A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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Crossing the Golden Gate,

we looked east, to where they’d all

been wounded. There was nothing there

     but open water. How is this possible?

Looking away, I saw the bunkers on the north point,

guarding the bay. More guns. After that,

I kept my eyes straight ahead.

“Where’d you get the gas for this?” I asked once,

but Rose just grinned. My curiosity gave out on me,

like everything else, it seemed. Except Rose, who didn’t talk, for once.

When we stepped from the car, the woods

took our silence, a drop in their ocean. Even the wind blew

too far overhead to disturb the quiet beneath.

You lay your hand on the bark and look up—

your head feels ready to fall

right off your neck.

“Damn,” said Rose, now we were alone, slipping into

     accented black-speak (“colored talk,” we called it then) that

     she used when it suited her purposes,

               but never on the ward.

“Damn. Dere ain’t no pair a arms

     big enough to wrap theyselfs

     around dis-here tree.”

You see those photographs:

a hundred and eighteen people, or two hundred

and thirty or whatever it is, all standing

on the stump of one tree; the tunnel for cars,

carved through a living tree—You’d think

they’d prepare you, but they don’t. Some things,

     you have to do for yourself.

Still endangering my cervical vertebrae I said,

     “Look at that. What a disappointment.”

“What’s that?” said Rose. “S’ not

     tall enough for you?”

“No, not that; the crown. It’s so small. Ludicrous.”

     A few scant branches, briefly tufted. All this trunk,

               for that?

Rose shook her head. “Come on; time for that walk.”

It was a long time before she let me stop. We walked

     a long way on those paths, where

the ground springs, limber, back beneath your feet. It’s open—

cleared by fires that take out

     everything but those great trees. The fires mark them,

spring the seeds from tight-clenched cones,

and move on. I put my hand against a tree, its bark

deeply clefted, dusty, almost soft, peeled off a chunk

releasing a drift of red powder, then banged it on a rock:

the tough, fibrous stuff, cork-like,

     barely dented.

“If you can make it through the night and die by day,

     then what’s the point?” I asked.

And Rose said, “If you gotta save everything you touch,

     take up gardening.”

“I know,” I said, “I know,” practically wailing now. “It’s just—

     we lost so many this week. And I thought he was

     going to make it. I did. Listen, Rose.

               “I had a dream. I was standing at the foot of the bed,

     looking at the dying soldier in it. I kept trying

     to see who he was. I’d rub my eyes, or blink,

     and he’d be someone else—a guy I went to

     grade school with, Stu from down the block, and then

     my brother, my father—everyone I knew, it seemed,

               took a turn. I was losing them all.”

“Jesus,” Rose said. “Jesus.” She put her arms around me then,

     so I could cry. I slept

               all the way back to the city.

Three days later, she took me to the diner after work,

     told me how I’d flown at Daisy

               made me laugh again.

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