Getting it finished in this lifetime is this magic quotient to me. I like that thought of completion. – David Govedare, sculptor
When we travel west to Seattle, My wife and I stop At the overlook above the Columbia. On the way home We stop on the other side of the highway For the horses And get out of the car, wind or not, To climb loose gravel To the top of the bluff.
Up close the steel silhouettes Are rusty and tagged With desperate-looking graffiti And who loves who Who doesn’t anymore. None of the marks Seem to matter to the horses, The ones visible for miles, The ones leaping tall and unafraid Along the ridge. They’re going somewhere In a hurry, moving with joy. We’ve read about the artist, Govedare, his other work and all.
In September sun You can sit on a rock under a horse If you choose, Just like we do, my wife and I— What a miracle to say that, My wife and I!— Makes me feel I’ve traded a life of addiction For an undeserved gift— My wife and I—you’re not even supposed To say it’s anything special— Not every day, you’re not. We take pictures to the southwest Where the river flows toward the Snake. I focus on all that distance, On the other hills And the water beyond the bridge We’ve just driven across. We leave the horses And slide our way down to the car, Knowing that—sun, rain, snow— Until we return They’ll hold the hillside for us, keep distance gathered close But free, A loose fist of sky and light.
Located on a hillside above the Columbia River, Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies is incomplete, yet still the most-seen piece of public art in Washington.
Poem on the First Anniversary of Mother’s Death
for my seven sisters and brothers
The truck our father left us tilted in sections Into the backyard. Each season deeper. A year after Mom died We employed bungee cords and the silver magic Of duct tape to mount the biggest pieces
Of the truck on tires, then lifted The hood and power-hosed the insides: Spider webs, squirrels’ nests, baby mice. The motor started right up, first time ever And we drove all night looking for Mom.
And we drove all night into the mountains. Whenever we got into a little town We covered our eyes so we couldn’t see the name Of the town or the closed-up shops. For supplies we had donuts, some dry bacon
And a couple cartons of orange juice. We stopped only for gas and bathrooms. Somewhere in Montana we ran out of food And started fasting. There were those of us Who wanted to stop for more food.
Some who wanted to stop for sleep. But we drove all night and we drove all day. A desperado kind of light embraced us Held us and it was easy to see who was who: Older brother’s plans, younger sister’s wisdom.
Older sister at the wheel. We drove all night Through mountains and forests Along sheer cliffs and we never Looked back or stopped saying prayers Or braked for forest fires.
The river towns were filled with rafts, canoes, kayaks. We tumbled out of the truck in Riggins, Idaho Shook the pins and needles from our legs. Ate breakfast the rest of the morning. A middle brother
One of those good with humor and beer And whiskey, arranged a rafting trip Into the interior cliffs of the Salmon River. We shot into the rapids, All hanging on the best we could.
The youngest brother shouted the loudest. I got the wettest. Others took pictures that caught The sky’s raw cerulean edge. Rough waters Dislodged us from the raft
And we flew above the flood. All that we lost—wallets, keys, sunglasses, Our own dear names—that was nothing. Some brothers, some sisters, said they heard Mom. She wasn’t sad, they reported, but happy.
All of us, our hair got soaked. Many felt the spray of the water like a blessing Upon their cheeks. Many saw the sun for the first time Ever, really saw into the shining of it.
John Whalen was born in Michigan and grew up in Tennessee. He’s lived in the Pacific Northwest since 1992. His first book of poetry, Caliban, was published by Lost Horse Press. He has also put out three chapbooks, including Above the Pear Trees, which won the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. His poems have appeared in EPOCH, VQR, The Gettysburg Review, CutBank, and, most recently, Rock and Sling and Catamaran Literary Reader.