By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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The salmon's heart
is the river's heart made flesh.
The salmon's flight, a pulse.
... power to power joined:
one borne by a wisdom all its own
— Tim McNulty, “Ascendance”
McNulty, who lives on Lost Mountain above Sequim, is this week beginning a reading tour with Ascendance, a collection of poems written over the past quarter-century.
The scenes in it range from his daughter Caitlin's birth in 1988 to the beginning of the Elwha River restoration in 2011.
The poet will give two free readings on the North Olympic Peninsula: at the Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St., at 7 p.m. Friday and at the Jefferson County Library, 620 Cedar Ave., Port Hadlock, at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 4.
Ascendance is a title fraught with meanings: the moonrise as McNulty and his daughter walk out into a cold night; the salmon's journey upstream; the environmental changes we humans face.
The book, on the Pleasure Boat Studio press of New York, bears a historic cover photograph of a big chinook leaping up Kettle Falls on the Columbia River.
This ascendance idea is “an ecological and spiritual quest,” McNulty said in an interview Tuesday.
“The salmon are such a wonderful embodiment of that.”
In “Opening the River,” his poem about Sept. 17, 2011 — the day of the Elwha Dam removal ceremony — McNulty quotes Lower Elwha Klallam elder Ben Charles.
Charles “sees his ancestors gathered around us in the sky above the river.
'A great cloud of witnesses, and they're all there smiling. So many
are so happy. So many are crying.'”
The Klallam elder cries and laughs through his tears, observes the poet.
Elwha Dam removal
Then he turns toward the concrete dam, just before the excavator takes out its first bite.
“Sun breaks through early cloud,
brightens lichens on the limbs of trees
Raven perches in a streamside fir
. . . and the river sings
low and steadily,
strong in the canyon below us.”
The poem listens to “the people of this river — of salmon, elk and cedar — Elwha Klallam.
“The river strong and streaming through us all.”
Ascendance also holds personal stories, such as “Caitlin and the Moon.” It's a remembrance of when his daughter was just days old.
'Caitlin and the Moon'
“Asleep in your mother's arms,
the moonlight wakes you.
I watch your small face,
eyes wide to this strange new light . . .
your dreamy gaze fastens to something other than your mother or me,
something full and luminous
and curiously alive.”
With such poetry, McNulty seeks to articulate his relationship with an event, a place, a creature.
He seeks “language that suggests the music and rhythm of the experience.”
Ascendance has its funny, wide-eyed moments: “Mac's Auto Wrecking,” “Tropical Sunlight,” “A Bear Comes to the Wedding.”
“I hope there's a little bit of entertainment in there as well as some heavy wading,” McNulty said.
He likes to let time season each poem, like a piece of firewood.
Which is how some, like “Caitlin and the Moon,” have waited for Ascendance. Caitlin is all grown up, a first-grade teacher in Houston. And the Elwha River, with its salmon, is running free.
“The salmon's ascendance,” McNulty said, “is, to me, miraculous.”
Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.