Sand Lily

If you look for them
in the pioneer cemetery
you see only the headstones
standing up in the dry grass,
like erasers,
worn on one side by the wind.

You don’t see them
until you are right on top:
in a tuft of grass,
a star of wax petals,
closer to the ground
than voles and unread diaries.

(Bingham Hill, like Hillsboro,
like Antioch and the rest,
is the earth’s own step-daughter.
The child in the ground
they carried on the Overland Trail,
although she was too sick to move.

When they got stuck in the mud,
near Laramie, Anna said
she could hear her sister coughing,
and then she was gone.
On Bingham Hill you still
have to walk on the dry
edge of the ditch.)

They bloom in spring
and early summer and then they sleep.
Their roots grow down in strings
among the dead.
Our memories have always been in sand:
on microchips and Bingham Hill.

When he took his son to the hospital
they said it was a cold.
The symptoms were so much like it.
He stayed up by the bed anyway,
and then the boy’s heart gave out
as the sky got white on the eastern plains.

It was still winter.
The sand lilies were sleeping.