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.
First published in Ginosko Literary Journal, 2022, Issue 27
When we first saw them
glistening like oil slicks
felt the smooth
not quite metallic
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
as scales shed
by some shimmering
or as trinket shards
from an ancient
truck stop gift shop
no less alien
after hearing them called
conjured no silhouette
in shadow puppet theatre
whirling full circle
focus lifts to multitude
fragments of bone
soft bodies in fragrant decay
at the ocean’s swaying edge
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
I discovered you
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 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
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
what I forgot to tell you
after our first good rain
was how the sweet air
was heavy with insects
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
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
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
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.
the world aches to know you.