Utah

In 1997, Utah established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Paisley Rekdal, who was appointed to a five-year term in 2017. Rekdal is the author of five books of poetry, including Imaginary Vessels (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) and Animal Eye (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), which received the University of North Texas' Rilke Prize for Poetry.

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I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror

By dark the world is once again intact,
Or so the mirrors, wiped clean, try to reason. . .
                                       —James Merrill
This dream of water—what does it harbor?
I see Argentina and Paraguay
under a curfew of glass, their colors
breaking, like oil. The night in Uruguay

is black salt. I'm driving toward Utah,
keeping the entire hemisphere in view—
Colombia vermilion, Brazil blue tar,
some countries wiped clean of color: Peru

is titanium white. And always oceans 
that hide in mirrors: when beveled edges
arrest tides or this world's destinations
forsake ships. There's Sedona, Nogales

far behind. Once I went through a mirror—
from there too the world, so intact, resembled
only itself. When I returned I tore
the skin off the glass. The sea was unsealed

by dark, and I saw ships sink off the coast 
of a wounded republic. Now from a blur
of tanks in Santiago, a white horse
gallops, riderless, chased by drunk soldiers

in a jeep; they're firing into the moon.
And as I keep driving in the desert,
someone is running to catch the last bus, men
hanging on to its sides. And he's missed it.

He is running again; crescents of steel 
fall from the sky. And here the rocks
are under fog, the cedars a temple,
Sedona carved by the wind into gods—

each shadow their worshiper. The siren
empties Santiago; he watches
—from a hush of windows—blindfolded men
blurred in gleaming vans. The horse vanishes

into a dream. I'm passing skeletal
figures carved in 700 B.C.
Whoever deciphers these canyon walls
remains forsaken, alone with history,

no harbor for his dream. And what else will
this mirror now reason, filled with water?
I see Peru without rain, Brazil
without forests—and here in Utah a dagger

of sunlight: it's splitting—it's the summer
solstice—the quartz center of a spiral.
Did the Anasazi know the darker 
answer also—given now in crystal

by the mirrored continent? The solstice,
but of winter? A beam stabs the window,
diamonds him, a funeral in his eyes.
In the lit stadium of Santiago,

this is the shortest day. He's taken there.
Those about to die are looking at him, 
his eyes the ledger of the disappeared.
What will the mirror try now? I'm driving,

still north, always followed by that country,
its floors ice, its citizens so lovesick
that the ground—sheer glass—of every city
is torn up. They demand the republic

give back, jeweled, their every reflection.
They dig till dawn but find only corpses.
He has returned to this dream for his bones. 
The waters darken. The continent vanishes.

Bone & Silence

   A long time passes—long even in the understanding of stone—and at last Bone feels entitled to speak to Silence. There are prerequisites: proper depth, aridity, desiccation, ph balance, density, and a kind of confidence. No loam: say salt, say dust, say southwest Utah. And when the conversation occurs it is understood on Bone's part what to expect from Silence, so one could say that expectations were low, but such is a pattern of our thinking, and in this case the entire dry dialectic is different, and in fact expectations were high. There is a moon shining, unknown to Bone, intimate with Silence. There are mammals overhead, the noise of whose small feet are perceived or unperceived.
   And after all this discursive talk, what at last does Bone say to Silence? What would you have Bone say to Silence? We could try Is there anywhere we can go for a beer? and that might get a little laugh, might qualify as ineffably human, almost religious. But we know better about Bone & Silence—need only look inside us, have the bravery to cease this chatter, this scrape of pencil on paper, to leave the rest of the book blank, get out of the way, let the conversation begin.

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.