Articulating my Poetic Voice

This weekend, I responded to an e-mail from my instructor for the upcoming workshop I’m enrolled in at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival. He asked enrollees to send him a selection of not more than 10 poems a month before the workshop so he can start getting a sense of our work.

Articulating a sense, or voice, of my work has been a problem from the start. I write as I am motivated and voice is one of the things I never think about. I leave it to others to define me as a writer.

When I’m backed into a corner I struggle until I find some of my writing that I am, at the moment, comfortable with. In this case, with a lot of help from my “in-house” editor, I selected the following poems. They span from 1995-2012 and are the ones that seem to get the most public attention and response.

As is my practice, I noted the year the event or notion for the poem originated giving it time and place orientation. The year(s) I drafted the poem is in parenthesis. I did not include  backstories or narratives that go with several of the poems.

Although I’ve posted most of these and their backstories earlier, I’m doing it again. My question to you: Can you ascertain this writer’s personality from these poems?

Child of the Desert

Dry brush crisscross desiccated

saguaro ribs bound with twisted

fibers to weathered poles. Specks

of shade in a solar sea cast

their patterned light over an infant

sleeping in a hammock gently

rocked by grandmother sitting docile

in her cobbled chair, beside a

castoff table draped with checkered

oilcloth, its tear tucked under an

AM radio playing faux native

music from an Anglo world

across the desert, fifty miles away.

Museum of Indian Arts & Culture

Santa Fe, NM, 2007 (2008)

Eagle Feathers and Rainbow

 for Imogene Washington Bowen,

Upper Skagit Tribe (1935-2007)

Looking at you now, Imogene*, in your

cradle of lasting years, I see you in

our picture on the steps of Rockport School,

two rooms at the foot of your family’s


sacred mountain by the river of your

tribe, so many years ago.  You are

the pumpkin-faced first grader wearing

a simple wash-dress in the first row,


so sober under your freshly combed hair

and new barrette, Imogene.  I’m a second-

grader behind you, all frowns and ears sticking

out, my hair slicked-down.  I loved your name,

Imogene . . . Imogene.  You see,

I still sing it.  In minutes now, elders

will carry you away, to lower you

into an earthly bed under boughs of


cedar and snow on your sacred

mountain.  As darkness hovers, Imogene,

your spirit will rise, an eagle passing

through a rainbow above the river.

     North Cascades, WA

                          2007 (2007)


 *Pronounced with a long ‘I’.

Evensong for Margaret

On a Sunday evening in the cruelest month
           while the vicar preaches his lesson praying for rain,

Margaret, unknown and unnoticed,

           lay bound for eternity beneath a ghostly elm,

its skeleton reaching the sky among cairns and nameless slabs

          in the shadows of a West Yorkshire moor,

steps from dark and dank St. Michael-All Angels.

Shielded by boulder-dyke and fractured shale,

                             broken rocks in ragged form

encircle her simple marker

                   with fragments from a quarry on the heath’s far side.

A shaft of light pierces the nimbus sky,

                    its heavenly aura turns to gold

drifting daffodils,

            breaking the cold and

casting its halo over Margaret

            embraced in the stony care of her native heath.

                                                Haworth, UK

                                                 1995 (1995)

      The Ferryman
for Frank Tom, circa 1875-1949, American

Native ferryman on Skagit River, circa 1915-1945

Stout and strong, a man of few words,

he waves a log truck on, holds another back.

He knows when the ferry is loaded

for a river running high, a river running low.

Hand-over-hand, he turns a windlass,

winching  bridle cable shackled to line

sweeping upward to a travelling carriage

riding a skyline between spar-trees on either shore.

He anchors the windlass, hurries to the

bankside apron arm, climbs onto its

counterbalance, grips the top rail,

forcing his weight downward, leveraging

the fulcrum lifting the apron. He kicks

a bail over the end, secures it to the deck,

scans the current for swirling debris.

In a bracing stance at the ferry’s stern,

he drives his pike into the gravelly

shallows, pushing out from the calm

of a log boom lea into ricocheting current.

Overhead, the carriage rattles,

jerking forward with each roll of

the current. The skyline vibrates, sings

as spar-tree guys shimmy and strain.

The ferryman unchains the windlass,

presses hard on the brake pedal,

slowly unspools the cable, widening

the vessel’s angle, reducing its speed.

                                    Rockport, WA

                                       (2008, 2012)

Here’s My Two Cents

Looking down as usual,

counting cracks in the sidewalk,

walking to my car.

In grass at the edge,

was a penny, heads down,

propped against the trim.

I stoop over,

pick it up,

turn it over,

rub it clean,

glance at the date.


is a newer one.


Once valuable,

now only good for sales tax.

It cost one point

two-three cents to make.

Please, God:

No more pennies from heaven,

just dirty old dollar bills!

                    Bellingham, WA

                         2008 (2008)

       Memorial Day

for Mark Harris, 1893-1918


A cloudless sky,

    a day filled with spring,

    a day to remember those

    who lay in common ground,

Fallen without honor,

    unseen by us,

    whose flags they bore.

As volleys resound in sharp salute

    and banners dip to a trumpet’s call,

it is our day to remember

    the plaques that cling to crumbling walls,

    and plead as we pass by:

Tell them of us and say,

for your tomorrow,

we gave our today.

                                 Bellingham, WA

                                      1995 (1996)

Never Been in a Canoe 

“Get in!”

Marcus hollers over a deafening river.

“We’re goin’ widout-chuh.”

“Hurry up, chicken shit,” Frank yells!


Marcus, fourteen, staggers

to keep his footing in the canoe bow,

leans on the pole he thrust into shallows

until it bends, holding the canoe in place.


Frank, thirteen, in the stern,

teeters in a wobbly balance,

pushes his pole downward

to steady the cedar shell.


I wade into water slapping

my knees. Grab the gunnel.

I’m almost nine, never been in a canoe.

“’Not chicken shit,” I whimper.


I glance at the river—

an uprooted cottonwood is diving,

rolling in the current,

coming right at us.


I look down. Shiver.


“It’s not yours! You

dragged it out of the brush.”


“Damn it, chicken shit.

Get in!”

              Upper Skagit River, WA

                             1943 (2008)


Prairie Troubadour
Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)


Through prairie fields,

along river paths,

he wandered,

the road was his home.


From the Gulf to Chicago,

New York to Santa Fe,

for bread, he tramped.


Before senators, the president,

farmers and scholars, the

homeless on the street, he sang

his rhymes of butterflies, cornfields,

children’s verse, and justice.


In his American voice,

his Midwestern speech,

he sang,

          and wandered,


                                 wandered . . .

this prairie troubadour.

                             Springfield, IL

                               2010 (2010)


The sun rises in Seville,

echoes Lorca’s daybreak,

dances in orange parterres,


glints Faith’s smile

into barrio shadows,

the sultan’s chair,


and filigreed portico.

Little bees collect

honey on bitter orange


petals, drizzle

golden dew on

Andalusían tortes,


and bittersweet preserves

on breakfast toast

of Oxford dons.


I look away and rest

my eyes on gold,

ochre, and snowy white.


Carmen pirouettes

from the “telly.”

Her sensuous notes

infuse me with


“Love is a bird,”

bitter oranges are sweet

when the tune is played

upon a blue guitar.

                   Seville, Spain

                   2000 (2011)

  This River Sings

for my brother Jim (1937-2009)

Snow, avalanche, and scree;

creeks, ponds, and seeps,

collect in reverberating rush,

cascade in mountain pools,

eddies glazed undercurrents.


Mosquitoes and deerflies,

humorless protein,

psalmic multitudes,

survive winter’s minus.


Spring, tempered and wet,

its creeks quicken and swirl.

Tawny duff and flecks of sun

conceal newly dropped fawns.


Eagle, salmon, and raven

sing this river’s song—

sing as it flows—





This river sings as it

sprays cool mist,

splashes rocks with

syncopated rim-shots.


Cottonwoods rustle in tenor,

maples in baritone,

as softly this river sings

through mist and fog.


Softly, its spirits sing

of a mountain’s ashes

rising in evening drafts.


Wild and free, this river sings.

            Upper Skagit River, WA

                            2009 (2009)