This Solitary Ground

This Solitary Ground

Between granite and lichen
his heart nudges him to wake
at first light, a frost-mist caught
fire, the quiet summons: the elk
stepping out of thin dark.

Between his hands the uncapped
thermos, the sweet tea that has to
wait, between one breath and the next
the easy shot not his to take.

The elk circle and browse, breath
that comes to him in soft poofs.
Hard not to think they see him
a piece in their world.

*

Crap, I’m eighty four, he told his daughter this
to make sense of what he saw—Now, This!—
out his passenger window: the Colorado ranch
elk, a carnival of targets. Tagged. Tamed. This,
that other kind of waiting he never asked for.

And what’s this crap? He punched the button
to turn off the heat. He wanted to tell her
everything he wasn’t. She leaned in, snugged
his seat belt. He closed his eyes, remembered
Africa, the once-in-a-lifetime safari, a lifetime back.
Wasn’t it she insisted on tagging along, watching
over him, even then? She recoiled each time he pulled
the trigger, never questioned what it took to kill.

*

His back fits
this place between
Doug fir bark and
the early morning
air that falls
upon his chest
between two creeks
these phantom elk
found on his own.

Damned if he names
the creeks anything
but revelation
all the prayer
he needs the slow
coming of light
the elk stalking
him this solitary
ground.

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