Photo by Jeff Sirkin



The committed leap of the small dog

to the wall, then a polite probe

into my lap. The dog licks me, rubs

its wet nose all over my knee. I allow it,

its owner at my side. Yesterday a road

became a silver fish bearing down on us, fishy,

scaled, ever searching—migrant thinking

coming at me. I have lived in this city

four years and nine months, though it has come

to feel less important to count time.

There is still so much to do.

A skunk waddles to shelter. We expect

goats in the field across from us

in summer. My child holds his tongue

between pursed lips while he tests

his hands. Are they strong enough

to fully snap the closure he holds?

They are not. Yet.


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*** ** ***



Creeping cotilda ground cover

reaches the edge of its pot

and begins to spill over. He doesn’t get

his way and folds a bit downward.

He can be lifted up by two hands

around his chest. On the fallen

oak trunk, he shimmies out

and loops a string around a burl

thinking that with it

he can hold the entire thing

together. I watch an adult friend coax

him down since the trunk’s balancing

on the rounded edge of a smaller stump

and rocking with his weight.

He walks toward me, reaches out

for my extended hand. We are on a hill.

We look out over our city neighborhood.

Can we find our house? This involves

several minutes of discussion.

The wild oat is high and nearly ready to seed.


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*** ** ***



To resist words, all of them, and discover

a turn in the street carved

into the side of a hill, bisected

so northbound runs low

against a high retaining wall of ivy,

while southbound perched above glimpses

the ocean. An afternoon

without metonymy. A walk through

the rambling city park. A blanket

laid just off the path struck out in

a pine grove uphill from

a golf course. Two children.

Each wants a chance

to throw an apple core into

the underbrush. Each wants to lay

down and look at the sky

through the canopy. Two apples.

An airplane bisects the scene.


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*** ** ***



Shallow colors and in one stroke

a bright register—

the evening sun over the valley

of packed-in low houses,

flashes on a window that could be a signal

to me—wake up. I have come to collect

the children. Wake up. There’s a puddle

I cross in canvas shoes. There’s a neighbor

to acknowledge. I can collect

myself. Each step back into life—enter.

The translucent space of direct sun

through the eucalyptus. The squeal

of a child running, looking behind him,

hoping he’s being chased.

It’s hard not to stay.


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*** ** ***



Light hits every leaf vein, neon-yellow petals

shadow each other. It comes every year,

the sourgrass taking over, yellow flowers, ternate

leaves, nothing at all like grass. My kids pick one each,

gnaw the stem, saying it won’t kill them.

But something is coming for us, in the wind

rushing off the Pacific, over the low hills and past.

It will brush bare things we know, polishing them down

to what we ought to. We approached

the problem. Established an erosive governance,

the move to California, the ever-sought

day-to-day of citrus, pine, pelican,

now not a thing I feel I deserve.

I sit, chilled, as the light on our hedge becomes

an entire landscape. Can’t I at least keep that? Didn’t I pull

two poems from the magazine and wasn’t it their take

on abundant lemon trees that won me over? Turns out

we have too many—what we can’t give away, rots.

My kids say, it won’t kill them.

They throw the dusty citrus against the fence,

pale gray marks. They create miniature houses,

fill them with food that won’t kill the miniature

beings inside and check them every week

for growth. My kids jump from the top step

to the concrete sidewalk, screaming, This won’t

either! I’m told that sourgrass is pickle grass

is yellow woodsorrel is oxalis stricta and will be gone

by April. I’m asked to come and sit in the weed,

chew the stem. Join the children eating it.


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Emily Wolahan
lives in San Francisco. She is the author of the poetry collection Hinge (2015). Her poetry has appeared in the Boston Review, the Georgia Review, Oversound, and many other publications. Her prose can be found in Arts & Letters, Among Margins (Ricochet Editions, 2016), and The New Inquiry.


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