Unclouded haze hangs heavy
Over those who have never seen hungry bears
Picking neon summer kokanee
From the glass of glacier streams.
No blankets wait in deep closets to be retrieved
By kindly hands of grandmothers,
Or quiet morning lovers,
Or my lonely father,
For shivering sleepers.
No small hands under small blankets sit,
Nor white breaths against dark afternoon skies.
Here is a different warmth:
The kind that comes from liminal promises
To coniferous homelands.
Covered in dew,
Litter the ground by a golden pond.
There, where three grey swans sing their farewells to the sun,
A man and a woman stand.
The two interlock their white-boned fingers,
Stung by the oncoming chill of night,
And wonder how many more moments they might have shared
If things had been different,
The way they had hoped.
They stand there, facing each other,
And then the receding sun.
The wind disturbs her split-ends
And his old, frayed scarf—
The one his father gave him.
He wonders if the scarf saw
A similar scene
When his mother left his father.
He supposes it doesn’t make much of a difference;
He’s standing there, regardless, on that carpet of burnt orange.
As their fingers come apart,
She wonders if she could have been kinder,
As she knows he should have been.
He pockets his hands and walks away from that western sun,
Leaving only the mist of breath in his wake.
She, though, stays.
She watches the night glide in
Like some great bird,
Its gale waking the water,
Now shining silver.
Arid winter air
Alights my tongue
Like sparrows on the oak branch outside my childhood window.
They sing songs of quickly snuffed sunlight
And quiet mornings with cheap coffee from a can.
I descend the stairwell with a smashed cigarette hanging from my lips
And take a step onto the earthshattered sidewalk.
The sounds of distant cars accompany me
As battered leaves and broken beer bottles
Fragment further below my feet.
I breathe in the birdsong
And exhale smoke through my nose
As I pass the place I bought a woman our first drink,
Then our last.
The shadowed rafters hang over upturned chairs; there’s nothing left here.
Fingers, trembling from cold
Or from hurt
Toss the tarred filter into the overfull dumpster outside my door,
Graffitied with names I recognize
And some I don’t.
The last two hours of sleep with her
Leave me wanting for just a few more.
Footfalls drag me back to bed,
A fire-beaten trail is followed
Under the Northeastern Oregon sun,
Outlining the peaks and river valleys
Like your right hand on my chest.
Down your index finger,
Through the charred pines,
We switchback onto your thumb.
Up and over shaded boulders,
We reach a lake reflecting the surrounding mountains.
It’s long and clear,
With waves windpeaked and sheer,
That reflect our evening firelight.
The greengrey trees hum
With excited insects
While patient boulders sit squat
On dewy earth.
Your amber mirrors look at me,
And your tongue falls so precisely.
I stumble to you across uneven ground,
Drunk on your sober gaze.
We dance and sing with nightbirds and crickets,
Then fall asleep to windsung lullaby.
I wake and try to find your hand
My map, but only find I’m lost.
Feels loud in moonlight.
With no hand to guide me home,
I stay up there, among the waves, and breathe in the pine air