The little house hisses at the big sins of winter drifted stacked stuck against creaking clapboards -- an occasional fearful SNAP to which the roof beams swiftly whisper what's that?
A coho turns pink
at the fish ladder’s insult.
Empty longboat drifts.
The bear’s head points into the hills.
The horse clams sleep in Mutiny bay.
I drive a highway tight between the two,
I drive tomorrow into yesterday.
The boy found fire in the mussel shell.
The Thunder gifted him a spear.
I search for fire beneath my foot,
I search for Thunder in the gears.
The bullwhip kelp on the ha-ah-poos.
The whale flukes mute above the waves.
I find my fuel in their histories,
I find my future in their graves.
– With some help from the Klallam story of “The Offended Hero.”
The orca’s tongue is tattooed in crowblack ink with the whole history of the Hoh and the names of Nisqually who hunted there in the sacred space between hawk and bear – hung to cure in a frozen smoke. In the blackfish grin, written on salmon skin, lives the library of the Lummi and the forgotten words to S’Klallam songs sung in the fog from which they’re drawn – then gone like a dream’s unblooming. But the orca speaks, too, the newer words of submarine and ferry boat and the sharp dialect of high skylines that replace the flesh with the crystalline – concrete terms being asked to float. A blackfin ripple loops cursive in the bay as the orca pens the Pacific tome and writes Sound verses beneath the surface in a Salish hand whose arc is perfect – the scrimshaw line of tooth and bone.
Who out there might I have saved and who am I to say that if I had gone and fought along they'd be happier today? Which among them would have marched before adoring mortars and towards their final chance to Meddle with the Honor of their chore? Who out there might I have saved and what would that have done but reinforce the enemy on the ever-growing front? Which among them would have marched until their soles knew every grain of every dune and cratered ruin that compelled the inward aim? Who out there might I have saved and who am I to say that the lives I would have handed out were better than the graves?
“Behaviour lawless as snowflakes…”Still Walt Whitman, still Song of Myself
It’s been that part of the movie, where we’re all in the operating room, staring at the screen on the EKG while the tone flatlines and the doctor says “clear” one last time. Five, ten seconds pass, there seems to be no hope, and then there’s a blip:
The house has the heartbeat that it’s been missing. The last piece went in yesterday – I let The Boy nail it down. Obviously the baseboards still need to go back up, but the big chore is complete. And after I cleaned up and put the tools away, I had the Spring Break feeling of freedom, of vast expanses of unclaimed time laid out ahead of me. I immediately folded laundry. But nobody told me how to fold these two garments:
They have a knack for teleportation.
I release this one annually, a small revision or two each time. It’s the sort of poem that “real poets” would not “take seriously.” But serious poets are generally a sad lot, and afraid. Maybe one day I’ll stop messing with it, I don’t know. It’s a little late coming this year, but reading the “lawless as snowflakes” line from Leaves of Grass made me realize that it was time for theft:
Summerthieves Autumn starts for me like this: an evening's cold, capricious kiss, chiding me to stay alert that I don't miss my turn to flirt. Leaves come down like lawless clocks along no route that rules can watch. They’re shouldered first, then tickle sleeves - those brittle-falling Summerthieves. Ah! Here the hub of town comes near, with its public houses pouring beer colder even than the air. But it's so close and warm in there That 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. The Boys can leave their coats on hooks - The Girls will keep them warm with looks. Suggestive stitches, hopeful hems. October stalkings, autumn gems. In here we work with noble tones toward a sense of coming home. Because man is tempted to his best when woman is so smartly dressed. When everything to do's been done, we wrap the prizes we have won as close to us as we are able, and leave the rest upon the table. Warm within and cold without, It’s easy to forget about The weathers we're supposed to know, And on our brazen way we go.
Captain, do not curse the fog. It is the lullaby of the Blackfish. It is the glint eddy at the wing of the Sbaqwah. God-blue, long as a Black River canoe. Captain, your horn is heavy like blood in a ghost. What can it do? The fog is a child squat over a snake in the longhouse. It never knew you. It does not hear you. The osprey tear herring over a broken cedar. The salmon scowl at the ladder and die. Your boats are wrapped in ancient names. Kittitas and Chimacum. Issaquah and Wenatchee. Only the words are quiet on the water. The engines scare an owl from the head of a bear. The bear scares crows from a picnic table. It watches you bleed cars into the hills. All head and no flukes, you pilot the ghost without much rudder. You think you pilot the ghost. Captain, do not curse the fog. It is the white noise of the Salish Sea. You are the brother of the Chinook. You are the white throat of the Blue Heron. Trade pilothouse for smokehouse. Dance the deck from wheel to wheel. The lullaby of the Blackfish will be your song.
The easy part is the digging – snowsilver spade slicing steamsoil. Dirt hardly parts – but sighs! Eucharine breath, epicene oil. The lissome lisp of shovel slipped into winesoftened silt. The easy part is the digging – straight-grained shaft stung by stone, bonequiver knock on bone and out the crown emptied unto Heaven with every chuck and throw. The easy part is the digging – brute-sunk shovel in soil. Psalm-sung singing of sinew. Instrument to sentiment. Lie-less rhythm without end. Monument to sediment. Lie-less rhythm without end
Symmetry is an answer key – kind, like a held hand. But Love, go out and find for me – in our infinity of mirrorlands, some mathless magic in the sea – a scientist’s anomaly. Love, go make discoveries! Write them in divine shorthand. Find – but don’t bring back to me! that sanctified asymmetry. The matchless wing, the squareless root, will die here in captivity. Then – come back and lay with me – show me what you’ve written down. Fingers like a drunken bee will trace an ‘up’ that needn’t ‘down’ and mate the palms of unlike hands to pray like only difference can.
Had things been normal, The Boy’s school year would have ended with field day. Each year, a new t-shirt is designed, and the school meets at Lincoln Park for a day of events that the parents and teachers plan, coordinate, and execute with varying degrees of aptitude. Living so close to the park, we have hosted, for the last few years, most of the students in one or both of our kids’ classes for pre-field day shenanigans and donuts. When the time comes we walk them down to the park
There was no field day this year, and I miss filling the street in front of the house with a dozen screaming grade schoolers at 7:30 in the morning. But at least the commemorative shirts were still made. They were handed out with a few other items at the final drive-thru this morning. When The Boy brought it in and showed me, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I have no idea if a parent drew this up, or if it’s some stock design, but it’s the perfect accompaniment to a poem I wrote years ago as The Boy, then just a baby, was falling asleep on my chest:
The Dreamstronaut The boy adrift in outer space alone, His hairless pate in a glassy dome. The awe, the joy, the dreaming soul. A six-tooth smile in a barrel roll. While his hands still search and his toes still curl, Half in, half out of his old man's world. The half that's in heaves a sigh at me, The half that's gone starts its reverie. With that I guess he's in the stars, Using them like monkey bars, To swing amidst the giant rows While the library of his dreaming grows. And once it's up he'll float about In no great hurry to be picking out His stories or his nursery rhymes; He knows his dreams aren't bound by time. He bobs on past hoar-frosted shelves, And a section with a copse of elves. With a languid pull he moves along, To the fantasy he'll settle on. I've always imagined him like this, Giggling through the stacks in bliss. The length and breadth of an innocent's whim, His snickers and kicks propelling him. Now in my arms he's settled more, But he shifts a bit one time before His searching hand tugs on my nose - He's grabbed a dream, and off he goes.