Life above the Tree Line

They call them “forget-me-nots,”
     As though anyone who perceives color could
   Scrub that shade of blue from retinal cones.

But here among these mountains—
     Where only three or four months pass between snows—
   You must catch bees’ eyes early and often.

Together with campion,
     King’s crown, sky pilot, clover, stonecrop, wallflower,
   They quilt tundra; fight winter’s memory.

All these lay low, clasping rock,
     With moss, grass, and scrub spruce blending a backdrop,
   To offset color, hold soil, nourish elk.

But like one keeping the watch,
     Alpine sunflower braces against west winds
   Burning bright as lightning in driving rain.

They say its blooms face the east,
      To protect their golden discs from violent storms.
      But why rise from the frost and crane hoary necks
   Toward the rising sun if not every day
Looking for a long-awaited visit
Or coyly expecting resurrection?

Image: Alpine meadow, Rocky Mountain National Park. Larimer County, Colo., July 2022.

Well-Regulated

On the day we got the news
Of yet another shooting—
This one not too far from home—
I went for a walk at dusk
To ask God and the trees, “Why?”
The half moon peered through clouds
Strung behind a line of storms,
As fireflies synchronized
With streetlights at nine-o-three,
Embers in the post-rain mist.

A bat dived to swallow one,
Turning away at the last
From a bitter, poison pill.
But all the hosts of summer
Assembled here this evening
Know the steps and move as one;
Birds sing, cicadas back beat,
And the waning day cools air
Just enough to invite small
Restoration to tired lungs.

The world in all its glory
Even here on suburban streets
Speaks of dependence, rhythm,
And attention to detail.
But still my country looks down,
Away from what doesn’t fit,
Turning the dead into pawns
That move without agency
In a dance that keeps the peace
At expense of the living.