Category Archives: Description & emotion in poetry

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


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.

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

When Helen and I first began traveling

     A long time ago, when my wife Helen and I first began traveling further than the grocery store we use to tell each other, “Let’s go now because someday when we aren’t able, we’ll have memories.” And I would add, “A closet full of slides and photosto help us remember.”
     It looks like that day is approaching. We were set to fly to Albuquerque on Feb. 15 and spend 10 days in the vicinity until my right hip became dysfunctional. Now it’s “further testing” and knocking down the inflamation until we find out what is wrong.
     Our focus was to be a Road Scholar week tracing the struggle of New Mexico’s conversos and Crypt-Jews. Among the sights we were scheduled to visit are Acoma Pueblo, the Cultural & Heritage Institute and Chayma’o chapel. Below are photos and poems and a paining by Helen Harris from trips in 1998 and 2007.

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

Sky People of a Thousand Years

for Orlando Antonio (1958-2007) Acoma Pueblo Guide


A warrior of many days,

sits on his kiva-step,

high above the desert floor.

In a voice low and worn,

he remembers climbing

with sky people of a thousand years.


When golden fire touches the west,

we People-of-the-White-Rock scale

this sandstone cliff to glittering light,

up a cleft, over boulders and scree,

ceaseless steps scoured by sandaled feet.


With vessels of medicine, water,
                                             and meal

on our heads, we climb
                                through darkness,

clutching handholds carved in rocks

         by sky people of a thousand years.


We reach for our lofty place.

Grasp the niches of time.

Pull through black to a clear day.

Rise another step,

         we sky people of a thousand years.

                                  Acoma Pueblo, NM


Winter Chores During WWII

     This is one anecdote in an anecdotal childhood. No overarching meaning or underlying theme, no fatherson conflict, no prepubescence struggle; it is just an incident that if aggregated with those of similar youths, becomes a picture of growing up in the time and place.
     This barn was built be Tom Porter in 1912; the field is the one I crossed to go home when the fences were split cedar posts and barbed wire; and we had an excessive snow storm in Dec.-Jan., 1944-45.

                          Winter Chores During WWII

Six animals in their stanchions. Mangers filled. Freshly bedded. Gutter emptied. Shit-splattered floor scraped clean.

It’s a warm, moist, bovine world in this old barn. Temp will drop to ten tonight.

A pale moon, almost white, rises over Porter Mountain, cast the barn’s long shadow over its yard, down the bank, and onto the field below.

High above Sauk Mountain, Queen Cassiopeia and “Big Bear” dance around North Star.

Snow covers ground. Path through the field packed. Been there a week. No rain. A miracle.. No slush. Splashing girls at school is fun, splashing in the barnyard, not.

When the Skagit is high, the meadow swales in the old river bed pond. When a northeaster blows, enough ice freezes for kids to play. Don’t let Mom or Dad find out, or fall in.

Crystalline droplets glisten on straw poking through crusty snow. Ice settling on swale slopes crack. I’ll follow a fencerow home. I can almost see it from here.

Midstream (Chapbook)

on the upper Skagit River, a Wild and Scenic River

Richard Lee “Dick” Harris

You surmised correctly. I am a poet of place, grounded in the Upper Skagit River Valley in the Cascade Mountains of Northwest Washington State who appreciates the grandeur of nature. I did enjoy fishing and owned a boat—an aluminum canoe with a quarter-horse electric trolling motor. Two years at Boy Scout camp and still I could only swim a few strokes. The boys who taunted me pulled me from a river backwater as I was drowning.

As you interact with my words you will learn that my growing up in log cabins without electricity, indoor plumbing, or running water, in an isolated culture of backwoods loggers and Native Americans in the Upper Skagit River Valley shaped my perceptions and language; and from this valley, I wandered through much of the world observing the significance and uniqueness of ordinary experiences, their relationship to the natural world, and clash of cultures.


Born in ice melts and trickling creeks, the Skagit River rushes through gorges, faults, breached ice age moraines and magma, growing in voice and spirit as it flows to the Sound. Raven, salmon, eagles and The-People-of-The-River were one in word and spirit before Chechacos, King-George-People, and their books, sought to make The-River their own.

With magnanimity, The-River has borne the evils of their ditches, dikes, and dams. When leaves rustle golden, it calls Wind-Spirit and Rain-Spirit to return Valley-Spirit; and when creeks quicken and fawns drop, it calls Shaman Spirit to awaken from dreaming-sleep and restore the The-Valley to days before the world changed.


In the season of advent, in the days of long nights, storms sweep our valley with moisture laden clouds streaming fog and mist over sandbars and sloughs and lifting their disgorged masses over the North Cascades. Eroded windfalls and flotsam careen and crash in the river’s turbulence. Leafless cottonwoods and shallow-rooted hemlocks torn from saturated earth and duff-laden sponge dive and bob in undulating arrhythmia. Roots skeletonized into filigreed tendrils spew frothy wakes of dirt and rocks.

These storms happened when The-People-of-the-River spoke many tongues and the river ran both ways. And, they will happen again.



This River Sings

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.


Chak-Chak, the Skagit Bald Eagle

Perched in an old-growth forest,

Chak-Chak rouses. In morning light,

Scans the river with piercing eyes,

Searches sandy bars for dying chum.

breaks silence,

Soars from Sauk Mountain,

Drifts Washington Eddy;

Glides the river’s course.

skims shimmering water,

Clutches a floundering salmon,

Settles on a backwash beach,

Feeds on his catch.

Perched in barren cottonwoods,

On the south bank where the wild Skagit bends,

Chak-Chak, in stoic dignity,

Basks in warm afternoon sun.

calls his mate.

Wings extended, talons interlocked

In descending flight, they tumble,

Somersaulting earthward, breaking skyward.

Before evening shadows deepen,

Purple hues of dusk chase the day.

Chak-Chak catches an ascending draft

To his nightly roost—and slips away.


Insensitive that I can’t swim

or my parents’ orders,

my peers taunt me,

“Damn it, chicken shit.

Get in!”

With adolescent derring-do,

they defy undercurrents

to swim eddies.

I look down in humility,

count pebbles in the gravel

and dream of elsewhere.


I drive into the North Cascades
following scenic Skagit River past civilization’s blight to celebrate its wildness. I gaze in awe this fleeting moment at snowy ridges and glacial slopes, alpine lakes and hanging valleys, traces of ice from eons ago. I see barren hills stripped of hemlock, cedar and fir, dammed rivers, meadows without life, mountains raped for gold.

Others, too, have seen this blind greed and wanton scarring, destroying the spirit of this beloved land.


 Eagle Feathers and Rainbow

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.


Quelcid, Native American elder, teaches us to make
walking sticks.  She beats her deerskin drum and sings: Pick a devil’s club, peeled andcured, that fits your stature.  Bone it with a table knife, as my ancestors boned it with a deer’s shoulder blade.  Wrap the grip with rawhide.  Hang on it amulets of rosehips and beads.

To touch diabolical “devil’s
clubs,” Oplopanax horridum causes me to shudder.  With each stroke of the table knife, I remember horse-logging with Dad and my brother Jim on the back of our place.  I remember “swamping out” trails through devil’s club and vine maple before each tree was felled, and whacking out horse trails to drag the logs out to the truck.

I remember Jim bending the green stem, then letting go as I swung my ax. Up it would spring, slapping thorns into each of us, driving them through our worn-out gloves. Always, as we were pulling thorns out of our hands, dad and the team would show up, impatient and disgusted at his teenage helpers.From Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound to Vancouver Island and the Puget Sound, indigenous people have for centuries, burnt, carved, ground, mixed, painted, plastered, rubbed, steamed, tattooed, and infused roots, stems, inner bark, and berries of this genus of ginseng, sometimes with thistles, black hawthorn, prince’s pine, cascara, and bear grease, for medicine, magic, and fishing lures.

 And now to the beat of her drum, Quelcid sings: Take your walking stick.  Go quietly through shadowy thickets to the river’s edge.  Listen for its inner spirit speaking to a shaman, his face painted with bear grease and ash.  Evil spirits know its magic, they will sneak away.


Decades later, a thousand miles north, I walk along a River Road and the tidelands as the Chilkat River melds into Lynn Canal and the afternoon shadows of the Chilkat Range. I stroll past dandelions in multiple bouquets and remnants of snow in the off ditch decorated with florescent swamp lanterns, my winter coat over my shoulder.

Lunch is freshly caught trout and newly picked beach greens; dessert, spring’s first rhubarb.

Politics are with the crew at the Main Street intersection where the temperature is 57 degrees, Fahrenheit, filling chuckholes and replacing collapsing sewers. God is in the pantheist totem on the path between Mountain Market and the town library celebrating “where they go to learn by themselves.”

Only the eagle sees beyond the glaciers.



Skagit is pronounced SKAJ-it.

“Cheechako paddling shovel-nosed canoe, midstream Skagit River near Rockport ferry crossing” (Cover photo, circa 1920, from family collection).

Cheechako is Chinook Jargon combining Lower Chinook “right away” and Nootka “come” into “new comer.”

Born in ice melts and trickling ….” See “When the River Ran Both Ways,” Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009, (2010).

In the season of advent, in the days of long nights ….” See “Signs of Winter,” Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009, (2010).

“This River Sings” came to mind while I was sitting on the banks of the Skagit River at Rockport waiting for the celebration of life for my brother Marvin L. “Jim” Harris, 1937-2009, to begin. Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009 (2010); Phrasings In Word and Dance 2010 (spoken and dance); Chuckanut Sandstone Review, 2010;

 “Chak-Chak, The Skagit Bald Eagle.” See backstory, Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009 (2010); p. 20, Concrete Herald, May 2010. Pencil sketch by Helen Harris.

“Eagle Feathers and Rainbow” is dedicated to Imogene Washington Bowen, 1935-2007, elder, Upper Skagit Tribe. Imogene is pronounced ΄Īm-ŭ-‘jēn. Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009 (2010).

“Quelcid, Native American elder, ….” Photo by Helen Harris.

“Decades later, a thousand miles north, ….” “Chilkat Range in the Morning” photo by RLH.

Collins, June McCormick. Valley of the Spirits: The Upper Skagit Indians of Western Washington (1974).

Hilbert, Vi, Haboo: Native American Stories from Puget Sound. (1985).

Midstream was drafted in Generating & Editing Poems for Publication, an Iowa Summer Writing Festival workshop, June 9-15, 2012, led by Richard Jackson, UT Chattanooga.

“Words in Silence Speak”

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,
hese 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

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

Eight Bells Toll

A gale force blew across the sound that October night

when the MISS LINDSAY dragged her anchor

and rolled her keel

in the shallows of Portage Island

before eight bells tolled over Bellingham Bay.


Was it a rogue that broke the swell

and swamped this purse seiner,

her nets stowed and holds clean,

and drowned these fishers

of Russia’s tides and Mexico’s shores?


With voices hushed and tears freely flowing,

the mourners still hear a crewman’s voice—

once crisp and clear—now a whisper in the wind:

Do not wait for our watch to end.

Do not wait for eight bells to toll over Bellingham Bay.


The seiner’s pulsing diesels vibrate the sea

under gray and misting skies.

Its crew tosses a wreath on the quivering bay.

With their skiff, they circle

as if pursing their comrades’ last cast.


They return to their stations

and sail into nightfall

leaving their tribute

to bob on the harbor eddy

in eerie afterglow of fishing lights.

                    Hale Passage, Puget Sound, WA


Interlacing description and emotion


     One workshop I’ve enrolled in this summer at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival is ‘description and emotion for all genres.’ Interlacing these without going overboard either way is tricky. It will be interesting to look back at some of my poems, such as this one, and see what improvements I can make.

     I’ve taken the first steps at setting up a Twitter account. Tweet me @dickharrispoet, with your thought on how well I’ve interlaced description and emotion in the this poem.


Boreal Matriarch

She startled me as I sped

towards the forty-ninth parallel,

a matriarch motionless

on a ribbon of grass

between the shadowy lee of boreal curtains

emerging spring and melting winter,

and a ditch choked with cattails in murky water.

Clothed in motley camouflage—

tawny, gun-smoke and brown,

tints of black on snout and tail—

she stood paramount

to the multi-wheeled menaces

speeding this wind tunnel.

A solitary life, haggard

from subzero survival, calving and suckling,

deceptively feigning slow footedness and tranquility

until angered by predators

stalking her offspring bedded in the understory,

or startled by naïve walkers crossing her path.