New Skin on the Old Face

If I knew, I had forgotten
until something small shook me into doubt.
If I knew it once, it had been shuttered,
before the sun came up, by the sound
of the yellow school bus in the street,
or the diesel engine of the fireman
pulling himself heavily into the forest,
the black-gray shapes of neighbors
off to work, and then,
by steam rising in the pre-dawn cold
from the coal-fired power plant
on the north horizon,
by the lights going out in town
and the coffee shops opening up,
by phones ringing, and the winking glow
of computers on hard vinyl tabletops.

If I knew, I had forgotten
until the Steller’s Jay, chattering in the black pine
like a parent shaking me from sleep,
black-headed like the blueing sky,
and then, the river in the cold undying grass,
the rock, turning to speak out
and not into the earth, for me,
the gray-black shale
slowing long enough for me
and speaking loud enough,
in the reeds and wreath of cottonwoods,
how some important thing
was going on beneath.

Cow and Calf

For the third time in three years,
walking in the wilderness,
I surprise two moose,
a cow and a calf.

The cow complains, moves on
with a bovine grunt
calling the little one.

Her hair is edged with black,
the brown on her flanks so deep
you could drown in it.
She’s as tall as a draft horse and fast:
if she wanted to,
she could cover the ground between us
before I could stand up.

So I sit,
feeling a pinprick of guilt
for having intruded /

and yet,
how can I take my place in the wild,
how can I be — what’s the phrase? —
a good animal,
without lightly disturbing it?
Nothing here wants me passive:
the forgotten relation come home
to mope and grieve,
the one who sits at the edge of the fire,
the one no one speaks to,
not the sky
not the rock
not the water and the water hemlock,
and not the bat-faced calf
his eyes fixed on mine
reluctant to leave.

Because I Was in Love

I broke like rock in the Caribou mines
I was the earth and not the gardener
I was the apple in winter
I stretched my hand when the pine trees slept
I trespassed with the cloud
I painted my skin in the Colorado

the cowbird and the hummingbird stopped
the forest curled around me like a cat
the dark ridge was a compass
the hill replaced my heart
the stream replaced my blood
the path opened in the dark

but I lay down beside it
for another traveler
and set myself on fire.