Tuesday, May 06, 2008

De Las Montañas Sandias
for Rachel Hadas

Let me tell you about getting lost
on the Embudo Canyon Trail—
the first time I walked up into the Sandia
mountains at sunrise I had taken
two handfuls of brown insubstantial
dust from the road behind me
to rub between my hands. All I had
was a couple cans of cola, a compass,
a lighter and a pack of Chesterfields.
I had climbed all the way to the first
plateau, 7000 feet looking over
the Elena Gallegos Land Grant,
so that I could pray to my god
for deliverance, for some way out of love
that would leave me alone in the piñon
hills for a while. That afternoon I crept
along each switchback until the desert
turned to Ponderosa forest. I thought of
a diamondback rattlesnake waiting
where the woods turned—what little
water there was, singing in the granite stream,
as I killed my death with a heavy stone
I plucked from the trail, then etched
my name in a dry rocky
meadow with a black branch.
There I was, heaving.

One time I walked
until the trail ended. From where I was standing
I could just see the sheer rock face where two climbers
were testing lines, a thousand feet above me.
It was Albuquerque—dry, still air,
small campgrounds in the Sandia foothills
made from native granite, rock shelters
where we could drink and cook
all night, talking of the stars, speaking
in whispers when the small animals around us
arose to live their lives under the brilliant moon.
Last night I dreamt I read your poem
under the insufficient starlight of southwestern Ohio.
Where I am now Dunbar’s ghost lingers
in the soft afternoon—there is a tenderness
out here, to the rolling hills and thick stands
of white oak that could not exist
in the hot desert places I once called home.
Is it me or my heart that cannot stand
the way you’ve sketched-out my sad, dirty
town as a place for your pale rebirth?
I might as well be in Columbus, waiting
for the bus to take me home. I have been spared
the full-blown horror of schizophrenia,
the voices and disconnections hanging
like loose threads in my old Navajo blanket—
when I left Albuquerque I kept a locket of hair,
a gift my first lover cut for me ages ago.
One night I burned it under an oak tree—
I’d started the fire with a pile of dry white
clover flowers I picked in my yard.
So goes the procession of the Lord into the night sky.
It was the city as seen from the woods, the city
inverted like a bright mirror in the night.
You see, when I was young I’d climb
all day just to seek the cracked mountain’s
secrets, the dry passages, the thick scrub oak
that told me I was near the top of the range,
able to see the volcanic peak guarding
one edge of the Navajo Nation. The air was thin,
I could feel my heart for the first time pushing against my chest.

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