This Fleeting Fire
Once in the Marquesas, Nuku Hiva it was,
I wandered away after the tribal dancing,
before the bargaining for souvenirs.
I wanted, I don’t know, to be other
than I was, a tourist off a boat.
I wanted the world untouched,
and me unseen.
The beach was empty but for footprints,
large and small – a father and child,
these fish bones the scraps of their meal.
Overhead, the palm fronds scraped in the wind.
The entrance to the lagoon was narrow,
white breakers and then the blue forever.
To see only that, and expect nothing…
Two boys rode by on an ancient horse,
laughed and waved. I was not unwelcome.
This was the miracle. I was not unwelcome.
Soon the others gathered, holding carvings,
manta rays and tiki gods of polished wood.
We climbed into the waiting zodiacs,
were carried away, back to the white ship.
At sunset, I stood at the rail,
a gin and tonic sweating in my hand,
my face lit by the sun falling in the west
toward the three dark mountains
that held the village against the sea.
I pictured the horse tied up, asleep,
the boys at their dinner of taro and fish.
What will they remember of this day?
The dancing, the noisy crowd, the quiet man?
Were they glad to be only themselves again,
or did their minds follow our departing ship?
I imagined them looking out to sea,
catching the flash from our distant windows –
their thoughts, and mine, held in this fleeting fire.
Klamath Marsh, Two Views
Through the mist over the April marsh
I see the cranes dancing
But there are no cranes
Heads thrown back, wings thrown back
They are not
They prance with awkward, stately grace
They do not
In the budding willows along the river
The blackbirds raise a raucous chorus
Beyond, black Angus stand scattered
Without motion, boxcars of beef
The cattle, blackbirds, myself
Held in this narrow plane of focus
In another, the cranes
Three Modoc hiding in the willows
A grizzly bear standing where the Angus stand
Disturbed by the bear, the cranes rise
Rise higher, disappear into the west
The Modoc stand, their hunt spoiled
Move carefully away, watching the bear
I do not see them go
Pepper Trail’s poems have appeared in Rattle, Atlanta Review, Spillway, Borderlands, and other publications. His collection, Cascade-Siskiyou: Poems, was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award in Poetry. He lives in Ashland, Oregon, where he works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.