Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Side Trail Article
It is brittle now, the remembering, how we drove you east with your backpack like a totem in the rear seat, so that you could walk westerly across the continent’s spine, across the sum of all the provinces, through places you had been before, and we had been, and the Cree and the Owlcreek bear and wolves envisioned when night screams upwind the way stars loose their valid phantoms.
Now it seems the ready truth that juxtaposition is just a matter of indifference, because we have all been where we are going, into selves, shadows, odd shining, all those places the mind occupies, or the heart, or a lung at exercise. You had already passed places you would come into when we knew your hailing us down, thumb a pennant, face a roadside flag halting our pell-mell island rush.
To go westerly, to walk across the world’s arching top, you said you had to go east, to know Atlantic salt, kelp girding rocks at anchor, clams sucking the earth down, to be at ritual with Europe’s ocean itself, that mindless sea of barks and brigs and lonely buoy bells arguing their whereabouts in the miseries of fog, singular as canyon coyote.
We promised you holy water at Tormentine, reaching place of The Maritimes, a fist ready for Two-Boat Irish Islanders, Cavendish’s soft sand, holy trough of journey, wetting place, publican’s house of the first order, drinks hale and dark and well met and Atlantic ripe as if everything the bog’s known the drink has.
It’s more apparent now, after you moved outbound, or inward on the continent, trailing yourself, dreams, through wild Nations once ringing one another, your journey’s endless. Nine years at it, horizons loose on eternity, trails blind-ending in a destiny of canyons too deep to be heard, and your mail comes scattered like echoes, horseshoes clanging against stakes in twilight campgrounds, not often enough or soon enough or long enough, only soft where your hand touches hide, hair, heart caught out on the trail, wire-snipped, hungry, heavy on the skewers you rack out of young spruce.
Out of jail, divinity school, bayonet battalion, icehouse but only in winters, asking Atlantic blessing for your march into darkness, light, we freed you into flight. You have passed yourself as we have, heading out to go back, up to go down, away from home just to get home. Are you this way even now, windward, wayward, free as the falcon on the mystery of a thermal, passing through yourself?
You go where the elk has been, noble Blackfoot of the Canadas, beaver endless in palatial gnawing, all that has gone before your great assault, coincident, harmonic, knowing that matter does not lose out, cannot be destroyed, but lingers for your touching in one form or another, at cave mouth, closet canyon, perhaps now only falling as sound beneath stars you count as friends and confidants. Why is your mail ferocious years apart in arrival? You manage hotels, prepare salads, set great roasts for their timing, publish a book on mushrooms just to fill your pack anew and walk on again, alone, over Canada’s high backbone, to the islands’ ocean, the blue font you might never be blessed in. Nine years at it! Like Troy counting downward to itself: immense, imponderable, but there.
A year now since your last card, Plains-high, August, a new book started, but no topic said, one hand cast in spruce you cut with the other hand, your dog swallowed by a mountain, one night of loving as a missionary under the Pole Star and canvas by a forgotten road coming from nowhere.
We wonder, my friend, if you are still walking, if you breathe, if you touch the Pacific will Atlantic ritual be remembered as we remember it: high-salted air, rich as sin, wind-driven like the final broom, gulls at havoc, at sea a ship threatening disappearance, above it all a buoy bell begging to be heard, and our eyes on the back of your head.