CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VOLUM E 5, N O. 2
CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 5 No. 2
Summer Solstice 2014
© 2014 by Sandra Kleven & Mike Burwell, Editors
Cover Photo Credit: Hannah Hindley, “The silt that receding glaciers leave behind settles out into the marbled rivers of beautiful—but treacherout—boot sucking mud.” Hannah Hindley’s cover and the other images that appear in this issue are from her photographic series she has entitled “Melt Out.” Inside Cover Photo Credit: Jennifer Andrulli Table of Contents Photo Credit: Hannah Hindley Design and composition: Paxson Woelber ISBN-13: 978-1500188856 ISBN-10: 1500188859 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
still and again ten poems and ten paintings by Cirque contributor Jo Going still and again 7" x 7" full color gloss ten poems and ten$40 paintings by Cirque contributor Jo Going plus $4 mailing 7" x 7" full color gloss $40 plus $4 mailing to order email@example.com to order firstname.lastname@example.org
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—Nathan Brown, Author of My Sideways Heart Oklahoma Poet Laureate
Defiance StreetPoems and other writing
is a novelist, historian, and awardwinning freelance journalist. He is the author of the novels Turn Again and The Devil’s Share. He lives in Alaska.
dra Kleven soars, wildly creative, using beasts around the ring and into the light. world into place for her readers again, n must have been seeing the world fresh. es Kleven (“Jaden is Calling”). She has
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Weathered Edge Three Alaskan Novellas
Martha Amore is an award-winning author and
—Anne Caston Author of Flying Out With the Wounded
teaches writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University. She achieved her MFA in Fiction from the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Defiance Street: Poems Buffy McKay and other writing is VP&D House’s debut collection of dynamite poetry and prose by Alaskan writer, Sandra Kleven.
is an Alaska Native writer and awardwinning poet. Her work has appeared in 50 Poems for Alaska by Ten Poets, and Crosscurrents North: Alaskans on the Environment, among others. She lives in Rhode Island.
—Michael Burwell, Author of Cartography of Water ing editor of the literary journal Cirque
Sandra Kleven 11/14/13 4:15 PM
Farmen • Amore • McKay
n’s Defiance Street is a wild ride of disnger for language and truth-telling that eminism, sexuality, mothering, love, beeal, and full of her own personal music. f aging, memory, the deepening of love, and her journeys to bush Alaska where y and candor. These poems are at once ry you will relish, prose you will cherish.
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Defiance Street Poems and other writing by Sandra Kleven Weathered Edge ISBN: 978-0-9850487-8-5 About the Authors Retail price: $16.95 Kris Farmen 112 pages, softcover
eet besides: You must give this book a
Defiance Street: Poems and other writing
honesty that remains uncompromising As She Waits for Word on Her Biopsy,” th confessions borne of a poet’s long poems. She speaks of the famous Blue 20th Century, and of Theodore Roethke andra Kleven’s lines:
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Weathered Edge is the first of its kind, a collection of three unique novellas by three of Alaska’s finest up and coming writers. From shark attacks to high mountain fatalities and resigning to a life in service of a dying mother, Weathered Edge is a unique tapestry of writing, tied to the land in Alaska, and yet as timeless and broad reaching as the oceans themselves.
Kris Farmen • Martha Amore Buffy McKay
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Turn Again A Novel by Kris Farmen ISBN: 978-0-9850487-1-6 Retail price: $19.95 Also available for Kindle & Nook $9.99 400 pages, softcover In October of 1894, anthropologist Rebecca Ashford arrives in Kodiak, Alaska to interview a Russian prisoner with an American name and an Athabascan Indian past. Aleksandr Campbell has been sentenced to hang for a double murder, killings that took place in his homeland on the Kenai Peninsula—a little-known part of the territory where Russian is the common language and the handful of resident Americans are foreigners in a strange land. His tale, recorded in her notes as he waits for the gallows, spans years and miles of wilderness and clashing cultures. It is a story of young love and of old magic that is rapidly draining out of the country with the coming of the gold rush. It is a story of being Alaskan at a time when Alaska barely existed.
ce of 1989, nearly three ran aground on Bligh ath through the spruce use and knocks on the al for a few weeks. I’m up off the couch, limp long blond hair, blue ock star smile. He gives mountains couldn’t kill
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“Dave, we could climb up there and spend the night at the base of the Elevator Shaft, then get up really early and try to climb the whole mountain in one push. We’ll take one pack and go for it just like Dan Beard. What do you think?” Dave’s headlight shines into the steam from the pan of noodles he’s boiling. He’s making some kind of pesto noodle dish. I take another nip off the whiskey and pass it to him. He takes it, and his head light shines in my eyes. “One snowflake and we’ll come down.” “One snowflake and we’ll come down.”
In this wild little book, Sweeney travels the length of his life and paints portraits of loss, and love along side climbing adventures in Alaska’s wilderness. Sweeney walks on the edge as he charms readers with humor and insight, be it on a road trip, climbing a frozen waterfall or scaling a mountain. This book full of sorrow, also carries with it a strong sense of hope. Angela Ramirez’s stark lino-prints complement the book’s style and feel.
— from Mars Cove The List
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From the Editors Summer Solstice, 2014, brings Cirque #10. Established five years ago by Michael Burwell, Cirque’s unique synergy blends word, art, and something more, an aesthetic, maybe. It’s a way of being, informed by place – embracing the evergreen, the fractured faults, the ineffable concrete of ocean and ridge, runs of season and salmon, the reach of history and consequence – all of that. Cirque’s presence, in print and online, builds enduring connections to community. Ten is a milestone. We credit our many supporters, including: Joe Nolting, Elaine Shea, Sarah Isto, and Miriam Beck. Thanks to you all. Thanks, too, to our genre editors, listed below, who carefully consider each submission, whose time is freely given to this worthy work. Cirque is an all volunteer enterprise. We rely on donations, subscriptions and individual sales. Your contributions have provided a solid base of support. The Andy Hope Literary Award provides annual recognition of an outstanding piece of prose or poetry published in Cirque. Tlingit leader and political activist, Andrew Hope III, Xaastanch; Néech Deiw, and of the Sik’nax.ádi, X’aan Hít, was also a writer of prose and poetry. In 2008, at the age of 58, Andy died after a brief battle with cancer. The Andy Hope Literary Award is the brainchild of two Alaskan poets, Vivian Faith Prescott and her daughter Vivian Mork. The 2014 winner of the Andy Hope Literary Award is Jason Tashea for his story, “Distance Learning,” a fictional account, set in the Republic of Georgia, where the kids of PS 2, receive laptop computers, gifts from helpful outside organizations. Jason is a native to Alaska, but has since worked around the US, Austria, Kosovo, and Armenia promoting human rights and criminal justice reform. He says, “I owe my sense of adventure to my time growing up in and exploring Alaska. I owe my expectations of justice to the Anchorage Youth Court.” Congratulations, Jason, the reward is well deserved. The poems and stories in Cirque are arranged alphabetically within each genre. The resulting arrangement always contains synchronistic marvels of placement, brilliant juxtapositions, connections between pieces that give pause. Themes emerge, too—as with this issue’s spontaneous tribute to William Stafford in the work of Paul Haeder and Kim Stafford. Cirque #10, our summer issue, is quite cold and snowy. We didn’t plan it. Check it out. It’s all a kind of magic.
Sandra L Kleven ~ Michael Burwell 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 Solstices Anchorage, Alaska
Poetry Editors Rosalie Loewen Emily Kern Cynthia Sims
Fiction Editors Kellie Doherty Gretchen Phelps
Drama Editor Jerry McDonnell
Nonfiction Editor Sherry Eckrich
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Vol. 5 No. 2
Summer Solstice 2014
FICTION Matthew Morse Winter Driving: A Survival Guide 10 Birgit Lennertz Sarrimanolis Snow Labyrinth 11 Patty Somlo The First Thing to Astonish 16 Teresa Sundmark Daitaro’s Breakthrough 21 Jason Tashea Distance Learning 23
NON-FICTION Gretchen Brinck Sunspots and St. Mary’s Mission 27 Harold Brink We Never Saw Him Again 30 Lynn DeFilippo Crabbing 37 Cynthia Detrow Knowing Mud 41 Paul Haeder A Poet, the Pacific Flyway, and a Sonora Flash Flood 42 Kim Stafford I Invite the Fourth-Grade Teacher to Lead the Graduate Education Class 47 In My Dream I Figure It All Out 47 The Opening Out North 47 Amy O’Neill Houck Haunt 48 Anne-Corinne Kell Artificial Insemination 49 Joe Nolting Reaching Across Dark Water 53 Nancy Sydnam Borrowed Shelter 56 JT Torres Taking Flight 57 Nancy Woods Making Something Out of Nothing 60
POETRY Luther Allen finding for the first time where god hides 62 Thomas Bacon Five Seward Snapshots 62 Christianne Balk Tangle 63 Gold Creek Valley 63 Gabrielle Barnett Early Risers 63 Miriam Beck Blue-Eyed Darner 64 Tiffany Benna Artless 64 Ice Fishing 64 Life in the rainforest 65 Marilyn Borell Grandpa Weir 65 Kersten Christianson North Again 66 Lyn Coffin Why I Moved to Seattle 66 Monica Devine Molly 67 Patrick Dixon Boat Wakes 67 Early Summer Sex 68 Katie Eberhart How Change Comes 68 Paul Fisher Clallam River Site 69 William Ford Overcast 69 The Tide Mark at Forbes Landing 70 Susi Gregg Fowler Listening to Nora, I Got This Poem 70 Leslie Fried A boy with lizard eyes 71 Aching in the Lowlands 71 Lance Garland La Luna Tease 72 Jo Going Mozia 73 Jim Hanlen A Chinese Tall Panel Landscape 73 Cynthia Hardy The Stink Bug on Joe Enzweiler’s Shirt 74 Bob Hicks Pica Pantoum 74 Sarah Isto New Word 75 Matt Iverson Broken Cup 75 Brenda Jaeger Lullaby for My Guitar 76 Will Jansen Washed up in Portland 76 Marc Janssen November IV 77
Dixon Jones Occupational 77 The marathon of autumn 77 Jerry Kraft Third and Pine 78 Catherine Kyle A Shipwreck Off the Coast Leaves Only One Survivor 78 Eric LeFatte Dishwashing 79 Steven Levi harold the hippie 79 Terry Martin Sipping Coffee in His Backyard Garden 80 Jerry Dale McDonnell Wall Street Elk 80 David McElroy Morning Paper 81 Kate Miller Creation Story 81 Mary Mullen We Were All Touched by the Radio Every Night at Six 82 Sharon Lask Munson Wade a Little Deeper, Darling 82 Sheila Nickerson Traveling the Mountain Passes: Oregon 83 On Approaching a Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary 83 Anne Carse Nolting Craft 84 Judy Orvik Ice Bridge, Last Trip 84 Terry Persun Poor Farmers 85 Timothy Pilgrim Too much gossamer 85 Doug Pope Yukon Mission 86 Sean Prentiss Our Dictionary 87 Allie Quelch Second Sunset to the South and Straight on to Starlight 87 James Edward Reid Words for the Wind 88 Eva Saulitis Prelude: After Recurrence 89 Prayer 3 89 Prayer 4 89 Prayer 51 90 Steven Schneider Buffalo Sighting 91 BL Shappell When You Left 91 Elaine Shea No Questions Asked 91 Craig Smith Getting Old 92 Joanne Townsend Sea Change 92 Something We Were 93 Tim Troll These Lakes 93 Blossom Twitchell Sincerely My Love, a Letter to a Seal 94 Emily Wall Alaskan 94 Why You Come Back: False Outer Point, August 95 Thomas Walton Good Morning 95
Sandra Wassilie Earthquake at Resurrection Bay, Alaska 96 John Sibley Williams I Sit My Grandfather by the Mouth of the Columbia River 96 Paul Winkel Twice Warmed 97 Tonja Woelber Autumn Branches with Cicada 98 Spring Rain on the Li River 98
P L AY Olga Livshin Border Line 99
PA S S I N G - T R I B U T E S Tony Mares In Memoriam: Gabriel Garcia Márquez 107 Sherry Eckrich
Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief: Remembering Maxine Kumin, June 6, 1925—February 6, 2014 107
REVIEWS Craig Childs Seeing When We Get There: A Review of David Stevenson’s Letters from Chamonix 109 Anne Caston A Review of John Morgan’s River of Light: A Conversation with Kabir, with drawings by Kessler Woodward 111
C O N T R I B U T O R S
h ow to sub m it to cirque
FICTION Matthew Morse
Winter Driving: A Survival Guide 1. Drive slow. If the roads are icy, keep it well under the speed limit. Don’t keep glancing down at the clock; it’s the same time it was ten seconds ago. You’re still just as late. Keep your eyes on the road. Use this time to rehearse what you’re going to say to Sarah when you get to the party. Remember not to rush through the explanation. Keep it simple. Keep it short. You stopped by the office and lost track of time. You forgot your phone at home. She’ll smile and tell you it’s OK, that she’s just happy that you’re there, and then she’ll kiss you and lean her head on your shoulder for a moment. She doesn’t care about your excuse; she’s not that kind of person. Rehearse it anyway. Remember to make a show of looking for the phone when you get home tonight. Don’t just grab out from between the couch cushions where you hid it. Have her call it. Sell the story. Maybe speed up a little. You are pretty late after all. The road isn’t that icy. Give it some gas. 2. When the tires start to slip, stay calm. Ease off the gas pedal and steer into the skid. Try not to overcorrect; you’ll just end up sliding the other way. Relax. You’ll be fine. You’re a good driver. When you keep sliding, feel your gut tighten, your heart flutter. That’s normal. That’s OK. Grab the steering wheel harder and clench your teeth. Feel silly as the panic starts to crawl up your back. Everything’s fine. You’re not going to crash. You’ve never crashed before. You’re overreacting. Force yourself to laugh at how silly you’re being. When the car turns sideways and your headlights reflect back at you from the iced-over trees, realize that you are going to die. You’re going to hit the snow berm, you’re going to roll, you’re going to wrap your car around a tree and bleed to death when part of the steering wheel gets shoved through your stomach. Slam on the brakes, even though you know it won’t do any good. Turn the wheel hard. Do anything. Let go of being rational. Panic. 3. Breathe. Don’t try to move too much, if you’re injured you’ll just make it worse. Check yourself over. Your chest hurts from the seat belt catching you, but it’s not serious. You’ll just have a bruise tomorrow. The adrenaline makes your hands shake. Don’t worry if it
takes you five or six tries to work the seat belt release. Open the door and stagger out into the snow. Take deep breaths. Hyperventilating will make you lightheaded. If you feel nauseous, fall down in the snow. Vomit. Laugh a little, then cry. Vomit again. Remember what it was like hunched over the toilet, tears in your eyes and drool spilling down your chin. The toilet water a cloudy amber, dotted with two dozen little white pills floating. Breaking down in the whiskey and stomach acid. Think about Sarah. Hate yourself. 4. Survey the damage to your car. Is it still running? Does it look like it will still drive? Try backing back out to the road. If the wheels just spin in the snow, try giving it more gas. Floor it. Rock back and forth in your seat. Feel helpless. Try to push it out. If there’s nothing to brace against, just lean on the hood and cry while your feet slip in the snow and the car refuses to budge. If all else fails, dig the car out. Don’t worry about not having a shovel, your bare hands will work just fine. It’ll be cold, but you’ve got a tiny fraction of two-dozen Valium in your system to dull the sharp edges. Whatever had a chance to dissolve in your stomach in the two minutes between swallowing them and losing your nerve over the toilet. Claw at the snow. Kick it to loosen it up. Dig till your pants are soaked from sitting in the snow and your hands burn even through the Valium haze. Give up. Lay back in the snow and look up at the stars. 5. Lie in the snow and just wait. Maybe a passing car will see you and stop. Maybe you’ll freeze to death. It’s out of your hands now. Let your fingers reach for your engagement ring, but find it missing. Remember the day Sarah gave it to you. Sarah proposed to you. You’d thought about proposing, agonized over it for months and months. You went to a dozen different jewelry stores to look at rings, but never could pull the trigger. You couldn’t be sure it was the right thing to do. The ring must have come off when you were digging. It fit perfectly when she gave it to you. You never even thought to find out what her ring size was. Feel cold. Imagine Sarah coming to identify your body, cold and blue at the city morgue, and
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Birgit Lennertz Sarrimanolis
asking about the ring. Picture the police will saying sorry, he wasn’t wearing one. We didn’t find any ring. Feel terror at the thought. Fear that moment more than dying, more than living. Get up. Rake your hands through the loose snow. They’re numb now, stiff and clumsy. Dig faster. Throw handfuls of snow up in front of the car, where one headlight is still shining, light reflecting off the snow berm it’s wedged in. Scrape away a handful of snow and see the ring shining down beneath it. Sob in relief. 6.
Leave your car. Start walking.
7. Look up. Focus. There’s something there. Something about the shadow stretching out across the snow in front of you, huddled and shaking. It moves when you move. Wonder why that seems important. Look back down at your shoes, keep walking. Think about how cold you are. So cold it’s almost warm. Stop when the shadow moves, swinging from straight out in front of you to angled off to the right. Try to think about what that means. When the realization finally solidifies in your mind, turn around and squint at the two bright points of light shining at you through the trees, coming closer. Wonder, just for a moment, if it’s Sarah coming to save you. 8. Walk out into the road. Hold out your arms. Wave if you can. Make them see you. Maybe they’ll stop, wrap you up in a blanket and give you their cell phone to call Sarah and then a tow truck. Maybe they’ll swerve around you and just keep driving. Maybe they’ll be distracted and just plow right into you. Maybe the cold is shutting down your nervous system, causing neurons to misfire and making you hallucinate headlights that don’t really exist. It doesn’t matter. Whatever happens at least you’ll have done something. At least you’ll have tried.
Eva’s first glimpse of the Alaskan tundra was from above, as she sat in Jerry’s bush plane among boxes and crates that contained her belongings. The plane’s engines droned in her ears, and Eva’s eyes took in the vastness below. She followed the contours of ridges and meandering rivers. The jagged snowy peaks and glaciated valleys of the Alaska Range stood to the west. The plane flew on, further and further north. Eva looked at the saturated colors of the tundra in autumn and told herself, rationally, that it was beautiful. Much later she would learn that it was the lichen that turned white in the fall, and the tundra muskeg bright orange. The bloomed fireweed was silver among the deep purple of the changing beech leaves. The colorful tapestry should have been enough to make her cry, fond as she was of things aesthetic. On that day, however, her heart was clenched tight, her eyes dry. They landed in Fairbanks. Jerry maneuvered the plane into a hangar, where several other Cessnas already stood parked, awaiting the next pilot. The airplanes were already packed with supplies and mail to be delivered to remote Alaskan bush villages, inaccessible other than by air. Jerry turned and looked back at Eva. His smile was neither evident nor absent. Eva could not see his eyes through the round, dark lenses of his sunglasses. “Finally...you are here,” he smiled, perhaps in a conceding way. “We’re home, Eva.” She returned a watery smile, and felt the familiar surge of bile rise in her stomach whenever a situation arose she feared. Not wanting to meet his eyes, fearing that her own would give away her inability to handle herself with any amount of fortitude, she busied herself by gathering her personal belongings. They did not consist of much; a string bag, her grandmother’s quilt rolled tight and a case containing her clothes. It had taken Jerry months to convince Eva to leave Minnesota to join him in Alaska. She faltered again and again, contemplating nervously. It was certainly not common for women to venture, in those days, to the latitudes Jerry proposed. Mostly, it was those in search of some fortune, whether in the form of gold or hide trappings or oil exploration that enticed adventurers and fools alike to journey north. For Jerry, Alaska was home. The prospect of returning to the homestead in
onto the next train bound south. Whether or not his mild manner that afternoon was for her benefit or in his own self-interest Eva would probably never know. They drove in the waning evening light through Fairbanks. The town stood, perhaps since the early days of gold prospecting as an outpost. Shutter boards and shops lined the downtown streets alongside the Chena River. Along the asphalted main streets, Eva noticed several two-storied, glass-fronted shops, selling anything from general hardware to curios to sporting goods. Eva read Fairbanks Cigars and Tobacco over a shop. Further down the road she noticed Big John’s Apparel. A bridge crossed the Chena River. A white, clapboard church with a bell tower stood on the far bank of the river. Eva later learned that the Catholic parish, upon some consultation, had moved the church from a different location downstream simply by pulling it across the frozen river ice in the Totem Sherry Clough Suiter winter. Small houses, some built of log, lined the remote north that his grandfather had built was not the side roads. Others looked like they would not daunting. He was familiar with the frozen world in the withstand the oncoming winter. Small, tight gardens winter and comfortable with the untamed wilderness surrounded the houses. The hand of an industrious it became during the summer months. He insisted on gardener was evident in the lilacs and chokecherries and leaving Minnesota. Alaska provided an escape for him. dogwoods. The blooms had now faded. Eva wondered His new job as a bush pilot was his rationale. whether families chose to stay here, or simply endured it. Jerry started flying bush deliveries around They drove north that evening toward Alaska’s interior. Eva eventually mustered enough Chatanika. The rolling ridges caught in a succession of courage to follow him, taking firmly in hand the tickets varying blue hazes extended towards infinity. Though he had sent and the propelling urge to turn back around only mid-August, the landscape had already settled firmly and flee. As though in an unreal world, Eva found herself into autumn. The foliage ravished the steep slopes on first on a boat that took her from Seattle to Seward, then either side of the road in rich amber, auburn and green. It on a train to Anchorage, and finally face-to-face with the occurred to Eva to think of what may lay beyond, whether knowledge that neither she nor Jerry could run from the the gravel road they were traveling upon, sending up dust past. She acquiesced. It was imperative. and small stones beneath the tires of Jerry’s pick-up truck, It might have been on the pretense of saving a could even traverse that immensity. She shivered at the precariously teetering marriage that Eva had followed. thought of this landscape so great that it could never be She told herself that her apprehension came from accommodated into one’s first grasp. Eva pulled her coat common conceptions of Alaska as a cold, foreign, dark closer around her shoulders and tried not to think. The land. They were justified. Eva pushed her apprehensions truck covered mile after mile of uneven road, traveling on. resolutely into the last recesses of her mind. To Eva, the homestead that had belonged to Jerry flew south to meet Eva in his bush plane. Jerry’s family resembled a smattering of structures on Later on, she thought that had he not been standing a remote piece of land that humans had come upon on the train station’s platform watching her train roll to by chance. From what Eva perceived in the dimness, a stop, wearing a rough jacket and worn boots and the the structures were haphazardly strewn about in some semblance of a sly smile, she easily might have clambered proximal, if not logical, relation to each other. A barn, or
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 what resembled one, stood off in the distance. A shed, which turned out to serve as garage for the truck, was closer to the main cabin. A few rusty bits of equipment lay partially hidden behind black spruce trees; the cost of removing them was evidently not worth the effort. The house, though not large, was solidly built of log. Steps led up to an enclosed arctic entry. Within this lay snowshoes, a gasoline container, shovels, the hitch to a truck. The rudiments of a northern existence, Eva thought. “It looks a bit unkempt.” Jerry shrugged and stepped across the threshold. He carried Eva’s suitcase. “We’ll fix it up, don’t worry. Beside my mother, who doesn’t come here often anymore, it hasn’t seen the workings of a woman’s hand in some time.” Eva said nothing and peered into the interior of her new home. It was sparse yet sufficient. A wood stove stood prominently in a corner and exuded a welcoming heat. Eva went straight towards it and held out her clenched hands, eyes closed to the rest of the surroundings. Jerry shuffled in and out of the cabin with the rest of her belongings, which he deposited into an adjoining bedroom. After some time, Eva felt bolstered enough to look around and take in the kitchenette with its piles of dishes in the sink. A couch and armchair were pulled close to the wood stove. Behind them stood a large wooden table and some bookshelves she knew Jerry, who was skilled as a carpenter as well as a pilot, had constructed. She noted a covered dish that, no doubt, her mother-in-law had left for their dinner and she was able to feel in her heart some gratitude. She smiled wistfully at her husband, then went into the bedroom, laid down fully clothed on the quilted bed, and fell into an exhausted sleep. Eva slept for hours without moving. When she finally awoke the next day, she sensed a change even before she opened her eyes. There was a brittleness in the air she perceived through her nose. When she walked over to the window, she confirmed the sight she already felt within. The first snowfall that year had come quickly, almost imperceptibly. The evening before there had been no indication of its coming. The leaden clouds that hung above Fairbanks towards the waning of the day were quietly captured by the encroaching darkness. The day’s end was marked more by shifting shadows and changing textures, not by a noticeably finality. The cabin was quiet and there was no sign of Jerry. Tacked to the cork board in the kitchen was his flight schedule. His bush deliveries included Shishmaref, a village on the Bering coast, and Galena, on the Yukon
13 river. Both were native villages. Eva remembered Jerry telling her that he preferred returning home at the end of a long day rather than spending the night in the village’s community hall. He felt uncomfortable as the only outside man in an Athabaskan community, though the native Alaskans were neither unfriendly nor taciturn. On the contrary, their extension of warmth and food only attested to the adverse conditions of their surroundings. Still, theirs was a way of life that included rites and traditions that Jerry, as an adapted rather than native Alaskan, could not fathom. Perhaps, being in their midst reminded him of a cohesiveness that was absent in his own home. Eva felt lonesome. She spent the day exploring the cabin and its immediate surroundings. Once, during the day, the telephone rang loudly, startling Eva. Her mother-in-law, whom Eva remembered as a rooted, formidable woman, called to inquire about her well-being and arrival. Towards the end of the call, Jerry’s mother promised to drive out for a visit before long. Eva’s spirits dissipated as steadily as the somber light outdoors. Towards dusk, the ravens gathered in large roosts, for warmth and protection, against the falling temperatures. Eva watched from the small window in the arctic entry, listening in vain for the sound of Jerry’s pickup truck crunching down the lane. She was absorbed, after some time, in watching the birds call to each other. “Croock, croock, croock,” they cried, as they tumbled and rolled through the air. Eva shuddered at their sight. Large and black, with enormous bills and dark staring eyes, she couldn’t imagine them to be the songbirds they supposedly were. Earlier, she had watched them pick out of the trash container outside what they could find, indiscriminately scavenging and eating the garbage, spilling the contents onto the new powder snow. Eva went back to the bedroom after a long while. She fell asleep, never hearing Jerry’s late return. For the next few weeks, Jerry attributed Eva’s indifference to her surroundings to homesickness. He asked his mother to drive up to the homestead periodically while he was away on bush deliveries. She came, under the pretext of bringing moose meat acquired during the September hunt, or blueberry jam she had made with the last fall pickings, or even an edition of the Northern Lights magazine which she had managed to secure on her last trip to the Fairbanks Book Company. Eva busied herself with chores about the cabin. She kept the wood stove tended, hauled wood on a sled she harnessed to herself and chopped a hole in
14 the pond ice to obtain water. She never strayed too far from the cabin. In the evenings, she was occupied with meticulous sewing and quilting, tasks she had learned from her mother in Minnesota. Her efforts, however, were not directed at decorating her new home, but rather at keeping the long, dark hours of the Alaskan winter in stride. Intuitively, she understood that she needed to stay focused and challenged in this remote, northern land. Every evening Eva watched the ravens, fascinated and repelled alike by their antics in the air. Ravens figured prominently in Athabaskan folklore, Jerry had told her. They were featured, even heralded, in many Alaskan legends. She had heard of them in their role as trickster. Some natives believed they brought light to the world and placed the moon and the stars in the night sky. Eva tried to imagine what benign spirits could possibly be contained in creatures with such razor sharp black bills and enormously powerful black wings. Their pecking and hopping created pockmarks and rips in the smooth snow blanket. Only when the ice fog shrouded the surrounding woods and the temperatures dove to a level that left moist vapor crystals entrapped in the air did the ravens disappear. Eva was not sure where they took cover. She stepped outdoors, wrapped in multiples layers of clothing, fascinated and disturbed by the feel of the hairs freezing in her nostrils. Once she dropped the remnants of her coffee cup into the snow, her eyes widening as the liquid evaporated before it reached the ground. The cold was astounding All winter long, Eva and Jerry lived alongside each other, generally amiable, following a routine that quickly became commonplace. They did not share their thoughts. Often he watched her, sometimes even penetratingly, as she sat, head bent over her needlework. He recollected their past life. Neither he nor she spoke of it. Eva waited in the mornings until Jerry had finished his breakfast and watched as he started the sluggish engine of his truck. Overnight, the heating blanket had helped warm up his antifreeze and keep the motor oil viscous. Nevertheless, when he pulled down the drive through the spruce trees, Eva saw his truck bounce once or twice. A tire had developed a flat spot overnight due to the rubberâ€™s rigidity. He drove himself to Fairbanks in the mornings, and carried out the bush deliveries on his schedule. In the evenings he returned late to a meal Eva left covered in the oven for him. During the day, while Jerry was gone, Eva dressed warmly and pulled on snowshoes. In the woods, Eva drew
CIRQUE in her breath at the configuration of the landscape. She marveled at the exquisiteness around her. Thick clumps of snow rested on the boughs of aspens, heavy enough to arch them down towards the frozen earth. Snow lay against the sides of the bare branched birch trees and was caught in the crevasses of the black spruce. The ground undulated softly beneath its heavy white blanket. Eva followed the game trail with some difficulty. The recent snow had obscured its contours. The trail led up along the side of an elevation, then across a clearing that afforded her, on clear days, a wondrous view of the Alaska Range to the south and the White Mountains to the north. This morning, in the dim light, neither was visible and Eva did not even pause to look. She was determined to reach her destination. The trail continued on the other side of the clearing, dodging the closely set aspens and interspersed spruce trees down the incline. Eva walked slowly, sinking deeply into the powdery snow and found she was perspiring before long. It took sometime before she emerged from the woods to the vast open meadow which, she would learn in the summer, bloomed extravagantly with fireweed. Now, the snow had covered the soft, sloping grass evenly. There, before her, lay the labyrinth. Eva had built the labyrinth while Jerry was away and when she felt the unerring need to abandon the cabin and to feel the cold, crackling air in her lungs. She hauled from the nearby woods brush, old branches, and willow shrubs. From these she shook the snow. Carefully she pulled together the shrubbery to create the walls of the labyrinth. The accumulated mounds were only knee high, but the pattern she had designed, a perfectly mirrored spiral image, was evident at once. During the night the snow had settled on top of the mounded walls of the labyrinth, hiding the imperfections of the debris and wood sticks, and leaving in its place a beautifully shaped earthwork. Eva paused, momentarily, to view the labyrinth from the hillside. Its pattern was purposeful and comfortingly enclosed. Eva descended, found the entrance gap to the labyrinth, and walked carefully along the path in between the forming walls. Her snowshoes sank as they trod down the snow and her sinking imprint immediately made the snowy walls appear higher. She walked along the labyrinthâ€™s unicursal path, following the circles she designed. The circles turned, first clockwise, then counterclockwise, alternating between the two balanced halves of the labyrinth, until she reached the innermost space. There she paused and inhaled the air that smelled of
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 wetness on spruce branches and trodden lichens. A sense of relief filled her, then, and Eva felt that the labyrinth might, indeed, fulfill its purpose. It might, possibly, even work. For the first time that long first winter, Eva smiled to herself. Eva spent the following days treading down the snow path between the labyrinth’s walls, following the circles again and again. Only when the diminishing light altered the outlines of the labyrinth’s walls did she notice the waning of the day. She hurriedly followed the game trail back through the woods towards the cabin before final darkness. Her eyes settled on the leaden clouds overhead. They promised deepening snow as well as soaring heights for her labyrinth’s walls. Much later in the winter, well beyond the winter solstice, the snow had solidified and the labyrinth’s walls stood shoulder height. Eva brought Jerry to the hillside overlooking it. He stood and stared in disbelief, then shook his head slowly from side to side. “You’ve been building a maze?” he uttered, finally. Eva mistook his incredulity for astonishment. Eagerly, she replied, “It’s a labyrinth, not a maze. You see, there is a beginning and an end, a path to follow. There are no dead ends, no confusion...” “You spent all these days building a maze?” he interrupted. Eva fell silent and noted that the back of his neck had turned red. “What would possess you to build this?” he turned to look at her, mixed disappointment and agitation registered in his features. “What’s the matter with you?” he said then. Again, she had no response. He turned towards the woods and she followed his angry footsteps, muffled in the snow, back up the hillside and through the woods to the cabin. That evening, supper was a strained meal, punctuated here and there with necessary remarks. Jerry looked tired and it wasn’t long after he picked up the evening paper that he announced he would retire. Jerry and Eva did not speak again of the labyrinth, at least not in words. He could not sleep easily, though, as he thought of his wife stitching at her quilt deep into the night, her thoughts withdrawn. Eva’s grandmother, long ago, tucked blankets closely about Eva at bedtime and told her about her native Scandinavia and the stone labyrinths on the shore. One simply needed to walk a short distance along the northern sea in order to stumble upon a labyrinth. Built
of great stone boulders that the crashing, spume-covered waves could not easily budge, the labyrinths served as a safeguard for fishermen who walked through them prior to their day’s voyage. They hoped for a good catch but, more importantly, a safe return. Perhaps, there was an element of quietude as they stepped through those rock circles. After Jerry’s outburst, Eva’s need to return to the labyrinth was even more compelling. She waited until Jerry took the truck to town for supplies. Even though Eva thought she was defying Jerry, she felt restored as she followed the game trail through the woods. She knew he worried, his discomfort surfacing in vexation and resentment. He feared losing her to a world impenetrable to all but herself. Eva’s deep rooted urge quickened her clumsy pace through the deepening snow. When she reached the hillside overlooking the labyrinth she felt, quite suddenly, that her legs would not support her anymore. She sat, abruptly, in the snow. Eva stared at her labyrinth and breathed deeply and realized that the tears that were quietly streaming down her cheeks were of joy, not of sadness. There, in the labyrinth, filling up gently with lightly falling snow, she made out the distinctive prints of her husband’s boots. They had followed the circular path of the labyrinth’s two perfectly balanced sides.
The First Thing to Astonish The first thing to astonish David Chaudhary when he stepped out the cabin door in the pre-dawn darkness was the cold. Mid-July and he needed a jacket, a hat to cover his ears and even gloves. Nevertheless, David couldn’t resist going back out after donning an extra sweater and the tight black knit cap Geri had forced him to pack. He’d been waiting all night to do this. Trying to keep his hands warm under the sleeves of his sweater, David walked across the bare dry dirt next to the cabin, his eyes on the river. The sun still snoozed behind the tall dark green trees soaring up to the sky. He had imagined the river would be like this in the early morning, as he sat in the one comfortable chair he owned and read Norman Maclean. To prepare himself for this first-ever trip out of the city, David had read Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. Even the title sent chills through David’s body. Only in recent months had David begun to open himself up to life. At the age of forty-three, a software engineer who had never married, David understood that this new openness had everything to do with his cholesterol. David walked over to the hanging bridge he and Geri had crossed the previous night when they’d hauled bags of food and luggage over to the cabin from the car. Before his cholesterol diagnosis, David would have been irritated, even angry, that he couldn’t drive his white BMW sedan straight up to the cabin door. Instead, realizing that he had to park the car in the dust on the opposite side of the river from the cabin and pile all their stuff into a hand-pulled cart that needed to be hauled across a bridge looking every bit like it would crack any moment and drop David, Geri, the bottle of barbecue sauce, raw chicken and cantaloupe straight into the river, David smiled. “This is wonderful,” he said, giving Geri a hug. “So rustic.” Even though David was slender and of medium height, the bridge started swaying the minute his Nikes began walking across. He grabbed the twisted metal ropes on both sides, as he made his way to the center, taking in river views both downstream and up.
To the left and right of the bridge, the river ran over rocks so fast, David couldn’t keep his eyes on it. When he got to the center of the bridge, he closed his eyes. The rushing river sounded like rain, a real downpour, that made him grin. He opened his eyes and saw that the sun had risen higher, lightening the water. The view of the river almost made David cry. How could he have waited so long in his life to experience this? One month to the day after learning that his cholesterol was too high, David asked for a meeting with his boss, the director of the software department. “Leaving?” his boss said. “In the middle of this project?” “Yes,” David said, his gaze cast down, feeling guilty, of course, but desperately trying to remember why he had made the decision in the first place. “Is it money?” his boss wanted to know, but didn’t give David a chance to respond. “Look, I’m sure we can negotiate something. I have some room. What number are you thinking about?” As soon as David heard the word number, his guilt vanished. The number was exactly the reason he’d come to his boss’ office and was in the process of quitting the job he had studied and studied and studied and worked so hard to get. “It’s my cholesterol,” David said quietly. That statement made his boss sit up, as if he’d suddenly been shocked into listening. “Your cholesterol?” “Yes,” David said, his gaze glued to the edge of his boss’ mahogany desk. “The number is too high.” As if David thought he hadn’t been quite clear enough, he explained. “The number of the bad cholesterol.” “You’re kidding me, aren’t you?” his boss asked. “No. I’m deadly serious.” That the word deadly came out of David’s mouth didn’t surprise him. “David,” his boss said, leaning way forward now and speaking in a loud whisper. “Everybody’s got high cholesterol.” Standing in the center of the bridge mesmerized by the rushing river and the sunlight starting to dance at the tips of the whitewater, David couldn’t recall the rest of the discussion that day with his boss, which eventually evolved into a bit of an argument. What David hadn’t forgotten was his boss’ position that overwork and lack
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 of sleep, stress, poor diet, no exercise and the resulting ill health were not only normal but desirable. Hearing this made David feel like an alien. In fact, it wasn’t until this point in the discussion that David understood how much he’d already moved from being a member of the team to becoming an outsider. David couldn’t explain to his boss that from where he stood, the view was profoundly different. For the first time in his life, David had been prescribed medication for what he’d just learned was a much too elevated number on his bad cholesterol. As if that wasn’t enough to wake David up, Dr. Weiss advised him to watch his diet, cut out high-fat foods and eat more fruits and vegetables. David greeted the news as if he’d received an imminent death sentence. High cholesterol, medication, low-fat food diet. Overnight, he had become old. Here, he’d been humming along, acting as if he had all the time in the world to live his life, and lo and behold. He stood for a moment on the sidewalk after leaving his doctor’s office and he thought, I have got to start living. Hours after David packed up his coffee mug and the black rubber ball he forgot to squeeze to keep his fingers from getting cramped up and realized that he had no other personal items in his cubicle, which made him feel infinitely sorry for himself, David met Geri. He had driven from the valley back to his San Francisco flat, a place he had felt proud to buy but then hardly spent any time in, when a parking space handed him the opportunity to avoid a fight. The space in question was as prime a parking space as David would ever find, sitting smack in front of his building. The moment David spied the yawning space, in a neighborhood where it was possible to spend a good half-hour circling the blocks not finding a single place to leave his car, David’s heart speeded up. The challenge of getting his BMW over to and into a space always made his heart pump fast and today was no exception. About to whip the wheel around and pull into the space from behind, David stopped. A dusty, latemodel white Toyota Corolla, the back plastered with bumper stickers, had its right blinker on. Was the Corolla here first, he asked himself. Normally, he would have answered in an instant, Of course not. Today, he backed the BMW up, honked, waved to the driver of the Corolla and smiled. For some reason, he lingered in his car with the right blinker turned on, after the Corolla parked. He
17 watched the taillights go off and saw a short, slender woman with long blond hair step out and pull an olive green backpack from the car. The woman glanced over at him and he saw her mouth pucker into a frown. She thought he was getting ready to fight with her over the space, David realized. Desperate to reassure her, David put on his flashers, jumped out of the car and shouted, “You were here first. No worries.” Seconds after the last word leaped from his mouth, David read one of the bumper stickers on the woman’s car. Sky blue with white lettering. Coexist, it said. The roar of the river was so loud David had trouble focusing on the memory. Rapids close to the bridge calmed a few feet upstream, spreading out into a glassy pool that tossed back reflections of the trees. At various points when reading A River Runs Through It, David had pictured himself in a place just like this. What struck him then was the way that place calmed him. Even more surprising, David, who had never been a religious man, started to think about God. If there was a God, David said to himself now, he would live here. The immensity of the world was another thing David found astonishing. Until he walked out of his cubicle for the last time, he hadn’t realized the smallness of the world he occupied, where the make of one’s car, the newness of a computer device, and most especially its smallness, meant everything. David understood now that what he once saw as meaning, objects and bonuses, the latest ripe foaming beer, meant nothing out here in the enormous world. His first inkling of this came to him the day he met Geri. “Thank you,” she said, her face brightening, the tension eased. “Oh, my pleasure,” David said, suddenly having trouble finding words. This woman who’d left him nearly speechless had pale green eyes, large and oval, high cheekbones and a tiny, slightly rounded chin. Her smile revealed perfect teeth. David knew he wanted to say something that would cause the smile to reappear and those green eyes to sparkle. “What does that mean?” he finally asked. “Coexist.” She smiled. His heart knocked. His belly ached. “It means that we are all one family,” she explained. “All people, everywhere on the planet, Mother Earth, the animals and plants, sky, river, air.” She leaned her head back and pointed up. “And clouds,” she added, then looked back down. “That’s nice,” David said, too overwhelmed to
18 realize that someone had been furiously honking because his car was blocking their way. David followed the river with his eyes. He noticed how the river curved to the right before disappearing from sight. The bend in that deep green stream was another astonishing thing. David realized that he had a lifetime of not looking and not seeing to make up for. “So this is the color green,” David whispered, imagining himself addressing his former self, the guy who’d been content to sit in a fluorescent-lit cubicle all day, eating his lunch while staring into a computer screen. He felt as if the ends of his nerves were tingling. And though this happened to be only the first morning of a week-long stay, David already felt sad about leaving. “They’re honking at you to move your car,” Geri told him, snapping his mind out of the place it had been, taking in the exquisite features of a woman he never wanted to stop gazing at. “Oh, yes,” David said, hearing the insistent bleat of the horn now. He was terrified of losing this woman, now
CIRQUE that he’d found her. He knew he needed to do or say something. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” he asked, the words tumbling out so fast, they tripped over one another. “I don’t drink coffee,” she said. His heart snapped in half. Then she put it back together again. “I do drink tea,” she said. From a young age, David had been a boy who liked to be prepared. This was something he learned from his father, a successful mechanical engineer. Every night, David spent hours studying, not wanting to be called on by the teacher, lacking the correct answer to a question. He laid out his clothes for school the night before. If he could have dressed and slept without wrinkling his shirt and pants, he would have done that. Nothing, though, could have prepared David for his parents’ divorce. The year David turned ten, his mother walked into his room while he was studying math. “Your father and I are going to live separately,” she said.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 It was as if he’d ended up at school one day without a stitch of clothing on. His parents had given him no cause to think they might split up. He couldn’t recall them ever having had a fight. The only response David could come up with was, “Will I have to live alone?” After his parents split up, David saw his father once a month. The first Sunday of every month at precisely twelve o’clock, his father hit the horn of his black Mercedes parked in front of the house. David was always ready to go, waiting next to the front door. It only took a moment to reach the car. On these Sundays, the routine never varied. David’s father took his son to lunch at Pompash, because his father liked the all-you-can-eat buffet the owner set out. Once they’d piled their plates with chicken masala, basmati rice, naan and lentils and cauliflower curry, his father led David to the same four-person table next to the window, looking out on the parking lot. Since the restaurant wasn’t in the best part of town, David’s father wanted to keep an eye on his Mercedes, even though it had an alarm. Each week, they sat across from one another, with David’s father taking the seat that had the best view of the front door. Without a word, father and son would dive into their food, the only sound being his father’s asthmatic breathing. David wasn’t prepared for Geri either. So there he was, his heart racing, missing beats, and this angel smiling and sipping tea across the table from him. All he could think about was how much he wanted to kiss her. She was, of all things, a massage therapist, and a photographer, who took pictures of flowers and trees, snow-covered peaks and rivers. Her tiny apartment, consisting of one combination living room-bedroom with a separate kitchen, on the ground floor of a Victorian house, was strewn with photographs of places David suddenly yearned to visit. Geri invited David in, after they’d each sipped two cups of steaming beverages and excused themselves several times to go pee. David was astonished at the photographs, or rather that when he looked at the snowcovered mountain and the flower-crammed meadow in front, he suddenly imagined himself standing right there. They moved from photo to photo, with Geri naming each place and David feeling his narrow dark world cracking open more and more and more, to the point where he thought he might not be able to take in another thing. Like David, Geri had never married but mostly, she claimed, because Mr. Right hadn’t yet come along.
19 David wanted to tell her that here he was, Mr. Right, but he didn’t have a clue if that was true or not or what this gloriously sunny woman would see in a man whose life had barely begun. Somehow, though, they clicked. While in the past, David would have said no to practically everything, now he said yes. He didn’t admit to Geri how afraid he got whenever they were apart but instead tried to forget the dark narrow world his life had been before he made the life-altering decision to let her pull into his parking space. David crossed the last half of the bridge, giggling because the further he walked, the wilder the bridge swayed. He stepped down onto the dry dirt, his Nikes white as the day he bought them. The sun was warming the dirt path on this side and now he could see that he wasn’t alone. In that early morning light, the fishing line sparkled. Watching the leader line whip back and unfurl, back and over, until stretching almost the width of the river where the man gently laid it down, David wanted to applaud. This was just as Norman Maclean wrote, the man mimicking the movement of insects circling and dropping, gestures saturated with grace. David followed the wide dirt path upstream, until he found an opening in the brush and reeds he could step through and watch the man. The line sailed through the air, over the man’s right shoulder, toward David. Back and forth, like a long slender snake, until the man snapped forward and the fly sailed down. David held his breath, feeling that the scene called for it, desperately hoping to see the man pull a fish out of the water. He edged forward, letting himself breathe ever so quietly now. As soon as he arrived on the bank, though, he started to worry. The man just might be afraid of him. David had grown accustomed to thinking about this, especially late at night, walking down the block to his apartment. His dark brown skin was sometimes seen as threatening, he knew. Seeing him, women clutched their purses or fingered their cell phones. The way he looked also made people ask where he was from. “Palo Alto,” he responded, whenever the question came up. “You know, the city where Stanford University is located.” He added this last part, to make sure the listener didn’t assume that with its Spanish name, Palo Alto wasn’t a town in South America or Mexico. David knew he looked and sounded American. But that didn’t stop the questions. Eventually, he would
20 be asked what generation American he was. Not sure whether to respond first or second, since both his parents had spent more of their lives in America than in India, he would finally say, “First.” David didn’t want to disturb the man but he also thought it a good idea to alert him to his presence, in order not to scare him. The man had the palest white skin and his hair and beard were even whiter. Instead of the olive green waders and tan vest covered with zippered pockets David assumed every fly fisherman wore, the man had on tan shorts and a red and white short-sleeved Hawaiian print shirt. He was standing up to his calves in the river. Every few minutes, he waded a couple feet forward. “Excuse me,” David said, waving his right hand, while using his left hand to shade his eyes. The man didn’t budge. “Excuse me,” David said, hoping he wouldn’t have to go into the river himself. At that moment, the man turned around. Seeing him, David reached his arms over his head and waved both back and forth, as if he’d been lost for days and his rescuers had finally arrived. “Good morning,” David shouted. The man stared, as if he couldn’t believe a man with muddy brown skin who appeared to be from some underdeveloped country was signaling him from the bank, an hour or so after sunrise. But then the man smiled. “Good morning,” he said. “Beautiful morning, isn’t it?” David was so happy at this reception that he wanted to walk into the river and hug the man. Before he could talk himself out of such a move, his bright white Nikes had taken a step and then another one into the water. “Be careful there,” the man shouted to him. “Those rocks can be very slippery.” Hearing this, David focused on his breathing. One of the many astonishing things he’d done since meeting Geri was to accompany her to yoga. The teacher, a trim, fit blond American woman like Geri, found it amusing that Geri was introducing David to a practice that had been brought to the United States from India. In addition to poses such as Downward Facing Dog and the Plank, David learned to breathe. It was one thing to get into the pose and adjust one’s arms and legs. But the key to yoga was breathing. David knew that breathing slowly and deeply helped ensure balance. As he peered down into the crystal
CIRQUE clear, pale green water at rocks of every imaginable shape and size, some gray, others copper-colored and a handful the most astonishing turquoise shade, he reminded himself to breathe, even though he was tempted each time he took a step to hold his breath. It seemed to take an hour for him to reach the man. When he got there and made sure his feet were steady, David looked up. The man, he realized now that he could see his face, looked exactly like Santa Claus. “Sorry to bother you,” David said. “I’m visiting for the first time and noticed you fishing from the bridge.” The words tripped out of David’s mouth without the least bit of consideration. Before his cholesterol diagnosis, David had been careful about his speech, preparing words and sentences before they left his mouth, in the same way he laid his clothes out for work each evening. Once he began opening himself up to the world, he realized there wasn’t enough time to worry about whether he was using the proper verb tense or pronouncing a noun correctly. “You’re not bothering me,” the man said. “Are you staying in the cabin?” “Yes,” David said, beaming widely, as if the man had suddenly seen something important about him. “It is wonderful. So rustic.” “Do you fish?” “No, no. Oh, no. Never have,” David said and laughed. “Like to learn?” David heard the words but thought he’d only imagined them. He had never done anything remotely like fishing. Fishing was, well, he couldn’t have said what he felt about it, but of course now he’d read A River Runs Through It. Fishing was something other people did, other men. They were men who had fun. Yes, that was it. They had fun and drank beer and sat by the edge of a stream or sometimes waded right into it. And in the case of fly fishing, now that he’d read Norman Maclean, David understood that they were men who wanted to do nothing else in the world but stand in a rushing river and cast out flies and cast again. He knew that these men believed in a religion made up of the sky and river, fish and flies, and the art of becoming part of this wondrous natural world. The notion made David’s heart beat faster just thinking about it all. After more than a few minutes had gone by, David opened his mouth. “Yes. I would like to learn,” he said. Then David realized he’d better steady himself, because he’d just admitted the thing that astonished him most of all.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Daitaro’s Breakthrough Five hours now the snow had been coming down. It was heavy snow, the kind that sticks to windows for a moment before melting in wet trails and dripping alongside buildings. Outside of Daitaro’s office, parents were retrieving their children from school early. Businessmen were making plans to spend the night in the city in order to avoid the commute home. All around him, people were altering their routines to accommodate the storm, but inside his office Daitaro was unaware. He hadn’t looked up from his workstation since morning when his assistant had shown him their competitor’s most recent idea for packaging nori maki crackers for childrens’ lunches. The snacks were tucked into a reusable box, the same size and shape as the tins children used to house their trading cards. It was brilliant and Daitaro was angry with himself for not thinking of it first. The food packaging business was competitive and always changing. In the beginning it had been about keeping food fresh and presentable. Now, it was less about the food and more about the container in which it was presented. Trying to keep up with the latest trends required constant vigilance and Daitaro had dedication, but lately his ideas were slow in coming. He’d lie awake at night, worrying about his creative shortcomings and thinking of the thousands of younger men who were looking for good jobs, like his, and how their youth would give them an advantage. He started leaving for the office earlier each day and staying late into the evenings. He worked on Sundays. “You need some time off,” his wife would tell him. But her inability to understand his concerns for their welfare made him angry. “Time off won’t solve the problem. Time off will only send me further behind.” Some in the business thought food packaging was a form of art and for Daitaro it was satisfying to see the products of his hard work sitting on the
market shelves. He wasn’t much of a shopper himself, but sometimes he’d wander the aisles of stores just to watch people make their choices. At home he’d quiz his wife. “Why did you choose this tin of tea over another?” “This rice,” he’d say, “is no different than any number of other brands. What made you pick this bag?” “I don’t know,” his wife would tell him. “It might be the price or it might be something else. I don’t know.” “Well, pay attention to that something else,” Daitaro would say. “That something makes all the difference.” *** Outside the snow piled up. Inside Daitaro worked. He knew he should stop and eat the lunch his wife had risen early to prepare for him, but he pushed his hunger aside. I will eat after I’ve had a breakthrough, he thought. He had a routine that he followed when ideas were slow to come. First he cleared his desk of everything, thinking that the absence of distraction might give his mind room for new ideas. If that didn’t work he’d arrange samples of packaged food items all around him, hoping he’d find inspiration in their presence. Today none of it worked. Perhaps I need fresh air, Daitaro thought after several unsuccessful hours. He grabbed his suit jacket and walked out of his office, down the hallway and toward the door. The sight of snow startled him. It had not been snowing when he stepped off the train that morning.
22 When had it started? How had he missed it? He walked out into the weather and wandered down the road. Soon Daitaro’s feet were wet and his head and hands were cold. He thought of his wife at home. He knew he should call her but he continued to walk. He passed markets where people were eager to get what they needed. He passed restaurants; the savory scent of warm soup tugged at him, reminding him of his hunger. Not yet, he thought. Until I’ve had new ideas, food can wait. Darkness was settling in and the lights of the city reflected off of the white. Maybe the snow will give me inspiration, he thought. His hands were numb now, but he told his feet to keep moving. Something about the flashing lights against the snow reminded him of the cartoons he’d loved as a boy. He had been taken by the choreography of the drawings, the music, the sequencing of the frames. Once, long ago, Daitaro thought he’d grow into a man who made cartoons for a living. As he walked, he began to imagine himself as a cartoon character of his own creation: a man walking around the city at night, in a snowstorm, without the proper clothing. He imagined people looking out of windows at him, laughing at his wet clothing, his wandering ways, his ears burning red in the cold. He would be the kind of cartoon character that would act as a lesson for children. Do not become like this man, the cartoon would teach them. He is a fool to walk around like that, ignoring the needs of his body. Daitaro turned around and started back. On his return he noticed things he’d missed before, like children throwing snowballs outside of apartment buildings and purposeful old men shoveling snow from stairs. He could not remember such a significant snowfall in recent years. It had a softening effect on the city. People smiled; they nodded their heads in greeting to passersby. The noise was muffled. Traffic moved slowly. He pulled his phone from his pocket and called his wife. “I won’t be home tonight,” he said. “I shouldn’t travel in the storm.” “Please stay safe,” his wife told him. “And don’t forget to eat.” Daitaro laughed, “You know me well.” He pictured her in their apartment. Sitting with a pot of tea, settling in for the evening with a book and a blanket across her lap. If he were home she would bring him dry pajamas, warm him up with sips of wine. Daitaro passed one of the restaurants he’d resisted earlier and remembered his wife’s advice to eat.
CIRQUE He entered and a waitress led him to a small table near a window. With a napkin he wiped the condensation from his glasses. Soon a cup of hot tea warmed his hands and a bowl of miso soup steamed before him. Outside people continued past, many of whom were headed home with armfuls of groceries. Most of them, Daitaro knew, would never consider the people behind the scenes who spent their lives manipulating shapes, textures and colors in order to make the items in their bags more appealing. It was a form of art, he supposed, but not the kind to induce a smile, or bring forth a rush of emotion. Daitaro pushed aside his soup and tea, then grabbed the small notebook and pen he always carried with him from his jacket pocket. His fingers were warm again—warm enough anyhow, and he drew a rectangle and divided it into six smaller squares. He drew a man hunching over his desk in his office. He drew the snow piling up outside and a city in motion from the storm. He drew a man wandering the sidewalks, cold and alone. He drew the man, calling his wife and imagining her on the other end of the line. It was a waste of time, Daitaro knew—indulgent even—to draw things like this when he ought to be looking around the restaurant for clues about innovative ways to package nori maki crackers. He tore the sheet of paper from his notebook and tucked it under his bowl of soup. He did not think of it again. Instead he turned his attention on the other patrons in the restaurant. He took notes on what they ordered. Something would come to him eventually. That’s the way it worked with this job. Nothing, nothing, nothing and then something. The waitress came to clear the food from his table. The discarded cartoon stuck to the bottom of the soup bowl as she lifted it away. Carrying the bowl in one hand and empty plates in the other, she walked toward the kitchen. If she noticed the paper dislodge from the bowl and fall to the floor beside another man at a nearby table, she gave no indication. Like Daitaro, the man had worked late and wouldn’t make it home on this night. Instead he would spend the night in the city alone. When the waitress had passed, the man looked down at the paper, thinking it was only trash. But with a closer look he noticed small figures inside small boxes. He picked it up. He followed the sequence of drawings once and then again. He looked around the restaurant, wondering at the origin of such a perfect memento of this unprecedented day. Then he propped the paper against a glass of water on his table, pulled the phone from his pocket and called home.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Distance Learning Today was a big day for a forgotten place. Full of forgotten children taught by forgotten teachers run by a forgotten bureaucracy on a forgotten longitude that history barely remembers in the forgotten Republic of Georgia was Samtredia’s Public School Two. Samtredia had a Public School One, but what was left of it burnt down eighteen months ago and with the population already hemorrhaging (the boys to the capitol Tbilisi for work, the girls to Turkey or Russia to lose their innocence as they were now likely prostitutes), there was little pressure to rebuild it. No one discussed revising Samtredia PS 2’s name. As billed, today’s event was going to be big. The Prime Minister would be there, the Minister of Education, local and international press, ambassadors from the coveted West, and captains of industry from the more coveted future would all be in attendance. This story is told by me, Aaron, a driven, listless American teaching at PS 2. Georgia and I met serendipitously. In 2008, Georgia was invaded by the Russians during the Beijing Olympics. While Georgia lost the war, they were more successful against the Russian language, and sought to flood the country with English. No longer was Georgia going to be a kept country to Russian history; they now looked West. At the same time, my then girlfriend left me—not before pillaging my meager checking account. While I lost my savings, l realized that my university internship with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was never going to materialize into something more, and being left with nothing I needed a change. Georgia and I were broke but not broken and looking to start over. I now make about $400 a month teaching English in Georgia. I’m not sure I love it here, but my English degree is useful and more importantly, I don’t make enough for my loan servicer to expect anything. The school is simple. The plaster is chipped, the windows are wood framed and often cracked. The glass has a wavy and honest charm that you rarely see in the developed world. The glass is beautiful and welcoming. The front door is large, especially considering the entrants are between five to twelve years old. This door is easily eight
23 feet tall or three meters-ish; it’s ostensibly blue, but so badly chipped and worn that you can see at least four other chromatic iterations of this same, heavy, medieval door. Blue, white, black, white. The floor is also wooden. Without intention and on account of age, it’s now a floating floor. This is great for concert venues, it’s less ideal for a school house. The floor wasn’t always like this, but mold took its toll. The building is musty and undeniably pushing up the cases of untreated asthma amongst Samtredia’s youth. The walls are whitewashed. Outside certain classrooms, art hangs proudly. These masterpieces are lit by fluorescents that, according to the exposed wires, didn’t come with the building. Crayon on construction paper was the popular medium. Many of the pictures, in bright colors, reiterated Georgia’s independence from Russia. Many of the pieces utilized maps showing the Republic’s physical closeness to the U.S. in a way that even Mercator would not approve. Some renditions didn’t even waste the time on maps and merely illustrated a Russian tank on fire. It had been a few years since Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, but public schools are incubators for nationalism, after all. Samtredia was not a city, or a town. It was more of a stop off. During the Soviet era, the town was supported by state industry producing, amongst other things, boxcars and jam. Now, any sign of industry was a relic of the past. Outside of the school, media and government officials had generators running to power their lights and microphones to better magnify themselves. The reason for all this fanfare was simple, the Republic of Georgia, a nation with few known deposits of minerals, gas, or oil, was going to embark on becoming the world’s next tech startup. Today, starting with Samtredia PS 2, every public school student was going to receive a laptop. Computer literacy was the future. In the absence of natural resources, Georgia was going to will its economy into the Twenty-First century. Funding for this alchemy was provided by the Dutch government, a Scandinavian tech firm, and of course, the United States Embassy. With compulsion, children plastered cars, walls, and themselves with the blue and yellow stickers handed out by the firm’s boosters before the speakers took to the stage. The war tempered Prime Minister gave his big speech. It was about the future of Georgia and how he will not
24 let his nation be left behind in an ever changing and globalized world economy. I kept waiting for the Prime Minister to inform me that peoples of the world were closer than ever before and that technology had made the world flat, as he was not hiding the fact that he was cribbing Thomas Friedman. “Coding is this generation’s currency,” he emphatically declared. Applause. There were fidgety young children behind him on a makeshift platform that was too shiny not to have come from the capital. As he wound down his remarks, a chicken ran through a tear in a fence adjoining the school’s grounds to remind the proud group of delegates where they were. With the chicken as a segue, the tech CEO began to speak. Speaking through a translator, he didn’t seem as rhetorically agile as his slim fit suit and slick hair had me predicting. Perhaps the Prime Minister had stolen all his good lines. In fact, after listening to the Prime Minister, the CEO’s speech was nothing new. “Georgia is showing the world the future.” Applause. “Today, Georgia is not catching up, but leading the developing world.” Applause. “Nations can follow or be left Sunrise 5 in a dust of zeros and ones.” Confusion. Binary code was not a popular reference point in Samtredia. A farmer stopped his mule drawn cart with old tractor wheels in front of the school’s worn and weathered gate to get a glimpse of the commotion. The CEO wrapped up and to my surprise none of the foreign governments present, the Dutch, the Swedes, the U.S., said a public word. Maybe the diplomats were too excited to hand a Georgian child a new laptop. There was an expectant night-before-Christmas vibe in the air, a popular reference understood in this Christian nation. Handing out computers would be a better photo-op for their various Twitter feeds than another action shot of another public address. I learned to like Samtredia; however, when I first got here the facilities were enough to move up my return date. For example, PS 2’s toilet is a hole in the ground in a rudimentary structure about fifty yards from the
CIRQUE school. Plastered with decades of congealed diets, the room was only bearable in the unheated throws of a Caucasian winter and abhorrent during any other season. The bathroom also boasts no door, no privacy. The teacher-student dynamic is fundamentally altered when a pupil sees you in the throws of what a colleague called “Georgian Gut”. But I got over the infrastructure around the same time I’d come to terms with my on-again-offagain relationship with food poisoning. Or was it water poisoning? Whatever the malady, I loved these kids. For many, I was the first American, neigh, foreigner they’d ever met. They were happy to have me and I was happy to have them. However, things were elementary if not convoluted. I spoke German with the English teacher I worked with because it was more efficient. The teachers try, but with no resources or continuing education credits or motivation on account of low pay and worse morale this is what it was. It wasn’t great, but it was something, and I was happy to be here. The Prime Minister and Dutch Ambassador now sat Zachariah Bryan inside PS 2 at a table with some students. The tables and chairs were meant for children, not statesmen. It was both humorous and endearing to watch proper and gilded men crunch their knees into their chest to take a seat. Press gathered behind the sitting students. While the Ambassador spoke with one of the children, the Prime Minister’s eye and right index finger traced the four quadrants of the British infused Georgian flag that a student had carved into the desk. The Prime Minister was less concerned by the vandalism on the desk or the missed lesson it took to render the flag and was more enthralled that the youngster felt inspired to make permanent the nation’s flag. It was a flag that unified a group of people known to the world as Georgians but internally had little in common except for this flag and that every parent had just inherited a child with Internet access. The flag was designed by the Prime Minister. The crowd moved on to the teacher’s lounge, a simple room with the school’s one wall clock, some chairs,
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 and a painting of St. George, Georgia’s namesake. The Prime Minister was now with the CEO sitting at a more appropriately sized table across from a tired teacher unamused by all this attention after a career of neglect. The Teacher was my partner at this sanitarium. She was picked to meet the Prime Minister out of ignorance, yes she was the English Teacher, but I hoped the CEO remembered some of his German. The Teacher wore a long, plain skirt as she did most days, and her hair frizzed due to the over use of a cheap hair dye she hoped would hide every birthday since thirty-eight. She was a peasant that beat the odds. Feigning a smile, the Teacher said she was excited to teach from a computer. She was visibly uncomfortable. It’s not that she lives in a cave and doesn’t know how to use a computer. She actually loves access to the internet, especially Russian news. However, raking in the equivalent to four-hundred dollars a month does not allow her a computer at home, so her experience is minimal. She frets about how she will lesson plan or even pretend to know more than her students; it’s not as if the government is updating the teachers alongside the new hardware. Now that every student in Samtredia has a computer, she no longer controlled knowledge. Her limited English would be exacerbated by every YouTube video and Google Translate assisted assignment. She knew it, and everyone else overlooked it. This event at Samtredia PS 2 was supposed to be a celebration. Instead, for her, it was a funeral to the career she had donated her life to. A few years ago, after the revolution and the war, she was asked to change her focus from Russian to English. She had learned minimal English at university back when Brezhnev was Premier of the Soviet Union. A nation ago, Russkiy was in Georgia to stay. Now she was expected to code, a term she didn’t even know in Russian. In the open space between the classrooms on the second floor, the Prime Minister spoke with a student. The conversation was in Georgian, and I could only make out the Prime Minister’s inane questions about what the student will search first on her new computer. The girl didn’t know, she flushed with embarrassment. Unabashedly self-promoting, the Prime Minister asked her if she’s on Twitter, the student is eleven and didn’t respond, but the press got a laugh. At this point, I hung back in the corner while the press moved forward. Being in sparsely populated Samtredia for the past seven months has left me with little taste for pageantry and a creeping agoraphobia. I fiddled with the collection of
25 Orthodox icons always on display in the corner when a diplomat from the U.S. Embassy noticed me and awkwardly waved. He must have remembered me from a brief orientation six months ago. With a memory like that you can see how this guy passed the foreign service exam. He seemed to move on when he sheepishly reversed course and came over to talk. I wonder how he passed the personality test. Next to stoic faced, orthodox icons of men fighting dragons, the Diplomat asked about how these computers will change my job at Samtredia Public School Two. I began to answer but he cut me off. Without any instigation from me, he dove into a diatribe about how this nation is first and foremost of the post-Soviet states. “Georgia is truly modernizing at a rate we could not have foreseen just a few years ago. I mean, you know this, since the Rose Revolution, democracy is a reality and corruption has disappeared from the lives of ordinary Georgians. For the first time in twenty years, there is predictability and investment. I mean just look at this event: computers for every youth in a non-oil producing country?! It’s just unheard of.” As his platitudes continued, the grin on his face became insurmountable. I imagined this Diplomat as a precocious college student lecturing his bored roommates about the idiosyncrasies of Iran-Contra, just wanting to be in the middle of international affairs. And here he was, a generation later rambling to another half listening acquaintance about how you can invest in the right man with revolutionary ideas to change a country. He continued, “Six years ago, this country had nothing but wind and snow,” he punched his fist into his palm eliciting a soggy smack, “What does he do?” he pointed to the Prime Minister, “He decides he’s going to actually treat his country’s youth as a prized natural resource. To him, these kids are gold, and they should be. It’s not like Georgia has anything else.” Fair enough to his point, Georgia’s closest relationship to natural resource development was a gas pipeline running east-to-west through its southern provinces from Azerbaijan to Turkey. This pipeline garners a meager royalty for the nation’s coffers. The Diplomat continued, “He is doing for these kids what lamps did for whale fat.” I returned to the conversation at the right time, “To promote a non-renewable energy harvest?”
26 “No, the lamps gave the fat purpose. Value that otherwise wasn’t there before.” I think the whales would differ. “I wish we had leadership like this back in the States.” His tempo slowed and his smile became more stern. “This guy secured a computer for every kid in the country. I just saw on al Jazeera that U.S. test scores are down another year in a row. I think we’re tied with Slovakia or some other agrarian backwater we should be dominating.” He tilted his head to the side to let the sweat, his exuberance, slide past his tightly fitted collar. During our conversation, the event’s planned agenda and glad-handing had ended. The youth had their computers, the Prime Minister had his requisite talks with one local student of average Georgian appearance and one local teacher of average Georgian expectation, and so the group of dignitaries and press was moving into another classroom that had out treats and drinks. Before the Diplomat was able to dislodge from our conversation and move with the group, one of my students hustled up next to me with her shiny computer and a dejected face. The Diplomat asked the girl what was wrong in Georgian. While I appreciated his effort to speak in Georgian, he and I both knew he was not going to understand the response. The student looked at me and shoved the computer into my gut. She told me the battery was dead, and I relayed this tragedy to the Diplomat. The Diplomat looked at me quizzically, “Did she already lose her power cable?” he said incredulously, “Every student got one.” “No,” I said, “she still has the power cable.” “Then I don’t get the problem.” His mood turned on a dime, “These developing-staters, they have such a sense of entitlement. They want everything given to them. As if giving a new laptop isn’t enough, this gift just doubled her family’s net worth!” I allowed him a moment so he could soak in his dismay and frustration over a lifetime of good intentions with minimal results. My agitation with his smug, bourgeois bigotry seethed off of my tongue, “That isn’t the problem either.” I looked through the door into the first form classroom. “You see that there,” I said pointing at the pot belly stove in the
CIRQUE classroom, “That’s the first form class, it has the youngest kids we’ve got and so they get the wood stove, because their little bodies can’t handle the winters. That’s the only stove in the building.” “That’s great, but unless you know something that I don’t, that stove isn’t going to charge her computer. Even she knows that.” With his arms now crossed, he motioned to her with a jerk of his right elbow. My student stood in front of us displeased at both the bitter tone and inaccessible language of the conversation. Her laptop was in my hand. “Right, it won’t charge her computer, and that’s the point. You don’t have a wood stove in a building with central heat and you don’t have computers in a building without electrical outlets!” Every so often you see someone take unbelievable information and process it correctly, this was not one of those moments. Thinking I was bullshitting him, he scanned the wall, about six inches off the ground. He stepped into an empty classroom repeating the process. Each inch, or meter or whatever, of wall he saw without an outlet furled his brow deeper leaving his forehead resembling the rutted mixed medium roads of dirt and concrete that were the tired arteries of Samtredia. “What the hell? What the . . . “ he emphasized his syllables all wrong, like how a boxer speaks after losing a bout. “This is the Republic of Georgia, and you just realized that this program puts an expensive, digital cart in front of a traditional, analog horse . . . and for reference’s sake, the horse cart is still a popular mode of transportation here.” The Diplomat’s eyes continued to scurry around the school as if I tricked him. From the adjoining classroom you could hear the reverie of a job well done. The Prime Minister was sipping on a Coke from a flimsy, opaque plastic cup, which was doubly sweet because just a few years ago he convinced Coca-Cola Global to open Georgia’s first bottling plant. The CEO was updating various social media feeds with photos of himself and local children to give visage to his altruistic acts. There was back slapping. I looked back at the Diplomat. He expected a reprieve, a solution to appear. People were celebrating. He expected a bunch of pig snout outlets to thrust their way through the wall like a surprise party for Tesla. But this was it; he saw what he saw. This was Samtredia Public School 2, and today was a big day.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
NONFICTION Gretchen Brinck
Sunspots and St. Mary’s Mission
The slender Yup’ik Eskimo girl, Emmy, studied me solemnly through her thick glasses. Straight black hair hung to her shoulders. In each hand she gripped a doll wearing a frilly dress. For my visit, her foster parents had kept her home from school and dressed her much as she had dressed the dolls. Mr. and Mrs. Masters were one of few white families in St. Mary’s Mission, an Alaskan Yup’ik Eskimo village on the Yukon River about 70 miles from the Bering sea. In 1969, the village’s 550 Eskimos followed a traditional subsistence life style of hunting and fishing. Lacking electricity and plumbing, they hauled water, cooked on wood or oil stoves and used kerosene lanterns to light their small, single-frame wooden homes. Mr. and Mrs. Masters lived in a house attached to the village’s only general store, which they owned and managed. They had a generator and used electric lights and modern appliances. Their furniture covers, crossstitched religious passages, and framed family photos were what I would expect in suburban homes in the Lower 48. Mrs. Masters set out cookies and offered coffee. “Or would you prefer tea?” she asked. “Tea, if you have it.” When she brought me a steaming, dainty cup, she asked, “Are you pregnant?” I laughed. “How did you guess?” “Your face. You look bone-tired.” “Do I? I feel fine.” Everything about my pregnancy fascinated me, even the heartburn and fatigue. Now four months along, I was delighted that morning when I couldn’t close the top button of my slacks. At the same time, it was hard to believe I really had a wonderful baby inside. I couldn’t wait until I felt the first kick and knew this was for real. Mr. and Mrs. Masters perched at the edges of their chairs. Middle-aged and stocky, both wore glasses and had bits of gray in their hair. Though friendly, they were stiff with tension. I didn’t blame them. I was the first social worker they’d seen since the Alaska Welfare Department placed Emmy with them 7 years before. She was one of the 75 placed-and-forgotten foster children
I inherited when I became the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Child Welfare Worker in September 1968. It had taken me until February to clear the backlog of abuse cases and make time to meet foster kids. “Emmy’s doing well,” Mrs. Masters told me. “Almost all A’s, last report card, right, Emmy? We don’t call her Emily. She said, ‘My name Emmy,” when she came and it stuck.” “How was she back then?” The Masters glanced at Emmy, who was mouthing dialogue between the two dolls. Mr. Masters said, “Scared. Why wouldn’t she be? Great big eyes, taking everything in. I guess this was pretty different from her life before.” Mrs. Masters added, “We were told she was left alone and there was drinking and fighting. So we didn’t push her. At first she would hide extra food under her pillow. Poor little thing wasn’t used to regular meals. It took a while before she’d let us give her a bath.” Like many Eskimo children, Emmy was prone to severe ear infections, so they kept medication on hand. “Does her living with you set her apart from the other kids in town?” “You have kids to play with, don’t you, Emmy?” said Mrs. Masters. “Agnes and Mary and Dorothy are my best friends,” Emmy answered in a near whisper. I expected that, like Emmy, my child would know both Yup’ik and white children, since Brigham and I were moving soon to a small village, not far from St. Mary’s. “We like getting things for her,” Mr. Masters was telling me. Some foster parents complained about the low funding they received from Welfare and would not provide extras like Christmas gifts or non-essential clothes. But the Masters supplied Emmy’s dolls, toys, prescription glasses and clothes. “We love her,” he explained. “We feel like she’s our own child.” Throughout my visit they never relaxed, so near the end I asked again about worries or concerns. “Emmy,” said Mrs. Masters, “please go get us the pictures you drew last week.” When Emmy left, Mrs. Masters spoke softly. “You
28 won’t take her from us, will you?” “Why would I? This seems an excellent home for her.” “But what will happen if her mother gets out of prison?” Emmy had entered foster care when her parents received lengthy sentences for violent crimes. “I don’t know,” I said. “Does the mother write to her?” “Never.” Years later, I would work with mothers that Protective Services judged by how they kept in contact with their children, followed a visitation schedule, and completed parenting classes and drug/alcohol rehab. But in 1969 Alaska, the Welfare Department did not focus on “reunifying” families, particularly Native American ones. The century-old practice of removing Native children from their cultures and forcing them to assimilate into ours was the standard, not love and emotional security. “I hate to think of Emmy going back to those people,” said Mr. Masters. “She doesn’t even know them.” “Does she ask about her real parents?” “No,” said Mr. Masters. “She calls us Mommy and Daddy,” Mrs. Masters said. “Mrs. Brinck, can’t we adopt her?” “I’ll find out.” * Brigham and I had lined up our jobs in “The Alaska Bush” in Spring, 1968, just before we married and received our Masters Degrees in Social Work. Because we loved adventure and rugged camping and shared a fascination with Native American cultures, we chose to begin our careers in the Bush, which we expected to be challenging. And it was. I started my Child Welfare job in Bethel eager to meet my supervisor/mentor. Instead, the nice young man who managed the financial aid section said, “Here’s your desk. This map shows the region you’ll cover. Those stacks of files are yours. The rest are in that cabinet. Here are our travel vouchers. You’ll be traveling a lot. OK, then. Go for it.” I was the ONLY Child Welfare Worker! There was no supervisor to guide me with my caseload, which included all child abuse cases, adoptions, and the 75 foster children. My area included Bethel, population 2000 in 1968, and 56 Athabascan and Eskimo villages scattered 150 miles along the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers. Villages had no roads. Communication was via short wave radio or letters. I would travel by bush plane. I saw myself as the world’s greenest social worker
CIRQUE with the world’s hardest job. Soon I was calling state welfare supervisors in Juneau for specific information. That’s what I did for Emmy. “What are the guidelines for terminating parental rights?” I asked supervisor Karen after describing the situation. “It hasn’t been long enough,” she snapped. “The parents may be released from prison.” “Are you sure? They were sentenced to twenty years.”’ “Those foster parents are neurotic.” “I don’t understand.” “They are overly attached to the child. Perhaps we should move her to a different home.” “We should take Emmy away because they love her? Why is it bad for her to be loved?” “If Emmy does become available,” Karen informed me, “the Masters are too old to be approved as adoptive parents.” “How can they be too old to adopt but not to be foster parents?” “The guidelines are different. Make it clear to them that if they can’t limit their over-involvement with this child, I have to take steps.” I had endangered a nearly ideal foster parentfoster child situation. Every time I worked with the Juneau supervisor, our philosophies clashed. She clung to rigid 40’s and 50’s concepts while I was a droplet in an early wave of change. Agencies of the future would honor a child’s need to bond with a long-term parent figure and would create “fos-adopt” homes to enable foster parents to adopt their foster child if the birth parents released the child or their rights were terminated. This lay in a future I could not foresee. In the present, I had to protect Emmy and the Masters. If I explained things in a letter to them, my secretary would type it and learn I was defying Juneau authority. If I patched a phone call into the short wave radio in St. Mary’s, the entire village could listen in. Digging around, I found a situation in a village near St Mary’s that needed attention. I could go by mail plane to the first village, then catch a ride on a snowmobile to St. Mary’s, and next day charter a bush plane to get home. * Ivan, a Yup’ik man from the neighboring village, slammed us over unseen ruts, catching air and spraying snow. Belatedly I realized that riding a snowmobile was not an excellent thing to do while pregnant. When I let
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 go of Ivan’s waist and dismounted at the end of the 19 mile trek up the frozen Yukon River, I was shivering despite my snow pants, mukluks and down parka. Ivan laughed. “Wind chill!” Hefting my backpack, I walked to the General Store to visit Mr. and Mrs. Masters. The exercise plus the hot tea Mrs. Masters gave me restored my body heat, but sniffles persisted, a headache loomed and aches in my groin made me fear for my baby. Forcing myself to focus, I said, “It’s not safe for you to pursue adoption.” Emmy was at school so I didn’t guard Sunrise 4 my words. “Don’t draw attention to yourselves.” I explained that Karen considered it “unprofessional” to love a foster child; foster parents were considered caregivers, not parent figures. “If she thinks you’re too emotionally involved, she might move Emmy elsewhere.” Then I had to drop the next bomb. “I learned that your age disqualifies you as adoptive parents.” “That’s crazy!” Mr. Masters burst out. I spoke angrily to cover my sudden urge to cry. “I’m not saying I agree. It’s good for Emmy that you love her. Just please don’t rock the boat.” Seeing their stricken faces, I added, “I am so sorry.” Mrs. Masters clutched my hand. “Thank you for explaining this.” I expected Karen would forget them and that Emmy would be safe unless the mother got out of prison, but I kept quiet. I might be wrong. * Most villages provided travelers a bed in a teacher’s guest room or a cot in a one-room clinic. St. Mary’s offered something better: for a small fee, I could have a room in the Mission. In the late ‘60’s, the Mission’s wood buildings were a Catholic boarding school, but the original Mission, created in the late 1800’s, served Eskimo girls orphaned by TB and flu epidemics. I trudged to the Mission, hoping my pains were only tired muscles. Why hadn’t I considered the baby instead of getting on that snowmobile? When I found the office where the Mission had its radio, a wrinkle-faced white woman in an old-fashioned nun’s habit looked up from a typewriter that belonged in a World War II movie.
I asked her please to radio my charter pilot for an early morning flight. “That’s not possible.” I coughed hoarsely. “But I need to get home.” She laughed. “There’s a storm on the sun. Sunspots disrupt radio transmission. We won’t get through for days.” “Oh, no!” Not only could I not travel, I had no way to notify my husband or my boss. “Don’t worry,” said the nun. “Bethel’s incommunicado too. They’ll know you can’t get back until the Saturday mail plane.” “Saturday!” “You’re welcome to stay here for three days.” In her smile I caught a hint of mischief. Five months in the future, scientists would send a man to the moon for the first time, yet they could not make a short wave radio overcome sunspots. As I surrendered, I felt a fever rising. I didn’t just have aches and pains; I was sick. When I reached my little room with its welcoming bed and blankets, it was dark. Through the small window, I saw closely bunched mounds of snow pressed against a house across the path: sled dogs sharing warmth with snow as their blanket. I struggled to breathe. My brow grew hotter. The abdominal discomfort had almost gone, though. When a heavy coughing fit struck, I realized I wasn’t losing my baby. I was having a visit from my familiar enemy, bronchitis. I lay down in the narrow bed. Across the room hung a sepia photo of 20 young Yup’ik Eskimo girls posed with nuns outside the original St. Mary’s Chapel.
30 The girls wore identical white kuspuks, the traditional Eskimo parka-dress with fur lining and a hood. The nuns wore kuspuks of dark fabric. Behind them, the small brick chapel stood on flat, treeless Akulurak — “In Between Place” — an island in a slough connecting two arms of the Yukon. The stark, snowless surroundings and bundled girls gave the impression of great cold. How lost the little girls must have have felt. Had some seen their parents die? At least a village was to grow up around the Mission where the girls were photographed, so they had not forever lost connection with their own language and culture. In 1948, due to heavy silting in the slough, the Mission and the villagers moved 90 miles upriver to Andreafsky. The Eskimo villagers built new homes with wood from an abandoned Gold Rush hotel. For the Mission’s eleven buildings, a Jesuit priest brought surplus boards up the Yukon from Alaska’s Galena Air Force Base by barge, probably including those in the wall of the guest room where I lay. The girls so resembled Emmy. I told myself Emmy’s situation was as good as circumstances permitted. She had a doting foster family, and she got to play and go to school with children of her own culture and language – unlike many Native foster kids who were uprooted from their own people and shipped to urban white foster homes hundreds of miles away. The orphans’ bleak loneliness enclosed me like icy air. It was so sad to be sick away from home. In Bethel, my husband would soon hunker down with our golden retriever, Happy, who I would never tie outside in a snowdrift. Tears gushed for cold sled dogs and isolated orphans and Emmy and worry that my fever might harm the baby. I coughed hard, then wiped my eyes and nose with squares pulled from the roll of toilet paper I had brought to bed. The door cracked open. Light poured in. Holding a kerosene lantern in one hand and a glass in the other, a nun entered. She had a lined face and rosy cheeks like a benevolent witch in a fairy tale. “You poor dear!” She handed me the steaming glass. “This will be good for you. Our astronauts drink it.” Hot Tang! I took a sip. “Thank you so much.” “We’re down the hall if you need us.” The door closed. As the Tang and the kindness soothed me, something fluttered in my lower left abdomen. Gentle as a butterfly, it persisted. With instant love, I whispered “Hi.”
We Never Saw Him Again In a bare room, with the flag, inductees took one step forward and were sworn into service. On the way out of the induction center Red Cross ladies handed out toiletries and we walked in a line onto a green bus. The riders stared numbly out the windows at the civilian scenery along Interstate 5. We still wore our own clothes and haircuts and carried bags from home. At Fort Lewis, Washington, a sergeant screamed and we hustled off the bus and entered a new life: “You trainees are whale shit at the bottom of the ocean.” Rainbow clothes and girlie hair would be gone tomorrow. Aptitude tests helped the Army decide what to do with all the meat that landed on its doorstep. The sergeant put us straight: “Don’t think, because you score high, you’ll avoid going to the infantry. The infantry needs brains too.” Some men in the formation were RA, Regular Army. They had enlisted, had to serve three years active, and might get the training they had signed on for. The rest were draftees, obligated for two years active. Draftees would take our chances on escaping assignment to combat arms. The odds did not favor us. The Army needed bodies to fight in Vietnam and that’s why we were here: “Truth is, these tests don’t mean shit. You’re all goin’ to Vietnam.” Fuck you, I thought. Drill sergeants wearing “Smokey Bear” hats would rule our lives, but my platoon didn’t have one, yet; he hadn’t graduated from drill sergeant school. After graduation he would take over from the unschooled sergeant now assigned to whip us into shape. No screamer sadist in my face, yet. But what if you needed a drill sergeant to get you through this mess? If we went to Vietnam, and I had no reason to doubt it, then we’d better know what to do when we got there. Our first Army meal wasn’t a meal, it was chow. In line outside the mess hall we were greeted by the drill sergeants: “You look like a bunch of fairies, momma’s boys, cutie pies. Get your asses in there and eat fast.” Five minutes to walk the line, find a seat, stuff the chow, clear your tray, and move out. No talking, except for the sergeants who walked up and down the aisles yelling. In the barracks everyone grabbed a bunk with a bare mattress and made it up. Very important to make
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 the bunk correctly: “Damn it, do it right!” Our platoon sergeant tried to act mean but his heart wasn’t in it. No one did it right, because no one knew how. Before he flew into a rage the sergeant showed us how to make the bunks. We did it well enough to get in them and turn out the lights. The platoon sergeant left – immediately the lights came back on: “Get the fuck out of those bunks and stand at attention!” I climbed from the bunk mumbling and stood on the cold floor. Trainees made two lines that faced into the center aisle between the bunks. The thin, wiry black man bounced on the balls of his feet in the middle of the barracks, glaring at us. He wore civilian clothes with no name tag or drill sergeant hat, but I could see the pain in his eyes, and knew who he was. “You, shitbird, who you lookin’ at?” He jumped in my face, as fast as a cat. “Don’t look at me like that, trainee! You think you’re a man? You’re a college boy. Don’t fuck with me; I’ll eat you alive.” His breath smelled like bad bourbon. I looked straight ahead with a dead man’s stare. He moved off. “Some of you think you can fuck with me, you’re tough guys, you been kickin’ ass on the block. I kicked ass in the ‘Nam and did some mean shit you babies would never think of.” He bore into us: “You come to me if you want some. You’re not shit but I’m going to make you men. None of you punks will sit behind a desk. You’re going to Vietnam to fight! I’ll make you the best soldiers in this army.” We stood still on the cold floor under the bare bulbs. The drill sergeant paced up and down the aisle: “Some of you gonna’ die, some of you gonna’ come back. I came back because I was the meanest son of a bitch in the jungle. You do what I tell you, you’ll know how to survive the nastiest place you’ll ever see.” No one breathed. The drill sergeant walked out of the barracks and left us at attention. He walked back in and turned out the lights: “At ease.” ——— The company area looked straight out of World War II: four two-story, wooden barracks with two rows of double bunks on each floor. We had become shaved heads, duffel bags with stenciled name and serial number, and fatigues OD in color. Each trainee had a bunk, a metal locker, and a squat, wooden footlocker. They were ours, temporarily. We didn’t own anything. Four squads made the platoon and each squad lined up in rows by height in a formation. The platoon sergeant picked the biggest men as trainee squad leaders;
31 they would help the sergeant push us around. My squad got an opportunity to get whipped into shape by pulling KP the next day. “Tough break,” the platoon sergeant said, “but good training.” The barracks had no fire alarm or sprinkler system, and every night one squad would pull fire guard duty. You walked through the barracks and woke everyone in case a fire started. A matter of life and death, the sergeant said: “This old barracks will go up like a dry Christmas tree and burn down in seven minutes.” Fire guard made sure there was only one trainee in a bunk. Two trainees in a bunk would be reported immediately to a squad leader. These “queers” would be busted for sodomy. Court-martial would follow and five years imprisonment at hard labor, then dishonorable discharge. Trainees also pulled perimeter guard duty. The perimeter guard walked outside around the four barracks carrying a baseball bat. Your duty was to smack down anyone not authorized to enter or leave a barracks. All officers had right of entry so we should not hit them with the bat. Any trainee who hit an officer with the bat would be in deep shit. At 3:30 a.m. the fire guard woke the 4th squad and we shuffled to the mess hall. We stood at the back door shivering in the cold dark under a dim bulb waiting for the cook to show. The cook came a half-hour late and we were already behind. When the mess sergeant arrived he was pissed at the cook because we were behind schedule and trainees waited at the door for breakfast. Cook said: “Stupid KP’s were late for duty.” It was a lie but the mess sergeant believed the cook; we 4th squaders were just trainees and couldn’t do anything right. The drill sergeants pounded on the door wanting in and they chewed the mess sergeant’s ass for opening late. “Not my fault,” the mess sergeant said. “KP’s were late for duty.” A basic lesson in army life: shit flows downhill. Call it good training. We were trained whale shit. What we used to be didn’t matter. We had been teachers, lawyers, hippies, shipping clerks, delivery men, and vagabonds; undecided kids on the block with a variety of dreams and desires. Now all that was gone and we had but one desire the drill sergeants made clear: to kill the enemy. We were here to serve the needs of the state and lived like concentration camp prisoners. Confined to the barracks; not allowed civilian clothes; not allowed visitors. The Army would break us down and turn us into paid killers. That’s how it was: $92 a month, before taxes. Uncle Sam owned our bodies and conditioned
32 us with running, exercises called PT, obstacle courses, etc. Uncle also wanted our minds. He wanted us to have correct thoughts about important political issues that would help us fulfill our role as combat soldiers soon to be fighting in Vietnam. We watched a film titled “Why Are We in Vietnam?” that showed the red tide of communist aggression spreading over the globe. We learned about the “domino effect” where the fall of one country to Communism results in the fall of another country, then another, and on and on. If left unopposed in even faraway places Communism would take over every country
except the United States. Then we would have to fight communists in Idaho instead of Vietnam. The chaplain spoke at length about the Perils of International Communism. He emphasized that communists were atheists who didn’t believe in God and it was our duty to stop the godless tide of Communism. As we stood to march out of the auditorium, I asked my bunkmate Swenson what he thought: “Kill a commie for Christ,” he said. Rifle marksmanship taught a skill we could use. Billy, the goat of the platoon, almost ended it. Billy was 18, couldn’t learn anything without many repetitions, and always screwed up. Billy had enlisted as Regular Army and was the butt of constant harassment from the sergeants and the trainee jerks. On the firing range he became confused and didn’t fire on command. When a drill sergeant yelled at him Billy turned around and pointed the loaded rifle at the sergeant. The sergeant wasn’t happy and Billy did more extra duty. We marched everywhere. When we made
CIRQUE mistakes, we marched for punishment on roads that wound through a forest. The forest brought memories of better days, of a former life. I wanted to leave then, and walk off into the woods. When the formation did a column left around a corner I saw the far away glaciered summit of Mt. Rainier. Its wild beauty gave me hope; it meant everything in that moment. Then it was gone and we marched back to the barracks. Bayonet training was difficult. It wasn’t hard to stick your bayonet into the rubber target, but the drill sergeants wanted you to feel the emotion behind the stabbing. They would scream: “What is the function of the bayonet!?” Trainees had to scream back: “To kill, drill sergeant, to kill!” I could never work up the fear and anger to feel I was killing someone with my bayonet. To think you would really have to do it was appalling. After two weeks our drill sergeantto-be paid us a surprise visit in the barracks on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Saturday afternoons were supposedly free time but we spent them cleaning the barracks and polishing our gear to make up for gigs our platoon had received from the Saturday morning inspection. The second platoon’s drill sergeant had been hard on us, unfairly Wayne Kleven so said our platoon sergeant. Our platoon sergeant could do nothing about it because he was not a drill sergeant and the drill sergeants ruled basic. The second platoon’s drill sergeant had made us look and feel inferior. Our drill sergeant-to-be said this harassment would stop when he took over the platoon: “I’ll kick his ass.” Our drill sergeant loved the Army and told us that we did too. Shout it out: “I love the Army. “Louder, I don’t hear you.” “I love the Army!” He called Billy out and asked what was wrong with him, why he always fucked up: “You enlisted didn’t you? You’re RA, the best.” Billy stammered and got out that there was nothing wrong with him. “You’re right,” our drill sergeant said. “You will make it through basic, I will see to it.” Our drill sergeant’s confidence was infectious. He quick-stepped out of the barracks into the rain. Our platoon sergeant said, “He’s tough, but he’s fair.” A new trainee was assigned to our platoon and put in the 4th squad. He was sullen and talked to no
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 one. We assumed he had been recycled from another company, but didn’t know why. That night the 4th squad had fire guard duty and when my turn came I walked around inside the barracks checking to make sure each bunk had a body in it. The second time around I noticed the new trainee’s bunk had a large lump in it, too big for one body. Three arms hung off the bunk. Not good. What to do? All the other bunks had bodies in them; whoever lay in the bunk with the new trainee was not from my platoon. An hour remained before wake-up call and I thought I should warn them. With a nudge to the big lump: “Hey, you’d better get moving—almost time for wake-up.” “Fuck you,” came from under the blanket. My bunk mate Swen took over for the last shift and I told him about the two guys in the bunk. He said he’d try to get the second guy out of our barracks. When the lights came on I walked to the latrine and saw the new trainee’s bunk was empty. I took a sink next to Swen: “What happened?” “They’re gone.” “Both of them?” “Both of them. I didn’t see a thing.” “Me neither,” I said. On the way back to my bunk another trainee in my squad stopped me: “The queers got away last night.” “What queers?” “The one sleeping below me and the one from the second platoon.” “How do you know they’re queers?” “Second platoon drill sergeant was here looking for them. He said they were recycled to us from another company after they got caught in bed together. The perimeter guard saw two guys run across the street and yelled at them but they didn’t stop.” Our platoon sergeant came into the barracks and talked to Swen and me. He said we were walking fire guard when the two queers ran away. Why hadn’t we seen them? We told him we hadn’t seen anything unusual; all the bunks had bodies in them so everyone was accounted for. “They looked like they all had bodies in them,” the platoon sergeant said. “That’s because the queer put his duffel bag in his bunk when he left. You two need to pay more attention.” The platoon sergeant left the barracks to go out for reveille formation. “Smart of the guy to leave his duffel in his bed,” I said. “Gives us a good excuse.” “Yes, it does,” Swen said. “I put it there.” Saturday’s weekly morning inspection came
33 two days later. The First Platoon rated low again and our sergeant was pissed. Billy’s bunk had been torn apart; sheets and blanket on the floor. Billy piled the bedding on his bunk, sat on his footlocker and stared at the floor. We had to spend all Saturday afternoon cleaning and polishing. Fourth squad had perimeter guard duty and after dinner I ran back to the company HQ to pull the first shift. With the baseball bat I walked around the barracks. The usual gray overcast covered the sky but it wasn’t raining and I could see from one end of the company area to the other. Trainees sat inside the barracks talking and listening to Cream’s “White Room” on their radios. Walking in shadows next to the company HQ I saw an olive drab MP sedan pull up across the street and two big MPs get out. The back seat looked empty, but the MPs opened a rear door and pulled someone off the seat. They carried him by the shoulders and feet into the company HQ. The MPs didn’t know I was there and when they walked by I saw who they carried. His eyes were black and face raw: the trainee who ran from our platoon. The MPs carried him into the company HQ and we never saw him again. ——— The rain stopped sometimes, but never for long. We wore rain gear over our fatigues and wet leather combat boots that never got dry. Our platoon sergeant stood in front of the reveille formation in the cold rain. We would march to breakfast as usual, but first the sergeant had an announcement. He looked sad, like he had bad news. It was not unusual to get bad news, but this was particularly bad: “Your drill sergeant is dead. He was killed in a liquor store robbery trying to disarm the gunman.” His hand to hand combat moves had failed. The shock wave rolled through the formation. Life goes on, our platoon sergeant said; he would be our sergeant for the rest of basic. We were stunned. I wanted the drill sergeant to take us over, to see what we could do. Now we wouldn’t be the best killers in the jungle. Would we survive? Life goes on, but for how long? We practiced drill and ceremony in the rain, ran obstacle courses in the rain, marched in the rain, did pushups in the rain. The heavy rubberized rain gear leaked and we got wet. Inside a hot classroom for a lecture on mental hygiene or the perils of drug use we sat in wet fatigues that dripped on the floor. At night we slept with the barracks windows open because the Army didn’t want any trainee to get meningitis and die. Dying in training camp looked bad. “Don’t matter if you die in
34 Vietnam,” the sergeant said. “You die here and we’ve got a Congress investigation.” I’d had two colds and not gone on sick call. Sick call was not for the sick, but for the near dead. God help you if you went to sick call and could walk there. Walking in proved you weren’t sick and you got harassed. More likely you had a “personal problem” and might need to talk to the chaplain. God help you if you went to talk to the chaplain because the chaplain wouldn’t. I felt sick, worse than just another cold. Fortunately it was Sunday with no training scheduled; if I could shake it off I’d be ready on Monday. If you really got sick and had to go to the hospital you stood a good chance of missing enough training to get re-cycled into another platoon and have to start over. To help pass the time, I bought a newspaper from the kid hawking them at the barracks door where the smokers stood in the rain. No good news. The NixonHumphrey election was coming up on Tuesday. Neither one promised to make much difference in ending the war, my most immediate concern. U.S troop casualties in Vietnam for the previous week were over 2000 killed or wounded. Too sick to get out of my bunk to go to lunch, I didn’t make it to dinner. The squad leader said I had to walk to the infirmary, a few blocks away. He went along to make sure I didn’t fall down or run off into the forest. Several other trainees stood in line at the infirmary waiting to fill out forms. The medic took my temperature—over 102. “Go sit down,” he said. The room filled with trainees hunched over and shivering in fatigues. Someone said we were bound for the hospital. I did not want to go to the hospital and get re-cycled, but I was going anyway. At midnight the meat wagon arrived. The meat wagon came late, should have been here earlier; now there were too many of us sick trainees to fit inside. We fit in anyway, stacked in the back like cordwood, then sped to the hospital bouncing around smacking into each other. At Madigan Hospital we slackers were not welcomed by the medics who had to process us in. We stood on a white line and recited our name, rank, and serial number correctly, then filled out more forms. In a feverish state, we were not at our best. When someone made a mistake on a form the medics cursed him. The medics had more rank, and that meant we were just supposed to take it, but I was losing my grip. The medic called the trainee in front of me a “shitbird.” I stared at him hard. He looked at me and didn’t say anything but “Next.”
CIRQUE Issued green gowns and slippers we marched into the hospital. At 3 a.m. I was assigned a bed and told to sleep. At 6 a.m., 0600 hours, the lights on the ceiling came on and all trainees got out of bed, made the bed, and stood at attention for inspection. We were not patients, but trainees, and had to do this. Barely able to stand, I learned my bed sheets and cover needed tightening. The orderly said it was good enough for Day One but would have to be perfect tomorrow. “I need to see a doctor, I feel terrible.” “Won’t happen today,” the orderly replied, “you’re too sick. Get your temperature down under a 100. Every day you take five full cups of Hi-C fruit drink off the cart in the hallway. Get it yourself.” I started toward the hallway and almost fell over. “Hey man, wait. I’ll get it for you.” The black trainee in the bed across the aisle brought back two “grapes” and I drained mine. “This is some shit, huh?” he said. “Where are we?” “URI ward. This whole hospital’s got it—upper respiratory infection, near pneumonia.” “How long you been here?” “Too fuckin’ long. I had URI here in basic and I got it again in the infantry. Fuck the infantry, cold and wet all the fuckin’ time. Fuck the Army.” There was nothing to do but drink imitation fruit drink and sleep. The next day I felt better at 0600 hours, passed my bed inspection, and had to tear it down and remake it with fresh sheets. A sergeant walked through the ward yelling at us: “Too damn many trainees in my hospital. You’re not sick, get back to training. I don’t want to see you here tomorrow.” In the afternoon, I went to the doctor. My temperature was below 100 and I could take solid food at the cafeteria. The doctor gave me a pass, so I wouldn’t get harassed in the halls. The food was not good and I barely got it down. Table after table of trainees sat eating silently or staring at their trays. Back on the ward, I felt good enough to stay up and watch TV. On Election Day it was returns only on all three channels. I watched until 2100 hours, midnight East Coast time, and neither Nixon nor Humphrey had enough electoral votes to win. If Wallace pulled enough votes the election would go into the House of Representatives—a free-for-all. Next morning the news said Nixon had won. I felt good enough to eat breakfast at the cafeteria. The guy in the bunk across the aisle who helped
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
That’s What You Want
me was gone. Maybe I could be gone today; I wanted out before I got re-cycled. No, the doctor said, tomorrow if my temperature held normal. Next day I was released from the hospital, a quick recovery from near pneumonia. I put on my fatigues and stood in line to check out, watching another group of sick trainees march in. All released trainees climbed into the back of a deuce-and-a-half truck and rode to our units. Had I been gone too long? At Bravo Company I jumped off the truck. It was raining. Inside the company orderly room the first sergeant looked surprised to see me: “What are ya doin here? What’s your name? Why aren’t ya at training?” “Trainee Brink, first sergeant. I’ve been in the hospital. URI.” “When ya go in?” “Sunday night, first sergeant.”
Sherry Clough Suiter
“This’s Thursday. You’re lucky. One more day and youda been a re-cycle. Go sit in the barracks till the company comes back for lunch.” The barracks was stone quiet. I walked up the stairs. Everything looked the same, all the bunks, lockers, and foot lockers lined up perfectly, the floor shining. I sat on my bunk and stared out the window. The company came marching back to the barracks singing the drill sergeants’ favorite song: “I wanna be an airborne ranger, I wanna live a life of danger, I wanna go to Vietnam, I wanna kill a Vietcong.” ——— The captain moved through the barracks and we stood at attention in front of our footlockers. All gear lay out on the bunks, cleaned and shined, for a full field inspection. Our last inspection before graduation and we wanted to do well, to look good. The captain commanded
36 the company but all through basic we had rarely seen him. Our sergeant told us the captain was an asshole and no one liked him. He had been a lieutenant colonel in Vietnam, but fucked up and got his troops killed. He got busted down two ranks to captain and sent home to push trainees. He walked down our aisle, asking questions, quizzing us on the details of basic training, and asked the trainee next to me: “What’s the correct dimensions of a slit trench?” Useless information. He walked past without looking at me. Tomorrow was graduation day and we planned to show off for the parents, relatives, and girlfriends by demonstrating how proficient we trainees had become at drill and ceremony. We practiced the manual of arms with our rifles and snapped the M-14’s around in unison. Even Billy, the goat of the platoon, did it passably correct. Platoon sergeant had told Swen and me the reason Billy fucked up all the time. He was part of Project 100,000, designed to bring more bodies into the Army by allowing men with low IQ’s the opportunity to enlist. If you wanted to enlist and didn’t score high enough on the qualification test you could still get in for three years RA through Project 100,000. The catch was you were not smart enough to qualify for anything other than infantry, so you went to the infantry. Billy was proud of enlisting RA and going infantry. Graduation day dawned with clouds sitting on our heads, pouring down rain. Drill and ceremony to show off for visitors on the parade ground was cancelled. The much anticipated steak lunch was still on in the mess hall. All trainees had packed their duffel bags and were ready to leave after graduation. A feeling of relief and high spirits filled the barracks; basic was over and we would graduate. Just to leave Fort Lewis was cause for celebration. We’d be scattered to far-flung posts into what the Army called AIT, advanced individual training, and never see each other again. My assignment was combat arms, artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It wasn’t as bad as infantry and it wasn’t at Fort Lewis in the rain. We filed into the mess hall and got our steaks, an unheard of luxury. The dining experience was different from all others. The sergeants smiled and glad-handed family members and other visitors who dined with us. The drill sergeants didn’t scream at anyone and we could eat slowly. I sat at a table with a trainee from another platoon whose mother had come to see him graduate. She wanted to talk and asked questions about our lives and futures in the Army: “Have you learned a lot in basic training?” Silence. “What will you men do when you leave
CIRQUE here?” It wasn’t until her second question I realized we were allowed to talk in the mess hall. My life and future in the Army wasn’t something I wanted to discuss. The steak was tough and I ate quickly and moved out. The graduation ceremony started at 1400 hours and we marched in the rain to the auditorium in our Class A dress uniforms with spit-shined low quarter shoes. A gung-ho trainee wanted the company to sing the drill sergeants’ favorite song as we marched, but he was told to shut up. Inside the auditorium the visitors sat on the sides in bleachers and we graduates stood in front of chairs lined up on the main floor facing a stage and podium. The company XO, a first lieutenant, bawled out, “Aw…tenn…shunn!” and we snapped into the position. The captain walked up onto the stage and stood at the podium: “At ease. Take your seats.” My feet were soaked from the march, cold and clammy. I didn’t attend well to the captain’s Army boilerplate speech as I wasn’t proud of receiving the honor. Several trainees and families paid close attention to his words. Some trainees had not graduated from high school or achieved any honors yet in life, so this would be a moment to remember. The captain congratulated us on making it through basic and said no trainee had been recycled, none failed. Something to be proud of. He said now we would go forward in our Army careers to serve our country honorably. I hoped this would be true. He wrapped up quickly. We were called to attention, sang the national anthem, and marched out of the auditorium as Privates E-1. A bus ride back to the company saved us from another soaking, and we had time to kill in the barracks before shipping out. A couple buddies and I took advantage of our new freedom to walk to the PX snack bar for burgers, fries, and malteds, the first good food we’d had in ten weeks. As we scarfed it up I looked at a table across the room and saw Billy sitting with three visitors. Billy would stay at Fort Lewis. The two older people with him looked so much like him they had to be his parents. But who was the girl next to him? “His girlfriend,” Swen said. “No kidding, Billy’s girlfriend?” “Yeah. He said he never graduated high school and wanted his girlfriend here.” I remembered Billy had told me he grew up nearby. That’s why he wanted to stay at Fort Lewis for infantry. When he got an overnight pass he could go home to see his mom and dad and girlfriend. Billy grinned from ear to ear. He was a graduate. This was his day.
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*** As a child I spent many summers at the Jersey Shore. My mom, her sister, and cousin all had summers off from teaching school. We’d go for day or weeklong trips to the beach, and for a few years, we rented a house for a month. We whiled away the days on the sugary white sand beaches. Our oiled backs toasted a deep brown; my brothers, my cousins and I tumbled and scuttled in the surf like the tiny sand crabs that dissolve into bubbles with each departing wave. My dad joined us for weekends or a week off. Sometimes he’d take my older brother Joe crabbing for blue crabs. Like a colorized, black and white photograph crumbling at the edges, I possess one single memory of my dad and brother crabbing. At six or seven years old, I stood next to the Shark River Bridge abutment and watched them. In the postcard of my mind, my brother wades out into the Shark’s mucky, estuary waters to retrieve a stuck pot, or perhaps to untangle a line. Joe tells me now that this would have been rare. Typically they pulled pots from the bridge above.
dumpster. Easily seen from the distance, this pot marker helps us stay on track as we venture out into this world of dark January whiteness. Though he snow-machines a trail from the road across the ice, tracks can blow in or other users take them in a new direction. Without points of reference, it’s easy to veer off course. Years ago, Kevin put his crab pots a mile out from shore, as many local crabbers do. But the restless sea ice, prompted by winds or storms, sometimes breaks away. When it does, crab pots go with it. Once the ice carried away one of his pots while the Christmas tree marker tracked its progress around Norton Sound. “Hey I saw your pot floating a few miles out past West Beach,” a friend told him. Weeks later the ice settled down miles west, and Kevin’s pot held, the Christmas tree guiding him to it. Now he puts his pots closer to town on the relatively stable shore ice. I have no previous frame of reference for an ocean whose surface solidifies in winter. Though it appears static, even uniform from a distance, it’s not. Blues and whites, shadows and light, pressure ridges, deep cracks, shallow cracks, soft spots of snow, hardened icy surfaces, flat pans and jumbled slabs of ice, a cloudy mirage of mountains on the horizon, all form the textured seascape. One time I ventured out to the edge of the shore ice and climbed atop a pressure ridge there. The choppy sea ice beyond flowed east, at what appeared to be a fast walk, maybe three miles per hour. To stand above that moving, flowing ice unnerved me. As a child I swam in the rough waters of the Atlantic, unafraid. If pulled away from shore by the ocean’s undertow, don’t swim against the current, we kids were told. Instead, swim parallel to the shore and angle back to the beach. This advice has no relevance here. Fall into these waters and you’ll be lucky to get out before freezing or being pulled under the ice by the ocean’s current. And what if the ice breaks off and we float away while hauling in crabs? Every time we go out I’m sure to pack along a few survival items, as well as my cell phone. I’ll be warm enough for a while, I reason, but getting through a night won’t be fun. I imagine huddling up with my fluffy dog until, hopefully, search and rescue arrives and plucks us off the ice. At least there will be crab to eat.
*** Our boots crunch the snowpack. Kevin and I approach the pot, which is marked by a dark triangle that juts above the peaks of jagged ice in the distance. It’s the top of a Christmas tree Kevin scrounged from a local
*** My dad set crab traps made from wire, a foot or so across on each side and half again as tall. Commonly used by recreational blue crabbers, these box traps have collapsible sides that lay flat on the bottom of tidal creeks
Crabbing Sunday, January 30, crab pot check. We walk onto the sea ice at the east end of Nome. A steady east wind chills the left side of my face. Drifts, heaves and cracks on the frozen ocean belie this seemingly flat surface. Last week we caught two keepers, and today Kevin and I are excited at the prospect of fresh king crab for dinner. Tap, tap, tap. Icy snow pellets drive onto my parka hood. Whoosh. Wind fills my ears. With a rope tied around his waist, Kevin drags his wooden sled. Bungee cords and rope lash down a cooler, a shovel, an eight-foot long ice pick, and a long-handled, mesh-covered slush scooper. A mile out from shore our pot rests on the ocean floor, held by a rope tied to a wooden stake. Last Sunday we ate the first king crabs of the season for dinner, and hopefully there are two more of them waiting to be our dinner tonight.
and rivers or shallow saltwater bays. The sides snap shut on the feeding crabs when the line is pulled in. Any kind of fresh fish works for bait, as do chicken necks. My dad and brother might set 4-5 traps at a time, checking them every 20-30 minutes until they hauled in enough for a meal. *** Since our last pot check a week ago, a snowdrift formed over the hole’s plywood cover. We shovel. The square blade bites into squeaky snow. I snap off the Christmas tree’s lower branches, so the wind can blow unimpeded and not drift again. It’s strange to be kneeling on this white plain of sea ice breaking off still-green coniferous tree branches that bend and twist, resisting death in this treeless waste. What was the cost of flying this tree up here on a jet from Washington State to soothe the holiday spirit of a far-flung American? Like many discarded objects brought to the north, this tree enjoys a second life, re-purposed and frozen to the sea. Snow shoveled, Kevin chips out the new ice that has formed in the course of a week. I ladle the ice chunks and slush with the screen scooper. Dip, skim, lift, toss. Dip, skim, lift, toss. Arms and abs, back and legs, turning, scooping, throwing the slush ice to the south side of the hole. After a time, my arms ache, so I switch and scoop left-handed. It’s slower this way, but who’s in a rush? Kevin chips and chops ice from around the hole using his gigantic ice pick. Scooping and chipping and chipping and scooping until the hole widens and the water clears enough to pull the pot. A black square bordered with white, the hole measures only inches larger than the pot itself. Kevin
constructs his own crab pots using rebar for the frame. This one measures 4 feet by 4 feet at the base and narrows to a 1’ x 1’ opening. It weighs about 20 pounds empty. The sides of the pot are wrapped with a heavy-duty plastic mesh. Crabs crawl up the pot’s trapezoid sides and drop into the opening in search of the bait. An escape hatch has been cut along the bottom of one side and is tied shut with cotton string that will supposedly degrade in the salt water and set the trapped crabs free in the event that a pot is lost to the sea. Standing on a ledge a few inches below the ocean and only inches above the water, Kevin hoists the pot from the frigid, inscrutable waters. He pulls then tosses the rope aside, steadily, jigging his hand midway to feel its weight. “Feels like there’s crab in there!” he says. We see a jellyfish caught in the line. I tease its tangled fronds free with a discarded tree branch. The jellyfish pulses, but one filmy tendril remains wrapped around the rope. Once untangled, its translucent, orange-blossomed body opens and closes. Spiraling fronds wave from its jellyfish center as it recedes into the blackness and under the ice. *** A jellyfish stung my cousin once, leaving a red rash on the side of her body. Jellyfish blooms might have kept us out of the ocean for a day. Storms would wash their jiggling round bodies ashore, the clear, sandy humps scattered along the tide line with clumps of green and black seaweed. Our bathing suits packed with sand from swimming in the breaking surf, we’d scream a warning if we saw a jellyfish, or if its blobby body bounced into ours. *** I kneel on the ice by the hole and watch. The pot emerges, first the top, trimmed with blue plastic cut from a bucket. This plastic prevents the crabs from crawling back out. Five crabs! Kevin hoists the pot from the water, tilts it, and reaches in with a gloved hand. Their jointed legs awkwardly search the air for purchase. Of the five crabs, only two qualify as big enough for our dinner, so we toss the others back. A large Norton Sound king crab might measure 6-7 inches across the carapace, smaller than the king crabs taken in Alaska’s famous Bering Sea fishery. But these crabs are sweet. Our catch today includes barnacled crabs along with bright red ones. The darker red, male crabs covered in barnacles are called skip molts, because they haven’t molted their shells yet this year and may not. They sometimes taste musty, and if I can be choosey about my dinner, I prefer a smaller, molted crab.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 The crabs knock and scratch as they move about inside the cooler. Clumsy claws, perfect for crawling along the sea floor searching for worms or sea stars or small crustaceans, seem so awkward out of water. Though they have gills, the crab can survive for a while breathing air. We put a towel over their rough-edged bodies, tucking them into their temporary prison, keeping them at a comfy temperature until we kill them tonight. If their flesh freezes to the shell, it will stick, so we like to keep them alive until ready to cook them. Many Inupiaq and Siberian Yupik Eskimos sit on the ice and crab with a hand-line. Crabbing in this way becomes an extended outing in which the crabber enjoys the beauty of a winter day on the ice while patiently gathering dinner for her or his family. When a crab bites, the fisherwoman—a woman’s as likely to fish this way as a man—jigs her line a bit to secure the crab to the bait. Then she pulls her crab up and plops it on the ice. The smaller the crab, the sweeter. One way these small crabs are eaten is raw, frozen, and dipped in seal oil. They also eat crabs boiled or steamed, and unlike many whites including us, consume the juices and white matter floating within the cooked carapace. Everyone’s got their own crab cooking and processing methods. Some swear by steaming for 10 minutes, other insist on boiling the crabs whole, while many simply tear the crabs in half by whacking their bodies shell side down and pulling them apart, leaving only two neatly halved leg and claw sections to boil. *** I grew up eating a carnival of seafood, both cooked and raw: mussels marinara, shrimp scampi, clams casino, red and white clam sauce over linguini, raw scungilli and calamari drizzled with olive oil and lemon, oysters and clams on the half shell, baked flounder every Friday night, and the spicy seafood stew called fra diavolo. During those Jersey Shore summers, my dad and I sat on stools at the raw bar kiosk on the boardwalk. We’d each order half a dozen littlenecks, shucked in front us and set on a plate in a semi-circle with cocktail sauce and a lemon wedge. He always put Tabasco on his. We slurped those clams on lazy afternoons while gulls screeched above us. He died almost 25 years ago, and I miss sharing Alaska’s king crabs with him. Back in Jersey last summer, I suggested to my older brother that we go crabbing. I wanted to recreate the magic of my childhood memory. And this time, instead of watching, I could do the actual crabbing. No
39 frozen ocean in Jersey, just hot and sunny weather. I could wear sandals instead of mukluks, a tank top instead of ten layers. And the crabs. So small, so cute, so easy to manage. Joe looked at me like I was crazy. “Too much work,” he said. “I’m on vacation.” He reminded me that blue crabbing involves getting up very early because the feisty blue crabs begin hunting the mucky, estuary bottoms around 4:30 in the morning. Traps must be baited, set, and checked frequently. To make a meal of blue crabs, we’d need four or five per person, which could easily amount to 40 plus crabs since there were eight of us vacationing for the week. To prepare the blue crabs the way my father did, they must be killed and cleaned before cooking, tossing out the crab’s flattish, paddle-like back legs, which have virtually no meat. Only the claws and a portion of the body would be kept. Joe had cleaned crabs many times with my dad, and he had no desire to revisit this summertime, childhood chore. And no one in the family remembered how to prepare the spicy marinara, my father’s specialty. The whole project would take all day. Plus, my brother did not want to haul stinky crab gear in the trunk of his car. As a child all I’d done was watch and eat. Clearly I had no idea. *** White, grey, and the shadows of white and grey dominate this January twilight. From the east, wind. To the north, Nome is a hazy strip of low frame buildings, obscured by a filmy, light snowfall. Kevin replaces the bait jar, an old mayonnaise container drilled with holes and filled with chopped herring hung on the netting with a bit of wire. He bores holes into a whole, frozen herring, threads it with a cord, hangs it inside the pot, and lowers the pot into the black
40 hole. He lets the line out as steadily as he pulled it in. We cover the hole with sheets of pressboard, bank snow and ice around its edges, and walk back to shore with our dinner, trailing the sled behind us. Back home, Kevin cannot bear to boil the crabs alive, so he stabs them in head with a steak knife first, right behind their beady and bulging black eyes, their antennae waving like flags. The head stabbing strikes me as a violent act, but I can hardly defend boiling a creature to death. He insists the head stabbing is more humane, but their pointy legs claw the air for several moments after the deed. We boil the crabs for fifteen minutes. *** My dad cooked piles of blue crab claws and bodies in a spicy marinara sauce and served it over heaps of spaghetti. Our family, along with aunts, uncles and cousins, gathered around a large picnic table covered with newspaper in the shaded yard of our beach rental. Nut crackers to split the claws, skinny metal pickers to fish out any missed flesh, forks to twirl spaghetti, mouths to suck morsels of meat: we gorged on crab dinners. *** Kevin and I admire the quivering, pink-tinged chunk of king crab leg meat held aloft and dripping butter before popping it into our mouths. “Mmmmm, so good,” I say. “Look, look at this fat chunk of meat,” Kevin responds. We talk about how good this is, how delicious, how fresh, how lucky we are, how spoiled, what a day at the crab pot. “It’s so sweet!” Slurp, crack, crunch, moan with pleasure. We fish a tail out of the hot pot of water. Really the crab’s triangular abdominal flap, I peel it from the shell and rinse the poop in the hot cooking water. Tiny mountain peaks of flesh dot its surface, so exactly does the flesh conform to the shell. Mmm, tail meat: creamy, better than the flakey claw, and chewy, firmer than the leg. Compared to the amount of crabmeat we get from an Alaskan king crab, the tiny blue crabs I ate as a child hardly seem worth it in retrospect. But what did we know? Sweet and delicious, and full of that crabby goodness, it seemed no hardship to us to spend time snapping open their little claws and prying loose the carapace for an inch-sized chunk of flesh. When I return to the Jersey Shore for family reunions at the beach, I eat crab every chance I get, though I haven’t had them cooked al marinara since I was a kid. Crab salad, crab cakes, and my favorite, soft shell crabs. Soft shells crabs
CIRQUE have molted but not grown a new shell yet. Sautéed in a buttery sauce and served whole, the outside is chewy and crunchy, the inside soft and sweet. In New Jersey there’s no such thing as subsistence in fishing regulations. It’s either commercial or recreational. While it may not be necessary to our survival, blue crabbing certainly puts food on the table and, at least in our case, celebrated local, family traditions. Recreational blue crabbers don’t need a permit if they use collapsible pots or dip nets, and they can keep one bushel of crabs per day, per person. Females and hard shell crabs smaller than 4.5 inches must be returned to the water. Crabbing with my brother allowed my dad to keep two bushels. Knowing how much he loved to cook and feed a crowd of people, he would’ve wanted to keep as many crabs as possible. In Nome, a subsistence crab permit is free, and a crabber can keep as many as she or he wants, any size, though we tend to keep only the largest ones. *** When done with our feast Kevin and I don’t throw crab shells into the garbage. In our final act of crab worship, these shells will be taken back out to the pot for our weekly ritual, the crab pot check. There on the sea ice, not far from the mounded ice chunks at the south side of the hole, east of the Christmas tree, we’ll scatter the empty shells and carapaces, to be reclaimed by the sea or scavenged by ravens. In the single digits of a frigid February afternoon with a grey sky darkening toward sunset on a whitened expanse of frozen ocean, we’ll unload the sled and hope for crabs.
Hannah Hindley The Fairweather Mountains in Glacier Bay are the tallest coastal range in the world, but look closely underfoot and you can still find fossils in the rock from a long-gone tropical sea.
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Knowing Mud We Ohioans do not know mud. Sure, we may mention mud in passing: the garden is a little too wet to till, yet, or we need to wash the car because it got splattered up on the back road. But we grew up on solid ground, supported by rock instead of discontinuous permafrost and layers of sediment deposits. Mud is, for us, a minor annoyance. Until I moved to Akiachak, a small Yup’ik community on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in southwestern Alaska, I did not know that a suspension of silt in water could be the defining feature of a landscape for half the year. I did not know that mud comes with the fall rains before freeze-up and with the dissolving of winter’s infrastructure at break-up. That it appears on the river banks, the road, the trails crossing the tundra, and oozes around sinking boardwalks. That it creeps inside houses on boot bottoms and pant legs, and clings to carpet, linoleum and stocking feet. Until I had seen small stones sprinkled sparingly on the mile-long road from the old end of Akiachak to the new, I did not consider gravel a precious commodity. I did not know that unlike in Ohio, where we cut stone from our own quarries, here gravel had to be hauled hundreds of miles on a barge. I did not know that Akiachak had not always been muddy, that before trucks, snow-machines and four-wheelers came, the roots of grasses held the earth in place, and little girls had to go looking for patches of mud to carve in with their story knives. I did not know mud as a canvas for etching symbols of rivers and fish camps, a backdrop for singing the old songs and telling the old stories. Until I came to Akiachak, I had not seen battles waged daily against mud: a mother wading valiantly into the road to rescue her screaming toddler who had sunk up to his waist, two boys struggling to exhume a bike after one of them had ridden it off of the boardwalk, our school principal policing the entryway, demanding that students take off their rubber boots and put on a spare pair of shoes, mops and buckets standing guard on every porch. Until I had seen the honeybucket wagons bouncing down the dirt road to the sewage lagoon, sloshing human waste over their brims, I had though that
what was being tracked into my house by my dog and my many young visitors was only mud. Until I came to Akiachak, I had not felt the tenacious grip of delta mud. One evening, walking home in the fading light, I slipped from a tiny island of solid ground into a flooded four-wheeler track and sank to the tops of my Xtra Tufs. For a moment I stood, heart racing, trapped, alone, afraid to move because the mud might pull me in deeper. In the end there was nothing to do but grab the top of one boot with both hands, pull that foot up, lurch forward, then pull up the other foot, step after endless step to my porch. Until I’d lived in Akiachak, I had not realized that commiserating over mud, a common enemy, could be a point of entry into a community. That exaggerated slogging, a grimace, then a quick smile means the same thing in Yup’ik as it does in English. A life-long resident of Akiachak once asked me how long I’d been on the Delta. “Five years,” I answered. “Eeyee,” he affirmed, “then you’ve seen mud.”
A Poet, the Pacific Flyway, and a Sonora Flash Flood Memory – He holds up the sands of mountain heads and tectonic fissures splayed, from peaks like a purple haze over the Old Pueblo he learned are called Madrean sky islands. His hands soothe flecks of iron ore, pulverized by plates crushing and churned into tsunamis of flash floods booming into Sonora from pine and fir quarries forty miles away. The Oregonian smiles. There is movement all around: the cumulus clouds push shadows onto the raging seasonal river, almost class five whitewater. He smiles again, as Gambel’s quail lift and squeak like bad springs on an International, as a tortoise chomps on acacia. He lets the air take the rivulets of sand before the surge of flashflood crushes part of a cut bank across the wide arroyo where he gladly stands with students. He smiles, pointing. There is a fragility in the 19 year old recalled, a thin membrane of memory now, 37 years later, holding onto that moment when I was with this poet the first time. Toughed like basalt after the solar blast of a million years. What is forgotten has been chipped away by sun, wind and lichen. I am going back to Stafford. I think of him, now, this 100th anniversary of his birth, listening to his son Kim, a poet too, a sort of passenger pigeon of his father’s legacy here in Oregon. That singular idea Kim brings forth about his father’s attention to self, to the inner eye. Well, it is now the shape of things to come, here in the writing room, and like a miner clanking about a shaft, remembering years ago where that vein was. I remember Stafford from a time when the world was big and ideas endless. William Stafford, like a thousand poets (or maybe a few
hundred), is refracted memory churned into the daily living of writing . . . his practice: I put my foot in cold water and hold it there: early mornings they had to wade through broken ice to find the traps in the deep channel with their hands, drag up the chains and the drowned beaver. The slow current of the life below tugs at me all day. When I dream at night, they save a place for me, no matter how small, somewhere by the fire. Thirty-seven years later I announce to the library audience in Tigard, Oregon, when Kim Stafford asks for questions, that I know Stafford like a million others know him, or ten thousand maybe personally, or those of us in the tens of hundreds who had a chance to hitch to that thing called the “poetry reading-slash-poetry workshop.” Three times the sound of his voice, in a room and in situ, the virtuoso of the poet teacher – Stafford — crossed paths with my own sheltering sky. That pathway then and later was impressive, an ambassador of poems, leading him to my place of latticed shadows or leveling titanium sky, Tucson, and then the endless journey away from Arizona to New Mexico, onto El Paso, other parts of Texas, on past Bhutan to Istanbul to the Great Wall to Iran. How many intersections with youth, how many taunts to our young pugnacity, did he shepherd for only a moment in that time as traveling poet? His name is braided to the valley of Willamette, poured into the delta waters of Columbia threading loam and cedar. The remembering goes backward to Tucson, in the 1970s. Time and dates are flotsam in my life. Was it 1979? We all turn to the molting tattooed skin of solar blasts . . . some of us semi-wise decades later . . . the shape of his words alive upon his death. I’ve pushed past continental divides when his words locked into conversations with Neruda or Levertov . . . Crossed equatorial sunrises caught in my own hardening cornea where W.S Merwin chatted with Lorca and Czesław Miłosz . . . And this vast ocean reef web I’ve touched with scabbed skin as narcosis sank into me, when the cul-de-sacs of Sappho, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton let their poems grow like dahlias. The oddest places Stafford’s poetry eddies up from – a cay off Belize with lemon sharks; or the tipping leaves of
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 jungle liter carried by harvester ants in the millions inside the shadow of Copan pyramid. Yet, even reckless dusks near Hanoi on an intrepid Russian motorcycle or running through Guatemalan hills with the contraband of thieves, all of this is nothing compared to the monumental histories of what a child writes in that early gossamer light, a floating time, when we observe the world at that intersection of nascent knowledge and the wide brow of endless earth. Now, old and entranced by the child, or the stories, or the things the father and sister and mother and children brought to me then, well, he is right to say childhood is the world of the poet. That’s what William Stafford whispered to us, in three workshops: Most good poetry — maybe even most writing — comes from those first years: the uplifting loneliness in a child’s drama, inside the child’s atmosphere of patina carrying the light. A place where the girl’s take on the tornados that are the world is honored. Or the boy’s yearning to belong to some pattern or some baseball field is captured in song. That weight of poetry is tied to our own clumsy solitary otherness as juveniles, that feeling, as if a snake skin, is all itchy on us, or the wagging coiled tail of an alligator lizard inside about to cut through our belly. Cut through to youth remembered and lived. That’s what you end up writing for the rest of your life. Those are the sparks setting the adult fire into perpetual stoking and waning. Kim, his son, 37 years after his father guided me in Arizona, guides the Oregon audience through the shape of his father’s words and life as reconciling and reshaping youth: For it is important that awake people be awake, or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep; the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe— should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
43 We newbies want our moment with the laureate, this National Book Awarrd winner, this entrance into all things small and quiet but read by kings and laureates. That head strong inventiveness and our naiveté, he seems galvanized to, or at least that’s how youth remembers intersection with extraordinary literary fame and the passionate tribulations of angsty poet younglings. The largeness of “the thing” at 19 – poets and revolution, the new coda of continental consciousness, and maybe an end to the old white man’s lament: immolation of the tweed, the pipe and patriarchal beard. We could cut it with machete, that potential paradigm shift, and the new horizons or hope for something different happening was exhilarating under a mescal moon. We were ready to rebuff it all, stoking bonfires as both homage to youth quaking the old and setting the world afire. Or at least that’s what we thought. Stafford speaks: If you don’t know the kind of person I am and I don’t know the kind of person you are a pattern that others made may prevail in the world and following the wrong god home we may miss our star. For there is many a small betrayal in the mind, a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood storming out to play through the broken dyke. This time in my youth we are launching a new undergraduate literary magazine, Persona. We expect (want) validation, or vindication of a life young, but feeling heavy from the travails of a country left for old men and money seekers. William Stafford takes an interest, understands the impatience of the unaccepted. He hears the clucking youth against the literary weight of teachers and National Book Award winners. It makes sense to him, that unchecked youth would want some small thing for us, fledglings, but big in our youth. Some time with him without the blustery literary devices of PhDs.
Tucson – William Stafford listens to us, his student hosts, Wildcats from Arizona who are let off the literary hook or leash through an act of professorial pronouncement – Go a little wild with him, but be aware Stafford, himself, can rattle sage poets and novelists who are your teachers, with his simplicity.
We watched him earlier in the day pushing the flow of that river he visited, pushing his hands into the riot of the hydro-ecology of a dry riverbed the afternoon before when he had arrived to Tucson, now a shadow of itself, furious with the glacial weight of melting snow and four days of rain.
44 Kim Stafford tells the Oregon audience his father always came to his hosts, wherever he was asked to be poet, with his hands cured by their river. He then flattened palms pointed to them as a form of supplication to the flow of life, river, what might also be benediction and genuflection. His dad would tell his new friends—poets one and all—the name of a river in a new country he was visiting. “You can never stand in the same river twice . . . .” Heraclitus seems to be stepping into the rivers of bold ink, into those currents where Stafford captures the light of a horizon flecked with stars and abiding rising sun. New horizons, old memories of youth. Stafford names one of our Sonora rivers so his hosts recognize his awe of place and humbleness in the scheme of what this desert really means. He looks at my map and talks about the Santa Cruz River west of campus, reminding us that while a mostly dry wash year round, the shifting sands of Santa Cruz still echo the water coursing underground: the desiccant white-and-brown river sand hide life-affirming waters that pop up to surface some fifty miles down the line. Stafford of Oregon is taken by the force of Sonora flash flood miles away uplifting the earth he stands on moments before his big reading on campus. El Rillito, this gaping riverbed north of town, he sees it’s flooding waters from hills and mountains and arroyos deeply etched in shadows miles away cresting fragile banks and eating away at a paved bicycle path. He smiles. We see it as the politics of bulldozers and cement hemming in wildness. He studies each eddy, each roiling muddy pipeline, and sees a poem unfurling at pre-dawn. The hour of his poem building. We try to talk about land speculators and ecology eaters stripping the desert valley. He breathes in the swampy creosote bush aroma of wet desert and points to a swoop of buzzards lifting above the swells. A smile. A dozen turkey buzzards, and that small crack of a smile.
CIRQUE There is a country to cross you will find in the corner of your eye, in the quick slip of your foot—air far down, a snap that might have caught. And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing voice that finds its way by being afraid. That country is there, for us, carried as it is crossed. What you fear will not go away: it will take you into yourself and bless you and keep you. That’s the world, and we all live there. We drink impatience and tequila at noon, hold broiling debates over the melting facades of a country pushed into the harsh napalm glow of Vietnam, Cambodia, United Fruit, Dow, Nixon, all the reckless killing fields of corporations and manifest destiny. Whose land is this anyway, my Jew co-editor friend asks us. Was it Tohono or Mestiza . . . the battleground of interlopers with dollar signs etched in their souls? We want to prod the Kansas poet. Stafford listens. Thinks. Speaks. Once you cross a land like that you own your face more: what the light struck told a self; every rock denied all the rest of the world. We announce the underground railroad intersects right smack in our Old Pueblo, Tucson. The refugees filing into piping hot desert of organ pipe cactus, that matte black tongue of the Gila monster pointing toward El Norte, el paso del norte, or paseo del muerte – trail of death. We tell him they are searching for shelter in a new land, this new undeliverable homeland, which is the promise of the enemy’s financer accepting refugees. He nods, gets it, knows what we know, and more. The USA versus the world, versus the Salvadorans, anchored to the killing squads. Pushed out of highlands and crawling toward El Norte. We tell Stafford there’s some big news coming from the “big time” New York market, our sanctuary movement edited and packaged for TV: The blessings and underground work of men and women lifting the tortilla curtain, bearing witness and then sheltering the travelers at the risk of bolstering the very nature of what to the government is crime and to the human is care.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 He knows, he says. We roil at the incessant bombing of Nicaragua by Carter, the peanut farmer, Navy guy. We list the crimes of Chile, the crimes of C-Ch-CIA. He listens. We splatter paint on the commons when our apartheid village is ransacked by brutes in the ROTC squads, football walk-ons and the security patrols on our University of Arizona campus. He watches. William is there, listening, watching, at the edge of the crowd, talking to the uninitiated gawkers as we help protestors put back the South African shanty resurrected on our campus 9,000 miles from Mandela and Biko. Some of us are humbled by Stafford’s attentiveness, his inquiry into the Chicanos grappling with La Raza and a new canon for American Lit in a workshop he facilitates. He listens and then reads dead poets. He lifts a scoop of the Rillito River bed, remembers an earlier time years before when his Tucson hosts told the Kansas “Almost an Indian” (his childhood moniker) Stafford to come back in spring. “And here I am now, watching the waves of a desert awaken the water soul man inside a dustbowl rat who like me who flourishes in wet Oregon.” Listing, surfing saguaros, entire dumped cars barreling downstream, the desert jettisoning its skin some fifty miles away. He observes . . . a poem inside. The violence of flashflood and the hard ice melting high into the Santa Catalinas is the joy of Bill Stafford . . . . We know some turn of light or sound of red tail hawk will be lines for a future poem wired to his vast Kansas-Oregon synapses. I will listen to what you say. You and I can turn and look at the silent river and wait. We know the current is there, hidden; and there are comings and goings from miles away that hold the stillness exactly before us. What the river says, that is what I say.
The audience is quiet, like Bill at first, his face reddened by traveling outside, like those of the foreigners’ when they see his hands open to them, this smallish poet crossing new open territory around the world. He talks of Afghanistan, Iran, and then a story of blinding snow where fence lines vanish and cows and cowpokes freeze like monuments of sacrifice with just the edge of bitterness in place to inscribe solitude into a story. Bill Stafford reads some lines from Wallace Stegner’s “Genesis: A Story from Wolf Willow,” calls it one of our country’s best, and then bows to read his own work: The light along the hills in the morning comes down slowly, naming the trees white, then coasting the ground for stones to nominate. Notice what this poem is not doing. He beckons us to hold steady the light in each morning alive, to listen to the air rustling with “small furry voles or moles . . . owls crunched up before gliding like gods for a talon swoop . . . crickets and their drumming... explosions of blossoms held in the darkness by croaking wet mating toads . . . .” Or maybe that is a trick of youth, words recalled now at a distance. Re-appropriating, re-fabricating, retrofitting . . . . Something like what Stafford might have said: “This inching of truth away from a clear stratosphere. . . invention and imagination overcoming a poem . . . for a poem like memory is not a report on life but a painting, quiet but cinched to a fury and imagination.” Maybe he said that, or maybe lichen-covered memory leads me away from the original source, one of Bill’s counterparts maybe, one that intersected with my youth – Galway Kinnell in El Paso, who knows. Or Robert Bly in Spokane? Garcia Marquez in Austin? No matter how far he travels, the stints in Washington, DC, or the road traversed and flights embarked upon, Stafford wants that West, the Willamette, the true angle of repose of sunlight falling onto the Pacific Northwest . . . . Where all hope is delivered to him in deciduous and pine forest gleaned by waterfalls, cataracts of tears. From an interview, Crazy Horse 7 (1971) by Dave Smith: Smith: What do you see in your future? Stafford: We’ll go back West and I’ll keep on writing
CIRQUE poems. I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don’t have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along. So I inhale and exhale. I experience, write poems, get now and then, great feelings of being on the edge of writing something that reverberates through my own self and that’s very interesting.
White Sky – They come to herald in their connection to Stafford, Oregonians looking to the past in order to re-jigger the waning future. Or, to imagine an Oregon of mythical proportions. Stafford serves as a light, a beam of tungsten into the cold grey of Willamette and Lake Oswego. There is a tender trailing of the voice in that aging, remembering hardscrabble histories. Fewer birds lift. The mountain men of Stafford have given way decades ago to entrepreneurs, speculators, builders. These people in Tigard, maybe anywhere this year where Kim and others take the Stafford Road Show, are long in tooth, grey and easy to provoke with laughter, rhyme, words. They are old but still children trapped, looking for a new way to capture their lives moving away from a horizon gushing with fecund life, the verdant buds withered, the trick of thinking like all the earth is inside you at those tender ages of 10 or 12 now snores in a chair. Somewhere in that slipstream, even back to Tucson, or when we met in El Paso, or was that place in San Antonio or Austin, Stafford rose up, listened and then spoke words
of youth, the measure of things. He never wanted a muse, really, tapping away on his shoulder delivering what and how to say it. I glanced at her and took my glasses off—they were still singing. They buzzed like a locust on the coffee table and then ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and knew that nails up there took a new grip on whatever they touched. “I am your own way of looking at things,” she said. “When you allow me to live with you, every glance at the world around you will be a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand. The poet’s poet son makes sure to jostle with that museconcept, makes sure that people he meets and will meet on this Oregon Trail of 100 Years after His Birth do not look for a magical essence for being alive as artists, writers. He knows the routine of a father who penned 20,000 poems, daily exercises like a Zen master waiting for the grasshopper to light on water, or the master pushing hands until mountains move. Get on with the exercise of writing, maybe that’s the coda I learned at age 19 from Bill. Just go out into the world and write it. The déjà vu of meeting him twice, or three times. That universal, the harmony of youth always jostling with one’s old fellow. Those stories and memories are the best, for sure, and Bill Stafford ramified that 37 or 40 years ago, or the last time when he was on the Palouse, when I met him, listening. Or was that Galway? His son recalls things that never happened that are, and things that happened that will never be the inseam of a persona, nothing that will shed into a character revealed, but still, the things that matter, they haven’t happened yet. That is the poem of green earth and white sky: Many things in the world have already happened. You can go back and tell about them. They are part of what we own as we speed along through the white sky. But many things in the world haven’t yet happened
Sky Blue Pool
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I Invite the Fourth-Grade Teacher to Lead the Graduate Education Class From my classroom—stacks of readings ready while my silent students wait for the top of the hour— I step across the hall to see how Harriet is doing…
Sunflowers in a vase, and Chopin playing, glistening grapes and chocolate cookies on a plate, and everyone tapping feet, eating and chatting, listening, laughing— How much I have yet to learn.
In My Dream I Figure It All Out No more worry about what has not happened yet. No more anguish about what I have not yet done. And while I’m at it, let my love be spoken in what I do and do not do. This is my resolve. And remember, I did not promise to be someone capable outside my own little arena of joy and trouble. I only ask that on my deathbed, I be allowed to have my feet stick out, because otherwise they get hot and I feel confined. I’ll need to ask them to dim the lights in the room because the dark has always been my friend. If it’s okay with others, maybe they could lower their voices so that silence, old companion, can flow into my body. Maybe they could take away all the books, calendars, clocks, food, and words of encouragement so breath can be my teacher. And as breath wanes, if it’s not too much trouble, maybe I could remember that moment in the desert when I was a child, the sun just coming over the land to find me.
The Opening Out North —for Catherine
You stand on the tundra as a flower stands—low, light filled, offering a cup of color anyone might sip. You speak as a hidden bird calling from the willows, a song so deep you can’t be named. From dreams, you teach us the key of joy at the sky door swinging open on the pivot of yes. “You will find berries,” you say. “You will find a new color.” By your witness, we delve and savor, we find each other’s best. In the midst of hilarity, all the buds splitting at once, we look up for you. Out your window, the moon risen, you grew full and seized the opening, hands reaching where you flew beyond us: hidden bird, low bright flower, sky on fire.
CIRQUE furniture obsessively, place knickknacks, hang pictures, clean and clean and clean, trying to make the unfamiliar rooms feel like right.
Amy O’Neill Houck
Haunt Juneau seems like a good place for a ghost on this summer evening. The clouds are barely distinguishable from the fog. It could be a November morning, but instead it’s ten o’clock at night, just before midsummer. The peak of Mount Roberts blurs in and out of obscurity as the low mist drifts past my window on the Gastineau Channel. Second Street might be an unlikely place for spirits. The houses are all mid-century, long, low buildings. Dogs meander past with their people. Last night there was a pair—dog and boy—both dressed in yellow slickers. I watch them, neighbors, yet still strangers, though we’ve lived on this street for a year. In Old Norse the word “heimta” meant “to call home,” or “to lead home.” It’s a derivation of the Norse word for home, “heima,” and it’s the root of the English word “haunt.” I don’t know why it never occurred to me that these two words—“home” and “haunt”—are related, but it made sense as soon as I read it. A neighborhood bar might be a popular haunt for locals—a place, not unlike home, that you return to over and over. In the town we just left, the most popular haunt was the post office. With no mail delivery to homes, everyone had to go, and meet, at the P.O. There, if you’d been gone for even a short while, folks would notice your return and say “Welcome home!”
Shakespeare, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was the first in literature to extend the notion of haunting from frequenting a place to that of a ghost or spirit that will not leave. “O monstrous! O strange! we are haunted,” says Quince the joiner at the sight of Bottom with the head of an ass. “Pray, masters! Fly, masters! Help!” Things that haunt the brain—a thought that will not leave, a melody that stays with us—can be sinister, but not always. In his poem “Frost at Midnight,” Samual Taylor Coleridge speaks of the sound of the bells in his hometown that “stirred and haunted me with a wild pleasure.” Memory, too, can offer a pleasurable haunting—when you’re missing someplace, or someone. This weekend we tackled our garage: the space where we had piled everything that we didn’t immediately need and wouldn’t fit in our house when we first arrived. I got rid of a little wind up clock I’d had since I was about ten because I couldn’t stand the “tick, tick, tick.” I donated all of my Trixie Belden mysteries— childhood favorite stories—to the library. If I can shed the sentimental, what in the world do I really need to keep? If my stuff doesn’t help me claim my space what will? I wander the house like a disrupted spirit wondering what it will take, this time, to make it home.
Move after move, I set up our house in various configurations. I spread out or cram in furniture based on how much or how little space we have. Some things may never get unpacked. There are houses where I’ve not hung one picture on the walls—the houses without pictures don’t feel less homey. In those places we were too busy, too involved to worry about getting the house just so. This time I rearrange Czech Republic near Ceska Kamenice
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Artificial Insemination It’s a warmish day in April, and the girls and I head out to the pig barn loaded down with all the necessary supplies. Steve is not around and we know there is no time to waste—we just got back into town and the semen has been sitting in the crawl space for a few days now, cool and dark and hopefully still vital. This feels like one of those strange and unexpected mother-daughter bonding moments that I have learned to cherish. Leila is chattering and asking endless questions, and Trillium is silent with the gravity of the endeavor. I can’t believe that I ever worried about how and when I would have “the sex talk” with the girls. That must have been in some pristine past before pigs. We step up over the pallet fence and into the outside run that Rosalita and Wilhelmina share. Elbie and her 14 babies are snuffling and squealing on the other side of the central divider. It’s a lovely spring day, and the sun carries real heat. Finally. Willie is moving in and out of the barn, snorting and vocalizing, but Rosie comes over and stands next to us quietly. “Look, she’s in standing heat!” exclaims Leila and I test the waters by grabbing the sow around the waist. She freezes. I’m chuckling at the fact that my 7-yearold not only knows what standing heat is but also how to recognize it. We confer. There are 3 of us and one 500 pound sow, and this is the first time we are attempting artificial insemination. The 4H girl who taught me how to castrate piglets the summer before had assured me that this was easy. The Ag Extension guys I’d mentioned it to all got that squirrelly look in their eyes and muttered something about knowing some guy who lived in Delta or somewhere and who knew how to inseminate pigs. I figured that Katrina had been right about castration, so I was going to take her advice over the boys’. Besides, there is a wealth of information about these things on the Internet. Pictures and diagrams included. There was never any doubt that we would all need a job in this project. Neither of my daughters is the type to accept being told to stand by and watch when there is something exciting going on. And yes, on a quiet day in
49 Palmer, Alaska, this counts as excitement. We agree that Leila, being the smallest, will handle the snout end and periodically spray boar pheromones into Rosie’s face. I am holding the insemination spirette and have the gyne lube and the tube of semen stuck in my pocket. Gloves off. Trillium agrees to take on the role of boar and do the manhandling. She’s barely 60 pounds herself but she’s a strong scrappy little 9-year-old who can roughhouse with the best of her older male friends. We have done our research and understand that foreplay for boars involves a lot of grunting and shoving and rough play, and that this type of stimulation actually causes more ova to be released. Trillium is game to try. So my highly trained crew of AI technicians and I take our respective places around Rosalita and get to work. Trillium jumps up and drapes herself over the pig’s back and basically bounces up and down while Leila stands in front of her with the spray. I am down handling what we begin to euphemistically call “the business end,” trying to balance lubricant, tube, and a very expensive few ounces of semen from a prize-winning Chester White boar named – I kid you not - “Maneater.” I keep wondering what the neighbors would think, if they could see us now. We walk back into the house congratulating ourselves, with Leila asking a few more incisive questions about reproduction that might have embarrassed me if I hadn’t had boar semen all over my hands. Instead I laugh, and hope she doesn’t feel compelled to share every detail indiscriminately with the other 7-year-olds in her life. Sadly, our sow goes back into heat about 21 days later. Failure number 1. I decide to blame it on semen that was ordered in a semi-panic a little too early. Which leaves me pondering again how we have gotten to this point. Back in “the day” we would most likely have kept our own boar, but the size of our facilities and the fact that we have only 3 sows makes this both uneconomical and logistically challenging. If we lived in a bigger farming community even in this modern age, we would probably know a few neighbors with boars that we could rent or borrow. As it is, the guys just down the road who had run what was once the biggest pig ranch in the state just closed shop this past fall. Besides, they hadn’t bred their pigs but shipped them in as weanlings instead. I know a guy who lives 20 miles down the highway and usually keeps a boar, but connecting with him is often an exercise in frustration and logistical wrangling. His fenced pig area also brings to mind a post-apocalyptic porcine nightmare, with a
50 steep-walled gravelly canyon, twisted rusted metal gates and abandoned steel containers, and the biggest, ugliest, meanest-looking sows I have ever seen. The second time I had dropped Elbie off there we had had to run her down and drag her in with his pack of road warrior pigs, and I had looked into her intelligent pleading eyes and decided I would look for alternatives next time. I have tried Craigslisting for available boars—which is how I had found Garvey of the scary pig pack in the first place—and I have even made Steve cold-call local strangers that were rumored to have an intact male. No luck. The truth of this strange era of modern farming is that all the big producers—and let’s face it, most commercial meat these days is raised by a smaller and smaller number of increasingly and disturbingly bigger producers – use AI. They also have thousands of sows that they use female sex hormones to bring into cycle together, a few boars that are used to detect sows in heat but are never allowed near them, and a trained technician or three. I have Google and two small but willing girls. Most of the more independentminded Alaskans I know who have raised a pig or two bought them like my friends had at the now defunct pig ranch, the pigs having been delivered by a truck carrying 600 or so weanling pigs that came across the border from somewhere in west central Canada. The trucks drive through the night and day because the animals have no feed or water for the duration of the trip. Elbie had come to us from that world, with a tag in her ear and a docked tail, and I wanted nothing more to do with that version of pig commerce. Having decidedly failed to impregnate our sow on our first attempt at AI, we find ourselves re-evaluating our options. Which have not improved in the interim. I give up on a summer litter and decide to breed all 3 sows together in the fall for spring piglets. By this time we are overdue in breeding Sasha, our milk cow, as well. Again, I go to what stands for my farming community in search of a dairy bull. The reason I want a dairy bull, of course, is that if we are lucky enough to welcome a second heifer onto our farm, a sire from a dairy breed would make that little cow a valuable and much sought-after animal, as opposed to being just a “feeder” calf destined for meat. No luck. I then investigate AI as an option – Sasha’s last calf had resulted from a pipette of Jersey semen. Unfortunately, it turns out that AI’ing a cow is in fact a much more exacting and technically challenging affair than the pigs. The only vet in the area who does it insists on using exogenous hormones
CIRQUE to force the cow into cycle and charges hundreds of dollars for a procedure she only claims about 50% success with. In the end we settle on a Galloway bull whose owner we vaguely know. Getting Sasha bred involves leaving her at the ranch down the road and heading over twice a day for milking, but the bull is placid and attentive and she never seems traumatized. And she takes. Come October I start scrambling for a boar again. Garvey down the road and I send a volley of emails back and forth as he considers sending his boar to live with me until the boar’s scheduled date at the local slaughter house. In the end, that falls through, as does connecting in time with the friend-of-a friend-of-a-friend who is reputed to have a nice boar who unfortunately has just been butchered himself right before we call. We all agree that putting his young 175-pound “replacement” boar in with the 3 girls, the biggest of which now probably weighs in at close to 700 pounds, is just not a good idea. We figure they might eat him for breakfast, after having a good laugh. So I pick up the glossy boar-in-a-tube catalog that is sitting in a stack on the bookshelf and settle in for another round of semen shopping. Those of you who have never perused a breeding boar catalog just don’t know what you’re missing in the entertainment arena. Picture page after page of clean, muscular boars in what must be the accepted boar pose, one “face” or profile shot and one panoramic angled shot taken from the back, highlighting the giant testicles. You find yourself wondering if you should feel dirty and quickly hide the catalog if the kids walk into the room, as if the line between advertising the goods and straight-up pig porn were a tenuous one. It doesn’t help that the boars all seem to have names made up for a parody of 1970s low-rent porn, names like “Blunt Force,” “Voodoo Daddy,” “Man Up,” and “Dirty White Boy.” My friend Alys once spent most of a meal cackling over and defacing the most recent catalog with rude graffiti while the rest of us attempted to carry on an adult conversation. It goes without saying, but the girls always love it when Alys comes over for dinner. The first time I called the nice folks in Ohio about buying some semen, I’ll admit I was nervous. I mean, how many conversations have you had that start with “I’ve never done this before” and proceed to timing of semen collection? They were quite nice, though, and talked me through the procedure and the details. Collection days are Mondays and Thursdays and they overnight ship to
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of the technical work and the “business end,” Leila is now my lovely assistant who hands me the appropriate tube of semen and squeezes gyne lube onto my hands as needed from just outside the pallet fence, and Trillium gets into the pen to spray pheromones and help distract the other sows. Steve has a 2 by 4 in his hand and his job is to make sure that the other sows don’t mount either me or the sow I am working on. I keep thinking that this isn’t quite what they described in those on-line manuals from veterinary schools that I had perused before pulling on my dirty barn coveralls and heading out of the house.
Alaska in Styrofoam boxes with ice packs. Two doses are recommended per sow, to be administered 24 hours apart. By the second time I called I felt like a pro, rattling off the names of the boars and the numbers of doses of each. By the third time I was cracking jokes and saying things like, “what’s the cheapest white boar semen you’ve got on hand?” By then they also had me in their computer database and called me by my name. This was getting all too familiar. For our second attempt at AI’ing the pigs, Steve joins in. This time around, we have the three big sows all living in the pig barn together, and all cycling at approximately the same time. When Rosalita and Willie are in heat, they are mostly just interested in following each other around while making scary growling pig noises and then mounting each other. Elbie, on the other hand, just gets aggressive. Aggressive to the point where the kids don’t go into the pen with her and Steve and I don’t turn our backs on her. Getting in there with the tubes and the lube and the pricey semen and 3 giant grunting sows in heat just seems like a job that necessitates at least 2 adults. By the time the semen shows up, it is, of course, the day before we are supposed to drive up to Fairbanks for Thanksgiving. Two doses each, 24 hours apart, then up the Parks Highway for a much-needed vacation. We switch up the job descriptions a little. I am still in charge
Willie and Rosalita stand relatively still for me while I insert the spirettes, trying to ignore Steve and Trillium who are yelling at Elbie and the other sow and blocking them as they try to approach me. Full contact tag while I try to keep a thin tube inside a 600-pound moving, grunting target. Uncap the tube of semen (I’ll admit that at some point I started using my teeth to rip the tabs off), thread it into the end of the spirette, insert, then commence to follow the sow around at a trot, keeping the semen elevated, don’t let it pull out, and somehow wait for it all to miraculously “drain”. I hear Elbie grunting in that crazy way of hers, but I’m too focused to really notice. I have blood, urine, boar spray, and semen dripping from both hands and I’m trying not to trip. This is utterly ridiculous. Somehow I manage to attempt something akin to insemination with both Rosie and Willie, 2 doses each 24 hours apart, but Elbie is behind them in her cycle and she is NOT in standing heat. Attempting to even lay hands on the “business end” is not only ridiculous but absolutely impossible. I end up giving Elbie’s first dose to Willie as her third (more is better?) and then just kind of squeezing out the last one in the general direction of Elbie’s vulva as I chase behind her. Sperm can swim, right? We wash up and head up the highway, shaking our heads and discussing the holding chute we are going to build in the summer. Steel and concrete. Big enough to hold a hormonally addled 700 pound sow with an attitude and NO desire to let you near her girl parts. Miraculously, Rosie and Willie actually take. 24 or so days later, just as I’m starting to feel proud about my boar-like prowess, Elbie starts grunting and giving me the evil eye again as I jump into her barn space to pick up the feed bowls. We spend a day and a half or so pretending that maybe she’s just feeling cranky but after she chases me over the fence on the second day there is no denying that she is back in heat. It is, of course, a Friday, which means waiting until Monday to call in an order. It is also now 2
Prague, Czech Republic
months later than I had hoped to breed her, so I do the calendar-math once more, sigh, and call my friends at Lean Value Sires on Monday morning. By the time the UPS man rings the doorbell and leaves the little white Styrofoam box on the welcome mat Tuesday afternoon, Elbie is back to placidly nuzzling at my hands looking for scraps. I try to pretend she’s in an Elbie-version of standing heat and get the girls to come help me on what is feeling more and more like an exercise in futility. The thrill is long gone. When the first tube of Durok semen (“Seein’ Red”) bursts from the back end as I am trying to thread it into the spirette and I find myself liberally sprayed with it (coveralls, hands, and, yes, face), it’s almost amusing again. I ask my lovely assistant for the second dose and manage to open it and deliver most of its contents to the appropriate place. I go straight inside to strip, drop my clothes directly into the washer, and head for the shower. By the time another 24 or so days go by and Elbie starts looking at me like she suspects I might be quite tasty, I am not surprised. So now we find ourselves still boar-poor in late February, with two sows due in another month and my one proven sow who births and weans huge healthy litters getting fat and sassy and still eating for one. We’re already in a position where we will have to keep her separate and alone for a couple months this spring once the other sows give birth.
If I could successfully get her bred now she would deliver piglets in mid-June, which is a little late to sell weanlings and therefore commits me to growing out any unsold pigs in the winter barn, which I have been trying to avoid. If I wait any longer to breed her, though, I run the risk of ending up with 14 or so pigs I can’t sell at all that need to fit into the barn with the 3 sows and get butchered before any spring litters are born. I could wait until next year but that feels too much like giving up and admitting that I’m not cut out to make money on pigs. And believe me, this is too much work to qualify as a hobby anymore. I sit down with my calendar, as though I don’t have all the relevant dates and timelines perfectly memorized by now. When Steve walks in I give him the “we need to talk” look. I think he’s relieved when he realizes that it’s just pigs we’re talking about. Again. I guess there are potentially more frightening subjects out there. People keep calling and asking for pigs to buy. I eye Elbie and she tries to climb the fence to get to me. I try to scratch her snout and she attempts to inhale my hand while making scary pig flirting noises. Sigh. I pick up the phone and call the boys in Ohio yet again. Maybe the third time will be a charm. I for one miss the good old days I never knew, when I could have asked my neighbor down the road to borrow his boar. I’m living in a pig desert making this up as I go, and Ohio is an awfully long ways away.
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Reaching Across Dark Water
It was 1980 on a late summer afternoon in Sitka, Alaska. Light rain fell as I jogged beneath massive hemlocks and past towering totem poles. When I crossed the footbridge over Indian River, a school of pink salmon skittered through the shallows. Looking at my watch, I picked up my pace and exited the park, hurrying the last half-mile, most likely to meet some self-imposed running goal. Sherry leaned against the white picket fence that framed her yard. “Hey, I want to talk with you,” she called out as I ran past. “I’ll catch you later,” I yelled over my shoulder. “Gotta get home.” Two days later Sherry put a gun to her head and ended her life. She was only 20 years old. I don’t remember why I couldn’t spare a moment for someone who made the simplest of requests: I want to talk with you. We weren’t close friends, just acquaintances—I worked as a counselor for Native students in the local schools and she was Tlingit. Occasionally I spoke with her at potluck suppers sponsored by the local tribe. I remember watching her perform with the Tlingit Gajaa Heen dance group at one such gathering. She wore a brilliant red dance robe and her raven-black hair, tied in a braid with colored beads, hung down her back. When she sang the welcoming song of her ancestors, her beautiful voice rose above the others. And now she was dead, gone forever. I still wonder if it would have made a difference if I had stopped and listened. Would Sherry be alive today? Following her death, I resolved to always take time for anyone who wanted or needed to talk and also to find out everything I could about suicide prevention. Three years later my family and I moved from Sitka and eventually settled in Palmer, Alaska, where I got a job teaching seventh grade math. At the start of each year, our middle school counselor taught all students about the warning signs of suicide and prevention strategies. She pointed out that long winters, geographical isolation, and the abundance of guns contributed to our state’s suicide epidemic. I learned that Alaska adolescents killed themselves at twice the national rate and two thirds of them used firearms to end their lives.
53 Brian, a friend and fellow math teacher at my school, was directly impacted by a young person’s suicide in his family. His brother-in-law’s teenaged son Troy placed a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Following the tragic event, the distraught family asked Brian to help clean up the bedroom where the suicide had taken place. They couldn’t stand the thought of an institutional cleaning service touching and disposing of remnants of their son. So it fell upon Brian to undertake the macabre task. He said that it was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life—picking pieces of bone, hair, and brain off the wall, the floor, a computer screen. For hours he scrubbed blood that had spattered everywhere. “You know what I would do if I could have?” he told me, his voice tinged with both anger and exhaustion. “I would have walked every teenager from this school district through that bedroom before I cleaned it up.” Brian massaged his temple and sighed. “If that kind of a gruesome tour could prevent one kid from killing himself, then it would have been worth doing.” After this discussion with Brian, I decided to always do a follow-up lesson of the school counselor’s presentation with my students. In my crash course I emphasized one critical point: immediately tell an adult should a classmate threaten to harm him- or herself. I let the kids know that sharing such potentially life-saving information always and absolutely trumped everything else in school. And if anyone in my class ever had knowledge of a prospective suicide, I told them, “Wave, shout, interrupt, disrupt, pull me aside, slip me a note— do whatever it takes—just tell me. Your voice may be the one thing that saves someone’s life.” Despite my attempts and the work of others at suicide education and prevention over the years, several of my students made the fateful decision to end their lives: Jake, Danny, Emily, Ryan, Darrin, Jason, and Noelle. This list, sadly, is only partial. Some excelled in school, others struggled. Some were popular, others were loners. All of them, however, had one thing in common: a dark, painful secret. And if they had shared that secret with just one person, they might be alive today, perhaps watching the rosy alpenglow spread across the Chugach Mountains or cradling an infant in their arms. A plastic equal sign lies at the center of each desk. My seventh grade students use blue and yellow blocks, representing numerical variables and constants, to model a mathematical equation that I have written on the dry erase board. They shift blocks from one side
54 of each desk to the other as they attempt to balance the equation and solve the problem. I commonly use a handson approach to mathematics as I’ve found that concrete representations of the abstract help middle-school kids grasp ideas that might otherwise be inaccessible. Despite my best efforts, I can see that today’s concept eludes the least-engaged learners, who choose to play rather than work. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a block sail across the room in a long, lazy arc. I quickly turn to the left but spot no likely culprit. Everyone appears to be busily sliding and shifting blocks. Someone is a master of deception. Amy motions to me. She has a quiet demeanor and seldom speaks in class. When I reach her desk, I lean in close and she softly whispers, “Mr. Nolting, may I talk to you in the hall?” I follow her out of the room while scanning the class for possible troublemakers. Amy has never been a tattletale, but I suspect that she is about to identify the block launcher. “What’s up, Amy?” “There’s something I need to tell you.” She nervously wrings her hands. I smile. “Sure, go ahead.” Amy glances back toward the classroom. “I-I-I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t.” “Hey, it’s okay.” I speak softly. “You can tell me what’s on your mind.” “Okay, I guess so,” she lets out a deep breath and briefly looks at me with her intense blue eyes. “It’s just kinda hard, you know.” “Yes, I know,” I nod encouragingly, “sometimes it’s hard to say what’s on your mind. Sometimes it’s hard to speak the truth.” “She’s going to hate me if I tell you.” she bites at her knuckles. “Amy, I don’t think anyone will ever hate you,” I smile and she looks away. She sighs and hugs herself with her thin arms. “It’s about Tasha. Something that she’s going to do.” “Something she’s going to do?” The conversation has taken much longer than I anticipated and is clearly not about revealing the past misbehavior of a classmate. “What is Tasha going to do?” I hear laughter and loud voices spilling from the classroom. “She’s going to kill herself when she gets home today,” she says tersely. Her words hang in the air like a dark, foreboding cloud. The hairs rise on the back of my neck and my stomach tightens. In the span of a heartbeat, my mind
CIRQUE shifts from math to crisis mode. “How do you know this?” It seems a stupid question, yet I have to ask it to flesh out the seriousness of this threat. “She told me,” Amy blows a wisp of hair away from her eyes. “Does she have a plan?” I look at Amy’s eyes but her gaze darts away from mine. She fiddles with her charm bracelet. Plastic puppies and kittens jangle against each other. She stares at the floor as though it holds the information she needs to answer my query. I speak slow and softer, almost in a whisper. “Amy, do you know if Tasha has a plan to kill herself?” She glances up at me for an instant and then looks back at the floor. When she finally finds her voice it is barely a murmur, “Yes, she got the key.” “What kind of a key?” I continue talking in a gentle tone, afraid that Amy will lose her momentum and clam up completely. She chews on her lip. “It’s a key to a gun safe.” “Did she get a gun from the safe?” She nods. “Tasha put bullets in it and hid it in her bedroom.” I take a deep breath and exhale slowly. “Okay, Amy, I want you to go down to the counselor, Mrs. Levinson, and tell her everything that you know about this. I’ll call and let her know that you are coming.” She hesitates, unsure of herself, and shakes her head. “If I tell the counselor, Tasha will never speak to me again.” “If Tasha kills herself, she won’t speak to anyone again. Ever.” I pause to let the words sink in. “Believe me, Amy, you are doing the right thing. You are a brave young woman. Your bold action can save Tasha’s life.” Amy shrugs and bites her lip. Her pained expression speaks to the dilemma she faces in exposing her closest friend’s most dearly held and deadly secret. She turns and slowly, methodically walks down the empty hallway as though she, rather than Tasha, were facing the executioner. I slip into an office across from my classroom and call Susan, the counselor. When she answers on the first ring, I breathe a sigh of relief. “Amy Saum is headed down to your office. She has information about her friend Tasha Taylor and a suicide plan.” “Thanks, Joe,” Susan’s response is crisp and business-like. “I’ll get all the right people on this immediately.” I know that she has dealt with emergencies and understands the steps necessary for a quick and
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 successful intervention. Susan is one of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever met and it is clear to me that she will do everything in her power to help Tasha. As I cross the threshold back into class, I glance at Tasha. She stares back at me. Her dark eyes are filled with suspicion and anger and I quickly look away. My heart races as I think of the grim choice that she is contemplating. I wonder how things could have gone so wrong that this 13-year old girl, on the threshold of womanhood, would seek death as the only way to escape her pain. Has she even considered that her solution would mean no high school rites of passage, no romance, no travel to exotic places, no marriage, no children, no future at all? The quick, ugly ending would instead leave all of us reeling in confusion, with unanswered questions and the painful admission that we really didn’t know Tasha. Then I consider what I do know. Tasha is quiet and often seems moody in class. She has a small circle of close friends that includes Amy and two other girls. She rides the bus and doesn’t take part in sports or other after school activities. She has expressed her disdain for math to me in which she has a “C-” average. Despite my repeated invitations, Tasha has never come to me for lunch-hour help. Her father works as a miner and is away from home for extended periods of time. Her mother showed up for one parent conference, but said little and glanced at her watch several time as though she had better things to do. I could write a book about some of my other students, but my knowledge of Tasha is so sparse that I am ashamed. Yellow and blue blocks litter the classroom floor and several arms hesitate in mid-launch as I step further into the room. Suddenly class rules, math equations, and misbehaving students all seem incredibly unimportant to me. Shaking my head and smiling weakly, I can’t bring myself to admonish the group or any individuals within it. At this moment there is nothing I want more than to take every one of my 28 students and pile them into a protective lifeboat that will shield them from depression and loneliness and self-destruction on their perilous, storm-tossed journey through adolescence. I want to guide them past the treacherous shoals where the enchanting songs of the Sirens may lure them with quick and deadly solutions to their problems. I want to instantly infuse each young person in this room with a sense of life’s mysteries and magic and sheer wonder. When I post tomorrow’s assignment on the dry erase board, I stare at my writing for a moment. My lefthand script is choppy and uneven and I’m not even sure
55 if I’ve listed the correct sequence of problems. Tonight’s homework seems irrelevant when faced with a life-anddeath situation, but it is a real and tangible link to the future; students do their assignments with the belief that they will be in class the next day and beyond. Had Amy not come forward to speak with me, Tasha might never again turn in her homework. Her name would be added to my “list” of students forever lost. Her suicide would carve a path through family and friends, of guilt and grief that would last a lifetime. The bell rings and I dismiss everyone. Students bag up their blocks, place the baggies in a large bin next to my desk, and head to their next class. As they exit their excited voices fill the hallway with a cacophony of joyful noise and laughter. Tasha is the last student to leave. She holds her bag of blocks above my desk and intentionally drops it on a pile of homework papers. Her thick, dark hair hangs loosely about her shoulders. She crosses her arms defiantly over a t-shirt with the faded image of an angrylooking punk rock band. “Where did Amy go?” Tasha asks, part question, part accusation, as her eyes narrow with suspicion. “She wasn’t feeling well.” I place her bag of blocks in the bin. “I sent her to see the nurse.” “Right.” Her voice dripping with sarcasm, Tasha sees through my ruse. “She didn’t seem very sick when she left class.” I look at her face. She has a blush of acne on her cheeks and the rest of her skin is ghostly pale. Her eyes are devoid of emotion except, perhaps, for traces of a seething rage. She knows that her best friend has betrayed her most intimate secret. And she understands that I, too, now know her lethal plan and a little bit about the dark place within her. An hour later, during my lunch break, I slip into the counselor’s office. She slips the phone into its cradle and looks at me. “Tasha had a loaded handgun—a .357 magnum—hidden under her pillow. Next to her teddy bear.” “Oh, my God.” I shake my head and visualize the weapon—one powerful enough to stop a charging grizzly bear—with six copper-jacketed bullets filling the pistol’s cylinder. “Sweet Jesus,” I whisper. “I know,” Susan says. “Apparently she found the key to her grandfather’s gun safe a few weeks ago and stole the gun. No one knows how Tasha got the bullets. Her mom is in shock. Her dad flies back tomorrow from the Red Dog Mine near Nome. We’re working with a crisis
intervention team to help the whole family.” She massages her temple with her right hand. “Tasha probably won’t be back in school for a few weeks until she receives adequate mental-health treatment. When she comes back, we’ll be watching her very closely.” “How does Amy feel about what she did?” Susan taps her chin with her index finger. “She still isn’t sure that she did the right thing. I think it may take a while for her to figure it out.” “She saved Tasha’s life.” “Yes, but she doesn’t quite grasp that. Keeping a friend’s trust is sacrosanct among some teenage girls. Oftentimes they don’t see the big picture.” “But why would Tasha tell Amy about her suicide plan?” I ask. “What did she think Amy was going to do? Just shut up and let things progress to a tragic end?” Susan shrugs. “Telling Amy was Tasha’s cry for help. Part of Tasha wants to kill herself, while another part wants to stay alive, to have us recognize her pain and do something about it because the hurt is more than she can deal with.” I have five minutes before my next class starts. Walking the empty hallway, I eat the remnants of a sandwich that looks as wilted as I feel. When the bell rings, noise and motion wash aside the quiet like a tsunami. I watch students—some in groups of two or three and others by themselves—surge past and I wonder which ones are adrift on a secret sea of darkness. For the most part, they must find their own way no matter how challenging the voyage. Still I hope that, if self-destruction beckons, a close friend—someone like Amy—will stretch her hand across the blackened water and gently pull them back into the brilliant light of a new day.
I’m on a rocking chair, feet on the hearth in front of a sweet smelling birch fire in the cottage of my old friend. Quiet reigns. The lake is a solid white carpet with dark spruce on the far shore forming the hem of a green mountain tapestry. Sun drops through the window onto my small oriental rug. Even with the warmth of the sun, I’m glad for the rug. I warn winter guests to wear two pair of socks and long underwear since it’s rarely above 60 degrees. The warmth here is of another kind. The persona of my deceased friend remains--the hand built fireplace with mementos of a trip around the world, pieces of shells, shards of tiles, ivory carvings, fossilized wood, old figurines—all worn shiny by curious fingers over decades. Above the mantle is a cherry plank proclaiming, “Ye canna be baeth grawnd and keemfterble”, and fire glints through the glass marble eyes of the cat andirons onto the copper sides of an oriental brazier. The walls seem to drape nicely about my shoulders. The bedroom I call my monk’s cell has room for a cot and a let-down stairway from the ceiling. This leads to a second bedroom under the eaves, enchanting for children and for me, too. A sculpture of an Eskimo woman keeps watch beside a temple bell and a candle holder. Books crowd the shelves on the wall above the bed. Now it is evening and as I add another log I can see Saturn rising above the lake and know the sliver of moon will soon slip over the edge of the Chugach Range. Time to light candles and play a Dvorak tape. I sit with a glass of port where I began; feeling the warmth of the wine, the fire and the memories that come with the cottage.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Taking Flight “I don’t want a bird,” Nana had initially said. She wouldn’t even look at the fluttering topaz dart inside the silver-wired cage. If my mother didn’t go over to Nana’s apartment to feed Pepe, her parakeet, he would have died of starvation. “I gave birth to you,” Nana said. “And I gave birth to Jonathan,” my mother said. “I have a child to take care of already.” My mother claimed that until I started elementary school, she would be very busy watching me and working for my father. I remember my mother holding me against her chest while she said this. I remember how her grip tightened, squeezed the sweat out of my thigh. While I might not have been able to fathom the gravity of their conversation, I do remember the pain of her grasp, and of Nana’s sharp stare, at both me and my mother. “He’s too big for you to carry him,” Nana said. “Put him down.” “You used to carry me home from school when I was eight, embarrassing me in front of my friends and teachers. You didn’t listen to Dada when he told you to put me down.” My mother always remarked how Nana was as stubborn as a rock. Sometime during her forties, Nana had a dentist remove all of her teeth because she didn’t want to pay for a filling. The peroration with which my mother loved to end this story: “Her stubbornness is greater than pain.” At the time I was scared of Nana, scared that she was mad at me for something I didn’t understand. Nana was a bigger person then. Her hair curled down around her ears like wind-brushed clouds. The shoulder pads she wore with her blouses made her arms appear strong enough to lift my mother and me. Her voice had the thunderous quality of crashing waves. Certainly any child would fear this imposing woman, the savage queen of a verdant forest. Still, I wouldn’t have minded standing so I could roam the idyllic environment of Nana’s apartment. The brown walls, mulch-colored furniture, and rows of plants enticed me. Even as an infant I dreamed of lush jungles. My mother, however, squeezed tighter, the side of her breast pushing into my stomach. “I can’t spend every minute of my life with you,” my mother finally said and walked towards the front door. When she sighed, she created a pocket of air
57 between her chest and my body into which I could more comfortably fit. As my mother loaded me in my car seat, I looked towards the apartment and saw Nana leaning on the railing, watching us. The shadow of her figure split the sun’s light and from inside the car I could feel her loneliness. Despite my mother’s threat, we still visited once a week. Each time my mother would refill Pepe’s food and clean the cage. This first Pepe was lime green with chalk-blue circles around his eyes. When he lifted his white-tipped wings, he revealed yellow shadows on each side of his body. During our visits, I’d stare through the thin-wired cage at the bird bolting from perch to perch, creating a rainbow streak of nerves. I so badly wanted to hold Pepe, but feared Nana would yell at me to “put him down.” Once, when I was certain my mother and Nana were having coffee out in the kitchen, out of view of the living room where the cage was, I slid my pinky through the individual wires and nudged Pepe. His feathers felt firm but flimsy, like they’d dissolve in the wind but continue to float on their own. He had a certain edge, despite how fragile he appeared to be. When I nudged him a second time, he turned around and pecked me. I hollered, and when I noticed a drop of blood I cried. My mother came running and scooped me into her arms. She took me into the kitchen and held a tissue over my injured pinky. Nana stared at me with a look as sharp as Pepe’s beak, a look that I would later learn to identify as judgment. She said, “Don’t poke around where you don’t belong.” I did not have a pet of my own at the time. My father disliked animals. He claimed they were unruly. Removed from the order of my home, where file cabinets lined the living room walls and tax documents occupied dining room tables, and placed in the wild forest of Nana’s apartment, I became very intrigued by Pepe. And this intrigue was heightened by my fear of him, and of Nana. While I do remember not wanting to go over to Nana’s, I also remember my desire to hold, to subdue, that feisty parakeet. Really, I didn’t have a choice whether or not we went over there. Perhaps I was too young to even know what a choice was. When we showed up one week, several days after my pinky had healed, my mother and I found Nana crying on the sandstone-patterned sofa. Pepe was lying on his side on the wicker coffee-table, his eyes closed and body motionless. “Oh my God,” my mother said as she sat on the sofa and pulled Nana’s head into her shoulder, as if shielding her eyes the way she did to me when nude
58 people appeared in a movie we watched. I stood by the front door, frozen in fear. The apartment seemed to have become a much wilder place since the last time. I could sense predators lurking in the plants, hunting me from the hallway. Growing up in Florida, you learn to stand still if facing a black bear, run in zigzags if chased by an alligator, and avoid eye contact if caught by a panther. I couldn’t be sure which animal, if any, prowled this dangerous apartment. For all intents and purposes, Pepe was the first time I experienced death. “He stopped moving after I bathed him,” Nana said, sobbing with her finger-locked hands in her lap and her face buried in my mother’s neck. “You bathed him?” The compassion in my mother’s voice gave way to a bitter incredulity. “You don’t bathe birds.” “He smelled bad.” “He’s dead.” My mother stood from the sofa and went into the kitchen. She came back with a roll of paper towels and mummified Pepe. Then she carried him back into the kitchen. Nana’s eyes were red and swollen, making her appear much more vulnerable than I’d ever seen her. Without her false teeth to prop up her lips, her mouth drooped onto her chin. She looked at me and I felt her sadness, although I did not move from the front door. “I miss hearing him chirp,” she said. “He almost learned to say, ‘Big Mama’s here.’” The way she pitched her voice so that it squeaked like Pepe’s made me smile. My smile made Nana smile. “You don’t bathe birds, Mom. I mean, that’s common sense.” “You always scold me like I’m a child.” My mother walked back into the living room with a long sigh, like she created her own gust. She told Nana to put on her shoes. “I can’t leave you alone now.” Nana came with us to the store and back to our house, where she watched TV in the living room while my mother input stacks of tax information into the computer in her office. I had crawled in an empty shelf in one of the metal storage cabinets in the hallway and from there spied on Nana. She seemed oblivious to the streaks of images flashing on the TV. Whenever the sound of laughter came from the speakers, she kept a stern expression, silent. All I could think about was Pepe. How did he die? Was it painful? What had my mother done with his body? Did Nana kill him? Did that make Nana dangerous? Pepe wasn’t safe in a cage, was I safe in
CIRQUE a cabinet? I must have been in there for a long time because I really had to go to the bathroom by the time my mother came out of her office and told Nana it was time to go home. Nana started crying. “What’s wrong with your home?” my mother said in a voice strained by impatience and pity. “I miss him.” “Well, Mom, you can’t bathe birds.” “I miss your father,” Nana snapped, as if irritated my mother didn’t understand her the first time. It was entertaining to witness these moments in which my mother became the child. So often did my mother snap at me for not getting answers right the first time. My mother sat next to Nana and hugged her. Their heads rested against one another. I finally crawled out of the cabinet, but despite how badly I wanted to join them, I ran to the bathroom. Later, we took Nana to the pet store and bought her another parakeet, Pepe II. The new Pepe looked almost identical to the old one, save for two apple-red pinstripes on either side of his tail. Also, Pepe II’s eyes seemed wider, more alert. Perhaps he sensed his predecessor’s demise. After about a month, I heard my mother explaining to my father that Nana had drowned another parakeet. I leaned on the door frame in my father’s office and listened. My father sat in the center of the room with a fortress of a desk that enclosed him but seemed to extend out from his body. A computer screen cast a cold blue glow on his wide-frame glasses and shiny forehead. He had paper stands and two calculators arranged all within arm’s reach. If not a fortress, the desk appeared to be a spaceship with a 360 degree control panel. I had always wanted to sit in his chair and imagine cruising through space, but I was never allowed in his office without supervision and never allowed on his chair with or without supervision. “You think she’s doing it on purpose?” my father asked. He poked at his calculator with one rigid finger that made him look officially like a captain. Take off! My mother leaned against the wall adjacent to the door. This was really the only space where one could fit in my father’s office if not in the captain’s seat. “Why would she do it on purpose?” “Does she even like birds?” My mother looked over at me and her eyes became heavy. Something about her stare weighed down on me, so I did my best to stand firm and carry it.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 Whatever it was I was holding. She reached out and ran her fingers through my hair. “It is hereditary,” my mother said. “That doesn’t mean she has it.” My father’s voice seemed to follow the rhythm of the calculator’s taps and clicks. “My aunt died asking for relatives who’d passed away years prior. Before my father’s last heart attack, he went around the house smashing picture frames and toppling furniture because he didn’t know where he was.” “Buy her another bird.” My father always had the final word. My mother led me out of his office and as we walked into the living room she began to cry. When I asked her if something was wrong with Nana, she told me: “We can’t find a bird she actually likes.” Even at that age I could tell when someone wasn’t telling the truth. # Once again at the pet store, my mother sought an attendant while Nana and I walked to the glass cage of parakeets. Bolts of sapphire and lime dashing in every direction. Colorful ribbons blurring with the soft palpitations of air. When Nana and I peered directly in, each parakeet moved, as if they were all connected, to the opposite side of the cage. There, they froze, motionless, their fragile heads staring straight at us and their backs pressed against the far glass wall. Nestled together, they appeared to transform into one giant parakeet, too big for Nana’s wire cage. Their beady black eyes didn’t move from us. Never in my life have I ever seen birds so still, so watchful, so aware. When my mother arrived with the attendant, a young man with a beard and a concerned look, asked which one we wanted. My mother told Nana to pick. “This is your third parakeet, right?” the man asked. His worrisome expression bled into his voice, which was as shaky as the parakeets. “No,” Nana said. “I’ll only have this one.” She pointed to a gem-shaded parakeet with black spots on his belly. The attendant stared at Nana, then at my mother. “You have bought two other parakeets. I picked them out for you.” He said it like a reminder. “They were gifts for other family members,” my mother lied. She still wore that spurious smile, which must have worked on the attendant because he retrieved
the parakeet Nana wanted and placed him carefully in his travel box. The attendant looked sad as he sealed the box. There was something rueful about the way he stared through the air holes at the bird, never at one of us. He walked us to the cashier and then, before departing, told us that parakeets can be very toxic if digested by humans. My mother paid and we took Pepe III to his wire cage, where he would only last six weeks before “drowning.” Before that happened, though, there was a day when my mother had to attend a meeting with my father and left me at Nana’s apartment. Nana let me hold Pepe III. Of the three Pepes, this one was the calmest, the most subordinate. He never pecked, never flapped his wings in an attempt to escape. Perhaps he had already accepted his fate and saw the futility of resistance. While holding Pepe III, feeling his soft body made of toothpick bones and silk feathers, I said to Nana, “Please don’t hurt him.” Nana gasped. She held her hand to her chest and her brows went straight up past the curls of hair hanging down to her eyes. “Mí Dios. I do not hurt my Pepes.” The hyper but brittle patter of Pepe III’s heart pounded into my thumb. I felt a pulsing connection between the two of us; I felt responsible for his life. “What happened to the other Pepes?” “Has your mother taught you Spanish yet?” “No.” “It will only make sense to you in Spanish, but I will try to tell you in English.” She went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Alone with Pepe III, I opened my hands so that Pepe III could stand on my open palms, unrestricted by the chains of my fingers. If he wanted, he could have flown away. The sliding door leading to Nana’s unscreened porch was open. The warm spring breeze teased the air of the apartment, beckoned the bird to soar. Instead, he balanced himself and stood there, facing me, obedient. Too obedient. Nana returned with two glasses of orange juice, which she always fresh squeezed each morning. She placed my glass on the wicker coffee-table and sipped the golden juice from hers. “Before I left Cuba, I learned magic. The first trick I learned was the story of Yahubaba. Before Spaniards came to the island, there was a man who lived all by himself in a cave. His family had been taken by a hurricane, so he became very lonely and never left the cave. But inside the cave he could hear the voices of children coming from
60 outside. He loved those voices, so one day he stepped outside and the sun was so bright it transformed him into a nightingale. He had a long, beautiful tail that was purple on the top and a deep ocean blue on the bottom. His body was the color of dusk reflected in the sea. And he discovered that his voice had become the sound of all the children singing and playing. He spent the rest of his life flying above Cuba, singing the songs of youth and joy. That is what happened to the other Pepes. They are now nightingales soaring above Miami. I leave the back door and windows open so we can hear them.” “So Pepe I and II aren’t dead?” Nana smiled and combed my hair with her fingers. I felt as fragile as the parakeet the instant she touched me. “It is all an illusion,” Nana said, her fingers drawing circles on my scalp, leaving trails of stardust in my imagination. “What was left behind was the molt. Now drink your orange juice. The longer it sits, the more of its nutrients vanish.” “Why didn’t you just have Mom buy you a nightingale?” “I told you. The story only makes sense in Spanish.” “Can I watch you transform Pepe III into a nightingale?” “Not yet,” Nana said. “You’re too young. But I can eventually teach you how to transform yourself into a nightingale, like Yahubaba. You’ll have a long purple tail, too, and indigo wings that can fly you anywhere you want to go. And your voice. You’ll be able to sing all the dreams that children have.” So I could take a sip of the orange juice, I handed Pepe III back to Nana. Citrus syrup splashed around as Nana stroked Pepe III, making kissing noises with puckered lips. While staring at her parakeet, she said to me, “You have to be careful, though. The wind will carry away un flaquito like you. You’ll vanish.” I held a mouthful of orange juice, its sweetness going stale inside my mouth. Nana noticed me staring at her and rolled her eyes. “Look at you,” she said. “You’re skin and bones.” My tongue drowned and all I could do was look at Pepe III, trying to imagine him as a much more majestic bird, eagle-sized, capable of withstanding the wind. This selection is part of a memoir-novella titled “Nana’s Guide to Illusion,” forthcoming from VP&D House’s Weathered Edge series.
Sheary Clough Suiter
Making Something Out of Nothing I was standing in Denali National Park one day when I overheard one woman tourist tell another woman tourist, “Don’t bother going to Fairbanks. There’s nothing there.” Nothing there, I thought. How dare her. Fairbanks is the town where I grew up, the place where the people I have known the longest still live. Fairbanks was my whole world in the 1950s and 1960s. What did that darn tourist know anyway? No doubt she’d planted her seat in a stinking bus back in Seattle and hadn’t moved it again until she got to the Park, where she roused herself long enough to buy a postcard and deliver her speech. Now, let me tell you something. Fairbanks may not be pretty, may not be nice, may not even be important, but it sure as heck isn’t nothing. How can you describe as nothing a town where, in springtime, the Chena River broke up with such force it ripped apart the only bridge downtown, a place where this not only happened but a place where the residents bet money on the exact minute it would take place and were happy when they won? How can you describe as nothing a place where in April the snow slips off the roof
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 with such a rush and a roar that it makes spring in any other place seem far too tame? Fairbanks is where summer bolts hard and fast, a place where cabbages, startled by the long stretches of sunlight, split wide open from the sheer speed of their growth. In Fairbanks, fall hammers birch leaves into gold and lasts about fifteen minutes. In the winter, it gets so cold your nose and eyes freeze shut, so cold your damp hair snaps off like a pretzel, so cold it makes you sick to your stomach. When it’s sixty below in Fairbanks and someone walks in the front door, it isn’t your head but your feet that are hit by the bedroll of cold that spills across the floor. In Fairbanks, in winter, volunteer firefighters return home encased in ice and children walk to school in the dark, walk home in the dark, play outside in the dark. If nothing else, Fairbanks is discomfort—yearlong, lifelong, life-affirming discomfort. Fairbanks is where people do things the hard way, where they thumb their noses at the weather. Football is for city folks. Fairbanks is yellow snow, muddy cars, plywood and Visqueen. It’s strangled spruce, striped birch, and summer tundra so soft and moist, when you
61 walk across it, your shoes disappear beneath you and then come up sopping wet. Fairbanks is where the businesses are called the Golden Nugget, the Silver Dollar and Arctic Bowl. It’s where the borough is named after the North Star and the city streets are Tok and Ruby, Koyukuk and Kodiak, where the favorite radio show is “Tundra Topics.” In Fairbanks you can buy black-diamond necklaces and carved ivory pins, smooth jade beads and watchbands encrusted with gold, gold that was once scooped up in toothed buckets as tall as a man from mines that stunk of thawing mastodon flesh. Fairbanksans still hoard jars of gold, private stashes kept hidden behind a bedroom door or under a pile of socks. Fairbanks is where the Alaska Highway finally ends, where it narrows and turns before entering the south end of town, curving past the gravel pit before straightening out and heading the last twenty blocks to the Chena River. On the south bank of that river sits a small log church and inside that church, up behind the altar, the light shines through a stained-glass window, a window that shows a mother in a parka holding a child. Now how you can call that nothing? Just tell me that.
Five Seward Snapshots
finding for the first time where god hides the close, too close, report of a rifle. that numbing and seductive blast, like an orgasm had i known what that was when i was….what?....3? 7? 10, 12? that hard spit of unconsciousness, forced surrender, when there is nothing else, no thought, no Other, only pure. a second of soundless sleep. all the acrimony, terse words, the heat or cold, the coming judgment: all gone into an explosion of floating bliss, morphing into a ringing dream of sound -my mind clinging to that, resisting the need to be present in the Other way. perhaps it would only be a target, perhaps a deer. perhaps i would have pulled the trigger, or my father, or my mother, or one of their brothers. it made no difference. it was fear, lust. a terrible joy.
1. Without wind the sea shines smooth almost glass enough for dancing as the tide welcomes drift-worn wanderers and reflections floating along the shore. 2. We walk in the rain. Halo of sun, startled eyes, the day blooms color. 3. Rain rattles from rooftops, fallen leaves and soggy hats as dampness dissolves the day and moss sips from a wet stone, nature’s table offered with wind refrains. 4. Obihiro’s gift, the gazebo shelters us. Calm winds, quiet tide. 5. Sunset fog drifts over Resurrection Bay, swirls around barnacled piers and harbor lights, suspending our lives in delayed darkness,
before veiling a night of hidden stars.
As your broad-stemmed green slowly emerges from the hawkweed eclipsing the starry-plumed false Solomon seal rooted with meadow rue and penstemon intertwined, and foam flower, grape fern, and yarrow crowd the alder, vine maple, and black cottonwood on whose feet the woodrose and turtle-headed beard tongue tangle, helplessly thriving, I want to stand with you, too still to say your name.
Gold Creek Valley
Sun shadows soften the floodplain. Thick melt slows us as we cross the broken bridges up the river trail where spring has turned banks of white into sculpted blue cornices, arches and bowls perfectly hollowed-out, sanded and glazed by the wind and new rain. A cougar walks lightly on top of drifts barely brushing the cabinâ€™s cedar shakes. As sleet turns to ice, the flakes grow larger every hour, first small cups, then upside-down paper parachutes, as if Zeus himself, having finally drunk enough, were flinging down all his cocktail paraphernalia, the little folding umbrellas, stir straws, shaved cubes, shot glasses, all tumbling. Winter will leave, water, warmth will flow, cold will come again. A wolverine curls in her den, panting. Her kits are the color of snow.
End of sunrise misty morning, sky still steel, threaded pink, only the east face glows, warm side-light spilling over ridge-line. The earth zone, dripping, peaceful, lush thick with scrub willow and tall summer grasses first berries ripening, rests under the moonâ€™s sphere poised almost full between peaks. All seems new becoming washed waking complete in this moment of beginning, except two silhouettes pasted on the mountain ridge against the slant of roof and morning light. Holding tattered hearts in tender ribs, they share such rending as leaves scant shreds for patching. Locked in solitude, though unspeakably alike, father and son grieve the woman who binds them, the woman who no longer wants them: the woman who left.
Linda Infante Lyons
Blue-Eyed Darner 1. Announcing herself with a drumroll, a slim dragonfly arrives, hovers above the lake. Her stirring, noisy wings are all that move as she spins to show me her profile against watery clouds, her needle abdomen sapphire and obsidian, her thorax glittery green.
One blue eye gazes at me solid as a blackberry.
2. Through that compound eye, does she see me as one or more than one? Alien, gigantic, lounging in a scrim weeds— could my single body cast honeycomb images into her filament of brain? Her paired wings make one blur around her. 3. This is her second life, I know. She was quiet and soft in the shallows until she stretched, scaled a reed, climbed free of her amorphousness. As she stirred new wings to sound, her body hardened and shone. In her airy parade, what could she know of her old body, left adrift in lapping water, far behind her now? To my simple my eye, my complicating mind, is she one or more than one? 4. In and out the swaying horsetails, she weaves a-whirr, working like the needle she was named for. My eye trails her back and forth, back and forth, until the darner speeds her wing-beats, lifts, leaves. Pulling away, her drumbeat rattles. The girl inside me springs up and runs to follow, unshaped, obedient as thread behind a gleaming needle’s eye.
Two ravens pester an eagle at breakfast, distract and steal, a tactic I know well these days. So easy it is to get me to turn my head the other way. “Look there!” and I follow the point of your finger. I want to believe you have something beautiful to show me.
Yesterday I read my horoscope, inky newsprint warning an old lover would call. Today, the ringer off, I read lovers are coming back, a slow march of skeletons falling into step, picking up numbers at each state line. I disconnect the doorbell and hide crouched in the bathroom under the shelf behind the sink. I listen with pricked ears to the radio’s buzz. A new front is moving in. Cold, they say. possible snow and ice. A white patch already lies thick over my heart. I envision it a rink for my new lover to skate across, toe pick chiseling. Only this one isn’t interested in skating. She’s carrying an ax and wants fish. Salmon in the valley, I play dead like winter. Maybe the front will drive her away; but she comes, hacking away at the layers and dropping her lines. I watch the hook sink. My lips part, a crazy yearning to be pulled by the roof of my mouth, gills gasping into air, my body netted and brought to shore driving me to answer the door.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Life in the rainforest I dream of drier times hot afternoons, heat waves and water rides bending with the river calling cool just below the edge. I dream of those starry nights nestled high beyond any street lights. a trail of clothes leading to a kind current washing over us.
I dream of snow in July a laughing harvest moon and your crooked little smile. I’m rusty, I say and hold up my hands, evidence that everything corrodes, eventually, in all this rain.
His parents surrendered their lovely French surname at Ellis Island. He led strikes in Canada’s paper mills before it was legal. Amended Ware to Weir to escape blacklisting. Divorced by Grandma, he always called her “my wife Olive.” Never remarried. Grandpa came down from Thunder Bay, Ontario, twice a year to see his children, grandchildren—Christmas and June. On bitter winter days, he taught us to play cribbage, played eager audience to our every song and trick. In summer, he modelled healthy habits. Tumblers of hot water, dozens of toe touches, a three-mile daily hike to Aunt Marian’s on old Highway 11. We couldn’t keep up. He made it to my wedding. By then he lived at Rainy Crest Nursing Home. When we visited after that, it was always, “any babies yet?” He lived to be 98, but they took away his diamond willow cane. Grandpa Weir was a striker to the end.
North Again rare peppered gem this tangerine moon a slice of blood orange my love and I without daughter or dogs we navigate dark sky by snowpack and stars follow bermed icy roads sidle the Yukon River mantled spruce, fir, pine – frivolous tendrils wisp across lonely road wrap the paws of lynx plodding west into the wind we circle back south to the sea find a red moon of sea glass lucky penny, stone cairn, rusty key awash in the tide of gravel
Sheary Clough Suiter
Why I Moved to Seattle
Two years ago, on a Michigan Valentine’s Day, I waited at the cleaners with my bag of soiled clothing while a nice young man gave explicit instructions on how he wanted his shirts to be starchedLightly, he said, so I won’t feel constricted. But not so lightly my colleagues won’t know. I could feel the heat building—I wanted to shout, Hey, Girl with a bosom, and you, half-starched Shirt-boy! Hormones have got you. Go to it—just do it! They were cute as puppies, though, big-eyed and wriggling: for a moment, it seemed life might work for us all: they would marry, have kids-I’d start liking my husband. SUDDENLY from the back of the store came a voice like a fist as it’s choking a chicken. “Tilda? Tilda!” The three of us cowered, caught red-handed in the bloody till of romantic illusion. We knew our collective goose was a cinder, turning on the end of the stick of that voice AND in from the back burst a great laundry Mamoo, her shaky Jake bosom the size of Montana. “Tilda!” she said, “There’s a customer waiting!” I knew, with a shock, she could mean only me. What was worse, her words were like clichéd moths that circled the candle of coming calamity: for though Tilda was pretty, and no more than twenty, one could see in her mother what she would become! I looked, horror-struck, as did never-now-lover-boy; Tilda shrank in our stares like warmed-up Saran wrap— Young Lochinvar grabbed back his shirts and he fled. Tilda was crying. I slunk out the door... Back at the car, my meter had hoisted the cherry-red flag of new Violation… So I got in the car and drove straight to Seattle, my flight from the Midwest both final and fast… At 65, I’ve got fulltime employment— escaping a future chockful of my past.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
She is done with spreading, spreading her legs spreading brie on dry crackers, drinking wine from waxed paper cups It is true her life took shape as meandering clouds, thinly and soft with private meaning, until they sculpted her nose and blew artificial wind through her hair If you mapped her face, it would look provocative and turbulent, of sexual congress a blue mole in the crosshairs just below her lips eyes bright as the moon though circled in a storm ring, light airy hair, dull as tin She sweeps dust from little altars in the corners of her apartment squares her shoulders, leans down to smell a vase of lilies anxious energies rise up another late-night photo spread buy me buy this buy more she must examine herself from many angles, hazy lines of penetration: chin in, hips out knees bent, legs spread it is her mortal undertaking to sell, to understand selling as dissonance, to do nothing but look beautiful with grace under pressure and tend carefully the rising pile of black leaves, gathering beneath her feet.
“I run a real work boat every day,” says an old friend, like he has to spray his hard work over my bow as he races by, ‘waking’ me while I’m on a set here at my computer. He calls me “a good historian” for my poems and stories while explaining how he’s still out there on the water, like I need to remember that. A tin boat did the same thing to me one calm day while I was on a lazy set far from anyone else in the middle of Cook Inlet. The fishing was slow, but this aluminum-head roared past at full speed, 20 feet off my bow, and when I flipped him off from the bridge, he smiled and gave me the finger, too. This next part is true, though I’m not particularly proud of it – I took the .44 Magnum out of the cabinet – you know the one, the gun Dirty Harry used when he asked, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” – and I stepped out on deck and stepped over my sleeping deckhand, the same guy who started me on this poem by boasting about how hard he still works, and fired the gun off the side of the boat into the water. The noise made the other skipper whip his head around, and thinking that I had taught him a lesson by ‘waking’ him with the report that shot across the still water that morning, I stood on the deck and nodded as he sped on. My deckhand jumped to his feet with the BOOM! His ears rang the rest of that opening, and he said later it took hours for his heart to slow down. He wasn’t happy with my attempts at explanation. The scent of gunpowder lingered in both our nostrils. I sold the gun a few years later. Sitting here decades away, rocking on his fresh waves, Sometimes I wonder if either of us will ever wake up.
Early Summer Sex I have been flirting with the ladies of May this month: afternoons spent with redolent rhodies – bursts of color drip onto my tongue. Strawberry pistil and peach stamen curl in delicate arcs to nibble on my ear and give me chills. In the sultry evening, I drop on trembling knees before sweet lupine, drinking sugar from sticky lips, my black-fly proboscis wet with juices – hers and mine. I moan as I investigate her fragile recesses. At night I bury my face into the moist petals of iris – a deep purple flashes in my eyes as fold within fold unveils smooth, succulent surprises. We roll apart with a sigh. I stand, swipe the back of my hand across my mouth and stagger, stretch and lick lilac. The scent closes my eyes. I inhale all the bouquet she offers up. A morning stroll past plump lavender, and I give her a pinch. In her excitement, she clings to my fingers. I secretly smell her again and again. Noon. I join baby blue eyes on the ground, naked in the light. We listen to a honey bee lullaby and cuddle until, spent in the sun, I sink into the damp summer soil.
The last of a ‘bergie bit’ melts out in the sun
How Change Comes I sat on a stone ruffled with lichens, black-leaved, without the shine of the Blue whale’s slippery back, the boulder completely covered— black frills with the dull luster of grade school poster paint, a dry-eyed blackness that claims night and shrouds and wrinkled seeds. The sun’s spectrum trapped. My view, from the black-cloaked rock— the sea and two coves, left and right or east and west or maybe north and south— in the Arctic summer it’s easy to lose track of the cardinal directions. From my stony perch, I watched two slivers of beach arcing inwards— a narrow waist—as if a sea monster was eating the island from both sides, leaving only the core which I pinch hard and wait weeks or eons until at last the sea rises and the rocky island’s neck slips beneath the waves.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Clallam River Site Earth has always buckled here at the edge of the world. Nobody knows a straight road, and no one owns a level field. Summer after summer ignites a momentary blaze on ice, slogs its way toward winter, mud clinging to raw heels, roughshod rain and nightfall crushing ancient coals. It is difficult to measure dust, label dirt, sift each blackened bit through sieves of slanted light. Despite my best intentions, I misplace wisps of ash, forget which mite is lost or found as darkness rises in the pit. Sometimes I stop to get it right, roll back the Gore-Tex flap, rest my eyes, bathe aching feet beneath the waterfall. Questions I forgot to ask hide in shallows where cutthroat trout glide over logs, and where the brook drops silent vowels into quiet pools. I make myself believe all things surface if I wait, that if I wait long enough, bones inch downstream, axe-heads float, and water the cold moon never touched can spring from any rock.
Wrinkles in Time
Overcast At seventy mother asked me to tell her when she began to smell like an old woman. Soon she gave up swimming and began to cut back on trips to the hair dresser and the mall. The rings on her fingers loosened and she dropped her name from the church and her groups when she began to forget names and faces and dues. Last month I flew alone into her Seattle winter since she thinks my wife might take advantage of her jewelry if she’s there because I’m such an easy tool when it comes to money. Together we renewed investments so that only I could have it all after the doctor told us dementia will creep in no matter what’s done and she wants my happiness once.
Susi Gregg Fowler
Listening to Nora, I Got This Poem --for Nora Marks Dauenhauer
Looking through an ice sculpture near McBride Glacier, one can see the freshly-exposed rocks of Muir Inlet in the background--rocks that, a few years ago, were still covered by thick glacial ice.”
Nora speaks, reads, recites, taking her time. Knows the weight of pauses that speak, often, more than words. Reminds me—slow it down. Slow down. No need to rush. Only to breathe. To take time. Taste the juicy phrase, roll it around the tongue, let it breathe, let you breathe. It is not a poetry race. It is a poetry taste.
The Tide Mark at Forbes Landing
I listened to Nora, and got this poem.
My son has filled his shoes again and cut his thumb on barnacles. The seaweed stinks. He won’t come in. He keeps on down the beach, turning over what the night left there—shells of many kinds, pieces of bark, gonad-size kelp, and small creatures I can’t identify, a few he brings back to life. But it’s the occasional piece of glass, sand ground smooth and cloudy that stops him, what bears the marks of human fabrication turned strangely beautiful, what the sea can really do. In his room he has a jar for them and all the pennies no one in the house still keeps.
A boy with lizard eyes who lives down the lane calls my name through picket fence and hyacinth to snake among the wilder weeds as necessary to me as the no-name god to my cousins riding horseback over frozen ground, Heat from the sand holds me here my sensuous playhouse hot and heart beating fast I slither on belly and dig in with toes longing to race the wind, to beat the wind and dance the crazy one god two-step laugh at His no-name, I see myself in Grandfather’s slippers woven threads I see myself Yecutieleh Yud-koof-vav-tav-alef-lamed-hey Your name is, as you know, from the Hebrew “God will nourish.”
Aching in the Lowlands In an old boarding-house in Leuven too cold for writing without an overcoat and a hot drink too cold to walk to loo must pee in sink, Madame D’Hoogue cooks chicken livers for her cat in cotton stockings a British soldier brought her chocolate after the bombs of La-Roche-en-Ardenne left behind a daughter with dark hair and a pleasant disposition, Madame is mostly frozen except on Sundays she walks in sensible shoes to the little Flemish church where Christ writhes in pain by candlelight wooden flesh still warm bleeding she feels something she feels better.
Tying the Knot with Fernando
La Luna Tease Crescent moon undulates in space bathed in the red glow of cabin lights through the porthole of Blazin Guns. This early April night spring swathed erotic waiting for strangers voice: sweet ass, smooth pace, cock tease of lunar beams. Laid back Iâ€™m out, set free, aright. La Luna wont you serenade me? La Luna wrap your hammock around these lean seems of manhood dreams. La Luna please, La Luna be, free with me.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Mozia The hooded boatman silently skulls the darkened waters, a road subterranean, an island of distance. Grey olive groves hold soft eyed children chanting Latin, hushed, laughing, calling your name, leading you barefoot to where He shines bright in the sun, his tunic of white a sheer revealing.
Arms of marble seduce your flesh, melding your bones in an ancient of days, plaiting your hair with leaves of gold.
Deep in the temple where dim light shifts the columned walls you wait in shadow, and incense burns.
In China the world is held together by 10,000 things, 1,000 of which are fears. This mountain landscape is a study in fear. It teaches a moral. Hold on like the bush that roots itself to the east side, the side that knows not of the going down and what matters at sunset. The man in the boat fishing below is so small in the painting. He has a fear of drifting too far from shore. He worries a storm will fold him into the ink. The shadow the mountain casts is greater than anything he’s done.
Fearsome, hidden, cunning...... and splendid: this island claims all who come. The creak of an oar and the boatman returns to ferry you back-finding only your shoes and a lingering mist.
A Chinese Tall Panel Landscape
The Stink Bug on Joe Enzweiler’s Shirt
We talk on the deck. The sudden chill of cumulus, stacked high with moisture, then heat at our backs, on our faces, the scrubbed blue sky. You lean against a lounge chair. Your hair,
The pica speaks – You try living in a scree field, Nothing for protection but a warning peep, A yield of dry grass your pay. You try living in a scree field, The mountain chill is comfort, A yield of dry grass your pay, While distant demons roar and melt lifeblood glaciers. The mountain chill is comfort, Den dark-blanketed under yards of snow, While distant demons roar and melt lifeblood glaciers, Scorch climbing higher and higher.
wild as clouds, curls with the charge and buzz that fills your blood. We talk. We watch your face. The cloud passes, all that roiling not yet enough to loose sparks, and the blue shadows, your eyes. A bug
Den dark-blanketed under yards of snow, But your genius no longer works here, Scorch climbing higher and higher, The food at its end. But your genius no longer works here, Nothing for protection but a warning peep, The food at its end. The pica speaks.
iridescent, a small bronze shield, totters up your shirt, legs like shaved whiskers, bent to cling above the “l” in “devil,” climbing up the curled tail toward your shoulder, all it needs for a cliff. Someone reaches to flick it where it gleams. Your prize: the grown-back hair the numbness gone the sun in its place and you striding beneath it—one bug suddenly flicked away. A stink. Sunrise 2
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
In his last decade my grandfather’s hearing froze, eardrums stiff and nerves thin from years with heavy machines. Then he could sleep, my grandmother said, through thunder, sirens, sonic booms— puffing like a grampus. Fond condescension muffled what I could not hear, her fear that this week, this month, this year exhaust-soaked lungs and hardened windpipe would founder into silence. I was too young to grasp her tone, too caught in wonder at the word whose meaning I dared not ask. “Grampus?” I mouthed, “graampus.” She was right. He was gone before I learned to read the dictionary— its definitions flat of intonation with no explanation how deafness may bless and the breath of men and dolphins cannot last.
If I am a cup, I am a jagged broken cup the water running over before it fills up. If I am whole, I am only waiting to be broken. And if it must be so, then let it come. I tire of holding tea for others; let me remain as pieces, I am whole in my parts each convex shard a palm catching the water it will.
My jigsaw self has no interest in being put together, for who among us doesn’t need a puzzle to work in our drawing-room of days?
Washed up in Portland Starbucks pelicans dry on detour signs. Green puddles pop under studded tires as the kelp parade turns the corner of Burnside and 3rd. Coral protrudes from homeless fog in a doorway.
Sheary Clough Suiter
Lullaby for My Guitar Blue clothes and I am the skylark
Back from their southern migration Tri-Met buses encrusted with barnacles and advice on where to shampoo a flounder. At the Benson Hotel the wet luggage of Samoan tourists is pulled from the back of a cab. Giant crabs pull it back in. I don’t know what their problem is but everywhere there are children in wheelchairs like emotionless waves dropping toys they are bored with in my path.
orange all around, I become the sun grey is the storm, the forgiveness of rain Sleep my guitar, for the night brings dawn
Waiting for the light to change a Stingray rolls down an electric window. A cigarette is tossed into the foam.
a sweep of rose, a hush of lilac, a crush of orange
This guy’s touch screen phone squirts him in the eye. Light poles like palm trees shimmy in the wake of a tsunami warning. To tell the truth, and I might as well, I’ve had just about enough of this for one day. I think I’ll flotsam somewhere else, if you don’t mind, before another harbor seal asks me to take his picture in front of Jake’s Seafood Restaurant. Kate Worthington
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
November IV Cold spittle and darkness Between the car and the door There is no pity like Old pity No rain like old rain Indecisive and shrunken In November everything is revealed The naked trees and the secrets of birds The courage of young men shivering in the woods The true nature of mountains. I knew a lady with a greenhouse full of flowers Blooming in NovemberShe loved her room full of lies.
Occupational The time in its blue chalet spirals into bed; pretends to sleep; twiddles its dozens; grinds; clenches; gets up; drags its robe down the stone steps; at each landing pauses, and parts its curtains in the dark; stares down the quivering stars (again) to their snowy burrows; and of course we’re both like that, ringed horizons and our little hands pointing, but frightened at dawn I always blink first—I’m the one shakes out the work week’s paper bark bones, and yanks the winter sun across the golden double line for another endless hydroplaning instant.
The marathon of autumn Cheap shoes and flexible agendas were permitted, but not condoned, for this event, which was, after all, a race. We assembled beneath a saturnine dawn — the forty percent chance silhouetting our heads — and hopped in place in our white breath. The soldiers winced at the frosted grass as their big gun boomed. Our bodies grew supple and warm and transparent. After sixteen thousand strides we began to remember (the obsessed so much more rapidly than the rest); mine was forgotten in music and silence, reason and silence, sorrow and silence, until the earth tilted, a crisp gilded treasure thrown under my footsteps the trail ascending conifers shrinking smiling lichens a loop a living for breathing and breathing and breathing and breathing and breathing the mist the midpoint the summit not raining I entered the cloud where the pounding had gone, I could listen down hard, and strain for some tune in my shoutening bones and about half past noon, in the miles below, the obsessors were finished. A few steep declines. The footpath evolved into barely a shoulder. The clock at the end had lost some of its teeth. The officials were leaving, but Maecenus was waiting; she rose to embrace me, and shuffled me home, and all winter slept in my show of strength.
Third and Pine
A Shipwreck Off the Coast Leaves Only One Survivor
I always return to this downtown
The sailor awakens to find her unmangled, the figurehead clutched
I lean on crutches of tall buildings
with her wooden breasts hard. His breath at her throat like a son
a thousand windows look down on me
or a lover devours the scent that rebuffed martyrdom. He drags her,
swept along on sidewalk rapids
reluctant, over the gold sand, aching a trench in its belly. The curve is a
businessmen bark their urgent calls
map that traces reunion between the shore and tide. He does not believe
beggars reach out for helpful change
in separate things. He does not believe in reunion. All night he traces
pretty young women in skirts and heels
the grain in her cheek with a dagger gone cold from no
swirling purpose amid urban debris
kills. All the men, the women, devoured by ocean, and he, the first one to leap.
riding on ripples vitality splashing
He hangs his head in the noose of his hands. He hangs white shells from her
drawn into an eddy of hot latte and time lodged between stones still in the current.
neckline. All he wanted to say was that he died a noble husk. Though both will float in comparable chaos, the line between flotsam and jetsam is want. One is abandoned; the other, betrayed. Humans distinguish the things waves do notâ€”he slashes at reeds for a shelter. Mother,
Oak Tree with Sun
destroyer, salvation, eternalâ€” he slashes her face with a knife.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Dishwashing Cold water cascades like mountain calligraphy, circles, and pools in basins of stone for an itinerant set of utensils, and a pot, cup, and bowl. Silt from the stream bed, detergent du jour, scours all to a shine like an abrasion of angels: even the damned come clean. Across the dark meadow, the stars and one candle bounce fat photons off the swollen belly of my baptized spoon, and banter about humanity like so many points of well-meaning light; over my shoulder, like a god on a stroll, the affable moon.
harold the hippie
harold had been a hippie when he was young, a lifetime ago. he weathered three years in a commune in napa valley, bed hopping and sharing doobies with anyone who was buying. three decades later he was called back for a funeral. his first love was being buried in a new plot instead of the old one next to her first husband. Her new plot was next to her late husband who had been slated to be buried next to his first wife. but that plot was across the cemetery and had gone to her second husband which freed another plot on the eastern fringe of the necropolis. that was a replacement plot as well. harold found it satisfying that we seem to end where we started, space hopping, be it beds or plots with the only sign of our passing the square footage we leave behind.
Jerry Dale McDonnell
Sipping Coffee in His Backyard Garden
Wall Street Elk
under dipping branches, canopies of leaves greener than before, she writes lines, pages, brimming.
Idaho Wilderness Seven day a week. Body tired was just a way. Dark pre-dawn smells (too early for birds to sing) Horseshit Muleshit Calf-high mud Rain Snow Damp Always Technology gave up first, Flashlight batteries dead in an hour.
Each morning offers new surprises— what lifts and rises from mud and muck. Today, the first English Breakfast Radishes. Foxgloves’ purple buzzing with bees, mums announcing their yellow. The holy hunger of hummingbird dipping into calyx. A black and white cat yawns and stretches in its stripe of sunlight. The woman has been looking for places she feels at home. Here she thinks, his tended blossoms. And new paths he is making from gravel and stone.
--Battle Creek--Selway Bitterroot
Fire-dried soggy saddle pads Leather salt sweat soaked But always hope Rope halters hang dry. Tack tent chipmunks Scrambling holes in oat sacks. Riding stock slogged Through corral gate (they came by themselves, loving those breakfast oats) Horses purred deep on the hitchin’ rail. After breakfast cook tent Radio gave stock market report Direct from Boise. We all pissed. Horses and mules farted. Riding down the trail Light came. A bird sang. We all felt better, Even the lawyer from Boston, The dentist from New Haven Looking for that Trophy Elk No one’s ever seen.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Seven women walk the world’s edge in the long shot on the back page. It says they’re hunting wood and water. Sure enough, dust and wind water the eye if you look too close. Buckets and bundles on their heads make them tall. Shawls flapping yellow, they look like flowers you finger paint sloppy in first grade. Perhaps that seven is six or nine-and Betty West, too young and pretty for a critic, never liked your art, the work and play it is, its dribble dribble. Dogs loved as blobs chasing crows scribbled in turbulent flight smudged a messy meaning none too clear-nothing like Ida Olson’s kittens. Now snow squalls water the eye as blurry women shimmer to wood and water. Nothing like rime and grit to bring the banter of Sudan. The chinook gusting our roof vents rattles with laughter. That chatter goads the footsore to fix meals for their kids and deal, what now, with what on earth they must be thinking. Somewhere laser drones sparkle a target, but it’s the lifting of buckets and bundles, the rain that never comes or comes too hard that cools the coffee while women are shot walking into news. Ambushed in a line or two, it takes the work of words to keep them moving to wood and water. It takes the wind and fabric slapping their limbs.
I have a thing about crows, crows and ravens, crows and ravens and magpies, maybe even jays, at least the West Coast Steller’s Jay with her spiky punk crest and midnight blue feathers, raucous and posturing, slam poet at the feeder. I have a thing for crow girls, girls who are quick and bold and notice the small things that glitter on the beach, like the silver sliver of smelt wriggling under the sand that I saw a crow dig out with a quick twist of her beak and, tossing her head, swallow whole. I have a thing about crows and ravens and also, I think, writers. They speak in tongues. I listen all day (and half the night) to the rise and fall of crow voices and Raven’s rolling rattle you hear sometimes as she chases her sisters across the high meadow. I have a thing about crows and ravens, and women who choose their words carefully, alert for the right pitch, whose prose is clear and precise and flecked with light, whose words mark me like a fine calligraphy of tracks left by crows in the sand above the tide line. I have a thing about crows and ravens, and writers who stay up late nights drinking cheap wine and hard cider, story-talking about fish and fathers and their fate, who afterwards wander in the hills, flashlights off, dry leaves rustling underfoot, without guides but not lost.
We Were All Touched by the Radio Every Night at Six The Public Health Nurse will be in Seldovia Saturday. Kimberly Davis
Bill Robinson, you are the father of a nine pound girl! Anyone going across the bay, please bring a rudder for a ten horse Evenrude, a can of coffee, peanut butter and a chainsaw, any size. Peace, Sundance and Poppy. Cannery workers needed in Kasilof, just show up. Happy Birthday to Mary Jo, I’ll be home tomorrow. Jeff.
Sharon Lask Munson
Wade a Little Deeper, Darling 1
Avalanche near Girdwood, Seward Highway closed. Alaska State Troopers will update hourly.
Decades later he will tell her how difficult it was, the two of them fly fishing together,
Baby shower for Gertrude tomorrow, all welcome. Leave children at home if you can. Bring books and magazines to swap. Ann.
her lines getting caught in tree branches, snagging rocks on the bottom of rivers.
I love ya baby, craving your salty skin and your peaches. Shell Oil wants to drill in the bay. We need to stop them. Come to meeting at the school, Thursday the 8th at 8, Governor Hammond will be there.
His time spent untangling, removing fish from hooks, retying flies to leaders. But he was young— in the beginnings of their marriage hesitant to speak. 2
Raspberries for sale. Dollar per pound. One goat for sale, in full milk, call Sam and Maggie, 726-9191.
Dear Ralph, missing you and the children. Will be home when the weather lifts. Flickerin’ Red says Hello, I’m pissed off that you even know her. Bringing ten penny nails. Cool it man, (you know who you are), she loves me.
What she had really wanted was a smooth flat spot on a wide log— stretches of time to listen to water eddy around a bank, hear the music of songbirds, observe the sun glaring off the water like a million stars ricocheting, study a hatch of mayflies rising as rainbow trout snatched them in mid-air,
Dan, your Mother died this morning. Funeral when you get here. Father Jim.
to marvel as she watched her young husband cast a line, the bend of his bamboo rod, a horseshoe for luck,
Honey Bee, wait for me. Meet you at the trail. Puddin Pie.
time to sit against a slate-gray pine, a slim book of poems in her hand letting the lazy day take shape.
Brent, you left your watch at the bar. Will sell it to pay your bill.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Traveling the Mountain Passes: Oregon
On Approaching a Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary
We have passed the sacred wells and reached the top where frozen fog reigns. See how it stretches out from the tall dark trees, hungry for what you have— those bits and pieces of the not-yet-done hidden in your pack. You can put them down now. No one need know if it— these fragments of regret that sparkle by the road until they’re dragged away into the story of the woods.
We had lived so many years together we could barely remember. Then the hummingbird flew inside the house, beating against the highest window. Together, we trapped it between two brooms and carried it outside, laid it on a table. After resting its bright colors, it flew away, out of range of us and the danger we had made. The house is silent now. After all this time, there is little more to say. This was no fairytale, no magic act, just two married people joining hands for one swift and iridescent life.
Linda Infante Lyons
Ice Bridge, Last Trip
And the thing seen right
For once, that winter bought...
Out skiing on the river eyes narrowed against the glare I find that place where the woman fell through the ice and keep my distance.
A tiny River Beauty flower pushes up through the silt left behind by the receding ice of Baird Glacier
Anne Carse Nolting
I’d give almost anything for a raft like yours, for your writing cove, reflecting water lilies and light. I’d give almost anything, but not everything. For your lovely craft I would not trade my son, my home, nor would I part with my husband or any of my teachers— people, trees, ocean, breeze.
This rigid terrain weakening daily under the lengthening gaze of the sun. They say she was shortening her destination to town, crossing in the accumulated wrappings of fur and feathers we hold between our bones and the integrity of this winter. She slipped in like some wingless bird where ice thawing and freezing over is like skin stretched thin above the Tanana that slides unseen below. Perhaps they both make their way through the glacial silt into an eloquent moonlight that fell in our sleep last night.
I shall build myself a raft from splinters of my fear, create my own lilies from refracted beam, paddle through this cerebration learning to celebrate what I have deemed inadequate. I will, stroke by stroke, find my cove, and, when all is said and done, I will discover how to leave it. An Iceberg cracks in front of a tidewater glacier
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Poor Farmers Sweltering even in the shade of the woods near us, one deep sigh blinks sweat from eyes, a backhand swipe brushes hay from cheeks, and half the wrestling team stops to drink tepid water from refilled milk jugs. Earlier that day we horsed around, threw bales over the wagon and onto a friend, but deep in afternoon light, with rain climbing the back side of the western ridge, there’s no time to waste. The jagged edge of youth smells like warm mold. We know there’s a cooked meal at the blunt end of our push through the day, but we’d rather ride into town where city girls point and laugh as we drive past in our pickups, running out on our lives.
20 Mile Valley
Too much gossamer When they finally cleaned out the thirty-gallon coffee urn
butterflies, moths, wasps, bees -gossamer layer upon layer
used years by sleepy students streaming through the cafeteria,
packed tightly together resisting filtration. Learning
they found at the bottom five inches of insect wings --
never again tasted so light, so free.
Yukon Mission “Look for the hind quarter of moose,” her sister said. Now, along a hard packed trail, I hesitate before a cabin built of spruce logs, fresh snow creeping off metal roof, frozen quarter hanging in covered porch. A face is in the window, then gone while a snow machine slips by, driver in a gold velvet hat with brown marten flaps. The cabin door opens and she steps out. “What are you doing here?” “I’m invited for the potlatch and dancing,” I say, thinking how my pulse raced when I first touched the flawless skin of her brown face. She glances over her shoulder. “It’ll get around if I’m seen with you.” “I’m here for two more days,” I say. She moves closer, studies my face, points toward a hillside cemetery. “There’s a way up behind the equipment shop,” she says, “I’ll be there in an hour.” I walk to the village store, pour a cup of coffee, peek into a pot of simmering beaver claws, listen to ladies gossip and laugh in the beading room, keep an eye on the clock. By the time I slip out the backdoor, the hillside is aglow with late afternoon sun. Orange flashes flicker from grave sites.
Past a log hall where the matriarch announces dancing should begin, past a row of weathered log cabins, snowshoes and traps hanging from nails, past the equipment shop at village edge, she’s waiting on a snow machine trail. I ask about the orange flashes. “You’ll see,” is all she says. We posthole uphill through deep snow, along the edge of a poplar stand, around graying picket fences, to stand before a Russian cross. It’s adorned with a small mirror. “This is my little brother,” she says, brushing snow from angled bar. “I feel safe here.” She grabs my parka sleeve, pulls me next to her, makes me bend down, look into the mirror reflecting dying embers of sun. “I can see it from our cabin.” We turn to look at the last rays, slices of peach on top of distant hills. The Yukon is a broad highway of snow and ice, pressing against banks downstream, ebbing into gathering darkness. She opens a tin box and rolls a cigarette. Tobacco with a pinch of pot. I smell it, take a deep drag, look into suspicious brown eyes. “I told you I can’t live in your world,” she says. I reach up, brush aside strands of black hair spilling from under her hat, touch the fresh scar on her cheek. She shakes her head and turns away. “It’ll get worse if he finds out.” Time stretches out. Snow machines pull off the river. Porch lights go on. Dogs bark. We follow our tracks downhill. “Thanks for bringing me here,” I say. At the bottom, she slips away down a trail. I stand under a light in front of the shop, watch her get smaller and smaller, wondering if she’ll look back, until she merges into moonless night.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Our Dictionary Beneath cedars that scrap sky, we gather new words like marbled water from Agnus Creek. These words, these phrases, become the blood of our language. Tool count leads us home after ten hours of swinging Pulaskis. Where’s the saw pack? Cori asks. Pass me a hog hoe, we yell. Bump, Kevin calls to move us farther down the trail, down the tread we carve into mineral soil, where we etch out the cutback, fixing the angle of repose, as we move so far away. Cutting through blowdown, when my saw fails from lack of fuel, I grab the Dolmar. I buck up the dead & down. We watch out for snags, for widow makers. Beneath the wail of the engine, soon I am maybe no longer human. I evolve to something else entirely, something new like this morning’s fire & light. A sawyer. What of you? Are you still human, Kevin? Still just nineteen, running from reservation life, booze & away from fatherhood, running from sharp knives, guns? How did those words from that other poem find their way into our woods? Who opened that door? Who invited them in to this poem? If it was me, Kevin, I apologize. I wish I had never uttered those scurvious words. All I can give you is to strip them away: running reservation booze knives. Today, Kevin, we find new words. Today (every self-willed day) you too become something more glorious. You become swamper, tossing from our trail all the tangled deadfall.
Linda Infante Lyons
Second Sunset to the South and Straight on to Starlight We chased it down like a train carrying a loved one to someplace better; tore through the long grass not stopping for all the burrs in the field. The westward mountain was steep; its shadow was slow. We could have run after it until our hearts gave out but stopped when we reached the fence. We dropped the cider and stood ovational as that yellow ball of fire dipped into the atmosphere and streaked the sky in gold. My dress billowed out in the strong wind. His hair, contained for once, blew slick like a gentleman’s. Our cheeks shone matching pink: wind-nipped and blushing sore from full-faced grins. I couldn’t say for how long we watched but the camp was just a silhouette and the stars were coming out.
James Edward Reid
Words for the Wind
The real world of Vietnam, riots in Watts, Malcolm X murdered, Martin Luther King leading a long march on Montgomery, and US and Russian warheads at the ready.
It’s the late 1960s in Prescott, Ontario, population 500, no library, no bookstores, and a high school with the lowest academic standards in the Province of Ontario.
Whatever pointed us to the real world, such as the day he first reads Roethke to us, “By pulling off flesh from the living planet” to wake us again from our adolescent sleep.
But our English teacher John Raycroft has this habit of going off curriculum, maybe because dreary Victorian poetry is less important than the real world.
I save up $1.75 and buy Words for the Wind in a nearby city in March 1968. It’s my first book of poetry. Worn and yellowed, it still wakes us up again from yet another sleep.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Prelude: After Recurrence
The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
As a bird repeats its dumb luck dumb luck refrain I sit staring at steam rising off the darkening pond of my teacup, realizing after all these years, about him I know nothing—name, Latin or common, habits or patterns of migration, swag—wing bars or color at nape or crown, and that’s a shame, all there is to learn of our shared habits, all I’ve let flit through the cracks, and now there’s the matter of time. As I try to reckon it, I keep being distracted—that bird’s incessant nattering, the day breeze flapping wash on the line, the grinding of axles down East End Road, afternoon light’s trill electrical along my arm skin. As the wind stalking through the screen sets the chimes to clanging, as my body asserts its imperatives, it’s left to only this, only you, my fugitive, my intruder, my real—teach me to pray—I mean—surrender, give over. Today came news, abstract, unlyrical—I’m sorry—cells positive for—a year or five to live, who can tell? This I can say with certainty: the tea is cool, tastes of hibiscus and blackberry.
The bird is loud.
This morning I remember the one who talked to the radio, I was building a church out of Lincoln logs, legs akimbo on the rag rug, singing in a mixed-up language baubled with the invented, the broken Latvian, the accented, the foreign: pinecone—ciekurs, priest— macitajs. Determined girl who ventured alone to Mass one Sunday, unwatched by Father (distracted by his schnapps and cigarettes and playing cards). The one who crossed four lanes to get there, shouldered the heavy door open, her small voice calling Mama. Hallowed be the child, palming green apples to the abused mare, girl still shocked and scared after finding the corpse of the blue heron her brother nailed to the ash. Ash Wednesday, forehead smudged, marked for obliteration. Born into immigrant pain, which is peasant, Gregorian. I pray
for the girl who prayed for God to take her sister’s migraine and give it to her, exclaimed later, in her journal, And I think he did. Sweet-sad sin-eater, for her, this atomic sunrise smoking through spindles of trees, for her of misguided faith, the reckless unmarred predawn too-long dark before she wakes, before doubt or shame, this wind chime, for her, slivers of light caught in twists of birch bark, tangled in the lint of the woolen table runner. For her hand-built church—this cold winter wood 11.30.2012
Prayer 4 Two years past that day I jogged down the hospital steps, burned red by radiation, certificate of completion crumpled in my fist, the hush and mute unmusical shades of smoke-blue and terror, slight suggestion of grace. Since then tea cup never empty, sky never not in flux. I sit at the kitchen table watching light’s slow dissolve of a dark beyond fathoming, a neighbor’s truck lights inching down the iced-up lane. Oblong cloud a violent flush at ridgeline. All squandered, 730 dawns wolfed down since that one. Earth, what shall I want? To be set down in a frozen pasture, to be snatched up by a great gray owl? Light streaks east, flapping her giant flagrant wing. That it be benign, that it be forgiving. 12.1.2012
Prayer 51 for Asja
In predawn dark, a rat falling from a rafter is a dollop, wind a rainmaker, and suddenly I am remembering my mother teaching me to bake her hot water sponge cake. How we whipped the egg whites with the electric mixer until stiff peaks formed. How she warned me not to allow a single thread of yolk to taint the white, or the cake would fail. To fold white into yolk-sugar-flour was slow, patient. She let me carve a wedge with the rubber spatula, drop it to the batter’s surface, then lift from the bowl’s bottom up and over the dollop, turning it in. Warned me never to beat or mix or even stir—the cake would fall. Once, dinking around, I stuck a wooden spoon into
folded into one, is so pure and specific, the sugar sharp on my tongue, the spatula pushing as if through an undertow. My mother taught me to fold. Never so sweet as now. We were incorporating lightness into a deep bowl. As some bird—probably an owl out hunting—chacks its way across the lawn, sounding like a key chain, and now the garden sprinkler comes on, so I know it’s 6:00 a.m. There’s the first hint of dawn slow-dissolving one more night. This is a fiftyyear-old love. It is heavy, so I fold in moonlight, the sound of water spattered on leaves. Dim stars, bright moon— our lives. The cake imperfect, but finished. 12.17.2013 Eva Saulitis’ poems are part of a book called World Become Prayer: A Poem Sequence, that will be published by Boreal Books/Red Hen
the still-whirring beaters, bent the metal, splintered the spoon into the batter. Once I cut her grandmother’s precious lace for a doll’s clothes, and she cried, the savaged pieces
Press in January 2015.
draped across her hands. So many times I tried to shove my peasant feet into her dainty pumps, hands into her evening gloves. One spoon at a time, that first thin layer drawn across the airy white forming a little hill. Folding only just enough. The batter growing lighter by increments. It was mostly space we folded in, taming down the cloy. It was never so good as then, licked off the finger, the cake itself, to me, disappointing, layers smeared with homemade jam, topped with a stiff meringue. Never so good as then, her instructing, trying to domesticate my impertinence, teach me a little grace, me resisting, the sweet on my tongue dissolving so easily in that state of matter. Never so good as straight from the Pyrex bowl. Never so gentle as the slide of batter into an angel food pan. The rest up to her, what she created from the baked version, brown on top and bottom. Here I am, decades later sitting under the halogen of a full moon, and that moment, which was many
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
When You Left
Though a broken off skein of straggling geese were lost in their complaints and the air turned sharp after a summer of sweet laced breezes and the winds kept dangling leftover tufts of seedlings just above groundthe sun was straining brightly through a vacancy of blue skies
and the poplar trees, possessed beyond recognition were letting go of their feverish leaves,
and the grasshoppers that spilled over the grasses shall be taken care of by winter.
Elaine Dugas Shea
Jerome, whose ancestors lived on Taos pueblo for generations, met in the kiva before dawn. We soaked one wintry December afternoon in the hot tub at the North Side Spa, his raven-black hair tied into a bun. Taos Mountain covered with snow, the woods & to the North glazed with ice. Suddenly, he looked up & said, “Hey, see that buffalo . . . .” I looked up, and for a moment saw the proud thundering head & fierce, hump-backed body, the tail and four strong legs, then . . . the clouds broke apart leaving no trace of what he had read just a moment before in the Northern New Mexico sky.
No Questions Asked No horses trot down Code Talkers Highway though animals share right-of-way. Head-down walkers criss-cross west and east of Window Rock thumbing rides any direction, flashing green paper gas money. Dry wind shadows the men, red sand in their sneakers.
“Call me Indian Joe,” a toothless guy at Earl’s smiles. ”I’m from Santo Domingo, looking to hook a ride… Chicago, see my gallery friend. I can’t carry this framed painting; it’s Crazy Horse.” Hungry Joe? “No, I got food at home.” He fingers a thin cigarette; turns out we both know Carmelita who walks the spirit world in her tiny white moccasins. Joe knows eating spots in the plaza; they saved a place knowing she’d be there evenings for red chili, mutton, kneel-down bread, sopapillas – a few bird bites. She was small and hungry unlike Joe who travels with his art, not desperate, just alive.
Getting Old Fifteen years ago I played full-court basketball in the gym Now I’m one floor below Doing water aerobics with 75-year-old women I’m in the suckhole of aging The hamster wheel of staying fit No longer works as it did The descent is accelerating New pills and new doctors Have entered my life I yearn to be age-defying And I’m simply not My wife says to quit whining That I have it better than most She’s right, of course But that doesn’t stop the decline
I don’t want to be some old fool Talking about his surgeries And racking up medical bills But that’s where I’m headed
Sea Change I thought the line was from Elizabeth Bishop but it was from Marianne Moore, the fish wade through black jade. Thus the poet wrote imagining in the shallows a carpet dark with mussel shells. Not without hope and color enough for me to dream how they break at last into turquoise waters, fusion-like stillness and wave like image and sound.
Borrowed from a poem silver schools of fish-sea change for my own dry time.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Something We Were A black pigment does not exist in roses. For years I wanted to grow rosa guinee only to discover the buds are black but the blooms deep crimson. The petals blacken as they fall away. Gray clouds in a gray sky, how would one paint them, maybe add a woman not a stick figure, plump, round shoulders draped in a bright shawl, barefoot, her toes painted vermilion? A friend told me once that skies were the hardest to paint, confided he couldnâ€™t do it so he kept to pen and ink, sketched me one Saturday morning, lower Manhattan by the East River-piers and boats, the bench Iâ€™m seated on, my headscarf fluttering in breeze, wisps of my dark hair flying out, the blacks and grays and whites of something we were in 1963 and are no longer--he in a heaven with skies iridescent, sober enough that his hand doesnâ€™t shake dripping color onto canvas, and I with the task of sifting words-room, chair, desk, computer, aspects of light something he taught me-slant and dim, gleam and gild. Page, print.
Red Migration, Wood-Tikchik Park
These Lakes (Wood-Tikchik Lakes)
When the fever of the world is unforgiving, and nothing seems enough to carry you through this life . . . Come here to these lakes dark, cool and deep know the stillness among these mountains and the wilderness they keep feel the sun rise, the rain fall, and the calm of evening as it descends in the soft light of the long setting sun And, as the day ends hear the sound of loons echoing in the distant coves It is the call of wild things that do not long for love nor desire what cannot be seen It is the song at the end of human understanding, the song in a life of mere being As darkness defers to dawn the frosted morning melts away a mild wind moves gently through the branches and the clear day comes Enter into it, reside in it know the truth of it then like the salmon that seed these lakes answer the ancient call to forsake the embrace of aging flesh and begin life anew immersed in the grace of this world
Sincerely My Love, a Letter to a Seal l am sorry seal, I am sorry that it has taken so long for me to talk to you We haven’t spoken before, I have only seen you briefly at my Aanah’s house There you were carried around, offered and served We thankfully gathered and celebrated your being You were quiet then as you are now, I haven’t ever looked at you like this before? You have grown on me, I have passed you by before I have overlooked you but now my eyes have been opened! You are not on a table now, You are in your place, in God’s place It is there where you are part of the waters, It is there where the heavens have opened up and where I see your soul
It is in God’s place, your place, where I hear my soul
Alaskan If I walk this riverbank a thousand days does it mean I belong here? If I tell you the exact day of breakup the species of otter who rustles behind me? I collect sand, fish jaws, leaves. Keep them in a jar above my desk. I gather one whole bird wing and still it is not enough. We who came here after birth, will we always be trying? And from whom do we ask permission? Who says yes Fault Lines
now you are from this place? To whom do we pray this morning, our hands full of river, our mouths full of thirst?
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Why You Come Back: False Outer Point, August There are a hundred other things you could do today— make jam, build skyscrapers, mend hearts get your teeth cleaned, lick stamps, dust. You live in that work. Your hands, on their own open that drawer, lift that instrument while your mind is on what you’ll eat next or on what you want. It’s such a long list taped to the refrigerator of your heart. Wunsdorf-Waldstadt, Germany It never seems to get any shorter except on days like today, when you step out of your life when you come down to this land of leaves and light.
Here a thousand small rags dust you off, here a thousand drops of water say yes. Here, you close the door behind you.
Bering Sea Horse
Linda Infante Lyons
you woke up first and climbed over her with your animals in hand to wake me wake me you woke me I can never sleep where you’re concerned we played, we played and laughed and we might as well have been dreaming the way the flamingos grazed in the green marsh on tree frogs and shrimp, on fish near the mangrove trees and lazy, winding riverline we played and she slept the entire time all of us warm there your little hands and the animals in them our little riverbank there in the bed
Earthquake at Resurrection Bay, Alaska - After Will Alexander Sedna roars in from outer orbit through olivine islands that ring the entry, molecules sucked back into aqueous quanta tower into a wall breaking inland basalt lifts on one side of the fjord calcium-riddled pyroxenes sink on the other brine renders forests to a holographic beach, a taste of Permian assaults diacritics revise the writing of the terrene: a surface planes toward the ethers then topples, and the next follows, punctuated by phosphenes of smoke
fractals of the port fall pier by pier into petroleum burning, the igneous state of hydrocarbons layers the alluvial pedalfer mercator streets inscribe the settlement, a single railroad track drops off in circuitous tangle at tide line in contest with subductive force feral the earth that shakes the avidity of organic growth infesting its crust, existence below the supraphysical a random reckoning with errata
John Sibley Williams
I Sit My Grandfather by the Mouth of the Columbia River Because he’d never seen either coast, I sit his ghost down where my new river empties out. Where freshwater becomes salt. Where I try to forget where we came from. I tell him it’s called an estuary. He cannot wash himself from the landscape. I tell him it’s called purging. He still decorates the sky with iron birds. Waves continue to bash against us like the maelstrom of wartime machines. You are no longer what you were, I whisper like a lullaby over an emptied cradle, and you will always be here, where you’ve never been. His response is a kind of silence different than midnight’s calm, different than water losing itself in water, the distance between air and how air grows toxic when we breathe. He tells me that nothing can fully know its name. I rip up his diary that christens each casualty. He tells me absolution is an act of self-resistance. I remember the cornfields as so far from here, the flat, arid valley that drowned us and for which we drew blood, how full a silo feels when emptied of everything but our bodies.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Traditional Fish Wheel Weave
Muscles and tendons stretch axe raised, back arched, I salute the frozen log before me. Hesitate, focus on the sweet spot, contract like a stretched screen door spring, thunk – crack. My aim is true, split halves fly off in opposite directions, tumble and skid, crunch into crisp snow. A steady rhythm. Balance a blunt end on the chopping block, cock arms, legs, drive to reach bedrock. Body warm under thinsulate, fingers numb in cotton gloves. Sweat collects under knit cap, trickles down both cheeks, lips taste of salt. A call comes, cocoa beckons. Grateful for the excuse, I slip inside, strip off sweaty clothes. Hands go from numb, to pins and needles, then an achy relaxed warmth as they curl around the hot mug.
Linda Infante Lyons
Autumn Branches with Cicada
After a painting by Xu Beihong
These days the pen writes slowly, worn fingers 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 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.
Spring Rain on the Li River
After a painting by Xu Beihong
Old man, bent forward, poles his flat boat toward a soft green bank. Hills breathe mist above gentle slopes where huts crowd together like ducks in a warm nest. The painter knows how the rain feels on the fisherman’s arms, how the cries of spring hawks float through sprouting bamboo, how fragile everything is on that day before war brings fire, famine to the sleeping village, content on this April day to soak in the rain’s refreshment, to watch an old man’s smile as he nears the waiting bank.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
P L AY Olga Livshin
A One-Act Monologue
Border Line. a monologue, was performed in January 2010 for “Under: 30,” at Out North Contemporary Art House in Anchorage, Alaska. “Under: 30” refers to solo performances that run 30 minutes or less. Note: This performance included slide shows and music presented at specific intervals during the monologue, only some of which are indicated in this printing to clarify to where, to whom, and to what the dialogue was directed. As the audience seats, an Usher offers them sushki, Russian cookies that look like small, hard, crunchy bagels. Usher also offers a piece of paper and a pencil and asks them to jot down the response to the following question: “If you had just immigrated to the United States, what would be the first thing you would do?” The Usher collects the responses. Set: Boxes on stage on which slide shows were projected. A chair. A table. A microwave. A bowl with the audience responses is placed on the stage. Character: Olga, a woman in her 30s. Lights up (Audio of the first lyrics from “The Winds of Change” by Scorpions plays. As it ends, Olga sticks her head out from a row of boxes) OLGA: When I was twelve, my parents said we were moving to Mars. (Olga comes out and stares at the boxes, where photos of her parents are projected. Addresses them.). “Wait! I mean… What are we going to eat? How are we going to breathe?” (Audio recording in the voice of an older man with a heavy Russian accent, plays): DAD (audio recording): “Darling, this move will lead our family to a better life. The people there… Oh, the people! As you’ve read in The Martian Chronicles, Mr. and Mr. K. had the fair, brownish skin of the true Martian, the yellow coin eyes, the soft musical voices…” OLGA: Wait! I mean… How are we going to breathe? What language will we speak? What are we going to eat? DAD (audio recording): “Not to worry. The Martian atmosphere has oxygen, it has argon, it has CO2. And by golly, we’ll breathe in whatever we can find!” My mom, who was more of a romantic, began to sing the Martian anthem. (Recording of dramatic piano cords leading up to the American anthem.
CIRQUE An adult woman sings with enthusiasm: “Oh, say, can you see…”)
See, we were living in Moscow, and we were Jews, and my parents wanted to escape anti-Semitism. They had had problems getting into college, and getting jobs, and stuff like that. Thousands and thousands of Jews live in the US, my parents said, and they do really well. My dad, a Russian journalist, will find some sort of job. Or maybe we’ll live on welfare. And I will go out with a nice Jewish boy. So I can breathe normally. (Olga sits down at a table, contemplates a bowl of sushki) It doesn’t sound all that bad, right? Not to our American ears, that is (and I count myself among you now). I mean, there’s this story. Everyone who comes to this country goes through tough times, but you can always make it. But see, back in Russia, we had a different story. The way they raise you… it was about words. There was a certain faith in language. Words can carry you through. It could be talking with friends over tea and these cookies, sushki, which you got when you entered [the theatre]. Complaining about life and comparing notes will get you through tough times. Or it could be Russian literature, which soaks everything through like a sticky sweet concoction. People allude to Pushkin and Dostoevsky like to other people who have complained, and most often they have – about exactly the same issue as the one that bugs you. Things rarely change in Russia. What does any of this have to do with my grand life vision as a twelve-year-old? Well, let’s take these Russian cookies. We call these things sushki, that’s plural; sushka is singular. (What did you think of them, by the way? . . . Weird, right? You expected a bagel, right . . . But they’re crunchy and good in a totally different way. The disorienting story of my life). But the point I’m trying to make is, see, the way they look? A circle? I think that things in your life are supposed to come full circle. And I don’t mean that you eat lots of sushki, you become more circular. No, what I mean is that you choose your own sushka, your own circle of life, one with which things make sense. This circle is the key to you. You choose your words carefully to make up that hypothetical sushka. You make them you. That’s where Russian was crucial for me. So, when my parents announced we were leaving for San Diego, California . . . no matter how amazing this otherworldly place was going to be . . . it meant that my sushka had to get an extreme makeover. (Pulls out a sushka shaped like an 8). What do you think? . . . pretty cool, right? Infinity sign . . . But not that comforting, now, is it? To live in the kingdom of “Rambo” and Tetris, where anything’s possible, maybe even time travel, “Back to the Future” —my favorite movie of all those pirated video tapes that we had back in the day. But you can’t really make a life out of it. Or maybe my life was going to look like this (Pulls out a sushka shaped like a question mark). This needs a dot. Where did it go? Here! Have a sushka dot. This question mark is what I lived with for the next two years as we waited for the aliens to accept our application. Who knew what was ahead. And, more importantly, who was going to protect me if all that Martian happiness didn’t pan out. Besides, contrary to what some of us think, Russia was not all about Dostoevsky and doom and the GULAG. My life back there had this dimension of celebration to it, and yes, it probably has something to do with the fact that I was twelve (and then thirteen and then fourteen) and had my own little sexual revolution. But older people had fun too, very visibly so. And this probably had to do with the fact that the year was 1991 – the year that the Soviet Union fell apart. Everyone felt freer, more hopeful. This was also the year: that my mom finally let me wear heels. (An Audio: “The Stripper.” Olga does dance routine, center stage while reciting the following poem.) Demure and sexy small pumps / were what mom allowed me to wear. / They talk to you of years to come,/Affairs ... swear words. As for the Janet Jackson heels… (Takes off shoes, pulls out a pair of much taller, impossible, grotesque shoes with high heels, squeezes into them with great effort)
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 …that’s what my mother would strut in./Daring, post-Soviet shoe phrases,/more erotic, more dangerous, than a slap in the face./ As for old ladies, babushkas… [emphasize] (Grabs leopard-print shoes with impossibly high heels)
That’s what they wore … to death./ And wouldn’t you want to enhance this:/ make your cheeks hot pink, like the sunset,/ like the lollipops that Lolita loved . . . (quickly puts on grotesquely pink blush with one hand) Except that you are 82. / Shoe confessions, shoe tirades,/ heel those insults and pump up the praise – /gimme stiletto shoes! (The music stops. Olga walks back to the chair, sits down.) Meanwhile, our Jewish family friends were leaving. They were doctors and artists and professors. Our family friends are so weird, my friend Vita said. What about all these changes? How do you just walk away from a country, saying that it’s all bad all the time? (Slide showing a little girl with a very large ribbon bow in her hair) And here’s Vita! In full regalia, prepared for some Communist holiday with her special red-laced bows, of course, bigger than her head. (I had ones just like it!). Well, (Little Vita’s voice on audio recording) “Communism and anti-Semitism be damned!” OLGA: …Vita would say. VITA (recording) “This society is changing, and all of that is going to disappear like one bad dream.” OLGA: Then one day, Vita’s parents decided to pack up her and her sister Jenya to Israel. They left even before us. The night before they took off, Vita and I talked for five hours. We said we’d never, ever lose touch. And in the morning, her family boarded for … the Jewish Planet. What did Vita and I do? Well, what do you think any self-respecting twelve-year-old Russian intellectuals would do? We started writing a novel. (Side of pages from a novel, in Russian. Olga stands in front Chair, facing the image of Russian text, reads from it in English) I’d write a chapter in Moscow. (Starts reading). “Yakov Mikhailovich – or Yasha – was surprised that his daughter Mashen’ka decided that the family was leaving Russia. He was, we could say, impertinently flummoxed by his daughter’s decision. He was old, and a philosopher: how was he going to think in another language? And then my dog. What about my dog? Could we bring her? And if we did, would she still come if we called her in Russian?” (Olga moves stage left, throws book in as she walks and catches it) In Rishon LeZion, Israel, Vita got the chapter and wrote in response. (Slide show, Vita’s voice: Olga looks as if she is following along with the projected book, just with her eyes) VITA: “And indeed! When Yasha arrived in that sunny world, where all buildings looked alike, where the only way he could tell his building from all the others was because of two tall palm trees that grew in the yard, he contemplated how vastly different it was from the ancient Moscow architecture. The architecture here was what struck him more than anything in
his fifty years of life. Also, the oranges. The oranges tasted like they were too good to be true. They were intended, as it were, for someone else. Someone better. Someone… younger, maybe.” All that aside – one day in 1993, we sold our apartment, mailed all our books to ourselves (Olga drops book) and flew to Mars. (Olga sits cross-legged in front of boxes) Before this performance, some of you wrote up ideas of what you might do if you came to the U.S. for the first time. Ooh, let’s see what they are! (Olga reads sample suggestions from the audience, AdLibs response) “Eat as many Hershey’s Kisses as I could.” You might, you might. Depends on who your parents were. My mom was nervous about the money issue, and for the first year, we didn’t really buy a lot of candy. But it depends. Maybe your mom . . .will let you! “Go surfboarding.” Sorry: tough luck, it’s expensive to buy a surfboard and you don’t have any money of your own. If you get a job, you give all the money to your folks, because they need it. Maybe in five years. “Go on a road trip across the US.” Yeah! I love road trips. But unfortunately, you are fourteen. So even if you did have the money to buy a used car, and even if you did just help your parents buy a car because you speak English, none of that would help you if you were a kid. See, when you’re fourteen and speak English decently, you become the adult of the family. I translated in doctor’s offices for Mom, Dad and Grandma. I opened a bank account and bought a TV. But Herb, the salesman at Best Buy, kept repeating, “Get it?” loudly, inches away from my face. Herb! What kind of name is that, anyway? I called him “Parsley” in revenge. But I was still a kid. And I wanted Hershey’s Kisses. And surfboarding. And road trips. And for a second, I want you to hear these and imagine that you, as a recent immigrant, as a kid, can. (Audio recording of a few lines from“Birthday Song,” in Russian, from the 1969 cartoon “Cheburashka and Gena the Crocodile”; music by Gennady Shainsky, lyrics by Eduard Uspensky, performed by Vassily Livanov) Let’s just assume that, just like in a Russian children’s song, a magician comes out in a baby blue helicopter on your birthday! And brings you a crate full of ice cream. And you, you could be that magician. I mean, how hard is it – next time you contribute something to a food drive, throw in some candy along with your other non-perishable. It can really brighten the day of some kid who is here in Anchorage … fresh off the jumbo jet. You have no idea how much it means to still have a childhood when you get here. (walks back to the chair, sits, plays with the Russian cookies, puts them on her fingers like rings) Sushki bling! One floor below us, three AMERICANS lived. A mom, a dad, and a one-year-old little girl. They were a mixed race, and they had faces like I’d never seen. Their cheeks were a warm golden hue—just like Bradbury’s Martians. Above, I was the mistress of the living room . . . the governor of the couch that I slept on—a donation from the Jewish Family Service. I left the sliding door to the balcony open and eavesdropped on our neighbors. “You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.” I lay, face pressed into the couch. I tried hard to imagine: the woman was singing that to me; I was a legitimate American baby. But the real baby refused to sleep. This is when the mom started to argue with her. The dad, for his part, enjoyed screaming . . . with the baby, but also against the mother. Language squirmed and meandered, and the little girl yelled. And then, one night, “Shut up.” Then, “Shut the fuck up.” Then: “Shut your fucking ass down.” And screams.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
Girl and her Dog
Linda Infante Lyons
(Olga jumps up, moves behind chair) I thought the woman was being beaten. So I woke my parents up. My mother told me to call the police. But I said, I don’t know that vocabulary! (Audio recording by Mom plays) MOM: “She’ll get killed first!!” OLGA: Mom reminded me. So then: I pick up the sticky note where my uncle wrote down a number for us. I punch in, NINE – ONE – ONE. But when I hear, “San Diego Police Department” on the other line, I stick the receiver into my mom’s ear and jump away. My mom says: MOM: (audio recording) “Our neighbors kill each other!!” OLGA: “Wrong present tense!!” I whisper loudly. “They are killing each other!” (Slide: Sunset at the beach. During this transition, Olga stands with her back to the audience. Then shakes off memory and moves back towards the boxes.) But there was a part of me that fell in love with our new world. Take a microwave, something we’ve never even seen in Russia!
CIRQUE (Olga picks up a microwave made out of a cardboard box and dances with it as she recites a poem)
Dad and I bought a beautiful microwave!/Our first own, garage-sale-bought microwave,/And a boom box – with a CD player! –/ So we’d feel that we’ve really arrived. (Audio of microwave “Ding!”) At the supermarket, I would read Hallmark cards,/ Such reliably heartfelt Hallmark cards!/I’d sneak off to read solid English words:/ “Our sympathy on your recent loss.” /Sting and Hallmark card authors, my army /Against dark, led by Dad. We bought Sting’s/ New CD, plus a cool frozen entrée,/And five cards for bar mitzvahs and deaths. (Audio of microwave “Ding!”) And our pasta tiptoed towards the microwave,/And the microwave rocked it and hummed,/The CD jumped right in, twirled around,/ Dad and I watched and started to waltz./So we jumped ‘round cathedral-like microwaves,/Past CD moons, towards dinner chair thrones,/As Sting sang to us softly how “they dance alone,”/ As we danced, as we were, as alone. Sometimes people ask what it’s like to immigrate. It’s beautiful. For all the wrong reasons. Vita wasn’t writing back. But I diligently worked on our novel. (slide show of Russian text, reads from the novel).“Today Yasha went to his first English class. The class was full of people of different colors. Bodies jumped and danced all over. “I am sorry, who are you?” the teacher asked. Yasha said, ‘I am student,’ and handed the schedule to the teacher. The classroom exploded in laughter.A dark man with a shaved head boomed, ‘Hahaha, look at him, he is a STOOdent. He wants to study.’ “Throughout the week that Yasha spent in that class, the class was reading five pages from Jurassic Park, the book. The class was identifying metaphors. The first two nights, Yasha read that masterpiece, wrote down all the metaphors she could find, and went to sleep with images of Stegosaurus Rex and young men who say ‘STOOdent’.” In the morning, he was back in class. In the back, a large man sold Ziploc bags of something that looked to Yasha like loose-leaf tea. A chocolate-colored man wore gorgeous scarlet pants that partially exposed his butt, and he opened and closed his knees in a kind of mating dance as he stared forward. But he was colorfully beautiful. “The class quickly determined what Yasha’s real name was. It was Fro, and it meant, they said, ‘He is ugly as hell. Like everyone in Russia. Within a few weeks, Vita wrote me a reply. (Audio recording of Vita) VITA: “Ol’ka… I think the moment has come to admit that we’re stuck. I know I’m the one who said that we need to set the novel in Israel because I cam there first, but we live in such different realities now. It’ll be hard to unify them in a book. I love you. And you’re still my pal! Love, Vita” (Olga walks back to the Chair, sits, dejected) OLGA: So there it was. Words felt broken somehow. Instead of friendship, there was silence. But I had other fish to fry. A lot was going on. My parents were learning how to use the computer, how to pay bills. How to drive. I don’t have photos (and that’s something my parents should be happy about!), but I do have illustrations. (Slide of a stick figure drawing of Mom in a car) Mom and Dad were learning how to drive. Here’s Mom.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 (Slide of a stick figure drawing of Dad in a car) Here’s Dad. (Slide of a stick figure drawing of Dad going the wrong way) Here’s Dad driving against traffic on a highway.
(Slide of stick figure drawing of Dad, car and police helicopter) Here’s a police chopper touching down on the empty highway when Dad drove against traffic. They got so interested... Dad felt so special. (Olga at center stage) Before we came to the U.S., I thought that crossing over must feel like crossing some thick line, like a painted lane separator that airplanes follow on a runway. Poof—and you’re on this side. But it’s not like that. It’s like crossing a border every day, sometimes many times a day, for the rest of your life. Borders are where words break down, and thoughts tangle and in order to cross, you need to come up with a promise. That you won’t be your old self anymore. That you’ll adapt. And then sometimes these are lines that you know you shouldn’t be crossing, but you do anyway because you are angry. And sometimes you don’t even know there’s a line. (Blackout, complete dark. Slide of a thin white line on black) If only I hadn’t opened that door,/I say to the principal in a purple blazer./This adrenaline is a lot. But,/ mainly, my English is bad./ She says, did that girl beat you up?/ But “bit” and “beat” sound the same/ In my accent. And so I stop. They push anyone who opens the locker-room door/Out. Send them flying as they run./ White kids do not open the door./They politely wait for a black one. /Am I, a Russian Jew, /White? I wanted to go baseball. I opened the door./They chanted, “Fro. Die,” /One hit my head on the sharp cement corner./I screamed. No one called for help./So I hit back./ So did they. I say I am good student,/ she has bit me she done beat me. The principal winces at me/and I get it: I’m one of them now,/a.k.a., I’m on my own. If it weren’t for that girl, I wouldn’t have had:/courage. Scholarships. /Yanking myself out/of a clouded, borderline world. She taught me: that every corner/hides a door. But just the same,/ I didn’t know/ that behind many doors/ is a corner. The universal recipe for making it/ in the US says: peel off first days, first years./But teenagers don’t know how to forget,/even when they are thirty. So all I can do is call out to the smaller me,/repeat with her, so that her voice gets louder:/I am good student, I want to go to PE./ I want to get a Ph.D/I want to teach Russian and wear a suit./I want to be loved. I want /To go play baseball. / And I will. (Projected image turns black line into the Milky Way) (A disco ball turns on, throwing reflections of stars around the room) (Olga lies across chair)
Look at this open night. The stars up above. I wonder which one that falling star is. Maybe it’s a comet that took three hundred million light years to flash on the horizon here. Or maybe it’s an alien space ship that’s about to visit us. Everyone is going somewhere. Since I was fourteen, I’ve moved to Boston, for college. To Paris, to work on manuscripts by the wonderful poet Jules Laforgue and be in love with a third culture. Chicago for grad school. New York, for no discernible reason. Then Alaska. And what about Vita – remember her? She outdid me in terms of moving, since she actually continued the life of an immigrant. She came to the US from Israel to be a stage and costume designer in New York. She and I got to work on a project together again—she provided many of the ideas for these costumes and props. These moves were our own, and Vita and I loved them. Go figure. Our adventurous parents made us adventurous. Not a quality that you typically get from your mom and dad. That star on the right may be a space ship with a person who got sick of living somewhere. In Zimbabwe. On planet Earth. She is like my mom. She just started running—and flew. That’s her right there. She didn’t know any Martian. And she’s still wondering where she’s going. (To woman on star) Hey there! How are you doing? (Audio recording of Mom’s voice) MOM: “Sorry! I was wondering: do you have mice on your planet? I am terribly scared of them!” OLGA (To woman): Not this time of the year – they’re hiding. Just moose. Come on down! MOM (audio recording): “Okay! I’ll be descending in just a second.” (To woman) Welcome! Alaska is a good place. I get to teach Russian at the university here. It’s my native language, and sometimes I get to teach beautiful literature in it. Honestly, it’s like eating sushki for a living. Pretty often, too, some of the random people that I eat these sushki with turn out to be the struggling teenage me, some version thereof, a few years older. I try to help, but the reality is, people can only rescue themselves. I am just there, with open words. Words that are foreign, seemingly hostile. And words that adopt you and help you in ways that you haven’t anticipated. It wasn’t until I started teaching here in Alaska that I was able to look back on that first year in the U.S. To really remember it. Now I wonder how that African-American girl is doing. The way she acted, she must have had a pretty horrible childhood. She was actually younger than me, so she must be…. about twenty-nine now. I hope she’s hanging on. Even so, to be honest, it drives me crazy to be compassionate. It would feel so much better to know I was a victim. But life is a weird thing. There is a reason why I feel connected to that girl. (Recording of soft barking in the distance plays as Olga speaks). Recently, I stood by my house in Anchorage. I was about to take my dog on a walk, but she ran away to play with the neighbors’ puppy. The wooden cabins looked just like those huts outside Moscow, where my dad and I used to hike. It was quiet, and snow fell under the flannel sky. (Recording of Olga’s voice) “Skyler!” For a moment, I closed my eyes and thought: where was I? Which of the two countries? But it was comforting not to know. I was on the borderline—which meant, I was home. (Gogol Bordello, “Sun Is on My Side,” plays) Blackout
Vo l . 5 N o . 2
PA S S I N G - T R I B U T E S Tony Mares
In Memoriam: Gabriel Garcia Márquez Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014), who died April 17, is an undisputed key figure in world literature. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 and he received many other awards. He is best known as the originator of a style known as “magical realism” and as the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, but he also wrote a substantial number of other outstanding novels and short stories. Among my favorites, in addition to One Hundred Years of Solitude, is Love in the Time of Cholera, and his short stories, especially “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” and “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.” Years ago, I purchased a Spanish dictionary simply because Márquez wrote the prologue to it. He has some advice for writers in the prologue that we could all use: “”Every writer writes as best he or she can, since the most difficult aspect of this risky business isn’t only the skillful use of the pen, but rather the amount of heart that one gives to the only method invented so far in order to write, which is to put down one letter after another” ([My translation] from Diccionario Clave: Diccionario De Uso Del Español Actual, Ediciones SM, 1999).
Gabriel Garcia Marquez Photo: Jose Lara; Wikipedia
Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief:
Remembering Maxine Kumin, June 6, 1925—February 6, 2014 How appropriate the title of Maxine Kumin’s seventh book of poetry. I felt a real sadness when her death was announced earlier this year. I am generally not one to moon on about celebrities or favorite authors, but when anyone asks me who my favorite poet is, her name comes to the fore immediately. Kumin was a prolific writer. She published nineteen collections of poetry, six novels, seven books of essays and short stories, a memoir, and twenty-three children’s books, four of which were co-written with Anne Sexton. She had poems published in more periodicals than I have even heard of. She won many prizes, including a Pulitzer. She was the Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, the position later called Poet Laureate, in 198182. She was Poet Laureate of New Hampshire from 1989 to 1994. She taught. On top of all that, she and her husband lived on and worked a New Hampshire farm from the mid1970s until her death. All that only scratches the surface
of her devotion to writing, the awards accorded her, and the many prestigious positions she held, however. She also terminated her position in a prestigious organization. Along with Carolyn Kizer, Kumin resigned as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets to protest the lack of women and minorities in the organization’s leadership. I never wrote Kumin a fan letter, though I often thought about what her writing meant to me and wished I could take a class from her. Much of her poetry has formal qualities that seem to be less appreciated now than they once were: rhyme and slant rhyme (sometimes humorous), carefully constructed rhythm, assonance, and wonderfully clear diction. Yet her work (or at least what I have read of it) never seems to drag along to prove a point of formalism, and she used free verse just as easily when it worked for the poem. In To Make a Prairie she said, “Form requires the poet to take greater pains in the choice and disposition of
words, because it slows down and makes more complicatmovie runs out.// He lies curled like a lima bean/ still holded the writing process.” She believed that she composed ing back its cotyledon./ Night is a honeycomb./ Night is better poems when she wrote in form because the diffithe fur on a blue plum.// And then she sings. She raises culty of making a poem fit a pattern somehow freed her the juice./ She is a needle, he the cloth./ She is an A string, to be more honest and direct. he the rosewood./ She is the thin whine at concert pitch.// She didn’t appreciate poems that ended by simShe has the eggs and he the blood/ and after she is a ply “falling off the page in an accident of imbalance…It small/ red stain on the wall/ he will itch.” How much more has always seemed to me that some lapses can be forgivsimply and delightfully can an insect pest be recognized? Kumin came to writing someen the poet if he finishes well, just as they can be forgiven the lover. I will of course what later than many, first attending a be accused by some of having fallen viclocal poetry-writing workshop in her late tim to a bad case of formalism, as if to 20s, where she met Anne Sexton. They end well or to end declaratively were a became fast friends and enjoyed sevendisease of technical cunning. I can only teen years of daily collaboration, even goplead, if this be technical cunning, make ing so far as to install a dedicated phone line between their homes. When they the most of it.” were writing, they left their receivers off She described her line breaks as “pretty simpleminded. I end-stop fairly the hook and as soon as one of them finished a poem, she would whistle into the strongly and I lean on rhyme when it is phone so she could read her poem to the feasible, rhyme including a lot of slant or off variations.” The soft humor underlying other. Sexton had lunch with Kumin one day in October 1974, then went home many of her observations is remarkable, and committed suicide. Understandably, as can be seen in some of the poems Maxine Kumin quoted here. it hit Kumin hard. In “How It Is,” she wrote about it. “Shall I say how it is in your clothes?/ A month For me, one of the most engaging qualities of Kumin’s work is its accessibility. That doesn’t, in my mind, after your death I wear your blue jacket./ The dog at the equate with a lack of sophistication or worldliness but center of my life recognizes/ you’ve come to visit, he’s ecrather is a promise to the reader that she will not be made static./ In the left pocket, a hole./ In the right, a parking to feel dumb because she doesn’t “get” an inside joke. Kuticket/ delivered up last August on Bay State Road./ In my min described herself as “leery of literary allusions unless heart, a scatter like milkweed,/ a flinging from the pods of the soul./ My skin presses your old outline./ It is hot and they are pretty readily accessiblebiblical, say, or mythdry inside.// I think of the last day of your life,/ old friend, ic...” She didn’t have to rely on the obscure, the language how I would unwind it, paste/ it back together in a differand symbols of the well-educated, to demonstrate her erent collage,/ back from the death car idling in the garage,/ udition. back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,/ reassem She seldom relied on abstractions in her poetry. bling the bits of bread and tuna fish/ into a ceremony of Again in To Make a Prairie, she describes an interaction sandwich,/ running the home movie backward to a space/ with a student who told her very crossly, “What you want we could be easy in, a kitchen place/ with vodka and ice, in poems is lots of furniture.” Her response in retrospect: our words like living meat.// Dear friend, you have excit“It’s true, that’s what I do want. I want furniture to subed crowds/ with your example. They swell/ like wine bags, sume the poem so that it doesn’t have to project any messtraining at your seams./ I will be years gathering up our sage. The furniture then becomes the poem.” words,/ fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,/ leaning my Much of Kumin’s “furniture” came from her farm ribs against this durable cloth/ to put on the dumb blue and its inhabitants, both animal and vegetable. It apblazer of your death.” peared to provide endless poetic fodder. She wrote sev Although long a feminist and someone who eral poems about Amanda, her “sensible strawberry roan,” spoke out on issues important to her, Kumin’s work bebut her poetry recognized even less significant creatures. came even more overtly political as she aged. She said In “The Hermit Has a Visitor,” she wrote, “Once he puts out things that needed to be said without losing her fine pothe light/ moth wings on the window screen slow/ and etic voice. Read, sometime, “Please Pay Attention as the drop away like film lapping the spool/ after the home
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 Ethics Have Changed” in Still to Mow. “Mulching” shows how well she integrated her quotidian farm existence with her concerns for the world. “Me in my bugproof netted headpiece kneeling/ to spread sodden newspapers between broccolis,/ corn sprouts, cabbages and four kinds of beans,//prostrate before old suicide bombings, starvation,/ AIDS, earthquakes, the unforeseen tsunami,/ frontpage photographs of lines of people// with everything they own heaped on their heads,/ the rich assortment of birds trilling on all/ sides of my forest garden, the exhortations// of commencement speakers at local college,/ the first torture revelations under my palms/ and I a helpless citizen of a country// I used to love…” Although she was an expert horsewoman, in 1998 Kumin’s horse was spooked by a truck while she was training for a carriage-driving event. She was thrown from the carriage, which the horse then pulled over her. She sustained serious internal injuries, a broken neck and eleven broken ribs. Her chances of even surviving such an accident and then not becoming a paraplegic were abysmally low, but with months in traction and more months of rehabilitation, she regained most of her mobility and even rode horses again. Kumin wrote about death and living in a way that made their intertwining seem inevitablea truth I can easily overlookso her poems are frequently a ready reminder for me. This can be seen in “The Retrieval System.” “It begins with my dog, now dead, who all his long life/ carried about in his head the brown eyes of my father,/ keen, loving, accepting, sorrowful, whatever;/ they were Daddy’s all right, handed on, except/ for their phosphorescent gleam tunneling the night/ which I have to concede was a separate gift.// Uncannily when I’m alone these features/come up to link my lost people/ with the patient domestic beasts of my life. For example,/ the wethered goat who runs free in pasture and stable/ with his flecked, agate eyes and his minus-sign pupils/ blats in the tiny voice of my former piano teachers// whose bones beat time in my dreams and whose terrible breath/ soured ‘Country Gardens,’ ‘Humoresque,’ and unplayable Bach./ My elderly aunts, wearing the heads of willful/ intelligent ponies, stand at the fence begging apples./…” When Kumin died, I somehow briefly forgot that her words did not die with her. I have not read most of her work, there being so much of it. I have a ready supply of Kumin’s words, certainly enough to keep me happily occupied the rest of my life. For me, her work offers up poetry as a reflection on life and as solace against its inevitable losses.
REVIEWS Craig Childs
Seeing When We Get There: A Review of David Stevenson’s Letters from Chamonix
(Imaginary Mountain Surveyors, 2014) There are places on earth ice-white and rocky where humans do not belong. Survival relies on jumbles of ropes and gear, and the few who go there travel almost like astronauts. Place a person in the enormity of such a landscape and immediately you have a story, thus, the strong literary tradition of pioneering ascents and classic mountaineering disasters. Though these factual accounts dominate the field, if you want to dive into the deeper experience, picking apart strands of imagination and possibility, you should look to fiction. A somewhat new Canadian press, Imaginary Mountain Surveyors, is dedicated to this intriguing niche of mountain fiction, and this year published Letters from Chamonix, a first-time book from literary mountaineer David Stevenson. On its face, this is a book of adventures in the form of short stories and a novella expressing the nature of mountaineering and climbing around the world. But quickly you realize you are getting into something much more profound. Unlike factual accounts, fiction has allowed Stevenson to write a tapestry of inner dialogues and complex points of view. Characters and events in Stevenson’s book are crisply real, ranging from Peru to the Alps, from a boy learning to climb to a crazy rope-man who throws bottles out car windows at hitchhikers. Nothing is gratuitous about the journeys. Stevenson never falls prey to the adventure, but spreads his narratives beyond the crux experiences, giving us the bigger stories. His attention to nuance and detail allows you feel each journey down to its finest points. The mechanics of climbing are beautifully rendered so that even if you don’t know a damn thing
CIRQUE reader, you begin to take on a sort of madness that must accompany people who string their way up rock and ice in search of a summit, a thing that exists only where a mountain ceases to exist. After descending a peak in Peru, one of Stevenson’s climbers ponders, “I think to myself, okay, you reached the summit, now what? There is an empty space that, oddly enough, is not that much different from the way I feel after big climbs that I’ve failed on.” That empty space develops into a sort of mania, a hunger that seeps into characters and the reader, a delusional scramble for something that seems to both exist and not be there at all. It would be a stretch to call this book adventure, unless the adventure is what each person must face, the interior landscape melting into whatever is going on outside. The nearness of death, the exhaustion of the climb, and tragic conditions waiting to unravel, combined with the inexplicable need to summit, creates a space that toys with your mind. When one climber finds that his partner has simply disappeared midway up a climb, Stevenson writes, “The importance of getting up and off dissipated into thin air and he crawled back into the layers of nylon in a state of trance-like mystification, feeling privy to some large but unintelligible secret.” In the end, everyone who survives from any of these stories returns to their lives with a kernel of the unknown permanently part of them.
about climbing, they seamlessly become part of the story. No word is out of place, no call unanswered. Besides being an excellent read from line to line, populated with quixotic characters and chilling moments, the book has a ghostly, sometimes disturbing quality. This is what makes it so good. An anxiousness settles into the pages in the form of fouled equipment, bad weather, uncertain emotions, and, in one case, a dead Frenchman found frozen where blocks of ice fell and killed him along a route, the corpse’s gear the same as that worn by the startled climber who found him. At times, you feel like you are passing through spider webs into an acute and disorienting darkness. Letters from Chamonix transforms from journey-based short stories into a catacomb, a step from reality into dream where both the reader and Stevenson’s characters are not sure what is real. People disappear from the text, not in the way a climber might fall, but like ghosts blurring into thin air. As a
I traveled with Stevenson last spring in Alaska on a journey much like those he wrote about. He was the default trip leader as a group of five trekked by skis and sleds across a portion of the Harding Icefield in the Kenai Mountains. When a whiteout socked us in for two days, he regarded the sightless, dimensionless weather with impish pleasure, accepting whatever came our way. Whenever concerns were raised by our ice-crossing team, worries about terrain ahead, Stevenson would shrug and say, “We’ll see when we get there.” He showed a calm hunger for the unknown, calm being the operative word. He took time with his observations. As a writer on this trip, I was busy filling journal pages, planning articles, chapters, whatever I could get my hands on. I’d be on stage within a month delivering pictures and talking about our journey. Meanwhile, Stevenson said it would probably be years before he wrote anything serious about the experience, if he wrote about it at all.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 I remember thinking, that’s crazy, you should get the material out while it’s hot. But he has a slower, more patient temperament. Reading his book, I now understand the value of his waiting. At 60, Stevenson has taken his time getting to his first book, and the wait is worth every second, every decade. In one of his chapters, a woman belays a climber who she’s experienced as thoroughly unpleasant. He writes, “Then she noticed the rope began to flow through her hands like liquid, like she was connected to someone very, very good, someone who moved with such grace and confidence that many things, behaviors, might be overlooked, even possibly forgiven.” As a reader, I felt the same as Stevenson’s words paid out. I was following someone very, very good. Stevenson accomplishes what every narrative writer should aspire to, fiction or nonfiction, making readers forget where they actually are. The written reality overpowers the one outside the book.
A Review of John Morgan’s River of Light: A Conversation with Kabir, with drawings by Kessler Woodward (University of Alaska Press, 2014)
What happens when a poet, in this case John Morgan, takes a week-long raft trip down a wild river in southcentral Alaska with a few other friends and a 15th-century mystic named Kabir? River of Light comes out of it: a ten-section (plus prologue) book-length poem accompanied by drawings done by Alaskan artist, Kesler Woodward, who also took the rafting trip. The trip took place in 2003, the year in which began the second part of that war we have come to call the Iraq War. And though the poet writes, in the introduction, that the war was “on the narrator’s mind and becomes a metaphor for his inner struggles,” more often it seems that the speaker is wrestling with his own mortality and with the wildness inside himself, that “diaphanous dislocation” of
his soul that troubles his literal, and figurative, journey along the river. Is it necessity or luxury that makes a man retreat from what we think of as everyday life – from the mediastorms and from the quotidian rituals of his own work and obligations – and subject himself to a wild river ride for a week in order to fully-interrogate himself? Does being in the stillness and larger wildness of Nature and its unerring objectivity place him more squarely in the line of fire of his own questioning soul? Does he feel, there, more fully-alive? It is difficult for me to say, after having read the poem, and though the poet calls the rafting party a “party of pilgrims,” just what kind of pilgrimage the other members of the party were undertaking remains a mystery.
112 The pilgrims meet in a graveyard in Chitina, Alaska, and, some days later, they arrive together at the “outhouse and dumpster” that “mark an end to wilderness.” They have traveled from bone-yard – where the poet has acknowledged heavily, “Elsewhere the war continued” – to the wasteland of dumpsters and outhouses that marks their return to civilization. On the first day of rafting the river, as they forsake their laptops and cell phones and wave the nearby dip-netters farewell, the poet says that their “links to the world / disappear.” He says the answers they seek “cache their names” in the way that a bear caches his kill so that he may return to it for sustenance later. And yet, the war – the poet’s knowledge of his world’s on-going rack and ruin – continues to weigh in him as does the odd wisdom of Kabir who warns right off that the poet had “better think twice / before you hang with someone like me.” Kabir is enigmatic when he speaks, in theory a kind of wise fool, and he generally appears (speaks) when the poet is leaning hard against some mystery or discomfort he cannot quite fathom or put into words: when he is “lost in the strangeness of travel.” When, to the poet, space and time seem “unstable, like a drunken elephant / wild-eyed, dashing with swaying trunk, / and we’re / carried along on its back,” Kabir observes, “Your mind / is a cosmic beast / that rushes away to the end.” When a brown bear swims towards the travelers after having caught their scent, the poet heaves toothpaste and bourbon into the current and watches as the danger recedes. Kabir, ever a counter-point to the poet’s fear or experience, speaks up with an anecdote of his own: . . . .Spotting a four-footed creature, the hunter took off . . . although that celestial beast might well have defanged his fear. The dead mystic’s words, however interesting to the poet, read more like a fable’s simplistic moral-of-thestory and, while it may be deeply-satisfying for the poet, it ends up being not quite satisfying for a reader who, in earnestness, has decided to vicariously tag along for the journey, to see what the poet learns, what he experiences, what weighs heavily on him, and how he returns, changed perhaps, for that journey down the lighted river. Kabir’s wisdom seems dodgy, at best, and a distraction at worst. And, worse, Kabir’s intrusions might be the occasion for
CIRQUE “flinching” in the poet and may actually diminish the poet’s own experience. Consider this passage: Wind’s up and a copter drops down with a sudden thwop thwop of blades as it lashes at the tent flaps. I blink into dusky midnight where it squats above the river. ‘Someone is terribly damaged!’ I brood, and toss the whole night as its rotors rattle my dreaming. And still at breakfast I stew, that creepy dragonfly buzz, like a saw cutting through me -- I can’t shake it off. It brings back the lost summer when, trekking a southwest butte, I wandered from the trail. Stuck on a sandstone ledge, I remember starting to slip. Skull cracked, face crusted, front teeth gone – a chopper bore me to safety, a rescue I have no recall of, because I wasn’t awake. Just look around, says Kabir. See this world for what it is: a foolish bag of tricks. Kabir’s function, it seems, is to spout some “ancient mystic wisdom” that refutes the tangible, physical and emotional experience of the poet which, at this moment, is finding a firm foothold in the reader. Who, reading this passage, does not feel an empathy with the poet, with his close proximity to being “terribly damaged?” Every time a reader’s sense of mortality and fragility aligns with the poet’s, Kabir interrupts with his own truisms. On the other hand, perhaps this is precisely why Kabir asserts himself along the way. Perhaps Kabir’s voice is a manifestation of some voice we all carry in our heads, voice like the ones who preceded us and grew “wiser,” less attached to the things of the earth that were still new and astonishing to us: the voice of reason, urging us to forsake the world and live in hope of what-comes-after; voice of the minister, or parent, or teacher; voice of the nihilist; voice of those who deemed we needed to steer clear of dangerous places and stay to their courses if we
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 wanted to fare well in the world; those to whose advice we listened so often and gave such credence that now their messages and maxims rattle around in our heads always, sometimes displacing what we have begun to acknowledge and believe for ourselves. Maybe Kabir serves a useful purpose but, as a reader, I am disappointed that it is he who has the final word in the book-length poem, words that not only fall short of the poet’s experience of driving home to cross paths with two moose who race beside his car with “blazing eyes,” but words that explain that “only the holiness inside / could make those eyes so bright.” I want to argue with that reckoning. I want to hearken to the poet, that man who slipped from a sandstone shelf into near-oblivion once, the man who was swept overboard on that wild river and who came up with the river in his lungs. I trust when he speaks whereas – and maybe this is my own bias rearing its head – I just want to sit a moment in what the poet brings to the table and not be rushed away by Kabir. Maybe though, in the end, the reader must allow Kabir’s intrusions, a place alongside the poet and his poem which grows richer for Woodward’s drawings which also sit nearby with their own depictions of what was seen along that river, but which do not refute or explain or interpret the experiences of which the poet writes. Maybe the poet, in his own wisdom, has allowed Kabir a place in the poem just as he allowed the war and the havoc it was making to intrude and have its own place. While I may distrust Kabir’s almost-too-easy platitudes, I do trust the poet and his instincts and am grateful for having been invited to accompany him on his journey along that River of Light.
CONTRIBUTORS Luther Allen writes poems and designs buildings from Sumas Mountain in northwestern Washington. He also facilitates SpeakEasy, a community poetry reading series in Bellingham. His collection of poems, The View from Lummi Island, can be found at http://othermindpress.wordpress. com Jennifer Andrulli has a base camp in Anchorage, Alaska from which she explores the World. The journey continues. Thomas Bacon In Alaska, western, eastern and native cultures mix between city and wilderness. I’m fortunate to have lived here most of my life. Christianne Balk loves the Anglo-Saxon rhythms of everyday street talk. Her books include Bindweed, (Macmillan) and Desiring Flight (Purdue University Press.) Honors include the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and Peregrine Journal’s 2013 Poetry Award. Her work has appeared in Poem of the Week (poemoftheweek.org), The Atlantic Monthly, Cirque, Measure, and other journals. Please see Christiannebalk. com Gabrielle Barnett has contributed both poetry and photography to Cirque. Her non-fiction has been featured in the Arts section of the Anchorage Daily News, as well as POL, Art Matters, Next Stage, Wild Voices, and Contact Quarterly. An improvisational dancer, as well as a writer, she enjoys experimenting with mixed discipline performance. Miriam Beck recently earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Oregon State University. She lives in Anchorage. My name is Tiffany Benna. Originally from Iowa, I moved to the mountains I’d created out of clouds in my youth, spending five years in Idaho and then adventuring on to Petersburg, Alaska for seven. I continue to write, hike, kayak, garden, and occasionally take a good picture, finding inspiration in the natural resources I am privileged to help manage, in the relationships with my family and friends, and in my faith that ever encourages me to grow and create beauty from whatever the world offers. Marilyn Borell has been living and writing in Anchorage, Alaska for nearly three decades. Her recent work has appeared in Cirque and Ice Floe. After a career of child welfare in remote Yup’ik villages followed by medical social work, Gretchen Brinck, MSW, retired to pursue writing (and hiking). She is currently revising her memoir about her Alaska experiences, The Fox Boy, for Alaska University Press. Cirque has carried several of her pieces and honored one with the Andy Hope Award. Her previous non-fiction book, The Boy Next Door, Pinnacle, came out 1999. Harold Brink first fell in love with Alaska in 1968 on the ferry to Haines; then, driving to Fairbanks to look for a teaching job. He was drafted into the Army first. The story here is taken from his life in basic training. He subsequently has returned to Alaska many times to backpack and float and fish in the wild country. “We Never Saw Him Again” is a chapter in his newly-published memoir: Come Down to the River: A Memoir of Adventure. Zachariah Bryan is a reporter and photographer for the Tundra Drums newspaper, based in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta of Alaska. He was born and raised in Washington State and is a West Coast kid through and through.
114 Anne Caston is a professor and former nurse. Caston is core faculty in poetry in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Alaska where she has taught for 15 years. She is author of Flying Out With The Wounded (NYU Press, 1997) Judah’s Lion (THP, 2009), and Prodigal (Aldrich Press, 2014). She lives with her husband, Ian Gallimore, in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Vic Cavalli has been teaching Creative Writing at the university level since 2001. His poetry, short fiction, photography, and visual art have been published in literary journals in Canada, the United States, England, North Africa, and Australia. Selections from his visual art portfolio can be viewed at http://vittoriocavalli.com/ Craig Childs has written several books of nature, science and wilderness travel. He appears regularly as a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition and is a contributing editor for High Country News. Based with his family in Western Colorado, he comes north at least once a year to teach writing at University of Alaska Anchorage. Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, high school English-teaching Alaskan. She is actively pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry through UAA and co-edits the quarterly journal, Alaska Women Speak. She lives with partner Bruce and daughter Rie in her hometown of Sitka, Alaska. Lyn Coffin is a widely-published poet, playwright, fiction writer, and translator. Her plays have been performed in Malaysia, Singapore, Off Off Broadway and Boston, as well as Seattle. Her Anthology of Russian-American Plays is forthcoming from bedouin books in September 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.
CIRQUE Writing and degrees in geography and economics. She currently lives in Central Oregon where she blogs about nature and literature at http:// solsticelight.wordpress.com/ Sherry Eckrich obtained an MFA in creative writing from University of Alaska Anchorage, where she concentrated in creative nonfiction. Her poetry has been published in various anthologies and journals and is also on display as part of an art installation at the Centerpoint Building in Anchorage. Temporarily based in New York City, she is missing the glorious mania of Alaskan summers, especially the blooming of her crabapple tree. Paul Fisher was born and raised in Seattle, has lived and worked in more parts of the country than he cares to think about, currently lives in Bellingham, WA and is the recipient of an Individual Artist’s Fellowship in Poetry from the Oregon Arts Commission. Paul’s first full-length book, Rumors of Shore, won the 2009 Blue light Book Award, and was published in 2010. Some of his recent poems appear in venues such as, Cave Wall, The Centrifugal Eye, Crab Creek Review, Floating Bridge Review, Nimrod, The Washington State Geospatial Poetry Anthology, and are forthcoming in the anthology, River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the 21st Century. Born in Mt. Vernon, Washington, William Ford has published two books of poems, The Graveyard Picnic (Mid-America, 2002) and Past Present Imperfect (Turning Point, 2006), four chapbooks (two with Pudding House), and, most recently, work in Brilliant Corners, Hamilton Stone Review, The Monarch Review (Seattle), Nashville Review, Southern Humanities Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and elsewhere. He’s a retired teacher-editor and lives in Iowa City, Iowa. Susi Gregg Fowler lives in Juneau, where she grew up. Previous publications include Cirque, Christian Science Monitor, Windfall, Tidal Echoes, and Skirt! Magazine. She is also the author of nine children’s books including Arctic Aesop’s Fables: Twelve Retold Tales.
Lynn DeFilippo is a writer and former school teacher living in Nome, Alaska. She recently completed an MFA in creative writing from UAA, and is spending the year traveling and writing, and hopefully, eating and gathering local foods. Cynthia Detrow moved from northeast Ohio to southwest Alaska 11 years ago to teach reading and language arts in the community of Akiachak. She currently lives in Sterling, Alaska, where she works as an itinerant speech-language pathologist on the Kenai Peninsula. Monica Devine is the author of five children’s books, among them Iditarod: The Greatest Win Ever, a former nominee for the celebrated Golden Kite Award. Her adult nonfiction piece, On The Edge of Ice, (about her travels with a whaling crew in the Arctic), won First Place for Creative Nonfiction with the literary journal, New Letters; and her poem, No One Thing was the 2012 Alaska State Poetry contest winner. She lives in Eagle River, Alaska. 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 Katie Eberhart’s chapbook Unbound: Alaska Poems was published in 2013 by Uttered Chaos Press in Eugene, Oregon. Her poems have appeared in Cirque, Sand - Berlin’s English Literary Journal, Elohi Gadugi Journal, Crab Creek Review, and other places. Katie has an MFA in Creative Matanuska Valley, Alaska
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Leslie Fried divides her time between writing and her position as Curator for the Alaska Jewish Museum. She has recently started to tango and says that this has made all the difference. Lance Garland is a firefighter that lives on a sailboat in Seattle. A veteran of the US Navy during the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” era, and a graduate from the U of WA’s BA in Creative Writing, his work has appeared in JONATHAN, Pacifica Literary Review, REQUITED, and many others. His Naval Novel, Second-Class Sailors, is available from FreeLancelot Publishing, and its poetry companion, Paean of the Sea, and other Poems Under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, is forthcoming the summer 2014. Jo Going, now residing in a coastal Alaskan village, lived for many years in a wilderness homestead cabin in interior Alaska. Her family of origin is Italian,, and she frequently journeys to Italy as Artist-in-Residence or Visiting Artist, including at the American Academy in Rome. Her writing is published in many journals, magazines and anthologies. Her book of poems and paintings,“Wild Cranes”, which won the Library Fellows Award and was published by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, is also held in the Franklin Furnace permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. “Wild Cranes” can be viewed in the museum’s archives and at www.jogoing.net. Paul Haeder has been a college writing teacher and newspaper journalist for 31 and 40 years, respectively. My poetry, fiction and non-fiction have been published in a range of venues, from William and Mary Review to House Organ. I just received first place for general reporting in the magazine category in Region 10’s Society of Professional Journalists 2013 competition--for my Hanford series on downwinders and nuclear malfeasance. I live in Vancouver, WA and teach in public schools and work in Portland, OR with adults with developmental disabilities. I am working on a novel sculpted around the downwinder story. Jim Hanlen lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Cindy Hardy lives in Fairbanks, where she teaches Developmental English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She has published poems in the northern journals, Permafrost, Ice Floe, and Northern Review. Her poetry collection, Beneath a Portrait of a Horse, was published by Salmon Poetry of Ireland in 2010. Bob Hicks draws his writing from the areas he has lived in – a small industrial Illinois city surrounded by cornfields, a desert village in Botswana, and the North Cascades range of the Pacific Northwest. He has written poems, essays, and a novel. Hannah Hindley is a field educator and wilderness guide with a BA in English from Harvard University. She is a published and award-winning writer of both truthful and fictional stories, but these Alaskan shots are her first foray into photography. These photos are part of her effort to capture the ice melt--and the changes that come with it--during her long summer seasons spent in Southeast Alaska. Amy O’Neill Houck is a writer living in Juneau, Alaska. She has just finished her MFA in creative nonfiction at UAA. Amy writes features for The Juneau Empire, and The Capital City Weekly. She blogs intermittently about wool, food, and life in Alaska at www.thehookandi.com. Margret Hugi-Lewis was born in Switzerland 1941. Arts education at Basel School of Art, Basel, Switzerland. At the invitation of Dadaist Marcel Janco, moved to the Ein Hod Artists’ Village founded by Janco in Israel. Now based in Alaska with Studio located in commercial/business/ art area of Anchorage. Trained as an Impressionistic painter under wellknown Swiss artist Martin A. Christ, Hugi-Lewis produced a large body of Impressionist paintings. Her medium and style began to change
upon her arrival in Alaska in 1984. The medium increasingly tended toward three-dimensional paintings, or painted masks and sculptures. Hugi-Lewis has also evolved into theatrical art. She has now created 23 theater sets for plays and musicals. Public and private commissions are, as well, a big part of Hugi-Lewis’ work. Sarah Isto was born and raised in Fairbanks in a mining family. She practiced medicine for several decades in Juneau where she now writes non-fiction and poetry. She still spends spring and fall on land that was once an active mine in the Kantishna Hills. Matt Iverson works as a freelance writer, backcountry guide, winemaker, and bus driver, depending on the season and his inclination. His work has appeared in High Country News, Back Home, and elsewhere. He lives in Alaska. Brenda Jaeger exhibits her paintings at the Blue Hollomon Gallery in Anchorage. William Jansen lives in Forest Grove, Oregon, 2 blocks from the building where he was born in 1946. He graduated Forest Grove, High School in 1964; Received a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the Univ. of Oregon, 1968; USN 1969-1972. Stationed in Stuttgart, Germany at European Joint Command Headquarters for two years, completing his service (ha ha) in Adak, Alaska and San Francisco. He has published poems and stories in various ezines and journals. With Dr. Eric Altschuler, he has published several articles in peer reviewed journals in the field of Shakespeare and Renaissance music. Marc Janssen - I grew up in the State of Jefferson and have lived in Oregon since 1998. My work is scattered around the internet and in a print journals including: The Gold Man Review, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Bellowing Ark, Dead Flowers: a Poetry Rag, Cirque, and The Ottawa Arts Review as well as the anthologies Green is the Color of Winter and The Northern California Perspective. Poetry, work, education, soccer, kids, wife, church, drums, pretty boring really. Dixon J. Jones lives with his wife and cat in Fairbanks, Alaska. His poems have appeared in Windfall, FIELD, and Ice Floe III.
CIRQUE Steven Levi is a long-term Alaska writer and historian. He has more than 80 books in print or on Kindle. His latest book, WALRUS WITH A GOLD TOOTH, is a street-level look at the underbelly of Anchorage from the Second World War to the Great Alaskan Earthquake. His last book, THE CLARA NEVADA, is a scholarly forensic examination of Alaska’s ghost ship which sank in 1898 and ten years later, almost to the day, came back up. The ship was sunk for the $17 million in gold on board making this robbery twice the size of the Brinks Job. Olga Livshin’s poems have appeared in Jacket, The Mad Hatter’s Review, The Anthology of Chicago and The Persian Anthology of World Poetry. She has performed her poetry and translations at Caffeine Theater (Chicago), Icosahedron Gallery (New York), Out North Contemporary Art House (Anchorage) and other venues. Livshin holds a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literature and is the Head of the Russian program at Boston University. Raised in Odessa and Moscow, she moved to the United States with her family in 1993. Kimberly Davis
Anne-Corinne Kell lives on a farm in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley where she grows vegetables and struggles with livestock. Margo Klass is a mixed media artist whose work includes sculptural box constructions and artist books. She shows her work widely in Alaska and is included in the collections of museums and national parks in addition to many private collections. She is recipient of a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award. Michael Kleven is a freelance photographer and filmmaker. His subjects include still lifes taken from natural and the man-made landscape. As a professional photographer he loves capturing portraits, weddings and events. As a filmmaker Kleven works as a sound mixer, cinematographer, editor and director. He is the co-founder of Heartstone Studios, a production company which combines elements of documentary and corporate production to bring integrity and aesthetics to marketing efforts for business, governmental entities, nonprofits and working artists. Kleven is inspired by people’s interaction with each other and their environment.
John Lyle - Since I was a child I was fascinated with the mystery and magic of music, art, travel, writing and visual images and when they come together it’s a wonderful thing. Among many other things I’ve worked as a teacher in Japan, Montana, Alaska, Amazonas, Colombia. Now I grow tea in Volcano, Hawai’i with my wife Susanne and our new little boy. Linda Infante Lyons earned a degree in Biology from Whitman College, WA, and studied art at the Vina del Mar Fine Arts School in Chile. Her work is part of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center’s Alaska Contemporary Art Collection and the Alaska Contemporary Art Bank. She visits Alaska villages through the Alaska State Council on the Art’s Artist in Schools Program and has led collaborative mural projects in Gambell, St. Lawrence Island and in Wales, AK. She was recently awarded a Rasmuson Individual Artist Award. She currently paints and teaches art in her studio in Mt. View, AK.
Wayne Kleven’s work takes him to remote Alaskan villages where, occasionally, he has the opportunity to photograph the interesting and unexpected. Kleven lives in Wasilla with his wife, daughter and baby son.
Tony Mares has five books of poetry: The Unicorn Poem (West End Press, 1992); With the Eyes of a Raptor (Wings Press, 2004); Astonishing Light (University of New Mexico Press, 2010); Río Del Corazón (Voices of the American Land, 2010); and his translations of poems by the Spanish poet Ángel González, Casi Toda la Música y otros poemas/Almost All the Music and Other Poems (Wings Press, 2007). His poems appear in at least twenty two reviews and anthologies, four of them in 2013. Currently in NM, he has lived in AK with his daughter Vered Mares.
Jerry Kraft is a playwright, poet and theater critic. His plays have been widely produced and his poems have appeared in Cirque, Rattle, Willow Springs, Blood Orange Review, Driftwood Review, The Seattle Star and many others. He’s published two volumes of poetry, Rapids and You Dropped Your Bible and I Saw Your Thong: Poems from the Best of Craigslist. His reviews of Seattle theater appear regularly on SeattleActor.com. He lives in Mount Vernon, Washington with his wife Bridgett.
An avid reader and writer, Terry Martin has published hundreds of poems, essays, and articles, and three poetry books—Wishboats (2000),The Secret Language of Women (2006) and The Light You Find (forthcoming from Blue Begonia Press in 2014). She has also edited journals, books, and anthologies. She teaches English at Central Washington University, and lives with her spouse in Yakima, Washington— The Fruit Bowl of the Nation.
Catherine Kyle, a native of Seattle, is a Ph.D. student in English through Western Michigan University and a first-year writing instructor at the College of Western Idaho. Her poetry, fiction, and graphic narratives have appeared in The Rumpus, Superstition Review, Line Zero, and elsewhere. Her hybrid-genre chapbook Feral Domesticity is forthcoming from Robocup Press. Her website is www.catherinebaileykyle.com.
Jerry Dale McDonnell is a writer, an actor of many years, a retired bush teacher and wilderness, fishing, hunting and bear viewing guide. His published fiction, poems and Journalism have appeared in Cirque, South Dakota Review, Over the Transom, Explorations, Dan River Anthology, Northwoods Journal, Anchorage Daily News, The Peninsula Clarion, The Alaska Journal of Commerce, and Calaveras Enterprize; they portray the north and the west of what is and could be. He winters over in downtown Alaska, but summers find him somewhere in the bush of the far north, often volunteering in one of Alaska’s fifteen National Wildlife Refuges.
Eric LeFatte was educated at MIT and Northeastern University in biology and English, and worked as the Returns King at Eastern Mountain Sports, but has been teaching, hiking, and writing in the Portland, Oregon area for many years. I have published poems in Rune, The Mountain Gazette, Windfall, The Clackamas Literary Review, The Raven Chronicles, Perceptions, and yes, Cirque. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to submit to Cirque once more.
David McElroy lives in Anchorage with his wife Edith Barrowclough and works as a pilot in the Arctic. His poems have appeared in Cirque and other national journals and in a book called Making It Simple.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 Kate Miller has lived in Bellingham, WA since 1997 and teaches English composition, Native American Literature, and creative writing at Whatcom Community College as well as Women’s Studies and American Cultural Studies at Western Washington University. She is an avid reader and has written all of her life in multiple genres; including poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction. She recently had a poem, “Solar Storm”, published in the Summer Solstice 2013 issue of Cirque. She is currently working on a memoir in a group with other fantastic Northwest writers. Patrick Minock was raised in Pilot Station, a village on Alaska’s Yukon River. He went to art school in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Institute of American Indian Arts), just out of high school. His art can be seen in schools and other public places throughout the Y-K Delta. He is the son of the artist Milo Minock. Patrick is the illustrator for Talk About Touch, a sexual abuse prevention story book. John Morgan moved to Fairbanks in 1976, where he taught for many years at the University and helped found the Midnight Sun Writers’ Conference. He has published five books of poetry and a collection of essays. In addition to Cirque, his poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The New Republic, The Paris Review, and many other magazines. In 2009, he was chosen to be the first writer-in-residence at Denali National Park. Matthew Morse studies writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage and has lived in Alaska most of his life. More of his work can be found online at thelifepartners.tumblr.com Mary Mullen is an Alaskan writer who lives in Galway, Ireland. She is delighted to be spending the summer in Soldotna. Zephyr, Mary’s first collection, was published by Salmon Poetry in 2010. She is working on a second poetry collection and a memoir. Keith Munson is originally from Iowa. He lived in Alaska for twenty-five years. He’s traveled and photographed France, England and Italy. He now resides in Eugene, Oregon. Sharon Lask Munson grew up in Detroit, taught five years overseas before driving up the Alcan Highway to Alaska where she lived and taught for the next twenty years. She is the author of the chapbook, Stillness Settles Down the Lane (Uttered Chaos Press, 2010) and a full-length book of poems, That Certain Blue (Blue Light Press, 2011). Her upcoming collection, Braiding Lives, a finalist in the Poetica Publishing Company chapbook contest, will be released in the fall of 2014. She lives and writes in Eugene, Oregon. www.sharonlaskmunson.com
Sheila Nickerson, a former Poet Laureate of Alaska, lives in Bellingham, Washington. Her newest nonfiction title, Harnessed to the Pole: Sledge Dogs in Service to American Explorers of the Arctic, 1853-1909, was published by the University of Alaska Press this spring. Anne Carse Nolting has published three novels. Her nonfiction articles appear in periodicals; 2003 and 2005 Holt Language Arts textbooks, and ”Measuring Up To The New Jersey State Standards in English.” She is a previous contributor to Cirque. Joe Nolting lives in Bellingham, WA. He enjoys biking, photography, and doing volunteer work in local schools. Judy Orvik lived in Alaska for 36 years. She is now residing in Bellingham, Washington and is a glass artist. Jocelyn Paine uses painting as visual journaling. Working largely with landscapes in pastels (the purest form of color pigment), she finds doing art focuses her attention on details of her world and allows her to share its beauty. Creativity needs a lot of outlets, and she also writes poetry, short stories and plays, dances Argentine tango, and indulges in literary cosplay. Terry Persun is a full-time writer, and has published four poetry collections: Sentences, And Now This, Every Leaf, and Barn Tarot. He has also published six poetry chapbooks (two were contest winners) and eight novels through small, independent presses. His novels, Wolf’s Rite and Cathedral of Dreams won ForeWord magazine Book of the Year Finalist Awards, and my literary novel, Sweet Song won a Silver IPPY Award. My poems and stories have been published in numerous independent and university journals, including Wisconsin Review, Yarrow, Riverrun, NEBO, Oyez Review, Hiram Poetry Review, Owen Wister Review, Kansas Quarterly, Rag Mag, Poet Lore, Whiskey Island, Colorado-North Review, Widener Review, Context South and many others. Timothy Pilgrim, Bellingham, WA, associate professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a Pacific Northwest poet with over 200 accepted and published poems in journals such as Cirque, Seattle Review and Windfall. Douglas Pope grew up in Alaska and has been writing short stories and poems since high school in Fairbanks. He has traveled extensively in rural, bush, and wilderness Alaska, and uses those experiences as the backdrop for much of his work. He isn’t sure whether his pieces are poems, one-act plays, or prose poems, and invites the reader to decide. More recently, he has collaborated with artists Angela Ramirez and Avraham Zorea to stitch visual images into the fabric of his words. Previous examples can be found in Cirque in Vol. 1, No. 2, Vol. 2, No. 1, Vol. 4, No. 2, and Vol. 5. No. 1. He lives in Hope, Alaska, with his wife Beth. Sean Prentiss is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Finding Abbey: a Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave. Prentiss is also the co-editor of The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction, a creative nonfiction craft anthology. His essays, poems, and stories have appeared at Brevity, Green Mountains Review, Sycamore Review, Passages North, ISLE, Ascent, River Styx, Spoon River, Nimrod, and many other journals. He lives on a small lake in northern Vermont and serves as an assistant professor at Norwich University. Phoebe Proudfoot is a poet and artist. Originally from Juneau, AK, she now lives with her family in Anchorage. Phoebe sold her mixed media painting and masks at Portfolio Arts gallery for many years.
Nocturne in Gold
CIRQUE Eva Saulitis most recent book is Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas. Her poems, reviews and essays have appeared in numerous magazines, including Orion, Crazyhorse, and Ecotone. She teaches in the UAA Low-Residency MFA program. Steven P. Schneider taught writing and literature in the Northwest for eight years. Steven is the co-author with his artist wife Reefka of the book Borderlines: Drawing Border Lives (Wings Press, 2010), a collection of poems and portraits of people who live and work along the U.S./Mexico border. He has also written and edited several books on contemporary American poetry, including The Contemporary Narrative Poem: Critical Cross-Currents (The University of Iowa Press, 2012). He is currently professor of English at the University of Texas-Pan American. B.L. Shappell is a self-taught poet, who has travelled widely and has held a variety of jobs, from dairy worker to teacher. He currently spends most of the year living and working above and just below the Arctic Circle in northern Alaska. Publications include Cirque, and The Wilderness House Literary Review. Elaine Dugas Shea, Montana, enjoys working in social justice with American Indian Tribes and civil rights. Her writing is featured in Third Wednesday, South Dakota Review, the anthology The Light in Ordinary Things, the anthology Hope Whispers, Front Range Review, CAMAS, Spillway, Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, the anthology When Last on the Mountain: The View from Writers over Fifty, Montana Voices Anthology and elsewhere. She is a grandmother of two spirited boys – Arthur and Walter.
In 1993, she received an individual arts grant from Juneau Arts Council to create a series of surrealistic images incorporating human figures, landscapes and clouds. Since moving to Anchorage in 1999, she has shown her large format abstract paintings at Out North Art House. She is working on series of landscape paintings of Kachemak Bay. Early influences include her parents, through their love of poetry and abstract art, Alaskan artists Dale DeArmond, Rie Munoz, Dan DeRoux, Joseph Senungetuk, many northwest coast Alaska Native artists, as well as, the natural beauty of Alaskan landscape. She currently works in Prince William Sound providing behavioral health therapy. Allie Quelch is a young poet from Vancouver, British Columbia. Her days consist mostly of riding the bus to class, rushing to the beach to catch the sunset, and staring at the ocean, wishing she were sailing. James Edward Reid is a Canadian editor and writer. He publishes regularly in Vallum: International Poetics, The Sarmatian Review, and The Pacific Rim Review of Books. His work has also appeared in The Dance Current, The Globe and Mail Books, Highgrader Magazine: A Voice From the Northland, Prairie Fire: A Canadian Magazine of New Writing, Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim and The Guardian. His long poetry cycle, IN RE JANOWIEC ET AL VERSUS RUSSIA will be published shortly in The Sarmatian Review at Rice University in Texas. More publication information at http://www.jamesedwardreid.ca Birgit Lennertz Sarrimanolis has lived in Fairbanks, Alaska since 2001 with her husband and two children. She holds a PhD degree in art history and education, aesthetics, and German literature. She has a particular interest in writing short stories, which she has done all her life, and is currently working on a book.
Craig Smith is a retired Seattle Times sportswriter whose career included a 15-month stint at The Fairbanks News-Miner during the pipeline boom of the mid-1970s. He grew up in Kenmore, WA, outside Seattle and was editor of the University of Washington Daily. After spending a year in the domestic Peace Corps (Volunteers in Service to America - VISTA), he began his career in journalism at The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. He and his wife, Julie, have two adult sons and are on the fourth springer spaniel of their 44-year marriage. Craig has bragged to complete strangers about winning the golf long-drive contest at the 50th reunion of the Bothell High School class of 1963. Patty Somlo has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times and for the 2013 storySouth’s Million Writers Award. She is the author of From Here to There and Other Stories. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and in twelve anthologies. Kim Stafford is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, including 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared; The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft; A Thousand Friends of Rain: New & Selected Poems; and Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford. He directs the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon. David Stevenson lives in Anchorage where he directs the MFA program in creative writing at UAA. Born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, Sheary Clough Suiter lived in Alaska for 35 years before her recent transition to Colorado. Her encaustic fine art is represented in Anchorage, Alaska by Stephan Fine Art, and in Portland, Oregon by the Attic Gallery. When she’s not on the back-roads of America traveling and painting, Suiter works and teaches from her studio in Colorado Springs. Teresa Sundmark lives in Homer, Alaska. She blogs for loftyminded.com and is currently an MFA student at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Vo l . 5 N o . 2 Nancy Sydnam is a retired physician whose poems have been published in Ice Floe, Inklings, Explorations, and Inside Passages. Her book, Sideways Rain was published in 2012. It is the story of Nancy’s practice in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands from 1998 until 2010. The book includes several of her poems and photographs. Nancy lives in Anchorage with her dog, Vita Sackville-West (she is poetry in motion), and all the wild birds that annually visit Sand Lake. Jason Tashea is a native to Alaska, but has since worked around the U.S., Austria, Kosovo, and Armenia promoting human rights and criminal justice reform. He owes his sense of adventure to his time growing up in and exploring Alaska. He owes his expectations of justice to Anchorage Youth Court. His family is an invaluable support in all his endeavors. He’s infinitely grateful to Cirque for publishing this piece. Jason can be contacted on Twitter @jtashea and via legallynorthofbabylon.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. JT Torres was born in Miami, FL, where only legend told of winter. During his journey Northwest, he had stories or essays published in The Rambler, Brokenplate, Alimentum, Florida Review, Greensilk Journal, Hippocampus, Split Lip, and A Capella Zoo. Winter had a positive effect, it seemed. JT currently lives in Alaska, teaching Composition at University of Alaska-Anchorage. A memoir-novella titled “Nana’s Guide to Illusion,” from which this selection is taken, is forthcoming from VP&D House’s Weathered Edge series. Former Alaska Poet Laureate, Joanne Townsend now lives in New Mexico with her husband Dan and dogs, Pilot and Cloud. She misses her many friends in the north and watching the birds at Potter Marsh. Recent poems have appeared in Adobe Walls, Sin Fronteras, Minotaur, and Cirque. Tim Troll’s poetry and art appeared in Cirque, Vol. 2, No. 2. He is Executive Director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust based in Dillingham, AK www.bristolbaylandtrust.org Blossom Twitchell is an Inupiaq writer from Kotzebue, Alaska. She currently lives and works in Sitka, Alaska with her husband and three children. Blossom enjoys writing poetry, short stories, and typing out novels she will never finish. She is also an active member of the Blue Canoe Writer’s Group, and has won a couple local awards for her poetry/prose work. Her simple message in life is: “Write, live, and write some more.” Emily Wall is a poet and an Association Professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. She has been published in a wide variety of literary journals in the US and Canada. In 2013 a poem of hers was placed in Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan, Alaska. Her second book of poems, Liveaboard was published in February of 2012; her first book, Freshly Rooted came out in 2007. Emily lives and writes in Juneau, Alaska. Thomas Walton lives and writes in Seattle. His work has appeared / will appear in Gambling the Aisle, Bombay Gin, Delmar, Ifkleftiko, and other magazines. He edits PageBoy Magazine (pageboymagazine.blogspot. com).
119 An Alaskan transplant, Sandra Wassilie lives in Oakland and co-curates the Bay Area Generation Reading Series. She holds an MFA from San Francisco State University where she enjoyed positions as managing editor, then poetry editor at Fourteen Hills. Recipient of the Ann Fields and the Celestine poetry awards, she has also attended Vermont Studio Center and Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. Her work appears in Between the Lines, California Quarterly, Cirque, sPARKLE & bLINK, Transfer, and Writing Without Walls. Kaylie Weable’s passions in life are hiking, photography, and writing. She currently lives in Mill Creek, WA. John Sibley Williams is the author of eight collections, most recently Controlled Hallucinations (FutureCycle Press, 2013). He is the winner of the HEART Poetry Award, and finalist for the Pushcart, Rumi, and The Pinch Poetry Prizes. John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review, co-director of the Walt Whitman 150 project, and Board Member of the Friends of William Stafford. A few previous publishing credits include: Third Coast, Nimrod International Journal, Cirque, Inkwell, Cider Press Review, Bryant Literary Review, Cream City Review, RHINO,and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Paul Winkel is an engineer and Poet. His work has previously appeared in Cirque and in the anthologies 50 Poems For Alaska, Braided Streams, Liberty’s Vigil and Understory. He has lived in Alaska and Eagle River for 31 years and loved every minute. Paxson Woelber was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska and works in media production. His work includes film, photography, websites, graphic design, and more. His photography can be seen in USA Today, the Alaska Dispatch, and on Google.com’s project pages, and his outdoor film has been featured on the Atlantic, the Huffington Post, and Outside TV. In 2013, he was the co-recipient of the Fischer-Kellogg award from the American Alpine Club, and partnered with the Sierra Club and Alaska Wilderness League on a media-based expedition in the Alaska Arctic. For more, please visit www.paxsonwoelber.com Tonja Woelber is a member of the collaborative group “Ten Poets.” She has lived in Anchorage for 34 years, enjoying the mountains in all weathers. Her favorite poets are Anna Akhmatova, Sylvia Plath and Tu Fu. Nancy Wilbur Woods was born in Fairbanks, Alaska. She now lives in Portland, Oregon, where she edits a community newspaper and teaches creative writing. firstname.lastname@example.org; nancy-woods.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. Douglas A. Yates is a writer and photographer. Raised in Idaho, where the Boise River was a prominent feature in his outdoor education, Yates spent two years in the US Marine Corps in the late 1960s. An Alaska resident since 1975, Yates has worked as a legislative aide, a naturalist/guide on the Haul Road, and a photography instructor for Elderhostel. His work has appeared in UTNE, Whole Earth Review, Alaska Magazine, Outdoor Photographer and the Christian Science Monitor. In 2013, his photography won the Tithe Grant Award, judged by The Blake Society, London, England. Avraham Zorea is a painter, writer, adventure cyclist and year round bicycle commuter living in Anchorage, Alaska. He works as a criminal defense attorney, but keeps an art studio instead of a regular law office downtown. He wrote fiction for fifteen years and started painting ten years ago. He has three novels available on Amazon.com. You can contact him on Facebook.
HOW TO SUBMIT TO CIRQUE 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 submissions are not restricted to a “regional” theme or setting. 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 Winter Solstice 2014 Issue. Issue #11—Winter Solstice 2014 Submission Deadline: September 21, 2014
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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 and Photography: 10 images MAX accepted in JPEG or TIFF format, sent as email attachments. Please send images in the highest resolution possible; images will likely be between 2 and 10mb each. If you do not submit full-size photo files at time of submission, we will respond with an email reminder. No undersized images or thumbnails will be eligible for publication. 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 (preferred) or embed submission text within the body of the email (not preferred); 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,” or “Non-fiction submission”. Replies average two to three months, and we don’t mind you checking with us about your submissions. Please send submissions to: email@example.com
Photo: Counting Coastlines, by Douglas Yates
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 5, N O. 2