Cedar

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I had a dream about you, cedar tree. That you were gone. I ran to the empty space where you had once been, and I knelt in the rusted leaves. The sun fell over my hair, and over the fine, carved lines on my hands, and I ran my fingers through the blistered earth, as though through water, through black, bloody, seaweed. But you were not there. No stump. No place of mourning or rest. I stood and ran. The heaviness of the air followed me. One by one each tree vanished, until the forest was barren. All I wanted was to sit with my back against bark. To look up and see the lace of your leaves against the sky. But the trees were gone. The ferns lay severed and stepped on, and the salmonberry bushes wilted into pale, thorned dust. I couldn’t run anymore. The wind halted to absolute stillness. And then it was over, and I heard only my own small heart, flittering softly, like a dead leaf, trapped and wrapped carefully in my chest.

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The Bent Air

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The untouchable bends, a bowl that spools the air, unwinds it, throws it up and towards us and catches the ravens’ talons in the bristles of it, the pinyon pine, the turkey vultures in a square, sailing together toward the dying sun, and the moon, up from the dense, bent echoes, the dark, still places in the in-between, in the distance, the calm, bent walls, the purple outlines that lengthen at dusk, that inhale the other colors, the very rays of the sun, the dotted cliff-sides, the sharp click of rocks chipping against one another. Clouds like plates, with flat bottoms, and wisps of rain caught up in the sky. Long streams of mist that never touch the ground.

Lake Powell

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I think I know why the desert seems alive; because it is. Because here you can see the earth itself, the shifting, deep-time rock, and you can see quite clearly that it’s as alive as any plant or animal. And you can see the place where the rain forms, the gray sea-like air as it churns on itself, around, around, dark enough to obscure a mountain. The water does not belong here. This would be canyons. It would be deep, smooth walls of red dirt.  Yet it is beautiful. Once a sea, water again. It joins the cliff-sides seamlessly. They reflect onto each other, the pinks and reds and pale-greens molded into one flat pool, like a painting, like spilled light, these colors that have not mixed in millions of years.

The Fern Tree

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You do not sleep, fern tree. You stand awake, with moonlight on your shoulders. Behind you, Venus descends, slows, and dissipates, like a stone into water, but you do not move. At dawn the steller’s jays sway on your branches. Their feet clasp, and together you and the birds rustle, touched by the shallow milk of rising dew. The robins awaken. Yes, all of them. They call to each other—up-down-chip-chip-chip, in the smallness of morning.

 
At your feet, the creek migrates north, then east to the Willamette River. A decade ago one of your branches fell into the water. It remains there, spongy, softening, mossy. The current forms a diamond around it, and tugs it gently onward.

 
So, too, do your leaves join the soil. They sharpen, and crunch, and feather into lacey ghosts. The soil asks for them; demands them as a blanket so the salmonberries and the waterleaf may grow. You do not mind it, fern tree. You are blessed; you are a god, a great bridge across the forest, multi-trunked, invincible, your branches draped by thin-papered ferns that crisp in summer and glow sorrel-green in winter.  You will not die, not entirely. You will spout new trunks and the ferns will flock to you.

 
Two spotted-towhees rest in the elderberry bush. A cloud of chickadees joins them, along with a lone kinglet whose wings tremble like a hummingbird’s. They visit the cedars and the hemlocks; the baby ash, and your brother maples; but they do not visit you, fern tree. The jays have claimed you.

 
Night returns. You are silver; a strand of the moon, a keeper of wayward sunlight. Your leaves remain warm. The wind sifts in slowly, as though from the ground. You cannot help yourself; you sing your own night song, a whisper that is blue and ancient, and you join the birds in their nestling.

Behind the Fog

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When I see fog, I think of sunlight. I think of the string of clear days at the beginning of each December where the sky blushes blue and cold. I think of a stream I once saw, tucked into a shore-pine forest by the ocean, how I wandered there at dawn in a sea of fog and huckleberries, how, as an owl sang curtly in the distance, I stopped to watch two swans glide like ghosts above the mirrored water, their necks bent, their eyes calm and speckled with dew. I think of a hill in town, the douglas firs who grow there, how the fog peels off their branches in the mornings, how it rises, how it lifts, how it leaves behind a rich, dark green that makes me homesick when I see it elsewhere.

City Life

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This is not enough.

Grass, and horse chestnuts,

purple-leaved plums

and the maples whose names I do not know.

They are lovely, their leaves shaken off by last night’s wind,

but behind their nakedness is the lined gray pavement,

the dense, impermeable skin,

where my footsteps are visitors.

At night I look for the stars, but instead I find a blotched sheet of paper,

a chalkboard,

something that has been erased and left dusty with residue.

The wind here

smells of roadside oil,

of cigarettes and decaying apples,

and the smoke of a neighbor’s fire.

The leaves fall.

I believe they are the one true thing.

Underneath them is the soil.

 

 

Coyote Gulch

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Down low, in the golden grass, I sit and watch the scrub oak, bled of sun, and the cottonwood, who stands below us in the canyon, his leaves immovable in the warm silence, the bright walls, the dying sun, the painted light, the circular, dry plumes of wind, the crickets and the stream, the long stripes of black against the cliffs, and I, down low in the grass, I can feel the Earth, I can smell the sand and the leaf-decay in the water, hear the slosh of my boots against mud and stone. Above us, the sky drapes itself across the cliffs, an heirloom blanket, a dying world, the sky of ancient Mars, red rock smoothed into circles and fans and waves, the imprints of an aboriginal sea, the light of stars that have since died, the dying, the long shadows, humped, human-like, as they pour into holes in the stone, the windows, the eyes, the place where the stone watches us, the place where I lay in the grass, the place where the sun turns to stone.

Desert Hill At Night

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Behind their voices I hear the sky. It moves patiently but briskly, the way a deep river flows but is glass. I feel the depth of the soil; I feel its color waiting in the darkness. I follow it to the hill, weaving between the gray-night grasses, the rabbitbrush, the sage. At the top, the clouds have moved over the stars. The wind carries something empty. It is a good emptiness; the emptiness of oceans and redwood trees, of wide, old, ancient places where silence still exists. I can imagine myself alone here, standing among the sagebrush, their roundness, their whispered company. I can imagine the sky bending around me, the heat of fear and stillness in my chest.

Cathartes aura

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I wait at the bus stop, in the grass, as the cars scuff by. There is a hint of sunset behind the road, behind the skyscrapers, and the houses feel empty as dawn. In this moment I look up. Three turkey vultures circle each other; they dance like kites, smooth, their shadows lengthening, their features charcoal-dark, existing only in silhouette.

River

We walk in the time before sunset. “River,” we ask. “River,” we call. The air smells of sagebrush, that fresh after-rain perfume. We don’t see the rain but the wind speaks of it– the warmth it holds, the velvet-soil fragrance, the red paintbrush and wild peas. “River,” we sing above the wind-flow and the slow-moving clouds. Look, river stones, smoothly tumbled, the same red-pink and green-blue of the horizon. The water runs fast. It is the color of dandelion pith. If we stand still enough we begin to drift. The river untangles into a placid stream, slowing, slowing, until it is the stillest place on Earth. It is us–we are moving, faster than the curve of the Earth, faster than the sky. “River,” we say, but he can’t hear us anymore.

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