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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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Hill Kisses

The dusty green live oak tree

spread wide over the

golden grasses. My blanket almost

shielded us from the fallen leaves,

prickly as holly. Through it we could smell the hot,

dry dirt, dry grasses, unwashed by rain for months.

Yet a stream, still running in September,

     tumbled down from Mt. Tamalpais, then

launched itself

     without hesitation

over a minor cliff.

 

But you, he said, what’s your excuse?

Why’d you romance me that first night?

Romance you?

You bet ‘cha, he said.

“Romance you? Oh dear.” I believe I blushed.

“My mother would not approve.”

“‘Women don’t

     romance men?’ Like that?”

“In spades.”

He let me off that hook.

“Well, what I really want to know is,

why’d you like me?” He kept looking

at his hands, or out over the hills, just

     casting little glances at me, quick and quiet.

“You mean,” I said, “How could I stand you,

     drunk and yelling in a bar? Is that it?”

“Something like. How’d you know

     I wasn’t just a jerk?

     I sure acted like one.”

“Hey,” I said, “hey.” Thinking,

     the sweetness showed, even then. I said,

“I knew you were shy.

Only a shy guy needs to make

that much noise, or needs

that much help to make it.”

He thought it over, grass-blade between his teeth,

     leaning back on his elbows, one blue-jeaned knee bent—

     God, he was beautiful.

(Ten years later, I saw it again, at the movies—

     James Dean leaning back against a California hill—

That was it

     exactly, except Cory, thank goodness,

     didn’t slick back his hair.)

“So,” he said, studying the hills,

     “you think I’m shy.”

Uh-oh, I thought. Is this a rift?

I know how those work. I tensed myself against

     the first tremor.

“Well,” I said, “kind of.”

 

(As Carley said, when I told her

this story, or she dragged it out of me, years later,

     “Sheesh, Mom, no holds barred, huh? I mean, you really believed in forceful,

direct,

honest

     communication, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Kind of.”)

 

It wasn’t the earth that trembled, but him, and not

with anger, but mirth; first he quivered, then shook; then chuckled;

then he snorted, trying to choke it back,

and then gave up: he whooped and beat the earth

and fell flat on his back, and finally gasped,

“I’d just proposed to a whole roomful of girls,

     and you decide I’m shy. Oh, my sainted aunt

Eliza, angels take me now.” He stared at the sky,

then glanced at me, and glanced again. “What?”

“‘My sainted aunt Eliza?’”

His hands went to his face. “Oh dear.

My mother says it.”

“And you too, apparently.”

“Apparently. But only when

     I’m in a tight spot, I promise.”

He shook his head and asked the sky,

“Do you still think I’m shy?”

another, briefer bout, he asked the sky,

“Do you still think I’m shy?”

“Well, yes, in a way.”

He reached up then and touched my face, and I swear,

     I nearly broke down crying on the spot.

“Well,” he said, “maybe I am.”

Not a rift then; a cliff, right there at our feet. Beside us, the stream

     surged, hung in space, and fell, throwing out glittering bits of itself

     to the light.

I kissed, him, really, because his hand on my face was

     too much to take. Such a roar of sensation—

     from one touch! I took the plunge and fell

     straight over and down,

     holding tight all the way.

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