CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VOLUM E 6 , N O. 2
CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 6 No. 2
Summer Solstice 2015
ÂŠ 2015 by Sandra Kleven & Mike Burwell, Editors
Cover Photo Credit: Mike Burwell Inside Cover Photo Credit: Mike Burwell Table of Contents Photo Credit: Jim Thiele Design and composition: Paxson Woelber ISBN-13: 978-1514686515 ISBN-10: 1514686511 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. Correspondence: email@example.com Submissions: firstname.lastname@example.org
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—Nathan Brown, Author of My Sideways Heart Oklahoma Poet Laureate
Defiance StreetPoems and other writing
ems and personal essays, Sandra Kleven’s Defiance Street is a wild ride of dise the fury of the 60s, Kleven finds a hunger for language and truth-telling that resonant poetry and prose speaking to feminism, sexuality, mothering, love, beuck. Her language is direct, playful, surreal, and full of her own personal music. s of age, her words turn to the pathos of aging, memory, the deepening of love, e mortalities that stop and remake her, and her journeys to bush Alaska where f its people with uncommon authenticity and candor. These poems are at once nerable, powerful and quiet. This is poetry you will relish, prose you will cherish. —Michael Burwell, Author of Cartography of Water and founding editor of the literary journal Cirque
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Portrait of an Alaska Village
Internationally acclaimed photographer Ed Gold delivers gorgeous, raw and honest photos, painting a portrait of Alaskan village life that is rarely seen by those from Outside. His dedication to craft and place tell a compelling story about life in a stark and remote land.
Gold is a self taught photographer who has traveled the world documenting social conditions. His work has taken him from Afganistan to Patagonia and across the northern fringes of the US and Canada.
Wales: Portrait of an Alaska Village is the first book of its kind, fully documenting a remote Alaska village in a new light. Social documentary photographer, Ed Gold, explored the village of Wales, Alaska, (the western most city in on the North American continent) over a period of time spanning four years. His hauntingly beautiful black and white photos portray life in this Alaska village as it is in both its beauty and harshness. 7/11/14 3:53 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
Gold’s work has been internationally celebrated as groundbreaking. He has traveled to the ends of the earth, north to south from Alaska and Canada to Patagonia photographing people and places. All proceeds from the sales of this title are donated to the Wales Search & Rescue Fund.
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.
The List by James P. Sweeney ISBN: 978-1-57833-524.-7 Weathered Edge Retail price: $14.95 About the Authors 104 pages, softcover Kris Farmen 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.
In this wild little book,Martha Sweeney travels the length Amore of his life and paints portraits of loss, and love along side climbing adventures in Alaska’s wilBuffy McKay derness. 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.
James P. Sweeney
Farmen • Amore • McKay
James P. Sweeney
Weathered Edge Three Alaskan Novellas
is an award-winning author and teaches writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University. She achieved her MFA in Fiction from the University of Alaska Anchorage.
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.
— from Mars Cove The List
Wales: Portrait of an Alaska Village by Ed Gold ISBN: 978-0-9850487-9-2 (soft cover) ISBN: 978-0-9907428-0-7 Retail price: $24.95 (soft cover) • $29.95 (hard cover) 160 pages
VP&D House, Inc. • Anchorage, Alaska www.vpdhouse.com
11/14/13 4:15 PM
ust before the summer solstice of 1989, nearly three hs after the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Billy Day walks up the path through the spruce paper birch forest to my house and knocks on the I’ve been out of the hospital for a few weeks. I’m ng use to the crutches. I pull up off the couch, limp and open the door. Billy’s long blond hair, blue and freckles give way to a rock star smile. He gives hug and says, “I knew the mountains couldn’t kill ”
Defiance Street: Poems and other writing is VP&D House’s debut collection of dynamite poetry and prose by Alaskan writer, Sandra Kleven.
ollection of poems, Defiance Street, Sandra Kleven soars, wildly creative, using a ringmaster uses his whip: to move the beasts around the ring and into the light. s the almost-invisible, rapidly-shifting world into place for her readers again, me sighted again, raw, as that first human must have been seeing the world fresh. ea that the right words would help, writes Kleven (“Jaden is Calling”). She has on the promise in that. —Anne Caston Author of Flying Out With the Wounded
eed to say little else about Defiance Street besides: You must give this book a
Defiance Street Poems and other writing by Sandra Kleven ISBN: 978-0-9850487-8-5 Retail price: $16.95 112 pages, softcover
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Portrait of an Alaska Village
nt after boys who looked like Jesus, ed, contemplative, guys with that ed look.
Defiance Street: Poems and other writing
en walks a path of beautiful grit and hard honesty that remains uncompromising In poems like “Lament for Scott” and “As She Waits for Word on Her Biopsy,” her thoughts on aging to the bone with confessions borne of a poet’s long n. Kleven’s prose pieces are wall-to-wall poems. She speaks of the famous Blue n, of the birth of the second half of the 20th Century, and of Theodore Roethke he ever did. Bottom line? When I read Sandra Kleven’s lines:
Kris Farmen • Martha Amore Buffy McKay
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 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.
3/2/2011 9:47:35 AM
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5/8/13 9:53 PM
Best selling writer, Carolyn Meyer has re-released her young adult Hotline series in EBOOK ONLY format, available through B&N and Amazon. This compelling series is geared toward teens navigating the complexities of growing up, depression, suicide, running away and drugs. Carolyn masterfully writes in approachable, clear language that appeals to readers of all ages.
Carolyn Meyer Because of Lissa (Hotline #1) by Carolyn Meyer ISBN: 978-0-9850487-3-0 Retail price: $2.99 e-book only
The Problem with Sidney (Hotline #2) by Carolyn Meyer ISBN: 978-0-9850487-4-7 Retail price: $6.99 e-book only
Gillian’s Choice (Hotline #3) by Carolyn Meyer ISBN: 978-0-9850487-5-4 Retail price: $6.99 e-book only
The Two Faces of Adam (Hotline #4) by Carolyn Meyer ISBN: 978-0-9850487-6-1 Retail price: $6.99 e-book only
The WriTers Block
Bookstore & Café
Coming to Spenard in Anchorage, Alaska in 2016
Imagine a beautiful gathering place where writers and readers, musicians and listeners can all enjoy the latest literary offerings from around the world—a place where our local writers share the stage with home grown music and local artists. Book lovers and food lovers will enjoy the best of locally sourced baked goods, fresh salads, homemade soups, and unique international dishes, all with a literary flair! Craft beer from Midnight Sun Brewing will be on tap. Wines from Homer, Alaska, to Europe will be paired with both books and edibles. Coffees and teas prepared in ways that can’t be found anywhere else in Anchorage will grace the coffee bar of our soon-to-be locally owned, independent bookstore focusing on Alaska letters. Local publisher and lover of good books and great food, Vered Mares, has begun the process to make this fabulous bookstore to life. So stop imagining, and help make it a reality! Contribute today: http://www.gofundme.com/pb7nl8 Email for more information about how you can get involved! email@example.com • 907-720-7559
ANDY HOPE AWARD, 2015 The Andy Hope Literary Award provides an annual award in recognition of an outstanding piece of prose or poetry by a writer who has published in Cirque during the prior year.. The award is the brainchild of two Alaskan poets, Vivian Faith Prescott and her daughter Vivian Mork, who practice the art of mentoring with Alaskan artists and writers.
Ernest “Tony” Mares died in January of 2015. The cash award has been given to his daughter Vered Mares, pictured here with her father, to support her project, the Writer’s Block bookstore presently seeking funds on gofundme.com.
The 2015 Andy Hope Award is proudly presented to Ernest A. Mares, (1938 – 2015) for his body of work and specifically for poems published in Cirque relating to the murder of Federico Garcia Lorca
$1000 for CIRQUE
Alaskan artist, Jo Going has donated the watercolor, above, titled “Autumn in Denali,” as an incentive for the first person who gives $1000 to CIRQUE. This original painting was done on archive paper. The dimensions are 10” x 14.” Jo Going is a remarkable artist who resides in a coastal Alaskan village. She frequently journeys to Italy as Artist-in-Residence or Visiting Artist, including at the American Academy in Rome. Her book of poems and paintings, Wild Cranes, which won the Library Fellows Award and was published by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, is also held in the Franklin Furnace permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. “Wild Cranes” can be viewed in the museumsʼ archives and at www.jogoing.net.
To claim this incentive contact the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hide of My Tongue Ax L’óot’ Doogú poems by Vivian Faith Prescott Vivian Faith Prescott writes poems that explore the boundaries of a marginalized people whose language has survived centuries of genocidal intentions and now hangs on by delicate tendrils. She is faithful to the beauty of an ancient language that is rooted in place, and her poetry is a welcome and violent resistance to linguistic and cultural death. X'unei, Lance A. Twitchell, Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Languages, University of Alaska Southeast, author of Tlingit Language Dictionary
The Hide of My Tongue is a familial and historical account of the loss & revitalization of the Tlingit language. There are less than three hundred fluent Tlingit speakers left in the world. In Southeast Alaska, many are involved in the Tlingit language and cultural revitalization including Vivian Faith Prescott and her family. Vivian Faith Prescott, Ph.D., is a fifth generation Alaskan. She lives in Sitka and Wrangell, Alaska. She facilitates writers’ workshops for adults and teens. Plain View Press: Issue-based literary publishing. Community of activists grappling with the major issues of our time – peace, justice, the environment, education and gender. Plain View Press, P.O. 42255, Austin, TX 78704, plainviewpress.net, email@example.com, 512-441-2452 Available through your Local Independent Bookstore, Plain View Press, Barns and Noble, & Amazon. ISBN: 978-1-935514-87-9 Contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org website: http://www.vivianfaithprescott.com http://www.plainviewpress.net/gallery2/pages/The -Hide-of-My-Tongue.htm
From the Editors The genius of the whole.
The process is “relentless, slow,” but momentum builds until the new issue takes shape. Submissions arrive like snowflakes, snowballs, to accumulate, unread, ready for later review. Ideas take shape, at first sparse, then, thick and urgent. We read as a team and pick the best. Suddenly we have too much and exceed our self-imposed limits. We asked for it. We like it. The result is a dandy issue. Consider these features:
• Susanna Mishler reviews Jeremy Pataky’s new book, Overwinter, considers the slippery “you.” • Vered Mares speaks of her father’s passing, the 2015 Andy Hope Award winner, Ernest A. “Tony” Mares. • • •
Vered runs a publishing house with maybe six authors in her group. She warned her dad that his obituary would be her first published piece. So it is. Former Alaska Poet Laureate Joanne Townsend provides an “update.” Cirque will continue this feature with other laureates/notable writers of the North Pacific region. Poet, Emily Wall interviews Fairbanks poet John Morgan, about his new collection, Archives of the Air. Alaska’s “Poems in Place” is covered in a feature by Cirque’s nonfiction editor Cynthia Sims.
And much more creating a genius of the whole as each element clangs against another creating unpredictable synchronous sparklings. Like ice. A piece from Tele Aadsen opens the issue. Known to Cirque via her blog, Tele submitted after much urging. Poems by David Wagoner enrich this collection. We consider him the Northwest poet laureate for life. When we decline a writer’s work, we explain that we cut work we would publish. We cut painfully deep – about 100 pages had to be pulled from this issue – to get down to a still enormous volume of 143 pages (our ever-elusive goal being 100). As a consequence, the issue price takes a small nudge to $20. Cirque can discount purchases of five or more (mix and match) by 40%. Email us to work that out. Between issues, editors Burwell and Kleven met in Taos, New Mexico. Since we began partnering on Cirque nearly four years ago, all contact had been electronic. Three wild days slipped by dreamlike, while the late snow of Taos, fell “relentless slow, like salt from a shaker shaken.” A good, grand time was had by all, shaping visions of Cirque into the future. With this issue we also want to acknowledge the passing of Cirque contributor, Julius Rockwell, Ph.D., who died at 97 years of age. When he turned 90, Julius proclaimed that he was reinventing himself in order to find someone with whom he might share his life. He accomplished this and went on to produce two plays and publish at least three stories. RIP my friend.
Sandra L Kleven ~ Michael Burwell Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Sandra Kleven and Mike Burwell, Editors Paxson Woelber, Designer Assistant to the Editors – Paul Winkel Published twice yearly on the Winter and Summer Solstices Anchorage, Alaska
Poetry Editors Cynthia Lee Sims Carmen Maldonado-Patrick Monica Divine
Fiction Editors Gretchen Phelps Jerry McDonnell
Drama Editor Jerry McDonnell
Nonfiction Editor Douglass Bourne Sherry Eckrich
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Volume 6 No. 2 Summer Solstice 2015 N o n f ic t i o n Tele Aadsen The Princess and the Sea 10 Chandra Brown Unfinished Migrations 12 Michael Engelhard Mating Dance Under the Midnight Sun 18 Terry Fifield Waves of Time: A Walk by the River 22 Tracy Lease Contorted by Cold 23 Amy Meissner Swallowing the Needle 27 Gretchen Brinck Thin Ice 29 Kate Quick Berry Goggles 34 Cassandra Rankin Danger Day 37 Cynthia Lee Sims Let the Dead Bury the Dead 41 Dawnell Smith A Bowdoin reader: No one can handle the children 43 Richard Stokes Visions of Wildness 44 Kathleen Witkowska Tarr The Merciful Sea 46 Erica Watson Staying Home 51
POETRY John Baalke On the Employment of Metaphors 56 Beth Baker Llama 56 Christianne Balk Fly Fishing 57 Teeka Anice Ballas Canopic Jars 57 Gabrielle Barnett transposition 58 Scott Banks Kvichak 59 Miriam Beck Bering Island 59 Kristin Berger Kindling 60 The Pain and Bliss of Hibernation 60 Marilyn Borell Mickey Mantle’s Shower 61 Nicholas Bradley Port Angeles 61 Mike Burwell Golfing the Bering Sea 62 Kersten Christianson Stranding 63 Lyn Coffin Night-Wandering Vices 63 Michael Daley Full 64 Gretchen Diemer After Jack’s Funeral 65 Plitvička Lakes, Croatia 66 Patrick Dixon Sextant 67 Carol Douthat John Haines’ Shoes 67 Merridawn Duckler Ginsberg at The Grey 68 Gene Ervine Boreal Spoons 69 Leslie Fried Dancing from Warsaw to Vilna in Black and White 70 Daryl Farmer Solstice 70 Judita Vaičiūnaitė Museum Street 71 Muziejaus Gatvė 71 November 72 Lapkritis 72 Kenny Gerling Anchorage Reflection #1 73 Quinton Hallett Sevenling 73 Jim Hanlen Outside EZ Loader 1966 73 Robert Davis Hoffman Village Boy 74 Marybeth Holleman every rock 74 the warm dark 75 Branwyn Holroyd Hibernation 75 Sarah Isto No Bridge to Somewhere 76 Mary Kancewick a shadow 76 Sandra Kleven Circumference 77 Eric le Fatte Cairn 77 Alexandra McClanahan Horsing around 77
David McElroy House on Helluva Street 78 Jennifer Met Character of Place 78 Nancy Carol Moody Controlled Flight into Terrain 79 Like a River Flows, Surely 79 Mark Muro reverie 80 Sheila Nickerson How Our Lives Become Opera 81 Douglas Pope Statehood 82 Diane Ray Intoku 85 Matthew Campbell Roberts A River Once More 86 Jenny Root Hedera helix 86 Rebecca Salsman A Love Affair with French 87 Allison Sayer Rust 87 Steven Schneider This Is Where I Live Now 88 B.L.Shappell The Waiting Hare 88 Judith Skillman February 89 Leslea Smith Listen to the River Talk 89 Craig Smith Sunday obituaries 90 Jennifer Smith Femininity 91 Frank Soos Crayons 91 Doing It Yourself 91 Mistee St. Clair Gris 92 Ali Stewart-Ito Cheeselogs 92 Carolyn Stice Note: Regarding the Dynamics of Rotating Spherical Objects 92 Kathleen Witkowska Tarr Akhmatova, Secret Keeper of the Verse 95 Carey Taylor The White Album Summer 95 Natalie Taylor Flood Plain 96 Meditation at Bat Hour 96 David Wagoner Song for the Sequence of Tenses 97 Risus Sardonicus 97 Margo Waring Alaska Rain Forest Calendar: Dictionary of Words for Weather 98 Sandra Wassilie Departure 98 Toby Widdicombe Sand into Sand 99 Richard Widerkehr A Dead Soldier Speaks 100 Tonja Woelber Closer to Home 100 Douglas A. Yates Mere Tombstones 101
FICTION Anne Coray Anne-Corinne Kell Marie Ryan McMillan Joan Pardes
Transitory 102 Road Kill 103 Trail Faith 109 Leave No Trace 115
TRIBUTES Vered Mares Transit Papers: Remembering Ernest Anthony â&#x20AC;&#x153;Tonyâ&#x20AC;? Mares
I n t er v ie w Emily Wall John Morgan on his new book, Archives of the Air and on his mentors, his writing process, and the Denali Park residency 125
FE ATU R ES Joanne Townsend Cynthia Lee Sims
Always a Laureate: My Friends Have Made The Story of My Life 129 Poems Mark Place 131
REVIEWS Susanna J. Mishler Rock, Paper, and the Second Person. A Review of Overwinter by Jeremy Pataky 135
C O N T R I B U TO R S
h o w t o sub m i t t o cirque
NONFICTION Tele Aadsen
The Princess and the Sea
When Dave calls from Alaska to tell me his longline deckhand just quit and he needs someone right away, his job offer couldn’t come at a better time. Joel and I are in our own urgent bind. Two weeks ago, midway through rebuilding the Nerka’s engine, my partner blew out his knee. Our salmon season – our livelihood – is suddenly impossible. I tell Dave I can be in Sitka in two days. He exhales his relief, then adds with a trace of hesitation, “I should warn you, my kids are wild and crazy.” The Marilyn Marie is a family boat: Dave, wife Megan, five year old daughter Carla, two year old son Joshua, even two small dogs. Because we’ve been friends since we were boat kids ourselves, Dave knows I’m uneasy with children. My parents, believing childhood a phase best passed through as quickly as possible, raised me as a small adult. I don’t know what to say to kids. I do, however, know exactly what to say to my captain. I tell Dave that boat is his kids’ home, they’re the future of our fleet, and I’d be honored – honored! – to share this time with his family. I really want this job. And I get this job. The family meets me at the airport, where Carla peeks at me from behind her mom’s leg. By the drive back to the harbor, she’s warmed up. She squeals as we pass a store window, tugging my arm to point out an elaborate princess dress, a bell-skirted, puffsleeved, tulle-layered, Pepto Bismal monstrosity. Then, as if just realizing her family’s new deckhand is a girl, she looks at me with delight. “We can play princess together!” Oh, shit… We’re still on dry land, and I’m in way over my head. With a weak smile, I make two silent resolutions. One, that I’ll spend most of my time on deck, and two, that I’ll be the best, subversive, anti-princess role model I can be. Like most resolutions, this is easier said than done. The fifty-two foot Marilyn Marie is a boat unlike any other I’ve worked on. She’s built to fish tough, hunting halibut, black cod, and salmon through the Gulf of Alaska, but the cabin is a kingdom ruled by Princesses Ariel, Sofia, Belle, and Merida. The TV blasts an endless loop of Disney DVDs, and toys litter the floor – Carla’s dolls, Joshua’s trucks. I begin to doubt myself. I know how to do my job
on deck. What I don’t know is how to take on the Goliath of princess culture. As we wait for the weather to break, I email my fiercest feminist friends for advice. They tell me to take opportunities where they present themselves, reminding me of the power in helping kids learn to think critically, in being a grown-up who invites and listens to their thoughts. One tells me, “As she gets to know you, she’ll see all the ways you’re not waiting for Prince Charming. Just keep being your badass self and I promise you’ll have an influence!” All assure me it’s not complicated. I hope they’re right. When the weather breaks, we run eighteen hours to the fishing grounds. Forty miles off-shore, Dave and I snap on hook after baited hook, setting eighteen skates while Megan drives the boat. I toss the last buoy overboard, and with that, we’re fishing. The Gulf of Alaska is a lake tonight. Megan sneaks a cigarette on deck before dinner, leaving Dave inside with the kids. She sips merlot from a stainless steel wine glass as she watches me brush my hair, and says she should get me a brush like hers. “It only comes in pink, though.” She catches my grimace. “It’s just a color, Tele. You can be girly and a tough fisherman at the same time.” Before I can reply, Dave opens the door. Crying spills out. “They want you,” he shrugs to Megan. She stubs out her cigarette, calls “Mommy’s coming,” and rushes inside. Something bright catches my eye. A pair of Carla’s gloves – salmon pink, lined with sparkly silver threads – stashed on top of the microwave. Two days ago, Joshua strutted out of the family stateroom wearing only his diaper and these gloves, clearly delighted. I wonder why they’ve been tucked out of a little boy’s sight, if pink is just a color. Dave and I are up with the dawn to start hauling our first set. Megan and the kids rise later. Carla perches on a stool to peer over the Dutch door, her hair still sleep-tousled, wearing a lavender nightgown adorned with Princess Brave. She watches her dad at the hauler, gaffing each halibut into the boat. She watches me lean in to cut their gills. She identifies every fish that comes up, shouting approval of the big ones and a steady stream of
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 questions. When she asks how the hauler starts and stops, Dave explains pressurized oil. He doesn’t talk down to her. There are no good handles on halibut. They’re not easy to work with, yet today I pluck fish more than half my weight from the deck, tossing them onto the hatch with a smile, twirling my knife like a baton, flinging guts with flair. I’m showing off – but only for an audience of one. And my audience isn’t missing a second of this. Wide-eyed, Carla calls to me, “Are you very strong?” I tell her I am, and that she is, too. After we’ve hauled both sets, 4000 pounds of halibut lie in the hold. I suit up in full raingear – pants rubberbanded to boots, gloves rubberbanded to coat – and drop down to start icing. Dave asks Carla if she wants to help Auntie Tele. Her reply is immediate. He dresses her in her own orange rain pants, then hands her down to me. She giggles as we slide across the floor of halibut. It’s impossible not to kneel on them, but I show her how to hold her weight gently, with a reminder that fish are food. She stabs the plastic scoop into the ice barehanded – no gloves fit her – and dumps it in the general vicinity of the belly cavity I hold open. Some flakes actually make it in. Taking another stab, she asks, “Do you have a mom?” I tell her yes. “You know how your dad and mom run this boat? My mom ran her own boat, and I was her crew.” She gives me a quizzical look and doesn’t reply, just aims the scoop at the next belly. More ice goes in this time. Her platinum hair dangles, strands loosening from her braid, and I think about the graying of fishing fleets everywhere. Carla and Joshua are third generation
fishermen. Their grandfather built the Marilyn Marie – Dave grew up on this boat, the baby boy following two big sisters. Traditionally, family boats are passed on to the eldest child. Did neither of Dave’s sisters want to fish? Did they have the option? I wonder what will happen if both Carla and Joshua want to continue their legacy. We spend four days on the Fairweather Grounds. Our run back to town is a slog, lumbering along with 17,000 pounds of halibut, and we stop short to anchor up with our friend Eddie on the Andrianna. He’s been trolling for king salmon, though he’s only caught a handful all day. He says they’ve been small, nine to eleven pounders. Carla asks for her fishing pole. Holstered in their life jackets, she and Joshua swat their lines at the water. Minutes later, we hear her yell. Dave leaps to help, his hands over hers on the reel. The plastic pole bends to the water. Together, they land a twenty-three pound king salmon. Astounded, we surround Carla, praising her, grabbing cameras. She catches our excitement and poses with her king. She’s caught fish before – a rockfish at the start of this trip, a wolf eel when she was Joshua’s age – but this is her first salmon. Dave beams. Eddie starts to clean the fish. Carla kneels on the hatch and leans in close, oblivious of the blood and slime. When Eddie shows her the heart, she hesitates only a moment before taking the still-pulsing organ in her own hand. It disappears inside her fist, blood tricking between her fingers. I ask if she wants to know what her fish was eating. She nods eagerly. I slice the stomach and she reaches in, grabbing partially digested candlefish. “Bait!” she cries. “I can use these for bait!” Carla’s intentions for her king are firm. She caught him; she’s going to eat him. But this is far more fish than we need. It’s her mom who makes the suggestion. “If you sell your fish to Uncle Eddie, you’ll have enough money to buy your princess dress.” Obstinance slides from her face, replaced with awe. We are all witnesses to this instant when she truly comprehends what her family does for a living, because she’s doing it for herself: catching and selling her own fish, making her own money. Making her own wish come true.
I’m not on the boat when Carla comes
12 home from her shopping trip with Uncle Eddie. The truth is I’m avoiding being there: I don’t want to see my strong, smart shipmate turned into a fairy tale. But like every other princess, she appears on the screen, in Facebook pictures of her twirling across the deck, life-jacket cinched over sparkling bodice, tiara winking in the deck lights. Later, Dave asks if she wants to put her princess dress back on to show Auntie Tele. I paste on a smile – but it doesn’t fool her. She doesn’t answer her dad, and throughout the rest of my time on the Marilyn Marie, Carla doesn’t mention her dress to me. She shoves her brother aside to claim the spot next to me at the table, climbs into my lap with stacks of books to read, and mimics me with a bandana over her hair and stick-on tattoos on her arms, but she never asks me to play princess with her. And that feels strange. The very thing I dreaded happening, I now feel guilty that it doesn’t. Have I been so consumed with what princess culture does to girls at large that I didn’t consider what I might do to the girl right before me? I want Carla to remember all of this. Her dad hauling gear. Her mom driving the boat, feeding us, making time to play. Me, another woman, running the deck, and two girls icing halibut together. Her king, the first fish she caught and sold, the wish that she made come true. This version of herself who is curious about everything and has the courage to ask anything. But what do any of us remember from when we were five? Carla starts kindergarten this fall. None of her classmates will relate to her summer world. The things we’ve encouraged her to be proud of, the strengths we’ve celebrated, will other little girls wrinkle their noses and shun her for? How can a month fishing compete with a lifetime of princesses? Does it need to? When I finish my time aboard the Marilyn Marie, I stand on the dock to watch them pull out of the stall. Carla leans out the window, waving frantically. This is one of those times where you think you’ll be the teacher, only to later realize how much you needed the lesson. The question isn’t what Carla will remember of our time together, but what I will. Waving back, I imagine those tiny hands seizing all of life’s options as she did her king’s heart, squeezing forth every drop of possibility, grabbing fistfuls of choices I didn’t understand could coexist. Maybe Carla will be her own kind of badass, making her world a place where she can be a fisherman and a princess. Maybe she’ll show me how.
A while back I read a horoscope that advised me to be more like a turtle: to strive to feel at home wherever I am. This struck me; it’s something I’m working on. When my thoughts become sticky though, when I think too long or too hard on this notion of home, I am forced to confront the reality that turtles don’t generally fare too well in Alaska. I drove a truck for a while, a red Toyota Tacoma. It was the closest thing to a turtle shell I’ll likely ever have. My dog and I could sleep anywhere: in any driveway, at the far reaches of Canadian highways, on gravel bars along glacial rivers, outside any drinking establishment in most any Western city. It was a mobile bedroom, breakfast nook, and bar-room; a portable coffee shop, base camp, and shelter from the leaking sky. I loved that truck. I still carry its old Alaska license plates with me as I move from new house to new house, to new house again. Now I drive a little black car that gets really good
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 gas mileage. A turtle shell, it is not. I left Alaska when I was eighteen. Since then I haven’t spent more than nine consecutive months in any one city, community, or house. I’ve lived in three countries, thrice as many states, on boats, in trucks, in tents. On both coasts of this country and along the spines of mountain ranges between them. Sometimes I wonder about this inability to sit still, to stick around when things get messy in transition. I cross lines — state lines, county lines, lines drawn in the sand — and I cross them frequently. Crossing into another state, or back into Alaska from the Canada side, or vice versa, I feel my shoulders relax or my chest tighten, my breathing slow or my palms sweat. Crossing lines, uninhibited by commitment or investment. Quick to move away, move around, move forward. Quick to fall in love. Quick to say I’m done. When it gets too cold, too hot, too close: I have to move on. *** My mother would sit at the dining room table with me for hours on school nights. She’d run her palm in circles over my back as I battled with my math homework, driven to misery by an inability to negotiate the chaos within the pages of my algebra book. She’d light the kerosene lamp and set it on the table in front of us. We both loved that lamp for its glowing contrast to the astringent flicker of fluorescent public school ceiling lights. I remember when my mother got her first real teaching job at Big Lake Elementary School, about thirty miles from our home in rural Alaska, in the year that I was thirteen or fourteen. They put her in a portable — a modern one-room schoolhouse that was actually just another standalone component of the larger, overcrowded school building. Clusters of portables were assembled behind public schools once they exceeded their carrying capacities. Drafty and poorly designed, portables were always cold. They were lonely in their independence from the common halls and warmth of their associated buildings, but my mother didn’t seem to mind. She was grateful to be a teacher, to begin her career at the unconventional age of forty-something. My brother and I helped her decorate her portable, shuttling posters and potted plants and a terrarium from our house to her classroom. We watched as our father navigated the steps of the portable to deposit heavy cardboard boxes full of science books, markers, glue sticks, tiny scissors, and turtle food on the desks inside. After several trips in the rusty Suburban
over a series of autumn days, we had successfully moved our mother into her new classroom. We watched as she meticulously arranged the last of the desks and hung her homemade plaque — Mrs. Brown’s Classroom — on the exterior wall of the portable. We watched as her eyes sparkled with pride, as she completed the transition from uneducated mother to professional educator. One night during that first year, weakened by heartache and in conflict with her code of teacher confidentiality, my mother told me a secret. One of her students, a very small sixth grader with stinky clothes and stringy hair, came to school early most days. She’d be waiting there in the oppressive mid-winter darkness when my mother arrived to work, curled against the icy portable door. She’d nap on the floor of the portable until the first bell rang, while my mother graded papers, assembled the day’s science supplies, fed the classroom turtle. This little girl, my mother eventually came to find out, was being forced to spend her nights in her father’s chicken coop, warmed only by a poultry lamp and the radiant heat of chicken shit. At some point, my mother, compelled by law, presented this information to the school administration; the girl with stringy hair stopped coming to school shortly thereafter. This was the first of many times throughout her career that my mother would witness abuses of her students. Haunting glimpses of the stained and ugly underbelly of rural northern life. Later that winter, the power went out without warning for an entire weekend in Big Lake. We probably knew it would get too cold in the portable for the classroom turtle, but I don’t remember a motion to do anything about it. When my mother got to school on Monday she called home in tears. *** At some point, when I was eleven or twelve, my dad decided to build a pond in the backyard, a refuge for migrating birds. Dad loves birds, especially hummingbirds. They remind him of his childhood in Arizona. Nostalgia grips him tightly sometimes — it threatens to suffocate him. He will stare at those Alaskan hummingbirds for long minutes, his face strangely close to the window, his shoulders slumped and heavy with the burden of memories and unfinished business. The frenetic energy of feeding hummingbirds accentuates the weight of my mountainous father as he watches them through the glass. He went through a period where he was
fabricating bird feeders for friends. They were expertly crafted into the shape of little houses, worthy of sale. He made them in his wood shop, back when he had time for things like house-shaped bird feeders. Early that spring, Dad used his tractor and a borrowed excavator to clear brush from behind the house. He dug a pond-sized hole in the recently thawed ground and lined it with black visqueen. He bought a pump specifically designed for backyard ponds and built a tiny cascading waterfall, about two feet tall. He placed the pump at the base of the waterfall and directed a hose to the top of it so the pond water would be constantly aerating, circulating, moving. Dad took my brother and me to the creek to collect aquatic plants: pondweed, water milfoil, arrowgrass, lilies. We brought them home in five-gallon buckets and carefully arranged them in our plastic-lined pond. Most of these plants tolerated the transition; most of them survived until the fall. His idea was that migrating ducks and geese would see the pond as they flew overhead. They’d stop in for a while, and maybe they’d stay. He wanted to offer them a place to rest, a home if they fancied it. When no wild birds chose to take him up on his offer, Dad decided to buy some duck-lings from the feed store in town. He introduced us to six store-bought ducklings one morning that summer — my brother and I named them all. We kept our curious dogs away as the ducks sloshed in the pond, and we escorted them across the lawn when they wanted to explore the far reaches of their new territory. The dogs learned quickly to ignore our ducklings, and it didn’t take long before the birds were traversing the property in their little team, taunting the napping dogs
with their proximity. They’d swagger from the pond to the lawn to the forest beyond. Sometimes we’d lose them for hours in the trees. My brother and I loved hunting them down. We’d find them nestled, resting, cozied up in the duff at the base of a stand of willows. At the end of every day they came back to the pond. It became their home. Our summers in Alaska moved fast and were made up of new renditions of the same affairs almost every year: weekend fishing trips to the salty southern coasts and to the silty interior rivers, reading groups at the library in town, and explorations of the forest around our house. Over the years my brother and I built dozens of forts in the willows and alders and birch trees on our property. We’d make fort walls out of fallen or broken tree limbs that accumulated on the sodden ground, and sometimes we’d haul “found objects” from around our house into the forest. Retired office chairs, cracked flower pots, strange electronic gizmos pilfered from our dad’s laboratory. I imagine the forest around that house is still littered with these objects. We rarely returned them to the house once we’d installed them in a fort. My brother and I were quick to lose interest with a fort once we’d decorated it, once it became familiar, and we would move on to new construction as soon as we grew bored. We seldom returned to our old forts — we moved on quickly. As the basement chest freezer filled with halibut and salmon, as we crossed the last of the titles off the summertime reading lists, as fort construction was replaced with pre-season hockey practice and the tireless pursuit of scouting badges, the ducks continued to grow. The entire autumn season in southcentral Alaska can often be contained in a period of days, sometimes no more than a week. The forest floor all too quickly becomes an icy carpet of dark-brown fallen leaves, and the musk of rotting vegetation caught in an aggressive freeze-thaw cycle travels on every gust of wind. In the afternoons, before the daylight became too scarce for evening outside work, my brother and I would stack the wood that our dad chopped. He struggled with our distraction as we fashioned woody mud pies from the sawdust and chucked them at the benevolent dogs. The ducks, nearly full-grown by the end of their first summer, pattered around the dying lawn, expressing their uncertainty about the change of seasons in increasingly agitated vocalizations. There was an old chicken coop on the east end of the property, a relic of our parents’ past life, before kids and before the arrival of the big grocery store in town. We cleaned it out and repaired the fence around its perimeter,
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 hoping it’d be enough to keep wandering wintertime predators at bay. By the time the snow started to fall in early October, the worried ducks were more than willing to settle into that tired hutch. We strung up a few poultry lamps, insulated the coop with bales of straw inside and out, and tried to keep their water from freezing. The north wind clawed through the perforated and rotting walls, and it seemed the ducks were never content. Their feces froze to the straw on the floor, and they huddled under those poultry lamps as though their lives depended on them. My brother and I were tasked with feeding the ducks, watering them, fluffing the inadequate insulation, and scooping the pucks of frozen bird shit from the floor of the coop. The dogs would follow us along the trail from the house, sniffing at the bucket of feed pellets we delivered to the coop each night. The ducks seemed distrustful and frantic — their blissful summer wanderings supplanted by stagnant and frigid confinement. They were obviously uncomfortable. At least they had a home, and I assumed it beat the alternatives. I wondered in my eleven- or twelveyear old mind why they didn’t seem more grateful, why each night they seemed more and more demanding, needy, and desperate. I began to resent them. The snow continued to accumulate on the trail, and soon it was so deep my little brother was no longer of any help — his six- or seven-year old legs were too short for hauling buckets of feed through fresh snow. The evenings grew darker and colder, and I began to find ways to avoid walking that miserable trail to the old chicken coop. I would busy myself with my homework, hockey practice, Girl Scout badges, the dogs — anything I could find to help me forget about the ducks. My dad would every few days remind me of my chore, irritated by my negligence, and reluctantly I’d deliver their food pellets, stumbling through the snow, shining a flashlight down the wretched path in front of me. The ducks by mid-winter were hysterical: hungry, cold, and often thirsty as it was impossible to keep their water supply thawed. I hated taking them their food. I often thought of letting them go, leaving the door to the coop open, allowing them to make their next move on their own. What would they have done now if they hadn’t been bought at a feed store? What would they have expected from me if they were just visitors passing through, mid-migration, as my dad had originally wanted our ducks to be? Would they be so helpless, so dirty? Covered in their own frozen shit, squawking angrily at me as I delivered them their only source of calories? I wanted them to be more thankful, to be stronger, to
15 stop demanding so much — I was doing the best I could. Mostly I wanted them to go away; I wanted them to finish their migration. I knew that ducks bought at a store couldn’t fly. They didn’t know how to evade hungry owls and foxes. They’d have no way to find food in the snow. So I kept the coop door closed. And the nights that I delivered their pellets became fewer and farther between. On a steely mid-winter Saturday, I prepared to embark on a door-to-door Girl Scout cookie selling campaign. The rusty Suburban was running in the driveway, frost persisting on the windshield. As my mother packed some snacks for the mission, my brother sulked in the kitchen, dismayed by his involuntary inclusion in this errand; he hated being the younger brother of such an enthusiastic huntress of Girl Scout badges. My father was nowhere to be seen. I had angered him the night before when he asked about the last time I fed the ducks. I said I couldn’t remember — maybe two nights ago? I said I was sorry, and I had pouted as I took them their food pellets. My mother and I now put the snacks and cookies and unhappy little brother into the Suburban, hurrying to capitalize on the few short hours of remaining daylight. The sky and the dirty snow that covered the ground were the same color; we hadn’t seen sunshine or fresh snow in days. Everything was gray. I know the sound of a .22 rifle well; target practice is a compulsory pastime of children of Alaskan hunters. From the east: a gunshot. I dropped the box of cookies I was loading into the Suburban and raced down the trail toward the chicken coop. Another gunshot. And another. I tripped and stumbled through crusty old snow, unable to run fast enough. Another shot. Willows and alders snagged my jacket, I fell and struggled and fell again. Another shot. He was standing outside the coop, his giant shoulders sagging heavily under his Carhartt work coat, his .22 in hand, a pile of dead store-bought ducks behind him. I whimpered for him to stop and ran to the dead ducks, uselessly patting at them with my gloved hands. One last shot, and he walked away. Blood seeped from the pile of birds. I hovered over them, tears mixing with the blood and the shit and the straw and the snow. Absently I ran my gloved hands over their filthy feathers, guilt pouring from my eyes and messy I’m sorry’s dripping from my mouth. I think I remember my mom helping me put the dead ducks into a contractor bag, their ultimate
16 destination I can’t be sure of. I don’t remember if we buried them, burned them, took them to the landfill. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking after the event — I have no memory of any subsequent discussion of the time my dad shot our ducks. My mom reminded me that the daylight was dwindling, and that if I wanted the Girl Scout badge I needed to complete the mission as planned. So she and I and my unhappy little brother drove off in the rusty Suburban, the smell of dirty store-bought ducks lingering on my gloves. *** My dad and mom got married the first time in Arizona. My dad had offered to hold her coat at a community dance — apparently that ounce of chivalry and his love of motorcycles and old Jeeps was enough to keep her attention. Dad was four years older than her, already working for the US Geological Survey when she graduated from high school and they married. Soon after the wedding he took a job in Barrow, Alaska, on the shore of the Chukchi Sea, three hundred miles inside the Arctic Circle, the northernmost incorporated city in the nation. Traditionally, Barrow was known as Ukpeagvik: “the place where snowy owls are hunted.” To my mom, Barrow became the place where silent polar bears stalk the streets and sun-soaked Arizona teenage levity goes to die. In Barrow the sun persists in the sky, refusing to set, during the summer months. In the winter, for the sixtyfive days surrounding the solstice, it hovers dimly on the horizon at mid-day before promptly sinking out of sight again. In winter, in northern Alaska, the darkness is dizzying. She lasted less than a year. My mom divorced my dad, moved back to Arizona, and re-membered what it felt like to be warm. When he found her sometime later, freckled and happy and thinking about attending college, he promised her a different life. They’d try again. Something a little less extreme, a little less foreign, without the polar bears and the whaling, the interminable darkness and $10 jars of peanut butter. Instead of moving her above the Arctic Circle, this time he’d move her to railroad town just north of Anchorage. He’d build her a cabin, he’d buy her a boat, they’d make a family. Succumbing to the intoxicating trickery of love, my mom acquiesced — they eloped in Vegas and once again moved north, where my mom would spend the next two winters and summers in a poorly insulated fourteen-foot travel trailer while my dad harvested, milled, and assembled the logs that were to form the walls of our home.
CIRQUE For the first several years in that house, spruce beetles would drop from the ceiling logs into my parents’ bed. Carpenter ant infestations called for systematic evacuations of the house to allow for pesticide treatments. And unreliable power mandated reliance on generators and kerosene lamps. My mom became an adept Alaskan gardener, my dad began hunting Dall sheep and moose, and they did, as he had promised, make a family. They built a chicken coop at the east end of the property and managed to keep healthy birds through the winter months. They were dedicated and committed, invested in one another and in their land. The house sits on ten acres. It’s bordered by soggy-floored birch forest, the mudflats of a silty river delta, and, a little farther away, a skyline of jagged peaks called the Chugach range, the most prominent of which is named Pioneer. There was a moment, in the year that I was nine or ten, when my dad said he wanted to sell the house and move to Hawaii. My mom and I reluctantly painted a “for sale” sign on a piece of scrap wood and he hung it at the end of the driveway. When the drivers of the two or three neighbor trucks that passed our lonely sign expressed no interest, my dad took it down. Tough market, he said. I guess we’ll stay. A few years ago the municipality threatened to divert the railroad tracks so they would effectively bisect the forest on the back of my dad’s property. Staring out past the visqueen-lined duck pond, now overgrown with algae and mosquitos, and into an expanse of congested birch and alder and willow trees, he grumbled that he wasn’t about to let the bureaucrats run the railroad through his little plot of land. The skeletons of our old forts would surely need to be dismantled before railroad construction could begin. Artifacts and pieces of our family’s early life together, assembled into strange stages, sets for pretending, make-believing, and escaping. Remnants of a bygone era, of early adolescent settlers who have since moved on, moved away, moved south. After divorcing my dad again, twenty-five years later, my mom no longer lives in Alaska. She likes to ride her motorcycles in the sunshine. *** I’m just visiting. I’m paying rent. I’m passing through. There’s no need to encourage my roots to take
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Succumbing to Nature #3, Harding Lake, Alaska
hold, no need to stand here for too long. I don’t want the algae to grow or the mosquitos to swarm. Movements at random, frenetic wanderings, sudden goodbyes and shaky, blurry-eyed good mornings. Negligence in the form of distraction; distraction disguised as ambition; ambition masquerading as rhythmical, lyrical, seasonal fluidity. I have a daydream of a home. Probably up north, but not too far north. I daydream about sitting still long enough to see things grow and blossom and wilt and die around me, only to see them rise out from ground anew in the spring. In this daydream I meet the reality of the land that hosts me with open, focused eyes. I get close enough to know what it needs, to see it through the winter, to consider the consequences of connection and choose to stay in spite of them. I replace the novelty of newness with the vulnerability of commitment. I don’t drive around so much. In this daydream I’m trying to stay put. Or maybe I’m trying to ride along, to feel the rhythms that I’ve resisted, to let the cold permeate and trust that the sun
will thaw what’s been frozen. I recognize that the inferior heat from poultry lamps doesn’t defend against frigid isolation, involuntary displacement, or silent neglect. I recognize that store-bought turtles don’t belong up north, and store-bought ducks do best when they aren’t willed to be wilder, more independent versions of themselves. Nostalgia is a powerful tool, but there is value in learning not to linger too much in the analysis of our pasts; to bring our stories with us into the transition; to succumb to rhythms, to gravity, to the irreversible nature of our individual mistakes and of our collective negligence. In Alaska, transitioning out of the darkness of the cold seasons, we would all emerge from our individual shells. My dad would spend less time alone in his lab with the arrival of his field season. My mother and I would take our algebra sessions to the deck overlooking the visqueen-lined pond. My brother and I would play less hockey and read more stories. We would all move forward, out of the shadows of winter.
Mating Dance Under the Midnight Sun With each paddle stroke, muscles play in her tanned, well-rounded shoulders. Straight, chestnutcolored hair falls to the nape of her neck, barely concealing the swan-like curve. “Such a beautiful day, non?” It is indeed. I cannot believe my luck. Here I am, with an exotic woman, on a remote northern river, a blue sky smiling above everything. What more could a man want? It all began with an ad. Or rather, with the idea that, after so many years of romantic shipwrecks, of forever stumbling into the pits of physical attraction and carnal confusion, a soul mate could perhaps better be found by comparing souls. I therefore decided to have my profile printed in Alaska Men magazine, the path-breaking periodical that has been “bringing you Alaska bachelors since 1987.“ “You,” meaning the female half of the Lower 48. “Bachelors,” meaning, “husband material,” in the words of the magazine editor herself. This illustrious and illustrated gem also gave the world a T-shirt with the slogan Alaska Men—The odds are good, but the goods are odd and the Firefighter Calendar, a longoverdue male equivalent of the swimsuit calendar and Playboy centerfold. Actually, the odds in places like Fairbanks or Anchorage seem about even, and as for oddity—judge for yourself. I certainly qualified for the honorific Alaska Man. Although German-born, I had been a resident of the Big Dipper State for almost four years. So, undaunted by the commodification of my body, I sent in a filled-out questionnaire, together with a picture of my expressive, clean-cut features against the
backdrop of a bush plane. (Not my own—the plane, that is.) Asked to describe my ideal first date to the readers, I did not hesitate for a second: My ideal first date would be a weeklong wilderness trip together because I believe that’s where your compatibility and true colors show quickly. They ran a full page in the magazine, and I was happy with the way I looked and sounded on glossy paper. I was hoping for the mother lode, this time around. As a safety precaution against love-crazed stalkers, crank calls or bomb threats from jealous exes or current boyfriends, I had my phone number unlisted and rented a mailbox at the post office in town. (Paranoid was not one of the character traits I had cared to mention in my sales pitch.) As it turned out, the readership was rather diverse, and not at all limited to the continental United States. I received fan mail from England; one letter arrived from Quebec, in broken English, another from a black nurse in Kotzebue. A lonely sounding fisherwoman trawling off the coast of South Africa cast her net wide and wrote to me on yellow legal pad paper. One of my female pen pals grew up in a lighthouse. She admitted she talked a lot with dead people. I received notes from female prison inmates that made me blush although I pride myself on not being prudish. Some epistles contained locks of hair. Others were smudged with lipstick kisses, or steeped in mysterious perfumes. Quite a few women were suspicious. They wanted to know why I had used a portrait shot for a photo. Was I obese? Or missing a limb? Foolishly, I had believed in the old saw that eyes are the windows to the soul. I quickly became an expert graphologist, a reader-between-lines. At times, Mike Burwell the colorful stamps intrigued more than the enclosed words. But every time I peered into the dark hole of my mailbox and spotted the white or pink flash of envelopes, I trembled with the prospect of having hit the jackpot. Letters and pictures of women in various poses and stages of life lay scattered all over my 14 by 14-foot plywood palace without running water. (Hence the self-described rustic minimalist in the magazine.) I bought a cardboard folder and organized my correspondence alphabetically, and
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 felt like a little boy locked into the candy store overnight. A frantic flurry of letter writing ensued with a few fortunate candidates. And bit-by-bit, as I got to meet their souls—and they mine—the choice became clear. Monique was a French woman living in Albuquerque, a lover of literature and a painter. I personally prefer Edward Abbey’s rants to Simone de Beauvoir, and much of photographic realism strikes me as uninspired. But I felt I had to make some concessions. Monique had divorced her husband—a former salvage diver— when he turned into a couch potato. My kind of woman exactly. As I could not make out her soul’s apertures in the diminutive photo she’d sent, I asked for an enlargement. The watercolor self-portrait that promptly arrived in the mail showed nothing but a pair of hazel cat’s eyes afloat on precious paper. Long lashes, and brows arched like calligraphy sent harpoons straight into my chest. Perhaps too soon, we swapped phone numbers; but the first time her sweet, melodious lilt bridged the distance between us, I could have gobbled up the phone receiver. When she finally walked through the gate at the Fairbanks airport, my heart danced a little jig: she looked like a French version of Audrey Hepburn. Except, with her delicate 5’4 frame, she was shorter than I expected— about half the size of a glass-encased grizzly bear, which flanks the Alaska Airlines counter. Monique had told me her height, but it had never quite registered, and I am bad with numbers anyway. (In my self-portrait that translated into concerned with quality rather than quantity.) She knew, however, that the way into the heart of a Taurus is through his belly. In my modest kitchen nook, she went straight to work, preparing a dish of braised scallops, green asparagus, potatoes au gratin, smothered in a killer sauce of heavy cream and Cognac (no cheap brandy for her)—something with a nasal-sounding name I can’t quite remember. That first night, we slept chastely apart: myself in the stuffy loft reached via ladder and hatch and Monique on the floor of my domicile, which tilts slightly, because I live on permafrost, in the muskeg surrounding town. We spent our first full day together doing touristy things. Aboard the sternwheeler Discovery we plowed the silty flood of the Chena River, while the theme music of Love Boat played in my head. We stopped at Susan Butcher’s place, and the famous musher welcomed us from her backyard. Leaning on the rails of the big white riverboat, we watched Susan’s handler race her Iditarodwinning team. The huskies looked a little hot on this subarctic summer day, as they pulled a sled around the
19 yard, their driver barely visible behind clouds of dust. “But there is no snow,” observed my lovely companion. “We Alaskans do things differently,” I reassured her. We spent a pleasant-enough evening at the Malemute Saloon of the old Ester Gold Camp. Monique got her first glimpse of Alaskan manhood and mores from the player of the upright piano—a token Sourdough dressed in nineteenth-century garb—who kept spitting with great relish into the sawdust that covered the floor. During my weekly soccer game Monique sat at the sidelines. Our team was called Buns on the Run, and our sponsor, a fast food breakfast place, had donated tight shorts with the business name emblazoned on their backsides. Instead of watching the odd goods milling about on the ball field, Monique chatted with the wives and fiancées of my teammates. While I appreciated having a trained nurse in attendance—we were losing, and things were getting a bit rough—a shadow of domesticity fell onto my soul. I imagined that scene as a replay of my Mom watching my Dad kick a pig’s bladder around some German pasture, thirty-two years ago. It had happened that way. I had happened that way. The day after, a small plane delivered us to the banks of the Koyukuk River, north of the Arctic Circle, where its turbid waters skirt the village of Allakaket. Our great adventure was about to begin. Surrounded by piles of gear, I wrestled with the Klepper, the collapsible double kayak made-in-the-oldcountry that was to be our craft. I remembered that the brand name is a Teutonic term for a nag ready to be sent to the slaughter. Out of their packsack, the canvas deck and rubberized bottom, the keel, ribs, thwarts, gunwales and rudder parts more closely resembled the remains of a butchered seal on shore. I could not make sense of the gibberish of the German instructions, even though I am normally fluent in that language. (Manually challenged was another trait that never made it into print, because it clashed with self-reliant and down-to-earth.) With the help of my fine-boned visitor from the high desert and advice from a number of Eskimo and Athabaskan spectators, I eventually figured out where all the Flügelmuttern and Kreuzschlitzschrauben needed to go. We assembled The Thing and shoved off. “Should we look for a camp, Mai-kel?” Monique now warbles from the bow of the boat. I just love the way she pronounces my name.
20 “Bien sure,” I flaunt my command of the Gallic tongue and contemplate adding a “cherie” for good measure. We make camp in a clearing overlooking the river. Humping the contents of our craft up the steep bank, I realize I forgot a minor piece of equipment—the cooking pot. (It was all there, out in the open, black on white in Alaska Men: . . . not obsessing about the mundane details of life . . .) I prove my resourcefulness and worth as a paramour by emptying the can of Coleman fuel for the stove into our water bottles. We will have to dip drinking water with our cups straight from the river. So what, a little sediment never hurt anybody. With the saw of my penknife, I cut the one-gallon tin can in half. The upper part, hammered flat with a rock, makes a nice lid, the bottom a beautiful, if sharp-lipped, pot. “Voila!” I beam. I can see admiration in Monique’s eyes, and her radiant smile reveals a chipped front tooth cute enough to die for. My knees feel like the green Jell-O I keep hidden as a surprise dessert. Our pasta-and-tomato-sauce dinner is slightly compromised by an aftertaste of gasoline, which—I feel confident—will be gone in a day or two. And anyway, this is robust bush fare, not some kind of frou-frou cuisine. After we have cleaned dishes in a low impactstyle, with gravel and sand, we set up our shelter. I left the roomy three-person dome tent at home and brought the doghouse instead. We are snug in the tent, lying on top of an unzipped sleeping bag—a shared sleeping bag! “Tell me about your life in Alaska,” she demands. “Great,” I think, “time for some pillow talk.” And proceed to recount the adventures of the spring I was working for big game hunting outfits on Kodiak Island and near Katmai’s volcanoes. “I hauled supplies from sea level up into the mountains, and forty-pound bearskins and skulls back to the boats. It was the perfect preparation for an ascent of Denali the following summer.” I can tell she is impressed when she snuggles closer. I go on to recount an episode in Glacier Bay National Park, failing to mention that I flew there to meet another blind date. (She turned out to be— but that’s a different story.) “I was out sea-kayaking, trying to paddle close to a griz on a spit of land, to get a better picture of him. Next thing you know, he jumps into the drink and starts dogpaddling after me.” The instant these words come out of my mouth, I realize they were a mistake.
CIRQUE “There are bears out here too, n’est que pas?” Her voice almost falters. “Sure—I don’t know, actually.” What else is there to say? “Ssssh! What was that?” “What?” “That sound. Like a splash.” “Probably just a piece of cutbank slumping into the river.” “No, lis-ten!” And we both do, and her body is rigid, and I can sense tension coming off her like heat. The economy-size can of bear repellent lying handily at the foot of our love nest probably does not help much to alleviate her fear. I stay quiet, but all I can hear before I drift off into sleep is an ominous rumbling in the distance. Before long the midsummer sun tilts upward on its low arc and light caresses the tops of black spruce trees on a bluff that resemble big bottlebrushes. I walk to the morning-still river, urged by my bladder. Mocha-colored water roils at the tip of my boots. Something about its hue strikes me as odd. Scanning the beach, I cannot see our paddles. “Monique.” “Yes?” comes her voice from the tent, still heavy with sleep. “Did you put the kayak paddles away last night?” “No. Pour quoi?” “They must be here, somewhere.” I look inside the boat, behind the tent, behind bushes—nothing. Suddenly the truth hits me in hot and cold flashes. The river has come up. It must have been raining hard last night and only upstream. Unloading the boat, I had simply dropped the damned wood paddles and, like a Cheechako, left them lying on the beach. The flood took them away. “Merde alors!” Monique’s words, not mine. She is wrapped in her sleeping bag, her sculpted collarbones exposed to the new day, which all of a sudden promises to be bleak. I just stand there, 6 feet tall, blond, blue-eyed, confident and comfortable in the outdoors: God’s gift to womanhood. After a quick and tense breakfast, we are back on the water. I guess we could have lined the kayak downstream, following the brush fringe of the Koyukuk, but I decide to forego a bushwhacking ordeal. Not easily browbeaten by the weather’s antics, we are poling
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 downriver instead, using unwieldy lengths of driftwood. This is very awkward from a sitting position, and the poles only help with propulsion where the river is shallow enough. When I try it kneeling, the kayak threatens to capsize. The current is sluggish; at this pace it could take us weeks to get to Hughes. The next few days are best forgotten. They stretch before us endlessly, an impression that can only in part be credited to the untiring arctic sun. The poles break frequently and need to be replaced. When they do, the Klepper truly behaves like a horse carcass. It turns sideways, spins, grinds into gravel bars, or drifts helplessly towards dangerous strainers— fallen trees skimming the surface. They vibrate in the stream’s passing, potential deathtraps with the power to pin and flip boats, to keep swimmers’ heads under water. Whenever Monique lowers herself to the point of looking at me, I can see deep lines furrowing her once-comely brow. At some point I try to cheer her up: “This could be Venice, and I could be your gondoliere.” (Did I mention great sense of humor?) More frosty frowns are my only reward, and I wonder if it could be a cultural thing. Perhaps the French don’t like Italians. In the evenings I lie in my sleeping bag by myself, with sore shoulders and blistered hands, too tired and raw to even think about touching this attractive woman next to me. Instead, I calculate food rations and distances in my head. Six days out, we pitch the tent on a sweep of gravel lining the inside curve of a river meander. By now, I wear boxing gloves made of bandages from the First Aid kit. But nevertheless: Tonight is the night. Tonight, I will make my move. Tonight, I will check my soul mate’s compatibility. During dinner, Monique had talked to me again, even laughed at some half-hearted jokes. (I had served her pea soup “au cretin,” with a flourish: a filthy bandana draped over my arm.) I start by removing the wraps around my fists, flexing stiff joints. This will be bareknuckles. Last man standing. Just as I roll over, crunching footfalls draw close to the tent. They stop abruptly. Silence. In one fluid move I reach for the bear spray, roll out of the sleeping bag and poke my head through the tent flap. (. . . athletic . . .) I am determined to protect this babe in the woods, if necessary, at the price of my life. “Hi guys. This is tribal land. Part of the village of Hughes.” “Why? How close are we?” I ask the young man
21 with slightly Asiatic features, who waits respectfully ten feet from the tent. “’Bout half a mile.” “I had no idea we were that close,” I apologize. Knowing that the river would get us where we needed to go, I had not brought maps either. “There is a camping fee, if you guys spend the night here.” I look for my wallet, which I did bring. You never know, even the bush is getting expensive these days. I pay, our Koyukon host nods, and leaves. Back inside I realize the spark of desire has been snuffed out. It could have been the interruption, but more likely, forking out fifteen bucks for a campsite without showers, picnic tables, or even a barbecue pit, has cooled my ardor. Next morning, we land at the village. Observant hunters, who have been experts with small watercraft for thousands of years, have gathered on the riverbank to take in our deft maneuvering. On the improvised boat slip, I busy myself with the load, trying to avoid eye contact with the elders. With their broad, leathery faces, their quiet demeanor and equipoise, these are true Alaskan men, the genuine article. “You know, they make real nice kickers now,” one of them volunteers. “I know, and goddamn paddles, too,” I curse under my breath. Back in Fairbanks, we are saying our good-byes at the airport. “Will you call me when you get to Albuquerque?” “Perhaps.” A quick hug, a French peck on both cheeks that makes me feel like a European head of state, and Audrey Hepburn disappears through the gate—a figment of my inflammation. One week later Monique called from Albuquerque, admitting she had never intended to move to Alaska. As soon as I found out, I built a bonfire and torched my file of letters in the yard—given to histrionics. From the bench on my rickety porch, I watched fat flakes of ash rise above tangles of fireweed that were already beginning to turn. I contemplated the possibility of another long winter holed up in my cabin. Baking twelve kinds of Christmas cookies…for myself. Probably talking to the ravens again, by March at the latest. To hell with it! I sighed and fed my complimentary copy of Alaska Men to the flames.
Waves of Time: A Walk by the River It’s just predawn on an early fall day as I walk the trail behind the clanhouse to the river’s edge. The sun, not yet risen, illuminates the fog on the inland tree line. Soon there will be sunbeams on the mirrored waters of the estuary. Screeches of gulls and eagles echo through the trees, muted by the mist, colored by the faint reverberation of a distant generator. The rich and distinct aroma of smoking salmon - the practical, age-old tradition of preservation mingles with the mist and securely cloaks the town. The timescape presents itself now as waves reflecting visions of changing nature and culture, perceptible in the dim light and emerging consciousness of morning. The river flows by, carrying salmon caught between life and death, alder leaves gold and brown, floating birds and their recently shed feathers. The aroma of death and decay in the still morning air underscores the richness of life and abundance. Churning flocks of gulls pick through the soft flesh on the gravel bars, rising occasionally as one in search of fresh offerings. The grayness of predawn evolves into the vivid, layered brightness of early morning. Suspended above the greens of the forest, spider webs catch light in sparkling water droplets. A feather, fine white detail in a piercing sunbeam, floats on the rippled water, set against the rotting specter of a salmon carcass decaying on the dark river gravels below.
land and sea; women, men, children working the fish traps, building houses in the woods, drying fish; the fragrance of smokehouses, and food cooking – stories, history, myth. I stand quietly, trying not to be here, watching, listening, smelling, feeling the place; being aware of passages, trying to capture the forces forming impressions in my mind, touching them with thought and moving on. From one vantage point after another I see the place in different lights, from different perspectives in time. The village is changing quickly today. But, for the salmon, change is meaningless, subtle, and perceptible perhaps in the quality of the water, the route to the sea; but of little consequence to salmon-kind. Times past will not change except in how they are remembered and perceived by today’s people. I float aimlessly from millennium to year to moment. Visions of past and present are linked and formed of ideas of my own making and “knowledge” given freely by others. I am increasingly aware that this “place of all times” is surrounded by the bustle of an awakening modern community. That generator is starkly present now. A car roars by, more cars as the service station opens for business, the convenience store pumps gas, and the “mall” prepares for the day. Weekend shoppers, thoughts of Walmart in their heads, speed down the highway to the ferry. As the mist continues to lift the sun falls brightly on the estuary. The growling of the generator overpowers the screeching of the gulls and the immediacy of today imposes itself. Time collapses into an opaque veneer of “present”, obscuring the rich, layered fabric of history. I walk back to the clanhouse and drive back to my home on the hill. The TV is on and Digimon is occupying my children’s minds.
To the accustomed eye there are traces of humankind and our past uses in the channels and on the terraces of the river. People today know from wisdom passed on by elders that they have lived at the mouth of this river for hundreds of generations. Scientists suspect the “mouth of the river” is a changing concept; that geologic time and processes have wrought change today’s villagers only faintly suspect and spend little time pondering. I think of time passing over thousands of years as people find new ways to make a living in the company of the River. My thoughts are of ancient times, life at the juncture of Upper Estuary of the Klawock River
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Contorted by Cold I am afraid of the below-zero, silent bite of Interior Alaska in January, the wind-howling chill of the Bering Strait. I am frightened of cold seeping in through the teeth of a parka zipper, fingering his way into mitts, slowly turning my boots, my toes, the blood running through my feet and fingers, to ice. Cold is a ghoul who plans to trick my senses and consume me, longs to whip the essence from my body like steam from a winter camp kettle and blow me away. I have seen photographs of men, who, in search of fame, were left drained corpses on the ice of polar worlds; with a shiver running up the hairs of my neck I find myself wondering where the spirits of these men have gone. Josh and I were working as dog handlers for Jerry Austin, an Iditarod musher, who lived in St. Michael, Alaska. It was our first confused winter in Alaska, and Jerry was a good trainer. Always well-prepared for trips out with the dogs, we had extra hats, gloves, chemical handwarmers in our sleds, we brought snacks and hauled sleeping bags. But the finer points of staying warm and remaining safe we learned the hard way. We were running to Klikitarik one day, an abandoned village site across the bay, twenty miles east of town. After snacking the dogs, we were to run back. We booted tender-footed dogs as the yard went wild with anticipation for the run. Leaders were harnessed and hooked to the gang line of each sled first and then team dogs followed. Once all the teams were ready, once we were standing on our snow hooks and brakes, Jerry gave the thumbs up and took off first. Two minutes later I careened out of the yard after him, Josh two minutes behind me. After quickly descending the snow-covered beach and bumping out onto the bay ice we crossed the three miles of frozen ocean, rising again up the tundra on the other side of the bay along a knocked-down telegraph line to Unalakleet. There the space between teams grew; we spread out across the rolling white expanse. The morning preparations for the run had been smooth. I had activated the chemical hand-warming packets and placed them in my mitts so that after bootying the dogs, after enduring the thawing sting, my fingers came back to life. The day was gray, and colder than we usually ran, thirty below. Having never experienced hours out at that temperature, I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t really know what to expect.
23 The chill settled in toward me like overflow through boot seams and wool socks. My parka sounded crisper than usual. My belly sensed the breeze through my parka and snowpant zippers even though they were both snapped shut. I wore a neck gaiter pulled up to my nose, a beaver hat down to my eyebrows. My eyes felt dry, like the moisture was being sapped right from the surface of my eyeballs. My upper cheeks felt slightly pinched even inside the extended wolverine ruff, which kept out the roughest fingers of the wind. A slight breeze blew that day, but it felt like a slap against my body, a wave of cold that refused to back off. Part way to Klikitarik, with Jerry now a speck in the distance, a miniature Josh following behind me, I found myself doing aerobics on the sled runners. Bunny boot leg-lifts, sled runner jumping jacks. The dogs kept looking at me as if Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d gone nuts. I tried to explain to them that Jerry had given me strict directions not to run next to the sled to warm up. There is something inexplicable about being out there on the tundra with a team of dogs, their breath streaming behind them, leaving frosty beards on their faces, their feet quietly patting the trail. I was a tiny particle in that vast expanse, easily lost; at the same time every movement I made was clamorous, my crackling parka, the brake on the snow, my own voice reverberating inside the silence of open space. I rode toward Klikatarik, doing leg lifts, arm circles, experiencing the hush of winter tundra, watching a world, which appeared to have just been created. People and dogs have been wandering the west coast a long time in human terms, though signs of them are sparse. To my left, tundra descended towards sea where cracked and jammed ice sculptures rose like ghostly bodies from the flat expanse near shore. The empty white of snow-drifted ice spread toward the horizon, an unpainted canvas stretching to the edge of my imagination. European, Canadian and American men had come to St. Michael after the last Franklin Expedition, looking for the lost, trying to find some trace of them. The searchers asked for signs and followed stories up and down the coast and inland hoping to find people or remnants of them. But during the time of the search around St. Michael, it appeared the arctic had swallowed the expedition whole. Now we know the men, possibly suffering from lead poisoning from their canned meat, did starve and freeze in this northern region of our planet. Whisked from fragile bodies, do these men still wander the north searching for a route home?
24 On our trail the telegraph line rose on its knees from the tundra, wires singing in the slight breeze just above the whisper of the snow. An eerie song left on the winds by lines that a quarter-mile down trail dove into the snow bank and disappeared. The tilting post in the distance looked like a bent man attempting to regain his feet after a fall. The weary telegraph line spoke of how abruptly our technologies are replaced, abandoned. They illustrated for me how quickly human ingenuity can be consumed by the natural world. Willow and alder branches flamed up from streambeds and ran down from the hills. The ocean ice spread like a snow-covered, windblown prairie to the almost indecipherable blue-gray line where sky met sea. Tracks: arctic hare, fox, ptarmigan, raven, ermine, wolverine, wolf, moose, yarned their way in and out of the willows, the only sign of animal life beyond the trail. When we got to Klikatarik, I was bone-cold. Jerry had already been there a while, had snacked his dogs, and they were up, barking and bouncing. Once we were all there, he took off. Josh set about snacking his dogs, then he was ready to leave also. I remember we argued about who should leave first before he took off ahead of me. He had fed his dogs quickly, and they were lunging into their harnesses ready to go. He didn’t want any dog feuds because I was slow. Angry, I reached into the bag of frozen meat with just my glove liners on. I grabbed the frozen flesh and threw hunks to each member of my team. At first I didn’t pay any attention to the sting in my fingers. But by the time I had served the last dog, the fingers of my left hand wouldn’t bend. I have skinny, little, not-for-Alaska fingers that are cold even when it’s 90 degrees. The blood seems to rush back into my palms and up my arms whenever my fingers contact a cold surface. The side of me that wants to move south argues that my hands are trying to tell me something. When I felt the sting, the enveloping numbness, I quickly shoved my hands into my mitts and wrapped them around my handwarmers. But these warmers had been activated hours ago and had turned hard and cool and worked no miracles. The nylon inside the mitts had become icy while my hands were out, and the mitts were making my hands colder. Taking my hands out of the mitts and squeezing the sled bag zipper between the fingers of opposite hands, I struggled to open my bag; I pulled out the army box that contained new handwarmers and fumbled to flip it open. Though the rest of my body was fine, I was disabled. I had no strength in my hands. Finally,
CIRQUE wrapping my left hand around my right, I jerked my right thumb knuckle up under the latch and it gave. With hands like rusted, salt-crusted pliers, I grabbed a package of handwarmers and dropped the army box open into the sled bag. I couldn’t feel the package in my needle-pricked hands. My numb fingers couldn’t pinch the plastic to tear the wrapping off of the handwarmers. Any help I might need was loping farther and farther away. My dogs lunged into their harnesses; the sled jumped. Afraid of losing the team, I stepped firmly on the sled brake with one foot and on the hook with the other and then held the hand warmer between my wrists and tried to tear the package open with my teeth. My eyes began to tear. “Come on, damn it!” I wanted to scream. I was suspended in time, abandoned in a limitless freezer. The plastic tore. I worked a stick finger into the hole and ripped. I shook the handwarmers, awkwardly pushed them into the mitts, shoved my hands in, wrapped one arm around the handle bar and tried to pull the snow hook anchoring the team to the tundra. My fingers wouldn’t wrap around the hook handle. With fingers that wouldn’t listen, my arms felt like clubs. I took my right mitt off again and started talking to myself, to God, to the world around me. “Please, please, oh please.” I pushed my hand through to where I could cock my wrist and pulled again. I felt the metal handle against the small bones of my wrist, pulled, waited for a lull in the dog tugs and tried again. Finally, the hook gave, and we were off. I clung to the sled with my left arm, the snow hook wrapped around the wrist of my right hand like a masochistic bracelet. I was crying; my left hand was beginning to thaw. As soon as the tears hit the air, I realized crying was a mistake: my eyelashes had frozen. I couldn’t see. I tried to pinch my eyes shut and pull them open, but they were glued in place with small ice strands. I rubbed them with the back of my mitt and felt eyelashes ripping out. The world fixed in a blur; waves of panic passed through my gloves into my center. I moaned, an inhuman sound devoured by frozen earth and ice. After asking myself what I was doing in this God-forsaken place, I reluctantly took my left hand out of my mitt and held the palm over my eyes, one at a time, thawing them. When I could see the world again, I scanned ahead for signs of the other teams and saw no one. Angry with Josh for abandoning me, I blamed him for my own stupidity, for the lack of circulation in my fingers. I cursed him for a few miles, drawing glances from the dogs. But then, like the tundra around me, I became quiet, more humble. The past season’s grasses poked up
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
the fear had settled in. I was afraid, not only of the frozen world and wind, but of myself. I hoped to outsmart the cold, always be prepared, regain faith in my ability to survive. The same year, Stebbins, the Yup’ik village 12 miles across the island, had a potlatch. Jerry told Josh and me to take a four-wheeler if we wanted to attend. In those days the road to Stebbins was under construction, so we went by trail from just behind Jerry’s place. When we rode the tundra trail toward Stebbins, the weather was clear; the trail on the snow-blown tundra was easy to see. But when we left the warm hall after watching the dancing, moving with the drumbeat, drinking the Cokes offered to us, the sky had caved in. Snow swirled from low clouds. We found the trail, but it kept disappearing under blowing snow. We’d see tracks head off in two directions and disappear within feet either way. Josh, wanting to get home before the snow worsened, drove quickly. I kept asking him to slow down so I could scan the trail carefully. We had to turn around twice to find the trail again. By that time our tracks were gone. We’d find what looked like a set of ruts and follow them. All too soon they’d disappear. Snowless Winter #22
through the snow, faded husks of what they once had been. During those minutes of contemplation I realized just how lonely we can be in this world. I questioned if I could truly rely on myself. In these minutes, fingers pricked by pins, I hated myself for not being as strong as I wanted to be. After that run I pre-tore handwarmer packages before leaving home and placed the extra set in my parka pocket so that all I would have to do was pour the small cloth-like package of chemicals into my hand and shake. I always served snacks with mitts on when it was cold. But
As a newcomer, I had heard stories about people lost in storms. A mother and son, thinking they were miles away on an entirely different part of the island, had almost driven snow machines off a cliff onto the jagged ocean ice below. A woman, walking with her infant tied onto her back inside her parka, had been consumed by a storm and lost her way. She dug a shelter from the wind just large enough for her baby and her upper body. She knelt into this shelter the entire night, until the storm passed, and she could walk her child safely home. We had even witnessed disappearance: during one terrible fall storm, a pup had disappeared from the
26 yard. He must have gotten loose, wandered off during the night. We didn’t hear barking; we didn’t hear anything but the outrageous howl of the wind and our house’s effort to stay in one piece. We never found him. When spring came we knew he hadn’t been buried in the four-foot drifts around the out-buildings and dog yard. No thawing carcass appeared as the drifts melted. He was just gone. Erased from our presence like a figure from a dream. There were also stories of people getting lost out on the sea ice, not able to tell where land ended and sea began. There were stories of ice cracking around people who were closer to the edge of the ice pack than they imagined, the ice breaking away and floating out to sea. People who were never seen again. I knew this could be true because on a run back from Klikatarik one afternoon a windstorm set in. First Jerry, directly in front of me, disappeared. Then my dogs were blown off their feet. When my dogs regained their feet, leaning hard into the wind and Jerry reappeared out of the cloud of snow, he was well left of me. Lighter, my sled bag acting as a sail, I was blowing across the ice, across the bay toward the open ocean. Jerry disappeared again. I leaned out on the left side of my sled, dragging a foot, hoping we would land on the beach and if not there, that we would not miss land altogether. Even my lead dogs had disappeared. I spent minutes lost in a whirl of gray and white, watching my wheel dogs, hoping they would remain visible, would remain with me. I strained to keep the sled on a trail I couldn’t see. We passed no markers. I felt uprooted, as if I was floating in clouds above the sea. But I didn’t panic; I didn’t have time, energy. My body was functioning toward a goal. I had to work toward shore. This work kept me warm, kept me sane. Soon I heard the buzz of a snow machine. Jerry, having arrived home, returned to guide us in. As Josh and I returned home from Stebbins that night on the four-wheeler, alarm rose in me quickly. We had no Jerry, no seasoned winter survivor, to follow, to guide us home. When Josh stopped there was no sign of a trail beneath us. Panic, the trickster, twisted me into someone completely unfamiliar. I screamed at Josh, yelled at him for not being careful. I harassed him until my throat grew raw. I wrote headlines in my mind about our fate, the dumb Kass’aqs who could not find home. He remained calm, told me to breathe deeply, tried a new route. Enraged by his calm, I bellowed into the wind, neck muscles bulging. Perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so hysterical if I had
CIRQUE been driving. But I had no power on the back of that machine, and Josh was not listening to my requests. He had moved more deeply into himself, following his own survival strategy. As a passenger I howled in outrage, a wild side of me not wanting to follow his plan. Finally, after losing the trail, thinking we had found it, knowing we hadn’t, believing we had spotted it again, finding ourselves lost, we parked and walked so that we could keep track of the trail. We hiked through swirling snow, shin deep between tussocks, crusted here, soft there, ice where raised bogs had frozen. I was completely lost—all directions were equal—every possibility ominous. We walked, following Josh’s internal compass. I had to trust him, his sense of direction, he believed he knew where he was. My continual ranting subsided— some submerged part of me embarrassed by this delirious emotion; some part of him afraid of the woman exposed. Eventually, we saw the dog yard lights, found our way home. The next day Josh retrieved the four-wheeler. He said it was not far, he knew where it was, walked to it and brought it home. I was quiet all day. A different quiet. A hexed, I’m-not-as-tough-as-I-thought-I-was, quiet. My sense of self was eroding and reforming in that cold world like the ocean ice twisted and contorted by the movement of the water below. Just this summer two women told me a story when I was visiting St. Michael. A few years ago a young man we all knew left the village in spring time, was seen walking across the ice by children, was never seen again. My friends told me there are more lost people on the tundra, lost spirits. They float over the tundra quickly and a person should never turn to meet one, should never look one of these spirits in the eye. If you do look, you will join them, wandering aimlessly. If one comes to you, I was told, take your shoe off, dip it in water and hand it back behind you. The spirit will drink from your shoe, will suck it dry. Then you are safe to move on. When I heard this story I thought of the many times I was afraid out on the tundra. But it wasn’t often during the summer time. It was during the dark months that I was terrified of disappearing into the gut of winter. Perhaps, each time, these spirits were drawing near me and I didn’t see them. Maybe they were sucking warmth from my fingers at Klikatarik that day, eleven years ago. Or perhaps I just knew, in a deep-down, unconscious way, that I didn’t want to join them, drifting across a frozen world in search of— some warmth, some self, some life — I had lost.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Swallowing the Needle Technically, my first employer, Laurel, didn’t swallow a needle. It was a pin. One of those white-plasticball-tipped pins you always put in your mouth without thinking because the pincushion is never handy. You probably have 3 or 4 pins bobbing in your mouth while you sew, and maybe you have those 3 or 4 dangling there as you fit a wedding gown while the bride stands coolly on a little foot stool with arms held out, and she seems nervous so you’re making silly small talk and pinning, so maybe now you only have 3 in your mouth, then 2, then 1. And then you suddenly laugh. And then there are none. And you come stumbling into the back room with eyes watering because you can feel it dangling at the back of your throat, and because you’re clawing at your neck and can’t speak your young assistant looks up from her machine and thinks you are choking. She is barely 19, but she’s been taught the Heimlich Maneuver at school (fist inside cupped hand, then position behind the victim, bend knees, this might crack a rib but be firm, then, no, wait ... there was that important part ... oh yes, always ask first: “Can you breathe?”). Good Lord, you don’t need the Heimlich Maneuver, so you push her away, steady yourself against the shelves filled with jars of pearls and thread cones and boxes of lace. And then there must be something like a swallow or a gag, or maybe a cough. But the greater sudden mystery now is where that pin has gone.
and sizes that fit our hands perfectly, allow fingers to fly with precision. The animist tradition believes such simple objects as tools are infused with their own spirituality or soul. For 400 years, kimono makers and needle workers have gathered at Shinto and Buddhist shrines to bury their broken needles into a tender bed of tofu or jelly cake during the winter festival of Hari Kuyo. By honoring these tools, women ask for better sewing skills in the coming year. It is a thank you to the hard working needle and a final resting ground for the many losses women throughout history have swallowed, quietly burying their pain into cloth, one needle stab after another. Wordless. Rhythmic. My own myths and superstitions around the inanimate object vary, but feel real and rooted in a form of practicality often verging on this animism. Eddie, a tailor from Hong Kong who I worked with for years, used to call out, “Oh, some tailor now die!” whenever a pair of scissors dropped on the floor (not only this, but crap if it doesn’t ruin your good Weiss scissors, too). I was never clear on whether the spirit of the dead tailor entered the scissors once they’d fallen, or if it was this reckless spirit in the first place who’d spun the scissors off the cutting table and onto the concrete floor, nearly missing my opentoed sandal/good tights/the other cutter working next to me, or would, years later, fumble the embroidery scissors from my hands to stab into the fiberglass hull of our boat
As needle workers, we are disappointed when pins bend or needles snap, when nickel-plated safety pins specifically labeled “professional” or “for quilting” have tips so poorly machined they snag and ruin fabric. We remain loyal to favorite brands from Europe or certain lengths Woman Embracing the Sky
beside my wobbly 2-year old. My mother’s warning when I was 6 was, “Never leave the little golden bird scissors lying around. Only on the table. Always where you can see them.” Her decadesold story involved a woman who’d been sitting at the kitchen bench seat in the Swedish farmhouse chatting and embroidering. She left the table for more coffee, and when she returned sat on the bird scissors left lying on the seat cushion, and they stabbed her. In the bottom. I have never owned golden bird scissors; I do not trust them. They hold the folkloric quality of objects that are self-aware, like Japanese tsukumogami — spirits of well worn tools that awaken after 100 years of use. Harmless pranksters, maybe, but these inhabited objects are easily angered if disrespected or needlessly discarded. Leave your golden bird scissors lying around? They’ll bite you in the butt. And this much I know: leave pins in your mouth and momentarily forget their humble power? They will disappear into your body.
scrambled to re-hang gowns and organize the mess of crinolines and bustiers and boxes of borrowed shoes in some back room. I couldn’t know that despite my most bitter, wordless moments, my most silent burying of needle into cloth, I would always remain fast, focused. An x-ray confirmed the worst suspicion: Laurel hadn’t swallowed the pin, she had inhaled it, and now it dangled in a chamber within her left lung, an obviously machined object inside a maze of tender tissue. That weary pin must have been thrilled to rest in such warmth. Perhaps this was its desire all along. After the second failed attempt to send a scope and suction into Laurel’s lung, the surgeon informed her that he would try one last time. If he couldn’t find the pin’s route, he would have to saw open her chest and surgically remove it; leaving the pin behind meant pneumonia. Oh,
*** I can tell you what I worked on that day at the bridal shop 25 years ago when Laurel was lying in the emergency room: a pearl encrusted bustier for a January bridal show, the first runway show I’d ever felt the weight of preparing for. I layered on the most enormous beads I could find knowing on stage it would look stunning, but in my hands I felt vaguely like I was creating a pearl malignancy. My fingers were sore, the work was heavy, gaudy, slippery. But I was fast and focused. I had no way of predicting the number of shows I would prepare for in the decade to come, or where, or for whom. I couldn’t anticipate the models’ chaotic wardrobe changes in small back rooms, the frantic scrubbing of makeup smears from white silk peau de soie, the slicing weight of garment bags gripped overhead in each hand, the knot of anger that accompanied every finale even though I knew better — all applause and bouquets for the humble bowing designers on stage — while I High Feather
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 some tailor now die! Her father was with her, her mother stayed with me. I would never again work with a mother and a daughter team, with a father who carried pots of soup off the stove from home to feed us lunch each afternoon, at a place where, when the power went out one summer afternoon, we left work to lie on a blanket in Laurel’s parents’ shady backyard to eat stone fruit from a tree. We received phone calls at the bridal shop with updates from the hospital. Friends who’d heard stopped by to visit. No one had mobile phones then. No one texted. This was old fashioned, traditional waiting. If waiting had been an object, it would have turned 100 years old 100 times over. I sat on the carpeted stoop by the phone, a wedding gown in my lap, a tray full of pea-sized pearls on the floor beside me. I would have tense moments of work in the years to come, but none like this. None that felt like life or death. I’m sure I had clients who felt like their lives were ending: the bride whose grandmother arrived from Italy a week before the wedding and declared her silk gown “not white enough” and raised such a stink at the final fitting that we remade the entire dress in blinding polyester; the bride who discovered weeks after the wedding that her celebrity chef husband had been entertaining prostitutes in his restaurant after hours, for years; the former pornstar bride who we had to usher in through the alley door because she’d been indicted for insider trading and was hiding from the paparazzi; every bride who tried desperately to conceal the fact that she was pregnant. And even my own life or death moments — the mistakes, the disappointed clients, the ruined dresses, the spinning scissors, every moment I wanted to cup a fisted hand and ask myself, “Can you breathe?” — would be nothing like this. *** Laurel returned to work the next day, hoarse, phlegmy, bearing an enormous x-ray film and a new rule: “No one, EVER, puts pins in her mouth.” For months we caught ourselves, we reminded each other, we teased — only gently —because the greater reminder was the shrine now thumbtacked to the wall opposite the phone: a ghost-grey image of Laurel’s lungs and ribs, and an unblessed white pin hovering there, stark and content. The offending tsukumogami never received its final rest in a soft bed of tofu or jelly or lung. Laurel stabbed the undeserving thing through the x-ray film, dried blood and all.
I was walking on thin ice, terrified of plunging into freezing depths. After each step, I watched and listened before risking the next. A short distance away, Sam Dinsmore, my companion in the day’s madness, suddenly spoke. “Don’t move.” I turned my head toward him. A narrow break was spreading between his big boots. Bearlike in his bulky jacket, he slid his feet back in a slow motion retreat. When he reached safety, he pointed to a rough patch farther out. “Looks thicker over there.” Did it? Why hadn’t I clarified whether he had experience with freezing rivers before I followed him into this danger? He acted like he knew everything, yet as the newest social worker in Bethel’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, he’d been in Alaska for only two weeks. And I’d been the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region’s Child Welfare Worker for four. Newcomers and fools, both of us. On the shore behind us lay tundra, its stiff grasses higher than my head. In front of us, above the riverbank that seemed terrifyingly far away, rose a rectangle of whitewashed planks and roughly framed windows: the Moravian Children’s Home. The small chapel beside it proclaimed the institution’s religious roots. It was to visit the Children’s Home that I was making this crazy-dangerous trek across the not yet wellfrozen Kuskokwim River.
30 The Home occupied an arm of land between two vast rivers, the Kuskokwim and the Kwethluk. Yesterday when our charter plane buzzed the village of Kwethluk, I saw how ice and water dominated this world of thin permafrost whose top layer was tundra grasses, ground vines and occasional trees. The flat surface stretched to the distant horizon. From neither air nor land could I tell one river or clump of grasses from another. Apparently Dinsmore couldn’t either, because this morning it had taken only minutes for us to lose the footpath that led from Kwethluk Village to the Children’s Home 3 miles upriver. Now, after hours of hard walking, we could see the Home. All we had to do was cross over to it. On thin ice. * It was my own fault that I’d agreed to this risk, but inwardly I blamed my employer, Alaska State Welfare. It should have funded a bush plane to fly me the 8 air miles from Bethel to the Children’s Home’s air strip. Four weeks earlier, my first day on the job, I’d met with Greg, the acting director of the Bethel Welfare office. The charismatic Mr. Smith who would change my work and my life waited in the unknowable future more than 8 months away. Greg oriented me by showing me a map. “The Kuskokwim River,” he said, running his finger up a blue line. Further north, the river came close to the Yukon before heading further upward while the Yukon flowed west about 100 miles to the Bering Sea. Greg flattened his palm over the area between the two rivers. “The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Our region. You cover adoptions, foster placements and child abuse cases here in Bethel and the 54 villages along the rivers.” He swept his hand above files and message slips that covered the desk where no trained Child Welfare Worker had sat since 1962. “When you can get to them,” he added. “Right now, we don’t have travel funds.” What? “How do I handle cases if I can’t go to villages?” “Hitch rides with BIA workers. They’re Feds so they have tons of money. They travel all the time, unlike us Welfare peons.” When I asked about on-the-job training for my role, he struggled not to laugh. “You’re on your own. For questions, call Juneau.” He dug through a box of index cards on my desk and pulled one entitled “State Office.”
CIRQUE My brand-new Master’s Degree implied that I was qualified for this job, but my social work courses hadn’t included remote Native Alaskan village life or dangerous hikes to isolated orphanages. So when Dinsmore suggested I join him on a flight to Kwethluk, I’d grabbed the opportunity. One of the many letters tossed onto my desk months before I arrived said, “Come to Kwethluk. The Gilberts starve the baby.” Besides handling that drastic case, I imagined I’d somehow travel the 3 miles upriver to the Moravian Children’s Home. I badly needed to learn about it because Judge Nora Guinn, Bethel’s most powerful authority figure, wanted me to place the three neglected Fox children there. Fearing that such an institution would be harsh and uncaring, I needed to see it for myself before I’d agree to subject children to it. Doing right by the Fox kids was even more important to me now, because I’d failed abysmally to protect the Gilbert baby the day before I took this walk across the ice. * The village health aide, a Yup’ik Eskimo woman perhaps in her late 30’s, had spoken angrily as she took me to the Gilberts. “They are bad people. The poor baby. So small. He don’t get fed enough.” “Let’s not judge them yet,” I suggested, wishing for a neutral translator. How could I conduct a sensitive interview through a person so prejudiced against the family? She directed me to a weather-beaten house on our right and knocked on the door. A middle-aged Eskimo woman, Mrs. Gilbert, opened it. Her eyes jerked between me and the health aide. Trying to present myself as a gentle person not to be feared, I said, “I’m Mrs. Brinck from Welfare. I came because I heard the baby might be sick.” The aide spoke in Yup’ik. I could do no more than hope she was repeating my careful words without throwing in her own remarks. Mouth compressed, Mrs. Gilbert opened the door wider. As I slid through it, she turned and shouted something guttural to the man sitting in a chair across the room, an open space that included the wood stove, kitchen table and a few chairs around the walls. The open kitchen had a 50 gallon water barrel and a small wooden keg of tundra berries. The Formica table was covered with oilcloth on which were a plate of dry fish, dirty coffee
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 mugs, and a crusted can of evaporated milk with two holes punched in the top. The walls were hung with parkas, mukluks, old photographs and a rifle. Two double beds were pushed end to end on one side of the room. On the floor stood a wooden playpen nearly as weathered as the house. In it, on a blanket, lay a lean baby who looked between four and six months old. As I sat in the kitchen chair Mrs. Gilbert had dragged over to me, the man across the room drew his thick brows together. Then he pulled a huge handsaw onto his lap and began rasping a file across the rusty teeth, back and forth, back and forth, his eyes tight with anger. I turned to the health aide. “Please tell them I need to ask about the baby. How old is he?” After she passed on my words in Yup’ik, there was angry talking among the three of them before she turned back to me. “8 months. They say Daniel is fine.” “What else did they say?” “They are mad. They think I tell you to come.” Well, she had; the letter came from her. All the more reason she shouldn’t be the translator. “Has he ever been sick?” More arguing in Yup’ik, then, “No. Never sick.” I had done childcare with babies all through college, but I didn’t consider myself an expert in developmental milestones despite studying them ad nauseum in grad school. Still, I saw that Daniel wasn’t normal. He lay on his side passively, sometimes patting the blanket. I believed an eight month old should sit up, grab anything in sight, crawl and grip the bars of the playpen to try pulling himself to his feet. If he had toys, would Daniel clutch and bang them? He wasn’t playing with his hands or feet or rattling the playpen. Though not fat, neither was he skeletal though he was pale and lethargic and had dark circles under his eyes. “Was he born early?” I asked. “No,” said the aide. “Please ask the mother.” Angry exchange of words. “No.” “What does he eat?” “Milk. Mashed potatoes. Baby food.” I saw no jars of baby food, but perhaps they were stored on a shelf. Villagers didn’t have electricity, so there was no refrigerator. “Do they have food stamps?” This program was brand new in 1968 and hadn’t yet reached all the villages. “Some.” Mrs. Gilbert slapped her thighs, stood and pulled
a plastic baby bottle from the cupboard. Glaring at me, she filled it halfway with water from the barrel and added evaporated milk. After shaking it, she held it out to Daniel, who grabbed it with both hands and put it to his mouth. This was the standard formula in villages, I’d heard. Across the room, Mr. Gilbert still filed the saw’s teeth, his eyes boring into mine. Without breaking visual contact with him, I told the aide, “Please ask if I may take the baby to doctors in Bethel, because he might be sick and not gaining enough weight.” “He will be mad.” “I know, but I have to try to help them and the baby.” The health aide stood and placed the wood chair in front of her. Halfway through her speech, the father bolted up and held the saw upright with its teeth aimed in my direction. This message I understood without a translator. I rose slowly, trying to project calm though my hands were trembling. “I will go now. I may come back with the Trooper.” I’d failed to win the Gilbert’s trust. Worse, it had taken me only 4 weeks to devolve into a despicable social worker who made threats. If only I had more experience, I thought, or at least a bit of guidance from a skilled supervisor! Then I might have known how to persuade the Gilberts to cooperate instead of to chase me away with a rusty saw. * I’d walked from the Gilbert’s home to the BIA teacher Mrs. Bender’s living quarters. There I’d found Dinsmore on the couch, scarfing down chocolate chip cookies and coffee. That evening, Mrs. Bender, a middleaged, stolid woman with home-permed grey curls, served us canned spaghetti and canned green beans. Dinsmore regaled us with tales of his talks with village council members about a BIA grant whose details I didn’t catch. Then Dinsmore slept on the pull-out couch and I got the guest room. BIA teachers housed travelers regularly. The next morning, we asked the way to the Children’s Home. Both of us needed to see it. “You can’t go there.” Mrs. Bender’s attitude conveyed, correctly though with great haughtiness, how ignorant we were about the Bush. “It’s on the other side of the river. This is freeze-up. The ice is still thin. You can’t go by skidoo or ski plane yet. Later when it’s thick, it’ll be a highway. Trucks, skidoos, planes, you name it. Right now
32 it’s a deathtrap.” “Gosh,” I said, “I really need to visit the Home.” No doubt her warnings were correct, but her superior attitude set me off. Looking out the window at the wide, supposedly unfrozen Kuskokwim, I saw an Eskimo man gingerly pick his way across the ice to join other men icefishing from the opposite shore. “We’ll walk!” Dinsmore shouted. “It’s not safe,” Mrs. Benton insisted. “Where’s the trail toward the Home?” Dinsmore demanded. With a vague hand-flap, she said, “Where the houses end. But you can’t cross the ice now.” Sam responded, “Oh, I can tell when ice is solid and when it isn’t.” Misguided loyalty kept me silent. A lifetime of conditioning made me believe men knew what they were doing. Besides, I wanted to go. Following Mrs. Bender’s scant directions, we walked through the village, passing small frame houses, some shack-like, others cheerful in fading blue or green paint. Then we stepped onto a narrow, half-frozen mud path. Freezing grasses enclosed us like walls. Within moments we saw no trail at all. Our untrained eyes couldn’t tell a path from natural spaces between grass stalks. “We’ll have to follow the river,” I said. “It curves so much it’ll double the distance.” “Better than getting lost.” I knew that much. I’d grown up hiking in the Pacific Northwest, while I had the impression Dinsmore’s roots were solidly urban. I knew that if we kept to the river, even if we ended up in the wrong place we could simply follow it back. Still, we must take care. We couldn’t walk the river’s edge because of open spaces between ice and land. Yet staying in the high grasses meant we kept falling into unseen holes. As Dinsmore predicted, the huge river did double back on itself, more than once. The temperature was below 30 but exertion kept us plenty warm. How early would daylight dim? It was only mid-October and we weren’t nearly far enough north to have a winter of 24 hour darkness. Still, we carried no blankets or flashlights though we’d brought a thermos of coffee and a bag of dry fish and fry bread --excellent traditional fare for a hike like this. After an eternity of slogging and stumbling into holes, we rounded a bend and there was the Children’s Home, large and white. And between ourselves and the
CIRQUE Home was the river’s thin sheet of ice. We stepped out. Just after Dinsmore’s adventure with the ice breaking between his feet, a shaft of light broke through the grey sky and struck the Home’s white walls like a heavenly message. As I admired this effect, shouts erupted. “Go back, go back!” I searched the still distant shore. Eskimo men were waving their arms. “Crazy gussaqs! Ice too thin!” “We’re ok,” Dinsmore shouted back. No giant hole had opened beneath him yet, and at 200 pounds, he was 75 pounds heavier than I was. Was it my imagination or did I see tangled weeds swaying in turgid water far beneath my boots? Eskimos in Bethel had told me the Kuskokwim was very deep and that its smooth-appearing surface concealed a swift current. If I fell in, the current would drown me if hypothermia didn’t kill me first. How could the shore still be so far away? I clenched my teeth against their chattering and refused to give way to tears. Shifting light and shadow and the river’s vastness and my own terror drove me to escape inside myself. A well-known 60‘s song entered my mind like a beloved friend. It carried powerful associations -- memories of my exciting year as a VISTA volunteer in the Deep South, and of linking arms with friends in the Civil Rights movement to sing “We Shall Overcome.” The song running through my head while my feet were on the ice matched my current situation: Pete Seeger’s “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.” Jordan River is chilly and cold, hallelujah, Chills the body but not the soul, hallelujah. Jordan River is deep and wide, hallelujah, Milk and honey on the other side, hallelujah. If Dinsmore and I went through the ice we’d die, and I didn’t really believe in Heaven. Finally, finally, we neared the shore. Between ice and land, tiny waves lapped stiff mud. When we’d leapt across the water and half landed, half fallen, onto the bank, we encountered no milk or honey. Instead we faced a tall man with pleasant features: Clarence Henkelman, the Moravian Children’s Home administrator. “My goodness!” he exclaimed, grasping my mittened hand to help me up a short slope. I sensed that his language never got stronger than that. “Mrs. Bender radioed that
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 you were walking here. We’ve been waiting and waiting. Come inside.” We followed him up an incline to the Home and climbed wide wood steps to the large porch. Inside the building, Mr. Henkelman led us to a cozy office opposite the stairway to the children’s sleeping quarters on the second floor. His wife served us tea with warm bread and butter -- not so different from milk and honey after all. They explained that the Home had existed since the early ‘20s, originally as an orphanage for Native children whose families died of TB and flu epidemics. Now the Home Frozen Leaf #1 also served children who were wards of the state due to bad homes or problem behaviors -- like the three children Judge Guinn wanted me to bring to this place. There was a classroom for first grade through eighth. High school age children moved on to one of the BIA boarding schools. Many of the books we saw in the surrounding bookshelves had religious titles. We learned the children ice fished with the adults in winter and helped in the large vegetable garden in summer as well as participating in fish camps. This meant that children at the Home did the same things they’d be doing if they’d remained with their families in villages. It was the custom for villagers to spend summers in fish camps, catching, drying and smoking fish that would be the staple of their diets through the next long winter. Most Yup’ik people I would come to know loved fish camp; they adored fishing, being on the water and staying outside in summer days of almost 24 hours of light. Though the Henkelmans were white and represented a German-Moravian version of conservative Protestant Christianity, the Home’s staff was mostly local Yup’ik people. The children wouldn’t lose links to their own language and culture as much as they would in white foster homes in cities. When we went back outside, children swarmed to stare at the crazy gussaqs stupid enough to walk on thin ice. Mr. and Mrs. Henkelman stood close by. The children, all Yup’ik Eskimos with full cheeks, thick black hair and high energy, talked at once. “Why you go on bad ice?” “Next time take plane! We got landing strip.” Fingers
33 pointed. “You come again soon?” In fact, I would return many times. Mr. and Mrs. Henkelman allowed them time with us before rounding them up with quiet instructions. The gentle way they addressed the children told me they were down to earth and kind. The Home had rules and discipline, it had to with 20 to 40 kids living there, but the Henkelmans conveyed caring and warmth instead of the severe authoritarianism I’d expected. Waving goodbye, Dinsmore and I approached the river, armed with instructions from the Henkelmans on identifying dangerous parts of the ice and how not to get lost on the way Robert Bharda back. “We’ll radio Mrs. Benton,” Mr. Henkelman assured us. “She’ll have people watch for you.” The return hike is lost to memory, though I can still hear the children and fisherman laughing and shouting when we stepped back out on the ice. In a letter to my mother shortly afterwards, I described this adventure, ending with: When we arrived back in Bethel the next day, the whole town knew about it--the teacher in the village had radioed it to the BIA, so all 54 villages and Bethel knew that 2 crazy social workers had crossed the ice before it was thick. I endured taunts and scolding for weeks, but at least I’d discovered that the Henkelmans were good people. I would obey Judge Guinn’s demand to place the Fox children in the Children’s Home. But the ongoing teasing for walking the ice compounded my shame over the Gilbert case. The local public health nurse berated me for not including her in my visit to Daniel Gilbert: “Don’t you know there could be all kinds of reasons he’s not thriving? He could have a heart defect, or maybe they only give him milk when he needs other food.” And the State Trooper refused to force the Gilberts to bring Daniel to the hospital. Though I was learning my new job and its world as fast as I could, my stumbles as a novice child welfare worker hadn’t ended. I was still walking on thin ice.
Once upon a time, I didn’t set my summer clock by the berries. In Nebraska, I judged the pace of summer by corn height and the appearance of gas station farm stands selling tomatoes and sweet corn. After several years in Fairbanks, Alaska, though, when early to mid-July came, I started listening for berry gossip at the grocery store or the library, and I watched for it on Facebook. I waited to pass the first cars pulled over near the roadside blueberry patches, and then a week or two later every summer, I started picking at my spot. I’d lived in Fairbanks for a few summers before I realized berry picking was my kind of thing, and it took years more to find my spots. My oldest son, Elliott, went picking with friends before he was two, before I ever went. I figured it was safe; our friends had picked berries before and lived to tell the tale. Still, I didn’t have a clue how to identify a blueberry or bane berry or poison berry bush from anything else. I tagged along at some point and realized it was obvious. The blueberries were the blueberries; the others were not. The crow berries, a midnight shade of blue, grew mixed in with the blueberries sometimes but, while lacking in taste, they weren’t poisonous. Friends inthe-know passed on the tip and took me to their spots. The blueberries were small and powdery purple, both sweet and sour. It took me awhile to see them, but once they came into focus, their dots spattered the ground in all directions. On Murphy Dome where I picked the most, they grew hanging in clumps behind little leaves low to the ground, most abundant on the south sides of shrubs and small wind-block humps in the ground. At a spire of gray-black climbing rocks jutting twenty feet up from the tundra, along a Murphy Dome ridge line trail we liked to hike, there were berries. We found them out when Silas was still a baby and I took the kids there one summer day. Elliott, five or so at the time, was skipping through the tundra and then he was on his knees in the lichen and moss. “Berries!” He shouted, and then he was shoving them in his mouth before I could do my responsible adult double check. He didn’t need that anyway; he had more experience than me, and a better instinct. They were growing right there under our feet, tucked flat amongst the tundra puff, different than the bushes I was used to
looking for. We’d been walking on them for a while. We all ate blueberries then - me and Elliott, three year old Adelaide and baby Silas, who I took out of his backpack crisscrossing the alpine until we’d filled ourselves up. We went back later with Alex, the four wheeler, and buckets. We collected gallons that day, and had jam for months. Most times, it took a long time to fill a bucket. Hours, really, of picking, were involved. After a while, it became like breathing. Not something I had to think about. Bend, stoop, pick, pick, pick. A handful added a thin layer to the bucket, but the berries so far north were small. A big one was little, by the standards of southern climes. I didn’t hate the drudgery. I loved it. Because down low, up close in the finite, there were berries, and I could make jam with them, and up high, in the infinite, were clouds and thin wisps of wind, fresh air. The intensity of summer sunshine made up for a winter without it. The worries that worried me at home slipped away in the breeze and my bucket slowly filled up. Then, there were the raspberries. Raspberry patches were springing up all around our house and along our road, too. I had to get to the ones in our yard first and alone, and I had to keep their ripeness a secret while I stocked our freezer, or else I had to reach deep into the thorns, bending back branches to get the kids’ unpicked berries. Once they discovered that the berries were ripe, the kids and Chico, our dog, picked the easy to get berries. They stood by the bushes for half an hour or more, picking and eating. Chico even went in for the deep ones. I could have made them fill buckets, but it was a good snack. Berry hunting wasn’t a chore I hated; I didn’t even think of it as a chore. But, those berries also didn’t fill a bucket fast, and my list of things to do was long. It took days of buckets of berries--blueberries from the hills nearby and raspberries from the yard, the road, and the berry farm--before we had enough jam for the year and for gifts, plus enough berries stocked away in the deep freeze for smoothies, pancakes, and muffins. It took at least half a dozen trips to our blueberry spots plus circles around the yard and the neighborhood, at a gallon or more per trip, to stock enough for a winter. My mom wanted to know, one summer when she and my dad came to Fairbanks for a visit, why I didn’t just buy the ten dollar gallon of berries at Fred Meyers. It would have saved so much time. I could still make jam, just without the berry picking. I wouldn’t have to worry about whether we had enough berries for the winter. But. The smell of Labrador Tea didn’t come in those containers, or the spongy pricks of the mosses and lichen, or the
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 pallet of greens and grays, whites, reds and bright pinks lacing low and tight against the brown ground. Neither did the sunshine, or my kids on the tundra tumbling and picking. They’d fill their own buckets when we went for blueberries and came home to mash their own berries. They cooked all their mashed berries together with some sugar, and we’d eat it plain, delicious and tart. And anyway, all that aside, Fred Meyer berries didn’t grow at the top of Murphy Dome, or anywhere near Fairbanks, or Alaska. Who knows how far they’d traveled, or how many different boats and airplanes it took to get them here. The sugar for any jam I made had to come that way; the berries didn’t. I wanted to teach my kids to use local food when they could because Alaska was so far away and required so much shipping. Any little bit of effort was worth it. Plus, berrying together all five of us or me alone or with a friend, I found a mind numbing rhythm. Blue or red became a blanket around me filled with the buzz of bugs. I laid myself flat, face down to uncover more. I’d forget whatever I was thinking. The goal was simple and attainable: a full bucket. That was healthy. So was the sunshine, the air, the togetherness of it. “I like to pick them,” was how I answered my mom. We were never great at communicating. One thing was certain. My kids’ childhood was nothing like my own. Out in the berry patches, my kids pretended to be puppies and owners, and the owner had to feed the puppies berries, and they took turns in the various roles. When they weren’t picking, they climbed the trees around the patches and made forts while I picked. When I was a kid, I climbed trees and played games in the backyard, but wild berries, high alpine and tundra landscapes were not part of my world. When I was young in Nebraska, we drove to a nearby farm to pick strawberries once a year, clambered onto a horse drawn wagon and rode on straw bales out to the rows of berry bushes. We did the same thing to pick out pumpkins in the fall. The closest memory my kids have to that was the raspberry farm, but there was no straw bale wagon. The Reflections in the Lagoon
raspberry bushes were lined up in acre long rows right near the parking lot and across the street from their school. Their berries were as big as strawberries, translucent like rubies, extra sweet, and easy to gather. Still, it was my least favorite place to pick. That was partly because farm berries were pricey, but also because picking berries was the perfect reason to go exploring the Alaskan wilds. That was impossible in Nebraska, where there were no wilds. Exploring the wilds was part of the reason I’d moved to Alaska. When I was trying to discover berry spots, an acquaintance took me to her old secret spot, where she hadn’t been in a couple years. We didn’t have to walk far through a thicket of spindly pokey black spruce before we were on a very wide, very long bulldozed swath of what used to be forest but had become broken trunks and shredded roots sticking up haphazard in matted masses of soil. The season before had been a year of extreme forest fires. Fairbanks had been surrounded on three sides by several million acres of forest fire, so the foresters decided to bulldoze a ring around the city, and we’d found part of it. At the height of the fire danger, the mayor had come on the ten o’clock news to tell Fairbanks’ residents not to worry, because the city would be protected. He turned out to be right, but only because it finally started to rain. The fire ring was a kneejerk reaction to a helpless situation. This swath of it that we came across was at least a hundred yards wide. It stretched in both directions as far
Katherine “Pinky” Bleth
as we could see. We stumbled onto it about a month after it had been bulldozed. Five years later, that spot became my family’s favorite spot to berry pick, more even than the rocks, because when they bulldozed that huge line of fire defense, it regrew in miles and miles of blueberries. The spot was only about ten minutes from our house, though I first learned about it before I knew we’d be living nearby. As the summers went by, my calendars came to revolve around plant schedules as much as they did around teaching and kid activities. First, the radishes, lettuce and the other greens started to produce food. Then, the strawberry patch we planted in our garden made tiny red flavor-punched berries that ripened and got devoured. Then, the wild blueberries appeared, preceded by peas in the garden. Then the wild raspberries ripened. The domestic ones next, along with the carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes – nearly all the garden plants – then, after the first few freezes, the high and low bush cranberries were ripe and the potatoes had to be dug. One night under the midnight sun, I picked a gallon of raspberries in the driveway of an abandoned house on our road. I was on my way home from teaching a night class and I could see the berries from the road, so I pulled over. I sat down in one spot and filled up a third of a gallon bucket without moving; blood red berries bulging ripe hung in fives and tens from sagging branches. Within an hour, my bucket was full. I’d use those berries to make some raspberry jelly: my favorite. A few nights throughout each berry season, I’d stay up late to melt berries with sugar and pectin. I’d sterilize jars, fill them with the hot berry sugar concoction, then run them through a hot water bath to seal the lids. Heavy into each berry season, the plants inevitably began to lace through my vision. Their tiny leaves staccatoed up vines and hid berries in bunches underneath my eyelids and as a glaze in front of everything I saw. The need to pick was incessant. Time ran out quickly in the fall, when the sun started setting earlier, and it never seemed like we had enough in the freezer. The autumn was short as short was. Always, before I was ready, the snow covered the berries. Their design slowly left my vision and I focused on winter things, like wood, and smoothies. Pint by pint, we pulled the berries from our freezer, and jar by jar we spread them on toast until we ran out. Until the next July. Last Light
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Danger Day We met her on Danger Day. A Tuesday. We’d left home on Saturday morning, the tires on the rental crunching the driveway gravel while the kids ran alongside the car and my mom waved from the porch. The first time in ten years. A vacation. An actual, real life, bonafide, just the two of us vacation. Between pregnancies, babies, breastfeeding, and toddlers, vacation wasn’t a word in our vocabulary. And truthfully, even stepping out of those years and well onto the path of homeschooling, one income, and the farm…it could be another ten years. We let the sun melt the frazzle as the ferry took us across the Sound. That night we puffed into the harbor of sleepy little Valdez, as far away as we dared to go to keep our checking account positive and our kids close enough to get us back home in a day should there be an emergency. And it was magic. It rained of course. But we didn’t care. We fought of course. But we didn’t care. Because after we figured out how to just be us again, there was no more of that and a quiet peace settled over our time. The plan was to relax and explore for a couple of days then take the rest of the time to meander back home. I had our stops all mapped out. Except for Tuesday. That was his Danger Day. “I don’t want a plan. I just wanna go with it.” When a true and faithful husband wants a little “danger while his wife is hanging on his arm…you let him go with it.
I smiled at his grin when he pulled us out of the motel, squealing the tires a bit on the Taurus before we put Valdez in the rearview. And I held his hand across the console and flipped on the radio as we dared off into the wilds of not having a plan. To say we didn’t know where we were going is not altogether true. Here in Alaska, between towns, there is literally one road. He had an idea of our destination, but by not telling me, and me not asking or fussing over the details…we were dangerous. We were footloose. Fancy free. Young again and not even thinking about what to make for dinner. Our car could’ve been a cherry red Charger. Or a Harley. Or the big blue Ford pickup he picked me up in on our first date. He opened the sun roof and let his hair blow free over his bald spot. Danger Day wasn’t the destination. Danger Day was the ride. The mountains. The snow on my flip flops at the middle of nowhere pull-out. The waterfalls as tall as a hotel. My babies with their grandma. A clean rental car and sunshine with my love. The first vacation in ten years. We do date nights when we can. And once a year we pay a babysitter for a weekend away to celebrate our marriage. But a whole six days? Never. Be still my matrimonial heart. Five or so hours out, he pulled us into a crossroads gas station. It was like most places in our great state, rugged, homesteady, tough, Alaskan. That’s where we met her. BJ. She rung us up and she looked a little like a mother and a little like an aunt and a little like a longtime friend who comes to visit with your mom on Saturday mornings while you watch Looney Toones and listen in from the other room while they talk and smoke Virginia Slims and drink Tab on ice. Her smile big behind a rugged worry and her brow
38 furrowed in a way that’s seen on the face of folks who’ve worked hard and come by things rough all their life; she shines her eyes at us. They were tired but shining. Her hair looked so pretty in her updo.
CIRQUE hundreds of pictures along the way and when we arrive late we’re treated to a cabin in the woods and a camp shower by the roaring river. She’s not able to take Visa and just shrugs come payment time.
By the looks of her little store, we were the only ones who’d been in for hours.
Happens all the time. She assures me. Just stop back at BJs and leave some cash in an envelope if you want. I’ll pick it up on my next trip in. Or mail me a check when you get back home. Either way.
I wanted to stay all day. I wanted to drink a Tab and even though I quit years ago, I wanted to crack a pack of Slims and sit down with her, just our jelly jars of soda with the ice clinking and an ashtray between us while we start up a game of Yahtzee and sit and visit the afternoon away at her little table behind the counter.
And she hands me a loaf of warm homemade cranberry bread. I’m in rugged heaven and we become fast friends with her and her dog, and enjoy her tour of the little storage shed turned gift shop filled with handmade items. I just keep some here so customers can shop and then of course BJ lets me put some up at the store too.
Instead I browse the shelves of Alaskana and make small talk.
That’s really how it is here in this place we call home.
My dangerous husband perused her display of pamphlets. “We’re thinking of going to the mine” he tells her. So that’s where we’re going on Danger Day. It’s pretty late in the day. You could go halfway in and stay the night with my friend Kay up the road. She’s got a great little B and B. Cabins at the halfway point. I’ll call her and make sure she’s got one open.
I find steaming hot coffee in a thermos on the porch when we wake in the morning and I hug her as we leave, promising to stay in touch. Then we venture forth, my husband and I, him having claimed a second day now for a Danger Day, and me being just fine with that, well rested, heart full, and loving to see him so relaxed and at ease because we’re not on any set schedule.
She pulls out a paper and starts dialing her phone that’s on the wall behind her counter.
Danger Day 2 is spent exploring the mine, dangerously not taking the tour. We venture on our own, enjoying the old quiet of a place steeped in stories and history and age. It’s just enough to explore and find a bit of copper before starting the long trek back.
We keep browsing and she keeps talking and it’s quiet here and her Alaskana is so Alaskan and don’t the most peaceful moments happen when you don’t plan them?
By dinner time we find ourselves back at BJs. Danger Day 2 is wrapping up. We need to be back on the meandering path to home.
She hangs up and it’s all set. We have reservations if we want them. If my tour guide gets really dangerous and we take another route and sleep in the car, fine. But if not, her friend will be looking for us later tonight and if we want it, we’ve got a place to rest. If we do come in, just stop at the main house before we go back to the cabin and her friend said she’ll send some bread with us for a snack and isn’t that the Alaskan way?
But I want to leave money for our stay at Kay’s cabin and tell BJ how right she was. That her friend’s place really is a slice of Alaska heaven. Tell her thank you for sending us. Get another Diet Coke for the last long stretch of the day.
Everywhere, a friend. Full up on danger for the day we mosey in slow and take
My husband finds us a Klondike bar and as he looks around, I visit with BJ and I suddenly have an urge to buy something from this woman who makes me feel like I’m eight again in footie jams, but who also makes me feel like a grown woman…a mother and an auntie and a proof, a womanly proof that we are all connected no matter where we live or what our job is or what our path in life looked
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 like before or where it’s brought us now. My husband finds us a Klondike bar and as he looks around and I visit with BJ and I suddenly have an urge to buy something from this woman who makes me feel like I’m eight again in footie jams, but who also makes me feel like a grown woman…a mother and an auntie and a proof, a womanly proof that we are all connected no matter where we live or what our job is or where our path in life looked like before or where it’s brought us now. She makes beauty in her art and she lines her shelves carefully and it shows the people who grace her store that even though life may be rough and the road may be long and friends might be few and far between, there is beauty, always beauty in this world and it is important to take time to make it. Because sometimes, that’s just what a wanderer’s eyes need to see and what a friend’s heart needs to feel. I pick up one of her birch bark baskets. I decide. I’m going to take it home. I want to have a piece of this place to remind me of BJ and her homey little gas station on this side of the state. Remind me of the smile she offers to the strangers-who-are-not that come into her corner of the world. Alaskan art isn’t cheap but BJ’s got hers priced to sell. Even so, our trip budget is dwindling, and we’ve got one more motel stay before home. I expect my husband to remind me of that when he comes to check on me and sees me standing there with her birch bark basket in my hand. I expect him to tell me that I can get one later. I expect him to remind me that I have several friends who do birch bark art and that I could get something exactly like this one any day of the year. But I say it anyway and I say it soft so she won’t hear. And I say it firm. I want to buy one of BJ’s baskets. I hear what I think he’s thinking in his pause so start
talking fast, low. She makes all this. This is her art. She’s over here in the middle of nowhere. How many people look at her stuff? I want her to know it’s beautiful. That someone thinks it’s wonderful enough to take home. I know what it’s like. When no one sees what you made. She creates this. When you create you just want to put a little piece of yourself into someone’s heart. She works hard on this. I want her to know it’s beautiful. I know we don’t have much money left but I’m buying one. I prepare for his irritation. Except there is none. “Okay.” And he helps me choose one we can afford. It’s a treasure to me before I’ve even reached the cash register. We get ready to check out. He pulls out his wallet and I pull out my hugs and we tell BJ good-bye. Thank you for sending us to the cabins. And thank you for this basket. It will always remind me of this trip. She hugs me tight, smiles that beaming tired smile. I leave my basket and my Diet Coke on the counter, ask BJ if I could use her outhouse before we push on to the next town, tell my husband I’ll meet him back at the car.
40 The sun frisks the horizon and we pull out, a happy sadness filling the car.
CIRQUE I reach in the back seat to find our bag and open it. There, wrapped in tissue and on top of my Diet Coke is the birch bark basket.
When you look for beauty, you’ll find it every time. Except it’s not one I’d chosen. When you set the schedule down, you’ll find yourself doing what you never knew you were missing.
It’s one that’s filled with intricate stitching and elaborate caribou hair tufting.
When you allow yourself a little danger, you’ll find safety in the fun of this life.
It’s one that would’ve taken her a very long time to make.
Telling her goodbye reminds me of all that.
It’s one I’d admired for a long moment at the shop.
I grab my husband’s big hand, smile at the land stretched out before us.
He tells me she’d rung his items up and collected his money. Then she’d gone over to the basket table and placed the one he’d just purchased back on the shelf and replaced it with this one.
I sure liked BJ. He pauses and the road hums under us, no cars to be seen anywhere.
I flipped it over in my hands as my eyes began to water, running my fingers over inches of soft Alaska…the care… the beauty…the love.
“You know babe? I think BJ sure liked you too.” Yeah. Ya know, I’ll probably never see her again. But I feel like I just made a new friend that I’ve known for a long time.
The tears touched the corners of my eyes and rivered over once my hand found the price tag she’d forgotten to take off in her rush.
We’ve not turned the radio on and he’s quiet for another half mile or so.
She’d chosen one for me that cost three times as much as the one we picked to fit our budget.
”I betcha if you look in that bag you’ll see that she feels the same way.”
She’d chosen one for me that was the most expensive on her shelf.
“I think BJ really liked you too honey.” The tears fall down my chin and slide into my lap. And the glow of the midnight sun shined into the rearview and straight through my heart. BJ’s basket sits on the window ledge in my kitchen to remind me. It really is true. Everywhere, a friend. Jim Sweeney
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Cynthia Lee Sims
Let the Dead Bury the Dead
Two funerals in one week. Woke up with this: Let the dead bury the dead. Where is that from? Discovered it was biblical, but it meant the spiritually dead. That’s not what I meant at all. Ruminated in my brain all night. Woke up knowing that I would be attending a funeral today. A funeral I’d wanted nothing to do with. Fold ingredients together. Half-frozen blueberries, smashed bananas, crunched pecans. Rising small loaves to bring to the funeral. Scratched my forehead. All the food that goes into a funeral. Breathe in deep, let out slowly through my mouth. All the people, all the work, all the patterns. Everyone doing the same thing. I can do this. Searched my iPhone for appropriate driving music for the some 50-mile trip. Completed an album: the Cars greatest hits. Circa 1980’s. Drive. “Who’s going to pay attention to your dreams? Who’s going to plug their ears when you scream?” Good bass beat, sad but not maudlin. It’ll do. I clumsily hoisted my 56-pound, 17-year-old dog into the back seat of my Blizzard Pearl, Limited Edition RAV4 rather quickly to avoid dropping his lethargic body. I then tucked him into a too-large white and dark blue fuzzy blanket, folding it around his head and said, “Dere you go, Grandma.” And smiled. Buckled up. Roads are hellish slippery. A light dusting of snow continues to fall, wafting through the air in tiny little flecks. “I think I’m having a heart attack,” he’d said at work, falling sideways against the aisle. The big boss brought him to the hospital. Hundreds of employees but the big boss went. He had the operation but they lost him. That man openly wept in next morning’s meeting. Think about his hair. David’s wavy gray mane with this Karl Marx beard. No one ever had nicer hair. Proof: He had a bit part as a lifeguard in an MTV video, carrying a mermaid while wearing Circa 1980’s gym shorts. That broad smile and that hair. 15 seconds of fame, baby. In a crowded hospital room, his wife has the same tone of light silverish gray hair and is surrounded by church folk at his bedside. “Coworker. Met you a few times,” I told her. “He always spoke so highly of you.”
Though I tried not to, I gazed openly into his expressionless face. So unlike the animated face I saw on the days that our schedules overlapped. Sunken, shadowy. He’d cut me off at the pass, “How’s that daughter of yours? Doing good, yes?” If she wasn’t, I’d say, but, finally, she was. “Yes, and your lovely wife?” “Best thing that ever happened to me. Thank you so much for asking.” Patted my back. His wife quipped: “Must’ve caught him on a good day.” “How is he,” I asked. Numb, knowing. “Oh, honey. He’s gone.” She saw that I already knew. Saw there were no other words. She half hugged me. Always hand in hand those two. Four years married. I’d seen them countless times. Work events, on the sales floor. “He always prayed for me,” I confided in her. I’d never told anyone that fact. Not a secret; just was. Her smile widened and as quickly fell slack. At his funeral, coworkers and church folk packed aisles. I spoke: “He prayed for me, all the time. My father’s suicide. Whether I wanted him to or not. My daughter. Anything.” David had inflicted himself upon our lives. Could hear him aisles away. Others told similar stories: he made a man French toast despite the fact that the man insisted he wasn’t hungry, insisted he didn’t want any. “Now isn’t that the best French toast you’ve ever tasted?” We laughed in that shoulder to shoulder crowd; half of us knew each other. “He’s an angel,” I told my mother. “How could he not be?” “You don’t really believe that do you?” She asked. By my face she knew I did. “Just as long as you know it’s not true.” She added, “Honey, people, humans can’t become Angels.” I smiled, but I knew. In Heaven enjoying the good life? No. He’d be among us still, praying with or for some marginally willing single mother.
And now, the long drive to the funeral for a friend’s wife. These deaths were both unexpected, seemed sudden. Within days of each other. Within a few years of my age. They diagnosed her with panic attacks. She took the meds, but they didn’t stop. What they were: little heart attacks. Diabetes complications. Women get the depression, panic attack diagnosis so often. People I know well had sat with them at the hospital, expecting nothing big. But they all knew that something was just not right. Then, she stopped breathing. My own heart attack in the hospital overnight just before the divorce: Esophageal spasms was the diagnosis. Maybe heartburn, they said. This year, conclusive results: you’ve had a heart attack. We can see it on the MRI. No kidding, I thought. Monster reached into my chest and pulled my heart out while I gasped for air, and it went on for too long. Didn’t seem like a spasm. Or heartburn. Two separate families suffering the loss of people in their 40’s and 50’s. Life is not over at this age, so why these puzzle holes in families? Sunday afternoons should still be spent waking up late lazily, stretching in bed, facing away from one another, backs curving toward one another, small of his back cupping her bottom’s curve. The view is completely encased in white: the road breathes live trailing curls of smoky hair. Shadowy, frosty light snow falls. Each vehicle’s passing is proof of life. Whoosh! Like right after my father’s death. I kept seeing all these babies. A promise that God’s not done. Their first breath foreign in their lungs like dry ice; like cool, wet fog; like smoke. The wail. And now, the whoosh. I felt I didn’t really know him: the grieving husband of this second funeral of the week. Orange Cross
Not in the same sense that I once did. Part of that circle of pre-divorce friends, securely belonging to my foregone marriage. For over a decade, I knew him well. When I saw them in the grocery store every few years, I hugged him, but I don’t spend time with him, with them, and I haven’t been in the same room with them in a long time. That’s why I’d have let the dead bury the dead. People say let the people closer to them go. Silly. She’s dead. He’s alive, like David’s wife. Alive. It is 17° out, and three hang gliders just jumped from a nearby mound of earth. They’re alive. Quite a tall mound, and I’m thinking: how freaking cold is that? And I’m alive, and I’m grateful. “Hey baby, hey baby,” to my old pup on borrowed time in the backseat.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 He looks around, watches me speak aloud into my phone. He knows this the evenness of my words—the crispness of my enunciation. He knows I’m not talking to him and looks away, sighing deeply and placing his head between his whitening Chow red front paws. He is deaf, mostly, but I wonder if the music is too loud. I assume it can’t possibly be. He is blind yet can see shadows, so he looks around, but I know he can’t see the hang gliders; they’re specs on the horizon. It’s 1:30, and the funeral’s at two. I hope I won’t be too late. I don’t think anything of this weeklong break I’m taking from my beloved, my new beloved, relatively new—three months. He’s mentioned marriage maybe two dozen times and I’m thinking, wait. No, it hasn’t even been three months. Pace yourself man, pace yourself. So I put him on pause for a week, asked him if he could consider dating, nothing more just dating me, because although I’m flattered, I’m also more than terrified. I’m the same age as these folks I’m burying today, and I know I would be okay if I stayed alone. Still, I do want more. I look down at the blueberry-banana-pecan, brown sugar loaves—eight of them—that sit on the seat next to me, auburn brown and steaming under plastic wrap still in the pan. I phone my mother; rather, I have Siri do it, and I ask Mom how to get to the funeral place because it’s in the valley, and that’s where she lives, where I used to live. She explains to me: more Palmer than Wasilla, old highway. “Go slow,” she says, “the sign is away from the road; it’s hard to see it coming and easy to pass it by.” I kept her on the phone until I found it. I park, smooth out my black dress with its sheer sleeves, do a mirror check, and rush in, along with two other stragglers at 2:05 to sit next to my daughter and my ex. I’d listen to one of the greatest love stories ever told, not comfortably at first given my present company. The eyes of my ex and my own pushed away from one another with a magnetic repulsion. Cordial. But, still, there was warmth for what we once almost had. We listened to how this couple had made the bed together every night. No matter what. How the blankets went into the air and came down. Sometimes, one of them would say across the room, even in the heat of an argument: “Make bed?” or even just “bed?” The uncertainty of this life and the certainty of death mixed in the air with the smells of homemade food and sudden loss.
A Bowden reader: No one can handle the children
A poet dies and you begin
a frantic search in the obvious places – the bookshelf, the bedside table, under the couch – and then to the bathroom, the office desk, inside the sling bags, the kids’ book bags, the messenger bags, the canvas shopping bags littered along the wall. Did you lend it to a long gone friend? Did you forget it at the office after your job got pulled out from under your feet? Did your ex scavenge it from the milk crate before moving out but not moving on? Scrambling to backtrack where you last saw it, you feel like an imposter tonguing the agitation of forgotten lines, whole passages, even the title of the book, and yet still those words vibrate under your skin – how they paw and whine for attention, how they claw and writhe to get out, those words, so needy now, how they soothe when you finally sense them toying the cartilage behind the breast bone, scorching across swathes of fascia like a savage wind. You sense, but do not see, so you rummage through piles, collections, ridiculous spaces, the kitchen cabinets, under the stack of used CDs, through the wardrobe of junked out tees your need to hold pulp and ink immune to reason. Did one of the children pick it up and pull from its bind its scourge? You can have it delivered in a day from Amazon.com, for fuck’s sake, Murder City, Blue Desert, Dreamland, all paperbacks under 15 bucks on prime. Or just give it a break, it will appear, like the asbestos warning letter caught in a paper clip of bills under the file folder titled, “Stuff.” Empty handed, scanning last places seen, you pause
to begin a Facebook post about what it means to love another human being’s words, to honor them, to call out and salute their fucked up origins, their wayward juxtapositions, their incorrigible order. The car, the shed, the last kid drop – you think where to look what to write how to explain but, come on, this post won’t write itself – and now you see a friend has already shared a link, and the Twitter feed lengthens, and you are no closer to finding it, no closer to exhuming what the borderlands poet said, no closer to touching the rough pages of what he stomached to etch upon your pith: There are five rules I knew to be true: 1) No one can handle the children.
Sheary Clough Suiter
Visions of Wildness Stepping out on the cabin porch to reassure myself that the day-long rain has slackened, either movement or an unfamiliar form in the landscape catches my eye. Fat drops from the saturated boughs of spruce and hemlock plunk erratically on the metal roof over my head as the form turns broadside to reveal the telltale hump of a coastal brown bear. Even without the signature hump I know this one is a brown simply because only brown bears, no blacks, live here on Chichagof Island. That’s true as well for Admiralty and Baranof Islands, the other two of the socalled ABC islands of the Alaska panhandle, that area we
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 call southeastern Alaska, or simply Southeast. The bear paws the ground in the beach fringe of alder. I will figure out later that he is digging northern groundcone, a plant that typically parasitizes roots of the Sitka alder. Apparently bears find the underground portions of this strange looking plant worth the digging. Interspersed among the alder are a few red osier dogwoods and the latter’s bright red leaves stand out on this late September day. A few feet seaward of the bear a distinct boundary between beach rye and alders marks the reach of the highest tides of Tenakee Inlet, one of many fingers of the Pacific Ocean that reach into the Alexander Archipelago. At this moment a lesser high tide laps audibly a few feet beyond the beach rye, adding its voice to that of the erratic raindrops and the lament of a gull. The bear not only seems unaware of me, he seems oblivious to everything other than the ground he is slowly, tentatively it seems, pawing. This is not a frightening experience. If the bear shows any interest in me all I have to do is to slip back in the cabin and bar the door. Watching the bear brings two thoughts to mind. This bear would not be visible in summer with leaves on the alders. How easy to be near a bear you would never see. With a faint chill running up my spine, I also think of the last two nights when after feasting at my neighbor’s cabin I walked back to my own, entering first the beach fringe and then the darker forest with the puniest of flashlights. Edging along and fighting the urge to run like a kid scaring himself, I call out “here, bear, here bear” in what I want to be a clear, but friendly, voice of authority,
45 but which to my ears carries a strong flavor of wishful pleading. The other thought is how insensitive this bear seems to my presence. Within the last hour I have dumped wood on the floor near the woodstove and clattered pots and pans in the sink. But if the bear knows I am here, he doesn’t tip his hand, ah, his paw. I have to assume he knows, but is not worried about me. All of a sudden a report of a high powered rifle echoes across the Inlet. The shot is at least two to three miles away, but it sounds like it’s on the beach. The bear jumps back as if he has touched his nose on something hot. After a moment’s hesitation, he returns his muzzle to the earth. Another boom. The bear steps back and listens. Another boom and that’s one too many. He turns and walks, not runs, within 60 feet of the cabin. Still, there is no sign that he is aware of me. I am struck with the grace and beauty of this dark animal. With purpose, he moves as silently as a shadow over a forest floor littered with branches and trunks of an advanced second growth forest. No twigs are snapped. As he reaches the path by my woodshed, I blink, and he is gone. I move off the porch to get a better angle. Still, I don’t see him. He has gone like a lost thought. The forest remains silent except for the drops from the boughs, but now the forest is strangely empty. I look back at the spot I first saw him, and I almost expect to see him still there. I look to where he disappeared. He has moved through my moment like the shadow of a cloud and has again become the forest.
Kathleen Witkowska Tarr
The Merciful Sea I have a favorite photograph of my father. It’s a small black and white snapshot that came tucked inside his personal effects box the Merchant Marines eventually forwarded. His death was explained as a mysterious accident in Honolulu. Maybe he struck his head on the bar’s hard floor or maybe somebody slammed him into the wall. I’ll never know. His comatose body was transported “stateside” to a military hospital in San Francisco, his favorite port city. My father died at age 46 on January 14, 1973 without a friend or family member by his side. Most of his personal belongings, including his clothes, had either been disposed of or stolen from his ship’s locker upon news of his death. Among his few possessions were a couple of letters I had scribbled to him as a child when he was out in the Pacific, some souvenir foreign coins, miscellaneous government documents, and a few snapshots of my father’s many “Geisha girlfriends,” as my younger brother, Richy, described them: blackhaired women gathered around a table, clinking glasses and puffing cigarettes, their eyes mostly hidden under smudges of thick, dark liner. Weeks had passed before Aunt Sylvia finally tracked us down with the news. My parents had divorced when I was in first grade and we were basically estranged from that side of the family. When the telegram arrived from Pittsburgh, I was a senior in high school living in a crowded apartment above a Laundromat in Redington Beach, Florida with my mother, her third husband, and four siblings. The apartment we were squeezed into was adjacent to a tacky, tourist trap—Tiki Gardens. Tiki Gardens attracted groups of silver-haired men in polyester leisure suits, white belts, and white loafers, and bluehaired women who carried straw tote bags embroidered in parrots and tropical fish. Peacocks often wandered through our parking lot and we could hear recordings of scratchy steel drum music being piped through the palm trees. But in this photograph I like so much—I’m guessing it was taken in 1968-69 somewhere in the Pacific—my father stands on the deck of his latest merchant marine vessel dressed in wide-cut dungarees. A rag hangs from his belt. He’s leaned in close with his fellow seaman, their arms resting around each other. A
cigarette barely touches his lips and dangles from the side of his mouth like a toothpick, the way Dean Martin used to smoke. He wears dog tags, a plain, light-colored, cotton shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbows, and a baseball cap with some kind of military insignia. His face is full of that shit-eating grin—words my mother would use. All through my Pittsburgh childhood, she complained about his cocky attitude, how, one day, his mouth and hot temper would land him in big trouble. Were the other sailors in the photo men like him? Men who didn’t quite fit in—men who knew what they knew not from abstract book knowledge or from acquiring fancy college degrees, but from everyday life, from the direct experience and power of doing. Men who weren’t quite sure what they were cut out for in regular society once World War Two, and the Korean War, where he had also served, were over. The ones who didn’t shove off to college on the G.I. Bill, marry well, and raise their kids in a one-story tract house on a square of solid green grass in suburban utopia. Men, who, like my father, dropped out of high school. Men in desperate need of this second chance in the Merchant Marines, who had packed their duffle bags, left their families and painful past behind, and escaped to the sea. It must have been liberating for him to be in the midst of his fellow seamen, enjoying their camaraderie, as it had been in his younger days in the U.S. Navy, before he was tied down by the drabness of domestic life and the strains of fatherhood. As his merchant ship plied through the waters of Honolulu, Pusan, and Manila in the 1960s, Pittsburgh’s metal skyline, with its steel mills and sludge-filled rivers, faded from view, until it—and we—disappeared from my father’s life altogether. I first saw the Pacific Ocean not from California’s foggy northern coast, or from some trendy Hawaiian resort, but from the isolated beaches of Yakutat, a remote Tlingit Indian village on the North Pacific coast, population 300 in 1978, no roads in or out, then or now, and the place I came to settle shortly after I got to Alaska. I wonder whether we possess some kind of ancestral memories about landscapes we’re linked to through time? Geographic likes and dislikes may be more than an acquired taste. The Tlingits of Yakutat had deep ties to the land that enspirited them: the Tongass National Rain Forest, the island-studded Yakutat Bay, and the fanfare of high coastal mountains with glaciers that
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 spread and rolled like giant bales of cotton batting. For generations, Tlingits have turned to the Pacific, grateful for the bounties of salmon it sent them. At Ocean Cape, where the north Pacific meets the headwaters of Yakutat Bay, I used to spend a lot of time walking the desolate beach looking for glass balls or sitting on a boulder. Sometimes, I rode my ATV over twisted pieces of kelp and piles of large driftwood logs the stormy Pacific tossed over the sand like Tinker Toys. As a newcomer, I wasn’t sure what land I belonged to. I lived with an inner restlessness, a feeling that something was missing, and that I was searching for something I didn’t understand. In his teenage years, my father turned his back at the prospect of carrying a brown lunch pail into the soot and darkness Pennsylvania’s Coal Mine No. 8 six days a week like his immigrant father, grandfather, and uncles had done all their lives. “No way I’m working down those crap holes,” I imagine he told his father, Louie Witkowski, in the middle of one of their often violent confrontations: I’ll get my ass out of this little shit town. You think yunz got something here in this shanty town? There’s a war going on! Uncle Sam will take me to fight the Japs. The Witkowskis had settled in the mining town of Coverdale, Pennsylvania after passing through Ellis Island from Poland in 1913. In those days, coal miners were as expendable as the headlamps on top of their hardhats. Mules were treated better than the miners who were often forced to work in degrading, dangerous conditions in the black underground. The story goes that my Hungarian grandmother Julia Vachie reluctantly signed papers for her only son, Lychie, to join the Navy during what was to be the waning months of World War Two. Lychie (LIE-chee, the Hungarian diminutive for Louis), is the name my father went by all his life. Preparations leading up to America’s involvement in the war, and in the years following, greatly impacted Alaska. In response to the Japanese threats, the U.S. government moved quickly to build military installations, Quonset huts, radar sites, and air fields across the Alaska Territory. Yakutat, a little-known fishing village with a cannery operation, was selected as a strategic military location on the north Gulf of Alaska coast between Cordova and Juneau. Mess halls and barracks and airplane hangars sprung up in the spruce forest. Massive iron canons were positioned along Yakutat’s lonely coast, remnants of
which remain today. The first air field was constructed, leading to a small more modern airport in future decades. The first time my father laid eyes on the Pacific was in San Francisco. He first went there as a scrawny, 145-pound enlisted sailor, reporting for duty aboard his first assigned Navy ship during World War Two. On January 6, 1944, Louis “Lychie” J. Witkowski’s active commission began. Six months later, as the lowestranking enlisted sailor, my father celebrated his 18th birthday among a fleet of battleships on the Pacific. Perhaps, the Navy smoothed out some of Lychie’s reckless behavior—at least that’s what his sisters would remember thirty-two years after his death. Relatives said it was the Navy’s orderly life that helped moderate their brother’s raucous, itinerant ways. The war was good for him, they said. He’d be lost without it—adrift with no sense of purpose and no discipline. Maybe Lychie felt an Old World identity had also peeled off him, as soon as he pinned on his Navy badges and slipped on his bell bottomed pants. One day, when the war was over, Margaret Armstead, a 103-pound, recent vocational school graduate went walking in downtown Pittsburgh. Lychie, age twenty-nine, fell in love with this skinny, pale, brunette, age seventeen, who became my mother three years later. They knew each other for exactly one week when they went to a Justice of the Peace to be married. When I was a grown woman and trying to piece together scant family memories, I badgered my mother with questions about Lychie’s war experiences. “I really can’t remember specifics anymore, except one thing. When we first met, your father told me his ship been caught in a terrible Pacific typhoon. A lot of ships near his were supposedly sunk. Your dad said a lot of guys died, but who knows? Half the time, Lychie just made things up.” “So you think he just invented the typhoon story to make himself look more courageous?” I asked.
“Your father always wanted to sound like he was some big, important hero.” To my mother, a man in a uniform was a man with a steady paycheck, government insurance, a possible way out of her lonely life. He would provide security and stability, and though my father sometimes lost control when he drank too much, just as his own father had done, he promised to look after Margie. From my bedroom at night, I heard their fighting, remember the sound of my mother being pushed against the bedroom walls, how her screaming would send me running and crying while he threatened to knock her around some more. In the early years of their marriage, he used his past military service record in the Navy to transfer into the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves as a Boatswain’s Mate, Second Class in the Great Lakes Region. That’s when I first remember Lychie wearing bell bottom pants. I was only a toddler, but this image of him dressed up in his starched sailor whites is one of my earliest recollections. The uniform covered up the faded tattoos on his arms and made him look bigger than his 5’7” inch frame. He always dressed immaculately, my mother recalled, in black shoes laced and spit-shined, a white sailor’s cap, but with a pack of Lucky Strikes usually clutched in his hand. Years later, while growing up without him, I thought about this bell-bottomed image whenever I saw those old MGM musicals with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as suave sailors singing and dancing their way into a girl’s heart. I watched films like Anchors Aweigh or Follow the Fleet with Fred Astaire. I always thought my father had spunk, a little Frank Sinatra flair. A son and two daughters came quickly after me while my parents lived in the small town of Finleyville south of Pittsburgh. When I was five or six, Lychie worked as a garbage truck driver and my mother as a waitress. One day, I came home from first grade to find our rented house completely emptied, except for a small kitchen table and one chrome-backed chair. My mother gave no explanation, except to say she couldn’t take it
anymore. She piled four kids all under age seven into a Buick and we drove to a rental apartment with one of her divorced girlfriends in the Dormont section of Pittsburgh. My father hung around Finleyville and later took a job driving a cab, but when the opening came up with the merchant marines in the mid-1960s, he grabbed it. This was his big break, the chance he had been waiting for, a way to return to a ship, any ship. To leave the small town of nowhere and go back to the wind-swept Pacific. For the rest of his short life, he never lived permanently on the ground again. The gaps in my memory, and in my father’s story, were too many and too deep, and as a dreamy girl, my mind naturally gravitated to an invented order and narrative. I laid down meaning however I could to help deal with his extended absences. No one explained to me what all those big ships he served on really did. In reality, they were freight handlers for the U.S. military defense bases scattered across the Pacific, in charge of supply chain logistics. But in my young imagination, the merchant fleet wasn’t anything like that at all. I started spinning some damn good yarns. I just knew he was involved in something more adventurous and brave, like all those military heroes I saw in my favorite war movies. I refused to believe he was nothing more than a mundane cargo pusher. What about all those old war flicks with John Wayne, films like Operation Pacific, The Sands of Iwo Jima and The Bridge over the River Kwai? My dad had been in the war, and he was one of the freedom-fighters, one of the good guys. The more I watched these movies, the closer they brought me to him. Whenever one of my father’s postcards came from Okinawa or Seoul, they filled me with dreams of oceanic journeys. Each one planted more curiosity about the world and more restlessness in the inner core of my being. “Hey, let me read them, too!” my little brother
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 Richy hollered. But as a freckle-faced, redheaded 11-year old, I was bossy and stingy with the postcards. I’d snatch them from Richy’s hands. He watched as I held up one of the postcards as it were some precious Asian watercolor. “Look, here’s a picture of a Japanese temple with cherry blossoms,” I explained. “But where is daddy?” Richy asked. “I’m not sure exactly because he’s traveling around the ocean on those big boats.” I proceeded upstairs to the room I shared with my sisters and took out the gray shoe box where I placed the postcards for safekeeping, in chronological order and held together by a gum band. On several postcards he addressed me as ace or kiddo and wrote about how he had been low on funds lately. Mother constantly complained about the postcards because although Lychie remembered ten-cent postcards showing Buddhist temples, he frequently forgot to send the eighty dollars for child support. “He’s spending your food money on his damn Korean girlfriends,” is how she would usually respond in one of her screaming fits. “He thinks he’s something pretty high and mighty over there, a butterfly who can flit around from flower to flower. That, plus all his damn boozing, there’s never enough left. How am I supposed to do all this?” I invented plenty of excuses to explain my family’s fragmented existence: My father lived a seafaring life in the South China Sea. We lived in a back alley of the inner city. To my sixth grade classmates I boasted about my wayfaring father. “Hey Penny, my dad sent me a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.” Later, as a young teen, the mythologizing continued. He couldn’t stick around Pittsburgh because he was helping carry out top-secret missions. That’s why he stayed away so long in places like Sasebo, Japan or Da Nang, Vietnam. That’s why we didn’t get any phone calls. I made several internal vows. For one, I promised I would never allow myself to become a stationary babe. I was a sailor’s daughter, the daughter of a hero, and I wanted to emulate him, however a girl could. I fantasized about my own voyage away from home because so many Pittsburghers, once they had grown roots, those roots pushed down deep and anchored forever in the three rivers and the rolling hills. In sixth grade, I read about Amelia Earhart and Nellie Bly and Marie Curie. We didn’t have to be nurses and
housewives anymore. I pictured myself joining the Armed Forces when I got old enough. At age 19, I took a military aptitude test and mulled over the many possibilities newly open to women, but ultimately I chose college and journalism. By age 23, I left my immediate family and everything I knew to start a new life in a new state— Alaska. And that’s when I fixed my eyes on the Pacific. It wasn’t until 2004 that I finally saw a few of the letters my father had sent home from the ship to his sisters. In one of the notes to Aunt Dorothy, he said he knew he needed to cut back on the drinking. One of his postcards featured a color photograph of the merchant vessel, the USNS General Edwin D. Patrick with this scribbled note: Monday, 6 September 1965
Out At Sea
Hi, Pal. Happy Labor Day to you all. We just left Manila yesterday and I don’t feel like no champ, get the picture. We arrive in Viet-Nam tomorrow, first time the ship has gone there. It’s a little different this time, because I’m a civilian in a combat zone. Tell Frank and the girls hello. See you later I hope. Your brother, L. One week my father’s cargo ship might be in the dangerous Saigon River, and a few weeks later it could be shuttling between Pacific atolls, or straight into the dangerous Saigon River. After living in Alaska for many years, and having two children of my own, I understood why my mother escaped the rust belt landscape for Florida’s Tiki huts and pelicans. Margie never saw much of anywhere, until she got to St. Petersburg’s beaches on her honeymoon with her third husband. She was convinced the Sunshine State had more jobs compared to the depressing North. Besides, she said, Pittsburgh held too many bad memories and reminders about her orphaned childhood and troubled life and weren’t these royal palms, these pink hotels, and these Gulf of Mexico sunsets just beautiful? Pittsburgh at that time was the brunt of endless national jokes—hell with the lid off, as the media described it. Margie saw smoky neighborhood taverns, pizza shops, and once bustling, family-owned, Italian
50 groceries shutting their doors. As the 1970s began, Pittsburgh’s high-producing steel industry was dying out and the whole city seemed like it was choking. She was determined to escape the brown and gray north and migrate south—to the landscape of sun and sand. In Florida, Margie, found her tender blue sky. Before she passed away, I asked my mother to send me whatever old papers she had in storage. She photocopied documents she had in her attic, forms about my father with barely legible dates and military acronyms which I carefully recorded in a notebook. I wrote to the military archives office in Washington, D.C. to try and obtain his official military records. Eight months passed before I received them. But on the day the envelope arrived, I couldn’t bring myself to open it. Maybe Lychie had been booted out of the Navy for bad conduct, or maybe his official record would be full of black-marks and reprimands. The envelope sat on my dining room table for two weeks, until one Friday night all alone and with a glass of red wine, I slowly pulled out the sheets of paper, worried about the embarrassing truths I might find. On one of the forms, under the heading “Service (Vessels & Stations Served On)” I found the name of the U.S.S. Wisconsin. In small print on another official record, I saw that Lychie had received a Victory Medal for the Philippine Liberation, but no one in our family ever remembered hearing him talk about it. The next day, while visiting a bookstore and searching in the military history books, I learned that the U.S.S. Wisconsin was an important battleship which performed distinguished military service in the Pacific: She was first commissioned out of the Philadelphia Naval Yard in 1944 and served America well, along with other famous Iowa-class battleships such as the U.S.S. Missouri and the U.S.S. Iowa. In her World War II configuration, the Wisconsin had a crew of 2,900 men. I turned to a full-page, black and white photo of the ship, the only aerial photo of the U.S.S. Wisconsin featured in the book, shown with this simple caption: At sea off the coast of Japan, 22 August 1945. I shifted the heavy book away from the light’s glare and stared at the sleek monochrome form of the U.S.S Wisconsin. I admired it immediately. The battleship, at 837 feet long, looked imposing, invincible, masculine, and to my eyes, something graceful.
CIRQUE I read further: ….The Wisconsin and the task force moved to Iwo Jima to provide direct support for the landings….When the war ended in September 1945, the Wisconsin docked in Tokyo Bay with a flotilla of other battleships from the United States’ Pacific Fleet for the signing of the armistice treaty. The Wisconsin earned five battle stars in World War II. And this: In 1944, the Wisconsin was caught in a severe typhoon. The U.S. lost three destroyers, all of them capsized and sunk. The Wisconsin proved her mettle and seaworthiness and she escaped the typhoon unscathed. The typhoon he told my mother about had really happened. My hands trembled and the book felt heavier. I pulled up a nearby footstool and wiped away some tears. I read the caption over, again and again, “At sea off the coast of Japan, 22 August 1945.” I realized my father’s dates of service on the Wisconsin matched those dates. When this photo was taken, he was one of the 2,900 men on board at the time and working as a gunner’s mate. The U.S.S. Wisconsin is now permanently berthed in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on the Charles River as a World War Two museum. In late spring of 2005, I traveled to Norfolk, Virginia. I took a camera and a notebook and as soon I arrived, I rushed to the ship’s gift shop to buy a stack of postcards. Most of the afternoon, I paced up and down the deck, snapping souvenir photos, and inspecting the remnants of its once-formidable weapons and armaments. A slight breeze blew in over the Charles River and through my hair. One of the elderly volunteer docents, a military veteran who was probably in his 80s, approached in a friendly way. He wore aviator sunglasses, thick gold rings on his freckled hands, and his dark blue vest was covered over in commemorative pins and ribbons. In his passion for World War Two history, he barely caught his breath as he recited a litany of the most impressive facts about the Wisconsin’s configuration, its tonnage and speed, its wartime battles and honors, the support it provided to the Marines at Iwo Jima. The ship had steamed 105,831 miles across the Pacific. It was re-commissioned during the Korean War and later called to duty in Operation Desert Storm during the Persian Gulf War before it was mothballed. At last, the docent stopped rattling off military statistics and paused long enough to ask me a question. “Well young lady, what exactly brings you here today? Where you from?” I explained that I was from Alaska, and that my
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 father had served in the Pacific Theatre, only I didn’t know much about it. “I have two sons,” I said, “and sadly, they never got to meet their grandfather. I was hoping I could bring back some good war stories, or some photographs. Something to make them proud.” I turned and headed into the direct sunlight down the other side of the deck. I wasn’t sure what else there was for me to do, but I could not bring myself to leave the ship. Had I seen it from every possible angle? Did I need to write down other facts about turrets and beam? The breeze intensified and the gusts of wind felt good. It set me to daydreaming we were at sea, not anchored in the Charles River, that we were out speeding through the vast Pacific blue, the sound of the ship’s wake crashing, the commanding wind whistling through and over the ship’s stainless steel parts, the salt air coating my lips. The docent approached again when he saw me staring into apparent nothingness. “Well, we’re mighty glad you came to admire the ship,” he said with a smile. And as if to offer some solace, he lightly touched my arm. “Here’s something else you might be interested in,” he said. “Her motto was Forward for Freedom.” “Forward for Freedom, it’s a perfect ship’s motto,” I said. “In the Navy’s jargon, all ships are referred to in the feminine,” the docent said. “Take this beauty here, for instance, the U.S.S. Wisconsin. She isn’t mothballed. We like to say she has finally come home to rest.”
Staying Home It is no longer possible to live in Alaska, or anywhere else, and keep out the world. --John Haines
I developed an addiction to the early weeks of the Occupy Wall Street movement the same way that people develop addictions to soap operas and online gambling. My politics became passive, consumptive, consuming. Maybe they always had been. But even viewed from a log cabin in the woods in a season when “going out” could mean a trip to the post office, the stream of online updates from friends and reporters made it possible to feel like I was doing something. All I did, really, was spend a lot of time at my computer, simultaneously feeling an intimate connection to the birth of the real American Revolution, and a distinct sense of being left out. Though few activities appealed to me less than urban camping with a bunch of twentysomething year old men, I considered making a cardboard sign bearing some catchy slogan to summarize my disillusionment and driving to Anchorage to participate in the occupation there. I didn’t, deciding instead that there is a limit to how much money should be spent on fuel in the name of social and economic justice. Then a photo of a woman alone with her dogs, holding a sign reading “Occupy the tundra” went viral, and it became clear that driving wasn’t necessary. That picture gave me permission to be rural and alone in the gray and brown fall and still be part of something. Maybe even doing wasn’t necessary, and showing was enough. Maybe staying home was enough. Staying home is easy in October. Between the short, bright summer and the coming winter, October brings uninviting gray skies and the first sharp, cold winds. Vegetation has shed its fall color but isn’t yet covered in snow. Socially, it’s the month people tend to withdraw after the frenetic summer season and before reemerging into winter activities. Conditions were ripe for an internet addiction. My online political advisors tell me that Facebook is only a communication tool, that real change happens with face to face conversation, when we talk to our friends about it. One night I took a break from October hermitage to have dinner with friends, and I tried, sort of, to talk about
Granite Point Mountain Lodge
the Occupy movement. Three out of the eight people present hadn’t heard of “Occupy Wall Street,” and the one who knew the most, second to me, only knew it because he lives with me. I attempted an inspiring speech, based on various blog entries I’d read, about the importance of participation. I held the interest of one person for about thirty seconds, and then conversation enthusiastically moved on to “things we were afraid would come out of the toilet when we were kids.” Oh well. If I were going to be an effective local spokesperson for a movement I’d only read about, I’d have to admit some things up front. Among those was the fact that, prior to early October 2011, if you’d asked me what city Wall Street was in, I would most likely have said Washington, DC. I remain inexcusably ignorant of North American geography east of the Mississippi. Also, my life has changed remarkably little since or because of the socalled financial crisis. I live comfortably enough in a place where seasonally fluctuating income is common, and am partnered with someone whose stability is a regional abnormality. I’ve avoided most of the generational anxieties that sparked the Occupy movement, having
perpetually low expectations for paid work to result in fulfillment and a resulting contentment with the mosaic of short-term odd jobs that have made up my “career.” And yet, electronic media has this strange way of convincing me that I am or could be a part of something when really, I’m just consuming information, rabidly following one link to another, and the end result is a feeling similar to having just “accidentally” eaten an entire bag of potato chips in 30 minutes: headachy and overwhelmed and mildly ashamed. In the midst of what some labeled the “American Autumn,” Troy Davis was executed in Georgia, after years of effort by activists to overturn a questionable murder charge. In my haze of media consumption, I read an essay by Roxane Gay, who wrote that “ambient intimacy is the connectedness we feel when we participate in social networks…It is comforting to be part of that intimate community, to be reminded—we are alone but we are not.” Yes, I thought, it was indeed comforting to feel that others were as engrossed in the national drama as I was, even as the real world community I was a part of focused
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 on winter travel plans or stockpiling wood, and the other physical realities of preparing for a northern winter. I learned about Davis’ death sitting alone at a government computer in the middle of Denali National Park. It was eleven pm in Georgia, seven in Alaska, and Democracy Now! narrated the execution on Twitter. As Gay wrote, “The fairly closed circle of a Twitter feed can be deceptive…On the day Troy Davis died, most of my friends were sharing their outrage and sorrow. We felt helpless. We were helpless.” I cried at the injustice. I posted a transcript of Davis’ last words with my own network. When I left the office and rejoined the small group gathered in my partner’s summer work home, celebrating the end of summer and friends’ impending moves, I said nothing about Davis. I could come and go from that deceptive circle of outrage and sorrow as I pleased. The office window behind the computer overlooks a wide river valley, and a mountain whose peak was hidden in the clouds. Fall colors had mostly faded to brown, but a few stands of willows in the narrow drainages still held golden leaves. It was dusk, and raining a soft, cold, drizzly rain. When I think now about Troy Davis’ death, I see that mountain, half-hidden by slow-moving clouds, hazy through the rain. I see the braided river, its flow reduced to trickles of clear water as the mountains freeze. So I’m not really thinking about Troy Davis’ death, I’m thinking about reading about Troy Davis’ death. I’m thinking about a mountain that he never saw. I’m thinking about me. I do sometimes miss the actual, social communities that activism, as I experienced it, created. I miss being part of a group of people for whom a belief in the necessity of systematic change is a given, and the discussion was about methodology of change rather than legitimacy of the belief. I started college a year after 9/11, and quickly found my kindreds among the groups of students, professors, Quakers, and anarchist desert rats who spent their evenings discussing boycotts, sit-ins, marches, and sabotage. I met some of my closest friends baking (vegan!) “cookies for social justice,” and for a short time had a boyfriend who read to me from The Communist Manifesto. We made zines and spraypainted stenciled raised fists on sidewalks, and I took to eating cheese in secret, biking to out-of-the-way cafes for cheesecake lest the vegans see me. Maybe I’ve romanticized my memories of public protest the same way I romanticize other city activities, like reading in coffee shops. Now, when I do that I end
53 up wishing for my own mugs, my own music, my own solitude. Sometimes I worry that I’m becoming too much of a curmudgeon for the revolution, and then I search for an article addressing that particular problem. Eventually, even if it’s gray and damp and cold, I stop reading. I drift outside. Even in October, there are so many other things to do at home, like make food, go to work, or don’t go to work, chop wood. Squint into the flat gray sky and watch for the snowflakes that will inevitably fall and transform the landscape. The night my faith in student activism died, five of us cooked vegan adaptations of Russian dishes—borscht, vinegar-soaked potatoes, and dry, salty biscuits—to serve the next evening at a screening of a documentary on the inhumane conditions in Eastern European women’s prisons. I was twenty-one, privileged, and deeply invested in a campaign to bring down Lehman Brothers for their involvement in the Arizona private prison industry as well as underwriting bonds for the state’s universities. Lehman’s demise seemed impossible at the time. Conversation flitted from one cause to another, and someone suggested we lock ourselves to the University administration’s front door in the morning. We’d need bike U-locks, and a message. At the time, the most readily available message related to the connections between the Iraq war and rising tuition costs, which was always a solid fallback, and the cheapest bike locks were sold at Wal-Mart. We cleaned the kitchen, and despite my feeble protests, the five of us piled into one car and set out for the big box store whose practices we regularly spoke out against. “Is giving money to Wal-Mart really the best option?” I asked. One woman sighed, and said, as if we were filming a commercial for the store, “Erica, where else do you think we’re going to get cheap bike locks in the middle of the night?” She had a point. I said I wasn’t going to lock myself up this time. I had my afternoon tutoring job to go to, and then the Russian documentary, and it just wasn’t a good day for me to spend two pointless hours locked to a door. The others bought their ten dollar U-locks. In the morning, I stopped by the administration building on the way to work to see my friends, who were smiling with the locks around their necks. I felt a little left out. In Gioconda Belli’s memoir of her role as a poetrevolutionary in the Nicaraguan Sandinista movement, she wrote of a conversation with a friend who wanted to help
the revolution, but “didn’t understand that much about politics” and expressed concern about the availability of scented soaps, post-revolution. The romance of Belli’s life seduced me: flitting between militant leftist lovers and poets. But I knew, even if her world existed among contemporary first-world undergrads, my role would be that of her distracted friend. I was drawn to the ideals and the spectacle of ideology, but was always one step behind in the conversation, with eyes fixed on some small shiny object in the periphery. Attempting activism was like joining a club, and as with most clubs I couldn’t quite make myself fit in. The identity I constructed felt “too radical” for the student Amnesty International circle, consisting of liberal honors students who wrote letters and talked like lawyers. My refusal to throw rocks at our detractors made me “too moderate” for the anarchist occupiers of a library study room at the Iraq war’s initial outbreak. We conceived of the rock throwing as an alternative to armed resistance, since, as I and others routinely pointed out, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Via late-night consensus meetings, we compromised, agreeing only to gently lob rocks inscribed with ideological messages at the feet of our perceived enemies. Years later, sharing a room with a friend, her amused snort pulled my attention from my own reading. She read to me from her book, in which A.J. Jacobs, a journalist who identifies as a secular Jew, writes about his attempt to live for a year according to the literal rules of the Bible. His plan to “stone adulterers” in a manner that was socially acceptable in 21st century America was remarkably similar to the anarchist stone-rolling we’d devised with such earnest futility. We never did it. We never even collected the rocks. Finals started, the occupation disbanded, and the war continued. I started avoiding meetings and removing myself from email lists. By the time I graduated, I had few remaining ties with the campus radicals. I was also spending a lot more time alone.
in the Arctic in the 1940s. A trapper Murie encountered complained to her that he wasn’t “much of a politician, but that French-Canadian partner of mine is even worse.” He related that “this fall I was trying to tell him some of the news I’d been reading,” and shared bits of electoral trivia, but the apolitical partner responded with frustrating non-sequiturs about the trapping season. Murie, a bit of a politician herself, reflected that “this story reminded us that the afternoon was running along and we had better get on another mile to the place where the unpolitical partner was building a cabin.” I am glad for the trapper that he only had a few newspapers’ worth of information to share with his uninterested audience, whose attentions were so focused on his own tangible worlds. The same impulse that led me to occupy university study rooms in the name of revolution now has me sitting on the board of a local conservation organization. I struggle to stay awake when writing comments on environmental impact statements and attending conference calls on land classification. Add this to my list of confessions: I sometimes find local politics incredibly dull. “Acting locally” can be tedious. It’s easier to feel effective with the “ambient intimacy” of the online world for support. Gary Snyder’s often repeated statement that “the most radical thing you can do is stay home” can be used to justify inaction or ambivalence, as I have certainly done, but it can also mean, as Rebecca Solnit suggests, “living smaller, staying closer, having less—especially for us in the ranks of the privileged.” She says that “perhaps the most radical thing you can do in our time is to start turning over the soil.” Solnit concludes her essay, written in response to Snyder’s quote, with the reminder that “the word radical comes from the Latin word for root.” I first learned this fact in college, when a roommate and her boyfriend made T-shirts with pictures of root vegetables on them, and the etymology of the word “radical.” We were all prone to obsession then.
“Well, you know how your politics go latent here, but I do in fact have them,” an Alaskan friend told me once. But usually, “politics” as we’d both been educated to understand them, were irrelevant in our current lives, where conversation tends to focus on the weather and neighborhood gossip. Her statement, slightly defensive but also conscious of our limiting definitions of politics, reminded me of a passage in Margaret Murie’s account of her travels
I worked one recent summer with a young woman who grew up in Fairbanks. She had just graduated college, and returned to Alaska for the summer. Other coworkers found her bright-eyed Ivy League hippie idealism exhausting and anachronistic, but I found myself wanting to be around it as often as possible, to counter my own budding cynicism with her enthusiasm for applying radical politics to real life. I often invited her over for a glass of wine
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after work. It was a kind of therapy, listening to her use unnecessary academic words like “hegemony” and “praxis” while she sat in my rocking chair, her dog curled up next to the woodstove. I needed her to bring those ideas into my current reality. She echoed Snyder: stay home. But don’t do so passively. She described returning from the East coast to the taiga, and seeing the lines of the spruce against the sky, and the brilliant red of low bush cranberries against pale green lichen. “It just looks right, you know? I have to trust that I know that.” Late that summer, we went berry picking together. Though I have studied the intricate tangle of lichens and mosses, roots and leaves countless times, there is always more to be learned from someone who has spent most of her life with it, whose own roots are intertwined with the taiga’s. My coworker showed me, once again, that roots are complex, and sometimes indistinguishable from stems and leaves and soil. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you know which is which, as long as they are all present. The organizers in faraway cities declared October 15th, 2011 a national day of action. I needed some kind of tangible outlet for all the time I’d spent reading about how to make change, and started with breakfast, and some old cardboard boxes. A few friends gathered, some out of political conviction, some out of a desire for something to do on a Saturday in October. I was not the only one with memories of the paralysis of student activism. We painted signs with locally relevant slogans: a Dall sheep with a raised hoof demanding climate justice, the unofficial name of our neighborhood rendered in recognizable corporate logos, and, for the two dogs in attendance, cardboard signs worn like saddlebags that read “retired sled dogs for justice” and “little dogs for big change.” We photographed ourselves occupying an outhouse, and stood on the highway waving at traffic. Five vehicles passed. The driver of one eighteen wheeler honked his horn, and we cheered with disproportionate enthusiasm. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what happened that day in the rest of the country. I read about it, but our action seemed, just this once, equally important, and offered some kind of catharsis. “That was the best thing I’ve done in a long time,” said one woman, proudly displacing her “be very unafraid” sign to an empty highway. I felt the same way. I stopped trying to read everything posted online about the movement. Soon after that, snow fell. Mike Burwell
POETRY John Baalke
On the Employment of Metaphors
Mud Bay, Morning Sun
Lenticular clouds hover above distant mountains.
Beth Baker Nearby, the bay is placid, a robin sits and sings gloriously atop a beetle-kill spruce. The brown grasses mingle, unkempt, with tundra scrub, and clods of dirt riddle the path’s trodden groove.
Llama You swing your ropy neck toward me in the dark barn, your eyes wild and desperate, brighter than the closest stars. Your bones carve valleys and ridges in your hide, your spine a path I walk with my hands.
Tears slip along crows-feet, plummet from the angle of my jaw. I had imagined it differently, thought there would be more definition, more clarity.
We – so hurried – toss down flakes of grass, already on to the next pen of hungry animals. You – skittish and hare-lipped – who knows what dreadful internal maladies consume you? Then today. Stop. Your neck lists low on the dirty straw. Your legs paddle, your throat undulates with each anguished swallow, your side pitches and rolls, the tilted deck of a sinking ship. I stroke your fur, gentling you, finally seeing you. When the time comes, when we grow tired of watching you die, the talk is of angle and ricochet, deadly pool game. The concern is for us – our still living flesh – not you who are already gone. Your fevered eye watches us from the barn floor. After, I lift you high, I raise you up so coyotes cannot feast. Now your only covering is blue moonlight. Stars swim above the two holes in your head.
Fern frond, bronze brown in late autumn, you curl up, limbs frosted and crisp. High in your bucket bed tonight you sleep Alone, whittled by our eyes – turned away, always turned away.
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Fly Fishing The living flies’ wings blur, bristling naturals, hand-tied artifice, alive. The quiet arcing of my friend’s line. Endless it seems, wavering airborne above her head, lassoing light as the heat rises loopy above the smooth
summer creek, up and down, striking so far from her the trout can’t see
Teeka Anice Ballas
she’s there. Shhhh, don’t let them hear us talking. Wading calf-deep, she never seems to stop
casting, step by step, arm poised yet never still. A moment’s pause for me, tippetless – Come on! She points upstream. You go, I’m fine. Dusk undulates around this bourn, circling damsels, dragons, grasshoppers, black midges, the kingfishers tsk tsk tsk following her steady reach and pull – filaments of chestnut-khaki shadows streak the sky. It’s almost dinner time – let’s call it quits. Bats begin to swoop. A water dipper splashes nearby, steps on a rock, then dives, zigzags, riffles against the current, emerges tail-twitched on the other side. Don’t get your hackles up – now’s our chance to hear the fingerlings sip just-hatched mosquitoes shallow-bound beyond the bead-head princes and gold-ribbed hares, the sound of rolling silvers.
she keeps her tongue in a jar on the shelf above the sink doing dishes she admires its length and width light pink in color the memory of taste lingering on the tip words unspoken still rest on her lips from time to time she yearns to lick them mother said she was destined for greatness, her name alone meant as much later she found it meant nothing just a few syllables thrown together to make a curious sound
transposition Rank cow-parsnip and elder, sharp yarrow and raspberry mix late blossom with setting fruit, brush going to seed under august sun. Sweat drips dusty down skin seeping between breasts, clinging, in this too brief season before ripening and returning night. Haze screens snow peak horizon past the swallow bluff, where the colony flashes metallic on each choral up-wing, backing a lone dragonfly darting iridescent solo: surprising still air as lazy memories flit from that early place known as youth. Peaches coming on in a sultry heat, Redkist and Jerseyglo; monarchs in the milkweed, muddy pink between tilled rows; faint breeze in the green wheat, corn fat on the tall stalk, silk hanging brown; bees busy in morning glory; these tapped breast then prime, shy belly lithe above dusky new pelt, summer reaching long into the nooks and crannies of us.
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The river passes Iguigig A sheet of plate glass Cracked by coarse current and Shifting winds born Over the gulf. It drains the foothills Of water and passes through Lake Illiamna. Silt settles to the bottom, The water strained before it exits, Clear as conscience On its way to Bristol Bay Like water down the throat.
Sheaery Clough Suiter
Bering Island Late in 1741, crew members on Vitus Bering’s Second Kamchatka Expedition were weakened by scurvy and out of fresh water. They were forced ashore before reaching their home port.
1. Ship’s Doctor Steller Strongest twelve called up, we lower the longboat. Row as we can. Surf mutters our dreams aloud. Drown in fresh water. Root to the breast. Mouthful of peach. Fat otters bob beyond the oars, listening. Over the gunnel to push, breakers at the thigh. Dig in. Rasp a groove up the shingle. Blown froth licks at us. Lepekhin wipes his salty face and rages through his exhaustion: could we not have stayed in Russia and found adventure there? Here we will surely die, he spits. Brash gray foxes trot from snowdrifts, their noses raised into the gale. I say, My friend, use your eyes to see. This place has everything we need. We will do well here. Waxell’s boy scoops up cold stones. Waits with one in his fist. 2. Commander Bering
My men shelter me underground in a fox-burrow. Fox driven off, yipping in the dunes. Snow pushed back. My lukewarm body wrapped in a tarpaulin blanket, rough tent over my head, low as a gravestone. Stink of fox in the sand around me. Steller bends close, spoons me weedy broth: warm, thin, harmless. Low questions I’m called to answer. I try. Saint Peter behind me and before me, I whisper to him. Black-gummed joke but still I laugh. Sand thaws and sifts down onto my legs. Weighty. A pouring hourglass. Leave it, I say. My cocoon burden, my captain’s quarters. My last command. I float in the rolling earth, gazing up. Let gray clouds hold a mirror to the sea.
Kindling This is how drought begins. Two trunks too close together, juniper tapping the same source. She cannot pitch a clothesline. The air thins out like the mail. Twelve lilac runts, burlap-balled, teeter around the shack like tallow candles – She waits for seasons to infiltrate like cottonwood dander. Bull snakes camp at the well. She writes letters on papered walls. Bedsprings answer with the lack of urgency. He said he’d come back with the rains, that sharp time of sage blooming from her skirts. She drapes linens on lilac skeletons, her perimeter of surrender – Nothing now but gauze and her need to ignite.
The Pain and Bliss of Hibernation
This light, hanging over the lid of the next storm, is never snuffed. What would the bear imagine if she could wake for a moment from the creep of winter, peer up the hollowed tree trunk, aurora borealis blowing through with a metallic howl – could she sense beyond the dim heat of her body banking around the memory of him, in her? A new animal takes root, colorless claws digging in and ember of heart pivoting towards her weary one – the cold is a welcomed friend, still It has taken all of her strength to find night’s tip-pit. Minute rippling of breath in the portal. As soon as they surface, dreams of meadows un-knit, steam releasing from her pelt like river fog. Days without her pass over, searching, and snow blots the scent of her other children. There is room now only for slow blood eddying towards spring the devouring of light, the next front, the wasting, the giving over.
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Mickey Mantle’s Shower The last night in Dallas we stay on Grapevine Lake, in a cabin once owned by Yankee great Mickey Mantle. We drag the flat screen to the deck, crack beers, pour wine, watch the Cardinals down the Pirates 6-1. Mike Burwell
In the morning, I walk the beach alone, study tunnels crisscrossing the sand like veins in the back of my hand. A blue heron spots me first, powers into flight, legs trailing like memory. My sandals fill with fine, brown sugar.
Port Angeles Jobs Not Parks bark signs along the highway that carries us through Douglas-fir plantations to the seaboard. It is impossible to argue or choose on the wet, winding 101, which relinquishes us as it led us away. Next Harvest: 50 Years. We promise to come back. Logging corporations will outlive us, the cut block outlast us, and maybe the 76 in Forks, the gas station that feeds us. While we wait at this finistère for the ferry, foretokens wash with grey scum onto the beach to yield us time and place. Drizzle falls delicately on Ediz Hook as we hesitate before exchanging one shore for another.
I wash it off in Mickey Mantle’s shower. A mirror like a pitcher’s mitt mounted on the end wall, too high for me to peer in, or I might catch The Last Boy’s reflection, his blond locks, those baby blues.
62 Mike Burwell
Golfing the Bering Sea --for Gary Edwards No swell and sun today as Gary steers the Big Valley northeast through the channel reading the chart and the Daily News simultaneously, instructing us, like all captains before, on the Kodiak stories of the sea, the survival and sure loss that make a fisherman’s life on this island. Stories that send the new ones out looking, make the older ones stay and go again. Gary, our captain, a son of crab’s glory and fall. His wits have him chartering the Big Valley now to oceanographers, scientists studying sea lions and crab and others counting whales. And us looking for a wreck: archaeologists, divers, rapt lovers of what the sea and time have taken back. Gary turns the Big Valley north at Spruce Cape crossing Narrow Strait to the site on Spruce Island: Icon Bay where we search for the Kad’yak an old Russian ship sunk by God they say because the captain would not let the priest make a departing prayer. The swell rises, we anchor, the divers are down. We rock in the Bay’s swell, long breaking waves wrack the shore beneath Father Herman’s chapel lurking back in the spruce. Birds whine and whirl. Gary talks of the Big Valley’s mutiny years before he owned her, shows me the cabin where an anxious crew locked up their captain high on pills and dope after a crazy week wielding his pistol on deck, forcing them to fish without sleep or food, threatening to shoot anyone going for his bunk. They cornered him finally in his fugue, locked him in and sailed for Homer where the Coast Guard and the cops locked him up again.
The divers ascend, arriving with great news: the discovery of the Kad’yak’s rudder. They rest and drink in joy as we steam home to our float and dinner at Dog Bay. Gary’s stories spin on, open out to new territory: “We were working crab a couple of years ago, in the Bering. We were dingie from the work and no sleep. Jeff, the mate, appeared on deck with two golf clubs. He dragged me to the stern and handed me a club--a driver. He’d gotten aboard a bucket of balls somehow. We spent an hour driving those little white balls out, over the 20-foot swells of the Bering Sea. And you know, it felt great, something complete, this satisfying thing happened.” Gary is quiet, peers deep into the mist of the channel, goes below to break out the dinner wine for the divers, talking their stories of deep wrecks and rich, rich history. --The Big Valley sank January 15, 2005. Gary Edwards was never found.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Stranding Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. --Thích Nhât Hanh Your breakwater body shelters against surf, cradles me in the shallows – shuffle of sand and sea, I know your grace. You rest in barnacled skin, your searching eye considers mine; breath, tapered – no words.
Consider one fluked dive into the basin of sky, into the bright path of wedge bird moon.
after a painting by Vaho Muskheli When the God of the ancients said in a psalm, Don’t be afraid of night-wandering vices, this was not what he meant. These vices waste no time wandering. They’re searching, seeking, hunting, endlessly hungry for human souls. This tireless pestilence moves through the air in a boat whose sails are webs, whose body is spikes and horrified ghosts, and death sits hooded at the helm, this boat sniffs its unseeing way through the dark wood, where the way is lost in the dark wake of marble-eyed beasts, and the soundless owl is fixed to a branch, unable to move or close his eyes. Night-Wandering Vices
Full Moon has spilled from iced curves, thermostat busted, house chilled. In warm sleep you spoon my scrawny shank, I know your perfect fire. So long ago your heat consumed me, illumined years, their nights still clanking.
Barrier Islands, Alaska
From the triangular skylight and across our hips, overlapped beneath the roiling quilt, drops a folded napkin of moon.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Across the Border
After Jack’s Funeral --for Carol Third potlatch this month. First it was Robert’s sister, Allison. Then Percy. Now Percy’s son, Jack. Everyone knew Allison was about to go. She walked under a shadow and her old man knocked her in the head every time he drank straight whiskey. The knocks had grown more frequent as winter settled over the river. Old man Percy slept with his money in his underwear. He did not trust anyone. His wife losing her mind. The boys pickling theirs. By the time they shoveled the dirt over his coffin, all the gifts lost or ruined, Jack was dead drunk. Found him on his mother’s steps. Tried to perform mouth to mouth but his breath was gone. Nothing to do now. Gather the cousins, the brothers, the gloves handed out to carry the coffins. Stack the food on the tables. Beat drums and let the old men dance until the building shakes. Last week this happened. After the funeral. A shift in the tectonic plates up by Skwentna. We hunched under the tables. The building continued to shake. We held the children. Thought of nothing. Waited only for the earth to stop.
PlitviÄ?ka Lakes, Croatia I do not talk to anyone in this land of falling lakes, azure waterfalls. Narrow boardwalks, wood slats nailed down uneven and loose along the miles of trail. An old man falls at my feet and I hold out my hand to lift him up. This picture etched in the warm afternoon light. On the path, in the heat, sweat pools on the bridge of my nose. I do not swim in the forbidden waters. I lose sight of a flock of ducks launched out of the shallows over the bowed head of the fallen man resting where
emerald fish dart in plain view sudden splash, two stones pitched by invisible hands
At Villa Katja a woman told me where to walk. Here, she said, you will stroll in the shadows. I follow the path hidden from an ordinary day overrun with brick and mortar, buildings pockmarked by machine gun fire and tank blasts. Above the limestone waterfalls
sky the color of sapphire leaves burned by sun, in shadows the dark evening song
Under the walkways, under my feet, karst rivers drain into the limestone, water the trees, the somber travelers. Out of sight, bear, wolves, and lynx prowl. When water reaches hard rock, rivers emerge on the surface. In the heat, I lift my face to the sky, to shadows of fallen water
reflection of tree branch, dried grasses, a bird wing sinking deep in still green pools
late afternoon liturgy chants roll off the wing a voice, once silent rises
--for John Bird, inventor, astronomer, mathematician, 1757
Stand at the rail, lift mystery to eye (you only need one to calculate latitude), fix sun at solar noon, Polaris at apex, or use the moon. Dance with her on a darkening sea. You will know where you stand as you float. How many fathoms lie beneath your feet? The watch you started will indeed end. Salt air dries in your nostrils. The ship’s bell rings once, twice, eight times; rolls over waves, across lines of demarcation. We engrave our names on iron gongs. There is irony in yours, Bird – you who gifted navigated flight to those who can’t sense it internally, so we might find our mathematic, feathered way. Wings spread, we hold course within an oak and brass instrument. Adjust for error, for the height of eye above sea level. Or was it heart? Be sure to add the distance from surface to the deck – include thickness of your boots. Pluck a star from the sky. Place it on mirrored horizon, day or night, you will know where you are in time, while the rest of us are left with only enough angle to see water.
John Haines’ Shoes Nobody can fill John’s shoes Best not to try Walk your own way Wherever they take you The poems they abide In you Flow through the pen Whether in the woods The Homestead or your head Make tea on the old stove Have coffee and cookies with your friends The poems They will come As the Magpies do On wing unexpected A flutter and flash Of black and white If once one winter You fed them
Ginsberg at The Grey How belly they aged your friends, how hard the young years, every look, an eye for an eye, rapscallions when this country had corners rounded to secret, sweet places unfound by blab and tweet. In that famous photo, which stood over my desk so many years, I regard the defiant penis on Gregory and you, but here, in the Grey Gallery, I see I missed the smile hidden in the cross hairs. In ten years you all go from men so sleek and lovely you’re as lickable as the skin of a 1956 El Dorado to, you think, old fucks so shriven and used, you’re as despicable as a map destroyed by needle tracks. Later, it seems you took pictures of the miraculous every day the shocking verdant vacant, outside a window and tried to believe “things are symbols of themselves.” But you were my symbol when we met. I wore my heart on my silver pant leg which you fingered, saying “They let kids wear this to high school?” We were on the corner of Telephone and Telephone; that night at the Neighbors of Woodcraft, my lame pants jangled to your terrible voice and your beautiful tambourine until I fled, complete. Is it better to throw ten wild ones to the wind and get back twenty of pain and misery? is a question I ask myself as we both walk the mandala, passing out the door of the exhibit, you ever the giddy teen girl, me, always with a wild old man in my heart, to the young boys strolling NYU and fall to our knees before them mouth on the first of ten thousand bows.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Boreal Spoons Today I think of carved spoons. I think of blocks of wood cut from logs, split and stacked. I think of shape, balance and decoration, sharp tools, chips and shavings I would like to carve three spoons out of birch. Wood that has been carved around the world in the boreal forest for spoons. Blond, simple, serviceable spoons
A wood that has heated moose, reindeer, bear meat or salmon for soups, stews and chowders, or sourdough pancakes, or biscuits.
Soup is one of the gestures of love that the experts have missed, but surely on cold evenings, when things arenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t working well, a good soup
Birch trees have bark that makes the best tinder which bursts easily into flame, and Bohemian waxwings flock after its seeds on the snow at the end of winter.
is nearly love itself. So one spoon for the caldron, the stew, soup or chowder. A spoon for you, a spoon for me.
Hewing the spoons out of birch blocks with hatchet, and bow saw working at my chopping block. Chips, splinters, knife shavings land nearby, kindling for bonfire or stove.
Your spoon then will be light, nearly delicate, good for soup porridge or berries. A delicate bend to the handle, chip-carved Viking style, and a fine bowl.
The first spoon will be larger than a table spoon with a long, curved handle suitable for stirring a pot, and quickly filling a soup dish in three scoops, a spoon peasants have carved for so many years no one can count them.
My spoon will be plain and sturdy, bent handle and larger bowl, good for stews and chowders. Something useful for me while I admire you across the table.
Carved for the minder of the pot, carved perhaps to make a womanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s eyes sparkle, a gesture of long friendship or a new beginning to remember.
You are smiling at me there, and as long as I can see that, smiling back spoon in hand, I, a simple man, feel fortunate and safe at home.
Dancing from Warsaw to Vilna in Black and White 1. Witness
The sun today is a drooping eye its lid lifting over the horizon and then, in early afternoon drowsily closing again. The December stillness like an old monk resting heavy against the sliding door, and sighing crystals onto the glass. I read Transtromer’s poetry by dim lamp. A psychologist poet from Stockholm, one cure for this Fairbanks winter. I have never been to Sweden, but reading his words I think, this is a place I know meaning not only the darkness of days or the subdued sketches of forest snow at the town’s edge, but also those glimpses when the interior view adjusts to the psyche’s shadow, stirring.
Ada Acker slid through my childhood two-wheeling on icy cobblestone her ghost strolls through my night sipping Polish cocoa, breathing passwords to all the little locks In 1943, she outran the killers the rooms and the gardens pulled her tightly as if to say “she’s one of us” when blinking at the sea from the cliff she thought of the chipped blue teacup left on the bench and leaped I return to Warsaw there she moans as wind aching through walls calling to the other broken vessels of first light vanished to the center of my skull behind the One Great Eye, 2. The girl drags a trunk to the train a flight of words, whispers in the station café he touches her breast through wool she gives him her eyes it’s rainy but the butter sweet one hundred kilometers underground, red-hot magma flow loosening cobblestones by the booksellers market breaking the walls that border the park vows are always made at times like these, 3. The war began when I was five I had barely learned to talk in rhyme “We are here; we are here” was a ditty from those days sung with pistol in hand1 and Marysia, nightingale of Leszno Street, shone like a meteor with special light I’m herding tired people now to the elevator to a room where they’ll be safe then I drop into a hole and am no more all those I knew have passed with a shrug to the center of my skull behind the One Great Eye.
Burden of Sight
1 reference to ‘Zog nit keynmol az du geyst dem letstn veg’ (Never say that you are walking the final road), also known as ‘The Partisans’ Song’, is perhaps the best-known of the Yiddish songs created during the Holocaust. It was written in 1943 by the young Vilna poet Hirsh Glik, and based on a pre-existing melody by the Soviet-Jewish composer Dimitri Pokrass. Inspired by the news of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the song was adopted as the official anthem of the Vilna partisans;
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
translated by Svaja Worthington
On the table- white plates, bread and yellow apples. And summer--beyond the fifth floor open window. The thunder and rain have quieted. And the sun scrawled round again... And the woman approaches the square--light-haired and tall. Cascading gables wink at her. The holiday photos are ready-by warm palms immured in the spaces of noisy, breathing streets-and the window, calling pigeons and sparrows from towers, with bread crumbs, rising like a high note through ghetto fires, requiem and ashes...
Muziejaus Gatvė Ant stalo- baltos lėkštės, duona ir geltoni obuoliai. Ir vasara--už pradaryto lango penktame aukšte. Nutilo griausmas ir lietus. Ir saulė brėžias apvaliai... Ir moteris artėja aikšte--šviesiaplaukė ir aukšta. Jai blyksteli stogu kaskados. Šventės nuotraukos jau gatavos-šiltais delnais įmūrytos erdvėj triukšmingo, alsios gatvės-ir langas, šaukantis iš bokštų balandzius ir žvirblius, duona penimus, iškilęs kaip aukšta gaida pro geto ugnį, rekviem ir pelenus...
(translated by Svaja Worthington)
A memorial plaque for those who were shot by the big corner building- at the streets’ crossing. Serenity Kalani Woodlock Melted red candles. And a wreath of frozen dusty asters. I hasten my steps. But somehow want to return and stand there and lick from my lips the sunny and sharp wind. Here lie the shadows of the shot like a huge high barricade. The crumbling town a spectre through the fog like an x-ray photo, rustlings of dried vines, snatches of Chopin waltzes... And a feverish silence distances the arrests and interrogations. Throngs of numbed passersby... The cemeteries are on the maps. Paminklinė lenta sušaudytiems glances brood-- . prie didelio kampinio pastato-...And here of a different flavor taste the clouds, water and food. ant gatvių kryžiaus. Aptirpusios raudnonos žvakės. Ir vainikas iš sušalusių dulkėtų astrų. Paspartinu žingsnius. Bet noris pastovėti atsigrįžus ir nulaižyt nuo lūpų vėją, saulėtą ir aštrų. Čia sugula sušaudytu šešėliai lyg didžiulės aukštos barikados. Sugriautas miestas pro rūkus vaidenasi rentgeno nuotraukom, sausų vijoklių šnaresių, Šopeno valsų nuotrupom… Ir karštligiška tyluma nutolsta tardymai ir kratos. Sustingusių praeivių minios… Kapinės žemėlapiuose. Žvilgsniuos--maištas. …Ir kitą skonį čia įgyja debesys, vanduo ir maistas.
Frozen Leaf #16
Leslie Fried’s poem and the two Judita Vaičiūnaitė translations by Svaja Worthington were presented at the University of Alaska Anchorage Campus Bookstore event “Cultural Roots of Lithuanian and Jewish History” on February 3, 2015.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Anchorage Reflection #1 There’s gum on the stones of the Vatican and in St. Peter’s Basilica a guide exhorts, “The pictures online are better than you could take. So don’t. Just be here.” I moved among tourists with my camera now feeling stupid and a bit empty. I imagined hanging from the ceiling. Even the canopy over the altar would be enough of a fall to kill me. Then a two-day train to Interlaken where I fled a bratwurst shop after handing back a bottled Coke, my American, cow-eyed ignorance of the German for: NO CREDIT CARDS. I then hiked a trail to an alpine church that was (oh no) full of mourners who looked at my backpack and sighed. In Notre Dame, a newly-made friend dropped euros into metal boxes placed in front of suffering saints while I slept on a wooden folding chair. Baroque hymns echoed, bounced about from a stereo in the souvenir shop. He touched me lightly on the shoulder: “I couldn’t tell if you were praying.” On a Sunday morning in February I saw 250 miles in the distance the summit of Denali alight, red as a descending tongue, solitary and pointed like flames striking out high and hanging lonely above the mountain’s body enveloped in a chasuble of fog. I’ve read a new scripture of cycling wonders (plotted then slashed in a spruce tree’s blighted breast) that says we’ve chased God into language, the last mystery left. Let me be His prophet.
Sevenling Bad things come in threes, or so they say. Debt, betrayal, embezzlement of time. Who counts the good— marathon win, one faithful friend, small bursts of love on the tongue? The sun hasn’t burnt out yet.
Outside EZ Loader 1966 Night shift is over. God must be muscled, like us, all those nuts on flanges. Sure there’s a few that fall, obviously not factory warranty. Who said he doesn’t make junk? We choke on our own welding ether. God’s factory without steeples was sure popping his first week, Most everything does seem screwed true and tight. God, the best bolt fastener, we add to his 5-sided, star-flecked bucket of nuts. No wonder he took a day off, twisted on 4-sided, 5-sided, chrome-light, chrome-like stars. This guy made the midnight shift glow. Hard not to brag, write his book, what a guy.
Robert Davis Hoffmann
Village Boy He was village boy. Years later he’s village boy. Keex kwaan. Kake people. Aa.á. Didn’t talk much then. Still doesn’t. His high school year, they moved to the city. He was dumb in school. Dumb village boy! Oh, he was so ashamed... Ashamed of who he was, where he was from. There were names for people like him. He made himself thin, missing everyone between classes. I studied him like a foreign language. waiting all day for the end of the day when Carving came.
At the end of day is when I saw village boy’s designs, when he finally took out his hands. “Killer whales.” he told me, making his arm a fin slicing waves. Carving Teacher went to school with Charlie Pride. He was really shop teacher, no Native teachers then. Carving Teacher drops his jaw: “By golly, sure looks like Kwak-tootle art, there Bob!” Village boy’s head turns, “You talk funny. And I can’t carve.” Carving came to them, like it had to, both of them. It fixed everything. Kept him from slipping. They put together the first bentwood box with dovetail joints. Pretty good! How the carvings made his designs swim! School dismissed. Village Boy went home. He finally went home. Village Boy said goodbye. Carving Teacher said thank you. The way this story goes, decades later Village Boy sits with Carving Teacher’s grandson. Shows Grandson his cuts. Now Village Boy’s eyes flood with thank you when Grandson leaves. The things we need come when we need them most. If you took away our knives, our hands would be just fists.
every rock every rock remembers the day I was born. remembers the afternoon you learned to walk. not even the slightest wingbeat of a moth as sunlight lifts early morning dew escapes their notice. they witness and regard all life with the tenderness of a grandparent gazing on the new: eyes that see far beyond anything words could convey and yet yearn, regardless, for the happiness of the child. i know this is so. but i don’t know what rocks make of it. my life, yours, they seem content with how we’ve turned out but when asked if we’re doing what we were put here for, they are silent. i press both palms hard against their solid coolness, and all they say is, Do not think too much of your life. then like an echo off granite cliffs once covered in ice I hear, Do not think too much of all life. it is a sweet interlude in the turbulence. we will be missed.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
the warm dark we walk the blackened road while sounds in the woods call to us in their strange night language (clack and croak clatter and murmur and sing sounds we don’t know, and it’s the not-knowing that soothes. we meander, only stars lighting our way, white yellow glimmer of Orion and the Milky Way vast wheel of countless stars so near our own. i feel closest to you here, this warm dark familiar in our childhood but now where i live so far north as unknown as these sounds in the night. (when it is warm there is no dark when dark, no warmth. my skirt swings soft against bare legs, wavering quiet -with sight shut low the other senses rise. i miss this, standing idly gazing up only barely hoping for a shooting star. i can’t tell anyone, not the least our grieving mother, that i feel closer to you now than when you were alive. that in death, my brother, you walk with me, the breeze your hand and we are ten and eight, gathering neighbors for a game of kick the can – the scuffling feet, scurrying to hide, the count, the call, the search. never was I afraid when you were somewhere in that dark. never did I give up my hiding spot. it was you gave me courage to make that dash for the can, you when our mother refused to see me. (night walks the times I felt safe near her. by your life, your own bright dash to it – little brother my star.
Hibernation 3 a.m., his cold forehead slick beneath your fingers. You tuck his toes under the thin blanket and walk into the blinding white hall. Silence echoes off the sterile wall you lean on. Driving home you almost hit a man wearing black, jogging down the centre line. You phone your friend, his wife has changed the message. Uncertain if he’s sleeping in the basement, you hang up and close your eyes against the morning light. A small brown animal curls up inside your chest and settles in. People say, he’s on the other side, he waited for you, he knew you were there. You stop talking. You read about loneliness: the increased risk for heart attack, stroke, early death, especially for women. Your acupuncturist says your face has changed You peer into passing mirrors hoping to recognize yourself. Everyone has a remedy – prayer, meditation, Luvox. You lie on your yoga mat and weep. The teacher says your hips are releasing. It starts when a small brown animal crawls into your chest. When spring comes you’ve forgotten how to ask it to leave.
No Bridge to Somewhere The road ends where the bridge would have been if the money had come. If the money had come, we would have crossed over and gone somewhere else. Gone somewhere past the gap in the road, the bank where we fish. We stretch out our nets. The river is swift. It eats at the bank. The gap grows wider. Somewhere ebbs farther. The money wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t come. We cut and smoke fish. Sun warms the bank. Home is still here.
a shadow is made up of things like heady days of trying to hold this period the blossom
when it reaches the floor
Circumference To call myself beloved and to feel myself beloved on the earth. --Raymond Carver The snow didn’t stop but fell three days, relentless/slow, like salt from a shaker, shaken. Until we were enclosed within the windows blank, like blankets, braced with books and language – his folder marked “New Poems.” And, we three, uncommon cousins, bled sea tales, past submissions, salted, served with ruby wine and winter’s soft extravagance. --For Michael and Kathleen
Eric le Fatte
Cairn An eye will find what does not belong. In a chaos of talus, as unplanned as a rubble of incomplete thoughts, it will pick out the boulder with the imagined face, or the occasional rock that is calcium white. It will be drawn to the small tower of stones, balanced simply against entropy, stone upon stone upon stone, almost as though such a cairn might possess the power of speech; not to declare this is the way, but that someone before has come this way.
They were on a road east of Orchard, riding double on a chestnut mare. Approaching from behind, I saw him first. His cocksure carriage, strong right-angled back, hid a softer, smaller female frame. A squarish haircut and his simple clothes declared the boundaries of his Amish ways. Her tank top showed a lot of youthful skin that clearly said she had a different path. Reins in hand, she wore the young man’s hat. In the awesome math of love two worlds are one.
Sandra Kleven Poem
Character of Place I.
Sheary Clough Suiter
House on Helluva Street Call it right. Peter’s Creek’s a river where big rocks roll and root balls gouge banks over-hung hollow. Log jams buck and bend the bull of the current like bones choking a throat. Run off melt, glacier break, summer soaker, some floods will take your home.
You want a clean run that lets you sleep. After weeks of work in knee high rapids running gray in rock flower, with chainsaw and chest waders, you clear the channel. You stagger with rock after rock in your arms deflecting current with berms that won’t let the stream eat your acres. Woman and dog gone, you clean house. You drop the rock in your arms. You list your chores: get out of bed, clean equipment, dry tents and tarps, organize stuff for taxes, clean fridge, organize cupboards, make the bed. In drawers spoons full of spoons are satisfied, They call you a shadow name on location where you shoot. Racing the rain, light in the lens, spray in the boat, the story tells of elders and seals, reflections of place and ice, inch worm on a branch, a clip of water poured from a boot. Who we are and the earth around us speak in seasons. Recycled salmon come home to rapids in Peter’s Creek the river. The heart breaks and pumps again. Here’s your mother’s stew to heat and keep you going. I only came to see your work and the river run.
I read how each restaurant in one portside town showcases “Jaws” memorabilia and here a Pulaski at our local museum a binder of articles about “Dante’s Peak” tragedy fictionalized replayed nostalgic for the days of the Big Burn is what we are best known for and is what they will take home II. bodies may be burned the lost mourned properly by now buildings are replaced— not rebuilt but better in post-earthquake Edo namazu-e the catfish God is depicted with golden coins—a symbol of wealth redistributed a blessing this time of change earthquakes seem to come with a new season but history is a feeling that never shakes… even with dust-free new homes and clean streets the memory looms this calm—this spring—this is earthquake weather
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Nancy Carol Moody
Controlled Flight into Terrain The mountain, obscured by cloud. It stood here all this time, waiting, as it was bound to wait. We were intractable, too: to believe in a cloud’s other side was to believe in more cloud.
Like a River Flows, Surely
How easy it seemed, the reaching up, altering the flow of chilling air. A fingertip could snuff the light’s tight beam. Instrumentation, we thought, was overrated; pressurization, a roar we willingly slipped into. Cloud has a way of moving up and around a thing, the thinnest scrim covering its tracks: there are some who would call this faith. When we hit, we still could not see through it.
Fields of mint, vanilla pines, honeyed scent of nectarines gilding the breeze, low sun pulling the clouds to orange taffy—evening so sweet we could taste it on our skin— and up on the stage, spinning yarns and tunes, the rumpled gentleman in his seersucker suit, the fiddler girl in her blue fan skirt, hourglass jacket, rosettes like gold cupcakes on the tops of her shoes. Cello, harmonica. Mandolin plinking like ice cubes into tea, the piano floating its ribbons through the air . . . then one, then another, then another and another—voices like votives lighting in the risers, and though you hadn’t sung a note in over thirty years, I watched your lips move in the caramel light. The storyteller knows how it all turns out: afterward, alone, at home in our loft, moons of autumn apples, a soft cheese, sparkle of blush in glasses at bedside, all the old deliciousness.
Sheary Clough Suiter
CIRQUE with a squall on its way
maybe we should go back inside and wait this thing out
was it the year of the warts or the year of the rash?
have a bowl of that famous chowder and finish watching the game
when the IRS sent me that letter and you had the brace removed?
before itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s called off
remember? remember that little town on the north shore we got really drunk under the marlin with the paint peeling off it it was only not even a month but seemed like forever my nasty old toyota again refused to start that horrible brown cracked vinyl dashboard fuses mints a texaco map falling apart we sat there and talked about how miraculous it all was to be not dead yet and still almost young you told me about summer camp and how since we met youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re always late for work I told you everything I know about lightning
seagulls broadcast the plight of lonely electrons seeking a positive charge ominous clouds made funny faces we sat there in our tin pod anticipating the classic pitter-patter you behind the wheel me playing with the knobs the radio drifted from montovani to the rolling stones circa goats head soup the sky turned a dirty pink a dead leaf smell poured up from the heater vents static ozone and fat raindrops all came at once smashing down clear syrup on melting glass our days and nights were unexpectedly close blurred by the weather inside our clothes insulated from a past that ceased to exist
herman melville and a row boat from a long time ago
and a future that suddenly mattered
then that old guy from the bar whacked the hood and gave us a jump
kissing chrysanthemums and dentine
doubled over laughing and coughing and stomping the gravel
bar neon advertising places I hadnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t yet been entangled in the insurmountable density
his plastic leg slipping from his pants shoe and all
water falling from a loud metal sky already beginning to wash you away
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
How Our Lives Become Opera Be patient! The rain is taking piano lessons. You know how messy that can beâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; tantrums and floodsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; wild percussion from a back room spilling out in a river of stones. When small moments of silence come, we gather up broken notes, picking through pebbles, surmounting boulders, composing a path through the valley of song.
Statehood Our principal at Denali says an important meeting is going on up at the college. “It’s a convention,” he announces, “men are here from all over the territory.” My fifth grade teacher says they need to make an agreement before Alaska can become a state. She calls it a constitution. On the bus home, I sit next to Roxanne. Roxanne has a long black braid and is the smartest one in class. She lives on a homestead at the end of a road named after her family. “My dad is for Statehood,” she tells me, “he says its progress.” I get off the bus at our country store and tell my dad what the teacher said. His face gets red and he hits his fist on the kitchen table. “Then the goddamn crooks will be in charge,” he shouts. My mom comes up the stairs. She looks over the top of her glasses. “Toilet’s overflowed in cabin five,” she says. They both look at me. I run down the stairs, grab a metal snake hanging on the wall of the shop, trudge past a row of small cabins, knock on the door of the last one. A woman peeks through a frosted window. I hold the snake up and she lets me in. She’s got a baby in a diaper in her arms. I go to the back of the cabin, shove the snake down the toilet until it goes out all twenty five feet. “I need to go talk to my dad,” I tell the woman. He’s in the shop with my older brother Phil. Phil uses his left hand on a lug wrench to change a tire on the panel truck. “Goddamn, phony, left-handed son-of-a-bitch” my dad shouts. He grabs the wrench and swings it at Phil’s head. Phil jumps out of the way, swings back with his fist and misses, runs around to the other side of the truck. I wait and then tell my dad I used the snake. “It didn’t hit anything,” I say. He stares at me. “The goddamn line into the cesspool must be frozen,” he says. Then he yells at Phil. “Get over there when its light and thaw it out.” In the morning it’s thirty below. Phil takes me behind the shop to shovel snow off a big homemade sled. It has a metal stove bolted to thick wooden runners with a gauge on top. We push it down a snowy path until we come to a mound in the snow.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 It’s the lid to the cesspool. Phil shows me how to hook up black steam hoses. He splits some wood and builds a fire in the stove. Pretty soon the door is glowing red. Phil uses a lever to pump water to tubing inside. The needle on the gauge climbs past 200. A valve starts to hiss. We pry the lid off the cesspool. drop a ladder through the hole. A cloud pours out into the cold air. I lower a light bulb on a cord. Phil pulls on his hip boots and climbs down. I start shoving steam hose after him. “That’s enough,” he shouts, “open the valve.” I twist the valve and pull on my hip boots. They’re too big, so I tie the tops to my belt and go down the ladder. The cesspool is made of spruce logs. It’s so big inside the light doesn’t shine into all of the corners. The sewage is brown and knee deep. I hold my sleeve against my nose. Phil pushes the end of steam hose down into a corner. “The old man says the line comes in here.” The hose gurgles and shit bubbles to the surface. “I found it,” he shouts. I get behind him and we grab the hose with both hands and push, shoving the hose forward inch by inch as ice thaws. “There,” he shouts again, pointing toward the corner. Sewage is bubbling up to the surface. It starts to shoot up like a fountain. “Let’s get out of here.” I climb up the ladder as fast as I can. The temperature drops to forty below. The only heater on the school bus is next to the driver. Roxanne’s sitting near the front when I get on. The seats behind her are all covered in frost. She moves over and I sit down. Yesterday, we watched while other kids got in busses and left. Roxanne says they went to see the convention. “Some kids got autographs,” she says. “Do we get to go?” she asks when we get to school. Our teacher shakes her head. “A photographer from Life Magazine will be here,” she says, “we need volunteers to raise the American flag.” Roxanne and I put up our hands. The next morning the vice-principal calls us up to his office. “The photographer is here,” he says, “we want to be a good example.” When we can see the flagpole through the ice fog, we get on our parkas and boots. The ropes are frozen stiff and covered in frost.
CIRQUE We try to open the snaps with our mittens but can’t. Roxanne pulls a mitten off and uses her bare hand. The vice-principal looks out of his office. Kids stand at the classroom windows. A man is next to the school entrance with a big camera. “Oh say can you see” comes out of a loudspeaker. We start pulling on the rope. It stays cold for a long time. Then, one morning I wake up and the frost on my bedroom window is melting. It’s ten above on the thermometer. The ice fog is gone. During recess, we slide down the hill on pieces of cardboard, parkas unzipped. Kids on the playground are talking about the winter carnival. “The parade is Saturday,” Dwight says, “I heard the queen sits on a block of ice.” Our teacher says the theme for the carnival is Statehood. Roxanne isn’t in class and I wonder if she didn’t hear about the parade. I look for her in the mornings but she isn’t on the bus. No one in class knows where she is. “She hasn’t been at school,” I tell my mom. My mom looks down, puts out her cigarette. “Her dad got arrested for incest,” she says, and walks away shaking her head. I go through the store into the meat cutting room. Betty Lou is there in her apron scraping a table. She has long blonde hair and laughs a lot with the butcher. Sometimes when she talks she squeezes my arm. “What’s incest?” I ask. She stops scraping, wipes her forehead, looks at me. “Sweetie,” she says, “it’s when a man thinks his daughter’s his wife.” The next day the principal makes an announcement over the loudspeaker. “The convention has adopted a constitution,” he says, “something we can all be proud of.” I don’t think about the constitution. I wonder where Roxanne has gone.
Photos pages 82-84 Mike Burwell
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Cattails No. 11
Sheary Clough Suiter
of his companion seeing his friend
donors anonymous soap bubbles born
Todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s platoon walks Green Lake
through time wound down.
to a watery skein blown between cleaning molecules.
into a lucky anointing
Two moms carting babies stroll together on phones
These two dress for the Aleutians
corny and actual as any happiness
then stop short, saved by wonderment. But where is it coming from?
in seamenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hats, gloves, slickers
genuinely rainbowed and fleeting
wonders aloud a proper Englishman.
but fish for alchemy.
passing behind the old high concrete bleacher
Walking lakeside, front of the viewing stands
the world so new so orbed and iridescent
antique from the era of synchronized swimming
salute and fly by
behold the two climbed high on a mission
an old man hops to grasp
latter-day Hippies and the Winter of Love
one perfect globe freezing the breath
a magic wanding synchrony of dips in the elixir
Intoku: Japanese, Doing good in secret.
Matthew Campbell Roberts
A River Once More August. I was fishing the Chewuck River thinking of an old friend and how we sat around his fly-tying bench, drinking Scotch, creating “working” flies, not pretty, but they caught trout. Our talk found Hemingway, and with each glass we tried to sound more literary recalling how Nick Adams pierced a live hopper’s thorax with a hook, after tearing off its wings, then spitting tobacco on it to screen his scent before casting upstream. I let my line snake slack as my own grasshopper fly orbited the eddy on its side. The current carried it near a boulder when a golden cutthroat erupted from an eddy and gulped it down. Heat vapors danced above rip-rap along the bank. I felt the trout’s head shaking down in the rocks prying the hook loose. Unnerved after losing that fish, I crossed the river and headed for the road; though, something else followed me as I looked back at my friend’s cabin. The wind rushed the cottonwoods, and I stood there listening to a new river singing, and a life I once lived escaped into the air.
Hedera helix It’s only real shortcoming is monotony. -‑Sunset Western Garden Book Sometime in the last half-century previous dwellers in this corner planted ivy. Perhaps they thought it would branch along the wooden fence, tendrils reaching like explorers across the cedar plain, uncharted territory, pioneering a new aesthetic. Oh ivy, you darkhearted schemer. Like Columbus you arrive and meet diversity, greeting the natives with such scorn. Your plan: to conquer the hegemony of edges— and supplant your own. Nothing short of an invasion will do. You’ve stretched your arms around innocent inhabitants and strangled them in broad daylight. Created a haven for rats, snakes, slugs, snails and other criminals as the crown intended. You’ve smothered the indigenous for hundreds of years and if all I can do to alter your legacy on this continent is wield a chainsaw and reclaim what was never yours, I toast the day with a cup of gasoline.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
A Love Affair with French I mingled with your Langue when I was fourteen. Danced clumsy syllables, “ohs,” throaty “e” on my tongue.
At seventeen we slept together. You stripped off my jeans, a scarf came off your shoulders to rest on my neck your Parfum stained my clothes.
But we were just a fling until I turned nineteen. It was over Clarendelle Rouge and eight hours of brushing butter and kneading that I discovered I wanted to know your toothbrush color. At twenty I explored you. I lay in your linens for hours and learned that you don’t shop on Sundays that baiser no longer means just a kiss and that you drink coffee with warm cream. But at twenty-three I went on a spree, discovered that my mouth wanted to dance with Hebrew. Entranced by bold words and translations of love I hung the collage of us together in the closet. Changed my perfume to myrrh oil and left your sheets in a heap on the floor.
Little Elizabeth had her baby alone on her land over Mineral Mountain. I do not mean without a doctor or without whatshisname. She refused all offers of help or company. Maybe she was preparing herself for every time after that it would be safer to have another there but there was not. Maybe she was preparing the child. Maybe she wanted every moment, every gulp of air, to belong to her and the new baby alone. Maybe she is just ornery. I have never asked her. I think about it the rare days she and the girl come over the mountain to the intersection we call town, where I live, but she is not the kind of woman to sit with other women over coffee and talk about giving birth. And the girl? Does she have wild eyes and tangled hair? No. She wears barrettes and sundresses and hugs and kisses the bachelors relaxing at the picnic table by the coffee stand. She skips away to join any other little girls who have come In that day. The little girls ride bikes in small dusty circles. Italian tourists take their picture. Boys and bigger girls run through waving pieces of rusty metal they found, shouting competing imaginary story lines over the generator, presenting bloody knees and elbows to their parents. The mob runs off. The little girls ride back and forth between the picnic table and the air service, around abandoned mining equipment the old pilot dragged into the middle of the road one day to block the increasing traffic past his office back door. Someday the people here will not know the great pilot, the thousands of acres perfect in his mind, the gold claims, massive sheep, even murders he flew through, the freedom he knew before the Park Service came. They will drag the rusted wheels and machines around again, and yet again, the way the tide shuffles icebergs on the shore.
B. L. Shappell
The Waiting Hare
Frozen Leaf #3
This Is Where I Live Now The strange way that a day may start in the mountains With the shattering of a Mason jar filled with goat milk. In early afternoon, thunder, lightning, rain And then hail stones pummel the ground. Later, a friend stops by, our conversation leaps From poem to poem and settles on “The Day
In an arctic summer under a bright evening sun, as I wandered along the high slopping banks of the Yukon River, there below a hare was lying low by two willows bordering a slew, and as I watched, there was no raised expression to its body, no quick sharpening of its ears to pinpoint a sound, no sudden hint in its eyes to discover a new way out, no great leap to lengthen its folded legs, no dashing rush to a promised place of shelter. It was as if the hare was waiting for the black horns to lift from the banks, breaking the muted tones of poplars, then float down over river rocks before piercing into the wind, as a silver tipped lynx to raise the hare back to life.
Can Become a Zen Garden of Raked Sand” And we read the unrhymed couplets by Arthur Sze Aloud and hunt for the “deep surprise” buried there, Intent like bighorn sheep who have climbed a peak. This is the way we experience the world, Mike says, Atom by atom, fragment by fragment Eucalyptus, hyssop, and rosemary Scenting the room in which we read his lines About smell, about distinguishing the smell Of calendula from delphinium, of little consequence As the sky darkens over Taos mountain The clouds roll in and the rain continues to fall Onto the flat roofs of adobes and into the acequias Soaking all the trails in this late July monsoon. Mike Burwell
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
February flowers cower in the garden your father is coming cower on thin green stalks mince words embellish stories find the way back into yourself your father is coming with heavy steps from the Arctic carrying frost personification holding you hostage
even though you can’t remember a single thing he said he is coming back again to caress the brown corners of your leaves your twisted lattices
Listen to the River Talk Listen. No human words for this exist. Roar, burble – but poor attempts. Creatures of a visual field, we have not invented words for these sounds. Nor for these smells, or the feel of the air.
you will shake your head and smile sadly when discussing the venue of his untimely death
Listen to the river talk. Cup your hands around your ears. Make them big, like a mule deer’s. Listen to the river talk. Let it speak its own language. Don’t try to translate to a more familiar tongue.
Listen to the river talk. Feel the stirrings of the fluids that are you. The river and you, you call to each other. You sing together. Listen.
Sunday obituaries The Sunday paper is in the driveway And that means paid-obit bonanza It’s the first thing I open to Now that I’m almost 70
If you write an obit, give me quality details If he was a cop, what was his beat? Tell me he watched Mariner games with his cat Or collected beach glass and loved Sinatra
How many of the deceased Will be people I knew? Or maybe I’ll know someone in the family Or at least the family name
Tell me he sold shoes And had patience with women Or that he played saxophone And liked spaghetti for breakfast
The obit page is democracy in action Write the obit and pay for it Black, White, Hispanic, Asian Just don’t bounce the check
Tell me he traveled to six continents Had a rollicking laugh And had been a Seahawks season-ticket holder Since 1982
After the first time through My reading is less anxious Now it’s more of a game To find and savor the oddities
Don’t tell me he is going to Heaven Because you really don’t know Instead, tell me more about him What made him special and now mourned
How many decades-old military photos? How many husband-wife photos Even though only one is dead? How many photos with salmon?
And tell me how he died It’s a question that merits an answer I hope you tell me he went peacefully But don’t lie if he didn’t
Sometimes, there are splendid thoughts Like the guy from my high school Who declared, “NO FLOWERS!” “Instead, go buy a friend a drink” I admired the woman who told us She had enjoyed a good life And wasn’t afraid of dying Now that she had said her good-byes I like the occasional jab Like the fellow who declared That his ex-wives would be delighted To expound on his many faults I like it when devoted caregivers Are thanked by name It shows heartfelt appreciation And a lot of class
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Threw my roses down
While the teacher blabbed on and on, I drew and colored with my eight crayons fat as fingers. I made a set of cowboys in ten gallon hats and their horses, some black some brown, some spotted, drawn on notebook paper and cut out with blunt nosed scissors. All of them corralled in a sleeve inside my ring binder. Let the other kids work at endless additions and subtractions; I took out my horses and men, galloped them across my desk with clucks of my tongue, told myself stories without end about how the west was won.
Femininity With my femininity under my arm, we hustled down the dusty shell of a broken college town, past the crooked props that used to sell feed and pens to students, where I offered my femininity to my fiancé. He refused it. Passersby frowned and jeered: The wrinkled grape thought it was best suited for a child; Her charge thought that I was just too old.
Doing It Yourself Every outcome lies between failure and unintended result. How could it be otherwise? The mitered corner not quite on square, the smirking hammer strike to remind me of the mishit nail, the thread-stripped screw, evidence of all I’ve done myself. We must own, celebrate our errors. What else is there in life but a steady falling away from some imagined ideal into the real? Here’s what’s possible: Not the Platonic table, but the one that with a bit of cardboard shim under one leg can be made steady enough to serve. We make do. Life’s no more than that, making do. As sure as gravity, every action a confirmation of our only human selves.
A fluffy pink, the doll’s dress was --with pink bows, of course. Blonde with pigtails, the hair was --with tight curls, of course. Shattered sidewalks failed to absorb the shame, as my femininity receded into my ragged college jacket along with my spent youth and thrift store receipt, only to allow patches of its plastic head and feet to emerge when I least wanted it.
Mistee St. Clair
Gris Here nothing snarls but trees, the sky white gray and lucid, water flowing in all forms. The land absent of what is missed most, only old homes and moss hanging off the graying bark of apple trees. The hills don’t hide the world beyond, but the fog does. What here, I wonder, could fill the womb of home, familiarity, a sense of place? What could stand for mountains and trees thick with snow and ice, the world a white yawn that shimmers like teeth; homes of plywood splintered paint the color of fireweed; dogs singing in the long dark; the dawn so fresh and confident that I may look out the window and say “Today I will climb that mountain.” But what I really can say is “Today I will write a poem.” And I am here, in this place of gray and green as many shades as names for snow. Here, I say, knock mud from your boots, come have tea from rain, listen, listen, my body thunders with longing. Brush against me and I will quake.
River Ice 2
Cheeselogs “Cheese!” we say and the click, click, click of the camera freezes us in time. Forever preserved in a moment of everso-slight discomfort, arm over shoulder over arm, forced saccharine smiles, an attempt to say: we were here, together, a family. The mossy log behind us shifts slightly in the soft earth as we disperse—puzzle pieces scattered by a frustrated toddler. The scene, now a backdrop, empty, emerald green, light bounces off morning dew drops which will only dry out in the afternoon sun.
Note: Regarding the Dynamics of Rotating Spherical Objects
After two long days of mother absence After nine months of quiet speculation And a belly that grew daily so that her two toddler arms could no longer begin to span it— A red-faced miniature person
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 now sleeps in the bed she once occupied tucked between mother and father secure, folded into, devoured by the heaving mass of family. Now she sleeps, alone, her bed stacked on the floor across the room apart and she turns, in the night sleeping, wakingâ&#x20AC;Ś My daughter wants to buy concrete because her father told her it is stronger than tape and ever since she watched her grandpa mend a book the night her sister was born she has been a student of connectivity. I watch her cross the park and I think of the thirty-three boxes of calcium and marrow stacked precariously down the bird-like lines of her back at once solid and liquid animal. They bend and dip together their edges almost kissing. The wings of her rib-bones stretch from their bases, to the arch of the chest like a loverâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s embrace. Just three weeks after her egg ripened, the cells for fifty-two somites appeared dividing and dividing again each, a minuscule bubble soon to be vertebrae and ribs, muscle of body-wall and limb. Now her spine is a pillar in the coliseum that is this girl... She is away at school Singing, drawing fine bulbous letters, turning to discuss serious matters of play with her girl friends or to mediate a dispute. Bell Bay Paine
She is flipping her newly cut hair more brown now, than baby blond and telling me how she is learning from the Laura books her father reads how to be a big girl. Outside, the snow falls heavy
Sheary Clough Suiter
CIRQUE sideways into the trees While, inside, the floor is cluttered with things, all that necessary garbage of living and here, she is playing the infant againâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;her headâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; peaking from under my too-small desk. I do not know how to be the mother I think she deserves to lay down the anger the rocks in my gut sometimes in those moments when she is most like a mirror of me. There is a cord that stretches between us and it pulses from blood to blood, like waves.
Below the Horizon No. 3
Sheary Clough Suiter
By tomorrow she will change again By the time she pulls her sleepy head from the pillow and blinks into the dawn she will seem a near stranger lumbering down the hall doing the shuffle-step of sleep a half-tame wild thing who might, bite my hand just as readily as crawl in my lap and purr. I do not know what kind of animal to name her, maybe I am the one, to be named. When the nurse first laid her damp and squalling on my chest something feral awoke: I do not know how many seasons it has lived inside me I cannot begin to explain what it feels like to have it stretch and arch until it fills all my darkest corners. You and I may move through the day like travelers navigating a forgotten country We may pause, to sip lemonade or ponder wildflowers, and suddenly I will feel that familiar heat tingling on my skin my animal self who wants nothing so much as to bare its teeth, to stand fierce between my girl and the universe.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Kathleen Witkowska Tarr
Akhmatova, Secret Keeper of the Verse The room in which she wrote did not belong to her. Grateful for shelter, in the drafty, dark flat, she sat alone. A red shawl wrapped her frail frame. Anna’s bony fingers, cold and blue as porcelain, grasped an empty tea cup. If only she had another candle. she would light it now, and drink more tea near the flame. That might keep her going. The souls of all her dear ones were taken from her, swallowed in the abyss. Blood spilled from Moscow to Sakhalin. Her former husband executed. Her only son imprisoned. She felt an inner desire to record life. Plain and simple. The terror and the courage. To be history’s dreaded witness, though she knew the world wasn’t listening. And the peasant poets have all gone away. In St. Petersburg, on that wintry night, Anna remained. With her pencil and single sheaf of paper, she waited in the blackness, until the collective lunacy of the twentieth century had passed.
Sheary Clough Suiter
The White Album Summer it was the summer she wanted holy communion with the neighbor boy more than the body of Christ wanted the hands of a lover to map her body wrist to wrist then nail it to a future where she could never forget she was the heat wave through October a wild honey pie of pores that oozed over-ripe peach a cool cherry cream looking for happiness in a warm gun a girl who broke the rules deep in the jungle of an old van hips moving to a repeating soundtrack a repeating soundtrack muffled between twin bed sheets where she unfolded her girlhood with ears cocked to the slam of a mother’s car door and though she never did it in the road there was the forest behind her house where she came out to play then walked home to bathe in brackish green water
Flood Plain You left town for good. I drove out Fat Elk Road, found nothing but reflections: the moon climbing high into the willows, the bridge rising to touch its own belly, and the stars that swallow cattle opening like flowers on the valley floor. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think anymore of the last light standing tall in the hills, of the wrenching awe at your being there and being there in my arms that made the water in the well dream of a deeper darkness.
Meditation at Bat Hour
I have gone to the East field, lit only by egret feathers, to lie down in the deep grass. Young elk cough, break cloudberry canes, rearrange new stars in the narrow creek. I hear them like far stormclouds: shoulders of indigo, mysterious dun bellies known only by fragrant earth, red snails. They disturb the frogs, sitting like monks in the blue mud, swelling with their summer hymns. Then the bats wake, unfurling like dark flowers in the rafters of tilting barns. If I could always know with this clarity that I am only a mothâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wing in the mouth of this world.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Song for the Sequence of Tenses You open your mouth to sing but have too little time between your past and future to remember what you wanted Joe Kashi
to sing for and about or recall what you intended
or measure what could be left of am is are will be what should have been what was what must and what might have been.
Rock with Raven
It’s been prescribed for us, that is, if we manage to die with enough of our faces left to be legible for a while, that the muscles in between our cheeks and the outer edges of our lips will tighten up just as they used to when we were happy or trying to seem so to ourselves or someone on both sides of our masks, so when curious friends or strangely curious strangers look at us then and try to decide what they’re reading there, which ought to be the end of the play, they’ll be seeing the carefully made-up face of the tragedian and, backstage, the playwright at the close of the curtain, after the climax, the purging of pity and terror, and the dying fall or perhaps the comedian’s satisfaction at having made us laugh in the face of death, amazed amusement at lights out.
Alaska Rain Forest Calendar: Dictionary of Words for Weather December: Prophetic rain 1 Hard, dense, cold. Foretells the imminence of snow. January: Drift Snow Streams off high mountains, Settles like dust. February: Ice Rain-filled potholes. By morning clear ice filled bowls. March: Prophetic rain 2 Cold midnight light rain. Morning black ice. April: Prophetic rain 3 Clear sky, wind, light rain Weather front advancing. May: False rain In the forest wind streams drops from needles and leaves. A benediction. June: Spring Showers Picnic interrupted. Everybody laughs. July: Merciful rain. Rain of short duration on a sultry day. August: Endless rain Low clouds. Windless days. September: Fog Eyes see nothing—open or closed. Face coated with a sheen of water. October: In-your-face rain Halloween kids in slickers. Jack O’lantern candles snuffed. November: Hammer rain Storm beats on houses, flattens leaves. One word. Many blows. Year End Summary Winter, spring, summer, fall 45° and raining.
morning rain washes the lilac blooming outside the window melody without pause alone with you awake at 6 am the night watch done though we each took naps each on a scouting trip your breath short and rapid holds steady oxygen the miracle drug I turned up its concentration four days ago but the hours render water from your body into the catheter bag returned to earth in drops you ready to break camp the tempo picks up I recall our coming to this once forest on a hill overlooking Anchorage it was raining hard fifty-seven years ago your young family uprooted but growing how we gathered into boxes some things of the place we were yet left behind the place an old melody the rain as it washes leaves of the shrub and its flower gives light its way
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Sand into Sand
We dream, sometimes, if we are lucky, To bring back the dead. It’s no use of course. Even if we knew them once, If they were buried They’ve rotted now beyond recall, The flesh has dried to Bombay Duck And the same peculiar smell. If they were burnt, the heat has gone, The flame that once danced blue must have Hesitated, twisted against a landscape Of people bent in pensive ritual, And gone out, gone away, gone.
Like a ruff, And the ruff collapsed into a pile of grey and dirty grains. I would like to say I took a rake and with it Smoothed over all that calamity, all that chaos, all that desiccation, But I couldn’t. I never did; I never have; I never will. I awoke grateful that it was I who was the dreamer And you the dreamed. Sometimes we dream to bring back the dead Just to celebrate we are alive, Just to dance in the warm and giving sand. Sometimes.
It’s no use of course. When we do bring them back, they sit stubbornly Like dogs whose only joy in life is to squat Bums glued to the ground; legs locked; growling softly. The lead is taut, the collar crimps along the throat, And they like it that way. No treat can sway them; no command obey. It’s no use of course. But last night I summoned you back Twenty years gone; no, twenty-two or three. Not all of you came. In fact just the face. Against a disk of crumbling greyish sand, Your head rose up in bas relief, but took in only sky. You cast no glance at me. I reached to feel the smooth, pulsing warmth of veined flesh But my hand broke through your cheekbone In just the way a spoon bites into sugar Even the same sound: the muted, civilized thrust of spade cleaving earth. I would like to say that I kissed you and with that moisture Remade the sand, recast the face, achieved a beauty that was never there. But I didn’t. Your face collapsed into the sand that ringed it
Closer to Home Monday morning at the diner she serves him coffee, black. He smiles thanks, an effort. He lives on a shallow lake between Willow and Wasilla, rimmed with red fireweed this time of year. Wood-frame house sits on a knoll surrounded by swampy meadow, a perimeter of sorts.
Frozen Leaf #6
A Dead Soldier Speaks We didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t ask for silt or obsidian. We hear no angelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sharp wings.
He likes to fish in the afternoons, tries to feel the peace as he hunches low in his rowboat, keeping his hands as still as he can. He concentrates on the way the white birch bend over rust-colored streams, prefers the solitude, the hawks and owls. He does not miss the whirring insects, sudden silences, the engine roar of adrenaline. Sometimes at night the generator wakes him, a helicopter rotor. He remembers the crouching run, the bloody mud, wills himself to breathe evenly until sleep returns like a morphine cloud.
Like salt that slipped from no eyelid, spilling, we died for you, unwept, unwilling.
He wants to get over it, have one full night without dreams.
Green Walls of Light
Next day he drives to the diner early, watching roadside brush for movement. Her shoulders relax as he walks in. Another morning alive, another day closer to home. Before the lunch rush she breathes a prayer for him, for him and all the others, same prayer, every day.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Lies revealed in FOIA docs; captured as zirconium melts.
Douglas A. Yates
Redactions abound; censors sensing catastrophe, Biggest, worst, unprecedented; words fail experts.
Four years, four syllables, Fukushima’s shame. Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island mere tombstones, Earth shrugged, quaked; station blackout makes Fukushima a global mausoleum; invisible open entry, Fuel exposed, foundations crack, explosions blow To every cell, muscle fiber and mitochondria, Uranium high; tons of death aerosolized, dusted Stripping electrons from molecules that matter. Into the atmosphere, carried by the wind, north and east. Spanning Earth every 40 days, deposited as rain or snow, Settling in Salcha, Whitehorse, Seattle, Boise and Tallahassee, Three reactor cores ex-vessel, as hot as the sun, According to accounts of the plume’s progress. Bathed in groundwater where it meets the tide, Westerlies laced with plutonium, Obama says no problem, Burning into mud rock of a volcanic archipelago, Whose people depend on sea and soil for life. The Ring of Fire’s worst-case scenario remains Largely hidden, diverted and denied.
Reactor 3 Wreckage at Fukushima, Japan. Tokyo Electric Power Co.
FICTION Anne Coray
(excerpt from the novel Lost Mountain)
A southwest breeze skimmed the darkening ice. Nearby, catkins jutted forth like prows of tiny ships on a cluster of willows, their sudden red pollen insisting on a change of season. Slender shoots of wild onions poked through sunwarmed rocks. Dehlia had the beach to herself. She liked walking alone; this time of year and nearing the dinner hour, she expected to meet no one. Only in July would the beach see heavy traffic. Then the lake would be open water, deep and sometimes dangerous, foaming whitecaps in a heavy storm. Like a roughened mask, obscuring its serenity. Her eyes misted as she imagined the water’s expanse. One year ago she had paddled her canoe into the quiet heart of the bay; there she had scattered Phil’s ashes. Dipping her spoon into the small brass urn, she was surprised at the coarseness of the contents, especially the bits of charred bone. It didn’t fit with her conception of death or death’s aftermath; if death was eternal then its leavings should be fine, like well-ground flour, imbued with the grace of easy dispersal and lift. But the spoon was mostly ineffectual, and in the end she had simply inverted the urn and poured Phil’s remains over the side of the canoe, as if she were pouring cream from a pitcher. Then it was over, and there was only a sparkle of sun. She rinsed the urn and placed it in the bottom of the canoe, but before picking up her paddle she again gripped the urn and held it below the surface of the frigid water, where it quickly filled and sank. One year. Her gaze shifted back to the beach and the equally transitory present. At her feet and scattered in rocks and grassy patches were clumps of weasel snout, the plants’ waxy leaves already splaying with age, the threeinch flower spikes browning from the bottom up, so that only the tips, with their tiny purple flowers, remained in perilous bloom. What a funny but charmingly descriptive name—weasel snout. Dehlia dropped to one knee and inhaled. The flowers were always surprisingly fragrant. She continued walking, wondering if the mild spring was a precursor to a favorable summer. But it was no use making predictions. Alaska summers could usher
in a stretch of forty-day sun on the one hand, or forty-day rain on the other. What did look imminent was a storm. To the north, against a cerulean sky, loomed vertical cumulonimbus, cotton-white on top but charcoal-dark on the bottom. She’d seen their anvil shapes build to what seemed three times the height of Lost Mountain, and even that was deceptive, based on a perspective not much higher than sea level. In truth, these clouds could stretch to forty-thousand feet. Dehlia estimated that within two hours she would hear the first rumblings of thunder. Then would come the dry-spit crackle of lightning, and finally, the rain. Only the lightning scared her. She remembered that a couple hiking in the mountains behind Anchorage one year had been struck by lightning and hospitalized. The lightning had traveled completely through the man’s body, blowing out the soles of his shoes. She suddenly felt cold, and in the next instant she glimpsed movement, roughly half a mile ahead. It was a person, darkly clad, impossible to identify. The figure climbed a steep outcropping and stood for a moment on the edge, facing the lake. Then he or she sat down and was obscured by brush. Dehlia stopped walking. Whoever it was deserved privacy. Before she turned to reverse her direction she caught another movement—something brown and bulkier at the edge of the woods, moving with calculated steps. It didn’t take her long to recognize the animal as a bear. Likely a boar. She watched it stop to sniff the air, then proceed in the same unhurried but purposeful manner. Something about its pace was uncanny, and Dehlia sensed, as another cold wave doused her heart, that the bear appeared to be stalking something. The person— where was she? No, it couldn’t be a woman, not out here alone, probably without a gun. She suddenly felt foolish. What a silly thing to think. Plenty of women in Alaska carried and could fire a weapon. The wind was still blowing from the southwest, in her favor, and Dehlia wasn’t concerned for her own safety. The bear was a quarter-mile away, between her and the outcropping. No doubt the bear did have the other person’s scent, however, and its strange behavior was alarming. What if there was a mauling, and she could have prevented it? But she wasn’t in a position to do much.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 Instinctively she cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted a warning to the anonymous figure: “Halloo! Bear! Halloo …” her words promptly carried off in the wind. The bear, at least, heard. It stopped, then lay down, watching her. Dehlia waited. She shouted again, to no effect. She saw the human figure stand and begin walking in the direction of the airstrip. Yes, she realized now, it was a woman. But who? Patricia? Meredith? Within a few minutes the figure disappeared, and still the bear did not move. She let out a long, shallow sigh and looked at her watch. The minute hand ticked interminably under the glass, moving from seven to eight to nine, ten to eleven to twelve, before starting another round: one to two to three to four, until twenty circuits were completed. She began walking home, slowly at first, in keeping with the ticking still in her head. When she last looked back the bear had not moved, and before long she regained confidence and resumed her customary pace. By nine o’clock, when she was nestled in with the woodstove radiating a quiet warmth, the rain was falling hard.
Road Kill The morning after that night when Leah said what she did and Ben finally heard her, she drove down the road to the store as in a dream, finally startled out of her reverie by the sight of something dead in the ditch just a mile from the house. It was raw and fresh, the hind quarter skinned over lean muscles that made Leah think of meat, of butchering pigs or steers or chickens when the thing under your hands, under your knife ceases to be an animal but becomes the roast, the steak, the scraps you will separate and cut and wrap and eat. Clean, almost beautiful. The colors of the fur immediately made her think of a dog, a retriever mix of some sort, and she slowed down and turned her head to stare, not sure she could stand it if it was. Over the sparkling shock of bright intestines she caught sight of the big ears, the twisted neck, the open startled eyes of a young doe. On the way back from the store Leah had almost forgotten about her but there she was, on Leah’s side of the road this time, still fresh and startled and over exposed. Leah slowed down again without even noticing, then looked away irritated with herself. Ben was waiting for her at home, standing by the window staring out at the grey trees when she walked in. The children crowded around her and the moment passed, as she tried to breathe through the hysteria threatening to build up within. The next day Ben and Leah and the children all drove out together and the doe was still there, though someone had pulled her further into the ditch. She didn’t look like a pet dog anymore; she had fully inhabited her deer body with its long lean legs and broken neck. Ben didn’t notice, nor did the children. Leah was staring out the side window, trying to avoid his gaze, and the doe was all she saw. She said nothing, selfishly guarding the knowledge of the doe’s broken beauty as though it were hers alone, a secret that only she had the right to bear. On the way home Ben finally saw her, and slowed, and asked, “Is that a dog?” in a semi-whisper, as though the kids wouldn’t hear. For a moment he seemed to forget that Leah was leaving him, that he had been wronged. Leah’s answer was too angry, too short, “No, it’s a doe.” The children stared silently, unnerved by the tension between their parents.
Over the next several days Leah and Ben continued to move woodenly, sullenly around each other, saying little
104 as they passed in the hallway. Leah felt conflicted and confused. She made up excuses to leave the house, to run redundant errands alone. Wandering through the grocery store in a daze, she would be stunned when in a flash she remembered that she had asked him to leave, that she was going to be alone. Standing in front of the apples holding an empty produce bag in her hands she would be momentarily overwhelmed with panic, with the certainty that she was supposed to run home and drop down to her knees and beg, plead, change her mind again and again. Every time she would get that far something in her would go very still and she knew that she would not drop to her knees, that she did not want to plead or beg. A powerful sense of relief would wash over then, like when she woke from a nightmare and realized that it was just a dream. She felt guilty about all of it, of course. Leah cultivated silence and emptiness in those days – hours would go by and she would realize that she had thought nothing more important than whether the laundry needed to be put in the dryer, whether she had paid the bills or let the dog out or washed the Knight Island counter. Where there should have been a cacophony of voices in her head, there was quiet. Everything felt muffled. Leah couldn’t bear to think too hard, to ponder change. She was afraid that she had used the very last shred of her strength and determination when she told Ben it was over. Sometimes she almost didn’t trust herself to open her mouth, didn’t trust the sounds that might come out – something primal, or cloying perhaps – but instead nothing came out. She would pick up the car keys and head out the door for a can of WD40, or for the cat food she had forgotten. Over the next week Leah tried to look away every time she drove by the doe but at the last moment she always turned and stared. She began almost to look forward to the corpse, to the reassuringly familiar horror of her half skinned and broken body. Every day she was less fresh, less bright, her fur taking on that dull dead matted brown color of things that have no vitality left in them. Once Leah saw ravens feasting on her and had to stifle the urge to stop and chase them off, ranting and cursing and flailing her arms like a woman driven mad by loss. She kind of
CIRQUE liked that idea, of letting herself fall so far that she would do something completely unacceptable and crazy, that strangers and friends alike would stare and shake their heads and then look away mercifully while she raved. It made her feel stable, and powerful, as if there was some safety in knowing that she had further to fall. The doe kept her counsel, and bore silent witness to Leah’s quiet unravelling. Leah found herself talking to the doe as her car approached, mumbling about why she was leaving Ben, how they had gotten to this point. When they drove together Leah dreaded the occasional casual comments of the children about the dead deer, and she resented the very thought that Ben might still be noticing her, that perhaps she might mean something to him as well. Leah needed the doe to be hers alone, to be neglected and ignored by all those around her, so that only she could bear the tragedy of her loss. One morning she was gone. No pageantry, no drama, no ragged bits left for the scavengers to drag into the brush. Barely a smear of blood left on that road, and even that Leah suspected she was mostly making up Monica Devine from memory, embellishing. She was shocked by the doe’s disappearance where earlier she had felt a bit put out by the fact that no one had bothered to remove the body. Leah remembered years before, wondering whose job description included removing road kill, and what they did with the remains. Leah had suspected that the doe couldn’t be expected to stay until she was scattered and eaten and taken back into the very soil, but she missed her with a grief that surprised her. She pulled the car over and rested her head on the steering wheel, resisting the urge to open her door and crawl on her knees through the brush looking for scraps. Who else would bear witness, she wondered? She drove home slowly. **** Leah had grown up moving from state to state across the country and back, the packing boxes never crushed and thrown out, but instead broken down and stored carefully for the next time they were needed. She grew up in cities, following her father’s job transfers from one
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 metropolis to another, always yearning for something she didn’t even know how to name. Every few years her parents would gather her and her sisters in the latest living room of the latest apartment and pull out a map and explain that they were going to move somewhere new. When she was 8 or 9 she moved to the East coast to the city where her parents had met, living in an apartment building so high above the street that she could barely pick out faces when she sat for hours looking down at the motion below. She was terrified of the height from the bedroom window she shared with her sisters, and she held her breath every time she took the elevator to the ground floor, slowly releasing it when she felt her feet on the ground. At some point she had seen a picture in a book of the city in a precious century, of the farms and forests that grew right where her building stood. It astounded her to think that somewhere beneath the pavement, beneath yards of concrete and tunnels and pipes, were soil and bedrock, perhaps even something alive. The thought was at once thrilling and terribly sad, as if that something real was lost, its potential trapped beneath unbreachable layers upon layers. Leah’s mother’s family was from a poorer suburb of a lesser city and she was estranged from most of them, carrying within her whatever secrets drove her to follow Leah’s father with hope that crumbled into resignation as the years wore on. When they moved back she reconnected with a cousin who lived a couple hours north in what Leah’s parents referred to as the “country.” They would visit cousin Jackie on occasional weekends, driving the car out for long afternoon visits and returning in the dark, Leah and her sisters laid out in the back of the station wagon with scratchy wool blankets from the army-navy store over them, blankets that always smelled faintly of moth balls and mildew. They watched the stars above them through the back hatch, fighting to stay awake as long as possible until they finally succumbed to exhaustion and the rhythmic rumble of the car moving through the darkness. On the days they were to drive out to Jackie’s they would wake early and pack their bags, having to think about extra clothes and snacks for the drive and rain gear and snow boots in the winter, as if the very act of heading into the “country” meant having to worry about surviving weather and all sorts of possible calamities. When they were all finally loaded with their provisions safely stashed around them, Leah and her sisters would press their faces
to the windows and take in every sight, drinking in the shopkeepers and the homeless people and the taxis and the crowds with the glee of someone making an escape. They had to drive north through parts of town where they knew they didn’t want to break down, where dark-skinned men sat on steps drinking beer and large apartment complexes that looked beaten and old as soon as they were built sat stunned and surrounded by cyclone fencing and broken shopping carts upended in the middle of sidewalks. Somehow having to drive through these crumbling and menacing landscapes was part and parcel of leaving the city, of breaking away. They would sit in the back of the station wagon watching the concrete jumble give way to empty lots with straggly weeds growing impossibly through cracks, to ragged stands of weary trees, and eventually to open space. Leah’s eyes would strain to pick out the first bit of dark forest, the first patch of greenery that looked like it grew by its own design, not as a ragged survivor from some long-lost past. After an hour or so they had left the city far behind, and they would begin to talk into the silence of their hunger for wilderness. Leah and her sisters would count road kill as they drove up the turnpike. Years later Leah had tried to explain this ritual to Ben, and he had laughed and asked her how much roadkill there could possibly have been to satisfy them the whole length of the drive. Leah had admitted that the bodies might have multiplied through the lens of hindsight, but in her mind she could still picture a steady stream of mangled animal corpses littering the side of the highway. Perhaps each one of those corpses was so exciting to her that it took on special
106 significance, became more than one solitary end. Leah and her sisters would tally the species and the locations, with deer –the largest of the possible trophies - always being the most exciting. More interesting and exotic specimens like porcupines came in a close second, and the occasional domesticated pet made her feel somehow dirty, as though she couldn’t justify the thrill of adding another corpse to her running tally at the expense of a loss that was all too human. Aunt Jackie’s house itself was a worthy destination for a city girl hungry for a taste of something more real, for wilderness however diluted. She lived at the end of what seemed then a long winding gravel road banked by trees and across which pheasants would occasionally wander carelessly. If she had close neighbors Leah never noticed – in her mind Jackie’s house was remote, surrounded by endless woods and fields. The house itself was rather average but on the property were multiple outbuildings and dilapidated cabins, remnants of a prior attempt to establish a summer camp, or an artists’ retreat, or a bed and breakfast. The details were irrelevant. The cabins were musty and smelled of mold and dust and rodent droppings. The broken drooping screens hung at odd angles and the doors would sometimes stick, and the floorboards usually creaked ominously. Invariably Leah and her sisters would find countless bees and flies dried and dead on the sills, trapped in the screens and littering the ground. More dried up insect bodies than they could even comprehend, a localized extinction piled up for their feet to step on. Occasionally they would even find a dead squirrel or mouse, or a bird that had become trapped and disoriented after finding what must have seemed like a lucky passage into a warm safe haven, never to find it again. Aunt Jackie shared the house and grounds with a son named Nick who was just a year older than Leah and whom Leah regarded with a mixture of admiration, trepidation, and occasional hatred. Jackie also had two large smelly dogs who allowed children to lay their heads upon their panting dirty flanks and a husband who was never seen but about whom she and Leah’s mother talked for hours as the girls followed Nick around. In Leah’s memory Nick was always dressed in old jeans and a ragged wool sweater, his hair overgrown and shaggy, his eyes sly and often challenging. Leah and her sisters worshipped him at first – he was the epitome of the wild half-child hero, part Robin Hood and part Davy Crocket.
CIRQUE He never seemed to tire of leading them around the property, up trees and across creeks, laughing when they hesitated or floundered, mocking them and calling them city girls. Though Leah was without a doubt a city girl, she also understood that there was no worse insult. When she returned to her city life, she and her sisters would play at being Nick, as though he were indeed a hero from one of the stories they loved to read. He would perform acts of daring and naughtiness and of course he always escaped unscathed, and Leah and her sisters would argue bitterly over whose turn it was act out his part in their games. Occasionally Nick would relish in some small act of cruelty just to see Leah cry. He would let beetles drown and hold her back while she screamed in despair and frustration, provoked beyond any emotion she had felt since. In a knowing proprietary way he would knock filmy white nests of caterpillars from trees and crush or burn them, while Leah railed and wept. He was casual about these small animal deaths, unimpressed. They hooked sunfish and stumbled into ground wasp nests, and one cold snowy afternoon following him up a steep incline in the darkening woods Leah almost put her hand on some horror that she still could not name, but which she could still see as from a dream when she was tired and her guard was down, and she closed her eyes in just the right light. It was just under her feet, too close to enjoy the anonymity and distance of road kill. She almost stumbled upon it, and all she saw before she ran was some pattern of blood and dismemberment, something viscerally terrifying that was part bat or demon child, guts and bared teeth at close hand. She had gasped and swallowed her scream, scrambling in terror up the slope after Nick. He must have noticed something in her face because he asked, “What is it?” and in his paradoxical way forgot to mock Leah for her weakness. They half ran back to the house in silence, his footsteps trailing behind hers for once, and when they got close enough to fall within the circle of diffuse light coming from the windows he stopped and touched her hand. She must have been 11, and him 12. His hand was cold and rough but she let it linger on hers for a moment before she walked into the house where her mother and his sat in the kitchen with their cups of coffee and her sisters lounged on the floor in front of the fireplace with the dogs. The mothers looked up and Leah felt her face burn, drawn for once to the safety of their whispered secrets. She felt torn, wanting to linger so she could eavesdrop on the stories that she knew were not meant for her ears. Nick stood by the door
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 waiting for her. He never seemed to want to inhabit the same space as his mother, and Leah understood with some regret that she would have to follow him back out into the bracing cold. Things began to change that summer, the year before Leah moved away. There was a weekend visit during a hot dry July, when Nick happened to have other boys staying over as well. Leah was used to having Nick to herself but she tried not to resent them too much. She had longer standing in that house, she knew those woods better than they did, and she was confident that she could lay claim to Nick’s affection, however callous it sometimes seemed. That night as they all climbed into bunks and sleeping bags, one of the boys dared Leah to pull up her nightgown. They were snickering and taunting, egging her on. Leah refused, of course. Then Nick joined in, that glint in his eyes, and promised her a dollar if she would. For some reason that changed the game. Suddenly she had something of value that they wanted, and she felt clever because she knew that it meant so little. In their adventures Nick had seen her strip and change more than once, and she was certain that the exchange of a dollar for a glimpse of her pre-pubescent body was an easy swindle on her part. She felt downright superior as she pulled up her nightgown and spun around before then, throwing in an extra turn in her self-confidence. It wasn’t until she demanded her money and they all began to laugh that she realized that she was a fool. Her body suddenly felt shameful, something lost in an exchange that had left her taken advantage of. She hated Nick for it though she pretended not to care. Most of all she felt betrayed by him, shocked that he would ally himself with those boys in tricking her and mocking her. The next day she hung closer to the house and her sisters, she let the boys run off alone and she read a book while she waited for her mother to come back and pick them up. Shortly after that Leah moved again, to a large ugly Midwestern city far away. They went back to visit Jackie once the summer after they moved, and to her confusion Leah found that she and Nick had become awkward with each other. Where he had been rough and casual before, treating her fondly but neglectfully, he was now too conscious of her, too careful around her. They found themselves running out of words, unsure as to what adventures to tackle next. Leah felt as though she had lost Nick, finding instead a half-stranger who hesitated and seemed to stew with thoughts and emotions she
was no longer privy to. One late night returning from a ball game they found themselves alone in the back of the station wagon, the engine noise drowning out their voices and the headlights from on-coming traffic causing them to duck down below the back seat. He laid his hand on her arm and left it there, a heavy thing too hot on her sun-burned skin. Stumblingly he started trying to explain something to Leah, to tell her how he had missed her. She felt paralyzed, unblinking, mesmerized by the bright lights bearing down on her. It took her a minute before she could make sense of the words he was speaking but she was mortified. Her first thought was that she had done something to change the rules, to ruin everything between them. She would have given anything for it to be a joke, but his hesitation, the weight of his stare in the darkened car wouldn’t allow that. She mumbled and turned away, squeezing her eyes shut and pressing her body as far away from his as she could, up against the scratchy material lining the back hatch, her breath ragged but controlled. Years later during those days when Ben was leaving, Leah found a picture in a box that was taken on the last day she and her sisters were at Jackie’s place that summer. In it she is standing next to Nick, hair in thick brown braids with strands coming loose and short bangs down to her eyes. His dark hair sticks out at all angles, freckles strung across his nose, taller and thinner than she remembered him being, looking unhappier than she remembered ever seeing him. They’re standing next to each other without touching, and he does not make eye contact with the camera, staring instead down at the ground. Leah’s skinny dark arms are crossed across her chest and her face looks puffy from crying, but she is glaring straight at the lens, and her eyes are angry. **** During those awful in-between days of watching the doe lose her shine, lose her colors trip by trip, Ben started moving things around the house. He had not argued with Leah much, had stood perfectly still and stared at her uncomprehendingly while she sobbed and explained to him why she wanted a divorce. After years of dancing around this, there was little surprise, no real shock when Leah’s words came out, all sparkly and solid in their finality. The dissolution of their marriage felt geological to her in its wearing-down, relentless and inevitable way. All the days that tumbled together after
108 that evening felt muffled to Leah, trance-like and slow. He had talked her into staying together and saying nothing to the children until after they got through the holidays. One of her girlfriends told her that her children would probably hate her for leaving him, but not to worry – it wouldn’t last forever, they’d probably forgive her eventually. During those in-between days Ben and Leah wandered stiffly around each other and had occasional painful conversations, and she would invariably tear up and sob out her guilt and her angst while he stayed dryeyed, staunch and silent. Leah knew that she deserved all this, and by mutual unspoken agreement they would play it out every few days. If only he was terrible to me now, she thought. If only he went out and did something reprehensible, or threw a fit, or slammed doors and called me names. But no, he packed things quietly in the night after she and the children had gone to sleep and looked self-righteous and bereaved. Every morning something new would be moved, or would have disappeared. Every morning Leah hustled the children out the door so that she could take stock of her ever-changing landscape and make any adjustments she could before they got home. She felt that his midnight packing was passive-aggressive, strategically planned to make her reconsider, or at the very least to make her hurt. Leah herself was also going through their things, though with much less purpose. She felt anesthetized, clumsy, waiting to see if she would change her own mind. She almost did, several times. It seemed that every time she pulled some books out, tried to file some bills, reorganize some cupboard, she would run into a picture of them years ago, younger, and obviously in love. She wondered where all those pictures were coming from, how she had failed to notice them tucked into forgotten corners for all these years. In moments of weakness she would actually look at one of those pictures, and it always hit her somewhere below the breastbone, somewhere less vital than her heart or her womb but critical all the same. She was surprised by how young Ben looked, his hair dark and full and his face unlined. Her younger self never surprised her – what came as a shock to her instead was the woman in the mirror, the lines and the brittle kinky grey hairs she wasn’t bothering to pull out anymore, and the overall heavy dragging look of resignation, of defeat. The dull eyes staring back at her. One morning she came downstairs and found the shotgun standing, upright and casual, in her closet. It was
CIRQUE leaning against the left over boxes from Christmas, the few gifts that still hadn’t found their home. Left where the children could find it, not loaded and dangerous, but full of questions that needed to be answered, that would scream to be asked. It struck her how toy-like the gun looked, all clean and innocent just leaning against her things. How toy guns look real and real guns look like toys, how confusing that line between showmanship and lethality was. In that moment she stopped feeling guilty long enough to resent him. They had argued about guns after they were first married, and again when they talked about having children. She had an urban sensitivity about guns and the killing of animals, and Ben had teased her about her squeamishness. He had grown up in these Oregon hills hunting and raising meat animals, and she had been attracted to this, strangely comforted by how unperturbed he seemed by small questions of life and death. When Ben had given her this gun shortly after the birth of their first child, she had hesitated and cursed him and laughed. They had been drinking bourbon through a light early summer evening with the baby finally sleeping peacefully just inside, and she had kissed him and picked up the weapon with the wonder of a child being given an unexpected and extravagant gift. She had felt strong, grown up, a woman willing to compromise for the man who had chosen her, whom she loved. Now she leaned against the door jamb and stared at it in her closet, just another reproach. She was surprised by the anger that suffused her, finally burning through her numbness. It felt almost breathtaking. By the time Leah made it to the faint blood stain on the road where the doe had lain she was no longer shaking. There was little traffic on this stretch of road mid-day and she started hauling the boxes out and stacking them carefully in the ditch, pausing every time she heard an engine approach. She added the framed photographs and her wedding dress and his fishing waders, the boxes of mementoes she had swept off her desk and her shelves. She lay the empty shotgun on top of the pile. She knew the children would be home soon and she would have to be back in time to explain to them that she and Ben were splitting up. She stood there on the road and said a quick clumsy prayer for the doe, and then she got back in the driver’s seat and squeezed her eyes shut and cried. When she finally looked in the rear view mirror her face was puffy and red, but she recognized the anger in those eyes looking back at her. She knew she wouldn’t be going back.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Marie Ryan McMillan
(excerpt from the novel Trail Faith)
The last time we camped near the Kenai River, I spent the night watching my children wash away in my dreams. It was months before the election, and even so, in the dream they stood on the riverbank in their muddy hiking shoes while the water rose toward them. I told them to stay out of the water, but I spoke an unidentifiable language, thick with vowels and grinding consonants. I suspect the dream-river understood me, but my children didn’t. They smiled and waved, but when the water couldn’t restrain itself, it surged for them, wild with greed. It might have laughed, deep and primal, but the noise might have been rocks shoved along the bottom, impotent to the water’s insistence. That’s when it happened. The river grabbed all four of my children. I froze while it flowed around them, smoothing their hair to their heads like only I should. The kids looked puzzled when they tried to swim but their arms were as useless as soft grass. Their eyes locked with mine and though in real life my children are never quiet, they bobbed away silently. They were gone.
I crawled to the bank. The water pooled around my knees while I reached for them, but the river wouldn’t give them back. I was alone, covered in silt, my hands tight and shaking, while they rushed away. Forever. I hunched on the soggy tundra long after my babies were gone. I covered my ears to block the river’s laugh, but it was inside my ears, not outside. There was nothing else I could do. When I woke up, my hands were twisting the neck of my sleeping bag so tight I couldn’t breathe. My head ached, and when I got out of the tent, the river had risen by about two feet. The boys were throwing rocks at ice boulders as they flowed past. Steve held Maris like a sack of potatoes. I yelled at them to get back, but they looked at me like I was a crazy lady. “Mom!” Colby said. “The ice dam broke during the night.” I knew he was excited, but I also knew that when a dam breaks, there’s no telling what will flood. Then I yelled at them some more, and by ten o’clock, Steve had strapped Maris to his chest, and bribed Colby and Liam with jelly beans to go hiking. To get away from me. They didn’t come back until they were out of jelly beans. I just watched the ice hang up on the bottom of the river. Some of it melted. Some of them broke apart. And some just stayed still while the water shoved at them. It was after the election that fall that I noticed Steve never appeared in the dream. The dream was not about water. I actually love water; in it, I feel like a mermaid, my skin slick and weightless, stress seeping from me with the pruning of my fingers and toes. The dream was about a river’s energy. The coldest, wildest lake has finite borders, and though tides and currents make the ocean a terrifying maze of impossibility, it has an austerity I can respect. It’s the impatience of rivers that sets my teeth on edge. A river never appreciates the world for what it is. It’s a bully. Even a halfempty creek controls everything it wanders near, creating and killing tiny patches of the Jim Thiele
110 world as if the river itself were a God. Today it gives you a beach to gather seagull eggs with beautiful girls in pink windbreakers and rubber boots. The next day it devours the place, reminding you not to count on much. If nature adds a little disruption to a river, say rocks, or a bend, or a drop, it will protest like a drunk at last call, hollering louder than reason, exchanging rage for attention. So when Ron reappeared in my life and wanted me to go up the Kuskokwim River with him last summer, there were many good reasons, beyond that he is not my husband, to say no. But I went. I went to see his hands, freckled, calloused and grimy in the western Alaska June. I went to compare the color of his cheeks to the eddies along the gravel bars. I went to see his hair, thinner than when I first met him, as the down of the dwarf fireweed bending in the evening wind. I went to see how his freckles matched the shells of arctic tern eggs. I went to see if the difference between him and the river was a clear line, or something more like the long Alaskan summer twilight. I thought he went for the same reasons. Because we met each other there, our souls rubbed raw on its banks. But I was wrong. I was always wrong about Ron. Right up until the end. Everyone knows why he was on the river that night. It turned out his reasons were more like spruce pollen in the warmest Alaska springs; dense and thick, blowing in yellow clouds across the sky, coating even the dishes in your cabinet. After all, he was never subtle. By the time they counted the votes, it was hard to know how many people watched his story. YouTube says 3.5 million. Each of them left behind their own smudged footprints. And like the springs with too much pollen, I was left sweeping it, and the truth, off the floors. ****** When milk which should be feeding your child is spilling out of you, making you change clothes twelve times a day and shove entire dish towels into your bra, it’s hard not
CIRQUE to cry. Every few hours the tingling would begin, first low in my breast, then spread toward the nipple, and before I could stop it, the two dark stains of disappointment spread across my shirt, a sticky reminder that without a willing recipient, a gift is just a burden. My unwilling recipient was slapping her hands on the only basket of toys not dumped on the living room rug. Her head was covered in a mist of dark hair, standing up in a humidity-defying halo, making her look like a snow monkey from behind, especially since she was in just a diaper. I watched her from the chair. My breast, which had once been full and round, a point of pride on a body I have never loved like I should, hung out of my nursing bra, limp and depleted. My girl leveraged her arms against my torso to fling herself away from me, and then alternated between flailing and going stiff until I released her. Once she was away from me, she squealed and beat a stuffed butterfly against the floor. The rejection stunned me; only the day before she had dug her head into my chest and stroked my arm while she nursed. Her eyes had fluttered and then landed shut, her mouth slack with milk spilling out of the corner. But today she was having none of it. I nursed Colby and Liam, my two boys, until my body ached to be mine alone, prying my nipple from their weeping mouths when I could hardly stand their touch. If I’d been a dog, I’d have bitten them for lifting my shirt without asking. Even so, when I was weaning Liam, my younger son, I caved and crawled out of bed, my head wincing with each scream. Steve grunted. “You know if you nurse that boy the last three hours of shrieking have been wasted. Right?” His voice was sticky with fatigue. But I had no choice: my milk had let down and I had to fill his emptiness by pouring myself in. When I reached the crib, he was standing, hair wild and sweaty, face puffy and red. He gripped the crib rails while his knees buckled with exhaustion. His terror at being left alone was akin to a deer who locks eyes with a hunter the moment they both know a bullet is imminent. I grabbed Liam and lifted my t-shirt. He landed on my lap like a mountain big enough to make its own weather and shoved his face into me hard.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 The heat of his crying seeped into my breast through his forehead, his sweat mingling with the sweet smell of milk and my own tears of defeated exhaustion. He gripped my stained shirt until he collapsed in milk drunkenness. Only then I relaxed and we fell asleep on the couch, heads thrown back and mouths open, before I could even muster the energy to pull my shirt down. My high school anatomy teacher insisted that humans had no instincts, but when I crawled out of bed that night, I could have laughed out loud at the very notion, had the idea of laughter not been utterly ridiculous. Even now, Liam wears that look, like the world is not to be trusted. I have always wondered if it was from those nights of calling for me. That’s how we ended up having Maris even though the boys were 8 and 10 and I could have had some freedom again. The night I told him I wanted another baby, we were on the porch, and the boys were playing in woods around our house. Steve was strumming his guitar while I tried to knit. Maris was my one more chance to fill another person up. And I wasn’t done. Maris was, though. Pureed peas, baby cereal, and bananas: foods without obligation were good by her. To emphasize her point, she turned toward me, baby tripod style, and sang to a piece of lint on the carpet. Just like her dad. Now anyone, not just me, could keep her alive. With my boob still hanging out of my bra, I called my best friend Violet. She was practically giddy. “Well, lace up your hiking boots, baby. Time for us hit the trail. Steve will be home tomorrow, yes?” Hiking is what we do, Violet and me. At least, it is what we used to do. We have been on trails all across Alaska, starting when we were in our twenties and living in Dillingham. We continued when we both landed here two hours south of Anchorage along Kachemak Bay. But we hadn’t been out for more than a year. With a one
111 year old and two preteens at 39, hiking felt like a giant waste of potential sleep. And while I felt bad about skipping hiking, it wasn’t enough to even register on the vibrant spectrum of motherhood guilt. When she suggested the hike, I started to cry. First, it was a lame ploy to distract me. Second, it was like giving in to Maris’ rejection. Third, it was not just my boob that was saggy. I’ve hiked enough with Vi to know I’d be dragging my sorry, out-of-shape ass uphill alone until I found her reading a book at the top of some overlook that tried to kill me, her bliss mocking my blinding sweat. Violet, however, has no tolerance for crying and I didn’t have the energy to disappoint another person. I tried to muffle my sobs, which made them sound like I was gagging. “Annalise,” she said in her teacher voice, which meant I needed to pull myself together. “You ought to know by now, can’t let your kids hurt your feelings. If you do, you’ll never get out of bed again.” I nodded even though she couldn’t see me, and said, “I’m not crying.” “Just don’t be crying by tomorrow.” I gulped back a big sob. “Sweetie, it’s not their job to make you feel better. You know that. If that’s what you want your kids to do, you’re out of luck.” I guess I was out of luck. That morning my knee didn’t hurt any more than usual. But I couldn’t tell Violet I didn’t want to go because my hiking clothes didn’t fit. I had been digging through polypropylene shirts that cost more than designer clothes did in Chicago where I grew up, and not one was presentable even by Alaska’s fashion standards. I stood in the only sports bra I could squeeze into without cutting off my circulation while Maris crawled around the dirty clothes on the floor. She whimpered, and when I picked her up, she poked at the part of my boob that escaped the bra. Instead of crying I set her in the half-full laundry basket and prayed something other than Steve’s Salty Dawg Saloon hoodie would crawl out of the closet. It did. It was my kuspuk: the original hoodie. Even though it was twelve years old it fit, because kuspuks are not about fit. They are about the big, anorak-style pocket low on the front. They are about the wide ruffle hitting just above
your knees. They are about the thin hood with rickrack trim. They are about soft cotton worn thin. They are about floral patterns and colors that Yup’ik women have used to scoff at the flat white tundra, daring the world to overlook them. Plus kuspuks are always loose. Mine wasn’t bright; it was the brown my boys scraped off their boots after walking through the neighbor’s chicken coop. After wriggling into it, I could imagine myself twelve years earlier when Olinka gave it to me, before I needed the pocket to carry kids and a husband and a mortgage and a marginal air taxi. It was also the same day I met Ron on the river. Back then each hike was a delicious adventure, every step a healing absorbed through my boots like courses in an elaborate meal. Back then trails led me toward who I was and away from the things I wanted to leave, mainly being a too tall girl who moved to western Alaska when her former fiancé married her former best friend. Back then I wore that kuspuk like the badge of honor it was. It might have more miles than my car. If I needed to start hiking again, it was best to have it bear witness. I wrapped Maris in a fleece snowsuit and wedged her into the baby backpack. Together they made her look like the girl who turns into a blueberry in the Willie Wonka movie. I know you are not supposed to shake a baby, but I grabbed her legs to wedge her further into the pack. Her foot got caught in the frame and she screamed, but after so many
years of kids, it’s easy to ignore. By the time I was ready to leave, Maris was sweaty and grumpy from trying to lift herself out of the backpack, and I was sweaty and grumpy from trying to keep her in. I considered using her squeezed foot as an excuse to skip the hike, but then my milk let down again. It seeped across the kuspuk and I knew if I stayed, I would spend the afternoon doing laundry. If I stayed, I might spend my entire life doing laundry. Even if I was too fat, putting one foot in front of the other had to be better than being trapped in a laundry basket. I swung the pack-bound Maris onto my back. Steve was outside with the boys, trying to persuade them to stack firewood and I was ready to deliver her too. “Cheer up, pumpkin,” I said as she howled behind my head. “You’re hanging with daddy today. He’s nicer than me, so you can stop crying.” ****** When Violet and I pulled into the trailhead, I felt like that blueberry girl too. The trail she had chosen was not long, but it was steep and near the top it crossed an exposed shale field with a drop off that made me feel like barfing. I could imagine never being ready for that trail. The last time I’d been on it, Liam was the one riding in the backpack. In fact, that was part of the problem. I spent the hike slogging a good distance behind Steve and the boys. Colby was darting uphill like only a little kid can, with no fear of falling since the distance to the ground was so short. Liam rode along, hollering to be let down. I couldn’t keep up with them even then, so I saw them only at the switchbacks. The trail got steeper and steeper, and I got slower. When I finally broke out of the trees, I saw my husband and my two sons walking next to a drop-off overlooking a valley clogged with trees. Not even a strip of moss was between the edge of the world and my children. Their feet were tiny, and the trail was narrow, but there was no room for error. It took a moment before I realized that Liam was out of the pack and walking. I noticed because of his shoes. They were the kind that light up every time the kid’s foot hits the ground. I sunk to the ground so I could have a better grip on the world. I watched my family, step by step, put their feet down on that trail no wider than a sheet of paper. When Liam’s feet connected, they flashed, first white, then red.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 That was where I trained my eyes. Step. Connect. Flash. Step. Connect. Flash. Steve reached his hand over Liam’s shoulder to hold his hand. Step. Connect. Flash. A hunk of shale shot out from under Steve’s foot and flew down the mountain, clanking as it hit other rocks. He wobbled and let go of Liam’s hand. He slid his other foot to center his weight. Step. Connect. Flash. When they got across the exposed section, which was about 100 feet long, they turned to look for me. They were all smiling, and Colby called, “Mama, come on over!” “Just give me a minute,” I tried to say, but my tongue was too fat to work. They started walking again, and they approached a boulder which seemed to block the trail. Part of me was relieved that they couldn’t go on. I couldn’t watch them cross the shale again. I decided to walk into the woods and wait there. But when I got up, I couldn’t see them anywhere. I called and waited, but heard only my own breathing. I called again, and then a laugh chimed in the still air. It was Colby. Steve appeared in front of the boulder again. “Where the hell are the boys?”
in almost two years.” “Get back on the horse. That’s what I always say. You’ll be fine.” She hitched her daypack on and started up the trail. I shouted to her back while trying to stop the waistband of my pack from chafing. “At least wait for me before the shale field, will you? I don’t like that spot.” She turned around and her arms framed her curly dark hair tucked in a red baseball cap. Her face, which normally looked angular, was softened by the shadows of the trees. “You have birthed three children. Three goddamn children. Without drugs. What makes you think you can’t do something as simple as cross some rocks?” Before I could respond, she was invisible, the sound of her feet beating the dirt the only evidence she was even there. Keeping up with her was out of the question even though she was ten years older than me, so I slowed down so I didn’t have a heart attack. It also meant I didn’t have to talk to her, because I was sure I’d bring up Ron again even though I didn’t mean to. So I just walked. The trail was so steep my heart pounded in my ears, and I was sticky with sweat in just a few minutes. I grabbed my sternum strap and hummed Nanci Griffith songs. In the old days I sang out loud, matching my steps to the rhythm of the music. That day I had no extra oxygen to waste on actual words. Besides I was just plain too scared to sing.
“The trail only looks like it ends,” he called back. “How could you leave them by themselves?” The words barely floated away from me. He never heard them. “Lisie, it’s not bad. Once you duck under here and scoot around here, you’re in a big meadow. It’s totally nice.” He made a few hand motions to try to show me where I had to go. “I’ll wait right here for you.” “No,” I said. “Go up with the boys. Don’t wait for me.” I started toward them, but the trail sloped downhill, and I didn’t have light up shoes to tell me when I connected. I cried, taking each step only because I couldn’t have my family on one side and myself on the other. After getting out of the car with Violet that day, I couldn’t tell her all that. All I could say was, “Way to remind me I suck.” Even I hated the whine in my voice. “You know I haven’t hiked anything steeper than the dock at low tide
Scared I would be too clumsy. Scared the trail would demand something I couldn’t give. Scared the trail was as fickle as my dream-river, taunting me someplace I couldn’t escape. Scared I had made all the wrong choices. For about a quarter of a mile I hummed louder; then I ran out of breath. Then I put down my head and moved, roots and rocks rolling my feet, adjusting my weight to stay upright. My knee hurt, but it was grounding, and I rocked my steps into the pain, holding my breath at each sharp bite. Hiking alone is ok. At least then someone faster than me isn’t wasting her hiking time on my slow ass. I climbed, taking a break at each switchback, sweating and swearing at the steepest spots. I tried to imagine Ron here, but couldn’t. I’d only ever seen him on the tundra, and when I pictured him, that landscape seemed etched on his skin. I climbed some more. Swore some more. Thought about
Ron some more. After about an hour I entered the clearing where Violet sat. I was relieved to find her because I had forgotten my water bottle at home and I was thirsty. The flowers hadn’t bloomed and the meadow was the same tan as my kuspuk save a patch of purple monkshood in a bubble behind her. “A few more weeks and this place will smell like a butcher shop with all the chocolate lilies,” Violet said. She pointed to the buds around the meadow which would turn into brown blossoms famous for smelling like a cross between rotten ground beef and dog shit. “Better not to bring the boys here then. Potty humor’s too easy. Can I have some water?” “It’s been so long since you hiked you forgot water?” She handed me her bottle. “If your kids were here you’d remember their water.” She leaned back into the moss with her cap over her eyes. “That’s because if I get thirsty I won’t sit in the middle of the trail and cry.” I unzipped the top of my kuspuk, exposing my sticky skin to the breeze. She grunted. “Maybe.” Whispers in the Forest
Most hikers love “the top” for the great views. I don’t. Looking out on big scenes makes me feel queasy. I always end up with my eyes not on the view, but on the ground in front of me, even if it’s just a bare rock. That day I focused on a clump of mushy moss by my foot. But Violet stirred and I knew she was going to be ready to move. Since my heart was just starting to settle, I fished for an excuse for her to talk and for me to sit. I forced myself to look across the valley.
“How can you tell that was a mine?” “Read about it.” Violet was a librarian and loved local history. If she talked a long time, I would get a chance to breathe, and if she talked long enough, I might run out of time to get to the top. “How do you think they got over there?”
“Hey. What is that?” I pointed to the orange peak across from us. “Right there, next to that green patch, just above and to the left. You see that?” It looked like a faint trail and some logs which may have been railroad ties.
“You’ve read about those guys who came up the Klondike, right? They were either tough or dead.” She paused. “I saw some rusty cable a little way down the trail, so maybe they had a hand tram.”
“Oh, I bet that’s the mine. What the heck was the name? Maybe it’s Daylight.” Violet said. She was rooting through her pack.
She pulled out binoculars then handed them to me. “I assume since you didn’t bring water there’s no way you have binocs.”
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 “Right, my next fail.” I focused on the mine’s opening, which was only large enough for one person to enter. It was hard to imagine someone climbing in and out of that hole, praying for flakes of gold. “How many mines are around here? Does someone keep track of them?”
Leave No Trace (chapter from the novel The Nana Factor)
Prologue “There’s this one retired fish and game guy who’s written some really boring books about them. But lots are just lost. The guy who mined this one is that old Swede. You know him?” She took the binoculars back. “He comes in the library, even though he doesn’t read anymore. Likes to sit in the sun.” I had seen him. He was frail, his plaid flannel shirt hanging loose around his wrists. His khaki pants were cinched with a leather belt where his back slumped forward onto his cane. His caretaker, a woman of about 65 with permed blue hair, clung to him, navigating him into restaurants for coffee and chocolate donuts. He was as determined as a dandelion puff in the late spring, not a miner prying a living out of solid rock two miles from a trailhead. “Did he make any money? Find any gold?” The question I wanted to ask was burning my throat. “Not sure. He hired a Marlene to take him around, so I guess there must have been money somewhere in that hole.” She leaned her head back. “A lot harder work back then to be a miner.” She stuffed her water bottle in her pack. “Now listen. I’ll wait for you at the shale slope. But you’re crossing it and going to the top.” I was mad at her. And myself for bringing it up. “I don’t know. My knee is really hurting.” I rubbed it and made a face. “And I need to be down by four for Liam’s soccer. I’ll just wait here for you. I’m totally ok right here.” I relaxed and ground my butt into the earth to emphasize my comfort. But I was anything but comfortable. Her stare was like a drill. “That is bullshit. Your knee doesn’t hurt, and Steve can take Liam to practice.” There was no anger in her voice. “The trail is there, girlfriend. And you can follow it. You just need to trust. Have trail faith.” She reached down to help me up. “I’m not sure where you lost yours, but let’s go find it.”
The dogs saved us both. First him, then me. It was more than just the physical rescue - they taught us how to live. --Mary Beth Mallory It’s hard to admit, but my grandmother was right. Not the grandmother imposter from the Bronx, but the real one – the one I never met. She was the Lara Croft of the North – a crazy outdoorswoman who drove a dog team 1000 miles through the Alaska wilderness in the 1940s. According to her journals, the dogs saved her. My rescue was different. It involved finding out I wasn’t who I thought I was – and just one dog. A mutt named Ugly. --Chapter One: Leave No Trace Back when plants were tame and my world consisted of places you could reach by bus or train, I learned that the woman I called Nana was a liar. We were hiding out from Hurricane Sandy in her Bronx apartment when she decided to come clean about my real grandmother. As usual, Nana sat perched in the corner of the Chinese patterned sofa. Her nest feathered with a purple kimono, shellacked coif in a scarf for the night. My preferred habitat, an ancient floral armchair, faced the now boarded up windows. On clear days, my view offered up giraffe sightings - their heads sailing through the Bronx Zoo’s canopy ten blocks away. While the chair was my domain, the couch served as command central of the apartment and my world. It was where all big decisions were made: the career to pursue (Journalism); the dream job to obtain (New York Times); and the seat from which boyfriends were interviewed. “Jennika. I was going to wait until I was dead but I decided not to,” said Nana without a hint of sarcasm or wit, her usual mode of communication. “ So, here it goes. I’m not who you think I am.” I grabbed my teacup off the coffee table and
winked at the tiny dragons etched in the wood pattern under the thick glass - my constant comrades in humoring Nana. “Okay, I’ll bite. Who are you?” “Jennika,” she commanded. “Look at me.” Nana’s shrewd blue eyes searched my face. She bit her upper lip, smearing lipstick on her bottom teeth. “Are you okay?” I asked, the scent of Nana’s Chantilly’s White Lace perfume turning rank in the air. “You’re not who you think you are either.” “You sound like a fortune cookie.” The vein under my eye stared to throb. “Just say it, Nana.” She reached for a manila envelope on the side table, started to pass it to me but hesitated. Her shaky hand and the thin brown sheath hovered in the no man’s land growing between us. “Remember I’m old before you get too mad.” I laughed at her plea, a frequently used – and sometimes successful - ploy at dismantling my anger. “Thanks for reminding me, I’ll keep that in mind.” But I didn’t. II Turns out, my real grandmother was not only deceased, she was an Alaskan pioneer. She spent her life on a homestead forty miles from the nearest road in the middle of a temperate rainforest (yes, a rainforest in Alaska). Getting to and from her home involved a boat, small plane or dog sled. After her death, the place became a tourist attraction catering to the wilderness-lite crowd serving up four or six hour packages. The menu included a twentyminute floatplane ride, salmon bake, guided hike, and/ or dog sled adventures on a nearby glacier. So while my friends spent their summer vacations exploring ancestral homes in quaint European villages, I flew north to find out about Mary Beth Mallory. When the lodge came into view, I was sandwiched between two other tourists in the backseat of a floatplane like the youngest kid on a road trip. Surrounded by an old growth forest, the wooden structure was dwarfed by a giant glacier. While the ice cube’s glazed tongue lapped the water, the glacier’s monstrous body arched between icy peaks. Mountains flanked the frozen mammoth like ancient sentinels in wigs of snow and shawls of fog. But the glacier shimmered with life. Rising from the inlet some forty stories high and running a mile wild, its pockmarked face glowered in shades of white, gray, and otherworldly blue.
Back home in Manhattan, I indulge in a game of “I Spy” with Central Park whenever I fly in or out of town. Spotting the jade rectangle, I try to decipher my running routes through the greenery. But from the air, my stomping ground is nothing more than a verdant postage stamp contained by buildings. My grandmother’s place was the only man-made matter in a sea of green. Situated on a grassy knoll facing the inlet, the lodge was pinned in between trees with a hanging glacier above its head. An oblong stronghold guarded by wilderness. A man, standing thigh-high in the inlet, waded up to the floatplane. He reached for the rope hanging from the plane’s wing and walked backwards, pulling the aircraft toward him like a wayward dog on a leash. “What’s he doing?” I asked the pilot when I found the microphone on the headset. “He’s bringing us into the shallows.” The pilot killed the engine. “There’s no dock here so you’ll get out in the drink.” “We get out in the water? How?” “Pretty much the same way you came in, but backwards. That’s why we outfitted you with the rubber boots.” He pulled off his headset. “Don’t worry. Pete’s one of the best. He’ll take good care of you.” I let out an involuntary sigh; my cheeks began to burn. Pete, the plane-walker, and I already knew each other. Calling from my office at the Times to arrange the tour, I lied about the reason for my visit. Instead of sharing the truth, I told him I was writing a book about Mary Beth Mallory. I even dropped my New York Times credentials expecting some kind of reaction, maybe a free tour in exchange for a piece in the Travel section. Not my usual beat but I could make it happen. When he didn’t say anything, I asked if he was familiar with the Times and its national and international readership. “Yes, I am familiar with your paper, Ms. Briery,” Pete said evenly. “We have a short tourist season here and don’t have a lot of wiggle room for free tours. It’s hard enough to accommodate your request for a private tour but I’ll do it because of your interest in Mary Beth.” Hearing her name, my stomach fluttered like a teenager on a first date. I couldn’t stop myself from asking a stupid question. “Did you know Mary Beth?” “I’m not that old.” His laugh and the sound of dogs barking filled my cubicle. I took him off speakerphone and picked up the receiver. “She’s been dead for a decade but she’s a legend around here so I know about her. Listen,
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Mist in Trees
you can pick my brain when you get here. Are you in or out? Travel piece or book research?” In the plane, I watched the other three passengers navigate the ladder and successfully step from the aircraft’s float into the water. When it was my turn, Pete poked his head through the passenger door. “You’re Jennifer, right? I’m Pete,” he said with a big smile. “Looks like they gave you some boots, so you’re good to go. Tide’s out, it’s not very deep.” He returned to the water and called up to me. “Are you coming out or do I need to carry you to the beach?” With a deep breath, I hauled myself out of the back seat and into the Alaskan wilderness. “Hey, there!” Pete called. “Turn around on the ladder! Most people come down the steps backwards.” “I’ve got this,” I said before the big borrowed boots missed the last two steps, landing me in the water on all fours next to Pete. “Are you okay?” Pete pulled me up by my backpack. “I guess I should have loaned you my waders.” With his ALASKA ADVENTURES! cap, sunglasses and an overgrown beard that covered most of his face
and all of his neck, it was impossible to discern if he was laughing at me. His mouth held firm, but one eyebrow arched over the top of his sunglasses. “I’m fine,” I murmured. My wet pants and sleeves burned like a scarlet “F” for fake and failure. What was I doing here? Despite the prescribed polypropylene and Gore-Tex rain jacket, I was cold. A cool mist enveloped this place; it was hard to even call it rain – more like invisible moisture with an icy edge. Back home, August meant sweltering heat and visits to Fire Island but obviously there was no summer in Alaska. “We’ll start your private tour with the dogs, then go through the forest and end at the lodge,” said Pete. “By then, most of the tourists will be gone and you’ll have some room to poke around before the last plane heads back to town. We’ll have to hustle to do it all in six hours.” III The dog yard was on the glacier – a short helicopter hop from the lodge. Since I was spending as much as a European vacation on this trip, I tried to enjoy
the ride but the vein below my eye throbbed as I scanned the horizon. The lodge and dog operation were miniscule specks, but more disturbing, they were the only human imprint for miles. This world was populated with glacier highways, impenetrable mountains, giant trees, and the dark inlet – its tributaries reaching out like tentacles between the landmass. While I knew I was going to ‘remote’ Alaska (like Alaska wasn’t remote enough), my research did not prepare me for this type of wilderness. Despite the drone of the helicopter, all I could hear was Brian’s disapproval. “Get a grip, Jen,” he said, when I finally showed him the place online. We were propped up with an assortment of pillows against my headboard, the bed littered with half-read newspapers. “Will riding a dog sled bring you closer to this woman? Will touching her stuff really make a difference? You’ve got to get over this, forgive Nana, and move on.” “I really think I have to do this, Bri.” I reached for the fat folder that lived on my nightstand. The information on my real grandmother mounting like one of Brian’s legal cases. Brian closed the laptop and got out of bed. It was his turn to make the second pot of coffee. “I’m not looking at it again. You know I’d do anything for you, Babe, but you’re wrong on this. Let it go.” Later, when he was heading toward court, he gave me a longer than usual kiss. “I know it’s tough on you but going to Alaska is not going to fix it. Besides, I thought we made the decision about Paris this summer.” He amped his smile into the super smirk – a look he thought always worked. “Let’s see, the Louvre or dog sledding? Is that even a choice?” Even though I was barely talking to my fake
grandmother, I shared Brian’s hesitation with her. She was furious, “He’s an idiot, Jennika. You can blame me for everything that ever happened to you, but lose the bozo. He’s worthless even with his fancy suits. Go to Alaska. You’re a reporter, you’ll never rest until you get this story.” “You can’t tell me what to do anymore,” I almost screamed into the phone. Then, I booked my trip to Alaska and told Brian I needed some space. So, here I am, standing on a glacier in the middle of nowhere. At sea level, the giant ice cube popped and belched as it shifted and sloughed off parts of its face into the water. Up here, the only noise besides my frantic thoughts crinkled under my boots. With each step, the icy snow announced my arrival in metallic tones, “City Girl on the Glacier. Repeat. City Girl on the Glacier.” Taking my elbow as if shepherding a drunk, Pete said, “It’s important to stay with me.” I could see no difference in the terrain of this frozen ocean, complete with waves and peaks of snow. But I knew about hidden crevasses, blue chutes to the belly of this beast. I let him lead me from the helicopter pad (a spray-painted X in the snow) toward the dog yard in the distance. Adrift in the snow, the motley crew of brown, white, black, and orange mutts lunged on chains, scampered on houses, and pranced in circles. Each mongrel with its own ramshackle house, a six-foot chain bolted to a post, and a bowl in an area not much bigger than a Volkswagen Bug. A howling wind joined the canine cacophony bringing with it the smell of dog shit and my own fear. “Don’t touch any of them,” said Pete. “They’re not pets.” “Wouldn’t dare,” I muttered hoping the wind would mask my words. The dog yard pulsed like a gridlocked intersection – each cur adding its yip, yowl, or whine to the stalled chaos. “They’ll calm down once I harness them,” said Pete. “Let’s go in the shed so you can hear me.” I followed him into a corrugated steel cavern. The make shift shed was not unlike a brokendown equestrian center. Harnesses hung off nails, straw heaps graced the floor, and a foul smell that could only mean dog gruel brimmed out of giant steel cans. If the fishy kibble smell transformed to horseshit; this place could pass for a barn. “You look calmer. What happened?” asked Pete. “This place is like a stable,” I said. “If I think of the
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 dogs as horses, I might be able to manage this.” “You’ll be able to manage it. You’re only here for the afternoon. You have a horse?” “Used to.” My throat tightened. An American Quarter horse, Shadow was a beauty - nothing like this rangy crew of feral athletes. At first, my fake grandmother thought at just over fourteen hands, Shadow was too big for a twelve year old. But I knew she was perfect. We were waiting in the Claremont Riding Academy’s ring, avoiding the August heat and Central Park’s Sunday crowd, when my trainer brought in Shadow. The horse towered over me, but I insisted on riding her. Unable to say no to me, Nana watched mutely as I put my boot in the stirrup. It took three attempts to get my leg over Shadow’s back, but as soon I found my seat Shadow and I took off in a canter. Nana still insists that all pandemonium broke out as Academy staff tried to stop us, but I only remember flying with Shadow. And laughing. A bubbly, breathy release that I thought died with my mother in that car crash. From then on, my life was divided into two parts – being with Shadow and things that kept me from Shadow. Even now, twenty years later, my time at the stable is cast in a sepia tone. “I have a special four-legged friend too.” Pete looped dog harnesses over his shoulder. ”He doesn’t really like people. When he comes around, don’t make eye contact or touch him.” As if on cue, a wolf-like Malamute padded into the shed. Unlike the mongrels in the yard, this dog was canine royalty - its head white except for the black v-shaped widow’s peak framing its face, ears and nose. The rest of his body was thick and covered in black, white and gray fur. A black stripe snaked down his back and up his tail that curved toward his head like a proud plume. “Hey, I was just talking about you boy.” “What’s his name?” I asked. “Ugly,” Pete said without a hint of irony. My carbonated laugh surprised me as it spilled out into the shed. Ugly and Pete swiveled their heads toward the sound. With a gait as graceful as a thoroughbred’s, Ugly made his way across the shed. “Want to say hi, boy?” I crouched and extended my hand. “He’s not friendly.” Pete dropped the harnesses and moved toward me.
By the time Pete reached us, Ugly’s head was in my lap. His brown eyes locked on mine, my fingers lost in the fine silk under his ears. IV The dog sled tour was lame. “Mary Beth didn’t drive a dog team up here. Why are we doing this?” I asked from the sled, a rickety contraption pulled by eight dogs circling a well-worn track. “We’re here because you wanted a private tour.” Pete barked a command at the dogs from his perch on the runners behind the sled. “There’s no snow on the ground until winter, so we have to come up here to run the dogs.” “Are any of them descendants of Mary Beth’s dogs?” “All of them except Ugly.” I stared at the dog butts running ahead of me, not the best sources of information. “If this isn’t to your liking, let’s head down and get to the lodge.” He yelled at the dogs, jammed on the sled’s brake and dropped a big hook into the snow, slamming it into the icy debris with his foot. He unclipped the radio from his belt. “Hey, George, we’ll be ready to go down in five. Steve, can you come and get the team?” With a foot still on the brake, Pete extended a hand and hauled me out of the sled. He nodded at a man in ALASKA ADVENTURES! coveralls trotting toward us. “Okay, the helicopter’s ready to take us down to the woods. We do have to go through them to get to the lodge, and, yes, Mary Beth did walk in them.” His smile almost looked sincere, but I didn’t buy it. On the ground, the forest surrounding the lodge buzzed with activity. After a day of planes, helicopters, dogs and barely concealed loathing, the unfamiliar melody of water and wind, bugs and birds seemed almost friendly. “Skunk Cabbage, a recently hibernated bear’s first meal,” Pete said off-handedly about 15 minutes into our trek. “It roto-rooters their digestive system so they can start inhaling some serious calories.” I imagined bears tracking our movements, watching us as we plundered along. The plant’s elephanteared leaves rigged with some kind of bruin alarm system set to detect the slightest transgression toward their food source. “Mary Beth is an icon around here.” Pete pulled back what I hoped was the last branch in our path. “The lodge is filled with her stuff – sled, journals, crap like that.” “What made her an icon?” What I really wanted
to ask was why did she live out here? My back and thighs burned from shimmying past Addams Family-like plants called Devil’s Club and stinky foliage named Chocolate Lillies. I spent most of the walk with my hands in the air, brushing past stickers as if at gunpoint and scanning the forest for movement. “She was the real deal. Bred killer sled dogs, ran them like a pro and supposedly greeted visitors with a shotgun.” I looked up to see Pete waiting for me, two fingers tapping a tree trunk the size of a bus stop. “Lived out here alone for decades. Rumor has it that she came out here when she was 20 and left in a box.” As soon as I reached him, Pete raised his eyebrows to see if I was ready to go. I wanted to rest and talk about my grandmother, but I nodded. Pete turned and resumed his fast pace. “Let’s keep the questions for the lodge, I’m on a schedule here. Even with a private tour.” Without stopping, he swatted his neck. “No-See-Ums, the worst.” “Excuse me?” “The blood suckers that are eating us, they’re NoSee-Ums. Tiny, nasty bugs.” “Nothing compared to horse flies,” When Pete shot a quick look back at me, I added, “Bugs don’t really bother me, but who came up with these brilliant monikers? “White dudes.” Pete stepped over a root the size of a human torso. “You know, the explorers who thought they were the first ones to discover all of this even though the place was already populated.” We were following what could only be an animal path, a tiny brown strip in an otherwise hallucinatory world of green. It even smelled green as if the moss carpet on everything (I mean everything - rocks, trees, ground, roots) produced an ‘Eau de Scary Forest’ scent. “You’re a white dude.” I limboed under two branches bristling with stickers. “Yeah, I’m a white dude. And, yes, white dudes named everything. Most of the time in their own language and then Latin.” He turned to me. His eyebrows over his sunglasses conveyed approval that I was right behind him. “And while I can’t name all the names, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Everything and everyone has multiple names. For instance, what are your names?” “I only have one name. I’m just Jennifer,” I lied. V “You’re sure you’re not sick?” It only made sense if it was a deathbed confession. “Jennika, I’m in perfect health.” Nana repeated for
maybe the tenth time. Hurricane Sandy pushed another branch into the boarded up windows. She got up and moved a plant from a shaking shelf to the floor. “Then, why now?” “I understand you’re upset.” She curled back in her corner with a sigh. “I want you to vet the story, do the research. You know, while I’m still around.” “You’re really not sick?’ I started to pace Nana’s tiny living room like one of the Zoo’s caged tigers, specifically the largest one, Demitri, the one who always evoked my sympathy. How could something so big be contained in such a small space? “Not sick. Not dying. Just ready to deal with this.” Still attached to the adoption papers, my right hand started to sweat. I waved them at her. “How could you have kept this from me? Did Mommy know?” Even I noticed I sounded like a five year old. “She did not.” Nana shook her head slowly. “Jennika, it’s complicated.” “No, it’s not.” I shouted, competing with the rain and wind rattling the plywood that we knew would hold firm. Nana glanced at the wall behind the sofa, a warning to keep my voice down so Mrs. Weitz next door wouldn’t hear. I spoke even louder. “It’s simple really, you’ve lied to me my entire life. I could have met this woman when she was alive. Could have met her…” The vein below my eye pulsed, my synapses finally in full gear. “…after Mom died. You know. When I could have really used a blood relative.” “Jennika, you need to…” I waved a hand in the air, silencing her. I felt like Shadow after a run, all lathered and foamy. Even with the papers in my hand, Nana was a wall of non-information. “Don’t tell me what I need. You don’t have the right to do that anymore.” What I needed was to get out of here, go online and research this newfound grandmother but Hurricane Sandy had me on lock down in the Bronx. No Internet, television or phone service - just the imposter and me weathering the storm. Definitely not one of my best days, but Nana had seen it before, albeit when I as fourteen. At 32, it was a bit embarrassing, especially the crescendo – when I sputtered a particularly vile ‘I hate you!’ in her direction. Nana rose out of her corner, still unruffled, and said softly. “Don’t say that. Even if you mean it right now. Please don’t say it again. It hurts too much.” I nodded. I wanted to burrow into her soft body, inhale the White Lace. Instead, I walked into the bathroom, the only door with a lock in her three-room apartment, and stayed there until morning.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
Frozen Leaf #20
When I emerged, Nana watched me pack up. Pale eyes rimmed with smudged mascara, tear tracks in her foundation, hair askew. She tightened her kimono, pulled up to her full height and looked me in the eye. “Jennika, are we going to be okay?” “I don’t know, Nana. I need time.” She nodded, taking a deep breath. “I don’t hate you.” I looked up at the perfectly painted white ceiling but there was no respite there, only memories of joking with Nana and the workers during the two-day project just three months ago. “I never thought you’d betray me.”
and now I’m finally just Pete. And with the dogs, my name doesn’t matter, I’m just the Guy-Who-Smells-Like-Me.” “Why are you telling me this?” “I don’t know, just Jennifer of New York.” He titled his head. “ I can ignore a lot of things but a message from Ugly, that’s something to look at. Plus, you’re finally keeping up and don’t mind bugs.” He added with a broad grin. “But you did fall in the drink getting out of the float plane.” “Definitely one of my finer moments.” I laughed and something changed in what I could see of Pete’s face. He had a nice smile, or at least his teeth were all straight and shiny in that mess of facial hair. I turned and walked ahead of him. Eventually, the path spilled out on the rocky beach. The sun was high in the sky, but the inlet was an icy palette of gray. Turning toward the forest, I silently thanked the trees, bears, and what I thought of as carnivorous plants for our safe passage. “Mary Beth lived out here for fifty years or so. Mostly alone but she had lots of Ken dolls to play with,” said Pete, walking by my side. “Ken dolls?” My stomach sank as Pete’s offhand remark confirmed my suspicion that finding my grandfather’s identity might be impossible. “Men. She had a lot of lovers.” Pete grinned, eyebrow arched. “She was a wilderness babe. She knew how to handle dogs.” I was about to reply when I saw the lodge – a stone and wood structure with mullioned windows and a rock chimney spouting smoke into the sky. Up close, the building was an integral part of the landscape like the waves rattling the rocks on the beach, the trees pitching in the wind, the glacier looking down on it. “Expecting a shack with a stack?” Pete corralled me toward the carved door. A sign stood to the left of the building. Etched in black on a brown board stood a picture of a bear, a glacier, trash in a red circle, and the words:
VI In the forest by my real grandmother’s home, Pete asked, “You okay?” I nodded, finally noticing the giant fern I was staring at. “I don’t believe you’re just Jennifer. Everyone has at least a couple of names.” He took a swig from his water bottle, wiping what was probably a fourinch beard with his sleeve. “Sometimes what you’re called depends on the environment. I was Peter to my parents, Sweetie to my ex, Party Dude at school, Doc in the lab
YOU ARE IN A WILDERNESS SITE Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing footprints LEAVE NO TRACE KNOW BEFORE YOU GO CHOOSE THE RIGHT PATH RESPECT WILDLIFE
BE CAREFUL WITH FIRE PACK IT IN. PACK IT OUT BE KIND TO OTHER VISITORS LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND
Breaking out into laughter, I mumbled, “You’ve
got to be kidding.” “You’re laughing because you don’t need a sign to tell you the obvious or you have a problem not leaving a trace of yourself in every place you go?” “Leave nothing but footprints must have been Mary Beth’s motto. She certainly didn’t leave anything for me.” I looked at him and decided to come clean. “I’m not doing a research project on Mary Beth for the New York Times.” Pete’s grin was gone, his eyebrows set in a line. “Mary Beth is my grandmother. She gave my mother to some woman in the Bronx who I thought was my grandmother until a few months ago,” I said for the third time since learning the truth. “Mary Beth didn’t leave a trace for my mom or me.” I started to sniff, head down, shoulders shaking like a kid. “You’ve got some snot on your upper lip.” Pete produced a dirty red bandanna. “If you have to cry - cry. But that sign is bullshit. Everyone leaves a trace.” His eyes, the color of the forest, searched my face and then landed on my own. “Don’t lie to me anymore.” I took the filthy bandanna and blew my nose. VII Pete opened the door to the lodge. “See? There’s an entire trunk of traces.” He tilted his head toward a weathered crate next to the fireplace. “Good luck decoding.” He walked toward the sounds coming from behind a swinging door. The lid, heavy in my hand, creaked as I opened it. The trunk’s contents a jumble of stained and warped composition books, tattered newspapers, mildewed stained letters, official looking documents and mouse poop – a camphored archeological dig. I slid to the floor. Heart pounding, headache building, eyes blurring. I grabbed a journal and read: September 1949. Well, it looks like winter took me by surprise. Yesterday, I was thinking that the yellow aspens were just like me, shaking with excitement about their change of scenery as we settle in to what will be my first fall in Alaska. And today, I woke up to two feet of snow, maybe more. Jim’s in town off on a bender, no doubt. He left yesterday and I was so excited to be alone out here. Just me and the dogs. At first, I felt like a kid on a snow day. Until I realized that I didn’t have enough wood to keep warm for a day, just enough to thaw
out the dogs breakfast and cook up some gruel for myself (I think maybe the dog food looks better than mine!). I guess I better find a saw and figure out what to do with it. It can’t be hard. I saw Jim cut up some of the logs at the back of the lodge while he was three sheets to the wind. Should be easy sober. Or maybe a quick shot in my coffee would do the trick? Will report later! “Here.” Pete handed me a beer. I looked up at him, my fingers still touching my grandmother’s words. “How about I call the air taxi and tell them you won’t be going back tonight?” I managed a grateful nod. “I thought you didn’t have cell phone coverage out here?” “We don’t. Satellite phone.” Pete took a pull on his beer. “Where are you staying in town? We’ll have to call them or they might report you to the Search and Rescue Team.” Surprised that my whereabouts would be of concern to strangers, I gave Pete the name of my hotel. “Do you need to call anyone?” I could see Nana circling her landline, hoping that I would call. Even Brian was waiting to hear from me, bombarding my phone with texts and voice mails, sweetening his apologies with offers to meet me. I shook my head firmly. “I’ll make the phone calls but no Ken Doll action,” he quipped with a goofy grin. I’m not into ‘Found My Granny’s Journals’ sex. Especially with a New York Times reporter. Could get ugly.” I laughed, just a little alarmed. I knew more than a dozen people staffed the place during the tourist season. “Hate to break it to you but the Grizzly Adams Ken doll never did much for me.” “That’s okay.” Pete nodded at the trunk, unperturbed. “I think you’ve got plenty to do tonight.” Laughter exploded into the room. “I’ll ask him,” a tall woman pushed open the swinging door at the back of the room. She made her way toward Pete, her rubber boots and wilderness clothes looked like designer wear complete with a blond ponytail bouncing out of the back of an ALASKA ADVENTURES! cap. “Hey babe.” She wrapped an arm around Pete’s waist and plucked the beer out of his hand with the other. “Is it true? Did someone actually fall out of a float plane today?”
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
TRIBUTES Vered Mares
Transit Papers: Remembering Ernest Anthony “Tony” Mares Ernest Anthony (Tony) Mares died January 30, at the age of 76, after complications from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was born May 17, 1938, in Albuquerque, into a family steeped in the rich history of New Mexico and the desert Southwest. There are no good words to sum up the life of such a brilliant and gentle soul. Tony was a true Renaissance man: professor, poet, essayist, dramatist, actor, political agitator and social activist, as well as mentor and friend. His life and legacy will continue to touch people through the lessons he taught his students, his overt dislike of the “establishment,” and his extensive body of written work. His most recent work, a collection of poems about the Spanish Civil War, Through the Convex Mirror of Time: Remembering the Spanish Civil War, will be published posthumously. He wrote and performed his play, I Returned and Saw Under the Sun, and traveled all over the Southwest, playing the role of Padre Martinez of Taos. His essays about Martinez were anthologized in the book, Padre Martinez: New Perspectives from Taos. It is fitting that Tony’s obituary be as untraditional as he was. Thus Tony leaves his family and friends with the following thoughts: “In the movie Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart, proprietor of ‘Rick’s Café Americain,’ tries to obtain the ‘transit Tony Mares papers’ from the Nazis that will allow his ex-girlfriend, played by Ingrid Bergman, to escape with her husband from Vichy controlled Casablanca. “Since I have never liked the sounds of ‘will’ or ‘testament,’ I prefer Transit Papers, which seems to me a term more fluid and ambiguous with future possibilities. What will I transit to? A hideous urn that a merciful cat will knock over and scatter my ashes in some broken-down trailer home? Or ashes placed in a simple urn to be scattered over a beautiful site somewhere on the North American continent, a place like the Rio Grande or the Sandia Mountains, or maybe Alaska? As I write this, I am fully aware that my ashes will have no say so whatsoever in what happens to them. So I leave it up to my resourceful wife and daughters who survive me to determine what to do with me while I am cooling off in some urn or container.” In Tony’s closing scene from his play, I Returned and Saw Under the Sun, the Padre bids us farewell, “…And now, I really must be going, mis hijos, my children, for the voyage is long and I have scarcely begun my travels. I trust we will also meet again soon and we can resume our discussions of these weighty matters. Remember to travel lightly. I now travel as light as a shadow, as light as the traces I leave of myself in your minds, in your dreams. Adiós.” As he so aptly put it, “When the poem stops, you should go through the windshield.”
La Coqueta A true flirt, She has so many names. La huesuda, la flaca, La calaca, la hedionda, La tiznada, la fregada, La tía Sebastiana To name only a few.
I know we’re on good terms, That old flirt and me, Esa pelona, cabrona, la desdentada, La mala cara, la bribona, La Reñosa, la harapienta, La chingada, la muerte, Death with all her alluring names.
In the market at Morelia A young man running with a side of beef Bumps into me. The blood smears the back of my shirt. I know that she is flirting again. She’s brushed up against me, Left me a token of her esteem, That bony-faced woman.
Come Bony-Faced Woman, Skinny One, Skull Face, Bald-Headed One, Bitch, Stinking One, Toothless One, Soot-Covered One, Sour Face, Screwed-Up One, Rascal, Grim-Faced Aunt Sebastiana, Ragged One, Dirty One, Fucked-Up One, Come, let us dance On and on together, Always laughing and dancing, We’re two of a kind.
She knows I tried to find amulets With her rictus smile To hang from the rear-view mirror of my car. She knows that at least I tried To stuff her image into a morral But that day she was not in the market. That’s why she smiled at me on the road From Matehuala to San Luis Potosí When the van hydroplaned out of control. Pues no pasó nada. ¡N’hombre! No me digas.
--E.A. Mares The Unicorn Poem & Flowers and Songs of Sorrow (West End Press, 1992)
She smiled again on the road Between Guadalajara and Tepic When I hydroplaned again in the Ford van, Smashed against a guard rail, Went hurtling across the road Into the oncoming headlights. This is it, I thought. This is really it. The oncoming headlights Moved to the right, Then vanished. No collision. Oh, she had a good laugh that time.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
INTERVIEW Emily Wall
John Morgan on his new book Archives of the Air and on his mentors, his writing process, and the Denali Park residency
Emily Wall: You got your MFA from the University of Iowa, which many consider the best MFA program in the country. You told me last week over dinner that you worked with some of my mentors, including Jon Anderson. What was that experience like? John Morgan: My main teachers were George Starbuck and Marvin Bell. I have many happy memories of Iowa City, but probably the most important moment for my poetry was my disastrous first conference with Starbuck. George held up the folder of my prize-winning undergraduate poems and said, “Why are you writing this stuff?” “Stuff” was the word he used, but what he meant was “crap.” At that time my poems used a bizarre mixture of syntax and diction that called on Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats, and Tennyson, with maybe a little Robert Frost thrown in. He pointed this out and told me it wasn’t working at all. I went back to my Iowa City boarding house utterly depressed, but a few weeks later, with the next poem I turned in to him, I’d found my voice and he grinned and told me: “Now you’re on the right track. Just keep writing like this.” So those were the low and high moments of my writing experience at Iowa, all in the first few weeks.
Later on, my friendship with Jon Anderson became crucial to building an overall aesthetic, which has stayed with me ever since. As Jon saw it, we were all engaged in a collective endeavor, and the advances or “breakthroughs” that anyone of us made promoted the group effort. And
generalizing this view, he argued that poets everywhere, no matter how antisocial or egotistical they might be on the surface, were, at a deeper level, all secretly in cahoots. This generous insight took some of the sting out of the brutal critiques we faced in Workshop, although later on, out in the literary world, it disconcerted me to see how contentious the poetic landscape really was. EW: You ran the Creative Writing Program at UAF for many years. Can you talk a little about what the experience of running a creative writing program is like? Any crazy stories to tell? JM: When I got to Fairbanks in 1976, the program consisted of four graduate students and me. They wrote poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction and it was a little crazy that I was supposed to teach them all. But I opened the workshop to the community and some really fine local writers joined in. I was replacing David Stark who’d taken the year off to work on the pipeline and make some real money. He came back the next year and the workshop grew by a couple of students. By the mid-eighties we had a full-scale program and were adding faculty. Some of our students are local, but many come from out-of-state and are here for the adventure as much as the writing. They’re all interesting people and it’s been a pleasure to work with them. As for crazy stories, well…. In my undergraduate classes I often give students an assignment to write about an accident or injury they’ve had. It encourages them to
126 think in terms of dramatic narrative and how to tell a story. A shy girl in one of my classes who wore an eye patch and rarely spoke wrote about being mauled by a pack of sled dogs when she was six. It was a harrowing piece that later went into her graduate thesis which became the memoir, Road Songs. As a result she won a Whiting Award, a major national prize for younger writers. Of course there’s a lot more to her book than that one incident, but I like to think it was the spark. Nobody would call Natalie Kusz shy these days, but she was very young at the time and it was great to be able to follow her development. EW: You live in a very rich literary community in Fairbanks. Can you talk a little about how this affects your work? JM: Well, there are the local writers who are friends and then, through the university, a great visiting writers program. My third year here Dave Stark and I started the Midnight Sun Writers Conference, which brought a lot of major writers to work in the community. So the sense of isolation, which could have been a problem, never really developed. We had big-name poets coming in like William Stafford, Maxine Kumin, Caroline Forché, Galway Kinnell, Gary Snyder, and so on. The writing conference is no longer running, but we still have an excellent visiting writers program. People really want to see Alaska, so in many cases we didn’t have to pay their usual high fees. We’ve had Ted Hughes, for example, and Lucille Clifton, as well as a number of best-selling fiction writers like Robert Stone, Francine Prose, Ray Carver, and so on. EW: You acknowledge a number of friends who worked with you as you revised the poems and the book. Can you talk more about the process of sharing these poems with friends? JM: Over the years I’ve belonged to several writing groups involving other members of the community. These usually meet once a month, which works out well, since a poem a month is about my pace. The feedback is essential. When I was putting the new collection together I wanted to include a long poem about a family canoe trip on the Chena River. It’s an older poem and looking it over I remembered a critical comment that Peggy Shumaker had made way back when, which led to an important revision in the published version. EW: Can you talk about the writing residence in Denali? What was most productive about that time for you?
CIRQUE JM: My Denali residency was amazing. I was given the Murie Cabin for ten days. It’s right in the middle of the park and I had the use of my car. I kept a daily journal and wrote five or six poems as a result. Right from the start I had a feeling that something special was going to happen. And it did: the experience recorded in the poem “Vision,” which is in the new collection. The philosopher William James said that one of the principle features of a visionary experience is that you can’t describe it in words, but I gave it my best try. As I was driving toward the overlook at Polychrome Pass, the light and the appearance of things became highly distorted. Everything seemed to be shimmering and my sense of myself shifted as well. It was as if I was not just on a winding road near the edge of a cliff but on some kind of metaphysical edge as well. It felt as though I’d stepped outside of time and was somehow being offered a more cosmic view of the natural order. And that’s what I tried to describe in the poem. EW: How do you think being recognized as an “Alaska poet” affects your work? JM: I came up here from New York, and initially I thought of myself as a “New York Poet” who happened to be living in Alaska. Over the years that’s changed, obviously, and Alaska has become a key element in my writing. A while ago I sent a book manuscript to a New York editor and he wrote back that there was way too much Alaska in the book and that nobody in New York cared about Alaska. That was before Sarah Palin, so maybe things have changed. In any case, I do write about other things besides Alaska, and I get my Alaska poems published all around the country. For instance, the title poem of the new collection was published in Great River Review, a Wisconsin journal, and “Vision” first appeared in Subtropics, which comes out of Florida. About thirty years ago we build a house that overlooks the Tanana River and has the Alaska Range on the horizon. A ledge across the road from my house has been the setting for several dozen poems. I just go there and sit and wait, and pretty soon things are happening, both out there on the river and in my inner world. Initially I set a goal of writing one poem a month at that location. Those twelve poems are in a earlier collection, Walking Past Midnight, but once the year was up, I saw no reason to stop and there are a number of poems in the new book that came out of that just-sit-and-wait way of writing. The sequence as a whole is called “Above the Tanana,” and I sometimes see
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 poems by other Alaskan writers in journals, and think to myself, “Hmm, I wonder if they’ve been reading my stuff?” Because there’s a very characteristic tone to the sequence and I do know other poets who’ve been influenced by it. Years ago a well-known East Coast poet urged me to get back to New York as fast as I could. He was thinking that there was no way that I could have a career living in such a remote place as Alaska. But in terms of things I might actually want to write about, New York seems quite narrow compared with the wonderful freshness and space we have in Alaska. In any case, I didn’t take his advice. EW: I’d love to hear more about the overall structure of this new book. We have three very distinct sections. How did you choose these poems? And why order them this way? JM: At this point—I’m in my early seventies—I have lots of poems to choose from, but my first criterion is: do I still really like this poem? That weeded out a bunch. Then there was the question of how each poem fit with the others. Initially, I had a second long poem in the book, a bloody account of cannibalism in colonial Australia, but I felt it was too much of a downer and took it out. That helped the overall tone of the book. As another example, there are nine sonnets in the collection, but I have quite a few more. I just included the ones I liked best. Then there was the question of whether to group the sonnets together or spread them out. I decided to spread them out because I felt that worked better for the pacing of the book. There’s no great intellectual justification for the three sections. Again, it just felt right for the material. I mixed personal poems with poems in other voices and fairly strict formal poems with free verse. I wanted each poem to have the benefit of coming as a bit of a surprise, so I tried not to over-think the structure. In retrospect I can see that there are more personal poems in the first section and that the third section has a broader scope, ending with a poem (“Psalm: After Nietszche”) that literally spans trillions of years. EW: You also have quite a few ekphrastic poems in the book. Can you talk about the process of writing this way? JM: Yes. By the way, I just looked up ekphrastic to make sure we were talking about the same thing—poems inspired by paintings. The poem I mentioned earlier, the first poem of mine that George Starbuck actually liked,
VISION Followed a fox toward Polychrome Pass. Red smudged with black along its lean rib-cage, it rubs its muzzle on a former meal, ignores the impatient poet on its tail. Then nearing the overlook, sun shearing through low clouds transmutes the view to glitter. Everything’s golden, scintillant. I feel like a seedpod wafted into space and check my shaky hands on the steering wheel. As the road crests over its top, boundaries dissolve. Beside that sheer intractable edge, I greet my radiant center, discharge all my terms. How easy it seems to channel between worlds, my old self dying into a new, with nothing firm to hold me here but love. And that’s what Nature has it in its power to do.
was a description of a postcard reproduction of a painting from the Gardner Museum in Boston. It’s not in this new collection of poems, but “Postcard from Nancy” is another example of the same thing and it was the second poem I wrote at Iowa. It’s over fifty years old, by far the oldest poem in the book. Nancy and I were engaged at the time and she was taking an art history class at Simmons College and would send me these postcards from the Gardner. It’s a love poem, of course, and I included it in honor of our 50th anniversary coming up later this year. It won the Academy of American Poets Prize for Iowa that year, and that’s when I really got the feeling that I was on the right track.
thing today when we surf channels on TV. I guess it’s a question of the New York Poets still being a presence in my work—John Ashbery in particular, whose poems are constantly leaping from one sort of diction to another, often as a joke, although he can use that same technique in serious poems too. Another important influence on my work was Robert Lowell, my undergraduate poetry teacher. His work moved over time from a very high-flown poetic diction to something much more colloquial and accessible. To really engage me, a poem has to be willing to take risks, both in terms of subject and form. Surprising the reader is one of the keys and shifts in diction can be an important aspect of this.
The other ekphrastic poems, one based on a self-portrait by the French artist Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and one based on an Uccello altarpiece, use the paintings as a way of getting at larger issues. In one case, it’s the French Revolution and how it completely disrupted people’s lives, while the other one deals with the long history of European anti-Semitism. There’s also a poem dedicated to my friend, the Alaskan artist Kes Woodward, which tackles the issue of global warming. So it seems to me that I’m never just describing a picture but rather using the painting as a way of investigating another, more universal topic. Of course I try to do justice to the paintings with a careful description, and when they’re successful the descriptions feed into the larger themes.
EW: I love the title of this book—can you tell us the story of how you came up with it?
EW: One thing that strikes me about your poems is the mix of the profane and the lyrical. It happens both in diction and in voice in your poems. For example, the opening of “From a Journal” in which we have this casual voice say “But hey--/it’s the park” juxtaposed with the very lyrical lines “the wet-rag sky wrung out/with little hope for change.” Another example is in your long poem “Above the Tanana”: “Shit/on Alyeska!” and “a mottled gray on white of passing clouds/flows on the ice.” The contrast creates such a surprise and poetic tension. Can you talk about this technique? JM: That’s a great question. As I mentioned earlier, my undergraduate poems—the ones that Starbuck trashed— were a jumble of poetic dictions that I didn’t have under control. We all have these different voices floating around in our heads, but making them work together in a single poem—that’s a challenge. Growing up in New York, I heard all kinds of diction, from Bronx slang and Yiddish jokes, to southern sportscasters on the radio and British or pseudo-British pompousness. We get the same kind of
JM: “Archives of the Air” is the first poem in the book, and it was my favorite title, so I used it for the collection. In the poem itself, the word “archive” is ambiguous. At first it seems to refer to the cranes, which have a prehistoric quality to them, but actually it’s referring to the guy who’s explaining about them in the poem, an ornithologist who specializes in cranes. In a sense he embodies all the weird facts about cranes that come out in the poem, so he himself is the archive. As a title for the collection, it combines an interest in recording and preserving facts (as in an archive), matched up with something less concrete, an unseen spiritual quality floating around in the air. Both elements are a part of what I’m trying to capture in the poems. EW: You have published several books with the Irish press Salmon Poetry, which I believe is where you and I met— through Jessie Lendennie, the publisher we share. Salmon Poetry publishes quite a few Alaskan poets. What has your experience with Salmon been like? JM: I think we first met at the Salmon Poetry table at an AWP conference. I can’t say enough about what Jessie Lendennie has done. Her books are beautiful and she covers so much ground—both Irish and American poets, and including Alaska as one of her focuses. One thing I love is the way she involves her writers in the production of the books, suggesting the cover illustrations and having so much say with the content. Salmon was nominated this year as one of the top small presses at AWP and although it didn’t win, it made the short list. Hopefully in the future she’ll get that prize. She certainly deserves it.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
F E AT U R E
A l ways a Laurea t e
My Friends Have Made The Story of My Life The title above is a quote from Emily Dickinson. I never found out which of her many poems and letters the words came from. It arrived in a greeting card with sketches of four expressive female faces above the text. I placed it in a forest green frame and we have traveled many years together. What does it signify? I think most of all connection, not just bonds I share with those close to me but with all those far away with whom there has been caring and trust--with whom when I do communicate, it’s as if we are suddenly in the same room and no time has passed. I think this is also true of language for those of us who write. We have to love it, work it with all its possibilities, sometimes stand away from it in order to reconnect and return.
organizing at the Pioneer Schoolhouse in a few weeks. I didn’t know Mrs. Mielke had served as Alaska’s first Poet Laureate. I didn’t tell her this was the first poem I had written since 1964 when I had been ill in the hospital and given my mother the key to my New York apartment, only to find later she had cleaned. A novella, short stories, poems, journals, notes I had jotted from writing workshops, had been carried out as trash. What could she have been thinking as they slid down the building’s incinerator? However I just smiled at Mrs. Mielke, said yes, went home to my small house in Nunaka Valley, turned part of our dining table into a desk and wrote like mad. All these years later I am still writing.
Sandra asked me to write as sort of a Three California poets came to that status account--my life, my writing, and reading: Marlene Vavra, Charles (Mickey) what I could say that would help younger Mitchell, and Jim Gove; and it was exciting writers. However I do not use Facebook to meet them and talk. Marlene would nor keep journals, though I have at times. commit suicide, Mickey would leave, but Joanne Townsend I did live in Alaska for 35 years, 1970Jim stayed three years. He published a 2005, and it was my honor to serve four small journal, Minotaur, was a mentor official years as Alaska’s 8th Poet Laureate, and about 2 to many local poets, and organized poetry readings in a years unofficially at the Arts Council’s request until a new restaurant on Northern Lights Boulevard; The building laureate was appointed. Sense of place was so strong was a Quonset hut,, a long narrow noisy space in which that we were living in New Mexico for three years before I we shouted our poems to crowds while pots banged could write a poem that did not have tinges of Alaska in it. and dishes clattered. When his employer called him back to the states, Jim asked Steve Levi and me to take over My plunge into life as a poet began in Anchorage in 1975. the readings. Later the place changed hands, and the I had spent weeks penciling a poem about my Polish readings were no longer welcome; but Steve had the idea grandfather and then had read in the newspaper that of starting a poetry magazine. We would work together, there was a poets’ luncheon as part of Fur Rendezvous. co-publish, and in spring 1978 Harpoon was born. It was going to be then or never; thus I shyly entered the Captain Cook Hotel clutching my penciled paper, found During this time I was taking university classes; teaching the room, took a seat--knew no one. After lunch, all these writing to gifted children at an elementary school; teaching people took out their books, typed sheets, and whateverpoetry in the men’s prison, an old concrete building on -some read poems from memory. I was last and nervously 3rd Avenue; juggling housekeeping, and raising a young read what would become “Grandfather Poem # 1” in a son. My husband worked long hours usually missing series. Folks applauded, and then Margaret Mielke came dinner and our son’s bedtime. Feminism, women’s rights over and asked if I would take part in a reading she was were in the news, discussed in group meetings and the
press. Sometimes I felt that Alaska with its wide spaces and history of exploration was one mythic place for men with their boots and packs, yet another place for women with their responsibilities and assigned roles. I felt that our writing was less valued and tried really hard to even this out. Steve and I gave up Harpoon the summer of 1982. He went on with the books he was destined to write, and I left my husband and son to spend four graduate semesters at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where I had a teaching assistantship.
On an afternoon with a gunmetal sky and threatening clouds, I write to an old friend how I am grayer, slower, more arthritic though I come from an ancestry of strong women. Time’s wrinkles, yes, but I move on in sensible shoes, repeating repeating my life’s long walk, taking on the thunder.
a painting you come upon by chance a door blocked by a tree a sigh someone no
a tree blocking a door
why such grayness
hint of time of day?
perhaps a flickering bird shadow this poem a leaf
If Arkansas taught me anything, it was not all the American and English literature that my mind was stuffed with-yes that was important but mainly I learned that I could survive anywhere. Miller Williams refused to let me into his writing classes because I had never taken his elementary course in the form and theory of poetry. My advisor and professors spoke to him but he was unbending. During my last semester I submitted three poems for an award that usually went to Miller’s students. I won one of the three Felix McQueen awards given that year. Dr. Margaret Bolsterli, one of my professors, cancelled our class on southern women writers so all could attend the ceremony. That was survival, and so were all the lonely nights when I had fallen asleep in my big bed, exhausted, my books and papers all around me, dreaming of home and snow and moose chomping on birch limbs. What I would say to younger writers is believe in yourselves. Whether you write on scrap paper in snatched moments, sit at a computer, or have a writing room; whether you discipline yourself to write so many hours a day or write only when the words run in your head till they push you, it is never the same for any two people. When you read other poets, look at beginnings and endings, all the ways individual writers get in and out of their material. And don’t ever let anyone tell you what you have written is not a story, an essay, or a poem: a leaf has veins, a rose opens, light sweeps the sky. When I moved to New Mexico in 2005, I expected to be able to return to Alaska for the summers. Dan and I had done that for five years, living part of the winter in South Central Florida on a barrier island, the rest of the year in Anchorage. Health issues changed our plans. It’s called having too many birthdays. And so we release Painted Ladies, shipped from Florida’s butterfly farms, into New Mexico skies--and sometimes hear the shamans’ calls, trying to bring back the ones who have lost their way.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
F E ATU R E
Cynthia Lee Sims
The final poets and poems to be placed by the Poems in Place project have just been announced.
Poems Mark Place When driving south out of Anchorage, we always stop. We get out, take a picture, upload to Facebook with the line, “Stopping by poem,” and think about how these place marking poems, gems cut to fit, will remain in their settings, long after the poets are gone. ~ Sandra Kleven
Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, Kodiak “The Compass Rose” by Fred Stager “Tideline” by Leslie Leyland Fields Caines Head State Recreational Area, Seward “A Soldier’s Station” by Aleria Jensen “Pilgrims” by Justine Pechuzal
Poems arising from place have found permanent homes in Alaska landscapes. So far, they can be found next to roads or trails in State Parks near Ketchikan, Fairbanks, Palmer, Dillingham, and Anchorage. In September four new poems will be paired with photographs under the artful hands of the state park’s designer, then burnished into metal to stand before waterways and forests in Kodiak and Seward (see announcement above right).
What Whales and Infants Know By Kim Cornwall A beluga rising from the ocean’s muddy depths reshapes its head to make a sound or take a breath.
Beluga Point, Turnagain Arm, Alaska
I want to come
along with its epigram, “Beluga Point, Turnagain Arm” came to mind and it “became very clear that the poem needed to be there.”
at air and light like this. To make my heart a white arc above the muck of certain days, and from silence and strange air
In 2011, Cornwall’s poem became the first “poem in place” just off the Seward highway, where in 2015, it continues to connect with travelers from around the world. Arlene Cornwall, the poet’s mother says:
send a song
“Kim was such an amazing and talented person and to be able to share her love of poetry with others has been so healing for me.” ~~~ Wendy Erd, Charlotte Fox, former director of Alaska State Council for the Arts and Claire LeClair, deputy director of Alaska State Parks imagined expanding the Poem in Place project hoping to seed poems across Alaska. Working with the Alaska Center for the Book, and a volunteer
to breach the surface where what we most need lives. One morning, Wendy Erd was out running in Homer not long after her friend, poet Kim Cornwall, had passed away. Suddenly Kim’ s poem, “What Whales and Infants Know”
committee of poets and writers the project began to take shape in Alaska. Poems for Alaska’s places are selected through a competitive process and blind judging. All are original work either submitted by the poet or nominated by others. The winning poet receives $150. Emily Wall and Ernestine Hayes both have poems placed at Ketchikan’s Totem Bight State Historical Park, installed in 2013. Emily Wall says that even though she has been published, she was even more excited to have a poem at the park.
This Forest, This Beach, You
By Emily Wall
If you were a cedar you would be waiting for rain to fall or fall harder, relaxing your ten thousand needles. If you were a handful of moss you would be waiting for the light so you could climb further up this rich, fallen log. If you were a blue mussel you would be waiting for the tide to rise to open your lips, to sip. What a world this is. Close your eyes and inhale. Eat a little of this air. Let it fill your belly. Let the taste of this place
Ernestine Hayes at Totem Bight State Historical Park
always rest on your tongue.
The Spoken Forest
by Ernestine Hayes
I was thinking about the forest one day and it came to me— our stories, our songs, our names, our history, our memories are not lost. All these riches are being kept for us by our aunties, our uncles, our grandparents, our relatives— those namesakes who walk and dance wearing robes that make them seem like bears and wolves. Our loved ones. Those beings who live in the spoken forest. They are holding everything for us.
Emily Wall at Totem Bight State Historical Park
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 Emily Wall is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau and has published two poetry collections, Freshly Rooted and Liveaboard;. Ernestine Hayes, author of Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir and professor at UA Southeast, is a Native American (Tlingit) memoirist and an active supporter of Native rights and decolonization. Emily Wall and Ernestine Hayes are both past Cirque contributors. In this issue, see Wall’s interview with Fairbanks poet, John Morgan. Poems by Frank Soos and John Haines, were placed at the Chena River State Recreational Area, near Fairbanks. Soos’ poem “The Blue Fish,” appears at Rose Hip Campground. Frank, a retired UAF English professor, is Alaska’s current Poet Laureate. Soos wrote the poem, a reference to the Arctic Char, “specifically to go along the river.” “Poem of the Forgotten,” by former Alaska Laureate the late John Haines, was nominated and submitted by a friend and admirer of Haines. It was placed at the North Fork Cabin at mile 47.8 on the Chena Hot Springs Road. John Haines, a prolific writer and likely Alaska’s most wellknown poet, taught creative writing at the University of Alaska Fairbanks; Haines died in 2011. A painting of a birch tree by Alaskan artist Kessler Woodward is paired with Haines’ poem.
The Blue Fish
by Frank Soos
In a land where every spring Makes this river new, Few things grow old. The blue fish, its body, once a Narrow gray torpedo, transformed— Indigo, calico, the many Ways blue is blue−changed by Time alone, its turquoise splashed Dorsal flag, its pectoral fins, shot through With rays of black and orange. We’d like to think it got that way Through its fishy wisdom, but, really, It got that way just by living. The first fish I ever caught Here was a blue fish. I held it in my hand, Wonder-struck, then let it go—I didn’t Know. I come here often. I come back, Hoping to catch another.
A poem by Tom Sexton, “Independence Mine, August,” was placed in 2014 above the mine buildings at Independence Mine State Historical Park, north of Palmer. Sexton was Alaska’s Poet Laureate from 1994 to 2000. “The Wisdom of the Old Ones,” by artist and writer Tim Troll, is now at the Lake Aleknagik State Recreational Site near Dillingham. Troll, who says he writes “a little,” based his poem, in part, on a local Yup’ik story about monsters that lived in underwater caves in area lakes. Wendy Erd noted that poems happened upon in a park will be read by people who might never crack a book of poetry. One park ranger was so taken by the interpretive power of Troll’s poem that he wanted to place “Wisdom of the Old Ones” at a second site. A second copy of the poem is now planned for Agulapak, an old fishing and cultural site within the more remote Wood-Tikchik State Park, a place visited by kayakers and fly-in fishermen. Tourists who come across the poems have followed up
Chena River State Recreation Area Rose Hip Campground
CIRQUE Independence Mine, August
by Tom Sexton I like to think the miners looked up and sighed when they emerged from the maze of tunnels and saw the moon rising overhead as bright as the gold they blasted from the unwilling rock, gold that kept their families from the cold.
North Fork Cabin, Mile 47.8 Chena Hot Springs Road
Poem of the Forgotten
I like to think one or two stooped to pick a handful of berries for their children while they followed the moon’s light down to the boomtown they called home, berries as ripe as the full moon now spilling its light like honey from a spoon.
by John Haines
I came to this place, a young man green and lonely. Well quit of the world, I framed a house of moss and timber, called it a home, and sat in the warm evenings singing to myself as a man sings when he knows there is no one to hear. I made my bed under the shadow of leaves, and awoke in the first snow of autumn, filled with silence.
by contacting Erd to ask for copies. One woman, a visitor from Florida, contacted Erd because she said she needed to have a copy of Kim Cornwall’s poem so she could read it again and again. Poems in Place is a collaboration of the Alaska Center for the Book, Alaska State Parks, a steering committee of poets and writers, and residents of Alaska. The project is supported by the Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska
Independence Mine State Historical Park
Humanities Forum, the Alaska State Council for the Arts, the Usibelli Foundation, the Alaska Poetry League, the Alaska Center for the Book, and individual donors. Poems in Place will continue. In a state full of wild landscapes, more poems are required. Places for poems abound. Perhaps local villages and towns will place poems, as well, making even more testaments to Alaska’s landscape--like bookmarks on the land: place markings.
Vo l . 6 N o . 2
REVIEWS Susanna J. Mishler
Rock, Paper, and the Second Person. A Review of Overwinter by Jeremy Pataky (University of Alaska Press, 2015) Alaskan writers share a preoccupation with weather. Our lives are acutely shaped by the elements and seasons, and in this way our literature is concerned with landscape, shelter, weather, and light in a way that the poems of more temperate climes aren’t. “Five Parts,” the first poem in Jeremy Pataky’s collection, Overwinter, beautifully announces the book’s intentions to blur boundaries between what is indoors and what is out, what is internal landscape, and what is external. The images of dissolving shelter in “Five Parts” communicate the precarious nature of human habitation in a remote, subarctic climate: “Structures of shelter, here, / don’t last, are forest / and creek bed, are gone.” But moreover, Overwinter uniquely blurs the separations between those who share that tenuous shelter. The tension that Overwinter draws between exposure and refuge thus speaks not only to the corporeal self but to the emotional and interpersonal self; land and love each summon a pull between refuge and laying bare. I first met Jeremy when he officiated at a mutual friend’s wedding in Anchorage about 10 years ago. We went on to become friends and together co-curated Synergies, a literary reading and performance series in Anchorage. Throughout our friendship, he’s spent the summer months in McCarthy, a small town in the Wrangell Mountains of eastern Alaska. Recently he bought land there and built his own cabin. Building one’s own shelter makes the builder ultimately responsible and strangely vulnerable, as does sharing that small, provisional space with another person. Consider “Barometric Pressure,” a poem which describes the sound of rain on a cabin roof and the interior
space and smell of that cabin. It concludes: You leak into this moment though you are near saltwater, the city, are you the water emerging from the rock levy, are you the dry bed filling with pieces of the gray river, was I the sound of unseen boulders rolled in the river’s last flood? To ask a question in a poem creates vulnerability in the poem’s speaker. Even though the questions of “Barometric Pressure” are rhetorical, they admit the speaker’s preoccupation with an absent you. Further, the you seems to come from the landscape itself, rather than the speaker’s imagination or memory. The you, in its association with a river, is a force both more powerful than – yet united with – the poem’s speaker. The absent you is present through the presence of water, and united with the speaker in his proximity to, his association with that water. In Overwinter we as readers participate in and experience multiple you’s. The book exploits the ambiguity and multifacetedness of the second person: a you in a poem can denote speech directed at the reader; it can be an address to an other – especially a significant other or romantic you; and it can function as an implicit or displaced I, or speech directed at the speaker’s self. The second person in Overwinter can mean all of these things at once. The you’s in this book at first appear
as romantic you’s. Further reading reveals that they may not all be the same you, yet they are, at the same time, implicit addresses to the reader. Also, the displaced I lurks as a pervasive shadow. Ironically, it is through the uncertainty and the shifting of the you that the speaker (the I) in Overwinter transcends himself. The poem “From Here You Seem a Braided River” indulges us in the poet’s ear for alliteration, pacing, and rhythm. It is a list poem, and a kind of ode to subarctic light: We would come to know gibbous light. We would come to know snow light. We would come to know ice light, star, animal light, window light, want light, sweat light. We’d know the light of the river rippling [ . . . ] Near the end of this poem, the conditional future ‘we would’ dissolves into a more immediate, present-tense address to a you: “I know iceless light of you, / winter light, spring light, speech light of you . . . ” Just as the sound of water or birdsong or an engine can make woodsy silence seem thicker and more complete, so the you in Overwinter makes the speaker’s solitude seem more substantial. It is the you which sharpens the edges of the I and amplifies the speaker’s loneliness in a colossal landscape. “I am back in my body, nearly,” is my favorite line from the poem, “Here We Are.” Though it’s hard to Jeremy Pataky decide between that and, “We may or may not be in this together.” A multifaceted you makes for a complicated we, and one of Overwinter’s great accomplishments is its inclusion of rock and water in that we. The tension that these poems draw between shelter and exposure to the elements also manifests as a tension between feeling inside one’s body and feeling dislocated from it. “I am back in my body, nearly,” is a telling line in that it acknowledges the traversing of the speaker’s self between body and land throughout this collection. Overwinter accomplishes a blurring between self and environment that is Transcendentalist, but it’s greater achievement is that it incorporates romantic love – and the reader – into this leaky equation; the outflows of you and I meet love and landscape in this vivid debut collection.
C O N T R I B U TO R S Tele Aadsen caught her first fish in Sitka’s Thomsen Harbor at the age of seven and promptly sold it for an ice cream cone from the Dip-N-Sip. She is writing a memoir ”Hooked: A Season of Love, Sex, and Salmon” for Riverhead Books. You can read more at www.teleaadsen.com. 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. John Baalke lives and works on Whidbey Island (WA) with his wife, Gabrielle. He has an MFA from Seattle Pacific University. He is a part-time secondary school teacher and also works for the Pedro Bay Village Council (AK). Beth Baker has an M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana. Her writing has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Terrain.org, Punchnel’s, Cobalt Review, The Montana Naturalist, and A Natural History of Now, an anthology of new nature writing. Most recently she has worked as a farm hand on a goat farm in western Washington. Christianne Balk is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Bindweed and Desiring Flight. Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and The Poets Guide to the Birds. Her new collection of poems, The Holding Hours, is forthcoming from the University of Washington Press. She lives in Seattle, where she writes and teaches creative writing. She travels frequently into the Cascade Mountains. Christiannebalk.com Buried in run-on sentences and amassed typos for 13 years, Teeka Anice Ballas has worked as a freelance writer and editor, staffer and stringer for newspapers, international wire services, travel publications and radio. The co-founder of F Magazine, Ballas has worked tirelessly for seven years as editor and publisher of Alaska’s only volunteer-run, independent arts publication. As of 2015, she has placed the magazine on hiatus while she focuses her attention on working with her partner, Dawnell Smith on a multimedia project that entails an art documentary, a dual memoir, and sound collage art installations, collectively titled “Exhuming My Father.” Scott Banks is an Anchorage writer, a life-long Alaskan with an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage. His poems have appeared in previous issues of Cirque and in Stoneboat. He also writes about fly fishing in Alaska and is working on a cheesy, one-lung mystery set in Anchorage. Gabrielle Barnett is a writer and director living in Anchorage, Alaska. She is a regular contributor to poetry reading events in and around Anchorage. Her work has appeared in Cirque, Alaska Women Speak and YAWP zine. She lives in Spenard with her daughter and two chickens. Miriam Beck lives in Anchorage. She earned an MFA in poetry from Oregon State University in 2013
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 Kristin Berger writes poetry and essays and lives in Portland, Oregon,. She hosts a summer poetry reading series at her neighborhood farmers market. She is the author of For the Willing (Finishing Line Press, 2008), and has received residencies from the H.J. Andrews Forest/Spring Creek Project and from Playa at Summer Lake, Oregon. Kristin’s recent work can be found in Arc Poetry Magazine, MiPOesias, Poecology, Terrain.org, Wayfarer Journal and, Written River. Robert Bharda is a nonfiction writer, poet, visual artist, and photographer. His writing has appeared in The North American Review, Northwest Review, Shenandoah and many others, including anthologies. His images and photos are current on the covers of Naugatuck Review and Blue Five Notebook, et al. Katherine “Pinky” Bleth--Seward is my home. I love to take photos, write cook books, and make jewelry. Marilyn Borell has been living in Anchorage, Alaska for nearly thirty years. She does her best writing in local coffee shops. Her recent work has appeared in Cirque, and River Teeth’s Beautiful Things. Nicholas Bradley lives in Victoria, British Columbia. Gretchen Brinck is a social worker whose first job was Child Welfare Worker in Bethel, AK, 1968-1970. She left social work in 2010 to focus on writing. Her Alaska experiences provide intense material for the memoir she hopes to complete this year. Previous publications include short stories in small journals since the late 1980’s, a true crime book, The Boy Next Door, Pinnacle, 1999, and several Alaska nonfiction stories in Cirque. She anticipates that her Alaska memoir will eventually be published, as well. Though Chandra Brown still returns to her beloved Alaska for a fraction of each year, she now finds herself at home on rivers enroute to the sea, most of them a little south of the 60th parallel. Chandra spends the majority of her waking hours in the company of her charismatic Labrador friend and prioritizes, above most other things, early morning daydreaming sessions, low-angle powder fields, and dance parties held at regular intervals. Mike Burwell’s poems have appeared in Abiko Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, Ice-Floe, Pacific Review, Poems & Plays, and a number of anthologies, including Crosscurrents North: Alaskans on the Environment, 2008. His poetry collection Cartography of Water was published by North Shore Press in 2007, and in 2009 he founded the literary journal Cirque. Vic Cavalli has been teaching creative writing at the university level since 2001. His poetry, short fiction, photography, and visual art have been published in literary journals in Canada, the United States, England, North Africa, and Australia. Selections from his visual art portfolio can be viewed at http://vittoriocavalli.com/ Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, high school English-teaching Alaskan. Currently she is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry through the University of Alaska Anchorage. Kersten co-edits the quarterly journal, Alaska Women Speak. She lives in Sitka, Alaska. Lyn Coffin has published a lot of books, some life-affirming. She has more on the docket, including her translation of a Georgian (the country) 11th century monk’s epic, The Knight in the Panther Skin, and the work of Mohsen Emadi, a remarkable Iranian poet in exile in Mexico. Her new collection of short stories is available from Iron Twine Press. Her new book of two plays is available from Whale Road Books. She is
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disheartened by her own inadequacy in the face of the world’s woes. She wishes she were a better person, with a significant other, in that order. Shalom. Katherine Coons is presently an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska. The experience of completing artist-in-residency programs in New Delhi, India, and Kodiak Island, Alaska, lecturing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and traveling widely throughout Southeast Asia and Europe has inspired her artwork. Coons received the prestigious PollockKrasner grant from New York. She was given a cash award for one of the best paintings in the show “The All Alaska Juried Exhibition” at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, juried by Elizabeth Brown, chief curator at Henry’s Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle. Important solo shows in the State of Alaska include the Bunnell Street Gallery, Alaska Pacific University at the Carl Gottstein Gallery, MTS Gallery, The International Gallery of Contemporary Art, and The Alaska State Museum in Juneau. Anne Coray’s poetry collections include A Measure’s Hush, Violet Transparent, and Bone Strings. She is coauthor of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and coeditor of Crosscurrents North: Alaskans on the Environment. She received a 2015 literary fellowship from the Rasmuson Foundation. Michael Daley, born and raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts, entered religious life at a young age but by 20 was wild in the streets, protesting wars and seeking a life of experience. He traveled America, hitchhiking and riding freight trains. Employed as a taxi driver, deckhand, treeplanter, carpenter, impoverished journalist, small-press editor, Poet-inthe-Schools, and high school English teacher, he holds degrees from the University of Massachusetts and the University of Washington and has received awards from the Seattle Arts Commission, Artist Trust, Fulbright, and National Endowment of the Humanities. He lives in Anacortes, Washington. Kimberly Davis is Alaskan born & raised. As a local residential gardener, Kim is inspired by the beautiful flora that surrounds her summer days. She has a great love of the outdoors, travel, and photography. Monica Devine is an award-winning author of 5 children’s books, a First Place winner in the Alaska State Poetry Contest, and her creative nonfiction has appeared in the Children’s Television Workshop, Cirque, New Letters, Alaska Magazine, and three anthologies. She paints, photographs, and writes from her home in Eagle River, Alaska. Gretchen Diemer is working on her second book of poems. Her first
book, Between Fire and Water, Ice and Sky, was published by NorthShore Press in 2008. She is taking a TEFL course in Crete this fall to become certified to teach English as a foreign language. Patrick Dixon has been published in The Smithsonian, Cirque, Oberon and others. He has been a featured reader at the FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon for 18 years; he recently edited Anchored in Deep Water: The FisherPoets Anthology, published in 2014. He also hosts FisherPoets on the Road at the Harbor Days Festival in Olympia, Washington where he lives with his wife, two golden retrievers, and the master of the house, his cat. Carol Douthat – I am a freelance photographer focused on landscape and wildlife, both animal and human. I also write. Merridawn Duckler lives in Portland, Oregon. Her poetry has appeared widely, most recently in Naugatuck River Review, Right Hand Pointing, Agave and is forthcoming from TAB, The Journal of Poetry and Poetics, and Sugar House Review. She was runner-up for the poetry residency at the Arizona Poetry Center. Her plays have been produced in Arizona, New York, California, Washington, Oregon and Valdez, Alaska. Her verse play was in the Emerging Female Playwright Festival of the Manhattan Shakespeare Project. Her fiction is in Farallon Review and forthcoming from Poetica. Awards include Writers@Work, NEA, Yaddo, Squaw Valley, SLS St. Petersburg, Russia, Centrum, and others. Michael Engelhard is a slow learner and dinosaur but somewhat open to modern technology. More than fifteen years after the events described, he gave long-distance dating another try. He met “Artsy Hiker” through Match.com for a first date of backpacking in a desert canyon. He now lives in Cordova, married to her. 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, Alaska. She coordinates Poems in Place, a project that seeds poetry by Alaskan writers on outside signs in Alaska’s state parks. Gene Ervine came to Alaska “for a year” in 1974, which has expanded to become the best part of his lifetime! He lives in Anchorage with his wife Nancy. Alaska’s beauty and special people (like Nancy) continue to inspire him. Daryl Farmer’s first book, Bicycling Beyond the Divide, received a Barnes and Noble Discover Award. His recent work has appeared in
The Whitefish Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Gingerbread House. A collection of stories, We All Fall Down, will be published in 2016. Farmer is an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he teaches creative writing and literature. Terry Fifield is a retired federal archaeologist and currently an adjunct assistant professor in Anthropology with the University of Alaska Southeast Ketchikan. From 1994 until moving east to New Hampshire in 2009, Terry lived with his wife and two sons in Craig and Klawock on Southeast Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island. He has spent many hours contemplating life in the mists of the Klawock River estuary. Leslie Fried moved from Seattle to Anchorage in 2011 to be the curator of the Alaska Jewish Museum. She received a BA in Fine and Applied Arts from the University of Oregon and holds a Masters in Library and Information Science, as well as a Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Washington. My name is Kenny Gerling, and I have my MA in English from the University of Tennessee. I live in Anchorage, AK where I work for a nonprofit. I had a poem previously appear in Red Fez. Quinton Hallett writes and edits from Noti, Oregon. For the Oregon Poetry Association, she has co-hosted a reading series, facilitated poet visits to a rural high school, led craft workshops, and served on the board. She has three chapbooks and her full-length poetry collection, Mrs. Schrödinger’s Breast is forthcoming in fall 2015 from Uttered Chaos Press. Jim Hanlen lasted half a day on the job after mixing up the 4-sided and 5-sided nuts at EZ Loader, manufacturer of boat trailers. Robert Davis Hoffmann is a Tlingit artist and poet from the village of Kake, Alaska who writes about cultural change and social issues affecting modern-day Alaska Natives. His writing brings resolution to his own anger and blame, resulting from acculturation and loss, turning from a path of self-destruction into one of healing. His artwork often turns into poems; his poems turn to design. Marybeth Holleman is the author of The Heart of the Sound, co-author of Among Wolves, and co-editor of Crosscurrents North, among others. Pushcart-prize nominee, her essays, poems, and articles have appeared in such venues as Orion, Christian Science Monitor, The Future of Nature, and on National Public Radio. She runs the blog Art and Nature at www.artandnatureand.blogspot.com and can be found at www. marybethholleman.com. Branwyn Holroyd grew up in Vancouver, BC but tends to wander. She frequently travels to Northern New Mexico where she loves running in the mountains. She is a student in the Red Earth MFA Program at Oklahoma City University. Her mail is delivered to Roberts Creek, BC. Sarah Isto lives in Juneau but spends spring and fall in the Kantishna Hills of Interior Alaska. She writes nonfiction and poetry. Recently she and her husband Gordon Harrison collaborated on an art exhibit called “Together”--his calligraphy of her poetry. Mary Kancewick lives in the foothills of the Chugach Mountains. She writes poetry and nonfiction. Joe Kashi received his BS and MS degrees from MIT and his JD from Georgetown University. He has lived and practiced law in Soldotna, Alaska since 1977. While at MIT, he somewhat casually studied photography with noted American fine art photographer and Aperture Magazine founder Minor White. His photographs have been regularly selected for exhibition in Rarified Light and other Alaskan statewide
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Vo l . 6 N o . 2 juried shows since 2007, as well as over a dozen solo exhibits, mostly at various Alaska collegiate galleries. Several of his haiku were published in Nagoya, Japan while four others were published as first place and second place winners if the Anchorage Press 2013 haiku contest. Anne-Corinne Kell lives with her daughters in beautiful Palmer, AK where she farms full time in the summer and tries to find time to write in the winter. Margo Klass is a mixed media artist whose work includes sculptural box constructions and artist books. She shows her work widely in Alaska and is included in the collections of museums, libraries, and national parks in addition to many private collections. She has received grants from the Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska State Council on the Arts and is the 2015 recipient of the Governor’s Individual Artist Award.
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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 toward writing and directing film. He is, at present, filming in Holland the holocaust-based documentary “I Missed My Train.” Poet and essayist, Sandra Kleven has published work in AQR, Oklahoma Review, Topic, Praxilla, Stoneboat, f-zine and the UAP anthology, Cold Flashes. Two of her poems were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her work has won notice in the UAA Creative Writing and F’Air Words contests. Kleven has authored four books, most recent is Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing (VP&D Publishing House). Kleven holds an MSW degree and an MFA in Creative Writing. She works for Alaska Native tribal organizations. Sandra Kleven edits Cirque with founder Michael Burwell. 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 currently he teaches, hikes, and writes in the Portland, Oregon area. He has published poems in Rune, The Mountain Gazette, Windfall, The Clackamas Literary Review, The Raven Chronicles, Perceptions, and Cirque; he was the first prize recipient of the Oregon Poetry Association’s Spring 2015 New Poet’s Award. Tracy Lease – Born in Wenatchee, Washington, raised in the mountains and deserts of Utah, and the forests of Indiana, Tracy attended college at Lewis and Clark, in Portland, Oregon before beginning her Alaskan education. Tracy handled dog teams and taught school in St. Michael, Alaska and then taught and ran her own team in Koyukuk and Nulato before calling Fairbanks home for 15 years. The essay published in this issue of Cirque, about her first winters in Alaska, was written as part of her UAF MFA thesis book of essays. Alexandra J. McClanahan graduated from the University of Nebraska. After covering Alaska Native issues as a journalist, she became the
historian for Cook Inlet Region, Inc., an Alaska Native Corporation. She is the author of six books published by The CIRI Foundation. In 2001, the Alaska Federation of Natives honored her with the Denali Award, AFN’s highest award made to a non-Native. She bought a farm in 2002 in Orchard, Nebraska, and has achieved Organic Certification. Vered Mares was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico into a family of writers, musicians, and artists. She earned a BFA in fine arts in Idaho before calling Alaska home. She is currently working toward an MFA in creative writing at UA Anchorage. In 2011, she started the publishing company, VP&D House, and in 2014, she began working on building a new independent bookstore in Spenard with expectations of opening the doors in early 2016. Her father, the brilliant writer, E.A. “Tony” Mares, has been the core support and inspiration for her bookstore/café plans. It will be built in his honor, posthumously. 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 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. Marie Ryan McMillan has lived and taught all over Alaska, from Shishmaref to Wrangell. She currently lives in Juneau, Alaska where she is working on completing her first novel, Trail Faith. Amy Meissner holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska, Anchorage and is currently a Senior Affiliate Editor for Alaska Quarterly Review. Her writing has appeared in the literary journal Crazyhorse and in various literary anthologies while her textile work has shown in Alaska and the Lower 48 and is in the Anchorage Museum’s permanent collection. A version of “Swallowing the Needle” first appeared on her textile art blog, Spontaneous Combustion, www. amymeissner.com/blog. Jennifer Met is a writer and artist in North Idaho. She holds a Master’s
degree in creative writing from the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she received the Jovanovich Award for Imaginative Writing. She has had work published or forthcoming in Gulf Stream, Barely South Review, Apeiron Review, pacificREVIEW, Frogpond, The Heron’s Nest, The Red Moon Anthology, A Hundred Gourds, Haibun Today, and elsewhere. Susanna J. Mishler’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Hotel Amerika, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review Online, Michigan Quarterly Review and elsewhere. Her poetry collection Termination Dust was published by Red Hen Press/Boreal Books in 2014. In 2004 she earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she served as a Poetry Editor of Sonora Review. She lives in Anchorage and earns her bread as an apprentice electrician. Nancy Carol Moody is the author of Photograph with Girls (Traprock Books), and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, The Los Angeles Review, Phoebe, and Nimrod. She has recently completed a new manuscript titled The House of Nobody Home and is currently at work on a collection of poems based on vintage correspondence. Nancy lives in Eugene, Oregon, and can be found online at nancycarolmoody.com. Mark Muro is a poet, playwright, performer, and photographer, who lives and loves in Anchorage, Alaska. His most recent one-person show, The Bipolar Express, premiered in Anchorage at Out North Theater in May 2015. Other monologues by Muro include: Apocalypse When I Get Around To It, or Civil War III, part 1, Dingoes On Velvet, No Where Fast, Saint Alban’s, Three Continents, Alaska: Behind the Scenery, A Very Muro Christmas, and Love, Sex and All That Comes Between. Vaho Muskheli grew up in Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia. He received a BA from the Art College of Jacob Nicoladze and an MFA from the Georgian State Academy of Fine Arts. He devoted four years teaching painting at the Tbilisi State Children’s Art School before becoming an Art Professor at his alma mater, the State Academy of Fine Arts. In 1990, he came to the United States as an invited artist for the Goodwill Games to represent Eastern European art. He continues dividing his time between Tbilisi and Seattle, teaching master classes and painting full time. He has had numerous solo exhibitions in Seattle and participated in a premier international show at the Museum of Modern Art (Haus der Kunst) in Munich, Germany in 2008. His paintings are held in public and private collections in the United States, Canada, Germany, Spain, and the Republic of Georgia. Sheila Nickerson, a former Alaska Poet Laureate, lives in Bellingham, Washington. Her most recent nonfiction title is Harnessed to the Pole: Sledge Dogs in Service to American Explorers of the Arctic, 1853-1909 (University of Alaska Press, 2014). 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. Getting outdoors is very important to her artistic process, and that is when she takes many photos and comes up with her concepts for
paintings. Her paintings are intended to convey the feeling of being in a forest, on a coastline, or on a mountainside, and, hopefully, they help the viewer remember some similar scene or imagine being out in the Alaskan landscape. A former journalist, Joan Pardes now writes poetry, nonfiction, and fiction along with technical gigs for her business Pardes Public Relations. Her work has appeared in Alaska Magazine’s anthology The Last Frontier: Incredible Tales of Survival, Exploration, and Adventure and a variety of magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. Joan lives in Juneau, Alaska with her husband and daughter. Jeremy Pataky’s debut book of poetry, Overwinter, was 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, Alaska. Doug Pope grew up in Alaska and has been publishing poems, fiction, and nonfiction since he was in high school. Many pieces have been previously published in Cirque. He lives in Hope, Alaska with his wife Beth. Kate Quick lives in the woods outside of Fairbanks, Alaska with her husband and three kids. She teaches English for the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Interior-Aleutian Campus. Cassandra Rankin and her husband proudly call Alaska home, and they raise their four children on a crazy little farm which boasts an everchanging clump of animals and 4-H projects. She is the author of Annie Spruce, The Dog That Didn’t Die, and she blogs at This Crazy Little Farm. Diane Ray is a native New Yorker who is still surprised after many years to open her eyes between pine and birch on a hill overlooking a lake in Seattle. She has published in The Women’s Studies Quarterly, Drash, Common Dreams, and Veterans for Peace. She also writes plays and is at work on a first novel. Her other callings are ballet, Flamenco
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 dance, life with her beloved husband, loving grown daughters, and her psychology practice. Matthew Campbell Roberts lives in south Puget Sound where he continues to fish for sea-run cutthroat and salmon on the fly. He has won regional awards for his poetry, and his work appears in Cirque, StringTown, Adirondack Review, The Cortland Review, and others. He is working on his first volume of poems. Jenny Root’s poetry has appeared in basalt, Cloudbank, Elohi Gadugi Journal, and Windfall, among others and has been anthologized in New Poets of the American West (Many Voices Press, 2010), selected by Lowell Jaeger. Her book, The Company of Sharks, was selected by Kathryn Ridall and published by Fae Press in 2013. She lives in Eugene, Oregon.. 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 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.
Allison Sayer -- I currently live in Sitka, Alaska, where I have the good fortune to work at Mount Edgecumbe High School. I am a member of Vivian Prescott’s Blue Canoe creative writing group. Steven P. Schneider will be a tenured Professor in the College of Fine Arts in the newly created University of Texas Rio Grande Valley beginning in the fall of 2015. He is the co-author with his artist wife Reefka of the book Borderlines: Drawing Border Lives (Wings Press, 2010) and the forthcoming The Magic of Mariachi (Wings Press, 2016). He has also written and edited several books on Contemporary American Poetry, including A. R. Ammons and the Poetics of Widening Scope, Complexities of Motion: The Long Poems of A.R. Ammons, and The Contemporary Narrative Poem: Critical Crosscurrents. His awards include a Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Residency and three Big Read grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. 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. Cynthia Lee Sims’ poems have appeared in F-Zine; Cirque; Red Ink: International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, & Humanities; the Anchorage Daily News; and Litsite Alaska, among others; and her photography has won Alaska State Fair and Fur Rendezvous awards. Her MA is in Literature. While obtaining a BA in Journalism and Justice, she served as editor of UAA’s True North Magazine and The Northern Light. As an adjunct for several years, she assisted with editing and layout for Understory, UAA’s creative arts journal. Recently, she has served as an associate editor for Cirque and occasionally reads for Poetry Parlay. She, her two dogs, and her daughter live in Anchorage. Judith Skillman’s new book is House of Burnt Offerings from Pleasure Boat Studio. The author of fifteen collections of poetry, her work has appeared in Tampa Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, The Iowa Review, and other journals. Awards include grants from the Academy of American Poets and Washington State Arts Commission. Skillman taught in the field of humanities for twenty-five years, and has collaboratively translated poems from Italian, Portuguese, and French. Currently she works on manuscript review. Visit www.judithskillman.com Craig Smith is a retired Seattle Times sportswriter. He grew up in Kenmore, WA, and graduated from Bothell High School and the University of Washington (editor of UW Daily). He served in the domestic Peace Corps (VISTA) in Delaware and West Virginia then worked at the Charleston Gazette (W. Va.), Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Associated Press, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (where he moved to sports) and the Seattle Times, where he stayed for 32 years. Craig and wife Julie live in Kirkland, WA. They have two adult sons and a spoiled springer spaniel named Buck. Craig began writing poetry after retiring. Dawnell Smith pays the bills by doing communications work, freelance writing, and anything else that feeds the family. Her collaborative art projects include installations with text, audio, and visual components and subject matter ranging from the faux nutritional value in consumer food culture to the collective social impact of inequity due to systemic trauma and poverty. She is currently co-creating a multi-media cross-disciplinary art project titled “Exhuming My Father” with Teeka Ballas, including a dual memoir with poetry, essays, and investigative nonfiction. She lives with Teeka and two teens in Anchorage where she runs with dogs and plays roller derby. Jennifer Smith lives in Eagle River, Alaska, with her husband and young daughter. In addition to her interest in writing, she also holds a MA degree in International Relations. Her most recent publication is
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CIRQUE the 45 Degree 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 Jim Sweeney is the author of Alaska Expedition: Marine Life Solidarity, A Thousand Prayers, and The List. He is a long-time contributor to Cirque; he lives alone in a small cabin in the woods. Kathleen Witkowska Tarr is a nonfiction writer who lives in Anchorage. 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. She earned her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Pittsburgh. Carey Taylor is a poet who lives in Port Ludlow, Washington. Her poems have appeared in Cirque, Off the Coast, Clover, A Literary Rag, and local publications Poetry Corners and Ars Poetica. When not worrying about earthquakes, she enjoys walking, gardening, and good Scotch whisky. https://careyleetaylor.wordpress.com
Kate Worthington The Syrian Dilemma: Moscow’s Motives and Strategic Interests in the Syrian Uprising. Kathy Smith lives in Homer, surrounded by the landscape of Kachemak Bay, which guides and influences the direction of her work. Natural forces and seasonal changes are often the subject for her paintings. She works primarily with oils, encaustic paints, and mixed media. Leslea Smith has deep Alaska roots and works as an attorney and manager of a legal aid office that serves northwest Oregon. She lives with her dad (a Nomite), a spunkadelic Westie dog, and a bunch of cats. Her poems have been published in Verseweavers and Cirque. Frank Soos writes short stories and essays. Just now, he is working on a longer prose work and at the same time on exceptionally short pieces: “The World’s 100 Best Ideas,” some of which have appeared in Cirque. Frank is currently Alaska State Writer. Mistee St Clair – I have been published in the online journal Literary Mama. I previously won the 2002 Fairbanks Arts Association poetry contest and the 2015 Alaska Dispatch News Creative Writing poetry contest. I was born and raised in Alaska and have lived in many parts of the state. Currently I live, mother, write, and enjoy beautiful, foggy Juneau.
Natalie Taylor grew up on a goat dairy in the unincorporated community of Norway, Oregon. She enjoys Woody Guthrie songs, motorcycle rides, and peaches fresh from the tree. Her poems have appeared in The Portland Review and The Burnside Review. She can be found in Portland, Oregon most of the time. Joanne Townsend -- After 10 years away, my husband Dan and I recently returned to Anchorage for a 9-day visit. Warmth of again meeting old friends and making new; amazement at all the new development and exultation in the deep green of spruce, birch, cottonwoods; the wild roses of memory. Above the inlet, the glaucous gulls wheeling and squawking. The joy of a two-month old great-granddaughter who will perhaps grow up to be a writer. Poetry matters. 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. Suzi Towsley is a Seward based full-time Mom and hobbyist photographer who especially enjoys capturing and sharing her perspective of the breathtaking sunrises and sets of Resurrection Bay, Alaska.
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. Carolyn Stice – My work has appeared in a variety of journals including Cutthroat, The Clark Street Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, China Grove, Antipodes, and Permafrost. It is also included in a new anthology titled Desnudas en el desierto, which highlights the work of women from the US/Mexico border. A 44 year Juneau resident, Richard Stokes retired after 23 years from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. He now works seasonally as a naturalist guide for Gastineau Guiding in Juneau. He writes often about nature, which he loves, and aging, which he is doing. 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, in Portland, Oregon by the Attic Gallery and in Colorado Springs by
Vo l . 6 N o . 2 Judita Vaiciunaite (1937-2001), a poet and translator from Kaunas, Lithuania, had her finger on the pulse of Lithuania’s history and culture. She was a poet of the modern woman, as well a poet of the city. Though born and raised in Kaunas, she was educated in Vilnius where she remained for the rest of her life; she described its streets, its crumbling facades, its courtyards and dead ends. In 1996 she won the Baltic Assembly Award, in 1997, the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas, and in 2000, the Lithuanian Writers Union Prize. David Wagoner has published 20 books of poems, most recently After the Point of No Return (Copper Canyon Press, 2012). He has also published ten novels, one of which, The Escape Artist, was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He won the Lilly Prize in 1991, six yearly prizes from Poetry, two yearly prizes from Prairie Schooner, and the Arthur Rense Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. In 2007, his play “First Class” was given 43 performances at A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for 23 years. He edited Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002, and he is professor emeritus of English at the Univ. of Washington. He teaches at the low-residency MFA program of the Whidbey Island Writers Workshop. Emily Wall is a poet and an Associate Professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, Alaska. She has been published in a wide variety of literary journals in the US and Canada. In 2013 a poem of hers was chosen in a statewide contest to be placed in Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan, Alaska. She has also had a poem chosen for the Best Indi Lit of New England 2013 – 2015. Her second book of poems, Liveaboard, was published in 2012; her first book, Freshly Rooted came out in 2007. Emily lives with her family on a beach in Douglas, Alaska. Margo Waring has been writing poetry for two decades. She credits her enthusiasm for publishing her work to the support and encouragement of her recently joined writers’ group. Her work has been published in Cirque, Tidal Echoes, and Alaska Women Speak. Sandra Wassilie was raised in Alaska where, in turn, she raised her children and now has grandchildren growing up. She currently lives in Oakland and co-curates the Bay Area Generation Reading Series. Her work appears in Alaska Women Speak, Between the Lines, California Quarterly, Cirque, sPARKLE & bLINK, Transfer, Vitriol, Writing Without Walls, and elsewhere.
143 to run marathons. He takes the writing of poetry very seriously and only wishes he were better at it. Richard Widerkehr has two collections of poems: The Way Home (Plain View Press) and Her Story of Fire (Egress Studio Press), along with two chapbooks. Tarragon Books published his novel about a geologist, Sedimental Journey. He won two Hopwood first prizes for poetry at the University of Michigan. Recent poems have appeared in Rattle, Floating Bridge Review, Jewish Literary Journal, Clay Bird Review, Crack The Spine, and Poetry Super Highway. Others are forthcoming in Grey Sparrow, Nomad’s Choir, Soundings, Pennine Ink, and Penumbra. Paxson Woelber is a creative professional based out of Anchroage, Alaska. His Jim Thiele creative work has been featured by National Geographic, the Atlantic, the Huffington Post Canada, USA Today, Google Street View [Grand Canyon project], the American Alpine Club, and more. He has been the designer and web designer for Cirque since its inaugural issue. paxsonwoelber.com Tonja Woelber is a member of the collaborative group “Ten Poets.” She has lived in Anchorage for 34 years, enjoying the mountains in all weathers. Her favorite poets are Anna Akhmatova, Sylvia Plath, May Sarton, Wang Wei and Tu Fu. She enjoys writing Asian and natureinspired poetry. Kalani Woodlock is a mom, photographer, snowboarder, and lover of life. She is currently living a life less ordinary with her two amazing kids, two large dogs, a bad-ass cat, and her vivid imagination in gorgeous Seward, Alaska. 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. Kate Worthington spent seventeen years in Alaska and still hides out at her cabin near Talkeetna when she can. She recently graduated from law school at the University of New Mexico.
Erica Watson lives near Denali National Park, Alaska. Her writing has appeared previously in Cirque, as well as Vela Magazine, ISLE Journal, and other journals and websites. She earned her MFA in nonfiction at the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2014.
Svaja Vansauskas Worthington of Chugiak, writer and translator, authored a biography in 2003 about the life of her grandfather, Stasys Silingas, a Lithuanian freedom fighter. Worthington has served as the Honorary Consul from the State of Alaska to the Republic of Lithuania since 2013.
Toby Widdicombe has taught literature of all sorts at the University of Alaska Anchorage for more than 20 years. He has published articles in Rethinking History, Extrapolation, Utopian Studies, Arena, ESQ, ATQ, English Language Notes, The Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, and Revista de Estudios Utópicos. He has just completed an edition of Troilus and Cressida as well as a revision of The Historical Dictionary of Utopianism. He is the former editor of Utopian Studies. In his spare time, he loves
While marveling at the greed of the global nuclear cabal, Douglas A. Yates arms himself with information presented and discussed at enenews.com. Growing up in places where nuclear fallout poisoned dairy pastures, forests, and rivers, his cynicism for authority was nurtured early. In addition to monitoring ionizing radiation in Alaska, Yates works as a photographer and writer in Ester. See: douglasyatesphoto. photoshelter.com
Issue #13—Winter Solstice 2015 Submission Deadline: September 21, 2015 SUBMISSION GUIDELINES Cirque, published in Anchorage, Alaska, is a regional journal created to share the best writing in the region with the rest of the world. Cirque submissions are not restricted to a “regional” theme or setting. Cirque invites emerging and established writers living in the North Pacific Rim—Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia and Chukotka—to submit short stories, poems, creative nonfiction, translations, plays, reviews of first books, interviews, photographs, and artwork for Cirque’s Winter Solstice 2015 Issue.
• Eligibility: you were born in, or are currently residing in, or have previously lived for a period of not less than 5 years in the aforementioned North Pacific Rim region.
• Poems: 4 poems MAX • Fiction, Nonfiction, Plays: 12 pages MAX • Artwork and Photography: 10 images MAX accepted in JPEG or TIFF format, sent as
email attachments. Please send images in the highest resolution possible; images will likely be between 2 and 10mb each. If you do not submit full-size photo files at time of submission, we will respond with an email reminder. No undersize images or thumbnails will be eligible for publication. Bio: 100 words MAX. Contact Info: Make sure to keep your contact email current and be sure that it is one that you check regularly. If your contact information changes, make sure to inform us at Cirque. To ensure that replies from Cirque bypass your spam filter and go to your inbox, add Cirque to your address book.
• Electronic Submissions Only • Attach a Word document to your email (preferred) or embed submission text within • •
the body of the email (not preferred); use 12pt font in a common, easy to read typeface (Times, Arial, etc.) Subject Line of your email should read: “Poetry Submission,” “Fiction Submission,” “Play Submission,” “Nonfiction submission”, etc. Replies average two to three months, and we don’t mind you checking with us about your submissions. Please send submissions to:
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E6 , N O. 2