Terrain.org Columns.


Derek Sheffield


Listen to Derek Sheffield read the full series of these poems while on the Pumice Plain at Mount St. Helens, introduced by Terrain.org editor Simmons Buntin, with other participants:

Together on the Train

So you see, I didn't need to take a lover
because he was so many men in one,

she says, poking a lacy pillow
behind her back. Two states ago

she sat in 38C
and began to explain her ticket.

He promised to show me
the world. I'll see it when I believe it.

Beyond the window, ties blur, cities
rise and collapse, one more year

rusting in an empty stove. 
You tap the glass with a penny.

She holds a pocket mirror
and picks at her makeup:

I have some real antidotes.
All the heads in front of you

sway, her shoulder touching yours
as you rush together into a mountain,

into darkness where her powdered jawbone
goes on, echoes

the very jeweled earth.


Listen to Derek Sheffield read "Together on the Train:"



What a View

Ghost trees in the valley, pears sprayed with clay
and safe from the spring hatch, row
after row, diaphanous acres losing
their slow grip, and every step I take
brings me back to winter. 

As I climb Temple Ridge, petals close to buds
and buds tighten to nothing.
In the chalky trunks and branches, the shape
of a snow-furred animal browsing the river’s edge,
or maybe more the smoke of father and son,
names on signs and field hands
on the fiscal wind. 

I can see where a couple will step out
of their sunlit car and stand on unrooted ground,
gazing up to these green-needled trees. 
A white-gloved gardener will be dragging
a rubber hose through her roses. 

And over there, a neighbor boy slapping his mitt
through the dusty thistles at the end of Peach Street
where a ball dropped from the sky
and made a thudding sound.


Listen to Derek Sheffield read "What a View:"



As a Species Flies from Extinction, Consider the River

            In passing clarity, curled
                        Feather and flash, see
The brown eyes
            Of the world. What rocks
                        Are these?  Fourteen million
                                    Orbits refract this
Influence of spreading center, polarity
            Spinning a water strider’s legs like needles
                        To the pulse in every
Tongue. Below Skookumchuck, the shape
            Of a bird’s neck in sleep
                        Holds the current and the memory
                                    Of ancient ice releasing
Mad gleaming, rivulet violence.
            Could this etch of avian glyph,
                        This fluxing flurry of onwardness     
                                    Bear the conception that ending
Is myth, is the syllabics of scree
            Clattering before a buck’s long skid
                        And purling swim where the river
                                    He shakes from his antlers,
                        The river of dazzling droplets,
            Freezes the light, is the light?

— Originally appeared in River of Memory: The Everlasting Columbia


Listen to Derek Sheffield read "As a Species Flies from Extinction, Consider the River:"



Anonymous Hawk

My friend mouths the names
of birds invisible
to him, and waxwing
becomes a lit candle, a shrink,
a fiery bottle. A veery turns
into a supplicant gouging his knees
on sacred stone, a poem. 
Maybe a thousand names
will extinguish the shades
roosting in the corners
of his eyes. Perhaps
the cracked corn he scatters
faithfully into darkness
will call something whole.
Golden kernels spray
from his fist, pelting the dust
like shot. Not far
from where his face shadows
a window, softly calling
I am not here,
in a patch of rattled thistles,
some kind of hawk draws
the instrument of its beak
down anonymous feathers
and the ground swallows the song.

— Originally appeared in Crab Creek Review


Listen to Derek Sheffield read "Anonymous Hawk:"




Another suburban lion
retracts one more kestral
from the sky, slinks it
to shadow and takes flight
from feathers tumbling
everywhere the wind prowls.


Listen to Derek Sheffield read "Predatory:"



Derek Sheffield won the inaugural Hazel Lipa Environmental Chapbook Award for A Revised Account of the West (Flyway/Iowa State University, 2008). His work has appeared recently in The Georgia Review, Ecotone, Orion, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, and Poetry. He completed a field residency this summer at Mount St. Helens where he mingled with more than a hundred scientists studying the volcano’s regeneration. 
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