Above the Birch Line


By Pia Taavila-Borsheim

Categories: Literature / Poetry / Literary Studies
Imprint: Gallaudet University Press
Paperback : 9781944838898, 98 pages, October 2021
Ebook : 9781944838904, 98 pages, October 2021
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Norwegian Krone, 1891

My grandfather once gave me a silver coin
worth two ore. On one side, a rampant lion,
crowned, and on the back, the number two,
encircled by a wreath of linden leaves.

I carried this coin in my pocket every day,
going out and coming in, while playing,
reading in the town library,
waxing my skis, or meeting classmates to sing

every evening in the pine-ringed square.
I would slide my hand down to feel its rigid
edges, its markings raised in relief.
It smelled of his tobacco, his cologne.

It never slipped out, even as I hung, upside
down, in the tree I’d climbed, swaying
in the breeze off the fjord, nor when leaping
from rock to rock below the jagged cliffs.

The year stamped on its face was 1891,
the year of his birth. I give this coin now
to you, wrapped in purple tissue paper,
tied with an orange ribbon. As you move

about, as this coin jangles with its mates,
rubbing themselves smooth and shiny,
think of me. Touch its gleaming surface.
Finger its impressions. Keep it safe.

Table of contents


Notes from Childhood
  Norwegian Krone, 1891                                                                             3
  Down the Road                                                                                          4
  November, 1963                                                                                          5
  Ortiz’ Dry Cleaners                                                                                    6
  On the Au Sable River                                                                              7
  Flag Pole                                                                                                     8

Notes for My Former Loves
  Two Birds                                                                                                  11
  Climbing the Bluff                                                                                   12
  Wake                                                                                                         13
  Sherry Glasses                                                                                         14
  Marriage                                                                                                    15
  After He Leaves                                                                                        16
  The Internet Dating Game                                                                     17
  Frame                                                                                                       18

Notes from My Travels
  Longitude                                                                                                 21
  Lost                                                                                                           22
  At the Ferry                                                                                              23
  Colorado Farewell                                                                                   24
  Thirst                                                                                                         25
  Massage Therapy                                                                                     26
  Piazza                                                                                                       27
  Mangalore                                                                                                28
  I See Horses                                                                                             29
  Underground                                                                                           30

Notes from Motherhood
  A Mother’s Lament                                                                                    33
  Root                                                                                                          34
  Soldier Son                                                                                               35
  Hovering                                                                                                   36
  Fare Well to Six Children                                                                          37

Notes to David
  Thunder Bay                                                                                             41
  Chance                                                                                                     42
  Wisp                                                                                                          43
  Shopping                                                                                                   44
  Proposal                                                                                                    45
  Roofline                                                                                                     46
  Psalm                                                                                                        47
  Desire                                                                                                        48
  Marriage to a Widower                                                                              49
  Wednesday Mornings                                                                                50
  For David                                                                                                   51
  Delayed Gratification                                                                                 52
  Solstice: Still Life with Husband                                                                53

Notes Toward Aging
  While Weeding                                                                                           57
  From Car to Schwinn and Back Again                                                       58
  Main Street                                                                                                59
  Diskobolos                                                                                                 60
  First Drafts                                                                                                 61
  For Aging Couples                                                                                     62
  March Morning                                                                                           63
  Presque Isle Landscape                                                                            64
Notes Toward Death
  We Birds in Love                                                                                       67
  Sail                                                                                                            68
  To My Biographer                                                                                      69
  Toward Death                                                                                            70
  Passage                                                                                                    71
  Haiku Sequence: Night Watch                                                                  72
  Winter Night                                                                                              75

Acknowledgments                                                                                      77

Gratitude and Thanks                                                                                80

About the Author                                                                                        81

Above the Birch Line reflects a lifetime of observation and experience, and offers glimpses of the loves, aches, and comforts that have accompanied author Pia Taavila-Borsheim along the way.



Above the Birch Line reflects a lifetime of observation and experience, and offers glimpses of the loves, aches, and comforts that have accompanied author Pia Taavila-Borsheim along the way. Written primarily in free verse, the poems are imagistic in nature, with an ongoing metaphor of visual representations of nature, especially water. Starting with her childhood and continuing through late adulthood, Taavila-Borsheim ruminates on her parents, travels, marriage, motherhood, and finally, aging and death.


Pia Taavila-Borsheim is a retired professor of literature and creative writing at Gallaudet University. Her previous works include Moon on the Meadow: Collected Poems, Two Winters, and Love Poems. She lives in Presque Isle, Michigan.


Advance Praise

“This book is a life-long journey that begins, beautifully, with the request for a private existence (‘Sometimes I want a life unseen, above the bookstore’); it asks for the life of attentiveness, a life of detail (‘A small life, such as the one in which stew / bubbles on the stove and there is a wooden table / set with two bowls, two spoons, two mugs for milk / and thick napkins, white and folded. Bread bakes / while steam from the kettle clouds my glasses.’). It is these details that give the poems their power, their imagistic depth and sweep. The poet does a beautiful job giving us the intimacy of perspective, the clarity of view, especially in the poems that look back, that deal with memory in poems that are narrative, but not prosy, lyrical but not needlessly inaccessible. There is a clear emotion running through these pages and the reader can relate to the voice of these poems. There is also a beautiful economy of language in this book. The tension between what is said and unsaid is beautifully balanced.” 

— Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic

“Pia Taavila-Borsheim’s Above the Birch Line invokes a rich, resonant past through the clear-eyed and compassionate lens of present wisdom. From the silences of Deaf parents whose sign language speaks volumes, to the tranquil summer days of Michigan rivers, outboard motors, and hours lost to ‘the lapping waves crowding one upon the other,’ Taavila-Borsheim writes with a sure touch and an inclusive vision. She is the mother who bids a literal ‘fare well’ to the adult children who have left home for the wider world, and she is the poet who wryly recalls former loves while vividly chronicling travels to Colorado, Key West, Italy, and Mangalore ‘where, in moonlight, / musicians finger tablas, harmoniums, / singing and moaning to ancient ghazals.’ Above the Birch Line offers poems that are literal ‘passages’—both journey and revelation—and those who join this singular voyage will find themselves fortunate, indeed.” 

— Ned Balbo, author of The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots

“The poems in Above the Birch Line are a harvest of arresting detail, entrancing musicality, and consistently evocative narrative. You'll find your eyes, ears, and heart revisiting (and marveling at) each line, image, and stanza the way one pores over, say, a score by Claude Debussy. Pia Taavila-Borsheim's work honors her path, but she also takes us along on these vivid recollections. Lucky, lucky us.”

— Reuben Jackson, author of Scattered Clouds

“Pia Taavila-Borsheim’s Above the Birch Line is part poetic autobiography, part prayer book: a celebration of life in all its complicated beauty and a call for communion with the natural world. But it’s also a guidebook—in sections moving from Notes from Childhood to Notes toward Death, with important stops in between—to a lifelong journey of discovery. These poems offer us a careful contemplation of ‘matters of heart and hand’ from a sharp-eyed poet ready to capture each moment of wonder, fleeting as ‘the flash of a cardinal’s red wing / in a snowy forest.’”

— Matthew Thorburn, author of The Grace of Distance

“Haunting, aromatic, and atmospheric, Pia Taavila-Borsheim’s poems reveal a coming to terms with the order and disorder of life and nature. At once panoramic and microscopic, they are moving and cinematic, shifting focus between details faraway and up close.”

— Willy Conley, author of Listening through the Bone

“With imagistic precision and a rare generosity of spirit, Above the Birch Line confronts the sweep of a life—its joys and hungers and sorrows—while relishing the tiny details that somehow make all the difference: ‘Pecans on waffles. / Purple lantana. Frothy ferns. / Dew glistens on coquina walls.’ I was especially moved by this book’s daring meditations on old age: the contradictory salve and stab of memory during ‘this time of too much time’ and yet the unexpected sweetness near the end.”

— Anders Carlson-Wee, author of The Low Passions

“These poems are infected by—full of—water in all its guises. And this—the presence in nearly every poem of rain, snow, bays, creeks, clouds, huge lakes, rills on glass—is also Above the Birch Line’s extraordinary strength. There is a clarity, a fluidity to these poems, a grace of registers from the very small to large, from childhood past old age, from early desire to late. And the poems hold within themselves a quiet urgency—to say a life, but a life in its various contexts and containers, a life deeply connected with the world. It is also a book of real, quiet, and, in its own way, ferocious maturity.”

— Leslie Harrison, author of The Book of Endings