We lived inside a cloud called Mendocino,
walked fog-soaked meadows smelling the gray sea.
The only blue was your amazing eyes.
Mary says I make people laugh
and smile and be happy.
“I never saw a hitchhiker
that didn’t at least smile
sometimes when you talk,”
“like the time that poet
selling his book at a table
looked at your sweatshirt
and asked you,
how do you say
The south edge of Yellowstone,
nowhere near the famous scenes,
Mary, her sister Ginny, and I,
even though it’s late afternoon,
stop at every bit of beauty,
a small waterfall, a small canyon,
a broad flat grassy valley
with a shallow meandering stream,
a clear hot pool, another stream,
and Isa Lake, a water lily pond
perched on the continental divide,
two outlets spilling toward two oceans.
He stands in orange-and-green grass
made brilliant by afternoon light,
scraping his antlers on a rock
to tear the last shreds of velvet.
With stomach trembling in quick breaths
as his phallus slaps against it,
he lifts his head to sniff the air
and watch the surrounding spruce.
Between charges abruptly
cut short by sharp turns, he pauses
to call with flutelike phrases:
he listens, but hears no response.
A dull slap of hooves is broken
by grunts as he swings his head,
striking the meadow with his antlers
until his legs are spattered with mud.
Half a mile away and down,
a river cuts through bluegreen meadows
in the trough of a glaciated valley.
One more hairpin curve puts it out of sight,
but still the summit is nowhere near.
There’s snow, first inches, then feet.
I park my van at the pass to look around.
No granite glories loom against the sky.
A broad plateau slopes toward Yellowstone.
I breathe the crisp alpine air,
look down at lakes set in naked rock,
and wonder what a grasshopper’s doing up here.
Lovely Mary and her sister Ginny
were visiting their Idaho grandparents,
people who Mary thought couldn’t handle
her being close to a man who looks like me.
Near the Yellowstone entrance few people used,
over Bear Tooth Pass to granite meadows,
I parked my Chevy van for a few days
on a gravel spur by Little Bear Lake.
In daylight I explored the landscape,
took photographs of boulders and spruce trees,
watched speeding rainbow trout in Little Bear Creek.
At night I tried to write poems describing
sulfurous hot springs, mud pots, and geysers,
the steep hairpin climb to Bear Tooth snow.
I would stay here forever
but the days are getting short.
Green mountain meadows
need their coat of snow.
Mary said maybe the catfish
were at the bottom or on the far side.
We walked around, looking for
small dark shapes with bristles.
A man standing on the boulders
threw grapes into the water,
said he should get out his fishing pole.
His wife said, “No.”
Mary and I threw breadcrumbs
at the shimmering purple catfish
that swarmed like three inch sharks
in the clear cold water.
Deep in the green light forest,
I sit on a mossy rock watching
a stream’s sunspatter over rounded stones,
a maze of intersecting shadow rings,
water striders twitching, every few seconds,
to resist the slight downstream push.
We live in a tenuous balance at best,
upheld by a surface that is none too strong,
propelling ourselves by minuscule kicks
lest we sleep and drift slowly away.
Right after the car in front of my van
swept past one slot in a row of parked cars,
a two-year-old, with short unsteady legs,
ran from the curb. I had no time for brakes
or checking traffic, but veered wildly left.
The traffic swerved and honked but nothing touched.
With eyes and mouth agape, the toddler stopped
and almost fell, trying to turn around.
My view of frightened woman clutching child
quickly shrank in the mirror and became lost.
copyright © 1983 - 2005 Carl Miller
Drawing, “Little Bear Creek”: 2004, gel pen on paper, 6 x 10 inches.