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Tahoe Canvas | 2017 Written Winner

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Saboteur in Hand

I opened my hand. The hummingbird tumbled
weightless in the grass, curled toenails shrouded
with cobweb. A false escape, to lunge
at the dirty light of the windowpanes again.
Again. Green chest heaving, my fingers
clumsy unthreading the spider’s threads.
That a trap for insects could catch this bundled
iridescence. Some desire of hers —
Food, shelter, love. Does it matter?
So quickly the scales can tip. Both of us
unfit for our tasks. Both trembling.
I left her in the sun and soon,
she was not there. And how should I love?
When I opened my hand I didn’t feel anything.

When I opened my hand I didn’t feel anything
which isn’t to say nothing was there.
A rabbit reaps havoc in my garden -
nipping even in this morning’s drizzle
near-perfect stars of blue lupine.
Before that, stubs of violets, mallow.
For weeks, only cut evidence without the perpetrator.
The opposite of faith: belief without proof.
Then flash, russet in the corner. She started out
small and now bolder. What does a rabbit need
of faith, pushing herself into the reliable earth
each night? What do poets believe in order
to be poets, pushed up against what they have to say?
Please, sweet hand, be patient for the uncertain.

Please, hand, be patient. For the uncertain
are late bloomers. Someone said I’m just
trying not to blink. How awkward,
to be empty-handed. The pink beam of a child’s
flashlight inside their palm. And my secret:
I’m a fake. Like you. I’m just saying.
I’m saying I know beneath my hand
the silky underfur the rougher guard hair.
Each of us our own doubles,
cancelling the other out, choosing
two steps back. Let’s anti-charm
the saboteur. Let’s astray the mis-guide.
And what of the garden? Sweet hand,
take the other, linger with her lonelinesses.

Manifesto, Donner Summit, October

I come from the morning time, the slow rising light, the flat cool sky, the dark cocoon within heavy blankets, how it cradles my head and locks closed my eyelids. I come from when the birds begin flitting between the branches, their toenails scritching the scaly bark of pines. Within the skirt of branches and rock beneath me is the earth without any buffer. The sun so far away has radiated it warm beneath my back. I breath in the breeze — pine stronger than I ever remember — blowing off the cliffs of forest above and down over me and I’m drinking it in, listening and flattening my back against this hard place. Then I’m in a space were time has stopped for me while all around me time keeps going.

What do I have to say! I sing in silence in the fall air at the summit surrounded by the ghosts of all these travellers loggers hunters dreamers and desperados signs of their singing and crying everywhere. What signs have I left? Cuts in the bark to mark the way my songs are mile markers crossroads forested ponds and mossy overhanging streams of yin cutting into the forest banks of dirt and rock revealing rooted history what is hidden buried singing in the ground. That dense cushion of duff, the stones submerged, the earth eroding back from edges of glacial erratics, house-sized walls of granite serving as walls of cabins. You find these in the Sierra. I write by following that path stepping over stones. Crows fly above and airplane contrails drift and dissipate until finally I return and wake up. Wake up Carolyn Forche says reading poetry. Take off the blindfold and open your eyes.

I have not loved as I could have. As I can. I have eyes that see eyes that see far and clear. I trust my eyes. I use what they see to navigate. My mind — do I trust it? Not so much. It interprets what I see. My dog only half-jumps on people in his inner circle. I don’t want to temper him his effusiveness is so subtle to begin with. As I don’t want to temper myself. I have fire that burns me and others. How to free it to burn as my core my furnace my fuel without hurting? Loneliness is a state that also can’t be judged. We are all lonely. How to parse the existential loneliness from the loneliness a result of impatience with the human animal. I have so much — so much privilege.

Dark water

Our little Death from which we daily do survive, it seems tonight the very tide of life itself upon whose surface we toss…” - Robert Duncan, “Sleep is a deep and many voiced flood”


I mean us,

you against the wall and I

perched on the edge


          the beat poet wrote of sleep’s

          little death


passing ourselves between,

          touching and not, a landscape

wet to the bone.


Then we leave


always too late


for our own dark waters. 


In the morning I meet you

          think I recognize you.


Karen Terrey

KAREN TERREY is a writer, editor, and writing coach, offering marketing and business writing, copy editing, publishing guidance, and creative writing workshops in Truckee through her business Tangled Roots Writing for clients of all ages. She has taught at Lake Tahoe Community College and Sierra College and has served as a poetry editor for the literary journals Pitkin Review and Quay. She is a recipient of a Sierra Arts Endowment Grant, the John Woods Scholarship to Prague Summer Program, the Steve Turner Scholarship to Surprise Valley Writer’s Conference, and a scholarship to the Vermont Studio Center. Her poems have appeared in Rhino, Edge, Meadow, WordRiot, Puerto Del Sol, Wicked Alice, Canary, and Gray Sparrow Journal. Her poetry chapbook Bite and Blood is now available from Finishing Line Press.

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October 11, 2018