Suicide Prevention Project: 5

We Could Be Doing This (Instead)

by Ruth Nolan

–for Philip, 1985-2010, who died by suicide

So, we could be driving together to Forest Falls
Sweltering our way to the water songs at the creek
Then jumping, shocked, then invigorated by the cold,
Escaping an impossibly hot summer day in the I.E.

We could be standing in the cool rain at South Fork
Having pulled off the busy highway at the first drops
Laughing when it starts to hail, our clothes getting wet.
From 110 to 69 degrees, just like that. We got away.

We could be irritated by the slow motorcycle up ahead
Frustrated at Onyx Summit, traffic far to slow, impatient
Deciding not to stop at the lake, too many people, this
Awful pandemic. We’d drive farther out, rip our masks off.

We could be racing through deep mud holes, splashing,
Not a care that tomorrow, the underbelly of the car
Will be caked with hard dirt. We’d drive a little reckless,
Knowing we were still in control. We’d have fun.

We would most definitely live at the edge, and be okay,
Taking the tight turns and mudholes in race-car mode
Because neither of us can stand monotony, being bored
We would take such risks on this narrow, steep road.

We could be standing at Old Jim’s grave, add another
Beer can to the pile, we’d explore the ruins of old miners’
Dreams up here, at the meadow, the old cabin now home
To rats and snakes. We’d feel a little spooky, seeing how

Final and how un-erasable this feeling of life and death,
Hovering side by side in Holcomb Valley on a hot day,
Thick smoke from statewide wildfires, realizing there is
No escape from this. We could be together, seeking beauty,

Finding beauty in harsh terrain, painting our world again.
We could watch the sunset, hauntingly orange this eve,
We could be best of friends again, never mind the wildfires
Or heat, or hardship upon tragedy: you should have stayed.

Ruth Nolan is coeditor of Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California (Scarlet Tanager), editor of No Place for a Puritan: the literature of California’s Deserts (Heyday) and author of Ruby Mountain (poetry, Finishing Line.) Her writing has appeared in McSweeneys, Women’s Studies Quarterly, LA Fiction Anthology (Red Hen), Desert Oracle, KCET Los Angeles, News from Native California, Inlandia Literary Journeys and Desert Sun/USA Today. She has writing forthcoming in Boom California and a book of poems, Fire Regime, forthcoming from Moonrise Press in 2020. She is a former wildland firefighter based in the southern California desert and mountains, and now Professor of English at College of the Desert.