I hear a train horn in the morning grey.
I can so clearly imagine it down by the river.
With each reverberation it pushes against the quiet,
the rippled river,
all the way out to the mouth of the ocean,
and the coarse interior mountains at the end of the Columbia, the Snake, the Fraser,
off somewhere where there are elk and moose,
and the air smells like stone rather than sea.
I imagine myself on an arid hilltop, bowing to the sunrise.
The colors blot out the valley air, and
all the while the sun pulls on me,
and so does the hill;
old, quiet beings, the both of them,
spinning the world with their weight.
Blue mountains fade like mist out of the water, reflections of each other, dawn to dawn, the haze of all horizons stretched over them. It seems these mountains are all water, that they are the sea and the sky at once; empty and cloudless yet full of something that is old and living. I stretch out my arms and try to become the same blue, water to water, sky to sky, to fade up like the mountains, the point that is both, sea and sky the same.
Photo by Kenneth Cole Schneider
Once, in the middle of the night, I heard a squeak from the building across the street,
some rumbling of the air conditioning or something,
and I thought it was a bird,
some exotic nighthawk on the roof,
with eyes like smooth black stones,
and a scarf of white around his neck.
He would be perched on the edge of his talons,
there, above the old folks’ home,
and the gray building with sunflowers by the parking lot,
his wings tensed,
ready to expand, long and bat-like,
ready to flap wildly in circles,
to chase the moon
over the cold pavement,
and the rhododendrons by the hospital,
and the three homeless men who sleep outside by the church,
all the while squeaking, squeaking, squeaking–
a beautiful dark fleck
above the I-405 bridge,
and the dim rusty glow of the river.
Listen, I will speak their names–
I look out into the green
and read their leaves, like language, like words on a page.
I hear them speak, and know their songs,
how the wind rustles them,
how the pathfinder-plant flickers green and white,
how the sedge whistles and bows.
I could not be lost, could never be lost, no matter how far I wandered,
as long as these plants were there,
for they are the known world,
the avens with its sticky seeds,
the spirea with its bright pink bursts,
the glow of a dogwood when the sun is above it.
As long as they are with me, I am home.
Photo by Drew Avery
Fairy terns fly out to sea each dawn.
they travel in small caravans,
drifting softly above the waves
All day, they relish the sweet sun on their backs,
and the fine salt spray on their bellies,
but then the sun burns low,
upon the flat, mottled Earth,
and the fairy terns
feel the pull of their nests,
of dusky palm breezes,
and they return to shore,
each and every night,
until it’s dawn again.
Photo from the Seattle Star
Along the river,
at the time of pale-blue,
the crows flow like black curtains,
thousands of them,
tens of thousands,
enumerable and warm and beating.
Just by looking at their wings
I can feel the soft mist,
the growing west wind,
and I can hear the traffic growing dimmer beneath me.
We course through, and over,
we, the relics of ancient days,
we roost together in furled winter branches,
and watch the humans walk by
with their eyes turned down.
How long has it been
since you sat with your back against a tree,
and looked up at the dark, straying rivers
in the sky?
How long has it been
since you knelt at a streamside,
and listened to the soft water
sing of mountain snow,
of old times and canyons walls,
and the kind, red belly of the Earth?
How long has it been
since you felt the wind between stars,
and traced your own pictures there,
faint but warm in the light,
and held each star
one by one,
solid in your animal gaze?
There are times when the forest seems to exhale clouds, when fog rests so heavily on the tree-tops that the space between them vanishes, and the whole of the forest becomes a white-frothed ocean. There are times, as well, when sunlight finds its way to the ferns and fawn lilies, to the dense, secret streams at the feet of the maple trees, and for a moment the colors lose their dampness, and the soil smells of drying rain, and all the world seems stirred by the sun.
Above the concrete sky, and
the rest of the whimsy,
we could’ve been real.
But you looked down
and wasn’t I cute?
So I pointed for you,
to the flat place in the sky
where it all caves in, and I
guided your hand like a bug on water
all legs and skittish muscles,
and I opened your palm, like a flower blooms,
and I helped string down the moonlight,
so it could fall on your skin.
You laughed again,
and asked where we would go next,
your eyes flat and matte and dead as paved ground,
and you looked away from me,
and the moonlight’s gaze in my reflection.
Sometimes I ask the moon for guidance.
I stand at the window, my breath fogging up the glass,
and I reach my hands up.
The moon is alive in the way of mountains and rivers,
through the long-lived presence of time,
and the humming of old things.
The clean blue moonlight pours through the city air, in a steady stream, as soft as water.
I feel it spill over my skin, through the too-pale crevasses on my palm, through the rivulets of my fingerprints, over the paper-cut on my index finger.
The moon and I are kindred,
nocturnal and unknowable.
I ask the moon what I should do,
what should I do, moon,
and she speaks to me the way a creek rolls across pebbles.
I cannot understand, but I feel something settle within me.
I feel that I am long-lived for a moment.
Wind, or a boulder,
or the bend in the river where the willows hang low.
I wash clean in the moonlight,
ancient, nocturnal, and unknowable,