by Tina Wynecoop
Interesting people live in the Little Spokane River watershed. Always have. Over the years I have written articles for our newsletters about the river’s indigenous residents, chiefs, early pioneers, water wheel builders, inventors, proprietors, dairy farmers, horse race course owners, fishermen, stewards of the land, pilots (who crashed), and so on.. It has been fun. Now, it is time to focus on the present, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading her poetry and essays, or heard her interviewed on the radio, you must to meet neighbor Maya Jewell Zeller!
Allow me to introduce her: Two years ago she was invited to read her river-themed poetry at the annual dinner/fundraiser for Spokane Riverkeeper. The other invitees were: author/ naturalist Jack Nisbet, and Spokesman Review columnist Shawn Vestal. They made an eloquent threesome. I knew then that I would write about Maya for our newsletter. She’s our ‘neighbor’ and we are hers. Last November I heard her speak on Montana Public Radio’s program, The Write Question.* She and editor/ author Margot Kahn were interviewed about their new book, This Is The Place. It is a collection of thirty essays by women writing about home. After listening to the program I checked This Is The Place from our county library and turned straight to Maya’s essay, “The Privilege Button.” Meandering throughout her story are varied experiences of place that have defined “home” for her. She explores the manifestations of home influenced by the HOA covenants of her Fairwood II Home Owners’ Association.
I contacted Maya hoping to interview her in person. As wife, parent of two young children, writer, gardener, editor, outdoorswoman, and Assistant Professor of English/Creative Writing at Central Washington University (she commutes) she has hardly time to squeeze in a meeting with me. We ‘met’ by phone and conversed through emails. She gave permission to choose one of her poems to share with friends in the Little Spokane River Valley:
Though it’s gone down a little, that water
at the bridge is still too brown for me to do
any more than wade in. I did today, after twisting
my ankle again. I could see just by the shore,
where creatures skip and scuttle against the sand
my toes sink into. Behind me the willow was
saying something again, the grass too tired yet
to be much more than green trying to overcome
yellow. And beyond, out there, where the current
ripped against itself like hair or the wet legs
of a galloping horse, the river was dark,
and reeked of the damp undersides of things.
Of course I thought of you, flat rock
poised to fling like a small girl might from a giant’s
grip, drop from his cloud and plummet
the way a grown woman trips on a trail.
She goes down hard from those hands.
You’d call me clumsy but we both know my body
just wants to be closer to earth.
How evocative the poem’s closing lines! Her writing can be described as having “intensity that draws us into participation…tells us what our blurred eyes, dulled ears miss. She doesn’t tell us so much something we never knew but brings us into recognition what is latent, forgotten, overlooked…”
Her poetry dives beneath the surface and breathes of that glorious presence flowing through our lives and our landscape – the river.