12 Years

Photo by Christopher Raley

Someone, probably Kristine, touched my arm
and said, take a break boss. I stepped aside
and they bent to the debris cascading
toward the yawning mouth of the box van.
Crumbling sheet-rock, splintered baseboard, swollen
press-board, warped cabinets, warped panels,
the sopping worthless bits of homes we’d wrenched
free and piled as in a mass grave
(for a hard freeze’s broken pipes pour out
more water than you can believe),
they now scraped and tossed over their shoulders,
our newest additions to the landfill.
I leaned on the van’s metal wall
and I stared at the sheeting rain.
Unfocused eyes, bruised ribs, cut hands, aching shins,
all recent reminders of the last
twelve years.

Then I heard it.
I heard it.
A sound so pure it was proverbial.
I focused beyond me,
the leveled staging of eclectic castoffs.
Beyond, the yellow tractors weeping,
their spiked treads a slick shine.
Beyond, the landfill in steep descent
to a bilge-like drool
from a desecrated mouth
(when I was a child
we drove trash down a canyon,
now we drive it up a mountain).
Beyond, the valley dark-drenched in green,
a near horizon marked by grey tendrils of cloud.

There was no rushing water.
Only rain.
But I heard it.
Was overwhelmed in the hearing of it.

A fierce metal squeal assaulted me
followed by, goddamn nails no one pulled,
and a, hush, and sidelong glances
at their quiet foreman who never swore,
yet my addled sense would not retract.

I leaned out past the opening.
Now I saw rising, tall and black,
knife-edge spine of the mountain’s arched back
covered in plastic.
And rain fell on the long dark sheets
the sound of many-thousand-pellets
slapping at once and continuous.
And water ran in long crooked rivulets
the sound of many-thousand-rivers
rushing each a steep gorge.
And the sounds together were one, a constant
intoned without restraint, ebb, or arc.
I leaned back into the van
where metal walls that cubed
the chaos of disaster
were an echo chamber drowning out
the struggle, the cursing, the days, the years.

I heard it,
and the hearing of it
went over my head like breakers.

I leaned out again.
Rain struck again my matted hair
and tumbled drop over drop
down crinkled furrows of forehead.

How could this be?
How is it beauty lands in a dump
and raises praise with a song?

I retreated back under cover.
I had no answer, and at long last
I needed none.
So I rested my head
against the metal, closed my eyes
and listened.

 

Christopher Raley