Category Archives: Straightforward style

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

 

Midstream (Chapbook)


Midstream
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—

            dammed,

        tunneled,

               diverted!


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.


Chak-Chak
breaks silence,

Soars from Sauk Mountain,

Drifts Washington Eddy;

Glides the river’s course.


Chak-Chak
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.


Chak-Chak
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.

******




Endnotes

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; www.skagitriverjournal.com.

 “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.

Poems That Trigger

    Outside reviewers, for the most part, have given favorable reviews of my poetry. They do, however, seem to see much more in it than I see. Once in awhile, though, I stand back a step or two and look at it with a somewhat objective view.

    I try to write simply in a straightforward manner, capturing images that trigger my imagination. Primarily, I write imagistic lyrics, relying on evocative details and metaphors that evolve as I work, and that give meaning to the poem.

    To me, a successful poem triggers a reader’s imagination or recollection and is jotted down in a journal in whatever form that suits the reader. And, sometime in the future, this note is incorporated into something larger.

For fuller discussions of my approach and of “The Commute” and “Sarabande,” see “Backstories” in Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009. “From Rockport Bridge” is excerpted fromThree Views of the Skagit River” and was published in The Storytellers (SunPorch Productions, Bellingham, WA, 1994). I read the original poem for North Cascades NP Earth Day & National Park Week at the USNP interpretive center in Newhalem, WA, on April 20, 1998.

    Although these poems are very personal and can be read metaphorically, I hope that they trigger your reimagination.

 


        The Commute
              

During an early dawn commute
in the after-fog of a summer storm

north of Calgary

through a windshield blurred with road oil

I see tire skids in the gravel

plowing ruts to the brink of a ditch

and

a deer half-buried in turgid muck

belly up

neck twisted

one bulbous eye staring into cattails

 

I drive on

Calgary, Alta.; 2002

 

 

 

    Sarabande

 

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

 

Fom Rockport Bridge 

 

I stand on Rockport Bridge,

This sunlit winter day.

My eyes follow the Skagit

Past Washington Eddy

To Eldorado’s glistening ridge.

 

 For a fleeting moment, I see

Snowy ridges, glacial slopes,

Alpine lakes, and hanging valleys,

Traces of ice from eons ago.

 

Framed by cottonwoods and purple hills,

The road edging Mount Sauk

Scribes the river,

Gently washing pebbles

Beneath a winter sky.

 

Travelers pass me

In eagle search,
Skimming the view–:

A ferry barge,
A cedar canoe,

Our log cabin—

Artifacts of my youth.

 

These incidental visitors

Will never hear eagles call,

See black bear fish,
Trout rise to the fly,

Witness stars outshining the night—

All that I see from Rockport Bridge.

Rockport, Washington; 1994

I Begin my Path to Poetry, Part I

        My path to poetry has been neither deliberate nor direct. Its wandering may be followed through “A Path Lately Taken,” “My Parents’ Dreams,” “Selected References,” and “Acknowledgements,” all in the back matter in Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009. Here, I briefly note signposts along the way.

I first sensed rhythm and music, and the use of words that eventually shaped my poetry in the nursery rhymes my mother taught me, and in the naptime stories in Good Housekeeping magazine she read to my siblings and me.

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with the origin of words, their use, and in writing them down. My mother said that from the time I could talk I asked questions and persisted until I was satisfied with the answers.

After I learned to read, I became an insatiable reader. In spite of limited family resources, I was encouraged to read by my mother and my teachers. Still, today, I can flash back to the adventure stories and children’s classics I read during a summer of limited activity while I was recovering from undefined rheumatic fever.

Through my college years, I did not like poetry because I was not supposed to. I was unaware that it existed in the very essence of nursery rhymes; the playground chants, jingles and teases I so enjoyed; the patriotic and celebratory songs I sang off-key and at the top of my lungs; and in the school band and glee club music that was a big part of my life.

I write in a straightforward style, striving for precise imagery and letting story and language dictate mode, stanza, and line. Epiphanies, symbolism, philosophical assertions, and layers of complexity may or may not arise as I write. Beginning with the known, I try to give a poem life and spirit by imagining the unknown. Form flows out of content. Sometimes this is conventional, other times it is free verse.

I write to communicate in plainspoken English, and to express myself in poetic speech that which I have read, heard, remembered, or ought to have remembered in a manner described by Wendell Berry in his essay “The Responsibility of the Poet” (What Are People For? Essays).

Once I reimagine a notion, I draft notes, research, compose verses, edit, “sleep on it,” rewrite, redraft, edit, “sleep on it,” sometimes repeating this cycle forty or fifty times for years until I am satisfied.

I find the following tools crucial to writing poems: (1) read it aloud as I write; (2) observe audience comments and body language when reading publicly; (3) record and listen back to public readings; and (4) keep an attitude that a poem is always a draft.

Listening to CD’s and watching DVD’s of either the author or a trained interpreter reading are invaluable to understanding a poem. More and more digital recordings are packaged with books. With the growth of the World Wide Web, audio poetry has become the new medium. Three sites with extensive selections are The Poetry Archives, www.poetsarchives.org, The Academy of American Poets, www.poets.org and PBS NewsHour Poetry Series, www.pbs.org.