Caroline Goodwin is a poet and essayist based in Montara, California. Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, she holds a BA in biology from The Colorado College and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. In 1999 she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend Stanford as a Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry. She is the author of the chapbooks Kodiak Herbal (2008), Gora Verstovia (2010) and Peregrine (2015) and the full-length collections Trapline (JackLeg Press, 2013) and The Paper Tree (Big Yes Press, 2017). Her essays have appeared in South Dakota Review, Junction Box and Catamaran Literary Reader. She teaches at the Stanford Writer’s Studio, California College of the Arts and UC Berkeley Extension; from 2013 – 2015 she served as the first Poet Laureate of San Mateo County, California. “In a Time of Mourning” is from her collection-in-progress entitled Old Snow, White Sun.
In a Time of Mourning
–for Bruce Carl Edenso (May 9, 1956 – June 22, 2017)
Once, in a time of mourning, I was awake all night.
It was an equinox. It was how the common loon made
a thumbprint on the lake. The porcupine a companion.
After drinking, I crawled underneath the covers and got warm.
Your voice the color of crow feathers. Your voice a tough stem.
When the traveler came with a basket, it was green and sawtoothed.
It was filled with petals and quills. And although I floated
for a while untethered, the wind was swift-footed.
It was the one force that held me to the lake. When
the time came, I was still awake. I was awake for you.
And the light grew stronger, a pair of swans. I was awake
for you, for a very thin covering of snow. I was awake and we walked.
Take it up with God, who of course is a mere bell
tinkling in the alleyway. In a pile of skins.
Streetlamp and bluefin, where the traveler opens
his coat. Not bury myself up to the neck.
Not question the trajectory, make an assumption
(when you reach for my shoes
before dawn, I will not resist). An old star is blowing itself
out. Can you hear it? Buzzing through the grate.
I’ll not crush the kernel underfoot, not ask for the reasons
or even your most valuable shirt. I’ll drive.
Fuck sake! Iron, matchstick, creosote, rip-rap, nemesia,
blood feather, birch bark, aggregate fruit.
Crawls up out of the cave in increments.
That which all afternoon formed a pale borealis.
I held out one hand, one sleeve. Take
that. Cat on my lap. Light in the cypress.
Glacier blue, the night in ceramics.
What comfort, your fur and linen,
blown glass. Shards of the tinted eye, bits
of the hand rising. The hand like an aster.
The hand and the hand and the hand
a cut branch. Your cosmos, your embrace
a brushstroke of stars, a kaleidoscope
I could never have imagined.
Wear that cloak of scars. Lay out the incense,
the sage wand, the final horn. After a time,
a catkin makes its way through the cracks.
In the street: a child, a snowdrift extending
itself. A coolness over the throat.
A cool arm. When my breath rises
in white blossoms, the Matanuska River
is the turning glacier, blue and grinding,
is a chamber of silt. Just dip in a finger. That
which splits and binds, that which is woolly,
that which reveals its tusk. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
That which the vision lays at the foot.
I cup my father in my palms. His leather
soles, his skinny arms. And my mother,
whose lungs I plucked from the old willow,
whose forgiveness I long for but will never obtain.
Whose heartbreak is a wintergreen or candystick.
Thereafter, my brothers in their finery
cured and crusted with salt. And the dog
with her gleaming pelt. What a funny little
tribe, don’t you think? When we walk together
now of course there is paintbrush, twayblade,
primrose, heather, vetch. Look closely, my love,
at the map on my forehead, on my neck.
Now done, now dark, now the facts
about flames. In the Napa Valley: Stag’s
Leap Winery, White Rock, Vinroc, Paradise Ridge.
If I’d believed this could happen, I would have
found a way. And, waking early, would have warned you:
star lily, knotweed, standing on the corner, the night
you offered me your heart. Out came the first
emergency vehicles, flashing lights. What
if I said I love you? Water takes the shape of its container.
Affection takes the shape of its water. The fires
have claimed their 43rd victim. And what did I see?
A cake of soap, a half-sour pickle. The side of your face.