Image: “Treasure,” by Fabrice Poussin, digital photograph, 2,400×1,600 pixels, 2018
Where it Hunts
On a day still half-winter, I hike a trail through the short grass prairie on the edge of town named for
a woman who willed that it be preserved. Meadowlarks whistle yellow holes in the air from the posts
rising out of the ground. Ripples circle outward from the mallards floating in the shallow pools
hidden behind stems of grass. Blackbirds corrugate the sky with flat chorus. Here: holes hidden in
sod. Things hidden from the bruise of a coyote’s shadow. Stratus—a wall of pearl that touches the
swell of hill. I could hide myself here, place a rib in a hole, dig a pit deep enough to bury heart,
guts—slick viscera dotted with dirt. The foothills rock named for a horse’s tooth flushes lavender
and dun high above this small pocket of wild faced by glass and steel, the buildings that nip at the
edges all around. I wish I could split my skull open here and let it bleed into dirt, stone. The
morning song of mountain and meadow. I listen for rattlesnakes. One was photographed on the
snow weeks ago: small spine of poison, half-breath, all nervous rage, belly slatted to blue shadow on
cold. I sit on a bench, allowing I’m tired, allowing I’m sweating, allowing small mercy. She died of
breast cancer, this woman who named the place. The smell of horses blows through.
What does progressive mean? Not loss, not ice thin—surely. Not sun biting permanent thaw. Not
saying illness is progressive without also saying all bodies are progressive: cell multiplying, dividing,
dying, daughters without mothers or sadness. Who am I to mourn this body any more than others.
A hawk falls from the utility pole. Wings open an eyeblink before talons pin mouse. Hunger, hollow.
I help them find the vein, now. This: press heat, water, hold firm until it surfaces. I learn to tell them
what carries my blood is small. Rain plinks window. Every visit a small worsening. When nurses
struggle to feed needle into blue of forearm or hand, to give me iron or steroid or morphine for a
Crohn’s flare, I take their hand, guide them. Here: let it break the skin in this place.
The mule deer raises her head, snaps her black-rimmed ears forward. Her hoofprints, with her
sisters’, have come and gone in the mud down at the creek, again, again. The place blue damselflies
came to rest on the part of my wrist where the skin stretches taut, pale over the small bones. Once
in another summer. The deer gazes at me; I want to tell her I have written you before. When she shakes
her head, all the rain droplets in her fur cloud free, make her shape in the air around her, silver
against the darker trees.
Snowmelt lifts the river at the base of the mountains. On a day like this, I come to empty myself. I
strip out my bones one by one, lay them out beside the cold water, make a shape of me I could bury.
Set an empty snake rattle for the tongue and sit back, arms on my knees, black tights feeling the
chill. The rattle moves: the snake is alive, my tongue is leaving me. No, the ants are carrying it away.
Imagine the Axe Knows the Wood
as intimately as the hand knows the clavicle. What once was tree now does the work of shafting the
metal head to the splitting. Makes a place for fists to grip the throat. To carry the blade gently, to let
it break what must be broken to keep us alive. Imagine the wood knows the weight of your body,
gives with each gash that wedges open the heart of sap and rain further. Imagine your breath curling
gray over knob. The fire you will make with this pile, the splinters of ice you will chip from the
river’s surface to let the water spill over the slab on top. Hold this open when you think of indigo
dusk that could ache your body like a snake leaving a winter nest of others, a twilight that could
stave your spine with resin and cold. Widen it with breath, with breastbone so it remains like a hole
in snow to breathe through when you must say no to hiking with others up into the mountains. The
cabin where they hold their lungs behind thick glass windows, wrap their arms around each other,
chop timber to add to the flame. Kiss, caress. Imagine if you were with them: staying near treeline so
long something goes wrong, the sickness twists your intestine again, provoked by thin air and every
muscle straining against the stones’ black shadows. Voice hollering help over wide white fields. Who
answers, who answers? What person is up here, to carry you back—chronic girl—down in time for
women to guide you through hospital doors? Here, behind the ribcage: a blue heart, a warm set of
organs inflamed, inflamed. Pour it all out, let the fire catch and spread to the edge of the mountains.
You want the trees on fire, the birds; you want to watch your insides burst with orange flame that
does not consume into ash. Lean your head back, all your pink guts splayed before you, melting
holes in the snow after sun has dropped behind the trees. Catch, catch: to be so freed. Fit yourself
inside this moment, drive the axe with all the weight of what you cannot do, split the tree into a
maw in which you could sleep and dream all the animals you cannot be.
Late morning rain breaks with horses
still hitched for trail too muddy, now, to ride—
untethered from posts and soft obedience, they
shy against each other, dark eyes not holding us
circling corral and nipping flanks
roped with lather like god’s semen
until gate swings and they ripple into one wheel of lungs.
I wonder what it would take to hurt you
if I were your lover, how deep my thumb could press
your throat to make you cry—perhaps I know enough
to know this is a mercy
to not be able to harm this way, you and I
walking without bones touching, where land remembers
ocean, where pain and breathing began beyond sky.
Love Song for the Northern Colorado Anthropocene
Rocky Mountain Park
The father pulls the two-headed son away from the elk looming before him: an antlered god rising
as if out of a crack in a boulder or glacier, letting snow fall from its shadow on Longs Peak rearing
above us. I hunch in my car buffeted by wind. The cow elk scatter before the bull, hooves making
circle after circle in the dirt near the bony knob of sediment carved by the ice that made this valley.
Each chase driving the sun into the hole it has made in the near-winter sky. A lone pine, needle-less,
juts out of the rock. What happens when winter itself ends, when there are no more circles to follow
in a world quieted by ash and hands?
Garden of the Gods
Yellow wildflowers in red rock. Yucca, prickly pear: denizens of stone. I kneel on the ground beside
my car, draw my fingers over the jagged tracks it has made in the dirt.
People point at the blue curved horizon: from this peak, you can see Kansas and Nebraska, pale as
bread where the sun whitens them. Turn and the Sangre de Cristo mountains stretch their spine
named for blood to the south. I stop at the precipice of stone. Farther down, carriage tracks from a
century ago still scar the tundra. A vulture launches from the rocks, arcs out in a wide sweep of dark
wings between me and the high plains, desert, arterial roads, suspended beyond where I could ever
I lean against my car door, listen to gas gurgle through the fuel pump. A line of mountains at a
distance and the smell of carbon filling my tank. Ancient hadrosaur bones, shells, bird ancestors
crushed into thin black oil and put inside to make a fire. Today my head aches, my gut hurts; the
illness verges on a flare. Ravens caw like rosary beads from the station roof, cock their heads, launch
in a sudden blue gloss of feather. All of us are probably irradiated irreparably. I want to push this
dawn into my chest, fit it beneath the ribs; I am ready to climb out of this body, to stretch my
shoulders back and let inside red light, blue feather, purple shale. I find grace wherever I can make it:
wheel and glass and broken bottle shards in the weeds. Tell me how to climb out of myself, up past
the dinosaur tracks that cross interstate not so far from here, our highways intersecting. Tell me how
to open my mouth and pull out the day.
I-25 through Denver
Beneath the overpass the sound of the rain stops an instant. Through my windshield I see three
motorcycles leaned against the concrete wall, the orange spark of a cigarette being lit. Then storm
bulleting my car again. Tires ahead of me slishing gray blades in its wake, all of us locked in the blur
of rain and lightning in the city we have made—steel and flash flood holding us in the waterless
place we have named home.
I rise at the pale hour drowning in daylight
that’s leaked through windows
forgotten, unlatched rain blowing in.
Barefoot on the honeywood floors
I pass the photograph of the bridge arching its rusting back
in the living room offering a way to shelter—
cross running water
and a spirit will stop chasing you
but it is the bedroom door I have chosen to leave
behind an empty bed does not haunt me.
I learn to lung this wet, this roof
think of my mother telling me
if you ever wanted an abortion
I would take you there not drag you to church.
I could mistake night detaching from utility wires
for a bird I want bark to suckle to hold me close.
What am I supposed to want?
I bow to the zipper in the wooden floorboards
undo it with my teeth hoping for hunger to make me whole
but out erupt magnolia trees
and paper birch, pink petals
and salmon spilling coining the new air
unhinging the ceiling.
I walk out between narrow corridors of trees everything moss and blossom
unmarrowed and bitten I wade
into the slate water of the river
wonder if the fish still cut their bodies through
I would support you
if that’s what you wanted
I lower my hands into the green wonder if it is the moss I am
wanting if breast if church if death
what I am blossoming
I feel the many hungers of fish
beneath the drown of surface and cloud.
I will turn my palms up and let something
wriggle from my spine this promise of teeth
milt, milk seeping into water
leading us all into the new after.