Jeff Ewing is a writer from Northern California. His essays, poems, and stories have appeared in Utne Reader, the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, ZYZZYVA, Crazyhorse, Arroyo Literary Review, and Southwest Review, among others. He lives in Sacramento with his wife and daughter.
On Picnic Day, horsey girls stand among
bunting and balloons outside the vet school,
dust softening the high lines of their cheeks.
When I was a kid, there was a cow tethered
inside with a sheet of smudged plexiglass
fastened over a two-foot hole in her side;
as she obliviously munched, we watched
the hay work its way through her stomachs,
cascading in green rills from one to the next.
The clockworks exposed, was the apparent idea:
See how simple the machinery? How transparent
and understandable our primitive mechanics?
Before you moved to Stinson, then Bolinas,
and finally a shaded grave in Olema, you carved
your initials on the underside of a lab bench.
Others have taken your place since—
their hair smelling of alfalfa and Blu-Kote,
their bitten nails mooned with paddock dirt,
their eyes rimmed red from crying—
but when the tour moves on, I find your M and T
still gouged inexpertly into the knee-rubbed wood.
You were in a hurry; people were watching,
smiling at the comical way your tongue
bobbed in concentration between your teeth,
filing this image away to recall in comfort
years later when you’re safely settled somewhere
and all this madness is behind you.
I tape a piece of cotton soaked
in vinegar to my chin, another to my neck
where my shirt collar rubs.
Around the time the first crows
begin to return to the pines across the street,
the little knots dry and fall away.
Black feathers accumulate slowly
in the dust and dead needles under the trees.
At sunset the crows caw and caw
and settle reluctantly onto the branches.
Impatient for something, they note the hawks’
grace and compose in their shrill voices
a song in which they are the envied.
At a certain hour of the night, it begins to sound
like laughter. More skin tags bloom
where a mantle of fur once draped me.
Nature, I console myself in hard-won aloofness,
has made her fair share of mistakes.
Low Tide, Pigeon Point
I lower one foot
then the other,
the calloused rock
as the cliffs behind
must have once.
Past eel ladders,
hurrying off ahead,
the sun cupped
in each passed pool
thrusting out a
I can see the
bend of the earth,
sky peeling from
the sea’s shoulder
in rime and mist.
Why did we ever
leave? you ask.
For this: to look
back from feet
to cheer and mourn
the half-spent day,
the going out
and always away.