Ruth lives with Carl C. in this one room cabin,
their welded steel stove a thirty inch cube.
Winter snow gets five to eight feet deep.
A few summer days without rain is a drought.
More or less snug and dry, I’m watching
the gray sky becoming blue and sunny,
snow ridged granite peaks across the inlet,
metamorphic boulders on the beach.
Two big boats are rotting in the front yard—
a barge with crumbling timbers and rusted steel,
a fishing boat with cabin peeling paint
missing several boards from the stern.
Most of the mussels and clams are dead and empty.
Here’s a clump of brown kelp, intact,
translucent rubbery stems, floats, holdfast,
rippled leaves like lasagna noodles.
On a remote island in southeast Alaska,
the night rain taps a stove-warmed tent
on a platform, where Ruth and Carl C.
play cribbage while I read old magazines.
The Japanese don’t like introspection,
according to this special issue of Time.
Therapy is a week of self-contemplation
followed by a week of manual labor,
to prove that Why? is a useless question.
But Japan is another world: contrast
the monastery which closed its moss garden
to protect the moss from visitor damage
with the untended and unvisited
miles of mossy woods and muskeg outside.
In this tent, I’m a series of thoughts
assembling myself from a throbbing flux.
What I write in my journal looks real
but is really only a mountain of clouds.
A cloudy day, not raining, but the swells
were too big for Ruth’s little fishing boat.
We saw cormorants, kittiwacks and a murre,
indicating schools of salmon here,
but Ruth’s two fishing lines with many hooks
caught only two salmon, one of which fell off
before she could get it into the boat.
The other, a coho salmon two feet long,
she stabbed with a tool like an icepick axe,
a business as bloody as hunting or biology.
She also hooked a link cod with a belly
turquoise blue instead of creamy white,
which she kept alive in a bucket to show Jerry,
the man in the scow who bought her salmon.
She thought it was an eight dollar fish,
but at twelve pounds it was worth ten dollars.
Jerry said it was the first coho salmon
he’d bought in four days.
flash of black and white
on a bent top of hemlock
a bald eagle lands
rapids tumble down a cliff
waterfall behind hemlocks
mountains quickly sketched
from a rumbling outboard skiff
silver blue water
shimmering green black zigzags
forest shadows reflected
upside down fins wave
after humpback salmon spawn
slow surface dying
circling in deeper water
salmon seeking each other
Phonograph Creek named
when one was thrown overboard
he hated that song
I’m Pelican Alaska’s first tourist.
Ruth’s taking me in her outboard skiff
to see the beauty of Stag Bay.
I’m rapidly scribbling trees and granite
looming above the choppy channel,
making notes about the colors.
We stop at a rocky beach to give me time
to carefully draw a scene
of mountains looming over the bay.
Slow throb of plate-sized jellyfish
orange and cream turned emerald by depth,
long tentacles like veils.
In the shallow at the head of the bay
small flounders scoot away from the boat.
When they stop, they disappear.
Dozens of bald eagles and ravens fly circles.
Ahead of us, hemlocks and pale green moss.
A young seal looks at us.
As we turn back toward Pelican,
mountains echo the motor’s pulse.
waves slap the aluminum bow.
We stop at Miner Island’s spruce woods,
hemlocks hung heavy with reddish cones,
little abalone shells on the shore.
Roar of ocean waves,
tapping rain on campershell,
lights of passing cars.
copyright © 1987, 2005 Carl Miller
Drawing, “Stag Bay”: 2009, gel pen on paper, 6 x 10 inches.