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Two boys ride their bikes
from one corner to another across the north field.
The realtor had told us a local church owned the land.
It’ll never be built on, she promised.
And at least for now it hasn’t been: a vacant rag-and-bone lot,
God-made for weekend racing.
The boys are maybe ten…twelve?
They fly off the field too fast to compare.
Nothing in their lives will ever again be this uncomplicated —
the gentle slope of it, the trail rubbed to hardtack,
the blood oath company of boys,
and down the block, a pirate map of streets
with names like Campfire, Horse Soldier, Medicine Man.
Familiar home-ended streets.
Years from now, too many years to see,
when they’re a little worn themselves,
and divorced in one way or another from their deep contentment,
this will seem like saving,
a possible grace.
Mild October, the air whistling and racing,
and their sharp shouting rising
like seagulls on a sunlit sea.
On Happy Jack Road
the great wind turbines, like apocalyptic herons,
big-beaked birds that eat everything,
even the sky, sweep across the highway.
They stand so close to the shoulder
the shadows of their hungry legs
cut our path to pieces:
swooosh! in front, the road ahead sectioned;
swooop! behind, at the bumper, the past receding,
portioned out to orphan-memories.
But we know better, don’t we?
It’s all oil and gas in Wyoming,
roughnecks and roustabouts, in a state where
most of a town’s treasure is in pumpjacks.
I sit behind a pickup heading out Wind River way,
or to Rawlins, and he has a sticker on the crew cab
that says, Paid for by Oil & Gas.
The wind holds its tongue until the early morning,
when it moans across sagebrush flats,
three days straight, gusting to fifty.
It has tried to tell us, shoring snow,
snorting and kicking dirt like an unbroke pony:
sometimes you can’t tell the difference
between what you are
and what you think you are.
I should know, gripping the wheel of my own truck
on Happy Jack Road,
eight years a homeowner, black coffee on the terrace,
watching the sun in its tight circle.
Yes, you know better, says the Laramie wind.
This was always you,
the past peeling off behind like ropeburn skin,
the blacktop slipping under these spinning tires
Every morning, I take my temperature
with a digital thermometer I stick in my ear:
there’s a nasty bug going around,
and I try to stay ahead of these things.
My left ear is warmer.
I favor my cool right ear, a full nine degrees
below what they tell us is normal.
Somewhere between these two extremes,
the outer limits of left and right,
I imagine a sun
like a bright yolk in the vacuum
of my galaxial head,
space and not gray matter,
and a succession of planets.
You live on the most beautiful blue pearl
in a broad, righteous orbit.
You send out signals into the void,
telling us of magical trees,
your love of animals, falling water.
Some of your messages reach the right ear,
the cold one, where a few drifting bodies
collect in the ice belt,
like homeless men around a grate.
They’ve just heard
that they are no longer considered planets,
perhaps no longer even a part
of this distant sun’s system.
I hear their voices when I untie myself
into sleep, on my right side.
They listen to news of your impossible oaks,
cascades that make men weep,
the mothering whisper of the wild,
a lullaby they might hear just this once,
this winter-shortened night.
I drive late, going north,
winds so strong out of the foothills
you’ll see eighteen-wheelers
tossed on their sides in the median.
One or two at least, before we make the border,
snow bleaching the Front Range.
The very dead of winter now,
like the chaplain said.
Where our headlights empty,
the stations of my commute drift by:
Carr, Owl Canyon, Buckeye Road,
and the electric shock of the great plains:
they train astronauts in Wyoming,
folks who feel at ease in our cold, cold spaces.
On a high ridge, before the Welcome sign,
a rancher has erected the silhouette of a bison,
knocked together with two-by-fours,
blank, branding even the grass.
And below it, the real animals move
like shades in the underworld,
dozens of them, shrugging off the squall
that’s closed the highway from Casper to Wheatland,
closed the 80 west, all the way to Rawlins.
We’ve brought them back, the bison,
to say goodbye.
My hands itch to touch the coarse mat of their hair,
to finger the frost-crust on the crown
of their siegehammer heads,
the ears that may
have finally stopped listening
to everything we loved, to everything we feared,
to everything we said.
Whatever happened to Kimi, I wonder?
The kid across the canyon from us
in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains.
We never saw him when he wasn’t making surfboards,
their white and yellow stripes
bright as Christmas wrapping.
I’m not sure he even surfed,
but a builder, in his garage,
sure hands laying fiberglass on polyurethane foam.
In southern California folks ease
Buicks and VWs into carports
after doing time on the Santa Monica Boulevard,
and when they take them out,
They come spooling like coaxial cable.
It takes me back, these corn maze sidewalks
on Saddle Ridge: block after block,
the perfume of someone’s laundry
side-venting into the street,
tidied lives, tapped up, tucked up
against one another.
And how I love them in retrospect, the way
I love big data, the sprawl off Highway 80,
close enough to smell sweet-crude,
Emerald City winking of refinery towers,
turrets topped with flame.
There are football stadiums
that hold more people than this city does.
We’re in the nose-bleeds:
by the school house dark,
a night-shift cop, cruiser gone.
House dark, shades down, house dark, another.
But then blazing, on a leatherette couch
where the garage door would be, some guy
with a video console, eyes fixed like a ferret’s
his eight or nine-year-old brother
on the lawn with an electric gun
flashing pinball lights, gunning me.
Yeah, you got me, kid.
But I’m a poet.
I got you first.