by Ellery Akers
SAILING UNDER THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
After working for months banding seabirds on a rocky island, I lean over the rail of our boat and smell land: tarweed, alfalfa, hay. Then a clump of trees, froth after froth of willows leafing out in a gorge, a shed, a construction crane that sticks out into the bay. Light flashing from cars on the freeway. The captain claps me on the back, gives me the helm, I’m steering and laughing, watching a cormorant take off. Tugboats, pelicans, smell of wet ropes dropped on a deck, smell of diesel, shouts, people waving from tour boats, flags flapping. A pilot boat chugs towards a cargo ship with a rusted hull; water pours from the scuppers. Noise of the freeway a faint hum and then louder sailing under the bridge—clunk clunk of cars overhead, a long stripe of shade. A buoy with a gong that clanks—then static—voice of the Coast Guard on the radio— The captain turns to us. “A jumper,” he says, “just missed him. Ten minutes earlier, he might have dropped into the boat.”
WHAT I FIND WHEN I RETURN TO MY CAMPSITE IN THE SIERRAS
Shotgun shells on the trail. Pancakes floating in the water. Someone with a chainsaw has cut down six lodgepole pines by the lake to make a raft. For a while it sags, bristling with nails. Then it sinks. In the evening blackbirds sail in for a landing, expecting to roost in the trees, and they brake in mid air, confused, their wings flapping as they hover.
When I get tired of reading the news—a man dies of a heart attack trying to make love to a blow-up doll; a skirmish in a city with a name like a flower, Fallujah; a new way of torturing people with leashes and harnesses—I come down to the pond and watch ducks quacking and dunking. The orange legs of mallards stick up in the air. They waddle onto shore, waggling their tails and gulping down wads of bread; they trail loops of pondweed from their bills; their green necks shine. First published in The Sun
TAKING A RISK
Your body is frightened, and wants to stop, but already your life is pouring ahead of you, and when you turn around, the road behind you seals closed like a zipper; from here it looks like a scar.
Maybe when I'm dead, I'll look back from the next world and feel nostalgia for things I never appreciated when I was alive: the tiny bottles of Listerine they give you to gargle with in hotels, the smell of wet pebbles, even those argon lamps that crane their necks over the freeway and stand like giant praying mantises over our lives.
Three Questions for Ellery
What is the significance of this work to you?
These prose poems are from my latest manuscript, The Parallel and Not Inferior World, a hybrid collection of poems and drawings. It’s the first time I’ve combined my poetry with my artwork.
What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?
I think of the new book as a collection of meditations—a book of moments. Prose poems seemed a good choice because they felt like journal entries.
What was the process for creating this work?
I’m a plein air writer and artist and love to take a camp chair and sit outside with my notebooks and sketchbooks. I love to become what I’m looking at, throw my consciousness into a tree or a stream, and feel my way into its life from the inside out. Often I’ll sit in front of a fox or a willow and ask questions: “What’s it like to be you? What’s it like to live your life?” Sometimes I’ll sit for hours, trying to listen, before I make a single mark in my sketchbook or write a single line of poetry.
Ellery Akers is the author of three poetry books, most recently, Swerve: Environmentalism, Feminism, and Resistance. She’s won thirteen national writing awards, including an IPPY Award and the Poetry International Prize. Her poetry has been featured on National Public Radio and in Poetry and The New York Times Magazine. She is also an award-winning visual artist, and her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries nationally, including the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. The artworks in this selection are ink drawings on yupo paper; more are available for viewing at elleryakersartist.com. Akers lives in Marin County, California, and teaches private poetry workshops.