The Power of Place
–in memory of my grandmother
Here on Oregon Coast, rain squalls have been
shouldering off the ocean all afternoon.
Between squalls, the January sun troubles down
the left margin of the sky like a misspelled word,
neither warm nor bright, just wrong.
The ocean looks like a vast sheet of crumpled steel.
My grandmother never liked the ocean. It couldn’t
be trusted. It moved like a surly, shifty thug.
She came from the Midwest where the land
was firm and honest all the way to the horizon.
Another squall blows over me and I remember how
she never cared for our long, gray season of rain.
If I really wanted to see her glow, I’d ask her about
Iowa winters. “Thick, deep snow,” she’d say,
“so white it burned your eyes, the glass-sharp sky
so blue you could hear it crack.” She’d close
her eyes and still hear the laughter of long dead
loved ones ringing in the frozen air.
My grandmother lived here almost seventy years
and died at ninety-two, her memory wracked with dementia
so bad she often didn’t know where she was.
But sometimes, she’d close her eyes and through
the murky gray of her dementia she would see
that young school teacher she was before
she came west and she would recite the names
of Iowa’s ninety-nine counties in alphabetical order.
All Things Quiver with the Past
—your eyes, the spark that shakes the wire,
makes all things quiver with the past–Boris Pasternak
It is spring and months since I last saw you but I was detained
in the gray shadows of these government buildings,
disappearing from my past until the officials were satisfied.
In these shadows, the dirty snow still grieves on the sidewalk.
The sky above these buildings drools in a heavy sleep,
uninterested in finding the sun last seen here years ago
being beaten and dragged off behind the clouds.
I would guess you sit in our little cafe already drinking
your second cup of coffee and lighting your third cigarette.
Are your dangerous poems still scattered across the table
as if those spies with unblinking eyes of stone are blind?
Are you still flirting with that silly student who thinks
he loves you, who stares into the future with eyes
dulled by too many books and not enough dreams?
Sometimes I want to walk out of these shadows
and hear you speak the dead language of my name.
But you are part of the past I must remember to forget.
My papers are all in order now and I must be
more ordinary with each careful step I take,
the safe color of the frost-bitten earth,
a sad rumor of someone you used to know.
Doug Stone is an award-winning poet living in Western Oregon. His poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. His chapbook, The Season of Distress and Clarity, came out earlier this year.