Mouth of the Columbia
Two hundred years have washed ten thousand to the sea:
millennia of snow, bones of otters, mammoths, nets, bird arrows and feathers of birds. Ice-bound boulders larger than the grand hotels. Whole trade routes washed away. Skilled women gone, children dead. A few eyes left to carry the smattered genes of the Chinook – lost tribe, old photos, hand-written books. Tidal seeps, rain and slick water standing in the side channels. Eye sockets stacked in heaps, the white island – Memaloose, the piles of skeletons, the eyes of birds, the fish, the salmon, the grandmothers, the restless ghosts of men – they carry stones called strength from place to place.
How little has filtered through these epidemics, thefts, the endless killings:
a handful of painted rocks – The Spedis Owl, wild goats with back-curved horns, the counting marks, and She-Who-Watches the now-ponded river atHorsethiefPark. Petrogyphs lying drowned behind the dam that drownedthe Dalles, the spider-work of fish scaffolds. Stones that weighed the old nets down. Spear points. Bones. Our short, uneasy sleep.
Everything goes pouring through the Gorge – cornucopia, mouth and throat of the Columbia:
fresh and smoked salmon, spawners, smolts, whitefish eggs, furs, hides, blankets, travelers, language, tuberculosis, knives, wives, dentialia shells, dollars, smallpox, words, horses, dogs, feathers from Mexico, September Monarchs swinging to the south, water, grey sand worn from the stone plateau, storms, months of rain, iron, seals, smelt, paddles with pointed blades, brown flood water, whitecaps, huge waves smashing at the bar, medals. The rum and oarlocks of English sailors. Coppers from the Haida. Beaver hats, smelly uniforms, potions, poisons, spells and powers. Sturgeons – 20 feet long, 200 years old, a ton heavy – condors, buzzards, terns, and gulls.
Bill Yake has worked lookouts, monitored Olympic mountain butterflies, run a sub-three hour marathon, and authored the Washington State Dioxin Source Assessment. His poems are published in several chapbooks and two full collections from Radiolarian Press (Astoria OR): This Old Riddle: Cormorants and Rain (2004) and Unfurl, Kite and Veer (2010), as well as in numerous magazines serving the literary and environmental communities. Bill lives near Olympia, on a small ravine tributary to the Salish Sea.