Up Panoramic

        Oh, the magic, the magic! the longing for it to surface naked and wild again into life! and how far away it seems so much of the time, so buried and dim. Tonight the moon rides high above the fog that covers our teeming estuary, but last night was clear all through till I tumbled into bed with Karen with the dawn light rising, and tumbled out again -- too full of strange twitchy energy to lie with her, though my body was numb and infinitely distant from her warm flesh -- and went to sleep in my littered den, into a morning of throbbing dream broken by the phone.

        Thirty days now I've been sitting at the desk, grudging out words on my battered machine, most of a book about learning coming out in one continuous extrusion. But by now the exhilaration has faded, and the pace and pleasure of mining a decade’s pedagogical experience are sustained against weariness, grained into my flesh like a dirty sheet. I'm a sheet of paper, thin and one-dimensional, so far from my body that I unwind the hunch of my spine like a foreign machine each night when I finally rise from the keys to collapse. All affect gone, I can hardly summon an erotic fantasy, and only grace preserves the brief spaces of contact with my son and a friendly touch with Karen. And all the while Bull lies softly growling as I type, growing fat and old as he waits for the walk that will bring us both health and joy, the mirror what I'm doing to myself.

        But today was a wonder, though I woke up buzzing and full of aches, my head still stupid with the dregs of the night's smoking, and decided I should find some other human eye to scan my month's frenzy and tell me I wasn't just off in a corner gibbering to myself. It started slowly enough. I rose to stuff some leftovers into my machine, remembering to try to taste them. Someone took Lorca off early to a kids' film, and I hardly even felt the pull of the keys as I preserved the lazy peace to spend an hour with Karen, talking over her latest opus. It was word-working still, but a decompression -– and almost the shyest of intimacies, to find out where this strange separate being had been during those nights while her tapping filtered through the wall in counterpoint to mine, and to share with her the solitary struggle of form. Ain’t it nice,she sighed, meaning our house, the noon sun, the brief times when our chosen rhythms bring us together through the dull sapping friction of everyday coping and into such mundane ecstasy. But I was still just barely there, with no strength for the shadows of what is unsaid between us, and all I could say was un-huh … now about this paragranh here …  Yet when we finished the air was aglow; and I whisked Karen off to the Goldstine spa, moved by no forethought or purpose to suggest this uncharacteristic quick excursion while the kid ate fantasy.

        No one was home in the big house, and when we went to the pool we found its sanctuary of ferns and reclaimed redwood deserted, the great sliding roof drawn back to air out old pleasure.  As I shucked my clothes I was still somewhere else, naked and unconscious of my flesh; but as I turned to Karen something welled all unexpected in the space between us. Lord knows I pass her five times daily like this with a dull friendly slap on the ass, but moved perhaps by the presence of graced water something fell away, and we were tender and virginal in each other's eyes, and old familiar too. The magic held as we stood and kissed, and as we spread the towels. Wind from above, cold and unresented, rustling the oaks and the water as we tongued in acoustic darkness; and it was not quite perfect but real, as she came and I mounted to ride high over her tender pre-menstrual womb and into quick climax. Delicious as the fuck stolen in the bathroom, precious as the forest; and I felt broken through into blessed reality again, as if I were miIdly tripping, so sharp the change from my recent experience.

        Our dear friend came to sniff the good smell, and then we took a quick dip in the pool and scrambled into the icy shower to give ourselves shampoos, and then got into giving Bull one too, long overdue, which he bore with a patiently offended cant of head. I rinsed him, hugging his flesh as my own, and we dressed and meandered back through a garage sale, haggling for trinkets, and got back in time to receive the kid full of candy and five-years-old’s wisecracks. Adrift in ordinary joy, I bantered with him as he struggled with his shoes and nagged me to stop paging through my bargain books and go. At last he and I piled with the dog into Lumberbuggy, and cranked her dependable bulk up the winding triumph of Panoramic Drive, to the end of the road where we parked and set off on the lane that winds far into the hills overlooking the Bay and its fifty miles of citied shore.

        At night when the weather is clear you can see the glitter of a million diamonds, a vast puddle of galaxy rain, sharp clear down the Peninsula. But at four this afternoon the smog was dense with a week's accumulation, and the edge of the fogbank was creeping early over the City and advancing on the Bay. I called it to Lorca's attention, after he led us straight up the cut overhanging the road to creep doglike through tunnels in the brush toward the top crest; but he was set on leaving the road, to wander through the dense conifers that line aII the hills’ lee, living on the drip of the fog that they catch with their slender fingers In the night. For Lorca was bent in quest of the marvelous mushroom characteristic to this unique ecology, which grows from the needled turf up on stilts to raise a round body puffy with spores, great fun to pinch and disperse; and he scored the first find and was off for more, chattering as he clutched the trunks against the hill’s steep. We paused in the pineshadow to try to sneak up on a circle of scolding jays, to see what they were up to, but they hushed at our clumsiness and we couldn't outwait them.

        And so we wandered, until the urge for distance seized us and we took again to the road, following its hilltop rollercoaster east towards the foothills of the Coast range. Above us flickered quick wings, and Lorca cried out it’s a hawk! and it was, the first we’ve seen here (though we once saw an owl at dusk): a sparrow-hawk perturbed by our snooping, swooping from one bare treespire to another around the patch of grass he was eyeing. And we went on, as Lorca left me burdened with his pineknot club to race BulI down the slopes, tilI they led us on detour from our accustomed route, over a shoulder and into sight of the obscured Bay again, and into a field of fallen thistle stalks and tender thistles sprouted in the sparse first rains.

        We stood awhile and went through the cycle: reconstructed the four-foot forest from its fallen skeletons, imagined it as it stood proud in autumn, all its flower-cups filled with seed to cast to the wind, riches enough to share with a thousand chittering creatures, wrens and sparrows on top and the quail at the droppings, and the mice in fear of the raptor hawk; and saw the early leaves now sprouting towards their glory. It was the instant of cusp in the life of this meadow, old height leveled by wintertime, its purpose served: and only the green leaves mottled with white, sharp-fringed, lying flat on the earth, to promise it again. And as we moved on through this unique instant of no resistance to our stride, over the bone of the earth with its mousetunnels open, something fell away from me a fraction more as I turned to face the moon rising in the East, finally unveiled above the smog's obscuration to shine swollen and lucent one day from full, and to make me aware of another cause for the strange twitching of my blood, besides the noxious air that agonized everyone yesterday.

        Mother of the muses, pure ball of rock hanging above me by the Laws, giving me scale and scope. I stood for a moment in the meadow of thistle, caught in the perfect geometry of an orb on each horizon, with all my memory an earthquake; and then strode down the crest to the road, skirting two lovers couched in the grass, as Lorca ran ahead, the milk-spiller fleet on his own ground. Love-fruit, flesh of my flesh, echo, imp and mind of his own, innocence in what is still almost all wonder, careening along as the dog veered off on rabbit-trail. When he reached the road's trough he turned to yell my attention to the great bird passing overhead, longbodied jet low and throbbing the valleys with its murmur, racing ahead of its wake. What is smog? he had asked me as we toiled up the slopes, and I told him about the pure stuff dirtied by the shit of our empowerment, leaving him someday to see the personal connection with the beloved lumbering metal buggy that brought us half this high, first stage of our rocket towards the moon.

        The late rays of sun were working their customary magic on the hillside before me, so close in its mirror steepness to my downslope that it hung before me like a satellite, with each hairbrush detail of the shadowed pines lining the road on the left and of the hill itself, with its patchwork of thin dead grasses still standing in clumps and around them the loam bristling with green spears, the gentle detailed pulse of earth's vitality, preternaturally clear and giIded in the rosy light. At the foot of the road the boy, head bent back over the red balloon of his jacket; in the middle of the picture the horizon of the twilit road; and high over them the plane, flying above the moon. Then the boy and the road and the moon, and the watcher to give it perspective.

        Pregnant with nothing, a formless joy, I broke into gladsong, looks like nothing going to change, everything still remain the same, can't do what everybody tells me to; and caught up to Lorca part-way up the hill, where he sat at the familiar task of tugging up his socks, his own punctillio. I sat down too to have a smoke, and persisted though he cussed me out for not helping him turn over rocks to hunt for grubs. I told him to fend for himself, and when he insisted on help with one boulder told him to tug at it a bit more.

        After he tested it out fruitlessly I looked it over. The rock had a handy crevice, and fortune had graced the site with some oaken staves, as staunch as if carved by hand. As is the custom between us, I used the words lever and fulcrum unselfconsciously as I showed him the first and second types, and worked as his assistant as he used them to lever the rock up, slipping incremental supports beneath it as it rose to the point where he could use his own weight against gravity to pull it up enough for us to see nothing of interest but one spider couched in silk against the face of the rock, and on the ground beneath her haunt the bleached exoskeletons of sowbugs whose survivors had long fled our labors.

        I zipped his coat against the coming chill and offered him my sleeve to wipe his nose -- and it was up the hill again and over and down, and on and on past ever we had come before, as we discussed whether clubbing them to death, however balanced the justice, was really the best thing to do with the people who were killing all the whales, and fantasized of this and that, until we reached the base of what seemed the final hill before the valley before the big ones. High above us two hikers were sitting, but far below them Lorca's lagging turned into an overdue stop for rest, and we crouched by the cut of the road, watching the distant influx of fog in the Bay.

        I called his attention to the prominent specimens of upfolded sedimentary strata right beside us, and recapitulated the story of their deposit, baking, and upthrust. They were excellently detailed, the layers evident and variagated with later aqueous metamorphosis, and Lorca eyed them with a connoisseur's care and pronounced them to be gold, perhaps buried by pirates. He reclaimed his pineknot club and adapted it to a pick, began mining the deposit, and soon gathered such an armload of fragments that after dropping my own two small specimens into the mushroom's plastic bag, I offered him the unused bag for his hoard.

        It filled the bag, threatened to rip it; he gathered it up and turned to go on, and we had a brief argument, he for the moon and me for home. Look at you, man, you're staggering already, and I promised Karen we’d be back half an hour ago. In the end reason prevailed, but only through the argument that our retreat established the excuse to come back and go farther. We started down. He was walking with such teensy careful steps that he laughed too when I said it would take us four hours, and agreed to the deal that I carry the bag after cutting its weight by dropping one boulder which he decided wasn't much anyway, and that he in return carry the club and maybe scurry along.

        We started back in earnest. I pressed the matter; he was adamant, about wanting to enshrine the gold in his room, whether or not it would seem larger there than it did here, and no thanks he didn't think he wanted to throw out something in even trade to keep the clutter stable. Christ, I thought, thinking of our dashing to flea markets, the museum of my room, what have I visited on this man, of all that’s against survival why should I burden him with the need for more vestment to make his self secure? But at least he has his own will. I pulled him back from another excursion into the pines, exotic in the dusk, as we hit the first bottom, but he wanted to take the next detour too, and balked, and he cried out against it always being my way, and I reminded him of who had chosen this hike in the first place and who had set most of the pace, and I started getting a little self-righteous. He wouldn't buy it or admit that the balance was in fact pretty fair. So I backed down to the reason of animals on a planet, told him to feel his body and judge for himself whether it had the reserves to wander back as widely as we’d come in the gathering chill, or hadn't he better make it straightway if he wanted to make it under his own strength; and he did and agreed, and we compromised on just this one detour over a shoulder and after that a beeline home.

        As we went I called Lorca short-pants, and he wanted to know why, and I told him how in my father's own time boys wore them until they were ten or more; and he got into asking relativities. How old was your father when you were my age? How big were you when you were born? How old when you were my size? I dissected the cadence of my father having me at the same age I had Lorca, and he asked me to sketch again the detail of growing up to his present size, and we went up and down and on. Now the pines were to our right, and as we strolled a momentary level I opened a bit more to tell him about them, as at our backs the moon presided over our lengthening shadows, deepening his connection to this perfect world, this pIace.

        I came here with your mother, the first night we met, I told him. She and were grownups, not as old but grownups, and we didn't know each other and we met one day and talked and liked each other and had dinner and took our sleeping-bags and toiled up these same hills at night under the sky to unroll them under these pines, not quite here but a little way up the road, past where you and I hunted mushrooms; and we cuddled against the cold and talked and watched the sky for meteors and made love, all under the pines, and it was all as it is now, and the  scolding bluejays woke us in the morning. Uh-uh, he said; and when I asked why, answered wisely something about how you could only do it once, like when we made him. After my incredulous huh?! he dropped the act and retreated to his usual stance of detached absorption in the face of technical information, as I told him that you could make love without making babies and as much as you wanted, though people's tastes varied; and that in general it got nicer and nicer with practice, and that I thought it always ought to be sort of speciaI .

        In the valley below the incoming streamers of fog sent octopid arms inquiring, creature born of the sea and the tides' conflict. The advance chill of its air invaded our heights as we scanned the pines’ margin for bats, and I offered Lorca my sleeve again. Far from the West, through the dying sun, I heard the subliminal moan of the foghorns, warning the ships on the water, and remembered my chiIdhood on the other side of this Bay, the nights of his age when I lay on the carpet in the darkened living-room and the firelight leaped and the foghorns moaned as I lay drifting into sleep, watching through the window the one grace our modest rental secured, besides its backyard eden of ivy and snaiIs: a straight sight of the Bay, mother water, with each evening of a long season the fog drifting in, billowing in great banks where the cold northering currentss, upthrust from the deep by the Coriolis force of the spinning globe, shear off their two thousand mile momentum against the metamorphic margin of this piece of flotsam we call a continent, and chill to fog the humid breath of air that pulses in and out through the narrow mouth of the Bay from the great lungs of the Central Valley. As the inhaled fog filled the Bay the far shore became hidden, and slowly it rose to cover all but the lights at the tops of the bridges, red dragon's eyes that blinked their deliberate pulse forlorn and proud, a quick wink of red mystery visible on the walls and echoing into my core down the years. And we stopped, and I bade Lorca attend to the distant sound, pick it out from grass murmur and the far rumble of traffic; and I traced its two-note melody with a slow hand until he had it. Trumpet, he suggested. Uh-uh, I said, just listen.

        We stood for a time, absorbed. As we walked on quietly I told him of the dragons, Bradbury's, mine, the dinosaurs who took to sea, exotic depths protecting their exile, and who came thus to call in the night when fog protected them from any danger of sight, to call longingly to their cousins on land and to each other, now so few and searching in the long survival; and of how on some special nights you could hear not one but two, calling to each other in profound, refound duet across the waters. We listened to them call. It’s like the whales, Lorca said; and we thought of them, and of their song, until we crested the final hill, to walk into full view of the Bay.

        The mother-fog’s arms had long since filled the valleys beside us, and now we stared upon her naked bulk, a greater sea with slow superficial surfs now covering not only the bridges but all beyond and below, cities and hills and all, coming from the horizon to lap at our feet as if the Western world had been erased, and we emergent on the road with nothing but ourselves, the trees, the meadow and the sky as our domain. The sun was long gone; we watched the billows for a time, shadowed by the moon, until the dog called us on and we took the last pitch down into the fog, as Lorca insisted on butt-sliding down the main steep with two axes in hand, and pulled it off like a master to break me into laughter.

        As we reached Lumberbuggy and stowed our treasures the fog embraced us, the world dwindled to ourselves as focus of mystery; and she started reliably and I edged her back till we could turn to retrace the zigzag of Panoramic down, gearbox grinding securely, and so to home. As I came up the stairs, Lorca and Bull darting ahead with their exclamations, familiar music took me from a record long unplayed, Carl’s song that graced our wedding before this late-planted seed, and made the upwell of memory complete.

        The house was warm with order, and Karen in the hall, soft with her own accomplished mysteries. And as we embraced, Carl's words took us, in the moon-magic of synchronicity, through all the changes lately in our minds about each other, retracing the past in some literal detail and crystallizing the mood, and I cried and I cried as she held me, all boundaries gone in the fullness of it all, an instant of cusp in the tricky weathers of my meadow, whose stalks refuse to yield; and my body loosened too and met hers again, until we swayed as one in unaccustomed dance as Carl sang: and if the end were the beginning then a new beginning would need another word, has it been heard? has it been heard?

        And it was over and the needle lifted, and Bull was barking for food and Lorca for something else we had been ignoring throughout, and we looked into each other’s eyes and said yes and turned to deal with them. I decided to save the feast of mussels till I could check with the Health Department, and reassured Karen that they’d last a day longer; and then sat down to write this while she shopped and gilded the bathtub, putting myself again in the grip of that iron affection, but somewhat more the flesh and spirit of my machine.


        1975   Michael Rossman

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