Brilliant Water

An Excerpt: The Fence

Once upon a time is what the fence dividing up a mountain range announces, in lines at once irregular and even.

For drama it depends upon a clear beginning, middle, and end. Its effects? Cathartic, purging landowners of their terror, interlopers of their pity. On guard! the playwright cries. All the world’s a fence, the groundlings say.

In the ancient quarrel between fancy and the imagination the fence takes both sides. Nor does it distinguish between form and content, poetry and prose.

These are the four directions of the fence: up, down, right, wrong, black, white, male, female. Nevertheless, at night the fence points only toward the future, time’s true north.

In Tennessee someone is pouring the wilderness into a jar--that’s one way to build a fence. Here’s another: trace a pebble’s lineage back to Creation.

Vested with moonflowers and intimations of the miraculous, the fence tilts into the hills, loosening its nails in a provocative fashion, unbuckling the armor men are saving for the final days.

See how the fence swaggers in the wind, embodying a dying sense of justice; how it casts a shadow over the rumpled sheets of mud tucked into an arroyo in the wake of a flash flood; how it reveals our weakness for design.

For we carried the fence, like our accents and dances, into the wilds of this sprawling continent, where it survived our twangs and replaced our two-steps.

This is where we sang until our throats--our thoughts--were raw. And this is what results from myth giving way to law and history. Who will accept the fence’s first, and final, offer?

The earth itself is a fence, according to the cartographers of the afterlife, in a universe awash in fences--a belief the demographers reject. Obscured by the rivers and rock walls the fence crosses and climbs is one stark fact: whether the world ends in fire or ice, the fence will live happily ever after.