I Don’t Remember the Willamette
by Marianne Szlyk, copyright 2017
(Response to Bea Garth’s painting “At the River“)
If I were to paint a picture of my life in Oregon,
that river would not run through it.
I remember moss growing on tree trunks,
the sequoia trees dwarfing brown, flat-roofed houses,
the first camellias and azaleas I saw, their tissue-pinks dissolving in the warm rain,
the city limits, the two mountains like the head and foot of a bed.
I started to climb Spencer’s Butte in a handmade blue sundress and sneakers.
Our friends in shorts wore hiking boots and carried water.
I thought of Mt. Washington’s whipping wind,
the last time I had stood on a treeless summit,
waiting for the van to drive us back down
while an icy rain pricked through the sleeve of my orange coat.
The two of us drank ginger ale and headed home.
I remember following the Amazon Creek to pick wild blackberries
on Sundays when the buses did not run to campus.
I remember once along the McKenzie River, dipping my hand in soapy water.
So far from the city, I had expected something crystal, something drinkable.
I remember the dry mountains in the distance that no one climbed.
I still dream of driving past them to towns I never visited:
Junction City. Tangent. Sweet Home. Albany.
Places my students came from. Places my friends did not.
I remember when Jesse Nash drowned. Thrown from his inner tube,
the young athlete had no chance as the Willamette,
true to its Kalapuyan name, rippled and sped past the rocks.
I remember Interstate 5. Like a river, it ran past fields of rye-grass
on to Corvallis, on to Portland, then out of state.
Set by the farmers, fires hid the mountains from us in the city.
Some of us at home choked on the smoke. Others on the road
were killed. We wanted to be anywhere else on those days,
to be where these bonfires had been banned.
But I do not remember the Willamette.
Bio: Marianne Szlyk is editor of The Song Is… , an associate poetry editor at Potomac Review, and professor of English at Montgomery College. Her 2nd poetry chapbook, I Dream of Empathy, was published by Flutter Press (cover by Bea Garth). Her 1st chapbook, Listening to Electric Cambodia, Looking up at Trees of Heaven, is at: http://barometricpressures.blogspot.com/2014/10/listening-to-electric-cambodia-looking.html . Her poems have appeared in a variety of online and print venues, including The San Pedro River Review, Cactifur, Of/with, bird’s thumb, Truck, Algebra of Owls, Setu, The Bees Are Dead, and South Florida Poetry Journal. Recently she was artist in residence at The Wild Word. Her environmental poems appear at: http://thewildword.com/we-disaster-tourists/ Please consider sending poems/art to her e-zine The Song Is… at: http://thesongis.blogspot.com/
Bio: Bea Garth is editor of Eos: The Creative Context, as well as an accomplished artist and poet. She will be featuring her artwork in the Clark County Open Art Studios this coming November, 2017. Her artwork has been featured in several magazines and book covers including Caesura, the DMQ Review, I Dream of Empathy, and Where The Wild Ox Roam. She has been president of 4 art organizations including president of the San Jose Art League, and the ceramics department at Maude Kerns Art Center in Eugene, OR. She has organized many art and poetry events in both Eugene, OR and San Jose, CA, and was the brainchild for several poetry and art magazines, including Poetic Space and of course Eos: The Creative Context. She was also a co-originator (and the editor of the art and poetry section) of The Other Paper, a progressive monthly in Eugene, OR. She recently moved to Vancouver, WA and is now primarily focused on her own creative work again, as well as continuing to edit Eos. She is also the current webmaster and Facebook administrator for the OregonWCA.org (Oregon Women’s Caucus for Art) . To see more of her artwork and some of her poetry, go to: https://bgarthart.com