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.