Six Sonnets: Crossing the West

By Janice Gould

Desert heat, high clouds, and sky
the color of lapis. On this journey,
anything seems possible,
so we stop by an ancient cottonwood
to kiss. The beauty trembles,
doesn’t say a word, just watches
me, so open. Small birds fly by, flock
in the shady tree above us. What
settles in her heart? What congeals?
Hope? Despair? Far off, the river churns
in its sandy banks, swallows veer, turn
in fiery air. Will these kisses seal
her to me? I her lover, she my wife?
Is all of this a dream, my whole life?
She is just this side of wonderful,
and suddenly the glamorous world
fills itself with shining and we laugh
at highway monuments that explain
how hard the trek had been for Franciscans
in the Indian wilderness, poor fellows—
conversion is the devil’s own
work! Then the stones of her dream
turn up under her feet, the back
of a huge land turtle. I know
we must be circling Paradise
because the ants enter the fleshy petals
of the roadside flowers with evident
joy and purpose (oh, my dark, pretty one).
Music, my adored. When is there never
music? My accordion puffs up
with drinkable melodies. I spill
her tunes into your listening ear,
one after the other: the squeeze-box
enters the dance of the plaintive gypsy
with its hard rhythms, lilts the back-
breaking labor song the worker croons
to earth, warbles romantic notes of
dissolving borders. You melt
like a woman beneath her lover’s touch.
Music is happy and pitiless when
the raspy bandoneon’s voice is lyric.
Sacred. Sacred. Sacred. Sacred. (Speak
in a whisper.) We slip into this
space half cognizant. The land is very
large indeed: bones of the earth
worn down, though she is a living thing.
See how she exposes her grace? Antelopes
graze on the far plain—their high,
white tails—the red soil throbs
its slow heartbeat, and the blue sky
clears so smartly, perfectly, like
radiance. Are the ancestors near?
What can we know? We decide
to wander around this prairie, mistaken
for Utes, buy commodities in little towns.
Late afternoon we head west along the willow-banked
Malheur after the long curve of the Snake River plain.
(Above the falls where the Shoshone went to pray
we soaked our feet in cold water, and I observed
the arch of her brown foot.) Rabbitbrush and sage
along the highway, juniper on far hills and bluffs.
Sundown, and dusk falls over the wide basin of land.
In Burns we eat eggs in a cafe, take a room
in the Motel 6. In the dark, I can see
her black hair, black against the pillows. Its clean
scent makes me think of corn. At dawn, I hold her
and there are kisses. Then more kisses. Then more.
The day is cold; a north wind blew last night. But
the land is open. Rain falls in showers of light.
Her hand on my thigh, my shoulder,
in my hair. She leans over to kiss my cheek.
We look at each other, smile. For miles
we travel this way, nearly silent, point
with eyes or chins at the circling hawk, the king-
fisher on the snag above the swollen
creek. One night I weep in her arms
as she cries, “Oh, oh, oh!” because I have touched
her scars lightly: throat, belly, breasts.
In that communion of lovers, thick sobs
break from me as I think of my love
back home, all that I have done
and cannot say. This is the first time
I have left her so completely, so alone.

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