I seemed always standing
before a door
to which I had no key,
although I knew it hid behind it
a gift for me.
Until one day I closed
my eyes a moment, stretched
then looked once more.
And not surprised, I did not mind it
when the hinges creaked
and, smiling, Death
held out his hands to me.
Under the makeshift arbor of leaves
a hot wind blowing smoke and laughter.
Music out of the renegade west,
too harsh and loud, many dark faces
moved among the sweating whites.
Wandering apart from the others,
I found an old Indian seated alone
on a bench in the flickering shade.
He was holding a dented bucket;
three crayfish, lifting themselves
from the muddy water, stirred
and scraped against the greasy metal.
The old man stared from his wrinkled
darkness across the celebration,
unblinking, as one might see
in the hooded sleep of turtles.
A smile out of the ages of gold
and carbon flashed upon his face
and vanished, called away
by the sound and the glare around him,
by the lost voice of a child
piercing that thronged solitude.
The afternoon gathered distance
and depth, divided in the shadows
that broke and moved upon us . . .
Slowly, too slowly, as if returned
from a long and difficult journey,
the old man lifted his bucket
and walked away into the sunlit crowd.
She came to see the bones
whiten in a summer,
and one year later a narrow
mummy with a dusty skin
and flaking scales
would break apart in her hand.
She wanted to see if sunlight
still glinted in those eyes,
to know what it lighted
from a window on the mallow roots,
leaf mold and fallen casques.
And to ask if a single tongue,
one forked flicker in the dark,
had found any heat in death:
in the closed space and chill
of that burial, what speech,
what sign would there be.
She who walked in the canyon early,
parted the grass and halted
upon the living snake, coiled
and mottled by a bitter pool,
unearthed her jar in another spring,
to find the snake spirit gone,
only a little green water standing,
some dust, or a smell.