The Gravities of Landscape

When my wife got the phone call about her friend’s death,
I was reading an interview with her hometown sheriff
lamenting the swampy mess a ruined meth lab had made
of one more house and lot, this one a place he loved to visit
as a boy and hates to look at now, he says.
I’ve driven by the same house on a road just outside
the town where my wife grew up. Fields blend into fields,
brown sprawls barely separated by stark ranks of pine.
I always slow down driving there, pleased by the wide view
of sky, the way the road’s long curves fool me into believing
I have no special place to be. Houses and their outbuildings
seem tiny, like the houses and hotels my sister and I crowded
onto Boardwalk and Atlantic on Saturday mornings when
we stale-mated at Monopoly, neither able to accumulate
enough to wipe the other out. A bulldozer will knock
the house flat; men in hazmat suits will haul away debris,
then scour the very dirt before they are sent to the wreckage
of another lab, one set up last night or tonight,
now basting the air with its blend of low-riding chemicals.

I have never loved or hated any landscape.
By fifteen I had visited too many places, lived
in too many houses not to understand the neutrality
of setting. Once, on a back porch overlooking
an ocean, I lay in a hammock and slept so long
my wife came to see if I had slipped, smiling,
into coma or death. I knew a man who returned
to his hometown for a funeral and, on a whim,
walked into the high school where, thirty years before,
he was voted Most Likely to Succeed. He nearly wept
at seeing how small the classrooms were, how narrow
the broom-swept halls, how much of the place he still carried
after thirty years. Death might remove the landscape
we know, but time’s gentle gravity will pull
all we do know flat. I have driven that road, but was never
there to inhale the fumes of cooking speed drifting
like waves of yellow pollen the pines release each spring.
I never saw the toothless and tweaking customers pacing circles
under a 4 a.m. moon, trying to catch the breath
that fluttered just in front of them. I’ve forgotten
or haven’t said that the inevitable end of the games we played
Saturday mornings was a hand sweeping the board into ruin—hotels,
houses, stubborn dice on the floor. My wife’s friend is dead.

Still the sky divides and is whole again. Somewhere,
another board is populated for a round of Monopoly
or Risk. Tractors froth through dirt, dust clouds and diesel smoke
in their wake like scavenger birds. I would even claim hope
in the endless cat and mouse of the meth cooks and the cops,
each hide and seek, each discovery a move in a larger game.
And if I find hope in that circling, I can believe
in the little angels rising, restless, from country graves
to move toward low-burning flames, the smell of desire,
addicted to the fumes and to the purity
of one drug-riddled boy who hopes with each breath
for rest, rest one angel would gladly provide if only
it was possible for angels to assume flesh and its landscapes,
its complications of landscape that are endless
as the dirt flesh rises from, only to spend
a life resisting the gravity of inevitable return.

—Al Maginnes, Raleigh, NC