copper traces

What I like is that he left it where he found it. It’s there every time he puts together a long train–he has time to walk along the tracks, adding cars, dropping cars, time to notice his surroundings. If he had removed it, well–it’d be gone.

This is the way he was raised, and the way I was raised, too. Leave it be. It’s enough to come across bones in earth, and a blessing to witness what happens when copper traces into bone.


Twenty Below

Once I saw her
brush her hair
with a bottle
brush. I admired
her dexterity, her flex/
ability. She tuned in
stations I had never
heard on the radio,
tossed chicken bones
on her roof to help winter
birds survive. Her neighbors
didn’t like her
boyfriend when he came
to visit with his flatbed
parked out front,
a dead cow
on the deck. The rendering
plant didn’t open
until noon. The cow
was too frozen to stink.


Photo by Justin O’Keefe

About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website:

12 responses to “copper traces

  1. wuffda

    Please tell me where did the copper come from and why did it do that and that is vertebrae but of what?

    • redmitten

      the copper is just one of many ores and minerals in “the ground” (the earth, the dirt). as it happens, this area of montana is rich in copper and at one time was considered “the richest hill on earth”. the vertebrae turning turquoise tells us copper is rich in this dirt/earth. archaeologists (google this for fun) have all sorts of information about copper discoloring bones/ivory, etc. isn’t it interesting what goes on while we are busy with our morning coffee routines? am not sure what animal’s vertebrae we are seeing here- i’ll ask justin what he thinks as he has way more experience in this than i have.

  2. kmerrifi

    You do it again, Sherry. I’m there, seeing, smelling…. 🙂

  3. He left it there and you brought it to us. Isn’t life mysterious??

  4. Rose Hunter

    I love this: “If he had removed it, well–it’d be gone.”

    I love Twenty Below as well.

    I thought the vertebrae was coral at first!

    • redmitten


      when i first saw justin’s photo- i couldn’t figure it out at first. (and if you knew justin, wellllll….you would understand why so many options ran through my head at first.) i love your thinking coral…the way life connects is mysterious (like tim said) and i like to think we the same thread that runs through me runs through you and runs through coral and vertebrae.

      ah, twenty below. all fact, no fiction.

      and i am so glad you liked the line about being gone. it sounds sorta cheeky, but really i didn’t mean it that way. if we were to see this turquoise bone on some bookshelf in someone’s house- it wouldn’t feel the same. coming across the bone is a rush. that thread that connects everything is there in the copper traces.

  5. kerry

    some things are better viewed over and over where they lay…by the way I like ‘her’ already!

    • redmitten

      kerry- oh i am glad! the twenty below poem is fact about one particular person. but when i think of the many people i grew up around- she is a composite of all these other people. the people who live so close to earth. they don’t see the bones on their roof top as bones, they see the ecology of earth. and the making do with the bottle brush- resourcefulness and resiliency each have a way of replenishing things we didn’t know we had lost.

  6. I’m just thankful for wuffda, for putting the hand up. I’m the one who’s always afraid to ask the question. I didn’t know what the heck these turquoise bones were–and I’m too shy to ask.

    Twenty below. …tossed chicken bones on her roof…. Oh, that’s a marvelous image! I’m enjoying getting to know these Big Sky characters. You do etch some beautiful portraits, Sherry.

    • redmitten

      jayne- i am almost always the one needing to buy a vowel. but i like to think that the payoff is that we feel mystery and magic deeper. and i am so glad you like the woman who feeds the birds. so much is right before our eyes and we miss it. (and i mean- i miss it.) yesterday i was at a tiny angler and rock shop where the local seniors gather at the one table for morning coffee. on the table is a bowl filled with a variety of reading glasses. my heart has felt tender ever since i watched the men sort through the glasses for the “right” pair to read the weekly newspaper.

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