The landscape’s a crumpled page of desert mountains: At its foothills,
civilization licks like a toddler divorcing ice cream

from the ridge of a cone. A vanguard of geologists measures layers
with low-tech lasers, samples soil, scans with a sculptor’s eyes

the strata of rock. These aren’t the badlands,
though even badlands aren’t bad, just dry-witted victims to erosion,

& aren’t we all? Haven’t we felt weather stripping us of our veneer
like piranhas separating the cow’s striated flesh from bone?

Freshwater wells are excavated, ore excised, plutonium pilfered.
Streams race orange, red, & yellow, like a psychedelic nation’s flag,

bubble acidic, retreat into a slim sliver to be sucked back underground.
Houses pop up like fungi after a rainstorm,

like cops after the anonymous phone call. Pipes are laid labyrinthine
to acclimate the cookie-cutter residences,

to shepherd potable water like liquid sheep, these wet dreams
uncountable. We pave roads through sandstone temples,

through granite altars, though a sense of rawness gets preserved,
an escape from the glittering smog of urban life. Yet we sacrifice

the fox & grouse, the rattlesnake & vole, squeeze water from rock,
then leave its pulverized shell. Its cascade of cracks. Its broken back.

Jonathan Greenhause won the Telluride Institute’s 2020 Fischer Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for The Black Spring Press Group’s 2020 Sexton Prize for Poetry, and his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Dark Horse, Poetry Ireland Review, The Poetry Society website, and The Rialto. He’s currently – joyously – wearing a mask with his wife and 2 children.