(for George Ypsilanti)
My hard landing was different from yours. I wound up
in a trailer by a creek. A sunlight that crackled,
a canyon like the fresh morning of the world.
Terrible gifts in so palpable a beauty.
Monkey flowers beside clinking stones, the
flames of Indian paintbrush and plates of
water hemlock. So poisonous locals claimed
campers had been known to die from using
its strong stems for tent posts or walking sticks,
skewers on which to roast marshmallows or meat.
And all I could do was walk the trail each day, listen
to my own voice echo and vanish— a naked
skin in the world—while you made your slow journey
from jail to rehab and back. Often I pictured
you in those beige rooms with the orange bucket
chairs. My own body like a stranger’s—the usual
symptoms: the hand shaking, the cramping. Recovery
takes time. That’s what I was told. That’s what I
learned, but something harder, too–how ill-equipped I
was as I trudged beside the crushed-foil water, smoking
cigarettes, staring at the sky where hawks and eagles
circled, sometimes diving for fish with uncanny diction
and grace—the shimmering land like a personal
insult, so I kept thinking of paradise, of Eden
and its malcontents. And you, and I—what fresh
pleasures we hungered, how easily we mistook
ourselves, until we shrunk into our tired bodies.
You, drinking thin coffee from the Styrofoam cups,
listening to the sad stories—all that talking, talking,
talking through, and me locked in my tinny silence.
There was a dog; the dog of the man who
became my husband. His pure nature fills me with
awe. He walked beside me—mute and speckled,
wet nosed and liquid-eyed. Sometimes he raced ahead
with a boundless leaping as if he would never
stop moving forward into brightness. Yet each time—
as if a thread was binding him to my slow stubborn
pacing, he looped back—for me, the dumb stick
to be fetched. What saves us? That winter, a neighbor
showed me how to dig myself under in a blizzard;
he promised the air beneath would stay warm,
a chlorophyll breath. The trick to staying alive,
he called it, but I thought only of the burn of the crystals,
the dog who would find me, dig his black-button
nose under the white so that we might freeze together.
(for George Ypsilanti)