Richard Manly Heiman lives on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. He works as a substitute teacher, and writes when the kids are at recess. His work has been published by Rattle, Rust + Moth, Into the Void, Sonic Boom and elsewhere. Richard holds an MFA from Lindenwood University. He is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and his URL is www.poetrick.com
Veering west off Interstate 80, hurtling down the long gradual grade of Highway 20, you might
swerve right and visit the sky platform at the first big turnout. Continuing on, you’ll eventually
come nigh unto a tiny roadside attraction of sorts, adjacent to a historical marker between White
Cloud and Scotts Valley Lake. Known locally as the “Lone Grave,” a white picket fence
surrounds a tiny plot containing the mortal remains of one Julius Apperson. Julius shuffled off
his mortal coil and much of his skin in 1858 at age 2 years, 2 months 25 days. In loving memory,
reads the plaque on an adjacent tree. Little Julius, come by wagon across the plains in the great
gold fever migration, following the deep rock lure. Trundling down Emigrant Gap, winching
over speckled granite High Sierra cliffs a rope length from eternity. Little Julius, packing fast
months of laughter into too-short sunshine. Frolicking too close to an open fire in the days before
flame-retardant clothing. Little Julius, blazing like a morning star and fading slow like a lamb
tallow taper. Blanketed, now, with toys for the afterlife like a pilgrim pharaoh in the wilderness.
A loopy yellow duck quacks out a warning to blind onrushing tourists in sedans. Memento mori.
You’re already dead.
White firs never strew
green sprigs where shadows linger
on quiet slumber.
Climatologists predicted frost-free zones. Probes confirmed rich dusky loam. It was a season of gilded promise until xeno-bugs ravaged legume and grain, leaving just citrus and taro root un-gnawed. Exo-farmers slaved like pilgrims in those knife-edge days. Children withered in their seventh year and died in mystery. And those of us who had slept unchanged through the void of seven hundred parsecs, began to age.
Fifteen seasons in, after drenching rains in that month we still called, April, the others came down from the cobalt mountains. Joint-footed giants, gliding over meadows, past the long-beached pod of drop ships. They towered among us. From rows of eyes like stellar flares, their minds sang to ours in bright staccato bursts. When they left, one word echoed in our brains like a half-remembered hymn. Someone recalled obscure cryogenic seeds. We planted. The fruit flourished with no pestilence. And we gorged ourselves, all of us, on the sweet eucharistic flesh.
I am the last. No one else remembers the awakening in orbit…the great descent…the small shrouds, the pyres. The famine years when stark survival hung from unraveling threads. Stories of godlike visitors with slender emerald legs fade now into legend. Towns spring up like wildflowers, streets ring with childish laughter. And papaya groves stretch in endless hectares, toward that shimmering horizon.