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.
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
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.”