Eye-level Photo Of Cultivated Land

for Doug

We got lost in the Badlands,

the November wind stabbing at our backs,
the sky bleeding topaz while ash-colored clouds lowered
over the land like a holy simlāh hellbent to disguise
any path back to civilization.

"just drink it all in and pretend we know exactly
where we're going," you say,

"focus on the mule deer hopping away from us in
pairs scared thinking these pale faces are hunters
who like their meat complete with hooves for feet
and minced and gamey,

or focus on the chipmunk puffing out its cheek and
bushing out its tail while it scrambles from
rock to rock sequestering seeds for meals

Or just be glad we're not back at home on MOPAC stuck
in four lanes of non-moving traffic under the rage of a Texas
sun with one desire -- to eat us alive.

Or just be glad the mountain lions have learned
to hide from other predators."

I listen to you and I do--I drink it in. I drink it in for miles,

I drink in the mounds of oyster scoria that protrude from the earth
like oven-baked caves gutted from the inside out,
which you say reminds you of your humble beginnings,

born to this world with a curve at your back
and a set of grasping pedipalps which you wear these days
more like a badge and less like a weapon,
ever an ambassador for peace while your partner (who is me)
stays unreleased in perpetual combat--a trait
that you both love and fear about me,

"Just be careful when you enter the circle of serpents
that you don't come back wearing their shape," you say,

to which I reply, "Even when I slither, remember:
I'm the good kind of snake."

-- not like the kind we're likely to
encounter here, the kind with rattles and
infamously notorious tempers and reputations for
laying men to waste in a split second
for disturbing their season of slumber.

I think: the Badlands could kill us a number of ways,

but we walk on...

down the Medicine Root Loop on the way to the castle,
where you reminisce on the time when I was still a ghost
in your rearview mirror, a shadow in the hallway at our high school,
a time of your life when you had quit your job after four years of law
and set off to see America, driving the
coastal highway from California up to
Oregon and through Montana, searching for yourself in
changing landscapes and well-planned playlists and roadside
gas stations with busted payphones and broken
people, the dream for yourself hiding in the palm
of America's hand like a talisman with powers unrendered.

We stay lost in the Badlands.

We wander and stomp through mud, and I tell you that I miss my kids,
and although I know what it would be like if they were here (miserable)
I couldn't help but wonder if the kaleidoscope art of sedimentary rocks would
open my son's eyes to the beating heart of the world, or if the
western meadowlark's call would pull my daughter from the wreckage
of her teenage years long enough to
remember her song and how to sing it.
We got lost in the Badlands,

We got lost in the tall, dry grass,
and slipped on patches of ice,

We got lost in the layers of sediments
and roaring Dakota winds and the cold getting colder
and the mud getting slicker,

We got lost and risked trampling through rattlesnake dens
just to escape before the sun dimmed and darkness took over,
but I grinned and beared it, as I knew you did--

because we knew as long as we were together,
we would always find our way home. 

-Erin Passons

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