Off the Side of the 101

Jordan Carley

Off the Side of the 101

The first thing you’ll feel
at the edge of the world is
the quiet. It presses in,
a living, breathing, hunting thing
with an unsettlingly familiar face
and unseen eyes tracking your every
movement.The air is damp here,
much more than you’ve ever felt
anywhere other than Washington
State. It’ll make its home in
your bones, this mildewy dampness
rising from the ferns, cool air
clinging to your skin, pooling
around your wrists like silk,
tugging gently but insistently
into the green.
Stepping off the pavement
into the undergrowth between
ageless trees will seem
so very unwise, somehow.
This is silly, you’ll think,
fingers gone white around
your mother’s camera.
You’ll only be ten feet from
the road. But darling, the voice
coiling between your ears
will whisper, Isn’t that a lie?
You won’t be so sure
that it’s wrong. After all, ten feet
from the road is already ten feet
into that breathing quiet,
that unfathomably alive softness
in the mist,
is a hundred thousand miles
from the world you know—
from all the saggy-roofed diners
serving The Best Pie In The County 
alongside watery coffee gone lukewarm
inside chipped and stained ceramic
that you’ve  almost exclusively eaten in
that week—and from the hope
that you know anything at all.
And suddenly, it’ll grip your heart;
tighten your toes’ tenuous grip
on the asphalt, the urge, that voice.
You’ll realize that the crumbling
shoulder you’re so precariously
perched upon isn’t a half-hearted attempt
at division between these two worlds.
It’s a thinly-veiled invitation
to disappear, to dissolve
into the primordial green before you.
And somehow, you’ll realize that
you aren’t so sure
you want to resist at all
the gentle command to step
into the spongy undergrowth.
You are nothing but the plaything
of the forest’s ancient whims
and you aren’t sure you can resist it
any longer.
To dissolve, to disappear like
fog off the forest floor, to simply
give in to the wordless voice
crooning in your ear begging you
to join it in the dimness
sounds exhilarating
and you find your foot poised
to step forward once more—
but then your mother’s laughter
from the car will  shatter
the forest’s hold on you. You’ll feel
it slink away, an offended catamount
with eyes cast suspiciously back,
while requests to use the camera
silence the alluring song.
You’ll scramble back to the safety
of the asphalt with eyes wilder than
they ought to be, and a deafening
heartbeat. Rest assured, darling,
it will whisper as you retreat,
I will not forget you.

_______________

Jordan Carley is a writer, poet, and editor with a passion for exploring the human fascination with wildness. She is an English Writing and Anthropology alumna of Washburn University who taught as a Supplemental Instructor in the Washburn English Department during her final semester. She has published one poem (“Why I Write”) in the 2014 America Library of Poetry collection, Accolades, as well as several nonfiction articles in titles like Mother Earth News, GRIT Magazine, and Heirloom Gardener. She writes and lives in Topeka, Kansas with her fiancé, a stuffed bookshelf, and approximately a dozen plants that she somehow hasn’t managed to kill.

Editor’s Notes: The fractal image conveys a surreal, magical, and abstract sense of a forest (MaxPixel.net 2616966)

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