Sunday, October 06, 2013


Schaffer Bridge
Winton, CA

—Charles Mariano, Sacramento

when i was fourteen
a freshman at Merced High,
and on the way to school one day
my friend says,

“let’s ditch, go swimming”
it was a hot day,
so we did

Gilbert Musquiz
sang for the Soul Flames,
a popular band in town
and from the get-go
all style and flash

i was…
well i was nobody

we met two other friends
from the band,
and drove from Merced
to Winton, at Shaffer Bridge,
where there was a ropeswing

despite the hot day
it was spring runoff
the river was ice cold

all through high school
i never smoked, or drank
everyone else did
Stonecold Sober,
was almost my nickname

on the drive there
they grabbed some alcohol
and drank to be drunk
by the time we hit the water,
they were

eventually we were all swinging,
dropping into the freezing water

Gilbert bragged constantly
about his swimming exploits
all the way there,
and still hadn’t gone in,
so i turned back to him
and yelled,

“hey Gilbert, quit talkin
and jump in!”

he got up all cool and smooth
grabbed the rope,
went back a few extra steps
then cut loose a mighty swing
“good one Gilbert!” i yelled

then he let go

i stared at the spot where he dropped,
a long time, too long,

he popped up briefly,
arms flailing,
then disappeared

that’s when it hit me,
“he can’t swim!”

i yelled at the guys far downstream,
waving my arms frantically
“Gilbert’s drowning!”

all they had to do was wade out a little,
and he’d come right to them,
but they just stood there dazed,
and watched
as he bobbed near them,
then went by

i realized then, they were too drunk
and Gilbert had drowned,

it was a long way to him,
but dove in anyway, thinking
too late to save him
but had to get his body,
keep it from going miles downriver

took me awhile to get to
a shallow spot,
where i guessed he might be

i looked down into the clear water
a few seconds, and there he was,
staring up
with dead, bugged-out eyes,
scared the hell out of me

i screamed, closed my eyes
then reached down,
grabbed him by his hair,
started kicking, working my way
to the bank

i dragged him up on it
and instinctively,
flipped him over, like i saw on tv,
saying over and over,
“Gilbert’s dead.  Gilbert’s dead.”

then he jerked hard,
and started coughing up water

i stared at him in disbelief,
“you’re alive!”
i dropped to the ground
shaking, crying

they said i saved his life,
kept telling them,
“no, i wasn’t saving him,”
but they weren’t buying it

could never figure why
he let go of the rope,
knowing he couldn’t swim
all that big talk almost killed him

word got back to Gilbert’s mom
who grabbed me first chance,
and squeezed so tight,
i almost passed out


Our thanks to Charles Mariano for today's poem and photo.  Charles writes: I feel guilty writing anything, with the passing of Jose Montoya still heavy in the air.  Such a giant, creative force in the arts and culture, and to me personally.  I've written about him a lot this weekend, but for the time being, choose to keep that private.  Besides, how do you top Tom Goff's excellent tribute, then one of Jose's own masterpieces?  I'm humbled by their words.  Hits home.

Saying that, it would be an insult to his great memory to stop being creative.  Knowing him, as most of us do, he'd be kicking me in the pants, "Dale gas carnal!"  So I pressed a few words to the page.  When the smoke cleared there was this too-long poem.  You don't have to use it,  just a view...from "Rescue" [our past Seed of the Week].