10.3 (Spring 2006)
Top Girl
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Christien Gholson


How the Tundra Swans showed me where home is

Circling together off-shore,
four white and one dark, long arc
of the neck dipping back
to black water

Raising black beaks up
to falling snow—black
as the world from which they drink—
water sliding down the long throat

Then, slow-dipping again into that other world:

(to them, an extension of this one.
As if we could put our hands to the night sky,
plunge them in, feel around, know objects on the other side
only by touch—
like the blind man with the black dog next door,
feeling his way down the dry grass path beside the house,
on his way to the liquor store)

Black beaks down there, sensing a network of ice-branches,
and further below, a rock-face
staring back - a mountain lion's eyes
fading into criss-cross ice-crack lines.

Homeless. Not homeless
(How connected to the man selling a homeless shelter's newspaper for a dollar
across from the Boulder bus station?
People passing all day he said - not one taker. Me thinking
how hard it is trying to simultaneously be seen
and keep out of sight.)

Homeless. Not homeless.
Come down from the arctic tundra, on their way
to Texas, the Baja peninsula. The whole flyway
an extension of their bodies like
black drops falling from black beaks

back. Arc
of return—the way we return
to bed each night, under a metal roof
that bucks and rattles as if it were being re-forged
by the constant wind chasing snow down from the Divide,
through the stars.


How Fall came this year


Smoke blew through the room. Then,
a vase made of dead leaves. Crickets
bore tiny holes through the clay all night:

A crack in the sky, a saxophone behind adobe,
pink clouds from a backyard dog,
crying. Coyotes

hung their shadows on a phone line, went looking
for red wine. Leaves imitated the dance-steps
of the dead. Seven vultures were spinning

a halo around one crow. The crow cried
for something broken, blind, full of
blue flies. Why did everyone remain

inside? The end was beginning again,
making a play for my dead grandmother's
fingers. The sun was out walking

with smoke, smoke and bone,
did you see? She was here, holding
a smoldering juniper stick, shaking it

at the dry creek bed across the street. Did you
see? Leaves are now water; water,


In the plaza, an old man turned, looked
behind him. No one he knew. I was a hand
that slipped on a rail; all stairs dis-

appeared. The dead were smoke
in a cold rain. They ran with whatever
water was running. Why did everyone

remain in their cars? My grandmother
was the Jemez Mountain range seen
over the shoulder of the one hawking newspapers

on the hospital road. She blew sage
into fire. I was the black edge
of an aspen leaf turning too fast. The end

was beginning again. Fallen apricots
mimicked a crow's joke: Color
of a broken body, turned inside

out. All night the wisteria kept whispering
through the front door, Survival is not
enough, survival is not

enough... Its leaves became
water; water became


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