Poet, Emily Ransdell

You’re alone

with your one little ladder,

the whole orchard making

its fragrant demands.

Sample Poems

One Finch Singing

Some days I want to fill my pockets
with everything I’m afraid of losing.
How much milkweed to save
the monarch? How many foil blankets
to keep an ancient redwood alive?

I worry about finches. Smaller
than a fist, wingspan no bigger
than an open hand. I keep thinking
of what it took for them to get here, flying
all those miles up to Oregon. I keep thinking
of heat. Cities hitting triple digits. London
for god sake. Italy on fire.

There’s smoke again in Ashland,
like the time Kay and I went for a getaway.
All we had were bandanas, useless
against that stench and ash. We walked
the streets like grandmotherly bandits,
drank gin with the Airbnb windows shut.
By then I knew she was terminal.
Still, it felt impossible she could die.

I worry about beetle kill and rivers
missing their fish, the dry tinder of California
as creeks in Kentucky rage.
I read that finches can live on thistles, as if
to say, There’s hope. The ancients thought
finches carried souls to the afterlife, and the sound
of one finch singing meant an end to grief.

Last week a brush fire ignited within sight
of my porch — just like that — flames leapt
from slash and grass to standing firs.
Two thousand acres burned.
Where did the birds go then?

I miss my friend.
I want to know those finches are somewhere.
Safe and singing. From meadow rush
and ditch shrubs, calling
to their kind.

Everywhere a River

I do remember darkness, how it snaked
through the alders, their ashen flanks
in our high-beams the color of stone.
That hollow slap as floodwater hit
the sides of the car. Was the radio on?
Had I been asleep?
Sometimes you have to tell a story
your entire life to get it right.

Twenty-two and terrified, I had married you
but barely knew you. And for forty years
I’ve told this story wrong. In my memory
you drove right through it, the river
already rising on the road behind us,
no turning around. But since your illness
I recall it differently. Now that I know
it’s possible to lose you, I remember.
That night, you threw that car in reverse
and gunned it, found us
another way home.

Salt

Born of sea or earth,
boiled from brine or dug.
Once carried by camels across the Sahara,
once carted by slaves on the road to Rome.
Salt for barter.
For cedar from Phoenicians, for glass
and the coveted purple dye.
Once traded for gold, weight for weight,
paid to sailors and soldiers at war.
When my father walked
death’s long furrows,
I breathed the salt of his effort,
touched the dust it left
on his pillow and skin.
Jesus said, you are the salt
of the earth, and praise was born.
What could be more essential?
Salt livens the soup and brightens
the bread. Passed hand to hand
around the table, harvest of sorrow
and labor on our lips.

After a Freak Tornado

Body of sorrow,
body of sweat and prayer, body
of panic and ravenous want.
My lungs open
and close with their hungers,
my breath rises
and falls like heavy wings.
More like a body inside
my body, breathing me.
Out on the street, the shock
of debris, cottages stripped
of shingles, massive old hemlocks
twisted and split.
I cannot look out the window
for comfort now,
with all the branches gone.
Show me how to grieve.

A Poem I Love

Reprinted with permission of the author from Tar River Poetry.

Here is a poem that tells us everything we need to know about regret and heartbreak without drama or accusation. The simple repetition of the word “say,” asks us to imagine, as the poet must be, what if? The couplet stanzas that make us feel the poem would like to start over and over, while the fragility of each indented line feels like finality. A masterfully controlled and moving poem.

Published Poems

Awards

  • 2022
    Winner, Louis Award, Concrete Wolf Press
    Long-list, Palette Poetry, Previously Published Poem Prize
  • 2021
    Winner, Astoria Writer’s Guild Poetry Contest
  • 2020
    Runner-up, Patricia Cleary Award in Poetry, New Letters Magazine
  • 2019
    Runner-up, Prime Number Magazine Award for Poetry
    Honorable Mention, New Millennium Award for Poetry
  • 2018
    Finalist, Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, Ruminate Magazine. Judge: Ilya Kaminsky.
    Runner- up, Patricia Cleary Poetry Award in Poetry, New Letters Magazine
    Finalist: Blue Lynx Book Prize
  • 2017
    Honorable mention, Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, Ruminate Magazine. Judge: Shane McCrae
  • 2016
    Finalist, Rattle Poetry Prize
    Runner-up, Prime Number Magazine Award for Poetry
  • 2015
    Honorable mention, Poet’s Choice Award. Oregon Poetry Association

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