Near Williston, North Dakota
Oil rises from cracked earth
& men wipe down pick-ups daily, roll out
& back again, slicked in grease & country,
rolling wrapping papers.
In the back alley an old porch
turns its back on the sun,
setting auburn. Upwards
toward slaking shingles
a girl watches the light slink across the fields
as the moon rises
over the constellations of oil towers
& reaches into her room
with cool fingers.
Her dad said the towers would be her bedtime story
so she leans out toward them, counting flares
like Morse code, like a lonely operator
tapping out messages to the other side.
She leans & leans until
a dozen moths come
to perch on her mouth—
moths she inhales like darkness,
their velvety wings rustling at the back of her throat.
“According to biologist E. O. Wilson we are in the midst of one of the greatest extinction spasms of geologic history. Even using the most cautious parameters, he estimates that the number of species doomed each year is twenty-seven thousand; each day is seventy-four, and each hour is three.”
-Alison Hawthorne Deming, 1998
The problem is it doesn't look like dying. Half moon
joined to all that unconscious blue.
I dream again of waterways, grey surfaces pearled in precarious light.
Twenty-seven years ago I came to
in month of lilacs, slip-ons, last rain. After the Fourth
we could count on the dry season, and being called in
to weigh berries on the farm. Now, Virginia
an open throat in May. I sit in the shade of a brick
building that holds Whitman’s letters. Tonight I’ll teach
that twenty years ago we knew this death
rolling like a barrel down a hill.
I’ll unlatch Jefferson’s windows and let the first cicadas in.
What’s left feels like all there is—and so much, so much!
Is it wrong I expand somehow? We walk out
into thick air, this town of shadowed woodwork,
cigarette glow, train tracks, their backpacks bouncing
toward numbered streets.