Stanley Plumly has been a mentor and friend of mine since 1988 when I took his Form and Theory class at the University of Maryland. Lummi Island is the most northeasterly of the San Juan archipelago. Located near Bellingham, Washington, it is served by a small ferry that makes the six minute crossing about once an hour. It is just two hours from Seattle, and one and a half hours from Vancouver, BC. The Lummi Nation are a tribe of the Coast Salish. The tribe primarily resides on and around the Lummi Indian Reservation. The Lummi were forcibly moved to reservation lands after the signing of the Point Elliott Treaty in 1855. (David Biespiel)
To Plumly from Lummi Island
Dear Stan —
You’d have a kick here with the flickers,
What with their gooey squawking for dreamers
And their suits and chubbiness about rainless air
And bad feelings. (Though the bad feelings part is mine.)
The heebie-jeebies are coming on again this time of year.
And the good gin, too — divine gin, pumped up gin.
I know, when the days get weather beaten
We’ll all switch to the cheaper stuff. The impressionists
Can’t trump that. To get here, Stan, we passed three-dozen
Fireworks stands at the Reservation.
One bare-chested honcho
The size of the Duke in a John Ford western,
With an open-heart scar was petting a yellow
He was whistling at the pock-marked jays
And winking at the kids feeding rocks to the bay.
That’s a spot of time I won’t forget, nor this one:
I wished words into that dude’s mouth that said: A master
And a great love will take a fallen man far.
I know a man should not love rocks too much
Nor let his garden overgrow with rotting gourds,
Nor be unkempt in speech with words
That are softly dear to his heart, words
Like: lilacs, America, love, ladder, blood.
Just now I heard an island woodpecker wish
Something similar against one of the taller piney things.
Most nights since we arrived here the wind has been in a havoc,
And torn at the gate, and sent the far tides into a dither, wrecked
The way sleep works. I dreamed this morning such
Fears as hummingbirds must feel, and thought that, had
Even one come close to my lips, I would have said
Sweetheart, kiss me. But even I know
When a thief kisses you, you’d better count your teeth.
(Watching the mainland from here, you get to be making oaths
Like that about seasons, about love, about teeth.
So saith I). Wendy keeps leaping up for the rippled
Tanagers and their yellow heads.
What I see: a soaked
Blur against the haze. That’s nothing new.
We’d like to go on like this, Stan, but posthumously living uphill
From one life, and nearly reborn into the next, is taking its toll.
The waves keep coming up from the bottom of the bay, then fall.
Through the windows we can’t see any of our children.
Not sure when the ferry leaves.
At the dock coming over, we met a Reservation girl
About three who told us her grandmother lives near the bingo.
She had cut her toes on some glass in the high grass along the beach, too.
Cute girl, a big toothless smile. She was true
As two-hundred years of dumb government can get us.
Stan, what we’ve done to our kind, but we still love the birds.
My list is short. Not so good, really, beyond a crow.
David Biespiel served as editor of Poetry Northwest from 2005 until 2010. He has published over a half a dozen books, including four volumes of poetry — Shattering Air, Pilgrims & Beggars, Wild Civility, and The Book of Men and Women, which was named one of the Best Books of the Year in 2009 by the Poetry Foundation. For his writing he has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature, a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, a Lannan Marfa residency, the Oregon Book Award, and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. He lives in Portland.
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