The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 3, Numbers 2-3, Pages 16-22
George Venn is Poet-in-Residence at Eastern Oregon State College. He was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1943. He grew up at the edge of wilderness in small towns and cities on the Washington coast and the Idaho panhandle. As a child and student, he spent his summers in his family's rural farming and logging community south of Mount Rainier on Alder Creek where he learned beekeeping, singing, and the rural arts and sensibilities from his grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins. During school years he returned to his parents' more urban, abstract, Presbyterian manse where he learned to memorize entire books of the Bible and was thoroughly immersed in the Protestant tradition. In 1957 his family moved to Spirit Lake, Idaho, where he learned many of the intricacies of small-town life.
Directions for Visitors
If you want to find my place,
try to leave early in the morning;
get out of town any way you can,
take the first exit to the Cascades.
When you see the Tatoosh
where the Nisqually flows
into Alder Lake at Elbe, stop;
ask directions at Elbe Grocery.
I haven't been mourning in the tavern.
The Post Office closed my box last year.
I have no phone and mail hardly comes.
Take the road to Alder along the lake.
When you see the blacktop rising uphill,
when you see a garden above the road,
that will be Uncle Ernest's homestead.
Keep going. When you reach the crest,
you will see Uncle Leonard's place
on the left, Grandpa Mayo's honey house
on the right. I used to live there
before Gramp died. Cross the swamp
on Alder Creek past Uncle Charlie's pond.
My Father's house is on the left knoll.
He died too and I moved away again.
On the next wide curve, turn right
onto the gravel going uphill until
you come to a Dead End sign hidden
in the grass and green weeds. Turn there.
To the right. This will be two ruts,
a berm of grass down the center,
mudpuddles and chuckholes all along;
in one place, a creek flows across.
No more signs now. Curves will be blind.
I'd suggest slowing down.
In two miles, you'll come to a gate.
Park there and get out. You will hear
Clear Creek running over smooth stones;
a dipper will welcome you upstream.
Follow the current through bracken,
buttercups, devil club, blackberries,
skunkcabbage, deadfall cedar and alder
until you come to a waterfall and a pool
surrounded with secondgrowth fir.
I should be there fishing for native trout.
You may see the smoke from my fire
rising like a ghost through the green limbs.
If I am not there, don't call me.
This place cannot hear a shouting voice.
I will know you have come by the way
the crows and chickadees are talking.
I will come out then and eat lunch
with you and we can talk and feed dry sticks
to the fire. If you wait an hour or more
and I don't appear somehow,
I am simply not myself any more.
Catch a few fish for yourself then -
under the falls is the best cast.
If my fire is out, there's still wood.
Make a fire of your own, eat your trout
and leave the same way you came before dark.
Try to forget this place all the way home.
Please do not tell anyone where I live.
Panhandler Headed South on 95
To Worley in May from Coeur d' alene
syringa blooming and blowing
in the raining headwind off the lake.
"Tick season," I said to the wheel
and winced as the old Rocky Mt. fever
shots stung my arms again.
I named some mountain lakes I knew -
Spirit, Priest, Pend Oreille -
felt our old North Idaho begin
again in cold deep water I drank
just outside Saint Maries - far
from the monsters and potatoes
of State Line whose capitol
(in another country) no one in
Kootenai County can remember.
We have heard it is a dry flat
desert of ditches, alkali, snakes,
and rows of irrigated politicians.
Passing Through on the N.P.
This is the track my friends keep
Larry Martin, Bill Best, Clyde Blood -
gandydancers on the ribbon rail,
ties, gravel, plates, spikes, timbers
through the Panhandle where we used
to lay pennies on these tracks
and watch them flatten under the wheels
I'm riding now.
As we roll through Rathdrum at midnight
I look out and recognize the curve of fields
I haven't seen for fifteen years.
I see Leo Grogan's white face
Ed Sedlmayer's quivering hand
the Halloween we almost stalled
his '49 Hudson on the crossing
in front of this same train,
the great white light screaming
and making us forget everything we knew
including KNEW, Spokane.
We told that story for a year
until Cleo Bradbury got his leg shot
during bird season by his best friend
and my brother shot his finger off
and I wrapped it in snow and a chunk
of shirt and they sewed it back on in Spokane.
We were always going to Spokane at night,
pretending we knew women there
but they were always girls.
Bill Murphy too. I see his '55 Ford
convertible with the white canvas top down
on an August evening in Spirit Lake
dragging the guts out of all of us
who watched him drive Main St. in his CAR,
chrome lake PIPES, open, WOMAN around his neck.
He worked on the RAILROAD. He had a JOB.
He joined the UNION. He had BEER in his trunk,
a pack of CIGARETTES rolled in his teeshirt,
a blue TATOO on his arm resting on the door.
These are real people and their magic words.
I see them from the train tonight.
They were my friends. They keep the line.
While we roll through, they sleep quietly
in their beds trembling close to the tracks
as the pennies in my pockets burn
blood into my eyes.
Northwest Tomato Growers Poem
In April, we begin
forced by frost
to start planting
inside the tomatoes
we know could not
grow here otherwise.
have taught us this
about our red fruit;
this inside starting
more than most.
Under the peat moss,
are breathing light
through the pane.
from a quiet cave
in our cavernous house,
they lean south -
spindly as new ideas -
while hair roots find
some deeper meaning.
This is the north way
to making. We start
inside before spring
hunger moves us all
out of the caves of seed
into real weather
where we grow or die
as sudden transplants
in the universal soil