". . . for ten millennia, the bones seemed wreckage from a mighty dream . . ."
Big Bone Lick
At Big Bone Lick the first explorers
found skeletons of elephants they said,
found ribs of wooly mammoths, tusks.
They dug out teeth the size of bricks
and skulls of giant bison, beavers.
In salty mud licked bare by elk
and deer and buffalo and bears
for ten millennia, the bones
seemed wreckage from a mighty dream,
a graveyard from a golden age,
or killing ground of titans. Here
they saw the ruins of a world
survived by its diminutives,
where Eden once gave way and shrank
to just a regular promised land
to fit our deadly, human skull.
When mountains boomed and boomed again
returning echoes all along
the chain, the Indians said the peaks
were talking to each other in
the idiom that mountains use
across the mighty distances
with giant syllables and rests.
White hunters feared it might be guns
or even cannon natives had
somehow acquired to warn them from
the better hunting grounds and streams,
the blasts as loud as thunder on
the clearest days and coldest nights.
Geologists would later hold
the groans and barks inside the ridge
were shelves of massive, restless rock
that slipped or dropped far down within
the mountains’ guts, a fracture or
a crashing at some fault as part
of the tectonic conversation
among the continents as old
as planet earth or starry birth,
the mutter of creation’s work.
A common sight in graveyards in
the countryside’s the sunken grave.
Though times may vary in each case
the average age for graves to cave
is roughly half a century.
To compensate old folks would curve
the dirt in mounds above the site.
But after several years the box
below gives way and heavy earth
subsides, to settle, crush the whole
container of remains, the dust
of the beloved, as clay unites
with clay. And what is seen above
in turf’s a new depression near
the stone, a pool of absence filled
by rain or snow or blowing leaves
until the spot is flush again,
until the human is replaced,
with hill and wind and planet’s curve.