Tuesday Apr 23

EvansJohnW John W. Evans is the author of the poetry collection, The Consolations (Trio House Press, 2014), winner of the Trio House Prize, and the memoir, Young Widower (U of Nebraska P, 2014), winner of the 2013 River Teeth Book Prize. His poems and essays appear in The Missouri Review, Boston Review, ZYZZYVA, Slate, The Rumpus, and Poetry Daily, and the chapbooks, No Season (FWQ, 2011) and Zugzwang (RockSaw, 2009). He teaches creative writing at Stanford University, where he was previously a Wallace Stegner Fellow.


The Legend of a Life
Five Years

There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.

—Longfellow, “The Cross of Snow”

Your name is written on paper in a folder
in a shoebox in the closet,
on my arm above the shoulder,
next to a tree near an outcrop of rocks
where we carried your body toward the ridge and stopped to rest.
What does it really matter now how well I tell the story
of my own terrible exception to your death?
I don’t know that we ever meant to leave you in one place
but I have spent five years trying to do it.
On grassland in Northern Illinois
we spread your ashes. I go there once a year.
Somewhere between Chicago and Antioch I find the preserve,
frontage road and parking lot.
Close to the quarter-mile turn grasses grow in patterns
less distinct each spring. I guess the place.
I have taken my son there twice.
I have walked him to where we cannot find your body
so he will learn reverence for another life
he knows is some part of this one,
built between places where the earth holds in its fire
and the light at the top of each radio tower blinks red to warn
high travellers looking down.
The city windows shine hills back.
My jacket is blue. It makes no reflection.
I keep my vigil though no gentle face watches down
the unfamiliar room. My clean, fat face
young enough still and fairly circumspect,
impresses perhaps some partial and familiar caricature.
We slept in a small apartment facing west toward the river.
That other time so close to our beginning,
now your end. Not this life,
my second marriage. My later life.
The dust ground low the down incline
as though it were noble only to live that other way,
self-impressed in granite: a clean, hard face.
I remember you now as that life, that other place.
When I say you I mean the many sad and beautiful things
that persist after your death,
filings following the magnet-fork,
logical and duty bound to drag without intention
the sloppy figure-eight. Round and round,
I scrape some lost charge against the wood to shape my sad story,
my beautiful wife, my legend,
I might still remember and love you
these beautiful spring mornings I wake early with the baby,
when I let my wife, your friend, climb back into bed
to sleep in our city on the peninsula.
I love this life after you
like a stranger arriving late to his own surprise party, stubborn
with disbelief, eager to make up lost time,
each year thinking, love more,
whatever the deceit, however obvious or cowardly or sad
I claim the affection. This beautiful spring city.
In the park my son scales the yellow-red play structure
in one direction and leans out, ready to jump.
He is named for my great-uncle, his family’s profit: all black wool.
He wore a white hat with a flower in its brim
to persuade the skeptics who did not also speak in tongues.
He made his post-war fortune buying surplus cargo trains,
sending home soccer balls and macadamia nuts
as though he’d found the rest of the world
in the feeding troughs and holding pens of Central Valley.
California: land of milk and honey, sun and pasture
bordered with snow west and north
of the long flat plain, the deep ravine breaking rivers,
the mountain valleys peaked with snow and filled with bears.
I stood beside a glacial lake,
thinking I’ll see it here. I’ll die here. They will find me here. I slept under a blanket
in a cabin in the woods. I drove to the city
and woke early each morning,
the waking memories sudden and tedious as waking.
Say it gets better or there is another kind of end to it.
No feral dog-packs range, bear-hungry, to keep me safe,
the way a fever burns to the center
and kills what it crosses.
Made benedight by history and circumstance
the city’s stone horsemen gallop toward fire and rapture
and do not cross it
again. They have already crossed it. Their names are written in stone.
I rode gallant out of Damascus and spoke in tongues.
I was struck without sight or speech or hunger
three days times three and six and ten. I did not die.
I was not converted.
My name is not the name of my son.
I drove west across my country, away from you.
Where will I ever look to discover suddenly that cross’s shadow,
knowing I want to see it
across the strait: narrow pasture.
Further: white windmills,
the glacial pass closed half the year to traffic.
Rain slightly warmer than the ocean hides the city.
It gathers to high ice in the winter light.
We hiked six hours to that beautiful ridge.
A cross at the trailhead faced southeast from the valley.
There is no reason to tell this story again.
It is no longer my story.
I know better than to look for consolation.
I make my testament in order to leave you
far from anywhere I might go again.
I catch my son and carry him up the steps.
I run the steps, a foolish running man,
an old man who skips steps, eager for the top,
eager to feel atop
whichever part of the continuing life I cannot stop
remaking. Fog clods the sea high overhead.
My wife is waking now. My son
wants to be lifted high and carried across the city.


Forget the bent whistle rattling its pebble
well past the shape of its tone,

the metal detector and the confederate bullet,
the ivy, gunmetal, brick.

It is winter. The evening light diminishes,
littered with false starts.

Black-shouldered kites wing redwoods,
quartering grasslands for rabbits and mice.

The Japanese maple bares thick branches.
Who doesn’t wait for the ground to surrender

some aspect of what was set beneath it
waits for spring. Fermented holly berries

thrill the blackbirds. The reservoir is low.
On the hill, beneath a satellite dish

too old to hear much among the constellations,
joggers crowd the familiar route.