GCRG logo - waves above name with sheep
  Leaving the Colorado
  BQR ~ fall 1998

t Peach Springs on the Res
we are met by a Hualapai man with a backpack
who wanders over and stands to watch us change the tire,
fly down,
eyes hidden behind an iridescent strip
I'm a damned American Indian
he says twice, words slow and smeared
thumbs up
His head lops to one side as he speaks and
to keep it from falling off
he holds one hand at the back of his bulbous neck
He asks about the rapids
whose names he must say twice before we understand
says he did the river once
Park Service
Some of my people never immigrated from over there,
on the other side
he jerks his thumb toward the Canyon
and for a moment I imagine there are still
people down there
living as we lived for eighteen days
on the other side of human memory
watching the channel of sky flow by
keeping close to the banks of the river
whose waters ran deeper than light or fear could see

Then at a 7-Eleven in Vegas
a man crosses over from the dark
to lean it at our window
gripping a wrinkled bag by its neck
He seems young until he turns into the orange light smiling
and I see a jittery gray gathered in the gaps
the places where the pieces of his face don't fit together
Going to prison Monday for crack and
wonders if we want a beeper for fifty dollars
He reaches in and hands me a lighter
When I won't buy it he says
Hey, just keep it
gestures with the bottle
and stumbles backward into the standing darkness
Peace
he says, shaking two heavy fingers at us
reaching for balance with the bottle hand

These are the emissaries of an imperfect world
who hold out their hands to welcome us back
I keep mine deep in my pockets
searching for sand in the seams
It is all I have left
for as we drove
and I swayed in and out of sleep
the desert stars fell one by one from the sky
and landed in disorder on the earth
I saw them all
broken and seething
as we topped the hill above the city

I think of the Canyon's messengers
The hoary ravens who shuffled like squat stone idols
on high ledges as we floated by
The doe who drank without looking up
her shallow flanks rippling over her ribs
like water on a sandbar
The tadpoles with pulsing gold-flecked bowels
who sucked softly at my fingers
in a sun-soaked pool
The unseen scorpion of the last night's camp
who stung my arm, saying

Do not leave this land lightly
The numbing hand you feel
tightening beneath your skin
will keep you in place
Carry the stones you have taken
and the dreams you were given
with you, like seeds
Let them bring forth fruit
moonflowers and ocotillo
blooming in your secret places
Shake the sand from your hair and clothes
and with it sow a new sky
to wake you with its stillness in the night

Louisa Bennion

big horn sheep