Lillian Vallee

Lillian Vallee has published over 130 translations, articles, and poems, and has given more than 70 public talks and lectures. Her three chapbooks—Vision at Orestimba, Erratics, and handful of snow-are tributes to the natural and cultural heritage of the Central Valley of California and to her upbringing as the daughter of Polish immigrants.


White over the blue Detroit River

A woman plunged to her death

Chased by a man upset

That she hit his car

And no one can tell now

Whether he ran to help

Or to hurt her, whether he

Ran to stop or to push

I did not want to see it again

Not like this, ambivalent

Did not want the water I played in

Shattering a living skull

The bridge we crossed every Sunday

For an entire childhood

On bus or by car

Was our escape

As it was hers

But ours led to fawns

Fishing on rocks facing Canada

Playing catch with siblings

Who couldn't catch

I have a photo of my father here

Remote, handsome

Completely out of place

And of my mother, too-

Hair wild, posing

Red lips parted

Holding a ball

Ready to play

That's the impression

I squeeze the photos for all they're worth

Shoe buckles, barrettes, ruffled dress

Something is missing, postwar joy

They are all pretending

They're not flies in a web

Nothing helps, not baptisms

First communions, bakery

Bread, holidays, Sundays

At the beach, on the grass

Away from the dustdirt

Of small backyards

Pigeon coops, tomato plants

Until they give up

Move on

To the next disappointment

Maybe I know now

What I recognized

Why the bridge kept returning

Like the dead that

Won't go away unless

You scare them

Smear yourself with pitch

Cut your hair

It began there

The death in the rescue

Before the bones folded up

Like the lawn chairs we toted

Across the bridge

It began there

The long sorrow

The slow falling

The exile into air

Two Rivers, Fifty Years Apart

As we drove across the bridge

Over the San Joaquin

It reminds me, she said

Of my childhood river,

The Warta, in Poland

how it flooded every spring

the ice floes

Had to be dynamited

You could pick up

Stunned fish afterward

Trout or pike

And every so often

A haystack floated by

The fish were yours

For the taking, so I

Wrapped mine in my

Brand new winter coat

As a surprise

For my mother

She was not pleased

The year was 1939

And she knew

a war was coming

She had bought me

Several coats

In many sizes

As if preparation

Could fend off the worst

I remember how we celebrated

Two bridges built in Kolo in '38

Schoolgirls marched four abreast

And the entire town joined

The parade, the festivities

Imagine, people rejoicing in bridges

If only we had had another ten years

They were destroyed in '39

Why the Poles blew them up

I don't know. The Germans

Were not coming that way

Later we had to cross the Warta

On pontoon and plank bridges
I was so afraid

The water seemed too close

I was so afraid


Poems appeared in her chapbooks Erratics and handful of snow.


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