a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
The Rocky Mountain Juniper can live
a thousand years, and, as I swizzle
a gin and tonic at Duke’s Bar in Saratoga,
I recall the word juniper
comes from the Dutch genever, its dusky blue
berries flavoring my tongue tonight.
Staring at the dregs in the bottom
of my empty glass, I see how we humans
have a penchant
for getting drunk on nature’s tab.
For decades around here,
mines and railroads bellied up to the bar,
knocking back doubles past closing time:
molten copper soothing the smelter’s
sore throat at the Grand Encampment Mine
as the railroad lapped up miles of track
laid on the backs of ties
hacked from these mountains.
Even now, insatiable wires hum above
us as the power grid’s thirst for coal’s
carbon elixir keeps running up the bill.
I sit by Brush Creek drunk on sky and water—
the air above me the bluest Blue Curaçao,
the river a cold sting of 190 proof Everclear—
and vow to become an acolyte
in this temple of root and crevice,
a disciple of the psychotropic
lichens whose tendrils lace my sleep.
With mortar and pestle
I’ll grind a fine powder
or drizzle in my gin.
Or simply lie back and invite them in,
the lichens seeping into my pores,
their psychedelic palette
of neon yellow and green,
rusty red and gold
granting me magpie’s sharp sight
as I view the world’s shine
through an urgent eye.
I’ll end my days with a calming dose
of velvet black and smudged sage green,
slowing my pulse to match
the rhythm thrumming up
from the dirt until my heart lodges
in the rock outcropping above,
a stone sentinel swapping stories
with the wizened and gnarled juniper
who’s saved me a seat at his table
in this, the last dive bar in the universe.
Janice Northerns is the author of Some Electric Hum (Lamar University Literary Press, 2020). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals, including Ploughshares, The Laurel Review, and Southwestern American Literature. Awards include a Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts residency, a Sewanee Writers’ Conference scholarship, second place in Southwest Review’s 2017 Marr Poetry Contest, and the Robert S. Newton Creative Writing Award from Texas Tech University. A native Texan, Northerns now lives with her husband in southwest Kansas.