Fernlight, stonelight, hemlocklight—
call it a tongue of riverlight,
this which licks the lengths
of my daughter and me,
as with our every step—
the river itself licks and swallows
ankles, shinbones, waists. That way,
I say, stopping mid-stream,
pointing up the mountain, the river
crashes, thins, begins. And that way
it sags and deepens, belly rolling
with salmon bones. Just six years old, she nods
as if she already knows. Then reaches
clean to her toes, comes up cupping
the wet light. And here,
she says, pouring from her hands
into mine, is where we live,
in the light and in the trees,
in the river, you and me.
after Cecily Parks
Dogwood, iris, tight green fig.
Empty house, early light’s jig.
Pink, rain-faded chalk
on the mossy, buckled sidewalk.
Someone, yes, used to live here—
not us, but someone called them dear.
Not us, child, not this year.
For the Ones Who Watched & Said Nothing
Even though that kid threw the firecracker, all of those kids… watched, all of them did nothing.
– Liz FitzGerald, witness to the start of the Eagle Creek fire, which would go on to burn over 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge
How good the whistle
& thin bang how on just another
summer day stupid toothsome
& terrifying you feel it now
don’t you up from the groin & gut
the drawn threads of blood the wind revises
the sky the pines you very well know
you’ve been told we all of us have been
you will never forgive you
after Christopher Howell
In the black hour of ice & shine,
before the wind,
before the great trees shrug & sigh,
scattering the night’s glass,
some few lights edge the silent highway,
the machines we hear about & fear
far past the limits of this or any
Now God puts his shoulder
to a snow shovel, heaves a bladeful,
wipes at the lace of freeze
in his mustache.
No guarantees, he knows—
no thirty-five year watches,
not even a visit to the proctologist,
not until next year,
Still, he would like a cup of coffee.
He would like to lift himself
into the ruffed chest of an overwintering sparrow,
say the lovely, stupid one
who despite the cold blue stone of sky
flaps from the attic-vent of the abandoned craftsmen
& careens over the street
& I think, So long, God. Do what you have to do, God. By God that old house is really empty now, isn’t it?
Joe Wilkins’s debut novel, Fall Back Down When I Die, waspraised as “remarkable and unforgettable” in a starred review at Booklist, and his memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, won a 2014 GLCA New Writers Award. He is also the author of four previous books of poetry, including When We Were Birds, winner of the 2017 Oregon Book Award in Poetry. His latest collection, Thieve, won the 2018 Blue Lynx Award in Poetry and was published in the fall of 2019. He lives with his family in western Oregon, where he directs the creative writing program at Linfield College.