How Far Is Down, Father?


Today I went to that mountain,
the one we climbed every Fourth of July.
It’s not that steep.
But then I didn’t run.
Was I five the first time?
Your khakis sandpapering my wrist
below our hands, your Bunyan boots
cutting the sharp white-rock path to crescents,
you pacing me groundless to the ridge.
Our seats, the red cliffs sanded into hollows,
Sego lilies spidering the clefts, purple sky and
stomach-grabbing fear that rattlers might undo
themselves along the cracks. Milk-warm oranges.
Smashed tuna sandwiches. Melted Hersheys. A stone
thrown out to see how far down was.
One year you let me wait high on the Devil’s Slide,
you jarring down ahead, shoulders heaving
in your shirt, soles showing. You turned and waved,
expecting me.
I started down like you, easy, bouncy.
But down was farther than I thought
and steeper. Frantic legs
jack hammering. Windmill arms. Jammed face.
Slope sucking me. Eyes aching open,
then—crushed closed. I sprawled in dumb surrender.
But you surrounded me. Sudden, fierce,
your chest against my fall, safe
among white rocks and pines.
Today I came down slow, feeling for footholds,
clutching at my woman’s urge to run
here to your grave.