Our helmsman steers us through the river gorge.
“It’s quiet,” he tells Terry and me as we chew
huckleberry taffy, our “welcome to Idaho” gift,
though I can’t say what state we’re in right now
or if we’re on the Snake or the Clearwater.
Both waterways once taxied timber to the mills.
Men danced on rolling logs to sink hooks
into the runaways. I imagine vigorous bodies,
broken ones—woodlands filled with extremes:
silence and laughter; cruelty, song.
Ter has kin from that logging past and I want
to re-read chronicles penned by his cousin
who is often asked, “Does the whole world need
to know our business?”—as if books can outlast
the petroglyphs downriver, or the wall of basalt
on our right, columns shaped by cooling lava—
here angled, there stacked like lumber.
The rock is peach-colored today, bleached
by a 45 s.p.f. sun. Our pilot turns the motor off
as we look left towards a sheltered beach.
A dressed-up crowd faces the rock side of the river:
a group pose—their silhouetted cameraman stands
hip-deep in the current for a better shot. Or not:
he lifts from the water a white-robed figure,
arms raised. Terry’s seen it before, but for me
this is new. So’s the scissor-tail swooping skyward
for a decent view, and the mountain goat
up on the cliffs climbing at a clip to a ridge
where clumps of bunchgrass grow. It seems
the billy likes his spikelets crisp, but not too dry.
* * *
Wayne, on His Wife Coleen’s Eightieth Birthday
His ankles, his toes, announce themselves,
expose their swollen state to all
who enter this forty-foot RV
at rest in a sun-seared Arizona valley.
Pudgy, but not really. A baby’s feet
are pudgy, and this man is no babe.
What babe has viewed the Persian Gulf
from high atop a towering oil derrick?
What baby’s mind holds images of Saudi suqs
as well as fresh-turned Oklahoma clay?
What infant has wrestled alcohol to the mat
and pinned it, pinned it, pinned it?
There is nothing infantile about this solid man
except the way he takes you in, absorbs you,
gathering up your syllables, each pause,
the smallest nanogesture.
But, unlike his great-grandson
who gleefully re-discovers (every time)
the blue balloon tied to his own plump wrist,
this man brings ample life to all he sees:
he knows more than the names for things, knows
their coloring, knows that autumn foliage
in this desert comes in two hues: “Green
and dead.” And don’t let him kid you,
he catches every shade of green.
If I hadn’t seen him gazing at it first,
I might not have noticed the purpling
sky, its panoply of pinks! I accept
this gift of livid eventide and wonder
how I’d nearly missed it; take
Wayne’s quarter-smile to mean:
“It helps to face the right direction, son.”
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