Back to Jackfork Quarry by Stacy Pendergrast

* Featured Photograph by Toni Bennett

open blinds —
in moonlight I give
words to my secret

Now that we’re married, at night, under the covers, I spit out the story, what happened decades ago. You say you remember that swimming hole filled with water. It was by the army base. You swam there, back in the day.

“Probably shut down now,” you say. You fluff the pillow, pull me into our spoon position and whisper, “I would have kicked their asses.”
“I have to find that place,” I say.
“I’ll go with you.”

A few days later, we take a drive, following the GPS coordinates to the area shown by the blue splotch on my cellphone screen. At Camp Robinson, the armed guard says, “You can’t get there from here.”

On the other side of the mountain, we park near a repair shop. The neon sign glows with the word TIRES. Across the highway, NO TRESPASSING flaps near a rusted gate.

off-trail —
instead of my compass
I follow you

Within minutes into woods thick with vetches and thorny vines, I’m wondering if this is a bad idea.

“It’s just half a mile,” you say.

As we climb, I hear only the crack of branches and leaves. In the first clearing, we stumble onto an ATV trail that cuts across the mountain. I sink into the muddy tracks and think of the teenage guys, one with the beard of a man, who’d brought me here when I was thirteen. You mean you got in a car with five strange boys? my girlfriend had asked when I recently told her, practice for telling you.

“Shh…What’s that noise?” I ask, and look behind.

distant dog barks day into dusk

“Let’s forget it,” I say. I check my cell phone to see if we’ve lost reception. Then I stick two crossed branches into tire tracks, a breadcrumb sign.
“We’re almost there.” We enter another thick of trees, and just as I’m about to beg to turn back — you exclaim, “Here it is!”

The forest opens into a gorge. Its water is a luminous shade of blue—picture the color of a robin’s egg melted into liquid, then add shimmer. This is the place I remember—with its pine branches, hung like lace canopies. There is the rock slab where they took turns, each first pounding his chest, then diving into the pool, as I waited in the shade, my fingers curled into themselves.

sky deepening
its blue in
a wallow

Only in the stillness of water and wood am I grounded enough to watch my girl-self in the scene I’ve replayed: Pinned under pines, my glasses gone, the trees a blurry mass of green. Hands yank and bruise. Bone on bone, knuckles and knees. I give up trying, my tears like bullets. And then—after they strip me of my pants and underwear …they stop. There is nothing more to tell, but still a secret to keep, for all these years.

“This is so beautiful,” you say as you lean over the ledge, your cell camera snatching pieces of green and blue.

clouds mirrored
in quarry pool —
close as I can get to sky

“It’s a wonder I’m here,” I say and drop a rock from the ledge.

stillness lengthening
the stone’s ripples —
that mistake from childhood

We scoop pebbles. They practically sparkle. I’d read that miners found crystals in the sandstone here.

skipping pond rocks the memories we choose to keep

We didn’t see any of our trail markings on the way back, but we didn’t need them.

trail’s end—
I give the pebble in my shoe
back to the mountain

Stacy Pendergrast earned an MFA from Chatham University. Last year she won the Nan Snow Emerging Writer Award given by the University of Central Arkansas on the occasion of the CD Wright Women Writers Conference. This year she is excited to begin work as a teaching artist in Arkansas.  You can find her teaching and blogging at www.stacypendergrast.com.

Toni's visual work has appeared in Glassworks, Gravel, Grief Diaries, Stickman Review, Tryst, Pierian Springs, Gin Bender Poetry Review, Blue Fifth Review, and Atomic Petals, as well as in many exhibitions in the Seattle area and is in private collections. Her website is : www.tonibennett.com

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