Excerpt #103, Rocking-Chair Moon

Tolovana Sunrise
—Carly

This morning, just as the first rusty rays
of sunlight begin coloring
the cottony fog bank
above the hills of Tolovana,
I leave Mom and Grandpa asleep
in the old beach house
and stroll south on the deserted shore,
weathered sweatshirt zipped high
against the October chill,
knit hat pulled low,
recalling dark nights when daring,
wild-hearted, uninhibited versions
of Ben and me raced across this sand
wearing nothing but goose-bumps.

Now the bashful tide has drawn away
from the soaring monoliths,
leaving at their bases glassy pools
teeming with small creatures
wearing fins and armor,
slipping into plain and colorful disguises
to deceive and attract.

Fascinating to us once,
as captivating as chains and locks,
but today I find no compulsion to linger,
explore, question, wonder aloud
at the cool, salty stew of smells.

I’m grown now, or close to it,
and you’re ten thousand miles away,
wearing borrowed armor,
disguised as a shadow on a rippled dune,
counting the hours,
counting the dead and half-dead,
fighting the latest in a long parade
of pointless wars orchestrated
by dim pawnbrokers
with no heart, soul, imagination.

I pick up my pace, shifting into a nettling,
mind-clearing rhythm, and
angle toward the surf,
where the glittering sand is hard-packed
and smooth as pond water,
save for an occasional
fragment of crab shell or sand dollar
or the transparent remains of a jellyfish,

and tuned to the raucous music
of up-soaring gulls, I march farther south,
imagining distant sand, dry and shifting,
and strange desert birds
singing foreign melodies in angry voices,
until the beach houses thin
and a film of sweat
forms an under-layer of slick warmth
over my well-cloaked skin,

and farther still, until fatigue
creeps into my legs and then finally,
when the silent alarm
of some internal clock
chimes inside my skull,
warning me to return before the changing tide
blocks my path and drives me to the cliffs,
I circle north,
the breeze at my back at last.

Grateful, I spread my arms and
let my shapeless sweatshirt catch the wind
like a spinnaker and
push me to starboard to skirt the rising water,

and near the high tide mark
I intercept two sets of bare footprints
going my way,
one large—a man’s size-twelves, about—
and one small—a little kid’s size-fives,
maybe—and I try to imagine their humans,
walking hand in hand.

Envisioning a small copper-haired boy
and a man who looks just like Dad,

I shed my shoes
and follow the impressions—
neat rounded molds,
five perfect toe tips on each—
to a three-story rock outcropping
and around it, and the cool sand softens
beneath my feet, the pilgrims’ prints
lose their defined edges,
adding a size or two,
and I imagine the boy noticeably growing,
even as he quick-stepped along with his dad.

At a low black boulder,
the shape of Grandma’s—now Grandpa’s—
old bug car, putt-putting away
from the oncoming tide, the prints part,
then reunite at the far side—
the driver’s door—like a haphazard pattern
of dance steps, before continuing on.

But suddenly the trail
of smaller indentations
vanishes, and for a moment I’m puzzled,
until I remember the shopworn fable
of footprints in the sand and Jesus,
and I realize that the man
began carrying the boy.

I picture him high on the man’s shoulders,
resting his short, weary legs,
urging his mount to go faster,
seeing everything as Zacchaeus in his
sycamore would, and as I keep on,
I see the man’s stride lengthen, and
I hear a small boy’s laughter
riding the wind,
I swear I do,

and I think of you again,
and trips to Tolovana when Dad
would hoist both of us to his shoulders,
and we walked with one shadow,
and he could still convince us that
the cold-hearted beasts living in the murk
of that merciless ocean
are merely dark inventions
of clever storytellers,
fancifully stretching the truth.

The wind, still at my back,
reaches around and brings water to my eyes,
and I leave the stranger’s footprints behind
and head for higher ground, rocks, bank,
a trail to the highway,
where memories won’t be lying in the sand,
reflecting brightly.

Nothing Glamorous
—Ben

I’d never tell him
to his face or whatever,
but Grandpa was right.

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