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.

10 Months

Another 27th day hits
the way heat slaps

my face when I leave
an air-conditioned

shell. He would have walked
in it—no matter

what. I mention an MIT cap
and ring to a young architect

who knows
the Institute well. He says

as much as it changes
it remains the same. My father

faced change,
loved the same.

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.

Eight Months

While dreaming,
our number
transforms into
a symbol
that gives
permission to go
on forever. One
sprawling figure

eight

through the seasons. But
it turns out
8 is not ∞
You have stopped
counting as I build momentum.
Grief can’t be quantified.
I must resort
to art as I carry you

with me on and off
the trace.

Seven Months

No ode—pastoral
or urban
myth—will do. No
flag raising
in any pattern or
color. No parades—though
he loved them.

It’s an odd.
A prime.
The current count:

7 days to make a week.
7 notes on a musical scale.
7 attributes of physicality.
7 words to Step 7 begins humbly.
7 home states plus one.
7 children and grandchildren.
7 months to make a preemie.

Some say seven is
this world.
What comes next? I might ask him.

To listen for an answer
in night-falling murmurs
of an otherworldly pulse becomes
the point—not the answer itself.

200 Days (or Spirit Varnish)

All the world’s
an ice rink
this morning before

the sun (no one can see
through freezing rain
and fear) fully rises. Where

did it go
when these bones began
to break and drop

to the lacquered
ground? Whose bones
will replace those
missing from this new silence?

Six Months

Another one
passes. Halfway around
without him. The heat

of late summer
was closing in
that morning. Now late winter

hints at thaw
before another day
closes just a little bit

later than the one
before. Still not used to it.

Startled and chilled
by moments of awareness
of nonexistence. Or,

is that it? He exists
in the route I take
each morning to work,

in the choices
I make when I am truly
awake, in the words

I retrieve—sometimes with excruciating
slowness. In the messages
I hear in that February

wind. He’s there
in the backdrop
to an overripe

moon. There propelling
me to imagine the next
full one. Then again—

an infinitesimal speck,
how can I know? And that’s it—

the spiritual collision
he would have me lean into.