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Last Days

by Lisa Bickmore

Last Days from lisab on Vimeo.


For the last ten years I have been in a long meditation. Sometimes it recedes into the background while other issues press—money, for instance, or the tumult of a large family, or the conflicts inherent in a working life—but always, behind every other thing, my consciousness murmurs away in a small but perpetual colloquy about how everything there is is gone or going. 

I reached the half-century mark almost two years ago. Here are some of the losses of those years: two grandfathers, a grandmother, a marriage, three dogs and two cats. Some friendships, mainly by means of neglect. Certain, though not all, ambitions. Muscle tone. The desire to make a project of regaining muscle tone. Gallingly, the ability to easily digest spicy food. An easy relationship with sleep. My youth. The faith that I might come to more peaceable terms with my religion. 

Recently, I was driving with my oldest friend Mary in Montana, from Bozeman through Ennis and back to Island Park in eastern Idaho. I missed the turnoff which meant we drove past Quake Lake, which was came into being because of the 1959 earthquake in the Yellowstone area. The quake measured 7.3 on the Richter scale and caused a landslide, which damaged Hebgen dam, killed 28 people camped at Hebgen Lake, and backed up the Madison River, forming the eponymous lake.

I thought to myself, why do I not remember this place? I hadn’t realized yet that I’d missed the turn, and thus the more familiar route. I thought, why do I not recollect these white tree trunks, this earth that looks as if someone had worked it, extracted something from it, where is it in my memory?

I kept searching my experience for a trace of this lake. The one I remembered was recreational, with dwellings and campgrounds bordering it. Docks and piers. I pulled into a saloon. The sign on the door said, “This entire establishment is smoking. You choose. We choose.” I found my way to the bar and asked the young woman there if I’d missed the turn to Island Park. She said, “You’ve definitely gone too far.” The men and women at the bar begged to differ. Apparently, I could keep going or I could turn back. Either way, I’d find my way back to Highway 20 and then back home.

I got back into the car, trailing smoke and alcohol as we righted our path more directly toward our destination. It meant backtracking past this fallen earth, this quiet lake, the dead trees. It happened 50 years ago this summer. Geysers in Yellowstone erupted and thermal pools muddied. The earth was not quiet for several months. 

As I child I remember being taught about the last days, lessons which both fascinated and terrified. The moon would turn to blood. There would be wars and rumors of wars. The very earth would be wracked with famine and earthquakes. The problem is, if these are last days, they have been last days for what seems to me like quite a long time. My whole life has been last days, although, oddly enough, lately I feel this more piercingly. I know it’s too early for me to feel old, and it’s not really old that I feel, so much as that I feel my world passing so quickly, so quickly it’s almost impossible to experience it fully enough. Is it time that I’m ruing? Or is it the missed roads, the weird ruins I’ve skirted and missed without ever knowing?


Lisa Bickmore is a poet whose work has appeared in Quarterly West, Caketrain, Tar River Poetry Review, Hunger Mountain Review, and elsewhere. She teaches writing in Salt Lake City.
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