The Vagabonds, Now Mortgage-Bound

Rambo and Rimbaud are living out their golden years
together in a house on the coast
with ropes and buoys decorating the deck.
It is situated along the beachy edge of things
among the tri-colored corrugated shacks
and the Airstreams parked in deer clearings
and the sleeps-15 vacation rental homes
with private ocean access and the single-wides
with four plastic pickets keeping back some geraniums
and one tall hotel, as if someone
had upended a Monopoly board,
taken all the paper money and left.
The ocean’s pound and roar sounds to Rambo
like a warehouse full of men
shouting bets at stick fighters,
a bout no one will ever be able to end.
Rimbaud feels a dark affinity with the waves’
regularly thwarted decision to leave for good.
They are known as the Rimbaud, short-i hard-d
Rimbaud brothers, old Johnny and old Art.

When tavern talk in the Sea Hags Three or Andy’s
turns as it will to regional legends
Rambo’s law enforcement imbroglio
up in Hope, Washington comes up
along with D.B. Cooper and the time Jane Fonda
painted a peace sign naked in a traffic circle
up near Fort Lewis. But he hardly resembles himself now.
He wears his gray hair short
atop the slow landslide of his face,
and he’s recently had a penchant
for fine-knit sweaters, slacks and penny loafers.

And the schools are small
and not very good so no one
is reading nineteenth-century hallucinatory French verse.
Art’s pretty sure some kids
have stumbled on Patti Smith
and gotten suspicious but they are the ones
who leave behind the honeybee-keeping
jazz-flautist fathers and the entrepreneurial
waitress mothers and the goddamn-it-
I-got-it grandparents and the eager artist transplants
making a go of it at the farmers’ market
to read alone, standing over dinner at the kitchen counter,
the letters Art writes religiously
to the county gazette’s opinion page.
Dear Idiots, they begin, Dear Morons.

Since he funds and arranges the fireworks
every Fourth, all his letters are published.
He lets Johnny handle by himself
the pyrotechnics on the barge
anchored off the promontory,
ascetic Johnny who only gets drunk
on his own sweat. He is meditatively indifferent
to his old work the rest of the year,
except for the Fourth, when the 364 days
tick down to 00:00:00
and he can run amongst explosions again
and exhaust his body and his desire
without the burden of real carnage.


Every few months they drive half a day to the nearest city
big enough to really be called one
and go dancing at the Zanzibar.
Johnny wears a navy-blue cashmere turtleneck
tight over riptides of muscle
his jaw swims parallel to.
Art wears a thin old t-shirt
that matches his pale blue eyes
which sweep the dance floor
with lighthouse purpose.

The dancers swim through bullets of light
streaking from turning globes.
The jettisoned and the shy
sway around the edges like kelp.

Old Johnny dances taut as a bow string, crouching
and disappearing, rising in a burst.
Old Art’s arms flick his fingers away
as if they were lice
and he moves this thigh
then this other thigh and this left leg.

Johnny always tries to resist, then rescue
someone else’s Colonel.
Art always tries to insult and intoxicate
someone else’s Verlaine.
But it is not the same. It’s true
the tide brings back everything it takes.
But not back to you.

So they drive back home alone
together and sit on the dark beach stiffening up
until like plastic toy figures
only one joint in each limb will bend.

CATHERINE BULL is a poet from the Pacific Northwest with recent work in FIELD, Literary Bohemian, The Broken City, and a review inĀ Smartish Pace. She holds degrees in poetry and English/creative writing from Oberlin College and UC Davis, and blogs about poetry and poetics at