Coyote Lake, Somewhere beyond McDermitt

Llano Estacado.jpg

And there came a day
When I was pregnant again, carrying into the sixth month
That we went into the state of Oregon near the Nevada stateline
Looking for a Prehistoric Lake called Coyote Lake,
And why wouldn’t it be?
And we packed a lunch in a paper bag and put it in your backpack
Saltines and sardines, mustard for you, but plain for me,
Oranges and cookies with raisins and chocolate chips
And Sunny Delight for the three-year-old
And we drove the old pickup west and north
Out of Idaho beyond Murphy, and Lizard Butte
And the Snake River, up along the basalt canyon, an eagle dozing
On the updraft, then into Oregon, stopping in Jordan Valley to buy candy

Finally out into the long basins where cloud shadows magnify
The pure cool plains, winter is already come over on the Steens,
But the sun still pools silver where we are driving out on old 95,
Between nowhere and nowhere, one sad cowboy then another
on the radio long past noon and the boy is playing pat-em-and rollll-em
When we turn off to the dirt road out toward White Horse Ranch.


I wrestle down the fences and you drive through
It’s always hard to get that wire loop over the fencepost
Unless you know the trick and I’m slow these days, but I like my job,
Feeling the dust on my boots and in my nose,
Avoiding barb wire and splinters
Still a long long way out past nothing to a dry lake so we stop
For lunch at a pile of rocks and you showed us fossil slabs
All fish from when the dead lake was still immersed in an ocean dying
And we eat the King’s silver fingerlings and pour the oil out
Under the sagebrush another hour until you stop

And we are there you say see the lakebed
But I don’t until we walk out  swinging our sun between us
And there is the shore line as clear as day, it wanders
An obvious beach, the shore still showing ribbons
Where waves last lapped all white sand and salty,
alkali clean, and then the miracle
For me because all along the little coast are jewels strewn stones,
Purple ones like dusk, and rose and greenish veined siltstone,
mustard amber cherts, Obsidian, glasslike colors
And most are flakes and some are points
Someone lost Hunting in those reeds long gone

And you work I wander holding his little hand,
The last grasshoppers have a rattlesnake buzz
So I always jump but don’t teach fear,
We laugh because there is nothing to be afraid of out here but thirst

  And further on I find a grinding stone,
I, who never find anything, and unbelieving
Yell for you and then here’s another it must have been a good spot to sit
Working by the lake when the sun goes
Down slow, slowly in the long purple sky

And we sat among those jewels, jewels everywhere scattered
Like memories all part of something else that is gone but still fine
White lake, that smells of the tall, the old sagebrush,
Hundred-year-old sage not burned yet
Far enough from anything or anyone’s disturbance
And when we leave we drive on out but slow because somewhere in here
Is a quarry and you need to record it, somewhere along here,
On a hill, there it is, so you leave us, leave me
And the child at the bottom of the slope parked above a gully

And evening met us there coming up like smoke to find
That tiny new October moon and someone hears it and moves inside me
Wishing to be outside here with us as night falls in old slow stars

So we went down into the gully to pee, sliding twice our height in sand
And giggling how cold the sand is already like night
I pull down his little overalls and find a root system to water
When, just out of sight, we feel a snarl and yes, a hiss and growl
But what would growl out here in the gully shadow
For every live thing runs at the scent of man, and telling myself that,
Peer around the last bush and, beyond, backed by the high end of the draw,
A Bobcat crouching, all rage and white fur how can he stay so clean
I am all sand and without thinking
Except that he’ll have to come out this way
The bank is too high behind him I grab the boy,
Half-naked, sweet pale bottom
And I leap my six-month belly up that high wall of dirt grabbing
One twisted root to pull us up, right up, over the rim and jumping again,
(I who can’t jump) leap up into the back of the pickup yelling
Sound echoes out there, to where you are
Just picking through the quarry stones, here’s a nice chunk
And someone worked it but left it and you come running

In the end that bobcat was going nowhere
His white leg caught in a trap, rusted teeth I can’t
Bear it hurts him and I try with a stick, but cannot come near enough
He doesn’t know one enemy from another so
Scrabbling and all hisses and wet eyes and elegance we must leave
Him there in the cold sand at the end of the gully a good spot for hunting
For the hunted and the hunter who left him there to die
And the old Lake died too, died in the day behind us,
Headlights on the wire fences and out through the old gates again,
Someone’s restless beneath my heart, poor old bobcat,
was it this far to the paved road

And there’s the White Horse lights, off left
Headlights bleach the dust and white brush all frosted with light
And finally the road
We can get coffee in Jordan Valley
I am hungry

Then your hand on mine and even then I knew it
Even as it was over
What day again what day could ever be that lovely.  

Answer from the River Merchant's Wife

On Mayday Eve