I came here completely without thinking about it, sort of carelessly with the bioregion folks. I had just been looking at the Pirkle Jones book called "Berryessa Valley," which has pictures of the town of Monticello in its last year before it got moved here. In particular, it has some pictures of people at the last Memorial Day picnic at their cemetery. My father had died very recently and I had not been to a graveyard. So my sense of the loss of that town and the people's loss of their cemetery and things being moved all came together and turned into a very long poem, which I then turned into a highly formal poem because of the echoing quality of my experience and their experience.
High wind would have set the tent in constant motion,
extinguished the stove's flameit had been my father's.
I fled indoors. The next day we went to the grave-
yard of the town that was buried under water.
Past the headstones, horses jostled one another
for our attention. The rows were like houses
(all of which, but a few, were burned, and those houses,
jacked up on risers with who knows what commotion,
moved who knows where, separated from the others,
don't remake a town). I wept for my father,
and also for all that lay under that water,
knowing what it's like to have a year to grieve
ahead of loss and see it on the grave
face. As it fades, I wonder what the mind houses:
childhood's succession of days, playing in water,
the slanting sunlight, ripples and trees in motion,
fish in the green shade, finding veined stones and feathers,
the wandering creek, the animals, calls to each other.
And the other days, going with Grandmother
with coffee cans of garden flowers for the graves,
did you know them? Or maybe that was your father,
and you never went, instead stayed in the house,
having decided at thirteen that emotion
could be lived without. Before the rising water
covered it all, all the families' tears watered
the sweet ground of the familiar, every mother,
in square hat and white gloves, undertook the motions
at that cemetery for the last time. The graves
were emptied. The bones, really no more than houses
we once occupied, were reburied. The fathers
were absent in their grief. Of all this, my father
would have said that to stop the yearly floodwaters
downstream was worth the price of the townthe houses,
trees, orchards, a small price for progress. Another
town will rise elsewhere, as when after gravel
is dredged, the creek finds its bed, refines its motions.
Maybe so. Still, I've lost my father, others, their houses.
With perhaps unnecessary emotion, I mourn
for a grave under trees, the obliterative water.
March of Empire
Pope Valley to Guenoc Valley
Upper Putah Creek
The structure and design of the Putah and Cache website is copyright © 2001 University of California.
The material on this page was previously published without the introductory paragraph in Nimrod International Journal, Fall/Winter 2001 .