Category Archives: Poetry

Shy Maidens

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Deep in the old growth forest the little dog and I find shy maidens stooping over the forest moss. To whom they direct their submissions? I’d ask Aki but she is already down the trail investigating the pee spot of a dog or wolf. So I sit alone with the maiden flowers even though they have turned their backs to me.

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The sound of a boat wake slapping the beach reaches us in the trees. The maidens ignore it, like they must ignore the explosive exhales of humpback whales and the other happenings on Stephens’ Passage that they will never see.

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Shortly after they flung out their waxy blossoms, the maidens must have memorized the moss patterns at their feet. They will never feel their pedals drying in the morning sun like the wild iris. They can’t produce sweet berries to feed the bear. What keeps them here in this gray place where they can never dance with the wind?

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Boy Scout Beach

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Aki turns back, giving me her “aren’t you coming” look. Her other human and a friend walk along side the little dog. Through my camera’s lens I see the trio moving between a grass-covered dune and a line of small surf slapping Boy Scout Beach. Beyond them lays a choppy Lynn Canal, Admiralty Island, and the white-capped peaks of the Chilkat Range. If Aki could fly, she’d be over Glacier Bay in a half-an-hour.

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It’s too early for the wild flags (iris) to be in full bloom, but on the way to the beach we stumbled on two of them in flower. Magenta patches on the tidal meadow mark where the shooting stars thrive. Everywhere there are the blue or purple flowers of lupines and beach peas. If not for the cooling wind, we’d be in high summer.

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I love the walk to this beach for the wild flowers and the frequent sightings of Canada geese it offers. Just before the beach, you can turn, look up the Eagle River, and spot a turquoise wedge of the Herbert Glacier dividing snowy peaks.

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I hurry to join Aki and her humans just in time to watch a trio of crows force a raven to land near the surf line. The raven works on something with its beak as we approach and then flies over the water and back to where it must have found the treat. We push on to a spot with a little wind break where we eat a picnic and watch a trio of Canada geese fly by followed in minutes by an immature bald eagle.

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Later we will see a score of geese fly low overhead in a formation that could be a from measure of sheet music from Ode to Joy. Probably not. If the sound made by the geese is any indication, the notes would be from the Three Stooges theme song.

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Things Returning

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Let’s get this out of the way. It’s raining. It’s raining for the first time in a week Drops cling to emerging leaves and blueberry blossoms. They soak into Aki’s grey fur. The rain doesn’t slow down the little rain forest dog. She muscles ahead over a low ridge and then leads me down to the beach.

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I was hoping we would see whales or at least Steller sea lions after we leave the woods. But no cetaceans break the surface of Favorite Channel. We normally walk down the beach before returning to the trail. But someone is camping out in a tent. While taking a lesser-used trail to return to the forest, we are surprised by a pair of bickering, red-breasted sapsuckers. So intent on their territorial battle, they don’t notice us until we are only ten feet away.

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When we return to the place the sapsuckers battled, we will have seen iridescent sea anemones jammed together in a tiny tide pool, several sea lions, and our first humpback whale of the year.

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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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