Silent Stone

6 Nov

Memory piques my nostrils with pine scent and tars my fingertips with resinous stickiness.  The focal silence of stones recaptures and expands myths of self, long ago hunts along sandy bottoms.  A river fed from pine-belt mountain lakes scuttling the motherly hips of arid foothills.  Breaking upon a denuded plain of sand, rail rubble and asphalt.  Making its course to the sea.  But this is dense memory, pungent and warm.  Rarely plumbed; as precious as your occasional visits once were.  This was language heard in the long pause of night.  The whisper of water over stone.

Quarry machinery dominates our eastern view of the sky.  Asphalt roads circumscribe the breadth of the riverbed.  Everything the hand builds diminishes the valley’s native force, even the gifted direction by which my father speeds us through the clearing of rock and pebble from bulldozed land.  Our gardens of permanence are swiftly transforming, yet foreign to its temper.  The river only bears life upon the grace of distant winter snows.  Saturating the ground deeply enough to sustain chaparral and grizzled dwarf oak.  Retreating to the belly of evening sound under cricket and wind.  To this voice I cradle nightly.

We danced in the arms of a river wild spilling around granite barriers in the luxury of fat, black inner tubes, a river since tiered in concrete levees.  So enervated, we watch for bloodsuckers in its stagnant pools as it shrinks from its banks through the enduringly dry summer.  Boulders release the flaking filagree of dehydrated moss.  Bamboo shoot bunches near the heat prickly sand.  A gray and black speckled retriever trots.  Skin shimmies along protruding ribs.  Heat lifts shingle roofs above sheets of vaporized haze.  On moonless nights their porch lamps hover above the border of the riverbed’s solid black mass.

The river disappears to the south below Huntington Drive.  The road connected orange groves, dates, palms and town in a string of oases, which glittered in the days my great aunts drove miles from Los Angeles for canasta and gin.  You find a way station close to the mouth of the river road turnoff.  Perhaps you have been there the night you sit half in shadow on the edge of my bed, examining the boy enjoined to you godson at the baptismal font.  The street’s lamplight clothes your lips in hesitancy, rims the alcoholic wetness of your eyes in wistful sparkles, surrenders us to the darkness of a brief kiss.  In this chamber currents whisper forlorn praise to the manchild so named by desire.

The gullet of this valley is now an elevated freeway feeding many swollen communities.  Huntington Drive ossifies through commercial neglect.  Lone, stubborn weeds cling to the soft, fissile rock of empty lots.  Your stop was razed long before Mom spoke of it.  Yet I seek clues to your identity along the shopworn face of the drive.  A greasy spoon manager serves dripping chicken and fries to the chef from the adjacent steakhouse.  Clyde teases about the traditional honor accorded mountain oysters.  I watch the sports tavern gulp in sunlight through its swinging door, formulating questions which vanish as it closes, leaving me in the glare of a parking lot sequinned with the dust of sand and glass.

I’ve often wondered how the oldest gay bar in the county could have operated in this town, hidden along the dividing line of a polarized community; whites, black and chicanos appportioned to either track homes or “Rocktown.”  We race along the drive in a beat-up joy van.  Raiding a motel room, shock rebuts our movement.  Brad and Jimmy both lay in boxer shorts on the bed.  Strands of Brad’s long hair fall in meddled profusion screening terror within smoke-glazed eyes.  Shouts fill the room as I stand transfixed by their nakedness.  The group is mollified when the word “faggot” shoots through their confusion.  Its sting burns my cheeks as I break through the grip of everyone’s arms.

I am on a pilgrimage of pearls, continuing the journey that connected you to Mom twenty years ago.  Los Angeles, Band-Aid mecca for those healing themselves of former place.  I join both of you evenings at the Frog Pond.  The centers of fanning cactus petals in silver print hang opposite the forest green wall.  Indonesian frogs prance beneath parasols alongside Kahlua and Irish Creme.  You bring a colleague from your days in East Los Angeles community theatre.  Artifice distills Carlos’s narrative Pietà-of-self.  He describes the poacher Time with the deft strokes of a confectioner’s funnel, coaxing the merciful touch of youth by pleading my desire.  My flush of vanity infuses a pink hollow within this artful structure.  But I am led in the end to questions of you.

You once suggested we talk soon and said good night.  The long distance calls had been too infrequent since I left, prompting me each time to consider if we would penetrate the silence.  Perhaps the  murmur of unsettled currents had accompanied us in the Silver Dollar.  I wouldn’t listen along cramped corridors in the cloak of towels and a low blue fluorescent light, nor acknowledge our common need while on wooden bleachers under a video screen.  I wanted the years between and their story.  To know about the only person Mom spoke of as someone you deeply loved.  To know how you learned to live without him following the motorcycle accident.  I dial the phone sensing another opportunity for a beginning not realizing you have filled my lungs with your last breath.

Memory has been an act of defiance.  I’ve left signposts behind at the perimeter of former events: loading dock or gas station attendant were roles to escape from; the meanness and smallness of community attitudes to abandon.  Relationships end and begin, perhaps.  The silence of stones dislodges my denial.  Its focus is resonate of the richness of inner experience.  Memory piques my nostrils with pine scent and tars my fingertips with resinous stickiness.  There is a language I sometimes hear under the coverlet of night.  Whispered by a river.  Perhaps you have listened to it too.

Note: This was originally set in verse when it was composed in 1994.

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