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Hibiscus and bougainvillea marked every path. Outside town, it was
manzanita and mountain laurels, coyotes and rattlesnakes. We mostly
gardened within walls and fences, tending tiled ponds and orchids that
blossomed in the open ground all year. All they needed was a lathhouse
I grew up in a city by the sea, just north of a long border, close to a
bay named for Saint James and a river that ran dry most of the year.
Earthquakes reshaped the landscape on short notice, and occasional
hurricanes meant flowers in the desert. None of the buildings lasted
very long, they were either shaken by the shifting faults, blown over
by cyclonic storms, or they slid down the hillsides in winter, surfing
to the bottom of the canyons nearly intact. Homeowners would wave to
the curious from their repositioned patios. And still the bougainvillea
So what you have heard isn’t quite true. She wasn’t exactly a young
woman in an apple orchard in the spring. Oh, she was beautiful, and her
long hair was literally entrancing, but we didn’t have many apple
orchards around. It was mostly roses and flowering vines. I still have
a picture of her, standing in front of the Allamandas in a white dress,
at her ease in the clear sunlight.
And then, almost as soon as it began, she was gone. That’s how things
work there: one minute you’re standing in the doorway of your home, and
the next the doorway is the only thing left. It makes you question
everything: the night, the coastline, the moon setting over the ocean.
I didn’t have an address for her, but I wrote her a letter.
on the Midsummer Road
Is there anything else, really? Just when we think we’ve found
ourselves, the ground trembles and moves beneath our feet, even the
stars, which we’d mapped as certain, transform themselves, we lose
ourselves even in the moment of our becoming. Or perhaps we’re not what
we’d imagined, our experiences reshape us at each moment, and the trick
is to let go, to abandon what we’d thought was our essence, and to
allow ourselves to be remade.
I was helping a woman move from Altadena to Malibu. Behind me in the
pickup’s bed were the tools and materials of her studio: air hammers
and chisels, blocks of marble and wood rounds ready for carving. I’d
never seen the new house, I’d never driven the road, but I had a map.
And I had, in mind, her description of the place: a canyon whose throat
gave way to the sea, a road curving along the dry riverbed. She’d told
me about it with wine on a terrace overlooking the city, the evening
haze stretching over the populated valley like a moth-eaten cloak, so
worn points of light slipped through.
A sudden breeze came up from the water as I drove, and my map blew out
the window. I saw it flying over the cliff edge in my rearview mirror.
There was nothing to do but move forward, to try to remember her words
and match them to the landscape. Then I heard the coyotes singing from
the ridges around me, and remembered they’re always out there, and
they’re always waiting. I went as fast as I dared, hoping only to find
the statue she’d left at the road’s edge, marking the entrance to her
What we desire is immense, like a mountain valley no-one has ever seen,
and so large we could explore it for weeks and still not recognize even
its essential elements. The valley’s walls are smooth, carved by a
glacier, and there are still hints of ice everywhere, blue in our early
sun. The aspens are only just now leafing out.
And still so early the smallest springs from melting snow flow into the
cracks of the rock, refreezing each night, and the sharp flakes break
off when the ice recedes the next morning. Count the birds, notice the
small blossoms just budding along the streambanks: gentian, violet
And we can follow this stream along the valley to new discoveries,
cataloging them to what we’ve known before. We do this, don’t we, every
moment we desire? We imagine in terms of what we’ve known, but know
there is more in the undiscovered than we can imagine. Perhaps that’s
even what draws us to it, the uncertainty is magnetic.
Her eyes were the blue silk of her dress. The azur of the sea by which
she walked, blue as the ice caves I’d explored in the Alps. The
undersides of certain exotic swallows flash that same blue over moraine
streams. And those streams, higher up the valley, if you stand behind a
waterfall, between the rock and the cascade, and look out, through the
flow, your entire world will take on a sapphire tone, la vie en bleu.
But no matter how much we desire, we cannot reach out and grasp it. The
water flows through our fingers, ice melts precisely because of the
warmth of our hands, flowers fade in sunlight, and even birds carry
themselves away with a single wingbeat.
W.F. Lantry, native
of San Diego, received his Maîtrise from L’Université de Nice, and PhD
in Creative Writing from University of Houston. His poetry collections
are The Structure of
Desire (Little Red Tree 2012), winner of a 2013 Nautilus
Award in Poetry, a chapbook, The
Language of Birds (Finishing Line 2011) and a forthcoming
collection, The Book of
Maps. Recent honors include the Hackney Literary Award in
Poetry, CutBank Poetry Prize, Lindberg Foundation International Poetry
for Peace Prize (in Israel), and Potomac Review Prize. His work appears
in Atlanta Review,
Fiction Review, Gulf
Coast and Aesthetica.
He currently works in Washington, DC and is an associate fiction editor
front page image is copyright ©
by Tony Kitterick, 2012