Back to Issue Nine.

Notes from the Journey Westward



We died in the wagon. We had been sick
since Wyoming, since the skin
of things had begun to pock
with sagebrush and knobs of rock,
like the wrecked face of that bare-
knuckle man back in Cincinnati.

We said our little prayers. In our fever
the angels came. They had no teeth.
Tongues thick as snakes, sky-wide
mouths, lips cracked as ours—
in this dry place, we decided,
even the seraphim must thirst.

We ate the meat they gave us
and were hungry. We drank the milk
and were thirsty. We pissed where we lay
and did not understand. Yet we asked
no questions. We knew the only answer
was farther West.

And here is what they did: Above a dry valley,
up under a sandstone ledge,
they shoveled us in. If it weren’t for the blood,
our snapped and lolling bones,
dust the wagon left settling on our lips,
we might have had the look of lovers.

Once, we were given an orange. This was early,
just across the Missouri, the grass
thick, green willows weeping along the creeks.
We would still walk then, a minute
here or there, hand on a horse’s muscled rump.
And at the very hour of our death, again
we tasted it, how we ate it peel and all.


from Notes from the Journey Westward (White Pine Press, 2012).

Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing up on the Big Dry, winner of the 2014 GLCA New Writers Award and a finalist for the 2013 Orion Book Award, and two collections of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward and Killing the Murnion Dogs. Wilkins’s poems, essays, and stories have appeared in The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, The Sun, Orion, and Slate, among other magazines and literary journals. The recipient of a 2014 Pushcart Prize, Wilkins lives with his wife, son, and daughter in western Oregon, where he teaches writing at Linfield College.