On The Plateau: Poem by Miriam Sagan

On The Plateau

A wall, a quarry really
of fossil bones
height—the temple of a pharaoh
width—this canyon
and depth unknown.
The Jurassic compressed
to badlands that can be walked through
by us, until it gets too hot
the day in June,
before:
fruit trees, bees, ice ages
before the French revolution
before soul music and
rock and roll
before
my childhood
and now my approach to age
I creak, my bones ache.
These bones of dinosaurs
disarticulated
by water, mud, and time
for the paleontologist
to puzzle over
in his beaten but heroic hat
his own worries, his own fate
that even science cannot avert, nor faith.

Last night in a canyon
that didn’t belong to us
we hiked through wet and buggy fields
to the cliff outcropping
where ancient people scraped
elegant and formidable
figures on the rock
feathered as kings or dancers in masks.
I always say: I can’t do it.
You pat me on the back
and I’m rewarded
by the sight
of carved lizards and horned sheep
or mysterious glyphs in dot and dash.

For four dollars
I could have failed to climb
and yet counted myself
lucky
with the old moon rising
and a field of milkweed
waiting for sleeping butterflies
to awake at next dawn’s light.

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