May 2001

Robert Fink


Robert Fink is the W. D. Bond Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, Texas. His most recent book of poetry is The Tongues of Men and of Angels (Texas Tech University Press, 1995). His poems have appeared in recent issues of Poetry, Gulf Coast, The Texas Review, The Texas Observer, Iron Horse Literary Review, and Descant. His creative non-fiction essays have appeared most recently in TEXAS, the Sunday supplement magazine of The Houston Chronicle and in The Baylor Line, the alumni magazine of Baylor University.

Rescue the Perishing    Click to hear in real audio

I need a Harley-Davidson 2000 FXST Softail Standard. I need you to hurry. The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price is $12,355 not counting freight charges which run maybe $200, and of course tax and license and other miscellaneous costs. If I moved to Los Angeles, the price would increase $290 for California Emissions. There aren't enough vehicles in West Texas to warrant special concerns about polluting the air. We've got more dust whirling than exhaust fumes. Let's say $12,500 and change.

Looking out from my third-floor office window, I can see a long way north and west past the I-20 loop where last year a car fell off the overpass onto another car crossing under and crushed most of a family. Every day at noon I jog on that farm-to-market road. If I kept going, I would end up at Anson and Lubbock and Amarillo, then, who knows, maybe Colorado, maybe California. Every day I have to pass the plastic flowers, the weathered teddy bear wired to the rail where the two cars met.

I would purchase the Harley Softail Standard myself, but I don't have $12,500. The year 2000 model is offered in Vivid Black, Sinister Blue Pearl, and Luxury Rich Red Pearl. I prefer black, simple and formal as an evening wedding or a funeral—the Alpha and Omega color. The chrome sets it off, laced wheel spokes intertwining like a cat's cradle net of string stretched across the gulf between a child's open palms and fingers.

Everything gleams: the forks, the headlight, the breather cover, the pedals, the Twin Cam 88 balanced engine, growling, throbbing as if all the hearts of the good Dead were beating in sync, lifting the rider above dark streets, disembodied, one with the machine trailing a blood-deep laugh in its wake—a comfort to sleeping children, the voice of retribution to Evil skulking in alleys, stoned on the freeways. 

Forgive me. I sometimes get a little carried away, and I haven't even mentioned the long, clean lines of the dual pipes flowing down the side like parallel paths to the celestial city, like fighter planes in formation, like the double-bladed sword of the angel Gabriel. I may have gone too far.

The Harley Night Train is indelibly black, the Springer beautiful and ostentatious, the Low Rider a song remembered and hummed in the daytime, the Fat Boy a screaming charge of Marines, the Heritage Classic a parade of decorated heroes welcomed home. They each cost more than I would ask of you. The simple, single-minded Standard will do for me.

It's true I recently turned fifty, true my father never permitted me to have a motorcycle or even the Cushman Eagle I fantasized in church every Sunday of junior high, staring at Lindy Henderson's honey-blonde hair draped over the back of the pew within touching distance. I rescued her every Sunday from fates worse than death. She was always grateful. She would climb up behind me, lock her arms around my waist. We roared off into a Technicolor sunset.

Yes, my knees are going, and I can't see fine print without my bifocals. Soon I won't be able to wear leather; soon I'll be unsteady in boots. I haven't had to fight in years. I may be starting to lose my edge. Hurry. People are dying.

Right now, a man too drunk to clearly recall who is to blame for his ills, is standing before a rent house where a coed lives alone. Tomorrow we'll read how her phone service had been mistakenly terminated. A college sophomore is pulling over on the interstate to change a flat less than a bumper's length from chartered busses, eighteen wheelers. A high school boy is placing his father's pistol in the front passenger's seat and driving to school as if it's just another day of tenses, chemical reactions, probabilities. A down-sized engineer is poised on the roof of his last project. A convenience store clerk waves at the man banging outside on the glass door: "Sorry, I'm closing up." A baby won't stop crying.

About the time I learned to ride my Schwinn, I prayed each night before I lay me down to sleep. Every Saturday I listened to the Shadow on the Philco radio in our living room. The mysterious crime fighter always appeared just in time, his reverberating laugh striking fear in the heart of Evil. Sometimes prayer seems all we've got. A friend is shrinking before my eyes. When I ask how he's doing, he looks away and says, "Fine." Another friend is afraid of the sun. Another, lost without her child. 

My wife's father—the composer of choral anthems, is buried inside his body. The name of the angel he wrestles in the desert is Parkinson. Unlike the Biblical Jacob, my father-in-law cannot pin his angel. He cannot lift his arm for the downbeat, the flourish at the end. Last week when my wife visited her father in the nursing home, she placed her ear close to his mouth to receive his whispered blessing: "Get out of here while you can."

May, 1967, I was cruising at ninety across the midnight desert this side of Yuma. A Del Rio radio evangelist told me to place one hand on the dashboard, believe and be healed. What did I need of healing? I was twenty-one in a fast, black car aimed toward L.A., Malibu, North Hollywood. I was a summer away from the assassinations of Reverend Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, from the Tet Offensive and Khe Sanh, from the Chicago Democratic National Convention, my senior year at a university that assured me all was right with the world if my button-down-Oxford-cloth shirt matched my navy slacks and Wejun loafers, if my hair was short, if I joined R.O.T.C., the Peace Corps, accepted the call to a seminary. 

I've been reading a book by a rabbi who believes God answers prayer when we help others who can't help themselves. I'm willing to risk his being right. I'm practicing my laugh. You know what I need from you. Hurry! There's a long waiting list.



Robert Fink: Creative Non-Fiction
Copyright 2001 The Cortland Review Issue 16The Cortland Review