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I profess not to be any great writer.

These are the ponderings

of a poor man's mind.

  • Nate Barker


Updated: 1 day ago

Painting by Karen Margulis


We used to make the canyon near the dam echo like a catacomb. Two silhouettes on a precipice, our wild schoolboy calls would leap from our young throats. It was a secret place, where Stephen and I launched our fears and inhibitions into the waiting arms of the gorge below.

I looked up to him. A year older, muscles bigger, experiences more refined. His voice a bellow, compared to my squawk. He would roar lion calls to the void, daring the other beasts to respond. All that returned was a diminished growl, their echoes riding the waves of a million glimmering motes of floating dust, prisoners in the setting sun.

It could only be called careless, how our wandering syllables echoed into the ether, inevitably blurred, and then buried themselves deep in the dirt of the canyon floor. We were brothers of a sort, calling young primal screams; longing for a bond with red canyon-walled sunsets.

“Do you think the rocks remember our words?” I had asked him one evening.

“Don’t be stupid,” he scoffed.

I tried not to be.


---                                ---                                ---


“Why are you fired? Because your work’s unacceptable.”

Stephen had answered me plainly, without fear or remorse. The quickening years had chased us to his confined office and had encouraged an edge to our voices. Brothers turned friends, turned coworkers. Casually, he clicked the plunger at the end of his pen and let the harsh words settle to the dusty corners.

A space between our feet had opened. Its abysmal mouth swallowing what was left of the artless moment and a tired friendship. I noticed the late afternoon sun had yawned and stretched itself out across the hard floor, not quite reaching the broken tile under Stephen’s desk.


---                                ---                                ---


“…because your work’s unacceptable…”

The gray on our temples matched the overcast November sky. We stumbled upon one another at the crosswalk near the courthouse, as dour pedestrians and oblivious motorist passed by. We shook hands. He smiled.

“Word is, you’ve been sick,” his voice overtly paternal.

“Yes, but doing better.”

His ugly brown tie hung limply against his button down. I glanced at my soiled sneakers. How easily scars could be peeled back to reveal the pulsating, reddened flesh.

Our hesitant conversation, muted by the flow of traffic, tried vainly to heal a chasm of lost time. He mentioned his family. I commented on my new apartment. Pauses of silence waited impatiently for us to continue.

Suddenly, he spoke of the past.

“Remember the canyon?” he reminisced.


“The heights. The views. Air moving around us like spirits. Our voices like cannon shots.”

His eyes looked into the distance and for a moment I could see the red setting sun reflected.

“Those were the days,” he sighed.

The light changed and a “WALK” sign appeared on the far side of the boulevard. We stepped off the edge together, but by the time we reached the opposite side, he was gone.

I stood there searching the crowd.

Those were the days,” I thought mockingly.

Don’t be stupid.”


---                                ---                                ---


“Because you’re unacceptable.”

Unstoppable decades have passed.

It is Tuesday. A flaring, waning sun, slips its fingers across the city as I sit at the bus stop on Main. Across the gulf of the thoroughfare, in the few green spaces left, I suddenly spy Stephen. Lifetimes have transformed us both into wrinkled elephant-ear old men; never forgetting. Our graves not yet dug, yet I am able to exhume bones. 

He trudges a dusty path with a monotonous overbearing plod. The stubborn march against the inevitable, demands each leg go up, forward, and down; fearing a pause will cause the movement to cease forever. Behind him, rays of burnt orange, prisoners in the dust, chase him like a specter.

“…you, are unacceptable…”

A car passes, its windshield catching the sun in a brilliant burst, shooting flares across the city canyon walls.  Its engine roars.  Growls answer back from brick, steel, and glass.  Nearby, children shout in play, while two young men sit on the edge of a fountain, lazily kicking their feet. 

Trembling memories stumble, blur, and bury themselves deep into the concrete beneath my feet.


Squealing brakes fracture the vision, and my view of Stephen is cut off by an advertisement on the bus’s side.  It reminds me to use public transportation, so, in feigned obedience, I get on the bus I was already planning on boarding.  I lower myself into a window seat facing the park. Through the smudged glass I see Stephen moving on as the shadows lengthen. The bus lurches forward. I’m off into the canyon, in the direction I intended to go. Through the roar of the engine there is a voice, maybe my own, whispering.



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