Sometimes I envy the devout,
days that begin and end with prayer,
grown men in restaurants
unembarrassed to bow their heads.
But me, I’m hammered by doubt.
By this fire-damaged sky,
farmhouse hydrangeas parched
to a passing blur.
This road a ribbon of unspooled loneliness,
rimmed with the tinder of endless grassland,
the Sawtooth skyline glowing red.
All along the highway, hand-lettered signs
say Bless Our Firefighters. Waving children offering water and snacks.
Out by the Walmart, there’s a makeshift
mess tent, sandwiches by the hundreds
where everyone hungry is fed.
When I get home, I should try to be kinder.
I should remember Idaho,
this dung-colored sky,
the cooler of sodas left at this crossroad,
ash-covered bills in the Folgers can
taped to its side.
Deschutes River Weekend
This is the life, we said around the campfire,
the night sky buckshot with stars.
In the air, the fragrance of sage,
a freight train on the far side of the river
clattering its cargo of grain.
Everywhere, rimrocks and outcrops,
the blue-black flanks of hills.
In the morning, after three days
camped in a canyon too deep
for cell service or satellite news,
we headed home.
When we got to the ridge line,
our phones began to chirp.
Eye witness reports. Politicians
tweeting thoughts and prayers.
How many rounds were found
in the shooter’s schoolbag,
how many students dead.
In the canyon,
trains announced themselves long
before rounding the curve. I don’t remember
now how we knew they were coming—
perhaps it was vibration,
or premonition, the way the body
sometimes feels before it knows.
Some trains needed two or three engines
to get through the canyon, but oddly,
pulled no caboose.
Still, I looked for that last car,
as though it mattered
that I see the end.
Emily Ransdell’s work has appeared in Poetry Northwest, Poet Lore, Tar River Poetry, River Styx, and elsewhere. She has been a finalist for the Rattle Poetry Prize, the New Millennium Writings Award, the New Letters Poetry Prize and has twice been featured by Ted Kooser in American Life In Poetry. Emily lives in Camas, Washington.