, too,
bringing his hound Ralph into classes
and offices, using the dog as a point of reference
in discussing teaching techniques.
He was living then at the edge of town
in a tiny cabin, and running
miles along the country roads
and laps around a tree-lined campus oval.

Until he quit, got a job working demolition,
then in the southern part of the state
went logging. "The only thing political down there,"
he says, "was the Birch Society meetings.
So I'd go along. Mostly it was a good place
to talk about hunting and trade guns and all that.
I'd refuse to take the oath of allegiance
to start the meeting. Freak 'em out.
Told them I was a Commie. Then we'd talk about dogs
and rifles. I kept winning most of the turkey shoots
they had down there, with my old single-shot.
They didn't know what to make of it. I figured
one crazy Commie at a Birch meeting
is better than a dozen films sent out from California.

"I remember one time I was over
talking guns with Billy Hankin.
I saw he had a couple of bumper stickers
on the back of his pickup:
Support Your Right To Bear Arms and
Support Your Local Police. 'Billy,' I said to him,
'you know if they pass a law outlawing guns
it isn't the Communists
who are going to come by to pick up your rifles.
It'll be Sheriff MacLeod.' Next time I saw the truck
the bumper sticker about the police was torn off."

He had enough education credits
to teach remedial subjects in the winters
and he logged, summers. He married
and got his teaching certificate finally,
had a daughter and hurt his back in the woods
so it had to be operated on.
Then his wife left him, and he came apart,
driving west to San Francisco non-stop
in his old jeep, and north into Canada
to a rural teaching job some friends got him.
There, too, he ran
and sat in the bar mourning his marriage
while the jukebox sang you can't hide
yer cheatin' eyes
and he quit in January
and moved further north
to work as a counsellor on a ranch for delinquent boys.
"The kids could go to jail or to the ranch," he says.
"They were some mean little monsters.
A couple of them had been found guilty
of setting cars on fire. Shortly after they got to the ranch
they took off. We got the RCMP after them
and they were picked up in Hazelton.
The Mountie puts them into the back of his car
but one of them opens the door somehow
and zips away up the street. So the cop,
who isn't too bright, leaves one kid in the car
while he runs after the other.
By the time he gets back with the first kid,
sure enough, the other one had the cop car nicely ablaze.

"These kids are real puzzle-factory inmates,
penguins, that's what I call them. One night
a bunch of them got into a fight in the meal hall,
squirting ketchup at each other
and throwing bread around and everything.
I was supposed to be on duty, so I went in there
and didn't pay any attention to them
but began kicking over tables, smashing plates and cups,
tipping over chairs. Just went insane.
I looked up after a minute
and saw all the kids huddled into a corner
watching me. 'Now clean this up
and your mess too,' I said
and walked out, and they went to work
and got everything tidy. I just showed them
what it's like when an adult goes nutty.
No good yelling at them or threatening them.
They've had plenty of that.
If a penguin comes at me to hit me
sometimes I'll just wrap my arms around him
so he can't move his
and pick him up and dance with him. He gets really angry
but then he calms down and nobody gets hurt."

Now Garrison is travelling back to Colorado
for a long-delayed compensation hearing about his back.
"I never can do what I want to, Tom," he says
as we drive. "I got out of teaching because
I like to work with my hands. I have to stay in shape:
any job I've been on I want to work full out.
But most jobs, you're letting everybody else down
if you work too hard. I like the outdoor stuff at the ranch
but the place is crazy, it's really a jail,
the kids don't want to be there. And there's no women.
I go into town and meet somebody
and fall in love and make a fool of myself.
I don't want to do that. I want to be better to women.
But I don't know how."

His fingers reach up to twist
the thin blond hair above his forehead.
"Tom, who needs us? I mean
I think maybe this is the first time
people like us have been really useless.
What can we work at, give it everything
that isn't hurting someone else
or adding to the sick way things are going?
What are we good for? Sometimes I honestly wish
I'd gone and fought in the War."

At a rest-stop, he says he wants to stretch,
cramped from riding in the small car.
He changes into strip and starts east down the freeway
while I finish some lunch, check the oil
and drive out after him.
A speck in the distance
at the edge of the highway
Garrison runs as the traffic speeds past him
in the hot day. The only human figure
in the vast panorama
of wind and landscape, a man
is headed for Rawlins,
running across Wyoming,
running towards Jerusalem.



Tom Wayman's works copyright © to the author.


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