Two Poems by David Wagoner

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Why I’m Sitting Under a Logging-Road Bridge

Here, out of the rain, under the arches
of a stone and timber bridge, beside a creek
in an open-ended grotto, I’m inclined
on cobbled rip-rap, my slope determined
by the Corps of Engineers whose purpose in life
is to straighten meanders, to keep all streams
and people from over-filling assigned places.

This is the home of trolls, the guardians
of roads over water, the ugly grudgers
of travelers’ rights of passage, the toll-takers
who stand in the way, pursing their lips
and knotting their thick foreheads,
stuck at and with cross-purposes, always
managing somehow to outwit themselves.

Is that what I’ve come to be? Who else
would be sitting here but a troll? 
I knew it was going to rain. I knew
I wouldn’t find what I was looking for
(whatever that might have been) in the woods
on a day like this. I knew I’d be angry
with myself, the weather, with miles of clear-cut stumps,
none of which would change for the better, no matter
where I looked or what I said about them.

Now something is rumbling closer, is looming near
like the dropped hammer of Thor. It’s making
a snarled whirligig of thunder above
and beyond the road. Now it’s booming
right overhead and howling, roaring
and dwindling downhill, then finally dying.

Once upon a time, in a physics class,
given the shapes and measurements of trusses
and the location and the dead weight
of a logging truck, I could have foretold
and even explained the resultants of forces
on any part of this gnomic mechanical structure
except myself. But now I simply listen
to that lumbering Ogre of Ogres fading away.

I hear again the soft rush of the creek. The air
above the surface is vibrant. It doesn’t belong
to the wind or the rain or the swift current
under it. It breathes and gathers
the barely moving shades of mist
into apparitions, and within them now
a small host of gnats is hovering
and spiraling in a dance like interlocking
spindles becoming each other, diminishing
to half light and less and disappearing
and suddenly coming back to light again
as if they’d been waiting here to show me why.



A Woman Photographing a River

She stands on a cutbank, only ten feet
above the eddying surface, bracing herself
against a fir tree barely bracing
itself with all that’s left of its roots
before toppling, ending it all.

She’s focusing downstream across harsh light,
risking her life on the spur of the moment
for a quicksilver collaboration
of bed-load and riverbed and the hard thrust
of thaw from the mountains.

Her silhouette is under the glare of clouds
and against the clouds reflected beyond her,
and she and that tree are leaning
as if caught in the act of falling,

but still making themselves known
against the repercussions of water.
At the edge of her depth of field,
the stripped limbs of a snag are holding firm
against what streams around them,

and she sees among the unrepeatable patterns
what she wants us to remember,
even in this small reach now passing over
the rapids of her eye. She takes them in, the twists
and tremors, spelling what’s beyond

and under them with a light touch
of her finger, and now she turns
that eye and the other eye behind it
toward my naked eyes and what still flows between us.




David Wagoner has published 20 books of poems, most recently After the Point of No Return (Copper Canyon Press, 2012). He has also published ten novels, one of which, The Escape Artist, was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He won the Lilly Prize in 1991, six yearly prizes from Poetry, two yearly prizes from Prairie Schooner, and the Arthur Rense Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. In 2007, his play First Class was given 43 performances at A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for 23 years. He edited Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002, and he is professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington. He teaches at the low-residency MFA program of the Whidbey Island Writers Workshop.

Read three poems by David Wagoner also appearing in

Photo of Pacific Northwest river by Edmund Lowe Photography, courtesy Shutterstock. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.