Shenan Prestwich is a Washington, DC-born poet and writer currently residing in
Portland, Oregon. She is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University's Master of Arts
in Writing program and her first volume of poetry, In the Wake, was published by
White Violet Press in 2014. She works in a production glass studio by day; beyond
literary pursuits, she enjoys long drives, unplanned turn-offs, nice whiskey, cheap
whiskey, excessive hospitality, the great outdoors, good people, and bad karaoke.
Have this ridge, you said,
and I did, the farms on one side,
the town and the college below
on the other, the one where you'd idle your car
to kiss berry-flavored lips
years before you could have spotted me from there.
Take this, the Motel 6 where you worked
in high school, would sneak your friends into
rooms for free, this the reservoir and the water tower
where you jumped, your father's
balcony where you'd smoke cigarettes,
your friend’s house back in the hills
where you got snowed in one winter
and felt a cold sting you didn't have a name for
I've told you how I'm always more homesick
for other people's past lives
than my own, how they burrow into me
and pulse like an ember shook loose
from a butt you flicked away,
smoldering still without your breath,
the heat of a car hood
after you've shut off the engine.
When I led us inside
from my own one-time balcony,
peeling tar paper and pooling water
now, closed the white-wood door
to a room I told you I kissed my own first
love in, its edges littered
with dried bodies of bugs collected there,
you smiled at someone not there; I wondered
if the room was the sum of the paperlight
shells of its invaders and guests, summer
after summer, bloodless outlines,
if there was a heat that idled somewhere
that could stir their wings,
reanimate their legs to a scratch, a song, a symphony,
which one of us would hear it.
The redwoods would have rather
let themselves go up in smoke than evacuate,
heads stubbornly in the oven
as if to say "Our constancy will stay
unchanged even if the landscape doesn't."
We devote ourselves
where we can,
hold things hoping
we'll be held,
leave them hoping
our hold will turn in on ourselves.
I ate a sandwich alone on the border
between my state and what was then still yours
and the air was thin and still
despite EXTREME WILDFIRE DANGER
spelled out in strobing bulbs along the highway.
A man in dirt-rubbed overalls
let his son stuff his turkey club
with too many condiments.
You waited in a salt-stung halfway town,
acres of old growth still between us.
We joked about the bridges
you were burning on your way out,
finger-painted tenuous good omens
from the dunes we didn't find
until just in time to see the sky
going the way of the singeing trees,
running off with itself
to leave us
pulling zippers and hoods in tighter on the beach.
So close the smell of bark cracking in the heat,
the north we couldn't see.
The Often Awkward Reality of Going to Rivers
We go to them, twist our toes
into mossy blooms to anchor ourselves
against the rush that will be
the cold codex of an answer
that will come to us with our heads dunked
underwater, the waves of our shuddering
lungs and our shouting released
and whisked downstream and away
where our sound is not,
to echo more evenly across the water
later, on docks with beers and stars
of tiny towns still lit upstream that we say look like galaxies,
shrinking ourselves, hoping
that our distance and our smallness will swallow us
and we’ll be spit out clean in the morning
with mountain springs for veins.
Most of the time—
but most of the time,
two hikers come and squat
on a ridge eating breakfast burritos above us
and we swim in quiet, inoffensive circles
trying to keep them at our backs and act natural
as waterfowl without feeling like wildlife
or we let our beers slip from our fingers,
lower them gently and release
them and they're the ones that swallow
water and their insides turn
brackish with a glug, glug, and we don't hear
them hit the bottom needlessly
as the idling high beams
that don't belong to a squad car, after all,
pull away and fade, another pair of stars
in the sober, soundless night it was before
and we leave them there, and we're left there,
more of scale for losing them.
We heard it before we could see it.
We had known that it would be difficult
to find, unmarked on maps,
unnoted by signs,
following folk trails on internet forums.
We should have known
our compass would be the sound
of a giant hammer as the tides broke
against the jetty,
spilled over and were sucked away
in illusion of the ocean being drained
into a giant hole within itself.
I followed its echo when you stayed
on the ridge and I climbed down to it,
and it retreated
from my sight as I got closer
until my toes curled
nearly at its edge.
Driving away, pulling a dog nose
close to my ear in the heat
of the car, I wonder now if I'm the same
as the one I was: she who once smoked cigarettes
in the corn with no signal,
halfway from home to home,
imagining lives unspooling in backseats
with each headlight as they moved
away from me and I moved
from every place;
wonder if the negative
space in skies and distances
drowns out old longings
ringing in our ears,
or just becomes more
hazy constellations of notes
for us to divine,
multiplying the longer we look;
wonder whether it's the miles
or a willingness to run out of gas,
have your truck lifted by a tornado,
be swept into the ocean,
none of which I've ever had to prove
I would accept as consequence.
Out there, night had moved quicker than our feet.
Quickly I faded, until you couldn't see
the white of my hood,
the outline of my body,
whether I was still
standing at the edge
of a furious mouth that swallows feet
and births great whites, whales,
the bodies of seals that wash up
on the beach like deflated footballs.
Soon all we could hear
was the pounding of a hammer
on the rocks, which sounds a lot
like falling into the sea.
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