The Great Liars You have to admire the great liars. You learn to paddle a canoe and they tell you how they once sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and made love to a mer-creature on an uncharted island. With them, more is always possible. You took piano lessons as a child, they played the harmonica with Bob Dylan, rode the bus with the Merry Pranksters, rapped with Kanye and L’il Wayne, wrote their best songs. Your great liar served in Viet Nam; they were too young but they lied about their age. Iraq, too, where they built a hospital clinic or a school or both. They could have had a medical degree had they not dropped out of Harvard at the last minute. They won a million dollars on a jackpot and lost it the same night. Call them politicians, story-tellers, or poets, the great liars always have your number. Listening, enthralled over one less beer than they’ve had, you begin to see how all stories leak around the margins, seeping into the world of fact and science and logic. Try taking their words in your mouth, sweet and salty at once, like kissing a mermaid.
I found a Fuller’s Grocery bag spilling an abundance of yarn in the back of my mother’s closet. A baby sweater, she said when I brought it to her, the yarn a pale pinkish brown, like dogwood blossoms not yet open. Mauve, my mother called its color, and I thought of the fairy queen Maeve in my book of tales. One shoulder was finished, most of one sleeve, all of the panels, the bottom border unraveling. She had begun the sweater for me, or maybe my next-younger sister, had meant to finish it for the baby who was now walking and talking, too big for anything so delicate. Put it away, she said, so I set the bag back in the closet where I’d found it, behind a souvenir doll in a water-stained box. Souvenir means to remember, but aged eight, I felt the weight of all that would be forgotten, the ball of yarn nestled in the unfinished sweater like an egg in a nest.
Woodsong You are called to be lost. Like sirens singing to ancient sailors, the oldest cedar sings you from path to path. You wade salal and Oregon grape, collect burrs on your pantlegs, forest duff on your sandals. The great trees call you with the towhee’s song, with the scent of huckleberries, the thrush’s three notes like cellar steps drawing you deeper into the dark. Crouch in the hollow of an old-growth stump, cloak yourself in devil’s shoelace and gossamer, paint your name with a frond of licorice fern. When the doe lifts her head from grazing, know there is nothing beyond what she knows. If you travel this way again, the way itself will be altered, overgrown with nettle and bramble, salmonberry, wild plum. Trust the breeze to part the treetops, trust sun to grace your face like the face of a beloved child. This is why you come to the woods, to be lost, so you can be found.
The Sunday School Teacher At sunset a great blue heron sweeps over the beach and lands near me. Leaning over a driftwood log, the heron looks like my father at his lectern, the blue Sunday suit, bible open in front of him. Dad read aloud from one of Paul’s letters, then shared a story from his own life, going back over the lesson’s moral as if to make sure we understood. Water laps my shoes and I think of St. Paul, blinded on the road to Damascus. The heron has no verses for me, unfolds its wings and lifts, circling once before sailing into the dark.
Winter Sparrow Little puff like dandelion fluff, round bobbin on a bare twig, caught light on white breast, white striped head, beak and wings wrapped tight against wind. Reflected up- side down, crowned by cumulous clouds, solemn chirper, imbiber of seeds, tiny diva, rouged beauty hopping from branch to puddle
without dropping your song.
Bethany Reid’s Sparrow won the 2012 Gell Poetry Prize, selected by Dorianne Laux. Her stories, poetry, and essays have recently appeared in One Art, Poetry East, Quartet, Passengers, Adelaide and Persimmon Tree. Bethany and her husband live in Edmonds, Washington, near their grown daughters. She blogs about writing and life at http://www.bethanyareid.com.