To the Volcano

To the Volcano – Photos and Poetry of Mount St. Helens and Washington State; photos by M.F. O’Brien and M. Bijman; poems and design by M. Bijman; published on Blurb, May 2015, ISBN: 978-1-32-069909-9; A Chez Mob Production©2015.

This book resulted from a trip across the border in July 2014, to go and see Mount St. Helens in Washington State, USA.

All the poems in this book, with the exception of Roundel, are written in the form of the “tanka”, one of the major genres of Japanese literature, but are also written in English. Tankas consist of five units (often treated as separate lines when romanized or translated) usually with the following pattern of syllables: 5-7-5-7-7 in five lines. These tankas are not in the classical style, not only because of the subject matter but because I have tried to make some lines into rhyming couplets. I like the format because it’s short, which concentrates the idea or image, but it’s longer than a haiku, which has only three lines of 5-7-5 syllables and should be a mood poem. I sometimes wanted to express more than mood.

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  1. Birds in the Chihuly Garden
  2. Mirrors
  3. Older together
  4. Roundel
  5. Sunset
  6. Pretty in a row
  7. New forest
  8. Mount St. Helens
  9. Waterfall

The Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum in Seattle, WA, US, is dedicated to Dale Chihuly’s extravagant and kaleidoscopic glass sculptures. But in the end, glass is just melted silicate, or sand.

Birds in the Chihuly Gardens

Sparrows peck around 
tourists’ feet pounding the ground, 
for what they can find 
amongst the steel and cement 
and the glass, incandescent. 

Not just small beggars:- 
little sculptures with feathers, 
perfect and alive, 
while the art at which we gape 
is just melted silicate.

When I wrote Mirrors, it struck me that I was subconsciously searching for my husband’s reflection in the water puddles in the Kreielsheimer Promenade in Seattle Center, where everyone sits down to cool off.

©M.F. O’Brien 2015

The city ripples
in heat, the children cool their
feet in the fountain.
Your reflection's shimmering -
I admire it and dip in.

The coast around the Olympic National Park in Washington State in the US is rocky and dramatic, and on the day we were there, grey. But it was OK because we were together, and also going a bit grey.

©M.F. O’Brien 2015
Older together

There's beauty even
in the grey tide, the pale sky,
the gentle soughing
of the waves beneath our feet -
in this, our quieter life.

Quileute – pronounced “quill-loot” – is a coastal resort in Washington State, US, with amazing views and sunsets. It hasn’t got much else, but it’s a photographer’s paradise.

©Photo by MF O’Brien 2015

The seagull sits and looks
  far out over the sea
   I look back, turn to find
    your footprints following me
The seagull sits and looks
  at what there is to see
   Blue, white, sea and clouds
    And you, following me
Waves break, the seagull looks
  And waits for what I cannot see
   But still your footprints carve the sand
    And still you follow me

©M.F. O’Brien 2015

Quileute's sinking sun
drops like a white-hot coal lump
over the black rim
of the coal-scuttle ocean -
extinguished ’til tomorrow

The forests around Mount St. Helens were full of delicate little summer flowers, in contrast to the forbidding, icy grey mountain.

©M.F. O’Brien 2015
Pretty in a Row

The pink skirts of the
blossoms line up on the stalk
like girls at a prom,
waiting for the morning breeze
to invite them for a dance.

It really hurts your eyes and messes with your head to look at the freakish regularity of the new forests that were planted in the wake of Mount St. Helens’s eruption. In botany, phyllotaxis or phyllotaxy is the arrangement of leaves on a plant stem. Phyllotactic spirals form a distinctive class of patterns in nature.

©Mike O’Brien 2015
©M.F. O’Brien 2015
New Forest

Pixelated trees
(or simply phyllotaxis?)
fill the horizon.
I think reforestation
makes order unnatural.

By all accounts, the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 was absolutely terrible. Geologist, David A. Johnson, was the first to witness it from a distance of 6 miles, or 10 km away from the mountain. Before being struck by a series of flows that, at their fastest, would have taken less than a minute to reach his position, Johnston managed to radio his  co-workers with the message: “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” (He meant, Vancouver, USA, not Vancouver, Canada.) And then he was evaporated. I looked at the quiet mountain and thought of all the little creatures that died. I wondered if somehow they felt the tremors and tried to get away.

©M.F. O’Brien 2015
Mount St. Helens

While the volcano
blew its top in a halo
of ash, smoke and gas,
did the critters know to flee
while people screamed O.M.G.?

It was very hot in July – there were forest fires in Washington State and the smell of smoke and the grey pall in the sky reminded me of what the area around Mount St. Helens must’ve smelled like long afterwards. The occasional waterfall or lake was welcome and we would pull over to take photos or just sit and drink it in.

©M. Bijman 2015

Take me downriver,
take me where the water roars
and the spray is cool
and the pool is a topaz
gleaming yellow in the sun.

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A Chez Mob Production 2015 All text and poems property of M.F. O’Brien and M. Bijman

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