are on fire and my neighbors climb Multnomah Falls
like monkey bars, trying to drink the rushing water
with their fingers. They say that I should be there,
too, but I'm too busy braiding sea grass south
of every coastal river. I'm busy breaking match sticks
and sleeping at the bottom of sand dunes. I'm here,
with no memory of frost. I forgot my own name,
traded it for girl. What if I said I was to tuck
every man I've ever loved behind my ears, rub them
into my skin like baby oil. Sometimes I wish I were small
enough to walk the circumference of a lightbulb,
but instead I'm drawing circles on every map of Michigan.
Instead, I'm knee-deep in ivy, clawing for whiskey
in the vines. I've learned the ocean's stink of brine
and I'd trade it in a moment for a handful of ore pellets.
What if I said I forgot September, what if I never gave a shit
about his hands. I used to count black cars outside
my window. But now, I'm a different kind of numb.
while we're driving through a tunnel in Oregon and I forget
how to say frost. How to tell the difference between a mountain
and a mound of plowed snow. I stick my hand out the window
to brush the bluff in the dark and I try not to tell you
how much I like hearing you sing Bob Seger from the driver's seat.
Instead, I tell you how I once tried to touch the bottom of Lake Superior,
how I scrubbed ore dust from my sneakers with a toothbrush.
About maple leaves in autumn and moose wading in the marsh.
How I'm still pulling thistles from my cardigan sleeves even now.
How the ocean tides and sopping piles of kelp scare me.
We're walking loops through evergreens, crawling in their rotted, hollowed
trunks, and I can't help but want to bury myself in you. By November,
you'll be gone and I'll be here, weaving monkeyflowers
through your bike tires. What if I was the one who had the questions
like how many poppies could I fit in my coffee mug and who named
Wizard Island. What was it like when maps were drawn with just the stars.
What if I climbed to the top of redwood trees to tell you
about the Northern Lights in Michigan. What if I asked you to stay.
There's a rumor that the mine will close and I don't know
how to say that I suddenly see myself at twenty-eight,
my hair damp and lank on my shoulders, the hot breath
of a baby on my neck. I count my regrets, the second year
of marriage more difficult than the first. Miners spend most
of their time in the dark and I am swimming in milk, waiting
for pinpricks of light through my kitchen curtains. For the sun
to rise on my red sneakers hanging from the telephone wire.
To see him covered in ore dust, sipping coffee at my secondhand
table. But for now, my house is empty of colic and bassinettes.
For now, I'll rinse my hair with cider vinegar, let the skim curdle
in the fridge. Grind the stone of any ring beneath my heel.
Alaina Pepin teaches middle and high school English language arts in Gold Beach, Oregon. Alaina's writing appears in or is forthcoming from Up the Staircase Quarterly, the minnesota review, Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere. She raises her cup of coffee to you.