Oregon sunset

Four Poems by Laurel Anderson 12th Annual Contest in Poetry Semifinalist

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The Heat Dome of 2021

trapped all the West
in a carbon bell jar
and the pulsing mercury
stretched, reached, hung
itself from the highest rung
and all the threads of water
binding root to leaf to sky
snapped in gnarled necks
of pines and bitter melons
boiled on vines and workers
slick with sweat picked
flaccid cherries in the shimmer
and cities glitter-sweltered
as people knelt with melting
cells before fans that stirred
a brew of fumes with a steady
hum and air smelled of worse
to come as flame dogs
ran in eager packs
through yellow grass
snuffling cracked earth and ash
and hills smoldered
into dusk so night
was no relief
and mountains stripped
of snow and cloud
gleamed unsheathed
in moonlight.



Butterflies Are Vanishing Out West

Headline, March 4, 2021, The Washington Post

The air does not flutter. Windsnakes
rattle dry cheat grass while lightning
strikes its random matchbook.

Canyons split down to rivers
unfurling like warm tongues
in parched mouths. After storms
spadefoot toads dig out
from mud bunkers, bray across
irrigation ditches.

We forgot how to walk untilled earth,
how to let knees sway and grip over
ribs and hips of soil and stone.
Pavement eases passage, spawns
new asphalt biomes.

Milkweed, gaillardia, chicory
splatter medians with color, muster
drops of nectar, thread flower scent
through the dense weave of oil and tar.
Trucks roam wild, grilles eating wings.




Close your eyes to the orange sky
and listen.

Pop, snap
whirr, tap
sizzle and crisp
twisting hiss
boom and crackle
squeal and pound
wood cells fill with hot gas, burst, dissolve into smoke
grasshoppers leap across hard baked earth before they
in rolling walls of heat
vines transform into guttering fuses
thunderclouds bloom from fire’s own breath, spit needles of ember
wild horses run, manes flaring gold to blue to black char
the thirst of singed koalas
orchids, high in the trees on the Xingu River

as they open their smooth white lips
and to their surprise
exhale flame.



Mangroves Move North

Headline August 29, 2019, NPR Morning Edition

They scale the coast like rock climbers. Root fingers
search for purchase, hang on Celsius handholds,
clutch at crumbling ledges, their bodies a basecamp
and shelter for shoreline.

They creep toward our beaches, those mid-Atlantic
vacation spots broiling with sunbathers, cloying
with sunscreen and deep fry, creeling with gulls
and the rattle and ping of boardwalk pinball.

We drove up from the city on Saturdays
and played all day in the glare. My fingers clawed
furrows in sand as waves knocked me down
and spun me like flotsam. Driving home after dark
slumped in the back with my brother and sister,
exhausted, greasy and sunburnt, I watched the ebb
and flow of headlights silvering my mother’s hair.

Let them come. The ocean is taking the land, the boardwalk
is almost submerged, we know that sunscreen kills coral.
Let the mangroves come with their dark looms and weave
thick nets of xylem along the strand. Let them come
and fill their leafy lungs with our carbon, clearing the air
as they breathe. On fine days, let them chatter and gossip
over salt water tea, while red crabs dance on their knees
and minnows rest by their feet. Let me link arms
with mangroves in storms and keep back the crash and surge.




Laurel AndersonLaurel Anderson is a plant ecologist and poet. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Split Rock Review, Radar Poetry, EcoTheo Review, The Fourth River, and elsewhere. She teaches at Ohio Wesleyan University and lives with her family in central Ohio, USA. Learn more about her work at and follow her on Twitter: @LaurelSciPoet.

Header photo by kkitson, courtesy Pixabay. is the first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.