Best Worst Year: Episode 65 (Or, After the Gold Rush)

Boracay beaches are fine grain sand, almost powder. If the sun weren’t so direct overhead, you could almost swear this beach was snow frosted. Boracay Beach. Postcard white. Bone white. Glass green ocean stains only the edge of land, whitecap tide draws color like breath, a wetted stain almost matching the bronzing pigment in your skin. A slow spreading glow. The sun melts copper into your face and arms–pulls red from auburn. Your hair embraces volcanic island origins. Seafoam gives way to blue–marbling ripples of sapphire. The horizon betrayed by the profile of land which horseshoes itself at a great and gradual distance. You’re almost far enough away for it to be out of focus, regardless of how long you stare. Eyes cannot adjust that far, especially when the foreground is as vivid and alive as color has ever been to you.

An eclipse. Faint wisp of sunsoaked halos pass behind twin titanium moons. Metal flakes with flecks of black thunderheads–micro stratifying clouds in direct scientific conflict with what brings rain to drought-baked land. You are concerned with how she watches you. Eyes learning contact. Movement based on a writer’s gravity. How you desperately etch glance into copper–soft metal. What time tarnishes doesn’t dull impression, only provides color–here is where oxygen goes to breathe. Raised letters. Contours deepen. Character to definitions.

Culasi beaches are volcanic rock. Broken glass of violent origin whose memory has a shorter leash. Your cousins’ feet know the poetry of this shoreline–leathered heels and callus footbeds. Along their calves, scars grapevine into distended constellations of pesticides and chemicals. Your blood wades into rice paddies, drifts into the knee deep mines of jasmine grain. Hands caress a bolo–iron encased in bone. An extension of arms. When they lay their metal down, they revert slightly to an age resembling their years. They join you at the edge of the Sulu Sea. The sky fills with lava boiling from sunset. The ocean undulates and cooks the red–like a yolk slowly running from the heart of the sky. Your father cups his hands around a camera. The eggshell enamel of his hands will know sunburn come tomorrow. He captures a moment but cages only the dull shades which soften profiles along the far side of the gloaming.

Smoke shrouds the stairwell. Exposed corner of concrete meant the railing wobbled–only slightly at the start of the winter. Now at the verge of summer, this rusting rail was more a suggestion of support rather than anything you could depend on. You wore sunglasses. Even though the sun hadn’t been out for what seemed like weeks. Just gray. Slate smudged sky like a cheap black board wiped with chalk-caked erasers. The end of exhaustion. Your arms were tired from holding one another through a season of pale complexions. You passed fire only in flickers. Whatever fueled this inertia had lost momentum. The one way street. Busted streetlight left your corner darker than most. You watched the handheld fireworks arc lazily from flipped fingers, only to be swallowed by asphalt mouths cracked and pockmarked. Not much longer than it took to reduce drag to ash and filter, you would be moving out.

Mangos were rotting on the tree. Insects gnawing away at the pulp. The patio had a slight grade to it and you assumed that it would never rain while you were here–you were right. It was always on the verge of breaking. A humidity creeping between unbearable to madness. You would walk through the bamboo thicket, cross a clearing where they slaughtered the ox to celebrate your mother’s return, and find yourself along the beachhead. It was one of the few places here where you were left alone. You couldn’t pass for Pinoy here–even if you didn’t speak. You watched your father wander with cousins as bookends He was nursing a slight sunburn and a San Miguel Light. Straws in all bottles. Drink out of bottles only. Water. Pepsi. Beer. You learned your lesson at the business end of some coconut wine. You learned coconut wine was not wine at all. Behind the chicken shack, your uncles brought out the eggshell in your flesh.

You search for the thread of rhythm in this as a way to keep from losing your shit. Muffled thwak-whump of a teenage redneck kicking your seat on the school bus, with “Chink” peppered in for twangy measure. “Chinky. Chinky. Chink. Chink. Chinky.” Muted punctuations sink into your junior high spine. Slow boil. Little rumbles. Usually you are a clenched fist and headphones, tempering the steel against an anvil of restraint. When he swats at the walkman, you hear the flash of red rising from over the seat. A hot instant and you open your hand–it is a blonde bird nest of hair sprouting from the palm. Sound escapes the school bus. You know he’s screaming bloody murder. He’ll wear a ballcap or a headband for the last month of the school year. You are only listening to the pulse in your wrist.

At night, you are reminded that there is a history which has been slowly seeping into your dreams, but it’s not what you thought it would be. You’ve been thinking about the Hotel Sterling in Wilkes-Barre, PA. You dream of walking from Kirby Park, crossing the arching spine of the Market Street Bridge. Those twin eagles, holding court overhead at the highest part of the bridge. At its threshold, a towering monument to a different time. A high water mark to this city. It’s a shell now. An eyesore. Gracelessly waiting for demolition. You remember wearing an overcoat in your dreams and being barefoot. The sidewalk turns to beach turns to mud. It’s raining. There’s a red raincoat with leather piping. You wonder how long you’ve been dreaming of rain. You wake up to the sounds of your cousins going to work in the fields, but you’re nowhere near Culasi. It’s easily an hour before sunrise.


Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, [PANK] Magazine, Five Quarterly, and The Minnesota Review. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.





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