Wednesday, May 28, 2008


The river pulls under the Hawthorne bridge
On its way to the Columbia. The same river
You can see from the high windows of the hospital
Where I was born, a hundred miles south of here.
The Willamette. It runs through a country of
extraordinary fertility before
It empties into the Columbia, and the two
Together make their last crook to the sea.

It runs green higher up and swift,
Brown lower down and slow. Full of poison,
Runoff from the myriad farms of the Valley;
But better than when I was young,
And no one worried at all about poisoned rivers,
Except cranks like my Dad. It is not quite dead.
And maybe it will live someday again.

Here, under the Hawthorne Bridge, the water
Dimples and swirls against the pylons,
Cold, glossy, taciturn. How many postcards
Is it carrying, I wonder, messages written
For no one to read, messages for the river
To keep? Cruelties too deep to fathom,
Too hard to understand; glossed as
Personal failures, because
Any explanation is better than none.
The river will carry them home.

It pulls. All that water. The droplet from
The huckleberry leaf on Hardesty Mountain;
The trickle from the culvert in the shabby
Vacant lot in Cottage Grove; the dripping
Rain from the alder leaves on the dry side
Of the Coast Range. All of it pulling together,
The cool brown veins of Oregon, the blood
Running exhausted to the lungs of the sea.

Oregon. Some of my people, the ones with
The French name, came from southern France.
The neighborhood of Lyon. Settled in New Jersey.
It took three more generations to get here. Even I
Did not quite stay still, moving down the river
To Portland. But here I stay. And the river
Speaks to me. It warns me
That some things do not come back. The sea-tides
Talk of eternity, fair enough; but rivers are about
What does not return.

Which is why I stay here in the gentle country
(Though God knows it has seen cruelty enough.)
This green, green home of light through rain,
This valley where all things grow, rice and peas,
Sheep and grapes for wine, beans and strawberries;
This kind and quiet country of running streams,
Where people can afford to smile at strangers.
We face ruin here, as everywhere else. Our small
Towns are emptied of young men to fight
In cruel inexplicable countries, oceans away,
Who come back broken, hoarse, and bearded
To beg along with the Indians on Skid Road;
And the rain is cold when you have nowhere to go.

But still. A more forgiving land than most,
And anyway, it's home. I will stay here, and die here,
Having done little enough for my country, but
Having loved it anyway as it should be loved.

Upriver, to the south, under the freeway bridge,
The dragon boats glow in the watery sun,
And their paddles flash as they pull.

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