Christopher Ketchum

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.

 

 

Wildflower Historiography

 

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.

 

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