The moon just dwindled from the half,
revealing horns, and Draco coiled
on the ridgetop, glittering over the river.
I soak in the sulfuric water till the sweat
prickles in my hair, and I am pregnant
with heat. Then I slide out of the water,
rest my butt on the cold smooth stone. The wind
blows steam from my moonwhite flesh.
Last night, Cassiopeia was where the Dipper is now,
and the Dipper held Cassiopeia's place.
If you watch long enough
you can feel the slow turn of the stars
you can feel them twisting in you, the torque
of all that ancient fire.
The hemlocks and the cedars breathe on me.
The Pleiades drift from one crown to the next.
The Big Dipper's handle stops dragging. It's lifted,
and that means that the sun will be here soon.
An hour perhaps, no more.
The light never seems to come out of the East,
at the beginning of the dawn. It seems to come
from the broken line of the horizon, North and South,
as if a fault had opened in the firmament,
as if the light was oozing through the cracks.
The stars become uncertain. They backpedal.
Suddenly I'm cold, and I slip back in the water,
back into this pore in the skin of the Earth.
I am a germ, a germ of thought, a germ
of discontent, a skin infection
of this great mineral hide.
Only the moon is holding out against
the incoming tide of daylight—the stars are washed
away in the flooding sky—when the ravens begin
to grumble and rattle across the way. In ones
and twos they reconnoiter the colorless air.
Someone forgot to tell them they are not
gregarious birds: they've gathered in the cedars
to mutter together. Some immemorial wrong,
some age-old grudge, is on their minds.
But in the middle of it all, a greater bird
appears, and all go quiet. The largest heron
I have ever seen. His wings
spread from bank to bank
of the narrow river; he flies
straight up the stream, impossibly slow,
each wingbeat a pulse
of this dark country's heart.