Driving to Santa Fe

Quick swim up 
through the headlights: gold eye
a startle in black: green swift glance 
raking mine. A full second
we held each other, gone. 
Gone. And how did I know
what to call it? Lynx, the only possible 
reply though I’d never seen one. The car 
filling with it: moonlight, 
piñon: a cat’s acrid smell
of terror. How quickly the gray body 
fled, swerving to avoid 
my light. And how often 
that sight returns to me, shames me 
to know how much more this fragment 
matters. More than the broad back 
of a man I loved. More than the image
of my friend, cancer-struck, curled 
by her toilet. More than my regret 
for the child I did not have which I thought 
once would pierce me, utterly. Nothing
beside that dense muscle, faint gold guard hairs 
stirring the dark. And if I keep 
these scraps of it, what did it keep of me? 
A flight, a thunder. A shield of light 
dropped before the eyes, pinned 
inside that magnificent skull only time
would release. Split back, fade
and reveal. Wind 
would open him. Sun would turn him
commonplace: a knot of flies, a ribcage
of shredded tendon, wasp-nest
fragile. The treasure of him, like anything, 
gone. Even now, I thumb that face
like a coin I cannot spend. If something in me 
ever lived, it lived in him, fishing the cold
trout-thick streams, waking to snow, dying
when he died, which is a comfort. 
I must say this. Otherwise, I myself 
do not exist. It looked at me 
a moment. A flash of green, of gold
and white. Then the dark came down again
between us. Once, I was afraid
of being changed. Now that is finished. 
The lynx has me in its eye. 
I am already diminished.

From Nightingale (Copper Canyon Press, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by Paisley Rekdal. Used with the permission of the poet.