‘Apples,’ a poem for Sarah Pliner on the one-year anniversary of her death

One year ago this week, 50-year-old Portland chef Sarah Pliner was killed at the intersection of Southeast Powell Blvd and 26th.

Pliner was straddling her bike in the corner, likely several feet into the street on a mountable truck apron, when she realized the driver of a semi-truck pulling a 53-foot trailer was turning right.

The truck’s trailer veered onto the truck apron faster than Pliner could escape back to the sidewalk, and she was run over. It happened just before noon and there were several Cleveland High School students who saw it.

One of those students was a 15 year-old named Owl Brooke.

You might recall we shared Brooke’s testimony at a meeting of transportation officials held at Cleveland High two weeks after Pliner’s death. Brooke had also written a poem to Sarah that helped express her shock and grief about what they’d seen on October 4th.

One year later, the impact of Pliner’s death continues to linger in the minds of many — especially Brooke, who returned to the corner last week to post another poem. Brooke put the pages of the poem inside plastic covers along with a note that reads: “To whom it may concern, I wrote this poem for Sarah Pliner, who died on Powell St last year. You are welcome to read my poem. It’s sad, but I hope you like it.”

I’ve posted the full text of the poem below:

Apples, a poem for Sarah.

Hi, Sarah.

You died today.
Well, not TODAY, but, today one year ago
Although
sometimes it only feels like seconds have passed by,
since the day I
watched you die, since, the day I
Heard the sirens scream for you
Because of you
I notice them everywhere now.
It’s so wild how a simple sound, can cause so much chaos in my brain
I can’t complain, though, really
At least I’m alive.
At least I got to wake up today and take double the apples to school
Double the apples
Like I did on the day that you died,
Leaning onto those apples like they were a safety line, the
Only thing between me
And insanity
The only thing keeping my friends
Alive.
I’m realizing now that this will not be the perfect poem
I wish I could encapsulate the mess my life has been since the day I saw you die
But
That’s way too hard, and I’m way too tired
So it would seem
It’s fine
The first poem wasn’t perfect either
Or the second.
Neither was the first letter, or the second
Thousands and thousands of minutes that I’ve spent
Writing and writing to a woman who is
Dead.
You
You, who I’m writing to right now
Grief really is strange, isn’t it Sarah?

I wonder if Mr. Maus will find this poem
I wonder if he’ll take two photos
Real fancy
And place them in an article, right next to a paragraph about me
Like he did last year.
And I wonder if, like last year,
The article will mention those people I got up to talk to
About you
In front of news cameras at a meeting about safety
A meeting to fix some of that deadly street’s problems,
Problems that none of those people cared about until they resulted in someone’s death
Resulted in your death.
It’s so STUPID Sarah
But anyway, there I was, in front of those people
People working for companies whose acronyms sounded like they belonged above amongst my condiments,
Right next to the PB and J
I, spoke to them,
Told them what I’d seen,
Told them to please do something
The article talked about that,
Talked about how the room went silent when I spoke,
Talked about how my voice rang through the crowd
And then, there it was,
My poem
Scribbled onto two pages of notebook paper,
And, down at the bottom,
“Love you, Owl”
No last name, but
It was easy to match me up, with
The kid who had gone up to speak
You don’t meet many people named owl
Sarah, I don’t know about you,
But
I don’t meet kids named Owl
Unless I look into a mirror,

Sarah, I

Don’t know how to end this poem
I could write to you for hours
And I do
Sometimes
But, not today
Otherwize, I fear my hand might
Collapse
Sarah, I still don’t know your favorite color
I don’t know what songs made you smile, I,
Don’t know if you danced in the rain or
What kind of books made you laugh
Or cry, I,
Don’t know what kind of animals you liked,
I,
Don’t know if you like poetry like me,
Or maybe you’reNothing like me.
And that’s fine too,
Sarah, I don’t know you
And I never will
And that’s so sad.
I wish I did
I wish you knew me
But
I do know that I can
wear your favorite color today,
Even if I don’t know it
Kind of because the color black absorbs every color, so, sinse I’m wearing that
One of them has to be right
And I do know another thing
I love you
Even if I do not know you,
will not know you,
Even if I will even if you will never know me,
Never know that my favorite color is pink,
That I love all kinds of sweets and poetry,
That I hate scary movies and I love D&D
That October is my least favorite month, and I hate Tuesdays, because of you, and
And Sarah you don’t know that,
You’ll never know that,
But despite everything,

It’s still true.

Hi, Sarah.
You died today
And I miss you, and I hope that you’re doing okay, and
I wrote you another poem.
It’s awfully long, but,
I hope that you like it.

Love owl

Brooke’s words underscore the deep impact traffic deaths have on our community. The location and context surrounding Pliner’s death in particular, have led to changes and conversations that continue to reverberate. Stay tuned for a separate post about how she died, why it matters, and what has changed since.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Maria (Bicycle Kitty)
Maria (Bicycle Kitty)
8 months ago

Owl’s poem is so beautiful and moving. It demonstrates the grief and loss that even a stranger feels at witnessing the horrible thing that happened (and will continue to happen until they fix it) at the intersection of Powell and 26th. Those who knew Sarah, or those who knew (or witnessed) someone else die because of our horrible streets, will never be the same either. Thanks, Owl, for sharing your feelings with us.

KYouell
8 months ago

Nice work, Owl! Thank you for sharing it, Jonathan.

I live near the intersection and can see the spot where Sarah Pliner lay from my living room. I think about her almost every day, and say a prayer for her each time I have to use the intersection.

My question is: what has changed there? TriMet rerouted the 70 line so kids coming to Cleveland from Sellwood don’t have to cross Powell; that’s great. Green boxes are back; excellent. But I still worry about drivers and beg my teen not to use the southeast corner.

Has freight been rerouted? Do random drivers using that intersection know how dangerous it’s been? I wish we could have a sign hanging in the center of the intersection that lit up when the beg button was pushed, saying, “CAUTION! High death/injury area!”

What I *really* wish is to slow down the signals so that only 1 direction goes at a time (i.e., southbound turning left separate from southbound continuing south), with an all-stop pedestrian scramble. Though I hate that term because it suggests we should hurry to get out of the drivers’ way, which we shouldn’t feel the need or be encouraged to do.

Peace.

Caitlin D.
Caitlin D.
8 months ago

This poem made me cry. Beautiful. Owl, I’m sorry you and so many other kids witnessed something so horrible and traumatizing, and I’m sorry that Sarah died, of course. Thank you for sharing this, Jonathan.