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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

David Axelrod

A Message Passed Between Twilights

It’s years since we carried home a river cobble

from the mountain pass horse thieves

drove herds through to graze

at the headwaters of the Minam—

a cloudy violet quartz


polished by a river the cobble is

the sole evidence of, the time before

people fell into this world,

and that mountain ridge

lay at the western shore of a continent.


Climbing there again today,

we followed a set of wolf tracks

in the snow above Squaw Creek,

brooded on broken forests and what

if anything, those trees remembered of her—


whose name, what tribe, which languages,

how many Julys gathered in her,

and how long ago?—before violence

befell her and maps slurred

another woman and the place she lived.


The air so still in their battered stubs

we could guess which few

ponderosas and firs alive now

were young then, the creek resounding

in their creviced bark—the lyric


water sings even now in the cold,

splashing over every cobble in its bed

the same for us as for her. The mountain

gleamed, the sun warmed our backs

and we shared our meal in the meadow.


After so many years, that cobble

seemed to glow in its room

tonight among the orchids, a message

passed along tangled networks

branching to their thinnest mesh.

Kith & Kin



It’s the day my father dies

each year

for the past fifty-nine and today

for once, I hadn’t thought about it—


a breeze stirred the mountainside first,

then came the strong scent of cous,

whose flower they say

smells like parsley


though it’s gamier than that

and musky, a signal

that means the salmon are returning

and it’s time to roast spring’s first foods.


The pregnant doe glanced at us

and for once didn’t flee,

but bowed her face

and went on browsing boxwood.


The younger antelope in the herd

along Booth Lane

at the middle of the valley

slowed to let the oldest lead,


stiff and thicker-bodied

than the lithe yearlings at his heels,

but still fast enough at a gallop to distance me.

A crowd gathered


at the crossroads in Cove.

A mother and her daughter

lay side by side on display in the bed

of a black Ford pick-up—


two mountain lions

and the man who shot them,

re-telling the hero’s tale

we know so well—


only then I recalled what day it is.





Whenever they see us now

risen from the heat of our bed,

not as Ishtar and Tammuz

but as ourselves—old and naked


and not just a little crazy with pain—

the boxelders start to dance outside of Owl House

and we look at them looking back at us,

wondering, what are the words for this,


what do tender engines of photosynthesis see?

The mountain lions answered

coughing up their lungs, mouths

and throats smeared with blood,


crusted with slime. Somebody is always

threatening to leave,

but doesn’t,

as if to give any of it away now,


we’d have to give it all.


David Axelrod’s second collection of nonfiction, The Eclipse I Call Father: Essays on Absence was published by Oregon State University Press in the spring of 2019. His eighth collection of poems, The Open Hand, appeared recently from Lost Horse Press. Axelrod wrote the introduction, “My Interests Are People,” for About People: Photographs by Gert Berliner, which appeared in the summer of 2018 from Arts End Books. Axelrod directs the low residency MFA and Wilderness, Ecology, and Community program at Eastern Oregon University. In addition, he edits basalt: a journal of fine & literary arts, and serves on the editorial board of Lynx House Press.

Other works by David Axelrod »

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