#19 3 AM, the Plains of San Agustin by Israel Wasserstein

There would be no sound were it not for the wind,
etching its history in dust across the high desert,
pulling sediment laid down by that ancient lake
in whose basin I stand, beneath the arc of stars,
where the first humans to walk this land left tools,
evidence of their ancient path along the water’s edge.

Here the land breathes, here the earth finds its edge
along the Great Divide. Here the song is the wind’s,
and the rocks became the first tools.
The trick of the place: it was not always desert.
The wheeling sky and the timeless stars
are no more eternal than the land-that-was-lake.

Once the red planet was dotted with lakes,
and once volcanoes, not antennas, cut the edge
of this sky—I am learning to listen to the stars.
Here I am a guest, interloper of wind,
thin air and slow time of the desert,
which preserves and disdains all our tools.

In this State of pollen-yellow sands, we built tools
to break earth from earth, to flood the sky with lakes
of ash, to shatter millennial quiet of the desert.
In a moment, we carry ourselves to the edge
of annihilation, and trail death on the wind:
this will not disturb the wandering stars.

May I hold in myself the scope of stars,
and in my hands fragile Pleistocene tools,
see the blessings and fury of the wind,
for I am here, and here remains a lake,
and the past is with me, and the future’s hungry edge,
and I am not the ancient desert,

but I may rest where night meets desert.
May I know the dignity of the stuff of stars,
as the Array whispers we may be on the edge
of contact, and not all tools are tools
of war. Let me remember the lake,
and the people who drank of it, and the wind.

I stand amidst desert, amidst monuments to the edge
of our reach, and the stars are not mine, and the lake
is not ours, and our tools are exposed by the wind.

Israel Wasserstein received his MFA from the University of New Mexico and currently teaches at Washburn University. His first collection of poetry, This Ecstasy They Call Damnation, is forthcoming from Woodley Press.

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