CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 7, NO. 2
CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 7 No. 2
Summer Solstice 2016
ÂŠ 2016 by Sandra Kleven & Mike Burwell, Editors
Cover Photo Credit: Jim Thiele Table of Contents Photo Credit: Robert Bharda, Water Snake Design and composition: Paxson Woelber ISBN-13: 978-1535372565 ISBN-10: 1535372567 ISSN: 2152-4610 (online) Published by
Clock Point Press Anchorage, Alaska www.cirquejournal.com All future rights to material published in Cirque are retained by the individual authors and artists. email@example.com
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MIKE BURWELL recently retired to Taos after 30 years in Alaska writing environmental impact statements for the Feds, doing maritime and shipwreck research, and teaching poetry at the University of Alaska Anchorage. A chapbook of his poems North and West was published by Heaven Bone Press in 1989 and his full-length poetry collection Cartography of Water was published by North Shore Press in 2007. He founded the literary journal Cirque in 2009.
AVAILABLE NOW FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON PRESS From his youthful second ascent of the north ridge of Mount Kennedy in the Yukon’s Saint Elias Range, an in-and-out on skis for which he had not entirely learned how to ski, to a recent excursion across the Harding Icefield conceived under the influence of rain and whiskey, David Stevenson chronicles several decades of a life unified by a preoccupation with climbing. Reflective and literary, and also entertaining and funny, his accounts move across the great climbing locations of the western United States, with forays into the spires of the Alps, and slip freely in time from the author’s childhood when he could not wait to head west, compelled by a longing to be on the heights. “With this book, Stevenson has joined the ranks of that rare breed: an excellent mountaineering writer. With remarkable insight he gives us stories that demonstrate that one doesn’t have to be a full-time committed climber to enjoy wild adventures. His essays show a remarkable awareness not only of the physical world but of the innermost turmoil that can occur during moments of stress.” - STEVE ROPER, author of Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber “Beginners or seasoned hardmen alike will pump their fists to the honesty, humility, and thoughtfulness of Warnings Against Myself.” - JON WATERMAN, author of In the Shadow of Denali: Life and Death on Alaska’s Mt. McKinley AVAILABLE AT: Amazon.com Barnes & Noble UAA Bookstore Anchorage Museum Bookstore
DAVID STEVENSON is the director of the Creative Writing and Literary Arts Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is the author of the short fiction collection Letters from Chamonix, winner of the Banff Mountain Festival Fiction Prize.
FINISHING LINE PRESS Preorder purchase ships September 2, 2016 FINISHING LINE PRESS FINISHING LINE PRESS Proudly Announces the Publication of
Proudly Announces the Publication of
Winner of Cirque's 2016 Andy Hope Literary Award It’s all here: everything you’d want in poems that are not only a recognition of real lives being lived, but show again the magic of images and metaphors that reveal our lives in ever changing new light. Sometimes they are layered to add depth to the picture they create; sometimes they are adjacent, fitting like a jig saw puzzle to create a picture. There are poems of a working professional, in Dave McElroy’s case a pilot in Alaska where, “Our runway disappears thirty yards out before the white wall of the world.” Or in Hawaii where,“Off Lanai we launch three thousand pounds of poi.” There are also intimate poems of friends, lovers, family: a father and small child out walking a mountain road, scratching marks in the dirt. “And here? And here?/ You and I making our mark/ walking through heaven.” Read these poems, for in them you will share the joys and pains of a full life, seen through the rich eye of a fine poet. Gary Holthaus
Inventive. Quixotic. Mark Making by David McElroy is an absolutely wonderful collection of poetry suffused with energy and vitality. These wise, well-crafted poems, so quirky and compelling, so unpredictable in their many turns and intersections, w w wfly. through f i n i sallh kinds i n gofl weather, i n e p rboth e s inner s . c and o mouter, and take w w . f i nyou’ve i s h never i n g been, l i n not e peven r e sinsyour . c owildest m dreams. youwplaces McElroy is your guide, the best you could have, and you’ll be grateful for such a wild, exhilarating ride. Robert Hedin
FINISHING LINE PRESS
FINISHING LINE PRESS
PYour r o u dturn l y Anow…what’s n n o u n c e s t hyour e P ustory? b l i c a In t i othis n o collection f P rMaking, o u d l y ADavid n n o u nMcElroy c e s t h eintroduces P u b l i c a t iand o n odraws f of poems, Mark us into his world,
his story. He takes us from the Miss Universe finalists to Breakup on the Chena River; from The Balkans where the soft things he loves go “clumsy in his hands,” to the Soldier’s Home where 10 paraplegic men wheel off a basketball court; from the small marks the poet makes on a page to the sun he would be to the earth, swinging it, turning and turning until he is done. Thus does he bind us to him, makes his mark on us all. Anne Caston, poet and author of Flying Out With The Wounded
Preorder a copy today at http://bit.ly/MarkMaking
David McElroy lives in Anchorage, Alaska and works as a professional pilot in the Arctic. He has been published in national journals and has a previous book of poems called Making It Simple. He is an award winner of grants from the National Council on the Arts and the State of Alaska Council on the Arts and Humanities. He and his wife photographer Edith Barrowclough and son Brandon travel extensively.
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w w w.finishinglinepress.com
s t e n n o s y t f i f Six Truths: h by Thomas Begic
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ch, they don’t The lines don’t flin ... ok bo is th e or uncover “I ad struggle instead to t bu n, tio lu so re offer easy h sacrifice and ity earned throug al qu g in dl in dw that loss - truth.” e of Singing Back th K.P. LILES, author ng Hunger Darkness and Spri undertow of l, and with a deep ca si m hi w r, la cu “Mus cajole and ch’s poems speak, gi Be -ss lo d an yearning all their own.” gorous vernacular ri a in us to er sp whi ng author of Everythi JESSE BROWNER, Happens Today NE THROUGH AVAILABLE ONLI p can .com h t napkin on the la ic ie eg qu b e th m o k, .t or w w ’s w w “In Begich Beneath blanket, of salve. of er w 1 po e 71 th 2 er 14 the gath or at: PO Box the lusty voices of rk lu ay m r pe pa its skinny -2711 omegranate gs’ or the sort of ‘p pi Anchorage 99514 ul ef m ha ‘s ’s ld ms wor endo and transfor nu in e ov ab s se ri juice that observant, gallows... This is an of st te ee sw e th into ial debut.” daring, and essent FRANK, author of MATHEW GALVIN and Barolo The Morrow Plots The bohemian son of a family steeped in Alaska politics and the product of a life of music and art, Tom Begich’s music and poetry are stories of the human condition. He’s opened for nationally and internationally renowned recording artists and appeared on XM Radio, numerous radio stations and the nationally syndicated radio shows “West Coast Live” and “River City Folk”. Tom has released six CDs, the most recent of which is a live performance with Bostonbased poet Tim Mason together performing as “Bone Collectors” released earlier in 2014. His first book of poetry, Six Truths: fifty sonnets was published in 2013.
Available now from Aldrich Press
In this unflinching debut collection of poems, Lisa Stice opens a conversation that we have long needed to have and hear: the experience of military spouses who watch war, sometimes achingly and sometimes bitterly, from the home front, part of a system and bound by its rules and yet not quite by direct choice.....Uniform will resonate with any who have experienced the violence of separation, the doubt and difficulty of reunion, the dehumanization of institutions, of the harm of the unsaid or unsayable. It is a brave and vulnerable book. - ELIZABETH BRADFIELD, author of Once Removed (Persea Books) These are poems that teach us that when a nation goes to war there really is no “over there,” and that the war zone inevitably extends all the way back home. - FRED MARCHANT, author of The Looking House (Graywolf Press) Through Lisa Stice’s moving first collection Uniform, we live a young woman’s struggle to integrate herself into a culture as foreign to her as the one her husband is deployed to. Stice’s narrator is newly married to the U.S. Marine Corp itself, it seems, as much as her husband, and it is with courage and consistent authenticity that Stice explores the inherent conflict of a third party involving itself in an institution traditionally reserved for couples only. - RANDY PHILLIS, author of The Plots We Can’t Keep Up With (Encircle Publications)
LISA STICE received a BA in English literature from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) and an MFA in creative writing and literary arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is a military wife who lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog.
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Joseph Kashi’s photographic art can be seen in this issue of Cirque.
SELECTED TITLES FROM THE ALASKA LITERARY SERIES The Creatures at the Absolute Bottom of the Sea Rosemary McGuire
“Emotional snapshots of life in coastal Alaska’s fishing communities form the focus of Rosemary McGuire’s short-story compilation, The Creatures at the Absolute Bottom of the Sea. The stories juxtapose the rugged and unforgiving landscape of rocky coasts and tumultuous waters with the characters’ inner lives of love and loss. . . . McGuire herself has more than a decade of experience in the fishing industry, and this shows in the authenticity of her voice. Her characters are not scholarly or verbose but working class. They feel deeply, and directly, and she writes them with appropriate bluntness and candor.” — WWW.FOREWARDREVIEWS.COM
Gaining Daylight Sara Loewen
“Loewen’s essays are exquisite slices of life . . . this solemn, spare book is an intimate and loving look at a life that very few people live.” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Cabin, Clearing, Forest Zach Falcon
“Falcon’s skill in presenting bleakly realistic, unidealized lives is central to the book’s considerable power. On top of that—and more to the point for those who don’t live here—he’s an exceptional writer.” — THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
The Geography of Water Mary Emerick
“The Geography of Water is a haunting blend of shadows and secrets, a story about Alaska, yes, but also about how wild places can dig down inside the blood, dare us to dive down and discover our own hidden stories.” — ALASKA DISPATCH NEWS
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From the Editors The good ship Cirque
This issue marks the seventh year of Cirque: fourteen amazing cover images and work, inside, from hundreds of writers, poets, and artists. Founder, Michael Burwell, set up the scaffolding for the fine ship, Cirque, methodically developing infrastructure, building a contact list of the literary that didn’t miss many, and pioneering the concept of literature and art, delivered full color, every page. Michael Burwell published five issues on his own, as publisher, editor, and decision maker. The next nine we have done together. Michael Burwell is mentor, inspiration, aiding this editor’s slippery navigation as we produce the best journal I have ever seen. Finetoothed perfection is not one of my strengths, but he brings that rare touch of meticulous genius. Michael works from El Prado, New Mexico and here in Anchorage, I sail the ship he crafted, feeling like I was born to it. In this issue, we continue to feature past Alaska Writer Laureates. Sheila Nickerson, Alaska Poet Laureate, 1977, describes her early years in poetry, “I tried to emulate Bill Stafford’s standard of always having at least six batches of poems out in the mail.” We recognize our first intern, Kellie Doherty, who has worked with us on the last seven issues. Kellie graduated this spring from Portland State with a Master of Science in Writing – and her first published book, Finding Hecate. Congrats, Kellie! We remember Alaska writer, Eva Saulitis, in this issue – her passing palpable, her presence still felt. Our work as editors leads us to affirm these guiding principles:. •
Cirque exists to support writers and artists. The work of Cirque contributors is never out of print. Past issues can be ordered or read digitally on our web page (www.cirquejournal.com).
Cirque values literary history and you’ll see it in the focus on Alaska’s laureates and Seattle’s acclaimed poets, Roethke, Wagoner, Gallagher and Swift. This issue remembers the Red Sky Poetry Theatre and the Jessie Bernstein era in Seattle. Bernstein was one of Seattle’s most memorable and troubled voices, who once wrote, ostensibly, of the freedom of the highway, “I put my mouth to the road and suck.” History speaks, too, via Peter Porco’s poem “The Grace of Martha Gellhorn.”
Cirque seeks to build literary friendships. We bring the collective to life through Cirque readings held in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Join us in Anchorage, July 21, 7 pm at Great Harvest Bread for the launch of this issue. On August 19, 5:30 pm, we will be in Bothell, WA at Tsuga Fine Art and on August 28, 3 pm, at the Mount Baker Theater in Bellingham, WA.
Each year, Cirque presents the Andy Hope Literary Award celebrating the legacy of Alaskan poet, Andy Hope. Sponsored by Vivian Faith Prescott and her daughter Vivian Mork, the award comes with $100 prize. This year we present the Andy Hope award to David McElroy for his body of work. In this issue, find his poem, “The Elephants.” Michael Burwell describes McElroy as a consistently strong poet, whose work has both range and heart. “Wherever he goes whether it is travelling around the world with his photographer wife Edith Barrowclough (also a Cirque contributor) or back into his imagination and his past, he finds poems sprouting everywhere, and he is at home and finds powerful personas to speak of these myriad places and conditions.” David McElroy’s second book Mark Making was just published by Finishing Line Press. Cirque is an independent journal funded by sales, subscriptions and donations. Most staff, including the editors, donate their time. To support this effort, go to the Cirque website to donate or subscribe. Thanks so much! Land ho!
- Sandra L Kleven ~ Michael Burwell Published twice yearly, Summer and Winter Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Sandra Kleven and Mike Burwell, Editors Paxson Woelber, Designer Kellie Doherty, Assistant to the Editors Anchorage, Alaska
Marketing Director Emily Kurn
Poetry Editors Kenny Gerling Carmen Maldonado
Fiction Editors Gretchen Phelps Jerry McDonnell
Nonfiction Editors Monica Devine Cynthia Steele
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Volume 7 No. 2 Summer Solstice 2016
NONFICTION Louise Freeman Empty Cabins 17 Nancy Lord Beep 20 Kim Melton All for One 21 David Fewster A Red Sky Poetry Memoir 23 Richard Little Channeling Bill Douglas 27 Jerry Dale McDonnell A Regretful Death 29 Ron McFarland Getting Acquainted with Walleye 32 Jana Ariane Nelson Garnett’s Bible 37 Tanyo Ravicz A Kodiak Miscellany 40 Ann Sihler Wildlife Spotting 45 Lois Paige Simenson Poetic Dancer 45 Cynthia Steele Gwennie’s in the 70’s 49 Richard Stokes Tooting Into Manhood 52 Julie Tate-Libby It Feels Like This 54
POETRY Luther Allen in place 58 Scott Banks Suppose 58 Irene Bloom Slugs 59 Karen Vande Bossche Wild Love 60 Namaste, Bitches 60 Jack Campbell Doorman 60 Susan Chase-Foster God’s Own Fruit 61 Kersten Christianson Hometown 61 The Saltbox on Gibson Place 62 Debbie Cutler Grandpa 63 Steve Dieffenbacher Arrowhead 64 Patrick Dixon Dead-Heading 64 Anishka Duggal The Optics of Water 65 Gene Ervine Carving the Yellow Cedar Spoon 66 David Fewster Chimes at Midnight in Open “C” Tuning 67 William Ford North of Vancouver, B. C. 68 Susi Gregg Fowler The Laughter of Courting 68 Leslie Fried The Boys Outside 69 Gabriel Furshong Stateline, Great Burn 70 Train Stopping at Midnight 70 Paul Haeder Dystopia Blues – Who Will Write a Song about Ice Caps Melting When All Music Dies? 71 Jim Hanlen 7.1 72 David Hecker A Lucky Crab 72 Way of Life or Love? 73 Bob Hicks Dusk, Lewis River 73 Young Woman on the Bus, Tweaking 74 Branwyn Holroyd The First View of Winter from Elevation Coffee, Taos NM 75 The Task of Excavation Holds Her 76 Sarah Isto After Her Tidy Death 76 Seth Jani Olly and the World Sea 77 Jill Johnson Dry Dirt Country: Cassidy’s Complaint 77 Marion Avrilyn Jones Contract 78 For Marjorie: Playing with Fire 78 Peter Kaufmann Unspoken 79 Maitre D’ Of The Campfire 80 Jennifer Kemnitz Cryophilia 80 Len Kuntz Silence Is A Yes 80 Mercedes Lawry Lighting Out From The Failed Homestead 81 Dusk 81 David Laws Miscommunication 82 Eric le Fatte Inertia 82 David McElroy The Elephants 83 DC McKenzie Extrusion 84 Karla Linn Merrifield Sucia Trip 85 Kevin Miller What You Refused to Tell 86
Cynthia Monroe Wrangell Sestina 86 Rebecca D. Morse East of the Eye 87 Keith Moul On Our 28th Anniversary 88 Tim Pilgrim Card from Idaho, only snow on the cover 88 Peter Porco The Grace of Martha Gellhorn 89 Vivian Faith Prescott The Fire Tender 90 Diane Ray Better Than Any of the Dancers 90 Ellen Reichman Perfectly Fine Glasses 91 Sherry Rind Wildlife Rescue 91 Matthew Campbell Roberts The Lost Valley 92 Ellie A. Rogers Tide’s Aporia 92 Mistee St. Clair Until Then 93 The Finale 93 Tim Sherry At Pompeys Pillar 94 Judith Skillman Cupid, Chastised 96 Frank Soos Gulkana 96 Craig Smith After You Die 97 David Stallings Don’t get me wrong— 98 Ben Swimm To the Top of the Continent 98 David Takamura Ophelia 99 Kokeshi 99 Elizabeth L Thompson Don’t Ever Fall in Love with a Poet… 100 Joanne Townsend Anchorage 1979 100 Marie Tozier Facebook: Alaska Mystery Pictures, Investigating Unknown People 101 Pepper Trail Labor Day, South Cascades 101 Stephen Delos Treacy Topiary 102 Tim Troll The Wisdom of the Old Ones 103 Karen Tschannen Breakup 103 Proper Names 104 E D Turner First Snow After Macklin 105 Catherin Violante Dementia 105 Emily Wall Saturday Creek 106 Margo Waring The Perfect Dress 106 Lillo Way Just at this Moment in Seattle 107 Flannery White On the Morning Ferry, Puget Sound 107 Toby Widdicombe The Lovers. A Villanelle 108 Richard Widerkehr Blue Maraca 108 Paul Willis O Western White 110 John Sibley Williams [i catch my reflection in a] newly discovered specimen 110 Matt Witt Mileage 111 Tonja Woelber To J.G. 112
FICTION James Bennett Acidic 114 Vic Cavalli Steelheaders Anonymous 118 Kathy Ellis Bad With Money 119 Barbara Hood Glowing in the Dark 122 Grove Koger A View of the Owyhees 124 J.L. Smith The Afghan 126 Benjamin Toche Healthy at Any Weight 130
F E ATU R E Sheila Nickerson
One Laureate’s Way: Comments and Five Poems
F E AT U R E : A T R I B U T E T O E VA S AU L I T I S Sandra Kleven 138 Margaret Baker Safe Harbor 139 Emily Wall Care Package for Eva 142 Mike Burwell Prayer 59 142
INTERVIEWS Kenny Gerling Sandra Kleven
Now I Am Editing: An Interview with Sculptor Kate Carr 143 Staff Notes: Finding Kellie Doherty 147
C O N T R I B U T O R S 149 h ow to sub m it to cirque 156
Blue Garden Cat
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
NONFICTION Louise Freeman
Cabins like it are hidden in the woods all over Alaska. This one is not unique, nothing special. A one-room log structure with a lean-to attached standing in a small clearing surrounded by birch and white spruce. It appears abandoned. The garden is overgrown now, the weeds waist high, the raspberry bushes sprawl unchecked. The bucket still hangs over the well, the rope looped securely around a spruce pole. A single husky, the last of our dogs, rises slowly to his feet between two trees. The chain, which he used to strain against with boundless energy, lies slack, and the collar is loose around his neck. (Those two aspens are where we’d string our hammock every summer, drinking beer, staring up at the heart-shaped leaves fluttering as the birds whose name I never knew—there is so much here I never learned—sang in the top branches.) Could this be the young dog that ran mile after mile on the frozen Yukon River, effortlessly keeping up with the rest of the team while the two of us stood—knees flexed—on the runners, wild grins on our faces? He has become old and gray, as I have. He doesn’t recognize me and cowers away when I approach. On one of the rare days he’d escaped the chain, he returned cocky and selfsatisfied, trotting into the yard carrying in his mouth a salmon stolen from someone’s fish rack—a king so large its tail dragged on the ground. I wish he’d had a chance to escape more often. Our cat is curled on an old sleeping bag in the shed. She lifts her head but her eyes are blank. Drool runs down her chin. Her fur is dusty and matted. Gone is the understanding look we’d exchanged the night I’d smuggled her into the hotel room in Fairbanks after rescuing her from a windowless room stacked ceiling high with cages. Sitting, sleek and black, on the bed she had held my eyes for a long, long moment, as if to say, “So. This is my person.” The cabin is unlocked, and I pull the leather string to open the wide plank door. The bar makes a familiar clunk as it drops into place again, and the door swings open on
17 my past. I don’t expect to step into a room lit warm by the kerosene lamp and rich with the smell of moose stew, nor to be enfolded in a great hug by a gentle man with a soft brown beard. He has a summer job downriver now, pulling in nets filled with salmon, grasping their slick, thrashing bodies to be counted and measured before letting them slip back into the water to spawn and die. But still I’m not prepared to see a single camp chair by the barrel stove, the seat sagging from the thousands of hours he’s sat there alone since I moved away. From the window over the sink, I can see rows of potato plants nearly drowned in chickweed. He still pores over seed catalogs every February, plants potatoes and broccoli and cabbage though he knows he won’t be here often enough to tend the garden or care properly for the animals. There are unwashed dishes in the sink. I’m sure there is food rotting in the root cellar. What little wood he has in the yard will barely get him through December. When I finally made my choice and moved here, I’d arrived on the mail plane at thirty below, wearing all the warm clothes I had and bringing with me two boxes of essentials: books, my mother’s mixing bowl, photos of my children. I asked him—a man who used to fight fires burning through black spruce so fast they called it gasoline on a stick—to teach me how to build a fire. Under my unsure hands, the tiny but promising flame always shrank and disappeared as if the cold wood had sucked it right in through a crack in the bark. When I gave up, he’d get the fire going and stuff the barrel stove full, but it put out so little heat the water in the cat’s dish froze solid. You see, it was mid-winter and he’d run out of dry wood, but I didn’t know the difference. If I thought he’d made it hard on purpose—set me down with a couple of precious matches, a few crumpled pages of the GreatLander Bushmailer, and the greenest of green aspen—I’d give him credit, because now I can coax a fire from even the poorest of wood. But it was just his way. For twenty years, he’d been starting each spring intending to get his firewood in early so it could dry before the following winter, but after cutting a cord or two, the weather warmed, the frozen Yukon broke up, and it was more pleasant just to take his rifle and sit on a rock plinking at chunks of ice bobbing in the current. There was still all summer, he told himself. But on hot afternoons, the river called, and he floated, eyes closed, listening to the susurrus against the bottom of the canoe, the sound of silt scoured by glaciers from the mountains
upriver. Later, we would do this together; our first date, you could say. I walk around the room, touching objects that were once mine. No, they were never mine. Three dog harness bells and the rusted remains of a toy train I found washed out of an eroding section of riverbank. A five-sided jar with the words “pin money” in raised letters, which I discovered half-buried in a creek bed. I imagine a woman in a long blue dress—a hundred years ago when this country was full of rowdy gold miners and peace-keeping soldiers— dropping into the jar a few coins, an occasional dollar bill. What had she spent her pin money on? A new thimble? A bright ribbon? Candy for the children? The shelf by the stove still holds a beaver jaw with long orange teeth. There’s the back scratcher I made from diamond willow, shaped to look like a hand with four curled fingers and a neatly carved thumb. All these things belong here where they were made or grew or found. I take nothing but two of my favorite books, the spines covered with sawdust from the carpenter ants slowly devouring the log walls. It was I, the ant, who insisted, and he, the grasshopper, who relented. So every year, through the brief spring, full of mud and sunshine, and the summer dazzling with wild roses among ferns a fluorescent green, he felled trees with a chainsaw and I carried the log pieces, still heavy with sap, to the truck. By the time fall came, we had stacks of stove-length wood along the path and a pile of cordwood by the driveway that grew taller as the days grew shorter. Around us the boreal forest was pungent with the smell of highbush cranberries and the leaves flared briefly gold before falling. “Is this enough?” he’d ask, tired and petulant. “No,” I’d say, working until my elbows gave out. From October to May, that’s how long our wood needed to last. But no amount of hot-burning birch or long-burning spruce could stave off the hard, short days ahead when the earth tilts away from the sun and trees crack like gunfire in the cold. The cheery curtains I’d hung over the kitchen window are Door, Summer Lake Wildlife Area, Oregon
dark with soot. The flowered shelf paper I tacked to the rough wooden shelves has yellowed and curled. I’d gone contentedly about these tasks as I did what I could to transform his hermit’s lair—all bearskins and shotguns and splintery plywood floor—into a cozy dwelling. Before I upended my life and moved to this most distant of places, he used to type long letters to me on the ancient typewriter that still sits on the table made from an old door, punching away so hard on the stiff keys that the periods made holes in the paper. Down in the Lower 48, I’d hold up each page to see the light coming through the pinpricks, a constellation of love. Whenever we came across a boarded-up cabin, I’d ask, “Who lived here? Why did they leave?” He told me their stories. The cabin near the creek: a man who’d married an Athabaskan woman; together they raised a family before making their peace with both God and alcohol. Then they traded one far-flung land for another, becoming missionaries in Mongolia. The A-frame high on the riverbank: a Vietnam vet who spent years watching the Yukon flow by before dying of leukemia. The well-built cabin an hour’s walk south of us: a couple who decided that living at the very end of the road—175 miles of wash-board gravel from the closest town—wasn’t far enough away for them. They bought land downriver and started over. Some people just up and left. Usually it was the women; whether it was the winters or the mosquitoes or their own men that drove them away, who’s to say? One man, furious at the loss of his wife and children, threw open the doors to his cabin and sheds and lined up the contents of his cupboards and refrigerator on the porch. Folks heard, and they stopped by. With prices so high at the general store, a half-empty bottle of salad dressing or a baggie full of Q-tips seemed like a good deal. Before going back to Texas, that man sold everything he owned, including his cowboy boots. They were too big for me but I bought them anyway. I liked to wear them when I was making bread. The man I lived with—the one who’d built the cabin I called home, the one I left— Steve Dieffenbacher
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 he called them “your baking boots.” Why those other cabin-dwellers packed their pick-ups, nailed plywood over their windows, and drove south remains a mystery. Some things end for reasons even we cannot know. I would learn only later—months after that final visit to the cabin—that our cat died there in the sun-warmed shed. If only I’d unwound the thick white rope and lowered the bucket into the well. The sound would have brought her running. She’d have waited patiently while I hauled up the bucket, hand over hand. As soon as I set it down, she’d have lapped daintily, her pink tongue darting in and out. I could have given her at least that in the end: a drink of fresh, cold well water. We’d waded through thigh-high fireweed to peer in the windows of empty cabins. We made love on the screened-in porch of a cabin near the edge of a pond. We sat on the rickety steps of a cabin with a yellow school bus parked nearby, flat tires sinking into the moss, “Alaska or Bust,” painted above the windshield. From the eaves of another forlorn cabin hung a set of wind chimes made of silver spoons hammered flat. I touched them and they swayed, making a soft metallic ringing. “I love this. Let’s take it home.” He put a hand on my arm. “Somebody may come back one day, and they’ll wonder where their wind chimes are.” “No one’s been here for ages.” A half dozen blue enamel teapots filled with dirt were rusting in the yard. I pictured them blooming with bright poppies and sweet alyssum. “Everybody thinks they’re coming back someday,” he said. I didn’t see the truth of his words then, and I took the chimes home and hung them outside the door. The shed is piled high with cardboard boxes. Somewhere in here—beneath his accumulation of hunting and trapping magazines, spare parts and tools, old-fashioned long underwear with buttons instead of elastic, snowshoes with broken lacings, and army rations with no expiration dates—my cedar hope chest is buried. It’s filled with thick parkas and heavy boots I no longer need, as well as all my jean jackets, including my favorite with the tiny daisy patch I sewed over a hole burnt in the cuff. Despite all the unoccupied cabins, the rare person who
19 wants to settle in this isolated area will find it hard to buy one. The owners won’t sell. Even if they live thousands of miles away and haven’t seen their cabin in decades, they’ll hang onto it. Someday, they believe, they’ll return to this wild place that had captured their hearts and where they’d lived out, if only briefly, a long-cherished dream. They tell themselves that when circumstances change, maybe when they retire, they’ll head north to reclaim that dream. Meanwhile, it is enough to know it exists. They can picture it clearly even now—a log cabin in a small clearing, flowers in the garden, wood in the yard, a cat, a dog, some hardy chickens. This is not just about a particular cabin, a particular man. It is about a particular me. The one who existed only here. I don’t crow anymore at the northern lights, wrapped naked in a blanket we shared. Nor do I dance in the kitchen wearing my baking boots or sew by candlelight, singing softly, while he sleeps. But neither do I spend days curled, unmoving, in a low-ceilinged loft, thinking the sun would never return and the cold would never cease, even as he climbed the ladder with pancakes and bacon, begging me to eat. “I was living in suspended animation ‘til you came,” he once said. I’d woken this good yet feckless Rip Van Winkle from his long sleep. “You opened my eyes to beauty. Suddenly there were whole new colors I’d never seen before.” That man, whose eyes were filled with gratitude and wonder, doesn’t exist anymore. His world has gone gray again, the dust settling over everything. The dog that used to carry on soaring, soulful conversations with the wolves howling across the river in Canada is sitting silently in the weeds, watching me. The cat is sleeping again, oblivious to my presence. By the porch step, I linger over the collection of red and black and green rocks I picked up along the riverbank just to hold something shiny and smooth in my hand as I walked. Glancing up, I’d see the surface of the Yukon, equally shiny and smooth, and overhead, the polished sheen of the northern sky. That was the problem. I couldn’t hold it all in my hand. I couldn’t hold river, sky, mountain, woods, cabin, love, safe in my clenched hand. It was too big, too much, too late. I close the cabin door, pocket the green river rock. I run my fingers along the beaten spoons hanging from the eaves, making them ring one last time.
Beep I had just returned from a trip when my bed partner warned me, “My clock alarm has been going off every morning even though I don’t have it set. I don’t know what the deal is.” I said something about “damn electronics.” Anything with electronic parts—which seems like everything these days—always, too soon, goes kablooey. At 7:45 in the morning the alarm went off. Beepbeep, beep-beep, beep-beep. It rang for half a minute and then quit. We are not alarm-clock people. Our lives are such that we either wake naturally when we’re rested or by internal abilities when required. We hate being abruptly jarred by loud and insistent noises. And if 7:45 is not a particularly early waking time, we claim the Alaskan right, in winter, to stay in bed until there’s an edge of light in the southern sky. That night he switched the alarm’s AM to PM. “That should fool it,” he said. The next morning, beep-beep, beep-beep. The following night, he unplugged the clock altogether and left it on the kitchen counter. In the morning, the same beeping. “It has a battery,” I said. “So even when it’s unplugged, the battery keeps it alive. And the door was open, so the sound carried upstairs. What else could it be? Didn’t you used to have a travel alarm?” I shoved the mattress around and looked under and around the bed frame. That night, he disconnected the television and cable box and put all the TV and DVD remotes in another room. In the morning, more beeping. “Get up! Get up! I yelled. “We have to find it!” I flung myself across the room. “It’s here, somewhere here on your side.” “I think it’s on your side,” he said. “It’s coming from my left.” He was still lying in bed. This went on for a week. I became philosophical. “It could be the cosmos talking, I suppose. It could be telling us we need to make the most of every day. No slothiness.” He grunted and fell back asleep. Eventually, I thought, anything running on a
battery has to wear out. We could live with it; we could simply outlast it. Several more grouchy mornings ensued. On a Saturday, I completely emptied the nightstand tables and bookshelves on both sides of the bed. I lifted the mattress, moved the bed, vacuumed up a few years’ of dust bunnies. I collected lost pens and dental picks and took away a box of obsolete VCR tapes. In my office on the other side of the wall I searched drawers and put anything that looked vaguely electronic into the linen closet, under piles of towels. The clock went there, too; I wasn’t convinced of its innocence. The next morning, the same beeping. His iPad was lying beside the bed. “It’s your iPad! Of course it’s your iPad!” “My iPad doesn’t have a clock or an alarm. And besides, I usually leave it downstairs.” “It has to be your iPad!” He spent an hour searching the iPad for a clock or alarm. And then banished it from the room. And closed the door. In the morning, again the beeping. Again, I threw myself from bed and scrambled around the room, racing the alarm’s thirty seconds. There was no question that the sound was coming from his side of the bed. “OK,” I joked, “Are you really a space alien? Are you implanted with something?” Oh. I went into my office and googled. In two seconds I was reading, “that little beep could be telling you something.” He did indeed have an implant. It’s called an ICD, “implantable cardioverter defibrillator.” It was eight years old, and he was scheduled to have it replaced in another month. As far as either of us remembered, no one had ever mentioned a low-battery alarm. According to the manufacturer’s website, the alarm was programmed to alert him when there were six months of battery life left. Just to be sure, the next morning at 7:45, he rose from the bed and left the room. The beeping went with him. The cardiologist’s office was called. Morning peace returned. In the quiet dark he and I snuggled close, and I thought about the cosmos’s message. We have time; time has us. We’re awake, or we’re not. Like clocks, like batteries, like beating hearts, we’ll soon enough all come to the same still end.
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All for One The problem with sitting right-seat to a pilot gifted at spotting moose as well as flight is that he likes to have the best view. This doesn’t matter when the Yukon landscape sprawls out wide far below us – every seat in the diminutive plane is a window seat after all – but when we are pushing the opposite extreme, the lower wing aiming at tree tops as we coil earthwards in a steady spiral, all I see are spinning clouds. Not an ungulate among them. Definitely no cow moose sporting bright yellow collars. The trio that forms tri-annually for these short occasions – three or four days at most – is nevertheless bonded by a camaraderie as light and strong as the fabric and aluminum fuselage in which it was forged. Pilot Gerd Mannsperger is without a doubt the Porthos of our aeronautical musketeers, offering his own unique brand of comedy as in-flight entertainment as he manoeuvres the little Maule M-7 deftly about the contours of the Pelly Mountains. Biologist Alan Baer channels a dedicated but slightly resigned Athos whose passion for the wilderness and wildness is tinged with a melancholic disillusionment with the conservation movement. My youth and nearfilial sentiment towards Alan require that I assume the role of the Gascogne, with much yet to learn, leaving vacant the seat of the priest. We couldn’t fit a fourth in the Maule anyways. The sun was beginning to smoulder on the southeastern horizon when I arrived at the airstrip this
Lookout Mountain Burn
morning to wait for Gerd and Alan. I could have gone into the small building that houses the CAR (Community Aerodrome Radio) station, but decked out in parka and insulated overalls I instead chose the tarmac as my gate. I listened as a low drone coalesced into a speck in the lightening sky to the Northwest, and watched as the speck became a fly, then a bird, then out of a swirl of snow and rush of sound a little red plane bounced to a halt in front of me on oversized winter tires. It regurgitated two well-bundled passengers, both already beaming at the prospect of a day together in the air. One stretched and the other quipped while I crammed my duffel and snowshoes into the rear hatch, joining my smile of anticipation to theirs. A quick walk around for good measure then it was anchors away; the brief visit to the dry dock of earth complete, the now fully-crewed vessel returned to the skies. *** The smell in the cockpit is old upholstery and cold plastic, coffee steaming from a metal thermos and a Tim Horton’s sandwich, just unwrapped. I am only half-listening to the jokes that crackle through my headset between Gerd blithely handling the controls and Alan jammed happily into the cramped backseat. I love the lockerroom companionship, long for it even on the other 353 days of the year, but it cannot compete with what is laid out before my enraptured gaze. The landscape unfurls beneath us as we climb and names leap off the map to take up residence in the features below. Livingstone, Hootalinqua, Thirtymile – I mouth them silently to feel them on my tongue and against the back of my teeth as my eyes rove hungrily over their contours. The horizon rolls towards us to reveal yet another snow-encrusted mountain range thrusting upwards from the dark mat of spruce forest, among its peaks a jagged ridge of red rock set aflame by the horizontal rays of the mid-winter sun. I am in wonder that this is the world I get to inhabit. The banter peters out as my comrades too find an experience for which there is no words. A moment or two, and then as if on cue we come back to the cockpit, renewed. The jumble in my lap includes a large-screen GPS, a notebook and a map showing a red dot nestled between the contour lines that stand in for the landform that looms ahead. The collars send out periodic location updates to satellites roaming far overhead, which give us a ballpark that hopefully gets us close enough to pick up the radio signals. I point out over the dash as my voice
comes crackling back to me over the intercom: “Her last location was on the other side of that ridge.” Sound bumping from particle to particle, creating an electric current in the mic that shoots through cables to vibrate more atoms in our headsets. I feel around beneath the pile of papers and turn on the receiver wedged between my knees, and in that instant our soundscape expands as a similar conversion enables us to ‘hear’ radiowaves. The antennae on the wing struts have been vibrating to electromagnetic rhythms all along, and now we are invited to the party as wave becomes current becomes sound. The spectacular view recedes into the background as we become all ears, awash in the sound of the universe being created. The click of a dial punctuates the leap from one channel to the next, each one a slightly different shade of white noise. Once we arrive at the frequency of our first moose we strain forwards, as if hearing could be an act of taking instead of receiving, listening intently for the beat on our tympanic membranes that will guide our course. There. We all straighten visibly as a faint but steady cadence is suddenly apparent within the auditory fuzz. It disappears and then returns, as Gerd flicks a switch attached to a small metal box nestled in a tangle of cables stuffed between the two front seats. The switch alternates between the aerials strapped to the struts under each wing, helping us to orient. We burst over the crest of the ridge to a sudden downdraft that drops us like a stone. At the same moment the volume leaps, filling our ears as the sheer cliff face hurtles skywards behind us. I dial back the sensitivity on the receiver as the engine ramps up. The rocks slow their dramatic ascent and the
CIRQUE beeps recede to an acceptable level. Our bodies lag in their response to gravity and the seats push against the underside of our thighs. I scan the draw beneath us and find it strewn with the matchsticks of tree trunks from a previous year’s avalanche. A few gnarled spruce are the only signs of life, gaining in numbers and size as we follow the valley to where it opens up into a plateau. The signal fades, and we make a wide circle back until the volume increases again. Now that we have a rough idea of where she is, we circle to lose altitude. A moose track comes into view, winding from one Jill Johnson clump of trees to another, a tease; hearing is the trustworthy sense for now. I take over control of the switchbox as we approach closer to the snowy slope and the flying requires more focus. Every few rounds we switch the direction of our ever-tighter circles to allow our guts to unwind, only for them to twist up again the other way. We develop kinks in first one and then the other side of our necks as the steady cadence of beeps continues to strengthen. Two louder than two softer as I flick between downwards- and upwardspointing aerials, we must be close. On the counterclockwise circles I aim my gaze across the plane at a small square of forest visible between parka and controls. It appears to move all the more quickly for being framed by the motionless cockpit. When we spiral clockwise I press my forehead against the blessedly cool plastic of the window and strain to make a moose out of any of the rocks and stumps and shadows that race across my field of vision. “There! By that pond with the big snag.” Alan’s excited voice comes directly into my ears through my headset, weirdly detached from the mouth I see moving out of the corner of my eye. I crane my neck beyond its normal limit to follow his index finger, pressed insistently against the plastic of the left rear window. I see wheeling trees and tracks but no moose, and my body begins to feel the incongruence between vision, sound, and proprioception. It threatens to rebel in the most basic of ways. I close my eyes for a moment as we level out and switch directions. “A little to the North, I think.” Al’s voice again. I take a deep breath and open my eyes again, searching out my own window now. Cardinal directions have lost all meaning for me in the spiralling descent. My finger is anchored firmly to the map in a puny and
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 desperate attempt to maintain some sense of ‘here’ in the rolling three dimensions of the sky. Then I see her. Nausea disappears. I stab at the window and holler, two heads and four eyes whip about like needles to a magnet. Sure enough, she stands next to a pond and a snag, a dead spruce so tall it tells of a very different forest that once grew here – but we have no time to listen. As we cartwheel around I lose her and take the moment to glance at a scribbled note on the map and relay the information: “She had a calf last time – I can’t see it.” We make an about face and our organs shift to the left as we hold our breath and hold out hope. Then ease seeps into the midst of the g-forces as it comes into focus, a tiny body pressed up against its mother in the deep drifts. I punch blindly at the GPS, trying to keep the pair in my sight for just a moment longer as time slows for heartbeat – then I catch Gerd’s raised eyebrow. He’s been keeping us just above stalling-speed, no mean feat during steep turns this close to the rocks and snow. I nod assent, we’ve got what we came for. We lean back as the little plane roars upwards in glorious release, giant grins plastered across our faces. *** I know that wolves and moose need each other as much as do death and life. I know that without top carnivores our ecosystems become shattered and dysfunctional. Still I feel like whooping and sharing a high five whenever we spy a gangly calf that has made it from one survey to the next. While scientific papers and management reports speak in a language of averages and statistics, it is the connection to the individual that is the privilege and joy of life-study, bio-logy. Later on this moment will come down to one line on a spreadsheet shared between two governments. The breathtaking context will be rendered down to a set of numbers that correspond to a ridiculously precise point on the surface of the earth. A couple of hastily scrawled comments might be transcribed, the aspect and angle of the slope perhaps, that tell more of the cramped quarters of the cockpit than of the spectacular or of the sacred. The cow moose herself will be represented only by the frequency of her radio collar, 155.310. And for that paradoxically fragile and resilient new life she shelters, a simple numeral 1 will stand alone in a column. Postscript – Alan Baer passed away in 2014. Clear skies to you my friend.
A Red Sky Poetry Memoir I made my debut at Red Sky Poetry Theater on August 5, 1989, after almost two years of seeing the name on flyers around town. The reason the date is so indelibly imbedded in my memory is it also marked my first appearance in the Sunday Seattle Times as a contributor to the “What’s Funny” page in Pacific Magazine. My piece was called “Tips From Temps,” a parody of the etiquette pamphlets that temporary employment agencies gave you to make sure you didn’t go berserk the first day of your assignment at some fancy high-rise office downtown. So, I was feeling pretty good about myself that day. I was 30 years old, and after a decade of moving slowly north up the West Coast I had started to develop a complex regarding the disparity between my nearmegalomaniacal opinion of my talents and my actual accomplishments. But now, all that was going to change. I was a Humorist in a Big City Newspaper, just like my heroes Don Marquis and Ring Lardner. Nonetheless, I was already worried about being a sellout, what with writing for a family-friendly publication where I would be forced to self-censor my deepest avantgarde, epater les bourgeoisie, revolutionary literary principles. In order to keep this aspect of my artistic self from withering and dying, the time seemed ripe to finally check out Red Sky. Merely entering the seedy portals of Squid Row Tavern on Capitol Hill served to metaphorically wash the accumulated grime of years of exposure to the compromise and hypocrisy of the capitalist system off my true essence. As I signed my name to the open mike list, Marion Kimes, the diminutive, rail-thin MC with a blond pageboy, Texas accent, and cigarette never far away, exclaimed “Did you write that article in the Times today? That was funny.” No doubt about it, the planets were clearly aligned on Aug. 5, 1989 to make me feel Special. Beside Marion, the elders of my new tribe seemed to be Don Wilsun, a bearded, burly, goodnaturedly macho fellow who looked all the world like the construction worker he was in real life, Robin Schultz, who resembled a taller, leaner version of Robert Crumb’s Mr. Natural, margareta waterman and Roberto Valenza, who I found, respectively, standoffish and scary. In margareta’s case, I decided after time it was because she
24 sensed instantly that I completely lacked the spiritual qualities necessary to be a poet. As for Roberto—well, shit. Roberto was scary. That night, I lost my poetic virginity by reading pretty much the only two poems I’d ever written (unless you count “The Big Brown Bear”, which got me an A in Mr. Wilson’s 5th grade class in Ontario, NY) One was a short piece in which I cleverly equated pigeons eating discarded chicken carcasses in Westlake Park during lunch hour to the cannibalistic practices of the businessmen surrounding me. (I had yet to learn the poetry world possessed a viciousness that would make Corporate America blush), and finished with a very long parody of Edward Lear’s “The Jumblies” about commuting to work on the city bus. Not only did it rhyme, but it had a refrain that I tried to get the audience to chant along with. In spite of these incredible gaffes, everyone was extraordinarily kind, and I found myself making Squid Row my regular Sunday evening destination. I’d only been going for a couple weeks when I received the signal honor of being invited to contribute to their quarterly review, Open Sound. Perhaps ‘honor’ is something of an overstatement—actually, anyone who brought in the couple hundred Xeroxed sheets of their work on publication day was in. While this probably represented a substantial financial hardship for some of the poets, involving a potential ten buck outlay at Kinko’s, for me it was a breeze. I was a temp! With only a couple swings by the company copy machine (making sure I laid a couple files of spreadsheets around me as decoys), I was on the road to being a published poet. On the next Sunday, we positioned our pages around the perimeters of the pool table and, moving in a continuous loop, began to collate and staple the fall ’89 issue. Suddenly, we were interrupted by a loud altercation at the bar. Two fellows (not poets, but regular drunks) found themselves in a disagreement that escalated from shouting to shoving to lurching about wildly throwing punches in a matter of seconds. One guy went flying over the table after a blow to the nose, which erupted in a geyser of blood that splattered about half the exposed pages. In a flash, it was over. The combatants fled before the bartender could call the cops. The Red Sky troupe resumed assembling as if nothing untoward had happened—INCLUDING THE BLOOD-SOAKED PAGES! And at that moment, I had an epiphany. The hell with my high school English teacher and Robert Frost’s snowy
CIRQUE woods and the Seven Types of Ambiguous Horseshit. The hell with my professor at Syracuse University with his Wallace Steven’s ice cream poem gibberish. Right here, right now, this is THE REAL POETRY. AND IT’S MADE OUT OF BLOOD. AND GUTS. AND DIRTY FINGERNAILS, AND SPILT BEER, AND STOLEN OFFICE SUPPLIES. Fuckin-A. (It should be noted that this sentiment was not shared by all. I remember an evening at Squid Row when Judith Roche was the feature. A couple poems into her reading, two guys came in and started a pool game because, hey, this was a tavern in America and it was their Godgiven right to go in and have a round of 8-ball no matter what was going on around them. A rather lengthy interruption ensued, running the gamut from gentle reasoning, loud argument, bad vibes, to a vague threat of potential violence before they eventually left. After it was over, Judith refused to go back on. Something about the “mood” being broken. What a wimp.) My tenure at Squid Row was short-lived. The place changed owners sometime in the spring/summer of 1990. (As I recall, it was a gay disco named Tugs for a while. Then around ’94, it was a tavern with the word ‘Bohemian’ in it somewhere, which hosted an occasional reading. Now it is a ghost buried underneath a condo.) There was a brief residency at some cafeteria-style Greek restaurant in Pike Place Market (not the Athenian Café), which seemed much too well-lit and sanitary for our gritty, underground meetings. Before the year was out, however, a new home was found in the Ditto Tavern, on 5th Ave. below the monorail. The Ditto was run by Richard, a surly exbiker gone to pot who was prone to explosive fits of rage triggered by provocations that for the most part remained mysterious. (To have Richard be quasipleasant to you was a sign that you had indeed ‘arrived.’ I don’t believe this ever happened to me.) In his favor, however, was Richard’s obvious devotion to Art. Gone were the pool table and F-14 Combat pinball machine (whose clankings, ringing bells, explosions, and sounds of aerial divebombing would punctuate the Squid Row readings if someone forgot to unplug it.) In their place, manual typewriters were featured in all the booth tables along the wall, should any of us suddenly be struck by a lightning bolt of inspiration. I never saw anyone actually type on one of these although I’m surprised they were never used as projectiles during the punk rock shows that were also a Ditto feature. I’m pretty sure it was at the Ditto that I saw
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Jesse Bernstein up close and personal for the only time, during his performance as featured reader. Fortunately, there exist scores of multi-media records that serve to document for the ages his striking person and persona, which struck me at the time as resembling nothing so much as the issue of an unholy union between JeanPaul Sartre and Popeye the Sailor Man. He read only new work that night, a long excerpt from a project in which he was apparently rewriting the Bible in his (Jesse’s) image. My impression of it was that it was rather dense and incomprehensible, with no trace of the black humor that was my own personal point of entry into his work. I do remember sitting at the table with our friend Teresa Bachman that night. During the open mike set preceding
Sheary Clough Suiter
the feature, she had read a poem about her time as a teenager handing out Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets on Hollywood Boulevard at her parents’ behest. Before he started his prepared text, Jesse mentioned how much he liked the piece and that it tied in thematically with what he was about to read. Teresa seemed very pleased. I suppose the highwater mark of my time at Red Sky was the night I threw a lit cigarette at Roberto Valenza’s head. It was a Chesterfield King, non-filter, which I had barely begun smoking when I flicked it from the back of the room a good fifteen paces to the stage, where a totally wasted Roberto was precariously trying to maintain his balance on a stool. A lot of people must have called in sick that night because someone
26 thought it would be a good idea to have Roberto serve as the emcee. The obnoxious, snaggle-toothed son-ofa-bitch managed to alienate everyone in the joint with his drunken, time-consuming harangues, his heckling of the featured poet (who was reading a suite about her dead sister), and, the ultimate crime, changing the order of the sacrosanct sign-up sheet by proclaiming “I am a poet, I don’t believe in your stupid rules.” As I was next to go up, I took this as a personal affront and in a spontaneous gesture of rage I launched my butt, which flew across the length of the bar, twirling in a short, tight arc like a baton until it exploded in a shower of sparks on the mic stand just below the mic. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined a more perfect shot. “Who did that? I oughta kick your ass,” Roberto sputtered, but then decided it wasn’t worth the effort. To be honest, he was so drunk that my own little self, all six-foot-two, 140 pounds with the coiled strength of a box of moldy rubber bands of fighting he-man, probably could have taken him. (Not that I would have needed to. I was standing next to David Bachman, part-time drummer and fulltime gas pipe installer, whose skirts I could have gleefully hid behind while he beat my attacker to a pulp.) And the capper was, no one chastised me. Not even Richard. It may have struck even the most casual reader by this point that Roberto had become something of an obsession with me. I even made him a character in my roman-a-clef “The Diary of Nanette Jenkins,” a drunken, drug-addled con man poet named Roberto. Clearly, a libel suit never occurred to me as something to worry about. Although, when I read an excerpt at the Ditto, even though Roberto wasn’t in attendance that night, I took the precaution of renaming the character “Ernesto” to lessen the possible danger of one of his more sober friends thumping me. A few years later, when Exquisite Corpse saw fit to print a few installments of the novel, Willie Smith wrote in immediately, crowing “Wait ‘til Roberto finds out!” (Willie, a Corpse contributor of such frequency that he has achieved the status of Andrei Codrescu’s Beloved, If Sometimes Vicious, Special Pet Mascot, is a repository of stories about the Old Days of Red Sky, which I hope he one day shares in these pages.) In relating these snows-of-yesteryear tales, I am aware that I was only a minor character making a short appearance in a drama that spanned decades. As the 90s progressed, I moved on to other writing groups and projects. (These were the years of a small press boom
CIRQUE in Seattle, thanks to the wonderful new invention of Desktop Publishing, and you couldn’t walk into a coffee shop without being calf-deep in papers, many of which I contributed to.) By 1996 I had moved from Seattle, and my Red Sky sightings became few and far between. I visited the Globe Café, Red Sky’s final resting home, a couple times in 2005. In 2006, an older and frailer Marion Kimes came on Nico Vassilakis’ arm to a “Cheap Wine and Poetry” reading at Hugo House. In February 2008, Robin Schultz was in attendance at the Harvey Goldner memorial reading at Elliott Bay Books. He seemed a bit blurry around the edges when directly addressed, but at all times he beamed with a smiling, Zen-like beatitude, so I figured he was always in a Happy Place. In March of 2014, after years of failing health, Marion Kimes died while visiting her daughter in Kathmandu. She was 84. Although Don Wilsun and Roberto Valenza had also passed away (in 2002 & 2010), Marion’s death had a particularly galvanizing effect on the community. A flurry of activity of archiving and documenting was initialized by the surviving Red Sky members and their helpers. Tom Prince, a journalist and fellow traveler, has been busy in interviewing past members, compiling an extensive Wikipedia history, and collecting old materials to donate to the UW Library Special Collections Dept. (margareta waterman’s files had gone there in 2013). A large gathering of the tribes was in attendance for Marion’s memorial service at the end of July at Spring St. Center. Poets, artists, and gallery owners from the very beginning gave eulogies: Phoebe Bosche, Paul Hunter, Don Glover, Trudy Mercer, Ezra Mark. Bart Baxter came from Europe to attend. Robin Schultz was there—he was as sharp as a tack! Maybe afternoons are a better time for him. Or they changed his meds. Margareta, who was mostly confined to an electric wheelchair, started the eulogies (The whole event is on youtube). At the open mike in the second half, my wife and I sang Jesse Berstein’s song “Hope to Live.” When we left the stage, I saw margareta converging on me from the back of the room, slowly approaching with her cane. “Oh god, I’m in trouble now” I thought, trying to calculate the damage she could do with the cane before I could bolt out the door from the confined space. Instead, she gave me a hug and said, “Oh, thank you. You brought Jesse’s spirit into the room.” I’m pretty sure she had no memory of me from the old days. Which is fine. I can just pretend that this was the first time we met.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Channeling Bill Douglas A tiny sprig of a thing - an orphan alone in our garden - the sprout might have died. Grubbing weeds between azalea shrubs one spring day, I nearly yanked the small shoot out of the dark soil - a seedling no more than two inches high, with soft green needles, as defenseless as any small lifeform left to the elements. Usually cavalier and careless about ridding my garden of any vegetation that doesn’t belong there, I join most gardeners in the belief that weeds are the Devil’s spawn, ghoulish reminders that from primordial green ooze we came and to the loamy land we shall return. The Sisyphean labor of removing prolific rooted varmints does not generally incline me to mercy. Whoever invents a commercial use for crabgrass, pigweed, buttercups, dandelions, groundsel, chickweed, and their ilk will reap millions. (The same goes for dryer lint or dust bunnies.) This day, however, something stayed my ruthless hand. What I was about to pull out of the ground was undoubtedly a tree, and a non-deciduous one at that, its “trunk” not much thicker than a toothpick. Frail, but a tree regardless, I decided to spare it, if only out of curiosity. It flinched when I pulled a tiny clover stem away from its base, and it seemed to stand more securely when I firmed the soil around it with my fingers. My wife cut out the bottom of a clear plastic cup and settled it around the youngster to protect it from the elements and marauding cats. We adopted it. After a few months, the little volunteer looked like it could stand on its own so we removed the plastic cup. It weathered our usual rainy winter and grew enough the next spring and summer to reveal itself as an infant Douglas fir. After a few years, it had branched well, and it asserted itself in its patch of earth like a confident young boy with his arms crossed. More years passed and it grew. And grew. But here the anthropomorphizing must stop. It was only a tree - we thought. In the Pacific Northwest where we live, Douglas firs grow speedily and so prolifically that they’re considered as weeds themselves in some quarters. Still, we marveled as it grew straight and tall and green over the years.
27 Then, one fine morning, reality intruded. Our adoptee was immense and in the wrong place, alongside our front stoop and buttoned in by a driveway and a retaining wall, both of ancient vintage. As the tree had grown, the wall had begun to bulge and finally to warp the siding of the house and the basement window and door. Safety required its removal. Not the tree’s fault, obviously. Ours. What do to? My mind went back some years to another durable survivor of the Northwest, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas of Yakima, Washington. Justice Douglas was 74 years old when he wrote his memorable dissent in the case of Sierra Club v. Morton. He’d served on the High Court for 36 years, longer than anyone else. Appointed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1939, Douglas died in 1980 at age 82, mourned by liberals and civil libertarians across the country, but never more so than by advocates in the increasingly vocal environmental movement. The Morton Case, decided in 1972, was a landmark case in the early days of what is now the recognized field of environmental law. The Sierra Club asserted that simply as an organization it had the right to challenge the Interior Department’s grant of a permit to build a ski resort in Sequoia National Park. The case tested the concept of “standing,” where traditionally only parties directly injured by the act of another have the right to sue for redress. In his famous dissent, Douglas asserted that persons and organizations should have the right to sue on behalf of the very “inanimate object[s] despoiled, defaced, or invaded where injury is the subject of public outrage.” Justice Douglas wrote, Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation [ships in maritime law, corporations] .. So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even the air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains and nourishes - fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it.
28 Critics scoffed. Developers were outraged. Rocks and trees have rights? You have to be kidding! Some said he’d stayed too long, ought to retire, in his dotage - which would have brought a smile to the face of his pretty wife Cathy, 44 years his junior. In fact, Bill (as old friends addressed him) was alert and bright and as hard-working as ever, continuing to enjoy his beloved Cascade Range and hanging out with fishing and hiking buddies back home. Opponents increased their call for Douglas’ retirement, or worse, impeachment. But environmentalists, successors to Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and the like rejoiced. This was, to be sure, ground-breaking territory even though a dissenting opinion. Now, looking out of our secondfloor bedroom window, I steeled myself to saying goodbye to our beloved 45Solstice foot tall Douglas fir. It was about to be cut down. Trees are marvels of botany and physics. A tree is a factory, a living factory, loading up on nutrients in the soil, transporting them skyward through a vast circulatory system and mixing them with carbon dioxide in the air and sunlight through the miracle of photosynthesis. Trees produce leaves and needles, bear flowers or cones or fruit and thereby sustain and recreate themselves. The hydrostatic pressure that keeps the smallest blade of grass erect is multiplied enormously in a tree - tons of pressure, from bark to branch to leaf or needle - to raise a massive, growing thing high into the air and hold it there. Out our window, beautiful long-needled branches, ends tipped in emerald clusters and bearing bright chartreuse cones sticky with sap, had long since grown up above the gutters and beyond. Each spring, new growth on the nearest branch would beckon to come right into the room, Little Shop of Horrors-like, growing noticeably closer year after year. From far down the block, our tree was a visible landmark, welcoming us home after a trip or serving as a reference point for first-time guests. Its brittle, brown cones littered our lawn and walkway. Its lower branches had to be trimmed annually to allow passage to the front door. At Christmas, I’d string lights across its boughs and top them with a star. Our kids grew up and moved away;
CIRQUE neighbors came and went. Our tree stayed. Now the fateful day had arrived. As I watched, oblivious branches danced merrily in the wind. Or were they waving goodbye! Or were those pleas to not do what the woodsman’s axe had been summoned to do? Necessity governed our decision, like regrettably eradicating a wasp’s perfect nest hanging in the wrong place. We’d weighed all alternatives and sadly reached the only conclusion. Neither my wife nor I wanted to be around while the dismemberment took place. She left, but I stayed to keep an eye on the loggers. When she came home several hours later, branches and logs were gone as we’d specified, leaving empty ground and a level clean stump, and stray remnants of sawdust here and there. Part of the personality of our home of thirty years was gone. The prospect of planting a more appropriate Scott Clendaniel tree - say, a modest Japanese maple - was little consolation. My wife and I didn’t survey the scene for long. We held hands and walked back in the house, quiet with our own thoughts. What would Bill Douglas have done? As a son of the hard, dry land of Eastern Washington - not to mention many years on the bench - he was nothing if not a realist. He’d probably have given the tree last rites and bid the woodsman do his job. He’d help buck the logs and put them up for firewood to be used after a long winter’s hike up a flank of Mount Adams. No tears, I bet. RIP, Bill Douglas. RIP, Douglas Fir. Postscript: The Interior Department won the case but lost the war. The majority opinion in the Morton Case held that, although the Sierra Club by itself did not have standing to sue, a named member of an organization - a hiker or fisherman, say - did have standing to allege injury to his or her environmental or aesthetic interests. This changed the way environmental lawsuits were brought thereafter. A personal note. In late 1968, Justice Douglas graciously agreed to swear me in as an attorney along with others I rounded up in Washington DC who’d just learned they’d passed the California Bar Exam.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Jerry Dale McDonnell
A Regretful Death Above the routine of the rasping, cutting sound of the crosscut saw the noise and demeanor of the late-September afternoon woods changed. We didn’t immediately quantify the change. We just knew it changed. The odor of standing pine and fir, of sawdust and fresh cut wood, the light dampness of the air, the gurgling water in the creek dancing around rocks all remained, but something had changed. Even the camp robbing Gray jays in the trees were on alert. Living in the woods, paying attention is just the way of things. Sounds, smells, clouds, the wind, changes in plants and trees, migration and habits of animals are like news on the radio. In the timber-pole corral our lead and riding horses were agitated, which is a blip on the radar. Joker, the smallest, but oldest and wisest horse of the herd snorted, laid its ears back briefly then spun and jumped to the other side of the corral. The seven other stock we were holding followed Joker’s lead and did the mill dance, bunching up in one corner, spinning and bunching up in another. From the way the stock was acting, we knew it wasn’t a lion. Our horses and mules go berserk when a mountain lion comes around. This was just the mill dance. Gary released his end of the two-man crosscut saw. Erv stopped stacking wood and watched the horses. I walked warily toward the 10 x 12 canvas wall-cooktent, scanning the thick forest of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area of Idaho. It was a fair blue-sky day. The flaps of the tent were open, the smell of fresh baked bread oozing out. I looked inside at Annie, my wife, our hunting camp cook. The small dog, Mitty, another part of our radar system, about half the size of a skinny marmot, was hunkered down in the corner shivering. A small but wise camp dog, it hadn’t barked. Annie looked at me and then at the dog. I pointed to Annie’s .44 Magnum pistol hanging in its shoulder holster from the axemanufactured pole-rack that we kept in the cook tent; she brought it to me. Erv Malnarich, the outfitter, a man who was born and raised in Idaho, a living legend in this part of the country, saw it first. I stepped away from the tent, looking to the horses for their ear pointing radar signals. They and Erv were all staring across the creek slightly up the slope at the same spot. I triangulated and zeroed in just
29 as a young black bear, maybe weighing in at about 200 pounds, emerged from a willow thicket. I looked for Erv’s lead. We didn’t need any dead animals hanging under the shoeing fly just now. Fire danger had kept us out of the woods for a couple of weeks. We were behind schedule setting up our fall hunting camp. In two days our first hunters of the season would be arriving in Missoula, Montana where Eve would pick them up. The bear, his nose in the air, continued coming down the hill toward camp. Gary and I were the guides working for Erv. Trophy elk—six points or better—was our main business, mountain goat and bear if you had a tag. Erv glanced over at Gary, who now had his .44 in hand, and motioned him not to shoot. Just then, Rex, Erv’s 45 pound, long-haired, trail dog woke up from his radar-break nap and came out from behind the tack tent 30 yards behind us moving alertly, his ears perked up and his nose taking in the situation. Erv pointed to his side, and Rex obeyed without barking. Erv had a way with his dogs. He never petted them . . . never, never put a hand on them, but they would die for him. The bear kept coming down the hill toward camp. At the bottom of the slope the bear came out into the clearing across Battle Creek, a creek so small that one quick step and a hop and you wouldn’t even get a chance to test the waterproofing on your boots. It was a beautiful black bear, with a light cinnamon color that shined in the sun. Like bears usually do, they don’t look right at you, but they know exactly where you are. The horses were the only ones that moved, still huddled in the back of the corral. A pause in time—about the time it takes for a heavy leaf to fall to the ground from a short tree—and the bear sat down. “Let’s get back to work boys,” Erv said. We went back to work, keeping an eye on the bear 40 yards across the creek. Seeming to be interested in our labors the bear then lay down but never came closer. A half hour later, Erv, looking at the bear, didn’t like what he saw. The bear was getting too comfortable, which can be a problem with any bear, but black bears are the worst at being pesky. A grizzly bear has more smarts and uses more caution. Odds are a grizzly bear would have watched us from a place where we wouldn’t know it was even there. “Get your pistols boys,” Erv said . . . and then added, “But heed, we don’t need any dead bears in camp, especially since we don’t have a bear tag.” There is a fine point in the law that you can kill
30 a bear without a tag if your life or property is in danger, but in this case it was hard to tell if it was a friendly visit or more like the armies of yore camped across the creek from one another waiting for orders. Besides the property was the bears, not ours. We were just seasonal tenets. Regardless, we didn’t want the bear to force the event into an undesirable situation. We were probably the first humans it had ever seen and if fortune was in this young bear’s favor a long life was a viable option. The bear stood up when we all lined up directly across the creek from it. First we shouted, threw some rocks, Annie banged on some pans, Rex barked until Erv scowled at him. Rex obeyed, went quiet. Barking dogs and bears aren’t always predictable. One way of thinking is that around bears quiet dogs are best. In that same line of thought some say no dogs are best. Opinions vary. There aren’t many certified wilderness dogs (not to be confused with pets that take hikes with their caretakers), but Rex had years of experience as a wilderness dog that had been in and out of scrapes with an assortment of animals and to date had come out in fair shape. The bear was confused by our sudden attack but held its ground. When the second rock came bouncing up near its paws the bear took the hint, jumped back a little, swung around and the last we saw of the bear was a brief glimpse through the brush as it sauntered up the slope, once, it seemed, looking back at us with regret that it wasn’t wanted. Mitty wasn’t shaking in the cook tent anymore and the stock in the corral looked at us like it was time to eat. The radar screen being empty, we felt good that we had scared it off without a scratch on human, dog or bear and hopefully left the message that we weren’t setting another place at the supper table and that we were the kind of animals that weren’t too nice. The next afternoon the bear came back at about the same time. All the tents were up, stoves in, but all the woodcutting and stacking needed attention. We had finished using Arkie, our pulling mule, to skid more logs down into camp and had turned him and some of the the other mules and our six extra riding horses out into the woods with our bell mare. Tomorrow Erv and Gary, pulling four of our fifteen pack mules, were going to ride out and go into Missoula to pick up our first clients of the year—a one way 6 to 7 hour horseback ride to the end of the road on the Idaho, Montana state line. Then it was into the truck for 30 miles of dirt road driving down off the mountain, followed by 60 miles of highway, including a brief stop at the ranch in Hamilton, Montana. It wasn’t
CIRQUE like that old Ponderosa television show where you ride into town for the dance and barbecue and ride home after. They would be back in two days if all went well on the trail. The Selway Bitterroot Wilderness Area that laps over the Idaho Montana border is the largest in the lower forty-eight of the United States. Abutting two other uninhabited areas it covers over 2.5 million acres. It is a designated area where all motorized equipment: airplanes, four wheelers, motorboats, even chain saws are illegal. Deep canyons and densely treed and brush covered ridges that possibly no one has ever been into except on rare occasions, us, offer a land that doesn’t lay well but stands steep and tall and thick. It is an unfounded speculation that before we settler folks came not even the Indians came into the deepest, thickest canyons of this territory, as the game was plentiful in lower elevations offering a more forgiving geography. Stalking close to animals is often done on hands and knees . . . if you find them. You hitch your horse to a tree on a ridge and search on foot. The first sight of an elk is usually at 75 yards or less, even if you’ve heard them or have been tracking them all day. If we have a hunter who is in top physical condition and wants to find an imperial bull elk, seven points or better, a Moby Elk size, there are areas willing to test one’s muscle and resolution. Best go in on foot in these areas as on horseback progress is stilted. In this geography the shot is taken with a camera, not a rifle. If one is foolish enough to kill that mystical 1,000 pound bull elk in one of those areas, packing it out is not a desirable option. The right thing to do would be to sit down and eat it. On many a north slope the downfall is so deeply stacked it is like a giant emptied out his box of pickup- sticks. I have foolishly, alone, walked on top of logs crazily cross-stacked ten feet high because it was impossible to crawl through the maze. If a man fell and broke a leg in such timber it would be a long crawl or an unattended funeral. The trails offer quagmires and cross fast moving streams without bridges. Creek drainages feeding into the main rivers have a tendency to go straight up or down. Switchbacks are common. Part of Erv’s history at high water recounts his building a raft to haul the loads of his fifteen head of pack mules across a river and then swim the stock over. One of our routine crossings still required our smaller pack animals to swim a few yards in fast water anytime of the year. Although I’ve done it, the country is not kind to backpackers. Our seasonal camp is on a trail below a lake; no one ever camps here. That is the kind of country
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 this young bear first saw when it first emerged from his den with its mother. We held opinion that this was the bear’s first summer on its own after leaving its mother, making this possibly his third summer leading us to our speculation that we were this bear’s first acquaintance with homo sapiens. Most bears hightail it when they see you or smell you. I’ve always thought that more bears have seen us than we have seen them.. It was the bear’s second day of visitation to our camp and this beautiful cinnamon colored black bear sat down in neighborly fashion to satisfy its curiosity . . . just come to visit. At Erv’s signal, we got out our pistols at the ready. But first we shouted and threw rocks. The bear didn’t move requiring the use of the pistols. It immediately jumped back when projectile dirt kicked up close to it and a few .44 Magnum activated splinters off a downfall flew in its face. With all three of us shooting near it, not at it, it sounded like a “B” Western movie shootout; that bear had probably never guessed there was that much noise in the whole world. The bear didn’t saunter away this time; he took off at full gallop up the hill, bullets kicking up at his heels and disappeared. Satisfied, we went to supper. The next two days, while Erv and Gary rode in to pick up the hunters, Annie and I fine tuned our fall housing development, including the shower tent, and split and stacked all the wood. Our friend the bear hadn’t showed for over 48 hours. Late the second day, a trail weary crew of two hunters from the east coast and a local man from town led by Erv and Gary rode into camp. After a belly stuffing supper of Annie’s great stew with oven fresh bread followed by fresh baked pie we headed for our respective tents. Annie remained in the cook tent cleaning up. Tomorrow was to be the first day of the hunt. Breakfast
was to be served at 5 A.M. The camp cook quits last and rises first. Darkness set in and I thought I was asleep when I heard my name sung, “Jerrrrrry.” It was a bit off key, and the voice wasn’t sustaining, but it was definitely Annie, all five-foot-two of her. Annie’s first alert was when Mitty started shaking in a corner of the lantern lit cook tent warning Annie that something was out there. Flashlight in one hand and the pistol in the other, she peered into the darkness through the open flap of the tent. Scanning the light in a perimeter around the tent, the light found the bear not more than 10 feet away walking slowly toward her. That is when she sung out my name. Barefoot, shorts on and pistol in hand, I reached her side the same time that Rex the wilderness dog showed up an instant after the gunshots were fired. The bear took off into the night, making a horrific scream that sounded like someone being tortured. I can’t mimic the sound, but it rendered a deep fearful pain inside of me. It sounded so human, like a child in agony. “He wouldn’t go away, kept coming closer.” Annie said, “He stood there and looked right at me. I thought he was going to come into the cook tent,” She said shaking. “Did you hit him?” I asked. “I didn’t shoot,” Annie said. It was the local man from town. He had a bear tag. His hunt was over. We found the young bear across the creek, barely breathing, mortally wounded. The man fired a last fatal shot from 2 feet away. We hung the bear under the rainfly and skinned him by lantern light. I felt like I was undressing a friend, preparing him for burial. Gary had to say it because someone always does: “Did you notice how human-like he looks without his hide?” I didn’t respond and Gary looked ashamed. The man who shot the bear took the clue and honored our silence. Dusk, about a week later, my hunter and I were riding back to camp after a long day of tracking on foot, when a black bear and two cubs crossed trail not more than 20 yards in front of us. The last little cub was round and pudgy, about one fourth the size of momma. As he ran across the trail his whole body rolled back and forth like jello on a rocking horse. It had to make you smile. They did what bears usually do: hightailed it. I was glad they saw us and ran. I yelled at them and urged my reluctant horse in close pursuit chasing the bear family into the thick pine and fir forest to let them know how mean we are.
Robinson Loop 2
Getting Acquainted with Walleye My introduction to walleye came late in life, beginning with a dinner special at a good restaurant in Richland, Washington, about six years ago. As any walleye angler will attest, the first bite will turn you away from rainbow trout forever, Hemingway’s Nick Adams and Jake Barnes to the contrary notwithstanding, not to mention Norman Maclean—and my wife Georgia loved those simply sautéed filets as much as I did. Flash forward a couple of years to the sad occasion of my mother-in-law’s death at age 97, a truly grand lady. Her two daughters determined to honor her request to inter her ashes in the small cemetery at Groton, South Dakota, near where she grew up in Ferney, one of those towns where the tombstones outnumber the living residents by a fair margin. My incentive to drive us crosscountry from the Idaho panhandle, not that I needed one, was an invitation to fish for walleye with a couple of distant cousins who farmed corn and soybeans in the area. This would take place fifty-some miles east at a lake called Enemy Swim which, in the years Georgia and I have been together, has acquired legendary status. Local lore has it that warriors from a certain tribe, perhaps the Yankton, a major division of the Santee Sioux, forced warriors of another tribe, perhaps the Sisseton, also of the Santee, to swim the lake for their dear lives. Some did and some drowned. Gerry, my mother-inlaw, swam at the lake when she was a girl, and she told tales of her daring sister Rhett rowing across the lake to dance with the Polacks at a nightclub. Gerry was better behaved, but she loved to tell of how she danced with a young Lawrence Welk one night when he was just starting out. Gerry also had the distinction of being hit by a golf ball driven by Jack Nicklaus, and she had a photo to back it up, but that’s another story. Meanwhile, back to the walleye, which I’d always called “walleyed pike.” Well, of course they’re not pike at all, despite their elongated, streamlined torsos and wicked teeth, but upper class members of the perch family. They are perhaps what your average yellow perch, the kind of fish you haul in by the dozens of a summer day or through the ice on myriad lakes across the north and Midwest, aspires to be. Yellow perch on steroids maybe.
Georgia’s cousins hooked me up with bottom bouncers, a rig that involves a couple of ounces of weight, a few feet of snelled line, and (in this case) worms for bait. Allow me to quote a sentence from the “Angler Education” module on bottom bouncing provided by the Berkley Company: “Make no mistake, this is a finesse technique, demanding precise boat control and a sensitive touch.” While I feel pretty confident that Mike provided “boat control” that was “precise” enough that morning, I can make no such claim as to my own “finesse technique.” While “finesse” rhymes very nicely with “success,” it also happens to rhyme well with “damned mess.” But my ineptitude to the contrary notwithstanding, I did manage to boat a couple of nice walleye that day, and I was elated. The fish drove me nuts with any number of “false positives,” if you will, with tugs that might or might not have been timid nibbles, hesitant bites, serious strikes, or weeds. We have photos of Gerry in her swimsuit posed by a large snowman as well as a photo of her there at the lake in the summer. We cast some of her ashes on Enemy Swim before we left. Four memorable things about this visit to the northeastern corner of South Dakota that took us off the standard tourist route through the state, via I-90, which includes the Badlands, hyper-advertised Wall City, and Mount Rushmore: (1) The Red Horse Motel, restaurant, & bar in Groton, run pretty much singlehandedly by a cousin’s cousin; (2) a baseball game between Groton and another small town nearby that hearkened back to the 1940s and earlier, when every hamlet in the USA fielded a fairly serious amateur baseball team; (3) many acres of flooded farmland studded with huge dead trees and still being taxed, the cousins told me, as if they were arable; (4) a visit to Fort Sisseton, built in 1864 as Fort Wadsworth, to quell Indian disturbances among various tribes and to protect settlers and serve immigrants heading for the gold fields of the Idaho and Washington Territories. Fourteen brick structures remain standing and are well tended. Upwards of 200 soldiers were stationed there before the fort was closed in 1889. It must have been pretty good duty in 1864 and 1865, considering what was occupying other soldiers just then. I love it when a good fishing adventure, my first walleye in this case, combines with my life-long history fetish. I did not love it so much when I returned to the Red Horse Motel and found I’d lost my room key back at the fort. Some kind soul turned in the key and a park ranger put it in the mail the next day. Now flash further forward to mid-July 2015
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 when my pal Rodney invites me to join him in a threeday fishing venture on Lake Roosevelt in northeastern Washington, about 110 miles west of Spokane. This will be no simple one-day event, but will involve three nights sleeping in the backend of his Chevy pickup under the canopy. If he’s going to haul his bass boat 150 miles from home, it has to be worth it. He figures we can get in 2 ½ days of serious fishing, eat dinners at the nearby Spokane tribe’s Two Rivers Casino, so named because the lake forms at the confluence of the Spokane River with the Columbia, sort of a tribute to the Grand Coulee Dam, about sixty miles to the southwest. We’ll set up at the Fort Spokane campgrounds, and of course I’ll manage a quick visit to what’s left of that fort, which was built in 1880, but more about that hereafter in a couple of paragraphs the history non-buff may feel free to hop over. As we approach the campground, a solitary wild turkey salutes us by tottering into the native bunch grass. The entire inland Northwest has seen precious little water in the past couple of months, and a crop disaster has been declared in a county south of where we live. Surely others will follow. We check in at the campground, register at the boat launch, and pass under the green bridge on State 25 that crosses the Spokane a few hundred yards before it runs into the Columbia. A sizable osprey nest adorns one of the peaks or cantilever arms. We putter at no wake past moorage for at least sixty houseboats, a couple of them rather grandiose affairs that probably do not belong to common fisher-folks. Once past the no-wake zone, Rodney opens it up to about 40 mph, turns sharply to starboard and pulls up along a mud-clouded bank of the Columbia. Walleye don’t care much for clear water in the rainbow trout tradition. Rodney doesn’t go for the bottom bouncing approach but prefers a simple white plastic jig with weights varying from about half an ounce to an ounce, the latter being for faster and deeper water. The crucial added ingredient is a piece of nightcrawler—just a little more than an inch will suffice. We’ll fish depths varying from just five or six feet to more than thirty, but mostly in the twelve to twenty range. At this first spot, Rodney boats just one, and it’s of modest size, but he puts it into the live well. Pretty soon he charges up the engine and we blast off across the river to a different sort of place, and Rodney suggests we use the heavier jigs and just drop them over the side, as we’ll be in much deeper water. It’s hot, though, and the water feels even warmer than the 72º his instruments indicate. His instruments also indicate quite a few fish somewhere down there,
33 but they do not show much interest in my offerings. The bottom, however, proves more than willing to teach me lessons about not letting your jig settle for any length of time. Rodney takes two or three walleye from that spot, and then we move on. We just stay out for about four hours, maybe five, during which my fishing buddy puts eight in the box along with a fair-sized smallmouth, a rare decision for him as he usually returns any bass he catches, while I contribute a grand total of one walleye. Clearly my technique needs improvement. The casino being closed on Tuesdays, we try a small café up the hill and get lucky, as their sliced beef sandwich special turns out to be topnotch. They also have Kokanee on tap, a pleasant lager of Canadian origin. After that night we hit the hay, or more accurately the inflatable mattress, around nine, which is rare for me, as I’m an eleven o’clock sort of guy. We’ll put in nine hours today, Wednesday, reaching the first spot, steering portside on the Columbia this time, and wetting our lines by seven. Here it is that Rodney hauls in the biggest of the walleye we’ll catch, a 2 ½-pounder that gives him a serious battle and makes us both glad we have a good landing net on board. For the smaller ones yesterday, Rodney felt comfortable just hoisting them into the boat. I manage to land a couple before snapping my line on a sizable smallmouth that leaps from the water as if to establish its identity. The walleye fight low, often plunging just as they near the boat, and they rarely strike the way bass or trout do. Sometimes you think you’re hung up in the weeds only to discover you’ve a fight on your hands. We’ve been using the lighter weight jigs in this area, which is fairly shallow at just ten or twelve feet. Rodney uses his trolling motor to move us slowly up and down the neighborhood, but the fish appear to have gone dormant. By nine the heat has risen quite a bit, and we’ve doffed our jackets and sweatshirts, welcome in the early morning when we were speeding along at forty or so knots. Of course Rodney’s speedometer registers miles per hour, but I amuse myself with this nautical lingo. But it’s mostly just my maritime fantasy. For instance, we do not “weigh anchor,” never having “cast” or “dropped” it. Occasionally on these fishing expeditions I pause to reflect on Rodney’s seamanship, which often impresses me. A non-boater myself, an angler more at ease plodding or wading along a trout stream, it strikes me that anyone piloting a boat at a routine speed of 35 to 45 mph had better know what he or she is doing. The night before, at the little café, I overheard a guy laughing to his friend
34 about hitting a sizable log and being “damned lucky.” Some areas of the Columbia boast ample amounts of potentially perilous ponderosa flotsam. Being almost stone-deaf, even with his hearing aids, Rodney did not overhear that conversation at all. As dead metaphors go, the term “dead metaphor” being a case in point, when you think about it, “stone-deaf,” or “deaf as a stone,” rings true. Curiously, my dictionary claims the term came into the language between 1830 and 1840; I’d have guessed it was in use since the Middle Ages at least. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath was “somdeel deef,” but she doesn’t appear to have been stone-deaf. During our long drive to and from Lake Roosevelt, our conversation has been and will be minimal, as Rodney needs to see my lips moving when I speak. Also, unfortunately, I tend to gab at a rather fast rate. My mother-in-law Gerry was blest with good hearing right up to the day of her death. My father, like Rodney, also uses hearing aids and is definitively “hard-of-hearing,” but even at 101 he is not “stone-deaf.” Over the years I’ve become well aware that Rodney does not hear the robins singing, or the gulls squealing, or the California quail calling their distinctive “chi-CA-go” cry. My experience with the large (or at least largish) smallmouth has caused me to doubt the reliability of the six-pound monofilament. Is it old? When did I last check that line? Serious anglers, it seems to me, would not have to ask themselves such questions, but then I’m not about to go pro. On the other hand, I’m thinking I’ll need to get more serious about this if I’m to continue fishing with Rodney, a quondam bass tournament angler. On the rod to which I’ve affixed the heavier jig, I’ve got the “Berkley Trilene Low-Vis Green Braided Fishing Line” my brother Dan gave to me the last time I was in Florida—reliable stuff, I believe, and probably costing more than I’d usually invest, but there’s surely something to be said for peaceof-mind on such matters. At the next spot Rodney advises me we’re going to go deep, thirty to forty feet, so I’ll need the heavier jig. Just drop it straight down over the side, he reminds me, and keep up the jigging action. He lands a nice walleye right away. I get hung up on the bottom right away. Well, that’s the way it goes. Rodney is almost infinitely patient, perhaps one positive feature of his deafness, so he advises me to ease up my tension on the line while he circles the boat back toward where I’m snagged, and sure enough, the jig comes loose and we’re back in business. I manage to boat a nice one here and Rodney gets a couple more before I lock myself up in the rocks once again. This time I’m not so lucky, and it costs me the jig—one of Rodney’
CIRQUE jigs, that is, as he has insisted on providing the tackle and claims he has an ample supply. We’ll see about that, I tell myself. He reminds me to keep up the jigging action— don’t let the thing settle. We speed off toward the next area, a site on this part of the Columbia that apparently everyone knows about—“split rock.” In fact, if you Google “Lake Roosevelt, split rock,” you’ll find several references and some images as well of the hundred or so foot-high geological feature along with photos of an angler or two holding out ominously large walleye. I may be wrong about the height of split rock, but those walleye surely look to be ten- or twenty-pounders. Rodney claims the walleye in Lake Roosevelt ran much larger a few years back, but while the numbers are up, the size appears to have declined, probably due to decreased vegetation that provided habitat for smaller fish the walleye preyed on. The Spokane tribe has introduced a rainbow trout hybrid that gets pretty huge and is increasingly popular with anglers, and folks after walleye may latch onto one of those babies as well as the occasional smallmouth. Rodney says the Indians aren’t fond of the walleye, which enjoy dining on the occasional trout fry. We work split rock pretty hard but have no success, so Rodney powers up and speeds us upriver a few miles. The water remains placid, almost glassy in places, and we begin to encounter a fair number of drifting logs, several of which could probably end our happy fishing adventure if struck. I keep wanting to call out a warning, but over the roar of the motor that would be an exercise in futility, and besides, Rodney seems well aware of the hazard; nevertheless, I grip the handle to my left, as if that would be of any use should we plow into one of the waterlogged ten-foot ponderosa floating perilously left and right, by which I mean port and starboard. Campsites line both sides of the lake all along, and a good many of them are occupied. Tomorrow we’ll see an almost steady stream of campers and anglers filing into these areas, and the number of jet-skiers will multiply. We cruise portside into a small inlet where Rodney advises me to shift to the lighter weight jig, but neither of us gets lucky, so we move on. There are any number of such bays and inlets on the lake, of course, but Rodney has his favorites, having fished the area over the past six or seven years. We cross to the starboard shore, and each of us boats one as a water-skier lurches past to the tune of some musical din I suspect Rodney is content not to be hearing. “How nice of him to share!” I shout. Rodney turns his head, and I repeat, and he nods and
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 smiles. Truly there are some advantages to deafness. We move on. Surely Cormac McCarthy’s favorite refrain line in his western novels is, “They rode on.” I’m teaching a course on his fiction this fall so have recently reread Blood Meridian and the Border Trilogy, and I’m mentally adapting the refrain to our present purposes in the narrative past tense: “We moved on.” We eat a lunch of sorts, peanut butter on Ritz crackers in my case, as the heat grows on us. My shoulder is feeling achy and my wrist is getting weary. Where my fingers wrap around the rod handle I’m starting to wonder about incipient arthritis. The water temp has moved up to about 73°, and that’s not appealing to the walleye at all. But at the next spot, we get better service, and we also note that we’re occasionally adorning our hooks with a side order of salad. Ordinarily this might be regarded as a nuisance or worse, as it was in South Dakota, but in the present case it scores positive for walleye habitat at the ten- to fifteen-foot level. We both land fish, and I sense that I’m beginning to acquire the knack. But just like that, the action stops, predictably, one might say, as in all fishing stories. I begin to experiment: short, spastic jerks; long, smooth motions punctuated by two or three sudden jigs; large, dramatic gestures with the rod. I open a second beer and consider my jigging options. I try a few rhythms recollected from Mrs. Brown’s Dance Class, when I was in eighth grade: the two-step (ONE-two, ONE-two, ONE-two), the waltz (ONEtwo-three, ONE-two-three), the cha-cha (ONE-TWO-chacha-cha). Predictably, these appear more entertaining to me than they are attractive to the walleye. Rodney lands a nice one and suggests I try his latest technique: several exaggerated up-and-down movements of the rod, followed by a second or two of rest, then a few more exaggerated movements, then a rest followed by more conventional jigging gestures. I pull in a decent-sized walleye, terms like “a nice one” and “decent-sized” being quite relative to who-knows-what, but let’s say fourteen inches or so with enough girth to be capable of putting up a fight and worthy of fileting. After hitting a couple of spots on the Spokane, where I manage to lose one more jig, we break off with 21 walleye betwixt the two of us. Seven or eight of these might be mine, or might not. Our plan is to divide the catch evenly. At the landing we have to wait for a couple of boats either to dock or to move out, and as Rodney heads for the truck I’m entertained by a lovely girl, probably sixteen or seventeen, clad in a pale blue bikini dancing to
35 Matisyahu’s idealistic anti-war song, “One Day,” like most of his pieces, a fusion of reggae, rap, hip-hop, and whoknows-what (meaning not me). The guy’s a Jewish New Yorker with some Oregon connections, sort of NYU plus kosher plus vegan: “Sometimes in my tears I drown / But I never let it get me down / So when negativity surrounds / I know some day it’ll all turn around because . . .” to cut to the chase, “There will be no more wars.” Okay, the lyrics aren’t great, but I like the tune and the beat; and the girl out there dancing with such sinuous and casual voluptuousness, her arms seemingly floating out from her nubile body, would seize any guy’s heart. Matisyahu’s given name is Matthew Paul Miller, but I’m into the fantasies of the moment, so it’s okay by me if he wants to be Matisyahu, which apparently means “Gift of God.” The song hearkens back to the Sixties in some ways. I feel revived, refreshed, renewed. But now we descend from the sublime to the mundane. We head for the cleaning station at the Fort Spokane campground, which turns out to be a stateof-the-art facility with deluxe disposal system the likes of which I’ve never before experienced. “Heck,” I tell myself, “this sort of facility means the fish almost clean themselves!” This, of course, is preposterous, but it does help that Rodney has a highly efficient method of fileting walleye, and my role is simply to separate the flesh from the skin after he’s done the hard part. We process the walleye, packing the filets at three fish, or six filets, per Ziploc bag, then place them in the cooler on a layer of ice and cover them with another layer. Rodney’s 2 ½-pounder (more or less) dwarfs the others, but I make mental claim to the second largest of the day, or perhaps the third. But I’m suffering from dehydration and near heat exhaustion (I’m only slightly hyperbolizing) as we head to the casino. Rodney opts for fish-and-chips, which he’s had there before, but I’m currently distancing myself from piscine life, so I go for the sirloin, which turns out to be a good choice. Both of us are served up such heaping portions of French fries that we suspect the profit margin is lost in the shuffle, especially given that the dinners come with free soft drinks, coffee, and tea. Clearly the tribe intends to make it all back at the slots. Iced tea. I indulge myself with unseemly quantities of iced tea followed by similar quantities of root beer. To rinse off the salt that has crystallized over every inch of my body, I ask Rodney to drop me off at the sandy beach across from the campground, and the refreshing dip as the sun begins to dwindle revitalizes me to the extent that I’m confident I can survive another day of walleye angling pleasure. A
family leaves just as I arrive, so I have the beach to myself. I reimagine the girl in the light blue bikini, her subtly, perhaps unintentionally erotic dance (perhaps not), and I reflect on the simple, hopeful (naïve) lyrics of “One Day.” As we putter toward the Columbia on Thursday morning, our last day of fishing, I feel fully recuperated and ready for action. An osprey circles the nest on the green bridge, and I can make out what is most likely its spouse perched on the mound of woven twigs. It must be breakfast time. For no particular reason, I decide this must be a good omen. I’d never make the mistake of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, even if I had a crossbow handy. I’ve always held that the old fellow was not a bad sort, just confused by the mixed signals Coleridge sent Behind the Painted Hills Brad Gooch his way. I mean the albatross is eating strange food and perching at night on the “mast or shroud” as fog troll up and down the five- or six-hundred yard stretch of settles in: “pious bird of good omen” indeed. But as I said, shoreline over and over again, catching two or three fish I take the osprey couple to be an unambiguously good on each pass until we get down to the last four that will sign of fair fishing to follow. make our limits of sixteen apiece. At that point we begin Rodney wastes no time, but steers us directly to the culling process, returning smaller fish from the live well the weedy area where we had the best fishing yesterday. as we land larger ones and, typically I suspect, regretting I’m calling it “Grassy Flats.” Today, however, there’s a having kept some of the small fish that died earlier in the strong chop on the water, and he’s concerned that the day. This time the sun does not take such a toll on us, and batteries on his trolling motor won’t hold up, certainly we wrap it up around two, having invested something like not for the full day. He estimates the wind at about ten seven hours angling instead of the nine from the previous knots as evidenced by the presence of whitecaps. Some day. We feel more up to the task of cleaning and fileting clouds have gathered, but we detect no likelihood of rain, than we did on Wednesday, and this time I’ve no need for which by now would not be of much use to the wheat the revitalizing dip, although I do rather miss yesterday’s farmers in the area. dance performance there at the dock. It turns out the conditions are just right for us. I have Rodney drop me off at Fort Spokane for a The lack of glaring sunlight, the stirring and cooling of half hour or so before dinner because my inner historian the water, which doesn’t warm up to 70° till around noon, must be satisfied. Unlike Fort Sisseton in South Dakota, maybe the churning of the grasses—who knows? For not many buildings are standing from the barracks and whatever reason, the walleye are biting, and I seem to officers’ duplexes that housed more than 300 between the have settled into a rhythm of jigging they find alluring. For building of the fort in 1880, mostly to protect the Indians once in the various times we’ve fished together I match from encroaching settlers, and its decommissioning Rodney, perhaps even beat him out by a fish or two, around 1899, after the Spanish-American War drained and I boat a nice one that will weigh nearly two pounds. it of its troops. The red wooden mule barn still stands, Obviously, these are not trophy walleye of the sort that a as does the small red brick powder magazine. The only man at the cleaning station yesterday told us they were other structure, curiously, is the guardhouse, a solid brick taking in central Washington at the Potholes, which is edifice that now houses the visitor’s center, where a small located about ten miles north of Othello. “Phenomenal,” display and a fifteen-minute film tell the story. Betty, the he said—the fishing there for really big walleye has been park ranger, answers a handful of my questions; I get the “phenomenal” this year. I repeated that word to Rodney, impression she doesn’t see many guests. I’m taken with but he shook his head. He had fished Potholes Reservoir the statement in the film and on one of the signs for before and was not convinced. the self-guided tour to the effect that the soldiers were As the morning goes on, Rodney and I drift or
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 “training for small battles that never happened.” Their greatest enemy was boredom, of course, despite the assertion that posting here at Fort Spokane was considered “good duty.” If you were twenty in 1880, you’d have been born in 1860, about five years old at the end of the great Civil War or War Between the States in which, most likely, your father and uncles had fought. You’d have been an impressionable sixteen when Custer got his forces massacred at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, about 650 miles to the east, in the middle of the Montana Territory. Who knows why you enlisted, but if it was for adventure, you’d made a bad choice. Only the troops still garrisoned there in 1898 would see action, in far-off Cuba or the Philippines. When they left, Fort Spokane served as an Indian school for a few years in the worst sense of the term: cut their hair, make them speak English, deny them access to their customs, culture, and family—“kill the Indian and save the man,” said Captain Richard H. Pratt, who founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. He would be a brigadier general by the time he retired in 1904. He was considered a progressive in his day, promoting the training of Native Americans in vocational skills. After a few years the school closed and the fort housed a tuberculosis sanatorium. In 1929 it closed for good. A photograph in the visitor’s center shows members of the Spokane tribe celebrating the last salmon run in 1939 as the Grand Coulee Dam, then the largest manmade structure in the world (excepting perhaps the Great Wall of China), ended a way of life. On the drive home I observe red-tailed hawks standing sentinel on big spools of hay in the fields. Rodney notices a coyote slipping into the wheat stubble, the harvest already well advanced by mid-July this hot, dry year. That Friday evening I cannot resist dining on walleye of my own cooking, my wife being off with her daughter in Ashland, Oregon, watching live theater. I check out recipes in the cookbooks and online, and they look very promising, but ultimately I decide to go with Thoreau’s advice on pretty much everything: “Simplify, simplify.” I dust the filets with flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and I sauté them in vegetable oil. They are splendid. A week or so later, I try them wrapped in foil with a little butter and some fresh parsley—nothing fancy. Again they are splendid. Some other summer we will see the cousins in northeastern South Dakota again, and this time I will know something about what I’m doing when we visit Enemy Swim.
Jana Ariane Nelson
Garnett’s Bible The Bible, exceedingly large in my 11-year-old hands, was weathered and heavy, exuding that musty odor of an old, well-handled and loved book. As winter approached, I hauled the old book down the rickety attic ladder into the warmth of the living room, where it kept boredom away during the long dark days of that frosty season. I loved touching its old, tattered binding, studying in minute detail all the maps and illustrations while I leisurely leafed through the pages to find my favorite stories. +++ Decades later, advancing age forced my parents to move from Anchorage to Eugene, Oregon. In the process of downsizing their lives, my Mother came across her old family Bible in the attic, still threadbare and in dire need of a makeover. She sent it off to a bindery in Washington State to be rebound before being shipped to me. I was already in Oregon, and eagerly anticipated the Bible’s arrival, checking the mail daily. It felt like the old saying waiting for water to boil, and I began to wonder if it would ever arrive. But finally it came. The box was substantial in my hands as I carried it into the living room and gently placed it on the coffee table. Opening the hefty cardboard box felt like Christmas. As I poured over the aged pages, one thing became increasingly clear; I had no memories of the Bible, with its fresh leather cover and scent. Looking back through time to my childhood, I saw nothing familiar about this large, cumbersome book. The cover didn’t ring any memory bells, but that could be explained since it was new; beautifully tooled in dark leather with a name embossed at the bottom: Marius S. Beal. Who was that? Odd, too, that I didn’t recognize any of the pictures inside, of folks long since deceased, or of the genealogy – long, long lists people whose names were completely foreign to me. With one exception, that is: John Austin, my great-grandfather. Apparently, the Bible had once belonged to a man named Marius Samuel Beal. Along with his name on the cover, there were detailed vital records of his family in the middle of the book. Entries noted that his
38 wife, Maria Elizabeth, was 38 when she died in January 1891, leaving five children. The oldest two at 19 and 21 were adults, but Merritt was 13, Garnett only 9, and baby Marie 6 days old. One particular entry fascinated me. On January 28, 1891, after the death of his beloved wife, Marius wrote: ... my wife who I always called Lizzie when I did not use pet names, told me that her name was a family name in the Carr family and that it was of French nationality and was really Marie and that she did not correct any one in using it as Maria as she had fears she would be accused of desiring to appear (illegible) and I knowing her humble, sweet, Christian character and modest disposition readily understand her reasons. What a difference a century can make in propriety, I thought, reading the lengthy paragraph again and again, imagining his grief and the pain in which he made that entry. Much later I learned that Marius didn’t stay around long after his wife’s death and the youngest three were sent to relatives. Abandoned by a dead mother and a disappearing father, Garnett must have grown up before her time and at the age of 19 on February 20, 1901 in Enterprise, Oregon, she married John Austin Denney, 47. What possessed her to marry a man 28 years her senior? Did he provide her safety and stability that she was unaccustomed to in light of her father’s absence? Was he an insulated harbor for her in a frightening world? Or perhaps he was simply an older bachelor friend of the relatives who had sheltered her for ten years, and their marriage would solve financial and social issues on both sides. Alas, we will never know. Along with the photos were pages of vital records: Garnett and John Austin’s children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, unknown entities in a chain of genealogy that made no logical sense to me. The first entries were in quill pen, of course, but the last notes were written in ballpoint pen, with birthdates accounted for as late as 1989. Names of people that I didn’t know! Why didn’t I recognize any of them? And here was the first mystery. According to Mom’s family records, John Austin Denney, my great-grandfather, had married Eliza Jane Gentry and their son, John Wesley, was my mother’s
CIRQUE father. So who was this woman, Garnett Beal Denney? I wondered and wondered and my imagination worked overtime. What a life John Austin must have had! Oh how I wished I could ask him. I pondered the thought day and night, but just couldn’t wrap my mind around any answer that made sense. Mother and I played with ideas, but she was distracted by grief from my Dad’s passing and couldn’t add any enlightening information. Myself, I concocted lots of interesting possibilities. Perhaps John Austin had two separate, independent families. Or maybe the family secret was that he left Eliza for Garnett and that fact was obscured by long, dusty decades. Was this our family’s “dirty little secret?” I didn’t know much about my Mother’s family history. She had some records and family trees, but as I looked through her information, I found no reference of Garnett Beal Denney. Finally, after years of pondering, one dead end after another, I realized my paltry research had come to a complete standstill. But the years continued to pass, and I began to talk about it to anyone who would listen – a good thing, it turned out. Finally, someone at work suggested doing genealogical research on the web, which I had never attempted, and so began my adventures in genealogy. I believe our lives are often driven by events and energies beyond our small control. Such was the case the year my mother, Ruby (known to all by her maiden name as “Denney”), turned 91. She had been ill since just before Christmas, and pneumonia pushed her increasingly frail body into congestive heart failure later that spring. As her trips to the hospital increased, I found myself progressively more obsessed with the Bible. A dozen years had passed since it had come to reside in my home; it’s secret weighed on me. I rationalized that researching its mysteries was a great distraction for Mother, but in all probability I was grasping for as much connection to my ancestry as I could in the small amount of time I had remaining with her. And so, encouraged by friends, I, a mere novice researcher, began combing the web, looking for any information I could find on John Austin Denney. There was evidence, some of it conflicting. Everything I found I ran by Mom, sharing pieces of new information as we tried to connect stories and fill in the many blanks we had. But nothing much changed as far as our understanding was concerned; we were still unenlightened. Months went by and I exhausted the few means I thought available to me. One day, quite by accident, I
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 came across a posting from a woman in Eastern Oregon asking for information on her great-grandparents, Garnett Barbara Beal and John Austin Denney. I could hardly contain my excitement and immediately e-mailed her back. No answer. A month or two went by. No response. I nearly chewed my fingernails to the quick waiting. Finally it occurred to me that the e-mail address might have expired. I looked on-line for a phone number and it was there, in eastern Oregon. I called and Karen answered. Karen soon became my new BFF. She had many, but not all answers and explained that we are third cousins, once removed. She e-mailed me PDF files full of Beal and Denney family history; she sent me packets of information and we chatted on the phone endlessly. Darn, John Austin didn’t have a clandestine wife, as I had surmised, even though I secretly hoped we would turn up some fabulous skeleton in the family closet! Karen explained it was not uncommon that family names are shared, and there were two John Austin Denneys back in the mid 1800s. The first son of John and Martha Llewellyn Denney was James Preston Denney, born in 1832 in Illinois. Six years later, his younger brother, John Austin Denney, was born in Carroll County, Arkansas. This was my great-grandfather. The older brother, James, was about 21 when his first son was born, and James named his newborn John Austin after his younger brother. Thus, Karen descends from John Austin Denney, the nephew of my John Austin. And it was her John Austin Denney who married Garnett Barbara Beal. I took photographs of the pages in the Bible that contained pictures of the family and the history and sent them to Karen. In her follow-up e-mail, she wrote that the eyes in all of the pictures looked so familiar to her, reminding her of her great-grandmother Garnett in her older years. She was also over 99% sure that it was Garnett’s handwriting that wrote the death note for Marius. Eventually Karen and her husband visited. She met Mom and we spent hours talking about our family histories. She took photos of the Bible and we continued to try to piece things together. Meanwhile, I had several HUGE questions. The first was how on earth did the Beal Bible come to reside with my own family when it so obviously belonged to Karen’s? I had my suspicions. Both Karen’s family and mine had intersected in Eastern Oregon around the turn of the century. It was entirely possible that by some accident or event none of us were aware of, the Bible had
There is More to This Story
passed from Garnett’s family to Mom’s. The second question was even more compelling. How was it possible that someone had entered, in ballpoint pen, the births of children as late as 1989 while the Bible resided in my parent’s attic in Anchorage? I queried Mom relentlessly on the subject. The Bible had been at their home in Anchorage continuously from 1948 until they moved to Eugene in 1991. But wait, at some point she remembered sending it to Denney cousins who were members of the LDS Church and deeply interested in genealogy. But these cousins both passed away decades ago, she said, and at their passing she had asked for the Bible back. She was certain that it had been in her attic in Anchorage for years. Obviously this was another dead end. A third question arose. Mother always referred to her Bible as the Brown Bible. It belonged to her Grandpa Brown, her mother’s father. She’d had it since his death. But if it indeed came from her Grandpa Brown,
40 then it was from her Mother’s side of the family, NOT her Father’s, the Denney side. How confusing was this! Even in her declining years, my Mother was very astute; her memory remained sharp as a tack to the very end. I had to trust that she remembered correctly. Then one day Karen contacted me. She had been in touch with another cousin who told her a very interesting story. The Beal Bible had been at the family ranch in Eastern Oregon for many years and in 1990, the cousin, who I will call “Val”, sent it to a bindery in Washington State to be rebound. The bindery, in turn, sent it back east somewhere. When it was finally returned to Val, a horrifying mistake was discovered. It was not the beloved family Beal Bible, but another Bible. A completely foreign, though freshly rebound Bible that contained no identifying family information whatsoever. Val contacted the bindery, which claimed no responsibility and presumably offered no solutions. She was devastated. Over a century of family genealogy and pictures were gone, lost forever. Val sued the bindery. As Karen and I talked, it became clear that Val had been sent our family’s Brown Bible, while we were sent the Beal Bible, by mistake. Val’s descriptions of the detailed genealogical notes and family pictures matched the Bible I had in my possession. Finally everything became crystal clear, and at long last the great Bible mystery was solved! The Bibles had been switched either at the Washington bindery or on the East Coast. No one had ever contacted either Mom or myself, and since we both moved to Eugene the summer of 1991, our previous phone numbers had been disconnected. A Bible switch could happen, but between relatives who did not know each other and lived in different states? I began to think we were experiencing an episode of the Twilight Zone! A most intriguing footnote in the pages of both our family’s’ history! At last the day arrived; my stomach was in knots as I drove over to meet Val at Mom’s retirement apartment. The only sad thought I had was that Karen had not been able to come over from Eastern Oregon and participate in the joyous reunion she had contributed so much towards. And finally, in the spring of 2004, both Bibles returned to their rightful owners. Mother, near the end of her life, again held her Grandpa Brown’s Bible close to her heart. And my newest Denney cousin, Val, overcome with emotion and nearly speechless, at long last took possession of her beloved Beal Bible. Garnett was finally home where she belonged.
A Kodiak Miscellany Fox Even if you’ve never observed a wild one, you know a lot about foxes if you have a dog. Foxes are companionable, curious, forgiving, inordinately fond of food, and sometimes shameless. Wild foxes normally keep their distance, but there’s often a bold one who traipses from the four-wheeler to the burn barrel to the sawhorses and investigates everything. He plumps down in the sun at our trailhead, scratches himself under the chin, and watches us go about our chores. You look up and there he is, lying there like a dog. One rebel wanted to spend all his spare time with us and even made himself comfortable on the outdoor furniture. His disapproving mother did the equivalent of grab him by the ear and march him home, or she chastised him — pssht! — from the cover of the red-berried elders. This freethinking fox is the only fox I ever fed directly from my hand. I had always considered the hand-feeding of foxes to be a bridge too far, but I was showing off to my children and finally crossed it. This speaks to the winsomeness of the fox as much as to my own moral weakness. There is something archetypal in the gesture of a human being throwing something to, or at, a fox. I suppose canines evolved getting pelted by rocks and insults if not by savory bones and reassuring commands. A ratty-looking, long-snouted fox spent a lot of time around our cabin one summer, and he wasn’t being curious or sociable, he was one thing: hungry, and when all they want is food, they skulk. I tossed a block of wood to him and he chased it down and gnawed it like a crust of bread. It’s hard not to give a fox a little treat in a spirit of sharing, and I followed up the wood with a round of pilot bread. I’d found a mummified fox on the beach bluffs and a set of fox remains in the woods and I suspected there was disease or famine in the population that year. With a deep freeze last winter and a late cold snap, the voles had been killed off, and the foxes may have suffered too. A harsh winter has ripple effects on all the species. The fox, like the squirrel, deer, otter and eagle, is with us all year at Cottonwood. He doesn’t retire in the winter as the bear does. These foxes are red foxes, but don’t let that fool you. They come in red, black, silver
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 and every combination. Their wildly variable color is one reason we lose track of the fox generations from one year to the next. In a given summer we’ll recognize individuals and families, but with all their reproducing and colorchanging, they get jumbled in our minds. A young fox may be deep black while its parent is gray or red. There’s nothing cuter than a fox kit romping in the Shasta daisies and making excited puppy sounds at its mother. They aren’t so cute when they grow up, but that’s true of most of us. They drop their heads and tails and look calculating and sniveling, or mangy and sneaky and low-down, or blasé and cynical like city coyotes, or they become obnoxious petty vandals, digging where they please, leaving turds in your stuff, and looking dryly at you like You wanted the wilderness experience. I’ve seen foxes in their prime, though, foxes that bring honor to the species. I remember a handsome, barrel-chested fox standing on the ocean cliff one evening with a rabbit limp in his jaws. His posture was Napoleonic. In color he was a silver-tipped black fox. It was getting toward Bastille Day and he was having no trouble staying thick through the trunk. To this animal Charles Darwin’s world was no indignity. When he heard me, he turned and stared, and with the rabbit secure in his jaws he bounded into the willows. I saw this prince of foxes a couple of mornings later. He wandered at leisure up the game trail in the streaming sunlight behind our cabin and plopped down in the dry moss on the hillside and relaxed. He lazed in that high position, gazing aimlessly on the world and appearing to do nothing but relish the moment. You may or not believe in free will, but I won’t rule out a degree of free play in the consciousness of the so-called lower animals. I’m not saying this fox was a theoretical physicist, but I believe he was basking in being alive that lovely summer morning, taking joy in his foxhood, perhaps reflecting on his recent hunting successes and making plans to take one trail that afternoon instead of another. I remember a gorgeous noble female, too. She was black-gray-silver with red in her tail and penetrating yellow-orange eyes. Her pups trotted up behind her on the beach and peered curiously at me and my son. With a bark she warned us to keep our distance. We followed the trio up the beach and over a grassy bank to their den, though where exactly the den opened we didn’t see. The furry pups disappeared inside and their mother stood guard outside, watchful and erect. The wind was blowing and she stood hidden in the tall beach grass, but when the grass swayed sideways I saw her yellow-orange eyes
41 staring at me. I think I wouldn’t have minded being a male fox right then. The eyes of a wild fox can be spooky-bizarre or hauntingly beautiful. They’re like the stones in the Art Nouveau costume jewelry we wore in the vibrant decadence of youth. On some nights the foxes’ bloodcurdling shrieks rise over the countryside. I’ve been awakened by this screeching and lain with a palpitating heart until it ended. When they say Bigfoot has a cry like a woman being murdered, they might have been hearing foxes. Late one summer night I heard two of them roughhousing outside my window and I had a look. The bigger fox was mauling and ripping the throat of the young fox — really killing it, I thought. Apocalyptic screams came from the victim. The noise subsided after the big fox lost interest and let go. I’m not a hundred percent certain the screaming wasn’t actually hysterical laughter. No wonder the snowshoe hares live in fear of these devils. Foxes yowl, yelp, bark, howl, shriek, cluck and pant, and knowing their kinship with dogs, I shouldn’t be surprised by their vocal versatility. One July the yowling and yelping of the foxes was unbearable. They were hyenas. Night after night the maddening chorus persisted. I was outside looking for the culprits one night when an earthquake struck, a long quake, and the foxes fell silent. From the radio I learned this was a magnitude 6.4 quake centered in the Alaska Peninsula. I recalled a week or ten days earlier we’d had a 6.3 quake centered southeast of Kodiak. Was it possible the month’s active geology had inspired their abnormal crying? In any event, after the second quake they didn’t have much to say. Foxes are feisty, finicky, fun-loving and familyoriented. When we’ve had a good day of fishing, they’ll come down to the beach to congratulate us, always keeping an eye on what we throw away. Before they take any scraps, they’ll sidle close to gauge our reactions. Foxes don’t like to get wet, and when a fish carcass floats in the tide, they’ll be torn between reaching for the fish with their mouths and forepaws and quick-stepping backwards to avoid getting their feet wet. Foxes have families to feed, and we never saw a prouder, more prancing fox than the fox heading home with a fresh halibut carcass in his mouth. He clasped the unwieldy carcass by its edge and tried to keep it from swinging against his fur. He returned later for the salmon carcass, hardly believing his good fortune. An annoying pink strand hung from the salmon carcass and slapped him in the chest. He hated that. He stopped, laid the fish
down, rearranged it, then grasped the neat package in his mouth and trotted down the beach with it, and never once took a bite for himself, so proud of his trophy that he couldn’t bear to diminish it by biting into it before he got it home. Outhouse Outhouses aren’t amusing or romantic, but a great part of the world relies on them and I won’t turn my back on them. All civilization started from a hole in the ground and progressed from there, and outhouses are a necessary stage in the evolution of self-composting, health-monitoring smart toilets.
Going Home, Kachemak Bay
In Alaska outhouses are a specialty. Even today they’re common, and abandoned outhouses add a rude or picturesque touch to the landscape. The oceanview outhouse I built at Cottonwood in the summer of 1997 was modeled on a frame outhouse I had seen in the White Mountains north of Fairbanks. I lined the outhouse pit with a ribbing of treated plywood according to specifications I had found in a back issue of Mother Earth News. Digging an outhouse pit is sheer drudgery and I never wanted to do it again. When I worked in wildland firefighting, the worst job you could draw on a deployment was to dig the pit for the shitter (as it was called). These were hastily dug holes and we weren’t asked to impress a romantic partner with them. At Cottonwood I had my wife Martina to consider. I painted the outhouse pink and roofed it with zincaluminum to match the main cabin. A brown bear standing on his hind feet later tore the zincaluminum up and left it in the shape of a curly fry. Another year another bear, or maybe the same bear, ripped the outhouse door off its hinges and destroyed it. Our outhouse stands in a spruce grove by the cabin, and when the children were young we never let them go there alone. There was a real chance of being caught with your pants down by a brown bear. We hung a swing from the spruce branch in front of the outhouse and the kids swung from it while their mother sat inside reading Bleak House or Crime and Punishment. Regrettably our young son got habituated to these family outings, and late in his teen years he was still inviting us to join him. As I say, my inspiration during the outhouse construction was my wife Martina, who has no tolerance for a dank, flyridden lavatory. I cut a triangular window in the outhouse door and fixed mesh over it to keep the mosquitos out while admitting Janet Klein
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 light and air. In bad weather you could have your ocean view with the door shut. I wanted her to be happy at Cottonwood and not to decline to return on account of the primitive services. I imported a hundred pounds of quicklime to the homestead and periodically sprinkled this white powder in the pit to decontaminate it. Not to make her out to be a princess, I will disclose one of Martina’s darkest girlhood secrets. I get shivers just thinking about it. As an impoverished five-year-old South Korean girl, little Hyun Ok slipped backwards through the seat hole of an outhouse one day and clung screaming for help for what seemed an eternity until someone came and pulled her out by the leg. There is so much about my wife I understand better now. Alaskans are comfortable with the word outhouse, but others have other words for it — backhouse, privy, john, latrine and the like. I’ve also heard compound constructions like poop coop and potty house. I learned the word jakes from the literary master James Joyce. My father dated himself by using the word bombsight for any pit-style toilet. We were in a public restroom on a Paris street many years ago and I remember the strain in his voice and the redness in his face as he explained to me the metaphoric relevance of “bombsight.” One of our summer wildflowers at Cottonwood is the gorgeous and exotic chocolate lily. These chocolatecolored lilies grow in large numbers on the seaside bluffs in midsummer. They stink. If you want to play a practical joke on someone, show them a sweet face, hold forth a bouquet of chocolate lilies, and ask them to try its fragrance. Don’t tell them the chocolate lily’s other name is the outhouse lily. People turn their noses up at the humble outhouse, but sophisticated plumbing isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. My fellow homesteaders the Petersons retained their old side-by-side two-seater in the backyard, but they got civilized some years ago, installed a shower and toilet, and buried two hundred fifty feet of drainpipe between their house and the sea cliffs. The winter of 1998 was icy cold, and when the water backed up in the shower, Richard Peterson suspected a frozen drainpipe. Sure enough, bundled up against the north wind, he located a fifteen-foot icicle hanging from the end of the projecting drainpipe. As a first answer he drew his Glock pistol, fired several shots at the icicle, and shattered it. Then he tied himself to a tree to keep from falling off the icy cliff, climbed down with a chainsaw, and sawed the frozen drainpipe back by a foot. Brown
43 water spurted onto his head. “Came spitting out like shit from a gargoyle’s mouth,” he recalled. Roped in place, Richard couldn’t flee before two hundred fifty feet of brown sludge emptied on his head. When he got back to the house he was all crinkly and stiff like an iceman, but at least the lines were clear and he could take a long hot shower. Salmonberry My paean to the salmonberry isn’t exclusive. I’ve picked blueberries in Switzerland, plums in Hungary, figs in Texas, blood oranges in Spain, grapes in Fresno, guava in Hawaii, and cranberries and raspberries all over Alaska, and no matter the fruit, the experience of picking it, usually enjoyed in company, is one of purposeful delight, of appetite and joyful gratitude. You’ll notice God didn’t hang fifty-cent pieces or Target gift cards from the Tree of Life, he hung wild fruit there. Wild fruit grows at hand and pleases me by doing so, pleases my eye, my tongue, my touch, and my sense of rightness, too, since few pleasures are as meaningfully satisfying as reaching out my hand and plucking a ripe wild fruit to nourish me with. Nothing speaks to my feeling at home on the planet, to the rightness of this design, nothing confirms it like the sweet feast that nature spreads before me. A stranger approached us one summer night in the parking lot of a cheap motel in Anchorage. Slogfooted, shabbily dressed, clearly intoxicated, she was in a bad way, no doubt about it. Martina and I were twenty-four-year-olds with no fixed place in life and scant money between us, but we had spent the day picking salmonberries at Mt. Alyeska in Girdwood, and Martina, who held the harvest bag, offered it to the woman. The transformation in the troubled woman’s features was unforgettable. When she saw the wealth of yellow and red berries and understood our meaning, her cheeks broadened and her eyes brightened with affection. Her words were hackneyed, but that beaming smile could not have been faked or purchased, certainly not purchased by whatever cash we might have given her. The woman warmly accepted the gift and hugged Martina, and although she didn’t go sober from that dreary parking lot, she went away alive. The salmonberry is far and away the dominant berry at our Kodiak homestead. We have watermelon berries and crowberries and other berries unfit to eat, but the salmonberries! I’ve spent summer afternoons
exploring for the next sumptuous thicket and with flying hands and a chomping, squirting mouth gorged until my belly couldn’t accommodate a single additional berry no matter how enticingly it dangled before me, every berry a sweet recrimination to the jaded palates who say the salmonberry is tasteless. Tasteless! So crush a cordial from it. Add spirits and sugar. Try telling the children not to eat the salmonberries because they’re tasteless. The children could never gather a bowlful from the salmonberry patch by our cabin without losing most of them on the way home, emerging from the patch with palms and cheeks stained red and the burgundy drupelets sprinkling their hair. In a good year we feast on ripe salmonberries by the Fourth of July. For this we’ll need pink blossoms in early May. In winter the salmonberry plants are bare and dead-looking until the pink flower buds and the green leaf buds jewel the canes in the spring. I get giddy just thinking about it. You hike past wild hedges starred with bright blossoms. The five-pointed flowers exude the subtlest fragrance. The bloom is daily, and too soon the petals fall to earth. The berries ripen from green to yellow to red to royal purple. Birds feast beside you. Red mites scramble over the globes. Black beetles worship under the scarlet and purple domes. Side by side the generations hang, the green nuts hard as acorns, firm berries mottled yellow and red, plump ruby prizes, and the great sagging darkened fruits, the old majors, unreaped and bearded with mold. Hornets home in on the dripping nectar. I raise a last berry, sip the tinted wine from it, and mash the goblet between my lip and gum. The late-season berries, not as big or as sweet, are often misshapen. As I’ve said, in a good year we’ll feast by the Fourth of July, but I’ve seen Fourths where the salmonberries aren’t nearly ripe and Augusts arrive in which the birds are beside themselves with impatience. Certain years (1997, 2001) stand out for their plentiful reachout-and-grab-one bumper crops while other years (1999, 2007) are standout salmonberry bummers. A harsh winter and late spring mean dead plants, delayed blooms and sparse, stunted berry crops, and from one year to the next there can be more than a month’s variation in the berry’s calendar.
Tidepool Starfish, urchin, oyster, triton, Mussel, limpet, scallop, chiton, Periwinkle, hermit crab, fingerling, tube worm, Barnacle, sea star, gastropod, echinoderm, Sand hopper, sand dollar, moonshell, sea jelly, Isopod and hydroid: spongy, runny, smelly: China cap, cockleshell, octopus and eel, Crawling and slithering, all scouring for a meal, Sea snail, bitty shrimp, slug, clam and squirt, Nudibranch, anemone, all mixed with rocks and dirt, All eggy and slimy and gooey and briny, Mottled and rubbery and slippery and shiny, Glistening and lurid, dank, noisome, viny, Wholesome if hideous, sapid if spiny, Gasping and munching and lying in wait, Oozing and crunching and keen to propagate, Wriggling and squirming, floating free or holding fast, Mouths, arms and tentacles stalk their next repast, Scuttling and prowling, springing, snapping, waving, Preying and prying, I won’t say misbehaving, Wheeling and wafting and popping and dying, Teeming and breathing and God knows multiplying, Spitting, sucking, splashing, all searching for a treat, And thanks to all the plankton, there’s lots of stuff to eat. I cannot say who made it, But I’ll say I’m fascinated, The bubbling foam and crackling scum Excite my dull sensorium, The colors heady, all compounding, Iridescent and astounding, Thickly layered, amber, green, Dazzling orange and tourmaline, Striped and dappled, pearly, dusky, Pink, maroon, marine and musky, These dwellers of the ocean shore, Some herbivore, some carnivore, In balmy or in brutal weather Subsist between the tides together, The life so vivid, protean, hectic, Bright and fertile, pyrotechnic: It’s delicious, a delirium, A feast, a strange mysterium, And I find it quite tremendous Though I cannot comprehend us. Welcome to the tidepool At the edge of the sea: It’s like looking in a mirror And seeing you and me.
Wildlife Spotting Standing on a wooden boardwalk outside the café, they could see only one house, way out by the highway junction. It had a metal roof. “Here. Use this,” Mike said, folding his fleece jacket and setting it on the bench. Jen’s lips tensed as she eased herself down. She leaned back and exhaled slowly. Mike sat beside her. He watched her for a moment, then lifted his binoculars and began to scan. “We might see snow geese flying to the lake,” he said. She rested her eyes on the landscape. Fields of winter wheat, bordered in places by barbed wire, rolled up and over rise after gentle rise. Even in this thin sun the soft, round mounds seemed to glow. She wanted to reach out and touch them—to run her hands over their curves, feel familiar shapes. A sigh escaped her. She used to like this view. She’d thought it was dramatic: the way the mountains loomed beyond the wheat fields, dark and craggy, like an approaching horde, how they stretched as far as she could see. But now … Creeks tumbled down from the mountains, finding the low spots where they could push their way onto the plains. The water itself wasn’t visible, but she knew where it was from the curves of willow and cottonwood that snaked between the hills. The vegetation grew even more thickly near town. “There could be a grizzly right down in that draw,” Mike said, lowering his binoculars and pointing to one of the brushy clefts. “The Front Range is the only place where grizzlies still come down and roam the plains, like they used to.” She thought about grizzlies. About how big they are, how they eat almost anything, how nobody can tell a grizzly what to do. How you have to hope you never meet one in the first place. “Don’t I know it,” she said, adjusting her scarf more tightly on her head. “They could be anywhere.”
Raven with Feast in Flight
Lois Paige Simenson
Poetic Dancer I found my writing journal from 1986. This isn’t a remarkable discovery, except for the timing of finding it. I read to page four and stopped dead in my tracks. I’d written about my friend and neighbor, Elizabeth Skowran, or “Liz” as I knew her. Liz was murdered in 1989. Several months ago, I attended a UAA lecture, “True Crime As a Literary Genre.” Three notable Alaska writers, Tom Brennan (Dead Man’s Dancer: The Mechele Linehan Story), Leland Hale (Butcher, Baker) and Glen Klinkhart (Finding Bethany) discussed their work and challenges writing true crime books. All of these stories took place in and around Anchorage. I read Mr. Klinkhart’s book about finding Bethany Correira, who disappeared in 2003 and was later found deceased (a good book and I recommend reading it). I finished reading it the same day I discovered my own journal buried in a dust-covered box and thought of Liz, who met a similar fate. As I read through my journal entries Liz came alive for me again. We lived in a duplex near Lake Hood and the Anchorage International Airport, as it was called at the time. I’d signed up for a creative writing class at Anchorage Community College. Liz was in the same class. Once we discovered we lived across the street from one another, we became fast friends. Liz lived in a duplex with her boyfriend, Rick, who
had a VCR repair business in Anchorage. She told me she was a dancer for money. Being fairly new to Alaska and due to my performing arts background, I figured that meant she was a professional ballet dancer. We were required to keep a daily journal as part of our grade for the creative writing class. My journal entries were mundane daily observations: job complaints, grousing about the dark and the cold, and occasional poems. Sometimes I wrote casual observations about Liz and her boyfriend.
a low-cut black body leotard with pink-knit leggings. She was dancing, fervent and possessed, lost in her artistic creation. “Oh, oh, watch this!” she threw over her shoulder, twirling and writhing side-to-side, then molding her body into a provocative plie and a graceful arabesque. Grabbing a tie-dyed silk scarf, she stood in front of me, swishing the serpentine scarf around my neck and slapping the floor like she was swatting mosquitoes. She contorted, moving
Liz liked to watch jets take off and land at the end of the international airport runway, at the Point Woronzof overlook. We’d lie on the hood of my old Audi sedan, propped on the windshield, gazing at the underbellies of 737’s roaring over us while Liz downed shots of tequila and recited poetry. She’d talk me into accompanying her, since I was the one with the car. Other times she’d come over and we’d sit at my dining room table and write poems or stories in our journals. Liz was a nonstop talker, a free spirit, and a passionate writer. She wrote poetry that was certainly publishable, but she wouldn’t submit it. I used to wonder what happened to her poems and her journal, hoping they somehow wound up in a good place; but when people go missing and the main suspect is the person they are living with, personal possessions have a way of evaporating into thin air. “Hey, I’ve choreographed some new moves,” said Liz on my doorstep one Saturday afternoon in late November 1986. “Wanna come see ‘em? Rick is gone and I have the place to myself.” Liz was taking a dance class at UAA and wanted to show me what she was incorporating into her dance routine for work. “Sure,” I said. “Be right over.” After I finished the dishes, I strolled across the street. When I entered Liz’s spacious living room, she’d cleared away the throw rugs and pushed the furniture against the wall. Talking Heads was blaring Wild, Wild Life from tall speakers. Liz wore Hand in Hand
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 her chest in ways I didn’t know were possible. Off came the leotard. I closed my eyes, then squinted one eye open at a time.
now, but he looked as though he was going to strike her.
She had on a multi-colored fluorescent bikini. “Ha, fooled you!” Liz laughed and undulated in front of me like a teasing aurora in an Anchorage winter sky.
“I was showing her my new moves,” she motioned in my direction, pleading with him. He looked at me, the kind of look that tingles the fear in your toes and sends it out the top of your head.
He scared me.
I felt my face turn red. “I’d better be going,” I said, moving to the door. “What kind of dance is that?” I yelled over the music, not knowing what else to say. “My newest lap dance!” Liz laughed at my naivete. I’d heard of the Bush Company and knew what it was, but had never been there (my husband had to define lap dance for me).
“That’s a damn good idea,” he said, fixating on his girlfriend, who was a quarter of his size. Once I walked out the door, I was afraid he would hurt her. I was right. I stood outside listening to yelling, crashing, and things hitting the wall. I ran to my house, intending to call the police. Looking out the window I saw Rick get in his truck and leave.
“Why didn’t you just say you’re a stripper?” I yelled. I called Liz. “Are you okay?” “We don’t call ourselves strippers anymore, that’s so 70s. We’re dancers for money!” Liz seized my hands and pulled me up to dance with her. She danced with passion and without inhibition. Thankfully her bikini stayed on. I wasn’t comfortable with another woman performing a lap dance for me, let alone if she were to peel off the rest. Liz didn’t care, she was obviously used to dancing for anyone who cared to watch.
“Yeah, I’m fine. He just had a bad day,” she blew it off. “I’ll be all right.” Around midnight, I heard pounding on our door. Liz stood on my porch with a black eye, holding her bloody nose. “Can you take me to the E.R.?” I put on my parka and drove her to Providence. She wouldn’t press charges.
Not knowing what to do and not wanting to be rude, I sat watching her. I flinched from her scarf swipes, a weird frozen smile on my face, thinking hundreds of guys in Anchorage would love to be me right now. I had a compulsion to flee, yet was fascinated by my same-gender friend who enjoyed test driving her lap dances on me.
After our class ended at Christmas break, I hardly saw Liz except when we watched their Doberman a few times when they were gone on trips. In return Rick said we could borrow VHS movies from his movie library. He had an excessive amount of VCR players and TVs in the garage, too many to repair, I thought.
“Hey! What the hell are you doing?” A deep male voice boomed into the house. Rick was home and stomped his large frame across the floor to turn off the cassette player. The music stopped and so did Liz. He glared at me, then shifted his gaze to Liz. When I tried to explain, he interrupted.
In late winter of ’88 we returned from a trip Outside and neighbors said Liz and Rick had moved out overnight. No forwarding address, only a hastily scribbled note taped to our door with some music cassettes Liz promised to record for me: “Moving to California - I’ll be in touch, Love Liz J”
“You’re supposed to be cleaning the damn house!” he screamed at Liz. She instinctively backed away from him and I didn’t know what to do. She had mentioned he’d sometimes hurt her when he was drunk. He wasn’t drunk
I never saw her or heard from her again. In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez spilled oil into Prince William Sound and news organizations were consumed
with the story. Shortly after I went into labor with my first child and moved to Eagle River, I learned Liz never made it to California. She was reported missing later that summer. Her story paled against the oiled seas and more important news like Mt. Redoubt’s volcanic eruption.
truth, you can’t believe it really happened, especially to someone you care about. Your mind refuses to acknowledge it, instead you choose to believe it only as a bad dream. And then you wonder why. You wonder how anyone could get away with such a horrific crime.
In late May 1991, I opened the Anchorage Daily News to find that an unidentified woman was found deceased at mile 72.5 of the Seward Highway. She was unearthed by hikers on Turnagain Pass. The article explained how David Weaver, a forensic artist at the state crime lab spent hours reconstructing the woman’s face, following the contours of her skull with oil-based clay, molding it into a bust, in hopes someone could identify her.
Nine years later, on June 11, 2000, officers surrounded a camper trailer parked in Williamston, S.C., where Wilkins had been living with a wife and her 12-year-old granddaughter. The child told a neighbor she’d been choked and sexually assaulted by Wilkins and he’d killed her grandmother, according to investigators. After a brief standoff, Wilkins was taken into custody and charged with six felonies, including murder of Victoria McNairy Wilkins, found dead in a storage building adjacent to the trailer (Peninsula Clarion, July 19, 2000).
Weaver distributed pictures of his sculpture to the media. Another dancer recognized her as Elizabeth Skowran, last heard from in March 1989. Not much of her was left when troopers lifted her decomposed, bullet-riddled body from a grave 100 feet up a steep hill in Turnagain Pass. “Someone identified her and called an APD informant and they called us,” Weaver said. “Then we got the dental records and bingo. The case started rolling.” (Anchorage Daily News, November 8, 1993). The Alaska State Troopers issued a media release requesting if anyone had any information about Liz or Richard Wilkins, to contact them. From the time Liz’s body was identified in 1991, Wilkins was the prime suspect. He left Alaska around the time she disappeared. After Liz’s body was discovered, Alaska investigators worked the case hard. Twice they flew to California armed with warrants to search the bus Wilkins was traveling in at the time. Wilkins then disappeared from trooper radar. (Peninsula Clarion, July 19, 2000). I was devastated to learn Liz had been murdered, after wondering what had happened to her. I thought it odd that we’d not heard from her after she moved out of the duplex. I wanted to do something, anything, to help catch her killer. I took my journal to the Alaska State Troopers in hopes that it might somehow help with their investigation. But my entries only solidified what they already knew: Wilkins had abused Liz when they were together. It didn’t contribute anything new to their investigation. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough forensic evidence to bring Liz’s murder case to trial. When you come face-to-face with an unthinkable
The Juneau Empire reported March 7, 2005 that Wilkins confessed to shooting Liz in the head then dumping her body in a shallow grave on Turnagain Pass. He is serving time for rape and murder in a South Carolina prison. After reading Glen Klinkhart’s book, Finding Bethany, I have a better understanding of the pieces and parts that are integral to a missing persons’ investigation, how difficult it is bringing suspects to justice, and how vital it is not to release information too soon because it can compromise catching the bad guys. From time to time I think of my petite friend, the exuberant, intelligent, poetically-gifted Elizabeth Skowran, who drifted into my life for a short time. As people come and go from our lives, they leave footprints on us. I wonder if there was anything I could have done or should have said that would have made a difference— maybe she’d be alive today if I’d spent more time with her and maybe influenced her choices. But all the wondering and maybe’s in the world won’t bring her back. Who is to say how our paths are destined, how every moment’s choice leads us down the right path or the wrong one? We make our choices, cross our fingers and hope for the best. I do know one thing: Each time someone is reported missing in Anchorage, I hold my breath—and pray. No one deserves an outcome like Elizabeth Skowran. No one.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Gwennie’s in the 70’s On the second floor, I snuck from the blue room, around the corner to the red room, and then down the hallway to poke my head into the pink room, breathless, heart racing, on the second floor of what is now Gwennie’s in downtown Spenard. I was 9 or 10. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be in those off-limits rooms, touching the deep red velvet on the walls and headboard of the perfumed rooms, seeing the pastel lingerie strewn about. I’d finally get shooed out by the ladies with a “Go on, now, honey.” But, I couldn’t help it. The pull, the appeal of the colors, the devotion to pleasure and beauty. The color rooms surrounded a pool and foosball table area amongst gaudy gold and thick wood, heavily laminated. It was the 1970’s. My sister and I played foose, spinning the handles, whipping the ball completely off the table, mostly on purpose so we could foose again. She would slap it in, over and over, on me. I got some of my red guys to snake it past her grim-faced, baby-blue men. We were pretty good. I mean, we devoted hours a day to the game, and a sign of an interesting childhood is being a wicked good foose or pool player. She could kick my ass, but I would give it all I had to try and still play
a fairly mean game. Not sure my sister ever wandered into those rooms. She was, for the most part, at least for all adult eyes to see, better behaved than I was by about a mile. From that foose table or the pool table next to it, we could see the men come in and self-consciously try to stroll past us like it was an everyday occurrence, their visits to the rooms. Rough men in work clothes, fresh from the jobsite, or spiffied up men, mostly the ones slighter of build, like they had a date or something. Then, they’d leave, often shoving money into the ladies’ hands, or they’d put it next to the bed in a wad. Murmured promises of “next time.” Giggles. What I mostly remember of my mother is her laughter when she was loaded, smoking weed or drinking a little, usually in response to men, never to my sister and I. Giggle at men. I took it in. Slight of weight, anemic, and fairly average height for my age, I asked my mother, with her long, copper colored hair and perfect proportions and lack of bra, gauzy shirts, “Why are those ladies always in their nighties?” This question went unanswered with that dropped smile, that look that said, “Don’t ask” without saying it. Was I nine? Must have been. My sister, sixteen months older, had the same long, silky hair our mother had. Mine barely got raked. Not a mother activity in our house. Can’t recall it ever happening, except by me and I fairly jerked the knots out. Not sure I could’ve stood or sat still for it anyways. In a year, a hooker would teach me how to do my nails. I would wear my mother’s platform tennis shoes and satin hot pants whenever I could. When they began to shred, she let me wear them more. We all slept on the top floor of Gwennie’s, where I traipsed upstairs on
50 the side entrance of the building after school at Wonder Park Elementary where my sister would get busted for fencing jewelry in the fifth grade. She had a lot of it. I was jealous, but I knew they were ill-gotten. I mean Mama never bought them. I remember tinges of jealousy of all the attraction my sister got at school, the draw of her whitish hair, her laugh, like Mama’s. I don’t recall having that laugh til much later, when I would need it to make my own way on stage, removing article after article of clothing, entertaining men at 21. One day when my sister and I came home from school, Mama overdosed again. She overdosed twice when I was growing up. Once about a year before or after this event. We all smoked weed so my memory might be a little muddied, but I always had my sister to ask about the past. “Did this really happen?” “I haven’t thought about that for a long time, but yes, I remember it.” She’d add some details. Mama denies it all. In Gwennie’s, in what was at that time a Chinese restaurant, Mama last overdosed—both times on Elephant tranquilizer. Horse tranquilizer? Low amounts of alcohol, that’s all Mama could handle. Acid and heavy use of marijuana, mescaline, and mystical experiences. Mama and he sold acid in sheets. With LSD and mescaline, you couldn’t know if it was cut with speed or whatever, it was out of control. They took mushrooms, too, which seemed more organic and natural, like weed, and, at the time, they thought it was all safe. They gave them to us kids; actually, my stepfather gifted us with acid and other drugs, with or without my mother’s or even our knowledge. I don’t think I’ll ever know. But that’s the drug life. It’s never been something allowed in discussion—the past. Never happened. Whatever, but my sister and I remember. They smoked PCP in a pipe or a cigarette. There was always talk about what was in the cigarette or joint. I became the perfect joint roller; took great pride in that skill. So in demand. I don’t remember Mama eating much. She was laughing or sleeping. I’d often ask her if we could go out. In her dream state, she always said “Sure, honey. Be careful,” and then fall back to sleep. I knew she wouldn’t remember it, and I would get into trouble, but I always argued, “You said yes.” I felt a little tinge of guilt rise up from my stomach through my chest, eventually making my ears
CIRQUE hot, but it didn’t stop me or change anything. Sometimes, Mama felt disoriented and sad, and I felt bad for her, then, too, but mostly I wanted to get away from it all. I guess because they took it so often, their tolerance rose. I don’t know. All I know is that this was a life-threatening situation; she wasn’t herself. She had seizures, convulsions, and I knew in the pit of my stomach that she could die or just never wake up, which is the same as dying. I knew she might have a heart attack. I knew she might just stop shaking and not be there anymore, just a lifeless body, frail, thin. Without panties in her jeans, without a bra. No Betty Crocker. No field trips. Tears and anger slipped out of my sister and I sideways. I did the drugs. I wanted to know what it was like. But, then I didn’t. When my father tried to get custody of us when I was in elementary and my sister was in junior high, I remember for months the toxic effects of the drugs. Hallucinations, spinning room, colors, (Keep one foot on the floor, Mama advised) and I could see the molecules in the air, swarms of I don’t know what. My mother always talked about seeing people’s auras, and I thought that was what I was seeing in different colors. They all meant something, Mama said. Now, I think it was just the drugs. They snorted powder, they smoked hash chunks, weed. One of our dogs wandered out into traffic and got hit by a car after eating a chunk. Knobber. Mama took drugs, weed, speed, elephant tranquilizer, embalming fluid, hallucinogens. To come up, to go down, to get normal. Mama saw and heard or sensed things that were not there. The drugs at times made us all feel like we were separated from our bodies. Michael, a friend of my mother’s and ours, a beautiful man with dark, wavy hair who had always been kind to us, flew out on a rope swing over water but landed funny. Was there even water? I remember wondering, questioning in my head the thing that no one would say out loud, no one would know or remember. We visited him in the hospital with screws in his head and bolts in his broken neck, trying to hold his head still. I remember this was not supposed to be a big deal. Just a bad trip.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Later, in junior high, I would sell weed, sometimes laced with PCP and sometimes not. In order to become a dealer, I had to smoke with the bigger dealer, and the weed we smoked made me high for days. I laughed in choir uncontrollably and Mr. Jerry Chudd took me aside. “You just gotta get high on life!” He encouraged me. Lunch money, I needed lunch money. That thought kept me in the life. Food wasn’t on the top of Mama’s list, if she had a list. I loved that man for that moment. Mr. Chudd.
hot face. Thinking about myself. Shake it off. We had never known a doctor or anyone who had college or worked in anything but a trade, like carpentry or, well, I think they were all carpenters, and the women, like my mother, sometimes kept books for different businesses. The money came from selling drugs. Not sure the rest was just a cover or legit, but it was never successful, at least not in my stepfather’s case. More fights about money and the business going under than anything else. And his cheating.
If you’d have asked me, “pigs” were bad, and “cool” people did drugs and drank. Although, personally, I had no problem with pigs. Or cops. I liked cops. Was fascinated with the formality of it all. It seemed like TV, not real life. Once, when we were about 6 and 8, I cut my foot terribly at Lake Hood or Jewel Lake; I can’t remember which (we moved 30 times before I was 13). The big toe and part of my foot were gushing blood— hemorrhaging. My sister carried me. We were never chaperoned. I’d say rarely, but the thought itself is odd of anyone being with us at all. We went to the dentist by ourselves most times. It’s just a cleaning. But this cut day, as my sister carried me, a police officer drove by and stopped. Our heart raced. We knew there was something to be avoided with cops, but we needed him, right? We thought it would be okay. It wasn’t. I cannot remember being in more trouble than that day. We should have asked a stranger or walked. I looked at my mother and stepfather (they weren’t married yet, but they would be), and I had trouble believing this was right. Ask a stranger.
We heaved her body upon our shoulders, my neck hurt, my shoulders hurt. Her head was floppy on her neck. He eventually showed up, but I don’t remember that part. We were a wreck. I remember, in the end. In that huge apartment above what is now Gwennie’s, which was a Chinese restaurant with dragons out front, life would go on as usual. Like Michael’s accident, the overdoses never happened.
So, at 9, when my mother began violently shaking, seizing, foaming at the mouth, my sister and I had one moment of clarity: call our stepdad. Mr. Friendly. He told us how to avoid the law, which was his first thought. Bastard, I remember thinking. No hospital? Rarely did we ever visit a doctor, though. Marijuana cured most ills, if you asked Mama. “Walk her. Don’t stop. Slap her if you have to. Don’t call the cops. I’ll be there soon.” So, I slapped her, twice. We walked her, and we didn’t for a second think it was going to be okay. Her maybe 100-pound body was only slightly heavier than ours, so the task was not insurmountable. I remember some weird sense of pride, “We can do this; we can keep her alive.” I thought, in that moment, of becoming a doctor. I flooded with shame,
He smiled at us after she started coming around, stopped looking like we might lose her. “Just took a little too much for her body weight, that’s all.” I never looked at him or Mama the same way again. I knew how tenuous her stay on this earth was, so leaning on her would never be possible. Mystic Moods, Moody Blues, Cat Stevens. I wrote down the lyrics, word by word, deliberately in a notebook. Listened over and over on the record player. Scratchy records, cleaning the records and needle over and over. Took baths with my sister in that huge tub, taking saunas, and inviting a kid or two from school once. We got busted. “Gotta be careful, you know, honey. Not everybody’s cool, and it’s hard to know for sure.” No one from school could come over, which made sense if I thought about it, which I didn’t want to do. That bathtub was big enough for four, maybe five people on the top floor where we lived where we two families lived one half Asian and us four— this group of two blonde girls and an half Asian boy. We lived above that second floor brothel in a place where we entered from the side. On the bottom, the restaurant; on the second floor, the brothel; and the flat on top built to be
a luxury suite.
Richard Stokes Surrounded by the Asian restaurant slash brothel were escort services where I’d once poked my head into and saw the women in nighties before they’d gently shove me out and slam the door, laughing. Much later, The Bunny Club, Miss Susie’s and Moon’s House were auctioned off to the highest bidder under the condition that they must be converted to legitimate businesses or homes. We’d lived with the Slacks in that building; the mother was Asian and this amazing cook, and father was white, what I’d consider “regular” because I never considered us to be any race at all. Because of that family, I can use chopsticks perfectly as a requirement of eating their food. Their son was a year older than my sister who spent copious hours making out with him. At the time I felt it was gross. Maybe because we were kids but maybe because I wanted her attention. She’d mommed me most. They were interesting slash gross. Tongues going wild. Gross not because he was Asian. That just made him mysterious. He was different. Jet black hair. Beautiful skin. I guess I considered us “not Black,” “not Asian,” or just “not.” We had friends of all shades, and most of them were shady. He wasn’t. He was just a kid, like us. Later, much later, I learned that the Slacks owed us money for the work that my stepfather did for them on the building, some of the work I did with my stepfather. My sister never helped him, but I did as often as possible. In spite of the fact that he touched us wrong. Tickled us weird, I helped him. He drank, and because of this, he didn’t finish jobs. He would wander off. Mama would get mad. Plus, he paid me a dollar for every year of my age. Mostly, I helped because it beat staying in when not in school, and I helped in the summer because there was nothing to do, and you can’t know who is cool. I felt pride when I packed the mud around the stones on the walls. I smoothed them, I coated it with clear, shiny, smelly stuff after it all dried. I repeated this over and over until they shined like glass. I touched each and every crease in between the rough, bumpy rocks. I knew the rocks’ edges. I’d chosen where some of the stones had gone, and that’s not nothing. I helped not because I wanted to be with him. The thought made bile rise in my throat. The thought that he would have let her die never left my mind.
Tooting Into Manhood
In the 1950’s Dad belonged to a deer hunting club that leased a bunkhouse and hunting rights near Midway, Georgia near the coast. The leased acreage bordered what was then Fort Stewart. The club bunkhouse was a squat concrete structure with few amenities; bare walls with occasional windows and a functional kitchen and toilets. Martha Stewart—no known connection to next-door Fort Stewart—would have wept. During my boyhood, Dad went on three day hunts there at least once a season. At age 15 I was allowed for the first time to accompany him. At that time all deer hunting in south Georgia was with shotguns and buckshot. The land was too flat to safely use high powered rifles. Most hunting was done with dogs. The first morning before daylight we crowded into pickup trucks and were delivered to drop-off spots. From there hunters walked to pre-assigned locations called “stands.” These stands were chosen by the club and parceled out prior to the hunt. They were just what the word implies, a place to stand and none of them had elevated platforms or shelters. I don’t recall how “stands” were selected or chosen, whether by a lottery or seniority system. Certainly some stands were better than others, that is, in locations more likely to be used by a deer fleeing from a pack of hounds. Each stand was far enough away from the adjacent one to give some modicum of safety, but hunters knew approximately where the next hunter was and knew to avoid shooting in that direction. The only reason this could work safely was because of the limited range of a shotgun. Be that as it may I think my “stand” was on the end with no one on one side of me and Dad between me and the others. Being on such a hunt was a big deal for me, a passage of sorts into a manhood I certainly didn’t yet feel. I was still a Boy Scout working toward my eagle badge. I was more comfortable with the younger scouts than I was with my own age group, most of whom were ahead of me in sexual development and social skills. I think this was about the time I quit riding my beloved bicycle to school because bikes were no longer “cool.” The protracted period of puberty was very uncomfortable
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 for me. Scouts and basketball were ways for me to belong and feel decent about myself. Though short and undersized I had basketball skills; I could handle the ball and had a decent outside shot. I recall little about the actual hunts except it was very cold in the mornings and I had trouble keeping warm. The hunts were long periods of boredom punctuated by brief periods of excitement when the dogs struck a hot trail and seemed to be coming toward me, when I could in my imagination see a big buck charge out of the woods in front of me. I heeded Dad’s advice that the deer could be a considerable distance in front of the dogs and as soon as they struck I became attentive. I hunted with a single-shot twenty-gauge shotgun and when the dogs were running I kept my thumb on the hammer, sometime even cocking it for an immediate shot. At such times I could feel my heart pounding, and I was no longer cold. Eventually I would hear a shotgun blast in the distance; sometimes more than one. Even then I wouldn’t relax. Deer sometimes evaded the lines of hunters and were known to circle back to elude the hounds. Once, the deer must have come very close to me. Although I never saw deer or dogs, the latter were close enough for me to hear the shouts of the two men who owned and “drove” the dogs. At the end of the day five deer had been killed. After field dressing, the deer were hung briefly behind the camp building before being taken to a butcher in Midway. That first night after a communal dinner, all the men left. Dad didn’t tell me anything except to behave myself and that he wouldn’t be too late. I was neither curious nor worried about being alone. I was asleep when the men returned. The next day’s hunt was shortened because the dogs disappeared into the forbidden Fort Stewart lands. They ran “out of hearing,” not only beyond where the dog handlers couldn’t hear them, but also far enough that the dogs didn’t respond to the commands of the handlers’ horns. That night after supper Dad suggested that I accompany the dog handlers as they attempted to find the dogs. This may or may not have had anything to do with Dad feeling guilty about leaving me in the bunkhouse alone. Whatever his motive, the excursion was fine with me. Soon I was in a truck with the dog wranglers, Bobbie and Red, who were both old and wiry. I imagine Red must have once had red hair, but at the time he had only a gray fringe around a mostly bald head. We had to go through a checkpoint before being allowed
53 into the military reserve. We drove down narrow roads with the branches of shrubs scraping against the side of the truck. Bobbie kept the truck window open so he could spit tobacco juice out, and he yelled a profanity each time a branch lashed his arm or shoulder. We forded a number of shallow streams before Bobbie drawled that there was too much water to go further. We piled out and within a few minutes Bobbie and Red had built a roaring fire. We were surrounded by palmettos and the piping of tree frogs. From the pickup Bobbie retrieved a pewter-colored bugle-like horn, and Red brought out what appeared to be a cow horn. Red produced a Mason jar of clear liquid and took a deep swallow. “You drink ‘shine?” he asked me as he offered the jar. “No sir,” I said, and Red passed the jar to Bobbie. After a few additional swaps of the jar Bobbie wiped off the mouthpiece of his horn and blew into it. He produced only a sputtering sound. Red laughed. “The dogs ain’t going to hear that if they ain’t here by the fire. “You do it then,” said Bobbie. Red put the cow horn to his lips and blew a somewhat stronger sound. “That still ain’t worth a shit,” Bobbie said. Bobbie turned to me. “I’m afraid if I blow too hard I’ll blow out my asshole,” he grinned, “can you blow a horn?” “I have blown a bugle,” I said. Bobbie handed me the horn. To my delight I produced a loud blast, then I blew another that I was able to maintain for a few seconds. ”Jesus Christ,” Bobbie said, “if the dogs can’t hear that they’ve done run to Florida. Blow her again.” Pride and satisfaction filled me to the brim, and I blew again and again. At some point, Red passed me the cow horn and I produced a lingering mournful sound. “That’s enough,” Bobbie finally said, “give it a rest for a few minutes.” Bobbie told time-worn stories about hunting with dogs, but they were new to me and outrageously funny. One was about the city fellow that came along on a hunt and while the dogs were in full throat the dog handler asked, “do you hear that music?” and to which the city fellow answered “I can’t hear a thing for those damned dogs.” Red, who had probably heard the story a hundred times laughed till he nearly choked. Then Red told about the Georgia boy who went to England for an English-style foxhunt on horseback. After the hunt the Georgia boy asked how he did and his English host said, “you did fine, but over here when we see the fox we shout tally-ho instead of, “yonder goes the little fucker.”
Looking for Stars
I was a perfect audience for these guys and they told one story after another. One was that Bobbie had gone to a dance and while he was dancing with a fat woman, her panties slid off and down around her ankles. She stepped out of them and they continued the circular style dance. When they reached the panties again the woman caught them with the toe of her shoe and kicked them out an open window. The woman supposedly chided Bobbie for not at least pretending not to notice. Bobbie claimed he told her a man didn’t get many chances like that and he wasn’t going to miss what she might do next. Sixty years later I still conjure up a clear image of that woman kicking the panties through an open window. The three of us, still without the dogs, arrived back in camp before the rest of the men and I went to bed. The next morning at breakfast Dad said Bobbie had told him I could blow myself into the club. My chest swelled.
It Feels Like This “What does it feel like?” He asks. I cradle the cold, flat surface of my iPhone against my shoulder and step outside. Above, the November sky presses down, sullen, flat, and gray. Brown leaves skitter across the sidewalk. I’m late for a meeting, but I need to take this call. “It feels like a big thump in my chest,” I say, “um, tingling in my fingers, and I get kind of panicky.” It’s the same question we talked about the other night at meditation. “What does it feel like?” our facilitator asked, “When you’re scared or anxious?” We all said things like:
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 uncomfortable, panic, stressed, high blood pressure. “No, no,” he said, “In your body, what does it feel like? What does fear, anger, or sadness feel like in the body? Does it pound? Is it itchy or tingly or tight? Is it light or dark? Is it in your feet or your stomach or your head?” My first flickering of anxiety came as a surprise. I thought I was unshakeable. I had spent my adolescence working in busy restaurant kitchens, waiting tables and smiling through a slam. I trekked solo with my backpack in the Himalayas at 19, hitch hiked and bussed through Asia, had babies and completed a PhD in New Zealand at 30. Nothing had ever fazed me. And then. A flutter. I was paying bills in the back of our bookstore, my daughters in the children’s section, starting to fight. “I said I want to look at it!” one wailed. That’s strange, I thought. Maybe I need to exercise more. That night I went to the gym, bought a membership and started running. I ran 3-4 miles a day, then 5-6. In the spring I ran outside, mile after mile through the melting snow. Sometimes when I ran the flutters came frequently. Sometimes not. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I was happy. Eventually, there was a rainy weekend in Seattle where I met a man who began to unravel my world. He was not my husband. It was nothing; a walk through the city. A conversation over coffee. But it hit me like sunlight in the middle of winter, like I was drowning and someone had tossed me a lifeline. When I got home the house felt like a prison. I called my therapist. The fluttering continued through the summer, through a separation, through therapy and long distance trail running, through gardening and teaching and reading stories. They continued through the fall when my husband moved back and into the winter and the
spring and the spring after that. There were mindfulness classes and yoga. Meditation and green tea. There was wine and family dinners, trips to Hawaii, China, birthday parties and river parties. Sometimes I looked around at my beautiful life and felt unbelievably lucky, like I had slipped in through some secret door or won the lottery. And then I’d catch a flutter of fear. There was Western Pine Beetle and dying forests to worry about. A failed business. Credit cards. Bank accounts. Children’s school. There were fevers and flus and Climate Change. And one summer there was fire everywhere. On all the ridges and on our mountain, you could see it through the trees: glowing like a city of embers. I was wearing a heart monitor the day it broke out. “You have to leave now,” everyone said. I gathered the dog and the pregnant cat and my brown sweater and left. And when the fires finally died down, there was a divorce. And I understood, or so I thought, the root of my anxiety. “I wasn’t crazy,” I told my best friend. “Three years ago, I wasn’t.” But the flutters continued and got worse. Eventually they were diagnosed as PVC’s, PAC’s. I could take Metoperol or Celexa: beta blockers or anti-anxiety medication. Nothing worked. There must be a cause, everyone said. Your body
56 wants to heal itself. I steeled myself. I looked at every single issue in my life that I had denied for 15 years. An abusive marriage. An eating disorder. Alcohol. I read books like Anatomy of the Spirit, Care of the Soul, and Spontaneous Healing. I learned to walk instead of run. I moved to town. “It’s a gift,” my life coach said. “Your very heart is telling you to be authentic.” So I practiced being authentic. I quit my board memberships, focused on mothering and teaching. I tried to be kind to myself. During meditation I chanted in my head: “You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay,” as if by saying it, I could believe it. One night, after I’d met a man who loved my girls and me with a graciousness I never dreamed possible, I awoke with my heart racing a million miles a minute, and dread like I would jump out of my skin. “What is it?” My lover asked. “I don’t know,” I said, “I can’t breathe…” “Here, like this,” He said, getting down on the floor, “put your face down, child’s pose.” I put my face against the cold floor and let the hardness sink into my temples. He put a blanket over my back. I lay there, curled up and small, waiting to die. My heart went on and on, leaping, zooming, screaming, my head against the floor: breathe, breathe, breathe. You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay. “Do you pray?” I asked. “Yes.” “How? Tell me.” “Darling,” He held my hands in both of his. “Do you want to pray?” “Yes,” I whispered. I do want to pray. I want to know that everything will be alright. I want to know that there’s something, some divine force or love that can carry me through this. I know that one day I won’t be here and the heart in my chest that flutters and skips and thumps will stop, eventually. But I need to know that I can bear it. So we prayed. Curled up, face to face on the floor of my
CIRQUE bedroom, we prayed nameless, wordless prayers. I don’t know if they went anywhere. I didn’t feel a rush of divine grace, no flooding of peace, no instant steadiness in my heart. But at last sleep began to blur the edges of my panic and we went back to bed. I lay there in the dark, curled up against my lover’s chest and felt our hearts beating, finally, in unison. “You are loved,” something said. “You are loved.” “What does it feel like?” My cardiologist repeats, “How long does it last?” “Usually a second or two,” but what I want to say is this. This is what it feels like. Anxiety begins with a flutter of unease. It dances through your chest, like a looseness, strings coming undone. Shoelaces slipping out of their knots. It goes through your heart with a deep shudder, a small earthquake—and then—terror, prickly, unnamable terror, like someone is behind you with a butcher knife. Your fingers jerk, your breath catches, and you think: Oh my god, I’m going to die. I have two baby girls and I’m going to die tonight. You curl up on the floor, in your yoga pose with your cheek against the wood. It feels like a kiss. You breathe. You pray. You pray even though you don’t believe in God anymore. You say, “Dear God, bless my babies. Please let me live to see them grow up. Please, God, please.” Is the heart a muscle or a symbol? Where is the heart located in the mess of our lives? All I know is this. The heart needs to love. Sometimes the words come to me out of nowhere, “You are loved, you are loved, you are loved.” I hold onto to them. I taste them. I wrap them around me like my brown sweater. I imagine all the people in my life that I’ve loved and who have loved me. I name them: mom, dad, Jenn, Kenny, Annika, Mia, Sarah, Becky, Holly, Alice, Morgan, Lachlyn, Ross. Todd. I think of my students and all the people who have drifted in and out of my life. Imperfect. So many mistakes. But there is love. “I love you,” I say to my daughters every night. “Yeah Mom, love you too,” they say, deep in their books. “I love you,” I say in my head as I go upstairs. “I love you,” I think as I fall asleep. Sometimes I say it like an invisible prayer, a thought, drifting out into the star studded sky. Love. Even in the midst of terror, it feels like this.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
POETRY Luther Allen
in place my old hunting rifle with the black stock once a year becomes part of my body another limb, another heart, another way of seeing. this hardened shadow of death speaking thunder spitting bullets almost invisible but not quite as they rend and tatter skin bone muscle organ blood as the elk or deer gives that quick little hump, twitch then slumps to the end and beginning of its path. and these rifle hands touch caress the wild being and open to a layered gift. the rifle leans against a tree in its place. i kneel and knife into the now-carcass the smell of musk, the stain of blood the heat of life, the heat of death. in my place.
Stopping for Tea
Vivian Faith Prescott
Suppose She’d never seen you standing At the bus stop in mid-January Wearing a thin windbreaker and tennis shoes, Or that she hadn’t taken you in to save you, At least for the moment, never for the long haul, but To free you from the foster care mill that saw you As a six hundred fifty dollar a month paycheck For the sake of feeding you and housing you And driving you to your weekly family visits. Suppose we’d never met and I’d gone on sitting unsuspecting, Reading in our living room, half listening to my wife who said, After she learned about you and the foster care system, I think I’ll look into that. And suppose I didn’t know what to say Other than Okay. Suppose we’d never attended classes To qualify us for the job for which we were overqualified. Suppose the process hadn’t moved so fast and We hadn’t come to love you deeply, not in a victorious way, not in a We saved your life way, but for the way you loved us back. I know now you would have loved anyone back, Would have climbed on any lap, wrapped your arms around any neck As long as it looked to be your ticket to escape.
Suppose we’d listened to the counselor, who told us not to adopt you, That it would break up our marriage. Suppose, as I drowsed in bed, I hadn’t heard my wife say, The only thing I’ve ever wanted In my life was a daughter.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Slugs On Sundays after the old Ford pick-up was loaded with clippings and tools
with balls or hula hoops or God forbid bikes. (They stayed on the patio.)
With long shears he’d snip them into bits or sometimes he’d send me
the hand mower and bags of just cut grass smelling like summer
Too perfect for the hutch. with bunnies whose droppings burned the grass and had to go.
to the kitchen for the Morton’s and let me pour it onto their smooth dark skins.
my father paid Mr. Hamasaki in cash. He liked things tidy.
My father scoured the rockery to pinpoint the pests amongst the foliage
In joyful horror I watched them shrivel and shrink Even at six I knew I was a killer.
The lawn was perfect— even and green Too perfect for playing
hiding under the fronds of fiddlesticks, pink heather and clusters of baby’s breath.
Karen Vande Bossche Two Poems
Wild Love I keep the lights low in the morning. He barely raises his head to speak, I’m tired, I don’t want to be here. But when he turns his gaze, a blackened eye to meet mine, that isn’t what he means. He is shorter than most other boys his age, but strong. Water filled milk jugs are his weights and he runs everywhere. Some days he smells. An oniony mixture of adolescent boy and urine. On days he makes it to my room I am overwhelmed with a wild love, a farmer’s relief for a runt calf returned safe after a night lost in wolf-filled woods. I try to be that sure thing, that countenance never varying, that smile never feigning acceptance, that comfort never converting to the swift surprise of a cruel and callous back hand.
Namaste, Bitches At the end of yoga I lie sweaty in savasana, the corpse pose. My muscles sag with fatigue. Eyes closed, palms upward, the fire in my thighs and upper arms slowly burns low, dies, extinguished by the in and out of my breath. Our yogi prays, quietly requesting us to return to our bodies. She taps four soft times on the side of a Tibetan singing bowl then carefully runs the wooden striker around around around the edge, creating an undulating, surging noise not unlike my little sister in years past, her wet finger on the rim of crystal glass at dinner. This does not sooth, does not bring me gently back through my third eye. I plug my ears with my fingers, try to count my suddenly raspy Ujjayi breath as my head pulses. I tense, feel my toes cramp one by one. It is not, afterall, the gently played tam tam of the yogis. The bell shaped jar is upside down, cracked like a once blocked chakra and somewhere I hear screaming.
Prayer for Humanity
Doorman A beaded, leather-gloved author, cannery worker, First Nation’s matriarch, and her fencer, philosopher husband, walk arm in arm beneath street lights. Rain peppers them. In their wake, legions of transcriptions waded, labyrinths of translations resiliently charted, a lifetime of Native language cradled into groundwork for generations to follow. I intersect their approach, offer access, swing open the glass door. Unable to muster up a provocative couplet, a classical illusion, a Tlinget greeting, only “Good evening,” my misty epigram acknowledged by two Alaska State Poet laureates, stepping into the foyer.
God’s Own Fruit Bob, an affable guy born on the South Island of New Zealand, a place locals call Godzone, loves to point out to anyone who’ll listen there are actually three kinds of kiwis: the bird, the people and the fruit. In the backyard his kiwi sprawls over the carport and beyond, climbing like that carnivorous monster in Little Shop of Horrors, or Jack’s beanstalk weaving its way into the clouds.
Sunrise on Resurrection Bay
Kersten Christianson Two Poems
Bob’s kiwi grows fast enough to activate the motion detector light in the middle of stormless nights and sometimes when he’s hammering out a poem in the cottage its tendrils slam against the window like a spitting of sparrows mesmerized by their own reflections. The one time he tried to prune the poor thing its rough and unripe fruit fell to the ground like a hundred stone tears.
Hometown Shuttered up winter town: rain puddling in the gutters and cracks, I am the string of inconsistencies. Twinkle lights; eight bulbs burned out, half winking stars flash against the art shop’s stormdirty windows. Blink of the eye, the blue of the mailbox gnarled, twisted by the drunk driver from the Moose. The Russian curios line the dusty shelves of the old Random House gift shop: Lacquer boxes, Fabergé baubles, Matryoshkas, the little nest of dolls (one word inside another, inside another) in rain gear, dry boots, an apprentice of joy buoyed
by the crack of flashy January sunlight, the truth of sky just before the dark.
The Saltbox on Gibson Place
This house offered retreat from jobs in the Arctic. Two years we slept on the inflatable mattress, sat on the floor, played Scrabble to bottles of Wild Horse and aged cheddar.
Youâ€™ll know the house by its purple doors, built in the style of a modified saltbox. Wind chimes dangle from rusted nails,
Baby in the sun on this floor, eyes shut tight against sun, snow, and gale. Robins - among the blades of wild iris.
tattered prayers tied in the hemlocks. Come to the alwaysopen front door
Salmon heads drop from the sky in summer; entrails in beak, eagles flapping by the window. Brown bears stalking the trail behind our house,
breathe in the brine of the low tide air, the view of Guide Island, the bipolar sea. Step over the threshold; this is the heart,
their cubs trickling down the hill, rainwater from the corner down spout. Our neighbors
the heart of my home: desk cluttered with runaway glass beads, rubber and ink, my three favorite pens.
are fishermen, alcoholics; they tend wild plots of fireweed. They are routine in their inconsistencies. Come for a visit, here where the humpbacks breach, here between Vitskari Rocks and Kruzof Island.
There are soft copies of Winter News, Songs of the Pine Wife, rough draft tanka, candle nubs.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Grandpa He died a warm September evening While cooking dinner For himself In Mississippi I saw on Facebook a grandson’s tribute: “May the most wonderful man And the greatest role model in my life Rest in peace Grandpa, thanks for everything you’ve taught me.” I wonder Marvel Question This is not the man I knew His granddaughters knew My children They remember drunken calls In night’s yawn
As if he were God Then he put rifle to temple Close range Not even blinking As the slug pierced Brain He would have shot her, too But stopped When his son raced inside at bullet’s shout And screamed. And screamed. And screamed. He sickens me So I don’t understand These grandchildren’s tributes Too young for some recollections Posting pictures In loving memory Of a man I did not know
Or later His welcomed absence From their lives This man Their dad’s father Worse They remember Grandpa’s prison years, once visiting him After he murdered Grandma’s new boyfriend When He left her They don’t remember that Friday night When he prompted his son and daughter in his car Drove with vision, raged Sliced telephone lines Like Sunday’s pot roast Shot through widows, dark He made both wife and lover crawl like beasts Them asking for forgiveness At his insistence
Arrowhead Summer Lake, Oregon She brings it to my cabin and holds it forth – a small offering – the black, hard-edged artifact, of a shaped history, once used, then forgotten. She asks if it has been well-made for killing, admiring the symmetrical haft, the delicate fluting pressed to her palm bright with February sun. I nod, but say nothing, touching its furrows, the sloping points where stone surrendered to a toolmaker’s exact strike.
Patrick Dixon Later, she shows me where on the hill it emerged, stops, then lays it back in a hollow I cover quickly under noonday clouds. What can we say? Once, a toolmaker made something and we found it, wanting a story – what it killed, how it felt in those able hands paired to a place so briefly momentous. Days later, I look for it vainly, scouring the clay of what we’d seen and was now a stillness of confused grasses. Did we really hold it? Will the land release it tomorrow like a fresh wound, another memory weighed as all things are weighed, only to be lost again, so clearly alive?
Dead-Heading The removal of flowers that have already put on their show. The April air is sweet. Dogwoods have their turn now, magnolias a forgotten dream; spring wind strips plum blossoms, scatters pink snow across the road. Delicate drifts swirl in the gutter. Down the street, azaleas and rhodies kick heels at the curb– Can-can dancers raising dresses: pinks, reds, oranges, whites, purples all in a line. Frogs chirp at dusk, remind me of cicadas and thick evenings bottling lightning bugs. No matter how many holes we’d punch into the jar lid, they were always upside-down and stiff, lights off in the pale morning. I’d bring you purple bouquets of Mayflowers from the front yard; you cut lilacs for the kitchen table, the one I’m refinishing in the garage this week. I can’t bring myself to throw away the ladder-back chairs we sat upon when we said grace – bless this – they collapse in the shed, fall apart like yellowed letters, brittle, brown,
Arrowhead, Lake County, Oregon
last year’s blossoms.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
The Optics of Water I asked because you told me I had to Be inquisitive and erudite in my studies. I articulated because you told me I had to Come up with theories that were proved Right beyond the utmost doubt.
Of course I would see the light ray Travelling through the glass, changing Directions as it entered and left the vaseâ€™s body. Of course I would see the convex lens Create the illusion of a bigger stem.
You rotated the vase to face me, Designating this to be my first inquiry: Stem meeting water and water distorting stem. You skipped the question â€“ went to the answer, Because, of course I would discern all.
Except, it was not palpable To my unsophisticated mind: Simple magnification merely recreated an image On the retinae of my injudicious eyes. But, of course, I should have known.
Carving the Yellow Cedar Spoon -- for Mary Stensvold Find the right piece of cedar; the right grain, color, little surprises.
Up the trail by a little bridge the frozen fall begins to thaw and drip.
Lay out the spoon in quick, deliberate strokes, drawing the lines. Fiddleheads by the thimble berry shoots, the arcs and reflections of the waves in the cove, wet hemlock leaders drooping. The first cuts tentative, roughing it in, then smooth shavings.
The sharp symmetry of Canadian dogwood flowers, a start the shape of things to come.
Shape the handle, play the grain find the form. Slowly as the fruit ripens, the blueberry branch bends and bends again.
Gauge the bowl, feeling for what canâ€™t be felt.
Berries gathered in, The fine line Between glory and ruin, The fernâ€™s beauty Turned to damp desolation.
Finish it off the wax, the cloth the appreciating eye and fingertips.
Snow flakes through the cedar grove, one by one past the dark trunks--
Polish it! Polish it!
Chimes at Midnight in Open “C” Tuning In Salem, the winter fog settles at sundown like gauze, blinding and oppressive, a cold, wet blanket of Fuck You For Being Here. On such an evening, I imagine John Fahey in some shithole welfare hotel, perhaps the Holiday Lodge on Hawthorne. He is naked, as the heat is cranked up to “Tropical Oasis” setting. On the bed lies a guitar with no strings. It is being used as a Big Gulp holder, the soundhole being the perfect size to fit the 64 oz. diabetic coma-inducing beverage. (For John, art is always utilitarian. There is a clip from a 1969 Public Television show on folk music, hosted by Laura Weber, a tense woman with a large beehive hairdo. John is demonstrating how to play lap guitar with bar slide, furiously chain-smoking all the while. The studio has neglected to accommodate his needs, so he flicks his cigarette into the vintage instrument. “Oh, it’s a guitar AND an ashtray,” adlibs Laura nervously, a rictus grin congealed on her face. As this does not appear to be a question, Fahey does not respond.) In the parking lot outside his room, drug pushers and prostitutes ply their trades, protected by the cloak of invisibility supplied by the thick Valley mist. It reminds me of the ocean fog that rolled in every goddamn afternoon at 4 o’clock sharp on every goddamn summer day for the three years I lived in Haight Ashbury, covering the neighborhood in a gray, suicidal chill (although, if one traveled a half-mile inland, the sun would be shining brightly.) John Fahey hates fucking hippies. Fair enough, but what will to self-abnegation could lead one from California’s Paradise to the bleak fields of Oregon, settling in a Podunk town where half the populace not working for the government lived below the poverty line?
(--“O my God, it’s like a Green Georgia” I cried in dismay when I took my first bus ride through my new home--) The Kalapuyans tribe, who settled the Willamette Valley 10,000 years ago, called Salem ‘Chemekta’ (pron. ‘chim-i-ki-ti’) which in Santiam means “meeting or resting place,” and for whatever unknown perversity Fahey has decided to lay his massive bulk here like Orson Welles as Falstaff in Exile. Once he owned a record company. Now he scours the bins of thrift stores for albums to sell on the collector’s market at the more upscale store downtown. Replaced also are the old gods— Dvorak, the scratchy 78s of Charlie Patton, Protestant hymns. The sounds in his head are now an amalgam Of pulsating traffic from I-5, the grinding of steel wheels on freight yard tracks and the low hum of television static after all the stations have gone off the air. He attempts to replicate this music of the spheres with a distorted electric guitar and the help of tech-savvy young acolytes who labor to create an electronic white noise backdrop to the Master’s vague, yet demanding, instructions. Folk purists are incensed by these records. That’s OK. John Fahey hates fucking purists. Finally, around 4 o’clock in the morning, Salem gets as quiet as it is going to be --only the occasional phlegmatic whoosh of a lone car on the soggy freeway, or a premature crow from an urban rooster to break the silence. In his bed, John Fahey dreams of cheeseburgers and Japan, turtles and Viking funerals and Albert Ayler. He dreams, but no one has actually ever seen him sleep. It is a new world— Prehistoric fishes are discovered every day on the internet— and he very much wants to be a Part of It.
Susi Gregg Fowler
The Laughter of Courting I hear the hunger in their laughter, clear as stomachs growling.
Homer Beach 5
North of Vancouver, B. C. 1. Porteau Cove
They have caught a whiff of simmering spice and possibility. Appetites whetted, they part lips, sampling this foreign flavor. Theirs is a brave hunger.
A lisp of rock and sand somehow holding on to the fjord-like fall of cliff straight down into sea where humpback whales sound bottom and the lost roam eyeless, ghosts according to native legend of those who died in long canoe pulls after the sun cursing Raven and family for the promise of Japan, home of the samurai and lacquered history. 2. Smoke from Fibre Bay Miles north and west of the asphalt road smoke wisps and puffs up briefly before disappearing into the mountains. On the radar screen: rocks, shoals, reefs peep out barely at average low tides, show teeth of bone. From here logging operations roll what looks like toothpicks into the sea for many miles. Here, no roads last very long unless they end at the ferry dock. Envoi A week of hard pulling west brings one into the Plastic Sea, where everything lives dead and killing whatever swims into it thinking or not thinking about the end.
Iâ€™ll Fly Away
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
The Boys Outside are downtown along sidewalks, dragging pit bulls on rope scrounging for cigarettes stomachs aching teeth aching flipping me the bird,
the boys outside are wiry in sheltered entryways rolling their own with cool hands tattoos of exploding skulls and tears one for each kill they say,
I think about their mothers leaving work by the back door in two degrees of smoky stillness sharp intakes of icy breath through parking lots frozen black,
it’s a sad sight like crows pecking at the remnants of a happy meal when they’re almost done they make a mournful sound.
fill the train with wigs in trunks, stack the tent poles high wind the Big Top round with straps, it’s back to the beginning three rings in darkness, again.
Mother at 100 Stones
Gabriel Furshong Two Poems
Stateline, Great Burn We show that fire weather seasons have lengthened across 29.6 million km2 (25.3%) of the Earth’s vegetated surface…a doubling (108.1% increase) of global burnable area affected by long fire weather seasons… -- W. Matt Jolly1 While we slept in a dark meadow of pearly everlasting pedals like tiny papers rustling a slow moose bellied deep into a black lake
Rising for air his scoops of antler were the flumes of a fountain lowering to feed his headless body was an anchored boat the burn of each star gathered silently around like eyes of a thousand fish
Later mid-day sun gazing down from dry ridge nothing moves drops of sweat form pebbles of dust the distant mountains blank shapes scissored by smoke
1 “Climate-induced variations in global wildfire danger from 1979 to 2013,” Nature Communications, July 2015: Article Number 7537.
Clouds & Eclipse
Train Stopping at Midnight The moonlit hill flashes quickly then slowly between cars
A scream scrapes into highest dark pinches out
The engine heaves toward sudden animal silence
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Dystopia Blues – Who Will Write a Song about Ice Caps Melting When All Music Dies? Part IX – Sky Women Falling to Earth
she’s looking for neotribal sweat lodge, people leaving cities where spigots locked by the might of comptrollers, Detroit closed for business, she takes people out of the Apocalyptic realm of the Rust Belt, the Chicagos, seeking benedictions from first people’s, their Turtle Island’s last runs of Coho where sacred falls were covered by dams – dams for the razing of forests, dams for the neon of interlopers, dams for Fat Boy and Hiroshima clouds - she is there, holding the sage of Montana, smoke rising, new tribes daily created by the hedge fund impresarios , the un-people, the tribes of drone killers gone AWOL, seeking their victims’ absolution, locked in Hellfire optics, she’s there, soup kitchen and organizing skills, holding the power of community on the run, refugees as the world burns, singeing with typhoons of desiccating winds, the cloud servers short-circuited but she is remade, back to the nomads, Hah-nu-nah, she draws muskrat, his big heaps of earth thrown on the back of tortuga, poetry of this place fused by tribes, wisdom and colonizers, forgotten passages she sings into transmigration of souls, Monarch butterflies, lost in jet streams, trade winds the atomized Fukushimas, untold stories of monster fish, Monsanto salmonid mixed with brother eel and two ocean-separated species glued to new DNA, they are Frankenstein, Hah-nu-nah, turtle island, purifying, the industrialists and data-byte gods, dying now, but their armies still fed on the blood of ancients, the interlopers, cutting into the back of turtle, gashing into the root of why we are here, she sings songs to her people, too, the middle passage inheritance of the Manifest Destiny, she calls out their slave owners’ ghosts, finds the strands of good DNA, from the people of the conquest, listens for the calls back from Chinook, carrying that seed from books, Parable of the Sower, women like her, seeking a new remembering of who we were as a species, 4 million years before the gash of totalitarian farming, before toxic fires and plowing religions pushed all brothers and sisters of air, water, earth, into heaps, before sister soil and brother bacteria were clawed for wheat, all other animals the thing of cultivators’ destruction, she sings songs, Diaspora’s victims follow, the new seed the sun shrivels, but she brings people to hope, new ways, pushing the seeds of the engineers back to the sea, and they grow only what should be gathered, carrying the flax of old strains, whittling roots, learning music, playing auntie and uncle for the young, watching stars realign into the pathway away or out of White Man-WomanChild’s destruction . . . . on the backs of a million turtles, swimming into a new world! --This poem is the last section of a Nine-part narrative poem “Dystopia Blues – Who Will Write a Song about Ice Caps Melting When All Music Dies?”
Eggs of Life
7.1 Someone has done it. He has levered the Earth. He’s lifted it up off the ground and set it down like a weight lifter drops his load. He didn’t have
Tugboat Heading up the Columbia
to drop it in our house. The crystal salad bowl shattered and all our wine glasses broken.
David Hecker Two Poems
Earth has practiced its suddenings. But why wait until one in the morning? Earth works best with rain and slow roots to raise itself. Earth’s slow turn makes light wait to see. What wild juvenile messes with our doorways, loosens window jambs and lifts up our dog and hides it under the car?
A Lucky Crab I reach my destination on Hood Canal before the rush of high tide. My fifteen-foot boat drifts out to a depth of ninety feet at the edge of a drop-off. I lower a pot until it disappears below dark, dense algae and settles on the seafloor. I drop other pots every fifty yards until a line of white and red buoys dance over low waves like fishing bobbers. I smell the odor of salmon heads luring large male crabs up slopes from the depths. After an hour of trout fishing, I power back to the first buoy. I raise the pot, teeming with Dungeness crab. Claws rattle as they struggle against each other. One of these creatures continues to feed, others fight, reach for my fingers.
We the Mortals, a homage to Pablo Neruda
Vivian Faith Prescott
I toss large males crabs into a bucket, except the one who continues to rip into a salmon head. He has a miniature claw growing, an imperfection of good fortune. Although legal, I flip him back into the water.
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Way of Life or Love? Down a hillside near the swirling waters of a rising tide, Eli lights a fire by his workshop. He burns chunks of wood and shavings from cedar planks and oak beams. As he warms his hands, he looks up at his empty cottage. Elna wanted a car, but he already had a small rowboat with outboard motor. Grocery store, Sears and Roebuck, clinic, and post office were all within walking distance of a public dock where they couldâ€™ve tied up.
Bob Hicks Two Poems
Dusk, Lewis River
He looks up and smiles at his double-ended half-finished hull, a thirty-two foot ketch. He rubs his hand down one oak rib, turns and lifts a beam onto a set of sawhorses, looks at pencil marks, reaches for a long blade saw.
Echoing cross-camp, a dog sized for a handbag fit yaps apoplectic, staccato bursts of dire and unrealizable threats. Straight above our tent, a quintet of turkey vultures swirl on thermals to swoop into Douglas fir roosts, Swatting wings in a gulf of rustle and branch-sway before settling into opaque silence, seeing and unseen. We read from still air a call to quiet, a hush into the close of effort, a relief from wish and concern. Our influence has scattered to the breezes, scarcely grazing the bark cover and trembling the reach of the needled branches,
Woman Who Holds up the Earth Kiks.adi Totem Park, Wrangell, Alaska
Vivian Faith Prescott
Their woody arms outstretched in reverence to the moonless night, which holds entirety and swallows all.
Quilted Lives 2
Sheary Clough Suiter
Young Woman on the Bus, Tweaking She rampages whole-body from heel to hoodied head Racked by spasms of slapstick gestures Stuffs her hands in her pockets and grits molars to fracture-point Drops balls of bloody tissues on the bus aisle floor Heaves condemnations to the ceiling She’s dragged down the path no one else can follow. We look away and cast out our discomfort But here is voltage endured beyond her body’s containment Beyond her pain-cracked canister Here grace doesn’t whisper or echo And the comforter does not speak No matter what the sing-song prayers say.
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Branwyn Holroyd Two Poems
The First View of Winter from Elevation Coffee, Taos NM It was summer when you drove here eyes focused on the sky wide open heart happy under all that light. Now
Your skin is a thin membrane between you and everyone who threatens to hurt or love you, a porous border that does not protect or contain.
The aspens have dropped their gold leaves, first scatter of white on deep green peaks the hippies on the mesa worry about the cold.
Your questions linger in liminal places: the dark canyon on a night with no moon, unmapped roads, the ground where you pitch the tent.
Barefoot in sandals, you tread carefully. Your jacket left behind in Canada, the weathervane inside you quivers. A friend swings wildly from kind to scathing.
You were searching for something that does not change now you are saying, no thank-you, to safety with hooks that threaten to hold you in position.
The man who stands outside the circle has holes in his shirt and sleeps in his car. He wants no handouts, says, I only need one meal a day.
As the dark season approaches, the smell of pinon smoke wraps itself around and enters you. The night sky full of stars pulses in your blood.
The coffee shop girlâ€™s arm around the shoulders of a new man, you marvel at her capacity for breaking. Lonely as you are, there are few who call your heart.
Thick socks inside your sandals, an extra scarf wraps your bare throat. You hope the mountain and sky are enough.
After Her Tidy Death I, now last of family, enter my Mother’s apartment braced for the grief of familiar scent, the shells ranged on the window sill. We were close. I knew how the shells spoke to her of the winter sea she had crossed, and I knew how they spoke to me of her. I carry a satchel for keepsakes chosen after all the papers are sorted, all the drawers gone through. Soulmates
Vivian Faith Prescott
The Task of Excavation Holds Her She holds the glass shard tightly with torn fingers searching skin and flesh. She is opening a line in the centre of her chest. She doesn’t need to dig for diamonds she bleeds stars, ragged streaks of light tiny alpine flowers, coral reefs and brightly coloured fish. She thinks nothing in her sparkles sings or stretches wide. How deep before she finds clear water flowing underneath? She doesn’t need to strip the surface or drill into the earth’s deep core she blooms scarlet in the desert splashes crystal waves upon the shore. She always thought it was a wasteland that there was something to confess. It was always feral beauty every cell, every beat and hum.
But what of this tin of unlabeled photos high on the closet shelf—her, beautiful, leaning against a pompadoured man, surrounded by friends I have never met. And at the back of her bottom drawer, worn and folded in tissue paper, the knee-length lace gown lined with soft brown sateen. Finally, under her bed, the cardboard box of diaries. I reach in and open one from before my birth— the pages are filled with her court-reporter’s shorthand. Each neat tan book the same, years of thoughts, right up to the last, documented in a flowing literacy I cannot read. Books in hand, I consider searching for an aging translator, weighing a daughter’s certainty against a mother’s mystery. In the end I kneel to repack the heavy box, and stack it with tin and dress in the pile for disposal. Then I leave, satchel empty, closing behind me the unlocked door, still in possession of all she was to me.
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Olly and the World Sea He sometimes sees it winking Through the chinks and chasms. It’s massive, sloshing the light Between the branches, Shining like the one blue flame In all the world. When he’s away from it he can Smell the unnerving scent Of its abysses, can hear the shore With its slow-dragging chains. If he enters it, it is like Slipping through a dream. The change is so subtle It cannot be recorded. Poppies and Pirimids
Elizabeth L Thompson
Everywhere he goes He gets further and further.
But no matter what, the wind And gulls return it to him.
Dry Dirt Country: Cassidy’s Complaint
It is the one place He can get back to.
Everything here has thorns Or horns. The fence wire is barbed To keep us in. Even tumbleweeds blown from other counties get stuck here. Nothing taller than sagebrush under this high cloudless sky. Circles of vultures there, waiting for something to die And finally be mentioned in the weekly paper.
Marion Avrilyn Jones Two Poems
Contract This is what counts. You in the cowboy hat, me not meeting your eyes— Moments later, the friend of a friend obliviously introducing us— Already we are not strangers. Already the terms have been set. Already we are what will finish us.
For Marjorie: Playing with Fire The lilt and lift of something not quite prayer— the journeyed substance, fat with light— the liminal comfort of boundary— these gifts I devoutly embrace. Belatedly, we realize we belong to nothing more than the perfect moment that claimed us both and one— a vast and blazing interior whose life spilled and split us from the whole— creating caverns in our shared and storied soul We are the honeycomb. We are the honey. We are the captured glow held in our own frail hands, and firmly letting go.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Peter Kaufmann Two Poems
Unspoken For a split second it broke my heart the girl with the tray of lighters and pens for sale swallowed by the streets of Ha Noi. And then there are the Mikes, one of stone and garden, one with an Arabic prayer on his lips, secrets replacing their lives one cell at a time. There is so much unspoken that rustles our leaves. The way the girl walked right into her story became the madam reaching over and, one by one unbuttoning the blouse of the sex worker undoing the bra for the policeman. See what fine breasts she has. Who is responsible? These stories mix blood flood dreams drive us to seek a quiet table alone. Water horses galloping our river pastures clearly visible, clearly horses, clearly water heads back before they seek their own level. Itâ€™s like that time the road became too difficult and we turned back. Only the young went on.
There was no regret only recognition. And then on a corner where the road fell away to a river with a rusty truck in the middle flanked by cottonwoods, leaves a thousand hands turning, a man alone all caresses slowly lifting and turning the air and beyond the valley opening up into mountains swallows dipping and rising in a charcoal sketch of rain.
Maitre D’ Of The Campfire The maitre d’ of the campfire leaps like an elf. His face a geography of sun caribou on tundra, lost love. He floats in memory, no fear of butter or saturated fats squeezing batter from a zip lock bag into a sizzling cast iron pan. Handing out pan bread like candy, like it is the only food, as if we were not here to take a dying man down a river.
Cryophilia What algid comfort curls the glacial ice worm Supping the blush off watermelon snow Wriggling meal of grey-crowned rosy finch Itself ravened to sharpness by knifing winds You may never be pierced by montane drafts Prusik-sling out a stress-fracture crevasse But feel the frostbit, narrowly averted gaze Hear the whistle in the crack between moments Space that fills your chest with steely scissors Scoring, scarifying your chilblain heart Sign of, signal to further separation And yet the ice worm somehow makes a home Finds a crystal-cut purchase point From which it feeds feathers, winged things
Silence Is A Yes
View from a Notch
Today I apprentice in a tunnel so dark I can only feel the rats Scurry across my feet You told me silence is a yes But I didn’t believe you In Paris we counted blue cars And pigeons liked your perfume Your mother hated me But she still called To give me the news So I apprentice in a sink hole Quiet enough to hear the tree roots whisper “He must have really loved her.”
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Mercedes Lawry Two Poems
Lighting Out From The Failed Homestead He started down the wagon road when the early dew was still excitable and there was a stir in the air borrowed from dawn. He passed a foul sink of rainwater at the bottom of the hill and fields where ravens pestered sky. He’d left his brothers in the graves, the empty house and stubborn echoes. Adrift in the world now. Untethered. He knew to say little and show gratitude. This was a new country with old secrets. If there was luck beyond the ridge, so be it. He might be dead in a week or so. He might be whistling and welcoming stars and a fat river that revealed plenty of stones so the crossing would be easy and he could sip the cold water and let it run over his face and feel the worth of moving on.
Dusk Crows cross the linen of evening’s folds, bruising the air with bossy squawks. Pink threads the blotted clouds. The day’s fretting begins to blur. Soon sleep will dull the barbs as the moon glints like a pearly bone.
Miscommunication Raven rasps his crooked counsel from an evergreen branch; I croak back, but he reads mimicry as mockery and flaps away, flinging a final wisecrack over one bright dark shoulder.
View from the Hammock
Eric le Fatte
Inertia Once they take root, the blueberries are hard to sway. They only move with the slow revolutions of the earth, turn with the day, and drift at the pace that a continent will. I have seen them bask for hours in the sun like a grandmother on the front porch, and then listen to the familiar disquisitions of the owls, without getting up to put on a shawl. By the time a plant is, say, three feet tall, it clings like a habit to its particular dirt, and keeps its opinions on the best way to grow. The ones we transplanted to the new house dislike the neighbors, complain about the soil, Tulukaruk
and constantly mutter this is not like the old place at all.
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The Elephants rise pouring from the river, easing slowly up the bank, each swaying like a Greyhound bus pulling in. They glide silently toward us, graceful, tip toeing en pointe, ballerinas grown soft and thoughtful. Tiny drivers ride their heads, bare feet kicking behind the wings of their ears to steer them like ships each to a notch in the high deck of a house. Here they are docked, petted by the toddler Kade and bananed. The two points at the end of a trunk deftly grip and twist the fruit from his little hands and roll it up skin and all into the pendulous lips, heavy hanks of gray and pink whiskery material that hides the grinders. Country as concept means nothing to the boy. The whole world’s exotic, something to run and touch.
low dikes between paddies, arching bamboo, the white egret unfolding and folding away. Later, on steep trail the elephants will have to place their four feet exactly in tracks the size of dinner plates or fall. These beasts once pulled logs from the mountains ton by ton. No more teak, they haul us now to go for a look. Do they recall their kin in old cavalries of kings, each phalanx trumpeting high trunks against the Khmer? They stand so calmly deep in thought we think while the toddler taunts his mom, squealing from tree to tree underfoot in the world’s oldest game. Is it true they hear the beginning heart sloshing in Rosi’s womb? Deep beneath us the hearts we praise big as bushels beat, but first the child must be caught. Trunks down, the elephants stand five square with the world. The mountains wait in their second growth. The camp of long neck women waits, and the far fields of poppies blow.
Escaping his mother again, a tall woman named Rosi with marvelous legs, he scrambles for a game of hide and seek under the dripping bellies not seeing elephants for the forest of legs. We step aboard the rubbery backs and wait in car seats held front and back with logging chains. Soon we’ll move out smoothly, silently as thought into landscape remembered only as art, Pink Azalea
Extrusion Little mottled lizard in the yard has become permanently entangled in a gnarled chunk of six-pack plastic; and like a tree grown around a nail it is now an inherent part of him. His left hind leg has become hobbled, but he frenetically scoots around still, flicking his tongue past a rotten knot of the stuff that has grown monstrous into the right side of his throat, and down to stomach.
Clearly, he has bitten off more than he can chew. Leaving little doubt the little lizard’s days are numbered too. For at bugs he is too slow to catch more than a few, Of the lady lizard, he will certainly never woo. I want to catch him and pickpeel the plastic, so like a tumorous growth, from his invaded body. My fingers itch to tweeze the brittle, no-morsel of it from his throat. However, he is still much faster than the fumbling likes of me. I remember— surprising itchy pain, then instant fresh-skin relief as a child. When a doctor once scrape-pulled a knuckle of brownish, lumpy wax right out of my ear, like a magician’s trick. Of course, I did not even know it was there; but once the awful waxy scab had gone, that liberated patch of skin was all I could feel. For days that tactile memory of its dislodging stayed with me, at once delicious yet shudderingly abhorrent. And that Yard Lizard, scratch skittering his burden across the savanna of grass, he haunts my dreams. ...I can never catch him, nor fix what has gone so badly awry. Intermission at La Scala
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Karla Linn Merrifield
Sucia Trip Enter, beckoned my island guides, pointing to the pelvic fossil of an ancient reptile, this most impressive specimen.
Sandstone is not so forbidding a sedimentary substance— you’ll find it quite porous. See: You can rub away grains with bare fingertips.
Come, cross over, follow— his way is wide enough through the oval of his old hip bone. Welcome back to the Jurassic, to its warm waters of massive predators. When Sucia was a tropical rainforest, & this ocean a steamy paradise, thunder beasts thundered in waves.
Step through this portal in the rock, worry not about muscle & blood of this great pelagic lizard, sea monster of yore! His door in the cliff wall has been washed open by the sea; the portal welcomes you.
Now, two-hundred million years later, I trace my hand along the ancient creature’s spine, along forty feet of once-lethal tail. Although several lesser vertebrae have been lost, he still swims the orange rock. I am so very pleased to have known you, Plesiosaurus, but I am sorry you cannot begin to grasp how much life & death have changed without you. The guides should have warned me.
What You Refused to Tell The wrecked affair, screen door slams wood-clap and rattle, the latch-hook’s swings its best pendulum imitation, winds down after all the commotion quick exits bring, and the quiet after, cigarette smoke rises in the beautiful folds ribbons love, what was undone hung like the death of a cheap toaster. Caution tape and lights masquerade as crime regalia. To cross this line requires paper slippers and gloves. The chalk outlines a story, he’s missing— not some dime store ghost, his end lasts beyond the credits, white letters on glass, your mother on the lip of a chair leans into the room, hands folded at her knees a Chesterfield in hand another on its own in the ashtray. When she sees you in the hall, she waves away smoke, picks tobacco from her tongue, says, Not now not now.
Wrangell Sestina When we began there were these: dry beans in a cup on the stove beside a dented kettle, Jamie’s red pocket knife, one invisible thread of belief to sustain us, a chunk of meat smelling of iron, three withered onions on a listing table, a twist of ginger, one caved-in tomato, and our expectations: two masks. Leaning agape in tangled alders, the cabin was a mask. Nearby, a trickle of water filled a dug-out sod cup— we traced the wet smear from fingers in the ginger scree above, down its slow braid into dirt dark as a kettle. I studied the red-flushed rocks and said, This used to be an iron mine, but with glittering wet fingers, gold was Jamie’s belief
Yukon Island Still Life
and I didn’t argue. I was already poking past the belief that cabin used for a door, half-expecting the startled muzzle of a bear’s mask to greet me, for across an old box-cupboard raked tracks of iron claws, and spilled over the floor what once had been rice, but the room was simply a cup on its side. Jamie came over the lip, plunked a rusted spade in the kettle saying, How ‘bout some soup? His voice was grated ginger. The cupboard held a tobacco tin we prized open to find ginger. ground and faintly pungent, dry as sloughed birch bark or discarded belief. I arranged the onions, meat and tomato while Jamie took the kettle and sank it in the gold-shot pool. Even those sparkles couldn’t mask the words gathering like rainclouds in the quiet cup of his throat. He set the pot on the stove with an iron clank and went for wood. I watched his path sling fireweed floss and ironed my face with my palm. Afraid the day would dissolve like a ginger snap in milk, leaving only soggy crumbs, I splashed the beans from the cup left them to soak, and stepped out into high open sunlight, calming as belief. I re-picked the track through cottonwood and old man’s beard, making a mask of the trees, gathering tinder. Across the stream, where a sponge kettle sprouted black spruce and blueberries still green, Jamie slogged through the kettle. By the time I returned to the cabin he had tickled a flame from the old belly of iron— we slivered onion smiles for the pot and scooped bruises from the tomato’s mask. The day cooled; the stove warmed; we added knife-bites of meat, and lastly ginger, indistinguishable from gold. With the spade we stirred in belief. We ate that improbable stew together from the scalding tin cup. So I found that, much as we mask, everything hinges on belief. When we left there in the ginger morning, the path had hardened to iron a thin skin of ice crusted the kettle, and the sky was an overturned, enamel-blue cup.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Rebecca D. Morse
East of the Eye
--For Robin Walbridge, Captain of the HMS Bounty, Lost at Sea October 29, 2012
On the first morning of my 61st year, I watch for a slow dawn of winter at the edge of the eastern sky. I think I’ve learned to read the sky, recognize a pall over the land, sense joy in winged flight. I feel the weight of time at my back. At my face, a cold glint of sliver light. With deliberate breath, I step into the day. On the second morning of my 61st year, I think I know that breath, like water, is a sacred element of the divine. I know wind takes water up into itself from the depths, evaporates snow. I know we are propelled through life by one breath and then another, and that our bodies glide through water propelled by our own force plus another greater than our own. From a watery womb to life on earth, the divination of magnetic energy—water pulls through air, rock and rod. Breath contains water, sail to wind. On the third morning of my 61st year, I think I can gauge temperature by the sound of snow under footfall. I walk in darkness, peering to the east for the glimmer of a golden rim of light. As the sky brightens, I learn of darkness on the eastern seaboard-- across the airwaves comes the news of Hurricane Sandy’s eminent landfall on the Jersey shore and of the HMS Bounty sinking in thirty-foot seas where the cold Labrador collides with warm southern currents. Stark unadorned limbs crack in the chill of winter wind. I remember him young, driving top down in the boat of his then dreams, a sweet turquoise Nash Metropolitan, wind against his face, curls flying, steering self-assured on a big road to the future, banjo tucked behind his seat. I was just his kid sister’s best friend, so he didn’t pay much attention. There was precious little room for us. Years later I viewed three masts rising tall and clean in Boston Harbor. He’d found his passion, and I was proud to know him. Tacoma, St. Pete, Gdansk, Booth Bay, and on his birthday, New London–ports where people ogled over the Bounty. I hoped someday to sail with him. But he lived by the credo no harbor is safe in the eye of a storm. It is best to run the wind in an open sea. He laid her down with a cast of thousands, there off Hatteras east of the eye. The Bounty foundered, bilge filled to overflowing, jib, main and foresails bobbing on high waves. One by one he assisted crewmembers with suits and life rafts. Then they went, he and she, to become one with the sea. Beneath the waves a pinhole of air forms where the soul breathes full and deep, free from strictures of earthly form, giving back to water the weight it’s taken on. On the third night of my 61st year, the sky is clear and full with the yellow moon. Soon we’ll catch up, either in a stormless harbor, or somewhere on the open sea.
On Our 28th Anniversary On a cool, bright spring day in Missouri, I walked behind you up a gentle slope to a limestone ridge, ignorant in love, so uncertain what to expect but with sex on my mind. Your outfit heated the countryside: green plaid skirt and cape, white wool turtleneck and high green boots that zipped in the back. You fit the day like a glove. Our picnic on the hillcrest fills my belly to this minute. Missouri could never give me more. Sometime in those minutes certainty rushed in. How clear the shape that flush of love gave our future. Always a reminder, those clothes were on and off your body so much I rushed them into rags. I think often of how amateurs like me skirmish through skin and muscle bouts to accomplish love and how one fine day in Missouri you offered me your future as a picnic lunch.
Sheary Clough Suiter
Card from Idaho, only snow on the cover Well, I’m getting older, another year gone. Weather only knows how to blizzard, nothing goes on. Can’t get out much. The town has casinos now, so play them sometimes, don’t win though -- they are rigged. Kids still live around. Oldest cooks at the rest home, youngest just retired, so nothing. Middle one drives snow plow, got a foster kid, he’s on crack. I dread winter. my cousin died -it was a stroke. That’s about all. Hope this finds you happy and well but most holidays are a joke. --Published with permission from Trestle Creek Review where it first appeared.
The Grace of Martha Gellhorn
--for Kathleen McCoy Your generation was the last to write letters, Martha. If I’d lived 75, 80 years ago and been your friend, I would know the lift of opening an envelope date-stamped Paris, Prague, Madrid, Key West, my name blazoned In the high passion of your hand. I could never hope to be your husband because — well, after all, how could I compare to Ernest Hemingway, who made you his third wife, with still another to marry. His self-obsessed posturing, the bullying — bragging to sycophants that he’d banged Legs Diamond’s girl On a kitchen mat at Toots Shor’s — after the restaurant closed, of course. No, Martha, kitchen floors are not my thing. I avoid gangster girls. And my record, such as it is, betrays no purity of heart like what you thought you saw in him when it was your own.
“Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,” you wrote 18 months before Poland died, “It makes me helpless and crazy with anger to watch the next Great War hurtling towards us.” Here’s the comfort I take as I hear what you say to us living today. I see you in a small room in Barcelona, writing by the light of two candles. Earlier that day in April ’38 you had gone out to the front. Half the Lincoln-Washington Brigade was dead by now. How did you find your old friends, Martha? “So sure, so unchanging, so excellent and humorous and simple and brave. I find myself foolishly patriotic about the Americans. I find I love them immeasurably, am immeasurably proud of them, proud of the reasons that brought them here and keep them here. I never saw better men in any country.”
I can’t tell you, Martha, how no one feels anymore as simply and honestly as you — you bled your doubts, you skinned yourself by doing, by looking, by questioning. “Dear Mrs. Roosevelt, I accept your comment that I’m being emotional. Emotional women are bad news.” Like a schoolgirl, you told the First Lady you’d reform. Thankfully you tossed away that resolve like a coin into the river. “When I think,” you wrote, “of those people in Bilbao strafed by low-flying planes, of thirty shells a minute landing in the streets of Madrid, it makes me sick with anger.” Before Auden wrote it, you already knew the ‘30s were a low dishonest decade. “Words,” you said, “are going to do nothing. Fascism has the best technique of words, the daring sustained lie, and it works.” The daring, sustained lie. Mussolini was at the end of his rope. A few months of war would have finished Hitler. England and France dithered. America would not take sides. The President was sad.
Vivian Faith Prescott
The Fire Tender On the shoreline, spirits waited for us—our arrival awoke them. We saw no tundra, no ice, but weeping trees, a cold drizzle, clouds like a thick blanket suffocating the expanse. The song they prepared for us was a slow, deep-throated music inside our bodies. The steamship plank wobbled under the weight of our fretting, threatened to plunge us into the unknown. Our suitcases were heavy in our wet-cold mittened hands. Here is your new home, they said. Assuring us that worries are like a bark fire—what looks enormous turns out to be nothing, really. Come help us dry new wood, compose chants for the thrush singing up the morning, for the curious seal’s bobbing head. So we gathered by the fire, the familiar place drawing us in, smudged by the smoke of our promises. Still, we sensed no home beyond the reach of those flames, no thundering from the underworld, until an elder held out matches to me, and another held an armload of wood. This job is for children: Keep putting wood on the fire, turn the log, comfort us with hushed words— dasa dola, dasa dola—keep the fire going, keep the fire going. A chant for the fire tender. A chant for the space wrapping us in its fabric. A chant for the cast-iron stove, and the peeling framed window, for the small bed in the corner below the window, for the pregnant woman sitting there, inhabiting her own fire, her finger tracing frost on the glass.
Better Than Any of the Dancers
Here forty years later is someone who nailed it, Nikolais’ choreography challenge That we embody an animal’s essence. It’s Eugene, a middle-aged man at my gym In slow time on the knee machine With one tucked leg in an arc, Swoop, impeccable, Oddly afloat on His bean pole perch, Its wide bodied Eugene, The great blue heron, Which I announce To his double delight, As his wife yesterday Told a friend He’s her Heron. --Alvin Nikolais was a famous 20th century modern dance choreographer.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Perfectly Fine Glasses my friend tells me when she was an optician old ladies would come in saying they needed their glasses adjusted their glasses were perfectly fine they were just lonely wanted someone to talk to please don’t let me be like that my life was once so full now reinventing so that i never go to the optician to have my perfectly fine glasses adjusted
Wildlife Rescue A woman—it is always a woman— scooped this resentful heap from the base of a tree. Now he has a private suite, mesh-draped to hide the sight of human faces. He hunches in his fug of meal worms, chopped grapes, kibble, and smelt heads, Aegean eyes a talisman against us. Caretakers say he’s cute. We are above the law of nature that declares a baby dead when it falls from the nest or loses its mother, but we have rules: love all, touch little, mourn no one, do laundry. I pick up a grape with the tongs, tap the side of his beak; let me in. I’m a mesmerist, circling the grape around his face; he sees the shadow of a parent swooping down and the beak opens as wide and deep as a post-hole, sounds bubbling up even as he swallows, flapping his wings for more. I’m shoveling fuel into the voracious furnace, up to the shut-off line. He sleeps while cells divide and multiply and the creature shape-shifts into a glossy black hellfire deacon.
We move him to the teen street gang perched in the rafters of an old horse stall where we leave their meals, bowing our heads from sight, and never speak. Once they light out for the cedars, they’ll listen only to the clicks and caws of other crows. We were never their friend.
Ellie A. Rogers
Matthew Campbell Roberts
The Lost Valley
Water keeps cliffs apart. Cemented metal synapse,
On a day when morning clouds conceal distance, you walk to a clearing after the river recedes where debris marks high water. Beneath the undercut bank, a stew of leaves and sand erupt in turbulence as cottonwood roots dangle in mid-air. Dislodged stones clack along the bottom. A pair of mergansers ferry to the far shore and you remember how, before the flood, a friend said, goodbye, as she headed for the high country on her horse. She was tired of “life’s bullshit” and wanted to find a lost valley and camp there. All her years held those words. A packer thought he saw her near Jack Mountain, deep in the North Cascades. Some night, maybe you’ll sit by a fire looking up at stars through a canopy of trees, and listen to water circling back on itself, and dream of being lost in a cold world with only darkness to follow.
the fix. Dig ore from other shores. Smelt and straighten, weld and bolt a bridge. I’ll buy you one of those houses, he says, and gestures across Deception Pass. A house praying smoke into fog. He takes a photo of me, silhouette in the emptiness between two coasts that don’t get closer. My hair mimics mussed kelp spiraling below. I pick up a shell, an animal’s answer to rivetlessness. The knobbed outer layer, the one I touch first, is the oldest. Cells’ gyres jettison the past then cement the past to be the first defense against threat. In one hand, he offers a red stone glowing. In the other hand, white bands lash cold grey ore. Thin threads, old seams. I’ve seen this before, light’s late conviction. Yellow glow can make baleful hollows of the forest blush. A sudden slant, a pitch, a stretch promising shadows will stay behind us. The bay pours through the pass toward sea. One body
channels into another. It will reverse.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Mistee St. Clair Two Poems
Until Then At some point in life, the world’s beauty becomes enough. --Toni Morrison Until the world’s beauty becomes enough, I will write about it. Until then, I will write about how beauty is never more than a painting, or a poem, or enough to remember. I will write about how some mornings are so dark the sky is an old brown bruise, a mute telling stories of longing: the dawn for the day, the day for the night, the night for the dawn. I will write about how some mornings I am mouthed by fog, a blanket of the cold thick breath of day, and I cannot see beyond. And how on those days the mountains are terrible, gatekeepers of light. Until then, I will break apart each ray of sun as I break apart each poem. Because some mornings I wait by the window, looking out toward the channel, and there is enough light beyond to name a painting hope. Maybe then. But there is always want. I will tell of it.
The Finale Spring 2014, Willamette Valley Spring unfurls fast and I litter the house with my heat. The garden unfolds. Morning and night I check seedlings for their growth, their color, their thirst. Beans open their mouths and breathe. Tomatoes are planted deep, suckers pinched. The night air is sweet with lilacs. Wildfires burn. Tender tomatoes scald, I obsess about water. I decide the garden will either thrive or shrivel up. Please, let me rid myself of this heat, a maddening wool scarf wrapped tight about my neck. Let me inhale the grit of cool, rooting soil once more. For now, I nap in the afternoons, eat strawberries for dinner.
Don’t Drink the Water
Fog Bank Near Portage Glacier
At Pompeys Pillar The natives have ingraved on the face of this rock the figures of animals &c. near which I marked my name and the day of the month & year. -- In his journal, William Clark, Friday 25th July 1806 Roman legions never marched in Montana, so the sign for Pompeys Pillar hesitates my foot just east of the fork of 90 and 94 where the Yellowstone swings north to find the Missouri. Too soon after Billings for anyone to need on the map, too lost in the small print of towns named after people long dead, such a place with such a name cannot exist unless posted. A second sign taps the brake for a look at the map, and there it is--in italics to mark a national place. Some instinct of discovery pulls the wheel onto the exit to follow more signs to a dirt road that takes me back into the middle of history beside the river, to the remarkable rock 200 feet high and 400 paces in secumphrance where William Clark must have understood that word of mouth was not enough for such a place. I park and read from a tour book-and soon pass from tourist to time traveler, trying to imagine the buffalo and Indians that stopped to graze and camp because of that huge rock there. Any place along such a river as the Yellowstone would have done. But the rock drew them back year after year. It was a place that must have had a name; but it was instinct that brought them just as surely as instinct takes me from the car to the visitor center where volunteers wait the likes of me with practiced words of greeting and guardianship, politely patient with all they know about the rock all the way back to the stories told of the spirits that rolled it there from the bluffs across the river.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 The words of the volunteer leading to me the rock and up the wooden ramps and paths built to control instinct are clear that it was a place to leave something behind. What was left were the names carved-Indians first then fur trappers and soon soldiers with survey crews to mark the way for railroad men following the river with their tracks laid down as the land was fenced and farmed away from Indians and buffalo and the gods. On the face of the gritty rock are the names of those who came on their journey to find what was out there, names carved in hopes that someone such as I would stop and know that Al Parker and C.E. Werst and John Ready and F. Supola were here. But the name that makes it a national place is Wm Clark July 25 1806 graffitied near the figures of animals &c. Indians had left to confirm that some things are set in stone. Ending his afternoon at the rock, Clark named it after Sacagawea’s little boy Pompy, then got back on the river to meet Lewis and travel on--back to tell Jefferson that no passage to the East was there, but the Louisiana he had purchased was treed and rivered and full of game like no heaven could be; that no passage to the East was there, but the West, the West. What should I make of this place? What does it mean that Clark gave this rock a toddler’s name and signed his own? He wrote that from the rock he could see on the northerly side high romantic clifts approach & jut over the water. I too can feel the high romance of what he must have known-that Pompeys Pillar was the place to make “and Clark” more than any journals or volunteered word of mouth could tell; for he brought back no prize or treasure, left no roads or marble ruins, wrote no epic poem. William Clark signed his name on the land that would make America another Rome. --The men on the Lewis and Clark expedition were very fond of little Jean Baptiste and gave him the nickname Pompy—the name Clark used for him in his journals. However, when Clark’s journals were first edited for publication, the name somehow was changed to the spelling “Pompey,” and the rock along the Yellowstone River named by Clark after the little boy has that spelling.
Photo: Paper Moon
Cupid, Chastised after Bartolemeo Manfredi
Yet he doesn’t resist the man whose leg pins him down. Bare-breasted maid who holds the quiver seems only slightly dismayed. Fork-nailed whip raised to be brought down on naked flesh. Raw umber, shining helmet on the ground. What’s he done that we have not? Why blame the crime of love on a flushed boy resplendent, modeled after his master? In sleep one receives the poison arrow and responds without knowing how or why. Follow the one who caught your eye. Learn secrets. Caravaggisti, stay young. In dream find the heart and its elixir pinned beneath this wish for punishment.
Gulkana How do we know that moment when purposeful direction slips from us and we find ourselves adrift? Once, Jon and I sat on these rocks sharing our lunch, on our way to catch salmon, and watching some of these same fish glowing, their snouts transformed into a determined grimace, work their way up the river below. These lucky ones would spawn in the nearby lake. Recognizing, I suppose, that moment when their purpose and ours must collide, Jon told me, “Still, you’ve got to admire them.” Now, faded, listless, holding in slow water, scarcely able to keep the river from washing them down, they wait, as maybe Jon waited in his hospital bed—stripped of ambition by something stronger than will. That last thing we must do no matter who or what we are? How to know it when it comes? How to take it for what it is? How to claim it for our own?
“Gulkana” is a Frank Soos and Margo Klass collaboration. Frank wrote the poem “Gulkana” to Margo Klass’ art construction “Gulkana,” made of salmon skin, driftwood, papers, and thread.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 Word will reach the office Where you worked for decades And the younger employees Will ask the lifers, “Who was he?”
After You Die
A day or two after you die The newspaper editors in your town Will bring up your name at the 3 o’clock meeting And decide if you are worth an obituary An old girlfriend Or maybe just a girl you dated Will ask herself, “What if I’d married him?” A fellow three blocks away Will say to his wife at breakfast, “I hadn’t talked to him in years, but should we go to the funeral?” A nosy neighbor will ask your wife “Are you going to cremate him? What will you do with the ashes? He might like to be with your rose bushes” A clerk at the supermarket will say to your wife “I haven’t seen Bob for a while” And your poor wife will have to reply, “He died last Friday. He went peacefully.” Your daughter will go to the drycleaner To pick up what you had dropped off And she will tear up When your clothes are handed to her The three guys you played tennis with Will mourn you, then discuss Who might be a good replacement In the weekly doubles match A mass e-mail will go out To your high-school class And someone will say “That’s six we’ve lost so far this year”
The neighbor dog you befriended With kind words, biscuits and petting Will come around a few times Then figure it out and stay home And a golfing relative will have the gall To say to your wife, “I’d sure like to have Bob’s 3-wood He really hit it well”
Don’t get me wrong— for the one that fed me, I am grateful. For the one that nourishes my newborn daughter, I am grateful— though not enough to eat it, even when my wife fries it with onions. We bury most of it under the west apple tree. When my wife becomes a midwifery teacher, I support stocking our freezer with teaching placentas— though when I step barefoot in the bloody drool of a thawed organ left overnight on the kitchen counter— well, we have to talk. At first, I find being encircled by a sacred ring of placentas to be reassuring. Thawed and ritually buried within the medicine wheel of our fire-circle meadow, they quietly honor the earthy feminine— though I soon inform my wife of my need to fell and peel a stout red cedar, from which I carve a 14-foot phallus, then erect it in the meadow— Lord Shiva, surrounded by placental dakinis.
To the Top of the Continent The streams are not filled with gold, as I wrote. Nothing here to search for, save the soundness of the self against these unforgiving waterways. They roar with silt and rocks, a mountain’s skin, cast noisily off. Battered stems of willows drown beneath the roiling muck. No fish to speak of. Between the rivers, silence numbed our glory. The muskeg seeping swamp into our boots and hearts. Lone raven, hollow wind, shifting glaciers. For days my own hands vanished in the fog. We reached the top, I wrote. I believe we did. Everything is muddled by the mountain.
--To the Top of the Continent is the title of Dr. Frederick Cook’s 1906 account of his party’s trek through Alaska and alleged ascent of Denali (known to him as Mt. McKinley).
Years later, following our divorce, after I chainsaw the totem at ground level, it retains admirable length, protruding far out the rear of my Mazda pickup, red flag flapping, bound for a different meadow. --Published with permission from The Bacopa Literary Review.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Sincerely the doll maker turns his tools And from the warm mound of shavings Emerge the shallow ribs and collapsing lips Of a mouthless chalice, of a swiveling image That springs from what is not, thrusts out Into the cycles of its life, and, with each rotation, Sets tenderness across its figure now smooth.
David Takamura Two Poems
Ophelia Her clothing could never draw her as deep as love: To be the madness of a precious thing Which cannot be fathomed; to be the very frailty Of an expectation that unbinds itself like clay On a potter’s wheel and gasps at the water’s cold: but no, You went in, and your gasps were for things Less living than the pouring brook, And you only lifted your arms beneath the surface, Dragged yourself through the dregs of your cut flowers And, perhaps by miracle, Looked as though ascending But for the rising of your breath.
Supporting – bracing himself, He works his craft into the pour Of rings and belts of running color; Chimeras that flee his brush into the pores Of pure youth; shimmering into gullies, unseen, With the beauty and speed of always present things That are awakened only by spinning And the soft caresses that compose it. And the ink that gives itself To the thirsty possibility of form – More precious for its feathering edges And bending lights, like the breaks In a rug recently stroked across its nap – Wears down its resting branch With each stroke of eyelash; smile; life: And the countless things that breathe life’s life. Polish is its own turning: A wheel of perfumed oil Set to capture content and patience In the sheen only friendliness knows: A daughter, unassuming and flowered – A girl: stirring and intent.
Everything is this path you lead: Is the smoothness of the river rocks on your skin; Is the dancing of your fingertips through the foam Of your own soul. Everything is this, And yet the vase of your neck, The deep shadow towards your heart and filling lungs, And the stillness of your hair Teach a soaring out as well as a wading in So that something new exists beside the oldness of death. Your marionettist hands have us like no other despair – All other misery pushes us: yours draws us in. And as we try to tell your weeping from your joy You melt between our grasp, spray amongst cool spray, And sink and rise with beauty all your own. Babushka
We talk or email about our lives but never ask outright are you happy?
Elizabeth L Thompson
Don’t Ever Fall in Love with a Poet… She’ll tack your eyelids to stars, Then tease you with slumber… She’ll exorcize blackness from midnight And expect forgiveness… She’ll claim stability, as she Sells fiery conscience to Lucifer… She’ll fancy whoredom, Then allege nunnery… She’ll pin your heartstrings to a chord chart, And lead you to a feast of fantasy, Promising role-play, roast and rum, Then fall with rhythmic ecstasy Into a bed of pillow-top, pillow-talk prosody, Prepositions and pentameter, Contriving a punctuated word blizzard Amidst a sultry reckoning… Don’t ever fall in love with a poet!
Too many answers in the indifference of time-my cousin owned an embroidered pillow that sang out Screw the golden years but do you remember that winter afternoon in Anchorage when I pulled my big camper into an open space by Nubay Park in Bootleggers Cove and boiled water in an enamel pan
two mugs Red Rose teabags
the hot tea we sipped slowly its warmth slipping past our dry throats while we watched through windows cleared by the defroster
the inlet’s shifting ice floes
and we could sense her presence hovering above the Great Mother her long sheltering arms reaching poetry mattered and so did our children
do you remember?
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Facebook: Alaska Mystery Pictures, Investigating Unknown People You’ve seen pictures Of long ago— Eskimo man, his wife Their child, Dressed in furs Of seal skin and reindeer. You’ve seen pictures— Fancy ruff outlines A smiling face
Illuqs looking back at you. Your family.
North South Road Curve
They want to know
What’s been lost, What’s missing.
Labor Day, South Cascades
They whisper, “You wear the same parka.”
The forest and I, never more idle than today Not yet winter’s sleep, but beginning of the fall The fruitless conifers undisturbed by birds The meadow now a dried arrangement The bees gone together with the flowers
Dear one: it doesn’t fit.
The time of striving is done, the young Dispersed, busy elsewhere in the world Work become their own secret to keep Starting on a road to an unseen place Barely visible, far below this hazy peak
Around the rock, my seat, gather metaphors Dull grasshoppers, lizards, and flies Bewildered by the chill, the lessened light While high above, the vultures leave for California Hoping always for a better choice of dead
Stephen Delos Treacy
Topiary Do you notice that -or is it only me -this new millennium is thinning us out as if there were no tomorrow? Do you think it possible we got a little too old over those previous one thousand years or was that overlong school pageant, featuring zany inquisitions with reams of red paper blood, inadvertently kind? New-age dead, cinched in heavy-gauge plastic bags, are stacked ever so gingerly beside the street as if their earthly remains were sheaves of sharply spiked vegetative cuttings for hauling off to the dump. We manage to console ourselves that any stiffness our mature raspberry fools must have felt, deep in their woodiest sinews during their final growth year, is completely alleviated. We marvel at the natural beauty of precision pruning! The only fruitful offshoot of such curbside bundles is extra habitat created now on bramble bushes for our greener suppler progeny.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
The Wisdom of the Old Ones Ak’a Tamaani, a long time ago, the old stories say there were giant sea creatures lurking in these waters they would swim from lake to lake through sunken caverns and rise from the depths to take the unwary away They came from the time when the crust of the earth was thin and all things could move between the world as seen and the world unseen The creatures may be gone now or maybe never were but like the weather among these mountains or the water filling these lakes the wisdom of the old ones hold warnings we should take This poem was placed on an overlook of Lake Aleknagik in Wood-Tikchik State Park as part of the Poems in Place Project, a collaboration of Alaska State Parks and the Alaska Center for the Book.
Agulowak River, Wood-Tikchik State Park
Karen Tschannen Two Poems
Breakup It isn’t a movement obvious as the riving of ice proclaiming thunder and the displacement of tides. One might say it has that similar movement in time but on a different geologic scale than the progression of continents grazing the seas, a motion deep in the ice at the microscopic level, the coherence of its articulation dissolving, processions of pinnacles and pillars, buttresses and responds, falling away— a geometric progression of slippage and collapse. Few would acknowledge there is sound here. It is the deep sound of darkness shifting that the ear with its rough movement of stirrup and hammer cannot differentiate in the beat and wave and in the slow movement of blood. The very denseness of bone about the eyes masks the sound of light from black streams being given back to a naked branch of willow. These are sounds easily disguised in the rush of wind laying dry salt grass flat and in the bending of new poppies. And some would say it lacks the summer frenzy of a sudden suffocation of midges at dusk or that it lacks the surprise of an explosion of wings in September and the abandonment of nests.
But I now know that breakup has its own scent measurably different and infinitely more subtle than that possessed by bleached leaf mold on old lawns or even the green unfisting of ferns. It is the smell of open water from the south, the smell of grayling rising in the channel to feed.
Proper Names Today we have company for lunch. Roseanne has made tuna sandwiches and lemonade and set out flowered placemats and the good glasses on the dining room table. And folded four blue napkins into neat stand-up crowns from directions she found in my Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. Our table is Scandinavian teak, oiled to look rich. Here and there white flecks show where the veneer has separated along the grain. On the table a squat pitcher glazed deep blue is filled with bright yellow daffodils, so bright on this grey day they glow, small suns. Yesterday, they were translucent, a tender new-spring yellow. Their yellow now has deepened, become more dense, saturated, their scent pungent. Tomorrow I will discard them and clean the pollen dust from the blue mat where it collects like freckles. Our young visitor Andrea, poet at thirteen, says they are beautiful but doesn’t know their name. She tells us with great passion that knowing the proper names of things is very important for a poet. “Daffodils,” I say, “Narcissus Pseudonarcissus.” She writes this down carefully in her poet’s notebook. I think I will find daffodils in the next poem she brings us. Or perhaps narcissus. Was I ever that young? So young even the name daffodil was new? At thirteen I lived with a passion for horses. Once I could name all the breeds the characteristics of each, the lineage of the famous. But I didn’t know the names of common flowers then, city girl bounded by paved and numbered streets, only the untended rosebush of baby pinks wilding across our back fence. With my sisters in the spring I picked each barely opened bud and made thorned wreaths to crown the classroom statues of Mary at Star of the Sea Grammar School. Oh, and the sweetpeas! The fragile sweetpeas we bought in mixed bunches from green plastic pots at Pinnelli’s Flower Shop on 8th Avenue because they were lovely and pliable and cost little. We wove the fragile whites and lavenders with the roses, hoping it would be this crown, our crown, chosen for the Virgin’s big May Day processional from the schoolyard to the church. I was young then and passionate in my beliefs. At thirteen my nipples started to itch and burn. At fourteen a boy named Robert Rosen put his tongue in my mouth. At fifteen I stopped dreaming of horses. At sixteen I ran away and lived with a man who brought me flowers. One day I woke up and he was gone. He left me a daughter but not his name. My daughter at thirteen had read the complete Walter Farley Black Stallion series, twice. For her piano recital at fourteen she played McDowell’s “To a Wild Rose” with only one mistake. At fifteen a boy named Mitchell Canby brought her a corsage of gardenia and baby’s breath. At sixteen, she ran away and lived with a man who beat her, a man whose last name I never learned. She named her daughter Roseanne and brought her home to live with me.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
E D Turner
First Snow After Macklin
--For David and Aisha
Like ashes turn to fire or ground to trees Smiles into children that will never be I saw your father wearing the ghost Of a beard and his voice was soft with snow I wanted to tell him how pain is the only thing Or that the greatest weight we carry Is not love or grief but that we can still live at all upon us lies more heavily than death
Dementia The evening moon rises as the black tide Sweeps across the beach, drowning Castles and swollen dunes. I sit like a stranger, on the sand, waiting For the moment, listening to the wind, but Only the deafening hum of aloneness washes ashore. The time to go has come and gone. My heart and mind no longer converse. Confusion clings like grains of sand, embedded in my bleeding wounds.
Outside Yellowstone, Montana
I look at me, past me, through me. I look for you, around me, and find nothing familiar. I feel myself silently slipping away With every memory forgotten, everything is new. Each day I am not reminded, a death more painful than I can bear. My fingers trace the lines etched in my face Looking for the legend of truth to share. I will wait with you I tell myself. Until I donâ€™t remember how. And then I will wait some more.
The Perfect Dress
Saturday Creek Drinking French press coffee with friends at a wooden table our children outside in pajamas racing away the night, growing hungry. Feeding them homemade muffins and oatmeal, the clamor and song
The first day of fourth grade. I have no photo of that day. Maybe we didn’t have a camera that year or maybe just no money for film. I wore the gray dress, worried that everyone could tell a neighbor bought it second hand at the charity store. White collar, top tucked and gathered, smocked in red thread; full skirt with long ties for a red bow. The perfect school dress. I had Buster Brown shoes— heavy, shiny, expensive. You have to be careful, the leather soles are slick and you could fall, if you run.
of their hunger. Turning the kerosene stove up to catch the cold they’ve brought in as all four adults shout, once again, close the door! I think this day will be the one I reach for the day I learn I’m going to die. It must come sometime, and when it does, I think I’ll hurt not for the loss of life, but for the loss of days. For the taste of coffee grounds on my tongue, as the sun rises in February along the dark river. The comfortable way my feet rest on the grate of the kerosene stove. The hungry child who comes to me, and takes the warm muffin from my hand.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
On the Morning Ferry, Puget Sound determined to sit up front in the wind and the spray the old woman covers her wheelchair controls with a plastic bag it flaps and snaps in the blowing cold
Wild Geranium~Purple Sun~Mountain Prince
Just at this Moment in Seattle a well-aimed sun arrow pierces a bulging ripe fig – the polished scrotum catches my eye all the way from the kitchen sink. Fat-fingered mitts of fig leaves appear clothes-pinned on the horizontalized serpent branches camouflaged within cinnamon magnolias,
I see eyes slide right over her a reminder of mortality, incongruous: we are thinking the dead should stay indoors. She is thinking used to stand straight-backed elbows on the railing hair whipped with wind eyes snapping at the Sound still here screw you Maybe she is the only one here the rest of us blowing by in a gust of noise and destination — she came for the wind the water
one of whose creamy moons of a blossom is showering her matchsticks over the fig who’s drunk on her lemon-sugar. No lush Tuscan garden for this pair but I don’t hear them complaining as they scraggle giddily along the narrow balcony of my Rain City flat. Towers on the Columbia
Blue Maraca 1. Not a stone, not a rope, but a musical note, all notes, Mother--the first, the last song we sang. 2. Mike Burwell
It beat time on a beach south of Cancún by a lime-green sea. Linda bought it for you.
The Lovers. A Villanelle That was the year the rains fell. Scars split; wounds never heal. Goodbye to heaven; hello to hell. Listen for the chimes; listen to the knell. Lovers lie and lovers steal. That was the year the rains fell. They pull on the rope; they ring on the bell. Desire binds you to that fiery wheel. Goodbye to heaven; hello to hell. You get sick; she grows well. You can’t tell the fake from the real. That was the year the rains fell. You won’t listen to what she won’t tell. You can’t think; you can’t feel. Goodbye to heaven; hello to hell. She won’t give away what she can’t sell. You can’t re-stamp a broken seal. That was the year the rains fell. Goodbye to heaven; hello to hell.
3. Music can be a blue maraca, if it wants to shimmy its hips. 4. Sure, death can shake its rattle with a bony hand, the same hand you pointed at me. 5. It can’t be black or white. It’s blue, the way the sea turned darker, blue darkening, farther out. 6. Can it float? Your blue maraca might slip away, not even the rasp of your breath.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
7. What’s around it? Some books on Linda’s cedar chest. At night it dreams--an old crone’s fingers, her plainsong--a girl from Yonkers, her patois. 8. Blue maraca, blue maraca, why do I...? 9. What song beat inside you before the craftsman took you for his gourd? What does the word guerdon mean? 10. I pick up your blue maraca, and we glide by that lime-green sea, arms outspread. 11. What sound? No rattle, no rictus--but joy, joyous laughter, a salt shaker released, salt laughing. 12. This blue maraca, made of lacquered wood-you shook it like a question with your one good hand: Where did the air go when you went?
O Western White (Pinus monticola) O western white, your pine cones are the big bananas of the forest. Which puts me in mind, not that you’d be interested, of a friend who told me about an ad for washing machines on the television in Seattle. We’ve slashed our prices! said the bouncing salesman. Only two hundred bananas, and you can take one out the door! Wouldn’t you know it, someone took him at his word and brought two hundred ripe bananas into the store. It went to court. The customer won. Which goes to show, O western white, you do not know how rich you may be.
—Ross Lake National Recreation Area
John Sibley Williams
[i catch my reflection in a] newly discovered specimen
Fractured skull of a man three thousand years old. All that survives is how little our killing has changed us. Over time the tortoise I crushed as a boy unearthed and studied reveals only the weapon. Stone, yes, the same stone. Skull, yes, the same. Of motivation they postulate hunger. Perhaps boredom. Competition gone monstrous. Just another thumbtack on the map of unhinged masculinity. They are as right as wrong about my hands, our hands — that know stone and the naked flesh of those I love as chapters of a single story.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Mileage A long-haul trucker’s got his shiny red rig parked on an early Wednesday morning off Highway 395 in remote eastern Oregon at a wildlife area at the edge of Lake Abert where the few tourists that pass by might stop to snap a scenic picture with their phones and move on. Ever since GPS technology came in, the company knows where he is every minute of every trip – exactly where he stopped and for how long (after all, how long does a person need to eat breakfast or make a bathroom stop?) But GPS doesn’t know everything, and neither does the company. They know that he stopped a regulation amount of time to sleep in that cramped compartment behind the cab.
They don’t know that he climbed a little ways up the hill behind so he could see how the water appeared out of focus and dreamy with reds, oranges, and yellows as the fast-moving clouds kept changing the light. They don’t know that he sat for a few minutes in the silence doing absolutely nothing except watching the geese waddle away from him like they used to do at the marsh outside of town when he was a boy. In a few days he will pull that shiny red rig into the company terminal and the records will show that he got as much mileage out of this trip as he could, and that he never wasted even a single moment.
They don’t know that he walked along the curving shore in his t-shirt that used to be white and watched the young sun light up the ridges in the salt-covered mud. They don’t know that he saw silver bands of seepage trying to snake their way from the bottom of the hill out to the little bit of actual water way out in the middle of the mostly dried-up lakebed. They don’t know that he thought, despite himself, about all the climate change he wishes he did not see everywhere he drives.
Disappearing Lake Abert
Thermopane Window Reflections
To J.G. You trudged a long way through snow carrying book and bread. I saw the boot marks where you stood, waiting, wondering whether to knock. The lights were out. No smoke to show a human presence. I was seeking peace in darkness. Regret was keen when I found your gifts propped against my cabin door; I strained my eyes for a glimpse of you departing.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Robert Bharda Twilight
FICTION James Bennett
Acidic A buzz from an incoming text, the firstborn; it had been months. Talk? Yeah, sure A minute or two passed before the ringtone began, the guitar intro to The National’s Start A War. I let it play thorough the opening lyrics, “They expected something, something better than before.” Sad and hopeful like always, but like always, war. “Hey.” “Hi Pops, how’s life treating you?” “Same ol’. Some work, some play. And you?” “It’s all good. But you have to define what good is, right?” “S’pose.” Best to just follow the lead; it was never easy. “So, what’s good these days?” “I’m not in Alaska. That’s pretty damn good.” “Like you said, you gotta define what good is. How’s the leg?” “Better, much better. Still a bit gimpy, but I’m back on my bike. Of course, I don’t have a choice, don’t have a car and it takes too long to walk anywhere. I’ve been back at the job for about a month. They were cool about the whole thing. And, can you believe it? I had health insurance through them and it covered most everything over a thousand bucks.” “Did you have to get a new bike?” “Yeah, no. New fork and front rim though. Easy switch out.” “A bike, and people as you now know firsthand, always come out on the losing end of a car crash.” “Tell me about it. Hey, there’s something else and maybe I shouldn’t tell you this. It’s my mid-week weekend, it’s raining and there’s something I’ve been saving for a rainy day.” Yeah? “Maybe it’s been two or three years since the last time, but I stashed away a hit of acid a while back. Today’s that rainy day.” “Um, OK.” “When was the last time you tripped?” Don’t lie, but are true confessions a good idea?
“Can’t even remember. Decades?” Do mushrooms count? What the hell to say? “Had this girlfriend the summer after high school back east, that’s what we did. But you know me, I don’t quite like losing control.” “Tell me about it.” Then, dead air. I’ve never fenced, but that’s the image that came: epées; full body, padded protection; a ballet of thrusts and clanging, blocked swipes. “You’ve seen a water color she did, a hippie thing. A bomber becoming a butterfly, from the Joni Mitchell song, Woodstock. I still have that painting.” “I do remember seeing it. I never heard this story, though. Tell me about her.” “Wild child, full of grace.” “That’s from The Doors.” “Yep. That defined Cynthia. I was seventeen turning eighteen, aware and naïve. Met her back east in Washington Square Park by the concrete chess boards. I was with my buddy, Dog’s Dave. He had a Great Dane back at his parents’ apartment that was bigger than he was, hence the nickname. Dave was hustling games, five to one odds in his favor, but he played blindfolded. Rarely lost. He’d make fifty to seventy dollars on a weekend afternoon, lots of money back then. I was there to keep the opponents honest and to hold the money. I’d get 20 bucks. She came over and watched and did a sketch of the game, kinda in the style of R. Crumb, using perspective to exaggerate fingers and chess pieces. Turns out she was an art student at Cooper Union. We dropped a tab later that night.” “Glory days, right Pops? You’ve told me about Dave before. Do you stay in touch with him?” “No, when I left the city for school, I lost track. It was another lifetime ago. I haven’t thought about any of this in years.” Where am I going with this? Don’t glorify anything, Acid, really? You’re still tripping? Maybe it’s better than drinking. “What’s happening in your head right now?” “Yo, the usual mumbles and jumbles, twistyturny thoughts and blurred lines. Hold on, I’m going to put some music on. ‘Bitches Brew’, you gave me that LP for a birthday present years ago. I gotta tell ya, no matter the other shit, most of the time, you got the music right.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 Miles Davis—who needs acid?” “Yeah, right. Who else you listening to these days?” “Locals, spoken word with some hip and hop. Lots of jazz, actually. Portland has a bit of everything.” “And work, how’s that going? You said they treated you OK after the accident?” “They get a bargain with me. I still do their grunt work. Yep, mopping and polishing floors, stocking shelves. Joe jobs for the average Joe. Not quite what you had planned for me, right? But the manager discovered some of my hidden talents. You wouldn’t believe how poorly he writes memos or whatever. I’m his editor now for reports to his bosses and such. No extra money, but he cuts me slack and sometimes there’s a bottle of scotch or something. Yep, I’m a trained monkey. Go ahead and say it, Pops, should have listened to you. Miles ran the voodoo down in the background. “It’s your life.” Wrong thing to say. Think, dammit. “There’s nothing I can really say, is there? I’m glad we’re talking though.” “Yeah, there’s nothing you can say. You’ve got a fuck-up for a son. What does that say about you? Don’t answer that. It’s the acid talking. So, what happened with you and the artist-chick?” “It lasted about a month. I remember taking some blotter acid with her and going to see the Stones movie, Gimmie Shelter. Everyone in the theater seemed like ants in a nest, herky-jerky movements in some sort of distorted time-lapse, first lining up to come in, then sitting and fidgeting and then filing out. The scene at Altamont when the Hell’s Angels killed the black guy while the Stones played Under My Thumb has stayed with me. The confrontations between Jagger and some of the bikers are some of the most real things you’ll see on film. Well, it was real. Cinéma Vérité. Anyway, one day I went and met Dog’s Dave for coffee and I was about as happy as I’d ever been—totally infatuated with Cynthia. As I was going on and on about it, Dave just became more and more morose. Finally, he slammed his hand down on the table and told me he had been sleeping with her. Yeah, one of life’s early lessons.” “Damn. That’s harsh, but pretty funny too. Don’t take that the wrong way.” “No worries. Wasn’t funny then, but I’m long over it and it is kinda amusing to dredge that stuff up. Everyone goes through shit.” “It’s just that some of us don’t learn from those lessons. That’s what you mean, right?”
115 Everything sends a message and I tried to stifle a sigh—yet another message? “Again, there’s nothing I can say right now, right? Hey, Is it possible to start at ground zero, I mean right now? You and me? No judgements, no attitudes. Like I said, I’m glad we’re talking, but it’s impossible to go backwards. I care and I’d rather just try to move forward.” “Always the wise one, aren’t you? You got some advice for me? Some suggestions how to make my life honky-dory? What you got, Pops?” “Talk to your sister lately?” “Meagan, the golden girl? Yeah, maybe last month. She called to say she was getting married this spring. What the hell is she still doing in Alaska?” “Her life makes sense to her here, just like yours does there.” “My life has never made sense, but I do know there’s no sense living it in Alaska. It’s all nonsense and sensory deprivation. You know how Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder would move their heads left and right while they sang and played piano? They both could see a trace of light and their head movement would enhance that a bit. That was my life growing up there, trying to enhance the things I could barely see or feel or understand. Yeah, my eyes and ears work just fine, but I just need more stimulation than what exists there. I dunno.” “Maybe it’s easier to fill the empty spaces here than to try to cram something more into the jammed-up sprawl there?” “Yeah, maybe. But then you think what you’re doing up in Alaska is pretty good, because you have nothing else to compare it to. And it’s rarely good, is it?” “I’m a fan of evolution, it’s all part of the process. And sometimes a giant comes out of the wilderness who creates something out of that purity that can’t come from any place else. Jesus or Buddha both rejected materialism and sought enlightenment while away from civilization. Maybe Thoreau is less perfect, but a more valid example with his experiences at Walden Pond.” “Ha. What’s that line that Orson Wells gives in The Third Man? Something like what came out of the chaos and cruelty of Medieval Italy? Da Vinci, Michelangelo and the Renaissance. What came out of 500 years of the peace and tranquility of Switzerland? Chocolate and cuckoo clocks.” “He was justifying selling tainted penicillin to give sick kids.” “Not much different than poisoning the planet to make the capitalistic world go ‘round, is it? Drill, baby drill. Kill, baby kill. The unofficial mottos of Alaska.”
116 “We go off on tangents, don’t we? We were talking about your sister.” And then a long pause. “I’d rather talk about my mother.” Another pause. “Is this a good time? I mean under your current circumstances.” “Because I’m trippin’? Why do you think I do this shit?” Silence. “A’right. What do you want to know?” “Like, everything. Like nothing. Like what happened that night? What led up to it? I kinda know the fuzzy details. Everyone does. That’s why I left. I’d get the ‘Poor boy, his mom off’d herself looks.’ How could you stay around? People blame you, you know.” “Some people still do, I know. But it’s become like a faint and minor constellation after all of these years. Yeah, if you look, you can still see the outline of something, but what’s real and what’s the myth? The reality is she was depressed. She was on meds. Over a period of five years, she wrote a good half-dozen suicide notes, but never followed through with anything more than some halfhearted cries for help. There’s no guide book for what to do when someone in your life does that. I saw it as her attempt to control by guilt. She’d OD on pills and booze, but always never enough to do the job and always so she would be found and rescued before it was too late. Trauma and drama.” “While you sought comfort with some caring and
Brother on the Lake
CIRQUE understanding woman or another. A downward spiral for her, but you just sort of helped push her down that hole, right? And then she finally got it right.” “Guilty. I’m guilty as charged. But I did try. At first, I did try. For sure, I’d do things differently if I could go back to that time. But I can’t. So what do I do now?” “You tell me about that last night. Everything.” “Everything?” “It’s been fifteen years and we’ve not gone there. This is the time. Now. Tell me everything. Now.” “A’right. Hang on a minute though, I’m gonna get something to sip.” This can’t be good. The conversation is long overdue, but not this way, no, not from this far apart, not while he’s trippin’ But what can I do? “You there? OK, let’s do this. I’d already moved out of the house a few months prior and your mom and I were splitting times with you and Meagan, two weeks with her, two with me. You were both with her at the time. For the previous couple of days, she had been leaving messages on my answering machine, you know, those old types where you had little cassette tapes. I still have that cassette. The messages would be ugly accusations and then desperate pleas. I had become tepid about it all, maybe numb is a better word. It wasn’t the first time this sort of thing happened. Sometime in the middle of that night she called, I didn’t answer. I never did. But I stood by the phone and listened as she left her message. She was screaming and swearing and crying. She said she had driven out by my place a couple of hours or so before. She saw another car parked in my drive. She knew it belonged to a woman. She drove back home and said she had prepared quite the surprise for me, and then laughed and hung up.” “So you drove out to her place?” “Yeah, but first I called my friend, Jack, and asked him to meet me out there. I didn’t know what to expect and wanted some sort of help nearby. I arrived maybe ten minutes before he did. I parked near the power line and walked up to the house from the side, rather than take the long driveway. Yeah, I sneaked Michael Kleven
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 up. I dunno, I didn’t want to create a scene if there was nothing wrong.” “Always careful, aren’t you? I’d have done the same thing though.” “Your mother’s car was crashed into a tree by the garage, nothing too serious, but the front fender of the passenger side was crumpled up, the driver-side door was opened and the car was still running. At that moment, I was afraid even to imagine what I was going to find inside the house.” “Had Jack arrived by then?” “Not yet. I went to the front door, but it was locked. I knocked and rang the buzzer. No answer. It was the days before cell phones, so I couldn’t call her or the police. I started to panic, worried about her, worried about you and your sister. I ran around to the back and up the steps to the sliding door to the kitchen.” Slow down. Take a drink. Take a breath. Think. “On the window, she had written some nasty shit using red lipstick, which is strange, because she never used lipstick. She had also written your name and your sister’s, but had X’d them out. It was weird, because she wrote from the inside and had to write backwards so that it appeared correctly from the outside. At that moment, I thought you were both dead.” “We almost were, right?” “No. She had slipped some pain meds into something she gave the two of you to eat or drink. You were both very deeply asleep. For sure, I thought the worst, but you were responsive. After the ambulance came, the EMTs gave quick assurances that your vitals were good and that you’d both be OK.” “How did you get in the house?” “The sliding door wasn’t locked, I think she was expecting me. As I slid it open, I heard her yell out to me from outside. You sure you want me to go on?” “You’d better.” “I looked over and could see her by the garage. I did a stutter step, not knowing if I should check on you and Meagan or see what was up in the garage. At that moment, I didn’t know where you were, if you and your sister were even home. She yelled out at me again, calling me a sonofabitch, and telling me if I ever wanted to see you guys alive, I’d better go talk to her. Then she stepped inside the garage.” Take another sip. Slow down. “Go on. Don’t think, just talk. I don’t want you to measure any words.” “I ran back down the stairs, but then kinda skirted the woods as I went over to the garage. I was expecting some sort of set up, you know, an ambush or something.
I didn’t know what to expect, really. When I got near the overhead door, which was open, I stopped. Although the lights were off, I could sort of see her in the darkness. I called out to her, asking where you and your sister were and if you were OK. ‘You’ll find out soon enough’ was all she said at first. She stepped just outside the door. I didn’t see a gun or anything, so I came out of the shadows too. I was about fifteen feet away when she came running at me. She had what turned out to be an open pocket knife in her hand and she lunged and slashed at me. The blade caught my hand, there was lots of blood, but it turned out to be nothing serious. I grabbed her wrist and wrestled her to the ground, straddling her and pinning her arms down. She was still holding the knife.” “And then you beat the crap out of her.” Maybe just fifteen seconds of dead air followed on the phone, but I’m thinking maybe for him, those seconds contained fifteen years of silence, fifteen years of pain and rage, fifteen years of booze and pills. “That’s the narrative, isn’t it? But do you want to hear what happened?” “That’s what happened.” “Not exactly. Should I go on?” “Yeah.” “I could smell booze on her breath. The troopers later found a near-empty bottle of bourbon in her car. She squirmed and struggled to get free, but that wasn’t going to happen. I again asked her where you guys were and she just started laughing and then she faded. She closed her eyes and went limp. I shook her, but nothing. And then, yes, I gave her an open handed slap on the cheek to revive her. Just one. I needed to know about you and your sister. Isn’t that what they do in the movies? A car pulled up, it was Jack. I got up off of her and told Jack she had been drinking and had passed out and that I didn’t know where you and your sister were. He saw that my hand was bleeding and
118 I told him she had come at me with a knife. Damn. We’re ordinary people. This sort of stuff doesn’t happen.” “A’right. Then what?” “As Jack and I started for the house, your mom came-to; she cussed at me and then ran into the woods. Jack and I went in the house and found you and Meagan in your rooms. We called 911 from the house phone. The troopers and ambulance were there in minutes. Once the medics took over, the cops pulled me aside to ask questions. They hadn’t seen your mother. I told them just what I told you. You know, there is a police report. All of this, exactly all that I told you tonight, is in it. I do have a copy if you are interested.” “Yeah, maybe. Then what?” “The troopers called in for a backup, then using their flashlights, began looking in the woods for her. Jack and I followed the ambulance to the hospital to be with you and your sis. They didn’t find your mother’s body until morning light, maybe about a mile away. She had downed the rest of the pills she had, lay down to sleep and that was that.” “But the autopsy…she had bruises on her face and body too. You say you hit her—OK, slapped her—just once. That’s a lie.” “No. It’s not a lie. I did wrestle her to the ground after she slashed me with the knife. That was not done delicately. She had also crashed her car into the tree and who knows how many times she might have tripped and stumbled in the woods running away that night. I dunno, that’s the best I can offer here other than the fact nothing in my life like that has happened before or since. I know what some people, her friends, have said. I know the rumors that spread. Maybe it’s why I never left. Packing up and blasting out of town would be admission of guilt, don’t you think?” “It’s still messed up.” “Yeah. It was. It is. But what now? What about you? How’s your head? I can’t imagine hearing all of that while trippin’.” “You have no idea. I’ve got that expanding universe, nothing-is-real thing happening. Time is coming on like a strobe light.” “You gonna be alright?” “S’pose. But what you told me changes nothing.” “Except I told you.” “Yeah, you told me. Does it feel like a burden lifted?” “Maybe in a way. But you’re right. It changes nothing, does it?”
Steelheaders Anonymous My name is Rod and I am a steelheader. I founded Steelheaders Anonymous because it was necessary. As a kid I fished often with my Dad and loved it. The fishing magazines fueling my fantasies, the fascination with tackle, the liturgical preparation of my large triple-shelf tackle box, the shelves and lures sparkling clean, my luminous collection of flatfish in rich detailed colours and glazes, my blue Mitchell spinning reel (lightly oiled and lovingly ready), my perfect Harkley & Hayward steelhead rod; I loved everything—deciding where to fish, the preparation before leaving to fish, the trip there in Dad’s ‘54 Ford pickup, the camping setup, the camp cots and large house tent, the sound of rain on the taut bright ochre roof of the tent as we were cocooned in our sleeping bags waiting for sunrise, the smell of beans and wieners on the camp stove, the descent of night and the fire and the forest creatures rustling, the flying squirrels and distant bears; anticipating that first cast, the squinting beauty of the hot sun refracting off the water, the variegated fresh foliage swaying in the warm breeze and the distant often legend embedded mountainous scenery, that was fishing for me as a kid. In my early teens we got a small wood boat then upgraded to an aluminum SmokerCraft with a sweet glossy black Mercury motor that trolled beautifully but also ripped when you gave her juice; Dad and I fished lakes, salt water, etc., but the biggest draw, the invisible line drawing me back to the river, was always steelhead. After I moved out, I started to fish in the winter and the cold meant nothing; the harsher the weather the lighter the angler pressure on the waters—only us true devotees lasted more than a few hours, sprinkled far apart, silently fishing alone until dark, and then snapping through the branches back to our trucks. This pattern continued into my mid-twenties. Then late last December, just as I was about to exit the freeway and turn down Vedder Road, I had a flash and burst out laughing at the thought that if I were given the choice between making love to the most beautiful woman who has ever lived (and she was for some reason mysteriously in love with me), and the option of having solitary access to the premium steelhead pool on the Babine River at the peak of the run (massive silver cartridges chambered everywhere)—to be exact, seven hours of guaranteed unbelievable passion versus seven hours of hopeful casting—I’d choose the pool. I chuckled at
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 the thought, grinned widely, and then pulled over my Ram as the hook set and it hit me. I was contradicting evolution. The next day I built a web page and founded Steelheaders Anonymous; within a week we had 365 members from the Fraser Valley alone, and our numbers have continued to grow. We’ve created numerous chapters and we meet on the days we’re most tempted to fish, namely, Saturdays and Sundays. You wouldn’t believe the testimonies we share at our meetings. I can’t reveal the details here or in person, obviously—we are Steelheaders Anonymous—but we make one hell of an effort to help each other stay away from the water. And although we are constantly haunted by dreams of refulgent tackle, rushing water, swirling pools, mists and deep green trees thick along the banks of our desires; and although we are men alone in the bush without women; and although we are repeatedly jerked awake, soaked in cold sweat simultaneously all over the province, we have firmly resolved that we will fight on together—until our hearts burst if necessary—to throw our hooks, break free, and spawn in radiance.
Bad With Money Life is better with a view and their apartment had one of the best in Juneau. Straight down Gastineau Channel, past the tip of Douglas Island. On clear days you could see forever. This was not one of those days. This was a day when a visitor would ask, what mountains? What channel? What island? Laura can’t even find the blinking red warning light that tops off the Federal Building. No planes will be landing in this. She luxuriates in the feel of soft cashmere against her bare skin. A full length cashmere robe is such a luxury. Even though ivory makes her look a bit washed out. This robe looks better against dark skin. She is losing her tan. She remembers modeling this robe for Teddy, how he pulled it off her shoulders and turned her around, looking for tan lines. Teddy brought her the robe last time he came back from Anchorage. It’s time they took a trip
some place warm; Laura is losing her tan. Here is how she would plan a vacation; take all the credit cards out of her wallet, line them up on the bed. Pick up the receiver and start dialing. This was back in the nineties, before cell phones were a thing. Check the available balance on all cards. If at least one card has $5,000 available credit then, you’re good to go. Remember that one time you and Teddy checked into the four-star hotel in Waikiki and the front desk had to call the card company and they increased your limit? Is this a great country or what? Those were good times. But right now, where is Teddy? He was due Kenai Mountains Over Resurrection Bay Katherine Bleth back two days ago and she hasn’t heard from him. And some of the with the high-class gallery on South Franklin had no idea minimum card payments are coming due. Teddy always who Teddy really was, and introduced him to Mr. B. at the gives her cash and she buys cashier’s checks and pays the bar and how Teddy knew right off this was the guy – this bills that way. But she’s nearly out of money and where is was the guy that the guys above him were dealing with, Teddy? Also the rent is almost due. and now he knew him and he offered to take ten units off his hands that Mr. B. was having trouble moving and that Teddy never looks at the credit card bills. That’s one of was the start of his whole new life. Laura’s jobs, and truthfully, she doesn’t really look at them either. Just a quick peek to check the minimum amount Laura has no idea how big he’s gotten, and that’s fine due, head to the post office for a money order, stick it in by him. Like B says – never trust a woman. In fact, never the envelope and then in the mail. The bill is trash. As long trust anyone. This trip is going to be really big. B told him as Teddy keeps that money tree growing, they’ll be fine. to come heavy, and he has; he’s putting it all on the line He should have called by now. He should be home by now. this time, everything he has, and the payoff is going to be huge. He can feel it. He’s in his lucky suite and B tells him Teddy always stays at the Captain Cook, and he tries to get to come on over, bring the paper, and so he does. And the same room every time; the corner suite on the 15th floor, the load is in the back room drying, he smells it when with a view of the mountains, where he orders a bottle of he walks in the door, and B says he needs to run a few wine from room service and waits for the phone to ring. errands. He takes the suitcase with the paper and he Anyone who calls this easy money has never been here. tells Teddy to meet him at their favorite restaurant later, It’s not easy at all, but he’s good at it – in fact, he’s the best and to have a bottle of champagne on ice in the suite. – which is why he’s never had any legal problems like so Everything the same as it’s been so many times before many people he knows. Of course, it all started happening and they have a good laugh remembering that time B had for him after he met Mr. B. He was really just small-time two hookers in his room and he wanted to fill the bathtub before that, but once he crashed that gate everything with champagne, and he kept sending the hookers out changed and he smiles every time he remembers how he for more bottles of champagne and finally hotel security made that introduction happen for him, how his friend
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 tried to stop them going up the elevator and B ended up getting eighty-sixed from that hotel. And then B is late. No big deal, he’s always late, but this time he is really late and Teddy sits in the restaurant drinking wine and waiting and he finally goes ahead and eats alone, and then he goes back to the suite and waits for the phone to ring and wakes up in the chair and it’s morning and the phone never did ring. So he decides to go on over to the condo. He’s got the key – B trusted him with that – so they must be friends. Only he gets there and Mr. B has changed the lock, or something, because his key won’t work and now Teddy’s starting to get nervous. What the fuck? Mr. B has his suitcase with all the paper. So what Teddy does, he calls a locksmith who turns out to be the same locksmith who just changed the lock last night and Teddy tells him that his roommate left town and changed the lock and didn’t realize he was coming back so soon and forgot to leave a key for him and he talks and talks and talks until he convinces the locksmith to let him in and it’s empty. The condo is empty; the furniture is still there but the closet is empty, and Teddy’s suitcase is still there but there’s no paper and no load. It feels like all the air has left the room, and he starts breathing hard and has to sit down. Laura remembers the first time Teddy took her out to dinner at the Gold Room. She had never been. When they walked into the restaurant, it felt like a fairy tale. The crystal chandeliers, mirror paneled walls, plus carpeting you wanted to have sex on. And then she noticed the paintings. Sydney Laurence originals, huge ones. Powerful scenes of gold rush explorers toiling upstream through raging waters, pulling heavily loaded sleds. The water was so real, so frothy and cold. It was all she could do to look away from the paintings and into Teddy’s eyes. Laura hesitated over what to order so Teddy took charge. They started with oysters on the half-shell and flutes of champagne; Laura had only tasted oysters in stew. But these oysters were different. Raw, tangy with horseradish sauce; they slipped down her throat and tasted like sex. Next Teddy ordered a bottle of red wine which was the most delicious wine she had ever tasted in her life by far. After so many Gold Room meals, she still remembers every bite of that first one, and the way Teddy held her hand and gazed into her eyes. His own eyes were soulful, deep brown, mysterious it seemed to her. Lush, long lashes, a halo of dark gold curls. Chiseled features. She felt herself
melting into his gaze and it felt just right. That first night, their waiter prepared the Caesar Salad tableside. After dinner he wheeled in a dessert cart; if you didn’t choose a dessert from the cart, they could make you something flambé at your table. Bananas flambé was her personal favorite. In the early days of dating Teddy, she never questioned his seemingly endless supply of cash. Said he was a “boat broker.” Kind of vague on the details, but it made sense at the time. It wasn’t until he started sleeping over and the first time she came upon him counting a stack of twenties and hundreds that she started wondering. That was when she learned her first important lesson in getting along with Teddy: don’t ask questions. Just go along for the ride. Teddy is just getting ready to give up and walk out when he sees it sitting in the corner by the wood stove, filled with crumpled newspapers and sticks of kindling. One of those big wooden boxes with the bent corners, and he remembers B talking about it. Some of them are carved but this one is only painted but the thing is the guy who made it is a famous Native artist now; he made this back when he was in college, and it has his signature on the bottom and B says it could be worth a lot. Maybe a hundred grand, even, which Teddy finds hard to believe—it’s only a box -but it must be worth something and since B ripped him off, he might as well take this with him. Probably he can sell it to that guy with the gallery downtown, the guy who introduced him to B. Keep from going under that way. So he picks the box up and walks out the door, knowing that he will never see or hear from B again, but that’s okay. He’ll figure out what to do next; he always does. He thinks about calling Laura, but it’s too soon for that. First he’ll unload this box, then he’ll do another deal with someone. When he’s back on top of his game, with money in his pocket, then he’ll call Laura. He’s pretty sure she’ll take him back – she likes his money even more than he does -- and everything can be just like it was. Teddy walks out the door with the box tucked under his arm. Teddy had no idea at the time that was the real start of his brand new life. That was the moment that led to everything else. Owning a business, a house – everything. It was all because he walked out with that box. Who would believe him now? Now that weed is legal and there is no more flying with locked suitcases. But black market weed is still a thing. Teddy is grateful those days are done for him.
Glowing in the Dark In spring the creek runs bitter cold until it disappears into the surf, which is colder still. The waves lap gently and the sun hovers just below the mountain ridge, casting half the beach in shadow, half in light. It had been three years. And though it seemed to Jake that the world had shifted on its axis then, no one else in town seemed to notice anymore. The pats on the shoulder stopped months ago, the small kindnesses from people he hardly knew. Even the ones he never liked had managed to say something, bring something, do something for him. But since four young friends went down together, all at once, the sympathy had to go around. And no one in a fishing town likes to think for very long about children lost at sea. Jake had always known the boat was a trap. Its name, the Guardian Angel, still took his breath away like a sharp jab in the ribs. He had urged Alex not to go out on it, with its top-heavy cabin and patches of bulging rot. But Alex had been tough and stubborn from the day he was born. By nineteen he was invincible, just like all the other teenagers on the docks who grew up lifting and hauling and working on motors and machines; just like all the other kids who thought that getting pissed or laid, or strutting the decks like body builders - forever on stage - would make the ocean quake in their presence. But the ocean had won easily. One big wave in an average storm, only four hours out from port. How fucking stupid is that, is what Alex would have said. The other boys were gone by the time the Coast Guard helicopter arrived. But the copter crew made out Alex’s faint shape clinging to the hull, his head and shoulders rising above the waves, the hood of his yellow rain slicker whipping in the wind. Yet they were too late, and no one on board could do anything but watch as he lost his grip. The image would have stayed in the minds of the crew alone but for a photograph someone took of Alex clinging. They had put the photo in the paper for all to see, thinking little of how much it would sharpen a father’s grief. For months it was the image Jake awoke to every morning and went to bed with every night. Of course everyone told him there was nothing he could have done. And at that moment, at that time, of course they were right. But it didn’t keep the image from haunting him, or raising questions about his fitness as a father. Had he raised his son to be too confident? Had he
taught his child the skills he could have built a safe life with, or skills that could only lead him to danger? Alex had worked every fishery in the harbor by the time he turned sixteen: herring, salmon, shrimp, crab. He had a reputation as the strongest kid on the docks. And what he couldn’t muscle his way around he claimed with a genuine sweetness that disarmed people. At six foot three and two hundred thirty pounds, strangers held back until he winked and smiled. Jake had been told “everyone loved Alex” countless times at the funeral, and for months afterwards. It comforted him, because he knew it was true. Some say it was Alex’s death that changed him, that he had never been right afterwards in his head or his body. He couldn’t disagree. When the world tilts it only makes sense that blood would tilt too, that places it was used to flowing would become twisted, impassable. And it was so hard for his heart to manage the mix of fierce love and piercing anger, to pump blood calmly when everything felt jammed. So it was no wonder to Jake that two years to the day after Alex disappeared half of his own body had given up the ghost. A stroke. His left arm and leg hung limp by his side. His left face sagged to a large sack of folded skin along his chin. His left eye bulged out bewildered and seemed to wander loose in its socket, as though raising endlessly an urgent question the rest of him couldn’t remember. It was Jake’s own altered face that slowly changed the image of his son that he carried in his mind. No longer did he conjure Alex clinging to the hull in the storm; instead, his son floated in the ocean with the same wideeyed expression he saw in his own mirror each morning. The same drooping face, the same startled eyes, the same dopey confusion, falling into the darkness. He became so lonely for his son, thinking of him this way. The back of Alex’s head had seemed fitting for a departure, as though he had simply turned away. But this troubled new face was a young man still seeking something, demanding something. Jake was disturbed by the change and haunted by the expectation. He decided that it might help to speak to Alex in the mirror, to tell him that he was not the only one, that he was not alone. Many others before him had been taken by storms in the gulf. He began to share the stories he had always held back before, in the tradition of those who make their living at sea. Stories of storms so fierce that windows on the wheelhouse shattered and power went out and crew members – mostly green but sometimes even the hardened ones - sat in the dark sloshing mess, sobbing for their lives. Stories
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 of disappearances, of fragments of long missing boats washing up on beaches, of survival suits found drifting, filled only with bones. Stories of all the tears he had shed – secretly, into a bottle – for all the friends he had lost. He needed to tell these stories, wished he had told them sooner, to his poor, confused son who thought the ocean was his friend. Jake worried that the stories he was telling were starting to sound like a thousand I-told-you-so’s. He worried that Alex would dismiss them as yarns spun from the fishermen’s custom of judging the misfortunes and mistakes of others in ways that put common risks as far away as possible from themselves. But stories about boats were all he had to offer; he hadn’t done much in his life but go to sea. And the sea was his strongest bond with his son. Besides, Alex didn’t need advice about women. Rumor had it that he made his way around just fine on his own, much better than his dad ever had. For Jake, starting a family had been an accident, with Alex on the way before he’d married Alex’s mother, and the Floats mother leaving soon afterwards, before her baby could claim a memory. At the funeral, two women had secretly presented themselves as Alex’s fiancés, each deep in her own hidden grief. He had been proud of his boy for that. Two women had loved him. For months, Jake told stories to the mirror. But his son’s face never softened or grew comforted. And never responded in the slightest way - not even once - but stayed warped and confused, just like his. A terrible sense rose within him that Alex might not be able to hear him, or might not be listening. He was drifting too far away. So Jake began shuffling down to the beach with his walker every morning to stand at the water’s edge until the sun rose. He would bury his feet in the cold wet gravel, close enough so the toes of his waders caught the incoming waves, and speak to his son. Just give me one little sign, he would plead. Just one little sign. Just tell me what you need me to do. Like the mirror, the waves never spoke back. Every morning, the glow over the mountains smiled back at him serenely, as though deaf. Sometimes, in frustration, he sent ultimatums. Say something or I will come in after you! Acknowledge me or I’ll end it all right here! Sometimes
123 the silence broke him down. Wimp! he imagined his son laughing, with his devastating wink and smile, at the vision of him kneeling in the surf. It was a rainy day mid-winter when his best friend Bernie introduced him to Planet Earth. They were watching TV together, killing their nightly six-pack, when Bernie flipped channels to the BBC. A gray whale had fallen to the bottom of the ocean and a tiny submarine filmed it lying there, surrounded by eyeless fish that glowed in the dark. The fish, scores of them, were feeding on the massive bulk, weaving in and out of the carcass. The lights of the submarine illuminated the ripples of skin and blubber, the flaccid, sprawling shape. The fish hovered, feeding peacefully, like glow-worms in a patch of moist earth. Bernie thought the fish were freaks, creeping and slithering in their blindness. But to Jake they were strangely beautiful. When the submarine returned after the skeleton was picked clean, he imagined the lonely whale now turned into a school of colorful lights fanning out across the ocean floor. The dead whale’s huge curving vertebrae Joe Kashi formed the trunk of a windswept tree; the languid fish formed a bright canopy of glowing leaves. Hundreds of feet down in the deep dark, something beautiful no one could see. For the first time in months, Jake held an image in his mind in which he found comfort. There was a tiny grave Jake liked to visit in the cemetery above town. A baby boy who died when he was six weeks old, not long before Alex was born. The baby’s headstone was aquamarine blue, smooth and shiny, and lay flat on the grave like a pool of deep water. Piles of stones rimmed the marker. Rounded, jagged, plain, and colorful stones. Stones shaped like hearts, boats and animals. Stones that mingled with worn beach glass, driftwood, and mysterious bits of metal and plastic etched in foreign alphabets, all carried from someplace else to shape the tiny boy’s resting place. No other adornments cluttered the grave. No toys, flags or flowers. The headstone included simply the baby’s name, his dates of birth and death, and the inscription “We love you, precious one.” Jake had known the baby’s parents for years in the casual way he knew everyone in town. Knew their parents even. They came from the steady side of the community - the side with sturdy homes, long lineages, and few
124 fishermen. And while he had never had a conversation with them about anything in all the years of saying hello on the street, he had felt their presence in his life at every waking hour since Alex died. It was a comforting presence that required no words or explanation, like when friends sit with you because they know you need them to. And he could tell from the way their expressions changed after the funeral that they felt a connection, too. But he had kept his visits to their son’s grave a secret. It embarrassed him to think they might find him there, bawling at their loss and his own. Soon Jake rigged an old basket to his walker for his morning visits to the beach. He stopped to examine shiny stones and shells and colorful bits of debris in the gravel, even wondered where they came from. The depths of the ocean, washed in by the surf? Or down from the mountains, carried by one of the roiling waterfalls that fell along shore? Using a long gripper, he collected the most interesting colors and shapes, putting the best ones – the most glittery ones - in his pockets. Once filled with each day’s collection, he pushed the basket home and emptied it by his porch until a mound began to take shape. It would take some time, but every day he made progress. Morning after morning, he watched the sunrise from the beach, observing where the rays first touched shore. He hadn’t spoken to the lapping waves for months, but eventually he sensed them whispering to him. Sometimes, after the sun rose far above the mountains, he sat on his walker and listened. It was opening day of the herring season when the town first noticed. A dozen boats had pulled out into the bay before sunrise, and soon a crowd gathered on the breakwater to gaze across the water to the beach. It had been an ordinary beach for as long as anyone could remember – dark gray gravel below the dense green overhang of the rainforest. But today, as the sun’s rays broke over the mountain ridge, it erupted in a thousand tiny flames. A hush settled on the group that had gathered, each alone with thoughts of gifts and miracles. Few noticed the lone figure standing at the forest’s edge, his bright yellow slicker caught in the flickering light. But everyone noticed the huge, magnificent tree shining brightly from the beach beside him, its branches spread wide above the tide line, its sturdy trunk shooting roots into the surf. Reflections from the great tree’s crown shot like stars to the mouth of the bay. A hundred eyes followed in silence as the brilliant beams glowed, then disappeared, glowed, then disappeared, in the fickle angles of sun.
A View of the Owyhees
These things happened a long time ago. #
Two men, Burt Johnson and George Lawrence, lived with their wives, Florence and Bea, a few miles apart in what was once rural land west of Boise. Burt and George farmed forty acres apiece, which wasn’t enough to make a living on, even then, so they had to supplement their income, Burt by plumbing and George by discing and plowing the fields of his neighbors who didn’t have tractors of their own. Burt and George both liked their food, but they were big-boned men who worked long hours on their small farms, so they carried their weight well. You would often see George riding his tractor down the road toward some field or other, and if you were out front where he could see you, you could count on his lifting his finger— not his right hand but the second finger of his right hand, since he had to grip the wheel of his lumbering machine with both hands—in greeting as he rode by. He was a friendly man but he didn’t go out of his way to show it. Burt was more gregarious—if you weren’t careful he might stay to talk about one thing or another after he’d fixed your sink and you were anxious to eat lunch or watch television. He had a lot of interests besides pipes, and might want to mention some interesting fact about the Battle of Waterloo or the latest theory about the origin of Venus that he’d been reading about. He read a lot, in fact, which was another thing that distinguished him from George. Aside from little differences such as these, Burt and George resembled each other in ways other than size, ways that people found a little hard to define. Oddly enough, the same was true of Florence and Bea. Florence was more or less blonde and Bea brunette, and Florence wore her hair long and Bea not so long, but they had the same demeanor, and people tended to think of them at more or less the same time. They were a type, just like Burt and George were another type, and that has something to do with what happened later—not everything, but something.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 Burt and George were friends at some largely unspoken level, and so Florence and Bea were friends too. They were often to be found together on Sunday afternoons at one house or the other, and over time one of the topics of conversation between Burt and George was how much each liked the other’s house. Burt lived near a narrow channel of the Boise River and his back lawn was shaded by willows and cottonwoods. Varmints—foxes and raccoons—were common along the canal, and while he found them a nuisance, George said that he was fascinated by them and by the woodsy feel of Burt’s spread. Burt, on the other hand, enjoyed visiting George’s farm, which was located on a long bench of high ground looking out over the valley toward Burt’s place in one direction and over the Snake River Plain in the other. A man could breathe there, Burt thought when he visited. A man could see the far-off Owyhee Mountains from George’s back porch. It probably wasn’t exactly a surprise to those who knew them that one year Burt and George decided to trade farms. They’d talked the arrangement through, at first tentatively and then more directly, and discussed what might be the advantages and disadvantages of each farm, and decided that all in all they were worth about the same amount. Being on higher ground, George’s farm might have been worth a little more, but his ground was rockier, so the two factors pretty much evened out. So they shook hands, went to see a lawyer, spent a few weeks packing and moving and unpacking, and that was that. I’m sure that the neighbors had an interesting time trading comments about the switch, but that was about it. After all, Burt and George were enough alike that it must have seemed as if nothing much had changed. There was something else though, something more to the situation. Florence and Bea hadn’t moved. It undoubtedly took some time for the fact to sink into people’s heads, since the two women were so much alike, but whereas Burt had once lived with Florence, now he lived with Bea, and George now lived with Florence. At first, thought the neighbors, the move was just taking more time, they must be driving back and forth a lot and packing and unpacking a lot because things accumulate on a farm and moving is a complicated business. But no, after a month or two, it was obvious that there had been not just a swap of farms but of spouses. I’m sure that there were more than a few jokes made and eyebrows raised, but, well, Burt and George were quite a bit alike, and Florence and Bea were
quite a bit alike, and I’ll bet it seemed as if nothing much had changed. After another month or two the couples ceased to be of interest. The four of them, the neighbors must have concluded, had found a way of dealing with a situation that, if the truth were known, was not entirely unheard of. Those were the days before you heard people say, It is what it is, but I suspect that more than one observer thought, Things are what they are. First there had been spring, when the two men had traded farms, and then summer. Fall was coming and there was the hay-baling and the canning to see to. It would be winter before you knew it. Time passed, and things were what they were. As it turned out, though, things weren’t what they seemed, not at all, because one Sunday afternoon that first winter, while George was taking a nap, Florence took his double-barreled shotgun from the back of the closet, drove the pickup to what was now Burt and Bea’s house and, finding Bea alone on the back porch where she was enjoying a cup of coffee while staring out at the snow-capped Owyhees, shot her in the back of the head. Then, either immediately or sometime later, she shot herself in the forehead with the other barrel. # George and I still visit, but not often. It’s been a long time since we talked about what happened, and even then there wasn’t much to be said, except this: Florence had two more shells in her coat pocket that afternoon. Did she plan to shoot me and Bea before returning to her house to take care of George and then herself? I was visiting my brother in Nampa that afternoon—something I seldom did—so we’ll never know. At the inquest George swore that Florence had never said a thing, that she’d seemed very happy. I know I had been, and I’m pretty sure my dear Bea had been too, pretty sure. There doesn’t seem to be any way of getting at the rest of it. I retired pretty soon afterward—people felt uncomfortable inviting me into their homes—and George the next spring. I don’t think he was ready, and after all, you don’t have to talk much to the man who’s out plowing your field, but he turned his tractor over one day and that right arm of his has never been the same. As I said, we still visit, but I almost always go to his house by the river. When he comes to my house we always sit out front or, if it’s winter, in the living room. We never go out back.
The Afghan One more box, Calvin thought, as he grabbed yet another box for his grandmother. Damn, how many boxes did she have in this storage unit? The sweat ran down the back of his Foo Fighters shirt as he surveyed it all. The 10x10 storage unit was filled with boxes, some cardboard, but mostly the Rubbermaid plastic ones—probably all filled with yarn. No sensible person collects so much. “Did you get the right one?” the silver haired woman asked from the blue chair when he entered her apartment, not looking up once from her crochet hook. She then muted the TV and placed the remote next to her oxygen tank. “Yes, Grandma, I did.” Calvin heaved the box marked M14 onto her small kitchen table. Her hands continued to crochet the mauve
colored row. “M14?” “Yes, Grandma.” He grimaced, his back hurting. “Good,” she smiled. “That is my mauve yarn. I won’t need all 14 skeins of them for my afghan, but I will relabel it for you before it goes back into storage.” He groaned and grabbed a beer from her old fridge. He did his duty for the day. Mom would be proud. Score one for him. She scowled, her glasses low on the bridge of her nose. “Must you bring that over here to put in my fridge?” “Yup,” he said, twisting off the top and tossing it into her small kitchen trash can. She looked at the clock. “A bit early to be drinking, isn’t it?” He glanced at the clock. “Nope. It’s 12:55. Never too early to drink.” He flopped onto her cream colored couch that was covered in a blue and black blanket with dainty lace pillows to match, which he pushed to the side. “However, it is way too damn early to be chasing yarn boxes down in a hot storage unit in the middle of July.” She looked over at him. “Well, it would not be so early for you if you didn’t already have a hangover and waited until 10:30 to get over here.” He rolled his eyes. Must she always talk to him like he was eight years old? He was trying to do her a favor. “It’s a Sunday. People sleep in some days.” She exhaled and scrunched her nose. “You didn’t ask what the yarn was for.” “Don’t care.” He looked at the ceiling. In about a half hour he could officially blow the joint. He did what his mother wanted. He spent some time with his grandmother, helping her with things. “Of course, you don’t. You never do. No one cares about what I do, but this is important to me.” She gave the skein of yarn a huge tug. “I am making an afghan.” “An afghan? He smirked. “You mean a blanket. No one calls a blanket an afghan.” He took a long gulp. “An Afghan is a person from that damn forsaken country I almost got my ass shot off in years ago.” “It is an afghan, smartass.” She pushed her thin glasses back and turned her nose up and continued to crochet. “Thank you for the disrespect,” she snorted. “Nice to know I am appreciated. Of course, I know about the country, that is where these type of blankets originated. Do you know why I am making this?” His eyes remained on the popcorn ceiling. “I suppose you are going to tell me. Is it for Robert and Kim’s baby?” Of course, it is, he thought. He was the perfect grandson who went to law school and got a fancy degree.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 Not a dropout like he was, laid off from construction again. He couldn’t even get a call back from the old company he worked for. “Well, I wanted to crochet an afghan. I haven’t crocheted in so long.” She paused waiting for a response that never came. “My rheumatoid arthritis kills me, but sometimes you just have to do what kills you in order to live, you know. So, I have just decided to do it.” She paused to look at him, but he didn’t look at her. She sighed. “ I wanted to make an afghan. I haven’t decided who it will go to just yet, but I have an idea.” She gave the skein a tug. “And no, it isn’t for your brother’s child. They have enough. I was thinking about something lately. I remembered the old afghan I had a child. Did I tell you about that one?” He inhaled and looked at the cuckoo clock, waiting for the bird to emerge at 1:00. “No, you haven’t.” Another story. All she did was tell stories. Lucky him. His brother, Mr. Bigshot, lived in the city, so he didn’t have to listen to them, but here he was laid off. He had nothing better to do. “Go see your grandmother sometime,” his mother said. “She needs you. It will make her feel better. She’s all alone. ” “It was all I had in 1934,” the old woman started her tale. “The afghan was all that I had of grandma’s. She was a stern old lady. Oh yes. Beat all her kids with a washing stick if they misbehaved. Wouldn’t have that today, you know.” She looked at the ceiling. “Never liked anyone really, except I guess, she liked me. She made it for me when I had pneumonia. It was gray, mauve and white. Her idea of a comfort afghan, I guess. It was made of patches, a bunch of patches . I wasn’t supposed to live, you see. I was such a tiny thing, only three, but I lived. We were poor then. Some kids had rag dolls to sleep with. I slept with my afghan. It always gave me comfort. Unfortunately, it did not survive the fire that took your uncle Bill.” He looked in his lap. “Yeah.” “I missed that afghan. I will never be able to replicate it, but I have all that yarn in storage, so I thought I would put it to good use. I have to do something to keep busy, besides watching the TV. TV will kill you, you know.” “I see.” He studied the label on his beer until it was time for him to leave. * On Tuesday, he delivered her groceries and another tote, G18. “That is my gray yarn.” She pointed with her left
hand. “I figured.” He placed the groceries in the fridge and then sat on the sofa. He noticed that the dainty pillows were gone. “I had my checkup today, you know,” she smiled. “Doc said I was a healthy horse, you know. Will live a long life. Long enough to crochet all that yarn you have brought me!” “Oh, that is good.” He stared off at the TV. Some old actors in some old movie that looked vaguely familiar. She looked over at him. “Every time I work on the afghan I think of your Uncle Bill.” “Oh?” Another story was brewing. “Unfortunately, you never got to meet him. He was quite a young man. Unfortunately, he never found direction in his life. He was smart though, but had a weakness for women and drink. He was in the service, too, if you remember. Of course, things were different then and a lot of young men served. Had to, as they had a lottery for the draft. He served all right. Just like you, he saw battle and he was wounded and came home.” “Oh yeah?” He heard this story too many times. “He wasn’t the same when he got back,” she continued. “He was not happy. I wonder now if it was that Agent Orange stuff they talk about. He said he couldn’t stop the children from crying in his mind. That was, when he didn’t shut himself up in his room to do drugs.” She paused and twisted the yarn around her finger like she had a thought that escaped her. “PTSD?” “Hmmm?” She snapped back. “Probably. Though, we didn’t think about those things back then. He was haunted though by the things he saw, but never talked about. He drank and did drugs instead. That is what killed him.” Calvin turned his head. “You mean the fire killed him?” He raked his fingers through his hair. “Mom said he was home when the electrical fire broke out.” “No, I meant the drinking and drugs killed him.” She sighed. “You mother never told you, did she?” “Tell me what?” “You are old enough to know the truth and I am too old to lie.” She picked up the row again. “Oh well. Like I said, he was not right when he came home. He liked to drink and he was getting into all kinds of trouble. Got a girl in trouble too, if you know what I mean.” He blinked. “What do you mean?” She tucked her chin in. “There is a baby out there. Somewhere I don’t know. She left and had it, I guess, after
he died. He was smoking and drinking in his room. I don’t know weed or other drugs, but something caught on fire. She was there, but she ran out before the fire broke out. I think they may have been fighting, but who knows. They were the only ones besides your mother at home then. Your mother tried to get in the door, but couldn’t.” She looked at him and frowned. “Yeah, we said it had to be electrical because the panel was nearby and that is what the insurance needed it to be, but we all knew what happened. He was burnt almost beyond recognition.” “Wow, no one told me.” Why would his mother not tell him this? “He was a smart boy. He had a lot of potential, but his demons got him. He drifted around and never found anything to latch onto. Nothing that steered him straight.” “I had no idea.” “You would have liked him. He was outgoing like you. Everyone liked him. It was a shame.” * On Saturday, he brought the B11 box, grabbed a Coke and sat down. “Did you hear anything about the job?” she asked, her afghan was halfway down her shins. “No, I didn’t.” He was surprised she remembered it. “I did a follow up call, but they told me to call back Friday, when they would know for sure how many they needed for the job.” She smiled and put her afghan down for a minute. “You will. I have faith. You have done construction management before.” Her smile stopped him, alarmed him a bit. “I don’t know. It might be final this time. That company laid me off before. “ “Don’t give up.” She finished crocheting the gray row and folded the afghan on the arm of the chair. “You’re mother never did.” She edged forward in her recliner to grab the box near her feet. The skin on her hands was translucent and veiny, knuckles distorted by inflamed joints. He stopped her. “You need that box?” He gestured to the B11. She nodded. “I will get it for you. Take a seat.” She smiled and nodded. “We did help her, but she did everything herself. She left your father. We knew what was going on, but she needed to be the one who left. That was not for us to decide.”
“Yes, I remember the fights and I remember seeing her get hit. I was glad we left.” “I am proud of you both,” she said, as he placed a black skein in her lap. “ You are more like your mother than your father. He was no good.” “You mean, you are proud of Robert. He is the one who is a success. Law school and all. Happily married with a kid soon. Shit, I got married while I was stationed in Texas and we all know how that went. There’s nothin’ to be proud of me.” She studied his face. “No, I am proud of you both. I am proud of you. You have potential. Well, most people nowadays can’t stay married when they marry so young. I know she had a problem with all the deployments too.” “Yeah, that whole stability thing mattered to her.” “Oh yes, life has not always dealt you a good hand, but you are tough. You hang in there. You remind me of your mother, maybe even me when your grandfather died. You are resilient. You sell yourself short. Don’t do that. You are worth as much, if not more, than your brother. Do not compare. Just live your life.” * On Thursday, he caught the health care worker leaving the apartment. “Make sure Grace gets her rest,” she said in a low whisper, her hand still on the door knob outside. “The doctor really wants her to rest. She is obsessed with that blanket, I know, but she needs to take it easy.” “Okay, I will,” he said, remembering what she said about her doctor’s appointment. That day he brought no boxes. Instead, he went out and took inventory of what was in the storage unit. As he read to her the box contents she just sat in her chair and nodded. “It is a lot, isn’t it?” She asked, once he finished detailing over 25 totes of yarn, over 300 skeins in all. “Well, if you wanted, you could definitely open a yarn store if you desired.” They both laughed. She picked up her hook and went to work. He wanted to say something about how he liked coming over there to talk to her, but he just couldn’t say the words. It felt too odd, so he just smiled back. “You know, I was thinking I had too many skeins of yarn.” She frowned. “Someone else should use it.” “Well, you got your afghan to make, right? You need yarn for that. Maybe you can donate some to some
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 church or something, but make sure you get use out of it. Goodness, you have enough invested in it all.” “Ah, but sometimes you have enough and you don’t need anymore.” She struggled to hold up the afghan that spilled onto the floor. “I think this is probably my final project. I’ll have my afghan now. The crocheting kills my hands. I should probably let someone else get some use out of it.” His stomach turned. “Oh, you have plenty of other projects I am sure you can make.” he stammered. “You could always make stuff and give it away. You like making them.” “Yeah, I do, I guess. Only took me 80 some years! Though, I might wait and take a break after this one is done. I am really glad that my arthritis let me do this one. It is a gift, you know. I am glad that I am able to do it. I appreciate your help in getting the yarn to make it.” “No worries.” He felt his face hot. “It was the least that I could do. I have a lot of time on my hands. I am glad that I was able to help.” She smiled and pulled the skein. “You will find out about that job soon. I know it.” * Wednesday, he just came to listen. “The afghan is almost done,” she said, throwing it out towards him, past the oxygen tank, and onto the floor. I have just a few more squares and rows to do.” He fingered her masterpiece carefully. The gray, mauve and white squares formed a perfect checkered pattern throughout afghan. He marveled at his grandma’s precision. “It’s beautiful.” He helped her fold it back so that she could resume crocheting. “Have you decided whose afghan it is?” “No, not yet.” She bit her lip and smiled. “It did turn out better than expected.” He sat down on the edge of the couch. He noticed the couch blanket was gone. She had it on her lap under the afghan project. “Keep it. You did so much work on it. It reminds you of your old one. Maybe put it on this couch. You know, freshen things up.” “It does remind me of the old afghan,” she smiled. Though, it seems so silly to cling to the past. I may keep it for a while. Maybe enjoy it a bit before I find a final home for it.” “Oh you never know who needs an afghan. Everyone needs one.” He smiled, suddenly feeling sad. She laughed hoarsely. “You seem antsy. I have a
feeling you have something to tell me.” He shook his head and grinned. “I got a call today.” “You did?” She nodded her head. “And?” “I show up Friday.” “Wonderful!” She tried to raise herself, but was too unsteady and fell back. “Come here!” She extended her arms. Like a child, he obeyed, and rushed to hug her to avoid her seeing his wet eyes. “Thank you!” “Thank you for what?” She scolded him. “I did nothing, but made you drag out yarn for me. Out of that hot storage unit, I remember you telling me.” “Yeah, I did!” He laughed and pulled away, enjoying the smile on her face. “No, thank you for believing in me.” She placed her frail hand on his shoulder. “Don’t thank me for something you did all on your own. Go do it!” She gently pushed him away. “Go celebrate! Go!” “Well, I can stay here. I got nowhere to go.” “No, I am fine. You should celebrate this. You deserve it. Go. Go have fun. I am just going to crochet these last few squares. You come back to me Friday evening and I will show you what I have done!” “I will.” * For all that was right Friday, he felt something was wrong. Sure, he got the job. The old foreman welcomed him back with open arms. His old employer even upped his salary a bit. Everyone was glad to see him again and he was never so glad to see an dilapidated overpass on a 100 degree day in his life. Finally, a paid man again. Out of work for eight months, he kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, even with a signed union contract guaranteeing his employment. Things had changed for sure, but everything seemed so familiar it was like he never left. He promised his grandma he would tell her all about it that evening. He called her the evening before and she was nearing the end of her afghan. They both had something to celebrate. He stopped off at the grocery store for some sparkling cider. It was bad for her sugar, yes, but he figured they could share a sip to celebrate their accomplishments. She didn’t answer the door with her usual “yes” when he got there. He used his key to get in. He figured she was probably in the bathroom. Getting around on her
walker made her slow and her use of oxygen made her voice soft. However, she was in her chair in the living room and her were eyes closed, her almost finished afghan in her lap. Before the door closed behind him, he knew she wasn’t sleeping. He ran to her and her body was cold. He touched her cheek and grabbed her arm. “Grandma, Grandma. It’s me,” he cried. This couldn’t be happening, he thought, but he knew it was. He knew she lied about the appointment, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to call her out on it. Now, it was too late. Somehow, he managed to press the button on the medical necklace that hung around her neck. Somehow, he told the gal on the phone his grandmother was no longer living. Somehow, he remembered her telling him that help was on the way. Somehow, he fell upon the floor, unable to find the will to get back on his feet. He then looked up and his eyes fell upon the corner square she had in her right hand. She had just finished attaching the square, the needle still on. That was what she was finishing last night when he talked to her, he thought. She was determined to finish it. Determined. He picked up the needle and took the scissors in his hand. Before he had no idea how to finish an edge or how to properly close up the piece, but now somehow he knew how to do it. He clipped the yarn free of the needle and knotted the loose yarn as best as he could and trimmed the excess. He unfolded the blanket. He meant to cover her in it. It was the right thing to do. However, he could not find the strength to toss it over her cold body. Instead, he crumpled back onto the floor at her feet, afghan in hand. The softness of the acrylic yarn pressed against his cheek as his arms folded around her legs as he wept. He held onto it as long as he could, until the ambulance arrived, and he could not hold onto it, or her, any longer.
Healthy at Any Weight “Clare,” said the man, “I can’t do anymore.” Clare stood in the bedroom doorway, her left hand on her hip and a quart of ice cream in her right, while a webcam tethered to Clare’s Macbook shot the man as he reposed on a sheetless mattress. He wore a pair of nondescript boxer briefs and a red latex gimp mask that was a shade tight on him. The material’s tautness slurred his words as if he were on the cusp of a droll inebriation. Clare went to the bedside, out of the camera’s frame, and placed the frosty ice cream tub next to an empty container that sat on the nightstand. A tablespoon rested slantwise in the voided tub and Clare picked up the sticky spoon and slapped the man’s hairy belly with it. “Lucky for you,” Clare said to the man, “I muted the mic before replenishing or else…” Clare struck his belly with her open palm so hard that the room rang. The man winced. “No, Clare, please,” the man begged. “Save it for the watchers Jeff,” Clare said. She unmuted the mic on the cam and sat in a metal fold-out chair next to the bed. Addressing the webcam’s audience – a chat room brimming with nameless viewers who clamored for flagrant displays of gluttony – Clare raised a stentorian voice, “Neapolitan, round two. Are you anonymous degenerates ripe to behold this spectacle?” The Macbook pinged excitedly. ### After the feeding, Jeff lay on the bed, much like an expended lover, with his breath in gasps and his heaving belly sweating. Clare addressed the audience, implying that her next installment would, perhaps, include a display of Clare’s feet, much to the delight of the digital assembly. She promised to keep them notified of broadcast schedules and admonished them not to masturbate too much, called them perverts, and killed the chat. At no point did the audience see more of her than her hands as she’d ladled the ice cream into Jeff’s maw. Clare took a pack of Camels, Wides, and a Zippo from the drawer in the nightstand. In real life, she abstained wholly, but the remove of the shows she and Jeff produced offered enough of a distance from that world that she could enjoy the vice. “Tonight was a record,” she said.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 Jeff rousted and scooted to the edge of the bed in slow movements, as if the volume he’d ingested threatened to make a reappearance. The gimp mask dangled from the top of his head, worn much like a knit cap. Jeff pulled off the mask, skewing his military haircut. “I can’t keep doing this, Clare.” “Please.” “I was pushing the weight regs before and now I’m over.” “A half-gallon of ice cream is an issue now?” “It’s not the amount, it’s the frequency.” True, Clare thought. When they’d begun, she and Jeff had met for a session once a month. Now, they were up to twice a week. For a moment, she wondered just what lie he told his wife to explain his proliferating absences. “Increase exercise.” “I can’t keep going ham like this.” “The internet freaks adore us.” “That may be,” Jeff said as he rubbed his belly. It was large, not unshapely, tanned, and covered by a coat of boar-like hair. “But this is too much.” “I believed that to be the allure of our arrangement,” Clare softened her tone. Jeff looked crestfallen, the way scolded children will, and continued to rub his belly. “Considering abandoning us,” Clare questioned and put a finger under his chin. She raised his face to meet hers and continued, more sweetly, “Impossible.” No answer came from Jeff and Clare stood, looking down at him. “We’ll continue. I’ll text time and date for the show. Have an alibi for the wifey and remember,” Clare arched an eyebrow as Jeff’s eyes slathered up Clare’s skinny jeans, “if you’re a good boy, a reward may be forthcoming.” “Clare, I,” Jeff began. “Silence,” Clare put a finger to Jeff’s lips and traced their perimeter with a long, viscous touch. “Now, clean this mess, collect your things, and depart.” Jeff held quiet as he rose and began re-sheeting the bed. Clare left him and when Jeff was sure she wouldn’t hear, he whispered to himself as he worked, “Something.” He repeated this, urgently, as if gaining momentum for an ultimate idea, “Something has to give.” ### Clare had, quite benignly, fallen into her role as Jeff’s feeder. She had been introduced to Jeff by her
131 brother, Andy, who had become acquainted with Jeff during his purchase of a new vehicle from the dealership where Andy worked. Andy had lured Jeff into a barely approved loan on a far-out-of-budget Dodge Ram Super Duty Diesel and, for celebration, Andy suggested a meeting for drinks at the conclusion of the sales day. Jeff accepted. Andy unexpectedly arrived with Clare in tow, and when Andy was called away “on business”, he left the two strangers at a standing bar table in Chili’s. Jeff conveniently amnesia-ed his marriage of 8 years and after a few drinks, muted chuckles over bad jokes, and a failed reappearance of Andy, Jeff inquired if Clare had a ride home. In Andy’s absence she didn’t and when Jeff offered her one, she accepted. Clare wasn’t surprised when Jeff requested her phone number as she was exiting his truck but she was that she gave it to him. He’d called, after a quaint three day wait, with an offer of dinner. She mulled this, reasoning that, at least, she could eat for free on Jeff’s dime for three or four occasions before never answering his number again. She acquiesced. Following was a series of protracted and boring “dates” where she’d allowed Jeff to escort her around Anchorage’s more artisanal eateries. In each establishment Clare watched, with more than a little disgust, while Jeff selected items from the menus, slowly and with great care, as if he were some profound epicure: appetizers of bacon wrapped scallops, or panko breaded pan fried shrimp, or garlic fries, followed by red meat-heavy meals, and it all washed down with pints of dark beer. He ate with a savory quickness, not rushing but not plodding either, and claimed to be following a unique diet, one intended to maximize his “gains” in the gym. Clare nodded, poked at whatever dish she’d let him order for her, and listened to his droning stories until each dinner ended. Then, she promptly asked Jeff to drop her at her apartment which he did with a strained politeness. Curiously, to Clare, he never asked to be shown inside or attempted to close in for a kiss. When he offered to see her again, sometime in the coming weeks, Clare, for reasons unknown, found herself agreeing. They’d seen each other several times and Clare was on the verge of her patience with the excursions when, one night, as they’d sat in the cab of his still new-smelling truck outside of Clare’s apartment building watching F-22s from the nearby joint Army-Air Force base roar through the sky as they conducted touch and go landings at the airfield not far removed from her residence, Jeff mustered a considerable fortitude and said, “So, I wanted to ask you something.”
“Yes,” Clare asked. “You seem really nice and seeing you and going out to restaurants has been great. Really great.” He turned to her, “The way you pay attention to the food, how it seems like you really enjoy watching me eat, and… ” “And,” Clare said, perusing the stoutness of Jeff in the crepuscular glow from the dashboard. To his credit, Clare thought, he’d yet to expose his penis. “Well, I,” Jeff stuttered, “I’m kind of into this thing.” In this way, their liaison began in earnest. ### Jeff, barely 19, on his first deployment outside CONUS, spent months manning communications positions at a sweltering joint task force command operating out of the Horn of Africa. His days held radio checks, mindless janitorial tasks, and severe boredom. When his unit was scheduled to return to the States, Jeff, being the lowest ranking member in his shop, was volunteered to remain in-country a few extra weeks to “train” the relieving unit’s lower enlisted. He complained but no one listened and when that stretch of training was concluded, Jeff boarded a cargo plane, where he was the sole passenger, bound for the U.S. He expected a direct route home, but the pilots, in order to squeeze as much combat flight time they could from the mission, diverted to Crete for a refuel, then to Rome for a maintenance check, then to Rota, Spain to “troubleshoot” a fully functional navigational system. The flight crew spent several days with the mechs at the naval station there running diagnostics while at nights the crew sotted themselves on sangria and attempting to pick up local, teenaged girls. Jeff accompanied them on their first sortie into town but soon abandoned their company in favor of wandering the streets alone until curfew drew him back to base. On his last night in Spain, he stumbled upon a ungulate eyed woman who could have been anywhere between 14 and 30 for all Jeff’s reckoning. She approached him, quite casually, and asked, in a heavily accented and cracked English, if he’d enjoy a “show”. Jeff agreed, and the woman led him by the hand to a cramped alleyway where they’d entered a darkened portal that opened to what was, by all appearances, the storeroom to a familyrun bodega. In the corner, seated on a pallet holding 50 pound burlap sacks of rice, was a shirtless, wheezing man of immense girth. The woman demanded money and the violence in her voice would not be denied. When Jeff
had given the sum of his wallet’s paper currency – some American, some Euros – to the woman, she said in a level tone as she pointed to the man in the corner, “Now you is watch.” She then went to what Jeff presumed was the storefront and returned bearing a metallic platter, heaped with charcuterie and tapas, which she laid on the man’s lap. So prepared, she proceeded to gorge the man from the platter’s contents to the point of his weeping. The scene transfixed Jeff, particularly when the woman rattled off a harsh sounding Spanish that Jeff could in no way follow. The woman exhausted the supply of food, dropped the gonging platter, took the bills Jeff had given her, and rained the money onto the man, screaming the only foreign words Jeff caught that evening, “¿Basta, basta, basta?” Jeff was turned out of the storeroom, made for base, and crawled into his temporary berthing next to the drunken, snoring flight crew. He’d imbibed nothing but felt as if he were swimming in the whizzy lightness of a champagne bender. Something deep inside him had shifted. ### Clare texted; Jeff arrived. Only two days after the last feeding, on a Saturday afternoon, Jeff parked outside of Clare’s apartment on Government Hill. A carpet of fresh snow curved edges and hushed the world. For a moment, Jeff considered restarting his truck and heading back to his wife and two daughters, to build a snowman. Instead, Jeff opened the truck door and went down. ### When it was over and Clare had killed the video feed and livened her cigarette, Jeff was a bloated, gasping mass on the stripped mattress. Clare had forced an entire supreme pizza down him then shoveled in spoonful after spoonful of chocolate Jello into his gullet. He’d begged mercy but found none. The internet crowd had raved at the amount of pudding he’d consumed, imploring Clare to force more and more upon him until he’d felt like a literal balloon on the verge of bursting. The feeling was at once euphoric and distressing in the extreme. “Another record showing,” Clare said through the smoke. “Good,” Jeff said. “Going out on a high note.” “This again?” Clare stood.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 “I’m done. This was the last time.” “You are not.” “I am,” Jeff stood. Although he was a head taller than Clare and outsized her by 150 pounds, he seemed diminutive under her gaze. She was so close he could smell wisps of her perfume, Anais Anais, over the smoke. “I’m done and I’m not doing another feeding.” “And what would you infer if this evidence,” Clare motioned at the bed, “reached the little woman at home? Or your commanding officer?” Jeff’s face hardened, “Just because you’re the dom in this, doesn’t mean you don’t have your own screws I could turn.” “Role reversal. Cute,” Clare said, then with a sigh, she continued, “fine. Will this ensure your return? I had mentioned a reward,” She slid a hand into his briefs and began to work. Jeff, despite his wishing otherwise, found his genitalia operating on instinct. When Clare Heartwood finished and the inside of Jeff’s underwear was sticky, she removed her hand. “I’ll text,” she said. Jeff didn’t reply. ### In the beginning, Clare was timid. The whole idea of feeding Jeff was an enormous object in her mind, a massif, an entity so great and full of such inertia that she found herself weak before it. She was ignorant of what to do or how to react or what limits could be approached and which ones transgressed in the novel situation in which she discovered herself. Her shyness required Jeff to coach her through the first two feedings. At the third, emboldened by an urge she couldn’t name, she’d broached the idea of recording the sessions. Jeff seized this insight and extrapolated that it would be fortuitous to have records of the event: one for him to relive in the safety and comfort of his own masturbatorium and another as training footage for Clare, should she desire to refine her techniques. He encouraged such a review of the tape and later, after she’d compiled and replayed several hours of feedings, the original, impossible idea of gorging Jeff, the one that held
133 such a perceived immovability in her mind, rolled through her thoughts of its own accord, spinning into something larger than what it had been. If she was honest with herself, which Clare often was, the thought perturbed and uplifted in equal measure. Clare, having been naive to the feeding world, knew well that “real life” was populated by freaks enough. She herself, before the stumbling into the dominatrix/ feeder role with Jeff, had been no stranger to conjugal depravity or oddness concerning food. Her own family was rife with examples: her mother, Linda, was a closet anorexic/bulimic in equal measure; her father ingested quantities of “hormone replacements” of dubious legality, spent hours weekly in the gym, and regimented his diet such that, at nigh 60, he had a body enviable of a man half his age; despite Clare’s misgivings, she and Andy had experimented, sexually, with each other during Janet Klein their high school years; her younger sister, Amanda, retained a coat of prepubescent fat, despite her having turned 18, that Linda incessantly and obliquely criticized. Clare too had been subject to her mother’s nitpicking during adolescence which had resulted in a sort of demi-paranoia about calorie intake and a compulsion to cut all the tags out of her clothes to prevent Clare from acknowledging the sizes she wore. Upon review, Clare was surprised to find that her past had not germinated, organically, in the loam of her soul, as grotesque a fetish as she currently enjoyed. The striking face about Clare’s present reality, though, was the acceleration of that enjoyment. She texted Jeff the next Monday with instructions to arrive at her apartment, promptly at 6 PM the following day. When Jeff neither answered the text or showed, Clare whirled into an uncharacteristic fury. He’d never disobeyed before. Pacing her living room, she texted all manner of messages, some cajoling, others demanding, others still on the brink of a needy supplication, for the next 45 minutes, until she received a singular reply, “No.” Rage gripped Clare and she almost shattered her phone against the far wall. She stalked to the bedroom for a cigarette. The nicotine did little to alter her mood.
How dare he refuse her? In a breach of all their established rules, Clare called Jeff’s cell. The phone rang twice, then skipped to voicemail. “Unbelievable,” Clare howled. Clare called and re-called until Jeff answered with a hushed, “What?” “Your absence? Explain it.” “I told you I was done.” Clare laughed, “What is this, a spine?” “I’ve got to go.” “Only to clamber into that monstrosity of a vehicle and travel here.” “Clare,” Jeff sighed in exasperation, “It’s over.” “Excuse me, have I given permission?” There was the sound of clothes rustling and a door closing, Jeff returned at normal volume, “Jesus, Clare, we’re through. I’ve got to lose eight pounds by the end of the month or I’m up for disciplinary review.” “Irrelevant. Arrive, in the next half hour, and I may ameliorate your retribution. The watchers are impatient and their numbers ebb as we speak.” “Are you not listening?” “Are you? This is non-negotiable.” “You don’t have any control over me. This thing, our thing, is finished. I’m hanging up now and blocking your number.” The line clicked and Clare looked at the blank phone in her fist. She spiked the device into the floorboards, gathered her car keys, and departed for Jeff’s. ### Clare, not that Jeff had ever invited her to his home, a plain, suburban boredom in the Mountain View neighborhood, knew exactly where he lived. Not long into her association with Jeff, Clare wheedled the information from Andy in the aftermath of a holiday family dinner wherein she’d plied him with scotch. Andy had dished the address without a second thought to notions of customer confidentiality. Since then, Clare had driven by the location several times but never had she caught more than a glimpse of Jeff’s domesticity: a golden labrador defecating on the lawn, the opened garage door that revealed a manic tidiness, a tire swing lolling in a breeze. Not once did she spy any of the occupants. Now, after a brief stop at Carrs where she bought several pies, all custards, from the in-store bakery, Clare whipped into Jeff’s driveway, made a hasty exit from her barely out of gear Nissan, stormed the concrete porch, and assaulted the doorbell.
A frail looking and wispy haired woman with a face resigned to misery answered the door. “Hello,” the woman said said. “So you’re wifey,” Clare said. No trace of jealousy blushed the woman’s cheeks, “Jeff,” she called over her shoulder, “it’s you.” The woman stepped away, leaving the door open. Clare peered into the house. A hallway led from the door to what Clare assumed was the living room. From within came sounds of laughter, a television, and, farther away, a dog’s barking. Jeff rounded the corner into the hallway carrying a pigtailed daughter on his hip. When he saw Clare his face dropped, Jeff put the girl down, patted her bottom, and in a saccharine tone suggested she return to the sofa. She scampered away and when she’d passed from view, Jeff bolted from the home. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing here,” he hissed as he closed the door. “Such a nice… residence.” Clare ran a finger down the peeling white paint on the door casing. “How did you even get this address?” “We had a rendezvous Jeff. The watchers were most distressed at your failure to appear.” “You’ve got to go. You can’t be here. Fuck, Clare, this is insane.” “And what,” Clare said as she backed down the steps, “shall I do with our supplies? I prepped, Jeff. Now, you have to feed.” “Get the fuck out. Just go,” Jeff opened the door and stepped into the house. He lowered his voice, “you’ve got five minutes or I’m calling the cops.” Clare threw back her head and laughed, “Authorities, Jeff? As if they could abate this.” Jeff came down the steps with the face of a man prepared for violence. “Get out. Now. If I ever see again I’m pressing charges.” “Oh, heaven forfend,” Clare bordered histrionic, “You’re feeding, audience or no.” Jeff crossed his arms. The defiance in his jaw propelled Clare to action. She went to her passenger door, jerked it open, and lifted the first pie from the stack of six that were her cargo. Coming back to where Jeff stood, she opened the lid and dug a scoop from the center of the custard. “Clare, I’m warning you,” Jeff said. Clare did not stop, she came on, lump of custard in her fist, outstretched, sailing toward Jeff’s mouth, the evening sun reddening that infinity of her reaching.
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
F E ATU R E S Always a Laureate
Sheila Nickerson --Alaska Poet Laureate, 1977-81
One Laureate’s Way: Comments and Five Poems A poet could do worse than to take the hand of Janus, that two-faced god of entrances, beginnings, and endings. Each poem, after all, is a door that opens into possibility—the realm which Emily Dickinson calls a “fairer House than Prose.” It is a house so large the roof reaches to the sky and we can never touch the walls. It is not always a comfortable dwelling, but this is where I chose to live--in Possibility. I was encouraged by a father who wanted to be a professional poet and writer but who had to pull his family out of the Great Depression. He went to Wall Street and was never happy. I was always surrounded by books and the assurance that poetry was important, not just a pleasant pastime. I remember his reading and quoting from the work of Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935), especially “Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn.” Decades later, I see why my father, frustrated in work and life, allied himself with this backwards-looking character. Miniver Cheevy loomed large in our household. Poetry was real. As an English major at Bryn Mawr College, I wanted to study the craft of poetry but there was only one poetry course, taught by Laurence Stapleton, which was more a study of poems than an exercise in writing poems. I asked the dean why there weren’t courses in Creative Writing and the dean replied, “Isn’t all writing creative?” After college and marrying and moving to Denver, I was determined to publish. I found a course at the University of Denver’s night school. I learned how to study and select markets, how to prepare manuscripts, and how
Along the Alaska Highway
The night the pigs disappeared from Johnny Friend’s corral at Watson Lake there were no answers. What could climb a fence as high as that and be so neat? In all these years we have not learned. More mysteries have crowded in, deaths and other silences that make us think of what must fill the space between the stars. Now, in the second quadrant, in the year of solar storms, night sky burns. You tell me how, when you camped at Watson Lake, you might have heard Sasquatch. The map of years says little-a red line bending north, you there, me here. These names-Swift River, Jakes Corner, Destruction Bay-are only places. The true coordinates are locked in blood. Tell me again the sound you heard, tell me again the height of Johnny Friend’s corral at Watson Lake. (from Northern Review)
Traveling Highway 16, British Columbia Along Highway 16, between the ocean and the Coast Mountains, women disappear, some into black trucks, some into black space. Now it’s called the “Highway of Tears,” with billboards warning women not to hitchhike, but they do--to get to work. There are more missing person cases now than towns, and the god of lost cartography needs to make a new map, replacing Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers, and Burns Lake with Ramona, Roxanne, Lana, Tamara. We must find Nicole along the rushing Skeena and travel from Alisha to Delphine and on to Gloria to find the abandoned hamlet of Maddy, once loud but now a silent grove. We must search the black lakes and follow black bears and ask the old, black trees where these lovely spirits fled, and where, as they resettled, they shed their bones and shoes. (from Thrush)
The Loneliness of the Late Afternoon Cook
to succeed in building credits. I made up my mind I would try 50 times and if I did not get an acceptance by then, I would give up and find something else to do. And yes, I made it on the 50th try.
All up and down this rainy coast, where many houses are for rent, dinners are being cooked in silence. Even the stainless steel pots, when placed upon red heat, don’t speak, and water holds its tongue. So many questions. Are love and gratitude enough? I would ask my neighbor, but she has moved--I don’t know where--and deer have taken back the land, a wilderness of weeds grown up between us, a place where animals come out to meet at night.
By day, I went through library stacks looking for poetry that spoke to me. Laurence Stapleton, kind enough to communicate with me, advised me to do this. I remember that she recommended, especially, Elizabeth Bishop. On my own, I found Philip Booth, a master of syllabic writing, which limits each line to a certain number of syllables. I studied his work (as, I later found out, so did Dick Dauenhauer, whom I would come to know in Juneau). Philip Booth became my silent tutor, the Denver library my secret workroom. I sent Philip Booth a fan letter, and, yes, he wrote back.
When Spring Came and the Blue Bear Came to Town When the blue bear came to town, we played our saxophone. Listening, it shook its head in salmonberry bushes, pushed and rooted in the earth. It came each night, at dusk, to Gastineau--the avenue at the edge-to our Dumpsters, porches, and steps sagging with rain. We played, we sang, we clapped our hands, hoping it would cross to us; but it came only as far as our garbage, then turned back. We, too, returned home, speaking of the wildness of it, the blueness of it--like glaciers, like denim. We could not find the words. We followed, each night, as far as we dared, with our saxophone, with our French horn-a line of minstrels bound to a cave through a wood of ancient spruce wild as cellos not yet carved. (from Quaint Canoe)
Bill Stafford said he always kept at least six bunches of poems out in the mail; and he got rejected. I tried to do the same, and I got rejected—many, many times—but there were always just enough acceptances to keep me going. Paul Foreman of Thorp Springs Press published my first chapbook, To the Waters and the Wild. Soon after, Sam Hamill, founder of Copper Canyon Press, would publish Songs of the Pine-Wife. I became Alaska’s Poet Laureate and spent one year as Writer-in-Residence to the Alaska State Library. I taught throughout the state through the Artists in the Schools program and the University within Walls prison education program. I kept writing and sending out manuscripts. I tried to emulate Bill Stafford’s standard of always having at least six batches of poems out in the mail. That proved quite a challenge. My first prose book, Writers in the Public Library, describing my experiences as Writer in Residence, came out in 1984. When I retired from the State of Alaska, as editor of Alaska’s Fish and Game, I turned increasingly to prose, not because I liked it better but because I had more time. In contrast to the tightness of poetry, the openness of prose presents another challenge. I discovered that the two extremes--the economy of poetry and the expansiveness of prose--could provide a tension and achieve a balance which helped me in both fields. Largely because of access to the historical publications of the Alaska State Library, I began to be intrigued by the arctic explorers of the 19th century and their extraordinary adventures, now largely lost and forgotten. I wanted very much to bring their stories back from
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 oblivion. Disappearance: A Map was published in 1996, followed by Midnight to the North, and most recently Harnessed to the Pole: Sledge Dogs in Service to American Explorers of the Arctic, 1853-1909 (University of Alaska Press, 2014). All the time, I kept writing poems and sending them out. My file of rejections grew heavy, but my acceptances, in the little magazines, began to fill boxes. Does anyone read any of this poetry, I often wondered? But occasionally a letter would come saying “yes--and please write more; I am listening.” I did. I was fortunate in the encouragement I received. Writing, as famously noted, can be a very lonely occupation. A word of support can make all the difference. In 1971, when I moved to Juneau on the Alaska ferry Malaspina, Carol Beery Davis was aboard with her husband Trevor. Carol started the Alaska Poet Laureate program and numerous other programs in the arts. She served as Poet Laureate from 1967-69, though her name, strangely, seems to have slipped from most lists and most accounts of the program. She was the strongest advocate for poetry the state has ever had—and doubtless ever will. She told me fervently about John Haines and his recently published collection, Winter News. She convinced me he was an extraordinary poet. He was. My family and I were privileged to know him. Once, when John sat at the breakfast table in our house, our cat Alexander brought him a vole. I never knew Alexander to so gift another person, not in his seventeen years.
Summer, by Bicycle Summer comes by bicycle. I know this because, in early June, a bike was left resting against a Douglas fir at the trail head and stayed there, unlocked, until late in August. No one knows where it came from or exactly when it left. No one knows what summer does all day, ambling about in the woods, fumbling in shaggy pockets, sometimes forgetting and leaving things behind. (from Off the Coast)
What does half a century of writing poetry add up to? A sense of direction which helps to explain what is seen along the way. There is mystery everywhere, if only you look and listen. Every leaf has a story, every animal a consciousness and memory, every stone a birth somewhere in the dust of distant stars. Everything wants to tell its tale. Poetry opens the door to what is possible, inviting magic to enter.
Eva Saulitis 138
Prelude: After Recurrence The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. --Socrates As a bird repeats its dumb luck dumb luck refrain I sit staring at steam rising off the darkening pond of my teacup, realizing after all these years, about him I know nothing—name, Latin or common, habits or patterns of migration, swag—wing bars or color at nape or crown, and that’s a shame, all there is to learn of our shared habits, all I’ve let flit through the cracks, and now there’s the matter of time. As I try to reckon it, I keep being distracted—that bird’s incessant nattering, the day breeze flapping wash on the line, the grinding of axles down East End Road, afternoon light’s trill electrical along my arm skin. As the wind stalking through the screen sets the chimes to clanging, as my body asserts its imperatives, it’s left to only this, only you, my fugitive, my intruder, my real—teach me to pray—I mean—surrender, give over. Today came news, abstract, unlyrical—I’m sorry—cells positive for—a year or five to live, who can tell? This I can say with certainty: the tea is cool, tastes of hibiscus and blackberry. The bird is loud.
Eva Saulitis and Craig Matkin
Photo: Carl Bice
Poet, essayist, and marine biologist Eva Saulitis’ books include her posthumous collection of essays Becoming Earth (Boreal Books, 2016), and the poetry collections Prayer in Wind (Boreal Books, 2015) and Many Ways to Say It (Red Hen Press, 2012). Her first book, Leaving Resurrection (Red Hen Press, 2008), was a finalist for the Tupelo Press Nonfiction Prize. Her second work of nonfiction, Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas (Beacon Press, 2013) comes from her decades of studying of orcas in Prince William Sound with her partner Craig Matkin. Her poems, reviews, and essays appeared in many journals, including Crazyhorse, Ecotone, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, On Earth, Salon, Orion and Cirque. She taught in the University of Alaska Anchorage Low-Residency MFA program and was on the faculty of the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference.
F E AT U R E A Tribute to Eva Saulitis
May 10, 1963-January 16, 2016 First, it seemed that Craig and I had been ushered onto a tiny boat, maybe the size of a rice cake, and pushed off shore. A current soon carried us far into the fog. We clung to each other. My passage is being gently enacted. Each night, no matter what loss transpires, I give thanks for this one more day on earth, a precious, sometimes painful or scary or sorrowful, but always meaningful gift. - Eva Saulitis We have been touched by Eva, who died while we were watching, listening and, this is not too extreme, loving. This “we” is a collective of friends, students, writers, fans, people who don’t necessarily know each other, but who walked with Eva through months, weeks, years of cancer treatment -- and the end of treatment. Eva journaled her experience first in the blog “Alaskan in Cancerland,” about five years ago, then shifted to the Caring Bridge. She wrote through upturns and setbacks. She wrote into her final days. She spoke of dying with increasing comprehension. Her close friend Margaret Baker joined Eva in Homer as days dwindled and with family and friends she wove a basket to carry her body. Her passage was tender, deeply personal. even as it was also open and connected to many. On a morning not too many months ago, I remarked on the light of dawn in “comments” on her page. Hours south in Homer, Eva wrote back, “Yes,” she said, “I see it, too.” I place her now among Alaska’s literary ancestors. She has set the mark, as with Alaska’s past Poet Laureate, John Haines, adding a particular and unmistakable gravitas – to Alaska’s literary legacy – in John Haines’ case irascibly, with Eva, pure grace. – Sandra Kleven
Vo l . 7 N o . 2
Safe Harbor I first met Eva in September 1996, when we were both MFA students at UAF, where we shared a desk. The day we met, we had a picnic on the lawn outside of the Gruening Building. As we ate, she talked about her work as a whale researcher, her desire to become a writer, and about the journals she had been writing for years, capturing her thoughts long into the night after her field work was complete, her writing an attempt to reconcile what she thought of as conflicting selves—the scientist and the writer. She told me about the end of her marriage and about finding love with Craig. I, too, had just left a marriage to start graduate school in Fairbanks, and we were both filled with excitement about what the future would hold. Though one part of her life was ending, the life I came to know her in was just beginning. We starting spending our spare time together, swimming in the early mornings at the UAF pool, writing in her cabin, reading Neruda and Rilke to each other, sharing meals, telling each other our secrets. During that time, she wrote many of the essays that would become her first book, Leaving Resurrection and the poems from her collection Many Ways to Say It. The depth of her exploration in those essays and poems gave me courage in my own writing. Our experiences built the foundation of what would be 20 years of life affirming friendship. Eva told me once that we would spend our seventies as two old ladies with long grey braids, rocking, and reading poetry on her front porch. One aspect of Eva’s personality that has affected me deeply was her absolute faith in arriving at safe harbor. For her, this respite was achieved through determination, tenacity, vulnerability, despair, hard work, passion, and a reluctance to settle. She met life’s challenges head on with an unshakable faith in arriving at shelter from the storm and refuge from whatever is at war in the soul. Safe harbor was rarely easily discovered, but Eva seemed to relish the process. She didn’t hide, and she had an enviable desire to start solving life’s complexities right away. The belief in arriving extended far beyond her writing. She valued the people in her life in a way that was inspirational. She was generous, curious, and inclusive in friendships, which often led to salon-like tea parties at her kitchen table in Homer, the table an interesting mix of old world quilted table cloth, antique china tea cups, freshly picked flowers, hand-made stone candle holders,
139 song bird salt and pepper shakers, and a Buddhist singing bowl. I witnessed her struggle with relationships; where I would have given up, she continued to ask for resolution, understanding, and often forgiveness. In conflict she practiced a humility that honored her devout belief that people formed the vessel that would deliver her to safe harbor (with Eva often doing much of the paddling). She held true to her desire for resolution, healing, and transcendence, her safe harbor found in the compassion and understanding gained through her engagement with people, even when the outcome was not what she would have hoped. Eva once told me that she felt that she would die if she couldn’t write. She said it with such conviction and with so much child-like excitement that I was taken aback. It is a moment I remember when I am trying to find balance in my own writing. In early January, I visited her in Homer for the weekend. We were in the process of crossing things off her to-do list, my fear of losing her masked by a sense of urgency to get things done. We had climbed the stairs, resting after each step, the hiss of her oxygen tank marking our progress. When we finally made it up to her book-filled office, she started describing the organization of piles of teaching materials that covered the floor and futon. Then she called me over to the closet, pulled back the curtain that served as a door, and nodded to the top shelf. It was filled with dozens of her old journals, organized by date. She mused, “I wonder what will become of them.” Momentarily, her eyes glaze over, pained, distant, and then she was back in the room, smiling at me. I had seen that look before when shopping for shoes, sitting in a reading at Alice’s Champagne Palace, harvesting the last vegetables from her garden, in the last hug she gave my daughter in my driveway as she, her sister Mara, her brother-in-law Jon, and Craig were leaving on the Homer leg of their land and sea escape from the hospital in Seattle. Each time, I was gripped by a panicky need to say something to take away the pain of letting go. I looked at her, my eyes tearing and whispered that I didn’t know what to say. “Just see them,” she whispered back. I had asked her the previous June, in one of those moments of trying to comprehend Eva’s coming death, whether her writing could motivate her to continue treatment. “For now,” she said. “But I am not willing to linger beyond tolerable suffering, and I will need to prepare my family for my death. “ Seven months later, two months after she had stopped chemo treatment for metastatic cancer, she showed me a copy of her new book Becoming Earth,
140 describing how it fit perfectly into her hand and how the cover photo taken by her dear friend David Grimes reflected the book’s content. She was shy and almost embarrassed. Propped up in the first-floor bed that she would leave less and less over the coming week, she whispered, “I didn’t think it would make me so happy.” Eva gave great presents. Last October, she jokingly told me that she felt very badly for all of us who would no longer be receiving her gifts. Her giving represented her belief in the power of art to heal us and to help us relate to one another. When I was eight months pregnant with my daughter, I became so ill that it was uncertain I would live. Eva corralled my family and friends to buy me a painting by Homer artist Kathy Smith. Months before, I had admired the painting during a visit to the Bunnell Street Arts Center, telling Eva that looking at it gave me a boost of feminine spiritual energy. As I was unwrapping the painting, Eva told me, “I know that you are not going to die. I can tell just by looking at you.” The words served as a kind of guiding prophecy when my prognosis seemed unimaginable. I still hear those words when I look at the painting, only now I hear her teasing tone, the one she used when reminding me that her gift giving talents were unparalleled. It was often like that being friends with Eva, receiving powerful gifts, lovingly chosen. As her family gathered at Thanksgiving last year, the idea of weaving a basket casket with her family took shape. She reached out to artist Mavis Mueller for artistic and technical guidance. Friends from the community brought offerings of branches and grasses. Over the course of that weekend, her husband, step-children, grandchildren, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephews wove the basket out of willow and alder branches, the long hours infused with purpose. Eva tied bundles of grass to make her bed. The natural treasures that decorated her bookshelves were attached to the basket as decoration: bird wings, seaweed bulbs, urchin shells, and sea stars. Pine cones and dried flowers were artistically placed and tied to the lid. This basket would carry her to the crematorium, and then would fuel the pyre at her memorial service. That is the story Eva told me in December before we went together to Mavis’ studio to weave. A box had arrived from Hawaii, and we wove in sea grass and dried blossoms. A friend had sent a crucifix, and we tied it to the lid. As we worked, she described for me how the basket had turned fear and grief into a way for her family to live her dying with her. “Dying isn’t lonely,” she told me. Weaving the basket casket with her was initially
CIRQUE uncomfortably intimate and strange. While working next to her in the little workshop, I could imagine her dead body resting in the casket. Over time, I came to see it as a gift of illumination, a beautiful creation both physically and in its symbolic power to hold grief, fear, anger, love, and joy. Later, I was awestruck by Eva’s summary of the safe harbor generated through this work with her family in “Creation, Destruction” (January 6, 2016 Caring Bridge Journal) where Eva describes her connection to her step-daughter Ellii: “We’ve found the unbreakable chain made of light that won’t end when my body ends.” In January of 2011, after her initial treatment for breast cancer had ended. I visited Eva in Hawaii. We were making small talk about her plans for the house on the land as I was trimming her hair, which was growing in uneven after chemo. She suddenly grabbed my hand and turned to look at me, wide-eyed with fear, “What if the cancer isn’t gone. I feel like it isn’t gone.” I imagine I looked startled. She had chosen the most rigorous treatment plan, the one for those who are young and strong, and she had “kicked cancer’s ass” as she loved to joke. She had earned her safe harbor. I said nothing, and she quickly talked away her own fear and doubt. In the coming months, she would repeat her doubts, but with much less conviction. I believed that we would have the same conversation periodically until she reached her 5-year cancer free-milestone. I felt arrogantly confident that I would handle each conversation with grace. During a visit to Homer in June, I could not get her to sit still for conversation. She kept slipping away physically, busying herself with chores. I had not seen her for 6 months, and was worried about her silence, especially since she was a person who talked things out. She had gone to bed uncharacteristically early one evening. I knocked on her door and asked to talk about why she was so distant. “You look at me like a deer in the headlights,” I explained. “I just know the cancer is not gone,” she replied. We talked about PTSD I felt after my pregnancy and that many nights I would dream about my daughter dying, each time in a different way. I told her I had felt so selfish and ungrateful for being scared when I had a perfectly healthy baby. She replied that bringing up her fears felt similarly selfish and somewhat melodramatic. She confessed that her sister Mara was also worried, and she told me she would talk to her counselor about PTSD. Over time, Eva came back to herself, allowing the cancer chap-
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 ter of her life to close ever so slightly. A little more than two years later, she stood in my kitchen after a wonderfully complex trip to visit family, attend the AWP Conference, and give readings of her book, Into Great Silence (which was written the summer during cancer treatment and represents a feat of sheer determination). We drank tea and talked about her family, the audiences she had read to, people’s reactions to the work, literary gossip. During our conversation of a complicated flight schedule, a shadow crossed her face. When I questioned her, she complained of a sharp pain in her side when she inhaled and “maybe just a little shortness of breath.” She had emailed her doctor; he thought maybe she needed a CT scan to rule out a pulmonary embolism from prolonged travel. Eva said it could just have easily been a pulled muscle from over doing a hot yoga session a few days back. We did not talk about what we feared it might be. Then the phone call four weeks later, her trembling voice on the other end explaining pulling fluid off her lung, tests that would confirm the worst, probably metastases, nothing to do right now but light a candle and wait. A couple days later, the phone call, her anguished voice, “Fucking cancer is back.” Perhaps one of the unexpected gifts Eva has given is sharing her experiences from the diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer until several days before her death in her Caring Bridge Journal. She allows her readers to witness the entire range of human emotion required to openly and actively come to terms with a terminal illness, a journey she refers to as moving “along this cancer way.” If we choose to travel with her, we share in the poetry, music, philosophy, and spiritual thinking that Eva uses to move herself along. We garden with her, hike through the woods near her home, travel Prince William Sound and spend time with the whales, and hear her call to the angels (we are them if we choose to listen) from an infusion chair in Hawaii. We meet her family, are introduced to the language of cancer treatment, grieve with her for the loss of her mother, and witness the writing of her last two books Prayer in Wind and Becoming Earth. We will certainly be moved to tears, become indignant at the in justice of suffering, and come to understand that when everything else is stripped away, we find love. Through the writing of the journal, she defines what it means to die on her own terms. She imagines a natural death without medical intervention, at home, surrounded by those she loves. She teaches us how die and how to continue living. The Thursday afternoon before she passed away, Craig, Mara, and I sat outside with Eva for just the briefest
moment to enjoy the cold. She closed her eyes and turned her face toward the sun. Tears leaked through her closed lids, very quietly she said, “I am really OK, I am just going to miss all of you.” Then the cold caused her oxygen machine to alarm. Back in bed, she asked for an ice cold cloth for her head and a bowl of snow with a little peach juice. “I am eating only snow now,” she told me. The windows to the bedroom were open, and I sat in a chair at the end of the bed wearing my down jacket, a blanket wrapped around my legs. Throughout the next two days, she slept for longer stretches of time, her breathing coming slowly. Waking was a jolt to her body, causing her to feel a little nauseated. “It is like crossing rough seas to get back here,” she explained. Once the nausea passed, she was completely present, listening to whomever was in the room, talking to relatives on speaker phone, dictating emails. She told jokes and stories, surprisingly at peace. Her work was done, and those last hours of awareness were gifts to herself and to her visitors. On Friday afternoon, about 24 hours before she passed, I asked what the other side was like and she told me that it was a clear, cold dark night. She assured me, “It is beautiful. Dying is safe.”
Photo: Craig Matkin
Care Package for Eva
--for Eva Saulitis, November, Southeast Alaska
All along this coast, we walk outside this morning. The light is just right Eva Saulitis for gathering sky, handfuls of mist you can rub along the skin
Photo: Craig Matkin
of your back, when you feel dry. We add a few fingers of rain
scented with spruce and hemlock for you to sip, when you wake.
We cup in our hands the cadence this ocean makes on these rocky beaches. You might need the sound of a blue mussel at low tide, to carry you along. Everything we have, we’ve borrowed ourselves, from this world. Still, we delight in this giving. Still, we can think of no better way to say we are grateful for you for this still-wild coast, for this one morning of light.
Photo: Craig Matkin
I wonder about the poet— whom I love—dying so nobly. Did she pour too much of herself into her poems? Did such deep singing, such sharp sight, such rootings in the sea take her too far to surface? Or was surfacing only my clinging fantasy? Maybe her swimming had always gone deep. Was always kind. She who put tanagers and goats in poems, made them fit with bamboo. She who heard the deep roll of the Pacific. I am too light, too fast a traveler over deep waves, deep wounds. She saw them coming like the seasons, fashioned that world with breath. In her poems, I knew the troughs she dug with her ancient soul, hooked in the sway. I knew her road, saw her out there over immense currents, palming each wave curl, each photon of light. Saw how big her love was, taking charge of everything. Her greed to see and describe. To make us love dew, small fish, flowers of all colors. Here, in this hour, far from what pain might finally make of her, I know she will depart. But what a flight. A trajectory I will follow, down a different coast someday. With a song—defined by hers— on my lips.
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INTERVIEWS Kenny Gerling
Now I Am Editing: An Interview with Sculptor Kate Carr Kate Carr was born in Anchorage to an influential Alaskan family (of Carr’s grocery store fame) known for their vocal support of the arts. After leaving the state for college, she moved around the Lower 48 before settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her work as been displayed throughout the United States, and in 2014 she debuted her first solo show in New York, “First Folds.” In early 2015, the Anchorage Museum acquired two of her sculptures, Diagonal Block 1 and 2, for its permanent collection. I talked with Carr in late 2015 and early 2016 about gendered colors, cave-dwelling poets, and why she gets along with architects, among other topics. Kenny Gerling: The Anchorage Museum recently purchased your pieces Diagonal Block 1 & 2 for its permanent collection. Similar rectangular wood blocks are used in a lot of your art. What about that structure interests you? Is it more appropriate to think of it as a canvas or a type of refrain? Kate Carr: I am so honored to be part of the collection at the Anchorage Museum. I had a studio visit with Julie Decker when she was in Santa Fe last year and I am thrilled that she wanted a piece for the museum. It is my first piece in a museum collection.
piece. I often want to jump ahead of my work, but that is usually just impatience on my part and it fails. Sometimes the answer is just the next thing, not the best thing. I want the work to feed/inspire the work. KG: When and why did you leave Alaska? Did being Alaskan ever feel like an obstacle that needed to be overcome? KC: I left Alaska for college and never went back except to visit. Being an Alaskan did not feel like an obstacle, but Alaska itself never felt like home to me, even as a small child. It was a very isolating, conservative place to grow up, especially as a young creative kid when I was in school during the 80’s and 90’s. I remember taking a class trip to D.C. when I was in high school and we went to the National Gallery. I was so excited to see art in person that I had only seen in books. I remember taking a picture of every piece I looked at, which is so silly to think about now. Growing up somewhat isolated from certain kinds of cultural experiences gave me more appreciation for them. New York City still gives me a thrill in a way that I credit to growing up very differently, very far away.
The block form I use in my work is made from layers of Baltic birch plywood laminated together. I love the layers of line that lamination creates. I am drawn to simple elemental shapes in my work—rectangles and squares especially, but I’m open to working with circles and triangles, too. Those kinds of shapes have a universality to them that is familiar like wood or wool felt or cloth—all materials I use in my work. Working with these recognizable shapes and materials creates a kind of ease while being abstract. KG: Do you consider yourself as having an overarching project? If so, could you briefly articulate what that is? KC: I don’t have an overarching project. I try my best to listen to the work and let the work guide me to the next
KG: You are a member of the Carr family, of Alaskan grocery store fame. Was art an important part of your upbringing? What did the Alaskan/Anchorage art scene look like when you were growing up? KC: I was lucky enough to grow up in a privileged family that appreciates the arts—visual art, theater, architecture, movies, books, music—and that exposure definitely made me more curious about art, about different kinds of people and places. I’m not sure there was ever a real art scene in Anchorage, but I was just a kid when I lived there. I’m sure things have changed. I took art classes with local artists such as Katie Gilmore and the late Catherine Doss, whom I greatly admired. I went to art openings at the museum and at the Artique Gallery on G Street. The Performing Arts Center downtown was brand new when I lived in Anchorage and I enjoyed seeing plays and concerts there as well. KG: Though it’s been a while since you lived in Alaska, is there anything you consider essentially “Alaskan” in your work or in the way you approach art in general? KC: Right now I am reading the new biography of Agnes Martin (one of my favorite artists) who was born in rural Saskatchewan. Her biographer Nancy Princenthal writes: “The Saskatchewan prairie was perfectly impossible to photograph. The camera made it disappear. One must experience at first hand its irreconcilable visual aspects: its fine grained texture and soul-gulping immensity…” I felt similar growing up in Alaska. It’s so enormous! The scale of the natural world there can be overwhelming, intimidating, and also staggeringly beautiful. Every time I fly back to visit family the mountains astound me. Growing up in Alaska instilled in me a deep reverence for extreme landscapes. I have thought about the relationship between minimal work and the rural winter landscape; when you grow up in a place with so much white limitlessness in the winter, the landscape can start to reference a colorless field or a giant piece of white paper. Coming from such vastness, I approach material and form thoughtfully, deliberately. KG: You’ve said in past interviews that poetry was your entry into the arts. What poets were you initially influenced by and did abstraction also interest you then? I assume you also wrote poetry. Was there any hint in those poems of the artist you would eventually become? KC: I wrote a lot of bad poetry like all imaginative, bored teenagers. I would say the only hint of the artist I would
Slant Fold 4, 2014
become was that I wanted to express myself. I always loved to read—fiction, poetry, non-fiction. Right now I’m reading poets like Jack Gilbert, Hafiz, and John O’Donohue. Walt Whitman was a big poetry influence early on. There is an expansive quality, a heartfelt exuberance in his work that I really responded to as a young person. KG: In another interview, you mentioned that you used to incorporate language into your work but eventually stopped. What did that shift away from text accomplish and how does literature inform what you make today? Is there something you believe art can communicate that literature cannot? KC: I studied poetry in college and incorporated words into my early work. Using language in that way made me realize that in fact my creative intentions were more open ended and fundamentally abstract. Words were too concrete for me, too deliberate. I wanted my work have more freedom and space. I do think there is a difference in the way that visual art and literature communicate. For me, there is an immediacy in visual art that I don’t find in literature. Reading a book happens over time and when you encounter a piece of art it is there to take it all at once: a gestalt experience. One of the things I enjoy so much about sculpture is that it is not a representation or an image—it is an object, it is the material, it has a thing-ness—that is actually quite literal and real whether or not it is abstract. KG: I know you work in several different mediums, but can you talk about the actual process of making something new? I imagine it’s often a lot of woodworking.
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KC: Yes, it is. I did a residency at the MacDowell Artist Colony and I met an architect there. Residencies are amazing because you get to meet people from all over the world, and I usually hit it off with the architects because they are thinking about space, material, texture, and things like that. Even though my work is on the wall, it doesn’t have that much in common with painting. Anyway, I met this architect at MacDowell and he designed this [studio] plan for me and I traded him a sculpture. We built the studio in my backyard and it’s beautiful and I’m really proud of it. Before, I was using a saw in my backyard and only working during the summer. Now that I have my own studio, I have a full woodshop and I have places for felt and fabric and anything that can’t get dirty. My work has a clean element and a very dirty element and it’s important that the two stay separate. If you get woodchips on felt it will never come off. Right now I am basically working with felt and wood. I use a special plywood called Baltic birch and it comes from Russia and is very clean and doesn’t have knots or anything. It has these beautiful lines. It’s like an Agnes Martin, who is a hero of mine. It has these lines, like in her work, but I don’t have to create them. My process is often figuring out how to use those lines in the wood in the best possible way. I’m interested in the meeting of materials. Combining opposites in a way that it looks like they’re made to be together.
KG: Is it right to think of you as a minimalist? Or would you prefer a different term when talking about your work? KC: I really like the minimalist look, for sure, and I have a pared-down aesthetic that is definitely part of me. I think the older I get, the braver and braver I am to be more minimal. Agnes Martin was often called a minimalist, but she preferred to call herself an abstract expressionist. Her pieces are usually 5’ x 5’ or 6’ x 6’ square with threaded lines hand drawn in pencil. There is a beautiful waver in her pencil line that is absolutely minimalist, if you were to look at it casually, but if you look at it more closely, there is definitely a human hand. I’d say I’m looking for that too. The part that has meaning and texture and imperfection. I used to joke around and say I wanted to be a sexy minimalist, and I mean that in the best possible way. KG: On a slightly different topic, you’ve mention Walt Whitman as an influence. When you think of someone like Whitman, you think maximalism. Is there anything in your work that you would describe as maximalist? KC: There is something so allowing in Whitman that felt very welcoming as a young person when many poets don’t feel that way. But now I am reading poets like Jack Gilbert who is very different. It’s very sad but also beau-
KG: You called your work a juxtaposition between clean and dirty. I’m also thinking about it in terms of natural elements like wood mixed with the felt which is often a color that is very unnatural such as a really bright pink. When you put those materials together, do you see them as complementing each other or as in a type of combat? KC: It depends on the piece. As I’m working, I’m going for bringing things together. I’m not looking for them to fight each other but I can see how that can happen sometimes. I am looking for things to go together even if it’s unexpected. So that pink is like a totally unnatural color, but to have it perfectly inside the wood, it looks like it can exist there. I’m interested in using the wood material as a contrast for other natural material. Everyone knows what wood is. Everyone knows what plywood is. But you wouldn’t necessarily often see them together.
Squarae 1, 2010
146 tiful. He, like, lived in a cave in Greece basically far away from people, both in and out of the world. I began in a more maximalist place and we live in a more maximalist world. I don’t know many teenagers who have very a refined maximalist aesthetic. I was interested in all sorts of expression and I wasn’t very interested in editing at that point. Now, I am editing. KG: I think that’s a really natural progression. The problem in most introductory creative writing classes is never that you’re saying too little. KC: Right, and also the art that my grandparents liked was very traditional. There was a lot of nature and Alaska paintings that were always representational and in a huge frame. But my dad is much more into abstract expression and as a teenager he taught me about de Kooning and things like that, so I was absorbing everything around and discovering there were more possibilities. The pendulum swung to both sides and it was like finding my sweet spot. KG: Switching gears, what are you working on now? KC: I am trying to work with circles. Which feels like learning French. It’s more difficult than I expected and I am glad I gave myself that challenge to change forms because I’ve worked with squares and rectangles for such a long time. But I’m having a really hard time figuring out circles. I’m cutting circles out of plywood and it’s such a different feeling. I feel trained in the world of the square, but I’m really excited about the possibilities. KG: Is there something specific that sparked that change? KC: I’ve never been one of those artists who can just make their work the same. My last show in New York was all based on folded origami and I could just keep making work like that if I wanted to, but that feels closed and done now. Coming away from that, I wanted to try something different. Something about circles feels a lot softer to me. There’s also something about repetition and beginning where you started. That idea of a shape is very interesting to me. The thing about a line is that they are directional, they are doing something. Circles have a different way of using direction and I kept finding myself more and more drawn to them. I have a book of ancient Sanskrit art and a lot of them use circles, squares, and triangles in very specific ways related to the natural ele-
CIRQUE ments, or different goddesses, and I found that fascinating, these elemental shapes we are so familiar with. And I’ve only used one! What happens if I use another? They have a more playful quality too, and I like work that has a playful element. It’s ok for art to have some surprise, lightness, or absurdity, and circles add that element. And I think circles are more friendly than squares, what would you say? KG: Sure, and it’s interesting you used the term soft to describe a circle. How do you balance that line between adding a playful element but still keeping it serious? How do you balance those elements and make sure you’re not going too far in one direction? KC: I think I can rest assured my own deep seriousness will keep me in check. If anything, I am a little bit uptight, and orderly, and rule-following. That’s my personality. I don’t have a ton of all-over-the-place quality with my work. But it’s interesting using pink, because some people really hate pink. They really really hate it. I joke that if I ever had a retrospective I would call it “A Well Placed Pink.” I love that color. I think it’s a powerful color and I love that it’s associated with women. It’s interesting that it pushes buttons while being so not-a-big-deal. That’s one of the things that I’ve noticed where someone will see the work and comment, “You’re a feminist because you’re using pink.” It’s funny because it’s like, “Well yes I am, but that isn’t why I used pink necessarily.” It has a charged quality and not every color has that. Every time I use pink, I get asked more questions or people have strong feelings. That’s one of the things I’ve noticed and I’m willing to keep pushing against that because I love it. I love the quality of the color and think it’s a beautiful color and I embrace the connotations. KG: It’s interesting to think of connotations coming with color. Do you find any of the other materials cause people to make assumptions? KC: It’s a funny thing because if someone doesn’t know me they’ll just assume I’m a man because “usually men are working with wood.” There wasn’t shop class when we were growing up, but I would have loved to have taken that. Materials have connotations, especially in sculpture. Sculpture is so macho and it has a total macho history with wood, metal, steel, iron, and all these things you don’t associate a woman working with at all, which is too bad.
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INTERVIEW Sandra Kleven
Staff Notes: Finding Kellie Doherty Kellie Doherty has served Cirque in many capacities since she agreed to be an intern. First working in Anchorage and then from Portland, Oregon as she attended graduate school. She’s moved into an important though (very) partially paid staff position, that of cataloging submissions. Meanwhile, her first book, Finding Hecate was recently published. Sandra Kleven: How did you get involved with Cirque? Has it had any impact on your life as a writer or editor? Kellie Doherty: I approached editor Sandy Kleven and Cirque in May of 2013, wondering if they had any internship opportunities open. After a meeting with Sandy, I started working for Cirque. I helped with a myriad of things including social media, events, submission cataloging and reading, and anything else they needed assistance with. It has made a significant impact on my life as an editor. I had attempted to apply for my masters the year prior and didn’t get in. One of the reasons I didn’t make the cut was lack of experience, and I firmly believe the first six months I had interning with Cirque before applying for my masters again helped me get in that second time around. SK: What’s the story behind graduate school in Portland and how has life in Portland affected you? KD: Books have always been in my life in one form or another. I’ve always been a reader and writer, so when I found out that I could possibly have a job working with books I wanted to know more. Getting a masters in publishing seemed like the next logical step for me. I actually applied to four different master’s programs and got into all of them, but Portland State University’s Book Publishing program seemed like the best fit for me. It provides hands-on experience with a student-run publishing company called Ooligan Press – an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Living
in Portland affected me in a few different ways. First, I had never lived by myself prior to this, so living alone in completely different state than my family was a bit of a culture shock. It made me grow up as a person in a way, learn to depend on myself and realize that I can take care of myself (and my cats). Second, Portland is full of interesting, weird, quirky people, so honestly I fit right in. People are so open-minded here, too, so it’s easier for me to express my bisexuality as well. And lastly, it’s got so many lovely artistic and literary opportunities. I’ve had the opportunity to brush shoulders with so many people in the industry via conferences and classes, people who are based here in Portland and beyond. With my work as a Write to Publish
CIRQUE mons, the publisher, since I was an editor for Desert Palm but my friends pushed me to submit to them since Finding Hekate fit their mission statement and criteria. I did, and I’m so happy I took that chance! The challenges of publishing my first book and finishing grad school at the same time were mainly trying to juggle all of my responsibilities and give each project the attention and focus it deserved. The editing phase last year was specifically a challenge since I wanted to spend all my time on my novel during those few weeks, but I couldn’t because of the projects that I needed to focus on for grad school. During the weeks prior to the launch event I was gearing up for Write to Publish 2016, so I couldn’t dedicate much time to the pre-publication stuff. It was a challenge, but one I really enjoyed. SK: What is the book about?
2016 co-manager, I’ve got to network with some pretty powerful independent publishers here, too, and that’s always super exciting. I’m nearly done with grad school, too, I’m going to be graduating this June! SK: What inspired your novel? How did you find a publisher? What were the challenges involved with publishing your first book and finishing grad school? KD: Finding Hekate started as a short story under a different name submitted to a writing group I belonged to back in undergrad. My friends there were so interested in my short story and wanted to know more about Mia Foley (the main character) that I decided to turn it into a novel. I found Desert Palm Press through a friend of mine—Michelle Magly—and originally applied to be one of their freelance editors. I got that position and did it for whole year before deciding to pursue them as a publisher of my novels. I was originally hesitant to approach Lee Fitzsim-
KD: Finding Hekate is the first book of two in the Cicatrix Duology. It’s a science fiction story that has adventure, romance, and tragedy all in one, as well as two badass lesbian main characters. Mia Foley is running away from the attack that changed her life. She’s captain of a new spaceship when the Acedians find her and try blasting her peaceful crew from the black. She must sever her bonds in order to run, again. But she’s grown fond of this crew, particularly Cassidy Gates. Staying with them will jeopardize their safety, and they have much closer fears than the Acedian hunters. Mia’s time is running out. She’s becoming one of them. You can find out more about the book and where to get your copy on my website: www.kelliedoherty.com SK: Where do you go from here? KD: Well, I have a bunch of different things calling my attention. First, I need to continue working on the second book in the Cicatrix Duology called Losing Hold. We’re going to start the editing process pretty soon, so I’m working through it, tightening it up and such. Second, I’m gearing up to graduate in June so I’m applying to all the jobs I possibly can and hope to land one soon. Ideally I would have a job right after graduation. If I don’t get a job right after graduation, I might need to consider moving to a new apartment or even a new city in hopes to stay afloat and find a job. Things are starting to change around here, but I’m both nervous and excited about it.
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CONTRIBUTORS Luther Allen writes poems and designs buildings from Sumas Mountain, Washington. He facilitates SpeakEasy, a community poetry reading series in Bellingham. He is co-editor of Noisy Water, a poetry anthology featuring 101 local poets. His collection of poems, The View from Lummi Island, can be found at http://othermindpress.wordpress.com. His next project is versifying a previously written nonfiction work about hunting. Jennifer Andrulli: Inspired by our environment, Mother Earth. My journey continues. Margaret Baker lives in Anchorage, AK. She received her MFA in poetry from UAF, and works as a marketing director for a local architectural firm and as an adjunct for UAA. She writes poetry and has translated Chilean poet Gabriella Mistral’s first book Desolación. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, and Mississippi Valley Review. Scott Banks is an Anchorage writer and lifelong Alaskan. His poetry has been published in previous issues of Cirque and in Stoneboat magazine. Other writings have been published in Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Drake magazine, American Heritage magazine and the Alaska Dispatch Sunday magazine, We Alaskans. His restaurant reviews and food essays appeared for six years in the online newspaper, Anchorage Daily Planet. James Bennett works as a long-term substitute teacher in remote Yup’ik villages on the lower Kuskokwim River Delta in western Alaska. He is a dropout of the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. His stories have appeared in Anak Sastra and GFT Press. 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. Katherine Bleth: I have lived in Alaska for 30 years. Seward is my home. I love to take photos, write cook books and make jewelry. Irene Bloom is an emerging poet from Seattle, Washington whose work is inspired by her world travels, love of language, and sharing the written word with others. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Super Highway, Drash: Northwest Mosaic, Voices Israel, the Poetry Box, Kind of a Hurricane Press, Reward Publishing, and Poetica Magazine. Karen Vande Bossche is a poet and short story writer who teaches middle school in Bellingham, WA. You can find some of her more recent work in Clover, a Literary Rag, Lunch Ticket and many others you can link to through her websitekjvandebossche.com Pam Butcher: I was born in Anchorage in 1960 and have lived here since then. My husband and I have raised two fine women. I enjoy photography and fiber arts, making art, and viewing art. I love hiking and outdoor activities including skiing which has been scarce the past two winters! Mike Burwell’s poems have appeared in Abiko Quarterly, Alaska Quar-
terly Review, Ice-Floe, Pacific Review, Poems & Plays, and a number of anthologies, including Crosscurrents North: Alaskans on the Environment, 2008. His poetry collection Cartography of Water was published by NorthShore Press in 2007, and in 2009 he founded the literary journal Cirque. After teaching for 25 years in villages along the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Kobuk Rivers, Jack Campbell resides in Excursion Inlet near the southeast corner of Glacier Bay. His two collections of poetry, Four Fevers: Musings of An Alaskan Bush Poet and The Outhouse Spider : New & Selected Poems may be previewed at jackcampellpoetry.com Vic Cavalli’s poetry, fiction, photography, and visual art have been published in literary journals in Canada, the United States, England, North Africa, and Australia. He is currently living in British Columbia, Canada. A list of his literary publications and selections from his visual art portfolio can be viewed at http://vittoriocavalli.com/ Susan Chase-Foster writes poetry and magical realism in Raven’s Roost, her backyard cottage in Bellingham, WA, and in coffee houses in Fairbanks, AK. Her work has appeared in Clover, Peace Poems and Noisy Water, among other publications, and she is two-time winner of the Sue C. Boynton Poetry contest. Susan is currently working with her son on a collection of poems and photographs from Taiwan. She blogs at stilllifewithtortillas.com. Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, high school English-teaching Alaskan. Currently she is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry through the University of Alaska Anchorage. Kersten co-edits the quarterly journal, Alaska Women Speak. She lives in Sitka, Alaska. Scott Clendaniel’s family moved to Alaska when he was seven years old, and his grandmother gave him an oil painting kit to take with him and told him to paint in Alaska because it is such a beautiful place. Clendaniel has been an oil painter ever since. He majored in painting at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and works as an artist full time in his studio in downtown Anchorage. He spends summers in McCarthy within Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, where he and his wife are building a log cabin on their ten-acre wooded lot. www.scottclendaniel.com Debbie Cutler lived in Alaska for 29 years and worked as a reporter for the Alaska Star, managing editor of Alaska Business Monthly and editor of Alaska Magazine. She currently resides in Columbia, MO where she has lived for just over two years. Kimberly Davis is Alaskan born & raised. As a local residential gardener, Kim is inspired by the beautiful flora that surrounds her summer days. She has a great love of the outdoors, travel, and photography. Monica Devine is an award winning author of five children’s books, among them Iditarod: The Greatest Win Ever, a nominee for the celebrated Golden Kite Award. Her adult non-fiction and poetry have appeared in Alaska Magazine, Cirque, New Letters, The Ultima Thule (stories of the Alaskan Arctic), Stoneboat Journal and three anthologies. Her photographs have appeared in both regional and national journals. Her adult nonfiction piece, On The Edge of Ice, (about her travels with a whaling crew in the Arctic), won First Place for Creative Nonfiction with the literary journal, New Letters; and her poem, No One Thing was the 2012 Alaska State Poetry contest winner. She lives in Eagle River, Alaska.
150 Steve Dieffenbacher’s full-length book of poems, The Sky Is a Bird of Sorrow, was published by Wordcraft of Oregon in 2012. The collection won a ForeWord Reviews 2013 Bronze Award for poetry. A poem in the book, “Night Singer, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico,” was named a 2013 Spur Award poetry finalist by the Western Writers of America. He also has won honors in writing, photography, and page design in his years as a journalist. He lives in Medford, Oregon. Patrick Dixon is a retired educator and commercial fisherman who has been published by The Journal of Family Life, FISH Publishing, Oberon Poetry Journal, Oregon Coast, Pentimento and others. Mr. Dixon has been a featured reader at the FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon for 18 years. He is the editor of Anchored in Deep Water: The FisherPoets Anthology (2014). His chapbook Arc of Visibility won the Alabama State Poetry Society’s 2015 Morris Memorial Chapbook Competition. Anishka Duggal was born in Bellingham, Washington where she currently resides. When not enjoying other art forms such as Impressionistic music and contemporary dance, she is volunteering for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association to rebuild the Pacific Northwest’s ecosystems. A student in the Bellingham School District, she has ample time to study the beauty and tragedy of conformity in the public school system. This is her first published poem. Kathy Ellis: An Alaskan by choice since 1970, I started out in the Interior but soon migrated to Juneau. I currently divide my time between Juneau and Mexico. My past lives include off-grid living, working on construction of the Trans Alaska pipeline, and owning and operating a gallery of Native art. Gene Ervine matriculated in the soggy wilds of Southeast Alaska after Western Washington University. He never learned to journal properly, so he writes poems. The endless scroll of Southeast Alaska and his beloved friends there have helped his writing journey. He lives in Anchorage now, where he has read his work at the local Poetry Parlay, in schools and teaches poetry classes to adults. The late poet, Robert Sund from the Skagit Valley in Washington State is a new favorite. His poems have appeared in previous issues of Cirque and in Clover a literary rag. 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, Cirque and the anthologies Revival: Spoken Word from Lollapalooza 94 (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. William Ford: I was born in Mt. Vernon, Washington and, after having been moved to southern California, spent many summers in the region as a youngster and then a full year (on the Kitsap Peninsula) while on sabbatical in 1979-80. I return there at least twice a year to see family and friends. I have published two books and two chapbooks. Recently I’ve had work in Cirque, Bloodstone Review, Brilliant Corners, The Hollins Critic, The Lake (U.K.), Miller’s Pond, Monarch Review, Kentucky Review, and Valparaiso Poetry Review and elsewhere--and have received a sixth Pushcart nomination. Susi Gregg Fowler lives and writes in Juneau, where she grew up. She is the author of nine books for children, the most recent being Arctic Aesop’s Fables: Twelve Retold Tales (Sasquatch Books, 2013). Her husband Jim is a landscape painter and an illustrator. They have a daughter and son-in-law in New York and another daughter and two grandchildren
CIRQUE in Juneau. Her website is http://www.susigreggfowler.com, where she occasionally blogs about writing and life. Louise Freeman is the author of the memoir Standing Up to the Rock, winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and the Idaho Book Award. She was a fellow at the McDowell Colony and the Steinbeck Fellows Program and a writer-in-residence at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and the Island Institute. One of her personal essays won Best Profile from the Alaska Press Club in 2013. Freeman has an M.S. in Creative Nonfiction from Illinois State University, where she studied with David Foster Wallace. Leslie Fried moved to Anchorage from Seattle to be the curator of the Alaska Jewish Museum. She began her professional life as a painter, and says that writing for her is like doing a drawing; it falls somewhere between gesture and detail. She aspires to tell the truth using simple words with complex meanings. Gabriel Furshong writes from Missoula, Montana, where he works for the Montana Wilderness Association. His prose has been published in High Country News, In These Times, Earth Island Journal, Montana Quarterly and Hawai’i Pacific Review, among other publications. His poetry has appeared in the Cossack Review, CutBank, IthacaLit, Apeiron Review and other journals. His poem “Reburial” was included in the anthology I Go To The Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights, published by Lost Horse Press. New poems are forthcoming in The Dialogist, 2 Bridges Review and elsewhere. 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. Brad Gooch lives in Portland, Oregon. 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 that hold meaning for him. Paul K. Haeder works in Portland, Oregon, with people experiencing homelessness, recovering addicts, early release parolees, and people living with mental illness. His book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (July 2016) reflects his 40 years writing as social justice buccaneer, environmental defender and political revolutionary. He’s taught in prisons, gang reduction programs, community colleges, universities and public schools. His writing has been published in a plethora of venues. He lives in Vancouver, WA. Jim Hanlen is retired and lives in Anchorage, AK. Gordon Harrison first came to Alaska in 1961 to work in a logging camp on Afognak Island. He has resided in Juneau for the last 35 years. David Hecker writes poems and creative nonfiction. He has just completed a chapbook of poems about traveling. His most recent publications are poems in Exhibition, Paper Boat, NLAP: Memorial Poetry Contest 2000, Poets West, and Ars Poetica literary journals. He also recently received an honorable mention from Washington Poets Association for “Acoma.” He is past coordinator of the Olympic College Writers’ Conference, past editor of Signals, a chapbook, a past coordinator of the Kitsap Peninsula Reading Series and most recently coordinated and conducted the Centennial Celebration for William Stafford on Bainbridge Island. Yuliya Helgesen-Thompson was born in Russia and raised in Germany. She got her MFA and moved to Alaska in 1997. Routine has never been a statement for my painting or my life. I begin each piece with a sculptural idea. After the surface is sculpted and dried, I fuse color into the three-di-
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 mensional component. I use contemporary and modern painting styles mixed with traditional ancient techniques. Visually, I want my paintings to speak musically through the crafting of shapes, color, surface and space. Yuliya’s art work is can be seen locally in Anchorage at Downtown Gallery and Yuliya’s Art @ Facebook, Splashnpaint@Facebook. Bob Hicks’ house is in sight of Mount Baker and within a short walk to the Salish Sea. He currently writes primarily poetry but has also has written essays and a novel. He is inspired by his wonderful wife, Debra. Branwyn Holroyd grew up in Vancouver, BC but tends to wander. She loves trail running, especially in the mountains of New Mexico. She is a student in the Red Earth MFA Program at Oklahoma City University. This winter she is living on Hornby Island, BC. Barbara Hood is a retired attorney and small businesswoman who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where she enjoys writing opinion pieces, feature articles, personal essays, and poetry. Her work has appeared in the Anchorage Press, the Alaska Dispatch News, and the ADN’s weekly publication We Alaskans. She is grateful to Cirque, 49 Writers, the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference, and Alaska’s community of writers for encouraging and supporting literary arts in the state. Sarah Isto is originally from Fairbanks but has lived for the last three decades in Juneau. She still spends the equinox months family cabin in the Kantishna Hill near Denali. Her poetry has appeared in Cirque, Tidal Echoes, Gold Man Review, Windfall, Perfume River Review and the Timberline Review. Seth Jani currently resides in Seattle, WA and is the founder of Seven CirclePress (www.sevencirclepress.com). His own work has been published widely in such places as The Coe Review, The Hamilton Stone Review, Hawai`i Pacific Review, Gingerbread House and Gravel. More about him and his work can be found at www.sethjani.com Jill Johnson splits her time between her adopted home in Alaska and her ancestral home in Oregon’s high desert country. She is enjoying finding connections between the two locations and between her past and present. There is much to love about them all. Marion Avrilyn Jones has lived in Fairbanks, Alaska for nearly thirty years. She received her MA in English from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her work has previously appeared in Cirque and Ice Floe. 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. Peter Kaufmann lives in Homer, Alaska. He has spent the last 20 years working internationally with people and their stories, producing community based dramas, radio, film, exhibits, and written materials. He is also a closet poet. His area of expertise is using expressive arts and inquiry as a process for discovery and change.
151 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 was the 2015 recipient of the Governor’s Individual Artist Award. Janet Klein has explored and written about the natural and cultural history of Kachemak Bay since 1978 and recently began exploring her environment through an emerging interest – poetry. In 1994 she created Kachemak Country Publications and illustrated her nonfiction books with her photographs. Books still in print include Archaeology of Kachemak Bay, Alaska; Kachemak Bay Communities, Their Histories, Their Mysteries; Index to The Ethnography of the Tanaina (Cornelius Osgood wrote the ethnography, Janet the Index) and two period pieces, murder mysteries by the arctic anthropologist Frederica de Laguna: Fog on the Mountain and The Arrow Points to Murder. Michael Kleven is a production sound mixer and filmmaker based in Seattle, Washington. He produces videos and documentaries content through his company Heartstone Studios. His freelance services company is called Kleven Creative. Born in the Pacific Northwest, Kleven has always grappled with the relationship between the land and its people. As rapid growth transforms the region, he looks for aspects that remain constant. The tug and pull of these opposing forces is reflected in his photography. Cirque editor, Sandra Kleven celebrates, with founder and partner in crime, Michael Burwell, 14 issues of Cirque. A poet and essayist, Kleven has published work in AQR, Oklahoma Review, Topic, Praxilla, Stoneboat, f-zine and the UAP anthology, Cold Flashes. Her poems were twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Kleven’s writing has won notice in the UAA Creative Writing and F’Air Words contests. In 2015, she was named to the Northshore Schools, Wall of Honor. Kleven’s most recent book is Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing (VP&D Publishing House). Idaho native Grove Koger is the author of When the Going Was Good: A Guide to the 99 Best Narratives of Travel, Exploration, and Adventure and Associate Editor of Deus Loci: The Lawrence Durrell Journal. He writes regularly for Laguna Beach Art Patron Magazine and has published fiction in Skive, Phantasmacore, Lacuna, Two Words For, Danse Macabre, and Eternal Haunted Summer. Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State, an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans. and the author of I’m Not Supposed To Be Here And Neither Are You out now from Unknown Press. His story collection The Dark Sunshine debuted from Connotation Press in 2014. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com Mercedes Lawry has published poetry in such journals as Poetry, Nimrod, Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, Natural Bridge, and others. Thrice-nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she’s published two chapbooks, most recently Happy Darkness. She’s also published short fiction, essays, stories, and poems for children. She lives in Seattle.
Jennifer Kemnitz is an herbalist-poet who lives and writes in Portland. Her work has most recently appeared in Rain, the Kerf, Medical Literary Messenger, and We’Moon, and has been anthologized by Poetry on the Lake, The Poetry Box, and VoiceCatcher. Jennifer’s poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and translated into German. She is Assistant Managing Editor for VoiceCatcher.
David M. Laws grew up in Montana, and moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington in 1967. He has worked as a housepainter, firefighter, truck driver, logger, janitor, bookkeeper, file clerk, school bus driver, teacher, jeweler, fry cook, warehouseman, carpet salesman, cost accountant, and many other jobs. He currently repairs musical instruments from his shop in Bellingham, Washington, where he lives with his wife of thirty-five years, Judith, and his glorious little girl terrier, Princess Possum Blossom the Awesome. His first book of poetry is titled Natural History.
Margo Klass is a mixed media artist whose work includes sculptural box constructions and artist books. She shows her work widely in Alaska and
Eric le Fatte: I was educated at MIT and Northeastern University in biology and English and worked as the Returns King at Eastern Mountain
152 Sports, but currently teach, hike, and write in the Portland, Oregon area. I have 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. Richard Little is a retired attorney and government lobbyist who’s lived in the Pacific Northwest for over thirty-five years. His work has been published in the Santa Fe Writers Project, the Seattle Times, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He has also published a collection of short stories, Postcards from the Road. Other work of his can be found at “The Write Stuff,” http://pepys2000.blogspot.com. He is currently working on a novel. Nancy Lord, a former Alaska Writer Laureate (2008-10), is the author of several books of fiction and nonfiction. Most recently she edited the anthology Made of Salmon: Alaska Stories from the Salmon Project. She teaches creative writing in the University of Alaska Anchorage’s MFA program and science writing in the on-line Johns Hopkins graduate science writing program. She lives in Homer, Alaska. Jerry Dale McDonnell is a writer, actor, retired bush teacher and bear viewing and wilderness guide. His creative work, ranging from fiction to nonfiction, to plays, journalism and poetry, has been published over the years in many publications, some not easy to find like South Dakota Review, Over the Transom, MungBeing, Dead Snakes, Cirque (okay not hard to find) & others. Download the free E-Book: Alaska Sampler,2015 from runningfoxbooks.com for his short story, “Winter Too Short, Too Loud.” Much of his published work can be found on his blog: alaskareflections. blogspot.com (He hasn’t created a web site; doesn’t know how.). David McElroy lives in Anchorage, Alaska and works as a professional pilot in the Arctic. He has been published in national journals and has a previous book of poems called Making It Simple. Finishing Line Press is coming out this fall with his new book Mark Making. He is an award winner of grants from the National Council on the Arts and the State of Alaska Council on the Arts and Humanities. He and his wife photographer Edith Barrowclough and son Brandon travel extensively. Ron McFarland teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Idaho. His recent books include a study of regional memoir, The Rockies in First Person (2008), Appropriating Hemingway: Using Him as a Fictional Character (2015), and a biography, Edward J. Steptoe and the Indian Wars (2016). Pecan Grove Press published Ron’s fourth full-length book of poems, Subtle Thieves, in early 2012. Chapin House Books published his memoir of growing up in Florida, Confessions of a Night Librarian and Other Embarrassments, in 2005. Current projects include a small book of his essays and poems on angling, title to be decided. DC McKenzie: Long a spoken word artist of some acclaim, both in Alaska and the lower 48, DC McKenzie recently began submitting his work and quickly won notice in F Magazine’s, F’Air Words competition. He won the gold, his first year out, with “Throw Your Heart at Gaza.” A year later, he won silver, so to speak, with, “Light of No Moon.” Not only that, though somewhat new to the quest for publication, DC has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Kim Melton writes and homesteads from a tiny cabin nestled at the toe of Lorne Mountain, south of Whitehorse, Yukon. An avid naturalist, she uses the written word to continue her explorations of the wild outdoors beyond the immersive experience. She writes a regular column on foraging and dabbles in a variety of other vocations including those of wildlife biologist, organic farmer, and musician. A nine-time Pushcart Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, Karla Linn Merrifield has had 500+ poems appear in dozens of publications. She has eleven books to her credit, the newest of which is
CIRQUE 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 Kevin Miller lives in Tacoma, Washington. Pleasure Boat Studio published his third collection Home & Away: the Old Town Poems in 2009. Miller taught 39 years in the public schools of Washington State and in June made it an even 40 as a volunteer at a small school in Tacoma. An Alaskan of over three decades, Cynthia Monroe holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of British Columbia. Her poems have appeared in the Canadian publication, Tongue Tide, and in the Blue Mesa Review, and have won regional and national competitions. She divides her time between Alaska and New England. When not at computer or kitchen counter, she can be found chasing dogs and kids, preferably outdoors. Rebecca D. Morse is a retired educator with New England roots. She has lived and worked in Fairbanks, Alaska for over twenty-five years. Keith Moul’s poems and photos are published widely. Finishing Line Press released a chapbook called The Future as a Picnic Lunch in 2015. Aldrich Press will publish Naked Among Possibilities in 2016; Finishing Line Press has accepted Investment in Idolatry for 2016 release. He blogs at: http://poemsphotosmoul.blogspot.com/ Jana Ariane Nelson called Anchorage her home from 1948 through the mid-1980’s. Although she resides in Eugene, Oregon, her children and grandchildren still live in the Anchorage area. Jana is retired and now stays busy with website craftsmanship and administration, writing, adult dance classes, pets, gardening, crafts, family history, and genealogy. Because of her interest in family history, and wanting to share stories of everyday Alaskans, Jana created GrowingUpAnchorage.com, dedicated to preserving authentic stories of those who lived in Anchorage during those years. Since then thirty-five other writers have joined her in this endeavor, and over 230 stories have been posted. Sheila Nickerson, a former Alaska Poet Laureate, lives in Bellingham, Washington. Her most recent nonfiction title is Harnessed to the Pole: Sledge Dogs in Service to American Explorers of the Arctic, 1853-1909 (University of Alaska Press, 2014). Timothy Pilgrim, a Pacific Northwest poet, has over 300 published poems in dozens of journals such as Seattle Review, Cirque, and San Pedro River Review. He is the author of Mapping Water (Flying Trout Press) and co-author of Bellingham Poems. His work can be found at timothypilgrim.org Peter Porco, a native New Yorker, has lived in Alaska since 1981. He spent years as a reporter & editor for the Anchorage Daily News and is currently revising a play about crime novelist Dashiell Hammett as editor of a GI newspaper in the Aleutians in WW2. Another historical play, “The Lady Is a Trucker,” about an Alaska woman who drove for the Army in WW2, was performed in July 2015 in Anchorage. Vivian Faith Prescott is a fifth generation Alaskan, born and raised in Wrangell, Alaska. She currently lives in Wrangell at her family’s fishcamp. She has an MFA from the University of Alaska and a Ph.D. in Cross Cultural Studies from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Vivian is a recipient of a Rasmuson Fellowship, the Jason Wenger Award for Literary Excellence, and was a finalist for the Joy Harjo Poetry Award and the Colorado Prize for Poetry. Her poetry has previously appeared in the Hawaii Pacific Re-
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 view, Cirque, North American Review, and the Yellow Medicine Review, and among other fine journals. 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 when the batteries in her camera are charged, she enjoys capturing award winning photographs. Cassandra is currently at work on her second book-length project. Tanyo Ravicz received title to his Kodiak Island homestead, Cottonwood, in 2001. His book-length account of his life in Kodiak takes the form of chapters or themed entries like “Fox,” “Outhouse,” “Salmonberry,” and “Tidepool.” He lives in California now, but he often spends time at Cottonwood. Among his other books are Ring of Fire and Alaskans: Stories. Diane Ray is a native New Yorker/Baby Boomer/former modern dancer/ emerging writer/ clinical psychologist living on a hill overlooking a lake in Seattle. Her writing has appeared in: Cirque, The Women’s Studies Quarterly, Drash, Common Dreams, Parenting Insights, and The Seattle PI. Presently, she is at work on a first novel. When not doing any of the above, look for her in ballet and flamenco class. Ole! Tom Reed is a wilderness photographer and author who has worked as a surveyor in Alaska, a river guide in the Western US and Alaska, a sailor, carpenter, a martial artist, and currently provides hypnotherapy. Tom’s photographs are heavily influenced by his studies of traditional Japanese aesthetics. He is the author of the award-winning book, The Granite Avatars of Patagonia, as well as The Other Side, and Moved By A Mountain which was recently featured in Alaska Magazine. A condensed excerpt from his book Moved By A Mountain: Inspiration from an Alpine View in Alaska, appeared in Vol. 4 No. 2 of Cirque. You can see his work at www.tomreed.com Ellen K. Reichman is a former educator/counselor receiving advanced degrees from Rutgers University, Seattle University and City College. She has been a contributing columnist for the Bellevue Reporter newspaper, a featured essayist for the Seattle Times, and published in the Issaquah Press. She has also been published in the Belletrist, the literary journal for Bellevue College. Ellen writes poetry and creative nonfiction. She and her husband, although native New Yorkers, have lived in the greater Seattle area for41 years. They have two adult children, two grandsons, and two standard poodles. Sherry Rind is the author of four collections of poetry and editor of two books about Airedale terriers. She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Anhinga Press, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission, and King County Arts Commission. She teaches at Lake Washington Institute of Technology. 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. Ellie A. Rogers recently graduated from the MFA in Creative Writing program at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. She has served as the assistant managing editor of Bellingham Review, as a board member of the Whatcom Poetry Series, and as chair of the Boynton Poetry
153 Contest Committee. Her poems have appeared most recently in Camas, Redivider, and Winter Tangerine Review. Find more of her work at elliearogers.com Tim Sherry, a long time public school teacher and administrator, was born, raised, and has lived most of his life in Tacoma, Washington. His poems have appeared in Floating Bridge Review, Windfall: A Journal of Poetry of Place, Crab Creek Review, The Broad River Review, and Rattle, as well as others. He has been a Pushcart nominee, done an Artsmith Artist residency on Orcas Island, and has had work featured in local anthologies and cultural activities. His first full-length collection, One of Seven Billion, was published by MoonPath Press in 2014. Ann Sihler: I am a committed Oregonian. I grew up in Eugene and for the last 25 years have lived in Portland, where I work as a contract writer and editor. My essays and poetry have appeared in The American Journal of Nursing, Out of Line, Nervy Girl!, The Portland Alliance, and Assorted Nuts and Chews: Short Writings to Feed the Funny Bone. Lois Paige Simenson writes short stories and articles for newspapers and magazines. Her writing has appeared in Alaska Women Speak and the Canadian magazine, Memoirabilia, and online at The Hill Congress Blog, 49 Writers, Erma Bombeck Humor Writers.org, and WomenOnWriters. com. She has a story appearing this fall in Alaska Magazine’s October issue. Lois is also a playwright and her latest play, “Evacuation” was selected for a staged reading in the play lab at this year’s 2016 Last Frontier Theatre Conference. She is working on a fiction novel, Otter Rock, set in Alaska. Judith Skillman’s forthcoming book is Kafka’s Thistle, Cherry Grove. Her work has appeared in Cimarron Review, J Journal, Shenandoah, Poetry, Zyzzyva, FIELD, and elsewhere. Awards include an Eric Mathieu King Fund grant from the Academy of American Poets. Skillman has done collaborative translations from French, Portuguese, and Macedonian. Visit www.judithskillman.com Craig Smith started writing poetry after retiring after 32 years as a sportswriter for The Seattle Times. He grew up outside Seattle in Kenmore and was editor of the University of Washington Daily. After graduation, he served in the domestic Peace Corps (VISTA) in Delaware and rural West Virginia. He worked for The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Associated Press and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner before arriving at The Seattle Times. He is a previous contributor to Cirque and lives in Kirkland, WA, with his wife, Julie, and Buck, the fourth springer spaniel of their 45-year marriage. They have two adult sons. J.L. Smith lives in Eagle River, Alaska. Her work has appeared in Cirque, Dirty Chai, Yellow Chair Review, among others. See more of her work at her blog jlsmithwrites.com Frank Soos is the author of two collections of short stories, Early Yet and Unified Field Theory, and two collections of essays, Bamboo Fly Rod Suite, and most recently Unpleasantries—just out from the University of Washington Press. He is currently Alaska State Writer Laureate. Mistee St. Clair is a poet born and raised in Alaska, with a few years here and there in other parts of the Pacific Northwest. She’s been published by the Fairbanks Arts Association, the Alaska Dispatch News, Cirque, and more. She loves to get out of town, or out into the woods, and somehow spends an absurd amount of time in the kitchen. Currently she lives, writes, mothers and hikes her dog in beautiful, foggy Juneau. Cheryl Stadig lived in Alaska for over 17 years. She has been published in several issues of the Ketchikan Writers Guild’s Inside Passages and in the 7th Annual Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards Competition Collection.
154 David Stallings was born in the U.S. South, raised in Alaska and Colorado before settling in the Pacific Northwest. Once an academic geographer, he has long worked to promote public transportation in the Puget Sound area. His poems have appeared in several North American, U.K. and Swedish literary journals and anthologies, and in Resurrection Bay, a recent Evening Street Press chapbook. Cynthia Steele has an MA in Literature and a BA in Journalism. She has edited, written, and published poetry and short stories and taught and teaches composition. She has failed at a great many things, but taking photos and writing have proved most fruitful. She has begun the braver work of writing about increasingly difficult issues, and she has Teeka Ballas and Sandy Kleven to thank for that step and the forums of Cirque and F Zine. Her writing also appears in domestic violence journals locally and nationwide. Her familial bohemian upbringing with her mother and sister, and later her brother, through multiple states, nine grade schools, and 30 places before age 15 provide a rich backdrop for story. She lives in Anchorage with her daughter, her four dogs, and the love of her life who has won the role of husband, fishing partner, shooting buddy, best friend, and cheerleader for all of her inane as well as her brilliant ideas. She enjoys reading her work as well as the work of other poets regularly with Poetry Parlay. A 45 year Juneau resident, Richard Stokes retired after 23 years from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. He now works seasonally as a naturalist guide for Gastineau Guiding in Juneau. He writes often about nature which he loves and aging which he is doing. Born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, Sheary Clough Suiter lived in Alaska for 35 years before her recent transition to Colorado. Her encaustic fine art is represented in Anchorage, Alaska by Stephan Fine Art, in Camas, Washington 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 Ben Swimm lives in Palmer, AK, where he co-owns and operates a small vegetable farm. He has previously published poems in the journal Clapboard House, and will be attending the MFA program at Oregon State University beginning this September. David Takamura is a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle. He lives in the rain but is used to the deserts of New Mexico. Julie Tate-Libby is a writer and anthropology instructor for Wenatchee Valley College. She has done research on sacred mountains in the Himalayas and is currently working on a memoir/ethnography of her fieldwork in Nepal. This summer she will be teaching a class on Himalayan Culture and Ecology in Ladakh, India, as well as gardening and spending time with her daughters. 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, Alaska Geographic, and Cirque. He lives in Anchorage with his wife Susan. Taking photos forces him to stop and really see the world. Elizabeth L Thompson is a Performance Poetess, Songwriter and Photographer. In childhood, the Artist was gifted her first Minolta camera by her Father. She promptly assumed wandering their homestead in Salmon, Idaho, with finger on shutter, framing discoveries spanning from spiders to sunsets within its lens. Miss Thompson has also been passionately scribbling stanzas and songs on any nearby paper fragments since
CIRQUE a small girl. Her poetry has been published in F Magazine, Make-A-Scene, and Cirque. Alaska has been her beloved home now for 15 years. Elizabeth enjoys capturing the Muse of all subjects awaiting immortalization as Poem or Photograph. Benjamin Toche is a baffled man who can be seen wandering the streets of his current hometown and talking to birds. He received an MFA in creative fiction writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage and his work has appeared online in some places, in print others. Internet him for further details.. Joanne Townsend lived in Alaska 35 years-- writing, editing, publishing and promoting poetry and other forms of writing in the schools and in many community projects. She served as Alaska’s 8th Poet Laureate and taught part time at Alaska Pacific University and from 1985-1998 at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is the author of Balancing Act (Harpoon Press 1979); On a Bright Morning (Circumference Chapbooks, 1998); Losing Ethan: A Sequence of Grieving and Healing (2002); and Following the Trails (a 25 poem collection published as an internal chapbook in Minotaur 73, 2009). She lives in New Mexico, dreams often of Alaska. Marie Tozier is an Inupiaq poet from Nome, Alaska. She will graduate from UAA’s low residency MFA program in December 2016. Marie and husband share their home with seven (some at home and a few away at college) children and three huskies. She enjoys many hobbies and activities centered on family and the subsistence lifestyle. Marie’s poems, “I Woke Up,” and “In August” have been published in Yellow Medicine Review. “Approaching Winter” will appear in an upcoming issue of Alaska Quarterly Review. Pepper Trail’s poetry has appeared in Atlanta Review, Borderlands, Kyoto Journal, Spillway, Cascadia Review and elsewhere, and his environmental essays are a regular feature in High Country News. His recent collection, Cascade-Siskiyou: Poems was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award in poetry. He lives in Ashland, Oregon, where he works for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Stephen Delos Treacy was born in Huntington, WV. A retired Research Manager in marine mammalogy, he is a playwright (Dramatists Guild of America) and professional actor (Actors’ Equity Association, SAG-AFTRA). His play Winter Bird, A Gothic Fantasy in Three Acts, received a professional premiere (October 2015) at Eclectic Theater, Seattle (www.discoverybayplayers.com). He is the lead in “Useful. Valid. True” (2013), still screening nationwide at film festivals. His theatre reviews appear in the Port Townsend Leader (www.ptleader.com). His poems have appeared in Ice-Floe (International Poetry of the Far North), Rainshadow Poetry, and Cirque. Tim Troll is Executive Director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust www.bristolbaylandtrust.org. The land trust has helped conserve more than 21,000 acres of wilderness habitat within Alaska’s Wood-Tikchik State Park for the fish, wildlife and giant sea creatures that thrive within its boundaries. Karen A. Tschannen: Some of her words have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Ice-Floe, PNW Poets and Artists Calendar(s), North of Eden (Loose Affiliation), The Sky’s Own Light (Minotaur Press), Crosscurrents North, Cirque, and other publications. E D Turner is an Anchorage-based poet and electronic media broadside artist and is a graduate of the English/Creative Writing department at the University of North Texas. Catherin Violante lives simply, gives generously, loves without apology and has beaten all the odds. Every survivor has a suitcase full of memories, and a steamer-trunk full of stories, lies, and takes. She lives
Vo l . 7 N o . 2 in Beaverton, Oregon, mother of three grown children, caregiver to sixteen preschoolers, and six dogs. Her stories and poems have appeared in Writers’ Mill Journal Volume 2 and 4. Emily Wall is a poet and an Associate Professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, Alaska. She has been published in a wide variety of literary journals in the US and Canada. In 2013 a poem of hers was chosen in a statewide contest to be placed in Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan, Alaska. She has also had a poem chosen for the Best Indi Lit of New England 2013 – 2015. Her second book of poems, Liveaboard was published in 2012; her first book, Freshly Rooted came out in 2007. Emily lives with her family on a beach in Douglas, Alaska. Margo Waring arrived in Anchorage in 1969 with an ABD in English Literature. It took a few decades before she started to write and credits her Juneau writers’ group with giving her the discipline to see her poetry into publication. Since then, her work has appeared in Cirque, Tidal Echoes, Alaska Women Speak and other publications and venues. Lillo Way’s full-length manuscript, Wingbone, was a finalist for the 2015 Barry Spacks Poetry Prize from Gunpowder Press, and her chapbook manuscript, The Life We’ve Slept Here, was a semi-finalist in the 2015 Grayson Books Chapbook Competition. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poet Lore, Tampa Review, New Orleans Review, Madison Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Poetry East, Yemassee, Santa Fe Literary Review, and WomenArts Quarterly, among others. Five of her poems have been anthologized in the Good Works series of FutureCycle Press. She lives in Seattle, where she has had the good fortune to be mentored by David Wagoner.
155 served as a conscientious objector during World War II. Willis recently served as an artist-in- residence in North Cascades National Park. His latest collection of poetry is Say This Prayer into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013). Forthcoming this year from Stephen F. Austin State University Press is Getting to Gardisky Lake. pauljwillis.com Matt Witt is a writer and photographer in Talent, Oregon who has hiked and backpacked all over the Pacific Northwest. His blog and photography may be seen at MattWittPhotography.com. He has been Artist in Residence at Crater Lake National Park and at PLAYA at Summer Lake, Oregon. Paxson Woelber is a creative professional based out of Anchorage, Alaska. His creative work has been featured by National Geographic, the Atlantic, the Huffington Post Canada, USA Today, Google Street View [Grand Canyon project], the American Alpine Club, and more. He has been the designer and web designer for Cirque since its inaugural issue. paxsonwoelber.com Tonja Woelber lives in Anchorage, Alaska, and is a member of Ten Poets. The beauty and mysteries of the Far North inspire much of her poetry. She has published two books of illustrated poetry, Glacier Blue and Tundra Songs, available from the poet and online from Amazon. She thanks her son Paxson Woelber for his design and layout of her books, which include his exquisite photography. Kalani Woodlock is a Mom, photographer, snowboarder, and lover of life. She is currently living a life less ordinary with her two kids, two large dogs, and her imagination in a little town where the mountains meet the sea in Seward, Alaska.
Flannery White grew up as an expatriate in Beijing and The Hague She came to Seattle 10 years ago to attend the University of Washington and knows the city well enough by now to only get lost occasionally. Her poems have previously appeared in Potluck Mag and Foliate Oak. Toby Widdicombe specializes in the study and teaching of literature, utopianism, and film. He is the author of six books and numerous articles. He has been a poet for almost forty years. At Cambridge University, he was the editor of the poetry journal Nothing Fitz. He has had plays performed or read at the PWSCC’s Last Frontier Theatre Conference as well as in Perseverance Theatre’s One-Minute Plays series. He would like to do much more with poetry and drama, but that may have to wait until retirement. 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. John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Controlled Hallucinations (2013) and Disinheritance (forthcoming 2016). A five-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, and Vallum Award for Poetry, John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Midwest Quarterly, december, Third Coast, Baltimore Review, Nimrod International Journal, Hotel Amerika, Rio Grande Review, Inkwell, Cider Press Review, Bryant Literary Review, RHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Paul Willis grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, and is now a professor of English at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He hosts an annual reading in honor of William Stafford on the site of the Los Prietos Civilian Public Service Camp in Los Padres National Forest, where Stafford
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 Winter 2016 Issue.
Issue #15—Winter 2016 Submission Deadline: September 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:
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VOLUM E 7, N O. 2