Lee Patton


I thought I was the lost one,
pacing a faint track on a volcano's
flank, just into the pines,
above the manzanita and cactus,
the century plants' tight spikes.
My slow ascent flipped random pages
of the botanic joke book altitude recites
to latitude. Tantalizing above treeline,
the crater brewed, inside a snowy alp—
in tundra, I supposed, Mexican ice
laced with lava.

As the trail grew more green,
grassy and leaf-strewn under my feet,
I knew soon I'd have no new pages
to turn, that the trail would decline
to be any intruder's guide book and hide
its text in vines, underbrush—amid
the squawks, the yelps of unseen life,
yowls and indecipherable songs.
Still, a faint impression, a whisper
against the high grass led forward
like English phrases scattered
among dying native tongues.

Neat as a row of teeth, prickly pear
appeared to line the upward route.
Aloe spread their spears in clusters,
rows fringing a grove of coffee trees.
A tile roof asserted between palms—
whatever the trail had to say ended
at the steps of an abandoned house.
Along the windy terrace, pronouncements
of family—jungle gym, swing set, plumbed
trough for the animals, working spout.
Through broken glass I spied a hall scored
with clean squares, phantoms of photographs.
Encyclopedias stacked, askew as if someone
had just sought Volume E., for "Ecologia Tropica."
How about Volume Q., for "Que Pasa?"

As if to answer, then not answer,
one deck chair seemed turned toward me
among a close-knit circle perched
above a vista of wild ravines.
The vanished family must have coffeed
here in the evening, kids' sun-scorched
skin salved by aloe. They must have savored
conversation, citing Volume E. to season
disputes. Here on the volcano's spine
in intimate company with doom,
they'd spelled the human phrase of reason
into vine-tangled ground, their lost
words like seeds deep-planted
in this howling surround.

Lee Patton
Lee Patton's work has appeared in The Threepenny Review, The Massachusetts Review, The California Quarterly, and Hawaii-Pacific Review, as well as in such anthologies as Hawaii-Pacific Review's Best of Decade, XY-Files, and What's Become of Eden: Poems of Family at Century's End. He was a finalist for the 2001 Lambda Award for best novel (Nothing Gold Can Stay), The Borderlands Playwrights Prize in 1993 (The Houseguest) and the 1996 Ashlands New Playwrights (Orwell in Orlando).



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