Finalist for the 2014 Walrus Poetry Prize
What next? When I was half the age
I am now, I watched a man pick blackberries
in brambles across the road. Juice and blood
gloved his hands. I would have said then
that the violence and dread of wartime
purpled his fingers. Or was it the wealth
of a ripe age? Now I revise: the man,
the road, the fulsome berries were
merely there. I was half my age.
When we took in the Chittenden Locks
last month and strolled along Shilshole
Bay’s edge, eyeballing boats—we’d buy
that one someday, or this one, and be fishers,
who are free, or make a killing in Dungeness
crabs—, omens were everywhere, like barnacles
on dry-docked hulls. Salt chuck slapped
wooden vessels and the concrete breakwater.
Limpets and mussels glistened in shallows.
We caught the last light on the Olympics
across Puget Sound. Unrepentant oysters
delighted in the salty stink. The names
were briny and knotted on the monument
to the sons of Leif Erikson: Olaf, Einar,
Arne, Dag. Coho, sockeye, kokanee, chinook,
chum. Did fishy words bring Vikings
luck? Skagit, Dosewallips, Tacoma, Duwamish.
Whispering maps beckoned, but the odds
favoured disaster: boats on fire, brothers lost
at sea. When the half-moon came out we finished
with inscriptions and foraged for dinner
on Ballard’s Beemer-fringed boulevards.
The next morning I watched Rainier
till clouds consumed it. Clear skies that evening
divulged the volcano again—immense, aloof.
I thought of blackberries and the crack of gunshot
when a slab releases to loose an avalanche.
The proximate realm so far from our own explodes
this sphere to remake it. All the world’s wonders
are on display when gates and valves bring keels
up the Ship Canal while salmon climb
their ladder. A duet: alto and basso. Everything,
Heraclitus said, is arsy-versy for a time.
The ocean is shipwrecked. Black bear cubs refuse
to descend from trees. I’m neither mountain
nor monument. Your heart traps mine as summits
catch storms. Let’s call this calm the rain shadow.
What will remain? Zero moves through all things.