The Book of Sediments


From the Archive


Madeline DeFrees’s poem “The Book of Sediments” appeared in our Fall 1983 issue. Her last collection, Spectral Waves, was released by Copper Canyon Press in 2006; DeFrees passed away last year. 

Beside my bed the lamplight glows: a glass base
filled with shells containing
news of ocean. Each shell encloses what the sea
says to the listener. Each whorl and coil
reflects the secrets there.

                                                Echo and Narcissus.
He falls in love with the image: his vision
flowers. She pines away for the other: nothing
left but the voice. The sun-drowned
sepals in the old stereoscope we called
a stereopticon: two complementary views—right
eye and left—caught on film the brain
registers and light fuses to a third dimension.

We let those wave-lengths tell us what the world
means, a corollary of echo-
location: different densities sending bulletins
from underwater. Ship Harbor Inn: we slept
above the Sound—frogs and crickets
a fluttering circle on the ear’s horizon. That
one long note, the foghorn
cutting in and out of sleep.

                                                     Waves know their
burden of heavy minerals by weight. Neatly,
they sort them out in ocean’s bed of separate
deposits: gold from monazite, red
garnet from zircon. Disaster always in their 
wake, waves stumble on
sifting platinum from chromite, grain by grain.
Some, considering the ocean

                                                        prospect, have made
themselves minor profits. Others
have gone for broke. Isn’t that Gruber, there
next to the breeches’
buoy? The 300-pound quarryman we left, too fat
to fit in, refusing to be tied? His mid-
section circled by two life-preservers,
he made it finally in a bo’s’n’s chair, the first
to pass dry-shod.

                                  And now the ferry docks
briefly at Shaw Island: a brown-robed nun,
Franciscan in pill-box hat with veil attached,
runs down the gangplank in sandals.
Clank of heavy chains, and then the double
dissolve into Friday

                                      Harbor and the Whale Museum
where we saw a brain three times our size.
Remember the days we took to let the sea settle?
Bald Hill and Dinner Island? Cape San Juan
and Sunset Point. I tried the public
telephone: a killer whale
was on the line, and everywhere we looked was 
light and water.

—from “The Light Station on Tillamook Rock”