Clear Creek: First Day Out

image of Frances in dried mud

Clear Creek near San Benito Mountain, California, 1988

Thursday, May 12th

It’s getting hotter. The big tarps flap in the cooling breeze, our truck is totally hidden under it’s blue house, held up by tent poles, guy-wired and secured with fat long nails pounded into the rocky ground. Clear Creek. Motorcycle country. All day we’ll hear the gravelly-throated insects bounce by on the road, very near, very dusty. Tomorrow they’ll be gone, most of them, back to work or school, caught in schedules that won’t let you stay up all night writing, or playing music or working out some amazing new invention to help you finish a project you’ve been stewing with for years: the robot, the play, the books, the songs to be written and learned, the fingers to reconnect with the brain so you can play a clean steady scale, oh God I could go on and on.

The first day of our escape after four years working in Silicon Valley. The first great day of liberation from driving around from here to there and there to someplace else, every night move the truck, hide from the police or some nosy person peaking out the window because they (she) has nothing else to do (do you really think we’re going to rob you and kill you?!) The box is going up, the big shiny box Tim’s fitting up under the truck to carry paint until we get the truck painted, and then some of this hardware that breaks your toes and skins your shins and gives you little slashes now and then because there’s so little room in this truck, this house, where we’ve lived since July 1984. We bought it from old Robert Trueluck (that’s another story) and we’ve lived here ever since, except for the time it was broken down (which is more of that other story.)

Friday, May 13th

I woke up from a dream at 2:30 in the morning, freezing and fevered, the thick blankets choking me. I was lying in the exact same position in the exact same place in my dream. I was dying with a hundred and eight temperature, chilled and shaking, trapped, suffocating. When I woke up, Timothy woke up. I told him about my dream and took my temperature. Almost a hundred and two. Only a few hours before, on the other side of the world, the great jazz trumpet player, my friend Chet Baker was found dead on the street in Amsterdam. He fell out of his second-story hotel window. Or was he pushed?

For Chet Baker
by Frances, 1995

You sit on the window sill
look down on the midnight street
watch the black man strolling by,
the white woman on his arm,
they turn the corner.

The needle dangles from your arm,
you pull it out, watch it drop to the pavement
you lean over as if to roll onto soft green grass,
like a sleepy child fall gracefully
to break out your life on cold stone


On that dark San Francisco night they jumped you,
five young men knocked out your teeth
you fight you lose
mixed blood Irish Cherokee


You pulled up to The Cats
taillight out
lid of grass on the dashboard
On parole
Just out of jail

We were more than lovers, Chet and I.
He could make me cry with any song he sang
or played on that dark horn.

We never kissed nor touched,
except the time he waited at the bar
he pulled me to him as I walked by
to a seat near the piano. “I’ve been watching you.”

April 28, 1988

The last great concert
the perfect horn
the voice near gone,
you told me once,
“I play to keep from dying.”

May 16, 1988

Obituary: American jazz trumpeter Chet Baker died Friday after falling from the second floor of his Amsterdam hotel.

~ Frances Tompkins

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