Back to Issue Forty-Four

Sound of under-water



1. In winter we are closest, in the desert, to the ocean that once held nautiloids, corals, cartilaginous fishes … We do not unearth their fossils lest they sit in museums. Diné tour guides make signs on the side of the road, usher cars into invisible parking spots amid the pools of half-melted snow. They remove nothing, pushing bills down into their pockets.

2. Clouds leave our bodies like great whales when the desert swims in song from a truck’s thrown-open door. The heat escapes into the ocean of sky.

3. White historians claim that the Spanish brought over the first horses. Modern genetics and scientific opinion suggest that there is no evidence that these horses are not the same as the ancestors that once roamed the continent before traveling to Eurasia. The ocean had given way by this time to swamp, ice, and fire. Rocks are the oldest storytellers, my friend Gusti tells me. The Badlands shrink behind us, gray teeth swimming in ghosts.

4. It was a warm, shallow sea. This brings comfort during a blizzard in the Northeast.

5. Mid-19th century scientists claimed to know these fossils better by cataloging, sectioning off, drilling holes, carting off to museums. Locals told stories and left them where they always had been.

6. Algal reefs shroud the sun, three hundred feet high. Water becomes shadow, then bright bursts of plankton, fiery, hurtling towards the sand.

7. A whale’s song can be heard from nearly 10,000 miles away.

8. Today, the formations of Capitol Reef, Utah, create a barrier for travel. Sediment mushrooms in petrified waves. Waterpocket Fold tilts the small heads toward the ever-growing sun, the dynamite scorch-marks almost invisible from the platform.

9. We loop, loop, loop the Badlands. Is it all the same ocean? I say it is, out loud, so the tourists lose their footing. I toss it out the window, bringing new friends for these fossils.

10. At night, the rocks glow. Uranium, yellow pollen, fossil dust, virgin sun. All the once-children of the ocean orbit the seascape.

Kinsale Drake is a Diné poet and playwright based in the Southwest. Her work has appeared in or on, Time, NPR, MTV, and elsewhere. She recently graduated from Yale University with BAs in English and ethnicity, race, and migration, where she won a Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program prize, the Young Native Playwrights Award, the J. Edgar Meeker Prize, and an Academy of American Poets Prize. Currently, she is an inaugural Indigenous Nations Poets Fellow. You can visit her at

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