Journeying west to a new country,
women mark the trails
with the things they leave behind.
Fans, little papers of rice powder,
fine-laced shoes, tucked
petticoats — almost at once they find
things they can do without.
Mired in the silt of rivers
they leave the familiar
anchors of mirrors and featherbeds,
the barrels of salt pork and windfall cider
they put up against winter.
Then muddled by distance
or the way the prairie
continually withdraws from them,
or because the stars here blossom in strange places, they leave behind the failed
compasses of letters, of bibles
and somewhere in the desert
they abandon the shallow
graves, the broken
So in the end
women leave behind everything
but what is in their heads.
And then even
what is in their heads —
climbing the next
rock, the narrow trail,
smelling water and going to it —
in this way women cross the mountains,
and bring themselves down to the sea.