I called him the blue man. It was in 1988 on a Sunday afternoon as I crawled through heavy traffic on highway 205 through Tracy that I saw him.
I wrote a poem about him. Once I showed that poem to my mother, but that was before I considered myself a poet. It was a time when I was in love with the word, “doom.” I was young then and returning to San Jose from Stockton where I had visited my mother for the afternoon.
I still see the blue man when I drive that road – even though the place where he stood is now the Walmart parking lot.
I still see the blue overalls he wore and the blue truck he was standing near. The small barn he was standing near was dark brown – the almost black-brown of decaying wood. Smoke was filling the sky as I watched.
The car in front of me moved four feet and I let my car creep forward. In the distance I saw the flashing lights of a fire engine turn off the freeway. The engine made its way down the ramp and onto the narrow frontage road below the line of slowly moving cars.
The smoke grew and I saw the first flames dancing on the roof of the little barn. My heart broke for him as it was clear that he was going to lose that little barn.
Traffic started moving a bit faster as the fire engine pulled into the little pasture passing the barbed wire fence and the two horses standing near the gate. As the engine came to a stop, four figures sprang from the vehicle. One ran towards the blue man, one stood looking at the scene with a radio to his ear, one started pulling a hose off the engine as the last one helped.
The car in front of me started moving faster and soon I was looking at the scene through my rearview mirror. Great clouds of smoke were rising and I saw the blue truck moving towards the horses. On the other side of the freeway another fire engine was speeding along with its lights flashing.
All the way home a poem built in my mind. I still remember the opening lines that poem. It wasn’t a good poem, but it started:
In a blue land
under a blue sky
a blue man lived
with burnt dreams
and smoldering hope.
On days like today, when the news is filled with fires and pictures of burnt towns – I see the blue man in my mirror sadly driving away and reconsider using the word, “doom.”
On days like today, I remember driving past the same place weeks later and seeing a barn burnt to the ground, blackened scorched ground and half burnt fence posts. I never saw horses again.
These days when I read of whole towns destroyed in a day and hundreds of thousands people being evacuated – my eyes look up and to the right, to that rearview mirror so many years ago.
To a blue man and dreams and lives turning to smoke.