THE WOMAN ON THE ROAD

TRAVEL-PORTRAITS-Years-An-old-vietnamese-woman-sitting-by-the-side-of-the-road-in-the-middle-of-the-food-market-in-Hoi-An-Vietnam_-Her-beautiful-hands-nicel

for Michael Johnson, for Aja, and for Rob

April 7, 2014

Yesterday took a walk to the White Salmon River. Felt lit up as usual down there, praising God above the rapids, a fat man swollen with joy. Coming back met a woman maybe five years older than I. Skin of her face worn thin, the look of a logger’s widow, hands nervous as a knitter’s, hair pulled back into a pony tail like a girl’s. Stopped to talk to my dog, to tell us why she was on the road.

Someone close to her, she didn’t say son or grandson but I assumed it, was having troubles, had disappeared on hwy 114 just across the river gorge, the road you can hear winding through a plum orchard, all in bloom now, pink as whore’s eye shadow. He drove on Thursday in a white pick up but never arrived at work. Not seen or heard from since. So she is walking the river looking for a truck gone over a cliff, down to the water. This road we walk is closed now to autos, the bridge over the river burned long ago. Tells me she used to ride it bareback on an appaloosa all the way from BZ Corners, maybe 10 miles away. Now she’s looking for someone she loves, someone she believes dead by his own hands and still she is smiling, though her smile be thin and full of pain.

Minutes later I see a young squirrel, still immature with a tail that has not yet flared at its tip. He is sitting on the limb of a locust tree eating dry seeds that formed before he was born, letting the pods go spinning down like propellers to the ground. I hear him give a quiet little bark, then throw his head back and howl like a coyote six inches from snout to root of tail. Those who live long enough know this world likes to eat its young, murder and give birth to them again and again. Still there is a joy here we need not, can not live without.

When I get home I realize I am exhausted and take a nap. Feel fine now. These words are a prayer for the woman on the road, for her sons and grandsons, for anyone who might lose his right hand to a chain saw and not be able to work. I can feel another’s pain now but it doesn’t take hold. It is like the memory of a tooth pulled weeks ago, a ghost standing among a congregation of other ghosts waiting for something they have earned but no longer want. This world is a wedding feast and crucifixion. Always has been and always will remain, as long as human beings are still human.

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