This Place I Come From by Joseph Riippi

Editor Colin Farstad, Fiction, March 17th, 2014

I want you to hear this, and hear me.

fiction by joseph riippi

This piece is an excerpt from the novel Because.


I want to tell you about the place I was born, the city Seattle, the Pacific Northwest, and how because I was born there and grew up there and left there, the music and movies and art from there belong to me more than to you.

I want to tell you about the famous things I remember that you already recognize, the flannel and rain and romantic comedies. I want to tell you the names of the yellow-slickered men throwing salmon for photographers, the histories of the neon signs and the tragedies of failed coffee shops no one outside Capitol Hill remembers. I want to tell you about the puddles in the cobblestones and how they reflect the white sky and plaid and no umbrellas, ever.

I want you to remember your favorites of all those songs written by the wet-hooded musicians who splash and laugh beneath my white sky. I want to have helped load-in amplifiers and drum kits in exchange for beer and tickets to the concerts I was too young to see.

I want mosh pits and tinnitus. I want crowd surfing and a boot to the face.

I want you to hear this, and hear me, and know exactly what I’m talking about. I want you to know without me having to tell you what song I’m thinking about right now.

I want to play guitar on the roof of the Pike Place Market. I want to play guitar while sitting in an evergreen. I want to fly high up through white clouds like swimming in the Sound. I want to float back down like a cedar seed dropped upon the Sound’s surface and then, water-logged, slowly sink to the bottom with all the other needles and leaves in the mud. I want to rest and breathe and find out if there, at the darkest part of the Sound, deeper than any family grave, is where I belong. I want to wave at the octopi. I want to wave at the orcas. I want to sing out and watch the bubbles rise like leaves falling up.

I want to show you my school-portrait fashions and how-to-play-guitar songbooks, the commemorative mugs clogging the cupboards. I want you to learn to play the famous power chord riffs with me. I want you to head bang. I want you to feel the rush of blood.

I want to watch a movie with you and point out the restaurant in the background where I had my twelfth birthday party. I want to take you to the first famous coffee shop. I want to drink coffee with you and tell you about my grandfather and how he came to this country on a boat before the war. I want to show you the postcard he sent from New York City when he first arrived, the one that’s a painting of a blooming magnolia with a brownstone beside it and the Statue of Liberty in its backyard. I want to tell you how that’s across the street from where I live now.

I want to stand with you atop the Space Needle, as my grandfather did with me on my fifth birthday, the first one I can remember. I want him to put his arms around us. I want him to point out for us the biggest mountain. I want him to tell us his early stories, about when he was a ski trooper from Finland and new husband to my grandmother.

I want to have known my grandmother then, when she smiled and put a hand to her heart and hung a flag with a blue army star in the kitchen window. I want to have coffee with her and listen to her and hear her tell me about her new soldier husband. I want to hear the versions she might tell of all my grandfather’s made-up stories. I want to tell her the versions I remember and check them against her memory for facts.

I want to make my grandmother laugh when I tell of how her husband told us grandkids he worked for Santa when he was in the army, how most men spent the war fighting, but he was charged with finding the Clauses a summer home to vacation in, a getaway that was snowy like the North Pole, but warm enough still to be a break from it.

I want to drive my children through the Puyallup Valley when they’re very young, and I want to point up to the mountain and tell the kids how their Great-Grandfather Riippi built a summer cabin there for Santa, in the white patch between the green and the blue, with a great magnolia tree in the yard that was always pink and purple in blossom, so the Clauses and elves could always find their way home through the snow. I want to tell them that someday we’ll climb the mountain together and find it.

I want to describe for you what really happened on the mountain, how that’s where the Tenth Mountain Division trained in the early years of the war. I want to show you their teams of pack-mules like reindeer, their armory of small and large guns like a toyshop. I want to show you their tents, perched just above the tree line, where the rocks were white as the snow, and the snow was hard as rocks, and there was no pink or purple beauty in sight.

I want to read to you the Bible verses and curse words the men scratched into their skis like football players. I want to watch the games of hot potato they played with live grenades along the glacier cliffs. I want to know what it was like to sit around a fire and wonder if I’d ever have to kill or what it feels like to be blown up. I want to know what it was like to be my grandfather’s friend.

I want to stand atop the mountain with him. I want to look back at you watching from the Needle on the Sound. I want to stare into outer space through a pink-purple morning sky.

I want to sing out ho-ho-ho to my wife and children looking up from the valley. I want to holler and smile and wave at them to join my grandfather and me on the mountain.

I want to be better at explaining my complicated feelings about home, or what was home, this place I come from.

I want to know why I keep wanting to cry while I write this.

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fiction by joseph riippiJoseph Riippi was born in Seattle and lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. His latest novel is Because, released this year from Civil Coping Mechanisms. In October, CCM will also release Riippi’s next book, Research (A novel for performance), and a chapbook (with illustrations by Edward Mullany) called Puyallup, Washington (an interrogation) is forthcoming later this year from Publishing Genius. His other books include A Cloth HouseThe Orange Suitcase, and Do Something! Do Something! Do Something! Visit his website here.


Colin Farstad

Colin Farstad's work has most recently appeared in Spilt Infinitive, Analekta Anthology, and Coal City Review. He is the editor of the short story anthology The Frozen Moment : Contemporary Writers on the Choices that Change Our Lives (Publication Studios, 2011). Colin has been a teacher, editor, writer, event coordinator and connoisseur of classic cocktails for years. Currently he's living in Brooklyn, hard at work writing a novel tentatively titled It's Never Over and working at the literary agency DeFiore and Company.