THE LONG HILL OF GARRAPATA The Storm That Tames Us Renée Gregorio 1 I always had to climb the long hill of Garrapata to get back to you, knew the way my aging car would slow for its incline, knew what the house would smell like when I arrived, its mixture of wood-smoke and eucalyptus leaf browning on top of the Ashley and your skin with its paint and sweat and your grey hair caught under the rim of your Stetson. You'd tell me: I heard you coming from the bottom of the mountain. We would laugh, knowing how much we each listened for the sound of the other. You placed the striped rock from the mesa on a post outside the front door, named it my homing rock. It worked. 2 Many years ago, my grandmother called me precious. I might have been five, looking up at her through clasped hands, wondering what the word meant. Now I know the innocence that can only exist before there's a word for it, that I trusted her utterly to take me down the street to the square and back home again safely, that there was such a thing as safety and that I owned it. Death changes all that. Before the word for death, just the sense of looking out on an empty, surging sea. The sound of death makes me want someone's hand to hold, someone who can take me safely home. 3 Here I am, on the face of the earth without you. If I dig in the vacant lot that is my garden, I think of your body, now turned to ashes, feeding the earth that was once our home. If the wind is strong, I imagine you going places, just as you used to dance with your feet planted and your arms swirling like propellers— the violent weather becomes you. When the hummingbirds feed outside my bedroom window, you must want to tell me something crucial, so I listen. I have planted you a thousand times over since your death, as if through digging, another one like you might find a way into me. 4 I map this sudden territory of dark the dead occupy, the other side we know little about, yet now I want to know what happens in death because you are there and I want to know you, as I always have. Williams said: Death is not the end of it. I believe him as I used to believe you when you told me you loved me, when you said you couldn't go on. 5 It is quieter here now. On the phone wire, it is never your voice. We are all growing older without you. Your death made your daughters more beautiful. I am watching them, thinking of you. They carry your weight, made of both thunder and water. I call them precious. The homing rock takes me to the barrio. You are my angel. I hear you coming from the back side of the mountain. There are times you are so noisy I know death is not where you end. ©1999 Renée Gregorio