Sarah Marcus is the author of BACKCOUNTRY (Finishing Line Press, 2013) and Every Bird, To You (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2013). Her other work can be found at NPR’s Prosody: Pittsburgh Radio for Contemporary Literature, The Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, CALYX Journal, Spork, Luna Luna, and Marie Claire, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press and a spirited Count Coordinator for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, Ohio.
We Begin and End
I sleep with fur-cloaked
wild dwellers, dark things.
At the fire, I tell stories:
the mysterious need for saltwater
driving the smolt towards ocean.
Stories of bears becoming human.
Bears, the first animals
The sockeye salmon swim
into the killing zone.
They struggle upstream.
The river erupts with the annual run.
Dressed in old woods clothes,
I wade into the water
looking for the salmon’s white spots.
Each finds its own natal river
to die in. Their nutrients washed
At the end of September, sockeye
corpses litter banks and shallows.
Their bones know some secret, bears
hardly touch the remaining bodies—
The Most Lonely Place
An early morning mist rises
in grizzly country. Smelling of last
night’s rain, skin weathered and cracked,
you hold my face in both hands.
There’s nothing but the sound of wind
coming through the rushes.
In my dreams you have claws,
and when the dead deer speak,
it sounds like this is the place where
you mattered to somebody once.
The marshes pool around you.
The moon fades, and the sky turns
a deep red. I try to touch you,
but I’ve grown hooves.
I awake to the morning moose swimming
near our camp. You find velvet shed
from their antlers—not yet hardened,
but no longer alive—Most of the late
autumn trees are rubbed raw. Bark, twigs,
and willow bushes chewed down.
I watch a blue heron hunt ducklings.
I know why birds eat other birds.
Deep crevasses reveal stresses in the ice.
I want to hike to the streams that don’t freeze,
where the bald eagles gather to mate.
They stay together until one of them
dies. I think about using their bones as tools
to carve letters home: Dear mother, I have seen
all things die. I remember you were saying
something about bears.
How they need to double their weight for hibernation,
but wolves steal their elk carcasses—
the bears go hungry.
We stand in front of one of the world’s
greatest wonders and say nothing.
A one hundred mile long ice field, a ton
of solid ice fed out to the sea, is dirtied
and blackened with age. But the leading edge
will crack open at the shore and there will be
the crystal blue. You told me
it’s because the red and yellow light
is absorbed more easily as it travels
through the glacial depths, but we are
in the most remote backcountry on the planet,
so instead, we keep hiking, waiting
for the danger to move us,
to make us want to move.