Poetry & Art



Cover art: Meadowlark

Artist: Christopher Shotola-Hardt

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I’ve been to Oregon one time; I only saw the bookstores and restaurants of one city.  Which is to say, Harney and Columbia Counties and Hebo aren’t places I’ve known, and yet Idiom: The Oregon Poems fully captures my attention with its vivid depiction of rural America and with its sassy rough-edged language that alerts me to the honesty of Merridawn Duckler’s explorations.  We travel with Duckler as she wanders the counties and back roads and further enter with her into Idiom’s central philosophical question of who can and who does belong.  In poems like “Hebo, Oregon” we find “the beauty / of a brown barn on a country road, in sunlight, before fields / of such green and living grasses as our sleep is composed of / when we are in the dream of metaphor,” and throughout Idiom we see the landscape’s hawk and bear and elk and salmon, the honor system at produce stands, beers one might holster and barrels to sight from.  We’re shown women who look like women, “curved as nature” or with hair, “beautiful hair, black as a braided stream.”  Men are on the make in this world of poverty and industry and age.  From the first images of “Harney County Pastorale” the world’s natural beauty, “Striated vegetation in colors from the early last century / flak-jacket yellow, mustard grasses over the red blanket dirt,” is already marred by “godawful human habitation”: “barrels / dripping a mineral fuck up while a bad idea for a dog / barks in frantic jerks.”  In this and other poems, Duckler suggests to me that if humans were to build a “world, as Auden says, ‘exactly to our liking’” that it might exist only as dream.  She asks does the “over-intellectualized Jew,” the city sister, the wanderers, the displaced, or really any human belong in this landscape? 

While Duckler is cognizant of humans as destroyers, she also gives us the vision of humans as natural and beautiful as stream or clouds.  The only child is miraculum, object of wonder, and hope, whom all things, “Wild strawberry, fireweed, the quail” “cling to . . . dreaming of being your brother and sister.”  Duckler’s language and imagery bring us fully into a beautiful and ruined world.  If we recognize that “Everything ends but not everything begins,” what might we do but pray as the sun offers another day?  Or as another poem tells us, “no one goes to church” but “they see god daily in the fields and hollows.”  Finally, she affirms, “we do belong here, sister, / because we are all strangers, all of us emigre” and “all of us temporary on the land / of peoples who deeply understood no ownership survives.”  These “Oregon Poems” sing for us all.

Laura Lee Washburn



Table of Contents

  1. Harney County Pastorale

  2. Op

  3. Everything ends, but not everything begins

  4. Color blind men named the west

  5. Only Child

  6. Hebo, Oregon



Harney County Pastorale

Striated vegetation in colors from the early last century 

flak-jacket yellow, mustard grasses over the red blanket dirt.

All the prettiest places have the most

godawful human habitation, bombed trailers, barrels

dripping a mineral fuck up while a bad idea for a dog

barks in frantic jerks. 

A hawk or some great bird 

spans the quadrant in dark half-circles.

Go down to Burns; step into neon so ugly

it’s like the comfort of a sob. Here, with the face of your lapsed aunt,

a guy says: “In Harney County all guns are like fifty-years-old 

and have been stolen at least once.” 

as he tries to holster a beer and buy one for a woman,

“Look at her hair. She got beautiful hair, that Indian girl.”

Damn, he’s right, as the piss settles in your glass. 

Long, beautiful hair, black as a braided stream 

under clouds moving like a watch.



impartial trucks on my tail we spin off a dirt lane

where Oregon elk in distant smudged herds 

this dozen so close we see the lump putty  

of their backs their starlet stroll in low grass 

hills darker than a moment ago blew the dried stalk

into fires of tail light, the chiaroscuro great horned 

do bear their candelabra heads in mist garlands

eye or barrel pointed at the hundreds here 

circa Columbia County, place called Never Still Road


Everything ends, but not everything begins

When the sun drops

it’s a rout, a slam, 

outside the park, inside the lines,

no contested down, nightfall. But what brings day? 

“If you keep looking, it’ll never come,”

my family liked to say, in unison,  

as charcoal city lights lost their margins

to reveal the night-covered oak on the river, a visible fact.

The sky went gray unnoticed, like a loved one’s

beard. Moon backed away  

as I tried to remember the chip name

that matches that color, but while my eyes

were shielded not only the oak tree 

but the very leaves on the ground 

grew clear in outline as cat paws.

And all at once—how did this happen?—

conceived before it was written;

astronomical, nautical, civil, bright, 

it was day.

And the cocoon for new lovers 

and those at the bedside of the dying,

fragile slice of the long passage,

had come and gone. Dawn. 

Let us pray.


Color blind men named the west

or maybe these mountains were once blue

like the women in that dump bar we went to,

between nowhere and Pendleton 

swishing their imaginary skirt like a cockatoo,

crazy legs akimbo, 

raised hands as funk 

bites into the shoulder strap

licks the back hollow where maybe a tat flicker 

were they younger

but here, forty, fifty, nothing is as incisive

as that walking bass. 

Mother waited to be asked for, 

these daughters of neon need no invitation

to glitter paw, a little detailed toework

or a big, swinging windmill of arms.

Mindful of Descartes first meditation, 

they come down the peaks

tumble into the first place found,

this crap hole with a loud band;

with the true names of mountains tucked in their smokes 

whisper them to each other at work, 

tear away the hairnet 

curls fall free 

and leave the men blue, only blue.


Only Child

You are son and daughter;

the first, and the last. 

It is your signature season, summer, 

when the world is plenty, 

blood red tomatoes thick in vines

and deep green apples on hard stems

in the pioneer orchard. 

You walk the field

between your mother and father

a firefly, illumine and self-contained.

Wild strawberry, fireweed,

the quail call in the cloistered miraculum,

all things cling to you, 

dreaming of being your brother and sister

you are one on one

the sun your constellation.

Liberation comes to all things;

hawk floats above you

a shadow of your wings.


Hebo, Oregon

First you dreamed you cut my hair

then made me watch some video of a Russian

cutting a woman’s hair with an axe—

so, what exactly are you trying to tell me?

And when I looked up what does it mean

to dream of cutting someone’s hair

there were only dumb ass ideas about loss of power

and a lazy conflating with Delilah,

furthermore, these interpretations were for dreams

where a person cuts their own hair

which I have heard used as a metaphor

regarding why we writers need an editor, 

or it’s like cutting your own hair—

though in dreams, the editor sleeps.

On this topic, I brooded, and nothing satisfied me 

because I was awake while others dreamt.

And in my insomnia, I turned to read up about Hebo, Oregon

population 213, most with a HS degree or higher,

widely white, some mixed, not poor, not rich except in sunsets,

median age is 73.4, which makes us all young and only 23.9%

feel bad about themselves says the website

I’m reading all this information from

(who the hell compiles these things!)

most skew straight and in Hebo lives a single sex offender

who cries at night, where others see his light on;

I made that one up but not the fact that

gums are mostly healthy here, elevation is 77 feet 

the commonest names are George and Helen,

sleep averages 6.8 hours and with each sunrise

comes the promise of a new day; news is brief and terse

from Happy Hollow and almost the same number (89.4%)

are married as don’t go to any damn church

since they see god daily in the fields and hollows,

the wind over the fields like a great hand;

very few come from anywhere and fewer still want to leave.

business is mainly retail and none of yours.

And you might ask what am I to Hebo? Or he to me

(if cities are men) my own sister doesn’t know

why we were born here, in Oregon, it seems the oddest place

for broody, over intellectualized Jews

stateless Litvak’s who fled Mother Russia, 

(a nation that’s for sure a woman)

where they show the videos of successful axe

hair stylists but keep the unsuccessful ones

in a government vault. Why end up here

we who average 3.2 sleepless hours a night 

over what dreams really mean?

So, sis packed off to a pied-a-terre in NYC

while you and I fly through Hebo

until I said stop and what was that

and we did stop, since I was the driver and backed up

to a dusty drive where 73.4-year-old’s walk 

purposefully out in full sun to get the mail,

we rolled all the way back, looking this way and that

because I’d seen a farm stand

inside the open gate of a brown old barn

with an ox red door where wild flowers, foxglove, tassel rue

and black-eyed Susan bloomed in the bed

of a Radio Flyer, next to a gold wicker chair

with a white embroidered pillow as a seat

and a table with cloth of blue and purple pears

holding a porcelain metal tub, the kind with an ink black rim,

full of more flowers such as common yarrow 

deep pink farewell-to-spring and neon green hairy manzanita

all beside a wind and rain weathered

metal shed and a dangling sign that said Pie

said Fruit said Summer said No Childhood but this One

Keep Dogs in Vehicle because heaven needs dogs and cars intact.

We got out of our dog-less car in a dream

of Hebo, off highway twenty-something,

I didn’t have all the statistics at hand then

but could tell we had brought the population to 215

and the Jewish population to 2. Sure, we wanted pie

but so much more was at stake. Inside the barn a delicious

coolness prevailed and pay was on the honor system

a system broken down in the rest of the country then

but as alive in Hebo, as you and I, staggering under the beauty

of a brown barn on a country road, in sunlight, before fields

of such green and living grasses as our sleep is composed of

when we are in the dream of metaphor,

where we have mind built a world, as Auden says, “exactly to our liking.”

On the table were baskets of berries, some black as a bear eye

others red as his maw. There were green cartons of beans

and salmon that had a day before been swimming in blunt

survival and would survive, on our tongues. Behind the table

stood a woman who looked like a woman, curved as nature

with a round, open, smiling face and I had to tease her, 

saying: I am only here to monitor the pie purchases

which made her laugh, because yes, that is a woman’s job

and I would have said anything to make her laugh again.

She had on a pretty top and a prettier skirt, even though no one

goes to church in Hebo; yet the church comes to them, Sunday

at the farm stand, in a revelation of first fruits.

You gazed hungrily at pies in which the calorie count

was high, but then again so was the love.

And we wanted to buy everything: the yarrow, 

the berries, the tracks where a dog lay

outside the car, the old baler leaned onto wood,

the blouse of the woman

her laugh, which was a full body itself, her eye shine

the empty pews in her, the honor system, the wind

that waved the foxglove in stately nods

as if we had all the money in the world

as if our median income was infinite as stars.

Now you think I will return to that hair

since all illogic is circular

and don’t worry I am going to

but the beauty of that farm stand had not cleared in me like a check

but bounced along with us for miles. I took

and posted a picture but inside me was another picture

in berry-stained voice, that showed we do belong here, sister,

because we are all strangers, all of us emigre 

to Oregon as Montaigne said of some monks “they are in the world

but not of it” I don’t even know if it was Montaigne,

but it sounds like him, all of us temporary on the land

of peoples who deeply understood no ownership survives

only fields feed, winds nourish,

nature kills, revives and dissipates and returns,

I take everything for granted at the same time I know it will vanish

on that valance, I stake my life, on the analyzable dream.

Before sleep, moments run through my fingers like grain in a silo

and I keep Hebo running in the background,

which takes up a great deal of power

And sister, who is city as they come

represents berries in my half-dream of her red-vamped heels,

in her jewels, which are actually her eyes

(don’t tell her that) and the pert snap of her words

that bring a delicious coolness to our fevered romance

gallerist, moralist, bleak Jewish beauty

of the diaspora, which means to scatter seeds

who is a much more careful driver

and secret chronicler of all original twinship.

Not one to stop in a spray of gravel 

on the empty, suspicious roads here or ever

yet stands in ruined dreams beside my memory of the farm stand 

everyone hopes will be attended by good Christian folk

but instead get crashed by tossed Jews who read 


rolling under night covers, saying, love, I am 

trying to understand the world’s deadly beautification,

so that I might stop rolling this open road

and sleep, which sis said takes out the day’s garbage 

but in motes reveals the single near-invisible strand 

against the inevitable and most final timbre of the axe.

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Merridawn Duckler

Merridawn Duckler is a writer from Portland, Oregon and the author of INTERSTATE, dancing girl press. Her poetry has been published and anthologized. Her fiction has been published and awards include Wigleaf Top 50 and a Sozoplo Fiction Fellowship finalist. Residencies and scholarships: Yaddo, Squaw Valley, Southampton Poetry Conference, Post Graduate Writers Conference in Vermont, the Bertha Anolic Visual Arts Fellowship to Israel, Poets on the Coast and the Horned Dorset Writers residency in playwrighting. She’s an editor at Narrative and the philosophy journal Evental Aesthetics.


Many thanks to the editors of the following magazines for publishing several of the poems included here: 

Anti-Heroin Chic: "everything ends but not everything begins"

Ilanot Review: "Color Blind Men Named the West"

Juked: "Hebo, Oregon"

“Op” previously appeared in the chapbook INTERSTATE (Dancing Girl Press).

Idiom: The Oregon Poems

Copyright © 2019 Merridawn Duckler

Cover art: Meadowlark by Christopher Shotola-Hardt. Used by permission of artist.

Cover design by Luke Blevins

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or republished without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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