historic marker

This poem first appeared in the Winter 1975-76 version of Poetry Northwest.

it was here in mid-winter
they paused to ask each
other the wayRainthe trail
behind filling with snow
Rainthat broken treeRainavalanche
RainkillRaindo you remember
Rainlate summerRainwe saw
Rainthe break up twenty feet
Rainnow here at eye levelRaindeep
RainsnowRainbring that day back
RainspeakRainare we here

it was here they built a fire
warmed their hands and faces
until the embers sank
hissed deep in the tunnel
of smokeRainhere they turned
to look back with the wind
find their tracks nearly gone
then set out uphillRainthe people
crossing the mountains to find
bitterroot hidden one wealthy day
in a cave on the other side

and here where the wind
slowed just below the summit
they paused to tap out a
song with stiff knuckles
at the base of the last cliff
Rainwe are hereRainhungry children
Rainmountain forgetRainwe will remember
Rainwind forgetRainfill our trail
Rainwe will rememberRainavalanche
Rainbe patientRainwe will disappear
Rainwithout your help

it is hereRaindriverRainthe signs
plastered with snow forget
their namesRainbut you know
the road is endless either way
your car in its brief life
will never failRainthe radio
sings what your money can buy

but driverRainrecall how here
they pausedRainteeth chattering
a brief prayerRainnear where
you kneel in the snow
to put on your chains

Kim Stafford is Emeritus Professor at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon. He writes, teaches, and travels to raise the human spirit through poetry. In 1986, he founded the Northwest Writing Institute, and he has published a dozen books of poetry and prose, including The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft and 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared. His most recent book is the poetry collection Singer Come from Afar (Red Hen Press). He has taught writing in dozens of schools and community centers, and in Scotland, Italy, Mexico, and Bhutan. In 2018 he was named Oregon’s 9th Poet Laureate for a two-year term.