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Greg Nicholl
Burn Through


My father writes from Barrow, Alaska,
sends pictures of whale bone forced into sand,
an arch on the beach, each rib a sanctuary.
Pictures of boardwalks built across bogs,
of meat left to cure on cedar planks,
fibers tinged green by fog, salt off the ocean.
He sends them because I ask
to be reminded, to hear of Northwest forests
that open into oceans; of travelers
who cross mountains, how they stood
on a cliff to watch the head of a seal
surface on the water, to trace its retreat.
Anxious. Afraid. As anyone who first comes here-
the rain at night, so constant, can sound
like gunfire. The fits of gray so depressing
in their weight that only fire can burn
through. Those fires, like the ones
they built on the ice the week the harbor froze;
it was 1924, and they eased the Ford
down the shore just to drive it half a mile,
the tires spinning on the snow, one man
behind the wheel and a dog cowering
in the backseat. Give me that winter.
Give me rain and the thickest fog and a green
so consuming, you cannot help but enter.


(Originally published in Clackamas Literary Review, 2007)