Before Fort Clatsop

There are shadows a flag casts, and places
that shadow does not reach. This stretch of beach
kept sacred by winds and winter

and the hands that reach down to it,
discovers the waves by their crashing, the ice
by its cracking, the human voice by its wail

and song. This is a land of edges,
worn away stone. Here, we long
for that other shore that pulls like thread

through broken skin and sore muscle.
If we follow the river it takes us back
to a world of salmon and root.

If we stay we will be beaten by weather,
but there will be salt. What is it that leads us
always to the mouth?

It is so quiet I hear shells shake beneath my feet.
I wake from sleep and there is fur growing over my bones.
Lay your head on my shoulder.

Tomorrow we will all decide. For now,
we restless paw at each other, imagine dust
and sunlight and a land that echoes us back.

Michelle Bonczek is a poet and photographer based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She teaches at Western Michigan University.