Girl, you think you’re so Montana. Darlin’, I’ve been there. It was leaning on July. The professor drove straight to Bear Tooth, hiked us to the talus slope. My first trail, and I carried a suitcase, cotton sleeping bag, leaky tent. We held trilobites and brachiopods (chunks of mountain) on our shoulders five miles back to the van. I saw every one of those damn no-see-ems, and they liked the taste of me.
At camp I was so back-tired I slept in my clothes, while over the snapping fire the professor roasted the just like shrimp! locusts he’d caught in a brown paper sack on the road back in Idaho or Utah or Wyoming. (It’d been a no-shocks ride with my head smacked against the window every time I closed my eyes.)
That night it snowed. My tin cooking pots caught the tent water until it spilled them over, soaked my bag to a swamp. Next morning, no breakfast and driving.
Outside Jackson Hole Laundromat—where everything I owned turned in one dryer—I pressed my knees to the sidewalk and said, Yes, I’m a sweet-light ocean, Lord, and this place is a bad bad toothache. You know what I’m askin’.
What Smoke Is Made Of
Paradise, California, 1997
In the particle dark, we rose like mist.
The door of dawn unlatched,
and we trumbled our clothes in its shine.
His belt clinked against itself like a clock.
The damp scent of soil stirred by our footsteps.
As the pickup doors creaked open,
I lumbered my roundness into the rectangle of space.
We raced the ridge in the morning quiet,
chasing the sunlight, the hours before
she arrived with her raspy squall
and her boxer’s fists, and everything
everything that we were combusted,
leaving only the vapor of that moment,
as we watched the sun churn
the clouds above the valley, and held fast
to the horizon, named it something like a vow.
Patricia Caspers is an award-winning poet and columnist whose work has appeared widely, most recently in Pedestal Magazine, Rust+Moth, and Catamaran. Her full-length collection In the Belly of the Albatrossis available from Glass Lyre Press. When not writing, Caspers leads writing workshops and peddles books to children.
Header photo by Birgit Reitz-Hofmann, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Patricia Caspers by Michael Kirby.