“I really admire your poems—they are vivid and fresh and honest. Completely unpretentious and beautifully made. . . .The whole thing has such a warm spirit of ‘We live here’–as you say at one point. The specificity of settings and of your own person alive in these poems is really fetching, but the poems go far beyond yourself to being universal and inviting to any reader.” –Deborah Garrison, author of The Second Child and A Working Girl Can’t Win
After Reading The Late Great Lakes
The dead gave their last blood to birds:
cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, and the downy woodpecker,
Extracting food from trees in small portions
in every season. Deer browse fairways, medians, and kitchen gardens.
More real estate is parceled, so
more roads flood fields and woods.
Shores erupt in built things that have never held a seed.
And citylight falls over us like flames.
On the beach where waves arrive,
caddies worms gather forest litter into cloaks, then creep
almost invisible, into fresh water
where fish rise from the bottom and eat
what they need and when, a great lake flowing coolly over
them and under them and through.
(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; originally published in Seiche Ways, Editors, Ari Mokdad and Anne-Marie Oomen, 2018)
Scrub and brush
after so much assembly
so much undone
I learned asphalt isn’t forever
He was twelve
And I was dragging
decades of concrete
behind me without even realizing—
Drop them then
Tear them up and plant
vegetables in a parking lot
Goats and chickens behind
the last house standing
but no one complains
He was probably forty-something
What’s there to complain about
And Eastern Market fills up with flowers
and a hundred thousand people
(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; originally published in Ghost Fishing: An Anthology of Eco-Justice Poetry, Editor Melissa Tuckey, 2018)
And the Trees’ Crowns
And the trees’ crowns
make a boundary
between dunetops and clouds.
A hundred different kind of birds
have hidden there
and a half inch of soil breathes
upon the sand
piled by wind and water.
Swales hold rain and seep
unless too many
sea molecules disappear.
This heat has no precedent.
The sun returns with the moon
and the silver glaze of sidewalks.
I’ve been stepping as lightly as I can
into moonless backcountry black
where stars are coldly commonplace.
My needs are boundless.
The water’s still so cold
the sea’s floor could be another planet,
my steps toward it
mammalian and plain.
(from Before the Snow Moon, 2013)
In Medias Res
All the traveling through day or dark
pursued, this song or that playing
through the essential air, shadows
crisscrossing fields and roads prettily,
moon glinting off the car’s interior chrome.
This dark spangled with bling—
Spangles, the dapple-gray stallion
summer-camp girls rode through fields,
probably decades dead, buried.
Buried, the fervent hope, not used
in some unwritable way, oh please.
The old obsession with horses carried
right into the middle of life
upon the engineered skin of the earth
where forest has given way to field
has given way to concrete and built.
How natural it all feels, how inevitable,
until the nighttime light evokes
a ghost from the transition time,
grasses and flowers underfoot,
gray mane under hand, hair blown
back like a pennant on a pole
of a ship that sailed upon a wilderness of sea.
Cicadas for a soundtrack, and the wind.
(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; originally published in Before the Snow Moon, 2013)
I dream of drawing trees on ivory paper, awaken
and find black night crowding
thermal windows behind thick drapes.
A few streetlights cast temporary shadows
on haunches of snow. We don’t ask
where’s the sea? We can walk to it,
and to acres of scrub, pasture, crop,
asphalt draining to it, and the reactor
it cools. Here is the cup we dip hesitantly
even under the spigot. Here is the forest
where owls ride trees, wild wind rides twigs
and feathers. A leaf surfs its gully in the snow.
(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; originally published in Dog Heart, 2011)
Proposal for a National Forest Service Brochure
Park and undress
in the empty parking lot at a trail head
Any mountain trail will do
Let the sun pour down your back
Turn and close your eyes
Watch it pour orange
Dress for the trail. Pack food, water,
and leave your human noises in the car
Climb till your heart, lungs, and limbs braid
into the rope that pulls you on
Trees anchor switchbacks
Give them your hand a few times
and brush gently against plants and shrubs
Disturb no rocks
And when you return to the car
because of course you must
be glad for the seeds which having hitched rides
will drop healthy in your wake
(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; originally published in The Huron River Review 6 2007)
Kewee rarely stopped for the camera and so the whole
of her photographed life is movement stopped
I must hold the other images—Kewee resting, watching
waiting for me to catch up—in my mind. Impossible
sometimes for me, distracted, obsessed, both
The way not to remember, the way to lose things
Snow wasn’t blowing around in the trees just then
Clouds clotted the sky. The near-shore shallows were still
and green. That Kewee and I were there together to see it
feels like some sort of miracle, that these feet keep
filling with warmth and carrying me along because
the heart that I will never see simply keeps doing its job
(from A Fine Canopy, 2020, originally published in Bear River Review 2010)
I jump into a school of Sergeant Majors
The yellow- and black-striped disks
of their hundreds of bodies fall, rise
and shatter sunlight
Gulf opens from surface to space
in the water and watch
as if it’s air
and they’re raptors
Perhaps they name us
clear cold March water
buoys us all
Almost immediately I’m shivering
exaggerating strokes and kicks
to keep warm
To keep the mask sealed
I must not even grin
Who can say what a hurricane means
the one that drowned Sand Key
for instance, destroying buildings and people?
Every living thing is food
The rest is mystery
(from A Fine Canopy, 2020; first published in Dunes Review 15: 1, Summer 2010)
A note from Alison Swan
Please consider buying literary magazines, or encouraging your local library to carry them. And visit literary websites. When you do so, you help ensure that writers and readers will be able to find one another, because these are the places where writers of new imaginative writing, like the poems above, first find their audience–and sometimes, their book publisher.