Letter to Mrs. Annie Steilacoom [Poetry]

by Kirsten Abel

Letter to Mrs. Annie Steilacoom, alleged early resident of the Town of Steilacoom, who was gifted with a houseboat built by the other residents of the town after her husband died and her house burned to the ground and she lived for a few weeks in a tent along the Puget Sound in 1906.

They say you can judge
a town by its bodies
of water & ours are perpetually
sick, caked with thick films
of neon & no fish,
just a currency of itch.

Silence here is complicated
as the algal blooms.
It’s both a lifting up & a gentle
steady crushing.
They say small-town gossip
begins with boredom, but that
is a mistake.  It begins with silence
& the need to smash it,
to know you’re not the only one
going mad
in an empty cul de sac
on a Wednesday afternoon.

If you & I shared a common goal,
it might be to learn to leave
here & come back for a visit
happy, without the urge
to flee.  That hasn’t happened
for me yet.  Maybe I’m still mourning
the loss of Augusts
spent canoeing Lake Louise
& chasing snakes in the Fort’s
long grass fields, or maybe
I haven’t found the right place
to settle down.

I want to know how it was for you
after everything
went to hell & the baskets
& the strawberries had all burned.
They said you danced
upon seeing the boat’s curtains
& cup hooks,
but did it last?
Could you even sleep
without the sea gasping
through the walls of your tent?
Could you even grieve?

There’s a steep downhill turn
onto my old street that in icy weather
could send a car
skidding into the thicket below.
I remember liking when that happened
because it meant
the neighbors would gather
to help & stare & sip coffee & the next day
they’d tell the story
as a way to preserve
the feeling of standing outside in the cold
next to someone.


Kirsten Abel is a writer from Steilacoom, Washington.  She holds an MFA from Columbia University and currently lives and works in Seattle.