In a Strange Land

Rosanna Warren

Not our mountains. Beyond the Chevy junked in weeds

rise snaggletoothed peaks dimly visible through smoke.

Did we think the landscape would hold still for us?

Sagebrush, lupine, yellow balsamroot, and those small

purple trumpets of sticky geraniums. Five-petaled arnica

heals bleeding wounds. This is grizzly country.

“Use common sense,” advises the guide. And what about

those thunderheads rearing up in a celestial Taj Mahal?

Aspens quiver with D.T.’s, alders swish in a corps de ballet

but one whole mountainside is dying a brown death,

a bark beetle-fest. We came a long way

to keep our balance on this rocky ledge,

to stump along the trail trying not to look

a bighorn sheep in the eye. For ages

we’ve been learning to hold hands, but now I hold

three and a half billion years in my palm, a chunk

of fossil cyanobacteria, the cell

that first churned out oxygen and made our air. You disappear

behind a crag. Each serviceberry leaf a scarlet flame,

a fresh-struck match. Ashes waft

across from Idaho. The Pacific stuck out its foot

and kicked these mountains buckling up into the clouds

where now the cirque in its incisors clamps

the grimy, ragged tablecloth that used to be

a glacier. Tourists since the womb, we cling

to our estrangement, gaping, as the mountain maw

gags and spits one more scrap of ice

thundering into the lake, a bowl of emerald bile.

Rosanna Warren is the author of several collections of poetry, including Earthworks: Selected Poems, Ghost in a Red Hat, and Departure.
Originally published:
January 11, 2023

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