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108 Beginnings When this wanderlust comes calling in the night, you’ll rise from bed and pack a bag, get whiskey-drunk, then howl at the moon for luck. If it’s spring, cheatgrass wags its green seedpods all along the valley floor, weary even in its youth. If summer, willow forks in streambeds, wiry and insatiable. If autumn, deer come down to drink, knowing they are stalked, and take cover in the bottomland. Do not make the journey in winter. This high, snow does not fall, it drifts and snakes across the marbled blacktop. Best to find a bar and wait it out. Put down a dollar on the shake-a-day. You’ll never guess what five dice know about tomorrow. Oil Field Mysteries Days when snow closes all roads out of town, I come to sit among the ragged faces— regular morning drinkers alongside roustabouts, certain how to spend a midweek holiday— red beer for breakfast, bourbon in the afternoon. from Wyoming Song lucas howell 109 I take mine at the bar, watching my hands in the mirror, wiping sweat from a glass. Somewhere a pump jack rears on its saddle bearing, then bows to a bitter wind. Somewhere a flow line ices off and shatters steel. Nothing to be done about that now. Tomorrow one of these men will fit new pipe in its place. His crew will cover over stained earth with a dumper full of red rock. I’ll make my rounds to tend the dosing pumps seeping chemicals of every breed down into the oil sands. Hissing up from below, butane, pentane, helium— the sleepy respirations of our planet’s distilled and jellied dead. I breathe the ancient gases as they rise, dark, sweet as cane sugar. In a landscape of sage and steel, as mourning doves coo in the gasworks above me, I know this brew is rich with cancers, but light crude wafts an incense fit to conjure with...Lord, give me one more day to press the flesh of my palm against a pipe wrench. Between this world and the last you’ll find seabed salts, sediments, tails and spiny fossils of long-extinct fishes, sandstone, shale, then clay, an earthen layer cake conditioned to a slurry of drill mud to lubricate the bit pushing deeper beneath a string of pipe. And all to tap the porous reservoirs that wind for miles through this desolate basin’s catacombs. 110 ecotone We’re scaring up spirits here— primeval muck, the black sap of dinosaur hides. But also dreams so big only myth can bear the story’s magnitude. My manic love—this land, this life—is pure as four hundred barrels of crude, is true as the bones of dead Indians singing under every footfall. A ghost train’s whistle only I can hear. We are beings of errant faith, daily believing we shall not be washed from this earth, or made whole in it, shall not be brought low by time, heat, compaction. But—Oh, what sweet oils we also might become. Wyoming Song Finally, sky. A sun-rippled horizon of dust and blue ether. At highway speed, a string of meadowlark plays sound track to my going, their trills whistling through the pickup’s open window. I’ll need a cigarette or dip of snuff for this— the sweet burn of it to lighten my heart, let me breathe as if I mean to take the haunted country inside me— 111 lucas howell let the lark and magpie bless the hollow spaces in my chest, let two-lane blacktop be my blood, three-strand fence my ligaments and wooden posts my bones. May abandoned reservation towns be the melancholy regions of my mind. I do not want for anything but more of what I’ve found— space to reckon with myself and God, a day’s good work, my lover’s kiss, and always more— ...