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Harriman Expedition Retraced


expedition log



Sheila Nickerson

Three Poems of Juneau, Alaska

From the East: First Light, Gastineau Channel
Imagine moving like that, over each mountain,
touching each tree, leaf, needle.
Imagine my fingers, tracing your face,
illuminating the map of all those years--
even the ones before I first set out,
brave and full of love, into that strange land.


When Spring Came and the Blue Bear Came to Town
When the blue bear came to town,
we played our saxophone.
Listening, it shook its head in salmonberry bushes,
pushed and rooted in the earth.
It came each night, at dusk,
to Gastineau--the avenue at the edge--
to our dumpsters, porches,
and steps sagging with rain.
We played, we sang, we clapped our hands,
hoping it would cross to us;
but it came only as far as our garbage,
then turned back. We, too, returned home,
speaking of the wildness of it,
the blueness of it--like glaciers, like denim.
We could not find the words.
We followed, each night, as far as we dared,
with our saxophone, with our French horn--
a line of minstrels bound to a cave
through a wood of ancient spruce
wild as cellos not yet carved.



"What are they thinking, the sheep on the hills?"

-- Bryan Guinness


What are they thinking, the trees on the hills?
They could be the souls of those who fell
on their way to heaven or those who loved
this place too much and decided to root
in the rocks instead of ascending in light.
They are transformed in snow; they could be
an order of angels sent by Oertha, guard
of the north. They carry layers of light and
dark in their arms; they could be records of
time, played over by needles of wind and ice,
or messengers waiting for orders to run
down the slopes with their sharp, green words.
What are they doing, the trees on the hills --
remembering fogs and springtimes of fern?
Before we grow old we must go to them there
on the slopes and ask them how it will be
when we climb into other shapes -- and if theirs
is a good one to take, holding green to the hills.





For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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