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.

postcards to cascadia: eileen walsh duncan

Duncan Postcard One Back 3

 


There Be Fiends: Dear Mom, / You gave me your truth, warnings / that skitter out of my satchel, / zing my spine. / If I’d known anything, / I would have asked for tools, / and ditched the dress, the lipstick, / all edible markings. / Tools I collected out here: / When cornered, / do not meet their gaze, they / thirst for your retina’s quiver. / Watch the shoulders, they / presage the strike. / To be invisible, / synchronize / each intake of breath. — Eileen Walsh Duncan

View postcard image: The Wizard of Oz

where the water is

by lauren lockhart


men with their mile counting and their maps
            maps with their measurement and

lines,
a curious violence.

the Aspen bends where she wishes, stooping

to touch a white rock
nameless
I am surprised to find that she touches me first

and the Hackberry tree advises
that I follow the bird.

I know which one she means,
the one that fits inside my eye

which means
go where the water is

which means
name your daughter before the men begin to measure her.

anatomy of the profit

by lauren lockhart


one day
while I was floating inside her
my mother gave me a story

with her blood she gave it to me—
a transfused history which has removed my marrow
and replaced it with

fibers from a Douglas Fir.

born from one womb to enter the next—
Earth wounds me and heals me in the same breath.

her story opens
with a perverted momentum—
acres of clear-cutting
which is unlike the cycled fires,

and I do not want to trade my blood.
our infections are each a gift but I can trade my name
as a prelude to forgiveness.
            maybe.

when I am spine down on the ground outside,
I am home.

and I can hear my body’s wooden voice
which is her voice
which is the voice of this place, still

I cannot decide whether to sleep
outside with a spade
or in the basement with the mold.

medicine moves down

by lauren lockhart


weeping,
the water drained from hawk’s belly
rolls down,

sweet like
milk in the sun

the stream collides with all three parts of my
mind and lulls the inflammation there into a

weighted peace.

It begins with the center-

my heart knows it is my organ
and my nest
it knows it is a borrowed comfort

like a sudden breeze through the window

amber liquorish root
shining in the glass

sketch of a fig tree

by kelli russell agodon


Halfway through the day with the sun like a halo
over my neighbor’s house, I think about God
and time and if it’s possible to feed my soul with a pen
and ink drawing I saw at a museum by an artist
whose name I didn’t recognize.

Somewhere across the country my house is falling apart,
or maybe it did years ago, returning to my old neighborhood
to realize the streets were never as big as I thought
and the house I lived in was not as nice
as the house down the road, but I was never allowed
to walk that far.

I’m older now and what’s falling apart is the sunset
I try to watch from my office window
where I’m surrounded by books
and it doesn’t matter how much the fog moves in
or if there’s a neighborhood where kids fight

about the color of poppies. I think back to the fig tree
that grew in my yard and how the leaves always reminded me
of being somewhere else or in the middle of a Rousseau painting
where the jungle was a prayer and everything I needed
was above me and all I had to do was reach up,
all I had to do was open my hands.

writing studio d: a retrospective in spring

by kelli russell agodon


— Port Townsend, Washington

Imagine this: it’s the day before Easter
            and beautiful if you love sun 

and birdsong and egg hunts, but not 
            if you’re wishing for rain, if you think Jesus 

is a distraction from real life and birdsong 
            is the unexpected alarm now waking you 

before 6 a.m. But it is, beautiful, the day before 
            Easter and you have to drive forty-five minutes

to watch your daughter at a two-minute Easter egg
            hunt, but that is three hours from now

and right now, you’re in a room typing a poem.
            Imagine this: It’s the week before Easter

and you’ve planned a writing retreat with friends, 
            to go to a haunted apartment to write

for five full days, five full days, because there is
            nothing more you want to do 

than lose yourself in your words. But you’ve 
            learned to stop saying “retreat” and use 

the term “residency” because others
            think you’re on vacation, some sort of

girl’s weekend with wine and pedicures. No, 
            this is where they’ve become confused.

This is where a friend says, It’s so nice 
            your husband can watch your daughter

as if he’s not related to her, as if he’s not 
            responsible for her care. And there was

this week I found myself
            annoyed because my daughter’s teacher 

wrote me after my husband went
            on a field trip with her class:

Your husband was a wonderful chaperone.
            Thank you for sharing 

him with us. And I wanted to hit
      reply say, Dads get points 

just for showing up. Imagine 
      the teacher ever writing 

my husband to say, Thanks for sharing 
      your wife with us. Thank you 

for not only being a dad who showed up, 
      but also a Filipino dad, 

you’ve added so much diversity 
      to this busload of white kids. 

Imagine this: It’s the day before
      Easter and I’m beautiful 

and not bitter that my generation is still
      stuck between women who live

for their men and the girls who expect 
      more. Maybe they will resent 

their husbands for caring too much
      about hairstyles, for using product.

There’s an Easter Egg hunt in less than 
      three hours and I’m frothing 

about relationships, about already having drank 
      my first cup of coffee and it’s empty, 

instead of realizing I’m still here, in this
      room looking out to a forest 

of blackberry bramble, of trees with moss
      on the north side, just like

in the Camp Fire Girl book I had as a child
      when I believed that good deeds

created beads and patches and I could rename
      myself Kekoa because it meant

Brave One, because I would grow up
      to be thankful for my ability to start

fires when the other girls fumbled with their flint.
      And while in this town, Jesus is a distraction

because he’s walking up the street in a tiny toga
      with an Elvis in wings

singing, Hunka-hunka burning love during the Easter
      parade because it’s hippie-dippie here.

I know where I reside best and how I can leave 
      last minute from a beautiful day-before-

Easter-morning to arrive back into my life of family 
      members who forget to drag the garbage 

down to the corner and be thankful I only start fires
      because someone needs warmth

but otherwise, I can leave the flint in my pocket and
      no longer create spark just to prove I’m the best.

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.