Best of OWP: "Self-Portrait Across the Street from the Art Museum"

I thought I'd post the pieces of my portfolio for the Oregon Writing Project Summer Institute at Willamette University here. I hope someone enjoys these, gets a flavor for just how valuable the Oregon Writing Project was for me, and decides to check out their own local chapter of the National Writing Project. I wrote this one during one of our field trips at Willson Park on the west side of the Oregon State Capitol grounds.

Willson Park - Share on Ovi

Self-Portrait Across the Street from the Art Museum

I almost fall
Folded up into a broken bench.
Startled smoke from my cigarette
Wraps around my head
Before I can ground the butt under the ball of my foot.
The fountain shouts, “Shush!”
Or maybe “Shame on you!”

I don’t know if it’s talking to me
Or the noisy buses on the street
Or the gaggle of teens juggling
The hacky-sack with their skate shoes
Or the twin turbo prop cutting and clawing sky
Or the politicians in the capital building behind me
Who certainly don’t care what the fountain thinks.

Maybe it’s shushing the strange sculptures
Of dark metal animals
“Animals on Parade”
A beaver, ferrets, two alligators, a pair of frogs sharing stilts.
The parade needs no shushing because it doesn’t speak to me.

At least not as loudly
As the empty gazebo
That needs a paint job
And a purpose
Out of place in time in this park.

As the next cigarette catches fire
And holds it
The gutter-punk kids startle me
Toss a firecracker
Yellow and white sparks darting off
To high pitched popping and a tired, bored “woo.”

I remember an overheard
“Your self-portrait is way off.”
And I know that is possible.

Maybe everyone’s self image is
A decaying gazebo, a self-important fountain
A capital building without a dome
Metal animals in a motionless parade
A discarded firecracker interrupting the arc of a hacky-sack
A ring of fancy flagpoles
Holding up unintelligible fabric limp in no wind.

If so, I’m no exception.
I am Dr. Watson
In the Sherlock Holmes mystery of my self,
Feet buried three cigarettes deep
Falling ass-first
Through a broken park bench.