Montana Artists Refuge
literary art gallery


The Sun in Montana
by Judith Arcana

Long ago in another life, a life before this one I'm living
now, I learned the hard way, the way of walking miles
to school through deep snow and then back again, late
when it's already dark and shadows on the snow are purple;
that way. I learned security is only in your head.
It has no existence or meaning outside of you.
Maybe that's the only way to learn such a thing, the hard way
so that's the way everyone learns it; maybe that lesson
is simple as the day: the sky is blue, the trees are green
the sun is yellow, there is no such thing as security.
It's just an idea, something we can think, not something
we can have. That other life happened before anyone I know
spoke of context or conditions, before I could recognize
the impossibility of the thing itself, before Heisenberg
got more popular than the Beatles; so we could pretend
we could ignore that absence, that absolute lack of security
in what continues to be called, innocently ignorantly blithely
unthinkingly, the real world; where, for example, in the middle
of my own century, the president lied: a pilot (a man
too old to walk to school with me) shot down for lying
for spying; America was shot down by Russia for cheating
for sneaking, and the president lied. It was not for sex
that time, my own first time; they said national security.
One short season that drama played in all the theaters
then was lost in purple shadow; the lesson had to come
around again, repeat for review, repeat to memorize
like for a part in a play, for shooting the American
movie - black and white and color; back and forth in time
repeating the lesson through plot, character, crisis, climax.
In my other life we learned our parts, repeated our lines;
we acted out the husband, the lover, the wife, played out
domestic miniatures of the nation: lying and being surprised
we acted as if we could know, as if security was something
we could get, like orange juice out of the fridge
like a writ of habeas corpus, like a job when they were easy
like glittering pebbles scattered at the wooden sill of a mine.

So no wonder I know how to be surprised, on a Montana mountain
in this life, in the life I'm living now, wrapped in sunlight
rapt by sunlight, sleepy and loose, as if nothing was ever electric
in me: unwilling to push back against the fire of the sun, I lay down
on the wooden planks outside my door, eyes closed, gold sun burning
red inside my head; I fell asleep in the sun and woke to find
a clean space burned into my mind -- then, a question: Is this what
animals know? Living and dying, the deer, the elk, bear and lions
with eyes burning gold like the sun, is this what it is for them, being
inside biology, intellect and soul secure in the state of the body?

© Judith Arcana. Do not use/reproduce without permission.

This poem was written while Judith was a resident at the Refuge during the fall of 2000.


The Montana Artists Refuge does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, national origin, religion, age, or sexual orientation.

Montana Artists Refuge
P.O. Box 8
Basin, Montana 59631
(406) 225-3500