the landward limit

The father, bearded in grey, stands at the bus stop corner with his daughter, flung blonde and lanky. Every school day for the past five years and yet, even now I don’t know why he waits with her.  In the few seconds that click by as I drive past  on the way to work,  it is apparent they have a certain agreement.


In the lobby outside my office a voice booms. But it is booming quietly. The longer the man talks the more I feel. I am not here. Not in an office with a computer. Not in an office with a phone, but rather on the prairie that comes with a forest with trees chanting, drums with some bells dancing. The man, I discover after I invent a trip through the lobby, is speaking Crow. Long vowels, warm grunts. Oh, to know the story.


What I also don’t know happens between the husband and the wife who can be found every evening at 5:01 p.m. climbing the steep hills from the creek bottom, which I cross on my way home. He hobbles in the way that speaks of broken feet. She walks with the stiff upper lip that speaks of  . . . what? I don’t know. Derby, my beat-up vehicle, should sport a bumper sticker that says, I stop for stories.


But lately, I’ve not had time to write. My writing table has turned into what we call a design studio. We are collaging pendants and, uh, collages. Last night Fishing Guy was waiting on my doorstep when I got home from work. He had some designs in mind and went straight to the studio after turning on the iPod of mixed songs he brought with him.

And it goes like that. We zig to the other’s  zag. Easy to work in silence. Easy to sing to songs.

Time is on my side, he sings, sorting through scrap to find just the right bit of yellow. Not mustard yellow, but something he calls Old Time Yellow.

I ain’t in no hurry, I sing, cuz I ain’t got no worries.


The next song up is In My Life—his favorite.

More silence. I look over at him, on the other side of the table. Why so quiet? Part of the collages we do involve lines from poems, stray words, random dialogue. We have a collection of decaying dictionaries we cut words from, and there sits the Fishing Guy reading the thesaurus. So caught up in words he forgets to sing.

Coast: The difference between a coast and the shore is the coast is the seaward limit of the land and the shore is the landward limit of the sea.

He’s been missing Oregon. This is the story I know.


About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website:

17 responses to “the landward limit

  1. I don’t even know how to comment on your poetry. It’s language we all know but can’t speak. Yes, that’s it. We can’t speak it but we nod in agreement.

  2. I love how you are always drawn to the stories – the spoken and unspoken, animate and inanimate, today’s and the ancient. And the stories that are coming together in your pendants. And the story in the silence.

    • redmitten

      laurie- oh, the story in the silence is what gets me. and every time i think i know something, i am often wrong. am trying to stay with the moment and not conclude.

  3. Even when you are ‘not writing’ you are telling a story. This is your gift. You are able to make a collage out of, not only broken bits but pieces that weave in and out of real, solid life.
    P.s…that sign is absoloutely right on! I used to work for Canada Post and our Union’s motto was “The struggle continues.” I always thought it came from the Irish!

    • redmitten

      kerry, thank you. after i started collaging (which has been recent) i am beginning to better understand the way i write (which is what you just explained to me.)

      and to the irish in us, my gosh. love that story about the post and the union. i identify!

  4. Rose Hunter

    it’s so wonderful how you all work together. I love hearing about these scenes. How special, really. 🙂 🙂 And these look beautiful – what are they, tiles?

    • redmitten

      rose, yes these are tiles. two made by me and two by bug. and i like them together like this…something else happens when they come together. thank you!

      • Rose Hunter

        These are gorge. They remind me of those paintings with parts you can arrange yourself, like hang that one on the left one day and at an angle the next, or(?)

  5. Tim

    A second career for old dictionaries. Brilliant. As long as you’re writing, Sherry, the language is never decaying.

    • redmitten

      tim- why, thank you! i was surprised how many dictionaries are being given away. as if the words have expired within? when we search for words, first we search in other ruined books, but at times we resort to one of the old dictionaries whose bindings have failed. each has a different font, a different yellowing to the paper, and so we experiment with which would work better in our design. all this to say, we end up reading the dictionaries and finding that they are not all the same. right now my favorite is the webster from the 1940s, a practical dictionary. the definitions are so wonderful. for example: “upon” means “with all its senses.” (the collage was to have “wish upon” incorporated in it). the definition has since become part of a collage i made for myself, which is not for sale. i’ll post a photo one day.

      • Tim

        Sherry, old definitions, old meanings, timeless, timely, timeworn. I was thinking today about my “collection” (accumulation) of manual typewriters, all of which still work perfectly, but may never write another sentence or otherwise make meaning of words, and a wee melancholy descended, as it does this time of year anyway, with the light lowering, the sky holding the darkness longer, the leaves slowly corrupting from cool to hot to fallen. What to do with the typewriters?? I am in process of unloading, lightening, maybe getting ready for a move, and it’s time for me to relinquish them. But where is a proper home? I cannot merely dispose of them, anymore than I could a friend. There are still secrets, surprises, revelations residing there. Is there an old sailor’s home for Smith-Corona?

      • redmitten


        i remember sitting at the end of the family kitchen table, typing a term paper on the family’s manual Underwood. my gosh, the strength in my fingers! and the rhythm kept a perfect pace with my thoughts. you write of fall beautifully- for me, autumn doesn’t last long enough.

        but back to the unloading going on in your life. and a move (!) i would suggest this: start a facebook page for old typewriters and watch the writers and poets i know flock to your facebook page. you have the very typewriters that will type the next moby dick.

  6. These stories – and they are each a story – stand arms akimbo like the jigsaw of collage papers, like the cutup thesaurus, like the mustard and Old Time Yellow. You and Fishing Guy are each other’s landward and seaward limit. xo

    • redmitten

      amanda, oh, that is just it: we are each other’s landward and seaward limit. an agreement has been arrived upon (and see my comment to tim regarding “upon”.)

      most of the time, it seems i move through life brushing up against all sorts of dots not quite connected….and yet if we settle down and let everything come to us more deeply, the connections happen in ways we might not have considered. there is a new collection of “poems” coming out by sabrina dalla valle that is so wonderful in this way. “Seven Days and Nights in the Desert” can be found here:

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