American Zebra: Praise Song for the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

I like how, when I look out
onto this desert Idaho plain,
I can pretty much graze my palm
on the Pliocene—
and doing so, greet the great wide savannahs of Africa—
mossy and tree lined,
laced in saber-toothed cats,
hyena-like dogs and a half caravan
of even-toed camels.

I like how, when I look upon these bluffs,
I have to leave off acuity—
level all spectacle,
un-specimen Earth.
Even so, here blows
another tumbleweed. Be careful
with that match! 
Hear it now,
skeletal frolic of O’s.

I love how this lookout
offers no viewfinder.
So I must mesh with the idea
of what might have been
the lontra weiri,
Hagerman’s mystery otter,
nearly four million years ago.
Should I not add this riverine creature
was named for singer Bob Weir?

Dare I admit I am way, way thankful
he fathered the Grateful Dead,
which helped bring us hippies,
sideburns shaped into states of Idaho?
These, plus those love-ins
we never quite had down in Nampa,
where I grew up, 117 miles from here.
It all instilled what I will call gratitude’s latitude
bones of articulate hope.

I like how standing still in this place
serves to remind
that every epochal zone
clearly inheres in us. Notice.
Most people only look
for what they can see. Oh, Great Dane-ish
Hagerman Horse. Maybe you’re Africa’s own
Grévy's zebra. Should I not grab you here
in this wayfaring now—and stiffly by the mane—

to say yes, of course, I am indebted?
I’m here at this look-out—
the long meanwhile, whole Snake River histories
molted and soaked in
then found their shot to break free
to the bone layer
under that soil-load
dubbed by the digging biz

Listen here, visitor.
Lay your millstone down, 
once and for everyone.
And say
can you see—hey,
here’s some binoculars : What kind
of place will we be
when I cross over
into you and you cross over into me?


World Upside Down

Despite the fact I can’t lay flat
            two fingers,

on my way home from work
            I walked on my hands

from my corner—
            over grass and elm shadow and across

the sidewalk’s light
            upheavals, half the way

to Sunbeam Grocery—fresh blood-chutes
            to the brain with each
stride of the palm,
            pair of inner blue pumps
pretty much off duty;
            spine, lats, and thyroid cartilage elongated fully.

This I do with the soles of my hands:
            cop a feel of the globe

in mega-dimension, how dogs sniff voles
            through fronds of wild rye.

With how much grandeur dandelions keep their minds afloat!
            Noble, with clover laced in

industrial bug juice, my dog Toby a swatch
            of roving cumulus. The whole schmeer,

by which I must now mean the full-on world,
            seems half again as much a meanness derby

as anything else. Therefore, let me lay
            these words in the church of your mouth.


She didn’t have one, and never had, if have was the right verb for knowing someone in this way and referring to someone with this word. She had had children. Two of them. She had had friends. She had had, or, as she had heard it said, had taken lovers. Still, through all these years she had felt more or less tended to, almost thoroughly husbanded, though by what or whom exactly it was hard to say—certainly by some of the men she had been with, and some of the women, sometimes by her own mother even, but equally often by a single idea, such as Schoenberg’s, who believed all progress in social thinking and feeling had come about through force of longing. With equal frequency, though with less predictability, she had felt cared for by certain objects: a spotted yellow pear, the dark fetal curl of the dog’s tail, that ancient hay derrick, tall and rangy, pointing out the far end of the world. Sometimes when she went to a movie by herself—something she often did—she’d tell the ticket-taker that her husband would arrive at any minute. She simply liked the sound of the word, and she took it entirely, and many times a day, as hers. 

from American Amnesiac [Is it possible to let the sleeping life seep into day—]

Is it possible to let the sleeping life seep into day—
that bright murk of softness, state of being reverently

at rest yet wide-eyed as Athena’s wired owl? Often
when my alarm goes off in the morning, something

alarming happens in my dreams. A pair of words
might land on my face—exist : exit. Warren : rabbits.

Language : anguish. I just read about a scientist
who said humans have so transformed the planet

we should no longer refer to it as Earth. We seem on
our way to a very different word. He suggests Eaarth.

But what about Achates, as in ancient trusty friend?
Or how about Planet Greige, from the French for raw,

unfinished, usually said of silk. But we’ll make the word mean
as we see fit: Heart’s wife. Furl of blue-green. A tired outburst of silence. 

Related Poems

Big Bend National Park Says No to All Walls

Big Bend has been here, been here. Shouldn’t it have a say?
Call the mountains a wall if you must, (the river has never been a wall),
leavened air soaking equally into all, could this be the home
we ache for? Silent light bathing cliff faces, dunes altering
in darkness, stones speaking low to one another, border secrets,
notes so rooted you may never be lonely the same ways again.
Big bend in thinking—why did you dream you needed so much?
Water, one small pack. Once I lay on my back on a concrete table
the whole day and read a book. A whole book, and it was long.
The day I continue to feast on.
Stones sifting a gospel of patience and dust,
no one exalted beyond a perfect parched cliff,
no one waiting for anything you do or don’t do.
Santa Elena, South Rim, once a woman knew what everything here
was named for, Hallie Stillwell brimming with stories,
her hat still snaps in the wind. You will not find
a prime minister in Big Bend, a president, or even a candidate,
beyond the lion, the javelina, the eagle lighting on its nest.