'House #1'
photo by Samantha Malay, Seattle, Washington, 1999

Tree Line
by Samantha Malay
published in Sky Island Journal, Issue 3, Winter 2018
https://www.skyislandjournal.com/issues#/issue-3-winter-2018/

 
We swam in the river behind the field,
towels flattened on summer-warm sand.
The water was the color of oysters,
and there was a ribbon of light at the base of the mountain
as blue dusk crept along the tree line.
She pulled cigarettes from her purse, wet hair against dry T-shirt.
I thought her words held secrets.

Guessing our way in the dark, a porch light flickered on.
It was the night before the first day of school.

She shaved her legs in the bathtub while I sat on the floor,
listening to her boyfriend plans.
She dried her hair with a round brush, applied frosty pink eye shadow.
I had moved from a bigger town but she was deliberate where I was unsure.

My brother and sister and I lived across the road that led the logging trucks
and school buses into Deming, under the power lines.
One parent was gone and the other disappeared in the dim corners of our rented house.
We washed our clothes in a utility sink and hung them to dry in the barn,
frozen shards when winter approached.
A gallon of milk spoiled in the refrigerator,
and the icy air smelled like cardboard and coffee
and an accumulation of common sorrows.

photo by Samantha Malay, Seattle, Washington, 1991

Refrain
by Samantha Malay
published in Burningword Literary Journal, issue 84, October 2017
https://burningword.com/tag/84/

 
In smoke-scented, threadbare coats
they’d walked through frozen fields and empty streets
toward whispers of work and pickles, fresh bread and fish,
an address in a port city, yellow flowers at the base of a mountain.

See the curve of her cheek as she turns from the pier,
seagulls loud in the charcoal sky.

They’d dreamt of fruit trees and a food grinder for the new baby.

Between tanks of tropical fish, he eats a sandwich at his workbench
in the hazy pungent air.

Short sleeves show Navy tattoos, the arms of a tinkerer, an appliance repairman.
Branches heavy with plums obscure the potholed alley.

Doorbell. Cars on Orchard Street. A neighbor’s sprinkler.

Turn the radio on.

Were they led by bravery or hunger?

The men who knew him then turn to each other now.

Signal and refrain.

'House #6'
photo by Samantha Malay, Seattle, Washington, 1991

Lament, 1971
by Samantha Malay
published in Burningword Literary Journal, issue 84, October 2017
https://burningword.com/tag/84/

 
Put your feet in the creek,
sit next to me in the shade.

Do our voices idle between the books and clothes and dishes we left behind?

Unlock the secrets of the language we used to speak.
Hold on, even as meaning unravels.

Laundry swings on a clothesline, blocks out the sun. There is a storm coming.

Keep still.

We make a circle, five of us, like fingers on a hand.

Bees swarm where the faucet drips.

Pull away, baby boy, from the gestures we inherit.

'Parking Lot #4'
photo by Samantha Malay, Seattle, Washington, 1991

Sift
by Samantha Malay
published in Burningword Literary Journal, issue 84, October 2017
https://burningword.com/tag/84/

 
In summer we walked through the woods,
picking wild strawberries and naming the trails as our own.

The remains of a homestead lay half-buried, roof joists rotting around rusty cans,
books frail and dusty as moth wings. Grass seeds clung to our clothes.

Can you stop time so we can stay together?

In town, he drove with his arm across the front seat
to keep us from hitting the dashboard at intersections.

Leave your coat on when we get there.

He knew these people before he was married. Sad to see us, they asked us to stay.

But by then we’d seen dead animals and fires at the edge of the garbage dump,
smoke lingering in the orange peels and eggshells, cigarette butts and toys.
We’d heard arguments through the floorboards, moved into houses with dirty sinks
and medicine abandoned behind the bathroom mirror.
We’d departed together, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the school year,
to sleep in campgrounds and fields.
We’d listened to the snow muffle our voices as it lit the night sky,
tree boughs soft and heavy and quiet.

We felt the inward pull of family,
like underwater branches against our legs in the lake.

Will you leave us some clues before you go?
We need to know fool’s gold from the real thing,
the names of the people who broke your nose,
and should you kiss the girl on your right when you see a car with one light?

'Windshield #1'
photo by Samantha Malay, on the way to Colville, Washington, 1990

Albany
by Samantha Malay
published in Burningword Literary Journal, issue 84, October 2017
https://burningword.com/tag/84/

 
for a while he worked at a school up the road
and told us not to talk to the boys who lived there
but trouble started inside our house

the hole in the rug
the beet-stained cloth
the dark-winged insect in the unslept night

haste hid his plan
and a dearth of kin
like the letters in the glovebox
from friends who fed our animals
and doubted our return

the unclasped necklace
the bruise on the knuckle
the heat of the day trapped in the car

see the bend in the river
where he longed for the coast
and numbered the things he could part with

stand on the porch
of the house near the train tracks
where we curled on the floor
in one room together
and outgrew our clothes
by the end of winter

'Rear View #1'
photo by Samantha Malay, on the way to Colville, Washington, 1990

Rimrock Ranch
by Samantha Malay
published in Sheila-Na-Gig, volume 1.4, Summer 2017
Volume 1.4, Summer 2017 — The Poets

 
My sister and I squint at the sun
hair clasped to our foreheads with metal barrettes
skirts pieced from old jeans for the first day of school.

We saw clothes in the underbrush flattened by rain
a car door open in the middle of the street
an earring lost down the drain in the sink.

The apartment flooded from kitchen to bathroom
so we laid a boardwalk of two-by-four lumber
but talk of a cake and our lack of ingredients
left us unsettled the rest of the day.

With our backs to the baseboards
we can listen for crickets
and keep our doubts hidden
where they feel like dissent.

Picture our mailbox covered in snow
and boots near the stove to dry overnight.

The flaw in our plans
was faith in our bond
and the trouble behind us
troubles us now.

'Acme Equip. Co. #1'
photo by Samantha Malay, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1990

Homestead
by Samantha Malay
published in Sheila-Na-Gig, volume 1.4, Summer 2017
Volume 1.4, Summer 2017 — The Poets

 
pull the pit from the plum
wash your hair in the sink
open the window
to the mid-August heat
where shadows unspool
between distant trains
and voices in the alley
we will step around
the toys on the sidewalk
and hitchhike in spring
to the edge of the woods

a plane crossed the sky
as we stood in the field
and shook pebbles from our shoes
on our way to the creek

we arrived at the homestead
with untrained hands
and faith in our ability
to find comfort in solitude

daughter, daughter, son
do you see the days we had ahead of us
when the mailbox was empty
and there was nothing left to hock?

did we push our luck
shrug our bond
carry our sorrows to the next town?