Two winter tanka

Laramie Foothills:
the Soapstone Prairie bison
shift in the long grass,
February snow melted,
morning sun on Red Mountain.

Almost midnight now.
Orion has circled south,
the Great Bear dances
on his tail in the northeast:
late winter on the high plains.

Doing some filing. Finding snippets of verse on half-sheets. Finish or toss? These were saved from the recycling bin by the fact that they must have been written a few years back but at just this time of the season. They have a gratifying tactile quality, like coins pressed in clay.

Plough Monday (Mummers’ Dance)

She doesn’t understand their language,
so they dance
in naked feet and leather boots,
hooded and robed, in cotton shirts
or bare-chested, with fire sticks
and petals on their faces.

Alone, in packs of five or six,
walking widdershins,
fluttering hands
like the wings of rock doves,
dancing poetry in the world of acts.

And it may be that once she did understand.
Eons past, our guttural sounds had sense:
she formed our throats, whittled bone,
the small muscles of our voices /
but time passed.
She lost interest.

So now they jig-step like jesters
at the heart and edges of power,
on the all-consuming
blind and toothless crone.
Throats dry,
with a finger,
they inscribe on her broad, flat palm
the word for water.

Deer Trail

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.

Burrow Poem

They say the ermine will kill
even when it isn’t hungry,
slipping through dry corn
like a wisp, a flicker of light
from a passing car, and then quick
at the back of the neck.
The local mastiffs stay in the barn.

And they say the ermine makes its home
sometimes in the den of its prey,
jealous of the memory
of the poor beast’s comfort,
decorating the place
with the skin and fur
of its targets.

But it may be misunderstood.
It’s in a state of perpetual
metamorphosis, after all,
and over the years my words, too,
have changed color in the snow,
marked by cinders from railyard fires.
They’ve also rubbed their teeth sharp,
but against the strop of better writers.
So now I send them out in the dark.

When they don’t come back
I imagine them warm
in the burrows of skulls,
shuffling insomniac
to the mouth of the den,
the arctic night
dressing itself in silk,
hiding the moon for camouflage.

Magpie on the Reservoir Wall

Slow, driver.
I’m all that’s left after the thrill
of homecoming and nesting,
in my black and white,
skipping into the road
for car kill, to pull
at squirrel skin and
your suddenly toneless thoughts.

I’ve come into focus again,
tailtip glistening
like spilled oil / I’ve remembered
where I keep
the bones of winter.

But they were always there,
weren’t they?
while you summered,
distracted by the full green,
the snapdragons, the pink petunias
hung on the railing,
the spending cloud.

It’s more pensive now.
Can you feel it?
Even the escarpment frowning over
the reservoir stays in,
writing its journal
with cuttlefish ink and sienna.

And while it was not
what you wanted, this year:
you didn’t have her,
the pool was less clear,
the work was unsatisfactory,
you aged ungracefully —
whatever it was.

I’ve watched you.
I’m here to help.
If you let me,
we’ll pick clean
your memories, too.