Excerpts from the poetry collection Seeds by Rachel A Elmer
I know these street signs so well it’s like counting
backwards from a hundred while the neighbors run,
hiding behind trees or silt banks. It’s hard to pay attention
to the road when you know the landmarks by heart:
left at the big spruce, past the pond, slow down
for washboards on the banked turn, hug the centerline
where the side is sliding to the ditch from
the spring creek forming. You are shotgun, smoking
out the window even when I ask you to stop, even when
you aren’t really here. I can smell it when I drive
this stretch between our old cabins. Sun strobes
through the trees as I drive your way. I want to
close my eyes against the throbbing light and miss
the corner where you said goodbye walking me home.
Living Half in the Sky
He told me: he doesn’t fly in his dreams
anymore. He was born facing the sea
through a wood framed window that showed him
cold waters, deep, filled with nets and icebergs
hundreds of miles below the timberline,
where his mother let the salt grow between
her muscles and it slowly wore her down.
He grew ripe in a costal root cellar
where rocks pressed into his body, forcing
him to bend, bulbous, contorted to earth
in a way that only fisherman know
in their oily joints. Each year when the snow
fell in patchwork, rose bushes stitching quilts,
he would climb onto rock ledges, pushing
his knotted fists into cracks of ice, just
to extend his horizon over the
curving earth where ships trolled deeper waters.
Even as frosted eyes saw lowlands spread,
he was bound to the glacier’s edge, his feet
crystallized with hoar, itching to catch wind
and soar to the bases of cumulus,
stratocumulus, through the stratosphere
to cirrus, where he would breathe the thin air
like medicine. That day, and many more,
he leaned into gusts, feeling the unseen
river as curls and eddies, his knees bent,
testing the heights. Leaning wasn’t enough.
He knew he had to jump, so he leapt out
sliding slow at first, slivers of ice shot
spray from his soles as he gathered more speed.
His mind emptied of the earth. Every rock
became a chance to fly, briefly kissing
the airstream until skidding on hardpack.
He spent years climbing giddy heights to glide
back down, trying to gain momentum to
launch from the ground, into the atmosphere
where he could wash the dirt out of his lungs.
He longed for the raven’s wing, for currents
to climb; warm pockets caught in his expanse.
Until one day at the peak, he looked out
over ravines and slides below, ocean
grey and windswept into whitecaps tossing
the docks and moored boats all tied in neat rows
knocking together like stabled cattle,
wooden hips swaying like saucy drunkards.
He pushed himself off balance, off his toes,
off the world, he felt the wind inside him,
as he thought no human could, inside his blood
through his skin, where feathers ought to grow.
I have never seen a man take flight
like he had never touched a stone, like he
was drinking water after years of thirst,
like he was overflowing. Every day
he steps lighter, letting the concrete reach
up to his feet, noticing how large we
are at ground level with the same wonder
as we look down on the ants of people
and city lights through our square jet portals.
Copyright © 2020 by Rachel A Elmer
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