- Two Poems
Kerouac Creek Work Tune
After three days of summer rain, I’m back splitting cedar in the hills. The horse skid trail is muddy and rain clouds dapple the peaks.
But work goes well, the saw and truck run fine; cedar splits into fifty sturdy rails, and by evening —truck loaded, tools packed away—
the moon and stars jingle in the sky like wages.
Through Sword Fern, Through Nettle
New spring snow on Mount Townsend, on Buckhorn, on Constance.
On my way to work near hamlet Quilcene, a cloud of smoke from a logging show whips over the car. [End Page 117]
It’s Burn Day in the county and that cloud—that wood-smoke smell— lifts me back to slash-choked hills above the Strait
where Finn and I, with canisters of gas & diesel (in a cork-boot dance with fire), drip-torched a hundred clearcut acres.
And further back: night burning—
fir and cedar snags (colossal Roman candles) spewed sparks and fire across the heavens—
for the Forest Service, circa 1970, at Bon Jon Pass.
From here on Alan Polson’s land above the Big Quil River—
digging with pulaski (axe & mattock in one head) fresh trail through sword fern, nettle, elderberry, around spruce roots, and huge moss-bearing maples—
I hear ’cross valley the Jake-brake whine of log trucks descending Walker Mountain, the river’s steady spring-melt movement, and wrens singing to each other in the trees. [End Page 118]
And I recall jumping into a helicopter (where’s the door?) far up this very watershed; dynamite caps, boxed and balanced on my knees, earmarked for the crew at Marmot Pass.
A clear and sunny morning. My first trail-building job, and soon, my first grown beard!
What views from that Hornet chopper! What mountain wilds below!
The night before, at the bunkhouse barn, I wrote postcards to three girls: to one I’d lost but still held hope for, to one I had, but might be losing, and to one too young, perhaps, but awfully hip for sweet sixteen.
All the postcards read the same:
I’m off to the high old mountainsto work on Forest Service trails.If I don’t return, remember:I loved you unto my dying breath.
P.S. I’ll be back in ten days. [End Page 119]
Mike O’Connor was born in Aberdeen, Washington. He studied at the University of Washington, the Universidad de las Americas, in Mexico City, and the University of California at Berkeley. In the seventies, after working for the U.S. Forest Service, he farmed in the Dungeness-Sequim River Valley and engaged in selective logging and reforestation in the Olympic Mountains. Beginning in 1979, he worked as a journalist and editor in Taiwan, and in 1995, he returned to the U.S. He has published nine books of poetry, including Immortality (2010); a memoir, Unnecessary Talking: The Montesano Stories (2009); and translations of Chinese literature, including When I Find You Again, It Will Be in Mountains: The Selected Poems of Chia Tao (2000).