EPIC Poetry Group: Poet’s Corner — A Boy’s Guide to Relativity, The Koi Pond, Winter, 1930






My Edmonds News presents the latest installment of  Poet’s Corner from the Edmonds-based EPIC Poetry Group.


A Boy’s Guide to Relativity


Before I could tell time

all the hours were measured

in light and shadow and everything

was a sundial, even I.


Before I understood the meaning

of the clock whose arms were hands

pointing to numbers I could count to,

who turned only relentlessly right

like Wilson’s white shepherd Rainier

once winged by the milk truck,

I only knew the coolness of a dewy morning

or the cooing of evening doves,

the flowers of midday facing towards the sun.


At night the moon

like an unbaked pie

on a speckled linoleum countertop

gazed from afar as I stared out the back window

of our station wagon on the long drive back

from the property my parents were clearing

North of Issaquah


The celestial face bearded in shadows benevolent, I suppose,

but distant as my Swedish

grandfather who spoke only the old language in his old age and kept a dish of ribbon

candy he let me claw at,

His eyes, the color of forget me nots

that bruised the meadow in the spring

before he died.


Later I learned

though aged still in the single digits

(maybe 8 or 9)

how the classroom clock that ticked

in late afternoons at Sunny Hills Elementary

where Mrs. Brown held us until 3:15

was stuck at a minute before 3.14159265359 . . .

Neverending. It made me sick to think about it.

The second hand sweeping pointlessly,

the curse of Zeno,

a pie that could not be cut.


James Backstrom

~ ~ ~ ~

Winter, 1930


Hunger hung around like the dank

smoke of the town where families burned

anything in their furnaces and stoves

trying to stay warm.

My father was nine years old.

The last child and only surviving son of immigrants.

En svenska his parents spoke of sending him off

to Morfar’s logging camp in Embarrass, Minnesota.

Their troubles found a gloomy truce

in their conspiracies to shelter the boy.

Smoking stubs of cigarettes to stave

off the hollow pangs, so the boy felt them less,

they murmured, everyone was unwell.

The sickly grew sicker then died.

Alfred sent word: Worse in Seattle

A Hooverville bigger than Fargo.

Don’t bother coming west.


My dad trudged the railroad tracks with his teenage uncle

under a frozen moon, dogged by frost,

casting a light as dim as hope.

The two of them picked coal that had fallen from cars.

Lying low from the railyard bull,

Uncle Ralph whispered how in Alaska

You could walk across rivers on the backs

Of salmon and there was still gold

paying out of Alfred’s claim north of Nome.


He had a plan, too:

Bum on the Great Northern to Seattle,

then work a steamer north.

He would send for my dad

to save him from the logging camp

he was sure would kill him.

Years later he told me how Uncle Ralph

kept him believing in a letter that never came,

in an impossible Alaska that got him

through hard times, through the war,

an Alaska where the summer sky lit up past

midnight the pale blue of his eyes.


James Backstrom

~ ~ ~ ~

The Koi Pond


A Great Blue Heron

shadows the koi pond

stalking a meal that would cost

less at the Canlis

In a quick gulp

a $500 fish wiggles in the gullet

It cloudy eyes and exotic

markings dissolve quickly into flight

The water ripples then an unhurried

unfurling of wings

not so much a quick getaway

than a majestic exit

The rising of something too big

to fly gives us hope

that we might too

spring beyond

the sticky surface

tension of our lives

The tranquility disrupted

only briefly

Water to water

Air to air

Heron to some branch

above the stream


elements like an alchemist

James Backstrom

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

James Backstrom grew up exploring the forests and mountains of the Pacific Northwest.  His poems have appeared in Soundings on the Salish Sea, Spindrift, The English Journal, Poetry Seattle,and other publications. He is also a proud charter member of EPIC Poetry Group that meets monthly in the Edmonds library. A long-time teacher in the Northshore School District, he and his wife raised their three children just north of Snohomish. Whenever he can get away, you’ll find him hiking the trails of the Cascades and Olympics.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The EPIC Poetry Group is open to the members of the public (free of charge) who are interested expressing and improving their poetry writing skills. The group meets the second Tuesday of the month at the Edmonds Library from 6-7:45 p.m.


2 Replies to “EPIC Poetry Group: Poet’s Corner — A Boy’s Guide to Relativity, The Koi Pond, Winter, 1930”

    1. Jim Backstrom’s poems are insightful and speak to the heart of human experiences interacting with nature.
      Jim’s words and images are well chosen and powerful.


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