'Cathay Inn'
photo by Samantha Malay, on the way to Colville, Washington, 1990

by Samantha Malay
published April 4, 2019 in Projector Magazine

reprinted in Heirlock Magazine, issue 3 “Home,” July 2020

in the seams of sleep
the curtains were stained where they stuck to the glass
answers were eavesdropped
and icicles dripped from the roof of the porch
while our coats hung on nails and bread baked inside
near a hinge in the floor where we left all our questions
like cups upside down to guard against bugs
and handwritten notes under root cellar jars
between bent hasps and splintered slats
pillowcase creases and windowsill light
I am pulling on threads and begging the ash

'House #7'
photo by Samantha Malay, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1990

by Samantha Malay
published in Quiddity: International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program

in a car the color of an ocean map
on a circular road that led south to north
we stopped at a house near a dead-end street
where we sat on the floor
in sun-bleached clothes

we can’t get our bearings
with our backs to the mountain
and the horizon holds only what we don’t want here

roll up your sleeping bag
tie your shoes in the dark
we’ll cup water in gas stations
between night and day

'Fish Bowl #1'
photo by Samantha Malay, Seattle, Washington, 1991

by Samantha Malay
published in Quiddity: International Literary Journal & Public Radio Program

I drink coffee from a styrofoam cup
lift our bags into the trunk
pull a map from the glovebox.
It’s so early most of the truckers haven’t left yet.

I can see you in the motel office
and I can see the corner of an orange bedspread
on the floor of one room because the door is standing open
letting bright hazy light in.

A housekeeping cart is parked outside
and what was ours will soon belong to someone else.

'Parking Lot #5'
photo by Samantha Malay, Seattle, Washington, 1999

by Samantha Malay
published in Sheila-Na-Gig, volume 3.2, Winter 2018

back out of the driveway
windows rolled down
a map of each room in your mind
we are equal parts empty and full
together and alone
the space between the beads and the string

open the envelope
it holds more than words
seeds unsuited to our season of drought
promises of peaches and plums
from branches grafted to a single trunk

keep your horse from the quarry ridge
eat peas from dried vines
crouch in the shallows with creekwater mint
you are rootless and lucky for now

'Aurora Night #1'
photo by Samantha Malay, Seattle, Washington, 1991

Field Study
by Samantha Malay
published in Sheila-Na-Gig, volume 3.2, Winter 2018

Could you see the shape of here from there
as you rode your bike along the shore
the summer you turned twelve?

feasts of gleaned fruit
a place to sleep between the trees
and water in the ditch

Did you trade mystery for certainty
one night around the dinner table
or some dawn
in the fishtank glow
of a livingroom on Orchard Street?

fold the baby’s blanket
there are thistles in the grass
and upturned nails

Did birds fly near
when you circled home
and stood in the unlit kitchen?

with a lack of ritual
we held your hands
and knew no words to harbor you

'Swap Shop #1'
photo by Samantha Malay, Seattle, Washington, 1999

Tacoma Snapshot
by Samantha Malay
semi-finalist in Alexandria Quarterly’s 2018 End of Summer Poem Contest

It was probably an ordinary day for us
walking through empty parking lots
ringed with horsetail plants and blackberry thorns
to my grandparents’ house
as late afternoon slipped into evening
the lawn sprinkler-wet
and the cement birdbath dark
against the gold rectangle of the kitchen window

but I see whole summers inside those hours
feet dandelion-sticky on warm linoleum
a spoon from each stripe of Neapolitan ice cream
while water fills the bathtub
unread letters on the diningroom table
the hinge of a screen door
alley dust

'Crest Motel #1'
photo by Samantha Malay, Seattle, Washington, 1991

Home School
by Samantha Malay
published in The Sea Letter, Summer 2018
Home School

It was dark when we left the cabin that morning, cool enough against the seat of the truck to make us wish we hadn’t worn cut-offs.

We read old paperbacks in the Colville laundromat and stared at the bottles of orange and grape soda sweating inside the coin machine. Abandoned socks, religious pamphlets and handwritten notes selling firewood and hay and horse feed were thumbtacked to a bulletin board. Sunbleached Ladies Home Journal magazines showed recipes for making two weeks of dinners from one night of cooking, colorful photos of cakes and pies.

Marigolds wilted against the brick walls of the bank, the hot sidewalk white and glittering.

We ate soft-serve ice cream in wafer cones at the back of the dime store, fragrant with coffee, linoleum floor wax and doll parts. Model train scenery made of foam and wood mingled with colored pipe cleaners, embroidery thread, plastic flowers and birdcages.

Counting food stamps under Safeway’s fluorescent lights, we filled our cart with ingredients: powdered milk, flour, sugar, oatmeal, Crisco, margarine, peanut butter, sorghum syrup, canned mackerel, sardines, peas and green beans. Free puppies squirmed in a cardboard box at the edge of the parking lot.

Hours at the city swimming pool left us sunburned, hair soaked with chlorine.

Windows rolled down, we smelled alfalfa fields. The sun set over the fairgrounds, and the lavender sky flattened against darkening mountains. Mailboxes and fence lines were visible only by headlight. Paved road met gravel road, then dirt.

My father’s college biology books explained the mysteries of sweet pea pollination, dominant and recessive traits, mutation. One page featured a two-headed calf.

We picked up free seeds at the Extension Service office. Instructions with line drawings showed how to plant, mulch, water, harvest, and avoid crop theft.

The summer Mom left we drove to Northport for Popsicles.
Separating two, we had four symmetrical pieces.
We kept moving, and moving apart.

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

Tree Line
by Samantha Malay
published in Sky Island Journal, 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

by Samantha Malay
published in Burningword Literary Journal, issue 84, October 2017

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.