Portage by Sarah Ann Winn



Nourished in Latin, Spanish for soul,
in Arabic, on the water.
I translated the Buckeye blossoms spelling
directions on the street, words
in a language only I knew,
a secret message between me and the trees –
their scent as I walked up Alma Avenue
everywhere. They shaped me as they blew past,

whispered the Hungarian meaning –
apple. I was measured against the hunchback Baldwin tree,
nourished by the rain returning to lakes, in showers, in drizzles.
Cut out, a piece of the moon jigsawed with maple branches.

Gorge of girl, shaped by erosion,
gorgeous, engorged by trees.
Pitted by tart cherries giving over to sweetness.
transformed by weeds turned into dandelion salad,
shored up by life on lakes which were named for carrying.
I was made to portage, by Portage, a girl raised by reservoirs,
lifted from one lake and carried to the next,
made to find joy in journeys.

Taught this Alma, Aramaic, my world
begins in in-between,
learned to read words scrawled on screen doors
as cuneiform, rain-worn. I traced
petrichor to its origin – our vestibule.
Ran down the worn desire paths,
followed creases made by ironing day,
the smell of steam and hot cotton.
I entered the square stacks
of handkerchiefs in dresser drawers,
folded, pressed, intent.

I sorted the wheat pennies from copper chaff
kept in a wooden bowl. I counted.
The number of pennies –
how far from Alma I still must go.


She knows, she’s serious,
she’s square to camera,
Tell it straight, her gram always said.

Beside her, gram curled unaware.
The camera ready,
everpoised, overexposing.

Her gram cannot tell
it straight. Her body leads
her backwards, away
from poise.

Cannot tell square from
crooked, cannot tell
it straight. Her thoughts
in one light doubled-shadowed,
white unbalanced in another.

Caught sleeping, away into dreams
of albums, sharp edges
black cornered, pasted, clean.

Awake, she unravels
like Penelope, hoping the sailor
whose name she cannot remember
will not be long. Will he be long?

The camera tells it,
squares the napping shell,
knows well the timer
about to collapse the scene.


I take your memory out to the garage
to weigh it. The scale for this is ageless and large,
speaks of counters and bulk foods.
Its shadow has stood for years, swaying,
red needle uncertainly bouncing when jostled.

A hidden spring reveals a drawer underneath,
with a little set of weights in various shapes.
One, cast in lead, a net of light on water,
another, a set of miniature music box gears,
all in bronze, each the weight of a different song,

sawtoothed as if meant for toy lumber mills,
I place your memory on the cradle, light as light,
which also has the weight and substance of matter.
I add twenty snowflakes, and one spiced pear from last Fall’s preserves.
I tap the meter, which trembles, add a slice of lemon

from a cold tea cup, sing as much as I can remember
from When the Roll is Called up Yonder. Finally,
I open your last letter, lift off the handwriting, unbend
each word, straighten the ink into a binary barcode of blue,
dole these sticks to the tray. If it balances, you’ll go.

“Alma” first appeared in Flycatcher;  “Delayed Exposure, Close to Home” first appeared in Halfway Down the Stairs; “I Consider Whether Shipping Your Memory Home Would Be Too Costly” first appeared in [d]ecember.

Sarah Ann WinnSarah Ann Winn’s poems, flash fiction and hybrid works have appeared or will appear soon in Calyx, Five Points, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Massachusetts Review, and Passages North among others. Her chapbooks include Field Guide to Alma Avenue and Frew Drive (forthcoming Essay Press, 2016), Haunting the Last House on Holland Island (forthcoming Porkbelly Press, 2016), and Portage (Sundress Publications, 2015). Visit her at bluebirdwords.com or follow her @blueaisling.


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