Spring 1989, Volume 6.1
ROBERT S. MIKKELSEN
in the last week of September Something toxic leached into Our city wells. All the hand guns In our hardware store Were put on sale. I responded to a plea To save the rainforests And bought all the unborn Twenty dollars worth Of air to breathe. My granddaughter, Who had not called For fifty-seven days, Sent a card To say she loved me And needed a hundred dollars For birth control. Our minister told What few of us Were there to hear That, yes, things Were really bad, But were better now Than they would Ever be again.
On the last day of September My chestnut mare and I Took the trail to Ryder Lake In the Uinta Mountains. We rode into aspens Pursued by a wind That chilled the damp Between my shoulder blades And trembled a billion Golden leaves Into living shadows That troubled my mare. We splashed across The East Fork of Bear River, Droplets rainbowing In the morning sun.
We climbed up into pines Until granite peaks began To rise above their tops. Then the wind turned around And we neighed and sang In the nearness Of high clear water.
Ours is the only species In the animal kingdom That practices retirement. All the rest get done With what they do, And simply die. Once I saw a robin Keel over mid-tug On a robust worm, Leaving no time for Any of its past worms To flash before its eyes Before it hit the grass. An old mountain ram, Clearly a bound or two Slower than he used to be, Was seen by a hunting guide To miss a ledge where Willing ewes stood waiting. His superannuation lasted Less than a thousand feet. Cameras have often shown us Caribou too old To stay with the herd. In minutes they are circled By merciful jaws. And the sea lion seems content To swim its last stroke And sink, never Treading water just To hold a shore in sight.
The last days of the elephant Should be our parable. When it begins to die, It makes its way alone To a graveyard of its fellows. It may pause a time or two To search through foliage For a parting taste Of succulence, And even take a last wallow In familiar mud. But lingering never Occupies it long. It trumpets when it scents Ahead the place Where it will Pay in bones The debt it always owed. The debt our bones Are mortgaged for.