What does the backhoe give you
that I cannot give you?
I watch you when you are unaware of me watching,
when you ride up and down the streets of our neighborhood
asking everyone and his uncle for the 50th time
if they need a hole dug in their front lawn or driveway
or perhaps the beginning of an inground swimming pool out back,
your hands tapping out the beat of “Nothing But a Good Time”
and other 80′s hair band greatest hits on the
I know what lies behind you on your seat
inside the Hello Kitty lunchbox I know you use unironically,
inside the fold of the lettuce in your egg salad hoagie on the third sliced tomato.
it can only be your scorn and hatred of me, of my fear of trenching and shoring.
Still at night, you want me to touch you – there –
as if it is the backhoe’s gearshift or one of the knobbed rods
that makes the entire cab rotate, and when you’re finished, you cry out
like the honorary last digger on a canal, tossing the final
shovelful of dirt aside, “Goddamn! We did it boys!”, but when I look at you – there -
I see only puffs of smoke, a grey-black exhaust coming out.
What is there in you?
Is there someone inside of you smoking a cigarette?
Or is this why when you were a male exotic dancer
you went by the stage name “Mr. Toot-Toot”?
In a dream, I watch you ride your backhoe
into a pool of quicksand and then
dig yourself out: the two of you rising as if merged together.
I feel you coming toward me, the rumble of you and your beast
plowing through the nighttime jungle to the palm tree atop which I sit,
and you drive the backhoe up the tree at a 90-degree angle,
and you tell me through the mesh divider that you can’t help it,
that the backhoe is your master, and then you flip the cassette over
in the boombox in your cab and press play, and Whitesnake’s
“Here I Go Again” starts up and then gradually fades into
nothingness as I watch you drive off and your safety taillights fade into
an even greater nothingness.
Then I wake up and look out the window
and see you talking with some municipal workers,
asking them if you can join them on their worksite
and help them dig through the asphalt to install a new valve on the water main.
You look at me in the window and give me a thumbs up
and point to your backhoe, then mime a steering motion and point to your chest,
as if I could ever really understand, and one of the workers gives you
a hardhat and you put it on and shake their hand then turn back to me
and point to the hardhat on your head with a big stupid grin.
Sometimes I shudder when I think too deeply about the backhoe,
but then come moments when I see you there like this,
and realize that that deep down you are just a simpleton, lacking
the imagination of someone like me, who if I were in your place, would make a plan
to someday tunnel out of this life and through the earth to North Korea
in order to become a Backhoe Hero of the People,
and I relax and say over and over “Om. Shanti, shanti.
Om. Shanti, shanti. Om. Shanti, shanti…”
A parody of Louise Gluck’s “Horse”.