Knowing What Made the Badlands Beautiful

Pointed back east,
we traveled three weeks.
Saw a mule rodeo in Winnemucca,
the flag at half staff for Reagan in Elko,
we weathered late snow in Yellowstone,
traced the circumference of Devil’s Tower
through a pine forest and prayer ribbons,
posed at Rushmore,
surrendered Andy Jackson to a Blackfoot
just to see Crazy Horse’s rough draft,
stood with more Presidents in Rapid City,
helped a Sioux woman migrate
out of the sun to sleep it off, and suddenly
here we were in the Badlands.

The kids and I climbed that razor ridge
on a sand hill behind the cottage to look
at how far we had gone and come,
and to watch the sun descend.
I turned to see you wave from below
at our silhouette, but stopped mid-turn,
astonished by the sky’s colors
sequestered in the hills.
The heavens once fouled here,
screamed pyroclastic sulfur,
delivered a merciless battering,
set the very air afire,
imposed an impossible burden
and would not let the prisoners go home.

If it happened to you and me,
if someone or circumstance ever turned
without warning, held and hammered us,
then we could not hope to remain the same.
When the light is like this, the setting sun’s heat
is on my back, its color in your face,
I brace again against the fading
Shade of violence
that ignited, extinguished,
and crushed early beauty
and rendered one more severe.
We would not stare at the Badlands long.
We spent one more night there
and traveled on.