Richard Wakefield

RPW & '49 Chev June 2014BIO

Richard Wakefield has been a poetry and fiction critic for the Seattle Times for thirty years.  For the past thirty-six years he has taught writing and American literature at the University of Washington-Tacoma, Tacoma Community College, and the University of Washington-Seattle, where he earned his Ph.D. in American literature in 1983.  His first collection of poetry, “East of Early Winters,” won the Richard Wilbur Award in 2006.  His poem “Petrarch” won the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award in 2010.  His latest collection, “A Vertical Mile,” was published in 2012 by Able Muse Press.




Terminal Park

“Terminal Park” reads the vine-covered sign
where junkies and drunks reach the end of the line.
Come morning the coroner’s van threads its way
through under- and overgrowth gone to decay.
But this was a park once, the sweet countryside,
a Sunday adventure where people would ride
in the days of the streetcar, away from the grime
and the stench of the city, both ways for a dime.
The place wasn’t named with sardonic intent;
to their ears the name merely said what it meant:
this was, after all, where the terminal was,
and the dactyl in “terminal” pleased them because
it mimicked the clickety-clack of the track
that lullabied babies to sleep going back.
And right in the center a marvel was set:
the engines were turned in a slow pirouette
on a platform that carried the giants with ease
in an arc of a hundred and eighty degrees.
But ironies happen. The auto age came
and abandonment wrought a new turn on the name.
The literal iron was scrapped and the place
was left unattended, a terminal case.
Now derelicts shiver by fires in the dark
with no return tickets from Terminal Park.


Gathering at the River

Where the creek ponds up behind the weir
in Maltby’s meadow stands the congregation
to baptize half-a-dozen youths and hear
Pastor Jackson’s promise of salvation.


This humble backwoods creek and pond are now
the River Jordan Christ was baptized in,
as, robed in bed sheets, one by one they vow
to give their hearts to God and turn from sin.


A boy who was in last year’s crop observes
a girl emerging, how from neck to knee
the sodden cotton clings to womanly curves.
A world-weary elder sees him see


and knows that although Jesus has their hearts
Satan keeps his hold on other parts.


Hard Math

Through the mirror of this alpine lake
a flash of silver leaps – like that!
to take the air and take
the morsel of a gnat.


My shutter finger flicks a mite too slow,
my camera catches empty air
and rippled lake to show
that something happened there.


The wavering inverted peaks grow still –
then suddenly, another catch
my human speed and skill
are too evolved to match.


It’s hard to see what math can quantify
the gain, considered all in all,
that drives a leap so high
to catch a bug so small.


The countless generations past have taught
the fish that less plus less is more —
and, unlike me, it caught
what it was aiming for.




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