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Three Poems from Washington State, Part IV

The fourth of a five-part series featuring poetry by Washington State writers, with each poem influenced by our state’s people, places, and culture. The poems are excerpted from a new anthology, WA129.

  • August 1, 2017
  • |
  • Poetry
  • |
  • By Carolyn Gilman / Ellen Welcker / Shin Yu Pai

Driving Home from Spokane

Carolyn Gilman


The Inland Empire.
I don’t really know it,
But I know the drive home.
A countdown of exits,
Two-seventy-six to one,
Prairie to timberland.

From the Palouse Highway
To I-90—from Cheney
Through Ritzville, then Moses Lake.
Each a pillar on the plains.
Tumbleweeds to the wide, flat
Columbia. Roll on!

A glimpse of iron horses.
We coast across the gorge.
Vantage. Ellensburg.
Let’s play Name That Crop.
Two choices to tune in:
Country or mariachi.

Cle Elum—almost there
Passing in a moment
To trees, tall and blurry.
Green as high as you can see.
Water trickling from rocks,
Winding us home to the west.



Masters of Condescension

Ellen Welcker


Masters of condescension—join me
for I’m about to monologue about MY TOWN:
a place I’ve lived for going on four years.
So expert am I at seeing the forest
for the trees, why, I unearth meaning
the way some people find geodes! My vision
so clear and all-encompassing as to be capable, nay
excoriatingly precise at summing up MY TOWN.
MY TOWN has grown men riding tiny bicycles.
MY TOWN has beautiful architecture. MY TOWN has real
live Indians, and a place called Hangman Creek.
MY TOWN has art people, runner people, subsistence
hunter people, Google people, meth people,
and ?? people. MY TOWN is near the white
supremacist town, but not too near it. MY TOWN
reminds me of the town I grew up in: the tall pines,
the raging fires. MY TOWN is better than that other
town I lived in, the one with the dead center
and the rattlesnake den, the chain-smokers
in the apartment below, and the heat shimmering
off the parking lot. I am not a lake person, but MY TOWN
has a shit ton of lakes nearby, so there’s that. The lakes
are near or just past, some of them, the white
supremacist town, but MY TOWN’s embrace of lakes is—
do you like rivers? MY TOWN has the most glorious
cold green river. On its banks there are “don’t eat the fish”
signs in English, Russian, Salish, and Spanish.
I’m totally guessing on those languages. MY TOWN
has a little bit of a heavy metals problem. MY TOWN
had a fake black person, for real. She’s gone now,
and I’m not totally clear on the reasoning
behind why MY TOWN is “a great place
to raise kids,” nevertheless: affordable housing, moose
that sometimes saunter through the neighborhood,
a mural with both nudists and marmots on it,
and a couple of good, I mean really good breweries.



Marine Science Center, Port Townsend

Shin Yu Pai


after an hour of exploring
indoor touch tanks with our son,

my husband signals he’s ready
to move on, though our two-year-old

lingers unready to plunge
a hand into cold pools or to go

home, he’d held back Kort’s hand
from touching the spiked orange

sea cucumber, buried his face
in our arms when a crab sidestepped

nearer, but regarded the colorful feather
duster worms with a closer curiosity,

that made me question the urge
to survive, instincts that no longer

serve a purpose yet keep us
from pushing out beyond the comfort

of the cocoon, hands clasped
together, I watched my partner

ease our child’s palm into sea
water to come into contact with

the purple tentacled tube worms
fan-shaped appendages pulled

back in a flash, fear transforms
into surprise, delight repeating

itself again and again, as our son
grows bolder with each reach

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.