In the Defile

We wake so rarely together, and when we do
the leaves have already left horses for trees.
We didn’t realize when
moving to the canyon, we’d
given up sunsets for good. Gold and
red for cottonwoods and clay.

Here, woodpeckers grouse in the piñon boughs
and your sun-brown hands gather the brownest shells.
We root about like curve-billed thrashers,
silent beneath our chosen trees, try not to speak
of the current news. Pitch-laden
needles pressed to sore knees and palms.

A flicker lands on a branch above,
and we look up but beyond, to
the other side of canyon where
leaf-bare horses sleek and resplendent
gallop through ochred grass.

And when your cupped hand pours
piñons into mine, the edge of your palm
angled to my own, there is relief in knowing.
I take it all down—documented.

Poet James Thomas Stevens, a member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Tribe, was born in Niagara Falls, New York. His Mohawk name, under which he sometimes publishes, is Aronhiótas. As an undergraduate he studied at the School of Visual Arts, Brooklyn College, and eventually at the Institute of American Indian Arts, where he earned an AFA in creative writing. Stevens subsequently earned an MFA from Brown University. He is the author of Of Kingdoms & Kangaroo (2008), A Bridge Dead in the Water (2007), and The Mutual Life (2006), among others.


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