Category: salem writes

Somewhere Else Memories of Dad on his 100th

This is for my late father, on what would have been his 100th birthday, and for the many folks here in the valley who have childhood memories of somewhere else. My first memory of dad takes place in the cab of a truck at the grain elevator in Condon on a hot summer day in 1950 or ‘51.  Dougy and I sit restlessly on the slippery black passenger seat. The cab is superheated and smells like tar.  The windshield is streaked and the sun is so bright that it is hard to even see the building.  We wait awhile and then pull into the shade where dad has a jocose conversation with a man named Slim.  I can’t see well enough to know whether he really is slim.  With a haarooom! we go into the sun again and stop.  We pile out and dad boosts us into the back of the truck onto the load of wheat.  The wheat is warm on top and cool underneath.  We flail on the surface, like swimming.  The wheat promptly spills into the holes we dig. This folkloric kind of memory, related to weather and work life, sticks with me like the spindly roots of winter wheat in the clumped soil.  It is what I mean when I hear myself telling someone, Well, I am originally from eastern Oregon. Don’t eat the wheat,...

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How to Be Funny

by Michael Townsend Smith, book review by Vere McCarty    Before we start, I would like to opine that being named Michael Smith is funny.  Some people think it is not, but Michael thinks it is.  The Townsend fits in nicely, like a wagon road between home and work.  Maybe your name is funny too.  I know mine is.  The book is funny even before you start to read it.  To begin with, it starts on page one.  Starting on page seven can also be funny.  You see, I am already under the spell of “How to Be Funny”.    Smith, an active octogenarian, does not shy away from including himself in what can be funny. Self is an image. What you think other people see is not what you see. Old people trying to go fast are funny. Old people swimming are funny. Old people all by themselves are sometimes sad. Everyone is sometimes sad.                                      I was recently transfixed by Smith’s piano as he played a Debussy sonata. Funny the way music frees the mind to move. One part listens, another part dances, another part thinks. Time tangibly expands. The present breathes. Anything is possible.                             Imagination...

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On Some Reasons for Writing Poetry

by James Merrill The reasons for why a poet faces the blank page—these are more important than the words that the poet will put on that page. And then, after the writing, the words he or she puts down are all we have. They are the traces or the breadcrumbs, only the dust we have left of what was experienced by the writer. Non-poets don’t know this, and this causes a lot of consternation—perhaps even fatigue, weariness–both for the poet and for the reader.  But why? Some or perhaps many poets want this not to be true … so for them, it is not the case. For them, the artifact on the page is the only thing that matters. They have written “set pieces” or still life paintings with words. And they can be very beautiful. And when they have achieved beauty this way, through word pictures – they have given something to the world. A piece of art, and it is a nice gift. But it is usually not a Picasso, or a Van Gogh, or even a Keats poem. This kind of art-piece poem is often done to get the recognition that comes with producing fine art in any genre. There are fine arts colleges—even in writing. So there is a market for this kind of training, and it can be very exciting, even fulfilling to go...

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Sacred Waters

Poems by Franca Hernandez Poetry opened doors to me for political activism and lately activism brings me back to poetry. “Water Is Life”, a poem of protest, is my visceral reaction to a picture of teepees on the prairie against a relentless backdrop of miles of snow. The quiet reflection it communicates after a season of violence struck me deeply. Water is Life Frozen landscape of protest Brilliant in its seething purity A site on which outsiders have found meaning Like pilgrims we gather at this sacred spot Where our atavistic memory seeps under our skin And will not let us go Here seekers linger gazing on the white horizon Unmindful of the Artic breath that wants to kill us Here one is frozen with one’s thoughts Compelled to ponder Washing away hyperbole One focuses on what is important and fundamental Essential in its whiteness It strips the unessential Under the snow there is strength A muted time to contemplate one’s death Our bones under the virgin prairie Content to lie still Listening with gladness to the padding steps of children And the flow of sacred water In the Italian Alps, land of the ancient Celts prior to the settlement of the Lombard peoples, I discovered a small ancient temple within the halls of a monastery.  I saw this as a suppressed memory of the Celtic goddess Danu’ and...

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THE ARTIST, THE LOOKING GLASS AND OUR TOWN -A REFLECTION

      The Library of America, publisher of many of the great works of American literature, recently issued as Volume 281 The Complete Orsinia, a collection of works by Ursula Le Guin of Portland. The volume includes a novel and related stories from the first half of her career. More volumes are to come. This distinct honor enshrines Le Guin’s work as part of America’s literary canon and when combined with a Distinguished Contribution medal from the National Book Award and a feature in the October 17th edition of The New Yorker establishes her as one of Oregon’s most celebrated authors.        Her fame came first as a writer of science fiction but her work is broader than the genre and includes fantasies like A Wizard of Earthsea, the influential novel The Left Hand of Darkness, historical novels and poetry. Perhaps her most famous piece is the disturbing tale The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, first published in 1973 and since frequently anthologized and discussed in literature classes around the world.        The parable describes the mythical city of Omelas set by the sea; it is summer festival. People wear robes but also ride trains. They enjoy spacious parks and listen to sweet notes of a child playing a wooden flute. There are no soldiers and no kings. Yet this happy existence comes...

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