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Coming Back


Whenever she comes home,
it's always easy to guess where she's been.

If she comes back racing, her hair
and trousers wet with salty dew, petals
and pollen from purple monkshood and angelweed
clinging to her bare feet, she's been chasing
the caribou, following their mossy antlers
through the tundra foliage along the cliffs
by the sea.

If she comes slowly home at midnight trailing
narrow scarves of pale silk, her hair
pulled back from her white powdered face,
her silver eyelids closed, she has been
beside the ice-covered lake in the clearing
learning to see the snowy winter moon
exactly as frozen water sees it.

And if she returns by running uphill backwards,
her shadow preceding her, then she has accompanied
the humpbacked salmon down to the sea
and back again, thrashing through fierce forward currents,
ruffling stones, following the two directions
death faces, all the way down and back again.

But if she comes home like dawn comes
to the forest being gradually filled
by the quickened moth, the twitch of the glancing
lizard and the oak-branched sun of its own presence,
if she returns like light returns to the flame
of a single candle burning in a darkening dusk,
if she comes, moving the way a slender
spring laurel moves as it travels from its damp
roots into the pure white spaces of its heart,
then everyone knows for certain
who it is she's been to visit,
what she heard while she was there.


Pattiann Rogers

Quickening Fields
Penguin


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