Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Saturday. July. Waking, she’s startled. Hot for early morning, she’s slept too long. The absolute knowledge of everything in a rush. Down the hall to the nursery she already knows her baby’s gone. Feet skid on the rug, burn, up the stairs Oh God the little boy safe, sleeping on his back. Slides to the floor against the wall.

That she wants out of their marriage, here then, the confirmation he isn’t going to let her. She realizes the test of it, this warning. If she fails, the next time he won’t return.

After that, I never knew anything for sure. My mind couldn’t keep track. All summer long I'd hear the church bells all the time, even when they weren't ringing, I'd hear them when I was downstairs or when I was sleeping, but they weren't like bells at all, they were, instead, like scraping noises or clanging, grating, sheet metal or iron gates.


It came from all directions, the understanding of how the years would come to be. I felt it coming from the sky, cracking down hard on the asphalt, I felt it pushing up hard from the earth.

From then on I would dream about the spearhead I’d found while camping in the Wallowas, black and shiny and triangular shaped. That spearhead that I’d never shown him I’d found. I’d wanted to keep it to myself.

In that dream I would search for a place to hide it, the spearhead, and the only one safe was under my ribs, its point nearly touching my heart.

It’s how the years would come to be.

I waited on the porch. On the last night, the night he brought our baby back home, right before dusk there was a resonance that filled my ears, a rackety swoosh overhead, and I looked up to see the crows come, caught a glimpse of their black mass before they settled, nervously anchoring themselves to the branches of a tremendously large tree at the dark, empty house next door. The big tree shuddered, and then it was still.


Some women pray. I didn’t.

I started hearing voices. It wasn't voices like they show in the movies, right before people start giving in and going crazy. No one actually spoke to me at all. Instead, I found myself reciting names while scraping and sanding on the old house I lived in, names of the women I'd found in books at the library, names from journals and records of births and deaths, names of the women who'd walked and birthed and buried their babies in the prairie's dirt, on the trail that still passed through my town. I recited their names like others count their blessings or count their beads, one by one with reverence. It got to be a thing. It got to be such a thing that I wanted my children to hurry up and leave in the morning so I could have some quiet time to count.

I went to the Pioneer cemetery, looking for the graves of the women whose names I was spending so much time reciting. I found Bertha Mason, the sister of the man who'd built my house, surrounded by her relatives. Bertha had died back east while attending college, died one night when she answered the door to her jealous boyfriend’s gun. Her family had her body brought back home.

I closed my eyes and felt the train, winding up the hillside and down the other side to Huntington. I smelled it, that old train, and felt the wind bite and howl at my long skirt, muddy and worn at the hem, and the pressure on my feet from the shoes, pinching and not yielding to the frozen ground. I recognized the solemness and the reverence of those around me, the men ashamed and the women scared, and the coffin, of course, black and draped like they need to be, with Bertha's body inside, another human body with a bullet hole in the head.


I've never believed in ghosts. But regardless what someone believes. There's always something coming around to prove whatever belief is wrong. Like justice, for instance, or faith. It may be possible to cling to a thread of a belief. Take justice. What it would be like to achieve it. All those bullet holes to heal over, and, like with Lazarus, rise up and walk.

I dreamed she was dying. I dreamed we sat in the swing on the porch of her house. All the crows, they all lined up on the railing, scrunched up together and silent, heads turned to one side or the other. We sat and I held her hand as she was dying, watched as she watched the crows, as her head, too, began to tilt sideways.

I didn't know what else to do. So I gave her a name. I called her Shannon.

Where I lived many came before, their bones all scrunched up together underneath where I walked, on top of bones, bones and dust and centuries of things compacted and, any day now, ready for transformation. And before Shannon I'd never wondered who they were, nor cared, because they were, every one, gone away from my vision.

Gathering their names didn't help, tracking down their names and reciting them. It prompted me, I suppose, but it didn't help me to feel them, nor all the others whose names could not be tracked and recited.

But in that space between present and future, it may be that we are joined with those others we refer to as dead, and those others, still, whom we can't yet imagine, whose names can't be tracked and recited, because they are not yet born.

Into me I breathed a part of that dust that made her, that made my mother who carried me, dust consisting of her, of Shannon, a piece of her and now me, and it was that particle that she came back for, wanting me, it's owner, to understand, and remember, where I came from.


Later the younger boy would say one morning, dark still, less than eight hours of sleep between the three of them, that’s the last time, Mom, we’re not going through this again, we’re leaving, we have to leave this time, and she asked, are you sure?

They took that ridiculous route to the 5, thinking he could be following, that he had read their minds like he’d done before. Beginning in Boise, that last place they’d landed, then down to Burns, first, then back and up and down and over to Eugene; she nearly forty and this boy, Lance, fifteen, motels by the university, Springfield, out by the mall, nothing felt safe, and then for the next two days driving the I5-South, almost all the way to the end.

Camp Pendleton, everything’s brown except the ocean and the sky, the sun hurts their eyes, sleeping on the floor and the couch, she knows this can’t last long, the younger boy looking sadder and more scared each hour that passes, she thinks her head will split wide open. But they’re elated to see the older boy, her son, his brother, they’ve missed him so much. Pendleton, their refuge; daily she’s ashamed of what she said to the recruiter when he’d first called.

Once he said, you know Mom, I think I’m luckier than Lance is because I never expected any love from my dad so when I didn’t get it, it didn’t hurt me.


Annie arrived as I was leaving. She wasn't hard to pin down, to love. She was a bird, a crow. She was, for this story, tame. She was trained. She believed people were her friends. She'd been treated well. Much of her knowledge was based on her faith in me, in people like me. I think that if Annie could have held the concept of justice in her head, she'd have been all for it.

One night, I woke to blue-flashing lights and the smells and sounds of people congregating close together. A cougar was treed. Well, that's the way it's put. She’d actually climbed her way up a phone pole. She had traveled miles down from the mountains, her terrain, looking for water, food. Any good idea. Something she understood. Her instincts were all off. She panicked. She wasn't herself anymore. She'd been threatened to the core. Why else would she act that way? Somebody saw her. The law got called. Fifteen sharp shooters answered. One of them sunk a bullet straight into her skull. She thundered to the pavement.

This should not be a surprise to anyone. But yet it is, isn't it?

Not too long after, they tried catching Annie with a net. At least at first. But she didn't go for it. Maybe the same men, maybe not. Different guns, though. Takes a slug of shot for something that size.

But I was already gone.


Obsidian is glass, produced when felsic lava erupts from a volcano and cools fast. Obsidian blades, often used in cardiac surgery, can reach almost molecular thinness which yields a clean cut with less tissue trauma. In ancient times they were used as projectile points.

Obsidian could stick in bone you know, slick as a whistle.

When cut, obsidian is a beautiful jet black. “Apache tears” are small rounded obsidian nuggets.

After the babies, there’s always a hesitation in women, though not all of us have to face it.

But turning to stone beats salt, the way I see it.

It isn’t as though I don’t feel anything. It isn’t like that at all.

But I am drawn to those who’ve tracked their past, who realize the steps that were taken.


On the eastern side of Oregon there's a place called Sparta. Looking at the Wallowas, the scant peek my upstairs window afforded, looking in that direction is a place called Sparta, at the base of the mountains, at the bottom of the foothills that lead to the mountains, the Wallowas. There are orchards there, apple trees that were brought by settlers, trees brought or seedlings sent over later, that were planted and remain; untended, but still producing fruit.

There's a place called Cornucopia, further up from Sparta, where there's a cabin, a cabin that somebody burned. Not too far from the cabin is an old enameled cook stove. It seems someone dragged it from the cabin, maybe, when it first began to burn.

There is a place called Auburn in the foothills of the Blues where there's another cabin almost falling down, and a shed some distance behind it with a fainting couch inside, an old velvet and mahogany couch, brought or shipped over new from the east, broken now and housing mice, a tinge of maroon, still, that can catch an eye in the midst of all this old mining camp.

Orchards, gardens, mahogany and velvet, graves; thousands of women left their mark, remains of the things they tended.

There is a place called Huntington where the train used to unload before the bridge across the Snake river was built, where anyone expecting a delivery, goods from the east, or if someone died and was being returned home, would have to go, to accept it, the delivery.

There is a place called Virtue Flats where the trail still runs, it's there, the trail, and there's a sagebrush tree grown so tall it can shade a lunch break, take the glare off a desert afternoon. Out at Virtue no one can hear you if you cry. No one would even know you were around.

I lived in the mountains for nearly twenty years, up in the high mountain deserts of eastern Oregon, close by towns with names like Sumpter and Keating, with canyons named Burnt, by summits called Dooley, across from bars named Stockmen's, with neighbors named Cowboy Joe and newspapers called The Herald.

Then, after my boys were grown and gone, safe, I returned to my city, back home. I won’t go back. But I will forever recall the smell of sage, right after it’s rained.

All tracks by Laura Davis except "Parting" written by Kevin MacLeod (Stages of Grief) incompetech.com