On the way west to bury an old friend,
I stopped in close to where the Gila bends,
to respect one of my brothers.
The Gillespie Ranch is ugly —
surrounded by rocky outcroppings of great beauty.
The old fortress house is still standing,
diminished and cleaner.
The tamaracks are thirty-seven years further along …
taller, wider, and shaped as driftwood,
with sparse gray green foliage topping them.
To the south, the canal —
the water course from the Gillespie Dam.
A young college student planted awkward flowers
while I poured coffee; he called me sir,
which amused me.
I wandered through the aged hangar,
crossed the runway, and climbed the canal bank;
looked down into the water,
to remember Russell’s place in the flow.
On a hot day, from the shade of younger tamaracks,
I could see Sarah stumbling from the canal,
calling for Hazel.
Russell was drowning,
trapped in the trash up against the siphon fall.
My parents carried him to Phoenix.
Russell died on the way at five years old.
I’ve watched my father during funerals for other children,
his face a mapped mountain fronted with death weather.
Russell laid in the Catholic cemetery
in Phoenix for thirty-three years.
He’s buried next to my mother now;
my father saw to that.
He leaves Gila Bend the hell alone.
In the timber-framed ranch house,
on the kitchen wall,
Russell used to dig holes in the adobe
with spoons — happy, laughing.
It’s probably mudded over now.
Existing pictures are touched and yellowed,
memories bright and unseen … unspoken.
Hazel explained leaving and loss to me,
on a visit to Arkansas.
Crops come and become:
Hazel’s gone now —
an old, black, rainfall woman,
who colored my feelings
of death times in the Gila desert.
My sister suffered for years over Russell.
Sarah has twin girls now.
Gila Bend meant Russell’s death,
Sarah’s rabies, and Amanda’s recognition
that I would grow and that she could not.
My father’s grief shaped him into a kind promontory,
standing and aiding in receding sands, till he is over.
Gila Bend in 1959:
the heat crack of sunset;
echoes of life and death sound;
Several times over the years,
I’ve come to see Russell’s place in the flow
— as a taller, wider piece of driftwood myself —
surface slowly moving to other fields
while the water listens.
I returned to the motorcycle under the tamaracks.
The flowers were in.
I wished them a good stay
and rode to Fresno …