Simmons B. Buntin
I cannot follow the river of her myth.
Perhaps Papago, or Hopi.
In legend, she was born of the sharpest
cactus—the cholla—and spread her thin
roots into the desert soil.
She broke the underground river
and blossomed into life. As punishment,
the Great One gave her thickened fur,
and naked pups. Confined
to the desert,
she was weaker than the wolf,
could not hide like the fox,
took heavy heat from the white sun.
She ate the horned toad spitting blood
into her eyes, the gila monster leaking
venom through her veins, and the prickly pear shooting spears
through her tongue.
And she became strong.
I said, I cannot follow the river
of her myth; but I can
follow her sweet desert song
like a stream through the fiery hills.
Originally published in Sou'wester.
Piñon Jays Drinking at Great Salt Lake
It was something in the heavy chatter:
how the gravelly calls
dropped, like the bluer than black
jays, to juniper. Something,
moreover, in the deliberate withdrawal of blood-
rich brine at the lake's white edge,
which recalls Cochiti.
In legend, when the feasting people
would not feed Old Salt
Woman, she gathered
the children beneath piñon and
charmed them to jays.
At Santa Domingo
the pueblo people heard, and offering
to feed her, instead ate her flesh. They
called Rainmaker to wash
her away—him tumbling
like a riverfall—
and she became this great brackish lake.
Here now, the molting children
puncture her skin, drink
the salty blood and pray to drop dark
feathers, walking home like always
to begin the nightly feast.
Polished, the Neolithic prize
would gleam almost life-
like above the headboard.
Rough, it would rest silently
in the glass case of the middle hall.
This one is different: A long highway
of red channels up to the pinnacle,
to the femoral joint, like Old
Trochanter's Curve in one of those
sunsets so gruesome you
couldn't turn away until
the valley drank in the vermilion sun.
Under dimmest lantern, with wire
brush and quarter-inch chisel, I could
trace the trail, and wonder
what had traveled it, and when.
Now it rests against the articulated
smoothness of the dining table, across
a stretch of what appears to be ever-
black of ebony surface:
The joint at the upper end, a gloxinia
on the naked wood; the lower, smaller end
smooth as if no flesh ever
grew, no blood ever bled.
And the channel—groove up
like an I.V. straight through
my arm—searching parallel avenues
for my heart, and finding it
in slumber. Then draining the precious
red through a new detour,
now a part of me. A curse
has befallen me, and I will
be damned in some archaic
language if I destroy it, so
I hide it from my family—
deep within their nighttime world—
just down the hall. And in Unther
Hall at the Academy, colleagues dream
to touch my channel—divert it
from me, and drive straight off
Old Trochanter's Curve, flowering
down while my blood runs to the river.
Originally published in Octavo.
Coming Into Premeditated Light
And up from Navajo myths, the sandstone
sliced a scar that is my back, then crumbled
into a geometry of broken pottery.
This could be a trail, but I've become confused
by the painted walls, the architecture of caves—
here a bighorn, there a rigid warrior.
Only the red paint of my blood has touched
these broken walls since the Indians sketched
their script. Now my brushwork has added
new verses—a riverfall cascading onto hunting
grounds, a large ram drowned by my fresh blanket.
Up there, Shiprock rises like a thousand broken spears,
but beneath the dust, their gods must have commanded
worship in the form of fire, canyon, sacrifice.
And now, tracing the faint steps of this
subterranean trail, I press myself
through the grimace of the cave's exit
and hear the grinding of black clay for the kiln,
the rhythm of the pre-hunt chant,
and the slow echo of stone chipping stone.
in memory of Ben Phillips
|Simmons B. Buntin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. With Ken Pirie, he is the author of the new book Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places (Planetizen Press, 2013). His books of poetry are Riverfall (2005) and Bloom (2010), both published by Ireland's Salmon Poetry. Recent work has appeared in North American Review, ISLE, Versal, Orion, Hawk & Handsaw, High Desert Journal, and Kyoto Journal. Catch up with him at www.SimmonsBuntin.com.