What Is The West?

Buddy Levy

— for Harlan Taney

The west is a yearning, the dream of gold, white men crossing a continent to wade into the Pacific, believing all the land and water, 

everything before them and behind them, is theirs.


The west is the delusion of ownership.


The west I know is Jackalopes and cactus and sagebrush. 

Bison and geysers. 

Barbed wire and the nasal burn of branded cattle. 

The sweet smell of cheatgrass, the sting of yellow star thistle 

and the thrumming wingflush of chukars in rimrocks.


The west is canyon walls carved by ice and water, wind and time.


It’s the end of Route 66, the beginning of Hollywood Stars. 


Here, the sun sears a mirage over Death Valley 

and glows in spiraling color-bands of fuchsia and prosciutto 

across the Yosemite, that granite shrine of monoliths and spires. 


It’s standing knee-deep in runoff spill with the pulse-quickening hope 

of rising rainbows

and cutthroats and browns. 


A river cuts through the heart of the west like longing, 

and sometimes, sitting on the shore late at night 

in the white-yellow burn-glow of the full moon, 

I want to rise and wade in and let the current wash me away—

         downstream …

         into the riffling, pooling, swirling unknown.

Buddy Levy is the author of, most recently, No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon [with Erik Weihenmayer] (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017).  Levy lives in Idaho.