Political activist and wilderness advocate Pam Uschuk has howled out six books of poems, including Crazy Love (2010 American Book Award) and her most recent collection, Blood Flower (2015). Translated into more than a dozen languages, her work appears in over 300 journals and anthologies worldwide, including Poetry, Ploughshares, Agni Review, Colorado Review, Parnassus Review, etc. Uschuk was awarded the 2011 War Poetry Prize from Winning Writers, 2010 New Millennium Poetry Prize, 2010 Best of the Web, the Struga International Poetry Prize (for a theme poem), the Dorothy Daniels Writing Award from the National League of American PEN Women and prizes from Ascent, Iris, and Amnesty International. Editor-In-Chief of Cutthroat, A Journal of the Arts, Uschuk lives in Bayfield, Colorado and in Tucson, Arizona.
With the first bite, you dive
deep the sea blue veins
of Prudhoe Bay, chart the black rock hem
and thick scale ice along the coast until
you intuit the delta, where you begin
to fight your way upstream,
past gravel bars spiller at river’s mouth,
past silvertip grizzlies
and the flat suomo slam of their paws
as they swat riffles, past
ospreys whose yellow eyes aim
razor talons to spike the homeward heart.
Past the cold shoulders of boulders
that fracture the current.
Past the foamy, wagging tongues
of waterfalls that fling you
against granite edges,
scarring your silver skin as you leap
and leap again to reach the silk
rock lip and pool behind.
Bite after buttery bite.
Sometimes grace can be this delicious.
The pink flesh is firm as faith
and marbled with grease, bathed
in lemon and white Chardonnay.
In the pan, salmon’s hooked beak sizzles
as you strip the remaining meat
from immaculate vertebrae.
Heavier now, you belch
and push the last mile
to the sand bar where shallows
flow clean as molten glass.
Fanning a nest with your tail,
your squeeze out orange eggs
embraced by sperm shot
like white ink vanishing into current.
Exhausted, you lie
gasping in the indifferent stream.
Your eye is a caul
masking dreams, and your skin
burns red as a maple leaf.
Meal done, you flop on the couch
in the living room. Your mouth cracks
open and you fall through the world, dazed
and tilting from side to side
until you flip,
your pale belly finally breaking
the miraged border
between water and sky.
First published in Swamproot, then in The River Anthology, (Slappering Hol Press), and published in the award-winning chapbook, Without Birds, Without Flowers, Without Trees (Flume Press, 1996), and in Scattered Risks (San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2005).
Loving the Outlaw
Outside, a silent arc of wings,
an osprey so quiet
doves nesting in cottonwoods might think
his passing breast a cloud.
His masked face lifts my heart
from its small dark center.
Like a trout, I imagine being stolen
by his embrace, caught inside
curling talons, bright
and precise as tearing moons.
He flies, and I hold my breath,
so the neighbor who would shoot him
won’t hear my arrested gasp,
the awesome clattering up in my chest.
I’ve always loved outlaws best,
the inky hats and habits,
their saavy laughter screened in movie houses.
This one soars
from the neighbor’s trout pond
where he’s taken another rainbow
back to the lawless sky.
First appeared in One Earth (Scotland), then in the Mesilla Press Pamphlet Series and in the award-winning chapbook, Without Birds, Without Flowers, Without Trees (Flume Press, 1996), and in Scattered Risks (San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2005).
Rocky Mountain Goats
At extreme altitude, risk is never subtle.
under surest hoof. Sky splits like wings
shaking out thunder,
the chatter of ice wind through pines
an erratic history of knobby hail.
like broken tiles down treeless cliffs,
but you cling to crags where lichen thrives,
surviving where our fear shivers.
Looking up, we mistake
your shaggy muscles for boulders
or the spirits of Confucian judges,
often miss your perpetual ballet
on a shifting tide of talus.
We feel you hover with sky, envy
the way you defy gravity
we’re bound to.
With your anthracite eyes
calm in the white pan of your face, you
survey the kingdom of edges,
between dangerous leaps
only the heart can make.
First appeared in Riverrun, then in Scattered Risks (San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2005).
Snow Goose Migration at Tule Lake
Iris-eyed dawn and the slow blind buffalo of fog
shoulders along flat turned fields.
We hear the bassoon a cappella
before air stutters to the quake that wheels.
Then the thermonuclear flash of snow geese,
huge white confetti,
storm and tor of black-tipped wings
across Shasta’s silk peak,
the bulging half moon.
There are thousands. Now
no stutter but ululations
striking as the riot of white water.
Wave on wave breaks
over us. V
after V interlock, weave
like tango dancers to dip and rise
as their voices hammer
silver jewelry in our hearts. These multitudes
drown every sound
every twenty-first century complaint.
Snow geese unform us.
Fluid our hands, our arms, legs,
our hearts. What more do we ever need?
Than these songs
cold and pure as Arctic-bladed warriors
circling the lake’s mercuric eye.
Snake graceful in the sky, snow geese wail
through sunrise like tribal women
into funeral flames.
Sun rouges their feathers
as they rise
hosannahward, dragging us
stunned by the alchemy of their clamor.
And we think
how it must have been each season
for eight hundred years while Modoc harvested wild rice
blessed by the plenty of wings
on the plenty of water
before slaughter moved in with the settlers.
The few Modoc survivors were exiled to Oklahoma
to make way for potato farms
that even now poison the soil
and drain Tule Lake.
In this month of wild plum blossoms, we would pretend
it is the early world.
Snow geese migrate through sky wide
as memory. Their wild choirs lift us
beyond the dischords of smoking fields and tractors
to light struck white, to our own forgotten wings
and ungovernable shine.
First published in Swamproot, and published in the award-winnning chapbook, Without Birds, Without Flowers, Without Trees (Flume Press, 1996), and in Scattered Risks (San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2005). Reprinted in Ecopoetry Anthology, eds. Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laua Gray Street (San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2013).
Good Friday and the Snowstorm Keep Land Developers from Clearing The Woods
Good Friday and ice storms, then snow
whirls its wet lace skirts,
buries the canoe, snow crocus,
leaftips of tulips, and the machines—
a yellow-knuckled front end loader,
dumptrucks and the jacked-up backhoe
that all week
have assaulted our woods.
Snow and its white lungs
wheeze like angry asthmatics
or Jesus come down from the clouds
to drive out the moneychangers, real
estate agents and landscapers from the forest.
Or so we’d think
on the Good Friday with its miracle of snow.
While the landlady curses weather, upstairs
the Abuela cooks Lenten lunch—
caldo de camarones,
caldo de queso,
fresh corn tortillas.
Muchas comidas y nieve, gracias a Dios.
All week the woods have groaned, trunks
of saplings cracked, branches split
under the half-tracks
of iron caterpillrs, the floor
of the climax forest trashed,
birdsong gashed from spring.
Now, peace at last.
Snow and the workers go home.
Snow and the silent white curve of the woods
waits for death postponed,
for resurrection’s promise,
the rolling away of the stone.
First published in Swamproot, then in the Poetry Prize Anthology for the Chester H. Jones Foundation, made into a broadside by Elliot Bay Press Broadside Series, in Grufvan (Sweden) and published in Scatttered Risks (San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2005).
A Siberian Cold Front Takes Over the Last Week
Siberia, I do not need your sleet today,
impaling me like a fork in a cheek.
Not that you don’t feel free to crowd my life with ancestors,
memories of bear paws and shrill white distances
cracking the civilized seams of my brain.
Today, Siberia, my head aches with your steel humidity,
cold as a slug’s mucous skirts,
slick as the stone pipe of a shamanka.
I’d like to refuse your telegram.
I am not the she-bear taken as wife by a man.|
I will not give birth to the bear boy hero
who’ll save the tribe.
Take back your message
to the grandmothers who poke at the ashes
of my beginning-of-the-century thoughts.
Tell them to pack their travois of Arctic wind
and haul away the dull gray blades of these clouds.
Hurry on. Skip my generation of stars.
At the lip of spring
chapped by your kisses,
the numb thud of your heart stunning wisteria, tulips,
the bulging red buds of peonies,
time is short.
I fall daily in love with impossibilities- -
the screech owl flying in front of the new moon,
the rufous hummingbird who puffs his throat
like a lung of electric carnelian
through the window,
the man shaped like a grizzly bear
but I know that
just as I feel my womb contract
troops are massing on the other side of the globe
for another war
too quick for even their long talons to stop.
First appeared in Parnassus Review, reprinted in Arabesques (Algeria), and published in the online chapbook, Blood Flower (drunkenboat.com) and in Blood Flower (San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2015).
Talk About Your Bad Girls
for Val Uschuk
White water’s our ritual, rafting
the Animas, river of lost souls,
run-off swollen, frothy as cappucino.|
How do trout survive this torrent,
bashing metal sheets of water
that displace even boulders?
And us ridiculous in a rubber raft
that buckles and folds like a caterpillar
tossed from its safe limb by storm.
Talk about your bad girls. Fear
Charges us. Not just
aluminum bullets of adrenaline stippling our tongues
nor the amphetamine rush of hormones,
but the cold still idea of drowning.
Over-powered by the current’s thrust
our muscles forget age and abuse, thrilled
tight as a dancer’s belly.
When the raft pitches over rapids
we fly above its gunnels, cracking
our foreheads like rams, then
laugh at our survival
to sever long months of separation.
Summers of rivers tie us—
from the Uncompahgre and the Blue,
to the industry-stunned Grand, to
the flat maligned Red Cedar
all the way back to the Lookingglass
with its pure amniotic flow through our girlhoods.
Remember the June we rafted the Platte
so lucid we could see
the lazy fanning of squaw fish over pebbles,
the drift of shadows ripple sand.
Looking up we caught the Goshawk
shocked up from the bloated steer, fly-blown
stink half-sunk in the trampled shore.
Weeks after, salmonella fevered your blood
And you couldn’t sweat enough
death from your dreams.
We never imagined clarity could be so final,
but that didn’t keep you from next season’s stream.
I wonder at those who risk it all—
the rock climbers, parachutists, deep
sea divers, tightrope walkers|
and snake charmers of the world—what
offerings they make to the manic gods of fear.
All year you sculpt what you believe
while I image words.
Today we are tossed
like dolls in a vulnerable raft
on icy water that would forget us as soon as we fell in.
Our hands and feet are numb from it.
We’ll survive this time. Summer
will shrink runoff from the trunks of pines.
The river’s fatal rush binds us, beats
back awkward conversation
as we give over to this wilder sister
constantly churning on the edge of her song.
Ode to Federico Garcia Lorca
Federico, sometimes you come to me as a little rain
straining up from the south, smeared
with the scent of orange rind and blood.
Smeared with rabbit blood frenzy, coyotes
ring the house howling the hour
the moon ticks like a gypsy watch
above the pool where the heron sleeps.
Where the heron dreams, a smear
the size of the moon is actually a guitar
moaning the syllables of your lost name.
Federico, when you come to me, the unbearable
longing of trees roots deeper in the sky, flies
among stars like a comet in search
of its dead twin. Federico the wind tonight is arctic
silver, not green, not forever green,
and I think how easy it is to die, skin basted
with orange blossoms and loneliness
as if loneliness was a horse a poet could break
or deny. Tonight, you are the slivered silver moon
ticking above cedar and sage that remember
their roots in the olive groves of Andalusia.
Green rind of death, how dare you spit
out the syllables of such desire? Federico,
some nights you fly through the window,
the eye of a hawk on fire,
black gaze gone to blood, gone
to the ropey bones of moonlight,
to guitars laughing in blue pines,
to the wet bulls of passion,
to the weft of love abandoned
to oiled rifles in an olive grove
on a sunny day before I was born. Did
they so fear the delicacy of your hands?
Published in Wild In The Plaza Of Memory (San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2012).
God is the tongue of the female timber wolf slathering
my face, rough as a snowshovel
scraping back the pages of Red Riding Hood,
revising my ears. Listen,
says this wolf tongue speaking its severed
language of love and sorrow, its history
of stick games, its guileless pups,
history of rifleshot from airplanes,
forelegs snapped in steel-toothed traps, trailing
blood through snow.
Have you ever heard eighty wild throats howling their ghosts at noon,
eighty fanged angels buzzed by yellow jackets and the belch
of oil tankers downshifting just
over the ridge? Have you heard their long-boned
whole notes of goodbye?
Wolfwood Wolf Refuge, Ignacio, Colorado
Published in Blood Flower (San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2012).
All Poems Copyright 2018 by Pamela Uschuk