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.
~ ~ ~ ~
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.
~ ~ ~ ~
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
the sticky surface
tension of our lives
The tranquility disrupted
Water to water
Air to air
Heron to some branch
above the stream
elements like an alchemist
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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.
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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.