poetry

Victor Charlo, Salish poet
Sue Reynolds / Sue Reynolds Photography

Good writing often tells a story about a place, and how the people in a place live and come to understand the land around them. That’s what Victor Charlo, a Bitterroot Salish Elder, taught when he visited a 4th grade writing class at Pablo Elementary School last Thursday. MTPR Flathead Reporter Corin Cates-Carney has the story of young writers being taught to find the right words to describe their home.

"Knee-Deep"

Apr 6, 2015

The body—god box—holds
the stuffing, blunt-winded plot,
until it doesn't

    tissue of tiny details
soaking up gestures of wedding
parties, neurons, steering wheel,
sugar bowl, the solarium

the nectar ebbs from the design

an autopsy, the openings filled with liquids,
already locked-out of the house, embarrassed

The river bank has been dented—
material ghost, the knees lock-kneed, knee-deep

What is left is fact and its antihistamine

"Working Class Hero"

Mar 23, 2015

He wakes tired from sleeping rough
in the cab of a pickup truck
that remembers the Vietnam war.
He wakes up raw-bellied
from going to sleep hungry,
from driving a hundred miles the night before
in his failing Ford,
from needing this job too much.

His flesh cringes from the cold breath
of a mountain beginning
its withdrawal into
the season of solitude.
His flesh cringes from premonitions
of being touched by frozen wood and iron
before the first sweat of the day
comes to break the morning chill.

"Outskirts"

Mar 16, 2015

Slept by a flat mud
reservoir with sandhill cranes
cluttering sound
all night

way out here
in the dragging wind.

We go for breakfast
smelling like sage, cow and creek water,
small town diner
a new mural half painted across old brick.

Remember how the waitress accuses us
of stealing postcards of their local boys
hometown band?

I tell you, she will not relent
despite all our defending
in our bright polypropylene fleeces
and reflective shoes.

"Holding The Stone"

Mar 9, 2015

You must hold it close to your ear, and
when it speaks to you, you must respond. - Richard Hugo

I found it by the Clark Fork
on a high bank above the river
where someone dumped remains
of an old road, broken slabs
of concrete crowding the river stones.

I admit my first thought was throw it,
skip it on the surface going gold
in sunset, dimple the water like
whitefish rising, give it back
to the river that gave it shape and color.
But once in my hand its calm
And luck took hold.

"Which Last"

Mar 2, 2015

In the thicket just west of my shack,
under the heaviest of canopied pines,

every day, all winter long, two does recline
and rest, and sometimes when I look

from the window their eyes are closed,
but still they go on chewing whatever

snowbound vegetation they've uncovered—
or just their sad, inadequate cuds, I suppose.

As I suppose my daily apple also
is due to them. I've been a little slow to learn

not to throw the core and make them run,
but to toss it gently between us, like so.

"Muriel"

Feb 23, 2015

My mother held out for tangerines.
They were more willing than the orange,
Rare as China, still, and carried the
Thought, which was never spoken,
That life was no more than that.
Peeling them now in the darkened
Kitchen, the taste of them almost in
My mouth. A mouth forged
From the soft melding of two others
Slipping open like caves found
In darkness, moistening the sweet,
Heavy air that fell between them
With the thought that was never spoken.
My thumbs enter the skin
No differently than did those

I was there
as the rain
hesitated;

drizzle contemplated
itself.

I could feel
the world changing
its mind.

Until the drops
thickened into
glycerine.

Like I was there
at snow's invention.

The sound changes,
you know,
once the snowflakes
hit the ground
they decide
to rejoin

The day was wild with certainty.
For a small moment there,
I knew what matters.

"Winter Feeding"

Jan 26, 2015

for Ralph

It must be the kind of work.
The hauling, the pitching,
the sour bale we heave aside,
the extra strength that takes.
It must be the crafty figuring—
Let's short tonight. Hell, we
spread extra last night.

What he would say to that,
the joke he would make.
The off-chance falling star
that caught him wide-eyed
on top of the stack. Wrassling
the froze-up end of a bale,
cutting and cutting twine
that won't let go The knife
that won't close right in fingers
clumsy with cold.

"Sacrilege in Monterey"

Jan 12, 2015

Just down the street
From the Guilded Cage
Where James Dean married
Some guy in gold chiffon

The graffiti above the urinal
In the Bull's Eye
Tavern is quite explicit
As we piss away the day

"Sacred cow makes the best hamburger."

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