Saddle Ridge

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.

Body Temperature

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.
They complain.
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.

Wyoming Border, Bison

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.

Winter Storm Warning

The Ides of March and the week after,
this great hinge of the seasons,
as though checking the mail,
I’m on my hands and knees,
the sun on my back and the windless
grace of Colorado morning,
measuring the daffodil shoots:
a few inches high now,
but several new,
a full twenty or so to follow.

The daybreak chorus of house finches,
chickadees, and dark-eyed juncos,
like the approaching hum
of day visitors to the park,
motorcycle boys along the dams,
swells almost imperceptibly.

We spent the whole of winter waiting
and now the stork’s bill is here,
the dandelion’s rugged rosette /
they’ll overtake us soon,
too many images to catch — we might as well
gather all the falling snow.

And the weather report says it’s coming.
The wind picks up by five,
the brooding cloud and then
the pale, insidious skin of the sky
above the foothills,
the coughing of the pines
in the depth of the night.
Eight inches, they say. Maybe more.
Shelter in place, avoid travel,
stay off the interstate.

I take up my spot
at the south window, then,
where I can see the daffodils
before the snow comes and covers
their height three or four times deep.
There they’ll sit, jacketed with cold,
quiet as death, their green mouths
smug and smiling.

Camera

Every morning, as I go out,
I catch sight of my Nikon
on the hallway dresser
where I have deliberately left it,
charged with promise,
the magic lantern of schoolkids’ stories —
knowing that if I don’t take it
I’m sure to see something astonishing
and only have these dubious words.

I am always right:
the cones of the blue spruce
in the late winter light
drape on the top branches
like streetseller wares, plumbed fruit
hanging from his shoulders.
Or along the base
of our eastern slope,
where stubborn white pelts of snow
depress the prairie grass,
the veins of deer tracks
trickle out and finger.

I take the camera, then,
convinced that I have made
the whole world suddenly dull.
And I am always right:
what I saw in the spruce
I couldn’t tell you,
the tired interminable drupe of the bough /
not at all like vulture wings,
or the ratcatcher swinging
from a shoulder yoke, by their tails,
this late winter catch of cone.
How the deer are gone again,
and left us the mundane definition
of their feet, more loss
than lotuses.