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poem /iris jamahl dunkle

Updated: Apr 2, 2023


Out here, everything has a raw use or re-use, the guide says, even the shell of

an abandoned bus becomes shelter if winter’s gone long enough. The mosquitos

that cover us in clouds of witness. What passes through thin barriers carrying pollen

or blood. When the permafrost thaws it lets loose what’s been held tight to the earth, a year,

a decade. Those frozen, luminous eggs. A lake of wonder sworn in under oath.

Buried beneath backdrop of this cocked mountain not to die, to resurrect.

Yarrow or fireweed or dwarf primrose come back from the spongy sleep of the dead.

She said the mountain carries time and space on its back, that’s why we can’t see it as

anything but backdrop. As frozen. As nobody we could recognize in a crowd

of witness. Out here, everything is redefined by effort. A season to bake a blueberry

pie. Kill the bear for fat. Pick the buckets of blueberries. A constellation. Where

did this river take us and the water isn’t clear enough to see what lies beneath?

At the peak, I mouth my secrets to the hung air to risk, to draw blood, or pollinate something

in this perilous wilderness of now.


Iris Jamahl Dunkle is an award-winning literary biographer and poet and former Poet Laureate of Sonoma County, CA. Her latest books include the biography Charmian Kittredge London: Trailblazer, Author, Adventurer (University of Oklahoma Press, 2020) and her poetry collection West : Fire : Archive (The Center for Literary Publishing, 2021). More at

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