Ashes and Omens
Across the valley, rain sheets down
the mountainside, a stinging gale
that disperses to a double-rainbow.
One arc fades into clouds; the other curves
a brilliant spectrum into the plain. The mother calls
her dead son three times. She snaps her camera,
hoping to capture him in the frame of a photo;
his name echoes across the valley.
Slowly the rainbows fade, sun slips away, and
the sky fills with bats; she returns
to where the hawk screeches,
rips off threads of flesh, tips its beak up,
guzzles the tissue down. Now the mother paces
back to stare at the cacti, black and flat,
rimming the horizon. In sunset orange
they raise their thorny limbs;
she lowers her camera, listens to the hawk’s distant cry.
The mother throws clouds of ash into the canyon.
Sisters, in-laws, friends cast handfuls which drift
down to their feet, powder of dust and bone
settling on the leaves of the mountain laurel.
Everyone thinks the same thought, though none
can voice it—how many people
would be enough to liberate the dead? To save
the rest from the suffocation of living on?
Some things never end: energy, looped chords of music,
hammered bruises aching inside the cradle where
her son once twined his grasping hands.
The bereaved sit still, watch the slow ark dip beyond
the horizon, wonder why the sun does not stop rising.
Imagine grief is a red-shouldered kestrel
whirling sharp-eyed above joy’s stutter-
flight, and that joy is a migration
of green darner dragonflies,
wide-spaced illusion of swarm,
a cloud that flusters into flapping
fragments when the raptor plummets
so that once more you can see
but a smudged horizon line, distant, empty.