The view from the grave

prairie

The prairie broke in a range of hills with sides

of layered rock and crests as flat as the plains

below.  We left the highway and headed north.

The paved road turned to gravel and, as it wound

its upward course, the gravel turned to dirt,

the dirt road narrowed, the piney forest closed

along the sides and the fading road became

a two-track.  When the two-track ended at

a washout, we stopped the truck, climbed out and walked.

The hillside where the road had ended fell

away and, taking it, we cut across

a valley of cactus flowers growing wild,

ascended the farther slope and found a stand

–a thicker, richer stand–of trees.  The air

was cool and moist among the fragrant boughs,

and pausing to rest and cleanse our throats of dust

we heard the flawless empty spaces sigh

a song of solitude and sweeter days

of untamed dreams and boundless chance.  We thought

aloud how such an open place was as near

to paradise as we had ever seen.  An hour

we walked the quiet hills for nothing more

than feeling them alive beneath our feet.

And then we saw it.

……………………… A tombstone, a modest stone,

with letters nearly lost to the wear of rain

and wind and snow.  My brother read the name.

“It’s Mrs. Otis Tye,” he said.  “She died

in January, 1882.”

….

“Out here?” I asked.

….

………………………. “I heard about them once,”

said he.  “The Tyes were settlers.  One winter night,

when Otis was away from home, the team

of horses got away and lost in snow.

Frontier gals being a hearty bunch, Ms. Tye

went out that night to fetch them back alone.”

……

“You gotta love a woman like that,” I said.

……

My brother nodded.  “Crying shame they gave

her his name on the stone.  She earned her own.”

…..

“The storm?”

…..

………………. “He found her on this very spot.

The house is standing yet, in part at least,

about a mile from here.”  He waved his arm

toward the east.  “It’s made of rocks from these

same hills.”

……..

……………. We stood alone among the rocks

and swallowed tepid water from our canteens–

a silent toast of sorts–and thought about

the turning of the circle.  Frontier graves

were simple things:  Her wooden box had long

returned to the earth from which it came, and she

was sure to follow close behind.  We knew

the life the hills had given her, the life

that fueled the fire in her eyes, was now the life

that filled these scented grasses, held these trees

against the prairie winds and helped to close

the sacred hoop.  We knew that it was right.

…….

I saw him squint toward the muffled calls

of far-off turkeys.  “Want to go?” I asked.

……

He shook his head and turned his face to feel

the arid winds that blew across the plains

and rose against the rocks.  “Let’s stay a while,”

he said, then smiled.  “The air’s so clean, so clear,

it is amazing what I see from here.”

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