Washington State University landscape architecture professor and poet Jolie Kaytes reflects on the complex emotions and rational considerations about the Columbia River watershed through poems that give new ways to consider our part in the stories of the River.


Fishhook Park

A tongue stopping “f”

with a soft “ish,”

tied to a tight lipped “h”

caught on “ook.”

Hard to swallow.

Where the Palouse Band gathered,

homed their family bones

now buried by the Snake River’s

stopped up waters, slow and dumb.

After touring the dam

winding through river fed orchards

we land there and are spun

by tribal elders who ask us

not for our sympathy, but

to share our gifts, to speak what it means

to live fully, to reveal our purpose,

to swim, seek

the lure of loss and

bite through it.


Benchmark: a relatively permanent metal tablet or other mark firmly embedded in a fixed and enduring natural or artificial object, indicating a precisely determined elevation above or below a standard datum, bearing identifying information and used as a reference in surveys. From The Dictionary of Geological Terms

In the dam lookout tower

mainframes orderly against the wall,

yellow buttons pushed

move gates down, up,

lock river in, out.

We tame wild waters, and assert

a single point of view,

our commitment to control.

Benches mark the banks all year,

we picnic stream side anytime.

On land transfigured

by desires to hold spring run off,

a Colville elder, ardent and sad,

offers careful hope for

renewed flux and flow.

The river can take the benches, he says.

To sit on a bench

firmly fixed on unwilling ground,


to ride the same bench downstream

in the first vernal gush?

We can locate the comfort of attachment,

How do we measure the datum of longing

for return?

Originally published in Camas: The Nature of the West, Summer 2013: Access


Read more about the Columbia River’s place in the Northwest consciousness in “A river rolls on.”