Friday, April 19, 1985


                       —for Geoff Davis

1. The ancestral path led to the adobe ruin;
a buckled porch shifted its ghostly weight.
This was Wild Bill Walsh's house,
& later, it was Julia's.

When the liquor ran dry,
he drove his truck into the town of Ione
and sold it for a five-gallon barrel of whiskey
& a good game of cards—or so the story goes.
They said that when he wasn't drinking,
he was a fine blacksmith.

After a hundred years, his handiwork, still in use—
I fondle the door hinges, the gate latches,
even the twisted juniper beams in the barn
preserved by the dry desert air.

Birds flew among the rafters to open sky.
A half-century of melting snows
dissolved the adobe into rich chocolate streaks
on the whitewashed walls.

2. At family gatherings there was talk of incest.
First cousins, my grandmother said.
From that union of Wild Bill and Julia,
one daughter sat in the corner by the stove
sewing with imaginary needle & thread.

What wasn't mentioned was the other
became a scientist. Jornada del Muerte.
Alamagordo was like Home Ranch,
Los Alamos, White Sands, New Mexico,
& Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Pioneer names for home.
Code name: Manhattan Project.

July 16, 1945, Fat Man.
Oppenheimer's trinitite, green desert glass
from ground zero was the dowry for my cousin Mary.
Ghosts of the Cold War swarming in the singing sand,
& the sound of war growling across a cloudless sky
were what survived her.

I spent eternal moments under my school desk
during bomb drills, thinking of Russia and Cuba,
not knowing Mary was implicated in all this too.

3. She let her thoughts go out the same way they came in
through the ruin of the back door.
What she wanted was to feel was his rough hand on her skin,
& in the ruined kitchen they'd couple in the alkali dust,
their bodies, stone mills to grind the earth to powder.

On the porch roof, a baby bird,
mistaking me for his mother,
ravened at the edge of his nest,
the red lining of his mouth, a wound.

I sat on the far side of the old well
watching a cloud cross a minute patch of sky
in the dark eye of water, to worn out to cry.
I was composing a letter in my head—
what I should have said, but . . .

Tired of waiting for god-knows-what,
I knew he'd laid aside the hammer & tongs &
cracked open another bottle in darkness.
What could survive that?

rev. 3/90

Home Ranch is what my family called the Walsh Ranch in Reese River Valley. My great-great uncle Paddy Walsh bought up several ranches, and was a big landholder.

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