Local poet reveals tough and tender history with ‘Wallace, Idaho’

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Duff ’n Stuff, April 1, 2013

Duffnstuff WallaceIdaho

I learned a few things about American history by reading a new collection of poems by one of Whidbey Life Magazine’s literary arts members.

Before I read Linda L. Beeman’s poetry collection, “Wallace, Idaho,” I didn’t know that “Coeur d’Alene” translates as “Heart of an Awl.” Here’s an excerpt:

all my life growing up
in the Coeur d’Alenes
I thought I lived in a place
called heart of the owl 

“No poetry in that name,” Beeman goes onto say in the poem titled “Coeur d’Alene.” A quick search revealed the definition of “awl,” a pointed instrument for piercing small holes, as in leather or wood; used by shoemakers, saddlers and cabinetmakers. The word conjures up images of hardworking settlers and cowboys in the West.

Ironically, it’s Beeman who ends up piercing holes in the picture of her home; an historic silver-mining district, which produced more silver than any place in the country. Beeman reveals both the tough and tender parts of growing up within the triangle of the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, and takes the reader on a tour that opens a window on the working-class life of miners, hookers, neighbors, friends and family; blending the history of the mining district – its tragedies, protests and pollutions –with her own history of living there. Beeman ruminates on the terrible secrets of the place, along with its big snows, quirky people and her ultimate need to escape it altogether.

In the title poem, she hints at the mixed emotions she harbors for her hometown:

Wallace, Idaho
How to tell this story
A small town profiting
And despoiled
By another extraction industry

Cripple Creek     Deadwood     Smelterville
Countless examples loiter
At the end of derelict roads
Proving that money—
Like warm air     rises

what kind of place is this
a drive-by tourist asked the woman at the front desk
can you imagine
she confided in me
returning native daughter

imagining is easy for most
viewing this hard edge
bastion of not-surrendering-to-quaint

not while dreams of more silver—
a mother lode    lurk deep below
as above    Lead Creek runs
rowdily through it

 

Beeman devotes a number of the poems to those who risked their lives for the mines, both historically and while she lived there. Her poems evoke a quintessentially American perspective on what it means to look at what came before and who set the stage for the life one has in the present. Beeman eloquently brings the past forward and gives it a new urgency as she recalls herself as a teenager, growing up in volatile Wallace, where she paid attention to its darker history.

 

On the Rocks
by 1955 only weathered screeds
painted on the odd boulder
denouncing Wobblies survived
hinting at savage battles—
union versus mine owner

1892 saw miners striking to protest
hourly pay cuts to 30 cents
dynamiting mills taking scabs hostage    seizing mines
federal troops rounded up 600 men
bull-penned them for 60 days without charge

Bunker Hill’s concentrator was the next target
blown to  hell in 1899
black federal troops arrived    arrested
every man in Burke    loaded them
into boxcars for the ride to their corral

Idaho’s governor    gifted with a bomb
for his contribution to preserving that peace
died mangled within the hour
his assassin confessed that
union bosses gave the order

we didn’t learn this in our history classes
no martial law    no Pinkerton spies—
no desperate arrests    only graffiti messages painted on rocks    daring us to find out why

 

“Wallace, Idaho” is part history lesson of the American West, part protest and part coming-of-age tale. Among its hard-scrabble, gritty report, Beeman manages to slip in her own tender nostalgia for a place that America may have forgotten, but that ostensibly remains close to her silver-lined heart.

Pick up “Wallace, Idaho” at Anchor Books and Coffee in Clinton; or at the Kingfisher Bookstore in Coupeville, or by email at lbeeman@whidbey.com. Beeman will hold readings for the book on June 14 in Wallace, Idaho; on June 15 in Spokane; and June 16 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Email her if your curious about the tour.

Find Linda Beeman in the member directory.

Also, April is National Poetry Month. Kiss a poet!

From the heart,
Patricia Duff

Patricia Duff is an award-winning journalist, a freelance writer and the editor of this magazine.

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