For I Will Consider the Lone Crow at Angels Landing

For she rides updrafts with scalloped hands, interrogating air.
For in the kingdom of lift, she has few peers. 
For she bullies the hawk and drops stones on a snapping fox.
For her trickster ways coalesce into spirals.
For I pine for a Muse so wild with wind.
For she counts murderous drop-offs as nothing.
For my quicksilver thoughts cling to her, like spume on a wave.
For she disdains the safety chains we grasped to climb here—
            but not the shimmer of my Yankees cap.
For her blackness kindles blue fire. 
For if only she would mistake my arm for a branch.
For I can freeze her feathers on film but not their glow.
For she shrugs off myths like a singer shedding stale arias.
For she offers no elegy to those who slip—not even a caw.
For her errands of air map the sky with longing.
For she hops towards me now, part beggar, part Baryshnikov.
For she puts up with berries and nuts but prefers pastrami.
For she snaps the heads off locusts.
For she fills her craw with gravel and chews the world twice.
For if only I could relax into knowing.
For she rubs herself with crushed ants to keep off parasites.
For she flies straight into the oculus of What if?
For I will call her Mischief Girl, or Odin.
For she jeers at prayer and says I am my own Zion.
For darkness is no more to her than dust on her wings.  

                                                            (After Christopher Smart)   

More by Lance Larsen

"All Puffy and White, Goldish, Harpy, and Angelonic"


This the neighbor boy’s exact description of heaven. Which he blissfully ad-libbed from the pulpit, like some Shackleton on laudanum describing the white hell in which he was forced to sacrifice his own sled dogs. But laced with tenderness. Take that, Saint John of Patmos, take that, Thomas Aquinas and dour Kierkegaard, with your cubits and mystic ecstasies and dialectical ladders. Something about that nasal teenage voice, all mercy, lifted me out of the morass of nettles I call my life. He wore a fauxhawk and flip-flops, a Star of David etched in ink across the back of his right hand. Not for symbolism, but for the fun of it. Next week a smiley face, the week after that thunderbolts. Oh, to be seventeen. I was already back in the nettles, clenching and unclenching my fists, like a seasoned sled driver deciding which of my loyal huskies to eat first.

In Toledo, the Sequestered Brides of Christ


In Toledo, the sequestered brides of Christ make marzipan. And devotees like me buy up the sweets via a three-chambered lazy Susan in an alley. Hear a voice but glimpse not the heavenly hands, an enterprise both savvy and vaguely eucharistic. “To taste the kingdom in a crumb of dough,” I say, a privilege to misquote Blake, even if it’s only to myself. The recipe dates back to the Court of the Caliphs, as alchemic as it is simple. Shouldn’t every traveler make a habit of eating earth, wind, air, and fire? Not to mention almonds, which must equal 50 percent by weight to pass muster with Toledo inspectors. I pay, turn the lazy Susan, and walk away with my own tin of marzipan, the abbess’s unseen blessing dusting each morsel. “Eat and be made whole,” I can almost hear her say. The body of Christ is a fish—delicious. And now a star, like the one that guided wandering kings. And now a sword, two-edged, like matters of belief. And now—forgive me—my Lord is a serpent. Spiraling in on himself like vortex or Milky Way, my faith quickening as God’s scales dissolve on my tongue.

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Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon, Utah

Maybe it was just for this that God pulled
water from dry land: to rescue hoodoo
after hoodoo. That’s what they’re called—

a bastardization of voodoo—
these unrepeatable needles of rock,
geology’s answer to flakes of snow .

A sound enough hypothesis: dark magic.
But I like God’s approach—so straightforward:
the light, the land, the sky, each feat of handiwork

a matter of a single uttered word
(that’s the first version; the clumsy second
was more hand’s on, with dust and ribs required)

though it’s a stretch to claim this place was planned.
Maybe, just like us, God was stupefied; 
He rarely knew how any day would end,

had to see things finished to call them good.
Here, He might even have done without
the bric-a-brac of the days that followed

except the fourth day’s (bodies of light)
essential for the colors of the stone,
the greater light especially adroit.

Just watch it nurse a puny flame at dawn
—purple with an edging of vermillion—
by sunrise to a full-fledged conflagration

then temper it to golden-rose by noon,
darker still as day begins to fail.
The oranges go bronze, the reds, maroon,

the whole place solid indigo by nightfall,
except on nights when a full or near-full moon
applies its inlay—mother-of-pearl

on a lamina of coral and carnelian—
or the moon’s a no-show, no stone visible,
just black on black, spikes and spires gone.

That’s when you look up: the sky’s Grand Central
(no light pollution; no clouds; conditions ideal),
rush hour’s hubbub irresistible,

the stars its thronged commuters, check by jowl.
The Park has telescopes (I once saw Jupiter)
but I prefer an open free-for-all,

the peripheral inkling of a meteor
(or was that a satellite?) or diving owl.
Some flora and fauna did make their way here

eventually, swashbucklers all:
Rattlesnake. Manzanita. Prickly pear,
its shock of blossoms at the end of April

slow-motion fireworks, the canyon floor
lost beneath magentas, yellows, reds
or bristle-cone pine, launching spectacular

high-wire acrobatics off the cliff sides,
where that gifted horticulturist,
the nuthatch, a glutton for its seeds,

disseminates them when it stops to rest—
quite ingenious of God, if oddly fanciful
for so inveterate a fatalist,

that is, if God’s mixed up in this at all. 
The Park prefers the Piutes’ explanation:
the hoodoos were once the legend people

shape shifters, native to this region,
turned for some unnamable transgression
by vigilant Coyote into stone,

their face-paint still intact, their tradition
of shape-shifting now upheld in unison,
a nonstop frenzy of dissimulation:

now a storm-tossed, now a tranquil, ocean
flocked by scarlet ibis, pink flamingos,
now dreamscape, now valley of the moon,

now ransacked cathedrals’ lost rose windows
now an amphitheater’s hushed proscenium,
now leafless aspens, elms, catalpas, willows

now phantom hollyhock, delphinium,
now flashback, now panicked premonition,
now truce, now skirmish, now pandemonium,

now parachutes (a daredevil battalion
floating toward an ill-fated attack)
now blushing debutantes (their first cotillion)

now parched oasis, now bivouac,
close by each golden tent a golden torch,
now red-robed Russian choirs, now ecstatic

ovations from thick stands of golden birch,
now burnished temple, now tarnished city,
now bands of acolytes—in mosque, in church

or here, assembling legends of Coyote—
scrambling to get down on their untried  knees
and thank someone—anyone—for all this beauty,

though maybe it’s the frost they ought to praise,
the real creator, according to science,
how it would melt and freeze, melt and freeze

and then, in a matter of mere eons
(no wind involved, windy as it is),
chisel what must be earth’s most flimsy stone—
 
limestone, siltstone, mudstone—into this.
Not surprising, really, when you think what frost
can achieve, in seconds, on a pane of glass—

always a revelation, when a miniaturist
takes his genius for precision large-scale:
the landscape behind the Mystic Lamb as Christ

in the Ghent altarpiece, for example,
an exhaustive primer of  floral specimens,
rendered in botanical detail,

art both mainstay and intimate of science –
think Leonardo—and science of art.
What fools we were to leave the Renaissance

behind us, to tear ourselves apart
into more and more obscure specialization.
Not that it matters here. Science and art,

even in conjunction with their on-again
off-again confederate, religion,
are speechless in the presence of this canyon.

Even God needs two versions of Creation
at the start of Genesis. Some things defy
a single overarching explanation.

Maybe everything does, if you look carefully.
And what’s a day exactly, when the sun
hasn’t yet been added to the sky? 

That third day might still go going on,
everything I’m staring at still raw,
God on overdrive, the frost a madman,

consumed by each imaginary flaw.
Am I a witness? An alibi? A spy?
And what’s this delirium? this terror? this awe?

Is the sky hallucinating? Am I?
Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon, Utah
Just let me stand here with an open eye.