After the Dark Collects

After The Dark Collects

After the last nest palmed for eggs laid
late in the day, after the flashlight lifts up
the nodding head of each hen, one-eyed
and annoyed on her roost, after the dark
collects our easy prayers, my husband asks:
Did you count them? Twice?

Yes and Yes again. I refuse to give more
than that one word. I know he wants to hear
how I snugged the sun- and rain-cracked
bicycle toe clip strap to close the gate, how I
scented the air between coop and our back door
for fox and skunk, certainly enough to keep
the flock safe this night.

There are, of course, questions behind
the questions, just as before, the rustles and
shadows, the shiftless wall of willows. I want
to answer all the questions with more questions,
to end the mind’s desire for every answer.
I stared down the gate, the willows, the shadows,
even the stars who offered nothing, some days,
that answer enough.

Sermon on Cold Mountain

–by Jose A. Alcantara

Blessed are the poor in spirit for they are heavy
with flesh – the wild grass pendulous with seed
the pregnant moon, the gibbous cloud –
even the squirrels are fat with feasting.
And though it were easier for a grizzly to pass
through the eye of a salmon, than for a rich man
to enter heaven, the roses keep shouting their riches
and the mornings are a glut of song.

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit
the black-gilled fungi bursting up through gravel
the white flowers keeping watch in moonlight
the cloud shadows hunched like cows in the grass
the gray green glow of aspen trunks at four AM
the silhouette of clawed wings outside a window
the night like a bolt of tattered black cloth
giving way to a soft blue blanket.

Blessed are they that mourn the fallen petals
the brittle leaves, the silenced songs of morning
the hummingbird’s flight, the plummeted plum
the raspberry’s untimely demise
the sun’s southward plunge
the ice at the edge of the pond.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst
after equinox sake, for they shall see spring.

At the Bottom of the Lake

–by Lori Howe


I slide my small, green boat
into the shallows
as the storm comes in,
autumn thunder cracking
to the west,
the light a strange
caught between water
and thick-bellied clouds.

Inside this granite bowl,
all is sound and deep gray
when the wind falls in.

The galoshes
I bought this morning,
too-big and black,
have slashes across the shins
that invite the lake
into the felted hollows
that hold my small feet.

I imagine the man
who owned these boots,
wonder if he still lives,
if he remembers what cut these boots
to uselessness,
not even worth the thrift store dimes
I gave for them, not now,
with the cold, clean lake
cupping my instep
like a ghost.

The surface of the water
is graceful  pewter,
many-folded and elegant,
quiet as elephants.

The arc of each wave
catches the small light
and glows,
round and green as an eye.

Weather pulls its string tight,
and the sky gathers in.
Fingers singing with chill,
I ship my paddle, hands in pockets,
close my eyes and am weightless
as lichen.

Even the aspens, still vibrant
in their draws and coves,
huddle together for warmth
as the storm makes us all up
in its secret gray bed.

Meditation on Emptiness Between Universes

–by Scott Starbuck

Under night sky by winding creek
my lakeside campfire will burn out
when I rest
and come morning I will light another,

an idea at first
rising from nothingness and ashes,
to tiny roaring orange
and glowing hot coals.

All night I will be in dreamland, but soon
under evergreen shade and birdsong
there will be hotcakes again
and blueberry tea.



–by Rodney Nelson

I am in snow but if I were
in June and at the rock I would
put both hands on it and have them
listen to the nonmovement of
an other life
not what they’d get
from a bull’s haunch nor any sign
to me and maybe no more than
the feel of it yet that would do

I have been at the rock in June
and put my hands on it and tried
to hear but only meant to show
my animal gratitude for
being with it
knowing I would
remember in snow how I went
to the rock in June like a bull
and got the wanted touch or feel

Equinox Storm

–by Susan Marsh

Yesterday the aspens stood
In the raking light of afternoon
People stopped to watch as one
By one the glowing leaves
Broke free and floated down.

At dawn, the stern grasp
Of a sodden wind has stripped
The branches of their gold
Their damp remains lie
Cheerless as cold ashes.

Snow sifts from clotted clouds
Clings to trunks and pecks
Against the window.
The last blue folding chair
Sits askew under the trees

Its lap fills up with
Solitude and leaves.

Me, You, Pika

–by Cameron Scott

In the rosehips, in the scree.
Great big ears, small furry body.

I could fit this endangered thing in my hands
and it would struggle.

I could fit this wild thing in my hands,
heart beating too fast.

Still, I’m ready with steel leg bands and plastic ear tags.
I’m ready to stuff it in my jacket pocket,
lined with loam and grass.

Hunting with my hands I’ve forgotten about the big looming shape
of my body. I’ve forgotten about the creek

which tumbles over the moraine’s lip
and disappears beneath boulders.

I search the fading light in the direction of the pika’s shrill whistle.

This is what I dream about, in my dream,
late at night in the high alpine cirque.

The whole world encroaches on me, you, and the pika. There is only one
of each of us. Just one of each of us left,
and I’m out of my mind to hold it
in my hands.

Returning to the Cabin to Watch the Fire

–by Eric Paul Shaffer

After driving James down the mountain to work
this morning, I returned to chill sunlight slanting
through fog to light a door I locked but left open.

The fire still glows, and I throw on another log.
Silver light greens the pines as I type my words
on an ancient typewriter–missing two keys–

and listen to fangs of fire gnaw the wood.
Later, striking lightning rings the phone. I can
certainly drink to that, sipping coffee and laughing

the laugh we’ll have later over the beaten machine.

As I drove down, James read Snyder’s “Marin-An”
and told me the best thing about his job–writing

through the night after working through the day.
Before punching the clock, he lit a cigarette.
I revved the engine; then, he spoke in blue smoke,

“When you come down the mountain tonight
make sure the fire’s out.”

The Devil’s Ticks

–by Connie Weineke

My mother harnesses the hose to an outside spigot. The sliding doors of the red metal-clad Stramit plant gape, a giant’s cave beyond our trailer. We live where my father works. Don’t go in there when we’re working. Don’t go in there at all. My brother, sister and I sneak through the doors, hurdle between towers of compressed straw and tar-paper insulation, flatten ourselves when anyone comes near. Our cat BB nurses a wild brood in the industrial plant’s maze of cubbies, moving kittens from one dark place to another. The building demands games of hide-and-seek. We don’t always find the cat. Momma fills the thirty-gallon galvanized tub, a stage for our before-dinner bath. No ceiling or walls. No curtains. Just the sky and God and magpies. Nobody sees us from the highway. The sun a still, loud, hot presence. Shadows offer nothing, not even secrets. Our eyes listen to the cold stream of water. It explodes from the steady nozzle. My mother holds tight. The whir of band-saws, the twang of metal on metal, cranking gears, sour hum of wheels on concrete, the mystery moil of my father and his co-workers. All disappear. We three Musketeers cross our arms. Puny bandoliers on bare chests. We stand and squirm and revolve. Momma fingers the whorls of our ears, stretches wide our angel arms, sifts hair, inspects butt cracks, scrapes us raw. The devil’s ticks cannot escape the pinch of her nails. She releases us. What babies. Smacks our bottoms. We shiver off the last scales of dusty fear. Six bone-thin legs twitching to run. More lizard than human. Now, that’s enough. Momma wraps us in towels, propels us toward clean clothes. Our stubborn feet dig in. The gravel and dirt refuse to free our toes and heels. Three shit-eating grins. We hold this moment.




–by Leeland Seese


Barefoot seemed heroic

and romantic –

shedding boots and socks

to cross the Queets, the water

just a few degrees less menacing

than ice,


as stones

the size of suitcases,

others sharp as shivs,

bit and raked my feet

and toes with damage

I would feel

when circulation was restored

on the other shore.


Till I became a comedy

of mincing steps,

a symphony conductor’s

frantic thrash of arms,

to keep from tumbling

in the muscled currents,


all because a huckleberry bush

swished come-hither branches

in the corner of my eye,

then blushed at me,

its fruit a tease of lip-gloss,