This River Sings. I jotted down the notes for this poem while sitting on the banks of the Skagit River at Rockport, Washington, the day of the Celebration of Life for my brother Jim, in August 2009.
     I read "This River Sings" at the Friday evening, April 16, performance of Phrasings 4 in Word and Dance. My three minutes in a spotlight, reading to an SRO house is as close as I will get to "15 minutes of fame!"
     This was the fourth annual collaboration between Bellingham Repertory Dance and Chuckanut Sandstone Writers Theater for writers & dancers. The original choreographic works by BRD artists were inspired by CSWT writers. Each evening, two of us were selected to read a poem.
     This popular event coincides with National Poetry Month. To learn more about BRD go to

from III. Souls Now Departed

Memorial Day. My first thought on Memorial Day 1995, as I reflected on the forgotten and unsung who fought in our immediate past wars was my great-uncle Mark Harris, who died with influenza in 1918, while serving at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River, Washington State. Then, my thoughts jumped eight time zones to Fountains Hall, once a Jacobean mansion in North Yorkshire, England, where my wife and I had recently visited; and a plaque still mounted in the ruins commemorating an aviator and a nurse, brother and sister, killed in World War I.

Mists of Autumn. I knew R. W. “Rod” O’Connor incidentally when my parents rented his parents’ place on the south side of the Skagit River in 1939. It was more than fifty years later that I became reacquainted with Rod when my brother Jim and I toured the south side of the river with him as he reminisced about his childhood and youth. I was privileged to have access to his diaries, journals, and audiotapes after his death.

IV. Voices
Listen to the Voices (abridged). The boat to Ynys Enlli was out fishing The day I was in Aberdaron, North Wales, so I hiked two miles up Mynydd Mawr to an escarpment overlook at the end of Lleyn Peninsula to view this mythical and legendary island that lies about two miles offshore in the Irish Sea. In spite of the violent currents surrounding it, it has been a sanctuary before the Iron Age, and since the 6th cent. has been called the “Isle of Twenty Thousand Saints.”
Ynys Enlli was first sanctified when Celtic tribal chieftains chose it as their site to die. After a monastery was established in the 6th century., it became a burial place for royalty and holy men, and, in spite of its desolation, a health spot where supposedly no one died except from old age. During the Middle Ages a papal decree that three pilgrimages to Ynys Enlli equaled one to Rome.
By the 12th century, Bardsey Island (the English name) was identified in Arthurian legend as “Isle of Avalon.” This may have stemmed from misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the Welsh language by French monks of Annwn, the Celtic Otherworld where age and sickness are unknown and “The Spoils of Annwn,” possibly the Holy Grail, are located. Or, they may have misunderstood Avnallach, Celtic for “mythical island,” as Avalon (Avallon, Avilion), their Apple Valley homeland in Burgundy. Some Arthurian scholars surmise that the legends may have originated with a solarium-like greenhouse attached to the monastery where infirm patients could recuperate and apple trees grow. (Glass dwellings and apple trees are significant to Celtic mythology.) The veracity of this interpretation was enhanced in 1998 when an apple tree identified as a unique species was discovered growing in the monastery ruins. Regardless, the origin of “Isle of Avalon” is lost in the folk-memories of North Wales.
    With the 6th century, Welsh bards Aneirin and Taliesin and 12th century creative historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, Ynys Enlli became an integral element of Welsh Arthurian legends. One variant is that when Christianity replaced the old religion, Merlin (Myrddin in Welsh) took the thirteen treasures of Britain, one being the true throne, and nine bards to Bardsey, or Avalon—Land of Eternal Youth. There he resides to this day in a glass cave awaiting the return and enthroning of his once and future king.

from I. Places
The Prairie Rolls On. During a historiography class at the University of Washington in 1956, I thought of the idea of writing a historical essay about my grandparents’ first year as homesteaders on the edge of the South Dakota Badlands. For resources, I would use the letters my grandmother sent to her hometown newspaper, The Nashua Reporter, Nashua, Iowa; sketchy journal entries she kept in a trunk in her bedroom; notes I made as I traveled cross-country with her in 1954 to visit the homestead site; and additional recollections she would write at 
my request.
“Sarabande” is written as a nontraditional movement of “Bitter Oranges (A Suite for Sevilla).” It is about as metaphoric as I have written—and about as independent as Andalusían gypsies. In it are several references or brief quotations from the works of Georges Bizet, Carmen; Gioacchino Antonio Rossini, The Barber of Seville; Federico Garcia Lorca, “Sevillian Ditty”; and Wallace Stevens, “The Man with the Blue Guitar.”

from III. Moments
Chak-Chak, the Skagit Bald Eagle.” The Skagit River Bald Eagle Natural Area is about two miles from my family home on the south side of the river. I am indebted to my brother
Marvin L. “Jim” Harris (1937-2009), park ranger, naturalist, and upriver folk historian, for inspiring this poem with his United States National Park Service brochure Chak-Chak, the Skagit Bald Eagle. I am also indebted to Mary Washington (b. about 1879), Upper Skagit Tribal elder; State Senator Fred Martin (1897-1995); Simpson Timber and Scott Paper companies for dedicating their land to this eagle wintering habitat; and to The Nature Conservancy and Washington State Department of Wildlife for restoring and managing it.

I dedicated this poem to my brother. My wife Helen did the pencil sketch of eagles, “wings extended, talons interlocked …”
Richard Lee Dick Harris


from Preface

     My objectives are, first, to leave a lasting legacy for my extended family and friends, and to encourage them, and you the reader, to reimagine and record seemingly ordinary, though memorable, moments. Secondly, it is to record memories that will be all-too-quickly smothered in our memory’s recesses or dimmed by age.
When it seemed important, I have expanded on the poem’s origin, setting, and unfamiliar terms in their backstories . . ..