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Shadow and Light: The Transitory

Summer, 2004

John Morgan

Above the Tanana: For Jarard Baker

River rising, sweepers break and go,
island grasses founder in the flow of
glacial melt. A surface shimmer squint

of scintillation on the sun-bright slough
seen from this bluff, as across the Tanana
a gun goes off. We use this land as if

it were our own--some politicians tell us
that it is--but when the moose are gone,
wells dry, like geese they pack their bags.

Son of a carpenter, student, friend,
the caribou calves you painted stand on
spindly legs as we go down the stairs, they

chew and frown. Those month-long summer days
you floated on the river counting salmon
shadows in the murk, making their way toward

fishwheels or to spawn in the all-night dusk
of an arctic dawn--like souls in Athabascan
tales who drift upriver after death:

your soul, I think, among them, seeks its home.
Sun and breeze, mid-August and the slough's
bright tune. Who said the arts could save us?

Above the river, fishing for a line,
I trace the stunning carmine twists you drew
at sunrise once, while inland seagulls

mew across the way. So full, so empty.
Where rose-hips hang like firecrackers, a
pint-size wasp investigates my hand

and buzzes off. A grasshopper's skip and
flight, while through the ancient flats a power-
line clearing comes. The season's cycle warps.

Where wolves and eagles stand for what we love
("In wildness...preservation of the world"),
five beaver stumps, trunks gone, line the far bank.

In back of me, right-angled like an
icon's arm, this mangled spruce points up
accusingly. Jarad, we gave our

Datsun to you in its dotage. How could you
put that pistol in your mouth and
just let go?