Mount St. Helens
The One We’re Spiraling Into
When Mount St. Helens blew that May day in the last millennium, my father steered us through ash falling like snow, wipers ticking past another empty car. Where did they go? And here I am, driving a mute blast of sunlight with friends, asphalt and what’s left of the woods, something like flagpoles bristling on something like Ground Zero even as we begin to see a gritty soil. Where smoke once curled from chimneys, a glistening rain of spiders led to lark and elk, swallow and salamander. No more cabins or dinner bells, but so much lupine you’d swear volcanoes exult in violet. Even this pumice crunching under every step won’t sink. So much life, we say, hiking back to the car. Cheryl hopes for a Dairy Queen, and Simmons clicks through a thousand photos as we coast the curves toward sea level, tired bodies swaying together in time. Across the lake to our left, a thousand trunks still float like sticks in a game. Then the future comes up, the one we’re spiraling into, and JP says, Sure as shit wouldn’t bring kids into this world, in a way that chills my groin. And Elizabeth observes, a stone in her lap the size of a skull, This is young enough to be my child.
Originally appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review.
Mount St. Helens, Willow Flycatcher
Below her steaming dome,
a nest of dead stems
cups two hatchlings, blind wobblers
among bits of shell. Even the way
their willow sways above trickles
of snowmelt cannot make them
less unlikely, scruffy lumplings
slated to unlock their flight and stitch
this air of ours, this gray land
scorched into being. If there is an aim
to their snaps and sallies, their kind
of fletched breath, look for it
in skin-shut eyes flushed with life,
in the way a child keeps from sleep
as long as she can, cupping a flashlight
for the bloody glow of her hand.
Originally appeared in Wilderness.
Derek Sheffield’s Through the Second Skin was published by Orchises Press (2013). He teaches poetry and nature writing at Wenatchee Valley College and lives with his family in the foothills of the Cascades near Leavenworth, Washington.
Photo by Simmons B. Buntin.