Reflection of light on water above riverbottom

Four Poems by Joe Wilkins

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            Fernlight, stonelight, hemlocklight—
call it a tongue of riverlight,
                        this which licks the lengths
            of my daughter and me,

as with our every step—
                        halting, hand-in-wet-hand—
            the river itself licks and swallows
ankles, shinbones, waists. That way,

                        I say, stopping mid-stream,
            pointing up the mountain, the river
crashes, thins, begins. And that way
                        it sags and deepens, belly rolling

            with salmon bones. Just six years old, she nods
as if she already knows. Then reaches
                        clean to her toes, comes up cupping
            the wet light. And here,

she says, pouring from her hands
                        into mine, is where we live,
            in the light and in the trees,
in the river, you and me.



Recession Rhyme

after Cecily Parks

Dogwood, iris, tight green fig.
Empty house, early light’s jig.
Pink, rain-faded chalk
on the mossy, buckled sidewalk.
Someone, yes, used to live here—
not us, but someone called them dear.
Not us, child, not this year.



For the Ones Who Watched & Said Nothing

Even though that kid threw the firecracker, all of those kids… watched, all of them did nothing.
Liz FitzGerald, witness to the start of the Eagle Creek fire, which would go on to burn over 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge

How good the whistle
& thin bang   how on just another
summer day stupid toothsome
& terrifying you feel it now
don’t you   up from the groin & gut
the drawn threads of blood   the wind revises
the sky   the pines   you very well know  
you’ve been told   we all of us have been
you   will never forgive you




after Christopher Howell

In the black hour of ice & shine,
before the wind,
before the great trees shrug & sigh,
scattering the night’s glass,

some few lights edge the silent highway,
the machines we hear about & fear
running hot
far past the limits of this or any

small town.
Now God puts his shoulder
to a snow shovel, heaves a bladeful,
& breathes,

wipes at the lace of freeze
in his mustache.
No guarantees, he knows—
no pensions,

no thirty-five year watches,
not even a visit to the proctologist,
not until next year,

Still, he would like a cup of coffee.
He would like to lift himself
into the ruffed chest of an overwintering sparrow,
say the lovely, stupid one

who despite the cold blue stone of sky
flaps from the attic-vent of the abandoned craftsmen
& careens over the street
& me,

& I think, So long, God.
Do what you have to do, God.
By God that old house is really empty now,
isn’t it?




Joe WilkinsJoe Wilkins’s debut novel, Fall Back Down When I Die, was praised as “remarkable and unforgettable” in a starred review at Booklist, and his memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, won a 2014 GLCA New Writers Award. He is also the author of four previous books of poetry, including When We Were Birds, winner of the 2017 Oregon Book Award in Poetry. His latest collection, Thieve, won the 2018 Blue Lynx Award in Poetry and was published in the fall of 2019. He lives with his family in western Oregon, where he directs the creative writing program at Linfield College.
Read Joe Wilkins’s Letter to America in Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, published by and Trinity University Press.
Read poetry by Joe Wilkins previously appearing in four poems, two poems, two poems, and two poems.

Header photo by Couleur, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Joe Wilkins courtesy Joe Wilkins. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.