By John C. Morrison
She was always a friend I was a little sweet on. The kind of friend you shared a secret with when there really was no secret. And in the light of our home valley, we all shared a sense of immortality. Okay, everyone does when young, but we felt ours as somehow unique and profound. We were
Never wise enough for dread
even when the tractor turned
crushed the curly haired
farmer’s son and fierce dust devil threw
the neighbor girl from a car
we beat every fever every infection never
blew a foot off with a shotgun or tripped
into a rocky gulch water and wind on our side
above the falls at Wild Horse Creek
we were charmed incomplete due for grief
I heard, I don’t know when and I’m not sure how, she committed suicide. I knew no details. Yet, what I knew of her mother’s death and how Jenny lived a solitary young womanhood on a dry ranch west of town her father managed, I could make a certain sense of such a tragedy.
In my memory, which is always a rich and unreliable narrator, the last time I saw Jenny,
She stood light-flecked
in the shade
of the eucalyptus
Then about three years ago I was travelling with my pal Craig to a wake for another high school friend, Johnny, one of the most beautiful boys I knew because of the lilt of his step, and I asked him, who really was likely the source of the news of Jenny’s death, what happened. We were driving down the Sacramento Valley, picking our way south on hot county farm roads.
What happened? Craig didn’t know. After sharing moments of how joyful she always seemed, and even in the open air and light, a bit of darkness set in and we were just sad and quiet for a while. Then after another hour, driving along the eastern shore of Lake Berryessa and then dropping down into the coastal valleys where we whooped and hollered as kids, we were at Johnny’s wake. Just a few miles before we arrived, in the oak woods where as boys we all drank beer among the trees like they were our tribe, we stopped to finish our road beers and pull on clean shirts.
Crow was there, a nickname Chris earned because of his wingspan on the basketball court. Toward the end of high school, he had been Jenny’s boyfriend. After all the respectable folks, the engineers, the mortician, and appliance store owners had enough and left, there were a sodden few of us left to pretend to play guitar and sort through old stories. I sat down across from Crow as he began to nod toward sleep and asked, what happened to Jenny. I waited, afraid of any answer.
He began somber enough. Hell, I don’t know. And then he said, living the life, out in Tolenas, married, two kids, and then he went on. I thought he or I might be too drunk to make sense but no, she was fine. Unscathed. Doing well. In the bosom of her family out in the new development east of town on the flats reaching to the delta. I half wanted to drop by, the time now 2:30, pick up some day-old donuts on the way over and knock on her window like we would when we were kids.
Many of us are not really the high school reunion kind of folks, so when a dozen or so of us gathered in the morning out on the front lawn, we prepared to say goodbye, probably for good, and
a wreck of a tree
once a green seed tucked
in the pocket of a traveler
from the land of mirage
lowered a broken laden bough
over the neighbor fence
to where we sat in lawn chairs
and shared from a white plate
slices of a god’s orange flesh
as light filled the yard.
And as Craig and I started north again, through the hills and the familial woods, I said get ready, and then told him Jenny was alive, had never died, and we marveled about how such a ugly untruth about someone so beautiful could circulate but more than that, we marveled how Jenny was dead when we began our drive and how she was alive now, with a family, and was someone with whom we could drop by and share donuts, and we might sometime knowing we wouldn’t. But Jenny was dead and now was alive. All morning we celebrated the resurrection of Jenny Wellman.
John C. Morrison is a proud graduate of Chico State University and the University of Alabama. He has published poetry in numerous national journals such as RHINO, the Cimarron Review, Poetry Northwest, and the Beloit Poetry Journal. Monkey Island was recently published by redbat books, and his first book, Heaven of the Moment, was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award in poetry. He teaches poetry for the Attic Institute in Portland, Oregon, and is poetry co-editor for Phantom Drift, the fabulist journal of literature.