(I am honored today to be able to feature the beautiful creative work of AJ Dent, a writer/photographer who hails from the Upper Midwest, as I do, and ended up in Seattle, like I did. Please to enjoy. - Marianne)

Since June of this year, I have been living in my homeland of north central Minnesota. These past three months mark the longest I have stayed here in over six years, having fallen face-first in love with Seattle. Though I knew I’d miss the Emerald City, and enjoy reconnecting with nature here, I wasn’t ready for the gut-punch of being homesick for both places at once -- especially while trying to decide if I should move somewhere new yet again this fall. This poem is dedicated to both my raft of ducks out in Seattle right now, and to the Land of Lakes explorers who have taken me under their wing this summer. -- AJ

Double Exposure

This summer demanded to meet me
in the population: 3,000 town
where I was born. For tea. To tell me
to grind myself with dirty wheels,
dirty windshields, dirty boots and
dirty fingernails again
for four grass-stained months.
This season was my first love;
I couldn't resist the rendezvous.
But Minnesota moves as if a garter snake,
​eyes spiraling like Northern Lights.
Sill Lake hypnotizes my lens.
Whitetails are snort-wheezing
You can never leave again.
Red pines replace skyscrapers and muskies
make the newspaper. Lady’s slippers whisper
What is this supposed West Coast matter
to which you must tend? I admit it dims
as fireflies spin and meteor streaks grin.

How do you please two deities?
The green god of Seattle growls
for me to return, growing louder
in my belly, louder in ripples
atop each coffee cup, louder in echoes
across the Midwest's mountainless land.

When I arrive in the Emerald again
paying penance for this absence
may end me. I'll be back to bowing
to every bar stool, kneeling mid-rainbow
on gum-topped crosswalks,
praising Rainier with a throat
full of it. Will I self-appoint myself
a lab rat, staying to be hand-fed
the good stuff rather than getting out?

The greasy spoons, hair,
pistons above pavement: Seattle
has a way of siphoning out your blood
and replacing it with rain.
After you leave the city,
however you may change,
it remains in your veins.

As I float chin-deep in slim rivers
fraying off the Mississippi
I am simultaneously sipping tequila
that costs too much in short clear
plastic cups somewhere wet
in Washington. While my fingertips
detail sand castles on the beach
that lent me my first sunfish
at the end of a string
buttering itself with sunlight I am also
unraveling someone's ombré hair from a bun
loosened by drums
in a Central District basement.

Can my wingspan reach two regions
at once? Driving past the address  
of my North Star adolescence
I am suddenly all déjà vu, but not about
high school -- I sense Shorty's
around the next corner. Is that the Space Needle
canoodling with the town's water tower?
Cornfields act as a lying compass
flickering not just with wind, but the Sound.

Each day is an endless double exposure.
A trick of the camera that's become my brain.
Two states, now a duo at karaoke who can't decide
between who's singing backup versus lead vocals.
They sync, then switch.
Blend together as one, then return
to a long-distance relationship
fraught with financial issues.

I slip my feet beneath increasingly cold
water off the end of the dock
and each scrap of this collage shivers.
It is September now. As the ospreys
prepare to abandon their nests,
the warmth of California calls me.

Do I move yet again only
to build another home and kiss new necks
one day I will gaspingly miss?

My car winks at me. I sigh and
offal of my heart slips out.
From the lake’s far end,
the monitorial tremolo of a loon.

West Coast, I will see you soon.