Geomorphology of the Upper Great Plains

Joe Wilkins

From the subduction of the Farallon plate, from an ancient ocean draining away, away, from a merle of red-winged blackbirds ringing the last reedy mudhole for miles, beneath a wind leaning ever against the earth, unearthing now the skull of a buffalo, eye socket the size of a man’s fist, which is the size of his heart, which makes for an unsettling

vacancy. A geography of absence, an economy of abnegation, aesthetics of antelope blood & roaddust. Everything was rivered, but there was no river. Everything was bent, like the grass, even the small, be-ribbed backs of children. Everyone loved & hated the obvious face of the sun, which in turn blessed & burned, like the eight hands of any one of the gods– aeolian, fluvial, hillslope, etc. Come evening it wasn’t about eschatology, not exactly, more the cold kiss of hosewater on our foreheads, the soft places beneath the jaw. I’m telling you one August, years ago now, the cottonwoods bowed down, the ditches filled with tumbleweeds, the fields forgot themselves & were dust — we all saw it. Even the ghosts.

Joe Wilkins is the author of a novel, Fall Back Down When I Die; a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers; and four poetry collections, including Thieve and When We Were Birds. His awards and honors include the Oregon Book Award, the High Plains Book Award, and the Pushcart Prize. He lives with his family in western Oregon.