Tag Archives: Friends

Paleontology

[Time to haul this one out of the archives, what with all the targazing I’ve done the last couple days.]

Paleontology

“What is it that sets us apart,” she asked,
“from sunset or sierra?
What is the line between ourselves
and the terrain from which we come?”

He thought he knew, but something in her eyes
transfixed him in a way he knew too well.
Deep and dark and wet they stuck him fast.

In parts of California, long ago,
impressive monsters ambled in the hills:
placid armored sloths two people tall,
cats with teeth as long as boning knives,
dogs the size of bears. Now and again,
a glint of water tempted them, or else
a furry piece of meat held strangely still,
and only after the imprudent pounce
would the tar entomb them.
Now, the graduate students pick their bones.

When the land thus asserts your membership
in the vast assemblage of dust and bark,
of feather, fur and rock in which we live,
it’s best not to struggle overmuch.
The land is patient, yet insistent.
Fighting off the tar will muss your hair.
Paleontologists an era hence
will find your clothes awry. Embarrassing!
Far better just to let oneself be swallowed
in all-consuming pitch, placidly slurped
into the balm of Quaternary ages.

That’s what her eyes felt like, he thought;
a sudden lack of individual
identity: nothing sets us apart
one from the other, nor from the land around.

Cleft

I walked the other day in Runyon Canyon, a cleft in the Hollywood Hills with a steep short climb. It was good to get my blood flowing again. It was good to breathe hard, to feel the growing wet in the small of my back, and though people half my age ran up the slope I labored to walk, I felt fit.

And halved.

Two years ago today I walked with him, guided his aching, wobbly bones down a frost-slicked slope to his little park, and the killdeer complained in flight. I was certain of looming desolation, terrified of it, and yet I was whole, somehow, in a way I have not felt since.

Runyon Canyon is full of dogs. They walk there off-leash, running far ahead of their owners, trailing far behind their owners. A rottweiler stod at the base of one steep slope, reluctant to climb, and she leaned against me to procrastinate as her man waited patiently. The hill above her rises a few hundred feet in a quarter mile, and I’d just watched a three-month-old puppy struggling to hoist itself up one railroad-tie step after another, mighty shoulders straining against the pull of an entire world. His woman laughed at him sweetly.

A part of me has been amputated these years.

We looked at puppies a few days ago, having found an adoption center along our route from one errand to the next. There was a little one there, a two-month-old rottweiler-shepherd mix boy, and I had to look away. He has followed me since. I am lucky to have a few sensible reasons not to adopt a dog, unemployment chief among them, because if I didn’t I’d have to face the real reason I walked away: it would still feel like betrayal.

Last night I dreamed of my other half, his legs grown strong again and his eyes new sharp, and he ran ahead of me frustratingly as I followed in the truck. No sideward glances toward me, nor hesitation in his step, his business was his own and I merely sought to intrude, to take him back to a home neither of us has anymore.

I carried him up that long hill two years ago, and it was an easier climb than the one I will make again today without him.

2008

It all fell apart this year, the affected exoskeleton I’d thought of as my life: the garden and the art, the home, the writing. There was a moment this summer it all sank in. I had been Becky’s husband, the one who walked with Zeke out of the house painted orange with the agaves out front, the one who hiked in the East Bay hills and wrote facile snark and tossed-off poetry on his blog, and all of it gone.

All of it, and I spent the summer taking that in, cowering beneath the creosote, wincing at each incoming phone call.

Nabokov said that “transformation from larva to pupa or from pupa to butterfly is not a particularly pleasant process for the subject involved.” The caterpillar at least has the consolation of eventual flight.

It is not all bleakness, by any means. I am loved and I love. I have redressed past wrongs, made amends long overdue. And even in bleakness there is solace, the honesty of stony ground and cholla.

The problem is distinguishing between the honest bleak and the bleakness driven by inward illness, in me and in others. I have sought out those who would undermine my heart, found the ring of truth in their declarations of my worthlessness. It is a subtle distinction this year. This year I have improved the lives of some I love by leaving them.

This year I most desired solitude when others’ absence left me battered by ghosts. This year I felt desolate in close company, walked away from friends to seek the companionship of moss-covered stones.

I am getting too old for this.

A month before Zeke died, or two, I helped him up onto our bed and lay there with him drowsing for an afternoon. I dreamed that again the other day and woke disconcerted, two years downstream and his absence not at all assuaged by time’s flowing. I can layer it over with the new, but it has healed as much as it will, his grave still glaring in me though I have not laid eyes on it for months.

Bob

Bob in Buffalo

Bob Kelley, spouse of my sister Carrie and father of my nieces Grace, Meghan, Emily and Carolyn, died last night of cancer.

The last couple years were excruciating for him and his family, and in that sense his passing is a mercy. Which doesn’t make it any easier for those close to him, just more complicated.

He was a complex, good, annoying, intelligent, self-involved, generous and loving man. He’ll be missed.

If you smoke, please stop.