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The Clearing: A Heads Up Tale

(Ed. note: I submitted this poem for a contest held by Powell’s Books about two years ago. The poem had to be about Portland; and it had to be less than 20 lines long. I think I thought at the time that meant it could be 20 lines long. At any rate, I got the first part right, I think.)

The Clearing: A Heads Up Tale

In 1843, Tennessee pioneer William Overton and Asa Lovejoy, a lawyer
from Boston, Massachusetts, filed a …land claim with Oregon’s provisional
government … Bored with clearing trees and building roads, Overton sold his
half of the claim to Francis W. Pettygrove of Portland, Maine. When it came
time to name their new town, Pettygrove and Lovejoy both had the same idea;
to name it after his home town. They flipped a coin to decide, and Pettygrove won.
— “History of Portland, Oregon,” Wikipedia

For John Gallagher

They called it my clearing. By the first tailing beams
Of Mudtown’s stump shacks – my North American dreams
Came true for me that year out from Tennessee. I cleared
Out by then, though, sore tired of my mud-sucking teams
With chopped flank and chipped hoof yanking out straightened roads through crooked streams –

Leaving naught between but “heads you win, tails I lose,”
I later heard Lovejoy got Pettygrove to prove
His love and joy for work – and what better excuse
To clear out, start again? Push went and came to shove
And Pettygrove, done looking back, done cut himself a pretty grove.

So they transplanted Portland out this way, this time
To make of what they mainly saw – what in my mind
Was the best of it – and while I don’t claim no crime
Nor harm was done – well someday I just hope they find
The Willamette storm-squatting permanent claim on all I left behind.

So I’ll take my story to the bank. If you want
To partner up, we can cash in and start sharing
On it – and let the checks bounce where they may or mayn’t –
Despite what the city’s sons are used to hearing:
“Y’know?” they say. “Portland’s still collecting on Overton’s clearing.”


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    This is just my kind of poem with that Barton Fink…I mean Raymond Carver kind of feeling.

    Thanks Job, it' s splendid.

  2. Quin Finnegan says

    Well done. Too bad the couplet "After felling over a ton of timber / I no longer felt so limber" had to go.

    But … rules are rules, and games and poems are no fun without 'em.

  3. Quin Finnegan says

    And speaking of Overton

    Now those are some damn fine rhymes.

  4. Jonathan Webb says

    There are too many Glen Beck books on my bucket list.

    The fact that you would attach this link is itself a crime against literature.

  5. Rufus McCain says

    I like the voice you conjured up here, Mr. JOB. Nice work.

    This reminds me of a practical joke Webb and I and the recently mentioned Rick W. concocted many years ago. Webb's housemate had been digging in the garden for a couple of days. We found some old railroad ledger paper and copied an excerpt from an early history of Seattle onto it with an old-style ink pen, and sketched a map of where some supposed gold was buried, rolled it up and stuck it in a little antique bottle, and placed it where we thought the housemate would dig it up. Instead, however, she stopped digging. Years passed. Webb moved away. Then one day, by chance, he heard from a mutual friend that the former housemate had resumed her digging and had dug up the thing, which was now looking authentically weathered, and had taken it to the local historical society or some such and was very excited. Do I have that right, Jonathan? She wasn't too happy when Jonathan let her enlightened her as to the provenance of her discovery.

    Anyway, I digress.

    Have you spent much time in Portland.

  6. Rufus,

    GREAT story!

    I've never once been to Oregon let alone Portland – but I really WANTED that poetry prize! – I think it was $100 and a gazillion books at Powells.

    They could keep the $100 of course…

    Have you made a trek to Powells? Is it all that?


  7. Rufus McCain says

    I've been to Powell's a few times. Yeah, it's pretty fabulous. Its ruins will be a pilgrimage site for book lovers in the future post-book era. I like Portland, too. It seems a bit grittier than Seattle, but in the same rainy milieu.

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