I don’t know how to distinguish flowers
by their sweetness
save by following the bee.
In a field overflowing
with flowers, the Indian paintbrush
grows in shades of scarlet, purple,
pink, and cream, and I follow
the bee to the sweet spot:
the cream-tipped stalks,
and where the bee sucks,
there suck I.
In the tent, chaotic dreams emerge,
like pikas darting from their den.
Was that an airplane flying overhead,
or traffic? I hear a crash. “He’s dead,”
someone cries. Car doors slam.
Feet scurry down the slope
from the isolated highway.
Flashlights shine, illuminating the walls of the tent.
“Wake up! Wake up!” the voices cry.
“Can we borrow your phone?
We need to report an accident.”
I know we’ve left phones behind in a locked car.
No service here in Colorado’s San Juan Wilderness,
and the nearest road
is more than 8 miles
from our tent site.
In my dream, I ask my husband
for his phone. I shake his arm.
His eyes open, and I ask:
“Are you okay?
Did you hear anything?
Roused from my dream, awakened from our sleep,
we shed sleeping bags, like cocoons.
We unzip the tent, then step out.
Stars shimmer across the meadow-—
Second Meadow—-as it arches its sinuous back
for two miles alongside Elk Creek Trail.
The stars are luminous and thick
as fireflies from my childhood.
Soon, it’s back to the tent.
We zip closed the screen behind us,
but the moon’s reflected light
penetrates the opaque fabric
of our tent, thin sail hoisted on a meadow,
like shining from shook foil.
I knew a lady who sat outside
a mut hut concession, opposite
a marsh where breezes blew
palm fragrance in her face,
to wait for alms. She leaned
against a neem shade tree
whose roots exhausted soil.
I think she kept a garden of her own,
although her fingers may have been
misshaped for tilling earth.
At any rate, she needed change
for pharmacy antibiotics;
passing on my way to church,
I’d drop coins into her hands.
I remember Sunday mornings
spent in a baobab’s shade,
clapping and signing of converts,
a young man telling gospel,
but most of all, a leper-lady
whose fingers curled with leprosy
like soft peeled bark. Her
fingers could not feel my hand
or anything that came their way.
I wish I had the healing gift.
All I could do was spare pennies
for those outstretched hands,
roses where no thorns are.
After 15 months’ hibernation, the tents
put up sail again—quietly at first. Then,
with weekend’s arrival, wayfarers’ feet
stir up dust on the disused path.
Chromatic colors of sneakers, strollers,
scarves, and baseball caps circulate
around flea market stalls. Even chihuahuas
appear, resting in the arms of their humans,
and a young child balances a piglet
in his arms as he examines handmade beaded jewelry.
We fist bump. We shake hands. And the conversation
is all: “You made it! You’re here!”
The smell of roast mutton and roast corn
wafts between stalls selling acrylic paintings,
gospel CDs, silver, turquoise, herbal remedies,
flour sack aprons, T-shirts, mugs, fossils, rocks.
At one stall a woman displays a loom
with her half-finished rug, reminding us,
perhaps, that the work is done, yet undone.
A stack of baby quilts is testament, not only
to long hours at home under lockdown,
but testament to hope.
At the Gallup Flea Market, the old blends seamlessly with the new:
the handwashing station, the newly built stage for country bands.
I buy baby quilts for two friends and leave before the dance,
but by day’s end, I scroll through photos of couples, dancing,
their eyes disclosing hope, the crinkles of their eyes, smiling.
The blue heron lives a solitary life,
or so it seems, perched on shore,
peering at its reflection,
like a chess piece pondering checkmate.
Then, in one swift
movement, swoops, lifts,
toward the wood,
only by the cry
of hungry beaks.
On the steppingstones that cross the creek
your boot left tracks thin as cat whiskers.
“Leave no trace,” they say.
And though, one day, we will leave no trace,
for now, we pack out trash
and secure our gear on limbs
sturdy as the saplings
the beavers gnaw for their lodge.
One day we will leave no trace,
but even so I like to believe
we will leave behind
something of who we were,
something of who
we hoped to be.
A flower’s a labyrinth
a log for a beaver.
A riverbed’s home
for the snowmelt.
The belled flower,
a beacon for the hummingbird—
who jostles among
but never visits for long,
who sips while suspended,
a flurry of wings,
who resists capture
even by photograph—