They Manufacture Napalm


Redwood City. Photograph by Dave.

From Poetry:

We made our way slowly up the mountain, separately and singly, my mother light and limber leading the charge, my father with his bad knees sometimes lagging far behind, and me shuttling somewhere in between. Sometimes I would catch up with my mom or wait for my dad, but mostly we maintained our distances and talked little. On top of Stone Mountain, as my parents rested on the warm rocks, I took out Robert Hass’s Field Guide to read, which I had stashed in my backpack with our water bottles, bananas, and granola bars. In the small pool of shade cast by the wind twisted cedar, I read these lines from the end of “Black Mountain, Los Altos”:

manufacture napalm
in the fog where Redwood
City sprawls into the bay.
I think of the village
of Bien Hoa, the early spring
death in the buckeyes
and up the long valley
my eyes flash, another
knife, clean as malice.

If only because it contained another mountain, Hass’s poem was my field guide to Stone Mountain. I was struck  by the lines of convergences, the lateral shoots it sent out across the Pacific, connecting Redwood City to Bien Hoa, California to Vietnam, and now to Stone Mountain of Georgia. I stored its music into my nervous system, grafted its verbal cadences and sequences onto my own emergent sensory impressions, and wrote imitative lines to orient myself. I thought of what I could see from Stone Mountain. Atlanta clear like a waking dream through the haze-free day. A hawk circling sorrowfully on thermal drafts.

That was October. Then November happened. In late December, I visited my parents again just before the New Year. I asked if we could go back to Stone Mountain. It was one thing we could agree on, and the first time was still a happy memory. But this time I am not there for recreational purposes alone, but also for research. I want to retrace our steps up Stone Mountain, take more pictures, collect pine cones, observe people, learn the names of things. These I will use as second knowledge to augment my sensory data, those mental notes my mind makes in a script I often can’t decipher. Loblolly is the pine native to the area. The mountain is technically a pluton. The rock’s layers have peeled off in whole sheets in a process of large-scale exfoliation. We walk amidst the erosions of deep time.

“North & South” Hai-Dang Phan, Poetry