Category Archives: Poems of Place

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.

“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

Devil’s Club Walking Stick

Some say that when you find a topic that catches your eye, you will write about it in different ways once, twice, thrice, maybe nine! Here’s one I’ve written as prose and now as poetry. Each time, it is the memory that I wish to convey.

An elder speaks in solemn tones:

In spring when leaves are full
and bark slips away,
select a stalk of devil’s club.

Cut it to fit your grip.

Carefully peel the evil thorns.

For a season, cure the naked staff.           


Use a shoulder blade of a deer,

to bone it smooth and dense.

Wrap your handhold with rawhide,

string amulets of beads and hips.


Quietly, take your walking stick

through the river’s shadowy thickets.

Listen as the inner spirit speaks.

Feel your walking stick’s magic

as the evil spirits steal away.


Quelcid, S’Klallam Elder, Teaches Us

As it appears in the Winter 2012 edition of Clover: A Literary Rag.

Quelcid, S’Klallam 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 in the Upper Skagit River Valley. 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 devil’sclub 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 the magic, they will sneak away.

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.

William Stafford Tribute, 2013

In my introductory remarks at the William Stafford Tribute, I noted that Gary Snyder, Phil Whalen and Jack Kerouac spent summers in the Upper Skagit River Valley working for the US Forest Service as fire lookouts, and that Robert Sund lived most of his life in the lower valley. I don’t know how long William Stafford lingered in the valley; his footprint is mostly in the Methow River Valley on the eastern slope of the North Cascades.

Did I meet them? No. I moved with my parents to a primitive cabin on the banks of the Cascade River in 1935; lived there for a few months before moving to Rockport, then across the river. I left the upper valley after graduating from high school in 1951, before any of these men arrived.

I read the following at the tribute at Village Books in Fairhaven, Bellingham, WA, on January 17.


“I like to live in the sound of water,

in the feel of mountain air. A sharp

reminder hits me: this world still is alive;

it stretches out there shivering toward it own

creation, and I’m a part of it. …”

—William Stafford, Time for Serenity, Anyone?


            
            Born in Ice

Born in ice melts and trickling creeks,

the Skagit rushes out of Canada

through gorges, faults, breached ice-age

moraines and magma,

grows in voice and spirit

as it flows to the Sound.

Raven, salmon, eagle and The-People-of-The-River

were one in word

before King-George-People and their books,

sought to make The-River their own.

With magnanimity,

The-River has borne evils

of 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 return The-Valley

to days before the world changed.

Skagit River, B.C.-WA

On April 28, 1996, I read “How This Eagle Came To Be” during the ceremony when an eagle carved in cedar was presented to the North Cascades National Park in memory of my mother’s friend, Marge Martin Emmons, a member of the Upper Skagit Tribe. It was dedicated in the North Cascades Interpretive Center, Newhalem, WA, a few hundred yards from her birthplace on the Skagit River. Born in July when twinflowers were blooming, she was a lifelong nurse, dying when winter’s darkness was leaving the valley.

 

How This Eagle Came To Be

 for  Marge Martin Emmons, Upper Skagit Tribe

 July 21, 1914-April 22, 1995.

 

A long time ago—

The Skagit splashed on rocks where wild goats fed,

Eagles rested in cottonwoods by quiet waters.

All beings spoke one tongue.

First-People and animals lived in harmony.

 

One day, Creator came to this place—

Sun was smiling.  Clouds were sleeping.

Wind was touching twinflowers, tasting berries.

An eaglet danced in her virgin feathers.

 

Creator sang—

This eagle will soar over clouds,

Sing a caring song for all people,

Follow prophets to far mountains and rivers.

Gentle and wise, mindful of righteous paths,

She will see beyond horizons and tiny stones.

My spirit will be in her.


Then Creator said—

In the days when darkness leaves this valley,

When rain dances on the snow

And forget-me-nots are kissed by the dew,

This eagle will fly to her cedar tree,

To a totem crowned for eternity.

Her spirit will be forever free.

North Cascades Mountains

     Newhalem, WA


Never Been in a Canoe

“Get in!”

Marcus hollers over a deafening river.

“We’re goin’ wid’out 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.

Blurt,

“It’s not yours! You

dragged it out of the brush.”

 

“Damn it, chicken shit.

Get in!”

                    Upper Skagit River

          Rockport, WA


        Summer Shower

I lay here in the semi-light of our cabin’s loft,

dreaming to the rhythm of a summer shower

raining on moss-chinked cedar shakes,

collecting in rivulets coursing the pitch,

dropping softly on June roses,

drumming rhubarb leaves.


If it stops, Dad will call me

to the pasture to auger holes

for hand-split posts replacing

those homesteaders planted,

now rotted in the ground,

no longer defending hay meadows

with rusting, sagging, barbed wire.

    South side of the Skagit River

             Rockport, WA


Magi of the Meadow

Between May 1987 and May 2003, my wife and I gardened a “Birchwood Acre” about 3 miles north of downtown Bellingham, WA. In the late 1990’s, I strung lights on three trees growing in the corner of our mini-meadow for the holidays. Whence came this poem.

        Magi of the Meadow
    
In a far corner of our meadow

behind the wild roses,

Magi emerge in predawn light,

bearing gifts of resin gum,

oil, and sweet incense.

 
      
Leading in columnar splendor,
    
with branches erect, an incense cedar

bears sweetness in leaves and fiber.

           Blue spruce, with gum and spring honey
    hidden in a bristly cloak defying touch,
    advances on the right.

 
    Western cedar, crossed boughs
    
in gentle grace, spreads oil
    
and fragrance on the meadow trail.

 
    Preceded by a melody slipping
    on the breeze as a misty rain,
    in their habits adorned
    from crown to sweeping skirt,

    a thousand jewels in the dawn.

                Bellingham, WA


Summer Shower

          
Which form works best: lined or prose?


  
Summer Shower

I lay here in the semi-light of our cabin’s loft,

dreaming to the rhythm of a summer shower

raining on moss-chinked cedar shakes,

collecting in rivulets coursing the pitch,

dropping softly on June roses,

drumming elephantine rhubarb.


If it stops, Dad will call me
to the pasture
to auger holes
for hand-split posts to
replace
those homesteaders planted,

now rotted in the ground,

no longer defending hay meadows

with rusting, sagging, barbed wire.

             South side of the Skagit River

                      Rockport, WA

Summer Shower

I lay here in the semi-light of our cabin’s loft, dreaming to the rhythm of a summer shower raining on moss-chinked cedar shakes, collecting in rivulets coursing the pitch, dropping softly on June roses, drumming elephantine rhubarb.

If it stops, Dad will call me to the pasture to auger holes for hand-split posts replacing those homesteaders planted, now rotted to the ground, no longer defending the hay meadows with rusting, sagging barbed wire.
                                                                               South side of Skagit River
                                                                                             Rockport, WA