Up Yankee Fork

Up Yankee Fork       

I

First the eye drawn in among heavy grasses
under failing light to a plot of land
enclosed by a picket fence.

Four feet back,
half hidden under pine duff,
her grave lies unattended
between those of an unnamed child
and the husband who preceded her
by more than thirty years.

“Eldon Amundsen  1874 - 1897,”
his tombstone says.  She died in 1930. 
More than that I cannot read
without disturbing
the needles that have fallen
on her rain-beaten, flat gray stone.

       Night settles in with a slow,
       solid chill.  A small stream dances
       beside me, swollen with recent snowmelt. 
       Five elk in a nearby meadow
       stand close among heavy shadows
       at the forest edge.

        II

Who are you, wife of Eldon
Amundsen?  With the toe
of my boot, I could brush away
the untouched veil of years
and read your name, but I think
that would tell me little
except for a time you were Ola
or Katja or Evelyn Amundsen.

       And what before that?
       And what before that?

Above the song of water over stone
you heard a frightened child
among the willows

at the edge of all you knew. 
She called out bend
and follow, bend and follow
and you did.

Alone, you watched
the gathering
of light within a bowl
until you learned
the down turned gaze in silence
modesty calls shame
and virtue calls defiance
is only one of many ways
of settling the heart.

       Moon-sliver, crescent aglow
       on the black April sky,
       more fleeting and distant
       than raindrops, the mountains
       themselves are falling
       and even their names
       cannot save them.

        III

A few miles north of here,
men have drilled holes
in the canyon walls
with hammers and chisels.  Your husband
was one.  He was looking for gold.

Below him the river was thick
with returning Chinook.

In the end, we float forever
through the space within the silence
of a dream we cannot claim.

       And what we cannot take
       by force of hand or grasp of reason
       we learn to leave like moonlight
       in the mountains where we sleep.

 

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