Preface from This Old Riddle: Cormorants and Rain


After thirty years in gestation, this collection seems like something of an accretion: a caddis larvae’s case of mica flecks, a collection of pages from a book of days, or maybe a shell with several whorled rooms. Its earliest poems were written in the early 1970s - college years in the Palouse wheat hills of southeastern Washington, a place of long rolling horizons and hard winters. Later I moved west to work for the Washington State Department of Ecology - helping to keep tabs on rivers, fish, and sediments. It meant adapting to the damp subtleties west of the Cascades. I moved into a 1920s farmhouse near Scatter Creek just outside of Tenino. Poetry was a way of exploring, recording, and rhythmically ordering discoveries made in this intricate place: the maze of Puget Sound’s maze of inlets, its forests, birds and fog. Eight years ago, home shifted a couple of watersheds north to overlook Green Cove Creek ravine - a century into regrowth.

Poetry continues to interact with territory: the outward spirals of travel, the inward spirals of reflection. Occasionally it knits past to present – as in redemptive joy of introducing myself to my son, Matthew, two decades after the difficult year of his birth. Through all this, obsessions with - and respect for - water, critters and place have grown as has the unease (even fear) that our species is irreversibly shredding the natural world. Perhaps poetry – to the extent that it helps us attend to imagination and perishable wonders – can help remedy a little of this heavy-handedness.

Bill Yake