Writing about place can be difficult, especially when we’ve lived in a place for a long time. The trick, as the great New York and Colorado poet Jared Smith once told me, is to “grab hold of a good metaphor and don’t let go.”
Here’s a poem called “Elk Mountain” from my first book What Those Light Years Carry:
Elk Mountain, Wyoming
She sits on her prairie balcony
all the days of her infinite life
wrapped in a sheath of clouds,
her pine-cone hair sloping white shoulders.
She stares out at the horizon,
waiting for her southern lover
to cross the ocean sage
before winter casts its chains again.
From the seaside interstate,
you can hear his message boomerang
in a heavy wind, that’s he’s coming,
that he always was eventually.
The words harbor near her still.
She waits, her flintknapped pulse
in the rhythms of invisible waves
breaking over the tops of snow fences.
I’ve probably reworked this poem at least a dozen times before I came up with this published version. And I could probably rework it a dozen more. However, I never lost the metaphor–the personification, actually–of a woman standing in the prairie and sagebrush, waiting for her lover. It kept me going through each and every draft, even as the sagebrush became a sea.
Will her lover ever show? I’ll keep that to myself and let you decide.