Cathexis Northwest Press

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ON THE STILLAGUAMISH RIVER; THE WILD NASTURTIUMS
ON THE STILLAGUAMISH RIVER

 

     To my father

 

 

What was it made me dream so big:

that I could get you to take me down the Stillie,

 

old rubber raft hanging limp in basement, 

deflated, you not one for water songs?

 

Why’d you say yes? Hunt down pump and patches,

dry red hands making the bark river-worthy 

 

on the muddy shore? Not my plan to discover anything 

out there. I just wanted to take up your time, see how 

 

you, once a sailor, would row, save me from drowning 

if I fell in. Yet once underway, I didn’t look at you   

 

or the water. I was fixated on the backs of shacks we passed—

their sagging porches and rickety stairs—

 

trying to imagine what dramas played out inside.

We passed an old juke joint, empties overflowing 

 

a rusty barrel. Barkeep tossed a tub of ice out the back. 

You waved him a buck. “Sell me an Oly?”

 

Ballast, I stayed low while the can was passed.

I’d have gladly drowned that day. 

THE WILD NASTURTIUMS

 

 

My father called them the nasties.

They crawled unchecked through the yard.

Idiot-proof flower. Grows best in bad soil.

Need no sun. We had none.

 

They crawled unchecked through the yard.

Their bright orange faces taunted us.

Need no sun. We had none

in the rain-soaked summer of ‘66.

 

Their bright orange faces taunted us

as the boys packed their bags for Nam.

In the rain-soaked summer of ‘66

I sucked honey from their slender ducts.

 

As the boys packed their bags for Nam

my father pulled them out by the roots.

I sucked honey from their slender ducts

and pressed the petals into a book.

 

My father pulled them out by the roots.

My mother salvaged the seeds

and pressed the petals into a book.

They crumbled and turned to dust.

 

My mother salvaged the seeds.

Idiot-proof flower. Grows best in bad soil.

They crumbled and turned to dust.

My father called them the nasties.

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Jeanne-Marie Osterman is from Everett, Washington. She's the author of There’s a Hum (Finishing Line Press). Her work has appeared in Borderlands, California Quarterly, Bluestem, 45th Parallel, and other journals. A 2018 Joy Harjo Poetry Award finalist, and Four Way Books/Levis Prize finalist, she earned a BA from Gonzaga University and an MA in Linguistics from San Francisco State. Jeanne-Marie lives in New York City where she is Assistant Poetry Editor for Cagibi Literary Magazine.

"On the Stillaguamish River" is based on a childhood memory. I was ten, obsessed with getting my distant father to spend time with me. I used couplets to reflect it was "just the two of us." I kept the lines long and the thoughts meandering—like a river. Keeping the boat steady while my dad bought his beer --this simple act of feeling useful-- meant everything much to me.

 

"The Wild Nasturtiums" is a pantoum, a form of repeating lines. I like how it weaves together a series of thoughts, letting the reader make their own conclusion. The backdrop is rainy—the runup to the Viet Nam war. The speaker is young and innocent—just beginning to taste the honey. The father, as was our country at that time, is obsessed with control; the speaker and her mother, with beauty and life. The boys, also innocent flowers, are sent to war where many of them, sadly, turned to dust.