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In the day, so early even
that the red rock
had not yet caught fire,
still tindered politely
in the jaws of the sun,
a man runs in the bike lane,
slow and measured like a pro.
I’ve seen him from behind
the last three days,
my underpowered car
doing thirty-five up the hill.
Here, even fit cyclists
struggle on the dams,
seven miles of steep foothills
along a gaunt reservoir
below the Rocky Mountains.
He wears an ugly woolen cap
and baggy pants.
I wonder what brings him
is it the smell of sage
in the morning wet?
The huge expanse of plains
mapped out below?
The greening of the grass?
The earth awake?
But he never moves his head
for the view.
His view is other things.
I’ve seen the same labored gaze
in the mule deer on the drive,
raising their great cupped ears
to the sound of the car,
and then back to graze.
It’s what they do.
At night the runners and the deer
have stepped away
and the car’s high beams scan the road.
I’ve had a little wine.
Not enough to blow over the limit
but enough to know,
on the edges of the rural road,
are all the hunted, hurt, and haunted
specters of the world.
There have been times
as the season froze or thawed
when watching, you could see their tracks,
deep after warmer days.
Whether they took our path to the woodshop
or took the trail down to the ravine
by the old chicken coop /
or other times,
because the snow suggested it,
carved out their own path
straight down to the road.
We never see them.
The peach tree and the shade
doesn’t hold them now,
the cold too great.
But in the morning there are new tracks,
bold things that happened in the night,
invisible like us —
along the trail
or off the trail, like us.
We slept in the thicket as we do,
our thoughts walking on spring ice
branch to branch, as they do,
hearing up from the damp night of the earth
the etching into leaf of the smallest spider:
the orb weaver
the grass spider spinning, spinning
in the filtered light.
And feeling under the coarse hair of our bodies,
under the needles of our skin,
the seismic shifting of the rock,
the dry rock, the rock on fire,
far, far down —
We wake fat some mornings, butter fat,
with our lips in leaf,
but some days inexplicably
I wake with muscled skin and hollow hair,
leaving the depression in the sumac
where our bodies have carved
hollows in the thicket, remembering
(the way we remember all fading dreams)
that I dreamed I was pale and almost hairless
with two straight and awkward legs,
coming and going through the copse
without asking and without permission,
closing the door of the great unnecessary house
in the morning, leaving,
and pocketing the keys.
The turkey vultures were out
on the roof of the old stables
at the bottom of the neighbor’s lot;
another on the split rail fence,
another half dozen circling high above.
The magpies that had been nesting
in the ponderosa across the way
and chasing off redtail hawks
also made a fuss, bouncing and squawking,
diving into the dry grass:
mid-July in the high plains and hot.
I came within four feet of the fawn,
enough to walk into the shade
of the vultures’ wings and their deep pink heads.
He was mostly intact:
a big gash on a haunch,
spots still running along his side
like a promise of sunlight.
They stay with their mother the first summer
and we had seen them
working their way down the hill,
stopping at the sumac and the peach,
the doe always wary,
the fawns in the great dome of her gaze.
The day of the vultures,
she appeared and lay under the apple tree,
her udder full, ribs showing,
head heaving rhythmically every breath,
and she came back for three days
eating apples and drinking from the bird bath.
Getting back her strength.
The magpies also flew over from the stables
where they were eating her fawn,
and drank and splashed
in the bitter heat.
I was having coffee outside on the second floor,
remembering how the handyman had said
when you have a wooden deck in Colorado
you’ll be replacing that two by six fir
every couple years — they get
so twisted by the summer sun.
And because he was right,
when the doe walked out on the deck below,
between inch-wide cracks,
I could make out every hair of her forehead,
cocked and furrowed like she felt
something slightly odd
but seeing nothing, shifted, cleaned,
each pegleg step sounding up
as though through the boards of a ship.
She was pregnant
and the wood below was cool
so I watched her for close to half an hour
with a swelling sense — not of love exactly
but unfathomable care
racing out like water dropped from a height
in every direction above her head.
And it occurred to me
that this must be how gods are created:
the creature below, unsettled,
with its secrets,
with its exquisite womb,
and the accidental hunter above,
in agony, close enough to touch,
too far to know.