Unmarked Stop in Front of Westmond General Store, Westmond, Idaho
Jonathan Johnson

I have a life. I stand abandoned,
the bus two miles downroad and upshifting,
by now, past acres of white cattle,
past an aluminum house trailer that
sends up woodsmoke like the last bubbles
from a sunken steamer. Forget the trailer,
with its hopeful, broken cedar-shake porch,
everyone else does. Forget the rim
of soft mountains. I admit the sound
of cracking gravel. I admit it is bright
here, and cold. The pine shadows reach across
the oily road. . . but what do I know of reaching?
I have never looked here from above,
from the few square fields of long cleared woods
on the mountain behind this little store. No,
I only look out, or up, afraid—despite
myself—to die. But fear or none,
it waits, clear as the constellation
of words it takes to say a wall of birch,
clear as the wall of birch itself.
A muddy Kenworth rolls by, overstacked
with mill logs. I can’t hear any chain saw
in them, they’re just dead. Even the few
small branches with tufts of fur left to whip
in the highway wind are dead.
And they’ll be no less dead when I stop looking.
Once, pages of sunlight fell across bawling sheep
in the hollows of the Vandersloot barn,
and the sheer head rattled away,
nicking bloody an occasional teat or vulva
beneath a stack of bodiless fleeces
caked in gold lanolin, blood and shit.
End of the day, the door swung back,
they funneled out, heads straining above
a river of stubble and fuzz, these alluvial
sheep scattering in the last glow, kicking,
and acting up a little when they knew
they were free. Unrepentant and pure,
they were already forgetting. I start over,
lift my bag to my back and walk, remembering
low clouds moving in these woods, the rain
off the mountain again and down my face, here
or somewhere else. Here, I could almost endure.

previously appeared in Cimarron Review

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