How Far Is Down, Father?

by Emma Lou Thayne

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    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.