To understand a sense of my own limitations, I ran
fleet-footed downhill, so fast it felt like falling,
so fast my legs no longer seemed like my own
my body no longer mortal, no longer mine, just a thing that moved
like a wild animal, like a force beyond cognition.
Seeking the same feeling, I lightly pressed the accelerator down
on a car already rushing down a mountain pass
just to get to the coast a little faster, to move
the way my heart races
always so quickly downward,
always so slowly up.
There’s not enough rain in California
to cool the days and have us look back.
We lean forward, relentless, into the wind
& fog on better days.
Others, we bask in the sun for a joyous moment,
as though we’ll be young forever, as though
We will always have what we need. Pretend
we haven’t had and forgotten this moment
A thousand times before, like we don’t know
we’ll soon take shelter in the shade.
The locals are the only ones who don’t sunbathe
They call it earthquake weather.
The morning of
Suppose it was an accident, the way the joints tumbled loose from their mooring
Pause in that moment. Ask: could it have happened any other way?
If the earthquake had happened an instant sooner, or a year later, our
Need would have been so little. We could have walked away unscathed.
Except that’s not how it happened. The roof caved in. Everything fell down, or apart.
Land that seemed stable, ground we took for granted
Eased our roots into and built a home on – our dream manifest –
Shuddered open beneath our feet, threw our house over and down, left it
Split at its core – the foundation cracked, irreparable.
More senseless crumbling. A reminder:
everything can fall apart more spectacularly
and no, you have not met the end of your hurt.
Cracked concrete, frames all splintered matchsticks––
buildings come to lean on each other and fall
to piles of rubble, to be demolished and cleared away
And, much later, slowly rebuilt. Sturdier
than before, to be jolted again and stay standing.
You might live to see it. You won’t be safe.
Rusted chains on our bicycles
Riding through three-foot swells
Where floodwater pooled in our streets
Paved at sea level. We laughed, water splashed
Behind us in fanned-out arcs. Rode ‘til our legs stung
From fire ants, banned together, biting
Clouding the surface of the water like black algae
Protecting a nest that had long since washed away.
Hard sleep, interrupted.
Stale breakfast, tasteless on numb tongues
Empty sounds & gaping stomachs.
We sped from California like light.
Our engine screamed itself hoarse
My eyes strained, sun-scorched—
Bloodshot and unflinching.
Vision grew acidic
Coated in dust and dry heat.
Unrelenting miles punctuated in rehearsed twang:
We vaulted through Flagstaff. I grit my teeth
& drove on, shooting cactus needles.
Eyes narrowed to slits at your temples
––the music made my strings run sharp
Radio waves the only other things still moving in that desert.
We tore through Tombstone without stopping
For silver mines that served as rests and measures
On better trips. Blew right through the town too tough to die
Drove ‘til we hit Yuma, paused at the old proving ground.
Shrapnel bits and torn nylon in the twigs of each tumbleweed,
Turning in the unrelenting sun, remembered in the same breath
as my first sandstorm.
Notes: this poem uses the official Tombstone, AZ town motto: “The Town Too Tough To Die,” and references the Yuma Proving Ground, one of the largest military weapons testing facilities in the world.
Raised in the shadow of Houston refineries, Emily Pinkerton currently lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is an MFA candidate at San Francisco State University, and her first chapbook, Natural Disasters, is forthcoming with Hermeneutic Chaos Press in July 2016. Her favorite color is fog.
Find her on Twitter as @neongolden and on tumblr: thisisemilypinkerton.tumblr.com