The Fourth River

Poem: “The Canyon,” by Candace Black

By on December 7, 2011

Beyond the strip of backyard
grass, further than the rim

of ice plant’s succulent green spears, past
the firebreak bulldozers shaved

each spring across tufts of scrubby
chaparral and mustard, exposing once

a mole nest—pink, hairless pups mewling
for a mother long gone—the canyon

stretched to the Pacific, that blue band at the edge
of her childhood.  She blazed trails past the creek bed

where a sister mined a vein of clay, shaping
finger pots later sun-fired on the back porch.

Adventure took her to the old war, sometimes further,
before statehood, but seldom out of earshot.

Downstream, as the canyon deepened, she climbed
past cactus, missing it and circling back,

to the flank of white quartz
bared on the hillside.  She called it

The Horse Bone, visited it as pilgrim,
stroking its cool mineral side, thanking it for imagined

fidelity as true as any fact.  From there,
on a clear day, she saw the Channel Islands.

Sometimes gray frigates blocked
the horizon, LSTs chugging soldiers to shore for war

games.  Just as often coastal fog
crept in with the tide, making her glad

for the handbell her mother rang for supper, or her father’s
whistle that drilled through the mist.  She ran home

by feel, sneakered feet surprised to find
the firebreak’s red dirt suddenly there,

solid and safe, a parent waiting to inspect
that day’s treasure spilled

from pockets:  smooth pebbles, a feather,
shells bleached with age.

 

 

Candace Black’s poems and essays have appeared in Chariton Review, Harpur Palette, Iron Horse Literary Review, Milkweed Chronicle, Quarterly West, and The Seattle Review, among others.  Her debut book of poems  The Volunteer (New Rivers Press) won the Minnesota Voice Poetry Prize.  Black is the recipient of a Loft Literary Center Creative Nonfiction Residency, a SASE/Jerome Foundation Fellowship, McKnight Individual Fellowship and a Loft-McKnight Award in Poetry.