We f o u n d e a c h o t h e r
and coffee shops, performances and readings, and sometimes just serendipity. We call ourselves “Ten Poets” and have been meeting for four years to support and critique each other’s work. We are variously an engineer, a grant writer, two lawyers, a retired librarian, a national parks ranger, a kindergarten teacher, a fish biologist, and a social worker. We have no sponsor and no leader. What we have in common are a love for the incredible sweep and majesty of our chosen home, Alaska, and a desire to express ourselves through a highly condensed, figurative form of speech known as poetry. At our once-a-week meetings during all but the summer months, we share red wine, cookies, fruit, and our passion for the art of the the written and spoken word. We hope you enjoy what we have to offer.
BRAIDED STREAMS BRAIDED STREAMS
CONTENTS Renga Renga are accretive poems in which members of a group take turns contributing stanzas / Magic Steals the Night 6 / March 7
Angler 8 / Hunt 9 / Olya Nyet Doma 10 / Sonnenizio
on a First Line from Mary Roth, written in 1621 10 / Until Reveille (Homeless Encampment) 11
April Story 12 / An Experiment with Kelp 13 / In My
Village 13 / Last Sunday 14 / Friendship at the National Monument 14 / My California 14
Dreams of Our Son 15 / Farm Visitor, Romania
16 / Monarch Migration 17 / Pears 18 / The Courage of Sophie Scholl 19
Diagnosis 20 / Guacamole 20 / How to Write a Poem
21 / Mayday 22 / Neck Bone Stew 22 / Water Ballet 22
A Terrible Truth 23 / Burial Along the Rio Grande 24 /
Headed South Out of Fairbanks 24 / Saguaro Departure 25 / Storm 25 / Sundance at Bears Lodge 26
Empty Nest 27 / Green There Is 28 / His Long
Dying 29 / Lynx 30 / Mom’s Words 30 / Not Mongo 31
Doogle David 32 / Black Ice 34 / La Bohème de la Backyard
34 / Labor Day at Glen Alps 34 / On Martin’s First Dive at Whittier 35 / Tundra Twilight 36
Cabin by the River 37 / Desert Skies 37 / Evening Shift
38 / Fall Back 39 / Holiday Scenes 39 / Mercury Rising 40
Corner Grocery, Brooklyn 41 / Counting Birds 41 /
No Regrets: 35,000 feet 42 / Un-Speakable 42 / Philly 43 / The Way of a Man with a Maiden 44 / Keeping You Alive 44 Cover art, layout and design by Paxson Woelber; paxsonwoelber.com
Renga Renga are accretive poems in which members of a group take turns contributing stanzas
MAGIC STEALS THE NIGHT Renga by Marie, Gretchen, John, Paul, Tonja, Mimi, Sherry Outside, a huge moon enchants at spring equinox— I sleep in magic. The shadow of an open window, wind lifts the blanket. Moth shuttles across luminous lunar landscape toward woolen dawn. Sun glints above a ridgeline, dirty snow becomes rose-hued. Mountains’ silhouette black against lightening sky, dawn birds sing matins. Night’s icy trails soften: slush. Cold water splashes a foot. Entranced by moon’s shine, I lose my steady footing. How could it matter?
MARCH Renga by Marie, Gretchen, John, Paul, Tonja, Mimi, Sherry Sun glazes snowfall into sparkling glass. Northbound, shadows trace blue drifts. Ready for springâ€™s arrival I glance at it but donâ€™t see. Snow drops from branches, sun-warmed in light-longer days frosted in short nights. Wind-dusted ice, bent field grass, no movement in long shadows Solar messengers hum secret urges into ears of dormant buds, softly waken with a sigh spread their petals, rise in joy. Surprise snowstorm blows deep drifts over struggling starts-spring shudders back, spent.
Miriam Beck ANGLER Remembering William Stafford
He slit apart books with his pocketknife. Long slices freed pages like filets lifted off a fish-spine. He spared the stitches that held pages in signatures, sixteen pages bound together. These meaty pamphlets he stuffed into rubber bands in order, then into his backpack. Pedaling up Palatine Hill to the college, his rucksack was packed with protein for the needy. Madame Bovary, pages 91-122, key passages marked, to serve to the literature class. A cheap second-hand Rubaiyat boned out for the next lesson. He practically said grace before reading aloud, but he laughed when I questioned his way with the books themselves. Whatâ€™s a book? he asked, as he coiled the cord of the overhead projector, flipped on the overhead light, and slipped his rucksack onto his shoulders with a shrug like setting a hook.
HUNT Lay out the bait and step back with your knife. Wait as shadows cool the swirling air. Prey and hunter circle through this life, tracks entwined like any dancing pair. Wait as shadows cool the swirling air-scented breezes draw him near. Tracks entwine like any dancing pair. Raise up your blade as his last mirror. The softening shadows free his courage. He moves in rhythm with the earth’s great spin. Your awareness hones the weapon’s edge— breathe in his exhaled breath as he steps in. With the rhythm of the earth’s great spin, pause briefly in the grace of purpose. As you exhale and plunge the weapon in, two forms reflect on its bright surface. Live briefly in the grace of purpose. Prey and hunter circle through this life, brief reflections on a moving surface-lay bait, stand back, and wait to feel the knife.
LaConner Quilt Museum; Photo: Marie Lundstrom
O L YA N Y E T D O M A When she got off the plane, she told me things she knew how to say. I was convinced she loved soup and walking in nature. She came home, tried on my shoes, learned how to say hi to American boys. She was fifteen. I simmered and strained, cooking seemed how to say I would try to fill in for her mom. She shopped carefully but often. I wanted to say how much more can you use? She stayed the school year. I never learned how to say no to her without a tussle, as though she were my own. By the time she left, I knew how to say in Russian, to the far-away voice on the telephone,
Olya’s not at home.
SONNENIZIO ON A FIRST LINE FROM MARY ROTH, WRITTEN IN 1621 In this strange labyrinth how shall I turn? Though I use caution and corner how carefully, a strange pull overcomes prudence… Turning captures me like a whirl of dance. Shall I resist? How quickly I’m drawn, breath gasping, until that turn is behind. Turned loose, set down, strange current absent. Here I thread a turn only with effort. Strangeness weights me now. How shall I lift my feet again? Dragged by current or mired in strange dead eddy— Labyrinth, unspool a line to keep me steady.
UNTIL REVEILLE (HOMELESS ENCAMPMENT) Crossing a bridge at midnight, my steps tap above traffic, pause-dozens bivouac on the sidewalk ahead. They lie still. I step between. Torsos inflate and empty, rise and fall in the dark. A young beautyâ€™s fiery hair flows loose on pavement. Dark fingers close around the hilt of a dream. Full biceps twitch. Tattooed lily. Old manâ€™s cheeks sag onto his bent arm, a pillow. Breeze soughs above the river. Trucks rumble by. Ghosts pass, jangling keys. Breathing bodies rest head by toe, wrapped in what quiet they can find, waiting for a call to rise.
Mike Burwell APRIL STORY He knocked on the condo door, gray suit, a thin orange tie with a funny geometric pattern, shoes dirty, shirt wrinkled, a bit embarrassed; the dog ready to take his leg. Jehovahâ€™s Witness selling subscriptions to the Watchtower? But there was something else besides doctrine in his eye. It was glee, as he told me I had the number and that he was here to confirm my winnings: a cool two and half million. I reined the dog and invited him in for coffee and boiled eggs, thinking today I had reason to be late for work, could take that government job and shove it because today was the 1st of April and I, I was the luckiest of men.
AN EXPERIMENT WITH KELP
Brown-yellow ribbon, draped on gray, rounded stones, boils of air trapped in its skin, glistening salt-wet as the surf bumps and rolls it, folds and flips it toward my feet. This wrinkled khaki tube opens on one end, closes on the other to a pointed reddish-hued tail. Placed on a drift log, it jumps like paper as the wind dries it, leaching color and sand. A fisherman blasts my meditation: “Sir,” (he says, sir), “What are you doing?” “I’m doing a writing exercise.” “About what?” “About this,” I say, shoving the naked brown strip to his face. He’s confused for a moment, then grows serious, “Sir,” he says again, “Whatever you do, Don’t put that in your sandwich.”
IN MY VILLAGE In my village we move faster than you, speeding under the sun where you watch your corn. In my village no one is out in the rain watching for birds that might bring signs. No one waters a horse. No one spends half a day at the square because there isn’t one. No one is there to smile. No one speaks softly into the heat of the day. In my village there are huge clocks under the ground murmuring songs about carbon, food not grown in earth. We rally for odd colors and tones that sometimes push our blood. If pines dance, there is no one to hear them. We cannot climb the slopes to the trunks and branches, sit down, listen.
L A S T S U N D AY
There it is: our small wreckage on the table, but some pieces, when you turn them to the light,
I go to a canyon on the coast, furred with chaparral, opening its mouth to beach and sea beyond. A down-canyon gaze tumbles the heart through hazy air to the rolling flare of wave sound. Everywhere, mysterious orange and yellow experiments of flowers push up from under thick, barbed stems.
grow to small towns full with colorful houses and inside each of them, much light, and fires kindled in each hearth. In one, a man and woman sail, awash in the new sea of their mutual breath. On this trail, gratitude for spruce, fired by late light, the centering and uncentering of touch.
F R I E N D S H I P AT T H E N AT I O N A L M O N U M E N T We work south of Tucson’s cauldron in the Chiricahua Mountains, summer of 1973. A road crew shoveling asphalt under rhyolite monoliths rising to juniper rimrock and molten blue sky. Each morning two miles to drive and three to hike; then a soothing coast on beater bikes down the park road to our lime green Park Service dump truck full of smoldering asphalt for holes blasted open on the road. At night we stash our bikes behind big junipers, hike east to a summer growing red cardinal flowers, yellow columbine, bee balm bending to the speech of Whitetail Creek. We stop under giant white-skinned sycamores that shield Rick’s cabin. Always beer and conversation; always there in the front room on a bare table D.H. Lawrence’s collected poems: a spinning dynamo fueling us in these young metal nights, and long after, under lesser stars.
The small house of thin cut cedar looks seaward over dry brush. In my daily chant of lines, words tick above rocks, soar over brush and wash, ride the canyon’s pungent breath. If I read all day, at night I bask in the wine of other poets. We do nothing but sing in the rich dark, keeping our tumble toward death clothed in bright cloth. Each morning, the cloth billows like an opulent flag over the pearl of the sea.
Gretchen Diemer DREAMS OF OUR SON
Our son runs his team at night through Rainy Pass, I hear the dogsâ€™ soft breath in my dreams, his father without sleep, staring at the moon. *** Without sleep, I listen to his restless dreams, rock him on the rutted trail, together, ride the runners thirty miles each starless night. *** Snow buries the trail, dried willow breaks under our heavy boots, he calls to us, impatiently, watch the markers, do not lose your way. *** He calls to the dogs, loose under the winter moon, they bark at anything, bird chirp, his departing shadow, slowly breaking trail.
FA R M V I S I T O R , R O M A N I A
[I ask] the Gypsy from Romania
”What do Gypsies believe?”
The Gypsy looks away and doesn’t answer.
The rain keeps falling
- Simon Ortiz
I believe in rain, in the man soaked to the skin, staring at his crops, in the words he mutters: it’s raining all over Romania the wheat and fruit will rot, sooner or later we will all go hungry.
the gypsy looks away...
...and on the road cluttered with broken tools and old clothes, I call out to the hungry dogs dodging the donkey carts: gobble the meat scraps I toss to you and go on, your bellies still empty. Look this man in the eye. Tell him what you already know. The fruit molds on his trees. There is no good in the world. The gypsy does not answer. He has seen this before. A handful of coins. A string of sausages. A woman crying in the wind. For the man pouring rain from his shoes, I have no answers, only my feet covered in mud, a train ticket to Bucharest.
I have no explanation for the shattered glass in the road, the bleeding from his hands the children at the window of the car. I only know he holds a dog like his injured brother, mutters in Romanian, apa gust de rahat as if I did not know: the water tastes like sewage and whether the dog lives or dies the rain continues the gypsy man knows the story: Forty Days. Forty Nights. Rain. the flood will come
M O N A R C H M I G R AT I O N On the day of your death one thousand and eighteen migrating butterflies clustered outside a window facing south... I am on a beach in Mexico there are no butterflies, only waves and black rock a few fisherman throwing out their lines ...they roosted for the night outlined by the frame of a window not mine or yours crossed the border flying to Ocampo or Angangueo east of Ciudad Hidalgo in the state of Michoacรกn. I am on a beach in Mexico, the shore too rocky and rough for swimmers. Brown pelicans fly over. A few fishermen pull in their lines, the sun shifts and drops into the sea. Someone with a flashlight hunts for crabs between the rocks a coati drinks the chlorinated water from the pool, stares when I rise to the surface. In a place of the fishermen, violence is not confined to the cities. Swimmers should use extreme caution. On the day of your death I reel in my line, dive into the waves dream there are no butterflies. Photo: Tonja Woelber
PEARS Pears have nothing to do with grief the disappearance of sea ice, the collapse of a colony of bees pears have nothing to do with your hands bleached by the noonday sun, peeling the bark from the tree rooted in the red clay soil still, I am peeling a pear, from the tree dropping the golden skins at my feet exposing the flesh to a swarm of bees clustered now stinging my hands. I plunge my hands into the dirt, into the spilled honey in the field where we met, you and I, where we dropped like two stones in the grass, pledged to grow old, shrivel like the dying pears hollowed out by drunken bees in autumn.
THE COURAGE OF SOPHIE SCHOLL* If I were you, Sophie, I would speak out, speak up, shout curses at the pavement, pile leaflets on every doorstep, I would take a chainsaw to the trees blocking the road, erase my image from the janitor’s eyes this, I would do but I am not you, telling the judge: what we wrote and said is believed by many, they just don’t dare express themselves. I am not you, convicted and sentenced to the guillotine, saying good-bye to mother, my father, without tears. I am not even able to count the bodies, those lost for any reason, I am simply at home, in the kitchen, with water running and my eyes filled with tears---from the onions frying on the stove from dust gathered on the bookshelves and under the stairs. We are, as we all know, born of dust and to dust return disintegrated bodies passing through, like the white roses arranged in a vase by the fragile light of the fire, wine poured, a glass for each of us. Drink up. To your health. To mine. Drink up, drink up. *Sophie and Hans Scholl were founding members of the Nazi resistance movement, “The White Rose.” The brother and sister were arrested on February 18, after a janitor reported seeing them distributing leaflets at the University of Munich. They were executed four days later, on February 22, 1943.
Sherry Eckrich DIAGNOSIS She wasn’t worried they’d say “malignancy.” The local anesthetic smoothed the procedure to a white cloud slightly indented like a pillow from which a head just departed. So the biopsy report a surprise slap gave her pause a fish twisting out of water the tall elm toppled by wind or a thoughtless remark later regretted.
I’d rather make guacamole than write a poem: Feel the stiff resistance of the skin as I scoop, then smush the yielding green pulp against the side of the bowl. I’d rather do that than wear graphite off the end of a six-sided stick. I’d rather mince garlic, jalapeño, red onion than words. Easier to slick seeds from a cut Roma tomato with the tip of my index finger than to delete redundancies, tighten lines. Sprinkle on lime juice to ward off metaphoric darkening of the flesh. Involve the senses—taste, smell, sight— with chipotle chili powder, cumin, smoky paprika. How much more fluidly than words its buttery smoothness crosses my tongue. I’d rather do any of that than push pencil across paper, then fret for days about the outcome. Surely there’s a place on the platter for something to be eaten and forgotten.
HOW TO WRITE A POEM As you finish off the chocolate cake that sat, lonely, on the flat pressed-glass cake plate, remember that food fuels creativity, and extra calories fuel unsurpassed creativity. Run your middle finger through leftover blobs of chocolate icing. Insert finger in mouth. Repeat. Remind yourself that the good ideas have all been expressed, and more eloquently than you could do. Don’t notice how snow drapes like marshmallow creme on the deck rail or the silent music of new snow falling. Do notice, suddenly, the lacy cobwebs on the lampshade in the living room, rising and falling from the heat of the light bulb, like birds taking off and settling again. Grab a dust rag, see dust on the bookshelf, crumbs on the carpet. Begin a draft of a poem twenty minutes before you must leave the house. Recall that your teeth need brushing, the dog should go out. Feel chilly. Decide to change clothes, add a turtleneck, re-sew a loose button, worry about which coat you’ll need to stay warm as the temperature slips and wind lifts. Catch sight of a smudge on your glasses. Find the soft cloth you need so the lenses don’t get more scratched. Keep your vision clear. Without clear vision, writing a poem is hard.
B R A BI DR EADI DSE TDR ES A T RMESA M S
M AY D AY Like a bent metal sign with bullet holes distorting the warning, my memory has gaps the sun could shine through but today cold rain blows through. Not only names—easy enough to forget—but the faces connected with them. Words that once slid from my mouth like a child on cardboard down an icy hillside now are mired in muck somewhere behind me, refusing to pop back up. It’s my biggest fear: the dread of lingering, mindless, a jumble of disconnected thoughts briaring through my garden. A tumble of illogical requests. The trailing off “I want…” my mother emitted over and over, like a signal from a sinking ship, the last passenger hoping desperately someone will hear her as she makes her final plea to be located.
NECK BONE STEW A meal Bennie craved that I’d never heard of: neck bones boiled in water till meat falls from vertebrae. That’s it. No tricks of seasoning, no browning, just plain pork flavor, cartilage gone soft. If only our relationship had been that simple. Or maybe it was. Anger waxed, I waned, and finally slipped away through the cracks, holding our son, still young and intact. Now Bennie lies in hospice— colon, liver, lungs riddled, cartilage softening, unable to raise his voice— but still rising to anger. He asked our son for neck bone stew, something to ballast his hundred-pound frame. My anger, when did I abandon it? I consider flying there to cook neck bones for him but I know redemption is not mine to give.
WAT E R B A L L E T Asleep in a narrow bed lovers tangled in sweet sheets turn in unison, rolling waves’ ever-changing currents. Knees pressed into bent knees, belly to back, then effortless roll and curl. Bodies bracket dreams in seamless fit like fronds swaying undulating underwater perpetual grace in the blue-green depths of shared sleep.
Deb Liggett A TERRIBLE TRUTH I have to believe there is no difference between a crocus pushing aside the warm soil of spring and the lost echo of a silent heart, the burnished bud of the wild rose in summer twilight and the absent breath. How else can God explain the death of a child or suicide, except to say that it is all the same to Him â€“ the breath and the quiet, the beat and the void.
BURIAL ALONG THE RIO GRANDE Tucked against a low gray bluff, the dead of a dying town, gathered in family groups, rest in the long-hanging desert sun. Then, today, the fresh dirt of a new grave, shovel marks of recent death. Piles of rock and dirt cover the stillborn, drowned and aged. No coffins, but sometimes a crude concrete tomb keeps the coyotes from digging up the dead. Heat lightning in the distance, smell of rain, a bass beat of thunder, the sky darkens and empties. A tentative croak and then hundreds of spade-foot toads in full cry, an insistent gospel. The storm rolls south toads quiet and the sky brightens, an early coyote sings a psalm cut short. Who will be left to bury the last between silence and refrain?
HEADED SOUTH OUT O F FA I R B A N K S In doubles, triples cranes dangle, drop from the lightening sky into short-legged barley. Nimble, light on their toes, thievery in broad daylight. Tonight, theyâ€™ll slip out of town thinking to try Texas next.
B R A BI DR EADI DSE TDR ES A T RMESA M S
S A G U A R O D E PA R T U R E They march away in twilight, arms lifted skyward, until they step off a ridge, rise like awkward angels. I can hear the rattle of their ribs, the skitter of lizards, the rake of wind. I, too, could shake off stilted daytime poses, lift my arms, walk the rocky slope, ascend.
STORM A kick-ass crash-and-boom rain slams the glass, pelts down the pane, sheets from the sill, splays off the hard pan, till, worn out, the soft mist, the slow drip, off the pine, the quiet.
S U N D A N C E AT B E A R S L O D G E A pine pole newly cut limbed buried upright and placed at the base the bleached skull of a bull bison Prairie grass bent in a clockwise circle barefoot bare-chested men dance The dancers circle the pole in turn encircled by a willow arbor shading cross-legged onlookers seated in lawn chairs the feet of old men still dancing A spotless blue sky The drumming heartbeat of the Lakota and the earth melded not separate the fasting and dancing of men Nailed atop the center pole deer thongs hang down ending in sharp-tipped sticks piercing the chests of the celebrants tethering them to the pole The urgency of the song a crashing culminating beat and in their final effort the dancers run backwards and break their thongs Hi ya Muscles ripped torn blood running down They will carry scars and by their wounds be known as men who dancedandprayeddancedandprayeddancedandprayed and for this one year keep the Earth turning
Marie Lundstrom EMPTY NEST Yeah, I finally got rid of them all— damn kids filled up this shoe so it wasn’t livable no more. Now it’s quiet-like, and I can sleep nights. Melanie, Jenny, Ginger, and Kate went off with boyfriends. Maybe they’ll get married. Maybe not. But I got a nice sewing spot out of their room in the toe. Hank, Walter, Kenny, and Pete went job hunting and didn’t come back— working somewhere, I reckon. I put grow-lights on their bunks in the heel. Works great for tomatoes and peppers. They turn out grand. Fred and Marian, now, the youngest ones, they was the smartest. Set themselves up in business buying wool from Bo-Peep’s outfit, turn it into yarn and make sweaters. Built a little store with rooms over. Works good for them. And I got the shoe to myself. Can’t say I miss all them noisy kids but I gotta lot of space here. I thought about Father William, but he’s too damn old. They call me old, but I’m just reachin’ my prime—don’t have to worry ‘bout having no more kids. I been thinkin’ about that Tom, the piper’s son. He’s growed up enough, he might be interesting to get to know.
GREEN THERE IS Green there is under floods of sun, drying wet March mud into bumpy April steps, up the hill ridge steeply. My age ten feet clamber over a bare tree root poking up rudely in the cow path. I grasp Chief by his neck ruff for help up a slick spot on the high slope. Green there is, in a curtained glade below the path, holding lilies in bold yellow masking one secret purple treasure, a shooting star, early and alone. Jackie woofs outside the hidden corner, urging me on, at thirteen, to check out more of April. Green there is, on top the ridge. Wind furrows the old brown grasses, dry. Soft new green lurks deep, barely out of earth. Greta sniffs around my sitting rock for coyote messages and perfumed evidence of cattle lazing at their spring under downslope trees. At twenty-nine, I follow April wind along the open ridge toward the headland.
Green there is in terraced gardens of rock-strewn headland. Hawks overhead scream at Coco, too close. I wave, their circles narrow to frighten us. I cherish my April breath, at forty. Green there is— in each new April, the cow path bumpy, so I, with Ring, trudge alongside deep hoof prints, hard. Bold lilies with one secret purple treasure dress up the tiny glade. Even at sixty-six, I see with wonder and young eyes, blind to change in remembered earth. The ridge-top wind makes tears and chills my shoulders, the headland hawks scream at our every April invasion of their wild gardens. Green there is— in my bones’ April memory.
HIS LONG DYING It was raining in April the day Colin began his long dying. “Leukemia,” they said, in white. We shook our heads, gave blood and benefit dances, and remembered Frank Bantlo who drowned last fall in his senior year. Tillie Freedman’s dog chased Bill Garvey’s livestock too often, and had to be shot. Einar Coleman bought the Harris farm down the road, and the summer was too wet for good hay. We played small-town softball and went swimming in the river. “He’s better,” they said. “We’re trying a new drug.” We nodded, gave blood and money, and remembered Pete Dotson, found dead two years ago under his tractor.
“He’s very weak but doing well,” they said. We cheered up, held a raffle after a skating party on Paris Lake, and remembered Peggy Tillson, nine years old, thrown from her horse to a rock. Colin couldn’t come. “He’s holding on,” they said. We visited the hospital, carrying new flowers, and remembered Ellen Martinez, who lost her brakes last month and drove into the river. “It’s only a matter of time,“ they said. We made potato salad and hot dogs for September picnicking at the river. Jack McLaren read us the notice in the newspaper— in the picture, Colin had his hair. We played softball, and it didn’t rain.
Colin visited school one day with his older brother Al. We took his picture for the yearbook even without hair. His best friend Sam stayed home that day.
MOM’S WORDS LYNX He owns the forest where he slinks with tufted ears and massive paws, a shadowed hunter, ghost-furred lynx. A noiseless tracker, he’s a sphinx, his aim the snowshoe hare to gnaw, he knows the forest where he slinks. Few people see his watchful blinks while stalking prey through freeze and thaw, a shadowed killer, silent lynx. From human kind, he swiftly shrinks— he follows only Nature’s laws, his home is forest, where he slinks. No petted cat with human links or food from cans—he eats his raw, a ghostly stalker, shadowed lynx. He’s ruled by a hunter’s strong instincts to use his wiles and speed and claws He owns the forest where he slinks A shadowed hunter, ghost-furred lynx.
“What will the community think?” My mother’s voice echoes in mind. How often I’d hear her and shrink from her warnings to keep me in line. My mother’s voice sounded in mind like an Oz witch’s terrible hex. Her cautions to keep me in line made me fearful of drinking and sex. From that witcheried terrible hex, neighbor eyes watched from walls and in cars. I was cautious of drinking and sex, staying far from cute boys and dark bars. Neighbor eyes in the walls and in cars left me curious but cautious as cats. I got close to hot guys and dim bars but still could hear Mom’s caveat. Being cautious and curious as cats I sampled small sins on the sly. Despite my mom’s sharp caveat, my young self was going awry. My small-scale sins tried on the sly emboldened my efforts toward more. As my young years went faster awry, her words I worked hard to ignore. Now I’m older, have tried lots of “more,” and it’s my line I keep to instead. Her words are now family lore, worth a smile when they rise in my head. Though the warning falls faint in my head, when I enjoy having sex or take drink, still her voice echoes just as she said, “What will the community think?”
There are no ordinary cats. - Colette
The Friends of Pets people say, “Crossing the Rainbow Bridge” to describe the death of a pet. Not Mongo. He’ll pound over ice bridges on his clawless paws, hissing at owls and foxes, waving his elegant golden tabby tail defiantly in family faces. He’ll snarl at other cats— no company for Mongo on this trip. He’ll walk by himself and spit at vets. He did like a lap—for a while— when he rumbled his deep-throat purr until he’d had enough petting and growled his jump away. When the food came on time and in plenty, he trilled like a diva. Even when he barfed on a new quilt, shed gold hair on black pants, and peed on the bathroom floor, we loved him. No rainbow bridge for Mongo. He’ll leap glacial crevasses, stand off beasts and raptors with tigerish warning growls. He won’t go gentle into that good night. Not Mongo. He’ll stay snarky all the way to the end.
John McKay D O O G L E D AV I D
The sandy cliffs of my first kiss where the apple orchards meet Lake Michigan were left by unseen glaciers about the time, according to some creationists, the earth and all life were begat and began, left by Ice Age vandals who carved their marks in the deep woods for all to see: L.O. loves L.E., L.M + L.S. + L.H. — I heart Great Lakes. People whine about leaving nature as we find it, but without these, Carl Sandberg would have been one poem short of a load, the Edmund Fitzgerald would never have found its way home, I would not have found the Petoskey stone I gave your mother, or played football, barefoot in the hot sand, pure sand right the way down, pure as you will always be. I’m told since I went north to the future, a fence now cleaves the dune grass and our beach that Bob and Jim and Jay and I marked off with towels and suntan lotion goal posts, theirs and ours, and sports a sign dividing ours from the Palisades Nuclear plant, but I don’t know. Some things left behind stay whole in your mind. The cliffs of my advancing years are seamed with coal. They overlook glaciers still retreating, with good cause I’m sure, and Kachemak Bay, teeming with life, where we came once, and your brothers and I still play.
I was thinking about our trip today, as I look past the spit toward Aurora Lagoon and the head of the bay. That long drive to Homer, the intolerable preparations. Your mother packed the cooler, while I stitched together her mother’s tatted lace napkin and my grandpa’s white hanky, with the little white on white M, long since rinsed of salty sweat from Saginaw’s foundry and sermons at St. Pete’s. Little brother, middle brother you were, and then you weren’t. We watched your shape, your movement, and then we watched your shape — And when you would not come of your own accord, you were carved out by fingers of ice and as if your weight were not enough, I plucked from our flower bed a garnet-studded chunk from the Stikine’s banks that caught my eye long before your mother did – she had a name, too, Sue – and added it to your shroud, with the grainy rounded trapezoid that was your only baby picture, and carried you to the car. It was not a day like today, brilliant and hopeful. It was a snotty September day, as Howard nosed the K-Bay dory out of the harbor, into the chop. The clouds became the waves that battered the bow with each swell that stood between us and halfway to Bear Cove. and when it was right, but it never was, we let go, cut the motor, cut the cord, as you went overboard past jellyfish and dollies, puzzling Irish Lords and teasing otters until you landed among the halibut and dungies and fixed the center of our universe.
LA BOHÉME DE LA B A C K YA R D
On the edge of the world, where night steals up on day and killer crystals slink out of boreal hills to coat the highways, the Lord, My Shepherd leadeth me on righteous paths, he leadeth me on the Chena Pump which becomes Geist Road, turns into Johansen Expressway turns into a box van loaded with hammers and boards, bolts and sawblades, rods and staffs that merges with my truck, becomes one, then shudders away, spent. He anointeth my 22-year-old head with the windshield, I runneth over, I am not comforted. Thou hast prepared a table in the presence of mine enemies, I am the main course. Thou has turned me into a hog, squealing as I slide down an icy chute to the abattoir, crying out Your Name, Oh Shit, Oh Shit, Oh Shit, Oh Shit, and I know You will hear my twisted voice and forgive this trespass. I won’t lie, I fear evil, I fear my cup running over, I want to lie in green pastures, not this steely chrysalis. And not yet.
These gypsies swagger in like they’d own the place if they cared to, and stagger out, having stolen their fill, and still, I begrudge them nothing. I envy them, in fact, their frenzied come-and-go when least expected, their carefree jabbering in Italian or French or whatever language their fermented thoughts take flight in, as the imperial raven soars over, silently reproaching their bohemian lifestyle, and their freewheeling group artistry transforms the ruddy mountain ash and crabapple that summer painted en plein air to minimalist charcoal skeletons sketched against the grey winter sky.
L A B O R D AY AT G L E N A L P S A tinge of bitterness in the air, Middlefork, with my chimera. The marmot king surveys his realm, lousewort, larkspur, saxifrage, red bodied spider on camouflaged legs, parky squirrels dodge eagle shadows across rusty slopes of blueberries, through green brocaded hills the clash of racks, four bulls in rut, resounds. Funny how easy footing is lost, how treacherous familiar ground, up the couloir, through the scree, one last hike to JoLu peak. A trace of bitterness bites the air.
O N M A R T I N â€™ S F I R S T D I V E AT W H I T T I E R I have committed him to the deep, my beloved first-born. And he will go, glad for the adventure, perhaps without a thought of me, but most certainly before me, without me. The dive shop touts new worlds to explore, and I rejoice in his opportunity like the fathers of leastborn potato farmers who sailed the surface of the same aqueous world seeking fortune far from the auld sod. Soon, he will leave my atmosphere. The very make-up of his blood, my blood, will change and the lump of coal mined from this vein may be made by new pressures a diamond shimmering from the depths, or coal dust in solution, as this fatherâ€™s umbilical cord stretches, perhaps to the breaking while my beautiful boy descends to the element from which he came and which may take him back.
TUNDRA TWILIGHT A Safeway sack beats its plastic wings above the sewage lagoonâ€”sandhill crane lording it over swirling toilet paper swallows. Up the hill, wispy remains of nine dollar heating oil rise from chimneys silhouetted in sinking midday sun. Shadows variegate darkening tundra, and the hum of a snowmobile pierces tranquil infinity where fox and weasel roam through memory of mammoths, moose browse the domain of sabre-tooth cats. Brittle air bumps against yellow glow, South Park blares from the front room, and around the table, spread with Pilot Bread and agutĂĄq, grandmother tells stories of her grandmother.
Paul Winkel CABIN BY THE RIVER They say an old prospector lived there, went to town every few months, dead for years now. Built many years before the highway came through, it sits empty, door long gone. Glassless windows stare over restless water, home to birds, squirrels, weekend parties. Seasons change, the cabin teeters, one corner hangs over churning water, soon to be lost to remorseless currents. Â I feel the waters of time tug against me, pull away old friends, disperse family, weaken hands, dim sight, slow my steps. Which of us will be first to fall?
DESERT SKIES Stop on a rise by the base of a mesa, itâ€™s midnight. An ocean of stars laps at the edge of infinity, shadowed sands disappear over the horizon. Stretched to the edge of the universe, I hide under a grain of sand. Feel the bedrock of the mountain pull on my tendons. My blood courses underground. I am the first to leave footprints, last to sink back into soil. Two lane blacktop pulls me to tomorrow. Where will it lead?
EVENING SHIFT Itâ€™s the hottest part of the day. 3 oâ€™clock whistle shrieks, C above middle C. Heavy flywheel spins on the hole punch, each time the cog passes the ratchet, deep ting of low BH. With the jarring grind of a low CG , plate shears gnaw through three-eighths inch steel. Solid thud of ball peen hammer on center punch, line marks up to the shadow on the press. Dull whine in low EH as greased gears engage, drive the shaped head into steel flatwork, like a baker working his dough, twist it into a pretzel. Sweat drips from noses, runs down necks, stains shirts dark blue. Discordant clang in low D, overhead crane rumbles above. Quarter inch sheet steel stacked in a jumbled pile. Day becomes dusk. Stars appear above the glare of the work lights. Staccato hiss in high A, blue white showers of sparks. Welders peer through featureless helmets, sound of electric rattlesnakes. A last shriek closes the day. Breeze from the river brings coolness and mosquitoes.
FA L L B A C K Second hand halts its staccato movement, gears disengage, heavy wheels slow their spin, stop. Creak and ping of a cooling universe. Motion suspended, the world waits. Ancient figures stir from dreamless sleep, scales fall, eyes open, peer into silent darkness. “Is this our time?” Wolves howl in the distance. Shadows cover the moon, breath hangs in the air, exhale frozen. A clang, jerk, second hand quivers, jumps forward. Timbers groan, belts shudder, a deep rumble, movement begins, time resumes. Those half awake settle back into slumber. A dog twitches, shakes, lays head on paws. One more reprieve.
H O L I D AY S C E N E S Shopping center packed, cars roam the lot, search for an empty space. Boots scuff a dusty road, circle ruined buildings, rifles held at ready. Skaters wrapped in scarves glide under a Christmas spruce, syncopated lights flash, red ribbons flutter. Girl looks up with dimming eyes, life pulses onto a dirty street, trickles between cobblestones, collects in a crimson pool. Glowing ball drops from the sky, revelers cheer and hug, welcome a new year. Drone rocket crashes a celebration, three generations disappear, who is left to mourn? Muzak carols in the background. Sounds of laughter in the food court, between bites of taco. Joy To the World! A martyr explodes in ecstasy, worshipers expire, their last words a prayer for peace.
MERCURY RISING A small thing to remember a teacher for. My high school physics instructor. Once a semester, out came the pint bottle of mercury. A generous dollop fell on each lab table. Drop cut into pieces, pushed together again. Coalescing into one, skittering over the counter. Roll on the scarred wood like we travel the halls. Self-contained, isolated, buffeted in our journeys, disconnected from surroundings. This period ends, our lives move on. Become either copper cents rubbed into silver coins or slammed with a textbook, spray in a hundred directions, disappear without a trace.
Tonja Woelber C O R N E R G R O C E R Y, B R O O K L Y N Black lattice covers windows, doors; padlocks big as fists. Inside crushed tomatoes swim in bright red cans, bags of rice cushion a man humming a samba. A brown girl guards the register, her breasts rest on the counter, languid eyes dreaming. What lies beneath their surface? The man beside her thinks he knows: ball cap sideways, he sizes up each customer, stares down their worn faces, fingers the knife in his pocket.
COUNTING BIRDS Birds fly overhead. They perch on wires. I cannot hear them speak but I know they see me. I had a bird once. Or at least I put one in a cage. He sang for me like his heart was breaking while he peered at me with one eye. Someday I will become a bird have feathers and fly to the sun. We shall all cry together, able to speak a common tongue. They watch me from their wires, flying arrows of the soul. Like me, they count the days.
NO REGRETS: 35,000 FEET Lifted seabeds under blistering sun shelter nothing. A lone lizard lies with half-closed eyes on a sandstone pyre, gives up his last moist breath. Once this dry arroyo filled with flood, brought cranes, grasses, red riot of desert bloom; cacti offered their soft pears to a crescent moon, mule deer nuzzled moss beside translucent pools. I buy you a painted cactus flower on an airport mug. You touch my arm, turn away, shrink to nothing on white tile. Dry lightning whitens the western sky.
UN-SPEAKABLE My friend Kathleen and I were thick as thieves We braided daisies in each other’s hair Her father died when we were only ten I never had a friend so true and fair. We braided daisies in each other’s hair And shared the tears and secrets of our youth I never had a friend so true and fair But I could never tell her one sad truth. We shared the tears and secrets of our youth Disney dreams and nightmares that distress But I could never tell her one sad truth: Her dad, a frozen afternoon, my polka-dotted dress. Disney dreams and nightmares that distress Still wake me sweating in the dead of night, One with a polka-dotted dress and Kathleen’s dad, But nothing now can make it right.
At the end, Nevada from the air: a crumpled brown paper towel.
PHILLY Concrete. Fences. Stubborn vines that crawl up chain link, weeds that rocket out of pavement cracks. The scrabble, kick and push of playground games; screech and squeal of truck tires; smell of hot, soft pretzels, licking Frenchâ€™s mustard off my fingers. And oh those cheesesteaks. Make mine with sauce and onions on an Amorosoâ€™s roll, soft as the flesh of an angel. I loved your streets, your buses, even when we hung from straps and old men felt our schoolgirl legs. Home of sainted Betsy Ross, brick twins, row homes with fountains in the living rooms. Your garish billboards tempted us to smoke, drink Schlitz, go all the way to Atlantic City, past the refineries, the stadium, the marshes of southjersey where shorebirds watched us warily as we zoomed by on the expressway, intent on mischief and headed God-knows-where.
T H E WAY O F A M A N W I T H A M A I D E N
Proverbs 30: 18-19
He watches her breathe, her skin glistens along the collarbone, the hollow pulses beneath her throat. She thinks of bees hovering, hovering, tries not to think of their soft bodies, what they do. She hands him something: water, a towel, a cigaretteâ€“does it matter? Their fingers brush, linger too long, the air thickens, she drops her eyes. He speaks softly, moves quietly, lets time erode her resistance; she startles, he locks his eyes on hers, slips the halter over her shivering, silken neck.
KEEPING YOU ALIVE I listen for your voice in the wind as my boots press the spongy tundra. I listen to the big winds that blow the seas around the earth. I listen to the little wind that is my breath. The wind is everywhere like my memories of you. The wind comes out of nowhere and lifts me, or pushes me down. I cannot see the wind but I hear it on my walks, in my dreams. You name is spoken by ravens and carried by rough currents. It is sung by small birds that arrive in spring and sounds like glass bells, ringing. Your voice resounds in clouds and pummels my cabin window. There is no place it cannot find me. I want to hear it again and again, but I cannot force the windâ€“ cannot, by calling it, make it come. I can only wait, silent and hoping, for the wind to tell me you are still here.
Cover art, layout and design by Paxson Woelber paxsonwoelber.com