Lex Runciman

Common Murres
Off Yaquina Head, Oregon

When first we see the sea-stack tops, murres look like hair
waxed up above a forehead that’s no eyes, no nose – all cliff
and scalp, nook and cranny, all isolate, desolate basalt.

Closer, they look like penguins stacked in tightly, that no talon
or unwelcome beak intrude – this raw, spitty, and windy day.
They’re breeding, someone says, each two, one egg,

on bare rock, which inclines me to grant them privacy,
not that they care – and besides, there’s nothing to see
but persistence, their willingness to stand all day

in the same hallowed, chosen, rocky space – all day,
all night, and tomorrow, tomorrow, egg to chick, no respite
but the task to fish and return and feed.

Weeks from now, done for the year, they’ll molt,
go flightless. I imagine they’ll be exhausted.
As for their faithfulness – that dedication unrewarded –

I don’t know what it answers to or from where it comes.
Common as it is, even so it amazes me.


“Send These, the Homeless, Tempest-Tost, to Me”
–“The New Colossus,” Emma Lazarus, 1883

And now on this seasonable late June day,
though the country I do so want to love

unwelcomes, unlistens, shuns, denies, sunders,
imprisons, murders, and turns away, we go now

to Oaks Park, Portland, Oregon. The 9:30 hour
has just opened the big slide and the miniature train.

Carousel horses circa 1912
smooth-gallop a stately rise and fall as a small brown girl

holds tight to a wooden mane, as her mother takes a picture.
The Tilt-A-Whirl circles and rises with centrifugal force

urging a young boy close against the bulk
of his dark-bearded father, who keeps shouting Yahoo

as his arm holds that boy, and a hat flies into blue.
The train toots. The coaster growls its hills and valleys, as two

black-haired girls, hands raised high, hair behind them,
jerk and turn and whoop as the entire wheeled caterpillar devil

writhes on. At last, sweaty noon. In strollers, bodies slump.
Time to go. The Aid Station empty, all children found.


Walk out of conventional time’s distress

to stems and colors, filigrees, spines,
and insect wings, the orchid stillness, the orchid choir.

Among poppies, saguaros, yuccas,
chicory, conifers, mosses and ferns, learn

botanies and birds, litanies of sand,
of loam, and bloom. Let place

be arterial, your capillaries and nerves –
let place be sense marvelous as light in any

finity of clouds. Salt within is the salt of home,
rain our water, oxygen the air we swim, taste

sweet, savory, erotic, citric – we know all this,
uncountable cells in congress as we breathe.

Time, landscape, part of, never alone.
Sleep and wake, how could we be otherwise?


Lex Runciman’s newest book, Unlooked For, is just out from Salmon Poetry. An Oregon Book Award winner, he lives in Portland, Oregon.