Quail rise in ruffles from the sage.
Pebbles I scraped into my knee look
like they belong there. A minor abrasion,
something to settle with alcohol. My pants
collect all the dust my thoughts disturb.
I walk slow, summer and drought. The map
lies orange over my face. The lack
is moderate to severe. Heat mirages
at the cutting edge of the hills, lupines
crisping to rattling pods. The fire is behind
the house and the horse in the paddock is all
trembling. I am wearing my older sister’s hand,
a slight circle. Every sunsetting beam sees
me: a truck whirls red through desiccated air.
Sometimes, I think too much about purple
sea urchins. I put the idea of a kelp forest
in an envelope, mail it to some office
back East, a dead letter. I look
back along the Columbia,
every distance intensified by sun.
My sister rode a motorcycle
from Boston to California, moving nothing
but herself, a girl sharpened. After
urchins eat all the kelp, they rest dormant,
undead. Slugs are eating my hostas. I spread
generous snow and kill them in batches.
A nuclear grandfather clock ticks
in the hall. A good time, a bad time,
another time. Empty the sea of whales
and the world has fewer astonishments.
To understand what’s going on
you can learn the language or trust
Google translate is close enough.
In Chinese, the word for America
is beautiful country. You are beautiful
country person, you don’t understand, my
sister-in-law says, exasperated.
In summer, the lotuses bloom, florid faces.
I want to feel my feet in lake mud:
every toe happy. I want the tsunami
alarm to be a mere precaution, the years
to settle gently on green buds,
like winter’s last snow.
See the traffic lights change in Tacoma
from the slopes of The Mountain. Coyote
howls echo above the Carbon River
as you walk via headlamp. You know those worst
-case survival books? This is the worst case.
Dump baking soda in the Pacific,
pick vine-ripe tomatoes from your surrender
garden and give them to everyone you
don’t know on your street, which is everyone.
We’re going to need each other. Need.
That’s how I mistook an adventure for
a husband. How I mistook a city
for a neighborhood of brown delivery boxes.
After posting photos on Instagram, I gather
my likes to my chest, so many skeins of air.
I grasp the pommel; my mother holds
me with one hand and the reins with the other.
I buy her groceries, a tractor, pay vet bills
and live across the continent. Distance:
the time it takes to know what home is.
September, the horses in another
show. My sister’s rabbit died and I said
I’d move the body but couldn’t bring myself.
Was I ever that person? April, mud gathers
to suck at our boots. The green fields
start charging admission.
An unmaintained wire sparks in the night.
A teacher lends a girl poetry. Drought
whittles the scent of lavender. Things tend
to reach toward water. My arms
pull me through the lake thickness.
Mosses, lichens, and algae form the living crust
that stretches between sagebrush. Who am I
to step there? My mother calls the horses
and they thunder as one beauty. Every flight
we take is towards and away. This summer,
let there be enough rain.
A writer based in Seattle, Sarah Bitter grew up in New England but has lived near the Pacific Ocean for two decades (in Taiwan and China, but mostly, Seattle). Interested in the way lives, landscapes and social forces intertwine, Sarah’s creative work observes the decisions and relations required by interdependency. She also researches the use of myth by women in contemporary poetry and translates Chinese verse. Her garden is always slightly overgrown and her dogs are usually good dogs. She received an MFA from the University of Washington in 2021.
The featured image is “Vulture Killing a Hare” by Gilles Demarteau (1765–1770), selected and manipulated specifically for Sarah’s poem by our Art Director, Meg Sykes.