Inscription Found on a Cliff Face After Drought
We fled our valley after the vine-beans withered,
followed the stream’s dwindling trickle to the high trail.
Burning brushfires chased us up to the treeline,
great flame-bombs leapt grove to dead grove.
The old people used to say to break a drought
one had to track the tiger, follow her far
into the mountains, and wait. Our wasteful lives
caused the water to dry up; our only hope her forgiveness.
We hid in dry weeds for days near her paw marks.
We offered her our hunger-gifts. She slipped behind rock
after rock, shy, then radiant. She breathed out dark clouds.
We sang our songs so her tail waved with pleasure, she heard
this story and her sweeping tail raised the rain. Then we
crossed under marigold gate alive, wet petals on our sleeves.
“Inscription Found on a Cliff Face After Drought” is being exhibited as an artist/writer collaboration in artist Tony Kroes’ solo exhibit, “October: Bells Heard Through Leaves” at Keeler Gallery in Grand Rapids, Michigan, October/November 2015. When the artist sent me an image of his print for our collaboration, my head was full of worry about the fires in the west and the drought — I built my poem around an imagined place after the rains had come again. —Katharine Whitcomb