He is walking across a field of wheat
in Kansas, grain as tall as his shoulder
and as tan as his face. He is cupping his hands
to his mouth, shouting words the wind steals
and throws into the air like chaff. I need to know
what he’s said and begin chasing his voice
as it scuttles across the ground like a sheaf of newsprint.
He, too, is running, but on a slender path in Oregon
cut by the hooves of ungulates. For someone
who’s been dead nearly twenty years, he is remarkably fit,
and I can’t catch him until he stops at the bottom of the hill
where a stream washes on toward a bay. He says
the sea knows mistakes he has made. He says
the tides have told the world about them.
He points to the sky, and my eye follows
into the tops of these finely needled trees
where darkness and light marry. He asks
for a glass of water, and I realize he is laid out
on our couch downstairs, head propped on a pillow,
left arm bending like a basket to cradle his thick
mat of hair. The lamp on the end table sheds a circle
of light, and he muses about what is hidden
between the pinecone’s creased tongues. I stumble
over the Latin for lodgepole, Pinus contorta,
and tell him this tree must have fire
to release its seed. He is writing on a legal pad
in his barely legible scrawl. I make out the words
let and fire and come.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.