Gary Snyder

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 belonged 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 a bale of straw. 

military jets head northeast, roaring, every dawn. 
my sons ask, who are they? 


Bluejay screeches from a pine.