The secret sidewalk stretched eastward across
a green pasture, rode the train bed, and
spanned the creek. Only people who spent
a lot of slow summer afternoons on horses
or bikes knew it was there. Standing where
the cement started, I envied how its grayness
reached straight and focused—it knew
where to go. The cement was old—
not light gray, but dark gray and sprinkled
with small chips of embedded quartz
that glittered in the sun. Drawn lines,
barely a shallow finger-tip deep and
wide, divided the cement into tidy
gameboard squares. I lay down on a
cleanish square above the creek,
arms and legs straight and relaxed, palms
resting on the warm concrete.
I allowed my senses to thaw: my empty child-self
absorbed the mothering heat, the insect-sound
lullabies, and the amniotic swoosh
of the water below. The musty odor of
horse dung, the minty smell of watercress, and
the sweetness of warm pasture grass
satisfied my hunger.
The creek is only waist-to-knee deep, but
deep enough to drown in.
Giant scales of ripped concrete
line the banks to stop the water's life-pulse
from tearing away its confines. Dark
dead moles of blacktop dot the gray slabs—
both are new. Old rusty cars were there first.
Now they are flattened deep underneath. Like
oven bricks, the malevolent scales reject
and reflect the heat of the sun. The water is cold, mossy and cattle-fouled.
Sticks and debris jam the bends and eddies, and swirl
around the man-made interruptions.
After checking on the cows, I walk quickly away.
I stand in the middle of the rails looking
directly west. The train tracks draw
two perfectly balanced, parallel
straight lines that disappear into deep green
broccoli trees at the base of hazy-purple
sleepy mountains. Old rusty wire fences meander down
both sides of the rails, not in any hurry
to get anywhere. The strong iron rails, though,
have direction and purpose.
The walnut-sized gravel crunches friendly
small talk under my feet and random gem-chunks
of coal wink in the sunlight. Wild nettle
and cut alfalfa aromas waft warm invitations. In
a grain field to my left, sprinkler pipes sneeze
fast train-choo sounds.
I drop my wallet, ring, watch and clothes in the weeds
and start to walk westward
down the middle of the tracks, chooing and chugging with
the irrigation pipes. I gain speed—
by the time I disappear into the broccoli trees,
I am running.
Now and Then
Along the moist shoulder of the dirt road, tractor tire chevrons point a path to the past, and round horse dollops of digested grass mark time.
In the shallow bar pit the crunched aluminum beer cans, spent red shot casings, and white plastic motor oil jugs sputter to a stop as sparkling eyes of brown and green glass fragments blink to life.
Ropes of orange plastic baling twine, carelessly flung on fence posts, evolve back to sparse hairs of sisal wisping from barbed wire teeth.
At first red, white-tipped, vertebrated iron posts neatly stretch silver-toothed strands, but soon amputated, skinned cedar limbs wrestle unruly twisted lengths of rust-orange wire. Grey cedar bark dangles in shreds like decomposing flesh, exposing insect vein-tunnels.
Black scorch scars document ancient fenceline fires. Some posts, their footings charred through, dangle like loose bodies snagged while attempting an escape.
Piles of stones—little piles, then big—accumulate by the side of the road. Early farmers gleaned them from the fields, only to abandon them like heavy dead eggs.
The long wooden hay derrick strains my way, patiently waiting, motionless. It remembers strong male hands leashing its power and rough voices cursing its stupidity. Deep inside its dinosaur grayness leap images of sons, brothers, and fathers.
I sense a concentration; it ponders me.
The body of the calf slaps the side of
the gully and flies explode. Huge black
barn flies swarm a mighty buzz, saluting
the fresh corpse.
The stench from two dead horses and a
huge holstein lures-repulses
me closer to the wash. Flies attack the
new calf and feast with noisy greed. The body
of the holstein festers and hisses.
I stoop to free my feet from tangling orange
baling twine and notice reverent glumps of white
wild flowers growing up through a pile of