This is What You Shall Do


This quote is from Whitman’s preface to Leaves of Grass. I’ve been reading these words every day when I sit at my drawing table, and hear the beat of a different drummer as they settle into my mind. I wonder what Walt would make of the world today?


“There are those who love to get dirty”

There are those who love to get dirty
and fix things.
They drink coffee at dawn,
beer after work,

And those who stay clean,
just appreciate things,
At breakfast they have milk
and juice at night.

There are those who do both,
they drink tea.

Gary Snyder

This is one of my favorite poems, saved for the second to last day of National Poetry Month. I came in from the garden after making the photograph, put the risen bread in the oven, topped off my tea with hot water, and sat to write this. Except when I open my copy of The Gary Snyder Reader, I always end up reading. Always. Here’s another one, then I will check on the bread and head back out to the garden.

For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

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

National Poetry Month

"Sleeping Out"
pastel on paper, 1997
22" X 30"

April is National Poetry Month, and I can’t let it pass by without some celebration. My earliest memories of poetry go back to when my age was in the single digits–what kid doesn’t grow up with nursery rhymes? But I also remember bringing home a flyer from the Scholastic Book Club and showing it to my mom. I had pointed at some books I was interested in, and she replied that I was old enough for poetry. That was my first book of poems, and others came later.

My generation was not made to commit poetry to memory, but my gramma could recite lines from John Greenleaf Whittier that she had learned as a young girl. I went through a phase of anguished adolescent poetry writing, and also enjoyed reading poetry in French and German. Over the years I have found poets whose work speaks to me in an intimate way, as if they have found words for what I notice and feel. Or they have found words for connections I only make upon reading, and these bloom in my heart and imagination like the aurora. Now and then a poem comes bubbling up out of me, usually when I am especially emotionally stirred. No other form of expression will do. Often these feel private–visual art and prose may be seen by others, but the poems are very personal

Mary Oliver is one of my favorites, and it seems right to share a poem of hers. Enjoy.

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth
remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

Mary Oliver