Joanne Allred

Mockingbird

The field guide says during mating season
the mockingbird can sing all night long
and still be eager to greet the dawn.
You wake, little one, for the same reason,
chirping your own imitations, your ambient
da da do da do’s, inflected as question or statement.

I rock you to sleep crooning Summerti-i-i-me
and the living is easy, singing hush little baby,
baby, don’t you cry. I hope one day, maybe
decades away, you’ll hear Janice whine
on a classic CD and a joyful daze will
tickle you, deja-vu of tenderness distilled.

Even centered in the bloom of your own
loneliness, sorrow like bees swarming around—
childhood and I long gone—may the sound
of a mockingbird’s trills make you less alone.
Whoever you may become, little girl,
you are adored, strange and dear as black pearl.

The universe longs for itself through
us. Our nature is yearning. All those words
you stretch to master—urge that first spurred
speech—are vined with desire that grew
faster than language could capture.
There are no words to embody rapture.

That mockingbird papa buys don’t sing,
the diamond ring turns brass, a dream breaks
like a looking-glass. And the heart aches
as the world calmly undoes whatever we cling
to. Its ashes, ashes all fall down.
You’re still the sweetest little baby in town.

                                 for Briana

Brine

The place I grew up was once submerged. An inland sea covered the valley floor, as well as the whole Great Basin, its shoreline still etched in pale strata along the Wasatch Front. I could trace the markings from my back yard, eons after Lake Bonneville receded. Great Salt Lake is residual, left after ampleness boiled away. Its faded blue eye glares at the desert god with unwavering bitterness. As a kid I daydreamed living underwater—blue overhead was the ocean’s surface fractured light skidded through. I swam like a fish among sleek dolphins, no fear of running out of air. Of someone holding me under. I’d sit on the backporch steps to watch the sun flare into the bright smear in the west. Three fresh rivers feed the Great Salt Lake, each born in the lush High Uintas. All that sweetness turns to brine.

One season, a few years back, I dipped into a sea of grief every morning in meditation. I’d found, then lost, a love, but the depths I plumbed seemed more ancient and potent than my little story, as if sinking into sorrow dammed for generations. A reservoir of anguish left from lifetimes too close to stone, walking the knife-edge of survival, no quarter for grief. Old circumstance had vanished, but desolation came down like great-grandmother’s scratchy woolen shawl. Each day I wrapped myself in the mantle of the gone and wept. As if history could be rinsed fresh with my salt tears. As if some essential element could be rendered pure by my slender prayers.


                                         Now only brine shrimp
                                 And bracken thrive here. Seagulls
                                        Wheel and dive, keening.

Prayer Flags for Gary

We hung with wooden pins on clothesline strung
between his walnut trees the forty-seven brightly colored
tees he had earned doing triathlons, iron and tin
man competitions. Forty-eight counting the one
he was wearing when he died, burned
with the body, I suppose. In the photo
I snapped to mark his last day alive,
his lavender shirt reads
2012 Mount Shasta Tin Man Triathlon.
A year before, almost to the day. He had placed,
out-biking, out-swimming, outrunning the cancer
which an MRI showed had spread everywhere.

The morning he passed he was radiant,
despite the grayish cast to his skin,
mugging for the camera, cracking jokes.
Even with the morphine, lucid and alert.
He held no belief in an afterlife or ongoing soul,
but was eager for whatever came next,
open without expectation.
I feel like a kid going to the beach he said.
Going back where I came from, no idea
where or what that might be. Blankness
of the unknown both before and after,
and an iron man’s measure of joy in that.

Winter

That winter I was a leaf caught
In an eddy, turning and turning in the shallows.

I settled into a rocker before the hearth
And let fog swallow me

Until what’d I’d known as myself was nothing
But a muffled hawk cry above

An invisible field. I listened to jays squabbling
Outside the window as if they relayed

A message, encrypted, somehow meant
To save me. I’m not saying I was lost

In self-pity. It was just the world I’d loved
And trusted had dissolved

Into a story I’d invented.
Its threads unraveled into silence.

My feet couldn’t find the bridge
Between before and after.

I could not believe
In so much as the mirror.

In that darkness a seed rooted.
Even now I can’t name what emerged

From the composting earth: tree
With ethereal blooms, bitter-sweet fruit.

Author Portrait

Joanne Allred is the author of three poetry collections: Whetstone (winner of the Flume Press Chapbook Competition), Particulate (Bear Star Press), and The Evolutionary Purpose of Heartbreak (Turning Point Press). She taught for many years in the English Department at California State University, Chico. With her husband, two dogs, a variable number of chickens and a lush companionship of wildlife, she lives in Butte Creek Canyon outside Chico, whose landscape often serves as backdrop and subject for her work.