Updated: Sep 27
That led to one of the potlucks of all potlucks, a whole lot of visiting inside and out morphing into the concert performed by the Alferd Packer Memorial String Band (for those of you unfamiliar with its name, Packer was the only man in U.S. history accused of cannibalism, simply because he ate a bunch of Democrats, already dead, while snowed in on a remote mountain pass in 1870).
Today I wake up sore by waltzing in heels with Ken (I wore the heels, he’s already
Conversations With Mark
My self will be the plain,
wise as winter is gray,
pure as cold posts go
pacing toward what I know.
— William Stafford
Say, did you travel far enough west to see who lives
in the vacant houses? Did you stop for a lunch of apricots
and hard luck? Was it raining all the way, a panorama
just before and after the storm at once? Are your dead
friends within earshot? Is there much of a climb to get to the next
large rock with a view, and does your knee still hurt? Did you stop
being afraid in a darkness glowing like polished lapis?
When you close your eyes, are you still alive?
In the still air right before the front arrives, I listen for you
but can’t make anything out. I remember the camp at
Tuttle Creek, how cold the water was, and how we all brought
the same jugs of apple juice on sale at the co-op.
When the edge darkened and spread over us, you sang,
always so much louder than you spoke. “Home on the Range”
turned to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” and when the sun
blanched the ground back to August, we washed the dishes,
our stomachs full of Mike’s pancakes. I was 22, you were 50,
and this was just the second of dozens of such weekends, the rain always
near or upon us, the circle small or large as we stood
near a make-shift kitchen, holding hands, calling out our crow
song that perched us together — “Kaw! Kaw! Kaw!” —
your voice a river of tone, hunger, surprise and earnestness.
Your garage held old paint cans, foam mats for a bed, a used
boxspring, three broken wooden chairs, a child’s metal pail,
my bike, an old refrigerator, an uncle’s disregard, a corner
of despair with a high wide shelf of joy, several coffeemakers
which may or may not work so well, a tin box of buttons,
six large boxes full of very slim jeans and t-shirts left over
from the dorm runs, your father’s silence, a plastic eagle clock,
empty jars good for canning, whatever your mother said to you
that did such damage, snow tires no one uses anymore, the miles
between you and your young man self, a computer monitor
from 1991, a Thanksgiving platter with a slim crack,
a broken heart behind some boards, still ticking, still yours.
Mark is on our front porch, leading on the railing,
talking cattle with Gary. Mark’s plate is on the shelf.
Mark walks toward 8th Street from the library, thinking
the rain will hold off a few more minutes. Mark gets into
the backseat of the big gas-guzzler, six of us with plenty
of legroom as we head toward Vancouver. Mark’s letter
is in the paper again. The phone rings at the wrong time,
and it’s Mark. Mark is sitting on the ground with us
beside Castle Rock in autumn. Mark is climbing onto
the train, heading west. Mark’s postcard just arrived —
having a great time in San Francisco. Mark is back
for another party, carrying a paper bag of lettuce
and three half-empty bottles of dressing. It’s Mark’s turn
in the circle, and sitting on the couch, he tells us it’s time
to listen to each other. Then pauses. We lean into
the center just a little, listen to one another breathe
and the wall of cicada wave after wave enclosing us.
The horizon fools me, seems to be an ending
or beginning, when really it’s not even a line
across sky or time. I listen in the space between
grasshoppers and birds, air-conditioner on,
air-conditioner off. Something will come
as it always does, deaths will be sudden or not,
and that will seem to matter because my mind thinks
“horizon” while the round earth thinks “breathe.”
Mark is around the bend. No matter, the conversation
goes on. The clouds build in the west, storm or
fall apart. The end of summer leans into us in such a way
we cannot imagine ourselves outside of it. When
I open the door to go outside, a moth flies out, not in.
A hackberry butterfly, weeks behind the others, lands
on my chest, and the cottonwood leaves, the cicadas,
the blue heat of this moment all keeps breathing,
each moment pacing toward what we know
because of you, without you, with you.
Photos: (from top) Mike talking with Kelly & Frank; Eric, Ken & Forest; Danny, Daniel and Anne (Mark’s niece); two sisters — Ann & Jean; Jerry & friend; three KAW gals — LaVetta, Caryn & Joy