“Heart of the Highlands”, “Baptism in the Canyon”, and “Saved by the Beauty of the World” by Bonnie Thibodeau

Heart in the Highlands
Rhododendron roots
creep in and criss
across the narrow trail,
rain-wet and looking
like black snakes.
White mist rises
like phantoms
of the mountain range
or the men who harvested
her coal.
Tadpoles gulp at the surface
of small basins in boulder tops,
house guests in the hollow
formations that took unrelatable time
to wear away.
Wild raspberries reach
out of crumbled mason walls
where coke was made by burning coal
and even the most hardened men
admitted this was the hardest work.
I walk the ridge and wonder
if the shallow water will last long
enough for tadpoles to turn to frogs,
measuring the distance to safety in each moment
between thunder and lightning.

Baptism in the Canyon
I know the water will be an easy emerald
when I am turned to the sun again.
Then my craft and gaze might drift to the bottom
where algae ribbons wave like banners
strung from drowned tree boughs. Until then
I set the canoe on an upstream course at dark.
I am only afraid of never reaching
the shore if I cannot mark the miles.
I arrive and lay with my backbone pointing
true north to the river
and south to the hot spring’s cradle
so I and my eyes open upward.
I follow the Black Canyon path
to where the world cracked open;
I stand naked and howling,
fingers, feet, and gaze outstretched,
shooting up and down toward the out-of-reach source.
I have not learned
to read the sky, but let myself feel each impression
of history, fingers running over braille
without connection to the words. I am satisfied instead
to know the message was written and witness
my seven sisters rise above the canyon.
I find grandma there, where the rocks keep giving
birth to boiling water. She was waiting
on the other side in the desert valley with the moon and under
all of my mothers’ stars.
She is in the white lime wrinkles of every red wall.
I see them there, without a sound—
each woman illuminated by absence
as much as figures in cast shadows,
taking the shape of all they let go
so I might inherit the echo—light, life, minerals and memory.
A body cutting through current,
I am baptized in a river of stars.

Saved by the Beauty of the World
Hail Mother Mary Oliver,
patron saint of the wild geese
and the wild, silky self.
You map the way to love
the father who haunts our dreams,
early morning silence,
even the mangroves.
You hear all the world's cries
of grief and exaltation,
unravel our certainty,
cloak us in warm and infinite questions.
Like a servant of the good word
or pure daughter of the water,
for years you lived on the fish,
clams, and mussels you could gather.
You leave us to wonder
whether you believe
in adornments like lemon or butter?
and what color roses blossom at the burial ground
where you lay a loved dog to rest? how wild their scent?

Bonnie lives nestled in the hills of Southwestern PA with her dog. Her love for wilderness and quiet feel inseparable from her identity as a person and a writer. The rivers and landscapes home, her travels, and her time as a whitewater rafting guide shape her perspective. She holds an MA in English from West Virginia University. Previous publications can be found in River River, Still, Gyroscope Review, Third Wednesday, and Absence. She currently develops STEM education programs for an engineering nonprofit organization, though her passion is for creative expression through language and photography.