Helen Frost
Spine of Shadow, Moving


Digging spruce roots near the landing strip,
Oline would still her hands and listen.
Fifteen minutes, twenty, before the airplane came,
she’d say: Super Cub, Hub Air. Or Jack Smith,
going to Fairbanks. Plans to stop here, wants an extra fare
to make his trip worthwhile, thinks the teacher might
go into town.
She’d be right. There he is now
circling down.


Her son Johnny, eight, could do it too,
with airplanes, or a spine of shadow moving
through the river’s light. He’d stand silent, watching,
cast his line ahead of what he saw, haul in a silver salmon
too big for him to carry. Once, wine
I’d sipped an hour before, corked and put away,
left the smallest trace of fragrance in the glass
or on my breath. Johnny took one whiff,
lay his slingshot on my table: You been drinkin?
Checked my trash for empties.
Living close to danger makes you like that.


So why, fifteen years on, does all this flash its signal? A semi,
neither seen nor heard, blasts its horn,
I swerve through slush, it brakes,
splashes mud at me as it roars past.
Get off the highway. Quit the job. Roll down the windows.
Breathe.See the hawk?
Be still and watch it circling.
Listen.
Listen for its sharp thin cry.