Contrails pass above the Rockies
today, and I know my grandson
kneels up there, at a portal
in the sky, peering down wonderstruck
by this unforeseen earth
floating beneath him, everything alive
the same age and same force
shifting through time, like water
under pressure, trying to thrust itself
through pores in granite. His father looks
over the son’s shoulder and names
the green ribbon Columbia,
carving itself into sere scablands.
When the river still flooded
it remembered genealogies
of channels, oxbows, swales, and dunes,
the falls glaciers fed before dams
arrived with ditches and grains.
Six months of drought and algae
still slicks the rocks below a spring.
A skink darts past—
an iridescent blue vanishing
under speckled monkeyflowers.
We can follow trails north
from this valley to marshlands,
then along shores of lakes
to the burning edges
of boreal forests, arrive at tundra,
and finally stand at the open sea,
ice retreating in blue leads
before our eyes, a magnitude of memory
we have no story for.
I can’t see farther than my friend
sitting beside me last October,
the story of her stillness and ease
filling her with amber light
and windless calm. Seeds parachuted
past us all the way down
Slick Rock Canyon. An ouzel
in the creek ran underwater,
leapt onto a stone and shook dry in sun.
Another day, we forgot
the map someone drew for us
and didn’t find our way to chanterelles.
We stumbled instead
upon Mazama ash—you can still find it
sometimes—a yellow drift below an elk wallow.
Heidi, we think he said.
He’d hiked up the switchbacks
to Whatcom Pass, where we rested
and watched him ascend,
un-shoulder his pack
and repeat what he’d told others
about the one he loved who died,
and for whom, in remembrance,
he walked. The north
and its old question posed
behind him, its silence
unfolding the reach of a year
her voice retreated deeper
into stone, irretrievable
as even the softest pulse
of any word she ever spoke.
Read poetry by David Axelrod previously appearing in Terrain.org: two poems and two poems.
Header photo by BGSmith, courtesy Shutterstock.