Last summer I dropped my phone in the Payette River. There was no saving it, unlike the retrieved paycheck ("I knew a clean man") sun-dried and flattened in Leaves of Grass. Thankfully there's a cloud decidedly un-Wordsworthian, utilitarian as a pressure pump, a coat, a seat apron; and when I went to the river to find words, I'd put them "up there" before whitewater whooshed my money away. My words are very different from Niedecker's because my waters are very different, and understanding the necessity of this is something I owe largely to her the idea that paean is of the place and that old traditions the pastoral, the Romantic, the transcendental may not suffice on a continent of wildly varied ecologies.

from Wilderness

I gather stones, pink and egg-shaped, or
broken to display extravagant mica.
From the other bank, gunfire.
Sun bounces off the rocks, stings my eyes shut.
My foremothers believed that when we die
we go not to other planets but to worlds.
Who am I to doubt them.
Tuft of fur mucked to my leg.

Several lunatics would governor this place.
Flowers drip from the trees.
Down the gravel road, a militia
practices combat drills in a converted warehouse.

I come home reeking of algae,
dream a field where griffins
tear the throats from horses.
The republic distills down
to its hallucinatory essence.
My body forgets
how to sleep with the light off.

At the grade school, a unit called Nature Poetry.
At the university, a class on the Pastoral.
My foremothers boil rabbitbrush,
dye their dresses yellow.
A woman wanders into the mountains.
A man drowns in the Salmon.
If the dog begins to drown, don't follow her
into the current; let the poor bitch go.
Adnan thought mountain and angel interchangeable.

At the feeder no creature.

Eyes filmed by glaucoma, the cat
traverses the bed's perimeter by scent.
I dust the owl with a wet-wipe
left over from the plague.
A man with a headlamp
pulls sour pears from the tree.

Frost flings its counterpane over the hills.
Still I go to the river.
Something in the water / like a lover / will devour // water // flower-
yet pilgrim is
as pilgrim does.

The one about the quail,
the one about the chipmunks,
the one about the locusts:
my foremothers declared miracles
as needs' must.
At the river, the snake carries the translucent bug
in its mouth, swallowed
up to the abdomen.

Miracle of the snake
who carries the translucent bug
in its mouth, swallowed
up to the abdomen.

Kerri Webster is the author of three books of poetry: The Trailhead (Wesleyan University Press, 2018), Grand & Arsenal (University of Iowa Press, 2012), and We Do Not Eat Our Hearts Alone (University of Georgia Press, 2005).