Creative Writing

Kelly Bolding, 2011

The following reading was recording on April 29, 2011.

Siren, Potatoes

If you lived in Huttig in those days, all the men
took jobs at Union Sawmill, slicing the magnificent logs into clean,

workable shapes somebody could use. And up stood the town, as if
on wooden stilts, in the middle of the humid pine thicket:

The white-paneled churches robed in their humbling
architecture, set beneath a stubborn,

but uncomplicated god. The all-levels school with its new dome-shaped
gymnasium—just like the ones in Monroe—where the kids would eat venison

on white bread or leftover stew beneath the trees’ strange mercy—
but suddenly, the siren

from the mill would let its guttural cry, sharp
and steely as a saw blade, like the one word everyone knew

the true meaning of; and for a moment,
it was everybody’s father

splayed breathless or chopped to rough-hewn triangles
across the factory floor. The children were quickly sent home to their stone-faced

mothers, where no one dared to speak for hours, waiting, until slowly,
one at a time, the men would return—the doors shutting

the outside light behind them, staying in all night
for the long resurrections, the children stripping them down, counting

their fingers and toes, as if waiting to find a discrepancy, repeating
the names over and over until

finally in the morning, a shutter of starlings would break
the silence, and the dead man would again become

one child’s father.
Throughout the next day, casseroles would line up

like choir singers on the front porch of a particular house;
the makeshift language of cornbread, potatoes.

The Other Wake

I want you to know: the day after you died, we went fishing.
One rod to the five of us, we lumbered a ragged procession

up Holgate toward the murky Willamette,
climbed down the briar patch beneath the highway

to where the littered bank blurred into the river.
Don’t think it was like the Ganges—it wasn’t.

Only the herons wore white as your body flew,
packaged and labeled, back on the plane to California.

When our bobber sank under, it was impossible to know
whether a fish clung to the hook—or a moss clod—

like how hard it is to tell a sleeping kid from a dead one.
And since the river wouldn’t give,

we threw rocks: first pelting the surface, then skipping them,
thinking that if we found the flattest rock to slice

the surf into ripples, you might understand that we felt like water
cut open by what it was you threw into us.

By the time we made it back to the dorm, we were drenched
in moonlight. All night the stars glinted and squirmed,

muscling themselves into place,
even through all that blackness.