More Poetry

My work today took me to the frontage road that parallels Interstate 90 just east of Snoqualmie Pass. I skied out to pick up some winter signs to bring in for summer storage. It was 53 degrees as I glided easily over the soft snow kernels. The warmth and brightness was refreshing. But…the howl of tires on pavement filled my ears. When big trucks went by, they were so loud that I looked up to see if a jet was passing overhead. 27,000 vehicles use this road in an average twenty-four hour period.

For at least a year I have been mulling over the idea of a metaphor for the interstate. It connects the western and eastern parts of the Washington. It runs from coast to coast, starting in Seattle and ending in Boston. It’s not a river, because it flows both ways. A blood vessel, an artery? A channel, part of a network? A barrier? It is all of these things and none of these things. It is a long wide road. Its presence is the defining feature of the bottom end of the North Cascades. It brings people here, too many some would say. Our mountains are easily accessible and loved nearly to death. It’s hard to witness what seems like degradation, especially as it speeds up. Gasoline is well over $4 per gallon, and diesel is climbing toward $5 per gallon. How can it be cost-effective to ship so many goods in trucks on the freeway? Where is all the stuff going? Where are all the people going? And in such a hurry? Will we ever acknowledge the craziness of living this way?

The noise and vibration leave me feeling battered. I long to escape to a quieter slower place. But I too am part of the problem as I load my skis and gear into a gasoline-powered vehicle. I enter the flow of traffic and become part of the howl.

In looking for a poem to go with this experience, I came across W.S. Merwin. If anyone can express the irony of my uncomfortable situation, it is him. He wrote that poetry is a way to begin to say the unsayable.



with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

W.S. Merwin

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