Jeff Fearnside

Sabina Poole for the Oregon Arts Commission

Jeff Fearnside’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including The Paris Review, Los Angeles Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Forest Under Story: Creative Inquiry in an Old-Growth Forest (University of Washington Press). Honors for his work include writing residencies at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest and the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, the Peace Corps Writers Poetry Award, and an Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship. He teaches writing and literature at Oregon State University.

Lost at Sea

Is this what it would feel like to be lost at sea,
glass placid, wind gone out of the sails,
fuel tank empty, all electrical shorted, gone,
the fog’s indifference pressing in so closely that even sound
can no longer hear its own breathing?

Where is my church in this winter stagnation?
I have fished for answers and prayed
until both bait and the language for prayer are gone.
I have hauled in nothing but empty nets and lines,
worried over strings of shells worn smooth from my chanting,
my comfort an anchor I know will never touch bottom here.
I survive on condensed air in pearly cups of shells,
mark the days on the mast until my blade falls apart. 

When the mist grew so thick it obscured the deckhouse
and then my cabin, swallowed even the sound of my footsteps,
I learned to navigate by fingertip and naked foot
on dew-drenched decks and corridors.
Even that was lost when the cold became a boom
that snapped loose and brought me lower,
numbing my hopes and calculations. 

My voice vitiated, even the gulls no longer assemble
in the quire loft above the rigging.
All thought follows crashing waves to mirage of land,
and when I arrive in my dreams I am nothing
but the mirage of space around dew, the only voice I hear
the polemical ranting of a captain
not my captain, for I am not myself anymore. 

Rage, however sincere, is useless in such conditions.
There is nothing else to do
but gulp the silence in
and hold it close to heartbeat.

What went wrong? I had good work once,
knew my business well,
enjoyed position and the company of friends,
propelled by a steady trade wind of passion.

The sea with its ancient chimes of waves
and bronzed crust of wind
had always been my home.
Then true north shifted, and
without realizing it, I drifted
further and further off course
and into a storm.

It was the calm after—great unmoving arms
gathering in the cool sinking air,
stoking a high pressure system of unrelenting calm—
that broke in on and trapped me.

Grace, if it exists, is the only thing
that can save me. If it doesn’t exist,
then I will have to find a way
to swim or float before the end
tries to take me, watery, to the bottom.


Sunlight only creates reflections
and stumbles.

Overcast days like this are best,
for the creek bottom is clear,

the dark rocks revealed
to be cocooned in slick algae.

Dropped autumn leaves appear
phosphorescent in the cool light.

In a pool behind a bar
of rocky detritus,

so many water skippers skipping
the water seems electrified.

A crayfish, claws forward,
releases bottom and slides

tail first into the current,
claws flowing behind.

By a high-banked bend, the channel
scoured to bedrock,

the current slow and deep
and silent.

In the straight shallows, plashing
like a fountain.

At a rapid, gurgling
like liquid poured into a jug;

the echo sounds hollow—
a jug that never fills.

Ahead in the creekway, birds
flit across overhanging branches.

Above, their lines invisible
against the matte sky,

like parachutists suspended,
hang dozens of spiders.

Insects freeze seemingly
in midair,

and seemingly in midair
spiders scuttle to feed.

There are multiple stories
to this place:

bedrock, silt and cobble,
flowing water,

flowing air, fallen logs,
living bowers,

and all that lives
and dies in these.