Scenes From a Naturalist’s Sketchbook

By Tiffany Midge

My father tells me the stars don’t exist,
having burned out year’s ago. These are what remains,
tricks of the eye.  We are standing beneath
a congress of firs lit by stars—
flickering candles in night’s windows.
After my mother dies he tells me
everything still exists, it’s all still alive.
I think of the intrepid current of a Cascades’
creek that nearly drowned me—
the rapids I was saved from banked by stones
each with a name my father knew: Terrigenous,
breccias, shale.
  In the Gulf of Mexico
kerchiefed women, aunties of Jorges and Jose,
peddled giant sea turtle shells to tourists—
my father shrugging them off: Gracious, gracious, no, no.
I think of remote camps, my father leaving
for hours on expedition, returning with a hat
full of berries he swore he’d outrun a bear for.
Nanooch Tropical Gardens, Thailand: My father
chain-smoking Chinese cigarettes beneath
an umbrella of palms, the esplanade full of howler
monkeys and sun bears, an exhibit of giant butterflies.
Everything still exists, it’s all still alive
We net smelt at a Pacific coast beach,
our fingers stained purple from gutting fish,
our faces stinging with salt spray, canvas Keds
drying on a line; tacky residue of campfire
fish on our hands, the meat part smoke, part sweet.
Whatcom Creek

It’s been four years since I’ve seen my father
and here we are taking in the mayhem
like a couple of tourists who’ll later
buy bright, glossy postcards of the salmon
belly-up and gutted along the pier.
He’s still handsome, my father, still smokes
the filter-less cigarettes, year by year
their tar flowering like badly-timed jokes
in his dark lungs.  I used to pray for him
before prayer was futile as these fish
pitching their fruiting bodies into dim
bleary tombs.  This same time next year I’ll wish
for more time.  I’ll wish for redemption,
but only ghosts will rise, I imagine. 

First published at Drunken Boat No. 15 
Copyright © Tiffany Midge. All rights reserved.
Tiffany Midge’s book “Outlaws, Renegades and Saints, Diary of a Mixed-up Halfbreed” won the Diane Decorah Poetry Award.  She’s most recently been published in North American Review, The Raven Chronicles, Florida Review, South Dakota Review and the online journal No Tell Motel.  An enrolled Standing Rock Sioux and MFA grad from University of Idaho, she lives in Moscow, Idaho (Nez Perce country) and teaches part time with Northwest Indian College.

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