Down to Bluff
by Diane Fouts

Deb and I go a hundred miles to hear poems,
at least that’s the reason we give.
Truth is, we’re running away
driving fast, leaving our hearts
and their impossible situations behind.
We chase the possibilities inherent
in two women on a blacktop highway through the desert.

I try to keep up a conversation
but impossibility is all I can think of
all I can say.
So I shut my mouth,
allow silence to empty a space in me-
open as the mesa tops we cross,
distant as the blue mountains on every horizon.
She does the same, and the pickup’s cab
swells to the size of two universes
each centered by the aching sun of a wounded heart.

The road climbs across the haunch
of the low mountains to our south
descends again to spill across the next table-top
and down to the next after that,
and still every time either of us speaks
some man climbs out of our words
and shouts “Impossible! Impossible!”
until we yank our tongues back in.
Finally, just as the road enters
the narrow cleft that takes us
to the bottom lands along the river
I declare, “You must think I’m insane,
that I’ve completely lost control of my mind.”
“No,” says Deb, “you are in love.”

We find the poets at the Nada Bar
where we sit at the back of the room
saying nothing and doing nothing
except listening to three men
who have come all this way
to escape the city and inoculate us with culture.
They speak of sandstone as if
it were the curved flesh of a woman.
They are crazed with lust and desire;
she is so different from their urban females
clad in black, hair pinned back,
marching across gray concrete.
They see these rock domes as breasts
which will nourish their souls
and imagine themselves as rivers
flowing straight into womblike canyons
where they can be reborn.

If this rock is a woman,
she is one I have come to know a little
by living with her every day.
And what I can tell these dreaming men
is that she may smile
and she may feed their hunger for the wild,
and she may take them inside for a while,
but surely she will push them back again
because her heart is her own

and even when she offers it
she makes no promises.

The poets fold up their black notebooks
and return to their motels.
Deb and I unfold ourselves from our chairs
and drive out into the desert.
A dirt road takes us from the highway.
By half-moon light we unfold our beds
in the first clearing we see,
lay our bodies down on a mattress of soft sand
and sleep.

Something wakes me.
I blink sleep from my eyes
and see the moon, all gold,
just touching the west horizon, about to set.
No sign of light to the east.
All is silent; the air is cool
and has the moist sweet taste
that blossoms only in the hour just before dawn.
I close my eyes and drift
at peace for a moment
before the chanting man starts in again
“Impossible, impossible!”
And then the sound of a drum, far away
floats into my ears-
liquid, throaty, a slow beat.
I think at first it is my heart,
but the sound stops, starts,
wavers on the soft breeze, silences the chant.
Pondering this mystery
I slip away again into sleep.

I wake when sun warms my shoulders
through the fabric of my sack of dreams.
In the dark we camped in a field of white primrose,
and their fragrance is thick as the sound of the honeybees
that hum and bustle among them.
For the first time this spring,
there is not a single cloud in the sky.
Deb is already up, fixing breakfast.
I’m about to tell her my mysterious dream
when she says “I heard drums last night,”
and tells me of a ceremony called
Tightening the Drum.
She speaks of pouring water on the skin
so it can be stretched ever tighter
to give a higher, purer tone.
I feel my own skin tighten around me
and know that somehow in this single moment
the pitch of my life has changed.

We pack up quickly, then realize
we are in no hurry to head home,
so instead of taking the right
that would carry us along smooth asphalt
back across the open mesas,
we lean to the left, backtrack twenty miles
and find the unpaved path
that will take us slow

winding, climbing, crawling
deep in the narrows of a long canyon.
We know we have chosen correctly
when a coyote crosses the road
right in front of us
unheard of in broad daylight.
She is bold, direct, not skulking.
She trots across the road
not even a pause to glance at us.
She has her own business to tend to.

And we tend to ours.
Without speaking, Deb and I have agreed
that we’ll talk only of the possible
so our words converge on poets and travels,
old jokes and gossip.
If more omens cross our path,
we make it a point not to notice.
We drive, we stop to walk, we drive some more,
and soon we are on pavement again,
and soon we are rolling back into town
in silence and anguish,
our impossible situations still with us,
still drumming a low throb
across our landscape.