Two Pestles


I park near a load of rubbish
dumped by the road, and, struggling
up a hillside, follow a path not sure
it is thousands of years old, but finding

destinations, the leaves of sycamores
floating onto pounding stones
or into the stream where they are dragged
along by the current and sucked under.

By the pounding stone, a lip
of earth extends from the slope,
large enough for a bed.
A house pit? Below that,

rocks stacked on
each other--a miner's grave?
Beyond the creek, five trails
join at a hub between the river

and the creek, where a rancher
dropped blocks of salt, the questions
asked a moment before lost
in the grass, empty in the curl

of a leaf. According to mystics
the ether contains records
of every moment within eternity,
a memory of every individual

experience within the physical
plane. Somehow I know where
to find the pounding stones
and house pits and trails

along the creeks, as though some
inner sight has been granted me--
a man powerless, gauche,
and unworthy. Wildcat Mountain

looms in the distance from many points
of the ancient trails, the distance
undisturbed, no one approaching
with news of forces sent to capture me

or drive me off the land,
the mansions planned
for forty acre lots. I dig
into mortars brimming

with grass and earth, the dry
oak leaves needling my fingers,
the pounding stones deep
as icebergs, the air, smelling

of rain, still in the quiet woods.
I dig out a pestle and turn
the tapered end
toward the hub. This web

once kept a community
alive, yet I
am lost, searching
the valley for signs

of the city in the smog
and finding none, nothing keeping
the rancher from selling off
to some developer, the trails,

snaking between buckeyes
and oaks, etched for thousands
of years in the earth, always
vanishing in the grass.


On the way up, I needed
words to calm myself,
on this winter day when smog
smothers the valley again, grays
the rocks half a mile away
where the creek shines like chrome.
All afternoon I explored the paths
webbing down to the creek
where pounding stones and trails
are all that remain of the tribe
that once settled on cleared,
gentle inclines. I ventured up
the steep slopes toward the top
to claim it as my own in the late
afternoon sun. For all of an afternoon
I trespassed, perhaps not meant
to look down anymore
on the grayness below that never
clears. At the edge of the cliff I lost myself
easily in the breath of trees and grasses,
above chemicals ruining mind
and body, knowing I cannot protect
these hillsides. Not long ago
the tribe was ravaged by sickness
and finished off by murder and
starvation, the air and water
and the remaining creatures no longer
belonging to the earth. I have always
kept some faith in my feet, and I hiked
past cattle that fled in absolute terror
of me or refused to budge
when I approached, all
without horns. Those animals
could have done me great harm,
but didn't. I have brought you here
to the edge of this cliff to remember
the valley as it was before the earth
was sold. I will remain
as a few magic words that fly
from this cliff over the valley
to write the language of flowers
gone forever, to bear witness
for the air and water passing
through everything living, to ease
the desolation of those who believe
that all must wisely share the earth,
and although I may not even be meant
to be the voice, my words will take you
part of the way, past the last trees
to the rocks at the top behind which
a mother is lying beside her newborn calf,
a young bull grazing, so powerful
and unconcerned you might think them
godlike and pure, untouched
for generations, the huge horns
without garlands, without blood.


My new life began on an avenue
that twenty years before was miles
from the edge of town, the pastureland,
vineyards and orchards slowly erased

by houses and businesses. Near
the freeway, close to the river
on the south side, secure subdivisions
crowded together along

the bluff. For years, I had taken
the rural avenues north of the river
to witness the seasons, never guessing
that the city was sprawling so far north

as I drove past orchards in bloom
or bearing fruit or bare, in spring mustard
and purple vetch choking the roadside and the rows
of some orchards. No longer grazed, pastures

bloomed with fiddleneck and owl's clover, one, almost wild,
with harvest brodiaea, the umbels crowning blonde grass
with purple, the leaves of vineyards with brilliant auras
in slanted sunlight. On the first afternoon

of my new life, I drove the avenue homeward
and saw on Avenue 40 the first bulldozers lined up
in the only place I had ever sighted a yellow-headed blackbird,
not far from a wooden post where once a roadrunner perched,

the only one I have sighted on the valley floor. Ahead of me
stretched thousands of acres of grasslands and the plateaus,
the base of the foothills. The county had rezoned
the land so that in twenty years a city

could grow there as far as the eye could see,
from the river all the way into the foothills and mountains.
By then, my new life could be over,
my last life with land where song birds

cannot forage, with flowers
whose seeds cannot grow, a land without roots,
a river with roots of rain but with water
that can never find an ocean.

Open a timeless door.
Go on a hero's journey with Claire.
Open a scary door.