At Sleeping Bear

It’s easy enough to say speak,
your fingers untangling the hair
of a young girl whose father
is dying. For most of my life,
mortality was a susurrus, breeze
in the white-bark, subtlest thing
on the landscape, easy to miss.
              Now I think it has a shape carved
into your palms, one you don’t choose
the weight of although it’s tender,
broken into gentle rhythms
like a hymn.

Before me a slope of soft dune
over Lake Michigan we climb up from.
It’s soft the way trillions of tiny weathered
things make a gentleness when they pile
and there’s wind.
Only up there I’d borrow Merwin
to ask how can we ever be sure
and my father would say always be
beginning and once you’ve
begun be all the way
shared the way a lover of birds
might so deeply agree with a lover
of plants on loving the way someone
who is dying agrees
to re-unite,
to exile nothing.




Postcard from a Beginner

Sometimes the hush was so devout
we were afraid to move.

                      — Adam Zagajewski

If it hadn’t been for the way you grew over me
if we hadn’t been so supine in the field-
grass if the timothy and sedge and music
the cicadas the forage the versatile girl
if it weren’t for the offering we made knowing
the meadow would swamp
someday the lucky stars would shake us
open like going knee-deep in the river
cold and familiar the way we try to
keep burning once submerged—
                        Once you let a suggestion
feel better than any golden turn
every single morning I know you
even though the canopy aches
and through it we see nothing
I know there’s a version in which
I am as stunned by the disappearing
movement of dusk
across the pasture as I am by the
hush of how our bodies
can begin in a room and end
in the ground by also the sounds
we make amidst what light outstrips
the pain of knowing if I did not forget
this along with your body so full
of summer
each day as it reels to a close I would surely
stop breathing




Letter to Hugo from the Clark Fork

Up late there’s a delicacy and strength in it: quietly waiting within how many first
frosts for the next line to come. Quietly waiting, the lace of the night lake
rising there’s a reverence soothing over the rocks there’s a delicacy in the shine
to it. Some part of us knows a home upon entering and remembers when
it enters also how. Wishing to know you, I go and kneel by the water. I take off
what glows on me I let fall what begs to. In these granite cathedrals, some part of us
remembers the wind whipping through. You were right to ask the current:
make me better. Wishing to know you, I ask a hundred things
of the river. Copper water from Butte feathering
over the backs of rocks, I let fall in the gin jar from my hands. I want something
to be crushed or carried away and want it not to be me tonight. I beg the courage
it took you to stand up and scatter backwards
the man stepping straight into the fire while everyone else
ate and laughed. I ask you protect him, delicate man, strong man,
let no one burn tonight. Let the horses stamp
dust gently in the dark. Sometimes, what thou lovest best
remains a ghost. I imagine even at the Clark Fork, your cocktail’s delicate brim with ice
and spilling. I build a cairn there in case you show.
Back in town, a band jams into a corner of the Old Post, and boot heels
are starting to fly. Winter, for a moment, best as a ghost. The silence we carry
as good a home as any we could make. But up late, this valley fills with music.
It’s our kind of loose strength. It’s our way of stepping forward, whispering out
and swimming on.




Molly Damm was raised outside of Detroit, and received her MFA at the University of Virginia. Her poems have recently appeared in Drunken Boat, The Collagist, Copper Nickel, and Colorado Review. She lives in Bozeman, Montana, and teaches writing at Montana State University.

Photo of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Lake Michigan by Dean Pennala, courtesy Shutterstock.

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