Listen to the summer road,
heat still in the dust and stones
at dusk. In a meadow
below the road, the carnies
have pitched their tents.
The heat has withered their canvas.
The women lift their hair
off of their necks in the heat
down in the blond meadow
tinged with pink now from the red
clouds in the West. Owls
tuck themselves back in the woods
where darkness is already
deeper than the dusk. Cicadas sing.
Trout waggle sluggishly
in the slow, warm current.
Gnats boil. You stare down
at your feet in the powdery dust.
The carnies will say they heard you sing,
but as the sound comes out of your mouth,
it seems only necessary, like breath exhaled,
not song. The deer back in the stand of oaks
stop; their legs become brown sticks.
To them the sound is necessary, too.
They cannot question it,
no more than fish can question river.
Only the carnies will wonder;
only they will testify.
It's almost dark now as the sheriff's car
comes rumbling toward you, white dust
pouring out of the chassis like factory smoke.
You tell him you were only talking
to the woods at dusk, and to the inhabitants
of the woods, talking of the underground river,
cool and actual in the bedrock below the road,
below all this heat and dust and weary brush.
He accuses you of singing, though.
You glance down at the lanterns
in the carnival's camp and allow that,
yes, it could be singing, what you do.
He says you can go, inasmuch as there's no law
against singing on a country road in Colorado.
He walks down to the meadow
to mumble with the strangers.
Darkness now. The animals
have retreated further. Farther on,
you find a place to sleep.
It's not a song, but in your dreams,
you know you hear the river underground.
Hans Ostrom 2013