night driving
night driving along the Sacramento River,
top of the red cliffs on the east side—
we looked out upon the blanket of
tiny white lights
thrown across the northernmost tip
of the valley floor.

how warm those Redding summer nights,
all the windows down,
wind in our hair,
a.m. radio playing early 60's
folk and rock 'n roll.
we drove and drove,
talked and laughed,
sang along with Dylan, the Beatles,
the Beach Boys.

at the north end of Hilltop Drive
we would pull off, get out,
smell the dry summer hills
of grass, manzanita, redbud, oak, and pine.
leaning back against a warm fender,
we looked up at the
black and diamond night,
Altair, Deneb, and Vega herding the
summer star flocks across the
silent Redding skies.

how will it all turn out, we asked,
Kennedy shot down less than a year before,
and all this trouble in Viet Nam.
we wondered where we would be,
where our friends would be,
in ten, twenty, thirty years.
college called, we were ready to go,
our goals high as the night cliffs,
our questions running south with the river
out of town.

below us the glittering distant lights
of our childhoods,
the familiar, dark, swift currents
winding through this green, quiet town—
how could we know,
how could we tell,
that we would never really
come home again
after that summer.


© 1996 Leslye Layne Russell


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