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Poetry

Off-Road

Denise Gromov

“Age isn’t just a number, as we’d heard/it’s how we get here. I’m twice my daughter’s age/and neither thought we’d haul ourselves this far.”

for Sonja

1

We bomb down Lake Mead’s red volcanic rocks

in your fire-engine red Jeep Rubicon

two toys tossed in a geologic box

 

an afternoon of father-daughter fun.

Together, laughing, we dispel distant

ghosts of mutual bleak depression

 

now shrunk into a single, scorching instant

one-ten degrees outside, while A/C blows

our face and knees, bright souls unrepentant

 

of anything we’ve lived, the jolts and blows

metamorphosed into sport off-roading

by Lake Mead’s shimmering, mirage-like shores

 

as I imagine ancient sea floors spreading

to create this basin, giving you the space

to fully live, brain no longer dreading

 

the men, including me, who wrecked your peace

once you turned desperate thoughts to compassion

and brought me back into a tight embrace.

 

2

We’re much alike, corrosive, savage wit

life as a serious joke, sweetly mocked

yet with a golden reverence underlit.

 

We talk about it all: sex, food, work shock

no censor, no filter, letting words flow

of favorite stand-up comics and alt rock

 

bubbling, a river in drought-parched West

sprung suddenly to buttress crumbling cliffs

firs, bristlecones, like us, once out of place

 

adaptive to terrain, what made of if

no formation too strange, too late, too panicked

expansive cries replacing long-crushed reefs

 

understanding that if oceans can vanish

our conscience can mutate, our life revive

the blows be shaken off, the harsh and manic

 

ways we existed, simply to survive

give way to Cenozoic brash plateaus

and soft topographies of recent love.

 

3

Your friend’s cabana shields us from harsh rays

while he serves steak, kale salad and jackfruit

plies me with hard kombucha to appease

 

my thirst, solicitous, eager to suit

my mood. All is acceptance by this pool

where strangers crowd, submerged, trying not to wilt

 

the speaker’s Alt-J radiating cool

the host’s eyes sweetly taking it all in

while children plunk each other with a ball.

 

You fear this week you’re going to be canned

your ex won’t take your son to Broadway camp

and your beau said your taste in wine was crap.

 

Words turn transient phantasmagoria

illusions of mind destined to expire

or lived with, like three a.m. insomnia.

 

I give advice, but mostly I admire

your tact, quiet persistence, and belief

that you’re steadily climbing higher.

 

4

Age isn’t just a number, as we’d heard

it’s how we get here. I’m twice my daughter’s age

and neither thought we’d haul ourselves this far.

 

I had to divest of my inborn rage

of moods swinging like downed power cables

that shoot hot sparks, spraying random damage

 

and she, raised on idealistic fables

of perfect marriage, career, motherhood

deemed gifted as a prize horse in a stable

 

has strived to guide life by her simple good

while crashing through hard marriages, willful child

and stepchild, keeping close a female brood

 

of best friends, while hanging on to the wild

side of her, that untamed passion the two of us share

the need to hold in our hands the whole world.

 

5

I see her as a globe lit from within

glass thin but unbreakable, soft glow

that even in a snowstorm shines like skin

 

a living fire that melts through sheets of snow

letting wanderers spy the next crevasse

revealing canyons bathed in blue shadow.

 

Even from the precipice of a pass

a thousand miles away, I sense her mind

trained on mine, able to nimbly guess

 

my widest-ranging thoughts, as if the wind

carried a noise, not words, just syllables

a mutual communion based on sounds

 

for a new language, new myths, laws, fables

ones that don’t entrap us in the old gods

ones that don’t leave us corrupt, disabled.

 

I try to be her beacon too, her dad

but more than that, a human mind attuned

to each shift in the many-sided wind.

 

6

Her Jeep’s tough traction tires dig through dense sand

as if they might unearth buried doubloons

left by lost Spanish conquerors stealing land.

 

I’m sure we’re getting stuck, but like the moon

sliding through dense clouds

in the thickest band of a vast monsoon

 

her red Jeep, as if throwing off a shroud

slides through the trough and gives a mighty jump

as though Lazarus leapt to his feet, proud

 

new thrilled to feel between his ten toes clumps

of dirt, dying earth cold to his warm touch.

If he revived, he could revive this, pump

 

vitality into the deadest desert gulch.

The two of us, too, have that special power.

If only for an instant, we’re magic mulch.

 

Drinking bottled water to mark this hour

We toast, plastic on plastic, sounding like

the clink of finest crystal to our ears.

 

Johnny Payne is the arts editor at Merion West. He is a poet, novelist, playwright, and essayist. He has worked extensively in Latin American Studies, especially literature under dictatorship and Quechua oral tradition. He directs the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles and earned his doctorate from Stanford University.

Johnny Payne is the arts editor at Merion West. Johnny is a poet, novelist, playwright, and essayist. He has worked extensively in Latin American Studies, especially literature under dictatorship and Quechua oral tradition. He directs the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles. He earned his doctorate from Stanford University. Contact Johnny at johnny@merionwest.com.

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