Redefining north.

Lower Columbia Watershed Haibun: Field Notes on Going Home Again by Maya Jewell Zeller

Lower Columbia Watershed Haibun: Field Notes on Going Home Again by Maya Jewell Zeller


Lower Columbia Watershed Haibun: Field Notes on Going Home Again

1. There are no watersheds downstream, only the ocean. There are no watersheds downstream, only the ocean. The ocean, the repository for everything. Microbes, salt, aluminum foil. Herbicide, pesticide, plastics, oils. The taste of your cheeks when you cry. No watersheds downstream. Upstream, the Willapa Bay watershed and the Lower Columbia-Claskanie watersheds, where also you have lived and wandered the logged hills, the fished rivers, the lusted-after foxglove you hoped would stop your heart from longing, from wanting, wanting anything but these logged hills, wanting anything you didn’t have, which was everything except your body, the body you pressed like a flower, tired of filling in the gaps, into the pages of a book until it was flat and thin. You drank the flower (to stop your heart from wanting a boy?, any boy who didn’t want you); you were stupid and malleable, you were not yet a feminist, you were always a feminist, walking into those hills was a way of walking into an ocean of fuschia, of waves, a meadow of not-metaphor. You wrote and you wrote and you wrote. No writing it out ever satiated your thirst. These flowers are still one way to die, drowning, electric current plushing your heart, slowing it until it stops beating and you fall into the river below. Chemical defoliant. Fleshy waste.

On your father’s nightstand:
a revolver          
in its case.

2. One can access the EPA reports of each body of water, the watershed summary reports, the microbiological, contaminant reports by organization. For example, the Shoaltwater Bay tribe reports, in 2009, on the Metal(80), Microbiological, Contaminants(314), Nutrient(339), Pesticide(4052), Physical(4293) toxins in the Willapa Bay. In the 1990s, you run the clear cuts of these watersheds. In 2014, the local oyster industry sprays the bay with a known toxin, marketed to the public as disastrous near any water source, in order to suppress the shrimp population so the oysters can thrive, so the locals can continue their reign as the oyster capital of the Pacific Northwest. All of the oysters fished in Willapa Bay are now toxic, but if you drive through Raymond, you can still see the piles of oyster shells, Babylonian in height, their insides gleaming with a moony glow in the daylight.

Microbes, salt, aluminum foil.           
Herbicide, pesticide, plastics, oils.
It’s raining. It’s raining again.

3. Driving, driving like an Inland American, you can reach this corner of Washington State. There’s a freeway of Scotch broom. Yellow yellow yellow. There’s Tacoma/ Neko Case. There are scabs of sawed down hemlock. Then foxglove, beautiful slippers on a stalk. Your partner tries one for the first time. Your reader wants to, but is afraid. (He’d have to try a thousand. She’d have to want to die to eat enough to die.) Exit at the turn for Olympia. You’re heading way out of town. Skirt Raymond, skirt Montesano. Remember your young legs in Montesano, or on a dock in Brownsmead, on a slough, on a spit of desire. Remember how much you desired? Remember desire, that slim stalk with the bloom you can reach, the bloom, the actual bloom? Is it reality? Is it part perception?

Foxglove, Scotch broom
bouqueting for hours
the watershed of your heart—

4. Scotch broom in oceanic waves of yellow, flotsam/jetsam washing up along the roadside. Its smell is non-native, invasive, potentially allergenic. Its pollen is transported by wind, not bees, so it will survive the apocalypse. Its smell is everywhere. Roll down your window: let it in your car. Let it in your car because the wood can make beautiful pens; you’ll learn this later, you’ll learn so much, it’ll never be enough; and you’ll still be alive. Let it in your lungs because it won’t really hurt you, unless you’re allergic, unless you’re non-native. According to The Everett Herald, Scotch broom was spread by highway workers kicking up seed when they widened the freeway. According to The Everett Herald, the widened freeway disturbed the soil, made way for the bushes. According to gardeners and educators, the plant was imported from Britain to California. It was 1850. They wanted to control erosion.

How can you control the erosion
of a teen? Will she slide
downstream with the mud in the rain?

5. In the 1990s, you want to control the erosion of your heart. It’s 1996. You’re juvenile. You’re a  teenager. You’re pretty and stupid. You’re ugly and smart. You know there are no watersheds downstream, only the ocean. You know the names of all/almost all the plants, the trees, bushes, ferns, and mosses. You are learning the mosses. You make a book for biology class, once in Astoria, and when you move across the river (Columbia River, straight to the ocean), you make one again in Naselle. What you learn in one state is often repeated when you move to another. What you learn in one small town is often repeated in a smaller town, in a county school, in a classroom where everything feels repeated. What you learn as a teenager is repeated when you’re an adult, what you learn is what you learn, is you never learn. You are learning the mosses. You are learning the veins. You are learning the heart, the roads, the watersheds. You are learning there are no watersheds downstream.

You drive for hours and hours to see yourself again, this maze of water, this topography of loss and lust and hormonal mess. It’s spring. It’s spring and the roadsides are blooming, blooming back into the hills. Everything’s blooming on State Route Four. Everything’s blooming, shoring you up.

It’s more like the smell of honeysuckle than death, more like warm wet wood than a heart, opened, on the table. On the table, your watersheds, unfolded, repeating.

You turn away, look out at the house just torn down so all that’s left is dirt where the house once was. The house where you lived. The highway just a few steps away.

Where the house once was:
a hole full of water.

Where the house once was,
your heart:
a hole full of flowers.

Maya Jewell Zeller is the author of Rust Fish (Lost Horse Press 2011), Yesterday, the Bees (Floating Bridge Press 2015), and the forthcoming collaboration (with visual artist Carrie DeBacker), Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts (Entre Rios fall 2017). When she is not cavorting in geologic landforms & waterways, Maya teaches poetry and poetics at Central Washington University and/or parents two small children.

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