Today's poetry for today's world

Bill Siverly


Bill Siverly was born and grew up in Lewiston, Idaho, and he has lived in Portland since 1972.  He holds a Master of Arts degree from San Francisco State University, and he taught literature, composition, and creative writing at Portland Community College for twenty-five years.  Bill has published five books of poems:  Parzival (1981), Phoenix Fire (1987), The Turn (2000), and Clearwater Way (Traprock Books, 2009) and Steptoe Butte (2013).  Since 2002 he has been co-editor with Michael McDowell of Windfall: A Journal of Poetry of Place, which features poetry of the Pacific Northwest and appears twice yearly on the equinoxes. 




To buy Bill Siverly's books,

click any book cover on this page.



Photo by Jutta Donath 








Piling brush was deadly tedious work, detested by the crew.

Between forest fires, a week, a month, or all summer

we were trucked to clear-cuts, where only bone-white snags

and trees too small to take still stood among fresh stumps.


The rest was slash: broken bits of bark and branch scattered

when giant white pines and Douglas firs dropped through understory,

limbs lopped off and left where they fell--we dragged it all

and piled it high for foresters to set on fire when fall rains came.


Knee-deep in slash, bare-chested in bone-dry heat,

I was chatting with crew boss Art killing time on the skid road below.

Suddenly Art yelled, "Now that's what I call a widow-maker!"

High on a slope a hundred feet away a lofty snag began to tilt,

descending to earth in silent slow motion, crashing in a roil of dust.


We quickly scanned the other snags still standing all around us.

One gully over, the crew were building their own big pyres for the fall.

Larry shouted, "Bobcat!" and pointed down the ridge where she

picked her way through the naked mess we had made of her secret trail.


Leaving slash where it lay to enter the round of slow decay

would have served the forest well, but we were hired to clean the farm,

to make it convenient to harvest the next generation of clones,

as if our job were taming the earth until we no longer belonged.




from Steptoe Butte, Windfall Press, 2013.












Lochsa in sélis means “rough water,” long-drawn-out

Foaming stretches hurtling down a canyon with no terraces,

Suddenly slowing down in deep green pools that slide by,

Cold and transparent, the ancestor of all clear water,

Revealing every rounded rock and hovering trout below.


Friday afternoon in mid-July, my father and I

Would leave the car at the campground, carry only creels,

Fly rods and wallets of hackles, and scramble down warm

Granite rocks, late sunlight lingering on the water

And evening fly-hatch well underway.


Our object now was dinner, keeping everything we caught.

Casting s-curved filaments of spray backlit by sunshine,

Our hackles riding above and below the rocks and riffles,

We reeled in small fry and the occasional ten-inch rainbow,

Renewing the ancient thrill of fish vibrating in our hands.


As sunlight began to work its way up cedars on the far side,

I watched my father casting into shadowy eddies,

Dark enigma within dark enigma, mind before mind.

The last rays retreated from the surface of the Lochsa,

Lengthening ponderosa fore-shadows of night.


Our object now was dinner, as we cleaned our catch

At river’s edge, and hiked back to camp in gathering dusk.

I started a fire with cedar and tamarack, as my father

Rolled fish in cornmeal to fry up with spuds in the iron skillet,

Renewing the ancient foretaste of fresh trout on the tongue.


As darkness deepened around the hissing lantern,

We unrolled sleeping bags on open ground, put out the light,

And my father began to reconstruct in words the day’s particulars:

Brown hackles versus gray, light lingering on the river,

The evening fly-hatch well underway.


Soon my father was remarking how the stars seemed so near

And so brilliant in the mountain air, and it seems to me

We were passing through a great mystery, my father’s voice

Merging with the rush of rough water and stillness,

My father’s voice creating things in darkness on the Lochsa.




From Clearwater Way, Traprock Books, 2009.











Snow falls on Portland all day and all night,

Ticking through fir boughs like a ghostly clock,

Measuring out the shroud that covers the garden beds,

Two feet deep and counting . . .


Beneath the bare branches of the pear tree

The compost pile settles and smolders.

Stone Amida Buddha assumes dhyana mudra,

Dwelling on mystic fire under a white mantle.


Below the snow and subfreezing cold

Olympia winter spinach hibernates close to soil.

The Pure Land exists in every mind.

Winter spinach knows that sooner or later thaw sets in,

Portending rebirth, bolting bright green.


Young Julia dancing along the garden path sings out,

“Hi Mr. Buddha, how are you today?”

Snow on his shoulders, Buddha says, “I am the same

As yesterday, and I will be waiting for you tomorrow.”


Chinook winds rise like the cries of massed crows.

After the snow is gone, wan sunlight

Accumulates on budding branches and brown earth.

Spring will soon come dancing down the garden path again.




Published in Cloudbank (Summer 2010).

From Steptoe Butte, Windfall Press, 2013.







REPLANTING PEAS                                                            


                                                        for Lars Nordström


As any good gardener around here knows,

last year was the worst year for gardens in memory:

A wet spring followed by a wet June and a cloudy

damp summer left tomatoes still green in September.


This year twenty-eight days of rain in March

rotted my peas in the ground, just as Lars predicted.

Lars is building a new greenhouse, and doggedly I replant peas.

Under relentless April rain, new peas circle the drain. 


Dwelling on earth, we cultivate water and soil,

as if we are always building a greenhouse for ourselves.

When we build we dwell, and we cultivate when we build. 

Good harvest depends on similar weather year after year,

as though each of us were given one small field on earth. 


Lars, pruning and tying his vines, reminds me weather

goes in cycles: Growers in France before the war lost grapes

three years running, and everyone deplored the dearth of wine.

Lars says mildew claimed his Phoenix vintage just last fall.


What if our wetter seasons signal climate change,

when higher global degrees cause loss of ice, more water in air,

sending one storm after another scudding over us from the sea?

Growers of grapes and peas will be the first to know.




From Steptoe Butte, Windfall Press, 2013







Writer's Tip: The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh said, “A man dabbles in something

and does not know it is his life.”  The most comprehensive tip I can give is this: Find

your life, and the form your poetry takes will follow.                




Return to The Poets table of contents.