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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Northern Lights; Insomnia; Marine Snow

By: Amanda Hiland

Northern Lights

Flo, wound in a pale blue coat,

gets up every ten minutes and cannot

remember where she’s going.

I find her cursing at the door

to the laundry room. I coax

her back through hallways lined

with plastic flowers that never grow

or die. The night stains

the windowpanes with charcoal.

She dreamed

of hitching a ride as north

as roads would go, following

the passage of lights in the sky.

I guess there was something for her

out there at the end of the world.

Her daughter always tells me this story

about her mother’s youth in Alaska

shelling mussels and pacing oil claims,

in love with that great mountainous alone.

I don’t ask why she never went. I know

how life piles on like a basket of laundry.

She always put us first. Kept a house and family

for forty years. Kept a husband while he stayed.

I never once saw her as angry

as she’s been every day since she forgot


In a rare glimmer of lucidity, Flo tells me, “You know,

auroras make a noise. It’s an enormous hum,

like a continent groaning

under its own weight. Such a heavy sound

from something made of light. You never forget it.”

In the morning I glimpse her standing

by the highway, blue coat

rippling toward the edge of dawn. Her thumb is

sticking up like a mountain that stops

passing cars in their tracks.


Dear mother, I can’t sleep.

My brain is a hive buzzing

with pieces of thought.

Tonight it’s the electromagnetic

spectrum and how I wish I could see

in all its wavelengths. Also neutrinos –

how there are a million billion

passing through my body right now,

making me more particle than person.

Is that right?

I tried reading a chapter about

the Permian mass extinction, when

95% of life turned to fossilized carbon, but now

I can’t stop thinking about what that means,

all the forms most rare and wondrous

(as Darwin said) which came and went before

I ever got to see.

To be human is a rare species of suffering,

isn’t it?

The brain is so heavy with thought, and just

complex enough to be aware it

will only stay lit for a century.

But I want to be awake

when we become the life that lives

on other planets. I want to know

the bodies of stars.

No sleep, not even death

will be enough to halt

my ravenous brain. Its affliction

moves through the bloodline,

and my descendants

lie awake at night beside me,

crafting galaxies.

Marine Snow

Marine snow

falls like soft eiderdown

to the ocean floor.

Rooted to a precipice, sea lilies

lift their fronds like fervent supplicants

to call down its blessings.

Shrimp balance on spindly legs

and nibble white wafers.

Chimaera strafe the ridges of

their only promised land.

They have carried hunger

across black sea beds for 100 million years,

and never left.

Down here it’s too cold to know what cold is.

The lamprey feels no chill as

he writhes through turgid water.

No evangelist from the upper

column has ever brought

tidings of light and sky,

and anyway, the sea floor has no word for sun.

Bioluminescence is their birthright, and

they wear it with

a savage vanity.

Consider the angler, that alluring heathen.

Her light is her joy alone; her grin

is the widest in the ocean.

Consider the copepod, who will never know

he is blind. He is grateful

for his soft-tissue

body, and the benthic shark is grateful

to swallow it whole.

Down here they suck the scum

from higher latitudes. All dead

things fall in blizzards

of organic matter;

rotting weeds, saturated

corpses, sand and

soil and

shit. All becomes

manna in the mouths of

this abyssal plain, a solid

proof of heaven.


Amanda Hiland grew up hiking through the forests of the Pacific Northwest. She is very fond of rain, colored pens, and chai tea. She teaches Special Education by day and is a major astronomy enthusiast at night. She doesn't sleep much. Her poems have appeared in Epiphany, West Trade Review, Topology Magazine, New Plains Review, Timberline Review, and various other publications.

*Northern Lights first appeared in Passengers Journal

"Northern Lights: After finishing college, I got a job in an assisted living facility so I could save up money for graduate school. I was placed in the 'Memory Care' unit and worked primarily among residents with Alzheimer's and/or dementia. I had never before seen the effects of these disorders on people, and the experience had a significant impact on me which I processed through poetry. In the midst of such profound loss, the human capacity for grace and resilience consistently astonished me. Above all, I was moved by the daily struggles of our residents to both retain and redefine who they were in this final phase of their lives.

Insomnia: I've always found that sleep eludes me when there are too many thoughts clamoring for expression in my mind. Writing them down is my way of putting them to bed so I can eventually follow suit.

Marine Snow: Many people are horrified by the idea of the deep ocean and the creatures that live down there, but I find them fascinating. Occasionally I like to curl up on the couch, turn off the lights, and immerse myself in a deep-sea nature program. It's a distant realm that I will probably never visit, but which is still connected to my surface-dwelling life in strange and subtle ways. I want to shine a (bioluminescent) light upon the denizens of that unseen, alien world."


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