Blue I (1916)
by Clair Dunlap
after Georgia O’Keeffe
the midwest begins to smell like tidal flats. i look in the snow and find the sea stars—all of the indigo ones we lost from the ocean. fell themselves comet-like down into winter. water too warm so they found the cold. a wild act of self-preservation. that’s what the headlines might read if anyone still believed in magic. problem is, the spring puddles will all be dry soon, the stars just simply haven’t learned this yet. each afternoon i go out and peel them from the shelves of trash they cling to, from the unwavering greyed ice. i set the tanks up to run special like a small ocean. some sit out in pyrex bowls like tide pools, the glass the color of an anemone. makes the stars feel at home. i next-day deliver bull kelp, ochre as a bruise, to blanket them in. i smear fluorescent uni along the rims of the bowls and watch them thrust their stomachs against the glass to eat. they must miss the challenge of opening the shells, but this is the only way i can love them: pricking my fingers on an urchin’s purple.
still, they begin to fade in color and lumens, their tens of legs softening.
i could promise them a taste of real salt breeze, the same thing i promise myself, but me and the stars all know the limitations. i carry the bowls into the street and we all rest in the comfortable air, april’s sun shining. each of us melting.
On Cougar Mountain
by Clair Dunlap
in the better life, we are so lucky
as to be the ferns growing amid the moss along the tree trunks.
we have never heard the clanging of a snow plow’s blade
across ice & concrete. we have never known a view touched
by gasoline and guns. we are intimately familiar
when we shut our eyes there is only the color of the mountain at a distance—
a purpleblue not otherwise named
outside the instant of its presence under the eyelid’s soft memory.
here the salmon are fat and good
and fished right.
here the orcas come home predictably, the babies growing
from placental red to white in time.
none of their mothers have ever carried their bodies postpartum
for weeks on end.
an unthinkable tragedy is simply unthinkable.
here the ocean doesn’t know oil.
from the tree trunk, we all watch the downy woodpecker or the barred owl
(taller than we might have imagined it). we hear the hum of bees
and wind and water farther off. no one invented the word highway.
if we are lucky enough to be born on the far side of the trunk
maybe we see the coastline. at the very least—
by which i mean, in the better version—
i feel its salted mist along my body.
and this is all i know,
and it is so, so good.
Clair Dunlap grew up just outside Seattle, Washington, and is the author of In the Plum Dark Belly (2016). Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Oakland Review, The Hopper, The Swamp Literary Journal, Hobart, Glass, and more. She currently lives in the Midwest.