Poem of the Week | June 20, 2016

This week, we are proud to offer a new poem by Kathryn Hunt. Hunt makes her home on the coast of the Salish Sea. Her poems and essays have appeared in The Sun, Orion, Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, The Writer’s Almanac, and Radar (forthcoming). A collection of her poems, Long Way Through Ruin, was published by Blue Begonia Press. She is the recipient of residencies and awards from Ucross, Artist Trust, and Willapa Bay AiR, and studied poetry with Gary Copeland Lilley, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Margaret Atwood. She recently completed a second collection of poems titled You Won’t Find It on a Map. Before pursuing freelance writing and filmmaking full time, she worked as a waitress, a shipscaler, a short-order cook, a bookseller, a printer, and a food bank coordinator.

Author’s note:

Two years ago I drove from the coast of Washington, where I live, to eastern Wyoming. Driving there I’d crossed the Columbia, the Spokane, the Clark Fork in Montana, the Yellowstone, and the Powder River, all rivers I remembered from trips to my grandparents’ homestead (think tarpapered cabin, outhouse, and hand-split corral rails, rather than dude ranch)—rivers I knew my father had fished in and camped next to. My father’s ashes rode with me, behind the front seat. I was taking them to a ranch in eastern Wyoming where he’d grown up, to scatter them. My brothers and husband met me there and with the man who owns the land now, we took turns casting my father’s ashes into the wind at the top of a small hill. I didn’t write anything about my father’s life or death for a long while after. Grief is a humbling experience for me, piercing and unstoppable as spring runoff, and this poem offered me a way to make sense of what we’d all been through together—beyond form, beyond words—during the days of his going.

 

Yellowstone

 

Even the rivers he’d stood in
remembered his shadow,
they carried it wherever they went,
flowing north and east,
hurrying over downed trees,
under ice. They took him along.

 

The day my father died
he said, Let me lie down,
put a blanket on me. Play me
a song. Yes, that one, he said.
That night the stars cast
their sturdy nets over
the place he was walking.
He was lying down, hard
breathing, like a man climbing
an avalanche in moonlight. Crusted,
hard, breaking down. Tough
work, his going.

 

Watch for the others,
we whispered. Carry our
greetings to them, if such
strong currents run there. Here is
your canteen. Your pens, a compass.
A small mirror to hold the world
you are walking away from.
Take these along in your
pockets. The others will
know how to do this, they’ve
done it already.

 

But we didn’t know,
ourselves, not anything
much. Just how hard he
worked right up to the end,
burning it all, throwing on
splits of cottonwood and pine,
everything in flames.

 

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