Deposition (Notes For Al Stephens Project)

by jkatejohnston

I’m surprised by how often I’ll see or read something and think, “Al would have liked that.” So, in the spirit of his Depositions, here’s my list of things he would have liked:

That in the park downtown where I eat my lunch there’s a pond that I just learned has always been there (it’s not man-made), and if you go there early in the morning there are fishermen.

That from my fifth floor office I can’t see the sidewalk, but sometimes I hear hooves on pavement mixed in with traffic. How clearly the sound stands out from the other sounds. It’s the CHP patrolling state buildings on horseback.

Beer’s Books. Old, big and still pretty cheap where you can sit on the cool cement floor and read your whole lunch break.

Good coffee nearby.

An article in the Sacramento Bee about the Pyramid Lake Lahontan Cutthroat Trout that everyone thought was extinct, but it turns out that early this century a few were planted in a stream in Utah where they survived, and a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologist, working half-secretly with no funding, set up a makeshift hatchery with help and land from a farmer and brought them back. “This magnificent trout,” says the article, quoting an academic paper on the subject.

The Matilija poppy outside the open window in the very early morning in summer.


The clean skeleton of a big trout, saved in the freezer, taken out and looked at again and again. (We caught it at a fish farm, but still.)

That Hemingway’s complete letters are being published, every single one they can find. Two volumes down, many to come. And the young Hemingway on the cover, beautiful as a god.

Two huge Valley Oaks in our neighborhood right in the middle of the street and the cars have to drive around them.

I want to put in another of Al’s Depositions. I remembered these poems as lists of things he liked, but reading this one over I see that’s not right, though that’s part of it. Anyway, here it is:

Second Deposition
Sometimes I look inside
and see a mountain slope
in Colorado. There
my grief comes trickling down
from the packed snow of my hate
freshly, spring after spring,
through darkness under fir trees.

You’ve seen such places, maybe.
There breed the little wild trout,
the brooky and the cutthroat
in their icy brilliant colors,
there, under branches sagging
or broken from the snows,
the thin song of mosquitoes
criss-crosses the chill air,
there, tiny colored stars
on the dark of the wet moss,
a few mountain flowers tremble,
fine roots washed in snow water,
the colors clear and cold
— almost too small to notice
should you stray under there,
certainly too small to pick.

Alan Stephens, Selected Poems, 82,