Frederick Livingston

Frederick Livingston lives in the liminal space between experiential education, sustainable agriculture, and peacebuilding. His work has appeared in numerous literary and scientific journals, public parks, and bathroom stalls. His first poetry collection, “The Moon and Other Fruits” is expected in early 2023 from Legacy Book Press.


Mendocino, California

First published in Ginosko Literary Journal, 2022, Issue 27

When we first saw them
glistening like oil slicks

felt the smooth

not quite metallic
or crystalline

mysteries in our
wind numbed fingers

intuitively we knew
we must be the first

to discover these

puzzle pieces strewn
across the grey shore

or else we would have
heard of them before

equally believable
as scales shed

by some shimmering
sea serpent

or as trinket shards
washed up

from an ancient
truck stop gift shop

no less alien
after hearing them called

conjured no silhouette

in shadow puppet theatre
of mind

returning after
whirling full circle

focus lifts to multitude
fragments of bone

broken stones
soft bodies in fragrant decay

at the ocean’s swaying edge
at once

so intimately aquamarine
and distantly blue

all clues to a world full
of unknowable wholes

seen only in
visible scattered glimpses

why then is this familiar
feeling so new?

because my world grew
as it has continued to do

ever since
I discovered you


Mendocino, California

First published in Willows Wept Review, 2022, Issue 23 

I have seen many maybe-whales:
surf disturbed in a certain way
waking nerves alert and sky-wide
transfixed by the vague
suggestion of a creature
one fin in this world
and one fin outside                                                          subside in a breath
                                                                                          as a wave slinks from shore
                                                                                          pretending it didn’t just throw all its passion
                                                                                          at the Earth’s feet

              as we rolled behind sight
              of the sun
              the sherbet-flooded sky drained
              and two lights became faintly visible above the horizon
              just as the other sunset-watcher
              we met last night
              predicted                              planets, he said,
                                                            here for a few nights
                                                            every eight hundred years
                                                            or so
                                                            or at least four hundred, he retracted
                                                            but the difference felt less burning
                                                            than where will they go
                                                            and why have they come all this way
                                                            to visit us now?

returning from your walk
along the cliffs
you reported seeing a string of lights flow
across the sky and we observed
there must be at least a few people around here
who could afford a UFO
maybe even for the amusement
of confusion alone                                       I’d like to believe

                                                                     I can pick a planet out of a line of stars
                                                                     but across such inconsolable distance
                                                                     who can be sure?

           I have heard a whale’s tongue
           is as a big as an elephant
           and its heart is big as an automobile
           with veins large enough
           to swim through                  I don’t know if this is true
                                                        but I tend to believe so
                                                        simply because it is a preferable world to inhabit

           then again
I’ve also heard people say a star is bigger than a whale
but what use are such comparisons to me?
they even say stars are made of fire
and flying through space
faster than a cormorant
swoops into fish-rich sea                            or is that a harbor seal swimming
                                                                     in the limits of my vision
                                                                     all motion blurs
                                                                     back into the swirl of could-be-anything
                                                                     from which we all emerge

            my first unmistakable whale
            was different                                    there!

                                                          beyond those bird-thick cliffs
                                                          distant yet distinct
                                                          my heart leapt into the waves
                                                          with a spray like rain

as a child born in a city
I remained skeptical of constellations
the overlay of mythic figures
on what meager stars the light-full night offered
seemed fanciful at best:
seasick sailors imagining mermaids
from manatees                                            but the closer I get to the sky

                                                                     the clearer I see
                                                                     we too are but two points of light
                                                                     adrift in darkness
                                                                     given meaning by our connections

          that is how my heart
          left my chest to pound against the waves
          when the whale precipitated from the brewing, brooding clouds of what-may-be
          suddenly a sea of frightful, lurking uncertainty
          became glass-quiet and I saw
          firmament has not
          escaped me entirely             to feel your heat-loving fingers
                                                        in the coat pocket we share
                                                        an intimacy so far from ambiguous sea monsters
                                                        or luminous intimations of hidden moons
                                                        or the ungraspably vast chasms of wordless matter
                                                        between us and the things we claim
                                                        simply because we have given them names

despite all of this
here you are beside me
and I have seen a whale
I have seen a planet
and I have known love
far brighter than them all

Sky in Fall

Mendocino, California

what I forgot to tell you
after our first good rain
was how the sweet air
was heavy with insects
murmuring hallelujah
curtains of termites dizzy
with the newness of wings
spilled from a willow
nervous with yellow jackets
and frothing with aphids
like them, I must have
survived dry spells but
none of us dwelled in thirst
that day burning with
awareness of all we have found


three blue jays
take flight from limbs
of red alder
just as my eyes
alight on them
let me never say
I made up a poem
but if I listen
I might catch a few
and write them down
before they elope
with the boundless sky


Bellingham, Washington

There were signs my resolve was not absolute.
I bothered to wait in line to buy the wine, instead of walking out like nothing mattered.
I followed the sidewalk down to the bay.
I even found a recycling can in someone’s yard to dispose of the empty bottle.

I took coins from my pocket
planted them on the train tracks that snake along the rocky shoreline
waited for the train to erase them, make them smooth and new again.

When the rumbling subsided I put the coins back in my pocket
stood in the tracks and waited
for the next train

for a long time.

Eventually the rails shiver like it might rain
or lightning strike.
A shrill warning whistle emerges from fog,
a mounting pounding heart undefined from world shaking.

I was sure to bring enough wine to keep my thoughts from walking in straight lines
because I knew where they could lead
and found no rest in those dark places.
The way I devoured whole chilies
to burn through the clouds… for a moment.
I once ate a burrito the size of a newborn infant
and still felt empty.

Time steadily swallows space for second chances
in that murky mind muck some sense of self
preservation fumbles with the controls
begging legs, sending dizzying signals
to step aside…

And I lingered
as if to dare the sky to open
and show me a power greater than miles of careening steel.

I watched myself step off the rails
well before the train reached me.
Left without an answer, only a riddle:
a hungry heavy enveloping “why?”

I walked down the creosote boards and rusted irons
across a weathered bridge,
stopped when something underneath caught my eye.

Piles of purple starfish
in perfect repose
on jagged rocks and barnacles
at the mercy of waves and vagaries of salt, water and sun
so serene and inexplicably…

The jumble of my mind found nothing to explain this royal color.
What predators are they warning?
How could this attract a mate with no eyes?
Something bubbled up from below,
something beyond the architecture of my knowing
that shook my bones with urgent song.

I was bewildered, shivering, drunk and alive.
I walked home in silence
crawled into bed and fell asleep.

Years later, I work with young people the same age I was at my lowest
and see how many feel alone in this unspoken experience,
a rite of passage in a culture of eroding milestones.

So when a boy in the limbo of uncertain adulthood
tells me he is covered in hives, his bones ache
and he feels like jumping off that
water tower
over there,
I struggle with this intimacy of pain.
What should I tell him?

When I find a young woman curled under a fern
far from the trail, silent as stones…
What should I say? That everything will be okay?

I could never look them in the eye and tell such a palatable lie.

Should I tell them they will climb out of this hole stronger than before,
recite the nobleness of suffering, platitudes about the darkest hour before dawn?
Not when I know how meaningless tomorrow becomes when the world stops spinning.

Should I tell them instead that they are right to feel this way?
Maybe this is what it feels like to be born into a collective spiritual crisis.
The Earth is burning and your culture is pouring gas to stay warm
in the cold loneliness of its narcissism.

Or, can I take their hand, walk down to the train tracks
where starfish lounge
touch the spiny tenderness
and tell them to listen to that whisper

of the world beckoning…

“Come into my arms sweet child
you do not know how beautiful you are.”

There is a light glowing on your horizon
you can hide your eyes or turn your back but it will be waiting for you.
Love has patience beyond your life
and when you are ready you will walk towards it.
You will not reach it tomorrow
or the next day,
you may even stumble backwards or sideways
but gradually you will feel its glow growing
with possibilities
that you might sleep tonight,
that you might wake,
not entirely whole
but maybe having found one more piece of yourself
scattered across the landscape of your dreaming:
in the tide pools swimming with tiny creatures
inviting us to kneel and imagine lives smaller and more brief than our own,
in the irrefutable ocean that does not indulge our self-important notions,
breathing time in endless, ephemeral waves.

So go-
the world aches to know you.