Out of all the dumpsters that could have been
empty, all the weather that could have bloomed
over the prairie and ruined me, all the cars
that could have sped by without hesitating and left me
on the fog-line nameless forever. The trains
that could have taken my legs. The hobos
that could have pulled a switchblade and opened me
like a flood enfolding the red North Dakota clay.
Out of all the hazards we pass through
in amazement, all the stories we tell of luck
and good fortune and prayer and survival, it is always
our own lungs that dry up and darken,
our own miles that straighten, our own hunger
that wanes. The Lord gives us mountains
and we fail to mine out that grandness.
The Lord gives us trains and we waste those distances
transporting coal. Some say we are broken,
some say the Good Lord has forsaken our dreams,
but I say it is our own throat that grows
the cancer, our own asthma that blackens our breath
to a wheeze. And the truth is, the mile-long train
will always crawl past. The socket-fixed gaze
of the owl’s skull will always turn perfectly
backwards. We will always be bodies among ghosts.
And what is important to them is not how we ride
on the westbound freighter, not how we shiver,
not how we crawl crooked and thin
and climb yet again into the trembling eye-hole.
It is not about suffering. It is not about fear.
We must peer out from inside the owl’s eye.
Watch the coal dust cook in the wind eddies.
Watch it linger. Watch it spiral thinly as it bruises
the blue-faded mind of the buffalo sky.
We must be the pupil that swells in the coming darkness.
The cargo worth carrying across the distances.