Somewhere in a Writer’s Workshop He Learns the Lines from “Oregon Trail”

Upon rubbing two sticks together at a reading by Kim Stafford

Oregon trail of tears
three a.m. clarity, father’s dark
thoughts crispy lines, pencil
to paper
star trails pushed aside
old man now dust
to dust, wind, son holding family’s
lines, traced faces of dead brother,
mother, despair in land
held hostage, false
gods like poets of Greeks, Romans
Cicero felled by
Antony’s revenge orator’s speeches
and writings, death, today,
Oregon poet trapped
in lamentation:

I been a grubbin’ on a little farm on the flat and windy plains
I been a list’nin to the hungry cattle bawl.
I’m gonna pack my wife and kids,
I’m gonna hit that western road.
I’m gonna hit that Oregon Trail this comin’ fall.

he covers what father lifted
to page, alive forever
in death’s magical stone
wind-bound emptying urn
William said: the experience that comes out of writing,
that feels precious to me,
is more adventurous than
just the reporting of something that’s already happened

son teaches Oregon art of
writing, daily recognition words
unlimited like salmon runs of old
he travels like Guthrie
now poet laureate, gentrified
life holds course
of history, Oregon roots:

Well my land is dry and cracklin’
and my chickens they’re a cacklin’
‘Cause this dirt and dust is getting’ in their craw
They been layin’ flint rock eggs
I got to bust ’em with a sledge
I got to hit that Oregon trail this comin’ fall.

snapped clear cuts, resources no
holy benedictions to land, mother
father eagle shot up
by salmon fishers, logs
fish, nothing much else on minds
choking on dust, lifting rivers
into stagnation, dams covering
holy places, fish ladders formed
before petroglyphs, postcard-
depicted Salish lifting hundred
pound kings, Woody called for more:

I’m gonna hit that Oregon Trail this comin’ fall,
I’m gonna hit that Oregon Trail this coming fall,
Where that good rain falls a plenty
Where the crops and orchards grow
I’m gonna hit that Oregon Trail this coming fall.

laureate conjures words, smiths
graying heads, geriatric wisdom
weighing heavy limbs, seeking
Oregon Trail validation, working
like awl movers, dremels
over burled words, bullnose
planes shifting thoughts

poet’s son seeks daily
bread, images, people
moments in daily feeding, floating
sinking, head against winds
Pacific Northwest galvanizes
pen to paper, notes cribbed
another doggerel captures
Oregon trail:

art in the feeling, doing, sharing

Kim feathers air

with fingers, like harpist’s

notes to heaven, toward William

**Woody Guthrie’s “Oregon Trail”*

Paul Haeder's new bio is about suspending all those credentials, all those titles, all those in-the-trench experiences he's acquired and worked hard on in his 64 years (2021): Novelist, essayist, journalist, social worker, college and K12 educator, environmental warrior. Terms and avocations more meaningless as cancel culture rises and rises from left and right insanity. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 16 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.