• An Oregon Message

    When we first moved here, pulled 
    the trees in around us, curled 
    our backs to the wind, no one 
    had ever hit the moon—no one. 
    Now our trees are safer than the stars, 
    and only other people's neglect 
    is our precious and abiding shell, 
    pierced by meteors, radar, and the telephone. 


    From our snug place we shout 
    religiously for attention, in order to hide: 
    only silence or evasion will bring 
    dangerous notice, the hovering hawk 
    of the state, or the sudden quiet stare 
    and fatal estimate of an alerted neighbor. 


    This message we smuggle out in 
    its plain cover, to be opened 
    quietly: Friends everywhere— 
    we are alive! Those moon rockets 
    have missed millions of secret 
    places! Best wishes.

     
  • A Ritual To Read To Each Other

    If you don't know the kind of person I am
    and I don't know the kind of person you are
    a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
    and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

    For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
    a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
    sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
    storming out to play through the broken dyke.

    And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
    but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
    I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
    to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

    And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
    a remote important region in all who talk:
    though we could fool each other, we should consider--
    lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

    For it is important that awake people be awake,
    or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
    the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
    should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

  • Ask Me

    Some time when the river is ice ask me
    mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
    what I have done is my life. Others
    have come in their slow way into
    my thought, and some have tried to help
    or to hurt: ask me what difference
    their strongest love or hate has made.

    I will listen to what you say.
    You and I can turn and look
    at the silent river and wait. We know
    the current is there, hidden; and there
    are comings and goings from miles away
    that hold the stillness exactly before us.
    What the river says, that is what I say.

  • Traveling Through The Dark

    Traveling through the dark I found a deer
    dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
    It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
    that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

    By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
    and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
    she had stiffened already, almost cold.
    I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

    My fingers touching her side brought me the reason--
    her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
    alive, still, never to be born.
    Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

    The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
    under the hood purred the steady engine.
    I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
    around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

    I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--,
    then pushed her over the edge into the river.

  • With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach

    We would climb the highest dune,
    from there to gaze and come down:
    the ocean was performing; 
    we contributed our climb.

    Waves leapfrogged and came
    straight out of the storm.
    What should our gaze mean?
    Kit waited for me to decide.

    Standing on such a hill,
    what would you tell your child?
    That was an absolute vista.
    Those waves raced far, and cold.

    'How far could you swim, Daddy,
    in such a storm?'
    'As far as was needed,' I said, 
    and as I talked, I swam.

  • Just Thinking

    Got up on a cool morning. Leaned out a window.
    No cloud, no wind. Air that flowers held
    for awhile. Some dove somewhere.

    Been on probation most of my life. And
    the rest of my life been condemned. So these moments
    count for a lot--peace, you know.

    Let the bucket of memory down into the well,
    bring it up. Cool, cool minutes. No one
    stirring, no plans. Just being there.

    This is what the whole thing is about.

  • American Gothic

    If we see better through tiny, 
    grim glasses, we like to wear 
    tiny, grim glasses. 
    Our parents willed us this 
    view. It's tundra? We love it. 

    We travel our kind of 
    Renaissance: barnfuls of hay, 
    whole voyages of corn, and 
    a book that flickers its 
    halo in the parlor. 

    Poverty plus confidence equals 
    pioneers. We never doubted.

  • The Well Rising

    The well rising without sound, 
    the spring on a hillside, 
    the plowshare brimming through deep ground 
    everywhere in the field— 


    The sharp swallows in their swerve 
    flaring and hesitating 
    hunting for the final curve 
    coming closer and closer— 


    The swallow heart from wingbeat to wingbeat 
    counseling decisions, decision: 
    thunderous examples. I place my feet 
    with care in such a world.

  • In The Deep Channel

    Setting a trotline after sundown 
    if we went far enough away in the night 
    sometimes up out of deep water 
    would come a secret-headed channel cat, 


    Eyes that were still eyes in the rush of darkness, 
    flowing feelers noncommittal and black, 
    and hidden in the fins those rasping bone daggers, 
    with one spiking upward on its back. 


    We would come at daylight and find the line sag, 
    the fishbelly gleam and the rush on the tether: 
    to feel the swerve and the deep current 
    which tugged at the tree roots below the river.

  • At The Bomb Testing Site

    At noon in the desert a panting lizard 
    waited for history, its elbows tense, 
    watching the curve of a particular road 
    as if something might happen. 


    It was looking at something farther off 
    than people could see, an important scene 
    acted in stone for little selves 
    at the flute end of consequences. 


    There was just a continent without much on it 
    under a sky that never cared less. 
    Ready for a change, the elbows waited. 
    The hands gripped hard on the desert.

  • Accountability

    Cold nights outside the taverns in Wyoming 
    pickups and big semis lounge idling, letting their 
    haunches twitch now and then in gusts of powder snow, 
    their owners inside for hours, forgetting as well 
    as they can the miles, the circling plains, the still town 
    that connects to nothing but cold and space and a few 
    stray ribbons of pavement, icy guides to nothing 
    but bigger towns and other taverns that glitter and wait: 
    Denver, Cheyenne. 


    Hibernating in the library of the school on the hill 
    a few pieces by Thomas Aquinas or Saint Teresa 
    and the fragmentary explorations of people like Alfred 
    North Whitehead crouch and wait amid research folders 
    on energy and military recruitment posters glimpsed 
    by the hard stars. The school bus by the door, a yellow 
    mound, clangs open and shut as the wind finds a loose 
    door and worries it all night, letting the hollow 
    students count off and break up and blow away 
    over the frozen ground.

  • Bess

    Ours are the streets where Bess first met her 
    cancer. She went to work every day past the 
    secure houses. At her job in the library 
    she arranged better and better flowers, and when 
    students asked for books her hand went out 
    to help. In the last year of her life 
    she had to keep her friends from knowing 
    how happy they were. She listened while they 
    complained about food or work or the weather. 
    And the great national events danced 
    their grotesque, fake importance. Always 


    Pain moved where she moved. She walked 
    ahead; it came. She hid; it found her. 
    No one ever served another so truly; 
    no enemy ever meant so strong a hate. 
    It was almost as if there was no room 
    left for her on earth. But she remembered 
    where joy used to live. She straightened its flowers; 
    she did not weep when she passed its houses; 
    and when finally she pulled into a tiny corner 
    and slipped from pain, her hand opened 
    again, and the streets opened, and she wished all well. 

  • For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid

    There is a country to cross you will
    find in the corner of your eye, in
    the quick slip of your foot--air far
    down, a snap that might have caught.
    And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
    voice that finds its way by being
    afraid. That country is there, for us,
    carried as it is crossed. What you fear
    will not go away: it will take you into
    yourself and bless you and keep you.
    That's the world, and we all live there.

  • Walking West

    Anyone with quiet pace who 
    walks a gray road in the West 
    may hear a badger underground where 
    in deep flint another time is 


    Caught by flint and held forever, 
    the quiet pace of God stopped still. 
    Anyone who listens walks on 
    time that dogs him single file, 


    To mountains that are far from people, 
    the face of the land gone gray like flint. 
    Badgers dig their little lives there, 
    quiet-paced the land lies gaunt, 


    The railroad dies by a yellow depot, 
    town falls away toward a muddy creek. 
    Badger-gray the sod goes under 
    a river of wind, a hawk on a stick.

  • Objector

    In line at lunch I cross my fork and spoon
    to ward off complicity--the ordered life
    our leaders have offered us. Thin as a knife,
    our chance to live depends on such a sign
    while others talk and The Pentagon from the moon
    is bouncing exact commands: "Forget your faith;
    be ready for whatever it takes to win: we face
    annihilation unless all citizens get in line."

    I bow and cross my fork and spoon: somewhere
    other citizens more fearfully bow
    in a place terrorized by their kind of oppressive state.
    Our signs both mean, "You hostages over there
    will never be slaughtered by my act." Our vows
    cross: never to kill and call it fate.


In 2009 the Oregon Library Association asked Oregonians to read the same books in celebration of the Oregon Sesquicentennial. In 2014, OLA is going to do it again. This time we are going to commemorate the centennial of Oregon’s most celebrated poet, William Stafford. OLA will be joining with many other organizations throughout the state in this centennial celebration. Our goal is to once again involve 80,000 Oregonians in Oregon Reads 2014, in communities and on campuses throughout the state.