5 SOUTH, CENTRAL VALLEY
You could pass through here twenty times,
with only the odometer to bear witness.
The same six Christian trucking companies
flood the road with their eighteen-wheeled waves.
Five cows walk in a line.
Trucks ramble in a line.
The aqueduct snakes in a line.
A kestrel lurks on a wire.
Against an empty field, a sign: "If you were
here, you'd never want to leave." Burma-Shave?
Next gas 75 miles. (If you
paused here, even for a moment, could you breathe?)
A cherry orchard for sale,
an orange grove for sale,
a brown hillside for sale,
a truckload of spoiled cabbages in Santa Nella.
Tumbleweeds struggle against the light,
limp datura, tithonia, starved-rabbit brush.
You didn't know the sun was so bright,
that it could burn a land so barren,
so you are not surprised to see
a human arm on the side of the road,
palm up, sun-shrunken fingers
grasping at air
THE NEWLY DEAD
The newly dead do not frighten us. Bones abandoned by flesh,
the ivory alien within that bears no name or countenance,
these give us pause. Impersonal smile of skull on tattered grass,
teeth unused and hands not made to hold; these we cannot bear
because they only mock the moves of life. The unattended dead,
unclaimed by tearful relatives, forgotten in the grave;
the unknown body rotting in the woods; we flee to safer ground
of cut-throat widely staring victims, eyes glazed in that final sight
(what is it that we see? The greatest transition is not life to death,
but recognized to merely flesh, person to merely fertile earth.
You cannot die so long as someone knows who you are).