Jeffers Petroglyphs. Photo coutesy Minnesota Historical Society.

One Poem by Michael Walsh

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The Kids Who Carved into Petroglyphs

At Jeffers Petroglyphs

By their initials and first names
            scratched into quartzite

underfoot, I know the culprits: Otto
            like a fancy scar

on a buffalo’s flank, Sven
            muddling the lines of a glyph,

the meaning of its shape forgotten, and Judy
            who needed to record the date

of defacement. I hear her story from the guide:
            how she stole her father’s chisel,

chipped her way into a turtle’s back,
            how much shame she brought

to her family in this search for the lost meanings
            hidden within the shapes of the letters,

written on a shell next to the sun, an attempt,
            if I’m generous,

to contrast two languages and find,
            in the mixed-up symbols,

the trees of her homeland cut down long ago.
            She still lives. I believe, on some days,

wherever she is, she hears the forest mumbling
            when the wind blows across the carved twigs

of her name, out here, whispering to the nearby warriors,
            asking forgiveness for this trespass.




Michael WalshMichael Walsh is the author of The Dirt Riddles, which received the Miller Willams Prize and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. In 2021, Autumn House Press will publish Creep Love, his next poetry collection, and, in 2022, Queer Nature, an ecoqueer poetry anthology co-edited with James Crews.

Header photo by by John Cross, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society. Photo of Michael Walsh by Adam Nelsen. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.