All posts by Richard Lee Harris

Dreams of Ambrosia

When spring rains cease and school adjourns,
we’ll take an old tin pail and swing it by the bail.
With Peggy-Dog at our heels, we’ll race
through the gate and down the path
to the river bottom pasture, where
cottonwood catkins drift as snow.

We’ll scamper and pick and eat our share
of little wild strawberries, woodland berries,
growing in the sand-covered moss where
beetle-bugs hide, as we dream of baking powder
biscuits piled high with God’s own fruit—
delicate and gritty, smothered in thick new cream.
North Cascade Mountains, Washington

Candescence

Midday azure fades to dusk,
alpenglow calms the Cascades,
paints the clouds iridescent rose,
shadows deepen an icy crevasse.
 
The sun descends in eternal orbit
beyond Georgia Strait and Vancouver Isle,
its flames hold back the night,
twilight dims my view.
 
Candescence fuels my heart
with Promethean fire. A breeze
ripples the sea, laps the shore,
calls me to evening prayer.

I drafted “Candescence” in 1997 after spending an evening in Birch Bay, Washington, as the sun set over Vancouver Island, BC, and reflected off the glaciers on the west side of Mt. Baker.

Published:
Whatcom Writes!, Bellingham, WA: SunPorch Productions, Summer/Fall 1997.
Selected Poems: Alaska & Northwest, Haines, AK: Yeldagalga Publications LLC, 2013.

Legend of Tonopah

A prospector awoke to find his ass
missing in the early morning shadows
of a greasewood shrouded spring
hidden in the barren outcroppings
of the high Nevada desert.

Picking up a rock too heavy to heave,
a rock with weight greater than ought
to be, a rock, if he were to pelt it, would
break his ass, he discovered the state
of Nevada’s second richest silver strike.
Tonopah, Nevada

According to local legend, Jim Butler was the prospector who made the strike about 1900. Tonopah is derived from the Shoshone language. To-nuv means greasewood and pa means water.

“Dónde está el padre de agua”

I step from a van at the edge of Taxco, Mexico, onto mountainous paths too steep to drive, onto cobblestone walks away from water falls’ din, away from thunder known by Nahuatl and Zapotec as “where the father of water is,” high in the Sierra Madre Occidental, the “Madre de las montañas” of padres and conquistadors, a silver lode raped by Spaniards, Mexican and Catalan to build Santa Prisca, Catedral de los ancestros.

Here, I marvel at silver trinkets, glistening toys in merchants’ windows, picturesque jewelry crafted by generations of artisans.

Here, I dine on corn, beans and tomatillos, roasted pig, goat cheese and newly carved fowl; here, I drink fermented juices of hillside vines, terrestrial labor of aparcero Mexicana, where incessant winds and Pacific rains erode volcanos, Vulcan gods of Aztecs, Greeks and Romans.
Taxco de Alarcón, Mexico

Notes:
“Dónde está el padre de agua”: “Where the father of water is.”
“Madre de las montañas”: “Mother of mountains.”
Catedral de los ancestros: Santa Prisca (Cathedral of the Ancients).
Aparcero Mexicana: Mexican sharecropper.

World Peace Poetry

Yesterday, I received the following comment to the 3/5/2012 post of “The World Will Be,” a poem I had spend the previous year-and-one-half constructing. The comment and, once again, the poem brought eats to my eyes.

Dear Mr. Harris,

I am the daughter of Henia Karmel and the niece of Ilona Karmel, and I write to thank you for poem, “The World Will Be,” which my brother discovered on line and forwarded to me on the eve of Passover this year. I read it aloud at our Passover feast and we all marveled at the ripple effects of my grandmother’s words, and at the beautiful way you evoked them.

I often read from the sisters’ poems at Holocaust remembrance services at my synagogue. I would like, with your permission, to read your poem as well.

Best wishes,

Last winter, I submitted the poem to the World Peace Poets of Bellingham, not expecting a positive reception. To my surprise, it was not only accepted, it was included in Peace Poems, A collection of poems by border poets from Canada and the United States, and I was invited to read it during the Awards for Peace Ceremony and Reading. (I am the person in the far right of the back row.)

I encourage you to read the preface and the poem in the March 5, 2012 post, and to comment as you feel is appropriate. RLH

World Peace Poets

Peace PoemsPeace Poets Gathered, 2-28-2015

Gyppo Logger

When the 20th century was was young and timber claims new, Tom Porter split shingle bolts and sled them to the river. At high water, he floated them to mills on the Puget Sound. He felled the old growth firs, selected prime logs. The rest nursed hemlock and maple. Steam-spewing engines tugged and strained mainlines onto drums, skidding each log through underbrush and loading it onto hard-tired trucks on pole roads.

The War is over, now. This quarter section is Dad’s, to grub, to claim, hopefully, to farm.

I’m fourteen, my brother’s ten. We’re gyppo loggers, two boys and their dad, ignoring age and safety laws—equipment scrounged from scrap heaps and abandoned sites.

Valley fog is thick, freezes our limbs and evergreen foliage. We chop and clear decades of roots and decay smothering long butts to salvage one short log. On hands and knees, then bellies, ignoring mud and ice-encrusted clothes, we burrow like jackrabbits until we can stick one arm under a log. With all the strength two kids can muster, we tug on the haulback line, pulling slack in the mainline, trying to get it closer to our log. I unshackle a choker from the buttrigging between mainline and haulback. My soaked gloves stick to the icy steel.

We throw a choker over the log. Push its knob-end into its bell. It slips in my fumbling fingers. We slide the cable a half-turn on the log. Shackle it to the buttrigging.

I climb on the log, stretch to my tiptoes. Signal “Go Ahead!” to Dad standing on a donkey skid at the landing.

He fires up the little Model A engine, shifts into first gear, slowly tightens the mainline. We hold our breath. The log rolls free, inches towards the landing. There’s very little lift from a bullblock halfway up a spar tree.

There’s no romance, no money, no future in gyppo logging. There must be a better job in February.

Memorial Day: remembering those seldom honored

    First in my thoughts on Memorial Day 1995, as I reflected on the forgotten and unsung, who fought in our immediate past wars was my great-uncle Mark Harris, who died with influenza in 1918, while serving at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River, Washington. He is only remembered with a small stone that is barely large enough for his name and birth and death years in Bayview Cemetery in Bellingham, Washington. Then, my thoughts jumped eight time zones to Fountains Hall, once a Jacobean mansion in North Yorkshire, where Helen and I had recently visited, and a plaque still mounted in the ruins commemorating the owners’ 19 year-old son, an aviator, and 18 year-old daughter, a nurse, who died in World War II.

 

    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


Words in Silence Speak

In recognition of The Poetry Pole, (1995 to present).

 

When westerly zephyrs tease roses, and

hummingbirds hesitate their nectar search

to hear silent voices on the wind;

 

when the south wind moistens

earth’s vagrancies in fog and mist,

these voices travel beyond;

 

when east wind rustles leaves,

golden tinder sparks the air,

passersby read the posted words;

 

when north wind blows men and treasure

to the depths of the sea,

I listen for these voices;

 

when the rhythms of wind and sun

are in moments of harmony and peace,

slips of paper—words—silent voices,

 

old, new, experienced and being, are

pinned to weathered faces of a cedar stylus

with heart and spirit in an aura of love.

Yakima, Washington

                                       2012

The Poetry Pole was planted in a rose garden by the sidewalk in residential Yakima, WA, in 1995. There it stood until last winter when Jim Bodeen, its caretaker, moved to Selah, WA, and planted it by the sidewalk of his new residence.

According to Jim—poet, English teacher, Viet Nam veteran, advocate for young Latinos, and founder of Blue Begonia Press—the idea of a poetry pole came to

him in a vision. Encouraged by friends, he a planted a four-sided cedar post “along the path of the mailman and the butterflies.”

Egalitarian and democratic, The Poetry Pole is accessible to all ages, life-styles, races and cultures. Poems may be personally pinned to the post or sent to Bodeen by mail or e-mail.

I first learned about The Poetry Pole last spring, when Terry Martin , co-editor of Weathered Pages: The Poetry Pole Anthology, read from her own work here in Bellingham. Last summer, my wife and I visited the original site, unaware the pole had moved. That was OK; I still felt its presence and was inspired to write “Words in Silence Speak.”

For additional information go to http://bluebegoniapress.com.

From Selected Poems: Alaska & Northwest

Richard Lee “Dick” Harris