Princess Angeline

See for more information, including her Lushootseed names.

The prompt at  POETRY IS EVERYTHING for April 2 is “write about an event that is newsworthy or historical.” Lesser known — recommended, and within 100 miles of where you reside, at least 100 years ago. I think my attempt stayed in the parameters.

I’ve been reading Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan, and so it seemed natural to borrow from the riveting first chapter, and Edward Curtis’s amazing picture of Princess Angeline (1820-1886), daughter of Chief Seattle.  I had this very strong sense of Curtis and Angeline as partners, securing each other’s place in history. Perhaps not so far as Western History would have it (and of course Curtis took many great pictures), but Princess Angeline’s position strikes me as the more fascinating one.  So, my one-bad-poem:

Here’s Edward Curtis hunting Princess Angeline
across the Seattle waterfront, one of those sun shot days
when the sun’s yellow is hammered flat
across the anvil of Puget Sound,
a clank of boat rigging, rumble of tugs.

Here’s Princess Angeline slipping through Curtis’s studio door,
uphill, suspicious, though not wary enough
to keep from pressing her face like paper
onto his lens, calligraphy of lines,
no smile, eyes squinting narrow pits.

A puff of smoke, a change of glass plates.
That flash–Edward Curtis inserting himself into the history books.

Any Excuse to Write

It’s Poetry Month! I am accepting the challenge to write one-bad-poem a day for 30 days.  Well, the challenge is to write a poem, but calling it “one bad poem” makes me feel better about offering whatever I happen to come up with. If you’d like to play along, you can find prompts all over the Internet. I picked up mine from POETRY IS EVERYTHING. The prompt for today was harlequin. 

You thought the fool a fine tarot for marriage
framed the print to hang in our first kitchen
by then too late for me to read the signs
queen of cups capable of anything as I well knew
hidden the next 30 years. A friend dared me
to have my cards read and I never told you
knowing you would disapprove, would frown and
gyrate, put the red hat on and dance
not like finding the money spent, like even less
my fondness for what you call rubbish
and there’s that fool still presiding in our kitchen
the harlequin nose turned up, jangle
of spangled arms at everything I’m cooking up.

Escape into Life

Over at EIL (Escape into Life) Kathleen Kirk has put together a fabulous collage of pictures and poems about poetry, just in time to make us sit up and notice the last week of Poetry Month. Click on the link to find yourself there 😉

All of the images are from Susan Yount‘s Tarot cards, this one, a tribute to the brilliant Lucille Clifton.

Making Potato Salad

(image from — I chose this picture for the bowl)

I am pleased to share a poem written by my friend from Writing Lab, Kathryn Johnson. Feeding people seems to be one of our basic instincts in the face of grief.


Making Potato Salad

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2

A hundred miles away
Your voice crackles out the cell phone staccato message
Your father is dying.
So you’ll stay another day on the farm to arrange
The hospital bed in the windowed room
Where your mother
And your grandmother
Slept their waning nights next to the moonlit pasture.
I ask what I can do from here,
You list people to call, mail to send, then add
“Make potato salad.”

On the last picnic weekend twenty years ago,
The call came that the old man who had built our new church
Was dying of heart failure.
We arrived behind the ambulance
Too late.
You sat in the living room to comfort the widow and son,
I drifted to the kitchen with the at-loose-ends daughter-in-law.
Aimless strangers in a house of fresh mourning,
We found boiled potatoes and eggs
Pre-cooked for holiday lunch
Hours before this cloudless day tolled
Dark, somber, brassy.
I sliced the pickles, she peeled the eggs,
We measured mustard and mayo in a large mixing bowl,
Believing later
The grieving would be hungry.

But now, since you don’t eat potato salad,
I’ll mow the lawn, front and back,
I’ll wash your navy blue sweater and pin-stripe shirt,
I’ll pile up pictures of your father driving his tractor,
Smiling behind his commissioner’s desk,
Cradling his dark-eyed baby girl,
Sitting on the couch with his middle-aged sons,
Standing by the canal’s edge with the radiant blond wife of his youth.
I’ll fall asleep reading Ecclesiastes,
And tomorrow,
I’ll make oatmeal cookies, timed warm for your arrival,
In case you’re hungry.

Kathryn Duncan Johnson, May 2012