Spring 1991, 8.1


Outreaching the Wild

for James Dickey

Through squawbush and cheatgrass
my older brother and I
traced the spine of the promontory
into aspen leaves
clapping softly off and on
the washing light
of the moon.
Ahead in a shading down
lay rumored
burial grounds
of the Shoshone.
Off the far end
in a shining glade,
motion shifted itself out of sight
on the dim breath of the night
like something parting from the dark
half-way into light.
Our feet rooted
in the felt presence
of another,
we thought could never return
except by our
willed desire
to know.
There, uprisen in the full moon
he stood before us, kilted,
his face feathered into shadows,
his shoulders shining
in the naked strength
of tradition.
In a kindred tongue,
like the warbling voice
of earth spring,
his passion utterly strained
through the open sky he spoke:
of wanderings gatherings
of growth curving over to decay
back again into free forms
of green and hide
of the forefathered honor of seed
bulb stem fruit
of rodent and snake
of essential stone ground
to pestles and manos
of vital grains crushed
for sinew and power.
We passed into the circle of his mind: saw, felt, believed.
Ceremoniously he stooped
to clutch up the ashes
of his past and fling them over
a tumbling chant
of Shoshone vowels,
and on the broad wings
of the horned owl
he took flight across the pale
face of the moon.
In the constraining void
we held still,
our bones waiting
for the shock of rebirth.
It came,
and youthful valor
sustained the night in us
to turn
to shape by fire
in the quick dying embers,
our keepsaking
of the wilderness:
remembered, shared, handed down,
to fold under us in sleep
the pulsing
vein of the earth.