Three Poems from Washington State, Part III
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Map of Fort Worden
Susan J. Erickson
The power of water and waves
to three squiggly lines.
I am of two minds to note
Bliss Vista perches
above Harbor Defense Way.
The sound of bagpipes kilts through the summer air,
but is absent from the schematic pantomime.
A flagpole and a sculpture
are two circles.
A flagpole and a sculpture and a phone
are three circles.
Is it irony
or evidence of evolutionary development
that a poetry press for peace
is headquartered on a former military base?
The quadrangle with the non-com houses
is cornered by brig, gym,
the blacksmith and mule bar.
The officer’s housing overlooks
the tennis courts and parade grounds.
Oh, mapmaker without a name,
why do you label the north and south wings
of Building 204, but leave east and west
of others unmarked?
I married a Marine
loyal to the motto of the corps.
But I know, too,
that semper fi
is the way he loves.
A map is a test of faith
when its scale is based on convenience
or undersized paper.
At the military cemetery
I read Lisel Mueller’s poem
“Missing the Dead” to my largest audience to date.
The dead hover in the crisp light
not even sighing at her words.
On the graves of infants
I leave winged maple seeds
because it seems the right thing to do.
The chapel is locked.
The unlocked chapels are all around us.
When a map is put to paper
it raises questions
of attention and intention.
Every map is a translation.
The spring sun was warm as we drove a late
afternoon highway lined with chartreuse-tinted
bushes and trees; the road wound between hills,
and the river glittered back the blue above.
We crept up on a freight train plowing west to the coast,
only a few miles an hour slower than we were driving,
hopper car after hopper car, filled with glistening black coal.
We paced them for miles, for dozens of miles,
until I wished I’d been counting the cars so I could tell
the story accurately, but I hadn’t. It was surprising
how many there were. By the time the sun set,
the train and road were all we saw;
the blue sky paled above that race.
The road finally turned from the tracks,
the green of spring slipped back into the branches,
the gorge didn’t appear so pure,
and the world lost a little more of its magic.
Our smiles faded;
we faced forward in the front seats,
oblivious to the invisible exhaust following us
as we exhaled the rest of the way home.
Anacortes Fish Wife
Crates of various sizes stacked in our garage—
Symbols for our approaching goodbye;
All those things you or the crew
Could want or need on the fishing grounds.
For twenty-one years
My internal clock has gone off every spring.
I hate your perennial absence;
Your nagging call of the sea.
Surge of my blood
Against the sure shore of your leaving;
Surf-like scrape of my missing you;
The push-pull of mornings—days—months.
You’ve been on autopilot all these years;
I have no rights in this matter of fish.
From the dock I watch the froth of your white wake.
Deep throm-throm of powerful Cat-engine—
Chasing bluebacks—then pinks—knowing
The run peaks when the salmonberries are ripe.
WA129 is a collection of poetry gathered from the people of Washington State. Compiled and edited by 2016-2018 Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall, the book features poetry by amateur poets alongside acclaimed writers including Sherman Alexie, Tom Robbins, and Tess Gallagher. The collection includes 129 poems—one for each year of statehood. The book is published by Sage Hill Press and is available on Amazon as well as at independent bookstores throughout the state. An online version of WA129, featuring an expanded selection of poems, will be available during summer of 2017.