Endangered

A Prose Poem by Mary Lynn Reed

The bluffs drop fast to crumbling sand, a dangerous cliff to startle, lose your footing. Late afternoon sun glimmers across the ancient scrub plain where the Torrey Pines grow slow and steady, their roots burrowed, deep and twisted. Sometimes you have to stop and close your mind to everything and everyone. Stop trying so hard to dazzle, to win. Why do you drive so fast? Why is there no time to waste? The trail is flat, roped off, switches back and forth slowly. Until you reach the sign with the red line through the wheelchair and you know things are about to get worse. The ropes are gone, the path narrows, rocks appear. The thing you never think about, the thing that’s been lost for so long you wouldn’t know how to retrieve it if you tried, is: What the hell do you want? Where are you going and what are you looking for? A boardwalk covers a fragile low pass. Singular chirp from the brush gives pause. The absence of birds, now noticed. To walk alone is not such a horrible thing. The pace is your own and the sky is still blue. No other comfort to worry. No other’s need to serve. Hold your head up. Look around the bend. A jogger stops short and holds his hand out. “Shh—,” he says, pointing down. Six feet long with soft diamond markings slithering slowly across the sandy path. Breathless while your senses search for the rattle, quick impulse to coil. But its movement stays smooth, silent. Harmless, you think, peering under the brush, watching it go. At the summit the hill breaks wide open and the light hits the cactus just right and you can hear the waves crashing onto the beach, far below the cliff’s edge. Stand there a minute, take it in. Be still and whisper: here we are.

Mary Lynn Reed is a writer, mathematician, and editor. Her work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and many other places. She lives in western New York with her wife, and together they co-edit the online literary journal MoonPark Review

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