January Rivers Floodstage, 1966

By Denise M. Calvetti Michaels


I was one of thousands.  In two years
I’d come home, finish my degree,
apply to law school.

Late at night you saved me.
In a bar, the truck near the river, you were there,
listening, under the moon and stars.

I never realized.
It’s been 35 years since the end of the war.
We met in the middle of the fighting.


The marine I met, a local boy back from ‘Nam
who drank to shake the war, January rivers
flood stage—the Eel, the Mad, the Little

and the Klamath, our windshield scoured
by gale-swept limbs, needles of redwoods,
Barbra Streisand on the radio in the Chevy

pickup truck, a plaintive song like the dark-spell
plunge of a Raymond Carver blue collar narrative
when we swerve hair-pin curves back of town.


From the end of the Korean War until 1973, every American male
between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six (including, famously,
Elvis Presley), was subject to conscription for two years of military
service. (Raymond Carter, A Writer’s Life)


One a.m. Black Russians on ice in a tavern
Carver’s wife may have worked graveyard,

Ray at home with two babies in diapers,
trying to write short stories.


I was running away to write, poet runaway.

A bottle of red wine on the table, cracked crab in a blue bowl.

Lit major, sonnets near the fire.

Closing night, invited to the drama teacher’s cabin on Humboldt Bay.


Have courage.  Be brave, and keep asking, Mr. Marks, American Government, Sequoia High,
when I leave to attend college.


Keys clot, computer screen a labyrinth of rubble and ache, rubble and ache, words failing.

A midlife woman writer sojourns to an interlude of war, an exile, to prod logjams, inkpen in her
hand to break the spell, the longing, clouds clearing, myths in the distance.


spe(l)l, Old Eng from Gothic spill, meaning tale, story, statement


To tell this story from Jim’s point of view, begin with tale.


like a girl I loved in Vietnam,
incantation you murmur
I have not forgotten,
tactile as ribbons
loosed from my hair,

blouse deep ditch maroon
you unbutton, a girl
across the ocean
entwining us between the pages
of American history lessons.