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Travel Journal
by Dale Smith


Arrive at airport four hours early, reading flight number as departure time. Take free pass to Continental's "President's Room," a business class lounge with free booze, peanuts, muffins and hardware hookups, faxes and conference tables. The biz class sits in suits, voicing economy. Words come out of them like stains, polluting the room but leaving the starched souls stitched in sinless synthetics.
     Hoa orders a bloody mary and a screwdriver. The vodka eases us under the vacation's spell.
     I open a book about Hermes. The God who toyed with a turtle, stabbing the animal with silver knife, hollowed the shell for a harp. He sings bawdy songs of his mother and father fucking, making this new song. Hermes plays trickster, God of love affairs, travel and thieves. He's the quick guide to hell; lord of nimble mind.
     Hours later, below us, America spreads in brown space. Little crop circles of green line up beside rectangular formations. That dry space sucks out the Colorado with lead straws. Each sphere turns in a circle of hell. Sun, clouds, metal wing pink gleams and the West slows down for us, holding its pink light out.
     Arrive in Los Angeles around four Pacific time. Carol meets us there, and I repress an instant glimpse. Dry air, dry in her mouth corners. The dry west of death in her.
     She stresses through traffic, but talks to us about who's who and what's what. Angelinos, poets included, crave fame. Shallow springs, concrete rivers. The muses tan on hot asphalt.
     We smoke-out at Carol's. Mark, her boyfriend, whose Planet of the Apes action figures stand out as the most interesting selections on his book shelves, rolls a practiced joint. I inhaled the sweet plant but the smoke - a blend of bud and tobacco - went down hard on my lungs.
     We sipped red wine and tried to make conversation, but only the surface was voiced in the high pot waft of our heads. Ape man settled back in white couch cushions.
     Outside, on the balcony, Hoa and Carol looked out into the lights coming from the hills of East Los Angeles. A strange form existed among us, as if we saw into each other the opposite of our own expectations. In a hopeless drift of indifference and anxiety I spoke to the Ape about the city, the Getty, the bars and music. About his classes and graduate education.
     Empty answers crawled out of him more like roaches than monkeys, more wretched than irresistible, as if the mechanized surface of New World economy infected the soul he later denied existence. The real monkey, that trickster, stirred up inside me, but I swallowed him tail and all, watching our words float out into grunts of barely sentient observances of each other. But the detached bliss of indifference carried a bright blade, and it poked the Ape's ass. I saw in his eyes the lone gaze of conquest, a young man in submission to Empire, totally.
     But I was implicated in that too, and recognized my own conquering role as Empire's double agent. But in him, words blurred with an economy of senses, against which there are no defenses of reason.
     Screw the abundant lantana, datura and bougainvillea that grow so easily there, stuck in corners of small yards between houses.
     And yet morning comes, bright beams in eyes wake us by 7:30. I make strong coffee. Prepare for an Angel's flood.   


Coffee, cigarettes, herb. Sit on balcony, look out through clearing smog. How do they make movies out of this?
     Lunch in Sunset Blvd. diner. Visit two New Age religious relic rip-off shops. We are the sign of Flint in Aztec astrology.
     Home, fuck, nap, read.
     Sat on balcony, drank wine, watched sun drop behind pocked hills.
     Later, evening, downtown LA spread dark and empty. Andrew and Rita met us for drinks in a Chinatown bar, then Thai noodles in another late night spot.
     Moon light was obscured by neon LA light. Inhaled herb, listened to Miles Davis. We were far away, far. Look at these strangers, thin bones and straight clothes. No difference there is love or none, just the business of the brakes working, the engine's gas lines full.
     The dark traveling stranger stepped out of some Grecian cave. He poked with his rod to test something between us. His sign is the same as the logo of Mercedes, a triple crossroads signature, a trinity corresponding in chrome symbol.
     The God's hand is fast, and he ushers us under words and smoke into the repressed banks that confuse and remove confidence. Hesitant, the self doubt in me a sin, I grin, to go closer, with my sinning heart. How I hated my hosts in this death post of florid luxuries and smog. I've never felt so unrelaxed. Tense American pleasantries passed between us, the candle column burning, as if measuring these distances, and flickering its light against the cold sheet of glass through which the light of Los Angeles shined.

There must be a message the city tunes in as if it receives news from Mars. There, in West Hollywood, limos drive by, matching poodles poo curbside, faces pass pre-framed in fame-seeking poses.
     Clap your hands! Make them go away. The mottled pigeons flap gray wings, lift fat bodies up, then land back in a small group near the steps of Virgin Records.
     I look at erotica, at the shaved pussies, pierced dicks and chained nipples. Clerks shelve books. I'm paranoid they look over my shoulder, but I reach for graphic sex comics, jizz slopped on hard shanks of an unlaced cartoon figure. Outside, it's raining, Angelinos stepping in to avoid the messiness.
     Their bodies are toys. I'm invisible, a ghost among ghosts in hot hard shells.
     Nothing locks down in me, no image stands out. The weird instance of rain, the grand scale of personal architectures and the living plants divide me. Beyond that, nothing, no desire. A city so hot with these Herms. Who knows if they're coming or going? The stars burn out on the backs of buses. Tonight's made for TV....
     Morning glories drink sundrops of rainlight. Miss, the steps are melting in your beauty. Gooey, wet dreams are made of mushroom gardens and flooded lips. Festoon the freak shirks of white shirted collar snobs. Beat the tripwire party mix in your shiny doo. Baby, you die, and live hot. Sweet warm summer LALALALA. You fucking death cult mummy, cumless, dried out, cunttight shitty. The Big Fucking Empty, bone toy. Drive!

He leads through dark streets, up through the moonlit patches that stretch out against deeper blues. Clouds above mottle sky in the almost full moon light. He has many names, identified as Psychopomp by Kerényi, soul guide. In Egypt as Thoth he left ibis steps traced in sand. But his many traditions converge in a form of light reaching out of dark night. He is mediator of that other world, the source of becoming.
     And in the night he is most at home. Car lights flash by, and the buildings are streaked with logos and reflections in windows. Hoa's new cut hair shines. Carol holds the wheel, grinding teeth. I am crammed in backseat with Roger and Jeremiah. No one knows what to expect.
          Everything teases the traveler, puts on a
          familiar face and the next moment is utterly
          strange, suddenly terrifies with awful
          gestures and immediately resumes a familiar
          and harmless posture (Handbook of the Gods, Otto).

     A German beer hall booms in warm rooms, but we go up to the roof. Roger, cold in shorts, tucks balled fists under arms. Jeremiah tells me about his family religion and the Calvinist tradition.
     I watch Carol, confused by her distant bearing. There are hermetic gestures in us, the Maker's Mark and Jameson clinking in the barmaid's hands. Pilsner and lager set to chase the harsher whiskies. Hoa lights a Spirit, inhales ghostly smoke and the red dot of her stick stands out against the goofy bierhaus deco.
     Somewhere in us, despite firm presentations, a weakness waits, folding in on that confidence we call on. Learn to submit and perceive in others that innocence of becoming. The noise of the bar falls back, and my friends' mouths move but words fall against a greater silence, and I look to those visible stresses. My stomach aches, mixed with smog and tense measures.
He is most likely the same dark depth of being from which we all originate. Perhaps for this reason Hermes can so convincingly hover before us, lead us on our ways, show us golden treasures in everyone through the split-second timing which is the spirit of finding and thieving... (Kerényi 97). "I do not seek," said Picasso, "I find." Such careful distinction, care of making the self capable. For the road winds out, and we're on it, even domestically, guided by the four-sided nature of this thief, funneled through the mouths of animals.
     Across town in late hour the storefronts bloom and fade out fast as we enter Silver Lake. Roger looks through the window, Hoa settles next to me, her warm arm on my leg in the small moving car.
     "Seed is soul," crasser and holier than disembodied prayers. Speed lights past red, yellow, green posts over streets, moving through intersections, changing lanes to get on through this weird city. Sound of wind, the quiet engine and wheels on pavement. Hug Roger and Jeremiah good night. And they leave for Santa Monica, in the cold Western air of the state that would be enchanted.

Dale Smith co-edits the zine Skanky Possum with Hoa Nguyen. He lives in Austin, Texas.


The chapbooks SILLYCON VALLEY (Gas Editions), TEXAS CRUDE (Blue Press) and ARABIA FELIX (811 Books) are available through Small Press Distribution. AMERICAN RAMBLER will be published later this year.


Articles and poetry are available online at: www.jacket.zip.com.au and www.poetryproject.com.

Email: skankypossum@hotmail.com

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