Wyoming

In 1981, Wyoming established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Eugene M. Gagliano, who was appointed to a two-year term in 2016. Gagliano is the author of two books of poetry, including the collection of children's poems My Teacher Dances on the Desk (Sleeping Bear Press, 2009), and is the recipient of the International Reading Association's 2004 Wyoming State Literacy Award.

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Mortal Limit

I saw the hawk ride updraft in the sunset over Wyoming.
It rose from coniferous darkness, past gray jags
Of mercilessness, past whiteness, into the gloaming
Of dream-spectral light above the lazy purity of snow-snags.

There—west—were the Tetons.  Snow-peaks would soon be
In dark profile to break constellations.  Beyond what height
Hangs now the black speck?  Beyond what range will gold eyes see
New ranges rise to mark a last scrawl of light?

Or, having tasted that atmosphere's thinness, does it
Hang motionless in dying vision before
It knows it will accept the mortal limit,
And swing into the great circular downwardness that will restore

The breath of earth?  Of rock?  Of rot?  Of other such
Items, and the darkness of whatever dream we clutch?

Epistle: Leaving

Dear train wreck, dear terrible engines, dear spilled freight,
          dear unbelievable mess, all these years later I think
          to write back. I was not who I am now. A sail is a boat,
          a bark is a boat, a mast is a boat and the train was you and me.
          Dear dark, dear paper, dear files I can't toss, dear calendar
          and visitation schedule, dear hello and goodbye.
If a life is one thing and then another; if no grasses grow
          through the tracks; if the train wreck is a red herring;
          if goodbye then sincerely. Dear disappeared bodies
          and transitions, dear edge of a good paragraph.
          Before the wreck, we misunderstood revision.
I revise things now. I teach pertinence. A girl in class told
          us about some boys who found bodies on the tracks
          then went back and they were gone, the bodies.
          It was true that this story was a lie, like all things
done to be seen. I still think about this story, what it would
          be like to be a boy finding bodies out in the woods,
          however they were left—and think of all the ways they
          could be left. There I was, teaching the building
          of a good paragraph, dutiful investigator
of sentences, thinking dear boys, dear stillness in the woods,
          until, again, there is the boy I knew as a man
          whose father left him at a gas station, and unlike the lie
          of the girl's story, this one is true—he left him there for good.
Sometimes this boy, nine and pale, is sitting next to me, sitting there
          watching trains go past the gas station in Wyoming,
          thinking there is a train going one way, and a train
          going the other way, each at different and variable speeds:
          how many miles before something happens
          that feels like answers when we write them down—
like solid paragraphs full of transitional phrases
          and compound, complex sentences, the waiting space
          between things that ends either in pleasure or pain. He
          keeps showing up, dear boy, man now, and beautiful
like the northern forest, hardwoods iced over.

National Politics in Yellowstone Park, July 29, 1914

Ed Trafton turns from the shimmering water
of Shoshone Lake to the first of fifteen tourist coaches,
pulls the black silk neckerchief up the bridge of his nose,
plants himself in the road and says, “Please step out
and come this way.” Black is so hot. “Drop your valuables
on the blanket.” Maybe the neckerchief isn’t necessary.
“Kindly take a standing seat and witness the convention.”

“A rather elegant man,” one woman confessed. “Steady
and calm, with a lovely sense of humor and a smile
that made his watery blue eyes sparkle. The kind of man
who might make a good president.” “Watery blue eyes?”
Ed wonders, his reflection in the mirror. “City councilman
or senator but president?” “Polite,” the woman added.

An elderly lady dropped her purse, which exploded
scattering bills, coins, a comb, and playing cards
over the dusty earth. The horses stamped their feet
and switched their tails to drive away the flies.
Someone coughed. Trafton bent over to gather up
the fallen valuables, the last card—jack of hearts.
“There madam, you keep these,” he said.
“You look as if you need them more than I do.”

“Gallant,“ the first woman went on. She laughed
and the air freshened, invisible birds began to sing.

As each coin or watch or earring hit the earth,
dust rose around the lodgepole and limber pines,
covered the water. Seeking clarity, coaches start
ten minutes apart—Old Faithful to West Thumb,
the horseshoe bend where they stop for the view.
But they can’t see what’s to come, coach after coach,
the blanket disappearing under the mound of treasure,
Mr. Trafton lightly touching each horse to send it on its way.

A young woman asked for a photo—“by the blanket.”
Other travelers pulled out their Brownies and lined up
beside the beguiling highwayman, the click of shutters
louder than the cicadas chirring in the dry grass,
pine resin rising with the heat, men fanning their faces
with hats or the news of the day—AUSTRIA-HUNGARY
DECLARES WAR ON SERBIA. Could be a joke—he was
so friendly and the water, lapping at the shore,
made that chuckling sound that says nothing
will change. It can’t be real silk, Trafton thinks,
tugging at his face, wouldn’t be so scratchy, people
milling around, the sun rising, the hills falling away,
the geysers and mudpots, and Shoshone Lake
coated in dust, still blue below the point.