I thought I knew how to pronounce “Willamette”.
With the emphasis on the Will,
my tongue rolled over the lamette.
The bridges that cross it did not help me.
Hawthorne and Burnside,
Morrison too, I bet,
also misspoke the American Indian word.
I always thought it nice,
this noble native name.
Especially after “on the”,
or “to the”, or “by the”.
But now I know I was wrong
and the rhythm has changed completely.
The river I knew… rejects me.
Her once giving tide rescinds.
I can’t reach her water.
Her name is “wilLAmette”.
She flows faster,
more now that she is far from me.
Was I too slow reaching the other coast?
My getting lost made sure I would lose.
And now the Northwest is foreign as Macau,
far-off as Kyoto, distant as Seoul.
I did it:
I named the river and loved her as that.
Now? I hear her true name yet I still do.
I hear “Willamette” and it rhymes with “you”.
Your water flowing faster and away.
I hear the tide recede
and it rhymes with “we”.
The rhythm of your river changing.
It’s mouth no longer speaks to me.