Contrails pass above the Rockies today, and I know my grandson kneels up there, at a portal in the sky, peering down wonderstruck by this unforeseen earth floating beneath him, everything alive the same age and same force shifting through time, like water under pressure, trying to thrust itself through pores in granite. His father looks over the son’s shoulder and names the green ribbon Columbia, carving itself into sere scablands. When the river still flooded it remembered genealogies of channels, oxbows, swales, and dunes, the falls glaciers fed before dams arrived with ditches and grains.
Six months of drought and algae still slicks the rocks below a spring.
A skink darts past— an iridescent blue vanishing under speckled monkeyflowers.
We can follow trails north from this valley to marshlands, then along shores of lakes to the burning edges of boreal forests, arrive at tundra, and finally stand at the open sea, ice retreating in blue leads before our eyes, a magnitude of memory we have no story for.
I can’t see farther than my friend sitting beside me last October, the story of her stillness and ease filling her with amber light and windless calm. Seeds parachuted past us all the way down Slick Rock Canyon. An ouzel in the creek ran underwater, leapt onto a stone and shook dry in sun.
Another day, we forgot the map someone drew for us and didn’t find our way to chanterelles. We stumbled instead upon Mazama ash—you can still find it sometimes—a yellow drift below an elk wallow.
Heidi, we think he said. He’d hiked up the switchbacks to Whatcom Pass, where we rested and watched him ascend, un-shoulder his pack and repeat what he’d told others about the one he loved who died, and for whom, in remembrance, he walked. The north and its old question posed behind him, its silence unfolding the reach of a year her voice retreated deeper into stone, irretrievable as even the softest pulse of any word she ever spoke.
David Axelrod’s eighth collection of poems, The Open Hand, appeared recently from Lost Horse Press. His second collection of nonfiction, The Eclipse I Call Father: Essays on Absence, is forthcoming from Oregon State University Press in the spring of 2019. Recent work appears in Aji, Cloudbank, The Singing Bowl, and Under a Warm Green Linden. Axelrod wrote the introduction, “My Interests Are People,” for About People: Photographs by Gert Berliner, which appeared in the summer of 2018 from Arts End Books. Axelrod directs the low residency MFA and Wilderness, Ecology, and Community program at Eastern Oregon University. In addition, he edits basalt: a journal of fine & literary arts, and serves on the editorial board of Lynx House Press.
Read poetry by David Axelrod previously appearing in Terrain.org: two poems and two poems.