Jess Walter’s Song of Spokane

Jess Walter is a local writer here in Spokane. I’ve been immensely enjoying his and Sherman Alexie‘s podcast, “A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment.”

I listened to episode 2 last night on my way to the grocery store, and Jess read his poem, “Song of Spokane.” I laughed. It was a breath of fresh air. I found this poem via the Google machine from this Humanities Washington magazine, Spark:

Song of Spokane

Our voices cried, We will …
North Side to South hill,
Wandermere, Qualchan and Manito
We will only … from Luna to Rancho Chico
and while test-driving a high-miles Chrysler
at the East Sprague Cheap Wheels,

We will only be … sipping tea
at the service desk of Liberty Lake Range Rover
We will only be happy … at 24-hour fitness,
open all night for when the paradox hits us
that for all our talk of sustainability
the only way to avoid obesity
is to work off all these calories
on treadmills with our own private TVs

We when only be happy when …
we confide to therapists in clinics and HMOs,
We will only be happy when we get a
Trader Joe’s.
(They have them in, Seattle, you know.)

And on the day that our Joe’s opened,
the therapists’ eyes were bleary
from nights without sleep
as they made appointments to see
their own listless shrinks
and confess their deep-seated fear
that a whole city’s sadness might disappear
when the first lights buzzed at the Joe’s on 29th,
near the Subway, Supercuts and the Tire-ama—
(owned by those brothers who so despise Obama)
a mere greasy whiff from the KFC
and its glorious buckets of original crispy.
It would be awful, the frightened therapists agreed,
if a new grocery store actually made us
all … happy

But not to worry.
No-one ever went broke in America—
In the unhappiness business …

And so even two-buck chuck
isn’t nearly enough
to relieve the stuff
that collects on our dissatisfied parietal lobes
like January snow, I remember one from a few years ago
that caused all the streets to close, the schools to shut down
and the sudden realization that perhaps in a town
of two hundred thousand
we might want to invest
in a second plow …

But what I remember
is my son and I building a snow fort
and having the county assess it
as worth more than our home
and how nice it all was,
how peaceful and quiet
we couldn’t even leave home
if we’d wanted to try it

let alone go for a chub of smoked gouda at Trader Joe’s
which, flash to the day that it opened,
was filled with those sleepless red-eyed therapists
thinking, Now we will …
as they looked at their own shopping lists
—pasta, potstickers and a dry Gewurtzemeiner—
and as the real poet said, “Let be be finale of seem” or …

Now we will only be …
flooding this river valley with our restless moods:
Now we will only be happy when we get
a Whole Foods

And maybe it’s not so crazy to imagine
salvation’s pathway so fine and narrow
that they only sell it at Crate and Barrel
or that true joy awaits and fulfillment arrives
in aisles of organic beets and endives
(and honestly I don’t even know what an endive is
but I thought it sounded like arrive
and I see them on menus sometimes
but maybe I’m working too hard here to rhyme)
which reminds me that what I drive
is not my wife’s Toyota Prius
but a 1963 Continental by Lincoln
in that most American of hues
the orange of prison jump suits
five thousand pounds of steel and engineering
that gets nine miles to the gallon of premium
and often I can feel the disapproval
of enviro-lefties just like yours truly
thinking, Don’t you care about the world
that you leave?
You know,

For the children?

And that’s when I have to force myself to recall
just how crappy other people’s children often are
like this little shit who sat next to me
on a three hour flight from Denver to eternity
this crazy lap child who kicked and fussed
and thrashed about wildly while his poor mom hushed
him and the rest of us recalled that movie
about the plane crash in the Andes
as the Mom gave Damien a Red bull and some candy
and we wondered if a forty-minute delay was
enough justification
to become cannibals because there’d be no hesitation
about who to eat first … and that’s when
Damien’s mom smiled at me and said, He usually travels so easily,
and with that Damien’s head spun 360 degrees
and he delivered a roundhouse kick to my teeth
as flames shot out of his little shit eyes
and the mom said, Honey, what’s the matter with you tonight?
and this monster kid looked up at me
and like some genius existential prodigy
in the voice of all humanity, he said: I’m! Not! Happy!

And us? What about us?
Will we ever be happy? I have no idea–
but I suspect that one day we will
when we finally get an Ikea.

About Jess Walter:
Jess Walter is the author of eight books, including the 2012 novel Beautiful Ruins, a #1 New York Times bestseller. Walter was a finalist for the National Book Award for The Zero and won the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe award for Citizen Vince. He’s been a finalist for the PEN/ USA Literary Prize in both fiction and nonfiction, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and twice has won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. His most recent book, the short story collection, We Live in Water, was long-listed for the Story Prize and the Frank O’Connor International Story Prize. His books have been published in 30 languages and his short fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Harpers, McSweeney’s, Esquire and elsewhere. He lives in Spokane, Washington, with his family.

Copyright © 2014 Humanities Washington, all rights reserved.