Issue Number 31, Winter 2015-16


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Turnpike Pastorale

by Aileen Bassis

Aileen lives in Jersey City on the west side of New York Bay, a river estuary where sea gulls perch in the supermarket parking lot, and a forest grows on an abandoned railroad embankment.

East, the highway loops, divides
traffic into a fitful stream
of blinking brake lights,

that scatter randomly
over ramps, onto a cloverleaf, profuse
as mayflies.

Across a western spur,
smokestacks dimly frame
a smear of trucks,

where a swamp fills with wind
moving thickened water
past switch grass and cattails.

Southward, a litter of warehouses
and factories roil. The highway
widens with lanes and north

tosses a luckless handful
of once promising
cities, crowned with exhaust

clouds edged green
as oil film floating

on New York Bay.

A Day with My Sister at Point Reyes

by Cathy Barber

Cathy lives in the Poplar Creek watershed on California's San Francisco peninsula although, as far as she knows, there is no remaining Poplar Creek.

The fox crosses the road
like a familiar pedestrian
returning home from town.
And the bobcat,
hardly recognizable,
like a tan rock near the top of the hill
is spooked, see-saws away
the way cats do.

The whole day is full of white waders
too numerous to see, let alone count
in the endless bogs.
And we take the long drive
to the Northern end,
where tule elk,
tall and antlered,
are wary of our interest.

We debate getting out before dark
or lingering to see the sunset
over the ocean.

And we stop, one last time,
the sun very low,
to walk the heath to a small pond.
Two coots toward one end,
white beaks fronting
black bodies, skim.
Suddenly, not six feet away,
we spot a bittern,
its head barely moving
until he stabs his prey,
a black fist of something
unrecognizable in the dusk.
Meal in beak, he stilts
into the water grasses
out of sight.

The sun makes a sudden drop,
cold is around us and in us.
The car and the lot are far.
And what looks in the twilight
like a coyote
appears at the top of the hill.
We run,
racing the dark, the cold,
the wilderness.

All Round

by Thomas Milligan

Tom is a native of the Upper Susquehanna sub-basin, from which these poems appeared. He's recently relocated to the Puget Sound watershed in the Cascadia subduction zone.

Arriving depends on
having left,
full moon on new moon,
the sleeping seed on snow.

All this
business and breathing
of selves:
this crow cry, this snail silence,
and all this empty, all embracing,
all this winking awake and away
amid all these leaving leaves—
this whole world, and worlds away,
and all their whirling ways.

Something here to make me think
of prayer wheels
spinning in a great
unsayable Still:

the hunting heron,
the kingfisher’s cry,
the fish that dare the surface
all the same.

Cardinal's Triangle

by Jean Mikhail

Jean lives in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in Ohio, in a small, progressive town where the current environmental issues center around fracking.

The female body's
dim, the color of smoke,
save for the red triangle
on the head's tilt, a curiosity.
Save for the tipped wings,
the coral beak she carries
off into the woods,
a flame ignited. I blow into
my hands this cold day. Into
swatches of blue sky, into clouds fly
cardinals where the ineffectual
sun bids farewell to the earth, as earth
tilts away this hemisphere. Looping around
her territory, wearing a necklace of song
at her throat,she hooks and unhooks it,
all the while tumbling
red berries with her tongue, one by one.
The cold stings our blood, blushing
our fingertips. You hold
pruning shears while I take the honeysuckle
canes at the root. Blinding
steam erupts from my breath. I am
inside the cave of her
favorite hiding spot. In
the winter's bare bush,
hides the male, his body brighter.

Driving Burleigh Road on Christmas Night

by Jennifer Raha Newhouse

Jennifer lives in southeastern Virginia where three watersheds meet: the James, the Chowan, and the Albermarle Sound, about ten miles northeast of Lake Drummond.

Oh you, my favorite
            stretch of full-bodied land,

unmarred, unscathed—
            just this little windy road,

year after year,
            from car seat to engagement.

It’s not your fault we made you unsafe,
            drove your wild, brush-thriving hills

too fast at night, cut the curbs
            closer than we should have

blinding oncoming traffic.
            Youth sparks anywhere it can,

falls quickly as a live wire.
            Once, driving to school, a cow

stood between turns, your S,
            and I parked, recklessly, and waited

for some old beloved to see
            the creature, stubborn and natural as me

and my wind tousled hair.
            Of course, he was close behind.

Pulled up, breaking furiously. Called.
            This is dangerous, Jenny. Just honk your horn.

Glory, glory. Roads wear thin.
            I wanted you, all of you,

would have stopped every fruitless
            lip gloss and bourbon purchase

for you and your green gold dirt.
            Not this. Tears falling loose

from my eyes—
            unreckonable grief: 

one lone yellow excavator
            on your largest, immovable hill

on Christmas night—
            this silent night.

This holy night.
            This ruin.

Bach and Polar Bears

by David Chorlton

David lives close to the Sonoran Desert in central Phoenix in the Lower Salt Watershed, at an elevation of 1,124 feet with an average annual rainfall of 7.7 inches.

As music endures,
the adagio in Bach’s
Sonata for violin
enters a time of sadness

when the Earth spins from industry
to escalating appetites
while the notes defy

extinction. As often
as they are played
takes nothing away. They are neither

cut down nor hunted
to the edge of existence
and do not melt

as a continent does
when ice shrinks from beneath
animals to whom

music is language beyond
translation (I once saw a bear
stop and listen
to a violinist play Bach) and

when they have nothing
left to hold on to
a silence

surrounds them like the one
that follows the final notes
as though they would never
be played again.


by Mark Trechock

Mark lives about a mile north of the Heart River, which rises on the east slope of the North Dakota Badlands. After meandering about 180 miles it empties into the Missouri River, which has been dammed for hydro-electric power some 60 miles upstream. The Missouri receives virtually all surface water from the Bakken oilfield.

Computerized clouds roll north by northeast
across the straight lines of counties and highways
again and again on the evening news screen
toward that unseen point where longitude’s meaning
dissolves in a landscape of melting ice.
We’re in for a storm tomorrow, they tell us,
power outages likely, no travel advised in any direction.
Drag out the lined sleeping bags from the furnace room,
stock up on firewood, water and batteries
while it’s still safe to be out on the streets.

Unseen in the weatherman’s graphics
are two hundred oil rigs from here to Canada
opening new fissures in the earth,
thousands of wells pumping to the surface
the oil that soothes our restlessness like mother’s milk,
and incidentally natural gas too worthless
to bother taking time to capture and send to market,
plus the salty water and chemicals
planted in the soil by previous upheavals
or plunged by force into earth’s skeletal frame
until it bleeds oil for us.

Filling the tank in diminishing light before the storm,
my breath plumes toward the electric Cenex sign,
which tells anyone who keeps track of these things
the price of gasoline is now down forty cents
since Fourth of July weekend six months ago
when it was more than one hundred degrees.
I greet my neighbor wheeling up in his SUV
“If this is global warming,” he says,
rubbing his hands and shivering,
“by God, I wish someone would turn it up a notch.”

Back home I switch on the TV again,
take up my station before the predicted storm clouds.
They never deviate from their churning course
toward the pole, they never relent,
while I sit immobilized, furnace purring
like a cat asleep in the sunshine,
car filled with gas in the garage.
Whatever it is that is coming,
what could stop it now?


by Robert Carr

Bob is a longtime resident of the Mystic River watershed and migrates between the Mystic in Massachusetts and the Cobbossee Watershed in Maine. He writes along the banks of the Winthrop Lakes - Maranacook, Annabessacook, and Cobbosseecontee.

A blood-traced
feather bib
blends on a branch
of snow bent
below the golden
of his hook. 
He is pure yank
sabre eyed.
A young raccoon
is thrown across
his January perch –
the hawk cocky
as a bar stool drunk
with a Bowie.

Mr. Crow Wipes His Beak

by Tobey Hiller

Tobey lives near Mt. Tamalpais at the base of the Lucas Valley Watershed. She’s not far from Las Gallinas Creek, the Petaluma River, and the many waters--rivers, creeks, seas--of the San Francisco Bay and its headlands.

Mr. Crow wipes his trusty beak, this side, that,
on the fence, struts
with his rolling gait
down the fence-top highway,
bull-necked Sweeney among no nightingales,
looking here and there.

Is he surveying his territory?
Checking for hawks?
Alert to the shadowed flicker
I must make on the window
when carefully carefully
all slow molasses
I move to keep him in sight?

What is in his black and burnished
mind? What shines
in his sight?

From the author's new manuscript, Crow Mind.

I Read, He Plays

by Tobey Hiller

Tobey lives near Mt. Tamalpais at the base of the Lucas Valley Watershed. She’s not far from Las Gallinas Creek, the Petaluma River, and the many waters--rivers, creeks, seas--of the San Francisco Bay and its headlands.

While Crow—or some relative—
is sliding down windshields and roofs and hills in the snow,
or biting some unsuspecting dog’s tail in the park,
or chasing cats around a courtyard
and waddling off all acackle,
I am watching him on-line,
researching the habits of his kind.

The way he figures me out
is just what I did when I was small:
he watches.
He looks.
He notices pattern.
He thinks: today is; tomorrow
will be. And then
he tests it.

I know this because he’s there, watching me
watching him. When
I was young, I slid down snowbanks too.
Slippery’s its own reward.

He knows we’re dangerous. And not, sometimes.
He recognizes faces.
He can tell the difference.
If he were larger than me,
I’d watch him like that too.

From the author's new manuscript, Crow Mind.

I Wonder

by Tobey Hiller

Tobey lives near Mt. Tamalpais at the base of the Lucas Valley Watershed. She’s not far from Las Gallinas Creek, the Petaluma River, and the many waters--rivers, creeks, seas--of the San Francisco Bay and its headlands.

Crow is perhaps a tyrant,
certainly an invader.
Napoleon? Genghis Khan?
Shock & awe?

Does he change the world,
cause bird migrations, leave new
cities spread wide and pecked,
devastated kingdoms?

Squirrel no longer runs along our fence
to the water. Squirrel lost a recent altercation
with Mr. Black and his uncoy mistress.
The little birds, even the plump enthusiastic robins,
opt for any early worm, but
do not bathe these days
at Crow’s watering hole.

His shoulders glint.
He struts and steals and figures things out.
Familiarity breeds doubt.

From the author's new manuscript, Crow Mind.

Last Year's Sorrow

by Tobey Hiller

Tobey lives near Mt. Tamalpais at the base of the Lucas Valley Watershed. She’s not far from Las Gallinas Creek, the Petaluma River, and the many waters--rivers, creeks, seas--of the San Francisco Bay and its headlands.

Was it theirs?
Last year I found a crow baby,
dessicated & half-buried in grass, hard by
the back garden gate. Head
thrown impossibly back, wings
hardly pinioned. Was it theirs?

Crows mate for life, and
crowbabies grow up slow. For three or four
years they teenage between zoom and
fortune, play fake doom
and boom
before they settle down
to all that family labor.
This year,
did they send their babies successful into sky?

An ancestor of mine, Zilpah Hall,
married at 24 in 1804,
bore 9 children,
Ardelia, Lydia, Alonzo,
Ruth, Abigail, Sarah,
Rowena, Mary, Fanny.
She was always
pregnant, bearing, suckling.
Alonzo, the boy,
died at just over 1 year.
I know this (though not
how Zilpah wept,
binding up her sorrow
in silence, bent
over the washtub,
dripping into laundry)
because his sister Rowena
made a sampler
listing her family’s names,
and their dates.

At the bottom
is a prayer for Alonzo.

This is my prayer
for the crow baby,
dead before he fledged,
and for
his siblings,
who fly now,
and argue,
and bathe,
and watch me,
for the hope
I bring as water.

From the author's new manuscript, Crow Mind.

Into the Wind

by Twyla M. Hansen

Twyla lives in the Salt Creek watershed—flowing into the Platte River, then the Missouri, the Mississippi and on to the Gulf of Mexico—in a state whose name is the native Omaha word for the “flat water” that once streamed wild and free through a grass-dominated prairie landscape. She is the current State Poet of Nebraska.

A gibbous moon sloughs off
a few wisps that drop
and melt onto a dark field.

Shallow roots of stubble
shine and point—shhh—hear them
rattle their bones, patient
for any sign of spring.

Out on the prairie,
shoots of pasque flower rise
in their purple shawls, dance

as natives in feathered gauzy skirts
and moccasins, jingle to wake up
the muslin shortgrass above a vast aquifer,
roots reaching down.

Meanwhile, pumps draw water
for cornfields to feed the livestock
that replaced great herds of bison—

before the plow and poison,
before the skeletons of center pivots
like modern metal dinosaurs inch along,
spewing ancient water into the wind.


by James Owens

James spends part of his year by the Mississinewa River in central Indiana, not far from where the Maumee Torrent scoured the Wabash Basin down to bedrock, about 14,000 years ago. He spends the rest of the year in the La Cloche Foothills region of Ontario, on the northern shore of Lake Huron.

A limited freedom in this secured space like a soldier’s hand in a wired gauntlet. I walk from room to room and wait. For something.

Every Thursday morning the garbage trucks maunder past like a military maneuver, those devourers, and every afternoon my daughter trudges from school, smiling --- a bit distracted, it seems --- at the dogs restrained by the neighbors’ fences, at the drifts of snow,

her mind somewhere else, though the little cage of her supple bones comes home.

I wanted for years to translate Alcuin’s elegy on the destruction of the monastery at Lindisfarne but there was no way to capture its sorrow and poise, Alcuin’s balanced sense of the tragic. I think this poem is about that failure,

as much as it is about my daughter.


One who is dear to me writes of the kneeling girl in Brancusi’s La sagesse de la terre: “it is that kind of innate wisdom, intuitive understanding of the right measure, the right way, the way a child sits still with her hands in her lap and nature is at work in her, that quiet life-sustaining energy.”

Sitting alone, my daughter sways slightly on the surge of a rhythm I can’t hear, her eyes closed, turned inside to the dark candle gleam of void we all carry. When she rises, it is the motion of a young doe across a lighted space in the woods.


The monks gathered without breakfast from their meditations and sang their last matins as the outside walls burned, their song punctuated by the thuds of the battering rams, screams from the servants’ quarters (I imagine it),

and they saw, Alcuin says, the altar, the goldleaf illuminations, defiled by the dextra ethnica, the “ethnic right hand,” of the Danes.

In Iraq, the soldiers were busy somewhere else while looters took apart the National Museum. That’s the way to kill history --- Sumerian golden bulls peddled for “culture,” or melted somewhere in the world to cheap wedding rings and bangles for leather bracelets. So little remaining now.


That my daughter will live in this world, which worries her less than it worries me. That her natural kindness could be a tincture, a trace, as she carries herself through.

No artificial closure for these fragments.

We started out in the morning and drove along the small, empty roads for a long time, under the sheets of early light hanging from the branches of high trees, past the cows and the pairs of horses that turned toward us, to the ruins,

where the walls were still crumbling,

and my daughter’s face brightened as she reached out to touch the broken stone.


by Brendan Cooney

Brendan lives on the island of Zealand, between the Northern and Baltic Seas near the Ear Strait (Øresund), just south of the Cat's Ass (Kattegat) sea, dubbed by captains frustrated at its tightness.

Coming down the porch steps
in this Swedish winter,
so excited that the coffee
in my hand would make
all the beauty come alive,
I slipped and landed on my back
in the snow, the coffee mug flying.

The sky so blue against
the green and white on the pines,
the colors ringing in this pure silence.
I lay there needing nothing.


by Michael Lauchlan

Michael lives near the Lower Rouge River in the Great Lakes Watershed.

These grasses were once an inland sea,
pulsing with each wind, parting for deer
headed to water. Now they hold
a patch of dirt between house and shrub,
street and sidewalk. They offer a bit

of foreground outside a kitchen window
where December tears at everything alive
and the railroad’s defoliants have scarred
the pines since last spring’s attack
on the underbrush. The grasses wave

a bit as we wash dinner plates
and gaze into a foreground of fears,
fury, obsessions, into realms beyond,
where a muted sun splashes down
on rolling semis that char the dusk.

The Haul

by Pamela Hughes

Pamela lives in the Hackensack River Watershed, where she explored the meadowlands and marshes as a child with her father, five brothers, and sister.

The haul is heavy,
so heavy, we have to drag the shape of disuse
out on a rope tied aft of the boat
of Bill the Riverkeeper.

Red rust scraps rest on the elbow 
of white plastic soda rings,
and one, two, thirty-three
bottles of blue brown green glass,
all the broke down stuff that got dragged out.

Later the pile will rise like a modern art sculpture,
an industrial installation at the end of the dock:

huge rubber O, five feet on the skinny top of yellow,
fugitive 50-foot boom, no longer waving in the water,
scraps of muck stuff and bracket of old bottles stipple
the rim of the cyan blue cylindrical vat.

We roll the five-foot tire truck
from the muddy bank
like a brace of mothers and fathers,
ushering out a very big bad little boy
who has thrown himself hopelessly
down in the muck and won’t budge.

By a rope, we haul our Mack truck tire theme,
hand over fist up the inclined boat ramp, then roll.

Up the dock, hope hangs in the balance
in the figure eight of the yellow oil-spill boom
we dragged from the Hackensack River first.

By boat, on canoes and kayaks we came with care
to the infinite edges of 8,…
the endless haul,
the endless haul of it all.

Under the Magnifying Glass

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.

Green has long been gone.
The grass is crisped. Leaves
have curled and vanished
into crunch. But this strange
heat could call crocuses up
into flames of purple and gold.

Focused over the town,
the burning lens brings us
outside to revel in shirt
sleeves. The cat’s ears
are singed, and the smell
of smoke permeates our hair.
We tread on cinders.
The sky remains profound.

Where the River Begins

by Daniel Hudon

Daniel lives on the East Coast, not far from various nesting sites of the endangered piping plover in the Charles watershed.

The river begins in the sky, in the light of a nearby star, in the thin air before the rain and runs down. The river runs down the sky like a mountain, rains out the cloud, drips drop by drop out of your mind to the mountain where the glacier melts and the water flows into the rain. The rain begins in time, once upon a time, frozen in time, a patient glacier thawing through the centuries. The centuries begin anew every day, the clouds are new and the thousand-year-old rain is new. The clouds begin in the river, running down, the sussurant seconds passing here and there, slipping. The seconds are new, the clouds are new, always beginning, the river is now. The snow falls now. The river begins in a mountain lake, melted from the sky, the glacier recedes like a tongue aflame, the lake begins in the rain. The tongue recites the story of the valley, the valley begins in the glacier long ago, the stones tell the story one pebble at a time. Time is measured in rain drops and snowflakes, smoothing the stones, the river runs down, the clouds exhale. Elk swim the river, bears forage, trees gather on the banks and drink the water. The river is the valley is the mountain is the glacier. The trout begin in the river and wind their way up and down. The wind riffles the river, the water runs cold over the stones, minnows slip past. When the glacier melts the river the rain the valley. The mountain. The river begins in the rain, the sky runs down, the rain takes its time, the snow comes and goes. Starlight rains down, moonlight rains down, the river runs. Beyond the next bend, the river begins again.

Zions & Environs

by Joe Pan

Joe lives on a sloping hilltop beside the East River, itself resting on a bedrock of Fordham gneiss, Gardiners and Raritan clay, and an unusual stratum of glacial silt. His drinking water arrives by way of the Delaware, Catskill, and Croton watersheds.

Mesa wind, snow crunched
is how we come to know desire

Ant lost
among monolithic snails—
Bryce Canyon at dusk

Horse between my legs
carries the extra weight
of breakfast on his mind

Canyon snow—
if there is a point to all this,
the hoodoos aren’t talking

Canyon walls
& my horse dressed
in the same rough color

Desert moon
inhabits the empty frame
of mind

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