reach for the flashlight
4 a. m. darkness like an animal crouched
my fear spills out the front door
with the pale beam
wind from the death-season stirred up
is the lion down on the path
where I saw him last week
waiting in April for the red colt
who sleeps in the grass at noon?
the sound has a hunger
what is it?
the licking of a gaskin sheathed in ice?
a chestnut throat strangling?
the horses are circling circling
hooves thrum on the blossoms
the white blooms from the night sky
grey geese cry overhead going home
the cougar pads his soft retreat
snow whispers to the blind ground
I climb where snows and winds and stones collide
in alpine oceans racing seaward, swells
of August blossoms shining on a tide
that cry their way to breath, the bones and shells
of ice-age in their roots, their mirror leaves
that blind me when I try to give them name.
I wade through woods, the wild tangle grieves
for the ancient embryos of life I claim
striding the trail's heart, and where I pause
more wounds than I can count fall to the stream
and in that swimming darkness feel the jaws
of light reach down and close upon the scream.
I hold as still as bedrock. I suspend
my elements within the water's bend.
I have lost my voice in this glacial country.
My words can't bear the crush
the sad-eyed ravens gathering
where hunters left some ragged meat,
the whitetails shivering in the darkening woods
with summer's young.
I go into the frozen dusk
with grain for the deer, small comfort.
My huskies curl in straw,
some beds now empty.
Past that a few geldings stir in their stalls
Pastures fade where horses grazed,
where horses died on the blazing green,
with crippled dogs,
one ancient cat.
Burn-piles flare up in the twilight wind,
graves all around,
my grief still hammering the ground
for one last glimpse of silver mane
or amber eye.
But the snow falls,
the snow falls
drowning the eager sparks,
the glowing coal-bed core
that would be fire.
There is something in the meadow
sundown red against the snow.
It could be a mule deer cut off
from the herd
or that young mare of Tylers that broke
from his pack string last summer
when the grass was hock-deep green
and the nights balmy.
I go out and open the barn door.
There's a little hay left.
My horses are all gone
to winter pasture farther south.
I have stayed too long at the end of a lane
that never gets plowed
and now this early storm
has obliterated even the way
to walk out.
I wait in the twilight
with the rifle over my lap
and wonder if I can do it.
I haven't eaten for five days.
There's plenty of firewood and water
but the loneliness is worse than the
Maybe I'll just keep the thing company
in the lovely sweet straw.
I have taken deliberate steps
through icy air
to get here.
The cabin seems years away.
The animal comes closer.
I can almost feel his breath
through the cracks in the old wood
Our footfalls merge
on the trail to a warm death.