Sometimes there are coincidences and sometimes you’re tempted to wonder if somebody isn’t pulling the marionette strings somewhere. I’d like to, perhaps, bore you with a personal example.
In a column around a year ago, I wrote about a man who came in to Huckleberry Books and, after I directed him to the mystery section, eventually came back and placed a book on the counter with a title based on an Alaska Native legend, “The Woman Who Married a Bear,” which — it turns out — he had written!
He was in town to get a feeling of the area so as to not make any gross errors in a new book that would feature two old Wobblies who had escaped the vigilante activities following the event known as “The Centralia Massacre.” Actually, the only distraction I could find in the book — which, by the way, received the Shamus Award when it was published — was the fact that Tower Avenue had become Trower, hardly a major blunder.
Now fast forward to two weeks ago when I was returning a book to the Centralia Library and met a gentleman who was looking at the sentinel statue. I started a conversation with him and immediately learned that he already knew a great deal about the event it commemorates. We must have talked for two or three minutes before we realized that we had met 21 years ago in my old bookstore, Huckleberry Books! This time he said he was not looking for “local color” but was on his way from Alaska to a writers conference in Oregon and that whenever he passes by Centralia on I-5 he stops to lay a message on Wesley Everest’s grave.
His name is John Straley, a former private detective and now author who writes mostly about a private detective named Cecil Younger. He’s published nine of those books to date, plus having his work appear in several collections of short stories, all with an Alaska setting. The book, which centers partially on Centralia, is called “Death and the Language of Happiness.” With one exception, his novels are available through Timberland Library. Which one is that exception? Would you believe it’s “Death and the Language of Happiness,” the one he was writing at the time we met and which features Centralia! If you’re interested, it’s available at several online locations which deal in used books.
Mr. Straley and I exchanged email addresses and I feel we’ll keep in touch.
Changing the subject, the recent Ken Burns special about country music caused me to wonder if a book had ever been published containing the lyrics of songs written by Kris Kristofferson. Our local library was able to borrow one from a library in Salem, Oregon that, in addition to the usual “sheet music” form, includes a special section composed of only the lyrics, one of which had been torn out. Guess which one.
We seem to be given the impression that poetry today doesn’t need to rhyme or have a meter the way it did when Robert Frost, Robert Burns, Emily Dickinson or William Shakespeare bared their souls. Kristofferson’s songs prove that the art is not totally dead. Perhaps a new word could be coined to separate the new poetry from the old. And, maybe, as the years start adding up, we’ll feel we can lose the idea that it’s not manly to show what could be called “sissy” emotions when reading such works. I’ll confess, I found myself blinking away a little moisture as I read some of those lyrics.
Poetry can be shouted as well as whispered. Janice Joplin proved that when her recording of “Me and Bobby McGee” surpassed Kristofferson’s own recording of it.
Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at email@example.com.