Samuel Green


My Mother, Fetching a Switch

By now she knows that just because it’s thin
doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, that green is better
than dead & dried. She needs to choose
between the hot sting of a wasp, or a dull
deep ache that lasts for days, bruises the color
of certain pears when they ripen. There are the canes
of big leaf maple, willow, alder, the straight suckers
from apple or plum in the orchard. She knows to peel
bark from the wand & shave the nodes flush
to the stem with whatever knife she’s given
from pocket or kitchen drawer. Her first switch
left her bloody, left a web of tiny white scars fine
as lace in the doilies her sisters sometimes helped her
make. Once she brought her father a long whip
of pussy willow with the soft toes of catkins
left on. He laughed so hard he let her off. A second try
made him madder. Once she split a thin strip of cedar
from a shake bolt, lighter than lath; her mother used the edge
like a dull blade. She knows to lift her dress waisthigh,
overalls unsnapped & dropped
to her ankles. Her father likes her
folded across a single knee & only strikes
the cheeks of her fanny. Her mother takes her
standing, feet apart, & whales at any skin
she sees: calves, her inner thighs. She knows
if she cries or squirms the blows come faster, last
longer, how anger travels into rage. She knows
exactly how long she has to find & shape
& fetch a switch to its waiting hand.
My grandparents think she’s learning
the wages of backsass, what happens
when you ride the stubborn donkey of disobedience,
but she is learning how short the pleasure is
when she flushes a rabbit from the brush,
that there isn’t quite time to wholly peel
& eat an apple before someone will come
looking for her, that no joy lasts long,
that—father, mother, lover—it is painful
to be alive. All she can do is choose
between one hurt or another.


Samuel Green was born in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, and raised in the nearby
fishing and mill town of Anacortes. After four years in the military, including service in
Antarctica and South Vietnam, he attended college under the Veterans Vocational
Rehabilitation Program, earning degrees from Highline Community College and
Western Washington University (B.A. & M.A.). A 36-year veteran as a Poet-in-the-
Schools, he has taught in literally hundreds of classrooms around Washington State. He
has also been a Visiting Professor at Southern Utah University, Western Wyoming
Community College, Colorado College, and served nine winter terms as Distinguished
Visiting Northwest Writer at Seattle University, as well as nine summers in Ireland.
Poems have appeared in hundreds of journals, including Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Poet &
Critic, Poetry East, Southern Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, and Puerto del Sol. Among his ten collections of poems are Vertebrae: Poems 1972-1994 (Eastern Washington University Press) and The Grace of Necessity (Carnegie-Mellon University Press), which won the 2008 Washington State Book Award for Poetry. He has lived for 29 years off the grid on remote Waldron Island off the Washington coast in a log house he built himself after living in a tent for three years. He is, with his wife, Sally, Co-Editor of the award-winning Brooding Heron Press, which produces fine, letterpressed volumes. In December, 2007, he was named by Governor Christine Gregoire to a two-year term as the Inaugural Poet Laureate for the State of Washington. In January of 2009, he was awarded a National
Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, and was a member of the NEA’s poetry
panel for the 2011 fellowships.

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