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A Trip Through the West

ISSUE:  Winter 1991

Riding out from Coeur d’Alene,
we see the Tetons for hours
before we get there, aspen
and coneflower streams—

“There’s Mount Moran,” Daddy says,
pointing his cigarette.
Jackson Lake is skim milk blue.
“Seen one mountain, seen ‘em all.”

That’s Moony whose lipstick
smells like clay, gathered in little nodes
of red at the corners of her mouth.
Today, she’s immense.
She’s got me and my sister squished against the car
armrest digging in my hip bone,
my nickels stashed in the cigarette tray,
but I never read “IN GOD WE TRUST”
because you can’t say “God”—it’s swearing.

Along the sagebrush of the Cathedral Group
the car’s shadow
sags and bulges with Moony’s weight.
An eagle drops measuredly down the peaks.
No one watches—not Moony, anyway, daubing
at her eyes. “This dirt!” she says.

Out the window, soil is rippling,
bursting up—a dust devil.
Barely room to turn, I look back—
there’s a whirlwind stained yellow,
a crack in the world.

We get sick of imagining her—
“Get out, Moony!” we push—
and she goes like squeezed gel,
bobbles with tumbleweeds.
The car runs lighter—a silver Lancer jumping
mirage pools all the way to Mammoth.


Obscure relatives.
After dinner.
I’ve eaten so much I know I’ll die.
No lamps turned up yet.
Cream-colored roses float
the evening silt, struggling through
forty years of fading, wallpaper
that hangs by faith. I sit on the couch,
plum pudding bouncing like frogs in my stomach.
At my feet are the marble houses I built from poker chips.
Ely, Nevada. Where the Mormon missionaries
get suckered into cards every Wednesday.

On the piano stand
there’s a picture of Ed Ames—
ten-cent sheet music
I play on the same key
because I can’t read the notes.
In the glass-fronted bookcase
a map of Italian East Africa, a dictionary
of famous last words, histories
of the Occident and Orient—Tamerlane on a color plate,
spandreled arch at Islamabad.
I don’t know what floats here—gift perfume, cedar.

My cousin’s name is Owl.
That how you’d catch him—rumpling his barred feathers,
lonely, evil and innocent in the spruce camp he’d let you
calling “Owl!”
“His name’s Al—A-L,” my mother says when we get home.

Cattle lean into the fence, tags in their ears—
Milky Way, Jax, Chris. Humboldt County, California—
grass sweeps down to the surf,
black-shouldered kites hovering for mice in the driftwood.
A cow’s breath warms my hand,
her muzzle, black-spotted, haired lightly—
rubs the wire. What have they come for, since they won’t
be petted, won’t take grass?


Twelve years ago, at a packing plant
for a high-school field trip, I saw
a steer shot in the head—
behind the ear’s how it’s done—
and I remember the tail, severed,
twitching on the butcher’s floor.

In fourth grade, we dissected a calf’s eye.
The lens, coin-sized, slid on newspaper
like a mercury drop.

Yet here’s a dairy cow
named Milky Way—
fur rumpled against the nap,
breath steaming, eyes blue-rimmed.
Cones fall from the trees, the wood margin—
needles green and burgundy,
orchids in the warm humus, cattle shifting to be close.


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