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[Poetry] Two Poems by Kristen Hornung

The Long Way

Depart before dawn,

follow the dirt path

into the valley

hidden by fog,

where rust-brown and

dusty-gray coyotes glide

through the chaparral,

where every breath burns

like a gulp of ice water,

the river drowns out the

crunch of your footsteps,

and anise chokes the trail,

releasing the scent of

black licorice as you

shoulder past,

until you reach the drop-off,

and you have no choice

but to pause:

your heart thumps in your ears,

condensation mixed with sweat

drips from your chin,

and your muscles shiver

from exertion.

Yet: your soul yearns

to follow the river over

the edge,

through the ravine bristling

with cottonwoods, willows,

and bamboo,

under roads, across

private land dotted with

orange and lemon trees

and ranch-style mansions

to where it joins with the sea–

but you know your limits.

Instead, you wait until the sun crests

the ridge and cascades over you,

warming your cheeks and

the tip of your nose,

melting away the fog…

then, despite the wanderlust

taking root in your soul,

you knock the clumps of mud

from your boots, turn around,

and venture home–

the long way.

Five Summers Later

When she swims, her loose hair gathers

the yellow palm tree flowers,

(but not the bees;

I scoop them out of her path

with my cupped hands)

every time she surfaces for a breath,

she sputters through the strands

(she refuses the scrunchie on my wrist).

She asks me to stay close,

although I think we both know

she is strong enough now;

she mermaid dives to the bottom,

starfish-floats in place,

and makes it to the side if she tires

while swimming the whole length.

Almost six years old—

watching her, I remember

how she used to cling,

and curl her tiny fists around

my swimsuit straps.

When I tell her we need to dry off,

she glides to the stairs in the

shallow end, and I follow.

But instead of climbing out, she

pulls a lock of hair from her mouth,

and smiles. “Can I have

a few more minutes

to play ice cream shop?”

Weary of negotiating everything,

yet relieved she still loves our old game,

I crouch beside her and angle my back

to keep her face in the shade.

“Okay,” I say.

“Do you want the unicorn surprise?”

she taps a pearl-colored tile.

“It’s every single flavor, with

pieces of cone, and whipped cream,

and sprinkles, with a cherry on top.”

“Yes please, two scoops.”

She splashes and twirls, then

flourishes her arm. “Here you go.”

As I accept the pretend treat,

her fingertips kiss mine,

and I wish I could freeze

this sweet moment in time.

Kristen Hornung lives in Encinitas, California. When not parenting or working, Kristen loves to take long walks and get lost in stories. Kristen has been published in Psychological Perspectives, Zooscape, and with Havok Publishing online.

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