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PASSING THROUGH THE GARDEN

                She tweaks her shorts, peels back the hem
                like a fruit rind, smiles over her shoulder,
                and there it is, branded on her rump: an open fig.

                                   - Henry Shukman (“Step”)

The pickup’s parked for days, and only leaves
the canyon to get mail once a week on the way
to a half-dozen stops in town, appointments
timed and mapped in my mind, thirty miles
away. Peel off the hay dust, mission objectives
detailed in the shower, clean shirt and shoes,
tall glass of ice water with lemon wedge or
plastic coffee in a leaky travel cup, I am fortified
by routine – troops at attention, assembled
for deployment as the diesel engine purrs
for combat, gray Buckstop bumpers, front
and back. Push off the buzzing sensing eye.

The gravel drive empties onto asphalt
with no white line where caravans of tourists
and the Ainley’s can bring freeway speeds
and urgency right up the middle, gooseneck
loads of faces lit with terror going somewhere -
matching mine in the mirror. A man must
ratchet his courage up, hone his eye to read
vehicles like cattle and be content to ride
drag and slip past the traps with the same grace
as pairing cows and calves. A necessary art
when living in the future that is not unlike
a rattlesnake passing through the garden.




I have begun perusing ‘New Poets of the American West’, just released from Many Voices Press and edited by Lowell Jaeger. I open books of poems somewhere in the middle, a serendipitous custom that is especially practical and rewarding with this anthology. I’ve yet to be disappointed with any of the editor’s choices: Henry Shukman from New Mexico was one of them.

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