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Elizabeth Dodd

09-05-08

Lyric

 

It doesn’t matter

          whether

                   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,

                   dark shapes.

 

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

 

I. RINCON

 

Box 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, they

are 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 trapped

          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 larkspur),

watch 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 clear.

                             --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 where wall

meets wall, form

an extension of content, this window,

this corner I’m

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 puny atop

one 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.

                                       Nothing again

 

And yet the Anasazi built here, knowing

the cliff was fissured, surely would fall.

It didn’t, not for centuries.  Was that their doing?

We see their careful measures: prayersticks, and a masonry wall.

 

III. PETROGLYPYPHS

 

Greasewood, four-wing saltbush,

sage, occasional cactus,

sand, footstep, dust,

brightly colored

collared lizard, beetle, skink,

rock wren, cliff, receding

shade.  This is

what we came for: reduction

to the catalogue of all we see

and 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

contoured, holding

the inverted bowls of bird nests, lichen,

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, carved

with 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 its shadow;

moves 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 enclosed

by 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

flies away.

 

Painted on the rock directly

overhead:

                   a hand, a crescent moon,

a giant star.  And if it does depict

a supernova,

 

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 has changed.

What will it mean?

 

                           -from Like Memory, Caverns