Conjunctions:26 Sticks & Stones

Line of Descent
Braided arroyo choked with debris.
This big, the boy describes
the dragonfly. The father
grabs him up

Having heard the man
bellow, dikes of igneous rock
intrude a sedimentary sequence.
At the child.
The young woman from Seattle
contains a view south from
the bordering plateau. Turns
away by cutting
across the bedding. When they meet
at the waterpump. Sets him on

The blowdryer 
wind smooths Coconino Sandstone. On a log
they write outside their tent. 6 A.M., the Vishnu outcrop
at fifteen hundred million years. Stops the father
crying and naked. The sea had been moving
landward from east to west. To whittle
the boy’s pencil.

In Bright Angel Shale a few
trilobites and an ant escapes
from the ant-lion pit.
Deus ex machina!
The boy drops it back in.

Insisting men undress the father grabs him up
before each other
in the KOA washroom sets him on the blowdryer
the crowded faunal succession
the boy angling crying and naked
at the top of an inner gorge
for the privacy of a stall he tumbles to the floor

An inward face of identity
mimics the strata. LOST,
the sign says, one squirrel-deer-
and-rabbit-colored cat.

On varved clay,
the child hunches at a frigid
gap in the record. When a piece of Redwall
breaks away, the fresh rock turns out
to be gray. Finger-shaped
bruises on his tricep.

Third hour of hike.
The boy detests Odysseus
for betraying Philoctetes. A composite
built from fragmentary
The silts laid down.
To himself swears I
will not squeeze him again, the man—

A clock we can use
to measure time and events. Record
of transgressions. In the early
moon, the man wakes to bats fluttering
from the same Cretaceous stock
that produced condylarths and the boy
on his elbows watching him.

What is the preferred orientation
of an early blue thrust fault?
The boy shears and rolls
on the slippery sleeping bag
giving himself an erection.

Canyon walls compress
concordant shifts. Heat and fossil
footprints in the Supai. He clacks
a rock with a rock.
Shiny skinks evaporate
from the sedimentary progression
like black eyes.

The principle of original horizontality.
Fanning the sprawled boy
to keep off impetuous, clamoring flies.

An hour after the major
unconformity, the rim of the canyon
eclipses the sun. Through Cambrian talus
course pit vipers,
true heirs to the pineal eye.
A Greek myth the man reads
over a boy phosphorescent with dust.
Small birds drop
vertical distances between
foliate schists into dwarf trees all
around them chirping seed, seed.

Forrest Gander is a United States Artists Rockefeller Fellow and the author of many books of poetry, essays, fiction, and translation, including Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems (Copper Canyon) and Alice Iris Red Horse: Poems of Yoshimasu Gozo (New Directions), a book in and on translation. He won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his collection Be With (New Directions). His collection Twice Alive will be published by New Directions in April 2021.