649: sunrise through mount vernon, wa.

649: sunrise through mount vernon, wa.

649: sunrise through mount vernon, wa.


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

My father, stepmother, and little brother all moved to Stanwood, Washington, when I was 15 years old. I stayed in Sonoma, California with my mom and stepdad. But, I went to the University of Washington for my undergraduate degree and I learned the language and landscape of rain.

I have always loved the Northwest and I love that my little brother still lives in Seattle. It feels like a second home.

After my stepmother died in 2010, my brother was living at college in Olympia and my dad eventually sold the house and moved to California. Still, the northwest holds so many feelings of magic and nostalgia for me. In 2018, I read at the Skagit Valley Poetry Festival. I rented a car, and before I drove to the festival, I drove by the old house. I drove to the entrance to the Pilchuck tree farm where we used to hike as a family. I stood still in the woods and everything came flooding back to me.

It’s wild how a place can hold a feeling or a strong memory in such an intense way that it activates every sense in the body. I drove out to La Conner after that—the town where the poetry festival was taking place—and the drive reminded me so much of spending summers and holidays there. I remembered stopping for ice cream and provisions at the Snow Goose, a country market on the side of Fir Island Road in Mount Vernon. Everything held some blurry teenage memory and it felt like everything was happening all at once.

There’s something about that landscape that feels powerful in a spiritual sort of way. The extremes of the many kinds of rainfall, the fish that literally cross the road so there are bright yellow street signs saying “Salmon Crossing” along roadways that are close to streams and rivers. There are bald eagles landing in cow pastures or passing by with a fish. So many bald eagles that once my best friend, T, who visited me in Stanwood started to say, “Oh, it’s just another bald eagle.”

But after the months of rain, and in between the storms, when the sun comes out, it feels as if the landscape opens up, widens, as if someone has turned on the lights. There’s a clarity to the world that feels both surreal and otherworldly. On that drive to La Conner, I remember imagining living there right near the river because it’s a place that calls to me. A place that’s alive with memories. I could imagine looking up and saying, “Oh it’s just another bald eagle,” and feeling like I was home.

In today’s poem we see a vivid description of that dramatic Northwest landscape and how, for the speaker, it’s a place where the scrim between the living and the dead is thin.

sunrise through mount vernon, wa
by Jasmine Khaliq

after beauty I am
entranced by the soft
dislodging of eyes:

blurs of cows
necks sloping

colors thinner
than water
and running

this is where
I most miss
the dead:

a highway pasture
bisected body
and always

I am on the other side

"sunrise through mount vernon, wa." by Jasmine Khaliq. Used by permission of the poet.