1. Two nights ago I walked out barefoot, pulled the cover off the little grill. It was dark. My steak—$2.15 at the local store—was a shadow over red coals. I cooked by smell. Sear one side over the hot mesquite, wait, grab with the tongs and turn. Wait some more. When it smelled right I flipped it onto the hard rock maple cutting board. It bled onto the wood.
2. I am the age my father’s father is in my earliest memories of him. I see him in the mirror. My hair less white, my soul more dissipated, but it’s him nonetheless.
3. It’s a hundred days’ walk from Joshua Tree to Gorham. I could be there by the twentieth of January.
4. The turn of the season is sharper here than anywhere I’ve lived in a quarter century. October has settled in. The rabbits fatten. Sleek clouds turn bright pink before the workday’s close.
5. My grandfather’s last words to me were an apology. Christmas dinner cold across the street, leftovers packed and sent in different directions with my aunts and uncles, and I walked over to his house to say hello. He lay on the couch. “Chris, I’m sorry. I wanted to eat dinner with you.”
6. In his yard there was an old well head, cemented over with the pump still working. At six I could just reach the handle. Fifteen strokes, or twenty, and rust-colored water spilled out the spout. A scent of leaf mold and secrets. My grandfather worked in his garage shop. His sons stood nearby handing him tools.
7. My cutting board is well-used, a skein of sharp knives’ slices in its sturdy grain. It is 3/4 inch maple cut in the shape of a pig, a jigsaw project cliche, a hole in the tail for hanging on a kitchen peg. Each year I think to myself I should plane it down, take an eighth-inch off each side, the marks of cast iron rust and olive oil. Each year I put it off.
8. Tonight I walked out barefoot and in shirtsleeves and shuddered against the wind. It is 52 degrees. I have grown soft. The Milky Way shone diffused through a high haze. Cassiopeia pointed at Polaris. Between them, the head of the king, Gamma Cephei, grew brighter as my eyes adjusted. In a thousand years it will be our pole star. The Earth’s axis wobbles inexorably toward it.
9. My grandfather was proud of me. His clever grandson learned to read years too early, ridiculous polysyllabic words in a toddler’s mouth. He bought me high school textbooks before I started school. No one thought “multiple myeloma” was too difficult a name for me to understand.
10. 2,600 miles from Gorham to Joshua Tree in half a century. The light that reached my eyes tonight left Gamma Cephei the year he died. I do not remember the sound of his voice, except when he laughed.
11. When he was the age I am now, my grandfather placed a slab of 3/4 inch maple on his jigsaw, carved out notches for ears and mouth, drilled a quarter-inch hole for an eye and a half-inch hole in the curled tail. It was an idle kindness, a present for his young daughter-in-law who lived a few miles south. It is 500 times that distance from him now. I cannot use it without hearing his laugh.