CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VOLUM E 7, N O. 1
CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 7 No. 1
Winter Solstice 2015
ÂŠ 2015 by Sandra Kleven & Mike Burwell, Editors
Cover Photo Credit: Patrick Dixon, Blue Heron Landscape Inside Cover Photo Credit: Patrick Dixon Table of Contents Photo Credit: Sheary Clough Suiter, Desert Bloom Design and composition: Paxson Woelber ISBN-13: 978-1522907077 ISBN-10: 1522907076 ISSN 2152-4610 (online) Published by
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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
Wales Book Covers.indd 1
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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
Weathered Edge Covers.indd 1
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
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$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.
From the Editors Geographica – Early December, 2015. It is nine degrees this morning here on the Bering Sea in Hooper Bay, the biggest village in Alaska, where it is dark as midnight at ten AM on a Thursday. Although Hooper Bay sits south of the Arctic Circle, sun-up comes this late because the village is perched on the western edge of a thousand mile time-zone. This editor has been in tundra country for a week, offering support after several critical, non-literary, incidents. Calamity has left the community quiet, reflective and kind to visiting strangers. Not an official staff member of this bright sub-regional clinic, though I am surrounded by high tech connectivity, the head office in Bethel won’t give me the wi-fi password. A local employee has given me moments of access to her account so that I might try to herd the last cats – corral the last reindeer – required for the thirteenth issue of Cirque (7.1). On Saturday, Cirque’s digital files will be passed to designer, Paxson Woelber. He will work on the issue during long, dark evenings on Adak, in the Aleutians, where he is flying the next day to hunt caribou. Update: Hurricane-force winds topped out at 122 miles per hour on Adak. Paxson escapes and finishes work on the issue in town. Near Taos, NM, Cirque’s founding editor, Michael Burwell, eagle-eyes each issue partnering one hundred percent in every decision and dot. We three are the core staff of Cirque, supported by Assistant to the Editors, Kellie Doherty, Portland, OR, and intern, Kenny Gerling, Anchorage. Of the genre editors, one resides in Arizona, the rest live in or around Anchorage (listed below). We pull together the strands of this geography, casting on, knit one, purl two, cast off. This issue features Tom Sexton in “Once a Laureate” and the remarkable photography of Jim Thiele. Pushcarting, 2015 – We are proud to announce our first group of Pushcart nominees. From Cirque 6.2 in poetry Carey Taylor’s “White Album Summer” and in nonfiction Amy Meissner’s “Swallowing the Needle.” In the current issue, Anne Caston’s poem, “The Cloak of Invisibility,” in fiction, Karen Tschannen’s story, “Wednesday,” and in nonfiction , Joan Swift’s, “Dacha” and James Sweeney’s story, “Break Shack.” Independently – Low costs, with a print on demand model, Cirque remains an independent journal supported by donations, readings, advertising, and sales. We build each issue with about $1500 dollars, publishing twice yearly on the Summer and Winter Solstices. Donate or subscribe at Paypal to the email address, email@example.com. Cirque was developed to serve the writers of our region as a print and online journal. All issues can be found full-text and perpetually online at www.cirquejournal.com. All issues are also available in print-on-demand hardcopy. We appreciate your contributions and support.
Sandra L Kleven ~ Michael Burwell
Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Sandra Kleven and Mike Burwell, Editors Paxson Woelber, Designer Published twice yearly on the Winter and Summer Solstices Anchorage, Alaska
Assistant to the Editors Kellie Doherty
Intern Kenny Gerling
Poetry Editors Kenny Gerling Carmen Maldonado Monica Devine
Fiction Editors Gretchen Phelps Jerry McDonnell
Nonfiction Editor Sherry Eckrich Cynthia Sims
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Volume 7 No. 1 Winter Solstice 2015
FICTION Ben DuPree David Fewster Frances Howard-Snyder Ron McFarland Adrienne Ross Scanlan Karen Tschannen Susan Z. Witter
I Found You 0 13 The Poetry Slam 17 Rocket Science 21 The English Professor’s Last Fishing Trip 25 The Waltz 30 Wednesday 35 The only time I ever broke anything 37
POETRY Alexandra Appel erratic, limestone lowlands 40 Sarah Aronson Potlatch 1988 40 For Breakfast 40 Gabrielle Barnett Come and Gone Between Us 41 Tom Begich Road 42 Marilyn Borell Boot Camp 1941 43 The Larder 43 Anne Caston The Cloak of Invisibility 44 What The Daisies Say 44 The Fix 45 David Cheezem This Light 46 Kersten Christianson Aunt 46 Visiting the Cabin of Winter News above the Tanana River 47 Wendy Cohan Lately 47 Jonathan Cooper two hills 48 Michael Daley Among School Children 48 Scott Davidson Recovery 49 Patrick Dixon Best Effort 49 Victoria Doerper The Old Women 50 Leonie Mikele Fogle The Tansu Chest 50 Gene Ervine Alaska Is A Library 51 William Ford On Foreign Ground, 1969 52 Kenny Gerling Merton 52 Jo Going Sunflowers in Italia 53 Sierra Golden Self-Portrait with Goats 53 Jim Hanlen Auditioning King Heads For Alaska Water Color Class 54 Sarah Isto Equinox Below Zero 54 Marion Avrilyn Jones Threshold 55 Mary Kancewick Three Rules 55 Ruth Lera Day 13 56 Eric le Fatte The Waterfall above Hart Lake 56 Steven C. Levi Alzheimer’s August 57 David McElroy Beautiful Dangerous Women 57 Carmen Maldonado Dust 58 Karla Linn Merrifield Viewfinding 58 Nahaan Kivgik 59 Leonard Neufeldt The Return 59
Tim Pilgrim Little adobe something-or-other in Santa Fe 60 Diane Ray Restorative Yoga 60 Matthew Campbell Roberts Out of Emptiness 61 Deborah Chava Singer Her Own Name 61 Judith Skillman The Watched Pot 62 Jennifer L. Smith Joanna’s Child 63 Richard Stokes Waxwings in the Ash 64 Karin Swanson Catalpa Grandma 65 Jim Thielman Clouds Out a Train Window 66 Joanne Townsend Ancestors 66 Trust 67 Richard Widerkehr Allegiance 68 Tonja Woelber Light 68 Changming Yuan There Is No Life Without ‘If’ In It: Selected Word Idioms 69
NONFICTION Annie Boochever Gretchen Brinck Matt Caprioli Heather Durham Marc Janssen Cassandra Rankin Jen Soriano Jim Sweeney Joan Swift Jean Waight Avraham Zorea
The Evening Ritual 71 Editing Leota 72 Ringlets 76 Destiny Manifested 82 Windsong 85 Good Morning Rooster and a Moose in the Barnyard 86 Making the Tongue Dry 88 Break Shack 89 Dacha 93 Through the Floor 95 You Are No Paul 102
FLASH FICTION WINNER Judith Works
F E ATU R E S Tom Sexton Always a Laureate: The Writing Life 106 Tom Sexton 48 Oak Street: A Memoir 109 Sandra Kleven Coining A Poem 117
REVIEwS Paul Haeder Water Like Beer – Old World Dreams Transformed Out West in the Shape of a Brewer’s Rite of Passage. A Review of Michael Strelow’s Henry: A Novel of Beer and Love in the West 119 Christianne Balk Walking the line in Judith Skillman’s House of Burnt Offerings 122 Rebecca Goodrich A Review of Sandra Kleven’s Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing 125
INTERVIEW Paul Haeder
Interview with Michael Strelow, October 2015, on the Willamette, querying him about the intricacies of writing his book Henry: A Novel of Beer and Love in the West on a real historical character, Henry Weinhard, and the role he played as literary puppeteer and historian 127
C O N T R I B U T O R S 129 how to sub m it to cirque 136
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
FICTION Ben DuPree
I Found You
I leave Fujikawaguchiko on foot in the late afternoon. The town is quiet and the people keep to themselves, so no one notices me, the girl walking first on sidewalks, then in leaf-strewn gutters. Roads are empty save a few cars and tourist busses on the day’s last runs. The air is cold, gusting up the sleeves of my jacket and picking the heat from my exposed nose and lips. Mount Fuji stretches to impossible heights on my left, snowcapped and judging. My phone’s map says the walk takes two hours, but I already feel a weight in my legs with each step. Life moves forward and back. Behind me the asphalt runs to town, where I have a room in a hotel owned by my Aunt, a job, and a way back to family in Tokyo. But ahead is the amber sun, and beyond a tangle of branches and a sea of trees: Aokigahara forest, my anonymous future lost among souls sunk into the wood’s volcanic soil. I walk until my feet scream pain. I am almost there. The last person I see is a hunched older man locking up a market that sells mementos to visitors of the Fugaku Wind Cave. I float by unseen. The sun is nearly gone and I am becoming a memory. Darkness creeps around the edges of my vision and mind. The trees along the highway are crooked and menacing, like they resent my potential intrusion. A sign at the wood’s edge urges its readers to think on their families and loved ones. I move until it is out of sight and I find an entry away from light, away from view. I tie string around a tree and loop the other end around my wrist. I fear I will not be able to go through with my plan, and this thin rope will lead me back if I want to return. I push on into the wood. # A massive torii shrine gate towers above me, but I cannot remember how I came to be standing before it. The side supports and single cross-beam are as wide as ancient trees, and all are wrapped with rope and diamond-shaped paper pendants.
On the other side of the gate I see the village. It is a thing of shadows and confusion, existing in a place that does not exist. Buildings do not belong here because they have never been here. Yet I face low homes of a rustic style, wood with thatched roofs, which stretch an unseen length ahead. I call out, but my voice is hollow on the air. Then, as if in response, paper lanterns flicker to life with an orange glow and light the approach to the gate and beyond. The chill begins to lift, and the night feels like it belongs to a gentle summer. “You’re also here,” a voice says. A man my age somehow stands before me as the village emerges from darkness. He wears the inexpensive suit of a Tokyo salaryman. “What is this place?” I ask. “I just arrived myself.” His voice is distant, like it is carried by the wind. “I’m Nozomi Iwata,” I say. He squints and appears to be straining against his memory. “Hikaru Honda,” he finally says. I stare at the torii gate. “This is sacred and old, but looks more the way to a village than a shrine,” I say. “Who lives here?” “Let’s find out.” We pass through the gate. # 2 I see my mother and father running a noodle counter inside Tokyo’s Shinjuku station. Their hands are crossed with kitchen burns and their faces are tinted with distraction; they do not hear me over the cooking din and a small, rabbit-ear television broadcasting the day’s Yokohama Baystars game. I see a younger version of myself. Hair is matted to starchy sweat on my forehead. Steam dots my school books and curls their pages on a shelf behind me. I do not attend cram school or apply to college because the expectation is that I will work in the family kitchen. I see the bus that takes me from Tokyo five years later. Snow flurries as we get closer to Mount Fuji, but it does not stick to the windows or the road. My Aunt sips coffee and awaits me outside Fujikawaguchiko station. She runs a hotel overlooking Lake Kawaguchi where I will tend bar. “What do you remember?” Honda asks.
CIRQUE turn and face an older man who wears the ivory and blue kimono of a shrine priest. “She’s shy, but is playful and has a kind spirit.” The priest’s body appears frail, but his veins shine under translucent skin. He gives us an appraising glance. “This is your shrine,” Honda says. “I worship here like many others,” the priest responds. I stare at the priest, and I notice he watches me the way a grandfather watches a child. “Will you be staying with us?” he asks.
Waiting, Harborview Medical Center
We follow a narrow dirt path between the village’s homes. The lanterns shine brighter as we move ahead. I smell boiling rice, stewing vegetables, and roasting fish. Open doors lead to hearths glowing with lingering charcoal, but I see no other people. “My memories are faint.” He frowns. “Like dreams slipping away after you wake.” The path opens onto a wide town square; at its center is a dense copse of cypress, holly, and oak. Rope and paper pendants wrap each tree. Before the trees sits a small wooden shrine house flanked by clumping bamboo. “Everything is clear,” I say. I look down at my wrist and notice the string I had attached to lead me back is no longer there. “Well, almost everything.” “What’s missing?” Honda asks. I try to avoid his gaze, but it draws me in. My cheeks are hot. He puts a hand on my arm. His smile is wide and inviting, but his touch is cold. I gasp and want to pull away, but am unable to move. # “I don’t know you two.” A young girl in a lavender sun dress emerges from the trees behind the shrine. She is small, barely there, but her voice is clear and strong. “Are you new?” “Yes,” I say. “Who are you?” Honda asks. The girl stares up at me with a coy look of concern that makes my heart beat more quickly. Then she runs from us, vanishing among the homes on the other side of the trees. “Don’t mind her,” a voice says from behind. We
# 3 I walk between the village’s homes going one direction, but when I return they look different, as if new ones have taken their place. Although rustic, some show modern touches. One house displays a blue and white Baystars banner from 1998 over the door, from when they won the Japan Series. I remember the year because my father made me attend several games with him, and when he drank too much I got us home on the trains. Another has a radio inside that faintly crackles with kabuki music. I also see lights beyond lanterns, gas lamps and electric bulbs, even though there are no wires strung and there is no smell of fuel. I begin to catch faint glimpses of villagers at a distance: an older man with an expensive suit and briefcase who hurries away from me; two young men wearing matching rainbow bracelets and holding hands; a woman cradling a silent newborn. I call to them, but none responds. Throughout, I notice the girl in the lavender dress stalking my peripheral vision. Back in the town square, I find Honda before the shrine. “Did you see them?” he asks. “Some,” I say. “This town is out of time.” He stares past me. “I met a man my age, but he was dressed like a soldier from a different era. At first he was friendly and welcoming, but then he grew confused. He wanted to know if the Americans had landed yet, and if his family in Hiroshima was safe.” “Hiroshima?” “I asked his name, but he only shook his head and trudged off.” Honda turns to fully face the shrine. He claps his
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 hands three times and bows deeply at his waist. When he rises, I see he is crying. # Honda and I sit cross-legged on the floor of an unoccupied house off the square. A hearth’s fire warms our faces and dries his tears. “My grandmother was also named Nozomi,” I say. “Written with the kanji for ‘wish’ because she was adopted, a gift to a poor family of rice farmers. I never met her. But my parents speak of her strength and grace raising a family in hardship after the war. I was named for her, but given the kanji meaning ‘hope,’ so I might follow her example.” Color seeps from Honda’s face and sweat clings to his sideburns and gathers on his upper lip. He forces a broad smile. “That’s lovely,” he says. “Is anything coming back to you?” I ask. He shakes his head. “I have to focus to even remember my name.” “How awful!” “It’s not so bad.” He puts one of his hands on mine. “At least we’re here with each other.” I blush, but do not look away. There is an ease in Honda’s eyes, but also vulnerability and a growing panic, like a child coming to terms with being lost. I take his hand in mine out of a fear that, without it, the panic might swallow me up. “Tell me another story,” he says. #
own, giving me work, food, and a bed, but it is already too late. I lay down, putting my head on Honda’s outstretched legs. He strokes my hair and I tell him that I do not blame my parents. Sleep begins its descent. If a shrine’s mirror is missing, its purpose dies; it becomes a building, nothing more. Who would worship at an empty building? # 4 The girl in the lavender dress stands in the doorway when I wake. Honda is gone from the house, leaving only a faint impression in the dust where he sat. I wipe sleep from my eyes and motion for the girl to come to me, but she shakes her head. “You don’t belong here,” she says. I stand and walk to her. Her face is a mask of concern, pale and urgent with unexpected creases running from her mouth and eyes. I drop to my knees and take her into my arms. She is hauntingly still. “Why not?” I ask. “Let me show you,” she says. The girl puts a hand on my chest, and with a sudden but gentle strength forces us apart, takes my hand, and pulls until I am standing. We leave the house together. Although I slept for untold hours, the sky remains dark. Ahead, the square is now busy with the light of hundreds of thin white candles placed upright on a tiered series of metal plates arrayed before the shrine. A line of villagers stretches from the shrine; I see hundreds, maybe
Through each torii gate, in a land of ancestors and spirits, is a shrine. These shrines have an inner door that conceals a sacred object, a sanctuary for a divine being and a symbol of power. Often the symbol is a mirror. It is written that the mirror is honesty, that it hides nothing. I gaze into Honda’s eyes, and in them I see myself. Water rises above my head as I leave Tokyo in a tsunami of self-loathing. I hold my breath and cling to the air left in my lungs. My family and I have a bare love found at occasional baseball games and in our kitchen, a love that does not sustain me. My Aunt is childless and she takes me in like her Teklanika River Ice Trail, March Sun Run
more. Honda is with them, clutching a candle to his chest. I move as if to go to him, but the girl tightens her grip on my hand. “Not yet,” she says. Each villager lights a candle, places it on a metal plate, and faces the shrine. They then clap three times and bow. At that moment, the world bends; the trees behind the shrine, the thatched buildings, the lanterns lining the street, the distant torii gate, our bodies, everything shudders slightly. “What is this place?” I ask. The priest joins us. He touches the girl on her shoulder, and she releases my hand. “A memorial,” he says. Honda’s form appears increasingly insubstantial as he nears the shrine. His steps take on the fluid cadence of those ahead of him. I run to him. “Wait,” I say. I take hold of Honda’s arm, but recoil as his skin feels like a waxy paper, barely on his body. “There’s nothing to be done,” he says. Fresh dirt spots Honda’s jacket and pants, and his face is pale and distant like the moon. The only warmth comes from his eyes, which continue to reflect my image. “I remember a little more,” he says. “I was afraid, but then the girl in lavender found me and helped me.” He smiles. Cherry blood stains his teeth and streaks a thin line from one side of his mouth down onto his chin. “She came while you slept and showed me I was wrong, and that I wasn’t as alone as I thought. It turns out I’m more like these people than I am like you.” A weak pearlescent glow radiates from Honda’s body as he walks up to the shrine. Stillness envelops the square, like each object is alive and holding its breath. “I’m happy you were with me,” he says. “But the child is right when she says you don’t belong.” Honda touches my face with his hand, and everything turns a shock of white. “There is no more shame,” he says. “Everyone comes for a reason.” Brightness explodes from behind my eyes and squeezes my head. I feel myself falling. “Find me again,” his voice says. “Don’t forget me.” # My parents are with me in a land of emptiness; I feel their presence calling to me. “We want you back,” my mother’s voice says. “And for you to be happy,” my father’s voice says.
Their outlines are wispy and inconsistent, more memories than actual people. Ropes pull against my wrists, drawing me up, circling me, consuming me. Soon they are wrapped around my body and begin to constrict. A crushing pain attacks me from within, pulsing out like a surging tide. An uncertain time passes. Gradually the pain recedes. I see a double door in front of me. Carved from fading wood, it is a life-size version of the entrance to the village shrine’s inner sanctuary. A voice behind the door calls to me. The girl in the lavender dress is at my side, and her hand on my hip urges me on. I pull on the door. # 5 A biting wind cuts across my body and drags my consciousness back to the moment. I am in Aokigahara forest, lying on my back among leaves in a thicket. The world is an ashen brown-grey dotted with green. Shadows approach from every angle, lit by a sun barely visible through the dense canopy. For a moment the torii gate is above me, but then it disappears, and I see the girl in the lavender dress standing over a body slumped against a nearby boulder. I sit up. “It was nice to have met you,” she says. The girl offers me a string identical to the one I had tied around my wrist. As soon as it is in my hand, she vanishes, leaving no trace of her footprints on the ground or her movement through the brush. “At least tell me your name,” I say. “I’m sorry,” her voice says. “But I can’t.” I face the body on the ground, and see it is Honda, and that he is dead. His eyes are open but empty, frigid to match his exposed skin. Wet dirt cakes his suit and is smeared across his shirt. A small bottle lies open and just out of reach of one of his hands; blue and white pills have rolled from where it fell and splash the ground with their color. “I found you, Hikaru,” I say. I tie the string around my wrist and pull Honda’s body toward mine, wrapping my arms around him and burying my face in his chest. “I found you.”
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only I were a painter, I could render this scene. Of course, I still could, I suppose, if I used the gray version of the technique that resulted in the masterwork “White Cow in a Snowy Field During a Blizzard.” The surrealists would have loved it—how often I wish I was with them as they were in the 1920’s, sitting in cafes discussing art, playing their little “exquisite corpse” parlor tricks, or indulging in their favorite pastime, a game called “Let’s read De Sade, Put Studded Dog Collars on the Babes, and Whip Them with Leather Thongs.” Man Ray, I feel, would have been someone with the potential of truly understanding me. Still, I can dream, and reveries like this only serve to stiffen my resolve in pursuing my private quest—to make Seattle my own personal Paris of the soul. **************************
The Poetry Slam From the Diary of Nanette Jenkins As Expurgated by David Fewster DECEMBER 1993 Re-reading Quiet Days in Clichy this afternoon in my studio, where Henry Miller rhapsodizes about the multitudinous variations of gray to be found in Paris. What a kinship I feel with him! Looking out the window with new eyes, I see the many grays of my own city; the contrasting hues of bird lime congealing on the cobblestones in an early December drizzle, or the complimentary tableaux of a bearded old wino in a tweed sports coat too small for him passed out under a newly painted park bench, the only spark of color added to the gray universe being the maroon trickle that leads from a spilled bottle of Night Train to a rain puddle where it mixes with the mud and forms yet another shade of gray, this one perhaps the most nauseating of all. O, if
Showed up this evening at the Emerald Diner on lower Queen Anne, the home of the much-vaunted Seattle Slam. The restaurant, which sports a vaguely 50’s style motif, is adjoined by a dive bar where the performers read on a small platform in the corner under a TV tuned to ESPN with the sound off, no doubt a concession to keep the regular patrons from rioting. The Slam is the brainchild of Saul Grandiose, an eyepatch-wearing egomaniac transplant from Chicago with a Bertolt Brecht complex whose apparent mission in life is to bring the heavy-handed Germanic literary stylings of his sausage-eating hometown to our land of lattes and wheat grass juice. In his capacity of Master of Ceremonies, he even attempts to lead a sing-a-long on his Weill-influenced composition “Boneyard of the Damned” (chorus: “And we’re all just wormshit in the end”) while accompanying himself on an accordion. Jesus, what a cornball. The rules of this “slam” thing are quite simple. The poets sign up for the competition, and are randomly paired off against each other. Three impartial judges (i.e., those who can convincingly lie that they are unfamiliar with any of the contestants) are chosen from the audience to score the performers, using a 1-10 system. The rounds continue until there is a winner, who receives $25, and invitation to a “Grand Slam” competition at a later date, and, if they are very lucky, an opportunity to see what might be under Saul’s eyepatch. I was signed up in the last slot, number 7, having arrived late because of problems in choosing my wardrobe. I had initially wanted to go with a Dadaist ensemble, wearing a black velvet evening gown covered
18 with live goldfish swimming in Coke bottles, but this proved unfeasible, as the fish proved too large to fit in the narrow necks, and attempts to force the matter resulted in consequences too disgusting to go into here. I then attempted an homage to Gerard Nerval, who used to stroll around Paris with his pet lobster on a leash. Excited by the impression an entrance like this would arouse, I ordered several of those displayed in tanks from the Chinese restaurant around the corner, only to discover that the beasts are virtually untrainable due to their propensity for crawling down sewer gratings. (Efforts to pull them back up invariable led to decapitation.) I finally settled on a simple maroon dress, pillbox hat, and a set of bracelets made of crab shells which I had to discard when a halfdozen alley cats attempted to follow me into the bar. The first two entrants of the evening were a Native American poet, Sherman Blackcrow, and an angry-young-man-with-piercings. Sherman’s poem, “This Land Is My Land”, was an interactive one. Walking around the bar intoning “This land is my land, which you stole,” he progressed to “This table is my table, which is on the land which you stole,” segueing into “This is my drink, which is on the table, which is on my land, which you stole,” downing about ten before his 3-minute time limit was up and the bouncer ejected him. The AYMWP then got up and announced, “This piece is entitled ‘You Racist, Homophobic, Gender-Biased, Meat-Eating, NeverWashed-Your-Assholes Fascist Murderers, Swine, and Goons of the Corporate Moloch Can Kiss My Pock-Marked Butt, Especially the Doorman at Re-Bar Who Carded Me Last Saturday.’” (The title proved an excellent synopsis for the poem, which consisted of the title repeated verbatim with a couple extra obscenities thrown in.) His score was 19. Sherman’s was 25, and the bouncer was forced to hightail it over to the Mecca to get him back for the second round. The next contestants up were the Retro Twins— Beat Girl vs. Bukowski Boy. Beat Girl, a shapely woman in a black felt dress and beret who looked like a Jules Feiffer cartoon come to life had me worried—her poem was memorized! True, it was tripe, all about how cool it would have been to hang out with Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg in Tangier (like the misogynist bastards would have had anything to do with her, except maybe pimping her Sarah Lawrence-educated butt for drug money) and how we must all aspire to carry on their grand tradition. But, because of the memorization thing, she was able to swing her arms and breasts like an amphetamine-crazed version of the goddess Shiva, creating an effect I despised
CIRQUE and wanted to emulate badly. The Bukowski clone, by comparison, was a paragon of sincerity. Going by the name Opus 23, Bowel Movement 4, he was a fat slob in a torn sweatshirt and jeans who emoted: Myra was a whore She was a whore with great legs That’s important to me We lived together in a fleabag hotel Off 8th and Virginia Myra supported me She was crazy She was a crazy whore Then, one day Myra left When she learned I couldn’t Make the rent So here I am Standing on Aurora Avenue Looking for another Crazy whore with good legs. In the meantime, Could you let me have a cigarette? He lost badly (28.5 to 17), no doubt because two-thirds of the judges were male. Still, that fact boded well for my own performance, as my tastefully-selected dress displayed about four inches of cleavage. The next round, though, placed the judges and audience in a critical quandary that was quite interesting to watch. Ingrid Muscatel, the lesbian essayist from the hip alternative weekly The Hermit, mounted the stage and read a poetic manifesto entitled “Dick Frappe”, which presented the argument that John Wayne Bobbitt never would have had the opportunity to sew it back on if Lorena had had the wherewithal to put it in the blender after she had done the deed, followed by a call to sisters everywhere to take out the patriarchy armed with nail scissors and La Machine. Running against her was a cherubic gnome by the name of Randy Tannenbaum, who read a diatribe against his roommate title “Ode to That Son-of-a-Bitch Horowitz” which brought the house down. Everyone in the place, it seemed, could identify with the scenario of the refrigerator-raiding, late rent-paying, dope-stealing, toilet seat urine-splattering roomie. Even the subject of the poem, apparently, who was later pointed out by Randy sitting at the bar, grinning ear-to-ear over his 15 minutes of fame. The plight of the judges was obvious. Clearly,
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 the politically-correct thing to do would be to award the round to Ingrid but, on the other hand, Randy was so damn funny. Saul Grandiose, being no show business neophyte, quickly leapt to the stage. “Let’s have another hand for Ingrid, who is going to be next week’s Featured Reader!” he exclaimed. Having thus placated the poetry of castration, the judges were free to award the contest to Randy, score 28 to 27.5. I began to be gripped by an uneasy feeling that the whole event was subtly rigged. At last, it was my turn to enter the fray. As no one had signed up for the No. 8 slot, Saul called for a volunteer from the audience to serve as “sacrificial poet.” “It doesn’t matter what you say,” explained Saul. It’s all poetry.” “You suck!” Someone from the bar yelled. “That’s a poem,” replied Saul, not missing a beat. “See how easy it is? Now, who wants to give it a try?” A lanky youth, bearing a resemblance to one of the banjo players in “Deliverance” and noticeably weaving from the effects of the pitcher of beer that he was apparently drinking on his own, stood up and announced his name was Harry, he had just moved to the city from Kitsap County, and he’d be willing to give it a try. In spite of the fact that the crowd seemed to be turning ugly, I was somewhat relieved that I would be going up against a neophyte. Feeling strangely calm, I stepped into the spotlight. As my initial poem had seemed a little thin, I had worked all week on an epic allegory in which I am forced to have sex with a giant gray slug (whom my biographers, of course, will instantly recognize as Stanley.) To give the piece an air of verisimilitude, I had even gone so far as to do actual research at the library, home of my old grade-school friend the Encyclopedia Britannica. Slugs, I learned, are hermaphroditic, but the male and female organs are on opposite sides of their heads, thus making it impossible for them to mate with themselves. (The gastropod equivalent of the human male’s inability to give himself a blowjob, no doubt.) In order to reproduce, two slugs must hang from a mutually-created mucous string and entwine themselves, at which point the male can insert his organ into the female counterpart (a wonderful metaphor, as sleeping with Stanley is about as satisfying as getting fucked in the ear.). After a long, graphic description of my naked abasement within its embrace, the grand finale comes in which, grabbing a box of Morton salt, I scream dramatically “When it rains…it pours” and empty the contents on the slug’s back, precipitating a veritable
ocean of frothing, gelatinous slime from which I rise like Botticelli’s Venus, ready to make the most of my rebirth. When I had finished, a stunned silence, so complete I could hear static from the volumeless TV, fell on the room. “I must have really touched them,” I thought, leaving the stage to allow Harry to make a fool of himself before my triumph could attain official status. Staggering to the podium with what looked like a homemade mandolin fashioned out of old food bank boxes, he slurred, “This is a song dedicated to you sniveling, bottom-feeding fame whores who want to be rock stars without even bothering to take the time to learn to play instruments—you make me want to puke this cheap beer you have to swill down just to look at yourselves in the mirror. Thank you.” Plunking out what sounded like some trailer-trash hybrid of Appalachian rap music, he sang: Look at me, I’m a poet I wanna be on MTV And have a date with Madonna When she’s wearing her BVD’s I don’t have any talent I don’t even bother to read Look at me, I’m a poet I wanna be on MTV. “Oh dear, I hope they don’t lynch the poor boy,” I thought as he stalked off, glowering fiercely. I needn’t have worried—the ovation lasted two minutes, interspersed with audience comments like “What balls!”. “Man, he tells it like it is!”, “Our greatest satirist”, and “Let’s make him our God and worship Him.” “Sores, please,” shouted Saul over the melee. Harry got a 30. My own score, unfortunately, proved incalculable, consisting as it did of a combination of 1, pi, and the negative square root of 69. As I made my hasty, albeit dignified, exit, I overheard comments like “Ewww!”, “There goes the slug lady!”. And “Doesn’t she know that the sex bit has been out for 6 months now?” Outside the café, the winter drizzle luckily camouflaged my embarrassing tears of rage and disappointment. “Shit,” I thought. “I’m too old to let these little assholes get to me like this…” As I stood under the awning, peering out into the neon-illuminated drizzle and trying to remember where the hell I had parked my car, a young man joined me on the square foot of dry space available. I took him in with a sidelong glance—long hair, black raincoat, Alice In Chains t-shirt, felt fedora, boots (which I later learned
20 were a form of status footwear called Doc Marten, no doubt the name of the orthopedic surgeon who fortune was made repairing the crushed arches caused by the ungainly clodhoppers.) He was tall, with a face that was sensitive, but coarse; profound, yet somewhat clueless; high-strung, albeit virtually comatose from cheap liquor. The whole effect was incredibly geeky, with a suggestion of an aura of unleashed power that had the potential of devastation. In short, rather like a combination of Aubrey Beardsley and Sean Penn. “I saw what happened in there,” he blurted. “Not a real artist in the bunch, just a bunch of philistines. They’re so declamatory. As if there were still something that could be said. You know?” I nodded, trying to decide whether I should call a policeman or the Times’ literary critic. “Not at all like your work,” he continued, “which was a masterful juxtaposition of Ovid and Diane Wakowski’s Medea series.” My, what a perceptive comment, I thought. Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about, but I liked the Classical Greek sound of it and did my best to smile approvingly in a manner I hoped was Delphic. His next query took me by surprise. “Do you have a car? I was wondering if you could drive me home. I live about a mile down the street in Belltown, and I don’t feel like walking in the rain. Sometimes the universe seems so malignant that it just, you know, makes you tired. By the way, my name’s Simon. Simon LeBoneur.” He extended a long, pale hand with only a tiny amount of dirt under the fingernails. I took it. After all, I had come here to meet some fellow travelers in the realm of Art. “There it is,” pointed Simon as we drove down First, indicating a dilapidated 3-story boarding house situated between a warehouse and a towering new condo. “Thank you so much. Could I invite you up for an aperitif?” As a searcher for new experiences, I had an intuition that this might be one. I agreed. Simon’s apartment was a small studio on the third floor in the back of the building. A balcony (well, actually, a fire escape landing) overlooked Elliott Bay, or, if your gaze angled downwards, the bustling activity of the crack trade that took place in a parking lot under the viaduct. Simon disappeared into the kitchenette while I sat in the only chair, a folding metal one that apparently did double-duty between the card table that served as the dining area and the inevitable computer table. Stacks of books leaned against the walls (Beckett, Ionesco, Burroughs, Trocchi—the identity cards of members of Avant-Garde 101), while the threadbare carpet was
CIRQUE enhanced by the layers of give-away publications that lay strewn about. The only other piece of furniture was a foam rubber pallet covered by black sheets, which decorum made me divert my eyes from before I was tempted to look for come stains. Simon re-entered, bearing a plate of Archway chocolate chip cookies and two cans of Schmitt’s. “I thought I had some Dubonnet and Brie left,” he said, “but I guess I must have finished it for breakfast. They say this place used to be a bordello during the turn of the century. Some scumbag developer is trying to tear it down, but we’ve lodged a petition with the Historical Society.” He cracked a beer. “Oh, I’m sorry, I should have offered you a glass.” Returning with one (bearing the logo of Sylvester and Tweety), he continued. “Listen, I’ve got a confession to make—I had an ulterior motive in asking you here.” Unobtrusively, I reached for my handbag, only to remember that I’d left the mace at the studio. Which is just as well; otherwise the entire clientele of the Emerald Diner would have been on the sidewalk, coughing their lungs out. I braced myself for the onslaught when, suddenly, Simon leapt to the floor and dug through the pile of papers, emerging with a photocopied magazine which he thrust into my hand. Entitle The Umbilicus of Limbo II, it featured a death’s head and a screaming fetus playing guitars on the cover, while the inside featured handwritten poems, collages, and short stories that looked like they’d been typeset on a 1922 Remington found in a junkyard. “I’m the literary editor,” Simon explained. “The title, of course, is an homage to Artaud.” “Yes, I can see that,” I said. “In fact, the whole thing looks like it was drawn and composed by the Special Ed class in an Institution for the Criminally Insane.” Simon looked immensely pleased. “I knew when I first laid eyes on you that you would understand. Of course, the most cutting-edge works are the ones that transcend the boundaries between ineptitude and insanity. That, Nanette, is why you must contribute!” And so, the evening ended very pleasantly. Simon escorted me to my car, waving in the rain as I pulled away. I wondered if I’d ever see him again, and found myself rather hoping I would. Also, I thought, perhaps I could get an excerpt of Shimmering Lard into the magazine before it went belly-up. My generous contribution might very well lift the endeavor out of submediocrity. (To be cont’d…)
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Rocket Science I pulled over to the curb at my father’s two story brick house to pick up my son. I smiled to myself, glad that he spent afternoons with his grandfather. This was one thing, in all my screwed up life, I could feel good about. But the second I pulled up the parking brake, Caleb ran down the short path, flung open the passenger door, and threw himself into the car. “What’s the matter?” I asked, leaning across to kiss him. “Just drive,” he muttered. I caught sight of my dad in the front window, arms folded across his chest. Normally I would stop for a brief chat, but Caleb’s attitude made that awkward. I met my dad’s eyes. “Thanks,” I mouthed. He shook his head and rolled his eyes. Kids today! Figuring we could talk tomorrow, I put my foot on the gas. “What’s up, Kiddo?” “I’m not going back there.” Caleb stretched one bony arm out the window. “Yes, you are. We’ve been over this before. I don’t have anywhere else to leave you.” “Why are you always telling me what to do?” I sighed. My feet were screaming and my back was starting to chime in. “When you’re ten years old, your mother gets to tell you what to do. It’s not rocket science.” Caleb changed the radio to rap music, and turned up the volume. I felt a migraine coming on. But I needed to win this battle. I couldn’t afford a babysitter, not on my salary from the care home, not after my ex had stopped sending cash, not after we’d paid the rent and bought food and clothes from Walmart. I couldn’t leave Caleb alone, and my dad enjoyed having his grandson around, even if he grumbled. “What’s for dinner?” I considered the contents of my fridge. Not promising. “Hotdogs,” I said, trying to muster enthusiasm. “I don’t like hotdogs.” “You liked ‘em last week.” “I don’t want to go back to Grandpa’s.” I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel, inwardly cursing the driver ahead of me who kept slowing down at each intersection. I wanted to be home, done with dinner, and relaxing in front of the TV.
“What’s wrong with Grandpa’s place? He has air conditioning,” I said noting the hot air that moved sluggishly through the open windows of my car, “and Netflix and a rope swing.” Caleb shook his head. “And he has lots of war stories. You just get him talking.” “I don’t like his talking,” Caleb mumbled, staring at the strip malls we passed. “Why not?” “He says things…” I waited. “Things that make me uncomfortable. Nasty things.” I maneuvered the car into the parking lot of our apartment building and braked hard. Caleb tried the door, but the child locks were on. “Tell me!” I said calmly, although in my mind I was smashing the car into the row of metal trash cans. Caleb picked at the tear in the plastic of his seat and said slowly, without looking at me. “He showed
me this magazine with pictures of ladies without their underwear.” He stopped and let out a big deflated sigh. “It looked like the camera went right up between their legs.” His pale skin colored under the freckles. “Grandpa said he enjoyed looking at those pictures and he said I would too–if I wasn’t a pussy.” I gripped the wheel, leaving fingernail scars in the fake leather. “No!” “You don’t believe me?” “I believe you… It’s just…” I couldn’t think what to say. “Come here.” He leaned towards me and I pulled him tight against my chest until he wriggled uncomfortably. “Go inside,” I said. “We’ll talk about this later.” He made a face. He deserved more of a reaction, but I needed to sort things out. I tried to remember the look my father had given me when I picked up Caleb – exasperated, amused, but surely not guilty. Caleb must be making this up. He’d lied before. But not more than Fairy most kids. And where would he get those details? A ten year old wouldn’t make up those images. Then I remembered the Playboy I’d found in my dad’s toolbox when I was twelve. I’d been looking for something, a Philip’s screwdriver, I think. Caleb wasn’t lying. I shivered in the moist heat like a long-term malaria sufferer. **** I stopped off at my dad’s place the next day. The lawn was crew-cut short. The hummingbird feeders were full and the paint on the siding and the trim looked new. The thought of him fixing things reminded me of the toolbox. My father, Jack Heller, answered the bell promptly and let me in. He was still lean with a small stoop and a gentle slope of a belly where he used to be ironing board flat. His military short hair was gray with
a hint of rust. He shut the door and cut out the electric insect buzz and bird racket. “What’s going on, Iris? Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” he asked as he ground the coffee. He waited, but I didn’t answer immediately. “You haven’t lost your job, have you?” “I called in sick.” He pursed his lips. “You know how I feel about lies.” I nodded impatiently, too old to be scolded. And anyway, Caleb’s story had made me sick. “If you’re short of money…,” he said in a gentler tone. He would lend me what I needed, he hinted. He’d helped me before. Was he just pretending not to know what was bothering me? Covering up by reminding me how much I owed him: money for the deposit on my shabby apartment, and free childcare every week day for almost a year. How could I ever repay him? I swallowed, suddenly not confident about the Michael Kleven phrases I’d been rehearsing on the ride over. I didn’t want to have this conversation. Perhaps I should just take Caleb and walk away, like my ex walked away, suddenly bonetired of the constant hassle without even the energy to make an excuse. But that wouldn’t work. I couldn’t afford to leave town. I had no job to go to, and no way to afford another apartment. And I loved my father. I owed him some sort of explanation and even a chance to defend himself. I wondered again if Caleb’s story could be wrong–some sort of misunderstanding or even a lie. The coffee dripped and hissed and filled the small kitchen with its rich, dark smell. My father watched me in the way I remembered: tender and protective. “What is it, Iris?” He poured two cups, and reached into the fridge for the half and half. “Caleb,” I said slowly. The coffee was very bitter.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 “He doesn’t want to come back here.” He frowned and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he sat at the kitchen table and gestured for me to do the same. “I was a little harsh, I admit. But cripes, Iris, he is so darn disrespectful. He needs a good hard talking to every now and then. I told him to do his homework and he said he would, and then I caught him on that lameboy or whatever the hell you call it. I took the toy away and he sassed me, called me an old dick. He’s just like his old man, I swear, sneaky, rude, lazy.” “Hey!” I stood up and leaned across the table. “That’s my son you’re talking about.” “I’m talking about the loser who walked out on you and failed miserably as a father.” Not a topic we’d ever really discussed. I’d been hurt, and my dad had been sensitive enough to offer me a shoulder to cry on and financial help, with no questions asked. It hadn’t occurred to me that he’d be angry with Bruce too, not that angry. “Well, Bruce is gone…” “Except for the half of his genes he left in Caleb.” I closed my eyes and balled my fists. How dare he criticize my son, especially after what he’d done to him? “You showed him porn,” I exploded. “And you encouraged him to enjoy it with you.” He laughed joylessly. “Christ, Iris. He told you that. Really? And you believe him?” “Yes,” I said trying to sound certain. “Are you going to tell me I shouldn’t?” I wished I could read his face. Sky blue eyes, hard well-scraped jaw, deep lines, as blank as Clint Eastwood waiting for someone to make his day. He didn’t think Caleb’s story even merited a denial. But Caleb couldn’t have made up those pornographic images. “Where’s the magazine, Dad?” “There is no magazine, Iris.” “Don’t you lie to me!” I yelled and stomped through the side door into the garage, which was perfectly swept, its walls lined with packed boxes, everything in its place. I opened his tool box. Nothing. I lifted the top layer. Still nothing. Had he cleaned up his act? Then it occurred to me that, now that my mother was gone, he wouldn’t need to hide the magazine so well. So, I tramped back inside and up the stairs. “Iris!” he said quietly but followed at a distance. Under the bathroom sink, behind the Costco toilet paper, I found the Hustler. I held it up triumphantly. “Handy location!” I spat at him. He shuffled like a schoolboy.
“You did lie to me!” I opened the magazine and paged through it. “You showed these pictures to Caleb? God, Dad, he’s only ten.” The pictures got me angrier and angrier, so that yelling at him was easy. My dad took the magazine, closed it and tossed it in the bathroom trash can. Then he covered his face with his left hand. “All right. I lied about the magazine. What father wants his daughter to know he looks at that smut? But I swear–on your mother’s grave–I did not share it with your boy.” The reference to my mother annoyed me. But under my certain glare, my mind was scrambling. My father’s story made sense. Caleb could have found the magazine just as I did twenty five years earlier. Perhaps he was grossed out by the images, and then when my dad punished him, he made up a story to get his own back. My dad watched me. An innocent man falsely accused and in danger of losing the two people he loved? Or a guilty man planning his escape? His version made sense; but so did Caleb’s. One thing I remembered from my one philosophy class in community college was the
At the Crossing Restaurant, Soldotna
duck-rabbit. A line drawing consisting of two open ovals, a circle and a dot representing an eye. Look at it one way, and you see a duck, the ovals as a beak. Look at it another way, and you see a rabbit, the ovals as ears. Nothing on the page settles the matter. Here were the lines on my page. A dirty magazine, Caleb’s accusations, and my father’s denials, nothing to determine which version was right. But unlike the duck-rabbit, this one mattered. Everything important to me depended on it. “I’m your dad, Iris. You can’t lose faith in me.” I didn’t want to lose faith in him. It would be easier if Caleb was the one lying. At ten, he had no idea how much damage he was doing. I could forgive Caleb. So, could my dad. But if my dad was the bad guy, I didn’t think I could forgive him. I looked into his face and remembered how I’d always seen him. A hero, hard, disciplined, sworn to protect the innocent and defeat the wicked. The Hustler made sense for a man and a widower. But the rest didn’t fit. Caleb must have lied. “I’ll talk to him again,” I said. “He’ll just lie again.” “I think I can tell when my son is lying,” I said. “It’s not rocket science,” He shook his head. “Let me know what he says.” “Sure.” I gathered my purse and keys. **** When I picked Caleb up from school, he seemed pleased to miss the hour long bus ride. “Does this mean that I won’t have to go to Grandpa’s anymore?” he asked as we pulled away. “No,” I said. “It doesn’t mean anything. I took a day off. But I have to work tomorrow. I have nowhere else to leave you.” “I could stay by myself.” I stopped at a red light. “You have to be twelve.” “You want me to spend my afternoons looking at girls’ twats?” “Caleb!” “It’s OK. You know I might start to enjoy it.” He giggled oddly. “Isn’t that what real men do?” I took my eyes off the road to stare at him. “I went to his house today.” The driver behind me honked. I resisted the impulse to give him the finger. I released the brake and set off slowly. “I figured out what happened.” I spoke with more conviction than I felt, the way they did on the late night cop shows.
“Oh yeah?” “You found the magazine in the bathroom.” “No.” He shook his head firmly. “And then he punished you and you got mad and wanted to get back at him by making up this story.” I watched Caleb out of the corner of my eye. He was shaking his head and staring out the window, not confessing and apologizing as I’d hoped. “Talk to me,” I murmured. I stopped at another light. “What’s the point? You never believe me.” He opened the passenger door. “I hate you.” He left the car, moved to the sidewalk, and stood contemplating his next move. I pulled over and watched him for a few seconds. He was too thin, all long limbs jutting at uncertain angles. I’d let him down again. I called through the open window, “Come back. I promise to listen to you.” He dragged his feet on the tarmac and then sat in the back seat. “You’re the only person I have. You have to trust me.” I turned around and gripped his hand. “Of course I trust you. But I trust Grandpa too. Look…I love him just like you love me. He was always there for me. It’s hard for me to believe that he did a terrible thing, especially when he says he didn’t.” I sighed deeply, and said, as much to myself as to him. “What am I supposed to do?” He pushed aside his too-long, copper hair and looked into my eyes. “Trust me. I’m telling the truth. And I’m your kid. You’re supposed to love me most.” **** Caleb stuck to his story, as did my dad. Neither of them ever admitted lying, no matter how often I questioned them. I suggested putting them in a room together to confront each other, but Caleb refused. I didn’t think I could bear it–hurting one or other of them. But in the end, I had to choose. I worked out a plan where Caleb took a bus to the Boys and Girls club in the afternoons. He didn’t like it much but he grumbled less than he had before and learned ping pong and made a couple of friends. When he turns twelve I’ll let him stay by himself for those few hours. My dad took my decision hard. I tried to tell him it didn’t mean I believed he was guilty, but he just rolled his eyes. One day we’ll get things back to normal.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
The English Professor’s Last Fishing Trip
Professor T. Roland Wibbles, who liked to be called “TR” but whose detractors, including a few students and a couple of his younger colleagues in the department which was going to hell in the handbasket of critical theory, preferred to call “Dr. Wobbles,” was an inveterate and avid angler, which is not to say he was a remarkably successful one. His wife Florence liked to advise him to have a good time, and not to drown, and not to catch too many fish, and if he did, to please not bring any home, as neither of them cared for trout and trout was what he always caught. And yet, on those occasions when he got lucky, he could not resist bringing home two or three (at least) of the best specimens, which he would clean with some pretended gusto, bind up carefully in shrink-wrap and plastic bags, and consign to the freezer and oblivion for a year or two. On opening day he would head out for his favorite stream about an hour from town equipped with fly rod and spinning outfit (not being a purist), two beers, and a cigar, which stogie he intended to light up after he landed his first trout. Renaissance and 17th-century specialist that he was, Professor Wibbles regarded himself to be probably the only person in Idaho to have read Sir Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (5th edition, 1676) and most likely the only person in the Northwest to have actually enjoyed it. He also admired Norman
Maclean’s novella, A River Runs through It, published on the tercentenary of the definitive sixth edition of Walton’s classic, ironically enough, inasmuch as Professor Maclean’s protagonist (Maclean himself) claimed no affection for Sir Izaak’s great literary monument. Maclean’s disesteem had much to do with milkmaids, Wibbles would inform his students, many of whom would be admirers of Maclean’s River and disesteemers themselves of Walton’s Angler. Every year Professor Wibbles would impose one edition or another of the 17th-century classic on his reluctant disciples, his “discipuli,” as he liked to call them, and every year they would file their complaints on his annual teacher evaluations and on zapyerprof.com, and every year he would avoid reading these “rants” as he called them. He had read and ignored the rants with great care until the date of his tenure, after which point he had “declined the pleasure,” as he informed his zoologist colleague, Ralph Cotton, who was a tournament bass fisherman. Disesteeming both trout and fly fishing, Professor Cotton was not inclined to join TR in his angling adventures; consequently, he usually went solo. When he thought about “the Angler,” which was often, Professor Wibbles reflected that he found the milkmaids a particularly attractive feature. Early in his courtship he had invited Florence to join him in his angling adventures, and she had come along exactly twice. The first time the yellow jackets drove her to distraction, she complained, and the second time she saw a snake and that was that. Now, at the age of 53, TR felt free to fantasize about Sir Izaak’s milkmaids, lusty young women of twenty- or thirty-something, fullbreasted, green-eyed blondes who loved good poetry, particularly John Donne’s racier elegies, and who were intellectually and spiritually starved for the companionship of an angler like himself. Sure, a middle-aged
Frozen Shallows, Umatilla River
fisherman, the dream of every milkmaid, but if Izaak could get lucky, so could TR. He could see it clearly enough: right there, downstream a couple of hundred yards where he always waded fifty or so feet, knee-deep, to cross over and catch that big pool, as long as no kids from town or some campsite were splashing around in it, and there she’d be in a shimmering blue swimsuit, maybe a twopiece, emerging from the water to sun herself, or maybe sitting on that old cottonwood log that had been there for years sunning herself, and she looks up at him and smiles . . . Married thirty years now, the boys Keith and Kenny both through college, Keith in Seattle, good job with Boeing, nice place near Alki Beach, pretty wife teaching second grade, little Leslie in kindergarten this year. Kenny back in Ohio in grad school finishing an MBA, neither son suited to the realm of academe, wise lads to learn from their father’s disaffection. “So why did you stay here all these years?” people always asked sooner or later. “Inertia,” he liked to say, which usually ended the conversation. Whenever he allowed himself these sensual reveries, they tended to run like this—straight back to domestic realities. Florence was a good woman, good
wife and mother, and so on. Thirty years married without so much as a hiccup. He pulled into the gas station at Perbur, once a thriving mill town that was down to a small cedar post operation, and payed too much for a black-and-yellow Panther Martin, his favorite spinner. Two bars where there used to be three, a little restaurant called The Cedarpost, two of the nicer houses on Main up for sale, as they had been for at least the past two years. Between Perbur and Carnell, which locals say was named in the 1880s after the university in New York but misspelled, the wheat fields gave way to white pine and cedar, some hemlock here and there. Carnell was down to its last bar—used to boast a nice general store they called The Merc, where he bought a pocketknife once when he realized he didn’t have anything with him to clean the trout, a very dull pocketknife, he recalled. Then on to Meriwether, which maybe twenty years ago had two bars and a general store, now just a single store with a couple of gas pumps, and just beyond that, the small river he’d been fishing all these years, the Logjam. It was a month plus into the season and midweek, so he wouldn’t see a soul on the stream if things went as they usually did, and that was fine by him unless, of course, a milkmaid were to show up fortuitously. His fantasy of the blonde in the shimmering blue swimsuit had been trumped by the reality of Florence back home and the boys off in the wide world. Florence’s hair was quite ordinary brown shot through with gray of late, her eyes vaguely hazel. How was it Donne’s little poem went, John Donne’s fishing poem, playful takeoff on Marlowe’s passionate shepherd?
There will the river whispering run Warm’d by thy eyes, more than the sun; And there the ‘enamour’d fish will stray, Begging themselves they may betray.
Green eyes his fantasy-paramour would have, like those of honey-blonde Pauline who broke his sixteen year-old heart. Do all men remember so vividly their first broken heart, he asked himself, that is, the girl who broke it? Or was Pauline Jackson simply that memorable? And what about all women? Professor Wibbles could not say he had broken many hearts in his day. Professor Wibbles remembered using lines from that poem for a brief response problem on a test a few years back with disappointing results. He’d presented
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 it in class in the company of Marlowe’s poem and of Sir Walter Raleigh’s famous parody, and he’d made a point of emphasizing “this is John Donne’s fishing poem.” So on the test he’d quoted a couple of lines, obvious ones he thought, and was rewarded with answers ranging from Marlowe (close at least) to Milton with George Herbert and Robert Herrick thrown in for good measure.
When thou wilt swim in that live bath, Each fish, which every channel hath, Will amorously to thee swim, Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.
Sweet poem, and quite memorable, or so he’d always thought, but apparently not: the lady in question might well qualify for his fantasy milkmaid. He’d quoted something from the last couple of quatrains:
Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest The bedded fish in banks out-wrest; Or curious traitors, sleeve-silk flies, Bewitch poor fishes’ wand’ring eyes.
For thee, thou need’st no such deceit, For thou thyself art thine own bait: That fish, that is not catch’d thereby, Alas, is wiser far than I.
Mike Mead and one of the girls (“young women,” he corrected his memory), Kristen, got it. Mike was one of the best, and he was a fly fisher, so, as he said in his comments on the test, “this poem speaks to me.” Kristen was very sharp, too, and was in love with Mike, so there it was. Kristen said she thought the poem was “not-so subtly sensual.” There was a Native American guy in the class, too, from the Colville Reservation—Stan? Steve?— and he knew about noodling, so he got the “coarse bold hands” reference, but he identified the poet at Andrew Marvell, so he got just partial credit, still better than most. Professor Wibbles contrived what he supposed was a deucedly clever essay on Donne’s “The Bait” and the related poems, a sort of pedagogical piece, but it found no takers even among the low-end scholarly journals. Meanwhile, the water looked fine and clear, just right in fact, down maybe a foot from opening day, when he’d managed to land only a single small cutthroat, just enough to be worth lighting his ritual cheroot. The professor had mentally fished the familiar stream for the past twenty or thirty miles, so he knew exactly what he
27 was going to do: Adams first, as always, then an orange Stimulator, and then, when he reached that fast run that dumped into the deepest hole, a black Wooly Booger. If that failed, if they all failed, he’d revert to his spinning rod and the newly purchased Panther Martin, drag that baby across the big hole a few times. If something didn’t go for that, the trout had taken up residence elsewhere. Time, 9:15 a.m. Place, Logjam River. Date, June 23, 2015. Status, single male, alone, an autonomous self, “Call me Theophilus.” Actually, TR reprimanded himself, do not call me “Theophilus,” his mother’s bizarre choice of moniker—“beloved of God.” His mother had wanted him to become not a professor but a pastor, a fisher of men, as it were. He’d spent most of his life concealing his given name from the world, resisting his father’s suggestion that he go by “Teddy” lest someone unearth the true origin of that name. In high school his friends called him “Rollie” or “Rollo,” but he’d eagerly chucked that overboard once he went away to college, embracing the nickname of Ernest Hemingway’s idol, Theodore Roosevelt (Theodore translating as “gift of God”). While still in grad school he contrived a semi-literary essay, not a scholarly article really, connecting Hemingway’s Nick Adams and Izaak Walton’s Piscator, which he placed in a mid-level literary magazine. “There is no such thing,” his colleague Walter, who occupied the office across the hall would declare, “as an ‘autonomous self.’ All selves are socially constructed. Period.” Walter Schiffmann was an aggressive postmodernist who grew up in Dresden, East Germany, and although he had taken his doctorate at Harvard more than thirty years ago, he still spoke with an authoritarian German accent. His parents had been consumed in the allied fire-bombing that gave rise to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel Schiffmann refused to read. TR rather suspected that Walter sustained the accent for effect, as it seemed in some mysterious way to lend credibility to his pronouncements. He also suspected his colleague had read the Vonnegut novel but could not bring himself to talk about it, or perhaps that was just a pose. Schiffmann, whose book on Don DeLillo had appeared to considerable fanfare two years previous, had a wonderful way of intimidating his students. Compared to him in the arts of intimidation, Wibbles was a rank amateur. Wibbles’ book on Sir Izaak Walton, intended to have evolved effortlessly and brilliantly from his doctoral dissertation, had instead disintegrated into a clutch of “interesting” or “engaging” articles published in this or
28 that scholarly journal, sufficient for tenure and promotion to the rank of perpetual associate professor. Nevertheless, TR frequently debated his colleague on the subject of the self, albeit there appeared no more end to their wrangling than to that of the fallen angels in Paradise Lost. Barthes, Foucault, Derrida—there’s an unholy trinity for you—Beelzebub, Moloch, Belial. He shook it off, literally whipping his head free of such thoughts. So it was that on this day, at this particular hour on the clear-running Logjam River, where great western red cedar had once shot from nearby mountains down flumes to dump into the Clearwater, which emptied into the Snake, which debouched eventually into the Columbia, Professor T. Roland Wibbles believed himself to be an autonomous, self-reliant (move over Ralph Waldo Emerson) individual. And as such, he flipped his Adams into the head of a little riffle and promptly tied into a small cutthroat, too small to be worthy of his creel, as it happened. After slipping his hands into the cold water, he carefully released it. Seven inches, he told himself, more or less, maybe eight. He blew on the Adams to fluff it up some, then air dried it with a couple of false casts before letting loose of the line, which promptly cascaded into the stream, submerging the damp fly along with the leader. He drew in his line and huffed on the Adams, then dabbed it with a touch of fly floatant and blew on it again. The label read “buoyancy” and “resurrection,” as if the fly might be brought into some religious state suited to eternal life. This time he managed one of his better casts, his odds being about one in three along that line, and was rewarded with a prompt dunking of the Adams by what he was wont to call a “pecker-fish,” the metaphoric source being obvious. He held the fly at the #18 hook’s tiny eye and gave it a shake, and the miniscule trout popped back into the water. Time to retire the Adams and tie on a Stimulator. The professor was about to round the bend where the current picked up and dropped about two feet into a deep pool, the one some locals occasionally used for their swimming hole, when he recalled his fantasy, the milkmaid with her green eyes and her shimmering blue swimsuit, a benign undine, generous and sensual, perhaps singing some soft country air of the sort Sir Izaak had appropriated for his book. Blue as a deep summer sky—this sky, today’s it could be—azure, no, cerulean. Pauline Jackson’s bright green eyes. His fiery orange Stimulator dangled “provocatively,” he allowed himself that descriptor, from his rod as he waded across the slippery rocks, the cold but not icy water reaching
CIRQUE just above his knees. Wibbles was short, about 5’7” he would claim, although he tended to fudge the matter by an inch or a fraction. He was an angler, after all—such adjustments went with the territory and needed no justification. What is life, he would tell his students from time to time, but a series of approximations? The pool was unoccupied, and he felt only slightly (approximately?) disappointed to find it void of undines in shimmering blue swimsuits, or perhaps wearing no swimsuits at all. He pulled into his back-cast and released the line at the right instant, shooting it perfectly, or at least “approximately perfectly” ahead so that the Stimulator kissed the surface of the stream just where he wanted it, and he was rewarded with a resounding swoosh, and he knew a large trout had taken the fly. He set the hook carefully, not overdoing it, kept his rod tip high, and let the fish work with the current as he kept some pressure on her. She held low and angled toward the deepest part of the pool, and he knew he’d have to keep her clear of a sizable boulder kids liked to climb on when the water was low. In one of his fantasy images the blue-clad undine was sunning herself on that boulder just as he rounded the bend. He began to apply a little more pressure as he retrieved some line and worked the trout away from the boulder and toward his side of the stream. Most of the rainbows Fish & Game had stocked in past years were gone, along with the bull trout or Dolly Varden he’d caught a few of maybe twenty years back, maybe more than that. Some locals claimed they’d tried German browns about fifty years ago, but those were long gone, too. This would be a cutthroat, and a good-sized one. She was fighting hard, too, harder than most of the cuts he’d taken out of the Logjam over the years. He saw her side flash as she swerved suddenly away from him and back toward the deeper, darker water. Twenty inches maybe. The biggest he’d taken from this stream measured just a bit over eighteen inches, empowering him to describe it as “about twenty inches” in his accounts to his fishing friends. “About twenty inches,” his zoologist pal Ralph Cotton challenged. “You didn’t measure it? You took it home and cooked it up, or Flo did, but you didn’t measure it?” “It was pretty close to twenty inches.” “How close?” When he’d brought the fish into the kitchen and informed Florence it was “about twenty inches long,” she took a look and said, “Eighteen.” But this baby was easily twenty inches and
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Ball Point Dawn I
full-chested. Often the cutthroat in this river ran on the slender side, but this beauty had been around for a while. She was a mature lady, “a mature lady.” He allowed himself that tidbit of pathetic fallacy. He regained a couple more feet of line, being careful to keep the rod steady and the tip high. The fish inched toward him and he could see her clearly now and if he’d had a landing net with him he might have swooped her up in it. But he had given up on landing nets some years before, when he’d lost a big one trying to deploy the net. They were cumbersome anyway, always dangling from your belt and hanging up between your legs. The cutthroat surged again, but he managed to maintain control, and this time he was able to coax her into the shallow water at his feet. Twenty inches easily— maybe an inch or a fraction more. He took a second to admire the bright red-orange slashes under her jaws that gave her the name. She was Oncorhyncus clarkii, the genus from the Greek meaning hook-nosed, like other trout, the species being named after William Clark of Lewis & Clark
fame. And now came the moment of truth: to kill her and take her home, or not? It was always a hard decision for him, as the professor was not by nature a catch-andrelease kind of guy, but of course he had released many trout over the years, and big ones, too. What would Sir Izaak have done? He knew that well enough. But T. Roland Wibbles suffered from the affliction of being fairly well-read. He could not pretend not to have read Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish,” which ends, as he could not unremember, “And I let the fish go.” Albeit, he told himself at this critical juncture, her “tremendous fish” was a rather homely red grouper, whereas his was quite beautiful. He leaned over and slipped his left hand under her exhausted body more than half expecting her to lunge off, but she did not. He worked out the Stimulator, which was lodged firmly in her lower jaw—“she was going nowhere,” he said out loud—and he released her, slowly rocking her into the water to make sure she was recovering from the battle. He could see her gills pulsing, felt her heavy body flex
30 slowly left and right, and then she was gone “like silt,” he thought, recalling Richard Hugo’s poem, “Trout,” which begins, “Quick and yet he moves like silt.” Hugo’s trout is male and at the end he glides into “oblivions of cress.” Professor Wibbles’ fish was headed more prosaically into the depths of the pool, perhaps having learned (if fish may be said to “learn”) something about a red-orange imitation insect. The professor returned to his car, opened a bottle of beer, and tore into his sandwich. He should have felt exhilarated, he guessed, proud of himself for having done the sporting thing, but he did not. What would Norman have done? What would Papa have done? He had done what Elizabeth had done. He could not help wishing he’d kept “the damned thing.” That was the phrasing that came to mind. Even though he and Florence did not especially like to eat trout—that was not the point, not the point at all. He would resume fishing after drinking his beer, he would hop into the car and drive downstream a ways to another spot he liked where the water ran much faster and the rocks were treacherously slippery, and he would most likely catch another good cutthroat, maybe another big one, but it would not be as big as this one, surely. Hell, he might not catch another fish the whole afternoon. He might go home empty-handed. Emasculated. He thought of Hemingway’s “Out of Season” and of Raymond Carver’s stories where the fishing turns sour. He smiled to think what Walter Schiffmann might have to say about this line of thinking, the way his mind had been operating all day, in this sustained flurry of intertextualities. “And chust how many of dose lit-e-ra-ry selfs,” Walter might ask, hyper-enunciating the polysyllables for effect, “haf you compoundet into dis self-suff-i-cient, in-de-pen-dent, au-ton-omous self you are so fery prout of?” He smiled thinking of Pauline Jackson’s green eyes. Florence would be deadheading the geraniums about now. He sighed, finished his beer. The Logjam was a sweet stream and he knew it well and loved it, and he was confident he could land another nice cutthroat to take home. He could use that spinner if need be. He would try the Stimulator again, then maybe go with his wet-fly line using the Wooly Booger, and then if that didn’t do, he’d go to the spinning rod and the Panther Martin, and that would not fail him. After all, that milkmaid or that undine still awaited him on down the river where the water ran hard, clad in her shimmering blue swimsuit, or perhaps wearing nothing but her sleek autonomous self.
Adrienne Ross Scanlan
The Waltz At the Vashon Island ferry dock, three parents talk under the fading glory of an August sun. Seth Pomeroy ignores the looks he and Angi Jones are attracting. He smiles and watches Angi’s breasts sway under her Mayan print t-shirt as she looks for her son. She turns toward Seth, and he glances down at her legs emerging from a black mini-skirt, but wherever he looks, Angi’s body is voluptuous, her laugh warm, and she is without a man. Seth strokes his beard and realizes he’ll have to cut it for tomorrow’s return to the office. He doesn’t want to think about that. He thinks about walking hand in hand with Angi along a Thai beach, telling her of his travels, his life, making love atop white sand. Martha Pomeroy smiles and points to the butterfly earrings dangling amid Angi’s ebony curls, saying, “They’re perfect for her, don’t you think, Seth?” Seth frowns. His wife wears coral lipstick, a tan V-neck shirt, and white linen shorts unstained and unwrinkled after three days of fusty cabins, communal meals, and contra, Cajun, zydeco, and waltz dances. A breeze blows wisps of Martha’s brown hair to tangle in hoop earrings of gold twisted into a shining rope. Seeing her plump fingers point at Angi’s earrings, Seth is angry. It’s so easy for Martha. Even with unsuitable hands she’s nonetheless a musician, and now she wants a year off to play violin, leaving Seth to work long hours, day after day. “It was delightful, all our waltzes,” Seth smiles at Angi and hands Martha his iced latte. He crosses his arms over a brown t-shirt that reads DADS DO IT @ FAMILY DANCE CAMP, proud of his middle-aged, hard-won muscles, ignoring his belly paunch that more than one woman said made him look like a teddy bear. “You must come to the Lake City waltzes. We could dance the night away.” “Seth said you had a gift for the waltz,” says Martha, taking a sip of Seth’s latte. “I kicked him so hard I nearly broke an ankle,” says Angi, her face tilting away as she watches her son Bradley from afar. “Nonsense. You just need practice,” Seth waves his left hand, which lacks a wedding ring, and smiles, for what’s a kick from a lovely woman? Seth knows no one is hurt in these things; it’s just part of being a good father in
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 a good marriage. Sometimes a woman blows the kisses and the sex and the words out of proportion. He doesn’t need to think about that. “You can’t find a better partner than Seth,” smiles Martha. She glances at Angi, winks, and pats Seth’s arm, looking up at him and saying, “You are a wonderful dancer, just the most graceful, most responsive man I’ve ever known.” A horn booms across Puget Sound as the ferry makes its way to where Seth strokes his beard and remembers waltzing with Angi, their bodies twirling as he held her and she leaned back against his arms, looking at him. ### When they arrived late Friday afternoon, music was wafting from Camp Constantine’s worn buildings. Seth and Martha walked hand in hand to their assigned cottage, the path gleaming with the silver sunlight that comes just before twilight. He’d seen that light streaming down roads during those eight months when, after graduating from his parents’ alma mater, Seth had not gone to law school, as his parents had expected, but instead had wandered through Thailand as an ESL instructor. Before then, he’d been a good son, the third of six, praised for never needing help with homework or baseball. Yet there he was, a young man walking down roads that led to strangers who wanted nothing from him but American dollars. When his parents thought he would never give up his freedom, Seth cut off his ponytail, came home, took a Master’s in Public Administration, and married Martha, whom he met at a graduate student party. Martha had started the tradition of ending the summer at a dance camp. Seth argued for backpacking, but he had to agree that Martha and the boys loved it, and he liked the dancing. For the last two years, they’d returned to Camp Constantine’s paint-peeling wood frame cottages, its Teen Dome and Kids’ Village, its beaches where Sitka roses grew. Walking along a snarl of footpaths, dazzled by that afternoon sun, Seth closed his eyes for a heartbeat, knowing Martha would navigate the terrain. Their boys were setting up a tent outside the Teen Dome, so Seth and Martha stayed in their cottage long enough to unpack sleeping bags before walking to the dining hall, where they exchanged hugs and hellos with parents they hadn’t seen since the last Camp, and joined in songs scattered amid accordion jams. A
short woman with brown hair emerged from the group, scowled, and blocked Seth’s path. “Still no wedding ring,” she said, her arms crossed over her chest. “You never change, do you?” “Why change when everything is so great!” Seth beamed. An erotic recollection flared and died. “Good work; a happy family; a good marriage; what more can any man want?” The woman shook her head and said to Martha, “You could at least pretend to be upset.” “Don’t be silly, Susan. There’s nothing about this guy I don’t know,” laughed Martha, giving Seth a kiss. She took Seth’s arm and turned him aside, walking towards where musicians were waving to her, and inclined her head, saying, “Poor Susan, you were trying so hard to help, she was just lost after that divorce, hardly leaving the house except to go to work, and there you were, taking her to those baseball games, I wouldn’t have, you know I hate the Mariners…” “Uh, Martha, did you pack…” Seth stopped when he saw a dark-haired woman leading her young son towards the dining hall. He stared. Between the banter and burst of song, Seth heard Martha say, “…yes, still at Rainier College, but I’m hoping for a sabbatical this spring, yes, Seth is very generous, he’s a good husband…” Before the dinner bell gonged, Seth learned that the woman’s name was Angi. From across the dining hall, Seth surveyed his wild sons. Red-haired Hunter had joined a table of teenagers ferocious in their yells and arm punches, while Ted was arriving with a plate laden with lasagna. As Seth passed a serving table, he saw Angi helping her son pour lemonade. She had bent over, and her tank top slipped to flash an expanse of white skin and a rose tattoo near her heart. Angi stood up. She smiled. Seth smiled at her, and walked to Martha, who had been watching, and who was smiling.
CIRQUE and Seth’s orgasm exploded with an intensity that reminded him of their first years together, when after sex Martha would sing Cole Porter tunes, as she was doing now, her voice flowing as Seth closed his eyes. There was a time when their marriage contained Seth’s desires, when he and Martha trekked in Nepal and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. But there was his career to build as a King County watershed planner. There was their first child, an accident, Martha swore, but a happy one, didn’t Seth agree? There was his first affair, just before Hunter’s birth, with a friend of Martha’s. There were flirtations and crushes on his or Martha’s coworkers, or on Martha’s friends, who circled his marriage like spring butterflies. There was a second son, for no child does well as an only child, didn’t Seth agree? There was another affair, with a woman Martha knew from the college. Seth’s office filled with inspirational quotes about fatherhood, and pictures of his sons at infancy, at two and three and five years, at eight and ten years. Then Hunter and Ted became teenagers. They no longer wanted to hear Seth’s stories. They no longer wanted Seth to coach soccer. They wanted to snarl and fight. Martha wanted to play music, but she was a community college’s part-time faculty. It was up to Seth to pay for the mortgage on the house Martha chose, purchase the second car Martha wanted, finance the home-shares in France that Martha arranged, and now college tuition loomed; for all he yelled about hiking for six months in Australia, Seth would fall asleep, as he was doing now, a successful man, a good father in a good marriage.
After dinner was the campfire sing-along. “We’re not doing that kid stuff…” scorned Hunter. “We’re here as a family…” retorted Seth. He felt Martha rub his shoulder. “The boys want to go to the teen beach party. Why not take the first chaperone shift?” Martha whispered in his ear. “We can do tomorrow night’s campfire.” On the trail to the beach, he walked past Angi, singing with her son, her body seeming to glow with the campfire’s light. # “Have you met that new woman? She seems great, so lively and fun, I guess we’ll meet her husband tomorrow,” Seth said to Martha that night in their cabin. They had zipped their sleeping bags together and spooned in the silk liner. “Oh, don’t you think she’s relieved to be here,” said Martha. She stretched and yawned. Her hair fell loose to her shoulders. “They all are.” “Who?” snapped Seth, pushing away her hair. “Single mothers.” “How do you know that?” “Some of the women were talking. She’s new and well, some women aren’t sure of their husbands,” she said, reaching out to stroke Seth’s thigh. “It’s a hard life. I know single mothers at the college. They go for years without a man, without even dating. So lonely, don’t you think?” Seth reached for Martha. They touched with practiced hands, Seth biting her breasts while images of Angi’s tattoo flashed in his thoughts. Martha came with a cry, William Wikstrom
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 Seth and Martha didn’t see Angi until Saturday afternoon when they walked outside after a zydeco set to find her sitting on a bench underneath fuschia baskets. A butterfly alighted on Angi’s nose, folding and opening its gold and ruby wings before darting off. They laughed and one of them (at first Seth thought it was he, but later wondered if it had been Martha) said: “What a dance! Even the musicians are exhausted. Let’s take advantage of the break and get to know each other.” Sitting beside her, Seth breathed in Angi’s faint tang of salt. Sweat gleamed along her rose tattoo at almost the top of her breast, those breasts almost but not quite exposed by a pale-violet, spaghetti-string tank top. They exchanged names, neighborhoods, and who was the dancer, and who the musician. “I don’t know a thing about music, and as for dancing, two left feet,” Angi laughed. “But my little boy loves music, and the women in my single mother’s group said contra was fun and that Family Dance Camp had lots of child care.” “I’ve seen you with your little boy,” Seth said, stroking his beard. “Bradley…” “Bradley looks great! Shows he has a good home. How old is he?” “Five…” “A good age.” Seth’s smile flashed perfect teeth. “That’s when a father’s a hero to his son, when a boy needs his dad the most.” “I give Bradley what he needs,” said Angi, crossing her legs. “Oh, please, you mustn’t be upset,” Martha touched Angi on the hand and smiled. Seth was opening his mouth to speak, but Martha said, “Seth’s just wonderful with little boys, that’s all. He knows just how to be with them.” “Well, I try to be a good father, the way my father was. He was a minister, a real one, not one of those pound the Bible and pass the floozies frauds. A good man, he’d always say, stays with his family, and he’d know, he had a marriage that lasted half a century, and on salary that couldn’t feed a church mouse.” Martha leaned close to Angi as if about to whisper a secret only to laugh and say: “All I ever wanted when our boys were Bradley’s age was a free afternoon for violin practice, I was a back-up player with local symphonies then, always on call, and Seth was wonderful, giving me the time to play…” “We couldn’t afford babysitters, you weren’t
33 making more than a dime now and then…” “Oh, you know you’d play with our boys morning, noon, and night, there’s nothing you love more than playing with a little boy,” said Martha gazing affectionately at Seth. Seth watched Angi open ruby lips only to shake her head, shrug, and look away. She would hold back. No driving past the house. No midnight phone calls that Martha slept through but that the boys questioned. He thought of Susan, angry Susan; he shook his head. He glanced at Martha. His wife was smiling, but her head was tilted just as she looked when she was trying to choose a route on a map. “Yes, I’m sure,” said Angi at last. Her gaze settled on Seth for a brief, joyful eternity. They heard the band start up a Cajun two-step. They drifted to the gymnasium. “Ask her to dance,” Martha whispered, giving Seth a nudge towards Angi, who stood in the doorway. “The girl’s so placid she’ll just sit the whole weekend if she doesn’t get some help.” Soon the dance was over, and then all the dance sets, and families gathered for dinner, and for Seth there was too little time to talk to Angi amid the contra dance before night fell, and the parents and children went off to separate rooms and dreams of violins, butterflies, partners changed, and end notes forgotten. Sometime before the morning sun edged past musty curtains, Seth and Martha made love again, Martha laughing “…just like old times….” When he heard her murmuring in her sleep, he thought she was singing. Sunday morning, Martha waved to Angi and Bradley, inviting them to share a breakfast table. Martha leaned over Bradley, rubbing noses with him and telling him that he was pretty nifty-neato with those jingle sticks. Seth and Martha didn’t see Angi again until the afternoon waltz workshop. Unlike Martha, Angi’s body was fleshy, her rounded thighs flashing from beneath her short black skirt, her breasts fallen but still full, swaying and shifting under her tank top. Everything about Angi was in her graceful, full-bodied nature, as if for Angi, sex, giving birth, dancing a turning waltz with Seth as she now was, was simply Angi, nothing more. Seth had sought her out as partner during the workshop (“Spins make Martha dizzy,” he explained, “That’s why she’s playing in the band.”) and as they followed the instructor’s advice and looked into each other’s eyes to keep a fixed visual point as the room spun out of control around them, Seth could
smell Angi’s hair, feel the softness of her flesh sinking into his embrace, the pelvic closeness of their bodies as they circled and twirled. He grew giddy with each spin. He had to protect her as he twirled around and around the room in romantic circles, keep their intimacy safe from disappointment, jealousy, the voices around them, the gaze of strangers, and Martha who stood on stage with her back to the band, playing improvised violin solos that kept the waltzes going longer and longer. A caller came on stage to announce: “English country dancing up next, change your shirts, get your water now.” Seth left Angi with a quick squeeze of her hand and went to help Martha off the stage. Then there were contras, polkas, reels, each set shorter, the dancing faster, always a waltz to end it. Seth would find Angi standing nearby. “Won’t your wife get jealous?” Angi asked. “Never,” said Seth, his smile wide. “We don’t have that kind of marriage.” “But I’m stepping on you.” “Just lean into my arms and look into my eyes. Trust me. I can lead you.” As they spun in tighter circles around the gym floor, their opposing weight a counterbalance of trust and speed, Seth felt as if his life had ended and just begun. ### Now it is Sunday. Seth, Martha, and Angi stand amid parked cars and running children. “You’ll be coming to the Monday night waltzes, won’t you?” Seth asks. He holds his arms akimbo as if he can keep the day from sliding into twilight, stop the sun setting on Puget Sound, remain here with Angi. “Mondays are my single mothers’ group,” says Angi watching Bradley play tag around an SUV. “You and Bradley must come to our potlucks,” Martha says. “Third Tuesday of the month. And third Saturday contras are parents’ night. Lots of childcare. We won’t be strangers.” The ferry’s horn blasts. “Wonder if we’ll get on,” says Seth looking at the dirt he’s scuffing up, its dust settling on his sandal. “Don’t usually get on the first one. We’ve learned not to make plans.” Seth inclines his head to Martha and looks at Angi. “What about you? Any plans?” Angi calls to Bradley. He runs to her.
“I left hamburger in the fridge,” she says, ruffling Bradley’s dark curls. She leans close and says “And chocolate ice cream for you, bugaboo.” “Butterscotch or chocolate syrup?” Martha and Angi smile in a brief maternal alliance. The ferry docks. Cars pour from its decks. Parents call out children’s names. Car doors slam. “We’ll see you dancing, won’t we?” Engines start. “Oh please,” says Martha. She reaches out and touches Angi in a brief squeeze of the forearm. “You mustn’t forget about us.” “Of course not,” says Angi, watching the cars lining up to leave the parking lot. “We’ve got to go, Bradley.” “Remember what I promised,” Martha winks at Bradley. She looks at Angi and says, “I told him I’d teach him to play drums like the big boys do.” “You shouldn’t have,” Angi says, moving Bradley to her side. “I didn’t think you’d mind,” Martha says with a wave of her hand. “Oh, don’t worry, I won’t charge you, I just love teaching children, and he’s …” Angi’s earrings flash with sunlight. She looks at Martha, saying: “He’s your problem, not mine. Susan warned me…” “Susan…” Martha rolls her eyes and peers down the road towards the ferry. She slips her arm through Seth’s. “We’ll talk about her on the ferry. Let’s hurry if we want to make this one.” She smiles and starts to lead Seth away. “Your open marriage, or is that too polite?” Angi’s hands are on Bradley’s shoulders. “I thought, what’s a little flirting, no harm done, it’s not as if there are single men here, but you’re bringing in Bradley. I won’t allow that.” Seth’s jaw drops. He stares at Angi’s rose tattoo. Images seem to flash across it —his father’s hand on his shoulder, Hunter at birth, a woman’s face, a road going somewhere. “Susan’s an angry woman. It doesn’t matter what she says. We have what she doesn’t, that’s all,” Martha looks up at Seth and shrugs. “Two beautiful boys, a good marriage, a successful life.” “She told me you arrange things, like with Evie, wasn’t that her name, that friend of yours?” Angi nudges Bradley behind her. “I’m not getting dragged into this.” “Dragged into it!” Seth yells, lurching forward. He feels Martha’s hand on his shoulder. He sees ugly wrinkles
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 spreading from the corners of Angi’s eyes. “You were coming after me! You’re one of those angry women, you flock to me, cling to me, you want me to make you happy and loved, I’m the one who deserves to be happy and in love…” “Someone else’s husband won’t make me happy. Some else’s father won’t make Bradley happy.” Angi snatches up Bradley and half runs to her car. Her bangle bracelets flash in the light as she raises a palm to ruby lips, blows Seth a kiss, and calls out, “Thanks for the dances!” She buckles Bradley in and hurries to the driver’s side door amid honks from impatient parents. Seth walks to the edge of the parking lot. He could step onto the road and disappear around its bend. He takes five steps. Ten steps. Fifteen steps. Twenty steps. Drivers yell. Breaks squeal. His face reddens. His gut hurts. The road shimmers with sharp, silver illumination. He’d seen it so many times, streaming down so many roads, that brilliant light that always leaves him nauseous with freedom. Martha leads him back, saying, “Silly girl, listening to that gossip. No one should listen to nonsense.” “What marriage is this?” “A good one. We understand each other,” Martha smiles, but her eyes narrow. She lifts her hand as if shading her vision from the setting sun, all the time watching Seth as she says, “It’s just as you said. She’s jealous. Angry. Forget about her. Let’s get our family home.” Seth sees Hunter watching him. Seth feels his face redden. He never saw his father as Hunter must now see Seth. He doesn’t have the marriage his father had, but that’s a fleeting thought as Seth gets into the Volvo, slamming the door. Martha takes her place beside him. Hunter and Ted get in, roll down windows, yell to friends. Seth drives to the car line. Light fills the windshield, blinding him. He turns off the ignition. He looks into the rear view mirror for refuge only to see Hunter staring at him. He doesn’t have the sons his father had, but that’s another thought for another time. Cars honk. Martha hands him sunglasses. “ About your not working for a year…” “Oh Seth, we give each other what we want,” Martha interrupts. “That’s why we have such a successful marriage.” Seth puts on his sunglasses. Illumination fades to a manageable glimmer. He drives onto the ferry and back to what remains of his happy family, his good marriage.
It was on a Wednesday that I took a lover. This particular ambiguity of time in the structure of my week was fitting so that it did not seem odd—after the surprise of new flesh—to attend to the patterned necessities of wife— and motherhood: the planning of meals, the purchase of meat. Afterward, on the way to the butcher shop that Wednesday, for the sake of romance I imagined I exuded, delicately, the scent of damp sheets and musk. The butcher who years ago and priest-like silently offered up slabs of bloody flesh to my mother became this Wednesday strangely voluble and insistent upon a tray of burgundy-colored liver, its connective tissues a fragile wonderment of pearl sheen. “Fresh like this it gives a woman strength.” His eyes under veined lids seemed for that moment less remote. This remoteness stems from a time of plaster saints when the butcher and the church were inextricably joined in a brotherhood of ritual. The visible manifestation of this joining was the parish calendar, courtesy of Daugherty’s Butcher Shop & Grocery, and its seal was the simple outline of a fish. Each Friday—and on Wednesdays during the atonements of Lent—in response to this spare, attenuated symbol, we suffered the pale flesh of the sea and called it fasting. Once, in the days of processionals and catechism classes, the logical necessity of this penance was explained to me, but I do not remember the words. Perhaps the priests also do not remember, for like the demise of Saint Christopher and the Latin Mass at a later time, the ordering of our days and ways of ritual was adjudged unnecessary—or at least ineffectual. But the fact is we, my mother and I, suffered our peculiarly dual enlightenment before a Papal Bull changed the eating habits of almost half the Western World. We announced this defiantly through the prosaic purchase of a large beef brisket and a head of cabbage at Daugherty’s one Wednesday morning of the Lenten Season. I tend to the belief the butcher blames us for his lost saints. Like the butcher, my lover has no saints. But unlike the butcher, he had none to lose. His grandfather—last in a long and revered line of ritual slaughterers—had unburdened his family first of these encumbrances and then of himself with professional expediency. A
practicing iconoclast, my lover teaches undergraduate classes in philosophy at the determinedly secular State University. He claims no particularly impressive credentials to teach such a subject but holds degrees from obscure Midwestern colleges, one in philosophy and another in the literature of ancient civilizations that had foundered upon the shards of broken idols. At the close of the Korean Conflict he authored a slim volume of bitter poetry which was well received by the ladies of the Richmond District literary Society and panned by the State Commander of the VFW as subversive. This irretrievable statement of such purposeful years remains an embarrassment to him. I do not know why I have a lover. Or perhaps I should say I do not know of any specific dislocation of my days to assign this fact. Unless it was the inevitable coming to an intersection, like the dorsal and lateral joining of the lines that formed the tail of my childhood fish. My marriage has reached the comfort and vague kindness of habit. The girls are in that state of marginal—perhaps nonexistent—virginity, and are old enough to appreciate the abundance of freedom granted by a happy ignorance of teleological niceties. And young enough not to resent this ignorance. My mother progressed to a premature senility where she didn’t care one way or the other and in January we placed her, un- complaining at last, in a guiltabsolvingly expensive nursing home. A year ago today, she made moot the point by dying in sudden but painless arterial embarrassment. The butcher sent a Woolworth’s card spelling out in silver tracings With Sincere Sympathy. His signature looked remote.
expanse of bright flesh. This very brightness immerses us in an illusion of purpose. Like a telephoto lens my eyes enlarge his face to a grainy texture, translucent with urgency. His skull appears strangely foreshortened and menacing. I love my husband. He is my refuge, if not my strength. He believes I have a lover, though we do not speak of this. He assures me in terms of certainties, with plans for our daughters’ security when we are dead. The function of our existence is defined in terms of fiduciaries, annuities, executors. In the darkness of our marriage bed, the abundance of his concern envelopes me, and in a reflex of gratitude I open my body to him. In this dialogue of sun and darkness there exists a paradox which pleases me in some manner I do not try to explain. On Friday mornings our butcher supervises the unloading of great refrigerated trucks parked growling and impatient over wilted cabbage leaves and torn cartons in an alley behind the market. His apprentice son mans the counter with knowing eyes and acne, attending to my needs with deft pallid hands. When the butcher grows too old to hoist the great stiff sides of beef onto the hooks in the cold room, the son shall inherit the shop. “Wednesday” was originally published in the first issue of Alaska Quarterly Review, thirty-two years ago.
My lover is Jewish but not kosher. He eats ham, pink in transparent abundance and mounded on dry rye rounds which he offers to me with love-scented hands. “Have some lox and bagels,” he says, laughing and sly. A fable of loaves and fishes. He is my daytime lover. We make love with dazed violence in sunlit rectangles, startled by the Aftermath
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Susan Z. Witter
The only time I ever broke anything
a story in one sentence
The only time I ever broke anything was my leg, my left leg, at a softball game that I didn’t even want to be playing, because I was newly under the spell of modern dance (moving big and free) and had no time anymore for the predictable, restricted, limited mechanics of softball, which, I had begun to realize, was something of a misplaced family activity, since even though often the whole family would go, we parents, on the field, would not be in contact with our kids on the sidelines for the whole game, or with each other all that much, for that matter—the kids would just sit and watch, or busy themselves, until we were done, and my husband and I were spread out across the field, just two of nine spots at carefully arranged intervals—but I suppose we were at least all in one place at one time, except for this time, which was an anomaly anyway, since I had left the team—a co-ed team, through my husband’s work, but he called me to tell me they needed one more woman on the team in order to play, since at least four women were mandated on each team; and as usual they had plenty of men, so my husband didn’t go, and neither did my daughter, who was getting to the point where she had her preteen activities that she enjoyed more than hanging around inventing yet another form of freeze tag while watching a softball game that was pretty much like every other softball game, every other game that she wasn’t in, at least, so it was just me and my son, only half the family; and my heart wasn’t in it, which, in case you didn’t know it, is never the best way to approach a ball game—you get hurt more if you don’t care—and that’s what happened: when I got up to bat and hit the ball, a mediocre slap to right field that the second-baseman (or -woman, really) fielded after a little bobble on her part that allowed me to beat it out to the first-base bag, I rounded first, thinking about second; that was my first mistake, because the hit was not worth two bases at all, and by now the girl was standing on second base with the ball, waiting for me, but I was already feeling kind of slapdash—thinking that maybe if I came at her and slid, she’d be so taken aback she’d drop the ball—what kind of
37 Go, Team! reasoning was that, right? more like the hazy unreality we see in the movies and decide to believe is easy—and in my approach to second base, I heaved a mental sigh as I committed to the slide, kind of, which was my second mistake: either you commit to the slide totally or you don’t slide; and scraped my right foot sideways across the dirt while beginning my lean, but my left foot didn’t really follow up, and although I did touch the base with my right foot (but certainly after my opponent, standing there, watching me from above with the ball securely in her glove, had tagged me), a bone cracked in my lagging left leg; I both heard it and felt it; and I experienced the double defeat of having made a stupid baseball decision and having hurt myself, snapped my own leg, in the doing; so, of course, I didn’t get up; I lay crushed and dusty on the ground at second base; then the pain kicked in, and I had, as my mother would say, a reason for crying, and when I stood up it got worse in a major way, which was just the time that my teammates started crowding around me, in that sort of oh,-right-it’s-time-to-show-concern manner, except for our one truly intrepid woman, who said, “Sure seems to me you’re making a big deal out of nothing” (she hadn’t heard the crack), which left me feeling like a whiner as I hobbled to the car in a sort of spoilsport disgrace, supported on each side by a teammate, the game having stopped, or at least paused, for the amount of time it took for me to get off the field, my son trailing me and getting into the car while I lowered myself into my seat, thankful at least that this car wasn’t a standard so I’d need only my right foot to get me home, along with my arms which were not hurt at all, while my son, probably about seven or eight at the time, uttered whatever words of sympathy he could dredge up from his limited experience of pain and trauma, and I drove and cried, finally arriving home, at which point I sat in the car and sobbed while my son ran in to get his dad, but before he could come out, my neighbor, who had been working in her garden, hurried over to the car to find out what was the matter—she was such an incurable busybody that she had to get in on everything—and made soothing noises that served only to piss me off (and make me cry harder) because I felt weak and foolish enough already without appearing so to her, especially since this was after the argument about “our” tree that she wanted taken down because it dropped pine needles on “her” roof, an argument she won, and now she was seeing me in all my distress, and probably gloating that I was even more of a loser, all of which is a pretty paranoid line of reasoning, probably
driven by my pain and disgust, so when my husband finally came out, I sobbed even harder and turned only to him; and she fortunately faded into the background, while he helped me in to the house, my son trotting along next to us saying, “She’s really hurt—she was almost crying in the car,” which was not entirely true, or, rather, not true enough, because I was pretty much bawling like a baby the whole time, and still was, but it occurred to me then that it must be hard for a kid to see his mother cry in pain, in fact maybe so hard that he couldn’t admit the whole reality, and here I was letting him down too by not being competent for a second, scaring him, probably; and the fact of the broken leg—a nondisplaced [meaning, not moved out of place] fracture of the lower fibula, to be exact—was established and splinted, and the only thing I remember about the emergency room doctor is him saying, “You have to really baby this, even though it will seem like you can walk; if you walk on this too soon, it will be with you as an ailment your whole life, but if you keep the cast on for five weeks and use crutches and DON’T PUT YOUR WEIGHT ON IT, your leg will never know it happened” (which seemed a strange lack of awareness to attribute to my leg, which probably knows nothing except what directly concerns it, and this break definitely directly concerned it, duh); then when it was time for my shower, my husband took the shower with me, at least the first one, since I ached all over, actually, by now, and couldn’t even bend down to soap my lower legs and feet, so he came in with me to wash them, get the ballfield dirt off, and that was beginning to feel kind of fun, in amongst the pain, in a sensual way, except then I learned something about my husband: he didn’t wash in between each of my toes, which made me wonder whether he didn’t wash in between each of his own toes, and whether other people didn’t clean between their own toes, either, or maybe he was just tired of bending over that long and when showering himself he would have bent his knee and brought his toes closer to him, or squat down, and all that thinking totally erased whatever magic the moment had; and from that puzzling event, now I set out on my aftermath: a bizarre mélange of extra attention, neediness, helplessness, frustration, boredom, and pain, to the accompaniment of many hours on the couch watching Princess Diana’s funeral on TV and a penitent visit from the intrepid woman teammate, who wanted me to know that she never dreamed the leg was broken or she wouldn’t have made such a crass remark, which was slightly gratifying but in a way also broke my faith in her, now that I think of it, since to me she was the ultimate stoic tough-girl; and the minutes, hours, and days stretched out for me to hobble around on crutches, move only minimally (forget about dancing), ask for things to
be brought to me (and then wait), retreat almost entirely from the nourishing routine of the family household, and fight for things that I could actually do; and that was the worst: I thought helping was about hands, but there’s really not much a person can do without the legs to support those hands; I could fold clothes if someone took them out of the dryer and brought them to me, first having sorted them, put them into the washer, and so on, which in fact gives them more to do, not less, but otherwise I couldn’t help even myself, which struck me in blunt clarity when, once, I was home alone, my husband away dropping off or picking up kids, and I had a need I couldn’t ignore for a drink of water, a drink that I wanted with me over on the table next to the pile of papers I had to correct, and the sink was easily fifteen paces away from the table: how was I going to get the glass full of water over to the table?, and yet exulting in a task that of necessity I had to accomplish without help, a simple task that I had done hundreds of times before without even thinking about it, but now it was the focus of my existence because it was my task, only how to transport the glass was a worrisome thing: I tried leaning my crutches against the wall while hopping and carrying the glassful of water, but fortunately after one and a half hops the water began sloshing and I foresaw the floor getting wet and slick, and me hopping and slipping and breaking the other leg; then I thought of clenching the glass in my teeth and crutching over, except that as soon as I secured the glass between my teeth and bit down I could see the same consequences on the horizon with the added hazard of broken glass in my mouth; so I thought about carrying the empty glass (in my pocket? down my pants?) over to the table and aiming the water sprayer at it, though the water sprayer was not nearly long enough; I even imagined throwing the whole glass of water at the table—my frustration had reached tantrum pitch—and finally the solution came to me: I envisioned a progression of distinct surfaces, or waystations—bases, really, five of them—on a path from the sink to the table: batter’s box, the counter by the sink; first base, the ledge behind the stove; second base, the bench on the other side of the ledge (which I could shove into position with the uninjured thigh of my bad leg while standing on my good leg); third base, a chair just beyond the bench (ditto); and, finally, the bonus base, home base again, the real home base, the table itself; so I set the glass of water down, deployed my intermediate bases, went back and picked the glass up, reached, set it on each base, crutching ahead to the next base to relay it on, with patience and cunning (at least in my weary mind it passed for cunning), and set down, on home base at my place at the table, the glass, unbroken.
POETRY Alexandra Appel
erratic, limestone lowlands These “erratics,” relatively insoluble have protected the limestone directly beneath them and are now left perched on pedestals, like mushrooms on stalks. --Michael Viney
Sarah Aronson Two Poems
there you have it the glaciated remains in a million years will lose the flavor even though you have tasted the beauty it will not be your fault, best to forget you have thought it over and concluded nothing remains it is, to be honest, the present we all forget in accordance with the burden of the slow evolution of that which always will be as if to say, life has other meanings would no doubt be an understatement surviving the slow erosion of time no matter how much thought you have given in the end nothing remains except the moment, always that, the moment the honeycombing of limestone as if the bees are already present leaving behind a scarp of reverence
Potlatch 1988 Say the fish didn’t run and the berries grew in hard, your traps wouldn’t set and the dye refused to take, the fat soured and your woman miscarried. Even then, you’d be spared— called into the dim womb of cedar before the long night of winter. We were there too, holding the red-checked fry baskets from the bar next door.
For Breakfast We ate birdsongs and soft were our words with each other. This morning the heat came strong, the pups licked our fingers and we followed them to find water in the spigot. This morning I was not afraid of the coyotes you promised would scatter at the light from my lamp, the haunt of my voice. This morning took me back to a place where house spelled den and you were a mother before you were a man.
Come and Gone Between Us i Not for me the dojo nor snow cloud peak ascent, no san francisco shack filled rowdy with jive of hipster bodhisattvas, preaching jazz, zen or the next textual revolution. No North Sierra homestead, hand-built haven carved from the burn zone, holding that line writing alternative space always outside the main frame looking on. ii Missed that live action; got hooked on the replay, lured by word knots conjuring legend, entranced by a well-told facsimile, hope vision cued by nymphs and streamers tied so life-like on the page, seeking a portal to promised land, imagining bohemian escape from nine to five white collar or blue, at the crossroads of dropped out and washed up, drifting and making it some other way in the fissures of rock bottom flashing revelation humble here and now. iii Another generation come and gone between us, me spit out tail end of the birthing boom, contraception and choice both on course to legal, unrest, protest, arrest, uprising coloring pages of childhood, bright stars falling to assassination and overdose, my teeth cut political on the wind down (vietnam, watergate, allende) already winding up to pitch contra central sandinista america, cold-war detente stalled bargaining nuclear ballistic chips, ground missiles poised for engagement as hippies bailed out in droves, wanna bes trailing after the Dead on the cusp of punk breaking new waves while the yuppie blight gentrifying renewal shifted poverty urban edge-ward towards ring road collaring the interstate no go zone beyond reliable transit.
And there was no free lunch ketchup in the veggie tray, starwars in their eyes, cracking down on the welfare moms and deadbeat dads (who, they said, sucked the system dry through lifestyles of dependence no longer on a working man). And they called it recession as if the tide went out, as if a hairline crowned, not the biggest dive since the defining great one. iv Amidst that to venture, to want shelter, to choose a path to need, to dream, to love. v So to sweat in the fields, tending apple, peach and pear, laying pipe, mending fence, thinning by hand. So to toil in the shop reforming wood and steel learning arc weld, chop saw, nail gun, shim. So to return to books studious; even the flame tongue prophet turned professorial sage survivor; the Dianes and Anne still the side-show, lesser known also-rans, alive still writing. Then two Gulf wars, back on the upswing, Berrigans at it again beating metaphysical plowshares, hammering high security like childâ€™s play as bulldozer and feller-buncher, off shore rig and bucket excavator stripped and spilled pumping more and more into the market cheap and fast. vi And so to bake daily bread. To work with the whole grain. To wait for souring of the dough. To knead patient. To watch the slow rise then proof again. To hem and mend, forage and start from seed. To net, bleed and gut, for personal use. To freeze, dry, smoke, pickle, and can. To bond with this land on the cold edge of temperate. To enter the dance. To set words on the page. To call the right names. As if such small things still matter.
Road I I cut out at dawn Cleveland gleamed in sunrise gold clean and crisp. The road glistening, wet from an early morning rain, the air clear. Mortality forgotten in one moment with Rilke on the radio and the click, click, click of broken concrete; a backbeat to the words. Rilke, like rap, carrying me East away from time. Tracing back Kerouac and Penn Warren on highways paved over and over again by the rubber tires of would be paladins and washed up saints where the road carves out a neutral land between pain and poor fortune and rolls on beyond your last stop. Heading East.
Sheary Clough Suiter
“Heading East old man?” says the kid picked up outside Erie, his voice harsh, rusting, like the town left behind. Where he’d scratched out life on walls of aging brick, years older than he should have been. “I gotta get out…” Exhaled in cigarette-short breath. Then nothing. The silence drove on for miles as we headed for Fitzgerald’s caves, hills once. East. To the sea. To wind. To the dull grey skylines of cities left behind, aging, slowing, stopping. After Albany the tick, tick, tick of my eye my sole companion. Blinking away another night of headlights, another morning of cloud-stained red. Still believing in the road.
The road: oh redemptive ribbon! Singing out a harmony to the steady hum of tires and the pluck, pluck, pluck staccato rhythm of the turnpike. A Whitmanesque remix of syncopated static; of Latin voices and talk radio anger blurring, blending. Heading East. Sun forcing my shadow to lead from the cities out further and further beyond fields, beyond friction, beyond possibility, high upon a hill. And from there I looked out on the silent grey of time and wept.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Marilyn Borell Two Poems
Boot Camp 1941 Dad sits on a box outside an army mess, in boots, white T-shirt, rolled up pants. Potato peels curl from his hand, spuds tumble from a bin holding hundreds more. In his future, wedding vows at Fort Dix, Atlantic crossing, Anzio Beach landing. Five months in a gun pit, Germans firing from the hills. A helmet of water a day. Shrapnel ripping his neck, his back, the Purple Heart that never made it home, though he did. Thank God.
But at Camp Haan, California, this summer afternoon, he is government issue, relaxed, tan, taking his turn.
Dad was a blue-collar worker, a union member. Sometimes the unions struck, often in winter. Tempers ran hot, bricks flew, money ran out. But we never didnâ€™t eat. Dad was a hunter and gatherer, filling the freezer with venison, partridge and grouse, blueberries and walleye pike. Our house was in town, but we lived off the land.
44 Anne Caston Three Poems
The Cloak of Invisibility My brother loved the idea, something that would let him pass unseen, unscathed, through the polished hallways of our pristine home, would let him go unpunished for some small sin he’d committed that day, the sin of greed, perhaps, or need, some hunger that had driven him to the pantry again before a proper dinner could be served, that need for something sweet – cookies or a finger dipped into homemade blackberry jam – anything that wasn’t – like prayer or Jesus or vegetables – “good” for him. He said he’d curl himself inside that cloak and he’d not come out, ever, but I could find him any time I wanted because he would sing to me when I walked by. For years, he grew more and more invisible. And then, one day, he wholly disappeared.
What The Daisies Say for Ian She loves you, loves you not – but what do daisies know of love with their white faces turned to the sun and their bright yellow hearts? What can they possibly know of marriage, each struggling with barely-managed lives: you, always a crest-fallen lake of stars, and me, twisted by silence and the scorpion under my tongue. The curse of love is ever with us, darling: you on the verge of leaving your life, certain of failure, and me wearing my blistered heart on my sleeve. What will be otherwise with us, ever? Each day the yellow sun repeats itself. Each night a pale moon waxes or wanes, draining slowly away to darkness and stars. Go on – from the deck you are certain is stacked against us – pick a card. Any card. Draw every time for the shortest straw. Interrogate the daisies if you must. No matter. Even without the flower I could tell you: She loves you. She loves you.
* How many years now since I heard my brother sing? How long since I, walking by the mirrored bakery storefronts in some strange town or other, thought I vaguely heard a boy’s voice singing sweetly from a shadowed alleyway nearby and turned to find, again, the curious nothing there before me? Misty Bloom
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
3. I’m glad we were foolish then enough to lie for hours in the dew-laced river-
Mud Flat Magic
for Jonas (1939 – 1999)
1. What if I told you my heart travels towards you always, still, wildflowers and purple thistle in my fist to make up for the pristine lilies I sent when you were buried? Would it please you to know I opened your coin-purse yesterday and emptied the silver dimes you’d saved since 1961 into a beggar’s hat? Or that I gave the neighbor’s boy your slingshot and the halfrotted bag of worn-smooth pebbles you called Goliath stones? I kept your prayer shawl, though I do not pray. Nights now, as firelight burns low in the stone hearth, it warms me to remember you and how, for hours, we argued law and scripture and whether afterlife existed and, if it did, where we’d like to spend it. 2. When Death swept through last century and stripped you of your little wool jacket with the goldenrod star your mother had sewn on by hand, you vowed to have it out with God one day. I hope you do. I hope you fix God in your steely sights and let Him have it good.
grass and mud, watching for falling stars so we could wish the world whole enough that we could be together – Jew and not-Jew – without trouble. But even if it isn’t – never will be – I am thankful you were in the world with me and that we lived that century well as we could between the two of us. 4. Fifty-two Sunday twilights now, I’ve washed at this sink, watching darkness sweep evening’s late gold from the sky and throw its shadow over every thing I’ve tried to get by heart: the too-unruly lawn gone gray, the river’s face a sable blank, the crooked half-wall vanished. I’ve watched the lights come warmly up in other people’s houses while everything I think I know plunges blackly out of sight. If, one day, the sky goes wholly-dark I want to believe that, somewhere, beyond the old blood-gospels of sacrifice and slaughter, of ritual and religion, beyond the small firelights of our own time and space, a new gospel of love will open before us there – wherever we might find ourselves – like a new tongue we’ve want most to learn.
In Mississippi where I have rarely been, This light would not be quiet. Light just enough to tender shadow. There, the lullabies are crickets. Here, the lullabies are rain. I see trees. I remember trees. Not sure which.
West Coast Kid
Kersten Christianson Two Poems
Aunt Ginny by most, Virginia by my grandmother with the emphasis and drag on “gin.” Vir-gin-ia married into an old Norwegian Ballard family. We all wore the Norse sweater vests for it, knitted wool and pewter buttons. Grandma Annie, the matriarch, let us cousins race through the house, tumble into the backyard for summer popsicles and sleepovers. It’s hot wearing a Norse sweater vest in summer. Every day Ginny played tennis. Classy, impeccable taste, much more a carbon copy of my grandmother than either would care to admit: shopping at Nordstrom’s, the click and swish of credit card, the spin cycle of return and exchange for more and new; dinner parties with fine cloth linens and hors d’oeuvres (an average three, with at least one containing a spinach or artichoke ingredient); and the wine, always the white wine, propped between the morning Bloody Mary, or mimosa, and the evening bourbon. White wine with ice cream. Vir-gin-ia divorced, hooked up with the banker, spent chunks of the year in Hawaii, Arizona, and the Pacific Northwest. She worked as a hospice volunteer. Her laugh was contagious for a long time. She thought Alaska was weird; it may as well have been Siberia. She came up one year to take care of our family. Visited me at college. Helped organize my wedding on a Sitka dock. Met my daughter two cold springs ago. Built winter fires in her fireplace with Duraflame Fire Logs from the QFC on 24th Ave NW. Ginny spent the last month potting spring flowers for her balcony. She visited her favorite restaurants. Returned her unused chemo pills to her doctor. Last weekend the hospice workers moved her bed into the living room, the best view of bloom, sea and quiet breeze.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Visiting the Cabin of Winter News above the Tanana River Like opening the door to my grandfather’s greenhouse in Burien, long after he tilled under the raspberry patch, the cucumbers, the bordering dahlias to make his earth flat. Even the cherry tree - arms reaching for Mt. Rainier, for the bright trollius sun, reaching over the fence into Mrs. Reneker’s yard – slashed, cut down and burned. The grate of a stiff hinge, flutter of a Visqueen flap covering the broken glass pane, the structure exhaled its musty breath as I enter the space of the green-thumbed. Here, the rusted gardening tools: claw, hoe, and spade. Here, the boxes of fertilizer; hardpacked, the tops coated with dust. I don’t know, as he did, the wisdom of planting seeds by moonlight, or of following the dogeared pages of the Farmer’s Almanac,
Cattails No. 10
but I have walked the straight rows of the garden; I have caught the season’s fat berries dropping from the vine. Only words linger in such empty places.
Out My Window
Sheary Clough Suiter
Sheary Clough Suiter
All I want is a conversation, Effortless ebb and flow Between two souls Unafraid of the light. I’ll show you mine if You show me yours. Why this is so hard, In fact rare as hen’s teeth, Is inexplicable when Sharing is the essence Of anything at all Between two people. I don’t want a soliloquy Or a lecture or by God A thesis defense I never Asked for and don’t need. Simple and honest To the bone is enough.
Among School Children
Tygh Ridge III
From one Kayanza* hill I could see the other— the steeple, the dusty stone steps where days before I sat under the gaze of students in church school uniforms. Their strong voices and clear eyes said that beneath that beige cloth muscles and smooth skin formed stomachs into softly concave valleys. As I stared, I was surrounded by distended tummies and patchy crops of thinned hair. And beside me, a boy—filthy blue sweatshirt full of holes, pointed low slung stomach pregnant out over knobby knees, and a placid gaze which followed mine but could not see as far. *Kayanza is a market town in Northwest Burundi.
for Johnny McDonough
In a photograph by Alice Austen, “Suspender Salesman, Wall Street, 1896,” two emotions crest over the subject’s face— confidence in men’s need to hold up their pants, and distrust of fashion’s caprice. Behind him squeals from the harbor carom off bricks housing America’s accounting industry. At every desk a pair of suspenders moves over the muscles of scribes. By 1953, when Mrs. Kalley finally cracked, style had already given way to stiletto belts, but my mother cinched me into suspenders, pushed me to the street and off to First Grade where I jolted over desks when I stained my hands, fingerprinted my shirt, or the glass inkwell oozed onto my last seat in the last row, my iron desk dripping gibberish. What else could any young woman who set out to serve have done? For her my infinitesimal fingertips gripped the pen nib to scrawl my name and my first “2” on damp lined paper. If I’ve known you a week, I’ve told you three times. I’ve dramatized that day and lifted rooms full of students out of their sorrows. My classmates screeching as I soared about her room, Mrs. Kalley lunged to grasp my blond egg-shell skull, to shove my mouse-sized shoulders back down, and lashed me, arm and leg, to the cold seat with my dapper red suspenders. Every smirking face is still turned toward my far corner, faces I loved, and in resounding silence, her mouth still, everyone upright, bright and tall in our first dim capacity for irony, the fire bell bleated off the old brick walls. It’s taken me a lifetime to understand her need for calm, to reassure us, babies, but I knew then— her eyes on me as my friends squirmed out the classroom door to safety, some giggling, a few unable to look at me, her eyes on me, the clinical, silent last look from my first cherished muse— I knew she would leave me to burn.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Recovery Up all night in this comfortless chair standing at your bedside or flattening myself on register grates. Once you’re home I’ll record your meds on the pantry door painted in chalkboard, dote and clean and barely remember discovering the artichoke, Greek-olive secret to making chicken new again. Now what you need is time of your own to fill the space you woke up into freedom to drift, regain your body. Nurses know how to move through your life keeping you tethered. You could never forget I was there. Strange as it feels you need me to do what I’m just understanding. You need me, now, to go home.
Stirling Car Lights and Snowfall, October 2007
Best Effort Flying through time at 70 mph, you, my youngest son, ask, Of anyone who lived, who would you pick to sit with, have a conversation? I can’t choose. Socrates, Jack London, Einstein, Maya Angelou come to mind. Hemingway. Isaac Newton, we both agree, or any of the minds on Cosmos– discuss stars with Galileo or Carl Sagan. Human rights with Rosa Parks. MLK. Gandhi. Overwhelmed, we drive on. Later this evening, it lands: I would talk with family: parents first, then work back. Aren’t they the ones, all foibles and faults, bad choices, bigotry, dishonesty, filled past the brim with errors and meanness; aren’t they the ones to sit across from, with their knowledge now of death and life? Ask them the hard question: What was the most important thing? Hear the answer ring, shattered crystal: You. You were my best effort.
The Old Women They join together, Like late season apples, fragrant And juicy with mellow sweetness, Tart and tangy and bubbling hot Under a cobbler-crumbled crust. They sound in clear notes of silver Bells, like the trickle of autumn waters Kissing each stone, caressing each pebble, Singing music into the gathering silt. They are old, these women who gather Up beads, buttons, threads, and shells, Who patch badges onto tattered sashes Draping their singular, well-worn cloth. They weather like ancient wood, With seasons written in their cells, Remnants of storm, drought, and sun, Of wind or lick of fire or slash of ax. Stories bloom in their gnarled gardens, Heartwood old and just unfurled, Wildflower rangy and stoic as stone, Shining brilliant as the leaves fall.
Leonie Mikele Fogle
The Tansu Chest When I rummage through rice-paper stock I find blossoms in the deep end of my Tansu-chest. The blush of kiri is no wood to what’s in my drawer— its rice paper, its rose and ink.
Runner of days, tasteless peeve of womb— doubt lies at the door. I serve my husband a false brash of eggs.
But the landscape, it already has a wash. Two more pigments for the picture—charcoal, brown? And then go through the numb of winter with limbs and leaves and joints and veins.
Hand to the plough, they once again till The old soil faithfully, turning and tending, Watering, watching, and awaiting Some unknown harvest yet to come, Trusting now in the vagaries of weather, Each other, and the seeds they scatter.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Alaska Is A Library
Alaska is a poem which can’t be memorized line by line but astonishes each learner like a golden summer sunrise softened by smoke from distant fires and measured carefully by the olive silhouettes of spruce trees marching across muskeg and valleys clear to our final tree-line.
In the anthology of landscapes Alaska is the grand novel of place all those intricate stories; epic lakes, rivers, fjords, islands, deserts and glaciers. Alaska is a collection of short stories of kayak capsizes, bluff charges, narrow escapes, storm flung float plane rides, hammering heartbeats. Alaska is creative nonfiction of mistakes and victories, love for a particular cove or peak at sunrise that drives hard into our memories. Alaska is a theology of revelation of how arteries and islands, mountains and valleys can change your life. This landscape is an evangelist that wins hearts and minds with its gestures and the hymns it sings in our hearts. Alaska is a memoir that you will write sunrise to sunset, fog wrapping an island on a still bay, a salmon splash in the shallows, low sun in the hoary cold shining on ice felted birch trees. Island Life
52 William Ford
On Foreign Ground, 1969
Pic St. Loup, Fr.
Suddenly Ben Webster’s blowing his horn from Paris so clear and so breathlessly I stop trying to tune the car radio for the Armed Forces broadcast of O. J.’s last college game. Easy, Ben, but keep it up. Ceiba Tree
I’m parked at the highest peak near Montpellier, scene of one more Edict of Nantes martyrdom I fit into the rough map given me by my saintly grandmother. I listen until Ben yellows out saying he’s had enough. Same for the game, I guess.
I sure hope my wife’s missing me under the quilt we bought against winter’s cold Mistral wind because I’m up here alone more than a little off playing at being an exiled Thomas Merton myself whereas I belong on Camano Island.
Nisqually Barn Window
Sheary Clough Suiter
Water puddles on the white tile. The ceiling is high, thatched and brown. The single window is without glass, its curtain discarded in the corner. Outside the forest leans close. Birds squawk in jumbled voices to the man exiting the bath. He reaches for a fan on a pole. The air is reverting from thick but clean back to sticky and interminable. The fan is burnished metal. No cage covers its blades. The cord, two-pronged, old and long, snakes on the ground. In a canvas bag sits a pile of journals. One reads, “Alaska will do fine for my hermitage. Not Kentucky. Never again.” Breezes are sneaking between trees, cold and quick from the ocean, made of a million different tastes and garbages: relieving nothing. When, before a sound leaves the room, do breath and space converge? Why is being unburden the longest way to spend a day? “I’m so lonesom’...” Through the wall, the radio stops. Continues. “...lights up a purple sky...”
Sunflowers in Italia Full up in a field of endless yellow, row upon row upon row, a choreography bright in the sun. Have you seen them, one foot fixed in the earth, the other, invisible, paddling around and around, a preening tarantella “Girasole,” we call them, which means, such poetry, “turn sun,” so you wonder: does the sun turn the flowers, or the flowers turn the sun?
The Birth of the Sun
Self-Portrait with Goats The man with goats appears most days in the neighbor’s field where he lets three tobacco brown animals graze. I don’t know if he can see me at the window, especially the evening it rains until the gutters flood and the glass panes paint the meadow in Monet smears. Three gangly goats scud across the field toward the gate the man with goats left open. At midnight I find them knee-deep in mud by the carrots and kale and I scream my scars until I can’t and I laugh and the rain soaks my clothes until my nipples and thighs are cut clear as stars on a cloudless night and I see myself, see everything the man without goats can’t.
Equinox Below Zero Combat Fishing with Tourist
Auditioning King Heads For Alaska Water Color Class In the store one with one eye is onto me. I want missing scale, split lips, some broken teeth. I want to see all the fish heads in stock. I’ll take the ones with bruised backs. I’m looking for the ambitious and ruthless. I want the ones who scratched and crawled here. I’ll even take any on crutches. I’m looking for character. The one with its eye on me has potential.
Kantishna Hills, March
What we hear is nothing. No leaves patter the wind. The birch trees are barren— their papery curls of bark barely flutter the air. The stream below the ice, below the muffling snow, whispers nothing as if all the months of cold have blocked its every hillside spring. Equinox below zero. We melt old snow for water. We haul stacked wood to stove. Sunlight glints cold off drifts. Our words stiffen with chill. But beneath the pale bark a clear, sweet sap rises. The rusty tips of twigs swell from an irresistible green within. An ooze of water edges the bank. At noon a gray jay glides over. Twigs hang from her beak. Ooze becomes trickle, etching the ice, calling us to sing it to the river. Birches beckon us to catch up.
Stealthily the season, carried on a tide of light, has moved beyond us, beyond our own stiff winter into the softening melt of spring again.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Three Rules In a quiet, wood-warmed house, over pilot bread, fish strips, coffee, an Athabascan woman passes me three rules, like cards, to play against the future: Don’t talk about it. Be ready. Laugh. Nisqually Barn Door and Lock
Oil of fish gleaming around her lips, she says exactly this:
Don’t talk about the future. Wait for it. When it comes, it comes. You be ready. If it is easy, you laugh, and be easy. If it is hard, you laugh, and be hard. Laugh like that crazy River, like that crazy Raven. Like that, they call fish to them. Like that, they make themselves full and happy.
Marion Avrilyn Jones
Threshold By Tuesday, we’ve already written our story whole cloth from starving air. For us, this can’t go anywhere. And yet, trapped as a skitter-eyed cat, I lay my offerings at your door, dead-bird beginnings. Your refusal never arrives. The rest, curled as a flaming page, tells and retells us every time: whispered apologies clumsy as words, pliant as honesty, wide as the eyes of a wedding-night bride.
Day 13 And again time catches me by surprise My memory worsening by the millisecond Except for the old memories The deep wounds The ones that make me question everything Anahola Sunrise Patrick Dixon These ones are fresh Juicy and brilliant Salmon berries shimmering in the afternoon sun Eric le Fatte And when I pick them Their innards spill On to my tongue The tears rolling Where the pain hasnâ€™t gone stale At the beginning the sea stretched The sea that fell So far beyond the horizon and slept as a glacier I didnâ€™t know where to go next to the sky And now at the end I only have a slight sense of navigation has become a waterfall. Down a canal where the boats stream out and Each snowflake arm Where a truck waits melts to become And humanity connects the world a separate liquid face. I will welcome it all They tumble like angels With the same desire and apprehension who have chosen Neurosis and uncertainty That has followed me everywhere to be human, wash My shadow my oldest friend a week of dust Holding my hand through it all from our clothes, When I embrace her she shatters rinse our hair and leave us But when I turn my face to the sun she returns on granite slabs to dry. The drenching warmth calling her forth We watch the ones above Next to me plunge in parallel paths Reminding me about all the darkness that is true and wonder how often And I want her here with me in my kayak the pattern repeats. And in my car We track the cascade below And in my bed follow a certain course Wherever I go to the lake in the basin But when I become her where we will sleep. I am crushed by her weight A heavy stone holding me under My shadow and I paddled to the ice and back And we will continue across the border and over the tundra and through the trees And when we get home we will settle down To the real true work Of telling the world we are here
The Waterfall above Hart Lake
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Steven C. Levi
Alzheimer’s August Harriet was a ballet dancer until she was in the automobile accident. It wasn’t her fault but that didn’t matter to the Fates. She was through being on her toes. It was a fitting end to a career that was going nowhere. No one told her that but we all knew she was like a poet, lots of talent but no future. She married a failed opera singer, a man who cracked his voice by smoking. He said he loved cigars too much to give them up. I think he was tired of touring, 16 cities a year, living in cheap hotels and being cheered by people who didn’t even know his name. He and Harriet got jobs working for the feds. They were good bureaucrats, raised three kids who all act in community theater and not one of those siblings likes cheap hotel rooms or dancing on their toes.
Beautiful Dangerous Women In the movie, Eva Marie Saint rode the train north by northwest. In life forty years later, that tight-sweatered double entendre temptress flew just north with her very nice husband where in a buffet line reaching for broccoli I accidentally bumped her elbow. I smiled my “excuse me” and she smiled hers. Beautiful as ever, just what did she mean by that? Too soon, my Cary Grant moment dissolved in gravy spilled in dollops on salad. Me attracting beautiful women? Why else would Sharon Stone fixate on a Talavera platter handled moments before by me? I remember it so clearly: Old Mexico, Guaymas, the sea, tourist trap, over loaded shelving. She in cut offs, I’m sure it was she, and T shirt, no makeup, a stunner no matter what, but looking real. She set the plate back down, but I could see we shared similar taste for hand work of artisans, active patterns, bright colors, and the meretricious glamour of surface glaze. She left, and I, plain and simple man, watched her leave and bought that plate.
Dust Scattered pillows, must be morning. The sky doesn’t tell, it’s always fixed, Winter Solstice Pam Butcher one way or the other. Now it’s the sun. Karla Linn Merrifield Motes in the bands of light, congregants of a higher purpose on a heaven’s road— if you could fill the place with that radiance For one moment you would see they’re everywhere, lost, the universe collapses aimless multitudes floating through space, occasionally crashing into one another. into a frame of black You said: on white, a minyan never forget that the sun is a star and your day might be just a speck of ravens against Yukon in someone else’s night mountain icefields bleached and for a second, I couldn’t breathe. This is our inheritance, a paler shade of pale. anciently cultivated from nothing, The birds are near; searching for patterns in the movements of dust and meaning through windows that, the high peaks far. for these purposes, seem bulletproof I touch them both. What a delicious longing to succumb to, even if just for a moment, Feather & stone letting our collective gaze sealed glacier deep fall on some point in the distance become my body: and calling this distance virtue. corvid warm, If April is cruel, it is because of the scent
of possibility, yes, the opening and spilling of what we bury for a time under wool and wounding cold, and the way it comes back, rippling just out of reach, surface to the drowning victim, reach anyway because the breeze tickles the neurons inside your nostrils, passing molecular messages of spring. That smell, the smell between cold and warm, winter and summer, blue and yellow, moon and sun, bitterness and nostalgia— cruel is a fine word for such a no man’s land.
granite solid. I fly, I stand still, even in near-Solstice sun above the 60th parallel. I travel great distances, but I remain with you in the old photograph taken by my inner eye. As a flash I am there, I am here. Follow me.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Nap In The Sun
the men hit their airplane material drums from the bottom with thin dowels, stomped in time with the heart beat of the land, wore tigalooks and dance gloves, made calls like fur seals ive never met. the women were graceful, wore tundra flowers, arctic fox and fossilized ivory on top of unshakeable smiles. and I have never seen so many hugs given on one dance floor. the joys of a plentiful whaling season.
The Return All this goose-strutting like revanchist warriors, shofar necks coaxing head bobs into mutters almost done with bickering. But their brattle of wills want it back, the sodden field that Tundra swans claimed just days ago, the Canada geese circling like a gridlock, a few swans getting through The sky a bloat of clouds, the boardwalk a splatter of rain yet few drops attach themselves to you as though you’re not even here in Fraser Valley, to which you’ve returned, unsure of why. Perhaps to see for yourself ‒ the avalanche on the Vedder Mountain Road a litter of brokenness like the old god of argument, the spleen of whatever mattered then, and here by the boardwalk it’s the fullness of cedars, the empty details of cottonwoods, the swans’ white on the grass still green, the light rinsed clean and wetland ripples keeping time with the wind
Canadian Geese in Flight
and with small-winged shadows bursting down through the sunlit edge from the clouds’ dark rooms, wing-slap in the chill beyond the weariness of wonder, following each other in ragged ellipses that make the air intimate, the cinnamon teal’s kind of rhythm wary of the earth’s pull and the sky above and behind Who can say how the need to return or leave first began, a need that belongs to itself and you, and this time you won’t pretend to know, the teal gone as suddenly as they came, the long hunt adjusting somewhere to another flash of water and field, the world’s curve keeping desire alive The rain much more real than it was, the stutter of swans lifting away and huddles of geese watching them settle to feed farther back as though staying and watching is how they return, and you shifting your feet from the mossy edge where the boardwalk begins to circle back
Little adobe somethingor-other in Santa Fe
(with a nod to Alex Vouri)
If it does not work out, that dream each time a lover leaves -buy taco trucks, a fleet with nubile teens working Seattle streets, kick back since you don’t have a goddamn thing to worry about -- one option would be hitchhike southwest, roll out your bag in dark desert, lie face up,
inhale moon, the whole Milky Way, actually wake at sunrise,
explore canyons, red cliffs, ruins more important than your life,
Sit on soft grasses at the landing sucking a plum of plums the rivulets all down your cheek and no one can see
later inhale smoke from burning sage, breathe away, maybe find a job,
Watch the dock shimmy shake the hum of a seaplane accompaniment
save your pay, buy a little adobe something-or-other in Santa Fe.
Hang out with eagles, gulls, and geese and a village of oysters in residence Wonder what it would do for you to live in that green roofed house flying your flag Wiggle your toes but don’t get up yet notice the madrona kiss the wind all over Now a child skips and zooms now there’s giggles from a boat now forgive the world and you Bike and Bread of Life
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Matthew Campbell Roberts
Out of Emptiness I pulled off the road near the Skagit River, below Newhalem, and hiked through old growth to a small waterfall at the mouth of a creek and sat there feeling empty for no particular reason, maybe a culmination of worries about someone who said something that bothered me, my destination that day, or the future. I stretched out under the sky, listening to the river telling its story. For those minutes, nothing mattered. My mind became the river, then an island; and at the edge of the current, a blue heron, stalking shallows for smolts. We peered through the same glacial-green water for a fish to dart by. After no luck, he lifted his wings and lunged into the mossy corridor. I held its orange eye in my eye until he cleared the bend. I was alone again, looking skyward. The sound of the waterfall merged with the riverâ€™s voices. I glanced back at the island to where the heron worked the shoreline, and I realized that out of emptiness something else could go on.
Sheary Clough Suiter and Nard Claar
Deborah Chava Singer
Her Own Name
Â (hot and hungry) she could smell lust on the fingertips of her lover she tasted desire as their bodies pressed in and as she grabbed hard and screamed she forgot all the political ramifications of pleasure (waiting to sleep) wrapped in blankets, appendages, and sentiments she wondered if one day she wouldnâ€™t have to choose between being honest and good enough
On Rainy River
(after she woke) she laid her head back into the soft pillows she could smell the intimacy in the air and on her fingers and as she plied through secrets and folds of skin she closed her eyes and called out her own name
The Watched Pot It would be cliché to say it never boils. Cliché and blatantly false, for some have seen the ocean in a pot: its foam-waves, the machinery of full moon pulling gull wings into froth. The story goes my mother was alone in hospital—left alone because she wasn’t screaming like the others do when a body comes from between their legs. The cleaning woman swabbed the floor with her mop—a scene of such contentment one would hardly guess my birth imminent. She asked, as if by way of making conversation, Excuse me, would you get the doctor? I think I’m in transition. And, there beneath fluorescent light the cleaning woman put her pail down on the black and white tiled floor, reached over, and helped my mother into a sitting position. My mother cut the cord with a pair of efficient scissors. As for blood, the hardly-any-of-it got wiped up quick, before the doctor had a chance to see anything other than a beaming Madonna, a cherub, and a neat ward.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Jennifer L. Smith
But what makes you get a baby often starts with a kiss…Remember Joanna. --Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
At 14, I learned that I was Joanna’s baby. The realization was somewhere between sixth grade, maxi pads and sex education. I was different— not in the typical angst way, for I stayed out of trouble, in a small town where no one divorced, where everyone went to your church, or some church, where everyone wanted to know you, or at least, your business— I was an unwedded birth when good girls did not keep their babies.
Later, in my college years the questions would be more demanding: Do you know who he is? Wouldn’t you like to know? Aren’t you curious? I would lie and say no. Like all of the stones that were hurled at Joanna, I knew my mother had her scars. She would remind me often that she was a good mother (and to the best of her ability she was), It was her attempt to negate those who thought otherwise because she chose to break the rules. So, what “lessons” did Joanna share with her child? I don’t fully know her pain (or his name), aside from the assurances of her mothering, the glares and the asides. She never shared her wounds, and the wounds from the rocks that hit me never healed either.
I’m your mother and father, my mother would say, and I believed her. I told everyone I had no father, until I became older and realized the “oh” would be followed by the awkward nod, a shuffle of feet, or rattle of ice in a drinking cup, when I told them my parents had not married, nor had I had any contact with him. Eventually I caught on; it was a signal— we could no longer be friends. Puzzle No. 1
Shary Clough Suiter
Waxwings in the Ash They enliven the snowy tree as they attack the winter berries bright red against white. A truck passing on the street backfires, startles the birds. They flutter and rearrange. One crashes against our window, falls lifeless. The other birds, like the larger society, digest the tragedy, continue to perch and peck.
Durfur Valley Wheat
Catalpa Grandma Catalpa trees are tall, and messy, with big sloppy blossoms that slap the ground when they wither, big garish flowers, too showy by half, on the ends of big-knuckled branches. The leaves are heart-shaped, so obvious, so needy, so beloved of hungry moths. I am on a sled, bundled in my own tiny coat with her extra one over that, tucked into a double cocoon of wool. I gaze over my runny nose at her long legs, Clad in my grandfather’s heavy pants as she pulls me through the snow. She is the strongest person I know. It is an odd tree for Chicago, a Southern tree misplaced by a confused gardener. A miracle, really, that the catalpa has survived, much less thrived. I think it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, And I sit on my grandma’s flowered davenport and tell her so. The apartment smells of fresh Parker House rolls. She is laughing. “I never understood,” she tells Evelyn, “why my mother said sixty was hard. “Now I know.” She has baked her own cake, puffy angel food, with whipped cream and strawberries. Most catalpas sprawl, but this one, on the parkway outside, has coiled upward, doing what city-dwellers do. In the spring, it wears a thousand Mother’s Day orchid corsages. In the fall, it sheds a million golden hearts. Her long fingers can braid my hair, but not play piano. When she was a girl, just my age, Her father was out of work, and all they had to eat that winter was a barrel of peanuts. She cries too much, and she says “born” and “barn” the same: “I was barn in Sparta, Illinois.” The catalpa’s seed pods are long and green. “We called them Indian cigars.” Her knuckles have swelled like the seeds in the pods, “I can’t wear my rings anymore.” Now she’s moved to Arizona, to a house with green stones Instead of grass. Things don’t grow up here, They just grow old. Nothing is as tall as the horizon is wide. Sometimes she leaves the tidy ranch house and drives the big Buick out into the desert to chase the tumbleweeds, to see the Saguaro cactus, her new totem, its big messy blossoms, too showy by half, its arms uplifted in victory or surrender.
Joanne Townsend Two Poems
Ancestors for centuries the crossing of armies the changing of borders Several spellings, slight variations of a family surname. I am in Jerusalem, sitting at a computer in a tight room at Yad Vashem, searching the lists. Perhaps outdoors the sun is shining, perhaps not. Who is listed as dead with proof, who is listed as dead with hearsay, who has vanished, information unavailable? It gets harder to breathe--
Sleep in the Woods
Clouds Out a Train Window
Somewhere in Russia or Poland, maybe Lithuania, bullet holes mar a wall. Graves unknown or forgotten that no guests visit only the wind singing in an unknown key.
I ride in a passenger train across Montana flatlands. To the left are cumulus clouds on the horizon. To the right are cumulus clouds on the horizon. The clouds to the south look at the clouds to the north and are jealous, so they rise higher in the sky They loom, but remain far off across the plain. I feel sorry for those massive southern clouds. The northern clouds flee their advance. Still, the southern clouds rise. I try reason: The farther north you go, the sooner you become the thing you hate. North goes on and on through Canada to the Arctic with its pole. You will be northern clouds very soon. Your children will not remember southern ways.
Tygh Ridge I
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Trust I. My Unitarian friends consider the possibility of God in humanist terms, with ethics, good will and long discussion about whether one needs spirituality, the ages old dilemma-might there exist a higher power? I mention how I go to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah to pray and hear the ramâ€™s horn blow. Let there be less suffering. Let peace descend. Let us make amends. In New Mexico where I live now, one year slides into another, seasonal shift. Leaves begin to yellow, the soil cools. Migrating flocks head further south, wings beating, flight wired into them by a an unseen force. Trust. II. Easier to confide in a poem how I met God once, a woman I barely knew with her graying hair pulled into a bun, her brown dress skimpy, red polish flaking off her fingernails. She had walked straight to where I slumped alone on a park bench miles from home my unhealed griefs drumming like thunder. Never asked, just plopped herself beside me. turned a bit, placed an arm across my shoulder, looked directly into my teary eyes said only two words, I know, and suddenly everything mattered.
Art in the Streets
for my father
1 June’s wide-open flowers, women pushing strollers.... I think of the sun-warmed bench where we sat, discussing foreign trade. At a table near the Farmer’s Market, two protestors against “Apartheid In Israel” pass out cream-colored leaflets. Once, you kept your voice low as you said, “Hate is hate, no matter how the words cry, Peace.” 2
Dark is foe in backcountry, black cloth wrapped tight around the mouth and eyes. Tree roots, rocks, uneven ground are danger. A limb hits the chest like a rifle butt. Deep night changes the senses: direction lost, friends and enemies cannot be told apart, the sound of breath a threat. Night can suffocate in a tent, make visions of blood-scored fangs, piercing claws. A plane engine miles up could be an avalanche frothing down a mountain, tossing boulders, ending in eerie silence on the valley floor. A headlamp, a match, anything to fight against the dark, exhausted fear, the half-sleep of the terror-crazed. There are times anyone would give his last rations, his boots, his only weapon, for light.
It’s time to make my statement about how certain stars float in the night. When I stand and say Kaddish for you, one small black stone becomes eternal, turning like the sea, which takes no prisoners, and I become stubborn as the stars, white-hot as you were, hopeful as the foliage of forgotten Aprils, and I know each seed vows allegiance, each cell of my body, each strand of DNA. Perhaps, we’ll meet ten thousand leagues beneath my breath. Midnight at the Waikiki Marriott
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
There Is No Life Without ‘If’ In It: Selected Word Idioms No ass without passion No art without startle No belief without a lie No business without sin No charm without an arm No character without an act No coffee without a fee No courage without rage No culture without a cult No entrance without a trance No epicenter without an epic No Europe without a rope No freedom without a reed No friendship without an end No fundamentalism without mental fun No heritage without a tag No glove without love No ghost without a host No groom without a room No infancy without fancy No inspiration without a ration No kid without id No life without ‘if’ No malady without a lady No manifestation without man No mason without a son No millionaire without a lion No nirvana without a van No passage without a sage No pharmacy without harm No plant without a plan No prevention without an event No product without a duct No recovery without something over No restaurant without rest or rant No sight without a sigh No slaughter without laughter No smile without a mile No splurge without urge No spring without a ring No substance without a stance No think without ink No truth without a rut
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
NONFICTION Annie Boochever
The Evening Ritual Tonight I tucked him in again. My Dad is holding on to “order” for dear life. Though he has been asleep in front of the television for the past hour, each time I gently suggest he go to bed, he looks at his watch and says, “It’s too early.” I ask, “What time does it have to be?” He replies, “10 o’clock.” Only at that prescribed time will he begin his lengthy bedtime routine. I must show him how to tip his new chair down from the reclined position. The remote is touching his hand, but he reaches with the other hand over the side of the chair feeling for a lever that isn’t there. “If it were any closer, it would bite you,” I tease. This conversation has been replayed at least thirty times, but it is as if he has never heard me. His legs quiver as he struggles to stand. Holding tight to one handle of the walker, he tries to reach behind with the other hand to turn out the light. I remember all the times he told me, ”Don’t waste electricity.” “I’ll get the light for you,” I say, as I do every time. Straining to put one foot in front of the other, he makes his way down the hall and into his bedroom and parks the walker near his closet. “No, Daddy. Remember, you have to take the walker all the way into the bathroom.” He turns it to follow my directions. I wait in the hallway, listening for any unusual sounds and notice the photos on the walls. One snapshot shows him playing tennis, a muscular arm swinging the racquet up and over the ball for a serve. By the door to his office, a formal photo in his judge’s robes. My favorite picture is the one of my three sisters and me bundled up for winter. We are playing “crack the whip,” an ice-skating game where we all held hands in a big line with Dad in the lead. Faster and faster, he would haul us around the lake, then abruptly turn and stop, snapping the line like a bull whip, sending us flying around in a circle. It was a wild ride for the sister on the end. “Hold on! Hold on!” we would yell, until she had to let go. That was fifty years ago. Now 92, he emerges from the bathroom, pajamas on, top tucked in, his clothes neatly draped over the walker. “Can I put those in your closet, Daddy?”
“Yes, you may,” he replies. At the bed, he lets go of the walker, carefully bends to brace against the side of the mattress. Clinging, hand over hand, he moves to the head of the bed and sits safely on the edge. He asks, “Is the window open – just a little?” I show him the partially opened window. “Close the shutters, please.” I oblige. “If you wouldn’t mind, could I have a glass of water?” He fumbles for his reading glasses in his pajama pocket, and with a shaky hand writes on a pad filled with scribbles, “10:35.” “What are you writing?” “The time I’m going to bed,” as though it were the most normal thing in the world. He places the pad, pen, and glasses on the bedside table and turns off the lamp. I cover him and smooth out the blankets. He fusses with the borders, hands trembling, and struggles to fold the sheet back, meticulously, over both the top blankets. Pulling them under his chin he turns onto his side. “Goodnight, Daddy,” I say as I kiss him on the cheek. He pats my hand. I tiptoe out of the room and quietly close the door. I float past the skaters on the wall. “Hold on! Hold on!” shout my sisters. When I was on the end of the whip, I loved to be hurled into space, my heart racing as I was flung out on my own. I wonder if my dad ever had a turn on the end? Will he know how to let go? Will I? I make it to the kitchen table, collapse into a chair and weep.
Darkened Room, 2am
Editing Leota On page 160 of my friend Leota’s manuscript, I read something that surprised me more than any of the previous unusual scenes: Unremembered moments floated to the surface. Suddenly I smelled fresh-dug earth. I was holding my mother’s hand and staring down at my shiny new patent-leather shoes as we stood beside the grave of my nine-month-old sister. I was barely two . . . . “Oh, wow!” I whispered. The book had presented several episodes of Leota and others kneeling on mattresses and beating stacked phone books with hoses, which loosened painful memories and enabled participants to overcome pain and rage. “Mat therapy” was Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ version of primal scream, “A method of psychotherapy in which patients relive traumatic early childhood experiences and express resulting painful feelings, sometimes by loud crying or screaming.” Until page 160, Leota’s mat therapy scenes dealt with reliving her emotions when her ex-husband beat her and when a lover drowned. No trace of repressed childhood memories had appeared until now. Though surprised, I believed the graveside scene. Its vivid sensory details -- smelling fresh dirt, looking at her shoes, holding her mother’s hand -- are things a small child would notice. Leota’s next words added more authenticity: Great waves of guilt crashed over me. How could I have forgotten this baby sister? I fought to breathe. In my mind, I shouted, Of course you forgot! You were only two! The graveside scene would reappear later in a turning point I found impossible to understand. It would be one of many times while editing Leota’s book that I really needed to talk with her. We’d last spoken three months earlier in a peaceful hospice room whose doors opened onto a patio bordered by a flower garden. I jerked a heavy chair to
Leota’s bedside and fussed around shoving it into place. “Comfortable yet?” she teased. She hadn’t lost her sardonic humor, but her hollow eyes and bony cheeks told me she had little time left. I sat as close to her as the bulky chair permitted. After her one joke, she tried to make conversation but had trouble following the thread. “We don’t have to talk,” I said, so we sat in silence, holding hands. She died two days later. Many people loved Leota. My own relationship with her evolved gradually through the five years we knew each other. In summer 2010, at 68, I’d retired “to devote myself to writing” and moved from California to a small Arizona city loaded with writers and artists. When I joined an organization called Professional Writers of Prescott, one of its officers, Leota, was assembling critique groups. To discuss that, we met at The Wild Iris, a charming coffee shop within walking distance of my home. We shared our writing histories. She said she’d suffered strokes that left her unable to read or write. During her five-year recovery, she took creative writing classes though she felt foolish and incompetent. One of her instructors persistently reassured her that she was gifted and original. Leota kept working at it and was able to become a clear thinker and a writer whose non-fiction pieces were being published in various journals. Her ability to overcome such severe obstacles impressed me greatly. I told her about my short stories published in obscure journals during the eighties and my true crime book The Boy Next Door which was published commercially in 1999. After I gave her a copy, she never stopped telling everyone that I was “The Real Deal.” Embarrassed, I countered, “So are you!” Mutual admiration led us to share secrets and offer personal as well as writing advice over coffee and lunches. Then she invited me to join her “Saturday Group,” meaning a few writers who’d been critiquing each other’s work for several years. Often at these meetings, I heard her present chapters of the memoir she was writing. It focused largely on her work with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whose 1968 best seller On Death and Dying revolutionized how therapists and medical professionals deal with that issue. As a medical social worker, I’d followed the Kubler-Ross philosophy. Until hearing Leota’s chapters, I hadn’t known that KublerRoss had also held conferences in which she conducted “mat therapy.”
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 Leota’s early chapters’ drafts were kooky, funny, smart and informative. In part, they dealt with her “Angels”: after an evening of drinking wine with a woman friend while they experimented with a Ouija board, she’d begun to hear voices which forced her right hand to write their messages. Yet the way Leota spoke about these Angels was the opposite of the breathless awe common among New Agers. Leota found her Angels annoying and described them with some disrespect: Since that inauspicious beginning, (the drunk night with the Ouija board) something -- something that I eventually decided to call “the Angels”-- had been writing lessons, health advisories, past life analysis, legal advice, warnings of impending danger, dental diagnoses, and the reason why three horses had jumped a fence in Utah... That had been my life for the past two years: Angels whispered in my left ear, refused to be ignored and wrote notes through me: their words simply traveled through my right hand onto paper from wherever the Angels were -- in my brain or an invisible someplace. My own will had no part of it. She’d begun going to Kubler-Ross conferences because she hoped that “the death and dying doctor” would help her get rid of “those damn Angels.” Instead, Leota experienced mat therapy, became a Kubler-Ross disciple and evolved into a trained, licensed therapist using Kubler-Ross methods. Mid-way through writing the memoir, Leota told our Saturday group that she’d just been diagnosed with virulent, multi-system cancer and was going to try chemotherapy. When her treatments left her too weak to attend our group, we went to her house. I hooked her up with medical marijuana, which had recently been legalized in Arizona. The pot helped, but she quit chemo anyway, feeling it was so awful that life wasn’t worth living. Still, it had bought her some time. For the next eight months she was well enough to attend our group and work on the memoir. Then cancer invaded her kidneys, spleen and liver. The day she gave our group this news, I stayed with her after the others left. “I’m gonna die,” she said. “Yes.” Matching her matter-of-fact tone helped
73 me contain my grief. She’d become a close friend and I was about to lose her. Perhaps only writers will understand my next words: “Leota, you have to finish your memoir.” Regret hit me. Her priority now must be her family, not her book. But she was nodding. “I’m working on it every minute I can.” “I’d love to polish it when it’s done, if you want. I won’t mess with your style. I’d keep it true to your voice. I’d just, you know, fix spelling and stuff.” I believed her style was influenced by growing up in Appalachia in what she called a “non-reading family.” Also her post-stroke dyslexia showed up in her punctuation and funny, mis-used words. When I made the offer, I figured that many writing friends wanted to help with her book, and since I was a comparative newcomer among them, I wouldn’t be asked. But shortly after Leota died, her closest friend Elaine announced that Leota had requested that I be the one to edit and revise the memoir. “She trusted your judgement.” I nearly burst into tears. At the same time I wanted to jump around the room with joy. In my head, Leota’s Appalachia-tinged voice was again calling me “The Real Deal.” What a fantastic bequest. What an honor. What a serious responsibility. During the initial phase, the editing wasn’t solitary. Guided by Elaine, the Saturday group reviewed sections of the manuscript and wrote suggested changes. Then I got possession of the manuscript and everyone’s notes. The next morning in my home office, once a sitting room an elderly maiden lady used for birdwatching, I set the manuscript’s hard copy and everyone’s notes beside the laptop computer on my messy desk. Took several breaths. Clicked a computer key. Leota’s Chapter One appeared, its Courier New font making it seem a 1940‘s document typed with a worn ribbon. Joy and terror coursed through me: joy because editing the book would feel like reconnecting with Leota; terror because I must somehow fill in missing details while preserving her unique voice and personal truths. Reading the first page, I wondered why she identified herself as Jan, not Leota. In the five years of our friendship, I knew her only as Leota, a name I found as strongly individual as the person herself. Setting that aside, I read the set-up and laughed.
May 1981 . . . I didn’t want to meet people who were dying . . . . So why was I on my way to a KublerRoss Life, Death and Transition (LDT) Workshop? The joke, I already knew, was that after resisting powerfully, she became an Elisabeth Kubler-Ross disciple and an expert in working with terminally ill people. Leota’s self-deprecating account of her first experience with mat therapy and the intense emotions she witnessed in other participants made me feel as if we were talking across a tiny table in a coffee shop. I heard her twangy speech in my head while I made minor changes to punctuation and spelling and broke up pagelong paragraphs. Soon there was more than her voice. I sensed that she, or her essence, was hovering above the file cabinet beside me. This made me feel wistful but also deeply connected. It dawned on me that reading another person’s life story so closely was an intimate act. Every paragraph disclosed information I hadn’t known about her. The first chapters moved fast and the repairs were easy. Then I started finding scenes that required more detail. How would l I get the information? All I knew was what she’d written and some anecdotes she’d shared over lunch or coffee. I pondered, read, emailed questions to her adult daughter who had valuable information at times, but other times knew no more than I did. I needed to ask Leota. Why not? She’d been a person who communicated with “Angels.” A Jungian psychologist had told her he believed her voices came from the collective unconscious, which Jungians consider the accumulated wisdom of all humanity, and that something in her brain or psyche enabled her to tap into it. Did I really believe that, though? Well, sort of, because of a psychic friend named Gloria, who I knew in the 1970’s. Gloria was always relating predictive dreams and later giving the details of how they’d come true. Newspaper articles supported some of her stories. What fascinated me most was that Gloria didn’t like her ability. She wanted it to quit imposing responsibility and fear upon her. Like Gloria, Leota was conflicted about her unusual gift. Raised Pentecostal, as a adult Blueberries
she’d rebelled against belief in spirits and miracles, so her reaction to “those damn Angels” was the opposite of welcoming. Her disrespect for them made it easier for me to believe her accounts of them. I wished I had the abilities she and Gloria did, but it seemed that I was unreceptive to the psychic realm. Or was I? Despite my ESP limitations, I did feel Leota in my office. Was that simply an expression of my grief, or was there an actual presence? I didn’t know, but in my mind I began talking to her. “Can’t you share your Angels with me and have them give me the missing information? Come on, Angels.” The first problem I threw at her was the chapter in which she related that the only training she received for her counseling position in the Alaska MatanuskaSusitna Alcoholism Council in the 1980‘s was through a Community College course designed for Native Alaskan tribes. As the only white person in the class, she’d experienced uncomfortable cultural conflicts and insights. The anecdotes were interesting and touching. And yet . . . . “Leota,” I thought to her, “do you think this part is off-theme?” I’d learned that term when she decided, during a Saturday Group meeting, to pull a chapter from her book because it didn’t fit the overall theme. I considered that decision an example of how smart she was. No voice, Leota’s or an Angel’s, answered my question. Yet within minutes, a nifty solution occurred to me. I cut most of the chapter, preserved two paragraphs and slotted them into another chapter that dealt with
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 how she later taught herself counseling through endless reading and workshops. A few chapters later, I saw that she’d repeated, with different phrasing, a scene from an earlier chapter about mat therapy. In both, she resisted beating the mat and screaming out emotions and then sobbing and raging as she relived her first husband’s fist slamming into her mouth. “Leota,” I asked, “is this a mistake you didn’t edit out, or is it deliberate?” No voice responded, but again an answer slowly came. I realized that in the second scene, the resistive Leota was thinking, “Why do I have to go through this again? Wasn’t once enough?” I wrote that into the scene. The next day when I re-read it, I felt it was right. Had she guided me? Had I guided myself? Had the process of inspiration, which some writers associate with the collective unconscious, made this happen? A few more times I hit problems, asked Leota questions, and slowly felt the visceral awareness of a solution. Then I neared the end of the book and my need to communicate with her reached a desperate peak. She’d written: My mat session consisted of revisiting my baby sister’s death when I was two-years-old. What exactly happened next is unclear. I was on the mat one minute, and the next I was in an ambulance being transported to the Scottsdale hospital. No one recognized that I was in an altered state, that I was suddenly two-years-old. With hospital staff I behaved as an angry toddler would have. I complained the thermometer hurt my mouth, tried to look behind the curtains that surrounded my bed, touched and fiddled with anything I could reach. . . . Describing this later was when the feeling struck me: it was time to reclaim my birth name, Leota. Huh??? What in the world did the age two memory have to do with changing her name from Jan to Leota in late middle age? There was a missing link that wasn’t in her pages and no help came via my ESP-limited brain. How could I revise this major moment in the book if I couldn’t understand it? An aha was waiting there somewhere but I had no access to it.
75 “Leota, I don’t get this at all. Help!” I reread the manuscript, repeatedly asking her for help. No solution came. Day after painful day, I dug around, unable to figure things out. Then, one morning before dawn, bits of information I’d gleaned from Leota’s daughter and from scattered phrases from chapters marched across a stage in my waking dream. Toddler Jan, who studied her shoes and worried about the baby sister beneath freshly turned soil, was originally called Leota, a traditional name chosen by her Chickasaw grandmother. Jan’s mother disliked the name because the nickname for it was Otie. When the child was around two -- near the time of the baby sister’s death -Mother decreed that from then forward, Leota was Janet. The child imagined her Leota self beneath the soil with the baby sister. Her Jan self grew up into the adult, who later in life suffered strokes that damaged her skills and changed her from a shy, tactful person to one who, for several years, had no filter between her thoughts and her spoken words. And that meant . . . . Still in my nightgown, I rushed to my desk, read the problem passage and played with words. Confidence began to rise within me. I pulled some words from another page and threaded my new insight into Leota’s phrases: I thought about how that two-year-old child grew up into the adult Jan. The strokes had changed me. I bore only a superficial resemblance to the person named Jan who used to be the Alaskan Kubler-Ross Coordinator. My personality had undergone a major overhaul. That radical change resulted in the loss of all my close relationships except family. . . . By becoming Leota, I could accept the changed person I’d become instead of mourning the Jan I no longer was. Symbolically, she’d resurrected the Leota self that she lost around the same time as the baby sister’s death. She’d become the Leota I would meet years afterwards: the friend and writer who would entrust me with her manuscript and whose essence or influence or inspiration would rewrite it with me. Leota Hoover’s In Memorium note appears in the Winter 2014 Issue of Cirque. Her memoir is in limbo. Some family members prefer not to pursue publication at present.
Ringlets Mom cooked dinner while trying to tell me something important. She paced around the closet-sized kitchen and signaled my attention with “—So Matt.” The spaghetti drained. She cleared her voice: “I was chatting with Stacy earlier today, and it sounds like Jim may have set up a, kind-of trap, to stop his mother from escaping.” Jim was Josh’s best friend. Josh was my stepdad. I looked at her from the kitchen table, my homework splayed all around. “Wait. So, does that mean he, like, killed her?” Mom watched the steam evaporate before facing me. She spoke in the voice she used to teach Sunday School: “Well, that’s not entirely clear at the moment. It’s quite possible. He’s a suspect now.” Later that month, the papers reported that Jim really had killed his mother. He didn’t flat out strangle her or shoot her in the face, but he did make precise calculations that led to her physical demise. “So what exactly did he do?” I asked. She plopped the spaghetti and meatballs dinner onto my plate. “Well,” she started. “The police are suggesting that he blocked the exit downstairs. Apparently, there were bikes scattered all over the stairway. One thing that’s especially fishy, they said, is that they found some accelerants in Jim’s room.” “Whoa,” I replied, flipping my textbooks shut. “That’s—pretty serious.” We exchanged incredulous smiles. When sad things hit us square in the face, we didn’t know how to reply, so we laughed. We had what Auden had in his later years—that care-free, comic vision. Even when tragedy struck our lives—a death in the family, a goodbye that would last a year, the finale of Finding Nemo—our weeping was strewn with the occasional chuckle. Now confronted with the uncomfortable magnitude of matricide, we had to share a smile. “Yes,” Mom said, sitting herself down, positioning her body at the table uprightly. When it came to manners, Mom was an exiled queen—perfect posture, dainty hand gestures. Her opinions were hardly high-brow, and she didn’t think of herself as better than anyone, but she
cultivated an air of refinement that seemed to have no material cause or justification. If a W-4 is reality, she was poor, her income just above the national poverty line. Were her manners to reflect reality, she would be missing a few teeth and telling me to knock up a girl before they got too much sense in them. Fortunately, her smile was regal, and though she didn’t approve of my sexuality, she never made me feel bad about it. “So, do we know why he killed her?” I asked. “They think it was for the insurance money.” “Hmm,” I said, thoughtfully chewing on a meatball. I swallowed, and changed the topic. “I did well on a history test I didn’t study for,” and dinner resumed as usual. • Jim and Josh were the father figures in my life from 11 to 14. After Jim’s 75-year sentence, the sole father figure became Josh. • I first met Josh at Farm Loop, a mega Pentecostal church in Palmer. I was 11, visiting Alaska for Christmas with my sister Lee Ann, who was furious that she had to leave California to spend her winter break in Alaska. A sweaty man in a thick black leather jacket approached us. Each arm was lined with the fraying fringes you’d see on a cowboy. The sleeves were oddly tight and made the outline of his biceps palpable. The jacket was open and hung unevenly from his wire-framed shoulders. A plain wife-beater lay beneath the leather. His firm chest was on open display, and the field of curly vellus hair confused me. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he removed a revolver from his jacket’s inside pocket, spun it around a few times on his index finger, and greeted us with, “Howdy folks.” I didn’t know how or why he kept his jacket on. A Sunday morning sermon at Farm Loop was as strenuous as a jazzercise class. Young men sprinted around the perimeter of the church; women bounced and clapped in their seat; even the crippled found something to do with their hands. Not a soul left that building without a few drops of sweat on the forehead. Josh was a member of the young men group, and had whooped and hollered with the best of them. His skin was now spotty and teaming with sweat. His BO was formidable; I felt as though two rotting capers had been shoved up my nose. His posture offended my vision. He had a special
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
I didn’t see Josh for the rest of that Christmas trip. Lee Ann and I told Mom we learned more from “home bible study,” and as long as we talked about God for an hour, Mom was okay with us staying home. In fact, I heard nothing about Josh until the third week of April, not through a letter but a postcard. It went something like:
Red Truck and Pumpkin
talent for crumpling his body up, making it look like a microwaved candy cane. Later I’d find out this posture was the direct result of day-long World of Warcraft marathons. My dad, who was so fond of correcting my own posture--telling me “shoulders back, chest out, annnnddd strut!”-- would have found Josh despicable. And as my father’s opinion was my own at this time, I saw this stinky man as worthy of opprobrium. Josh already knew Mom and greeted her with warmth. He then turned to my sister. Mom introduced them with embarrassing excitement. Lee Ann’s face was still as stone. Josh stuck out his hand with his big mouth opened like a dumb dog. My sister didn’t take it. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m not feeling well. I don’t want to get you sick.” This was the man the Church Ladies were trying to hook her up with. I was pleased to see that she was disgusted with the suggestion. “Oh-okay,” Josh said. He suddenly turned to me: “Put it there—.” I gazed up at him. It surprised me that he chose to use a tone of voice one would use toward a shy 5-yearold. I couldn’t tell if his eyes were kind or crazy. He had curly blonde hair that was nappy with sweat, but in the church’s light became something aureole, like ringlets in a Raphael. Owning to his youth, he was attractive. But the BO, cowboy jacket, stooped posture and encroachment on my family made him, in my eyes at least, despicable. I shook his hand. “Heard so much about you champ,” he said. The rest of the conversation blurs. Probably about how “awesome” the service was and how great God is.
“Hi Matthew! I hope you’re soaking up all the sunshine in California! and showing the world your great bright big smile :) I can’t wait to see you in a couple weeks. Josh and I will make sure you have a great summer vacation. We are dating now. Give my love to Lee Ann and see you soon! I love you forever, Mama” I looked up out at the California street that was my home: Did she just tell me about her new boyfriend through a postcard? Without taking my backpack off, I ran through the front door and grabbed the phone. Mom answered on the first ring. “I didn’t tell you about Josh?” her voice was light and airy. “Yeah Mom. That’s the kind of news I would remember.” “Oh, well. I thought you knew... I’m sorry if this came as a surprise— “—It definitely did.” “Yeah…I can understand that. But you know, he’s a good guy. I think you’ll really like him, when you get to know him.” “I don’t want to get to know him.” The conversation cycled like this for the next half-hour. • When I came back to Alaska that summer, Mom and Josh were acting like newlyweds. In the kitchen, they tickled each other’s armpits and flirted in highpitched voices. Mom didn’t change her voice as much as encourage the continued distortion of Josh’s. “What do you want dear?” She’d ask. In a Mickey Mouse pitch, he’d shout: “Top me off with some whiskey!” This was code for a glass of apple juice. “You got it,” Mom said, like any other mom in a Welch’s commercial. Once they were married, he would use the same high-pitched voice every
CIRQUE a metal flash light. He even slammed his knee in once with a skillet. A cruel man with a cruel voice that sounded more like crude oil bedeviled with the power of speech than a miraculous and high functioning arrangement of organic material. “I’m not into her pap,” Josh replied. “I love Charls.” Silence, thick as mud, hovered between them as the father pawed this over. “You’ve always been dense.” He took a pause to inhale his cigar. “But this has got to be one of your dumbest moves yet.” I flushed the toilet, turned the facet on, let the water move over my hands longer than necessary, and dried them with the tawdry brown towel that Josh’s father would repurpose as a rag for the used cars he fixed up for a living. When I opened the creaky white door, creepy as a coffin cover, the two men were gone to the living room. After that visit, Lee Ann refused to see Josh’s father again. She hated him so much that she won all the battles against Mom, who thought we should be polite and at least pay him one more visit. Ultimately, Lee Ann’s protests saved us from ever having to see him again.
time she came back from work: “Wifey!!” he’d cry. “Wifey’s home!” As Mom had every intention of eventually marrying this man, she used much of our vacation time that summer of 2002 acquainting her children with Josh’s family. She began with his father. This was a poor decision. His image remains jarring: a medium height man made stumpy from burgers and stout. He sported a camouflage hat that belonged in Duck Dynasty. His facial expressions were stolid, and his refusal to be moved by the world could be read as the unimpeachable superiority he felt toward all of its inhabitants. He was a self-described--“Woodsman” -- and after hearing me respond to his “You like huntin?” question, chose to ignore my presence. He liked Lee Ann though. He liked Lee Ann a lot. If he wasn’t talking to her, he was looking at her. I heard his thoughts on Lee Ann one time when I was in the bathroom, which happened to be connected to the kitchen. He said to Josh, “Why didn’t you go for the young one?” Years later, I’d hear that he used to beat Josh with
• I disliked Josh throughout that summer, but I did a fairly good job (for a 11-year-old) at hiding my disdain. That reserve stopped after they married, and I turned 13. There were several memorable fights, but my favorite revolved around The Lord of the Rings. It was another summer in Alaska, and we were driving from South Anchorage to Downtown to tan in the park strip. On the ride there, under the influence of a large amount of apple juice, Josh was giddy enough to tell us the entire plot of Lord of the Rings. “But you have to understand The Hobbit before you can make sense of the rest,” he informed us. Near the end of the 30-minute drive to the park, he was just about done with his plot summary of The Hobbit. He was going to tell us the synopsis of Lord of the Rings, when he made the mistake of prefacing it with what he thought was a fact: “The Lord of the Rings made more money in theaters than any movie of all time. Ain’t that amazing?!” “No, it didn’t.” I said this reflexively and with unusual authority. It took a couple moments for Josh to register my new found effrontery. “Yes it did,” he said.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 “No, Titanic did.” “Yeah—it did.” “I’m pretty positive it did not.” Josh glanced at me from the passenger seat. I had never challenged him on anything. In fact, I hardly ever spoke. But how much money a movie grossed was a topic I was sort of expert on. Since I was eight, box office grosses fascinated me. My brain drank facts like Spaceballs was the movie to dethrone Titanic from its 15th straight week at #1 at the box office, or that Tomb Raider made 48 million dollars its opening weekend; My Big Fat Greek Wedding topped at #3, but eventually made a quarter billion dollars domestically, making it one of the highest grossing movies of 2002. For years, I had been checking box office totals the same way other boys checked baseball stats. “I’m pretty sure I know what I’m talking about,” Josh said to the windshield. “Titanic made over 600,000 million dollars in the US, and Fellowship of the Ring made a little over 300,000 million.” “Yeah but together, Lord of the Rings and the Two Towers made more than Titanic.” “That doesn’t count though, those are two different movies.” He huffed, like an older brother offended by his dweeby little relative. “OKAY, it must be opening weekend I’m thinking of.” “True, Fellowship made more its opening weekend, but it was only #1 at the box office for three weeks. Titanic was number one for 15 weeks.” The veins in Josh’s neck enflamed. As I’d come to find out, anytime he got mad, he would clench up his fists and move his face forward, as if to kill his enemy with LASER vision. I saw his head move forward, but I can only guess that his fists were clenching. That’s probably why Mom said, “Drop it Matt.” Minor quarrels like this happened at least once a week. Serious fights were rare. The largest one happened later that winter, after I had officially moved to Alaska. I forget the exact cause, probably another version of movie trivia dispute. To Josh, it wasn’t so much the facts I disputed that angered him, but that I was arguing at all. He was making Easy-Mac in the kitchen, and I was disputing one of his stories while reclining on the couch. My arrogant repose must have pissed him off. I forget what I said, some teenage quip, no doubt underhanded; he stormed onto the edge of the kitchen, glaring at me.
“I should beat the shit out of you.” Mom was putting makeup in the bathroom, and called out from the closed door, “Everything okay in there?” I eyed him coldly. “Fuck, you, Josh.” He raised his fists and stormed at me. When he reached for me on the coach, I recoiled my legs far into my body, and like a slingshot kicked his chest as hard as I could. He crashed against the wall. Mom ripped the bathroom door opened. I jumped onto the couch and yelled “Go ahead, hit me you fucking loser! See if I care!” I pointed at him. “Your ass will land up in jail so fast, and I will be so happy to never see you again!” His eyes were surprised, almost hurt, but above all shocked that this little feminine piece of shit was making his life so difficult. He raised his fist and marched toward me. Mom lunged at him— “Okay! calm down— Matthew stop that!” She pulled Josh into their room, calling out to me from behind, “Matthew, please take a walk around here and come back when you’ve cooled off.” The thin brown door shut. I bobbed a bit on the spry couch. Gradually, consciousness returned to my body. I realized that my breathing was heavy, my temples throbbing. Through the walls, I heard Josh say “I can’t take that kid!” I jumped off the couch and ran out of the apartment. I went to the same place I always did when this family got to be too much for me: a giant boulder behind some trees that everyone ignored because it was so close to the dumpster. I leaned against the boulder and brooded. From here I heard the building’s front door explode open. Josh stomped toward his Ford truck. The pavement burned as he high-tailed out of the parking lot. • Josh wasn’t a total failure. He never hit me or Mom, unlike his dad, who pretty much hit all of his loved ones. Josh loved Mom. Even in their worst of fights, he refused to raise his voice to her. For those who did not hear him speak or see his posture during his nine hour marathons of World of Warcraft, he was an attractive fellow. He also attended church regularly. I underestimated what Mom would go through for a solid church companion. I stopped joining her for Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday service when I was 14. Josh continued going well through the end of their marriage. Even when she started going to Nazareth Chapel.
80 The easiest (and perhaps most truthful) explanation of his disdain for Nazareth Chapel was the color of the population. I don’t recall seeing a single black person at Farm Loop, but at Nazareth Chapel, in the “ghetto” of Anchorage, the racial slice was split evenly between Latinos, blacks, Samoans, and whites. At Farm Loop, he felt comfortable singing and dancing along with the white congregation. But when Sister Gloria, a stern black woman of 50, led the half hour of “song and rejoicing” before the sermon, Josh was the only person who stayed seated. He started to come in only once the singing had ended. He said he wanted to think about God, and didn’t see the point of all “the hooting and hollering” before the sermon. He worshipped Pastor B. Edmunds, a man of middling height with flaxy brown hair and imposing blue eyes. Josh watched Pastor B. Edmunds perform on Sunday like a kid watching Circus de Solei. He referred to the Pastor as a genius. Wednesday night bible study was by far his favorite. The church had splurged on a highly detailed map of hell. It spread across the entire expanse of the sanctuary, approximately the size of Guernica. It only came out on Wednesdays, and only when the topic of scrutiny was about the netherworld. Josh lived for these occasions. He sat in the second row, leaning forward from the edge of his seat as Pastor B. Edmunds pointed with a slim baton, like a General laying down for his troops the path to ultimate victory. He explained in intimate details why this feature of hell existed, what it did, and what type of sinner it would ensnare. These Wednesday sermons scared me so effectively that I often felt the need to forgive those around me and repent for all of my real or imagined sins. A few Wednesdays, I went so far as to tell Mom that I liked Josh. “He’s just what the doctor ordered,” I told her through a painfully fake smile. She was always surprised at these statements. She wasn’t proud of the divorce or re-marriage, and any sign of acceptance was a much needed boost to her ego. She had heavily annotated Blended Families and Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life, eager for the insight that would make me more accepting of this new family dynamic. And seeing the stunned joy play on her face over a statement that cost me nothing but pride and dignity--I nearly believed it myself. • The only time I encouraged a break up was the day of their wedding. I was 11. We were in the rickety
CIRQUE Mustang, driving a weaving road canopied with trees. Mom wouldn’t tell me where we were going, so we sat in silence. She was so lost in thought she forgot to turn the Christian radio on. It was a welcomed change; I enjoyed the unaltered space to take in the warm smell of the Mustang’s vintage seats, the warm glow from the glass, the dizzying green of trees. “So, Matt,” she said, startling me out of the quiet. “Josh and I have decided to get married.” They had been dating for five months. The divorce had been official for one year. The prospect of Mom in a wedding flooded me with joy. “That’s great news!” She smiled and kept her eyes on the road. “Congratulations!” I said. She glanced at my hands, and a clip of nervous laughter rolled out of her. “Thank you Matt. I thought you wouldn’t be okay with it; I know it’s a big change and all, but I really think it will be good in the end, for all of us.” This statement hurled me back to reality. I did not think of whom she was marrying or how it would change my life. She was going to marry Josh, the man whose best friend killed his mother, whose dad beat his entire family, who supported his video game addiction with my child support payments, who was 21 to her 40, who was racist and called apple juice whiskey. “Don’t do it.” She said nothing. The humming silence reminded me of a heartbeat flatline. “Mom. Please don’t do it. You hardly know him. And I honestly think you can do better.” More humming. “Mom—have you really thought this through? I think this is a terrible idea.” “The wedding’s already set,” she said in a near robotic voice. I had never heard her devoid of emotion. This was a woman who found joy in minuscule actions like replacing a new roll of paper towels or watering a rose bush in June. “We’re expected at Nazareth Chapel in four hours. I’m taking you to a store to buy you a suit for the ceremony.” And at that, the conversation ended. I sat bolted in the passenger seat until we arrived at the wedding store. It was in a standalone strip mall. The summer sun brought into relief the maps of dirt on the window; the wedding dresses behind it could barely be seen. Mom had picked out a few suits for me
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 beforehand. I chose a white one. It was half of what she made in a month. She paid for it with a credit card. • When we arrived at Nazareth Chapel, I was informed that Josh had made me his best man. I thought it was best not to question this. Mom looked beautiful in her white dress. More beautiful than happy. She seemed unsure of herself. Or maybe that was all wishful thinking on my part. The ceremony began. Pastor B. Edmunds asked if anyone objected. me—I object He continued when no one spoke up. He asked if she would take Josh as her new husband. Please don’t say ‘I do.’ She said “I do.” Josh did the same. Then the Pastor said: “Charlotte Caprioli, from this day forward, you will no longer be known as Charlotte Caprioli, but as Charlotte Peterson. You have a new name in the eyes of the Lord, as you join this man in a new, and holy union.” I was a crying statue; my body was rigid, but a few small tears escaped. A passing observer might think that I was overcome with happiness for my mother’s new union, and was simply trying to be a man and not cry. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth was that the new name shook me in a way that I have never experienced since. It may even be accurate to say that the announcement shattered my soul. Decades later I hear myself think, did he have to say that? I hadn’t realized our names would no longer be the same. I hadn’t realized that she wouldn’t be instantly recognizable as my mother. My entire body ached as the thought repeated, did he have to say that? •
I were to share our own room for the night on the same floor. In the exciting rush of staying in a decent hotel room, Lee Ann and I ordered Rocky Road ice cream and watched TV until midnight. Once she fell asleep, I used the extra bedsheets to make a bed of sorts on the ornate dresser. I planned to sleep on the floor, but had spotted two dead silverfish in the carpet. I woke up at 5am, three hours before our scheduled meeting at 8. I lay on the dresser for about an hour before rising. After a shower, I slipped out of the motel room. The morning air was cold but uncruel. I stepped onto the deck, and looked at an empty Anchorage. I wore the same baggy black shirt I had slept in, refusing, for some reason, to bring a jacket. At the fourth floor, our rooms were at the pinnacle of the hotel. I thought of them as the penthouse rooms. But my impression was challenged from the fact the “hotel” stood across from a strip club and a diner in ruin. I went down the dirty blue steps of ragged macadam. Anchorage was quiet at 6am on a Saturday. I moved toward the mountains. The Wendy’s was closed. The Taco Bell was closed. The car dealerships were hollowed out by darkness. I was thankful for the wind. It was helping me come to terms with this new life where my family had officially disassembled. Mom didn’t have my name anymore, and my dad couldn’t say “Charlotte” without swearing. I folded my arms into each other, but I didn’t rub them to keep warm. I didn’t hop around or turn back for more clothes. This frigid, unflinching reality was threading itself through me, and shivering wouldn’t make it stop.
The reception was at Golden Corral. Mom paid for everyone. In attendance were the assistant pastor and his family, a couple random church members, some of Mom’s friends from nursing school, Lee Ann, and Josh’s mom. Josh’s dad had stayed home. Lee Ann and I were flying back to California the next day to spend the school year with our father. Mom and Josh grabbed a hotel room in the city. Lee Ann and Cliff River Lichen
CIRQUE on February 4th, 1867, I had no intention of staying here more than six months.” He died in Oregon in 1935.
Destiny Manifested Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there. --Gary Snyder I’m a nomadic mutt from a long line of nomadic mutts. Nobody pointed a gnarled finger at the earth and told me: This place, this landscape is where your people are from and where you belong. When your people are from all over Europe, and more recently, all over the U.S. and Canada, when your family moves more often than most people wear out their favorite shoes, you have the freedom to find your own place on the planet. After growing up in various towns in New England and getting a psychology degree in Virginia, my own wanderlust led me to Utah, Nevada, Florida, back north to New Hampshire for graduate school, to Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and finally, back to Oregon. * Dr. Simeon Edward Josephi was born in New York City in 1849 of a Russian father and Spanish mother. “When I was 17 years old I had a bad attack of wanderlust. I wanted to see the world, so I went out to San Francisco to visit my brother David,” he said in a 1926 interview in The Oregon Journal. San Francisco didn’t hold him for long; a year later he boarded a steamship north up the coast and east up the Columbia River to Portland. Arriving in a rainstorm, Josephi rode via horse and buggy then ferry to the east side of the Willamette River, East Portland. “In those days the ferry ran only during daylight. If you wanted to cross the Willamette after dusk you stood on the bank and called across to the ferryman, who came over in a rowboat to get you.” Josephi studied psychological medicine and became a doctor at the Hawthorne “hospital for the insane.” He eventually took over as superintendent of the hospital, ran a private practice in downtown Portland, and became a professor of nervous and mental diseases at Willamette University and University of Oregon. He continued to live in East Portland where he married and fathered five children. “When I came to Portland
* I first moved to Oregon on a whim. After completing a Master of Science in environmental biology, I found I had a deep understanding of the ecology of New England and still no desire to make a home there. I didn’t feel like a master of anything and knew I had more to learn somewhere else. A friend’s sister was moving to Portland for graduate school and neither my friend nor I had anything keeping us on the east coast, so one humid day in August of 2000 we loaded a taxi-yellow Penske and hit the interstate. I figured I would stay for a year or two, until the winds blew me elsewhere. I’d never been to Oregon but I knew enough to pronounce it correctly, not Ori-gone like my Yankee friends would say. My father’s father had retired to the Oregon coast and my uncle had moved there to care for him as he aged, but I barely knew either of them. My father spent a few summers there as a kid visiting his grandparents, and based on his stories and pictures I was pretty sure Oregon was a mythic fairyland out of a Tolkien book, a wilder, grander, wilier version of the Northeast, a place where forests sprawled farther than cities and emerald mists were so enchanting I wouldn’t even care that it rained all the time. After a two-week cross-country adventure with extended stays in the Western wonders of Badlands and Yellowstone National Parks, I was worried Oregon would be a disappointment. But on that final leg of the journey on Interstate 84 as our trusty Penske entered the Columbia River Gorge, as the sun beamed spotlights on glowing snow-capped Mt. Hood, Douglas fir-crowned cliffs, Western red cedar valleys, and resplendent waterfalls cascading toward the mighty Columbia, I was smitten. “I can’t believe we live here now!” * Harvey L. Clark was born in Vermont in 1807, but in 1840 traveled overland with his wife Emeline to Oregon. After moving around the Willamette Valley as a Methodist missionary, Clark made a land claim in an area southwest of Portland that would become Forest Grove. He and his wife started a school for Native Americans and later, a home for orphans. His strong belief in education led him to donate 220 acres of his land claim to help
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 found a college, first called Tualatin Academy and later, Pacific University. The Clarks had three children and died in Oregon. * How can a place three thousand eighty three miles from where you are born feel like home before you’ve even finished unpacking? The city of Portland was progressive, hip, culturally interesting and suited me well, but the flora and fauna of the surrounding landscape stole my heart. I hiked volcanic peaks, swam in icy snowmelt rivers, frolicked in fern-frosted forests, and jumped waves in the Pacific. I went on bird walks, plant walks, mushroom walks and moss walks and still I couldn’t get enough of Oregon. I wanted to learn more, understand better. It wasn’t the curiosity of a tourist, but the growing devotion of a citizen. Some combination of smells, sounds, and sensations in Pacific Northwest ecosystems fed me in a way that nowhere else had. Maybe my ecology background inspired me to connect with the natural landscapes, or maybe in my late twenties I was just ready to drop anchor somewhere, anywhere. But in recent travels, I’d visited other beautiful places near interesting cities – New Orleans, Santa Fe, Flagstaff, Salt Lake City, Missoula, San Francisco – why not any of these? Outside of jobs or relationships, when we have the freedom, why do we leave a place? Or, why do we stay? My sister in her wanderings moved to Oregon shortly after I did. Then my father, so for a few short years all the living Durhams were in Oregon. But then my grandfather died, my sister moved east to Montana followed by my father, and my uncle got busy starting his own family at the Oregon coast. The friend who’d moved west with me returned to Connecticut, and her sister moved east to Washington, DC. I remained. To me, Oregon wasn’t about family. It was about a rugged individualism and connection with wild nature, like the Scottish naturalists John Muir and David Douglas. I was named for a Scottish wildflower, a hardy, shrubby thing of alpine cliffs and rain-soaked bogs. Oregon seemed a perfect place to root myself for a while. * Douglas Cameron Ingram was born in 1882 in Scotland and moved to Oregon at nineteen, in 1901. A U.S. Forest Service ranger and ecologist, he was also a devoted botanist, collecting plants for the USFS herbarium from
all over Oregon and Washington, including two rare subspecies named for him: Ingram Columbia Lily (Lilium columbianum Hanson var. ingramii) and Ingram’s Indian Pink (Silene hookeri var. ingramii). The latter is a rare alpine flower found only in Oregon. In August of 1929 he was sent to Okanogan, Washington to help lead a fire crew fighting the 23,000 acre Camas Creek wildfire. When the wind changed and the fire spread, he met his death in a wall of flames. A ridge in that area northeast of Lake Chelan now bears the name “Douglas Ingram Ridge”. Before he died, he and his wife Emogene had one daughter, Alice. They lived in Oregon. * I moved away from Oregon after five years. A relationship had ended badly, and I thought a change of scenery would do me good. I settled on Boulder, Colorado, deciding that this other progressive, hip, culturally interesting city on the edge of the Rocky Mountains could be my new home. But immediately, confusingly, I was homesick. I tried to be at home there, for two years I tried. Until I gave up and moved to Washington. And then back to Oregon. Only after leaving did I understand what home really means, that certain comfort and contentedness that goes deeper than familiarity. In Colorado and even in Washington I felt away from the center, outside, gone. Not there. Oregon held a strong sense of being and belonging, here. I’ve been back for six years, a long time for a nomad but not so long in the scope of a life. I can’t be sure I will stay, forever. But I am digging in. At present I work in ecological restoration, acting as doctor, teacher, and steward of the natural landscapes I love. In my employment with a Portland-based nonprofit, I get to work in natural areas around Portland as well as in outer suburbs from the Columbia Gorge to Forest Grove, leading volunteer tree planting projects. Last year I was standing on the rain-soaked lawn of a public park in front of eighty or so eager volunteers while the mayor of the little town spoke of the park’s history and the good work we were about to do. It was the usual pre-planting pomp and circumstance, and I was only half listening, thinking of all I needed to do to facilitate the process of helping novice planters get 800 new trees planted in the riparian buffer of Fanno Creek in the next three hours. Waiting for my turn to speak, I watched robins cock their heads to spy worms in the soil and listened to goldfinches singing from trees and shrubs
planted by volunteers in previous years. Then Mayor Schirado spoke a name that jolted me out of my head. Suddenly, I was blushing and grinning as if I had just been handed an award. Albert Alonzo Durham. My great, great, great grandfather. * Albert Alonzo Durham was born in Oswego, New York in 1814 and moved to Oregon in 1847. He claimed land and built a homestead in an area south of Portland that would be named Lake Oswego. There he built a sawmill, advertising his lumber in the first issue of the weekly Oregonian. In 1866 he sold the mill and moved to the west side of the Willamette where he built a new sawmill and a flour mill on Fanno Creek. Locals Columbia by Train referred to the area as “Durham Mills”. It was later incorporated into the tiny town of Durham. A.A. Durham, as he was known, was father to George H. Durham. George H. Durham married Satira Emeline Clark, daughter of Pacific University’s founder Harvey Clark of Forest Grove, Oregon. Their son was George C. Durham. George C. Durham married Mary Helen Josephi, daughter of Dr. Simeon Josephi of East Portland, Oregon. Their son was George S. Durham. George S. Durham married Alice Ingram, daughter of Forest Service botanist Douglas Ingram. Their son was George I. Durham. me.
George I. Durham married my mother, and had *
I knew all this, long ago. Back when Oregon was still the mystical fairyland Out West, the land of my father’s people for generations before my grandfather moved east in a reverse migration, and I was born a Yankee. Even after moving to Oregon, after visiting ancestral places and
smiling every time I saw the road sign for Durham, even after leading a restoration project in a place my coworkers and I jokingly called “my park,” my multiple familial connections to Oregon never seemed more than amusing anecdotes. We all have family from somewhere; who cares? When the Mayor of Durham spoke of the great man who founded his town and turned my insides all warm and mushy, I guess that was me starting to care. I didn’t say anything to the mayor right then, and since I was standing slightly behind him, he didn’t notice the emotional flare-up nearby. If he did, he wouldn’t have understood anyway. He didn’t know me from Adam. But after the planting started, I pulled him aside and said, “You know, I have an interesting story for you…” And then there was the mayor shaking my hand like I was the celebrity, saying I should stop by city hall sometime. It would be several months before I realized the karmic symmetry of my work in Durham City Park. How Albert Alonzo cut trees down and how I planted them, possibly in the same exact place. More Brad Gooch time would pass before I visited the family plot in the Portland cemetery that sits on a hill just across the Willamette River from where I live in east Portland, to peer at the graves of the three Georges before my father. What did begin in me that morning in Durham City Park was the new and strange feeling of an ancestral family home. This place, this landscape, this is where my people are from. And perhaps, where I belong. With belonging comes responsibility. Maybe I won’t claim land, discover new plants, found schools or towns. Maybe my name won’t appear in history books, newspaper articles or family archives. But I am beginning to believe that I didn’t choose Oregon. Oregon chose me. I can’t know why my ancestors were drawn here or what it was in them that made them stay. But they are part of the reason I am here. In Oregon, my ancestors are thick as old-growth trees. If I could condense all times to now, I’d be surrounded by family. The men whose stories I know, and all the men and women whose stories I don’t. Maybe it’s biological – something in my genes, the nature of my body carrying bits of all of them – Clark, Josephi, Ingram, and Durham – maybe stronger in me than in my father and sister pulled elsewhere by different genes, different familial blood. Maybe blood is thicker than the waters of our birthplaces. Perhaps their ghosts are still here, urging me on, as educator, as naturalist, as a worker of the land, to carry out their unfinished business.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 And what would be left to believe?
Windsong Come on out of the dark Where you’ve kept your treasure heart too long That is a line from a Blue Yonder tune. This past Tuesday we drove away from an aging dorm leaving Kate behind in a haze of cool excitement, and bravely slumped home where we dispersed to our “regular” activities. Thursday night I had a tune in my head. Friday morning I searched the garage for an ancient blank BASF tape filled over twenty years ago in the darkened womb of KRCL’s production studio, a shelter from CLU’s lonely summer heat, amid the scent of decomposing record sleeves, semi-exposed wires, turntables, and old carpet. It could not be a coincidence that Kate goes to college and I suddenly have a hankering to hear an album that probably, in a way, symbolized my own independence at the time. Blue Yonder, that Berlin knock-off that probably never made it to CD, can’t find on you-tube, and today that 12” vinyl is the casualty of time and disinterest, like so many in that half-lit music library, who cut records Lace before CDs were popular and could never make the jump to electronic and simply evaporated: Fee Waybill, The City Section, The New Dance Orchestra, Schonhertz and Scott, Alien, others. They, like a groove in the vinyl they were pressed in, made a slight impression and are now gone. Spread your dreams out in the sun Keep the ones that keep you young Anything more is more than you need Anything less
The trajectory of my career is such that I am afforded the use of transportation with a semi-working cassette that reads “clean” whenever in use. The minor keys, smoky vocal, dramatic lyrics of unrequited love are what moved me at twenty-one; a story about a wind that rips things apart, only the wind is emotion or passion and so many other things that I am not. Sitting in the dusk of the production studio, in its creaky office chair, and listening; for a while really listening, to the words, the music. Now it seems a song is something that happens between the driveway and the grocery store parking lot; a background to other activity, the menial made less menial by the addition of noise; how tragic that is. This morning I sat in my car, its motor grumbling, single yellow warning light glaring at me “Washer Fluid” while Windsong played between the perfectly preserved pops and the hiss of years sustained on magnetic tape. Things are lost, things are found In the wind, with the towers blowing down We’re going to let it breathe Over you Over me I suppose I should wrap this up coherently, bring it all together… I get old, and on the surface I am OK with that. But underneath it all I have been changed, worn, inalterably weathered; I suppose I see myself like the Blue Yonder album filled with dramatic and minor Clif Bates chords, rhythms, faded with age and disappearing; my moment in the sun gone, now I am a faded record moldering in a library that was thrown out when the station changed format. Nah, I don’t think that does it, maybe it’s the other way around. Some will leave some will stay In the wind, when the stars all spin away We’re going to let it breathe Over you Over me
Nisqually Barn Door
Good Morning Rooster and a Moose in the Barnyard A little moose can cause a big stir. Which is why we watch closely for them here on our barnyard. They’re an everyday way of life here in Alaska, and after living here a while and getting used to the lumbering brown creatures that mosey the roadways and backyards, you could almost quit paying attention. Except really, you can’t. Because they’re huge. And they’re powerful. And they’re moose! So you just put them into the file of your heart that’s full up with aurora borealis, non-stop summer sunlight, soaring eagles, panoramic mountain ranges… all the reasons you came to Alaska, all the things that make you stay. The moose just blend in. But when you have a pony that is deathly afraid of moose, you can’t help but pay attention to them. Our pony Beau can sense a moose a quarter mile away. His sweet little ears will prick and he’ll start to prance his acre. Here on our farm, we quit relying on our dogs to tell us when a moose is near. We look to Beau. So this morning in the kitchen after waking, when I do what I always do—stand at the window and survey the barnyard, take in the half-done shed we put up before snowfall last year, note how badly I need to grab the kids and a jug of stain and give our little barn a facelift, wait for the water to boil for my tea—I can tell right away there’s a moose nearby. Beau’s head is high, his ears are up and he’s
hovering along the fence line that separates him from the miniature horses. He’s drawing near to his little mares for safety. They’re oblivious to him and the moose, and they stand sleepy, each with a back leg bent in relaxed dozing horse pose. Beau starts to prance, and when I focus my eye through the trees, I quickly find gangly dark legs moving slowly across the snow. How big is this one? Is it alone? Moose cows and their calves travel together. If there’s one, most times there’s two. Just one that I can see for now though, and it’s lumbering slowly toward Beau’s fence line, munching on brush along the way. I stand there at the window in my husband’s baggy gym shorts and a t-shirt, hoping this scenario doesn’t involve me going out into the cold morning. Yawn. Mosey on moose. The teapot starts to hiss a little and then I see a second set of legs. Human this time. The neighbor boy has taken up his jogging routine again, using the circle drive across the road as his track. Every spring he dons ankle weights and jogs rounds. He’s walking now, saving the jog for the back part of the drive. I can see him turn his head toward the moose. Good. He knows it’s there. Moose are considered more dangerous than bear here in Alaska. Imagine a cute gangly creature that fiercely protects their young, a thousand pounds, long legs that start at shoulders of pure muscle and end with sharp hooves. Alaskans have seen them stomp. We know to stay clear of them. And so does our pony Beau. Most times they’re pretty receptive to a skedaddle call or a bang on a fry pan with a wooden spoon, and usually they’ll trudge off in search of an alder bush that’s not so noisy up the road. Not all the time though. We’ve had a mama and a calf claim our neighborhood for their own more than one winter. As my water starts to gurgle in the pot, I’m hoping this one is of the more obedient types. I hate to leave the warmth of my warm morning house; alas, this moose isn’t moving along and I can see Beau’s getting himself worked up into a lather, dancing around and getting the minis worked up now too. They can’t see the moose from their angle but they know something’s up. Their little ears are perked and their mare manes are tossing. I straighten my cowboy boots by the door, the ones that feel like slippers on my feet, and put on a big warm coat. If it were later in the day I might change out of what I slept in, but as I pull up my boots I decide that the neighbor boy’s just gonna have to see my fat knees. I’m not changing clothes to go chase off a moose. Our warm winter has it feeling more like April
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 than February, and breathing in the crisp air, a little tinged with the smells of spring and hay and horse manure, I remember why I love this place so much. The neighbor dog has started to bark but other than that, all I hear are my boots crunching on the snow and Beau’s hooves as he prances across his paddock. He’s got a route he takes when there’s a moose close by. Right along the fence line he runs, then stops at the gate, waiting I think, to be let out. Get me out of here his face says to me and I wish I could take the anxiety from him. I just use my voice and assure him. Beau doesn’t look convinced. I can see the moose just three feet or so from the fence line on the other side of the pen. “Get on Moose!” I say it loud enough for him to hear me and the moose’s ears go back. I’ve still got the whole corner of the acre between him and me so I don’t worry much about him getting to me unless he decides to go over the fence. We’ve only had that happen once, a yearling trying out his new big muscles. This one looks like he has no interest in anything other than a quiet breakfast. The neighbor boy comes around again and I holler out to him. “Hey, I’m gonna push him over that way.” But he must have his earphones on because he just keeps walking. I stand by the gate of Beau’s pen and he looks like he wants to come on out, straight through the electric wire. “Easy boy. He’ll move along.” I walk a little distance away from our pony, his nostrils flaring and sides quivering, and give my hands a little clap. “Move on Moose!” The ungulate turns his brown head toward me. Chewing on his little branch and staring at me for a minute, he decides I must look Mama enough or crazy enough for him to listen up and move along. He goes slowly, as they usually always do, and Beau dances over to the other side of his pen, as far away from the moose as he can get, never taking his eyes off of it. “He’s moving on boy.” I watch the moose mosey on, keeping one eye on his direction of travel before heading to the shed to grab some hay. I watch him close as I turn the corner away from the horse pen. The last thing I need is to have him decide to come on up the driveway and make me dance in fear like our pony. The minis, knowing now something is definitely up, decide to wake all the way up and prance a bit. Either in support of their big buddy or in excitement at having Ms. Farmer on the barnyard before feed time, they nicker
87 and trot a bit around their pen. This wakes up the goats and they go from being lazy lumps in the pen to frisky little mountain critters, butting each other in the head. I grab a couple flakes of hay out of the shed, and when I come back out, a few hens and our all-bark-no-bite rooster Sir Lolly have strutted themselves out of the coop and are pecking along in search of an early breakfast. Joe the barn cat emerges from his sleeping spot, sliding out of the window of my husband’s old pickup, and stretches his back legs before he starts to clean himself immodestly in the middle of the driveway. His littermate Margaret comes silently to the door of the barn and sits aloofly in the frame of the doorway like nobility, quietly surveying the land and all that waits to be hunted. The barnyard is waking up and the moose is moving along. The neighbor keeps his pace and I can see our moose friend heading away from him, and from our pony. No more drama from me, he says with his lazy moose amble. I watch the sun rise over the tips of the spruce trees and shake out some hay for the minis who bury their sweet noses into the pile of fresh green and halfheartedly try to keep the goats from eating some too. It’s another morning on this crazy little farm and for just a moment, here, alone, quiet with the animals, I can enjoy the stillness that comes after a scare has passed. I can breathe in the day and not yet worry about the list of things that needs to be done. I can enjoy the calm and the organic feel of living among these animals, and today I get to do it before my little band of ranch hands are up and at it, noisy and tumbly in all their work. I walk back toward the house, feeling the cold on my chubby knees and the cozy of my favorite boots on my bare feet. The sun rays hit the ice on the driveway and I smile at this place…this farm…this Alaska...just this moment before the day starts… Thank you God. For this. For one more day. For whatever will come. For whatever You’ll give. Lolly crows loud as I walk by, sticking his pubescent chicken head out in cocky rooster arrogance. Get on, he seems to say. There’s work to be done. I look at him, tending to his hens, keeping his coop in line. I walk toward the house which is now bathed in the orange goldness of an Alaskan winter morning. Soon the kids will be waking and the dogs will be barking and the day will be moving along like the moose. I hear that rooster crow again, louder this time, and before I open the door and enter back into my warm and my tea and my bare feet, I call back to him and smile… “I know, Lolly. I know.”
Making the Tongue Dry I’ve blown a bubble and instead of catching it on the wand I open my mouth and catch it on my tongue where it stays, full, round, shining and iridescent, seductive and plump and magical. Until it bursts. My 14 month old squeals with delight and claps for more. Is it then a natural human impulse, to want more bubbles, even though they burst? The bubble that is no more has left a slickness on my tongue that I can’t quite spit out. I go to the kitchen faucet and run it, cocking my head and opening my mouth to catch some of the water stream, like I used to do as a kid. I wet my tongue. Rinse. Spit. Repeat. My baby thinks this is funny and lets out one of his distinct laughs a sharp “ka!” followed by a loud and drawn out inhale that makes him sound like an old man with emphysema. I turn off the faucet, pick him up, and walk out to our balcony. In the late afternoon light we watch the surface of the Puget Sound recede, like water draining reluctantly from a bathtub. About a mile away, a bald white head stares at the same waters. Four stories high, the head gazes like
a sentinel over the Sound, across the southern arm of the Salish Sea. The statue’s soft features could be those of anyone, but she is sculptor Jaume Plensa’s version of a tragedy. She is the Greek mountain nymph Echo, who kept Hera from discovering Zeus’ flirtations by distracting the goddess with conversation. Hera, angered by this intervention, punished Echo by abolishing her ability to speak freely, save to repeat the last words of others. In this moment, staring at the bald twin peaks of Mt. Olympus, I imagine that if she could, what Echo would say is this: “Austerity with the decadence of plunder will not stand.” Instead, in the harsh heat of climate change come to Seattle summer, she is silent. Hotter than July is starting to mean something even in the Pacific Northwest. Always in Puerto Rico but even more so now that the island is small enough to fail, apparently. For a long time in Greece, as Echo repeats, and now doubled down with a bailout package that looks more like a draconian lock with a rusted key. Before in Argentina but it’s cooler there now, it’s winter in the South after all. In the North twenty degrees more of mercury feels like a lot of things — feels like my baby’s hair trampled in sweat, feels like seagull droppings steaming on Echo’s head, feels like my father’s ankle bursting with gout. Feels like bald eagles — or is it plucked chickens? — coming home to roost. Bulging deficits. Damaged climates. Seismic shifts. Backs of workers. Spine of the earth. Subtraction. Extraction. Contraction. The end of this long division is not a natural number. How can I explain this to my baby? Better to just blow bubbles that burst? Maybe we can begin here: with the origins of the word. Austerity: from the Greek austeros meaning “bitter”, “harsh” and especially, “making the tongue dry”. Bitter like soil turned to dust from the drought turned Golden State grey, bitter like ash once a tree flying wild like unrooted flame. Harsh like robbing all the Peters to pay a few Pauls, like water rationed inside turned faucets dry while outside turned to rebellion with ordinary names. Bittersweet like windfalls for the gods of profit. Nothing like the clothes off poor backs to mend
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 holes in silk pockets. Dry. Like. Dry like Echo’s tongue mined of its glands, thick with unspoken longing for her mountain home, even the baldness of it, where just last summer we could lap the peaks like popsicles. Now we can only lick gravel and dirt. Dry like tongues shredded from telling harsh stories that taste of bootstraps and chains. Dry like tongues forked by love for Narcissus, who seeks only to reproduce himself, at any cost, regardless of alternative. How many people go hungry to feed his nest egg. Remember that in the end he himself starved. Echo the mute nymph deceived Hera, protected Zeus, loved Narcissus. Eco, I mean Echo, the 4-story sentinel bears witness, hopes for freedom from this curse. She is tired of echoes, tired of dominoes, tired of the N that dominates the L and the bubbles that burst. She wants dandelions. She wants alternative cycles of dissemination, re-creation. Closed loops that somehow lead to better places. The ability to seed the new rather than to reap what has already passed. How can I explain this to my baby? Better to just blow bubbles that burst? Maybe we can begin here: with the origins of our world and the lesson that all that’s old must become new again. Metamorphoses. Transformation. New stories of creation. After all, years ago it was written, as Ovid knew, that everything - even Rome - must give way to change.
Break Shack Steve Garvey and I are best climbing partners, but somehow we’re working together at Big Bend. Big Bend is a wildcat exploratory oil well along the Colville River on the North Slope of the Brooks Range twenty miles south of the Arctic Ocean. Everything here is temporary. The ice roads and airstrip are made by water trucks. The half square mile drill pad sits on large mats to protect the frozen tundra and maybe there are ten buildings here. The camp sleeps 48 men and sits on the west edge of the pad and the drill rig is dead center. Today, the wind blows forty miles an hour and temperature forty-two below zero. I walk up the steps into the arctic entry of the camp. The break shack is on the left. The dressing room is on the right and work clothes aren’t allowed past here. The break shack is sixteen feet wide and thirty-two feet long. Along one side of the room is a table with donuts, cookies and coffee plus a soda pop machine. On the opposite side are tables and chairs seating fifteen rednecks. This ugly mass of humanity hunkers inside because the weather is too bad to work outside. Hardened, bitter, nasty and mean each has a cigarette between his lip, a cup of coffee in the hand and a four letter word on his tongue—and they’re all sneering at me. Many are missing fingers and teeth. I have never experienced anything like Big Bend. Garvey’s not in the break shack. The one-eyed mechanic throws a vulgar snarl my way. I hear words and turn away.
90 I lower my fogged goggles over my eyes and head back outside. The inside of the door is covered with an inch of ice. Why is the one-eyed mechanic picking on me? I didn’t do anything to the guy. What an asshole. He messed with me earlier today when I went through the garage. Someone from my crew pissed him off and he is really aggravated. I need to find Garvey. Steve Garvey and I came here to build towers, install antennas, and then set up the phones and data system. Even though I’ve lived in Alaska for twenty years, politically I’m green and live a humble life. I’ve never seen so many rednecks. Big Bend reminds me of Texas or Louisiana because that’s where most of the workers are from. Where’s Garvey? I ask myself as I hit the wall of raging wind, minus-forty-degree cold pelting snow. Still it’s preferable to all the cigarette smoke, rednecks and the one-eyed goon in the break shack. Thank God that every inch of skin on my body is covered. The storm is so loud I can only hear the camp generator when I’m right next to it. I sense someone following me, but when I look back there is not another soul around except for a white arctic fox slipping out of view. They are always around looking for a free meal. My goggles are fog free as I pass by the welders’ shop, a tall, brown metal building. On the far end a door faces the drill rig. Still spooked by the one-eyed mechanic, I open
Cold War Ruins on Adak - Utility Support for U.S. Navy Spy Opps
CIRQUE the door slowly and slip inside. It’s quieter in here and no one seems to be around, but I yell, “Garvey! Hey Garvey” Wind whistles through a crack as the snow beats against the metal building. Some heat in here but not much. No one works tonight. The weather’s too bad. Garvey’s always screwing around and into everyone else’s business. He could be anywhere. Maybe he’s with the cooks. He always says, “The cooks know where the action is.” I stand in front of the door and stare into my fogged goggles reminding myself, on a night like this I want to move as slow as possible. I’m just a warm body, maybe not even that. My goggles clear the minute I step into the fury and the wind-driven snow beats against my arctic suit. The ground blizzard is five feet high, give or take a foot. I step out of the shadow of the shop and the camp lights reveal a horizontal stream of cranberry-size chunks of snow sweeping across the land. I decide not to look for Garvey in the garage. As far as I’m concerned the one-eyed asshole is never going to get a phone. Earlier today we anchored the communication building to blocks of ice but its small size provides little protection against the raging wind arctic. I pull open the door and Garvey isn’t here either. The inside is bright white and clean with racks of sophisticated communication
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 equipment. Heavily insulated, the plastic molded walls and roof muffles the storm and holds the heat well. I yank back my hood and my googles fog before I pull them from my head. Next off is my face mask. The neoprene on it bothers my skin. Feeling claustrophobic I drag the two balaclavas over my head. My bunny boots come off with a kick and I slide out of my arctic suit. I punch the button on my CD player and the English Beat blares. I slide my gear out of the way and do twenty-five pushups. I don’t want to end up like those fat rednecks. The camp has safety meetings every day. Drilling is a big deal. A lot can go wrong. The meeting put me on edge and then there is Bill. Bill is a big, grey haired friendly, fat guy who sits in the corner of the break shack talking about an accident or explosion where someone died or was mangled. Bill always wears his metal hardhat indoors. He isn’t really talking to anyone; he’s just jabbering. I hate it but I’m here for the money. The name of the game is overtime. I make twelve hundred and fifty dollars a week if I work seven twelve hour shifts, but I make 1800 to 2200 if I work some sixteen hour days. It is not how many hours you work, it’s how many hours you write down. Garvey always gets more hours than me but doesn’t ever seem to be working. Joe another guy on our crew gets lots of hours too. Maybe Garvey’s at the trucker’s trailer. It’s across the pad. He’s probably over there hiding out. Big Bend is in a phase three which means no travel outside of camp, no outside work and all travel in camp is with another person. Drilling has been shut down. If Garvey is over there, he drove. I brave it and decide to walk the two hundred yards to the trucker’s trailer. I direct my headlight at the grader clearing and flattening the snow and ice on the pad. No one walks across camp. Rednecks don’t walk five feet even when it’s sunny and warm. Looking up, I see the hint of aurora. Above this ground blizzard it may be a magnificent glimmer but down here there’s no way to know. The wind whipped cold is a beast and finds its way through the seams of my arctic suit. Underneath I’m wearing a Nike nylon suit; somehow the wind penetrates this, too. The fiend works its way through my fleece layers to my very skin. The truckers’ building is not that far away. A grader growls this way, so I point my headlight straight at it. The pelting
91 makes it hard to run. I catch a whiff of diesel. I try to run across the frozen tundra so the grader will pass behind me, but it’s hard to run with all this gear. The grader is bearing down on me, and it is a space ship, whose alien invaders have come to get me. The ground shakes as it pulls up right beside me and stops. The operator in his warm little box on the grader holds his palms up as if to ask, “What’s going on?” I point my light straight at him and nod my head twice and then hold up a thumb. Stumbling through the storm, I leave the grader behind. The rumble fades into the arctic howl. The cold and raging snow numb me. Halfway to the truckers’ building, I’m freezing. I’m running and breathing through my facemask. It’s hard to get air. The building is a blur. I see four lights. I stop and hold my headlamp to the fury and it’s a sci-fi movie of white dots going by--millions of little white balls of snow. My breathing changes as the ice builds on my facemask. I am totally exposed. The shack is a blur and it’s not getting closer. I am running in delirium through a frozen whirling aurora and I’m mad from the Chinese torture effect from the pelting snow. There is also the hypnosis from watching the white dots going bye. I ask myself is this storm possessed or am I? Will I make it to the truckers building or will I lie down here and die? Then to make things worse, the image of the disfigured mechanic face spirals out of the insanity of this arctic night. In this sheer white madness, I can’t tell if I am running in circles. I focus on the white smear that’s the light on the truckers. It’s not that far. This is not a dream, I tell myself. I have to find Garvey. This is war. I fight, stumble stagger forward towards the blur. That’s all that will save me and finally I see the door, even the doorknob. I open the door and before my goggles fog, I see Garvey. His feet are up on the desk, his gear meticulously laid out to dry and he’s cleaning his fingernails. “Schweenknee,” he says with a start. Then, forgetting his nails he leans forward and continues “Let me tell you about this here slope. Don’t ever sneak up on me again.” My goggles slide off easy but one of my two balaclavas is frozen to my mustache and it’s hard to breathe and claustrophobic. Garvey asks me, “Did you walk over here? You did, didn’t you? You’re a dumb shit. Don’t walk
anywhere on this here slope. A wolf will eat you.”
who pissed him off. I didn’t do anything to him.”
Yesterday, we walked over to the river and saw a pack of wolves. It was cool. They hung their heads low and seemed big and they were mostly black but at least two were grey. They kept their distance from us. It was a nice day; twenty-five below and almost no wind. The sun never came up but here was three hours of twilight. I wrote down fifteen and a half hours on my timecard.
“You know Joe, he can piss anyone off,” says Gravey as he slides the truck into gear. “Especially a mean-ass oneeyed mechanic from Texas, who was just cut off from his nightly fifth of cheap bourbon. It sounds like he better not mess with you.”
“Ssschween—knee---relax, I need a break. I’m shagged from working so hard. Let’s drive over and gets some coffee and donuts.” Rearranging his mittens into line with his goggles, liner gloves, neck gator, water bottle, he continues his rant. “Schweenie, let me tell you about this here slope. I never said it was going to be a cake walk.” Chuckling, he stands up and inspects his new boots lying beside the heater. They are Northern Outfitter’s revolutionary new foam and plastic arctic boots. He seems to be feeling them for dryness. I lay my mittens on the electric heater that lines the far wall and grab a chair, turning it to face Garvey. Garvey’s a bull, strutting around the room scratching his nuts and nervously tugging at his long johns. “Let me tell you about this slope, that one-eyed mechanic is totally fucking with me,” I cry. “And I almost died walking over here. If we’re not going to the break shack anytime soon, I’m taking off my gear. With that I kick off my boots. I can’t stand the lethargic pace of the slope and Garv is the slowest cog in the machinery. “Hold your horses Tonto, I’m coming,” Garvey says while inspecting the seams on his farmer john arctic bibs. “Let’s go tell the one-eyed mechanic we are from the Earth First division of the Sierra Club and we aren’t taking any of his bullshit.” It takes Garvey twenty minutes to get his clothes on so we can walk the twenty-five feet to the Ford truck idling behind the building. Then it takes Garv five minutes to organize his gear once we are inside his truck. He’s scratching his head and I’m getting impatient. “Gar---vee, you have more baggage than your ex-wife and you’re looking a little stoved up. You’ll need some prune juice when we get to the break shack. How did I ever get myself this job? If that mechanic comes at me, I’m going to throw hot coffee at him. I’ll throw donut trays, pop machines and chairs at that asshole. It was Joe
The Ford crew cab diesel truck sits high off the ground. The wall of white pellets and the dark arctic blossoming aurora split my gaze. If I hold my head high, it is if I was looking through a periscope on a flat sea of white spots. For now I only focus on the mesmerizing sight. A wavering clear line separates an underworld of streaming white particles and dark arctic clarity. When I shift my gaze to the ground, I see nothing but a world of white dots that seemed to have quit moving. This is a dream and I am hypnotized by this white speckled insanity. I hear Garvey’s wicked Boston brogue but it takes me a moment to register. “Ssssssssssssssschweenie, wake up. Earth to Schweenie.” I extract myself from the madness. Garvey circles the drill rig as we take the long way back to camp. The cab of the truck is our safe haven from what’s outside. I keep my eyes on the clear dark sky above the white dots, though I will admit the draw of the underworld is intoxicating. In the clear arctic night above this madness, lustrous, blue and green auroral curtains ripple across the sky. The pad is completely deserted except for a single truck that idles next to the drill rig, but fifteen crew-cab trucks are running as we roll into a spot down from the front door of the camp. My heart beats fast as we race from the truck to the camp. I don’t want to deal with the goon. Hustling up the steps, I open the outer door. Once inside I turn to the left, I see the one-eyed mechanic. Screw it, I tell myself, opening the door with Garvey right behind me. We can take anybody. I step to the side and throw back my hood, slip off my balaclava. Looking around I realize there are even more rednecks smoking now, than before. I ignore the question, “Hey communication hippie, when are we going to get a phone?” I use my plastic coffee cup for a combination of lemonade and water. Garvey makes a show of organizing his gear at the only available table. We’re way different than
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 anyone in the room. Cigarette smoke burns my eyes and I feel the mechanic’s one eye burrowing into my back. Ignoring him, I study the cookie tray. Garvey is next to me as someone asks in a harsh voice, “When are the phones going to work?” I turn around and see that it is the mechanic who asked the question. My cup is shakey and my heart hammers. I look at the coffee maker and see that the pot is three quarters full. Through the thick cigarette smoke, the other side of the room is a distorted lump of sordid inhumanity. Hell, I’m a sporting guy, so I respond, “The phones ain’t never going to work.” Sipping from my shaky cup of lemonade, I hear Garvey chuckling. The mechanic doesn’t like my answer. He stands up and shouts, “What do you mean? I need to make some calls.” Garvey quickly turns around, and answers, “He means unless we get some help around here we will never get the phones working. We’re killing ourselves to get the phones up. I’m working eighteen hour days.” He shakes his head for emphasis. “We’re working right now. We just stopped for a break, but we’re working around the clock so you guys can call home. If we don’t get help when we’re in your building, how can we set up your phone?”
Dacha I built the dacha for you and now you are dying. To be honest, we had parted years before the night I saw the cabin as my dacha. Our dacha. A place where we would meet again in secret, like owls hidden among trees, our feathers soft and overlapping where we lay. This morning I found a varied thrush on the deck, dead from its crash with the window pane. Sometimes I think I am the only thing living here. There are times when the sky is silver all day long, when the cabin is enveloped in a Russian white night any hour of the afternoon—that eerie absence of color and definition when the whole world seems to float in the mystical weightlessness of another time. On the longest days of June, when the sun stays up for hours, if there are clouds, this pale illumination continues on until late at night. I think of you who have never come here.
The mechanic sits down and another man, sharper looking than the rest, stands up and approaches. I move towards the coffee pot. He looks me right in the eye and says, “Thank you for the hard work. You guys are great. Keep up the good work.” He turns to the mechanic and says, “Help these guys with whatever they need. If you communication guys have any problem with my guys, let me know. “I appreciate the help, thank you,” Garvey says shaking his head. “Come on Sweeney, get some coffee and let’s get back to work.” I turn around, grab the coffee pot and fill my cup. As I’m putting the pot back on the burner, Steve bumps me with his elbow. In his hand there is a chocolate donut. He brings it to the edge of the table near his crotch and in an unmistakable pantomiming motion pretends to twist the donut on the head of his penis. He does this a few times before tossing the donut back on the table. I spurt out coffee laughing. Garvey remains all business. By the time I have my gear on, I’m laughing so hard I spill coffee all the way out the door. Reaching
94 First, I gave the old place a foundation. High over the ferns and salal, up on cribbing and jacks, the whole bulk of the rooms swaying among the branches of cedars, I lay waiting for you, breathless, afraid everything would fall. I was terrified to move my feet against the sheets, to turn my head and see through the window the moon parting the clouds. Below me, fresh concrete hardened in forms with nothing between the cement and the floors beneath me but air. But you and I had already fallen. I did not know how to say goodbye. That word was a lie. What I wanted to remember was the dancing, how I used to come back from the river, drenched from wading among salmon, the clouds of their undoing, their destiny death. How I would strip myself bare and dance just for you, the you in my mind. I swirled past the old fireplace built with stones brought down from Round Mountain in 1934. And now, even though you are dying, I still dance to the old music under the rain on new skylights. I swirl past the fireplace shored up by a shambling boy. In a kind of desperation, I hired him to save the old rocks and during the process he made a den in the depths of the garage where he smoked grass and drank vodka. Like magic the circle from the living room pulls my feet out through the kitchen and back. I wind around it as if I were Isadora afloat among scarves. I dream any minute you will arrive. It was mid-summer when I rose from our love and flew away to Russia. I remember my sadness as you fell from me although you were not really there. The longing of our sighs was like the cedars brushing the windows. In Russia the seed of the dacha was planted. There among the pines of Komorovo, Akhmatova’s dacha huddled small and green and full of grief as faint as the waves on the Sea on Finland. But Pasternak’s dacha near Moscow was large and white with verandahs, a spacious lawn, a room where his wife’s piano stood near tall windows. Here was the study where he imagined Lara at the well, her kerchief flying off into the wind, Zhivago’s surprise at finding her. Down a path through trees was a spring where gossip or legend said he met his own love on summer days. Together they dipped their hands into the pool and drank the cold clear water from each other’s mouths. I felt the chill of it sliding down their throats and that recognition. There was under trees near my dacha on the other side of the world a well like that one and once an old pail for drinking. One June day I drove into the driveway, the car full of parcels of cheese and wine, steak and baguettes,
CIRQUE coffee and bagels for breakfast in front of the shored-up fireplace. Rain had fallen all May and the place would be chill, although in my waiting for you there was always a kind of warmth. What I saw was a cabin that resembled an old wooden boat, maybe an ark. There it floated, adrift among buttercups, tall purple ajuga, grasses grown so wild they swayed like ocean waves. It was riding a pastoral sea. Where would we sail to when you arrived? You would have made a long journey through the forest to this place I created, one you had never seen, the place that would bring you back to me. I threw open the blinds so not to miss the first glimpse of the wildflowers swaying as you strode toward me. The dying can do that, you know. The dying can come to you through long vistas of lost geography. Soon we lay down again on the grass that concealed us in the meadow it had become and we ceased to exist outside ourselves. The dogwood tree opened its creamy cups over our heads as we rolled and giggled and clutched one another, as we sipped from each other’s mouths before you could go away again, before I had to brush the purple and yellow petals from your shirt, pick the rye grass from your sweater and let you go. I never think of the high bright buildings, the blue water outside your hospital window, that room there where I can only go on dreaming. I don’t think of the oxygen tank, the heart monitor, the IV’s vigilant dripping. Although you don’t know the way to my dacha, you’re driving the old truck you used for fishing trips. I’m waiting near the high window that looks out on Whitehorse glacier. I’m waiting and waiting. There was a time I wished I was a salmon for you to desire. And then it happened. You desired me. This was so brief. Like life.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Through the Floor When a mountain rescue veered off script, it became a story of love lost, and found again. Mount Hood was too warm under clear skies before a whipsaw change arrived with us, on President’s Day, 2014. That evening, under the vaulting center tower at Timberline Lodge, we sat at a picture window and watched the blizzard. We had seen snowstorms here in other Februarys, our friends, my husband Bill, and me, though this blizzard was the worst. By Wednesday, though the storm continued, the wind was moderating, and layers of fresh cold snow rested atop an icy substrate. I had stayed in and steeped myself in the spirit of the historic lodge, an annual touchstone for me. But today while Bill and my friends tried to ski the lower forested runs, the only ones operating, I wanted to get outside, too, and stretch my legs on the little snowshoe trail near the lodge. I am just the average walker, older, with aches and pains, and though I knew the weather was far from average, I figured I could always retreat back inside if it was too bad out there. A blind assumption, as I would find. What would soon go wrong, and what would go right, would astonish me equally. My preparations didn’t take long. In our small first floor room, dim from snow that blocked the single window, I stuck toe warmers to my socks, pushed into my little ankle boots, drew my old blue rain parka over a couple of sweaters. The lanyard for my cell phone had been lost; no matter, that’s what pockets are for. I slipped the phone in on the right. Engrossed in his own ski preparations, Bill surprised me by saying, “Take my GPS.” He wasn’t usually overprotective. “Really, honey, I don’t think I’ll need that,” I said. “Take it anyway.” And so I put the bulky thing into my ample left pocket, and squashed my springy gray hair under a brightly patterned knit hat. Ski goggles, a remnant of my old gear—I gave up skiing several years ago—those I parked on my hat. Gloves and snowshoes in hand, I kissed Bill and set off. Outside, I bent to cinch my boots into my scuffed Atlases, and set my goggles carefully over my eyeglasses. I looked at my watch, pulled on my gloves and headed out. It was just after ten o’clock. I’d walked the trail before, so I thought it would seem familiar despite the poor visibility. It loops around
95 a broad rocky knoll. You pass the separate day lodge, named Wy’east for the mountain’s original name, and its parking lot below you on the right, before rounding further eastward into views, on blue sky days, of broad trackless mountain ravines and the White River Canyon wilderness beyond. A nice little trail, built to keep snowshoers away from skiers and keep everyone safe. Not far along I took a shortcut, hoping to get out of the wind, and also to cut off the first part of the trail, where noise and diesel smell infringed as the snowplows worked without cease. I hiked up over the knoll through deepening snow. My steps sinking in, I thought of the young pine marten I’d seen that morning, who had excavated a snow tunnel stopped by the glass of a second story window, the tunnel following the glass for a few feet before doubling back away. She was easy to miss, her tunnel appearing under a heavy carved table further shadowed by a drape of white linen for early early coffee service. Someone spotted her weaselly face and I bent to look. What had this creature thought of her view into the lodge, fireplace alight, humans strolling around? This knoll I was tramping, with a few stunted conifers creating pockets and shafts, would be good hunting territory for pine martens. The sense came to me that I was encroaching, perhaps squashing some unseen byways. A gust buffeted my face. The other side of the knoll would provide no shelter—the wind was easterly. It topped the knoll and met counter-winds that eddied the falling snow. I couldn’t see detail beyond a couple of yards ahead. No one else was about, easy to see why. Only ten minutes into my walk, I decided to turn back. Now the section of the trail I’d disdained would do nicely to get me back to the lodge. A few more steps down the east side of the knoll and I reached the firmer snowpack of the trail. I turned right and lengthened my stride, keeping track of thin reddish trail markers jutting up every so often through the whiteness. I wished they were closer together, but I was pretty sure I could stay on the trail. My thoughts shifted indoors—maybe I’d get out my sketch pad, fix a cup of tea. Then without warning, I felt a funny yielding. Not just different, wrong. My stomach thought faster than my mind, clenching in alarm. A second later, my left foot was standing on . . . nothing. In disbelieving horror I watched the path in front of me come apart—all slow motion and soft sounds, the surface ripping zigzag, inch by inch ahead. Like the very earth opening to swallow me. Further shocked that I could watch this instead of being
96 overtaken by the blind chaos of a tumbling fall, I thought I must be dreaming. But no, my right foot was still on the ripped edge of the trail even as the snow under my left foot slid outward from under me. Like the moment a person with one foot on the dock and the other on the moving boat realizes she can no longer jump to one or the other. My arms flung out, still clutching poles. Helpless to make any other response I sank, all but my right leg, in exquisite slow motion, remaining surreally upright. Rising into my view was the old trail surface, my right foot still attached to it, while below a crevasse-like cleft appeared, all newness creating itself in perfect pace and tandem with my descent. The break in my world mercifully stopped widening, the creaking stilled. The rent I had watched break open in front of me ended in undisturbed snow some eight feet ahead. I saw that the crook of my left arm rested on the left edge of a fissure in counterpoint to my right foot on the right side. What a perch: I was inside the fissure, which was just wider than my shoulders, held by one arm and one foot. The other leg dangled straight down. Chin at the spot where my feet had stood, I marveled at the two scenes layered one atop the other: the featureless dove-gray wind-blur above and the crisp, still clarity of the steep-walled fissure below. Pure, elemental aquamarine glowed from the walls, the blue leaching away where it reached the limits of light, to whiteness, then gray. I registered the privilege of seeing this sight mixed with the adrenalin of high alert. I studied my right snowshoe. Its crampon teeth, right under the ball of my boot, looked barely lodged. Which increased my alarm at having my left leg hanging free. I looked down as best I could. There was no floor under me, only a shaft narrowing more or less regularly from my shoulders down past my dangling left leg. And on down. I wanted to see a bottom, white and firm. Instead, it tapered into blackness—by the rate of narrowing, another four feet lower than my foot. I tried to digest this. Why couldn’t my five and a half foot frame rest in a tame little hole instead of hanging inside this nine foot drop? I was acutely aware of my isolation, no one to call out to. I still had my poles. With my free right arm I placed them together so that they rested across the open jaw of the fissure. This felt like a positive first action, giving me maybe a firmer hold—four more touch points—and increasing my visibility to rescuers. But the snow falling on my goggles told me it wouldn’t be long before whiteness camouflaged me. Even so, surely the fissure itself would
CIRQUE stay visible. I had to think so, if only through a shadow on its edge. Then again maybe not—a gusting snow flurry rushed sideways above my head, reminding me that, socked in as the sky was, defining shadows would be hard to come by. The minutes were too long and too short. I wanted to take a deep breath and break myself out. Jubilant success awaited—I only had to hurl myself left and swim, beating my way out and upwards as the teetering snow gave way. But this was no script I was in control of. A different image leapt to mind, of snowshoes grabbed by heavy snow, knees twisted. Wait, Jean, don’t be rash. You are over sixty with arthritic shoulders and bad discs, not a stuntwoman on a movie set. How much snow was unmoored and hanging? I wished I could see behind me—how far back did the fissure go? Chagrined that my wandering mind hadn’t paid attention to my immediate surroundings before the collapse, I wished mightily for a detailed memory. The only thing I remembered seeing faintly, a few steps back, was a chimney-like structure below on my left. How steep was the slope toward the chimney? Because now I was pretty sure that only the left side had moved—both sides couldn’t have moved. Could they? I needed another toehold. Trying not to otherwise move, I caught my left toe on the stronger right side wall. Sickeningly, in reaction the left side slid further outward under my arm with a whump and I dropped several inches more. I knew it! I knew I couldn’t squeeze down on that left arm. Now only my elbow rested on the fissure edge, the arm jutting upwards as well as to the side, holding my weight in a way not even a healthy shoulder is built for. My right hip threatened to cramp, my hamstrings hurt—I was really doing the splits now and could stretch no more. I wouldn’t be springing into action whatever I might wish to do. I held my body in place and tried to think clearly. I noticed I couldn’t breathe deeply, my abdominals crunching to hold my head and torso up against the backwards pressure of the high caught leg. A mere knee sprain now seemed like a naïve worry. To think of losing my holds and sliding further down into icy darkness was fearsome enough, but with cold terror I knew that a different kind of fall was more likely. When the soft snow under my elbow gave way, my fall would pivot around the foot that was caught high, and I would plunge head down, either into the narrow bottom of the fissure, or churn with the snow slab if it calved off completely. My snowshoes, which couldn’t come off, could only become anchors.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 Now it seemed that a wrong move might be my last. I’d never heard of a snow-buried person being able to tunnel out. I pictured myself suffocating right here 400 yards from the lodge. And while part of me knew that one day I will have to say goodbye to life, viscerally I wasn’t ready to chance dying here, today. I didn’t want the worst to happen to Bill, either, who bought me my first hiking boots and has walked this life with me. Nor to my mother, who climbed this mountain a decade before I was born, and now depends on me. I would call for rescue. A chest flutter subsided. No time to wish my cell phone were around my neck; I had to fish it out from my jacket. My thick glove had to come off my right hand. I reached over to my dangling left hand and used just those fingers to quietly tease off and hold the glove I might still need. Urgency and delicacy fought each other, but at least now I had something to do. I eased the phone Water Spirit out with my free right hand without moving any other part of my body. I pressed the emergency button on the back. I didn’t know what this button was supposed to do. Maybe it was something I should have set up. I opened the clamshell and tried to see the tiny dark keys—the streaked, bulky goggles had to go. I pulled outward against the stretchy band so as to clear my glasses and lodged the goggles atop my hat. Now I could see the keypad, but only for a moment before white flakes found it. I wiped and punched 9-1-1. Nothing. My tense calm disintegrated. A second and third try. Put it up to your ear, Jean! “Clackamas County 9-1-1. Where are you?” I had been down maybe four minutes, in mental overload, and I grabbed at the lifeline of this woman’s voice. My words came fast. “I’m on Mt. Hood snowshoeing, near Timberline Lodge, and the snow has given way and I’ve fallen into a large crack.” “What county are you in?” I blinked. What county? I wasn’t a local. “I don’t know. I’m at Timberline Lodge!” Fairly shouting, sure this would tell her everything. But evidently she didn’t know historic Timberline Lodge, the turn at Government Camp off Oregon Highway
97 26. Or maybe she heard “timber line”—tree line—and not the lodge part. “Well, the mountain is split between two counties and I need to know because they have different sheriff and search and rescue operations. Are you over by Mt. Hood Meadows by any chance?” I boggled. That was miles away, on another road. “No! I’m . . . I’m so close to Timberline Lodge, if you call them they can find me. I’m on their snowshoe trail.” “Is this an avalanche situation?” Her serious tone settled me a bit. “Yes! . . . Sort of.” What did I know? I didn’t want to overstate this. What made me so conscientious even while frightened? But aren’t avalanches those spectacular movies showing tons of cascading snow sending up fluffy plumes while running like a train to the bottom of a long chute? This slab had arrested itself. So far, anyway. It was no movie. I had never been to an avalanche awareness class, figuring a nonJennifer Andrulli adventurer has no need for one. But I’d been schooled in the last few minutes—the movement of a broad, deep, soft slab of snow is unpredictable, dangerous. “I’m below the surface,” I continued. “The crack I’ve fallen into is unstable--it’s already moved a second time. I’m worried it’ll tumble.“ “Hold on, I’ll call them. Stay on the line. Also, do you have any health issues?” I was warming toward her, my safety net, though I wanted her to hurry. “No, just arthritis and I’m in a bad position with one foot way up and one down.” And, “My jacket is blue, and my elbow is still showing.” I was thankful for every pore in its non-stick shell. She hadn’t given her name, or had she? Her inflections sounded like mine, Oregon-bred, perhaps in her thirties with a hint of fatigue—I’d bet she had kids at home. I waited, on hold and holding on, delicately pressing the snow lip—with a slight tug toward me, as though I could keep the slab from slipping away—and just enough downward pressure to hold me up. My gloveless hand got cold, my hip was close to cramping. By the delay, I knew she wasn’t getting through yet.
Automated answering. All those mundane questions and then getting in line for a real person. Finally, good news: “The Timberline ski patrol has been notified. They’ll take their snowmobile to search from above the lodge, and the parking lot crew will come from below, so they’ll find you in the middle.” I liked this plan. We waited, saying little, though I was glad she remained there on the line with me. They’d asked her if I had air. Something about that bothered me. I hoped they understood the rest—that the situation was unstable. I told myself not to worry, to let them do their jobs. But long minutes went by. I was tiring badly. I stared at the snow walls. So clean, devoid of life. The aquamarine color was more on the right. Did that mean ice? I saw no tunnels here, no burrows, no furry-faced pine marten for company. Then she spoke again. Tension had crept into her voice. Maybe she, too, felt suspended, time ticking dangerously. “Stay on the line, I’m calling the sheriff.” My spirits sank again. When she came back on the line, I pleaded that I shouldn’t be hard to locate. I really wasn’t far from the lodge or the day lodge parking lot. We fell silent. Then I told her I had a GPS in a pocket. “Can you get it out?” “I’m using my free hand to hold the cell phone, but . . .” I tucked the phone under my hat as well as I could, and reached across to my left side. But the pocket nylon tangled, sticking to my chilled, damp fingers and wouldn’t let me in. I felt the phone slip. It shot into the narrow blackness as I shouted after it, “My phone! I’ve lost my phone!” Hoping that she would hear and know that it was my phone and not me that had been lost. And that was the end of my 9-1-1 call. I was alone again. Where were my Timberline rescuers? Wouldn’t a team be talking to each other, calling out to me? What
about the loud snowmobile? My thin sore shoulder was weakening. I was stretched to breaking. I’d felt halfway to rescue, now I was near frantic, afraid I couldn’t hold on much longer. Snowflakes stuck to my knit hat, turning it white. I could wipe my glasses, but snow was getting behind the lenses, too. They had to be coming. Surely they understood the urgency. “Help,” I cried. I threw back my head to aim my voice upward and shouted against the sound of the wind, “Help! Help!” And then came the most welcome words in the world. “I’m going to dig you out. Hold on.” The young man’s voice came from the left, down the slope from me. For a moment I couldn’t speak, discovering I’d become dizzy and slow-witted—a bad neck aggravated by the present strain. Then managed a “Hi!” “I saw nothing but white,” he said. “And then I saw a little bit of blue.” He dug without speaking further. I heard his shovel slice and chuck. He is alone. Not part of a welldrilled mountain rescue team, with their patter and protocol. Will he be safe there? He dug without grunting, which suggested he had reasonable footing, to my mind’s relief. The shovel neared my arm. I didn’t want the shoulder to be moved abruptly. I gathered myself again, heard my voice strangely copy the thought as though it hung in front of me like a rapidly fading cue card. “When you free it, could you not let my shoulder move abruptly?” Through the thinning wall of snow he said as if with a smile, “That’ll be me in a few years, the shoulder.” Like old friends talking. I wondered if he’d had a shoulder injury, as I’d had when younger. Perhaps he was one of the avid snowboarders who were drawn to a mountain job whatever the pay. Maybe this quiet man chased thrills on the slopes. I only knew, as by a sixth sense, that he was a kind man. I felt my painful arm release from its labor, my glove still clutched in hand. Blindly, I perceived the snow becoming repacked. My left leg found a floor as he reworked the hanging snow inward under my snowshoe, so gently I realized it only after he had done it. More light came through the snow on my face. The left side of the fissure now had a doorway. Ready to help me out, he hovered, waiting to see what I needed. I pointed to my high foot. “Could you tug it down?” In a blink my foot was back in a blessedly normal position. I could test my weight on it. And now he had my hand. He pulled me out and let go of me. I hardly knew which way was up, and fell back, finding packed snow, an ersatz porch outside my former chamber. He
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 helped me up again, I fell back again. “Maybe if I could see,” I said through my vertigo. He gently pulled off my glasses, an almost tender gesture that acknowledged my helplessness. He took off his glove, wiped the snow from my glasses. Now I got my first look at him, though only part of his pleasant face showed between his warm neck gaiter and his hat. He was in wide snow boots but not snowshoes, yellow jacket, so not ski patrol, at least six feet tall, but not a big man. Young, yet to fill out. In my depleted state I struggled with how to ask for his name, which he hadn’t said, and blurted, “What is your name?” “James,” he answered simply, at complete ease. He regarded me steadily, seeming not to mind my flatvoiced bluntness. “Jean. Thank you, . . . James.” James helped me up again, and this time I stayed upright. Snow still swirled, but the landscape itself had stopped circling. I could smile again. James smiled back. In his eyes I read that I was now capable of walking out. Shovel in hand, he indicated he would lead. So I followed, wavering but on my own, happy for his friendly guidance down the fifty or sixty yards to his waiting vehicle. This one man had put a floor back under me, put my world back together. He turned and helped me down from our path. At the open two-seater vehicle, I stood dumbly comparing the passenger floor well to the size of my snowshoes. I looked at James. He nodded that they should come off and indicated the cargo box on the back. So I bent to loosen the cold stiff fasteners, got free of the snowshoes, which I handed to James, and climbed into the passenger seat. He drove up the slippery road the short distance to the Wy’east day lodge, let me off at a side entrance marked First Aid, and disappeared. My head swimming, I took in the bunkered layout, rough concrete walls. Several narrow beds formed a ward-like row, each with a red-striped grey wool blanket tightly tucked, none in use. The only person was a trim, reserved man in a red jacket with a white cross—ski patrol—who motioned me to one of the beds. I sat down on it. He stayed near the door, doing something I couldn’t see, his head inclined down. No searching look from him, not like James. The next thing I knew, Bill was there. “I’m so glad to see you!” he said, his wind-reddened face wearing a big smile, relief also swelling his chest. I walked into his embrace. How he could be there, I didn’t know, but I was home.
99 He said, “I heard by chance. I was standing at the top of the Pucci lift. Above me some ski patrol guys were talking—something about a woman snowshoer being down. I asked the name of the woman. When they answered, ’Jean’. . .” He exhaled heavily. “Hey, you are covered in snow, Sweets, your hood is full of it.” He cleaned me up, both of us chuckling, giddy. All that remained to do, it seemed, was call the sheriff, debrief to fix the hazard, and celebrate. It wasn’t to be that simple. A quick account spilled out for my audience of two, Bill and the ski patrol medic. He came over to us and I stopped gesticulating to accept the warm cocoa he put into my hand. I thanked him, but I wasn’t in need of warming, or refreshment, or calming. Well, yes, calming, but only after we called off the sheriff and dealt with the danger on the trail. Up through my adrenaline came a recognition that he didn’t share my alarm. The cocoa seemed there to comfort a mountain customer who had merely got herself stuck and disheveled. But I explained that the sheriff might be sending responders after losing phone contact. He nodded slowly, thinking, and then punched the sheriff’s number onto his cordless phone. He looked up and said nothing—another automated phone system. Odd that the first aid station wouldn’t have a back line to the sheriff. James came in, stopping just past the entry as if to avoid dripping meltwater in the warm room. His alert eyes fastened on mine where I sat, or maybe where I stood, because how could I sit quietly? With the eagerness of a first experience he said, “It was a classic avalanche situation. You were walking on an ice wall, and heavy new snow had packed against it. Your one step set it free and in motion.” I beamed my thanks—he knew what I’d been in. I wanted him to take off some gear and talk with us some more. Bill was taking it in. But I wasn’t sure the ski patrol medic heard. Still waiting on the line for a live person, the medic covered the mouthpiece and directed James to go back and look for my phone. What a time for stellar customer service—he must not have understood that the snow had split nine feet down. I protested that it was just a phone, but James saw that the man in charge was looking at him to go. He turned and left, leaving me to regret that I didn’t insist he stay inside where we could talk, where it was safe, and where I could get a better look at him and begin to thank him in front of Bill and the ski patrol. Explain to them what James had done, how it had been for me. Too, I wanted to know what danger
100 remained, what he had seen. That chance was now lost to me as well as my phone, which I didn’t expect could be found. James would no doubt retrace the steps that had proven safe; still, his going back alone seemed a needless risk, and this useless mission, like the pocket tangle that earlier kept the GPS from my hand, now kept us from the full debriefing that had been so close at hand. When the sheriff had gathered my identifying information, he ended the call and I handed the cordless phone back to the medic. “Go and have a hot meal,” the medic dismissed us as though to say if there wasn’t an injury to splint, there was nothing more to do here. He doesn’t understand. Or maybe he is handing me off to someone else to later complete a report. I couldn’t worry about it at this moment, so flooded was I with relief. I gathered up gloves and hat, Bill took my snowshoes and poles, and we made our way through the day lodge, passing a large clock—11:30. Less than an hour and half, but the world was new, changed. We stepped outside and Bill helped me cross the icy road to the main lodge, my snowshoes left behind alongside Bill’s skis. We wanted to bask in our happiness, but we needed to know if the trail had been closed following my rescue, to keep others safe. We stopped at the front desk. Closed? She said something about the trail always being open, but she would ask. Others were listening, and we felt her coolness toward us as though to reassert that her lobby was a mellow place in a resort that was on top of things, leaving us to feel like troublemakers. We went on to the dining room. At the selfserve buffet, I found I couldn’t carry my stoneware plate on my left arm, needing two hands to carry it even from one chafing dish to the next. The left shoulder had done its vital job; now it shut down, leaving that arm almost useless. I didn’t mind; I was safe, even if my mind wouldn’t settle, waiting to bring the incident to a close and help Timberline prevent another. If the ski patrol medic didn’t interview me for a report, then who would it be? After lunch we sought out the lodge manager in her office. I introduced myself and paused expectantly, but she wasn’t looking for me and didn’t know about my accident. I told her about where on the trail I had been, that the nearest landmark looked like a stone tower, chimney-like, below me. What would that have been? That was the water tower, she said. She was nice, and met my eyes with a smile and attention. But as I described that the trail itself had collapsed, leaving me hanging in a fissure of shocking depth, my excitement grew again as I relived my fright. I watched her lean
CIRQUE back away from me. Her reaction seemed sympathetic, but clearly she wasn’t expecting a tale like this from an agitated stranger. We knew Timberline had worked hard to keep up with the storm. This had involved early morning avalanche detail above the ski runs to release snow. But the snow shoe trail by the lodge? Perhaps a hazard there didn’t compute, unlike the out-of-bounds terrain, which everyone understood was dangerous. She seemed uncertain what to say, and didn’t ask questions or make promises to check things out. I was still in a mild state of shock even as the adrenaline was starting to wear off, and the inevitable physical pain was coming on, laced now with a surreal, stinging confusion as my report went nowhere. I would have fled at this point, but I still needed to ask about James. “I want to thank James, who rescued me. I don’t even know his last name, only that he’s on the parking lot crew.” She loosened visibly. “That would be James Myrvold,” she said, and wrote the name down for me. She said she was not surprised to hear my praise, that she liked him a lot, that he had been on the housekeeping staff and was very well thought of. “Three months ago he was promoted to parking lot.” On the job just three months! I felt it would be too much to ask if I might speak with him, knowing that he and the rest of the parking lot crew continued to be beyond busy. But would she help me find out what kinds of things he likes, so I could send my thanks? She said she would be glad to. All our skiers quit early in the afternoon, and one offered me his pain medicine, which I accepted gratefully. Another spoke in awe of such a close brush with death. She could see I had been shaken to my core. In the evening, a dozen of us gathered for cards and cribbage near the mezzanine bar. They buzzed about my harrowing close call. After a while we laughed and joked. But I couldn’t concentrate on cards. My euphoria papered over a whirring in my emotions that I didn’t know how to talk about, even with close friends. They were at a resort, while I was in still in the clutch of a wilderness shock that few seemed to understand. About ten o’clock, Bill asked if I would be able to sleep. He had stayed close by me the whole evening, laughing with me, falling silent if I did, and watching. I never loved him more. We headed downstairs to our room, walking the familiar wood-paneled hall of bunk rooms, once staff quarters and now for budget-minded guests or those like me who prefer the camp-like intimacy
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 of nearby neighbors and friends, the bathrobe-clad trips to the showers. I didn’t yet know that this first night I would jerk from an exhausted drowse again and again in sensations of falling, blackness rushing at my face. Shocked afresh at how nature could so suddenly cast aside my footing, that collapse could be so deep, and that I couldn’t know how much snow was in play or what to do. Then I would remind myself I was safe. Then sink again, this time lacking a floor under me in the official reality— there had been no incident, or at least, notes weren’t shared with the person it had happened to. She is safe, it’s over. Not to me. My report of a hazard was left hanging. Most of all, how could the ski patrol not show up, and not say anything? Yet there was James, who Winter Blooms pulled me back through the broken floor and mended it for our steps out. I could only try to assure myself that trail grooming machinery and any guidance from James would suffice to keep others safe. The next day the manager told me James hadn’t found my cell phone. Buried just too deep. She paused, thinking about that, then said no more about it. She brightened. “James was pleased to be asked what he likes. But he said that really, if you want to, just a candy bar would be nice.” She smiled at this modesty, this youthful simplicity. I smiled as well, but I was matching this answer to my impression of James. No, he wouldn’t want to ask for anything, but he wouldn’t refuse, altogether, something that came from another’s heart. Yes, that’s James. I only said, “Oh, I can do better than a candy bar.” Back at home, I prepared and sent a box of goodies in gratitude to James, wishing I could do more—I wanted to adopt him. In the next months, physical therapy went well, and as my mental trauma subsided, I was feeling I’d keep my snowshoes, even as I vowed never to go alone again. But thoughts of Timberline came tinged with a kind of lonesomeness, a feeling of loss, like a love affair of twenty years had derailed. Then at tea one day, I leafed through an Audubon magazine I hadn’t seen before, and a photograph jumped out, a gorgeous white weasel, head and shoulders above the snow, looking straight at the camera, promising answers to the mystery that was so far from my city understanding: how my friend the
101 pine marten survived. Wilderness snow teems with life down to microbe size, newer research shows. Different things going on in different strata. Mice and voles, the prey of pine martens, can thrive in winter, even breeding below the snow blanket, warm enough at ground level, with grasses and insects to eat. Still, I pondered, what magic keeps wild creatures safe in the kind of melting, refreezing, sliding snow that had brought me in seconds to utter helplessness? They no doubt read signs that I couldn’t see, and avoid some trouble. But there is no magic—their lives are indeed precarious, and not just for an hour. The writer’s conclusion was poignant: just as we discover this hidden and intricately inter-dependent world in wilderness snow, a warming earth may destroy its delicate seasonal timing. Kim Davis I set down the magazine, my respect for hardier-than-me pine martens mingling with sadness for their plight. Yet, strangely, I was less lonesome about Timberline, feeling I had something in common with these wilderness residents. Now I needed to go back, and try to find James again. The sight that greeted Bill and me at Timberline on President’s Day, 2015, was starkly changed, the thin snowpack looking like June. On Tuesday, I sent a message for James to the parking lot mail stop, then walked the snowshoe trail with another lodge guest. On the backside of the knoll the water tower loomed up. This was what the lodge manager thought was the chimney I’d seen. But it was too big, and topped by a wooden roof, not the structure I’d passed in the snowstorm before the collapse. Later, I walked the now bare, dry road down to the end of the rock knoll, and turned east, surprised to find, so far back from the road, an overflow parking lot. Unneeded in winter and unplowed last year, it had lain disguised under several feet of snow. Partway along the edge of the lot, a low blocky structure looked built into the tapering knoll, banked with snow, and topped by . . . a stone chimney. I walked on to the east end of the pavement and stood for a time looking down at a precipitous ravine. Then I walked back to the chimney. I thought of the dim apparition I’d seen last year, puzzling whether I could have seen this from the trail. On Thursday, the last day of our trip, James called. He’d been away for several days and had just
102 picked up my message. He’d be glad to meet us after his work shift. I was excited the rest of the day—I would get to talk with James after all. Late that afternoon, down at Government Camp we took a table at Mt. Hood Brew Pub and ordered food and beer. As we got better acquainted and I learned particulars about him, I was not surprised to find I already knew him in the essentials. He was the same kind, smart, patient man I’d previously sensed when snow and fright covered my eyes. And still so young, now just twenty-four. After enjoyably spending time this way, I turned to what I still needed to know about my accident. “James, I saw a stone chimney thing by the far parking lot,” I said, gesturing eastward. “Do you know what that is?” “Yes, it used to be a workshop for the parking lot crew.” “Where you found me . . . I . . . I wasn’t on the trail, was I?” His face showed a dawning realization that I hadn’t known, or ever been told, where I was when the snow gave way. “No,” James said. I must have missed a tight curve westward, where the markers were too far apart for the visibility, and I’d walked west in a wider curve, on a surface packed just like the trail, above the out-of-the way parking lot. I’d come nearer the ravine than I wanted to think about. “Then, the ski patrol . . . ?” “The ski patrol looked for you,” James said. “Then they called us.” Oh. The news washed through me. This would explain the lack of a safety alarm about the trail surface— the ski patrol had gone over it. They may have come within fifty yards of me even as I clung on the phone to the woman operator. How had I not heard them? James had, indeed, needed visuals to find me. Remembering that day, he said, “I saw snow above me that didn’t look right, and something like a ski pole sticking up. I didn’t hear you until I’d spotted your jacket.” Nobody had the whole picture that blinding day, and sounds were lost in the wind or the insulation of snow. But, thank God, in his search my untrained rescuer hadn’t hewed to the trail. Underpinnings and their limitations. Safety nets with chinks in them. Support and rescue that can come from an unexpected direction. I think about these layers now—the layer I have been used to skating upon, the lower layers that underlie our world, and have their own life, and their own solidity, or softness, changeable, no promises. Belonging to all of this, I will walk more carefully.
The Baptism of Christ by St. John
You Are No Paul If you feel you are ripe for a Come to Damascus Moment that’s fine: announce yourself with all the fanfare a convert deserves. But you are no Paul switching to a liberal progressive art-based humanitarian lifestyle. You’d likely be hung from a tree in your town if you so much as changed a step. My dad has always been a convert for the many religions he has converted to: and a convert, unlike someone born into a faith, knows the faith by its tenets. He, my dad, hopes he has walked some eschatological set of ascending steps toward an ultimate revelation however what he really taught me as his oldest boy the one who has seen the most is to never be afraid to change your mind and stand up for what you believe to be the right path. That is a fairly rare lesson. And combined with my first years of liberal education at the hands of
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 my father, I have taken it and been able to be something generations of families hope for in a single child. A man of substance who actually does something with his talents and potential. My buddy Rock on the other hand is hoping to create what has already been created in me. I cannot engage in the mindless flooding of the planet with unnecessary offspring as my sole purpose in life. You’d be surprised how many people’s lives sum up to that: I live for my kid to have a chance. To have a kid. To have a kid. To have a kid. You get the picture. These people are no different than ants. I don’t live my life for that goal. I don’t live my life to worship a creator. I live my life to produce content. This content can serve as a mirror for society to look back at itself and see some little bit more than it could before my effort. That is what the thousand generations before me worked for: a kid who can get the job done. So now you know Aaron Kruger. Foxtail Barnwood My son Luke Asher McLaughlin having been co-opted into an Irish Clan is stuck trying to build an Apex. He has denied his position in the Zorea Hierarchy and stands in the “McLaughlin” pyramid for his own purposes. Undoubtedly he is fit for the task.
And my dad’s “new” kids are set trying to realize His Goals for them. They had none of the changes and flux that folded the metal of my spirit over and over into a different kind of steel. They were born into a kind of sameness and dependability that was not part of my parents’ early lives as peripatetic students. They are different people than the ones who patented me. You couldn’t imagine Gabriel Nicodemus Zorea writing One Dog Died, a novel about a family living on a farm that moves to Israel to become Hasidic Jews and there deals with the consequences of their father shaving his beard in the small village. and announcing to his rabbi that he is a Christian. Gabriel Nicodemus Zorea’s small head would
103 explode as he has lived in the same house and same room his entire life with my parents while I lived in 26 different houses before I was 16 yoa. My father was a liberal reformed Jew, then a Hasidic Jew, then a Baptist, then a Salvationist in the Salvation Army, then a Catholic, then a Russian Orthodox Catholic, and now he is back to Rome as a Catholic. He was born Barton Taylor Wilson Jr. And he named me Barton Taylor Wilson III. At 15 years of age when I was Sgt. at Arms and Star Greenhand in Future Farmers of America and husbanded a prize collection of breeding hogs on a ten acre farm and helped care for the 90 animals we had, I was told one August day that we were selling the animals and I was going to live in Israel as an Orthodox Jew. Needless to say I was not happy about this change and losing my long worked for status in FFA and the quality of my beloved hogs. But I joined the program and moved to Seattle and studied Hasidism there off the UW campus living in a Chabad House. We were reviewed by the Bet Din in Berkeley, CA and then ritually Robert Bharda circumcised in order to become Baal Teshuvas or newly minted Jewish souls. We moved to K’far Chabad and myself, my brother Isaac, and my father studied in the rabbinical academy there called a Yeshiva Gedola. We stood on the side of the road in downtown Tel-Aviv and wrapped tefillin around the arms of soldiers in the IDF to allow them to say their daily prayers and the amida. We cheered grooms and traveled the whole country to act as joyous participants to Hasidic weddings and Sheva Bruckas. We prayed at the Wailing Wall and sat for shabbas meals with ancient tzaddiks in Mea’sherim in Jerusalem. And then one day my father told me that he didn’t believe that any longer and he was now a Christian. We starved some, and couldn’t buy food in the local village and reached out to the Christian Community in Jerusalem to survive. My dad bought all of the translations of the Bible then available with any money he did get. I read the New Testament in four different translations and much against my will became a Christian too and left behind all my friends and my entire life as a yeshiva student to follow my father and keep the family together.
CIRQUE at Red Robin as a server and lived with the crazy woman on E. 42nd Street. One day my father walked into our apartment unannounced while we were sleeping: when I raised up my head and saw his legs in the room I heard him say, “You should join the Marines.” I picked up the phone and called the recruiter. I was gone a month later. I was 23.
Then I lived in the U.S. as a Christian for many years. Sadly I was going to go to Alaska at 18 and a girl I had on an impulse asked to marry me six months earlier and forgotten about wanted to come with me. She was a Catholic man’s daughter. From a large Catholic family in Chico, CA. He took her and me and drove to Reno, NV. There my father applied to be a magistrate and on the street corner, in a rush, while my son’s future mother suffered from strep throat married us. We left to Alaska. After having to perform also the divorce for that illconceived venture, my father also officiated my second wedding in Anchorage to a mentally ill woman. After our horrible honeymoon in Europe for 5 weeks we came back and I missed Spring Semester at UAA. I worked
It was in Camp Lejeune as a Marine that I began to understand some of what had happened in my life. I hand wrote on seven legal pads in fountain pen ink the story of our family moving to Israel becoming Christians and moving back. I began writing it 6 months into my 12-month Russian Language Training School at Monterey, CA and finished it in Lejeune. I then wrote two more novels during the two years I was in Lejeune. At this time I was twice divorced, a Marine, and I had a boy being raised in Chico, CA by my first wife who had divorced me to not live in AK. This is the framework from which I began to define my character and possibilities. From here I learned sadly that my father did not have all the answers to any question in the world, a fact I had never before doubted. I was raised you see listening to all of my father’s undergrad and law classes being lectured back to me and my brothers while we drove in cars every single weekend of my youth until the farm put a stop to that practice. I was the oldest Robert Bharda boy and listened to everything my father said and taught as he taught back to ensure that he knew what he was studying. I watched my father and mother both graduate and walk for their undergrad degrees, and I watched my dad graduate from law school and worked in his office downtown from 12 years old. So now you see what I inherited. What I claim as my past and what I claim as my right. You see I have given my father his place and more and more than that gone on to live from the examples he has taught me though he may not understand his true legacy. I am the apex child and content provider for my generation in my small way according to my small gifts. And that is your answer Aaron Kruger.
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FLASH FICTION WINNER Portland State University’s Ooligan Press partnered with Cirque to create a writing contest in support of the Portland-based annual writing and publishing conference, Write to Publish. Submissions came from all over the Pacific Northwest, and Judith’s “Housecleaning” was chosen as the winner. In addition to being published in Cirque, Judith won $100 cash prize and the opportunity to read at Write to Publish 2016! Ooligan Press is the student-run publishing house attached to the graduate program at PSU.
Housecleaning Today I mailed my mother. She deserved it but I had hesitated to take the final step out of some remnant of family loyalty. Every time I opened the closet door there she was on a shelf wedged between the spare vacuum cleaner bags and the bottle of easy-care floor cleaner. She would have liked the location had she been sentient because housework was her profession and she was a pro. Never a speck of dust on the furniture, never a dirty window. Never an unmade bed or waxy-yellow buildup on the kitchen floor.
she will be able to take a few moments from dusting her immaculate house so she can contemplate the remains and her relationship with our mother any time she wants. My sister is a good housekeeper.
And of course that was the problem. I always felt her specter looking over my shoulder, pointing out my housekeeping shortcomings like she did whenever she came to visit, which was too often. “Look at this! The dust must be an inch thick. You could write your name in it.” “The bathtub has a ring just like your husband’s shirt collars. Poor man!” On and on. It was no wonder he left home. I hope my next one doesn’t have a mother. It’s a great relief I don’t have one any longer, at least one like her. No one but me and the cat who deposits fur balls on the bedspread and sheds rolls of fluff on the back of the sofa where she watches out the window for birds. We’re a team. I know my goody two-shoes sister was desperately sad not to have been around for the services and will shed tears of happiness when she receives the package. She’ll put the urn on the mantel above the hearth in her gracious living room, the place of honor between her wedding photo and the one of all the kids on their summer vacation at the lake last year. Her house has a gas-burning fireplace so there are no ashes to clean out. Soon, Denali Park Sunset
F E AT U R E S Remembering Lowell’s Lines on a Winter Morning Opening the door before dawn to deep snow that began overnight, the first true snow of winter, I’m a child again, unschooled in grief or loss, innocent of letters carved in cold stone, a boy trying to memorize one stanza of a poem. The snow had begun in the gloaming and busily all the night, lines I would stutter then forget when my time came to recite in class. Had been heaping field and highway. I can see headlights moving on the road. When the kettle comes to a boil it’s time to have my breakfast. Beyond the window where clouds have begun to thin, blur of stars and then the moon. With a silence deep and white. (from Bridge Street at Dusk, Loom Press, 2012.)
The Man from Here Pale green leaves were opening on the trees when I saw him climbing the bank from a beach that appears when Cook Inlet’s tide is slack. Smoke rose from the embers of his driftwood fire. Reaching the trail, he began to walk toward me as an ancestor of his must have walked toward Captain Cook’s crew sent out to see if this inlet was their goal: the fabled Northwest Passage. A street person and he’s after change, I thought, but all he wanted was to know where I was from. “Massachusetts,” I said, “I’ve been here over fifty years.” He swept his arm in an arc from Point Possession named by Cook to the mountains in every direction before he smiled at me and said, “ I’m from here.” (From A Ladder of Cranes, University of Alaska Press, 2015)
Always a Laureate Tom Sexton
The Writing Life Years ago when John Haines called to tell me I was going to be Alaska’s next poet laureate and that he had been my primary advocate on the selection committee even though he had been asked to become laureate again, I thought how improbable that call was given that I came to poetry rather late and through the side door. I began reading and writing poetry in my mid-twenties. My parents were not well educated and were not readers. They were children of the Great Depression living in a city, Lowell, Massachusetts, that had seen its mills begin to move south in the 1920’s and earlier. For most working class people in Lowell, times were always tough. For most males, high school led to the military as it did for me. In high school my English teacher for three years was an assistant football coach with a German accent who let us do what we wanted to do while he read the newspaper or watched the clock. We never read a poem. I do remember memorizing a stanza of James Russell Lowell’s The First Snowfall for Sister Raymond in the 5th grade at the Immaculate Conception, a parochial school run by the Gray Nuns of the Sacred Heart. I also remember being tongue-tied when it was my time to recite. If you see me at a reading today, I’m the one pacing back and forth, contemplating flight even though I enjoy reading. So how did I become a poet never mind a poet laureate with a fair number of books under my belt? After high school, I joined the army and was sent to Alaska. That was in April of 1959. When I was discharged in May of 1962, I returned to Lowell and had a series of dead-end jobs that made me realize that I had to do something else with my life. Fortunately for me, the passage of the Vietnam Veterans Bill allowed me to attend Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts. I met a wonderful teacher, Marlene Molinoff, there who encouraged me to write poetry. I looked her up for this essay and discovered that she is a published writer, mostly fiction. She is also one year younger than I am. Before long, I was founding editor of
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Looking at the Ferry Museum’s Salish Baskets
In Memory of Jim Petit
And suddenly I’m thinking of that cone of light that Saa Maa, your Master, helped you shape. Did you ascend without as much as a sigh or longing to be here for another day? I prayed that you’d find a marrow donor. “We have eight bodies and only one is flesh,” you said, “feel no sadness when I’m gone.” “I’ll soon be a Master, this tired body at rest.” You were always amused by my skepticism of your quest. Like your grandmother who twined your Salish basket, nature is my prism: alpenglow, bear grass, cedar, spawning tides. Last night’s frost that layered the grass like pollen glistened at dawn as if the stars had fallen.
Parnassus, the school’s literary magazine that still exists fifty years later. After Northern Essex, I attended Salem State College where I began the Penny Sheet, a mimeographed collection of student poetry that was sold in the cafeteria every Friday. That is how I met my wife, Sharyn, who was an associate editor. It’s also where I began wearing a tweed jacket and a long scarf and walking around carrying a book of Robert Lowell’s poems. I must have felt that looking like a poet might lead to becoming a poet. In my other life, I was the janitor who cleaned the administration building at night. I felt a connection to the poet Robert Lowell because his father spent his afternoons in the Maritime Museum at Salem when he was dying. It was a place where I spent many an afternoon looking at their collections that were brought back to Salem from the Far East during the 19th century. It is ironic that the ancient Chinese poets would become so important to me because at that time Hawthorne, Emerson and Thoreau were my guides. I
(From A Ladder of Cranes, University of Alaska Press, 2015)
To Wang Wei After Reading a New Translation of His Poems How bright the world an hour before dawn. Yesterday’s bare ground is covered with snow that fell while I slept and is falling still. Pearl-white clouds glow from deep within. They fill the room with their luminous light. I put the kettle on and sit by the window. I’m a glow worm who from time to time thought he was the moon until I read your poems. (From I Think of Those Ancient Chinese Poets, University of Alaska Press, 2011)
Our Hand-carved Ornament of a Great Blue Heron I watch you lift it from our tree, still redolent when touched, to put it away for another year: our great blue heron, my favorite ornament. Another shot of Newfoundland rum is near my chair, a nip for my heart. I’m feeling old; but, when your hands cradle it like a nest, our first heron rises from its marsh. I hold my breath. Newly married we’re driving north, for the first time again. The aim of all art, I pontificate, is to lead us toward the light even when the artist’s eye is cold or dark like the bitter taste of rum however slight. You tell me I’m more than tipsy and wonder if it thinks the stars are herons in flight. (From A Ladder of Cranes, University of Alaska Press, 2015)
was more interested in the opium pipes sitting in their mahogany case than I was in the ancient Chinese poets. In fact, it was my love of history that drew me to the museum. I wanted to be an historian at the time. I have never been one to make plans for the future, but I probably would have returned to Lowell, the place James McNeil Whistler refused to be born even though he was, the place Ann Sexton refused to return to when Rogers Hall, the exclusive private girls’ school she attended, invited her to speak at their graduation. Lowell is still close to my heart. On the other hand, I might have stayed in Salem. I had been offered a full- time job as a janitor. I can still run a buffer with one finger. Before I could make a decision, my life took a fortunate turn due mostly to my work on Parnassus and the Penny Sheet. Someone must have mentioned writing programs to me, and I applied to a few. In the 1960’s MFA programs were still few and far between. Soon I was headed to Fairbanks and the University of Alaska where I earned an MFA thanks to a Teaching Fellowship and the remainder of my G.I. bill which covered the rent for our small cabin. In 1970 I began the University of Alaska’s creative writing program in Anchorage. I was one of two English professors at what was then called the South Central Regional Center and in time would become the University of Alaska, Anchorage. For a decade, I was the only professor who taught creative writing. In the early 70’s, I began Raven Magazine which published mostly Alaskan writers. When my co-editor, Adelaide Blomfield, left Alaska, Raven ceased to publish. She was that important to its success. I stepped down from directing the creative writing program in the mid 80’s and retired in 1994. I live on a small pension that is enough for two people and provides me with time to write. Time is more important to me than money. Most of my published poems have been written since I retired twenty years ago. I had the privilege of teaching many fine writers at UAA including Mike Burwell the founder of Cirque.
What advice do I have for aspiring poets? Find a poet or poets whose work you return to again and again. Study them. Imitate them if you must until you find your own voice and style. I discovered the Chinese poets through Kenneth Rexroth’s translations. They taught me how to
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 write clearly and without too much ornament after Yeats had taught me the opposite. Elizabeth Bishop taught me how to be confessional without going to confession. Focus on your poetry and not on becoming known as a poet. Imagine an ideal reader and write for him or her. I always joke that a creative writing conference is where a few hundred writers come together to complain how lonely the writing life is. There are probably more poets than plumbers today. This is a good development because it means poetry is more democratic, if not better. Large gatherings have always made me anxious so I avoid them. The first few times I gave a public reading I almost passed out. I still get nervous before I read. I am very fortunate that the University of Alaska has published three of my books given that I maintain a rather low profile. I have another manuscript in the works. I consider solitude a blessing, something I need in order to write. A reviewer for the New York Times called me a hermit. I take that as a compliment. My ideal image of the writing life has always been of a solitary figure sitting at a desk trying to write something that people will want to read in two hundred years, then sending it out and watching the mailbox for a response. Now I check my email. My approach to the writing life may not be for you if your aim is to be popular, but it has its satisfactions. The sense of elation I feel when I have written something that I know cannot be improved is one of them. This usually occurs after many revisions. From time to time, a poem writes itself. In time you will know when you are in a zone just like a well-trained athlete knows, but it takes constant practice. If on the other hand, your view of the writing life is to be an active member of a writing community and you need the input of other writers to stimulate your creativity, then seek them out. It would be foolish to do otherwise. This is the path most writers choose. There must be hundreds of conferences, workshops and retreats every year where you can meet and talk with other writers and literary agents and those who make things happen. Editors usually publish writers they know or know of. For better or worse, I have chosen a more solitary path. The path you take should be the one that suits your temperament. I still have my tweed jacket.
48 Oak Street: A Memoir A voice on the radio is saying that if you imagine you had a happy childhood you will have had one. Tempting, but I believe it’s best to remember the happiness in the childhood you had, however fleeting it might have been. For that reason, I return to my hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts, whenever I can to walk the streets I walked as a boy. Someday I hope to understand why, like dislodged pebbles rolling downhill, we were always on the move until my mother’s unfortunate death. I thought everyone moved once a year and left the furniture behind for those who were moving in. Was there a particular incident that I’ve forgotten that began our descent? Was it somehow my fault? Hoping to find answers to those questions is why in November of last year I was standing once again across the street from 48 Oak Street in the Belvedere section of the city where I remember being as happy as a child could possibly be. A man walking toward the house from the truck he had just parked noticed me and came over to ask me what I wanted. He was friendly but cautious. Most of the old single family homes have been cut up into small apartments so there are always strangers in the neighborhood and not a little crime. I told him that I lived in the house when I was a boy and named a few neighbors he might have known. He recognized one of the names and decided it was safe to invite me inside to look around. He told me the house was built in 1730 and was probably the oldest house in Lowell, but he had to just about rebuild it when he bought it because in the distant past there had been at least three fires. “It was a shingled farmhouse once,” he said. I remembered that my father had to stoop to get through the front door. My mother was less than five feet tall. I asked him about the brick beehive oven my father found behind a wall with reluctance because I was afraid I might have invented that magical snowy Saturday not long after we moved in when we found the oven. He smiled and said, “It’s next door. The house has three units now.” In fact, it sort of looks like an Italian villa from the outside. His name is Tony.
On that long ago morning after breakfast, my father began tapping on the wall in back of the kitchen. Before long, he had found a hollow spot. I was convinced there was a pirate’s treasure hidden there. He just smiled. His tools were in the car, and the car was at the garage being fixed. It spent most of its time being fixed, so we would have to walk to the hardware store to get what he needed to open the wall. It had snowed all night and it was still snowing when we left the house. I remember trying to walk in his footsteps, but my legs were too short. The only person we saw was Mr. Danas shoveling the snow in front of his grocery store. He was wearing the straw hat he always wore. People said he never took it off. He was a Greek but he was also a Catholic, so he was one of us. The store was closed, but he invited us to come inside to warm up a bit even though we had only come two blocks from home. It seemed longer than that because I was looking for Indians my friends claimed still lived in caves on Fort Hill where Professor Burt was always finding arrowheads. Fort Hill was just up the street. They came into town looking for children who would never be seen again. Not even their bones were ever found. I loved it inside Mr. Danas’ store. Half the floor was covered with wet sawdust and there was a large bloody saw by the butcher’s block behind the case where he kept exotic things like liver. He talked to my father about something, probably about our bill, and then he gave me a piece of penny candy before we left. We had to cross the Concord River before we got to the hardware store; and, since I’ve
had acrophobia as long as I can remember, I shut my eyes and held my father’s hand while we crossed so I couldn’t see the rushing water through the metal grates. Every few steps he told me how close we were to the other side. The Indians never crossed the river.
That morning on the way home, we didn’t pop into Duggan’s bar while my father had a quick beer or two with the men who seemed to be glued to their stools. We had a wall to open. On one Saturday visit my father pointed out a man sitting by the back door with a cap pulled low so no one could see his eyes. He was the parish whiskey priest who would be reported to the rectory by his mother if he didn’t show up in her kitchen for supper at five as he always did, a mother who was worried about her place in heaven and if not in heaven, in the parish. His binges were brief. My father looked at him with what seemed to me to be a mixture of envy and pity. Years later another priest would be our landlord. We passed by Duggan’s bar without looking in and headed straight up Oak Street hill like mountain climbers approaching a summit in a white out, a summit no one had ever reached before. We could have been Bigfoot and his son when we reached our door. I think that day is the reason I always go for a walk when it snows no matter where I happen to be. It was late afternoon when my father, covered with plaster dust so that he looked like a ghost, removed the last of the wall and, instead of the treasure I had hoped for, found a beehive oven holding a small bean pot with a coin inside, a coin that proved to be from colonial times. I was disappointed, but I had seldom seen him so happy. He thought there was something behind that wall and there was. How many others had lived in the house without realizing there was something behind the wall, and the oven’s chimney was working. It was an omen that we would be in that house for a very long time. It was home, and I had my own small bedroom on the second floor. Even my mother seemed pleased and baked Spam covered with mustard and brown sugar for supper in our new oven. We ate together by the kitchen window where we could see the snow that was still falling, and above the snow I knew there were stars and above the stars, the angels. On Christmas Eve of our first winter on Oak Street while I was waiting for Santa Claus to land on the roof, I saw a neighbor, Mr. Nason, who had just come home from
Face in the Window
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands where he had spent World War II. He was my friend Deirdre’s father. He was a serious man who had little time for children, but that night he was wearing a Boston & Maine conductor’s cap and sitting at the controls of the train set he had set up on their second floor by a tall window. I could see the train when it climbed a hill. It was just the two of us for hours. I forgot about Santa Claus. Everyone else must have gone to bed. It was the first time I understood what it means to be alone. Loneliness is a second skin that compresses the heart. I seldom saw Mr. Nason after that, but whenever he did something the neighbors thought was odd my parents would say giving each other a knowing look, “He was in the Aleutians.” Never would I have imagined I would spend my adult life in Alaska and visit the Aleutians where I saw the remains of rusting army Quonset huts that made me think of Mr. Nason.
We had lived in five or six houses before Oak Street. We lived over a former barber shop for a while. People would knock on our door to ask when the shop was going to reopen. The barber’s pole was still outside. It was there I dropped my sister’s kitten off the porch to see if it had nine lives. It didn’t. Oak Street would be our last stop I convinced myself. Who wouldn’t want to live on a street lined with massive trees forever? I imagined jumping into piles of leaves in the fall. Things were looking up. It was 1945. My mother’s brother Leo was also back from the war even if Tosi my other uncle had been killed fighting the Germans in Italy. My Uncle Leo was my mother’s favorite. He was a boxer who had fought in tournaments when he was in the Army. He was as tough as nails and my mother loved it when he came to visit. I was about to enter the first grade at the Immaculate Conception School when we moved to Oak Street. I had hidden under the porch of our previous house on Sycamore Street when I was supposed to go to kindergarten at the public school up the street. It took a week before anyone realized I wasn’t going to school. I would appear when I saw my sister walking home. My career as a scholar was over before it began. It was decided that I should wait a year to begin school. The nuns would know what to do with me. The family who owned the Oak Street house in the 1820’s must have heard rumors of the men from Boston who were buying land in what was then East Chelmsford so
111 they could establish a new town, a town whose mills would be powered by water drawn from the Merrimack River which dropped thirty-two feet below the great falls, falls where Indians once fished for salmon and shad. It would be named after Francis Cabot Lowell, a Boston Brahmin. As every New England schoolboy knows, or once knew: Boston is where the Lowells talk only to the Cabots and the Cabots talk only to God. In the beginning Lowell was a utopia, the polar opposite of England’s “dark satanic mills.” It’s where the American Industrial Revolution began. The mill workers, young women and girls, were drawn from the Yankee countryside, some from as far away as Canada. The wages were low, but work on the farm paid nothing. They lived in company dormitories and walked as one to the mills at dawn and returned as one at dusk. One of their dormitories still stands. They produced their own literary magazine and at least one rather famous poet, Lucy Larcom, whose poems are still in print; however, if they stayed for more than three or four years, a fine oily dust began to fill their lungs, and the sound of the looms never left their ears. But before their planned utopia could become a reality, the investors needed a canal system to bring the water to the mills which were to be built below the high falls and rapids. There was an existing hand-dug canal built by Irish laborers in the 1790’s so cargo could move around the falls. That canal powered the first mills. In 1822, Kirk Boott, one of the investors was chosen to lay out the town and build the mills. He met with Hugh Cumminsky, an Irishman from County Tyrone, and hired him to bring a crew of laborers from Boston to dig the needed canals. The Irish were expected to leave after the canals were finished. They never did. They lived in Paddy Camps at the edge of the town they helped build. I imagine they were proud of what they had accomplished and wanted to show the canals and mills to their sons and grandsons. They soon developed a fierce sense of place. Lowell was their home, and they had a church, St. Patrick’s, to prove it. Even today, it is impossible to visit Lowell’s downtown without crossing one of their canals. My father was born two blocks from the great falls, and my mother was born down the Merrimack below the smaller Hunt’s falls where one of her brothers drowned. One of Cumminsky’s men was a Quinn, my mother’s maiden name. Our house on Oak Street was not far from where my
112 mother was raised along with five brothers and sisters by their older sister, Irene, when their parents died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Oak Street seemed to be a good place for us to be. Her other sisters had managed to move to the suburbs where successful people wanted to live. My cousins who went to a private school called my sister Raggedy Ann behind her back. We were welcome to visit but not invited, but Aunt Irene’s small bungalow across from the river was a short taxi ride away or a long walk depending on how much was in my mother’s purse. I watched the meter all the way while fingering a penny in my pocket in case she didn’t have enough for a tip. My father worked thirty miles away so he needed the old car to get there and back, and my mother didn’t know how to drive. I don’t remember any of the women in the neighborhood driving. The walk was difficult for her when her rheumatoid arthritis was acting up. When it was, she limped both ways on a swollen leg, and she was still a young woman. We must have been quite the sight: A small woman with dark auburn hair holding the hand of my sister who was tall and very blond while I, my hair almost as black as my father’s, trailed a few steps behind pretending I had a limp just like my mother. When I was a little older, we took the bus ten miles to New Hampshire a few times so my mother could get gold injections from a chiropractor. They were still banned in Massachusetts. Witches had a better reputation. Sadly, nothing seemed to work. I realize now that she lived the rest of her short life with pain. Was this the source of her unhappiness? Oak Street was also within walking distance of the Immaculate Conception School and church, our church. In the 1940’s and 50’s, the church still stood at the center of Catholic life. A priest could put in a good word for a job or not. “Were you an altar boy or not?” I was not. The nuns taught us how to study and how to act in a world where everyone was not Irish or Catholic. Looking back, I believe we were more tribal than religious. My father belonged to the Order of Ancient of Hibernians, a fraternal order formed in the 1830’s to protect Irish miners in Pennsylvania. When he married my mother, he moved across town away from his family and friends, away from his parish. Mr. O’Leary who lived down the hill was born in Ireland and was known to cry, “An Gorta Mor” over and over in a mournful voice as he made his way home from Duggan’s after a few drinks too many. Along with my best friend, Joey Duffy, I would weave down the alley behind his
CIRQUE house swigging from a bottle of Pepsi and keening, “We Gotta More.” He would swear in Irish and chase us if he caught us mocking him. It was years later that I learned that “An Gorta Mor” means the Great Famine, the Irish Holocaust. At school one day, someone decided to write God Bless England on the blackboard because Sister Rose, the oldest nun at the Immaculate Conception, would run crying from the room if someone did. This came from an older boy who had seen her run from the room when he was in her class. All that was needed was a distraction. I was chosen to ask her for help solving an arithmetic problem while someone else would approach the board. I can still hear her cry when she turned around, and I still feel a deep seated guilt. About twenty years ago when a strange longing first drew me back to Lowell after years without visiting, I was walking past the new building that had replaced the old brick school that I attended. I stopped and crossed the street for no apparent reason. Several hours went by before I realized I had crossed because we never walked past the Protestant church on the opposite corner. The nuns made sure of that even if we had to cross the busy intersection three times to get to our church. I will never forget the rainy day when I made my First Communion. When it was assumed that I had reached the age of reason, which according to the Catholic Church takes place when you’re six or seven, it was time for me to make my First Communion. That was a leap of faith on the Church’s part. I was still struggling with the mystery of tying my shoes when I was six. Before I could make my First Communion, I had to make my first confession. Since I seldom said a word in class unless called upon even if I needed to go to the bathroom, I wanted my classmates to watch me as I walked from the confessional to kneel with my head down at the altar rail. The longer you knelt at the rail, the more serious your sins. Saying three Hail Marys and one Our Father just wouldn’t do, but what did I have to confess? I consulted all the “Shall Nots” I could think of and came up empty until I remembered the day Mr. Danas told me to take a piece of candy from the case while he was getting something for my mother. I took two by mistake, but I didn’t put one back; in fact, I ate both of them before I got out the door, so I was a thief and a glutton worthy of
Vo l . 7 N o . 1
being force-fed rats, toads, and snakes in Hell for all eternity. Everyone in the church would be impressed. When the confessional’s slat shot back, my heart stopped. I mumbled my confession. I knew I’d be kneeling at the marble altar rail until the end of time, but the priest didn’t see it that way at all. I said my three Hail Marys as slowly as I could then I rose from my knees with my heart scrubbed clean and left the church as anonymous as I had entered which is probably what I wanted all along. I couldn’t sleep the night before my First Communion. What if the host fell out of my mouth or stuck to my tongue. I knew that happened from time to time. To avoid that disaster, I had practiced with my A Lonely Afternoon, Veronica’s Café, Kenai Joe Kashi friend Joey. For the host, we used Necco Wafers and for the altar rail we used a slab have been three hours later when a neighbor saw me of granite in the Nason’s back yard. In exchange for a roll and led me home like a lost sheep. It was raining and I of Necco Wafers, Joey’s older cousin, an altar boy, played was soaked to the skin. My father was still out looking for Father O’Conner, and just to make sure we were not being me. My mother thanked the neighbor and told me to get influenced by the devil, we each received the Necco host undressed and go to my room. When I was called down thirty three times, once for every year Jesus walked this for supper, I heard her say, “He’s just like you. He doesn’t earth. When Sunday came, I was ready. know what he’s doing,” to my father. At that moment, I knew that I was the cause of her unhappiness. Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy I was determined to please my mother. After seeing her family is unhappy in its own way.” No child wants to laugh and laugh at Milton Berle in drag on his television admit that his parents are unhappy, but what happened show while we were visiting her friend, Madeline, a immediately after I made my First Communion was the neighbor from before I was born. Madeline and her first time I sensed that mine was a very unhappy family. husband, Dusty, had the first television set in the First Communion is a time of celebration. Aunts and neighborhood. I woke up the following morning certain uncles, godparents, and even neighbors come together I knew how to make her smile, and I would. to celebrate and congratulate the new communicant, but the only people I knew would be there were my parents I was probably eight at the time so it was 1948. Uncle Milty and perhaps my sister. When I rushed down the church was the king of television. After I got home from school stairs into a crowd of waiting people my parents were that day, I put on one of her dresses and her high heels. nowhere to be found. I decided to walk home alone. The dress must have touched the floor. To complete my outfit, I put on her lipstick and her hat then I made my It was raining and the shoes my father had spent hours way slowly down the steep stairs. It’s a wonder I didn’t dying black were once again brown. My white socks were fall. When she saw me she rushed to me and slapped me gray. It was a short mile from Oak Street to the church. as hard as she could then she screamed, “Don’t ever do Halfway home I decided to go back and look for them. By that again.” Nothing else. It was years before I realized that time the church yard was empty so I started home what “that” was. She was afraid I was a fairy, a fag in the again. I decided to go another way and got lost. It must
114 lingo of the time. Being Irish Catholic, sex of any kind was never discussed. It was kept behind closed doors with the shades drawn. How could she tell me what she feared? Life went on, but something had changed forever. A few years ago, I looked through the family bible that I hadn’t opened in decades. In it, my mother had written my birth date as 194l and my sister’s as 1939 when in fact my sister was born in 1938 and I was born in 1940. If my sister was born in 1938, my mother was pregnant when she married my father. I guess I should say my halfsister because my father was not her father. Hers remains unknown. It’s thought he was a man my mother met when she was working as a domestic in Boston. Looking back, I suspect I was the price she paid for her wedding ring, for her respectability. I was their first and only child together. When she looked at me, she saw her mistake because, as difficult as it is to say, I don’t believe she ever loved my father. He must have loved her very much. He died less than a decade after her death in a cold room in a flophouse. I had returned to Alaska when he died. It also explains why we seldom visited my father’s family. When my paternal grandfather died when I was about nine, one of my mother’s sisters told my sister she didn’t have to go to his funeral because he wasn’t her real grandfather. The unkindness of aunts.
CIRQUE I didn’t try to make new friends after we moved to High Street. Our new place was only a few blocks away, but it seemed to be a different world. Most of the kids went to the public school a few blocks away, and most of the Catholics went to the Polish school not to the Immaculate Conception, and all they seemed to do was study so they could go to college. The Polish nuns didn’t want Irish kids hanging around their schoolyard. They certainly didn’t want us around their girls who were going to be nuns or teachers. Today I understand why. Our future wasn’t all that bright. I wanted to be a milkman, to wear a uniform. I did both in time. By the time I was in the fifth grade, I had to fight a boy selected by the older boys at the public school on Pond Street as I hurried by if I wanted to get home for lunch and back to school within forty-five minutes. It happened once or twice a week. The chosen boy usually didn’t want to fight any more than I did, but he didn’t want to be known as a sissy. Perhaps they knew I once wore a dress to please my mother. I lived two blocks past Pond Street. A few other Catholic schoolboys walked home, but I was the one they picked on. If I’d taken a detour, I wouldn’t have gotten home for lunch. Trying to make myself invisible didn’t work so I learned to run fast.
One afternoon while I was pretending that I was driving our old four door Ford that was parked outside the house, the same car I would actually crash into the granite stoop before the Nason’s house when I released the hand brake about a month later, I saw my father coming unsteadily up the hill. Almost home, he staggered but didn’t fall. He had a lilac branch in one hand. When he reached our door, he called, “Harriet, open the door I have something for you to see.” When she opened the door, she wasn’t smiling. “You’re drunk,” she said, but she let him in. The branch stayed on the sidewalk.
Some of those public school boys seemed to begin shaving in the second grade or earlier. They were a tough bunch who lived closer to the mills and the river. Most of the other Catholic schoolboys brought their lunch or took the bus home so they never had to run the gauntlet of twelve year olds who needed to shave. One of the older Pond Street School boys was Buddy Grady whose one goal in life was to be as tough as his older brothers. He was in the seventh grade for the third time. I met Buddy again a few years later when he worked for a company that repossessed furniture. My parents had missed a couple of payments.
I kept on driving into a world of my own creation, a world where we were as close as the day we found the beehive oven. It wouldn’t be long before we moved again. This time to an apartment on High Street which was closer to the Concord River where I could fish for hornpout and kibbies after school until it was dark. My father left for work in the afternoon shortly after I got home from school, and he didn’t return until late at night. I often heard the car rolling to a stop and would get up to see him open the door.
The Pond Street School was near where the Grady’s lived on Concord Street. The older Grady boys had taken over a bar up the street from their house according to their sister Barbara who went to our school. We were all afraid of Barbara. Even the nuns seemed to be. She dressed the way she wanted and never smiled. For some reason I could talk to her. She told me that if her brothers didn’t want someone in their bar, they threw him out, or they let him stay if he bought a round for the house. Few refused their offer.
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 I bought Barbara Orange Crush and Devil Dogs after school. She didn’t have to ask. I loved to listen to her stories. The owner seemed fine with the present arrangement at his bar because everyone in town wanted to prove they were tougher than the Grady boys. The place was always crowded, and the Grady boys never touched the till. One of them wore a sombrero and liked to remind customers that Billy the Kid was Irish. Barbara said he kept a pearl-handled revolver behind the bar. I believed her every word. She disappeared at the end of seventh grade. Nothing lasts forever and after too many visits by the Paddy Wagon, the bar was closed. I met Barbara years later when, early one morning needing a drink, I wandered into a bikers’ bar on Moody Street where she was drinking with her girlfriend. I bought her a shot of whiskey and a beer, a boilermaker, which is good for clearing out the cobwebs. By the time I was twelve, if a girl seemed to be interested in me, I crossed the street or turned around. If a girl did manage to come close to me on the narrow school stairs when I went up the girl’s stairs instead of the boys, I turned red. I still blush easily. If my parents noticed they didn’t say a word. They seemed to give up on my social life when I managed to miss my own 6th birthday party. My cousins were there and a few of my sister’s friends along with Deirdre and Joey. I was there and then I wasn’t. I spent the next two hours wandering. When my father found me and brought me back, my birthday cake was still uncut and the kitchen was empty. I realize now that hiding beneath the porch the previous year was the beginning of my tendency to disappear. It isn’t that I wasn’t interested in girls, I was. I peeked at my sister through a small hole in the bathroom wall that I discovered when I was playing in the cellar of the house we had moved to from High Street, but I had no idea what I was hoping to see. There was an old privy down there from when the house was built ages ago that fascinated me. No one else ever went into the cellar. Down there when my hormones were in control, I would commit an unspeakable act that was certain to leave me blind if I did it again, but I hadn’t crossed that bridge yet. I did fall in love in the sixth grade, a love that ended with a broken heart and a long walk home. In the middle of the school year, a vision appeared in
115 class. Her name was Cobina Jerome. In a world where most of the girls were named Mary or Jane, Cobina was mysterious for her name alone, but there was something else – she was from Texas and her father was a chef. Texas! What could be more exotic than Texas? I wanted to ask her about the Alamo and Davey Crockett, but as usual, I held my tongue; however, my friend, Roland Savard, was also smitten. After Cobina gave both of us a Valentine in class, we had to do something to show her how we felt. A plan was hatched. After school one day with money we had earned carrying groceries home from Conant’s store where rich people shopped and were willing to give you something for carrying their groceries, we went downtown to the Five & Dime to buy a bottle of lilac scented perfume for Cobina. I think it cost fifty cents which was a fortune back then when you could get a donut from the machine that made them fresh for a nickel. We debated buying her a couple of donuts and having a few ourselves, but in the end the perfume won out. Donuts would not do for Cobina. It was still early so we set out for Cobina’s house in Tewksbury about three miles from school. I don’t remember how we found her address, but we did. It was a long walk but we didn’t care. We took turns carrying the perfume, squirting a little to make sure it was still good enough for our Cobina. I asked Roland if they have lilacs in Texas. He thought they did. He was certain they had rattlesnakes. When we reached her house, a small white ranch in a new subdivision, we flipped our last dime to see who would knock on the door and ask for Cobina. Roland won. Roland spoke English as a second language as we say today. Until he went to school, he spoke French at home. His grandparents had come down from Quebec, so it must have been his accent that caused Cobina’s mother to slam the door closed on the small boy holding a bottle of cheap perfume and asking for her daughter almost as soon as she opened it. We left the perfume on the curb in front of her house and made our way home. We agreed that we should have brought donuts instead of perfume. Our mothers were not amused when we were both sent home the next day from school with a note saying Mrs. Jerome wanted us to stay away from her daughter. I thought, given her suspicions about me, that my mother would have been delighted. I was wrong. The Jeromes went back to Texas at the end of the year. When I began
116 this memoir, I looked up the name Cobina and discovered that three infants born in the United States in 1941 were given that name. Our Cobina was one of them. I remember one other attempt to win my mother’s affections, and Roland was involved again. He had an old child’s wagon that we used to collect rags and newspapers that could be sold to the junkman. One spring day pulling the wagon along Andover Street, we passed a stone house with a garden full of the most beautiful tulips in the world. Our mothers will love them we thought, and before long we had a mountain of tulips in the wagon. After all we reasoned only God owns the flowers and the fields. I still remember some were black, others were yellow, a few were multi-colored, and others were white. We were in heaven as we hurried down the hill to give our bounty to our mothers. Roland’s mother was not pleased but understanding. She told Roland to go to confession on Saturday. My mother was furious and told me to bring my share back to the owner. When an elderly man opened the door he looked at me and smiled before he said, “you can’t put them back so you might as well keep them for your mother.” There are still tulips before that house, but I imagine the kind man is long gone. I don’t want to portray my childhood as Dickensian. It wasn’t. I have many fond memories of grammar school. The good Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart could be quite competitive at times. My teacher, Sister Veronica, who seemed to be very young, was not going to be shown up by Sister Raymond who seemed to be very old. She decided we would play MacNamara’s Band, using combs wrapped in wax paper at the parish’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, and after we finished, our classmate Marilyn Teague would perform. Let the other classes try to top that. The whole parish would be there. Every morning for two weeks instead of our catechism lesson we listened to Bing Crosby singing MacNamara’s Band on the portable record player someone gave the nuns for Christmas, and then for another two weeks we practiced with our wax paper covered combs. I was surprised to discover that I could perform in a group. Our class, sister Veronica promised, would be a credit to “Old Ireland” as Bing Crosby sings of MacNamara’s band. I wonder now what Albie Dion and Pauline Forte thought of being a credit to “Old Ireland.”
CIRQUE The boys wore white shirts, green ties and green trousers. Black shoes if we had them. On each head, a green felt derby that was to be tipped to the audience when we finished. The girls were dressed in white with a green Papier-mâché tiara on their heads and green shoes on their feet. Did the nuns have a supply of green shoes and derbies for such occasions? That we actually managed to create what could pass for music on our combs left the audience, including my parents, speechless. A blushing Sister Veronica announced that Marilyn Teague would now perform an Irish step dance. Even today, I wonder why Marilyn attended our school. Her family was well to do. Most girls from those families, including my cousins, went to Notre Dame Academy in an adjoining town. Most step dancers are muscular and slender. Marilyn was neither. Her dance went well enough when she was taking small steps; however, when she leapt into the air for the first time, the old floor shrieked like a banshee when she landed. On her second leap, its shriek was even louder. Marilyn fled into the arms of her mother who was standing below the stage for a better view. When we left the stage, each and every one of us was handed a cup of ice cream and a small wooden spoon to eat it with. Marilyn was nowhere in sight. Another day I looked forward to was our annual trip when my father was on vacation to Captain Bob’s, a restaurant in the shape of a ship on a winding road not far from Lynn where he worked. My father had worked with Bob before he opened his restaurant, and they were still friends. I looked forward to fishing for trout in Bob’s artificial pond. I remember that it cost fifty cents to fish, but my father didn’t care. He was on vacation. I never caught a trout. Bob would seat us at a table with a great view of the pond before handing my father his hat and inviting him up to the wheelhouse. I could see my father holding the ship’s large wooden wheel, his eyes on something at a great distance. I wonder now if he was sailing into the future or into the past. On our way home from Uncle Bob’s on what I remember as our last visit, our new used car seemed to drift out of our lane more than usual. It was probably only alignment. My mother was silent while I watched Chief Pontiac on the car’s hood parting the air like the figurehead of a ship taking us safely home. They’d argued about moving again, but I liked the sound of Pleasant Street.
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Coining A Poem Coins for collecting are discussed with words as rare as the coins themselves. A coin has a provenance, “a story that tells the source and ownership, history of a work of art or literature or of an archaeological find.” The ancient thaler coin, gives us the word dollar.
Leggett had inherited from his dad. There was seam around the edge of the coin. Gil said he worked at it with his “guitar plucker’s thumbnail” until the halves of the coin popped apart … revealing that it was a box thaler with a poem hidden inside.
Gil Menendez has a thaler that hides a poem. A box thaler. I got a look at it during a break in the Seattle Cirque reading. Summer in Seattle, the reading was held at the Wikstrom Brothers’ Gallery near Green Lake. The place was crowded. It was a hot evening. Dressed in skirt, shirt and jacket (Alaska-style) I was overheated but interested in this rare old coin.
The coin has three parts “heads” in a sense, “tails,” and a disc in the center engraved with a poem that might not have been read since it was hidden within the coin some centuries ago. The poem is written in a Low German, Dutch dialect.
Gil plays guitar at Cirque events. He’s a friend of Cirque contributor Charles Leggett, an actor, one who makes his living on the stage, mainly performing at ACT. On the break, those gathered exited to the cooler street. The gallery is a storefront. The neighborhood is Tangle Town. Trees shade the street. The noise of Seattle Transit buses punctuated the reading. Gil showed me an image of a coin that our friend Charles
Box thalers were a popular novelty in certain 17th century states. The two halves could be split open to reveal portraits or pastoral scenes (sometimes even erotic images). They are also known to have contained locks of hair as well as love notes. -Gil Menendez
Seattle Reading at Wikstrom Gallery
Gil Menendez handed me a printed image of the three part coin, and adds this:
Fair Maiden Tell me, what is it that holds you back Don’t you want to give your heart to me Give me your faithful heart in exchange for a pledge So I can stay faithful to you On that I raise my hand
This piece contains a “note” or “poem” and was offered to a Schone Jungfrau (a Fair Maiden) as a token of love. Some of its flourishes are embellished with gold gilt. It is a silver 17th Century Bavarian Thaler of Maximilian, Elector of Bavaria. The obverse of the coin was minted in 1625 and the reverse (Madonna and Child) is the rare reverse of 1639. It is a heavy chunk of silver and weighs more than and is larger than a U.S. half dollar. This particular piece would not have circulated. It has no doubt been in coin collectors’ cabinets for centuries. The word dollar has its origins in the silver coinage of the German States. These coins were first minted with silver from the mines of Joachimstahl and they came to be known as “thalers” or dollars in the New World. The value? Between $500 and $1,200, determined by the high bid at auction.
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REVIEW Paul Haeder
Water Like Beer – Old World Dreams Transformed Out West in the Shape of a Brewer’s Rite of Passage. A Review of Michael Strelow’s Henry: A Novel of Beer and Love in the West
(Witt-Wise Publishers, 2013)
Beer stands for the transformation itself, from woods to stump field to house to mansion. Beer is magic. You start with some raw things and end up with a cooked thing far superior to any of the raw parts. The same relationship exists between a tree and a house, a boy and a man. There needs to be the transformation and it needs to be managed carefully or you end up building a falling down shack, making a criminal, concocting awful beer. It always surprises me how few men can do the managing of the magic. -–narrator Henry Weinhard, from Henry: A Novel of Beer and Love in the West A title with the word beer in it from an Oregon-based writer might generate salivating and that quirky Portland pugnacity inherent in some of our breed in Stumptown who go on endless walkabouts searching for perfect craft beers. Portland, according to some mainstream sources, has been dubbed King of Beers City with over 60 breweries fermenting yeast and mashing wheat and expelling hop extractions. The alcohol has been attracting yuppies, millennials and a whole ragtag group of people for going on one and a half centuries.
just a half century after Lewis and Clark blazoned the white man’s trail west. Portland is a city of immigrants, accurately captured in Strelow’s book, but the young Weinhard was shaped by the cloistered, conservative castes of the Old World still heavy on his spirit: “I was leaving Germany in the first place not to flee the unpleasantness of the emerging political situation, the constant enmities and internecine warfare among the Germans themselves (many others fled this situation with its incumbent fiscal irresponsibility), but I was fleeing the fact that I would spend a lifetime working for someone else’s brewery in Germany.”
Add to the fact the word West is also in the title of this Salembased writer’s book, evoking all sorts of images when considering the novel’s historical time frame, spanning the 1860s into the turn of the 20th century, and we have Michael Strelow an interesting collision of forces. For the Germans and English and Michael Strelow’s second book, others creating this city, Portland, Henry: A Novel of Beer and Love in the West, is worth the every sort of trickery, every form of duality, every kind of time for those of us who want a peek into the rarefied financial illegality would make the town what it might world of immigrants breaking into the Pacific Northwest be today – known for contradictory forces like the fact
Portland has all these beers, all these trendy eateries, supported by young people sacrificing so much (bad jobs, high rents, traffic gridlock) to be part of “the scene.” Just recently in my planner (urban) circles, Portland was ranked number one as “the most gentrifying city in the USA.” Think of neighborhoods twenty years ago, compared to now, and that global view shows us people of color and those from different cultural strata and economic rungs on the Capitalist ladder being pushed out by the new Weinhards – IT-Digital wunderkinds propelled by neoliberal economics that have no community of place, just community of collective capitalist purpose. The “place” (community) we call Portland is a far cry from that muddy, sometimes-on-the-rails Portland of the young Henry’s time. This “place” at the confluence of rivers, the town with all the bridges, and so many shifting boom and bust forces realigning and reassigning values every generation, well, for me, it’s worthy of an historical deja vu, and this novel based on Henry Weinhard’s rise to brew master extraordinaire is that early foreboding of things to come one and a half centuries later.
Throughout the novel, beer, the nature of this new Adam as Old World expatriate and interloper into the wild new, and the perspective of a German in this not-yetcompletely exploited land of grizzlies, leaping salmon and powerful forces of dignified tribes are what drive the undertow for the reader. Don’t expect a detailed look at how the intricacies of fermentation create a sound beer in a time when everyone got drunk: old and young, rich and poor sipped hard ciders, whiskeys and beer, even the kids and pregnant women.
It’s a city ready for the taking. Young Heinrich Weinhard left his native Germany and headed to New York and then from Cincinnati to the great expanse of the evergreen lumber town where just a few blocks from “the river” the woods still held sway as both mythical place of protean shapes and home to Indians and wild-eyed mountain men gone crazy from the rain, isolation and ghosts from longburied pasts.
For Henry, the lineage of brew mastery went back 600 years to the Becks and the Pilsen Bohemia brewers in the old country, including Slovakia and Prussia. His passage into America as a German is deftly captured through Strelow’s keen eye for overlaying this first person narration – the author is a writing teacher at Willamette College in Salem – and his meticulous research into Oregon’s historical archives.
The story is told from the old armchair with an aging Henry recounting his years scraping together all manner of business deals toward establishing a beer hall and house of prostitution enterprise that would soon turn him into a double-man – conservative husband-father, a mover and shaker businessman in Portland’s “upper crust” community, counter-posed to the lover of the flesh with his own proclivities around the lust and kinship he had for one of his madams, Mrs. Els, a “fallen” woman, who became one of his head prostitutes and who kept the business of beer and flesh going while Henry became a civic leader.
Throughout the book, Strelow, through Henry, formulates a strong evolution from Old World thinker to this newmade man, into the West, ready for dramatic change as well as a cultural and religious and philosophical grounding from the shadows of the old, from the vestiges of the Brothers Grimm and Beowulf.
Interestingly, it wasn’t the Weinhards or even the earlier Germans, Austrians and English who can lay claim as the creators of beer. While some beer aficionados (I’ve been to many breweries in Europe and Latin America, so count me as one) see the Germans with their bottom fermentation process and elaborate storage caves in the Alps and the English’s top fermentation method in barrels stored in damp cellars as the start of modern beer making around 1200, this magical brew goes back 11,000 years, probably further back to huntergatherer clans roaming the Kalahari and African savannas.
Henry recounts: “I held theory as a way to make beer, court a wife, build a business empire, save money. I needed the compartments of theory – the best thinking on the subject – to work in my world. The West was for
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 me a new staging ground for old theory. I tried out all things German and kept what worked: warm and cold sides in the brewery, a secret life for myself and a public life for the concocted self I used in business.” Weaving throughout Henry’s retelling of his life in that rather short span of time is his reconciling with the hard, alcoholic, demented, murderous reaction to this place, as itinerant laborers attempted to leave their dysfunctional and hard lives for something new. It was the froth of booze and the flesh of women that kept Henry in business and made him his fortune and stature. Deep down, though, the staid Henry Weinhard ordered beatings, did dirty financial dealings and had his own confrontation with the dark self, which Strelow attributes to the “Joshua of the New World, of the west” – primitive and evangelical, bacchanal and raw, as well as an Everyman of sorts representing the dark side of the propped up “good” seen in the white marauders of civic importance who exploited this land of the Salish and hundreds of greater peoples they called Indians. Portland is a city of dogs when Henry shows up, canines that roam the dirty streets, that eat the detritus of white men, scavenging and representing much of the white man’s own persona in this new place: Portland, my first time, was an affair of dogs. There were dogs everywhere, allowed like revered beings to come and go in stores and streets and houses as if they were about some sacred missions. Dogs of no particular breeding, dogs of no particular grace, they were mostly brown dogs of small stature and flat heads. . . . But in Portland, they were minor gods like Hindu monkeys…” For readers, cracking open Strelow’s novel, he or she will be transformed into the world of novelist as he transmogrifies (literary-ily speaking) into his own sort of interloping stream of consciousness, back into the head and heart of a real fellow, this Henry Weinhard. This literary acumen allows us – facilitated by the author’s muscular and no-frills prose – into a world according to the point of view of Henry, with all the smells, tastes, sounds and feelings defining his own baptism in a new shaking world. It’s quintessential poetic license and a real yearning to discover the dichotomy of people who came West to Portland to exploit it because of their own failings and their own historical hardships, which Strelow deploys in this historically and metaphysically engaging book.
121 My own German side was itching throughout my reading of Strelow’s work. I have German roots as secondgeneration American via Scotland and Germany. In fact my namesake was a World War I navy lieutenant from Dortmund who eventually found his way to Iowa with brothers who had earlier embarked on immigration west from the confines of Bavaria and Schleswig. In Russel Kazal’s 2004 book, Becoming Old Stock:The Paradox of German-American Identity, he states: More Americans trace their ancestry to Germany than to any other country, according to the federal census. Arguably, by this measure, people of German descent form the nation’s largest ethnic group. Yet that fact could easily elude the casual observer of American life. Today, comparatively few signs remain of the once formidable political clout, organizational life, and ethnic consciousness of German Americans. Over the twentieth century, the ethnicity that went by that label underwent what the historian Kathleen Conzen calls a “thorough submergence.” The reader can see that willingness to discard germanity in this great book by the Salem author Strelow. The seed, though, like any great story, is the water, the filtering process of getting good water for the stock that will become libations, beers, lagers, ales, pilsners. Portland is defined by that flow, the downstream movement of great rivers into greater rivers until it dissipates into the Pacific, Willamette Valley, carrying Canadian soil some 500 miles off shore. The one thing that impresses the young Heinrich when he comes to Portland is the water: This river is everything in Portland. The sharp outhouse smell in Cincinnati has been avoided here because the city fathers used the river water as city water in the beginning. Front street just up from the river is stacked with barrels and sacks at the mercantiles. Cut lumber you can smell but not see; the smell is coming from across the river at the sawmill, and the lumber is barged across when needed or loaded on ships bound outward toward the Columbia and then the Pacific. On milling days you can smell flour in the air arriving on the north wing from Spaulding’s Mill.
Getting young people to look back even a few years is difficult in today’s iPhone world, but the book about the very nature of what it means to be an intruder and what it means to be disenfranchised, forgotten, well, a read like Henry could open up all sorts of possibilities around the confluence of literature and history, politics and humanity. In the end, though, it seems fitting that an ancient poet, nameless, evokes the humanity of beer probably way before wine making. This 3,900-year-old Sumerian poem honoring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, encapsulates the oldest surviving beer recipe, describing the production of beer from barley via bread. Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven, Puts in order the piles of hulled grains, You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground... You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort... Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat, It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates. For the reader of Strelow’s book, the simplicity of a man dedicated to becoming a brewer and owning his own destiny is emblematic of a drunken boom and bust New World experience all the way back to the conquistadors. This book should be consumed along with a few bottles of your favorite beer, and in that swill of inebriation, the reader will be that much closer to Heinrich and the Portland of old, while gaining understanding of Strelow’s muse and the power of myth in Ninkasi, goddess of brewing. (See interview with Michael Strelow on page 125)
Walking the line in Judith Skillman’s House of Burnt Offerings
In House of Burnt Offerings, Judith Skillman uses language the way a tightrope walker uses her body—the poems are infused with grace, courage, and balance. Of course, to find my own way through these poems, as a reader, I’m compelled to step out into the air, and follow along, taut line after taut line. This can be unsettling. It takes faith to read Skillman, at times—her associative, lyrical poems frequently eschew many of the usual safety harnesses found in contemporary poetry, for example direct narrative, first person confession, or simple imagistic closure. The occasional sensation of being turned upside-down while reading this book is well worth the vertigo. There’s a quiet intelligence here, a series of deep narratives that run like underground rivers, branching widely throughout the first two sections of poems, then coming together in the third section, surfacing with force and beauty. I’m in awe of—and grateful to—the author for such an exhilarating and rewarding journey. Not usually a thrill-seeker in my reading tastes, I find myself wondering—how does Skillman convince me to go along with her on this often wild ride? Take a look at the last few lines in her poem “Swaybacked”: I enter the light called dusk. All the symbols of youth swallow, swallowed by Eliot’s violets. Tiresius—even Prufrock, who hardly knew whether to eat the bloody peach. I enter my spine as question mark. At first reading, the subject-verb structure of “symbols of youth swallow” appears to parallel the previous sentence’s “I enter…” But as I continue to read, I realize, no—it’s the symbols themselves that are “swallowed by” Eliot’s violets. OK, now my wary reader’s antennae are up. Is it the “I” in the third sentence that’s the question mark? Or is it the spine? Well, yes.
Water Rushing Log
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carries them from the physical world into the perplexities of personal relationship, the bindings and releasings that are so essential in partnership and parenting and friendship with others and with oneself. She captures this admirably in “Restraint,” the last poem in the book: ... a rope. A rope and a trapeze. A rope and a trapeze and a circus artist whose curls diffuse with light. Her arms extended, she climbs above the audience, drapes herself in a shawl of beautiful poses, pouts, falls deliberately into the trap of hanging upside-down... Skillman excels at creating a sense of wideopenness, a spaciousness within and between her poems, paradoxically making this space most available at moments when the speaker of the poem—and the reader, following in her footsteps—feel most trapped, as in these lines from “Turnip”: Once more you force its fisted mass. Blanched white with a feather of pink— the bloodless promise? Has the chemistry of want exploded the dreamy cluck of that heart in your chest? The answer is, all of the above. Skillman’s ability to accommodate multiple meanings in even the most seemingly straightforward of sentences is like being pushed by a doppelganger who insists we jump beyond obvious interpretations. Given the high-stake issues these poems grapple with, challenges many readers can relate to—a long, complex marriage, parenting grown children, difficult childhood memories, aging, chronic illness, sudden economic downturn, and the shock of unexpected unemployment—her elusive explorations fit. Images of enfolding and entanglement—the repeating shapes of end tables, matryoshka dolls, layers of onion, the echoing edges of fractals (Koch snowflakes, the Mandlebrot set, broccolini), a series of violins of gradually increasing size, the “ruffled crinolines” of Peonies, and even the body itself with “its passageways and labyrinths,” work together to create a sense of not just collapsing and repeated patterns but also of the endless varieties of beauty in the physical world. Skillman not only describes these shapes and anti-shapes, she
Here Skillman transforms a simple, everyday object, a root vegetable, by describing it vividly yet indirectly, as if painting an image of this most basic of peasant foods on a scrim, a piece of see-through fabric through which we’re asked to gaze. She lets us look through the object itself and into the speaker’s heart. Note her use of negation here. Even without the “feather of pink,” simply reading “bloodless” makes the reader see red, if only a tinge. The tight heft of the turnip makes me feel both trapped and, simultaneously, set free. I get a similar sense of enclosure and release from the end lines in “Vases of Peonies”: ...from dark soil—as if even one of these perfect Persephones could live among our interruptions and gallant intrusions, the sharp shears of our smiling teeth. The duplicity and violence of those “smiling teeth” are emblematic of Skillman’s respect for the power
of the three sections in Skillman’s book. She also turns to of domestic objects and events, a theme that wends its him in “Ah Vallejo”: way through many of the poems with recurring images of gardens, kitchens, tables, chairs, clocks, children’s toys, After you left Peru forever, and fabrics as well as the activities of planting, cooking, you made of guano Trilce, caring for a sick child, sewing, packing up and moving that stands on the border to a new home, ironing, and making love. Even the most of every season… ordinary and caring activity, such as placing an armful of peonies in a vase, has the potential to cause damage ...Here on the island and anguish. Part of Skillman’s genius is to provide a of October, I mimic you way to step back from such straight-jacketed moments, by copying your sadness. to look at the situation from a different point of view— Persephone’s, for example, or Tiresius’. Ah, but not for long. Skillman is too wise to stay Tiresius, Apollo’s blind soothsayer, was a too long or too close to any one artist as she searches wanderer known for his penchant to predict the future for her own unique path. In addition to Vallejo, she also by listening to birdsong, observing copulating snakes, turns to Eliot (Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock), Thornton and reading patterns of smoke. “Swaybacked” doesn’t Wilder (Our Town), Kafka, Shakespeare (The Tempest, linger on Tiresius, but learning something about him Midsummer Night’s Dream, and adds richness to the experience of the Hamlet), William Logan’s poem poem. Tiresius’ pursuits also reflect the “Paris in Winter,” Mike Nichols’ restless, searching that permeates the 1967 movie The Graduate, and poems in the first two sections, the Richard Strauss’ Burleske. Each indirect, reticent yet focused, oracleallusion adds new perspective like flash of Skillman’s eye. and meaning. In addition to Persephone I first met Judith and Tiresius, a number of other Skillman at a potluck in mythological and literary characters Kirkland hosted by Barbara appear in House of Burnt Offerings, Molloy, a mutual writer-friend. including: Lethe, Ariel (The Tempest), Judith was teaching at Bellevue Hippodamia, centaurs, dopplegangers, Community College and had St. Sebastian, Ophelia, krakens, recently returned from a Artemis, Hera, Gretel (Hansel and residency at the Centrum Gretel), and Alice (Alice in Wonderland). Foundation in Port Townsend. I It’s a generous move on Skillman’s part. was immediately taken by her Individually, each character adds his or wit and her interest in her own take on situations. Together science—we both made a they create a sort of cacophony Judith Skillman valiant effort to chat about the that accumulates with each page, physicist Brian Greene’s chaos increasing the discomfort that weaves theories while chasing our young children around the its way throughout the first two sections of this book. living room. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to sit in Of course, one doesn’t have to look up every allusion to on a number of Judith’s workshops, lectures, and enjoy these poems. The sheer number of fragmented readings, and I often turn to her excellent Broken Lines— fairy tales, myths, and folk tales mentioned by Skillman The Art & Craft of Poetry (Lummux Press 2013) for emphasize just how hard it is to find any single narrative inspiration. She’s one of the most generous, widely thread that’s complex enough and right enough to hold published poets I’ve ever met, and this same spirit of the unique entanglements of a person’s life. offerings imbues her latest book. Reading Skillman is like I appreciate how Skillman widens the sense of receiving a shot of language energy. Reading her makes community in these poems to include other writers, living me want to sit down and write. What greater gift from and dead, especially the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo, another writer? whose lines from Trilce, written in prison, introduce each
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A Review of Sandra Kleven’s Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing
(VP&D House, 2013)
Sandra Kleven is the current editor of the literary journal Cirque, and also organizes Poetry Parley, Venus Transit, and other literary and mixed media events in both Alaska and Outside, someone I do chat with when I see her from time to time around Anchorage, where we both live. I’ve even been to her house on Defiance Street once. Or maybe twice. Kleven has also authored Talk About Touch and Holy Land. Her bio in Amazon.com is impressive, and I’ve condensed it below. Kleven’s poetry has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Oklahoma Review, Praxilla, F-Magazine, Cirque, Stone Boat, and in the anthology, from University of Alaska Press, Cold Flashes.
Photo: Michael Kleven
Kleven brought the arts and the creative process into her work as a clinical social worker, developing a theatrical presentation and a troupe of actors that worked toward the prevention of child sexual abuse. This group, the SOAPBOX Players, served Northwest Washington with a presentation titled, “The Touching Problem.” Kleven won a Seattle Area Emmy Award (as writer) when KVOS TV produced the program as a docudrama.
Anchorage, I was put off by the muddy cover. It looked unappetizing. But knowing Kleven’s work, I expected to find some good stuff inside.
Out of this work came two books for children and families, to serve as guides in discussing sexual abuse with a child. The first was published as Touching, in 1985 and then, in 1999, it was reissued as The Right Touch.
As I began to go through Defiance Street, I found that Kleven has indeed laid her life out in verse and essay, and well.
The Right Touch has been a helping resource since 1999 when it received a Benjamin Franklin Award as best parenting book. It remains the best-selling prevention book in the country. Excellent track record! But as I approached Defiance Street, published by VP&D House, a newish small press in
And I did. I find it difficult to be put in the position of evaluating another poet’s work. It’s an intensely personal medium, often a short hand rather than an explication mode.
The images, the influences, began to build up a picture of her life, indeed, many landmarks of greater or lesser joy. Every poet has certain touchstones. Kleven is a Theodore Roethke raver, as I know from some events she has written and performed. I was happy to see mostly other subjects in these pages, as I was a tad surfeited with Kleven’s heropoet worship (of course preferring my own, because I am that sort of brat).
126 I got a good sense of Kleven’s family in works such as “Once My Brother,” and “The Art of Darkness,” which resonates with so many of us whose parents are passing away. This is the west and Mother is the Sun. Days spent lowering can be longer than those spent rising. Her passion for love. “Magdelena” is an accessible, ironic, nostalgic look back at young womanhood in a certain era. She went after boys who looked like Jesus, sandaled, contemplative, guys with that crucified look.
CIRQUE There is the influence of Washington State and Alaska, the main places she has lived. The two-part poem, “Bridges,” rants at those who make decisions for and about Alaska and Alaskans. To all you bigwigs, I have to ask How did you get to be so stupid? Don’t ask me because I sure don’t know. What do they teach you in those schools, anyway? First, there is the chiding for the wasting of money to build a wheelchair ramp up to a new post office building in a remote village.
And a charming image in “Remnant.” They said I was precise and French, but teachers saw me for a flirt. Upside-down on a kitchen stool, he tickled the mouse I hid in my skirt.
. . . they wouldn’t be pushing themselves to the post office. They’d never make it. This village is all mud in summer, and in winter, snow and ice. Then Kleven lays into the scientists, and the very idea that people would have migrated to Alaska by foot. We got boats in summer. Always did. Do they think we trudged through the mud dragging our stuff behind? Kleven ends with a fine insult. What do they teach in those schools, anyway? Honest to God, I don’t know. Locks in stupidity, that’s what I think. Locks it right in. Sandra Kleven is currently seeking materials for Brandish, a collection of essential writing about life and work in rural Alaska; a socio-literary project. Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing is available at VPD House.http://www. vpdhouse.com/ An early version of Emergency Rations, Goodrich’s new Ebook, was collected by Master Storyteller Donald Davis, of North Carolina. He said, “Yours are the stories of the heroic people we live with everyday.”
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INTERVIEW Paul Haeder
Interview with Michael Strelow, October 2015, on the Willamette, querying him about the intricacies of writing his book Henry: A Novel of Beer and Love in the West on a real historical character, Henry Weinhard, and the role he played as literary puppeteer and historian Paul K. Haeder: Discuss how you decided how the blending of historical fact and the inner life of Henry Weinhard would be played out writing the book. Michael Strelow: As I read about Henry Weinhard in E. Kimbark MacColl’s book, The Shaping of a City: Business and Politics in Portland, Oregon 1885 to 1915, (doing research for an article), I came across repeated references to HW—entrepreneur, young man in a hurry, German immigrant, fabricator of his own success narrative, bawdy house owner, economic strategist, etc.—and I began to imaginatively fill in what I thought he was like, how he might have operated (given the historical parameters), and then I completely fell for the whole Romantic/ practical/idealistic/cunning/energetic shebang that was his life and brewing history. Beer, love, the romance of the immigrant in the West—I was swept up by the power of the competing stories—good guy model citizen versus bad guy schemer and scammer. You know you’re approaching something true when the irony and inherent complexity and conflict between aspects of that true thing are all yammering for attention. So I asked, what’s the story of his story?
lay with the complicated Henry Weinhard, the man who said “Yes” to the whole amazing rupture of Old World rules, customs, traditions and habits that informed his youth, as he embraced the liberties and even licentiousness afforded a humble brew-master like him while the West’s rules were being made up each day. In the growing city of Portland, if it wasn’t forbidden (incipient and changing laws), it was allowed. Outside the city, everything was negotiable and provisional and subject to invention and variation on themes of civility and moral conduct. Thomas Carlyle wrote of the “everlasting yea” that ruled the new Romantic sensibility that rejected 18th century social compacts in favor of the individual’s authentic testing of experience each day. Saying this “yes” to life was fully testable in the New World, while in the Old World it was considered a direct challenge to the divine right of kings and the given order. Writing my version of Henry’s life was dipping into my own fantasy life, my own anarchic young man who would
PKH: All writing is about discovery -- what the author discovers about himself-herself, what is discovered in the telling, what is discovered in the subject matter explored and what the reader discovers. So, the first two -- talk about what you discovered about yourself writing this and what you discovered about the subject matter. MS: Ah, sympathy with the devil! I found my sympathies Michael Strelow
Photo: Paul Haeder
128 make up life each day and test it against reality and chuck out what didn’t fit. PKH: We’re talking 150 years ago when the story took place, so what lessons do you think the reader -- young folk, specifically -- might learn or extrapolate from reading the book. MS: I think one of the forms the coming of wisdom might take is realizing that the world comes at you in versions and illusions and fraudulent surfaces. Illusion is always vying with reality for power over your intelligence. Sense the difference; hold belief in suspension; wait for the full story. Act out of love and even the shifting surfaces of the world will make sense. PKH: Interestingly, in this country people tracing their heritage to Germany make up the largest ethnic group, yet this group has done the most assimilating of all ethnic groups. It seems you tackle that in the figure of Heinrich Weinhard. Discuss. MS: I found the whole German historical background to be a rich vein to be mined for complexity in the story. No act fictional or historical was untouched by the facts of Henry W’s German background. In 1848 in Germany, no young man was unaffected by the brutality and senseless slaughter that was the conscription and internecine wars of the German nation working out its nationhood before being united later under Bismarck. Germans were fleeing to America by the thousands and assimilating into new ways and new laws as anyone would fleeing the perceived terror of old ways, old laws and ancient power structures.
CIRQUE ideological landscape (the Rendezvous’s licentiousness, the paradoxical stories of a magical figure like Joshua, the collision of narratives and vying for truth on all sides) in such a way as to confront his idealism, to test his resolve and to challenge the preconceptions he had from stories he heard in Germany before he left for America. HW was a strong presence in a sifting moral landscape. His power was his sense of certainty, his sense of self. PKH: Good and bad get mixed up in the under girder of what it is that makes up the Western immigration, in the people who came (still coming?) out here. Discuss. MS: Some of this I’ve treated above, but moral subjectivity is the center of the shifting realities in the novel. Henry is always trying to do the right thing. The right thing is always complex, and judging what is the right thing is always an exhausting task. Henry is up to the required weighing and re-weighing needed because he is full of the energy--sexual, moral, civil, economic, legalistic, etc.— it takes to adjudicate each day and each act. He cares. He is heroic in this caring whether the reader damns or praises individual acts. He is a Nietzschean hero trying out the world against his own closely held truths. ~~~~ Paul Haeder is the author of Reimaging Sanity: Voices from the Echo Chamber, to be released by Tayen Lane Publishing in the spring of 2016. (See review of Michael Strelow’s novel Henry: A Novel of Beer and Love in the West on page 117)
PKH: There’s a real certainty in both the narrator’s voice and the way things play out in the book, as if all that progress and building of Portland is and was the right course to take. Today, we are not molded from that same confidence, I believe. Can you discuss this? MS: Henry, as I conceived him from both the historical research and my own inclinations (see above), was full of not only confidence in himself but also confidence in the working out of his own destiny as a power broker. Again, the Romantic ideal of the potency of the individual (Ayn Rand’s particular perversion of that power comes later.) informs the entire novel. I tried to move HW through the Western William Wikstrom
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CONTRIBUTORS Jennifer Andrulli – Inspired by our environment, Mother Earth. My journey continues. Alexandra Ellen Appel describes her work as a paradox of faith in opposition and confrontation. A poem is soothsaying, or at the very least indicates an aspect of truth. Her recent publications include: Animal: Writers in the Attic, An Anthology of Short Stories & Poetry (Log Cabin Books, Boise, Idaho, September 2015), Cirque, CrossCurrents North: Alaskans on The Environment (University of Alaska, Fairbanks, 2006) and Toward A Philosophy of Education based on Eco-psychological Principles (University of Vermont, 2000). Sarah Aronson was born and raised in Southeast Alaska, now enrolled in the University of Montana MFA program. Her work has appeared in Camas and Psychology Tomorrow magazines. Christianne Balk is the author of the three poetry collections: Bindweed, Desiring Flight, and -- just released -- The Holding Hours (University of Washington Press). Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Cirque, the New Yorker, and the New Republic Christianne lives in Seattle, where she writes and teaches creative writing, and travels frequently into the Cascade Mountains. Scott Banks is an Anchorage writer and photographer. His work has appeared in previous issues of Cirque, Stoneboat, Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Drake, American Heritage Magazine and other publications. Gabrielle Barnett currently lives in Anchorage, AK, but has also called Girdwood, AK, and Vancouver, BC home. She has been steadily publishing her poetry, in journals here and there, for the past 5 years, (though she has been writing poetry much, much longer than that). She anticipates publication of her first short story, and her first contribution to an anthology, in fall 2016. Clifton Bates has lived and worked in Alaska the last 38 years. He has been involved with Alaska Native education in one form or another during this time (teacher, district administrator, university professor). He has had a variety of plays, poetry, fiction, and education articles published. He co-authored the book, Conflicting Landscapes, American Education/Alaska Natives, with the Very Rev. Dr. Oleksa. After living in Bush Alaska on the Kuskokwim River for twenty-some years, he now lives in Chugiak, Alaska. Tom Begich is a poet and singer/songwriter born and currently living in Anchorage, Alaska. He has previously published a poetry collection, Six Truths: fifty sonnets, five CDs of original music, and a compilation music/poetry CD with acclaimed poet Timothy Mason. He spends his days either dreaming of, or driving on, the road. Originally from New York City, Robert Bharda (Ward) has lived in the Seattle area where for the last 35 years he has specialized in vintage photographica as a profession, everything from salt prints to poloroids. As a writer, his poetry, fiction and critical reviews have appeared in The North American Review, Northwest Review, Shenandoah, Quarterly West, Willow Springs, ACM, Cutbank, Fine Madness, Kansas Quarterly, Yellow Silk, Poets On, Blue Fifth and many others including anthologies. A visual artist as well, his work has appeared in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad with images on the covers of Naugatuck River Review and Blue Five Notebook, and in Conclave 8, the on-line Cahoodahoodaling, The Adirondack Review, Rio Grande Review, Cirque and Blue Fifth Notebook, with images forthcoming in aaduna and Naugatuck River Review.
Snow Melt, High Meadows in the Blue Mountains
Annie Boochever is a lifelong Alaskan and member of Alaska’s 49 Writers. She has an MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts and is the author of Bristol Bay Summer published by Alaska Northwest Books. Marilyn Borell was born and raised in International Falls, Minnesota, a community only slightly warmer than Fairbanks. She and her husband Steve moved to Anchorage in 1986, where she still lives and writes. Her recent work has appeared in Cirque, and the Anchorage centennial anthology Anchorage Remembers. Gretchen Brinck retired from social work in 2010 to focus on writing. Several nonfiction tales about her work in the YK Delta have appeared in Cirque; one received the Andy Hope award. She is currently editing her nonfiction book The Fox Boy for University of Alaska Press. Pam Butcher was born in Anchorage, AK in 1960 and has lived in Alaska always. Pam is a visual artist, making her living in print design. The landscape is one of her many muses, and photography is just one way of finding and sharing the details she sees with everyone else. Matt Caprioli is an MFA student in memoir at Hunter College in New York. He studied English literature and psychology at UAA. He has contributed to The Huffington Post, The Paris Review Daily, Alaska Dispatch, and The Anchorage Press. Anne Caston is a professor and former nurse, born in Arkansas and raised in the deep south. Caston teaches at the University of Alaska
130 where she has taught for 16 years and is now core faculty in poetry in the Low-Residency M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing. She is the author of three books of poetry: Flying Out With The Wounded (NYU Press, 1997) Judah’s Lion (THP, 2009), and Prodigal (Aldrich Press, 2014). When she isn’t in Alaska, she lives with her husband, Ian Gallimore, and their granddaughter, Sarah, in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. David Cheezem is a co-owner of Fireside Books in Palmer, Alaska, which he opened in 2001 as an excuse to have poetry readings. His poems have appeared in Platte Valley Review. Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, high school English-teaching Alaskan. Currently she is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry through University of Alaska Anchorage. Kersten coedits the quarterly journal, Alaska Women Speak. She lives in Sitka, Alaska. Wendy Cohan is a writer from Missoula, Montana, and the proud mother of two grown sons. An outdoor enthusiast, with a passion for the Pacific Northwest, she enjoys hiking, backpacking, kayaking, and cycling, as well as a good road trip whenever possible. Wendy is also a nurse-educator and the author of The Better Bladder Book and What Nurses Know…Headaches. In Chilling addition to writing poetry, Wendy enjoys writing creative nonfiction and personal narrative. Jonathan Cooper lives with his family in Vancouver, Canada. His poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in various publications, including The New Plains Review, The Commonline Journal, and The Statesman Journal. Michael Daley’s fourth collection of poems, Of a Feather, has just been published by Empty Bowl. A retired English teacher, he lives in Anacortes, Washington. Scott Davidson lives with his wife in Missoula, MT, where he works as marketing director for an organic soap company. His poems have appeared in the Potomac Review, Shadow Road Quarterly, San Pedro River Review, and the Permanent Press anthology Crossing the River: Poets of the Western United States. 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. Patrick Dixon is a retired photography instructor and commercial fisherman whose photos have been published in Smithsonian, Oregon Coast, National Fisherman, and others. He is the editor the seven-book anthology of fisherpoetry, Anchored in Deep Water (2014). His poetry chapbook, Arc of Visibility, won the 2015 Alabama State Poetry Society’s annual Morris Memorial competition. Victoria Doerper is a writer living in Bellingham, Washington. Her poems have been published in the Sue C. Boynton poetry contest chapbook and in the journals for 2013 and 2014 produced by Whatcom WRITES. She has a B.A. in English from the University of California at Davis, is old enough for Medicare, but not old enough to know better, so she keeps writing until she does.
CIRQUE Ben DuPree lives and writes full-time in Portland, Oregon. He earned a B.A. in English and Writing from Reed College, where he was published in their Creative Review. Heather Durham is a naturalist and nature writer currently pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. A city dweller with the soul of a hermit, she can often be found in the wild places in and around Portland, Oregon with a journal, a field guide, and a pair of binoculars, head cocked and listening to the birds. Gene Ervine - I like the crisp clarity of Alaska’s winter landscape, and want to emulate that with my poems. My work has appeared in the previous issue of CIRQUE and in several recent issues of CLOVER a literary rag. Joining a group of writers in Anchorage recently called “10 Poets” has been beneficial. David Fewster was born in upstate New York. After several years of sordid fun in California, he moved to Seattle in 1987. His essays, sketches, fiction, and poetry have appeared in the LA Weekly, Exquisite Corpse, Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, the Stranger, Cups, Point No Point, the anthologies Revival: Spoken Word from Lollapalooza 94 Jennifer Andrulli (Manic D Press), Thus Spake the Corpse Vol. 2 (Black Sparrow Press) and elsewhere. He calls Tacoma home since 1996. His book Diary of a Homeless Alcoholic Suicidal Maniac & Other Picture Postcards was funded by the Tacoma Arts Commission. He plays with Heidi Fosner in the group Folksingers In Hell. Leonie Mikele Fogle is a Seattle native whose poetry has appeared in Cordite Review and Soundings Review. She is a recent graduate of Northwest Institute of Arts’ Master’s program, where she studied with David Wagoner and Carolyne Wright. Her background is in theatre--she enjoys production and playwriting—and presented a reading of David Wagoner’s “First Class” during the AWP Conference in Seattle, in 2013. She is currently editing a documentary film about Mr. Wagoner—a highly influential teacher and editor, as well as a prolific poet. William Ford worked in Brilliant Corners, Kentucky Review, The Lake (U.K.), Monarch Review, Stoneboat, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and The Wallace Stevens Journal. Retired from teaching and editing, he lives in Iowa City, IA. Kenny Gerling has an MA in English from the University of Tennessee. Originally from Jefferson City, MO, he now lives in Anchorage, AK. He’s an intern for Cirque where his poetry has also appeared. Jo Going As well as creating with words and images simultaneously, I also create from material inspired by not only my life in the arctic but also my life in Italy. Last year I arrived in Torino, home of my dear friend Sarah, on the very night following her California fatherʼs death. My visit was an example of perfect timing, as this poem and painting bears witness. Sierra Golden received her MFA in poetry from North Carolina State University. Winner of the program’s 2012 Academy of American Poets Prize, Golden’s work appears widely in literary journals such as Mid-
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 American Review, Permafrost, and Ploughshares. She has also been awarded residencies by Hedgebrook, the Island Institute, and the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. Though she calls Washington State home, Golden has spent many summers in Alaska, working as a commercial fisherman. Brad Gooch has lived in Portland, Oregon since 1979. He studied painting at the University of Wisconsin. After working for 25 years as a graphic designer and illustrator in the utility industry, he has returned primarily to painting. He spends a lot of time hiking in the Oregon Cascades and paints landscapes there that hold meaning for him. Rebecca Goodrich left the glitter of California to build a houseboat in Dutch Harbor in 1994. Now a consulting editor in Anchorage, she just published her first Ebook: Emergency Rations: How One Young Tail Gunner Survived World War Two, about her father’s unique ways of passing on his PTSD. She was a journalist and columnist for The Dutch Harbor Fisherman, a stringer for KDLG, and had commentaries on KNBA’s AK Show, including “Cousin Nate and Alaska Rhubarb,” which became a listener favorite. Goodrich has won several writing awards, and is published in Cold Flashes, F Magazine, and Cirque, as well as Alaska Journal of Commerce and other papers, and an array of magazines and little journals in California. Paul K. Haeder’s been a teacher in prisons, in a refugee center, in a college in Mexico, and a refugee agency in Guatemala, and beyond. He cut his teeth as a journalist in Southern Arizona, taught writing to students in ten colleges and universities and had a radio show. He lives in Vancouver, works in Portland, and is published in more than two dozen journals. His credo since he was 16 years old has been a Zapata quote: “It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” He just won second place in the 2014 Society for Professional Journalists Region 10 magazine writing contest. Jim Hanlen has had instruction from some of the best teachers, William Stafford, Richard Hugo, and Madeline DeFrees. He won’t diminish the encouragement of mom, university professor Franz Schneider, and the examples of Gary Miranda and James Dickey. Jim has published in Salal Review, English Journal, Season of Dead Water, The Practice of Peace, and GRRR an anthology of bears. Jim published a poetry book this year with his friend Jim Thielman, Postcards From Jim, a book of alternating poems exchanged over a couple of years. Gordon Harrison is a 35-year resident of Juneau. Yuliya Helgesen-Thompson has an MFA from The Academy of Art in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Yuliya moved to Alaska twenty years ago where she now lives with her husband and two sons. Mrs. HelgesenThompson paints in various mediums: encaustings, acrylic, oil, mixed media, watercolor and batik. By mixing abstract compositions with realistic sketches, Yuliya conveys the essential nature of her subjects. She likes to choose a medium that she believes will best reflect both her emotion and the subject matter itself. Yuliya’s artwork is shown in Stephan’s Fine Arts Gallery in downtown Anchorage in the Hotel Captain Cook. She works for the Anchorage School District as an Artistin-Residence. Yuliya also teaches private art lessons to students of all ages in her private art studio-”Glamour Art Garage.” rances Howard-Snyder is a philosophy professor who lives in the Pacific Northwest. She has published stories in Every Day Fiction, Short Fiction Break, Wordhaus and OxMag. She is currently working on a novel. Sarah Isto was born and raised in Fairbanks but now has lived for three decades in Juneau. She still spends the equinox months at a cabin
131 in the Kantishna Hills of Interior Alaska. Her poetry has appeared in Cirque, Tidal Echoes, Gold Man Review, and Windfall. Marc Janssen likes two things: writing poetry and being alive, not necessarily in that order. He gets published sometimes, most recently in Askew, Cirque, Vine Leaves, The Ottawa Arts Review, and the anthologies Manifest West, Green is the Color of Winter, and The Northern California Perspective. But, he is alive all the time, or tries to be. Jill Johnson splits her time between Alaska and the small town in Eastern Oregon where she grew up. Family and friends, hiking and dirt gardening fill her best time. She is grateful for wild and other wonderful moments. Writing reminds her of this. Marion Avrilyn Jones received her MA in English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Before deciding to write fulltime, she taught for several years as an adjunct lecturer in UAF’s English Department. She lives year round in Fairbanks, where the long winters sustain and exhilarate her. Mary Kancewick lives in the foothills of the Chugach Mountains. She writes poetry and nonfiction. Joseph Kashi is a trial lawyer in Soldotna, Alaska. He received his BS and MS degrees from MIT in 1973 and his JD from Georgetown University Law School in 1976. While pursuing other disciplines at MIT, he also “casually” studied photography with prominent American fine art photographer Minor White. Since 2007, he has mounted more than a dozen solo exhibits at various university and art center galleries in Alaska. 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. Michael Kleven is a professional filmmaker and photographer based in Seattle. He enjoys capturing unique stories, personalities, and environments. His production company, Heartstone Studios, recently traveled to Holland for a documentary about a young Holocaust survivor, Ernst. The film, “I Missed My Train,” features his reflections and offers perspective on the individuals who sacrificed to protected children during the war. Through his freelance company, Kleven Creative Services, he offers photography, production sound, and cinematography services. Poet and essayist, Sandra Kleven has published work in AQR, Oklahoma Review, Topic, Praxilla, Stoneboat, f-zine and the UAP anthology, Cold Flashes. She was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her work has won notice in the UAA Creative Writing and F’Air Words contests. She was named to the Northshore Schools, Wall of Honor in 2015. Kleven has authored four books, most recently Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing (VP&D Publishing House). 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 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; and was awarded the Oregon Poetry Association’s 2015 New Poet’s Award.
132 Ruth Lera is a mindfulness meditation teacher, energy healer, writer, and boreal forest loiterer. She lives in the Hamlet of Mt. Lorne (near Whitehorse, Yukon) and inspired to write constantly. She loves the sense of connection this brings. Ruth and her family ventured on a two week kayak trip to Harriman Fjord in the summer of 2015. You can find out more about Ruth at her website www.ruthlera.com Steven Levi is a well-established poet and writer in Alaska. He has published a dozen books of poetry and has more than 80 books in print or on Kindle. He concentrates on using history as a guide to the future. As a history instructor, his motivating principle is that “History is not the story of the past, it is the study of the future.” His poems and writing reflect that point of view. His most recent book Walrus With A Gold Tooth creative nonfiction look at the history of downtown Anchorage from the Second World War to the Earthquake. Carmen Maldonado lives and writes in Eagle River, AK. David McElroy I live in Anchorage and work in the Arctic as a pilot. Poems of mine have appeared in previous issues of Cirque and other journals as well as in my book Making It Simple. My wife Edith Barrowclough and I travel frequently in Alaska and the wider world. Ron McFarland teaches literature & creative writing at the University of Idaho. His most recent book is Appropriating Hemingway: Using Him as a Fictional Character. Next summer his biography of Lt. Col. Edward J. Steptoe (1815-1865) will be published by McFarland & Co. (no relation). “Guitar” Gil Menendez is a musician living in Seattle, Washington. Gil currently plays solo guitar arrangements of the 20th century American songbook and also performs duo with sax or harmonica and in The Gil Menendez Trio with bass and drums. He has appeared in big bands; the Portage Bay Big Band, The Port Townsend Jazz Festival Big Band, the Fairly Honest Jazz Band and has entertained throughout the Pacific NW for 25 years. He is an avid numismatist with an interest in coinage from ancient to modern times. A nine-time Pushcart Prize nominee and National Park Artist-inResidence, Karla Linn Merrifield has had 500+ poems appear in dozens of publications. She has eleven books to her credit, the newest of which is Bunchberries, More Poems of Canada, a sequel to Godwit: Poems of Canada (FootHills), which received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. She is Assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye, a member of the board of directors of Just Poets (Rochester, NY), and a member of the New Mexico State Poetry Society, the Florida State Poetry Society and TallGrass Writers Guild. Visit her blog, Vagabond Poet, at http://karlalinn.blogspot.com Nahaan is of Łingít, Iñupiaq, and Paiute tribes. His work reflects his teachings and cultural background. He teaches the Tlingit language and song, and is the spokesperson for Náakw Dancers, a group which he started in Seattle, Washington in order to perpetuate the rich expressions of the Pacific Northwest’s Indigenous population. He focuses on the aspects of community empowerment and self-mastery through the methods of Indigenization decolonization and activism. Leonard Neufeldt was born and raised in the immigrant hamlet of Yarrow, British Columbia and has recently retired to Gig Harbor, Washington with his spouse, Mera. He is the author or editor of seventeen books, seven of them volumes of his poetry. His latest poetry collection, Painting Over Sketches of Anatolia, was issued in 2015 by Signature Editions (Winnipeg, Manitoba). A new collection, Trees Partly of Wood, is nearing completion. His poetry has appeared in numerous major literary magazines and journals throughout the U.S. and Canada.
CIRQUE June Olson grew up along the California coast between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Peninsula. She spent her formative years in Santa Cruz County and was influenced by the surfing and skateboarding culture there. She received an A.A. (Studio Art) at Monterey Peninsula College and a B.F.A. (Painting ) from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she won the Porter College Alumni Award for the Advancement of Art on campus at UCSC. June moved to the Northwest in the early 90s and currently lives there with her family. As a child, she was influenced artistically by her Japanese mother who painted traditional sumi-e and her Swedish American father, who painted with watercolor. June works primarily in oil on canvas or linen. She also enjoys printmaking and drawing. Strong color has always and continues to be present in June Olson’s work. Monica O’Keefe has always been drawn to the outdoors, to wild scenery and the quiet of natural places, where she notices subjects to interpret in paintings. She is intrigued by variations in scale from tiny to vast. She has been experimenting with using various acrylic mediums along with hand-cut self-made stamps and stencils to apply color and texture and create interesting patterns in her work. Timothy Pilgrim, Bellingham, WA, has over 260 acceptances by dozens of journals and is co-author of Bellingham Poems (2014). Pilgrim’s new poetry collection Mapping Water is forthcoming from Flying Trout Press. His work can be found at timothypilgrim.org Peter Porco, a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, lives and writes in Anchorage. His trip to Adak in the Aleutian Islands in June 2015 for research was funded by a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Cassandra Rankin and her husband proudly call Alaska home, where they raise their four children on a crazy little farm which boasts an ever-changing clump of animals and 4-H projects. She is the author of Annie Spruce, The Dog That Didn’t Die, is a contributor to Cirque, and won first place in the Inspirational category for Writer’s Digest’s 2014 international writing competition. She writes down the days at her blog, thiscrazylittlefarm.com, and is currently at work on her second book-length project. Diane Ray wrote a newspaper column and has published in The Women’s Studies Quarterly, Drash, Common Dreams, and Veterans for Peace. She writes poetry, plays, and is at work on a novel. Day job: psychologist. Joe Reno is a well-known Ballard artist who has never stopped loving the Northwest. His work can be seen at William Wikstrom Gallery in Seattle and a large mural can be seen at Ballard High School. His work has appeared in Cirque and in The Pacific Northwest Landscape: A Painted History. Matthew Campbell Roberts lives in Washington State and divides his time between the Methow Valley and South Puget Sound 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. Brenda Roper spent over 20 years in Alaska before moving too many miles from the ocean. She is a visual artist and occasional poet who runs errands for other people including walking dogs large and small. She currently resides in the high desert of northern New Mexico and is about to embark on a big adventure. Check-out her blog/work at www. brendaroper.com
Vo l . 7 N o . 1 Adrienne Ross Scanlan’s nature writing and other creative nonfiction has appeared in the City Creatures blog, the Prentice Hall Reader, Sugar Mule, Pilgrimage, Tiny Lights and many other print or online journals. She’s the nonfiction editor of the Blue Lyra Review and her narrative nonfiction book, Turning Homeward – Restoring Hope and Nature in the Urban Wild (tentative title) will be published by Mountaineers Books in fall/winter 2016. “The Waltz” is her first foray into fiction. Her website is adrienne-ross-scanlan.com and she can be reached at adrienne@ adrienne-ross-scanlan.com Tom Sexton lives in Anchorage with his wife and their Irish Terrier, Murphy. 48 Oak Street is the opening section of a memoir in progress about his early years in Lowell, Massachusetts until his arrival in Anchorage in 1959 as an eighteen year old army private. He’s the former poetry editor of the Alaska Quarterly Review and the author of many collections of poetry. His latest collection is A Ladder of Crane, University of Alaska Press, 2015. Deborah Chava Singer is a poet and playwright, originally from San Diego, California, who, after many experiences, detours, mistakes, pseudo-epiphanies and two years in Canada, now resides in Vancouver, Washington. Her writing has recently appeared in Snapdragon, Twisted Vine, Labletter and Off the Rocks. www.latenightawake.com Judith Skillman is the author of fifteen collections of poetry. Her work has appeared in The Southern Review, Tampa Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, The Iowa Review, Poetry, and other journals. Awards include a grant from the Academy of American Poets. Skillman has 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 Jennifer L. Smith lives in Eagle River, Alaska. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Cirque, Yellow Chair Review, Eunoia Review, and Alaska Women Speak. See more of her work at jlsmithwrites.com Jen Soriano is a Filipina-American writer and communications strategist. She has published pieces in many outlets including Mother Jones, Filipinas Magazine, Yes!, ParentMap, Stir Journal and her own blog jensoriano.net. In 2002, Jen co-founded the Center for Media Justice, an organization dedicated to democratizing digital media. As founder
of Lionswrite Communications, Jen strengthens the communications work of social justice groups at the local, national and international levels. Jen lives in Seattle with her husband, her toddler son, and their wise-mutt Kabu. She wants whatever you are eating right now, and would love to connect with you on Twitter. 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. Michael Strelow – My first novel, The Greening of Ben Brown, was a finalist for the Ken Kesey Award of Oregon Literary Arts in 2005. My second novel, Henry: A Novel of Beer and Love in the West, was published in 2014. In November of 2016, The Moby-Dick Blues, a novel about the lost manuscript for Moby-Dick, will be out. I have published poetry, short stories, and non-fiction essays in many literary and a few commercial magazines: e.g. Cirque, Sou’Wester, The Northwest Review, The Bellingham Review, Kansas Quarterly, CutBank, Midwest Poetry Review, Orchid Magazine, and many others. I live and write in Salem, Oregon. Born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, Sheary Clough Suiter lived in Alaska for 35 years before her recent transition to Colorado. Her encaustic fine art is represented in Anchorage, Alaska by Stephan Fine Art, in Portland, Oregon by the Attic Gallery, and in Colorado Springs by 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 Karin Swanson moved to the Pacific Northwest for the third time in 2012 after spending a decade in Hawaii, where she taught writing and journalism at a private high school. She has lived and taught in Italy and China, her wanderlust nurtured by a loving partner whose job required frequent relocation. A former journalist, she loves how poetry and journalistic prose both embrace economy of language, but to different ends. James Sweeney lives in a small cabin in the woods outside of Hope, Alaska. He’s working as a carpenter on a timber frame house. Politically he is green and rides his bike most everywhere. He has two books: The List and A Thousand Prayers: Alaska Expedition Marine Life Solidarity. Jim is a long time contributor to Cirque. His story “Break Shack” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Joan Swift is the author of four full-length books of poetry and two chapbooks, as well as a small book on the early history of the City of Edmonds, Washington where she lives. Born and raised in Rochester, New York, she has a B.A. from Duke University and an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Washington where she studied in Theodore Roethke’s last class. She is the recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, a writing grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and a Writer’s Award from the Washington State Arts Commission. Two of her books of poetry, The Dark Path of Our Names, and The Tiger Iris, were honored with Washington State Governor’s Awards. Her poems have appeared in such publications as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Yale Review, The American Poetry Review, Field, Poetry Northwest, and dozens of others, including more than two dozen anthologies.
Winter is Coming
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. Jim Thielman’s latest book is Postcards from Jim, a correspondence of poems with Jim Hanlen, published in 2015. He also wrote a humor book with Bob Heck titled The Theory of Wrong, Married Guys Are Wrong and That’s OK and screenplays, a novel, a children’s play and some news articles about adventures in weightlessness on NASA’s “Vomit Comet.” His two sons have produced five grandchildren, with considerable help from their wives. A retired communications specialist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Thielman maintains an interest in science, the arts and nature. His experience as a high-school teacher contributed to the discussion of a poetry-writing technique, included in a note on process at the back of the recent book. He lives along the Columbia River in Richland, Washington. After many years in Alaska, former state poet laureate, Joanne Townsend lives quietly in New Mexico with her husband, Dan, and dogs, Pilot and Cloud. She’s working on a new collection, Ridge. Recent poems appear in Sin Fronteras: Writers without Borders; also in previous issues of Cirque. Karen Tschannen – Some of her words have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Ice-Floe, PNW Poets and Artists Calendar(s), North of Eden (Loose Affliliations), The Sky’s Own Light (Minotaur Press), Crosscurrents North, Cirque, and other publications. Jean Waight is a nature enthusiast who formerly worked in corporate communications, including writing for the regional pages of NW Health Magazine. A nature essay appeared in The Bellingham Herald. Her sociological work was published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.
When not writing, she honors mind, body, and spirit, and she observes her fellow human beings. She is especially interested in concepts of the self. Paxson Woelber is a creative professional based out of Anchroage, Alaska. His creative work has been featured by National Geographic, the Atlantic, the Huffington Post Canada, USA Today, Alaska Dispatch News, the American Alpine Club, and more. He has been the designer and web designer for Cirque since its inaugural issue. To view his online portfolio, visit paxsonwoelber.com Tonja Woelber lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where she enjoys the mountains in all weathers. She is a member of the collaborative group Ten Poets. Her favorite poets are Anna Akhmatova, Billy Collins, Sylvia Plath, Tu Fu and Kay Ryan. Tonja has published two poetry books, Glacier Blue and Tundra Songs. Judith Works is a graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School. She served as a legal advisor for the United Nations in Rome, Italy before retirement. Between regular trips abroad she now volunteers for local literary and arts organizations. She is the author of a novel, City of Illusions, set in Rome. Her memoir, Coins in the Fountain, describing the highs and lows of expat life during ten years in Italy will be published in January. Yuan Changming – Eight-time Pushcart nominee and author of 5 chapbooks, is the most widely published poetry author who speaks Mandarin but writes in English. Since mid-2005, he has had poetry appearing in Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Cirque, Threepenny Review and 1,089 others across 36 countries. With a PhD in English, Yuan currently edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Qing Yuan in Vancouver. Avraham Zorea is a painter, writer and adventure cyclist. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Avraham graduated from UAA in 1993, and Seattle University School of Law in 1996. He has practiced law in bush Alaska and in Washington State. Spenard, in the studio district, is where he feels most comfortable lately. He has four bicycles to get through the year and no car.
Richard Widerkehr has two books of poems, The Way Home and Her Story of Fire, two chapbooks, and a novel, Sedimental Journey, about a geologist in love with a fictional character. He earned his MA from Columbia and won two Hopwood first prizes for poetry at the University of Michigan. Recent work has appeared in Rattle, Soundings, and Cirque. William H. Wikstrom works out of Wikstom Gallery near Wallingford in Seattle, WA. His own work includes painting, sculpture, poetry, set design, and video production. Born in 1952, in Seattle, WA, he is the son of Robert C. and brother to the artist Brom Wikstrom. WW has done art all his life and has done all kinds of art. First published in Yellow Dog Funnies in ‘68, WW has also done two covers for the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. Susan Z. Witter is a fiction writer living in Bellingham for 20 years and then some.
HOW TO SUBMIT TO C IRQUE Cirque, published in Anchorage, Alaska, is a regional journal created to share the best writing in the region with the rest of the world. Cirque 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 Summer Solstice 2016 Issue.
Issue #14—Summer Solstice 2016 Submission Deadline: March 21, 2016 SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: • Eligibility: you were born in, or are currently residing in, or have previously lived for a period of not less than 5 years in the aforementioned North Pacific Rim region.
• Poems: 4 poems MAX • Fiction, Nonfiction, Plays: 12 pages MAX • Artwork 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:
Photo Credit: Scott Banks - Gnochi
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 7, N O. 1