He has seen the mountains scratch at the sky like claws, then fall into the flatness of the plains. He has seen canyons swallow the flatness, but drown in rivers. He has seen the rivers tie a rope around his legs and drag his body and mind out to sea. But the people stayed the same, and he no longer sought their faces from his car window.
They tell children home is where your heart is, but he can’t find the way back home from the woods. He is not a child. The pictures on his parents’ wall no longer look like him. Driving in the Rockies, the moon a nail clipping with no finger to point the way, he thinks of the perfect word to describe where he came from. But it does not exist. Not in the native language of his birth, or the alien language buried in his tongue. A deer, in the middle of the road. The shadow of its understanding tossed aside like clothes. His heart in its naked mouth. He reaches out his hand but it shrinks away and bares its teeth. For the promise of home it crawls across the road on its knees, much like him.
The Rockies form the physiographic backbone of the country. He is in the Sangre de Cristo range, building trails, beating the dense Precambrian rocks with a sledgehammer like a mother beating yeast into bread. Lord, give him the daily tools to build the trails to escape from those created in Your image. He swings the mattock into the earth, wedging it between rocks and soil like a stake through the spine. When he pulls the handle toward him the world loosens beneath his feet, sandstone spilling out like an outlaw running west, the sun rising with a scream, over the city left behind, of a paralyzed man stranded in the desert.
He decides what the hikers see, the steepness of the trail. He makes them sweat. He chisels the land into the flatness of their desires to conquer the mountain. At the bottom his friends walk the even sidewalks, pounding the hardness of the city into their soles, drinking whiskey to cleanse their hearts, the sound of traffic breaking bones. But for now he only gives hikers a view of the mountains, rising like humble kisses on the land, the clouds raking their fingers through the pines, and the moon coming out in the evening like a deer in a meadow with no fear of predators. While they enjoy the silence of the firs and the rustling wings of the cicadas, he only looks at the ground to find his weaknesses, places where the trail is sloped and the water runs down the mountain like the blood of Christ, washing their footsteps, and his sweat, into the depths of the valley below; the turbulent river awaiting with an open mouth.
Hiking alone, he brought enough rolling tobacco to last him through the nights of looking at the stars with only his addiction to remind him where he came from. In the evenings, he leaned against boulders to rest, the wind bending the pines into prayer, and dust settling over his body like a bird. He has no words, only a knife to clean the dirt beneath his fingernails. Here, he can’t be anyone but himself. He hopes the world is taking good care of his parents and brother, and keeping them distracted, for it has failed to do so for him, which is why he is on the side of mountains, seeing how fast he can tie his shoes, and throwing knives at a stump until he hits the center ring dead on, every time.
His parents’ love wraps around him like a fist beating against their chest, his own heart barking to find a way out like a dog on a chain. Who is going to free him of their love? He wants to run into the woods to be eaten by coyotes.
He imagines every light is a person trapped in the city, and there are not enough rocks to break them all. His fire stands alone, above the tree line, hissing and crackling under its weight, and he spreads out the embers to let it breathe. Solitude is a lone ember extinguished by the same wind that nurses forest fires into fury. A storm is brewing over the vastness, clouds smothering the city like a blanket, and the night blackens. Only flashes of lightning illuminate the mountains, and he feeds the fire more logs. The stillness cuts through him like a welcomed knife slicing the throat of a wounded deer, waiting for its last breath.