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Written by Holly J. Hughes   


By Holly J. Hughes

Double Bluff

Again, above the cliff, the red bi-plane soars,
arcs,  rolls,  turns over under the endless  sky—

not exactly  like a hawk, its single-hearted plummet, 
or osprey’s steady soar, or two crows, splayed black

wing to wing tip or two eagles, talons clenched, spinning out,
or even geese, their chatty, undulating route— 

but close as we’ll come,  light glinting on wings
like code for those of us below, restless to know 

that language in our bodies like the blind know braille,
the dips and turns of its feathered ways,  its unfettered words.


All the Wary Oppositions

"On cold spring nights when frost is imminent,
growers run irrigation sprinklers until sheaths
of ice coat the apple blossoms.  As water freezes,
it gives off heat—just enough to protect each
bud enclosed in its skin of ice." 

David Guterson, Harpers

The freeze will come tonight
the neighbor insists, one orchard over
It is May, but still we listen,
go to our trees, holding their
tracery of lace like snow –
Gala, Fuji, Braeburn, Winesap
none will be spared this
physics that holds cold
pressed against the valley floor,
while on the hillside, heat rises
like the smoke of the smudge pots
we light as dusk settles,
as night thickens. 

The temperature drops.
We uncoil the snaked hoses,
clear the brass nozzles, aim at the white
umbrellas floating over the trunks: 
a long arc coats the blossoms
as they tremble until ice skims
each blossom like sugared petals
on a wedding cake. Yes, yes,
it is cold enough to freeze, we think.
cold enough for ice to hold
the soft faces of the flowers.

The blossoms glint in the firelight,
each fractured petal refracting
all the tongues of the fire, each
bud encased in the forming ice,
until the quiet ice fills with the fire’s
desire, blossoms  ringing  in the wind,
held in the warm armor of ice
as all the wary oppositions,
for a moment, join as one.


Desire is never on the map

it’s that unnamed lake you found
once, driving a gravel road,  not
where you thought you were going,
fast,  window down, hair
loose  to the dry wind,
bare foot pressing metal,
soft feathers  of cottonwood
drift through, maple seed
spinning in its wild gyre.
Bugs spatter on the windshield
in Rorschach  you want to
read like tea leaves, imagine
you might learn how you’ve
come to this road, which
left turn at midnight, which
wrong side of  town.

Then there it is before you,
glittering pure and cold and
suddenly you want
that stone-skipping ache
more than your life, even
knowing how the cold  water
makes each  hair stand on end
as you enter, one foot at a time
sand crumbling underfoot,
the delicious  submersion,
as you slip the laws of
surface tension, gravity…

and so it is you push off from shore,
not caring,  this lake, as you knew
the moment you saw it,
has no bottom.

Sometimes at night I can’t sleep

for the straight-grained fir
that frames this cabin, veins
like ribbon candy running
down the windowsills,
a few knots, not many
and stunning where they occur:
a tight rose, a sinkhole,
grain swirling like sand
around a drift log,
scar of limbs lost, growth
not to be messed with. 

I know what it’s like to
split straight-grained fir,
like butter, loggers say,
axe sinking deep and true
on its first overhead arc,
resonant crack as the
fibers spring apart, loosing
their grip, sighing a bit.
And I know what it’s like to
strike the knots; ring of axe blade
against fists dense as stone,
then letting the blade find
its way around each knot,
knowing that’s where
the tongues of the fire
will be held, enthralled.   


The forest burned ten years ago
but still the cambium reaches
across the old scar, ragged edges
limp together like lips of a conch
and in the open mouth: the wound’s
glistening, dark surface.  See how a tree
carries all its lives, secrets revealed only
when cut – some years dry, some wet,
a beetle burrowing, a  rusty nail –
all the while the cambium
growing toward what it
remembers,  yet lies still
at the heart,  how skin
knits our wounds together
without complaining,
how nerves remember the
limb even when it’s gone,
until we can’t tell from the outside
what lies within, like the burl
of  bird’s eye maple:
all its bright eyes.

Note:   These poems have all appeared in the  chapbook The Offering of the Fig, published by Flying Squirrel Press.  

A finalist for the Arts & Letters Prize 2003,  Holly Hughes' poems have appeared   in The Midwest Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, americas review,  Kalliope,  Pontoon, The Hedgebrook Journal, as well as the anthology, American Zen: A Gathering of Poets.    Her essays have appeared in  Crosscurrents and an  anthology:  Steady As She Goes: Women's Adventures at Sea.    A recipient of residencies at Hedgebrook and  Centrum, she is currently enrolled in the low-residency MFA program, Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.   She has taught writing at Edmonds Community College for 15 years,   serving as co-advisor to the  college's award-winning literary/art journal, Between the Lines and is the director of  the Convergence Writer's Series.  She lives in a log cabin built in the 1930s in Indianola, Washington. 

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