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ÂŠ 2012 by Sandra Kleven, Editor Cover Photo: Monica Devine Design and composition: Paxson Woelber
ISBN-13: 978-1481847346 ISBN-10: 1481847341 ISSN 2152-4610 (online) Published by
Clock Point Press Anchorage, Alaska www.cirquejournal.com All future rights to material published in Cirque are retained by the individual authors and artists. firstname.lastname@example.org
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 4 No. 1
Winter Solstice 2012
From the Editors All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon… It came together like that, like a frozen orb gathering what it touches, gaining in girth and speed, to stop, quaking (or perhaps quacking) at the Solstice moment. This tumbling thing carries the weight of impulse, experience, dream; of history, memory, image, struggle; magenta, azure; line, field and text. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea… And there we have it, in the dark of deepest days, we launch from a frozen beach. This is what I love. We make a collection of thought rooted in North and West. We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows. We send it off. Beautiful.
Thank you for Supporting Cirque Cirque #7 (Volume 4, No, 1) was supported by your donations. We raised funds at readings in Seattle, Bellingham, Anchorage and Homer. Half of the budget came from individuals, four of whom, we consider sponsors for their donations of $100 or more. We want to especially thank Dee Longenbaugh, Dave Seaman, and two anonymous donors. This financial support spared us, for now, the time and effort of a fundraising campaign. Three of our “image” contributors, Brenda Roper, Mark Stadsklev, and Michael Kleven have donated prints from work published in Cirque as an incentive to our sponsors. You can donate here: www.cirquejournal.com.
Working with Associate Editors This issue contains work from well-known writers as well as those publishing for the first time. Poet and memoirist, Judith Barrington, (author of the best selling guide, Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, offers “The Seventies Reminisce,” a poem, Zack Rogow poetically hangs out with Bob Dylan, in “Alligator Sling.” The issue is warm, rich and funny, as with B. Hutton’s, love-lost tale, in the poem, “Piece of Work.” For the first time, we were aided in the review of submissions by a group of associate editors in each genre (see masthead, below for their names). This was a tremendous help, as we considered more submissions than ever of high quality work.
Available Everywhere for Less And we have this good news. Cirque will be available on Amazon.com for $16.95. Two older issues can be purchased there, now. The Magcloud edition will be available at www.cirquejournal.com still priced at around $23.00. The difference is this: MagCloud gives slick interior pages that give the best look for graphics. The Amazon edition is also in full color but with matte inner pages. Both are print-on-demand processes. As always, Cirque will be available, free, full text, online. Don’t forget, the next deadline for Issue #8 is March 21, 2013, for the Summer Solstice Issue. Quoted text from “A Child’s Christmas In Wales” ~ Dylan Thomas Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Sandra Kleven and Mike Burwell, Editors Paxson Woelber, Designer Published twice yearly on the Winter and Summer Solstice Anchorage, Alaska Poetry Editors Rosalie Loewen Katherine Eulensen Emma Rose Brooks Flory Vinson Alexandra Ellen Appel
Fiction Editors Sean Brandon-Brown Gretchen Phelps Susheila Khera Nonfiction Editors Steve Taylor Cynthia Sims Douglass Bourne Tamie Fields Image Editor Suzanne Miles
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Vol. 4 No. 1
Winter Solstice 2012
Toni Todd Sean Ulman Raud Kennedy Nguyen Cong Hoan J. Christine Johnson Rosalie Loewen
F ic t i o n Paradise Black Bellied Plover Silver Elvis Wife Dulce Et Decorum Est Lillian’s Lilacs
Luther Allen Alexandra Appel Judith Arcana Jo Ann Baldinger Tara Ballard Gabrielle Barnett Judith Barrington Doug Blankensop Terry Brix Rebecca Brothers Matthew Brouwer Fawn R. Caparas Ann Chandonnet Kersten Christianson Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach Patrick Dixon Quoc Duong Susan J. Erickson Molly Lou Freeman Erling Friis-Baastad Lily Gontard Rebecca Goodrich Eric Heyne Robin Hiersche and Gordon Chew Raymond Hutson B. Hutton Kaija Klauder Jerry Kraft Carolyn Kremers Patrick Lane Charles Leggett Kim-An Lieberman Olga Livshin Marie Lundstrom David McElroy Ron McFarland Suzanne Miles
Poetry Untitled #57 The Anchorage City Poems, late May 2011 The woman who hands you a gun Winter Still Life, Portland At Summer’s End East Village Autumn No One To Tend The Grave The Seventies Reminisce A Visit from Annie Vent, Elder Louche Mickey’s Hot Springs The Hips of Angels Shady Lane Trail, Olympic National Park Swept A Bedroom In Arles The Fortymile Late 1940’s Photograph Ella Fukushima Sure, You Should Try That Winter Solstice in the Skagit Flats Remind Me of What I Love Untitled At The Party John Phillip Santos: Cosmic Green Card Autumn on the Aegean Gigon in such a silent place Night Rain i never know how to respond when my brother sends me poetry about his suicidal fantasies or killing his wife and her lover Piece Of Work Looking Across at the Sun How We Move The Boat As If Anything Might Make a Difference The Antelope In The Snow At Sixes and Sevens Circumbinary More Moon Baby’s Heartbeat During Baby After Walking Home from the Bookstore The New Deck Coccyx August Afternoon Driving East Opening Day
7 11 12 15 17 21 25 25 26 26 27 27 28 28 29 29 30 30 31 32 32 33 33 34 34 34 35 35 36 36 37 37 38 38 39 40 41 41 42 45 46 46 47 47 48 48 49 50 50 51
John Morgan Keith Moul Mark Muro Sheila Nickerson Joe Nolting Timothy Pilgrim Candace Polson Peter Porco Pamela Porter Linda Quennec Kylan Rice Kelly Lynae Robinson Zack Rogow Steve Rubinstein Traci Schatz Elaine Dugas Shea Deborah Chava Singer Michael Spring Joannie Stangeland Judith Stoll Kaz Sussman Kathleen Tarr Carey Taylor Elizabeth L Thompson Georgia Tiffany Joanne Townsend Stephen Delos Treacy Karen Tschannen Kaylie Weable Tonja Woelber Nancy Woods Jeanne Yeasting Katie Eberhart Gretchen Brinck Ross Coen Tamie Marie Fields Barbara Lee Mark Muro Julias Rockwell, Jr. Kate Quick Tanyo Ravicz Waimea Williams David Stevenson Rosalie Loewen Ela Harrison Gordon
Homeless In Seattle “A-Cranberrying” Ball Scores Move On bus Russ, in the Dark Garden Notes from the Umiak-Maker, Kamchatka Balancing Act To Alzheimer’s Choppy Water For R.H. 52 Faces of Mountainview Neither blossom nor candle Ophelia Leave No Trace 2. David and the Americans Alligator Sling After Driving Crew Three to the Snoqualmie Fire Standing in for Love Roller Derby Skate The World Was Ending and We Were Asleep on the Couch in Front of the TV path under the black oak Though You Walk I Imagine My Death the doe that once was Miracle Arrivals and Departures Blue Suede Casket Trouble With Minnows For Julie Who Thinks I Should Write My Autobiography De Colores Upon Reading “Ode to a Lebanese Crock of Olives (for Walter’s Aunt Libby’s diligence in making olives)” Missing Autumn Branches with Cicada Office as Sanctuary Curiosity Killed
52 52 53 54 55 55 55 56 57 57 58 58 59 59 60 60 61 61 62 62 63 64 64 65 65 66 66 67 68 68 69 69 70 70 71 71
N o n fic t i o n Negotiating Spring Creek Wild Dogs Nordale Hotel Silvers In The Fungal Embrace of the World’s Largest Living Organism
72 75 78 87 88
My Father’s Spoon The Sexual Behavior of the Male Red Salmon Sin Nature and the Northern Muse What You Find and What You Keep
89 90 94 95 98
R e v ie w s Sweeney Agonistes, A Review of Alaska Expedition: Marine Life Solidarity by James P. Sweeney Review of Liveaboard, by Emily Wall Review of Steam Laundry by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell
102 104 105
C o n t ri b u t o r s s u b m i t t o cirque
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
F I C T I ON Toni Todd
He ducked under strands of banana leaves, dangling crisp and brown, and brushed them aside like a beaded curtain. A javelin of sunlight pierced the doughy clouds, and she could see the beast’s horns, glistening. The goat looked at Crowley, eyes sleepy, nonchalant, jaws grinding on the young, waxy leaves of a freshlyplanted coffee seedling. Crowley flapped his arms like wings and stomped. “Scat! Go away!” The billy stepped back, turned and sprung through a gap in the fence. His stocky frame still, Crowley seemed planted in the grass like trees. A glint of sunlight reflected off the shiny, bare spot on his scalp. Satisfied that the threat had passed, June left the lanai and went inside to vacuum. Franklin, the dog, followed on her heels. Moments later, Crowley burst through the door, shouting over the din. “I’m going next door. The neighbor’s goat is eating my trees.” “The moat is covered with bees?” She yelled back. “Very funny. I’ll tell you later.” Crowley’s arms swung with purpose. His sandals crunched lava cinders along the driveway. He did not notice that his toenails needed a clip, nor did he see that the single ohi’a tree at the drive’s entry was in full bloom, red, brush-tipped lehua flowers laden with pollen. Yellow ginger grew thick along the roadway’s edge, it’s sweet scent almost masking the stench of mold, plant decay, and a hint of rotting carcass somewhere in the distant jungle. A cane toad hopped across his path. Crowley turned right at the road, a single, thin line of asphalt, undulating with the rise and fall of the land as it stretched before him. Hapu’u ferns had uncurled their fronds overhead, umbrellas along his path. He stepped over the flattened carcass of a horned chameleon, camouflaged silhouette of its former self. Crowley turned up the first driveway, a pair of ruts ribboned through the woods, lined with swamp mahogany trees, needles dolloped in thick balls on branches, trunks thick, gnarled and unyielding. His journey ended at a collection of cars in various stages of decomposition, two on blocks, one draped with plastic,
7 another with a faded bumper sticker that begged, “Make rice not ice.” A yellow orchid swung over the front porch. Crowley stood for a moment on the mat. A handpainted, wooden sign dangled from a nail on a string. E como mai. Welcome. He knocked. “Howzit.” A man opened the door, salty black ponytail draped over one shoulder. A geometric tattoo rippled on the man’s brown biceps. He was barefoot with toenails like Crowley’s. “Hi. I live next door.” Crowley extended a hand, and the man returned a broad, gap-toothed grin. “Russell.” The man reached out, squeezed tight, and shook. “Crowley. Hey, I don’t want to be a whiney neighbor, but I just caught your goat eating my coffee tree.” “Oh, fer real? I go get da buggah.” “I already chased him home. We just need to patch the fence.” “I going fix da puka today.” “That’s fine. It was only one tree. Your goat thought it was ono.” “Goats tink everyting is ono. They eat rubbish.” “Well, thanks..” “A’ole pilikea. No worries. Aloha, bruddah.” Crowley arrived home, breathless. He hadn’t jogged, even a short distance, in years. “Our neighbor is Hawaiian!” he said. “That’s nice.” June had moved on, from vacuuming to laundry. “Seriously, a real Hawaiian. He’s a great guy, I can tell. Really nice. I didn’t understand him too well though. What’s a puka?” “It’s a hole. Like a puka shell?” “The puka in the fence!” Crowley roared. “Isn’t that great?”
8 “You can grow anything, year round,” Crowley shouted into his flip phone over the roar of the rain as he paced under the carport. June peeked through the screen. Water cascaded over the gutters. Sheets folded off the overhang’s edge. A tenacious patch of ginger encroached upon the algae-slicked pavement. She worried he would slip. June wished Crowley hated this weather as much as she did. It was January, the very liver of winter in the Midwest. A person could slip in Nebraska, too, but there, he wouldn’t be outside talking on the phone this time of year, walking on the ice in treadless flip-flops. Instead, he’d be inside, warmed by a fir-scented fire. Better yet, it would be a sunny, if cold Saturday morning, and that very friend, the one on the phone, would be sitting at their kitchen table with his wife, sharing a cup of coffee. She could picture their houses, side by side, two restored Victorians along a maple and cherry-lined street in Lincoln. They’d sold it to buy this place. She missed the old neighborhood, her town, friends and family. Their daughter, Kara, was too busy with a new career and a budding romance in Chicago to visit this year. June missed The Dispatch, where she’d worked in advertising and had gotten to know every small business owner in town. She had tried to find work on the island, but after the longest six months of her life, she was still at home every day with Crowley and Franklin, with them, and yet, alone in the rainforest. ‘My new neighbor is Hawaiian. The real deal, man. Super nice guy.” She could hear his excitement over the deluge. Malama Hawaii. Aloha aina. Live Aloha. Got Pono?” These were the bumper stickers plastered across the rear of Crowley’s 4Runner. Rubber slapped the backs of his heels as he paced. Crowley reveled in this paradise, while June felt smothered. He was happy to be rid of his snow shovel, giddy after donating all his suits to charity. No more insurance claims to accept or decline. The deep lines that once mapped his forehead, those deep, parallel rivers of worry, had softened. He bragged about the rain, 150 inches a year in the place they’d chosen, the only part of the island besides a molten lava field they could afford without living in a tent. Crowley was unbothered
CIRQUE by the bugs and didn’t notice the mold, while June was constantly slapping, spraying and bleaching. To him, everything about Hawaii was like odors to a dog. Good or bad, it was interesting. June joined a book club and volunteered for beach and roadside cleanups. She took hula lessons. None of it helped shake her feelings of misplacement. Armed with a few words of Pidgin, Crowley now had a Hawaiian friend, and was as close to local as a clueless haole from Nebraska could get. June wanted to go home and thought of little else. Crowley was home. June clattered in the kitchen, Franklin at her feet. She looked down at the wrinkly, waddling drool machine, legs too short for his squat body, broad and white with one orange ear, a serious underbite and woeful eyes. Franklin leaned against her shin and looked up, hopeful for something good to drop from the counter. She reached down to pat his head and spotted a baby centipede near his foot, moving slowly along the vinyl. June nudged the dog aside, then stomped the venomous creature. She felt bad about it, as she did when cockroaches crunched underfoot or the rat trap snapped, but was more appreciative than remorseful this time that the creature hadn’t stuck to the bottom of her sandal or worse, stung FrankKimberly Davis lin’s paw. She peeled it off the floor with a plastic dish scraper, examined its pancaked ‘S’ shape, long antennae, legs like short, thick hairs sticking out along its sides. “I know you’re just trying to live, too,” she said, then flicked the menace into the trash. She rubbed Franklin’s ears. The dog wagged his tail, a puddle of slime forming on the floor just below his chin. “Man, I don’t miss that at all,” Crowley said as he passed through the door. “Arlen says they’ve got a foot of snow. Aren’t you glad we’re here?” He passed straight through the kitchen, rounded the corner, sunk into his chair and clicked the remote. The LCD made an electronic popping sound. He cranked it loud over the drumming rain. “The hovel,” as June often called it, was slate grey with dark blue trim, post and pier, raised off the ground for good ventilation, two small bedrooms and a tiny kitchen. It was surrounded by dense, invasive guava,
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 broad-canopied albizia trees, ohi’a, bananas, giant ferns. Nebraska would be brown now, the starkness of winter made beautiful with a fleecing of snow, still bright and cheery with sunshine much of the time, even in January. Here, the rainforest would hold the little cottage hostage to darkness, day or night, all year long. “Did you hear that story on the radio today?” June asked one morning at breakfast. Crowley sat next to her in a white plastic chair at a matching table on the lanai. He had Googled cacao trees on his laptop and was reading instructions on how to grow them. “A local man punched a guy right down at Taketa’s. Broke the poor man’s jaw.” June was the voice of reason between them, projector of reality, regular buzzkill. “Taketa’s? How could that be?” He lowered the screen. Taketa’s was their neighborhood store, a holdover from the plantation days, still serving the community that surrounded it. You could pick up an item or two there, without driving all the way to town. Taketa’s enjoyed a steady business. It was crammed with sundries, motor oil to spam, aspirin to eggs. Everyone knew everyone at Taketa’s. “If he was local, I can’t believe nobody recognized him. How could you even find room in Taketa’s to take swing?” “The paper says he hit the man for no reason.” “There’s always a reason,” he said, and flipped open the laptop. “I’m definitely going to get some of these trees.” The next day, Crowley picked up a dozen “keiki cacao,” as he called them, baby trees. He gave two to Russell, helped him plant them, digging the holes to spare Russell’s back, which was in worse shape than his own. From the lanai, June could hear the faint, muffled sound of their chatter, a murmur, low and thoughtful, words washed over by the rain. Within a week, feral pigs had plowed ribbons through the yard and toppled them all. Crowley righted the trees with uncharacteristic patience. He built a low-slung fence around them to deter the marauding omnivores. “Do you have to lie about everything?” She asked one day when Crowley hung up from a conversation with Kara. “I don’t lie. It’s 85 degrees and sunny somewhere on this island,” he said. “She’s our daughter.”
9 “So she knows me.” “I heard you tell the insurance guy this morning that you could see a whale breaching from the window.” “It’s just a little harmless fun. It’s not like he’s going to visit us tomorrow for Mai Tais. They’re sitting in their miserable offices in their miserables cities and here we are.” “Here we are,” she said. Crowley and Russell fell into the routine of men as neighbors. They complimented one another on their yards, held court over the fence on the merits of one fertilizer over another, discussed at great length which plants seemed to attract which bugs, and marveled at the good fortune they’d experienced since the pigs had found better grubbing elsewhere. June grew to appreciate Russell, too. Knowing he was there, waving in recognition as he passed on the road, recognizing them at the farmers’ market or in the aisle at the Home Depot in town, it made the rainforest seem a speck less lonesome. She was especially fond of Russell’s eight-year-old grandson, Kamalu, with whom she often talked story as they say, while he bounced on a trampoline in the Kealoha’s back yard. “They do have a good time over there,” Crowley said. “I don’t know about that,” she said. They lay in bed listening to the revelry as it streamed through their window screen. The Kealoha’s partied, often, and the sound of their luau and music, the bursts of pidgin and random fuckahs this and fuckahs that, it was loud and hard to ignore, harder to grasp, random and unintelligible. June would lie awake and listen, sometimes for hours, mentally sifting through the dialect for morsels of meaning, noting the inevitable change in tone, from joyous to raging, the friendly, laughter-laced fuckahs morphing into angry ones. Once this happened, it wasn’t long before engines revved and tires ground though the gravel. Party over. Quiet would return to the rainforest, leaving only the wash of rain and the glugs of water as it pulsed through the gutters and down the pipe that ran from the roof, down the outside wall of their bedroom and across the lawn to the catchment tank. By this time most nights, Crowley was asleep. “Did you read this story about the man who was beaten in the parking lot at Safeway?” The paper sagged in June’s hands, limp with moisture absorbed from the
10 air. The morning was dark with heavy rain as they sat on the lanai with their papaya and coffee. An old Billy Ocean song played on the radio, covered reggae-style by a local Jawaiian band. Get outa my dreams and into my cah.... “They’re calling it a hate crime. I guess the guy just kept yelling, ‘Stupid, effin’ haole’ as he kicked the man on the ground.” “That sounds bad,” said Crowley. “It makes me nervous,” she said. “I don’t see how local Bob Marley wannabes can do a lousy remake of a bad pop tune from the 80s and the radio station plays it and calls it Hawaiian music.” “Were you listening to me at all?” “It’s terrible,” he said. “It was a crummy song 25 years ago.” She grabbed up her dishes and entered the house. His voice followed her. “We’ve got zucchini coming out our okoles,” he said. “I’ll take a bag over to Russell.” On sunny days, the neighborhood roared to life, a barrage of mowers and tractors fronting a futile frenzy to tame the rainforest. June had enjoyed yard work in Nebraska. In Hawaii, she felt enslaved by it, suffocated by the ever encroaching boscage. “Why can’t we take one nice day to actually enjoy this place,” June said. “We live in Hawaii, for God’s sake, and we never see the ocean.” “This could be the last sunny day for a month. You go if you want,” he’d say, but she knew he wanted her to stay and help, to want to stay and help. Crowley loved to dig and snip and fell and pull and doze. He relished the crack and thud of an invasive tree’s demise. His chest puffed after a day in the yard, grass caked around the shins of his jeans, branch scratches on his forearms, dirt smudges on his face. “It says here some local thugs terrorized a group of tourists at Hapuna Beach. They were from Minnesota.” June wielded the newspaper like a weapon. “Those crazy Vikings. They are thugs,” he reached to squeeze her hand. The tourists were from Minnesota. The thugs were local.” “Bad things happen everywhere, Junie.” The next day, Crowley approached the fence to roust Russell from under the hood of a rusted truck. June walked a step behind him, a fresh loaf of banana bread
CIRQUE warm in her hands. “Why?” She heard Crowley ask. “It’s too high, the rent. I’m on disability for my back. My boy, he’s been looking for work, but no can find. So we going move ‘em all to town. I already found a place.” “When?” Crowley asked. “Our lease is pau in two weeks.” June and Crowley squished back across the yard toward the house, Crowley two steps in front, shaking his head. Those weeks passed, and the Kealoha house fell dark and quiet. The vehicles were gone. There were no barking dogs, nor bleating goats, no fuckahs or loud music or revving engines or grinding gravel in the driveway. Crowley nurtured his trees, pampered his peas, coddled his cabbages and cucumbers. He offered his extra harvest to other neighbors. They were appreciative, but none were interested in his secrets for keeping white flies off the zucchini. Nobody lamented with him the pigs’ return to ravage the yard. It was nearly Thanksgiving, three weeks after the Kealohas had moved. Thirty-seven inches had fallen since they’d gone. Then, as suddenly as the neighbors’ departure, the wind shifted and the rain stopped. Volcanic smog the locals call vog burned the lettuce patch, the leaves like singed paper. The cilantro crisped. The spinach withered. Crowley cracked a Steinlager early one afternoon and settled into his chair. June opened the paper. “Oh my,” she said. “Don’t tell me. Some hapless tourists got fleeced. Some local kids beat up a nun. Whatever it is, I don’t want to hear it.” “Russell’s in jail,” she said. “What?” Crowley muted the TV. “The assault at Taketa’s,” she said. “That was months ago. Everyone knows Russell there. It’s not like he’s been hiding.” “Maybe the reason it took so long was because everybody knew him,” she said. “I don’t believe it.” Crowley cranked up the tube, sunk into his chair and folded his arms tight across his chest. June read the quote from Russell’s wife to herself. “I guess they don’t know my husband is just one big teddy bear.” The next day, Crowley peered over the fence at
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 the empty house. The driveway was now filled with logoemblazoned trucks and vans. Men in tool belts and tan boots and hard hats banged and buzzed, clanked and pounded. Crowley waved. No one waved back. That afternoon, pigs ripped through the yard. Crowley grabbed the shotgun. “I want to make some noise,” he said, and ran out, disappearing behind the bananas toward the forest. The blast shook the sliding glass window. Minutes passed, and when he finally returned, Crowley’s shoulders drooped. He stared at the ground as he walked and stopped just below the lanai. “What’s wrong?” asked June. Crowley’s hand shook as he lifted it to wipe the sweat and rain from his forehead. “I hit one. They were all running in a line into the woods. I aimed behind them. I was just trying to scare them, but just as I pulled the trigger, the last one, it was a baby, he turned and went the other way. I didn’t mean to hit it. He ran right in front of me. He was so small. He ran...” Crowley’s voice trailed off. “Are you sure it’s dead?” “I’m sure. I have to go bury it, before it starts to stink.” “I’m sorry, honey,” she said. Crowley disappeared around the side of the house to returned with a shovel. He trudged across the lawn, dragging it behind him. The leaves of the cacao blackened with fungus. Tomatoes, rotted on the vine. Tangerines were pithy and tasteless. White flies feasted on the zucchini. The next morning, June and Crowley sat in their usual spots on the lanai. She read the paper; he read a novel. Water ran through a small puka in the gutter. “It says here on the community page they’re looking for girl scout leaders,” she said. “Remember Kara’s troop when she was little? Maybe I’ll volunteer. And the arts center has beginner ukulele lesson starting next week. That sounds fun.” “Uh huh,” he said. “They’re having a fruit tree sale at the nursery this weekend. Maybe they can recommend something that will thrive here.” The radio played softly in the background. A pair of mynah birds lighted in the grass and squabbled over a treasure they’d found. “Maybe there is such a thing as too much rain,” Crowley said. He took a slow sip of his coffee and stared into the mist, across the lawn to the garden and forest beyond.
Black Bellied Plover Boooo- weeeeeeeeeep Out of an ironman birder’s sight, the bird’s call earns his 68th species of the day in a remote subarctic mudflat fringed by black spruce forest, snaked w/ sluicing tide sloughs. “I’ll be a dodo dipper, I say hum-ming-er! bird-er,” he addresses himself, recalling the short sight of the bright black & white big shorebird he spotted an hour earlier. “Could’ve sworn I saw solid black slicking back up the flanks, fool’s gold jacket scalloping. And they get American Golden Plovers and Pacific here, I got all three in two May days last season.” And he chews the sportsman respect, chokes down that thirsty regret of listing a target trophy species without seeing its white-etched slick black scratching a background of black spruce and aspens snapping lush lime-green fuzz. He weighs trekking to tide line to track the trick-of-the-eye tired flyer – hour 12, Nalgene sloshing 1 H2O cup, ½ a Cliff Bar, famished, finished, cabin ½ mile off well furnished (wood, water, calories). Booo-weeep – he takes as a goodbye & to push moving on, lifts Leica lenses on a mocking Merlin corkscrew-whirling in waning thermals. Boooo-weeeeeeeeep 2 of 17 BBPL, foraging 40 yds off rack line along back-sliding tide-line, lift their snow-capped heads to acknowledge the straggling-migrator blown west a week ago, corrected by extreme effort and luck. Several of the 107 needling long-billed dowitchers chowing abreast of BBPL platoon (rufous-breasted & barred, shorebird barrels siphoning grubs & mud bugs) chirp chatter & grog-rattle louder in response to the ragged plover winging over, landing languidly, ringing out frayed feathers. Big-eyed plovers forage by sight, so its steady alert-statuette standing broken by short runs to sighted bugs. Or extra-stillness until invertebrates breach their perimeter & get quick-pecked. Two test ‘foot-trembling’ vibration hunting with one forward foot tapping to pressure prey into moving. They fight over the single insect bisecting their hunting platforms. For most moment snaps if the mud-tilted trembling dowitchers were subtracted the scene would seem a photograph.
A flock of 158 white-winged scoters wing a tide-line trace 200m up & directly above the foraging shorebirds twist south to sea. 7 of 17 instinctually lift & drift to draft in the warm wimpy wind to test conditions for a true take-off. The ripe-flight findings, supported by the south-scooting scoters, turns the plovers’ refueling stopover into a tidy pit stop. The trial 7 circle back, pick up 10 quick and after 18 seconds the haggard laggard takes the leap, chewing his 3rd bug in flight, fighting the cruel rapid-creeping final-meal feeling. 4 months later the ironman birder, flown south (in a plane), finds 3 winter-plumed gray-white BBPL standing beside a throng of dunlin sleeping on a sandbar. Birders are prone to play at cutting deals with nature. He hasn’t been around a BBPL since he heard one 122 days ago. He’s stubborn to hear it. And as rare as it would be if it were either golden plover, he can’t exactly identify in its drab duds. So he waits three hours, missing out on 8 roosting roseate spoonbills and an errant mangrove cuckoo’s cacophonous aan aan aan aan urmm urmm bounced only once, out of the refreshing brushing-frushing mangrove wind chimes. A puffy cloud pillows the sun, drawing shade on the rippled pool. A snap of wings winks as the 3 plovers take-off. Then sheer silence, which the befuddled birder fills w/ humbling almost grateful chuckles. Facing human experience & pure patience, the kingdom’s bolshie randomness prevails.
Silver Elvis “I like raw sugar sprinkled on my nipples,” Heather said, smiling, her lips glistening with maple syrup from her pancakes. Her voice matched her name, subtle flowers covering a hillside. Her last name was Honeysuckle and her perfume scented the air around her like the flowers in spring. She took another bite of pancakes and chewed. People at work, including Jonathon, who sat across from her in Weber’s Diner, wondered why she wasn’t morbidly obese. She ate whatever she wanted whenever she wanted it; chocolate maple bars, fresh baked cinnamon rolls, banana splits overflowing with whipped cream. Instead she was a tall waif who eschewed flaunting her looks. Heather had a nighttime obsession. Once the sun dropped behind the coast range, she’d disappear into the darkness and run for miles, only to be seen by the occasional flash of passing headlights: thin legs, reflective shoes, skinny top showing off her pierced bellybutton. She wore a crystal in it the size of a marble that sparkled when the light hit it right. Heather really liked Jonathon. He laughed at her jokes and made her laugh in kind, and he was cute in a pudgy sort of way. Everyone at the bakery where they both worked was pudgy. It came with the job, a nibble here, a nibble there. What’s another croissant with your coffee in the morning or during your afternoon break? Another pastry, or a donut, and your belly button sank deeper and deeper until it swallowed up whatever you had it pierced with. But not Heather, though Jonathon was pushing past pudgy. She was trying to think of a nice way to put it. She wanted one of those phrases that said fat but meant important, like his weight gave him gravitas, but Jonathon didn’t have gravitas. She would’ve thought he was gay if she didn’t know he wasn’t. He was the jolly fat man who loved to tease. “What about your nipples? Are they sensitive, too?” she asked. He was thinking about Heather’s nipples and how sensitive they might be. He didn’t care about his own. As far as he was concerned he didn’t have any. “Oh yes, very
Christina Anne Barber
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 sensitive, the slightest breeze and they—” but he wasn’t talking about his own. “Shut up! I can’t help it.” Her nipples always drew glances and comments in the bakery. The ovens kept the room warm, so when she’d step outside to cool off, she’d return with grapes in her shirt. “My mother used to make me wear Band Aids. Until even she gave up and stopped noticing. Well, are they?” “Sensitive?” He sipped his coffee. “I don’t have nipples. I was abducted by aliens as a child and they stole them. I wonder what they needed them for. Maybe they collect them.” “Collect them?” “If I were you, I’d be running scared. You’re sporting the jewels of their collection.”
saw him move in his bed below, it zipped down the hall ceiling like a crab on speed and disappeared into the bathroom, never to be seen again. It wore gold goggles that went well with the suit. These dreams were strange, but they didn’t trouble him, even if they were a little too real. He’d had others that were disturbing that he didn’t use as fodder for his funny stories, true X-Files material that he pushed out of his mind as a result of too much pizza before going to bed. Heather stirred her coffee, took a sip, and then added more cream. If she was going to drink it, it had to be just right. She sensed Jonathon wanted something from her. He’d been more attentive recently, a little too focused on her. She hoped he hadn’t gotten a crush on her. She didn’t want to lose him as a friend because he thought he was falling in love with her when it was really just because he was horny and she was the kind of woman who gave men wood. She stared at him without saying anything.
“People don’t sport nipples.” “What?” he asked. “Ah yes, but not everyone is you. Believe me, you sport them.” Their conversation paused as they ate, and then Heather asked, “Have you had any more of those weird dreams recently?” She tore open a packet of sugar, poured it over her moistened finger into her coffee and stuck her finger in her mouth with a wink at him. “Well?” “Not since the silver Elvis.” He’d had a string of vivid dreams lately, all of them entailing small, two-legged creatures running about his bedroom. He’d wake up and in that state between being asleep and not yet fully awake, the little devils would scatter and try to hide, but then as he became fully awake they would fade into the dim light and were no longer there. He didn’t know what to make of these experiences so he used them to entertain his friends. Silver Elvis was a small guy wearing a shiny silver suit, like Elvis used to wear for his Las Vegas shows, that Jonathon had woken up to sitting on his bed. When Silver Elvis saw that he’d been spotted he jumped off the bed and hid at the foot of it. He wasn’t very good at hiding, but he was saved by Jonathon coming fully awake. Another time he woke to see a small monkey in a DayGlo pink spacesuit crawling across his ceiling. When it
Not one to leave it be, she said, “Do you have a crush on me?” He was hesitant. “If I do, is that bad?” “I knew it. Damn it.” “Heather, I’ve had a crush on you since I first saw you. I’m a guy and you’re gorgeous. Every guy at work has a crush on you and at one point or another has said how much they’d love to slip it to you. Something would be wrong with me if I didn’t have a crush on you.” He stopped and smiled at her. “Why? Do you have a crush on me? Because that would complicate things. I don’t like to shit where I eat. You’ve probably confused love for lust.” He put his palms on his belly and gave it a lift. “If I’d known you were a chubby chaser.” “Slip it to me?” *** The night passed under her feet like a fast-flowing creek in spring. She moved through the fog, an apparition of the night, her footfalls landing almost without sound. The loop at the top of the hill was a different world. She
went around it in a meditative state, a feather in the wind. She ran by the houses with their people buttoned up inside, tucked into their beds under their electric blankets, sleeping or dreaming or struggling to do one but not the other. Heather dreamed, but she dreamed when she was awake and rarely when she was asleep. She once dreamed of being a country music singer in the 1950s. In the dream she was in her car listening to herself sing on the radio. She was singing about a guy she exchanged glances with at a bus station whom she thought was the one but who got on a different bus so she never found out if he had been. Heather didn’t listen to music when she ran. She followed the sound of her feet, her breaths, the wind through her thoughts. She didn’t want lyrics to direct where they went. Her thoughts were her own and she rarely felt like piggy-backing on someone else’s. People’s minds were filled with other people’s thoughts enough as it was; what was popular, what wasn’t, or who. There were miniskirt fads, black nail polish fixations, mullets, metrosexuals. She wondered how much of people’s thoughts were their own and not absorbed opinions of others. Top one hundred lists like “America’s Most Powerful Opinion Makers,” made her wince. That was her gripe with television. Its main purpose seemed to be to shape people’s opinions, and in some cases not only to shape them but to create the thoughts that led to the opinions. When she quit watching television she lost a lot of common ground with people. She no longer kept up with the imaginary people’s lives and couldn’t discuss them while kneading bread dough with the others. When she listened to the others talk about them she had to remind herself that they were talking about people who weren’t real. If people were talking about something that never happened, did their conversation ever happen? She’d tease herself with thoughts like that, which only made her more estranged from the conversation. When she brought up real things in conversation it only proved to be uncomfortable, so she learned to keep her thoughts to herself and talk about sugar on her nipples instead. *** It was true. Jonathon had fallen in love with her and he knew it was bad for their friendship. It was becoming
Linda Infante Lyons
difficult to be around her, and it wasn’t just lust, though he did lust after her. The jolly fat man and the hot chick wasn’t going to happen. People said looks weren’t important but everyone knew that was bullshit. He’d have to be rich and she’d have to sell her soul for his riches. The state of his body revealed a lot about how he felt about his life, about himself and where he wanted to go. He was at an impasse. He knew he could take out his frustration and his unrequited love in his usual way by eating another donut and packing on a few more pounds—he’d gained thirty-five since meeting her—but he couldn’t con himself with that any longer. That feeling of being satiated on calories wasn’t cutting it anymore. It was time to make a break and he felt it inside, so he put the donut back in the box with the rest of the dozen and closed the lid. He was going to have to find an activity other than eating to take the edge off his frustration and loneliness. *** She ran through the night fog, eddies swirling in the light under the street lamps behind her. She was rapidly overtaking another runner ahead of her, a big man trudging along at a methodical, determined pace. She smiled at the sight of someone else nutty enough to run at night in terrible conditions. As she passed the man a sideway glimpse reminded her of Jonathon, but that couldn’t be, and she was soon far ahead and her thoughts were elsewhere.
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
Nguyen Cong Hoan (1903-1977)
Translated from the Vietnamese by Quan Manh Ha
Ba Coc, since his wedding, has become even more stressed out and anxious because, if he failed to liquidate the customary marriage debt owed to his wife’s parents, he would be in great trouble. It is usually extremely unpleasant to deal with calculating people. His wife was a daughter of Mr. Khan Thu, an official of the Department of Village Safety and Road Construction in another village, and Ba Coc was a village watchman. When he got married, the villagers in both villages commended the couple as a perfect match. Miss Ba married Ba Coc after they had been seeing each other for quite a long time, and Mr. Khan Thu, afraid that Ba Coc was a Don Juan, urged him to marry his daughter as soon as possible. It seemed fated! Prior to his wedding, Ba Coc had thought it was necessary for a man to get married, but it cost a fortune to marry a woman, due to various kinds of expenses—up to ninety dong. Whenever that amount of money crossed his mind, he shook his head, stuck out his tongue, and wanted to give up— he’d rather remain single, disregarding the social conventions about marriage. He was told that, in Hanoi, for a wedding, a groom not only had to present diamond rings, jade, gold, embroidered clothes, and cloth shoes, but he also had to rent cars, even airplanes, which cost at least a few thousand dong. He thought such unbelievable practices would occur elsewhere, in another country, but not
15 here. It was nerve-wracking enough just to earn a few hundred dong to get married. Wives were simply human, so what was the point of spending that much money on them? However, like other men, Ba Coc wanted to get married, but he disdained the wedding-related expenses. He at first tried to start a conversation with Ba, his betrothed. They talked in public, then in less crowded areas, and finally in private. They only whispered to each other in private areas, but Mr. Khan Thu urged him to marry her immediately, because he had overheard their whisperings. Ba Coc took advantage of the situation and negotiated with his father in law. He was able to marry Mr. Khan Thu’s daughter with only fifteen dong. Fifteen dong for a beautiful wife! Fifteen dong for a lovely wife! How fortunate! If others were in his place, they would be overjoyed. However, Ba Coc, a hard-working peasant whose life was always attached to hoes and rice paddies, and who struggled to put bread on the table on a daily basis, could hardly afford even fifteen piasters, not to mention fifteen dong. If he must spend fifteen dong to fulfill his duty as a man—to get married—he had no choice but to borrow money from his close relatives, explaining to them his destitute situation—and he was able to borrow almost enough. As the wedding day approached, Mr. Khan Thu constantly reminded him of the money he had to pay to his bride’s family, but Ba Coc had Brenda Roper only ten dong. He gathered his courage and gave the bride’s family the amount he had, just to placate their demand. He asked his father-in-law to wait till the next crop was harvested; he should be able to pay off the remainder of the debt at that time—the five dong he still would owe.
16 He thought that once his position as in-law to Mr. Khan Thu became stronger, his father-in-law could write off the debt. But nothing happened as he had expected. His father-in-law, more calculating than Ba Coc, demanded that Ba Coc put the debt in writing. Given the fact that it was a time of economic recession, Mr. Khan Thu actually was being benevolent and kind. Other fathers would not permit him to take the bride home on his wedding day. Mr. Khan Thu gave Ba Coc an example: If Ba Coc would go to Hanoi to buy a line of products with only a small deposit to offer, no dealer would allow him to take the products home until he paid the entire cost. Likewise, wives also were products. In this situation, he, with insufficient funds, should feel fortunate to be able to marry his daughter and take her to his home. Ba Coc became more upset. The longer he lived with his wife, the closer the deadline to pay off his debt approached. He must settle this matter as soon as the harvest was in, or he would be facing trouble. However, he knew that the onerous toil he and his wife had put into the harvest would hardly pay off the debt to their landlord, not to mention the five dong he still owed his father-in-law. He thought that, if he couldn’t get his father-in-law to cancel the debt, then he might ask for an extension. His father-in-law wouldn’t be so cruel as to chop his son-in-law’s body into pieces. If Khan Thu killed him, then his daughter would become a widow, and he would suffer even greater losses. Ironically, in life things normally don’t happen the way one expects. His wife advised him to clear off the five-dong debt first, but he didn’t listen to her. When the deadline was close at hand, Mr. Khan Thu called him over and insisted that he pay him immediately. First, he tried to sweet-talk his debtor, but soon he realized that Ba Coc offered only grinning teeth, so he began to ridicule his debtor. Unable to stand further humiliation, Ba Coc avoided his father-in-law, citing various excuses whenever he was summoned. Mr. Khan Thu became angry after Ba Coc failed to re-
CIRQUE spond to his demands that he appear, and then he summoned Ba Coc’s wife, Mrs. Ba. He scolded his daughter, beat her, and forced her to coerce her husband to pay off the five-dong debt. Mrs. Ba, very fearful of her father, pressed her husband urgently, but between them, a kiss was enough to end strife. His wife said, “If you can’t settle this debt, my father will come here and take me home with him.” That kind of irrational threat did not frighten Ba Coc at all. If his father-in-law acted in that way, it would be a ploy to force Ba Coc to settle the debt—something he would do to indicate his power as a lender; this was an unwise method to collect a debt. A lender might repossess an inanimate object but cannot repossess a sentient human being. Mr. Khan Thu couldn’t put a string through his daughter’s nose and keep her tied to a bed post all day long. In addition, he would have to feed her, and he, of course, did not want to face the expenses of feeding her forever. So, Mr. Khan Thu, of course, wouldn’t hold her there for more than three days, if he decided to take her at all—because he wouldn’t be indifferent to seeing his own daughter suffer; thus, he would release her in a short time. Then, Ba Coc would have a respite, if he could stand Mr. Khan Thu’s scornful vilification once again. But his prediction was wrong. His father-in-law did not yet take his daughter home, but he came to Ba Coc’s house every day to rant at him. This happened each day for about half an hour, and Ba Coc didn’t dare say a word, as he stood like an actor in a pantomime. There Jim Thiele came a time, however, when he no longer could bear having his deceased ancestors cursed on a daily basis, and he began to feel shamed. When Mr. Khan Thu finally threatened that he would take his daughter home, if the debt was not settled, Ba Coc became outraged and said, “Go ahead. Take her wherever you want.” Mrs. Ba, witnessing how these two men were treating each other so cruelly, sobbed. She could not be on either’s side. The following morning, she returned home
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 after running an errand and said sadly to her husband, “Dear, we’ve been married for a year. I never thought that five dong would cause us so much trouble. My father has insisted that I return home with him. What do you think?” Ba Coc frowned and signed, “He is just threatening us. He wouldn’t make you do it.” “No, he is serious. If you fail to settle the debt tomorrow, he’ll lose all patience.” “Well, then you can return home temporarily, and I’ll do my best to settle this matter later.” “Waiting till you can settle this matter could take a long time. I’ve heard that my father has made some other arrangements.” “You mean he’s going to sue me? Legally, he can do that, but has he no heart?” Because Ba Coc still believed in feelings, he showed no concern. True, Mr. Khan Thu took his daughter home, but he didn’t sue Ba Coc, due to their in-law relationship. Ba Coc waited for five days, then ten days, a fortnight, then a month, but he didn’t see his wife. He missed her and became nervous, and then he tried to borrow money to retrieve her. Unfortunately, no one would lend him a penny, because they no longer trusted him. He then gathered his courage and went to his father-in-law. He cried and begged, but Mr. Khan Thu was firm in his decision, shaking his head. Then, he told his son to throw Ba Coc out of his house and he forbade him to return. Ba Coc hoped that one day his father-in-law would get tired of keeping Mrs. Ba in his home, reconsider the situation, and eventually allow his daughter to return to her husband. While he was hoping for that day to come, he heard that his wife, who was supposed to live with him happily for a hundred years, would be spending her other ninety-nine years with Mr. Ly Ba, the polygamous village headman, to become his seventh wife—because Mr. Khan Thu wanted to settle a twenty-dong debt that he had owed Mr. Ly Ba from a year earlier.
J. Christine Johnson
Dulce Et Decorum Est Lily pushed open the blue Dutch door of her studio. She flinched at the odor of sweat and tuna fish. She scanned the room from the threshold, looking for signs of disturbance. She could see from the light gilding the edges of the shutters that they were fastened tight across the casement windows. Her Smith-Corona sat on the teak desk, huddled under its vinyl cover. Nothing appeared out of place, no sign that anyone had intruded her tiny shelter in the weeks she and Jürgen had been away. Nothing amiss, but the soiled air. Lily entered. She placed a vase of asters on the desk and circled her atelier, running her fingertips along the cool surface of the plaster walls. She unlatched the shutters and teased open the glass. Rich scents pushed past the staleness: dying leaves baking in the sun and sweet Chinese wisteria climbing the south side of the studio. She smoothed the white muslin duvet that covered the daybed, then sat down, looking around her space. Then she saw it. On a shelf of poetry collections, in between Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems and Octavio Paz’s La Estación Violenta, there was a gap no wider than the tip of her finger. Lily knelt in front of the shelf. She could see that several books had been moved slightly to fill in the gap of one missing volume. She knew what wasn’t there: The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen. Lily sat back on her heels. “Who are you?” She asked aloud. “What were you doing in here?” She returned to the daybed and drew back the duvet to the percale sheets beneath. She leaned over and inhaled stale sweat. An unwashed body had lain in that bed in recent days, eating canned tuna fish and reading Wilfred Owen poems in the cool dim of her shuttered studio. _________ “Thank you, Hana.” Lily handed a basket of cut roses to the older woman and removed her canvas gardening gloves. They worked in silence. Hana snipped leaves from the lower stems and Lily placed the trimmed roses in a tall vase of clear crystal. “I worry about you staying in the house alone when Jürgen and I are out of town.” Lily turned to the
18 petite woman who was clearing greenery from the sink. “The village is growing so quickly; we don’t know everyone like we used to.” Hana exhaled shortly through her nose. “I know everyone I need to know,” she said as she wiped the sink dry, her small, puffy hand clenched around the cotton towel. “I am happy to be here alone.” Her dark eyes met Lily’s, daring the younger woman to protest. “Someone was in my studio while we were away,” Lily said, meeting Hana’s defiant gaze. Hana’s face colored and her pressed lips parted in surprise. “Nonsense. No one was here.” Hana turned away and began to unbutton her blue housecoat. “I must get to the market. Elsie has asked me to bring fresh cabbage salad for Shabbat and we have nothing left in the garden.” She hung her housecoat on a hook by the back door, knotted a cotton scarf underneath her chin and gathered her shopping basket and purse. With a nod to Lily, Hana left the house. Lily watched Hana through the kitchen windows until her small, solid figure disappeared from view. Hana was seventy. Alone, her past cleaved away in the slaughterhouse of Dachau, she had lived in the house since Jürgen’s first wife, her goddaughter Maryam, fell ill. She kept the walls from crashing in with the weight of Maryam’s cancer and Jürgen’s grief. After Maryam’s death, Hana made certain Jürgen rose every day to a home filled with light and fresh air. In the five years since Lily and Jürgen married and Lily moved to Bad Waldburg, Hana had never spoken of the war. Lily knew only what Jürgen had told her, that Hana had lost her husband and her three children in the concentration camp outside Dachau, only a few kilometers from their home. After the war she found refuge with cousins in Australia, returning to Bad Waldburg in 1960 to care for her last loved one in Germany. Hours later, in the deep of night, Lily woke from a dream that slipped away the moment she opened her eyes. There was a sudden, frantic yowl of a tomcat, followed by several snarls, then silence. Jürgen shifted and rolled away from her. Lily rose from bed and slipped a silk robe over her nightgown. Her feet made no sound as she descended the stairs. She paused on the landing and peered through the narrow window that overlooked the back garden. A thin thread of yellow shone in the split that separated the two halves of the Dutch door. A light was on in her studio. The visitor had returned. Lily continued down to the kitchen, pulled a pair of Wellingtons over her
CIRQUE bare feet and walked out the back door to the garden. She felt calm curiosity. Even though he had invaded her sacred space, she had no fear of a man who would take a volume of poems by Wilfred Owen, the WWI soldier-poet who chronicled its horrors in raw and lyrical sorrow. For she knew it was a man - his odor in her bed exuded a man’s physicality and his fear. Lily tapped on the door. The bed springs answered with a faint protest. She tapped again. “It’s all right. I know you are there, but it’s all right.” The top half of the door swung inwards and a young man bent into the frame to look out at Lily. His white cotton undershirt hung from the knobs of his shoulders. His short beard glowed red-gold in the dim light. His hair touched the tips of his ears and lifted in delicate feathers with the breeze from the doorway. Shadowed from the light, his eyes sunk into the sharp points of his cheekbones. “I’m sorry. Please don’t be afraid.” The man spoke in English with the flat, open tones of an American. “My name is Lily. This is my studio,” Lily replied in English laced with the lilt of northern Scotland. “Did Hana let you in?” The young man stepped away from the door. Lily turned the handle and walked inside. She saw that his undershirt drooped over military fatigues. His feet were bare, but a pair of lace-up boots waited by the side of the daybed, next to a dark green rucksack. Lily and the soldier overwhelmed the small space. Lily often felt awkward in a thin frame that towered over most Europeans; the soldier matched her height as he stooped to allow her in. He straightened and his head nearly reached the apex of the pitched ceiling. “Hana let me stay. I broke in the first time,” he said. She took in the fists balled at his sides and the pulsing jaw. For the first time, fear chimed a distant warning, yet she felt compelled to soothe the soldier’s tension as she would a wary dog. “What are you hiding from?” Lily spoke in low, soft voice, as if welcoming a conspiracy with the young man. He exhaled and turned away from her, running a hand through his hair. Tufts stood out, glinting a faded copper in the dim light. His shoulders slumped and he stuffed his clenched fists into the front pockets of his fatigues. Lily allowed her question to hang unanswered. She pulled a chair from behind the desk and sat down. The soldier turned at her motion. Lily gestured to the
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 daybed. “Why don’t you sit?” He shook his head, but his legs folded and he perched on the edge of the mattress, forearms resting on his thighs, his fingertips pressed together into a rigid temple. “What is your name?” “Again, I’m sorry. I just needed…” They spoke at the same time. The young man flushed at the awkwardness. Lily waited for a response. “Daniel,” he replied in deference. “Dan.” “Dan. And you’re in the military?” “Army, the 173rd Airborne Brigade. I was at the hospital in Landstuhl for a few weeks…then on R and R…” He trailed off and his jaw began to clench again. He glanced around the room as if looking for an escape. “You have an amazing library. Hana told me you’re a writer. That you write in English.” “How many nights have you been here?” Lily felt that she and the soldier were carrying on parallel conversations in separate rooms. “Six maybe.” He shrugged. “I’ve stayed other places. But I like the peace here. I’ve never had so much time to read.” “And food? Has Hana been feeding you?” Lily kept her tone even, but Dan drew back from her questioning. She intuited from his appearance that his leave had ended some time ago. Her mind sought and found the American term: A.W.O.L.
“Never mind,” she continued. “It doesn’t matter now.” Lily wanted to hear his story. “I suppose you found the whisky?” Dan’s eyebrows drew together in a question. He shook his head. Lily leaned back to open a thin, deep drawer concealed as a desk support. “You haven’t discovered all my secrets.” Lily withdrew a half-empty bottle of Laphroaig single malt from the drawer. “There are glasses on the shelf beside you.” Dan picked out two porcelain sake cups and passed them to Lily. His taut face softened as he realized she wasn’t going to run or scream. “Yes, I’m more comfortable writing and speaking in English.” Lily picked up the earlier conversation as she poured thick fingers of whisky into the small cups. “I was born in Toronto and we stayed until my father felt it was safe to return to Germany.” She took a sip of the rich, peaty liquor. “We came back in ’51, just before my tenth birthday. Then I spent several years in Scotland at university. German has always felt like a second language to me.” “And this is where you write.” “One of the places, yes. Where I feel the safest, I suppose,” Lily acknowledged. “What do you think of Wilfred Owen’s poetry?” Dan reddened again. “I’m sorry. I have the book with me. I didn’t mean to keep it.” Lily smiled and waved away his apology.
20 “I began reading it one night and couldn’t leave it behind,” Dan continued. “His descriptions of war… I’ve never read anything like it.” “You’ve been in Vietnam,” Lily stated. Dan paled and caved as if his body had been drained of blood. He looked at Lily with pupils dilated black in the dim light. They were hard stones sunk into white skin. “I signed up before they could draft me. My dad is Army, wounded in Guam. My brother Samuel. Killed in Korea. They’re heroes, you know?” The ebony pupils began to shine. “We were raised to believe in our country, to trust the government, to serve when called. I was ready to die for my country like Sam. But Vietnam…” Dan’s voice trembled. “Fuckin’ jungle. I can’t go back.” He pressed his fingers against his eyelids to stem the tears. Lily released the breath trapped in her chest with a soft exhale. She closed her eyes and recited: If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, — My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori. She opened her eyes and looked at the soldier who sat unmoving on the bed. “Do you recognize that?” “It’s from one of Owen’s poems.” “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” Lily said. “‘It is sweet and right to die for your country.’ My father made his children memorize this poem. I could recite it in its entirety by the time I was nine,” Lily swallowed the last of the whisky in her glass and reached for the bottle that sat on the floor between her feet and Dan’s. “Although we were far from the fighting, the war was very present in our home. My family was proudly German. But my father was horrified by what he saw happening in Berlin in ’33 when Hitler came to power.” The peaceful space felt sullied when she said the hated name aloud. “He began to speak out at the university
CIRQUE where he taught until he got word that our family was being watched. My parents stole away from Berlin in the middle of the night like criminals. The guilt my father felt at abandoning his country and his Jewish colleagues shadowed my childhood.” Lily offered the bottle to Dan, who responded by holding out his cup. She splashed whisky into his, then into her own. “How much longer do you think you can hide out? There is an army base not far from here, in Regensburg. The MPs will be looking for you.” “I’ve got a buddy back home who’s finished his tour. He wants to spend the fall travelling from Germany to Morocco before he starts at Wisconsin-Madison in January. We’re meeting up in Munich next week. He’s buying a second-hand Volkswagen bus, so I’ll be able to hide in back, I guess, when I need to.” Dan finished what remained of his whisky in one swallow. “Maybe I’ll stay in Morocco, see a bit of Africa. My sis Sarah will wire me money… I don’t really know after that.” He looked at Lily. “I’m a fool to tell this to a stranger, I know,” he said. “You’re safe here,” she replied. “Hana told me you and your husband were against the war, that you wouldn’t mind if you knew I’d stayed. I think she was more worried that I’d track mud in here.” Lily laughed. “She refused to let me come into the house. I never asked to, she just made it clear that I had to stay out here…” “Hana lost her family in the camps; she’s terrified of the authorities.” “She told me about Dachau, about how it felt to survive while the rest of her family was put to death. I can’t believe she was able to return to Germany.” Lily marveled how much Hana had revealed to this thin, earnest stranger. But she accepted the camaraderie found with another survivor of war. Hana’s secrets would disappear when the solider did. A small clock on her desk chimed four. “I must go. My husband rises early. He is a good man, but I do not want to ask him to keep this secret. You may stay, but please keep yourself hidden.” She picked the empty whisky bottle from the floor. “I will send Hana out with food after Jürgen leaves for his class. You’re not much taller than Jürgen - I’ll find some old clothes of his.” “Lily.” Dan stood, saying her name for the first time. “I don’t know what to say.” “Send me a postcard from Morocco.” She reached out and clasped his forearm. “Be well, Daniel.” She left her studio. The back garden was layered in mist. She opened
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 the kitchen door, removed the boots and passed through the house to the front room. There she sat in the dark, waiting for day to break. _________ The morning sun burning through a layer of fog woke Lily. Milky light poured onto the quilt that had been placed over her. She rose stiffly, her head thick from the pre-dawn whisky. With the quilt wrapped around her shoulders, she padded to the kitchen. Hana was at the sink, rinsing the breakfast dishes. Lily turned the gas on the front burner and lit a match. The whoosh of flame caught Hana’s attention and she turned to watch Lily settle the kettle into place on the stove. “He’s gone,” Hana stated. “It’s Thursday,” Lily replied. She assumed Hana meant her husband. “He has an early class on Thursdays this semester.” “No, I speak of the boy.” Hana dried her hands on a dishtowel. “He won’t be back. But he asked me to thank you.” She opened the cabinet below the sink, pulled out the metal trash bin and stooped with effort to search in the dark recess. “He left these.” Hana stood, a bundle of folded clothing in her arms. She looked up at Lily. “The foolish boy took his army pack with him. But all kids carry those. It’s the fashion now.” She held the discarded clothing in an embrace, her eyes shining with defiance. “I noticed the leaf barrel was full, Hana,” Lily said. “We should burn those leaves before it rains. “Of course,” Hana replied. A small smile tugged up the corners of her mouth. “I’ll do it now.” From in between the khaki dress uniform and the set of fatigues, Hana pulled a small package wrapped in a sheet of paper from Lily’s desk blotter. She handed it to Lily and left by the kitchen door. Lily unwrapped the package, catching a tarnished silver chain as it fell from the loose wrapping. In her hand she held a set of dog tags. She ran her thumb over the stamped lettering: Silverman, Daniel J. O Pos, Jewish. Faint pencil marked the inside of the paper. “I kept the Owen,” Dan had written. The kettle began to whistle. Lily looked up to see tendrils of smoke trail by the window.
She smelled the musky odor of burning leaves.
Lillian’s Lilacs His newspaper rattled and he spoke from behind it, “People are moving into the Stokes’ house.” “Pardon?” She was startled out of her reverie; she had been admiring her geraniums in the window, the way the lipstick colored blossoms glowed in the early morning sunlight with tiny golden motes of pollen dancing in attendance. “How do you know that?” “Saw the realtor come by yesterday while you were at Quilter’s Guild. She turned on the water, used the phone here to call for the propane truck.” Iris didn’t answer. That was one of the blessings of a long marriage: you could do away with useless conversations. The house next door had been empty since Harold died and Lillian went to live with her daughter, over five years ago. There had been the one summer when Harold and Lillian’s son had returned for a few weeks with his family. This experiment had not gone well, judging by the expression that his wife wore for most of the duration of the visit. The house went on the market shortly thereafter, where it stagnated with the rest of the economy. Iris was just as happy to see that family go, really. The shrieks of their children, two little girls, had grated on her nerves. One of the girls had bicycled into her azaleas and broken off quite a few branches. After the family left, Iris was happy when the silence rose up and settled around them once again like late summer dust. Frank was entirely unsympathetic to her discomfort over the children’s noise: he simply turned down his hearing aid and went into his woodworking shop to turn out another of his clunky wooden birdhouses, sticky with lacquer. This part of Southeast Alaska wasn’t for everyone, the ocean was beautiful but far too cold to swim in, even at the height of summer, and at low tide the smell of the mud would drift up from the shore, mildly sulfurous. Winters were long and freezing with snow piling up to the eaves, the roads treacherous. Their house could be considered lonely with only the old Stokes’ place to keep them company. The two houses were at the end of a long dirt road, more accessible by boat than by car the way they were tucked into their little cove hard up by the Canadian border.
Frank even had some friends from his old border patrol job who would sail up from the lower 48 to visit, mooring their sailboat out in the cove and rowing in to shore with the tide on a small dinghy. It was too bad that Harold had died. The Stokes had been excellent neighbors for nearly 10 years. Very quiet, their children already grown and gone. Both were readers and didn’t mess around too much outside, their yard was pleasantly overgrown and provided a nice counterpoint to Iris’ carefully meandering borders, where colorful foxglove towered over sweet-faced daisies. Some days later, Iris was hiking up her steep drive with the dog when an unfamiliar sound caught her ear. Unlike Frank, Iris still had very keen hearing and this was a high metallic sound: metal scraping on metal punctuated by a sinister snick. She stood very still, attempting to isolate the sound from the hum of the bees and the slosh of the tides. She was standing this way, head cocked to one side like a heron, silver curls showing a bit blue in the bright sunlight, when the dog, Rex, suddenly dove after something. ‘Well, the old rascal has life in him yet,’ Iris thought, fondly. Just then a large hand came down, ignored Rex’s collar entirely, picked him up by the scruff of his neck and neatly flipped him upside down. Rex spit out a wad of honey-colored fur that turned into a min-
iature collie and dashed away at full speed. “My goodness,” said Iris, aghast at this unexpected mistreatment of Rex. The stranger, mistaking her emotion for contrition, laughed ruefully. “It seems they don’t get along. Perhaps we’ll have to keep them on leash until they are better acquainted. “I am Jonathon, your new neighbor” he added hastily, “You must be Iris.” He seemed young and was handsome enough, although Iris thought he would be improved by a shave and haircut. Rex on a leash? A per-
fectly ridiculous idea. Suddenly, Iris’s brain registered what that metallic sound she heard earlier was: pruning shears. Sure enough, looking up the hill she could see a young woman, rather round in shape, with strands of dark hair falling around her face, earnestly cutting back the lilacs. The lilacs! It was as though the shears were cutting into Iris’ own flesh. The Stokes’ lilacs were a wild, unkempt mass nearly 12 feet high between their houses. Lillian would never have cut them, wouldn’t even have known how to cut them. The young woman looked down the hill and smiled: teeth white against red lips. She came down and put out her hand. “Hello, Neighbor, I’m Rachel. You must be Iris.” Iris looked about her, as though there might be someone else named Iris in the near vicinity. She groped for Rex’s collar, but he had already slunk off toward the house. Finally she managed a falsely bright “good morning” in a singing voice, but she couldn’t bring herself to take the outstretched hand. Rachel put her hand back into her pocket and said, “I was just admiring your flowers. I have been meaning to ask, is the daphne yours or ours? It is on our side of the line, but it must be yours because it is so lovely and well-kept. Your borders are beautiful. I love an oldfashioned garden.”
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 Old fashioned? Iris gave a smile that showed her teeth all the way around the sides and, in a voice nearly an octave higher than usual, belted out “wonderful to meet you, we must have you over very soon,” before following Rex’s retreat. Iris was so discombobulated that she let the screen door slam behind her and sat down at the kitchen table staring at a glass of cool water. Frank wandered into the kitchen after a bit. “Why is Rex under the house?” “What’s that? Oh, Rex. He went after the new neighbor’s dog.” “Really? He can be a bully. We’ll have to walk him on a leash. Remember what happened with that puppy last year? My guess is the dog officer won’t be quite so forgiving this time. Well? Are they nice?” “Oh Frank,” was all Iris could manage, “Lillian’s lilacs.” This came out as a sort of moan. Frank did not respond. Since he had gotten his hearing aid he was self-conscious about misinterpreting things that people said and had found that when things were not clear the wisest course was silence. Iris went back to contemplating her glass of water and Frank quietly backed out of the kitchen. Iris was best avoided when she became contemplative. The next morning Iris sat down at the breakfast table with her tea. But the pleasure that she usually took in her morning cup of Earl Grey with a half-teaspoon of sugar was curdled; with the lilac clipped back, she could see the second story window of the old Stokes’ house, and the second story window, presumably, could see her. She drew her robe around her with a shudder and took her tea to the living room. She passed Frank on his way to the coffee pot. He raised his eyebrows, questioning, but made no comment. Later that day, she could see Jonathon and Rachel out on the tidal flats, walking together, holding hands. Iris went down the long steep drive, crossed the road and hallooed to the couple on the flats. Their footprints left a curving line as they came toward her. The little dog trotted at their heels. “What a lovely day for a walk,” Iris said brightly, loudly breathing in a deep lungful of the mud-scented air. “Oh, yes,” Rachel agreed, “we just love exploring this beach.”
23 “When the tide goes a little lower you can see there are thousands of mussels out there,” Iris went on, “I remember when I was a girl, we used to gather mussels by the bucketful. Mother would cook them in white wine and we would just feast.” “Really?” said Jonathon, drawing Rachel closer to him, “we read that you can’t eat the mussels here, because of the red tide. Even one,” he said, in horrified half-whisper, “might have enough poison to kill dozens of people.” “Well, we didn’t pick them from around here, of course,” said Iris, her enthusiasm dampened. “That was on Cape Cod. Delicious,” she continued, in a lowered voice, “with a few tomatoes and some garlic.” Abruptly, she turned away and began the climb back up the drive. Jonathon and Rachel looked after her for a moment and then turned and walked back toward the water, their arms about each other’s waists. The next day, Iris watched them walk down the driveway. They certainly were out on the beach a lot, she thought to herself, young people barely had to work at all these days, it seemed, just gallivant about. Helen at Quilt Guild said they worked out of their home: he was a marketing consultant and she was a web designer. Iris scoffed at this, it didn’t seem like much of a real job if you could do it in your bathrobe while peering into your neighbor’s windows. Now, when she and Frank were younger, he would put on his uniform every day and drive to work at the border while she kept a neat house for him, all the accounts in order, a hot dinner on the table each evening. There were no children, which was a pity, but there had always been plenty to do just keeping up the house and gardens. This had been Frank’s last posting as a customs and border agent and they had chosen it because the area was a perfect place to retire to, even if the living costs were a bit high. But they had been saving for years, of course, and Frank had been a steady worker, hardly ever taken a sick day. This only made it all the more galling when their tidy little investment portfolio had melted away in the downturn a few years ago. All those wonderful Mortgage Backed Securities, or whatever the hell they were, that the swindler from the financial management company in Seattle had sold them, ‘Oh Ma’am, these are a great investment vee-hick-ul for conservative folks like yourself…’ She would be willing to bet the piddling amount
left in that account that Mr. Mortgage had not spent thirty years buying the cheap thin toilet paper or putting his quarters in a coffee can to be counted and rolled and brought to the bank at the end of the year. Even thinking about it made Iris’ blood pressure rise. Not that this was a problem, nothing wrong with her blood pressure, ticker in perfect order, body still lean and surprisingly strong. Iris’ doctor said she’d live forever, and she probably would. Frank might, too, just get deafer and deafer and keep plugging away at those stupid birdhouses of his until they had both long outlived their savings and any joy left to be had in this world. She fixed a sandwich for Frank and left it on the table. She could hear the low hum of the sander coming from his workshop. From the living room, with Frank’s spotting scope she watched Rachel and Jonathon coming back up from the beach. Even at this distance the powerful Zeiss optics picked out every detail of their fashionable jeans and new rubber boots as they approached the road. Picking up a basket from the front hall she went out just as they reached the foot of the drive. “Yoo-hoo,” she called and waved to them as they came up the drive. How ridiculous, she thought to herself, whoever says ‘yoo-hoo’ in real life? “I am off to go picking mushrooms,” she continued, “would you like to come? It’s a wonderful way to stretch the budget.” She winced; her mother had always said it was gauche to talk about money. “We have beautiful puffballs and chanterelles, quite expensive in the stores if you can find them.” “No, thank you,” replied Rachel, smiling, “Jonathon hates mushrooms, actually.” “Ever since I was a kid,” Jonathon added, screwing up his nose. “Too slimy for me.” “None for you, then, Rachel?” Iris added hopefully. “I could just bring you back some if you’d like.” “No, thank you,” repeated Rachel, “very kind of you,” she added. Iris set off anyway, chin tucked down to her breastbone. She felt she could use a little time in the woods to think things over. -- Two weeks later, she sipped a cup of tea at the kitchen table. It was just the right temperature, the china, handed down from her grandmother, nearly transparent in the light. The hollyhocks were tall enough to nod their heads at her in perfect agreement through the window.
Frank came in, the cool morning air still clinging to him from outside. “Well,” he announced with some self-importance, “they are pulling that wreck out of the water, now. That Volvo already had seaweed growing on it. They said that the brakes must have failed entirely. It’s just a miracle those two survived.” “Those are heavy cars,” mused Iris, “I can’t imagine the splash it made going in. That driveway next door is too steep to be considered safe, really. I saw in the paper that the house is on the market again. I do hope they find a more suitable buyer.” “More suitable?” said Frank, incredulous “whom would you consider to be more suitable than that nice young couple, Iris?” “Well, an older couple would fit the neighborhood better. It’s so…disruptive, to have a young couple come in; they always want to change everything around. Next thing you know, they would have children and be putting on an extra wing and we would be living in a construction zone. God knows they seemed to have enough money without working a lick.” Frank sat down and picked up his newspaper, fanning it out in front of his face. Silence reigned for a moment. Iris returned her thoughts to the garden. She would divide the bulbs as soon as the weather turned, they had done well, despite last year’s harsh winter. Just then, Frank’s voice came from behind the newspaper, disembodied, “Don’t think I don’t know what you did.” “Don’t know what?” “I know that you worked at your father’s auto mechanic shop until you married me, that’s what I know.” “Oh, Frank, don’t be such an idiot.” Iris snapped. “How long did you think it would be before they picked up one of your ‘shipments’ off the beach? I may know my cars, but I would bet you next month’s mortgage payment that those young people would know a bale of fine Canadian marijuana when they found it. And then where would we be? Living with your sister and her cats in Bakersfield, that’s where. You just ought to thank your lucky stars that you married me.” There was no further commentary from behind the newspaper. Iris finished her tea. An elderberry bush between the houses would grow very quickly. She had an old family recipe for elderberry jelly, although you had to be careful, the stems and leaves were quite poisonous.
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POETRY Luther Allen
Untitled big sikorsky chopper hammers air all day floating new logs down the mountain to hungry growling trucks milled fresh smell and bright, lumber -bones, bundled and strapped straight headed maybe for some dink spec house still: gift, growth of wild thrust earth nailed into newly-ordered forest builds nest to hold, enfold, protect us grateful to strength of grain, resin unconsciously connected, bound to wild forest, wild roots, wild womb
#57 The Anchorage City Poems, late May 2011 witness the wind, the quaking aspen and the birch leaf, translucent lime hinting of jade too frail to shield the harsh glare from so much sun, although some would argue the point the point being almost June north of the 49th parallel cottonwood buds shedding outer husks stick to the pads of the dogâ€™s small paws & the pungent fragrance fills the house with hope for the season & instead of snow falling Kimberly Davis
find falling nests, humble bird nests woven from moose pelt and feathers lint, yarn, twigs and string, blown by the wind some might suspect.
The woman who hands you a gun Don’t think because I’m old I’m not learning anymore. No. That’s not how it goes. Right now I’m on my way, leaving town to be a carny, a barker at the tattooed lady’s tent flap or the woman who hands you a gun at the shooting gallery or hoops to toss over baby dolls. It’s got to be something I don’t have to study or practice, something I can slip right into, on-the-job training. Because I don’t have that kind of time anymore. I’m saying I’ll be an intern an apprentice – not a student. I don’t have time for that.
Jo Ann Baldinger
Winter Still Life, Portland You learn to be warmed by a fat jug of sunflowers, a mound of baby red potatoes roasting in a Pyrex pan. You forage gilded things after a day of sloppy snow, Dexter Gordon uncoiling russet. Through the tall west windows a line of Douglas fir trees filigrees the blue-gray sky. Up in Seattle, Morris Graves set those small persimmons on a dark wooden table, and the fire that still glows through their skin glories in the undertones of pine, copper, slate, and glass. The orange-berried branch, the fugitive wildflowers in their vase go on gathering light and shaking it out into the room like fine powder. None of them has anything momentous to impart. Each object bows its head, pointing past itself to fulgent ether.
“Lake Clark National Park”
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At Summer’s End
Having done what men could, they suffered what men must. - Thucydides
Tribes of salmon head back home like soldiers do, worn but stalwart, knowing their struggle is not quite over. Scarred fins and tails beat and kick at both water and air, boiling surfaces, churning up silt and pebbles, while harbor seals combat the gulls clothed in warrior white. The warfare continues in the stone-blue waters beyond Valdez: cries and wails resound among low-greying clouds as the flyers strike where nothing is safe. Still, the salmon trek onward from deep to fresh, their numbers dwindle with every skirmish. The water narrows, shallowing into an inland stream. Aerial phalanx continues to dive, aiming for top and side, the vulnerable eye. But the coastal bears wait upstream, watching from behind barriers of alder and spruce, the silent prophets of this land.
“Gran Cafe de la Parroquia”
“Fast Food is Healthy”
East Village Autumn Staring from your stark kitchen window into streetlight and barbed wire shadow, I see vacant lots, the green fields of childhood lost to urban dreams. Sophistication scorns all color as the guise of innocence: Sunday strolls, brunch hangs over champagne rooftops, while cafes hustle eggs, elegant or humble with rye toast. Coarse coffee steams in maroon ringed cups against strips of avenue sky, geometric blue in crisp weather. Yellow gingko fans and empty vials underline the soles of my city feet, cracking, as my mind’s eye wanders the streets of my future, dodging ghosts from my mother’s house that would snare me with memory.
No One To Tend The Grave Today after all these years I long to go there with my too-perfect vase of cut glass and my fresh-blooming handful of cut flowers. I picture them holding their perfection weeks and months from now telling the regulars who live nearby: See, she was here! And when, finally, they turn to dry stalks, the vase-water slimy green, still they will broadcast their message and a woman brushing the leaves from a child’s stone nearby will make an extra journey to the bin to empty my debris and hold the winking vase up to the light wondering who chooses Waterford instead of the useful green plastic she holds in her other hand and replenishes every week.
The Seventies Reminisce (For Derick)
I am the decade everyone and no one will remember. I will burst the bars of kitchen prisons smash the language into fragments that sink underground until they sprout new, unnameable trees, odd-colored plants, and lush, assertive vegetables. You will remember my cuteness: mini-skirts, mini cars, and beatles haircuts but not my massive power to legislate, to bellow rudeness, caress small children with translucent skin and piss off almost everyone every day.
“Al Fondo y a la Derecha”
I’ll be ignored by serious historians so be resolved to take good notes as the light changes from muddy gray to gold and the slamming of doors makes deep percussion— beaten wives, hungry night-cleaners, wrongly-touched girls, screaming or laughing, whirling away in my wake.
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A Visit from Annie Vent, Elder I have a list of elders and call a few but None have eaten the blackfish that school in The swampy expanse that border the town. None, but Annie. In those days we didn’t Have refrigerators. Bakes the blackfish with Moose fat on top. Catch them in weirs, big ones. She can’t walk over. I’ve over eighty, she says And it’s breakup besides. Brown puddle run Off, dog waste, the detritus freed from eight months Of winter. Her grandson Peter volunteers to Pick her up in his Polaris and she arrives in A parks and halo of thick white hair. I don’t read and write much but I’ll do my Best. We had camps then and not just for Salmon. Had to follow where the animals go But not blackfish. Those you could get Almost anytime. I ate one two years ago But it’s not the same. Wood ovens, you know, Makes everything taste better. And when we Went through the leaning times, or a baby didn’t Have milk we’d boil blackfish broth. Not like now, Not like now. We had to follow the caribou on dog Sleds. Big dogs, pullers, not runners. Fed them Dog Salmon and blackfish. It was hard, those days.
Louche Or lingcod, was once a wealthy Man. When his cousin died there Was a great potlatch and much was Given away. Fish-people grabbed The gifts & changed. The sucker Snatched some antlers and today He has bones in his head. That pike, he got a spear and his Snout grew spiky and long. Old Man Lingcod kept a knife case – his long, Slender tail. Only whitefish – He didn’t get Nothing. Too slow As everybody streamed on by.
Mickey’s Hot Springs GPS failed. No address for Mickey’s Hot Springs Nestled into the sage & Alford desert sand. Tries to camouflage itself, but given away By its tell-tale hot breath cloud in crisp, cold air. I jump the barbed-wired fence. Sight two hunters Drinking beer with glazed over crazy looks. Just shot quail, dressed and immersed two in the hot pot. Sucked inside, gurgled, pressure cooker and spit out. They finally left with their steaming cooked fowl. Stood there listening to bubbling, steaming fumaroles, Sounds whispering, gurgling through sage & juniper. Choruses of wind gust, slip-knot my hair.
Thought of Iceland & Reykjanes Peninsula, Where earth so hot you can’t touch the ground Even in winter. Steam packed by devil’s hands. Screaming demons lurking in every fissure. The Steens, Iceland the separate distant lands Common secrets. So far apart yet so close Feel the physics, heat, and raw nature working My life nearly cooked, medium well done.
The Hips of Angels We are the silent brains the cleaners-up and shooers-off, the masked the inconvenienced the butterfly-hands and -brows I have within me the crowds of passengers going into lifeboats first. I have the light of a thousand stars in evening gowns. I have the hands of an old tree, the eyes of a scavenging bird, the hips of a league of angels. Hot water does not bother me. I can hunch over for days, worrying at a stubborn spot, and when I straighten I am taller than a holy mountain. I have more layers than a tell, more secrets than a saint, more fears than any millionaire, and I am not alone. Never alone, for while I scrub, I sing, and half the world sings with me.
“Horseshoe Canyon, Utah”
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“Kodiak Trees Grow on Rock”
Shady Lane Trail, Olympic National Park It’s not just the tallness of the trees though they go up and up until one feels the strain in the muscles of the back of the neck It’s not just the number of the ferns though they throng down boulevards of shade
One does not have to stray far from the trail here to become desperately lost A stillness has been brewing in this place over many many years steeped in trunks as thick as cadillacs and moss as long as women’s hair
It’s the tangle of it all The power and the rot wrapped up like wrestlers in one another’s limbs The rolls of earth high as ocean waves And fallen logs snapped in two by the slow twitch of decades of decay The bulbous warts growing from the titan shins of the old growth firs And leaves of devil’s club broad as human chests with rows upon rows of barbs eager to descend it seems to rip you open
Quickly the mind becomes hushed like a thing that is being watched I marvel at the courage of the little birds for I am much larger than them and I am scared A place like this without a flinch can swallow up a man whole And one can never be quite sure what will come out the other side
Fawn R. Caparas
A Bedroom In Arles
In the wide open spaces of leaving graffitied, empty room, instead of reaching to that last held finger,
I. Outside, Inside
I must take back the weight of my heart —wrap it—box it with the trivial events and accidents of our being together. I will not miss the room, always cluttered —vomit dishes— but I may yet miss the comfort of boundaries. Turn and hit the wall, turn and hit the wall, turn and hit—the floor now naked like sand is naked. Swept. No tiles to crawl upon —no lines, no cracks— the air removes the best of me, all but that which has become the stone.
Outside the stars are whirling. Sunflowers mindlessly follow the sun. Iris tremble. Mistral torments wheat fields. Countless poor suffer like hapless beetles harnessed to threads. Investment trumps kindness. An oppressive stench of fried onions oozes under the door to the stairs. His disreputable straw hat begins to dance a peasant jig beneath his easel so that dust threatens the wet oils. And his itching right ear complains in the plummy tones of a British collector he has once insulted. Inside, the walls are pale violet. The two doors lilac. The comforter reflects the warm red of the floor tiles. Everything is ordered, calm-the window closed against critics and the clink of guilders. Nothing moans, faints, falls. II. Words, Words Rising to paint in morning light leaves time later for writing. 800 letters. The walls are pale violet. The comforter is red, the beard is red, the hair is butter yellow. Mother must know he is eating well. Theo and Paul must hear what is in his head-how his pulse races at each blank canvas, each sketch. He must get down the noisy crows, the sheep grazing the banks of the Rhone.
Christina Anne Barber
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
The Fortymile Your damn northern adventures have staked their claim for yet another summer. Rie and I celebrate little moments: sprinkler use in a rainforest, brown bear at Starrigavan Estuary, early blueberries. Too young to count the days, Rie names you and boats and ravens. Somewhere in there is her own explanation of your absence. I try telling her stories of your past life as a cartographer, but this makes little sense to a toddler. We greet the few ferries to the island. Eventually one will carry you home.
Christina Anne Barber
Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach
Late 1940s Photograph Spark after spark, burned now, in the place she might have last held it and stained with years of being moved from a beloved’s album to someone’s attic
to the thrift shop bin, where the char line creeps up and into the photo’s left side so one can barely make out his face, his eyes under the sailor’s cap squinting at the sun, or flames, though it is not for a stranger to tell why or how he left this last look behind. On the matte page, his arms cling to his sides, and his legs, tensely, to each other, as though months after the war has ended, he is holding on to a soldier’s stance. The boat beside him is too small, sinking under the weight of his approaching. Did she notice? Ask him to stay? Perhaps she wrote him, sent letters to coastal cafés and Bangkok
pleasure houses, not pictured here, or sealed scribbled sheets in wine bottles, tossed them into the ocean, and maybe she still does— Or is that her, holding the flitting image by its scorched edge, sea-gusts ripping at them both? Is there a lit match put out by the wind seconds after the first spark? Maybe she’s still trying to remember how sun spun off the waves and through him then. Spark after spark, the discolored page is turning to look more like a shot down seagull fighting to rise back up into the heavy air. After fire flickers and goes out, all that remains is this sepia toned dock, clearer on paper than the day his boots rocked wood against still water, though she might still go there, find herself searching for his outline, or maybe, trying to capture the way all faces look the same before they fade behind sea smoke.
Ella Fukushima Because my granddaughter was born I bought a Geiger counter. I ordered it the week she came home from the hospital. I take it outdoors when it rains and listen to it chirp like a hungry, newborn bird. I bring it back inside, and lay it down gently, hoping it will sleep through the night. Hoping baby Ella will be safe here, with a roof and walls around her, radiation-free, wrapped in my arms.
Sure, You Should Try That I used to write the type of poetry that focused on metaphors. Once I compared the way a woman I loved made me wait and wait like the choir In Beethoven’s 9th, because that’s what the choir does. They wait and wait and wait for the conductor, which in many cases is a crazy man with white hair who waves his arms to make sounds with a wand, to tell people in robes to sing, but my love didn’t get it. Perhaps nobody listens to Beethoven, or nobody uses metaphors. It was probably just her, but she still gets me down. The one person who needs to read, does not understand, and I’m sure Beethoven felt the same way.
Linda Infante Lyons
Susan J. Erickson
Winter Solstice in the Skagit Flats When the sky is stitched with rain, When the wind smells of mud and eelgrass, And light hangs like dingy laundry Over this field’s rumpled folds, Then rough-legged hawk Is with us, come from some far place— Boreal forest or arctic tundra—to perch In that sapling just turned tree Where it preens ruffled gaiters, Where it shakes the wet cape of its wings, And rises to seize What remains of this day.
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
Molly Lou Freeman
Remind Me of What I Love Six oranges on a plate in late winter sunshine in the kitchen & on the teacup, the Japanese geisha girl the baby boy calls “snow white,” pancakes, guitar music, our sneakers lined up, these daily things remind me— & when you kiss me like that after groceries & when you wake me like a gentle beast & make love to me quickly between mighty sleep in night’s immensity. Sea spray rises in a high, white ruffle evaporating into nothing but the sky. As for certainty, I know there is no reason, there are no givens, I mean nature’s not waiting for the next beautiful or lethal thing to happen. And yet the horses call out when we pull up the road at nightfall and stand in darkness listening.
Untitled Hard to believe how many poets were on the land here then
Apprentices were each assigned a pencil to sharp en Kimberly Davis
At The Party Poetess in the burgundy slip dress, hair tied up in a tousled knot cowboy boots, guitar, singing a sad, sad song—3 a.m.—her lover in the kitchen, his body pressed up against another woman. Hard liquor is passed around. A medicinal concoction herbal remedy of some sort for that sad, sad song and the poetess the strap of her dress resting on her arm. Such beautiful shoulders.
John Phillip Santos: Cosmic Green Card All the old gods, he said, will finally come to America, get their green cards, labor in the fields of All-Souls, picking men and women like vegetables; sweat the poisoned waters of our times sleep in shabby, transient houses; stepped pyramids, rainbow bridges, forgotten, or so lost as to be forgotten. See the old gods-Thor and Quetzalcoatl bending under crates of lettuce, learning Spanglish, throwing gang signs in the barrio. Best believe they will dare to remember their knowledge. Beware the power as it returns to their minds. One day, light refracting from a wet celery stalk, a glowing peach, the bloody heart of a strawberry, will catch their eye and they will remember the way of knowing; they will grasp much more than we wish them to recall.
Christina Anne Barber
In that moment tectonic plates will fly apart and skeletons will snap together. (Inspired by an article about John Phillip Santos, the first Mexican American Rhodes Scholar, author of Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation, Penguin Books, 2000)
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
Autumn on the Aegean
We don’t know we’re all sailors out of work… --George Seferis
One thing Greece still does well is ferries. Aboard the Knossos Palace on the night crossing from Crete I ponder the archeologically incoherent icon of Minoan Lines looming above us: the Lily Prince pieced together from three different frescoes, two men’s arms, a woman’s headdress. Over the last few days I’d flashed my teacher I.D. card to get in free at Knossos, Phaistos, Gortyna, Malia, all the museums, feeling rich as Croesus and grateful to the whole Greek nation. In Hania they gave us a shopping day and one student bought an anthology of five Greek poets. Using traveling light as my excuse for cheapness, I borrowed her copy. Seferis was the one who swept me up, and the poems that put me back in his world all invoked ships and the sea. Every time we make the slow zig-zag out of Piraeus I stand at the railing staring--not back at the Acropolis but out at all the other ships: the fleet of freighters scattered in the Gulf, fantasy yachts, fishing boats, tugs, long strings of tiny racing sails, and most of all the ferries, fast on their hydrofoil feet or towering like buildings on water. Back in Athens we’re told that tomorrow, the Seventeenth of November, would be a good day for Americans to stay home, read poetry, and maybe think back over the four millennia and more these shores have been stricken by trade and war.
Gijon Beyond the beach full of delirious dogs the sharp blue sea sweeps in on steep winter waves. Women in furs and their daughters in short skirts promenade along the sea wall, laughing at the dogs’ antics. The tide is well out, but must be turning. The sea will go to green, the hills gray, the sky between, in a storm that can just be seen offshore. Here and there in this town of fishermen and coal miners red handbills proclaim a general strike. There is no date on them. They might have been here since the Romans abandoned this distant outpost to the bland bureaucrats of the latest imperium.
Night Rain The sun has set. I am Southbound on 99, slowing to fifty through the fog then resume my pace. Window wound down, wet tires sing their shower song. The storm moves south, I am still behind the lightning in the sky above the city I cannot see. Linda Infante Lyons
Robin Hiersche and Gordon Chew
in such a silent place Shadows grow longer, light fades away into the temperate night of the Tongass. The slightest bird song is a symphony. Every shadow cast by branch and leaf is a piece of night. The bear sleeps alone in the grass, dreaming of a deeper sleep than he can know now in the increasing light. The fish return to their deepest home--the salt water they have never known.
I could hear you, call you with one hand free; I’d rather hold the wheel not disrupt the balance of this ballet pull into our drive arrive just on time to share the sheets beside the window open to the night rain that falls beside our house. The drops that patter between each flash down the gutters across the glass of the skylight in the hall. I have slept with you before, in the rain beside the creek, beneath your roof but can never remember it all, not every drop, nor flash of light, nor rumble in the sky; a finite number in each lifetime. The fleeting storm begins to wane, and dwindles just beyond our grasp each privileged moment we remain.
We wait, beneath the alder, spruce and hemlock for darkness to fall. Here in this place the year’s shortest night might take a while. “Astoria Bridge”
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
i never know how to respond when my brother sends me poetry about his suicidal fantasies or killing his wife and her lover and yeah yeah yeah i get the part about the raw power of poetry written from the edge of your darkest nightmare and/or the healing function of exorcising your demons by pulling them out into the light of day and exposing them for the half-blind assholes they usually are.
long before his kids get a chance to find it stuffed in a drawer somewhere, like a loaded gun pointed at their chances for happiness and hope in life or love. long before my brother dies of natural causes sometime in his late eighties and wondering if i should call 9-1-1.
and i know of course that itâ€™s time to call or write my brother and have a good talk about life. find something in it that makes us both laugh about the absurdities inherent in staying alive when it hurts so much that all you really want to do is go to sleep and not wake up to this shit. again. tomorrow. but as far as poetry goes... i just donâ€™t know. iâ€™m always torn between hoping he gathers up all this bile and burns it in a great ceremonial pyre of letting go and living on
Piece Of Work I didn’t want to believe you when you told me you were a piece of work, and that maybe we’d be better off as friends and a little less dangerous perhaps than diving in and giving in to passions we were both feeling, locking lips and losing track and talking softly into all hours and me starting to get just a little too comfortable with just how well we were getting on. I didn’t want to believe you, knowing people, and the way they will, giving themselves grief over all kinds of nonsense, and things their parents told them and old ideas they have of themselves about what they could or couldn’t pull off in life and checking for flaws in the bathroom mirror and never really knowing they were beautiful. I said, ‘No, no, you’re a sweet woman, warm and funny and pleasant to the touch and all my friends seem to like you and funny how you wouldn’t know and smarter than you think you are and so easy to be with, good company, over all, and why don’t we just relax a bit and take our time and see what happens.’
And that seemed to help and we were locking lips again and we were giving in and I was getting comfortable and I started writing love poems and before we knew it you were moving into my life and that was nice. But that was before you started running up the phone bill and flirting with my friends and throwing the keys to my apartment in the sink. Before the incident with the bouncer and that big burly guy who said you owed him money and you got that panicky look in your eye and I started to wonder if maybe you weren’t just as crazy as you said you were. That was before you ran off that night with the guy you met at the pizza parlor and gave all my clothes away to the drunks on the street. Before you cleaned out my bank account and faxed my pay stubs to the IRS and tried to run me over with your truck. That was before the letter bombs.
Constance Weissinger Tucker
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
Looking Across at the Sun Walking the latitudes of winter, Looking across at the sun.
Long shadows –black spruce– –paper birch– reach through the snow to the longest night.
The bonfire is lit. Imperfect alignment keeps us moving.
The bottom of the winter, cup of the curve, and the long dark shadow of the earth is reaching through the deeper dark of space to drift, smokelike, across the face of the moon. Everywhere a passing through, an intersection of orbit, a swinging near –as in a dance– and then away. Everywhere circles and shadows.
How We Move The Boat Our first time in a kayak, first time married and in the same boat, and I am in the back, so I see the way she dips the paddle, learn her rhythm, how deep she digs, when she breaks pace, stroking more than once on a side, and I realize how easily I join in her motion, how comfortable we are, and how rapidly we move along, fitting perfectly together, on this small adventure through a great new place, gliding down the river on a current which has carried us this far, and which feels like the god who might own this river, this boat, our lives.
Christina Anne Barber
“Full Moon at Bishop’s Beach”
As If Anything Might Make a Difference I. Ptarmigan turning white by the side of the road Behind me, a woman in line at the coffeeshop says to a man she is bored. Bored with her work. She studies fissures, she says, in the Brooks Range, teaches a geology course for beginners. How is it, I wonder, my back turned to them, that anything in the Brooks Range can be made boring? Rocks that I’ve found there are purple, pink, green with red nodules, clear quartz, slippery silver, black with white stripes. “Cracks,” she says. “Fissures.” “And what do we hope to learn from fissures?” the man asks. “Oh, you know,” she says. “For development purposes. Oil and gas exploration, for one.” Just now I have glimpsed the small blackboard beyond the glass cases filled with delectables: cherry almond and orange scones, cookies with white chocolate chips,
frosted cinnamon rolls with and without raisins, pre-cut triangles of quiche and triple fudge cake generously swathed in the ancient energy of saran. The day is new, 8:15, and already I have been made serene by yoga class, on this, my one free day for wordsmithing, for seeking to penetrate rocks. The blackboard is small and chalked in yellow, as if by a child. Some of the letters are capitalized (the wrong ones) and others are not. “we Needed a coMMon eNeMy To uNiTe us.” coNdoleeza rice I chuckle— in spite of the reference to terrorism—and the man ahead of me notices. He chuckles, too. Ironic, I’m thinking, who has been united against whom. How much of all this is for supremacy? How much is for oil? And what
does it mean to need an enemy? Behind the delectables, a cashier with pixie hair smiles and the line moves slowly. Do I deserve this cinnamon roll? This I have mulled on the walk from the gym to my car. Can I afford the $2.75? And wouldn’t it be more healthy to eat Cheerios, raisins, and milk after yoga today, as on other days? But no. I want a reward for my work this long week. My guess is the woman in line behind me earns good money and will stay with her job for years. I am trying not to feel envious. I turn for a glimpse of her face. Chalk white. Her chin undefined, cheeks thick, short black eyelashes so near there’s no chance to notice more. She looks to be younger than I, though not much.
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 II. Ode to feet and fin
And the man behind her, quite young. Thirties, perhaps? Glasses, slick forehead, yellowish shirt, tan jacket with tie. I catch myself quizzing the tie, then turn—
The Arctic Ocean, where icebergs can be as tall as apartment buildings, is prone to hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, sea ice up to 25 feet thick, sub-zero temperatures, and monthslong darkness. There is no proven way to clean up an oil spill in these extreme conditions. —Cindy Shogan, Executive Director Alaska Wilderness League, September 2012
“I’d like a cinnamon roll with raisins, please. And could you put it in a sack?”
I am glad for my health and this raisiny cinnamon roll, which feels warm through the clear plastic box. I will carry it home to my cabin to eat on a plate, sitting down,
“A cinnamon roll with raisins, yes. And what did you say?” asks the young woman behind the coffeeshop counter. A freshman at UAF, perhaps. “Sorry,” she adds. “It’s noisy back here.”
throw away the hard, NOISY box (no recycling of plastic in Fairbanks), and resolve next time—if there is one— to ask, instead, for a small paper sack. As if anything might make a difference.
“Please, put it in a sack.” She picks up the tongs for delectables and detaches one for me. Behind her, the blackboard: blank today.
Driving home on this chilly October morning there, by the side of the road, a keystone: one brown ptarmigan turning white pecking leaves fluttering
Somewhere beyond the glass case, where I cannot see, the fat cinnamon roll slides into a brown paper sack. When I give the young woman my money, though, I realize I’ve said it all wrong. The sticky bun: imprisoned, once more, in a LOUD plastic box. Only this time, the bun has been doubly protected, at my request, with transparent ancient energy and the jacket of a tree!
O Condoleezza, hear my laughter at the snags along this journey. Swimming through alders, mucking through marsh, some of the people are choosing to walk toward freedom, Condoleezza, freedom and survival— for land and people polar bears and ptarmigan caribou and wolves musk ox and snowy owls rivers and sea bluffs wildflowers, pollen, flies, bird nests silence and song bowhead whales, ice seals lion’s mare jellyfish planktonic copepods polar krill— for ecosystems in their entirety, Mr. President without off-shore oil rigs in the Arctic Ocean without drill pads ice roads airstrips gravel pits helicopters mess halls noise
African-American. Daughter of two educators. Moved to Denver as a teenager, when her father accepted a job there. Earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Denver (1974), M.A. from the University of Notre Dame (1975), Ph.D. from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver (1981). Fellow at Stanford University’s Center of International Security and Arms Control; became professor of political science at Stanford, 1981. Served President George Bush, Sr., as director and senior director of Soviet and East European Affairs, National Security Council, 198991. First female and first non-white provost of Stanford, 1993-99. National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, 2001-2005, during the September 11 attacks on the U.S. by Al-Qaida, the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. U.S. Secretary of State, 2005-09. Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Has been awarded ten honorary doctorates. Currently Professor of Political Science and Professor of Political Economy at Stanford. Barack Obama Born August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. African-American. Mother from Kansas, father from Kenya. Parents divorced, 1964. Lived in Indonesia from age six to ten with mother and Indonesian stepfather; graduated from Punahou School, a private college preparatory school in Honolulu, 1979. Attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, 1979-81; earned a B.A. in political science from Columbia University (1983). Worked as community organizer on Chicago’s South Side, 1985-88. Earned J.D. from Harvard Law School (1991). Married Michelle Robinson, 1992. Father of two daughters, Malia Ann (b. 1998) and Natasha (“Sasha,” b. 2001). Worked as civil rights attorney and taught constitutional law at University of Chicago Law School, 1992-2004. Served three terms in the Illinois Senate, 19972004. Served as U.S. Senator from Illinois, 2005-2008. Elected 44th President of the United States, 2008. First African-American to hold that office. Awarded Nobel Peace Prize, 2009. Ended U.S. military involvement in Iraq War, 2010. Ordered the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, 2011. First sitting U.S. president to publicly support the legalization of same-sex marriage, 2012.
cacophony without footprints made by more and more and more and more than feet and fin Notes: UAF
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Condoleezza Rice Born November 14, 1954, in segregated Birmingham, Alabama.
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
The Antelope In The Snow The red truck by the barn, the rust on its fenders. Ice crystals grew there like forgotten cities, the windshield a star where a face found itself shining. Close your eyes. There are only the old answers. The antelope calf lay curled in snow, his black hooves crossed. His head blunt as the axe my father used to break dry willow. There are hearts that give off heat days after they stop beating. A scuff of snow where he stumbled in the cold. The north held me long before it let me go. There are these fragments. In the wind, the red truck by the barn whose walls were trying to lie down. There is a great fear in the world. Jesus, sweet Jesus, I know you’re not coming back. My mother told me there are children so fragile they exist only as angels. I swear it upon her eyes, those dark knots of blue.
At Sixes and Sevens —Invocation, New Year’s Eve concert, “Awesome!” The Band, The Rendezvous, Seattle, WA, December 31, 2008
When our fair city was covered in the snow I waited shivering down at Third and Pine For a bus to locomote me home, where pines Looked upside down under burden of all that snow. A Number Seven bus pulled up, enlarged In whiteness—then another, then another; Three Sevens disgorging one behind the other, A craps player’s earthly paradise writ large In neon over spinning wheels. The lead Bus, as always happens, was packed full; The second, right behind—a modest handful; The empty third’s redundancy, as lead. If I am not mistaken, and as you May know, the Number Seven’s route, years past— Long years before like a kidney stone it passed Its northern jaunt up the Hill and to the U. (In hopes of being on time!), squaring itself For duty as the Forty-Nine—was called The Number Six, not Seven. As I recalled This, gaping at three Sevens, I told myself That someone years ago in this much snow Must have pinched himself and cleaned his spectacles Confronted with the unholy spectacle Of three Route Six buses appearing in that snow— Six Six Six disgorging there before him. And surely then as just the other day Not one soul boarded them, and the Six’s days, As are this year’s, were numbered. So, a hymn: Of words to number days with; of warm hands Clasped and glasses raised; of sixes and sevens —For when we say that we’re “at sixes and sevens” We’re saying, “This can’t be solved”; throw up our hands
And move on to the next one. Well, come midnight The clocks will join us throwing up their hands; We’ll all move on together. Now put your hands Together for these seven men: tonight Is theirs; may the coming year be yours; be fulsome In all its change and challenges; be handsome As a blanket of virgin snowfall (though less irksome); May it for heaven’s sake be only solved some Two and fifty weeks from now in noisesome Amity like this; may it be winsome As your first lover’s second smile and blithesome As your second lover’s first and frolicsome As either at their sweaty best and then some: May it be, remain, and now begin with…”AWESOME!”
Circumbinary Life could exist on a circumbinary planet, Dr. Welsh said. --NY Times, 1/11/12
Two suns, one world. The deep-space probes agree. 5400 light-years from our own monogamous planet, the revolution doubles. Try it: choose any two memories and toss the one less pleasing. Say something different to your boss the second time--a compliment on her hair, an offer to grab coffee, a little white lie--safeguard your job for another pair of days. Pick a messier outfit, a sexier car. Shrug away responsible, predictable. Pull out all the stops, go naked, go apeshit, torch the lawn and flood your house and then voilà: happy family on the sofa, no harm done. Automatic cosmic do-over. Every yesterday a tomorrow. Such wiggle-room in now, you’ll never worry about then.
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
More Moon Moon! calls the baby, more moon! Awake with language tonight, she finds moons rising ubiquitous-streetlamps, porchlights, storefronts. The sidewalk a galaxy, the whole city stippled with silver, with toys and spoons dropped again and again to see if gravity sticks. Down our late path, she cries moon, moon, moon! and each time the meaning turns new: how small I am, how large the night pearl upon pearl in my satchel of words as you wane to nothing, I learn to be Someday she will know light from light-for now, let her world shimmer. I lull her to sleep, and then myself, whispering moon, moon: as I wane to nothing, you learn to be how lush-spun the velvet on valley and field trail of gems, brightly tipped and dreaming
Baby’s Heartbeat To hear our baby, we go to a room full of pictures of women’s internal organs. They look like a color-coded salad: a seedless red uterus sidled up to curly parsley, but the parsley ran away with the vagina. Then the doctor came out from behind a giant Asian cabbage and started the fetal heart monitor. To see our baby, we consult a bearded wizard. The ultrasound is a box powered by tiny bearded men who make little boys beat down on glass anvils with tiny glass hammers. And when our baby is born, immaculate specialists! at Providence Hospital! will teach us how to kiss him. The unborn child lives in the world. But the closer we get to him, the less real it seems: that a small person shines in the darkness that he feels and hears us. That in a couple of years he will tell us how he feels about all this.
During Baby After As the hermit crab grows in size, it has to find a larger shell and abandon the previous one. —Wikipedia
The baby’s asleep, no longer lit by her, but by a night light in the shape of a turtle. In a separate world, the turtle projects stars. Does the child know she loves him? Does she know she loves him? A ray stretches lazily, bluely, across the dresser. A starved star, strayed. She nods in rhythm, holding out for our heartbeat, like in the labor unit. May she forget, fog up our animal mind.
You made a baby, she mutely says. you should be pleased,
Christina Anne Barber
a vast part of you lost.
Walking Home from the Bookstore
Cast-iron clouds circle the city like a ring of hooded monks staring intently at Sunday streets. Their smoky robes obscure the tops of the front range and the Inlet’s remorseless tides. Warm winds roughhouse with birch boughs, thick-needled spruce, slamming branches against trunks with huge whuffs. At mid-afternoon, the air turns dusky silver, like the magnetic moment when time pauses before dark. The universe reminds us again – we cannot negotiate.
The New Deck begins with talk over suppers on the old one. Cramped space, flowers lean over our shoulders and contribute all their worth to summer’s exchange about the world, the old one, its problems, the weather, and what’s going to happen with that. We want more sprawl, more friends, solid planks, 2 x 8 fir stringers on 16 inch centers, railings of cedar, more red tulips, lobelia blue, some height, a wrap around the corner of the house for evening sun on salads, more wine, and a rounder table for expansive views. Carpenter and apprentice, John and Matt come with Glacier, their little spirit dog. A rough sketch, we talk it, we walk it. A goshawk lands in a snag, watching. We stop. It glides away to Ecuador, finch by finch in raptor heaven. “You’ll have to trust me on this,” John says, “We’ll make it nice.” We shake on it. Now come tools, table saw on wheels, hammers, tarps and levels, nailguns and pencils, compressor and cords, a campstove for lunches by the garden under high cranes croaking south and birch gone golden. Now come boards. The floor is something new recycled from plastic trash and tough as friends, I like to think, scuffed by history, strengthened by use, who come for supper-tough as winter moose who dine on birch that feeds the womb that makes twin calves butt and buck in the yard in June. Original Africans, we’re told, we, too, come from strong beginnings. Even trees’ cotyledons branch and branch. John aims an eye down a cap rail, straight but interesting with knots. We bring coffee to let him know we trust this work in fall’s frost and gusty rain threatening snow, and to get on with it.
Coccyx Rear leg bones in whales, front legs in snakes-hidden, here comes the past along for the ride. Mother brushed burrs from my pants and wiped dirt from my cherry cheeks so elders would take no notice. We side-stepped to our seats in the pew, not a sign of the fight-or-flight fit I threw before church. The burning towers fell, now travelers slouch through worthless screening trading shame as proof we’re safe. ID-ed, scanned, or groped for bombs tweezers, or lotion, we swim more or less smoothly through theaters of fear. Low among the leaves, we breed and self select to slither who used to run. Anthologies of bones we sit on, appendices of useless guts, to climb and swing for man we hiss and scribble sonnets.
Linda Infante Lyons
August Afternoon Driving East At the Wild Horse site in central Washington I find thousands of acres of sagebrush and one hundred forty-nine wind turbines the height of the Statue of Liberty plus fifty or so feet. Think of a football field stood on end, including the end zones. But no wild horses. Temperature pops to ninety-nine as I drop into the gorge at Vantage, passing up the Golden Harvest Restaurant where no wild horses appear to hang out these days. At the Ryegrass Summit rest area I read about the lava flow fifteen million years ago, maybe eighteen, and I pause to think of how geologists think of time. Back then there were no wild horses here, just like now. Who named the town Othello? Someone, maybe, who understood the pain of jealousy. The mighty Columbia waters good stands of sweet corn that belong in Iowa. Driving over basalt layers I think of neither wild horses nor lava, but of nearly golden wheat stubble. Watching potatoes and mint make their mark on the land, I’m startled by a large field of sunflowers that must belong in Minnesota or the Dakotas, seemingly blossoming just to please the local bees. Vineyards, apple orchards, overpriced gas at Royal City, a slow Cenex truck turns off at the packing houses.
But no wild horses, no wild horses. For dinner I’ve got this bag of potato chips and a bottle of tepid beer. About now, two hundred miles over my shoulder, you must be sipping wine with your new friend.
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Opening Day Black spruce boughs droop in autumn’s constant rains. For a space, the only sound has been the drip and splatter of water on the forest floor – but something stirs in the clearing just beyond the fallen tree I hide behind. Letting impulse lift me slower than the rising arc of watery sun, I see a young bull moose grazing alders, his one-prong antler pronouncing him fair game. The wind will not betray me. Though my heart beats high, if I’m still, I am invisible to him – but I remember what I’ve been told: Do not look too hard at him. Practicality mocks such caution. Unmoving, the cold rifle barrel is smooth, lethal beneath chilled fingers . Your desirous gaze has weight that he can feel like fingers on his neck, fiddling the short stiff hairs of his mane. My hand closes around the rifle stock, and the young bull snorts, tossing his head – he begins that slow fade that ends abruptly with his vanishing, as if he’d been a waking dream. What moved between us, that he should know intent to harm mixed with the awed stammer of the hunter’s heart?
--with thanks to John Schandelmeier, Anchorage Daily News, 13 September 2012
“On Out the Trail”
Homeless In Seattle Slouched in front of Bartell Drugs, resting her chin on a man-sized crutch, hat pulled down, she dozes where yesterday standing tall, she laughed and razzed the passersby, living on that tattered edge you walk past fast fists in pockets, cross the road to where he sits legs stretching out in sandaled feet and skews your path under the painted yellow arch asking “the price of a Mac in change” who yesterday you saw slip behind that bush to pee. And this unnerving youth with hair as long as yours, a glint of jagged teeth, who comes at you arms wide, hands crooked and fingers pointing down-- “Get down!” he yells (you circle round),
From Thoreau’s journal, August 30, 1856
“What the fuck you doin’? Fuck!”-living solo at the invalids’ hotel, hot flashes, no libido, diarrhea,
Though he “foresaw a lame conclusion” to his walk, he notes that plans you have low expectations for often surprise you,
sleeping not so well (rude facts that overrun your fate) each day for the allotted spell you lie
since intuition, like the vibrant whir of news on a hummingbird’s wing, may veer beyond the commonplace—as at the modest shack
beneath a plastic artifice of sky whose faded summer lake-side blue you gaze at drifting in and out of time
he’d built beside the not-yet-famous pond just a short stroll down the Fitchburg track from home. So putting his practical worries
while the clattering machine slings its life-affirming rays that take your raging prostate tumors down.
to one side, he departs his usual sphere, crosses Great Field to Beck Stow’s swamp, where, to his delight, large clusters of cranberries raft like red foam on the sphagnous flood, removes his shoes and socks and wades into mud.
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Ball Scores Move On After ten days in Prague, Budapest, and Krakow, I miss the April ball scores: the implications of five to four; six to one, and eight to nothing; the 162 game season; saving the bullpen; how Baltimore hangs on a chop. Oh, the designated hitter! The south paw!
I would love a close play at third, a cold rain delay of a spring game, even freezing ropes in the gaps or corners, where to buy even a scratch hit, but I donâ€™t conjure the old players or lend my ear to Vin Scullyâ€™s call. Separation enlarges into loss; teams transact with young strangers; owners learn cold lessons of their ignorant breed. Heralded retirees quickly reside in bronze, glimpsed, lovingly rubbed.
bus its you and me again marshmallow pie and worn out knees the red dregs of celebration where our broken bottle stained paper hearts remember what could have been as if we were tourists on a bus you and me a bus going over a cliff in the andes down into a green canyon headlights first as comical lizards and blase pumas watch the tumbling flash of our bus get swallowed by that timeless green landscape
and on the way down in that slow motion that truly does occur when people trapped inside hollow metal objects hurl through space the carnival colored fruit floats weightlessly chicken cluck stoic derby-hatted woman hold their babies close as the fat sweaty bus driver loses his captainâ€™s hat and makes the sign of the cross itâ€™s inside that last moment when the laws of gravity lock cheek to cheek with the laws of motion where we embrace you and me twins clutched within the womb of death holding tight to our fundamental need to experience one last plunge the summation of all things coming into focus and the very last thing i see before we cut to black is you from my doorway biting into the apple i gave you as you left my house that first morning your smile as you turn away watching me watch you walk toward your car feeling the fall of a bus i might have missed
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Russ, in the Dark Garden It is convenient to have a neighbor who is an astronomer. You can ask him what it is you see in the sky, not having to bother with books or almanacs. He tells you how the mother raccoon washes her babies, one by one, in the bird bath at four in the morning. You can sleep till dawn because he is watching for you. Also, he keeps track of the spirits in our adjoining gardens, a way station, he says, but you don’t have to worry about the afterlife because he is there as a traffic cop, a kind one, telling the displaced to move on. You can sleep. Is it Mars or Jupiter? Is it Harry, our deceased friend, who keeps making strange things happen, like breaking the glass at the party? Russ will explain and take care of it. You can sleep, and when you wake and go out, everything will look as it always has: at rest
Notes from the UmiakMaker, Kamchatka In churches, Sergei said, bell ropes are made from baby walrus skin; and umiaks only from female walrus skin split and oiled with whale oil. An umiak can be a drum as well as hunting vessel. Listen to it now, beating out its call as church bells ring, the sea filling with cries.
“On the Surface”
Balancing Act The awkward choreography of my father’s pirouette on the slick bathroom floor brought no applause, no encore. Hours later the ER doctor read the litany of injuries: broken vertebrae, cracked ribs bruised face . . . A week of intensive care, surgery and then the nursing home. I find him tangled in bed sheets, he has lost twenty-five pounds and speaks in a whisper— All the way from Alaska to see an old man. I want to deliver him home, repay a lifetime of kindness. I pull a pair of clean socks over his swollen feet sit down by the bed read the sports page aloud watch him watching me as I try to balance life’s delicate scale.
To Alzheimer’s You slipped into the house late one night an uninvited relative from some dark country stopping by for the weekend never intending to leave.
You turned mean, became the bully taunted her at every turn made her afraid to leave the house afraid she would not find her way back
You took a liking to my mother played childish pranks put her purse in the freezer the car keys in the oven.
not find the trail of crumbs crumbs that fell from her trembling fork filled her lap, covered the floor but could not disguise her shame.
It was all good, clean fun but you soon tired of trivial things stepped up your game whispered confusing words
Each day you taught her new ways to forget the few things she still possessed: commands to bladder and bowels life’s simplest dignities.
twisted names, dates, places until she became unsure, unsteady unwilling to answer even those she most trusted.
When you had finished your work teased out my mother’s last troubled breath you slipped away in the night as you had come those ten years before.
“Man with a Hat”
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Choppy Water Impulsive trip to suture life, you seek Fishtown, 70s art colony, decade-long experiment in bog, cattail-squatting by painters, poets, everybody high in marsh-bound shacks,
clacking out front in the breeze. Twin Jaguars idle in the driveway, purr dual temptations -- beeline it south, to Seattle, seek soggy culture, go to a gallery, take in a chic show.
inspiration delivered twice a day by Puget Sound tide. Hitch from I-5, slump colorless in a truck of tulips, hop down outside this quaint town. It’s been a long year of deaths --
Sun begins to squat on the horizon, retreat hinting the answer is flight -leave Robbins, LaConner, behind, abandon silly Fishtown quests, let good life etched in gray go.
relationship, neighbor, friends -only not yours, not yet. LaConner may be a good start, point you toward Fishtown remains, provide new direction, maybe north
Find your own way, steal a black boat, without holes, paddle northwest in choppy water, make for Hope Island. You’ll sleep without any tonight, dream it alive at first light.
by redemption. You walk past stacked art, pallets of it casting long shadows over First Street, Swinomish Channel and the gray Sound. Two wrong turns put you face to face with a church where one Methodist sits cross-legged, peers across at Tom Robbins’ place, prays in broken English for a sighting, like you hopes for hope. Her gaze says you may be saved by chance if you bring yourself to believe poetic fever constitutes fine art, salt water tastes like good river, eccentricity cortizones the soul. She invites you in, whispers low Robbins never took to Fishtown, ignored claim -- deliberate simplicity -tromped trails there only in sun. His house here defies the color wheel, mocks seclusion with plastic palm tree
For R.H. his hands were stained magenta like the signature of blackberries picked from the tailgate of dad’s green ford how I long to hold them in the depths of my mouth as I did those berries long ago on a Seattle afternoon reaching in through the thorns finding fruit the size of fingers
52 Faces of Mountainview --For Erin Pollock and Steph Kese
Late some winter night, you roll up Mountain View Drive north from the Glenn Highway. In the rearview: cold car-lot Anchorage, legless lowland condos, flat-roofed bog fillers long ago trampled by King Kong, finished off by Godzilla. At Commercial Drive you stop for the light. Mind sluggish with chill idles low. Eyes corkscrew through the barrel of night, frosty lookers slow as time. Then your head jerks hard right. Tight by the road, a sun-yellow glow grabs your sight. What a fright! Glaring from the tiny park, staring at you: a wall of heads, dozens of translucent faces, a gallery of watchers in the night, each saffron visage framed like a dollar president by the rust-brown steel of an incurvate monolith. Unreal family! Spooks who feed on night have found you out, put a cold finger on the surly seat of your old wheeled box. Yet, silent as breath, these could be your peers, a jury of evening life happy to acquit you of your torpor and gelid heart. The lamp within now lit by their gaze, the frost of solitude thaws. Under fresh snow the chorus awakens the night to a revelry of winter witness. Camaraderie serene! But still not green. So you wait, you stare, thrill to a new scare: Their eyes are shut! This deck of cards has folded. Every snow-dusted fiberglass head, etched with precise lines of life lived, is a death mask. No! Look again. Not dead! Only sleeping! Denizens of Mountain View dreaming of spring and a green light!
Used with permission of sculptors, KeseyPollock
Neither blossom nor candle In my father’s dream, he is wandering the far brown hills among scrub pine, the autumn turned suddenly toward winter, the day failing early, snow like petals sailing around him. And I know by his telling, it’s the same scrub pine I walk past in my own dream. In mine, it’s sunset, the air turned chill, the ink-dark sky flaming between the distant hills, the poor houses huddled together for warmth. In my father’s dream there’s someone unseen beyond the frame while the snow listens to silence, its numberless cold ears pressed to the ground.
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In my dream, I’m listening to something my death won’t tell me, something the night refuses to say, what the vanishing light keeps to itself, a secret the wind carries in its pockets. Perhaps it’s my past, the one I pull behind me everywhere I go. And when I wake, I never enter my father’s dream, neither as blossom nor as candle, nor as one who climbs the steps to the pulpit, opens the book to a verse and begins to read. Instead, I sweep up the strewn hours, old leaves of my childhood where the weight of his shoes did not mold the damp earth.
Our stories walk beside each other; his dream sleeps in the next room to mine, and beyond each of our windows, in the orchard new blossoms dream themselves into being, knowing their time will be brief – the unfolding, the flying – such stunning failure, that falling back into the dark.
Ophelia She writes a list of things that look prettier when wrapped: A jar of antipasto, chocolate, her mother’s skin. She offers a thin, paper membrane to please your need for story. A hundred spiders in the corner. Then, inhaling the imagined perfume of last summer’s wedding, she adds spirals of hair and yellowed silk. She feels decay under the bark as she strokes the willow. She pulls seeds from grapes, rolls their tiny, pear-like forms between her fingers. She drags her hair from side to side in the water and sinks. Listen to her voice push a shiver from your chest, along arms to fingertips. Find a solid ache in her hollow song. The impossible place where you know who sees the quiet. She will return as your child.
“Wind Blown Grass”
Leave No Trace How long have I been well within hearing? Having burned off half the fog I scrape my boot against the isthmus. All the wings are a slim chance: a loop of egrets scoop out the marsh, where stars have stuck in peat bog and reeds. No one has any use for this nocturne, this heart slingshot by wings. The discovery of swans sparks a wetland study, but any louder and the birds would have beaten me to a bitter inch. We are spared no silence, no nothingness. I wield my pearl-handled fear in the tar pits. My heart brings nothing I shot back in its meat mouth, saying instead make weep those whom you cannot move by flight.
David and the Americans
Kelly Lynae Robinson
2. You steal Breath of whiskey You are clumsy Cloud of smoke and powder But our touch is dead Mister or Misses Missing puzzle pieces Why do I tiptoe around this silence? I pour into a full cup I perch, ankles crossed I wait on a nod From some imperial bearded head You are right. We could have been born Somewhere you Are the prop A road sign pointing me To my destiny I am more Than a lock On a door I am also the womb that held you And the breast that fed you Your container In more ways than one
The lead singer of that 60s rock band, Jay and the Americans—his name wasn’t Jay. They had a Jay but he left right when they started pyloning up the charts. That’s where David Blatt came in. He didn’t see himself as a lead singer but they needed another Jay and he had the same type voice. So he became Jay Black. Wouldn’t you? Their first single with the new Jay had a B-side called “What’s the Use,” and it flopped. But then came “Only in America” and a herd of hits, often songs that black groups had recorded and made less money on. But the Americans also had their “Magic Moments.” So when you don’t have a Jay just call a David a Jay, like when it’s been years since the last war and you’re starving for a new one, you say they attacked the Alamo (never mind it was their country), or claim they sank the Maine (even if it foundered on its own), or they ambushed a ship in the Gulf of Tonkin (who cares if it was a spy boat on their territory), or announce they have weapons of mass destruction, whatever will keep the war stocks climbing and never mind whose sons become pictures in frames. In 1966 Jay Black tried going solo, without the Americans. His album never got released. Jay and the Americans re-formed and started covering oldies. They called the album “The Sands of Time.” It went gold. You tell me the moral.
Alligator Sling --A ballad for Bob Dylan
If I could chat with Bob Dylan while we tossed back a few drinks, I’d let him do the talking—love to know how he thinks. He’d reminisce about cabbages and kings While he took another sip of his alligator sling. What was Greenwich Village like in 1962? He’d say, “Lots of bad pot, and some paperback brew. A claims adjuster claimed I didn’t know how to sing, But he ordered me a round of alligator sling.” What happened with Joan Baez? Why didn’t it click? Was she too much a woman or were you too much a chick? When you threw a bad pitch, did she always swing, After a few sips of your alligator sling? And what about Ginsberg? Was he a real clown? Yapping about Blake on the express downtown. Did he gift-wrap his heart for you, or just his thing While you downed another shot of alligator sling? And your old lover, when you kissed her off again: “Please don’t let on, that you knew me when…” Did she say, “I thought you got it, Bob, this was just a fling, The kind of thing that happens with an alligator sling.” Did you wrestle an angel—Christian, Muslim, or Jew— And break your arm stretching far for that clue, Ending up in a hospital bed tied to a string As the nurse wrapped you up in an alligator sling? What about “Tangled Up in Blue.” That’s one I really like. Did you make it all up, projected on the night? Or does that memory still sometimes cling Even after a drop or two of alligator sling? Then I’d say, “Goodnight, Bob.” He’d say, “Good day.” Let’s do this again! “Maybe not,” he’d say. “I’ve got a few songs I’ve gotta catch on the wing Before they float off in an alligator sling.”
“Hanalei Bay Pier”
After Driving Crew Three to the Snoqualmie Fire Window drawn down against sleep, heading south on the county line road home from the season’s first fire, I was thinking, that night as I drove, not about elk, but a man, shadow, stepping forth in dim lit night from cedar woods into the moon. Larger than the moon or the van, he moved outward, each leg a black poplar pushed by wind, each hoof a clatter on the road crossing the pale center line not turning to look for the light. Inside, no sound but the radio gone over to stars, footsteps on tarmac, the murmur of tires; outside, night pressed against glass, and the hard sound of hooves, scratching through trees. Fire was behind me now and twelve young men, in canvas wall tents, each sleeping or praying or waiting uncertain of ash and wood smoke, as elk ran down from timberline. Before me a man, I had thought, crossing too close for a change of plans; even so, I swerved right, a shadow to my left, and thought I heard men whispering waiting for the wind that carries each dawn, the tinder of youth aflame, almost gone as if sparks had ignited inside them.
Standing in for Love Dedicated to that forgotten poet who inspired this poem. With deep gratitude…
To feel grief not your own you must first wipe the steam from the back window of your parents’ car as your sister and Johnny Barlow scramble into his pink Dodge Dart. You watch as they drive off and imagine them speeding onto the back road, the one with pot holes as large as lakes; Gravel hitting the underside of the car like music. You see your sister’s hand on Johnny Barlow’s knee and the peek-a-boo of teeth between her coral lips. You smell exhaust fumes, sweat, melting hairspray and an odor you won’t recognize until years later in the back of some car with a boy whose hair is as black as Johnny’s was then. The scent of longing and lust and what stands in for love when it is given to a boy with tin cans on his soul The day you stop saying no, because yes feels easier.
Elaine Dugas Shea
Roller Derby Skate Moving tight and low leaning inside the track, Eye-popping regalia: tri-color hair, Striped and tie-dyed, flower-child fishnets, Seams straight and leg warmers splash Round and round the metal rink. Bones – a skinny-calved official Whistles at the jammer racing by, “It’s all about defense.” Bones flashes two fingers Hellgate Roller Derby Girls score and Toothless Annies’ get held back. Refs call time-out. A new jammer whips past the pack, Others push, weave, slide, Clear a path for the lead Jammer to thread the needle, Whiz bang score. Half- time tumblers and tai chi turban guys Flip through space. Only a Black-out delays the second half. Lights signal; the girls show. Bleachers Tremble in anticipation.
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Deborah Chava Singer
The World Was Ending and We Were Asleep on the Couch in Front of the TV… We had no way of knowing at the time, but it was the last night of this world. If we had known, would we have heard the poetry of the home shopping channel falling in rhythm with the warmth of the newly repaired central heating humming, humming, humming? Would the garlic sauce of the pizza burned flavor more brightly across our tongues? The beer soured the tears in our hearts that much more? Would the quiet moments of drifting to sleep danced pitter patter that more gently? We had no way of knowing at the time, but this was the last rotation before the sun, the last trip around by the moon as we drifted off you and I on the sofa before the gorgeous, delicate, fashionable bargains counting down our last moments of existence. The gentle warnings repeated, repeated, repeated, “you won’t find another one like this anywhere else, not for this price.” I can still feel the soft warmth of you evaporating, the sway of the tiny hairs dusting your arms tickled by my resting breath. We had no way of knowing at the time, but the world was going to end soon. Or maybe you had already seen Brenda Roper the signs. Heard the cardboard riddles and read the trajectory of soaring stars. Maybe the crispy crackle creases of the map folded wrong in the glove box whispered in your ears already: We will be interrupting your regularly scheduled toothbrush replacement ritual this month and you might as well stop flossing now anyway, for you aren’t that fond of it and oh yeah, oh yeah, the end is near, the end is near. We, or maybe just I, or maybe it was we, or maybe just I, or whoever we were, there was just no way of knowing for sure, but the end was coming and the world was ending. And maybe the game show conversation would have been that much more reality and the placement of remote and of sock-covered feet that much more globally conscious. The political ramifications of cutlery versus hands for pizza consumption debated just a little less to allot just a touch more quiet before the storm. An extra solemnly sweet minute before the impending . . . impending . . . impending . . . And in the morning I did not know it would be the last dawn of our world. That as we kissed goodbye, kissed goodbye, kissed goodbye, to go about our separate days, that it would be for the last time. That I would come home to find you packed up and gone and my heart aching more than I can ever remember feeling and over and over I’d start asking, but how could I have known this was really coming? How could I have known it would be, right now, so soon, and like this? How could I have known our world was ending?
path under the black oak after thirty years the old farmhouse is a few degrees off from where my memory said it would be and the river is wider and the red clay banks are brown with a hint of blue Edith Barrowclough
the quarry I now scurry about used to be a green pond frothing with frogs and crawdads
I walk past a monolithic cement bike bridge that used to be a rickety foot bridge
Though You Walk
was I ever on that path under the black oak?
Your far past ravels out every wary step stumbled, smudged by dusk,
there’s the trumpeting smell of fennel and the brassy mint mixing with the new park’s odor of freshly cut grass
the valley’s path riddled with stones, days twisting sharp then thinning into nothing.
and the children skipping rocks in the shallows look familiar – perhaps they are children of the friends I once knew
Those first shadows like shrouds— and grief’s hard skin. You’ve had to shed yourself
how will the repeating dreams I have of this place now translate in my brain?
a few times, turn tender as a new moth. Scars fade to traces you’ll carry
the clay banks of my subconscious must be turning soft and malleable and reforming new landscapes after thirty years I find the ropeswing tree from where I used to launch myself over the water and the golden leaves that just now float back into memory look like fish flashing in the wind
through greener fields, cows in the clover, a horse by the fence whickering from a book you trusted as a child. Your past comes with you like a story you once overheard at a family reunion.
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I Imagine My Death Many years from now because it is easier that way. I imagine people I never knew going through things I no longer own. They will make two piles – one to sell and one to throw away They will complain about the glass beads and the old gloves They will throw away my photographs and my underpants and my mother’s embroidered handkerchiefs that I carried with me everywhere. They will stuff my coats into a large black bag, sniff disparagingly at the ratty fur and the warn suits and wonder what kind of life I could have led With an old lace mantilla from Spain in the dresser and long dresses long out of fashion, hanging in the closet. “Is there anything here you want?” one will ask. “Let’s get out of here” will be the answer. “We still have two more stops to make.”
“Caribou Skull, Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska”
the doe that once was The doe that once was swollen with the expectation of her fawn last Spring is now swollen again lying by the roadside, her fawn ahead, still and swollen as well.
Because I cannot imagine confinement, I imagine my ashes spread on the wind. I imagine my death as a scattering.
I search the eyes of the other drivers passing for signs of guilt until I see my own in the rear view mirror watching as I recall a dark rain long ago and me scrambling through the scrub buck knife in hand searching for the doe that I had almost missed.
Arrivals and Departures
--For Gerda Weissmann Klein
Two thousand girl-slaves huddled behind barbed wire, and not one of them tried committing suicide. With strength left to give, each night, praying for freedom, and for a home where father sits smoking his pipe, and mother sews her lace pillowcases, and brother is hurrying his homework. Through the factory window, a glimpse of sun, giving the girls hope such hunger would never come again. But death came, dragging mothers and children to hot black trains before invisible gas too easily swallowed them. There is nothing left of them: torn photographs, empty violin cases, a pile of shoes. A miracle. The atrocity stopped. Today, huddled among the living, girls still weeping, and
Even with her daughter dead, the cottonwoods in the ravine, left a downy shroud on the windows, while we sat in chairs and fingered fabrics for families yet unscathed. Even with her daughter dead, she appeared on my door with a double tall latte-brave and beautiful, while the ferry in the harbor moaned arrivals and departures, as if silent cancer cells multiplying weren’t enough. Even with her daughter dead, the tormented squall sailed toward shore, while birds sang without remorse, and thick spring rain, torrent tearing up the street, brought hope on a stem in the name of trillium and iris. And later, with the moon glow waning in the wisps at Agate Pass, silently sorrowing the souls whose last pain was a leap to the salty brine below; the memory of her glistening eyes, when she spoke her daughter’s name, rose from the depths of our shared mother’s womb-and I knew, no spring run-off could ever birth us clean again.
remembering one, red-checkered diary, her innocence, her scribbles of faith, now liberating us within the freshest air of her final imaginings. “Going Fishing, Kodiak, Alaska”
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Elizabeth L Thompson
Blue Suede Casket -- for my Grandmother, Elizabeth Thompson
A baby blue blue suede casket lowered you into a cemetery womb.
I donned metal daffodils and ceramic mushrooms to homestead gravesite above that blue suede casket;
I sprinkled scarlet dirt over the paisley-printed rectangle, while my baby sister yelled, “Grandma! Grandma!
I groomed ground so elegantly, but wanted to claw, claw madly like a blind badger tunneling toward tantalizing vision;
Grandma’s in the box!” Even at age two, she knew a hearse was too stark to house things like toys or treats.
I wanted to paw pebbles rabidly and dig you up from wherever you’d gone.
When I returned to bury my heart with you, torrential rain had made all appear unscathed, as if to say, “No body was just swallowed here.”
Trouble With Minnows Man watches his history on the screen with apathy and an occasional passing flicker of horror or indignation. --Conor Cruise O’Brien
All night I’ve stared into a sky full of minnows. They arrived like starlight filling up the dark and barking their tiny breaths. I should have turned on the radio, or answered the phone, or worked on a puzzle, the one of a little Austrian village that restored itself after the war-painted its shutters, its window boxes, planted geraniums. I’ve put this puzzle together so often the pieces recognize my hand, teach me to start with pools of blue, afternoon edges, clouds serene as water lilies, the elusive ravelings of cirrus and birds. But tonight, it’s minnows. They slam against the window, swim back and forth across the violence they do. How small their bones must be! Or do they have bones at all, do they exist purely by motion and move merely to move? More bearable than angels, they do not speak of revolution, they do not speak of love. They trust the current, hunger themselves against each other, thicken their lips for kisses. They think they are harmless.
It’s three in the morning. Someone somewhere is preparing to wake, someone to sigh, someone to weep. I simply want to sleep, or rather to sleep simply. Instead, I am measuring myself against the end of things, how a puzzle breaks apart too easily, how the minnows stir up a sadness they cannot swim through. Long into dawn, I’ll drift on the minnows’ mindless impulse to increase their kind of feeding in the world. and I confess my envy for their guiltless intimacies, their reckless grace?
For Julie Who Thinks I Should Write My Autobiography Mid-July. Lassitude sets in with the heat, hard to write and thinking goes back to the far past. Cape Ann, that early morning walk along the shore, light fog and that sudden gust of wind I felt in my face, an unexpected bite to it. Yes, it was what I had come for, a feeling of being more alive, almost a kick in the butt. In the motel room I wrote about it, filled journal pages while outside screeching gulls swooped low, dashing clams against rocks. The next summer my mother sent those journals down the chute of a New York incinerator. Yes, she had my apartment keys-I was having a tumor removed in a hospital that no longer exists. Nine years before I would write again. More time passing, now this day of azure sky, clouds like white dreams that my hair matches, not much to say, again the heat....
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Stephen Delos Treacy
De Colores I read the e-mail from Mexico. That little bolt you zapped me from out of the blue! “Come pick the violets,” you say. I really must “Taste fresh oranges.” “Let’s get stoned,” quote, unquote. I feel like Nonno, that ancient poet who, in “The Night of the Iguana,” observes the sky begin to blanch. I sense the moonlit leaves of our poem etiolating -- its juicy metaphors overripe. Just where were you in Panamá when I hand-wrote you of a redolence like cedar smoke coloring tropical nights? We are shades of gray, you and I, drifting away with all our might, hoary wisps above the day-glow world. God! As if we even tried to get together. And here’s you imagining I would no longer blame you for not communicating.
Upon Reading “Ode to a Lebanese Crock of Olives (for Walter’s Aunt Libby’s diligence in making olives)” Dear Ms. Wakoski, It’s midnight and I am writing you from Anchorage where the windchill is down to 50 below and it’s almost too cold for words. I just wanted to say how much I loved your poem and let you know I too have a wonderful Aunt Libby who sends splendid green olives from Lebanon, or did until two years ago last Christmas. I’ve never used this in a poem because it’s true. (Do you really have a lover named Walter?) Outside my kitchen window I do not have the elegance of your hummingbirds in sun, but winter often brings fat waxwings to portion out abundant withered berries from my mountain ash. Cousin Hadi has not come back carrying gifts from the East. There were no messages this year, or last, deciphered right to left from script that has the look of serpents spitting in the grass, no crock of wrinkled olives, salty as the tears of Lot. Oh Diane, (may I call you Diane?) it is true that here in winter in light so cold it’s blue I lust for food from home like hummus, kibbee fat with pine nuts, and the ripe sun smell of sumac and hot oil. But does this make a poem? It is also true I have a lover. Mine does not cover me with furs or jewels, but his diligence helps keep me from the cold. He offers to send out for ribs, but tonight at 50 below what I need to make a poem is a portion of my Aunt Libby’s splendid green olives from Lebanon. My regards to Walter, and thank you, Diane, for your poem.
Linda Infante Lyons
Missing In your absence The strangest things are. Like my brushes they Refuse to carry paint. I Revert to using fingers Might be fun all blunt strokes Mold to one. Colors turn Black. Power up the radio in a Rush to sooth the ache. Songs I once knew play Reversed. As I write this Words saunter off the page. They go and as they look back I get birds. By the way Those wonâ€™t even sing.
Autumn Branches with Cicada
--After a painting by Xu Beihong
These days the pen writes slowly, fingers worn with labor move like caterpillars across an expanse of paper desert. My friend: you who lifted me from drowning, who comforted my wife in low tones, touching her arm, who begged mercy for our errant son, pressing copper or silver into the hands of his accusers, you who sang me to rest from pain, who kept my secrets in a strongbox, and in whose arms I staggered home many a night, take this gift of autumn branches, a small tribute from your failing comrade who paints these delicate leaves as rebellion against the snow to come.
Add with your long brush what you will -- a cicada perhaps -seal our friendship with its persistent song as it balances on the thinnest branch.
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Office as Sanctuary Open the door to solitude Remove boots and society Unwrap scarf of convention Pull chair up to oneself Linda Infante Lyons
Curiosity Killed Give me a knife – I like to cut things apart. Lie down on this table and I’ll show you how much. No, I didn’t eat that dusky red fruit, know nothing about a hive of seeds oozing blood all over the counter, your precious granite. Yes, that’s a knife behind my back. Come, lie down – quick, quicker – my hands are numb. and my tongue is growing thicker. What’s that you say about pomegranate dripping from my lips – a woman sent to hell for winter?
NON F I C T I ON Katie Eberhart
Negotiating Spring Creek The three of us peered into a shallow pool where salmon swam listlessly; a pool defined by the railroad berm and Old Matanuska Road, and the narrow necks of culverts; a pool with dead salmon wedged between sticks or flattened like quilt pieces. Ralph, my neighbor, was passionately interested in the life cycle of salmon in Spring Creek and his enthusiasm was contagious, despite the gloomy autumn day, and rain. “There they are,” Ralph remarked, pointing at the pool, “eggs that will never hatch.” “Why?” I asked still trying to spot the salmon spawn. Ruth, a biologist and artist, and Ralph’s daughter, quickly sighted the eggs and finally I, too, saw the tiny orbs, purple and translucent, as if a string of beads had broken and scattered across the shallow pool. Ralph explained that salmon eggs must be buried and here they were not. Another time, on a bird-count day, a friend and I stopped at this place where Spring Creek flows through a culvert beneath Old Matanuska Road. We watched a kingfisher perched on a high branch, hunched and peering down but, from where we stood, the kingfisher’s view into the water was invisible to us, instead we looked outwards at a channel that widened then narrowed until it vanished among the trees. Ruth, Ralph, and I abandoned our examination of the shallow pool, lifting the canoe from the car and carrying it to the edge of the stream. After dropping our packs into the canoe and half-launching the small vessel, I climbed into the front and Ruth settled onto a stack of boat cushions in the middle. Ralph gave the canoe a final push so it floated free of the bank and then climbed in. We began paddling, going in the direction of the slow current toward the hay flats and Cook Inlet. Our plan was to take the canoe out near where we had parked the pickup, next to the Parks and Glenn Highway interchange. A fin rippled the water’s surface and I counted the first fish. Gliding quietly along a slow-flowing stream per-
mits a more pensive view than a quick glance from an automobile. In fact, being on even a small stream on a rainy autumn day invites contemplation. I had recently encountered Martin Heade’s marshland paintings, pictures created over a century ago, of Massachusetts tidal flats where meandering streams vanish and your eye is drawn to a scattering of conical hay stacks that acknowledge a human presence amidst wildness—the ephemeral ebb and flow of tides and an atmospheric terrain of cloud bundles and gauzy rain. Heade’s scenes evoke the heavy musk of grass and hay curing, and saltwater. I am always comparing this to that, like paintings of natural scenes to photos of early valley hay farms that convey a gritty hardness perhaps symptomatic of film and midday light and, in any event, images without the magical effect of sunsets and turbulent storms. Paddling, we were hemmed in by cottonwoods, willows, and alders, and overhead the sky was a flat gray, the rain a whisper against the water. Sometimes, a ruddyhued salmon split the stream then sank out of sight. I had counted twenty-eight fish when we came to a mass of water plants that slowed our progress. Ralph said he was going to stand and reconnoiter a better course. I braced my hands on the sides of the canoe and glanced back. Ralph was standing but then he sat and we continued without changing course, shoving our paddles into wads of Hippuris rooted in the stream and stretching thin leafy whorls up into the air. Finally, we emerged from the tangled plants to where the stream became shallower and cluttered with grass clumps as stiff as brooms. We pushed hard on our paddles, like gondoliers, poling through the grass-choked channel. (Viewed from above, the canoe would be a long red needle darning holes in the stream.) Ruth leaned over the edge of the canoe, aiming her camera at algae that formed a structure like crushed geodesic domes, more barricade than thoroughfare. Indeed, how do salmon navigate an algae-choked topology? By tunneling? Or leaping? But the salmon have one view, and we another, in fact many views—even from space. Satellites circling the globe document the planet, giving us intimate knowledge like no one has had before. In this god’s eye view, everything is miniature. Without a magnifying glass to examine a satellite image, our notion of landscape is a broad brush of colors and swirls without the details of wetlands, or a stream
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 channel edged by a thin threading of steel-sheet-pile dikes implanted at one time to contain flooding but now overgrown with willows and alders. With enough magnification, you might see that a stream emerges near the sewage treatment plant and flows into a channel of the Matanuska River while other streams, like Spring Creek, flow west on a languid cursive course toward the Inlet. After escaping the grass clumps, we found easier paddling and deeper water among the water lilies. At the height of summer, the glossy lily leaves float like giant saucers holding fist-sized, yellow flowers but now, in autumn, the lilies’ tubular stems are bleached and the leaves like faded gingham; and in yet another season, when winter arrives with a frigid snowless cold and streams and lakes freeze clear, the lilies’ heart-shaped leaves hang, entombed in ice, as if in a column of black glass as invisible as the night sky. In winter, the water transforms from liquid to a solid that grabs your imagination first then your body. It is, I think, the unreality of walking on top of a lake or river that compels you to lie on the ice until the cold seeps into your clothes and skin and you meditate on the interior of ice—galaxies of bubbles and star-shaped birch seeds, and lily leaves, faded brown and papery, like pages from an ancient book. Ruth pointed at a bald eagle perched in a tall cottonwood and I noticed an electric pole, at the edge of the trees, faded silver and leaning, with insulators but no wires. Ralph commented that those were the original lines from the old Eklutna Power Plant, and, as we paddled and our angle of view changed, we saw the abandoned poles formed a line, like a giant fence, along a swath chopped through trees and brush toward Pioneer Peak. Cook Inlet is far enough north that summers of nearly perpetual daylight encourage trees and brush to quickly reclaim cleared land and so what we saw was where the power company was keeping a corridor clear, even when no wire remained, just old poles and insulators.
73 Water dripped from the edge of my paddle and the stream changed again. Ralph explained, “the land itself has changed. In fact, everywhere we’ve been has changed.” The topic of a changing landscape had come up earlier, when it was raining harder and we were searching for a take-out spot for the canoe and a place to park the truck. We had driven west of the freeway along Nelson Road, stopping at each culvert and looking for flowing water, signs of salmon, and a canoe-able channel. “Of course, everything has changed,” Ralph had said. “Like what?” I asked, standing in the middle of Nelson Road where it stretched straight as a tightened string between an upland subdivision and the Glenn Highway. When the overpass and interchange were built, the highway became limited-access, ending this road’s usefulness as a shortcut to the freeway. Glancing back the way we had come, the view was dismal, of rainpitted puddles and a road squeezed between willows and alders. In the distance, a speck moved and gradually became larger until it materialized into a small white car splashing through potholes, with two large Katie Eberhart hounds bounding alongside. As she approached, the driver seemed to change her mind, slowing and turning, reversing direction so that the car and galloping hounds receded in the distance and we went back to our search for culverts with flowing water that might allow salmon to pass. “It used to be better drained here,” Ralph said, “and homesteaded.” Small land-locked lakes or ponds may become shallower over decades or longer, filling with fallen leaves and silt, becoming swamps and, eventually, meadows. But what does it take for the land to become wetter? A change in hydraulics—water movement? More rain? Rising sea level? The ground sinking? Before the Great Alaska Earthquake in 1964,
longer lifts it, plastic from petroleum transformed by breezes into a balloon or parachute until it lodges in a tree or descends into the water, again becoming trash. Water seeps into the sack, not a coarse fiber but smooth, a changeling object that can be wadded small or filled with things (even the wind) to seem large; a plastic that has strength unless sliced, probably by a hard-edged object inside, a tear that rips bigger until the contents It is easy to get caught up in the fascination of tumble onto the parking lot as you walk. Or small round watching water disappear into a culvert and emerge out rafts that begin as plastic tops from soda cups, disks the the other side. It is, I think, practice for the imagination, wind snatches and sails, spinning into the water. Ravens, to know that something can both disappear, be hidden, smart black acrobats, would like that trick. and reappear. We paddled on to where a sloping bank blocked the flow, except for three small culverts, where we might Paddling the canoe, the freeway overpass, have portaged to continue toward Nelson Road and supported by massive concrete piers, loomed larger Cook Inlet. (A funny picture to imagine, three people but perspective plays tricks and the pickup beneath galloping across a highway carthe bridge remained tiny, and rying a red canoe.) One culvert blurred by the rain. We had was blocked by a tire, still on its parked the truck where we rim, and some boards. Whose thought we could paddle to job is it to clean the culverts so the edge of the road, but the they don’t become barricades? first channel that branched in How do the salmon make the that direction was choked with trip at all—between Cook Inlet grass and stumps of willow and Spring Creek? Could an brush that had been chopped otter or beaver swim through during construction of the these constricted tunnels? interchange when the ice was Somehow, the salmon do. I solid like a road. peered into one culvert’s black Searching for another mouth and saw nothing but route, we paddled on, beneath darkness, no pinprick of light. the freeway bridges where But three live salmon lingered water lapped at the concrete at the edge, and one dead. We columns and the stream widturned and paddled into some ened, becoming a lake that overhanging willow branches. I left you annoyed and irritated. snapped a flag of white plastic Ralph reached with his paddle from a twig. and hooked a bladderish ob Ruth looked at the ject. The slimy thing hung like Jennifer Andrulli “Mud Flats, Western Cook Inlet, Alaska” brushy mound that rose six feet a plastic placenta, water flowor so above us in the shadow of ing out until it shrank to its real the bridges. “An abandoned beaver lodge?” she asked. form, a flimsy shopping sack. He dropped it into the ca “Yes,” Ralph agreed, “and not that long ago.” noe and now, distracted from our search for salmon and I like to think the beavers found another place a route to the truck, we paddled in a scribble of arcs and to live far from highways and the daily passing of ten lines, plucking up bags and other garbage, the seeping thousand cars. We paddled until we found a channel a mound in the canoe growing larger and water sloshing few inches deep, without too many stumps, and naviaround our feet. gated to where the truck was parked, carrying our load I have seen this—something launched from a of soggy plastic and trash—and knowing that somehow speeding car or truck, a gust catches it, a bag floats and salmon manage to negotiate Spring Creek. soars, or skitters, across the pavement until the wind no farmers harvested hay and grazed cattle here but the earthquake caused the land to subside as much as two feet—a lot of sinking for ground already near sea level where the tidal range exceeds thirty feet. Brush and trees are returning to the flats and moose come to browse in the winter.
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Wild Dogs Howling dogs charged around the bend toward me. I dodged sideways into willow bushes and they sped past inches away, fangs showing, eyes frantic, wet fur stinking. They acted like frenzied wolves chasing down a moose. Nearby sled dogs tied to posts would be defenseless if the runaways attacked. When they vanished around the next bend, emptiness lay in their wake. No one came chasing after them, and the scattered nearby houses of the Alaskan village of Aniak remained closed and silent. Did villagers fear the pack would return to hunt them down with bloody teeth? Alone in this nightmare, I hurried on, searching for the teenaged girls I had come to rescue from a different predator. Three hours earlier in Bethel, whose population of 2000 made it the Yukon- Kuskokwim Delta’s big city and administrative hub, Judge Nora Guinn had summoned me. “This stops NOW!” she shouted. Her small hand trembled as she thrust a sheet of lined paper at me. Magistrate Connie in Aniak had written: Feb. 10, 1969:Leonard Litvik gave an Eskimo man, Johnny Beets, beaver pelts and cases of beer for two nights with the Beets girls ages 13 and 14. I’d never been to Aniak, but I’d heard of Litvik, its infamous bush pilot. Ninety miles northeast of Bethel, Aniak was about the same size of the other settlements, but its 500 citizens, mostly Eskimos and Athabascan Indians, occupied an area along the Kuskokwim and Aniak Rivers where treeless tundra met forests. Because this area led into a wilderness of mountains, trees and rivers, it attracted serious hunters and fishermen from the Lower 48, which was why the white pilot Leonard Litvik made it his home and place of business. Most bush pilots enjoyed fame for flying skills, amazing rescues and walking away unharmed when icy wings or whiteouts downed their planes. Not Litvik. I’d heard many rumors about him flying hunters to remote game and fishing areas out of season and that he smuggled furs and hard liquor. And now he’d bought underage Eskimo girls for sex.
75 Judge Guinn didn’t consider the situation the old custom of men offering their women to visitors. Though a Yup’ik Eskimo raised in a village herself, she saw it as the law did: statutory rape and child prostitution. I asked, “When I pick up the girls, will the Trooper arrest Litvik?” Judge Guinn’s face tensed. “It’s not the right time. Bring the girls.” I didn’t understand why the man wasn’t already in the Bethel jail, but I didn’t argue. Probably it wouldn’t be proper for Judge Guinn to discuss the legal obstacles with me. Though a new and inexperienced child welfare worker, I understood that my job was to protect the girls, not to prosecute their abuser. Twice before, I had removed teenagers from dangerous situations in villages, given them supportive counseling and found them safe places to stay, and that’s what I planned to do with the Aniak girls. Within an hour I was headed for the village in a small Cessna flown by a Bethel bush pilot. Fixing my eyes on the white snow and gray river below, I fought an anxiety attack. My social work education taught me how to soothe people in distress but not how to speak to victims of crime, sexual assault or statutory rape. The thought of girls that young having sex with a grown man disturbed me so much that I couldn’t visualize the details. Even with close women friends, I didn’t discuss explicit sexual subjects. Yet I must calmly accept whatever lurid or painful stories the girls might present. What would I say, though? “Mm-hm?” The classic “How did that make you feel?” response seemed dimwitted, and “That bastard,” though from the heart, would be what social workers call “inappropriate.” In Aniak, the pilot helped me out of his plane and handed me the backpack I carried everywhere. It contained a change of clothes, extra socks, water and a blanket in case the plane went down. “I got another call,” he said. “Have someone radio Bethel when you’re ready for your return flight.” I had no idea where to find Magistrate Connie and, unlike my journeys to other villages, no one came to greet me in Aniak. Heading toward the nearest cluster of houses, I passed sled dogs tied to a post. Then I started along a winding path and came face to face with the howling runaways. When their yips and growls faded in the distance, I rushed up the path and finally found a cabin with a little sign saying “Magistrate.” Flowery curtains of the Sears catalog variety hung in the windows.
76 The stocky, brown-haired white woman who opened the door was wearing thick glasses, a dress, a sweatshirt and an apron. “Magistrate Connie?” I said in a rush. “I’m Gretchen, the child welfare worker. There’s a pack of sled dogs running loose!” She shrugged. “They’re mine. They’re OK.” “They’ll attack a child or someone’s dogs.” She turned away with a huffy sigh as if I were some over-excited greenhorn. I pushed it. “I saw tame dogs run in a pack one time and they tore open a goat tied to a stake.” And those had been pets in a suburb. Sled dogs were even more likely to turn vicious. “They’re OK!” Magistrate Connie snapped as she entered her little office and jerked a wood chair toward me. I sat down opposite a cluttered desk that stood against a wall decorated with a stretched wolf skin. A short-wave radio and microphone perched next to piles of papers, pens, pencils, and an Alaska law book. A set of moose antlers hung on a side wall. I handed over an envelope. “Judge Guinn’s orders. She’s put the girls in protective custody, so I’m authorized to take them to Bethel. Can you tell me what happened?” “They stayed at Litvik’s for two days and nights, getting drunk and having sex.” She didn’t explain how she knew, but events that juicy couldn’t remain secret in a small village. I said, “I have a safe place where they can stay until I find foster parents.” “I don’t know who’d want them,” said Magistrate Connie. “They’re little whores. This isn’t the first time.” “It’s their fault their father sells them?” “They run wild.” “They’re neglected and abused.” “I want them out of here,” said Magistrate Connie. “They’re a bad influence.” “They are? What about Litvik? When’s he getting arrested?” Her long, silent stare was far from friendly. Though the girls needed protection, I considered it a harsh injustice to yank them out while Litvik was free to stay in town, run his business and perhaps go after other underage Native girls. Why were Judge Guinn and the Magistrate so reluctant to take action against him? I figured Judge Guinn was struggling with lack of evidence beyond rumor and circumstance, but something about Magistrate Connie’s attitude, maybe the way she turned
CIRQUE away from me, made me suspect Litvik had a hold over her. After all, he brought in hunters and fisherman who spent money in the village. If I could read Connie’s eyes behind the coke-bottle lenses of her glasses, would they reveal that she faced threats or accepted bribes? Pushing herself up from the desk, she said, “I’ll take you to the girls.” I nodded toward her radio. “I need you to call Bethel for my return flight, please.” She fired airplane jargon into the radio’s microphone, then walked me to the family that had cared for the girls since the incident. We found the girls sitting at a kitchen table snacking on dry fish and bread. “Come on,” Magistrate Connie told them in a hard voice. “The social worker’s here.” “Hi,” I said and asked their names. Both answered with downcast eyes and dull voices. Ruth was lean and as tall as I was; Elizabeth stood much shorter and had a round build. They wore long pants, shirts, sweaters and mukluks. Battered store- bought parkas hung from the backs of their chairs. Their dark hair was greasy. Their faces told me nothing. They had half-girl, half-woman bodies yet I could easily imagine them acting like rowdy children. Each carried a small bundle of belongings. As we walked toward the air strip, I made minimal small talk, unable to think what to chit-chat about with girls who had gone through what they had. When we reached the air strip, I saw a battered, 4-seater Cessna waiting with its doors open. The girls climbed the little ladder and slid into the two back seats. I followed, settled in beside the pilot and clicked my seatbelt into place. The small craft trembled as the prop began to spin. When it reached the speed of near invisibility, the pilot bumped the plane down the airstrip, lifted off with a series of jerks and tilted sharply to head downriver. Trees and shacky houses gave way to open tundra. The pilot turned toward me with a slow grin. “Urgent business in Aniak?” I saw flaky skin beneath a two-day beard and a pulpy, veiny nose like an alcoholic’s. “I can’t discuss it,” I said stiffly. Then my eyes dropped to the name embroidered on his jacket: Leonard Litvik. I froze. He chuckled. Had Magistrate Connie radio’d HIM to fly me and the girls to Bethel? Surely she wasn’t that corrupt or stupid. All bush pilots listened to radio traffic. Probably when Connie ordered a plane “for the social worker and
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Trooper Steve had consulted Anchorage authorities, who two girls,” Litvik simply announced over the air to the turned it into a criminal case whose victims must immeothers that he’d take us. diately be examined medically and then questioned by Nothing could be more wrong than this man flyofficers. ing his own victims to Bethel. I turned to the girls and put Law enforcement had never before taken over my finger to my lips. They looked down at their clenched one of my cases. I hadn’t known to prepare the girls to hands. Did they fear him or me? For all I knew, they conexpect doctors and cops or to consider what, if any, role sidered him a generous guy who gave them food, fun I should play. It was yet another situation for which my and gifts and me a mean white lady who was taking fresh Masters Degree of Social Work them away from all they knew. hadn’t prepared me. “You think I’m a ba-a-d man, As Judy and the girls headed for right?” said Litvik. the Jeep, Litvik sped his plane down I remained silent, shivering the runway. Grabbing my pack from with anxiety though I feared noththe snow, I called, “Judy! Hold on!” ing worse from him than unpleas “The doctors and cops have ant, awkward talk. Many people in been waiting a long time!” she shoutBethel knew where the girls and I ed. As soon as the girls stepped into were, including the trooper, Welfare the jeep, Judy sped away in a spray Department staff, the police chief, of icy mud, leaving me stranded. I Judge Guinn and every bush pilot considered calling a cab to take me who listened to radio traffic. Even a to the hospital too, but I expected sleaze like Litvik knew he couldn’t that the doctor and Trooper would get away with vanishing en route to shut me out of their proceedings rape us somewhere on the tundra. with the girls. He could dish out nasti At work the next morning, Judy ness, though. “You a real blonde?” he poured out details with lascivious asked, running his eyes up and down excitement. “They tested those girls me. My early pregnancy didn’t show Jennifer Andrulli for VD and pregnancy! They’re sure yet. “You ain’t Swedish, though. They “McArthur River, Alaska” no virgins! They’re three fingers!” ain’t shy like you or . . . .” He bobbed This meant they’d had regular intercourse for a good his head toward the girls behind us, who sat like statues. while, but I was furious that medical staff gossiped about “Hey, Ruth, bet you thought you’d never get to fly in my it with the Welfare Department secretary. When she ran plane!” out of juicy details, Judy added that the Trooper sent the He had the nerve to flirt with her in front of me! girls to Anchorage, where they would stay in a group Jerking around, I met Ruth’s eyes and again put my finhome for troubled adolescents. ger to my lips. Thirty minutes of hell passed before we “Thank goodness!” I cried. At least they’d esdescended into Bethel. Night was falling. Lights glowed caped Bethel’s lack of privacy and compassion. in snowy mist along the single runway. I couldn’t wait “Why are you sorry for them?” Judy demanded. to get a cab and take the girls to the emergency foster “They’re little whores!” home. They’d be safe from Litvik there. The foster parent, “They’re kids! Their father sold them!” Viva Kinegak, was the mother of Bethel’s police chief. “Oh, Gretchen,” she said, “you’re such a bleeding When I climbed out of the plane, Litvik threw heart.” my pack into a pile of dirty snow behind me. As the girls emerged, I saw the Welfare secretary, Judy, rushing During the next few months, I often asked Judge toward us from the one-room terminal in a high state Guinn when Litvik would be charged for what he did to of excitement. “Trooper Steve ordered me to take them Elizabeth and Ruth. Equally often, she answered that it straight to the hospital!” Grabbing each girl by an arm, would happen someday. Given the frontier level of law she herded them toward the Welfare Department jeep. enforcement at the time, criminal charges kept falling The case had been a nasty child welfare situation from Litvik like water from a duck’s back. when I left for Aniak. In my absence, Judge Guinn and
78 Then, finally, something stuck. In late spring, Judge Guinn invited me to Litvik’s trial. I sat with about 75 other people in folding chairs in a classroom. Judge Guinn, presiding from a desk up in front, announced that Leonard Litvik was charged with two counts of selling cases of beer for beaver pelts. All they could pin on him was a diddly bootlegging charge? That afternoon, the Judge announced a fifteen minute break for water and bathrooms. Waiting in the women’s line in the hall, I saw Litvik emerge from the men’s room a few feet away. As an officer accompanied him back to court, Litvik swaggered and wore a big grin as if he’d won a bet. Everyone returned to court on time. Ten minutes passed. Fifteen. Finally, the officer said, “All rise,” and Judge Guinn strode briskly to her desk. Instead of sitting down, she faced the courtroom and slammed her gavel hard. Her dark frown was one I’d seen several times when she ordered me to handle some awful child abuse case. She announced, “I have learned that during the recess, the defendant threatened a witness in the restroom. Witness intimidation is a serious offense, Mr. Litvik. You will be tried for these additional crimes: attempted bribery of a witness and threatened violence against a witness.” A hint of grim pleasure glinted through her stern expression as she postponed the trial so the attorneys could prepare for the additional charges. Months later, I sat in court again and watched Judge Guinn sentence Litvik to several years in prison for two counts of bootlegging plus witness intimidation and attempted witness bribery. Behind me, one man muttered to another, “They finally got him. He can’t buy beaver with beer no more.” Their raunchy laughter angered and saddened me. The trial brought no vindication for Ruth and Elizabeth. They remained dirty joke material, whores instead of victims. It wasn’t until 1985, after Women’s Liberation and Women Against Rape raised public awareness, that I finally received Rape Crisis Training. That was when I learned that I should have stayed with the girls at the hospital and provided them comfort and information while encouraging medical and police staff to handle them with sensitivity. But the girls and I crossed paths in 1969, when the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta was still a Frontier where men and dogs ran wild.
Nordale Hotel 9:11 p.m., Tuesday, February 22, 1972 Frank Nigro Assistant Manager, Nordale Hotel Just about 9 o’clock the train crew had arrived and I had checked them all in and the man that normally works that shift, Don Kirschner, he had dropped in to pick up his P.I. [newspaper], which we save for him. He chatted there for a minute or two. He said, “Frank,” he said, “I think I smell smoke.” 1 Don Kirschner Desk Clerk, Nordale Hotel Well, I walked up to the desk to ask Frank about somebody staying at the hotel and when I was leaning on the desk I smelled the smoke and I started around the corner and I said to Frank, “There’s smoke in the hall.” Frank Nigro So right away, why we could see that there was a little smoke from the east wing on the ground floor there. So we, Don rushed down from the outside of the desk and I went through the manager’s office, Arne Lee’s office. I went down to the hall there and I saw that there was a fire in Room 107. And Bill Barnes who occupied that room was standing there. In fact he was standing right by the door and it looked like he was just froze there. He was unclothed. Naked. William Barnes Room 107, Nordale Hotel Well, I went home, I would say somewhere about 8:00. It might have been a little different, I don’t pay any atten-
1. All witness statements from Daniel K. Coben, “Fire Report on Nordale Hotel Fire, February 22, 1972,” 7 April 1972, Box 3, Folder 16, Fairbanks Fire Department Records, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Statements are quoted verbatim with minor grammatical edits when needed for clarity. Although the quoted passages have been excised from the considerably longer full witness statements, every attempt has been made to preserve the integrity of the original statements. No editing that alters the meaning or order of events has occurred.
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 tion to the time, and I got a sandwich and I got a beer. I had my beer and sandwich and I think there was one still on the window yet, and uh, I was sleeping and I woke up and it was hot, just as hot as could be. And I stood up and the smoke was down to here. Then I took a lung full of that and I didn’t feel good, so I grabbed the door and I ran out into the hall. Don Kirschner Frank took him by the arm and he said something about it was warm or hot or something. Frank took him back to his room and when Frank opened the door nothing came out in the hall but you could see the reflection through the smoke, the haze. You could see that there was fire in the room and Frank hollered at me to call the fire department, which is what I did. And pushed the alarm buzzer to the building. Frank Nigro And so I took a look in there and sure enough right there by his bed there was flames going there by the side of the wall and the blanket. I don’t know how the blanket actually was in flames. Possibly he might have tried to put the fire out himself. However, I tried to put the fire, that is tried to put the blanket out. I stomped on it and then I attempted to pick it up and as I stooped down to pick it up I thought maybe I might get rid of it, throw it out the window or something, you know. Why it flared up on me, you see, and it threw me back. So Don, the other clerk, he was behind me so we rushed right back to the office and I grabbed this fire extinguisher we keep back there and I told Don, I says, “Call the fire department right away.” And we turned the alarm on at the same time. And when I went back with this fire extinguisher, why the flames had really got going, you know. And they started to come out the door. Well, what else could I do? You know. Donald Gurht Room 108, Nordale Hotel I was laying down taking a nap and the first I knew I heard somebody holler fire. So I got up and went to the peephole in the door, opened it up. Just kitty-corner across the hall is 107. When I looked through that hole the whole room was ablaze. The door was open. So I shut my door to keep the draft from creating another draft. And I went to get my pants and shirt on. By the time I got my pants and shirt on there was fire coming through the cracks all along my door and smoke. So I put my shoes
79 on and by that time the room was so filled with smoke that you could barely see the light bulb in the ceiling. So I went to the window and raised it high enough so I could crawl under it. I crawled out and my plans were to get up and shut the window so I could stop drafts. Before I got to my feet that window blew out on top of me. Sprayed me with the glass. The wonder of it is I never got cut. That’s about all I can say about it. Charles Cameron Engineer, Alaska Railroad We arrived in Fairbanks at the depot about 8:50 p.m. We tied up at 9 p.m., I would guess, as I usually rely on the conductor for the tie-up time. We checked into the hotel shortly after 9 p.m. and registered, then went upstairs to our rooms. I took off my outer clothing in order to wash and get ready to go out to eat when the alarm bell went off. Rade [Rod] Nikcevich Room 126, Nordale Hotel About ten minutes before 9:00 p.m., I went to the front desk and was talking to Frank Nigro. I talked to Frank about ten minutes when the Alaska Railroad crew came into the hotel. I told Frank I was going to my room to get a pitcher to put some ice in the pitcher. I went straight to my room, got the pitcher, and when I opened my door to return to the front desk I seen and smelled smoke. The smoke was filling up the lobby and I asked Don Kirschner what was happening. He said there was a fire in the hotel. He was talking on the telephone. Zuleika Trindade Neves Waitress, Petroleum Club, Polaris Building I was looking out of the window towards the Nordale Hotel and I seen a little bit of smoke coming from a window on the first floor, the first window next to the Pan Am Building on the east side of the building. The window seemed to break and heavy columns of smoke came out of the window and flames were coming from the back of the Pan Am Building. I could see the fire trucks in front of Penneys at this time. Richard T. Becker Captain, Fairbanks Fire Department I was captain on the first-in Engine Company #4. When our engine passed the corner of Penneys, I looked over in the direction of the Nordale Hotel and could see the smoke rising from the building approximately 150 feet in
80 the air. When we first pulled up in front of the building there was a naked man standing in front. Frank Nigro Well, Bill [Barnes] was close by there, right by the door, you know. On the outside of the room, see. By the time I got back to the office and got in there to see what else I could do the flames were coming around the hall. And coming towards the desk. And all of a sudden smoke was just pouring. Heck, I just barely grabbed my coat. My parka was hanging up and I just got them with the hanger and all and I could even feel the heat at that time, see. And so I got out the door and Bill Barnes followed us. And there he was, naked, right there in front of the doors.
CIRQUE glasses, probably took forty-five seconds, and entered the hall again. My room was right adjacent to the 3rd Street exit. I turned and went out this exit. As I left the building, glass fell all around me from windows being broken above.
Peter Paul Korolack Room 128, Nordale Hotel Well, I’ll start in just prior to the fire. I had gone out to the front desk to get some ice and I talked with Frank Nigro there for awhile, then on my way to the desk I had noticed Eva McGown talking with another lady. And I went and talked with Frank and got my ice. While I was there Eva went by and got in the elevator and went upstairs, I assume to her room. And in the next minute Don Kirschner or so, Don Kirschner, the I went out in the lobby off duty clerk, came in because the smoke was and we were talking at already getting pretty the desk there for a matthick there and I went ter of a few minutes, and there because there was I noticed the train crew one man in the lobby coming in so I told Frank, who was 75 years old “Marguerite Duras Went Up In Smoke” Indra Arriaga “Well, I guess I’d better go and I wanted to get him now. You’re going to be out of there. And to see if busy.” On way through the lobby I noticed Whitey Thorpe there was anybody else and also to get Bill Barnes’ coat sitting in a chair right alongside the fireplace. So I went to give him something to cover himself up. There’s Rod on to my room and turned the T.V. on and was watchNikcevich, Robert Bruce, and another fellow from the ing it and oh, I’d say around 9:15, somewhere in there, I Highway Department, I don’t know what his name was. smelled smoke. So I opened the door and I don’t think I Whitey Thorpe was also sitting in the lobby, but I couldn’t opened the door half an inch and smoke started to boil tell you whether he heard it or not because he was sleepin over the top of the door. So I thought, well, maybe this ing when I had seen him earlier and I hadn’t talked to is going to amount to something. him or woke him up. Ralph C. Brendle Room 136, Nordale Hotel Approximately 9:00, I was sitting in my room writing a letter when I heard the fire alarm in the hall go off. The alarm rang for probably forty-five seconds. It wasn’t too loud for a fire alarm, I didn’t believe. It was probably as loud as an average telephone bell. I stepped to the hall, opened the door and looked down the hall, and two other gentlemen stepped into the hall. One of them mentioned something about there must be a fire. I stepped back in my room, grabbed my parka, hat, gloves and
Joseph Elmer Spiker Room 116, Nordale Hotel The hallway was full of smoke and the heat was real extreme as it singed my hair. I closed the door, picked up my parka and headed for the table to get my glasses when the lights went out in the room. I then headed for the window. I opened the window and just then I noticed my eyes went shut and I couldn’t open them, and my right leg went numb so I couldn’t feel it or move it. I just sort of rolled out of the window and it slammed shut behind me. I could hear people calling for help. I crawled
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 away from the building. I tried to answer the people that were calling for help, only I couldn’t speak. After about five minutes I got my voice back and hollered to the people to jump as there was deep snow and they wouldn’t hurt themselves. Don Kirschner When I pushed the alarm system I grabbed Bill Barnes’ coat because he was sitting, by this time he got up to the front and he didn’t have any clothes on and he sat down in the chair or couch in the lobby. And his topcoat was hanging in the rack where the employees hang their coats, and I grabbed it and I threw it at him across the counter and told him to put his damn coat on. He grabbed it, set it down, got up and he walked outside with no clothes on at all. And the next time I saw him it was about four or five minutes later and he had his topcoat on again. So I don’t know whether he wandered back in and got his topcoat or somebody grabbed it. When I did see him later he looked like he was in shock and he was walking towards the Cottage Bar. And all he had on was that topcoat, no shoes, socks, nothing. And he looked like he was in shock then. He wasn’t staggering then or anything. He was walking perfectly straight. He had his hands in his pocket with just a vacant look on his face. William Barnes I couldn’t breathe in the lounge, so with my clothes off, now you mind this, you probably heard about this before, I opened the door and went outside. I walked down the street a little ways and I thought I could find one of those little stores and get me a coat or something. While I am walking a guy grabbed me and he said, you take my coat, so then a woman got me and said, come on you go with us. So another guy and girl grab me and they live in the Polaris Building. I do not know their names. I had no shoes on, I just had this coat and I kind of froze my feet. Brenda Higgins Room 300, Nordale Hotel Around 9:30 p.m. heard woman scream “Fire!” Then the alarm rang once. I opened the door into the hall and found it dark and filled with smoke. I shut the door again and went to the bedroom window. It wouldn’t open. By this time smoke was coming under the door and flames started coming under the door within seconds. I ran into the bathroom and broke the window there. Then I shut the bathroom door to keep out smoke and heard the bedroom go up in flames. I crawled out of the bathroom
81 window on the ledge and called for help. Smoke almost overcame me. A man came and stood under my window, I was on the 3rd floor, and I jumped. He broke my fall and I made it ok. Thanks to the man and the snow. David H. Bahrt Firefighter, Fairbanks Fire Department Upon receipt of the fire alarm to the Nordale Hotel, I responded with the Engine #5 crew. On passing 3rd and Lacey I observed an adult figure falling in midair from what I determined to be either the second or third story. I also observed briefly a second subject which apparently was jumping from a first floor window. We proceeded to 2nd and Lacey and coupled to a hydrant. I then manned a 1-1/2” line and along with Whigham attempted to gain entrance to the lobby. We advanced about ten feet and were forced back out from heat as the lines were too small for the size of the fire. I felt at that time that we were fighting a losing battle due to the deep seat the fire had taken. Marcella Schaefer Room 304, Nordale Hotel I got dressed and went to the door, opened it and I seen flames about two feet high on the floor. There was a roaring sound, very loud, and it was very hot. I shut the door and crossed the room to the window. I opened the window and looked out, then I straddled the ledge, then I dropped my feet out of the window on the window ledge and I was holding onto the window sill. Two men had already jumped, and one other man was at a window and he jumped, and there was a woman that jumped from a bathroom window at the third floor level. By this time the heat and smoke was making it difficult to breathe, then I jumped. Robert Shake Head Brakeman, Alaska Railroad We tied up about 9:00 p.m. We had very few passengers to unload, so we were at the depot a very few minutes. Eddie Loudon, freight agent, was at the depot with a sedan and he offered to give us a ride to the hotel, so we were at the hotel at approximately 9:05 or 9:10 p.m. We immediately registered and went up to our rooms. I could hear the other crew members talking as their doors were open. I opened the door of [William Shake’s] room to see if he was ready to go eat, and he wasn’t quite ready yet, and I pulled the door and about that time the fire alarm went off.
82 William Shake Brakeman, Alaska Railroad I unpacked part of my bag and washed up and was dressing to go eat. I would say by this time it was 9:20 p.m. or a little before when I heard the sirens. We all had our doors open and were talking back and forth, and someone made a comment about the fire engine and then the fire alarm went off in the hallway and I got up and looked down the hall and it struck us rather odd that we heard the fire engines before the alarm went off. James Douglas Baggageman, Alaska Railroad We started towards the stairway and a little smoke came up and someone said, let’s go to the fire escape. I was the last man when we headed for the stairway and when we reversed to go the other direction, I was in front. We still hadn’t considered ourselves in danger. When we got there and opened the window we could feel the draft, and by the time I had climbed through the fire escape window it was completely engulfed in smoke. I climbed out on the fire escape and started down and there was a man caught on the fire escape, and I think he came from the second floor. Somehow or other he had tangled his legs up in the rungs of the ladder and couldn’t get out. I couldn’t figure out what was holding him and I pulled hard and his legs came out from between the rungs of the fire escape, and I don’t know what became of him then. William Shake I did go to the back of the building. When I got there the window was closed and I beat it out with my right fist and as I started out the window I seem to remember that I shoved someone or something out the window ahead of me, what it was I don’t know. When I got outside I couldn’t see off the fire escape either way or downward, and I went over the side and I hung there for awhile and my brother shouted at me not to let go as I was on the third floor, and a second or so later he and Douglas said to let go and I released my grip and they caught me, and then Chuck Cameron came out and he came over the fire escape the same way and we caught him and, of course, Sherwood at this time was down on his knees on the fire escape and he was in agony, apparently, and moaning and calling for help. Finally, Jim Douglas started up but he couldn’t make it. Then I started up but the fire escape was blocked by a suitcase and a coat and some other things. I got rid of that and I couldn’t make it any further
CIRQUE and my brother Bob went up and he got a hold of Sherwood and started pulling him down the fire escape. Jay Sherwood Trainman, Alaska Railroad It seemed like that as soon as the fire escape window was opened the hall filled up with black smoke. I don’t know where it all came from. The lights went out about the same time and you couldn’t see a thing. Before I got to the window I heard someone breaking the window but I don’t know who it was as I couldn’t see a thing. It was unbelievable the draft and heat sucked up when the window was broken out. I inhaled a lot of smoke and had trouble finding the window. Robert Shake I heard people shouting from various parts of the building, there was all sorts of confusion, but at the moment I wasn’t concerned about what was going on in other parts of the hotel. I was only concerned with our area where the crew was trying to get out. Jim Douglas and I were on the street and we looked up and saw Bill hanging from the third level fire escape. Every time the smoke would puff a little I could see Sherwood down on his knees on the fire escape. Both Douglas and I yelled to Bill not to drop down as he would drop on the cement and might break his leg or ankle. He slid down as far as he could to where he was holding on to the bottom of the fire escape on the third floor and then he dropped. I don’t recall whether Douglas and I had our hands up or caught him or what. William Shake During this period of time Cameron was trying to get the fire department, there was an engine in the street, to bring a ladder to put up and get Sherwood off the fire escape. I don’t really know what kind of luck he had or what took place, I wasn’t paying any attention, but we did get him down and laid him on the sidewalk, and Douglas spotted the airport limousine sitting there and the key was in it. We put Sherwood in one seat and there was another man there that jumped out of the window, I think from the third floor, and he was badly broken up and we loaded him in the limousine. Douglas drove to the hospital. Jay Sherwood About the last thing I remember was seeing the hole in the platform of the fire escape, but I have no idea how I
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 got down. I understand Bob came up and got a hold of me and took me part way down, and then Bill and Jim came up and helped me get down. I know I wouldn’t have gotten down without help. The next thing I remember, they were putting me in a car and they said something about putting another man in the car they had found behind the hotel and then Douglas and Cameron took us over to the hospital. James Douglas We were wondering about [Earl] Simpson and we thought maybe he went out another way. It was obvious he couldn’t have come out the way we did, the smoke and heat were so intense it would have been impossible to come out. Robert Shake I walked underneath the fire escape and Sherwood’s suitcase was there, also mine and Bill’s. They were all practically empty as they were open, except Sherwood’s was closed. I don’t believe any of us realized that we had thrown them out the window. I picked them up, any of them I knew belonged to the members of the crew, and I took them over to the Mecca Bar and left them with Wally Burnett. Then I went back to the front of the hotel and looked but I never did see anything of Earl Simpson. I asked one of the firemen if they had brought anyone out the front and he said yes, two or three. Arlo Brees Captain, Fairbanks Fire Department At approximately 2300 hours I was on 2nd Avenue and noticed an apple green smoke coming from two of the windows on the second floor in about the middle of the 2nd Avenue side of the building. About one hour later the west half of the north wall collapsed. Then three or four hours later the last half of the north wall collapsed. By this time the rest of the building was pretty well burned up. William Barnes Fairbanks Community Hospital Interviewed by Homer Morris, Fire Marshal, and Detective Gary Vogt, Fairbanks Police Department Q: Do you recall if, maybe, you had been smoking a cigar at the time you went to bed? A: I don’t believe so. I had the glass of beer and sandwich and I – there isn’t any table in there, there’s my ashtray and I, I didn’t see any cigar. I don’t remember
one. Q: How much had you had to drink prior to going to your room? A: Not much because I had to go to Anchorage the very next day. I didn’t want to be, you know, be down and out of shape. Q: Where had you purchased the beer from? A: I got two cans of beer with the pop-top from Northward and I got a grilled cheese sandwich from the Arcade. Q: So now am I safe to say that the only beer that you had were the two cans? A: Yeah. Q: You had no liquor whatsoever besides those two cans? A: No. Lee Morgan Hodge Bartender, Cottage Bar Interviewed by Homer Morris Q: Do you know William Barnes? A: Yes. Q: Did you see William Barnes on February 22, 1972? A: Yes. Q: Where? A: At the Cottage Bar. Q: What was he doing? A: He was having a few drinks. Q: How many? A: I’d say three or four. Q: What did Bill drink? A: Mostly beer, once in awhile a straight shot. Q: What time? A: Two or three in the afternoon. Q: Was he drinking beer and straight shots on February 22, 1972? A: Yes. Q: Was he drunk? A: No, he wasn’t at that time. Q: Does Bill Barnes drink quite heavily? A: I would have to say yes, periodically. Robert L. Szmyd Bartender, Cottage Bar Interviewed by Homer Morris Q: Do you know Bill Barnes? A: Yes, he is a periodic customer. Q: Did you see him the night of the fire? A: Yes.
84 Q: A: Q: A: Q: A: Q: A:
How was he dressed? Completely naked, no socks, no shoes, nothing. Where did you first see Barnes? In front of the Pan Am Building. Was he staggering or did he appear intoxicated? No, he looked like he was in a daze. Did he say anything? I didn’t talk to Barnes, but I went back to the Cottage, got a gray topcoat and gave the coat to Don Carlo to put on Barnes. I was trying to stay near the bar as I was the only bartender on duty. Q: Who did the topcoat belong to? A: I don’t know, it’s been in the Cottage office for months. Wayne Bruha Bartender, Northward Lounge Interviewed by Homer Morris Q: Do you know Bill Barnes? A: Yes, I know him when I see him. Q: Was he in your bar on February 22, 1972? A: Yes, he was. Q: Did he have anything to drink? A: Yes. Q: How much? A: One or two drinks at the most. Q: What was he drinking? A: I’m not sure, but I think a straight shot. Q: What time was this? A: Two or three in the afternoon. He was there for a very short time. Q: What is your opinion of Barnes? A: He’s a nice guy, but he has a bad drinking problem. Peter Paul Korolack Interviewed by Homer Morris Q: How long have you known Bill Barnes? A: Well, I’d say off and on for about twenty years. Q: Now in this twenty-year span that you’ve known Bill Barnes, to your recollection do you recall any problems that Mr. Barnes has had involving fire before? A: Well, let’s, not personally, no. From mostly hearsay. And you know, places that I have worked at. Q: What did you hear? A: Well, about him sleeping or sleeping in bed with a cigar and mattresses catching on fire. Q: Did you hear that at one time he was responsible for setting a quonset hut on fire at Barrow? A: Yes.
CIRQUE Q: What other incidents did you hear about? I realize this is hearsay. A: I have heard that a house in Anchorage, and in the Northward Building on two different occasions, in the Polaris, and over here when the Fifth Avenue rooms were operating. Q: Is that all? A: That’s all that I have heard. Andre Schalk State Regional Fire Marshal On February 27, at approximately 2:50 p.m., a mattress was removed from Room 604 of the Northward Building with the approval of Assistant Manager Jeldness, Lee, and occupant Haritos. The above action was taken as a result of an interview in which Mr. Haritos stated that he had requested [William] Barnes to leave his apartment after Barnes had set the mattress on fire with a burning cigar while smoking in bed. The mattress showed a burn hole approximately six inches in diameter. William Barnes Interviewed by Homer Morris and Gary Vogt Q: Um, I have only one more question. While you were eating your sandwich and drinking your beer do you recall at this time whether you had your cigar— A: No. Q: —lit or burning at the time? A: No, I don’t think I smoke a cigar when I am eating anyway. Q: Did you mention that you smoke cigars, only cigars? A: Yeah. Q: You don’t recall if you had one burning at that time or smoked one shortly afterwards? A: Oh, I never smoked more than one. Q: More than one, after dinner you mean? A: I probably had one after dinner, but that I couldn’t tell you. Daniel Coben Chief, Fairbanks Fire Department Due to the fact that a register book or register cards were not secured from the hotel at the time of the fire, this officer instructed Frank Nigro and Don Kirschner to sit down and make a list of the occupants of the hotel as best they could from memory. Robert M. Hirn Lieutenant, Fairbanks Fire Department
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 Langton proved to be a victim of this fire.
At about 12:45 p.m., February 24, I was called to the Fire Chief’s office, along with Captain Arlo Brees and Captain Benson. We were directed to coordinate the task of searching for victims of the Nordale fire. This task was to be performed in conjunction with a careful, systematic removal of rubble from the fire location and placing it at the dump in such a fashion as to be easily identified. Arlo Brees We continued the removal of debris across the 2nd Avenue side of the building from east to west. At approximately 1430 hours on February 25, James Abell and Basil Sands located the remains of a victim. It was located on the third floor of the west wing of the building. Gary Vogt At approximately 1530 hours this officer went to the Nordale Hotel and was instructed that the located body was on the third floor of the west wing and was at the top of the fire escape. This officer further observed property on the fire escape. Several pieces of this property were found to be Alaska Railroad papers. Also found within this property was dental plates, brush and Polident, along with a pair of glasses. It was determined that the body that had been located on the third floor of the Nordale Hotel was the body of Earl A. Simpson. Matthew K. Kiernan Lieutenant, Fairbanks Police Department Reverend David Keller, residence Tanana, came to the station at 1915 hours and turned in two photographs of Helen Langton on behalf of James Langton, husband of the above missing person. Reverend Keller also stated that he would take care of funeral arrangements if Helen
Gary Vogt On February 28, at 1307 hours, this officer arrived at the Nordale Hotel after being advised that another body had been located. The body had been located nearest the Second Avenue side of the Nordale and on the most easterly side next to the Pan American office. The body was located in debris next to and in front of what appeared to be an elevator going to the basement. The area around where the body was located was thoroughly gone through and several items were found and brought to the station for further investigation. The items are as follows: 1. Two pieces of blue knitted sweater with 2-1/2 pearly maroon buttons attached. 2. Two women’s shoes, brown leather, with approximately a 1” high heel on each. 3. Part of a bluish-colored bag containing an assortment of safety pins and several metal crocheting needles. 4. Several pieces of white socks, with two of them having stickers on them, size 13. Positive identification was made on this body as being that of Helen Langton. On February 28, 1535 hours, this officer arrived at the scene of the Nordale Hotel fire after being notified that they had recovered another body. The body was observed nearest the Second Avenue side of the burned building and was located near the fireplace which had been located on the northwest side of the Nordale Hotel. Property that was found on the subject is as follows. 1. A metal social security card with the name D. Sven Thorpe, SSN 535-03-4676. 2. One $10 bill, U.S. currency. 3. Two pieces of $1 bills, U.S. currency. 4. Fourteen quarters. 5. Three pennies. 6. Two dimes. 7. One nickel. 8. One fingernail clippers. 9. One pocketknife. 10. One Caravelle wristwatch with a fiber-type band. The watch showed a stopped time of 9:14:28 on the 22nd.
86 A positive determination was made on the body as being that of Sven Thorpe, a.k.a. Whitey. Robert Nearing Lieutenant, Fairbanks Police Department On February 26, at 1507 hours, the vault of the Nordale Hotel was opened. Frank Nigro, clerk of the Nordale Hotel, did inform this officer that to the best of his knowledge Eva McGown did have a metal box in the vault and she was the only one of the tenants which did have property in the vault. The following items were inventoried in the presence of Officer Ruebel. 1. Metal box O.D. in color. Measuring 12x6x5 inches. Attached cloth label indicating Washington-Alaska Bank, Eva M. McGown, November 26, 1930. 2. Small box containing soil and moss-like material from Ireland. 3. Deed indicating Page 113, Volume 24. Territory of Alaska. 4. Last will and testament of Eva M. McGown, December 1950. Collins & Clasby, Attorney at Law. 5. Deed, Yukon Territory Land Registration, #36, book 83. 6. Last will and testament of Arthur McGown. June 6, 1927. Guy B. Erwin, Attorney at Law. 7. Several insurance policies, contracts, quit claim deeds, bank statements, bank books, membership papers (Eagles) and personal papers. Gary Vogt On February 29, at approximately 1430 hours, this officer arrived at the scene of the Nordale Hotel fire after being advised that another body had been located. Upon arriving at the scene contact was made with Fire Marshal Homer Morris. The body had been found while the crane service was operating in the area near where the Eva McGown room would have been. A positive identification was made on the body. The identification was made positive that this body was the same as that of Eva McGown. Daniel Coben The fire originated in the east wing of the first floor near the center of the corridor. The fire spread down the east corridor and up the east stairwell to the second and third floor as well as racing through the front lobby into the west wing and up the west stairwells to the second and third floors. In the area of Room 107 on the east wall sheathing, the burn pattern was narrow at the first
CIRQUE floor level and widened as it spread upward into the upper floor levels. No evidence was discovered during the course of this investigation that would indicate this fire was other than accidental in origin. As a result of visiting the scene, minute inspection made at the suspected point of origin, and witnesses interviewed, it was determined that this fire was most likely caused by the misuse of smoking material. Epilogue
On February 26, 1972, four days after the Nordale Hotel fire and one day after being released from the hospital, William Barnes checked into the Fairbanks Hotel on Third Avenue. He was given Room 331. The desk clerk didn’t recognize Barnes, but several tenants informed him this was the same man suspected of starting the fire in the Nordale Hotel. They indicated they were not comfortable having him in the building. The clerk went to Barnes’ room and found ashes on the bed. There was also an open bottle of Canadian Club whiskey and several packets of Roi Tan cigars scattered around the room. Barnes was found sitting in a chair in the lobby, smelling of alcohol, with ashes around his upper lip as though he had attempted to place the lighted end of his cigar in his mouth. The clerk took the room key from Barnes, returned his money, and told him to leave. Lieutenant Lonnie McClung of the Fairbanks Police then arrived and arrested Barnes for being drunk in public. The next day, Barnes checked into the Steel Hotel on First Avenue. He was given Room 17. The night clerk later observed an obviously intoxicated Barnes in the lobby and called the police. The responding officer, again Lieutenant McClung, detected an odor of smoke in the hallway as he approached Barnes’ room. He pounded on the door and found Barnes lying in bed, a lit cigar in his mouth. A washcloth on the nightstand was charred and smoldering. Three days later Barnes pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to fifty days in jail, twenty days of which was to be suspended on the condition he refrain from the use or possession of alcohol or tobacco products for two months. A grand jury convened in Fairbanks on March 15, 1972, to hear evidence of Barnes’ alleged responsibility for the Nordale Hotel fire. The District Attorney subsequently declined to pursue charges believing that Barnes’ behavior, although reckless and tragic, did not rise to the level of criminal negligence. William Barnes died one year later in June 1973.
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
Tamie Marie Fields
Silvers In the third generation we drive out on the water, simple task, simple day: to pick all the fish from this net, then go and pick all the fish from the next. We arrive with motor and totes, poles and hooks—tools of the trade—and an empty skiff. The net should be the giver, snagging the sea’s particular bounty, the saleable catch: the net should be full and we the waiting receptacle. But in the third generation, it does not work that way. No child of this family arrives empty at any net. Our loss of innocence was this loss of innocence. Our carnal knowledge is wrapped in raingear, bound with line. At every net we arrive braced, always in some sense waiting. And not just waiting, but remembering, maybe remembering more than waiting, or maybe they coalesce so that what should be future and what should be past splice together into always this moment, this net. I remember catching silver salmon with Dad years ago on a net we call Kay’s, named after a woman who used to live on the shore above. Kay’s, the only net that lies on the ocean’s sandy bottom at low tide, so sometimes sand fleas get the fish. We were fishing at low tide and sand fleas ate the fish so that their muscles were washed-out white, their eye sockets empty. Unsellable. Not all of them, but enough. Silvers, so big at eight or twelve pounds, only snag on the mesh by a nose or a gill, and easily fall, and one fell. It hadn’t been sand-fleaeaten, but it would be now that it had fallen, and anyway, sand flea or no, it was lost to us now. We could see it through the sun-shot green water, gleaming white and inert, still, on the sand beneath the net. Dad took an oar and plunged it into the water so that the paddle scooped against the silver’s body, and he tried to bring the fish to the surface. Again and again he tried, twenty minutes, thirty, forty, scooping and lifting the fish. Again and again the fish would lift, float, fall. I wanted him to succeed, because his disappointment would be huge, a thing of grief even, if he couldn’t lift the fish. But there were too many forces: tide and current, gravity, and the fish’s slipperiness. This—this—is what I remember when I steer the skiff to Kay’s net, seventeen or twenty years later. I wait—with something like fear and something like sorrow—for a silver to slip, for sand fleas, to see in my father’s eyes his heart sunk like the silver, flashing—within reach!—but inaccessible: too
many forces. I wonder whether he’s waiting too for his own father, in that place where memory and expectation become the only experience of this moment, this place we are trying to fish. We come to the net hauling more than my empty skiff can carry for a simple task: to pick all the fish from this net then go and pick all the fish from the next. Maybe if we try hard enough now, we can change what happened then, when I was a child, when my father was a child, when his parents were children. Isn’t this the meaning of my father rescuing—trying to rescue a silver embedded on the bottom: a single fish: forty minutes—wasn’t he trying to pull up on some sunk memory, with that oar of his? Isn’t he still trying to bring something to the surface, rescue some beautiful, lost thing from the sea-green floor of his own skull, where his seven-year-old self waits, looking up at him with hopeful eyes? Haul up the silver, the child, carry him in our own skiff. It can be different this time. But he can’t reach it, the beautiful silver, so close to its home river. Sand fleas will eat its flesh now. I want to reach the silver for Dad. I want to reach Dad for himself. To pull him up, up out of the water, take him home. I’ve believed that if I stretched far enough, ignored the oncoming wind, that I could rescue him. And in rescuing him, I could rescue me. If I just tried hard enough. Trying is something everyone in this family excels at. How full of energy, how brimming with intelligence and effort we all are! But maybe the fish is supposed to be left where it has fallen, on the sandy ocean floor, out of reach. Maybe we just grieve—over the fish, over each other, ourselves, what’s unfixable—and let the sand fleas come. I don’t like this answer, this surrender. But what can I do? Sometimes fish fall and the depths are too deep to do anything about it.
CIRQUE an enormous perimeter containing patches of sick and dead conifers that are feeding the organism.
In The Fungal Embrace of the World’s Largest Living Organism The titleholder of world’s largest living organism lies underground in a remote forest in eastern Oregon. The giant began as a microscopic spore, and now covers three and a half square miles. It is between two thousand and eight thousand years old, so it may also be the world’s oldest single living thing. The organism is a gargantuan Armillaria solidipes, a fungus that grows primarily below the surface but sprouts scattered mushrooms above ground. It lives in the Malheur National Forest, a six hour drive from my home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I dream of traveling to find the fungus, pushing my fingers into the earth that covers it, looking through a magnifying glass at its alien threads, and tracing the distance across its subterranean webbed vastness. I dream of falling asleep amid the dying trees on its breast, and waking up a little woozy, not quite sure of the time or place.
I once saw a horror movie where people, not trees, were the prey of a fungus from outer space. When a human inhaled the invisible spores, a monster grew and eventually exploded out of the victim’s body, releasing countless more spores. If I inhale the spores of Armillaria solidipes, where do they go? Are they dormant but still carrying the spark of life? I ask my friends what they think of a tiny speck giving birth to a gargantuan mass of stringy mats and parasitic feelers. The image repels them. Is it the thought of the moist, soft thing coming alive and spreading invisibly in the darkness? Or is it the spore, a seed that will sleep until awakened by a touch that is not human? In early fall, the glistening mushrooms of Armillaria solidipes will sprout on stumps and tree trunks, and the eastern Oregon landscape will be lonely. This is when I’ll travel to find the organism. For now, I’ll wait and daydream, and at night sleep restlessly, seeing images of the giant in my mind. And I will let the light of the moon enter my bedroom window so that I can imagine the same moonlight that spills over the fungus spilling over me.
When I find the ancient fungus, I want to sample the fruit of its tentacles. Its golden mushrooms can be eaten, but they must be cooked or they will likely make me sick. And I am warned that it is easy to confuse the small fruit of Armillaria solidipes with a highly poisonous mushroom that it closely resembles. The fungus thrusts out black stringy rhizomorphs that explore and invade; creeping underground, they extend the parasite’s reach into new hosts. If a hawk flies overhead, it does not see the fungus itself, but
“In the Lichen Layer”
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
My Father’s Spoon Now that I can only have him in memory, I see my father, his shadow on the kitchen wall. We’re back in the old house. I am not yet five years old. From my bed in the next room I hear him enter the apartment from the hallway, my father, the door closing, his keys carefully laid down on the table, his glasses next to them. I can hear the vinyl seat cushion exhale as he lowers his stocky frame to the place where he usually sits. He is home again. It might be after midnight. It might be earlier, I have no idea, but everyone in the house is asleep except for us. Moving across the kitchen floor, I can tell that my father is trying to be quiet; his steps are measured, methodically half-dragging, the whisper of leather sliding over linoleum as he begins his late night ritual. The light from the open refrigerator swallows my father’s shadow, briefly swapping his silhouette for a dimly illuminated, framed picture of Pope John XXIII hanging on the wall. I listen to the food sounds as each item is removed from its cold storage: the whoosh of a loaf of bread as its grabbed and released in its colorful balloon print plastic wrapper; the sound of one jar, two jars gently landing on the table; the crumple of stiff white butcher paper as a package of something is moved out from the metal shelf of the refrigerator to the formica-topped chrome dinette; the thud of a salami falling like a cave man’s club onto the cutting board. From up the boulevard the rumble of an elevated train, a familiar sound made louder by the night’s quiet. This noisy intrusion dominates our space, temporarily breaking the connection between my father and me. The roar of approaching metal, bisected by the piercing feral screech of its breaking, followed by a comma of silence; then the grinding noise of the train’s departure, bulging to a roar again, before retreating to a vanishing point of calm. The relative peace of our sleeping street is restored. Could my father have been on that train? No. He was already home, here in the kitchen, even before that train came and left. Of course. I catch myself half way through such a babyish thought and feel embarrassed. He must
89 have walked home, then. That’s why it’s so late. That’s why I don’t see him anymore during the day. I look around my room, over to my brother, who is few years older than me. He’s in the bed next to mine. He’s sleeping. He’s always sleeping. Never awake to share this secret soundtrack of daddy’s nocturnal foraging. The sound of the faucet filling the kettle. A knife’s tumbling clickety-clack around the insides of a small glass jar. A match being lit. Slow motion cigarette smoke drifts through the dim light filtering into my room. The sound of boiling hot water sweltering into a shallow Melamine cup. Instant Maxwell House. My father sighs. Once, twice, three times, each one softer than the previous, his final sigh, a prayer, “Dio, Dio, Pagenzia”, barely audible, exhausted, atomized into a cloud of resignation and nicotine. A moment of dead silence, and then the stirring begins. The dreaded, slow, repetitive scraping, swirling sound of a stainless steel teaspoon tracing tiny mindless circles on the bottom of a small, shallow plastic coffee cup. My father, gripped in a trance-like fatigue, embarks upon his great escape, his spoon on automatic, stirring round and round and round. His spoon is a diamond. A precision tool delicately held in his thick, calloused fingers, my father’s spoon, glinting and pointed downward, stirring it’s way south, relentlessly turning, drilling through the bottom of his coffee cup, through the saucer, through the formica-topped chrome dinette, through the linoleum kitchen floor, through the basement’s concrete foundation and into the earth’s crust, ever downward, my father, stirring through the mantle, the magma, the whatever-might-be-downthere, a concentric, ceaseless, spoon-driven spiral, boring through the endless layers, through the darkness of eons and epochs and unknowable densities of rock and fossils and crystals and liquefied dinosaurs, down through the planet’s deepest cosmic geology, down, down, and beyond, my father, stirring, all the way down, as they used to say, to China. “Stop! Stop it, please! You’ve been at it for hours. Your coffee is cold by now! Stop stirring! Please!” I wanted to scream from my bed. My brother, the one who sleeps so soundly, to this day, half a century later, still has no idea what I’m talking about.
90 Julius Rockwell, Jr.
The Sexual Behavior of the Male Red Salmon In 1947 the Alaska Salmon Industry learned that they could catch more males than females. Their eyes on their slogan, “Fish in the cans,” led them to wonder if they could catch more males than females without hurting the spawning. Accordingly, they made a contract with the University of Washington (Fisheries Research Institute) to determine whether or not males were important and if so to what degree. The University, in its wisdom, had a group of men observe the behavior of the males. I was very fortunate to have been called up for one month to help with this project. I was flown to the west end of Lake Nerka where the Institute had built a cabin. Lake Nerka is the second of the five Wood River lakes north of Dillingham, Alaska, on Bristol Bay. There, I was given a large pack of food for the camp and a skiff to cross a small bay to the mouth of Pick Creek. After securing the skiff, I walked two miles up the creek on a well-defined trail over a treeless tundra. The creek flowed from a number of large springs, about a tenth of an acre to one acre. The water coming out of the gravel was 36 degrees F. and flowed constantly all year. The camp consisted of a large tent with cots and a fireplace some distance away. About eight men made up the team. Those coming up from the cabin would bring food, etc. We watched the salmon during daylight hours and slept for the very few hours when it was too dark to see them. When it was one’s turn, he carried our trash to the cabin, caught up on sleep, washed, reviewed notes and did tasks to keep the camp running. Before coming up I had scoured the available literature for information on the spawning procedures of the salmon family members. I found only one detailed description. It said that the female makes a nest, lays her eggs, the male swims over the nest fertilizing them.
CIRQUE Our 50 male salmon had been marked with large colored tags. Various team members were assigned to watch particular males and record events. I spent a day looking at different males to get an idea about what was going on. I found amazing differences in individual behavior. Each male salmon seemed to have its own personality. I was warned not to name them after my friends. The behavior of each male was very different from the others and there seemed to be no general rules. I was assigned one that did not court females but simply waited until the nest was ready; when spawning was about to start, he dashed in, pushed the courting male aside and fertilized the eggs. This fish was watching a pair building a nest. I was lucky. The nest was being built right next to a tussock. The tussock was an 18-inch high tuft of grass and earth growing out of the water. It was about 3-feet long and 2-feet wide with vertical sides. In picking a spawning site, the male picks the best area he can get and within that area the female picks her spot to dig. Their site was about 18 inches from my head as I lay on an adjacent bank looking through the grass. The water was about 3-inches deep so salmon swam half out of water. The intruder that I was watching was about 6 to 8 feet to my right and waiting. The female moved about 6 to 8 times her body volume of gravel in 2 ½ hours, a lot of work. She appeared to get tired and discouraged. The male cruised around, mostly checking on other males and keeping apprised of her situation. When he saw that the female’s fins were drooping, he would come over and encourage her. He would swim over her body when she was at the bottom of the nest. His body slid across her adipose fin. She would freeze and tiny waves would radiate out from her sides. You could almost feel the very low subsonic sigh. She would do the same to him. These caresses were repeated several times by each. Then she would sparkle and start digging again with vigor. My problem was to maintain 100-percent focus for 2 ½ hours. The sex act lasts only 5 to 6 seconds and it is very easy to miss it. We had found that the best way to maintain this level of attention was to take notes and to record each move that each salmon made. This we did using a stopwatch and a clipboard. The beating of the tail of the female was a good indicator of the readiness to spawn.
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
“Egg Take at Saltery Lake”
The task of the female was to create a bed 6 or more inches below the original level of the gravel. It had to be made so that both of their vents would be directly over the only opening into the gravel pocket into which the eggs would fall. As the nest neared completion, the male would frequently try it for size and shape. Then the female would correct deficiencies. While this was going on, the would-be intruder became more alert and more ready to dart in. While progress generally ran smoothly, interruptions did sometimes happen. One instance was when an old male got into the nest. The female appeared very upset and dashed to her mate. “There is someone in our nest,” she seemed to say, pointing with her little fin. He dashed over and beat the daylights out of the intruder who was old, feeble and unable to get out of the nest’s depression. The male so observed and took a pectoral fin of the visitor in his mouth, and pushed its nose into the tussock. Then he went back, grabbed the tail fin and pushed that to the edge of the nest. Returning to the pectoral fin he pulled the fish away from the tussock and shoved it in again about 6 inches further on. In that way he moved the visitor out of the nest, a quarter of the way around the tussock and into the nest of another pair where that male beat the daylights out of him again.
91 After watching these fish spawn a number of times, one can pretty well anticipate when the nest is ready. The male came in and lay with her and I could see that there was a rock out of place. I thought, “No, not yet.” She corrected the error. He came back and lay there. “Now,” I thought. The male froze. The would-be interloper had moved up only slightly. The male rushed out into the only 3-inch deep water, grabbed the would-be intruder by the petrol fin, hitting him on Carol Hult the side, knocking him over. Still holding on to the pectoral fin but now on top of the would-be intruder and completely out of the water he brought his entire weight up and then down on the other male, rapidly again and again for almost half a minute. The attacked fish did not move for nearly 20 minutes. The male then returned to the nest. He lay with his female, their mouths were open, their bodies tilted so that their vents almost touched, and they both pushed. The eggs came out in a steady stream about 3-diameters apart, and went directly down into the pocket in the rocks made for them. The milt from the male, a slender white stream about the size of a pencil lead, came out and was directed to the descending stream of eggs. It completely surrounded each egg as it went into the small, less than an inch in diameter, hole. The stream of eggs was steady and stopped when the pocket was full. No eggs were spilled. It was a beautiful event in both timing and quality. The male went off; the female went into an ecstatic dance in the form of a figure eight on its side. At each turn she would flip a rock over the hole where the eggs were buried. The largest rocks were put in first. There were experiments. One was where a single male was put in a large cage with 30 females. Each had plenty of room. He started out by dutifully courting one and
CIRQUE then another. But he soon realized that he did not have time for such niceties and began to take his responsibilities more seriously. They were all making nests for him. He would try one out; if it fit, he would spawn; if not, he would move on. In one interesting situation, he passed over one female four times and each time he moved on to the same next one and spawned with her. On the fourth time, the one who was passed by darted out, hit her neighbor on the side and knocked her clear out of the spawning nest right during the spawning act. Eggs were scattered all over and exposed to the lethal sunlight. Although the male seemed to spawn with most of the females, only half of the eggs were fertilized. The explanation seemed to be that he was spawning faster than his gonads were ripening. Apparently, males were not built for steady spawning. This had been anticipated by the program designers, and, in another experiment, two males were put in with 30 females. Oddly, the results were about the same because the two males spent most of their time fighting over a single female, and neglected some of the others. This puzzled us and we tried to figure out in a special staff meeting what that female had that the others lacked. All we could agree on was that that female was an especially cute little salmon. There were two other experiments, the Monks and the Nuns. Five males were placed in a small cage without any females. They spent their entire time trying to get out and died with faces quite raw from trying to push through the chicken wire. Five females were similarly isolated without males. They just spent their time digging nests. One made a nest a foot and a half deep and finally laid her eggs in it and buried them. Some of the others also deposited eggs. None of these eggs, of course, developed. I also observed the fish in a natural area. The area chosen was a small bay about 100-feet across on the west side of the main stream. It was gridded by white string so that the locations of the four marked males could be recorded. The males were located at the points of a large triangle with one in the center. All the males had females. The pair at the top of the triangle at the north end of the Kate Worthington
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 pool were very devoted to each other. The male would drive away other females and the female would drive away other males. They stayed together until she was spawned out, and then she drove him away to greener pastures. Spawned out females do not like to have other salmon near where their eggs have been buried. The male in the southwest corner loved to fight. He would not wait to be challenged but would simply attack any other male except his close neighbors. He was good at it, and he knew all the holds. He kept his corner pretty well cleared out. Interestingly, his mate helped him fight. She would swim around and entice another male into their nest and then, as before, dart over to her mate, pointing with her little fin to say, once more, “There is a stranger in our nest!” The male would then dart over and beat the daylights out of the intruder. The male in the Southeast corner was an even better fighter who never lost. Being next to the main stream, there were plenty of males going by. He prevented the interloper type of salmon from entering the bay. He needed no help from his female. In the middle of the triangle there was a male with two females. Since it takes about 2 1/2 hours to build a nest and spawn, he had them spaced 1 1/4 hours apart. He devoted his entire attention to them. When a wandering male happened by, he would not fight but would escort the intruder to one of the two fighters and let them do it. He died without a mark on his body. The Alaska salmon industry in Bristol Bay was managed by a number of canneries. These provided small sailing whale boats and nets to the fishermen. The season lasted from late June to about the middle of August. The managers of these canneries were generally not owners but rather men who had worked their way up from the bottom. They were a hard and tough lot having had to manage without much law enforcement, members of the world’s oldest industry (He had to give her a fish.). They had to know and handle all the tricks of this ancient trade. All of them had worked several decades in the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, but none of them had ever seen a salmon spawn. Of course they knew that salmon did spawn. It being the end of the season, they all got together and
93 rented two Norseman, large single-engine float planes that carry 9 passengers each. With these they flew to the mouth of the creek and walked the 2 miles to our working area. They wanted to see some salmon spawn. My boss and friend, Ole, asked me to take over. It was not an easy task. It would be relatively easy to show two or three people, but 20 was a different story. The best place I could find in the time available was a spot alongside a section of the stream draining the springs. At a bend in the stream the bank on the outside of the bend was about 6-feet high. Fortunately, the bank sloped steeply to the stream in a series of steps which made an ideal amphitheater. The stream itself was poor, the rocks being relatively large. A pair of small salmon would be spawning in about 20 minutes, the best I could find. The little female dug valiantly. The little male was especially attentive and gave her maximum support, encouraging her greatly. I stood downstream from them and explained what was going on. Then something happened that I had never seen before. The female was trying to remove an intruding rock. She had removed all the loose gravel around it and had made it quite loose. But she could not get it out of the way. Finally, she tried to push it with her nose. With each push, it moved a little. Then the male dropped over alongside her and started to push with her. I looked over at the audience. To my horror they were all shifting their shoulders with each push, each giving all the moral support they could. They were involved. I knew something terrible was going to happen because at my heels a lone male was approaching. I went over to the audience’s side of the stream. The pair was ready to spawn and opened their mouths to push. The intruder dashed in, pushed the little male aside and let out a big white cloud of milt. BANG BANG – BANG BANG BANG -- “THAT S.O.B. WILL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN,” said the shooter as he shoved his automatic back into its holster. The intruder drifted down the stream, three bullet holes in its side, and blood coming out of its mouth. The male tried to get back but it was too late. The eggs were gone and many were scattered. The audience got up and each wandered off quietly in a different direction. No one is going to laugh at a man who can hit a submerged salmon in a running stream three out of five times.
In the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. Kate Quick At home, confessed, I gorged myself, fed my hunger with food, then hunched over the toilet, finger down my throat. I had noth In the early years of my ing real to worry about; this was my life, give or take, I had this guttural, problem, and it gave me heartburn. empty feeling in my belly. To my I don’t know what I was looking for, Midwestern high school boyfriend, exactly. Life felt so stale in those I said, “I am so hungry, but not days, and stifling, because of the for food. I can never get full.” He heat, the cleanliness, a prepackaged looked at me, the crazy one. The life with manicured land and nothone he undressed in his mind and ing to do but nitpick. Everything then with his fingers. His girlfriend. was so perfectly easy. It choked me. I was ashamed of my boobs When I went to college back then, because they were too an hour away from my Nebraska big. DD cups that I tried to squeeze home, after my high school boy and into a C on top of a skinny body, I had broken up, I devised a theory they got in my way and made me “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl” Keith Moul for detachable breasts. I wanted feel like a spectacle. He loved them. something I could take off and put My hollowness grew. I on as desired. What would I ever need them for? But it’s thought maybe it was guilt. I went to confession. not how we were made, and this is the problem. We are Hello confessional. Hear my prayer. I’d like to imperfect. Not asexual. Sexual. not be shallow. I am a girl. A teenager. Through the After college, I moved myself to Fairbanks, small black screen, on my knees, I whispered, Alaska for a graduate degree and quit having a mirror, “Forgive me father, for I have sinned,” through and indoor plumbing. Over the porch, I dumped slop the rote script. “I lied a few times and I didn’t make my buckets full of cold dish water and floating, left over bed. I – I stole two dollars from my mom’s purse so I potatoes, ketchup, cereal, lunch bits, and dinner scraps. could buy some Hot Tamales.” It looked just like vomit. I used an outhouse for a toilet, I am so cold, Father. and did not even want to throw up in it. I showered at “I broke the speed limit on my way to gymnasthe University, but suddenly twice a week, then once a tics practice last week.” week, seemed clean enough. I took graduate classes and I threw up last night’s dinner and had sex with taught undergraduates. Somehow, I managed to flip my my teenage beau in my parents’ basement. physical insecurity switch. He responded, “Say two ‘Our Father’s’ an ‘Act of My first winters in Fairbanks, I took saunas naked, Contrition,’ and two ‘Hail Mary’s,’ and don’t steal or lie or me with three or four men friends. It was a rectangular speed anymore.” plywood structure one of them had built, with two tiered Outside of the booth, I knelt on the kneeler built benches at one end and a small woodstove at the other into the next pew’s back. With clasped hands and my end. I didn’t think about the size or permanence of my bowed head, I recited: ”Our Father, who art in Heaven...” boobs, or my butt, their pectorals and penises, or their and played back making out in my parent’s basement, unkempt hair and hairy faces. They could have gang naked on their carpet the night before, faking pleasure. raped me, I suppose, but I knew they wouldn’t. They This makes me a worse sinner, the kind of sinner who were too kind and too stoned. They laughed at my jokes. can’t enjoy it. For sex on my parents’ carpet, I will go to In the sauna, it was sweat, then rolling naked one by one hell, orgasm or not. in the snow to cool off, and then more sweat. A cleans I have already fallen. ing. Finally, inside my friend’s arctic yurt, we ate moose “Hail Mary, full of grace...” roast and potatoes cooked in the woodstove. I felt so On a golf course, on my parents’ couch, in a hotel full. It had been four years since my last confession. room, in his bed, in cars.
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
Nature and the Northern Muse Fortunately the finiteness of our earthly geography isn’t matched by a finitude inside us. There aren’t many corners of the globe that people haven’t visited, but we rarely explore the wildlands inside. Our fondness for a place is personal and may strike others as no more accountable than our fondness for a spouse or friend. I know people who came to Alaska but hated it and left after a year. I no longer reside in Alaska but I spend much of my imaginative time there. The word itself—Alaska—is a talisman, a giant enticement. Why, when I was ten years old, a California kid with fifty states to choose from, why did I choose Alaska for the subject of my school report? Today I page through the report, smile at the youthful penmanship, and recognize the animal pictures as having been cut out of a National Geographic, but I find no answer to the riddle of the future. I love those lines in Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence in which the narrator describes the strange longing that sends people searching for a land to which they may attach themselves: “Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth.” Commonly, when asked why I went to Alaska, I answer that I wanted adventure and experience, as young people do. But why couldn’t I find these things in L.A., New York or Washington, D.C.? What made life in metropolitan D.C., which stands in my imagination as Alaska’s antithesis—I tended bar in Foggy Bottom—so stifling? Indeed, all of the great cities in which I had lived seemed to share in the same pitiable fakery and hypocrisy. Why? It’s the normal way of youth to be upset at the world’s mismanagement. Unemployment and inflation were high when I got out of college, and we and the Soviets appeared poised to annihilate ourselves. I didn’t like these things, certainly; but what ate at my contentment was the pervasive unreality (as it seemed) of urban existence, a restless sense of being too far removed from the pith and substance of life. The constraints of the city, the
95 dissociation between the words being mouthed around me and any palpable feel of truth, the spectacle of an overcrowded, oversubtilized civilization alienated from its roots and choking on its artifice all contributed to the visceral certainty that I was being ripped off: real life, life as this twenty-three-year-old male craved to experience it, was elsewhere. During a warm spell the water vapor, which had hung frozen in the rafters, melts, and the water runs into the cabin, spills over the logs and forms a complicated indoors fountain. Some of the icicles growing outside are a yard long and I break them off and plant them in the snow. They stand translucent, stalks of ice glowing in the moonlight or sparkling in the winter sun. In the day the sure-footed finches, resting between feedings, perch on these ice stalks. But now the cold returns and the nights drop to thirty or more degrees below zero. The water doesn’t run anymore, the icicles don’t ripen, and there is nothing left to harvest from the eaves of our icicle farm. I was working in a used books store in Silver Spring, Maryland and had an odd habit of hiding the Alaska books so that nobody would buy them before I could buy them myself during the next store-wide sale. The idea of Alaska tugged at me in the same way that the “wall of light” irresistibly attracts the wolf cub in Jack London’s White Fang. As the cub turns toward this light, so my thoughts ran northward. The “wall of light” proves to be the entrance to the cave in which the wolfling has grown up: the young animal is impelled through this opening by the inner laws of his growth. On a second reading I recognized this passage in White Fang as Jack London’s version of Plato’s Parable of the Cave. Outside is bright sunlight and truth, the fulfillment of the cub’s reality. My answer to the question why I went to Alaska has with time evolved along similar lines. The realer reality I thirsted for, the more palpable grasp of life was to be found in Alaska. What Alaska offers, more than just a change of place, is the living reality of nature and the wild. Here the wilderness in its radical state surrounds you. This became a great inspiration to me. I didn’t know what roadless open country was before I came to Alaska, where the scale, the rugged beauty of the land are breathtaking. Alaska’s population density, scarcely a soul per square mile, is an eighty-fifth of the average population density in the Lower 48 states, and a ten thousandth of what it is in the District of Columbia. So few people in so many
96 miles makes it a misanthrope’s heaven and a wilderness lover’s paradise. With proportions like that, we’re not just talking about more nature, we’re talking about a qualitatively different experience of nature and an opportunity for a deepened awareness of our place in the world. Is it possible, by coming closer to the nature which we spring from, is it possible to approach in turn some fundamental reality of life, perhaps even the sort of reality we gropingly describe as divine? In Alaska I found more sensuousness, abundance, nakedness, harshness, closeness; and less cloaking, mincing, muting, pretending and half-measuring; more earth, less concrete; a life that is simpler, starker, profaner and profounder. I came here with all of my senses open, in the vigor of youth, thirsty to discover things for myself, and driven to prove things to myself. Life seemed more vital and I threw myself into it and eventually wrote stories that drew on my experiences. Even the Alaskan English I heard spoken around me was different, an earthier, livelier and more colorful idiom that, grafted to my own English, would strengthen it. My years at Harvard had been instructive; now it was Alaska’s turn. For months the snow accumulates, spreading and deepening on every surface. The snow cover distorts the original shape of things until you can no longer recall what was underneath. Everything is veiled and whitened by the snow, and you might laugh and fancy you were looking on a world of comical marshmallows. After a few months, though, the gloom grinds you down, and in the deathly dreariness of winter you see the vanity of things. The numbing truth, then, is not that a veil has fallen on the world, but that this snowbound reality is the unveiled state of things, and every white, swollen rooftop, every soft mound in the snow is another tomb. Nature, this “nature” that scientists and poets have invoked for millennia, is getting a little tired. The word is carelessly tossed about, a catchall abstraction, until it means practically nothing, and I should do it the justice of saying how it means more to me than trees, rocks, waterfalls, bug bites and cell phone blackouts. Nature is the sea we’re born in, the air we breathe, the earth we die in, and the fire that renews us. Nature is the wellspring of poetry and the proving ground of the human body. It bathes the senses and awakens the spirit. It assuages your loneliness, shows up your pettiness, and, by restoring your at-homeness in the world, it heals you. The love of nature brings wholeness and content, and for
CIRQUE my part I get tremendous rushes of well-being being out in the wild. In Alaska, where people generally live and work closer to the elements than elsewhere, the walls that separate us from the natural world, literal and metaphoric walls, are fewer. Where the human presence is unforgettably dwarfed, as in Alaska, it is harder to forget that we aren’t apart from nature but a part of it. Our hardened edifices, our power plants and capitols, the price of a barrel of oil, the political and cultural ups and downs—these are all components of the human overlay. But many of us sense that at some fundamental level of existence there is a deeper reality of nature and its laws. The persistent tension in this dual reality—the human overlay, and the deeper abiding truths of nature—this tension creates a dynamic that drives many of my stories. Many of the stories take place out of doors—literally outside, and outside of the conventional social structures. Out of doors you get story events that you may not get in drawing rooms, strip malls and office towers. In turn you may reach different insights into personal and social relations. Nature acts as a great equalizer but also as a great discriminator, and in either case ordinary social expectations may break down. There is something about Alaska that invites characters to become themselves, to fulfill their natures even to an extreme degree—to pursue their demons across pitching ice floes, or to follow their angels into the celestial heights. This tantalizing quality might be the wilderness itself, or the vacuum of human meaning that we call wilderness. People naturally fill a space with themselves. The Alaskan landscape, with its abrasive purity, contains this paradox: where human beings are few, where they appear smallest and weakest in the face of nature, that’s also where humanity appears most singular and heroic, where, existentially, our strange destiny is visible near the surface. This heightened visibility, added to the optical tricks of the northern sunlight and atmosphere, contributes to the weird vividness, as it strikes my eye, the surrealism of our thin human presence in these latitudes. We fly north past Denali, the mountain rising three and a half miles above the mortal plateau, its rock edges softened by snow and by late twilight. It’s a cold land to come home to. Sometimes you regret the buzz of human activity, no matter how silly or cruel or hopeless it seems. I was in L.A. for the earthquake, but I just missed the riots. You think you’ve glimpsed our essential loneliness
Vo l . 4 N o . 1
in time and the universe. Nature is unceasing process; death and change are everywhere, unchanging and undying. But this sort of “ultimate truth” is a sham nowadays, and who needs it? If you feel like crying, there is nothing here to reassure you, though your tears dissolve in the elements and you may take comfort in being “one with nature.” It’s a good thing the pilot doesn’t feel “one with nature” and nod off to sleep when he’s tired. I look at the mountain below, impressed by its natural magnificence, its stony invulnerability. No, it doesn’t avail a man to have his littleness pounded into his consciousness. Arrogance accomplished more than truth ever did. We’re a privileged species, set far above ourselves by consciousness, freedom and choice. I’ve heard it argued, I’ve asked the question myself, whether the unexamined life wouldn’t be a more enjoyable life to live, but at thirty thousand feet, it’s much too late for misgivings. It is not only in the shadow of the Smithsonian or the Louvre that we pose the highest questions about human nature and purpose. Nature in Alaska isn’t just forget-me-nots, grizzly bears, spruce forests and calving glaciers. Nature is the source of humanity’s deepest feelings and aspirations. Nature is, or was, God. We may or not be godless today, but in our relations with nature we retain the raw elemental feelings that we invest in our gods—the dread, awe, entreaty, gratitude, love of beauty, instincts of chaos and order. With or without the gods, but with the feelings intact that breathed life into the gods, we are close to the first peoples in our experience of being human. In the age of science we are linked to the earliest humanity. Without this felt link, derivative concepts such as “humaneness,” “humanism” and “humanitarianism” are, for me, uncompelling abstractions, empty linguistic shells. Social abstractions mean nothing to me that haven’t been filtered through the earth and absorbed through the soles of my feet. Ideas like “law,” “equality,” “freedom,” “commonwealth”—these must bear up under the same open-air scrutiny. Embracing nature as a physical world and conceptually as a set of laws unites my capacities for thought and feeling. At this point, some ready reader is sure to accuse me of secretly longing for a “state of nature,” a descent into primitive lawlessness and savagery. My critic will say, This fellow is a crypto-fascist, for he dreams of the chaos that will bring down the iron fist of authority. And I will answer that a well conducted civilization is a state of nature. Manmade law is an expression of the imperative within humanity to govern itself
by just rules no less than social collapse is an expression of the imperatives toward survival and away from injustice. The dreaded “state of nature” is the construction of people less interested in the state of nature than in the nature of the state. The day is sunny like none I have seen in months. The sky is piercingly blue. Stopping outside, squinting in the sunlight, I hear song, bright birdsong, not a raven’s bellyaching but delightful cheeps and twitters, a trilling and circling all around me. Chickadees, a flock of them, descend on a trembling birch tree and wing among its branches, looking for exposed seeds, lighting on the twigs, knocking the powder snow off with their feet, working high in their chosen tree, chattering incessantly. Happiness Happiness Happiness. Literature in Alaska can be rooted in the elements without being oblivious to humanity’s loftier interests — and without being expected to surrender its share in these interests. I have met snobs who dismiss my stories of contemporary Alaska as the frontier fictions of a bygone era. Self-reliance, guns and backyard tarpau-
98 lins—these are a few of the bugbears of the stateside literati. They favor an urban and suburban mythology and frown on story elements of adventure and masculine exertion. Such prejudices may have to do with politics and book marketing, but they have nothing to do with good writing except as they may discourage it. It is not not knowing the difference between a moose and a caribou, or between a machine gun and a hunting rifle, that makes you a provincial boob, it is judging things which you know nothing about. If being smug, incurious, fearful and overly attached to your vanities is symptomatic of the provincial intellect, I dare say you never broke bread with a bigger bunch of rubes than a roomful of littérateurs. Hemingway had an understanding of this mindset when he compared New York City to a fishbowl. You’ll often hear the term “regional” used to describe a piece of writing that doesn’t take place between Brooklyn and the Bronx. Alaskan writing is indeed regional if its geography is loyal to a specific area. By that standard, Dubliners and Far From the Madding Crowd are regional, as is every New York novel. A good story comes from a writer’s awakening to aspects of human nature and experience. The awakening may be universal. The locale helps to occasion the revelation by interacting with character in a way that drives the story, but is not the story itself. In the future, when my books are no longer set in Alaska, my writing will nevertheless have been shaped by my years in the Great Land. The relationship between nature and writing, always a close one, is crystallized in the pleasures of language, in how words take shape and sound and sense from the organic world. The movement is always toward ecstasy. The earth shows through the snow in a soggy medley of minute promises, of needles, cones and leaves. It is marvelous how the snow melts around each individual twig or moose dropping in a little pit that precisely mirrors the shape of the twig or dropping. Where the snow recedes from the roadside grasses, watch for the flash of the snow buntings. Red withered fruits surface in the spiny branches of the wild rose. The autumn’s work is finished in the spring when the breeze runs up and rattles the dry leaves. I have been watching a vole waddle back and forth through the long hollow of his snow tunnel. He’s been using the same tunnel all winter long, but the snow has melted and exposed a neat cross section of the run. The winter is over, but the poor vole goes about his business and doesn’t seem to realize that things have changed. Or maybe he’s a philosopher and knows perfectly well that they haven’t.
What You Find and What You Keep
I pause at the crest of the last low hill above Wailua river and scan the uplands for any sign of a trail. In another hour the fern banks higher in the valley will take on the bluish tint of late afternoon, auinalā, “slanting sun,” when the entire landscape looks secretive. Although even now the Great Ridge Path of Kāne is well hidden in steep slopes of green, a trail once sacred to ruling chiefs where trespassers were executed on the spot. Five-thousand feet higher it ends at the summit of Mount Wai`ale`ale, always wrapped in clouds, no more accessible today than when it was the realm of gods. Ahead of me a half dozen Hawaiian men scramble toward a plateau. They carry picks and shovels, are barefoot and wear only shorts. Their brown backs gleam with sweat. Earlier we graded a section of dirt road below to park our cars and now the real work begins. My own face is so sunburned that the skin feels tight. A torpid breeze rises from the river, offering a hint of late day coolness to come. I retie the tails of my blouse under my breasts and shake damp hair off the back of my neck. Here I’m the only woman volunteer, too old to make much of a contribution, but these men are too polite to mention it. Tomorrow morning they will return to jobs as airport luggage handlers, fork lift drivers, lifeguards. They give me occasional studying glances as though confused about why I’m part of this crew: a single white woman who rents a tiny house without electricity and lives with little more than the possessions of a retired cane field worker. Years ago on Kaua’i my family was kama`āina haole, honorary children of the land—an old-fashioned term, largely forgotten—and now I’m the only one left in Hawai’i. The men are no longer “locals,” instead: kanaka maoli, the original people. Above me the crew chief Haleola whistles and motions with crossed arms: X marks the spot. It’s an exposed remnant of a stone plank he found earlier. I note the location on my field map. It won’t be exactly right and later the archaeologist will complain when my sketch is sent to the museum in Honolulu. That won’t matter. Here we’re all amateurs, taking part in this project for reasons that none of us can quite explain. “Hele mai kākou,” Haleola shouts. Come on, all of
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 you. His voice is cheerful at the sound of Hawaiian being spoken again. “I ‘ōlelo ka luna,” I shout back. The leader has spoken. I see his answering smile, a distant white crescent. He has a new turtle tattoo on his chest, a waistlength ponytail, and the beginnings of a beer belly. Instead of Samuel he now goes by the birth name his grandfather gave him--hale o lā, meaning house of life― because, he told me with pride, he was born in a hospital ward. Which I suppose is as authentic as the old names taken from wind, thunder, rain. We all piece together Hawaiian phrases remembered from childhood, or spoken as pidgin and now re-learned as a language brought back from the dead. This is more difficult than anticipated and sometimes feels like a lost cause. Every week the modern world expands its borders while we continue to dig for the past, stubborn, sure of what we’ll find. I shoulder a pickax and stagger up the incline, wanting to be one of the guys. After years away I’ve returned to the outer island where I was born, where people still raise chickens in their backyards. I’m no longer building for the future but trying to uncover slivers of a buried culture. It’s inspiring that the others are so much younger. I want to believe what we’re doing has value, is not sentimental. Haleola jams a wide-mouthed shovel between a layer of earth and the slab of stone. Everyone watches to see if a smooth pattern of rock will be revealed, a portion of the Great Ridge Path. Decades ago as a young man my father set out to climb it, something few attempted because the Path was overgrown and fierce, raking mists obscured the heights. A storm forced him to turn back just below the summit, so he never saw the lava rock altar filled by a lake of constant rain. Metal grates against stone. With more pressure it becomes a screech that makes me wince, then it turns into a tone, pure and focused. F sharp, I think. My chest stiffens. I feel the shape of my lungs, and a ghostly flash of pain, stage nerves. The sound reaches across time and oceans. F sharp was my cue for the soprano solo in Mozart’s Et incarnatus est, a sixteenth note hidden in a flute run. I stood on the balcony of Salzburg’s cathedral with an orchestra fanned out behind me, my body feeling as rooted as if grown down into bedrock, my mind all tenderness as the conductor’s baton dipped toward me and I opened my mouth to sing of the human become divine, to sing with effortless joy and fill the vast space with the gift of music.
99 The shovel is raised to reveal a plank of lava stone. The men trade excited glances. They begin to dig, their tools clanking. I join in but feel only the tone still resonating in my head. No one here knows about my opera career. No idea of what a long battle for excellence it was. F sharp. With constant practice I developed a sense of relative pitch that was as good as perfect pitch. The tone is fading. I struggle to hold onto it but it slips away. Now I feel tricked, out on a hillside digging for one thing only to find something else. I keep working and try to fit in, to be as anonymous as a chorus member. In Salzburg there were few American musicians and no one else from the islands. I was an adult, gifted, driven. Nothing was an obstacle, not the family I had left behind or the strange language and culture that surrounded me. I had chosen a fortresscrowned city in the loveliest part of Austria rather than the rundown Paris conservatory or the gray miseries of divided Berlin. Like all other advanced students, I wanted one thing above all else: to join the elite world of international performing artists. We would gain entry based on individual brilliance and uncommon personal sacrifice. Yet one year of auditioning became two, then five, and by the time I got a full year’s contract most of my friends had given up or gone home. Over and over I asked myself how much I loved music. The answer was always the same: enough to go on, regardless. An hour later we have uncovered six broad stone slabs. The crew pauses, panting and pleased. Rectangles of various sizes form a regular pattern with a slight groove down the center that shows a thousand years of use. Everyone is inspired to work harder. No one mentions that the Path of Kāne goes on for miles, up a nearly vertical mountain wall hidden by clouds, and most likely will never be fully restored. With a machete Haleola slices open a green coconut and says in Hawaiian, “Cut!” He takes a sip of the juice, says, “Drink!” grins, and hands the coconut on. I’m sure he’s acting out some personal version of how things were in ancient times. A chief and his men. Secretly I applaud. We should all live with the verve of tenors and sopranos. I take a drink of juice and step away from the men to continue working. First there’s the quick glance around for safety’s sake, then I raise the fifteenpound pickax with its iron fang, feel the thrilling moment of balance as it arcs back over my head, and descends almost out of control to plunge into a thick layer of earth. The ground a yard in front of me cracks, releasing a beige spider. I yank out the pick and step forward;
100 basic manual labor, digging up honed plates of lava shaped and hauled into place by commoners for sacred chiefs who climbed the mountain every year to invoke the blessing of water. As the pick comes down again Haleola rushes over to clip my shoulder. “E, leddy,” he says, “watch yousef, e?” His switch to pidgin English startles me. I look around, see no one in harm’s way, no near miss, no damaged stone. Yet his sudden reaction reminds me that he’s much younger, in charge, and he doesn’t want to carry me downhill because of heat stroke. He gives me a watchful stare, then something in his expression shifts as though to add that the project is best left to men like himself, one of the original people; that my skin color means I’m part of the invading forces. It’s a subtle look I’ve seen all my life, a challenge that if questioned will have Haleola’s entire clan rallying behind him. “Sure,” I say, “thanks. I’ll take a break.” I repeat everything in Hawaiian. He glances aside as though to spare us any misunderstanding. We’re both obeying all the old rules. Not letting anyone lose face is still the unspoken law here. I sit down on a lump of ferns, feeling awkward and divided. The modesty I learned as a girl was the opposite of the strident egotism that opera required, on stage and off. Yet once all my friends were like Samuel Haleola Torres, a man I might have married back then. In spite of a Portuguese last name, he is dark enough to be pure Hawaiian, and proud of it. He’s a nice fellow. Still wears his high school football jacket, class of ‘99. Father of five. When he goes home, because a cousin plays for the Dallas Cowboys he will watch a mainland bowl game beamed to the giant satellite dish in his front yard. At the same time, in his unassuming way Haleola embodies everything that drove me away. If I had stayed, like him I would have been bound to family and community, with anything earned or acquired given directly to relatives. I would have had no exaggerated dreams of personal achievement, the world beyond Kaua’i remaining an object of brief curiosity aroused by news reports of a California serial killer, or a three-day blizzard in New York, the names London and Rome inspiring no desire to travel, my heart never quickening at the thought of Mozart, or imagining the child prodigy at the court in Versailles. For Haleola, intelligence and art are still unspoken words taken for granted when shaping a perfect canoe paddle, or repairing a V-8 carburetor without a parts manual, or staying alive when swept out to sea by a storm. My aching hands and dirt-streaked legs make
CIRQUE me feel cut off from opera. At fifty, most accomplished sopranos are in demand. Maybe I stopped too soon or risked too little. Maybe the real reason I’m here is unimportant and can’t be figured out with any certainty. I no longer follow the cast lists but am sure that Cesarina is recording at the studio in Milan. Tilde must be appearing at Covent Garden. Sandrina will finally debut at the Met. Below me the Wailua river is a rich, deep blue. It starts as a stream overflowing the unseen mountaintop lake formed by endless rain, wilder and fuller as it descends over cliffs, although this far down the water is placid. It billows gently, the same color as the heavy satin gown I wore in Pique Dame. An impressive costume with puffed sleeves and a wide skirt that my tenor partner envied. Beside me, he shrank. Even elevator shoes and a teased-up wig didn’t give him the heroic stature he craved. All he really had was a perfect high C, but he couldn’t deliver it on stage without first making the sign of the cross, a fumbling motion he disguised as best he could. Picturing him makes me smile, then not. The memory is petty, mean-spirited. It’s not for little theatre anecdotes that I went twelve thousand miles from home and stayed away most of my adult life. My shoes wore down the marble steps of the Salzburg cathedral just that much more, and the echoes of my voice added the tiniest layer of moisture and vibration to hundreds of rehearsal rooms, stages, studios. Yet I will never again stand in costume behind a closed curtain and hear an orchestra play the overture for a drama about to unfold. Whatever I left behind is being forgotten, or is long since gone. As a singer I worked tenderly and fiercely to create personal worlds to enrich the lives of listeners—memorizing, rehearsing, interpreting—and aware that the moment an aria concluded, everything vanished into air. The men pick up their tools and I reach for mine. Haleola motions to me, patting the air, palms down; rest, rest some more. I stay seated but think that I’ll come back tomorrow, by myself. I know the way. I have the field map. The crew kneels and crouches, digging now with greater care to avoid gouging the stone planks. They talk sports, coaching their first grade daughters on soccer squads, older sons on canoe paddling teams, not ready for Red Raider football, but those boys getting big. Ewalu makahiki, eight years old. Hard to believe the size of kids these days. Eight. My age when I heard opera for the first time, and reacted like a little cave girl. Howling in mockery at a voice on a radio program re-broadcast from
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 somewhere in mainland America. Laughing until my stomach cramped at Life magazine photos of people in heavy makeup. A decade later my conversion began by way of a simple Mozart song that proved difficult to learn, for reasons I couldn’t understand. Year after year my gift for music grew along with my skills, then I was in too deep to imagine a different career. I refused to realize that sopranos have only one home, the stage, and when the door closed for the last time they had nowhere to go. Yet how I loved Salzburg. It lives in me like a secret memory no one here could understand. For a time it was the last place in Europe where everybody dressed in folk costumes unchanged for centuries. Hats, hairstyles and even aprons identified one’s district. Traffic was so light that a student practicing Mozart could be heard across the river, and the only dominant sound was the hourly tolling of church bells. Winter was so long and harsh I wore an overcoat indoors from October to April, taking it off only to lay on the bed as an extra blanket. The local hospital was literally medieval, its damp walls and elderly nuns to be avoided at all cost. On market day the town square was littered with fist-sized, dark green horse droppings. Easter came like a splendid gift, filling the alpine meadows with chamomile blossoms and the woods with tiny wild strawberries. The intense summer heat was relieved by flung open windows, strolls along the river, violent thunderstorms. In the Wailua uplands I see the first signs of auinalā creeping toward us. The men are now standing upright to work, perhaps unaware of shadows on the distant fern banks touched by traces of purple and gray. To keep busy I make notes on the field map, but these are fussy, unnecessary. I want to dig again before darkness takes the light. With my pickax in hand, I walk toward the worksite. Haleola shambles over to meet me, looking tired but trying to conceal it. “Go home,” he says, “pau for today. Thanks, e. Good job.” He claps me on the shoulder, gently this time. I’m disappointed but also don’t let this show. Both of us are obeying another unspoken rule: lōkahi, balance. No matter what happens on any given day, always smooth things over, restore harmony. And that’s fine, although it leaves me no choice. As I put down the pickax, the crew calls out to me. They wave, swing their shovels, throw joking punches at each other. Several laugh and
101 compare how much work the other has done: Slacker, you. Seen it! Their ease with each other reminds me that I gave up everything for a career that is now just a memory I can’t even talk about. My closet-sized kitchen has one plate, one glass, one coffee cup. I start down the hill. Haleola shouts something I can’t quite hear. I turn around, about to break into tears. All the men are still watching me, silent now. They have the attentive expressions of brothers who want to feel sure that their sister gets home safe. “You come back next week?” Haleola asks. Of course, I think, we talked about that, and he must remember because no one else wants to deal with the map—then I realize it wasn’t a question, but an invitation. The other men tip their chins up, that quick localstyle nod of agreement I haven’t seen in years. Come on, it says, we’ll keep finding the Great Ridge Path of Kāne, god of water, giver of life. It’s another offer that leaves me no choice, a kind offer, inclusive. “Sure,” I shout back. “Next week and next. Til we reach the top.”
R E V I E WS David Stevenson
Sweeney Agonistes, A Review of Alaska Expedition: Marine Life Solidarity by James P. Sweeney
(2011, VP&D House, Inc.)
Alaska has given mountaineering literature at least five inarguable classics. The first two are early twentieth century landmarks, The Conquest of Mt. McKinley by Belmore Browne, 1913, and The Ascent of Denali, Hudson Stuck, 1914. Then, in the late 1960s, three more appeared: Minus 148: The Winter Ascent of Mt. McKinley by Art Davidson and two by David Roberts The Mountain of My Fear and Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative. To this august grouping, add Sweeney’s Alaska Expedition: Marine Life Solidarity, the story of his and Dave Nyman’s attempt on the Elevator Shaft on the north face of Mt Johnson just off the Ruth Glacier in the Alaska Range. Hit by an avalanche 700 feet off the deck, Sweeney suffered a dislocated hip and fractured femur and was pummeled by avalanches for eight days before a highly competent team of committed professionals managed to evacuate him and Nyman within a tiny window of weather decent enough for flight. Sweeney owes his life to that collaboration, as well as particularly to his partner, Nyman, who not only went for help solo across the crevasse-ridden Ruth Glacier, but also returned for him, and dragged the immobile Sweeney around the glacier in the desperate attempt to escape the incessant avalanching. Sweeney is working against two trends in mountaineering literature: the compilation and the Himalayan expedition. The former is current, the latter all but played out. The most common type of climbing book published today is a compilation of climbs, often building to one signature climb. Steve House’s Beyond the Mountain is the
best recent example of this, describing his hard alpine climbs leading to his and Vince Anderson’s 2005 climb of the Rupal Face on Nanga Parbat. Narratives focusing mostly on a single expedition, as Sweeney does here, are not only relatively rare today, they often read like padded magazine articles. Even Touching the Void, Joe Simpson’s uber-classic sufferfest feels a bit thin. Simpson’s book, like Sweeney’s, hinges on the miraculous fact of its writer’s survival. Traditionally, single expedition narratives have been set in the Himalaya, where, after all, the mountains require incredible logistical efforts, and ascending them requires sustained mental and physical challenges. Duration is a feature not only of the classical epic, but of the epic as the word is used (overused, actually) in today‘s climbingworld patois. The stakes are high on Himalayan climbing expeditions: death is not uncommon. Likewise, epics are not improbable in the Alaska Range. In Annapurna, the story of the ascent of the first 8,000 meter peak in the Himalaya and the book that inspired a whole generation (or two) of would-be climbers, the first 100 pages (out of 250) are spent approaching the mountain and introducing the characters. Sweeney has no such excuse to fill his pages: he climbs alpine style, with no support, no approach, one partner. So, how does Sweeney make a full book-length work out of eight gripping days holding death at arm’s length on the Ruth Glacier? Sweeney puts honesty in front of ego. He’s not afraid to describe his own vulnerability, his dependence
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and ice-climbing were a very real apprenticeship. Alon others, his fears, his pain (of which there was much). though this book might best be described as a cautionary There are times when he describes scenes for which he tale, it is equally about commitment and preparation. couldn’t be present: what it was like for Nyman going Finally, as way of contextualizing the story, back and forth from the mountain house, what it was Sweeney includes two vignettes from his childhood and like for the people on at the Mountain house, particularly adolescence. These are brief tales of domestic violence the Nivers who crashed their plane in the flat light of the and death and Sweeney shows them to glacier going in to help. The description us, rather than interprets or analyzes. of the rescue effort is another extended None is necessary. Sweeney is basically scene for which Sweeney could not posjust saying, This is who I am. Surviving sibly have been present. These scenes Mt. Johnson wasn’t easy, but Sweeney have all been recreated with the greatwas not inexperienced in hardship. est of care, as well as, one imagines, The other contextualizing event loads of research. Though these scenes is the Exxon oil spill which occurs simulare somewhat peripheral to Sweeney’s taneously to the expedition. After his suffering, they are noted carefully and post-expedition seven-week hospital thoroughly and with great generosstay Sweeney throws his resources into ity. The heroes of the story are many, the eco-rehab of Mars Cove outside of among them the pilot, Jim Okonek, Homer where he was living. The book’s Roger Robinson of the NPS, Mark Niver subtitle, Marine Life Solidarity, is the and his seven-months pregnant wife, “name” Sweeney and Nyman registered Roberta, who landed at the Mountain their trip under with the National Park House when they saw an SOS sign in James Sweeney Service. No small coincidence: both the the snow and became marooned there spill and the climb involve an accident, and a hell of a lot when their plane crashed. And, Dave Nyman: if there’s of rehabilitation. any kind of moral here, it’s choose your partners carefully. Every great book is a miracle and great climbing This is a book about climbing in Alaska with Alasbooks are rare. Possible reasons for this are: one, dead kan climbers. In addition to the Alaska Range, Sweeney men and women tell no tales, and two, almost no-one climbs at Hatcher Pass, Valdez, Turnagain Arm; he ski pais willing to spend ten years of his or her life learning to trols at Alyeska. Take, for example this rather undramatic write and getting it down right, as Sweeney has. The description: other reason, of course, is related to what the mounWe leave Girdwood late, buy food at Carrs in tain guide and Denali guidebook writer Colby Coombs Anchorage, and after some winding roads, drive to Valonce said to me: “Writing is for people who have a lot of dez on long straight-aways where caribou run across time on their hands and don’t need money.” Curiously, the highway. To the north, a green, blue, and red aurora Sweeney rather fits that description. He is one of the glimmers in an inky black sky. Some big mountains are least materialistic persons I have ever known. to the south below Orion. The thermometer at The Hub One time while Sweeney was writing this book in Glenallen reads minus forty-two Fahrenheit. he said to me, “I don’t even dream about mountains anymore.” But last winter, I know, he was out on skis, making Plain writing, but Sweeney gets it right. turns. When asked (not by me) did you learn anything In addition to the setting, all the characters are through all this? Sweeney claims his answer was “Not particularly Alaskan with many cameo appearances by one damned thing.” I think what he means by this is in members of the local climbing community. For example, response to thinking of the question as “What would you Sweeney climbs with Steve Garvey and Chuck Comstock, do differently?” The only real answer to that is to not go somewhat legendary hard-core Alaskan climbers barely in the first place, which, to a climber, is unacceptable. But known outside of climbing circles. Sweeney learned a couple things, I will venture to guess. Even though this is the story of one expedition He learned how to write a profoundly moving book, one Sweeney does a terrific job of describing the necessary of the best we have. And also, so far as I know, he hasn’t years of preparation before even considering a climb of been back to the Alaska Range. the magnitude of the Elevator Shaft. His years of skiing
Review of Liveaboard, by Emily Wall (2012, Salmon Poetry) My husband, when I first met him, lived in a small sailboat moored off the butt end of Washington, DC. This, he assured me, was why his socks rarely matched. Emily Wall is another such a one: willing to trade the comforts of firm-land living arrangements for the opportunity, at any moment, to cast off from shore and take advantage of a fair wind. Emily Wall’s second volume of poetry, Liveaboard, published by Salmon Poetry in 2012, is drawn from four years of living on a 37-foot sailboat with her husband. During those years, Wall sailed the Northwest coast from Washington State up to Alaska, passing through the small marinas that pock the coast and house a strange assortment of sailors and adventurers. Wall has the wonderful gift of taking something ordinary and holding it up so that it catches the light and is transformed. She can write a simple phrase with everyday vocabulary, cut the lines in just the right place, and it becomes a poem upon the page. From “Sleeping in Charon’s Wake”: And other things don’t wake us. Jonie, eating at the pub on steak&prawn night, drinking her usual bottle of wine, slips coming down the dock, slips, into the cool, green river next to her own boat which must have rocked a little, in the wake of her body. Which must have rocked a little in the wake of her body.
To describe a river as ‘cool’ and ‘green’ hardly seems imaginative, yet this poem is everything a poem should be: polished to a keen edge, powerfully evocative, lacking in pretension, elegant. The way the poem explores the relationships between different meanings of the word “wake”, the way the emphasis and emotional tone changes when you repeat the last line with a different break to it, the way phrases ripple out and then echo
back, like water, these are all examples of the absolute mastery and control Wall can have over both substance and style in her writing. Wall’s poetry is fraught with shifting contradictions, opposites that somehow reconcile: the common and the extraordinary, doubt and faith, humans as a part of and yet apart from nature. From (one of the four poems titled) “Liveaboard”: a downy woodpecker is tappin insistently into the rich bark and even this is enough to remind us our glittery skin and chocolate breath could never stand up to the beauty of this one bird, willing to break open the world with her hungry heart, reminding us we are just bellies and mouths, all of us
What work best in this collection, are her perfectly phrased observations of the natural world that she sails on and through. This is also her chosen communion with God and transforms her poetry into hymns to be sung under an open sky in the style of the great poet Mary Oliver. “How can we not believe / in Eden with a river as beautiful / as this beneath our feet?” As is implied by her use of the rhetorical question, there is a constant tension throughout the book between seeking and finding faith. Her poems are nuanced and layered, yet still accessible, although it would help to read Liveaboard with a Shorebirds of North America field guide in hand as there are birds in nearly every poem. This collection is a paean to the infinitely elastic possibilities of the bird as metaphor. Read individually, Wall rarely puts a foot wrong. However, read as a collection, the themes and vocabulary in Liveaboard can begin to feel repetitive. By its fourteenth occurrence, the word “belly” becomes a jarring
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 distraction. God makes a number of appearances as a super-sized gardener performing workaday tasks on an awesome scale. Although I like the initial conceit, it is too cute to stand up to repeated wear. Most of her poems are fairly short. The longer, denser poems, like “Spinning Belief” and “Palm Smoke and Tobacco Birds on the Morning Bus”, were the ones that stuck with me after I put the book down. “Palm Smoke” is a minutely detailed description of a man rolling a cigarette on a bus and then smoking with the driver. The lines are so beguiling that the poem ought to come with the standard warning label that accompanies cigarette advertisements. “The two stand together, lighting their palms, which look as if they were smoking / themselves now, birds of sweet tobacco, lit against the coming day.” In comparison with the richness of this poem, some of the others look a little thin and overly spare. Perhaps what I liked best about “Palm Smoke” is that in this poem she has treated a human being with the same reverence that she usually reserves for flora and fauna. Yes, I thought, forgive us for being human, forgive yourself, then strike out for new waters and write more poetry about it, please.
Ela Harrison Gordon
Review of Steam Laundry by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell (2012, Boreal Books)
Steam Laundry is a verse novel set in 1896-1908, during the Gold Rush, in Dawson City and Fairbanks. It is based on the actual correspondence of Sarah Ellen (Nellie) Gibson archived in the Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Nellie is the central character, joined by her husband Joe, her sons Tom and Elmer, her second husband Will, and some minor players. This book is the product of much research, and the poems, some of which contain actual lines from the historic correspondence, are interspersed with facsimiles of historical documents—receipts, bills, contracts, funeral expenses. The book is an inch wider than regular size to accommodate these facsimiles. The cover image is a Margo Klass painting that aptly underscores water’s centrality to the collection. Altogether, the physical feel of the book is satisfying. This collection responds, successfully for the most part, to a threefold challenge: as a verse novel, it must keep the reader apprised of the storyline and place of the story without losing the lyric impetus. Based on real people, it should also be at least somewhat true to what is known of their stories and characters. Then, since over half the poems are persona poems, with six other personae in addition to Nellie, these personae must be distinct. Finally, the story and characters should stand independent of their historical background so that any reader can relate, so that the feel is that of life. In a moment of great duress, the otherwise stoical Nellie declares “There is not another woman / could or would do all I have done…” We need to know who she is to say such a thing and what would make her say that (and, to O’Donnell’s credit, we do). Perhaps most difficult of all in a verse novel, the poems, at least some, should be able to stand alone. The collection opens and closes with poems from beyond the grave. Each poem addresses the universal themes of the story: respectively, the lives and afterlives of men who uproot themselves as pioneers, as opportunists, as indigents, and the lives of the women who are uprooted, and what it is to be such a woman.
“Montana Steam Laundry” is responding to “Joe, So, as readers, we are directed at the very beginning, at the Dance Hall,” in the voice of Joe. This is also a sesand reminded at the end, to look beyond the immediate tina and, for me, a more successful one, with building story, toward the universal. This touch of magical realism emotional intensity, repetitions escalating rather than also invites the reader to suspend disbelief. Indeed, from going back on themselves. Perhaps it can be more powearly on O’Donnell clearly privileges lyric requirements erful because Joe’s voice is less established within the over the demands of historic details, using the historical poems—other than the epistolary set at the beginning, circumstances as springboards to explore some of the we hear about him rather than deepest tragedies produced by the from him, and this is the last time human condition. The best of the we hear his voice—thus allowing poems produced under this impefor more flexibility when building tus, such as the devastating “Motha sestina. Although Joe talks about er-in-law,” in which Nellie realizes Nellie in this poem, its emotional that her younger son, like his father, trajectory tells us more about a like his father’s father, is a drinker, drunk’s increasingly distorted percould stand strong, independent of spective on the woman at home the collection, anywhere. Outside than about the woman herself. And of the narrative frame, purely lyric while poems in the personae of poems such as “Raven” skillfully ride other characters serve to give perthe middle ground between having spective on Nellie, the series “Luck universal but unspecified reference Conspires against Tom and Elmer,” a and being another way to show the mini-novella in itself, further proves emotion of the lead character. the point that the other characters We eavesdrop on Nellie in have their own importance. There poems like the two just mentioned are certain similarities between all that are stepped back from the narthe voices, Nellie’s included. There is an air of resignarative; we also get to hear her in the midst of events. She tion, perhaps to be expected, but augmented in all of emerges as long-suffering, driven, pushy and resigned them by a kind of bleak sentimentality. This similarity by turns, and constantly attentive to similarities and to Nellie’s own voice precludes the emergence of any metaphorical relationships between things—the sun other character in crisp outlines, but I find myself satiscarving its circle like the long hand on a pocket watch; a fied to have them that way, like the new marriage like an egg still warm chorus in a Greek tragedy. from the henhouse; stamps, aspirin, As for the narrative, much whiskey as tenants on a table— of it is allowed to emerge in the powerfully moving images firmly interstices between poems and grounded in her circumstances. The facsimiles; an understated kind of final letter in the series of epistolary storytelling that allows poetry and poems titled “Chilkoot Trail,” with documents to validate one another Nellie’s metaphor-making around reciprocally. Additionally the early the concept of weight, stands out, group of epistolary poems between even within the narrative frame, Nellie and Joe set the scene and as a poem of universal resonance. Nicole Stellon O’Donnell establish much of the tension in the Elsewhere, it is always water—the plot; there are discursive poems that include story; ocsluice water, the water for the laundry, steam, ice, drinkcasional letter poems later in the collection also supply ing water, water in a vase. If the motifs of wringing and narrative material. washing, with their possible metaphoric ramifications, Some of the primarily narrative poems are less seem pushed too far in “Montana Steam Laundry,” it is satisfying. “When Payment Can’t Be Made,” with its disan artifact of the sestina form, whose repetitions, if anycursive mix of narration and recollection, owes part of thing, undermine the building of emotional intensity in its surprise to the amount of detail it shares concerning this poem.
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 Will and Nellie’s life that is complete news to the reader. “Hannah Mullen,” in Hannah’s voice, is problematic in that it supplies most of the facts of the move to Fairbanks, supported by the contract reproduced on the next page. Since Hannah’s is a new voice to us and we are just getting to know her (and don’t ever hear from her again), and since we are scarcely prepared for this ambitious move by the preceding poems, and since there is very little exposition of how Nellie and her companions establish themselves in Fairbanks in the pages after this, it is easy to miss what happened and then be confused by the poem “Nellie Thinks She Should Have Waited for the Boat.” The latter poem is a tour de force of lament the resonance of whose anguish is barely reduced by its reference to specific characters and particulars of the story. Unfortunate, then, for a reader to miss the experience due to confusion over details. Most of this difficulty would be alleviated if a timeline and a map were included. O’Donnell’s privileging of lyric over narrative response to the documents and the history is surely the right choice, surely allows her to produce poetry that signifies universally while bringing the historical characters to life. The dance between poems and documents is, at times, exquisite. The dating of many of the poems helps keep the reader on narrative track. But the availability of a timeline for reference would allow the reader not to worry about staying on narrative track. It would also fill in small-to-medium details, like how Nellie disengaged Hannah, how she and Will established themselves in Fairbanks, what is the story behind the poem “Infidelity,” where had Tom been before “Tom Returns to Dawson,” and at what point Nellie becomes Ellen again (this change is referred to early on in “Almost Anagram” as happening after her divorce from Joe, but she is not referred to as Ellen in a poem until sometime later). Readers unfamiliar with the geography of the Yukon and Alaska would have no concept of the enormity of a move from Dawson to Fairbanks in 1903, and would not necessarily understand why a boat might have been an alternative to the land route, let alone how the family initially arrived in Dawson. A map together with the timeline would greatly assist a wider readership’s appreciation and comprehension. This collection deserves a wider readership; deserves to be seen as more than an “Alaskan” collection. I hope it will persuade both readers and writers of poetry that there need to be more collections like this, based on courageous and skillful melding of historical documents and lyric poems.
C ONT R I B U TO R S Luther Allen writes poetry and designs houses from Sumas Mountain in Northwest Washington. His book, The View from Lummi Island, is a 365-poem manuscript about nature, insight and perception. Jennifer Andrulli: My creative influence is my Mother Line; my Great Grandmother Helen Joe, my Grandmother Rose Hagen, my Mother Karen Brooks, and all my sisters. They have taught me how to be real. I am inspired by Mother Nature and all the plants, animals, minerals and elements creating balance. My creativity is a tool I use in my work as a traditional healer to help my patients through to health and well-being. Alexandra Ellen Appel, reluctant poet, has spent a lifetime reluctantly writing poems. Her work has appeared in PenHouse Ink, Crosscurrents North: Alaskan’s on the Environment, Cirque and numerous other literary publications. Alexandra received a California Arts Council Grant, was a scholar at the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference, the Aspen Writer’s Conference and the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference. She is a founding member of the notorious Russian River Gang. Judith Arcana writes poems, stories and essays; her books include Grace Paley’s Life Stories, A Literary Biography; the poetry collection What if your mother; and two poetry chapbooks: 4th Period English and The Parachute Jump Effect. Her Maude poems are just beginning to be published – Cirque’s choice is one of them. Visit juditharcana.com Indra Arriaga: I was born in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. Over the years I have found my way north, where I now live, but have held on to the undeniable characteristics of my home that emerge through the color and composition of my work. The artistic process is, for me, an ongoing dialogue that arises from the continuing changes in what is personal, political and the social aspects of being human. Jo Ann Baldinger lives in Portland, Oregon where she writes poems, practices yoga, and tries to be patient. Her work has appeared in Blue Mesa, Tsunami, and Onthebus, and is forthcoming in Verdad. Tara Ballard, a poetry student in the University of Alaska Anchorage’s MFA Program, is originally from Anchorage, Alaska. For the past two years, she has been living in the Middle East, and now she and her husband teach at an elementary school in Kuwait. Christina Anne Barber is an Alaskan-based professional artist and is co-founder and Artistic Director of Green Bee Studios (GBS) in Anchorage, Alaska, whose mission is to “create freely, foster artistic independence.” Christina holds an MFA from the New York Academy of Art and a BFA from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. In addition to her studies in Amsterdam and New York, Christina undertook studies at the Studio Art Centers International (SACI) in Florence, Italy. Christina is a full-time, practicing professional artist who lives and works in Anchorage.
108 Gabrielle Barnett has called Girdwood, Anchorage, Santa Cruz, Vancouver, BC and New York City home at some point over the past 25 years. Recently, she has been experimenting performing poetry combined with dance and music, in collaboration with Momentum Dance Collective, Melissa Wanamaker, and Venus Transit. Judith Barrington is the author of three collections of poetry including Horses and the Human Soul, selected by The Oregon State Library for “150 Books for the Sesquicentennial.” Her Lost Lands recently won the Robin Becker Chapbook Award. Lifesaving: A Memoir won the 2001 Lambda Book Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. She is also the author of the best-selling Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art and has been a faculty member of the University of Alaska, Anchorage’s low-residency MFA Program. She lives in Oregon and teaches workshops in Britain and Spain. http://www.judithbarrington.com Edith Barrowclough is a photographer who lives in Anchorage, AK. She is the managing shareholder of a local business, and she enjoys taking pictures on her travels around Alaska and the world. Her photos have previously been published in scientific journals and Cirque. Doug Blankensop has lived in Alaska since age two. First in Annette Island, then McGrath, and grew up in Fairbanks from first grade through my first two years of university. This lot of poems resulted from a long term sub position in Huslia, Alaska where I taught grades 5-12 to an all Athabaskan student body. Thank you Huslia and the wonderful folk I met there, especially the elders! Gretchen Brinck, MSW, has been writing since age 6. Her short stories have appeared in small journals and her true crime book, The Boy Next Door, Pinnacle, came out in 1999. Since summer 2010 she has been writing nonfiction stories about her experiences as a child welfare worker from 1968-1970 in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and hopes that collection will become a published book. Cirque presented her story “The Fox Boy” that won the Andy Hope award in 2012, and the current story “Wild Dogs” just won an award from Professional Writers of Prescott, AZ, where she now lives. Terry Brix, a “green” chemical engineer, lives in Oregon and works globally. His poetry has appeared in, among others, Concho River Review, The Evansville Review, Fireweed, Curbside Review, Rattlesnake Review, Liberty Hill Poetry Review, Chiron Review, North American Review, and The Antioch Review. He was awarded a month-long residency at Playa. http://www.terrybrix.com/ Rebecca Brothers is a senior English major at Walla Walla University. After graduation, she plans to work towards a Master’s degree in library science, which will enable her to continue sharing the joys of reading, researching, and being quiet. Matthew Brouwer teaches poetry workshops for students in Bellingham schools and also facilitates a writing circle for people suffering from chronic pain. He has performed his poetry in cities throughout the west and is the author of three chapbooks: Cannonball Island, Men Who Walk with Canes, and The Gospel According to Matthew.
CIRQUE Fawn R. Caparas’ work has appeared in Alaska Women Speak, F Magazine, SubtleTea, Understory, and Bombshells: War Stories and Poems by Women on the Homefront. She lives and writes in Eagle River, Alaska. Vic Cavalli’s poetry, short fiction, photography, and visual art have been published in various literary journals in Canada, the United States, England, North Africa, andAustralia. He is currently living in British Columbia, Canada. Selections from his visualart portfolio can be viewed at http://vittoriocavalli.com/ Ann Chandonnet grew up in New England and lived for more than three decades in Alaska. She is the author of seven collections of poetry and a nonfiction book, “Write Quick”: War & a Woman’s Life in Letters, 1835-1867. Gordon Chew took an intro to poetry class in 1972 and was asked to memorize the last stanza of William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis”: he still remembers the written words today. He lives and works in the heart of the Tongass National Forest in Tenakee Springs, Alaska. Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing Alaskan who teaches high school English and French, and composes rough draft poetry. She lives with her partner Bruce, daughter Rie, and yellow lab, Odin, in Sitka, Alaska. Kersten is also the co-editor of the quarterly journal, Alaska Women Speak. She has published her poetry in Alaska Women Speak, Tidal Echoes, Anchorage Daily News, and We’Moon. Ross Coen is a historian and writer from Fairbanks, Alaska. He is the author of two books and numerous articles on the environmental, social, and political history of Alaska. He is currently a PhD student in history at the University of Washington. Kellie Coulson lives in Palmer, Alaska. She started doing envelope art for her penpals when she was in elementary school and high school. As a college student she overworked a lot of her projects, so she would turn some of her art class assignments into envelopes, being that once they were stamped and addressed, they were done and literally out of her hands. In addition to working with pastels, she also works with charcoal, gouache, and graphite, knits ethnic lace, and studies Spanish literature. Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach came to the United States in 1993, from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, a place where nationality was stamped: “Jewish” on her passport. With that identity, her freedoms and those of her family were restricted by law. Now, a Poetry MFA candidate at the University of Oregon, she is standing up to past: defying restrictions and speaking with a voice her family never had. Julia was been awarded an Honorary Mention in the 2010 Spoon River Poetry Review Editor’s Prize and the 2011 Karen Jackson Ford Poetry Prize. Her poetry also appears in ROAR. Kimberly Davis is an Alaska girl born and raised on a homestead in the Salcha Valley. She enjoys time spent with her children and grandchildren with whom she is always seeing life through fresh eyes. Kimberly is inspired in everyday life as a residential gardener who loves the outdoors, interior design, travel & photography and relaxing at the end of the day with friends and a delicious glass of wine.
Vo l . 4 N o . 1 Monica Devine is the author of five children’s books, as well as prose and poetry for adults. She is an avid photographer and her photo essays can be viewed on her blog: “Between Two Rivers,” monicadevine.blogspot.com
109 low-residency MFA program, and blogs at http://ulteriorharmony. blogspot.com Quan Manh Ha is Assistant Professor of American Literature and Ethnic Studies at the University of Montana.
Patrick Dixon is an independent writer/photographer from Olympia, Washington. His blog, “Gillnet Dreams,” consists of stories about commercial salmon fishing on Cook Inlet, Alaska, near Kenai, where he lived and fished for 23 years. More of Patrick’s poetry may be seen at www.patrickdixon.net
Nguyen Cong Hoan (1903-1977) is a Vietnamese realist author mostly known for his social criticism and portrayal of the contrasts between the poor, peasant class and the rich, governing class in the first half of the twentieth century in northern Vietnam.
Quoc Duong is an English student at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has won the Hayden Carruth Award for his submission to the UAA literary magazine Understory and continues to submit to a variety of journals.
Eric Heyne has been teaching English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks since 1986. He has published essays in Narrative, Modern Fiction Studies, River Teeth, Extrapolation, and elsewhere, and poems in, among others, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poecology, Arctica, Platte Valley Review, Cirque, and Ice Floe.
Katie Eberhart’s poems and essays have appeared in Cirque, Sand Journal, Elohi Gadugi Journal, and other places. After thirty-two years in Alaska, Katie now resides in central Oregon where she blogs about nature and literature.
Robin Hiersche has been writing poetry as long as she can remember and is inspired by her life in the heart of the Tongass National Forest in Tenakee Springs, Alaska.
Sherry Eckrich lives, breathes, and writes in Eagle River, Alaska. Her work has appeared in Cirque, Braided Streams, 50 Poems for Alaska, and other literary journals. She has won some very minor awards for her photography over the years.
Carol Hult is a writer and photographer who travels light but never without pen, paper, and camera. Her photographs and nonfiction work have appeared in African and Alaskan publications, and her poetry has been published in previous issues of Cirque. She lives on Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska.
Susan J. Erickson’s poems appear recently in Crab Creek Review, Raven Chronicles, Switched-on-Gutenberg, Knockout Literary Review, Floating Bridge Review and The Lyric. She lives in Bellingham, Washington where she helped establish the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Walk. She is working on a manuscript of poems in women’s voices.
Raymond Hutson has lived, studied, and worked in Washington State for 35 years. He received his MFA from Queens College at Charlotte in 2006 and is currently working on a novel. He is a physician, practicing in Spokane. This is his first published “literary” piece.
Tamie Marie Fields recently received her MFA from the University of Southern Maine. She lives and works in Berkeley, CA, where she often looks at the ocean and pines after Alaska.
B. Hutton is a performer, playwright, former columnist for the Anchorage Press, and former host of THE RADIO SHOW on KNBA, which showcased Alaskan writers. He has performed in a variety of Anchorage venues and organized reading series’ and Spoken Word & Writing workshops since 1996.
Molly Lou Freeman teaches and translates poetry in Paris, France and has twice been awarded poetry grants from the French National Literary Endowment. Her poems and essays have been published in numerous journals, including The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Bellingham Review, Cirque, The Colorado Review, Fifth Wednesday, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The New Orleans Review, Plume Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Daily, The Poetry Project Newsletter, The Seattle Review, The Southern Review, and VOLT. Erling Friis-Baastad: I had a poem in your first issue and am happy to see Cirque is thriving. I’ve spent most of my adult life in the Yukon. When not writing or wandering in the hills with my husky/ Lab, I’m too often found copy editing at the Yukon News. My books include The Exile House and Wood Spoken. Lily Gontard is a writer and editor living in Whitehorse, Yukon. Her poetry and prose have appeared in The New Quarterly, Ice Floe, Event, Own, and she is a regular contributor to Arcticmag.ca and Geist magazine. An escapee from California, Rebecca Goodrich is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Ela Harrison Gordon is a poet, writer, translator, and teacher. She is a second-year student in the Rainier Writing Workshop, PLU’s
Anne Jensen lives in Barrow, where she has the farthest north garden in the United States. An archaeologist, she has worked in Alaska for 29 years, mostly on the North Slope, taking pictures along the way. Her photography has previously been published in Cirque, as well as in scientific journals, and has also been used in archaeological exhibits and in her blogs, Out of Ice and Time (iceandtime.wordpress.com) and TundraGarden (tundragarden. wordpress.com). J. Christine Johnson is a writer and wine buyer in Seattle, her home since 2008. After a childhood on the Olympic Peninsula and university in central Washington, she lived and worked in France, Africa, Japan, New Zealand, Colorado and the Midwest. Writing fiction since 2011, her stories have appeared in Granny Smith Magazine and the anthology, Stories for Sendai. Raud Kennedy is a writer and dog trainer. To learn more about his work, please visit raudkennedy.com Kaija Klauder: I grew up in Palmer, Alaska, under the tutelage of sled dogs, mountains, and sky. Michael-Peter Kleven is a working artist in Seattle Washington.
110 His primary focus is filmmaking and photography. He always endeavors to capture the essential image whether in still life, landscape or portrait. You can find out more about his work at: www. michaelkleven.com Jerry Kraft is a playwright, poet and journalist. He has published poetry in many journals and stashed much more in undisturbed corners of his study. He lives in Port Angeles, Washington. Carolyn Kremers lives and writes in Fairbanks, Alaska. Her books include Place of the Pretend People: Gifts from a Yup’ik Eskimo Village (a memoir), The Alaska Reader: Voices from the North (literary anthology, co-edited with Anne Hanley), and Upriver (poems). Patrick Lane is one of Canada’s preeminent poets, author of 30 books of poetry, a novel, short stories and a memoir. Visit his website at www.patricklane.ca Barbara Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Eugene, Oregon. Barbara is currently in Yellowstone National Park working as a seasonal volunteer at the park’s north edge. Charles Leggett is a professional actor based in Seattle whose recent publications include Graze Magazine, Words and Images, and Ellipsis…Literature and Art; he has work forthcoming in Palimpsest. Charles’s poetry also appeared in Cirque, Vol. 3, No. 2, for which publication he was proud to help facilitate the “Seattle Celebrates Cirque” reading at ACT Theatre in August of 2012. Kim-An Lieberman is a poet of Vietnamese and Jewish American descent, born in Rhode Island and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She is the author of Breaking the Map (Blue Begonia Press, 2008). Olga Livshin’s work has appeared in The Mad Hatters’ Review, Jacket Magazine and other journals. She lived in Anchorage, where she worked as a professor of Russian, from 2008 to 2012. Rosalie Loewen is a writer who lives in Haines, Alaska with her husband and their two daughters. For more of Rosalie’s writing, please visit http://alaskarosalie.tumblr.com A retired teacher and librarian and now a part-time editor, Marie Lundstrom is presently working toward an MFA in creative writing with emphasis on poetry at UAA. Her poems have appeared in Cirque, Braided Streams, and 50 Poems for Alaska. She was the featured local poet at Poetry Parley at Out North in September 2012, and she belongs to the poetry reading, writing and critiquing group Ten Poets. Linda Infante Lyons was raised in Anchorage and earned a degree in Biology at Whitman College, WA. She later studied painting in Chile at the Vina del Mar Fine Arts Institute. She has been painting and showing her work in Anchorage for 15 years and is part of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center’s Alaska Contemporary Artists permanent collection. She has produced murals and paintings for the 1% for Art public art program and has resided as Artist in Residence with the Alaska State Council on the Arts Artist in School program producing collaborative murals with local students and in remote Alaska villages. She currently teaches painting at the Anchorage Museum and in her studio at Magpie Artworks.
CIRQUE Brandon McElroy is the founder and director of Progressive Media Alaska, a video and multi-media production company in Anchorage. He has enjoyed the experience of spearheading several documentary projects in Alaska, especially those that are agents for positive social change such as suicide prevention in Barrow, Alaska. Working in Cuba with Dr. Jill Flanders Crosby, Brandon has overseen the academic & aesthetic media documentation of the Arará communities in Matanzas. In Alaska, he is most proud of working with the Smithsonian Institution to document oral history narratives, and traditional skills & knowledge, with Alaska Native elders from around the state. David McElroy lives in Anchorage with his wife Edith and works in the Arctic as a commercial pilot. He has been published before in Cirque, national journals, and has a book called Making It Simple. He and his family travel extensively in Alaska and the world. Pecan Grove Press published Ron McFarland’s fourth full-length book of poems, Subtle Thieves, in spring of 2012. He is currently working on a book about biographical fictions involving Ernest Hemingway as a major character. He teaches at the University of Idaho. Suzanne Miles: I began writing poetry in Peoria, Illinois, at 15; 53 years later, in Alaska’s magnificent Last Frontier, poetry is everywhere I look. Alaska is an artist’s paradise where everything seems to bear a special weight of meaning and importance. I’ve always been an artist; all that changes is the way I communicate my vision, presenting with either words or a pictorial medium. John Morgan has published four books of poetry, most recently Spear-Fishing on the Chatanika: New and Selected Poems. His collection of essays, Forms of Feeling: Poetry in Our Lives, came out earlier this year. Keith Moul has had both poetry and photos in Cirque. He’s published widely for many years, with two recent chapbooks: The Grammar of Mind (2010) from Blue & Yellow Dog Press and Beautiful Agitation (2012) from Red Ochre Press. Broken Publications will shortly release a longer work, Reconsidered Light, consisting of poems he wrote inspired by photos he took, or in some cases digital versions of his daughter Ianthe’s paintings. Keith is retired, living in rural western Washington. Mark Muro is a poet, playwright and performer who lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska. Sheila Nickerson, a former Poet Laureate of Alaska, lives in Bellingham, Washington. Her nonfiction titles include Disappearance: A Map and Midnight to the North, with a book forthcoming on the history of sledge dogs in the Arctic. Joe Nolting recently moved to Bellingham, WA, after spending the past 35 years in Alaska. He misses the Alaskan writing community, especially Ten Poets from Alaska, but is embracing the rich Bellingham literary scene. Monica O’Keefe paints both distant vistas and close-up views of the natural world, using color and detail to illustrate her feelings about the outdoors around us. Getting outdoors is very important to her artistic process, and it is while hiking that she comes up with many of her inspirations and concepts for paintings.
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Timothy Pilgrim is a native Montanan, journalism professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham and poet with over 150 published poems. His work has been published in Idaho’s poets: A Centennial Anthology (University of Idaho Press) and has been accepted by journals such as Cirque, Seattle Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Windfall, The Curious Record and Meadowland Review.
Brenda Roper: Brenda Roper spent over 20 years in Alaska before moving to the oldest artist colony on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. She lives too many miles from the ocean where she indulges her creative life mixing media with wine and travel, and taking photos to mark her path. Her work can be found in Cirque, Calyx and Merida: In Other Words. Please visit www.brendaroper.com
Candace Polson: I am very excited to be published in Cirque. I have been published in many different magazines from local prints to New York Quarterly. Right now, I am working as a carpenter and retail manager to support my writing habit.
Steve Rubinstein runs Alaska Pacific University’s Graduate Program in Outdoor and Environmental Education at the Spring Creek Farm Campus in Palmer, Alaska. He also helps tend the family farm, Sun Circle Farm, and the farm’s Clydesdale draft horse, Highland steer, milk cow, donkey, pigs, ducks, chickens and assorted dogs, cats, and kids.
Peter Porco is a writer, actor, teacher and journalist living in Anchorage, Alaska. “52 Faces of Mountain View” honors a brilliant outdoor sculpture made in 2010 by the artists to whom the poem is dedicated. Pamela Porter’s fourth collection of poetry, No Ordinary Place, was published in 2010 by Vancouver’s Ronsdale Press. Pamela lives near Sidney, BC with her family and a menagerie of rescued horses, dogs, and cats. Linda Quennec is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and an MFA candidate at Naropa University. Her work has appeared in Quills Canadian Poetry and Emerge magazine. She lives in Vancouver, B.C. Kate Quick lived in Fairbanks, Alaska for eleven years and recently relocated to Sutton, Alaska to teach English classes for the University of Alaska Anchorage. She lives with her husband, three kids, and two old dogs. Tanyo Ravicz’s books include Alaskans, A Man of His Village, and Ring of Fire and Other Stories. He lived in Alaska for many years, in Fairbanks and Kodiak, and continues to visit each summer. Kylan Rice has had poetry published in The Examined Life, Thrush, decomP magazinE, Brusque Magazine and elsewhere. He is editor for Likewise Folio and lives in Oregon. Kelly Lynae Robinson lives in Boise, Idaho. She writes PR for a living and a thrift store fashion blog for fun. Dr. Julius Rockwell, Jr. is a 94-year old New Englander and an alumnus of Phillips Andover, University of Michigan, a Naval Academy, U. of Cal, Berkeley, and the University of Washington. He has worked as a naval Officer at Sea, as a salmon researcher in Alaska, electronic R&D in Seattle, oceanographic instrumentation in DC, the Pipeline Construction, taught at APU, organized cave exploration in Alaska, served on the Board of the Anchorage Waterways Council, and is starting to write poetry, plays and his life’s stories. ”The Sexual Behavior of the Male Red Salmon” was used as a play performed in three Alaskan cities. Julius is a Fellow in the National Speleological Society and the Marine Technology Society. He has 34 publications including several patents. Zack Rogow is the author, editor, or translator of nineteen books or plays. His seventh book of poems, My Mother and the Ceiling Dancers, was published by Kattywompus Press. He is the editor of an anthology of U.S. poetry, The Face of Poetry, published by University of California Press. Rogow teaches in the MFA writing program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.
A native Oregonian, Traci Schatz lives and writes in Portland with her partner and their small petting zoo of animals. Her work has appeared in VoiceCatcher, the Wordstock Top Ten, the Houston Chronicle, and others too obscure to mention. She is currently enrolled in the Poetic Medicine facilitator training program where she hopes to explore the many ways in which writing can help change our world. Elaine Dugas Shea has lived in Montana for 40 years, but still misses the ocean. She enjoyed a career in social justice working with American Indian Tribes and civil rights. Her writing was featured in Third Wednesday, South Dakota Review, the anthology The Light in Ordinary Things, the anthology Hope Whispers, Front Range Review, Camas, Spillway, the anthology When Last on the Mountain: The View from Writers over Fifty and elsewhere. Deborah Chava Singer is originally from San Diego, California where she studied truth with the Mesa College Theatre Company and created, published, and performed with the Queer Players. While going to school (in something else entirely) in Toronto, Ontario she remembered what she really wanted most was to be a writer. She currently resides in Vancouver, Washington and can be found online at www.latenightawake.com Michael Spring is the author of three poetry collections. His third collection Root of Lightning recently won a 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award honorable mention. New poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in: Atticus Review, Carnival, Innisfree, LUMMOX, Neon, Sleet, Spillway, and Steelhead Special. Michael lives in O’Brien, OR. He is a natural builder, a martial art instructor, and a poetry editor for The Pedestal Magazine. Mark Stadsklev, author of Alaskan Air: Nature’s Artwork on the Alaskan Landscape has been a photographer and bush pilot in Alaska for over 20 years. Having logged more than 13,000 accident free flying hours, he resides in Eagle River, Alaska with his wife Kristin and his dog Charlie. Mark’s website www.artwithinnature.com showcases his variety of artwork, from aerial panoramas to macro shots of ants on sunflowers. Please stop in and sign his guestbook. And tell him you found him through Cirque. Joannie Stangeland’s book Into the Rumored Spring was published by Ravenna Press. She’s also the author of two chapbooks, and her poems have appeared in Floating Bridge Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and other publications.
David Stevenson has been the book review editor at The American Alpine Journal since 1995. He directs the Low-Residency MFA Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. In the interest of full disclosure, Stevenson admits to occasionally sharing refreshing adult beverages with the writer, Jim Sweeney.
volunteers as a DJ for a community radio station. Her short fiction has appeared in several literary journals and magazines, including Sheepshead Review, Green Mountain Review and Glassworks Magazine. Toni earned her MFA in creative writing from University of Alaska Anchorage in 2012.
Judith Stoll is a 2003 graduate of the UAA, MFA program (in fiction). Her work has been published in Ice Floe. She has lived in Alaska since 1997. She performed as Louise Bogan in “I Teach Out of Love,” a play about Theodore Roethke. Stoll also participates regularly in Poetry Parley, a monthly tribute to the poem held at Out North in Anchorage, Alaska.
Joanne Townsend: I had a 35 year career in Alaska where it was my honor to serve as Alaska’s 8th Poet Laureate, writing, editing, publishing and promoting poetry, also teaching at UAA and in the community. Now, grayer if not wiser, I live in New Mexico--still writing.
Kaz Sussman is a carpenter and disaster response worker living in a home he has built in Oregon from abandoned poems. His work is available or forthcoming in Caduceus, Boston Literary Magazine, Kingpin Chess, Raven Chronicles, San Pedro River Review, and This I Believe: On Fatherhood, among other publications. Banan Tarr: I was conceived in Yakutat, Alaska and born in Anchorage. I’ve been an Alaskan my entire life. I seek to experience the majesty and natural beauty that is the Last Frontier and capture it on the digital negative. Over the past few years, I’ve taken to photography as a means of propelling myself further into this great land and sharing my experiences with anyone interested. During June of 2012, I held my first photography exhibition in Anchorage at Bernie’s Bungalow. Kathleen Tarr’s work has appeared in TriQuarterly, Creative Nonfiction, Cirque, 49 Writers, America Magazine, Alaska Airlines Magazine, and is forthcoming in the Sewanee Review. She earned an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Pittsburgh and is the former Program Coordinator of the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Carey Taylor lives and writes on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Her poetry has previously appeared in Cirque.
Stephen Delos Treacy was a marine mammalogist in Alaska for 20 years before moving to Port Townsend, WA. He is a professional actor, theatre reviewer at The Leader, and playwright. His poems have appeared in Cirque and Ice-Flow. Karen Tschannen has named Alaska home since 1961. Some of her words have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Ice-Floe, PNW Poets & Artists Calendar(s), North of Eden (Loose Affiliation), The Sky’s Own Light (Minotaur), Crosscurrents North (U. of Alaska Press), and other publications. Constance Weissinger Tucker is a Philadelphia native living in the extreme boonies of northern Maine. She has been making photographic images since 1981 when, at the age of 37, she discovered the charms of a camera. She has taught art, photography, and humanities courses at the University of Maine. Connie works at writing, editing and proofreading, mostly. Her photos have appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers, and books and most recently in the online Lily Literature Review. Sean Ulman is writing a long novel about Seward and Art. Excerpts have been published at Vol 1. Brooklyn, the delinquent, Kill Author, the2ndhand, Cirque and elsewhere. A poem from his chapbook Radland (Deadly Chaps, 2011) was nominated for a Pushcart. sean-ulman.tumblr.com
Jim Thiele worked as a photographer for a biological text book company for several years, before moving to Alaska in 1974. He has worked for The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the University of Alaska as a biologist, but now is a financial advisor in private practice. His photographs have been seen in several publications, including Alaska Magazine and Alaska Geographic. He lives in Anchorage with his wife Susan. Taking photos forces him to stop and really see the world.
Kaylie Weable was born and raised on the west coast of Washington State. Her passions are writing, photography, and hiking.
Elizabeth L Thompson was born and raised in Salmon, Idaho, on “The River of No Return.” She currently resides in Big Lake, Alaska, on the lake, in Denali’s wake, with three parakeets. Miss Thompson is an AADP Certified Nutritionist.
Tonja Woelber is a member of the collaborative group “Ten Poets.” She has lived in Anchorage for 31 years, enjoying the mountains in all weathers. Her favorite poets are Anna Akhmatova, Sylvia Plath and Tu Fu.
Georgia Tiffany’s work has appeared in various anthologies (most recently in Poets of the American West), and in such publications as Threepenny Review, Willow Springs, Weber Studies, Rhino, Tar River Poetry, Malahat Review and Poetry Ireland. Her chapbook, Cut From the Score was published by Night Owl Press. A native of Spokane, Washington, she now lives and teaches in Moscow, Idaho.
Nancy Wilbur Woods was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska. She now lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works as the editor of a community newspaper and teaches creative writing. nancywoods.com
Toni Todd currently splits her time between Gunnison, Colorado and a small coffee farm near Volcano, Hawaii. In the Rockies, she writes regular freelance features for two local newspapers and
Waimea Williams is from Hawaii and spent a decade in Europe as an opera singer. Her debut novel, Aloha, Mozart has just been published by Luminis Books. Her 2012 first-prize short story, “Vienna Quarter, With Dog,” appeared in The Chariton Review. Paxson Woelber ------> www.paxsonwoelber.com
Kate Worthington spent seventeen years in Alaska and still hides out at her cabin near Talkeetna when she can. She studies law in New Mexico. Jeanne Yeasting: I have been living in Bellingham, WA, for ten years and teach at Western Washington University.
How to Submit to
C irque Cirque, published in Anchorage, Alaska, is a regional journal created to share the best writing in the region with the rest of the world. Cirque invites emerging and established writers living in the North Pacific Rim—Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia and Chukotka—to submit short stories, poems, creative nonfiction, translations, plays, reviews of first books, interviews, photographs, and artwork for Cirque’s Summer Solstice 2013 Issue.
Issue #8—Summer Solstice 2013 Submission Deadline: March 21, 2013
Submission Guidelines --Eligibility: you were born in, or are currently residing in, or have previously lived for a period of not less than 5 years in the aforementioned North Pacific Rim region. --Poems: 4 poems MAX --Fiction, Nonfiction, Plays: 12 pages MAX --Artwork: 10 images MAX accepted as lo-res email attachments (jpegs). Production will require hi-res images (1 mb or greater). --Bio: 1-3 sentences MAX. --Contact Info: Make sure to keep your contact email current and be sure that it is one that you check regularly. If your contact information changes, make sure to inform us at Cirque. To ensure that replies from Cirque bypass your spam filter and go to your inbox, add Cirque to your address book. --Electronic Submissions Only --Attach a Word document to your email or imbed submission text within the body of the email; use 12pt font in a common, easy to read typeface (Times, Arial, etc.) --Subject Line of your email should read: “Poetry Submission,” “Fiction Submission,” “Play Submission,” “Non-fiction submission,” etc. --Replies average two to three months, and we don’t mind you checking with us about your submissions.
Please Send Inquiries and Submissions to: email@example.com Submission Guidelines also at: http://www.cirquejournal.com/submittocirque.shtml Photo: Paxson Woelber
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A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim