Monday, April 18, 2011

Sitting on Top of (the End of) the World

Bolinas was a town a big wave would drown
when San Andreas split everything open.
The Coast Range would fall into the sea.
The nuclear plants would take care of the rest.
Sitting on a fault line was for the living.
Fleeing somewhere else was a fear of dying.
And if that were your story you weren’t alive
anyway and might as well fall through the cracks.

The night after his childhood friend Mary Lou
found him in Vesuvio’s and fucked him good,
he left her house and walked across the Gate,
then caught a ride into Fairfax, then one
all the way here, where he got directions
to Creeley’s house. Trudging uphill he found
the poet sitting on his front step, with coffee,
and poured Juan a cup after learning he knew
the kid’s work from one of the magazines
where they both had published. It was Olson
Juan wanted to hear Creeley tell him about.
The big guy had died the year before
in Gloucester. He and Creeley were great friends.
There were multiple volumes of correspondence,
but they would be published later. For now
Creeley told him how Olson taught him prose,
where the one-eyed poet’s fiction was born.
The Island, The Gold Diggers, Juan had read
Creeley’s prose and asked to know how poetry
became sentences reading across the page.
Like anything else, you had to practice.
Like anything else, you had to concentrate.
Like anything else, you couldn’t give up,
not even when you thought you’d cracked the code.

When Bobbie and her mother arrived back home,
Bob said he had to go grocery shopping
and thanked Juan for asking him about Charles.
Juan walked down the hill and caught a ride
with a guy going all the way to where
Juan lived then, sleeping in his bedroll
on a foldout cot set up on the banks
of a dry river ditch behind the house
where the Gardners lived with their many children.
This guy was driving into town for methadone.
He needed it, like any junkie kicking.
Every Saturday he came to San Rafael.
He said he was amazed he could wait so long.
Juan said he didn’t know but had friends who did,
and made a note to ask the boys in the tool shed
across the dirt driveway from the big house
about what it was like to end a habit.
Was it like the earth moving suddenly
was still? Nobody talked about the big one–
hit or quake–they went on living, not dying.

He went back to see Mary Lou the next day.
He wanted to ask her about earthquake
country: Do you fret about the end of life?
Why should I? she laughed, if it happens,
it happens. I won’t be around much longer
to gnash my teeth. She said she’d rather fuck
herself to death, and he agreed, that was far
better. So they tried to die all afternoon.
Then they talked about her horses back home,
her brother Gordon, whom the townspeople
believed took Mary Lou’s virginity.
They didn’t talk about that. They had old times
enough to muse upon. That was years ago
when he was alone in San Francisco.

He saw people were living in the house
and drove the Morgan taking all the curves
beyond Bolinas with the same brio
he had always known and would always feel
with a good woman or a well-tuned car.
You should enjoy life and get your work done.

Norma was gone. Cathleen wanted to eat
in San Rafael and let him drive the Morgan.
She dressed in a black sheath with gold earrings
hanging to her olive shoulders. He plucked
her kiss out of the air when she turned her head
to say something she could not say until
they were inside and she was drinking champagne
and he was telling her his adventures
and when her steak arrived she marveled
how it tasted, so good she had to listen
to what Rocky said about The Saloon,
how the deer seemed fearless on Tamalpais,
where he’d found the scene changed in Bolinas,
why nobody talked about the end of the world . . .
whereupon she replied with her mouth full
she and Norma had been talking about that
just this afternoon, after he left.
He ate his well-done hamburger and listened.
Cathleen said Norma thought it was all bull.
How did it help talking? Why not love life?
They went dancing, like the old days in Seattle.
Nothing she loved more unless it was nature.
It was her nature to love men and animals.
She wanted him to take her to see the deer.
Tomorrow, he said. Let’s dance ourselves to death
tonight. They danced until closing time.
Neither one of them needed to drink.
They had it all saved up over the years
apart. In Lagunitas they stripped by the pool
of water called Bonne Chance! a pond
hippies named when only they came here
to smoke dope and swim and do whatever else
they enjoyed. Cathleen liked to take his breath away
in moonlight, but he caught her halfway across
and swam with her to the other side.

(18 April 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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