Been a field archeologist in the western United States for many years, working for the National Park Service, Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. It's the kind of work that leaves you with weird memories, and even weirder experiences.

MOHAVE SUNRISE

Walking the line
one morning fine in the Mohave Desert
dodging sagebrush,
scuffing saltbush,
and scarring desert pavement
of pebbles cooked black as tar
while they took ten thousand years
to come to rest, the yellow diamond
of sunrise just glimmering
blinded my eyes, darkened my feet.

Snake down there.
Coiled diamond-back rattler
its skin scaly-shiny,
like an afterbirth wet and shimmering.
Just waking from its morning sleep
as my boot swung over.

Snake hissed. I jumped.
Air whistled.
Landed ten feet beyond.
Then trembled.
Cold sweat at 5 a.m.
spoils the day. Looked back.
Snake now asleep.

I cudda cursed.
Didn't.
Walked a bit.
Took a piss.
Did my arky thing.
Counted myself lucky
snake liked to sleep in
late.

--T. Jackson King, 1996

DIGGING UP GRAVES

Archaeologists still
dig up graves
of people ancient, old and sometimes recent.
Honor they try to show
to bones and memories still resting.
If kind there be, to them the bones return.
And ancestors modern sometimes learn
of diseases ancient, armed quarrels small and large,
or starvation plain and simple.

Bones speak best
when the books are lost, or were never written,
so the words may resound in memory honored.

Still, when arkys
dig up graves
a chill remains
along spine, neck and skin pricked
by ancient chants of wishes simple,
sacred, and mundane.

Profane the purpose is
and the spirits may yet weep
when archaeologists dig
dig up graves.

Modern kin too claim a share
of grief ancient.
The question remains,
when construction new is ordained:
whose spirit will complain
when digging up graves
saves the past
so the present may know
the shape of things long passed,
and the future may claim
its heritage long lost?

This archaeologist knows not
the answer simple. He knows only how to
dig up graves,
then ask the shaman
for a ceremony
of cleansing.

--T. Jackson King, 1996

Copyright retained by T. Jackson King 2009