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voices from the cascadia bioregion

a cockeyed optimism

by judith skillman


I’ve risen like the day moon
into a sky entirely azure. I’m a venture,
the angels will invest in me.

Little by little I trained myself
on  wine—now I can put away
half a bottle. I’ll fill the gaps
in all your conversations. Nothing
stagnant will grow, no rest marks,
no space between notes of this allegro.

I’ve no room for any silence
except the one I make when I pick up
my needles to knit—when
from the circular needles 
Joseph’s coat grows in cabled stitches
you’ll wear when winter freezes
the machines idling now between
chops at gratuitous trees, those 
that keep sun from infecting rooftops.

I’ve risen like Jesus from the dead
and no one can hold me down,
not the stone, nor the women who’d nag
a Roman soldier till he caved. 

                                    I’ll limp
along beside you, lenticular as a cloud,
undeniable as a mountain, and you
won’t know what hit you—whether
it happened in Prague or Paris,
Venice or Rome, only that love’s
an old woman with a tear in her eye
from laughing, and death’s a cliché
holding its sides, ribs broken, the whole
carapace crumbling like the Parthenon
when time was at its best

and still had a chance to affect 
what I built sidewise in order for you
to learn to lean—but nobly, akin to the tower 
of Pisa, into your own shadows.
 

    sea smoke

    by judith skillman

    
    

    As far as winter
    stretches, I am alone
    on this cliff
    staring down at what
    could be fog or steam or mist.

    The whisper of reeds recalls
    a wound I barely remember,
    a figure who could be . . .

    As far as we are apart,
    as old as that
    and more, our differences,
    the complaint you mustered
    upon finding heat coalesced
    into a lump.

    The body, cremated, can be compressed
    to diamonds. Stroke of gray
    on a gull, prescience,
    hull of the boat that might have saved Icarus
    when he came of age . . .

    As far as the dead are concerned,
    the sun is smoke
    the moon milk,
    stars salt. With seared eyes
    the dead see the living,
    hunched figures
    who find by dreaming
    what it is they are looking for.

    A glimpse of cloth,
    bone of hanger left between a coat
    torn from its closet
    and the marred dowel
    from which hung
    garment bags. Mothballs
    of ancient Styrofoam,
    the insects have eaten
    through silk, cashmere, linen,
    and more.

    Hat that should have been worn
    in minus centigrade—
    the dead see
    our flesh in tatters
    and the foreshortened days,
    foreshadowing.

     


    “Sea Smoke” was first published in Heat Lightning New and Selected Poems 1986–2006, reprinted by permission of Silverfish Review Press.

     

      hens and chicks

      by judith skillman

      
      
      My rubber roses, my cabbage flesh.
      To think I stood there watching. 
      All of you wax-limbed, purple-cornered,
                  ground-hugging.
      
      My rosettes. Never wondering 
      what came after—offsets, 
      cousins, progeny.
      
      I stayed with you when you were sick.
      I listened when school took it away—
      the aloof look,
          the difference between.
      
      All my rubber roses tilt
      toward the ocean, end
         in a bed of sand.
      
      To think of hand-holding,
      the grimy fist, urine-stained underwear.
      How old it is 
                  when alpine meadows
         bloom on a moment of dew.
       

        field thistle

        by judith skillman

        
        

        Herb and spine,
        the flat-fisted dream
        of stars and dew
        formed when he walked
        with his telescope
        through grasses spotted
        by the spit bug.

        A raucous noise,
        the dawn of great beauty
        and he with his tripod
        matting the grasses as he walked.

        I never saw him dead
        on a bed of white down.
        Never heard past
        the death rattle,
        and so, for me
        he lives still
        here in the ragged, noxious weeds
        that make up North America.

        He with his freely creeping root system,
        milk-juiced,
        the most persistent
        of all my fathers
        on arable lands.

         


        “Field Thistle” was first published in Heat Lightning New and Selected Poems 1986–2006, reprinted by permission of Silverfish Review Press.

         

          iphigenia

          by judith skillman

          
          

          The girl had vanished, but on the ground
          beside the altar lay a deer . . .

          — from Iphigenia at Tauris

          
          

          I’ve watched her eat clover, stems dangling
          from her loose lips.

          Mouth pulling at the earth
          as if it were a teat.

          Nuzzling summer earth, stopping
          to scratch a flank
          with the most delicate leg.

          Inhaling hydrangeas and dahlias,
          quaking aspen leaves, and apples.
          She must have been hungry
          when she went to her death.

          Willingly, it is said, she agreed to pay
          her father’s price.
          On behalf of the oracle
          our parched grounds flower with weeds.
          A daughter must be fed
          no matter what the cost.

           

            statement of place: judith skillman

            I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for thirty-two years now, longer than my original home of Syracuse, New York, followed by Greenbelt, Maryland. My time here has been enriched by hikes to pristine lakes, deer sightings, and stomping flounder, to name just a few secrets of place. I have come to love the mountains, the abundant waters, and the distinct flora and fauna of the land between the Cascade and Olympic range.