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Originally appeared in Issue No. 9



Lex Runciman


The Waiting

Late bees convene, they interrogate the porch.
Paper wasps held together by god knows what
visit the seat-sprung, the cane back chairs.
Dark snow goes uphill in narrower runnels
on mountains hazed into distance.
Tired summer hangs on.

We are not met.
The hand we seek, the one in dreams
that laves our faces and hums the unremembered song—
the hand, gesture and all its benevolence
darkens nothing, offers nothing.

If we knew for certain what was needed.
If we knew precisely the process, step-by-step,
rules for the dance, orders for the colors
of one bougainvillea, lilac, or Norway maple.
If we knew why they sing in our eyes.
If we could say the name, the perfect sounds
for ground we love. That, and the common litany—
how this becomes mango
and bird of paradise, cocoa bean, skunk cabbage.
If we could say why.
If we could know the title of any rainwater, river, well
water, the miles and endless minutes
in the clear glass we drink from. If
we could rouse and tease the dead
or ourselves unborn.
But we are not met.

The harrowed fields are so carefully groomed
they've become sculpture, all parallels and contours.
Blackberries fatten. The long shadows of 6:20 pm
stretch out and recline under an unstarred blue.
The light goes rose, golden. We talk.



All things swim and glitter.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Water so recently Arctic, that first surprise
       stays unsayable, water onshore
Then pulling at your eroding heels.
       An ache like death
Rises and you dance foolishly, howl or moan
As the foamed, prismatic surface climbs your shins,
       your knees, as you go on stubbornly
West, downhill, waves taller than you are,
       impacts like huge open hands
Though you jump to elude them.

Held in that tidal, constricting cold,
       breathe, breathe little breaths,
Because the muscles do get used to where you are,
       which is deeper, perverse with surf perch
       and Dungeness, feeble arms
Scullling against a current that wants you.
That first metallic panic says you really are
       crazy doing this, though the current
Seems warmer as chest-high swells lift you
       and the largest breakers rise and curve,
Lucent green brightest at its thinnest,
The heart you close your eyes and dive for

       into silence and shock, going nowhere,
The wave breaking over, rattling down
       the chakras of your spine, the muscles
Of your thighs and calves. You tumble,
Shoved rudely to sand, pressure,
       absence of air,
A dark floor you palm and push from.
       And then your face surfaces
In the world lovely before speech,
       summer, the new world.


Beyond the Window

Tall stalks and wind over them
tansy, taproot, rye,
irregular as water,
simpler and more intricate than dance.
They are the stilled voices
of influenza, 1919, polio, 1950,
cholera, plague, comsumption, AIDS,
bacteria and virus, life for its own life
whatever deaths that causes—
these are the grasses,
withered foxglove, lupine,
oaks sinking into August
towards a black green, torsos
like granite or Elgin marble.

Nothing and no one
disappears. Momentary,
restless as tidal waves, cellular divisions,
we are collections, weather and air.
The wings of a kestrel are Sappho, Napoleon.
The unmet sister, the brother
given for adoption, they stand idly behind you
or a counter away
while a clerk totals the bill for cucumbers
which are Roman legions, cantaloupe
(operatic choruses), and basil
and pepperochinis. Criminal and victim,
insect, amphibian, and lover, every appreciation
of water falling or reflective, every
reproduction and atom, storm
and calm, buzzard and orchid
repeats and repeats.

Dead, accidental, all earth
—shale, quartz, diatomaceous—
is a factory of waste, or density,
a vast elaboration that makes us, that we make.
Of dozens of faces I know the privilege,
each to disappear and repeat,
but tomorrow, not yet. Matter
astonishes, and spirit—I can't quite
get how it persists, how memory of it persists
or not, how the motions it becomes
and what it dictates no one may predict
for even an hour


Lex Runciman lives and writes in Oregon's Willamette Valley. With Chris Anderson, he has co-authored A Forest of Voices: Conversations in Ecology (Mayfield Publishing) and Asking Questions: A Rhetoric for the Intellectual Life. The poems here come from Continuo, due soon from Salmon Press in Ireland.

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