Late Summer

The sun is high and bright.  Back in Saskatchewan, the fields are a burning gold, the skies unending in their pale blue, and the heat constant.  At night, lightning storms  fill the entire sky, or more often the heavens clear to a rich darkness with its ten thousand thousand stars.  It’s strange how much I miss the country, the open and empty world.  How much simple life seems when you can see everything for miles upon miles, when destinations can be discerned hours before arrival.  I miss seeing things early.  Obstacles, challenges, bends in the road.

Summer doesn’t last forever, even here in Los Angeles.  Things change, sometimes imperceptibly.  Landmarks shift.  Buildings get torn down.  Streets and store signs get renamed.  Some things disappear never to be seen again.  We all change in some way or another.   And yet, we try to hold on to something of the past.

It’s been two years since my father’s death and the subsequent road trip my mother and I took from BC to Saskatchewan a month after the funeral.  It was a long drive through a lot of emptiness.  The fields had already been harvested, the hay baled.  In some places the farmers had already burned the fields.  Outside our windows, the clouds stayed high and distant.  Cars remained infrequent.  The towns stayed dusty.  My mother in passing noted that the old wooden grain elevators that once punctuated the landscape had all been taken down, replaced by ugly cement and steel buildings.  How strange.  How strange it is even now that I miss them.  The wind is a constant.  The dust in the air.  The red sky at sunset.  All in some measure beautiful beyond reckoning — but somehow, it’s just the loss of the old faded buildings that haunts me.  It’s the absence of my father’s voice.  It’s the ear that listens on the other end of the phone.  How is it that one silence is so different from another?  One absence so much more than the next?

Traveling Through the Prairies,
I Think of My Father’s Voice

How we must have seemed like twins over the phone,
my father speaking with my voice, I speaking with his.
Some strange accident of genetics or the unchecked influence

of mockingbirds and mimeographs. I have heard two trains sound
almost alike till they passed, like the one last night bending westward,
the other slowing to a halt, the earth shuddering in the dark between,

while the stars held their place overhead, a thousand points of tin and fire.
Had it been day, I might have seen to the far faded edge of nowhere
or whatever town lies wakeless there. Here, the wind sounds the same

blown from any direction, full of dust, pollen, the deep toll of church bells
rung for mass, weddings, deaths. Coming through on the straight road,
the land seems especially bare this year, although the fields are still green

with new stalks of wheat, rye, canola. Someone has been taking down
the grain elevators one by one, striking their weathered wooden frames
from the skyline, leaving only small metal bins. The way the disease

took him by degrees, the body jettisoning what it could: his arms and legs,
his grin, his laugh, his voice. In the end, only his eyes – their steel doors
opening and closing while the storm rattled within – and his breath,

the body’s voice, repeating the only name it knew sigh after sigh,
a lullaby sung to a restless child on a heaving deck, a hush we only learn
in the quiet dark long after the boat has gone and the waves have ceased.

–from  The Lost Country of Sight (Anhinga 2008)

One response to “Late Summer”

  1. autumn says:

    Such a perfect complement to yesterday, and still so singular.

    “It’s the ear that listens on the other end of the phone. How is it that one silence is so different from another? One absence so much more than the next?”