Poet and memoirist Judith Barrington has lived in Portland, Oregon ever since 1976, when she moved from her native England. She has published three collections of poetry, a prize-winning memoir, Lifesaving, and a text on writing literary memoir which is used all across the United States and in Australia and Europe. Her most recent poetry is collected in a new chapbook, Postcard From the Bottom of the Sea. Her most recent full length book is Horses and the Human Soul about which reviewer Barbara Drake, writing in Calyx, said: “These stunning poems find moral high ground in the world of nature and animals without falsifying that world.”

Barrington’s memoir, Lifesaving, (Eighth Mountain Press, 2000) won the Lambda Book Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. She is well known as a writer and much sought-after as a teacher. She is a faculty member of the low-residency program at the University of Alaska at Anchorage and a web mentor for the University of Minnesota. She offers workshops at many conferences and writing events in the U.S. as well as in England and Spain. In 2009, the Oregon State Library selected Horses and the Human Soul for “150 Books for the Sesquicentennial” (from among books by Oregon writers, 1836 – 2009)

WALKING NORTH

for Nancy

Think of your life as a beach—
a wide, smooth-sanded Oregon beach
with the sea on your left as you walk north
and on your right a range of dunes
changing outlines from year to year.

Sometimes the sand gleams with mica;
waves slip up leaving a scalloped border
where you tread softly with bare feet.
Sometimes days come crashing in on you,
spittle from the surf flying in your face,
your boots leaving a trail of small ponds.

But always as you head for the mist-hung
headland you will reach one day—always
there’s that single set of footprints ahead.
You recognize those prints: your mother made them
long ago when she walked through the years
you’ve come to know—thirty-five, forty-eight:
always stepping in the faint shadows of her feet.

And then they’re gone. Sand stretches away
unmarked except by wind and gulls’ feet:
you are as old as your mother was when she took
her final step. For a moment you wonder can you go on?
Icy wind snatches at your scarf and you stagger,
your footprints weaving among a thousand small shells.

Think of your life as a beach you can walk alone
even when mist comes down and you know you are lost.
Walking north, the cold may burn your cheeks.
But when you rest, dunes will hold you on their breasts
and two boys will be walking in the prints you left behind.

“Walking North” from Horses and the Human Soul by Judith Barrington (Ashland, OR: Story Line Press, 2004); © 2004 by Judith Barrington. Reprinted by permission of the author.

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