Oregon Coast Verses


Oregon Born

I was born on the wind of Prefontaine,

a Vietnam Son’s son with a blue collar trade,

a greenchain puller, a hoedad, an Okie digging graves,

a gust of spume off of Coos Bay

in the Columbus Storm that day,

a midden ghost in Yachats,

Bandage Man hitchhiking to Portland

in the pall of the Tillamook Burn,

my own greatgranddaddy’s bum specter

( murdered for his WWI pension check)

still wandering Burnside

in Portland on skidrow


I was born in Oregon

in the western fertile crescent,

the land of milk and honey

even for the southerner if you can

wash the accent and the poor off of you

and bust it like a mule

I was born to Sitka spruce Oregon yew

redwood cedar hemlock fir,

sweet wild blackberry brambles

(an invasive species introduced by migrations

just like my people, well before my people,

all people after the First Peoples),

my people buried in the loess of the flood

in Willamette National Cemetery

on the footstep of the greatest and deepest of oceans

from whence the seas of the deep were unleashed


I was born to lumber,

to sawmills pulpmills lumbermills,

(From Tillamook to Portland to Eugene

and everything in between)

to work, to digging and picking and backbreaking,

hacking, shove and lift and push and pull,

cleanliness is next to Godliness but labor is Holy,

I was born to the poor and humble

and the hubris that only poverty can bring,

to veterans, soldiers, sailors,

American sons and daughters,

to guitars, the Bakersfield Sound,

to a southern song in a northwest rain,

to they of the dust bowl and depression,

they of the damp rumbling lumberyards in Oregon,

vanished Vanport on their tongue


I was born in a tangle of trees

downwind from Mount Saint Helens

in the shadow of Mount Hood,

spitting distance from the graveyard of the Pacific

under the eye of Terrible Tilly

I am of Ramblin Rod, Tom Peterson and Les Schwab,

Fred Meyer, David Douglas, John Tornow,

  Stewart Holbrook, Ken Kesey, Ima Jones,

of Mannan Nolen Gossett Jones,

I am of mills, seaports, old growth forest, farm,

wigwam burners and mill stack cleaners,

Gresham, Sandy, Portland, Eugene,

Springfield, Tillamook, Netarts, Florence,

Yachats, Newport, Sweet Home, Tigard,

Seaside, McMinniville, Lake Oswego,

Oregon City, Beaverton, Troutdale, Umatilla,

Damascus, Clackamas, Multnomah Falls,

                     The Dalles, Grants Pass, Bend and John Day,

the spirit of my grandma’s little brother

walking over the Deschutes River where he drowned,

I was born to the Clatsop, the Umatilla, the Tillamook, the Alsean,

the Athabascan,  Klamath,  Siletz and Siuslaw,

to volunteer hoedads and Okies and drunks,

to gyppos, bullwhackers, lumberjacks, mackinaws,

catskinners, choker setters, fallers and buckers,

gandy dancers, sawdust eaters, short stakers,

peach pitters, potato pickers, orchard sack slingers,

 factory workers, master plasterers, spikeknot counters,

swing shift, graveyard, day shift, any shift,

tin pants and rolled up Pendleton sleeves,

water rolling off a Filson’s back,

fishermen, hunters, sportsmen, outdoorsmen,

medics, mailmen, millers, lumber salesmen,

makers of ends meeting,

naval church deacon Oregon trail hitchhikers,

I was born to the people of the berry brambles

rough and tough and leathered and weathered,

bent and twisted like the shorepine and sitka on the seastacks of the Coast,

they as wild and as sweet as my Texas grandma’s

homemade raspberry jam canned in her Portland kitchen,

I am Caleb Henry *

*My grandma Ima Jones, my mom's mom (mentioned several times in this poem) was from Texas, and settled for life in Oregon with my Oklahoman Grandpa JE Jones, whom she'd met in a migrant camp when he came West. Grandma used to add 'Henry' to the end of us grandkid's name as an affectionate, silly nickname. I can still here her Texas drawl - 'Caleb Henry, you get on over here and give me a love!"


Oregon coast Firestarter

Mottled white ragbag lichen

with a palm of witches hair

pinched from the windbent

trunk of shorepine

make a good firestarter

if it hasn’t rained for days


Coastal Forest

Snap masted mastadons

bleached by lightning,

white ghosts amongst the living

yew, redcedar, the redwood,

the fir, the sitka spruce,

hewn by the gales

to resemble the sea itself,

misty ocean echoed ranges

of limb shattered bearded spruce

a tangle of tentacles,

the mysterious octopus of ancient arms,

 the council trees of the ancients,

an army of wizened spirits

whispering wisdom in the wind

if you can listen

to creak and crack and groan and moan,

hoary, phosphorescent with lichen,

horsehair, cat’s tail, ragbag and the like,

these forests a wild tangle of wet murmurings

and tales untold,

unhaunted anymore but for sightseers


My memory

Driving the Oregon coast

is a rummaging through my memory,

sifting through shake shingle roofed seahouses,

weathered tanned bleached clapboard houses

crawling with vines and brambles,

fumbling with bits of broken sand dollar

in the pocket of my Pendleton,

razorshell crabshell

searching for agates with my mom as a boy,

sight of white gull like the Holy Spirit,

picking through driftwood

playing that once with dad on the sand,

 bits of colored rope smelling of the sea

a living thing,

the cosmic roar in my cognition,

the lull of the tide far out seen from the top of a lighthouse

in an overlapping lazy quilt of spume,

looking down and out at lonely cragstacks

to give a sense of depth and perspective,

the horizon being but an ending

to which the sun retires each night

in a great explosion,

I drifting sifting shifting

through memory in cold sand harsh wind blue sky

with the blue sea all one in eternity,

the presence over the face of the deep


Flotsam and jetsam

The sand cluttered with the night’s washings,

ribbons of brown confetti enwrapping strange treasure,

bits of colorful rope twisted, unhinged,

shards of sand dollars, shells, smooth stones,

razorshells, half a littleneck clam shell,

a D-Day of dead gulls, cavities filled with sand,

their cries now just a windsong,

‘who shall have this piece’,

an oil soaked heavy snapped plank

three bolts rusted and jangling,

wood worn smooth and unnatural

as if by a holy wind,

Dungeness moltings and mole crab minutiae

awash the tidewrack,

bull kelp just waiting to be whipped,

bottles, some trash, rockweed clumps and seethrough jellies,

blackened coals half buried in sand,

look now and gather while you can,

tomorrow it may be gone


To burn a fire of driftwood

The shamanic

            the primordial fire,

made of far flung timbers

collected on the beach,

flames licking, whipping

an immediate glaring heat,

 pink with mystical woods,

pink and green and blue,

shades of the sun itself

Sift the driftwood and gather a stock,

who knows what far flung fantasies

will befall you in its sweet Sulphur?

The heady balm of brine,

mysteries of another time,

each piece of weathered wood

sacred, carved smooth by father sea,

pickled with spume,

alive and teeming with the deep

Aflame, it releases its malt vinegar vapors,

peppery pine sweet oak,

cumin of crackling ancient spruce,

many colored wonders swirling in the smoke,

licorice wisp of the yew and ash,

charred chunks of sun bleached unameables,

bone smooth swoops,

sand encrusted wonders,

sines and wavelengths the shape of the sea themselves,

 hulk of rotted redcedar fermented and dried,

twig of manzanita limb, hulk of Douglas fir,

Japanese bamboo husks,

the aspen recognizable by its curl of bark

browned by the elements,

far flung timber from across the world,

traveling nautical miles

drifting along the shore,

chosen, placed,

placed for your gathering to mystic rite,

pine of all shapes and sizes

(white, sugar, knobcone, ponderosa,)

alder, birch, aspen, juniper,

conifers and broadleafs mingled

stacked together to burn,

where else is this assemblage?

Choose each limb carefully,

burn thoughtfully,

muse upon its catching

Larch hemlock oak cypress maple,

pinecones salt basted and cured,

a wellworn side of cedar bark,

just the bark and it burns blue,

a jumble

from limbs to twigs to trunks

These woods placed together on the fire

their sweet wisps combining to an incense

of something so ancient it is new,

an unknown memory in the smoke,

a cognizance unawares,

the peace of prescience,

this driftwood bonfire an offering

to the sacred unknown we all know


Ode to sitka spruce

Sitka spruce

tideland spruce,

in temperate rainforest rising,

along the coastal rocks

a bulwark bent and sculpted

by the wind itself

so that you take the form of the very sea,

you take the form of the elements while still standing,

your wind gnarled silhouettes on jagged seastacks

headbutted by the sea,

on the stacks in the bay of Girabalidi

your stripped limbs

perch for the heron and egret and eagle

Further inland along the creek

you rise up a widowmaker in the wind

Along the crusted coast of Cape Meares

you bend and sway covered in horsehair

and lichens and mosses,

ancient wizards

Your octopus limbs

 council seats to the ancients,

sitka spruce

 tideland spruce,

taking form of wind and sea,

I sing of thee


In Seaside

Between the Necanicum River and the Pacific Ocean

just blocks south of where the river meets the sea

lies a town, a carnival, a saltlick of a place,

where the mountain ash’s mysterious staves

climb to orange berries much brighter and clearer

than in the Inland Northwest where you live

You look to the sky as you strain to hear the ocean,

a flock of geese is taking the highway 101 south for the winter


Tillamook Burn

They bullwhacked the great old forests here,

stripped the lumber to near extinction

What they couldn’t log they burned on accident,

holy old mackinaw with a careless cigarette,

maybe campfire or donkey engine spark,

not once, not twice but thrice,

the Tillamook Burn inferno

Once as a boy while driving to the Coast

my grandpa told me great tales of mountains burning alive,

he with fingers yellowed from nicotine,

his western fried Oklahoma accent a song to me

What they couldn’t bullwhack

they burned, burned old growth forests

that changed weather patterns inland,

burned parts of land no white man

nor red man had set foot in

for fear of spirits that resided there

But the fire, it did not fear these ancient spirits,

it just burned them the hell on out,

and if not for the volunteer spirit of Oregonian hoedads,

my dad as a Cub Scout,

these spirits would have nowhere to go


Wild blackberries

Sea at our back

slogging through sand over the dunes

covered in beachgrass and scotch broom,

a sprout of yellow hairy cat’s ear here and there,

down to the shore pine and invasive wild blackberry bushes,

harsh brambles big around as my thumb

and ten feet tall,

Waylon and June learn their lesson

tangling with these spiky krakens

by scratches on head and hand,

Waylon and I take sweet revenge by

plucking the ripe blackberries,

washing them in a plastic cup at camp,

and savoring each and everyone


Birds of Oregon

Looking out on the swell and crash of the sea,

forever an invisible line far out

There a squadron of double crested cormorants

dive low behind a folding of waves

their black memory swallowed up

I watch the place they vanished,

 and where they should appear

floaters on my eyes,

but I never find them for going blind

I see the gulls,

 Thayer’s, glaucous winged, Western,

I see the tern and sheerwater,

I see the crow and raven back in camp,

I saw an osprey, saw a hawk,

I see the white crowned sparrow,

the Canadian geese taking the 101 south for the winter,

I see the herons and egrets,

 bone harbingers

                       in Garibaldi sea stack spruce crucifixes,

but I only wonder for the disappearing sea crows


Driftwood fort pyre

On the spit of the sea

windward side of Nehalem bay

against the prevailing westerlies,

there was a wonder of a driftwood fort that stood,

a great log totem erect buried in sand to mark its place,

a driftwood fort worthy of my childhood

 Our last day at the beach,

the driftwood fort was a smoldering wreck,

victim to a burning pyre the previous night

It angered me that someone would disassemble

a great monument so

Such a transient age,

an ephemeral generation,

building nothing we cannot burn


The children and I sit in the sun

the wind at our back

warming ourselves

in the driftwood’s still burning bones,

mourning what we cannot rebuild


The lights of Babylon

there once was a time

when man was not jealous of the stars

he was not selfish with light

a fire and modest glare contented him

he respected the dark for what it was:

an ending that would end


Reference: Stewart Holbrook, (Holy Old Mackinaw), Ellis Lucia (The Tillamook Burn), Plants of the Pacific Northwest, Northwest Trees, Birds of Oregon, Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, Trees and Shrubs of the Pacific Northwest, Audubon's Pacific Northwest Field Guide, Ghost Stories of Oregon, The Oregon Companion, my mom, Nehalem Bay State Park, the internets, my fragile memory.