Road 59 straightens as it rushes by
small ramshackle houses at the edge of town.
A woman whose face could be my mother’s
tends her roadside garden.
She raises her face from rows
of eggplants and bitter melons
and we look at each other in flashing
Past town, the land is flat, the road straight for miles,
before it passes the city landfill with crows circling trash hills.
Then it begins to wind as it crosses
a fold of the Merced River.
To the east, the river curves between hill and field
filled with young trees turning leaves.
To the west, a quarry sits astride the river
as earthmovers and smoke stacks plume afternoon sky.
Few vehicles are on the road
except for gravel trucks hauling the bedrock
of this river to build row houses
for surrounding suburbs.
Occasional upscale houses begin to appear
at the end of shady lanes among orchard fields.
Then the land opens up
and ranch land begins.
Cows clump in fields
as ranch houses and barns sit on rising hills.
Silver windmills dot the landscape;
Water tanks big as trailers draws cattle herds.
Pass a small lake and another fold of the Merced
the land begins to slope.
Hill grass, white as old men's wind-combed hair,
cover the rising land.
Oaks trunks twist and turn out of the earth,
their leaves narrow and brittle,
sucking every drop of moisture
out of the dry earth.
Islands of green grass pool under oaks
like little green oases.
Suddenly, over a rise of the road
trees begin to cover the landscape.
Pine and sequoias toothcomb the crests;
brush fill the undergrowth.
Up ahead, Phoenix Lake
unfolds out of the earth.