Henry Hughes: Three Poems

Making Islands

brashing like dolphins,
we stroke
warm seams
and swells,
diving to the bed. 

Depth can be scary—
twisted wrecks, whale bones, 
dark rifts.  But we want it, unzipping
into hot vents. Our luscious
cones swirl and blow,

and the island rises—
steam, smoke, fire and flow.    
Glowing rivers
cooling shoulders
into sleep.  

Over the years
love hardens, ripens,
and grows soft again. Gardens sway,
while our children play
in the warm sand,
then sail away
with people we hardly know.  

Sun setting easy and rising slow, 
we hope nothing  
erupts or washes up
to be saved.  
Rocks say we’re sinking.  That’s okay.
The earth makes beautiful things
and takes them away.



Brown Trout in Flood Grass

  for David James Duncan


Yesterday’s cows were rubbing fences
where today’s spring river
rises, willow-combed, tree-tongued, swallowing

the oily low road and pump house, 
covering field and pasture, spreading a wide shine,
waking wild trout 

from their winter bed
to the flooded grass behind the sandbagged barn
and tractor.  Gold bellied, brown spotted,

they part the grass and prey
over the land of cast hooks and sprayed poison,  
the horrible thirst of wheat
that last summer sucked water low and burning.

Then came fall freshets, the cold faith of waiting,
and now these days and nights of answered rain

washing the used and dirty world
into worms and waxy grubs, ant eggs and sleeping spiders—
a deluge feast long promised the faithful.    



Tundra Swans 

God-cream and cloud. 
Black-webbed desire and angel-winged grace. 
The last sad song of evening. 
Oh, the weight they lift— kick-flapping their long takeoff
when dogs run barking to the bank. 

Before Greece and America, 
before art and myth, 
a waterland tundra, a reed pillowed nest. 
The fox-watching pair nudging their dingy cygnets
to water, tipping for celery and snails. 
And when those young wings fill out,  
it’s south before the ice.  

Time does a lot for beauty despite its reputation. 
Hear that? my daughter says
as we sip coffee on the red deck
of an October morning. 
She tilts her head like a woman, smiles, 
and whispers Swans
We always hear them
before their white letters write the sky. 
Before we think of something more
to make of them. 



                                               all poems from Bunch of Animals, Cloudbank Books, 2016


Henry Hughes grew up on Long Island, New York, and now lives in Oregon. He is the author of four collections of poetry and the memoir Back Seat with Fish. An active angler, naturalist, and literary critic, he edited two Everyman’s Library anthologies on fishing, and his essays and reviews appear regularly in Harvard Review. He teaches at Western Oregon University.