Birth at the Ruins || Mary Buchinger

We’re walking on a path through Ingapirca—
Cañari ruins crowned by Inca remnants—when we notice
below, on a sweeping green plain, a llama giving birth.

The birth, like most, was improbable and awkward—
a wet messy success producing a knobby-kneed cria
pumping down hard on the earth to find its legs.

My brothers, visiting from the States, are new
to this part of the world where I lived and worked.
I brought them here to see the colossal stone blocks

cut to join so closely a single piece paper couldn’t slip
between—precise elliptical walls positioned just so
to catch the solstice. Our guide explains all this

as clouds suddenly swallow the sun and we pull
our scarves tighter. This caprice of the gods, he says,
drew ancient peoples to this place close to the heavens

—the better to study and appease. We stop
to eat sandwiches and one brother observes,
We’re all over thirty now, right. But no, not me.

Not yet. Their baby sister, I look away, towards
the mewing cria. Will I have to watch everyone die?
The Cañari and Inca had their ways of keeping track.

A stone tablet sits at the entrance of this poorly-kept ruin,
twenty-eight indentations of various depths in its surface
that fill with rainwater, something about the reflection

of the constellations to keep time—no one really knows.
We climb into the back of a pickup truck and twirl down
the mountain; our driver, in a hurry to get home, spins out

at every hairpin turn. I stand with my brothers whom I love,
arms stretched grabbing hold of the stone-pocked roof,
I look straight ahead, face into the wind.

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.

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The Meadow || Mary Buchinger

Sunlight spirals out from a confusion
of tag elder crowding the edges of this narrow
expanse, a slow succession of species
in the landscape—changes, changes—
is this renewal?

In the felt heat of midday, dragonflies
swim light, splash in its waves
Sunk light begets, in the bed
of me, exact frequencies of the meadow

The entire meadow—grasses dipped
in gold—spins like a rolled-
open tunnel, my eyes sweep
its sides, fanning photonic fire

Behind me a small vernal pool
recedes in August death, a nerve
of babyskin tadpoles floats
tardily in the thick brew
suspended in half-wonder

Insects, innumerable, opulent

Parting joe-pye weed
I wade through, switchgrass
hoping against arrival, sun lacquers
my shoulders and freckling hands
heat festers down to decay
and my spidery self opens

          º

In the black pool, a soggy branch springs
when its sunning turtle clambers off—
spectacle of plated light!—new
mud beneath its hooked green
legs bubbles, bubbles, I

imagine against my skin—
skin, its thunderbolts of enzymes
separating physical selves, frogs,
turtles, me, what is felt

Do they too smell this dry
juniper I crush between fingers,
its thin, gymnastic branches
releasing the gin of the waxy blue
I sip its air to intuit
what is essence and what I
can do without, so chorded
so exacting my neediness
and hunger, nuclei buzzing all over

          º

I’m telling you the meadow is a metaphor
for dying, whereas for the light
the dragonfly itself is keeper

          º

The meadow opens its mouth of green
and I am drawn to its activity

My soul of contention calms
in this beauty and buzz

And yet, coursing, coursing between
seeing and knowing, between sought and held
a rill of uneasy infinitude

The meadow explains this truth
I rest on the stone bench to listen

          º

Mudhole at my back jumps to life
with a quantity of dying, troubled air
I invite inside, inhaling

Here, with a white surrender, light
is sentient, this light in the skin of the meadow
complicated by a thousand daily things

Each blade, singing

In these vibrations between meadow
and light, I plumb balance

          º

Phosphorescence, abundance, senescence

A slit in my universe and suddenness
sweeps in, dusk, and my surprise
is new again—another end

          º

I aim for union with meadow
and light, with its opening and closing, its lesson
will be absolute and consequential

Succession means pioneers
make way for what’s to come

The alders and aspen will win this meadow
ready it for the oaks and beeches
to follow. Stones will assemble with solemn
intent. The unbearable fervor of June
will have been the cost of August

Dragonfly, dragonfly, dragonfly

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.

Navigating the Reach || Mary Buchinger

On remote Norton Island
off the coast of Maine
less than a month
after my father died
the moon has yet to practice
this particular loss

I must have seen it quartered
like this before, but this
waning after blooming
full summer solstice
in the city—and I islanded
now, marooned beneath
the naked spurs of stars
this is different

          º

When someone dies
he is not prodigal

but grief comes round
like the tide, swollen
then ratty in retreat

today in its wake, ropes—
braided and frayed
knotted to a hollow jug
or snaking empty

ropes, useless, stranded
on rocks—rocks, immovable
truths, complicate everything

I watch my step
having learned through slipping
the slickness of the black algae
on these creviced granite slopes

          º

I’m told this is a reach
that I’m looking into
and the island’s joined at low
tide with another by
a gut—mucky crossing
for deer, sheep, mice

All day long, thrushes
here, drop silver coins
into little silver cups

my father loved to whistle
ribboning the air, abide
with me, bicycle-built-
for-two, you make me
happy when skies are grey—

I watch a raccoon wash
its paws between boulders
ocean shimmering beyond
its hunched shoulders, emerald
forest at its back, the kitchen
trash bags ransacked

          º

My Michigan girl-dream
of tide pool, wildly off
I could not know—

and now face to face
with the real thing, the startling
ruddy blue calico
the many, many mouths
opening, pops of seaweed
sea lice, barnacles—I sip Atlantic
air, sun-thick salt-damp

to sit like this and receive
receive, never would I
have dreamed this light-
lending inflorescence
how much we can’t foresee

I watch two translucent
dime-sized crabs scuttle
in a bottoming-out rivulet
a shadow-filled shrimp pushes
away with its army of legs

lone detached lobster claw
At dinner someone asks
was your father
an extraordinary man?
Extraordinary? I don’t—
don’t know. He was mine
and I loved him

          º

The trail in this mossy rock-
and mud-floored forest
is marked by buoys
impaled on broken limbs

half-buoys, trawler-bitten buoys
glow orange and turquoise
suspended debris, heart-height
as displaced as a childhood memory
of holding his hand, playing
with his ring, the smell of his pipe
the cherry tobacco, buoys
strangely guide me here
among trick traps of sadness

still, sometimes the deer—
unseen except for their paths
of crushed and pawed moss—

tempt me to stray
to lay my cheek down
on the easy uneasy green

I say I have to get
my bearings, as if it’s a matter
of walking a perimeter
establishing direction
finding where the sun will sink

          º

When the path takes me
to an open flushed-out cove
an eagle swoops down
like a broadhanded sorrow
I shield myself
heart pounding
surprised by its immensity
that it lives here too

At my feet, a smooth flat
rock that fits exactly
in my palm. This I think
the shape and heft of my grief

I launch the rock
out into the reach
it skips the surface
three times before
dropping below. Gone!

Hours later, when I return
to the cove, a rock—mine?—
sits shining, ringed in seaweed
wet, like something newly
born , a rock on top
of a rock, on top of a rock

          º

In deepest woods, wreckage
of mussels pried open, plucked
the needley path pocked
with scat of alabaster shells
purpled with urchin, what
couldn’t be digested

I inspect a lace of lichen
and out flutters a matching
dust-colored moth. I too
want oneness, or is that only
camouflage? Hermit crab
scurrying from emptiness
into emptiness?

Everywhere here, the blank
awful, open eyes
of paper wasp nests
abandoned like silent
scraps of poems

The island is held together
by spiders, the invisible
sticky portals they spin
their come-what-may
hapless fly, airy
catkins, hemlock litter
awkward caterpillar
caught caught dangling here

On the eastern side, a storm
blew through some years ago
uprooting trees that tilt
now, grey knackered
twists of branches leaning
into the green-headed ones
who hold them up
the living and the dead entangled

          º

Now, fog, a burgeoning hush
ushers in fishing boats
the island bows out
its stage swept of detail
Part of me remembers
everything is still there
nothing really has changed

My eyes keep returning
to the knobby dead birch
solitary limbs wrapped
in soft fur fog
It is its own private drama
blunted grey shape against
a blunted grey sky

           º

I’m told the island is part
of an archipelago, as everything
is part of something. This island
one of three thousand
on the polka-dot coast
of jagged crags

How does one learn
to navigate the reach,
its treacherous rocks?

Some here call them stones
these things that could kill you
Others make them known
naming each one—See that?
Whale Rock. This one, Snakehead
To these I add
Leviathan and Thief

One giant rock
leavings of a wave or glacier, perches
triangular on a shelf, looks seaward
Touchstone Rock—it brings good luck—
Just touch it! So massive.

I could live inside, gaze toward
Portugal. It’s made of mirrors—
fractured quartz—I drape
my body against the sun-saddled
Rock, absorb its warm fortune

Dusk, high tide
we climb into the boat
circle the island—spy
one stepped-rock outcrop
strung with white birds on stilts
beside them a larder of harbor seals
shatters suddenly into frenzied water
they disappear like a probed emotion,
then surface, curious, observing
with solemn, fatherly eyes

          º

Every island must have its snake
its bit of trouble, even here
in this experiment of beauty—
and when you think there could
be nothing wanting, someone
tries to plant a garden
amethyst iris, chives
wild sweet pea twining
beside imported cream roses

My father loved my mother’s
flowers, asked their names
forgetting each even
as she spoke them. Sweet
William, Zinnia, Dusty Miller.
I recite them to remember

           º

This reach runs deep
a slimline channel
between two bays
cut by a glacier
that scraped out, inlets
and peninsulas, necks, harbors
a twine of tributaries
and falls that reverse!
rills and runnels that fill
filling, empty, and fill again

such abundance of coast
pillowed in granite, all
crumpled in against itself

If one could tug each
end of the state and straighten
out that snaking rope
of intricate seaboard where
land rises and kneels like
memory meeting its grave
and where sea finds
meaning in its own absence

how very long that shore
would be—a kind of ever
one can only attempt
to reconstruct, to dream
back once more, into being

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.

Perpetual Retreat || Creighton Blinn

The sand sloshes
beneath his boots,
lacking the satisfying crunch
of childhood memory,
a youth shaped
by churning tides
demarking a terrain
too bitterly humid
for daytime habitation.
As the town grew
increasingly nocturnal,
his parents ventured out only in the evening,
prowling sidewalks
like alley cats
in search of scraps,
since the sea’s bounty
had long been depleted
by the tentacles of
more privileged parties.
He had spent his whole life
in perpetual retreat from the encroaching waters,
swelling puddles into ponds
which, overflowing, created rivers
where once ran Main Street.
Ever more violent storms ravaged the landscape
battering natural formations
familiar to generations,
but, now
crumbling before his eyes and
blotting out the memory of when
these monuments towered majestically
as reminders of higher aspirations,
instead of symbols for indifference.
“Perhaps, instead of boundary fences,
they should’ve built flood walls,”
he mutters
as he trudges through
the swamp of Monument Valley.

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.

Wednesday Evening, Marriott Suites || Creighton Blinn

It is difficult to catch your breath
when you are always on the move.
During the daylight hours,
I navigate an endless parade of faces,
offering up firm handshakes
with bright smiles.
I am a perpetual traveler,
greeting, meeting,
networking, networking, networking.
“Hello, my name is…” “Ah, you are…?”
“I suppose you know…?” “Fascinating.”
“Well, I should be moving on.”
When really, I needn’t; after all, where is there to go?
Another rented room?
Another Wi-Fi password for my battered laptop
(which, strictly speaking, belongs to the company)?
There is never a desk of my own
with old pens to be found in the back of a drawer;
instead there are closets consisting of empty hangers.
In the evening I stretch out on the bed,
trying to relax, huddled beneath white sheets
and something too lightweight to be truthfully termed a comforter.
Some nights I lie awake,
transfixed by the blinking red light of a smoke detector,
wondering if there is anything that distinguishes this one
from the one before,
anything to differentiate the convention halls or the people within,
gripping cheap cups of coffee as though they were our pulse,
each of us chasing after our own myth of happiness.
“This is what brings me satisfaction.”
“I contribute.”
“In roundtable discussions I add something.”
“I make a difference.”

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.

Works in Progress || Creighton Blinn

Dimly lit by moonlight,
the painting
rests uneasily on the floor
where he crouches to examine
its brash swirling colors,
mixing,
if not in complete harmony,
then in anticipation of some unifying melody
yet unheard.
Captivated by the picture’s unruly play,
he runs his fingers across its jagged surface
sculpted from rough brushstrokes and
the artist’s own fingertips.
“It’s lovely,” he murmurs.
“It’s something,” she replies,
her lips brushing his neck.
“Initial inspiration,”
she muses,
“can be invigorating
even when
its destination
is a dead end.”

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.

Time Lapse || Michelle Brooks

You move away from me,
but not all at once. That would
be too easy. The slow fade
feels like mercy at first. Unlike
the clean break, it gets worse
every passing day. It’s like
moving from a house one item
at a time. I’ve never been the rip
off the Band-Aid type. I give up,
surrender. I don’t cover my cuts.
Protection or exposure? I choose
exposure when it’s convenient,
even when it ruins the film. I say
it like you ever gave me a choice.

This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.