The Sunday Poem: Gary Brower... Epistle from the Oregonians

This year the forces of nature are on everyone's mind.  We have seen just about every kind of natural disaster out there.  Placitas resident Gary Brower remembers living through another one.


Brower is the editor of Malpaís Review.  Issue number 4 is now available.  The Malpaís Review publishes poems, essays, and translations from around the world.  As their motto says, "The badlands are everywhere."



(After Mt. St. Helens’ second eruption)


In Portland, metropolis of the Oregonians,
there was fear, disbelief, when scientists
said the volcano would erupt.

TV stations played film clips where
mountainside residents of the nearby
Washington cone said:
“Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen.
If God wanted me to die by volcano,
he wouda put me in Pompeii.”

But when the mountain lost its lava-dome head,

forests flattened by explosive haircut,
the blast killed unbelievers
who wouldn’t move from volcanic slopes.

And in Portland, we did think of Vesuvius,
when the second eruption threw into the air
a slow-motion snow of silver-shiny pyroclastic flakes
thin as metallic cellophane confetti that was novel,
odd and vaguely dangerous as they clogged
the breath of machines, made Oregonians
into masked ninjas, hilly streets flake-slick
when real rain fell from clouds over the city.

Many feared the city might collapse
like our sense of security
as the earth shimmied like water in wind
amid this strange cloudburst
of mechanical shavings softly floating earthward
instead of a downpour of proverbial dogs and cats.

We wondered if deadly gases would escape
the truncated mountain, leave us in deathly postures,
timeless lava-people strewn among Columbia River hills
where St Helen the Martyr morphed into fierce Hawaiian
volcano goddess Pele, as we thought we heard the echo
of Krakatoa in seismic dreams.

And, yea, though we walked through
the valley of pyroclastic shadow,
Oregonians and their city survived.

All we wanted was the mountain dormant again,
as we sang lullabies, created rituals,
hoping to soothe Pele, remind St. Helen
of her martyrdom, not ours.

We danced to create another geologic coma
as if it were a sleeping pill
and St. Helen
the wife of Rip van Winkle,
sacrificing into the crater
a trinity of preachers
and three volcanologists,
one group screaming
about the end of the world,
while the other
couldn’t tell us
the location
of Pompeii.



--Gary Brower



Submissions for The Sunday Poem are encouraged.  Email

Views: 47

Comment by Margaret Randall on June 26, 2011 at 8:11am
What an appropriate poem for these past weeks here in Albuquerque, as if the haze in the air is a backdrop to these words. Gary, thanks for this, and thanks Jon for putting it up. And everyone should check out Gary's great poetry magazine THE MALPAIS REVIEW, a really important addition to the poetry scene here.
Comment by Rob Creighton Garrison on June 26, 2011 at 9:52am
We "up" here in the Northwest look to the east and south and count our blessings these days, but our date with catastrophe is coming, sooner or later.  In the meantime, here's wishing you all brighter skies and uninterrupted breathing very soon.
Comment by Gabriella Duncan on June 26, 2011 at 11:33am

Well said.....with hazy skies to picture your words in my mind.

Comment by Ben Moffett on June 28, 2011 at 9:40am

I like the name and image dropping from the 23rd Psalms to Ninjas and the reaction of Oregonians to potential disaster. I wish it could have happened in New Mexico. We have the space and need the tourism. Why couldn't it have been the Valley of Fires? Carrizozo would be booming. Nice work! 

Comment by Dee Cohen on June 28, 2011 at 11:34am
Thanks Gary, We're often feeling on the brink of disaster and there's no predicting how people will react. Love all the metaphors. And thanks for Malpais -a great journal and a labor of love. Dee
Comment by Hakim Bellamy on June 28, 2011 at 1:14pm

Loved this line, Gary.


"forests flattened by explosive haircut,"

And your last stanza.

Great ending.


Love you man.




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