Saddle Mountain from a distance is a few uneven bumps. The jetties appear as pencil marks, drawn outwards towards the sea. The river wants to keep going, to stretch beyond the haze.
A few old growths dot the forest, challenging the wind. They’re loners in a crowd of confused youngsters, hanging onto tales, their bark scoured by rain and salt. I lay a hand upon their exposed skin, smooth, cracked.
A tattooed girl asks if it’s okay, to break coast guard rules, to continue on, past where the trail is closed, to have a look at Deadman’s Hollow. I smile. No dead men there, just ghosts of ships, who have no souls until their names have been wrecked.
I tell her of swimming the Columbia, dog paddling into sand drifts, frightened, thinking I’ve bumped into a river creature. Then, after feeling the silt move cool between my fingers, calm down. The current plays with this muck, flying apart, then glues it back together. Deadly for ships. I’ve stood upon many, walking, shin deep, in the middle of the watercourse like a river rat Jesus.
Until large ships make their way through the dredged parts of the channel, carrying cars, toys, particle board furniture, and microfiber pants. Their wakes knock me off my river dance. Fallen, I swim with the current, sideways, grasping the mud of the soft shore.
I think of ship skeletons and the tattooed girl who looks for all the things she will know.
There is this quiet motion
When wind brushes trees,
Branches bend, a timeless marriage…
When there are the smells of summer,
Sticky pine and soft cedar…
When rivers are a language,
Creeping through echoes of green…
When shadows move, slow, deliberate
Undecided between dream and reality…
When the soft ground molds to feet
A carpet compiled by all seasons…
When hands make imprints
In the momentary wet sand…
When mountains are careful
with the selection of words…
(Click on image to enlarge. “The Movement of Lines”)
The boy picks Wapato in the marsh
Just the top stems, not the tubers.
He doesn’t see me standing
In the mud, watching.
I follow him with quiet eyes
Walk through the marsh.
As if he’s searching for a vase.
There’s a humid wind
Ruffling all plants around us
Including the ones in his hand.
Near us are shy egrets
With their long necks, poking
Among a dried-out lake bed.
They’re not overly timid.
They’ve seen us, hear us
Have no concern
Over flowers or watchers.
As I move, the mud is loud
Echoing off trees, off the sky.
Off of all the moments we are taking.
He disappears behind a cottonwood
And the play of clouds and sun.
My pant legs are caked with soil.
The egrets stick to their search
Of the wet marshland grass.
A small patter of rain hits leaves, branches.
We change again.
Ramona’s whisper requites us to ourselves—our fires extinguished, our thirst sated.
That voice, a pact between mountain and moisture, is a quiet call to us
The stumbling pilgrims, forest wanderers, wishful sages who suffer from acute chatter.
Its language—slow—near wordless, near nothing, paints upon the brow reminders…
Of lost talk of the ancient shape of myths, wrapped around delicate, heavy truths,
Source of our combined story.
We arrive with city hands, parched
To drink for the first time—again.
She’s a tangent, planting words in wild rows that release constant seeds, adrift, landing upon her skin, a skin she reads to herself.
Her heartbreak, an apocalypse of reincarnations, dust on the floor, dry paper, bits, clumps, wheat lost from the chaff, molded to her insides, feeling the roughness of each word.
She sweeps the floor of these words, where thousands threw their crumbs, recognizes the smell, small mixtures of sweet and rot, rooted, glued to a pattern, reapplied to the pollination.
Her eyes like rain and sun fall heavy upon the sprout, sounding out, curling around the heads of her lovers, laying hold upon their ears, their hearts but vines and flowers.
(Image–“Sensed”. Click on image to enlarge)
Her makeup was a postmodernist painting, swashes of pinks and blues, wayward paint upon skin. When she put it on, she grinned, but didn’t smile.
Inside, her voice was a thunder. Shook things. Came from her bones, resonated outwards, circles, waves. I imagine it’s still travelling the universe. She was a ruffian and a clown, stumbling through song, a child stuffed in her cheeks.
Her head raised high when that tone of hers hit air. She conjured up her soul in its entirety.
We sang together. Crouch songs. She told me I could sing as well as her, if I wanted to. I believed her, but I never gravitated towards what I believed. She did. As if she were a realization of her own belief, a voice larger than imagination, mythic, wrapped around you, took you on a ride.
She’s a ghost.
Once at Carol the Krishna’s, the first food cart, walking the bus mall, peering at me from across the street. Her face clear, bright, free of makeup. I wave. She moves on. Stoic.
Once, dancing at the Overlook. I’m behind a Radio Shack mixer and two unevenly balanced turntables, in the backroom, next to the dice table, with a plate of homemade mac and cheese, cornbread, greens, hot sauce. I see her Brillo Pad hair bobbing as she dances, taller than everyone, as if she glows. She’s wearing makeup. I wonder if she’ll get kissed, even if only in the dark.
He had lost an eye. Though, its orb still in its socket had turned a blurry blue, misty, had developed a different kind of sight. It was a pain experienced through years of looking, looking, searching. A pain no one could comprehend. Not even himself.
This pain had the temper of a two-year-old, set off by triggers and misperceptions from a wayward stare to a misconstrued comment. Violence shot out of him, red, hot, stinging. I noticed when in this rage, his long hair, parted in the middle, changed as if it were caught in a hurricane, but in slow motion. After an episode, strands of it would appear jagged, outliers of the smoothness of his mane. I thought the streets had done this to him. I was wrong and I was right.
He was never really made up of the streets. The streets were made up by him. An Old Town that used to be, a November rain, black kids selling stripped-down crack cocaine, a fifth of rut gut, sloppy punk shows no one would remember, dayglo artists nailing canvases onto walls of plywood painted black, goth girls looking at themselves in mirrors, only their hands moving, not their bodies. Everything was never moving.
As I looked at his dead eye, lost in a random fight, I felt his frustration, his fear, his hopelessness. And even though he irritated me to no ends, I saw how vulnerable he was.
We took long walks along the Deschutes where few were allowed to go. He was different there. We talked of steelheads and Chinooks. We visited Chuck and listened to metal so loud, the desert lost its hearing. We picked up arrowheads and threw them back to where we found them, to sage and grass. And along this desert river, that twisted like snakes through dry canyons, both sides of its banks scarred, we hung on to ourselves (though there were reasons to lose our minds) right down to where it met the Columbia.
(Click on image to enlarge)
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