Two Poems by Derek Sheffield

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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.



Nest Site

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. Catch up with him at

Read poetry by Derek also appearing in Issue 29 and Issue 26.

Photo by Simmons B. Buntin. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.