Luke Johnson is the author of After the Ark (NYQ Books, 2011). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best New Poets, New England Review, Southwest Review, Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. He recently received a fellowship to attend the Fishtrap Conference in the forested plateau of Northeast Oregon. Most of the time, he lives in Seattle, Washington.
— Wenatchee National Forest
Our bodies are lower than the nettles.
Our campsite is illegal and our chests have carved
soft outlines into mountain dust. We hear
the river, but haven’t yet found a way
down. Between breezes there are sounds
like wounded animals, moans and chirps
without translation. It is the forest
devouring itself: scorched timber’s last cracks.
We will not be here to see the dead, half-fallen
trees become peat. There will always be snow
on the cornices, a gully cut by the river
we cannot reach; but we hear its clean roar,
its rapids shallow enough for wading and deep
enough for drowning. Blackened spruces list.
A pick-up stirs gravel, roars into the ridge.
Night is quieter. There’s no way to know
from where our next light will come —
if we should look to heaven or to earth — so
I choose to be aware of the closeness,
thin boundary between mountain-shadow
and sea-salt starfield. It seems impossible meteors
fly silent, charring our atmosphere like pencil scratches
marking distance in an atlas, but most do:
flash and white streak, a map of what was once
heard, of what disappears so others can return.