portion of the artwork for Lauren Henley's poetry
The Finding: Eight Poems
Lauren Henley

No. 1

I was so serious back then,
looking for a new town.
It’s a heavy business—
all the maps and the looking,
all the sentences starting with I want,
wants like train cars, hooked up back to back,
no pauses, no betweens.
There were few choices and yet that atlas—
a million icons, charms, broken
and looping lines, lakes the size of wedding rings,
and one star, one sheriff badge
offering travel in four directions.
In the old town,
it was a struggle to feel the night
(we had to talk ourselves into it,
had to get the kettle going, talk and talk
of night, hanging up thick blankets)
with all the safety of light in empty
parking lots, the trust of markets
with open doors forever,
stores that do not sleep
even if they admit no persons,
like an eye
rolled back to the white,
nothing is seen but it hums its hum,
it stops you just the same.

No. 2

Near the trailhead
men are sleeping on their backs
right on the dirt or grass
and there are skinny dogs
with wires or hemp around their necks
as if they are bait, live
and shivering bait to be cast into
the darkening mass of sequoias.
Two men stand like gatekeepers.
One asks if we want E or acid.
The other has more to say.
Did we know his friend Ricky?
He was a good guy, had a girlfriend,
and did we know he’d surprised everyone
when he chloroformed a lady who was
out here jogging? And still we try
to smile, as if respecting a difference in custom.
On the trail there are many blackened
and hollow trunks.
I tell you that someday we should try to learn
at least something about lightening.
There are Coleman sleeping bags, blue
or red or neon green,
bundled up and stashed in hollow logs
or unzipped and splayed like lost
pairs of pants.
In the ferns, empty cans
of organic chili,
juice boxes, banana slugs
slugging towards wrappers and sandwich halves.
I think I hear a baby cry.
And somewhere, a flute.
The sounds could come from anywhere.
Forgive me for my loose-footing
and my paranoia.
Forgive me but I need you to be sure—
I need you to be sure
for us both.

No. 3

Do I think too often of our first day here,
the café on H and 16th,
how we ate there twice, not knowing
where else to go but the café
and the forest,
the thick and dark forest,
the forest thick and dark
like the patches of hair god would have
in god’s hidden places, places that
can’t help but create people and goats
and lions and also the things that are wet like slugs
and all the things that are not?
Even when I do what I did in the old town,
wash dishes, slice sweet onions,
wipe the blade with pinched fingers,
still I hear hooves and wind.
Behind us, a horse with feathers in its mane,
an empty saddle.
Then the dirt blows in our eyes.
Up ahead, a goat following a man with tumbleweed hair,
a woman with a young cat balancing on her shoulder
and not like a bird at all,
not like an angel,
not like anything
except what
it is.

No. 5

Is it wrong to imagine her—
that baby in the bundled sleeping bag,
the bottle of curdled milk pressed to her chest,
how long she must have been there,
whether she cried the entire time
or if she knew somehow to reserve,
to tuck in tighter, curl her fists and wait—
whenever I hear
a poorly played violin?
My friends, they don’t want to talk about it anymore.
They think I should let it go
and they look at me when I toss ten dollars
into the open case of a violin.
We share a paper bag of corn popped in coconut oil.
We’ve just come from the theater. And
this is the last I will say of it:
when Arcata was found
she was nameless,
she was a baby in a hollow log.
What I’m saying is maybe we should forgive her,
maybe we should say and say her name,
slap her face lovingly,
wash her skin,
give her a hand mirror lined with pearls,
say again her name, stretch out the vowels,
listen to her play an entire song this time
before we walk away.

No. 6

Do you think the patterns of our shoe tread still
exist on the paved roads,
the clean sidewalks,
the patted down earth,
in the neighborhoods of the old town?
I would say a want, and then you would say a want,
passing the high school and tennis courts,
school letting out, the mission bells
ringing three,
the teenagers driving dangerously away.
And then back to the apartment
which was our first
and small as a pill case,
a salt shaker, an origami flower
pressed between books,
books against books
on an industrial shelf inside a warehouse
that�s always lit,
where the workers never sleep.
I fear that the sidewalks have forgotten,
and the pavement, the patted down earth.
I think others have come since then,
a couple, a newly formed pair,
and they are walking,
they are pulling up the steps that
we have planted,
and for them it is a new town.

No. 7

What existed before this town?
A field of lightning bugs.
And before that?
A winter of sleeping larvae,
a frozen brigade of worm-shaped
lamps�and before that
the basic metals:
iron, copper, nickel.
Before that, there was only potential,
a tug on the sleeve of darkness,
some encouragement from the sun
who whispered down,
become, become, become.

Before Arcata,
we almost chose a different town seven miles south.
Because we didn’t know anything
about how to choose a town.
Because there was a little yellow house
that would allow a dog, which we did not have yet,
but wanted, and
because we were young
and loved the word allow
we bayed the word like a two-headed wolf,
until, as with medicine,
it was enough.

No. 8

About the creation of Arcata,
the scientists are confused.
I feel sorry for their sagging tents
and burned out fires,
for their chapped faces, bluish lips
and coolers empty
except for the fallen rain.
They are angry.
They came here for answers
that could be found with various glassware—
Bunsen burners, calipers—
with tools whose names� end with meter
or scope,
and start with seismo, specto, or magneto,
names like superheroes,
names that should mean something, hold weight,
and not be pushed around.
On the tenth day,
they come to the plaza for beers.
They think maybe now they should talk to the people,
try from a sociological approach,
meddle in the soft-sciences for a bit.
They take turns talking to the people in the bars
who are drunk at five in the evening.
How did Arcata get here?
What was here before?
The story is different every time—
Arcatans prove to be an unreliable source.
On the twentieth day,
some of the weaker scientists begin to break down,
they cry and the rain does not mask their tears,
their red eyes, and runny noses.
Some sneak off to bury their glassware in the mud.
Some swear they hear a baby crying in the forest
and go off looking, calling out the word baby
for the first time in their lives.
And others will put their ears to the ground
and hear a language they�ve never heard
and cannot claim
to have invented.

No. 9

There was the night I’d dreamt
that the people of Arcata
had gone away
and no one had told us,
no one had told us we would be alone,
that I would wake up and make the coffee,
and you would feed the dog her rice and broth,
and we would walk out of the house
to see no one,
keep walking
and no one,
past empty cars and tandem bicycles,
no one standing in their lawns,
no one flicking a cigarette,
no one waving hello,
no one waving at all.
The plaza with all of its shops and bars
were closed and dark.
Even the people who’d sat like wooden chainsaw carvings
at the storefronts,
even those that couldn’t walk.
We went home and tried to live as usual.
You brought in wood from the backyard for a fire,
I cut vegetables with shaking hands, soaked the beans
and tried to make the dough rise.
I wanted to hear something ring—
the telephone, the doorbell, the little school down the street.
I wanted a car horn, a scream, a fire truck.
A signal of smoke. A suicide note.
Something, anything,
so that I could move on. That was the dream,
followed by a waking life of rain that did not stop,
not for days, weeks, and the drops—
they were silent—
I had to hold my breath like a tray of filled glasses
just to listen. It was
the sound of something trying not to be heard,
the sound that comes from underneath a veil
from the lips of a shrinking bride,
the spaces of the sound open like empty tables set for two
in a café on the edge of a town
like this one.

Lauren Henley’s Comments

Arcata started out as someone’s good idea. Ideas are like children; we create them and we want the best for them, but they do what they want to do. Arcata is somebody’s child. She was left in a hollow log. There are stories about how she was found. Some say it was a hunter who found her and raised her. It’s all speculation. Arcata is a town but she is also a person. Arcata is a woman-man but a woman first. We can call Arcata a “she.” She never grew up but she is also older than anyone could ever imagine or measure or prove. People hitchhike thousands of miles to get to her but she is never around when they arrive. There is always some errand, something she must go and find in the forest, or there is a line she must wait in at the courthouse, the clinic, or the social security office. Arcata is seventy feet tall some days. On those days, she blocks out the sun. Some days she is five-foot-five with holes in her jeans. Arcata needs bus fare to Eureka so she can find work.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 32 | Spring 2011