"How Suicide Rock Got its Name" by Ryan Mattern

Ryan Mattern

Ryan Mattern is an M.A. student in the Creative Writing Program at UC Davis. He is the recipient of the Felix Valdez Award for short fiction. His work has appeared in Badlands, The Red Wheelbarrow, Criminal Class Review, THE2NDHAND, and Poetry Quarterly, among others. He is a member of poetrIE, a reading series dedicated to showcasing the literary voices of California's Inland Empire. He lives and writes in Northern California. Photo by Caitlyn Fairfax.

How Suicide Rock Got its Name
        
for Suicide Rock, Idyllwild, CA and my great-grandfather Burt Newland

The men are placing bets,
pulling painted pine cones from hide-sacks.

They come to the earthen crest
after the eagles peck through shells,
 
make a game of life and death.
They decide which birds will succeed in flight

and which will tumble down the rock face
as dirt clods raised loose by goat hooves.

The men watch three cloudy chicks
tear seams in the air and offer

their blood and feathers
to the overgrowth.

They laugh and exchange currency,
sing songs for every bird that never returns.

A grizzly cub who barely knows the sun
watches the game from behind the big tree.

Upset with the world outside his cave
and drunk on his mother's milk,

the bear charges off the edge of the peak
and is cradled in the sky by song.