From the poem series Highway 99

Once a path down from

long mountains, cold black rivers

Down from granite ribs and

thin-soiled beds scoured by snow

and migrations of ice and elk

A route for exchange of flint and

shell and fur

Then the westward roll

of emigrants struck the trail north

settling alongside in foggy valleys

observed from dim places

Those seeking gold turned south

and shunned Oregon, took horse and wagon

into the great valley

and met crazed men fleeing ships

abandoned in the mud of Yerba Buena


The sickness swept valley and hill

and ran gurgling in dark ravines

Dug and gouged, ripped open

mountain guts, seams where once

the planet was stitched together

spilled out its offal on the ground

trickling poison into groaning rivers

And the Dawn People watched and

shook their heads and some

fell back to the mountains

there to fade

while others fell into the hands

of cold-eyed men

And those who were seized by this

fever bent muscle and spine under

the iron wheel, chewed  ore to

golden splinters

No one remembered his own name

or the names of his people

or the place from which his people came

All bound together in forgetting tribe

All forged together in digging nation

poured in from every land, enslaved and enslaving

severed tree and root, broken hills, shattered peaks

trampling the old route once marked

only by the tread of silent feet

rutting the road that runs from north to south

burrowing that track deep in the soil

Broken gash full of mud and stones and bones and teeth


This artery drew soil and spewed blood

Those in its path were subdued and those who

followed the rivers to the valley grew rich

or they worked for those who grew rich

Farms sprang up like white frost in the morning

Carved the yielding belly of earth

which gave endlessly of itself

Then the towns came, leaping from the minds

of men who disliked the night and the twilight

and the rustling of claw and wing and bare foot

under trees beyond the edge of sight

And the towns grew brighter

and sucked from rushing rivers

and the waters were pent up

Canyon and meadow drowned

Trees girdled, reached up with bare black fingers

and the night sky closed its stars


Out beyond the glare of things

Some people watched

The last of the First People

They stood a while

speaking quietly among themselves

One of them drew in the rich brown dirt

with a piece of stick

Then with one accord they stood

They picked up a few things

They turned without gesture

and walked out of the world

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