We float all afternoon, island to island.
Rica fishes. I hunt mushrooms at the base
of burned cottonwoods. We return to shore,
our skirts gathered into baskets
full of morels.
The fog is pearly. It pricks the lilacs
and makes our skin itch. By morning, tanagers
storm the windows. On the radio, a man says
incandescent avalanche 200 miles west. ‘
A cock crows all day, his voice
a dry volcano.
Five days dust fills the creek like powdered milk.
The highway turns too slick to drive.
Flies dart through the cabin, high-pitched
as night hawks. We kill them, first with newspaper,
then our thumbs, smearing their black
and yellow bodies.
Ranchers wrapped in wet hides a hundred years ago.
They built dikes to keep lava from the fields.
Rivers boiled around them and hot gases
twisted their water towers
into fantastic goblets.
Each day we make a list of what is missing:
garlic, oranges, black olives. On the last rum
I get drunk and tell Rica about my lover,
how he knelt down, put his arms around my hips,
kissed me hard on the belly. “Not now,”
I told him, “there will be time.”
The widow’s son is the only man on this ranch.
He is moth-white. She says the air was dear
when he was born. He stands on the lawn
Rica and I wear masks and silk blouses.
Our cheeks are pumiced red. She has not looked
this good since her husband left. Draped
across the brass bed, she dozes. I watch blood
blister under my hands. I cannot close my eyes.
The guinea hens are dead. The horses stand
in dust past their fetlocks. To touch flesh,
I thread mushrooms, hang them from the mantel
to dry. They make the room
smell of decay.
Each day is dusk and by dark we are mad.
We build a fire, roast meat, dance outside
on the white grass, raising clouds
with our feet. Ash covers us
like rice powder.
When the sky clears, there’ll be years
of brilliant sunsets, but there’s been no news
for days. We study photographs of Pompeii,
talk of how to arrange our bodies. Rica says
she will lie like the tanager in her red
and yellow shawl, one wing thrown open.
I write letters home, make jokes
for my mother, and dream the digger
who will come to take my bones
in his hands.
© Sandra Alcosser