It's semi-desert, with the Columbia River winding through it so it's not total desert, and it's a nicely stark landscape. This is one thing on which Former President George W. Bush and I agree: deserts and semi-deserts are neat. (His ranch is in the Texas version of semi-desert. I've heard that, to him, it's one of the most beautiful places in the world.) There are variations to the starkness, too. Southwest of the city is a particular canyon that I drove through sometimes that's the closest I've come to seeing a landscape like Tatooine, as I've never been to Tunisia or Yuma-region Arizona. And there's that part of I-82 that runs north-south, towards a hill that the freeway then bends southwest-ward to get around. There's a dirt road up that hill, and from the POV of driving south down the freeway, it looks like the freeway becomes that dirt road. That image always struck me.
So many images from that part of the world struck me. And in writing that poem, I wondered what else I could describe poetically. ANYTHING. I could've expanded on that poem for forever. It just takes learning how to look at something poetically. At which I've had some practice. Not Chaucer-practice or Plath-practice or John Dryden-practice or William Carlos Williams-practice or even Neil Sedaka-practice, but practice.
This made me more excited about poetry. Kind of like that moment when I first listened to some punk music, and realized The Clash's "The Right Profile" was about Western star Montgomery Cliff and thought There's a punk song about Westerns? Cool! Westerns seen through the fast-and-loud punk music filter. That, thank everything, is allowed to happen.
I want to see more through the poem filter.
So what else could I have evoked about the semi-desert where I once lived? The hum from the dams. The smell from the feed lots. The rise south of I-84 and off of Lexington-Echo Highway where I could see an interpretive sign, presumably about the Oregon Trail which ran through there, but not seeing the path that would get me up to that rise and that sign. (I never went hiking to check how. I got close, but never found the path.) The alien bumps of the hundreds of bunkers at Umatilla Chemical Depot, formerly the Umatilla Ordnance Depot where the U.S. first stored bombs, then stored chemical weapons. (You can see these bunkers from the freeways. Once that sight is fully cleaned, PLEASE let some science fiction film be shot there.) The tumbleweeds -- once so thick on I-82 that I described them as "the invading army of tumbleweeds." Frontier graves with their markers still visible 130 years later: worn but there, weathered by some of the life and existing that's happened since that person died. See? Poetic. Or attempted poetic. First-draft poetic. Have to start somewhere. Just need to see something to evoke.
Heck, I could've evoked the now-closed movie theater next to Kennewick's Columbia Center Mall, where Chuck Palahniuk once worked. I saw The Iron Giant there in 1999. I'm pretty sure it wasn't edited to add dicks. (Though maybe the trailer to A Dog of Flanders was...)
We'll never run out of poetry. People keep going to it to express the world. They can express the present, the past, the possible future: they can express the world as seen from here, as seen from there, as seen from everywhere. People have probably written poetry on space missions. They've probably written poetry in Antarctic science stations. They've certainly written poetry while flying. (I could write a poem about the dream I had where I was flying in a jumbo jet; I looked up out the window, and saw blue sky; I looked down out the window, and saw...more blue sky, no land at all. We were flying in a void version of the sky. I immediately realized this image was neat.) Now I'm picturing a kid in a treehouse, notebook in lap and pencil in hand, writing about the tree, and how it's just so neat for me, and crossing out "I really need to pee" because that's the thought the kid thought but it doesn't fit the poem's tone, and that kid is learning something about writing in that moment of crossing out that line...
Please be a little more excited about poetry now, too.