Five Poems by Cole Douglas


Portraits on the Spirit Wall

I’m walking up a country road on Orcas Island in the mist.

Everything comes into existence step by step:

the field where a black horse stands wondering what next,

pheasants that don’t bother to fly away only move off,

a car in the gravel crossroad with a skeleton at the wheel.

A woman climbs into a truck that just picked her up 

and gives the driver a false name, or maybe a new name 

she’ll wear for the rest of her life— she hasn’t decided, 

with what she’s done like smoke still fresh on her hands.

The kid I know with biographical details much like my own 

waking up in a room that smells like the previous occupant 

who sits a shadow by the bed and a little reluctant to leave.

And you, grand drunk, winner of a hands-on vehicle contest,

your fingers still glow from your victory—family, 

contestants and showroom dissolving in the morning light 

as you step away from the prize hovering in empty air.

One and the same, a series like Thomas Cole’s “Journey of Life,” 

last cave on the left side of a plain some interpret as death,

but it’s really the way in at the beginning, the shimmering pavilion 

Shangri-La of wanting always out there and always moving off 

like every goal, every desire, every time we set our sights on it.


                  Mind Blank as a Room.

In the street below 

a woman with a chainsaw and a pick, 

a child listening to a tree, 

thinking, why was there a split?

Old men working their asses off 

hauling greasy produce boxes 

down the alleyways of King Street.

It’s not you that woman yells at 

mad as hell on 3rd and James,

skinny kid passed out in a crosswalk,

new one arriving fresh from the plains,

windows with aluminum foil

shimmering in the hotel above.



                  Only a Few Birds, the Troubled Ones, 

Speak to the Darkening Roof of the Earth

This wooded island is theater,

yet I hear your dinner bell

see shadow patrons lined up 

on the porch of the Grand Hotel.

In the ether book 

growing fatter by the breath, 

lifetimes, chapters, illustrations, 

and an ever-expanding index.

Sunburst opening then gone,

black holes sucking up oxygen, 

photogravure versions of vacations, 

and detailed studies of your gait 

like a horse galloping off the ground.

You and I and all this 

water under the bridge,

we are welcome at last 

at the table of light,

cups of mercurial wine, 

stories of time on earth

that might be lies.

                  Where the Spirit Goes

I am driving my Datsun to Hayward on highway 13. 

I am drinking with Rick Flynn at ten in the morning 

in someone’s apartment in San Francisco, hearing 

a recording of James Joyce’s Ulysses. I am flying 

to London in the dead of night. I am playing 

Lou Reed as I pace the room and peer out

at the abandoned factory, while the rag and bone man 

leads horse and cart through the rain shouting “Ra!” 

I am soaring over the handlebars of my moped 

after hitting a cable in the sand on a beach in Crete, 

tumbling and rolling and landing unhurt on my feet. 

I am shuddering sick in a Puerto Vallarta hotel, 

walking airy and light through the ruins of El Set 

from the film The Night of the Iguana, drinking Pacificos 

on the deck as divers leap from the cliffs and hit 

the water like needles without making a splash.  

I am jotting the waves on the red sunset cliffs 

as the shadows of pelicans fly by overhead. 

I am rising from Kilauea at the edge of inception. 

I am swimming through whale song in the cove 

of Captain Cook’s slaughter. I am spinning in

Santa Cruz surf with my drowned grandfather

looking through my eyes, riding Grizzley Peak 

in the first real freedom I’ve ever known. 

I am fighting a blond angel on our way to tattoos. 

I am reigning a horse down a cascade path. 

I am sliding backwards as I kayak the tide current 

coming through Deception Pass. I am wandering the hills 

with my dog, The Dude, looking out over the sound 

with cargo ships taking it all away. I am weeping for loss. 

I am loving the thread. I am visiting ancestor spirits

by the lake of the dead. I am touching a spark to the brow 

of the infant who carries my name. I am sitting cross-legged 

at Golden Gardens, smoking with friends, lying back 

in the black pool of oblivion, and I am poised and alert, 

here if you need me, at ease in the heart of the sun.


                The Road

The black road unfolds under my headlights. 

The river is flowing somewhere near.

Homes appear out of darkness 

blazing in the groves then falling away as I go

through a column of poplars feathered 

under warp of clouds rolling above the world.

The road goes on through nothing, 

and I think nothing for the duration. 

A station appears in my headlights,

then back again to humming engine 

and thoughtless drone between worlds 

with the feel of the river I know is near 

rolling like blood in the darkness,

cold, illuminated by occasional moonlight 

when the wind tears the clouds apart.


Douglas Cole published six poetry collections and the novel The White Field, winner of the American Fiction Award. His work has been anthologized in Best New Writing (Hopewell Publications), Bully Anthology (Kentucky Stories Press) and Coming Off The Line (Main Street Rag Publishing). He is a regular contributor to Mythaxis, providing essays and interviews with notable writers, artists and musicians such as Daniel Wallace (Big Fish), Darcy Steinke (Suicide Blond, Flash Count Diary) and Tim Reynolds (T3 and The Dave Matthews Band). He also writes a monthly piece called “Trading Fours” for Jerry Jazz Musician and was recently named the editor for “American Poetry” in Read Carpet, an international, multi-lingual journal from Columbia. In addition to the American Fiction Award, he was awarded the Leslie Hunt Memorial prize in poetry, the Editors’ Choice Award for fiction by RiverSedge, and has been nominated three time for a Pushcart and Best of the Net. He lives and teaches in Seattle, Washington. His website is

Image credit: Daniel Straub / Unsplash


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