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Three Poems from Washington State, Part I

The first 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.

  • July 13, 2017
  • |
  • Poetry
  • |
  • By Sherman Alexie / Mary Eliza Crane / Claudia Castro Luna



Sherman Alexie


My back is too injured to drive

So I ride the Amtrak from Seattle to Portland—

A short jaunt past barely dormant volcanoes—

But I rent a small sleeping compartment


So I can lie flat during the four-hour trip.

I fall asleep, of course, and dream

Of my ancestors, those Spokane Indians

Who still fished for wild salmon.


Those wild salmon are ghosts now.

As are my ancestors. But what did

My grandparents think when they first saw

A locomotive? Did they know


Those trains would change everything?

They would bring millions of white people.

They would bring the wood and metal

And wire. They would bring heat


And electricity and books and alien

Fruits and vegetables. I imagine my grandparents

Grew to hate the trains. I imagine their ghosts

Hate the trains, too. But I am one indigenous man


Who has forgiven the past. Well, I’ve forgiven

Trains, at least. Or maybe I love

Trains now because they are still loud

And they have grown old. These trains


Are the grandparents of those cars

On the highway and those airplanes in the sky.

These trains are always threatened to be replaced

With something faster, something more sleek


And contemporary. But I love the slow roll

Along the tracks. I love the frequent stops.

I love the way these trains have barely changed.

So, maybe, if something new lasts long enough,


Then it becomes something ancient and sacred.

Maybe this train is my grandmother. After all,

My train cradles me as I sleep. It holds me

In one calm and dark place, as everybody else


Quickly streams from one place to the next.

Oh, Grandmother Train, I know I rarely visit,

But I still need you. Next time, I will ride with you

Over a river that is still filled with wild salmon.


Grandmother, we’ll sing through every switch and detour.

We’ll praise all of those good things that somehow endure.



Sonnet in Yakima Canyon

Mary Eliza Crane



In afternoon play of light and shadow

across the canyon, the pale-green flush

of early grass, muted blue

of new grown sage, and yellow flash

of balsamroot are scrutinized

in the watchful gaze of bighorn sheep.

Sure-footed, bounding through the scree,

quench their thirst at a mountain creek.


This scene should be eternal, but it’s not,

though its history is written on the rocks

in ocher, black and gold, for anyone

who cares to learn the language.

There’s truth if not beauty in the knowledge

that nothing turns out quite the way we thought.



Here Is Where We Are

Claudia Castro Luna



I have always

wanted a house

with a big porch

said my friend

on our walk

this morning

that way I can sit,

drink my coffee

and watch

the rain





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.

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