Poems

Three poems from Broken by Water: Salish Sea Years,
     now available from Turning Point Books:

Lullaby of the Sea

Inside the blacked-out globe of this night
without the moon, without a hint
of stars, the sea—the Salish Sea—
is the only fact our senses trust.
Its surf, thrumming as soft as our hearts
through sleepless nights, its salts in air
so clean against the reek of debris
in the kelp and seaweed of the wrack.

This skookum night of sea everywhere—
sea in our eyes, our ears, sea in
the shapes our minds name to damp
down fear.  This place where land and sea
are nearly one beneath a black dome
sky—how can this be home, our home?

The Question of Who
             Nisqually, 1854

owned the land and who
got to live where
on Puget Sound
was settled in the mind
of Isaac Stevens
by 1854
when he bullied
the chiefs into treaties
that left their people
little to live for,
though Sealth, chief
of the Duwamish
and Suquamish,
warned everybody:
“Let him be just
and deal kindly
with my people,
for the dead are not
powerless…”

But live they did,
those Salish tribes
or else Sealth’s dead
rose from the other world
in 1974
when the question of who
owned the salmon and who
got to fish where
was settled in the mind
of Judge George Boldt,
based on the premises
of, and promises
in, those forgotten treaties
Governor Stevens
bludgeoned into law.

Man with Apples

My earthly efforts, small as they
may be in this cursed year, amount
to thirty-one comely apples, not counting
a few the storms knocked down
and one the birds got into
at picking time.
This espaliered apple
with hardy Northwest varieties
grafted to disease-resistant stock
is practically fail-safe   
the nursery claims, but what
can that mean in this autumn world
so blown apart
by wind and bombs and quakes,
and what should the world make of this man
standing at his back gate,
holding out a peck of shiny apples?

Two poems from One Thing After Another, 2013:

Not Enough Sleep in the Face

I say to my mirror-self, deciding
not to shave.  It’s my birthday,

a cusp day on the astrologer’s
chart.  Aquarius or Pisces?
I pick Pisces and read:  “The world

is your oyster”—what can that gem
of Shakespearean wisdom mean now?
No one past fifty should dream

that fiercely.  These eyes are muted
green and these cheeks are roughened
on the bone, but the shower

steams the wispy bathroom air
until my mirror-face disappears.
I touch my face—yes, oyster.

About Death

they were almost never wrong,
the senescent lovers who kissed
for no good reason except kissing
exists, and they still could.

How well they watched their friends
dwindle from couple to single,
seeing each memorized face and gesture
fade from the mirror of daily life.

And how they watched themselves
in that same mirror—Audenesque
crevices, splotches, a befuddled gaze—
yet how they kept on

kissing, not expecting better days.

Two poems from To the Archaeologist Who Finds Us, 2008:

To the Archaeologist Who Finds Us

We used language
up.  Words broke
or collected decades of dust
and had to be trucked
off to the dump
with the rest of our refuse.
Lovely words—
Abracadabra    Bonanza
            Candescent     Doggerel     Eden
disappeared
from our literal lives—
Fickle     Grace     Happenstance
Even our children stopped
finding fun in names—
Ignoramus     Jubilee     Killjoy
stopped fish-mouthing
syllables—
Lummox     Molasses     Nincompoop
           Osmosis     Poo-poo
In disgust
words quit speaking
to us.  They tip-toed around
our rooms
like despondent lovers
stuck with faithless
mates—
Quagmire     Rutabaga     Stormtrooper
           Trample     Umbilical     Verisimilitude
In the end,
we were simply too busy
for words.
They shamed us
into a crystal night
of silence that seemed
darker than history—
Waxen     Xenophobic     Yankee     Zootsuit

Note to Keats

There isn’t much to say about beauty
these days, except that it isn’t truth,
unless truth is glossy
and monthly.  This is America

the goddamned beautiful
in the twenty-first century,
not Hampstead Heath
in the nineteenth, and we know

the bride is ravished
long before the bridal shower, the tree
logged off before autumn even comes.
Beauty is money, John,

and you know what urns are for.

From On John Muir’s Trail, 1999:

In California

Even here we dammed—
in Sherwood Forest,
this lush wood

where young Flynn
rose each morning
into Robin Hood

and de Havilland
stunned the birds
with her Maid Marion.

Right here, beneath
supposed-English skies,
Roosevelt’s

WPA
built a little dam
to plug Big

Chico Creek into the swankest
swimming hole
in Butte County.

Army hotshot
Engineers dubbed this job
“flood control”

but what’s to flood?
Big “little boy” Creek?
A Chico joke,

this silty dam
of wood and concrete
with floodgate

the size of a small car—
a Volkswagen,
the “people’s car”

of a people
setting up for a war
that would drain

FDR’s
dying years
in his personal country.

While in California,
we knew real war
was for water

and “water flows uphill
toward money.”
We’d figured

the cockamamie
belief that gravity works
is kid stuff,

best saved for movies
where a swashbuckler
like Flynn

made a fortune
teetering
of a limb-bridge

into newly-dammed
Chico Creek
and his manly laughter

welled tears
to the eyes of his band
of Merry Pranksters.

But in California,
history swears,
we’ll dam anything,

even tears.


for Marc Reisner