Michael McGriff

Coos Bay

The World’s Largest Lumber Port,
the yellow hulk of Cats winding bayfront chip yards,
caroling bargemen
looking for pussy, betting on high school football,
abandoned Army barracks,
Japanese glass floats, cranberry bogs,
mooring lines, salmon roe,
swing shifts, green chain, millwrights
passing each other like black paper cranes
from one impermanence to the next,
phosphorescent bay water, two tons
of oyster shells, seagulls, beach glass
tumbled smooth in the surf, weigh stations,
off-bearing, front loading, cargo nets,
longshoremen, scabs,
the Indian casino marquee promising
continental breakfast, star-crowned animals
stitched to blue heavens
behind the fog, log booms,
choker setters, gypo outfits, acetylene sparks
falling from the Coast Guard cutter Citrus,
dredging units, gravel quarries, clear cuts,
scotchbroom taking over the dunes,
smokestacks pocked with peep shows
of flame and soot, the year-round
nativity scene and one-armed Santa
in J.C. Penney’s alley window,
my grandmother dying just over the ridge,
mother-of-pearl, sea lion calls
in the dark, low tide at Charleston Harbor,
the sound of calk boots
in gravel parking lots, salmon sheen hosed
onto the street, the arch
of a big rig’s empty trailer, sand
in all the moving parts,
floodlights, tie-downs, ridge beacons,
great blue herons whispering through
the hollow reeds, Howard Cosell Speaking of Sports;
the anecdotes of Paul Harvey, wishes of good day,
Patsy Cline going to pieces, my father’s arm
almost around me as we drive 101,
the cat piss smell of a charred meth lab
between the V.F.W. hall
and pioneer newspaper museum,
the rusted scrapyard and tank-farm.
At the stoplight before the drawbridge
we laugh at the women from the bank
falling out of their heels
over the truck-grooved crosswalk—
the bridge spans forgotten coal bunkers,
buried fingerprints of Chinese laborers,
rope-riders and mule bones.
Back home we’ll huddle around
the oil drum burn barrel,
a few weeks of newspapers
and wood scrap, trapped angels under the wire mesh
my father and machinist neighbor
dying of cancer warm their hands over.
The great heave of the Southern Pacific,
sturgeon like river cogs,
barnacle wreckage, cattle-guards.
The last of the daylight,
a broken trellis falling into the bay.

Michael McGriff
Coos Bay is reprinted from Choke (Traprock Books, 2006).
Poem, copyright © Michael McGriff, 2005
Appearing on the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2006, From the Fishouse