April is National Poetry Month, and Orion has a deep and rich history of publishing poems that work to bridge nature and culture. We’re happy to share some of our favorites here—check back every couple of days for a new selection from the archive.
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.”
—Sherman Alexie, in the July/August 2011 issue
Sherman Alexie is the author of many books, including the poetry collection Face and the poetry and story collection War Dances. He lives with his family in Seattle.
and the rest
is what came after.
you’re the flavor
of my best,
for a tongue tip,
You were nothing
until I picked
do we willingly
would I be if
I’d kept walking?
—Kathleen Flenniken, in the May/June-July/August 2014 issue
Kathleen Flenniken’s poetry collections are Plume, a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and Famous, named a Notable Book by the American Library Association. She was the 2012 – 2014 Washington State poet laureate.
Who Has Need, I Stand with You
In this hour, let us grant to each other the grace that is ours
In each other, let us see ourselves, and ourselves again,
That all the times we have looked at our faces in a mirror
Should have added up — each face our own, but a reminder as well
We are more than ourselves, that our eyes can see
Into that silver world as far as, and beyond, what we understand.
Looking into a mirror, into a window pane, into the water of a lake,
A photograph — we are here and over there as well. In that moment
All things are more possible. In this hour of ourselves, you and I,
One stronger than the other, let us speak evenly, and make plain
The hope that all this time has held us. Let us extend ourselves
Beyond ourselves into the silver, ourselves bigger and farther,
Ten thousand bodies to choose from suddenly in that mirror, us
Needing only one, so that things seem again so simple.
—Alberto Ríos, in the May/June 2010 issue
Alberto Ríos is author of ten books of poetry, including, most recently, The Dangerous Shirt. A 2002 finalist for the National Book Award, Ríos teaches at Arizona State University.
So you think yourself powerful
when you stand at pier’s end
and your mere shadow drives minnows
by the hundreds out of the shallows.
On the deck, you turn a page of your book
and the hummingbird deep in the fuchsia’s neck
blurs, whirring off.
At dawn, slowly walking the same lane
as the doe is enough
to startle her retreat into the thick, dark spruce.
These could have been my thoughts
but were not, as I swung in the hammock,
tired or lazy on an August afternoon,
and I attempted nothing, not even sleep.
Perhaps I resembled a slumbering beast
to the swallowtail who flitted above
and alighted, to my astonishment,
on my bare forearm, rested there
in her wild unremembering.
With one swack, I could’ve ended her
or sent her on her way. Just lifting my head
would’ve done the trick.
But I didn’t blink, draw a deep breath
as she fanned her wings, probed my skin
with her legs as delicately as an eyelash
brushes a cheek. Again
the surprise was mine
when—nothing more—she rose, disappeared
into the trees, stirred in me a yearning
against which I was powerless.
—Deborah Cummins, in the September/October 2005 issue
Deborah Cummins’s poems and essays have appeared in several anthologies and in numerous journals and magazines including Fourth Genre, The Yale Review, New England Review, and TriQuarterly.
The Supple Deer
The quiet opening
between fence strands
perhaps eighteen inches.
Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground,
the deer poured through it.
No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.
I don’t know how a stag turns
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never felt such accurate envy.
Not of the deer—
To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.
—Jane Hirshfield, in the January/February 2008 issue
Jane Hirshfield’s sixth poetry collection, After, was named a “best book of 2006” by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and England’s Financial Times.
Some springs, apples bloom too soon.
The trees have grown here for a hundred years, and are still quick
to trust that the frost has finished. Some springs,
pink petals turn black. Those summers, the orchards are empty
and quiet. No reason for the bees to come.
Other summers, red apples beat hearty in the trees, golden apples
glow in sheer skin. Their weight breaks branches,
the ground rolls with apples, and you fall in fruit.
You could say, I have been foolish. You could say, I have been fooled.
You could say, Some years, there are apples.
—Rose McLarney, in the September/October 2011 issue
Rose McLarney’s first book of poems, The Always Broken Plates of Mountains, was published by Four Way Books in 2012. She grew up in rural western North Carolina.
dear lord in this time of darkness
help us see the darkness
dear lord help us to not pretend
no more pretending
dear lord may our gaze be defenseless
teach us the piety of the open eye
dear lord in this time of darkness
may we be unafraid to mourn and together and hugely
may dignity lose its scaffolding
faces crumble like bricks
dear lord let grief come to grief
and then o lord help us to see the bees yet in the lavender
the spokes of sunlight down through the oaks
and the sleep-opened face of the beloved
and the afternoon all around her
and her small freckled hands
—Teddy Macker, in the March/April 2014 issue
Teddy Macker’s work appears in Columbia, New Letters, The Sun, and elsewhere. He lives on a farm in Carpinteria, California, with his wife and daughter.
They appear at the edge of the field, at twilight, or morning,
busy in their divided task
of grazing and looking out;
at first they are invisible,
watching from green shade—
an ear twitches, a hoof jerks, and they are apparent,
two or three, one with horns.
From the innocent
aloof grace of their
necks, a cool eros
beckons, but not to touch,
for their festivals are foreign;
though we would run to them, losing all history for their immediate, the parallel lines of the yard’s edge bar us; breathless, we watch
as they shade into tangle—and our hearts bang wildly
against their human cages.
—Jim Armstrong, in the spring 1993 issue
Jim Armstrong is the co-author, with poet Ben Mitchell and printmaker Ladislav Hanka, of County Survey, a record of two years of walking and closely observing Kalamazoo County, Michigan.
The Pepper Kingdom
Never has the world seen so much rumble
and sail over such a small berry. Dark meteor,
perfect pop of fire—you docked millions
of boats to the southern coast of India,
kept so many folds of pale flesh awake and skittled
at night. Dreams of quicker trade routes, maps
and battle plans inked in case anyone
tried to stop them from bringing back
sackfuls of peppercorn. Every kingdom
must have a king. Let us bow to the flavor
of cannonball and palm husk in our cheeks.
Let that small fire on our tongues combust
just enough that we never forget pepper
first came not from a land of flame and blaze,
but from a quiet shoreline of green.
—Aimee Nezhukumatathil, in the March/April 2012 issue
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author, most recently, of Lucky Fish, a poetry collection. She teaches creative writing at SUNY Fredonia.
Very slowly burning, the big forest tree
stands in the slight hollow of the snow
melted around it by the mild, long
heat of its being and its will to be
root, trunk, branch, leaf, and know
earth dark, sun light, wind touch, bird song.
Rootless and restless and warmblooded, we
blaze in the flare that blinds us to that slow,
tall, fraternal fire of life as strong
now as in the seedling two centuries ago.
—Ursula K. Le Guin, in the January/February 2014 issue
Ursula K. Le Guin, born in 1929, lives in Portland, Oregon. She is a novelist, poet, essayist, and translator; her book Finding My Elegy: New & Selected Poems was published in 2012.
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.
—Christian Wiman, in the November/December 2010 issue
Christian Wiman is author of Every Riven Thing, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He is the editor of Poetry magazine.
There is a place where the town ends
and the fields begin.
It’s not marked but the feet know it,
also the heart, that is longing for refreshment
and, equally, for repose.
Someday we’ll live in the sky.
Meanwhile, the house of our lives is the world.
The fields, the ponds, the birds.
The thick black oaks — surely they are the
children of God.
The feistiness among the tiger lilies,
the hedges of runaway honeysuckle, that no one owns.
Where is it? I ask, and then
my feet know it.
One jump, and I’m home.
—Mary Oliver, in the September/October 2007 issue
Mary Oliver’s most recent poetry collection is Blue Horses. She has received both a Pulitzer Prize for poetry and a National Book Award. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
The Fog Town School of Thought
They should have taught us birds and trees
in school, they should have taught us beauty
and weaving bees and had a class
on listening and standing alone—
the children should have studied light
reflected from a spider web,
we should have learned the branches of streams
spread out like fingers or the veins
of a leaf—we should have learned the sky
is the tallest steeple, we should have known
a hill is a voice inside the sky—
O, we should have had our school
on top and stayed until the night
for the fog to bloom in the hollows and rise
like cotton spinning off a wheel—
we should have learned a dream—a child’s
and even still a man’s—is made
from fog and love, my word, you’d think
with the book in front of us we should
have learned how Fog Town got its name.
—Maurice Manning, in the January/February 2013 issue
Maurice Manning’s most recent book is The Gone and the Going Away. A former Guggenheim fellow and Pulitzer Prize finalist, Manning teaches at Transylvania University in Kentucky.