Richard Wakefield

At the River


From Mary’s Peak the valley’s slow descent

to southward gave our river sweeping wide

meanders. Six or seven miles it went

to cover two or three, from side to side.

Around the stones and over fallen trees

I heard it breathe a languid vowel that fell

from snowfields, sounds suspended through the freeze

of winter, whispered now as if to tell

the secret cold to every lowland field.

Along the banks the trees in colonnade

traced out the vein of water they concealed.

On August evenings families sought the shade

to picnic there, and on the hottest nights

brought cots and strung their tents from lines between

the trees. I lay and watched their lantern lights

blink out upstream and down, then from unseen

encampments heard their voices droning low,

inhaled the scents of cattle, cedar, hay.

Beneath it all I heard the river flow,

forever saying what it had to say.

The farms where all the people lived are gone,

the people gone to graves – or town. The land

lies fallow. Yet the river murmurs on,

some days in words I almost understand.


Richard Wakefield has been a reviewer and critic for the Seattle Times since 1985 and has taught writing and American literature at various colleges in the Seattle area since 1979.  His first collection of poems, East of Early Winters, was published by the University of Evansville Press and won the Richard Wilbur Award in 2006.  His collection A Vertical Mile was published by Able Muse Press in 2012.  He and his wife, Catherine, live in Federal Way and have two grown daughters.