icebergs near twillingate

by edward harkness


From this bluff on the coast of Newfoundland,
hulks appear like a ghostly armada.
Near one, a sight-seeing ship vanishes
as it passes behind a steepled mass—
a sudden lesson in size, scale, distance
and the shape of things to come.
Bergs, I learn, wander a mile a week,
bearing cargoes of blue light.
Notre Dames of ice, their buttresses crack,
spires break, topple, un-architected
by the warming Atlantic.
I picture myself on a pier
when one of the bergs arrives,
awash, smaller than a dinghy, enroute
to nothingness, a glass gargoyle, last one
of its kind, bobbing next to a piling.

ancestry

by edward harkness


I’ve spent entire days lost in the warehouses
of dust, searching the archives, imagining my ancestors
boarding ships for America, leaving the coal mines
of Cornwall, only to end in Wright County, Iowa,
in an untended graveyard wedged between a corn field
and the Union Pacific line, their stones toppled,
their names scrubbed by a hundred fifty winters
to an indecipherable blur.

I leave them in their moldering beds to stroll the garden,
drawn by a rufous hummingbird needling the feeder,
his head a burst of copper in the angled morning light.
I love how he bobs among the squash blossoms,
barging into one yellow mansion, then another,
insatiable, as I am, at times, impatient to say
the unsayable, wondering what difference it makes
to the purple finches bickering in the laurel hedge.

I go out again at dusk. He’s still there, levitating,
hovering among the beans, seeking a droplet
from each white beaker. Then he’s gone,
leaving me with my ancestors and their beards,
bonnets and gold time pieces. Farms failed.
Over in Illinois, the Averys upped stakes,
arriving by train at Puget Sound, dumbstruck by the girth
of doug firs and hemlocks bejeweled by April rain.

William, Josie and the new baby, Birdy, trundled toward
a logging camp near Bremerton, bouncing in a wagon
to the end of a mud-gummed road. Might they not have
passed thickets of wild rose? Might they not have seen
those same flashes of copper, startled by the furious
whir of hundreds of rufous hummers, themselves
migrants from Mexico? I want to think so.
I want to think Josie, exhausted from the journey,

said to her baby, Look, sweetheart, at all the wildflowers,
as their buckboard came within hearing
of the rasp of whipsaws, the scream of a steam whistle
and the crash of a felled cedar in this, their new home.

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.

in praise of staying married

by kelli russell agodon


In perfect middleness,
in the winter of waxwings
and imperfect feathers, lost

friends—
we are not leaving
our nest. Like others

who aren’t entwined
in the honeysuckle, in the blackberry
vines, we stay knotted.

Like clouds refusing to be part
of the mushroom, we rained.
We loved our curves

and our appetite
for showers. Don’t get me wrong,
our mistakes have flooded

the valley, flooded
our blue farmhouse until
the living room was underwater.

Praise the trees and chairs
we climbed to stay dry,
not the wings

that might have brought us here,
but the round bellies
of birds hopping through

puddles, not beautiful,
but full, complete
with their berry-stained beaks.

lilacs

by kathleen flenniken


As though we could string pearls into a necklace

of only good moments, between knots of waxed

string. Tonight, a month after the last lilac bloomed,

I finally noticed, and no hothouse could make the bushes

flower again late, early, whatever you call the period

after you’ve lost everything. Still, cells replicate,

shed skin is replaced. We are not who we were.

I’d seen the lilacs, gone through the motions

of breathing in, swirled the scent in the goblet

of my brain but I wasn’t listening until

this evening, after the first warm day in June

when I considered how fine a bunch of lilacs

would be, enough to fill my arms, to hide my face

in their tender, sweet nostalgia for ordinary life.

1960s tv

by kathleen flenniken


Blue beacon of the evening, formulaic, reassuring, half-witted, half-
cocked. We half-watched the clock to gauge our excitement, passive
as our heroes bounded toward danger—

then the ads for Geritol, Noxzema, Salems, and Kools. No danger
of changing channels—the TV was half
a room away, NBC and CBS our only choices. The best shows were past

our bedtime anyway. We passed
our happy childhoods lit by a flickering screen as dangerous
as quicksand, as a girl with a palm-sized gun, as Simon Bar Sinister in half-

hour predicaments. Now we half-believe that fictional past. Danger, Will Robinson.

from a classroom

by kathleen flenniken


— after Richard Shelton
 

Thirty-two students stare in rows.
In their private minds
pink dahlias bloom, swans fan their wings,
a dog barks behind a barbed-wire fence.
No one raises a hand or answers the question.

Thirty-two pink dahlias bloom in rows.
Students raise a barbed-wire fence.
No one questions the barking dog.
Swans stare behind their fans.

A dahlia stares. Pink hands
fence private minds. Questions
raise their rows of wings.
The swans answer thirty-two.

A pink dahlia answers a barbed-wire stare.
No one raises the question.
Thirty-two students bloom
behind their wings.

juxtaposition

by allen braden


— for Kevin Miller
 

Ice in a riverbed: a word
In your mouth: each remembers

The other. Your joy only
One reflection: the way grease

From a boy’s palm darkens
A page. Each time perishable

Freight thunders by, he feels
Hopeful: The girl he’ll leave

Flexes her calves deliberately
Every rung up a picker’s ladder

In Coup’s orchard by the river.
How can anyone make a living

Of departures: when crossing
The line can mean nothing

But distance, a vanishing point
Beyond which light won’t enter?

I mean when the river’s iced over
Horses, a few then hundreds,

Surge across: like one current
Over another: liquid and solid.

Come spring, quick thaw spells out
Sacrament: Or is that sacrifice?

 


“Juxtaposition” first appeared in Poetry International.

bird city

by allen braden


— for Jacob Green
 

Where sweetness is
The only nourishment.
Not a peaceable kingdom
For there is conflict here,
There is pain. But the bad
Inevitably are punished,
The good inevitably blessed.
Their stories, I suppose,
Have a storybook quality:
Peopled not with angels,
Not with true birds either
But rather creatures gifted
With a human fluency
And feathers apt as hands.
The magpie tending bar
Can wipe away troubles;
A seagull begging change
Is not really as down
On his feathery luck
As he’d have you believe;
Osprey redirect the flow
Of traffic for a parade.
Vendors give away candy
Shaped like children
And rich as ice cream.
Along these avenues
To the imagination,
The stacks of nests rise
Like columns of smoke
From ancient sacrifice,
Where any misery is given
The promise of flight
And where any broken
Wing may heal.

 


“Bird City” first appeared in The Colorado Review.

remembering precious landscape, but with an elegy in mind

by allen braden


Nevertheless the front yard, even the hawthorn,
flourished. Various roses built a windbreak,
all the catalpa petals splayed themselves open
and pollen splotched the limbs in gold profusion.

Suppose a woman lived there, a young wife,
her tanned arms dappled from whitewashing,
beautifying the wagon-wheel fence assembled
out of last century’s rumbling west for a better life.

Say years later, while kneeling in her rose and iris bed,
she happened to gaze toward the east forty
and witness the men in her family, at a distance,
circling and swinging their long-handled shovels.

They could’ve been mistaken, a hundred years earlier,
for threshers slapping chaff from the harvest.
They were in fact clubbing a wounded badger,
winnowing its blood into the furrows of stubble.

Now suppose that the iris have grown
wooden, their blues and lavenders blackened.
Razed down to the quick, her roses
promise to return. Prolific. Invasive.

 


“Remembering Precious Landscape, but with an Elegy in Mind” was first published in Elegy in the Passive Voice.