Dead Horse Point

by P. G. Karamesines

The weedy clouds of spring
Grow on the peaks, break off, then drift
In tall gardens over sandstone blue
With the bruise of squalls.   I stand
Two thousand feet above the coils
Of a river that has burnt its way,
Leaving behind the red stubble
Of the canyons.   Buds of lightning
Burst and wither at once;
The air is rutted with breezes;
Stones lie where they fell cracking
At the roots of cliffs.   The land
Twists through bands of light,
Like a juniper through soils, at the sun,
And if my blood did not burn, like the river,
The clays of its country, I would see
The horizon ripple with growth.
Here I am only slightly longer-lived
Than the lightning; I may not last
The next stone’s throwing.

Now is May, and winter hangs ripe
And white on peaks just east
Of these cliffs.   On canyon floors,
Thin blossoms grown through drifts
Of sunlight freckle the sands;
Yucca sends up its stalk.
I myself am midsummer, sun is liege,
And fruit halfway down-branch
To the ground.   The moon on her tether
Keeps large on the horizon; unwashed stars
Spread thick and flagrant across meadows
Of crescent and dwindling times.

It seems to me in my half-summer,
Two thousand feet above the river,
Years below the stars, and all
But one sense out of the range of snow,
There have been mistakes: the cut seasons
Of childhood and time drawn from the pulse
Marking wilderness with one worn path
Of mortality.   Some effect of desert
Makes it seem a range of times
Inhabits distance, much as light
Skidding through water sets down tracks
Of fast and slow colors.   Or if time
Is relative, it is irrelevant,
Or all the same, or a figure men use
In the garden marketplace,
Like inch or ounce.   Or confluence €”
Then longevity is not measure of things
Outlived, but how the soul
Winds deep in the braid, like,
Two thousand feet below, the river.

Through intervals between storms
Light sweeps peregrine upon the sandstones €”
Navajo, Windgate, Kayenta €”
Old eras made flesh and dwelt among
By generations of four tribes of wind.
Lightning crumples as it’s born,
Wearing rangy and white paths
Through rain-bearing clouds.   Two ravens
Rise bickering on a draft.   Beside me,
An unbloomed cliffrose whistles
As a gust out of the tempests tangles
On a black branch.   The wet tick of rain
Flecks my skin; shadow falls;
The river bears down; the stones ascend.

4 thoughts on “Dead Horse Point”

  1. greenfrog’s Miltonic question at the end of his comment on this post (link in “this”) reminded me of this poem. I wrote it a long time ago–I am no longer “midsummer.” Nevertheless, the poem’s about time and timelessness and rises in response.

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  2. .

    I’m curious how much of this has been built up and how much is newly creative. Because you seem enormously productive from where I stand. This one is old you say, but they all aren’t old. What’s the breakdown would you say?

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  3. Th.

    Do you mean over the last couple weeks?

    I started Field Notes #6 a few weeks back (I wrote down the bare bones on June 3, as it says) but because of its complicated subject let it sit ’til last week, when I picked it up again. It’s above-average polished for my Field Notes but I couldn’t think of a title so left it as was.

    Dead Horse Point is about twenty-three years old (much younger than you?). I began it just before I went down to the U of A to start my doctorate work (never finished).

    There’s a funny story attached to that poem. The U of A has a big creative writing department with its own program. Back then, that program involved very little formal training in literature and criticism. I entered the literature program at the U of A rather than the creative writing program because I wanted the more formal training. But I wanted guidance for my poetry, too. So I went to my advisor, who sent me to the head of the creative writing program. The moment that woman found out I was in the lit program, she launched into a lecture about how if I was in the lit program I couldn’t possibly be serious about my writing, etc., etc. This woman went on for about half an hour telling me I wasn’t a writer. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

    That year, I entered “Dead Horse Point” into the university’s big poetry competition. It took second place. The lit students went wild. It turned out the creative writing people had been dissing the lit students, many of whom wrote. Having a lit student place in a contest usually dominated by the creative writing bunch was a big coup for the lit students.

    Field Notes #7 I’ve been feverishly writing over the last two days from notes taken last Saturday, when the experience occurred.

    But yes. I’m riding a language surge. Haven’t had one of those for a long, long time.

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