Great Basin Plants

Regardless of the hour,
concrete culverts funnel
their noxious fumes upward
in unapologetic clouds.
They canker
the stretch marks
of great basins,
where the Bonneville ranges
heave like hard-rock breasts
and salt flats
rest between them.
They seem
to have absorbed
the curious tears of Lot’s wife
long ago when she harked back
to rough-scrabble elevations.

Even the Bristlecone pine
imperceptibly snake
their chapped roots
down through basalt fissures
and twist into the altitude
in tortured angles,
dismember the eons
before Pony Express riders
galloped across sprawling
high desert vales
beating out
a common time signature,
winding through the Four-winged
dodging the spiny Shadscale.

Alkaline expanses
tickled by the wheeze
of gingham skirts and spun
wagon wheels, easily blanched
the broken frames of the dead
to accommodate
their deserted efforts.

More recently,
salt processing plants and toxic
waste incinerators are long-mile
neighbors up wind
from the army depot,
peppered truck stops
and the copper mine slag-heaps.

Rinsed in a halogen-sapphire light
after the sun gives up the ghost,
monolithic smokestacks bolk
a steady exhaust.
It diagonals
and dissipates in secreted
melancholy burnings
offered up to the isolated
and inhaled by the sparkling
seven sisters, reduced
to semi-precious stones
worn above a vacancy.

Underneath it all,
radioactive wastes
buried inside vinyl-lined landfills
live out their quiet half-lives.


Things are distorted by fluorescent light.

Artificial shadows inscribe purple C’s
under a worker’s eyes.
Coveralls are creased curtains drawn
over individuals, they cannot contain
the occasional humor
rising between their fasteners,
rolled up in the boot-sock,
wrinked in a bird-fingered glove
below a smile.

Is the currency of anonymity
traded freely
on the graveyard shift?
Sometimes a caterwaul or song will bounce
between the metal drums,
push back at
the whining propane powered forklifts
in strange solo invitations.
Company violations are secreted
in unspoken brotherhood-oaths
covered and kept,
forgotten and swept.

Stacks still funnel away toxic
particulates, the steamed barbiturates
of societal processing.
Facilitated and calibrated, overseen
by the upright ant
in all his delicacy,
with his downey fur, his thoughts
wrapped in a hardhat.

Perhaps against this light,
within the manufactured hills
our magnificent fragility
is contrast,
more apparent, broadcast.
It stands exquisitely diaphanous
in a pair of Redwings and safety glasses,
represented in allegro steps,
through the years
in a compromised
pension’s promise.