Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Glimpses of Towns

(image: a piece of a road-map of Sweden, including

My goodness, Washington (the state) is flooding. The combination of much recent snow in the high country plus what we call "The Pineapple Exress"--lots and lots of warm rain from the Pacific--have made many rivers burst. The nearby town of Orting is in danger of going under water. It also has the dubious honor of being in the path of a major lava-flow, should Mt. Rainier decide to wake up. Fire and rain, indeed.

Of course, I picked this day to ride the train north to Bellingham, pick up a car, and drive it back. Things went fine, although even Interstate 5 was covered with water in places, and there were menacing signs about side-highways being closed.

I stopped in the small town of Darrington to get a bite to eat--and thought of Richard Hugo, who dearly loved to visit the small towns of Washington and Montana and write poems about them--well, not really about them so much as about the responses they generated in him. In The Triggering Town, Hugo advises not knowing too much about the towns. He encouraged poets to make all sorts of (unfounded) assumptions. So if I were following his advice, I would assume that the waitress who served me food came in second in the homecoming-queen contest.

Many moons ago, in Sweden, I stopped briefly in Söderfors, Sweden, a former steel and manufacturing town (no doubt some things are still manufactured there), and based strictly on a few observations and a lot of impressions, I wrote a "triggering-town" poem. As both a reader and a writer, one must assess such poems as poems, not as journalistic reports--unless of course the poem really does present itself as an historical poem--and then a different set of legitimate criteria come into play. I remember that a municipal clock wasn't keeping the right time--a charming detail, as far as I was concerned. I remember being exceedingly fascinated by the color of bricks used in many buildings in the town: black. Perhaps the clay used to make the bricks was full of iron or another kind of mineral/metal. . . . On the train-ride today, I saw some "violent brown-black water" rushing off hillsides and out of culverts. . . .

. . .And here's hoping the rivers in Western Washington crest soon and recede quickly, as I post the Söderfors poem:

Söderfors, Sweden

Brown mortar, black bricks, buildings
from industry’s youth.

Two girls walk along a narrow
sandy path over the dam. Violent brown-black
water rushes through
the spillway. A sign cautions.

A gull nests in a granite slab.
(Incubation is a branch of geology.)

Reach for the black bricks—
to know them. Their texture is glass.
They were cooked to the point
at which manufacturing gives way

to beautiful compounds. Söderfors
is a silent town. Its cast-iron clock
is ornate and wrong. Bright green,

nearly lime: that used to be the color
of a rusting Saab parked all by itself.

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom
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