a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
from the mountain pass horse thieves
drove herds through to graze
at the headwaters of the Minam—
a cloudy violet quartz
polished by a river the cobble is
the sole evidence of, the time before
people fell into this world,
and that mountain ridge
lay at the western shore of a continent.
Climbing there again today,
we followed a set of wolf tracks
in the snow above Squaw Creek,
brooded on broken forests and what
if anything, those trees remembered of her—
whose name, what tribe, which languages,
how many Julys gathered in her,
and how long ago?—before violence
befell her and maps slurred
another woman and the place she lived.
The air so still in their battered stubs
we could guess which few
ponderosas and firs alive now
were young then, the creek resounding
in their creviced bark—the lyric
water sings even now in the cold,
splashing over every cobble in its bed
the same for us as for her. The mountain
gleamed, the sun warmed our backs
and we shared our meal in the meadow.
After so many years, that cobble
seemed to glow in its room
tonight among the orchids, a message
passed along tangled networks
branching to their thinnest mesh.
It’s the day my father dies
for the past fifty-nine and today
for once, I hadn’t thought about it—
a breeze stirred the mountainside first,
then came the strong scent of cous,
whose flower they say
smells like parsley
though it’s gamier than that
and musky, a signal
that means the salmon are returning
and it’s time to roast spring’s first foods.
The pregnant doe glanced at us
and for once didn’t flee,
but bowed her face
and went on browsing boxwood.
The younger antelope in the herd
along Booth Lane
at the middle of the valley
slowed to let the oldest lead,
stiff and thicker-bodied
than the lithe yearlings at his heels,
but still fast enough at a gallop to distance me.
A crowd gathered
at the crossroads in Cove.
A mother and her daughter
lay side by side on display in the bed
of a black Ford pick-up—
two mountain lions
and the man who shot them,
re-telling the hero’s tale
we know so well—
only then I recalled what day it is.
Whenever they see us now
risen from the heat of our bed,
not as Ishtar and Tammuz
but as ourselves—old and naked
and not just a little crazy with pain—
the boxelders start to dance outside of Owl House
and we look at them looking back at us,
wondering, what are the words for this,
what do tender engines of photosynthesis see?
The mountain lions answered
coughing up their lungs, mouths
and throats smeared with blood,
crusted with slime. Somebody is always
threatening to leave,
as if to give any of it away now,
we’d have to give it all.
David Axelrod’s second collection of nonfiction, The Eclipse I Call Father: Essays on Absence was published by Oregon State University Press in the spring of 2019. His eighth collection of poems, The Open Hand, appeared recently from Lost Horse Press. Axelrod wrote the introduction, “My Interests Are People,” for About People: Photographs by Gert Berliner, which appeared in the summer of 2018 from Arts End Books. Axelrod directs the low residency MFA and Wilderness, Ecology, and Community program at Eastern Oregon University. In addition, he edits basalt: a journal of fine & literary arts, and serves on the editorial board of Lynx House Press.