as my flashlight chased it through sage scrub
away from the tent where your mother slept,
hands laid to the rise of belly-skin over your head.
All day we’d searched canyons for Anasazi handprints
the color of dried blood, finding just one spiral
pecked into slickrock above a moss-stuffed crack—
meaning a spring had risen there centuries ago,
vanishing with the old ones in the same wind
that blew thirst down my throat. We headed back
by a higher trail rimming the horseshoe canyons—
each bend steeper, slicker. Finally, one stretch tilted
off an eight-foot cliff. No handhold, no ranger near,
too little light to turn back. Sweaty palms, parched throat:
on fingertips and the left edge of each boot I scuttled over,
then turned to watch her start across with you. All I knew
of you was a swelling, a heartbeat fast as a hummingbird.
I was asking myself—If she falls, will I jump?
—when she began sliding toward, then away from me
and as I grabbed out she kicked a spray of gravel over
the edge and came into my arms, sweating, shaking,
spent—like the moment we made you. Slickrock
and wind-scour: nothing else saw us survive.
We slumped down to shiver it off before beginning
the giddy downgrade to the safety of sage flats.
Then you started somersaulting, translating our adrenal
fear into a kind of dance. She pressed my hand down
to feel your plunging head and feet. My red palm-print
faded from the wall of skin between us. How far we’d
in the Utah desert, how close to death we’d come,for me
to find the one vanishing handprint that mattered.
That night I massaged the skin you floated in, wedged up
behind pelvic moss and bone, while moonrise illuminated
the skin of the tent over us. I saw then all I believe
you were seeing inside her in the full desert sun:
the next world’s light, faint, diffuse, placental,
that readies us to emerge open-eyed into whatever body
and place has been made for us by love, and love’s
In canyons where water the old ones drank had vanished
under spiral carving, you were the spring our thirst
had conceived. You were our prayer not to die. It was then
the tent wall was touched by a faint flowing sound,
and I crawled out and shined the light on the sidewinder,
shaping what would be the first letter of your first name.