Back 40: Late November on the Marias


The trail is gullied and too steep to drive,
the river trimmed with a half-frozen shelf.
Geese collect in afternoon light, and sun
streaks against the abandoned ranch house
on the other bank. Our dog goes too far
and we call her back, discuss the toppled
cottonwood, an eagle nest in its former
highest branches. I point out a tipi ring,
explain how our forebears mined coal
somewhere near, but records were never kept.

Geese rise into flight, and the sun’s absence
shadows us. We return to the road
we were afraid to drive down, the dog
a mass of burrs and thistle. Midway we see
the sun descending to half an orb,
the moon, opposite, already risen, and
lichened rock all around. We are wind-stalled,
the center of this trail above and below,
fire spreading then receding in the west,
its echo ringing through the eastern sky.

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