Big yellow taxi — in Duke City

 

At once meditative and profane, Robert Leonard’s Yellow Cab traces his after-dark odysseys as a University of New Mexico anthropology professor who moonlights behind the wheel of a taxi. Leonard makes us privy to the stream of confessions from the back seat, narrating them in a breezy, urban voice, with the world-weary persona of someone who has heard it all.

Constant reminders of running meters flow throughout these prose poems and vignettes. Leonard’s obsession with making money often supersedes his anthropological interests as he quests for the highest fares. Yet he is not without compassion: The streets of Albuquerque, as he tells it, are literally overrun with ladies of the evening, and rapport often blossoms between cabbies and their prostitute passengers: "They know we offer safe passage out of a bad situation when they need it and when you are a whore almost all situations are bad or are going to be soon, and we don’t care if they don’t have any money because we probably don’t have anything more important or interesting to do than help a girl in trouble and besides they never want a ride very far and who would want to take trick money from a hard-working whore anyway?"

In "Dead Man’s Curve," one of his most evocative pieces, Leonard understands that what is left out of a story is as important as what is put in. A romantic assignation yields to a tantalizing sense of foreboding, but though we want to know more about the lovers he’s transporting, we learn only as much as the driver sees and hears. And in the chilling, ghost-populated "City of Cats," the grittiness of the author’s style fuses with the poetic, so that we could almost be in these circling cabs, the "little islands of yellow afloat in the river of the night."

Yellow Cab
Robert Leonard
179 pages, softcover: $18.95. University of New Mexico Press, 2006.