Issue Number 11, Winter 2010-11

Contents

Archives: by Issue | by Author Name



Around Us

by Marvin Bell

Marvin lives where the land is contoured like the human body, in the Lower Iowa watershed. He lives also four months a year in the Dungeness-Elwha watershed, on a peninsula from where the Cascades are visible to the East and the Olympics to the West. And he spends two months a year in the Southern Long Island watershed on an island reaching into the Atlantic.

We need some pines to assuage the darkness
when it blankets the mind,
we need a silvery stream that banks as smoothly
as a plane's wing, and a worn bed of
needles to pad the rumble that fills the mind,
and a blur or two of a wild thing
that sees and is not seen. We need these things
between appointments, after work,
and, if we keep them, then someone someday,
lying down after a walk
and supper, with the fire hole wet down,
the whole night sky set at a particular
time, without numbers or hours, will cause
a little sound of thanks--a zipper or a snap--
to close round the moment and the thought
of whatever good we did.


Reprinted from the author’s book, Rampant (Copper Canyon Press, 2004) with permission.



Alpha

by John Smith

John lives on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River in the Lower Delaware watershed.

I come for the stubble,
for the honey brown
and blackened rows
of corn stalks stitched
in strips of snow and
dried grasses, wind-
rattled free of all but
the most stubborn seed.

I come for the rough-
legged hawks that rode
nor’easters down from
the arctic, come to see
their feathered strength
and patient talons hover
above shivering fields.

I want to witness the
persistence of harriers
swooping in low, back
and forth between rows,
until the last of the light
for mice and voles
hunger-driven
from snug burrows.

I come to give thanks
for my ease and comfort
and ask forgiveness
for having taken too little
care of these, the bare
trees and fleeting river,
the horned larks
and snow buntings
pecking seed cast
on asphalt at my feet.

I come to apologize
for my trespasses,
renew my pledge,
and pay homage
standing, silent
in the salted cinders,
listening to swirls
of snow geese bark
like a choir of seals,
my eyes fixed on wing tips
dipped in black ink
and what they write
on beams of light between
the cloud-smudged sky
and white fields
drifting over
Oberly Road.




Canada Goose

by Linda Watanabe McFerrin

Linda lives near the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay.

It's a good way to go—
on a grassy bank
with your head tucked under your wing,
the clouds overhead
like tangerine peels
adrift in a puddle of blue.
Dogs bark in the distance.
Cars whiz by.
The other geese shrug their heart-shaped shoulders,
pick at winter grass
on the opposite side of the park.

And the couple walking their dogs
pause,
ponder over your sleeping form—
your soft gray wings folded like hands,
two halves of a locket,
And the woman says softly,
"It's a good way to go,"
the "o" floating into the stunned morning
where it opens
upward.




Climate Change: Drought

by Charles Entrekin

Charles lives in the San Pablo Bay Watershed which is within the greater San Francisco Bay Watershed.

Recorded by sound technicians at ultra high frequencies:
The cacophony came from a tree besieged by drought
--and from a frenzy of tree-invading beetles.

Science News, 8/30/08

 

The sounds are ultrasonic,
small implosions,
sounds of a pinon pine dying.

Wood-boring bark beetles
can hear it,
this popping of cells,
liquid transporting cells,
imploding,
this gasping of trees
dying
of moisture loss.

No defensive resin,
no way to pitch them out.

Arriving on the desert wind
the air fills with ultrasonic chirps,
the sound of beetles
the size of match heads
chewing their way in.




Containing Multitudes

by Elizabeth Schultz

Elizabeth lives on the limestone ridge in northeast Kansas called Mt. Oread, rising between the Wakarusa watershed to the south and the Kansas River and its floodplain to the north.

In the remote heart of Africa,
the zebras and wildebeests go on
flowing over the Serengeti,
following ancient tribal orders.
We stand watching in a jeep,
connected and cocooned by
the throbbing earth and the dust.

The plains, too, were once flooded
with waves of bison, their woolly
humps rushing and heaving forward.
Some men stood by and painted,
but others shot and shot until bison
bones littered the earth, and
the Pilgrim Bard made a lonely
business of carting them off to barter.

Our herds now stream through
train stations, into celebrations,
pulsating on the streets, everyone
distinguished by bag, purse, package.
Desperate enough, our herds become
mobs moving mountains, crushing
our own children. We shove each
other through turnstiles, into rivers.

On occasion, even now,
on the outskirts of a town, birds
swarm, thousands of scissors
clipping silhouettes from the late
winter sunset, settling in the cedars.
The clatter encompassing us is
the cadence of heaven, according
to a Chinese friend. On such sound
waves do we rise and fall,
swelling and diminishing.




Downstream

by William Kelley Woolfitt

William lives in the Ridge and Valley Province in Pennsylvania, but goes walking on Pea Ridge near Nestorville, West Virginia, whenever he gets the chance.

I remember us in our canoe
on the Medina River, paddles
troubling the waters, souls gliding
through long bowers of cypress
and shinnery oak. How easy it was
to believe in smooth travel,
in the merciful and the boundless.
And in the durability of the planks
we clinch-nailed to a well-timbered frame.

Suppose we move forward or back,
gather provisions for a new life,
or at least another trip, depending on
where we point the prow. Suppose we look
at what we did, or might yet do,
given eternal guarantees, or at least
long-term soundness, certified
and interest-free, the purity of hearts
that cannot be repossessed.

Suppose we find ourselves fruit-fattened,
driven out and foundering downstream.
We burn the wicker frame of our coracle
for a sacrifice, dry the skins, use the sinews
for fishing line. When nothing bites,
we remember how quickly our fingers
and teeth tore into the pleasures that shined.
We chew on roots, bark, and grasses,
take shelter beneath our coats of skin.

May we yet find a language stone,
unconfounded and whole,
inscribed with christcross-rows,
with vowels that sound like a chant
for chasing the dark things away.
Its consonants could be clues
about how to navigate tomorrow’s
stretch of river, its sandbars and shallows,
mudflats and meanders.


First published in Rock & Sling



Encounter

by Patricia Fargnoli

Patricia lives in a small village of white houses near the border of New Hampshire and Vermont, in the Connecticut River watershed where Cold River runs into the larger river and Fall Mountain hovers in the near distance.

The village lights extinguished one by one
   and something moved ahead of me on the walk,
      some night time scavenger out to quench desire.

I drew back as it shambled across my path,
   entered the garden and disappeared
      beneath hostas and lemon balm.

Skunk? Possum? I might have put a name to it.
   In truth, it was only shadow. I waited by the door
      but it had gone beyond me.

No one is completely alone in the world--
   the animal, whatever it was, and I made two of us.
      The quickening of our bodies in response to each other,

the backing off, even the disappearance was part of it.
   Now, somewhere beyond even this memory,
      a small mammal forages through its ordinary life

and here, my own body desires, not the startle,
   but the moment after, the connection I felt then.
      With these words, I reach toward it.




For the Birds: An Appreciation

by Alex Cigale

Alex was born on the Prut (Western Ukraine,) grew up on the Neva (Leningrad,) went to college on the Huron (Michigan,) lives mostly along the river called North (NYC on the Hudson) in which each summer he swims, but is intimate with the river of grass (the Everglades) and the Red River (Colorado), where he is most alive.

A sparrow cautiously dipping its breast
on stone slabs of an artificial waterfall
where water circulates and returns aerated
to the fishpond fringed with sedge and lilies

Tentative daubs several times forward
each dip distinct and separate pausing
to listen in alarm head raised between
sounds bending it off again to one side

Always the left like a child’s wind-up toy
at each traffic noise above the general din
then for some twenty seconds submerges
bodily in the stream in complete abandon

His sense of joy or if not joy then play
and if not play then of ease or relief
nearly palpable at the end he lifts
heavily and flits heavenward across

The garden’s length to the tallest fir tree
the added weight of the water giving
his blunt progress through the air the dipping
and rising motion of a woodpecker

Among the narcissi and the crocuses
in the still barren heather garden the
first tulips have come out perking up in
bunches their four boxy tip-curled petals

White and orange with red tongues as if
their throats wide open to drink gleefully
the growing sunlight like fledglings
rooting noisily about in their nests

In the garden this morning I observe
the attempts of a pigeon to swallow
half of a peanut the size of his brain
again and again he reorients it

The long way to get his jaw around to
direct and gulp it down into his craw
exhausted by the effort he seeks out
shade and security under a bench

He’s the image and epitome of greed
expending attention and energy
becoming vulnerable innumerable
calculations we make instinctively




In the Neighborhood of Full Quiet

by Michael Day

Michael lives at the eastern foot of Big Rock Ridge in the Miller Creek watershed of Marin County, California.

When wrenching winter wind and cloud let go their grip,
and gentle, steady rain begins to pat the roof,
a muffled sound goes out around the neighborhood,

and in a volant veer of wings, the ash tree fills
with voiceful robins. They listen to the patter
as they bathe and puck-puck preen and stretch and flap and

chup-chup fluff to wet their soft feathers to the skin.
They take turns dropping pik-pik to the ground beside
the compost pile. Down and fut-fut-fut they fall

to ransack leaves for worms, then chup-chup up they go
again. The ground is dark and full of worms, and all
of us will take our turn. For when the verge of dusk

slurs the air to full quiet, and muted robins
tuck their beaks into the night, it’s to the worms we go
luck-luck when we and rain and air go soft and sleep.




Loons: the dance

by Michael Campagnoli

Michael lives in the St. George-Sheepscot Watershed along the coast of Maine, just past Gooseberry Nubble.

1

long April days
he waits
the lonely call unanswered

the worried hoot
the watched return

the risk
of oil slick
of mile-long nets
strangled in a haul of cod
thrown limp for chow
upon a bait bin

but comes the day
the splash and spray
the looked-for guest:

bills tucked
they kwuk
circle and cry
surface and dive
two sleek black heads
entwined

their wakes commingled

 

2

in tall grass near the water’s edge,
old nest, flattened by the weight of snow
made new by moss and salvaged sedge
assiduous

and two
soon brown-specked
green-brown eggs

appear
luminous

 

3

the wheel of black-backed gull
turtle’s vice-like grip
sea bass teeth
pickerel and pike
skunks and weasel
and hungry coon

amid cries of heron
and hermit thrush
two chicks
abound their mother’s back
and peep with life

where danger lurks

 

4

the sun
big, fat,
golden cat
implacable

boils heavy air
from the languid
and paludal gulf

even dragonflies
refuse to buzz

water soft with movement
misty fog, the chicks
so plump

can scarcely dive,
zig-zag
between their parents’ wake
and sail
the summer’s twilight

 

5

the Bog is red in August,
and grass-pinks and pitcher plants
in fours and fives
are veined so deep

the red is like a pumping blood

 

6

berries swell and seed heads burst
Queen Anne shimmers in the setting sun
Mosquitoes, black flies subside:

two large and clumsy
dull-grey birds
await
the male
and swim
like chicks to beg

a bounty

 

7

first frost has bruised the tender plants
and brush has turned to brackened brown
white bark bright yellow birch
abuts blue spruce
and deepened pine

chicks are nearly grown
flight feathers long and straight
whose weight exceeds its strength
who beat and thrash

but cannot fly

 

8

geese and ducks
have flown

hard rains have
blown the leafless trees

high above
two
circle once,
then blink from sight

the sun sinks
behind
a ragged ridge

shell ice rims
the water edge

young loons
remain
bereft
alone

in darkness
swim
long shadows

 

9

wings along the surface
flap

and rise

cushioned by the wild surmise
of lightless air
and boundless sky
trees and rocks and fields
recede behind
the cold cove ebbs to
silver shine

a small
flat pocket
in the dying light


Title poem from Michael's book (Pudding House Publications, 2008)



Pine Speak

by Brandon Cesmat

Brandon lives just above Paradise Creek Canyon through which water trickles into what's left of the San Luis Rey River.

I stand here by the grace of my scars.
See the burl on my trunk's downhill-side where
I isolated an infection into
                            the pupil of a wooden eye.
All I have to say is, See?
See the vertical line of my trunk
                                          broken by boughs.

I am implicated by gravity's law:
the dead bird beneath my limbs and
the needles I've dropped over him;
I'd do as much for you.
How well do I remember that bird?
Not well, they all move so fast.
My male and female pinecones
                                          on the ground together,
sex, sex, sex everywhere.
Where is the love in this law?

Still, I claim innocence.
                       Indifference is one of my gifts.
I am in the business of enfolding light,
absorbing water and minerals,
releasing my all as seeds.

I'm not proud of my scars.
My wood can rot or burn for all I care.
I tell you we are both blessed
to have made it this far
with anything to lose.


from Brandon’s book, Light in All Directions, (Poetic Matrix Press, 2010)



Sweetgum Country

by Ann Fisher-Wirth

Ann lives in the North Mississippi hill country, about sixty miles east of the Delta and the Mississippi River, in the Tallahatchie River watershed.

Billy shows us his arm, burned by the sun
where pesticides sensitized his skin
those years of his childhood, playing
in Delta cotton fields. A charred,
hand-sized lozenge marks the tender crease
inside his elbow. Alex holds up her chart
that shows the sickness and death
in her mother's family, from cancer
in Cancer Alley. She has made red circles
for "fought," green crosses for "died,"
she has put stars around her name,
my pretty dark-haired student.
They come to class, my sixteen freshmen,
and no matter what their topics,
they all say, "I never knew this..."

Fords and Chevies that will barely crank
one more time are parked in the reeds
and slick red mud. Early evening sun
pours down on the cypresses and sweetgum,
the Tallahatchie swamp at the edge
of Marshall County. Turtles poke their heads up.
Cottonmouths zipper through black water
or stretch out long and bask on the abandoned
railroad bridge. Men and women of all ages
beguile the hours after work,
the idle hours, with soft talk or silence,
with bamboo poles and battered coolers.
They could use the food.
They fish for buffalo, catfish, bass,
despite the fish advisories, the waters laced with mercury.


“Sweetgum Country” appeared in Blue Window (Archer Books, 2003).



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