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"Once I visited and began reading about the Hagerman Fossil Beds, a national monument for which 4,394 acres have been set aside, I realized I would need to approach the place with eyes willing to see what was both visible and not, as the sediments at Hagerman preserve an abundance of fauna from the late Pliocene era. Unlike the sagebrush environment we see today, the site was African savanna-like roughly 3.5 million years ago. In fact, the Hagerman horse (Idaho's state fossil) was found to resemble Africa's native Grévy's zebra more than any North American horse. In short, I wanted—in an era characterized by fractiousness and disconnection—to reveal what seems to be the easeful simultaneity of all time zones, as well as the oneness and interdependence of all creatures: the conditions for which this site serves as revered symbol."
Diane Raptosh

American Zebra: Praise Song for the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

I like how, when I look out
onto this desert Idaho plain,
I can pretty much graze my palm
on the Pliocene—
and doing so, greet the great wide savannahs of Africa—
mossy and tree lined,
laced in saber-toothed cats,
hyena-like dogs and a half caravan
of even-toed camels.

I like how, when I look upon these bluffs,
I have to leave off acuity—
level all spectacle,
un-specimen Earth.
Even so, here blows
another tumbleweed. Be careful
with that match! 
Hear it now,
skeletal frolic of O’s.

I love how this lookout
offers no viewfinder.
So I must mesh with the idea
of what might have been
the lontra weiri,
Hagerman’s mystery otter,
nearly four million years ago.
Should I not add this riverine creature
was named for singer Bob Weir?

Dare I admit I am way, way thankful
he fathered the Grateful Dead,
which helped bring us hippies,
sideburns shaped into states of Idaho?
These, plus those love-ins
we never quite had down in Nampa,
where I grew up, 117 miles from here.
It all instilled what I will call gratitude’s latitude
bones of articulate hope.

I like how standing still in this place
serves to remind
that every epochal zone
clearly inheres in us. Notice.
Most people only look
for what they can see. Oh, Great Dane-ish
Hagerman Horse. Maybe you’re Africa’s own
Grévy's zebra. Should I not grab you here
in this wayfaring now—and stiffly by the mane—

to say yes, of course, I am indebted?
I’m here at this look-out—
the long meanwhile, whole Snake River histories
molted and soaked in
then found their shot to break free
to the bone layer
under that soil-load
dubbed by the digging biz
overburden.

Listen here, visitor.
Lay your millstone down, 
once and for everyone.
And say
can you see—hey,
here’s some binoculars : What kind
of place will we be
when I cross over
into you and you cross over into me?


 

Copyright © 2016 by Diane Raptosh. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Copyright © 2016 by Diane Raptosh. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Diane Raptosh

Diane Raptosh

Diane Raptosh is the author of several poetry collections, including Human Directional (Etruscan Press, 2016). She lives in Boise, Idaho.