1

 

Ever since I followed

the Oregon Trail west

a decade ago, I’ve thought I lived

at the edge where the continent

ends in ocean.

But ninety miles inland

is not the edge.

 

The plants are different there

or grow differently

in sea-damp air.

Not tapering tops of firs

but thick, shelving limbs

of shore pines

rear against the sky,

lean permanently eastward

beneath the prevailing

wind off the sea.

 

In oceanside gardens,

misted by morning fog,

fuchsias reach the size

of rhododendrons inland,

roses and dahlias sport blossoms

wide as my hand spans,

leaves the circumference of saucers

set off superabundant

gold and orange nasturtiums—

as if the land

uttered itself fully

only in the face

of ocean.

 

2

 

A friend tells me how, years

before we met, when he was young

and bent on making art,

he emptied his savings

to rent a cottage on the coast

for three months. There,

working twelve hours

and eating one meal

a day, he completed almost a hundred

big still lifes, colored pencil

and cut paper, a single

huge series, mostly of flowers—

 

as if his carefully balanced

compositions of blooms in vases

in front of a half-closed blind,

his intricate cut-outs

of sheets of paper, spaced by heavy

sheets of glass, could hold back

the ocean. But the waves

broke in his head as they break

in a rock cave

at the edge of the land.

 

3

 

We could all

have been swept away

young, but that artist friend

now grows an inland garden,

and messages reach me

from my high school circle of rivals,

AP classmates I lost touch with

four decades ago.

 

From time to time, over

those years, I’d see their names—

in roundups of recent

advances in particle theory,

on the faculty roster for a top

medical school, in the music

 

production credits for films

that won at Sundance. Now I learn

the physicist has a son and daughter,

both in college; the research physician

worries for her mother, ninety-five,

a month in intensive care; the musician

has had AIDS for years, lost a lover,

dozens of friends, has been close

to death himself.

 

Now the one whose vita

I never found on the Web

sends Williams’ “This Is Just to Say”

as apology for not requiting

my story of my life

these past forty years

with a like tale of his own.

 

We could all have been

swept away young. I ask

about the one whose name

none of the others has spoken—

our group’s irrepressible

brilliant mathematician. The answer

comes slow: He

killed himself in college.

 

4

 

The rest of those old classmates

get together at least

a few times a year.

They all live now

around where we grew up.

Since then I’ve put that place

three thousand miles

behind me. Strange to think

they stayed there, or went back,

inland from the opposite edge

of the continent between us.

***

Eleanor Berry’s collection Green November (Eugene, Oregon: Traprock Books), a book of poems about her relocation to western Oregon from landlocked Wisconsin, was published in 2007. Her poetry and essays on poetry have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.

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