Larry Heald, In the Rockies, (detail)

Poets On the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women is directed by Susan Rich and Kelli Russell Agodon and happens every September in La Conner. Poets explored the museum exhibits and wrote poems inspired by the variety of art works they discovered. Poets On the Coast welcomes poets at every stage in their career: from new beginners to highly published writers. For more information on Poets On the Coast, please visit us at
Farmers at the Museum

The mural was found in a barn
Now it hangs in a museum
Painted on commission in 1941
By a soon-to-be famous 24-year old.
The mural depicts the trades of the time:
Logging, Dairy-Farming
Berry-picking, Railroad-Builidng.
The slate sky is a thin
Margin over male bodies
Bending, reaching, crouching.
They work in silence,
Facing away from each other
Slender, tan cow hips
Take center, patiently being
Milked. I think about how
These jobs having changed
And how they have not. Just
This morning I was bending
Over to weed a row of parsley,
But new railroads are being stopped. 
Berry pickers vote to unionize.
At least one dairy farm has gone robotic. 
Still the simplicity of this scene 
Settles something in me. The cool, 
Natural tones feel like home.
As I leave the museum I run into
A farmer friend who has been
Farming a lot longer than me.
We smile and realize that we are
Both here for the same reason.
I don't recognize him at first.
We are out of the field, out of context.
He just finished delivering
Vegetables to a nearby restaurant.
His hands are coarse.
He smiles honestly.
I could see him hunched
In this mural. Instead he is outside
The painting, in real life, looking
Back in time.
                                                    by Jessica Gigot
Snow at Hiroshima
               after a painting by Lilli Mathews -Early Fog: Burrows Bay
Out of darkness—light
Out of brooding storms
turbulence  shock waves
They say the air is cleaner
after a good rain
Out of drones
Out of buttons pushed
collateral damage
A naked girl
flesh scourged
White light
                        by Miriam Bassuk
It’s a Question of Cosmic Importance
                         after Philip McCracken’s Unified Field Theory, 2010
It’s a bit of a burden to carry the entire universe on your shell, isn’t it?
A qualitative experience perhaps?  Implies an inner nature that goes
beyond its role in the causal web?
Some of us just watch and wonder, facing myths far-reaching and divine.
In front of me now your bland smile of acceptance, your wide spaced bright eyes,
belie your burden; a hefty cedar trunk reaching up to reveal the outer heavens,
illuminated cosmic windows, scored starlight infused into the wood.
Be you tortoise or turtle, you carry the limitless universe incorporated into your body
for all time.
While I hop around down here, a wild hare, trapped by the spin of matter, slipping
through flywheels of time, lost in your spiraling galaxies.
Or sometimes I’m perched on the perimeter of Deep Space peering into a void,
carrying only vertigo on my shoulders holding only promises in my hands.
And just then I remember that we are all stardust, every atom in each of us
once part of some fiery giant, and then I find my place in the pulsing cosmos. 
Because all together in amalgam, carbon particles from some distant constellation,
we constitute the ultimate creation, the spark of the animate –we are life. 
                                                by Meredith England-Markun
The Mountains, They’re Not Just Standing There
                                    after Larry Heald’s, In the Rockies, 1987-1988
Usually there is something about mountains,
the distance, a space for failures and musings,
the quiet, an eeriness harking no rescue routes,
a mass of rock unsuccumbing, unrelenting
tectonic and ancient: a brooding fatherland.
Heald’s sixteen panels of the Rocky Mountains were
thus disorienting at first -
secret rainbows in the rainy west side, true campfires
in the snowy peaks of the north, offerings to mothers of
the plains in the east, and the fiery, red rocks of the south.
Uncalculating, almost endearing, not just in its 
massiveness but in its gradients of color and lumps of 
pentimento, Heald’s In the Rockies embeds paradise
in a humanless patch of earth
sacrosanct on fifty eight feet of an outlier’s canvas.
                                    by Maria Cielo G. Johnson
The Sea You See
            in response to Opalescent Sea, by Windsor Utley
My heart races, dear Windsor, in response
to the sea you see.
You debase my beloved,
the tranquil, the transcendent ocean.
What roiling stew of mustard and vermillion
is ever present in the sea?
How can one dive into such frenzy?
In what universe is powder blue just a scrim
over a rabid orange sky,
water ripped into bright shards
like a crazy quilt stuffed in a blender set to frappé ?
And in what country are opals
a rancid crayon kaleidoscope?
Your “opalescent sea” is a provocation
to me and the gentle sealife
swaying below.
All agitation, no shimmer.
                                                            by Laura Urban Perry
pale to black
bottomless sky, sky
in minutes before dark,
and then the dark.
Color of all blue jeans.
Color of sunny day
Salish Sea, powder sky
absorbed to saturation. 
Granules of red dissolve
in true heart of indigo. 
Cloth thirsting for color, color
of a mother coddling her baby in his bunting,
yearning after divine, flower
the color of bees longing for nectar,
color of desire, misery of breakup, loneliest
last creature on earth.
“If indigo were pink,” says Rowland Ricketts,
grower and dyer, artist and stitcher,
“everything I’d be making would be pink.”
Not committed to this color,
he’s all about the dyeing.
I drop into Leo Kenney’s pink Dream and see
Ricketts’ indigo pink, shades built layer
upon layer, sinking into porous paper,
pale to heart throb, dusty rose,
napkin stained raspberry, the color
of bricks and blood, scent of rosewood,
shine of rubies. Cherries and chestnuts
hurtling to ground. Carmine-tipped
toes inching toward her lover.
Color of embraces drowning, breathless.
In its buried currents pulses blue—this red
harbors a blue soul.
Suspended upon its watery wash
two wombs throb the color indigo
pale to black; seeds cradled, cells nested,
life on earth, stars sparking,
pulse of desire to be born.  
  (stanza break)
As for me, spinner and weaver,
smith and sayer, I can love either.
Not wedded to these colors,
I’m all about the diving.
                        by Donna James

When We Rise
             after Nordic Canoe with Horns by Steve Jensen
Poised either side
of the ancient hollow
still visible
we rise, arced
reaching to meet
above the light
despite the light
because of the light
I can no longer tell.
Hardier now
our strength and vision
advancing year by year
expanding moment by moment
What will happen
when the journeys end
once again one
point to point
sharpness gone
will that be enough
to fill the void of time?
                        by Lea Galanter

Two Dreams
            after Leo Kenney’s “Two Dream Forms,”
             gouache on Chinese paper
One dark blue with waves of light
and magenta. This is what nucleus means:
Seed. Spore. One of Bernini’s
or Einstein’s eyes.
The other a two-sided tributary out
of its birth canal:
one a forest of green, river of blue
winding through multiple songs–
Whitman, Dickinson, Hughes–
the other over rocks into a gray
bowl, an empty pocket of split casings
and dust.
At the end of a long night,
two songs singing, out of their Chinese paper
beds, to keep warm.
Susan Landgraf
              after Leo Kenney's A Breath of Light, 1968
A scudding-cloud lake reflects my watery world
filled with burning-bright, late nights and patterned healing –
a legacy demanding payment and offering larger possibilities . . .
like looking up at filtered light between the small spaces of an arching tree.
I remember in 1990 my fellow novice basket maker,
also studying with a Pomo master.
This other student, with her French “Z” for “s”
and turned-about verbs and object pronouns,
threaded her thin strips of sedge into a sharp needle's eye.
She talked as she sewed,
about her other project –
a bigger, unkempt, round-and-round-and-finally-unfinished, attempted PhD project –
not framed tightly like her coiled base for her quarter-sized basket
not framed like this delicate painting on Chinese paper
not framed, because her project failed.
Simulating the human eye, she concluded
we still do not understand
how the parts can summon a greater whole –
how the eye can see.
Does the light stretch between our neurons? Is the package of the eye
in blood and flash and limited pixels
a frontier like space or the ocean, ever to be crossed?
One attempt may lead to more
questions, the spaces among the parts,
threads and connections translating into energy exchange,
and perhaps a spark that quantifies into awareness between.
Through research, macular degeneration has slowed
for my mother: one more day of light.
Hasn't the artist captured movement
summed greater than each liquid part within his dream? How can light
grow within this frame, a pencil mark etched visibly?
Today, I have fallen into a view
where the whole shivers alive,
seeing me
giving my world sight, shared.
                                                                        by Sheila deShields
After Soft Trestle
         after a painting by Lilli Mathews
If I become
tall yellow waves of grasses
along the bridge footing..
If I become
bronzed girders stretched wide
where once wooden pilings were sufficient..
If I become
vertical rivets repeating strength
and connection without interruption..
I become
the girl from an unseen boat
docked inside the narrow channel of blue gray water.
Large white stones settle into sediment cradles.
I see ghost faces waiting for me.
I lie down
in my riparian wilderness                
where rails are not so far above me.
Metal columns hum even when my father’s train
is a mile away and I sense a murmur that hollows the ground.
I freeze
as the engine begins the crossing of the trestle.
Earth, my bed, vibrates base and roots of grasses.
I recognize the whistle signal.
River above me, river beside me, river within me.
I rise to practice rowing home.
                                    by Mary Ellen Talley
This Breath of Light, First Thing
after Breath of Light, by Leo Kenney
“I am compelled to restate and celebrate the mysteries.”
Leo Kenney
We move toward death,
as we did our birth,
by the Source, a life force,
to be what we are.
Rim of white fire – birth-crown,
first breath.
We gasp for air -
to live, to eat, to become.
Feather of sky,
Rorschach of mystery,
we catalyze, metabolize,
your light.
                                                                                                                                   by Catherine Haynes
“Two Dream Forms”
By S.E. Christensen
After Leo Kenney's Two Dream Forms
Two true blue embryos,
Peeking through the flesh forms of Chinese uterus paper
Encased by the egg yolk of medium unknown; nourishing
These eternal almost-beings.
Why is one of you open, like mothers open their bodies up
For you to enter the world?
And one shut, shuttered, a small spectator observing eyes
Constantly peeking; asking what these travelers see.
Patrons, from their observation decks are unaware of the
Ragged stretch-marks of paintbrush on paper,
Unaware the toll of raising a new form has on
Souls that may have preferred an unartistic undertaking.
They had no choice:
These dream forms
Were born in them, of them, through them.
Creators cannot choose to abort the scenes
Revealed through mind’s eyes, then bathed in both artificial and moon light;
All of us are here
Because of two hand’s energies.
                        after Steven Jensen’s “Floating Canoe 2014,”
                        recycled glass, boat resin, found beach steel
What do I believe to be true
about death?
Does the aging body suddenly gleam,
web of veins glowing
with blue luster,
begin a low rumble that aligns with molten
Or is that feat relegated to dying
children whose pure energy more closely resembles
the winged spirits crossing
over, green to green, like light
to another tree?
I remember years
ago, volunteering for the Make a Wish
Foundation, working to bring kindness
to a Maple Valley family, whose six-
year old son wanted
a Winnie the Pooh birthday.
It was his biggest
dream, that bright-eyed pixie
boy, barely beginning
to show signs of sickness, the resin in his spirit so sweet,
the clown I’d hired to perform
sent me a thank you for the privilege.
Two older boys in that family had the same blood-death
sentence, progressing in various stages of disintegration
and disrepair. The oldest was closeted
in a blacked-out room, suffering
from seizures to light.
Lukas, at six, was all
The girl child of that family was merely
a carrier
for that disease, she herself spared,
except for DNA
already ruined for the next
generation. That was her legacy,
at eleven.
The father of the family had chosen
had not even come to the Pooh party.
His wife shouldered all of the burden of their four
children, three of whom would be dead
within five years.
But who can judge?
Ship sarcophagus, carrier of life
amidst the waves, the days we imagine
will last until we’re ready
to lower the flags from our masts on our own
terms, at the rise of a long dusk.
What do we believe
remains from our remains? Is it the bones
of our poems? The steel
threads on which we’ve balanced
and bobbed through floating buoys
of small dreams and quiet
shame, or the fine-tuned morals
that guided our decades with safe
Where does anyone’s light come from?
How does it stay
aglow? Each of us has pockets
of darkness, bubbles or halos
of round OHs that say “I wish
that had gone
another way.”
Floating canoe, do you cut through the waves or rise
into the feathers
of clouds with your fine cargo
of ash, a life
burned, only the essence
Did my father ever return
to the earth when the Center for Disease
Control forced him to be buried in a cement-
lined casket
so as not to contaminate
the planet with his disease? I would rather imagine
him on the green scent of fresh salt
paddling on a morning when the water
was still as a smooth
stone, blessing his beloved
remembering the fields of wheat shimmering
in the Palouse, folding his handkerchief neatly
into his back
one more time, then choosing
to go down.
-Kristie McLean
after Steve Jensen’s Voyage
Boat builder, artist, mortician, friend. Lover
of the old ways, crafting beauty
for ashes.
You turn cries into whispers.
Hammer hallelujahs into obsidian dreams.
Conjure boats afloat on a cloud or sea.
Impale bodies on the horns of grief.
Ferry me now through wakes unknown.
Every death a journey, a new moon
on wheels.
—Gloria J. Burgess, 2016


Museum of Northwest Art


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The Museum of Northwest Art enriches lives in our diverse community by fostering essential conversations and encouraging creativity through exhibitions and educational activities that explore the art of the Northwest.



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