It doesn’t matter
a tree falls
or doesn’t on this hillside.
I am here
in this buoyant silence
lifting from snow cover.
There is no story to tell
about cause and effect,
no one to pull
the stiff sheet of grammar
over a scattered pattern
of bark and branches
broken on the snow.
I turn sideways
and the wind slips among us,
so many vertical,
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Canyon: on the map,
a finger branching
from the eastern side of Chaco,
contour markings on the inner edge
like cilia. Caught in ink-on-paper stasis,
poised at the verge
of motion, ready, I think,
to stroke and keep
the lives within the canyon walls.
Just ahead, at the rincon’s eastern tip, a lip
of stone holds ready
for runoff, washed
and glossed by water, waiting always
for another rain.
As a child one summer, in Maine,
I leaned above a tidepool, watched
the miniature fish and shellfish
there, unaware, it seemed
of their captivity. I stood
on the kelp-slick rocks,
the seaweed beneath me matted and tangled,
while, in the water, each plant danced.
If somehow I
could scale these cliff walls, stand
above the canyon’s rim, look down
and count the quick
lives (broad-tailed hummingbird, many-
lined skink, harvest mouse)
and the rooted (cliff
rose, Indian paintbrush, yellow
them all sustained by each one’s presence,
how would my shadow look below?
Like a patch of shade cast by the rock?
The first hint of a cloud bank moving in?
Or like a hole punched in the protective sky?
II. THREATENING ROCK
Pueblo Bonito represents
the highest development of
Anasazi architecture. The huge, broken stones are what
remain of Threatening Rock,
a vertical slab of rock which
once stood separated from the cliff behind the pueblo by a
wide crack. The people
used posts, mud, and stone
masonry in an attempt to shore up the rock, and placed
behind it prayersticks— peeled and
carved willow wands
painted and decorated with feathers. Why they built so
close to such potential danger is not
--National Park Service Brochure
The Navaho called it, “place
where the cliff is propped up.”
Pueblo Bonito, pretty village,
a curved rear wall of stone veneer,
a double plaza, kivas,
doorways and rafters
and plaster—some left, centuries after—
On the morning of the winter solstice
the sun enters this window, strikes
exactly the opposite corner
an extension of content, this
touching, this moment
while earth hurtles its own course through time.
1941, a cold January day (the month looking forward
and back), at last the great cleft of cliff
came down. Today, standing
chunk of fallen rock, sun
overhead pooling my shadow
at my feet, a puddle or mirage, I feel
I could disappear here,
sink into the earth, nothing
but minerals and water (form is
never more than—)
and nothing would alter.
Silence. Not the boum of Malabar Caves, Caves,
not, just now, even wind.
And yet the Anasazi built here, knowing
the cliff was fissured, surely
didn’t, not for centuries. Was that their doing?
We see their careful measures: prayersticks, and a masonry
Greasewood, four-wing saltbush,
sage, occasional cactus,
sand, footstep, dust,
collared lizard, beetle, skink,
rock wren, cliff, receding
shade. This is
what we came for: reduction
to the catalogue of all we
carry, rhythm of walking, water,
map, sunlight, edge
of shadow, not-me, me,
the car left solitary in the trailhead’s gravel lot.
At six the daylight pulled us
from our tent, and now we follow
those old wagon ruts, cliff swallows darting
overhead, wind touching
cottonwoods along the wash.
The red cliffs lift against the sunlight, infinitely
the inverted bowls of bird
and pictures pecked into rock.
Angular figures, familiar
from postcard photographs:
a man, a woman bearing children,
a mountain sheep, a snake, a spiral.
But what stops me longer
is more recent: one panel, shoulder-height,
names and dates, 1903, 1911, and,
in almost flowing, careful script,
Jean, I cannot get no feed.
I cannot wait for you.
Was Jean a wife? A lover?
What next, when she had come this far?
And here the trail leaves
the cliff’s edge, and
through the day’s heat
across the arroyo,
to the canyon’s other wall, West Mesa.
This is the center of the world,
the canyon’s expanse
cliffs, the horizon encircling all
there is, and we
are here, alive.
Above our heads, the ubiquitous
swallows carry insects to their nested
young, as they have
forever, and the nestlings call insistently
for food, falling silent only when the parent
Painted on the rock directly
a hand, a crescent moon,
a giant star. And if it does depict
imagine the artist, in 1054, choosing this
location—sheltered from weather, smooth—
balancing atop a wooden ladder, working
to show us
This great star appeared
with the crescent moon, bright enough
to shine in daylight.
Something in the world
What will it mean?
Like Memory, Caverns