This evening the distance of memory begs
an ear. In the soughing of the wind,
I hear my father’s growl, sometimes strident, scathing, sometimes
bound in the magic thread of a story. This evening I remember how,
driving across the Golden Gate, if the westering sky held its blue against the fog,
he’d lift a finger toward the spidery line of the Farallones, a place he pronounced
as if it were some fabled land where children grew wings or could step into a mirror,
stepping from another mirror on the other side of the world. I remember, too,
the adventure of riding my bike across the span, trying to hold the dizzy buzz of traffic
apart from the blur of the pavement below my wheels, a necessary separation
if you did not want to fall into the angry rush of traffic at your shoulder
or plunge over the sickening window to the Pacific below. Was there a way
to come to such a span without sensing that gap between our world
and the one that beckoned beyond? My mother taught me
this hard lesson. One day she came to walk on the bridge.
Arriving just before sunset, oppressed by the weight of her life,
scorched by the caustic laughter of my father, the weight of him pinning her
down in every corner of her life, until sadness spread
so that all mattered to her was covered
in a sticky, unyielding darkness. Having swallowed this bitter poison,
I imagine she walked drowsily in the place between worlds,
knowing full well her purpose, yet sleepwalking.
Had you asked her, I am not sure what she would have said; perhaps,
because by then so much of her life was pretense,
she would have claimed she was just strolling
though it was too far from home for such an outing, and who would take such a walk
in solitude? Perhaps, under the evening’s spell, she would have mumbled
some drowsy half truth, shadowed by the evening’s inky incantation.
She walked out to mid span, stopped, put her hands on the red rail,
looked down, imagining what it would be for the world to sleep with her. I imagine, too,
because it was nearing sunset, the air was charged with the possible,
the sky yielding its magical blues into the gloaming’s pending darkness.
The lights of the city would be winking on, one by one, and the cars
would be hurrying desperately for home. In that uncertain moment,
a single car stopped, a man leaped out like nothing so much
as a prince bounding over a last line of thorns, grabbed her by her arms
and then? Maybe he simply said, Wake up!
And she awakened, surprised by the great gulf below, surprised
by the dark path that had taken her to the edge. It was a long trip back
from that gulf to the place where we lived. In some ways,
she never returned. Not all the way. Yes, she lived with us for a few more years,
but by then, she was wide awake to the evil magic of her marriage.
In the end, she left him, found another life, another marriage.
And I cannot help but think this is the bridge we all must cross:
For this journey, what preparation will suffice? No one can tell you
how to stop your ears when the sirens begin to sing below; no one
can tell you how to go on putting one foot in front of the other
when there is nothing but darkness behind and the greater mouth
of nothingness darkening just ahead.
David Holper has done a little bit of everything: taxi driver, fisherman, dishwasher, bus
driver, soldier, house painter, bike mechanic, bike courier, and teacher. In spite of all that
useful experience and a couple of degrees in English to boot, he has managed to publish a
number of stories and poems, including two collections of poetry: 64 Questions, and Ghosts
of Silence. He teaches English at College of the Redwoods and lives in Eureka, California,
which is far enough from the madness of civilization that he can get some writing done.
Another thing that helps in this process is that his three children continually ask him to tell
them stories, and he is learning the art of doing that well for them.
by David Holper