PattiAnn Rogers teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Arkansas. Her sixth book, Firekeeper: New and Selected Poems (Milkweed), was chosen by Publisher's Weekly as one of the Best Books Published in 1994. She is the recipient of the Tietjens Prize and the Hokin Prize from Poetry as well as two NEA Grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Poetry Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. See other work by Pattiann Rogers published in Weber Studies: Vol. 11.3.
Fossil Texts on Canyon Walls
1. Astrophysical Dynamics
There are fables and legends written
right on my bones, on the red grain
of my bones, visible plots, subplots,
captures and escapes, as decipherable
as black ink fictions scribed
on rolled parchments.
And finely needled tattooes-inked
permanently in trumpet creepers,
jungle canopies, moon-webs of winter,
bellflowers of blood-compose the inner
bowl of my skull. Ancient missas
and pre-earth percussions are recorded
inside every knuckle, engraved on the turns
and curls of my ankles and wrists.
By the spine, I am epic, its staff
and sway. I am an oratorio
of skeleton, an ave of stance. I bear
by body the chamber concert of birth,
the well-worn recital of death.
It's possible then for me
to sink also, a myth of sun buried,
and to rise again on earth, a parable
spoken in stone on a canyon wall.
I could truly relent now
as if I believed bone were rock and rock
light and all boldering stars were fossils
of canyon histories, as if I knew stellar
stories were simply constellations
of the body and living blood were symphony,
all motions intergalactic, interheart,
just the same and as easy to negotiate
as the swing and pulse I might make
from one ringing refrain to the next.
2. This State of Stone
This canyon is the place for sleep,
the sleep of one watching himself
sleep, an immobile rock sleep filled
with the jumble of one's own stone
bones and the constant roaring of old
seas, a fossil tangle of sleep curled
and kept inside bright angel shale,
coconino sandstone, squeezed
among algal remnants, seed fern,
armored fish, worm burrows.
And this sleep is a familiar reading
of sleep, the descending and rising
layers of language, low violet and rose-
orange murmurs and striations, stratas
of predators and prey captured together,
the sleeping limestone cries and curses
of a million murders.
In this place one might sleep a wise
sleep, seeing with eyes opened by stone,
a sleep watching its own breaking
revelation, as looking in a mirror
one is suddenly broken in two.
If I falter, I must remember
that from this sleep engaged in the present
study of its own ancient sleeping,
one need never wake.
The Defining Point
Inside the placid heart of the snow hare,
her own direful fang exists, razor-honed
and bared. A familiar lullaby
sounds in the sudden split and slash
of the cougar's leap. And at the midnight-
center of a granite boulder, the lightest
white spider falters, floats
on a thread across noon.
Out of the pollened flume
of one cliffrose rise the untethered
wingbones of a murdering hawk, while inside
the bear's snarling head sway blue
field blossoms of morning and flax.
Settling on a crown of thistle,
a plume moth is defined by the solar
explosions of singe and sear composing
its rest. And within each falling
dash of rain on the surf, a hard
memory of drought, like a pellet
of lead, glares and ricochets.
Scrolled, secure within the last
stone turn of a conch's shell, scriptures
of war lie circling sea-locked.
Inside the thorny pit of the green bur
of the bur-reed, the breath of heavy
snow breathes on.