Saturday, August 22, 2015


I'm afraid. Portland is a good hundred miles from the nearest fire, but the smell of woodsmoke is making my backbrain churn with alarm. Forests burning. Run.

half moon eclipse red
Fenris rises open-jawed
in a smoke-stained sky

In June, July, and early August, I wrote three poems in a row about burning. Too much sun at the Waterfront Blues festival? Maybe. But I knew, we all knew, this was coming. You only had to look around: by the end of June, lawns and shrubbery in my neighborhood were August-dry, and the Cascade forests were just waiting for a spark. I can't picture what it's like further east.


is the highway sign I wish I'd seen. Haiku may be too much to expect from ODOT.

praying on my knees
All-Merciful God, send us rain
smoke tears fill my eyes

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Ultraviolet Light

Whenever I come home now there's sand in my pockets.
Sand lines my purse and sticks to my pens.
I live a hundred miles from the beach.
I get in the tub and find sand under my toenails.

Green forest and vineyards, grain and fruit orchards
sleeping peacefully under a snow-capped mountain.
Where is the ocean whose breath speckles me with salt?
Every footstep I take falls on a beach somewhere.

What we thought was daylight was only the moon reflected:
silver apples brighter than all of earth's gold.
My teeth rattle empty as water-worn pebbles.
Tide comes with the dawn and wipes me away.

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Driving Lesson

Clock-face the wheel, my mother said
hands at ten and two, point high.

Which made my destination always high noon
and the choices before me love, duty, fear.

Six at the wheel's bottom, six is behind me
no-one gave me a six-gun or a six-point star.

I've learned it's no use to watch clocks.
When the noon train rolls in it'll find me ready.

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Friday, August 07, 2015

Warning Plumage

I’ve come to expect the crow
feathers shed in July, black and tattered emblems
of a year of urban life. This summer
I did not find any. Instead

a Canada goose flight primary on the Esplanade, unpatterned brown
glossy underneath with tegmen. What a perfect
quill-pen this would have made, what poems
would have flowed from its sharpened tip to parchment, ringing
with night-flight cries of spring and fall.

on our front porch, a blue-jay feather flecked with white paint—
from someone’s hatband? Someone who treasured blue,
until summer drought, cloudless glaring sky
wore out that color’s welcome. Thrown down in disgust, this feather
is a plea for shade, for rain, for autumn.

Maybe I’ll find macaw plumage, murmuring multi-hued
of encroaching tropics, jungles and hurricanes. Maybe roadrunner feathers
BEEP-BEEPing warnings to passing urban coyotes
(and us: the desert comes, it comes)

or like a Russian prince, rescue a firebird from a trap
and be granted visions—forests burning,
cities aflame with riots: save us, magic birds, O save us
from the things we’ve done.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Burning Blues

Tell me, has judgement come to pass?
The sky devours the burning grass.

Oh setting sun, have mercy on me
I'm a sinner hanging on a burning tree.

I'm a dead man walking on the razor's edge
See my footprints on the burning bridge.

I pray to God that I might be saved
I can find no rest in a burning grave.

The drawbridge rose and it rose so high
It rose on up to the burning sky.

Old Man River, hear my wail
My boat went down with a burning sail.

Old Man Sun, hear my moan
My dog ran off with a burning bone.

Pray for every woman and man
Born to suffer on a burning planet.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Dead Leaves

Everywhere you go now, leaves are falling
tender foliage of spring scorched
by summer heating up too fast.

Everywhere you go, young men are dying
scorched by the heat of hatred
burning up underfoot.

The streets are full of dead
crackling, burning bones and ash.
The hot streets are smoking
in the summer sun.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Strength in Unity

You’ve all heard that story—a single arrow
easily broken, a bundle
resists. Here’s one I like better:

the lindens this year bloomed in such profusion
they perfumed the evening air and filled
the sky with drowsy-humming bees.

I got up close and smelled
a single flower. Nothing.
Stepped back and waited: a vagrant breeze

drowned me in sweet scent.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Woman of Far Harad

"He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace."

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

We watched the legions march away to war
in lands a thousand leagues or more from home.
We did not know what they were fighting for

or whom they served upon a foreign shore.
Flesh of our flesh, bone slivered from our bones,
we watched the legions march away to war.

Who knew then what the future held in store?
Did we believe that death was worth renown?
We did not know. What they were fighting for

was held behind a masked and silent door.
We only knew the voice of wind on stone
while we watched legions march away to war

and not return. Defeat was the report
but death was every waiting mother’s moan.
We did not know what they were fighting for.

We watched the legions march away to war
with banners bright, never more to come
back from the bloody fields of Pelennor.
We did not know what they were fighting for.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Ridgetop Towns

In the east half of this state, the hills
run south to north; the start of basin/range
terrain that sweeps down through Nevada. Spills
of old Columbia basalt arrange
themselves in layered stacks, erode to rims
that frame the inter-mountain lakes in stone.
Like skirts of heavy black, they lift their hems
revealing painted clays and fossil bones.

And in the little tawny hills, the towns
that cling to ridgetops, and the tumble-down
of barns abandoned; shingle roofs that fly
at sight of storm.
            Roads can no longer find
rivers to follow. Water replaced by wind:
dry brush painting on an empty sky.

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Friday, May 08, 2015

Darker Air

It is not only that my eyes are brown,
that (before this frost) I used to wear
sable in my hair.

All my life, unknowing
alike with knowing, I have breathed
this darker air.

All my songs a blacker shade of blue—
my cheeks are yellow roses. Darker too.
These aren’t colors I can choose to wear

or unwear. They’re painted on the inside
of the eyes that view,
that see me through a glass of darkened air.

Who knows me, who sees me true
and where?
I drink strong wine and fly in storms. My wings
are full of agate eyes
and yellow roses decorate my hair.
I breathe dark air.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Arguing with the Cloud-Shepherd

A path leads away through a stand of bamboo
rustling and alive to the wind
but my feet stay rooted.

A stream rushes downhill laughing
to greet the distant sea. I am
silent and reflect no sunlight.

The wind reproaches my stillness, but I have no time
to argue with the cloud-shepherd,
busy with the Friend’s work.

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Friday, April 03, 2015

Private Weather

Unpredictable, my private weather
brings me fits of chills and flares of heat,
storms of rain and thunder-growling temper.
Nighttime season-shift: my icy feet
now kick the covers off and gasp for air
because they’re drowned in sweat. A pleasant change
from always wearing sweaters everywhere—
but makes me find myself a little strange.

I know what’s causing it: the silver streaks
that frame my temples, spreading spots on backs
of hands, the wrinkles falling round my neck.
This is a tranquil time, in most respects,
but just to keep me guessing (I suspect)
there’s personal climate-change in effect.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Death Speaks to the Knight


Sir Terry Pratchett, 1948 – 2015
Quante canicula ille in fenestra est

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Friday, December 26, 2014

After the Blood, the Burning

I seek resolve and cannot find it.
A murdered boy and a city burning:
why am I always standing behind it?

There’s a social contract. Which of us signed it?
Does it condemn us to this rite of mourning?
I seek resolution and can’t find it.

I am not shackled, nor am I blinded,
not unaware, capable of learning
so why am I still standing behind it?

How many times must we be reminded
before, at the last, there comes a turning?
I seek an answer. I cannot find it.

Am I waiting around until someone’s defined “it” ?
These are old, old wheels that keep on churning.
I’m sick and tired of standing behind it

and I will not accept nor be resigned to it.
Take notice, world: you’ve had your warning.
The answer is there. I know we’ll find it.
The time will come when we won’t stand behind it.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What I Did Today

I wrestled the East Wind in the Coast Range and kissed salt spray from his lips.
I counted every creek and trailhead on Highway 6.
I stood next to Bill Stafford on a cliff above the Wilson River.
I had my feet flayed bloody by wind-blown sand.
I threw a can of Red Bull into the sea to free the unicorns.
I dug agates from a cliff that rose from the beach like an oliphant’s legs.
I hijacked a truckload of Tillamook Cheese and abandoned it at the food bank.
I sat in the alders drinking sunshine and eating moss and ferns.
I hung flags from every branch in a lake full of standing dead trees because today was Veteran’s Day.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Eyes that Draw: drawing by Shelby Denham

Straight from vision to neural network—
“No, I don’t stop to think,
thinking just gets in the way.”

The clever pencil crawls across the page.

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After Winslow Homer: Rustic Courtship and The Bridle Path, White Mountains

She looks down
from her window’s height
from her white horse’s back.

She knows the men will always be bigger, stronger
make more money
have the law on their side

Not for her the powerful arms, pitchfork, place at the head
Not for her the football fame or Olympic accolades
Not for her to ride astride into or out of danger

She takes advantage
or at least vantage
wherever she can.

She looks down.

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In Response to Muriel Rukeyser’s “Ballad of Orange and Grape”

I could not tell the difference
by taste or smell—
I could not tell.

I could not tell that orange was a real color
and grape a fruit
that could be green, or red, or black.

I could not tell one flavor of poisoned sugar from another.
Both names were lies for me to sell.
I could not tell

if anyone would care about these labels
the dying do not care.
Is orange hope? Does purple mean despair?
I could not tell.

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1980s Ford Bronco, everything electric:
seatbelts, windows, door-locks, lights,
brakes, power-assist steering. So when the electrical system went out
at the top of the cliff on 4th Street in Oregon City
with a teenaged driver at the wheel of the Bronco
her father had bought used the week before—
Lightless steel screaming down the hill with four terrified teens trapped inside.

She rode that thing,
stayed out of the ditch,
made the turn at the bottom,
didn’t roll the car,
spun out in the four-way at the light and bumped the car in front of me
back into mine. Minor damage. No injuries.
Four hysterical teens, three shaken but relieved adults,
one dead Bronco and a traffic cop who dais:
“That was good driving, Miss,
damned good.”

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Bandon: Early Morning

Walking to the Barn in the predawn dark
I let myself in, turn on the lights,
move things around, set out clean mugs,
write important labels on minor things,
unlock the front doors and step out—
into the first beams of the rising sun.

The bare trunks of the lodgepoles,
a colonnade of light
etched against morning mist.

The smell of salt.

Cold air on my bare feet.

Everything else that happens today
will taste like this.

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