My Mother’s Laughter
is enough to make Dad paddle her around the lake
and back. Maybe alone they don’t talk
of real estate or the back deck’s chipping paint,
but in their furtive daylight moments burn
below the wicks of themselves. Mom dreams of a Lake Wobegon summer
and cedar-colored porchlight until moonrise,
where she can smell berries ripening on their bush.
Dad draws the oar across watertop shadows,
pleasantly open-mouthed with effort,
while he listens to her fancies and the sound
of paint coaxed along a maple plank.
The weight of a brush like a bottle of wine,
the timbre of her triad like a breath.
Wildfire of 1994, Valley County
Now the hillside is rife with fireweed
and ponderosa in their infancy.
Osprey nest in the blackest trunks of pine,
memorials of carbon softened by the late-season winds.
The air is filled with the green scent of life
from the patches of huckleberry, heather and wild mint,
the beargrass and St. John’s wort.
The elk graze and track
the dry simplicity of brush.
In July of 1994 the Secesh was bronze as topaz and replete with trout.
One crew member said you could pull them out with a glove still on.
The other men shuttled in the pickup bed laughed and watched the fish, their lazy contortions smooth and dark in the cold honey of the river.
Hours after they had donned their coats and prayed,
a thousand feet above the water,
with a shovel, helmet and fear
indigenous to the heat and flicker of the mountainside,
they stared up at the lightning’s work.
Acres of timber smoldering in the sky
draped like a blindfold over heaven.
He remembers the gray-headed clerk who ushered him to the front of the line
for his hard work. It was pleasant just to wait there behind a young woman
and her colicky child, to think of the babble and murmur of his own baby girl
and her bright eyes lilting to sleep. The stickiness of his district uniform
like the tack of a flannel bedsheet too late into summertime, the too hot
silk of a body against him—
Too hot to endure, too absorbed to pull away.
Because when I think of Idaho it is rarely of the body
or any allusion to it. Rather, yarrow
grown from the scent of its own dust
and Indian paintbrush hues of sunset.
Seven Devils Road winds eighteen miles over Riggins,
hills where Tela and I discuss nostalgia
and the excellent tattoos our memories make.
A sparse bouquet of wild lupin and alpine flowers
bound with a stalk of gold wheat
would here be blue—
bluer than the sailor who never traveled Lake Missoula
before it inundated the Palouse,
bluer than the toxicologist whose survey
of Paradise Creek, Point, and Butte
proved snakeless. Yes,
sketched down her sleeve in austere ink,
a field guide of our histories
and facts which are easy to forget.
Biographical Note for Christopher Ketchum
I am a senior Creative Writing major at Willamette University. My hometown is Moscow, ID. The three poems published here were written during a short visit to McCall, a small town in central Idaho. This is my first non-Willamette literary publication.