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Sightings

I walked down the sloping paved entry into the trailer park on the outskirts of the town where I grew up, and looked across the rugged terrain to the southeast. Through the trees I glimpsed the silhouette of a large cat, slowly moving toward the east. The topography here is rocky and steep, with a nearly vertical drop of about 30 feet near the direction the big cat walked. I pointed, and my friend Annalee said, " That's a cat." It was clearly very large, having the approximate proportions of a house cat, but much bigger, maybe four feet tall, with a big house cat-looking head and a long furry tail.


Unused to having rare sightings such as this, I could not believe my eyes. I immediately started to walk in the animal's direction through the brush, soon scaring up two deer. Having the sudden thought that maybe my eyes had deceived me and it was a deer I saw and not a cat, I simultaneously reasoned that if what I saw was as large as a deer, the cat must have been a mighty large one. I searched Annalee's face.

"It was a cat," she said.


"I'm going up," I stated with determination, studying the vertical drop above me. My fall, should it happen, would be broken by scrubby brush, discarded plastic toys, broken drainage pipes, and large protruding rocks, followed suddenly by a climactic blunt-force landing. My last breath would be taken while lying broken and unconscious in an idyllic-looking stone-lined stream (that I believed to be fed by a supernatural spring) at the bottom of the cliff. Slowly ascending, I gripped one small tree trunk and with tentative forward momentum moved from tree branch to tree, inching up the precipice, suddenly sliding in the mud, quickly regaining some semblance of balance, honing in on the next safety hold and above all, not letting go and not looking down.


Relieved to set my foot on the plateau at the top of the cliff, I took an initiatory glance around, hoping to see a glimpse of the cat. The place had obviously been used, or should I say misused, probably as a teenage hangout, judging from what seemed to be some sort of outhouse-sized makeshift clubhouse that had collapsed into a pile of rubble some time ago. I made my way across this flat land and its evidence of past life to a gentle slope leading back toward the entry to the park, crossed over a NO TRESPASSING sign, and then entered the road beyond.


Descending to the location where I had begun climbing the cliff, I looked up to see Annalee gripping a tree at an elevation of approximately 15 feet above me. Alarmed, I yelled, "Annalee! NO!" But she kept on. To my horror I watched her slip and slide, slow going, while I braced myself for her inevitable and tragic fall, which would include grisly images of her head bouncing from rock to rock, her neatly-cared-for-clothing crusted in blood and black mud, and ultimately a heap of unrecognizable corpse with a morbidly cracked skull lying in the once clear-running brook at the bottom. Vague thoughts ensued, of 911 calls, police interrogations, accusations, guilt, funerals, and a troublingly opaque dread of future repercussions.


Having dropped to her belly at a slightly less-dizzyingly angle of incline about a foot from the summit, Annalee painstakingly pushed herself into a semi-standing suspended state, teetering momentarily without handhold (a bad idea while climbing a cliff, I thought to myself) and I screamed, "Grab a tree!" She seemed at once to summon all of her super-Annalee strength, got her bearings and dragged both feet onto the safe level ground at the summit. With great relief and I must say respect, I quickly pointed in the direction of the entry road. Annalee gamely and obediently headed slowly down the solid gradual slope, leaving the forbidden zone, passing around the NO TRESPASSING sign, and into safety.





My adventure with Annalee in our home town that day has remained at the forefront of my mind, intense and somehow meaningful. I wonder what wild creatures, like the cougar we had the mad fortune to glimpse, roam the liminal landscapes of our civilized lives, just as they do our minds? Small towns have become shadow worlds, where, in their underfunded and uncared-for nature, we can experience the encroachment of the wild and imagine the future in new ways.


These journeys provide hints of new worlds arising from rubble. While walking toward dilapidated buildings inhabited by ghosts, on a sidewalk we see a cryptic pattern of cigarettes dumped from a car ashtray

that looks strangely like Jesus.

A girlwoman searches for a scrap of cloth to cover her child

amid crumbling infrastructure.

A rusty car spits black exhaust as it jerks onto a crumbling street from the the Consume parking lot.

Past the graffiti under the noisy highway bridge we walk toward the numbly utilitarian carwash facade where

two men, out of their heads with road rage

and without the appetite for "progress"

once shot each other dead.

Under it all lies hopelessness

or hope.

Inside of it all, creatures crawl toward the future

searching out the deserted fringelands, where teenagers' forts fall to the ground

beside a child's plastic truck

with a steering wheel that turns.

A heavy bench, upside down and embedded half-way down a cliff,

This will not move.

Liminal junkyard, beautiful forbidden space

Abandoned borderlands

The real estate of dreams.

There is home in you.





the places teenagers occupy and own

under the highway

dark and muddy, fallen trees

defiled land


Annalee, there is life lived here

where civilization wills itself

Not in the libraries

well-kept-towns

armories of death

or even theaters


Hotel California

beggars and blacks

nowhere to shit

on the shore of the grand river

light fires from a past century


bits of profanity and spray cans

cave-dwellers

carriers of knowledge

the backward innovators, the

troglodytes


my people




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