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Peggy Shumaker


Half gold leaves abandon the birch.
Very soon frost heaves will shuck
great curls of road off the ridge.
The earth will harden, even the air
turn stiff.

               This stubbled field of barley
very soon will pull down deep into itself
all witness of the season's planting,
harvest, grazing--even this

               grey light glinting across vast
swoops of geese--black from far off
but dappled closer, and the fragile, elegant
crooks of sandhill cranes, lifting, settling.

               Down rests where they rest, among
ptarmigan and canvasback,
all those languages passing through
one clean morning's air.




Biting down, I take into myself
half-frozen herring eggs,
salty pops and crunches

tooth-strained off spruce boughs,
tar-tang of needles
sucked past the chill.

Inside me’s their Inside Passage—
they hatch and school, return to spawn
in this milky way—vast briny tingle

of a lifetime’s kisses—
all those refused
lingering on the tongue...

all those indulged, dissolved,
the sting on the skin, the spiny-edged
kelp-laden surf—

tiny explosions
of lives taken,
given, on the incoming tide.




If, inside me,
his one cell swam among millions
as if it knew the way,
met the ripe star falling
through my thick clouded sky

then plunged in headlong
renouncing even the tail that allowed it
to make the swim,

then I will tell our new
daughter or son, the one
taking shape, taking over
inside and out
that one afternoon

a run of silvers surged
through Resurrection Bay,
such hurry toward death!
Their potent ballet—muscular
dazzling leaps into the blinding
sparkle of an air they can’t breathe—

how they hovered
in blue air—angels, perhaps,
messengers surely

sent to nourish and teach
those of us who might listen...

They did not know where
they were going,
they simply found their way.

We did not catch our supper that day.
Glacial spray from the crashing falls
chilled our faces, cleared our eyes.

In never-ending daylight
sea otters rocked
belly up on the incoming
tide, swallowing whole
blue mussels
stone pounded
against their chests.

We never had touched each other
in quite such tender danger.