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.