Michele N. Harmeling is a poet and essayist residing in picturesque Palmer, Alaska. Her work has appeared in such publications as the Alaska Quarterly Review, Juked Magazine, Reed Magazine, and the Adirondack Review; she is the recipient of the 2009 Whiskey Island Poetry Prize. Her spare time is generally spent foraging for wild edibles, backpacking, fishing, reading and lavishing attention on her son Walker, and dog Puck.

Michele Harmeling

 

Fish Pearls

Let's stick to just the facts.
When the birch logs refused to light,
paper-white bark lifting in flecks toward the sky,

that's when you disappeared.
Not vanished, mind you, but in mind, and I could see
through the trees (dripping rainwater from

branch to silhouette branch)
one long arm outstretched, not toward me.
And I could see that you could still

see me. Let's stick as justly
as the emerald-green moss clings to stumps.
To the facts: where the river undercuts

its own banks, there are footpaths,
and upon those are people,
and someday the people will cling to drifting logs.

I would say, if interrogated, that this disappearance
was not sudden; limb by limb,
you faded-spine a bulwark, shoulders a scale.

Just, let's stick to the facts:
some of those people own cabins of split log.
When the river cuts into

its own banks (braids itself in like snakes
through the hair)
the elderly couple clinging to their home

will drift with split logs
into the new main channel, where the gray
water is the color of a salmon's split belly, of the skin

peeling back from the salmon's bare skull,
eye sockets housing what we called,
as children, fish pearls, 

tiny white calcified flecks
scattered in sand, that we knew for a fact
were precious
beyond measure.                      

Dusk on the Columbia River, July 2017

What of the lives lived in valley,
in canyon's shadow,
and endless doubt? Will it rain?
What if I doubt it?

What of the traveling salesmen, door-to-door.
The wholly subjective buttoning
of rayon-blend suit coats over cheap

dress shirts. What difference
in the distance between a red farmhouse,
its weathered-gray equipment shed?

Between the tamed mare and the mustang colt?

One historic assayer's office
and the bakery made from a bank?

Multi-family complex, and the highway, steaming
with new asphalt left to cure?

One more block, we weary bargainers say.
One more pair

of steel kitchen knives, another bottle of tincture.

Another matched trio of red
ceramic vessels.

One more bit of the Self
and I'll head home.

And never mind where the money comes from, tonight.
It's only a few dollars for cream honey, for day lilies
to brighten the windowsill.

Every tree on this block is swathed at its base

in carcasses.

Once a cacophany, cicadas now dried, brown.
Detritus of some May-pole too withered to dance.
I shall cover the rent for this life
somehow.

What audacity we practice.
Don't tell me what to do, he said once.
I won't, I muttered.

Just don't leave me.

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