The Catalyst
Chris Mattingly

A long time ago I said, Fuck work.
But I never gave up on walking. And so every day
Rise before sun to lace up and cock the brim of my black trilby
And do what the sad call nothing.
This summer, I’ve been walking the six miles down
To Butchertown to sit under the bridge by the creek
That runs beside the slaughterhouse.
I like to lay my head back against the sun-warmed limestone pilings
And listen to the guttural squeals of pigs
Until I remember how I used to lie
On the floor when I was fifteen—my head between
The twelve inch subs of my mom’s floor speakers from ‘77.
I think the idea was that if I played the Melvins loud enough,
I could erase memory.
I think I was just waiting for that one curdling red feedback note
To pour down like a river that really could carry me away.

The only other time I’ve felt at home was when I was actually there,
In the mosh pit.
Once, at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, I was swept under
The pit by a rip tide of elbows and boots.
I went limp and let it take me into the buck-and-tangled
Swirling mash of bodies swarming into denim waves
Of sweat and skutch.
Now, when I think about the crush of bodies, I see the wide bed
Where you lie, little grrrl, with Laurel and I in a criss-cross slumber,
The window open to night’s jet engine.
Sometimes you wake me with a heel in my chin,
Or an elbow in my ribs, and I love it. And the way you writhe
And twist to ride the wave of Mama’s breathing…
That, and I think about our walks along the river,
You strapped to my back. After only a few miles, both
Our shirts are soaked through.
The heat between us so green,
I don’t know, but I like to think that there
When you turn your reddened cheek into my shoulder,
And your arms finally fall limp, when
Your burning eye lids twitch,
Your chest fills with air and your mouth opens like a waxing moon,
That we are saying all that can be said between
A father and daughter.

Today, the river is so placid I can stare until it turns
Into the green Coke bottle vinyl spinning
Under the dim light of a turntable.
The closer to the dam, the more like a lake this river becomes
Until, finally, there, backed up against the dam, the tangled
Lock and twist of limbs and trunks of driftwood.
They rise out of the water like the antlers of some extinct thing…
After the show that night, I walked onto Pacific Avenue
Wearing a polka dotted dress and combat boots,
My fingernails painted like Fruit Loops.
I don’t want to make a big deal about it,
But I was 2,000 miles from home with less than $2.
Looking for some squat to sleep
In the stucco flats with my dress riding high
Calls from the porch, the late corners,
Shouting things I can’t repeat because I didn’t understand then.
Thinking, if I can just get to the beach, walking faster
Like any girl on a dark street: aware of every time
A man crosses the road, turns the corner,
Picks up his clip…
That night I stood out on the railing of the train bridge
And asked the one question we all must ask.
The river sloshed and rocked into the tide. I could hear the surf
Like a street sweeper circling the neighborhood.
And from farther, thunderous bark of sea lions under the wharf.
The rain hit my back and I spread my arms
Like a crow in a trash bag.
I remember thinking this is how everyone I’ve ever hurt
Must’ve felt. And in that moment,
With the neon lights of the boardwalk diffused across a gauzy sky,
The silhouettes of palm trees,
And plain, loud barking sea lions, I let go.