top of page

Balcony House

Mesa Verde

We huddle beneath a sandstone roof

afraid of dream-like depths. All around:

a cave metropolis. Two hundred homes

piled story upon story, rise to a mezzanine

of slick adobe tiles. Impregnable Balcony House.

Its builders crossed a narrow ledge, then threaded

a small entry that tests our king-size son

and draws us to the same high wall

the same sheer cliff that others slipped –

or leaped from – seven hundred feet, seven

centuries ago. They bartered goods, but had a taste

for gambling. As here, a charming reconstruction:

talus of tiny arrowheads, string of indigenous berries

draped, with surprising grace, by an open pit.

Exchanges we recognize: ritual gifts

for the chance of a woman's forgiveness – and not –

as our guide would have it – for the chance of crops.

Seasonal beads for an earlier season's omissions.

Shimmering talus, like the memory of a kiss. Plucked

berries for a city whose heights must have made them

light-headed, somehow unable to turn the earth back

to life. A stirring pool of cold, clear water is all

we hear today. Or perhaps, not water, but the buried

tones of chanting priests in kivas underground.

How could they not have heard the pools

receding? How did they miss the cracking clay

below? Perhaps it was our same habit of being:

an ever-promising season – men trotting up toe-holds

cut in stone to tend crops on a lush green mesa:

a vigilance they must have thought unrivalled,

while their babies swung from the ends of roof

poles below, to a rhythm sung from above –

quietly taking in the canyon’s toll on love.


Copyright © 2001 M. B. McLatchey. All rights reserved.

Published in Tampa Review, Fall 2023.

bottom of page