The tanagers have returned to my dead plum tree—
they sip the pond through narrow beaks.
Orange and yellow, this recurrence
that comes with each year’s baby leaves.
And if the tree is a church and spring is Sunday,
the birds are fancy hats of women breaking into song.
Or say the tree is an old car whose tank is full,
then the birds are girls on a joy ride
crammed in its seats. Or if the tree is the carnival
lighting the tarmac of the abandoned mall by the freeway
then the birds are the men with pocketknives
who erect its Ferris wheel.
Or say the tree is the boat that chugs into port
to fill its hold and deck with logs,
then the birds are the Russian sailors who
rise in the morning in the streets where they’ve slept,
rubbing their heads and muttering
these beautiful words that no one understands.
Well, that’s it, we’re finished. This is our last offering for National Poetry Month. We hope you enjoyed exploring these poems as much as we did!
See all Orion poetry for April here.
And stay tuned for more poetry, thoughts, and behind-the-scenes views of Orion.
— label circa 1940 for an ivory spear tip in the MacMillan Collection, Provincetown
Optimism, in a strange,
American way, this zippy
caption for what was foreign
distant as the need
for a haasux
(spear-thrower in Aleut)
or unaaq (Inupiaq pole
to check ice thickness).
This tool (perhaps a sakku)
clever and useless to the secretary
(was it Miriam?) who typed
the label that has yellowed.
but some words drift.
Take vaxa gididzagh, Athabaskan for
that with which things are spread
and so now butter knife.
Or lastax—fermented fur seal flipper—
now the three-petaled gizmo
that spins beneath a boat.
And consider the kayak,
translated through fiberglass
neoprene and rubber.
that’s made it whizzamajig
to its own source.
Today is Elizabeth’s birthday. Happy birthday!
See more Orion poetry here.
To get a pure pumpkin,
one with sweet, smooth flesh, you had to
pollinate by hand and tape the blossom
closed. Otherwise, the plants would cross,
get fertilized by any squash around.
Black horses wouldn’t stop rolling
in the dust, in pleasure,
legs up and out from under every load,
until their intestines tangled.
Or, at least that’s what was said in warning,
like they said Hellbenders,
two foot long, slime covered salamanders
that filled the river, were evil.
Hellbenders breathed through loose skins,
filtering that water for decades,
and I swam in it, I went in deep.
We can’t believe Poetry Month is almost over already! (We also can’t believe May is almost here.) Visit www.orionmagazine.org/poetry to see all the poems published on Orion’s website.
My sister is a place where
Sorrel horses walk single file through tall
Where sunlight severs down and dulls and shatters
Before it hits the ground,
Where the grass is tall saw grass, wavy
Like the grass in the Sargasso Sea,
Where eels spawn and the new eels
Migrate to the continents of their parents’
Origin, inexplicably …
We don’t know how they do that.
Life is nothing if not obvious.
My sister is a place where
I left the gas cap on top of the ‘82 Land Cruiser.
It’s got to be around here somewhere,
But I can’t find it,
And if it’s around here
It’s walled by snowy mountains where
The wildflowers (lupines, columbines, penstemon)
Bloom a month later than here,
And are smaller,
And all around are aspen trees turning yellow
As their yellow leaves turn in the wind,
Where things that fall and roll away
Cannot be found under the fragrant sage,
And as I look around, I’m thinking
Of the time I chained and churned and shoveled
That rig through five miles of thigh-deep snow,
Occasionally jacking it up in back
And tipping it off forward to keep going
Just to get to a phone to call a girl,
And the time I drove with my daughter
Across Nebraska and Iowa in 105 degrees,
Blocks of ice to cool us pooling on the floor.
My sister is a place where
Rivers swell in spring and falter in the fall.
My sister is a place
Where no time passes.
We cannot live there.
Orion is celebrating National Poetry Month with thirty days of poetry. See all poetry for the month of April here.
Suppose You Were a Moray Eel
when ancient Romans kept glass aquariums
filled to bubbling with your brothers
and old Licinius Muraena himself loved
to throw slaves in the water, stripping men
to bits. You cannot help it—it’s in your blood.
Witches wear dresses made of your skin,
sleek and gleaming. Don’t you see how they preen
whenever they pass a mirror? In the Ozark mountains,
I met a man who swears cooked eels turn raw
if they are left uneaten and so everyone—
even children—eat them quickly. They don’t want
to feel the slip and bite under their bed sheets
later that night. You move me. You move me anguillform
and backwards, zipping through the sea with only
a quick-stop for shrimp and other creepy crawlies.
Your acorn heart sees the future—does it hold
a Valentine, Be Mine! or a glassy, spectacular car crash?
I am mostly blind, like you, but let us wait here
in this coral cave and count the number of smelt
that swim by. Let them go, all of them.
Wait instead for what your thin veins forecast,
what they decide to pulse for and where.
Orion is celebrating National Poetry Month with thirty days of poetry. See more Orion poetry here.
Sonnet, Without Salmon
1. The river is empty. 2. Empty of salmon, I mean. 3. But if you were talking to my grandmother, she would say the water doesn’t matter if the salmon are gone. 4. She never said that. I just did. But I’m giving her those words as a gesture of love. 5. She’s been gone for thirty-one years. 6. The water doesn’t matter if my grandmother is gone. 7. She swam wearing all of her clothes, even her shoes. 8. I don’t know if that was a tribal thing to do, or if she was just eccentric. 9. Has anybody ever said that dam building is an act of war against Indians? 10. And, yet, we need the electricity, too. 11. My mother said the reservation needs a new electrical grid because of all the brown- and blackouts. 12. “Why so many power outages?” I ask her. 13. “All the computers,” she says. 14. Today, in Seattle, I watched a cute couple at the next table whispering to their cell phones instead of to each other. But, chivalrous, he walked to the self-service coffee bar to get her a cup. Lovely, I thought. She was busy on her phone while he was ten feet away. When he sat back down, she said, “Oh, I was texting you to get me sugar and cream.”
That summer in the west I walked sunrise
to dusk, narrow twisted highways without shoulders,
low stone walls on both sides. Hedgerows
of fuchsia hemmed me in, the tropical plant
now wild, centuries after nobles imported it
for their gardens. And I was unafraid,
did not cross to the outsides of curves, did not
look behind me for what might be coming.
For weeks in counties Kerry and Cork, I walked
through the red blooms the Irish call
the Tears of God, blazing from the brush
like lanterns. Who would have thought
a warm current touching the shore
of that stone-cold country could make
lemon trees, bananas, and palms not just take,
but thrive? Wild as the jungles they came from,
where boas flexed around their trunks—
like my other close brushes with miracles,
the men who love you back, how they come
to you, gorgeous and invasive, improbable,
hemming you in. And you walk that road
blazing, some days not even afraid to die.
When the Time’s Toxins
When the time’s toxins
have seeped into every cell
and like a salted plot
from which all rain, all green, are gone
I and life are leached
somehow a seed
sprouts the instant
I acknowledge it:
little weedy hardy would-be
while deep within
roots like talons
are taking hold again
of this our only earth.
Join Christian Wiman, poets Pattiann Rogers, and Maria Melendez, and Orion for a live web event about poetry tomorrow at 4 p.m. Eastern. Click here for more information and to register (don’t worry—it’s free, but required.)
It is the day of leaving
in orders of magnitude
hatch and from inward silk
unfurl toward a new god
caught by the wind
and I walk by the silk curtain
the strands that came from a body.
It is a shining world
and I think of being attached once from the belly
and what would happen if I could unravel something
from myself. I think it would not be the story
of how it was the spider who crossed water
to bring fire to my people
in the old world, our first stories,
or about the length and brightness of our river
shining in the ribbon of light it created
but about the cave up there in the high mountains
with the animals made of willow twigs
there before any of us.
They are tied with the string of our grasses
as if they were saying, we are one of you, the future,
and then those first ones came down on ropes of animal hair.
There have always been the far travelers
coming down from above.
That’s why our fields are full of hope
and what is a story
silk, insect, ancestors landing
who knows where.
We’re in the final stretch of Poetry Month. Click here to check out all the poems Orion has featured in April.