Neil Aitken

Considering Photography
Astoria, Oregon

Outside Astoria in a borrowed car, I drive the long road
up the coast, past blackened timbers rising
from old wharves consumed by the sea. A mystery of wood.
A canticle of wind sung at the post by the crows.

Even if I try, the brochures bent double tell me nothing
of the grave-heavy shore, speak only of the great
rusted frames of ships with Norwegian names. Holes
in their side where the wind sounds, and a man can walk out
to the sea perfectly framed. The shutter closes.

The Finns who built this place now sink back into their beds,
drown their rats in beer, their sorrow in the storms their fathers
knew by name, but now sleep instead, buried with the fish
they hauled onto the blood-ready decks. Or at least the memory,
now that the fish are gone. And now, memory is its own ghost.

Absent the gulls, only a white crust of salt, a smooth piece
of rose-colored glass reflecting sun, the image of man
is more like an eye turned to a small hole in the sky,
the corner of a billboard peeling free, or a lighthouse
raised on the edge of the known world.

Lewis and Clark saw none of this when they waded in,
moccasins wet and worn from too many miles. They fell down
sick and weak, turned down the fire, watched the stars drown
one by one in the open sea.

When I pull into the next town,
even the buildings have turned gray
like a sea-blown glass.

To the Street Musician

What rattles at the bottom of the voice
raised against the cold is not a question of grace,
nor an echo of storms burning in a street lampís glare.

Some nights, all you have are fingers and old wood
blending steel and voice
down an electric line to the heart

How you hold this six-stringed mystery close to your chest,
unlock hands from neck, let the hollow frame fill,
an old vessel of words burning slowly down.

All night you travel in the ears
of women in empty cars passing
in the dark, wondering to themselves:

How far is it to home? How far to the narrow bed,
the open window, the quartered moon sinking
like a hand across the fretted sky?

Seeking Shelter at -50º

Trying to thaw,
we sat by the dim warmth
of the wood burning stove.
Brittle as our clothes, frozen.
Our few words -- a visible fog.

Outside the thin wooden walls,
the wind-driven branches tapped
like blind men or perhaps
a prisoner in solitary
testing the depth of his world.

Down the north gravel road,
an abandoned farmhouse
full of imagined lights, whispers,
the shuffling of raccoons,
old papers.

In the gullies, ghost cars
still shining like new
rested where they were thrown
miles from anywhere.

And far above, stars
the color of snow-each
a lone boat drifting in the dark sea.


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