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Petroglyph: The Drylands

I am listening to you now, not correcting. Which requires a not-talking in the ear, the way the raven or deer will cock their heads to the invisible. Not what they imagine but what is there. South: distance, the tropics, you say. West: the blue hint of ocean in sage, the harsh and angled light of northern winter. I remember that I was worried that we might start the circle wrong, do something we are incapable of correcting. East, the direction from which sun and moon come. Our shadows loom toward it, tall, together, a blue-black soot. China, you say, reaching further, toward the orient. To notice, not interpret, is the real lesson of the signs. A slower process surely becomes a deeper one. North: we turn together, its cold our oldest friend. You place a stone in the center. The day is bright and almost over. The feathery falling azure clouds of evening.

 
 
 

The Missouri Breaks

Some things should be seen at a distance: plains cottonwood in their river row, the only tree for miles. The arabesque of white pelicans, each large as a child, one facing downstream, one feeding up. The wind stops when we are not pushing against it. The sky is covered by one plain cloud. We drift, our boats together, your wrist, our only hinge. Backwards. Sideways. Past the bank of silver mint and the bright thorns. What message? What duty? The figures of Virgelle sandstone, the volcanic dikes and sills, have emerged on either side of us over millenniums. Rock face resting between forms. To get too close is to lose sight of them: the row of tall robed women, the perched, staring eagles, the climbing child, the slow turn they accomplish when they sense us. Into bisque-colored river. Into unglazed statuary of the shore.

 
 
 

Past Life with Wooly Mammoth

How drought, the true sister of bone, carries bone in her arms: as fossils, as skeletal remains. How can the soul’s memory remember this? We walk the land, a dun center. Empty, like a scraped out bowl. Mud puddles and mud slides after the recent, meager snow, churning up animal-shapes in the ravines. What is consciousness? The huge question, fundamental as sandstone or the heavier shale. Ten thousand years ago, the glaciers melted, and now the oil’s for sale. Strong winds break in the line of Norwegian poplars. Out of pocket, the stone deposits across the plains. It is a feeling, as in leaves falling, of being left behind, of no longer struggling to hold onto them. To hold onto one’s form, is that so important? We went to an ancient sea, you say. The deer browsed the autumn acorns. We were dive-bombed by drunken robins. We went hand in hand through time. The buffalo dozed in the fenced and frozen hayfield.

 
 
 
Melissa Kwasny is the author of four books of poetry, most recently The Nine Senses and Reading Novalis in Montana, both from Milkweed Editions. Her collection of essays, Earth Recitals: Essays on Image and Vision, was just released from Lynx House Press.

Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.