Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Veteran - A Red Wolf Poem

The front entrance of The Carnegie Center, once again the Oregon City Library. For a few years it was an art center and I actually performed poetry readings and once some music in the center with a local blues performer, Ellen Whyte, and a great pianist named Rich Turnoy. I was on Congas that day. They tried to move the library but money issues and politics scrambled the plans.

This poem is somewhat a story and somewhat a recall of the place I call home. Oregon City is the end of the Oregon Trail and Oregon essentially grew from here, but Stumptown down the river at it's confluence with the Columbia took over and is now Portland, the primary city in Oregon while Salem a bit south politicked its way to Oregon's State Capital. Corvallis and Eugene both snagged the main universities.

Now Oregon City is a midsized Portland commuter town, and a county seat for Clackamas County. It used to be a pretty big mill town for the local paper mill but that mill was landlocked and couldn't expand. It struggled and changed ownership several times trying to survive but just couldn't make the shifts that were required to survive. The mill made newsprint and in it's heyday was known as Publisher's Paper. Once in the sixties it was featured along with a house on Washington Street in an episode of a TV show called "Route 66" you can find on YouTube. I have no idea why they came here because the real Route 66 is nowhere near Oregon. But from time to time film crews do come to town.

I worked on contract to the engineering department of that mill for a number of months two times in the course of my career. Now it's a ghost mill.

The poem was written in response to suggestions given by Irene for Wordle #28 on Red Wolf Poems

The Veteran

It's not that I loved
that mournful sister nor her
when they burst, stranger
lights all mudstreaked in the front
of the Carnegie
Library uptown
of the drunken swifts on Main.

In late October
in nineteen hundred
and froze to death some Eastern
messengers dropped flags
on our dumbstruck foes.

But now in two thousand and
fourteen I wonder
what it was all for,
the dreams and mud spilled across
the honor of all
the old boys who held
the borderline and adorned
the darkness with stars.

‎October 9, ‎2014 4:07 PM

Wordle 28

I should say I was listening to "When I Go" by Dave Carter on a loop while I wrote The Veteran.

"Mournful sister" is his and so are some other phrases. The drunken swifts refer to chimney swifts who use the stacks in downtown to roost in their season. We stand on the bluff above the town and watch them circle and descend to roost in the late evening's light.

Red Wolf


  1. The poem has a historical storytelling flavor and also manages to be lyrical. I appreciated the backstory and especially the song for the mournful sister bit. And I thought, wrongly, that the drunken swifts refer to the Columbia River, though that too works I think.

  2. Interesting history and love the speculation of the last stanza. Wonder what the old ones would think about it all?

    1. Your question cuts me loose of the timing and now I am floating across all the wars and conflicts. The old ones often counted coup rather than commiting to out and out war. But war was common and much more intimately bloody than is modern war. In fact, I think the post traumatic stuff is a manifestation of the modern theaters of war because the terror is now much less a part of military logistics. Almost everybody fights long distance any more, except by accident. So when a guy is stressed in the intimacy of combat it comes out of the blue these days, at least on our side. Often on theirs too of course when destruction rains down on them from machines they can't even see.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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