Four Poems from This Old Riddle: Cormorants and Rain



Poem for Tokeland Eroding


The sea hisses at the lifted land;

erases, wave by wave, our footing

and the slap of a flat rain stiffens.


The bay is naming itself Willapa,

inhaling two fathom tides

over insubstantial sand.

Storm surf steepens the beach,

tears out trees, stretches

the grey beach north,

and sends two crab boats down.


The winter, the sea, they do what they want --

slam dance with the headland,

set steel roofs to hum and moan,

drop double-wides into the huge thump

as swells collapse; lick and slice

the westering highway off.


Sand, too transient for maps to name,

and seaward -- shoalwater -- not even ink,

but gaps in charts, accidentals,

the tug of a hidden moon swung hard

against horizons: bathymetry

ceaselessly shifted by great storms.



Praising the Fish


You are the visible whispering one.

The Brahmin. You are the flush of blood

behind a thin skin of mirrors. Your scales

are small as single notes. Rainbow above all


rainbows, you are jaw and composure.

At sunset your tail is broad. It propels

you up glistening into burning skies,      

gills pulsing and nose to the wind as if


it were current. It is


the way wheat-land sunsets burn rivers.

In the flash behind flesh and the blush under

cutbanks, you are the rainbow of horizon,

thunderhead, creek braid and plunge pool.


You are frost turning the sun green.

And buoyed by an aspirated clarity -

all this air within water within air -

you are a towering splash of hunger,


our flourishing, transient shout.



While Asleep at Otter Lake


a whisper

a note

her beak

her bare leg

her patience


the lake opens


she takes a frog,

leaves two tracks, then

lifts large with faintest

light into the soundless fog.



Broken Islands

               -  For Dennis St. Clair and the native archeologists at Tsesha’ Island


For nearly 6000 years, the Nuu-chah-nulth

lived in the island lee, hard winds blowing


overhead. Liquid whorls of great whales, fluke

and fin, the winter rain, a village of 800 rising


on shucked shells and charcoal - eight

meters deep when the whites arrived.


Scavenging, crows have followed us

half a mile down the beach. They mutter


old gossip. Their eyes blink without closing.

Storm toss - seal bones; broken, smoothed


kindling; 65 feet of poly rope; and a dozen

plastic bottles emptied of catsup and motor oil.


The old word for grief and the verb

to move away: these are one and the same.