I grew up in Olympia, Washington, and I have always had a particularly strong affinity for the small towns of Washington State, especially those in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. When I was a student at the University of Puget Sound one of my fraternity brothers was from Morton, Washington, and we literally watched on television as the town was destroyed by the explosion of Mt. St. Helens, a place where I had spent summers as a camper on Spirit Lake (which no longer exists). I remember they said it was the place where rocks float and wood sinks (because the rocks were vulcanic and the wood petrified). There was an old guy there named Harry Truman who refused to leave after the warnings, and he died in the explosion.
Anyhoo, Skykomish was a small town in the mountains of the Cascades on the Skykomish River that was very similar to Oso, Washington, on the Stillaguamish River, just one valley north of the Skykomish. I remember he said they used to call the town “Sky”. When I heard about the tragedy of the mudslide in Oso I immediately thought about my professor from Skykomish. I was angry that there was not more press coverage of the event, and that they spent the first three days saying it was in “Arlington” (knowing the town, I knew that could not be the case) until they named the town of Oso. I guess that is the prejudice of newspapers like “The New York Times” that think that people outside of New York are not actually human, and that they can fulfill their obligation to “cover the heartland” by sending a reporter to Kansas twice a year to ask those people what they think about something. Personally I don’t think it is excusable.
My heart goes out to those who lost family members in Oso, a town that was literally wiped off the face of the earth. I guess why I brought up the thing about the sculpture professor is that he died suddenly of a heart attack while I was in his class, and I wrote a poem for him, what I would consider a funeral paian, and I wanted to share it with the people of Oso. Somehow I felt like it was connected, but you can determine for yourself. The poem is below:
Death of a Sculptor
good-night good-night good-night to a sculptor
good-night to a voice in the chorus of man.
the madness of the angels when it pushes through the ground,
will turn the world behind
the eyes and once it caught
the sculptor by surprise but death has got him now,
he took the sculptor out of town.
“good-bye good-bye you must say good-bye
to fields of grass and fruit upon the ground,
the rain forever coming in your birthing town
with the sound of water running where two rivers flow together
with the cedars and the sky.”
In a place where trees grow up and down,
a wood of crows ascending
with a more than heavenly sound,
once told us that the sculptor left
this world of ours
they told us that he walks behind the stars, the words he spoke to us
receding with the heart of man,
that races through the autumn trees and turning
makes the circle full
by moving through the world below.
Beyond the concrete slabs and iron doors
the sculptor walks on purple shores
as in your hour of deepest sleep
you wake to find the end of grief
He watched the earth until he fell asleep
good-night good-night the sculptor dreams.