Dry the land and harsh the rain
What did you leave
Tell me the story,
How they had it all
and wanted more,
couldn’t put it down,
couldn’t turn away.
Just another round.
Just one more.
So it is and so it goes;
drip by drip,
drop by drop,
all there was is finished.
Stand in my doorway now,
the future you bequeathed;
just tracks and shells
mark the seasons’ change.
Granpa says, once upon a time. Daddy says he don’t have time for stories ’cause listening to stories about before is about as much use as building walls to hold back the blow-sand, but Mama says watch your Granpa cause he’d sit there in the sun if you let him, so I mind him to follow the shade. He looks off at the sand and the stone and tells his stories but he so wanders through once upon a time and long, long ago it’s harder to keep his place in time than it is keep his place out of the sun. Daddy says there ain’t no point in looking back, but Mama says how we going to know where we’re going if we don’t know how it came to be and you can watch your Grandpa same time as you tend to your chores. So I listen to the wind and remember to keep an eye to the west cause Daddy says that’s where weather and trouble come from and they both come fast. So I sweep and uncover the dew traps in the evening and cover them back before the sun gets to them and dig out sand ants where they come for the pipes.
“Once upon a time,” he says and I know it ain’t the first time and he’ll go on saying it until I stop and listen so I do. Once upon a time, there was a sea and a river came out of the hills right here.”
This was a new one. I leaned on the push broom and looked to see where and asked did water used to flow up hill in that once upon time.
He looked at me and spit in the dust, “Don’t be a damn fool boy. The hills was laid down long after that sea dried.”
“I thought it was the sea that drove us here, Granpa?”
“Course it was. All the walls and floodgates didn’t count for more than a stack of leaves in a gutter. Pride brings you to your knees just as sure as ignorance, boy. Don’t you ever let no one tell you any different,” he said sharp as the knife Mama uses to kill the chucks
I looked him, all wrinkled and creased, as worn and dry as the hills. He shook his head but not impatient now, just like it had come loose and was too much to hold it steady anymore.
In the evening, when it cooled he took my hand and we walked out along the dry riverbed among the heaps of tumbled rock. When the storms come, the roar of stone and water fills the valley but now it is still and silent and full of the small echoes of our steps. He went slow, picking his way and leaning on my shoulder so I’d know to stop when he needed to catch his breath. After a time we come to where the stream in flood cut deep into the side of the hill.
“Scramble up there and tell me what you see boy,” he said, pointing up the hill a way where a sheet of stone jutted like shelf out of the hill.
I clawed my way up. The stone was grey and cracked and I had to have a care where I put my feet or a chunk’d break away and I go ass over teakettle all the way down and have to listen to the old man cackle and tell me didn’t I know how to put one foot ahead of the other yet.
“No need to worry about rattlers or scorpions, the racket your making,” he called up helpful like.
I couldn’t think of nothing to say back that but I was glad to haul myself up over the lip and onto the shelf. It was a thin layer of red brown stone, no more than a few inches thick, smooth and flat except all puzzle cracked, the way the bottom of a puddle goes after the sun gets on it. The stone above the shelf was pale sandstone rising sheer and bare up to the long strip of sky above; too bright to look at where the sun touched the high canyon walls and a maze of shadows below. I stood up slow, getting my breath back, and looked out for a moment at the house and the windmills and the walls to keep back the sand. From up here, all Papa and Mama, and Granpa before had done were nothing but a scrabble of lines in a dry sea. I looked for Mama in the fields. From here they looked about the size of her headscarf and just as worn and faded green. I made me feel strange to be looking down like I didn’t belong there no more, like I had moved on even though there was no place to go but back. I felt like I was cut loose and no direction was any better than any other.
Before his legs give out, Granpa used to go out. Scavenging he said. Daddy said chasing dreams, same difference for all the good you bring back. Last time he went out he brought a little roll of paper and sticks with a bundle of twine. He folded it out flat and took some strips of cloth from mama’s scrap basket and tied them onto one end. He said it was a kite and me run out with it while he held the string and then let go when he hollered. The kite caught the wind and rode up so high it was smaller than the buzzard birds. Grandpa give me the string to hold and I felt it pulling and dipping up there like it was alive. Then the string broke somewhere and I didn’t feel nothing but emptiness in my hand. We stood down below, me and Grandpa and saw that kite hesitate for a moment like it hadn’t realized it was free then it dipped and sailed away over the east rim and was gone.
Daddy just said string was likely rotten by now but it might have still come in handy and that’s what comes of old fools and their dreams.
I felt like that kite now, like there was nothing holding me and nothing to hold on to. I looked down so as to let go the dizzy feeling and saw the tracks. Some as small as my hand, some big enough to sit down in, lines of them come across the slab like whatever they were had walked through the air and touched down for a few steps then vanished into the cliff face. Like the earth drew up a blanket of time over them all.