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’sThrough 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 DerekSheffield.com.