Understanding Mortality on Cascade Ridge
Lake Tahoe

Off this road one mile high in the ice
of late winter, the deer and all boned creatures
belly down into the lake’s thin air.
Their tall lean noses, skating beneath
the rocks of their dawn brown eyes,
cut a trail along the sluit.
The fawns have slept through April.
Miles above and snow-heavy,
our Caddy lacs along in fogdrift.
The inch of road still hanging
like a gib between two clouds
swings to avoid our tires. And we prowl,
tight-wired, up along the sleek cliff’s crown
to a rock ledge of flurries. Blinded
below the miles of failed timber,
a long bear shakes free
the quarry of fur he prepares to bury.
Beneath the boneyard’s sleet, he forages
the hunter’s ground for sleep.
He has confused our snow
with the dusk of November.
We would photograph his sleepwalk
for our children, unborn, uncertain
as to any hope of their arriving.
No one grows, impatient. Nor less mortal.
More and more as he guts the bark’s deep bed
for a bite of darkness, the bear remains
content with his insomnia, we with driving.
James Ragan
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