Published on Academy of American Poets (

badlands: a song of flux, out of time

ornate warble of meadowlarks
           burbling in melodic veronicas,
ribboning the spires, buttes, pinnacles,
           and gullies of sedimentary stone,
sage and sweet grass smudging the still-cool air

lush-bellied manatees of clouds somersault
           above an inching infestation—
cars, trailers, trucks, busses, airstreams—
           glittering carapaces twisting
their stranglehold around Yellow Mounds


late spring baby goats
           nestle in to Pinnacles, at dusk,
a scatter of heartbeats, furred
           commas, blending clauses
to sun warmed sandstone

a big horn sheep blinks
           into my lens from between
his horns’ apostrophes—
           slit pupils iconic and slow
as gold cat’s-eye marbles


shadow-hollowed, wind-ruffled
           stone’s mimetic shape-shifting
all metaphor and simile:
           like stiff-beaten cake batter
like striated molten glass

here, a disconsolate woman weeps
           behind spidery fingers
here, a sleepy elephant rests
           its trunk upon the ground
here, cubist lovers’ stilled in a flash-frozen kiss


some say moonscape, or otherworldy,
           as if to mean something alien,
sandwiched between the banality
           of kitschy Sinclair station dinosaurs
and Wall Drug’s ubiquitous billboards

I think not moonscape but earthscape,
           not otherworldly, but innerworldy,
not alien, but indigenous, as in
           always already from and of
as in sovereign, as in not ours


unexpected wingbeat, talon, and spray
           of gold flint-sparking the light
when one of the golden eagles surfing currents
           near Sharps Formation by Castle Trail
plummets to swoop in front of my Jeep

its sharp-eyed, curious gaze catches me gawking
           through the windshield, and suddenly
I’m no longer the voyeur, but the spied upon,
           and before it kites skyward again
I am, in those seconds, all spotlit halo, golden blaze


a cottontail backlit by sunset,
           thin-membraned ears glowing
with the hot orange of tea-light’s flicker
           behind glass, has its picture taken
by a happy group of Chinese tourists

for a brief moment, the cottontail
           is simultaneously framed within
the bright rectangles of five iPhones, all lit up
           within the bright rectangle of my iPhone:
molten-eared bunnies within bunnies / #meta


how infinitesimal our millenia
           how tightly folded
our lives’ tiny accordions within
           the time-lapsed tidal flux
of geological deposition and erosion

someone breaks a pottery bowl in slow motion:
           can you imagine the apocalyptic scatter
of ammonites and clams, the beautiful wreckage
           of an ocean’s millennial spill
from a mountain-cracked basin of broken raku?


Copyright © 2016 by Lee Ann Roripaugh. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

About this Poem

"Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature/technology binary, and the false ways in which we’re led to assume that nature can be mastered (or further colonized) by technology. At the same time, we fetishize nature as ripe for conquering with problematically gender-laden verbiage such as pristineuntouched, and pure. I think this is why, when I’m traveling through the Badlands, so many of my favorite photographs that I take deconstruct the illusion of this false binary and involve the collision of nature with the made-made: signage, pylons, cars. I think nature’s ultimately not masterable/colonizable, and the destruction of nature also means the destruction of technology: climates change, oceans rise, and earthquakes shake down technological empires like matchsticks. I think this is one of the things I love so much about the Badlands, why I find the intensity of its beauty so powerful and humbling—the ways in which it simultaneously encompasses permanence and monument, yet also (in terms of geological time, which lies outside the frames of our individual perception) flux; the ways in which the Badlands shapeshifts in response to climate, shadow, season, and light on a day to day basis, while also engaging in the slow transformation of geological shapeshifitng. My hope was to capture some of these elements in 'badlands: a song of flux, out of time.'"
Lee Ann Roripaugh


Lee Ann Roripaugh

Poet Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of four poetry collections: Dandarians (Milkweed Editions, 2014), On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009), Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004), and Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin Books, 1999).

Date Published: 2016-10-06

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