I learned the word “determine” from my mom, as I read aloud to her in the car driving from the mountains where we lived to the desert where I went to school. I pronounced it wrong, with “mine” like possession, like a hole in the ground. She corrected me and told me what it meant: to make things the way they are, the way they will be. The piñon pines and sagebrush rolled by as we climbed Walker Pass that warm morning. I could see my mom’s wispy brown-gray hair above the car seat. That morning, now, is permanent, the way things were, a place to visit, but remembered slightly differently every time. Was it warm, or was there snow on the ground? Did she tell me what it meant, or did I have to figure it out from the context? I think of that moment now, on a trip when I visit her grave in the desert, touching her smooth stone carved with mountains and pines, the Sierras in the background, determined to visit a past that’s always turning into the way things will be.
Vivian Wagner lives in New Concord, Ohio, where she teaches English at Muskingum University. She's the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Aldrich Press-Kelsay Books), Making (Origami Poems Project), and Curiosities (Unsolicited Press).