CIRQUE Vo l . 6 N o . 1
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 6 , N O. 1
CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 6 No. 1
Winter Solstice 2014
© 2014 by Sandra Kleven & Mike Burwell, Editors
Cover Photo Credit: Mark Muro Inside Cover Photo Credit: Mark Muro Table of Contents Photo Credit: Monica O’Keefe, “Pipit” Design and composition: Paxson Woelber ISBN-13: 978-1505626360 ISBN-10: 1505626366 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. email@example.com
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 Cirque contributor Jo Going plus $4bymailing 7" x 7" full color gloss $40 plus $4 mailing to order firstname.lastname@example.org to order email@example.com
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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
Weathered Edge Three Alaskan Novellas by Kris Farmen, Martha Amore, Buffy McKay ISBN: 978-0-9850487-7-8 Retail price: $19.95 304 pages, softcover
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
5/8/13 9:53 PM
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 Welcome to the eleventh issue of Cirque (6.1), celebrating five years in print. When introducing the first issue of Cirque, founding editor, Michael Burwell wrote, “Cirque, published in Anchorage, Alaska, is a regional journal created to share the best writing of the region with the rest of the world…Writing comes out of place and Cirque speaks from and for the North.” North, according to Cirque, includes AK, WA, ID, OR, MT, HI, British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, Alberta and Chukotka. To date, Cirque has published the work of over 375 writers and 90 artists and photographers. None from Chukotka, though. Not, yet. This issue includes work from 93 writers and 28 visual artists. It features a short story by well-known writer of fiction, Valerie Miner; an interview with Vivian Faith Prescott, who talks about her long association with Alaska’s Richard Dauenhauer, former Alaska Poet Laureate, who died this past August; and Kathleen Tarr’s review of The Far Reaches of the Fourth Genre, edited by Joe Wilkins and Cirque contributor, Sean Prentiss. Applause is fitting for our all-volunteer effort that produces the most beautiful journal this writer has ever seen. The workforce includes the genre editors listed below and Paxson Woelber, designer (whose specialty work is definitely paid and whose efforts are the one appropriate exception to pro bono). In September, Cirque intern, Kellie Doherty, left for Portland State University to work on a Master’s of Science in Writing: Book Publishing. Kellie will continue to help at Cirque’s Portland readings and meanwhile the search is on for a new intern and designated “point people” for larger towns and cities. Thank you to all whose labor brings forth each issue. Cirque 6.1 was supported by generous donations from Sherry Eckrich and Paul Winkel, Joe and Annie Nolting, and Ann Boochever, author of Bristol Bay Summer. The current issue and all past issues can be read online at www.cirquejournal.com Print copies can be purchased from the website. Donations may be made there, too. Warmest greetings in this season of holidays. Happy Solstice. Let’s bring back the sun!
Sandra L Kleven ~ Michael Burwell ~ editors
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 Carey Taylor Cynthia Sims
Fiction Editors Gretchen Phelps Jerry McDonnell Jason Tashea
Drama Editor Jerry McDonnell
Nonfiction Editor Sherry Eckrich Douglass Bourne
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Volume 6 No. 1 Winter Solstice 2014 POETRY Alexandra Appel The Lost Art of Conversation 10 Gabrielle Barnett January Moon (Cook Inlet) 10 Marilyn Borell State of Comfort 11 What Remains 11 Jack Campbell Nenana Sunset Symphony 12 Kersten Christianson Poet Passes: Leaves Words Behind 12 9 Kinds of Cottongrass 13 Scott Davidson Air Pressure 13 The Lorca Dream 13 Carol R. Dee Speaking with the Steller’s Jay 14 Patrick Dixon Black and White 15 Merridawn Duckler I Blame the Musicals 15 Going through the old clothes: 16 Sherry Eckrich October Departures 16 junemoon She Did It Anyway 17 Wendy Erd At Night Above Our Sleep 17 Gathering Footprints 18 Robert Fagen Cameo 18 William Ford A Wilderness Love 18 Ferrying Across 19 Molly Lou Freeman Doucement 19 Leslie Fried In Ostende 19 Jo Going That Sunday in Piedmonte 20 Jessica Ramsey Golden Tomorrow 22 In Spite of Keats 22 Mark Goodman Chicago 13 23 Claudia Ferriz Green Dirty Laundry in Juneau 23 Jim Hanlen Unnamed Creek Behind Cavazos’ House 24 Williams’ Chickens 24 Bob Hicks Words disappeared 25 Aileen Holthaus The Fox 25 b. hutton crabapples 25 Sarah Isto Not So Deep Our Bay 26 Insinuate Yourself in Willows 26 Marc Janssen The Rhythm of the Rain 27 Jill Johnson Willow 1 27 Tricia Knoll The Western Dusky-Footed Wood Rat 28 Here to There on Portland’s Rainy November Streets 28 Eric le Fatte Cusp of the Rains 29 Lake of the Angels 29 Julie LeMay Near Power Creek 30 Jake Martin First and Last 30 David McElroy Ugly Lovers 31 Ron McFarland Poems as Lovely as Trees 31 Getting a Place at the Lake 32 Erick Mertz The Confession of a Knot 32 Egan Millard Room 214 33 The End of Karen 33 Sharon Lask Munson Heat 33 Joe Nolting Questions Beneath the Surface 34 Judy Orvik Spawn 35 Carl Palmer Shadow Lake Snow Snakes 35 Dixie Partridge These New Elevations 35 How It Goes On 36 Jeremy Pataky Manual Labor in the Era of Delinquent Weather 36 Sky Behind Weather 37
Timothy Pilgrim If hope were a shriek in the night 38 Lynne Prossick Cherish 38 Matthew Campbell Roberts Back to Burley Creek 39 Kerouac’s Mountain 39 Steve Rubinstein That Summer Headed South to Big Trees 40 Lex Runciman Fantasy Sunday 40 In Lockup 41 Rebecca Salsman Playing Rummy with a Stranger on an Airport Floor 41 Steven Schneider The Long Camino 43 El Largo Camino (trans. Edna Ochoa) 43 B.L. Shappell One Last Time 44 Judith Skillman Disassociation 44 Eugene Solovyov In the time of birds 45 Joannie Stangeland Appetites 46 Ali Stewart-Ito Untitled 47 Suspended Inspiration 47 Carey Taylor Pomology Lessons 48 Mental Illness In America 48 Jim Thielman Rising 49 Erin Renee Wahl Devils in the Television 50 The Conifer Eater: Leave-taking 50 Margo Waring March Midden Archeology 1999 51 Marcie Winter Turnagain Arm Storm 51 Tonja Woelber Windago 52 Nancy Woods The Open Road 53
FICTION Tom Cantwell Waves 53 Trevor Dodge Exactly Three Imperatives About Gordon 58 David Jordan Gardeners 60 Cody T Luff Other Bars 62 Valerie Miner Mountain Pose 64 Michael Strelow The Fisherman’s Wife 72
NON-FICTION Deborah M. Bernard Annie Lampman Richard LeBlond John Messick Jana Ariane Nelson Patty Somlo M. Rita Roberts Waggoner
The High and the Mighty Visit 1980’s Deadhorse, Alaska 77 A Love Story of Trees 82 Tea with the Grizzlies 85 Learning To Read 87 Just Venting 90 A Certain Attraction to Gray 92 So Far 97
P L AY John Longenbaugh
New World Under 101
P A S S I N G ~ T ri b utes
INTERVIEW Sandra Kleven Vivian Faith Prescott: Woman With Berries in Her Lap. On the loss of Richard Dauenhauer, on poetry as process, language as culture, creating with sea glass, and the uncanny beauty of Mickey’s fishcamp
reviews Kathleen Witkowska Tarr Creative Nonfiction in the Taffy Pull Phenomenon of Time: A Review of The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre: An Anthology of Explorations in Creative Nonfiction by Sean Prentiss and Joe Wilkins 114 Rebecca Goodrich People of the Blue Tarp: A Review of Cinthia Ritchie’s novel, Dolls Behaving Badly 118
C O N T R I B U T O R S
h ow to su b m it to cirque
The Lost Art of Conversation Mother lived in The State of Panic at the end there was no room for talk as might have been if only of desire
who am I to tell a difference between what was and is who are you to suggest otherwise Father, god-rest-his-soul would manage then hours on unending sleep would take him where life would not
January Moon (Cook Inlet)
who am I to resist the demons belted to my bones
Emptiness surrounds me Moon sucked cracking mud heaves Beach on desolate curve of snow
at the last The Cancer got him eating his throat, leaving everything unsaid
Relentless smoothness endless white
at the end he croaked I love you, left some to wonder
Ice spun branches, Feather crowns to skeleton trees, Cast grey shadow in reflected light Silver desert frozen glow I stand in the cold, calm night, bright Without passion, feel ebb tide drag solid flow To sea. The emptiness wells within me I could give it your name.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
State of Comfort My husbandâ€™s Aunt Olga spent hundreds of hours cross stitching the quilt, two squares per state, one for the flower, one for the bird. The mystery lies in her arrangement. Not alphabetical, not as they appear on any map. Her home state of Kansas is rightly dead center, heart of the country, fiber of the quilter. But logic ends there. Minnesota west of Kansas, Nevada due north. Several claiming the Cardinal flock together, but not all. Laboring over the parts until finger tips were callused, did she despair of the whole? No matter. I slumber beneath them all, dream best under those I know by heart.
What Remains Mother, as antidote to anxiety, I lie down on your bed, now at home in my guest room. In your final years you called it your nest, porous bones making sitting painful. It comforted me that long-ago night I broke my front tooth halfway up, the nerve sticking out like a small worm in fruit. Iâ€™ve long since replaced the mattresses, but headboard and frame hold the years in silence.
Your bed consoles and haunts me. It was also a place of bipolar horror, your endless wakefulness as dad snored beside you, my sisters and I dreamt between soft flannel sheets, frost building on nail heads in the bedroom wall.
Nenana Sunset Symphony
Cattails No. 4
Ten million paintbrushes rooted in ice. Barely warmth in a breath to melt colors on a palette with which to stroke the horizon beyond blues, magentas, oranges, pinks.
Sheary Clough Suiter
An ermine dashes among spruces, each leap highlighted by black tipped tail, erratic metronome plotting coordinates, orchestrating an avalanche of noiseless notes, tracking a minuet into snow, beady eyes seeking lemming or vole. In the windless wood, the marauding maestro plots on, twitching baton following each lunge long after black bark merges into night sky.
Poet Passes: Leaves Words Behind I’m spending time tonight with Richard Dauenhauer’s book, Benchmarks, New & Selected Poems, 1963-2013
Three weeks of torrent, inches of rain in short hours. Mud runs into sea; salmon edge the bank in their return home to spawn. A love song, this downpour: Ravens, snow on the gunwales of halibut boats in harbor, moon dance across Flattop.
We don’t count our days— this rift from rain, this plummeting sun, this candle flickering, this poet’s words.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
9 Kinds of Cottongrass Composed after reading Linda Hogan’s collection of poetry, Dark. Sweet.
Within sight of the Yukon River — steady chop and smooth blend of current — traveling Dawson City to Whitehorse. At Haines Junction I arrive at page 400 and veer south past Dezadeash Lake, through the Coast Mountains and cross the border for the saltwater of Lynn Canal, glacier-fed green, and again, Alaska.
Tell me now what you couldn’t say in the room upstairs filled with ghosts of late-coming tourists who’d hit every other motel in town. You turned from the window forming a question, but there was something about the air. None of the heavenly cool outside made it into the room we’d rented. How could this not be things breaking down? It seemed to you then if you found the words, you’d keep the earth from splitting in half. Nothing came, as nothing comes after nineteen years when you try to explain, when you feel yourself hollowed out and your face surrenders the same way. Except this time you find your insistence, weight of self to resist disappearing. Cool air of a summer night, the arc of a life uneasy and strange, finally enter the sanctum of ghosts. You breathe them in and begin to speak.
Nature illumination, these words. There are no turtles here, or dancing deer women in blue and garnet skirts — but there are brown bears, high peaks, azure broken by cumulus.
The Lorca Dream
Night consumes the bodies of cattle white heads bobbing like boats in black, serenely
I close the book and watch the sway of cottongrass in mountain winds. A raven carries away the white of the clouds on his back.
at first, then listless, unhinged — a narcotic rhythm, warm-blooded twin to the thrum of a nearby rock wall crumbling, spreading its gray dissolution to the herd. Wind and thaw have stirred the grass, the standing water. Scattered planks of pulpy wood spill their insides at the moon. Here on the ridge I lean into space, becoming my sheer and weightless self, graceful in shedding all this decay. It’s you breathing close to my ear wrapped in wool and smoke from the fire who pulls me back inside my clothes, up from the well of my own importance. Where we sleep depends on weather. Burrowed together, we don’t consider Michael Kleven
leaving our bodies. Sweat of the tree-line, heat of the soil rise in vapors through our bones.
Carol R. Dee
Speaking with the Steller’s Jay We have made it through another winter, you and I And still are here to see the sun come at us from true East again. The axis held, my friend has tilted just as planned. You stand in that old birch tree Breast-to-breast with morning sky I am not so brave nor made so well you were given wings and feathers I was given words and walls. Bones have been exhumed then lain again to rest this Spring with that same old agony which every seed every root must know in being called to swell to split in cold old earth with nothing more than faith to go on. You and I survey the remnants of a summer long behind us We find in flattened grasses leafless branches damp and silent soil that the Promise lies almost invisible.
Birch Trees 2
Last night, as I was lifting blackened leaves from Lady’s Mantle’s feet so the sun could warm her root the cranes’ first cries raked the deepening sky. How could I not raise my eyes? How could I not raise my eyes to watch them kiting upwards riding currents rendered visible because the birds were there? How could I not raise my eyes to catch them forming into pairs tumbling into heaven in weighted love’s formation? knowing less than nothing of you of me they heft their wheel of beauty through this same sky that we now are sitting under And that my friend is quite enough.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Black and White I spent my morning in Alaska, clearing dust from a snow-covered mountain brilliant in the low winter sun. Thirty below, with hundreds of spots, dirt and scratches: the wear of twenty winters, landslides, thaws and freezes – disfigurements of age. I wonder if the ridges and slopes have sloughed and fallen, baring rock, wiping trees away with draughts of compressed air, changed the landscape forever. Finished, I pretend to stand again in a darkroom where the scent of fixer mingles with a crisp day, numbing my nostrils. I ask Ansel to bless this, my latest effort to visualize zones as I recall them, my performance complete with a last mouse click, burning highlights just so, maintaining texture in the whites, dodging shadows until the cold of the past distills into the cruel, pristine tones of today.
Mountain Near Seward, Alaska, 1992
I am reminded of all that has focused and blurred in the viewfinder’s frosted glass; even Ansel can’t bring it back, can’t make what was reappear – instead, this harsh rendering makes me draw a breath, full of cold air and light.
I Blame the Musicals
Domestic No. 2
Sheary Clough Suiter
for allowing our hairs to rise & our eyes to fill with tears even after all these years, in the dim auditoriums of childhood, which was our secret glade, and no one to deafen the catechism that one line can perfectly follow its fellow and make us melt—and this uselessness persists in us so that if I, your sister, start to song one bit right away you, mister, mouth the next just like when you were the King, hands on hips And I was the And I. Let us wipe from memory Sweet Charity my so-called friends panicked mid-Shirley—bro, they ruined me! They ruined us for saying why when my hand flutters in air the other one is always over your heart.
Going through the old clothes: I bought this Henley to be more conservative. I wore the spaghetti straps for stares. Among discards, slept & dreamed I reversed off each piece like skins my snake self sloughed. I walked downtown. It was early spring. The white cherry blossoms lay like paper cuts. Vertical light had turned them dirty gold The air tasted of velvet. I went down as far as the river. An unsteady man was berating his companions “Would you do that to a little child, a tiny child?” Listening nearby was a big girl in the stance of a nineteenth century ice skater; hands clasped behind her back, her feet in fourth position. Two men lay out on the pavement “This is the difference between you and them, see.” I walked through the conversations, tacking them on and off like sleeves. This was not the first dream of my clothes. Maybe others are horrified by their nakedness but I’ve been bullied by my apparel; once lingerie seemed about to eat me; another time I wore a ridiculous hat and wept. I still have the thumb scar from when, in rage, I took scissors to a dress, and sliced it into ribbons, age nine, I wondered how to lie about what happened because precise cuts can’t be laid to chance. Even in dressing rooms I think of the shroud. In my beloved magazines, I see the fault of beauty, not its cause. In the dark my phone trembled, for now our phones tremble, and I knew it was you, but how to compose myself when there was no self? Dream fragments fell like cherry blossoms, a meaning to each state: bud, bloom flight, carpet, scar.
Taos Magic Woman
October Departures A gray moth flew in the back door last night when I set hot apple crisp on the deck rail to cool. I clapped it between bare hands without thinking. It lay against my palm, a bit of flutter still left—just a nerve kicking. I threw it in the trash, refused to linger on killing. This morning more gray moths flatten against the dining room window sandwiched between the glass and pea vines still trying to bloom.
She Did It Anyway She did it anyway. She always does. As she god damned pleases. Thatâ€™s what the wagging tongues in the village say. Why are you looking aghast as if you are surprised or worse somehow displeased disappointed perhaps that she did not go further even in her way of pushing against pulling away from our traditions anything to do with generations who came before her self. Selfish some say. She did it anyway. She always does. Chooses something new over the old the tried the true the wise. She did it anyway. She always does. Walked away ran really as fast as her brown legs, her feet could take her arms pumping hard like pistons. Not one backward glance over her shoulder. I should know I stood there and watched her go until the dusk covered up her boot prints dug deep in the break up mud. She did it anyway. She said she had to. She said thereâ€™s no tradition no wisdom no home without forgiveness and that she had to go find herself some.
At Night Above Our Sleep (For Peter)
I meet you in the air barefoot and supple carrying a basket of memories and leaves, the one you gave when you fell for me, the one you took back, a forest of leaves, green clocks that turn the wind. Now autumn, the stacked spruce of days waits to be split, become fire, the hush of spring paintbox and promise asleep under snow. After seasons waking beside you, our old eyes soften to blurr beautiful the familiar of so many years.
After we die we gather every footprint we’ve taken. --Zeng Qingxin
When I gather every footprint I’ll return here to the dry course of a river that changed its mind. Wosnesenski, Unatkuyuk. Its native tongue… ice water, sweepers, stones. Its language… hurry here, hurry there, Meander. All morning we follow its traces among smoothed stones. Collect shoots of cottonwood to bonsai later in a Chinese bowl. Lunch on a dry bank with old friends. Cups of black tea. An ant scribes granite, each step a day, years to cross over.
Returning home our boat scatters rafts of murrelets now black, now white skimming an origami sea.
I stroll to the barre on my million-dollar feet and heads turn, or I wish they would. I have an arabesque people would kill for but it still wants strength. Wait till I’m on pointe. I’ll show them. Sometimes when I know no one’s watching and I think our teacher can’t see me in the mirror I look out the windows burning with sunset colors and wonder why no one else in this ballet class knows that the sky is on fire.
A Wilderness Love A guy camps out in the woods not far from his ex-wife whose forgiveness he seeks because he left her for no good reason and she’s a cripple now thanks to the drunk driving sheriff she took up with for a while and not likely to have another man. He’ll help in any way— chopping wood, raking the yard, or bringing from town the best dark chocolate, which he has to leave on the porch because she doesn’t want to see him except at a distance through her opera glasses. At night he undresses by the fire and keeps a light on in the tent to outline his every movement.
One couldn’t paint such a blue-hued horizon without slipping into make believe.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Ferrying Across I pay the ferryman and get change and a frown as though judgment for last night’s dream, in which I couldn’t come, not even once. Across the Sound, mother slopes in her chair, T.V. on as always, her Alzheimer’s chirping at the President’s evangelical love of tax relief for the rich and about traditional marriage while the West Bank breaks down like a crust of bread in water.
Dubrovnik Rebuilding After the War
She’ll ask if I’m still divorced, her wish, begging the question as usual because my wife’s “her own boss always” though I was never told as much until this year, mom’s hand shaking almost like it did when I turned sixteen, dateless and unkissed. “You aren’t good looking, son, but with luck and a little prayer you’ll have someone, someday, find the good guy I’d hoped you’d be,” a version of which I’ll cross back with to my wife, who knows it all and yet still loves me.
Molly Lou Freeman
Doucement Where’s the wind going and where has it been? A deep lull and still in fall—. So little I know, now or I ever did, watching how motion moves— doucement, we say in French— meaning easy slowly, gently, softly, tenderly and take your time.
In Ostende we touch in the hayloft your trembling shoulders facing mine and anxious eyes like a loose screen door rattling, low clouds rumble in wet gusting chilly through barn straw and overcoat squawking gulls dive-bomb white caps north sea blitzkrieg, I behold the conquering hordes crushing the thorny forests of Flanders the perfect loam from sand and clay for spurry and colza, hops and peas, the work-horse three years fifteen hands and mothers their red hair wild like the crazy defiance of barnyard geese, rain is hissing down on cobbled streets on to the roofs of trams that pass by places of faded wallpaper, surly bars and silent cathedrals, the suspicious are waiting to be made new waiting for forgiveness and power with rat-a-tat hearts.
That Sunday in Piedmonte (tra Castelnuovo Don Bosco e Vezzolano)
A soft warm sun calling â€œvenite,â€? come, here, there, out into morning out of mourning into this blossoming spring. And so, the 3 of us, up we hiked the gentle slope following the path through flowering trees and long tilled fields of promising abundance budding green and gold. Rooted here and there, near into distance, old white farms with barking dogs and the espresso smell of sabbath morning. Here and there the mud so squishy we laugh and slide down wet earth banks, our jeans splattered your sorrow breaking...
At the light filled crest of the final hill, una chiesetta, a small stone church of San Michele, empty but for my own soprano chanting Latin in the echoing vault (Ave Maria, ora pro nobis) for you, for your dad, your babbo, dead now, so far away in another land by another sea in another plait of words than those now ringing here in this church, here in this sun, beckoning healing for him for you, through holy song and a blanket of color spread on the ground for a picnic of uove, olive e vino, and lasting friendship, deep, so deep always always qui e laâ€™, here and there, every where.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
That Sunday in Piedmonte
Jessica Ramsey Golden
Tomorrow You are hit by a bus. The bus stops, of course. The passengers stand and crane to see. Their foreheads smudge the windows. Some disembark the bus for a better view. Some to catch another at the next stop up. A few of them are concerned about you: a middle-aged lady in gaudy print, the blonde who reads sci-fi and misses her transfers. The bus driver starts to cry. He thinks he will be fired. Soon, sirens peel traffic into impatient halves. The ambulance, red and white, spills more people onto the asphalt. It is too little. It is too late. Your life has become a mountain of freight waiting at the address on your photo ID. Suddenly abandoned, overburdened with clothing, couches, yearbooks, rings, recipes, receipts, waiting now for the journey to other houses, other boxes, other shelves and closets. Your body commences death without ceremony and without your permission. Your veins constrict. Your heart, shocked, sputters, and stops. On the dark pavement, red, wet, and cold, gapes everything you’ve left undone, unborn, unspoken, and unclaimed.
Sheary Clough Suiter
In Spite of Keats Beauty is pain, pain beauty – all women on earth know and need to know. My sister, who starved her way through puberty initiated me into rituals of angelic torture. Squinting and brandishing tweezers like surgical pincers, she clenched my chin, forced my face into the light, and explained with Spiced Cider lips, “There is no beauty without pain,” wincing with me at every pluck.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Claudia Ferriz Green
A court, Back Of The Yards, embraced its denizens, out for a late night half court battle, as innocent and dangerous as adolescence.
Dirty Laundry in Juneau
My baby and I stood in “X” shaped shadows, shocked and awed by the nauseating speed, as each baller cut in and out of the darkness. Hot Chicago, cooled by the encroaching black, paused as if it were in a spotlight, theater in the round. Silence permeated the air. We gathered around the sound of the basketball, “thwiing-ing” when struck. Elsewhere, a conversation between gangs had turned in some sullen alley. And then here, bullets “thwack-thwacking” from a chaotic sieve of light, four shadows collapsing into one. Where was my baby? I went numb, an asteroid floating, imprisoned in the ring of a gaseous giant. I turned my gaze to a single star, wishing the light would escape away and not die toward. My baby was missing, and I was Magellan to find her.
It happened at the laundromat in Juneau, Alaska. The boy was fifteen and was left with his dirty laundry. They left him with his laundry. They left him... there. Father and step-mother had made it seem like a game—a survival game, so the son wouldn’t balk, wouldn’t try to follow them to Paradise, where they went to chase their golden dream. What the boy didn’t know were a few things like how to work a washing machine, how to work a budget, how to work... His father gave him one hundred dollars—and emancipated him: “You’re on your own, now, isn’t this exciting!” They found him a dump to live in and they left to catch their plane. They flew to Kaua’i, The Garden Isle, where rainbows play on every jagged peak. The boy stood in the laundromat staring at the washing machine, without a clue about how to work it. Great sobs choked him and, when that was done, he set about cleaning his dirty laundry, and that is the day he became a man.
Unnamed Creek Behind Cavazos’ House Like a backyard dog, he had a backyard creek, not a show-creek that flashes in sunlight. Tail wagging, this creek can only burrow down all day covered up by its own digging, this is no big prize, muddy-black, a bone-hidden creek. Someone might think it’s run-off, really it’s a run-away that has found your house. All day coming and going and never leaving, no deep ambition to be a river of rivers, this is just a backyard shady creek living in the world’s shadow. This is your fate, my fate, we bend words to fit pain into our nightmares. What about air and light? Easier to name the air and light than an unnamed creek, an unnamed cold dog that never leaves.
Williams’ Chickens The red wheelbarrow is American-made, made in New Jersey. The chickens that are white are not Tyson or caged or yellow ones from Arkansas. You’d say they run free range but more backyard and free verse. What is truly remembered is that it’s early morning and there’s glazing on everything, the morning, the rain, that wheelbarrow and Williams’ white chickens. So much depends and it lasts such a short time.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Once we were children in summer, Untethered and open. We began the day as always, Yelling and whispering words now rare, Nearly unsaid in our talk today – Katydid June bugs Blackbird Powdery millers Lightening bugs Daddy long legs Box turtle Mud dauber Pinching bug Right Through Me Ant hill, ant home Ground hogs, muskrat – Those creatures escape our care now, vanish from our language. We ended the day as always, The sun an exploding tangerine Dangled behind a maple As a tinge of heat pulled from the air. Running, running into the haze, Then the dusk. Then the black. Running still Until the night tied closed as a knotted bed sheet. Prayers rattled on a quick rote wheel Before they tucked us into our place. At the first moment, Sneaking from under a thin linen cover To peek once more through the window Into the world, Always, our attention uncluttered, undiverted, Drawn to the unseeable.
Why she thought the fox would like Cool Ranch Doritos I don’t know.
Sheary Clough Suiter
This must have been another insult for the beautiful but lame fox outside the Kodiak Airport.
crabapples we threw crabapples over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. our skinny arms stealing raspberries through the links. whispering what we thought were scary whispers through the screen on the old man’s window. we thought we were cartoon gangsters. we thought we were in a funny movie. we were being bad and giggling about it. two out of three stooges on a criminal spree. abbott and costello gone deliciously evil. i hit my buddy in the head with the shovel we’d found. i was surprised it didn’t make such a funny noise. the sound of metal on his skull. the smell of blood in his matted hair. our fingers red already with the stain of raspberry guilt. we were apprehended easily. we were summarily sentenced. larry, moe, and curly were verboten after that. no more dennis the menace.
Not So Deep Our Bay Not so deep our bay, 100 feet at most. Now in summer evening calm painted by slanting sun, it reflects spruce-dark hills spiked with old snow, the lime of new growth in an avalanche path, the peachy-gold of the sky. We watch small shifts of texture— an auklet trails a watery vee, rings spread from the heron’s stab, patches shimmer where herring gather to wait tonight’s round moon to carry them high up the beach where they will spawn in stranded seaweed. Then. Eruption. A ragged circle of great unhinged jaws rises from the bay, water streaming through black baleen, pale bellies exposed, an explosion of splash as they settle back into their element, gulping down the strained herring. White-bodied gulls, noisy and suddenly purposeful, swarm in to scoop up the leavings. After the melee, a rippling chorus of exhalations spume the air. Then the deep diving breath, the humping back, the patterned wings of tail arcing toward the sky, the vanishing. We waited nearly half an hour. Gulls scattered. Sky dimmed. Bay faded flat steel gray, then dark. We did not sense the whales’ deep entrance into our shallow bay or see the careful circle of bubbles netting around the silvery school or hear the high-pitched signal to rise. We did not suspect nine massive bodies circling beneath the gloss of sunset water, below the surface of our perception, deeper than our placid imaginations.
Insinuate Yourself in Willows In spring when snow is glazed with crackly crust, there is no profit in snowshoeing this valley to look for animals or other moving wonders. Instead, insinuate yourself in willows. Wait for the snow to settle its creak against your boots. Wait for the frost that falls from the thicket to calm. Wait until, in the silent air, the only drifting crystalline motes are from some passing wisp of cloud. Leave gloved hands in your pockets. Gently ease forth your steaming breath. Stand rooted as a stubby bush. Do nothing but wait. In time, living signs will emerge from the trees, the snow, from the breadth of the valley to fill your hidden eyes, to sate your thirsty memory.
Coot, Lake Como, Italy
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
The Rhythm of the Rain People say things about the rhythm of the rain. I’m listening to it right now; It has no rhythm; It is wondrously and gloriously random.
Even the accents of large drops from the naked tree branches above, Come each in their own cadence Never in any kind of meter at all. I can remember all the times Sitting small in the back of the faded red Volkswagen van, The wind slapping rain into its bank of windows, Its flat top like a snare drum Played with a thousand chop sticks. And driving, The way the water would Pass each window in waves; A sideways Pacific, Crawling from front to back Before slipping away, Simply crashing on the shore and disappear Beyond the pane. Past the rubber seal and sun faded paint To land anonymously, As another random Rain drop.
Willow 1 Child’s windy fortress green light and flight in the wild company of clouds.
The Western Dusky-Footed Wood Rat I was here first. I am sober. Clean. I raid garbage, scavenger of shiny toss-aways. Call me trader rat: I take one thing, give you something else. You take instant; I take long haul. I live in your sliver of west coast basin and range, a bush architect of brush mounds and debris. I hide nests in thickets of himalayan blackberry, the invader. You kill off spotted owls that hunt me you pursue me as if I’m the stow-away wharf rat jumping ship and sewered. I abhor cats, traps, and poison, coyotes, hawks and paved parking lots. I run nights on quiet feet. I’ll be here as long as -You cedar lodge people, gold diggers, fur trappers, soil tillers, trail builders, hikers, bikers, and homesteaders. I’m the packrat of go-west destiny. maybe longer.
Here to There on Portland’s Rainy November Streets I had a place to go, the carpark and upstairs to his office for a ride home to hungry. Reheat of nutloaf. Bent from the cycle of work, disagreements over strategy, the nine hour days that pay for my life, I passed the Asian art store, a window full of china, porcelain ladies in kimonos, fragile white parasols sweet little black slippers. They were so far away, my eyes shifted to my reflection in that window of my bundled up coat, rain dripping from my hair. Then I knew where I was going, what spirit I breathed as the path to the end of my days. No china, no parasols, no dainty little slippers. Clean drizzle from my hair into my eyes pooling with love for nutloaf and high boots.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Eric le Fatte
Cusp of the Rains Days shorten as though they too are hunkering down for the rains, and knowing they are on the way, we take Douglass squirrels in the gutters or towhees scratching in the weeds as openly prophetic signs. The willow raps knuckles on our panes and purple figs fall, spent, into the yard: if these aren’t ushers of impending storms it comes as a reprieve, even though we’ve already stored the sun in the garage next to the shovel and the hoe, and prepared ourselves, like sinners, for mist and drizzle to remind us
it’s from one part dirt and two parts water that we’re made.
Lake of the Angels The Lake of the Angels awoke as an ocean of glass, so submerged features of logs, stones, and grasses superimposed with peaks. Mount Skokomish floated herself as a banner, illuminated by morning. Cascades, heather, pines and rock gardens bore fluid proportions, with the sky in the water more blue than the blue in the sky.
The convergence lasted less than an hour, exposed by the sun, swept away by a breeze. The images themselves can’t be unwritten. Reflections are what we see.
Near Power Creek In a borrowed red Dodge with windshield cracked I travel alone, every mile wishing away a flat tire. The ocean and mountains of Cordova dissolve, replaced by river delta expanse. Nearly twenty years I stayed with a man who could spot betrayal in forgotten condiments and spoiled vegetables but was blind to the imprint his sharp fist left upon our living room wall. Fifty empty miles of dirt road and at the end: a rusted cantilevered bridge crosses the Copper River; the simple road disappears into a deserted past. Earthquake and flood splintered two bridge spans askew; 18,000 cubic feet of concrete, 5 million pounds of steel, this 1910 celebrated glory now cobbled together with sheetmetal. Once, he sliced the breakfast bread with careless precision through the forgiving grain, while he watched me and made soft promises with the knife. The bridge cries like a kettle drum as the pickup rumbles across. Childâ€™s Glacier and the riotous river overpower the vacancy. The river slides in loud silence back to tomorrow.
He was unmovable; me: unable to move. I canâ€™t tell the shame of my staying so long. In the distance, the glacier calves: shotgun boom of ice as it separates and splashes house-sized bergs into the river, birthing a two-foot wake. I listen to the sound of the water, the echo of ice letting go.
First and Last
You read that it was for you, confused by the convergence of disparate objects, the oxymoronic kernel. Stuffy air fleeing the scene. We tried to make out of our banalities something worth remembering, though what we remembered was never our choice, never up to us, still we persist, it is something to do, laying here on the bed as the daylight falls across our languorous forms, the little voice: gold poles of sunlight like wrinkled metal fall across the sheets the looming clouds like milk smeared on the upper lip of the horizon Did that explain it for you? The meaning of this poem? If the title was your name would you read yourself into it, or would the poem read you? A very thin line.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Poems as Lovely as Trees Teacher told them each to write a poem on trees. Some of them wrote with a vengeance born of the fear of parental censure, some from a sense of quiet desperation, many on impulse, a few from love, though not so often the love of words. Lacuna Reflects
Ugly Lovers making whoopee in the dark contend with latent beauty, grunt by grunt, groan by groan, on a level playing field equally blind, each a black blank. Hips and hills, blankets bunched in glory, legs and arms, fractals that branch and branch, the slow work of birth begins with a shiver in the sensate nerve. Let us praise now the misshapened, the roly poly, the puffy, the boney, snaggled, pocked, hairy-backed, flat-chested, beer-bellied, bald, knockkneed, weak-chinned, wall-eyed wonder of us. Praise now the gutsy art of desire in the bow-legged bull and cow of us.
Teacher told them to illustrate their work. They must use their imagination. They must do their best to think like specific trees: think like an oak, like a maple shedding its leaves, like larch, white pine, willow beside a slow stream. Teacher told them they must reach high, walked them around the block for inspiration. Lily pinched Aidan and made him cry. Mia slapped Ben because she really liked him. Mason said nothing because he secretly loved Lily and Mia. Then it started to rain. Hard. Teacher told them she would have their poems displayed at the county fair so everyone could see and admire. They must do their best. Trees soon swept over their fourth-grade world like skyscrapers in seven out of thirty-six poems. The judge awarded each one a blue ribbon.
Wheelbarrow me to the dance under the tree by the tavern. Turn around, turn around, bark shins, stub toes, eat chicken, and steal my watch. Barf in a barrel and call me honey. If painters paint us show the brush strokes, bristle tracks, and thumb smudge, our nicks and knocks. Let mudslide oils beget our boys and girls.
Elizabeth L Thompson
Getting a Place at the Lake My wife dreams of a lake and of me fishing from the dock early and late, and she dreams herself swimming languidly day after day whatever the weather. Our busy children will visit reluctantly feeling obliged and slightly resentful they did not grow up with a lake in their lives like their wealthier, happier cousins. They’ll make no secret of it: Why a lake that won’t allow powerboats, a lake that bans jet-skis in favor of paddles, strenuous oars, or whimsical sails? Lakes like this, they’ll claim, are puddles. Lakes like this make very little sense.
The Confession of a Knot Misheard what had been spoken. Intended meaning twisted, words becoming, confession of a knot. Retrace conversation back to source. There is shared fluency, this language of departure. When you describe where you travel afterwards. You do not say, beach. instead, you utter the word, ocean, eyes never meeting mine. This is how I know you will not return.
When my father was so young. He raised a tool shed in the backyard of his family’s summer home. All the glass has since been broken out. Those windows empty, their dark eyes staring back across an impossible canyon. No one fetches tools there anymore. And this is how I have learned. This tangle, like many others before, will come to pass, perhaps like the tide.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Room 214 I slide my key card into the slot — the door unlocks with the subtlest click. I swing it wide open and stand on the threshold, admiring my newfound cloister. It has that lovely, consecrated fragrance — soap, bleach, stale tobacco — that always calms and comforts me after a day on the road. Opaque grace, musty white weight. I take peculiar pleasure in finding little traces of the room’s previous occupants that the cleaning staff has overlooked: a gum wrapper beside the bed, a business card in the desk drawer. Sometimes the shower is still wet. When the TV screen flickers to life, their channel of choice is revealed. As I nestle into the bedding, I find the aroma embedded even deeper there. I imagine who was here before — an architect who watches golf and smokes Camels or maybe Newports. I leave the curtains open — the highway glows. The parking lot is cloaked in snow. I do not sleep alone tonight.
The End of Karen “The End of Karen” is what was inscribed on the Post-It note I found sticking to the Washington Monument. A threat? A dirty joke? The joyous proclamation of a newly divorced man? The note fluttered, clinging to the monolith for dear life as the January wind whipped up a deafening maelstrom of snow and ice. Walking toward Constitution Avenue, I looked back and saw that bright yellow square still there, still tantalizing. The Mall was a desolate white prairie.
Sharon Lask Munson
Heat Gallatin River, Montana
Not a single stonefly rises. Even the trout swim out of sight moving deep into pools behind mossy boulders and sunken Ponderosa pines. The river tumbles downstream. We listen to the music of small rapids, strain of a Western Meadowlark, hum of insects beyond the huckleberry. On the far side of the whitewater we discover a grassy cove cloaked by tall cottonwoods, make love in the afternoon.
Gone to Seed
Later you fan me with the brim of your Stetson as I lie in the shadow of the Rockies, watch two dark-winged butterflies on a Star Lily leaf.
Questions Beneath the Surface It’s been more than 25 years, but seems just yesterday the spring morning bloomed bright, so full of promise and the river shed its icy skin to flow wild, untamed carrying with it the last cold tendrils of winter.
Now it is the memory of you that rests forever beneath these waters swallowed whole by the sacred trinity of Athabascan rivers: the Skwentna, the Yentna, the Susitna. So many questions were left unanswered— does it serve any purpose to ask one last time? What was it like to slip beneath the surface? Did you call out your wife’s name as the current pulled you deeper? Did you whisper to your young daughter as you tumbled toward the ocean? Could you feel the tangled web of sorrow that would trail forever behind you? Were you there at the funeral mass five days later? Could you smell the perfume of new cottonwood leaves mingle with the scent of beeswax candles? Did you see the sunlight stream through stained glass windows casting a patchwork of wavering blues and greens on the tiled floor? Could you hear the mourners speak in sacred, hushed tones— follow their gazes downward to the colors that danced along the ground like a beautiful river, one far removed from their nightmare of loss? Did you hear the service begin with calming music? Did you watch it change shape as your young brother, picked up the microphone, pointed to the church door and shouted, “He’s not dead, you know. He’s coming through that door any minute.” And we turned, as a group, to watch for the miracle that was not to be. Could you hear the startled sobs rise from each pew as the fresh wave of grief swept over us like the river’s cold, dark water?
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
These New Elevations
Beartooths to Sunlight Basin
More than mile-high roads still closed in June led us switchbacking the pined steeps
I watch you from the rotting wooden bridge in this long anticipated season repeating your ritual swim against the current, imagining yourself into a silted conception. Are you weary in your wisdom as your deepened scaly shades wash away in creation, leaving some new deposit of possibility? Your old softening bones float out to sea one small ripple at a time.
peaks zig zagging as well as wind and weather zero to ninety in Augustâ€™s last week to a zipper of tundra against horizon small lakes of snow melt embossed in sparse greens white blooms clinging to crunch-soil down through boulders and the upright cliffs slim falls of water glacier fed and soundless track of bear where snow crossed a trail the bobbed bounding of mule deer falcon and hawk a startle in the galleried distance below us
Spawnâ€”Glass work by Judy Orvik
Shadow Lake Snow Snakes
Sky moved with the edges of storm above small and spartan enormities over three passes to Sunlight Basin its great rock vessel plowing cloud furrowed scantly with blue ballast-blades of rock antiqued in dusk trailing the wake where we hiked obscure separate and longing upward and downward until we lost breath
not the inviting cotton candy snow scene on a holiday greeting card or sparkling fluffy flakes floating softly in the shaken crystal globe these wind whipped ice shards blown thrown stinging not sticking hurled swirled across bare brown ground like long white snakes slithering in the sand Thin Humor
36 Jeremy Pataky
Manual Labor in the Era of Delinquent Weather Brett Murphy
How It Goes On
We arrived without boats by way of the ramped-up violence of a road’s frost heaves, the dilemma of organizing
Some of each life is lived in italics.... There are people who choose a story, a picture, a sound. a road’s river stones in low winter water. Guided by their trance, they escape the world. We filled the open space with rescued cables and timbers -- William Stafford
before activating through networks of chain letters.
I’ve wondered, since my father died--after eighty-one years on the same piece of land-if they have now met: he and three writers near his age who made me think of him in their words, what was held in reserve in their faces. Stafford, Hugo, Stegner. I imagine them surprised they missed company on earth-Hugo chuckling in that same subdued way as my father: In your valley, you too were the only man going your direction.... Hands signaling the same common grace, the fading degrees of grey in the eyes.
The inferno embers resuscitate. The cavern we carve is the cavity aching up into a yardage of spruce smoke, sudden scratch of a felt pen, a woman behind sunglasses calling yellow-rumped warblers in through poplars. And if the river began to gnaw out of its habits, if it threatens the foundation of the homemade bridge, could stacking stones one at a time have convinced it otherwise? We put forth our sweat faith and will accept the inundation to come.
I see my father with his last sorrel team mowing carefully around a fox den; Stafford rendering almost fearful thoughts of a telephone wire gone blank through miles of winter, an open description of a red fox at the edge of a field. Going on in that hesitant way... but going on. And I think of the wise edge in Stegner’s smile, his storied way of saying: we were right to doubt, we were right to believe; and how good it was you made your way with your own words slipped into the hymns of others.
Valley of the Middle Glacier
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Sky Behind Weather Are you just weather
and birds? Always the light forging colors from air, curtains of rain and some measure of distance to peaks. We see our former selves, poorer, with bright lichen eyes and time for the weathered core of this old volcano, frost-wedged and slid down into
a painting. A symmetry develops between the campfire and the aurora. They are responsive, attentive, and the water sings that out the still lake sings that out. The sky behind weather is a forestâ€™s worth of berries illuminating unseeable attics in birds. Our selves behind sleep almost know us almost consider leaving a note on the table in the window. Jeremy Patakyâ€™s debut book of poetry, Overwinter, will be published by University of Alaska Press, Alaska Literary Series in March 2015.
If hope were a shriek in the night and we heard it in spring wind, saw it in the distance as we wheeled from Seattle for a long weekend with lover at Omak, smelled it
in towns we drove by, got a glimpse amid roadside wheat desiring more sun in sky not all that pale yet wishing itself were a shade deeper blue, we’d sense it oozing in veins past clots ready to break loose, collect in brains only yearning for longer life, not seeking revenge for years and years of grease sopped up with fresh bread, having forgotten vows never to wipe bacon drippings from plates again—
A Studious Model
and, maybe, finally, touch it, trace it on lover’s thigh in desperate, periwinkle pulsing, making us anything but shy—
Cherish I remember when the leaf shadows made patterns On your naked belly I traced them with my tongue.
last chance to be revered under silk Omak sheets, where, moved by relief, not lust, we would shriek, not cry.
Your long brown toes lay on the moss-slick rocks Near the lake. The gentle waves softening their calluses. You leaned back, your naval arched a welcome To the sun. The shadows traveled between your thighs. Chamomile and fireweed sent blessings. We chewed mint; Read stories to each other. The devils club slapped our thighs. We laughed. We will cherish every festering thorn.
Frozen Rainbow – Thunderbird Falls, Alaska
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Matthew Campbell Roberts
Back to Burley Creek
I found the cabin door kicked open, death inviting me inside. My thoughts were nervous trout darting there and there. Cobwebs fluttered as I walked the dank kitchen— a mural of powdery mold, empty Black Label beer cans, smashed plates, and yellow newspapers— to where a four-point buck, knocked from the wall, gazed through a stained ceiling.
Driving North Cascades Highway I thought of Kerouac on Desolation Peak awake at 2:00 am listening to mice scratching rafters pacing the fire lookout, corner to corner, gazing at his green reflection against dark cliffs to pass time.
An old man lived here slouched in his blue-flannel shirt, canvas fishing hat cocked sideways, and black-framed glasses, lenses thick as ice, pointing to a pool he said I could fish. Burley Creek was my refuge from drunken words hurled through windows like stones. Here, time grew into itself like blackberry vines creeping beneath cedar shingles. Here, steelhead tilled gravel against dark currents. Now decades later I’m back skinning leaves from an alder branch, wrapping mono around its tip, lobbing a nymph into an undertow. The dizzy eddies go round and round. Everyone is gone. Loss is a confluence of shadows passing through me, one last time, again. And waters that kept us sing about nothing. And the far gray light, strained by alders, reaches for sunken stones.
The guy wires humming violently in the wind, mist rising from forgotten creeks, a space he called “The Void”— an awareness, a loss of hope, a world of shimmering terror that followed the rest of his life.
That Summer Headed South to Big Trees Portland to Government Camp The driver of the bus was tracing a line Portland to Madras then south to Bend, Oregon connecting a landscape dotted with pioneer names: Sandy, Zigzag, Government Camp down from the mountain to Terra Bone. Threading the pass, a shimmering needle sliding through spruce warp and weave of Doug Fir, he talked all the while his mirror pushed back against day’s failing light. In Welches by the Dairy Queen a man, with a wagon in tow, a dog on a rope, a book in his hand and a voice like a river gone under alders that no one had noticed in years. Government Camp to Madras Entering high bench pine they descended cut fields of tied hay stacked against sky the harvest invoking a darkening wind where a man in his fields, his head bowed against rosary bails, prayed away rain.
Madras Toward Klamath Falls The driver studied her worn out shoes an earnest press in her lips and a line half the length of her arm like a river gone back to its source. He studied the sun, its fabric unspun by the pull of the road. Through his windshield bespattered with evening’s first offering— insects like goats on the stone— he scanned the horizon ignoring his mirror, refusing to speak; just a person, he thought, traveling alone.
Fantasy Sunday A guy on the night cleaning crew, he and his linoleum buffer, both, there they go. Girl on a seesaw. One squirrel. Dispensations occur, things float up. I see a stone rotating and rising over flat water – quick bounce, only that. And the hairbrush rotating, the sandal a slow tumble, that armadillo – nobody sees those.
That river, the driver remarked as they crossed it, flows north, can you believe that? Rivers don’t flow north. We all know. It has something to do with how the planet spins. That river…backasswards if you ask me.
Like how a gradient creek riffles into pools where trout find stone flies, this Sunday the planet exhales. Conflicts don’t stop but the peaches sweeten.
What she asked him instead, black hair pulled back and tied off with twine, eyes trained on diminishing road, was about that other old man by his mailbox still waving.
Black headed grosbeaks nest. New moon. And snow sachets its way like touch – each flake, it being winter, summer, dark and light at the same time.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
In Lockup When rains pound roofs you do not hear it. You hear plumbing, snoring, nothing, occasionally the past – not what brought you here but fantasy, an actor famous in your role. In one scene, unspoiled milk gets poured on dry cereal in a white bowl, a long take on a back porch, sun through a volunteer sumac, grass too high for a mower, a burn barrel, an old tire in which red geraniums bloom. What got you here is what you did one day, one evening after one long bad fucking day. It was bad, more than apology. Clear now as the knuckles on your hand. The actor playing your role slides a marshmallow on a sharpened stick and that sweet white catches fire. You read as sea levels rise, Miami Beach will sink, everyone move to Orlando. The question today is always the next question – what’s next? A question you can’t tell the size of until it’s here
and you’re supposed to be ready.
Playing Rummy with a Stranger on an Airport Floor (tritina)
Five hours of sleep, awkward meet and greets mingle coffee breath and carpet smell, sorts Bob Marley music into a curious moment, a ten-hour layover, where people are like vending machines, blending into taupe walls, under-peopled corridors, where I observe your fingers, how they hold coffee cups and cards, pull on pant legs when they’re nervous and musically pulse to the sound of bottles dropping in garbage cans. It feels like a musical where couples meet and stumble into stranger’s arms. But the bossy people megaphone announces flight 61. Your hands advance toward my coffee-cup write digits, lips leave musical beats—coffee kisses, and we become people again. Tie Door
The Long Camino
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
El Largo Camino Translator: Edna Ochoa
The Long Camino
The earth-toned camino beneath your feet Stretches behind you and back through time To the beginnings of Mariachi Vargas, A group of just four players Who traveled to play in the small towns of Jalisco. Then the invitation to play at a cantina in Tijuana, Prohibition, 1931, Entertaining Californians who flocked there To hear mariachi music and drink shots of tequila. You dressed in white pants and shirts of manta -Around your waist, red woven belts. 1934, El Presidente, Lázaro Cárdenas, Invited you to play at his inauguration In Mexico City. Flush with power, he appointed you the “official band” of the Mexico City Police Department. With paycheck in hand, Wearing your first trajes de charro de gala, You shook the dust of the camino off your boots. Your memory reaches back to those who starred in the film Asi Es Mi Tierra, to the addition of “de Tecalitlán” to your name, to a recording contract with RCA, to becoming El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo. Shadows slip through the sounds of decades to the trumpet of Miguel Martínez adding his graceful sound to the performances, the days and nights traveling the camino to accompany Lola Beltrán and José Alfredo Jiménez, and later, much later, Linda Rondstadt in her Canciones de Mi Padre tour . . . . O dark singer, you hold that microphone in your hand, and command the stage for the entire world. How far you have traveled with that white sombrero, Dressed now in a bright red charro suit with silver botonaduras, Here to sing un canción.
El camino de tonalidad de tierra bajo de tus pies Se estira detrás de ti y regresa a través del tiempo A los inicios del Mariachi Vargas, Un grupo de cuatro músicos Que viajaba para tocar en los pequeños pueblos de Jalisco. Luego la invitación para tocar en una cantina de Tijuana, La Prohibición, 1931, Entretenimiento de californianos que se reunían allí para escuchar música de mariachi y beber tragos de tequila. Vestidos con pantalones blancos y camisas de manta -Alrededor de su cintura, cinturones rojos tejidos. En 1934, el presidente, Lázaro Cárdenas, Los invitó a tocar en su inauguración En la ciudad de México. Favorecido con el poder, él los nombró la “banda oficial” del Departamento de Policía de la ciudad de México. Con un cheque en la mano, Vistiendo sus primeros trajes charros de gala, Sacudieron el polvo del camino de sus botas. Su memoria se remonta a aquellos que actuaron en la película Así es mi tierra a la suma “de Tecalitlán” a su nombre, a un contrato de grabación con RCA, para convertirse en El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo. Las sombras se deslizan a través de los sonidos de las décadas, a la trompeta de Miguel Martínez uniendo su elegante sonido a las presentaciones, los días y noches viajando el camino para acompañar a Lola Beltrán y José Alfredo Jiménez, y más tarde, mucho más tarde, a Linda Rondstadt en su gira de Canciones de mi padre . . . . Oh cantante oscuro, sostienes este el micrófono en tu mano, Y dominas el escenario por el mundo entero. Qué lejos has viajado con ese sombrero blanco, Vestido ahora con un brillante traje rojo de charro Con botonaduras plateadas, Para cantar una canción aquí. Steven and Reefka Schneider will have a new collection of their poetry and art, The Magic of Mariachi, published by Wings Press in 2016. The artwork and poem “The Long Camino” will appear in this book.
One Last Time When a full morning sun is hanging over me, feeling what it has consumed and the wind embodied through the birches tears at the leaves until it dies or the afternoon is a school of silver salmon, arguing higher powers in the shallows and the night turns the baritone of mountains into the epitome of paper cut outs or the evening song of a hermit thrush is the echo of an echo of a echo, I will see your harvesting arms, your Buddha eyes and I will miss you one last time.
Birch Trees 1
She names names, makes birthdays, takes equestrian accidents in stride. One day her children leave.
The second doll sets herself apart to let the third doll go free. A year passes.
The swaddlingâ€™s done, milk and chocolates drunk and eaten, floors swept.
Another year. A decade, a week, and some days later the fourth doll sets out on her journey.
Then the fourth doll becomes the fifth: a proper Matroyshka with painted eyes, white apron, red cheeks.
This little matron goes down the sturdy road, past the barn, the pastry shop, and church steeple.
Sheâ€™s not quite solid enough to be the sixth one, who commands the set by gobbling up
A river, its water like bunting, a wooden bridge. The fourth doll looks to find a family.
the others with her body. Still, the second doll holds amnesia in its wooden head. An absence of memory,
She buys herself a husband, a house, a kitchen, a sofa, a table and side chairs.
a lacy doily. On occasion she defies the others by sleeping like a husband on the couch, its stained flower-hands.
In the time of birds It will do no good whatsoever. It will make neither one of us happy. Kingfishers trill in unison. You like these damn birds, I can’t stand them. Noisy, garrulous creatures. We’re totally different. Owls’ eyes stare back dark and seductive. Let’s say goodbye now. Let’s end it. I don’t want to find out your secrets. Blue herons stalk through the waters. You even find raindrops romantic. I tell you, we have nothing in common. Ravens squabble in the high branches. Why are you growing on me? This is insane, pure madness. Woodpeckers acupuncture cedars. I won’t fall in love with you. Never. These feelings make me uneasy. Seagulls descend in hundreds. I enjoy being alone. I don’t need confusion and tension. Eagles ruffle their feathers in treetops. Why do I find you attractive? Since when did you become so pretty? Hummingbirds hang buzzing in air. OK, I give in. I do love you. Damn you for ruining my peace and quiet. Blue jays parade their plumage. What a terrible error in judgment. The best mistake I ever made? Chickadees dance in the meadows. Eugene Solovyov’s poetry collection , How to Frame a Landscape, was published by Petroglyph Press, June 2014.
Appetites I love the light almost as much as the biscuit on my plate, having given up jam and butter, but the sun I drink with my cup of coffee brings me heat and no guilt by association, acquaintance with my middle age—the spread I struggle against, vanity mixed with sanity. My head sticks to one story, my gut another ending. I pretend I’ve paid for this morning flight from rain, to sprawl in the desert, watch the shadows shift— I’m a sunflower, Van Gogh’s tournesol to track the fire across a day, pray I don’t burn. ~~~ Across the day burning, I pray to swallow simple seeds. If I could learn like a bird, day-long forage, peck and graze. I savor the light like a bouquet. Chardonnay, gold nuance in a glass. How many ways can I consume—more—and be embraced?
I trust the clock doesn’t run faster, hands awhirl like children reaching dizzy. I don’t like the spinning. Or this vision— tree from the backyard and my young self in a blue jacket, knee-high as the world twirled around. This fixed in my head like an envelope stuffed in a desk, pigeon-holed and I’m the flea-bitten bird in my own hand, no parable of doves or bleeding saints. ~~~ Faith a market pierced and cornered by the saints, but I’ve heard about the Frenchman in the bar painting them all in his likeness, his face on the canvas, bodies speared by arrows, pocked with pestilence— now he’s in his fifties he finds and feeds this new motif, and sleeps through the early mass. The story goes he sailed to his usual table surrounded by believers—women as supple as brushes, blending into the sable evening and ice in glasses. In Paris, one understands how to sate all appetites. One understands the way to love the light.
I leave the news to you to cover, tell me local stories when I’ve returned from the garden. Call me shallow, I’m drying up and I make no excuses. Another hunger to fill, words on other pages. Sage advice with salt. I’m low altitude, high maintenance. ~~~ Let me pen my dramas in my lowest Hell. Leave a plate of cheese, lemon vodka. I sour long, ferment for dusty sun. Brett Murphy
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Untitled Stony stares slowly stir non-porous porridge (if ratios align): Cement, sand, aggregate, and Water. We flow, freeze, and later drip— depending on moods, on circumstances, depending on weather. Fair is foul; foul is fair. Three witches dance around their brew and everything suddenly becomes so concrete. Axis Mundi
Suspended Inspiration Swimming forces truth into my ears. I can only think– No talking, just breath holding, expelling, and inhale again, seeking the rhythm of subsistence. Drifting through disorganized freeze-frames of “last times” disjointed chronologies of first kisses and burnt bridges intangible flashes of light. (it begins to set in that i am alone)
Passing Through the Visible
submerged in an underwater world– a weightless union of future you and present me. With time, my mind allows silence to embrace us.
Mental Illness In America Reynolds High School Shooting, May 2014
Pomology Lessons 1 Out the 9th floor window the sky is filled with oyster light. Clouds migrate, buildings exhale, while morphine drips and yellow-green drains out a tube in her side. 2
After my eyes welled wet, after my Facebook post about violence, teachers, fear, after watching a reporter interview a kid in shock wondering where his sister was, after hearing the gym teacher was fine, the bullet only grazed his hip, after the horror of it, I caught myself looking at my toes noticed I needed a pedicure thought Popsicle Pink would match my new blouse.
Back home in my parent’s garage are bags of yesterday’s apples, tree limbs unfettered, fruit resting ripe, on cold cement. 3 My Dad pulls the nurse aside, asks how long before his wife can go home? Explains they have pies to bake. Before she can answer, he begins a lecture on Liberty Apple pomology. Brett Murphy
He describes deep red skin with fleshly yellow insides. Praises their hardiness and vigor. Elucidates her, on their one demand of well-drained soil. And when he senses the nurse become increasingly bored, he becomes increasingly animated – especially at the part about low disease susceptibility, how they are foolproof really, reliable, well balanced, and sweet.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Dwarf Birch Light
A change in weather: cold creeps over skin, the furnace burns brightly for awhile and we take small pleasure in the warming. I’m no expert on joy, but savor fall colors— red delicious, pumpkin, green going yellow or burnt sienna, the color of cave paintings, the ancient ones left before leaving.
Sometimes, I think how little I have done, my legacy: a chair I made, two children with my wife, a golf swing or two on target, the tending of things that break, and this wish for all of us — peace brothers, sisters, fruit of blue water and a long kiss of the sun.
The Conifer Eater: Leave-taking Jim Thiele
Erin Renee Wahl
Devils in the Television and on my wrist the watching click of things I should’ve done yesterday burning scathing holes
in my own secret liquid static. The palm moves like a real tropic tree, all bend and waving fancy plastic digits to impress the glorious masses. My own sense of self wavers in the cool blast of blue and colors. All these little golden girls and boys know they’re more real than me. They taste that good grit, tongues wagging for water and the next line. Plush comfort my game, I sit and lie in wait for the next installation of digital lines to curve.
I never felt sorry for you, holding my hand. My satiation when the twigs were too dry, I fed off of you like new green. You let me become your beloved parasite. Those days I went beyond wintergreen in the boughs— drank your tears when you cried. The harsh woman who made you fear those things you didn’t know. You were the new buds too tame to resist. Your fingers caught in my hair: I broke them off and ate them whole. Your lips on the turn of my chin were slowly nibbled away. I gifted the strands of your golden hair to the birds who guarded my trees, where they hung shimmering in the organic jade. We were always opposite of one another. I was always the cold one. Roaming the winter woods for my next meal of green, eyes laying like ice crystals on the frosted fronds, searching out a mouthful or you. Today I woke up in the crater of rock and saw no orange blaze of fire. Heard no sizzle and snap of bacon fat. Too broken to carry on in my furry shadow, ribs broken and bleeding, flesh bruised by the beat of pine cones, tethered spirit cut loose, stuck dumb amongst the limbs of pines. Me: unreachable, and you: gray and withering. I see that you departed through the ivory snow leaving blue footprints behind you, veins of your frozen heart-blood staining those shattered snow pieces. I read the fear and darkness around your heart, purple with envy of the pines I called for in my sleep each night.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
March Midden Archeology 1999
Turnagain Arm Storm
March 15 Four feet of La Niña snow begins to melt.
the highway travels on wind and rain lash me clouds are grey, light fades snow slowly disappears the water before me is angry even while it recedes slowly yet behind me the snow swirls as shadows become thick and deep
March 16 I find the Christmas tree stand put outside our door in January. March 18 Shows brown evidence of Rover’s last days. Now dead 10 weeks. March 19 Slurry of Halloween pumpkin reduced to pale orange fibers. March 21 Sodden book; no title page. Subject of library notice? March 23 Penciled pages of son’s lost homework. Did he re-submit? March 24 Flotsam of fall wind storm: roof shingles, spruce needles, red yarn.
i give life my best shot yet rarely feel accomplished while nature around me endures all i struggle with what’s been given supposedly that means i’m just human yet why does being human hurt so much more than the life of a rock why cannot i be steady like it i forget that the wind and rain slowly turn rocks to dust frequent freezes and thaws shatter so difficult to see when it happens so much faster to me
March 25 Dead brown mouse could not find indoor safety. March 26 Nostalgia for clean white surfaces. March 27 Contemplate how snow simplified my life. March 28 Along house foundation lawn furniture appears and the ovoid of emerging crocus. Mark Muro
Windago Rolling in the hull, swells lull us to sleep, wood curves the half-moon of my back, wind whispers in the rigging. A too-long silence and another being rises, dripping, suctions to the hull, slides nails along the caulk lines, tests the porthole for an easy space. What’s that? Nothing, you mumble, nothing, just a windago, a shape-shifter in these parts. It can’t get in, go back to sleep.
You struggle an arm free, throw it over me, but it’s no good I’m wide awake listening to the windago scratch jointed fingers along the hatch, a thin plank between his beating heart and mine. You tell me in the morning light you never spoke to me last night, never heard the word “windago.” Imagination strains its nets after too many days at sea. What I don’t tell you is that now he’s coming every night, searching for a crack. I hear his ragged breath while you sleep, as I stare into the towering dark.
At the Spires
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
FICTION Tom Cantwell
Waves Two for the Road
The Open Road Janis on the iPod A semi ahead of me A pickup behind Everything seems possible Like back when Movements meant something And freedom Was just around the corner Virtue just a matter of time
The Bottoms Up drops hard off a swell, spray from the bow misting Josh’s face where he perches among crab pots and buoys at the stern. He leans to spit into the ocean, last of his Copenhagen just about done, and lifts his face to let rain wash the salt water away. His gut flutters as the boat lurches, something off with the next swell already passing beneath them, lifting the boat until it bottoms out with a crash. They’ve been riding this rollercoaster all day, thirty-four feet of boat topping waves half her size, but Josh feels something new in the struggle. He notices Skinny in the wheelhouse throwing his weight into it. They take the next swell at an angle and suddenly the prop behind Josh coughs air instead of water for a moment. He grips the rail on impact. Rico runs out of the cabin and leans out to watch the next swell. “Ebb tide!” he calls. “I know!” Skinny answers. “I got it!” Josh can just make out the light blinking on the Coos Bay jetty through the late-afternoon rain and fog, no other boats coming and going. No one else stupid enough to cross the bar on an ebb tide. “So what are we crossing for?” Rico yells. “Take us out!” “I got it!” Skinny barks. “Don’t worry!” Josh worries. Rachel had a feeling, asked him not to go out. Josh had chalked it up to hormones, her changing body. Now he’s pitted between the current and the swell, the outgoing tide and incoming waves. And both will only get stronger. The prop wheezes again like a dying old man. Josh’s teeth rattle when they slam back down. He hears machinery groaning in the bowels of the boat. The crab in the hold must be freaking out. “Stupid,” Rico mutters. He rushes into the cabin and Josh follows, slams into a wall as the boat pitches to starboard. Rico swipes everything off the life jacket storage. He got Josh this deckhand job, put in a good word with Skinny after working with Josh under the table on a demo. But he’d warned Josh about Skinny, his first run as captain after taking over the Bottoms Up from his alcoholic father. So Josh is certain there will be no life jackets. But there they are, orange like his slicker. Rico throws one at him before whipping on his own. The boat takes another wallop.
54 Rico was right. Why are they crossing now? Is Skinny stupid enough to ignore the tides? He’s got a full hold so he must know what he’s doing. And that must be it, the fat, prideful fucker. He can’t wait to show everyone he knows what he’s doing. He said so after their final haul: “Can’t wait to see the looks on them sons-a-bitches’ faces! Bottoms up, baby!” And he’d lifted an imaginary shot glass toward shore and slammed it. In the lull after the next wave, Rico stomps toward the deck but pauses, mutters under his breath as he goes back for another life jacket. They ride out a wave and Rico tosses it up to Skinny. The jacket smacks him in the back but Skinny keeps wrestling with the helm. Josh clings to Rico’s slicker as they stagger across the tilting deck. Then he grips the portside rail with both hands. Rico crosses himself and prays to Mary. The sea is literally churning, foam and one of their soda bottles swirling clockwise and counter. The Bottoms Up is thrown back into the face of a wave that pours over the stern. Josh’s feet sweep out from under him. He shrieks and loses his grip on the rail, breath sucked out by cold seawater carrying him across the deck, smashing his hip into the wheelhouse. He scrambles up and coughs out his dip, bends to catch his breath. The black wad of tobacco washes away with seawater sweeping over the deck. “Godammit!” Skinny yells, and it takes a moment to notice the silence between waves. Gulls call, water sloshes over Josh’s boots. But no engine. Rico hugs the rail, still praying. Josh splashes toward him, hip aching and cold seawater sluicing through his clothes like the frozen margarita Rachel dumped on his head. The water has sloshed through his slicker, through his Carhartt overalls and down to his long johns. What the fuck? Just minutes ago he was wondering what to order at the Grotto. He starts to shiver, fingers shaking so much on the rail he has to grip it by the crook of each arm. “Someone take the helm!” Skinny shouts. Rico and Josh look at each other. The only boat Josh has ever steered is a canoe on Devils Lake. The next wave hits from starboard and they roll toward the water, drop so close Josh clenches his eyes to brace for the cold. But the Bottoms Up rights herself. “Goddammit, Rico, get your ass up here so I can look at the engine!” Rico doesn’t budge. “Did you call us in first? Let them know!” “Fuck!” Josh takes that as Skinny admitting failure, but
CIRQUE he looks up to see Skinny focused on the next swell. A monster looming closer. Skinny pounds the controls but there’s no power. The wave is already upon them. And they’re sitting at a right angle to it. “My family!” Rico yells. Rachel! Josh screams in his head. Our baby. Then they’re climbing impossibly high, the Bottoms Up suddenly a plaything thrust sideways in the air. And now Josh is sure of it, they’re going under. Hold or let go? Josh stares into the roiling water – and then it slaps him hard across the face. Clenching tighter, screaming underwater at the overwhelming cold, his life jacket rockets him up toward the surface. His head smashes into something. Black spikes of pain. Falling in darkness. Drifting in darkness, and Josh wants to keep drifting. But the cold water shocks him awake, and then he thrashes on the surface, kicking and flailing, coughing up water and gasping like an animal caught in a trap. All he can see is water, mountains of it rising around him. His vision suddenly blurred. Iron smell. Blood in his eyes. The blow to his head. He reaches for the pain with a shaky hand, stems the bleeding. From the next peak he can make out the Bottoms Up fifty yards away, half submerged and on her side, hull and wheelhouse jutting from the sea. Josh spots movement near the boat, an arm thrown out of the water. Then he’s plummeting back into the trough. His arms feel heavy, his boots like bricks at the end of his legs. He’d be dead if not for the life jacket, and that’s shocking. That he could be dead. He doesn’t know how long he can survive in this water or how cold it is. Maybe fifty degrees, maybe half an hour. He doesn’t know if he should start thrashing again or ball up like a buoy. Blood is draining from his head, and his shaking hand flaps against the gash on his scalp, a lump there like a volcano. The next swell lifts him and he strains to spot the Bottoms Up. She’s so far now she’s barely visible. The sea is pulling him out. “Help!” Josh cries, but he can’t hear his own voice. Like shouting in a dream. His arm barely lifts out of the water when he tries to wave it. He’s in trouble. He’s able to think this despite everything else, more trouble than he’s ever been in, trouble that makes his trouble with Rachel seem laughable. He keeps remembering Rico’s last words about family and suddenly Josh has a hundred things to say to Rachel. He hopes it was Rico’s arm he saw and that he found a good perch on the Bottoms Up, and what a dumbass name for a
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 boat. Now he strains to get his bearings. He’s swung to the south, maybe dropping out of the current, though it’s hard to tell. He can make out land and the old Cape Arago lighthouse, imagines someone up there watching through binoculars. Then he notices that he is being watched, two black eyes on a grey, whiskered face. A sea lion calmly poking out of the water less than fifty feet away. Intelligence in those eyes, how they size him up. Josh has never felt so out of place. Is he interrupting its fishing? Was it drawn by his blood? Like sharks are drawn to blood. Great white sharks that eat sea lions. Josh slashes at the water, trying to swim toward shore, but his spastic fingers claw right through it. And his boots are anchors. He tries kicking one off but his leg rebels, just hangs there like a limp dick. All he can do is bob like a buoy. The sea lion is gone. From the top of the next swell, he looks for a boat. He imagines a passing fisherman hooking his life jacket with a gaff and dropping him shivering on the deck like a flopping fish. But there are no boats. He’s on his own. Rico had holy Mary, mother of God, but Josh doesn’t know her or God. And he’s not about to introduce himself now. But Josh doesn’t want to die. He wants to keep the baby. Relief surges through him, lightens him so much he practically floats above the water. He’d told Rachel it was her call, that he’d go along with whatever she wanted, but suddenly he wants to be a father. Down deep he’s wanted it since they found out, kept the desire bottled up out of fear of blowing it like his own father did. Now he wants to marry Rachel, feels like a fool for not proposing already, for taking her for granted. For thinking there was plenty of time. He wants this baby, and maybe another. And he desperately wants Rachel to know this. Even if he doesn’t make it. Life is crazy, how easy it is to die. All those times driving the coast, winding along cliffs with no railings and feeling the impulse to hold the wheel straight, just a few seconds and he’d be airborne and crashing into the ocean or a pile of rocks. Sometimes standing on a cliff and imagining stepping off, or when he held that loaded gun to his head when he was a kid. Mom’s miscarriage before him, and if that kid had been born. And just being born, making it through all that. A wave breaks over his head and jolts him awake. The life jacket keeps saving him, the only thing holding his head upright. Then, atop the next swell, he spots white foam where there should be open water. Maybe a way
55 out, a way back to Rachel. Another swell confirms it: waves crashing against offshore rocks. And the rocks are within striking distance. A sign. Though striking the rocks is just what will happen. With half his body numb, he’s a flesh and bone chunk of driftwood. He’d be lucky to keep only one gash in his head. But what else can he do? Keep floating and he’ll die. He wills his body to swim but feels disabled, spastic arm strokes and lifeless legs. He wiggles his torso like a water snake, adjusting his bearing to face the rocks with each rising swell. More exhausted each time. He hears waves on the rocks, the hiss of seawater sliding back off. He could die in seconds, like driving off those cliffs. But it’s not up to him this time. The rocks loom, dark and jumbled. The next wave grabs him. He fights the urge to close his eyes. “Rachel!” He heard himself that time. The rocks rush closer. He throws his weight back into the wave like a surfer slipping out. But surfers don’t wear life jackets. He slams into a rock. Pain shatters any numbness. The brute force of the wave pummels him against the rock with a barrage of frenzied blows. But finally he’s half on the rocks, half in the water. And he’s not dead. The life jacket has cushioned his core, kept his head from smashing. Josh wants to climb but feels like he’s still in the water, rising and falling. The rock begins spinning. A wave swells in Josh’s stomach, another ocean surging up through his body, bitter and salty, out of his mouth and all over his hands. He hears the next wave, presses into the rock to ride it out. When he’s finally steady enough to climb, he can’t feel his fingers or toes. At first he panics: did the wave sever his spine? But here he clings, each limb squeezing. Using his whole battered body now, Josh inches up like a worm. Rides out another wave. And reaches the top. He rests on a rock as wide as his splayed body, relying on gravity and the remaining strength in his arms and thighs to hug it. Little white barnacles and black mussels make a rough surface good for gripping. His fingers, the color of bone, bounce uncontrollably. He vomits again, salt water and bile, starts crying. Not sure why. Because he’s alive? Because he almost died? Because he might die? The tears pour out, more salt water, and despite everything else, it feels good like a good cry does. By the time Josh pulls it together, his whole body is shaking like a seizure. His body’s way to generate warmth, but it scares him because he can’t stop it or control it,
56 doesn’t know where else warmth will come from. His clothes are wet to the skin and the rain hasn’t let up. And it’s getting dark. He lifts his head to get his bearings, sees the lighthouse standing dark and lonely a few miles south and wishes the light could keep him company. Where’s the Coast Guard? He looks for the Bottoms Up where waves kick spray beyond the jetty. No light there. Other rocks string out like a black necklace, volcanic rock slapped and shaped by millions of waves. About a quarter mile in he can see the beach, grey sand and the promise of people, maybe an old couple walking their dog. Maybe they see him roll in with the waves and take him to their cottage, sit him by a fire with a hot cup of tea and a pile of blankets. A wave splashes his leg. He can’t risk another swim among these rocks. Even if he wanted to risk it, he doesn’t have the strength to try. But a fire would be so nice. He closes his eyes and he’s back in the old cabin feeding the woodstove, Mom on the couch and Lacey playing with her blocks. Eight years old with no old man and him in charge of the chainsaw, felling trees on their five acres to keep the woodstove burning through winter, filling the pickup in the fall to make extra money. A wave splashes his boots. He can’t remember his last fire. Maybe with Rachel, before they left Lincoln City? Lincoln City. It dawns on him he might not see home again. More work up there, but the bullshit with Randy Morgan, then Rachel’s cousin getting her the Grotto job. And now he might not see Rachel again. He can’t believe he might not see her again. She’s at work right now, waiting for him to come in so they can talk about the baby during her dinner break. He told her he’d think about it, but he hadn’t come up with anything all day. Just how young they are, how he can’t even sit at the Grotto bar. Now he might never sit at that table he likes, tucked into a corner with a view of the bay, where he can watch Rachel float through the restaurant, watch everyone watch her. She’s the hottest thing in there, hot without trying, hottest first thing in the morning. Her favorite outfit is sneakers and jeans and he loves that, wouldn’t have lasted so long with a princess. Like her mother Nancy. Fancy Nancy. A wave soaks his lower half. Josh clamps down against the cold and squeezes his rock. What was the last thing he said to Rachel? Early dark and something about seeing her later. Something a friend might say to another friend. He can’t remember the last time he told her he loved her before she told him. Maybe Lincoln City? Maybe
CIRQUE her mother’s right and she deserves more. Maybe she’ll find a guy who gives her necklaces and flowers and takes her out to more than just movies. A guy who’s thrilled right away to have a baby and doesn’t need time to think about it, and then not even think about it. A wave reaches up to his waist. He didn’t even kiss her this morning. Now he’ll never kiss her again. That first kiss at the movie theater during Spiderman, spilling soda in her lap. That first night in his room, Mom serving beer at Shucker’s and Rachel’s mother thinking they were at the movies. Rachel calling the shots, that first night only touching, a current tingling between their fingers and bodies. The nights that followed with Rachel ramping it up, so far out of his league with her looks and popularity, rebelliously slumming and trusting him with her virginity, and now he’ll never touch her body again, never feel the swell of her belly and their baby thumping around in there. A wave splashes his head. The margarita Rachel dumped on his head right after they found out, after she took the home pregnancy test in the middle of their drink, shock on her face when she walked out of the bathroom and asked, “What are we going to do?” “Whatever you want,” he’d said, and it felt true. It felt like a good answer, but she dumped her drink on his head. He’d licked salty tequila slush from his lips and walked as calmly as possible to the shower. The hot shower. Hot water at the turn of a nozzle. And stayed in there a long time, letting hot water pound his head until it turned lukewarm. Wondering what he should say or do, wondering what a father was supposed to do. Cold seawater slapping his back. He does want her to do whatever she wants, but he hopes she keeps the baby. He hopes she knows him well enough to know what he wanted better than he did. He would have made a good father. If he could just write a message on his hand: Keep the baby! Maybe I love you! on one hand and Keep the baby! on the other. A baby without a daddy, but he and Rachel turned out all right, didn’t they? She’ll go back to her mother, who will secretly be happy, never saying it’s just as well to get rid of the deadbeat right away, before the kid’s even born. Start from scratch. But her father isn’t as bad as they make him out to be. Derek. Firm handshake, rough hands, wearing jeans and looking around the gym after graduation. Has Rachel’s stepfather threatened to hurt you if you hurt my daughter? Josh shaking his head. Stepfather George with soft hands, wearing a suit. Well, he’s a pussy. I know Rachel’s a big girl, and I know you don’t know shit about me, but if you
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hurt my daughter, I’ll hurt you. Josh would never hurt his daughter. I know. Wake up now. Rachel’s voice, but he’s back on the rock, and if he slips off this rock he’s fucked. Would they find his body? He doesn’t want Rachel or Mom or Lacey having to I.D. him. Better if the crabs and fish get him. Never told anyone what he wants done with his body. Never thought much about it. You’re not going to die. He looks up at a small yellow crab staring at him. Get off my rock. Would if I could. A wave crawls up Josh’s back and he clenches but the crab doesn’t budge. There’s a puddle of water not far from his hand, and look at that. His hand isn’t shaking. His blue fingers just sit there. He’s not even shivering, though he shivers when he thinks about it, but just one shiver. What does that mean? He’s warming up? He kind of feels warm. That’s good. Or is it bad? He can’t remember. Maybe he can ride this out. Maybe this puddle is rainwater. He moves to dip a finger but his arm doesn’t move. He tries again and it budges and the crab scurries backward off the far side of
the rock. Josh can barely get his finger in the puddle and into his mouth. Salty, which makes him thirsty. He licks rainwater off his slicker. A wave runs up his back again. It’s getting dark. Where are the Coasties with their searchlights? Waiting for the tide. The tide’s going to rise. Come back, little crab. I don’t want to die alone. Crab karma’s what this is, all those Dungee cousins locked up in the Bottoms Up. All that life in the belly of the boat. Is it a boy? What if it’s a girl and he’s not there to threaten her boyfriends? You’re not going to die. He opens his eyes but no crab. Just him and the rock, the rain and cold water. Darker than last time he looked. Too tired to lift his head. What if it’s a boy? Will she name him Joshua? Don’t die. Hearing things. Losing his mind. Lost his limbs and now his brain, everything retreating to his core, to his heart, the last thing keeping him alive. Too tired to open his eyes. What if there’s a light? The Light? He isn’t going anywhere. It’ll have to come for him.
Exactly Three Imperatives About Gordon 2a) Gordon’s family gives all the boys nicknames that are verbs. Everyone but Gordon just left theirs as nicknames, but not Gordon. He changed his name legally, changed it away from Gordon. Now he goes by Spar, and has a police record to prove the new name works. 3c) Gordon bought the car because he needed to do something fast with all that cash. The fact his wife loved it as much as she did was entirely beside the point. 1) A couple years ago Gordon went to see a doctor because he was nervous all the time. Gordon didn’t tell anyone, not his wife, not his brother Gnaw, not even his crazy momma Lurleen who he always tells everything because she can’t remember anything past the point of utterance. The first thing Gordon said when the doctor came in the room and closed that big solid door behind him was that he wouldn’t let the doctor put anything in his mouth or ears or up his ass. The doctor snickered and then pretended as if Gordon didn’t say that. But for the duration of the appointment, nothing got inserted anywhere in Gordon and he left with a prescription that made him feel like the best part of being drunk only way way faster and without feeling like he had to take a piss every 10 minutes.
When the towing guy latched on to the Camaro, his wife and her new boyfriend Jimmy were in it, getting a quick fuck on before the 3 am closing rush. They kept right at it until the towing guy unlatched the car in Gordon’s driveway and turned all the gravel over there because he was in such a hurry to leave. That was the last night Melowdi worked The Angler, and she skipped out on her lease on the house across the street, and Jimmy ended up walking all the way back while Gordon and her made up right there on the hood of that Camaro and she ended up with a raging UTI. 2b) The one and only time Gordon and Gnaw took any of the three stepsons they have between them hunting, the boy who got to go wasn’t even Gordon’s, and spent all his time that week being 11 years old and complaining about being cold and wet and bored. Neither Gordon nor Gnaw let the boy anywhere near one of the rifles, even though the boy was the only reason they got a deer at all, leaving the big bag of cornbread out his mother had made and sent with them for the week, the cornbread that lured one slow and stupid and tired fawn into their camp early one morning when the boy was the only one sober and was tip-toeing towards the 30-06
3) Gordon bought his wife Melowdi a yellow and black Camaro, just like that one in the Transformers movie, the one called Bumble Bee. He paid cash. Didn’t write a check or wire transfer any money for it. Cash. When they separated for the dozenth time, Melowdi packed some suitcases in the Camaro and rented a house across from a bar called The Angler and she fixed people drinks there for money. After she’d worked there a couple weeks, Gordon paid a towing guy he knew a cool grand in cash to hitch up to the car in the middle of her Friday night shift and bring it back to Gordon’s house a few miles down the road, out past where all the lava rock outcrops from all the sagebrush, past where you can’t smell the Snake River no more even though you’re not even a quarter mile from it. Gary Gage
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 when Gordon heard him and sat up flush with a pistol in his hand, cocked, loaded and aimed right at the boy barely 10 feet away, so it was Gnaw who got to pull the trigger on the deer, pulled the trigger while the boy was still shivering and crying from the sting of ice still running through his veins, the cold hard realization that if he were dead and a ghost in the scene, his stepfather wouldn’t have handled it any different, and the deer would still drop to the ground with cornbread crumbs still on its chin, exactly the same way it really did. 1a) When it was Gordon’s turn with Barb, up on the flatbed of the company truck where Gnaw had ducttaped some cardboard down over the diamond plate and threw some of their jackets on top, Gordon was already passed out in the passenger seat. And so Gnaw, he got to go twice, even though he really didn’t want to go the first time, but just doing it got Gordon to stop calling him faggot and that in itself was worth it to him, even if it eventually did cost Gnaw his marriage and custody of his for-real kids with it. 3b) Even though Gordon’s wife didn’t slosh drinks no more at The Angler, Jimmy quit anyway. Right as soon as he could walk back into town to do it. 2) There was the one time Gordon left the country entirely. Hopped a plane in Boise then another in Seattle and then a train into British Columbia then paid cash for an emerald green F-450 King Ranch and drove it all the way to Whitehorse, stopping only to fuel up and piss out. In Whitehorse, the Subway was still open, so he pulled in and ordered a cold cut combo with double bologna, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, light spinach, and black olives. The teenaged girl who made his sandwich had a nametag pinned to her wine-colored polo shirt that just said TRAINEE. She asked Gordon if he wanted any sauce on it and he told her Everything You Got and winked when he did it, and the boy who rang him up, KEVIN, didn’t say a word to Gordon, not even totaling the price or counting back his change or nothing. Gordon left the Subway with his half-eaten sandwich, an extra bag of Cheddar & Sour Cream Ruffles that he stole from the rack across from the soda machine, which he visited three times to reload his extra-large cup with Diet Coke. Gordon drove on, all the way to Homer, before eating again. As soon as he got to Homer he got another cold cut combo and then drove back to Anchorage. When he got on the plane that would take him back to Seattle, he called his guy Dave back in Idaho and told him The Shit Checked Out, The Shit Was Just As They Said, The Shit’s Been Road-
59 Tested. He hung up and didn’t call no one else on the phone ever again. 1b) Gnaw’s ex-wife and his current girlfriend both know Gordon isn’t circumcised but Gnaw don’t know it at all. Not that Gnaw even thinks about it, his being trimmed since way before he can even remember and everything. 3a) Gordon’s sole blood offspring, to his great disappointment, is a girl. Cyan. Like the color blue, only his wife knew there was no way Gordon would ever agree to doing something so fucking hippie as naming any kid of his after a color on purpose, even if the kid was a girl. His wife has always made sure to pronounce the name different that it’s spelled so Gordon doesn’t catch on. It’s pronounced SHY-Ann, and no one has bothered or dared to ask Gordon why it’s said that way when it’s spelled some other way. And this is one of the few things that’s ever gotten past Gordon in his entire life. Because his parents, see, set him up to be a lifelong paranoid by giving him a nickname like Spar. Gordon wanted a son more than he wanted a family, which really wasn’t very much, but still he wanted himself a son if he had to have a kid at all. His wife had already had 4 abortions he’d paid for, and Cyan was a making-up baby, so he was pretty much stuck keeping that number at 4 until after Cyan was born. 1c) On the year to the day after they put their brother Squat in the ground, Gordon and Gnaw dug him back up to celebrate his passing with them. They brought two shovels and twice as many bottles of Black Velvet and found out after only half a bottle that they should have brought pick axes instead because of the lava rock all around. It was when they left and came back with only two bottles of Black Velvet back in the cab of the backhoe that the cops finally showed up and that was the end of their anniversary party. 2c) Gordon has bought the entire bar a round exactly twice, and both times were after divorcing his wife. Or saying he’d done it, which of course is way different from actually doing it, as a quick search in the Court Data Repository Database will tell you right quick. As will the status of alleged adoptions, births, paternity tests and name changes. Both times he bought, though, they were at different bars. And the bartenders were both new and he knew they were new and that’s why he did it at all, made sure they poured every drink and served every drink before he handed the bartenders an old credit card and then slipped away to the bathroom, through the out door, into the desert air.
Gardeners Trudy Mason called from a pay phone at the WalMart store in Hood River on a Saturday in late January to thank Adam’s wife for sending a Christmas card. She hadn’t gotten around to mailing any herself, Trudy said. Adam explained that Jane was off volunteering at the Master Gardeners’ hotline, fielding telephoned questions on such torrid topics as mulch and fertilizer. He promised to relay a message when she returned. “She’s a master gardener?” Trudy marveled. “She took all those extension classes and stuff?” “Yeah,” Adam replied. “She gets a kick out of it. You should see our yard.” “I try to garden,” Trudy said. “It’s tricky on this side of the mountains. Dry in the summer, cold in the winter. It’s hard on plants.” “Yeah,” Adam agreed, “when we lived in Bend, before we moved to Portland, gardening drove Jane nuts. She about decided she had a black thumb. Everything died. Spring stayed cold so late, and then winter showed up so early, there was almost no growing season. She’d put in tomato plants and about the time she got some green ones on the vines, we’d have an overnight freeze and they’d split open and rot without ever getting ripe.” Trudy laughed. “Yeah, they say there’s two seasons east of the Cascades -- winter and August. Makes it tough to grow anything.” “Portland is easier,” Adam said. “Milder weather. We actually have four seasons, of a sort.” “I guess that mother of Jane’s old boyfriend was one of the few people would could actually garden in Bend,” Trudy said. “She worked real hard at it, though. Lots of plastic ground cover and wire cages and stuff like that. You’ve heard of her, right? The mother of the guy Jane went with in high school and college?” “I knew about him,” Adam said. “I didn’t know his mother was a gardening whiz. And I didn’t realize you knew him.” “Old Lance,” Trudy said. “I met him when Jane and I lived in the quads in Eugene. Did you know her when she was in the quads?” “Before my time.” “I saw a lot of Lance. At night they’d go in her bedroom and there’d be all this commotion. It got real loud. He was a howler. It would be awful noisy for a while.
Then in the morning, while I was eating breakfast, he’d walk out to the kitchen and I’d talk to him. He’d sit and eat corn flakes and tell me about his mother, who was this great gardener. She could grow anything, even in that high desert around Bend. Tomatoes, beans, corn. Hollyhocks. He told me all about how she did it. Plastic ground cover for the winter, cages around the plants to keep the deer out, all that.” “Sounds fascinating.” “It was, really. I should have written it all down. Maybe I’d be able to grow something at our cabin.” “You seem to remember most of it.” “Oh, yeah -- well. I remember a lot of things. Some I shouldn’t, I suppose.” “That happens.” “Doesn’t it, though. Doesn’t it. Well, I should go. I’m almost out of quarters. If I live long enough, maybe we’ll get a phone out at the cabin someday. Tell Jane hi. Tell her to grow a tomato for me. Maybe she could mail it to Hood River and I’ll feed it to my kids.” Adam knew he shouldn’t let something as silly as one of Trudy’s motormouth routines get on his nerves. Discretion had never been a large part of her conversational repertoire, as Adam very well knew. She would tell you the damnedest things. How she shared her father’s bed for a year after her mother died when she was ten, but moved back to her own room because he began sneaking his hands inside her underpants when he thought she was asleep. How she was a virgin until she went to Africa with the Peace Corps when she was twenty-two and slept with a Kenyan policeman. How she became addicted to black men, especially Africans. How she returned to the United States for graduate school in anthropology at the University of Oregon and became a regular on the African students’ social scene. How she had three abortions. How she kept her brownish hair dyed brick red because she figured she was so homely it couldn’t hurt. How an Ethiopian chemistry student she had slept with came to her apartment one midnight with a friend visiting from Addis Ababa and, after a certain amount of hemming and hawing, made it clear he wanted to provide sex with a white American girl for his friend. How she was tired that night and wanted them to go away, so she took the friend to bed for ten quick minutes. How she lived with a fellow from Ghana, cooked and cleaned for him and filled out his applications for Yeshiva Medical School, only to see him decamp to New York without a single glance backward. She told you these things as you sat at a tavern
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had decided to veto sex by slapping a hammerlock on table littered with beer mugs, or huddled in a bus shelter his testicles. But Jane continued to listen, her ear against waiting for rain to stop, or waited in a ticket line at a the wall and a toothy grin on her face. Adam thought movie theater. These things, plus how she took up with this a strange reaction to someone else’s pain. But a brain-fried ex-druggie -- “my first white boy” -- and maybe Jane possessed knowledge Adam didn’t. Maybe moved with him to a cabin in the woods south of Hood she recognized howling as a form of sexual ecstasy. In River. How they produced three kids without marrying. retrospect, the thought did not comfort Adam. How the ex-druggie experienced Vietnam flashbacks When Jane arrived home from the Master that drove him to disappear into the forest for days at a Gardeners office, Adam informed her Trudy Mason had time. How her eldest son, a seventh-grader, wet his bed and her daughter got kicked out of school for stealing a teacher’s purse. Jane and Trudy had sort of shared quarters in a campus-area apartment complex when both attended the U of O years ago. Because each unit contained four private bedrooms opening onto a common kitchen and dining area, the apartments were known as quads. Jane occupied one bedroom, Trudy another and a couple of girls from Seattle the other two. The Seattle girls ignored Jane and Trudy, more or less pushing them into friendship despite their drastically disparate backgrounds. Jane had Market Chilies, Kotor, Montenegro Edith Barrowclough never been out of the United States. She was a small-town girl from Bend, telephoned to say thanks for the Christmas card. still tied to high school boyfriend Lance Stahl, a big blond “Crazy Trudy?” Jane replied. “How is she? Wacky former first baseman who worked as a bricklayer back as ever?” home after flunking out of the Salem Community College Adam shrugged. “She seemed okay.” that recruited him to play baseball. Because her well-to He let it go at that. Jane went out to the back yard do parents would be embarrassed if she failed to finish to stake up a rose bush that a windstorm had knocked college, Jane meandered toward a degree in business. over two nights earlier. Adam had met Lance Stahl twice, at the wedding The next morning, with their two middleof Jane’s younger sister and at a Fourth of July party given schooler sons in bed, Jane and Adam lingered over the by Jane’s parents. Although he was brawny, with a thick breakfast table reading the Sunday newspaper and chest and powerful arms, he seemed bland, almost shy. drinking coffee. Adam would not have taken him to be a howler. It made “Want the gardening column?” Adam asked, Adam think of when Jane and he moved to Portland ten holding out a section of the paper. years earlier. They stayed overnight at a Red Lion Inn “Sure,” Jane answered. She scanned the column. while the kitchen of their new house was being painted. “I could write this. I know as much about lilies. More, About eleven o’clock, the bed in the next room began even.” banging against the wall. Jane and Adam exchanged “I guess Stahl’s mother was quite a gardener.” smirks. The banging grew louder, then a male voice “Who?” groaned. Smothering giggles, Jane and Adam thrust ears “Lance Stahl. His mother. She’s a great gardener, against the wall. The groan turned into a piercing howl. Trudy says. Trudy Mason talked about her on the phone Adam jerked away from the wall. The howl sounded like yesterday.” a cry of pain. Adam wondered if the neighbor’s girlfriend
62 “She did? Why would she do that?” “It just came up. I told her you were gone, working at the gardening hotline. She started talking about how hard it is to garden east of the mountains, and she told me Stahl’s mother was great at it.” Jane shrugged. “I guess she was.” “Trudy said he told her all about it when he used to eat breakfast with her in the quads after he slept with you.” “She said that?” “Yeah. You know how she talks. She even told me how noisy it got when you were in the bedroom with Lance. Commotion, she called it. She said he howled.” Jane remained silent. “Did he howl?” “I can’t believe people sometimes, talking about stuff like that. It was none of her business, and it’s none of your business, either.” “It’s not?” “No.” “I’d just like to know. I’d like some perspective on howling. Did Lance Stahl howl like a wolf, or what?” “I don’t remember.” This was Jane’s standard defense in a tight spot. Did you shoot the policeman? I don’t remember. A faulty memory absolves anything. “Oh, come on. You must remember. How about that time at the Red Lion when the guy started howling in the next room? Remember that?” “Sort of.” “You thought it was so great.” “I never said it was great.” “Because Lance was a howler, right? It was like old times for you.” “I don’t think Lance howled. Maybe he did. I don’t remember.” “His mother gardened and he howled.” Adam feigned a smile. “We’ve got it straight.” “Thanks, Trudy,” Jane said. “She’s planted that in your head. It’ll grow there forever, and you’ll throw it in my face forever. Great.” She stalked from the room. Adam crossed to the french doors opening onto the back yard. Through the glass he could see Jane’s garden bordering the distant fence. Held up by a network of twine looped around a sawed-off broom handle driven into the dirt, her wind-injured rose bush glistened in winter rain. Adam wondered if Lance Stahl’s mother grew roses on the high desert. He would have to ask Trudy.
Cody T Luff
Other Bars She held his hand. Something he had to get used to. At first it was an anchor, keeping him from the bar, the pisser, the jukebox. Now, if her hand wasn’t in his, his thumb tracing her knuckles, his fingers ached. They weren’t young. No how. His pot belly and bald head, her gray streaks and crow’s feet. They had no business going dancing every Friday, no business driving out to the woods to make love in his truck bed. Just the same, he didn’t mind. She’d had a husband before, but the man never made it back from Iraq. He’d never married but he’d seen his way around a woman or three. Those were good things, practice. Nothing was in the dark; both players understood the game well enough. Understood the stakes. Or at least he thought he did. They met at the same place every night. Leaning K wasn’t for the kids; the music was old, he knew all the words and the menu had a decent discount for folks who’d made it past the halfway mark. They never ate much, never talked much, just spent their time pressed together on the dance floor, scooting sawdust. When they got tired they’d sit a while, her hand holding his, bridging the table with their arms. She had green eyes, faded, mature. There was a little scar on her forehead; he imagined it was a kid story, falling out of a tree or finding the corner of a dining table in a hurry. He liked the way her mouth moved around her smile, how when she laughed she always touched her throat. He liked her voice too but it wasn’t a matter of words between them. Seemed like what words they could find were small things, spare bits of conversations. Neither of them was in it for long conversations. He supposed he should ask her name. Supposed he should tell her his. They had something alright and it was good. Maybe names would take a bite out of it, change something he didn’t see, something important. That’s the devil in the bushes. Always was. Love a woman, screw it up by not knowing, by not doing. Maybe he could last awhile yet. Hold her hand over the table, feel her hips swaying on the dance floor. Maybe making love in the woods, out of breath, his hands on her, the smell of trees, maybe this was all there was. Maybe it was enough. But it wasn’t. He was hungry. Seemed like a damn fool thing but he wanted a taste of her name, wanted to use it, say it aloud. Maybe even say it when they were holding on to
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 each other, bodies used up. Say it against her chest, his lips touching that place between her breasts. There wasn’t much use in wanting a thing. A man could think too much, coveting those things he wasn’t meant to have. They’d keep doing what they were doing, no names, no destination. Just keep on keeping on. She didn’t show up at the Leaning K for two nights. He sat at their table and drank pull tab beers until his heart slowed down. No use in worrying over it but he had to anyway. He told himself that she’d had enough. He couldn’t blame her none. He figured it was time for him to move on too. There were plenty of bars, plenty of places to be where the beer was better and the women younger. They’d used each other up and that was all. He was back at the Leaning K the next night. He’d worn a bolo tie, a good snap shirt with blue print and his black hat. His hands felt too big, too hairy. His belt buckle kept digging in, grinding his belly raw. He ordered a pitcher and two mugs, poured both and sat at their table. This was it, he told himself. This made things done. Three days of trying. She’d either come or she wouldn’t. He’d ask her name or he wouldn’t. The pitcher was half gone when she came in like there was a spotlight on her. She was wearing something pink, first time he’d seen her in a dress. She wore it well, her legs looked real fine, veins be damned. When she sat he made a show of looking at her. “Look good,” he said. “You too.” She was smiling. He set his hand on the table. “You should wear dresses more.” He tried seeing inside her. It wasn’t something he was good at. Her eyes were light and steady, her smile was good, even. They spoke at the same time, she saying, “Sorry, my kids were in town…” and he, “My name’s Ken Bingham.” Her smile was gone, her face closing down. “My name’s Ken Bingham,” he repeated. “I’m sixty four years old. I got enough money to last me a while and I would like to know your name.” He took her hand, closing his fingers over hers, tasting her skin with fingertips. She looked, he waited. He didn’t let go of her hand. “That’s not the deal,” she said; her voice was just enough to carry over the Hank Williams tune saturating the Leaning K. “I figured I’d change the deal.” She pulled her hand away and it was as if he was
63 bleeding out and Hank Williams was singing about it. “We agreed,” she said, putting her hands in her lap. “I don’t remember that. I remember you telling me about your family, your kids…” “No names. We never used any names.” She was gathering little fistfuls of her dress. He was quiet a moment, watching her look at the table. He took his hat off, something he didn’t do in places like the Leaning K. “My name’s Ken Bingham and I want a better deal.” “I don’t…” “I ain’t much. Nobody would argue with me over that. I pissed away my glory days and drank away most of the days after. I figure I’ve been waiting around for something. Maybe that’s an excuse for a half-assed life but maybe it’s true.” “Don’t,” she said. She was trying hard not to look at him. “Don’t what? I’ve had a lot of that in my life. Don’t. Didn’t. I come here the past three nights just so I could ask you your name. I’m Ken Bingham, now…what’s yours?” He was sweating. A sour sweat. He could feel his snap shirt sticking to his chest and he wished Hank Williams would shut the hell up. “We can’t do this,” she said. “Well, I done it.” He didn’t mean to sound hard but he did. “I can’t do this.” He could have said something. Should have said something. Asked things, begged her. Instead he waited. They sat through another song, she stared at the table and he stared at her hands. He wished he could just reach right over and take one. Pull her close, get her up, dancing. “I’ve got kids,” she said. “I know.” “They’re grown. My daughter’s got a baby boy all her own. I’m a grandmother.” “You told me.” “I can’t do this. Not to them.” “Why not?” She looked at him then, there were tears starting, worrying her makeup, “Because they know me.” “I know you.” “No. That’s not what I meant and you don’t know me anyhow.” She wiped at her face and swallowed loudly. “They know me as ‘Momma,’ as ‘Granny.’ They know me
64 because I’ve been there their whole lives to kiss booboos and help with rent checks. I get a few Sundays a month and three or four telephone calls a week. They’re my kids. My grandbabies.” Her nose was running and her mascara was cutting thick black highways down her cheeks. “I won’t get in the way of that,” he said. “You don’t understand. They had a daddy, a grand daddy. He’s still there. Still a part of their lives. They can’t see me without that.” “You said he’s been gone a long time.” “Yes. He has. But he’s still there. The only place he isn’t is right here.” She reached out and took his hand. “I won’t get in the way,” he said again. “That’s not it. Don’t you see? Out here, with you, I’m just me. I’m nobody’s momma. I’m not granny. I’m not the wife of a ghost.” “So we don’t change nothing. Knowing your name ain’t gonna change nothing.” He held her hand tightly, his fingers pressing. She looked at him a long time and he felt his pulse kicking in his stomach. “It ain’t the same. Is it? For men,” she said and he wasn’t sure she was talking to him, “It’s not the same. You get to keep that part of you, the part from before.” “I just want to keep you,” he said. Something changed then. Somebody made that table between them seem like a thousand miles. He felt like his hand was slipping off hers, like somebody else had snuck a hand in his. She pulled him up and took him to the dance floor, saying nothing. She was tight to him, her lips against his ear and her hips swaying to something by Waylon Jennings. He wished he could pull her tighter, right inside of him. Pull her right through his chest into that place where he kept all his precious things. They closed down the Leaning K, dancing every song, giving his knees three flavors of hell. She never said a word. Even after he’d driven them to that spot, the one with the big willow stand and the remnants of a homestead dissolving in the knapweed. They made love on the grass. She was slow, her hands on every part of him, her breath against his. In the dark, his heart pounding beneath her ear she told him her name. After he’d driven her back, he sat in his pickup, staring at the dark Leaning K sign. He could still smell her on his hands. He killed the engine and sat in the darkness of his truck cab. There were other bars. Places where the beer was cheaper, the women too. Ken said her name, his voice rusty and flat. He said it once more before he started his truck and waited for the sun.
Mountain Pose As soon as we pulled up to Marina’s Café, I heard the thumping bass player. Damn, I forgot Marina was hosting Doody’s Big Band from down the coast. So we nabbed an outside table, grateful the fog hadn’t rolled in yet. Some summer nights in the valley were perfect like this—warm and dry. Wyn held the table while I popped inside with our order. Yes, I knew I shouldn’t drink and drive. But it was only one glass and I lived half a mile away. Our friendship began that night, specifically when we found ourselves walking back to the Grange parking lot after July’s First Friday Film. “Hey,” I suggested, “how about a glass of wine at Marina’s?” “Sounds great.” She smiled broadly. “But I might order that sinful pound cake and a decaf.” Everyone liked Wyn; she was popular from the week she began teaching yoga. Something about her
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 fusion of wit and soulfulness. Nana would have called her a “good person.” Not exactly pretty, she was more handsome— strong jaw, straight nose, high cheekbones and dark braid hanging down her erect back. Her hazel specked eyes changed color depending on the setting, her attire. Sometimes they were turquoise; sometimes a pale grey. She dressed attentively, that is to say, less slapdash than most locals. It was the City in her. Right away she caught the fancy of two middle-aged men—Eamon MacLaverty, the former high school teacher who kept a chestnut orchard, and Clive Green, fix-it genius from Maine, who managed Seltzer’s Hardware. Returning outside with our tray, I spotted Eamon leaning against a post, chatting to Wyn. Answering her polite questions about chestnuts. See what I mean about likeability? She could talk about/listen to anything. “Yeah, that’s right: the Chinese chestnuts are more blight resistant.” He grinned so wide, I imagined his teeth falling out. “Hi Eamon,” I slapped his shoulder. “Hey, Miriam, how’s it going?” “Just fine. Nice to see you.” Of course the Yardley thing was to say, “Join us. Pull up a chair. What can I bring you?” But I’d been meaning to know Wyn for some time and I’d heard more than enough about chestnuts over the years. “Right, then.” He caught my drift. “I’ll be seeing you. At the KNOP benefit?” “Absolutely. Remember the silent auction. We have some hot donations this year.” Even if station managers weren’t required to attend, I’d be there for the Funky Quartet. “Not to mention Yo Yo’s fabulous desserts.” “Yeah, Aaron is catering again.” “Your brother, man. What a terrific baker. An outstanding guy—super compassionate.” Eamon put both knobby hands on the table and leaned in. I smelled late evening sweat under his musky deodorant. “Wyn, you know last year he took in this drifter—Alvin—I mean the kind of scuzzy looking guy you’d drive miles out of your way to avoid. Aaron hired him to unload trucks, sweep stock shelves. And at night, he taught him to read. Now he’s working full time at Yo Yo’s. Very pleasant fellow as it turns out.” Wyn was nodding attentively. So polite and gracious.
“Nice talking to you, Eamon.” I cleared my throat. “See you at the benefit if not before?” “Yeah, right. Hope to see both of you soon.” * Like many of us, Wyn happened upon Yardley by accident. Five years before, her best friend was getting married in romantic Mendocino Village and Wyn chose the slow drive through the valley. Newcomers don’t anticipate the switchbacks on our highway. They forget these hills are the Coastal Range, so much shorter than the High Sierra, but the road is steep and winding like any mountain route. By the time she reached Yardley, Wyn had to stretch her legs and buy a bottle of sparkling water to settle her stomach. Cute town; that was her first impression, but not much to the place. A few shops, yoga studio, gas station, bible hall, volunteer fire department and ambulance, post office, two cafés. She shopped at Yardley Orchards and bought luscious-looking black berries as well as heirloom tomatoes for lunches back in the City. She didn’t know how many more bends lay ahead, so she also stocked up on two more large bottles of sparkling water. The friendly guy behind the counter confirmed directions to Mendocino and recommended the panini at Marina’s Café for lunch. She ambled up the street—really the side of a dusty highway—and basked in the sun at Marina’s outside table. What a different world, she thought, from her busy life in Bernal Heights. After lunch, Marina served her cappuccino and asked, “Are you the woman going to a wedding in Mendocino?” Blinking, Wyn said, “Yes, I guess I am.” “Well, Aaron called to let you know your mineral water is still at Yo Yo’s.” “Yo Yo’s?” “The grocery. Yardley Orchards.” Wyn laughed. “Yo Yo’s, I get it. How kind of you and…?” “Aaron.” She smiled. “He likes to be called Yo Yo.” * A few weeks after the film, we went hiking along Big River Road, chattering the whole time as if we were always meant to be friends. Oh, I wasn’t lonely. Jonathan and I had been
66 together for an easy, satisfying decade. Aaron and I had dinner at least once a week. I had pals at work, pretty much knew everyone through the radio station or my shifts with the ambulance. But I hadn’t had a best friend since high school, a girl could call late at night and talk over a crush with or an embarrassment or a nagging regret. Someone I could invite to supper on the spur of the moment. A sister, I guess. I loved Aaron more than my life, but I’d always wanted a big sister. Somehow, the day I met Wyn, I knew she was the one—smart, kind, loyal, a year older than I. Big River was sweet that time of day. Late sun silhouetted trees in the water from the opposite bank. A light breeze rippled the leaves over on our side. Talking, talking, we lost track of time. Suddenly it was almost sunset and as the sky dimmed, suddenly clouds of mosquitoes rose up. I got zapped five or six times right through my long-sleeved shirt. Reluctantly, we turned back. Wyn, as a nurse and a person of common sense, carried insect repellent, so we stopped and nuked ourselves. Really! I’d walked this path for fifteen years and knew all about the dusk swarms. But because I thought we’d be driving home by now, I was empty handed, except for my water bottle. Her flashlight was very useful before we reached the car. “So how did you hear about the job at Balance Bound?” I asked as we drove back to the valley. “I never forgot the panini and the kindness of Yo Yo and other people. I found an ad for yoga retreats— Willow was teaching then—and I came back for weekends over several years.” “That’s right. Now I remember your perfect shoulder stands and pigeon poses. Who is that show-off, I wondered?” “No,” she looked stricken, eyes on the road, steering carefully through the dark highway lined with shadowy Redwoods. “Just teasing.” I discovered it was too easy to make her feel bad. “Anyway,” she continued, still embarrassed. “Willow offered me the job several years ago. But my parents were getting frail and I needed to be in the Bay Area for them. Besides, as much as I enjoyed the Yardley retreats, I loved the City and my peds. nursing.” I learned that her dad contracted prostate cancer and she saw him through years of chemo before his body gave up. Her mom lived a year longer.
CIRQUE Those were tough times for Wyn. Some days, she confided, she could hardly get out of bed. Then her brother Rich, who always had a tendency to be hyper active, spun out of control and she had to find a shrink to prescribe short-term medication. He’d snap out of it, she knew. She’d lived her whole life with her sweet, excitable older brother. Super bright but with erratic social skills. He was always a loner and Wyn was one of the few people he trusted. Her colleagues offered the diagnosis de jour of Asperger’s. She shrugged; he was a good man and a loving brother. Maybe she acknowledged, his quirkiness was one reason she was drawn to nursing. Rich didn’t need long-term care; she was right. As I absorbed all of this, my respect for Wyn expanded. She seemed so much more mature and capable than I or any of my friends. * One warm October Saturday, she joined me at the Farmer’s Market to solicit subscriptions to KNOP. The new transformer had pushed us deep into the red. Wyn was a big booster, taking early shifts for the fundraising drive, listening to me fret at night about debts. It was one of those glorious Indian Summer mornings when you believed fall and winter had been erased from the calendar. Adelaida was still selling roses, sunflowers, zinnias and dahlias. Jorge’s gleaming tomatoes and just snipped basil added to the perfume. As did the heavy sweetness of Martha’s late peaches. Wyn snagged one subscription after another with her bright smile. Maybe I’d become jaded from the turf battles at the station. I sat back and watched her schmooze our way to solvency. Naturally Eamon dropped by and hung out for half-an-hour. He brought fresh ruggalach from Yo Yo’s and once again sang the praises of my older brother. “Aaron does so much for the community, Miriam. Like that free catering for the adult school party.” “Yeah,” I feigned indifference, but I loved to hear people praise Aaron. They didn’t know half his goodness, for we never talked about how he raised me after Dad moved to L.A. and Mom moved to the bottle. He watched out for his little sister in high school—scared the shit out of that quarterback who stalked me one winter—and helped with my college tuition. “Even I like him.” I smiled to Eamon, then looked over his shoulder, hoping he would take a hint.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 “Well, I better get going so other folks can subscribe.” I’d never seen Eamon so flustered. This was one big crush. As he ambled away, Wyn turned to me. “So, Miriam, does Aaron have any faults?” “Very corny sense of humor.” I laughed. “‘Yo Yo,’ really! What kind of name is that for a fifty-year-old guy? Also, he just works too hard.” “I guess hard work runs in the family.” “Hmm. We never did finish the tale about how you came to move here. I mean after your parents died.” I savored the last nibble of Aaron’s signature pastry, sweet and crunchy. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I always kept Willow’s card on my mirror. I don’t know, it reminded me of the valley—photos of oak and buckeye and redwood trees in the rolling hills. Then in the spring, the hospital got crazy. More and more about high tech research and less about helping kids. I worked hours every night learning new computer programs and patient tracking charts.” She took a bite of her ruggalach, as if it might sustain her. “One morning I was called into the office by the new department head from Cincinnati. The hospital was hit badly in the economic crash. I had worked one year less than Alma Willard and everyone knew Alma was a slacker. But seniority ruled. And bang: I was without a father, a mother or a job.” Wyn’s rueful smile hid a lot. “Well, I offered clumsily, “Many people are glad you moved up.” I couldn’t say I was thrilled. Not in my nature. Aaron was the effusive one in our family. She blushed and waved to Eva, who was laughing with one of her clients, Hortencia, the woman who got her green card last month. Of course Eva walked over and renewed her membership. Valley folk were pretty friendly; we were a polyglot of people from all over the country, several parts of Europe as well as everywhere in Latin America. Some of us had been here forty years, yet had friends who moved up last summer. But we were wary of short-termers like that Nebraska guy who blew into town with the fall rains and became an “instant local.” He started Two Lips
a stand-up comedy night at the Truck Stops Here Café, volunteered for the local Fire Department, coached the soccer team, and was gone before May, leaving behind four broken-hearted but wiser women and a group of confused high school athletes. So sometimes our welcome could be guarded. Wyn had been lucky settling in. Everyone from yoga class remembered her visits and when she went house-hunting in June, people had been eager to help. Eva’s tenant had just given notice. The back cottage was beautiful, with the living room overlooking the river. Solar electricity. Off the grid and inexpensive. Naturally Wyn took it. By the time she fully moved in July, we’d also set her up with a part-time nursing gig at the Health Center. That and Balance Bound would pay the bills. She didn’t try to be an instant local, but very gradually met people at Yo Yo’s, the post office, in class. We all basked in her generous spirit and the fragrant eucalyptus scent from the candles she lit during class. Seemed as if half the Valley did yoga—especially people over 40. So Wyn was more colleague than competition for Mira, Lily and Suze, who teach at different venues from Yardley to Prosper. Soon she was invited to substitute for each of them. She returned the courtesy whenever she went down to the City to deal with her
CIRQUE the car passed from the forest to the foggy coast, I felt a slight foreboding, but soon persuaded myself it was twisted disappointment, a pouting childishness. *
My heart stopped at the sight of Wyn’s note taped to my door. Clearly her handwriting, the precise and shapely letters. She was a calligrapher. “Miriam, it’s an emergency. Can’t reach you by phone. Call or come to the clinic as soon as you get this.” Oh, Jesus, she was hurt or in trouble. I’d left my cell phone in Yardley and Jonathan’s was on the blink. Sherry Eckrich I raced back to the car, but before I put the parents’ estate or to visit Rich. She fretted that he didn’t key in the ignition, Jonathan pulled up, flushed and have other friends and always tried to take him to movies anxious. or museums, walks on the beach. “Oh, Miriam, Miriam.” He lowered his voice as he We were all looking forward to Wyn’s party the leaned in, “I’m so sorry.” week after Thanksgiving. Her thank you for our warm I stiffened. “Sorry? What’s happened? Why are welcome. She’d invited Eamon, Clive, Patsy, from the you here?” I knew I should get out of the car, but I was grade school, Eva, Lauren from the Health Center, Marina, impatient to get to Wyn. Aaron and me. Rich was coming up for the weekend. He opened the door and pulled me into his arms, She’d ordered crab from our local fisherman and Aaron rocking silently, then weeping, still rocking. was bringing his signature Sachertorte. I bought a bottle “What, what is it?” of excellent champagne. “An accident after the party.” He swallowed and From his pictures, Rich was a little chunky, but fit. wiped his eyes, still holding on to me. “Eamon called I loved the doleful eyes. Smart guy who did something my neighbor Lolly this morning—just after you left. He super-techie on the Peninsula. For a while I fantasized couldn’t get through on our phones. Everyone’s been about him. About being Wyn’s sister-in-law. calling since last night.” Truly though, I was happy with Jonathan and the “Calling about what?” I panicked. Wyn must be way we split time between the valley and his place on hurt. This wasn’t one of her usual clinic days. the coast. Jonathan was a splendid guy—a great catch— He took my hand and regarded me sorrowfully, solvent, sweet, handsome, interesting. I loved his passion determinedly. “I’m sorry, Mir, I have terrible news.” about the environmental issues in his quirky documentary films. The geographical distance between our cabins was * good because I worried I had some genetic predisposition to marital disaster. Jonathan was very absorbed in his The story surfaced in jagged shards. People work. So our low key relationship felt perfect, safe. spoke from different angles, in different registers: grief, I dug out my flouncy party skirt and Angora remorse, disbelief, rage. sweater. As I fingered through my jewelry box for the The basic undeniable truth was that my beloved lapis strand, it finally hit me. This was my Saturday to and amazing brother Aaron was dead. see Jonathan in Prosper. I couldn’t cancel on him again. And he wasn’t really a dinner party kind of guy. Oh, well. * Damn. Driving north to Prosper, I felt grateful for Several friends witnessed it. In a flash—Rich’s red Jonathan, but also longed to be at my friend’s party. As Mustang backing up, smashing into Aaron as he climbed
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 into his truck. Reversing way too fast. Eamon speculated that there was a problem with the Mustang’s gear. But why was he going so fast? Did he look in the mirror? Turn his head? Didn’t he hear people shouting, pounding on his car? Why did he keep reversing? Patsy wondered if Rich held some kind of weird grudge because everyone loved Aaron and he was “only Wyn’s brother,” an outsider. A shy, bumbling visitor. Wyn, Eva and Marina were still inside the house, cleaning up and didn’t see anything. They did hear the shattering of steel and bone. The screams and the wails.
Together, silently, we pulled things from the fridge and made lunch. As we sat at the kitchen table, she told me what she knew, which wasn’t much. We sat there in shock, pecking at our food. Her pager rang. The Firehouse. Even before coffee, she had to rush off to help douse an uncontrolled burn in the south valley. I glanced out at the red, gold and purple grapevines. Fall was Aaron’s favorite time of year. My maple tree was a beaming carmine. I breathed deeply. Nothing helped. The toxic mantra ran through my mind. “Way too fast. In reverse. Way too fast.”
When the phone rang the next morning, I couldn’t climb out of bed and Jonathan had already gone to work. I heard Wyn’s voice on the answering machine, then put a pillow over my head. She rang again about noon, worried, offering to bring me food. I should have answered the calls, but I felt that by standing up, by admitting the new day, I would have to concede the reality of the accident. I simply couldn’t do that. That evening, she called again, sounding hurt this time as well as concerned. “I hope you’re OK, Miriam. Maybe you just need time to yourself. I’ll try tomorrow.” Something snapped in me. Rich just fucking kept backing up. She called three times a day for the next two weeks. Jonathan phoned too, begging me to come to Prosper or to let him stay with me. I explained I needed to sort things out. “OK,” he said, “but I’m worried about you. I’ll drop everything when I hear from you.” I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone except Aaron. And I couldn’t find my brother. How was it possible? Aaron, cheerful, smart, kind Aaron, who was whole and happy and joking when I saw him the morning before the party. Where was he now? He wasn’t. Wasn’t. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t accept it. If only I had been at the party—the idea haunted me—if only I were there, surely it would have been different. One dark evening in mid-December, Wyn drove up to the house and stepped from her car with a bouquet of white roses. I slid into the back room. She knocked, called my name. Waited patiently because
On that terrible morning after, Wyn reached my cabin within ten minutes of Jonathan’s phone call and rushed through the front door. I was staring blankly at all the voice messages on my phone, the battery completely drained now. “Miriam, oh, Miriam,” she embraced me and wept. “I’m so sorry. So very sorry.” We hugged and sobbed together. Jonathan came over and kissed my forehead, “I’ve got to take Mom in for dialysis. I’ll be back tonight. I’ll bring supper.” I nodded numbly. As the door snapped shut, I felt claustrophobic, trapped. “But how?” I asked. “Why?” Wyn shook her head, too choked up to speak. She looked exhausted, shrunken.
my car was in the garage. Knocked again. Finally I heard the familiar bronchial cough of her ignition and then the crunch of her tires slowly receding back up to the highway. Ten minutes later, I was standing on the frosty deck in my bare feet plucking the rose petals one by one and scattering them in the yard. I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you. Petal/ Pedal. Pedal to the floor in reverse. I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you. I pressed a thorn hard between my thumb and forefinger in hopes of feeling something. The blood was a beautiful purplish red. * We all knew Rich could get manic, that he lived in a world apart. Everyone said he just jumped in the Mustang, put it in gear and didn’t stop reversing until he’d run over Aaron. All the way over his sweet, fragile body. I practiced. Looking this way over my shoulder. The other way. This way. The other way. Marina dropped by with dinner one night and discovered this compulsion. She sent straight to bed, spoon fed me and sent me to sleep with two Ambien. I hardly talked to anyone until that afternoon we scattered his ashes. I’d kept the date to myself. On the Mendocino Headlands, with Jonathan and three of Aaron’s friends, all former beaux, I scattered my brother’s ashes into his beloved Pacific. When others heard about the small group, they were disappointed. It’s when they learned that Wyn—my so-called best friend—wasn’t included, that things turned grey, then dark. Most neighbors took my side, although I didn’t know I had a side. They ignored her calls and emails. Really, I said, Aaron’s death had nothing to do with her. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to talk with Wyn either. * The trial happened too fast. Way too quickly. In this hick county, court cases often take years. San Francisco lawyers quickly whittled down Rich’s charge to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. “A tragic accident,” Wyn said in the stand, where she sat erect and spoke audibly from her diaphragm. She was testifying directly to me, eyes filled with sorrow and pity. And longing.
I kept my attention on the judge. Eva testified that Rich seemed to be having a good time until Patsy’s crack about computer geeks. That’s when he stormed out the door. Eamon stumbled as he described Rich jumping in his car, not looking around, going way too fast, deaf to their shouts and screams and their fists banging on the car. An accident, the defense lawyer insisted. Jesus, they railroaded it through. No alcohol involved. Crazy Rich didn’t drink. No malicious intent. Rich hardly knew Aaron. Their fancy shrink—someone Wyn knew from her old hospital—argued that Rich suffered from delayed adolescent hormonal gobbledygook. Eva leaned over and whispered to me, “I’ve never heard such a totally bogus diagnosis in twenty years as a lawyer. This will never fly.” My common sense agreed. Surely the judge wouldn’t admit such hogwash “evidence.” White noise. All I remember after that was white noise. Bottom line: Rich got off without having to spend a night in jail. His bonus was a nice month’s rest in a hospital with views of the Ocean. * The next week her letter arrived in my PO Box. Such exquisite lettering. I tore it up before leaving the post office. We all assumed she’d move on. Where to and how she’d make a living, none of us considered. I couldn’t deal with these unbearable memories every time I saw her. But Wyn kept both jobs. She passed quiet, solitary nights in Eva’s back cottage. I imagined her peering through the darkness for a splash of moonlight in the river, as we had done together over so many bottles of red wine. Awful rumors erupted. People harassed Wyn by phone and email. They threatened to harm Rich. Three high school girls egged Wyn’s car. Two older teen boys ran up to her as she stopped at the crosswalk and told her it was time to leave Yardley or else. The same kids, by the way, who used to call Aaron a fag when he bicycled to Yo Yo’s. I heard yoga class pretty much cleared out. Willow sent an email plea to all of us, “Namaste. Our sister is suffering. Wyn, who taught so lovingly this year. Namaste.” That kind of crap.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 Deep down, I did understand it wasn’t her fault. As much as I wanted to condemn someone, how could I blame her? Rich had a spotless driving record. His temper was more self-destructive than outwardly hostile. I knew that, all of it, before the incident. People stopped consulting her at the clinic. She still had plenty of patients among the Latinos, who didn’t get caught in the middle of Yardley’s white feuds. They were the most in need of care and I was glad they were getting help. Occasionally, I’d spot Wyn at the new grocery up the road from Yo Yos. I shut the store, after finding Alvin a new job. How could we keep running it? Yo Yo’s was Aaron’s dream, his raison d’être. It was Aaron and Aaron was no more. Wyn appeared, wraithlike, around town—at the Farmer’s Market, Seltzer’s Hardware. Once I saw her doing laundry in the big corrugated metal shed behind the liquor store. It was awful to watch the quick, stealthy movements, as if she didn’t have a right to basic necessities. When I saw her pull into the gas station, I changed course, but not before she caught my glance, our eyes spliced in sadness, despair. The first three months after Aaron’s death, I found it hard to sleep. I’d get up at two or three in the morning and heat milk, the way he always did for me when Mom was on a bender. Aaron would hate the rage and bitterness around his death. He would hate what happened to Wyn. Hate seeing an innocent woman ostracized, badgered, skulking around town. One midnight—under the full spring moon—I slammed down the cup of milk and broke apart, sobbing. I missed Aaron so and yet he seemed to be moving farther and farther away as my anger grew. Damn my rage at Wyn, at Rich. Damn the accident—yes , OK, accident—it was getting in the way of mourning Aaron, of holding him in my heart. For a while, this understanding made me even more furious. I dreamt about him two or three times that week and he was always cracking a joke or whistling in the kitchen.
seat, I stared at the back of her head, admiring the shiny black braid. I imagined the tight, sad mouth closed as if she were holding her breath. Her eyes would be picking up the blue in her azure tee shirt. * The next Tuesday, I removed my shoes at the door and slipped into yoga class. Wyn nodded, then cast her eyes to the hardwood floor. I took my mat to the side of the room and noticed four others in class. Three women, who were new to the valley. And Aaron’s protégé, Alvin. My heart flipped. Aaron would be so happy to see Alvin here. And me. I joined the others in Mountain Pose. * Grief doesn’t disappear as much as it becomes a companion. Painful. Bearable. It had been a hard year, losing my brother and the woman I’d hoped was my sister. I wished I could say Wyn and I grew closer again. Aaron would have wanted that. But I couldn’t make the leap. Not even for him. I maintained my distance, as much as one could in a small town. Gliding in and out of yoga; mailing in my course fees. Class size grew back to normal, so I had to arrive early to insure my spot by the wall. * I noticed she was seeing a lot of Eamon in the evenings. These days, Wyn and I did nod to one another at Marinas or at the Truck Stops Here. Sometimes with a wave or a half-smile.
* Of course it would happen on BART. Hundreds of thousands of people took these trains every day. I hadn’t seen her in Yardley for a month. Suddenly, one hot June afternoon in San Francisco, she stepped into my car at the 16th and Mission station. I raised my hand briefly in greeting. She waved. Then I moved to a back row and pretended, for a while, to be deep in my book. Sitting there on that noxious, bluish polyurethane Brett Murphy
The Fisherman’s Wife
I was telling Anna about the fisherman found face up in the rocks. He’d been there for two days, the paper said, and the seagulls ate his eyes and the flesh of his face. When the searchers discovered his body caught in the rocks by the elastic strap of his rain pants, the gulls rose up as a mass and hovered not far away as if to tolerate the temporary disturbance, then returned to continue feeding. After they had retrieved his body, the fisherman’s wife insisted on seeing what was left of his face though they all tried to talk her out of it. Anna was over heated sitting in this part of the restaurant and kept flapping her light blue blouse to let out the heat. I asked her if she wanted me to get the waitress to lower the blinds outside so the sun wouldn’t hit her, but she said no. “I like the heat. It gets into my bones after while. And I like it there after being cold all winter.” So I kept going with the story. After the funeral the fisherman’s wife stayed out of sight in her cottage for two days they said. Then she came out in the late afternoon of the second day with a spool of monofilament line. Carrying a five-gallon pail she climbed out on the rocks where they had found her husband’s body and tied a small fish to one end of the line and then ten feet of line and tied another fish and then another one the same way. Then she made up a second three-part line and tossed the trussed bait out onto the rocks. Anna said that she wondered why the townspeople didn’t just stop her, make her go back. I said I didn’t know the particulars, just the story with some details from the small newspaper I read on the coast. Anna ordered more coffee. I said I was fine. Another cup and I’d begin finishing sentences for people on the other side of the room, sometimes in other languages too. She laughed and said, “Then I’m cutting you off. I don’t see why they didn’t take better care of her after the accident. Small towns, especially fishing towns have a…what? A code?” I wanted to leave the restaurant and sit outside but the traffic noise…I’d have to shout to finish the story. I ordered iced tea. The waitress left. Anna sighed and asked if I knew the name of the woman. No, I said. But I knew she persisted on the rocks and each time she threw out the line a gull would grab a fish, sometimes just two gulls at first, but then a third would snap up the third fish, and they all flew up together.
Looking Through the Net
Around and around they’d fly but quickly one pulled the line low, another high and the first gull was tangled, stopped flying and pulled down the other two tangled by their greed. They wouldn’t let go, tangled on the water. And then they’d drown flapping on the water while she watched. The people who spied on her with binoculars from the jetty saw her studying the feathers and flailing water until it was finished. Then she would string a new line and cast again, and watch again, and study again. I told Anna the article said that they let her do it until the light was gone. “I think that was fair,” Anna said. “A fair trade for her husband’s face.” The problem was that the next day she was at it again. There weren’t enough dead seagulls to satisfy her, apparently. The second time she threw out more strings of fish than just one at a time. “Efficiency?” Anna asked. Anna sat with her eyes closed and sighed. “They should have let her do it until she was empty.” Revenged, you mean? How many gulls would it take? I was proud of my story, and I’d practiced it. I usually waited a while to bring in Ahab and his vengeance, what Melville thought about the vengeance thing, about nature. “She had a license, I think. To do whatever it took
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 so she didn’t see his face in her dreams. Where his face was. The birds ate her lover,” Anna said slowly. “For as long as it took.” But what happened, I continued, was that they stopped her the next day. They said, enough and come with us and poor dear. They walked with her. They prayed with her. But as soon as they left her alone she was back at it—the slaughter of the seagulls. The policeman told her it was illegal to hurt gulls in any way. The fine was up to $1,000 or jail time or both. You couldn’t do it. They were dumb beasts. They just ate anything, dead things, live things. Gulls were valuable because they cleaned the beaches. Everywhere they went they cleaned up after the ocean. She listened to them but returned to rocks as quickly as they stopped watching her. They threatened to put her in jail. They called her sister to come take her away from town for a while. Anna said she thought we should find her and help her kill all the gulls until she wanted to stop. My story was being invaded. Anna said we could help the widow by tying up fish on lines for her, letting her throw them. Let her watch. Watch with her. We should quit our jobs and find the lady and help her kill all the gulls on the whole coast so that we…she could be sure to kill the same ones that ate her husband’s face. Maybe she would know, Anna speculated, “Maybe she’ll know when the last one is dead. There are no more gulls alive that ate his face. Maybe she’d suddenly stop one day and say, ‘That’s it. They’re all dead now.’” Maybe, Anna, she should just wait and wait until all the guilty gulls died of old age. Then she would find peace. Anna said no that she would have to kill them all— and a number of others, their friends maybe—and then she would be done. Anna and I met when I was celebrating my first big promotion. She was younger than me, but all of us got drunk on pitchers of margaritas celebrating that night— on my tab. She walked home with friends, and I tagged along. We sang part of a Madonna song, something iconic that I didn’t really know but all her younger friends did. I wanted to sing a Donna Summers song, “She works hard for the money,” but no one else knew it. That’s how it started. I would follow her to these dives she liked. I would try to entertain her because I liked the way she flushed when I succeeded in making her laugh or be amazed. I searched the newspapers—The New York Times, the local rag, even the weeklies—for strange stories to tell her. We’d meet. I’d say, did you see about the guy
73 in Washington who caught some kind of flesh-eating bacteria and his doctors had to rush to lop off parts of him to save him? “How much did they lop off?” She’d ask narrowing her eyes and looking at me sideways. I knew this was the signal to go on, fill in. The more outrageous the story the better. Her cheeks would flush. I’d say, well, you can be glad you’re not getting up in the morning with the doctors poised over you trying to see what part they remove to save you today. Lucky for you not to have that in your life. Good fortune. And there was the guy working on the barge who fell into the twelve feet of chemical residue in the hold. They got his clothes out but not much more because the chemicals, they found, ate up most of the oxygen in the hold and no one could stay there long enough to retrieve him. They had to send for… And Anna would nod in mock enthusiasm to say, yes, she was glad that that would also not be on the menu for her today. I wanted the relationship to be more, but she kept playing the friends card, so I took what I could get. And I combed the papers. For a while she was delighted by the tiny articles she called “bus plunges.” Bogota, Columbia: Thursday evening a bus plunged over the side of a mountain road killing 47 members of a wedding party and the driver. Lahore, Pakistan: A bus plunged off a road when the driver lost control. Thirty-five members of a local cricket team were killed. I took to cutting them out for her while I was at work. I copied off the internet, sliced them out of papers. I made her a collage, and she said she was thankful that she had not been on that bus. I found a double murder-suicide. We discussed how they worked out the order of who would kill whom and then be last. Anna told me with an absolutely straight face that she had been visiting an aunt in another town that weekend and could not have been involved in any way. I kept expecting her to break out laughing. She flushed beautifully instead. I wanted to touch her cheek where the red crept up just under her earlobe. I didn’t. I waited for the right story. She wanted to know more about the woman and the seagull, more than was in the short article in the coastal weekly. And as I began to elaborate and provide much more information than could have reasonably been included in the article, I waited for Anna to call me out, say, that’s enough. Now you’re just making shit up. But she didn’t. And so the fisherman’s wife after the authorities took away her monofilament, brought out a bag of small firecrackers, two-inchers, and stuffed one (at first) into the
74 mouth of a dead smelt, lit it and tossed it to the greedy maw of another murdering, face-eating seagull. The gull lurched and died and fell into the sea. When she tried two firecrackers down the gullet of a fish, the effect was even greater. The gull swallowed it whole, flapped its wings twice and then the explosion: the two wings hung in the air while the body shattered in feathers, then the wings sculled their way through the air to the water, two gestures of uncoordinated grief. Anna asked if she tried bigger firecrackers. If she could have found some dynamite, TNT maybe, composition C-4—she was like a compendium of explosives--so I answered that, no, she only could get small firecrackers. But the fisherman’s wife told those same authorities that the gulls didn’t have to swallow the fish so greedily. It was their own fault if they would eat something on fire. Anna seemed satisfied with that. And she asked me if I wanted to come out with her friends on Friday, karaoke and dancing maybe, certainly margaritas. I said I did. The ten-year difference in our ages grew less important. I studied the songs of her group so I could sing along in case they broke into song again. It was easy enough to watch how the males dressed and copy some small part of it. I tried wearing my shirt tails out. With each adjustment I felt Anna and me grow closer to going out— just Anna and me, something to eat, a drink later. Sit by a fire in a bar I knew. We would marry in time. There would be children. That would be the story I had to begin to tell her. A boy and a girl. The dog’s name would be negotiable but something biblical like Shadrach, that’s what I would prefer. Here Shad. Anna sat between Robert and me when we went out. Robert was new in the company. He had come from the South--Atlanta or Birmingham. Maybe Montgomery. His accent sounded like some concoction used to marinate chicken wings. He claimed to have been in sales but ended up in creative after five years. Anna found that in order to talk to either of us she had to turn her back on the other, so she pushed her chair back to make it easier. I succeeded in working our words into the threeway conversation: firecrackers, face, seagull, explosion. I could contain Robert’s conversation with our private code spaced into the margaritas and nachos. Each time I used one of the words Anna paused slightly as if pulled back into the story of the fisherman’s wife. I wanted to continue the story but didn’t see how without being weird and socially inept, without showing my fear of Robert’s accent and Robert’s threat to our dog, Shad. I wanted Robert to
CIRQUE go pee so I could hint at the story continuing, but Anna went first. There was Robert. There was me. It was Robert who turned and talked to someone else. It became unseasonably hot, and Anna seemed reluctant to go for an iced tea after work even though the restaurant was cold, the sidewalk hot. She went finally but said she only had a little while, that she had to meet someone in about half an hour. Robert, I thought. So I said the fisherman’s wife was going on trial. Some kind of law about the seagulls she wouldn’t leave alone. The local police were forced to charge her, and it wasn’t just state laws she broke; it was national law about protected shore birds, but even more, she could face jail time in a federal prison. Anna paused. Probably one of those “countryclub” joints though, don’t you think. But she would have to take her grief inside. That would be hard. I think, said Anna, that she would wait…I added, with her eyes on the sky…yes, and she’s thinking of ways to slaughter the faceeaters. What I call the Robert-incident made me realize that all I really had to attract Anna was the story of the fisherman’s wife, Alexandra. Her name became Alexandra, slightly medieval but not so mannered or folksy as to become a joke. The first time I referred to her as Alexandra, Anna stopped me holding up her hand. I waited, and she put down her hand and with a drawn out yessss, she let me go on. She had parsed the name, accepted it, provisionally, and let me try it out. Her eyes shone. I would save Alexandra’s last name until I needed it. Alexandra claimed she had no money and couldn’t afford a lawyer though the town’s people—I called it the village by this time—said they would take a collection to help. But she insisted that she could defend herself. Anna settled into the booth across from me, leaning over her coffee warming her hands on the cup. The heat from the brew wiggled the air between us. The appropriateness of the rising heat screen-fade as I began the story again was not lost on me, maybe not on her either. I don’t know. So Alexandra insisted and insisted, and they let her defend herself. She had a giant blow up of the coroner’s photos of her husband’s body glued to a display board. She had a blow-up of his face next to that, a wedding photo apparently since he was wearing a beige tux with dark brown lapels. The coroner photo was so large that the no-face was the same size as the wedding face. The photos turned out to be her entire defense. She wordlessly pointed back and forth between the pictures, and then she said, “Thank you,” to the nine-person jury
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
and sat down. Anna said nothing. I thought I had been too brief, too condensing, too dramatic without the proper buildup. More getting there, I thought, and maybe less there. Alexandra should speak, be eloquent about faces, have the jury look at each other’s faces, think of their families’ faces. Anna leaned forward again and said, “I hope she’s not crazy.” I thought she was crazy, but in a way that would make us think about our own sanity, would make her case touch Anna’s brain in a way that would allow me in there through that crack. Now I began scrambling to keep Alexandra from being crazy. “It was her grasp of the law that was the problem, it seems. She thought she’d make the only Divorah Rose Herrera Reefka point she knew to make—that she got to kill seagulls no matter what the law says because the gulls had include other fruits. I suppose if I had kept records, that eaten her husband’s face. It was simple—not crazy. This for she was eating what was in season, but I fixed on the that. Whatever the law said, it didn’t apply,” I backtracked. pears and even tried to make them part of the story of “But they could lock her up either way, crazy or Alexandra. That was a mistake. illegal.” Mostly I would mix images into the seagull story “No, no.” I realized I couldn’t have Alexandra from the sides of trucks passing by outside the window, locked up, out of action. I could have no access to her a feather from someone’s hat, a word I overheard in a prison life, her life in the state institution for the insane or conversation at another booth. It was kind of a game, but whatever they called it now. Alexandra had to go back to I have to admit that I got a stronger and stronger feeling the village to keep Anna mine. that everything between Anna and me depended on my The case was thrown out, I decided, because a skill with this story, as if she only had patience with me as local lawyer who had family in the village and knew the the mouthpiece for the tale. It didn’t start out that way. whole story was in court that day, and he leaned over to I initially thought the whole thing was one long running Alexandra and whispered something that she repeated joke that she was being a good sport about. But quickly quietly to the judge who slammed his gavel on the I either invented or intuited the stakes—I’m still not sure proceedings. I think the flag was out of place—local rules which. Either way the stakes were the same. When we or something—and also there were insufficient court staff made love she liked silence as if words might dilute the that day to constitute a real trial. How did that float with feeling as she closed her eyes and dug her fingernails Anna? sweetly into my back. Well, we went out the next night to a movie The fisherman’s wife sat for a portrait I had theater that served wine and beer during the movie. Then painted by a friend of mine. I told him about the village, afterwards, and finally, to my apartment. We jumped the way the bay curved in to protect the small harbor from ahead in our relationship, I think, because I got Alexandra storms, the way you could walk out of town south then back into the village unscathed and surrounded by cut down through the meadows to the rocks where they’d whirling gulls. found the fisherman. I gave him photos I’d taken. He Anna had taken to carrying fruit in her pocket. painted Alexandra in the right foreground with the village At first it was pears, clandestine pears I called them but visible below, the rocks in question washed by high tide. not to her face. I thought it was funny, and the pears I gave her to the painter in three different pictures I cut were bruised and messy to eat, but eat them she did. In from a magazine and told him which parts of each woman the hard booth at the coffee place she scrabbled napkins he needed to include—whose mouth, the high forehead out of the container and laid them out like a table cloth from that one, the eyes just like that one but blanker if that and commenced on the pear. Bruises and all she ate like a was possible. Friend or not he charged me four hundred fruit bat leaving only the stem and seeds. Later she would dollars so I thought I had the right to insist on certain
76 corrections: the boat upended on the small beach, clouds building far off shore, the wild flowers I named in the meadow, the lace collar she had mended with a slightly different colored thread. I decided the empty look in her eyes was too vacant and asked him if he couldn’t put some life back in, a spark that was fixed on some seagull somewhere in distance that we can’t see. I watched as he added a white dot to the eyes just so, and there it was. When the portrait was finished I debated long with myself about the right time to let Anna see it, how I would spring it on her: just have it hanging on the wall one day and casually mention that, oh yes, that’s her, the fisherman’s wife. Or plan B: say I bought it at an auction near here and thought it could be Alexandra, but, of course, I didn’t know for sure since the painting wasn’t signed, the landscape in the background no place I’d seen. I kept it from Anna for a while trying to decide. I knew there was a certain amount of risk in the painting enterprise, as there had been in adding the pears. But I had taken risks all along, and I thought they were working out. I decided that Alexandra would need a last name before I unveiled the painting with either plan. Anna was giving up her friends for me. I wanted to see how strong the story was. I asked her to meet me after work at the same restaurant with its hard surfaces, and its uncomfortable but easy-clean booths. I had checked to see which ethnic groups had settled the coast where Alexandra lived. There were Finns, Swedes, a few Norwegians, and a small settlement of Latvians. These groups were given similar fishing rights to the 1855 Indian treaties that established Native American rights in the area since these groups too were there before the state was legally established. Anna seemed interested in the background, and I knew I had to come up with a last name. I was unprepared, hadn’t thought it out, so I went with a generic Scandinavian name threw in an extra s— Hansson—just for a little exotic. Anna thought about it the same way she had pondered the advent of Alexandra, then nodded, and it was done there in the glare of the fluorescent lights and Formica and clang of coffee cups. The next week Anna seemed restless to join her friends after work. She was bored, she said: with work, with her prospects in the company. I assumed I was somewhere on her list of creeping boredom too, but couldn’t give up just yet. I had the finished painting; I had a plan. I suggested we go to the coast on the weekend and see the village where Anna lived. We could see the rocks, the bay, even some of the very same gulls that had eaten the fisherman’s face. Maybe Alexandra would be
CIRQUE there somewhere. We agreed Anna would go out with her friends on Friday night, and then we’d drive to the coast on Saturday. We took the same road I had been on to photograph the village for the painter, but I didn’t tell her yet. Around a blind corner where the pines blocked our view, we burst onto the meadow that ran down to the water; the bay spread out before us with the village tucked against the hillside. I watched for Anna’s reaction—this was the place, where they found his body without a face, where Alexandra began her revenge, her quest. But Anna’s gaze seemed screwed to the inside of the car as if she didn’t want to look at The Place. She pulled down the visor, flipped open the mirror and looked there. I wanted to say, “There, there’s where she must have walked down with the bucket of bait and the line, where she began it. Look at the rocks…” But Anna went from the visor mirror to the interior of her purse. I slowed the car. “Gum?” she asked. “No thanks. I found a little café on line. We could eat something there by the water.” Alexandra looked around as we entered town and parked. But I kept looking at her face for the interest she always had for the story when we sat in the brightly lit coffee shop. She was laconic, sleepy now, as if she’d been awakened too early. Was she adjusting the story to fit the actual town? We took a table where we could see the harbor, and she excused herself to go to the bathroom. She was gone a long time, a long time. After a while, I left the table and went inside to see what had become of her. I could hear from outside the bathroom that she was talking to a friend on the phone. I left my jacket on a chair and walked toward the harbor. Two fishermen were doing something with nets, not mending like in the movies, but folding or re-arranging or something. I watched briefly but couldn’t figure out what was going on. They seemed to be involved in some sort of net ritual that I didn’t understand. One small boat motored across the bay from the harbor toward the rocks where the fisherman’s body must have been. Behind a low building there was a trail leading up the hill steeply at first, then crossing the hillside I started up, and the entrance to the bay exploded with gulls. They’ve come for more faces. They’re waiting for all of our faces. No, Anna, Anna. Anna on the phone probably still in the bathroom. Look at the gulls whirling counterclockwise. Alexandra is biding her time. She waits for the gulls to regroup. She sits at her window and waits for the gulls to see the moist glint of our eyes following them.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
NONFICTION Deborah M. Bernard
The High and the Mighty Visit 1980’s Deadhorse, Alaska
The giant front end loaders are voraciously attacking a yard full of junk, the jawed teeth ripping and tearing and lifting up metal debris and placing it ever-sogently on the waiting lowboy trucks to be hauled south. The sound of clanking barrels and metal scrap and the roar of diesel engines is so loud we have to shout to converse with each other. It’s 10 p.m. on a summer’s night in 1982 Deadhorse and the cleanup on Childs’ Pad has just begun. The sun is high and warm. Six women, ranging in age from 18 to “it’s not polite to ask,” just got off work at Prudhoe Bay General Store and contract post office and are lolling on mismatched plastic chairs in the gravel yard. It is our turn to watch others work. We toast this spectacle with an adult beverage. Even though liquor is officially a no-no on the oilfields beyond the guard shacks, we are in Deadhorse, a virtual Dodge City, so we can imbibe as long as we follow our manager’s rules: No drunken brawls, be at work on time tomorrow, and never hung-over: “Ya gotta be perky.” Natural selection at its best. A large wooden spool that once held electrical cable serves as our cocktail table. The favorite wine is Blue Nun, a white Rhine wine, and Mateus, a rosé from Portugal…in support of their struggle against Spanish tyranny, we say, but the truth is, it’s just a great light wine in a pretty bottle, perfect for novice drinkers The whisky of choice is Canadian: R & R, also the name of our vacation break from the oilfield (R-n-R.) We know all the guys running the loaders. They shop in our store. They live on a pad a half-mile from here. (Everyone lives and works on gravel pads to minimize impact to the fragile environment.) They have names like Joe Bob and Bubba and Bug. I just sold Bug a can of chewing tobacco—Copenhagen, also known as Norwegian candy—right before we closed the store. We joked about a grasshopper—a Bug—spitting tobacco juice. Although the practice turns my stomach. According to local lore, Bug is so adept at operating his loader that he can pick up a paper towel from the ground, with the giant claws, and put it inside a pickup window that’s only open an inch. The rhythmic whirr of a helicopter suddenly drones overhead. It hovers, and we realize it is the
Department of Natural Resources (DNR), also watching the cleanup progress. The giant pieces of equipment roaring and posturing on this gravel pad look so much like a scene from bygone days in Alaska when dinosaurs roamed freely, a pterodactyl cruising overhead, on what was once a lush savannah with trees and bushes. Now the dinosaurs are heavy equipment painted Caterpillar yellow, the pterodactyl is the spy helicopter, and the biome is tundra, with the nearest tree almost 100 miles to the south. We worked for Jim and Elaine Childs in the only general store, hardware store, and post office in the oilfield. Our living quarters were a co-ed dorm, crafted by building a roof over and a floor under ATCO trailer units. (ATCO, a Canadian firm, is the world’s largest supplier of trailers for industrial sites: workforce housing, office trailers, and modular buildings.) Thus, a camp dweller could walk out of his 8 x 10 room, into a hallway leading to the dining hall, the communal bathroom, or into the retail store. There were outdoor metal porch lights outside each sleeping room, which festooned the now-indoor hallways. Our favorite song lyric was from Jimmy Buffet: “Thank God I don’t live in a trailer.” Because all of us oilfield workers DID live in a trailer. ~~~ We never meant for Deadhorse, the heart of the Great Alaska Pipeline Project, to become a junkyard. It was just that cleanup was so far down the priority list you couldn’t even see it from here. Recycling was a rumor from the Lower 48. Construction was king and there was a feverish sense of immediacy. Everyone worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, as a regular shift. A lot of people put in a lot more hours in a day. But everyone, ultimately, only had 24 hours a day to give. From the moment that the Discovery Well actually discovered oil, in 1968, the frenetic, urgent, competitive drive to harvest that oil was a palpable force. Every part of the project was half ambition to get ‘er done, and half the feeling that someone or something was breathing down your neck so you best not tarry. The permits to drill the oil
were only good for so long. The summer days were literally endless as the sun shone 24/7. But when the first sunset appeared in late August, you could feel the cold chill and you knew that another winter eternity was inevitable and coming soon. More urgent than any gold rush, or any land lottery in the history of the world, was the call of the oil. If you couldn’t find it, if you couldn’t mine it, if you couldn’t get the financing to harvest this black gold, be assured that many, many people were lined up behind you, eager and willing to do it, impatient for their chance. The arctic conditions, crazy odds and potential wildly lucrative return attracted a zany collection of adventurers. Just as happens in every gold rush—California, Nome, and now the black gold of the oilfield—the first to come are the biggest characters of all. Tennessee Miller was a risk taker. He raised Tennessee Walking Horses back home in Tennessee. He took a chance and brought some of his best horses up to the fertile farmlands of Palmer, Alaska in the late 1960’s. The horses adapted to the harsher winters, so he was working his Alaskan ranch when the oil boom started. His history in the 1970’s was rags to riches. Back to rags. Back to riches. When he was ridin’ high in April, he had cash flow. Hired dozens of people. Wowed the working community of Alaska. When he was shot down in May, with nothing in his war chest, he hung out with the retirees at a bar on Two Street in Fairbanks, drinking cheap wine and playing Pan Guinea for eight hours at a time. Pan Guinea is a card game where the most that you can win or lose is a quarter a hand. He played with the same passion he brought to all his endeavors. But then he would be back on top, back on top, in June, and continue his wildly successful projects.
Tennessee Miller brought the first cat trains up in the dead of the winter of 1973 over the mountain ranges, using track vehicles to pull and push and plunge ahead where there were no roads, no trails, no signposts. A cat train is several ATCO units, each on a sled-like skid that is pulled along by a D-8 Cat bulldozer (Caterpillar brand) with a track vehicle. The track vehicles (“creepy crawlers”) hauled sleeping units, a bathroom unit, a kitchen unit, eight men, and a tool house, all on skids. His feat was considered so daring—foolhardy, some said; impossible, said others—that the Anchorage Daily News tracked his daily progress. Jim Childs, his mechanic, slept on the dining table of the cat train kitchen unit, his ear on the table so he would know immediately if the generator died during the night. You don’t have many minutes to restart a generator in subarctic temperatures before it freezes up to a crisp. Later Jim Childs and his wife Elaine started their own business in Deadhorse, first salvage and mechanical work, and then the Mini Mall. When his employees would complain about the lack of amenities at Childs’ Pad, Jim just snorted, and told them they didn’t know diddly squat about rough arctic conditions. I landed my first job in Deadhorse in 1981, working as a temporary secretary for an insurance adjustor who was summoned to the North Slope after Tennessee Miller’s shop burned down. While working on my IBM Selectric in the Frontier offices one day, typing up all the losses, I noticed a man poking around in the garbage can outside the office door. He was slight of build, and looked to be in his 50’s. He wore Mork and Mindy rainbow suspenders to hold up his dirt-caked Carhartt pants. His tattered felt hat looked like he had stolen it from Jed Clampett of the “Beverly Hillbillies.” I asked Dot, the company secretary, if that was a hobo, and should I offer him a sandwich from the piles of food from our camp kitchen? “Oh, no, honey, no!” Dot said. “Don’t you dare! That’s Mr. Miller! He owns all the Frontier companies.” When I finally got introduced to him, I said, “I read about your amazing feat in the paper! That first cat train trip must’ve been something!” “Baby, don’t believe everything you read. They thought I was a hero, or a fool. Truth is, if I didn’t get that equipment out of reach past the Brooks Range, the finance company would’ve repossessed it all! I was just stayin’ ahead of the creditors!” he cackled. ~~~
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 Coupled with the haste and heart-felt immediacy was a two-word phrase that was horrible, wonderful, amazing, and unheard-of: “cost plus.” Cost plus is how all the early jobs were bid because everyone acknowledged that nobody knew how much a job could actually cost in the unknown arctic, where freight alone could cost more than equipment, where weather could destroy expensive devices, and where the ability of a man or woman to work outdoors in this deep freeze was unknown and unproven. So, companies would bid to do a job—say, create a gravel pit to build the roads and pads from which the oil drilling equipment would work—based on whatever it cost them to do that “plus 10 per cent.” The more the job cost, the more money the contractor got. Since price was no object, contractors brought in the finest food and cases of brand-name tools for each job. The tools were never retrieved since the next job was also cost plus. The act of recycling the tools would mean the contractor would receive less money for the next job. Employees and mechanics enriched their tool chests, and some of the brand new tools ended up in the dumps and landfills of Deadhorse. The catering companies never seemed to mind, then, that the truck drivers would take cases of canned juice and pudding cups and whatever else they wanted from the Spike Rooms for the 500-mile trip to Fairbanks along the Haul Road to pick up another load of pipe. Every large camp had a Spike Room, in addition to its dining hall. Anyone in Prudhoe Bay was welcome to get a snack—or a huge meal--at any time of the day or night. There was anything you could imagine: machines with two kinds of soft ice cream, with a display of hot fudge, caramel, crushed nuts, tiny M-n-M’s, and anything you could want to put on it. Whatever was left over from dinner, packaged up for you: fried chicken with potatoes and gravy, nicely shrink wrapped, for instance. Pizza by the slice, hamburgers waiting to be nuked, giant bratwurst and hot dogs going around on a spindle, all free for the taking. Cookies, donuts, fruits, little salads, hot soups. A young man that worked in the general store swore he heard a choir of angels sing when he first walked into a Spike Room, and that he sensed a celestial light from above. (Probably the heat lamp over the donuts, but the image was cool.) Like going, ravenous, into a Disneyland version of a Seven Eleven, and then having the clerk say, “No charge, please take all you want. I’m just here to make sure the nacho cheese never runs out.” This is definitely why the 500-mile dirt road to Deadhorse used to shine in the moonlight with the reflection of discarded juice
79 cans and the metallic tops of pudding cups and Vienna sausage cans. All the heavy equipment that was used to build the oilfield lusted for barrels full of diesel, lubricating fluid, and antifreeze (what a surprise, right?). When the barrels were empty, what could be done with them? Companies tried to send them back to Fairbanks as a “backhaul,” on the 18-wheeler trucks that brought up the loads of pipe and supplies. A truck driver, having dropped his load, had two options: find somebody willing to pay him/her to take another, less revenue load back down to Fairbanks, or “Deadhead” home, just the truck pulling no trailer, much faster but financially not as lucrative. The definition of deadhead is: movement of commercial vehicles in nonrevenue mode for logistical reasons. The truck drivers were the lifeline and the supply line of the oilfield, multi-taskers on a mission (and some, on a mission AND Black Beauties). It was all about how fast you could make your turnaround: drop your trailer full of pipe at Lynden Trucking’s yard. Find Skippy in the warehouse and give him that paper bag from The Brown Jug in Fairbanks. Get Ole to sign off your papers in the office. Fuel up, grab grub at a Spike Room, or sit down for a minute at one of the camp dining halls, fill up your thermos with coffee, and hit the road. “Hey, Frank, it’d sure be nice if you would backhaul one of them trailer loads of barrels,” Ole said during one hurried turnaround. “Well, how long will it take ya to hook it on and strap it down? I ain’t got all day.” “Twenty minutes, I swear, it’s ready to go. I heard Felix made your favorite pecan pie down at the borough camp last night. Why don’t you go get some, and stop in the office and say hi to Luanne? She lights up when she sees you and she’s gettin’ awful grumpy, she’s on her ninth week straight. PLEASE go sweeten her up! For all of us! Take my pickup and your rig’ll be ready with that backhaul,” Ole cajoled. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes even pie and a sweetie pie too weren’t enough to slow down a trucker. There were some truckers willing to backhaul, but the barrels were too numerous and the “tyranny of the urgent” overtook the would-be recyclers. And so the piles of garbage, the stacks of “nearly” empty barrels of toxic materials, and the leftovers from various construction projects multiplied on the North Slope. By the early 1980’s, much of Deadhorse had back lots full of garbage and barrels awaiting a backhaul that might never come. Once a year, the barges of Sealift could
80 get in to West Dock with their cargo of modular units and supplies for the oilfield. The hope was that all the scrap could be backhauled on these barges. But there was always too much scrap for the barges to handle and the garbage amassed. Every pad around Deadhorse had piles of surplus junk when the spotlight of national attention shone on this area, in 1982. Senators and Congressmen from Washington, DC were suddenly interested in a junket to view this oilfield, as oil production far surpassed even the most optimistic estimates. Knowing that they were coming and knowing that what they found as far as environmental impact could make or break legislation that would impact the oilfield provided a new breathin’-down-your-neck expedient: We have to get Deadhorse cleaned up before company comes! They say there’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over. Suddenly, the resources of oil exploration and production were turned, full on, to the cleanup of the junkyard that Deadhorse had become. Like every North Slope 1980’s project, this one was just as feverish, just as hectic, with the imminent shadow of someone breathing down our necks. Only this time the shadow was cast by the impending visit of the dignitaries and the politicos. Companies were contracted to gather the trash, the leaking barrels, everything from the toxic to the merely annoying, and get it out of Deadhorse. Mostly by truck down the 500 mile Haul Road. The flow of the oil couldn’t be neglected for this project, so tons of overtime was paid to people who worked their regular shift, ate a quick dinner, then put in three or four hours stacking debris on flatbed trucks, performing Hazardous Material (HazMat) tests on old tanks and barrels, and preparing this surplus for the Sealift Backhaul and the truckers’ backhauls, who by now were not given a choice. No deadheading back to Fairbanks under penalty of being black listed. After the garbage was cleared, Deadhorse was transformed and took her place as the finest and cleanest oilfield in America. If you clean it, they will come. And come they did. Senator Ted Stevens (Alaska, R) brought the first groups of senators and congressmen and congresswomen to the North Slope. In their one long day, they toured the field, had lunch at ARCO’s MCC (Main Construction Camp,) and stopped in to visit us at Prudhoe Bay General Store and post office. Most bought a postcard to mail back home (to prove that they had actually gone on the junket?)
CIRQUE and multiple t-shirts and baseball hats with sayings from the patriotic to the idiotic: souvenirs from the edge of nowhere. Sohio Construction Company (SCC) which later morphed into British Petroleum (BP) was in charge of the VIP visitors, from the local to the global. ~~~ The first group of Russians caught us by surprise. The oilfields of Russia were just starting to be developed, so a delegation was dispatched to see how the Americans ran their oilfields. The early groups that came were dressed like the Blues Brothers, in black suits, white shirts, skinny black ties, and black fedoras. The first group did not speak English, except for their interpreter. We had just received a shipment of Levi’s the night before: a gross (144 pieces) of Levi 501’s, the cool button-fly pants favored by the young and the thin; the Levi 550’s, “fuller cut in the seat and the thigh,” for the slightly older and larger gentleman; and the Levi 551’s, flannel-lined jeans for the arctic. All we could do was count them, price them, and pile them in stacks on the floor of the general store until somebody had a minute to hang them up. Ironically, on the exact day that the first Russians came, we got our first shipment of a novelty item that would be wildly popular in Deadhorse: The Hopalong Peter. A wind-up, plastic, two inch tall 1980’s version of the Chattering False Teeth. Except this was a dancing replica of a man’s private parts. Yes, a somewhat profane novelty, but in a world where there were no children, no harm, no foul, right? So when the first Russians came, there were two embarrassments of wealth: what seemed like enough Levi’s to outfit every citizen of Russia, stacked up casually, like cordwood, on the floor of the store (At that time, a used pair of American Levi’s would fetch $100 in Russia, even in that less than thriving economy.). And a chorus line of two-inch-tall dancing penises, gracing the front counter of the store, dancing to the songs of Oklahoma, each winking its one eye in time to the music. The Russians were murmuring amongst themselves by the front counter. They had seen the Levi’s upstairs and were averting their eyes from the “novelty” item on the counter. We asked the interpreter what was being said. “Oh, they are admiring your store and your merchandise!” the interpreter said. Luckily, our fellow store employee Stephanie was a linguist, and she later interpreted for us, in her very best
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 “Boris and Natasha, Moose and Squirrel” voice. “Vat they really said is, ‘Decadent Americans! Too many Levi’s! Too much vealth! Has turned brain to mush! Display sex in public! They are going DOWN!’” We never knew if what Stephanie said was true, but it made sense. From that day forward, we developed a relationship with the British Petroleum tour office in Anchorage, so we were always warned and thus prepared when a delegation from anywhere came to visit. The ambassador from Red China and his wife were a charming and gracious, elderly couple who visited with a BP rep. He was fascinated with the magazine selection. Everything from Newsweek to a gentleman’s magazine, 40 Plus. (Was that an age thing? A bra size? I never investigated.) The BP tour guides were informative, fun-loving, and perky, and usually diplomatic. Visualize Katie Couric leading a group through the arctic. The guide realized that the plane would be waiting for them on the tarmac, so attempted to hurry the Ambassador: “We have to catch the plane. Chop! Chop!” she said, sweetly. Later, Joe wondered aloud if anyone in all of China had ever said, “Chop Chop” to this venerable couple. ~~~ Elaine Childs, who owned the general store with her husband Jim, flew the priest from her Anchorage church up one Sunday a month to say Mass for anyone who wanted to attend. The Childs paid his airfare, gave him a room, and the finest food that Childs’ camp could offer. By North Slope oilfield standards, the accommodations and food were quite humble. But don’t complain to Jim Childs. One night when the priest was there, Dan Fastfoot wanted us to cash a personal check in the general store for $125. Elaine had left specific instructions that no
$125 personal checks would be cashed without her or Jim’s initials on the check. (They were wise to the fact that a gram of cocaine sold for $125 and they didn’t want to contribute to the delinquency of the oilfield.) We told Dan that we couldn’t cash his check without Elaine’s okay, and that she was in the back of the dining room with the priest. He knew Elaine! She would do it! He ran back to get her initials on the check. My coworker Jane Henderson didn’t tell him that Elaine had asked Jane to send back a volunteer to help with the Mass. “Oh, Dan, I’m glad you’re here!” she said. “We need an altar boy to assist with Mass... Will you do it?” Dan became an altar boy for an hour, and Elaine put her initials on his check. We cashed his check for $125, and he did whatever it was he did with the money. I am not implying that he bought drugs with this check. I am simply stating that people traded favors, time, money, or energy for what they needed in that day. It was the most basic barter system ever. ~~~ The initial junkets by the VIPS led to restrictions being lifted on the Haul Road. Suddenly, regular people could visit the oilfield, but why on earth would they? Once people started to discover the uniqueness, the floodgates opened. Suddenly, people from all over Alaska, all over America, and all over the world, wanted to come and see. Deadhorse was on the brink of become a wildly popular tourist destination. We residents couldn’t believe that people would spend their tourist dollars on a trip to an industrial site that had the unmistakable ambience of a truck stop. (Let’s see, honey, where should we go for vacation? Maui? Or Deadhorse?) The Carnival of Absurdity was setting up its tents, and there would be no stopping it.
Gloom and Doom
A Love Story of Trees
I’m more comfortable and at home around trees than I am people—especially the trees of 3200 feet and above: red fir (Douglas fir/Doug fir), white fir (grand fir), tamarack (western larch), cedar (western red cedar), ponderosa pine (yellow pine/piss pine/bull pine), white pine, spruce, hemlock—a coniferous family made up of billions of repeating common kin, so much a part of my life, there isn’t an easy way to separate me from the trees, the trees from me. *** I was two and a half when we moved from Idaho’s Frasier prairie to Headquarters—a north Idaho loggingcompany town carved out of hundreds and hundreds of miles of trees. It was 1977 and the true logging heyday had already passed, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking. At first glance, it seemed as if there would never be an end to the trees, their green spires stretching all the way to Canada and back. Only from a few of the highest places of 5000 feet or more—Bertha Hill Lookout, DullAxe Mountain—could you see the patches of shaved land: raw clear-cuts, switch-back roads, and line-machine drag paths scored into the mountainsides. But, mostly, what you saw were trees.
Birch Trees Creamer’s Field, Fairbanks, Alaska
story frame houses for the higher-ups. Men and their families came from Arkansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia—places farmed out, mined out, used up. They came for sure work and sure wages, another chance. They cut their way through thousands of acres of virgin growth. Crosscut saws became malls (otherwise known as two-man chainsaws); malls became modern chainsaws and the work became systematic. Line machines, skidders, feller-bunchers, bucker-de-limbers. Those and the men it took to run them. ***
*** When the logging companies first came at the turn of the twentieth century—chartering their way in from Montana and up from the Snake River, following winding river tributaries inward—all they saw were millions of acres of uncalculated worth. A cash crop of lumber. With mules and crosscut saws, they cut exploratory trails through a land rich in cedars big enough to drive a team and wagon through. Chinese miners had already come and gone, panned the creeks and been hung, their claims reclaimed. The trees were an afterthought to the gold, but they were the real discovery, the biggest claim. Potlatch Logging Company seized the treed land of north-central Idaho, establishing “Headquarters” in the early 1900s. By the 1920s, the company had built lowland shanties to house the “gypo” contract loggers, and up on the high ground had constructed a circle of white two-
We moved to “The Circle” in Headquarters when my father was hired as one of the town carpenters in the late 70s, charged with maintaining the company’s office, houses, workshops, bunkhouses, and cookhouse. His carpenter shop was full of every piece of lumber, plywood, and wood scrap imaginable. I would visit him after hours as he crafted pieces of fine furniture—steam-curving long lengths of wood for dining-room tables or arched headboards and footboards. He built desks, bookshelves, dressers, cabinets, chairs, tables, beds, spiral-staircases. Mahogany handles for the pantry doors, oak trim for our 1970 truck’s interior, birch for cabinet doors, red fir for picture frames, cedar for keepsake boxes. I learned young to treasure thick tight-grained heart-cut beams gleaned from virgin timber. I learned knots and warps and curing, joints and cuts and staining. I learned to sand and finish wood until it
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 was rendered silky smooth. I became a connoisseur of fine lumber and carpentry work, critically examining boards and joints and finishes for any flaw. We were suddenly wood rich—wood’s rich. Everyone was. The plentiful forest gave up its bounty just as fast as the chainsaws and sawyers could work. A steady, diesel-smoking stream of logging trucks roared into and out of town nearly twenty-four hours a day, sometimes hauling one log to a load, so big were the trees. Miles of landings around town were stacked with thirty-foot-high log decks. A train chugged through town each day at noon, whistle blowing, engines straining as it pulled carload after car-load of logs out to the local plywood mill, lumber mills, and paper mill. The company provided my father’s carpenter-shop lumber for free. There was no end to what he could craft. There was no end to anything. *** Every summer in the cool evenings we drove the back roads scouting firewood snags. The trees were so thick it was like driving through a tunnel of green— conifer tops and sky. The elusive big-girth, buckskin, easysplitting, long-burning tamarack was our ultimate quarry, although red fir and white pine were plentiful: stock trucks bottomed-out with their firewood loads, trucks and trailers full of firewood rolling out of the logging roads all summer long. The woods were full of snags, ripe for the picking. My father would explain how to distinguish the punky hard-splitting white fir snag from the longerburning red fir, the way a good tamarack snag is straight as an arrow. He would hike the hills with his chainsaw and we would watch and listen: first, the chainsaw’s roar and bite and the snag’s slight shiver—its weight balanced for a moment on nothing but a few slivers—then its slow tipping plummet, gaining forceful momentum just before the thundering ground explosion of dust and limbs and bark—the snag lying long and jagged across the road, like a broken spine. As we limbed, marked, sawed, peeveed, up-cut, righted rounds, split, loaded, hauled, and stacked cord after cord—sawdust sifting down our necks, our skin tacky with sweat and pitch and dirt—I learned to differentiate species from fresh-sawn wood chips, to curse red fir splinters, to make kindling out of white pine, to revere the way a good straight-grained tamarack log would split in one whack and burn clean all night, casting even heat. I became a firewood snob: only tamarack, stacked neatly,
no bark, pie-shaped eighths wedged together in tight rows. *** Out in the woods, pre-Internet days, I homeschooled myself through high school. With my summer’s pine-cone-picking money—gathering bushels and bushels of pitch-covered cones from sawyer-felled trees, seeds for the logging company to replenish its stock—I bought my text books, but my favorite was the college dendrology (the study of trees) text that my uncle loaned me and a narrow, glossy young-naturalist’s how-to book. I often took long walks down the grown-in logging roads that surrounded town like a giant labyrinth, working to train my eyes for the divine: a stunted and delicate spruce; a heavy-trunked cedar, gnarled roots exposed; a leaning larch anchored root to rock in graceful reach. Once, on a landing where my father was cutting up a skidded firewood tree, I sat for an hour next to a giant log, meticulously counting its tightly ringed growth. Over five hundred rings from outer skin to the tree’s dark heart—a sapling when Christopher Columbus came to America and found it ripe with natural riches. On my walks, I studied cones and catkins and leaves, gathering specimens and sketching out leaf margins: crenate, serrate, lobed, ovate, elliptic, sinuate, revolute, oblong. I created a dendrology finals test and prepared for weeks, studying my notecards, memorizing margins and fruits, bark and branching, as well as all the Latinate names. *** Later, married but still living in Headquarters, my husband was a wild-land fire fighter, protecting the company’s trees from burning up before they could cut them down. We had three sons we raised much the same way I had grown up as a child out in the woods. But by this time, twenty-five years later, the trees no longer seemed endless, the clear-cuts no longer hidden. Having run through their supply of trees, the logging company was steadily downsizing; my father lost his carpentry job along with hundreds of others in a massive lay-off and company auction. Half of town was torn down, moved off, or purposely burned down. Lumber prices skyrocketed and what lumber we could afford seemed substandard: checked and warped, knotted and
ugly, dimensionally smaller and smaller. Good firewood became so scarce we resorted to burning white pine. And no matter where you looked, all you could see were clearcuts and burns, skid roads and erosion. A smoking and disastrous end-of-the-world landscape. From the threehundred-sixty-degree mountain vistas, the land looked as if it had contracted a terrible disease. Scabbed and patched and raw, as if it were a dog dying of mange. As if it would never be able to recover. We packed our bags and moved out, like most everyone else already had. *** Hours from the woods, we live in a college town and turn a wall dial for heat. A botany professor told us the land around Headquarters had been all cedar and giant white pine once, before the logging companies had come and laid claim. I imagined the woods of my youth like the Washington coastal rainforests, like the redwoods of northern California, like the small pocket of western red cedars left in a cedar preserve out past Headquarters that a forester petitioned for, wanting to leave at least a little piece behind for future generations. The few remaining cedar groves in the area are something of fairy lore—cedars so big, so tall, they dwarf everything. An understory of moss and maiden hair fern, a feminine place evidenced by the names bestowed on the flora: flowers named queen’s cup, lady slipper, fairy bells, fawn lilies, wood nymph. No wonder when I was young I imagined these forests the habitat of dryads. Conservative estimates place these cedars anywhere from two to three thousand years old. Trees that were growing when Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey. Live trees I could touch, bark imprinting my hands, connecting me to something so ancient it was hard to fathom. But except for these preserves, the big trees are all gone now, mountaintops scalped in every direction. Logging trucks carry loads made up of scraps that look like what used to be burn-pile garbage. In the industry’s last breaths they are taking everything. Even the trees surrounding Headquarters, the trees growing right in town, have been clear-cut and hauled off, the land laid bare.
*** As a homeschooling teen, I used to imagine what I might do to stop them—imagined myself sneaking onto logging jobs in the dark, pouring sugar into diesel tanks, slashing tires, chaining myself to trees, but as much as the fantasies gave me some feeling of agency, I knew my ideas were impotent, knew there was nothing I could do to stop them—to stop the ravishing of “my” woods. That as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was a part of the destruction too. I avoid going back to where I grew up now— the land so altered, so destroyed, my heart breaks and I again start fantasizing about activist retribution. Instead of trees now, I’m surrounded by the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse, fringed by ponderosa pine and willow scrub, farmland and open sky. A few years ago in a corner of my yard I planted a weeping larch—a tamarack tree bent over, branches draping to the ground in surrender. In the fall, I gather its needles, hold them to my face, and inhale. This year for Mother’s Day my husband and nearly grown sons packed a picnic and took me out to the woods to dig up saplings that would otherwise be cut out from logging-road shoulders and bring them home to replant in our yard—these trees of 3200 feet and above. I keep them mulched and pruned, watered and protected, hoping someday I might sit under their stately sky-reach, inhaling the pitch and tang of their bark and needles, the deep humus of their roots.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Tea with the Grizzlies
In the early morning hours of Saturday, August 12, 1967, two young women were killed by grizzly bears in Glacier National Park. The killings took place in different areas, but happened within a few hours of each other. It was the first time bears had killed anyone in the park’s history, and the two incidents led to a comprehensive national review and restructuring of bear management on public lands. Though the killings were not directly related, odds argued against purely coincidental events. Garbage was determined to have played a role at one site, and campers’ food at another. Lightning strikes were also considered as a possible influence. That night, more than 100 “ground strikes” had been observed by fire lookouts in the tinder-dry park. By Saturday evening thirty separate fires had been reported, and crews were already fighting 13 of them. It was, and maybe ever will be, the most terrible day in Glacier’s history. (Those interested in learning more about the bear killings should read Night of the Grizzlies by Jack Olsen. A strong stomach is required.) The months of July, August, and September 1967 were the driest in 53 years of record-keeping at park headquarters in West Glacier. By the end of the fire season, 35 fires had been fought and suppressed inside the park, with the number of acres burned greater than in the previous 31 years combined. August 12 marked the beginning of a war. The park shut down its normal operations, and tourists were kept out. Most able bodies joined fire crews. Park wives and secretaries operated around-the-clock dining halls. The Forest Service supplied smokejumpers and aerial tankers (“retardant ships”), while the Air Force provided helicopters. Native American fire crews flew in from reservations as far away as New Mexico and Alaska. I was sent to a fire so remote we had to be flown in by helicopter and let off on a ridge top in Canada. I had arrived in the park that May after successfully applying for the entry level position of personnel management specialist. Within a day or two after Saturday’s wholesale incendiary, I was assigned to the crew that would fight what became known as the Gardner Peak fire. It was in a remote wilderness very close to the Canadian border and the Continental Divide, above Upper Kintla Lake. There were no roads or human trails to the area. The attack team
85 consisted primarily of two Native American crews, one from Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico, the other from a tribe in Alaska. Each crew had the manpower equivalent of an army platoon, and was divided into squads. Although the hierarchy of the unit was theoretically based on government job qualifications, the actual hierarchy was based on tribal structure. Discipline is more easily achieved when the chief is the foreman. It echoed the contrived structure of the park’s own management, where the majority of supervisors - superintendent, division chiefs, and their assistants - were former World War II Army officers. The Gardner Peak fire had started on the south slope of a mountain whose summit was in Canada. Because of the remoteness and difficulty of access, we were brought in by troop helicopters to the mountain’s summit, a flat-top ridge. From there we hiked down rocky escarpments, across unstable scree slopes, and through the fire itself to reach the unburned area below it. The fire was only smoldering at the moment of our audacity, but red coals were launched as our boots scudded through the ashes. While crossing the avalanche-prone scree slopes I wondered what I had gotten myself into, and in the coals I found out. As in war, the individual life had to cede its value to the cause. Our first task on reaching the valley floor below the fire was to build a base camp. This included construction of a small landing platform for a two-person helicopter. The troop helicopters that had brought us to the top of the ridge were too big to service the base camp. The plan was to have the larger helicopters drop off supplies on the ridge top in Canada, with the smaller copter shuttling from ridge top to base camp. That plan went into effect the morning of the next day, and I was chosen to be airlifted back to the top of the ridge to assist in the unloading of the larger helicopters, and the loading of the smaller one. The small helicopter lifted me to the nascent alpine supply depot about mid-morning. The pilot then flew off to the staging area closer to park headquarters, after telling me he would return with the larger helicopters. He was gone a while, and then a while more. In fact, I did not see him again the rest of that day. I was at the verge of a strange interlude. It was sunny, and for the duration of that day I likely had one of the most spectacular views of anyone in the world. I was at the southern edge of Akamina Ridge, most of which is in British Columbia. Well above treeline, my companions were the neighboring mountains, Upper Kintla Lake, and small ridge-top glaciers sitting in their cirques. I had a lunch, and was dressed warm enough for daytime conditions in an area that freezes every night of the year.
86 While waiting for helicopters, I made short forays into the adjacent alpine habitats. An Alaskan would know this place well, with its ice-carved topography and gravel beds sparsely peppered with ground-hugging arctic plants. The day wore on to late afternoon, and I began to think of other things – about why the helicopters had not returned, about food, about nightfall, and whether I had been forgotten. Most of all I tried not to think about bears. Grizzly bears. It was only a couple of days after the horrors of August 12. I was in what was more-and-more becoming part of primary grizzly bear habitat. In our conquest of the continent, we had driven the grizzly out of the plains and foothills, and higher up into the mountains. It had reached the realm of the mountain goat. This top predator will even kill and eat a black bear. The beauty around me began to fade, not only from the sun’s descent, but also from my predicament. I was without options. My fate was entirely in the hands (or paws) of others. I had no food, radio, weapon, or nighttime insulation, and was probably the most frightened I had ever been. Would the grizzly find me warm or frozen? The value of my life seemed to have bottomed out. I tried not to dwell on what had happened to the two young women who had been mauled and killed. But I had already seen the results of a bear mauling, on the face of a young man who had come into my office in West Glacier. He had been mauled by a bear when he was a boy, and his face looked like it had been put back together by Picasso. It was difficult to look at him, yet impossible not to, like passing a car wreck. Even worse for my consideration was the face of one of the park’s naturalists. It had burned when a prairie fire he was fighting had quickly reversed direction. His face had been burned off, and he was now, in 1967, several years into its reconstruction from other parts of his body. He needed frequent surgery just to remove hairs growing inside the flesh that remained where his face had been. Even his ears were gone. Yet here he was, working every day, and in the summer interpreting the park’s resources for the tourists. He had their rapt, morbid attention and might have been the best thing that happened to them that trip, whether they knew it or not. Because of his public exposure, he had to frequently retell the story of the worst moment of his life. I could not resist asking him either. He told the story calmly, seemingly even willingly. Three months into my park service career, I was growing up quickly. Then the sun set, and I was truly and righteously afraid. I could not possibly have been forgotten, so for
CIRQUE some reason I had been abandoned. It must have been a humdinger of a reason. And then I heard a low rumble in the direction of the Kintla Lakes. It was the most beautiful sound, the engine of the helicopter that was bringing back my life. It was one of the larger copters, and it landed on the ridge top about a hundred feet from me. I thought it was going to pick me up and take me somewhere, but instead it had brought provisions. And what provisions they were – a sleeping bag, a tent, enough food to feed 80 people for a week, and the school teacher who was going to cook it. We unloaded the helicopter, and it returned to its base of operations. The cook told me the cause of the delay was a logistical problem involving the food supplies. With what little light was left, we built a fire and ate like kings. That night I enjoyed a peaceful, bearless sleep. Among the supplies the helicopter had brought was a crate full of Lipton Tea. I later learned that after I had been airlifted to the ridge top, the Alaska fire crew went on strike, refusing to man the fire lines until they had their cups of tea. I was never able to confirm that the psychological adventures of that day were spawned by an emergency tea run, but considering our species has gone to war over spices, it is possible.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
Learning To Read
Snow to our waists. Even with snowshoes, we punch through the drifts along the edge of treeline. We slog through the crust for a mile, down into scattered spruce until a bootpath appears, and we enter woods. We are about 20 miles outside Fairbanks, Alaska, and this is the eighth or ninth time this winter I have walked this trap-line with Ryan Ragan, a hunter dogged in his pursuit of winter fur. I am learning how to track. We’re not expecting to get any animals. Ryan has lynx cubbies and marten poles spread out across four miles of hillside here, but for the past week the wind has blown hard on top of Murphy Dome and the weather in town has been warm. In interior Alaska, warm means above zero, and when the temperature rises above zero, it snows. Over a foot had fallen this week. We have come out to clear the drifts off the traps, to keep the trail open, to make more sets. And we have come to read the tracks left in the snow. The tracking is what I most enjoy about this process of chasing fur. The tracks serve as teachers. They tell the daily life of a different world, a world which, like an ethnographer, I want to study, as if the lynx or the fox are specimens that can offer me insight into my own society. A pair of tiny patter marks dash out from beneath a half-buried and toppled spruce. A vole had skittered across the fresh snow in our trail, headed in a beeline for copse of brush maybe four yards away. But midway, the tracks stop. No prints double back, no hole has been burrowed down toward the moss. I kneel down to examine the sign, and I can make out the perfect impression of beating wings. Each strand of every feather has been brushed into the fresh fallen powder. “An owl,” says Ryan. I take a step forward, and in that move, the story, etched for a moment like carved crystal, disappears. The owl and vole become a lesson, a whisper in the winter sky. *** When I first started trapping about four years ago, I tried to justify the barbarism, to portray trapping as a thing nobler than it is. “The animals don’t actually suffer that much,” I told people.
“I try to use the entire animal,” I said. But then, in early December of my third season, I trapped my first lynx in a number four foothold. I came up the trail and found it already dead, a rare thing for a lynx. Usually they’re alive, and to preserve the fur, the trapper clubs their skull. Then, when the cat is stunned, he kneels on the chest and crushes the life away. Sometimes the trapper strings a snare on a long pole and hooks it around the neck and pulls tight until the lynx dies gasping for breath. I’d caught my first lynx high on the hind leg. He had panicked, and in the struggle to escape had tangled himself among the spruce boughs of the cubby. He had hung up the drag, a log used to keep trapped animals from running off, in a stand of alder. The cat had snapped the leg and bled out internally, or maybe died of shock. He froze solid, his legs bundled underneath him as if he was still trying to run. They do suffer. Death in the sub-arctic can never be clean. Not when a gunshot takes a moose through the lungs; not when a wolf pack tears the guts from a caribou and leaves it to die; not when a duckling gets pulled under by a pike in the shallows of a stream outlet; not even when a mink sets off a conibear, a kill trap, and dies fast from a broken neck. In winter, hunger among animals makes them desperate, easy to fool. This knowledge makes trapping nothing more than an act of prestidigitation. I love the word ‘prestidigitation.’ It means sleight of hand, trickery, and it fits, because a good trapper has a lot in common
with a good con artist. I don’t use the whole animal either. With marten, I boil the skull, but only so I can put it on a shelf as a bleached reminder of my conquest. I’ve eaten lynx, but unless I smother the meat in barbeque sauce, it tastes too dry for my civilized palate. I use beaver meat as bait for other animals, who love their rank offal. Really, I just want the fur, but I didn’t accept that fact until the lynx died in my trap in that horrible way and I didn’t feel any remorse. I was overjoyed, pleased because I’d finally killed a lynx, and because there is nothing softer than the belly fur of a wildcat adapted to cold. When I had him case skinned, stretched and dried in my cabin, I sat on the couch, running my hands through the plush coat for more than an hour.
I emulated Ryan and rigged a noose, looped it over her head. I pulled tight. But she yanked at the noose with a bloody paw, stretched her body until every sinuous muscle torqued tight like screw. For five minutes, she suffered hard. She gurgled deep in her throat, and at last I thought she was dead. I hung her carcass in a tree to retrieve later, after I’d finished checking the rest of my line. When I returned, she had revived, and though weak, had climbed to an alder branch, where she snarled at me and tore at the snare. I felt bad about that death, and the forest seemed to know I’d screwed up. For the rest of the season, I caught nothing but squirrels.
Trappers must learn to read the signs animals leave behind, because if you don’t know the animals on your line, mostly you’re just hiking through the woods. You’re building fantasy forts like when you were a kid. Maybe, at the meat of it, that is all I am doing anyway. You can see where a spruce grouse flew because it smelled the stalking ermine just in time. You can tell whether marten are eating squirrels or hares or grouse. Mostly in Alaska, they avoid squirrels, and if they’re in a heavily trapped area, they get wary faster, and won’t often climb pole sets. I have discovered the curiosity of a fox because I have seen where it climbed up on a stump to survey a wide swath of a forest fire burn. I have smelled the piss posts on the side of a trail where the fox marks its territory. Because I learned to read signs in the snow, I know that an otter will travel through the woods in search of open water. I’ve seen them slide down a steep snowbank four miles from a creek without ever having sighted an otter more than a yard from a riverbank. When five feet of snow cover the ground, it becomes possible to know where squirrels cached their winter food by the trails they blaze. In spring, when I visit the area, I find sometimes a mat of chewed spruce cones extending a dozen feet in all directions. The signs connect me to the landscape. They provide a mystery to unravel, and when I pull on my snowshoes or snap into my skis each week, I imagine I’m embarking on some great quest, and for those hours alone in the woods, I feel connected to a world that isn’t mine. I don’t want to be a part of that world any more than a lynx desires to become a housecat, but different from the lynx, I need to taste that life. Only when I understand
The first time I saw a live animal in a trap, Ryan Ragan had me keep a .22 trained on the lynx, in case it pulled out of the foothold. He rigged a wire noose, and in thirty seconds, the cat twitched and died. It seemed clean, simple, and as humane as it could be. In my second winter, I found a trapline of my own. It wasn’t a very good line, or in a very good location. I made sets along a steep slope not far off a snowmachine trail outside of Fairbanks, and at first I was proud. My line stretched for about three miles, looped off down a ridge of birch where I found a lot of fox tracks. I made more than a dozen sets, but I placed them too close together, and ran the entire line too close to town. Too many people used the trail. Once I came across some friends who were letting their dogs run loose in the area. I pulled any set that could catch a dog after that. When the snow deepened in late February, mushers turned up, and sprung even my pole sets. I quit for the season, and the next year I found an area to trap that lay further from town, where no trail ran, and where no dogs were likely to travel. The first live animal that I caught on my own was a marten. She’d tangled herself into a lynx cubby. A cubby amounts to little more than a jumble of sticks leaned against a tree to direct the animal through a single tunnel to the bait. I’d placed a small foothold trap deep in the cubby, in case an ermine crawled in through the back. The marten’s hind foot had been caught in the rear trap. She was pissed. When I came up on her, she snarled and flung her trap-caught paws at my face, bared fangs that suddenly looked enormous for such a small animal.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 the hard and tenuous rim of a life more cruel than my own can I make sense of this human place. I don’t want to use the term flee, because at the end of the day, I don’t always like what’s out there. I’m not fit for that vicious landscape where a misstep into overflow could cost a foot, or a lazy finger around a beaver trap could take an arm, but, like fluency in a foreign language, trapping helps me feel connected to something I don’t quite understand. *** In three years of trapping—I’m very much an amateur, and aspire to no more than that—I’ve caught maybe six marten. I killed a couple mink, one or two ermine, and a lynx. I’ve trapped a handful of young beaver during the early seasons. A few rabbits have died in snare sets. But that’s about it. On most of those, I think I got lucky. I’m not that careful about de-scenting my gloves or keeping fresh lure on the bait. I tend to get distracted by the flurry of wings when I come across coveys of ptarmigan, and even though they’re pretty stupid birds that you can shoot while they sit on the ground, I rarely shoot them, because I like to watch them fly, to disappear in midair because their white wings so perfectly reflect the purity of the snow. Likely I’m unique in my views toward trapping. I’ve met a couple of trappers who make their living by it, and it seems a hard life. They use airplanes or snowmachines to run fifty or a hundred miles of line. They take in upward of a hundred lynx a year. They trap wolves and wolverine, animals where a single set can take more than a day to build, and the traps often produce nothing. It’s a lonely life, one where you need cabins built at intervals along the trail, and you will live in these hovels for the long arctic winter. The women who trap tend to be few and far between. The men either accustom themselves to infidelities born of the long months in the bush, or marry a woman as embittered by society as they are. Such intimacy with daily deaths breeds a pragmatism that I cannot comprehend. With wild animals, when the populations are well managed, and as far as I can tell, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game does at least a half decent job of keeping trappers and hunters from killing everything in the area (though you wouldn’t guess as much if you listened to the barstool conversations on a Wednesday night at Ivory Jack’s), furbearers rise and fall more because of the presence and absence of prey than they do because they are killed in traps.
Furbearers are smart. A wolverine can smell steel. So can a wolf. And a poorly set trap that doesn’t catch its quarry just teaches the animal to stay the hell away. Around Fairbanks, where every trail within twenty miles of town is strewn with snares and footholds, the fur populations around the city are apt to be wary. *** Trappers don’t like to use visceral language when they kill. They stick to terms used by politicians and biologists. They ‘harvest’ or ‘take fur.’ If they are successful in snaring something, they say a line is producing, not that they pinned an animal for three days by the leg and then strangled or beat it to death. During my first winter in Alaska, Ryan Ragan taught me to case-skin a marten, to cut through the hind legs and peel the skin to the nose. During the lesson, he focused on taking care not to damage the pelt. Everything is about preserving the fur. Trappers don’t talk much about by-catch. When we kill, we try not to think about the actual death. Every week on my line, I find dead grey jays and red squirrels, attracted by a smear of beaver castor or the rabbit head wired to a tree as bait. Once, I caught a boreal owl. I toss them to the side of the trail because they make poor lures for more desirable furbearers or because they have worthless hides. This doesn’t seem so different from the rest of the world. We hate to talk about the hard stuff. We avoid discussing abuse. We use language that distances us from our own sex lives. We get awkward and don’t know what to say when an ex-girlfriend’s brother kills himself and leaves behind a toddler and an estranged fiancé. At dinner parties, we prefer the small talk. The wolf and the weasel can be every bit as noble as a National Geographic special makes them seem, but for the most part, that dignified image is a coping mechanism. When I kill the snarling marten whose leg has been mangled by a number three fox set, I face in a real way the prospect of a suffering death, harsh though it may be. Wilderness isn’t apart from us; it’s intrinsic to understanding ourselves. I’m conflicted. More than once I have seen a fox loping across a frozen lake. I’ve watched lynx and otter fishing along stream banks, and I was moved by their beauty. Yet I covet their skins because in the end, my motives are more hedonistic and gratuitous than they are respectful.
90 I struggle to grasp movements and motivations that lie beyond me. I see the act of trapping as a way to comprehend mystery. By the end of the season, the walk along my trap-line feels familiar, like a cherished book I return to again and again. The hunt for fur bears more in common with the teachings of literature than we might care to admit. In both, we rely on clues to discern meaning. We build our expectations and are frustrated when the plot turns sour. At their best, both literature and trapping teach us that the desire to experience beauty is a fatal pursuit. Maybe Iâ€™m cruel, but the thing is, although I love the sensual feel of a marten fur in my hands, I trap because out in the snow-frozen forests I have discovered that life basically amounts to a rush of wings and a few footsteps. Most of us spend our lives seeking and striving to find some sense of comfort and safety and love. We fear the inevitable spring of steel jaws, and we long to escape that moment when the coils release and snap tight. It is a powerful feeling to realize that the only trace we leave behind might be a breath of hollowed feathers on a drift of snow that will melt in the spring.
Jana Ariane Nelson
In the late summer of 1965, my husband, John, myself, and our three little children moved into a ramshackle, partially finished basement in a run-down neighborhood in Mountain View, northeast of downtown Anchorage. The year we stayed at his parentsâ€™ home while they were in Texas ended when they returned home and we needed to move. The Mt. View rental was the cheapest we could find. The landlord must have taken us in by sheer trust or complete naivety. By then John was working only sporadically, slipping deeper and deeper into what I later learned was undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia. Sometimes I wonder why certain life experiences stay in memory, while others fade into obscurity. I didnâ€™t live in that basement long, less than a year, yet I have very distinct impressions of it. Like most basements of its time, adding an upper story was likely the eventual goal. In the
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 meantime, it was rented “as is” until the upstairs could be completed. Living in unfinished dwellings was the norm, not unusual during those years. After the Good Friday quake of ’64, Federal earthquake dollars flooded into Alaska, but money was still too tight to afford experienced carpenters and many people still worked on their own homes. Most of us roughed it in all manner of dubious conditions. The yard around the basement house was unremarkable and treeless, and I contemplated planting flowers outside the following spring. The bottom of the window casings were mostly level with the ground, so one had a good view of weeds, the lower half of dogs, human boots, moose hooves, or whatever else ventured through the yard. Usually I kept the dingy curtains pulled to maintain a modicum of privacy and to prevent neighboring children from becoming peeping Toms. A short driveway ran from the street into a garage of sorts, its backside up against a small rise in the property. The dimly lit affair housed our small green VW bug and an old wringer washer. There was no dryer, and clean laundry was continuously dried on a wooden rack in the living area. Periodically the washer went on the fritz. We were too poor to go to a Laundromat. I had two kids in diapers and daily washed them by hand in the bathroom sink, a particularly nasty ordeal that left my hands raw and bleeding. The smell of Clorox filled the air and endless rows of diapers hung, drying in the living room. In those years disposables had not made their appearance in Alaska. Not that it mattered since we didn’t have enough money for them. I was ashamed, hid our poverty as best I could, and didn’t ask for our parents’ help. A door leading from the left side of the garage opened to a pretty dinky kitchen and a living room, which was not much of an improvement. The only saving grace in that poor excuse for a house was a decent sized bedroom for the kids. The entrance into our bedroom faced a stand-up furnace in an alcove just before a short plywood stairway that led into a stepped-up bathroom. The bathroom was long and narrow, with no shower but a decent sized, deep old tub set along the wall perpendicular to the stairs. Our bedroom was on the main level, to the left of the raised bathroom. It had just enough room for a double bed and dilapidated chest of drawers. A sparse closet held my few clothes and John’s shirts and trousers, enclosed by a curtain rod with a dreary old drapery masquerading as a door. Winter brought Ayn Rand into our lives. We avidly read and discussed Atlas Shrugged. In John’s deteriorating
mind he was fairly certain he was John Galt, making random comments to that effect. He joined a local group that met evenings to discuss the book and Rand’s philosophies. They must have considered him rather odd and neurotic. He could, however, argue a reasonably good cause if you didn’t follow his logic too far. To the casual observer, the lurking schizophrenia wasn’t apparent if you were uneducated to mental illness. Although frightened of him, I was pretty oblivious to his condition, spending all my time trying to keep everything together. Periodically my cigarette addiction sent me searching through pockets and under couch cushions for a few coins. Cigarettes were cheap in those days, $.33 a pack. Hunger always knocked at our door; a can of tuna or a pound of cheap hamburger often made up the bulk of dinner. Vegetables came from a can and fresh fruit was pretty much out of the question. We ate a lot of potatoes and beans. The last time I cooked beans in the deep well pot on the old 1930’s stove, I had no way of knowing we were being delivered a healthy bout of aluminum poisoning. Tommy, at a year old, was always colicky. Years later we realized he was lactose intolerant, but the condition was unknown in those days, at least in Anchorage. My pediatrician told me to just let him cry. So, I held him, but let him cry when I needed to attend to the other two. In the 1960’s, formula was considered the optimal way to feed a baby, and the Carnation canned milk I bought, more affordable than Enfamil, was most likely the culprit. After one particularly harrowing day, the kids had finally settled down for the night, and I decided to relieve my stress by a long soak in the bathtub with my current sci-fi paperback. It was one of those frosty below zero winter evenings and I was chilled to the bone in the drafty,
poorly insulated basement. I filled the tub with water as hot as I could stand, went into the bedroom and disrobed down to my black slip. My timing could not have been more perfect. Just as I walked out of the bedroom, and before I made that short turn to mount the steps into the bathroom, the flue on the furnace, inches away from my face, opened wide and belched. Black as ink, sticky, stinky powdery black soot shot onto my face, hair, naked neck and arms and legs, all over my black slip and everything underneath. It coated our bedroom, closet, living room and the tub of hot water that I was looking forward to soaking in. I looked like I had barely survived the apocalypse. I don’t remember the hubbub that followed, or turning the furnace off, or dressing and gathering up the kids, or calling the landlord, or our drive to some cheap motel. All I could see in my mind was the open mouth of the flue, spewing obnoxious soot all over me like some freak show clown with a gaping mouth sneering maliciously from ear to ear. The landlord was left to deal with the mess that covered the floors, ceiling and walls. While he cleaned and revamped the furnace, we spent several nights in a warm motel with a functional bathroom, and at the Laundromat washing every piece of clothing we owned, as well as towels, curtains and bedding. I still don’t remember who paid for our little soot-free vacation. The malfunctioning flue was a foreshadowing of the year to come. As changes came into our lives, my children and I slowly moved into the light of day.
Sexy Cobaea Blooms On
A Certain Attraction to Gray This is an odd place to love. Most days, a leaden sky presses down on the land. Many of the wooden cottages are worn, the paint faded and peeling on their cedar sides. This looks like a place people stopped for a time and then thought better of it. Some moved away, I suspect, in search of a brightness they couldn’t find here. I wonder if that might be part of its allure for me. You see, I have a certain partiality to gray. People have come and gone, leaving behind their impressions of the place. One of the earliest hoped to find the mouth of the Columbia River. Sailing around what had been dubbed Cape San Roque by the Spanish explorer Bruno de Heceta, the English captain John Meares did not go far enough. His vision may have been blurred, of course, by the rain sliding sideways in the sixty mile an hour wind. I fear the low fog and slate gray waves covered up the crucial detail of the river current flowing west. In any case, he renamed Cape San Roque to permanently record how this place made him feel. He named it Cape Disappointment. The most famous visitors, Meriweather Lewis, William Clark and the members of the Corps of Discovery, were stunned by the rain. They had never seen anything like it. At a point where the relentless downpours forced them to wait, even though the ocean they’d come to find lay a handful of miles ahead, they left a name. Dismal Nitch, like Cape Disappointment, captures the mood this place drops over a soul, especially in December. A most improbable place, it’s a finger of sand stretching along the Pacific, skirting Willapa Bay. On the map, the finger curls over at the end, like a witch gesturing to a frightened girl. The Chinook Indians who settled the place tell a story of the land’s origins. Many warriors in a large canoe attempted to paddle up the Columbia River from where it flowed into the sea but the wind kept blowing them back. Finally they gave up, tying their canoe to some rocks, as they headed on foot upriver to the Chinook Village. Several days later when they came back, the canoe had disappeared. In its place, a slender peninsula of land had arisen. To get here from Oregon where I lived for
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 twelve years, you must cross a bridge over the Columbia River. History books often refer to the river as the mighty Columbia. When you see it, you understand why. In the middle of the bridge, at the point where you pass the sign saying Welcome to Washington, the river looks like an ocean. In its entirety, the river is twelve hundred miles long, flowing from its namesake lake in British Columbia to where it finally spills into the Pacific Ocean. After such a long journey, it’s no wonder the river doesn’t easily give up its life. A little ways beyond the bridge, the river is at its most turbulent. The Columbia bar, where the river runs into the ocean and the ocean rolls right back in, is one of the most dangerous places in the world. Over two thousand ships have grounded, wrecked or gotten into trouble there. Many do today. Huge container ships that sail in and out of this spot must be led across the bar by skilled river pilots, who ride out on tiny boats that hover next to the ships, while the pilots scramble up thin ladders to get on board. When you’re on the bridge, the river can appear deceptively calm. If you look ahead and to the north, the Peninsula appears dark, almost completely covered by forest green trees. From here, the land seems like a man’s final outpost before being engulfed by the sea. That, I suppose, is also part of its appeal to me. At the end of the bridge, you have a choice to turn right, which will take you on a narrow winding route east along the shore, past small logging towns whose glory days have passed to the bigger mill town of Longview, Washington, which you smell miles before you reach it. Or you can head west, toward the Long Beach Peninsula. The road runs low along the river. Piles of slate gray rock lie stacked just below the shoulder, meager protection if the river decides to rise over its banks. Even on the stormiest days, intrepid fishermen sit hidden in their rain jackets right above the rocks, watching and waiting for their lines to signal something big and alive at the end. At a point a little further along, Lewis and Clark stayed during that rainy November of 1805. The place is called Station Camp and the plan a few years back was to turn the spot into a park. But somehow the plan stalled and stalled again. Digging a few feet east of the highway where the plan had been to relocate the road, workers hit upon the bones of Chinook Indians who once had a village there. At that point, stakes were pounded into the ground and bright yellow strips of plastic tape were attached, as if the
93 spot were a murder site waiting to be investigated. A fine thread of land connects the Peninsula to the mainland. After you drive past the turnoff for old Fort Columbia, you cross over a narrow river, the Chinook. Named after the first residents, many of whom died from exposure to the white men’s diseases, the Chinook is one of the loveliest rivers I have ever seen. At times, a mysterious silver glow hovers on the surface, which shimmers under a thread of white light filtered by clouds. Dark forlorn pilings run along the shore, like a highway to nowhere. As the Chinook opens and flows into the wider Columbia, the river promises infinity, that you can sail on forever in that gray light. After passing fields dotted with brown cows and an occasional pastel-colored manufactured home, you must slow your car down to pass through the tiny town of Chinook. A first impression is that time and attention got up and left here a while ago. A few new homes, cedarsided and large, sit facing the river, several with boats left in front of the garage. But most of the houses are rundown and old. The faded pink, squat stucco building that once housed the school cries out for a coat of paint. In a window, on a hand-scribbled sheet of cardboard leaned against the glass, it says, Chinook Tribal Office. Just out of town, you can speed up again, to pass more fields and cows and manufactured homes. A trailer park on the river side is so muddy and bedraggled I hate to even imagine what it’s like to live there. The road makes a steep winding climb under an umbrella of dark trees. When it comes back down on the other side, you must slow again to enter the town of Ilwaco. Named after a Chinook Indian, Ilwaco is a place whose better days have gone by. The salmon fishing industry that once supported many of its residents is dying a quick and painful death. Tourism, Ilwaco’s last best hope, just doesn’t come back, the way it once flourished here when the Victorian houses that line the main street were new. It is right after this that the Long Beach Peninsula officially begins. I first came to the Long Beach Peninsula purely by chance. My husband Richard and I decided to take a drive from our home in Portland, Oregon on a surprisingly sunny spring day. We packed our toothbrushes and a change of clothes, in case we ended up in a place we wanted to stay. Later that morning, we crossed the Astoria-Megler Bridge and followed the highway north. It was easy to fall in love with the Peninsula on
94 such a bright day. Later, I would understand that when the sun shines, the air shimmers here in a way I don’t recall seeing any place else. But the Peninsula also reminded me of a favorite beach I’d frequented earlier in my life: Beach Haven, New Jersey. To get to Beach Haven, you must cut through an area known as the Pine Barrens. Brought out of obscurity by the writer John McPhee, who was fascinated enough with the area to write an entire book about it, the Pine Barrens was a mythical place to us when we were kids. Birthplace of a local legend, the Jersey Devil, scary stories abounded about what happened to people caught in the Pine Barrens after dark. Hidden within forests of rare Pygmy Pitch Pine and sand, the Pine Barrens was known as a place where people lived by their own rules, even if those rules went against the law. For years it was assumed that the people who grew up and died in the Pine Barrens brewed batches of white lightening in their backyard stills. A retired New Jersey policeman I knew once described to me a crowded tavern in the Pine Barrens, where every one of the male patrons had his gun resting in front of him on the bar. It was said that the people of the Pine Barrens married their cousins. When I attended school in the nearby town of Mount Holly, there were always kids we knew grew up amongst the pines. They were the ones who never dressed in style and sometimes seemed a little slow. They even spoke with a heavier Southern New Jersey accent that sounded decidedly Southern. Some were difficult to understand. Behind their backs, we referred to them as Pineys. To call someone a Piney to his face would have gotten you at least one black and very swollen eye. Sand from the Pine Barrens always managed to drift out onto the road. Not long after passing through the Pine Barrens, we would reach water. Since our destination of Beach Haven was located on an island, we had to cross Manahawkin Bay to get there. A long bridge that everyone called the Causeway carried us to the other side. Long Beach Island had its crowded and less developed sides. I adored the side with the park and the old Barnegat Lighthouse and the sand dunes and tall grass, with only a house or two loosely scattered, though we always stayed on the more developed side. When I was in high school, my sister and I rented five-dollar-anight rooms in huge turn-of-the-century homes that lined wide Center Street in Beach Haven. These homes once belonged to the elite of Philadelphia’s Main Line. The old beach houses were my summer camp. Saturday nights, after spending the day sunbathing on
CIRQUE the sand, my sister and I would sit in the large wooden rocking chairs on the wrap-around porch and wait for boys we liked to come by. Later when we got older, my sisters and I rented little cottages at the beach for the weekend or occasionally for a week at a time. I liked this beach so much, I even spent one winter, spring and summer there. Like the Long Beach Peninsula, this New Jersey island is bordered on one side by the ocean and on the other side by the bay. I loved to hop on my bike in the morning before most people were out and peddle to the tip of the island. Afternoons, I’d take long walks up the beach. And in the evenings, I’d head over to watch the sun set on the bay. Long Beach Island, New Jersey, is a more prosperous place than the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington. But the resemblance is clear to me nonetheless. Both have the same wide flat beaches. Both have stretches of empty dunes, covered with grass. And in the winter, Long Beach Island became more like the Peninsula, turning into a working class place. I lived there one winter in a room I rented from a family whose last name was Flynn. A Catholic couple and their five children, the Flynns lived in a converted old carriage house. Following the beach tradition, they gave the place a name. The Carriage House graced a bleached piece of wood that hung out front. I’d gone there to paint and also because my life had taken a depressing turn. Even though I’d never spent any time at the beach in the winter, I believed the beach would cheer me up. My brother-in-law helped me get a job at one of the handful of businesses on the island open all year long. The owner of that business, Hands, the store we went to for everything at the beach, found me a place to live. Mornings before work, I would eat a glazed donut and sip coffee at the counter of the Beach Haven Diner. Plumbers, carpenters and house painters in their paint and oil-stained coveralls sat on the stools to my left and right, talking and smoking and drinking cups of weak coffee while they flirted with the waitress, a woman they’d probably all wanted to date in high school. No one ever spoke to me, except to say good morning and nod, but I liked being there with them anyway. The company made me feel a little less alone. I didn’t get much painting done that winter. And I didn’t cheer up. Most days, it was too cold and windy for beach strolls. But eventually, the days grew warmer and the nights long. Just before Memorial Day when the
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 summer crowd came back, I quit my job at Hands and took another job, serving burgers and foamy root beer in chilled mugs and scooping thousands of cones of Dreyers ice cream at the Frosted Mug drive-in. By the time I left for college in the fall, the beach with its low tide and quiet mornings, its dunes and wind, its cooler evenings made for sweaters and its rotting seafood odor along the bay, had left a permanent imprint on me. That sunny spring day when Richard and I headed over the Astoria-Megler Bridge to the Long Beach Peninsula, my long-buried feelings about the beach started to come back. We only stayed overnight on that first visit. On an April afternoon without a cloud in the sky, we walked the bleached wooden boardwalk, built to mark a place the Corps of Discovery had once trod. The beach, which goes on for twenty-eight miles, seemed endless. Butting up against the boardwalk the dunes rolled softly, the slender grass bending and waving in the light breeze. A few months later we returned, staying in a small cottage at the dunes’ edge. The grass growing on the dunes was so thick and tall, we had to stand up on the bleached wooden deck to see the ocean. That weekend we explored Long Beach’s little downtown. We ate fresh-baked berry pie at the Cottage Bakery, whose knotty pine paneled walls and booths had been there for half a decade. And we walked the streets of quiet Seaview, lined with houses from the end of the last century. Though I’d hardly spent much time on the Peninsula by then, I felt a familiarity with the place I couldn’t explain. Within weeks, I had a handful of flyers for beach cottages and we were back, riding high above the Peninsula’s narrow streets with our realtor in his oversized SUV. The first cottages we looked at were in the town of Long Beach. Oddly built, with shag carpeting in shades that made my eyes ache, the least expensive places were easy to rule out. One place smelled so strongly of mildew I had to escape outside. Soon, our realtor Dale was driving us further out of town. By the time we reached the little blue cedarsided place at the end of the road, we’d almost given up. The cottage was priced a bit above what we’d intended to pay. As soon as I stepped out of Dale’s SUV, he pointed to a spot a few yards away. That was where the path to the beach began. I could hear the waves as they rolled and crashed.
95 I looked over at my husband and caught his eye. Then I mouthed the words, I think we might want to buy it. The summer was over by the time escrow closed. We were lucky, though. The rain held off until December. For two months, we spent every weekend at the beach cottage. Richard learned how to operate the little pellet stove that in moments heated the place up. We bought cheap used furniture and then shopped for all the fun decorations you have to have in a beach cottage – secondhand paintings of boats, a framed poster of a child on the beach flying a yellow and red kite, a pennant covered with Northwest lighthouses. And best of all, a bleached wooden sign with a finger pointing west next to the all-important direction, TO THE BEACH. The cottage was located eleven miles north of Long Beach, a block off Pacific Highway, and a mile south of the town of Ocean Park. The plat description said that the property was bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by Willapa Bay, and to the south by Cranberry Road. Started as a Methodist camp in the late 1800s, Ocean Park has a collection of tiny vintage cottages set along its quiet roads, bordered on all sides by scrub pine. Even at the height of the summer, Ocean Park is a quiet place. After Labor Day, it’s downright funereal. More than anything else, the silence at the beach cottage was what stunned me. Moments after toting our suitcases and grocery bags into the place, I would feel myself relax. One day, standing at the kitchen sink gazing at the thick stand of pine trees behind the back yard, I felt as if I’d gone camping in the woods or just gotten a massage. I tried to put my finger on the change. Then I realized what it was. It was the silence. No barking dogs. No sounds of cars driving by. Most days that autumn the beach was deserted when we went for our walks. It’s an astonishing thing to stand on such a wide and long strand of sand and not see a single other human being. The loneliness of that endless stretch of sand was both delicious and sad. I found myself craving the isolation we felt at our little cottage, while at the same time yearning for family and friends with whom we could share the place. In some ways, the Peninsula felt like a secret. How could there be a beach left in America as empty as this? At the far north end of the Peninsula, Leadbetter State Park skirts the ocean on one side and Willapa Bay on the east. Hundreds of birds come there every year to rest and feed. One October afternoon after Richard and I had
96 hiked out the sandy trail to the bay, we counted twelve great blue herons wading in the shallow water, as sunlight flickered across the tips of small waves. Sean and Michelle, our neighbors across the street who were Portlanders like us, warned us about the bears. We needed to use bungee cords on our garbage cans, they said, or the black bears that populated the area would knock off the lids and paw through the garbage, strewing coffee grounds and damp paper towels up and down the street. They even showed us a path through the woods behind our yard, which the bears used to get to their dens. I noticed the missing trees on a Saturday afternoon, about a week before the Fourth of July. Standing at the kitchen sink filling a kettle with water, I noted that the thick stand of pine I was accustomed to admiring appeared thin. Gray light I felt certain hadn’t been there before filtered through spaces between branches. The damage was even more apparent a few minutes later when I walked outside. In fact, several trees had been knocked down and were precariously balanced on some still surviving trunks. My heart was pounding in my throat and my mouth got dry. Some awful thing had happened and I couldn’t comprehend what it had been. It was like coming home and finding the house torn apart, and then discovering jewelry and the television set and stereo gone. Richard and I walked closer. We could see that someone had been there. Wood from the trees I had admired from my kitchen window was cut and stacked in piles. A fire pit filled with black ash was more evidence that some of the felled trees had been burned. It wasn’t until later in the day that we learned the awful truth. Our neighbor Sandy, a retired schoolteacher who lived with her husband Ed in a large house facing the beach, told us that someone had bought the property behind our house. The new owner, a police detective from Portland, was cutting down trees to clear the land for her eventual retirement home site. Not only that. Our new neighbor took care of eight police canine unit dogs. She planned to bring the barking dogs out with her when she came to the beach on weekends and stayed in her RV. It was bad enough that this stranger
CIRQUE had taken away the trees. Now she was planning to rob us of our silence. It took another six months before more trees disappeared. Our neighbor built a fence next, between her property and ours, to keep the dogs inside. Once the fence went up, we knew our time at the beach cottage was nearly done. Two months later, the cottage had been sold. I can’t say that I miss the place when I’m not here. In fact, it’s sometimes hard to remember what this place is like. We come back from time to time, mostly renting a Victorian house at Fort Columbia with a sweeping view of the river below. When we stayed there in the spring, we saw baby deer hiding behind the legs of their moms. On one drive further up the Peninsula in mid-July, we watched a mother bear calmly cross the road followed by two small black cubs. When I am here and I gaze out across Willapa Bay to Long Island, which I’ve heard has a healthy population of black bears, it astonishes me that this place with its wild animals and expanses of empty beach still exists. I am surprised at how the sky carries a strange hidden white line that seeps through to light up the water and cause it to shimmer silver. Whenever I come back, I can’t help but notice a familiar yearning. I’m not certain that it’s a desire for this place, as much as an aching for all the places I’ve been. It’s a wanting that envelopes me, as I gaze out along the narrow silver-gray channel of the Chinook River. It’s a desire to keep sailing on, to that wild and uproarious moment, when the Columbia River and all the salty waters of the world cross and begin to unite.
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M. Rita Roberts Waggoner
Mike grips the steering wheel tightly with both hands. I lean forward in sympathy with the engine as it strains to pull our heavily loaded Jeep pickup truck uphill. The engine makes a grinding sound like a wooden covered wagon pulled by a team of oxen. Now, in my late twenties, I see myself as a pioneer starting a new life in Alaska, the Last Frontier. It is late October in 1978 and Mike and I are heading up from Haines toward the Chilkat Pass on our way to Fairbanks. The truck growls and hauls us up toward the Haines Highway Summit, the highest point on the pass, elevation about 3,500 feet. It was raining when we left Haines an hour ago. We drove over the shuddering gangplank that bridged the cargo hold of the ferry to the dock at Haines. This was the final port for the ferry. There was only one more ferry run between Bellingham, Washington, and Haines before the ferry shut down for the winter. A few vehicles drove out of the cargo hold with us. The others had offloaded hours or days earlier at Ketchikan, Wrangell, or Petersburg. As we drove up away from the deep sea water at Chilkat Inlet, Old Fort Seward and the ferry disappeared behind the twists in the gradually ascending road. Now, fifty miles north of Haines, we are on the only highway that connects Haines to the rest of Alaska and to the Yukon Territory. The rain begins to freeze on the windshield as we begin the long climb through the high mountain pass. Tiny icy pellets click against the windshield. The fast moving wiper blades push the snow into two piles of slush on the sides of the glass. The road is slick with sleet as we round the ascending curves. Strong unpredictable gusts of wind slam against the truck and camper. Mike jams the four-wheel drive into action, but the truck tires lose traction and spin, whining on top of the asphalt. He wraps his fingers tighter around the wheel, the muscles in his forearms tight with strain. The Jeep begins to slip sideways on the new snow and ice. Mike turns the wheel in the direction of the skid, but the overloaded, unbalanced weight in the rear begins to pull us backwards and downhill. The homemade camper shell covering the truck bed is almost six feet high. It is built with lumber and siding salvaged from home construction sites. Heavy two- by-four planks of lumber form the frame, screwed together with long steel bolts. Thick siding meant for the
Road to the Mountain
exterior of Midwestern homes is nailed into the wood. The camper is solidly built, but weighs as much as a small house. Inside, we’ve filled the whole space to the ceiling with loosely packed stuff from our Ohio apartment. Four hundred pounds of history and literature textbooks, novels and books I want to read someday. A box full of Bibles. Platter-sized vinyl records in carefully preserved cardboard sleeves: The Beatles, the Who, Rolling Stones, Johnny Mathis and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Orange melmac dishes, iron skillets, saws and hammers and a red handled ax, camp stoves, sleeping bags. Two fondue pots. At least a half ton of stuff. The rest of our furniture, all inherited pieces from our dead grandparents, is sitting in a tapedoff square in a warehouse I’ve never seen, somewhere off an expressway near Toledo, Ohio. The weight of the camper and of all of our baggage continues pulling the truck backwards over the slick road. Mike has no control as the truck slides slowly toward the road shoulder behind us and the steep drop beyond it. A snow bank and boulders from a previous rockslide on the shoulder stop the truck from slipping over the edge. The pickup rests crookedly, only the front left tire still on the road. Mike gets out of the cab and Button, our black cocker mutt, follows him, shaking herself all over. I quickly scoot under the steering wheel and jump down onto the running board and then to the road, anxious to get out of the tilting truck. My hand is shaking like a live animal. I watch it quiver like it doesn’t belong to me. Mike goes to the back of the truck and unlocks the door to the camper. It swings wide open, gravity pulling it toward the valley below. I try to banish the image of the truck shifting and rolling backwards over Mike. He takes out long metal chains from a storage box in the back of the camper and
98 wraps them in big loops over his shoulder. He clanks like Marley’s ghost as he trudges to the front of the truck. Mike crouches on one knee, shaping a heavy steel chain around the front left tire. I stand behind him watching in my L.L. Bean rain jacket and flimsy cloth tennis shoes. My arms are crossed over my chest and I run my hands up and down my shoulders to stay warm. I stomp first one foot, then the other, as cold soaks through the canvas of my shoes. Button sits on her haunches, her eyes focused on Mike. Her warm breath creates small clouds of steam that quickly disappear. While Mike wrestles with the chain, I look back down the road that descends toward Haines. The truck seems to want to go back. Maybe I do too. But we don’t have enough money in our travelers’ checks to book passage on the last fall ferry run to Bellingham. We’ve quit our jobs and our grad school programs and have no prospects for work in the Lower 48. Even if we wanted to return to our families in the Midwest, we couldn’t go back and live with our parents: Mike’s recently widowed mother is teaching school and taking care of her elderly increasingly confused father in her home. She has a woman friend who lives upstairs with her and helps out with expenses. My sister, terminally ill with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, her husband, and my frail grandmother are all living with my parents in their two-bedroom house. All the beds everywhere are full. I turn and look up the narrow slowly climbing road ahead. It leads to Haines Junction in Yukon Territory, then to Tok and finally to Fairbanks. It’s an eleven-hour drive to Fairbanks in good weather, and this is certainly not good weather. There’s nothing certain for us in Fairbanks. A few friends from Mike’s time in the Army at Ft. Wainwright still live there. They might offer us some possible job connections and a place to stay for a while. As I stand on the side of the road, I wonder if I quit a successful grad program and left my family for some silly illusion. Maybe Mike and I are both caught up playing out some fictional characters from TV Westerns and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. It’s too late to figure all that out now. I stare at the road ahead and know that we just have to keep moving north. If we don’t, this early snowstorm will close off the pass until spring and we’ll be stranded without money or jobs in Haines for months. We’ve got to get unstuck, I think, my breath coming fast with anxiety. I notice Mike’s knuckles are red and raw as he struggles to get the chains wrapped around the one tire still on the road, the tire that must do the work of pulling the truck back onto the highway. I think that the camper is too lopsided and heavy for one poor tire to grasp the road and pull us and all our stuff forward up the pass. But
CIRQUE the truck can’t go backwards, either, wedged against the rocks. If the rocks give way, the truck will drift backwards over the edge of the mountain into a dark valley below. Mike swears softly. The late afternoon sky is a low solid ceiling of blue-gray cloud. Hard and grainy snow like beach sand hits my cheeks. The wind blows at me from all directions. Dervishes of snow like miniature tornadoes appear and dissolve on the road. Icy snow the texture of cornmeal accumulates on the shoulders of Mike’s red plaid wool shirt. He stands up. “That’s all I know to do,” he says. Button and I get back in the tilting truck. Mike climbs up behind the steering wheel but leaves the door open. He leans out and looks at the tire. He turns the key and presses the gas pedal lightly, careful not to flood the engine. Press, release. Press, release. Small pumps of gas. The Jeep rocks slightly forward with each pump, then falls back. I hear the tire spin and I know it’s just polishing the snow beneath it into hard intractable ice. Button lies with her paws over the edge of the bench seat breathing hard through her nose, her eyes slowly opening and closing. Mike shuts off the engine and slams his door closed. We look at one another silently. He pulls a knob on the dashboard to turn on the hazard lights. It is getting dark. The sun has been setting earlier and earlier during the five-day ferry journey from Bellingham to Haines, as we headed north. Now, the last traces of light leave the sky. No moon comes out; no stars are visible in the blowing grains of snow. I hear a vehicle approaching. Then an old Subaru wagon, small and swift and unburdened, races past us up the road, rounding the curve like a rabbit. Mike turns the pickup’s engine on again. He tries once again to rock the Jeep into motion with intermittent thrusts of gas. This time the tire seems to catch but the load is too heavy and the truck falls back stuck in its cockeyed resting place. Mike climbs out and heads to the flashing red taillights. He scrapes crusty snow away from the exhaust pipe, dusts the ice off his hands and pulls himself back up into the cab. “We’ll need to run the engine for five minutes every fifteen minutes,” he says. “We’ve got to keep the battery charged up so the hazard lights will stay on.” I nod. “What about staying warm? We could freeze to death here.” I’m biting the skin on the edge of my thumb. “We can run the heater as long as our gas holds out. I’ve got a five-gallon can of gas in back. We’ve got those sleeping bags and a small canister of propane to run the three-legged stove. We should be okay until morning. And somebody might come by.” We roll our windows down about half of an inch
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
and sit there with the engine running. Little bits of snow swirl onto my lap. I know it’s safer to allow some fresh air in to prevent carbon monoxide build up. Another way to die in the North. We wait for five minutes, then turn the engine off. Mikes goes behind the truck and opens the camper to try to find the sleeping bags. I feel the truck shift and move to the side as he steps onto the back bumper. I clench my hands and shut my eyes. When Mike gets into the camper it moves even more. Finally I hear him slam the camper door shut. He gets into the cab and throws me a green rolled-up sleeping bag bound with a bungee cord. I unzip the bag, put it around my feet, and pull it up around my shoulders. I wait for my body heat to be captured in the down. My bag is good to twenty below. Mike’s is good to forty below. With the intermittent heat from the car, the good sleeping bags, and the tiny flame from the propane stove if we need it, we should survive until morning Eight or twelve warming periods later, my chin is resting on my chest, my eyes closing. I know that sleep can be dangerous in the cold. Hypothermia or carbon monoxide poisoning can cause me to lose consciousness. I fight to stay awake. Then in the rearview mirror I think I see yellow lights coming closer. The sound of a motor gets louder, the pitch higher as it approaches. I might be
dreaming or hallucinating. But I turn around and the yellow lights are still coming, flashing on a rack mounted on top of the cab of a truck. They are blinking one after the other like a Vegas sign or a movie marquee. The truck pulls up next to us and stops in the road. A man in a gray jumpsuit and dirty ball cap gets out of his truck, leaving the engine running. I notice steel chains, each link about an inch and a half long, wrapped around four extra-large studded snow tires. The guy comes up to Mike’s window. “Need some help?” he asks, pulling off some grease-stained canvas gloves. I get out of the truck and watch Mike and the man attach a yellow nylon rope to the hitch on the rear of the truck with the flashing lights. Our truck shifts as they put a fat metal hook over the axle underneath the front of our truck. The man gets in his cab and slowly drives his truck uphill until the yellow rope connecting us goes taut. I climb back into our truck with Mike and the dog. The windshield wipers are thrashing at high speed, out of synch with the red hazard lights and yellow flashers on the truck ahead of us. Mike holds the wheel lightly as our truck follows the pull of the one ahead of us. With its heavy wheels and big chains, that truck keeps its traction. It pulls our Jeep a few feet away from the rocks and the snowbank. Far enough to bring the right wheel and the back tires out onto the pavement. The men haul chains out of our camper and wrap the metal links around the right tire, then the back two tires. The man in the ball cap gets back into his truck and drives forward again, pulling us. Mike is leaning out his open door watching our left front tire. The Jeep gets traction; the wheel doesn’t spin in place but turns with the chains, digging into the icy asphalt. The man jumps out, scoots under our front bumper, and releases the hook. He wraps the tow rope around his elbow and shoulder as if it were a garden hose. Mike gets out and leaves his door open. The wind is louder now and I can’t hear what he is saying. He opens his flat brown wallet but the man shakes his head no. The man hops up to his cab and drives off, waving once. I wave back as our windshield wipers beat hard against the building snow. Mike slowly feeds the engine gas and our truck moves uphill, all four wheels in the steel chains clawing at the road. Mike holds the wheel steady like a captain of a ship in a storm, his jaw set. The chains on the tires grind through the accumulating ice and snow as the pavement turns to gravel. It’s dark, the kind of dark inside a cave, dark I can almost touch and breathe in like smoke. The darkness is sliced by our headlights into straight round tunnels of light like huge logs I saw being hauled on semi-trucks in
100 Washington State. A station wagon with a side panel of fake wood passes us, sending up a sputter of gravel and snow, kicking up its heels while we lumber along praying silently for the chains to hold to the road. The wipers race neurotically from side to side while Button snores. I focus on the road ahead, every muscle tight, my neck stiff and my fisted hands aching. We drive for hours. Finally we pull over when the truck begins to sputter and the dial shows an empty gas tank. Mike turns on the flashing red hazard lights again, then goes into the camper and gets out the gas can. He pours the gas into the tank. We drive without stopping for what seems like a long time. Finally the highway starts a slow descent back down out of the pass. The snow is lighter and the wind calmer as we continue. I move my head from side to side and hear my neck bones crackle. The arrow on the gas gauge moves toward empty. We might have twenty miles of fuel left. Then the white arrow sinks below “E.” Mike puts the truck in neutral gear so it isn’t using gasoline. We hope that gravity will keep us moving down the slow descent from the pass. Mike turns off the engine. We silently coast like a heavy sled down into a broad valley, toward the first electric lights and buildings we’ve seen since we left Haines hours
CIRQUE before. A floodlight illuminates a couple of round-headed gas pumps in front of a square concrete building. The truck slows down as the road flattens. Mike turns on the engine and shifts into gear. There’s just enough gas left for the truck to pull up close to a gas pump. This must be Haines Junction, Yukon Territory. Exhausted and cramped we get out of the truck and stand under the bluish light next to the gas pump with the familiar red Texaco star. Button dashes to a pile of old snow and etches a yellow crevice as she pees. I lean into Mike’s side. He looks pale suddenly. He weakly pulls away from me and leans over like he might throw up. He holds his arm out stiff and puts his hand flat against the cab of the Jeep. He seems to be pushing away from the truck and at the same time leaning into it. He stares down at the left front tire, the one that was left on the pavement when we were stuck. Mike stays with his head down and his arm out for several long seconds. Then, a few deep breaths later, he straightens. He goes to the side of the trucks, twists open the gas cap with a fierce turn of his wrist, and thrusts the nozzle from the hose into the tank. “We made it,” he says. The gasoline gurgles into the empty metal gas tank. “So far.”
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
P L AY John Longenbaugh
New World Under
A short One Act play.
SYNOPSIS: Based on a famous Greek myth, this play takes a tongue-in-cheek view of the abduction of Persephone by Pluto who, taken by her beauty while she had wandered off admiring the flower of the narcissus, took her to his realm in the Underworld to be his Queen. Ceres, devastated by the abduction of her daughter, made the world into a frozen and lifeless desert. Zeus finally intervened, through his mother Rhea, convincing his brother Pluto to release Persephone. However, since Persephone had eaten four pomegranate seeds, she had to return to the Underworld for four months out of every year, leading to winter. THE CHARACTERS: PLUTO (also called HADES) God of the Underworld—brother of ZEUS. PROSPERINA: (PERSEPHONE OR PROSERPINE in Greek mythology) maiden of the spring, daughter of CERES. CERES (DEMETER to the Greeks) the goddess of the corn and harvest wealth —daughter of CRONUS, the most important Titan (gods prior to the Greek gods such as ZEUS). SETTING: The Underworld. TIME: A long time ago. One act, one scene. PROSERPINA. We met...we met on a sunny summer day. PLUTO, I had watched her from afar, followed her, and approached with an invitation. PROSERPINA. An invitation? PLUTO. Hello there! PROSERPINA. I didn’t hear you. PLUTO. You are exquisite! PROSERPINA. Didn’t hear a thing. PLUTO. I was calling up a well. PROSERPINA. How would I have heard that? PLUTO. I couldn’t get any closer. Allergies. PROSERPINA. What are you allergic to? PLUTO. Pollen, chlorophyll, sunlight.... PROSERPINA. So instead of a meeting, an...abduction. I was in a meadow, and there was a flower.... PLUTO. Narcissus. PROSERPINA. So pretty! So yellow! PLUTO. I was waving it, slightly, from below. PROSERPINA. And I reached down to it and a hand reached
up through it and I was down, down, down and the earth was in my mouth and my head and I was the earth and it was me and I was held. I was held in his arms, strong white arms holding me in the dark, then my eyes were lit by the blue light of the dead and I was alive in the house of the dead. PLUTO. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I love you. PROSERPINA. And I thought...it could be worse. PLUTO. My name, lovely maiden, is Pluto. PROSPERPINA. Pluto. PLUTO. Yes. PROSPERPINA. I’ve heard of you. PLUTO. Nothing bad I hope. PROSPERPINA. All bad. You’re Death, aren’t you? PLUTO. Now, see, that’s a misperception. PROSPERPINA. It is? PLUTO. I am not Death. I am not dead, either. Look at me! I’m in good health. Well. Physically at least. PROSPERPINA. Physically. PLUTO. It’s hard not to be morbid. Living here. Like this. In the dark. Below. PROSPERPINA. I’m Proserpina. PLUTO. That is the most beautiful name I have ever heard. What are your favorite colors? PROSERPINA. Yellow. And red. PLUTO. Back in a moment. (he runs off) PROSERPINA. No one ever asked me that before. (he runs back with a basket) PLUTO. Beauties for my beauty! PROSERPINA. (looking in the basket) Oh, so pretty! Rubies and bloodstones! Topaz and yellow sapphires! Thank you! PLUTO. And for food? Yellow honey cakes and red
102 pomegranates! PROSERPINA. I’m watching my figure. PLUTO. Take a pomegranate? PROSERPINA. For later. PLUTO. She was happy. I was happy. But up above, things got bad. CERES. My daughter is dead! PROSERPINA. Relax, Mom. I’m not dead. CERES. She is dead! PLUTO. Try yelling up through a well. PROSERPINA. I’m not dead! CERES. Gods! She has been buried alive. PROSERPINA. That’s more accurate. CERES. And I will save her. PROSERPINA. She will, too. PLUTO. She won’t. She can wail and scream and stomp around up there.... CERES. I will wail and scream and stomp! PLUTO. But she can’t come down here without a visa. Now, let me show you my kingdom. PROSPERPINA. This is a kingdom? PLUTO. It is! And I am the King! And you shall be Queen! PROSPERPINA. Queen? PLUTO. If you want to. If that sounds good to you. PROSPERPINA. Queen. PLUTO. I mean, it really doesn’t have a job description. The title itself is more of a honorific. PROSPERPINA. Queen of this place? PLUTO. I know! Isn’t it beautiful? PROSPERPINA. Well. It could be. (A deep unearthly rumbling) PROSPERPINA. What’s that? PLUTO. Earthquake. Don’t worry. We get them sometimes. PROSPERPINA. If I know my mother, you’ll be getting more. PLUTO. I told you, no visa.... PROSERPINA. I wouldn’t bet against my mother. CERES. Knock knock! PLUTO. I’ll get it. CERES. (enters) Abductor! PLUTO. How did you get here? CERES. I wailed and screamed and stomped and the earth turned gray and cold and they filled out a visa right quick, I can tell you. PROSERPINA. Who is it? PLUTO. It’s your mother. PROSERPINA. Mom! CERES. My baby! Has he hurt you? (to Pluto) I will kill you! PLUTO. Good luck. CERES. (waving her arms) Die! PLUTO. Lady, I not only wrote the book on death, I own the only copy.
CIRQUE CERES. Give me my daughter! PLUTO. Ma’am, I love your daughter very much, and I would like to ask you for.... CERES. Die! (she does something else, with greater effect.) PLUTO. Ow. That hurt. CERES. Die die die! PLUTO. (limping, doubled over) Proserpina? Please talk to your mother. PROSERPINA. Mom? CERES. Die! Oh, not you, sweetheart. Live! Let’s get away from this awful man. PROSERPINA. He’s not that bad. CERES. Of course he is! Cold pale skinny dead man! PROSERPINA. He’s got a loving nature. CERES. He does not! The dead don’t love! PLUTO. I love you, Proserpina. CERES. Shut up! They just lie there cold and stiff and the worms come and eat them! Is this what you want? A skeleton wearing his second-best skin? PROSERPINA. Mom, we need to talk. CERES. We need to flee! Hurry! Ugh. Is that mold on that wall? PLUTO. Phosphoresce! Beautiful, yes? CERES. (to Pluto) Die! PLUTO. Ow. I’ll give you two some alone time. (to Proserpina) Just going to check on the newly dead, sweetheart. Back in a few minutes. (he exits warily) PROSERPINA. He’s not so bad, Mom. CERES. What hold does he have over you, baby? PROSERPINA. He loves me. A lot. He brings me a big basket of gems every morning in my favorite colors, and he respects my dietary restrictions. CERES. Do you love him? PROSERPINA. I love that he leaves me alone most of the time. CERES. That’s not love! Leaving you alone is not love! You are my dearest darling baby girl and I love you so much that when I thought you were dead I went CRAZY. PROSERPINA. I know. A lot of very thin people showed up down here because of you. CERES. Serves them right, letting you get carried away. My daughter! The daughter of a goddess! PROSERPINA. And I love being your daughter, with my own desk in your temple. I get to talk to a lot of people. CERES. Powerful people! PROSERPINA. Powerful people? CERES. Priests and kings.... PROSPERINA. And farmers. CERES. POWERFUL farmers.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 PROSERPINA. Okay. Powerful. But. But there’s something to being here too. Up there, I work for you, and on the weekends I’m a serving girl to Uncle Jove. Which is okay I guess, though he’s got grabby hands and his beard smells like nectar. But Mom, you know what I am down here? CERES. The lover of a skinny dead man? PROSERPINA. No. Here, I am the powerful one. You know your throne, the big one in the central temple? CERES. Of course. PROSERPINA. Mine’s bigger and grander and older. CERES. You’re deluded. You’ve gone crazy from the darkness down here. PROSERPINA. No. My eyes have gotten accustomed to the darkness. And I have . . . responsibilities. CERES. To who? PROSERPINA. The dead. They’re all so...confused. Frightened. Weeping and wandering like children, scared of themselves and each other. Up there? With you? I do your work. Down here I do mine. CERES. Poor child. Poor, stolen child. Down among the dead so long that you have forgotten life. PROSERPINA. I dream of it sometimes. The sun. And the moon. CERES. They’re waiting. Back up those stairs. The sun and the moon and the cucumbers and the pears. And the sheaves of wheat and the soft winds and the hymns of appreciation. PROSERPINA. I miss all of that. CERES. Leave this dreaming darkness for the day. Return with your mother. PROSERPINA. But could I come back here sometimes? CERES. If you do I will walk in the world with my sorrow and pain and I will make it as bad up there as it is down here. Now let’s go.
PLUTO. (enters) Oh, what a mess. Etna’s erupted again and there’s a whole village that’s suddenly shown up. Proserpina? CERES. Die. PLUTO. Will you please stop? PROSERPINA. I have to go. PLUTO. You’re leaving? CERES. Ha! PROSERPINA. Yes. PLUTO. But I adore you. PROSERPINA. I will miss you. PLUTO. Then come visit. PROSERPINA. I can’t. PLUTO. (aside to Proserpina) You can. There. The pomegranate. When you want to see me, tear it open. Pull up the seeds. Take a bite. A small bite. You will return. PROSERPINA. I don’t know. CERES. Proserpina. We are going. Now! PLUTO. She wants you always. I want you when you want me. CERES. Get away from her, corpse. PLUTO. Nice meeting you, ma’am. CERES. Drop deader. Out this way. Hurry up, Proserpina. We do not age and we do not die and you will never come back to this awful dark place. PROSERPINA. Farewell. PLUTO. Farewell, my love. PROSERPINA. I will think of you in autumn. And the taste of pomegranates. (they exit.) PLUTO. And I will think of you always. And the yellow of the narcissus. Blackout
PA SS I NG ~ TRI BUTES In August, former Alaska Laureate, Richard Dauenhauer died unexpectedly. In this issue’s interview with Vivian Faith Prescott, she talks about Dauenhauer’s influence on her poetry and his work with the Tlingit language. Dauenhauer is survived by his wife, Nora Dauenhauer, Alaska’s current Writer Laureate. Many Cirque contributors were especially saddened at the passing of Northwest poet, Carolyn Kizer, in October because for the past several years, they had played her part as one of the lead characters in a scripted reading of “I Teach Out of Love” a play written by Cirque editor, Sandra Kleven which sketches teacher poet Theodore Roethke through the words of his former students. Kizer’s lines come from the preface to Roethke’s On Poetry and Craft. Kizer related: “After Ted died, I was asked if I would talk about Roethke on tape and I said yes. Time went on and I hadn’t done anything and finally the editor called me, ‘Ms. Kizer, are you going to do this or aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know. It’s too raw. His death – and I haven’t been able to handle it yet.’ There was a silence, and the guy on the other end of the phone said, ‘Do you realize that Theodore Roethke has Richard Dauenhauer been dead for thirteen years?’ And I said, ‘No, no I don’t.’” Poet, Galway Kinnell, one of America’s major poetic voices of the last five decades, also died in October. His legacy of poetry includes “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps.” If you don’t know this poem, find it at www.poetryfoundation.com. Another major contemporary American poetic voice, Mark Strand, past US Poet Laureate in 1990 and Pulitzer Prize winner for his collection Blizzard of One in 1999, died November 28. His poetry was characterized as “dark,” but he wrote, memorably: “Ink runs from the corners of my mouth. There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry.” Leota Hoover, whose work has been published in Cirque, died last month. Cirque contributor and genre editor Gretchen Brinck offers these reflections on a remarkable woman: Leota Hoover, 3/11/1931 - 10/12/2014, whose short story “Momma’s Moose” was published in Cirque, wrote, “Alaska is a character in much of my writing, as are moose, salmon, and freezing weather.” Raised in Kentucky, she raised her children in Wasilla, Alaska before moving to Chino Valley, Arizona. In Alaska she worked with Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, becoming a trauma and addictions therapist the rest of her working life. Clients have said Leota’s treatment “saved our lives.” In Arizona, Leota developed skills in writing personal essays-an amazing accomplishment because she did so after suffering a stroke that left her unable to read or speak and went through five years of slow recovery. Her essays have been published in So to Speak, Byline, Threshold and Recovery Magazine. Shortly before her death from cancer, she completed a memoir about her unusual work and relationship with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Members of her writing critique group in Prescott, Arizona, are editing that work for publication. Leota Hoover
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
INTERVIEW Sandra Kleven
Vivian Faith Prescott: Woman With Berries in Her Lap:
On the loss of Richard Dauenhauer, on poetry as process, language as culture, creating with sea glass, and the uncanny beauty of Mickey’s fishcamp Sandra Kleven: As we opened this interview, word came that, Richard Dauenhauer, had died. Can you talk about your experience with him? Vivian Faith Prescott: My friend, teacher, and fellow poet Richard Dauenhauer passed away on August 19, 2014. Richard “Dick” was a former Alaska Poet Laureate. The first time I ever heard Dick Dauenhauer’s voice, I wept. I was living in Hoonah, Alaska and I had just convinced the High School Tlingit language teacher, Daphne Wright, to take me on as a student at the college level. Before class started, Daphne gave me the Beginning Tlingit cds and books. I went home and, right away, put the cds in a player and began to listen. Prior to living in Hoonah, I’d thought the language was dead. I’d never heard it spoken before. I didn’t know any speakers and I didn’t know there were lessons and books and cds, either. I cried because Dick and Nora’s Tlingit words flowed out of the speaker. They were beautiful. I realized that I had the tools and I was going to take a class. I could learn. It was possible.
thirty students and elders participating. We had signed a contract that prohibited us from speaking English. It was scary. I managed to get through that first day packing around a white board, notebook, Tlingit dictionary, and a phrase book. I did a lot of pointing and baby talk. I’m not sure if it was the first night or several nights into the immersion, but we were meeting after dinner when Dick stood up in front of our group and began to speak in Tlingit. I strained to listen to every word. What was he saying? Tlingit is a tonal language, and by the tones I could tell it was a story of some kind. And then he said, “Tléix’, déixh, nás’k” and the word “xóots” and something about “gold” and “hair.” And then it hit me. I understood. Dick was telling the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I was so excited. I started to follow more of the story. My brain was making connections. I recognized the word for chair and bed and so on. SK: So there were context clues in his presentation that allowed some slight comprehension. Sounds like unlocking a puzzle.
SK: How long did it take you to pick it up? There are so many levels of learning involved. VP: The Tlingit language is one of the most complex languages in the world. It took me two years before I could pronounce the letters with some accuracy. I could read Tlingit better than I could speak it. And I could understand it without being able to explain it in English. Comprehension often comes before being able to speak. The first time, though, I realized that I could understand a Tlingit conversation (and not just a phrase) was when I heard Dick Dauenhauer speaking in Tlingit. I was with two of my children at a Tlingit language immersion camp in Glacier Bay National Park for ten days. In all, there were about Mickey’s Fishcamp
Vivian Faith Prescott
106 VP: Yes. It was a monumental occasion for him, too, as he was able to tell the whole story of Goldilocks without having anything written down. He had practiced for a long time to be able to gift us with his storytelling. Dick and I’ve read poetry together on a few occasions: Beyond Heritage and the Clan Conference. He always treated me as a fellow poet. He said he admired my poetry. I’ve written a few poems for Dick and Nora that are include in my poetry collection The Hide of My Tongue. Dick was a generous person. He included my name in one of his books: Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká, Russians in Tlingit America. I helped with some of the translations from Tlingit to English and English to Tlingit. I was auditing a class that he was teaching. There were about a dozen or so students in Sitka and other sites who worked on the project with the Dauenhauers. He was very patient. We also served together on the Alaska Native Educators board for the SE Alaska region. SK: So Richard was a language preservationist and teacher as well as a poetry teacher?
CIRQUE SK: What an honor to have them there as support and knowing too that his was a perceptive ear – one of very few who could know if you made a mistake. VP: Dick’s death hits hard. But he left a legacy of scholarly work and poetry that we can go to again and again. His life, his poetry, his love for Nora, for storytelling, and love for the Tlingit culture, speaks of his character. He lives on in every student, like me, that he taught to speak and understand the Tlingit language. SK: This is an incredible legacy of art and achievement. Nora is currently the Writer Laureate of Alaska, challenged now to carry on without her lifelong partner in the work. You have been summering at Mickey’s Fish Camp as evidenced by an incredible array of pictures and commentary in your Facebook updates.
A kind of wealth is displayed that reaches to history, family, food preparation and eating, the waters, Wrangell, as a community (with “traffic updates, “two cars, both VP: More than anything, Dick was Vivian Faith Prescott drivers waved,” kind of thing) and a poet. I told him that his poetry the deeply creative in all the beach glass and pottery chapbook Glacier Bay Concerto should be read in Alaska sculptures. I hardly know where to start but diving toward history classes. It’s a beautiful collection that few people the sculptures – first of all, they are remarkable, clearly at know about and the poetry is unlike what’s in his newer the status of gallery art, apparently, right out the gate. I books. know you as a writer. Were you hiding this other talent or was your skill a surprise to you, too? Dick and Nora attended my dissertation defense in Fairbanks. I hadn’t planned that. They’d been at an VP: Thank you, Sandy. I have been busy putting up fish Alaska Native language conference where I happened to and berries this summer at my fishcamp in Wrangell, attend one of the meetings with another Tlingit language Alaska. In regards to my glass sculptures, it’s an evolving student. I invited them to my research defense. Talk about art. I started collecting seaglass about five years ago and pressure. They showed up. Every time I looked up I saw then began to research mosaics and other glass art forms. them sitting there smiling. It was encouraging. When a I had originally intended to make a big octopus mosaic comment time was opened up to the public, Dick and for the outside of my home. The octopus is a crest of my Nora asked me a couple of questions. Later, Dick reminded adopted clan and my children’s clan, the T’akdeintaan. But me that I’d left out a Tlingit letter in my dissertation title. I never got that far. Instead, I went in another direction. I’ve I was honored that they were in attendance. It was the always been a beachcomber and walking on the beach perfect way to complete my Ph.D.
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 is a part of my writing process. So I’ve always brought home a poem or two along with a piece of driftwood or something else interesting. It started a few years ago, when my sister reintroduced me to a childhood beach in Wrangell, an old garbage dump beach, where there is lots of seapottery and glass. The dump predates 1952, so most items are considered “vintage” if not “antique.” The site is also the last resting place for old fishing boats. I got permission to salvage from the boats and I collect as much seapottery and seaglass that I can carry in one visit. I started “sculpting” on old planks from fishing boats and I noticed that if I used grout, like what’s used in the mosaic medium, then the old board’s character would be covered up. I love the wood’s imperfections. I view upcycled sculpting as an extension of my collage work, my poetry, storytelling, all of my passions. My first sculpture started out as a spiral design and ended up being a fish. The fish didn’t emerge until I was finished with the piece. I call it “storyteller” because the board is shaped like Dead Man’s Island, north of Wrangell Island, a small island shaped like a fish swimming to the Stikine river flats. I gifted the piece to fellow artist and writer Kristin Cranston, who, in turn, used it in her own artwork to tell the story of contact and conflict between Alaska Natives and non-natives at an art exhibit in Sitka. I fell honored that she thought of the piece in that way, that it could tell a story, or at the very least, be part of a larger story. So that’s what my art does. It starts conversations. It tells a story. Sometimes, I don’t know what that story is because I might only have a shard of seapottery with a Chinese design on it, or a small brown leaf, even gold filigree.
VP: “The first poem Raven Thinking is based upon codeswitching. I discussed this particular occurrence with Dick and he informed me that what was happening to me was a linguist’s term called ‘code switching.’” In linguistics, code-switching occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation.
Yéil Tundatáani, Raven Thinking To Richard Dauenhauer, Xwaayeenák
Sometime this morning, I was unable to prevent skin-shifting from lips to beak, while saying aloud an English word, using Lingít pronunciations. And I laughed at myself realizing Raven pesters my vernacular, that old trickster hopping his mayhem dance—creating code switching in the midst of my brain.
This summer I’ve been collecting vintage glass and pottery and creating more pieces. I sell them in Sitka’s Raindance Gallery and the Sitka Rose Gallery. Like I said, my art is still evolving and I don’t know where it will take me but it’s exciting. SK: They are remarkable. How are they “adhered,” i.e. held together? What is the price range? So, research helped this new craft evolve? I think that might be a defining quality with you: vision supported by “study.” I know you have both an MFA and a Ph.D. As I recall, you pursued both after your children were born. What was behind your move to academic learning? Stanley Mute
VP: I adhere the glass with various types of glue, depending on how the porous nature of the wood or the seapottery. Mostly, I use Gorilla Glue, Super Glue, and Wellbond. Right now my pieces run from 275 dollars and up, depending on how many pieces of seapottery and seaglass are in the sculpture. Each piece of seapottery and glass is considered antique or vintage, so the price will reflect that if there are a dozen pieces in the sculpture. Blue is also a rare color, so a sculpture with blue medicine glass will be more. I have one sculpture, a giant moon, which has at least 150 pieces of seapottery and seaglass on it. It’s what I call a “story piece.” It tells the story of the U.S. government plan to nuke the moon in the 1950s.
in my mid-thirties and I had three adolescents to feed. I fell in love with knowledge. So, I went all the way from a GED to a Ph.D., including a nursing degree thrown in there somewhere. I simultaneously pursued Cross Cultural Studies, a sub-field of anthropology, while furthering my creative writing studies. I hold a Master of Arts in Cross Cultural Studies with an emphasis in Indigenous Knowledge Systems from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Having been awarded a fellowship in the same department, I went on to complete my Interdisciplinary Ph.D. My dissertation is titled: Lingít Haa Sateeyí, We Who Are Tlingit: Contemporary Tlingit Identity and the Ancestral Relationship to the Landscape.
Research is integral to my art and my writing. My “upcycled” glass sculptures often lead to a discussion about conservation, ecology, in addition to recycling and upcycling. People don’t like to think about garbage, and basically, I’m making art out of old garbage. But it’s lovely garbage.
Despite the doctorate, I’ve always been a poet. At the time I looked into a Master of Fine Arts, there were only a handful of low-residency programs in the country. Those required two weeks away from home. I figured the Alaskan university system would get one sooner or later. And they did. My MFA in poetry is from the University of Alaska Anchorage. I was the first graduate in their new low residency program. Getting a Ph.D. first then pursuing an MFA is a strange path through education. But like fellow Alaskan poet Eva Saulitus, I believe that science and poetry are complementary. You could say I’m an anthropologist poet or more specifically, a cross-culturalist poet.
I love learning. I grew up on Wrangell Island where there was no college, and for me there was no opportunity to go to college off the island. I was married at age fifteen and had four children by my mid-twenties. I longed to go to college, so twenty years later, after I moved from Wrangell to Sitka, I was given that opportunity. Living in Sitka, I was divorced and a single mother with a GED. My early motivation for going to college was economics: I was
Alaska Range High Country
SK: You were the first in the new program and I was the last one in the old residency program – though I think, in
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 a way, I was the bridging student, with nearly equal parts of both the residency and the newly established lowresidency, finishing summer, 2010. But before we leave Mickey’s Fishcamp, is there something special about this summer in that environment? Your FB posts are documenting it, in a sense, capturing everything that is lovely from the sunsets, to the children, to the berries, fish and recipes, to the older men on the porch. What did you call that porch? VP: My time at the fishcamp has been some of the best times of my life. This is the first time I’ve really spent time in Wrangell since my friend was murdered. I was so angry at the community and at Bill Gablehouse, the murderer. Like so many Alaskan communities, domestic violence is rampant. My friend, Sheryl, and her daughter, Shandelle, along with Sheryl’s niece, Adrienne, were shot and killed by a school teacher. He killed himself too. Wrangell was a tainted place. My family and I were haunted. We still are. Sheryl was a childhood friend and relative, and she was my sister’s best friend. Her 18-year old daughter Shandelle was my daughter’s childhood friend. Shandelle was in her last year of high school. She was a volunteer fireman, and she wanted to be a paramedic. There’s a fireman’s’ radio on her grave. The women were Kiks.adí, Frog women, from a large clan here. I have a few short stories and a poem that deals with their deaths and rebirths. They’re magic realism, a writing style that I love. Instead of thinking about the horrific way that Sheryl and her family died, I have to imagine her reborn, emerging from a frog’s egg. Living at the fishcamp has given me the opportunity to write about the community, to imagine new stories, new poems. This time has also allowed me to reimagine the characters in my short story collection The Dead Go to Seattle. It’s set in Wrangell. In between fishing and smoking fish and berry picking, I finally finished editing. In a way, the collection honors women who’ve suffered violence. It honors place and interconnections, and multicultural families like mine. The Dead Go to Seattle is going to be published by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. I’ve also been learning how to smoke fish and do lots of subsistence activities according to my dad’s traditions. We’ve also been making art. My dad is 74 years old and he’s discovered jewelry design and making walking sticks, and war clubs, and seaglass art. We have wonderful
VP: “The second poem Talk-Like-An-American is based upon a discussion I had with Dick about this problem in Alaskan School Districts, even in Juneau. He said that you wouldn’t see Bill Clinton in an ESL class for his regional accent.”
Talk-Like-an-American I wonder why ESL, English-as-a-Second-Language classrooms are filled with our village kids who speak with Tlingit accents? Children whose first language is English, children wondering why they’re with immigrant kids from Russia, Guatemala, and Thailand. Children, en-un-ci-ate your words and use your lips. Don’t rock your letters back and forth, halt those tones going up and down, stop that sing-song sound. Quit that village-speech, remove that tongue from the roof of your mouth. They are the “experts” who don’t understand the point of our formation recedes inside our throats to another generation, sounds still resonating from the backs of our mouths—wavelengths felt across muskeg in movements of muscle fibers, a storied cycle thick across our papillae. Yet, still our kids fill up ESL classrooms making them talk-like-an-American. And they keep on devising what they believe are innovative methods, unaware we’ve lived these same schemes before, yet they keep on trying like their forbearers did, keep on trying— to thin out our tongues.
110 adventures into the blueberry bushes, out the logging roads, and beachcombing. And at the same time I’m recording his traditional knowledge. He’s a walking historical encyclopedia. He’s also the best meteorologist and oceanographer and ichthyologist that I know. It comes from seventy plus years of subsistence life and observing nature.
CIRQUE Martindale, was deployed to Kuwait, while you stayed in Sitka, then, when he was stationed, first, in Puerto Rico and, then, Kodiak, you went along, while both of you continued MFA work. What poets were walking with you (so to speak) as you adapted to each change?
VP: I’m heavily influenced by indigenous poets. My early studies included Native American Women. For my Master of Arts in Cross Cultural Studies project I designed a I called the porch at the fishcamp the “conference college level course: Native American Women’s Literature. room,” but it’s more than that. We sit outside and talk I was introduced to Mary TallMountain, an Alaskan born about art. We talk story. On occasion, my dad will call a poet. Those poets have always traveled with me: Joy whale. My dad loves science and we talk about how we Harjo, Nora Dauenhauer, Allison Hedge Coke, & Linda are going to get an underwater microphone in order to Hogan, among others. In listen to whales. I’ve already researching my Saami heritage purchased a portable digital I discovered Saami poet Nils microscope. We’ve looked at VP: “Rising is an original poem that I Aslak Valkeapää. I found lichen and moss and other wrote in the Tlingit language. Professor strength and voice in the things. We are scientist-artists Lance Twitchell (UAS, Juneau) was the indigenous poets. Sherman here and adventurers too. Tlingit language consultant on all the Alexie, by far, has been the We recently went to Spider poems in The Hide of My Tongue.” most influence poet in my life Beach. For some reason there Rising and in my family’s life. He’s the are a lot of spiders on this laureate of my family. There are particular beach near Snow To Dick and Nora four writers in my immediate Pass. I hate spiders, but it’s a family and Sherman’s work has great beachcombing beach. Gaydanaak influenced all of us. We buy This time we went on the Haa daadéi woosh kaanáx gayda.á all his books, read his works, other side of a large creek, so ka haa x’éide kunayis.aax interviews, articles. Mr. Alexie there were fewer spiders. But haa dachxánx’ i yan will always travel with me. then again I didn’t turn over yeetusixán a log to find out if the spiders haa toowú kilgéi I didn’t want to leave Alaska, were still there. Also, we’ve Gaydanaak but being married to a Coastie, been out gathering burls, Gunalchéesh adaanáx yeeydinaagi I had to decide if I wanted to conks, spruce tips, and berries yá Lingít Kusteeyí yis. accompany my husband to his of all sorts. We’ve harvested duty station in Puerto Rico. I porcupine quills, gathered only lasted about two months up old fishing line and parts Gather around us, you all before I started missing Alaska from old boats, and we’ve and listen to us so much that I began to have even found garnets. The best our grandchildren. nightmares and daymares. I thing about the fishcamp this We love you all, would wake up crying, missing summer, though, is the time We are proud home so much. No amount of I spend with my dad. Every Stand up palm trees and sunshine and moment is precious. Thank you for rising through it sand was going to replace for this Tlingit way of life. the rain, the sound of ravens, SK: It seems to me that you the cool air, and, of course, evolve and change, too, and Alaskans. Studying poetry in the years since we met, you allowed me to endure until we could be transferred to have been “repurposed” as well as, repositioned. Was that Kodiak. We were stationed in Puerto Rico at the Borinquen first year of the residency, 2008? I know the basics of the Coast Guard base during a portion of my MFA. I loved the story. Your husband, poet and physician’s assistant, Howie
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 fact that during the MFA I was introduced to a variety of poets that I might not have ever read: Zack Rogow, Linda McCarriston, Derick Burleson, and Anne Caston. They were my mentors. I immersed myself with poetry and poets. That’s what saved me, what got me through living far from home; that, and the fact that my husband and I started writers’ groups on the base in Puerto Rico, as a part of our MFA practicum. My husband ran the adult writers’ group. We had local Puerto Rican writers, an FBI agent, a librarian, a high school junior, and more. I also started a teen group and another for kids ages 8-12. I was pretty busy. I had the teens reading Linda McCarriston and Anne Caston’s poetry. One of the teens kept Linda’s poetry collection, never returning it. I’d say it found a good home. Again, when my husband was called up to go to Kuwait with his CG Port Security Unit, it was poetry, and writing poetry that made it tolerable. It’s hard to think about war when it doesn’t seem that anyone else is, or even cares. I’ve written a few poems about that. Come to find out my husband’s base was targeted for a terrorist attack but was thwarted before it could happen. We shared a book of poems before we left: Garrison Kellor’s Good Poems. My husband bought it for me, because it has a ton of great poems and poets in it. Before he left, we’d pick out a poem or two and read to each other. Poetry was a ritual. My husband was in the same MFA during his deployment. I thought that was pretty cool that a low residency MFA had a student who was overseas in the middle of a war zone, trying to write poetry. He started a poetry section in the base library. But I don’t think it mattered much to the MFA program at all. It seemed they didn’t think that was unique and couldn’t figure out why a student in the middle of a war might have a harder time getting his work in on time like everyone else. Every night he slept in the old Kuwaiti officers’ quarters, where years before, many of the officers were murdered. Being a medical officer, he saved quite a few lives over there. He was on call 24-7 for 7 months, in charge of the health and well-being of more than 600 people. And he wrote poetry. We’d Skype from the Middle East to Alaska. We’d talk poetry. It was surreal, to say the least. My first book of poetry was published while we were stationed in Kodiak: The Hide of My Tongue. The poetry chronicles my family’s involvement in the Tlingit language revitalization. Another poetry chapbook Sludge was published by Flutter Press. Sludge is a companion chapbook to Slick, a digital chapbook (my first poetry
chapbook) published online by Right Hand Pointing. In Kodiak, we started an adult writers’ group on the base, and I started another teen group. Socializing with writers and mentoring is what kept me going. Sure, Kodiak is Alaska, but I was very lonely and isolated living on the base there. So when the opportunity came to transfer to Sitka, which is our home, we took it. We are back in Sitka with the Coast Guard. I started an adult writers group here called Blue Canoe Writers. We are a dynamic multicultural group of writers. We’ve become very close. Also, along with Kristina Cranston, I co-facilitate a teen writers group at Mt. Edgecumbe High School. I’ve introduced both the adult and the teen writers to other indigenous writers and to the writers I discovered during my MFA. I am now dividing my time between living summers at our fishcamp in Wrangell and winters in Sitka. But no matter what I do or where I go, it is always poetry that I return to. When I’m reading and writing poetry, I am home. SK: What are your future goals and projects?
Sheary Clough Suiter
CIRQUE activity. We have an inclusive and vibrant community here.
VP: I guess I’m what you’d call a prolific writer. I have 8 manuscripts in various stages. I have a collection of memoir/essays, two completed poetry collections (one is my MFA): My Father’s Smokehouse and Bitter Water People, plus a children’s book (Saami culture), and a young adult book in verse, West of Moon and Sun, and another young adult book that I’m revising. So I want to try and find places to publish. I don’t have an agent (not for lack of trying) so it’s hard to do all that work myself. I’ve tried the contest route; spent hundreds of dollars doing that. My poetry collection Bitter Water People won the Jason Wenger Award for Literary Excellence at the University of Alaska MFA program, but so far I haven’t been successful finding a publishing in the contest circuit. My oldest collection of poetry, My Father’s Smokehouse, hasn’t found a home, either. Many of those poems have been published in literary journals, however. Now, I might try to send my poetry manuscripts out to publishers who aren’t holding a contest. It can be discouraging but I just keep on keepin’ on.
I’m currently working on a new style of poetry (for me), more surreal, more imagery, less narrative. Poet Joan Kane writes in a similar form in her books Hyperboreal and The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife. My collection is called Woman-withBerries-in-her-Lap. The poems are based upon Saami migration to Alaska and our identity as Alaskans. The title comes from a Saami riddle: What is a woman with berries in her lap? The answer is the “Lavvu”, a Saami tent. The berries are the fire in the middle of the tent. For me, the central fire is a metaphor Jim Thiele for the poetry and storytelling that burns at the center of my life. SK: What is a Woman-with Berries-in-her-lap? That sounds like sexual imagery, too. Do you think? VP: I suppose the riddle could be perceived as sexual imagery, but I’m pretty sure the riddle doesn’t really translate well from Saami into English, and certainly it doesn’t fit neatly within the Western worldview. The “Woman with Berries in her lap” is a teepee, or Saami Lavvu. So the answer to the riddle is: a lavvu. The “berries” are the central fire; hence the image of red, round, glowing coals. And in the question itself, the berries are likely held
I started a small regional chapbook press called Petroglyph Press and I recently published Sitka poet Eugene Solovyov. My goals are to publish Southeast Alaskan writers, with a heavy focus on mixed genre. I want to give emerging writers a step into the literary world. Often southeast Alaskan writers are not given the notice they deserve because we are geographically isolated. Sitka is a hub for literary Smoked Salmon Writing
Vivian Faith Prescott
Vo l . 6 N o . 1
VP: “‘Disturbing the Tourists is based upon a true event that happened at the Tlingit language immersion camp in Glacier Bay National Park. Nora and Richard Dauenhauer were some of the dancer participants who were told to be quiet. I got the chance to share this poem with them and both said they remembered that day very well.. “
Disturbing the Tourists at Glacier Bay National Park Lingít Language Immersion Camp Yá xáanaa áwé áa yoo sx’asatángin. –Tóok’ This evening, the dancers gave it voice. —Charlie Jim, Tóok’
Yes, we were being loud—loud enough for our grandparents to hear us across Icy Strait, atop Mount Fairweather. Loud enough to calve the ice and disturb the tourists who leaned against our fine white tablecloths, Old Woman
Vivian Faith Prescott
in a basket by the woman. She is sitting down with a basket of berries. In the riddle’s answer, the woman is the tent surrounding the family and the basket is the fire. The lavvu is an old tradition and likely the tent has been the home for the family for generations. Riddles are a means of transmitting knowledge in a nomadic culture. The Saami culture thrives on sayings and riddles among herders, hunting partners, and family. I read one article that called this mode of communication “infotainment.” When transmitted in the oral tradition (and written), the riddles resemble short poetry. Saami have a tradition of poetry, but it’s different from Western poetry, or how we in the U.S. might perceive poetry. In the Saami worldview, poetry is expressed through sound, as in the yoik, which are songs without words. And the short riddles I’ve mentioned recite like poetry. Maybe that’s the beauty of a Saami riddle or poem, that it can’t be interpreted in the Western worldview.
pale hands lifting silver forks, dining on halibut, salmon, and crab. Above them, floorboards creaked, weighted by our old bones; rafters hummed with voices. They dabbed their mouths with green cloths, and patted their chests to break the congestion of strange drums. The waiter informed us, You’re disturbing the tourists with all this dancing and singing. And like their grandfathers, they assumed if they couldn’t see us, couldn’t hear us, we’d just go away. So they sat pleased in the silence, licking salmon scales from their knives.
REVIEWS Kathleen Witkowska Tarr
Creative Nonfiction in the Taffy Pull Phenomenon of Time A Review of The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre: An Anthology of Explorations in Creative Nonfiction by Sean Prentiss and Joe Wilkins (Michigan State University Press, 2014)
A few years ago, a student confessed disappointment about her creative writing; she didn’t much like the way her personal essays were turning out, and asked via an email, what could be done? They were competent, nicely-told, outdoor adventure anecdotes, but in the end, so what? A little enthusiasm, but too much yawning sameness. No raison d’etre. It led to a talk I gave the following week on “vital writing.” This all happened “way back when” in 2007 before our connectivity addiction had swept across the land and we began to devour data and information from our cell phones and tablets like locusts. Before we were reading e-books on tiny screens standing in line at Starbucks while tapping back and forth on the Facebook news feed. Before the Huffington Post published—I mean before the Huff-Po posted online the kind of article I read this week— “The Sneaky Ways Technology is Messing With Your Body and Mind.” Constant tech-indulgence can increase anxiety levels, cause sleep disruptions, mental fragmentation, and a possible re-wiring of our brains. Radiation emitted from continuous exposure to electronic devices may even reduce sperm counts, according to the Huff-Post. When I entered an MFA program in 2002, we nonfiction writers were taught to borrow literary tools from the wheelhouse of fiction. That meant we focused on infusing the story with telling, intimate details, writing in dramatic scene-after-scene with snappier dialogue, honing the narrative voice, and so on. These were the building blocks. Once a certain level of mastery or familiarity was achieved as writers, we could broaden our scope and think beyond the boundaries and fundamentals.
What makes one piece of creative nonfiction more vital or urgent than another? How can the elasticity of time be used in an essay? Plenty of good creative nonfiction craft books and guides have been produced over the past twenty years which re-hash most of the standard debates and issues about creative nonfiction and its pitfalls which have also been discussed ad infinitum at writers’ conferences: The problem of emotional truth vs. literal truth; the unreliability of memory; honesty and betrayal in writing about loved ones; and how to balance scene with reflection. What my worried student was getting at was how to tell a better, true story that mattered? I encouraged her to be more of a roaming, exploratory narrator, to go out in the world and closely observe, to hang out, unplugged, full-present, allowing those burning questions she didn’t know she had to rise to the top. To connect her story somehow to the larger world and to the timelines of history. To take the ME out of MEmoir. We all live with the stupefying effects of toomuch stupefying media, which leads me to think that perhaps the teaching of creative writing could use a bit of renewing and updating. Maybe it’s time we use different ways of talking about the essay form with language and metaphor that better captures our frayed, warp-speed existence? But how can we become more effective storytellers and also more engaged readers in this “literature of reality” in the 21st Century amid the bracing impacts from technology? How can we make meaning out the gaseous clouds of infinite data bits hanging on
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 every writer’s literary horizon? This is one of the themes the editors of The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre, Sean Prentiss and Joe Wilkens, both writers and creative writing professors, tackle in their stand-out anthology. They describe the book as a collection of what the “essential writers of creative nonfiction think about the far dark edge of the drama they are most drawn to.” Prentiss and Wilkens talk about the historical and contemporary borderlands of nonfiction/ fiction. Their focus is on the wide-ranging, exploratory strengths of creative nonfiction. In the stodgy, think-y, ESSAY, all we have are words, words, words. It’s not interactive storytelling, as it is in, say, the video game “Dragon Age,” my adult son likes playing. He says it’s like being dropped into a 70hour long fantasy movie, created by a team of thousands, with incredible visual representations and sensory experiences. And he gains a strong sense of progression by starting out as a weaker opponent in his adopted character, but in time, by the game’s end, he turns himself into a stronger opponent. Through role-playing any number of characters in a seemingly infinite number of variables, the possibility exists to have a transformative (virtual) experience, the same outcome we should hope for readers. A highly sophisticated video game like “Dragon Age” boasts a great depth of detail, numbers of choices, and complications. I’m reminded it is worlds and worlds apart from the mal-nourished, linear text with words, words, words that I work in. I could insert some hyperlinks in the body of this text right now, and off you’d go, leaping from one stone tower of information to another, click, click, click. You may get lost in the labyrinth and not make it back; I don’t know if I want to risk it. The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre is far more than a staid collection of static essays and dry academic commentaries on mechanics and craft. The anthology surprises in its fresh approach and provocative reach. And whether it was intentional or not on the part of the editors, the essays feel like the writers are in dialogue with one another. Contributors to The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre include an impressive list of people “in the field” of creative nonfiction, experts in teaching the art and craft of narrative nonfiction: Robin Hemley for nine years the director of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa, currently directing a writing program in Singapore and the founder of the NonFiction conference;
115 Kim Barnes who’s written novels, memoirs, essays, and whose work has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; Lia Purpura, a Guggenheim fellowship winner, author of seven collections of essays, poems and translations; Dinty Moore (The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life and several memoirs) and editor of the well-known online magazine, Brevity; and Brenda Miller, a widely-published writer and editor in chief of the Bellingham Review. The “18 vital craft essays” broaden definitions about what creative nonfiction can do, not in the predictable manner of other guides to nonfiction by merely outlining sub-genres, such as nature or travel writing, for example, and then matching various excerpts and writing samples to illustrate craft points about those sub-genres. The contributors to The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre have rendered artistically-crafted essays that offer timely and unique perspectives about the ever-evolving genre. Think back to when Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese were known for writing “edgy” pieces for Esquire in the 1960s. Their essays were considered breakthroughs in creative nonfiction. They incorporated streamof-consciousness and changed the way we thought about literary journalism, taking the words “immersion journalism” to a whole new level of intensity and creativity. (Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” was voted the alltime reader favorite by Esquire’s readers a few years ago.) But this is the 21st century and now that the creative nonfiction of Wolfe and Talese and McPhee and Didion have unquestionably and deservedly moved into the canon, maybe new writers and creative writing teachers of the here and now, are looking for something more closely attuned to the present realities when they try and figure out ways to contextualize the genre. Prentiss and Wilkins succeed in doing that by describing creative nonfiction as a living, breathing, raging form of writing. (Sounds a lot like Tom Wolfe!) Since St. Augustine, Montaigne, Seneca, and Dillard, essays have been meandering, spilling over rocks, twisting, bending, cascading into waterfalls of thoughts and structural forms that organically mimic the atmosphere and milieu of the era in which they were inspired. Here’s one newer way to think about a very old form of writing: An essay is described as a “hack” as in hacking into a system, an opening up, and a hacking into a brain’s innermost thoughts, to the “impenetrable tower” as Ander Monson describes. Every essay must deliver an intellectual or emotional experience, but it’s hard to do
116 that today, when we compete with film and with the superlative visual feast of video games. On the other hand, the naturally polymorphic essay “can potentially incorporate anything, draw from anything, in search of the range of motion of human thought that it attempts to present.” He presents a useful model in discussing ways writers can hack into their brains to get themselves out of a literary rut. “The problem is colossal: rendering human experience as text,” Monson says. And I would add that it seems to grow exponentially more difficult with every passing week. I took some exception to Monson’s brief comment about memoir as he seems to lump memoir into either “navel-gazing” or celebrity dribble and hype: “Memoir appears to try and understand but mostly it narrates, memoir thinks it thinks (italics mine) but it doesn’t quite get there,” he observes, while somehow overlooking the array of literary memoirs from such writers as Patricia Hampl, Brian Doyle, Christian Wiman, Richard Rodriguez, Diane Ackerman, Linda Hogan, Tobias Wolff, and Kathleen Norris, to name a few above-average memoirists who tell what happened and who show, think, and explore. Or maybe Monson was referring to studentwritten memoir? Jonathan Rovner’s “Refresh” was an enjoyable read. He offers insights on “the non-dramatic reality of our digital lives.” In Rovner’s personal essay, he relates his experience with modern-day communications in his story of a budding romance that never quite materializes. He experiences a “relationship” with a woman based primarily on an exchange of text messages and emails without much in terms of REAL LIFE context. This makes for dull storytelling if nothing dramatic or compelling happens with the almost-imaginary woman. More words, words, words but this time, words ding or blip on the digital screen, yet they are still “words without accompaniment, without context or environment to inform and enrich them.” Where’s the full dramatic flourish, Rovner asks, when trying to write about this “real-life” experience when in The Big Real Life his pretend girlfriend relationship only existed in a steady flow of digital data exchanges? Another new way to think about essays is as “riverings.” Dinty Moore believes we have to “trust the invisible current to carry us to the unseen end.” Every good story has an “invisible magnetic river,” invisible because you sometimes have to discover the truth through the
CIRQUE writing. One of the most compelling essays in the collection was penned by Bob Shacochis: “How to Wind the Clock of Your Days: Notes on the Nature and Function of Time in the New Millennium.” Shacochis, who teaches in the graduate programs of Bennington and Florida State, says that attention is now the new disorder. We’re regularly time-slicing as we jump from one device to another, fretting about where the latest relevant data burst will come from: Momentby-moment experience of life, via texting, Google, blogs, tweeting, Facebook, new habits of attention. In all this “time-slicing” and jumping around randomly, we wonder where the latest relevant data burst coming from? We all now reside in the Land of the Crazyfuck which is how Shacochis boldly states it. It’s one of the biggest literary challenges of our day: Concentration is lost. He shares a unique discussion of time and its dimensions, problems, challenges as it applies to creative nonfiction. CNF writers have a role to learn how to hit the pause button, how to trick readers into reflection. (Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad is cited as an example of a writer who knows how to deal with bends and twists in time---she gathers up and weaves together the fullness of time. Shacochis traverses concepts of Big Huge Time and Itsy-Bitsy Time, or macro/micro time, cosmic and real times. He talks about Human worm-holes—people who help across space and time, who by their very presence or contact with a writer can close up sense of history, like what happens when you meet a quite elderly person who lived through a major historical event or who knew someone famous from previous era. As a writer, you converse with them, pick their brain, and start making all sorts of “timely” connections that make you think more deeply and differently about whatever subject is at-hand. And then he asks this important question about time: “We know about the elasticity of time, but in creative nonfiction, where’s the sweep, the stretch, the inter-mingling? The elasticity of time, so available, so intimately accessible, seems to me to contact some elemental code that might help us understand what it means to be American, yet I find it odd that many— most?—contemporary American writers seem to shy away from it, or at least to isolate it into well-wrapped packages. Historical novels. Futuristic novels. Novels of the moment, for the moment, by the moment. Nothing wrong with that, but where’s the sweep, the stretch, the
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 intermingling?” What, then, will stir us to awareness? That’s the question Nancy Ballard asks in “Time in Narrative Nonfiction.” It is what is novel or unexpected, and things we perceive to be a conflict or problem, and what we define as ‘problem’ depends upon what we care about. An author must select a story’s time/life-span. Within that span, something important must be at stake. Not literal life and death, but as Eudora Welty said a matter of spiritual or moral survival. The compendium’s essays examine facets and aspects of creative nonfiction through the filter of history, technology, philosophy, and the tried-and-true foundations of literature and storytelling, as in knowing what elements comprise overall narrative unity. In order to raise the literary stakes in narrative nonfiction, you can’t invent the drama, setting, or characters. If an essay is a free-ranging, “mindat-work,” pliable and versatile, the nonfiction writer has to trick you with his/her narrative voice, with words-on-the-page, with the apparently intriguing subject at-hand, so that you’ll be momentarily mesmerized into a zone of reflection and retrospection. Eric Reece is an award-winning environmental writer from Kentucky who also teaches environmental journalism. He compares much of the power of creative nonfiction to the important work of a documentary filmmaker. Creative nonfiction’s ability to be a powerful force for social change and in its function to bear witness, to be a moral conscience, are some of its most under-rated, least appreciated roles. Reece has spent a lot of time researching and writing about the devastating effects of Appalachian strip mining, or in its less negative, more politically palatable description of “mountaintop removal.” And so, in the end, no matter what historical period a writer occupies, the question always worms its way back: Why write? Why believe anyone out there will care to sit still for long periods of time with mere words, words, words? Here’s why: “Writing provides the reader with the time and the space to linger, cogitate, and wrestle with the implications of what was just said,” Reece says. “The reader invests in the work of prose in a way that is often more deliberate
and more engaged than with film—which may explain why the brain is most active when reading than at any other time, except dreaming.” I’ve heard musicians today lament performing in front of live audiences who are staring down at their cell phones. Hollywood special effects teams are under pressure with each subsequent film project to expand upon the production wizardry. (Note the special effects achievements of Avatar, The Guardians of the Galaxy; Interstellar.) Prentiss and Wilkens have succeeded in challenging us to travel deeper into unexplored literary territories with an eye that sees more across the intersections of time. Creative nonfiction writers at any stage of skill and ability want to get better at their game. This anthology will help take them there.
People of the Blue Tarp: A Review of Cinthia Ritchie’s novel, Dolls Behaving Badly When a former Spenardian, such as myself, reads a book set in Spenard, you can guess the radar is finely tuned. After a few pages, though, I could relax. Cinthia’s got it nailed. In addition to the obligatory many uses of duct tape and mentions of blue plastic tarps, Ritchie takes us to lunch at the Organic Oasis, a local landmark: “I met Timothy Tuppelo at Organic Oasis after work . . . . We each drank a shot of wheatgrass juice that turned our lips green and made small talk until our organic, whole-grain wraps arrived. Tiny squares of tofu leaked out.” Not surprising, considering Ritchie’s experience here. She was a features writer and columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, and has been published in WaterStone Review and New York Times Magazine. But what most Alaskans care about is her time in Alaska, and with this book, specifically in the cultural cul-de-sac that is Spenard, the former Red Light District of Anchorage. One might presume such a locality in a somewhat autobiographical novel would play on the dark side of Anchorage. Americans may recall the bestselling memoir Johnny’s Girl by Kim Rich, who lost both parents in 1960s-70s Anchorage. (Oh, did I say Americans? I meant, uh, those of this great nation who live Outside. Outside of Alaska, that is.) You won’t find noir in this novel. Cinthia sets us firmly in the middle of what some call the nameless decade, 2005. Her book dances bravely into the unpopular life of the underpaid and overworked single mother. Ritchie was fed up with run-of-the-mill chick lit, and wanted to write the story of a single mother who survived and made good without marrying a prince on a white horse, or winning the lottery, or some other unrealistic good fortune falling out of the sky. It takes someone with grit to take on an unhappy, shunned topic. It took Ritchie seven years. Like Carla, her protagonist, she says in the author’s note to Dolls, “I
was a single mother working double shifts at an Anchorage restaurant, and each night, after I put my son to bed I filled the bathtub with hot water, lay back, and read novels.” Ritchie’s the kind of maniacal Alaskan who runs the Mount Marathon Race in Seward, Alaska, annually, as she did this year on July 4. The mountain has taken a couple of lives, and deals out injuries with generosity. This doesn’t deter Ritchie, and 899 other runners, from the grueling trail that takes a contestant from sea level up and down Mount Marathon. Coming down the 3,022 feet in altitude is the hardest part. In the Women’s Division, 2013, Christy Marvin of Palmer led with a finish time of 53:20. Ritchie was 141st in her division and her time was 1:27:12. The book title refers to the protagonist’s parttime job making erotically recreated Barbie dolls and selling them online. But Carla really wants to be an artist. She really wants to learn how to pay her bills on time, and why her trailer has become a magnet for family and friends. And Carla really wants to know why her deceased Gramma keeps visiting her. How she accomplishes some dreams and goals, and not others, are some of the most wonderful aspects of Ritchie’s writing. Cinthia Ritchie keeps her terrain authentic, emotionally and geographically. At one point, exhausted and overwhelmed by all the good and bad things she’s going through, Carla, our heroine, loses her patience: “‘Why don’t we live in Hawaii?’ I screamed to no one in particular. ‘We could be sitting on the beach drinking foo-foo drinks. What in the hell are we doing in Alaska?’” “Stephanie, Laurel, and Jay-Jay stared at me as if I were mad, as if it were obvious, as if living in a shabby trailer and eating meatloaf made with generic bread crumbs in the middle of the coldest part of winter was the best thing in the world.” Dolls Behaving Badly is a quintessential Alaskan novel, as universal and as cordial around a campfire in the Last Frontier as in Charlotte, North Carolina, or Paris, France. (Not Club Paris, the steakhouse in downtown Anchorage. Just saying.) Goodrich’s review was previously published in F Magazine.
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CONTRIBUTORS Jennifer Andrulli – I continue to be inspired by our living planet. Thankful to share with you, just a glimpse of what I see in my journeys through time and space. Alexandra Ellen Appel - Many years ago, writing about Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan wrote: ‘Spicer is driven by a despair that comes from a language that cannot fill an absence which the Poet feels between himself and God. The poem can only record itself in the poem which brings Spicer to a poetry of opposition and confrontation.” While I am not certain of the accuracy of the quote or where I may have read it, I believe in the truth. My work reflects opposition and confrontation in a paradox of faith. I was raised by poets such as Spicer, Creeley, Duncan… Blackburn. The simplicity of language, the complexity of thought, the fragmented image relating to the entirety of a poem. These days I continue to be influenced by the Black Mountain School of Poetry and for added spice - W.B. Yates, Dermott Healey, Nick Laird, W.S. Merwin… and an endless list of the Greats and near-greats. Gabrielle Barnett’s poetry appears in Cirque and Alaska Women Speak. She won second place in the poetry category of F Magazine’s 2014 F’aire Words, Alaska statewide writing contest. She lives in Spenard with her daughter and two chickens. Edith Barrowclough lives in Anchorage where she is part owner of a tax busness. Her photos have appeared in previous editions of Cirque and in other publications. She travels widely, taking a broad view of the world through the narrow lens of her camera. Deborah M. Bernard received her BA in Journalism at Western Washington University in Bellingham, wrote for The Bellingham Herald and the Friday Harbor Journal, then moved to Alaska’s oilfield with her husband Joseph. They lived and worked in Deadhorse for decades, she as postmaster, then both as “shopkeepers for the Slope.” They recently moved back to Bellingham where Deborah is writing her memoir, You Can’t Beat a Deadhorse, while free lancing as a writer and as an editor. Marilyn Borell has been living and writing in Anchorage, Alaska for over twenty-five years. Her recent work has appeared in Cirque, and River Teeth’s Beautiful Things.
Alaska. Her poetry has appeared in Cirque, Tidal Echoes, Alaska Women Speak, and We’Moon. Scott Davidson lives in Missoula, MT, where he works as Customer Outreach Manager for an organic soap manufacturer. His poems have appeared in the Potomac Review, Poets/ Painters / Composers, Jeopardy and the Permanent Press anthology Crossing the River: Poets of the Western United States. 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. Carol Dee arrived in Alaska in 1947, growing up during territorial years in the Fire Lake area. After graduation from Anchorage’s only high school, she earned a Bachelor’s degree from Boston University, and later a Master’s from the Angelicum University in Rome, Italy. She was able to put her rural Alaskan childhood experience to use in the Italian countryside between 1975 and 1991, when she returned to Alaska with her two sons. She has published fiction, non-fiction and poetry in a variety of small publications, including the Bitterroot Poetry Review. She resides happily in Homer, AK. Patrick Dixon moved to Alaska from Indiana in 1975. There he spent 20 winters teaching photography, drama and English, and drift-fished for salmon on Cook Inlet in the summertime.. His writings have been published by Oregon Coast, National Fisherman, and Pacific Fishing magazines, among others. Patrick moved to Olympia, Washington in 1998, where he works as a freelance writer and photographer. He also performs each February at the annual FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon. He is the editor of the FisherPoets Anthology Anchored in Deep Water, published in 2014. More of his work may be seen at www. patrickdixon.net. Trevor Dodge’s most recent work appears or is forthcoming in Green
Jack Campbell is retired from the teaching profession after working primarily in rural villages for the past twenty-five years. He resides in Excursion Inlet. His poetry has appeared in Wheel Watch Companion, Notes From the Blueberry Bog, Main Channel Voices, Ice-Floe, Inside Passages, Explorations, Tidal Echoes, Cirque, and Fish Alaska Magazine. His book, Four Fevers Musings of an Alaskan Bush Poet: A Collection, was published in 2008. Tom Cantwell holds an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Whitefish Review, Newfound, Weber-The Contemporary West, and New Ohio Review. He lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and two children. Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, high school English-teaching Alaskan. Currently she is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry through University of Alaska Anchorage. Kersten co-edits the quarterly journal Alaska Women Speak. She lives in Sitka, Kimberly Davis
120 Mountains Review, Little Fiction, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Gargoyle, Metazen, and Juked. His latest book is The Laws of Average, a collection of 60 flash fictions recently published by Chiasmus Press. He is managing editor of Clackamas Literary Review, lives in Portland OR, and can be found online at www.trevordodge.com Merridawn Duckler’s most recent poem is in Naugatuck River Review; her most recent short story was in Farallon Review, and her most recent play was in the Playwrights Festival Forum in Spokane. Sherry Eckrich is a writer, photographer, and experimenting cook who observes nature and the rest of life in Alaska and Manhattan. Her work has appeared in various venues including Cirque, Inklings, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 50 Poems for Alaska, Braided Streams, and an art installation in the CenterPoint West building in Anchorage. Wendy Erd works between Alaska and Asia supporting communities to voice their stories in museum exhibits and documentary films. Published in Peace Works, AQR, New Rivers Press, and Out On the Deep Blue, Women, Men and the Oceans They Fish, her most recent prose and poetry have popped up on road signs in Alaska’s Copper River watershed and as poems set along Beluga Slough trail in Homer. She coordinates Poems in Place, a project that seeds poetry by Alaskan writers on outside signs in Alaska’s state parks. Robert Fagen has lived in Juneau, Alaska since 1982 and is a retired University of Alaska Fairbanks professor. Previous publication credits include Blue Unicorn, Common Ground Review, Comstock Review, and Crab Creek Review.
CIRQUE Poet, writer and artist junemoon writes about sex, fights, searching for family, home and other real life stuff. When she’s not writing, junemoon likes to laugh out loud, a lot. “She Did It, Anyway,” was previously published by Alaska Women Speak Journal. Mark Goodman lives with his wife and two boys in the foothills of the Cascades, on the dry side in central Oregon. His work has appeared in Ruah: Power of Poetry, Gravel, and The Penwood Review. Rebecca Goodrich is an award-winning poet, essayist, and book reviewer, as well as, editor, and book developer, who grew up believing she’d never leave California. Somehow, she ended up in Dutch Harbor, in 1994, living on a houseboat. Goodrich now lives in Anchorage, Alaska, and quite often goes organic at the Organic Oasis in Spenard. Goodrich is a member of Alaska Professional Communicators and the Alaska Writers Guild. Claudia Ferriz Green believes that poetry is much like going up in an experimental aircraft: we can usually handle the take-off, all right, but staying aloft until the plane itself wants to land can be tricky. Also, the views can be spectacular, but is the risk worth it? Conversely, have we taken enough risk to make us worth it? We shall see. Well, must go. Plane’s waiting... Jim Hanlen is retired and lives in Anchorage. 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 is thankful his poems have been published in Cirque.
William Ford has previously appeared in Cirque and, most recently, in The Lake, Hamilton Stone Review, Kentucky Review, and Stoneboat. He has published two books and two chapbooks. Molly Lou Freeman’s poem comes from a new poetry manuscript entitled Shelter. She teaches at the International School of Paris and has been a recent lecturer in poetry for the Creative Writing Departments at NYU and Columbia University. She received honors in poetry from Brown University and the University of Iowa Writers Workshop (M.F.A) where she won an Academy of American Poets Award. Her poetry has appeared in Cirque and in numerous other journals, including: The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Bellingham Review, The Colorado Review, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The New Orleans Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Daily, Plume Poetry, Seattle Review, Southern Review and VOLT. Leslie Fried is the curator at the Alaska Jewish Museum in Anchorage, Alaska. She is interested in history, especially what makes people do what they do or don’t do. One of her favorite things to do is visit the Greek and Roman galleries at the Metropolitan Museum to swoon over the tiny figurines. Jo Going as well as creating with words and images simultaneously, I also create from material inspired by not only my life in the Arctic but also my life in Italy. Last year I arrived in Torino, home of my dear friend Sarah, on the very night following her California father’s death. My visit was an example of perfect timing, as this poem and painting bears witness. Jessica Ramsey Golden’s poetry has appeared in The William and Mary Review, Orbis International Quarterly, Cirque, Calyx, Windfall, Illumen, Understory, and The Rectangle; in 2006 she was awarded the Eleanor B. North Poetry Prize. In 2009, she received an Individual Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation. She currently lives in Alaska, works in non-profit event management, and is drafting a work of fiction.
Dancing at the Pow Wow
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 Aileen Holthaus is a native Iowan who currently lives and writes in Anchorage, Alaska . b. hutton is a writer and performer, workshop facilitator, and former radio host on KNBA. His original performance work has included the ‘20th Century Man’ series; ‘Taxi Tales’; ‘Naked’; and ‘Nihongo Neophyte’. His poetry and prose appears in Cirque and F Magazine, and readings of his poetry and prose and episodes of The Radio Show have aired on KONR. The Radio Show Archives are also available on Cirque’s Audio and Podcast page. He is currently a regular visitor at the Siren open mic, reading live with Jack Tobin and the Hacks. He has worked with youth as a mental health professional for more than 30 years and currently is the Wellness Associate Program Coordinator and Group Facilitator at Covenant House Alaska. Sarah Isto lives in Juneau but spends spring and fall in the Kantishna Hills of Interior Alaska. She writes non-fiction and poetry. Recently she and her husband Gordon Harrison collaborated on an art exhibit called “Together”--his calligraphy of her poetry.
Marc Janssen grew up in the State of Jefferson and has lived in Oregon since 1998. His work is scattered around the Internet and in a print journals including: The Gold Man Review, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Driftwood, Agave Magazine, and The Ottawa Arts Review, as well as the anthologies Manifest West, Green is the Color of Winter and The Northern California Perspective. Poetry, work, education, soccer, kids, wife, church, drums--pretty boring really. Jill Johnson splits her time between Alaska and the small town in Eastern Oregon where she grew up. Family and friends, hiking and dirt gardening fill her best time. She is grateful for wild and other wonderful moments. Writing reminds her of this. David Jordan has published stories and poems in more than 130 literary journals, including Thema, The Chaffin Journal, Main Street Rag, Natural Bridge, Rattle, Comstock Review, and Pearl. He lives in Bend, OR. Michael Kleven is active in the film production community in the Pacific Northwest. On larger narrative and documentary productions, he specializes in location sound and cinematography. Through his production company, Kleven Creative Services, he enjoys capturing still images and producing video for corporate clients, arts groups and nonprofits. His favorite subjects are urban, rural and industrial environments and people. In the future he hopes to devote more of his attention towards writing and directing film. He is at present filming a holocaust-based documentary in Holland, “I Missed My Train.” Tricia Knoll is a Portland, Oregon eco-poet with over 100 poems published in journals and anthologies. Her first chapbook Urban Wild is now available through Finishing Line Press. Annie Lampman has an MFA in creative writing and teaches writing— in all its various forms—at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho where she lives with her husband, three teenaged sons, and a bevy of hens. Her essays, poetry, and fiction have recently been published in: Orion Magazine; High Desert Journal; Wild Horses: The Women on Fire Series; Adanna Literary Journal; WORK Literary Magazine; Wilderness House Literary Review; Dunes Review; word~river; IDAHO Magazine; the meadow; Copper Nickel: Women Writing the West; and Talking River. Her work has been awarded a Pushcart Prize special mention and an Idaho Commission on the Arts writing grant. She was recently awarded a writing residency through the Bureau of Land Management’s Artist-inResidence program in the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness. Her first
novel is currently under consideration in New York. Richard LeBlond is a biologist living in North Carolina where he worked for the state’s Natural Heritage Program until his retirement in 2007. Since then, he has been writing about life experiences, including his time growing up and working in the Pacific Northwest. Eric le Fatte 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. He has published poems in Rune, The Mountain Gazette, Windfall, The Clackamas Literary Review, The Raven Chronicles, Perceptions, and Cirque. Julie Hungiville LeMay was born in Buffalo, New York and moved to Alaska’s Matanuska Valley where she has lived since 1978. Her work has been published online and in a number of literary journals including Passager, Bluestem, Lummox, Pilgrimage, and Cirque. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles and serves as co-poetry editor for their literary journal, Lunch Ticket. John Longenbaugh is a Seattle-based writer and theatre director whose plays include “Scotch and Donuts,” “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol,” “Arcana” and “The Eternal Vaudeville.” His first novel, The Private Library, is represented by Linn Prentis, and his Steampunk short story “The Mechanical Detective” is being published in the spring by Sherlock Holmes Detective Magazine. Currently he’s at work on both a second novel and a new multi-platform Steampunk series, “Brass.” Cody T Luff’s stories have been published in Menda City Review, Swamp Biscuits, and Tea, Paper Tape, and Pitkin Review, among others; he edited the fiction collection Soul’s Road. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Port Townsend, Washington, and teaches at community colleges in Portland and Salem, Oregon. But perhaps more importantly, he grew up in rural Montana and is named after a horse, although his parents deny this. Jake Martin is a student in the English M.A. program at Portland State University. He has lived in Oregon for close to ten years, and he loves it. David McElroy lives in Anchorage and works as a commercial pilot in the Arctic. He has been published in national journals including Cirque and has a book of poems called Making It Simple. He is a recipient of
CIRQUE Valerie Miner is the author of fourteen books, including novels, story collections and a memoir. Her new novel, Traveling with Spirits, was published in September 2013. Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, Salmagundi, Ploughshares, Triquarterly, The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Gettysburg Review, Southwest Review, many other journals, and over sixty anthologies. She has won awards and fellowships from The Rockefeller Foundation, the Fulbright Commission (3 Fulbrights), the Bogliasco Foundation, Fundación Valparaiso, the Jerome Foundation, the Australia Council Literary Arts Board and various other sources. She is a professor and artist in residence at Stanford University and also teaches at the University of Alaska Low Residency MFA Program. Patrick Minock is an Alaska Native artist who works in the tradition of his father, Milo Minock. Originally from Pilot Station, Alaska, Minock was trained at Institute of the Native American Arts in Santa Fe, NM. His work has appeared in Cirque and in The James T. Bialac Native American Art Collection: Selected Works 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 new collection, Braiding Lives, a finalist in the Poetica Publishing Company chapbook contest, was released in November 2014. She lives and writes in Eugene, Oregon. www.sharonlaskmunson.com Mark Muro is a poet, playwright, performer and photographer, who lives and loves in Anchorage Alaska.
Kittitas with Grays
grants from the National Council on the Arts and the State of Alaska Council on the Arts and Humanities. He has given readings at the New School of Social Research in New York and the universities of Alaska, Western Washington, Montana, and Arizona. He is married to photographer Edith Barrowclough. Ron McFarland teaches poetry writing and literature at the University of Idaho. Later this year McFarland & Co. (no relation) will publisher his book Appropriating Hemingway, about Ernest Hemingway as he appears as a character in various genres (fiction, poetry, film). Pecan Grove Press published his fourth full-length book of poems, Subtle Thieves, in 2012. His new poetry collection, A Variable Sense of Things, is currently in search of a publisher. Erick Mertz is a writer/poet from Portland and a graduate of the University of Oregon. As a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, he has discovered the joy of extensively exploring a relatively small place. His poems are a reflection of that wanderlust. John Messick is a graduate of University of Alaska Fairbanks MFA program and a recipient of the 2013 AWP Intro Journals Prize in Nonfiction. His work is forthcoming in Tampa Review. At present, he is hiking the Appalachian Trail. Egan Millard is a writer and photographer from New York City. He now lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where he is a copy editor and writer for Alaska Dispatch News. He is the host and founder of The Siren, Anchorage’s weekly poetry and music show.
The Midwest gave Brett Murphy both a stable place to grow up and a strong curiosity about what might lie beyond. Since leaving Illinois, he has sought as much outdoor experience as he can find in the dramatic landscapes of the West. In former lives he has worked as a pilot, wildland firefighter, dogsled musher, backcountry cook, and now works as a land surveyor for an aerial remote sensing outfit out of Oregon. This current position takes him almost exclusively to remote locations from Honduras to Alaska, and he takes his camera with him everywhere. Stanley Mute is an artist from Kongiganak, Alaska. His work draws on Alaska Native lifestyles and motifs. This is the first publication of his work. Jana Ariane Nelson called Anchorage her home from 1948 through the mid-1980’s. Although she resides in Eugene, Oregon, her children and grandchildren still live in the Anchorage area. Jana is retired and now stays busy with website craftsmanship and administration, writing, adult dance classes, pets, gardening, crafts, family history and genealogy. Because of her interest in genealogy and family history, and wanting to share stories of everyday Alaskans, in 2011 Jana created GrowingUpAnchorage.com, dedicated to preserving authentic stories of those who lived in Anchorage between the 1940’s and the 1980’s. Since then twenty-two other writers have joined her in this endeavor. Joe Nolting lived in Alaska for 35 years, where he taught middle school language arts and math. He and his wife Annie moved to Bellingham just over two years ago and thoroughly embrace the local scene with its rich literary culture. Judi Nyerges – Well. It seems I can’t escape my Artistic Muse. I thought for sure she had languished and died when I moved in 1970 to Michigan from Bothell, WA, to become a wife and mother. I did feel her rally and rebound a bit, in 1996, when I became a high school art teacher, but not enough. Not nearly enough. When I returned to my PNW roots in 2010, I found my Muse (to my great relief) waiting for me among the evergreens and beaches, friendly climes and warm residents of
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 Whidbey Island. The last four years have been wonderful for us, my Muse and I. We have filled sketchbooks, created satisfying watercolors and illustrations and have generally rediscovered the colors of life – and we have no intention of stopping now! Edna Ochoa, translator, is an associate professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at The University of Texas-Pan American. She received the 2009 College of Arts and Humanities Award for Latin American Studies. Her translations to Spanish include Zuit Suit by Luis Valdez (Arte Publico Press, 2004) and How the Frog and His Friend Saved Humanity by Victor Villaseñor (Pináta Books Press, 2005). She is also a performer, director, and playwright. Monica O’Keefe paints distant vistas and close-up views of the natural world, using color and pattern to illustrate her feelings about the outdoors around us. Getting outdoors is very important to her artistic process, and that is when she takes many photos and comes up with concepts for paintings. Her paintings are intended to convey the feeling of being in a forest or on a coastline or mountainside, and hopefully they help the viewer to remember some similar scene or imagine being out there in the Alaskan landscape. Jim Orvik lived in Fairbanks for 36 years where he and Judy built their log home. He is a landscape painter and has works in the University of Alaska Museum, Anchorage Museum and the State Museum in Juneau Alaska. Judy Orvik moved from Fairbanks, Alaska where she lived for 36 years, and is now residing in Bellingham, Washington. She is a glass artist and poet. Carl “Papa” Palmer, retired Army, retired FAA, now just plain retired, lives in University Place, WA. He has seven chapbooks and a contest winning poem riding buses somewhere in Seattle. Carl has been nominated for the Micro Award and a Pushcart Prize. Motto: Long Weekends Forever www.authorsden.com/carlpalmer Dixie Partridge’s published books of poetry are Deer in the Haystacks (Ahsahta Press, 1984) and Watermark (Barnes Award, 1991, Saturday Press). Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals; she has edited poetry for regional collections, and most recently for fifteen years with Sunstone. She grew up in Wyoming, and lives with her husband near the Columbia River in Washington State, where their six children grew. Jeremy Pataky’s debut book of poetry, Overwinter, will be published by University of Alaska Press, Alaska Literary Series in March 2015. Jeremy earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Montana. He is a founding board member of 49 Writers, Inc. and divides his time between Anchorage and McCarthy.
blogspot.com/ Lynne Prossick has been writing since she was in grade school. Her retirement goal is to reawaken and nurture the Muse within. Joe Reno is a well-known Ballard artist who has never stopped loving the Northwest. His work can be seen at William Wikstrom Gallery in Seattle and, at Ballard High School there is a large Reno mural. His work appears in The Pacific Northwest Landscape: A Painted History. Matthew Campbell Roberts lives in Washington State and divides his time between the Methow Valley and South Puget Sound. He is working on his first volume of poems. Brenda Roper is currently a personal assistant in Santa Fe, NM where she runs errands for other people and enjoys walking dogs large and small. A visual artist and occasional poet who lives too many miles from the ocean. You can find her work in Cirque, Calyx, Odes & Offerings or at www.brendaroper.com Steve Rubinstein moved to Alaska from Oregon ten years back and thinks he deserves now to call this place home. Lex Runciman is an Oregonian and a teacher of writing and literature at Linfield College. His poetry collection One Hour That Morning & Other Poems was published earlier this year by Salmon Poetry. Rebecca Salsman attended the University of Alaska SE for a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing. She is currently a freelance writer for the Juneau Empire. Rebecca will be the Senior Editor of Tidal Echoes, the University of Alaska SE student journal, in the Spring of 2015. She was born and raised in Juneau, AK and hopes to continue her writing there in years to come. Steven P. Schneider, who taught writing for eight years in the Pacific Northwest, is the founder of the MFA program at the University of Texas Pan-American (UTPA). He is the author of a collaborative collection of art and poetry with his artist wife Reefka, entitled Borderlines: Drawing Border Lives (Wings Press, 2010). See www.poetry-art.com. The husbandwife team will have a new book, The Magic of Mariachi, published by Wings Press in 2016. Steven is the recipient of three NEA Big Read grants and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Poetry Fellowship. In May 2016 he will be leading a poetry workshop on Ekphrasis at the Poetry by the Sea conference at the Mercy Center in Madison, CN, May 26-29.th Reefka Schneider lived and worked in the Pacific Northwest for 8 years.
Timothy Pilgrim is a Pacific Northwest poet from Bellingham, Wash., with a couple hundred published poems, including several in Cirque, and is co-author of Bellingham Poems (Flying Trout Press, 2014). Vivian Faith Prescott is a fifth generation Alaskan born and raised in Wrangell, Alaska. She lives in Sitka and part-time in Wrangell at her family’s fish camp. Vivian has an MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage and holds a Ph.D. in Cross Cultural Studies. Her poetry has appeared in The North American Review, Drunken Boat, Yellow Medicine Review, Cirque and elsewhere. She’s a Pushcart Prize nominee and a recipient of the Jason Wenger Award for Literary Excellence. Vivian’s website is http://www. vivianfaithprescott.com/ and she blogs at http://planetalaska. Like Dali
She is now one of the foremost artists of “la frontera,” the binational region of the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. She is co-author with Steven Schneider of the bilingual book Borderlines: Drawing Border Lives / Fronteras: dibujando las vidas fronterizas. Reefka’s drawings have been published in the book Writing Towards Hope: The Literature of Human Rights in Latin America (Yale University Press), the Afro-Hispanic Review (Vanderbilt University Press), The Texas Observer and The Hispanic Outlook. She moved to Taos, New Mexico in 2012 and immersed herself in drawing and painting the people and landscapes of her new home. In February 2015 the Michael McCormick Gallery in Taos, New Mexico will hold a solo exhibit of her work. You can view her artwork at www. reefka.com B.L. Shappell has traveled 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. Judith Skillman’s new book is Angles of Separation, Glass Lyre Press 2014. Her work has appeared in Tampa Review, Cimarron Review, Tar River Poetry, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, Seneca Review, The Iowa Review, Southern Review, Poetry, New Poets of the American West, and other journals and anthologies. Skillman is the recipient of grants from the Academy of American Poets, Washington State Arts Commission, and King County Arts Commission. She has taught at City University Richard Hugo House, and Yellow Wood Academy. Visit www.judithskillman.com Eugene Solovyov has lived in Sitka, Alaska for twenty two years. He owns the Sitka Rose Gallery and has published his poems in Tidal Echoes (Juneau) and in Connotations and Kingfisher (Sitka). His first book of poetry was published in June by Vivian Faith Prescott’s Petroglyph Press. Patty Somlo has received four Pushcart Prize nominations, including in 2014 for “Rain Shadow,” a story set on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. Her second short story collection, Hairway to Heaven Stories, is forthcoming from Cherry Castle Publishing in 2017. Joannie Stangeland is the author of In Both Hands and Into the Rumored Spring, both published by Ravenna Press, and two chapbooks. In addition to Cirque, her poems have also appeared in Clockhouse, Off the Coast, and other journals. Joannie works as a technical writer and helps out at the family winery. Ali Stewart-Ito is a teacher, artist, writer, and personal trainer who has just recently returned to the Pacific Northwest. A lover of travel, sport,
and creating, she writes to quiet her internal maelstrom. Michael Strelow’s first novel, The Greening of Ben Brown, was a finalist for the Ken Kesey Prize in 2005. His latest novel, Henry: A Novel of Beer and Love in the West, is about the life of Pacific Northwest brewer and entrepreneur, Henry Weinhard. Next year his novel, The Moby-Dick Blues, will come out in the fall. He has published short stories and poetry in many literary magazines, and lives and works in Salem, Oregon. 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. Online at www.backdoordesigns.com Banan Tarr is an aspiring landscape photographer based, and born, in Anchorage, Alaska. His photography captures a sense of what it was like to actually be there in person; to experience the rugged, natural beauty of Alaska. His 2015 Calendar is available in limited supply at his website: www.banantarr.com Kathleen Witkowska Tarr, long-time Alaskan, earned her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Pittsburgh. She served as the former Program Coordinator of University of Alaska Anchorage’s low-residency MFA Program in creative writing for five years, and has taught creative writing for UAA and also for the Alaskan Writing Center (49 Writers). Her work has appeared in various magazines, newspapers, blogs, and literary journals including: the Sewanee Review, Creative Nonfiction, Cirque, TriQuarterly, Cold Flashes, 49 Writers, Alaska Airlines Magazine, America Magazine (published in Russia), and We Alaskans. Two essays will appear in anthologies in 2015. A fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, she was also named a “Mullin Scholar” at USC’s Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies (Los Angeles) for their new “Generations in Dialogue” project, along with five other writers chosen nationally. Most recently, Kathleen lived and wrote from Krakow, Poland. Carey Taylor is a former Oregon school counselor who now lives and writes in the Puget Sound region of Washington State. Her poems have appeared in Cirque, Brevity Poetry Review, Clover, A Literary Rag, Poetry Corners and Ars Poetica. In addition to writing poetry, she has recently begun writing about her family’s experience living at Burrows Island Lighthouse in the 1950’s. When not worrying about earthquakes, she enjoys walking, gardening, and a good scotch whisky. http:// careyleetaylor.wordpress.com
Vo l . 6 N o . 1 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.
Sterling, Meat for Tea, Literary Juice, Suisun Valley Review, Dirty Chai, and Blackmail Press.
Jim Thielman lives in Richland, Washington with his wife Pat and no dogs although his two children now have grandchildren and dogs, which is to say anything is possible; the world is full of positive things happening. Insist on rose colored glasses: they are truer than the bad news would have you believe.
Paxson Woelber lives in Anchorage, Alaska and works as a commercial artist, desiger. His work has appeared in National Geographic, the Atlantic, the Huffington Post, USA Today, the Alaska Dispatch, and more. www.paxsonwoelber.com
Elizabeth L Thompson is a Performance Poetess, Songwriter and Photographer. In childhood, the Artist was gifted her first Minolta camera by her Father. She promptly assumed wandering their homestead in Salmon, Idaho, with finger on shutter, framing discoveries spanning from spiders to sunsets within its lens. Thompson has also been passionately scribbling stanzas and songs on any nearby paper fragments since a small girl. Her poetry has been published in F Magazine, Make-A-Scene and Cirque. Elizabeth enjoys capturing the Muse of all subjects awaiting immortalization as Poem or Photograph. Suzi Towsley is a Seward based fulltime Mom and hobbyist photographer who especially enjoys capturing and sharing her perspective of the breathtaking sun rises and sets of Resurrection Bay, Alaska. M. Rita Roberts Waggoner lived in Fairbanks from 1975-1981. She received a Master’s degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She and her husband lived in a dry cabin outside Fairbanks for two winters. Her work has been published in Permafrost and Alaska Today. She currently lives in Waterloo, Iowa. Erin Renee Wahl’s work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in
Margo Waring has lived in Alaska since 1969. Marcie Winter has lived in Anchorage, AK her whole life. She started writing in 2000 to cope with extreme depression and is completely selftaught.
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, May Sarton, Wang Wei and Tu Fu. She enjoys writing Asian and natureinspired poetry. Nancy Woods, who was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, now lives in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales from a Pacific Northwest Writer and Hooked on Antifreeze: True Tales About Loving and Leaving Alaska. Both books are available at amazon.com. Woods’ poem “Remembering Harding Lake,” published in Cirque (Vol. 1, No.1), won the Andy Hope Literary Award. www.nancywoods.com As fall slipped to freeze-up, Douglas Yates explored the Tanana River flood plain where it carves relief in ancient loess. Time well spent chasing fractal patterns and wild calligraphy with a camera, inviting trompe l’oeil to work its magic on the eye. Or, as Camus said, “A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence this heart first opened.” Learn more here: http://douglasyatesphoto.photoshelter.com/
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. View I T T O C I R Q U E HHis Ocollection W T ofOpoems, The S U BM from Lummi Island, can be found at http://othermindpress.wordpress. com Cirque, published in Anchorage, Alaska, is a regional journal created to share the best
in the region with thefrom restwhich of theshe world. Cirque submissions are not restricted Jennifer Andrulli haswriting a base camp in Anchorage, Alaska tojourney a “regional” theme or setting. explores the World. The continues. Thomas Bacon In Alaska, western, eastern and native cultures mix beCirque invites emerging and established writers living in the North Pacific Rim— tween city and wilderness. I’m fortunate to have lived here most of my life.
Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta,
British Columbiarhythms and Chukotka—to submit Christianne Balk loves the Anglo-Saxon of everyday street talk. short stories, poems, creative nonfiction, Her books include Bindweed, (Macmillan) andreviews Desiring Flight (Purdue Uni- interviews, photographs, and artwork for translations, plays, of first books, versity Press.) Honors Cirque’s include the Walt Whitman Award the AcadSummer Solstice 2015from Issue. emy of American Poets and Peregrine Journal’s 2013 Poetry Award. Her work has appeared in Poem the Week (poemoftheweek.org), Atlantic Issueof#12—Summer Solstice 2015The Submission Deadline: March 21, 2015 Monthly, Cirque, Measure, and other journals. Please see Christiannebalk. com
Gabrielle Barnett has contributed both poetry and photography • has Eligibility: you were or are currently residing in, or have previously lived to Cirque. Her non-fiction been featured in theborn Arts in, section of the forasaPOL, period of notNext lessStage, thanWild 5 years Anchorage Daily News, as well Art Matters, Voices, in the aforementioned North Pacific Rim and Contact Quarterly. An improvisational dancer, as well as a writer, she region. enjoys experimenting• with Poems: mixed discipline performance. 4 poems MAX
Fiction, Nonfiction, Plays: 12 pages MAX
Miriam Beck recently earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Oregon • Artwork and Photography: 10 images MAX accepted in JPEG or TIFF format, sent State University. She lives in Anchorage.
as email attachments. Please send images in the highest resolution possible;
My name is Tiffany Benna. Originally from Iowa, I moved to the mounimages must be between 1 and 10mb each. If you do not submit full-size photo tains I’d created out of clouds in my youth, spending five years in Idaho files at time of submission, we will respond with an email reminder. No undersized and then adventuring on to Petersburg, Alaska for seven. I continue to images or thumbnails willpicture, finding be eligible for publication. write, hike, kayak, garden, and occasionally take a good • resources Bio: 1-3 Isentences MAX. inspiration in the natural am privileged to help manage, in the relationships with • my family and friends, and insure my faith that ever en-contact email current and be sure that it is Contact Info: Make to keep your courages me to grow and create beauty from whatever the world offers. one that you check regularly. If your contact information changes, make sure to Marilyn Borell has been living and in Anchorage, for inform uswriting at Cirque. To ensure Alaska that replies from Cirque bypass your spam filter and nearly three decades. Her recent work inbox, has appeared in Cirque and Ice go to your add Cirque to your address book. Floe.
Electronic Only by medAfter a career of child • welfare in remote Submissions Yup’ik villages followed • Attach a Word document your(and email (preferred) or embed submission text ical social work, Gretchen Brinck, MSW, retired to pursue to writing hiking). She is currently revising Alaska experiwithinher thememoir body about of theher email (not preferred); use 12pt font in a common, easy to ences, The Fox Boy, for Alaska University Press. Cirque Arial, has carried read typeface (Times, etc.) several of her pieces and honored one with the Andy Hope Award. Her previous • Subject Line of your email should read: “Poetry Submission,”“Fiction Submission,” non-fiction book, The Boy Next Door, Pinnacle, came out 1999. “Play Submission,” “Nonfiction submission”, etc.
Harold Brink first fell • in love with Alaska in 1968 onto thethree ferry to Haines; and we don’t mind you checking with us Replies average two months, then, driving to Fairbanks to look for a teaching job. He was drafted into about your submissions. 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 Please send submissions to: email@example.com 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 Elizabeth L Thompson 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.
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E6 , N O. 1