Category Archives: Poetry

Peterson Creek

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Aki and I start the Ides of March on the Douglas Island Bridge. Normally she drags her paws on to the bridge. But today she tries to bully me into letting her walk across it. A murder of loud-mouthed crows watches our battle of wills. I know I shouldn’t care what these dudes think about the little dog or me. But I am still bothered by the attention. Aki eventually backs down and we return to the car. It’s time to check out Peterson Creek.

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At first glance the creek looks to be ice-free. Over a foot of golden brown water runs between the creek banks, reflecting the mottled bark of the creek side alders. But ice stills covers the creek bed, providing a white background for the golden water. It’s still a winter scene but spring can’t be far away.

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We cross over the creek and walk down to a beach bordering Stephens Passage and climb a small rocky headland. Aki gives me her “This is so boring” look. I will accommodate her but first I want to study something that looks like an animal’s backbone trapped in rock. It could be fossil, evidence of life from a time long past.

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Necessary Work

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The cottonwood trees bordering Gastineau Avenue are filling with ravens. Somewhere nearby a bald eagle screams out its territorial warning. Down the hill, fifteen mature bald eagles have settled in trees above Lower Franklin Street. They lurk beneath the tram that in summer carries cruise ship tourists up Mt. Roberts. I look down at Taku Smokeries to see if they are processing black cod. But no tender boats line the dock to off load their catch. The last time so many ravens and eagles assembled above South Franklin when the Taku plant was closed, they had been drawn by the body of a deceased homeless man that the police reported, “had been left unattended for an extended time in the woods.” I pray for different explanation for the scavenger’s gathering and try to remember the words of a poem I wrote in response to the homeless man’s death.

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Necessary Work

Stiff as corpses, large birds hover over fresh kills,

gliding in circles that draw a crowd of kind.

Locals call them turkeys to fool the tourists

who want to believe that the sun always warms

 

evergreen grass along the California coast,

that death is exiled to just north, south, east, west

of this place so close to heaven

that the undertaker is bored.

 

Home in Alaska, hunting reduces the need for trope,

and most families eat around bullet holes in their meat.

Eagles, ravens and crows tidy the dead. Without judgment,

I’ve watched them do this necessary work in the heavy rain.

 

Last winter, eagles hovered over Gastineau Avenue, screamed

at each other and the stubborn ravens. I took their pictures

then dropped down rickety steps to a Franklin Street coffee stand.

I bragged about seeing the eagle glut until the police

 

reported the Gastineau Avenue discovery

of the corpse of a homeless man, once a villager

now a mystery to his family, with no friends,

found in the area where I saw the cloud of eagles.

 

He lived unattended in the woods, died alone,

was waked by carrion eaters too innocent

to mourn. I’ll try to remember him as someone’s son,

not a once fleshy body now carrion reduced to bones.

(“Necessary Work” by Dan Branch, The Penwood Review, volume 21, number 2, fall 2017)

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Icy Taunts

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It’s almost March. Tomorrow or the next day a Pacific storm will likely hammer Juneau with heavy snow or worse—rain. But this morning, on Mendenhall Lake, it’s almost desert-warm. Someone has set a five-kilometer track on the ice, which we follow toward the glacier. Aki dashes from her other human and I, stopping occasionally to take a cooling snow bath.

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It’s hard to concentrate on anything but sparkling snow, the blue-green glacier ice, and the saw tooth ridge of mountains that rise out of the Juneau ice field. I think about  To Make A Poem by Alberta Turner, a book that urges poets to tap into the subconscious for inspiration. But my subconscious can’t complete with all the natural beauty. Only when I complete the apex of the track loop and turn my back to the glacier, can I yield to the meditative slide and slide rhythm of Nordic skiing. But I sense the glacier leering behind me, ready to strike a stunning pose if I turn around. On a rising north wind, I can almost hear the river of ice taunt, “I’ve calved more metaphors than your sad little subconscious will produce in your lifetime.”

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Beaver Scent

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The little dog and I walk between two channels of the Mendenhall River on a trail only passable after stretches of cold, snowy weather. If she wasn’t such a brat about it, we could follow it all the way to the lake and loop back on a trail rich in dog signs. But Aki disappears across the river and into the woods whenever she sniffs a trail to her preferred route. She doesn’t care about solitude or silence or the reflected views we have of the glacier and Mt. McGinnis. She wants some same-species interaction.

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I crunch ahead, breaking through the thin crust covering the snow pack except where the wind had stripped the trail down to bare ice. We find what looks like a miniature bobsled course that runs from the river’s edge to a thick forest of alders. My suspicion that it is a beaver’s logging ice road is confirmed when the little dog rolls on a portion of the run with a goofy smile on her face. She does love beaver scent.

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No Worries

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No rain.

No sunshine.

Just the little dog and I walking  toward the Perseverance basin.

No bears.

No deer.

Just three mountain goats hammering brush along the flanks of Mt. Juneau.

No drama.

Just one porcupine climbing up the north side of Mt. Maria within a few feet of the Basin Road trestle bridge.

No lingering flowers.

Just strings of shriveling Oregon grapes.

No worries.

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Have You Ever Seen a Whale?

channel ducks

On wet winter days

when only pastel craftsmen homes

remind us of spring and

drenched ravens harmonize

with a barking dog

an imaginative man

finds the will

to pull on rain gear

push outdoors

ignore drizzle

soaking his sensible

if ridiculous hat.

He skips down crooked steps

like one who

might see whales in the channel

spot eagles near the moored black cod boats

just make out spring-white goats on Mt. Juneau.

He wonders on the way

what imaginatives do

in southern cities

where robins always sing

to a cloudless sky

crime and traffic

provide the drama

and no one has even seen a whale.

Winter Left This Morning

aaa

Winter left this morning,

ending her February visit to town.

She flew in angry with wind

cold as the arctic.

We welcomed her

because she promised to cover our ski trails with snow.

But she had a bad flight from Boston

where they didn’t appreciate her white beauty.

She discharged her anger by hammering us for days

with cold Taku winds

that stirred the dust on downtown streets

but brought no snow. After mellowing,

she released flurries

onto ground cooled by her gentle caress.

Winter left this morning

as her snowflakes soften into rain.

After wishing her well, Aki and I slogged

through deep snow over a mountain meadow

before it melts under an approaching wet storm.

Please miss

pay us at least one more visit

before the crocus bloom