Marlin and the Timeless Steppe

“Let me show you my favourite place.”
We left after morning coffee,
three of us piled in Marlin, laughing
at the great escape we had managed.

Kneehill County in August is ablaze, a foundry of grain.
We passed through a flock of starlings that
scattered and then returned to their murmurating flight.
We were driving the range roads, where
the pattern of intermittent highways breaks
and the roads must find their own ways
through low hills and sudden valleys.

Still water, lying off the bend of a creek.
A ruddy duck, alert as you spoke its name.
Without knowing, we dove below the prairie floor,
by Carbon, where the secrets of place are hid in the coolies,
like the wrinkling of my father’s brow.

As we made through the streets of Drumheller,
beside where the placid Red Deer River runs,
we passed beneath the shadow of the valley
and turned down a coolie that cut
into the edge of the great plateau.
Above us, a gyrfalcon wheeled against the sun
and followed our passage from afar.

Winding between the canyon walls, primordial bones
of ancient creatures seemed to form
the channels and gates through which we passed.
“This is a soft place; dreams here…”
We leaned out of open windows – emerging
from the canyon, back to the dry plateau.

The path faded to hard brown soil,
and Marlin bucked and drifted through
rough grass and unplowed earth.
There again, the murmuration of starlings,
filling our view, dove and pivoted clear,
like my father’s hands beginning a fire.

The fire – a rising of upland fowl,
a covey of prairie grouse, a jury
of turkey vultures, scattering from a hidden carcass.
A sudden dip jostled Marlin’s shocks and there, in the matted grass,
we left in our wake a piece of her engine shroud,
shrouded in a cloud of dust from our passage.

We rested, while the vultures assembled
a patient shadow above.
We had packed a lunch of avocado sandwiches
with pesto and thin slices of cheddar, coffee in flasks,
and overripe pears, the cores of which we threw
and watched the magpies desiccate.

After securing the shroud with twine,
we followed where your instinct led,
“There should be a lease in just this place.”
But the prairie grasses stretched, unmarked,
but for flashes of roan-red – there must be
a brown thrasher, hidden in the blue grasses.

Rattling over a swell in the earth,
we came to the Kneehill County creek-bed –
valley within a valley, and fresh made tracks,
silver snakes, weaving beside the water –
the train to Entice, somehow
still running there, though the tracks had been stripped,
I believe, a handful of years ago.

We left Marlin on the crest and descended
into a stagnant coolie – a copse of pine
on one side, cactus on our left,
and down in the low spaces: stained mud,
a summer marsh of rain-water, coots calling,
and a Great Blue Heron, standing, with wings
stretched like a morning prayer, over the valley’s mouth.

Back to Marlin, the sun was standing across the horizon,
so we turned to the East, where we knew
the great plateau again would break
down to the way we came – canyons, bones.
Both of you swore, as we passed below,
that a snowy owl was resting on a twisted branch –
out of Winter – and by this I knew
we had been in a place where the boundaries of time
had been second to the rules of the wind.

Again we passed through an ancient canyon,
on a path that had formed beneath our tires.
No turkey vultures waited, or gyrfalcon led us,
but a type of sparrow hovered on a shelf of wind –
its dissipating cry, like falling water
or the slipping of sand through glass.

Marlin’s breath was rough, on our journey home,
as though seasonal pollen (or rocks) had
slipped beyond her shroud.
We agreed that your favourite place
was worth its name, but you pondered it slow
as you opened the door and looked to the East,
“I have never been to the place where we were.”