New Poets of the American West (Many Voices Press, 550 pages, $24) is a new poetry anthology edited by Lowell Jaeger, author of four collections of poetry and teacher of creative writing at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. The anthology includes 450 poems by 265 poets from eleven western states. Today we feature the work of two Idaho poets, “New Year’s Eve” by William Johnson and “Fishing in Last Light” by Ron McFarland.
Fishing in Last Light
Fishing in the dying light I notice
something is killing the white pines,
bark beetles probably,
and off to the west
Plum Creek Timber Company has drained
Someday this stream will yield to silt,
and its trout will spill away or die
trying to stay against the odds.
A sudden splash from the far bank
draws me back to the moment.
As the air darkens
I search for something light,
dun, mothy, drained of color,
something I can see on the current,
a Light Cahill
riding high on the ripples.
The rainbow reads in ultra-violet,
finds color and light,
I used to fish with a neighbor
who lies now in a coma
hoping to die.
His eyes went fast,
and then his body began to lose itself.
ran in strange currents
against its own flow, surged wildly.
I watched his daughter take him out
on long walks late in the evening
when all the colors had run together.
We never got to know each other well.
When we attacked a stream
he would go one way and I another,
and at the end of the day we’d meet,
happy to have fished so well
Two rainbows now lie in my creel,
clean and cool.
In the last light
an old fisherman comes around the bend.
He wears a bright red pork-pie hat
bristling with trout flies:
Caddis, Grasshopper, Stonefly, Adams,
Coachman, Humpy, Renegade, Gnat.
Of course in the growing dark
I can only imagine the names
of those old feathery acquaintances.
The fisherman smiles and nods
like someone I’ve met before.
Ron McFarland of Moscow, Idaho has been teaching literature and creative writing at the University of Idaho for nearly forty years, and he’s still not tired of it. He has served as Director of the Creative Writing Program and faculty advisor to the literary magazine Fugue, and to the University of Idaho Soccer Club. In 1984 he was named Idaho’s first state Writer-in Residence. He has edited four poetry and critical anthologies and authored five scholarly books, three books of poetry, and two collections of prose.
New Year’s Eve
By William Johnson
I was driving, the kids in back asleep
as you nodded beside me.
Fat flakes of snow floated down
out of the night and were swished away
by the wipers. I couldn’t see the river,
only feel it out there, urgent and black
beyond the road, its near edge
sealed by a lid of ice. Something
bolted through our lights and was gone,
the figment of a living
thing, felt, yet barely visible, that lingered
in the back of my mind and
lunged on fierce through the drifts,
beast or its ghost receding, circling.
There is no end to our separateness—
what makes us love one another
is knowing how frail and lost we are.
At the cabin, each with a child bundled
in our arms, we climbed to the loft
and those rickety web-strewn cots.
Far in the night I woke to the sound
of snow falling, a soft tampering,
lovely, indescribable. Above each cot
a dim halo of breath rose in the cold,
hovered for a moment and was woven
with the others, then nothing if not gone.
William Johnson of Lewiston, Idaho is Professor Emeritus at Lewis-Clark State College. He is the author of At the Wilderness Boundary (Confluence Press, 1996) and Out of the Ruins (Confluence Press, 2000), which won the Idaho Book Award. He has received fellowships from Fishtrap, the Environmental Writing Institute, the Idaho Humanities Council, the Idaho Commission on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He served as Idaho Writer-in-Residence from 1998-2001.