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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Kathleen Flenniken

Rabia O’Loren




For years
it may be locked
in the matrix
of silt and sand
like a photo-
graphic image
still and
and adsorbed
the introduction
of gradient
to unsaturated
and it awakens
like a frond
a carpet unrolling
this beautiful
between interstices
void to void
the dark earth
the layering
of permeable
and impermeable
it is out
of our hands
this 50 year old

this poison
yes it is moving

to the river yes
it migrates
between grains
down to
saturated sediment
manifestly down
and when
it descends
as far as it can
it will swim
ride droplets
like swanboats
trailing its
paisley scarf
and like
with a destiny
a flock of birds
it will move
to the river
yes the river
will take it in





The Columbia rolls on
through the desert,
unimpressed and unattached—
a woman who doesn’t need boys
to dance, a king’s parade
of golden carriages,
an endless line of warriors ants.
The river speaks French
in a land of inferior grammar.
The river is blue in a field of brown,
green in a field of grey,
black in a field of bronze.
The river shuns the desert.
It holds its tongue.
It saves itself for the ocean.
The river is fast, undammed,
Rapunzel’s hair let down
and won’t allow this
shrub-steppe plain to climb it.
The river won’t lend itself
to grow a tree.  Look—
sagebrush flush with its banks.
No meeting, no kiss, no marriage.
Look at the tumbleweeds.
The river bathes in its glory,
the desert eats dust.  The river
belongs to somewhere else.
The mighty river passes, not touching.
But not untouched.






Someone launched a boat into the current,

caught and delivered fish to the lab
and someone tested for beta and P-32.
Someone with flasks and test tubes tested
and re-tested to double check the rising values.

And someone drove to the public dock
with a clipboard and tallied species and weight.
Chatting with his neighbors, Which fish
are you keeping? How many do you eat?

And someone with a slide rule in a pool of light
figured and refigured the radionuclide
dose.  Too high.  Experimented frying up
hot whitefish. No. No. Then someone decided

all the numbers were wrong. Someone
from our town. Is that why we
were never told? While someone fishing—
that little boy; the teacher on Cedar Street—

caught his limit and never knew.


Author Biography:

Kathleen Flenniken has just been elected Poet Laureate of Washington State. Her first book, Famous (University of Nebraska, 2006), won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association and a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Her poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry, The Writer’s Almanac, Poetry Daily, American Life in Poetry, and many other journals and anthologies. Her second collection, Plume, has been selected by Linda Bierds for the Pacific Northwest Poetry Series and will be published in Spring 2012 by University of Washington Press. Flenniken’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Artist Trust, a Pushcart Prize, and grants from Artist Trust and the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop and was awarded an Emerging Writer’s Fellowship by The Writer’s Center in Bethesda in 2010. She teaches poetry through Seattle’s Writers in the Schools program, Jack Straw, and other arts agencies. Flenniken is a co-editor and president of Floating Bridge Press, a non-profit press dedicated to publishing Washington State poets, and president of the board at Jack Straw.

Credit: Plume, University of Washington Press, 2012


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