Monday, September 22, 2014

The Second Time Up

I wasn't even half an hour in before I was sure I couldn't do it.

It was the second time today I had tripped over that selfsame root; crossed creakingly over that same cable bridge; stepped the same pattern across the same rocks. The first time had taken me to the top launch of the Jungfrau, three hours up the face of the mountain at a brisk pace. The trail is a staircase from top to bottom, interrupted only by a single short traverse that leaves you clinging uneasily to the peeling rock at your right as you arrange the inside half of your feet to the thin striations running along a knife-sheer slope.

It is not easy.

But here I am again.

The first time, I had arrived at launch shaking and sweat-drenched, as everyone does. I had taken a little extra time to sit before launching, pressing my palms into the Jungfrau's glacier-buffed shoulder and watching the far, far-below treeline comb the clouds. I had enjoyed the simple fact of being-done; of having-arrived. I had launched with the intention of heading straight to the sauna and ironing the wooden burls I felt forming in my thighs.

But then I was a little careless.

I launched beautifully; flew triumphantly. The flight was a delight, but when I landed I discovered that I must have tucked my brand-new phone too shallowly into its pocket. It was gone.

I arrived home somewhat deflated, launching into insurance claims, filling out the forms. Suddenly, it occurred to me that there's an app that geolocates lost and stolen devices. Hey, I thought. This'll be a funny screenshot: a little green dot that shows where in the impenetrable Swiss forest your phone has fallen. A little bitter, maybe, but funny. So I popped it open and prepared a wry laugh.

I never got the chance.

The green dot was not over impenetrable forest. It was perched right on the edge of the shaded grey that describes the edge of launch from the top view.

It was up there, probably.

And worth a thousand dollars to check.

And the rain is coming, so it has to be today.

So there I was, half an hour in and stumbling a little already, my speedwing bag digging deep into the groove it had already worn in my shoulders from this morning's adventure, wet and cold with sweat.

I can't do this, I thought. Way too much to ask of these legs.

But I have to get past the treeline. There's a launch at the hut there and flag to judge the wind by. A simple launch that even my tenderized body and brain can handle. Hey, I tried. It's not even a failure. Not really.

But when I got to that launch, I heard the thunder of the waterfall just over the ridge.

I'm out of water and I'm so thirsty and there's another launch just beyond the water, I'm pretty sure.

We'll just get there, huh? Just a little bit further.

And once at the water, I remembered that there's an even nicer launch just up this little steep bit. A little more work for lots more flight. No-brainer.

And then I was *so* close to the turnoff for the second trail. I could see it up there -- such a nice bookend for this adventure, with a nice place to sit and have a snack and drink from the spring and launch nice and high.

And then, sitting up there, it stopped being about the damn phone.

There, next to me, was the steep spill of the traverse, sitting silent under murky silver skies churning up rain. And at the end of the traverse, the almost-kinda-bouldering bit where you pull chunks of the mountain off in your hands until you find a rock that sticks and mince your way up to the next one. And then after that, the little chain section, which snakes up a chimney to the green hummocks that drip with snowmelt all the way to the top.

The top. Which is far over my head from where I sit, but where I know every step to reach. Because I've just done it alone once today, and I suddenly know that I can do it again.

It isn't twenty feet further before my cooled-off muscles start to seize up.

I'm on the rope section when my thighs stop being able to contract without cramping into near-uselessness. I start to hear a rubber-on-rubber sound coming from my knees. I pick my legs up with my hands and place them on the next foothold, like I'm learning to walk on stilts.

Every step is a fight -- but the rain is coming in earnest, now, swirling petrichor in my nostrils.

I am almost out of time.

I place every step with religious intention. Every. Single. One. Hurts.

I'm staring so hard at my shrieking, howling, stubborn, refusing legs that it surprises me when the marker cairn suddenly appears at my left.

There it is. One more slope, shrugging a truckload of knife-sharp scree from its white shoulders, and I can get the fuck off this rock.

It takes me half an hour. I zigzag up the hill without pattern, suddenly aware that I'm suddenly in the possibly-maybe vicinity of that dropped phone, casting my eyes along the gloomy ground, suddenly realizing that finding one small, jet-black piece of plastic on a mountain of loose stone is a fool's errand entire. It might be here. However, if it is, it is certainly hiding, buried in the endless tumble of dark, phone-sized stone.

But this wasn't really about the phone, was it?

It's about the fact that my body; my brain; my *stira* did not crumple. I am here, sore and heaving but with -- miraculously -- a bit of energy to spare.

And then it's there.

Suddenly. Sitting alone on the slope's single bare, white rock, like an offering. Whole -- and even unscratched.

I'm still almost mystified as I pick it up, call down my flight, carefully restow it and unfurl my wing. I launch moments before the weather bursts. This is a running takeoff with the wind working against me, sprinting down the shifting pile of knife-thin shale...but I nail it.

I fly.

As I gather up my wing from the grass at the bottom of the mountain, I remember the words of my favorite yoga teacher. "Your body can do so much more," she'd say, patting a lazy leg into action, "Than your brain wants it to."

Couldn't agree more.

Location:Jungfrau High Exit

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

the widows in waiting



you will die.
you will die like the others.

maybe
you will push your
last breath
against our wailing chests.

if we are lucky.

maybe
they will find your husk
eaten, wasted, the bone
shoving through your meat
after they have already forgotten
you were lost
everyone but us.
everyone but those
who sleep by your pillow.

our faces
will curdle with tears
sharp ribcages
caving in
and everything will bleed
everything will bleed
everything will run red
and everyone
who walks with us
will track it through the world.

this love will knife us,
screaming,
as we try to crawl away.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

this is why


i
hold on.
i keep you
like muscle to bone;
like words in a language i knew
and spoke once, fluently, but now my sentences strain;
like an ache nursed in some deep bone,
twinged by bad weather;
the far-off
smell of
rain.

this
holding --
this keeping --
is unmuscular --
a branch that grows over a rope;
like the footprint of fortissimous sound on soft ears,
or a song that keeps repeating,
or a falling dream
as i drift
into
sleep.

so
neutral,
the press of
this accustomed weight
hanging in-between my breathbeats;
swelling and contracting like a tide that carves my shore
and somehow, the shore holds the sea
even when the sand
feels naked;
the moon,
far.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

how you look to them


Thwack.

I hear the first fistful of food hit the wall. 

The sharp report of unidentifiable porridge against plaster shudders through the wood-latticed windows. It rings all the way out to the balcony that wraps around the traditional Chinese building we're in. We're here because we've been invited to an event-closing banquet -- now, that banquet is apparently airborne. I hear the sound, but I don't really believe it until I glance inside, just in time to see the second handful of lobbed porridge smack the wall beside the first. 

Most of the BASE jumpers have evacuated the small dining room for strategic positions outside, between the windows of this once-stately wooden restaurant, but a few are still crouched in ersatz foxholes between the tables, giggling like ten-year-olds.

I whip back into the safety behind the wooden shutters and blink in wonderment. We were invited here -- wined, dined and entertained by a government welcome so gregarious as to be almost startling. The regional sports department has covered our travel, put us up in comfortable hotels, fed us every meal and provided us with the best jumpin' bridge we could possibly have hoped for. 

Why are we coating their walls with porridge?

Our Chinese hosts stand among the conscientious objectors on the balcony, smiles flickering. In their position, I'd be hustling us right back to the bus. They, however, are bravely determined that the show must go on. 

We're shuffled downstairs, onto a covered deck that observes an outdoor stage. An autumn rain has begun in earnest, drenching the stage's concrete floor. Despite the downpour, several girls in ornate traditional costumes stream out from the building. Their painted faces smile earnestly at us as we swig muttonheadedly from a sea of beer bottles. Their headdresses, glinting with a swinging fringe of tinkling metal, flash colorfully under the stage lights as they file past us.

As they make their way to the stage, one jumper I know from the Valley reaches out, laughing, and smacks the last three on the back of the head as they process down the walkway. He's grinning. He's obviously pleased with the way it makes their metal headdresses shudder and jingle.

I cringe. Mortified.

Sure, we’re in the hinterlands of China – but this isn’t a cultural misunderstanding. It’s a systemic problem. BASE jumpers seem exempt themselves from all the rules: not just from the aspects of human behavior that imply subservience to a very un-BASE-jumperly social norm, but from the rules that govern basic human decency. Those rules keep underpaid restaurant staff – who had been previously riveted by your wild-eyed jocularity and torrent of your unfamiliar language – from silently hating you as they scrub your dinner off the walls and floor. Those rules prevent you from making teenage village girls cry a little bit while they dance, in the rain, for your enjoyment.

Assholes.


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

transfixed

I wear you like an iron dress
that is so 
so 
very
beautiful on my body

I don't mind standing here,
watching the world move warily past
as I crane my neck to stare into the mirror.

So beautiful.

I'm not sure I can take you off.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

moss never grows


I was still a child.

That part still strikes me.

I was a willful, independent, self-starting, motivated, clever, manipulative, larger-than-life, talented, big-dreaming...child.

My family was living in central America at the time. I was neck-deep in dramas that my parents were gamely ignoring. I wanted to escape.

I told them I wanted to move back to the States; to stay with a friend's family on their estate in the rolling idyll of the Napa Valley. Applying to universities would be easier.

They told me: OK.

But you can never come home.

My decision, at that point, had already been made. It was only when the little plane rose above the end of the runway, my parents' house disappearing into the broccoli puffs of jungle below, that it even caused a ripple.

You can never come home.

The way we lived, moving from beige shell to beige shell at the whims of the Air Force, a place with them was the only 'childhood home' I had. Their furniture, carved into prim English roses from Phillippine jungle wood; the cats, whom I remember visiting in quarantine in Panama; my father's books, which I began to gobble up in middle-school and reread until I left. (I remember the day so many of those treasures were thrown out; I remember my father's face.) There is no building I can stand in front of and say: "here, I spent my formative years." There is no such thing as a "permanent address."

That was so many years ago. In the span of time since then, I have perfected the art of molluskhood. Onward, onward, onward to the next. No shell can hold me. There is always another. I am not a child any longer.

Now, as I enter my 30's, their rumbles get louder. They ask: when are you coming home?

Maybe you forgot what you told me. Here -- I'll remind you.

I am never coming home.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

spill


watch a child hooking fingers through the cracks in its egg
watch the wind take a dried husk


my heart's memory is strong.

i can still recall the first hand that touched my waist
five fingers
then five more
and suddenly my cheek is resting warm above a plaid pocket,
and four feet are squeaking on linoleum
under paper banners

the music lasted longer than I could
so I broke early,
sitting on the curb outside the school
trying to identify love and not-love by the shape it took against my crowded organs.

even now
ravaged by love
spilling love from so many seams sewn in haste
my edges made ragged and soft by love
my center scooped savagely empty and refilled to bubbling bursting by love
i do not quite recognize its face.

is it
the boat that floats shallowly over a teeming sea?
the juggernaut of bare-toothed determination that growls and thrashes through years of poverty; of isolation; of a death in your arms?
the breathless promise of forever between two children?

part of me is still sitting hunched on that curb,
fingers worrying the wilting flowers strapped to my wrist,
wondering what this is.

this delectable violence;
this mouth of a thousand tickling teeth.


a love letter to salty, written far far away


I. 

“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.” ― John Green


II.

the cerulean patchwork of salt pools stitched into the bone-white shoreline of the great salt lake, as seen from the open door of a King Air slipping up to altitude


the sweet hour of rocking, trainbound peace between my doorstep and the Ogden wind tunnel

tucking myself into a wood-paneled corner of the Brighton lodge to write after a long day on skis, snow-softened sunlight pouring across my hands on the keyboard as I wiggle my toes in the fireplace warmth


the moment when my motorbike curls around that uphill corner halfway into Little Cottonwood Canyon, where the stinging, slightly mineral smell of forest pours in to fill my helmet


standing on tiptoes at my window, fingers balanced against old brick, to watch the Wasatch blush with alpenglow

lying on the teddybear softness of the climbing-gym floor, the muscles of my forearms ratcheted tight to the bone, burning and smiling


the sussurus of a needle on my father's records


climbing up to bed on the hangboard, just because

the beautiful barista in my next-door living room, peeking her blue-eyed hellos through a thick fringe of bangs as she draws my third espresso of the day

the green canvas of a summertime Liberty Park, Pollocked with dogs and ducks and hulahoops and slacklines and tattooed flesh and dervish children and balloons and so much dancing

a city chosen mine, keeper of my only root.