Commonplace
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www.common-place.org · vol. 15 · no. 2.5 · April 2015


Poetic Research Department


Melissa Kwasny
Poems
Statement of Poetic Research



"Rock Canyon, Montana," stereographic photograph. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Petroglyph: Castle Gardens

Late morning, strange, a kind of music. I was in love with earth again. I wanted to stay forever as with a Person. Corridors of sandstone, the white, orange-rose. A flour batter poured into sloping pans that overflow into a sphere larger, more varied than we can travel. There was color where there is no color, inside the abraded circles and incised lines, only a fugitive green or violet, resembling fresco. Like the wash of lilac through the mind when one says lilac. Or shadow limbs between real limbs a painter sketches in space only to suggest the complications of lineage. Because there were no horses yet, the walk must have taken weeks, a hundred miles through sage and rabbit bush, far from water and trees. The ground friable, like stepping on wetted ash. They must have set alive a fragrance burning. To prepare their ancestral homeland. To pace themselves inside the dream. That we might have at one time added something to it.


"Devil's Passway, Montana," stereographic photograph by W. H. Jackson, photographer to the U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, D.C. (ca. 1871). Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Moving Pictograph: Parenthetical Signs of Spring

In the winter twilight, below the mountain—violet, aqua—the brown prairie unrolls in bolts of suede. The snow patches gather and disperse like herds. The mythic snow deer is what we say. One sole bluebird detaches itself from the sky, that trick most wild things play, which enables us to see the hundred more. The clouds, frothy and wild, tossing their manes and tails, prepare for what they will be: tomorrow. Goatsuckers and swifts. Nightjars and nighthawks. Two false eye spots, high rattle or trill. All things cryptically colored. Like the lynx in the ditch you have longed to see all your life. Like the reindeer. Like the shaman. An animal runs across the road, dives into the ditch, its ears like the forked and broken tines of dogwood. This is the important point: where vision came. And also, at the same time, the vision.


"Green River Butte, Wyoming," stereographic photograph by Jackson Bros., Omaha, Nebraska. Scenery of the Union Pacific Railroad, No. 176. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Questioning the Dead

Look how they go on without us, how they already existed when we arrived. On the other side, I have learned to say, but they're not somewhere else, they're here, in the green haze about the limbs, between me and that row of cottonwood barely budding. Like the culvert I came to yesterday, the backwater still. I saw what I usually see: the shoreline, the surface, not the upside down trees, which then swayed into being, though darkly. What is the nature of the eye's adjustments? Take this valley, for instance—where would the dead be? If I hung cloth on the limbs, would they lift it? At what stage do we lose our precious names? Our symptoms? Our traceries? Our handicaps? Our turns of phrase? The shadows we lug everywhere, like an overfull valise? Earth the cool clay tablet where we set it down. I have been wrong to confront them so directly, to stare into the photographs of their battlegrounds.


"Some of America's famous and fast disappearing natives-wild buffalo near Flathead Lake, Mont.," stereographic photograph, Underwood & Underwood, New York (ca. 1901). Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.


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