The Spring Before
BY DAN DEVAUGHN
Here’s how it was.
Descending our front steps’ red concrete
I saw the neighbor’s dog on the sidewalk,
She seemed to ponder space itself
as they called for her
in their higher human tones, as if she were their daughter, to come, come on,
I crossed from curb to curb beneath a sky the color for which
the Greeks had no word, perfect in its swept-clean deadpan,
a stone floor after threshing in full sun,
then made my way up 11th,
where more traffic than ordinary was, the drivers’ expressions worried.
Is it to or from the fire?
I never know, as the saying goes.
Though the corner bodega’s neon was not lit the front door swung wide,
and was tied to stay with a string.
A faint raga unrolled from its dark interior
then faded as couples seemed suddenly to be everywhere, one with an infant
in a stroller, another with three dogs on leashes across the street—
from home we called it—despite the warnings,
as we wanted to wander
summer’s radiant incorporation with others who did and knew it,
teeth bared, the whites of their eyes.
Halfway now to my destination
I passed a row of flyers stapled to power poles, once pine—
Southern yellow, adorning themselves in the perfect silence
of coastal forests with ring after ring and tassels like great hands.
Missing, Missing they read in running ink and dried rain.
Dusk came on and the com towers on Red Mountain suddenly started
their languorous winking, the lights enormous cherries, forbidden
in cloud-rows, the garden of our heathen god, I thought, and I began to breathe
more rapidly as I reached the steeper section of the road.
Passing under hickory
and oak, the new leaves were nearly transparent in the late sun that
transfigured them to emerald skins.
A stream, nearly a river, of fit bodies,
passed and descended as I and, looking back, many others made the pilgrimage,
to meet ourselves halfway, as to a shrine, though we had been told to stay indoors.
We could not help ourselves.
On the mountaintop, the old coal road was alive
with body after body breathing, speaking, fingers
clasping, stopping in little knots
to converse about the world which to this
one now feels parallel—
the neighbor’s house you never visited—and how we were living
in what then felt like a film, suddenly luminous, in the dark of our lives,
returning to ourselves like moths in the light-click.
Those butterflies like birthday tissue drunkenly surfed
and filled the trail as it narrowed to the width of the lone walker,
and I could hear a roofer below, arranging shingles singly
to a radio sermon in sibilant Spanish,
and the forest went on bearing itself,
never done, and apart from us.
To my left, a shoulder of hematite,
Chris Loves Tyler graffitied in tarnished silver.
Then the city, its people hidden now, rose,
distantly radiant in clay and marble tones,
pushing free from nearer leaves to air again utterly clean—
a morning eons distant, remember?, when Creeks peopled the valley.
I thought of our little tree at home,
how the peaches used to enter
our world as green stones.
That’s when my breath began to leave me,
my chest, my heart, leaving, returned to an awful and miraculous blue
the sirens had begun their tearing through.
Ah, how we hope to forget
that a body folded, knees astride the mind, is still a world.
Though I am just one remembering
alone, my account, I think, is honest.
Though who, now, are or were, ever, our people.
The truth is that some part of me relished the ending of that world,
like a dress falling suddenly from the simple fact of your flesh.
Still, we couldn’t have known how strange it would be,
or what work, to face one’s naked, newborn humanity.