Aja Couchois Duncan
I wrote In Situ while working in a State Park as a naturalist or as the Park Service calls it: an interpreter. Interpreting what, I dont know, the mysteries of the environment, the foreign tongue of tree, creek, deer. I was also asked to present living histories, narratives drawn from the lives of those who lived within the territory of the park. I was given stories about Italian and Spanish explorers, Russian cartographers, Irish immigrants. I was told no native people lived in the area, passing through only occasionally, gathering berries on the way to the sea. At the end of the season, a mortar was discovered on a slope of rock. Clearly, they said, an indication of enduring native presence. And what of the other stories, other lives, the Chinese farmers, the Californios, the slaves and free blacks, the Miwok, Yurok, Ohlone people who were enslaved after California became a state and before the Emancipation Proclamation made this practice illegal. The list is endless and I staggered under its weight. I read and wrote and unearthed myself, another object, its inquiry.
in situ (adv): in its place. in its original place. in archeology, finding objects where they were last placed, dropped or buried.
proxemics (n): the study of socially conditioned spatial factors in ordinary human relations.
human (n): a cantankerous animal prone to violence, greed, and other acts of group obsession and destruction. sentient and prone to write about it.
a narrow tongue nestled
granite, silt, cyprus roots, her legs
trails snaking the swollen flesh
exhale hawk and bear, the pink salmon
talk of stubborn children tossed to sky
they will speak of you always
method of dating
dusts the canyon its seasons of church, people
wind as white river or charcoal smudged across the page
of trees darkened by ants
a science of waste and wonder
made human by franciscans mapping nudity in wool her newborn daughter twisting the umbilical cord running her soundless cries her breast so full of milk she has to stop and bleed her wings drowning her husband still bent knees in the chapel mouth tacky with barley soundless prayers his wife in hell the priest tells him not walking the trail from field to church mourning infant of one breath even if he feels her next to him at night bound to the bed the last three months of pregnancy more restless than before only hours free to birth a world she must bury her palm erasing color of landslide
whose name do you carry the sloped shoulders of a father his back crisp beneath the sun almost purple as a beet his arm first cousin to another paper person who harvests sugar from soil make strange sounds with your tongue and remember you chose this place california is gold mountain this land its breast and valleys a ghost moaning its limbs breaking apart
woodpeckers wake their knock a small child to pace a trees fallen length this animal must test her strength a fawn hungers eight miles from the golf course cant miss the stop sign its hue must cross between cars maintain an even speed the night a truck turns two wheels airborne one hand in his hair his wife tangled among the curls the fawn has four legs to contend with two more than she imagines match her stride count them off to yourself her mother taught her rhythm motions her siblings so quick the fawn still straddling the bank and singing night one two bounding across the street one leg bends back she falters three her head turns away from the truck a bird chasing ground her eyes capturing light
burden a rock or the knocking train its roar of moon and stumble no animal can imitate its reach or bind the miles of tracks thrust east or is it hands their trust in rows a sick engine runs its own language across mountains the stitched earth claims who lives here not the girl sleeping alone in the compartment dreaming of a tomato vine yellow and feverish but two fruits their shocking red skin and her return to a place filled with death how she knows of its rough tracks and echo her diction such an ugly language sound when darkness must be vista or thought and motion its chance to rest
this business of airport security as if protection was possible from accidents of flight of rage of pale legs covered in pinstripes tucked behind the rows of chairs as docile as children held hostage the raised blue carpet against his cheek soft as her breath before she began her morning list of complaints a mantra which helped him focus his anger except now imagining the stoic faces of the jury he wishes he could present another picture than the baby crying his startled face trying not to breathe the gas or the bullets of men laughing almost science fiction this way of dying as machines surprise air
the clouds touch as if just resting a hand on her hip oblivious
to the humming promises beneath lithosphere and gravitys hunger
Bio: Born of the valley, Aja Couchois Duncan lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains where she practices the three Rs: reading, running, and writing, and teaches poetry through California Poets in the Schools. Her writing has been published in Clamour, Fourteen Hills, MIRAGE/PERIOD(ICAL), Prosodia, San Jose Manual of Style, Superflux, and Transfer. New work is forthcoming in Five Fingers Review and Mungo vs. Ranger and on-line at Narrativity and Blithe House Quarterly. Sections of In Situ were published in Tinfish (edited by Susan Schultz).