Miles cannot measure where the heart goes
over these Dakota badlands
and flat Montana plains
in rain and night—
Across the aisle, a young soldier
going to his post
tosses aside his magazine,
aching to sleep. His uniform,
crumbling out of neatness,
becomes the winding sheet
for the gun of his soul,
which he cannot set aside
in this vast geography,
nor even in exchange for it—
What will withstand
its mechanical ignorance?
Let his hardening innocence be
all that he needs tonight,
his shield between him and it
hurtling toward him in the darkness—
shattering as the tracer-white lightning
now at our streaming windows...
The startling light of a future perfect,
not the past, buries more dead.
And now he is asleep, and I am drifting off,
dreaming how quietly he'll go where he is taken,
with his home town paper, his letters,
his furlough of memories...
# # #
It is early morning, the storm passes,
the bus picks up speed, and he still sleeps,
his crisp shirt and tie in place,
his one thin hand across his green blouse,
as though he knows we bear him to Avalon,
bear him silently across
a sleeping, nearly immobile land
but for this thin smoke from a distant ranch,
their animals looking glumly out at us from the fence,
and the wild small animals alert beside the road,
who watch our wheels.