Archive for September, 2010

Arcola Mills Poetry Reading

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Folks up at Arcola Mills near Stillwater had a nice event recently.  Maureen got some poets together, a blessing was held on the banks of the St. Croix, food was shared.  It was a beautiful day.

For those unfamiliar, Arcola Mills is a unique non-profit arts and advocacy community started many decades ago.  It sits on historic land above the St. Croixon the Minnesota side, just across from where the Apple River joins the valley on the Wisconsin side.

Anyway, don’t want to make a big fuss about it, but, I did read these two poems that night and felt inspired to put this out to the world.

Salmon Hands

Laconic.  Buck-stopping.  Triumphal.

A road sign announcing the divide does no justice to the rock curtains pulled across a continent – plains and farmland rolling east;  westerly, mountain and valley tumble peak over floor to the coast.

The divide is civilizational.

Waters flow off either side, assuring divergence on a continent which never holds long what longs to be sea level.

If you follow the mighty Columbia as it curls back fetal, winding up valleys until there is no higher ground, you end up at Canal Flats, British Columbia, which begins a run to the Pacific, through gorge and ravine, picking up glaciers, swallowing whole the Snake and Spokane and a thousand other bodies desirous of tasting the sea.

One,  the Loksa, starts high up in the Idaho Rockies, where Colt Kill and Vernon Creeks splash cold over boulders, a rock     slide from the Divide and Lolo Pass.

Lewis and Clark must have crapped their Eastern drawers to find Chinook Salmon big as bartender arms in this particular stream, having fought current all the way from the Pacific, or believed they were close to finding their Northwest Passage to the ocean, a mere 800 miles further on.

As it was, they sickened on Chinook, carping endlessly in journals about the daily salmon ration during their winter-over near Columbia’s mouth.

Few make such a journey today, fewer still on a raft because solid concrete damns have taken the life of Columbia’s blessed waters and given it over to machines.

And sportsman drive hours up the pass, over the Divide to throw out hooks in mid-summer and see if a Chinook finds their colored yarn leader, mouths it delicately while mighty arms wait to pull sharply the other way.

I visit with an angler as morning sun splashes the rocky shore, magnifying this Native man off the Montana plateau, talking salmon and their ways, speaking in volleys of rhythm while dark hands work, hoping they touch the ocean.

They don’t actually feed, he says, lifting eyes to the sky, their journey is sacred, to regenerate the circle of life.  They come all this way just to lay eggs.

I look at the yarn closely, a ruse so banal that it seems trivial, undeserved, though I must have given just the right touch because next cast the Indian hooks one, standing there, forearms bulging as the salmon runs boulder to shore in roaring water.

Others reel in and stand passively with nets, the Native man has a fish, a beauty silver, red-streaked and alive—jewel of the Pacific.

In twenty minutes, he lands it and knows just how, with a few heavy whacks, to bring the journey to a close.

And begin another, buck knife along backbone to the tail, rock and hands staining red, fillets soft pink and meaty, guts torn, stuffed in a coffee can.

There was no gloat, nor gleam in his eye as he went, but quiet certainty that salmon and earth give like this.

Anglers both sides of the river lusted for a small taste of that western ocean, paid mightily for their license to take and kill and no treaties nor rights were abridged, but still, only one that day traveling the Divide came back from the Loksa with salmon hands and understood exactly what they meant.

Empires in the Sky

Many blessings flow from the flood of life that is high summer on the northern plain.

Grow corn, swim water, hear distant thunder rumble over –

Count them all

And count this, for blessings unrealized, love in mid-swing.

This morning, still dew on grass, full gusts flush trees to roaring like an ocean, a land at sea —

“All aboard!”

Warm too, with fiery sun bringing rain from temples of your forehead, where busy flies spend summer nesting and testing patience

Across the sky day long.

Never mind late afternoon lightening firing across whole counties, cicadas piercing huzzahs, lazy drones of a Cessna at sail

Only sun matters in mid-summer’s evening.

She hangs there, a golden pendant over green-dappled hills, trees waving gracefully, as lovers undulate in a porch-swing lullaby, creaking back and forth.

While those cumulos, in no particular hurry to see this day night, billow softly to   heaven, where sunlight finds them and shape scenes for eternity:

Antique Chinese landscapes,

Monterrey Eels flapping effortlessly, ,

Massive blue-grey horses striding hump-backed ridges

To great white mountains beyond.

But, these lovers swing, dare look to the sky, finding themselves together alone, and touch with lips naked as skin, dreaming what this sun might bring them now, right now,

Before she quits for blue of night, before late-light of solstice scatters into autumn, before once magically shapen clouds trade their identity

And become a cover for bright stars,

Hiding the universe,

Force love indoors with,

Hot mosquito pricks on skin,

And fear of darkness,

Unable to sleep or touch all night long in swollen heat,





This fade to black is the end for all sky-watchers — and even love.

Until, … unless

In groggy twilight,

Expectant birds twitter and send forth a signal that is understood instinctively but never said with words:


In the sky,

Brings empires into being,

Sets horses to galloping dew,

Puts moons in lover’s eyes,

Flies odd fish to heaven

Where we — lovers in mid swing

Not hearing the creak of time,

Push against the fall of dusk,

Don’t listen to leaves swish-swishing as we step toward late August


Like this day,

We go to our dreams

Feeling so much

That nothing unusual has happened.