As she climbed up the muddy mountain, Patti Smith rang in her ears. She could barely hear winter’s leftover birds. She was running, running away. If I could just quit tomorrow and tomorrow, she thought, I could be so happy. Running over the hills. Out to the whatever hereafter unknown. Sweet dreams. Concrete, tar, metal, and glass. She had left it all. All that noise knocking in her like some bonehead drummer. Last night she woke up screaming. She had had enough. So she ran. Can’t stand still. I’ll make the midnight train. My mind is a running faucet. We don’t have to agree. We don’t have to agree. And so forth and so on.
She dug herself so deep, deep into a hole. Covered in bramble and mud, a bog woman. Leaves in her ears, twigs in her nostrils, soil dropping from her lips. Three chords and the truth. She said it over and over like a mantra. Three chords and the truth. She’d learned that from Dylan. Hold your head up, you silly girl. She’d learned that from the Beatles. Another rip, another tear. She’d learned that from P.J. Harvey.
By sunset, she made it to the mountaintop. She saw the sea from there, the ships and sailors. She saw herself on a storm-tossed ship. She fell overboard. A whirlpool pulled her under. Sinking, sinking. Hold your head up, she thought. It was cold, cold as the deep, deep sea. She shivered more from that feeling of drowning than from the mountaintop wind. She crossed her arms over her chest. She rubbed, shook, and rubbed.
The sun fell below the horizon. It glared at her, stared at her. But she wasn’t going to change her mind. She was on her own. Lost and numb. Lost from fear and numb from doubt. She had packed her things, but left them there when she left. Lightning struck her when they had fought. Her head rained. She flooded over. She had cried out for peace. But got nothing instead. How come loss is so easy to hold onto?
Sap stuck in her throat, she watched everything come down, crumble—all fire and smoke. Unwise choices. But along with everything else, her shell cracked. Got to take it all down on the line. Cold winds blow. Take it on down the line. It was the same old song. It was cold on the mountain. She waited there and watched the ocean, waited and waited for warm winds to blow on her face. She would wait for spring, for flowers, for birds playing tag, for music to play in the air, for kids’ silver laughter.
She moaned. She moaned at the moon. She was tired of soul searching, searching all the time, wondering where to go. All those echoes. Waves and waves and waves. She had left everything behind and had to go back, back to pick up the pieces, and to let them all go again.
It took hours to climb back down from the mountain.
With the peaks at her back, she wondered why the further away you got from a mountain the bluer it got.
Label: Fat Possum
Release Date: February 3, 2009
John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.