Keith Ekiss

Keith Ekiss is currently a Jones Lecturer in Poetry at Stanford University where he has developed and taught all levels of poetry writing workshops for undergraduate students. He received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford in 2005 where he continues to create and write poetry.

His hope is that the poetry he creates will increase the reader’s passion for the continued preservation of our common desert heritage, as represented by the park and National Park Service. By showing the value of what many have worked so hard to preserve, he means to convince the reader of how much there is yet to save.


The following poems are copyrighted by the artist and may not be copied, reproduced, or otherwise used without permission of the artist.

Rainbow Forest
A grave no one tends. Stumps of petrified
headstones only scientists can name,
quartz once-trees, manganese and iron.
I give a close look to agatized artifacts,
crystal gleams like honey.
Soft dirt beneath my feet gives easily.
The wood is nearly diamond hard,
but the landscape’s disappearing.
Orange mites my camera can’t record
stream over it, seeming to polish the stone.
Whose tracks precede mine? Early hunter,
coyote whose unburied bones I’ll find later.
Not a moonscape, closer to Martian red.
A plant takes hold in the petrified wood,
given enough depth to root. The swiftest erosion
here is theft. Because everyone wants something
for free, it’s been dynamited, blasted, chipped,
walleted, Tiffanied for jewelry, pocketed, secreted,
muled, trained, Harvey Car’d, trunked, and backpacked
out of here, if you want to see where it went,
try Houston, Rapid City,Boca Raton,
Anywhere, Main Street, U.S.A.

Pinpointing the Triassic
Before tyranosaurus, before pterodactyl,
before Big Macs, Top 40, and must see
TV. Before mammals and manatees,
Before space stations and play stations,
country stations and comfort stations.
Before countries and continents, before garbage
and garbage men, before which key fits
this lock, before National Security,
before dodos and buffalos,
before shoes,the blues, and mixed reviews,
before root canals and Suez canals,
before dams and damnation,
before Cadillacs, Pontiacs, and heart attacks.
Before tadpoles and flagpoles, before
the color of your eyes, before the coming of the end.
Before back-to-school shopping, barhopping.
before Greeks, geeks, and sheiks, before
you before the mirror examining your physique.
Before neanderthals and shopping malls.
Before kangaroos,butterflies, and mice. Before rice.
Before you me, us them, left right, up down
yes no, either or,this that. Before flowers.

Agate House
No wonder they settled here.
The easiest house ever built.
Someone already cut the wood.
tough like rock, heavy to lift,
inviting, as if this was the place
the gods meant them to live.

Puerco Ruin
Then a boy appears and moves room to room,
aunt to uncle, cousinto cousin, sandstone wall,
sandstone roof, mudtight to keep out darkling
beetles. There’s nothing he touches that doesn’t
belong to him or everyone, room to room emerging
to the ever-present light of the plaza. Low song.
His father and grandfather, down in the earth,
in the kiva, with other men, calling the ancestors,
walking where they went, down into the earth. The boy listens, quickly bored. He likes good smells
better than talk. Mothers grinding, mothers baking.
That boy, always hungry, she thinks. He should learn
to hunt and catch, he should learn that the fathers’ song,
the grinding and clouds, the ancestors and stars,
exist to bring the coming harvest, to find a new way
to satisfy the god of rain.

Colors of Stone
The color of coffee when you’ve put
too much milk in it.
Red so warm you think twice before touching.
Piki-colored, like the bread in Mimi’s hand.
Inedible chocolate.
Gray of decayed fern and aetosaur.
Trendy sage, borrowed for modern kitchens.
Buckwheat goodtime country yellow.
Delicate pink of rabbit ears.
Ravens. The absence that is black.
A clarity of white, morning cloud purity
And the one I love best: adobe on sky.

Thunder, Range, Lightning
There’s a rhythm to late summer, days begin cloudless
and blue; then, when you’re not looking,
storms assemble over the horizon, bringing rain somewhere,
if not here. I walk out, open to mirage and sweat,
open to the sun. Despite the heat, still deadness of afternoon,
summer’s show of thunder, October is coming,
the light slants and angles against the hills, more uncertain
than true summer’s light. Mornings are forgiving,
cool winds benefit my cabin. It’s only a slight chill, bringing to mind the first reminder of fall.
Fewer tourists, kids in new schools, one year older, a boy returns home to tell his mother they just aren’t
making textbooks any easier. Mothers and fathers trying not to think how long until the next vacation.
It’s a good time for sagebrush to bloom. A good time for lightning to stitch the earth, original fire
sparking the brush,burning down the end of summer.

The Spiral, The Hand
The morning trail leads down the mesa,
past rabbits in juniper shade. I watch one
listening— he doesn’t know his ears stick
up behind the branches. Desert hiding
isn’t easy on this plateau of sagebrush
and wild buckwheat flowering in August,
adding a range of yellow against iron red,
the landscape literally rusting. It’s barely
7am, still I keep to shadows where
and when I can. The human trail ends,
I pick up a new path, evidence of water,
without water, everywhere in the wash
that barely runs lower than the plain.

Fields of petrified, unbrittle shards my steps
traverse. Combs of crystal. The open wash,
stretching unrivered north and south. A delta
of petrified logs tumbled down the hillside.
Isn’t that what this place is about? Erosion.
Nothing’s added to it. Little rain or river,
whatever’s here decaying or carried away.

I walk further in my true direction, southwest,
watch the moon, brilliant in early morning
against the hills, shades deeper than adobe.
Rain two nights ago. Occasional puddles of clay.
The brilliance becomes scorching,
pulling down my hat for better shadow,
careful for holes and ledges, rattlesnakes
breed in August. Pulling out my bottle,
I see a slab of north-facing sandstone,
fully hammered, etched with petroglyphs.
Deep browns, strange figures— seven-toed
feet, humans with tails, the print of a hand
I hold mine toward and find it smaller. Bear paw,
the whole bear never sketched, perhaps in fear
of calling it. The spiral leading further up
the rock to signify, I think, the journey.

Careful of the hitch in heat, I head back,
find a camper walking along the wash,
last night he found a mountain lion print.
I offer what I’ve read about coyotes.
Four, right? Feline is five. I leave the man
who hopes to find what I’d rather avoid,
begin the hike up past sage and juniper,
past rabbits hiding from the glyph of sun.

Letter Home
I’ve learned to spot two of three kinds
of Mormon tea and hope I won’t need
the traditional cough and cold remedy.
I’ve takento holding one-side conversations
with the rabbit who ear’d me through
the window last night. He just listens,
hopes I don’t see him. To the rabbit,
I’m a harmless, hairless, two-legged
toothless coyote. To me, the rabbit
is a famous listener. I’ve had time
to worry long thoughts,such as,
is all this solitude humanly natural?
Ah, here comes that Buddhist saying again,
the one I can only dimly explain:
the answer isn’t one and it isn’t two,
meaning the woman I heard on talk radio,
voice weary to my ears on I-40, who insisted
we are all one, the creatures of the sea, the people,
the land and all animals, all one,
she repeated, but the more she said it,
the less it seemed true. Her sorrow, her willful
leap into unity, struck me as false, but not
entirely. So this morning, when I read
that the Sonora pronghorn, smallest
and palest of pronghorns, was endangered,
I thought, if the last one vanishes,
because of our endless carelessness,
it’s not the death of the woman
pouring out her heart on AM radio.
It’s not your death, it’s not mine.
The necessary, sorrowfulfact of that,
But if the last one passes, the world
will flattens with loss, even as rain
and human birth guard new life.

Last updated: March 16, 2018

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