In 1997, Jim Bodeen of Blue Begonia Press in Yakima, Washington, chose my manuscript, Clearwater, for his Bird Woman Series. Motherhood had only intensified my sense of family as I spanned the arc between my own mother and my daughter. As all parents know, a child’s entrance is like no other experience; motherhood in all its facets forms the framework of Clearwater. The book takes its title from the Clearwater River in northern Idaho, where my parents lived for thirty years after I left home. Although I lived along the river only sporadically, it and the dry hills surrounding the great river valleys east of the Cascades—Clearwater, Snake, Columbia—became an emblem for much of my childhood in western Montana. Seeking the clarity of its namesake, the book addresses issues which have formed part of my thought since resistance to the Vietnam War radicalized me: war, racial hatred and violence, women’s rights, disability. Sharpened by parenthood, by what to say to a child, I learned again how to speak to these themes.
Praise for Clearwater
“This is a rare and astonishing book and its publication is cause for rejoicing. I know of no one else who writes like Alice Derry. The impact of these unsparingly honest and intimate poems is overwhelming. . . All of us are enlarged by the empathy and candor of this extraordinary poet. ─Lisel Mueller
“These poems look with a clear, unsentimental eye at the hard work of loving and being
loved. . . .” ─Sharon Bryan
Cover art is by Joan Ross Blaedel of Seattle, Washington; Feather in the Water II, oil painting
Available from Blue Begonia Press; signed copy from the author, $12.00
Excerpt from Clearwater
“Telling Lisel About Sex”
and the truth shall make you free
I come from the Dark where all things
have their beginning. . .
birth of Annable in P.L. Travers’
When a small friend told you
to sex meant to kiss,
I took out the picture book
hoarded again this day.
You’d asked about death before you were two.
With God I’d done the best I could.
Love we’re working out together.
Now sex—the last.
It was right before bed.
You danced with your new knowledge,
alternately giggling and making sure,
yes, that’s the way it was,
a wild joy released at six,
when you must wait another six years at least
before your body will bring
the buoyant feelings.
My love, desire comes ever
and again—after so many years
with your father, familiar,
but in this house one room
leads to the next.
I follow eagerly, deeper into sunlight
and windows facing a garden.
Desire brought you here—
that’s what I can tell you tonight—
how pregnancy was for me, more words
than feeling. But when we were that far
and the doctor said push,
I left that room,
I was somewhere high on a mountain
watching woman working hard.
Open your eyes, they kept saying.
Look. See her crown.
But I would have had to come
from a long way off.
Too far. No one told me beforehand—
I’m telling you now—that birth—
like desire when your body has given its blessing—
is out of the body free and clear.
In those moments before you joined the world,
we met on that fair summit,
and I knew you all at once.