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Winter at Nisqually

Karen Konrad

        The rusty gate hangs bolted upon the frozen ground.  On either side blackberry and vine maple finger themselves into the swollen edges of the path.

A small rectangular shape glistens against the rusty bars, which hold it.

          Black letters, painted on its surface, signal a bleak forewarning.

          The yearly ritual has begun.

What a curious line of demarcation this is,
              How precisely the perimeters of existence are defined.

Once again, I am no longer welcome here
        In this place,
        This sanctuary.

Once again, my eyes move across the dark hills searching for an answer

        As if a great truth would appear, drifting down, soft like feathers,
              A reason to turn and walk away.

I have memorized every breath and curve of this landscape,

        The edges of the forest touching still water,

        The sweet scent rising from brackish pools,

        The sculptures of sand and mud, rock and bone.

         Red-Winged Blackbird,
               Canada Goose,

Have all found their way here,
  Travelers like me, finding refuge in this abundance,
        This holy marriage of river and sea.

Now thunder shoots out in short, quick pops,
        Piercing an unstable silence.

        How easily sanctuary becomes a hunting ground,

Yet, each year, the winged ones faithfully return,
        Ready and trusting . . .

        I have never seen the face of war or felt its insatiable hunger.

But I bleed with those who've vanished, whose voices go unheard.

        Who continue to etch out their lives
        Even though the ground is shaking beneath them.

Returning to life, from life, day after day,

Like the Canada geese nestling in winter's heavy grass,

        They return.

The coldness of the metal feels warm in my hands now.

The gate moves back and forth as I inch between the locked post
        And the path ahead.

Mist is beginning to fall, sweet and tender,
        Like a veil of lace draping the horizon,

I walk toward an old oak where hawk is resting,
        Preening her gray-black feathers.

The slope of her neck eases into the shadows of the tree.

I follow the shapes of body and branch until there is nothing left but sky,

                        Then slowly turn for home.

                                    --Karen Konrad

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Last updated: January 15, 2005