One year ago, I published my first poem.
Well. Cascadia Rising Review–a newish literary journal based here in the Pacific Northwest, created by a team possessed of thoughtful hearts and brilliant design skills–published my first poem. (Taking a chance on my slightly strange title, Before Ordering a Second Margarita.) I’m so grateful to them for that first official vote of confidence.*
I’ve been writing poems since I was 8 years old. The journey to this point–when I comfortably call myself a poet, spend a lot of time working on a manuscript, and glance with some astonishment at my printed work–has been awkward, ordinary, gripping, stochastic, full of grace. God only knows what’s next. I sure don’t. But I’m looking forward.
There’s something else I want to celebrate, this personal anniversary.
The subject of my first published poem (as much as a poem can be “about” anything) is grief, and this grief was particular. I drafted the piece on a winter beach in northern Oregon, windblown and solitary, toes half-frozen, scrambling up rocks and sinking in multi-colored sand. This is my natural state, on the outside at least. Inside I was doing a different kind of scrambling. I knew I was losing a very dear friend to sudden and violent disease, and there was nothing at all I could do.
So here’s the part I want to celebrate: well over a year later, that very dear friend is still with us. Not only not-dead, but fully alive: raising her kids, loving her husband, enjoying her friends, advocating for research and care for the disease that will always–to the best of current medical knowledge–walk with her. It was…to say it was a near thing does not quite translate. A miracle, some would name it. There are few days when I don’t encounter it, don’t lift her name to the morning with my dawn-time walks.
I don’t know how often this happens: a grief met head-on, and then, completely unexpected, reprieve. Not that everything is magically over, or fixed, or the same. But I’m celebrating the way love persists, how you can’t expect or predict it, how grief’s flip-side is the sounding of those depths. And here too, I’m looking forward.
After all that noise, here’s the poem:
Before Ordering a Second Margarita
They've bloomed—clear jelly epitaphs
lavished on strange sands. Wind-harried sailors:
Hydrozoa was here.
A few strewn blue-lipped bodies still
plump with sea-shout, sunlight shriveling.
On what occasion does cold Pacific
order such bouquets?
Wrack line implacably delivers.
Barefoot–to climb the rocks
and ford the greengold deepblue braided streams,
my mind comes late to contemplate
toxins, fishkills, all the usual news
read through my soles.
A new study tells us alcohol
will take years off your life.
Which years?—a friend,
his glass upraised. Who says
I want them?
Can you exchange this salted rim for a day
to breathe the salt in wind, bury
sandy toes? Would you trade
that silty burrowing,
halve your joy, for fear?
Another friend is dying.
Forty-five, and braided through
with tumors like the seaward grains of sand.
Did some choice—hers, a government's,
shareholders'—steal those years?
Blindly bargained woman, fierce—
generous, and loved. Tangled
at our unprotected feet
wrack line lays down all the gifts
that wash in our direction.
We are here.
Barefoot in the sand
with open hands.
*And for making my work look beautiful on the page. And for arranging my first public reading. And for publishing more of my work in the past months. Et cetera. They’re good folx and it’s a wonderful publication, with quarterly online issues, a podcast, and print editions coming soon.