Coal Mine Canyon

For Karen and the Diné

What your eyes and mine regard, even from
this shared vantage, will never be the same,
for if this steep chasm’s carved from rock layers
whose textures and smells I know as surely
as their given names – Dakota, Cow Springs,
Carmel – I’m but a late pilgrim to what
fierce beauty abides in these banded cliffs
of ash and ochre, their powdery scree
inviting my touch like the raised borders
of a Navajo rug, while this, to you,
is the Jagged Place, where rimrock hoodoos
guard a onetime home fraught with memories
of childbirth, forced removal, and three graves
marking land no longer yours. You, though, walked
the steeper path to our graced rendezvous,
entrusting me – who had yet done little
to merit trust – with the welcoming weight
of your stories, sustaining and brutal,
offered like fresh-baked bread leavened with tears.
And now, having since shared many losses,
what words we speak stay circled in silence –
grief proving the surest route to tacit
comprehension – as we stand together
at the canyon’s edge, most unlikely friends
watching ravens dance on currents of air
up and beyond the far rim, where red hills
tumble in waterless ocean waves toward
dark mountains your people still call sacred.

Imperfect Contrition