Siwash Rock

Barely out as far as the length of an oar
a dwarf fir floats on its grey rock,
ridged and worried by the weather.
A plaque set into the granite tells us this:
that Qu’as the Transformer turned Skalsh into a rock
for his unselfishness.

I don’t know much about the first people,
and what I know about the sea I know
because it stung my eyes.
My feet know stone a lot better than me.
But selfishness I know.

We think of the names of places:
places boiled in black tar,
cracked and splintered well before Christ,
smoothed by the pleasant green, pine green,
pale grass, pale as Peace River honey.
Names laid on the topsoil,
laid on the cracked and splintered rock,
worried, rubbed away in places like bone.

A fish hawk hung his head next to mine
in a dream, and the mouldering chinook
of his breath whispered the names of places.
They begin where the discontinuous
polar front begins — in the west,
in the setting day, past Malaspina Strait,
Powell River, past the shores of Alert Bay,
where they took some blankets
from the Kwakwaka’wakw there.

What will you give me?
say the black winds of Moresby,
slapped against that livid rock,
cracking splinters of red cedar,
shivering lodgepoles,
howling the sweet, salt
three minute death by water.

What will you give me?
say the winds of Port Alberni,
slapping the sides of the residential school,
so it shakes with memory,
shaking the abusing priests,
the abusing kindness.

I think of the names of places:
Peerless Lake, where the kids
drank methyl hydrate, The Pas, Manitoba,
Davis Inlet’s freezing shack,
and the sibyl hanging in a bottle at Cumae.

The ravens on the seawall sort their shells /
the walk is littered with mussels
broken by their beaks.
They shuttle back from the base of Siwash Rock,
and the wheeling gulls, cawing, calling
what rock
what rock
what rock
what rock
what rock for me?

Rock Eats

I place the yellow warbler on the big rock
at the head of the path
where it hugs the hillside down into the gulch.

She had hit the south window,
and unlike the thrush last summer
which righted itself, sat up, and later flew off,
she had died.
Holding a wild bird,
warm as an oat cake in a your hands,
ties you to the living wild,
but the odd sweet smell of death,
of these small deaths,
comes from somewhere else.

And so, obeying an ancient voice,
I place her on the big rock
knowing she will be gone in the morning —
like the bones of the wood rat
that lay on the path for weeks
until I put them on the rock.

Everything eats:
even the sun will eat the earth in time,
but what does a rock eat
if not still, unmoving things?

Is it the coyotes and the cats
and the scavenger birds at night,
the interns and understudies of decay?
Or instead,
while we’re sleeping,
the great mass of the earth itself
tidying up, absorbing itself,
too old for teeth.

Driving the Dams at Night

In the day, so early even
that the red rock
had not yet caught fire,
still tindered politely
in the jaws of the sun,
a man runs in the bike lane,
slow and measured like a pro.

I’ve seen him from behind
the last three days,
my underpowered car
doing thirty-five up the hill.
Here, even fit cyclists
struggle on the dams,
seven miles of steep foothills
along a gaunt reservoir
below the Rocky Mountains.

He wears an ugly woolen cap
and baggy pants.
I wonder what brings him
clockwork out:
is it the smell of sage
in the morning wet?
The huge expanse of plains
mapped out below?
The greening of the grass?
The earth awake?
But he never moves his head
for the view.
His view is other things.

I’ve seen the same labored gaze
in the mule deer on the drive,
raising their great cupped ears
to the sound of the car,
and then back to graze.
It’s what they do.

At night the runners and the deer
have stepped away
and the car’s high beams scan the road.
I’ve had a little wine.
Not enough to blow over the limit
but enough to know,
on the edges of the rural road,
still gathered,
are all the hunted, hurt, and haunted
specters of the world.

Aperture

When you constrain freedom, it will take flight and land on a windowsill.
Ai Weiwei

It was a lighthouse first,
graywacke iced with the shit of seabirds,
guiding ships away, steering them clear.
the very opposite of keeping and holding.

What we notice about prisons,
even this one in San Francisco Bay,
are not walls, but everywhere windows,
cracked spectacularly,
small and thick as paperback books.

And then fissures, pierced stone,
elaborate grates in the floors of gun galleries.
We cannot build a wall without needing to puncture it,
to make the windowsills
on which freedoms perch.

There are jails, we know
and there are prisoners,
but always there is an opening,
a cracked glass too wide for despots,
and through it, sweet and punishment,
the shape-thought of a gull in the fog,
the blade of its cry
so sharp it cannot be held,
not even in the heart.

New Skin on the Old Face

If I knew, I had forgotten
until something small shook me into doubt.
If I knew it once, it had been shuttered,
before the sun came up, by the sound
of the yellow school bus in the street,
or the diesel engine of the fireman
pulling himself heavily into the forest,
the black-gray shapes of neighbors
off to work, and then,
by steam rising in the pre-dawn cold
from the coal-fired power plant
on the north horizon,
by the lights going out in town
and the coffee shops opening up,
by phones ringing, and the winking glow
of computers on hard vinyl tabletops.

If I knew, I had forgotten
until the Steller’s Jay, chattering in the black pine
like a parent shaking me from sleep,
black-headed like the blueing sky,
and then, the river in the cold undying grass,
the rock, turning to speak out
and not into the earth, for me,
the gray-black shale
slowing long enough for me
and speaking loud enough,
in the reeds and wreath of cottonwoods,
how some important thing
was going on beneath.

When, like your narcissus, I go to sleep

When she was young
she would sit, singing birdsong trills
and madrigals in her ptarmigan throat.

We were green flesh.
Our thoughts ran together, acid and restless,
and she sang when she was nineteen,
on a California rail,
her voice in the Big Sur fog.

I built her a wedding bed
from pine and mountain hemlock.
We sleep between our whittled angels.

But she no longer sings.
In our wedding bed
her eyes weep diamonds
pressed by the moon
from some ancient pain,
from a cavernous pain.

When I enter her
she oils the sheets,
resinous as a Lebanese tree.

She rests her eyes
from their inlaying
on my arm, her walnut eyes.
There is no wealth
that does not come
from the body of my lover.

Rising for work,
with a handful of gems,
we sweep away the bloodstones
of her grieving.

Climbing El Capitan Naked

We climbed into what we were,
into our loneliness,
into the spinning world.

I expected
I would be reshaped by it,
that the million-year-old stone
would carve me young —
younger for peeing at hanging belays
like kids, escaped from school,
feather-light under the sun.

But we aged against the granite,
and staring back on the valley floor
we knew, the way astronauts know,
that there wasn’t an ocean green and deep,
a continent raised above it,
above that, much higher, another stratum
of sky and cloud,
but a kind of snow globe,
almost self-contained,
collected in a ball,
pressed together / and moving together
like the two of us,
like the circling hawks,
and the ferns on the cliff face
revolving.
Our bodies on the rasping rock,
as plain and
bare as space.