excerpt – Mapping the Bones of the World
Teach me the Northern Cross, you say, kneeling,
and I touch collarbone on each side of your neck
and following my fingers you turn, mapping galaxy
with the curve of bones. Find the milky Way first;
face west, and spread your arms north and south,
I say. You breathe deep once and your neck arches,
your head then in the crook of my arm, east, here
in August and after midnight. Then, this is Deneb,
and this is Altair, mapping those blue-white stars
to the softness and awakening hardness of flesh.
These stars of Cygnus and Aquila, swan flying
after eagle, south and west. Follow my hand;
trace their spreading wings, the chill dewfall,
arc of swan’s neck along ribs and medial line;
you know the stories of swans. And this Vega.
Your spine arcs. Oh, you say, rising to the star,
another eagle swooping in Lyra, faint trapezoid
like one knee bending away from the other. Oh.
You see we will have a daughter who will watch
an eagle hunt, stoop, devour prey. Oh, she says;
you see the cross, have always known your way
among these stars at the top of summer sky,
the great hunting birds, their stories bone-
deep and white in the arc of pelvis.
THE FINE AND DYING ART
OF SHAPING LIGHT INTO WORDS
For my daughters, who argue an extended sense of backyard,
to whom “sleeping out” has grown to mean packing sleeping bags,
Ramen noodles, and Pop-tarts and curving their way like martens
up their steep round hill above our neighborhood.
How light in cool air bends inward smoother, focused
through a spotting scope; how the neighborhood below
lies enfolded in dusk, and light no longer roils
on convecting air. I zoom up the magnification
and sweep down through our neighborhood.
Lingering on my house, the porch light. And down.
And down. Past the park, its swings and jogging path,
On the wetlands, in that dead willow, the redtail hawks settle,
their bodies a mere darkness on the willow’s bleached bones.
I scan the park more carefully. Each walking shape
melting into gloom. And that unmoving shape—
what spectral remains of light say woman?
What essence shaped on dying light says beloved?
I aim a flashlight and tap out c, like a cat,
stalking and pouncing, twice (dash-dot-dash-dot),
l; and so on: c-l-a-i-r-e, hello, shaping light.
And she in the hollow of the park among the last settling frisbees
and first kick-the-can games and dull glinting swing chains.
She sees on the hill;’s lip my sudden blink of light—I am here.
And she knows with the first blink all the following stabs
and stutters of light. And she blinks back steven.
She scans this dusklit hill above the valley floor,
bright above the enfolding night of the park but already
melting back into the mountains above. Then, the darlings?
Wait, I say. And we wait. And we talk on in the tenuous language,
each blinked word wrapped in the glimmering thread
of waiting for one’s children, for their days’ unfolding arcs.
Only tonight is certain; tonight they will come down
from the dark and thicketed scrub oak;
tonight they will keep safe. On the mountain above, the two martens crouch in gamble oak,
coaxing chukars in voices that skip like flint down shale draws,
teasing the hunched doubting birds from their guzzler pools.
Eventually the girls think of the valley and peer down,
then reshape their lips tightly to that pulsing light,
whistling dashes and dots. The chukars’ voices fall still,
the crickets and katydids, still. I answer, whistling,
and they slip down to our hill, and I send:
darlings cuddled down as they curl together
under the faint stars. Above us all, the peaks of the Three Sisters rise like a heavy sea,
each peak cresting, veined with blue shale in faint town light.
And if waves, then the final dwelling places of starlight.
The Eumenides, the beckoning fates.
Sun-crested corn snow peeling back each day
from basin forest—winterbound spruce, lodgepole,
carrion. Above forest, Miller Goldtooth working
through his taxonomy of spirits as he hunches
in sun under the lee of the Divide stone,
weighing each snow core as I hand them down.
He jots his figures down, says,
“That woman and her daughter,
their ghosts down there in that country.”
Two women lost in the basin last fall,
caught in early freezing rain then snow.
I slip down from the stone and stretch
away from the afternoon wind. He says,
“And that man and woman last summer,
lightning-struck on Crystal Lake, sitting
under an old fir. Their spirits sitting there still.”
Two covers wind along thermals up over Notch Pass.
“Some folks, they chase their spirits every waking day;
some spirits won’t stay put.
“I think: the flight out of Phoenix, wait an hour
on the taxiway, lose more time in Saint Louis.
Walk off the plane in Newark when I should’ve been
in that Manhattan conference room above the Hudson.
A crowd mobbing across the Newark concourse
to the Hudson-side windows, just wading through
one more irritation. But I guess if I’d looked too,
my spirit would’ve looked back, saying, “What?”
Ash. Wandering. Four days later, I caught a flight
out of White Plains down the Manhattan skyline,
the thinning shroud of ash. Long-bending evening,
following the sun home. “Coyotes last night,” I say.
Miller sits up, squints. Says, “That George and Deke
Button run a trapline over east toward Bald Mountain.”
The one coyote turning its voice inside out across the basin
as if where it had jumped and twisted and dragged itself,
the ground had torn open, black, and the coyote’s pack running,
circling beyond lamplight.
Miller stretches and sets off across gneiss ridges
“Move on,” he says, “move on.”