Bio Note: I live in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Much of my writing is inspired by the place where I live, and also by my family history. I have published nine books, most recently Now Voyager and Route (Cholla Needles Press, 2019).
I couldn’t pronounce it, but that didn’t stop me from going door to door in my neighborhood, collecting money for a cure. Not only that, but multiple sclerosis, emphysema, and more— I would carry the metal tins like a pilgrim, ring the bell, and wait, full of virtue for the current cause, until a stay-at-home mom answered and rummaged through her purse, finding coins for my sake. I never wondered if that money actually reached the afflicted. It was the 60s, when us kids took off all day who knows where, when the Good Humor truck crawled past on summer nights and we ran out for a treat. We fiddled with silver balls of mercury, rarely ate vegetables, called flavored Jello a fruit, and stayed inside while planes strafed the neighborhood, spraying DDT to kill gypsy moth caterpillars that denuded our trees. Then we went back to the woods and played army. It’s a miracle any of us survived.
Paper Mill Hollow
“Mom’s favorite place,” she writes in the caption. She’s in her teens, standing on the bridge over 16 Mile Creek with the half-smile of someone who’s home. She wears her own coat, not a hand-me-down from her sister— dark gloves, bobby socks, sensible shoes— but her calves are bare in the spring chill, under bare branches waiting for leaves. There’s water enough for a river, rapids tumbling over rocks. Towering trees line the slim country lane, shady in summer. I imagine her walking that road year-round to hear herself think, talk to woods and water, take home their answers, keep them under her pillow—How will I leave? What will I become? Now the land’s sold for custom homes—the ruins of the old mill gone, my mother holding the hollow in her heart.
The Dead Writer Returns
In my dream, you are no longer dead, but roaming around in my town, doing who knows what with your time. Now you’re outside the 7-11, aimless, as you were at the end, and alone the way only an outcast can be. Brilliant, wounded, you told your glory-day stories over and over, boring your friends—I was one of them, shocked when your body was found in an empty bathtub. With no slashed wrists, and no autopsy, you left us a final mystery, which must be why you’re smiling now. I expect you’re stuck in a bardo somewhere, trying to talk your way out with your stories, or trying to confound obscurity with a replay of the book that made your name— a sequel unfinished, in fact, barely begun. A dream voice wakes me, intones, He hung himself. I don’t want to believe a metaphor that grim would do— but Ken, wherever you are, let go, untie that final knot!
©2020 Cynthia Anderson
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell her or him. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is what builds the community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -JL