Cannot Speak Montana

What I saw is a secret.
In whispers, I must only hint at
a northern Rimrock ridge,
a chain of snow-capped mountains called Beartooth,
unnaturally drawn carvings into a landscape from plane view
I could not identify,
irrigation ditches said the gentle guide at road level,
a canal where I would go
the last morning to pray,
the only way I know how.

Monday morning on my feet snaking a bicycle wheel-wide path
without falling, out of practice, forgetting the verses,
all the pauses and kneeling that must be choreographed just so

till I see what I must only whisper,
till I can take my trail mass to his bedside,
tell him louder than Roman chants
that I ran along his altar,
was trailing after him one more time,
while he rested half a lifetime of roads
into the quietest missal you can read
only if you close your eyes to hear,
your ears to see.

It is a secret
I must whisper. Two nights ago
with your hand tight around mine,
your breath tight around time,
yelling with lips through which nothing comes,
defying you to give me more road,
more trail you have in you than a mere cartographer,
to unfold before me,
whether or not I will be able to fold it up flat again.

I must only whisper
how the ridge and the ditches and the sky captivate,
can only whisper
how you, my father, must not die tonight,
can only whisper what you see, have seen,
I saw, am seeing—
this secret Big Sky.

12 Months

Just after midnight. Day
365. Just as time
closes the circle
tight, another one
in a parallel life
opens just a crack
to let in the light
of all the sunrises
my father did witness,
all the waves
he did hear crash
against all the shores
he claimed
with an intensity
in his eyes.

Just as I wonder
how I will see it rise
through a late August
storm, I remember
I could let go
of the immediate
future to breathe
more freely into this
slowed-down now.
I could address
my father directly,
and no one would care
if I believed
in spirits. And so
I do know

you are out there
whether I can see you
or not. This day
will break
as it will
no matter what.

Nine Months

A child could have been
conceived and born
in the time you’ve been

gone. A child was
conceived and born
in that exact span of days

decades ago—your eldest.
Somewhere there’s a recording
of you singing “Happy Birthday”

to her. And what better reminder
about the cycle of life. You gave me—
your third—the blessing

and curse of counting. Not enough
time has passed
for gratitude to outscore

grief. And yet today’s celebration
of my sister brings us closer
to evening the score.