TORNADO AT THE DIG SITE

 

          —Cumro Mammoth Site, Custer County, 1929

 

It begins with green

seeping at the horizon,

then yellow creeping

like a sickness,

the smell of sulfur,

the sky growing silent,

daily picks and chisels,

constant whoosh of a brush

removing dust from the bones

of a mammoth, arc of ribs,

smooth curve of tusks

the size of any man there,

quieted by the approaching storm.

The traffic of sparrows

flees to safer skies

while the men drape tarps

over a skeleton preserved

in the strata for a million years,

gathering tools and bones

into their arms like children,

holding this contribution

close to their rattled hearts

as cloud cover hooks in the distance,

a tunnel wavering like the horizon.

Lightning cleaves the sky

into a dozen pieces,

like the femur they reassembled,

and the dig site trail is lifted up,

each post and hand lettered sign,

the winding length of rope.

Retreating like animals

to the hole they’ve burrowed

into the ground for such an occasion

the men rest with the bones,

pulling a slab of wood

over the opening to wait,

but not before watching evolution

and Epochs twist together,

spiraling into oblivion,

history scattered like scraps,

after the wind has its fill.

 

Sarah Fawn Montgomery holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from California State University-Fresno and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she teaches and works as Prairie Schooner’s Nonfiction Assistant Editor. She is the author of Leaving Tracks: A Prairie Guide and The Astronaut Checks His Watch (both from Finishing Line Press). Her work has been listed as notable several times in Best American Essays, and her poetry and prose have appeared in various magazines, including Confrontation, Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM, Fugue, Georgetown Review, The Los Angeles Review, Natural Bridge, Nimrod, North Dakota Quarterly, The Pinch, Puerto del Sol, Southeast Review, Terrain, Zone 3 and others.

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