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voices from the cascadia bioregion


by judith h. montgomery

Bog-waters brim in gleam, in new-
      green curl and shoot under pouring 
            sun—season for the skunk cabbage, 

      most unlovely name, to push through 
winter scurf—broken twigs, scuffed whisks 
      of pine storm-shaken loose, a deer’s 

black pebbled scat snowmelt-softened 
      to dark jam. The stalk thrusts vivid 
            yellowgreen, blunt thumb that presses  

      spongy breeze—sleek leaf-envelope 
a swell in mid-spathe just below 
      the closed, delicately curving   

tip. Warblers slip and soar above, 
      wings dipped and crowned in butter, 
            as the close-folded spathe ripens 
      lemon—and begins to split, clasped 
palm curving open to reveal
      the knobby dotted swiss of spadix 

all strut and beam, its mirror-print 
      kissed deep in cupping tissue. Now,  
            stalk and spadix cast their spell: 

      a certain pungence, a summons
that enriches bursting buds, lifts 
      the cloud of swifts that stitches pond 

to sky, and daubs one upturned feather 
      whitely drifting on a ripple. Now, 
            everywhere’s quick-flutter, water- 

      flicker, sun-glance—atoms float 
on odor, sex beckons to the dance: 
            ready, ripe—all beauty releasing.

“Abundance” first appeared in The Comstock Review (2006)


    landscape with scintibed and skeleton

    by judith h. montgomery

    Bloodless taupe-gray machine, it crowds
          the dim chamber: gamma camera that suspends
    and slides you, love, between photographic 
                plates. Inching in exquisite deliberation,
    it tracks the radio-tracer path, pinpoints
          appearing—like fireflies in late twilight—
    to cluster and flash, prints left by rare
               elements you’ve invited inside your bones
    to home in on any restless cancer. Your pale
          hands appear to rest at ease on the gurney.
    Mine twist a tissue, and I look away, hoping
                to focus on the one print hanging on the wall:
    a curving coast disappears in strokes
          of dark cedar—dim erosion under ocean
    waves, the gone sun’s afterglow. World 
                sinking into ink and ease. As I would . . .
    but you are done. The blue-smocked
          technician—our artist of radiation—touches
    his keyboard, and your chalk skeleton
                blooms beneath his fingers.  He points out
    the long bones, tibia, femur, nodes of white
          sparks gathered at joints. Here—he pauses,
    and the sliver of my fingernail scores
                my palm—just osteoarthritis, he says, things
    look okay to me. Grateful for his kindness,
          still we know that we won’t know until after
    the specialist has spoken. Behind my head,
                nailed against the wall, the twilight sea seems
    to murmur, noncommittal heart. Spread.
          Not spread. Ahead, the naked salt-and-shadow
    outline of your skull.
                               White. Featureless. Patient.

      fierce beauty

      by judith h. montgomery

      Slumped. Misshapen.  
                                    Even sapped with cinder,  
            late snow defies shapeless,  
                                                      will not bow 
      to deliquesce.  
                        Radiating dendrite and plate,  
            these particular flakes fallen 
                                                  as showers 
      of struck stars, 
                        light now sodden- 
                  weighted yielding to    diminish . . . . 
                            snow’s last holdfast 
                  a steep silence
                                    under pineshade, 
      culvert’s low raw edge.  
                                             What terrors lie 
                  in light, in liquefy?  
                                                   Stubborn, snow 
      will not give up its ghost, 
                                       huddles over mute
                  seed and needle-nest. 
                                              Stained in laval 
      dust and dirt, plowed out 
                                            of beauty, 
                  snow conserves whatever crystal 
                       sun insisting   
                  each exposed border, 
      glittermesh of ice 
                        to melt—      so old snow must  
                  release to water,    
                                      water sublime
      to vapor—then refresh—
                          snow crystalled again, whose beauty 
                  blinds in brilliant, in 
                        insisting: life.

        following through

        by judith h. montgomery

        What is it about sticks and stones 
               and water that draws boys to the brink?  
        I watch my sons gravitate to cliff-
               edge, stream-edge, stoop and gather 
        broken branches, rocks, hand-fit 
               and perfect to pitch into the current—
        plunk, plunk, that tantalizing game 
               to make silver break to brilliant
        flashes over river boulders scattered 
               by some larger gods who plant in boys’ 
        bones the hot desire to make 
               a mark on something. . . . My two 
        hunker down to gather ammo. Rise 
               to cock rock-loaded hands, then whip 
        forward, each perfect body thrown 
               wholly into aim. Such tender lines 
        of spine rise through supple skin . . .
               baseball, I like to think—they study 
        strikes, practice for pitch and out. 
               I can be charmed by such relentless 
        intent because I’ve left the day’s 
               paper crumpled back at camp—black 
        caption, black-and-white photograph—
               the young man’s body shot half-way 
        through that merciless arc. I do not 
               want to think my sons rehearse for days 
        when what they throw requires that 
               some pin be pulled, or gas-rag lit, or 
        missiles, perfect to the hand, be hurled 
               into some other son’s makeshift shed
        or trench—muscles bunching fierce 
               into the follow-through that sends 
        the packed device not toward surging 
               spray, but straight at that boy who’d 
        stood as they had—ankle-deep in joy, 
               under some other mother’s watch, 
        in some other shimmering river.

          statement of place: judith h. montgomery

          I grew up playing in the leafy woods of western Connecticut, biking in sloped summer valleys with my grade-school friends, and knowing that this was the best place on earth when the leaves blazed scarlet and gold in autumn. Then my parents rented a vacation trailer, hitched us up, and we traveled west, through Badlands and good lands, arriving at last in Washington and Oregon, which we declared, to our delight, as green and lovely and desirable as the Connecticut we had left.

          As an adult, I migrated gradually west with my growing family, coming to rest at last in Portland, Oregon, city of forests and parks, lush rains and (sometimes) abundant sunshine, perfect for growing a family, a garden, and the sweet vine of words. There I rooted deep, blessed with the easy drive to the unowned beaches, the snow-sliding mountains, the blossoming everywhere from February through the crisp fall.

          I miss it, deeply, now living in the High Desert of Oregon. Still, I’ve stretched here to cherish the pine air, the sight of sand lilies rising from the sun trail through pine forest steps away from my home, the deer that pause before springing away from my morning hike with my Springer spaniel. The startling eerie beauty of ice fog laying its brush against every individual blade of grass and needle. Everywhere the open heart may listen to the plucked strings of place, then sing them deep into welcoming bones.