The porch light throws shadows on the far side of the canyon. The pickets and posts of the railing cast the bars of an enormous cage, and I can see a giant—dark, featureless—pace between the redwoods and the granite cliffs. At last, he stops, soothed by the stream flowing over boulders and stones that snag the black water and give it voice.
We walked past the jail where a woman shouted to someone waving from the window of his cell. At the corner of 4th Street and Broadway, a sign on a shuttered bar said, Goodbye—and thanks to our loyal customers. Delivery trucks had snapped the lower limbs off the sycamores that lined the street, but the leaves high above rustled in a breeze coming in from the bay. Gene and I stepped into his lobby. An orchid sat on a brushed steel shelf. The elevator opened, closed, and when it opened again, we were at Gene’s door. Elizabeth’s hat and scarf were still hanging in the hall. That’s where she died, where Gene had asked, are you leaving me, and she’d said, yes.
In the facility, those who could, spoke, and those who could not, listened. A woman stood to the side. Her face was placid, but it was clear that she wanted to join in. At last there was a pause, and she asked no one in particular, am I dead?
Gary Young has been awarded grants from the NEA and the NEH. He’s received a Pushcart Prize, and his book of poems, The Dream of a Moral Life, won the James D. Phelan Award. He is the author of several other collections of poetry including Hands; Days; Braver Deeds, winner the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize; No Other Life, winner of the William Carlos Williams Award; Pleasure; and Even So: New and Selected Poems. His most recent book is Adversary. In 2009 He received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. He teaches creative writing and directs the Cowell Press at UC Santa Cruz.