Wednesday Poem

What Happened Here Before

— 300,000,000—

First a sea: soft sands, muds, and marls

— loading, compressing, heating, crumpling,

crushing, recrystallizing, infiltrating,

several times lifted and submerged,

intruding molten granite magma

deep-cooled and speckling,

gold quartz fills the cracks—

— 80,000,000—

sea-bed strata raised and folded,

granite far below.

warm quiet centuries of rains

(make dark red tropic soils)

wear down two miles of surface,

lay bare the veins and tumble heavy gold

in streambeds

slate and schist rock-riffles catch it –

volcanic ash floats down and dams the streams,

piles up the gold and gravel—

— 3,000,000—

flowing north, two rivers joined,

to make a wide long lake.

and then it tilted and rivers fell apart

all running west

to cut the gorges of the Feather,

Bear, and Yuba.

Ponderosa pine, manzanita, black oak, mountain yew,

deer, coyote, bluejay, gray squirrel,

ground squirrel, fox, blacktail hare,

ringtail, bobcat, bear,

all came to live here.


And human people came with basket hats and nets

winter-houses and underground

yew bows painted green,

feasts and dances for the boys and girls

songs and stories in the smoky dark.


Then came the white man: tossed up trees and

boulders with big hoses,

going after that old gravel and the gold.

horses, apple-orchards, card-games,

pistol-shooting, churches, county jail.

We asked, who the land belongs to.

and where one pays tax.

(two gents who never used it twenty years,

and before them the widow

of the son of the man

who got him a patented deed

on a worked-out mining claim,)

laid hasty on the land that was deer and acorn

grounds of the Nisenan?

Branch of the Maidu?

(they never had a chance to speak, even,

their name.)

(and who remembers the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.)

the land belongs to itself.

“no self in self: no self in things”

Turtle Island swims

in the ocean-sky swirl-void

biting its tail while the worlds go



& Mr. Tobiassen, a Cousin Jack,

assesses the county tax.

(the tax is our body-mind, guest at the banquet

Memorial and Annual, in honor

of sunlight grown heavy and tasty

while moving up food-chains

in search of a body with eyes and a fairly large


to look back at itself

on high.)


we sit here near the diggings

in the forest, by our fire, and watch

the moon and planets and the shooting stars—

my sons ask, who are we?

drying apples picked from homestead trees

drying berries, curing meat,

shooting arrows at bales of straw.

military jets head northeast, roaring, every dawn.

my sons ask, who are they?




Bluejay screeches from a pine.

by Gary Snyder
from No Nature
Pantheon Books, 1992