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Spring/Summer 1996, Volume 13.2



Peggy Shumaker

Peggy Shumaker teaches in the M.F.A. program at the University of Alaska. Her most recent book is
Wings Moist From the Other World.


Mother Tongue

In a language recently
disappeared, god
is talking.

No one knows anymore
how long the leaves
keep silent

how deep the stones' truth
lies buried

what silent kinship glints
off blond fur
where grizzly cubs graze.

In the far times, almost everyone
could speak
with salmon, water,
clouds, stars. Every body.

Now no one sees the ocean
though it lives in every tear.

In a language lost to us
God is singing.


Walking with Married People

She takes out fast
             whooshing past dusty
                         yellow chamisa

riling up black hoppers
             till they flash red
                         and scatter. The stroke 

of red along her cheekbone
             stroke of red
                         along sandstone, stroke

of red inside her
             earth-striding thighs.
                         But he

hold on now
                         into stony arroyos

to check out
             black riversmooth

heft. Hand to hand he weighs
             necessary stones
                         tucks them

in his daypack,
             rides them
                         on his backbone

savors their solid
             countenance. You
                         go on ahead,

he grins, knowing
             exactly where this one

in the stone circle
             he's set out to please her

without beginning
             black stone
                         without end.

for Jack and Jayme
in Santa Fe 


Pantano Wash

We rode hard
our swaybacked
dreams, loosened pebbles
with hoofpicks,
sang the stickers
out of our palms, soles,
sang the bruised foot
out from between boulders,
our family heaped
like stones on our chests.

We gave to the first one
who asked
our breath—
the hiss
of yucca
pushing out
of sleek
out of the steamed
oceanbed of marrow,

the stars unfurled like fiddleheads,
our laughter the fine grain
of ironwood, streambed, eyelid,
songs our childhood
forbade us to sing
till now, till now

our tongues clacking like palo verde beans
dropping between
dry fishhooks
splayed over the barrel's
firm skin, prickly
pear nipped
by the jazz-drunk javelina
we followed,
loping bareback,

till we could hunker down
in all our shady places, 
tasting the moisture
two small stones under the tongue
returned to us.


God Gestures

The hill disappears a little
each hour.

Birch leaves
break more light every day.

Next week, promise,
fresh salmon & stories,

laughter's holy communion.
In a month,

will we recognize
the one inside us?

Before long,
stones won't mind

claiming us,
kindred particles

of matter rushing
madder inside

able with word, song
touch to offer

God gestures—

Ah, in you I feel
what will remain

when all else
body memory breath

has gone along


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