Judith Roche


 My first memory looks up to sunlight through water.

I'm on my back at the bottom and have already stopped 

struggling for air. The sun's full hands overflow

light leaking through the flawless blue, 

quiet and calm like a silent song, Mermaid, I, 

I'm already at peace with my death before my father

plucks and pumps me out, sputtering

and crying  as the water goes out

and great gobs of thick air sear my lungs open again.

I don't remember the coy ripple the lake lapped

at my baby toes before the wave slapped me down

and into the coarse-grained bed

cleanly wheaten and speckled shallow 

this close to where she cozies up to shore,

but deep enough for the baby my father forgot

in a sociable moment, chatting up a new acquaintance.

Always a talker, my father could make new friends anywhere

While I was learning to love the depths. You'd think

It would scare a child, but ever since

I've leapt to water as my element, looked behind me

To catch a glimpse of the ghost of my forlorn and missing 

Fish tail, forgotten in the rush of the rescue.


Fishtown, Lower Skagit

            from a long canoe with 18 paddlers

                        “Language burned in us. We were wild with ideas… “ Bob Rose


Water rocks under us.

Water pours over us from a slate sky.

Water collects in the bottom of the boat,

drips off our hat brims, soaks through clothes.

Purple larkspur shows vivid against rain-blackened 

rock faces. Columbine in niches clings in shallow soil,

saxifrage shines white on succulent stems.

A red tail hawk drifts above, looking for dinner. 

We rock in the river’s current, “Paddles ready,”

then “all paddles ahead,”and “Paddles rest,”

shouted from the back of the boat.  A mean

wind arrives from the south. We’re pilgrims searching

the ghost of Fishtown hovering in this Skagit 

rain, but most shacks have been torn down, 

the land logged, leaving bare bones, or nothing but low  greenery . 

The hopeful artists and scholars of the estuary 

scattered, mostly still around the valley, still making art.

all in our sixties and seventies now. 

Some have passed,  a life lived for art –as ephemeral as a dance–

but many leave a trail of poems and paintings behind.

None can leave behind the life lived on the Skagit,

the youthful hope and dedication. The river

moves and changes. Shacks, landmarks and channels gone.

But Rivers have memories, says Bob Rose. Restless, they adjust  

in their beds. Robert Sund is gone but his tight little cabin 

is a refuge from the rain today. We huddle inside

and crowd around the wood stove, drink tea and listen

to Tim McNulty read Sund’s poems of this place. Water, 

water, herons, rain, swallows, mud, and rain again. 

Even a former resident of Fishtown can’t find 

what was thereThe river has changed channels 

and Fishtown has become a state of mind.