June 17, 2022
Crossing Into Nevada
By Kara Lark
The California sun
Shines pink and orange across the Sierras;
The sultry morning blossoms into a summer day,
The kind that casts a spell,
The kind that wears you down
Now, at noontime,
The train has stopped,
And she disembarks
And feels the warmth against her skin.
She sits down on a bench outside the depot;
Her father smokes his pipe somewhere --
She smells the fragrant tobacco
Wafting through the air.
The earth’s heat rises from the ground;
Trees rustle, travelers shift and breathe.
Thunder explodes above the mountains,
She saw the Old Spanish Trail,
El Camino Real,
From the train window
Miles and miles ago;
It looked like sage and sand
Through lonesome chaparral --
They’d left behind a ghost town
Somewhere outside Coyote,
Then switched directions
To cross the San Joaquin.
This is the West, her father had said
As they sat before the tinted pane,
The lounge car rolling,
Side to side
They’re still mining the veins
From Hangtown to Mt. Bullion.
She’d been deep inside the earth before
On one of those four-dollar
Where the breath of a thousand miners
Exhales from dirt walls,
Thin and tired.
Down where the dreams were dug up --
She can still smell it,
And feel it,
The heat of desire;
Stood in the dim light,
Wooden rafters splintered
But strong above her head,
And marveled at how far they had to fathom
To find the seam.
The things men did! The things they did, her father had said.
And she agreed --
Somebody found it, she thought.
Somebody had the idea
To sound the belly of the range,
Past the cholla and the sagebrush and the snakes.
And when they claimed the shiny stuff,
The nuggets of their fame,
Somebody thought to put pink and yellow roses on display --
An opera house at the edge of El Dorado,
Hung with portraits of the silver kings.
Now, listen, Nellie, her father had said,
Even those who never found their dream --
You can sure bet their memories outweighed
Any eastern banker’s fortune.
Life is in progress, he said,
You don’t have to wait for it to come to you
On holidays and special occasions.
She rises from the slatted bench,
And lifts her gaze to the Sierran crest,
Like a cast-off quilt,
Seams stitched with mule paths
They board the exhaling
Matched with iron veins,
Stretching from 1868
To the Coca-Cola
Sweating on her backseat tray.
They say the devil lives in the desert
And oftentimes she’s thought of him --
Hiding, casting shadows.
There are those who will not budge,
No matter how they suffer
But if he’s out there,
Why do the cactus flowers bloom,
And why does the darkness let the seekers through?
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