There is a park north of Hollywood
out on the highway, out in the desert
in a place called Agua Dulce
where there is no water, sweet or sour,
only sun and scrub and alligator lizards
and the red-ribbed Vasquez Rocks.
Strange and beautiful and close enough
to the city to make a cheap day’s shoot,
they play bit parts in a thousand films
because they look so cool:
layers of sandwiched stone
thrust up at an angle like a Nazi salute
kiltered eons ago in one of those
monster earthquakes Californians dream of secretly,
the one they keep locked in the closet
of their darkest fears along with carelessness
and the image of their grandparents naked.
We are out here, Casey and I, in this alien desert
scrabbling over nature’s open set
like low-rent, B-movie stand-ins for mountain goats.
And at the very top there is a steel piton
that secured the safety strap that stopped
William Shatner from plummeting to his death
when he dropped Styrofoam boulders
onto the Gorn in that episode of Star Trek.
And Casey, who knows every show by heart
and still can name that episode
in under 5 seconds, is so inspired
he stands out on the point,
raises his arms above his head
and bellows, “I am Kirok!” across the valley floor,
and everyone else in the park is so into it too;
they burst into spontaneous applause.
Then someone gets the smart idea
it would be cool to have sex on the rocks,
silhouetted against the night sky.
We hang ‘til night, then climb the slope again
teetering to the top.
It is much steeper going down than going up.
Pebbles bite his knees like swarms of stinging ants,
and he swears under his breath he should
have brought the knee-pads he wears each spring
when he goes varmint hunting in Wyoming
with half a dozen other good ‘ol boys
to test their fighting spirit with scope-mounted rifles
against a hundred thousand gophers
and twenty cases of Coors.
They kill like champions.
Small sharp stones dig the furrow of my back
as I balance on this knife-edge
both my own weight and his.
Who thought this was a good idea?
I don’t rise to match his body’s rhythm.
Hell, I don’t even twitch.
I am sticking to this spot stiff as a tombstone.
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,
we are going to die.
We are going to slither off this slope
and shatter on the stones below,
and they will find us after dawn,
a couple of big, dead doofuses,
naked and bloody and broken
with our underwear around our ankles,
and who will have the nerve
to tell our mothers how it happened?
Just as I begin to think it would be best
to pitch him off the cliff and save myself,
my imagination wanders down to the valley floor
then looks back up, and sees us there
suspended among the stars,
mounted in moonlight
and we look so cool.
—from Rattle #8, Winter 1997