The Dirty Geese

Any Season’ll Do

A few weeks ago, the family and I took a much needed but ill-timed (weather-wise) trip to Camano Island for the weekend. February is no time to head up the Washington coast. That wind. If you live in the PNW, you know that wind. We couldn’t do a lot. But my wife and I did get to take a good walk halfway across a vast bay that went full dry when the tide went out. It was clear from the pieces of driftwood that were still visible when the tide came back in, that we could probably have walked across it wet, too. Aside from that, the weather kept us mostly indoors. It was a nice rental, with a telescope for eagle spotting, and we did alright. Even the kids.

On a local’s advice we made a short drive from there up to La Conner. We were told we might see some snow geese on the drive.  Swans, too, but mostly geese. And we did. One of us pointed out the window to a field next a barn and said “She was right. Geese.” The wife and I shrugged. The kids shrugged. Our sharp black Mercedes shrugged and sped along the Pioneer Highway. And for a few minutes we saw a few more – dozen here, dozen there. “I think that one’s a swan.” But then we turned West onto Fir Island Road.

In the distance we could definitely make out a vague brightening, groundward, inverting the natural order of a Northwest winter, where the light we wait for – we pause for, we die for – is the elusive and short-lived sunbreak. The sky was far too thick to hope for that, but the dark earth of those coastal farms held an entirely unexpected thrill. We drove on and slowed so that my wife could avoid the cars pulled half-off the narrow road while also trying to see what they and their tri-pod mounted cameras were there for. We finally put two German wheels in a bar ditch and looked. Someone must have said “wow,” because it was the only word that could have made any sense.  The road was a new beach, and we had pulled off of it to look at a whole new ocean – this one snow white and downy, the furtive waves of a fallow field covered in snow geese. Thousands upon thousands of them. I believe it’s Carver, maybe Ford (maybe neither) who has a brilliant short story that takes place on a hunt during the height of the snow goose migration in Washington. Richard Ford it is, the story is Communist:

“I put down my gun and on my hands and knees crawled up the earthwork through the wheatgrass and thistle until I could see down to the lake and see the geese. And they were there, like a white bandage laid on the water, wide and long and continuous, a white expanse of snow geese, seventy yards from me, on the bank, but stretching onto the lake, which was large itself – a half mile across, with thick tules in the far side and wild plums farther and the blue mountain behind them”

Our geese were in a muddy field, and with Ford in mind I knew I wanted to ignore the fact that the pure white birds were hiding filthy undersides. This was no time for that. I don’t know if I said anything to my family then about that story – I know I remembered it right away and I hope that I said something. Let them know. Let them in. The world gets too big at a time like that, and a man shouldn’t be alone in it.

We looked for a while. There’s nothing ese to do about it.  I hoped someone would do something else – honk a horn, sneeze, fire a gun – that would make the whole thing lift off. Ford called it a “raft,” but of course his were on the water. I wanted to see if they would all take off at once, or if it might start gradually from one end and curl fantastically off the ground like a giant vegetable peeler scraping off a skin of soap. Or maybe it would be random and messy – disappointing. We didn’t find out.

We moved on to La Conner. Cute, quaint, all that stuff. It has the mildly interesting Rainbow Bridge. We spent a good couple of hours hiding out from the rain in curio shops and galleries. Bought some things we didn’t need, and had a grand finale in a candy store where the proprietors were wonderful with the kids. Walked out of there with way too much chocolate (I’m a sucker for a classic turtle – milk chocolate, caramel, and good, old-fashioned peanuts). The kids ate ice cream in the cold and rain. We went back to the car.

On the return trip the geese were still there, but I think some had left. Or maybe it was just that we’d already had our first time, and it would never look like that to us again. A lot of them were flying, having robbed us of the sight of the take-off that I wanted so badly. One of them, in a display of trite symbolism that could only disappoint, shat a great wad of stewed grasses onto the hood of the Mercedes. This is its own story, I thought, and I wondered if Richard Ford’s characters could drive their Nash Ambassador back out to that lake for a second run, and still pull their triggers:

“I don’t know why I shoot ’em. They’re so beautiful.” He looked at me.
“I don’t know either,” I said.
“Maybe there’s nothing else to do with them.” Glen stared at the goose again and shook his head. “Maybe this is exactly what they’re put on earth for.”
I did not know what to say because I did not know what he could mean by that, though what I felt was embarrassment at the great number of geese there were, and a dulled feeling like a hunger because the shooting had stopped and it was over for me now.

And to think, there was a moment in there when I wondered why we went.

 

 

Unabashed thanks to Gerard at American Digest. For more and better PNW tavelogueing, see his The Olympic Peninsula at the Vernal Equinox

Bodily Functions

I’ll skip the meth.

This one. This one, this one, this one. I have stanzas and half-stanzas and semi-stanzas and absolute brain farts all over the page on either side of this one. Gerard has an essay titled The Arrival in which he talks about not only the work involved in really writing a poem, but the way a writer can be consumed by it. The way it works and more importantly the way it doesn’t work. The fact that you cannot, as he says “pound out “Howl” in a weekend on a diet of meth.” In other words, it takes a while.

I have a few that went that way. Cavity is one. Cut is another, so is The Whole Sky, All at Once. Tons of time poured into those, and they all still need work (Cavity in particular is a weird experimental thing that I almost hate). The one I’m putting up here today is just one stanza that looked complete in the middle of a general muddle, and I have to post it just so I can break its hold for a minute and get up out of this chair.

Worship

God has taken from us the sun
which loving was too much like firefly July,
watching our brother kiss the girl
we knew we were too little to love
but loved with cloying loyalty anyway.
A name in a notebook
and the little electric leavings
of her path across our sky.

Dinner Party

After reading Virginia Woolf

I am not more right.
I do not know better.
I just can’t run with the baton I’m handed
when my leg of the race comes up.
It is gross, the baton.
Slimy, and it smells of rot covered by perfume.
I cannot carry it.
I cannot wield it.
I cannot.

You can pass it between each other
because you carry it low
against your thighs
and don’t look at it
and instinct makes the transfer.
Instinct never smelled a corpse to know it.
It hasn’t the time.

International Flavor

A found poem made of phrases from newspapers

Two hours into the operation
time came to choose
twice sold books
over and over again.

But the last survivors of that era –
they are all gone away
to bring your children
An insect feast,
accessible game meats,
some bottles of water,
and unrelenting nerve pain in the face.

Are you done with these?

Are you still down there
with the flame proof wisdom
of a snow storm
fluent in English and Japanese?

How is the fairy tale?

Cold. Holy. Morning.

Just trying to live in it.

6BD579B3-17C7-45C6-B888-49238A724506

 

I only know what morning is
by the way it holds my bones.
It’s the only cold I welcome there
And I feel it, most, alone.

The morning holds me in it like
the water holds the fish.
Like I should try to breathe it in
To be more of what it is.

And the morning is inside of me
the way the water’s in the fish
The morning moves inside of me
Like a fear inside a wish.

Most mornings I forget to think,
and so I chase the cold away
before it can remind me what
my life will cost that day.

But the cold is how I know I start
with a grace as yet unearned.
The crystals of my rising breath
Are holiness confirmed.

Glide

I.
A long-looking wind blows
memory into drifts and dapples
the withered ego
of an old tree alone
among the husks and chaff.

There is no sound but the rattle-clack
of its old rheumatic branches
in a wind not of its making.
A wind form somewhere else that
bends it nonetheless away –

it always seems away
always bent away because a wind
from somewhere else
never has you in it.

II.
The bent tree tends forever back
and barks ahead across
a thin space made on a frozen pond
in the blown prairie.

A thin space made
of a wisp-drifted memory

where, with no blades to cut the ice
with nothing so precise
we skated in our shoes and listened
for the deep – the ancient –
sound of gasping cracks that we knew,
because we were experts already
in suffering,
would never reach the surface.

The Willing Left Behind

Visible saints, back from visible wars,
Mount our black tarmac and try coming unstuck.
They come bleeding sand from unsettled scores,
Try smiling at wives and babies and luck.
We smile right back as big as we’re able,
Thank them at ballparks and ice hockey rinks.
Hide our old story behind a true fable,
Salute them with handshakes, college, and drinks.
We broadcast their service in movies and books,
Sure to display them with due gratitude.
They did what the softened civilian can’t brook
So we hail their hard hearts (but think ours less crude).
Some, though they drummed in the same brothered band
Cover their ears with their unbloodied hands.

The Kitchen Window

Genny lived next door
and made cupcakes sometimes
that we could smell in the middle of the day.

Our feet would come off the ground a bit
and we’d

float,
cartoonish,
noses up and eyes closed,

pulled in somnolent faith along an invisible rope
that painted our insides with
the light blue colors of an old, paint-flaking house
where she was forever framed in the glass of
her kitchen window. (please always have a
window in your kitchen
right there over the sink.)

Glass so old it sagged from time
and its own weight
until everything you saw through it looked uncertain
and underwater like a mute memory
more than the real, wrinkled face
that smiled nonetheless across
that little space between the houses
on a day that swung too high and short
even in the morning.

Genny lived next door and
made cupcakes that smelled so good
that our feet came off the ground

and our toes
– just
– brushed
the grass

and left wavy little trails all the way to her kitchen
where we woke up with crumbs
and blessings on our lips
and a little sunlit spot
that took the place of
knowing how we got there.

At Once Against and With

At Once Against and With the World

Autumn starts for me like this,
With an evening’s cold, capricious kiss,
Chiding me to stay alert
That I don’t miss my turn to flirt.

I hustle down the dim lit walks,
With lamps on slightly swaying stalks,
Not bothering to dodge the leaves
Cascading down from dormered eaves.

When now the hub of town comes near,
With its public houses pouring beer
Colder than the brittle air
Because it’s close and warm in there,

I go inside against the cold,
Where I like to think we’re men of old.
And on every wooden bench and stool
Sits a girl – an honored golden rule.

They’ve hung their woolen coats on hooks,
And the boys are warming them with looks.
A suggestive stitch, a hopeful hem,
Autumn’s stockings are November’s gems.

And so we work with noble tones
Toward a sense of coming home.
Because man seems tempted to his best
When woman is so smartly dressed.

When everything to do’s been done,
We wrap back up to hold the fun
As close to us as a person’s able,
And leave the rest upon the table.

Though warm within and cold without,
It is easy to forget about
The discomfort we’re supposed to know,
And on our brazen way we go.

Fall is where the season’s heart
Truly shows the human art
Of marching out with soul unfurled –
At once against and with the world.

Originally posted November 2010