Stevenson Bridge, Davis, CA
The Minimum Tool Philosophy suggests
considering seriously the need for a bridge
before building one. Ask
yourself these questions: What alternatives
do we have to crossing this stream, including
not crossing it at all? What are the social
and environmental consequences of building a bridge here?
Will someone be hurt or injured if we don’t provide
a crossing? Can we afford the cost of the structure
we plan to build? Add to the cost of the structure
a Wetland Delineation Report, a Biological
Assessment and Mitigation
and Monitoring Plan for the Elderberry
Longhorn beetle, a Streambed Alteration Agreement,
a Site Assessment and Survey
for the California Red Legged Frog.
This morning, three bicycles rocket
over Stevenson Bridge, hugging the outside curve
of orchards, still bare and swept, though the wild
oaks and walnuts are strung with mistletoe,
and cobbled with leaf-buds, like apples. What if
our minds had time to love
ahead of connection? In a letter
last week: I am overwhelmed with options at the moment.
And later: The span of our closeness
seems to widen and shorten. It’s true,
and I don’t know why, or if this wavering
is necessary for all human connections. And if it is,
must it taste so bitter, and slick, sometimes?—
like the few wild grapes on the bank’s slope
that weave in and out of blackberry thorns.
The location of a bridge is every bit
as important as its construction. For example,
the banks should already be close together,
and both should be stable. It should be a sunny location,
where the wood is unlikely to rot.
Later, I write back: In every word I write, I’m there
and now you are, too. Sometimes, the words
that run between us also are us: so that
if I explain the fat gray squirrel sticking his head
underneath a log, the little wild heads of grass,
the laughter of ducks with small
white backs, I mean to say:
Loose decking, planking, curbs or handrails
should be repaired as soon as possible.
And finally: the eddy of steel-gray birds
who chase, but never catch. Skidding, flying,
skidding again: their long, high notes above the breeze,
broken arcs of black water behind them.
Drosophilia (Fruit Fly)
3350 Storer Hall, UC Davis, Davis, California
Why do some bodies survive and not
others? The lizard on the rocks yesterday,
dry and green, flies twisting on his tail.
Or my uncle, who died last week at forty-two.
“When you want to get to the bottom of things,”
I’m told, “start with genetics.” Begin to wonder
about fruit flies, drunken black specks.
Begin in Davis, California, because
“If you want to study flies, well,
this is the only place to be.” It’s not really
flies of course, but genes. DNA—cloudy shining
string. “Extracting it? We grind up dead flies,
then use chemical processes to filter it out.
It’s not hard. I could teach you to do it
in a week.” Everywhere there’s a difference
within a species, there’s a problem
to be solved. Breakfast Sunday
with my family: my brother’s thumbs
on his plate of whole-wheat toast, widening
into mushroom caps at the tips, bending
impossibly backward. The same thumbs
my sister has, my father, Grandpa Bud.
I consider the method by which my father and I
misplace keys, small children, cars. (“Where
did we park?” “I don’t know, you were driving.”)
The scientist grins, hands me a hazy snapshot
of genetic blueprint. “We come up
with ideas about what’s going on—but in science
one can rarely say, for certain.”
So it’s important to keep a population
alive for years, sometimes decades.
Inside their glass world they emerge, die,
sexually reproduce, and mutate. And sometimes,
offer answers. This is one fact:
everyone is a mutation, to some degree.
“Ninety-nine percent are horrible failures.
That one rare exception is carried on.”
All night, I wonder—well in advance
of having children—about their thumbs.
I see them fat and swollen, blossoming back,
conjure small minds plagued by absent-mindedness.
And watch them—in the leafy dark— (the way
my uncle must have, and his sister,
their family before them) pick up a beer one day
sip, swallow—and never quite set it back down.
Planting bulbs last December, I had to cut
the cold, taut skin of ground, churn it into
wet yogurt-clods with my shovel. I felt sad
about that, the lopsided garden bed, the messy
swirls on the sidewalk. Shovel:
I love the word the way I love
tools—because of the hard silver edge at the end
that makes the tongue dip and rise again,
scraping the bottom of the mouth. Poets
do that too: dig down for the winter
beneath—and sometimes we plant
a word there, or two, though mine usually die
from neglect, a late frost, or poor planning.
I wonder sometimes about language
before the word shovel and I think then
we said digging stick, prying the round soaplant
bulb from the wet April soil—
& then someone thought of metal, and not long
after, shovels. Last week someone I love very much
became ill and the doctor scissored out a whole part
of his body. Afterwards, my friend wanted it back,
but the doctor needed to cut to sections,
for slides. Well, can I have the slides? he asked.
Sometimes we dig a thing out because
it’s needed elsewhere. Like mercury,
shoveled out from these blue oak hills,
to gather gold fines. Later, men held
shovel-fuls of mercury-gold over
fire, the mercury soon disappearing into sky and rain.
A scientist on mercury: Once you dig it out out
you can never get rid of it. It stays
on the surface forever. (In one winter,
a ton of mercury came down Cache Creek).
It helps sometimes to think of the lines
of the shovel itself, the handle oiled with my
own thumbs, the jut of the heel, the muscled curve
tarnished with rust. I envy the face of the shovel,
which hides, so well, all emotion. Lately, the word
shovel isn’t enough, so we say bulldozer,
tractor, motor grader. These things are needed,
but what is removed goes elsewhere: small streams
and the few pennies on the map we call lakes.
My friend? The doctor says he can have
a prosthesis, later, if he likes. And so I think—
another thing a shovel does: puts back. So this morning
I am here, shovel deep in the dirt,
planting a stick of willow. I am sorry it is such
a small one, and I am sorry I will probably
neglect it, though dirt carries on sometimes,
without us, and in astonishing ways. Today, I dig
down for deeper words, a darker way
to explain all my takings, but I hit rocks early, and tire.
If you find the ones I’m looking for, dig them up.
|Katie Redding has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of California Davis. She has published with a variety of small presses, and her translation of Victor Manuel Mendiola's long poem Vuelo 294 was published by Swan Scythe Press in November 2003. Prior to attending graduate school, she worked on trail crews throughout the Western United States.