“Once you know the back roads, you don’t need to read the paper.” -Pat O’Keefe
The salmon are spawning
but we are not watching
the bald eagles feast.
In a back-road meadow
every eight feet a fence post
six posts in a row, six eagles.
We know how to fall
quiet but when the eagles spread
their wings we think Oh
they are taking off! But no
they stretch wing to wing
and hold, tip to tip six times
over. A tremor runs through
their wings, finds it way
to the insides of our elbows.
Soaked heat from the morning
sun rids the feathers of mites.
Of all the times you’ve wasted
your breath, he whispers,
you realize you can
breathe in later.
Confession Along the Missouri River Shore
two white ducks
orange webbed feet
paddle winter water
the arctic front is in the air i say
you nod you stuff your hands
in your pockets you wish
they were bigger
these pockets of yours
you tell me your hands get stuck
i tell you i’m stuck
on these lines i’m writing:
twenty feet below
water water snow i say
you say ice water sink
i say i wish you would
take me more
ok you say
we can measure
the ebb and the flow,
but we can’t measure six feet
beneath the surface
i nod i chatter
i wonder how the ducks feel
with their feet in such cold water
you say you feel the same way
virginia woolf felt
stuffing rocks inside her pockets.
Six Miles After the Pavement Ends
We scrape pale honey from the bottom of a jar
using a slender spoon that has no match
in the box of flatware. The wood stove crackles.
The tea is slow to sweeten. Licking honey
from our knuckles we listen to the ranchers talk
of how the spoon was traded for a bell
with a clapper fashioned from a leaded weight
found along the water’s edge where Lillygoat
lives among the sheep. When the time comes
she’ll be buried there, within the river’s curve,
wearing the bell a neighbor gave to Harry’s grandson
in a thanking way for allowing his bee boxes
to sit on the side hill overlooking last year’s hay.
Outside, pine trees darken in the dusk and snow
sizzles inside the hot stovepipe. In a little bit
we’ll drive back to town but for now
there’s drowsy talk of riding the fence lines.
–first published in THEMA
Bees, Hauling and Otherwise
She guesses a bee can fly
five thousand miles in one day
and even though everyone
playing trivia at the family table
says she can change
her answer, Mom sticks to it.
Somewhere once she had heard
bees could change continents
in a day and ever after she wondered
how that’d be, except instead of a change
in geography she would choose
a change in circumstances which she tells us while she putters in the kitchen serving pie, leaving each of us, mouths mid-gap, to wonder what our mother/grandmother would have wanted differently until her oldest grandson conjures up the sound of a bee flying at Mach 1, but we can't make a Z sound short enough even after our youngest brother serves up tea with honey. It's freezing outside and our gaming talk moves on to how hives in Montana move south
every winter. Last month a trucker called to tell our second brother to be outside when he drove by his office. He had something to show him. The flatbed was loaded with twenty tons of bees and when the truck stopped a heat wave rose from the painted white hives, the wave of heat altered the clear lines where earth met sky,
where motion collided with stillness, the same stillness overcomes Mom's kitchen, everyone in mid-chew, in mid-wonder with forks stopped midair, our collective breath suspending above the kitchen table like cartoon balloons rising from our mouths. Our brother nods and explains how bees need to beat their wings to keep their queen warm. It's a long way to California.
Sherry O’Keefe, a descendent of Montana pioneers and graduate of MSU-B, is the author of Making Good Use of August (Finishing Line Press). Her most current work appears or is forthcoming in Camas, Switched-on Gutenberg, THEMA, PANK, Avatar Review, Prick of the Spindle, Inkwell, and Pirene’s Fountain. She is poetry editor for the new journal IthacaLit, guest poetry editor at YB Poetry, and assistant poetry editor at Fifth Wednesday and The Centrifugal Eye. Currently working on a full collection, Cracking Geodes Open, she makes her home in Montana and maintains a blog.