CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 8 , N O. 1
CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 8 No. 1
Winter Solstice 2016
ÂŠ 2016 by Sandra Kleven & Mike Burwell, Editors
Cover Photo Credit: Jennifer Andrulli, Natureâ€™s Abundance Table of Contents Photo Credit: Jim Thiele, Fern 2 Design and composition: Paxson Woelber ISBN-13: 978-1541328228 ISBN-10: 1541328221 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
EDITING RESEARCH PROOFREADING --Will edit/proofread your poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and technical writing. --25 yearsâ€™ experience as (1) a technical editor and writer; (2) teaching college level creative workshops, and grammar, composition and literature courses; (3) perfecting online newspaper database searches, and (4) founder and co-editor of Cirque. --Generally, I charge $35.00 an hour with shorter jobs at $2.00 per page, but these rates change based on the amount and depth of edit needed. --Send a few sample pages, an estimate of document length, and your deadline, and I will quote you a rate based on the amount of editing I think you need: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Joseph L. Kashi Attorney at Law ~ Accidents and personal injury claims ~ Business sales and purchases ~ Commercial and business law ~ Real property litigation 907 – 398 – 0480 email@example.com www.kashilaw.com 205 East Beluga Soldotna, Alaska
Joseph Kashi’s photographic art can be seen in this issue of Cirque.
SUPPORT CIRQUE A literary journal for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest Cirque, an independent literary journal, is funded by sales and donations.
As an award to donors, photographer Joe Kashi is offering a group of photos first shown in Cirque. Donors of $200 or more may choose one of the three gallery mounted prints below, each about 20 x 30. Donors of other amounts can choose an 8 x 10 or 11 x 14 print.
Ebb Tide 2
A Lonely Afternoon, Veronicaâ€™s CafĂŠ, Kenai
This is our way of saying thanks.
Donate at PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org or send a check to Cirque - 3978 Defiance Street, Anchorage, AK 99504 Email us at email@example.com with questions about donations and submissions of art and writing. Thanks! Sandra Kleven and Michael Burwell, editors
From the Editors Let’s Pretend We’re Drowning Cirque issues find their own themes. We, who read and select the pieces, do so unaware of any accumulating pattern. We perceive it at the end. And even though submissions were received in September—long before the world ended—this issue feels like a response. This response might appear to be muted because we were not intentionally taking on the national catastrophe or the attendant implications but you will find it, and we expect it will touch you. All are welcome here, though I have found none among us, who raised an arm to salute the odd character who will take office soon. I hold back with practiced civility, not spewing outrage at those who made that dark salute. Cirque goes high. All writers and poets of our region are welcome here. Right wing rhetoric? Well, no. Deep exploration of the human experience of all calibers? Sure. So, dig in. Find the writing within that shapes a theme. No more hints. Just this from Nancy Woods’ cautionary poem on page 52: Let’s pretend we’re drowning Because there will be no tomorrow If we don’t save each other today. On the Road – During the last year, Cirque held readings in Anchorage, Juneau, Bothell, Bellingham, and Seward. In this way we build the literary community of our vast region, forging links and chains to bind us. This writer also visited Cirque’s founding editor in Taos – our second face-to-face meeting in five years. Michael Burwell managed Cirque alone for the first three years, and then called me in. It is great to visit what we call “Casa San Miguel” (It was more simply Casa Miguel until he found an establishment in town had already claimed that name and sainting Michael feels apt). This issue includes photos from the readings and a shot with Michael Burwell in his greenhouse. Support us – Cirque is an independent journal. We count on sales and donations to bring you these beautiful pages, these writers, these artists. Contributor, Joseph Kashi, has donated gallery mounted photographs as incentives to donors. For details, see the announcement on the facing page. Cirque has reached funding goals with ease because of support from our communities – Alaska to Oregon. Thank you.
- Sandra L Kleven ~ Michael Burwell Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Sandra Kleven and Mike Burwell, Editors Paxson Woelber, Designer Kellie Doherty, Assistant to the Editors Published twice yearly, Summer and Winter Anchorage, Alaska
Poetry Editor Cynthia Steele
Fiction Editors Monica Devine Jerry McDonnell
Drama Jerry McDonnell
Nonfiction Editors Gretchen Phelps Sherry Eckrich
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Volume 8 No. 1
POETRY Christianne Balk Yoke 11 Daffodils 11 Teeka Ballas Stalking Anna 12 Gabrielle Barnett Instead 12 Judith Barrington Not The Night Nurse 13 The Hypnotist At The Tillamook County Fair 14 Nicole Bauberger Untitled 15 Miriam Beck Watershed 15 James Bertolino Ravine 16 Marilyn Borell Fall Ritual 16 Karen Vande Bossche Visiting Ketchum 17 Catie Bursch Field Dressing 17 Sandra Cairns The Screen Porch 18 David Cheezem Poem Composed in the Sleep of my Mind While Binge-watching “The Killing” on Netflix 19 Kersten Christianson Goose & Grove 19 Linda Conroy A Quiet Life 20 Michael Daley Of Myself I Sing 20 To Climate Deniers in the United States Congress: May You See the Light From Behind Prison Bars 21 Steve Dieffenbacher Main Street Bar, Union, Oregon 21 Victoria Doerper My Husband’s Map 22 Wendy Erd A Form of Prayer 22 Gene Ervine Skydiving Lopez Island 23 Paul Fisher Affogato 23 Leslie Fried Afterwards, 24 Lance Garland Sourdough Lookout: Early September 24 Kenny Gerling Valor, Mystic, Instinct 25 Jo Going Vermillion 25 Rebecca Goodrich Cabrillo Beach Sunset 26 Claudia Ferriz Green The Best Bed I Have Ever Known 26 Alison Hedlund Raven 27 Robert Henriques What Goes Around 27 Laura Hill Haiku 28 Marybeth Holleman At a Poetry Reading 29 rock poem 30 Barbara Hood Winter Bear 31 Marion Avrilyn Jones Falling to Land 31 Len Kuntz Hand-painted 32 David M. Laws Higher Mathematics 32 Marie Lundstrom Schizophrenia 33 Ruth Marcus Folded Paper 33 Andrew Shattuck McBride Invitation 34 David McElroy At Pretrial Services LLC 34 DC McKenzie the paradox of Beauty and Truth No 9 —as applied to plaster and sparrows 35 Karla Linn Merrifield Nocturne 35 S. Hollis Mickey We built a house for each other that lasts 36 Amy Miller A Glimpse of Me and My Ex 37 Mark Muro high noon 37 Nahaan we owe it to them 38 Jackie Pels Wonderful 39 Timothy Pilgrim Family of widows 39 Peter Porco Still walking, with metal hip 40 Nick Ravo Jersey Dad 40 Diane Ray Drone 42 Matthew Campbell Roberts The West Fork 42 Brenda Roper Monsoons 43 Judith Skillman Unpainted Pictures 44 Joannie Stangeland Self-Portrait, Framed by Bridges, a Vaporetto 44 Carey Taylor Sicks Stadium, July 5th, 1970 45
Joanne Townsend The Past 45 Marie Tozier When a Harvest Moon Lights the Sky 46 Karen Tschannen black and white 46 stones 47 E D Turner The Silence 47 Lucy Tyrrell Trade Bead 48 Michael Wanzenried Down the South Fork 49 Margo Waring Storm 49 Sandra Wassilie Erasures 50 Kaylie Weable A Wave so Lazy it Streaks Across the Window as you Halfassedly Force it Out 50 Toby Widdicombe Heart Failure 51 Tonja Woelber Seward Mariner 52 Nancy Woods Let’s Pretend We’re Drowning 52
FICTION Martha Amore Geology 54 Richard Chiappone Sans Serif 58 David Hughes President Bush and the Rubik’s Cube 64 B. Hutton Noises 65 Mary Kunkel Street Dance 66 Judi Nyerges The Boat, the Goat, and the Oldest Living Virgin in America 70 Jocelyn Paine The Boat In The Trees 76 Vivian Faith Prescott Deadmans Island 81 E.R. Sebenick Grace is Gone 82 Matthew C. Taylor Buses, Bars, Bathroom Urinals 86
NONFICTION Jeff Fair Betrayal 93 Quinn Grover Kissing, Telling, and Invisible Trout: A Dilemma 99 Joan Nockels Wilson Prologue 104 Dawnell Smith A Short Walk Through High Culture 106 Kathleen Tarr Igor and the Holy Mountain 109 Richard Widerkehr Stranger in Your Town 113
P L AY Sandra Kleven
The Influence of Theodore Roethke: “I Teach Out of Love”
F E ATU R E S Frank Soos The Writer in Alaska/Alaska in the Writer 131 On the Road and In the Air: CIRQUE reads with friends. 136 Debbie Cutler A Tribute to Louise Freeman 138 Lucian Childs and Martha Amore Building A Community Anthology 140
INTERVIEW Carey Taylor Still Breathing: A Lifetime of Poetry - An Interview with Joan Swift
REVIEWS Review by Jerry McDonnell Review by Vivian Faith Prescott Review by Sean Ulman
Resurrection Bay, by David Stallings 147 Courtesans of Flounder Hill, by Ishmael Hope 149 A Review of Disinheritance by John Sibley Williams 151
C O N T R I B U T O R S 153 H O W T O S U B M I T T O C I R Q U E 162
Blue Door with Heart
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
POETRY Christianne Balk Two Poems
--for Dorothee Bruand Balk, 1956
Just like Momma held an apple through the gate last week to calm the buckjump filly, Grandma holds the egg balanced on her hand. She taps each end with a nail. I copy her. Warm on my lips, gently nicked, the shell gives up its brown-flecked self, light, viscous, cool on my tongue. I draw it in, savoring the salty-sweet, thick, raw yolk.
Good, no? I nod. This is how we took eggs in Chaumont during the war. I nod again, holding the barely broken globe’s now weightless heft carefully. This sustenance, not mine, not hers—a kind of hunger we hold between us close to Momma’s forsythia bush. The filly drank from the trough, pulling against gravity, taking in clear water swirled with mossy leaves.
The woman kneels down, eye to eye with us. She wedges the tip of her trowel in the dirt, pushes us aside, and yanks clumps of hawkweed, wild sheep sorrel, and dog rose from deep winter labyrinths. We collect in small crowds and sway. Her hands dumbfound—she chops soil, jimmies and wrenches tendrils from their beds, upends clinging roots, then casts them on the dry sidewalk. Pale, they wilt. Slowly we turn our heads away from her, rippling. Who might she pluck next? Everything is new—stalk, leaf, vein, blade—all sheathed in green, citron-sharp, edged with sweet black mulch.
I stare into your scribbled face commend your bravery, how you assumed the attentions of she whom only men claimed access to. Before your golden ring was tossed, your youth blended into her fluted notes. I mused only that my pen was daft and not that I’d no muse. A heart crumpled, a spirit beaten is what fed endless words to parchment. When the quill was dry I’d chance despair to wet the ink, lest I’d need to harken. My darling, I dare now ask of you Lend me she who strained you at night pulled you from sleep and dreams, rushed you to revelations and amative release. Sweet Akhmatova, your impugned deference toward her beguiling ways, intimates my fervid need to taste your morphine, the ink that ran through your veins. So loudly you resonate, influence, I click and hum and heat my voice, Release my cries to your twice-borrowed muse with hope she’ll respond with the eloquence lent you. Why are you so silent? Upon reflection I see, all along, burlap and satin woven looming, discreet, but persistent beside me she was there, unspoken Quietly inspiring not my pen it wrote of its own volition encouraging instead my voice to sing, a crescendo building to a silent wail. Breath and dust pervade, behold victims, my motionless heart. I’ve wrung her neck, sought pulse. My pen mocks, scolds, runs dry. She was never for me to use. She chokes and grins, haughtily Runs away with children And my last scrap of paper.
That time I was unable (a rare clear morning with heavy dew and an early frost patch) to seek them myself (just below ridge line where they reflect sky, once alpine leaf forsakes steady green for nuance and wild splash streaked primrose, vermilion, scarlet, plum) you brought me cerulean cups opened to harvest sun, long past the bright cusp in those last days of ripening heat, so welcome as pressure drops in the storm tropics, tracked to break water over this autumnal north. You picked two gentians brimming blue above tree line, cradled them down cobalt slopes shoulder high in monkshood, scented knee deep with valerian, plunging on through fern tangle and false hellebore slick, undaunted by alder sprawl and that salmonberry snarl of a game-trail, lupine dried to pods all snap, pop, scatter, even fireweed subdued in the hue of the bloomed out spike, before cotton peeks from the split womb, in that berry time, seed time, time of tall grasses; that time of puffballs, amanita and the small red biting fly: that time of finally home, stuck on bed rest, my milk coming in, in that season of her birth.
Judith Barrington Two Poems
Not The Night Nurse 1 The rounded rock of his withers juts in front of the saddle, his hips, knobs that move awkwardly, sling me side to side at the trot. Under my seat bones his back sways low, ribs staring through clouds of dappled grey. He’s been coughing, they’ve told me, a dry gasping kind of cough that leaves a trace of grassy froth on his lips— lips that so carefully kiss the sugar cube on my palm and maneuver it in past old, yellowed teeth. Mellow heat embraces us as we trot up the narrow path—me and the older girl on another riding-school pony— Carnival under me wheezing, blackberries twined in the barbed wire fence. Beyond, golfers drive from the third tee their clock clock lulling the whole county into love of Sunday. None of us—not one anywhere from the windmills on top to the cowsheds below believe it will ever end. A swish. A voice nearby says nice drive. 2 I am tilting forward, Carnival’s knees slowly buckling while I think oh damn he’s trying to roll. I speak sternly: get up and tap him on the hindquarters with my leather cane. But he’s down, praying, beginning to fall to the left.
I see it with my own eyes and pretend not to know what it is. This is the first time. I am eight. Stay with him, I say, taking the other pony’s reins and vaulting up. I’ll get help I say. Must get away I think. Horseshoes ring out on the street trotting rat-a-tat and then we break into the urgent three beats of a gallop. I remember the poems: Paul Revere, Aix to Ghent; I worry the pony I’m riding now will slip, will fall, will hurt himself. Iron shoes broadcast the rhythm of danger as I try not to think of the danger up there by the golf course, by the berries, by the grey horse stretched flat in the grass, no longer wheezing. I saw it in his eyes. With my own eyes. 3 At the stables I hide in Carnival’s stall, deep in the smell of straw and dung, deep in the dark pools of his eyes, and I hope the shame is gone, the pain is gone, the awful presence gone. I will tell no-one and no-one will ask even though I wish someone would speak of the grey horse or the figure among the vines—the figure I saw again, years later, in the hospital night, dark-cloaked, parting the medical air to take up its position at the foot of my bed.
I leap clear. I am angry. What the hell do you think you’re doing? But he’s flat now, head still up, nose buried in long grass as I walk around to face him. His head drops. His eyes fill with shame. I am afraid. Something is lurking in the shadows. Lisbon Orange Horse
The Hypnotist At The Tillamook County Fair I thought he would strut in a velvet cloak, pace back and forth across the rickety stage whirling around with a flash of scarlet lining.
Concentrate, says the master, clasp your hands and off they go, counted down into sleep until they flop, each head on a neighbor’s shoulder,
I thought his voice would be deep and seductive— he’d only have to murmur the word relax and all of us sitting below on our painted benches
sprawled like rag dolls except for the kid with the hair who giggles, resists, until at last the hypnotist yanks him from his chair and sends him down
would drift into almost-sleep, our eyelids heavy, our hearts steady, while gusts of wind blowing our way from the 4-H horse barn
to join us, the wide awake, where we sit amazed licking vanilla Tillamook ice-cream cones. Your shoes can talk, he tells his sleepy group
ruffled our mesmerized hair with pungent breath and everything faded away—shrieking pigs, balloon-uddered cows, the baleful, bleating sheep.
and so they talk back, those good volunteers, earnestly bending to chat with their grubby Nikes or gesture and yell at shiny pink flip-flops.
But he turns out to be a slightly chubby man in a crumpled suit, mild-mannered, pasty-faced his voice in the mike unsure, a little squeaky.
Trick follows trick: we trust him, we laugh out loud— but then we begin to doubt. Maybe he pays them we mutter, no longer part of the gullible crowd.
The volunteers sit high on the stage on two rows of folding chairs, some awkward, some waving and smirking, pleased with themselves:
for it makes us uneasy to see this man in his baggy suit, bending to his will these innocent sleepers—if that’s what they are...
a kid with green hair, a woman with breasts spilling from a flowered and ruffled bodice, a man with a cowboy hat, defiantly cool.
sceptical now, we growl it smacks of danger— of crowds being swayed by tyrants throughout history…
Love In A Mist Jack Broom
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
We call it a family tree but it seems like a river to me: tributaries paired, water flowing downhill through the past until the level floats the current generation. On a page the flow stops there, but bodies flood on.
I’m just a kite tangled in the power line in front of your house, a kind of accidental spectacle dancing on the wind, festive as a used car lot. The ribbons of my tail caress your vehicle: tailgate, cap, and cab, and back again. Although it’s just parked there I still wonder if possibly, for the right price your truck might be for sale.
Saturdays when I was a kid we took our boat out on the river. Once at low water on the Chatanika we clambered out to wade in our tennis shoes so the boat could drift lighter over the rocks. Dad tipped up the outboard and joined us walking the streambed his hand on the gunnels. We sloshed along until the water deepened, then my father steadied the boat as we climbed back in. In the waters of family, brothers and sisters wade side by side. Inheritance laid out exactly the same tree-like cricks and confluences backed up behind. It looks tidy on paper but some of those tributaries were muddy sloughs or filled with down timber to snag you. What we gain from each source is never shown But we feel it pour down, random as our fates. Over time their children’s children decide which branch is followed on the page. Last night I dreamed I stood by rapids grieving that my father had washed away. In my dream I knew the river was his fate the way he lived but I dragged my eyes downstream to watch for him in the whitewater. Then I noticed on the gravel bar my people stood quiet around me brother and my sisters my unsentimental mother my sons and husband who never knew my father all full of sorrow. Their presence gave me comfort in the river’s tumult. In the dream I missed my father and was certain I would not see him again yet I kept watch for what flowed through him, adrift and tethered in the current’s rush. My children stood near me in the river spray eyes scanning the river like my father always did scouting the channel for the best line through.
Were my mind a ravine, there would be a creek testing itself against the boulders and fallen limbs. Were my eyes amber jewels, they would gather moonlight to help scholars of the dark do their challenging work. And imagine my mouth being a purse, which would gather rather than spew. My heart, then, would be a clenched fist whose fingers would loosen, its palm warm to the touch of you.
Walking the Dog
Columnar Basalt, Latourell Falls, OR
This is work we know, pulling plywood across sawhorses, stapling down newspapers, transforming garage into butcher shop. From the shed, my husband shoulders a massive hindquarter the color of eggplant, throws it down with a thud, begins to cut. Once the jelly roll pan is piled high with roasts bright as garnets, I start to wrap, first in Saran, then freezer paper. When the stainless steel bowl overflows with trimmings, I move to the kitchen, feed the hungry grinder, watch strands emerge like thick yarn. This moose will nourish in chili, pot roast, spaghetti sauce, in months when early supper is eaten long past dark.
Deborah Chava Singer
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Karen Vande Bossche
Visiting Ketchum Typewriter on loan. I don’t get to see it or manuscript pages. That’s fine. He was a misogynist son-of-a-bitch anyway. His grave north end of town. Empty whiskey bottles. Coins. Just what he needs wherever. In the end the problem. Knees couldn’t hold up, eyes cloudy, fingers burnt nerve damaged. A twisted Icarus. Falling years after his father.
The heat of the body rises above the calculated cut. From the dark, under ribs organs are now naked and out of work. Fat clings to meat attached to bone. The systems of life are revealed with each slice of my drugstore knife. Ball joints appear like pearls. Sinew, the marionettes of bones. Fascia crackles releasing red, raw muscles from their peers. Warm smooth and purple, as large as a small watermelon, I hold the heart with two hands. Trimming and pulling, grunting and bagging eventually our work reveals a glistening ivory cage of ribs. Spicy marsh grass cleans my blade, my hands. The boat is loaded and ready, yet something in me wants to stay with what is left.
The Screen Porch
Finger Bowl Reflection: Grey Towers National Historic Site
Because it is no city
Because fireflies are its light, and the glow of small childrenâ€™s bodies, born and unborn Because a little death conceived in knives of mountain thunder and forks of lightning is exuberantly launched from its narrow lounge beds Because I died in the thunder of another world and lightning lit the path and I returned with lightning Because the smell of moss sustains all life meanwhile, and so by default we become forest yogis, needing only this screen room Because the names for shades of green are more numerous than all the pine needles and all of them apply Because rejuvenous is not a word but it came to me as a word I would embrace as I lay on the narrow lounge bed of conception contemplation and annihilation Because the logs of the posts and beams were culled from the choir of green sounding trees that pulses around us Because the smell is of damp rock as only granite rock of the Shield before and after a thunderstorm can smell Because the mica in the rock is kin to lightning Because my name means piles of piles of rocks assembled with intention Because no mosquito can outshine the legacy of dragonflies and dragonflies dream in the glow of small childrenâ€™s bodies Because in the stream that flows by are the shouts of voyageurs gone and the songs of my feet that know every rock in the stream Because the old pillows smell of frogs and my conversations with frogs are ongoing.
19 David Cheezem
Poem Composed in the Sleep of my Mind While Binge-watching “The Killing” on Netflix Someone invented the knife. Someone invented the knife’s serrations. They found the body in the lot, unstitched. Not breathing. A sound of horns but filming so calm: From the old house window: a soft breeze. I think I recognized the name from the talk show. I wouldn’t have been listening to the talk show, Such a dull entertainment, a voice like a rusty knife, But driving long, I exhausted the pulsing breeze, Was barely awake, hypnotized by yellow serrations Dividing the lanes, lulling me, calming… I needed rage to stitch the unstitchable. Some people cut. Some people tear. Some people stitch. I drove, startled. They spoke the name on the talk-show. You must be calm. Try to be calm. The name was like parsley cut with a steak knife. They’re doing something sciency with serrations. In police parlance, it’s not a body if it breathes. Perhaps the vic was pepper in the breeze. The rain, the breeze, then more rain, then stitches. As voluntary as a sneeze, the serrated Air, a knife, the sieve-mind of a talk-show. Someone invented the serrations, amplified the knife. Does no one know to speak balm? The rain, the breeze, the cut, then calm. At dawn the view from the window: no breeze. They were smart enough not to leave the knife. Only a clever imagination could stitch A credible story on the talk-show-Something about the science of serrations. A scalpel relies on wit; this knife, serrations. Arrogance precedes the calm. Arrogance precedes the angry talk-show, An awful stink, a pungent breeze. A rage that never calms the itch. No one ever finds the knife. A knife stitched with serrations A talk show’s wheezes concealing calm.
Foam at Low Tide
Goose & Grove Oh, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, your whistling goat head tickles the edges of my slumber. It severs my line to childhood as I listen to its shrill and shaky song, mingling with the sweetness of your words. In the bucolic orchard: silver lake, doe and fawn, crow, finch, swan. Apple tree, orange; the satyr guards the south gate where dark madness dwells. The midwinter madwoman feeds empty cobs of corn from a stone bridge to a stream empty of trout, or koi, or salmon.
A Quiet Life
Last night I sat on the step and saw the outcome of the work of water, sun and soil, the ripe fruit on three plants. I might have plucked their redness, almost did, but thought again, let’s leave them ’til the salad bowl is on the counter, the spinach rinsed, the carrots sliced, then harvest with the last of nourishment rushing from their mother stem. Early this morning movement draws my eye outside. A deer stands beyond the makeshift fence, facing away. Her head turns as she hears me, chin raised cheekily. She’s bold. At her feet the largest of my green tomatoes lies, discarded. The plants are stripped, only unripe fruits remain. I see the red juice on her lips. Her spotted knock-kneed fawn stands nearby, learning.
Early Spring #1
Michael Daley Two Poems
Of Myself I Sing
Another poet murdered for apostasy, Mohammad Bashir al-Aani along with his son Elyas, this time by ISIS, and Dareen Tatour imprisoned for a resistance poem and a post— “You look like a terrorist,” they said when they broke into her home in the dark of night, and, long after death, Mahmoud Darwish, who wrote in youth against the Occupier, disparaged now by Defense Minister of Occupation long since the line in his I.D. poem raged, “the flesh of the occupier will be my sustenance.” Who in my country will sing so dangerously?
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
To Climate Deniers in the United States Congress: May You See the Light From Behind Prison Bars Hard to swallow, this future probable course of nations
How the world at large such as that is Issues forth day after day unrecognizable
Sheary Clough Suiter
dwindling branches with songbirds attached go stark
Main Street Bar, Union, Oregon
Raving lunatics Farm out the cold sea metaphysical in its pure face
All we wanted to do was dance. The music played, the floor lay open, the bartender looking away, but they stare, Stetsoned and already drunk.
as if all there ever was after we picked the lock was After the Fall, a burning Arctic summer
We know we don’t belong, these aren’t the men I spoke with in daylight encircled by wheat, holding soil in their hands, kneeling into its smells. Here, we are all iconic, looking as we wait with the air we carry within us, believing it can transform anything that has the patience for growth. I am wearing the black suit I was married in, my wife the empire-waist dress I most loved, its slim silk hems and lace already rusty with wear. For an hour, the ceiling fan strokes our silence and the dry valley outside closes in. When we rise up and walk out the door, all we remember is that distance. Weird Window
My Husband’s Map I see South America swelling On my husband’s right thigh, A ragged continent in mottled ebony With a wide swath etched in red And scratched across Brazil. Like some reluctant Columbus Or Vasco de Gama, He’s pushed off for a journey Into the unknown. He’s already discovered His own volcano, a fiery lavaSpewing crater situated On the ball of his right foot. And now his chronometer Is on the blink, and the sky Is cloudy most of the time, So he’s navigating blind. His body is our new map We finger like braille, Hoping to come upon currents That keep us on course, That keep us from falling Off the edge of the world.
Petrified Wood Designs
A Form of Prayer
Under a shimmer of birch a pattern of moose bones on a low hill signal winter claimed all but the signature of her passing.
She holds her unborn still in the white ark of her pelvis, curl of spring moss on tiny scapulae. Nagoon-berries embrace her twins in a green upwelling, a hymn. Let me surrender with this same grace to a process as inevitable as snow covering starvation or berries ripening against bone. Mystery Man
Skydiving Lopez Island Long ago, on Lopez Island I slept out on a warm, dry evening on a park picnic table.
From my rest I peered into a pool surrounded by a ring of fir trees full of the clear sky with all its stars. I was there to see my totem carver friend who was teaching nearby the park at a local camp. That night it felt like I could pike off the table to drift past the firs up into the sky It would be a long drop I could float past the trees and everything until the stars closed over my feet The next morning my friend showed me his new canoe which floated so lightly on the cove’s small swells.
Sheary Clough Suiter
Glacier meets volcano in the war between day and night. No summer breeze or winter tease, this shot’s a jolt of fire and ice, a vortex quick to drown itself, then sink into sleep again, Yin and Yang making love in a bowl, mountain and river flowing as one. When you let its secret touch your tongue, you never eat alone.
Freshly carved and painted it floated there in the morning light, barely bobbing proud and delicate. It is a wonder that Raven hadn’t stolen that boat to paddle it skyward following me farther into my dream. Snow, Ice, Water
I remember your wish to “drop my ashes over Puget Sound and make sure Hugo’s the pilot” Hugo hasn’t flown in years wears flip flops, shades and speaks a very sexy franglais I pay for his license, the day arrives the airport is deserted does it close for last rites? and where is the audience of ex-wives and lovers, mother, brother, kids, step-kids bar buddies and fellow poets? there is only me and one troubled son, after a desperate run down the tarmac, and a thundering lift-off we are swallowed into azure haze the pint-sized plane flipping about like a tormented beach ball, but you, your ash body calm in sleep, nestle gently against my side in paper packets scented with rose petals, I slide open the tiny window and with a beating of wings in rush ancient worlds of mourning widows hair flying upward feet pointing down women of a singular beauty eyes of shell and lapiz strong hands in poses of devotion they call me Habibi lead me down teeming streets to the pyre where birds fly up and tell me to shake the ash beat my breast and wish you well as you fade into a circle of light the collective dead, Hugo lights a cigarette I don’t have a speech only mutter “thank-you,” I’m imagining your new home on the sea floor in the bellies of wolf fish along with the sea urchins, cockles and green crabs.
Crab, Senora, Mexico
Sourdough Lookout: Early September
Snyder’s pagoda greets us with the wink of Zen fog, wraps us in spiral whorls of mist, Arms of clouds thoughtful enough to leave views of Ross Lake, of Hozomeen. Snyder’s mentors, Zen masters, speak wisdom through the wisp. “The mountains are your mind.” –Snyder The clouds are your memory. The land is your body. Treat it as you wish to be treated.
Valor, Mystic, Instinct We point him towards the inlet, past the museum garden and Town Square Park. “It went that way,” I stammer, not adding that that’s hearsay I overheard from a roving band of pot-fumed kids on longboards. He nods to me, sprinting off through a gap in traffic. He’s no more than 14, pimples on his face and purple sneakers exploding off his feet. His absence smells of sweat. It mixes with the air woven with woodsmoke at 11pm. “I saw rare ones on the Coastal Trail,” I would like to add. But I don’t. Perhaps he will catch that Hitmonlee then come back aglow with transgenerational thanks to say I clearly understand this world and the varied wonders in it. But much like a wild Raichu, I’ll never see him again. I walk a few more steps and my phone vibrates. “One of my eggs is hatching,” I say to no one in particular. Mary, smiling but still silent, leans her shoulder into my chest. She looks from my face down to the screen and together, beneath a summer sun that will not set, we watch this thing come into life.
Vermilion Elephant and dragon in mortal combat,
matched equally in strength and wisdom. Their dying blood fused burning sulfur and slippery quicksilver to a red so brilliant it painted statues of gods and emperors, the Pompeian baths of Titus and Pliny, Herculaneum walls and fine spun togas, the lips of women seduced by death.
Needle in Space
Deborah Chava Singer
Claudia Ferriz Green Rebecca Goodrich
Cabrillo Beach Sunset from the city to San Pedro we drove with our thoughts following us like the leaves that clattered at our heels on the windy street, walking down to the shore. and here we are— the clouds layered step by step advance and retreat
The Best Bed I Have Ever Known A honey-colored, rough-hewn timber bed. The substantial kind you find in the specialty boutiques with willow handmade chairs and embroidered, clever pillows. Bed and Breakfasts buy these frontier beds—and that is what I’d wanted, for years.
I met a man, my new best friend. He had a spare room with his grandmother’s bed. The bed was dark and 1930’s style. “Moon rising” headboard and spindle corner posts. We shared joyful evenings at his hilltop house, watching films ‘til late, discussing every thing... I finally asked if I could spend the night, to keep from driving all the way home. “Of course!” he said and opened up the guest room with his grandmother’s dark wood thirty’s bed. I hung my hat upon the spindle bedpost, even though it was not at all rough-hewn.
arranged across the edge of tide the surfers dressed like seals wait to meet the waves some are lifted high some still wait. and oh the sky is pink and blue in sections and then gray and then black, but with a glow that keeps the heart and eyes carried high and soaring throughout the night.
A year and a half went by before the bed enveloped us both, grandly... humbly... protectively. So many sweet hours were spent shipwrecked on each other’s shores, our hearts and skin woven to hold a love’s new water source.
Carkeek Park Sunset
Love’s best intentions have blessed this little bed. It is not substantial nor rough-hewn, but its moon keeps rising behind us, and the posts bespeak a higher throne, and it is, quite simply, the best bed I have ever known.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
What Goes Around Another daughter; another daughter had grown and lived an ocean away from father, erstwhile, almost, yet: also he left her.
When fathers come around the house she hears their boots that knock about the twigs make father dolls when mother locks her out. Where do they go, these late fathers adrift in trains or Airstream Trailers? they come, they go, they come to feed the daughter’s daughter. Billow her up with the evening winds, that sound the length from there to then, the midnight cork, the morning coin’s reverberation. Future
(form: luc bat)
Perched atop cornices power lines and tall lattices, he caws overhead; through our awe we note his loud guffaws at us a blackguard, mischievous a bold opportunist, trickster his advice, remember... ravens linger in pairs, on guard for danger or hazard or a random reward to seize Raven Walks On
spring wire swallows swirl with a swarm
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Marybeth Holleman Two Poems
At a Poetry Reading I sit in the crowded auditorium listening to the old man read poems he wrote 30 years ago. In his face lifted to the light his eyes like large pools of memory shine a kind of fire I have not seen in a very long time.
When I am eighty years old, will I be able to stand with such power arcing like lightning bolts around my body? Will I contain words that have meaning beyond their first spoken breath? As I, along with hundreds of others, sigh at the poemâ€™s last line, his eyes hold the light a moment longer and thatâ€™s when I see: we could be a stand of pine trees in shadow, blades of grass on a dewy meadow, hatch of mayflies over a slow-moving stream, and he would still stand that way speak that way his eyes would still blaze that way.
awed by the patterns, i say “ and you say
i’d like to be here with a geologist
one was here once, an old guy who said,
wow, this is some
rock. and i’m thinking
that is the last
word i’d use to describe it.
ugly, he meant
tortured, he knew the processes that led to these
starburst scrolling fractures
white scribbles across gray rock
orange shimmering splashes undercut
by green he knew these colorpatterns evidenced a long mutilation
of bedrock granite. but for me,
sitting on the headland, it’s the epitomy
of beauty, draws my gaze again and
again, the lines are messages scrawled by
the Earth is
speaking to me in a language
I do not yet understand.
The tracks press deep in heavy snow on familiar trails of the hillside as sun grows weaker on the horizon and ice fills the creeks and ponds. Neighbors are asking: what keeps him? From his winter sleep, his respite? But you understand the delight of winter woods, the pink light of sunset on Near Point, the snowy boughs that sweep near your window, the chickadees. You too feel the pull of quiet mountains, hold tight to the stillness, to the beauty. And when a gentle light of morning parts the arms of your embrace, and lifts you softly beyond what we can see, you too settle in peaceful shadows, in snowy berms and branches, keeping faithful watch, like the bear that lingers, when winter comes too soon. Girdwood Forest Bear
Marion Avrilyn Jones
Falling to Land
This is the day I let you go, the day the weight of you pushes my hands toward empty. As we stand at the top of the stairs, I release you, wait for the scrambled thud of you as you bottom out. Instead, after everything, I am the one who falls, while you stay standing, the wide-eyed innocent, after all. There is more than one way to get out, I think, as the landing hands me my ticket.
Sheary Clough Suiter
Someone left an infant on our lawn Near the rose bushes my wife thought Would make this shack look less tacky Now the child eyes me unafraid Though I must look like a redwood to it Gurgle and coo, spittle spraying lips It tries to tell me something Its name or how it got here perhaps My wife doesn’t think this is funny at all “First you’re talking to yourself and now this?” I clip off a few stems, find a vase in the house My wife is nervous, so I tell her “Geez! I was only kidding.” Outside the next day the child’s still there I know it’s all in my head but I give her a name anyway The same one we’d chosen for our girl Letters hand-painted on the wall In an dusty room upstairs Where no one ever goes
Dischevelment in Lime
David M. Laws
First it was addition: I spent a lot of years feeling like the smallest part of a sum that was my family, although I was more like a remainder, something left over after a mathematical process was finished. Once I divided myself from them, I began adding. First, a van and enough stuff to fill it, then a house, ditto. A wife, and then began a new operation: multiplication. A daughter, simultaneously plus and times. We added everything we could afford. Then she split off, subtraction, or, more aptly, division, given the differences of opinion which took years to resolve to the point where we could once more stand to be close to each other: numbers which might not add up but coexist.
And now it’s subtraction, preparing my own exit, disposing of seventy years of stuff: boxes of photos, books, papers, mostly junk. Loved ones and friends suddenly gone. I thought they were constants. Who knew subtraction would be the hardest of all?
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Along the river, a steep narrow path winds through willows and ornamental hedge. You can hear the whisper of one prophet chanting in thick luxuriant shade deep and bright, luminous forested green – feathered friends include an elegant crane. Line of Sight
Vivian Faith Prescott
Schizophrenia Studies found a clear prefrontal connection where normal pruning goes awry, a wrong gene turned on.
Parrots, peacocks, the presence of one crane keeps seekers climbing, ascending the path – keeps them humble, disguising eyes of green. Inexperienced travelers brush the thick hedge. Sweat beaded brows find no comfort in shade. Om mani padme, words of the prophet comfort their pain, but whispering prophet stands one-legged like the pink feathered crane. He grins and bows, invites seekers to shade, waves a finger as if traveling a path, laughing aloud, his joy tickles the hedge – rainbows of red, orange, yellow, blue and green. Magnificent day for tea on the green. Seekers determined to meet the prophet, little do they know it’s better to hedge on the grace of a lean pink feathered crane. Seekers feet ache from the rough pebbled path. The river below now appears as shade –
It ran amok in a pair of sisters, pruning two artistic lives— letting paint dry in tubes, silencing songs.
Deep midnight blue, sparkling ripples of shade. Seekers imagine food: red, orange and green. Their feet in pain no longer feel the path as intention weakens. Eyes on prophet hallucinate a pink and purple crane. Willows die along ornamental hedge, once waist high, now a translucent veiled hedge opens wide – starlight overtakes the shade, the guru, a once one-legged pink crane transforms as if ill, his face pale green. His humanness reveals a false prophet. Seekers sigh, descend the steep narrow path.
When following prophet, prepare for shade. Narrow path may reveal thorny hedge, pockets of green and origami crane.
At Pretrial Services LLC
the kid with an armful of tattoos, a doo rag on his head and bright red boots hyperventilates into a plastic sack. Other young men with ankle bracelets, drink Rock Star filling the tank, nervous before giving a specimen. Sandy River Delta
Andrew Shattuck McBride
But case worker, Big Valerie, purple hair, glasses, fast draw pistol on her leg, is working the kid close. “What’s happening to me?” And he keens like a mustang new to hackamore and rope.
Padden Creek winds west through the southside like memory, gathers and sheds reflections of cloud-thoughts. How do we measure progress? In 2015, after over a hundred years underground, a mile-long stretch of creek was daylighted. Creek water flowed along reinvented creek bed.
She holds his hand, gentles him to the carpet. “Robert, look at me.” She kneels his fear to the floor.
Just west—where hearts and initials have been cut into the living wood of a solitary tree rising over the creek— I scattered my cat’s ashes into January’s cold creek water. Clouds of gray dissipated; sprinkles of white blessed the rocky bottom.
Today a moose might eat my tulips, and somewhere lions partition a zebra colt and for sure barrel bombs explode in Aleppo.
“Slow down, I’m here, stay with me,” big white lady with him there on the floor where the suffering curls.
But here for a while, power is kind, and the panic subsides in the young man with the doo rag and bright red boots.
In today’s soft afternoon sunlight-drizzle I watch several robins pick over lawn. I step into the green welcome of woods, call my cat’s name, know there will be no answer. Thoughtful, I wait for promise, for salmon to return. Padden Creek carries me toward the sunset sky. Padden Creek sighs in susurrus. In invitation.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Karla Linn Merrifield
Yes, some nights I have Turnagain bonfires in my spine again to stop the shivering in petty griefs. Yes, some nights I have Amazonian rivers in my veins again to warm against minor angers.
the paradox of Beauty and Truth No 9 —as applied to plaster and sparrows
Yes, some nights I have Orion’s stars stoking again this frozen heart back to brief beating life by his side. But some nights I have only absence as vast and as cold as Antarctica. I could not save the mad sailor from himself. in memoriam Robert “Beau” Cutts with a line from Joni Mitchell, “Come in from the Cold”
While renovating an attic I found the dusty remains of two broken sparrows.
They had flown down a vent and became trapped behind a wall. Sooty feathers and desiccated bones were all that remained. They lay, entwined still a skeletal hieroglyph, nestled on my work glove. -I have saved their skulls as a talisman against loneliness; to remind myself of the secrets waiting in furry darkness behind clean, white walls.
Olive Oil on Stainless 2
S. Hollis Mickey
We built a house for each other that lasts
We built our house on the river in winter, knowing exactly where we were. We stacked log upon log upon log upon longing until we had a place to be. And we stayed. The nights stoked with sweaters and cans of tomatoes. Weeks later we are still inside eating with forks— following shifting light on our skin, slippage of time. The floor constantly creaks with our dreams as we almost sleep, still counting. Whole worlds right themselves in our teacups left on the wooden table we brought with us across the blanched landscape. Now in the other room, as our bodies turn into each other’s heat. The house covers over what we cannot remember on our fingers, but could maybe whisper into the snow or at least the window pane, clouded with breath. So very quiet here. We are floating against permanent resonance, but marking with red pinheads every possible pause. We could fall through into another time with the same shelter or same furniture, the same sheets, same sachets of dried flowers. The spelling out is exactly most likely with letters in cursive between lines, following the melting of this new, slow movement. Solid by the bed, we make floorplans that look like glaciers that remind us of when we were gathering ourselves alone— putting on responsible socks, paying bills. But, we can feel the difference simply along the transparent cracks at the corners of our eyes and doorways. Somehow, we are beyond knowing what is next, other than the faint intersection of the rooms we have built, and the lives we are forever making.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
high noon not sure exactly how to one sunday hang the shade
I stand on a chair in my house in my window my arms already heavy with a brand new cordless drill down at my side and two tiny screws pinched tightly between my lips afraid to inhale Shaman
A Glimpse of Me and My Ex in the video’s frame, heads cut off but I remember maybe his green shirt, definitely the soft unconscious waifness of my waist in those pale jeans. Shaky in the camera’s pan, he holds no part of me and I’m not even touching him behind me—well maybe just now I lean, arms crossed, back into him a little. If it was a secret still— who knows; the years have putrefied to angry primordial slush—then maybe there was just a brush, a signature of heat between his chest, my hair. I look like I wanted to settle back into that broad valley. What weather we were having.
I find myself squinting into the midday suburban sun then my neighbor (the guy actually across the street) pulls up and gets out of his car with a bright green garden hose coiled over his shoulder I see he sees me standing there up in my window and he sees I see him we’re pretending of course not to notice
we owe it to them
i want to recite a beautiful poem of wisdom and honor, tell you an old indian story to help you to grow, a metaphor about bears and trees but i dont have that privilege today, no theres different issues to tell you about right now, such as the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women that have just recently been counted, about how Indigenous people are the most likely group to be killed by the police, about the warriors in Cannonball North Dakota getting bit by attack dogs for peacefully protecting their water and lives of their future generations, about how our grandparents mouths were washed out with bar soap that was meant to rid native languages from our existence, i want to tell you that justice cannot exist on stolen native lands no matter how many courtrooms and prisons are built, i want to tell you that the us government is not a permanent structure, nor are the colonial borders that divide us, i need you to know that if all lives really matter then we better see you marching with us, take a bullet for us take a bullet for us take a bullet for us if youre really in support of the cause, i want to ask my people of color this, will peaceful marches remedy the deaths of so many of us? if you havent noticed, we the only ones aiming for peace only ones aiming for peace only ones aiming for peace
that a revolutionary suicide will echo, and i want to tell you that your silence is subjugation, subjugation subjugation your silence is allowing these things to keep happening, happening happening happening your excuses are allowing these things to keep happening, so let us stop acting like nothings happening, gather your courage everyone, and say something, better yet do something, go fight alongside the Standing Rock Sioux, or any other tribe that is fighting to maintain a sense of identity, fighting to maintain the life of the land and their relatives, go and show up, and resist, stop asking permission to do what is right, the time is now, lets not only fight in ND but let us unify and fight injustice on all our Indigenous lands, north, south, and central land masses, lets stop oil harvesting, oil transportation, and oil use, it is in our power to do so at this very moment, lets give our future generations something to be proud of when they remember our names, lets work together to provide them with clean water, with more truth and a sustainable spiritual environment to flourish in. we owe it to them. gunaĹ‚chĂŠesh
while at the same exact moment theyre aiming for our heads, theyre aiming for our lands, theyre aiming for our waters, theyre aiming for our futures, i want to tell you to retaliate, Medicine Crow
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
I always thought my Aunt Margit was wonderful though my Uncle Harold wouldn’t see it. She made magic. From nowhere – in that city kitchen with no garden in sight – she spun shelves and shelves of earthly treasure: applesauce and melon pickles and jars of soldier-straight green beans, and then turned those into big farm suppers just like back in North Dakota. But his mother’s pickles had more snap, Uncle Harold said. Or the roast was dry. (Never mind that he and Bishop Sheen had kept it waiting.) Then the pixie’s smile Aunt Margit wore other times faded, and supper became a meal and nothing more. She made other magic. I joined the family, homesick and shy, a temporary orphan in the city, and she brought out popcorn and lemonade, magical lemonade, and coaxed my oldest cousin, the musical one, into playing the piano she’d conjured up one year with money set aside. The lemonade washed away my shyness and Au Claire de la Lune did the rest, till Uncle Harold, angry, called for quiet. “I can’t think with all that racket.” And the smile, more Mona Lisa then than pixie, slipped just a little and not long after, the musical cousin ran away to the Marines. But that was 30 years ago. Aunt Margit lives alone now in the house. It’s so full of poison, and anger, there’s no room for Uncle Harold. He sleeps and takes his meals in his camper, in the driveway. His name is in the papers now and then. He’s state chairman of the Alzheimer’s Family Members Support Group. And everyone thinks he’s wonderful.
Barn Door 1
Family of widows All things relative, the earth turns, permits off-sprung rays to spangle, children of the ocean to retreat. By comparison, nouns, concrete, verbs, taut with action, lie squirming, babies of the pen. A few will live, stories deserving of an ending. Not about happiness, salvation, or even so much about love. More, narratives of stars, moon -- light heaviness, a family of widows asleep, weighted down by the sun.
Still walking, with metal hip
--for Julius Rockwell
The sun is down, some light remains — how uranium decays — fire and heat of passing, of half-lives dropping away. Ill, we live a half life, holding the end at bay—again, half at bay, and again we weaken to half the life we carried entering, and half again…Once more, half. Now he
knows the heart of fire, a hidden blaze of the self, creating itself in decline, fading slowly, while gifts emerge, warming those around him.
Dreaming of the Coast
I was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey, in 1953. This embarrasses me—it pains me that it will be in my Times obit, if the old gray lady doesn’t die before I do. I usually cough up New York, when asked where I’m from. (Except if Bruce is brought up. I never hung out with him, but his wife was a year behind me at Asbury Park High. Yeah, then I’m okay with Jersey.) My family – my very Catholic mom & dad & especially my grandparents, from Sicily – they don’t know my shame, this original sin of geography. (Not Asbury, necessarily, as it’s become, to my absolute amazement, some sort of Hipsterville-by-the-Sea, I hear. I mean Jersey in general. Jersey as a concept.) For them, Jersey was a tomato garden. A friggin’ Sinatra-in-Hoboken Eden. But, hey, they didn’t understand Bruce or his songs, either: the death rap, suicide trap. They wrapped themselves in cocoons of fam-i-ly that nurtured & protected them. Gave them pride, even. My Dad, especially, back then, was very respected. I once saw how respected when I was busted at 14 for pot. He quickly came to pick me up. I remember him peeking at me though the small square plastic window on the jail door. Then he vanished. When I looked out the window I saw him yelling at a cop in the hallway a few feet away. Another cop came out. And Dad grabbed him by the throat & yelled at him to let me out. They did. They also called him << Sir >> Yeah, my father was pissed at me. But not for drugs. For getting caught. <<You stupid fuck >> he said. <<You are so stupid. How could you be
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 so stupid? Be smart next time>> The cops handed him my pot as we left. Something didn’t seem right. But I didn’t care. Friends heard about Dad, too. I’d overhear shit like << His Dad’s always in the paper. >> They never said anything to my face, tho. They seemed afraid to. Even Bruce, who was hot shit, even then. He gave me a lot of space. Respect. Nods in the hall sometimes. Made me feel strong, too. A few years later, in college, in Tucson, I ran over a Mexican kid on a trip to Agua Prieta. I don’t remember what the fuck happened—I was bombed. I kept driving. No way I was sticking around. When I got back over the border I wasn’t sure what to do. I called home. << I killed him >> I told Dad. I didn’t know that for sure, but the kid’s head looked like a watermelon cracked open on the dirt road. <<Get the fuck back here>> he said. <<You didn’t do anything. Remember that >> I did what I was told. But I stopped in New Orleans first. Never stop in New Orleans. I met a waitress named Natalie. Soon she was snorting rails off my dick. I dropped out. We moved in. She was a great fuck. One problem. It cost $400 a week to feed her coke. She always called it << tootski >> too. Finally, I said << No more, bitch. Be smart. Or get the blow yourself>> So she did. She moved in with a dude from – guess where? – fucking el Mexico. Karmic, eh? A body builder, too. Big ass tattoos. Didn’t see that shit back then, either. He put her on some kind of experimental liquid pharmaceutical cocaine drip, and, like, she was gone. I didn’t care, personally, but she was a great fuck. A total sloppy whore. Up the ass. Ass 2 mouth. Mouth 2 ass. Ass 2 nose. Everything I could think of. I missed that. Soon I did want her back. Part-time, at least. I wanted to lease her, audit her, biopsy her, whatever. But Mr. Mexico said he was gonna kick my almostAnglo ass if he ever saw me again. He could have, too, even though he was about five-foot-six. Why are they so short? Anyway, I’ve never been a fighter. Never held a gun. Senior Shorty, the Mexican dude, tho, he looked like he was born with a chainsaw in his hand. (You saw Scarface, right?) So, I called my father in Jersey. <<Dad, can you just, you know, like, get rid of this guy for me>> Silence on the other end. I asked again. Nicely. Properly. Respectful-like. A son asking his father for a favor. I thought he might be touched. I also had a birthday coming up. I was 19. Instead, he ordered me home. <<C’mon, don’t you have a friend, Dad>> I said. <<Come home, now>>
he said. <<And do not stop until you are here. Or I’ll have someone bring you home! That’s an order>> I was home in three days. In my ‘69 Dodge Polaris. My father sat me down at the kitchen table. Out the window I could see the Tilt-a-Whirl on the boardwalk down the street. I could hear carnival music. Laughter. Screams. I thought about the first girl I ever kissed. With tongue. It was down there. On the boardwalk. I was 11. I remember tasting cotton candy on her lips. Dad started lecturing me about power. Its use. Its effectiveness. It’s limits. Ramifications. Legal issues. Techniques. Tools. Always carry battery cables. It was the first time we ever had a good father & son conversation. It gave me perspective. <<Never, ever, ever, kill someone over a bitch, unless you are married to her>> he told me. <<Not worth the hassles>> I understood. I’m glad we talked. It was a fuckin’ Ward Clever moment. To this day, I keep his words close to my heart. He’s still around, but he has Alzheimer’s. You know, I wished we had talked more when I was younger. Speaking of younger, my wife just asked me if all this really happened.
Windows and Brick
42 Diane Ray
In the black and white of it Dissolve all shadows of a doubt, The nine eleven alibi Spread like the ink of a squid. Obfuscation for hire, And who really cares? It’s the economy, stupid, Which occupies us. Whether you believe Thou shal’t kill or not, With judge, jury, free press, How often, nonetheless, Do we fry the innocent? But unbridled from any domestic Oversight, we bequeath free rein To the spy establishment And their contract cowboys On galloping screens who Decide who scrolls on In The Book of Life, Whom to knock off, remote, Bagging kin and just folk Dismissed as collaterals. In my name. In yours. Just as our drone Killed Warren Weinstein, Certainty soluble In the acid of hubris. Note: Warren Weinstein was an American aid worker taken hostage, then murdered by an American drone in Pakistan. The US had told his family they did not know where he was. His family had argued: Then you do not know where he is not, and so how are you going to prevent killing him with a drone?
Matthew Campbell Roberts
The West Fork Far off, another life calls when moon finds its way back to where you once lived.
Nobody knows the path you’ve chosen. Maybe someone once said, “You should’ve done it this way.” Here, you follow endless trails through scree fields and mountains— one drainage leading to another. There are creeks with no names and generations of trout never to see a human face. Dead-standing firs open wind’s door and reach for light beyond ridges. Look into clear currents, the silent stones, this world calling you home. Truth is where you stand. Hold onto this place, friend, you’ll need it again someday.
--September 6, 2014
They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and
Who misbehave but not without consequence Who call 911 but lose the connection Who put out the cigarette of regret Who slay the monster beneath the bed and stay to read the bedtime story Who wash away our sins and circumstance Who bury us with laughter
decay, all of it. They carried gravity. --Tim Oâ€™Brien
Who love the humble and the hardened
Who wash our sins away Who manifest our pockets with prosperity Who swindle the border patrol with sanctions Who saturate the ground in prayer Who wash away our fears, our hillsides, our homes Who sacrifice their fury on a tin roof Who beat upon the wings of daffodil Who dance in arroyos of death Who whisper in reflection
Whose cacophony commandeers the blind, the foolish and the caterpillar Who exchange gunfire with sand castles Who orchestrate the birth of rainbows Who tear out the pages of banned books to smear ink across the landscape Who carry the weight of war in rivers surging with blood diamonds Who wash away our sins Who return us to earth drop by muddy drop
Who marry without an exit plan Who quench the thirst for knowledge Who bring comfort to climate change Who fill our tubs for bathing Who lust for compensation by fire Who relinquish into the golden years of pitter patter Who live on the edge of extinction Who confide in the clouds of circumstance Who run marathons with murderers Who create a veil of waterfall
Who shape us into clay vessels to fill with compassion Who baptize us in deluge.
Who lead us away from evil but gather us in temptation Who push down tall trees and bury small children Who covet wide rivers and Range Rovers Who swallow arroyos and artifacts Storm, Lake County, Oregon
after Emil Nolde
Here he sits at a table in the kitchen, a vase of poppies set just so, and on his palette water mixed with tinctures he’s hidden in canisters, colors brought out against orders. Is a flower’s soul always innocent? Perhaps a bit of carmine, and stems of grenadine. These he renders on letter paper taken from the office upstairs. Verboten, the act of painting this degenerate modernism that spilled from his oils before the regime gave its orders. And he a former sympathizer. Maybe a flower becomes a soldier, the shoulders overbearing above slender legs walking all night in the snow. Does the tulip bleed into its neighbor, and, if a cloud comes to the window, might it blot out the sun almost completely? These shapes, a bouquet unfettered above turquoise, a garden fragrant with peonies and lilac blended such that there is no ground upon which to grow. Sometimes the sea threatens to inhale him, just as it has his work—verboten— the next wave coming on violet seas with its undertow, undiluted white set to drown his own brooding maze of moods from the once-upon-a-yellow-sky.
Self-Portrait, Framed by Bridges, a Vaporetto Because I grow mostly water, a taste for salt and hauled by tides, Venice opens a paradise, Eden glinting green in the current, stories under bridges,
echoes in crumbling walls where worn stairways kneel into brine and trash, the passing craft. The lagoon blooms, a sky. Silvered glass, a mirror. Breath, an engine. Red impatiens in a boat, wisteria draping a fence. Where color reigns, the sun rinses each slanting glance, prism or mist, the light’s palette fished by Titian—and now I am drowning.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Sicks Stadium, July 5th, 1970
The young ones arrive early walk to the white monolith push through turnstiles in fringed vests and beads enter the green field with serape blankets and weed.
We tell -- a hurt -- to cool it – --Emily Dickinson, #554
Shadows on White Wall
My father was home between hospital admissions. I was playing in the back yard with my friend, Ruthie. He called us up to the high porch, was sitting on an old day bed, Said he’d give a nickel to whoever could sing
Joplin arrives by helicopter her bottle of Southern Comfort already half empty on stage she belts out Me and Bobby McGee mouth wide open bracelets jingling.
God Bless America the best -- she won though I tried hard, Already knew at six I couldn’t carry a tune. On his next admission the hospital staff Took away his belts, anything thought dangerous.
Thirty minutes in—pissed the sound system isn’t right, she storms off the stage her final exit from Seattle while you are deep in a smoky kiss with a boy you just met and never notice she is gone.
He fashioned the window cord into a noose, Hung himself. My mother was six months pregnant. I was seven, my sister three and weak from rheumatic fever. We could never ask about him, his life--grownups frowned, changed The subject, would look upwards, mouth only that he’d gone to heaven. In my teens all my girlfriends took ballroom dancing lessons. I didn’t have the money, went with them to watch. The teacher’s name was Alice Belanger Daddario, Said she knew who I was, took me aside, confided she’d been My father’s girlfriend before he met my mom. She was Italian, He was Jewish -- his father threatened, put a stop to it. Alice gave me private lessons for fifty cents (we kept it a secret) Told me my father played the piano, the harmonica, had a jazz band-Before the accident with the huge lathe, before his head injury, He always said he’d take me fishing.
When a Harvest Moon Lights the Sky
Between the cabin and the ocean lies an overgrown field. In August, after a summer of sun—but not too much sun— And rain—but rain that’s not too cold—the field comes alive With secrets. Hidden under the tall grass, amongst the coltsfoot And odd Jacob’s ladder: tiny, red berries. They droop Their stalks. They are heavy with honey-juice. They bleed, Over-ripe and unnoticed. At night the voles come out, Not to steal the fruit, but to run and dig and breed, in the field.
Karen Tschannen Two Poems
black and white in the photo the father I do not remember sits by my mother on the seawall in the photo the sky above their heads is white and featureless the father I do not remember has a strong face and he smiles easily into the camera I think my father’s eyes look knowing and I read whole crayoned histories into his look my mother in white looks out past the camera in this picture she believes she is happy
the ocean behind them appears calm and unremarkable in tones of grey
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
in cuzco peru where the father I do not remember was baptized lone women kneel in a church that stands on the stones of the incas each stone beveled by a hammer made of riverstone each course etched for reference and cut to receive the next stones in a forgotten progression of stonework
E D Turner
After Sarah Ruhl
Words can mean so many things. Show me Your moves. I do not want to hear a sound. Your body. It can only mean one thing. We learn to say the things we do not mean. If we must speak, then feelings are the bound. Words can mean so many things. Show me Your being dance, with every branch, the tree That gave music: I slip my hand around Your body. It can only mean one thing. Not anything they thought we said, my dear. What comes as silence, may it leave no sound. Words can mean so many things. Show me: Were life silence then I should lay a sheet And watch in years the grass grow limp around Our bodies. It can only mean one thing. Taking Steam
Death means so little when steadily we Move toward waking. And weâ€™re still moving down Where words can mean so many things. Show me Your body. It can only mean one thing.
CIRQUE Lucy Tyrrell
Trade or gift, flyspeck orbs as ornament, cobalt chevrons stitched on buckskin. Perhaps the holding threads wore thin, frayed. Blue tumbled—lost for eons near the river’s sweep at sandstone cliffs. Then, mandibles marched grains out of the dark reaches, grain by grain, industriously retrieving the prodigal past. Like blue chalking cement, or tear of azure in a quilted gray sky, one bead now rests there basking on the mound—round, translucent blue, holy.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Down the South Fork
Yellowish-orange. Then orangish-yellow. You said neon harvest orange. From inside the tent. there was the smell of vanilla I thought. Slightly burnt butterscotch you said. Sun-warmed ponderosa pine trunks and branches. . Dust in the air the next morning. Dust covered the windshield. Alluvial soils from all the cuts where a tractor had scraped burnt trees onto the roadbed. You saw more in the river channel below. Ten minutes at a blind curve. Drivers negotiating whose right of way. .
Before the wind came the rain fell straight, each drop a tear. Then the wind came, distorted the tearsâ€™ plumb lines into horizontal streaks then into hard globes of ice, battering the bay, pounding on overturned pails. Before the wind came our house was snug; after the wind came, each blast distorts the window glass and we are afraid to look out.
Old behaviors appearing in new forms. Unbleached surfaces in contact with synthetic fibers. When we arrived home and wanted to nap, I showered first while you opened the curtains and window and called for the cat. Over the fan, I could hear him eating from his bowl. Digital Starry Night
I am called back once more to where I have lost and lost and lost and mother and father each breathed good-bye the house emptied of belonging the erosion of living pruned back and painted over but this time it is breaking down the stone markers of malamutes buried near the birches bones where roots once dug a howling held in the branches
Webs of Consciousness
A Wave so Lazy it Streaks Across the Window as you Halfassedly Force it Out
each name chiseled by hand the collapse of rain on earth
I drive in Washington the rain skids down the glass Windows. I look ahead but my thoughts are left. Right,
Side to side. They sure can be loud when the drops Die down. No matter – you’re Still on my mind. I drove away to save you this time. I’m done hurting you, you’re just Fine.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
I heard on email that you’d died: Of heart failure, my brother said. Figures. Loving never was your strength. And yet I do remember your good days: When you cared About others About the world About me About something more than self. You were boring, so boring, About your pleasures: About Cromwell About Charles the First About your hatred of your mother. We all are, I suppose. But it’s odd How the generations repeat As an endless procession: Of pain Of malice Of hurt Of simple thoughtlessness.
Best of Friends Jennifer Andrulli
And yet I do remember your better days: When bread and butter and golden syrup expressed affection; When you laughed at my hiding food I would not eat; When you called me “El Prudente” as a compliment (I think). If I have to look back (and I do have to look back) I will, And venture just this: that you never were quite right In the head. Your suicides were purest flamboyance Wrists seeping, head sopping, scissors drooping, mouth pleading For that shotgun to ease your way out of the world. Not a nice thing to ask of me. Not kind to ask of any son. Not generous at all. So, I’ll go to your funeral (if the food is good and the sun is shining), Kick over the dirt on your grave, And have done with you. You screwed me up, but that’s your right As mine is to curse you and plead too late—for forgiveness At acts done and undone At faults too many to begin a count At the unanticipated joy of being at peace without you At last. I remember no best days.
Let’s Pretend We’re Drowning Let’s pretend we’re drowning No time to wait For the actual event Bees Nest and Barn Wood
Seward Mariner He’s got a gray wool cap and Carhartt pants, scuffed up Xtra-tufs and rough, scarred hands. He has a sleepy saunter, a rolling gait, a sweat-stained T-shirt says “Alaska Made.”
Imagine our ship is sinking And it’s everyone For everyone else Drowning is just one of our options Perhaps a fire has spread to the attic Or a landslide has buried the town What threat we choose doesn’t matter A stranger will pull someone to safety The shy boy will shout for help Let’s pretend we’re drowning Because there will be no tomorrow If we don’t save each other today
It’s hard to get him talking, but then he just can’t stop, tells you he’s seen mermaids, swells, like mountaintops storms that toppled ancient trees polar bears in open seas clouds of kestrels, puffins, murres, nights green light came down to earth “It’s a crazy job,” he says, "can drive a man insane, the solitude, the way the fish are there, but not again. But when the sea and sky meld silver-blue and pale then open for the half-moon back of a wandering baleen whale I would not trade my fishing life for love or money, land or wife.”
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Fireweed Pam Butcher
FICTION Martha Amore
[Note: From the LGBTQ anthology Building Fires in the Snow. See essay “Building A Community Anthology” in this issue.] Geyserites. Black opal. Shale storm. Layers of rock covering the hot liquid core of the planet are more real to her than the ever-shifting human landscape. Once she had broken a bone. No, once a bone had been broken for her. Her stepfather in a storm and drunk, breaking her arm so that the white bone flashed for just a moment in the earth’s long flow of time. Bright white before blood and darkness overcame her. “My sense of time is all messed up,” Kris says soon after we meet. We are two women at a party full of bearded men, a sprawling Alaska affair with two bonfires, three kegs, and an edgy pack of dogs vying for salmon skin and dominance. My husband left hours ago, and now the cold of freeze-up has driven us into a cavernous garage. The cement floor is slick with beer, and the place smells of yeast and motor oil. A too-loud boy band has her coming in close, yelling her words. I like how she leans into me, her lips occasionally grazing my ear. “Normal people think in terms of hours, days, weeks. I think in terms of millions of years.” A sly smile spreads from her full lips to her dark lashes. Fine lines, three of them, stretch from the corners of her eyes, which, blue or green, I can’t decide. “Lisa,” she says, “do you know how old the earth is?” I squint across the crowded room as though the answer were written on the far wall. The only number that comes to mind is eleven thousand, which is not the age of our planet but the number of wolves in Alaska. I match her smile. “Older than me?” “What are you, thirty?” “And then some.” “The planet is a bit older than that.” As she speaks, she puts a hand to my hip. “Six billion years. Can you get your mind around that?” “No.” Her hand stays on me.
Was it the broken arm that saved her life? Finally, a visible wound. Her mother had no choice but to take action and leave her stepfather. No, I think she saved herself. The form of escape she chose, not drugs or selfloathing, but college. Geology. The first day her professor cast away the syllabus and hefted a cracked-in-half stone. A private universe of bright sherbet lacework lay hidden within the thick gray husk, and at the very center, a hollow the size of a child’s fist. “This is a geode,” her professor said, walking up and down the aisle with the cracked stone in his palms. He pointed to the blue crystal ring, “Quartz,” and to the spread of pink, “Dolomite.” Then, he smoothed his finger along the purple streaks of crystal and said, “Amethyst.” When he returned to the podium, she followed, taking the seat before him. “And this?” she asked, indicating the empty core. Her professor smiled. “Trapped air, perhaps? Or maybe the remains of a small animal burrow?” He looked at her and blinked, his shaggy, gray eyebrows matching both the great mane on his head and the hair sprouting from his nostrils. “Imagine with me, miss. Millions of years ago, some minute amount of life found its way into this rock, perhaps a bacteria or just a mere trickle of water? And time pressed on and on and on, species of dinosaurs emerging and dying out, the shifting of continents, the birth of countless animal species, including our own. And through it all, there is this rock.” He paused, regarded her over the tops of his bifocals, and for the first time in her life, she felt seen by somebody. “In Iceland,” he said, “they say the rocks are alive, that in fact, they have souls.” Years later, when she had completed her graduate thesis, he gifted her the geode, wrapped in red ribbon with a card reading, A souvenir from the Miocene. The musicians take a break. The bearded men stagger from the garage to the bonfires outside, but we remain huddled close, our voices dropping low. A charm is strung around her neck. I reach out for it, a small purple crystal, and my fingers rest against her warm skin. Up close, I see that the crystal is not a solid color, but many different shades, ranging from clear to lavender to nearly black. “Beautiful,” I say. “Amethyst.” We smile at one another. She takes a drink of beer and licks the foam from her lips. I wonder what it would
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 be like to kiss her? What harm is there, I think, in a kiss? We startle to the noise of the garage door. It opens, revealing the dark night outside. Wood smoke overpowers the scent of motor oil, and with the rush of cold she shifts her body against mine. I make out black figures around a blazing fire, but their voices carry away into the night. My eyes adjust, and in the moonlight there are the jagged white tips of the Chugach Range. How small we are at the base of such mountains. Then comes the sound of the garage door closing. Everything disappears. There is just the two of us, and we are private people. I understand that when she holds her arm to me, a broken wing, it is an offering of compromised privacy. I smooth my hand over the calcified ridge. Some wounds heal. Her skin a pale scar under my fingertips, I want to tell her that if she had been my child, I would have protected her. But what I say is, “My husband and I have two kids, a boy and a girl.” She nods once, then twice more. “I figured.” In the silence that follows, she opens the side door and peers out to the black night. “You got married young, didn’t you?” “I guess.” “That’s good,” she says, turning back to me. “Love is a good thing.” “It is.” I’m thinking about my children. I try to focus solely on my feelings for him, my husband alone, but what comes to mind is how the kids look when they laugh, Jay still missing his two front teeth, Stella’s bright eyes through her tangle of curls, and I know I can’t separate him from them. “Love is a good thing.” After a moment, I add, “I’m sorry.” “Why?” “I just am.” She searches for her coat in the pile of down and wool and fleece, mine falls to the floor. I don’t allow myself to think. One arm and then the next through the coat sleeves. When she walks out the door, so do I. Stark autumn cold hits us, goes right to the marrow. “It’s always like this before the snow comes,” I tell her as we walk to her car. “Freeze-up in Alaska is cruel.” Under our feet, the brown chaff of birch leaves. This year a big Chinook stripped trees to bones in a matter of hours, and then the cold stomped down on the yellow leaves, quickly grinding them to mash on the frozen ground. “Not the beautiful season you’re used to Outside,
Bottle Wall Sunset, Sonoran Desert, Mexico
huh?” I say. “Outside?” “What we Alaskans call everywhere else.” She smiles, shakes her head. “This is the Far North,” I say. “Winter drops down hard on us. Like a hoof.” “When do you think it’ll snow?” “Soon, I hope. It’s better when it does. Warmer. Brighter.” “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it here.” “It takes three winters.” I remember I said those same words to my husband when I met him all those years ago. My father had just died of cancer, and it was my first year at UAF. I remember the lost feeling I’d carried within me, like a small skiff in big waves. So long ago, it’s as though it happened to someone else, like I’m remember ing someone else’s life. Was that college freshman really me? Now a pulse of guilt beats through me. “If you make it three winters, you stay,” I say. “You’re Alaskan.” “Like you?” “I was born here. I had no choice.” She stands back on her heels and regards me. “What’s your deal?” “What do you mean?” She smiles, patient, and I see the scientist in her.
56 White lab coat hunching over a microscope. “I don’t know that I have a deal.” The scientist waits. I blow on my fingers. “I can always tell,” she says. “Tell what?” “About women. It’s like identifying a mineral. You don’t go by the color, you go by the fracture.” “What fracture? What are you talking about?” “I’m talking about you.” I stare back at her. “What do you mean?” “Suffering. That’s what I mean.” I pull my coat tight around my neck. “But everybody suffers.” She nods, smiles at her data. “And?” “And so what?” In graduate school, she was mentored by her professor, favored above all the other students. When they talked about rocks, it was as though the two of them were in love with the same woman. But where there might have been jealousy, there was only passion. He sent her daily emails, and when they stopped to chat in the university’s long echoing hallways, minutes ticked into hours. They were lost in events that occurred two billion years ago. Once, late at night, she stopped by the lab to collect a forgotten scarf. Her professor was standing at the rows of rock specimens, his hands on the counter, and she could tell by his caved-in expression that he was not looking outward, but inward to a different time. She meant to leave quickly, to not disturb him, but he turned and said, “My wife had a strange habit. Whenever faculty would come for dinner, she would polish the baseboards and banisters, all the wood in the whole house. Always, that was that day she chose. I hated the smell of Murphy’s Oil, and it would last throughout the dinner, overpowering whatever good smells were coming from the kitchen.” He laid a hand on the counter, tapped a finger. “I see now that she did it simply for something to do. She was nervous having the university crowd over. She never felt worthy of the conversation.” He laughed. “Rocks. Always about rocks.” Kris knew that his wife had been dead many years. “I’m sorry.” “And yet the parties were always her idea. I never would have thought of feeding people. She took care of me in that way, you know.” “You must have loved her a lot.” He smiled, turned back to the dusty rows. “I still
CIRQUE do. Be careful with your tenses, my dear.”
“I should go,” she says, a glance to her car. I take her hand in mine. It’s cold as concrete. Another memory sparks, though this one is close to the moment, no question it is my life. “You know, you remind me of a woman I loved. A long time ago.” “Did she love you back?” “No.” She smiles, tries to suppress it. “Okay, so I was fourteen. She was my math teacher. She never knew.” Now she’s laughing, and soon I am, too. “I’m sure she did,” Kris says. After a moment, she sobers and asks in a quiet voice, “Are you sorry the way things turned out?” I look down at the frost on my thick rubber boots. I’m thinking about my children, how I sometimes wake in the night just to watch them sleep. “No.” The features of her face are complex to me, a terrain of great depth and meaning. I want to remember her exactly as she is: eyes not blue but green in the moonlight, cheekbones sprinkled with last summer’s freckles, a wide mouth with full, chapped lips. I tell myself that what I feel is an impulse, that’s all. But when she takes a step toward her car, a wild ticking starts up in me. Not an impulse but an instinct, like the instinct to keep warm. Her hands are back in her pockets. “I should go.” She draws in a breath, and when she releases it into the cold still night, the steam remains a cloud just above her head. “There is no institution that I respect more than marriage. Marriage and family,” she says. “I’ve never experienced it, family I mean, but I’ve seen how it can be . . . in other people’s lives. There’s nothing more fundamental.” “That’s true.” “And I’m not an asshole.” “Neither am I.” The cold presses in on us, heaving up from the leafy chaff under our feet and also dropping down from the stark bones of trees overhead. I reach for her, a hug goodbye, but there is the ticking within me now, too strong a pull, and I won’t let go. Her kiss is surprising. She is searching me with a particular purpose in mind, anticipating my reaction to her every movement. She is well trained. She kisses me deeply, pressing the small of my back, her hands so precise, a scientist’s hands. I am discovered.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Her professor decided to take a trip to the Canadian Shield. He invited three students, but cared only that she went. On the plane, they drank vodka tonics and discussed different qualities of granite and gneiss, giddy with anticipation of setting foot on Precambrian rock. He told her that there was amethyst between the Proterozoic and Archean layers, and she told him that she would like nothing more than to touch her fingers to it, even just for a moment. His eyes flashed under their shaggy brows, and he laid his age-freckled hand lightly over hers. “Amethyst. My dear wife’s birthstone.” She fell quiet. He patted her knuckles and produced a baby blue handkerchief from between several pencils in his shirtfront pocket, wiped each wet eye and then his cracked lips. “And what can you tell me about amethyst?” She was used to these drills. “Silicon dioxide,” she said. “Sixsided prism ending in six-sided pyramid. Conchoidal fracture. Insoluble.” “Very good. But did you know that medieval soldiers wore it round their necks during battle?” He carefully folded the blue handkerchief and stowed it back between his pencils. “They believed the crystal would keep them safe in the cold world of war. Such was their faith in silicon dioxide.” And she understood that he was telling her something about love. In her bed, our bodies shine white with moonlight. All I think about is right now. This moment. Her skin is unbearably soft over the workings of hard muscle and bone, and her small breasts press against mine. Deep in her hair, the scent of chlorine. She wears nothing but the charm strung around her neck on a loop of leather. Amethyst. And I wonder which is more beautiful? The crystal or its home at the hollow of the base of her throat? She is more naked with her necklace than I am with nothing at all. At the Canadian Shield, her professor, donned in a white Panama hat, kid leather gloves, and brand new walking shoes, pulled his blue kerchief up over his mouth and nose. She told him he looked like a dapper terrorist, a description he rather liked. Soon the dust of the quartz pit stirred, and she had to hold her sleeve over her mouth. They descended through the millennia, the layers bold and easy to read. “Caldera,” her professor sang out, pulling his
57 kerchief from his face. “The Earth’s most private and ancient recesses heaved up by volcanic explosion.” He gave a grand stamp of his shellacked walking stick. After a moment, he added, “We’re tourists, but I’m sorry to say that we are not, in fact, time travelers. We can read the drama that took place here, but that is all. We missed the action by billions of years.” The other students grew restless, dust-choked and hungry. They shouldered their packs and climbed back to the present day. She and her professor stayed in the mine, no longer talking or taking samples or photographs, but simply remaining. I displace the crystal and press my thumb in the hollow of her throat. A perfect fit. I look at the bedside clock and laugh. “I’ve known you for exactly eleven hours and thirty-six minutes.” “It doesn’t matter how long.” Her words travel through my right hand. “True,” I say. “It’s just the beginning. The start.” Silence. “What’s wrong?” She lifts my wrist and taps the gold band around my ring finger. I fall back into her arms until morning. It’s still dark, and now I am crying. She refuses to negotiate. Frozen stiff, she’s become a fountain statue, a piece of garden art. I continue to lie against her only because I don’t know what else to do. I think, I’ll never say another word to you. Not even goodbye. That will be her punishment. I cast my gaze around her bedroom. The quarters of a bachelor: rented white walls, furnishings straight out of a box store display, a navy blue bath towel slung across the bathroom door. There is nothing in the room that shows a private side of her, or any side at all. But then my eyes take in the crusted lump on her dresser. In the moonlight, the crystalline shades of color and intricacy are undecipherable, and her souvenir from the Miocene looks like nothing more than a chunk of concrete. My urge to hurt her falls away. “In Iceland,” I say, “they believe rocks have souls.” She stirs. She presses her face against mine, and I can feel that she’s smiling. I want to say something more to her, a compliment maybe, words of how beautiful she looks in the icy flood of moonlight. Or perhaps I want to tell her that I love my family and that she’s torn my life apart. But I know that what she wants me to say is the one thing I can’t: You’ve had no effect on me at all.
58 My thoughts turn to leaving as the sky goes light. I peer out the window and study the empty yard. The grass is green with just a trace of frost. I crack the window by an inch, and the air feels wet and cool against my skin. Then I see the dark, low clouds moving in. “I know a little something about time, too. I can predict the future.” She looks at me with the solemnity of a child. “Snow is coming.” “How do you know?” I point to the gray mass plowing toward us. “And it’ll be warmer when it snows?” I kiss her, and she kisses me back in that way of hers, and though I know that she won’t last three years in Alaska or even three months, I release her and smile. Then I take her hand and hold it to the stream of air coming through the window.
There were several fonts my sister Donna loved and they were all sans serifs. She said more than once, “A letter should be able to stand by itself without a platform or fancy feet to prop it up.” This was back when we both lived in the little coastal town south of Anchorage and she was still running her sign painting business and I still had my name on the sign at Wyndham and Crosby. At that time Donna was married to my partner, Kevin Wyndham. Those were the gravy days for Big Oil in Alaska—crude prices still positively crude, and profits gushing. Kevin had pals in the industry and was about to run for the state legislature. With connections like that,
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 even my mediocre legal skills could not go unrewarded. We were wallowing in it. I spent my leisure time out on the bay sailing thirty-eight feet of fiberglass and teak, the Donna Ann, named for my sister, of course, because wives come and go. Both of mine did anyway. Kevin spent his free hours in his Cessna flying oil execs to remote streams to torment salmon and trout. As for Donna? Once she married Kevin she only dabbled in the sign business: banners for charity functions, things like that. And though she still dressed like the art school dropout she was, she’d succumbed to Kevin’s insistence that she adopt the sport of wealthy women everywhere, redecorating their house. So she hired Cindy Dietz. And that was the beginning of the end. When Donna found out about Kevin and Cindy, she hurled an antique clock through a huge leaded-glass door Cindy had ordered for them. She loaded Kevin’s Escalade with every designer object Cindy had brought into their home and drove down to the marina. The throw pillows and some of the framed lithos floated. None of the lamps did. Kevin laid it on me. “Marty, talk to your sister, for Christ’s sake. I’m announcing my candidacy in a week. I can’t have her out there acting like a brain case.” I assured him I’d say something, but managed to put that off. What was I supposed to say? He was my partner and she was family. Besides, she had a right to be pissed. Cindy Dietz was kryptonite for married men. Kevin persisted. “Listen, part of being a partner is covering your partner’s ass. They don’t teach that in online law schools?” I felt my shirt collar smoldering, but said nothing. Donna waged war. There was more flying art, more expensive things breaking. Kevin finally moved out of the house. Having Cindy Dietz’s condo by the marina to move into helped him decide to make that move. Half the men in this town would move out of their own homes if Cindy Dietz were holding her door open for them. Donna upped the ante, and sold all his custom made fly rods and tackle at a garage sale for prices that could put Wall-Mart out of business. I got the story from a furious Kevin the next day. “She’s insane!” he screamed across my desk. “If the Anchorage paper picks this up, my campaign will be born dead. You have to stop her.” “It’s not that easy,” I said, squirming. “Do it, Marty. This could hurt you too.” The threat drilled straight into my brain. Without
59 Kevin’s connections I’d be cobbling together appeals for meth heads and women-beaters up at the prison, just another small town lawyer making school teacher wages—without their benefits. “You and Donna,” I said. “You guys seemed so happy.” I was careful not to mention Cindy Dietz. “What happened?” “Don’t be naive. Sooner of later a guy has to move up a notch.” “Up,” I said, trying to figure how Cindy Dietz was an upward move from my sister. Cindy was ten years younger than Donna, true, and a little thinner, certainly flashier in her complexly knotted scarves. She had basket of red-blond hair that seemed to enter a room a couple seconds before the rest of her. But still, upward? My thoughts must have been obvious. “All right,” Kevin said. “Don’t personalize this. But if I make it to Juneau, I want a wife who looks like she belongs there!” I thought, He wants a woman who looks like she belongs in Juneau, Alaska? But Kevin was still talking. “Meanwhile, I need Donna to stop with the public theatrics. She’s gone nuts.” “Spare me the details,” I said, but got them anyway. It seems that Donna had wheedled her way into Cindy Dietz’s condo, peeled the eight-million-threadsper-square-inch sheets off Cindy’s bed and painted on them in huge letters—sans serifs, of course: KEVIN WYNDHAM SLEPT HERE. She stapled the queen-sized message to the railing of Cindy’s balcony overlooking the small boat harbor, delighting both the charter boat guys and the crabbers. “Do you have any idea how many fucking staples that lunatic used? I had to borrow a screwdriver from the maintenance man.” Kevin’s jowls quivered with indignation. “I’ll get an injunction, Marty. I’m serious. Something saying that she can’t live on the same planet with me.” His voice oozed the wounded righteousness he massaged juries with. “I don’t need this kind of grief.” What was I supposed to say to him? “Well then, don’t walk out on your wife in the middle of an election year, you dumb fuck?” What was I supposed to say to my sister? “Kevin’s success is very important to me. So, let him humiliate you any time he wants?” All I could manage was, “I’ll take care of it,” knowing I would say and do nothing until I absolutely had to. The restaurant incident the next day pretty much made that happen. Kevin and Cindy Dietz were deep into their miso
60 glazed sablefish when Donna strode in and stood behind Cindy’s chair and traded a few acrimonious words with Kevin over the top of Cindy’s hairdo. I pictured Kevin’s several chins gone crimson, eyes narrowed to slits and darting around the room at all the registered voters. Cindy sitting there, stiff as a frozen halibut, probably wondering if she was going to be the next thing my sister heaved into the bay. But Donna just said her piece, then turned and left the restaurant. It took a while before someone at a nearby table told the happy couple about the shabby rectangle of stained cardboard hanging on the back of Cindy’s chair. Donna, who’d won national awards for her sign work, had used a simple black marking pen to write in sloppy, desperate-looking letters: WILL FUCK FOR LUNCH. Cindy Dietz’s phone number was scrawled beneath that. When I heard about it, I went down to the marina, left my cell in the car and took my boat out. By the time I sneaked back to the dock around midnight— this was in July and light almost all night—there were several blistering messages awaiting me. Needless to say, I decided it was too late to call back. Though I expected fireworks the next morning, Kevin came into my office grinning, clearly pleased with himself for some reason that I sensed I was not going to like. “I’m bringing Cleveland Crandal in to represent me in the divorce.” His tone was defiant, almost a taunt. Not the way you talk to a partner, a friend. “No,” I croaked. I felt my pulse suddenly lag. Kevin beamed, waggled his eyebrows, nodded. “No.” This time it came out a whimper. “Kevin, please.” Cleveland Crandal did it all: criminal, civil, you name it. And the more outlandish the better. You wanted to sue the Pentagon? The State Department? How about a personal suit against God Himself because life was unfair? If you had the retainer, he was your man. Crandal was a legend. No, a monster. His enemies called him Grendel. He didn’t have any friends. I had opposed him in court once, lost decisively, and limped away with a facial tic that lasted three days. “Kevin,” I whispered. “You’re siccing Crandal on my sister? I didn’t know he even took divorce cases.” “Want’s me in his debt,” Kevin said. “Seems to think I’ve got a good shot at the State House. Who knows from there?” That was so Kevin. Already moving on to the next
CIRQUE good thing. It was time to talk to my sister. My sister had come to Alaska when my second wife divorced me. Donna said she didn’t want me to be “alone in the wilderness.” I’d introduced her to Kevin, who was also between wives at that time. Donna’s bohemian artistic temperament intrigued Kevin. Now, he was actually going to use the monster Grendel to destroy her? Never mind that it was Kevin’s infidelity at cause, and that Donna was blameless. Cleveland Crandal had no interest in trivialities like right or wrong. I went to Donna’s studio, a Timber Frame cabin on the edge of town. Thank God it was entirely in her name and separate from their house—which she was going to lose as sure as Grendel ate the limbs off grown men for breakfast. She was bent over a drafting table, working on a sign for Inlet Bait and Tackle. The sketchy outline of a salmon leaped across the top of the board. A grotesque lingcod rested at the bottom, toothy mouth agape, cheeks bulging. A child could see that it was Kevin Wyndham. “What do you think?” Donna asked. “Did I capture the essential bottom-feeder?” “It’s got to stop, Donna. He’s hired Cleveland Crandal.” “Who?” She got up from the drawing table and went to the little kitchen area. She poured two cups of tea. “Is herbal OK? I could whip up some kombucha if you’d rather?” She was wearing a ragg wool sweater over a peasant skirt over navy blue tights, Birkenstocks or clogs—some goddamn clunky thing—on her feet. Her cat, Mucha, a gray and white tom the size of a small hippo, mashed his head against her ankles. She handed me a cup and bent to pet him. I sipped the tea; it tasted like the underside of a very old log. “Donna, this guy will leave you in a ditch in your underwear.” “So, you’re going to represent me? Against your own partner?” she asked playfully. “I’m fucking serious. If you keep attacking him, Crandal will take everything. That’s what this guy does.” She studied me for a moment, giving me the uncanny feeling I was looking into the eyes of our mother—a woman who could untangle the truth from even the most complex knots of deceit. “You’re scared, Marty. You’re afraid to side with
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
me. You’re afraid of him.” “Don’t be ridiculous. I have nothing to worry about,” I lied. “You’re the one hanging signs on people.” “Yeah.” She stared dreamily into her cup. “I never knew what it was like to be this angry. It’s a rush, you know. Everybody should do it once or twice. I mean, just lose it and do the next thing that comes to mind. You should try it.” “Donna, being a lawyer means never doing anything spontaneous.” “God, it felt good though.” I groaned. She had no idea what she was in for. All right, what we both might be in for. “I have a thought,” I said. “How about All That Glitters Vivian Faith Prescott you take the Donna Ann out for a few days. Cool down. Unwind? Joannie Petka can run the boat with you. She’s been dying to take it out.” When I got to the office in the morning, I could I’d been dating Joannie for a couple months. She see Kevin and Cleveland Crandal in our meeting room and Donna got along great. Joannie was another artistic looming over a spread of papers on the table, plotting type: a potter. But she was a real sailor too, had skippered the destruction of my sister. I plastered a smile on my boats all the way from Seattle to Alaska. I’d trust her face, hoped the tic did not start up again, and walked in. with mine in a typhoon. I would have already proposed I offered my hand like I was thrilled to see my tormentor marriage to Joannie, except that she despised me for my once more. “Counselor!” oily client list. Crandal was maybe seventy-five, bald, scrawnier I could see that the idea appealed to Donna. and much shorter than I remembered him from our “Go ahead,” I said. “The galley is stocked. Stay out previous encounter. He had a tightly trimmed white a few days. I’ll smooth things over with Kevin and his pet mustache and a goatee pointy enough to impale an apple monster. You’ll come back with a whole new attitude.” on. He was wearing a dark blue suit and bowtie over a Donna’s smile faded. “You know, just this once, bright white shirt—one pocket lined with turdy-looking I thought you’d stick up for me,” she said. “I don’t know, cigars. He leaned unsteadily on a teak cane with an ivory maybe beat somebody up. That sort of thing.” She picked handle carved in the shape of an elephant head. He clearly the cat up and hugged it against her breast. “I’m your little did not remember me. sister, Marty.” “Marty Crosby,” I said, keeping my hand, and my Lawyers have plenty of opportunities to feel smile, aloft. shitty about themselves—they should teach a class on Trying to figure out where he knew me from, the that in law school—but this particular moment hit the top creature peered at me with eyes as cloudy as a glacier. of that list for me. And as cold. I gave him no help. I kept telling myself, he’s I looked at my sister there in her studio, litter lame, nearly blind, and probably deaf to boot. No threat. No box and cat food bowl underfoot, rampant houseplants threat. everywhere, teapot steaming, paint brushes jutting from “Donna’s brother,” Kevin said, helpfully. dumpy hand-thrown coffee mugs. She was completely Crandal’s face flashed menace. “We’ll have to at home. When Kevin and his monster lawyer took ask you to leave, in that case,” he said. “You understand.” everything else, Donna would be fine. I knew that. He pointed to the door with his cane, holding it laterally But would I? across my chest as if to bar me from approaching the “Just stay on the boat until things cool down,” I papers lying on the table. said and headed for the door. I looked at Kevin. Wasn’t I a partner in this two-
man firm? But Kevin just leaned over the tabletop, fingers splayed across the skin of whatever unfortunate reptile his briefcase was covered with, studying his nails. My blood pressure ratcheted up. My sinuses wanted to explode. I almost got it under control. Almost. Then Crandal gave me an unceremonious tap across the stomach with the side of the cane, like he was brushing aside a cobweb, a bit of lint. This was the man setting out to destroy my sister, all because her shitbird of a husband, my partner, could not keep his hands off Cindy Dietz. What if every married man fucked his interior decorator? What kind of a world would that be? I grabbed Crandal’s cane and yanked. He shot past me and hurtled into the credenza, crashing to the floor clutching a Cindy Dietz dried flower arrangement. I raised the cane and smashed it down on Kevin’s briefcase. Kevin barely got his fingers out of the way. The staff shattered and the ivory elephant head rocketed off into a corner of the room like a billiard ball. Crandal remained sitting on the floor holding
Leaning Toward Death
the vase between his legs, dried stems framing his face. Kevin crouched and put one arm around his shoulders. The two of them glared up at me through the eucalyptus leaves. “You’re as crazy as your sister!” Kevin hissed. “It’s genetic. You’re crazy, and you’re through. Do you understand me?” “Through,” Crandal piped in. “Write up the papers,” I said, and walked out. There was nothing immediate to do but wait for Kevin to draw up terms for the dissolution of our partnership. Donna was out on the boat, hopefully having a good time with Joannie. I decided to wait until she got back in to tell her I’d finally done the valiant thing— although in the process had also scuttled her chances for any kind of reasonable settlement from Kevin. Despite my obviously poor tactical legal skills, I wandered around town for an hour feeling like I’d just lost my virginity, and dying to tell someone. In a way, I guess, I was also checking out the landscape like someone newly arrived there. I would have to build my own business now, and it was going to be an uphill battle against the baleful influence of Kevin—especially if he made it into the State House. By the time I got down to the small boat harbor, heavy-bellied clouds sagged over the bay. A fine but steady rain slanted in on the sea breeze. But that didn’t dim the excitement. Apparently every fisherman in Anchorage had come to town for the annual derby. A line of cars towing boats snaked from the main road to the boat launch. In the jammed campground near the docks, bulky Winnebagos clustered, their rain awnings touching. A huge banner stretched between two light poles over the marina entrance: SALMON DERBY. Donna’s lettering. It was the final derby day, and the banner was streaked with a summer’s worth of gull and eagle shit. I must have driven past it for weeks and never noticed it. If I was going to really start living in this town, I was going to have to start really living in it. The rain fell harder on the gusting wind. I tucked into Karen’s Kafe, thinking that I’d better get familiar with Karen’s menu
Vivian Faith Prescott
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 because I wasn’t going to be able to afford The Boathouse prices much longer. Tables full, I took a seat at the counter and ordered a coffee. In spite of the ongoing invasion of city anglers, the clamoring crowd was mostly locals: deck hands and commercial fishermen, carpenters and heavy equipment operators, plus an assortment of hippier types. There were Carhartts and Peruvian sweaters, seed caps and tweedy Sherpa hats. Behind the aroma of coffee and bacon grease, traces of diesel and bait mixed with wet wool and patchouli. Thrust together like this, the mixed crowd oozed the tenuous conviviality of a multi-family yard sale. It dawned on me that, though this town was small, and I’d been here for a long time, I didn’t know the name of a single person in the place. Kevin and I had spent the last two years mostly representing Big Oil. In a fishing town. The endless battle between to the two industries was generating a lifetime of billable hours for us, but very few new friends. When I pointed out to Kevin that he was running for office in a district where he’d obviously sided with the guys in black hats, Kevin shrugged it off. “I don’t need these people to love me, Marty. I just need them to believe I can get them what they want. What everybody wants. Prosperity. That’s what we’re selling my friend.” Kevin was born to hold office. Next to me at the counter, a big guy in a heavy yellow rain coat scrolled through photos in his phone, admiring pics of himself, rifle in hand, standing over a dead black bear no bigger than a Labrador retriever. I felt the urge to say, “That’s nothing. I just beat the shit out of an alligator briefcase with an elephant cane.” I let that pass. A group of young local women filled the nearest booth, one nursing a tiny newborn and telling the others about the home birth experience. She was holding forth on the joys of baking and eating her placenta, “The only meat you can eat without killing anything.” I sipped my coffee, thinking that all of these ordinary people, as different from one another as imaginable, would one day need a lawyer. There would be wills to write, real estate changing hands, disputes to settle. There wouldn’t be any money to speak of, but it still buoyed me. I swiveled my stool to take in the rest of the room and saw Kevin Wyndham and Cleveland Crandal walk by in the fitful rain. They turned down the ramp to the small boat harbor, Grendel holding a black umbrella over his own head, Kevin alongside him, getting soaked. I threw some money on the counter and went out and
63 followed them, mixing into the raincoated crowd. Kevin’s role in the derby, it turned out, was to award the Ugliest Fish Prize. That was as close to irony as anybody got in a derby with a purse worth twenty thousand dollars. At the end of the day, all fishing would stop, and the biggest salmon would take a boatload of cash home. In the meantime, Kevin Wyndham, my soonto-be erstwhile partner and former brother-in-law, was facilitating the comic relief. But he was playing it straight, going for whatever free publicity he could scratch up. The ugliest fish was a three-pound bottomdweller called an Irish Lord—all head and pectoral fins. “Bucket-mouth,” a guy standing near me muttered when the hideous creature was hung on the scales. Kevin smiled at the crowd, and at the TV cameras from the Anchorage stations. He handed a shiny trophy to the angler who’d landed the Irish Lord, an attractive, over-groomed female tourist who looked like she’d had her hair done special for the derby. Her husband kept his GoPro trained on her. People in the crowd waved selfie-sticks. Kevin—clearly determined to give the moment as much gravitas as he could—turned the microphone toward the lucky woman. He shouted over the wind. “How does it feel?” His voice boomed through the sound system. She looked at him blankly. “You’ve just won the Glacier Inlet Ugliest Fish Prize!” Kevin smiled like a man running for office— which he was. And there I was, running for nothing, unemployed for the first time in my life, and standing in a downpour in a crowd of rubber-clad strangers who planned to spend the afternoon watching dead fish being weighed. I almost turned away. Then I saw the sails coursing across the wind-tossed bay, coming straight at us. The Donna Ann returning home. Painted on the canvas jib, in Donna’s beautiful lettering, were the words Kevin Wyndham Is A Dick. The crowd started to chuckle. Unaware that the Donna Ann was coming up behind him and into the frame of the TV cameras, Kevin leaned a little closer to the woman with the hideous fish. “So tell us,” he said. “Has the reality of it all set in yet?” I squeezed back through the now laughing crowd and headed down to meet my sister at the dock. I needed to talk to her again. If you’re going to hang out a shingle for a new business, you’re going to want the very best sign you can get.
President Bush and the Rubik’s Cube A Memoir
The magnificent Parliament building on the banks of the softly but rapidly flowing Danube River is the cornerstone of the lovely city of Budapest. On this pleasant evening in June of 1989, the building was lit by as many lights as could be placed. For a very special occasion. A crowd of black cars bearing Ambassadors and high government officials were guided into parking places in Parliament Square, replacing, at least for the moment, the spirits of the many who had stood in the square on special occasions since it’s construction 90 years earlier. Tonight’s guests trundled up the wide stairway, past the smartly dressed security people and past the functionaries standing quietly to the side. The Hungarians were making sure all was as it should be. There was a special event on this June 1989 evening.
It was the first visit ever to Budapest, to Hungary, by a President of the United States.
plaque on which strands of barbed wire, two vertically and two horizontally, had been placed on a piece of bright red felt cloth. The pieces of barbed wire had actually been taken from Hungary’s western border with Austria (and the free world). With the presentation, the Hungarians announced that the Iron Curtain no longer existed. It was an extraordinary historical moment, and marked a major turning point in the Cold War.
While it is true that Teddy Roosevelt, a notable world traveler, visited the country early in the century, he was not the President of the United States at the time of the visit. President Bush, George H. W. Bush, was very pleased at his role in this historic moment. And the Hungarians were even more than pleased at the strong approval from the leader of the democratic world. It was a tacit recognition that Hungary was no longer a satrapy of a power to the east. There were initial speeches by appropriate dignitaries, both Hungarian and American. The Hungarians then announced that they had a very special gift for the President of the United States, a gift to mark this extraordinary evening. They presented him with a wooden-framed
After this historic and momentous presentation, the guests, all very distinguished personae, were free to mingle. I was standing about fifteen feet from the President when I noticed a short Hungarian man whom I had met on two previous occasions: Ernő Rubik. Notable among contemporary Hungarians, Mr. Rubik, a mathematician, was distinguished by his invention of the Rubik’s Cube, a small square device, or cube, composed of six colors (one color per side), and sixteen small squares within each colored side. The trick is to twist the different
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 colored squares into positions so that each of the six sides is composed entirely of the same color. I edged over to the English-speaking Mr. Rubik, (re) introduced myself as from the Embassy, and hoped he was enjoying the evening. A moment later, I walked over to the President’s assistant, and asked if he thought President Bush would like to meet the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube. The aide immediately turned to the President, three feet away, and then quickly turned back to me with a firm “Yes.” I returned to Mr. Rubik, and with a guiding hand on his arm, brought him over to where President Bush was now standing. The President turned with a big smile on his face. He shook hands with Mr. Rubik, and then took Mr. Rubik’s arm, and with President Bush gently guiding Mr. Rubik, the two moved away from the President’s aide, and from me, to carry on what appeared to be a lively conversation. While I could see the nods and the smiles, the conversation was, unfortunately, out of earshot of the two functionaries. To this day, I wonder at the joy in the President’s face at meeting this man. Was it that at last he would have a chance to carry on a conversation in a relaxed manner without having to be concerned about the significance of every statement? Or was it that he might get the secret of how to manipulate the Rubik’s Cube in the quickest possible manner? Can the difficulty of solving the world’s problems and solving the Rubik’s Cube be cut from the same bolt of cloth?
Once upon a time, I lived in a small second story apartment in a medium sized American city. It doesn’t matter which city. All medium sized American cities are alike. Much the same as all small second story apartments are alike. I didn’t have a television set at the time. Across the street from my apartment was an office building with very large windows. In the mornings, I could see a reflection of my building, and the scenery behind my building, in the windows of the office building across the street. In this case the scenery was mountains, but in another medium sized American city, it might have been a river, perhaps, or a slum. It doesn’t matter. It was the only view of any consequence. There was a woman, a beautiful woman, tall and slender and long-legged and blonde. She used to live in the apartment directly above me. I would run into her on the stairwell from time to time. She didn’t have any interest in me. She had a very young boyfriend. Sometimes, at night, they would make noises. I hadn’t made noises like that in a very long time. Sometimes, I would listen. I didn’t have a television set at the time. Sometimes, after the noises, I would hear their footsteps. I could tell which footsteps were his and which were hers by the sounds they would make through my ceiling. I could tell where they were in the room by their footsteps. Sometimes, after the noises, her footsteps would go to the window. If my lights happened to be low, and if her lights were on, and if I happened to look out my window, I could see her reflection in the windows of the office building across the street, standing quietly and looking out into the night. Often, after the noises, she would look out into the night, wearing next to nothing. Or nothing. She was a beautiful woman, in a tall, slender, long-legged, blonde sort of a way. Sometimes, the woman’s very young boyfriend would come up from behind her and stand, holding her, and look out into the night with her. Sometimes, his hands would move, very gently, across different parts of her body. And they would leave the window.
And the noises would begin again. I could see all of this reflected in the windows of the office building across the street from my small second story apartment, in a medium sized American city. I could hear all of this through my ceiling. Sometimes, I used to think of the noises I would make with the beautiful woman, if, for instance, she would have an argument with her very young boyfriend, and he would go away. Sometimes, I used to think about how my hands would move, very gently, across different parts of her body. But I never heard the beautiful woman arguing with her very young boyfriend. And he never went away. They just kept on making noises. Until, one day, they both went away. Maybe to another medium sized American city. Maybe to Europe. It doesn’t matter. After they went away, a skinny old white-haired alcoholic man moved into the apartment above me, and I bought a small black and white television set for fifteen dollars from a friend of mine. --Kyoto – 8/93
A row of sawhorses blocked entry to the town’s main street and a big red and yellow bandwagon was rolled in. It was Street Dance night. The Peters Trio set up and started out with “The Beer Barrel Polka” because it was what the tourists expected and did a segue into “Just Because,” another crowd favorite. Laverne Peters sang and played the accordion while her thirtysomething sons — Albert on the trumpet and Tiny on the snare drum — accompanied her husky solo. The local Croatian families had come in from the county farms and soon were out in the street — the old women with babushkas on their heads, their fingers cracked and brown from garden work, their stained aprons thrown hastily in the back of pickup trucks. There in the middle of everything, was big Nettie Luchek. Her head was tossed back, her skirt lifted high, her legs — thick peasant legs from the old country — stomping out a steady beat. Look at her, some guy said, like the Queen of the May. Who does she think she is? And sneering, turned away. Nettie’s big boned cousin, with his farmer’s tan and dirty overalls, was her dancing partner. The tourists from the city gawked. They laughed and they pointed, but Nettie disregarded them. The only laughter that she heard was a joy that was bred into her bones, the laughter of generations of Croatian families. The snickering of these onlookers reminded her of an aching tooth she once had, and she ignored it. After the tourists had enough beer to drink, Nettie knew they’d get out in the street and do a turn with her. She knew she wasn’t good enough to dance with unless they were drunk but Nettie didn’t care, she just loved to dance. Their noses were up in the air during the day when they were staying at the resorts out on the lakes and they came into town to buy fudge or ice cream. But give them a couple of beers at night in a town where nobody knew them, and they relaxed. They’d get out into the street and polka with her while their city friends watched, egging them on and snapping photos to show back at
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 home. Look at the yokels in this town, they would scoff. Or, check out Martin doing the polka with this bumpkin. The local undertaker didn’t dance. He watched. He watched Nettie. He liked large, thickset women. He was attracted to women that smelled slightly musky, women who looked like they knew their way around a kitchen and how to deal with farm animals. The only time he had ever talked with Nettie was when the family patriarch died last year. Then the whole family had convened to arrange the funeral and requested curious, gypsy-like things. Never before had he heard of the customs that they whispered to one another in a guttural Slavic tongue and then to Nettie, to pass along to him. Whiskey poured on the grave. Favorite items in the casket with the body, which then required a coffin larger than the small man who would inhabit it. They insisted on sitting with the body, day and night until the burial. What a pain in the ass it was. He tried to be respectful and accommodate their unusual ways, but god he was glad when the old man was finally planted. They probably would have buried the grandfather in the back forty, under the big elm out there. But grandpa had had the misfortune to die in the hospital and there were state laws. So the undertaker had gone to the Luchek family farm, had stood in the hot kitchen with the dirt floor and the smell of bodies not recently washed. There was something cooking on the stove, strange food with an odor that he found sweetly sexual. He remembered that as he watched Nettie dance, and he wished he felt free enough to join the crowd snaking up and down the street, doing the Bunny Hop — kids, out of towners, a few locals. Instead he stood under the streetlamp, smoking a Camel and laughing with other businessmen, trying to look superior to those who openly showed appreciation for this. The undertaker thought the music horrendous, loud and low class. He thought again about that day in the hot kitchen out at the farm. There were a bunch of them in the Luchek family — the old man whose body lay in the hospital morgue, the parents whose names he couldn’t remember, daughters of varying ages. He realized he didn’t know whose parent the old man had been. Was it the mother’s? The father’s? Perhaps he was no relation at all but some other family member who had taken on the role of elder. With these people, who knew? People were familiar with the daughters, who came into town and shopped or haggled at the stores. The daughters did most of the farm work too, it might appear to anyone driving past. There would be Nettie,
67 out on a tractor in the hot sun or riding a horse bareback, looking for wild mushrooms in the marshes. The Luchek Girls, people collectively called them, not bothering to distinguish one from another and not acknowledging that they weren’t girls any more. Until that day and now except for Nettie, the undertaker had lumped them together too. A bunch of people who still looked like recent immigrants. Three days later he got a call to collect a body near Jim Lenhart’s farm on Highway 70 out by the Luchek place. When the undertaker drove past, Jim was in the field revving a tractor that had been pulling a full trailer load of potatoes weighing close to 4,000 pounds. The trailer was mired in the mud. The undertaker stopped, offered advice and then pitched in to help. Together they couldn’t budge the thing. They stood side by side sweating and swearing about the recent rains, trying to muster the will to try again when Nettie came riding by on her big roan gelding. She jumped off and put her shoulder to the piece of equipment while instructing the farmer to give ‘er the gun and by god, she moved the damn trailer. The undertaker stood by, mouth agape in wonder at the sheer strength of this woman. He began to imagine what it would be like to have such a woman. He fantasized about Nettie waiting for him at the end of the day in a picturesque cottage, cooking his dinner, lying in his bed, her thick, muscular legs wrapped around him, holding him in place. As the daydreams took up more and more of his time, he fabricated reasons to drive past the Luchek place out off the main county road. He watched for Nettie in the fields or on horseback and though he waved to her as he went past, she seldom looked up. Now he made sure he was downtown for the Thursday night dances, nights he had often avoided. Thursdays were the nights he usually stayed at home, to avoid the loathsome back country music and the throngs of tourists. But there he was, watching and thinking. When the band took a fifteen-minute break, he positioned himself close to Nettie’s big family. He asked how they were getting on. He feigned interest in the old man who had recently died and inquired if there were anything he could do to help. As if that were something the local undertaker would naturally do. As if he offered that to everyone who came to him to embalm and bury. As if it were the most natural thing in the world. He rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, he sympathized, he stood with his hands clasped behind his back, smiling and showing all his teeth like a monkey.
68 He concentrated on standing close to Nettie. He smelled her sweat, watched her flick the long, damp braid from the back of her neck. She was impatient to get back to the dancing and had little interest in what he was saying, instead looking longingly at the musical trio, wondering when the group might start playing again. After the street dance he stood smoking under a streetlight, shifting from foot to foot as Nettie and her family piled into a battered pickup. Nettie rode in the back with her cousin, sitting between bales of hay and grinning wildly about some shared joke. He felt embarrassed and angry, abruptly deciding that the joke was about him. Angrily stamping his cigarette into the pavement, he turned on his heel and walked home. The undertaker lived in the same house where he grew up, the only child of elderly parents. The funeral parlor, what the locals called the dead house, occupied a white clapboard building next door. He did his work downstairs, reserving the main floor of the funeral home for visitation, for viewing, for his office. He had inherited this, the two buildings side by side. He never intended to go into the funeral business. He didn’t remember how it happened. One day he came home from college, the next day he was working with his father. Or so it seemed. Every night during summer, the local high school kids cruised up and down the main street of town. The actual business district amounted to only four blocks and kids drove to the outskirts of town where the state roads came together, turned around and circled back. Over and over again.
Winter Trees of Fire, Methow 2014
CIRQUE It was Thursday so the cars had to detour around the street dance. A blue El Camino led the line and the driver stopped to let the undertaker slide in front of him at a stop sign. The undertaker was tired. He’d been out on a call with the big hearse and gratefully slipped into the line of traffic, failing to notice that he had become part of the line of cruising high schoolers. He was red faced, seeing the local girls standing around the edges of the weekly dance laughing and pointing. And then he thought, what the hell. He waved and laughed at the gawkers, pretended he was in the Fourth of July parade, that it was his intent to add the funeral car to the procession. He looked up and saw Nettie watching. She stopped mid-polka step and looked out into the street at the long black car. She wasn’t laughing, and he believed that she saw him for the first time; he believed the hearse made her take notice. He normally avoided driving the hearse except when he had to but now he drove it to the grocery store and to church on Sunday. He hoped to see Nettie, hoped that it would make her notice him again, hoped it would impress her. He had just pulled into a parking space at the Red Owl, when he spotted her getting into the pickup next to him. He leapt out, tried to help her with her door and stumbled, nearly falling into the Luchek vehicle. She put her hand over her mouth and stifled a laugh. She didn’t look at him and instead stared into the hearse. He was aware of the musky smell of the Luchek kitchen surrounding her. “I got everything in there,” the undertaker said. Stereo, leather seats, even air conditioning. She gaped awkwardly. “You wanna have a look see?” “Mebbe another time,” she mumbled and stuffed herself awkwardly into the truck’s driver seat. She continued to sit, and he felt bolder. He stood next to the door, making a rolling motion with his hand, signaling her to lower the window. It was a hot day; his underarms were wet with perspiration soaking through to the outside of his suit jacket. Dammit, why do undertakers have to dress like they’re about to step onto the top of a wedding cake, he wondered? She put the window down and looked at him questioningly. “Yeah?” she said as her cousin came out of the market and climbed into the passenger seat. “Ready,” the cousin said Mary Devlin
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 and the undertaker realized she was only sitting in the idling truck waiting for her passenger. Dammit again, he thought. Dammit to hell. “Let me know if you want a ride sometime,” was all he could think to stutter. The next Thursday, he got downtown at five and found a parking space for the hearse close to the dance. On a side street where it was dark, not far from the weekly activity. It was early, and the undertaker wandered into a local bar for a beer. He sat on a stool crunching peanuts while the bartender wisecracked about dead bodies and made embalming jokes. What an ass, the undertaker thought. Does he consider my job nothing more than a bada-boom line? Instead he laughed, pretending he hadn’t heard every single one of them. He ordered another beer, then another and another, and felt pleasantly buzzed by the time he heard the faint accordion music around the corner. He waited, didn’t want to appear anxious. After the trio’s second set and another couple of beers, he wandered outside and down the street. During a break he saw Nettie standing on the curb, waiting for the music to begin again. The alcohol had given him a boost in courage. He walked up to her and told her he’d like to show her the hearse . . . except he didn’t call it a hearse. He told her he wanted to show her the stereo in his car. “Won’t take a minute,” he said. “But I’d sure like to show you. You’d be back before the music starts back up,” he said. “It’s right around the corner.” She hesitated but curious, followed him. He stood in front of her to open the door, leaned forward and kissed her hard. She looked startled but my god, it had been a long time since anyone kissed Nettie Luchek, and she softened against him. She got in the passenger door and sat down while he turned on the radio. He leaned toward her, his fumbling hands awkwardly groping her large breasts. As the band in the distance thumped out the classic polka number Hoop De Doo, Nettie crawled with him into the open space in the back usually reserved for coffins. Then, almost as suddenly as things began, they were over, and she rushed back to the music while he brushed pieces of straw from the back of the hearse. He was confused. What had just happened? This wasn’t what he had fantasized about, wasn’t what he had pictured. Home cooked meals, nights in the winter sitting by a fire in the wood stove and talking, waking in the morning in fresh sheets, those are the things he had imagined with Nettie. He was ashamed. He remembered his grandmother’s admonition, be careful what you wish for, honey. Be careful what you wish.
Detail of “Gryphon,” from “The Endangered Species” series of sculptures by Anchorage artist Sheila Wyne
Soon the short summer was over. The city schools started back and the vacationers went home, the big yellow and red wagon was pulled to its off-season resting place out by the highway. Winters were long. There was snowmobiling and ice fishing — but mostly there was drinking. He stopped by a bar for a couple of beers, and eavesdropped on the gossiping locals. Hey, I saw Bob Powell sneaking out the back door over at the post office lady’s house. Whatshername. Joan. Sneaking out the back early in the morning. Guess her old man’s on the road with that big rig of his again. And hey, did you hear that that big Nettie Luchek got herself knocked up? That’s what I hear. Won’t say who done it. Probably some poor shit of a summer guy, looking for a quick roll in the hay with a yokel. Poor bastard musta been drunk as a skunk to climb on top of ol’ Nettie Luchek. He sure got more than he bargained for. I hear her old man’s pretty mad but she’s determined on keepin’ the baby. Clannish, that’s how them people are. Won’t take nothin’ from nobody. In the darkness of the bar, the undertaker’s face turned red. He slapped his money on the counter and left quickly. He went around back into the alley and threw up. He wondered if Nettie had been with a lot of men and if so, how many. He wondered if he was the father of her baby,
if she would press charges or want money. What would his parents have said? What would the people in town say behind his back or even to his face? He would take it all back if he could, that summer night. He felt himself getting sick again. He waited for something to happen but nothing did. Life went on, he heard nothing from Nettie, didn’t see her around town. The undertaker tried to stop thinking about the time in the back of the hearse. He pretended it didn’t happen. Maybe those old guys in the bar were wrong. To be safe, when he drove out into the county, he looked for alternate routes that didn’t snake past the Luchek farm. The family shopped at the Red Owl and he started buying his groceries at the A & P. He saw her cousin in town once or twice, thought he caught sight of her sister heading into the fabric shop behind the laundromat. But Nettie had disappeared. He avoided the street dances the next summer, didn’t go downtown on Thursday nights. He reconnected with an old girlfriend from high school. They went out to dinner now and then and he slept with her on occasion. One afternoon, when the undertaker was sitting in his car and staring blankly at the slow moving river, he noticed Nettie at the edge of the park, playing with a small child. A toddler just learning to walk. She didn’t see him. Nettie looked the same but now he saw her differently. He saw her as plain and unattractive, more than just thickset, looking like a refugee from a third world country as she sat cross legged on the grass in her long, dark skirt. Just then the smiling child ran to her with outstretched arms, calling mama, mama and Nettie’s face lit up. She looked beautiful. He got out of his car and walked slowly toward them.
The Boat, the Goat, and the Oldest Living Virgin in America
This is a memoir, of sorts. A lot of it happened, and a lot of it didn’t, but it is, I swear, almost the whole truth. Names have been changed to try to protect the innocent, but honestly, there weren’t many of them. “I want to be an actor, dammit,” I said repeatedly.. “But that’s a dream, a waste of time, and your parent’s money!” That’s what my friends, family and teachers said, almost in one voice. I didn’t care if it was a pipe dream. I wanted it. For eighteen years I had lived entirely for the opportunity to be on stage. So, in the summer of ‘63, immediately after graduating high school, I ran off to the Big City to pursue my dream. It made no difference the big city was only twenty-five miles down the road. Or that I was already headed there to attend University of Washington summer school. It was a start. I threw myself headlong into the study of the “Thea-tuh.” Oh, Lordy, it was glorious! I reveled in the smell of musty old costumes, melted horsehide glue, and greasepaint. I wandered the building’s halls to the tinny drilling of rehearsal pianos, the rise and fall of vocal scales and snatches of dramatic dialogue. For two years I toiled in the trenches. No longer the brightest star in the hometown galaxy, the leading lady, the biggest fish in the pond, I was, instead, just a mediocre underling, a “spear-carrier.” But it didn’t matter. I was THERE. I was part of the magic. I was “honing my craft.” During my sophomore year I landed a part in a Bellevue summer stock production of “The Seven Year Itch”, the part immortalized on film by Marilyn Monroe. It was my first big “outside” role. I was thrilled. I was determined to be a knockout, to validate my dream to all the naysayers. It was going to be my Big Break! My star turn! I figured the work of “getting into the character” was no stretch for me dramatically, I figured, but capturing the innocent sexiness of Marilyn’s compelling on-screen
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 image, however, was a whole other story. In those days I still had a pretty good figure and a few curves, but I was just an average, mouse-brown girl. I was in no way Monroe-ish. “I need a diversionary tactic,” I said to the hairstylist as we stared at my dull hair. “I want it really light. Hollywood white!” And so I became a Platinum Blonde. I poked, poufed and teased my new tresses into a frothy pile, a Bridgitte Bardot, 60’s beehive affair with long, peek-a-boo bangs. A whole bunch of Passion Pink lipstick, false lashes, a cigarette in a holder, a tight fitting dress and a pushup bra . . . and wowza! It worked. The production and I were a rousing success. Back at the U., the directors were seeing me in an entirely new light. There were good parts available and I was getting ‘em. Granted, they all called for tarty costuming and big blond hair, but who was I to argue! I took them all. I was Helen of Troy in a flowing toga and silvery two-foot ponytail, carried on a litter by a phalanx of football players. I stood elbow to elbow with my courageous sisters in Lysistrata, armed and dangerous, a blond with a bat. In an avant-garde reworking of some forgotten Chekhov piece, I sat alone at a white cast iron table, spotlight center stage, wearing pink tulle and feathers, licking whipped cream and maraschino cherries suggestively off a silver spoon. I thought I looked delicious and sexy, but apparently not enough to suit the paunchy, middle-aged director. He kept berating me with, “No, no! More sensual, more voluptuous. Loosen up, drop your shoulders. You’re not just eating ice cream here - this is a sexual experience! When I say ‘lick the spoon’, I mean, you know, ‘lick the spoon!’” I nodded; eager to show I knew what he meant, but the truth was, I had no clue. I was playing these libidodrenched babes with flossy authenticity when, truth to tell, I had no idea what “it” was. Here I was, at the height of the Sexual Revolution, nearing twenty, the oldest living virgin in America. I may have looked like someone who knew about seduction, passion and uninhibited free love, but, sadly, nope. I’m pretty sure this was due to my continuously falling in love with guys in the theater department beautiful, witty, sensitive actors and artists who, at the critical moment, would whisper, “My darling, there is something about me you should know.” Like I said, I was a damned good actress, but I was
71 getting tired of playing the same parts. I was developing sympathy for people who go through life trapped by their appearances. I was just about to hack off the blond tresses when I weakened. I let my hair get me one last sleazy part. My swan song as a bimbo would be the part of a prostitute in a musical farce, set in Sicily, titled “Thieves, Corpses and Fallen Women.” It was a production I will never forget. I have no idea what the University of Washington Drama Department set-up is like now, but back then the Department was using three performance stages - a traditional proscenium thrust for large shows, a microscopic Theater in the Round for intimate productions, and an old revamped stern-wheeler known as the “Show Boat,” which was moored near Husky Stadium. In its glory days the “Boat” shared a lot of white gingerbread-trimmed charm with its grander cousins plying the Mississippi River. Now, however, it had fallen on hard times. Frequently it leaked - down from the top and up from the bottom. Audiences had been known to suffer seasickness during high winds or if it was passed by a vessel large enough to set it rocking. Several times, in foul weather, it had broken its moorings and careened along the shoreline until it stopped itself by crashing into neighboring houseboats. The University had condemned it two or three times, but somehow vocal, sympathetic supporters had always gotten it a reprieve. It was rumored to be haunted. “Oh, crap. I’m not so sure about this.” I was white-knuckling the handrail, looking down at very suspicious flotsam afloat in the scummy waters below. I was crossing over the creaking gangplank to the Show Boat’s deck, headed to my first rehearsal. I was early. Obviously, arriving early (or even on time) for a University thesis production rehearsal marked me as a rank amateur. I sat there in the front row with the other (punctual) minor players, peering through my fringe of bleached bangs for a good half-hour as the principal cast members straggled in. Some faces were new, but most I knew from around the department, or from classes and workshops. The female lead role had gone to Deirdre, a flamboyant bottle-redhead who claimed a previous life off-Broadway. Her real name, however, was Shirley, and she was from Idaho. She was given to clanking jewelry and dramatic tantrums. She lived in the Fremont District with a married (“Jarrod’s not married – HE’S SEP-ER-ATED!”) member of the Drama Department staff. It was
72 a supposedly top-secret affair, but one about which absolutely everyone knew. Deirdre never just entered a room. She made grand, Hollywood-style entrances, stopping just short of air kissing and calling everyone dahling. She was flashy. She had “star quality”, probably a reason she always got leads in the shows. I had my suspicions about the other reasons. She was famous for learning her lines and blocking at the very last possible minute and for blaming all her flubs and miscues on the cast and crew. I didn’t like her. Helene was a short frumpy student about my age with thin, wispy hair and incredibly bad teeth. She always got cast as women three times her age. To people who didn’t know her, she appeared sweet and prim as a little old lady. She had, however, a mouth like a Paris sewer. I’ve never known anyone with such a colorful vocabulary. After I left the U., I enlisted in the Marine Corps, spending a lot of time with Gunnery Sergeants with vocabulary much less colorful than Helene’s. Her I liked. Then there was Austen. Austen, the quintessential Olde Shakespearean Actor, had been part of the University community since stage dust. Once he had been quite dashing, but now was balding, portly and (charmingly) white bearded. He was usually quite in his cups – a sloshed jolly Saint Nick. Sober, Austen was sweet and entertaining. Plastered, however, he was a mess. Wildly unpredictable, he could singlehandedly throw an entire performance into chaos. In his last appearance he had staggered onstage, totally tanked, launched into lines from a completely different play, and crashed through a set of upstage French doors. Slamming them shut with a flourish, he’d left the cast with no lines to say and no way to get off the stage. I couldn’t believe the director had cast him for anything other than an usher, let alone the lead. Monty, the director, was an intense, nervous method actor who gnawed his nails constantly and rarely sat still, preferring to give his directions as he paced up and down the aisles of the house. This play was his Master’s Thesis Production. He had written the adaptation himself from an obscure book of three Italian farces. He was given to wearing moth-eaten, oversized sweaters, and apparently had just one pair of baggy shorts. His only shoes were a pair of Mexican sandals with tire soles. He wore his hair in a ponytail and had a stringy Fu Manchu mustache. It had been years since he’d washed his feet. “These characters have chosen you!” he yelled at
CIRQUE us. He was pacing the apron and waving his arms wildly. “Now each of you must inhabit them!” He stopped pacing to peer intensely into each actor’s face. “You must become them!” I didn’t feel the character of “First Prostitute” had particularly chosen me. Maybe just chosen my hair. All the characters in the show were broadly drawn caricatures. Austen played a bistro owner with a criminal past who headed a hapless gang of bumbling thugs and petty thieves. Deirdre was cast to type as La Contessa, an overblown, minor Italian royal. She’d just lost her small cache of jewelry to thieves and her handsome young lover to murder. Helene, of course, played a mysterious old crone. She perched upstage left on a wooden wheelbarrow through the whole performance, her head covered with a shawl. She cackled out all of her lines. The whole plot of the play hinged on why she was there and what she had seen. About halfway through rehearsals Monty decided Helene’s character needed more visual punch, so he brought in a live goat. Helene was to keep it by her side, tethered to the wheelbarrow by a rope. Helene didn’t want anything to do with the goat. She cursed the poor animal roundly under her breath whenever she didn’t have lines. Austen and Deirdre detested it, calling it a “vile, smelly beast.” They conspired every night on ways of doing it in. I, on the other hand, loved the sweet little creature. It stood there patient and well mannered, night after night, accepting Helen’s blistering string of obscenities without complaint. Also on stage throughout the play, was the corpse of La Contessa’s young lover. A friend of mine, a non-actor named William, played the body, wrapped in a white sheet, lying perfectly still for two and a half hours. He slept, he meditated - maybe he memorized the periodic table of the elements or parsed French verbs. I don’t know what he did, but he lay there, night after night, and never moved a muscle. I was impressed. The remaining cast of characters consisted of a collection of Keystone-type cops, an inept gang of bumbling robbers, various townspeople, and us, the hookers. There were three of us (all blond) who served as the Greek Chorus for the piece. Our job was to sashay up and down, twirl our purses, swing our hips, thrust our busts, and make general comments on the goings on by singing suggestive songs. And that was where my troubles began.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
I cannot now, nor could I then, sing even the course, not because Monty was a pervert). He’d pegged smallest note. I squawked, I croaked, I squealed up and Austen for as good a candidate for this job as any. I tried, down the scale looking for pitch and key, but I absolutely once or twice, to divert the old guy’s attention to Deirdre, could not sing. I told Monty that, straight out and up front but she was otherwise occupied with Jarrod, so it was when he cast me but, I suppose, all the blonde hair and no deal. I was young, agile and faster than Austen, so for boobs blinded him. He refused to see the obvious. When six weeks I managed to dodge him from basement to it finally became apparent how bad I was, he just handed balcony. me over for coaching to Austen who had a lovely baritone Things went along reasonably well until the night and seemed eager for the task. of dress rehearsal. Deirdre, to everyone’s amazement Austen had, come to find out, been on the and relief, had learned a good ninety-five percent of her wagon for six months. His tippling had cost him his wife, lines, was hitting her marks every time and, so far, had some jobs, and a lot of self-respect. He was, he said, “Trying my best to reform. Walking the straight and narrow, staying on the sober side of life!” Fancying myself a 60’s kind of liberal humanitarian woman I empathized with him, offering counsel, a sympathetic ear and a shoulder. Austen liked that. Austen liked me. He liked my hair. He liked my sleazy hooker costume AND my shoulder. Suddenly I found myself having to avoid dark corners because Austen lurked in them, waiting to grab any of my exposed body parts. He began to croon snatches of crude and suggestive “love songs” when I came into the room. He took to calling me his “Fair Juliette,” which pleased him no The Rain Bringers Judi Nyerges end but annoyed the living heck out of me. “For reasons of acoustics and resonance,” Austen stated, “from now on our voice coaching sessions will be conducted in the shower.” not missed a cue or an entrance. She absolutely detested He was referring to the grubby tile stall down in the her costume, however. She, Monty and the designer had basement of the ‘Boat. Odd, I thought, but I agreed. Big been locked in mortal combat over it for a week. The story mistake. revolved solidly around her conspicuously missing jewels, “Breathe through your diaphragm! Here, not but Deirdre refused any concessions to the fact. here!” he said, as he hot-breathed down my neck. We “Look at me. I’m drab,” she screamed. “I am a were crammed into the ancient shower and he was Contessa! Do I look like a Contessa? Where is the glamour? clutching my stomach and chest from behind. Where’s my sparkle! I need pizzazz!” she huffed. Neither Singing in the tiny, tiled stall did make my voice Monty nor the designer would relent, and dress rehearsal sound better, but only (as far as I could tell) while I was found Deirdre at her bistro table seething and drumming in it. As soon as I got on stage it reverted right back to her nails, wearing a tasteful, but pizzazz-less, black dress. god-awful. Worse, the singing lessons were increasingly William the Corpse caught a terrific cold from becoming wrestling matches, usually ending with me lying still for hours on the stage floor. Monty offered to escaping up the narrow stairs to the stage, disheveled and replace him with someone else or with a dummy. But breathless. And my singing was not improving. William, a newcomer to live theater, had been bitten There was no point complaining to our director. hard by the performance bug and wouldn’t hear of it. He I was pretty sure Monty had divined the secret of my sneezed and coughed all through rehearsals under his intact virginity and was pushing for some sort of sexual white sheet in a very un-corpse-like manner. He swore to overthrow (this for my “character’s development” of Monty he’d have it all under control for opening night.
74 We hookers were having quite a time for ourselves. We pranced around in our sleazy, fringed satin costumes and pasty tasseled boobs. Granted, the costumes weren’t much more revealing than one-piece bathing suits, but coupled with our outrageous hairdos and makeup, we were pretty over the top. Austen, apparently driven beyond self-control by the sight of my cantilevered breasts, blowzy blondness and slatternly paint-job, again ambushed me as I practiced my songs down in the shower. “Juliette,” he panted. He pinned me to the wall with his body and buried his head in my bosom. “Oh, my fair Juliette. Please, I am dying! I long for you! Please just let me . . .” I didn’t give him a chance to finish his pleas, his grabbing, or whatever his “just let me . . .” was. “Austen! Stop it,” I hissed, pushing him off. “I know you’re lonely and I understand. I really do. But this is ridiculous! And embarrassing.” I scrambled up the stairs, Austen sniveling along in hot pursuit behind me. When we reached backstage he retreated and, thankfully, left me alone. For the rest of the night he moped around sullenly in the shadows, taking his revenge out in random swipes at the poor goat with his boot. My singing was downright atrocious. Monty demanded the two of us hold another coaching session during the intermission, causing Austen to brighten noticeably. I refused, citing a headache and cramps. Austen resumed his brooding. Things were very tense.
CIRQUE Theater tradition holds that a bad dress rehearsal means a fabulous opening night. Traditions are made to be broken, I guess. We gathered onstage the afternoon of opening night in the middle of one of the Northwest’s rare thunderstorms. Winds were rattling at about fifty knots and the Show Boat was rocking in her moorings like a dinghy. The stage crew kept running out into the pounding rain to check deck cables and ropes while we cringed inside. When Monty blew in, drenched and holding the little goat, we could see we were in for trouble. The poor creature was frightened half out of her wits by the crashing, howling storm. Her eyes were ringed in white, she was gasping for air, and there were flecks of foam on her little goat lips. She splayed her legs, braced herself against the vessel’s rocking, and bleated pitifully. “Why, in the name of all that is holy, is that cursed banshee wailing?” boomed a baritone voice from the back of the house. “Kill the beast immediately! Put it out of its misery. Spit it and roast it and we shall feast on its flesh!” “Oh, my God,” I gasped. Staggering down the center aisle and waving a half empty bottle of MacNaughtons, was Austen, raving drunk. “Lo,” he slobbered. “What yonder stage lights break on Fair Juliette, who rebuffs my every advance, who scorns my affection, who finds me ridiculous and embarrassing? She, the virginal, blond huss . . ., huss . . . hussy.” After stumbling to get out the last “hussy”, he slumped in a sodden heap into a front row seat. I was mortified and humiliated, flushing to the roots of my peroxided hair. How could he DO this? How could he let down the show, the cast and the crew, and then, for crying out loud, blame it on me? I fled the stage sobbing, to run and hide in (where else?) the shower. Monty, Deirdre, Helene and some of the crew, having been through this Austen-induced maelstrom before, sprang into action. Massive quantities of coffee were procured and a couple of stale sandwiches from someone’s lunch and all the stage crew’s doughnuts. Stuffing him with caffeine and carbs got him somewhat under control, but he was still threatening to kill the poor terrified goat. Monty was chewing his nails so hard they were beginning to bleed. His pacing had gone into overdrive, and there were wet tire Brad Gooch
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 tread footprints back and forth behind the last row of seats. A half-hour before curtain, Helene notified him that Austen was nowhere to be found. Monty corralled a posse of stagehands and deputized them into a search party. However, by the time the first of the rain soaked patrons whooshed into the front lobby, he was dealing with a whole new problem. William, true to his word, was not lying under his sheet sneezing and coughing. Earlier he had downed about a half a bottle of Nyquil and was nearly as drunk as Austen, though, thankfully, much quieter. The medication had taken effect and William was slumped, snoring and unconscious, against the proscenium arch. “Thank God he doesn’t have lines,” Monty muttered. He and Deirdre wrapped his unconscious body in his sheet and laid him out in position again, downstage on the front apron. Deirdre had been acting odd all afternoon, furtively smuggling bags into the women’s dressing room. She had hardly spoken to anyone, was strangely subdued and was avoiding the costume designer like the plague. After she helped shroud William she retreated to her dressing room and stayed there, uncharacteristically quiet, waiting for her entrance. Right before it was time for the curtain to rise, Austen re-appeared, in costume, empty bottle in hand, still potted. “How’s your damn goat?” he bellowed at Helene. Then he roared with laughter and lurched offstage into the wings. In all the confusion, Helene had certainly not been paying attention to the goat. The animal was still tethered out in the wings. Her legs were still splayed and her eyes were a little wild, but she seemed calmer. She was no longer bleating and crying, but had a rather pacified look on her face. By now the audience members had all moved wetly in from the storm and were getting into their seats. Down in my basement hidey-hole, I could just hear the strains of the little orchestra’s opening music over the thunder, the rain, and my sobbing. The strains of the opening music! Oh, CRAP! I was supposed to be up on stage! During the overture I was supposed to be with the other hookers, sleazing around in front of the curtain and singing one of those dreadful songs. I flung myself up the narrow stairs, bouncing from wall to wall with the rocking of the boat. I staggered onstage late, out of breath, mascara running and makeup tear-streaked. I croaked out my song, and then gratefully took up my position, slouching with one knee up against
75 the proscenium wall. The last notes of the overture died away. The curtain rose on our little Sicilian plaza to the weak applause of the queasy, storm-tossed audience. The cast members with opening lines found they had to yell them to be heard over the storm. This caused the audience to shift uneasily in their seats. Austen made his entrance, banging open the doors of the Bistro, and bellowing his lines into the balcony. The audience jumped in fright almost as one body. Looking out across the heads of the audience, I saw Monty slump down in the back row, sinking lower and lower into his seat, his hands over his face. The sound of Austen’s voice also had a very bad effect on the goat. Up to now she had been standing quite calm, next to the wheelbarrow with Helene at the rear of the stage, a glazed expression on her little goat face. But the crash of the door and Austen’s booming entrance roused her from her stupor. She began to bleat and cry again. I could hear Helene cursing at her under her breath. Then I looked closer at the goat. I realized there was something really wrong with her. She was beginning to stagger, and her little head was bobbing around like one of those toys in the rear window of an old Chevy. Horrified, I realized the goat was drunk, too! Austen! That insufferable bastard must have forced the rest of his whiskey down the poor nanny’s gullet in a vain attempt to either quiet her or kill her. I glared over at Austen. He was barely containing his glee over what he’d accomplished. Helene was struggling with the animal, trying to keep her under control. She would have succeeded, had it not been for La Contessa entrance. Deirdre was supposed to come up center stage from the rear, flinging her arms wide open in an expansive greeting for Austen the Bistro owner. And that’s exactly what she did. But tonight she was wearing a brilliant red, sequined dress. She was dripping with sparkling rhinestones – necklace, earrings, bracelets and rings. She’d topped it all off with a glittering tiara, all of it so dazzling in the spotlights they blinded even me. Wrapped around her neck and dangling from her arms was the biggest, reddest feather boa I had ever seen. As she advanced upstage she whirled the boa around her neck in a dramatic, flashing arc. The cast was dumbfounded. Monty was popping a vein. It was much too much for the poor goat. In her drunken state, Deirdre must have looked to her like an oncoming ambulance, and Nanny was Goat in the Headlights! She wailed, thrashed, tore herself from
76 Helene’s grip, and bolted. Goats, when frightened, climb. I could see by the look in her blotto goat eyes that Nanny was headed for the balcony - the highest spot in the theater. Her first bound freed her from Helene and took her center stage. Her second landed her squarely mid-section on the stomach of the corpse. The dead man’s feet and head shot up on either end like they were spring loaded. William came to and howled in fright and pain, causing the goat to propel herself across the orchestra pit into the front row of the astonished, seasick audience. As they screamed up to their feet, William rose up under the sheet and staggered forward, like a drunken ghost. He made a hard left turn, stepped blindly forward, and pitched head first into the orchestra pit, landing in the drums. The noise was deafening – lightening crashed, thunder boomed, the audience screamed and stampeded. Monty was on his feet in the rear yelling, “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” The goat was bleating as she scrambled from one row to another, landing in laps and on shoulders. The musicians hollered at William and each other as they tried to untangle him and his shroud from themselves and their instruments. Deirdre was sitting in a heap on the stage floor, conveniently spotlighted, crying dramatically into her boa. Austen, sprawled at a Bristro table, was roaring with laughter and waving a hip flask. Several lady audience members fainted in the first rows, and a couple of the more seasick patrons upchucked noisily into the aisles. And above it all, from the rear of the stage, came the clarion voice of Helene howling, “You stupid s*****!! You G** d*** f****** b*******!! You c****** s****** s*** of b******!! and on and on with stuff an audience should just never hear. That was my last university production. It was, in fact, for many of the cast, their last university production. The critics from the Seattle newspapers, the Post Intelligencer and the Times, were wonderfully generous, offering to wait to review us until the following night. When they did post their reviews, they never mentioned the opening night debacle. About me, one reviewer said, “As for her singing, the best parts of her entrances were her exits.” Eventually (in this order), I dyed my hair back to brown, lost my virginity, joined the military, got married, went back to college and taught high school art. I have no idea what any of the rest of them did. I never made it as an actor. But then, neither, I am sure, did the goat.
The Boat In The Trees
The sea breathes with a boat, the waves cradle it and lull it—and the people within—toward a sense of comfort, so they imagine they touch some kind of heartbeat, the breathy navel of the universe. This security is an illusion. Legends tell about sea creatures of temptation: mermaids flirting with sailors, drawing them over ship side with promises in their eyes. Sirens calling, calling the unwary toward their fates. Selkies slithering in and out of their changeable skins. Poseidon promises safe passage, then delivers fierce horses tossing their manes, storm spume, not horses that tolerate a rider on the rippling waves of their backs. Oh, no, the sea is not safe. Ah, but we are drawn to the sea, not least because it is a reminder of our own amniotic float. Because we love it, it pulses in our salty blood and gurgles in our guts and seeps from our eyes as tears. We and the sea are one, as a boat is powerfully one with the sea. When a boat is removed from the water, a part of it begins to die, though a wooden boat feels the tug of its origins, remembers roots of the trees from which it was made, reluctantly prepares to return to the land. So it was with the Chacón. • Chacón. It is a Philippine lizard, large, green, rumored to have poisonous saliva. Small Philippine lizards crawl up the walls, eat bugs, make a cry that has become their name: toco! toco! The big ones are called chacón. They live outside and are made to drool onto the dart tips of warriors. Chacón in slang means the dangerous part of a woman, that secret place between her legs, warming and wetting with her passions. Chacón is the name of the boat that lives in the trees. Tilman Wallace saw the Chacón for the first time in Homer, Alaska. He was younger then than he is now, yet older than his heart. His heart instantly fell in love, his imagination into lust, his dreams into chaos. • There is something that happens to most men
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 and to some women when they land at the years in the middle of their lives. Dreams they have held onto since their youthful selves held onto hope, dreams unrealized, those dreams stiffen, rot and fade. Dreams need to have promises kept. Sometimes the most impossible dreams become the most important ones. Til Wallace was at that point in his life. The Chacón was at that point in her life, too. She wasn’t pretty unless you were Til Wallace. To him she was . . . the sea sighing, the heartbeat of waves striking the shore, a wind lifting the hair across his brow. “Oh. My. God,” he said. She still floated, but only barely. Her wooden skin was weathered and wrinkled, peeling like a bad sunburn, her lines were on the sturdy side, think ‘strong’ rather than ‘slender’, but, oh! her bow lifted bravely, questing forward still, and the wheelhouse sat at the stern as if waiting for him to take his place. Til had played pirates when he was a child. Now he saw his pirate ship right in front of his eyes. He took a ferry out the next day to get closer to her. The boat grew larger, his love grew stronger, his heart beat faster. “Who owns this tub?” he asked his friend, the ferry captain, playing down his longing. “Oh, yeah, well you know Willie Tillion? He’s the sorry guy who owns the Chacón.” The ferry captain pronounced her name “SHACK-on,” instead of “Phsaw-CONE.” Til knew Willie, knew his father Clem, indeed
everyone in Alaska knew Clem, who was a big man in fisheries and politics. Just at that moment, the Chacón getting smaller as they headed back, Til saw a boat chugging out of the harbor. Who was piloting but Willie Tillion, now how about that. “Do you wanna sell The Chacón?” Til called to Willie. Hoping, hoping, wishing, dreaming. . . . “Yeah! Five!” Willie yelled back. Five?! Five what? Dollars, hundreds, thousands? It hardly mattered. Buying the Chacón would be buying his youth, his treasure ship of dreams. For two days, Til sat and watched the boat, the tides, clocked the flow of water in and out of the holes in her sides. He sat so still in the sun the birds thought he was a rock. Til just wiped his face clean. People talked to him, lectured him, scolded him. “You’re crazy,” said his friend, the ferry captain. “I wish I’d never taken you out there.” “Don’t do it,” said Clem Tillion. “I know Willie wants to get rid of her, but she is going to take you down. Let her go back to the sea.” “This is a money-pit, a sinkhole, she’ll bankrupt us,” said his wife. But she also said, “I know you, and if there’s anyone who can get this boat afloat again it is you, Tillie, you don’t let go of an idea, you come up to a challenge, I know that. If you want this so much, I’m behind you. I’ll be there.” Next to his wife, Til loved the Chacón the best. He hired a man who knew more about boats than he did, a surveyor, who said, “Could be worse. She’s a big boat, a big challenge, but you might, just might, with a lot of work and a lot more money, you just might get her back onto the water. Could be worse.” Willie Tillion took his five thousand dollars and spent it on a night buying rounds at the Land’s End Bar. Til’s brother, Art, came to town to help. Jonsie came too, their friend from the Klondike who knew lots about boats and building, and at low Tami Phelps
78 tide, when they could get close to the Chacón, together they hammered and tarred and tacked ugly patches over the places where the tides washed in and out. “What happened to her?” Jonsie asked. “How did she get here?” Clem Tillion told them the Chacón had been built in Seattle. A tarnished brass plaque below her painted name said “1912.” So she was older than Til, over 62 years old when he first saw her. But ships live longer and harder than humans. She was ready for the challenge. She was ready for the dreams. Once upon a time, she’d had dreams too. When her paint glossed bright and her brass glowed and her voice had been heard by her skipper, though he might have thought it just her boards groaning or water chuckling. Chacón had raced after fish schools the size of small islands and dreamed of swallowing them into her hold. She had seen storm waves big enough to suck up her bow and she had dreamed of riding them down to a standstill-calm. She had crooned and creaked to her skipper late at night and dreamed herself into his sleep, so he woke imagining he’d been ensorcelled by a beautiful, proud woman. “Oh, I miss those days, oh, yes I do,” Chacón croons as Til works, “for here, though here be where I am, is not the where that I wish to be. The gulls screech like grating, breaking hulls. I crave, lust for silent petrel tern, for albatross wingbeating heart.” Her deep sigh shifted her planks and Til pulled back sharply, thinking the boat was rolling dangerously. “Is this the man, the one, skipper of my next voyage, who’ll lift my trapped heart from mucky bottom? Ah! I’ll seal my fate to his, be his hope carting time backward, figurehead of his—our—finest future! Scrape, you little man! Patch my tears! Together we will dance on shattered moonlight! Make my dreams come true!” She tried to lift up her bow just a bit to let him know her passion, that she cheered his labors, and a crack! of breaking wood rang, so Til, scared to his bones, shoved the skiff sharply from her side. “You settle down there, Miss Shackon, you hear! I don’ need no accidents out here. Lissen’ to me, talking ta the boat, now. Getin’ crazier all the time, that I am.” He carefully began to scrape at the crusted barnacles again. “I’ll keep you safe, little man,” Chacón whispers. “You are our salvation. You are my next voyage. You are Skipper.” The boat spoke to him from her bones, wood rubbing together like an insect’s mating legs, like tree limbs in a storm. Her voice reamed his veins and tilted the insides of his ears. She called to him like a siren, and he ran
CIRQUE to her embrace. That hot and still afternoon, Til felt a gust of air lift his hair. • Til Wallace was well-prepared to grasp an elephant by the tail and he knew how to go about taming one. He came from a family of boys, four of them. He had hitchhiked around the world and, for a while, traveled with a pet monkey. He had been a Special Forces operative during the Korean War, though, ironically, the Army had sent him and his refined killing skills to Germany. As a soldier, he had thought quickly, followed through, resisted defeat. Raising the Chacón was a military operation. Til and the surveyor looked around. A fresh breeze competed with the stale smell of stagnant water and rotting . . . things. There were many holes, but according to the surveyor, the wood around them was still healthy. However, the whole idea of floating her was — “Scary,” said Art, his brother, “real, downright, crazy scary. So, how ‘ya gonna get her sitting right? Huh? She’s underneath the water every high tide. Every twelve hours, she sinks once again, ‘ya know?” “I know, Art, I know. I don’ have to hear this stuff to discourage me. Tell me something good. Tell me how soon the next bestest high tide’s gonna be.” It would be their best chance to right the boat, the rising waters of the highest tide of the year, midnight on an August night. She’d either pop right up on top of the hungry waves or sink forever down. She and Til had this one chance, this one good hour in all of their lives, to join their futures together or to lose them. It was fitting that the night was stormy. Art and Jonsie were not going anywhere near the Chacón, they said. Too dangerous, they said, why chance our lives for some junk tub? Til boarded a sister wreck that sat close to the Chacón, square on a shoal, hoping that when the time came he could rush across a plank to the buoyed and upright Chacón like the pirate his heart was. He took only his crazy courage and his bulldog, Abigail, a small wriggle of a dog that also knew about blind loyalties. The storm was loud and windy and the sideways rain made everything slippery. The moon-fed tide rocked the wreck so much Abigail slid from wall to wall like a hockey puck. He tied her to a table leg and began to panic. The flashlight worked hard against the wet dark, then, finally! the Chacón shivered, lurched, shifted. Til tried to hold Abigail in his arms, but she was scared and wriggly and began to slip, so he chomped down on her collar.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 She hung from his jaws, whining, complaining. Balancing desperately, going as fast as he could, he walked the plank to the Chacón. When morning finally came, turning the last of the storm clouds into a red and golden sunrise, the Chacón floated free and Art and Jonsie crowed like roosters from their own boat. They were as happy as if they had been the ones who had watched all night. Abigail and Til knew better. There followed more days of caulking and patching, days and days of cleaning and repairing. Finally, the Chacón was sound enough to tow to Anchorage, with six pumps going around the clock, a commercial fisherman on board with more big boat experience than any one of them, and tons of luck. It took two days. No one slept. Anchorage was a smaller city back then. Younger, like everything else in this story. The night the Chacón stumbled into port, Anchorage was hoppin’ with the music of Johnny Cash at the echoing Sullivan Arena. Til had tickets, but he was so drained he just went home, glad to be on land again, glad to sleep. Not too long into his dreamless sleep, however, the phone rang. “Get on over here, fast!” his friend Duane yelled, “tides goin’ out and that dammed boat’s tippin’ over. It’s gonna crash into Frank’s craft, it’s gonna flatten it!” “Oh, Lord, what can I do? I can’t do nothin’ at this hour, Duane, I can’t even get outta bed! Let it go. Let her fall. I jus’ don’t care.” “OK, that’s how you feel. But it’ll be on your head, Til, it’ll be on you, all the mess and the cost and all.” And Duane slammed down the phone. The next morning Til dragged himself down to the dock. The water around the Chacón was a scurf of food and cameras and clothing and bits and pieces of Frank’s boat which was now trapped under the tilted Chacón. They pulled her upright, towed her into the Inlet out of harm’s way, tied her to a buoy. Til rowed out every day in an aluminum skiff, made sure the pumps were keeping her afloat, wondered what he was going to do now. Day after day he rowed and he pumped and he worried. • The Port of Anchorage and its encircling City lie at the bottom of a geological bowl, the slippery slopes down which rushing, tumbling streams spill, ending up in the great bay called The Inlet. When Til Wallace anchored the Chacón a mile offshore, those streams were clogged with discarded mattresses and sofas and old refrigerators. That
trashy margin was where Til wanted to beach the Chacón, but first he, and, of course, his loyal, tired, exasperated friends and family, and even Abigail, the bulldog, had to clear the way. They lifted and dug and hauled away the debris of decades. One thousand yards of fill and 100 tons of rocks were trucked from Til’s concrete business in Chugiak to build a platform for the cranes that would pick up the Chacón. Til was the first person to clean up Anchorage’s littered shoreline, though it wasn’t from civic generosity. The Chacón was towed back to the city dock, waiting for the lifting tide, but it didn’t work quite the way Til planned. When the waters ebbed low, the Chacón was dangling in the air like a piece of laundry, hanging from the ropes. If she fell now she would take the whole dock with her, and that would take upwards of a quarter of a million dollars to replace. Once again Til rallied the help of his wife, his daughter, his employees, his friends, his bulldog. Til and Art slid into the cool muddy shadows under the boat and wrapped slings around bow and stern. The cranes took up the slack. The straps groaned, the timbers scraped and creaked. Til slithered out. One of the straps broke with a sound like a rifle volley and the boat slapped down, slicing a foot-deep trench into the ground, raising a splash of water from the incoming tide. “Is she all right?” he called, from where he had landed on his back. “Is she damaged?” “Are you all right?” his wife, Ella, called back. “That don’t matter. How’s the boat?” Til knew what was important. He didn’t hear Chacón’s fearful cries, how scared she was to leave familiar seas, how she loathed the idea of land-locked views at destination’s end. “Oh, my boy, whatever are you thinking, doing? I will die, dry, decompose if you take me from water, the bath of my birth, my majestic road, no don’t take me up, take me away, no! Please! No!” The Chacón hadn’t been hurt in her escape attempt. Gracefully, dancing a slow pavane, clasping the hands of gravity and weight, the cranes floated the Chacón once more, swung her over to the waiting flatbed truck, where the ship balanced uneasily but securely, ready for the bumps and knocks of the road ahead. Chacón gave up a cry like an angry gull and all looked up, but there was no bird flying close. The journey from Anchorage to Chugiak, her final resting place, was an epic ride. Numbers racked up like mile markers: the extended trailer was 120 feet long.
80 At 100 tons her weight blew out one of the 110 tires every few miles. One repair truck carried replacements. Thirty vehicles followed, the cars and trucks of Til’s crew, and the cars of curious onlookers. Two miles per hour for 12 hours. The convoy clogged the highway, a solemn funeral procession. Chacón knew she would never again feel the touch of water, except rain or melt of snow running down her sides, watering lumps of fallen leaves and humps of moss, the little evergreen that would root on her deck. The rain would drip from her bowsprit like tears. The double-long trailer nearly sunk the bridge at Eagle River. Men sweated and groaned as the truck crept across. Twenty-plus miles from Anchorage’s Port, and the trip wasn’t over. The final couple of miles were traveled in darkness. She was lifted again into the vertiginous air, and settled on the hard ground. Chacón’s voyage had ended. No seabirds flew here to sing Chacón’s dirge. She squatted on her gravel bed and years began to tick by. As they tick-tocked for Til. The last journey of the Chacón had exhausted his resources of enthusiasm and money. She had cost him 20 times more to move than she had to buy, and if he was to ever rest his eyes on a sea-born dawn whilst standing on her deck, he needed to restore her seaworthiness, needed to patch, caulk, scrape, paint, polish, and seal some more. But first, he said to himself and to his friends, he had to recover. Restore himself. It might take a while before he felt ready to start work on the Chacón again. He visited her often. Sat for a while on the ground beside her. Spoke out loud to her as if she could hear his troubles. Over the years, saplings of birch and evergreens took root in the thin soil. Til’s brother Art cut them all down. “Now, what’d you do that for?” he asked Art. “Trees are pretty, I like ‘em, leave ‘em be.” “They hide the boat, Til. Can’t see her from the road.” “Well, maybe that’s OK. Maybe that’s what she wants. Maybe she’s shy like.” “She ain’t real, you know. Don’t need comforting like a woman. You talk as if she were alive.” Art went back into his gift store, the Fuji, and Til went to sit by his boat, the Chacón. When he ran his hand over her planks, he felt the effort of her history. Weather and sun flaked off more paint, the wood softened, textures changed. His hand caught now on splinters, hiccuped over cracks and bumps. A woman’s skin, no matter how she tries, roughens with age. Yet her lover will see and feel her youthful flesh . . . if he stays, if he still loves.
CIRQUE The boat became a curiosity, a mystery. She drew the children in the neighborhood. They believed in the Chacón’s slumbering lizard-dragon heart, knew she was a pirate ship. They snuck onboard to pretend and dream their own young fantasies. Til grew old. The Chacón grew old. The plans of restoring her and of going around the world on her grew old. People forgot how she got there, the big boat improbably moored to a birch, the boat in the trees. Children were born and grew up near her and made up stories about how she got there. They became adults and moved away. They moved back to raise their own families. Their children were told stories about the Chacón, about how their parents had played on her unsafe deck. The Chacón turned one hundred years old in 2012. There wasn’t much traffic on the old road. The shut-up shop was silent. The boat still spoke, but her voice came faintly and less often. She spoke in nonsense, with gentle madness. No one but the animals and birds and the saplings heard her, but, then, no one ever had. Only Til, maybe, had he imagined it? Had he ever heard her songs or were the songs he thought he heard his own long-ago longings? “I am stranded beached and lost. I cry and dry in airs they blow me not on seas. Love you, me, seize me love me save me crave me. Please. Please. Pease. Spees. Seas.” And now this story is coming toward its end, though it isn’t yet the end. Forgetting won’t happen easily, because now you have read this story. Because someday someone, maybe one of the children who played pirates on her dangerous deck, will listen carefully enough to hear Chacón’s dusty, papery whispers, however loudly the wind blows through the shrouding trees. The end will finally come when there is no one left who recalls the Chacón, and how she became the boat that lives—and dies—in the trees.
Once I Was A Pirate: Thillman Wallace
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 mothers are drowning in samsara’s ocean.
Vivian Faith Prescott
A story from the forthcoming short story cycle, The Dead Go to Seattle, Boreal Books, 2017
She opens her eyes and remembers that she is an island. Latitude 56°29*37.35”N. Longitude 132°22*13.56”W. * “What to do with a dead Chinaman,” the white folks considered. I and all sentient beings . . . Cannery worker, far from your homeland, your head was severed, and your arms and legs free floated in the barrel. I embraced your disembodied life. I washed the salty brine from your body, washed you with rain. It was 1890. The government will come for you, you said. May no one ever be separated from their happiness. My prayers for you lasted one hundred days. According to your religious beliefs, I prayed every ten days. The path begins with strong reliance. It is not horror to consider you, barrel after barrel, no— person after person, held in my lap, embraced in my arms. We told each other we were islands. We brought each other to life. We were each otherʼs bodies, mouths open, our words circled like a current. I performed your rituals. I cleaned you with a damp cloth dusted with powder. My body, like a water bubble, decays and dies so very quickly. I am but a small island, at the mouth of a bitter river, only big enough for a few houses. But who would live here anyway with such a current and icy winter winds? Instead, together we imagined my house covered in red paper, mirrors taken down, a white cloth over my doorway, a gong at the entrance. I dressed you in your best mourning clothes: white, black, blue, or brown. Never red. I only had a small piece of fabric, an old linen apron that had washed up last year. Just like myself all my kind
The old stones and a patch of dirt was our geomancy. The “lucky day and hour” was chosen. The April wind was cool, clouds soft, a pale blue sky. The snow geese returned that day to the river flats. I placed the coffin on the rocks, your head facing the inside of my belly, which would be the “house.” I offered you duck, Hudson Bay tea, and Tlingit rice. I had no portrait of you; instead, hemlocks scratched your image into air. Just like the shadow of a body. There was no sister, brother, or cousin to guard the funeral hall, to observe mourning. Only me. Me. And who would believe an island could mourn, could hold secrets like ancient glacial boulders broken down into grains of sand, could hold your blood in the crevasse of seashells. I wore a hemlock bough in my hair, dressed in black, as I grieved the most. I’ve washed blood from broken boards, barrels cracked open. When I become a pure container through common paths, bless me to enter . . . One hundred days of ceremony. We listened to the tiderush circling us, the rhythm of words, like wind through hemlock. You may have heard it like mourners’ cries. No gold paper for your tradition, no ghost money, but I burned paper scraps that’d floated up from the sea. I burned lichen from timeworn stones. I burned old-man’s-beard moss. I burned the spruce bark, the rounds shaped like dragon scales. The essence practice of good fortune . . . I told you stories, memories of old people coming downriver, then ice breaking, cracking, warming, more canoes, then more. People have turned to stone around me. Hunters, fishermen, wives, sons, even children, have lain at my feet, tumbled from overturned skiffs. These were the best prayers I knew. At the foot of your coffin, I lit a candle and burned incense, though it was only smokewood and dried moss. My sacred vows and my commitments.
While you waited the fleeting of your soul, I wanted to tell you stories of dragons, though I’d never seen one before. But I knew a killer whale story would do. Killer whales round me every spring, hunting, hunting. Each story has given an offering. There was no trumpet, nor flute, nor gong to recite my prayers to. I relied upon the river current, clack of rocks, wind through the trees. And take delight in the holy . . . Ravens hopped along the beach, bowing, bowing, bowing. He left a clamshell on the log. May I always find perfect teachers. Planes and birds have circled and dipped, tipped their wings to me. Go. You are winged now. Fly among the black swifts, the pipit, the ring-billed, the mew, and kittiwake. Accomplish all grounds and paths swiftly. One hundred days I prayed. One hundred days I kept vigil. One hundred days of stories—a bird steals the sun, a log becomes a killer whale, Grandfather Heron convinces a woman to swallow a rock. Through the blessings of the holy beings, and through the force of our heartfelt prayers . . . I’ve never told anyone this, but seven days into your burial ceremony; I understood your soul was supposed to go home. That would’ve been China, yes? I imagined there was a small field behind your house. Your grandmother and sister were still there, still waiting for your return. And here, I was supposed to dust powder by the door in order to tell if your spirit returned for a visit. That day, the snow fell unusually late in the year. Your footprints were pressed into fresh snow.
May all our prayers be fulfilled.
Outside the Saltry Restaurant. Halibut Cove, Alaska, July 2016
Grace is Gone
Chapter 1 Smoke fills the room and clouds my eyes with tears. An acrid stench hangs above me. Afraid to move, I crouch on the floor trying to melt into the gouged wood planks. I have been a captive for over two years— raped and assaulted almost every day. If there is a world outside these men and their prisons, I can’t fathom its existence. Screaming and chaos surround me, but I focus on the swirled knot of pine less than an inch from my face. Concentric circles enclose the dark core, filling my vision and mind. I rock slowly in my fetal position, palms cupped over my ears as the scene collapses around me. Rough hands squeeze my upper arms and I’m pulled away. I stay curled on my knees, unwilling to expose my body further. I don’t want anyone to see my swollen belly. They drag me outside, their faces covered with plastic masks and their bodies bulky and stiff. They drop me on the rough ground and I blink in the feeble morning light. I am too scared to move. My thighs are still sticky and wet from the men who are now being shoved into the back of dark-colored cars. “Miss?” A muddled voice tries to slither its way between my fingers and into my ears. I shake my head to dislodge it. “Miss, are you alright? Are you injured?” The language sounds foreign to me. I know the words, but I can’t process their meaning. The only sounds I have heard in the past two years have been sharp bites of anger and orders. “Miss?” A hand touches my shoulder with hesitation. I jerk back, feeling the pale eyelids of my light-hazel brown eyes widen with fear. A stranger kneels before me, waiting for a response. The woman moves slowly, placing a bottle of water on the ground between us. I don’t know the correct answer to the questions, spoken or unspoken, so I sit still. My shaking hands move from the sides of my head to my stomach, unwilling to divulge the secret I have been keeping for so long. The woman’s head tilts as she watches my actions. I quickly reach for the water. “What is your name?” I don’t know my name. I haven’t heard it in two years. I repeated it to myself every day for the first six
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 months, but it disappeared with my last shreds of hope. G—Gaby? No that’s not it. Greta? No. I won’t speak the name they gave me, though it waits in my mouth. I refuse. I will not even think that name again. I don’t want the sounds to cross my dry tongue. Clawing at the lonely pathways in my brain, I search for the lost piece of myself. Two of the cars pull away. I am alone now. My captors have been taken. I tear at the burqa that covers my head as though it’s removal will allow the information in my mind to escape. Freedom and courage flood my body, even though the action is tiny. One wall falls. “Grace. My name is Grace.” The words sound scratchy and weak. But they are mine. Chapter 2 “Grace, can you tell us what happened?” The woman from the house brought me to a police station with all the other girls. But they kept us apart, each in different rooms or closets. Plain gray walls imprison me now, interrupted only by a large mirrored window. I think it is supposed to be scary, but it doesn’t frighten me, not anymore. I reach for the paper cup of water in front of me and try to keep from gulping the cool liquid. I haven’t been allowed to change from the robes they made me wear, but at least it camouflages my bulging stomach. The woman’s eyes are soft and pitying. Some of the men looked at me that way…before… “What can I tell you?” I’m not sure how to start a conversation. I don’t know what they want to know, and my natural inclination is toward silence. Silence is safe. “How did you get involved with the cell?” “Cell?” “The men who took you. How did you meet them?” She speaks to me like an adult to an ignorant child. I try to remember back that far. Two years feels like a lifetime—a stranger’s lifetime. “The computer. A boy. I was fifteen.” I’m not sure what else to say. “You were recruited from a chat room?” “Recruited?” “You were asked to become a part of the extremist cell?” The woman seems to sense my confusion, but she is not patient. She is frustrated. “I wasn’t asked.” They must know that I was taken. I was kidnapped. How could they not know? “I have parents. My parents lost me. They didn’t find me. They didn’t come for me.” I sound slow, like I can’t speak
83 correctly. Everything is clear in my thoughts, but when I try to form the words, they come out muddled. Muddled and simple at the same time. How do I explain? How can I relive it? My stomach tenses at the memories. “We know you have parents, Grace. You will see them soon. But we have a few more questions for you.” I furrow my brows to keep tears from falling down my fair but sallow cheeks. I don’t want to answer any questions. I want to curl up in the corner, but I have been through worse, and now I am safe. I think. I ball my emotions into my throat and swallow them. “A boy wanted to meet me. When we met, he took me to the first house. I wasn’t allowed to leave.” “The first house? Where was that?” “I don’t know. I was blindfolded. We were always blindfolded. Our rooms had paper over the windows. We moved every few months.” “What do you remember about the houses?” “They were all the same. No carpet, no lights after dark. They listened to foreign music. We were allowed to watch TV, sometimes.” “What did you watch?” My mind slides down the dark hole. It’s the news, always the news. It’s all I get to watch. It’s been two weeks, I think. I tried to keep track, but I can’t tell exactly. They wake me up at night when I’m sleeping, and so I sleep during the day. It could be longer. My face is on the news again. My parents are looking for me, pleading for me. I cry as their faces flash on the screen. They will find me. I’m their baby. I just have to hold out a little bit longer. My daddy will break in here and save me. They won’t give up. It seems like yesterday I was at school with my friends and then cheerleading practice. How did I get here? Why can’t I figure out how to get out? I sit very still and look around the room again. One man sits near the hallway and another stands at the doorway. The windows are all covered. I could dive out of one of them. The dark haired man at the door watches me. He came in last night. He raped me, again. I pull my legs to my chest and hug them. I can’t fend off any of these men. Even if I I escape, they would catch me and hurt me. I can’t leave. My friend’s voices break through my thoughts, talking about how much they love me and miss me, begging for my return. The tears fall freely now. Fear. Sadness and fear. I reach up and turn off the TV. When I move, the man at the hallway moves too. “They are not your family. They are not your people. We are your only family.” They are terrorists. They don’t look like the pictures in the newspaper. They aren’t even all Middle Eastern, but
84 they hate America. They don’t talk to us, but I can hear them through the door in my room. They talk about Jihad and infidels. I don’t understand a lot of the other stuff, but I hear enough to know that they are terrorists. Why are they here, in the center of the Midwest? The other girls are crying loudly, screaming for someone to talk to. Sometimes they put us in rooms together, but not for long. I’ve counted four other girls so far. “We accept you. You are broken, but we will care for you and fix you.” I nod my head toward him, not sure how else to respond. Anything to keep him from hitting me. The slaps hurt the least, and silence earns only slaps. Later that night he comes to my room. “This is how I will fix you. I will make you a wife.” The words panic and calm me at the same time. He is white, like me, and looks like he could be the big brother of a boy that goes to my school. His hair is cut very short and he is trying to grow a beard but mostly it looks like the lawn does in early spring, patchy. I try not to move. Whenever I move, he hits me, just like the others. If I stay quiet and don’t move, it will be over fast. He grabs my breasts moving his scratchy hands across the soft surface, pinching and squeezing as he hastily explores. He pulls my hair and groans before sliding his hands around my throat. I can see my own reflection when he opens his green eyes above me. My face is dirty, the tears cleaning streaks from the corners of my eyes to my ears. I close my eyes and try to imagine something else, anything else. He grunts loud and then stops moving. After a moment he pulls back and releases me. Slamming the door behind him, he leaves. I am alone, but I am slightly less afraid. The chanting begins outside the door. I think he is praying, but I don’t know for sure. My daddy will find me. I am his Gracie-girl, I know he will come. He will break down the door and bring the police and rescue me. I know it. I just have to wait… “Grace?” “They let us watch the news sometimes.” “Is that all?” The woman knows that my mind was somewhere else. But that time is gone. I don’t want to remember it. If I speak about it, then it happened. Maybe, if I pretend it didn’t happen it will disappear. “What else happened, Grace? Did they hurt you?” “Yes, ma’am.” My head drops to my chest, ashamed that I didn’t fight back. I couldn’t fight back. “It’s not your fault, Grace. Are you hurt now?” She squints her eyes at me, waiting for the declaration that she knows I have to make. “I’m not hurt now, not much.” I touch the bruises and scars on my arms under the black cloth, pressing hard as if to remember them before they disappear in my new
CIRQUE and normal reality. “I’m pregnant.” The silent man standing in the corner makes a quiet sound of pity and disgust, but the woman in front of me reaches for my hands. I pull mine back to my stomach. I do not trust her. “There are…options. I mean, if you don’t want—” “Grace, baby.” My sheltered and frantic mother bursts into the room, her short blond hair bouncing on the top of her reddened face. She will hate me when she knows. I want to hug her, to run into her arms, but I am afraid. I am angry. She didn’t come.
The first month we were in “protective custody.” We were separated into isolated apartments for debriefing and psychological examinations. My parents weren’t even allowed in. It felt the same as before. I was in a plain windowless room with guards. I waited in the dark, every night, and exhaled as the dawn came and no one had breached the door. The news spoke with surprised words about the presence of a new evil on American soil. Like they didn’t know that it was happening, that children weren’t disappearing by the dozen. We became the symbol of innocence…until we weren’t. Two of the girls and their protectors were killed by some of the men who kept us. Justified by the lack of faith and honor in their “wives,” they defended their actions posthumously via internet proclamation. I think they were just afraid. The nation swore to protect us then, they promised to lay down their lives for us, to ferret out the boys-next-door who turned into terrorists. My baby kicked restlessly. The next month we were sequestered for the trial. More windowless rooms and more guards. I didn’t want to sleep on a bed; it didn’t feel right. I barely spoke. When I faced some of the men in the courtroom, I knew it wasn’t over. They spewed their hateful words, but I sat straight and unresponsive, just like I did when they were on top of me. Strong. America thought different. They saw my lack of response as acquiescence. They pondered my cooperation with the men who assaulted me. They wondered if I was secretly furthering their agenda, biding my time before I attacked. Still, my baby grew, unaware. I stare at the red and green pom-poms that sit fluffed on my desk—giant, plastic, meaningless poofs. I sleep on the floor cradling my huge belly. I used to let Samantha sleep on the bed, and now it wouldn’t feel
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
right to take it. She was homeless before she was taken and had nowhere to go when we were rescued. I begged my parents to take her in. I knew her at two of the houses that I am determined to forget. Samantha is—was— the closest thing I have to a friend. Even through the closed window I can hear the humming sound of engines running outside. Reporters have been camped out on the curb since we came home. They spin their tales about what they think our lives were like, they tell the world of our hardships and how we couldn’t possibly come out with our sanity intact. They are done seeing us as the innocent lambs, they can keep the story going longer if we become the victims of a tragic case of Forthcoming Sheary Clough Suiter Stockholm syndrome. All of our motives can be questioned. A few of the girls have given up. They have become what they are accused of, traitors question. I shouldn’t want to be alone, but I don’t feel to their families and their country. It’s what Samantha right here. This house was not safe. My parents couldn’t became in the end. save me, didn’t protect me. I feel broken, out of place. “It will pass, Samantha.” I try to tell her, but she Magazines and television shows lament my kidnapping. cannot listen. She cries every night. The men threatened her Half of the nation grieves my predicament and pity my before she left. She hears their voices in the faceless whispers baby, but they do not understand it. The other half names that plague us. The men are everywhere. They look like me a sympathetic terrorist, a traitor. They know nothing. everyone. There is no way to know who is one of them. The “Allah will save you, Jameelah. Now that you are not knowing is exhausting. No one can protect us. with us, Allah will protect you.” Samantha’s mewling lulls me into sleep on the hard I don’t know what the name means that they call floor. But when I wake she is gone. The window is open. I rise me, but they say it with tenderness when they speak. “You from my sleep to go and find her, but my father is in the room are safe here. The infidels would corrupt you, but here you and drops to his knees, rocking me back and forth. I fight shall remain honored.” against him. It is dark and I am alone. No one can touch me If I were my old self, I would laugh at their childish like this. I scream. He lets go, but stays close. “Samantha…” proclamations. But now I am starved for any piece of love. I hold the morsel in my closed eyes and caress it with my mind. We both start speaking together, but neither of us finish the I feel safe when they speak like this, protected. Maybe tonight sentence. I see it in the wrinkles beneath his deep set brown will be different. I will not have to endure their punishments. eyes. The sadness lingers there since I came back, but it pulls This night no one will come. I am wrong, like always. even further as the silence grows. Samantha is gone. “How?” A baby boy is born, the child of pure evil in the I ask simply, retreating to my emotionless palace. “The eyes of the world. The reporters bombard me as my grocery store. She killed herself, and...” he hesitates, “she father pulls the car to the curb of the hospital. I sit on the killed others.” It isn’t hard to imagine Samantha lying on the sidewalk in my wheelchair, my mother sheltering and floor amid blood spattered celery and soaked cellophane shaking behind me. I have left the boy behind, unwilling bread bags. I have seen myself there too many times, to show him this world or these people. He will know his surrounded by the infidels our captors railed against... They father’s name no more than I. He will have another world, told us that this was not our family. They told us it would be the one in which I used to belong. He will have a happy our end, that we would have purpose. Perhaps they were life. right. Maybe Allah is the only one who will accept me now. “Traitor! Liar! Terrorist!” The names are hurled into the air filling it with a concussive silence. My mother I’m seventeen. I’m supposed to go to college retreats back inside the sliding doors, her hands covering this year, but I’m so far behind in school it’s out of the
86 her mouth and catching the tears that flow down her face. I don’t know why I am still surprised at their insults. “They don’t mean it, honey.” I know my father means well, but they do mean it. He doubts me too, it’s all over his face. He has never spoken the words, but I have heard it all the same. Samantha heard it too. The whispers in the courtroom. The discussions on the news and in the articles. She gave up. Spray paint covers the garage door of our home, screaming that I cannot be trusted. It labels me as one of them, an extremist. They see Samantha when they look at me, someone who is only here to do the bidding of my captors. Do they not realize they are fulfilling their own prophecy? People move away from me wherever I go. Their actions repeat the message: I have been brainwashed. I am a threat. I understand it. I remember reading an article about the wives of the Boko Haram. Taken against their will, they were forced into a different life. When they returned, no one trusted them. I grieved for them. I stood shocked for them. But until you are them, you cannot know. You cannot feel what words will never describe. That is me. I am them. America thought it was protected, safe and snuggled in its storybook homes and blossoming cornfields. They imagined they were different, immune to the evil they fought. I thought I was different. I thought my daddy would find me. Now I know my father could not. Maybe there is no difference between the two worlds. Maybe the secret is that you have no people, no family. You must be your own family, your own reality. Maybe not. I will not return to the savages that broke me, as some of the girls wished to—either in death or in life. Their world is not mine. I know this, but the world does not. I do not belong in this world anymore. I will never hold my red and green pom-poms. I will not live with my parents. I do not know on which side of this war I belong. Forcing my way into my old reality would be like stretching a stubborn, cracking canvas over a weakening frame. There is one thing that both sides have made clear. I know it in the marrow of my bones even as terrorists and gossiping housewives scream it from the tops of tall buildings, hands intertwined in their united declaration:
Matthew C. Taylor
Buses, Bars, Bathroom Urinals
I started with, I thought, the best one. I barely saw Shane anymore, and I was cognizant of wanting to keep his attention. “It was an overcast day, late—no, early spring,” I said to him at the bar. As I spoke, I realized I couldn’t remember when, exactly, I’d taken the bus ride I was thinking of. I crunched mental math—it was when I had the job in Bellevue, which I’d only kept for a year and a half. It definitely wasn’t winter because I could remember light, I thought, angling through dusty windows. Stale air, collars unbuttoned, and a strange heat that was responsible for—this was important to the story—people holding their coats. I translated the thought for my oldest, best friend: “It was a stuffy, shitty, after-work commute.” Shane was sitting next to me, swirling a halfempty pint of beer, nursing it. We were in Changes, a dive bar right on 45th in Wallingford, rainbow flags flying in front of the brick façade and mirrored windows. It was the only gay bar in the city off Capitol Hill, and neither of us had ever been, though we once lived together just a couple of miles away, on the other side of I-5. We were just gay guys living together, not lovers. I found something about the name Changes so appealing, so quintessentially gay. Changes. I told Shane this when I called him, and to my surprise, he answered. Rumours. Neighbours. Gay bars were always in plural. “I’m just going through so many… changes in my life,” I’d joked over the phone. Besides, it was the easiest place to get to on the bus from my mom’s house in Lynnwood. I suppose this started the bus talk. * I feel like I should interject to say—I thought this was what Shane and I did, our shtick. Find a topic, extrapolate until exhausted. It’s amazing the conversations that accumulate when you’re living together, stacking dirty dishes in the same sink. This is how minds work—webs of ideas, tangled together. You can talk for hours this way. *
These are not my people. They are not my family. I have no people. I have no family.
“So what happened?” Shane prompted me. He
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
kept his hands in his lap. My elbows were already propped on the tacky countertop, committed. “The bus stopped on Campus Parkway, the first stop,” I said. The first stop on that street was right in front of the dorm where I lived freshman year. I always seem to remember that—the where of a story. I was sitting toward the front, on the right hand side. I continued, “A guy got off—lots of people always get off on that street, and he dropped his jacket. And someone, a passenger, sprang up and said, Excuse me sir! You dropped your coat!” “That’s nice,” Shane said. “Thank you! It is nice.” “I meant it was nice of him.” “No, I meant—thank you for acknowledging that it was a nice action. It’s a nice thing to do, right?” Shane nodded. He looked serious, that he was taking me seriously. Or maybe he was uncomfortable. I’d arrived before him, and was three beers in. He’d put on weight in the past year and was stuffed into a high school knowledge bowl t-shirt—casual Friday for an engineer. Although we were both gay, he didn’t seem to fit into the setting of the bar, and I began to regret asking him to meet me here. The room was long, narrow, and dim—
the walls and the cement floor were painted the same slate gray. A couple of guys were cracking shots at a pool table; middle-aged men stood around holding bottles. In corners of the room, crumbled peanut shells were swept together in piles with spent pull tabs. There was, strangely, a fish tank gurgling by the front door—it was full of guppies with tumorous faces. “So,” I said, “The very next stop.” There were two stops on the same street, a block apart. Dozens of people got off at each, because each stop was a transfer point, divvied up in a way I never bothered to understand. “Guess what happened?” “What happened,” Shane repeated, but not as a question. “Another guy getting off drops his coat.” “Okay.” “And I had just seen this interaction unfold. I had a perfect model for it.” “Right.” “So I stand up, and I grab the coat, and I say, Sir, you dropped your coat. And I hand it to him, and he gets off the bus.” “That’s good.” “Exactly,” I said. Was it true that I’d only seen Shane three times since we moved out of our apartment? We had been friends, right? We met, graduated together, talked about classes and jobs and guys we thought were hot. Hadn’t we? We never made a habit of going out together—he was studious; I was less able to afford it. Still, we saw each other every day. I slapped a palm on the countertop, but I hit the slick left behind from the bottom of my pint glass, and the noise my hand made was a kind of unconvincing plub. “Exactly,” I repeated, my story making sense to me. “He didn’t say thank you; he looked at me like I’d performed black magic.” Shane laughed at the term, a bit of hyperbolic statement, a glimpse of the rapport we used to have. I ordered another from the bartender, a hulking man with thick silver hoops dangling from his ears—he told me sure thing, sugar. Maybe the passenger wasn’t a man, I realized, who I returned the coat to. It may have been a woman. Did that matter? I couldn’t remember if the first dogooder was still on the bus—it seemed that he must have been, but then why had he lost vigilance? Did he know something I didn’t, that to help once is kind—twice is for suckers? As I thought about it, it seemed uncertain that the trip had even happened in the daylight. I began to feel
CIRQUE “I’ve gotta piss!” he slammed on the door once and, seemingly, walked away. People do this, I hear. Share bathroom space. Another brother would barge in, go whiz, flush the toilet out of playful spite. Husbands have bowel movements in front of wives. I’ve been led to believe that some boys have sorts of saber duels, crossing streams. By another brother, I mean, me. If I were another brother. *
Shadows, Abandoned Columbia Ward Cannery, Kenai River
what I’d felt at the time of the bus ride—that I hadn’t done something helpful; that I was a phony. * Rage was the impetus behind my mother’s bathroom remodel. The thought had come to me that morning, standing under the nozzle of the raw shower pipe. Carson, my stepfather of four years, could rip up tile and grout, could install the insane decadence of heated floors, could knock a hole in a wall and replace it with frosted glass, but when it came to practical matters— i.e., obtaining a showerhead that didn’t flay my skin as it spouted unfettered like a torrent from a broken fire hydrant—was of no use. Call me Car, he’d asked when I first met him, his handshake sweaty and taut like a full bladder. Call him a thing, a status object. I don’t think he ever expected to live with me. My train of thought was interrupted by Kevin, my little brother, banging his fist on the bathroom door. “Gonna be all day?” He boomed, asserting himself. Home for a week, the house remodeled beyond recognition—a sun room added, skylights put in the kitchen, the swooping birch tree in the front yard removed (all this remodeling done at the behest of my mother! a woman who, in my childhood, would hang up paper towels to dry! Who bought bulk blocks of orange cheese and made a weekly ritual of cutting off the mold!)—Kevin never had any problem asserting himself. Home with a freshly minted MBA, which seemed impossible. I’d only graduated less than three years ago. I was embarrassed to be around him. I called yes, but I could barely hear my own voice above the spray, the mechanical whir of the overhead fan.
“There was another time,” I said to Shane. “Same bus commute, but in the morning.” Under the dim lights, Shane bobbed his head, looked down at his glass. The crowd at the pool table had grown; a guy wearing a leather jacket was thwacking darts into the plastic board. “He got on the bus right after our place, he and two girlfriends. All young. He was clearly gay, wearing those big raver pants, you know? With the big cuffs a Jack Russell Terrier could crawl into?” Shane nodded, like I’d just made a true statement. “Well, anyway. The kid was clearly gay—young.” Had I already said that? “The point was, he started making these sex moans. They sat in the way back, but the whole bus could hear. His little girlfriends were giggling. On the morning commute. The funniest line was when he said, I ain’t never done this before.” In the bar, alternative rock played on the stereo system. The echo of a rack of pool balls being broken bounced around the room. “I just think of that line sometimes,” I said. I thought to comment about my anecdotes—how the first was about an act of déjà vu, and the second was about breaking new ground. But it hadn’t landed how I wanted—I hadn’t captured the voice of the raver, how playful it sang out, in delicious contrast to the morning commuters and their business casual attire, raunchy against neutral swatches of twill and polyester, leather satchels and sensible shoes. So I changed tack. “I ain’t never done this before,” I said and picked up my pint glass and poured it into Shane’s, which he’d finally nearly drained. “Honestly, damnit,” he said, almost snarling. Actually, he sneered and showed his front teeth, which it seemed to me was the definition of a snarl. “I poured you a beer,” I said. “I see that.” He heaved a sigh, searched for his
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 next words. “They’re two totally separate beers. They were.” “It’s just beer,” I said, which made me think of something. “I’ll order a new one. We’ll swap.” Shane shook his head, but put his hands up as if to concede to my idea, and I think—to my playfulness. “I think it’s sweet that you notice what beer I order,” I said. All I knew was that it was the cheapest on the menu. Of course, maybe that’s what he noticed too. It’s funny, about the beers. It reminded me of a lesson in high school physics. You take a glass, and fill it with ocean water. Then you pour half out. Fill it again, this time with tap water. Pour half out. Fill it again, pour, fill, pour—you get the idea. You do this a hundred times, a million times, and some of the ocean water will always remain. You keep halving to infinity, to the atoms themselves. I considered saying this to Shane, but in thinking about how to explain it, I realized that I was going to frame it as—the glass was ruined forever, tainted by ocean water. That didn’t seem quite right. Then I thought that he was an engineer, and I was just a guy with a BA in psychology, and I probably shouldn’t talk about science. I asked the bartender for another of what Shane was having, and he told me sure thing, sugar. In physics, we also learned that one object can never be made clean without making another object dirty. * When I told Shane that he shouldn’t worry because it was just beer, I thought of something my brother had said to me that morning. He told me, “It’s not the end of the world.” I remembered it because I found the statement to be simultaneously dramatic and minimizing—with the latter feeling being why I thought of it when I ruined Shane’s beer. A minor problem is still a problem. I read that online somewhere. So, that morning when I got out of the shower, as soon as I wrapped a towel around myself Kevin burst in the room and herded me out. I entered the hallway and closed the door behind me, and immediately heard a torrent of piss, blasting into the toilet as if by pressure washer. Straight men seemed to make a show of emptying their bladders. In eighth grade, my English teacher stood next to me at the urinal before class. “They should put funny signs above these,” he said to me, ostensibly to break the tension. I don’t remember if I replied, but I’m
certain I was completely unable to urinate. * I don’t know why I’m honing in on this. It’s almost impossible for me to articulate how it feels to be around Kevin. Maybe I should only speak in facts. We are brothers. He attended an ivy league school. I don’t know if ivy league should be capitalized or not. He earned an MBA in Chicago. He has short brown hair and symmetrical facial features—I read online that symmetry is the key to facial attractiveness, and when I uploaded a picture of his face into an app, it told me he was “very good looking.” He graduated, and he came home for one week. * After drying off, I retreated to my childhood bedroom and dressed in what I could—a button-up and scuffed loafers and tattered jeans with a hole wearing away in the inner thighs. Kevin was tasked to drive me to his graduation party. I waited in the kitchen, view of both front door and garage exits, to make sure he couldn’t shirk the duty of carting me around. I hated this. After graduating, when I had a job, I diverted money into paying student loans. I saw friends. I paid rent with Shane. I felt responsible. I felt like I was leading a balanced life. I found myself, now, at the whim of the largess of others. Lynnwood could have been an easier busing town. When Kevin wasn’t here with his rental, which had been every other day of the past nine months, there were times when I begged friends, or asked my mother to take me to interviews, or hopped rides with Car. Jumped in Car’s car. Life was just too much. * Sitting upright on a barstool, I noticed, had started requiring an interesting amount of effort. It was not quite 8 P.M., and sunlight crept in whenever someone opened the door to the back patio. “One time, I saw a girl get on who I hated,” I said. I remembered where I was—on a bus at the North end of The Ave. “She had a duffle bag, white, patterned with little anchors. Her whole wardrobe. It was like, those slipper-like shoes with no socks. A blazer with shoulder pads. Cleavage, one of those dot nose piercings,” I said, touching a finger to the greasy curve of my nostril. “You knew her?”
“No, just based on how she looked, I hated her.” “Jesus.” “And her hair—it was pulled back in a wet French braid. Wet.” Shane was quiet. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and tapped around on the screen. He started deploying tactical yawns, and seemed determined to not make eye contact with anyone. I thought about waiting him out, not being the one to break the silence. “I have to pee,” I said, my body betraying me. “Okay.” “I also have a story about pee.” “Okay.” “One time, at a gay bar—CC’s—I used the urinal.” The men’s room in question was cramped, door perpetually open to a short hallway connecting two halves of the bar. There was a single stall and two urinals elbow’s distance apart from one another. “Some guy started using the urinal next to me,” I continued. “And he told me, nice dick. That’s what he said. And I didn’t know what the decorum was in this situation. So I turned to him, and I said, you too. And then he said, aw shucks.” A sigh. “Okay.” “I just think of that sometimes. Aw shucks.” I stood, teetered and regained my balance. I took two steps toward the bathroom before looking back and saying to Shane, “I’m just going through all these changes.” * I feel I should also note that I’m leaving out some of the chit chat with Shane. I know, believe it or not. But I must say that I asked Shane about all the basics: His job (going great), his new place (cute, good parking), if he’s seeing anyone (not looking). It was the “fine-fine-fine” response to these queries, I think, that made me nervous and rambling. * At home, I found Kevin in the living room, watching baseball on the flat screen Car had mounted on the wall. “Are we going?” I asked. “Yeah.” “Soon?” “Yeah.” “Could I—could I get more information?”
“I’m driving your broke ass to my graduation party, genius.” “That’s great,” I said. It was really, really great to be called that. “When?” This was how I found out that everything logistics-wise about the party had changed. By everything I mean two things—the time and the venue. This was a problem because I had plans to see Shane that same day, and I hadn’t seen Shane in months, and I had something important to ask him. I voiced some of this to Kevin, and he told me, “It’s not the end of the world.” * I didn’t say any of this to Shane, because it sounded so petty and trifling. So I skipped Kevin’s graduation party—so I didn’t see any of the fat envelops of cash from Car’s relatives that I’d fantasized about pilfering. So I ended up walking four miles total to various bus stops, asked for paper transfer tickets, sweated through a shirt, blistered my feet, emptied my bank account to go out and muster up a bit of courage. Big whoop. Shane didn’t need to know any of that. What I needed him to know was that I was responsible, and together, and fun. But I wasn’t ready yet, so instead I told him about a dream. It’s more of a fantasy, but I posited it as a dream. “I’m at an awards show,” I said. “Maybe it’s the Oscars, or maybe it’s an event that doesn’t exist. It’s a job fair, but a big one. There are prizes to be won. Recognition. “The announcer takes the stage—he’s a beautiful man, always. And he always starts with this—he reads the name of the runner-up. Mind you, it’s winner take all. There’s no prize for second. And the name he reads is mine.” Shane made a noise that sounded like agreeing, or understanding. He pressed his lips together and hummed. “I’m the loser. I’m always the loser.” We sat for a while in the din of Changes, the air heavy, noticeably warmer than when we’d arrived. When I got back from the bathroom, Shane was sitting upright, phone in hand, clearly ready to leave. Whatever his reaction to this was, I knew it would be the last I’d get of him. I began to worry that I’d blown it. “It sounds like you think you’re being underrecognized,” he said. Hearing Shane say that, in that moment, seemed like the most gratifying thing I had ever heard in my life. “Exactly!” I leaned forward, excited. “That you have hidden potential.”
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 “Yes!” Shane nodded. “That’s good that you see the potential in yourself. You must have healthy self-esteem.” It wasn’t going to get any better than that. “Let me move in with you,” I said. I watched him for signs, which at first yielded nothing. The room seemed to turn around him; it seemed to blur at the edges. I realized that while I was staring, Shane wasn’t looking back at me. He began to shake his head slowly. Then he scoffed and put his head in his hands. I wish I could say that he told me something cutting. That he told me to get a job, or that I needed to stand on my own two feet. It would have been nice, even, to say we weren’t good enough friends anymore. Or he could have gone full tilt, told me he always knew I was obsessed with him, and he would never fall into the trap of living under a roof with me again. Actually, I wish he would have just said no. “Maybe,” he said, drawing out the word. He slapped his pockets, a gesture that he was going. “We’ll be in touch.” Then he waved goodbye, and went to his car parked on a side street, and drove to Gaililean Thermometer his West Seattle apartment, and had a weekend, and went to his job on Monday. Me, I walked to the bus stop—the one I researched and planned for, with the route that doesn’t run on weekends. * Two seats in front of me on the bus home, there was a homeless or just drunk man sitting sideways and talking to anyone who would listen. It was a full route— these infrequent suburban routes seemingly always are.
“If I’m dead, the truth will still be here,” said the man, and this prompted me to pull out my phone and begin to take notes. In front of me were two strangers, a young man with a crew cut and a woman with gray hair—they passed each other a knowing glance when the rambling man looked away. “I’m sincere and genuine, I’m not just frank,” he said. I wrote down his words, although they felt pointless to capture, superfluous. I knew I would remember the occasion, where I’d been, what was said. Still, I clacked away on the screen on my phone. I wanted to be doing something with my hands.
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NONFICTION Jeff Fair
Following is an excerpt from In Wild Trust, a photographic biography of Larry Aumiller’s thirtyplus years at the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary in the wilderness of southwestern Alaska, home of the largest season congregation of brown bears on earth. This book, to be released by the University of Alaska Press in Spring 2017, tells the story of how Aumiller established a “trust” with the bears, partly through his savvy and maintaining the legislated priorities of the sanctuary, and partly by accident. McNeil became a place to watch and learn about bears. But in 2005 everything changed when a governorappointed board threatened to discontinue certain protections of the McNeil area bears, initiating a cascade of betrayals, but certainly not a sad ending for Aumiller or McNeil… August at McNeil State Game Sanctuary in southwest Alaska: the month of late-summer storms, of dead and dying chum salmon drifting back onto estuary strands, their living careers over, their life-ending task of procreation completed. This is the month when the blueberry and bearberry leaves turn crimson and the willows brighten toward gold, when the silver salmon arrive along with the first darkness all summer, and with that, the return of the stars. For Aumiller, August means moonlight walks on the spit and more close-up visits with mothers and their cubs during his morning forays. And it brings on nostalgia, that deeper romance prior to parting with a beloved spirit-place—plus a touch of melancholia as he aches to see his wife and daughter again.
“Geez,” says Aumiller, marching down from his cabin with pack, shotgun, and his usual broad grin, “this almost feels like summer.” He offers a quick checklist: Everybody got lunch? water? sunscreen? hip boots? camera? film? rain gear? (Gentle laughter from a few, but despite the sunshine he’s not kidding about rain gear.) We follow him out of camp and up the trail toward the falls. Ever the same trail but, as Aumiller likes to say, always fresh and different. Crossing the estuary mud flats, we leave our parade of footprints amid a myriad of perfect bear paw impressions. The same mud flats, erased twice daily by the tide, that have carried the tracks of some six thousand bear watchers, and Charlie McNeil and Ivan Marx and generations of Alutiiq before them, many a bear across the millennia, a few moose, an occasional wolf, a stray caribou or wolverine, and on certain days (and nights), the boot prints of Aumiller alone, sole arbiter in those hours between the brown bear and the human spirit. “No one can ever know what I’ve experienced during my time here at McNeil River,” he scribbled earlier this summer in his journal. “This place and my place in it will only be known by me.” He was recording in celebration the ineffable joy of a long-time and intimate connection to a privately explored and closely watched landscape and the life upon it. Not just his life, and not just this river, but a connection that each of us, if lucky enough to find it, must feel on his own, in her solitary way.
It is August of 2005, and I’ve returned to McNeil to throw a check on things, the sanctuary manager in particular. I want to see that he’s kept his humor, and what it’s like for him to be comfortable in his boots after thirty summers of introducing the bears to their fans. But there’s more to my motive than that. Something foreboding now floats on Larry Aumiller’s horizon. You wouldn’t know it, though, given his arrival on this unusually warm August morning to greet the latest pack of permittees. “R.C.” (Reggie’s Cub) at the Age of Fifteen
Lots of bears on the mud flats in August, our guide observes. The peak of fishing at the falls is fading, and hundreds of salmon carcasses wash down this way, scattering at high tide and thus allowing the less dominant bears to forage without competition. And the eagles, and wolves. We slog out of the mud and onto the streamside cobbles, whereupon we notice ahead of us an inanimate large brown mass. Binoculars arise. “Huh,” says Aumiller, “a dead bear.” Quiet befalls our little troupe. “Should we go check it out?” The brown mass raises its head, ears extended, looking our way. “Oh,” says Aumiller, a glimmer in his eye, “he was just sleeping.” Senses heightened, we move obliquely closer to the bear in order to pass it and continue upriver. As we do, Aumiller musters us together to proceed more slowly and quietly. This is, of course, to avoid changing the bear’s behavior— rule number one in the McNeil manual. Aumiller wants every interaction to be a positive lesson to the bears that we humans are not a threat. When a couple of the videographers among us wander apart a few yards for a special shot, Aumiller gently invites them back into the group. We’ll have the opportunity to find consensus on many decisions today, but there are no exceptions in this regard. Aumiller defines the McNeil guided group as “a democracy led by a benevolent dictator.” The system has worked now for thirty years. Not a single bear has been shot or injured for human safety and not a human has been injured by a bear through what Aumiller calculates to be over six hundred thousand bear–human encounters during his tenure. Across the river, above a low bluff just west of Charley McNeil’s cave, a trio of ravens wheels about, raucously at play. Their crisp, corvid voices blend in with those of a myriad of gulls, the white noise of the rushing river, and the grating glare of the Alaska sun. The ravens remind me of a story Aumiller had told me from his earlier years with ADF&G over in King Salmon. He was living at the department bunkhouse in town there one June when someone brought in an adult raven with a broken wing. The biologists judged it fixable and set the bone. They kept the raven outside so as not to have it bond with the humans temporarily responsible for its care and feeding. It was their intention all along to release the bird back into the wild, and after about a month of healing and recovery, they set it free. Having grown accustomed to the human traffic—and likely the free meals and treats offered by passers-by—the
Female Brown Bear with Her Two First-Year Cubs
raven remained near the bunkhouse all summer. Aumiller remembers it waiting on car hoods for people to walk past, whereupon it would squawk at them. It would not come to hand or alight on anyone’s shoulder, but if you stopped, it might walk right up to you with a curious eye. Gradually, the bird made longer and longer forays from the bunk-house, always returning to peck at windshield wipers and chatter at the locals. In early autumn one of the biologists encountered a couple of the local kids out by the river with a .22 rifle, a common outback Alaska occurrence. The boys had a story to tell: This crazy raven walked right up to us . . . and we shot it. Back at the bunkhouse, the amicable bird was never seen again. Aumiller never shook off the irony of the raven’s trust resulting in its death at human hands. From the hill above the falls, we see a few bears fishing, a plethora of impatient and hungry gulls hovering about, and downriver, far out across Kamishak Bay, a suggestive wisp of vapor above the summit of Augustine Volcano. When we have settled at the pad overlooking the falls, Aumiller surveys the shallow canyon, our various positions on the pad and below decks, and the tall grass behind us before taking a seat and stretching out his legs. He looks a bit weary. A touch of gray has invaded his beard. His thirtieth summer out here has carried many of the familiar joys, but has been one of his most difficult seasons in an emotional sense. For there is a new tectonic readjustment underway, not geologic but political, originating from far, far off beyond Augustine and across Cook Inlet, in the fluorescent-lit offices and meeting chambers of a bureaucratic faction.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 In March of 2005—just five months ago—while the snow lay up to the rafters of the sanctuary cabins and the bears still slept, the Alaska Board of Game, an authority appointed by then governor Frank Murkowski to formulate game regulations in an ostensibly public process, met in Anchorage. At that meeting they voted down four formal proposals to continue or enhance protection of McNeil-area bears while they wander in areas adjacent to the sanctuary, and then voted in essence to repeal the brown bear hunting closure in the Kamishak Special Use Area bordering the southern and eastern edges of the sanctuary. Barring a future board action to reverse itself, trophy bear hunting would begin there in 2007.
More important to Aumiller in a personal sense, the board’s decision violated the ethical, philosophic, and conservation grounds upon which he had constructed his career, his life story, and this phenomenal trust with the bears. It also violated the trust that Aumiller had with ADF&G and the State of Alaska, at whose behest and under whose authority he performed this work. The board’s action did not threaten to erase Aumiller’s legacy, but worse, to reverse it. The very trust that Aumiller and thousands of others had helped instill in the bears that visit the McNeil Sanctuary would now allow those same bears to walk innocently, like that trusting raven, in front of trophy hunters where there had been none before.
This decision by the board came as McNeil’s bear numbers gathering at the falls had dropped from average hourly counts of fifty-five bears in 1997 to twenty-two in 2005: well below the ADF&G sanctuary management plan’s lower limit of forty-five bears—a statistical threshold below which efforts to reverse the decline are to be initiated. Meanwhile, hunter take of brown bears in the adjoining Katmai National Preserve to the west (well within the annual wandering range of McNeil bears, as is the special use area) had increased by 500 percent since the 1960s. Salmon numbers in McNeil River were also diminishing, which likely inspired the McNeil bears to travel into these adjoining lands in search of food.
No one disputes that the bears who visit McNeil Falls regularly travel into the Kamishak Special Use Area and the refuge (both of which are state lands), and the Katmai National Preserve, the last of which remains open to bear hunting. The early research involving bears tagged at McNeil readily illustrated this. A bear found dead above McNeil Falls in 2000 had suffered a large-caliber bullet injury, assumedly inflicted on legal hunting grounds in the preserve or on state lands north of the sanctuary. And more recently, wildlife watching guides, including Ken and Chris Day and Derek Stonorov himself, have observed easily identifiable bears that visit McNeil behaving with tolerance of humans outside the sanctuary boundaries. One case involved a female with four cubs (extremely rare) who would nurse them in front of humans at McNeil, and did so again in front of the Days and their group outside the sanctuary in the Preserve. When the Days told Aumiller about this observation, he verified the bear’s identity not only by
The board’s action flagrantly disregarded the statute that had created the sanctuary, ADF&G’s formal management plan for McNeil, and the trust that Aumiller had created in the bears. Not to mention the public will. Statutory goals in the legislation establishing the sanctuary included first and foremost providing permanent protection for brown bear and fish numbers, and managing all human activity to maintain and enhance the unique bear-viewing opportunities in the sanctuary. The public had weighed in heavily before the meeting, with over 7,500 mailed responses against the hunt and 15 for it, a 500 to 1 preponderance. Eighty- five percent of oral testimony at the March meeting supported continued or expanded protections. Alaskans themselves were overwhelmingly opposed to opening the hunt, including 78 percent of resident hunters. The Board of Game ignored them all.
Bear Paw Impressions
96 the number of cubs but also by the unusual color of her coat. But the Board of Game appointed by Governor Murkowsi was filled (and remains so at this writing in 2016, three governors later) with a preponderance of members oriented primarily toward predator control and maximum immediate hunter success at all cost. Part of their mindset appeared to be an antiquated view that any area closed to any kind of hunting was a threat to the tradition of hunting. One of the arguments presented by a few bear-hunting guides was that the bears that exhibited a tolerance for humans at McNeil would change their behavior to a reclusive shyness of humans upon leaving McNeil and entering into legal hunting areas. What Stonorov and other wildlife-watching guides, including Aumiller himself over many years—before, during, and after the viewing season at McNeil—have observed in the special use area and the preserve seems to refute that view quite fully. And any suggestion that a bear recognizes a political boundary line drawn through this wild country is simply inert. The state had been loosening restrictions and encouraging brown bear hunting elsewhere as a tool for predator control, and had actually implemented some forms of ADF&Gsponsored “bear control”—so there was no lack but rather a growth of opportunity for bear hunting in Alaska. Now the board’s intent was to look at all areas of Alaska under their jurisdiction currently closed to bear hunting and see if they might be opened. And the McNeil neighborhood was one of them. The same people detest the idea that bears are individually identified, or recognized as individuals (by name, or even by number). Such recognition offers a more personal connection between humans and bears and therefore encourages some form of tacit protected status in much the same way as the spruce grouse or red fox that frequents a hunter’s yard is enjoyed for its presence and not dispatched for dinner or pelt.
CIRQUE example, is funded nearly entirely by those who pay for permit applications and permits. And ADF&G deservedly reaps the profit of positive worldwide public relations for offering such an experience. Ironically, such a move toward open season by a board allegedly representing Alaska hunters was simply another blow to the reputation of hunting and hunters nationwide by attempting to open fire on bears in an area where many of the animals are at least perceived to wander about unafraid of humans. At a time when hunters’ numbers dwindle in our culture (down from 9 percent of the U.S. population in the 1980s to 5 percent in 2005), their conservation efforts will need new allies. But the board’s votes in March 2005 were votes that would diminish the very experience at McNeil for nonhunters that can lead to an inspired connection to the natural world, and to an understanding of the need for the same habitat protection and conservation that hunting itself depends upon. Given today’s habit of basing everything from quality of life to political decisions on economic terms alone, one could argue that wildlife watching has generated far more income than trophy hunting, even when calculated for just the brown bears in this small portion of Alaska. But the environment and our quality of life are not derivatives of financial calculations; they are the basis of life and our humanity. George Schaller said it eloquently in a recent National Geographic magazine article: “It is tremendously worrisome that we don’t talk about nature anymore. We talk about natural resources as if everything had a price tag.” At McNeil, it is not about greater financial profit, but rather about the experience: the phenomenal value—to humans and to conservation—of this unique experience among bears. As Aumiller says, “It doesn’t get any better
Further, in 2005 the board was peopled entirely by hunters and trappers with not one nongame biologist, photographer, or wildlife-watcher guide. Its decisions pointedly denied wildlife watchers or any sort of nongame interest a seat at the table of Alaska wildlife management for fear of dilution of the hunter’s historic power and the argument that it was the hunters who have footed the bill for conservation all along, through their license, tag, and stamp fees. This argument was true for a long time, but that era is past. The McNeil program itself, for Female with Two Yearlings Pass By McNeil Camp
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 than this—anywhere in the world.” As for ADF&G, the director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation simply stated at the March 2005 meeting that the department did not manage for individuals of any species—it only managed populations, and thus they would not strive to protect the “individual” bears that visit McNeil. That would be those individual bears that comprised the world’s largest concentration of brown bears, precisely what state law mandated the department to maintain in this sanctuary. And so, the McNeil bears were not only being wedged into a narrowing gap between trophy-hunting areas, they were also caught in an erroneous political gap between the state law that created their sanctuary and the state conservation agency designated, but unprepared, to protect the very concentration of bruins that state law and the agency’s own management plan were set up to manage and safeguard. Aumiller was dumbfounded by the blatant disregard for the historic legislation that established the sanctuary. “Do you want to make it all it can be, as the legislature intended? Or do you want to share it with hunting? Sharing is exactly what the state does for most areas. But how about, for just one area, you don’t do that?” “If there is one place in Alaska to protect bears, the McNeil ecosystem is it,” wrote Leo Keeler, a former president of the nonprofit organization Friends of McNeil River. Jim Faro, one of the first ADF&G biologists to recognize and value this unique experience, saw both sides of the controversy. “But you don’t need to go to McNeil to have outstanding bear hunting in Alaska,” he would tell me later. “The harm to the reputation of hunting far outweighs the insignificant increase in hunter opportunity.” Back at that March meeting, even Board of Game chairman Mike Fleagle judged that establishing these hunts is “going to anger a lot of people for very little benefit.” Although Fleagle voted against the opening, the verdict was five to two in favor of trophy hunting in the special use area. Aumiller has been seasoned with issues confronting him and threatening the quality of the McNeil experience, as well as its safety record, across the decades. He’s heard it all. He looks upon this as simply part of his journey. “Commercial fishing was the hardest struggle, although, in a more emotionally damaging way, the hunting issue has really preyed on me.” It was one thing to diminish this primary food source for the enterprising and opportunistic
97 bears, but another thing entirely to betray the trust instilled in them and see them killed by walking up to another person’s rifle. “That just becomes . . . untenable.” Aumiller is no antihunter. He hunts and fishes, albeit casually and part-time, and he does not hunt bears. (Aumiller won’t even taste bear meat, citing allegiance to his side of the trust and the karma that goes with keeping a purer relationship with the ursine clan.) Hunting in the fair-chase, ethical, humane tradition, he’ll tell you, has a solid and sacred place in Alaska, and all human, natural history. Ethical hunters are far more interactive with the real world than many other Americans today. To bring home meat or fish from the wilder haunts to the dinner table is a responsible and honorable celebration of real life, and a direct connection to and communion with the earth that sustains us. Aumiller himself respectfully kills and consumes a good number of McNeil River salmon, and will readily risk karma for the flavor of a moose steak. In 2005, given the outlook, Aumiller stopped naming the bears. He didn’t have the heart to attach his knowledge to another individual that might walk in front of a gun due to the bear’s McNeil experience. As for the bears already named that Aumiller had watched down through the years—there were days that summer when he could not look at any of them for very long, lest he feel an impending loss. “An encounter in the early days where a bear measurably gained trust was a cause for celebration,” Aumiller would write to me later. “In the last few years, watching a bear begin to trust us made me sick, sometimes literally.” To make matters worse, in early August, 2005, a contingent from the governor’s office came to visit McNeil and went back to Juneau to suggest that the management of McNeil ought to be privatized, leased out to a for-profit concessionaire with little experience and undoubtedly a whole different set of goals. And then there came word in the press that the Board of Game might even consider opening the adjacent McNeil Refuge itself, parts of which, Aumiller pointed out, lie “within a rifle shot of the river.” His 2005 McNeil journal is festooned with photos and cartoons and memorabilia pulled down from his cabin walls and taped onto its pages—he was collecting his memories. Late that summer he wrote, “I’m running out of hope.” With all that in silent orbit about him this August evening
98 at the falls, he watches one of “Teddy’s” offspring, a threeand-a-half-year-old, eating a fish just twenty feet from the pad and obviously annoyed far more by the cloud of gulls hovering desperately close to his meal than by our presence. The tolerant young male finishes, licks blood and fish eggs from his muzzle, and lies down for a nap facing us and into the sun, much to the delight and entertainment of the photographers. In the prime fishing spot on the far side of the falls, the rest of us watch as “TL,” an adult male, drops a large, spent, and ragged chum salmon he’s just picked up to pounce on a smaller silver, fresh in from the sea. Before we leave, TL is displaced by old, rugged, dominant “Custer,” who appeared from the alders on the far shore just minutes before. It is a deliberate action, uncontested. TL quits the falls and wanders upstream toward the setting sun, ever so slowly, as if reluctant, pausing to bow his head and drink of the river, to piss in it, to stand and inhale the air from various directions. He looks around behind him to the falls where Custer has yet to fetch a fish, and then moves on up his river of life, around the bend and out of sight, out of the crowd, to a quieter place. On our way back to camp, just before we encounter the “Spit Bear” and her two cubs, I look across the river to the bluff for the ravens, but they are gone. Later that evening I venture out from the cook cabin. The tide has flooded and begun to ebb and by its very presence, without wind or wave, erased the tracks we had made in the mud today—the bears’, Aumiller’s, mine, all of them. I look up and notice a few points of light, the brighter notes of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, in the twilight above. There, in the darkest McNeil sky since early May, I observe the first stars at the end of an Alaska summer. Aumiller’s thirtieth at the sanctuary. Haunted by the prospect that his decades of work with the McNeil River bears would betray them into walking in front of trophy hunters’ rifles, Aumiller walked away from the river and its bears, his little cabin, and the best summer job in the world. Feeling betrayed himself, disheartened, and discouraged, he retired on October 1, 2005.
CIRQUE how fast time goes.” (2004) “Never had a better staff . . . I enjoyed being at McNeil as much as ever.” (2003) “Great year for me. One of the best in memory.” (2002) . . . and so on back through time—is to realize, even if he did not as he closed each season of his McNeil journey, that he’d return the following spring, sure as the tides, the innocent swallows, the salmon, and the bears themselves. On August 23, 2005, as he packed his thirty years of cabin life into cardboard boxes, he recognized in those pages that, “I thought I’d be here forever.” Like W.C.’s tracks in the mud above high tide twenty years earlier that well outlasted his corporeal form out on the spit, Aumiller’s metaphorical tracks across the past thirty years at McNeil on the higher ground of human record and memory will not soon wash away, though his tenure as sanctuary manager and chief bear whisperer were over. He would leave behind his long legacy of safety and understanding of bears to live on at the falls, in the values and traditions instilled in and bequeathed to his staff, and in the minds and hearts of thousands of pilgrims he guided into the wild and intimate world of the brown bear—and thereby more deeply into their own. In January of 2006, just out from the mouth of McNeil River and in full view from camp, the spit, and the pad at the falls, Augustine Volcano erupted again in perfect geologic serendipity and Aumiller synchrony, punctuating an era with fire and dust and preparing the way for a new beginning. A new beginning that would bring all of the team members back together under one umbrella of conservation, a beginning that would sweetly and brilliantly shine through the ash Augustine was spewing.
Did Aumiller ever plan to be here as long as thirty years? He’ll tell you no, that he lives more in the moment. Like a good marriage, you decide every day, every month, each year, that you want to continue in it. But to read the final pages of his journals each year: “. . . it was a great year. Number 29 for me. Can’t believe Two Yearling Brown Bears at Play
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Kissing, Telling, and Invisible Trout: A Dilemma
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
The river began as a trickle, no larger than a foot trail that appeared off the side of the road once we topped a pass and began to descend. Each side canyon brought more water until the trickle could be honestly referred to as a creek (or a “crick,” as my dad pronounces it). Eventually the creek grew to what may safely be called a stream, and, finally, a full-fledged river. My father remarked that it “had a lot of fall in it,” meaning that it was losing elevation quickly as the water raced towards the ocean. The elevation drop created buckets behind stones and white ribbons of bubbling oxygen that snaked across the river’s width and contrasted the browns and reds of the river’s bed and the green stadium of pine trees lined up the inclined canyon walls. The speed of the river and the countless boulders looked to make for tricky wading. Crossing the stream appeared as if it would take a plan and some concentration, but it wasn’t impossible. I was a small-time freelance writer, so small that I had another job. But small-time freelance work had led to a couple of weeks of fly fishing, under the justification of actual paying work. I thought of this as my father motored the heavy Ford van—a newer model that had none of the charm of the primer gray van of my youth—down that dirt road in the Idaho wilderness. It was the second week of back-to-back fishing weeks. I had managed to talk the editor of a regional magazine into green-lighting two articles, and I needed photos for both. Weeks earlier I had broken the news to my wife that I would be fishing for two weeks. “Such is the life of a working man.” I spoke this sentence with a straight face. She agreed that two twoweeks of vacation from my actual job (meaning the job that actually pays a living wage) to chase trout and take pictures and pretend I was 19-years-old-again was a good deal. Probably she just didn’t want me to spend the
99 summer brooding. My father had found the river. He had become a reader in old his age and he had stumbled on a description of the stream in a book about the Rocky Mountain backcountry written by a 19th century trapper. The stream was buried deep in the wilderness of Central Idaho and rumored to be full of native westslope cutthroat trout. The place was just mysterious enough to be interesting, or at least that is how I sold it to the editor of Northwest Fly Fishing. He agreed to let me write a destination feature—a genre that tells you where to go and what to fish with when you get there, preferably with lots of small words and a few big photos of thick, pig-like trout that make the readers spill their lunch and drop the magazine while dialing the number of the guide shop whose advertisement smirks at them from the facing page. There would be no such pictures for this article, given that this stream had no such fish. But there would be lesser photos of lesser fish, and I needed someone to pose for the pictures, so my brother Justin and my dad offered to come. The three of us drove out of Idaho into Montana, then back into Idaho again, then up a series of interconnected and vaguely signed dirt roads for what seemed a dusty eternity until we encountered the creek— narrow as a ditch—that paralleled the road. As we motored toward a campsite, we happened on a fisherman standing in the shallows and throwing short, tight loops behind boulders while puffing a cigar, white hair fighting out from beneath his tan fishing hat. He was the only other angler we saw that week. We slowed to chat and he took one look at me leaning out the window of my father’s van and said something in a thick southern drawl that caught us all off guard: “Did my wife send you?” I wasn’t sure how to react. Then he laughed and pointed to my ball cap, adorned with the sewn logo of the Georgia Tech University mascot, a yellow jacket wasp. It turned out he was an avid supporter of the Georgia Bulldogs, and he had traveled across the country, only to find the mascot of his arch rivals bouncing down a dusty dirt road a hundred miles from the nearest town, leaning out the side window of a van. Before we left, he took off his own hat and wiped the sweat from his shinning forehead, squinting in the afternoon sun and looking at the river. Then he said something else: “These cutthroat, man…” he trailed off as he gazed at the stream. Then he looked right at us. “Don’t tell anybody about this place.”
I felt the sting of guilt like the barb of a fly. I was here to write about this place, I planned to tell everyone that wanted to listen. I am still not sure if that was a good idea. *** The first time I caught a trout that could legitimately be called a “native” I was fishing a similarly wild creek at the top of a Central Utah canyon. My brothers and I had fished that river in its lower stretches but we had never continued driving up past the campgrounds where the road turned to gravel and finally ended. Here the river could be leapt across if you got a good run and a section of bank that wasn’t lined by thick willows (and you were somewhere between the ages of 16 and 39). We had parked near a document of that river, a road sign that told the story of the Bonneville cutthroat, Utah’s state fish and a species that civilization has essentially pushed to the brink of extinction. The sign mentioned that this particular stream was one of the few in the state that was home to the state’s only native trout species. My brothers and I were in our 20s; we thought about this place and these fish for a few moments and said: “Hey, let’s go catch one.” Looking back, our response seems counterintuitive. Hey, this species of trout is in danger of fading from existence; let’s go stick a hook in one. But I would likely make the same choice today although I would be more aware of the reasons behind my choice. Catch and release fishing, when practiced properly, doesn’t harm many trout. Sure a few fish die, usually when anglers leave them out of the water for extended periods so they can take photos. But most of the fish survive and actually change their behavior, becoming more difficult to catch. But that is not the only reason I would make the same choice. The benefit of catching native trout—for both the trout and the angler—is that it moves the concept of “a native trout” from the realm of the abstract to the concrete. An angler who holds a pure strain cutthroat in the very waters where its ancestors have swum and spawned and risen to caddis flies for millennia is grasping the very thing that makes these fish so important; that angler is holding a conduit to wildness. To see the way such a fish melts back into the stream—disappearing into a camouflage of river stones and sand—is to witness the products of natural selection firsthand. How many hundreds of adaptations must occur before a fish becomes invisible? Pondering such a question makes the
choice of state-run fish and game agencies to plant every stream in shouting distance with non-native rainbow or brook trout seem like an entirely unnatural selection. An angler who has caught and released a pure strain cutthroat becomes an advocate for the fish and the river and the entire concept of wildness because that angler’s connection with wildness is suddenly real and invaluably concrete. My brothers and I weren’t thinking of any such thing as we walked up the wet trail through the meadow grass and the willows until we found a pool of decent size. We simply wanted to catch these pure strain cutthroat because we had never caught anything like them before, and because they were on a sign. And so we did. We caught several Bonneville cutthroat that seemed to appear out of nothingness as they rushed our Elk Hair Caddis, careening over the flies in their hurried attempts to eat. Those trout were small and bright and wild and a trophy would lie in the wet palm of one hand without danger of escape. But the size didn’t matter. These fish were the heritage of our home state. They were here before we were. Before our grandparents. Before Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers. Before Ute Indians. Suddenly, it felt important to me that they be here long after I was gone. *** Back in central Idaho, on my magazine assignment, it turned out the fishing was plenty good enough to make a decent article. The fish here were bigger than their Utah cousins, but they weren’t massive by any measure. They torpedoed any big bushy dry fly that slowed down long enough to be a target. And they were natives. Lewis and Clark had managed to catch westslope cutthroat while cutting a new path across the Rockies and— in a move that is pretty indicative of the way we think about “discovery” in American history—the biologists have named the fish after them (in Latin): Onchorhynchus clarkii lewisi. Some of Onchorhynchus clarkii lewisi were bright chrome with deep orange cutts beneath their jaws. Others were more green and brown and red and gold. All were perfectly beautiful and perfectly at home. Like their native Utah cousins, they managed to disappear completely against the cobbled backdrop of the river bottom. Never in my years of fishing have I failed to see so many fish. Those trout had spent a hundred thousand years blending into the river bottom, paying a steep, bloody price when they failed at the hands of ospreys or bears or eagles. They were a part of the river in
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 a way I had not yet experienced. They were made of river water. We set up in an empty campground along the road and fished lazily for a week. The weather was dry and pleasant. I took photos, fished with my dad and brother, sometimes fished alone. We drove up and down the dirt road looking for the fishiest and most photogenic stretches of water. But it didn’t seem to matter; the fish came to our flies in buckets, flats, and runs—always emerging out of nothingness, always more beautiful than the fish caught just before, always slipping out of our hands back to invisibility, their existence reduced to memory and faith. *** My own internal struggle that week stays with me, even though I have given up writing destination magazine articles. The practice never felt good, and I lost a good friend over the fact that I put the names of some backcountry lakes in print. As a writer new to the magazine field, destination articles were a way to break in, and I was too young to think about the implications. Most famous fly fishing rivers need less publicity; or at least that is my current view of the topic. But I am sure the guides and outfitters who feed their families and work hard to protect the resource at the same time would disagree with me. And they might be right. But this river wasn’t a place like that. There were no guides on the river, no private property signs, and no fly shops on the banks. There were only armies of pine trees arrayed up the steep sides of the canyon and boulders of innumerable shapes and sizes funneling river water up and around in a thousand eddied currents and seams. That crystal water was as clear as summer sky and all those fish were as unspoiled as a distant solar system. Why would I write about a place like that? And now— having decided that destination fly fishing journalism is a black mark on my past—why would I struggle with my choice? Why not admit that I should have capped my pen before the first word went on the page and just move on? I suppose it’s because places like that river mean so much to me now. And because I have learned that the pen is a weapon. It moves people, gets them knowing and thinking and acting. Perhaps it is an arrogant way to think of my own writing, but I find myself wondering what exactly my pen is moving them to do. Will it help or hurt? I want people to know that river exists so that they will want to protect it. That is my hope. My fear is that not enough people know about such a place and so someone somewhere with too much money and no appreciation for invisible trout will turn the whole place into a gold
Dreaming of My Mother’s Garden
mine or drown it under a reservoir. But my fear is also that it ends up popular and crowded and somehow less wild; my fear is that they decide to pave the road. Humanity has a spotty record when it comes to taking care of wild places. We drill holes in wild landscapes and cut down trees. We build roads that funnel water to places where it washes wildness away. We collapse mountainsides for minerals. We spill mine waste into rivers. We aren’t very good at protecting things. But those things often happen when no one is looking and we don’t notice until it is too late. If no one writes about those wild places, then how will we know to even try to protect them? If we cannot see those fish, who will know they exist? The invisibility of those trout protects them from all predators but one. Evolution cannot select such fish in the face of our distinct lack of regard for wild places. Suddenly, millions of years later, their invisibility endangers them. If we cannot see them—bright orange and chrome trout flecked with drops of wild river, fish so unique and so at home as to be part of the river itself— then they will remain abstract to us and easy to disregard. It is only when wildness becomes visible that we seem to appreciate it for its own sake. And yet so many wild things
have spent a dozen millennia adapting in ways that make them impossible to see. *** Fly anglers tend to divide fish into three categories: native, wild, and planted. Native fish have a local pedigree, a family tree that doesn’t have roots in a hatchery. Wild fish are born and bred in the wild, and maybe their ancestry has called the river home for generations, but some great grandparent started the whole thing off by moving from a hatchery pen to current location. That fish was a planter. He or she was air-dropped into a mountain lake or fed into a local stream via a hose and a truck. Given these three categories, my own personal hierarchy of wildness goes just the way you would expect—native trout are somehow more wild than wild trout, who in turn are considerably more wild than planters, who have (through no fault of their own) been raised on the piscatorial version of puppy chow in a rundown swimming pool. Putting my own arbitrary value system aside, there are few (relatively speaking) hardcore chasers of native trout—anglers who want only to catch those fish that can trace their evolutionary ancestry to a local stream back before the West was conquered, before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, before man learned fire and used it to fashion hatchery pens and fishing rods. Sure, nearly every fly fisherman wants to catch one or two native trout so they can say they have done it, but given the choice between a bright, native, 12-inch westslope cutthroat tuned to a place over hundreds of thousands of years and a wild, 19-inch, brown trout descended from parents that rode out west on a train 150 years ago, many so-called purists—young and old—will opt for the more impressively-sized offspring of immigrants. What’s a hundred thousand years between friends? I don’t know why most anglers feel this way—why I Reflections, Summer Lake, Oregon
sometimes feel this way—except perhaps to venture that sizes matters. In the end we are all elephant hunters. Perhaps that is our own adaptation, bred into us as hunter-gatherers. Protecting native trout on the savannah of our species’ youth wasn’t likely to contribute to the evolutionary trump cards of impressing the ladies or help one live long enough to father more offspring, but hauling in the biggest wildebeest might do both of those things. Still—given that our species isn’t going away anytime soon—anglers might be a native trout’s best hope. Native trout are a mystery in themselves. Biologists and bureaucrats have been planting fish in rivers for decades, and yet they cannot replicate the native fish’s connection to its home stream. In Montana, they realized that hatchery trout were so out place in a wild river that they were damaging the wild fish, forcing them to change behavior in unnatural ways that no one fully understood. So they stopped planting rivers. Nature took over, fish began to adapt, and now the rivers of Montana are arguably the healthiest in the lower 48. This happened in a few short years; that is all it took for trout to remember wildness. Imagine the ecological attachment between a native trout and a river that has been forged over eons. I have no way of knowing something as wild and natural as that, simply because I cannot possibly know how deeply embedded in the ecosystem that native trout is. The interconnectedness is beyond my comprehension because this is no simple machine with plug and play parts. And that mystery—the unending complexity of ecology, the very fact that we cannot truly know such a fish—is what makes that fish so important. And besides
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 their value for the sheer sake of mystery, we have to acknowledge that we don’t know how the loss of a native trout will harm ecological balance; we can only be sure that harm will be done. These fish are important and special—that is what makes their loss in so much of the West a tragedy. Much of the Rocky Mountain country has lost its native trout to manmade mistakes. We planted rainbow trout in so many of the region’s waters that the cutthroat were hybridized or competed out of existence. In other rivers we built dams or spilled something or planted a predator. Yellowstone River, once home to the healthiest population of native cutthroat in the West, is reeling and trying hang on to its native trout because someone with a bucket and an inflated sense of their own sporting pursuits planted lake trout in Yellowstone Lake, the body of water where many of the river’s mature trout return to spawn. Lake trout are meat-eating, cutthroat-destroying killers. The National Park Service now pays a commercial boat to catch and kill as many lake trout as they can while the number of native cutthroat in the river below the lake teeters precariously towards oblivion. I feel certain that we should be asking ourselves questions that might help avoid such tragedies in the future. How do we decide when wild fish should be sacrificed for natives and where should hatchery fish be planted (if at all)? Can we measure native trout in time and money? Is it worth selling out to destination journalism so that a few more anglers will know these fish and perhaps fight for their survival? What if too many come to this place? What if they pave the road? These are the questions I think about and fail to answer. Lucky for me, John Gierach provided a way to keep such questions (and a thousand others) at bay: “The solution to any problem—work, love, money, whatever— is to go fishing, and the worse the problem, the longer the trip should be.” *** One afternoon on that central Idaho home of westslope cutthroat, Justin hooked one the river’s bigger fish—seventeen inches or so—on a streamer. I was watching from the bank as he drifted a streamer in against a log and jerk-pumped it twice. The fish came barreling out from beneath the log and attacked the fly. It was a moment of ferocity within a languid week that reinforced nature’s default setting of ruthlessness. I remember thinking that I might have to learn a thing or
two about streamers and what had happened just then. I also remember thinking it was the first subsurface fish I had seen all week, a fish that had let itself be seen when the reward seemed to outweigh the risk. The last day we drove down to the end of the dirt road and hiked down a well-maintained trail that led to even wilder country. The river was larger here, but the fishing was more of the same. There was a boat ramp for wilderness rafting trips and throughout the week we had seen and heard several large rigs rattle down the dirt road with a heavy raft in tow, then rattle back up the road— louder now—with an empty trailer. There was a guard station there, but no one was home. It was a log cabin with a corral and an outdoor faucet to fill up our water jug. It was tucked in a beautiful spot at the turn of the canyon and I thought I could spend a summer or a year or a decade there and not feel trapped or lonesome. Back on the river I managed to cross and work my way upstream to a fishy looking stretch that was a little slower and deeper than much of the water I had seen all week. Sitting on a rock I noticed stonefly casings, golden and crispy brown, sewn to the rocks, dried in the afternoon sun. The casings were almost as disguised as the trout. On first glance they seemed to be imperfections in the stone. This was a place keeping to a geologic clock. I slowed down and tied on a strike indicator (the first of the week) and a stonefly nymph. Working my way up through that run the indicator would dart beneath the surface on each cast and I would light the rod tight and feel the electric current of a chunky fourteen-inch cutthroat. I fished for an hour, or a week, or I am still there, still casting. I fished through time and around it until I lost count of fish and time and everything but the sound of the river and the bright side of a cutthroat thrashing in the current where a moment before and after there was nothing but the window-pane water and the rocks below, as old and haunted as the world itself. Of that lazy week, I remember most those fish— so perfectly adapted to their life among the slick boulders. So camouflaged they may have been translucent. Fish grown symbiotic with a river, a message from the past about the ancient and powerful force of ecology, a glimpse of millennia folded over on itself, fish so elusive and fleeting they might have been ghosts, invisible except in memory and faith, but somehow concrete and pulsing alive. Perfect fish built to survive in that place for another hundred thousand years, unless we somehow manage to screw it up.
Laundry with Bib
Joan Nockels Wilson
from The Book of Timothy: A Sister’s Pursuit of a Predator Priest AH my deare angrie Lord, Since thou dost love, yet strike; Cast down, yet help afford; Sure I will do the like. I will complain, yet praise; I will bewail, approve: And all my sour-sweet days I will lament, and love. --George Herbert, Bitter-Sweet April 22, 2012 I’m boarding the Leonardo Express, the commuter train from Fiumicino Airport to the Termini Train Station in central Rome. It’s four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, and although it’s April, two weeks after Easter,
I expect it to be darker outside. This is a distinctive trait of an Alaskan. Despite the change in latitude and the certainty of spring even at home, yet alone Rome, I still expect darkness everywhere and every time. How did I get to Rome? The simple answer is that it took thirty-eight hours with a layover in Chicago, my birthplace, to gather blessings. Or shall I say curses? But isn’t life usually more complex than the Alaska Airlines flight 30 to British Airways flight 4 to Alitalia flight 110 answer? Don’t all trips like this really begin ten years prior, devouring, for me, my late thirties and making all of the forties I have lived so far a mess for healthy relationships of any kind? And my brother? His saga began well before, before he really had a chance, behind a closed door that should have been opened, on a twin bed that should have slept one, under the watch of Saint Michael, who supposedly stood ready to battle. Isn’t this where tragic stories really begin? Under the theoretical custody of a guardian angel who could not have cared less? Or, rather, under the watchful eye of a wolf in shepherd’s clothing? The one who left the ninety-nine grazing peacefully in the verdant pasture to terrorize that solitary, frightened, honey-made lost lamb? In the words of the apostle John, this is the true “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God” start to it all. I don’t have to say it here, not yet. You must
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 know what I’m talking about by my use of certain words and images. The angel who missed his mark (the actual meaning of “to sin”), the closed door, the wolf—did I say, with the Roman collar?— the small bed, and my even smaller brother. You know the story can’t be a good one, but what should be picked up, in case you might have missed the cues, the allusions, not a sin in this context, is the fact that I can’t say it, admit it, right from the start. That is also the story. Like so many years ago, I’m on the outside looking in, fearful of what I might see. More fearful of what I might say. Even more terrified that I might do nothing. Yet, today, I am once again the faithful sister. I’d given up this mantle for a time as well, but after a lawsuit against a priest, a religious order, and an archdiocese that brought no acknowledgment of wrongdoing and at my brother’s simple and complex request—so that no other child may suffer alone—I’ve made telling Tim’s story my personal mission. In this task his story has seemingly become my own. And when it comes to me, it can only end in confrontation. With the exception many victims might prefer (I know) of a trained assassin, who better to confront a serial child abuser than a trained prosecutor? Please let it be noted for I see the folly: I am the only one here, not Tim, on a train to an eternal city without the ability to get on with it. I am the lost lamb with a backpack and a computer bag on a pilgrimage to the Curia Generalizia of the Congregazione della Passionisti di Gesu Cristos to find him— the priest banished to his order’s religious headquarters nearly a decade ago. I ask myself then. Why with this focus on fathers do I think of my mother? Be careful, child. I can hear her calling. Aboard the Trenitalia I’ve found my window seat, left side—vinyl torn—and I’ve released the backpack and computer bag tethered to my jet-lagged body. She calls to me again. I know it. Be careful. As the train leaves the airport grounds I want her here, for my own comfort, no one else’s. I open my computer bag, reach inside, and feel for the small portfolio of photos I’ve carried with me. Here are the reminders of the reasons I need to make it home: my husband, Richard, and our four messy dogs; the Chugach mountains; my Sitka spruce forest of a yard. I pause only briefly at the most important reason, the photograph of my three-year-old daughter, Abbie. With her open arms, she’s reaching for me, I can tell. But it seems I’m always a foot away, just out of camera range, life range. Even at this moment, mother that I am, I flip past her. I turn needingly
105 to the photo of my mother holding me. In it, Mary Catherine Blackburn Nockels is just thirty-two, currently, fifteen years my junior. Her short cropped hair is auburn. She wears a bright red poppy colored cotton sweater, and I’m cradled within the crook of her elbow. Mouth open, eyes looking to hers; she’s feeding me. I know from another photo that captures that same sweater, kitchen background, and mother’s touch this moment occurred at my sister Teresa’s third birthday party. So I, a Thursday’s child with far to go, am just over two months old. Despite this, my mother appears to be done nursing me; there is a spoon going into my tiny, upturned mouth. The benefits of long-term breastfeeding aside, Mom looks content, as if on this day I am, gloriously, all she ever asked for. Forget the five additional children, my brother included, just fifteen months younger, soon to follow. The sibling of many and jealousy still undertow, I note that until my law school graduation, thirty-three years into the future, this is the one and only photo I have of solely the two of us. And so for the next thirty minutes, through city outskirts, by cramped, efficient nameless buildings, cross the mud-blond Tiber River, this is how the time passes. Just she and I, together. Be careful, child. At Termini, I follow the crowd of casual Romans from track 26, and, with Chicago city sense suddenly engaged, I make my way relatively stress free through long corridors and down escalators to the subterranean Metro station. I look over the subway map to find my destination. Here it is. In one direction, Rebibbia; in the other, my other, his other, Laurentina. This is Linea B. The Blue Line. Blue. Blue means careful child, atento per favore. Blue means petrifino and paralyzed. Blue means anger, revenge, an action loaded upon itself of unadulterated violence. Blue means oxygen-less blood, what I may in fact be seeking. Is this what I am seeking? I must be better than a death wish. Remembering the inscription Richard Rodriguez wrote just a year ago in my torn copy of Days of Obligation—“For Joan, ‘Learn not to be afraid.’ St. Ignatius.”—I will myself back to contemplative understanding. Blue. Blue means coincidence, calm, and courage. Blue means an act of belief, really an act of resolute faith. Blue means ending, here at the beginning. And I’m soon to learn in three days’ time, from a fresco of the Madonna—here she is, the mother again!—beneath the papal apartments, that blue means high holiness. Purity even.
A Short Walk Through High Culture
She steps out of the lemongrass languor of the Malaysian Grill and into the dank fuel smell of Uptown Broadway, New York City. Darting purposefully, she makes her way to the Subway stairs about a half block away, only to run into a swarm of cell-phone drones rushing out. She hears pieces of conversation, scraps of anguish about the train. “They’re not running,” says someone into an earpiece. “I’ll catch a bus and meet you there.” “Look, I don’t know if I’ll make it,” says another, eyes dashing from wristwatch to street sign. “I’m at 80th Avenue and the crowd’s a bitch, so just go on without me and I’ll see what I can do.” She jogs ahead with a surge of rushing bodies just as another mob rises out from another hole. The crowd grows, moves, hums. Instinctively, she calculates time, pace and distance, considers routes and options and dodges people frozen by the inconvenience. She doesn’t know if she can make it, but she must; she doesn’t know if she’s making the right choice, but she opts to avoid the city bus after seeing several go by stuffed shoulder to underarm. She has no choice. She has to walk the forty blocks to Carnegie Hall in thirty minutes or miss the one marvel she traveled thousands of miles to see. Everywhere, people gather in groups to hail cabs, but she hoofs it instead, passing taxis on foot and zigzagging around bodies zooming around their own urgencies. A crisp breeze whisks under the collar of her black leather jacket, cooling the sweat on her neck. She rarely wears this jacket at home, its buttons too wide and showy, the cut too sharp; at home, she wears billowy coats or fleece jackets with wool sweaters bulging at the waist and armpits. Folks wear scarves like jewelry in New York, but she finds them temperamental and unreliable, and prefers pulling a neck gator over her hair and containing the static with a thick fleece beanie. On really cold days, when it gets too frigid to breathe without wearing cloth against her mouth, she runs or walks hard to keep numbness from her toes, curiously prodded
on by the thought of a cold death on the Anchorage greenbelt after freezing in her own sweat just blocks from a subdivision. Walking fuels her thoughts and composes the stories of muscle and lung, whether on the ice and tree roots back home, or the smooth surfaces of the Big Apple. All terrains get broken up somehow and on Broadway, where loiterers, signs, fruit stands and newsstands break the flow. She evades them all. She takes long, muscular strides and holds her head up to find her landmarks, brace for the obstacles ahead. The breeze feels cold, but soothing. The city behaves like a wind funnel and wind break simultaneously. The rakish landscape looks foreign, lets her plunge into thoughts far from the day-to-day burdens of life. Twenty blocks to go, 15 minutes to get there. She made it this far on the back of the National Endowment for the Arts. She could never pay for this walk on her own, not now, not with room for meals, cab rides, bus tickets, souvenirs for the kids, incidentals that add up. She thought good and hard before giving up five bucks on the way to a Bach and Telemann concert the other night. Why not, she thought. If I can buy a late-night latte, I can give a few bucks to a guy on the street. The coffee didn’t get her through the concert without nodding off, but maybe the fiver got him a beer and some chips. She came to New York for a taste of high culture. The NEA brought 25 reporters to the Big Apple, reporters and freelancers from Orange County and Oklahoma City, Seattle and Little Rock, Miami and Salt Lake City, but she came the farthest, the latest, the sickest, the least prepared. Some of the participants have played cello longer than she’s been alive; some were writing reviews of symphonies long before she got out of the mosh pit. She knows nothing about what makes a thing a masterpiece. She makes birthday cards out of construction paper, raven masks out of cereal boxes, castles out of corks and bottle caps. She understands the importance of art, even the drive for doing it, but doubts the “great” or “fine” means more than an elevated air and price. She sees, reads, thinks about art almost every day, but she can’t say it makes her a finer, greater person. She believes walking makes her a finer, greater person, and that walking will get her to Carnegie Hall in time. Even when sirens scream, horns boom and voices clamor for attention, she moves through every light without stopping. She lets her mind wander with her feet, from the relentless horrors of every killing ground to the sweet belly skin of babies. How can a mother who can’t
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 stay on top of her own shit do anything about kids playing “suicide bomber” at recess, she wonders? Eight minutes left as she passes Trump Tower without looking up, navigating from a week’s geographic memory. She went to Carnegie Hall two days before and notices familiar flags draped over stone, a crowd at the entrance. With two minutes to spare, she shuffles up to the ticket line, pulls away from the crowd and finds her seat on the first level, halfway back, dead center. A few empty seats remain. Some of her colleagues didn’t make it. Sweat slides down her back as she takes off her coat and looks around. The lights dim and her chest fills with sound. For the first time in weeks, she doesn’t need to fend off sleep. She is exhilarated. The audience erupts when Steve Reich leaves the stage, his hands entwined in a line of 18 musicians. The musical inventions of the 70-year-old man in dark slacks and a ball cap seep through their hands as if in anticipation of some lasting chord. She feels electrified, hallucinogenic. An equally dazzled colleague wonders, “How do you write a review of that?” “Two words,” she says. “Fucking epic.” Reich composed “Music for 18 Musicians” the year she went from grade school to middle school in the mid-seventies. He scored “Electric Counterpoint” as she grappled with loss and aimlessness at 25. He created “Different Trains,” his meditation on the Holocaust from 1988, the year she headed to the Interior of Alaska by rail. As she leaves Carnegie Hall, she feels as fluid as Reich’s aural machinery, as necessary as every violin, marimba, cello, horn, piano and electronic sound, as connected to everyone in the foyer as the organs of a single sentient being. She waits for the Uptown train on an almost deserted platform when an old man in a canvas coat flails his arms and shouts. He looks crazy, maybe drunk, like someone should after living underground, where every sound gets corralled by a stale heat. She gets off at Broadway and 94th after midnight and stops at a corner store for a bottle of beer. She climbs to the 11th floor of the Days Inn, turns on the news and waits for a late night call from her kids, longing to share her Carnegie buzz. From the bathroom, she hears a news voice mention the train closure. She looks at the TV for the first time. Someone fell on the tracks, the voice says.
Red Window 2
Authorities do not suspect foul play. They believe the victim was homeless. It took eight days of NEA workshops to get to the 20th century in classical music, and now she can hardly stay awake. The guy from the New Yorker runs down a list of composers, starting with the big names of the 20th century revolutions and streaming through the roaring twenties, the influences of jazz and folk, the impact of populism, socialism, realism, futurism, spiritualism, postwar dissonance, minimalism, romanticism, pop culture, world music, and so on, and so on. She can barely keep her head up as her mind drifts to Darfur and Missy Elliott and Iraq and her job and the homeless guy smashed on the tracks. How many Starbucks does Broadway need? How come Columbia University looks gray and imposing like a prison, even in the sun? Days before, everyone in the group wrote think pieces about their ten days of high culture. Now, as the New Yorker guy presses the play button, sharing the single piece of music by a woman composer heard all week, she wonders, why does the majesty still elude her? How can the concert hall feel static and stale even after all this time and effort? The guy from the New Yorker says, “I don’t know why classical music intimidates people,” and she says nothing. Put a “high” and a “great” and a “fine” in the room with no familiar faces or voices, and you leave people out. She knows this but can barely keep her eyes open. She jerks awake when a wildly dissonant piece by Stockhausen radiates through the room, making her want to swoon at its pain, its question. Rush hour begins outside as she ponders ways to pay for a fiddle for her son.
108 The last minute gathering with conductor Valery Gergiev from the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre in Russia almost kills her. Unkempt and whiskered, he comes across as weary, misunderstood, even handsome, but even his charisma can’t keep her awake. “Madame Butterfly” begins in an hour and she can hardly stop coughing, let alone assess the merits of art. The repertory virus she brought from home kept a stranglehold on her all week. She needs fresh air, so while the others head to the Lincoln Center café for coffee, she heads down the steps in search of the perfect cappuccino. At the crosswalk below the Lincoln Center, a woman in stocking feet huddles under a blanket with a kitten cupped in both hands, beseeching passersby, “Please, please help us. We’re so cold. Please, please. Please help us.” She stands near the woman until the walk sign illuminates. The humiliation is too much. The humiliation pushes her into the throng of bodies as she circumnavigates a city block to find a steaming drink. She sips it outside in a bitter wind, checking the $100 opera ticket in her pocket, reading the headlines in the Times and popping another zinc lozenge. Ten minutes before show time, she pauses and then passes the woman with the kitten again and rushes with the crowd to the Metropolitan Opera. She sits between colleagues, apologetically shoving another cough drop in her mouth. Every seat has a clear view, no matter how high up or far away, an amazing feat. Nearly 5,000 seats, all with spectacular views. When the celestial chandeliers rise, the lights dim and “Madame Butterfly” begins. The telltale tingle in the back of her throat forces her to curl her chin toward her neck to prevent the imminent bout of hacking. She drinks from her water bottle and looks around, taking in the spectacle, the finery, the rigor. The scratch in her throat and the rub in the back of her mind distracts her from the performance. She begins to visualize an opera of her own, with a cast of hundreds or thousands or centuries, with pop culture and high culture, hip-hop and symphony, rock stars and divas, harpsichords and electric guitars, dissonance and consonance, as mothers, farmers, merchants, orphans, healers, warriors and the mortally wounded plod across the stage in plain clothes, carrying rucksacks,
CIRQUE duffel bags, boxes, baskets, buckets on their shoulders and heads, until stricken by song, the metaphor, and falling into piles by the handfuls, the dozens, the approximations, the exponentials until only Bettye LaVette remains on the edge of the heap, wailing, I want my joy back. Oh joy, they had no right, they had no right to take my joy. Now I want it back… and kneeling at the rear of the stage, Cio-Cio-San sings, Un bel dì, vedremo Levarsi un fil di fumo Sull’estremo confin del mare E poi la nave appare E poi la nave è bianca… and the piles of bodies edge over the orchestra pit until they look more like fungal growths than humanity, more like malignant tumors than atrocities, until only the woman with the kitten stands her ground, a small, shrill voice from a thin reed, balled up on a tiny piece of stage with her arm stretched out weakly to the captive audience, or what remains of it, singing, Please, please help us, we’re cold. Please. Please, we’re cold… as the kitten curls like a peach in the palms of her hands. Brava, brava! purrs the cat after the final act, unheard while the wind blows and the trains careen far below.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Igor and the Holy Mountain
[Note: This is an excerpted chapter from We Are All Poets Here, forthcoming from VP&D House in March 2017] …The monks work hard to earn a meager living. Wars, revolutions, and iron curtains have cut off their supply of vocations as well as their revenues. And if life in the monasteries themselves is austere, it is all the more so out in the cells and hermitages where men live on the rugged mountainsides in conditions on a level with the those of the poorest of the poor in the Balkan countries. --Thomas Merton, essay, “Mount Athos,” Disputed Questions I have in my possession a torn and yellowed copy of the Moscow News, vintage November 3, 1962, a gift from a friend, and an artifact from the Cold War that I treasure. Across the front page of this English-language propaganda newspaper in bold, red type the Russians proclaimed the “USSR was a bastion of peace, a bulwark of human happiness.” Two world superpowers, on the brink of a possible nuclear confrontation, had achieved a peaceful and miraculous resolution over the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviets took complete political credit for thwarting the potential nuclear disaster. According to the Moscow News, the world could breathe a sigh of relief “mainly due to the wise action of the Soviet government.” The colossal, arrogant military machine of the United States, put in readiness to attack Cuba, had been stopped. The Moscow News also reported on the ongoing celebrations honoring the 45th anniversary of the October Revolution which gave the USSR an ample opportunity to tout their latest economic statistics—the millions of tons of steel being produced, the 140 million tons of oil produced, the new and widespread electric power grids manufactured and installed. But there was one more important measure of Soviet progress. Over 1,600,000 televisions rolled off the hot Soviet assembly line.
The Russians vocally criticized the U.S. and Western capitalism, believing our rampant materialism had gone too far, yet the Soviets often relied on bloated economic figures to service their propaganda machine. Who was winning the ideological race? Well, the Communists! Their system was truly progressive, its society thriving, prospering. Consumer goods were flowing like the Don! But mainly, I hold this 1962 edition of the Moscow News dear for other, more personal reasons. It contained another bold proclamation I can never forget, this one made by one of its Soviet journalists who wryly noted, “The erstwhile Russian soul, so popular among literary snobs, was now declared dead.” The mythological, mystical Russian soul, as understood by anachronistic poets and the rest of the “literary snobs” (Merton was one of those literary snobs) was squashed dead by the stalwarts of Communism. Trapped in pre-Revolutionary nostalgia, writers and artists had promoted the cultural belief and historical idea of Russian-ness—a passionate closeness to Mother Earth and an abiding reverence for God. But in the New Russia, under the officially atheistic Soviet system, this type of thinking was dismissed as passe, as being too peasantlike, and as lacking in social or political relevance. **** “We must go to the Village of Old Believers,” my Russian friend Igor insisted one Sunday afternoon while sitting on the couch in my Alaska living room drinking mugs of strong black coffee. “Really, Igor? You would rather do this,” I said, than look for mushrooms or fish for kings on the Kenai?” I felt certain he’d prefer another nature outing on his last few days touring Alaska. We last saw one another on my visit to Moscow in 2003. He surprised me with a special trip to the writer’s village of Peredelkino about 100 kilometers from Moscow to see Boris Pasternak’s country home, now a museum, and to pay our respects at the nearby cemetery where the Nobel Prize-winning poet, writer, and translator was buried in May 1960. I reciprocated his kindness by inviting Igor, his sister Olga, and her husband Misha to come to the Kenai Peninsula. Though the village of Old Believers was about a two-hour drive away from the small town of Soldotna where we lived at the time, I had never been to the mysterious religious community. Unless you were a
110 public school teacher or had other personal ties, most residents had no reason to veer off the main highway from the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula and drive an additional 25 miles or so to visit Nikolaevsk (neek-o-LIEa-vesk) “It’s been difficult for Russian Old Believers to keep their identity, culture, and traditions alive while migrating around so much,” Igor said in his perfect English as I refilled everyone’s coffee cups. “Nikolaevsk—it symbolizes Russia’s deep spiritual roots, and Katya, it is time you learned about this, too.” I’m recalling this conversation now, years later because back then, in the early 2000s, and pre-Thomas Merton, I didn’t fully grasp or understand what lay behind Igor’s strange request. I was basically going along for the ride to satisfy Igor and because I considered myself a student of Russian history. Listening to him that day, I was struck by how much had changed in just a few short years. I fondly recalled the two of us during the heyday of perestroika and glasnost, when we were more or less business associates, how we often drank chilled shots of Pshenichnaya vodka together and talked about the next trade exhibition, Alaskan and Siberian mining prospects, and inevitably, the Great Patriotic War. His father, Boris Alexandrovich, was a decorated Hero of the Soviet Union, a World War II army officer. Once on a trip to Moscow, I attended an obligatory Victory Day celebration. I stood on the sidelines blending in as I watched Boris Alexandrovich, tall and proud, march through Red Square with groups of other aging but distinguished patriots whose long rumpled coats and lapels were totally covered over with medals and ribbons. Igor often reminded me about the incredible losses and suffering endured by the Russian people, the over 20 million who perished in the war years. He dragged me to every museum in Moscow on his mission to teach me more about this history and to encourage me with my Russian. He taught me the Old Russian custom to sit for a moment of silence with comrades and family before embarking on any journey as a kind of prayer and protection. Outside of this, we never spoke about private religious beliefs or our inmost thoughts concerning God and faith. For all I knew, the Igor of today remained an official, card-carrying atheist, as his former Communist self and public personae required him to be. The talk in my living room that day felt completely out-of-character for both of us, drifting as we were into new interior territory. He tried explaining where he stood philosophically
since the USSR had dismantled itself in 1991, and said it all boiled down to finding the right way to build the rest of his life. Russia continued to undergo tremendous social, economic, and political changes not experienced since the Revolution. I looked at this moustached man in his early 50s, at the smile he cast me when he verbally and openly acknowledged the horrible mistakes and miscalculations our governments made while we were both coming of age. The war-mongering voices on both sides of the Cold War, the stereotypes, the lies and propaganda had burned into our brains. The biting satire and black humor about the Cold War appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1966), starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott. The film mocked the burly, vodka-drinking Russians as stupid and dysfunctional with their Premiere “Kiss-off.” And vice versa. How the screenplay portrayed American military leaders as humorous caricatures of rough-riding cowboys eager to use nuclear weapons as a necessary sacrifice for mankind. The film, honored as a classic of cinema, ends with a terrifying scene. Due to a series of military miscommunications and technical mishaps, a sole U.S. Air Force bomber flying under mistaken, goofed-up military orders drops a nuclear bomb over the Soviet Union. The bomb detonates filling the movie screen with the nightmarish image of a giant mushroom cloud exploding. All dialogue stops. The “joke” and the movie is over. “Through prayer and meditation, I hope to feel a real part of the world, Katya,” Igor said. “I want simple rules, not dogma or collective commandments. These
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 simple rules will give me internal structure to fight exterior instability.” “Well, you’re Russian, so I can certainly understand your problems with stability,” I said in an effort to alleviate the mood. But his face turned rueful and his voice grew serious. “Simple rules, Katya. I think there is such a thing to search for. A trip to Nikolaevsk, this may be the only chance to see something of our deep spiritual history in Alaska,” he said with some sense of urgency, as if the village itself would vanish into the abyss of time if we didn’t hurry and experience the remnants of Old Russian culture, alive and well and on display right down the road from my home. “Ladno, konechno, okay, of course, we can go to Nikolaevsk,” I said without a second thought. Olga followed me into the garage to locate a cooler, retrieve some bottled waters, and we packed some cheese and sausages to load into the car. **** The Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko once described the massive regions of Alaska and Siberia as “unjustly divided twins.” For generations, indigenous peoples had engaged in cross-border travel, but as the Cold War intensified, those friendly social exchanges were abruptly halted and legally forbidden by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in 1948. As the accepted political argument of the day went, borders must be closed to stop the Communist menace and to prevent any possible Communist infiltration. This was no time for Yup’ik Eskimos to paddle across the Bering Strait to dance and to drum with their Russky brothers. The stark reality, we were told, was that if the U.S. military didn’t try and stop those “God-less commies” from ruling the free world, it would be a terrible mistake, one from which we’d possibly never recover. Our free market economy would be doomed, and we’d live like robots on black bread and beets. With Gorbachev in power, a new era of grassroots diplomacy and cultural cooperation greatly opened up between the Soviet Union and the West, but none more pervasive on a per capita basis than in Alaska. The “Ice Curtain” between Alaska and the Russian Far East had not only thawed, it had melted and disappeared forever into the Bering Sea. When Aeroflot made its historic first landing in Anchorage in 1989, I served on the organizing team to help plan the official welcome and itinerary for a planeload of over 200 exuberant Soviets, many of them dignitaries who arrived in black leather coats and heavy
111 mink hats eager to start business joint ventures with their arctic comrades. I remember the week-long business and cultural events surrounding our Soviet-American Reunion in downtown Anchorage as a time of supreme optimism and hope with boisterous singing and toasting every night until we were all nauseous and hung over. Later, I helped organize business trade missions to Russia in the early 1990s through my work at the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce which is how I first met Igor. He held a high level post with a Moscow-based trade organization, our administrative and logistical partner on the Russian side. Over the years, we stayed in close touch, and I continued traveling to Russia and met Igor’s family—his parents Boris and Lydia, his sister Olga, and her husband Misha—at their shared Moscow flat. All my new experiences and friendships with ex-Communists led me to examine my own values and assumptions, but thoughts about the religious or spiritual dimension of life remained mostly in the underground. I stayed focused on the business side of things as it related to my job in helping make more trade connections for Alaska. As most people of his generation, Igor had been brought up to believe in the brotherly, egalitarian ideals of Communism as the one, true salvation of mankind. His family’s Community Party affiliations provided many coveted career opportunities and postings and chances for foreign travel (the family once lived in Canada where his father worked as an agricultural attache for the Soviet government). As a functionary, he had obediently clung to bureaucratic rules and regulations and had maintained a great deference to titles and central authority. He seemed a master of government paperwork and official speechmaking, a model of professional success and worldly sophistication. In his current job he was once again fostering international business cooperation. In short, Igor was the role model of the New Russian muckety-muck. But those initial impressions I formed of him, as I came to know, were far from accurate. On the day Igor asked me to drive him to the Village of Old Believers, I began to see how mistaken I had been. **** For most of Nikolaevsk’s forty-plus years of history, the road leading into it from the Sterling Highway was left unpaved with a simple hand-painted sign that said “Private Property, Road Closed.” In their intention to live closer to God, and away from the corrupting
112 influences of popular culture, the reclusive Russian Orthodox community, population approximately 300, had intentionally shunned the outside world and discouraged any curiosity seekers. During the 12 years we lived on the Kenai Peninsula, I sometimes encountered Old Believers when out shopping for groceries at Fred Meyer. Old Believers were easy to spot—in winter months, they didn’t look anything like me, a typical, no-frills Alaskan woman, layered in a Polar fleece vest or jacket, wearing off-therack jeans, and Sorel boots splattered with snow and mud. Old Believer women adhered to strictly prescribed religious customs—they never wore pants in public, not even in the dead of subarctic winters, and in summer they were not permitted to bare their arms. They were prone to wearing dainty, white anklet socks, long skirts or matronly smocks, mostly handmade, loose fitting, frumpy clothes a nineteenth-century farmer’s wife might have worn with a type of jumper, called a sarafan used as an outer layer. Hairstyles were old European, mostly plaited into two thick braids and pinned up and twisted onto the head, or tucked beneath a platok, or head scarf. In the rush of summer, out of state visitors who drove 160 miles from Anchorage to the KenaiSoldotna area to sport fish for king salmon weren’t quite sure what to make of these costumed people they saw in the produce aisles. They often mistook Old Believers as members of a Slavic dance troupe. In public places, Old Believers murmured Russian, as if they felt self-conscious simply by being out shopping for bread and hamburger meat like the rest of us. I remember seeing a young woman, Sycamore Maple maybe in her early 20s, walk into the grocery store with two or three small children in tow. With an infant swaddled in one arm, she unloaded her cart in front of me and placed four gallons of milk and various canned goods on the counter while a toddler boy clung to her dress, eyeing the many rows of candy and chewing gum with great temptation. The little boy could no longer resist, and he reached for a chocolate bar, but his mother stopped him. Nyet, Sasha, she said, without raising her voice
CIRQUE or slapping his hand, as she returned the Snicker’s Bar to the rack. Children of Old Believers do not throw temper tantrums in big box grocery stores. Old Believers bewildered and fascinated me as a touchstone, a portal to something I little understood in my lukewarm version of Christianity. I supposed in the eyes of a self-righteous Old Believer, I was another lost person living in the midst of materialism, a hedonist, part of the undisciplined, spiritually inert masses without a pious or devotional bone in my twenty-first century body. **** Old Believers have a history of taking escape routes to run from oppression. Their origins began as breakaway sect within Orthodoxy, a religious controversy which began centuries before with the Great Schism in the 1600s. Patriarch Nikon sat at the top of the Russian Orthodox Church. As patriarch and the leading church authority on doctrinal matters, Nikon began forcefully instituting changes to the liturgical services. Nikon was actually harkening back to the earliest religious traditions, calling for a return to the older, original Greek liturgical practices and traditions that had been passed from the Greeks to the Russians as far back as the tenth and eleventh centuries. But many of the current Russian faithful, particularly from the peasant class, steadfastly objected to the proposed religious reforms, preferring to keep things the way they were on even some of the most minor textual changes and Jack Broom practices proposed by Nikon. They became known as the Old Ritualists, or Old Believers, and they openly defied the liturgical changes and therefore disobeyed Patriarch Nikon which led to their persecution. In the centuries that followed, bands of Old Believers were forced to scatter to the forests of Siberia, Brazil, Canada, and Oregon. Old Believers who lived in North America worried about the negative effects the volatile 1960’s counterculture was having on their children. To help
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 protect their families from the climate of drugs, the sexual messages of the new rock music, the increasing immorality, and the wanton revelry surrounding them, they migrated to Alaska. In the “Summer of Love” in 1967, five Old Believer families left from the Willamette Valley in Oregon after purchasing 640 acres on the Kenai Peninsula with funds made possible with a grant from the Tolstoy Foundation in New York. Eventually, by the 1980s, the new settlement grew as more Old Believers, many of them skilled craftsmen, arrived to fell trees and hew wood, building permanent dwellings including a small white church and commercial fishing boats to catch salmon in Cook Inlet. By the time Thomas Merton arrived in Alaska, in 1968, four lonely, raw cabins in a vast spruce forest had been built in Nikolaevsk, as one old timer had described it. Not many from the general public, and not even the Trappist monk himself, would have known this new religious settlement was being established. Had fate ever brought Merton back for a second visit to Alaska, he might have begged the Anchorage archbishop to drive him south to see the Old Believers and their hermitage carved out in the middle of a Kenai Peninsula forest of cottonwoods, aspen, and spruce. Their religious rituals and dress were bizarre and out-of-place, and their more ascetic and communal way of life was stifling and unrealistic. Yet, seeing Old Believers in public as I often did, I had to admit that something inside me stirred. The same part of myself that stopped cold in those brief moments when I first heard Russian monastery bells ring on the Volga River, and when as a child, I caught a glimpse of those cupolas reflected in the haze over the river in Pittsburgh. A different feeling awakened. Monks, nuns, and Old Believers incorporated rituals, sacraments, and traditions which were translated into authentic, spiritual practices concerning the whole person being in alignment with God, in the physical body and in the spirit. They were inclusive and did not believe in divvying up the self into compartments. The sure-footed Old Believers had come to the last frontier for spiritual renewal and to live in deeper union with God’s divine energies. But putting God’s divine mercy aside, as a woman, I couldn’t imagine it. I wouldn’t follow any religious dictates about how to style, wear, or cover my hair. I wouldn’t let anyone tell me how long or short my skirt should be, how far I should walk behind any man, how many children I ought to bear, or how much skin I was allowed to show a man on a hot, sunny day….
Stranger in Your Town
Nineteen years old, I stood at the ticket counter of the Greyhound station in downtown Detroit, buying my ticket to Los Angeles, to Seattle, and back to Detroit. I could get on and off the bus along the route, stay a few hours or days, as I liked. Though I’d wanted to hitchhike, my father convinced me to buy this round-trip ticket from our home in Detroit. I hitchhiked on side trips off my main route, which was Route 66. God, I guess, takes care of nineteen-year-old poets, trying to be “Poets with a capital P,” as my father said. At the ticket counter, I cashed eighteen ten-dollar traveler’s checks as a line of people behind me shifted their feet and muttered. My ticket ran many pages, and I folded it carefully and put it in my wallet. I had $120 left, which I planned to make last some weeks. The year was 1965. If I ran out of money, I could get on the bus and ride back home, I figured. As I sat down and waited for my afternoon bus, did I hum Bob Dylan’s “If Today Was Not an Endless Highway”? My journal of the trip doesn’t record that. It was June, 1965, and I’d been writing poems for three years. That spring in my classes at the University of Michigan, I read Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. I read Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley and Clancy Sigal’s Going Away on my own. I’d managed to save $300 from my job as camp counselor and swimming instructor at Camp Petosega near Petoskey the summer before. For a year now, I’d been dreaming of this trip, gazing at the huge map in the Michigan Union where students affixed cards offering rides. Detroit to Chicago was the first leg, and in the afternoon, my Greyhound headed out on the freeway past Ann Arbor. In my journal, I wrote, “Soon the country was green and flat and rolling, untouched by people and our progress.” Oh, I was a firm believer in progress--for others, if not always for myself. I went on: “Sometimes we passed a tractor brooding over its conquered realm. There were cows left to stray and munch and swish at flies, bothering no one, and fields of blue flowers and far fields inviting, whispering to follow, all slow and inviting.” I must have come across Roethke’s “A Far Field” and heard that song “Try to Remember” from The Fantastics.
114 When we came to Lake Michigan, I felt like a child, seeing the ocean. My journal says I remembered summers when “I built tunnels and castles and long child-ways in the sand. I would love to set sail,” I wrote, “but we hit Gary, Indiana, and I wondered why factories are called plants. They aren’t green, and they aren’t life-givers.” When I called the SDS office from the Greyhound station in Chicago, I asked for David or Nancy who were working as organizers that summer. I knew them from the student co-op in Ann Arbor where I got my meals and worked washing dishes and cooking. My mother called it the “commissary.” Though neither David nor Nancy was at the office, a guy on the phone named Rich gave me directions. In Chicago’s crowded subway, I was the only white kid in a car of black folks, and I tried not to look nervous. Students for a Democratic Society, the SDS workers took me in. We played guitars and sang songs such as “Rambling Boy,” “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound,” and “Stranger in Your Town.” Someone went out and got beer. As trains from the nearby El rattled by, I talked with a woman from Radcliffe, and later with a guy named Mel who had a faltering voice--I liked that word “faltering” back then. Mel loaned me a sleeping bag to sleep in on the floor. The next morning I helped collate and staple a newsletter. When someone asked if I was a new member, I said I was Only Passing Through, A Stranger in Their Town. I didn’t even smile when I said it. I left that morning, walking by the University of Chicago’s “gothic buildings next to a cemetery,” my journal says. I headed downtown, refusing a young black kid’s offer to shine my shoes. I got back on the bus. Two hours south of Chicago, I stopped at a cafe in Pontiac where an older man at the counter told me this was a farm town, about 9,500 people, a lot of retired farmers. There was a chair factory, also a steel mill, and he handed me a newspaper, first wiping his hands carefully on his apron. When I asked where the kids would be on a Saturday night, he told me to try the Pizza Pan, but the kids seemed too young, so I left to wander through Pontiac at night, soaking up sights and sounds for my journal: “The excitement of coming into a new town at night, smelling the new smells, feeling those huge trees and dark lawns held some secret meant for me.” At a railroad crossing, I saw the sign as saying RAILSING CROSSROAD. “I feel a communion with the night, with the wind, soundless and unseen.” I was young. I tried to sleep by the Vermilion River, but mosquitoes drove me to search for a motel. The woman
CIRQUE who ran a rooming house I found was in her late fifties, “not badly wrinkled,” I wrote. Her easy smile and confidence felt like a gift. We got to talking, and she told me the amazing fact that her daughter had never done anything wrong in her life. “People like that are the happiest people. She’s married to a nice guy who makes a good living,” she said. I don’t remember how I replied to this cheerful, not-badly-wrinkled woman, but in my journal, I said I was looking for “more in life than a good living.” I didn’t know what that something was. In high school, I’d read Camus’ The Stranger and identified with the book’s antihero, a bad sign for sure. Though I’d managed to earn a straight-A average at Michigan that spring, the one time I did that, I dismissed the value of “mere grades.” My high school girlfriend Irene had told me my romantic ideas caused many of my problems, but I knew better. On the bus, I scribbled notes on scraps of paper I later put into my journal. Doing this made me feel a sense of vocation. “From Pontiac to Bloomington on the way to St. Louis,” I wrote, “we passed farms and more farms in the middle of the flat land under a huge sky, the few trees put there as if to absorb some of the flatness. What is this sprawling America, its lovely, unpeopled green fields that feed us? I’m young, and what do I see?” Oh, brother. In Bloomington a married couple in an old Chevy drove me to the door of a rooming house. I wasn’t sure if I should trust them with my bags when I went inside to ask if there were rooms. But they had been kind, picking me up after I’d walked till my arms ached from lugging the damn bags. “I’m a Stranger In Your Town,” I told a clerk in a bookstore who directed me to the Student Union. It was finals week, I wrote, “everything quiet, the air heavy from a drenching rain, the campus just like Ann Arbor--dorms, lawns, trees, paths to keep everyone on the right track, a lone runner doing laps on a playing field under some floodlights.” Next morning on the Greyhound, I talked with a retired postal worker who liked to travel and take college courses at night and in the summer. Never married, he said wryly, “My mother didn’t raise any stupid children.” When I asked him what the fields were we passed by, he said, “Wheat.” Amazing, I had never seen wheat fields, and they really did roll in waves. My friend liked to hold forth in a dry voice. “Here we’re the smartest people in the world, the best educated, the highest standard of living, and all we do is ape other
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
countries. Italian shoes, English suits, African music.” I didn’t ask if he included French fries on his list. He believed people had been happier in his day. Everyone had too many things now and had lost the ability to do for themselves. He thought we should smash our televisions and throw them into the Pacific Ocean. He laughed at his family who were always fighting with each other and still trying to get him married off. He said he’d spent too many years doing. Now he was undoing. I wasn’t sure if he was a “rugged individualist in a sea of conformity,” I wrote, “or a bitter and lonely old man, something missing in his life. But he seemed to laugh at himself and at everyone, like Mark Twain.” In St. Louis I looked up a college friend from the co-op. Laurie and her family were kind to me, fed me dinner, and took me in for the night. I enjoyed talking politics with Laurie’s father whose house was chock-full of Asian art I dismissively thought of as “loot.” Laurie and I talked about friends from the co-op, and I told
her about feeling lonely, never part of anything, Only Passing Through, though I’d been traveling less than a week. Laurie told me about a guy who’d broken up with his girlfriend and bought a bus ticket to Anywhere, USA, expecting to bump into himself on a street corner. I was sure she wasn’t talking about me. One of the hits on the radio that winter had been “Sounds of Silence.” In high school, I used to watch the TV series, Route 66, and I knew Rick Nelson’s “Traveling Man and Gogi Grant’s “The Wayward Wind.” At the co-op, we sang songs of moving on, such as “Four Strong Winds,” “San Francisco Bay Blues,” and “Freight Train.” One of my favorites was Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice,” where he thinks and wonders as he heads down the road: “I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul.” The line didn’t seem bitter to me then but true. “California Dreaming” lay a year away; Paul Simon’s search for America waited three years off. In my journal, I planned to “try and create a world where I could be free as the wind to wander as I
116 will.” I was part of this American moment, but unaware of what it meant. The next day, Laurie and her family took me on a tour of St. Louis, which was much nicer than Detroit, I thought: “Courthouse squares, trees, statues, parks, and many stately old buildings.” Before I left town, I went to the main post office and checked for mail at General Delivery. Nothing yet. I walked to the Mississippi and gazed at the river, “Mark Twain’s river, big and exciting, but I wish I could have seen it in his day, floating down it in a raft.” West from St. Louis, the country changed. The flat land of Illinois gave way to the rolling fields and hills of the Ozarks. Mountains, I thought. “One long, slow field that stretched along a hillside caught my eye, wind blowing across it, turning it frothy, greenish-white.” Was this more wheat? The bus went through roadcuts of reddish-brown rock. I wished I knew the names of things. We passed a herd of cattle, lying in the shade near a river. “Then fallow fields like dark water, waters of the night. And then a junkyard in the middle of nowhere, probably owned by a man in a city.” As we passed more stands of trees whose names I didn’t know, I couldn’t jot things down fast enough. I pictured myself living on a farm and knowing country things, not just a Stranger Passing Through. Five hours later, I got off the bus in Springfield and asked directions to Southwestern State University. When I stopped at a burger joint for dinner, a high school kid with acne greeted me in a nasal, southern drawl, asking me where I was from. I told him Detroit. A Long Way. He seemed excited to hear me tell about my trip. I asked him about his job, and he wanted to know if I was looking for work, mentioning the name of his boss. He said I might find a room to stay at the college, since school was out and the dorms were empty. I thanked him and headed on my way. “I’m a Stranger in Your Town,” I told the older couple who gave me a ride, driving me to the door of a rooming house. They asked if I was going to school. “I must look the intellectual type,” I wrote. I told them I was Passing Through, heading for the West Coast. Later I walked around Springfield, the college empty. I drank in “the slow flickering of fireflies, cricket noises, a heavy smell of flowers in the air.” At a dimly-lit street corner, four scraggly kids looking for someone to buy booze for them asked if I was twenty-one. I told them I wasn’t and was looking for someone to buy for me. They all laughed. “You go to high school?” I asked one of them.
CIRQUE “Na, they won’t let me.” “How come?” “They don’t like drunks.” He snickered, then offered to get me “some black pussy for two dollars.” I told him no thanks and asked where all the girls were in this town. “They’re locked up in jail.” Again, he laughed, and his buddies did, too, as we walked on. Where do the kids hang out?” I asked. “The clean-cut ones go to Fishers, but I can’t stand them.” My shoes were scruffy, my hair too long, and I wore my father’s beat-up leather jacket. When my friend told me there was a bar that would serve me beer if I wanted, I wondered why he didn’t go there himself. “They were a sad bunch,” I wrote, “the dispossessed who’ve fallen off the whirling disc of society.” I headed back to my room, thankful for a bed. My journal doesn’t mention if I checked out Fisher’s. Next morning in a cafe, I ate a big breakfast-bacon and eggs and toast and milk. My lunches were usually raisin bread and cheese, but breakfasts and dinners I ate out. At the counter, “a wrinkled man with a wiry build” spoke to me. Were all adults really so wrinkled back then? Mort soon confided that he and his wife had agreed to disagree. “Never was any good,” he said. He asked where I was from, and I told him I was a stranger, Just Passing Through. When I told Mort about the high school kids, he said he never bought booze for anyone but himself. “Got enough troubles ‘thout looking for it.” After we exchanged small talk about where we came from, he whispered, “I’d like to find me some ass.” I told him the high school kids said all the women were locked up. “Oh, you can’t take them kids’ words for anything.” He suggested we ask a cab driver. I didn’t reply, thinking of a line from a Delmore Schwartz poem, “The scrimmage of appetite everywhere,” which I’d read in my beat-up paperback Immortal Poems of the English Language, the one book I’d brought with me on this trip. Mort said he could tell a lot from a person’s countenance, and he gave me a long look. “I think you’re all right, Richard.” I told him he was all right, too. When he asked me where I was heading, I told him, “California. On the bus.” “Well, if you’da been in Columbus day before
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 yesterday, you coulda had a ride with me for free.” He didn’t like to travel alone, he explained. If his truck broke down, one guy could watch the truck and the other one could go for help. “I like to go my own way,” I said. It was true. I’d refused a friend’s offer that spring to travel with him in his Dad’s car. “Yeah, me too,” said Mort. “Unless I got someone I really like and can trust them.” He gave me another long look that made me feel uncomfortable--was it his wizened, eager neediness? I told him I was going to move on. “Well, don’t be so hasty, Richard.” He started going through some maps, mentioning state parks and small towns we could stay in, but I said my goodbyes. Was Mort heading west because his wife told him to hit the road, Jack, or did he just have the urge for going? My journal doesn’t say. From Springfield to Miami, Oklahoma, it rained hard. A thin, rugged kid a few years older sat beside me on the bus, said he was going just a couple miles. He told me to watch out in Miami. “It’s a tough little town. You get in anyone’s way there, and they’d as soon step over you as spit.” When I started to describe my trip, he said, “I been all over the fucking country.” “Hitchhiking?” I asked. “Na, I wouldn’t hitchhike three blocks. Besides, I got all the money I’ll ever need.” He’d inherited three million dollars. I didn’t know whether to believe him. He didn’t look at me when he talked, just stared straight ahead into the distance out of blue-gray eyes. He wore threadbare jeans, T-shirt, boots, and he looked like a body-builder. He’d been to college, earned a degree in electrical engineering. Turning up his pug nose, he laughed at my majoring in English. “I’ve done everything there is to do, and I don’t care if I live or I die,” he boasted. “I’ve boxed, wrestled, raced cars. See that curve over there? I rolled a car there once.” “Did you get hurt?” “Na.” He sounded contemptuous. “Live, die, it don’t make a fucking bit of difference to me.” Often lonely on my trip and still missing Irene who’d broken up with me two years ago, I did still care if I lived. “Why go on?” I asked. “Hell, only fools commit suicide.” And he
117 admitted maybe something better might come along. I thought of Sam Cooke’s song, “Change Gonna Come. In Miami after I got a room at a hotel run by two lean old men who were watching TV, I went out walking around town. At a gas station, I asked a man what kind of town this was. “Small” was all he said. Kids were racing cars up and down Main Street, peeling out. I bought a peach and an orange. When I crossed some railroad tracks, the moon came out, shining through the cloud cover, “a vast loneliness in the boxcars that stood dead-still on the tracks,” I wrote. The next morning, I ate a big breakfast--fried eggs, hashbrowns, toast, and milk. A waitress with warm blue eyes noticed me hesitating over the packages of jelly and asked if I’d like some grape instead. I smiled back and thanked her--her smile had been a gift. Later, I stopped at a music store, asking how much it would cost to play one of their guitars. “I’ve been traveling without my guitar, and I miss it,” I explained. “Won’t cost you nothing,” said a pretty, darkhaired woman. “Go right ahead.” After a while, a kid with a crew-cut said, “Here, I’ll get you a better guitar. This one’s got a nicer tone.” Again, that southern drawl, up in Missouri! “Yeah, this is nice,” I said. Soon I felt less lonely, even as I played “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” “You come back if you ever pass this way again.” “I just might.” In Tulsa, I rented a room for $1.50 near the bus station, the cheapest dive I could find. An old woman fumbled for five minutes with a lock that wouldn’t work. Later I sat and wrote at an old desk under a bare lightbulb, “cracks in the brownish-yellow ceiling and in the flowery purple, brown, and yellow linoleum floor.” Since the door wouldn’t lock, I went back to the bus station and checked my bags, then walked through Tulsa past the neon signs. I ordered a beer at a bar, and the bartender gave me a crooked smile and called me a “Yankee” in a jocular drawl, but I didn’t care since he hadn’t carded me. It was the first time I’d been served beer in a bar. Back in my grimy room, I reread Dylan Thomas’ “Fern Hill.” How I loved the line, “I sang in my chains like the sea.” Getting into the spirit, I dug out a few of my poems I’d brought along, finding them pretty, darn thrilling, too. Finally, I slept, but woke every hour or two, wondering where I was and then remembering, afraid I’d be rolled. In the morning, the hotel maid woke me as she said she would, and I went with her cousin to the
Old Federal Courthouse, Anchorage
employment office, seeking day labor. Bob was a few years older than me with a wife in Cleveland. He was trying to save the money to get them both to California. He had an athletic build and seemed years older. “Sixty-five dollars would carry us out there,” he said as we strided along through the mean streets. “Have you saved any?” “God, no! Don’t know why I ever got stuck here in Tulsa. Terrible town.” The only work was for a dollar an hour, and a bunch of older men sat talking and laughing as they waited. “Some of these men ain’t worth a lick of salt,” Bob said. “Drunks off the street, work a few hours, then quit and buy a bottle.” As numbers were called, men went off. Some of the jobs were farm work that required a car to get there. Bob’s number was called, and he left. I talked with an old man, a laid-off bricklayer who blamed the machines that take a man’s work away. He had a watch worth $100 he could sell, he said. He was running out of money but didn’t want to sell that watch. My number never was called, and I left and
caught a bus to Oklahoma City, thinking of the florid, heavy-set hotel maid who’d sung,“Take These Chains from My Heart,” as she slowly mopped that dingy hall. As I recorded all this in my notebook, did I think I was a young Steinbeck who would someday speak for the down and out? I was lonely. I saw myself as “grieving” for Irene whom I’d tried to see one more time that winter in East Lansing, but she had another boyfriend now. From Tulsa to Oklahoma City, the country was beautiful, “rippling hills of wheat and corn. In a field far away, a brown horse wading up to its belly, and a calf teetering under its mother as she tenderly let it milk.” An older woman sitting beside me on the bus told me she grew up on a farm and loved it, but she also liked to visit her daughter in the city. “It’s all the excitement. Guess it’s just what you get used to.” She laughed in a way that made me feel good. In Oklahoma City, there were oil wells, and I took a city bus to the capitol building where the derricks rose up, practically in the governor’s backyard. The bus driver told me most of the big wells were down south. “The ones up here, the strike gets split among the folks on the block, and people don’t get rich off them. The wells don’t last that long.” Later I walked around a downtown that was “more prosperous than Tulsa’s, but not much different,” I wrote. Through western Oklahoma to Texas, the grasslands were the most beautiful I had seen. In my notebook, the purple shadows deepened as I mixed Bob Dylan with Dylan Thomas. I saw “a hard wind harvesting.” There were “fallow fields like red seas.” We passed a “river bed of silt and salt and mud.” Wind couldn’t just be wind; it had to be “long wind.” A calf couldn’t teeter and almost topple; it “tippled.” It gives me a hard pain to read this stuff now. I found Amarillo clean and quiet, a city of a few hundred thousand. A tough young kid lounging on a corner called out to me. He thought he recognized me and asked me where Randy was. “I’ve never been here in my life,” I said. “Just passing through.” We got to talking, and he told me this was a stink-hole town, but if I went up to the Hi-De-Ho, I’d find excitement, booze, broads, fucking big fights. He said he was moving on and had a hotel room key he’d sell me for a dollar. Suckered, I coughed up one buck, but when I tried to sneak my bags upstairs past the desk clerk, I got
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 stopped and had to pay up. I checked out the Hi-De-Ho but found just another bar. I went to a library, got a volume of Yeats, reread “The Song of Wandering Aengus” and “Who Goes with Fergus.” How I loved the lines about “love’s bitter mystery” and those “disheveled wandering stars.” I used to like to throw the word “disheveled” into my poems, as in: “Should our love have been less landlocked, or just differently disheveled?” At a table near me, a girl doing a research paper smiled at me, and I smiled back. Ah, youth! At my hotel, some older men were watching Gunsmoke in the lobby. I thought of a store I’d passed, the Tepee Western Store--a wooden horse in the window, a mannequin wearing cowboy boots, fancy flared jeans, and an embroidered shirt. The next day I left for Albuquerque, “crossing a barren land with hazy blue mesas.” Someone pointed out yuccas, sagebrush, juniper, and pinon pines. Now and then we passed “yellow flowers, cattle grazing, windmills pumping water.” I compared the desert to “the floor of a fallen sea,” the sky a “vacuum sucking at the mesas.” Later, I talked with a woman in her forties with “tired blue eyes, one more world-weary adult.” The wife of a professor, Toby Easton was very kind. Turns out she had been an English major and was working on a novel. I told her I could talk more easily with people older than me. “That’s not unusual.” Toby had come from a poor and religious family in the New Mexico desert and had done many wild things when she was young. “My mom was a horrible old woman to live with. Came from a rich family, but my Dad was poor.” I asked Toby if she thought people can change. “Oh, sure. You’re changing all the time. Every choice you make. And those little choices are the important ones.” I felt life just happened to me, I said. Toby’s blue eyes hardened. “Life doesn’t happen to you. You happen to it.. If you want to live--live, feel, think, decide! It’s your life, and you’re the one that chooses it.” She told me how she’d rejected her parents’ life, changing to the writer and wife and mother she’d become. I told her about Irene, how I’d tried to see her again that winter, and Toby smiled. “Well, love’s like scrambled eggs, never as good warmed over.”
119 I said I was mourning Irene and mourning for myself. I must have had in mind Gerard Manley Hopkins’ line, “It’s Margaret you mourn for,” where he tells that poor kid how she’s mourning for herself and how she’ll only get older and colder. Maybe he never showed the real Margaret his bleak and beautiful poem, I like to think. “Let the dead die,” Toby said evenly. “There’ll come a day when you just enjoy little things like taking a shower.” She paused. “Why did you and Irene break up?” Me, I didn’t believe Irene’s explanation that we were headed for different kinds of lives. I told Toby that Irene had resented my getting too close to her. “Yes, even in marriage, people have to keep something to themselves.” Did I appreciate how kind Toby was? My notebook doesn’t say. We turned to talking about the countryside, and I learned the names of things so I wasn’t just writing down words I’d read. She mentioned luminarias, soft lights inside a sand and paper enclosure that the Mexicans make. Toby Easton was her name, and she lived in Bloomington, Indiana. In Albuquerque, I met with more kindness. After I walked around gawking at folks in western outfits, a car full of Mexican girls stopped, acting as if they knew me. Once more I announced, “I’m a Stranger in Your Town,” and they gave me a ride to a carnival where someone had a guitar and we sang songs and talked about school. They were all going to college, too. Strange, my journal records this evening, but I have no memory of it. Why is that? My next stop was the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Park. “Once there was a river,” I wrote, “where gods had warred and stars had fallen.” The driver let me off by the park entrance, and I lugged my bags to an office where I drank water. A worker at the information desk asked me how far I planned on walking. “To the Painted Desert. How far is it?” “About half a mile.” I told him where I was from, and he said he admired me. I was pretty pleased with myself, too, as I headed into the desert. Pausing at a drop-off, I gazed at a “moonscape of dunes and rocks of many colors--redbrown, gray, and black--the colors shifting in the sunglare wind.” Passing some adults with their kids, I headed down a trail. Soon the dunes and soft sand had me, and I was hidden. Following a winding arroyo, I kept track of where the sun was as I headed north and then west until I had to find some shade from this “stalking sun.”
120 I sat in the overhang from a rock outcrop, looking back at “gullies and valleys and cracked earth and crumbling sand, all of it put together from something and stuck here, as if this desert once were an ocean floor.” I climbed a ridge and put down my green suitcase and my uncle’s small army bag. “Mankind once crawled out of the sea,” I wrote. “This is where the world ends-gullies and trickles in the rusting dunes, cloud and blood of bottomless dune lands waiting for a sign, a volcano’s heart, scooped out and sucked dry, russet and rust.” Maybe lonely teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to read T.S. Eliot without a note from their parents. I shouldn’t laugh at the boy I was, but he is funny. And Toby Easton was right--we do change. And hey, that “gullies and trickles” isn’t so bad, is it? After a few hours, I trudged back to the park office where I guzzled water, bought bread and cheese at a canteen, then headed back into the desert to watch the sun go down. “I listened to a slow wind swishing through the feathered sagebrush, gray and green and sea-green, under mesas that hint of blue getting ready to darken, wind brushing my eyes like petals.” Yes, I was a flower, ready to expand and be filled. Ah, sagebrush, “a minty smell, as the sun becomes itself on the edge of a cloud, darkness brushed by a petal’s press.” There we go again with those petals. And what did I expect the sun to be--a cloudy portal? But those colors! “Rose and kiss and yellow underneath, soft stabs of green touched by gold, green and yellow in my gaze, turning as my shadow turns, thin and long.” Too bad, I didn’t know I was color-blind, a fact I would not find out for some years. Ah, to muse on such mysteries as the “length of my shadow, of my days ahead.” To be transmuted as I chant, “I am minute among these sky-clouds.” See, I could be humble, too, even as I vowed, “I will always remember the creaking of sage in the wind” as, ta-DUM, “the world begins to turn, and a piercing blind spot slits at me, green lights and blue hues and red and purple stars, darkness gathering, streaming russet rust.” Yes, let’s have some more russet and rust! “Rivulets of dim slow blood flowing through the green and faint yellow shoals.” This boy really needs his eyes checked. “Somewhere on the other side of earth, a deepness crawls together till it meets purple, and the west has reached the rapids, streaming grain and golden spray, golden and green on the purple beach of darkness, winds of fire, river into the night, clashing crests, green and blood of the sky, all slow and dripping in their falls into themselves, until it is enough.”
CIRQUE Oh, it’s more than enough, but hey, I’m warming up here, even though I’m starting to shiver. “Night comes slowly, less slowly than the cold. The sand is sucking at the pale cold castle of the coming night, and the moon, full and golden, is colder than the stars, half-held by dark blue mesas. I’m alone under the coming stars.” Well, doofus, you walked out here alone. What did you expect to find--Irene? And how come you don’t know the desert gets cold at night, you poor mutt? I looked for the Big Dipper, but saw “a mist-like reach of clouds made shimmering by the bright full moon half-held by the sky.” Ah, tender sky! Ah tender, freezing sky is more like it. And, ah, my green wool blanket-goddamn thin wool blanket! As I watched the moon go across the sky, did I glimpse the truth about myself and Irene--that I didn’t want to get married yet? Did I curse the sweet, young bird of something-or-other? Did I cast one thought toward my parents who’d sent letters streaming across the continent care of General Delivery? I flagged down a Greyhound at dawn--ah, rosyfingered, ever-returning dawn!--and got back on Route 66. Tired, I squeezed into a window seat next to a black kid in the fifth grade, he told me. Across the aisle, his mother eyed me warily and asked her son how he felt, for he was coughing. Trying to cheer him up, I told him about my night in the desert, and he laughed. A woman with purplish-gray hair a few rows back was telling her seatmate about the Seattle World’s Fair. I dozed, then woke to the boy exclaiming, “Mama, look! A tree in the middle of the desert!” A huge, spreading tree with big, fat leaves had materialized--nothing but sand and rocks and cactus all around it. Soon we came to Flagstaff, which I thought of as Falstaff, and I got off the bus, checking my bags in the station since I planned to hitchhike north to the Grand Canyon, my first hitching of the trip. I was a bit nervous because, back in Detroit that May, a man who gave me a ride had put his hand on my leg, and I got out at the next light. I trudged a few miles to the edge of town, for I’d been told the cops pick up hitchhikers in Flagstaff. Some kids on bikes tagged along, asking me where I was from and what classes I took in college. When they found I’d taken French, they wanted me to say something in French. “Vous etes mes seules amis dans Arizona.” Was “dans” correct? “You’re my only friends here,” I said, and they laughed. My journal doesn’t record it, but I
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 remember how cold and blue that Arizona sky seemed, wisps of cirrus high above. A few rides later, I stood in the middle of a dry country of pine trees and rolling meadows--snow on the blue-white mountains. A woman in her twenties with long, blonde hair came trucking down the road, toting a harmonica and several bags of wool. She wore jeans and a tattered, hand-made blue sweater . She looked like a “beatnik,” I wrote. We didn’t have the word “hippie” yet. We got to talking, and I asked her if she’d like to come to the Grand Canyon with me. Tilting her head as if considering my offer, she gave me a beautiful, crooked grin. “Oh, I don’t think my husband would like that idea. He’d be a bit distraught if I didn’t show up for dinner.” I told her she didn’t seem the married type to me, whatever that meant, and she gave me a level, measuring glance. How old was she? Soon a new, red pick-up truck pulled over by the side of the road and honked, and I quickly said goodbye and ran for my ride. Had I asked this beautiful woman about her bags of wool or her harmonica? If I learned her name, my journal doesn’t record it. I climbed into the pick-up. “Oh, isn’t the young lady with you?” asked a middle-aged man in brand-new jeans and flannel. Though he sounded disappointed, at least he didn’t boot me out. The road climbed, and I shivered a little, zipping up my Dad’s jacket. “How come it’s so cold?” I asked. “It’s the elevation.” We weren’t yet five thousand feet up, but we were heading for the plateau where the Colorado River had cut the Grand Canyon through rock a mile high, my ride told me. More than halfway there, he turned off, and I stood by the side of the road, singing Bob Dylan’s I can’t see my reflection in the water Can’t speak the words that know no pain I can’t hear the echo of my footsteps Can’t remember the sound of my own name. My next ride was with Mike, a Poli Sci grad student, full of optimism and good cheer. In my journal, I echoed the cadences of my Intro to Poetry prof, Mr. Allison, saying Mike was “smug without being self-asssured, intelligent without being at all original.” How big of me to let him give me a ride. At the canyon, we stood gazing into the red and
121 brown depths that plunged into blues and purples, and I broke out the similes, comparing the abyss to a dwelling for the gods, a burial place for the Titans, mankind a mere level in the rocks. For Mike’s benefit, I quoted Keats’ “Now more than ever seems it rich to die.” “All the English majors I’ve met have been pessimists,” said Mike, giving me his clean-cut, American grin. “In a few years you’ll see things differently.” I had no answer for that, and he had me take his picture before we said our goodbyes. He was driving to the West Coast and had a deadline to meet. What was I thinking when I threw in that line from Keats about dying? In my journal, I did talk as if my trip were a make-or-break experience and I’d either find a way to live in the world--or what? There had been times after Irene and I broke up that I told myself, Just get through this year. That March I’d gone to see her in East Lansing on an impulse--I remember a rainy campus at night, the rippling lights of far-off dorms. We talked for maybe fifteen minutes, and I hitchhiked back to Ann Arbor the next day, having tried to sleep in my friend Stuart’s Chevy Impala, parked near a stadium. One day that spring, I put a note under the office door of my writing teacher, the poet, Konstantinos Lardas. In the note, I explained that my story was late because I’d been feeling suicidal. Did I mean depressed? Now there was an original excuse! Next week after class, I was astonished to learn a janitor had found the note and called up Lardas. Me, I was just being a large, poetic soul, for God sake. As a poet, Lardas surely must understand this, I felt, even as he gently asked me to confirm that I wasn’t thinking of killing myself. Amazingly, Lardas didn’t tell me to stop writing notes like that, didn’t ask me to see someone at the Counseling Center, which I had done for some weeks the year before. The counselor, a man in his thirties--was his name Mr. Montefiore?--had told me in a low voice that years later as I lay in bed with my wife, I’d still think of Irene. I think he meant life goes on, but I didn’t find those words all that consoling, nor did I think of asking if he’d lost someone, too. I headed into the canyon. My plan was to hike to the bottom, even though I was afraid of heights, for the wind on the cliffs at the South Rim was cold in June, and I’d left my green blanket with my checked bags in Flagstaff, traveling light. A park ranger told me it would be ten degrees warmer at the bottom, a mile down. I went down the steep trail, all but running, trying not to look over the edge. Once I startled a small snake, which scared the hell out of me. When donkey teams
passed, I squeezed myself against the rock walls. Near the bottom, I met up with an Englishman and an Australian, and at twilight we felt our way past a stream that trickled under black ledges. We could hear the faint roar of the Colorado River. It was dark when we found a stone hut where we camped for the night. I couldn’t know then how the Grand Canyon would live in my memory, even though my journal records just that first glimpse from the South Rim. Years later in Sedimental Journey, my novel about an off-thewall geologist searching for a phantom lover, my hero says goodbye to his old life in a dream. Soaring over the Colorado River past the Coconino Sandstone and Bright Angel Shale, he shouts, “Goodbye! Hooray!” In real life, the Englishman, the Australian, and I started back up the trail the next morning. White mist on the canyon rim burned off as we climbed, and halfway up we parted, each of us trudging at his own pace. I felt alone and excited, part of something bigger than myself. My journal cuts off at the Grand Canyon, and I don’t remember why, nor can I recall how or when I first decided to head out from Detroit. Did I have the trip in mind, or something like it, when I banked the money from my job at Camp Petosega the summer before? Many things remain a mystery, for memory--unlike a movie we play back--seems more like a sheet of white mist that parts at moments, giving us glimpses, and maybe that’s for the best. I’m struck now by how eager I was at nineteen to join the “immortal” in my book, Immortal Poets. How sweet and corny and strange I was, moving down the road toward a life that would come later: poems, stories, teaching stints in New York, Hawaii, and Washington where I tried many jobs before completing my novel, a book of poems, and starting a career in social service. My trip on the Greyhound would take six weeks, cost $300, and carry me to Hollywood where I stayed with friends of my parents; to Oxnard where I met fruit pickers with whom I drank red wine on a Sunday morning; to Yosemite where I saw a waterfall of ashes and coals pushed over a cliff at night, which the park rangers Door #43
called fire fall; to Berkeley where I had to get stitches in my chin (I ran into a basketball pole) and I looked up Irene’s friend, Ronna; to Crater Lake, Oregon; to Seattle where I got the stitches taken out; to Yellowstone where I hitched a ride to Bozeman with a guy traveling in a hearse; then back across the plains, twenty-four hours on the bus to Fargo, to Minneapolis where I saw an R-rated skin-flick, to Madison where I sat in on a psychology class; then on to Chicago and Detroit. One day that next spring when Lardas and I ran into each other on the street in Ann Arbor, he smiled indulgently and asked if I’d been reciting my poems as I walked. Embarrassed, I lied and said no. The truth was I’d been doing just that, murmuring my deathless words like a mantra, a guilty pleasure I allowed myself after finishing a poem. But damn it, Lardas didn’t have to burst in on me like that, catching me in the act, right there on State Street. That year I won a Hopwood Award for poetry and felt confirmed in my choice of majoring in English. Two poems in my manuscript--quieter than my earlier efforts-were ones the judge liked, and I published them in the college literary magazine. I felt more confident that year. After all, I’d done what I dreamed of, passing through. On my trip, I must have been scared many times, but my journal rarely mentions fear, except when I was in cities. It was as if I lived in capital letters--A Stranger in Your Town-a man in a story who shouts, “Goodbye! Hooray!” as he sails in his dream over the Grand Canyon.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Feather and Poster Joe Kashi
P L AY Sandra Kleven
The Influence of Theodore Roethke: “I Teach Out of Love”
Note from the author: This script is a compilation of the text from interviews and published commentaries from Roethke students who went on to become accomplished poets. I also draw on my own email exchanges with Joan Swift, David Wagoner and the text of an interview taped by Michael Kleven in 2010. An interview with the poet, Joan Swift can be found in this issue of Cirque. Carey Taylor who played Joan Swift conducted the interview. Thanks are due to David Wagoner for allowing use of a long segment from his play “First Class.” STAGE DIRECTIONS: Any group of students or writers can present this play without rehearsal – as reader’s theater. The poets, who were Roethke’s students at the University of Washington, are speaking about him to students of poetry in a university setting -- perhaps, Parrington Hall where Roethke taught in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Any great effort to bring forth the character of each poet is a bonus. Speaking clearly and
remaining in character is enough for our purpose, which is to recognize the impact of Theodore Roethke, as a teacher of poetry. When Ted Roethke himself comes forward in a segment taken from David Wagoner’s play, “First Class,” step to the side, as if you were again his students. NARRATOR Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Theodore Roethke, taught at the University of Washington from 1947, until his death in 1963. Many, who would go on to make a life in poetry, were once Roethke’s students in Parrington Hall—near the old botany greenhouse. SCENE I CAROLYN KIZER The students! James Wright, Jack Gilbert, Joan Swift, David Wagoner, Richard Hugo, Sandra McPherson, Tess Gallagher. In an odd way, we all seemed to feel that we shared in the work of the rest, that success for any of us belonged to all of us. I still feel much that way. One of Ted’s great attributes as a teacher is that none of us who studied with him write at all like Roethke. In some ways these were the defining events of my life. After Ted died, I was asked if I would talk about Roethke on tape and I said yes. Time went on and I hadn’t done anything and finally the editor called me, “Ms. Kizer, are you going to do this or aren’t you?” And I said, “Well, you know. It’s too raw. His death…and I haven’t been able to handle it yet.” There was a silence, and the guy on the other end of the phone said, “Do you realize that Theodore Roethke has been dead for thirteen years?” And I said, “No, no I don’t.” (pause) In some ways it started with Louise. The year was 1935. Ted was 26. Louise Bogan was a poet and a critic for the New Yorker. LOUISE BOGAN So, I wrote to my friend, Edmund, “I . . . have been made to bloom like a Persian rosebush by the enormous love making of one Theodore Roethke, by name. He
Parrington Hall, University of Washington
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 is very, very large, 6’2” weighing 218 pounds and he writes very, very small lyrics. Twenty-six years old and a frightful tank. We have poured rivers of liquor down our throats, these last three days, and, in between, have indulged in such bearish and St. Bernardish antics as I have ever experienced. Well! Such goings on! A woman of my age! I hope one or two immortal lyrics will come out of all this tumbling about.” (indicate end of letter) Ted and I were friends until he died. I was so much older – almost twenty years. It is amazing that I lived longer. I was Maid of Honor when he married Beatrice in 1955. Of my own work, he loved this piece; I will read just one stanza: Far back, we saw, in the stillest of the year, The scrawled vine shudder and the rose-branch show Red to the thorns, and, sharp as sight can bear, The thin hound’s body arched against the snow. When he was a young poet, I told him, “The difficulty with you now, as I see it, is that you are afraid to suffer. A poem must be carved out of agony, just as a statue is carved out of marble. Now, start sobering and suffering, my fine boy-o.” It is fair to say that Theodore learned to suffer. DAVID WAGONER He had a number of affairs . . . some of them quite . . . I don’t know what the proper words are. (laughs) You can read about one of them. Louise Bogan wrote a letter, saying that she and Roethke were having an affair and rolling around on the floor like teen-agers. He was, I think, about six feet, three and had long arms and legs and a lot of vitality and he was a feeler up of faculty wives at parties and a general cut up. A lot of it was just show. It was mostly a kind of bravado—a way of a . . . occupying a room (laughs) and he . . . I think most of the women he . . . eh, toyed with, forgave him or were amused. RICHARD HUGO He was probably the best poetry-writing teacher, ever. That is impossible to prove and silly but I had to say it just once. By all accounts Roethke got even better . . . but it’s hard to imagine him any better than he was in ‘47 and ‘48. He was not intellectual in his approach in those days, though I think he changed later. Sometimes he read poems aloud and then couldn’t explicate them clearly when he tried. Then, I didn’t, but now I do know that he was frightened. He’d say, “Look” in a W. C. Fields as gangster voice, “there’s too many people in here. If I had
my way, I’d have nothing but young chicks, the innocent ones you can teach something.” We had to submit poems and he judged who could stay in the class. He had to weed. One girl asked if he couldn’t be more definite. “You want a quick answer? Get out now!” But he laughed. His tenderness toward students often showed through. CAROLYN KIZER When I go back now, and look at my notebooks from those days in his class ’55 –’56. I’m amazed that my teaching methods are such a duplicate of his. I’m surprised that I haven’t thought up anything much on my own. I’ve simply carried on as the master taught me. This is one of my poems. Poet’s Household The stout poet tiptoes On the lawn. Surprisingly limber In his thick sweater Like a middle-age burglar. Is the young robin injured? She bends to feed the geese Revealing the neck’s white curve Below her curled hair. Her husband seems not to watch, But she shimmers in his poem. A hush is on the house, The only noise, a fern, Rustling in a vase. On the porch, the fierce poet Is chanting words to himself. Full moon. Clear night. Best time to be out here. DAVID WAGONER He was a really kind and caring mentor to me. He recommended me to people in the literary world—Robert Lowell, for instance, and a number of others. He praised me to them and paved the way for my relatively easy career, as a young poet. He was the first living poet I ever encountered and when he became my teacher, I found a role model—except for his mental life—that I had never seen before. I never had the idea that you could be a poet and a teacher and, you know, that could be your career. I thought I was going to be a chemist or something else and even made some plans in that direction. He changed
CIRQUE classroom near the greenhouse. Sometimes he would heave down on the long table one of his wife Beatrice’s straw baskets stuffed with books and just start talking. He’d recite from perfect memory poems by Louise Bogan and Stanley Kunitz or Keats, or John Donne. He went on talking way past the bell, unable to stop the flood of his thoughts, while none of us moved. We were transfixed. But he liked to socialize with the students too. He phoned me at home a couple of times and ended up talking to my two-year-old daughter on one of those occasions. He was impressed with her verbal skills and after that took to calling me “Mother”. Often he and some of the guys would go to the Blue Moon after class. Or to Johnny’s Rainbow. He took me there once: the Rainbow. In a funky tavern serving only beer and wine, Johnny ceremoniously seated us in a much-carved upon wooden booth, placed a water glass with a large sprig of lilac in the middle of it, and then served us both a small glass of whiskey. Two or three of the male students sat at the bar and glowered. Sonnet V from “A Crown” Theodore Rothke
my life. It’s impossible to quantify the ultimate impact of Roethke’s teaching, but the list of writers who studied under the poet during his teaching career reads like a Who’s Who of late 20th Century American poets. JOAN SWIFT Sometimes fortuitous things do happen. I was finally in graduate school, 15 years after departing Duke with my B.A. degree. I had enrolled in Theodore Roethke’s graduate level poetry writing class at the University of Washington, but I was morose because it looked like I hadn’t made the cut! So there I was, struggling in a 500 level class on the metaphysical poets, when walking out of that room one day I bumped straight into Theodore Roethke himself. When he learned my name, he threw up his arms and exclaimed, “Where the hell have you been!” It turned out he posted the names of accepted students on the door to his classroom. And so I was in after all. And what an experience, not quite the one of his earlier students, for by now he had been through treatment for bipolar disorder and probably more than once. Still, the class never knew what to expect when he walked through the door of that
You woke to sleep, you wrote, and we all knew in the classroom near the greenhouse enough awakening in that one hour with you four days a week to scare us stiff. You scowled in the doorway. When you rambled, your hands like fluttering leaves, past the bell your tales of Detroit low-life, the hood you called a torpedo, fortunes lost, you cast a spell. After, at Johnny’s Rainbow, you bought me rye. On the table you played ‘Gravy Train Waltz,’ I remember your fingers’ tap and splay on the oak grain. Johnny brought lilacs. It was May. You wrote that shaking steadies. Ted, who knows what Great Nature really does? His formal plan for teaching concentrated on the threebeat line in the fall, the four beat line during winter quarter, and in the spring the five beat line. He included as examples his own contemporaries such as Bogan, Kunitz and Alan Tate although he also included classics like Pope and Dryden. He also asked us to memorize a poem each week with the dire possibility hanging over our heads that one of us would be asked to recite it in class. That was the day you might see all of us facing the walls in the hall, silently muttering the lines in our heads.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 JAMES WRIGHT Ted was my teacher and my good friend for four years. (reads the poem “singsong”) Oh father dear, Do ships at sea Have legs way down below? Of course they do, You goosey you, Or else how could they go? Roethke used to toss up a lot of them like that. He taught mainly the craft, and he, like Berryman and like Lowell, was an entirely conscious craftsman. He understood that the relation between the craft and the mysterious imagination is not what we conventionally think it to be. There are some people who think that a very careful, conscious craftsmanship will repress your feelings. (show switch in tone with poem—clear clear throat –or . . .) Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly, Asleep on the black trunk, Blowing like a leaf in green shadow. Down the ravine behind the empty house, The cowbells follow one another Into the distances of the afternoon. To my right, In a field of sunlight between two pines, The droppings of last year’s horses Blaze up into golden stones. I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on. A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home. I have wasted my life. (shift back to conversational for the last line) Roethke understood that it is careful, conscious craft, which liberates your feelings and liberates your imagination.
I’m not supposed to upset anybody. Fat chance. Poets do upset people, sometimes on purpose. If you should happen to become one, expect to have a status somewhere between a bank robber and a strip-teaser. This is a poetry workshop, God help us. Literally. There’s obviously more than one god. The Romans made a mistake when they settled on one. Look at them now. How could one god cause all that confusion? Or here’s the best assignment I could possibly give you, the most valuable, the most educational, the one you’ll thank me most for if you think about this class someday in the future. Make a list, as long and as complete as you can, even if it’s maybe only a sentence each, of your earliest memories. You may not be able to figure out what they mean, but if they weren’t important, even vital, you wouldn’t remember them. And don’t be afraid to write anything. When I was in seventh grade, my teacher made us memorize a long list of prepositions—we were learning the parts of speech. They still haunt me, thank God. In, on, into, over, under, to, at, by, for, from, of, off, outside, inside, toward, about, between, among—I can go on and on with those scene-changers of the mind’s eye, those stage-setters and set-decorators, those indicators and path-makers, those little lariats and wedges. They’ve gotten me out of more trouble as a writer than a friend in the mayor’s office. Well, I may be just another teacher to you, but you’ll soon realize I’m not. I’m something else. I’ll be sneaking up behind you and trying to scare you up into the air on Pegasus without forgetting the value of horse sense and horse manure.
I know two things about the horse, And one of them is rather coarse.
And I’m afraid if you’re going to be reckless and crazy enough to keep writing poems, you’re going to spend a lot of time alone. (almost to himself) You’ll be all alone. (pause, then slowly) The Muse refuses to dance for a committee.
SCENE TWO THEODORE ROETHKE If you’re looking for Advanced Thermodynamics 201, you’re in the right building but on the wrong floor. Though you’d be welcome anyway. We might teach each other something. I’ve been hired to promote Poetry here. But
You’ll have to excuse me for a while. Let’s take a breather. Go do homework, but don’t go home. Did I give you any homework? Go imagine some homework. I’ve got something I’m supposed to do. I’m even supposed to know how to do it. All I have to do is remember what it is. Don’t be impatient. We’re not going to change the
universe till next semester. I’ll see you. (Isolated by overhead light, restless and brooding, he takes a bottle of bourbon and a glass and pours a large drink.) I’ll see you whether I want to or not. (drinks half of it) I’ll probably see you even if you’re not there. SCENE THREE RICHARD HUGO When he read his favorites aloud, something happened that happens all too infrequently in the classroom. The student could feel himself falling in love with the sound of words. It was important to some of us in Seattle that he came when he did. The English Department in 1947 was in a rut. Roethke was playful in class, arrogant, hostile, tender, aggressive, receptive, anything that might bring the best out in a student. As a teacher, Roethke was virtually alone at the time. Here is something I’ve written. This is the first stanza of “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg:” You might come here Sunday on a whim. Say your life broke down. The last good kiss you had was years ago. You walk these streets laid out by the insane, past hotels that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try of local drivers to accelerate their lives. Only churches are kept up. The jail turned 70 this year. The only prisoner is always in, not knowing what he’s done. DAVID WAGONER The lives of poets are very depressing reading. The management of balance when you are trying to deal with your unconscious mind from which most poetry has its source, anyway, if not its final manner . . . is dangerous and to free your unconscious mind is to go a little crazy sometimes or to seem so, to a sober world. The madness actually interrupted his work and harmed it. It harmed . . . him physically. I don’t know what it is in other cases. I know he ran across the bridge at least once on his manic way from downtown Seattle to campus, trying to make it to the first class. He had to be removed from Parrington Hall by the State Police. CAROLYN KIZER
It was in the late fifties—I came to the campus to learn that Ted had just arrived at Parrington Hall. He’d run all the way from his home, which was several miles away on a hill overlooking Lake Washington. He had perspired so heavily that his clothes were soaked. DAVID WAGONER It was the first day of classes for the fall quarter. I guess he couldn’t get a taxi or something. He came all the way from downtown dressed in a summer suit – some of it running. By the time he got to Parrington Hall on campus, he was drenched with perspiration. CAROLYN KIZER I remember he took a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket and it dripped with sweat. We were all terribly upset. He had one of those heavy railroad flashlights in one hand and in the other a mammoth bottle-opener, both of which could have been formidable weapons. DAVID WAGONER He had a container of some kind of early tranquillizers. He was overdosing on those, eating them like popcorn. He was incoherent, afraid that something bad was going to happen. And it was true. The department had already called the police. CAROLYN KIZER In the classroom Ted did what he always did when he was going mad: he wrote his name on the blackboard, Theodore Heubner Roethke. He pronounced his name with a German accent. Then he went outside to a little raised platform in the middle of the quad where the flagpole was. He made an incoherent speech to the passing students, who either ignored him or laughed. DAVID WAGONER Finally, after fifteen minutes of this, a state policeman came in wearing a crash helmet and boots. He just walked right up to Roethke and got his hands behind him and handcuffed him, Roethke was bowing at the waist and saying “Don’t hit me in the head. Don’t hit me in the head.” Those were his only words. CAROLYN KIZER I know we all felt like Judas. Ted had been belligerent and noisy, but when the police were about to put the handcuffs on him he held out his wrists like a little child. As they drove off, Dave and I collapsed against the wall of
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 Parrington Hall, weeping. DAVID WAGONER It was a very, very sad day we stood there afterward, deeply affected. There was an institution in a large private house, frame house, called Halcyon, near present Northgate. That was his favorite place because they treated him with respect. We visited him there in the violent ward. James Wright, the poet, and I went to see him. I wrote a poem about it. Halcyon Days --for James Wright Remember the day we went to Halcyon to see the poet? The thick front door was locked and the door at the top of the stairway, but his door had a hole for a doorknob, mesh for a window. We sat. He smoked a cigar for us, rehearsing or reenacting Hell for our benefit— two former students who racked their brains for him, who went there sober and came away as drunk as judges, refusing sentence after sentence. They’ve taken the place apart, yanked off the roof, scrapped all the tubs, and beaten the walls out. The Violent Ward, including the Rec Room, has wound up upside down in the driveway without permission, and chunks of linoleum lie strewn on the slope like manic steppingstones. They’re leveling the bluff with a bulldozer, smoothing everything out. It’s visitor’s day all day and all night from this day forward. Here lies one whose nest was built on water. TESS GALLAGHER I was a member of the last class in poetry writing he taught at the University of Washington before his death in 1963. I was eighteen years old. That was the crucible, that class, because it was so intense, and his presence was so pervasive. He was such a maestro; it was like being in an orchestra of one. You could feel the emotional power of poetry. I asked to be excused. I told him I didn’t think I was ready. But he wouldn’t let me leave. He just said, in a very humorous way, with the sexual implication quietly there,
“If you’re coming dear, come now.” He died that summer, so if I hadn’t gone into the class I would have missed him entirely. I’d like to read this poem, Little Inside Out Dream from my newest collection, Is, Is Not. how real you are, bringing me the morning glories of my two old friends as young on a full moon night. How sad-happy it was to embrace them, for he was also my old love, and she--his eventual bride; but forget that since time had slipped its knot—his mother was dying; we were thumping the dark of that for a light switch when moonlight ignited our corner of fortunate intersection, brailing the moment with the memory-chill of lilies, and my alive-again mother braiding my hair the night before to take the hurry out of a school morning. How tightly she pulled to the back of my head, as if she were climbing a moon-ladder into this far away moment. Then I handed her the silk ribbons, one by one, to secure the ends and to hide the rubber bands doing the real job of holding. How I loved those mother-hands! And silk. And that you brought your sorrow to me, even though all we were to each other across time was young and abandoned by mothers. “Awe” is the word that best describes the aura of Roethke’s presence . . . it preceded my entrance into his class. I felt it in the hallway near the classroom, which overlooked the green house. When Roethke blustered into the room, it was there. When I got up to to leave the room, there was a weakness in the knees, a high racy queasiness in the chest . . . but I must add that it was not awe for Roethke alone but for Roethke in his attitude toward the teaching of poetry.
130 Roethke in his seriousness about poetry – this is what physically and psychically affected his students, I believe. I say psychically because I would not be writing today if this seriousness had not carried the power to haunt. I was ghosted by this encounter. What I experienced in the class was a kind of retroactive preparation for an event, which was already past. THEODORE ROETHKE And now you’re all just in time to go home and answer those questions, my dear classmates. You’re playing for high stakes. A great, even a good, poem, like a great painting or a great piece of sculpture or a great piece of music or a great play or work of fiction or even really good ones, like yours and mine sometimes, can change the nature of reality forever. We don’t see or hear things the same way and we don’t even think the same way because great artists lived and worked. Don’t be afraid. All you have to do is put words on a page and then change them if they don’t seem quite right. What could be simpler? You’re trying your luck free of charge. It won’t cost you anything but your time and your sanity. Come back tomorrow, and we’ll start working. Begin where you happen to be. There’s nowhere else better. I intend to haunt you. Goodbye, my snapping turtles, my garter snakes, my birds. The cage door is open. You may exit. CURTAIN
Setting Sun: Chigmit Mountains, AK Jennifer Andrulli
CIRQUE Bibliography: Bogan, Louise. A Poet’s Prose. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005. Gallagher, Tess. A Concert of Tenses. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1986. —. Is, Is Not. Greywolf Press, 2016. Hugo, Richard. The Real West Marginal Way. New York: Norton, 1986. —. The Triggering Town. New York: Norton, 1979. Kizer, Carolyn. On Poetry and Craft. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 200i. Paris Review at. http://www. theparisreview.org/interviews/731/the-art-of-poetry-no81-carolyn-kizer Kleven, Sandra. Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing. Anchorage, AK: V& D Press, 2013. Roethke, Theodore. On Poetry and Craft. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 1965. Stitt, Peter. James Wright, The Art of Poetry No, 19. 1975. Paris Review at http://www.theparisreview.org/ interviews/3839/the-art-of-poetry-no-19-james-wright. Swift, Joan. Interview with Sandra Kleven. 2013. —. The Tiger Iris, Rochester, NY: BOA Editions. 1999 Wagoner, David. Interview. “In A Class with Poets.” Cirque Literary Journal, 2007. --- “First Class,” Georgia Review Vol. 60, No. 2 (SUMMER 2006), pp. 345-376 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/41402747
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F E AT U R E S Always a Laureate Frank Soos – Previous Alaska State Writer Laureate
The Writer in Alaska/ Alaska in the Writer
My gloves are no good. They’re red and they came from Safeway, not an outdoor store. They looked good, and probably anywhere else in the country they would be warm enough. This is Alaska, though. My clothes are not warm enough either; they’re cotton and they are wet. Because I’m skiing, or rather falling down multiple times as I try to ski. I’ve bought skis and poles and boots, the whole package before the first snow fell, such was my eagerness for this sport. And as with so many things, I thought I’d be a natural. Falling takes much more energy than skiing. So I am wet, tired, and some distance away from the warming hut. It hits me, hits me hard deep in my core: A person could easily die out here. Now it is early fall. I’m off to go dip netting for the first time in Chitina. Three guys from the art department, my friends Kes, Ron, and Glen are going to teach me how it’s done. So we drive for six and a half hours or so to Chitina which is hardly a town at all, but no matter, we don’t even stop but head straight down a rocky grade to O’Brien Creek and unload our gear, poles ten feet long, nets about three times the area of a basketball hoop, and head to the banks of the Copper River. The river, 300 meters or so wide, runs hard and gray. If I were to stick my hand in up to my wrist, it would be instantly chilled, and I’d only see to the tops of my knuckles. Stick my net in the water and a fish will swim into it, my friends assure me. This, I think, must be the world’s most elaborate snipe hunt. But before I’m done, some fish will have swum into my net. The sun will breakout from the clouds and send rays of light against the far bank just like the light in a Renaissance painting. A bear steps out of the brush over there, and I shout to the others, “Bear.” They look up, nod, and keep on fishing. Their nods are nods of affirmation: Yes, this, too, is what we’re here for. It’s 1987, and I am a chechako, a newbie Alaskan. I’ve come here to write and to teach writing. Yet what I’ve
seen in this first full year strikes me as beyond my skills. In this moment, when the current literary style is that of Raymond Carver—understated to the extreme, I feel I have no words to make all I’ve taken in into images. * Now nearly 30 years later, I ask myself, what do I really know of this place? And, maybe more importantly, what do I owe it? My friend the poet Peggy Shumaker told me this story: A famous poet was visiting Hawaii. He kept asking if he could be taken to see a volcano. Finally, the locals told him, yes, we’ll show the volcano if you promise not to write a poem about it. John McPhee came and wrote about Alaska, thoughtfully, and for the most part accurately and fairly. Joe McGinnis came and wrote a sour sort of book. He seemed to have a gift for sniffing out every Alaskan in a bad mood. Fiction writers from Jack London to David Vann have come and found the nearly empty and harsh landscape a pallet where they could paint their notions of human behavior and make them stick. If a few details were off, it didn’t much matter. (I’m here to tell you that your spit will not freeze on impact at forty below, or fifty or even sixty. Even if you’re six-six. I tried it in Bethel when, with wind chill, the temperature was around minus 100. I can’t say about that one…that spit may still be traveling.) So what? Other interlopers of various sorts have been coming to Alaska for years to write about it. I called them hit and run writers once when introducing writer Nancy Lord, who came and stayed and began writing what she experienced in stories and essays. We Alaskans can show visitors calving glaciers, charismatic major mammals (both on land and sea), salmon streams with fish so thick you could walk across the river on their backs. Should visitors just get to come see and go and write? Should we invite them to “get a poem out of it”—this visit to Alaska? Why and how should this question of the proprietary matter? If we were writing about New Jersey or Texas, would this question even come up? We know every citizen of New Jersey is not a mobster or a crooked
politician. We know every Texan is not a cowboy. But we’ve applied these sloppy caricatures from time to time and made them stick. And I wonder if residents of those other states mind. I wonder if those people might tell us just to get over it. In my 30 years in Alaska, I’ve had the good fortune to witness the greater presence of home-grown writers. We have writers everywhere, poets, novelists, short-story writers, writers who came and stayed, writers born here, and writers whose ancestors were here before any white people set foot in this state. We are all fully capable of speaking for ourselves. But that brings me back to the original question: How should we regard this place—both as passers-
through and residents? Because Alaska is a fragile place. You might not see this if you’re just passing through. The roads, the guided tours lead you to scenes of grandeur. Even if you don’t see many animals, the guides will assure you they’re here. The tourist companies don’t show you, and, in fact it’s hard for those of us who live here to see, the more troubling sights. If you’ve never seen the Columbia Glacier, you can’t know how diminished it has become in these last decades. If it has been a while since you last saw it, you will be shocked. There it is—evidence of a planet melting away. Permafrost thaws, buildings sag, fish runs diminish, animals’ habitat disappears. Having said this, I think we should recognize the
need for writers, both Alaskans, and those who’ve come to this place and seen some small part of it, to say something, to do something. As one such writer, I have to ask myself, say what? Do what? Because, yes, thirty years in and I am still struggling to know how to write about this state. I’m thinking about my painter friend Kes Woodward who when he first arrived, began writing narratives in his canvases with stencils, who often wrote explicit, exclamatory titles to his paintings: “I love Auk Bay Sunsets.” That’s one way, to sidle in with help from another medium. The other is to start by biting off small bits, birch trunks, then tight, narrowly focused landscape before he allowed himself to take in the panoramic view. Or my wife Margo Klass whose constructions often involve metaphorical and miniature approaches to such a big place. Pieces such as “January Light” and “Early Snow.” More recently she showed me a work in progress: a weathered wooden plank covered by a remnant of red paint, four moose dew claw bones and some river rocks from a favorite fishing hole. Looking over the piece as she’d laid it out in her studio she told me, “I think I’m sinking into Alaska on my own terms.” So she has. A few years back, I fell into the Indian River while fishing. I went downstream maybe a 150 feet and popped out in a hole on the cutbank side over my head. When I surfaced, I had waders full of water and my fishing rod still in my hand, my wading stick gone for good. The limbic brain is a wondrous thing, working the way it does, separating the necessary from the trivial, but it does not think in words, does not traffic in images. Most importantly, the ironic sense of self is not located in the limbic brain. And I would suggest there’s not much irony in those moments when a person is wonderstruck by what he sees—the bear on the far riverbank, its fur made golden by shafts of sunlight. That sense of irony has to be constructed, and the construction begins on the riverbank when I drain the water from my waders. Sometimes it works that way. But I’m a guy who
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
Frank Soos Four Poems
still tears up when he hears “The Alaska Flag Song.” A person can’t write without irony, and the more strongly felt the conviction, the harder it is to achieve the necessary distance. It has taken me this long to build an ironic cushion from those first days of skiing and dip netting. To find a space to work from. Alaska has appeared in tiny mica flecks in my essays. It is the starting point of most of my thoughts. If you wanted, I could take you to the sites of every fish I’ve caught and set down on the page. If not the subject, Alaska is certainly the source of what I write about. Finally, just now, it is beginning to pop up in my fiction as well. When it does, here is the kind of thing that comes out:
Spinach Creek Clay Works lay well off the beaten track, the pavement having given over to a washboarded dirt road some miles back. She remembered she’d signed something back at the car rental desk promising not to drive on certain unpaved roads. (“Nobody takes that seriously,” James had assured her.) If Alexis had a notion of what Curt’s place looked like it went something like this: A neat little cabin, smoke curling out of the chimney, a grassy yard and flower beds lining a neat flagstone walk. Laura Ingalls Wilder lite. What she got was a tall narrow house, some squared off logs nailed into place halfway up its plywood walls, the rest covered with Tyvek except for the places where the Tyvek was pulled away and drooping. Around the yard were piles of assorted shapes and sizes covered with blue tarps. An older red pickup truck with a yellow door and fender was parked crookedly in front of a high wire enclosure, skinny wooden poles holding it up. Behind it was a garden, nice and orderly. In the weeds sat the better part of the donor yellow truck. Its bed, cut away and made into a trailer, was parked nearby with a full load of logs. Up a little hill stood a cabin, a small neatly finished cabin with a porch and a slab of clay above the door, clay formed into a ragged mountain chain and deeply gouged with the name, Spinach Creek Pottery Works. Alexis went up the steps and peered in a window. The place looked dark and disused. Somebody was around though; she could hear the excited squeals of children from behind the house. She started in that direction past huge piles of wood stacked to the rafters of flimsy sheds and what must be Curt’s kiln under another more substantial shed. The girls, maybe four or five years old ran laughing back and forth under a hose held by a woman who must be their mother. A cat, probably startled by Alexis, shot
Remember when it snowed early that time? I think it was the fall of ’92. It bent the trees still full of leaves over just like that. My father was in the hospital, far away, having his chest cut open, his heart repaired. That day, he almost didn’t make it. Come spring, we all thought the trees would right themselves, straighten right up. But they didn’t. They never did.
January Light We come here expecting to find the witch’s house, don’t we? These are the woods of a dark winter’s day, haunted woods. There is something down in our limbic brains that says, beware, that says we don’t have many friends out in the trees, that folks who live among them are only those we’ve cast out. It just goes to show how wrong we can be. Maybe if we ask real nice, those in hiding would come out and share their secrets with us. The woods might enfold us once again. Maybe we would learn something.
Klass images photographed by Chris Arend
The saleslady told me she took me for a man who would like to wear a hat. She offered me many choices. I weighed my options carefully; she was patient. She taught me how to settle it on my head without pinching the crown and wearing a hole as my father had done. In fact, the hat, a fedora with a snap in the brim, wanted to be about my father while I hoped it to be about me. I went out into the streets of Seattle, a city full of strangers to me. The hat yelled to all of them, look at him, he’s wearing his father’s hat. Foolish guy. I thought a hat might change things.
Mittens Dexterity may be a luxury when the temperature drops low, when just to take hold is a necessity. Pull on mittens, go backward in time, back to childhood, then beyond, way back to when hands were the almost-hands of groundhogs or squirrels—paws. Paws to grab on to the world and not let go. To that time, any time, when holding on must be everything.
out from behind one of the wood piles and ran past the mother and children. The three turned all at once to see, their eyes wide as if they were a family of wild creatures standing in a clearing in the woods, taken by surprise. One girl’s hair was long and blonde, the other’s raven black. Their mother’s red hair flared in the light as it cascaded down her shoulders. All three were thoroughly naked. “Go put your dresses on,” the woman told the children who scampered up to the rickety deck and pulled their dresses off the railing. “We didn’t hear you come up.” She took up her carpenter’s jeans and a sweatshirt from the ground, and she took her time slipping them on, not wanting to take her eyes off Alexis. “I was looking for Spinach Creek Pottery.” “Wednesday,” she said. “He’s at the farmer’s market. He’ll be there Saturday and Sunday, too. Look for him there.” “OK, I will. But would you tell him Alexis came by? I’m an old friend of his, an old friend from grad school.” “I’ll tell him.” “Thanks. Sorry to interrupt your fun.” “We needed to get busy anyway.” The girls came down from the deck and stood a little behind their mother. Their little cotton dresses were dirty, so were their faces, their hands and feet. Alexis saw they had flecks of chipped purple polish on their nails. So did their mother. At least Alexis supposed she was their mother. She tried once more, “Universität Wien,” the lettering on the shirt washed out almost to the point of illegibility, “Did you go there?” “Go where?” “You know, the University of Vienna like it says on your sweatshirt.” “This? It came from Value Village.” My poet friend Erin Hollowell briefly lived in Fairbanks, and she told me it took her a while to learn to look up from the junk cluttered yards to the beauty beyond. But for me, the two go together. I lived in a dry cabin for a few years and I realized then that I saw the northern lights more often than other folks. Standing on my cabin deck, naked or mostly so, in the deep of the night and peeing off into the snow, I saw the lights swirling above me, felt the cold air push into my lungs, felt myself more alive, more present in this place than those snug in their beds. I owe a lot to Alaska. Despite being a clumsy guy with poor social skills and a hillbilly accent, I have thrived here. The people here welcomed me. My failures have been failures of my own making, my successes thanks in great part to the room to roam around freely in my thoughts, to the encouragement to write what and how I’ve written no matter how far from Alaska I strayed inside my head. While my self grew more rooted here. This is how I love this place, love my neighbors and their yards full of old cars and pieces of car and rusty fifty-five gallon barrels, their complicated shambling lives not so different from my own. And, of course, the mountains, the rivers, the starry sky. I am, we are, part of it all.
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Tokositna Glacier, AK
CIRQUE Cirque is a gorgeous publication that sets the bar above the usual literary journal... ~ David McElroy
On the Road and In the Air: CIRQUE reads with friends. Anchorage â€“ July 21 Great Harvest Bread David McElroy Sandra Kleven Patrick Minock Tom Begich Barbara Hood Peter Porco D. C. McKenzie Lois Simenson Cynthia Steele Jim Hanlen Karen Tschannen Toby Widdecombe Kenny Gerling Benjamin Toche Tonja Woelber Leslie Fried Rick Brooks
Bothell - August 19 Tsuga Fine Art Sandra Kleven Irene Bloom Tim Sherry Carey Taylor Ellen Reichman David Fewster Craig Smith Leone Fogle Richard Widerkehr Robert Bharda Adrian Ross Scanlan Judith Works Karen Vande Bossche Charles Leggett Diane Ray Sherry Rind Gil Menendez
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 Bellingham – August 28, Mount Baker Theater Jerry McDonnell Sandra Kleven Ron McFarlane Ann Boochever Frances Howard-Snyder Jean Waight Victoria Doerper Jonathon Cooper Tim Sherry Karen Vande Bossche Richard Widerkehr Julie Tate
Anishka Duggal David M. Laws Susan Witter
Timothy Pilgrim Richard Little Flannery White
Bob Hicks John Morgan Gil Menendez
Seward November 9, 2016 6 The Cookery Lizzie Sutphin Justine Pechuzal Doug Capra Helen Wasson Fred Moore Dan Walker Sean Ulman J J Kaiser Carol Souza Cynthia Steele Tonja Woelber Dawnell Smith Marybeth Holloman Gabrielle Barnett E D Turner Scott Banks Gene Ervine Sandra Kleven Luke Rosier
Sandra Kleven with Andy Hope Award Winner David McElroy
Sandra Kleven and Michael Burwell, Taos, New Mexico
A Tribute to Louise Freeman
It’s Saturday. And there is no Louise Freeman calling me at 6, 7, 8, or 9 a.m. because she can’t sleep and she knows I’m not asleep and we both enjoy a friendly conversation early on weekend mornings. There’s no sipping coffee while reading aloud our most recent creations, her quick to critique and quick to praise: “Debbie, cut the third and fourth stanzas – not needed. Also cut the word bulbous – ugly word. Otherwise very nice.” There’s no talk of husbands, or rather ex-husbands. No talk of our aging bodies thickening and slow compared to many of our similar-age friends who still run marathons and hike mountains. And there’s no talk of kids, grandkids for me and want-tobe grandkids for her, and our recent adventures. There’s none of this because Louise died suddenly and unexpectedly on Oct. 18, 2016, and left me, her family, her friends with a titanic void. For me it’s an emptiness that slips away in busy times, but always arrives on the weekend when I expect the phone to ring and realized it won’t. Not today. Not next week. Not ever. Louise was a writer, and editor and friend. She had a Masters Degree in Creative Nonfiction from Illinois State University, where she studied with David Foster Wallace. Her first memoir, Standing Up to the Rock, won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and the Idaho Book Award. Her recent personal essays and articles have won awards from the Alaska Press Club and Mature Media. Her second memoir, set in Alaska, was recently being circulated to publishers by her New York agent. She was talented. She was kind. She had a passion for the underdog, for learning and adventure. She also suffered from bipolar depression, was in the middle of a med change and being seen by an advance nurse practitioner, instead of her psychiatrist. She tried to get help. About a week before she died, she told me asked had asked to be admitted to the hospital, but was denied that option. The result: she took her own life.
Earlier this year, Louise went on a three-month odyssey trip through six states to visit family, friends and loves ones. I was lucky enough to be on her list, and she stayed a week with me. Upon her return to Alaska, she expressed gratitude to friends and relatives for hosting her in her journey. They are too numerous to list, but the gratitude was long and heartfelt and tells a lot about what she values: • •
• • •
To Carrie: for demonstrating that faith and openmindedness can go hand in hand To Ingrid: for her practical solutions to my sleep problems, for making me feel part of a real family Christmas, and for wiping away a lot of tears To Dmitri: for making mom’s Christmas chocolatecovered raisins To Doris: for showing that life can still be enjoyed at 90+ years To Tim Miller: for making it clear that “a good-enough life” is, indeed, good enough
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To Emlyn: for our wide-ranging conversations/debates about art, books, ideas, and technology To Ambrose: for the butterflies, the walks, and for demonstrating perseverance at a challenging time To Sandy: for showing me once again that home is where the heart is To Ryan: for talking to me about what it’s like to be a high school student these days To Maggie: for the tour of Texas Women’s University, and for being the only waitress at Pappadeux Seafood willing to serve the large family on the patio complaining loudly about the frigid (52 degrees) Texas night during their going-away party for someone who feels INCREDIBLY FORTUNATE TO HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE WHO LOVE HER
Thank you with all my heart, Tina (otherwise known as Louise) Louise had a big heart and wore it on her sleeve. When friends and family were down, she suffered. When they were happy, she was too. She was thoughtful and kind. I remember the day before she was to leave Missouri we drove around Columbia – looking at fraternity houses, turn-of-the-century homes with big yards and the university. While downtown, she asked me to stop so she could look at something – what I don’t remember. “I’ll wait in the car,” I said, already tired from our day’s activities. When she came back, she had a pretty bouquet of flowers. “For you,” she said hopping in the car. “Thank you for everything.” I was touched. Louise was short on cash, but even so huge on kindness. That’s the way she was.
her, family was of utmost importance and she talked frequently about her sons and their accomplishments as well as those of other family members. She recently joined them in a big family reunion and was thrilled to be a part of the celebration. She was making plans for her life and shared them with me a week before her passing: A surprise birthday celebration for a sister (ballet tickets and a bed and breakfast), helping the elderly by telling them stories and encouraging them to write, walks with newfound friends…. She also was making a friend and family plaque to put on her wall in her apartment and asked me for a picture. She told me in her new life she was starting over with nothing – no money, few material things, and little left of a career as a writer and editor due to an eye condition that prevented her from reading and writing on a computer. But she stressed the one thing she did have was supportive friends and family. “On the opposite side of the hall I’m going to put favorite photos of myself over the years – pictures in which I look happy, healthy and confident,” she said. “That’s what I’m striving for.” I wish my phone could ring one last time so I could express to her how much she meant to me. But I think she knew. Love you Louise. Miss you Louise. Thank YOU with all my heart, for sharing your life with me and others. We miss you.
She was a woman who believed in conservation, equal rights and social justice. She loved “Readers’ Write” in The Sun magazine, and was a regular contributor to that column – and in fact still has a yet-to-be published piece in the section. She also loved sleeping on her secondfloor balcony at her Idaho apartment at night, warm breeze blowing, warm breeze comforting. She was especially excited to be closer to family. For
140 Lucian Childs and Martha Amore
Building A Community Anthology Building Fires in the Snow University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks, AK 2016
Over the course of the three-year project to create Building Fires in the Snow: A Collection of Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry, we were fueled by our faith in the uniqueness of Alaska and the importance of telling its story through the LGBTQ experience. After all the submissions had been read, we selected and edited works from twenty-five contributors, including ourselves. These writers, some established pros, others emerging artists, weave the rich tapestry of Alaska life. And what a tapestry it is! Through M.C. Mohagani Magnetek’s tragicomic stories we get to stand in the life of a transgendered woman and witness how saucily she handles the daily abuse that comes her way. Through the stories of Alyse Knorr and Morgan Grey we experience the failure of love on both sides of the equation of a closeted relationship. With Egan Millard, we get a fresh take on an old story, that of a young man come to Alaska for love. We identified writers whose work was set in rural and bush communities. There’s Gabrielle Barnett’s fading southern queen clinging to the homesteader’s dream; Rosemary McGuire’s innocent young fishermen, caught in a tragic first love; and Jerah Chadwick’s stunning poems set in the Aleutians where men grapple with themselves and a life with a lover while hauling in provisions or stoking a potbellied stove. As over half of us Alaskans live in cities, many of the stories and poems in the collection have urban settings as well. What makes our urban experience so unique is the dichotomy we often feel between our ordinary travails—taking kids to school, dashing into Carrs, or meeting friends at the PAC for a musical—and what we think of as the Great Land, that vastness teeming with wildlife. As helter-skelter as our lives frequently are, we live surrounded by wilderness, which exerts a mighty influence on our lives. Whether glimpsed in the rearview mirror or appreciated on an afternoon hike, the characters in these stories and poems look to nature for inspiration, comfort, and even models of harmonious
CIRQUE action. In Dawnell Smith’s story, a lover ponders a difficult relationship by walking the Chugach Mountains alone. In Sandy Gillespie’s poem, friends gather to log the woods around their home, not to dominate the landscape, but to build a lovers’ cabin. In Teeka Ballas’s story, a woman watches her lover cook ptarmigan while musing on their lifestyle of hunting, fishing, and harvesting vegetables. In these stories and poems, the two halves of the dichotomy are wed—the urban and the wild. Through this marriage, one that is deeply Alaskan, we enter into a queer literary space. And yet, our queer voices describe thoughts and feelings everyone shares. Some would go so far as to say now that queer people have the freedom to simply be ourselves, like a butterfly who has abandoned its cocoon, we’ve no longer need for a Queer Literature. Perhaps, but the power of literature resides in specificity. Our queer lives, though they be similar to those of our straight neighbors, have particular stories to tell. And queer people yearn to see these representations on the printed page, as people in outlier communities do everywhere. Yet they remain a rarity. Because of this, anthologies such as Building Fires in the Snow are of vital importance if the stories of minority communities are to be told. Anthologies are uniquely positioned to span the breadth of these communities by having a wealth of voices, ethnicities, sexualities and genders. With the support of small and academic presses such as the publisher of our book, the University of Alaska Press, anthologies are freed from the “bottom line” exigencies of commercial publishing to open a window onto rarely seen aspects of culture. The result can be powerfully liberating. Anthologies such as ours foster communities of shared struggle and can catalyze political and social action. Or they can simply be a book one holds in one’s hands and finds, with deep pleasure, that one is not alone. With the publishing of Building Fires in the Snow, our faith in Alaska and its LGBTQ communities has been realized. That the collection is the first of its kind creates an expectation for it to represent all the varieties of queer experience in the state. Though this was our mission, we quickly understood the limitations under which we labored: the relatively small pool of queer material from LGBTQ and ally Alaskans, the number of people too busy with their own projects or not sufficiently “out” to be published in a gay book. In the end, just a quarter of our writers identify as people of color/bi-racial, none Alaska Native.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 Within these limitations, we have carved out what success we can by taking a pointillist approach. As complex as the picture we’ve drawn is, the shape you see of Alaska and its LGBTQ community is incomplete. We leave it to others to fill in all the dots. *** What does one do when what has for so long been an intellectual endeavor morphs into a thing you can hold in your hand? When all of a sudden boxes of these things start to arrive at your door? Better get to work! As writers, we’re used to hard work…wrestling with characters and their emotional entanglements, wrestling with words, with plot, with craft. But in the past year, as our literary vision turned into a product, the work we faced was wholly different. We came to appreciate what our writer friends who’ve published books before us have learned. To be a writer of books means taking on the work of promoting them. We’ve become PR folk: print and digital media marketing strategists. Lucian created the website and Facebook pages, and began building a platform on Twitter. We blogged. We outreached to Alaska LGBTQ and literary organizations to set up a book tour, and to local media to help promote it. We queried national literary organizations to be included in lit festivals and conferences. We sat for interviews. We entered awards competitions. Suddenly, the conversation we’d been having between ourselves was broadcast to the world. In short, we were open for business! This anthology is fundamentally a project for and by Alaska’s literary community, queer and ally. In order to get the word out, our most valuable lesson has been to embrace the power of this community. Alaska is an amazing place to make our book. The literary community has been an incredible support. Many of Alaska’s literary lights agreed to read and blurb the book and to help us find potential contributors. We owe them our deepest gratitude. Gratitude as well goes to the bookstores, libraries and literary organizations that helped us set up our Alaska book tour. As supportive as these organizations have been, we learned we had to take ownership of each event ourselves. This meant reaching out not only to local media, but to LGBTQ organizations such as Pflag and GayStraight Alliances at high schools and universities. The results were heartening. Whether it was
141 Anchorage, Fairbanks or Homer, Alaska’s literary and queer community turned out for our events, engaging us with their questions, supporting us through their presence. We were especially touched by the lively conversations during the book signings when people shared stories of being queer or ally Alaskans. There was the woman buying a book for her cousin who had just come out. There was the recent high school grad in Fairbanks taking a “gap year,” writing daily in order to figure out her life and what it means to be queer in Alaska. She told us that she came across our book by happenstance at Gulliver’s Bookstore and read it in one sitting the very same afternoon. There were the many queer, transgendered and gender neutral high school and college students. One especially comes to mind, a young transgender man who came to the Gulliver’s event and sat, book in hand, in the front row with his mom. After the presentation, he told us of the openness he felt in his high school, of the positive energy for queer and trans events in his community. For all the deep and sometimes painful discussions of sexual and gender identity we’d had, this young man showed us that in Alaska it’s a brand new day. And the beat goes on. While Lucian has returned to his other home in Toronto, he’s still blogging and supporting the book via social media and through his graphic design. On November 10, Martha traveled to Juneau for University of Alaska Southeast’s “Power & Privilege Symposium” and for a reading and signing at Hearthside Books. In February, we’re both off to Washington for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference where Martha will be participating in a panel on gender and genre preferences. In March, we’ll travel to New Orleans for the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival, one of the country’s premier queer literary events. In June, cross fingers, we’ll be in New York City for the annual Lambda Literary Awards. Our crystal ball sees no further than that. Though we move on to work on our individual story collections and the contributors to their projects, still the book we created remains a testament to the quest to live the authentic life. A life that honors the struggles and traditions of the past. A life that must be fought for anew, shared and celebrated, or, in pain and distrust, kept secret and endured alone. Unrelenting life—taking risks, carving out new understanding—showy, brave, and unruly. Life that persists, big and wild as the Great Land itself, the state of Alaska. Martha Amore teaches writing at the University of Alaska
142 Anchorage. She achieved her Masters of Fine Arts from UAA, and she has published stories in a number of journals and magazines. Her first novella came out in 2013 in the anthology Weathered Edge: Three Alaskan Novellas. In 2015, she won a Rasmuson Individual Artist Award to complete her collection of short stories. She lives in Anchorage with her husband, three daughters, two cats, and one big dog. Amore’s story from the anthology, “Geology” can be found in this issue on page 54. Lucian Childs divides his time between Anchorage, Alaska and Toronto, Ontario where he lives with his husband. In 2013, he received a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Project Grant as well as the Prism Review Short Story Prize. He has been awarded residencies at Brydcliffe Art Colony and at Artscape Gibraltar Point and was a Peter Taylor Fellow at the 2015 Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. His short stories have appeared in numerous literary journals both in the United States and Canada.
INTERVIEW Carey Taylor
Still Breathing: A Lifetime of Poetry An Interview with Joan Swift
I first met Joan Swift after playing her in Sandra Kleven’s play The Influence of Theodore Roethke: I Teach Out of Love in Seattle on February 28, 2014. She sat in the front row dressed in a jacket of purple velvet, looking elegant and poised. Her warm smile helped calm my jitters, as I read her words about what it was like to be a student of Theodore Roethke. [The play can be found in this issue of Cirque.] Prior to this, I had received an email from Sandra while I was on vacation in Hawaii, asking if I would consider playing the part of Joan Swift in her play. I was reluctant at first because (1) I was not familiar with Joan’s work, and (2) I was not keen to spend my holiday break memorizing lines. It was only after Sandra Kleven said I could read from a script, that I agreed. I am so glad I said yes, as Joan and I have continued to stay in touch through Cirque readings, social media, and lunches at her home in Edmonds, Washington. Through this continued contact, I have come to appreciate deeply her contribution to the world of poetry, her unique place as a Northwest poet, and her courage to write poems that deal with difficult and heavy subject matter, such as rape and neonaticide. Her uncensored truth telling (whether it springs from the imagination or reality) creates a visceral response in the reader that takes us, holding our breath to the depths, then back to the surface, where in the complexity and grey areas of life, an empathy seems to emerge. It is there, even in the terror and sorrow expressed in her rape poems, as evidenced in the line from her poem “His Sister”— On the dark path of his name there was no blood yet. And yet Joan is so much more than a poet who writes about sorrow and loss. In her book The Tiger Iris she writes about landscapes she loves— Hawaii, Alaska, the
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 Stillaguamish River, and about her mother. Joan writes about her whole world, both the beautiful and the broken pieces of it. She is above all things a survivor, who despite her multitude of losses, creates poetry to make sense of her world. And, as the last lines in her poem “Identity” so accurately capture, she never plays the victim: I remember the sky when all its blue/bloomed in my face as I rose to the surface/and took the breath I’m still breathing. Joan Swift has risen to the surface again and again, and has brought with her a lifetime of poems that are deserving of our attention.
143 of Washington in 1965, where she studied with Theodore Roethke in his last class. Carey Taylor: Joan, first I want to say how fortunate I feel to have met you. Sandra Kleven, in her as role Editor at Cirque, is truly exceptional in her ability to nurture a poetry community that extends beyond simply publishing good work to nurturing personal relationships and connections within the Cirque tribe. I met you, just as I was entering the world of “poet,” and from the beginning, you have been both gracious and inclusive. Your willingness to participate not only in our developing friendship but to share your own personal narrative, has allowed me to understand at a much deeper level the arc of your own poetry narrative.
Joan Swift is the author of four books of poetry: This Element (Alan Swallow, 1965), Parts of Speech (Confluence Press, 1978), The Dark Path of Our Names (Dragon Gate, 1985), and The Tiger Iris (BOA Editions Ltd, 1999) with her fifth scheduled for publication in 2017. In addition, she has published Speaking of that narrative, I two chapbooks: Intricate Moves would like to start this interview - Poems About Rape (Chicory Blue by asking you to take us to the Press, 1997) and Snow On A Crocusmoment you decided to become Joan Swift and Carey Taylor Photo: Michael Kleven Formalities of a Neonaticide (Swan a poet and share with us the Scythe Press, 2010). She has been primary influences that may have the recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts shaped that initial decision. Creative Writing Fellowships, a writing grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and a Writers Award from the Joan Swift: I don’t think it was a decision. It was just Washington State Arts Commission. Two of her books of something I did— I mean all my life. I remember walking poetry, The Dark Path of Our Names and The Tiger Iris were home from school, so I must have been at least six or honored with Washington State Governor’s Awards. Other seven, in the melting snow, thinking “Little Pigeon, little honors include a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Small Presses Pigeon, walking in the melting snow, don’t you think that 1989-1990, a Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the you need rubbers? replied the pigeon oh no, oh no. Little Poetry Society of America, an Ann Stanford Award from pigeon, little pigeon fluttering your wings, do you think they the Southern California Anthology, and a King County are beautiful? Oh yes, the pigeon sings.” Washington Publication Grant. Taylor: Wow, it’s impressive that you remember both the Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic, The New place and the words so vividly. So language was always Yorker, The American Poetry Review, Field, The Iowa Review, there, even as a small child? Ploughshares, The Yale Review, Poetry Northwest, Cirque and many others. She is also represented in over two dozen Swift: Yes, I was always writing something. When I was anthologies. Her newest collection, The Body That Follows in high school, at my graduation, I read many of my own Us (Cave Moon Press) is coming in 2017. poems, and then when I first went to college at Duke, I got into the writing seminar led by William Blackburn, which Joan earned her B.A. degree from Duke University in also had people like William Styron and Peter Maas in it. 1948 and a M.A. in Creative Writing from the University Anyway, I’ve always gravitated towards poetry.
144 Taylor: What do you feel were the formative events of your childhood and how do you think your poetry was influenced by those events? Swift: I was born in Rochester, New York, and lived there for the first six years of my life. My father, unfortunately was a batterer. At the ages of three and four I watched him blacken my mother’s eyes as she cowered behind the coatrack. He also abused me, not in any sexual way, but once he threw me down the stairs. When I was six, my mother left him and moved to her parents’ house in northern Pennsylvania where she started divorce proceedings. I went to a two-room schoolhouse. The only book in the house was the Swedish Bible. After two years, when the divorce was final, we moved back to Rochester. Although I hunted-and-pecked on my aunt’s old Royal typewriter, what I called poems, I was in high school before an English teacher introduced me to Edna St. Vincent Millay.
CIRQUE Swift: I don’t remember going to the Blue Moon, which Roethke frequented, but I did go to a bar called Johnny’s Rainbow after class once. All the guys from class were mad because I was there. There was a lot of glaring. I think they were mad because they didn’t have Roethke’s full attention. I wrote about that day in a poem from The Tiger Iris titled “A Crown.” Taylor: If you could pick one or two people who were most influential in your development as a poet, who would they be and how did they encourage and influence you? Swift: Probably Nelson Bentley and Ted Roethke. Nelson provided a lot of encouragement, and encouraged me to send things out. Roethke was pretty kind to me. With Roethke, I learned, probably too much, about form, because my tendencies go back to him. Reading in form doesn’t mean you have to write in form, but it does help you hear the words. Form allows you to control the poem. But it can also free it up.
Taylor: Do or did you keep a journal or diary? Swift: I never was a journal keeper, until around the late 80s or early 90s. It seemed laborious to write down something that sounded so pedestrian, like “I hard boiled the eggs.” I was reading them recently however, and was going throw them away, but they were kind of interesting, and I thought, no, I’ll let the kids have them. I did put exclamation marks for “maybe” poems that came out of that writing. Taylor: In the book Mary Randlett Portraits (2014, University of Washington Press), in which you are included, Francis McCue writes: “Joan Swift, a student in the last class that Theodore Roethke ever taught, is one of the female poets who worked on the fringes of what Carolyn Kizer called the ‘Northwest School’ of poets.” Did you see yourself that way, and if so why or why not? Were you even aware at the time of this concept of a “Northwest School”? Swift: Yes, I was aware of the Northwest School. There was Carolyn herself, and David Wagoner, and Roethke was alive at the time. Also, Nelson Bentley was very prominent and many students in his class idolized him. I never thought of myself as either on the fringes or not on the fringes. We never talked of a “Northwest School.” I never heard that language used. Taylor: Did you socialize outside of class with other students or staff?
Taylor: You had two small children and were married when you were working on your M.A. at the University of Washington and were a bit older than most of the students in class. Where were the nooks and crannies away from children where you could write and did you have support or help with the children during this time? Swift: I tried to do all my work during the day, I had one girl in school, and I had to have a babysitter for the youngest. I had class four days a week from one to four with Roethke. I remember writing a term paper, but frankly I can’t remember any other assignments, or homework. Mostly in Roethke’s class it was just a matter of listening to his monologues, and we would sit there transfixed. Taylor: What was the first poem you got published and who published it? Swift: I don’t remember, but the first major poems were published in The New Yorker and The Atlantic, both around the same one- or two-year period. Then there was a long dry spell where nobody was publishing anything. I remember feeling pretty thrilled when I realized: Hey, this is great; they are going to pay me! Taylor: Wallace Stegner writes that “Some are born in their place, some find it, some realize after long searching that the place they left is the one they have been searching for.”
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Could you share with us where you feel most grounded in place and how that influences your writing?
of my husband’s customers. We flew out of Anchorage by float plane to this remote lake.
Swift: The place I have gone for many years, that seems to always result in some kind of poem, either the idea or some phrase emerges, is my cabin, which was passed down from my husband’s side of the family. The first time I went there was 1954 after riding cross-country by train from Rochester, New York to see this place my husband couldn’t bear to be away from.
Taylor: You have three new poems out in Poetry Northwest-Winter & Spring 2016. “Sometimes a Lake” is a poignant poem written shortly after the death of your daughter who lived in Alaska. It starts out: “To make up for the lost days/I go through each box as if it held/the secret to vanishing.” I find it incredible how you are able to produce such breathtaking work after such significant loss. Has this always been the case, and where do you think you pull your strength from?
Taylor: Could you describe what that cabin looked like in 1954 when you first saw it? Swift: I remember all the trees and Whitehorse Mountain and its glacier was right out the window, and the Stillaguamish river was there. I wrote a number of poems about the Stillaguamish Tribal Hatchery in The Tiger Iris. Anyway, after that trip, we moved here from Rochester, and other than a few years in California, have stayed in the Pacific Northwest— the longest here in Edmonds. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and spent a lot of time in the woods, so I guess this place just seemed like a grander extension of those early years in nature. Taylor: Can you share the way you typically create a poem from beginning to end? Swift: I think writing a poem is always different. It is a process in itself. I have taken poems that have been written in strict form, and yanked them apart and rewritten them loosely, and that has been very successful. One place I got a lot of jumpstarts for poems was at the cabin, something about the atmosphere there. I would start with two or three lines, and then more lines come, and finally I have a poem. Does anyone know what process the brain goes through? I have spiral notebooks full of poem starts, and sometimes I go back to them five years later and wonder why I abandoned it. Taylor: Many of your poems are set in Alaska. Can you tell us your connection to Alaska and why it is such a presence in your work? Swift: My older daughter lived in Juneau for 33 years. Mostly she flew down here to Edmonds. But I visited her twice, once with my Mother and then alone once. Most of the Alaska poems are rooted in fishing trips taken with my husband to Tebay Lake, which we were treated to by one
Swift: I wrote “Sometimes a Lake” two and one-half years after my daughter Laurie died. My only poem of significance since that event. A terrible loss I will probably never get over. All poets write from strong emotion. I also write to discover or get straight what happened. The poem is what holds it in focus. It contains it. I guess it’s true that writing itself is where I pull some of my strength from. Taylor: Tess Gallagher, when finding out about this interview, wrote “Joan is no pussycat—she plays hardball and deals with stuff others would not venture towards.” When I read this I thought specifically of your poems about your own rape, serving as witness for the prosecution against the man who raped you and then murdered and raped another woman, and the neonaticide poems. Could you talk about the concept of bearing witness to your own life through the creation of poems, and how that has impacted you? Swift: You mean talking about things other people would never talk about? These poems were written in the early 70s, and after the trial in the mid-80s. Hardly anyone was writing these types of poems then. I will always remember poet Dick Blessing saying “Is this what I think it is about?” and I said “Yes” and he basically just said “Wow” and that was the end of it. To be honest sitting in the witness stand was much worse than writing about it. But I guess I knew I had to begin exploring and investigating what happened to me. And soon after it happened, I did that by taking my car to Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland, letting the dog out of the car to run around, and I would sit in the car and write for an hour or so. So, I guess I wrote, as a way to understand what happened to me. I never thought it was a courageous thing, it was just what I needed to do. But I never really got any feedback on these poems once they were published. Maybe people don’t want to read these
CIRQUE types of poems.
30 Degrees South Latitude Over the tenth deck the wild inaudible stars are flung where you least expect them. Standing alone in the shadow of the ship’s radar for darkness, you see that the sky is a curving bridge for the light steps of strangers They cross over alone or in groups and the next night cross silently over again without saying where they have been or why they are doomed to repeat the same journey You open your book of constellations, think how somebody wanted this sky to be home like earth mountain, dove, scorpion, river, wolf.
Taylor: What process did you go through to move your poetry from the personal to the public domain through publication, and what, if any challenges did that produce? Swift: It wasn’t easy getting the rape poems published. The first sequence consisted of five poems, including “Your Hands” and “The Line-Up,” both written in the spring of 1970 in Joaquin Miller Park shortly after the rape. These poems were published in Poetry Northwest in the Spring of 1972, when David Wagoner was editor. Also that same spring, The Yale Review published “The Line-Up.” The group came out in my book Parts of Speech, in 1978. The second rape sequence describing the testimony of the witnesses at the trial of the now rapist/murderer, consisted of 12 poems and appeared in my next book, The Dark Path of Our Names, published in 1985. In the midnineties, I put them all together with some new ones and sent them off to Chicory Blue Press from which a chapbook called Intricate Moves-Poems About Rape emerged. Taylor: Joan, you have been writing and publishing poems for a good 50 years. Looking back at your life as a poet, what are you most proud of? Swift: Probably the rape poems. Taylor: You have given the world courageous and beautiful poems. What would you say poetry has given to you?
When the bear you’ve seen since you were a child hangs on the horizon’s lowest limb you capture it with your eyes, desiring
Swift: Mostly an explanation. Poetry has been a huge part of my life, since as far back as I can remember. Taylor: Any advice for beginning poets?
the known even though it pours its own black blood into black.
First published in Poetry Northwest
Swift: You have to adore language. Listen to the way it sounds. Respond to your surroundings carefully and accurately. Be prepared to write and rewrite. Get involved with other poets. Be willing to accept criticism. Don’t curl up in a ball after a rejection arrives. Be ready for lots of competition. Taylor: What is one thing the literary world does not know about Joan Swift? Swift: I used to jump into the sea at Desolation Sound. Off high rocks, at night.
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REVIEWS Review by Jerry McDonnell
Resurrection Bay, by David Stallings
Evening Street Press, Dublin, OH 2012 David Stallings chapbook, Resurrection Bay, is a story-poem, the speaker, which shall be referred to as “boy,” follows a journey of displacement of youth without youth’s agreement. A journey of lost and found dictated by circumstances that demand acceptance, and, like all biological systems, one adapts, moves, or dies. Resurrection Bay is as clear and as deep as this biological premise. It avoids being judgmental while precisely telling what could be a novel of length in twenty-seven pages of individual poems. A major accomplishment testing the theory that poetry is the most condensed form of writing, and in our age of short attention spans
it succeeds comfortably, like a warm robe, a robe that intermittently allows a chilled air of discontent. The images paint a story of adolescence challenged by a stepfather’s quarrelsome love of his mother, the stepfather’s ambiguous acceptance of a child accompanying a marriage after the death of the boy’s father, and the challenge of a grade school boy pioneering new friends and a changing environment from Tennessee to Seward, Alaska to Colorado and back without a guide. Resurrection Bay begins at the end with the boy’s (now adult voice) retrospective poem, “Trailer,” as the he measures the rotting hulk of a 35-foot trailer like the one he lived in with his mother and stepfather. Enough remains— here the tiny bathroom, there the kitchen, the foldout dining table. At the front was a hideaway bed, all the room he had to himself. He folded and put away bedding each morning, though he could leave his army men, cigar box of treasures, some books on the window shelf. At the foot of the bed he once nursed his black mutt, Hey You, after she swallowed a chicken bone. In “Leaving Nashville, 1952” we journey north: “I’m packed between suitcases and boxes/into the back seat of a Buick Dynaflow, the view/ blocked, the air thick with Dick’s Camels/ and my Mother’s Herbert Tareytons./ I try to filter my breath/with Kleenex--/ the asthma isn’t fooled./ How will I make it all the way to Alaska? His childhood, a cold case buried behind him: his father dead, his first encounters with boys on the road is met with rocks thrown, and then Alaska, his fifth grade classmates greeting him with fists in the poem “No Trace”:
CIRQUE In the wild Alaskan yard of the Muller’s home, he hides from the other kids. If he stays very still and wills himself invisible, he won’t be seen. It works. But now, years later, he can’t stop. Santa Fe Sky
The demands of survival being strong, the boy adapts, his Tennessee accent disappears, he soon has friends, a paper route, a warning from the police for teenage behavior, and Alaska boys’ toys: a fishing pole, the slimly feel of an eel and a fish, a rifle. He has found circumstances anew, found everything but his name. His aunt in Memphis sends him letters telling him to be proud of his name; however, his stepfather has a counter demand in “Half Dollar”: . . . in her sprawling fountain pen, they are addressed to Mr. David Stallings, who no longer exists. To avoid gossip, my stepfather says, I must use his name.
More choppy seas of youth are navigated. First love finds disappointment. Stepfather’s sporting goods store goes bust. The family moves into cramped staff quarters again with stepfather’s new job. The boy’s room is another small space: a closet, but this time with a door. The boy kills a caribou with stepfather’s chiding of a “bad shot” instead of congratulations. Awareness of one’s sexuality leads to quitting the Boy Scouts . . . six merit badges shy of Eagle Scout. In the poem “Offense,” after mother drops the boys off at the theater box office, the boys waiting for it to open in the cold of winter, the boy wants his mother to leave: “but, dammit, she’s hanging around:” Ducktail haircuts frozen stiff, we stamp our feet, beat our arms, huff and puff in the frigid air. Our distrustful scout master happens by, glances over, and scolds, You boy’s shouldn’t be smoking! My mother billows a frosty breath. Oh, we’re all smoking, Mr. Fyle, See? My friends later agree, You got a pretty cool mom. The boy’s interest in poetry comes from listening to music on the radio and is given approval from, Howard Rhudy, a poet handyman who sees him penciling lyrics from the Platter’s latest hit. From “Mentor”: It feels good ta share a poem, don’t ya think? I nod, face growing warm, Yessir. It does. Like the changing of seasons, having survived the science of adaptation, the boy is then again faced with
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 displacement without agreement. They leave Seward, Alaska to head to Colorado where his mother says, “We were happy there.” He gives his collie to their neighbor, his paper route to his best friend, and says his goodbyes in “Petition”: . . . looks up to the clear sky, reaches out to his self-to-be: Find a way back to this moment. Help me understand. I’m counting on it. Another uninvited choice is followed by his mother announcing divorce with the preamble from “Departures”: “He was never much/ of a father to you,” giving the boy no sense of relief. I am too close to their years of arguments, his taking away both my nickname— You’re not tough enough to be called “Butch!” and last name— Invites too many questions about your mother and me. Resurrection Bay sails like a well-crafted condensed novel that has trimmed its sails to be swift and sure in weathering snotty seas to get swiftly to a save harbor. Each turn in the boy’s development sets the course in sparse, simple language with the impact of a velvet hammer. No cryptic images here, nothing to decipher. It invites the reader to be privy to a life, awarding confidence that you are not an eavesdropper, not asking for sympathy or evaluation, just an ear.
Review by Vivian Faith Prescott
Courtesans of Flounder Hill, by Ishmael Hope Ismael Reed Publishing Co, Berkeley, CA 2012
Your Life’s A Poem Courtesans of Flounder Hill is Ishmael Hope’s debut poetry collection. Hope’s mother and father were both poets (now deceased): “Sister Goodwin,” aka Elizabeth Freda Goodwin and Andy Hope III. The Andy Hope Award at Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim is a tribute to Ishmael Hope’s father, Andy Hope III.
Many of the poems in Courtesans of Flounder Hill are previously unpublished. Ishmael Hope is foremost a scholar, who’s studied of variety of storytelling traditions of the Tlingit, Inupiaq and Haida, 8th century Chinese poets, in addition to Neruda and Lorca. Hope is
also an actor, having appeared in Universal Studio’s Big Miracle and onstage in numerous plays at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska. He co-wrote Upper One Game’s award winning video game, Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna), and is the author of the comic book Strongman. Hope has participated in artist residencies and serves as a board member of the Before Columbus Foundation. He was also the Director of Outreach for Perseverance Theatre and most recently an archivist for Sealaska Heritage Institute. Hope recently acted in the role of Aga in the upcoming film Frontera Azul (Patria Productions). The collection, Courtesans of Flounder Hill, begins with the poem “Elizabeth Deanna Hope” about the birth of his first child and the last poem is a manifesto. As you journey through the book, the poet invites you into the world he and his family wholly inhabit. The narrator(s) are intimate and welcoming, wise observers in the tradition of Billy Collins and Mary Oliver who delight in silt, roofing, coffee, dandelions, and alder. The way into Hope’s poems begins gradually, and through his storytelling expertise, the poems evolve into complex thoughts and inner musings, making reading the poems a delight. In “Groundhog Man”: A boy asked me if the story I told was real. If I had time to think about I would have told him that I look at most things as a split between real and fantasy. What side of the foundation these myths lay on, I could only guess. They walk along where the redsalmon swims at night, where the ocean never sees light, where no hands ever will sift through the mudbottom, where the groundhog feeds only on darkness and violet weedgrass… (16)
Identity and history are extremely important
to the Tlingit nation, familiar elements in this collection. Ishmael Hope’s Iñupiaq name is Angaluuk and his Tlingit name is Khaagwáask’. He is from the Kiks.ádi clan, the X’aaká Hít, the Point House, of Sitka, Alaska. These identifying factors are evident in his poems, but occasionally ambiguous. Hope weaves the familial and the cultural, presenting us with a narrator who lives these traditions: clan houses, memorials for the dead, and even a hunting ritual. Even though one might be unfamiliar with specific customs, Hope’s skills allow the reader to inhabit these places. In the poem, “In Remembrance of Johnny Marks,” the dream and the cultural space of the memorial for the dead are indistinguishable:
Can our ancestors crawl into our dreams? Is there a place, where in the inviable land where we can keep each other up all night, laughing to Raven stories, dipping to the grease bowl… (21)
Raven, a familiar trickster figure, appears in numerous poems, but in a few only as a reference. However, in “Thinking About The Raven,” Raven is the main subject:
The material that links fungus to spruce bark, stories that sprinkle tracks and pellets over the earth. (63)
And in “Beads”: The Raven couldn’t tell his own story. “/ All he could do was dance along the edge / Of the universe, and take what he could” (11). Similar to Alaska Writer Laureate John Straley, another theme weaving through the collection is the topics of family and friends. Hope writes elegies to storytellers: Anna Nelson Harry, Nora Marks Dauenhauer, Sakara (Sky) Dunlap, and his father, Andrew Hope III, among others. In “Ode to Christine Littlefield”:
Mother of the Grindstone People, you have always carried heavy stones on your back. We’ve sharpened our weapons on you for too long. For now I ask that you let it down. Your killer whale’s fin has led the way for this family, for a long time… (12)
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 In addition, Hope deftly employs repetition, a common Tlingit nation storytelling technique. In “Du Fu Tells a Story to Li Bai”: “That’s all over now. / Already my hair is turning silver. / I think I’ll learn a trade. / I think I’d like to be a carpenter. / I think I’d like to build furniture” (34). Simultaneously, Alaska Native oral tradition addresses ancestors and generations to yet to come. As a line in “Talking With Nora” suggests: “Many voices now sing at the same time.” In the same poem, another line stands out as a testament to Hope’s work with his Tlingit elders, learning the Tlingit language, storytelling, and poetry: “Nora told me today that your life’s a poem” (10). This collection of poems is testament to those cultural relationships. Balance is one of the most important concepts in the Tlingit worldview and Courtesans of Flounder Hill offers a balance between poems that are straightforward, structurally, and by means of metaphor, in additio to the more structurally complex poems that lead the reader into the unknown territory of specific myths and traditions. Overall, Hope’s first poetry collection is similar to a tapestry, or more likely, a woven dance robe that tells a clan story. In this case, the collection speaks the story of a cultural bearer in modern times.
Review by Sean Ulman
A Review of Disinheritance by John Sibley Williams Apprentice House Press, Baltimore, MD 2016
The light-imbued poems in John Sibley Williams' new collection Disinheritance are heavy. Rooted in the elemental, its ascents to the ethereal posited the possibilities of poetry to rise above reality. The three-part collection is thick with hard themes – family, grief, memory, without/within, outside (outdoors [where most poems occur] and outside of the box), power of imagination, curiosity in a higher something, nature’s heightened synchronicities… The repetition of the initial symbol of a river establishes a serene flow that burbles susceptible: It is good, this struggle. The heavens and the earth can only keep us inside so long. … River, angry The coursing currents sourcing Disinheritance are plentiful, freezing and refreshing. Like clutching a flopping fish before returning it to calm waters or watching waterfalls for ruptured patterns, these poems of pearly-luster attached me to nature, reminded me of its infinite lenses for awing.
I eat the landscape with the whole of my eyes. White doe, whitest field, … Snowflakes beat themselves senseless against your moon-blanched face … Forbidden, the cold light we’re left with hurts the stars and the stars aren’t in your hair anymore.
The hopeful image of stars pepper pages. I like trying to let stars in poems wink, plus they conjure Zbigniew Hebert for me, so every time one fell on a page I squinted with glee: “a star rests heavy on the roof” “stone and shards of stars in his hand” “for you, a midnight of rivers and stars” “I want again for all impossible things… lessons of stars… fistful of stars… meaningful stars” When the last line of Part 1 fizzled “And the star,” I noted its weight. Getting celestial to provide reprieves made sense in a book loaded with loss, as well as unanswerable riddles regarding complex ancestries and dead descendents. In “A Dead Boy Speaks to his Parents” a narrator that appears in several similarly titled poems (“A Dead Boy Martyrs his Mother” “… Fashions the Grand Canyon from his Body” “… Learning Metaphor” ) says, writes, sings?: Whatever script you’d written for the stars to follow, they’ve missed their marks, … you don’t have to be contained anymore between the lines I never had time to write on the stars that don’t listen anyway. The collection’s varied rhythms are bound for profound remarks. I found clues for many purposes, and countless other intentions will bloom for many readers; one point of the book seemed to be to build balanced habitats for clear-cut lines that can halt minds’ eyes. “It is good to remember to forget these things”
“The dead still have so much to lose” “He needs to know… how to distinguish love from grief” Like Earth’s sublime landscapes and tested processes, these poems interact – lean, scrape, sink, rinse, fuse - yet each one is individual, independent. Words bump, drip, dart, dance, stumble, settle, stop, shift, cut, carve… A common thread is that Sibley’s words are stitched to stick. Take for example lines that portray the poet well-versed in a cosmic companion to the Sibley Field Guide to Birds. “a panic of finches rises,” “a perforated black arrow of birds moves southward, away,” “Nearby birds are defining themselves by their song,” “making dream birds from the same dreams,” “the white birds of morning go gray.” In “Alight” the bird informs the speaker and reader. And in a poignant spot in the book, say one of its well-crafted word nests, appears, “Dear copse, devoid of wrens.” As poem readers we can let words hit us or try to figure them out. I think we all do some portion of each. A lot of one, none of the other, or 50/50… In “Disinheritance” words whammed. I got surprised. I got sad, I got optimistic, existential, on the prowl for potential, inspired to write. I didn’t try to figure much out at first. Now I’m kind of trying to. And I think this collection (every single poem) is about… a lot: Nature’s cycles, spirited landscapes, understanding a range of relationships, odd non-coincidental cohesions, water, sand, ash (a poem’s titled “Pompeii”), fresh metaphors, parenting, losing, longing, new curiosities encoded in the cosmos…
“To be happy all we can do is read about ourselves in the past” “I hope the need for forgiveness forgives me”
Toward the end of my initial read I was prepped to hunt for hints and links.
Vo l . 8 N o . 1
A line in a previous poem, “a jar of baby teeth still lodged under my pillow,” previews the next’s title “Teething.”
As much as each poem distinguished itself, the collection often felt like one long poem. Alarming images (“Bone sparked against bone,” “warmth back into the cemetery bench,” “hollowed stone and sun-blackened moss” …) and paramount momentums (“to write you into the world would imply continuity,” “there is not enough forever woven into her body to heal me,“ “and the light”… ) guided me to pursue passive listening.
Martha Amore is a fiction writer and teaches writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She achieved her Masters of Fine Arts in fiction from UAA, and currently resides in Anchorage with her husband and three daughters. She has published in numerous literary journals, and her first novella recently came out in the anthology Weathered Edge: Three Alaskan Novellas. In 2015, she was named a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Project Award winner. Her new book, published by University of Alaska Press, is an anthology of Alaskan LGBTQ short fiction and poetry co-edited with longtime Alaskan Lucian Childs.
The point hardly ever felt like figuring out a poem, as if that’s possible. Occasionally, perhaps by courage or through osmosis (of cogent language) I tried to figure out my unexpected responses: Where can we try to look when things get dismal? Nature’s webs of connections are multi-layered/hued; there’s much possibility in the world and in poetry. Brainy guessing games balanced direct messages polished plain; brought to mind megaphones or paper cup threaded to paper cup: We like to believe what we make will save us. Before our weddings and our births and after someone’s left us and sometimes for no other reason than to give our hands the illusion of control.
Kat Anderson is a poet, muralist, and multi-media artist. Although born in Seattle, Kat was drawn to venture to Alaska every few years, finally relocating to her Northern Home in 2009. A member of Blue Canoe Writers, she and her son, Silas, split their time between Homer, Alaska and the Sonoran Desert. Jennifer Andrulli - Artist, healer and world friend, I try to capture and share what I see on a planet we cannot replace: Mother Earth, a biological spaceship with all that we need to thrive. I am based out of Anchorage, AK, USA, Earth, Milky Way. Larry Aumiller - Without ever having a wildlife course or the name “biologist” in his title, Larry Aumiller became a widely renowned bear expert spending thirty-plus years at the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary in southwestern Alaska. In Wild Trust is Jeff Fair’s biography of Aumiller, showing how he established a “trust” with the bears, partly through his own savvy, partly by maintaining the legislated priorities of the sanctuary, and partly by accident. The story includes his love of the wilderness and wildlife, the romance and danger among the bears, what it’s like to visit McNeil, and what such a visit means to so many. Fair’s text is lavishly complemented by Aumiller’s photographs. Christianne Balk’s poetry collections include The Holding Hours (University of Washington Press), Desiring Flight (Purdue University Press), and Bindweed (Macmillan). Her work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, The New Yorker, Poemoftheweek.org, and other publications. She lives in Seattle, where she enjoys open water swimming and the AngloSaxon rhythms of everyday street talk. She travels frequently into the Cascade Mountains with her husband and daughter. Teeka Ballas was raised with two philosophies ingrained in her by her grandmother: “You can sleep when you’re dead,” and “If you’re bored, it’s because you’re boring.” Living as true to these platforms as possible, she often finds herself falling into bed and passing out; not a moment of her waking time having been spent wondering what to do. If she is not toiling as an activist, an artist, a teacher, a student, a passionate gardener and cook, then she is pouring words from head to mouth, to pen, to paper, to keys, to printer - in some order or other. Gabrielle Barnett is an Anchorage-based writer. Her most recent work appears in Cirque, Alaska Women Speak, and the anthology Building Fires in the Snow, published by the University of Alaska Press. Carol Barrett holds doctorates in both clinical psychology and creative writing. She coordinates the Creative Writing Certificate Program at Union Institute & University. Her books include Calling in the Bones, which won the Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press. Her poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies including JAMA, Poetry International, Nimrod, Poetry Northwest, and The Women’s Review of Books. A former NEA Fellow in Poetry, she lives in Bend, OR.
John Sibley Williams
Judith Barrington has published four poetry collections, most recently
154 The Conversation and Horses and the Human Soul, and two chapbooks: Postcard from the Bottom of the Sea and Lost Lands (winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Award). She was the winner of the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize for 2013. She lives in Oregon, teaches workshops in the USA, Britain, and Spain, and has been a faculty member of the MFA Program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Nicole Bauberger has been creating paintings and drawings and installing them in innovative exhibitions since 1993. Often these installations include text. She has recently released a new edition of her collected poems, Seasoning the Body, a handmade artist book. This joins a group of about 10 self-published books. Bauberger has lived in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada for over 13 years in a house made of steel with her partner Dean Eyre, her stepdaughter Ariel, Pouff the cat, and now Itsy the dog as well. Find out more at www.nicolebauberger.com. Miriam Beck is an Anchorage writer. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Oregon State University in 2013. James Bertolino’s poetry has received recognition through a Bookof-the-Month Club Poetry Fellowship, the Discovery Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, two Quarterly Review of Literature book publication awards, and the Jeanne Lohmann Poetry Prize for Washington State Poets. His 12 volumes of poetry include Every Wound Has A Rhythm (2012), published by World Enough Writers, and Ravenous Bliss: New and Selected Love Poems (2014), from MoonPath Press. Other collections have come from presses associated with Princeton, Cornell, Brown, and Carnegie-Mellon University. Since 1968, he has had his poetry reprinted in 57 anthologies. He taught creative writing for 36 years at Cornell University, the University of Cincinnati, Western Washington University and, in 2006, he retired from a position as Writer-in-Residence at Willamette University in Oregon. He and his wife, poet and artist Anita Boyle, live on five acres near Bellingham, Washington. Originally from New York City, Robert Bharda has resided in the Northwest where for the last 35 years he has specialized in vintage photographica as a profession, everything from salt prints to polaroids. His illustrations/artwork have appeared in numerous publications, both in the U.S. and abroad, and are current on covers of The Naugatuck River Review, Blue Five NoteBook, and within the recently published Ekphrastic Review, Conclave 8, Cirque and The Rio Grande Review. His portfolios of images have been featured in Cahoodahoodaling, Blue Five, The Adirondack Review, Aaduna, Cirque, Superstition and Blue Fifth. Also a writer, his poetry, fiction, and critical reviews have been published in The North American Review, Northwest Review, Shenandoah, Quarterly West, Willow Springs, ACM, Cutbank, Fine Madness, Kansas Quarterly, Yellow Silk, Poets On, and many anthologies. Marilyn Borell was born and raised in International Falls, Minnesota, a community only slightly warmer than Fairbanks. She and her husband Steve moved to Anchorage in 1986. Since retiring from UAA in 2012, she divides her time between writing, volunteering and travel. Her recent work has appeared in Cirque, and the Anchorage centennial anthology Anchorage Remembers. Karen Vande Bossche is a poet and short story writer who teaches middle school in Bellingham, Washington. Her publications can be accessed through her website: kjvandebossche.com and are included in such journals as River Poets Anthology, Crack the Spine, Sweet Tree Review, Cirque and many others. Jack Broom - I am a Seattle native and a journalism graduate of Western Washington University. I worked for three years at The Wenatchee World, and then went to The Seattle Times, where I recently retired after 39 years
CIRQUE as a reporter and editor. I am an amateur photographer and a member of the Puget Sound Camera Club. Catie Bursch was lured to Alaska from Minnesota in 1981 by stories of adventure and living close to the land. She has not been disappointed. Pam Butcher is a lifelong Alaskan, born in Anchorage, and living, working, and raising her family there. Her photos have been previously published in Cirque and have won local awards. Nature and natural settings inspire her to shoot photos, create fiber art, draw, and paint. As an avid reader, words also set the stage for creative works, including typographic creations. Sharing space in Cirque with creative writers is an honor and a pleasure. Sandra Cairns has lived in British Columbia, the Yukon, and small communities of the far westerly North for over fifteen years. She writes poetry and uses digital art to document landscapes. David Cheezem is a bookstore owner and poet who lives in Palmer, Alaska. Richard Chiappone is the author of Liar’s Code, a memoir in linked essays; Opening Days, a collection of essays, stories and poems; and the short story collection Water of an Undetermined Depth. His work has appeared in Alaska Magazine, Playboy, Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Sun, Missouri Review, South Dakota Review, ZYZZYVA, and others, and has been featured on BBC radio. A thirty-four-year resident of Alaska, he teaches at the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College and in the low-residency MFA program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Lucian Childs divides his time between Anchorage, Alaska and Toronto, Ontario where he lives with his husband. In 2013, he received a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Project Grant as well as The Prism Review Short Story Prize. He has been awarded residencies at Brydcliffe Art Colony and at Artscape Gibraltar Point and was a Peter Taylor Fellow at the 2015 Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. His short stories have appeared in numerous literary journals both in the United States and Canada. Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, high school English-teaching Alaskan. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing/ Poetry through the Low-Residency Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2016. Her recent work has appeared in Cirque, Tidal Echoes, The Fredericksburg Literary & Art Review, Inklette, Sheila-Na-Gig, and Pure Slush among other literary journals. Kersten co-edits the quarterly journal Alaska Women Speak. When not exploring the summer lands and dark winters of the Yukon Territory, she lives in Sitka, Alaska with her husband and photographer Bruce Christianson, and daughter Rie. Her first collection of poetry, Something Yet to Be Named, will be published in July 2017 by Aldrich Press. The North West is the best of the world. Nard Claar has spent many years exploring the North West taking in the view by vehicle, walking, biking, and kayak. Love came to him in Alaska. The roots of mystery and magic are deep in the stone and earth and water of this natural world. He brings back the sense of place by way of poems, art, and photography. Visit his website: NARDCLAAR.COM Linda Conroy is a retired social worker living in Bellingham where she continues to observe the simplicity and complexity of human nature. Debbie Cutler is the former managing editor of Alaska Business Monthly and editor of Alaska Magazine. She moved to Columbia, MO three years ago to be closer to family. Michael Daley has recently published his fourth collection of poems, Of
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 a Feather. He lives at Deception Pass, near Anacortes, WA. 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. Mary Devlin is a retired colonel in the U S Marine Corps. She was the first woman to finish Infantry School in 1978, and on the cover of Look magazine! She currently lives in the Methow Valley at her 60 acre ranch. She and her friend Lynda Humphrey survived the Carlton Complex Fire of 2014. Steve Dieffenbacher has won awards in Oregon for spot news photography, sports photography, portrait photography, and the photo essay in his work as a photojournalist, along with awards in reporting and page design. He is also a poet, whose full-length book of poems, The Sky Is a Bird of Sorrow, was published by Wordcraft of Oregon in 2012. The collection won ForeWord Review’s 2013 Bronze Award for poetry. He lives in Medford, Oregon. Victoria Doerper is a Bellingham writer of memoir, nonfiction, and poetry. Her poetry appears in Sue C. Boynton 2013 Winning Poems; Noisy Water: Poetry from Whatcom County, Washington; Clover: A Literary Rag; and Cirque. Her prose appears in Orion Magazine and in the Red Wheelbarrow Writers Anthology Memory into Memoir. She is currently writing a memoir about her husband’s garden. Wendy Erd’s writing has been published in Peace Works, Alaska Quarterly Review, New Rivers Press, Out On the Deep Blue, Women, Men and the Oceans They Fish, We Alaskans, and Cirque. Her prose appears on road signs in Alaska’s Copper River watershed, and her poems are set along an estuary trail in Homer, Alaska. With the help of an amazing committee of fellow writers and Alaska State Park personnel, she directed Poems in Place, a project that placed poetry by Alaskan writers on signs in Alaska’s state parks. Gene Ervine has been writing poems since being encouraged by two high school teachers in the previous millennium. He likes Alaska and feels that he is a citizen of its land and seascapes and people. He wants to reflect that landscape and Alaskan experience in his poems. He lives in Anchorage. Jeff Fair, a 23-year Alaskan, works as a freelance writer and independent wildlife biologist based in Palmer, Alaska. As a field biologist, he has trapped and radio-collared grizzlies in the Yellowstone back-country, worn the badge of a Utah game warden (one career arrest), introduced snakes to tourists as a U.S. Forest Service naturalist in Oklahoma, and studied loons for 38 years in New England, Alaska, Canada, and Yellowstone. But Fair’s true study of life manifests itself in his essays and books, which tend to ponder the connections between humans and the natural world—with a touch of humor and an uplifting message. Terry Fifield is a retired Forest Service archaeologist currently an adjunct assistant professor in Anthropology with the University of Alaska Southeast Ketchikan. From 1994 until moving east to New Hampshire in 2009 Terry lived with his wife and two sons in Craig and Klawock on Southeast Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island. In the fall of 2015 Terry spent a few weeks as a volunteer on a writing sabbatical at Grey Towers National Historic Site in Milford, PA collecting his thought on Alaska projects. Grey Towers was the family home of Gifford Pinchot, first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service (1905) and serves as a meeting place, interpretive site, and contemplative retreat. The recipient of an individual Artist’s Fellowship in Poetry from the Oregon Arts Commission, Paul Fisher currently lives in Issaquah, WA
155 with his wife, two cats and a dog. His first book, Rumors of Shore, won the 2009 Blue Light Book Award, and his second book, An Exaltation of Tongues, is forthcoming from MoonPath Press. Paul’s poems have appeared in journals such as The Antioch Review, Cave Wall, Cirque, Cutthroat, Crab Creek Review, Nimrod, Switched-on Gutenberg, Terrain.org, and in the best-selling anthology, River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the 21st Century. Leslie Fried - I moved to Anchorage from Seattle to be the curator of the new Alaska Jewish Museum. I was born in Israel, the daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who settled first in New York’s Lower East Side and then in Brooklyn. I began my professional life as a painter, so writing for me is like doing a drawing; it falls somewhere between gesture and detail. Lance Garland is a firefighter in Seattle. A veteran of the US Navy and a graduate from the University of Washington, his poetry has appeared with Coldnoon Travel Poetics, The Wayfarer, Cirque, Pacifica Literary Review, REQUITED, and many others. His novel, Second-Class Sailors, is available from FreeLancelot Publishing. His poetry volume Sailboat Living was an honorable mention in the 2016 Homebound Poetry Prize. www. lancegarland.com Kenny Gerling has an MA in English from the University of Tennessee. Originally from Jefferson City, MO, he now lives in Anchorage, AK. He’s an intern for Cirque where his poetry has also appeared. Jo Going, now residing in a coastal Alaskan village, lived for many years in a wilderness homestead cabin in interior Alaska. Her writing is published in many journals and anthologies, often accompanied by her paintings. Her book of poems and paintings, Wild Cranes, which won the Library Fellows Award and was published by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, is also held in the permanent Franklin Furnace collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Wild Cranes, as well as her recently published book of poems and paintings, Still and Again, can be viewed at www.jogoing.net. 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. Rebecca Goodrich was raised by an inventor, an English major, and a cat. In 1994 she jettisoned the glitter of California to build a houseboat in Dutch Harbor. Goodrich has a little book, exclusively on Smashwords. com: Emergency Rations: How One Young Tail Gunner Survived World War Two. Previously a bookstore clerk, book buyer, magazine freelancer, journalist for The Dutch Harbor Fisherman, and stringer for KDLG, she has won awards for haiku, essays, poetry, her book review column (F Magazine) and her radio commentary (AK Show). Goodrich is a consulting editor in Anchorage, Alaska, and currently at work on her Dutch Harbor memoir. Claudia Ferriz Green - Living through poetry is sometimes overwhelming: almost anything can be fodder for one’s imagination. Choosing when to let it go and when to catch it and observe and play with it, like a lady bug, is part of the fun. What can give me the biggest return on my efforts? Sometimes, it is the least likely candidate giving back the most real reflection of the poet--and the world she or he writes from. My world includes bipolar disorder, which I am sure colors my lenses and the moods of what I explore. Cheers to this process for all who go there! Quinn Grover lives in Idaho Falls with his wife and two daughters. He teaches English at BYU-Idaho and is working on a PhD at Idaho State
CIRQUE articles, personal essays, and poetry. Her work has appeared in the Anchorage Press, the Alaska Dispatch News, Cirque, and 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. Ishmael Hope is the son of Elizabeth “Sister” Goodwin Hope, Taliiraq, and Andrew Hope III, Xhaastánch, who were both poets and educators. His Inupiaq name is Angaluuk and his Tlingit names are Khaagwáask’, X’aaká Xh’éi Uwaxhei and Shis.hán. He is a poet, playwright actor and storyteller who shares his cultures, reads his poetry, and engages in creative projects nationally and internationally. Notable projects include his first poetry book, Courtesans of Flounder Hill (Ishmael Reed Publications) and serving as a lead writer for the video game Kisima Ingitchuna: Never Alone (Upper One Games). He lives in Juneau, Alaska, raising four children with his wife, Lily Hope, a Tlingit weaver.
University. He spends the moments between classes thinking about whether trout might be rising in the nearby Henry’s Fork. Alison Hedlund lives with her family and works as a Reiki practitioner in Port Townsend, Washington. Her poetry has been anthologized in Mama Stew: Reflections and Observations on Mothering and in No Longer Strangers: Haiku Northwest 25th Anniversary Anthology. More recent work has appeared in Minotaur 74. 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-dimensional 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. Robert Henriques - W.H. Auden was wrong: poetry makes a great deal happen. This poem, for one, saved my life. I am a family doc, and I work nearby in a county clinic. My wife keeps her store around the corner. My daughter flourishes. I have just started to play Bach minuets on the violin recently bequeathed to me by my brother. Currently resident in the Yukon, Laura Hill has lived in several regions of Canada. Her fiction has appeared in Rosarium Publishing’s The SEA is Ours anthology, Third Flatiron “Fire” anthology (Pushcart nomination), Deadman’s Tome, Domain SF, Hello Horror, and others. Her poetry has been published in Scifaikuest, The Fib Review, Haiga Online, Haibun Today, and others. Marybeth Holleman is the author of, most recently, Among Wolves. Pushcart-prize nominee, her essays, poems, and articles have appeared in such venues as Orion, Christian Science Monitor, The Future of Nature, and on National Public Radio. She runs the blog Art and Nature at www. artandnatureand.blogspot.com. www.marybethholleman.com. Barbara Hood is a retired attorney and small businesswoman who lives in Anchorage, Alaska where she enjoys writing opinion pieces, feature
David Hughes – David Hughes, a graduate of a Seattle suburban high school and then the University of Washington, is a retired United States Foreign Service officer. He worked in Embassies and Consulates in Hong Kong, Jakarta, Mumbai, Budapest, Cairo, and Georgetown and assisted in the re-opening of our first Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. He has created about 200 stories from his life in the Foreign Service, as a businessman, and as a university professor in Taipei and Caracas. His three children have been educated in Chinese, Spanish, and Hungarian schools. B. Hutton is a writer and performer. He’s produced open mic’s, readings, art shows, columns, and a radio series which featured Alaskan writers presenting their work. He has co-edited two anthologies, North of Eden and Our Tears Made The Rain (OTMTR). OTMTR featured the work of “at risk youth.” He has worked with youth as a mental health professional for more than 30 years and has offered workshops in poetry, mime, improv, cartooning, puppetry, spoken word, and performance art since the development of his Creative Expression Workshop in 1984. Jill Johnson splits her time between Alaska and Eastern Oregon. Feels lucky. 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. Joe Kashi is a litigation lawyer in Soldotna, Alaska. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from MIT in 1973 and his J.D. degree from Georgetown Law School in 1976. While pursuing other studies at MIT, he also “casually” studied fine art photographer with noted American photographer and Aperture Magazine founder Minor White. Since 2007, he has mounted more than a dozen solo fine art photo exhibits at university galleries and regional art centers in Alaska. Various works have been accorded Honorable Mention awards in the annual statewide Rarified Light fine art photography competitions in 2007, 2011, and 2016. Margo Klass is a mixed media artist whose work includes sculptural box constructions and artist books. She shows her work widely in Alaska and is included in the collections of museums, libraries, and national parks in addition to many private collections. She has received grants from the Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska State Council on the Arts and is the 2015 recipient of the Governor’s Individual Artist Award. Exploring the cultural and natural environment of Kachemak Bay has engaged Janet Klein since she moved there in 1978. Nonfiction books she wrote and published and that are currently in print include Kachemak Bay Communities, Their Histories, Their Mysteries; and Archaeology of Kachemak Bay, Alaska. She also published Fog on the Mountain and The
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Arrow Points to Murder by arctic anthropologist Frederica de Laguna. Presently she is exploring creative nonfiction.
and Clover, A Literary Rag. He edits historical novels, memoirs, poetry collections, and chapbooks. www.andrewsmcbride.wordpress.com
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. Mike.firstname.lastname@example.org
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.). Jerry has recently moved from Alaska to Deming, WA. For several years he’s been a Cirque genre editor helping to select fiction and plays for each issue.
Rich Kleven’s photography most often reflects themes from nature. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Poet and essayist, Sandra Kleven has published work in AQR, Oklahoma Review, Topic, Praxilla, Stoneboat, F-zine and the UAP anthology, Cold Flashes. She was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her writing has won notice in the UAA Creative Writing and F’Air Words contests. In 2015, she was named to the Northshore School District, Wall of Honor as an outstanding graduate. Kleven has authored four books, most recently Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing (VP&D Publishing House). Sandra Kleven is the editor of Cirque, with founder Michael Burwell TJ Kleven has the patience to grab the “lucky” shot. He is a video producer and social media guru for Auto Nation and other firms. He lives in Lewisville, CO. Mary Kunkel worked as a professional massage therapist for many years and now blogs regularly at www.lightlytethered.com. Writing has been her passion since completing her first literary work — a small, pink leatherette book with “Dear Diary” embossed on the cover. She lives with her husband Richard, in Spokane. 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. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com David M. Laws grew up in Montana, in a family half Leave It to Beaver and half Malcolm in the Middle, with just a sprinkle of The Osbournes. He escaped to the University of Washington in Seattle in 1967, narrowly avoiding a degree, and gave up a promising career as an outside agitator and rabble rouser to become a musical instrument repair technician. In 2002 he returned to college at Western Washington University and received a degree in English (Creative Writing Emphasis), and has not been quite right since. He is not considered dangerous, except by politicians and pedants. Marie Lundstrom graduated from UAA in 2015 with an MFA in creative writing—poetry. A member of the poetry reading, writing, and critiquing group Ten Poets and a retired teacher, librarian, and editor, Marie most recently taught as a volunteer for the Alaska Literacy Program. Ruth Marcus lives in Sequim, WA. She hosts three writing groups every month — my way of contributing, encouraging, and being inspired. Her poems are published in Last Wednesday: A Pacific Northwest Anthology of Poetry; Tidepools (the literary magazine of Peninsula College); Art Inspires Poetry: An Anthology of Ekphrastic Poems and the Art that Inspired Them (Craven Arts Council & Gallery, NC). Her upcoming book Haiku & Mandala: A Wedding of Ancient Art is a four-color hardbound volume, including original mandala drawings and haiku inspired by the mandalas. Andrew Shattuck McBride is a writer and editor based in Bellingham, Washington, with recent work in literary journals including Mud Season Review, Connecticut River Review, The Raven Chronicles, Cooweescoowee,
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. Another one due out this fall is called 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 is the winner of Cirque Journal’s Andy Hope Literary Award. He and his wife photographer Edith Barrowclough, travel frequently in Alaska and the wider world. DC McKenzie - Long a spoken word artist of some acclaim within Alaska and in the lower 48, McKenzie recently began submitting his work and quickly won notice in F magazine’s F’AIRE Words competition. He took the Gold his first year out with “Throw Your Heart at Gaza.” One year later he won Silver so to speak with “Light Up No Moon.” Not only that and though somewhat new in the quest for publication, DC has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He has also published previously in Cirque. “Guitar” Gil Menendez has performed throughout the Pacific NW for 25 years. He has appeared in Big Bands: the Portage Bay Big Band, The Port Townsend Jazz Festival Big Band, the Fairly Honest Jazz Band and has also entertained at Seattle Folklife. Gil has played solo, in a duo with sax or harmonica, and with bass and drums in the Gil Menendez Trio. He is delighted to have shared a stage once again with Charles Leggett. Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, has had over 500 poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 12 books to her credit, the newest of which is Bunchberries, More Poems of Canada, a sequel to Godwit: Poems of Canada (FootHills), which received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. She is assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye, a member of the board of directors of Just Poets (Rochester, NY), and a member of the New Mexico State Poetry Society and the Florida State Poetry Society. She is still trying to find a home for The Comfort of Commas, a quirky chapbook that pays tribute to punctuation. Visit her woefully outdated blog, Vagabond Poet, at http://karlalinn.blogspot. com. S. Hollis Mickey is an interdisciplinary artist working text, textiles, sculpture, and performance. Hollis has shown and performed her work in a variety of venues from galleries and bookstores to warehouses and seashores. Her texts have been published in audio and print formats, most recently as the audio chapbooks “Morning Show” and “Hair Room.” She has a show of her textiles and sculpture and performance at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art in Anchorage opening in February 2017. In addition to being a practicing artist, Hollis is Director of Learning and Engagement at the Anchorage Museum. Amy Miller’s poetry has appeared in Bellingham Review, Nimrod, Rattle,
Tinderbox, Willow Springs, and ZYZZYVA. She won the Cultural Center of Cape Cod National Poetry Competition, judged by Tony Hoagland, and has been a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize and the 49th Parallel Award. Recent chapbooks are Rough House (White Knuckle Press) and I Am on a River and Cannot Answer (BOAAT Press, forthcoming). She works as the publications manager for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and blogs at writers-island.blogspot.com.
Tami Phelps is a fine art photographer and mixed media artist who has lived and worked in Anchorage, Alaska over four decades. Her work is included in the permanent collection of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. The F/V Chacon began as a b/w infrared photograph that she hand tinted with transparent oil paint. Her recent works combine cold wax painting, photography, and vintage ephemera. www. tamiphelps.com
Patrick Minock is an Alaska Native artist who works in inks and pencil on papers and skins. His murals have been installed in Alaska public schools. From Pilot Station, Alaska, Minock is the illustrator of the children’s book Talk About Touch.
Timothy Pilgrim, a Pacific Northwest poet and emeritus associate professor of journalism at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, has published several hundred poems -- with acceptances from journals like Seattle Review, Windfall, San Pedro River Review, Third Wednesday, and Cirque. He is author of Mapping Water (Flying Trout Press, 2016) and is included in Idaho’s Poets: A Centennial Anthology. His work can be found at timothypilgrim.org.
Mark Muro is a poet, playwright, performer, and photographer, who lives and loves in Anchorage, Alaska. His most recent one-person show, The Bipolar Express, premiered in Anchorage at Out North Theater in May 2015. Other monologues by Muro include: Apocalypse When I Get Around To It, or Civil War III, part 1, Dingoes On Velvet, No Where Fast, Saint Alban’s, Three Continents, Alaska: Behind the Scenery, A Very Muro Christmas, and Love, Sex and All That Comes Between. Stanley Mute is an Alaska Native artist and carver. His work has been shown at the Blue.Hollomon and Hugie-Lewis galleries. He is from Koniganak, AK. Nahaan is of Łingít, Iñupiaq, and Paiute tribes. His work reflects his teachings and cultural background. He teaches the Tlingit language and song, and is the spokesperson for Náakw Dancers, a group which he started in Seattle, Washington in order to perpetuate the rich expressions of the Pacific Northwest’s Indigenous population. He focuses on the aspects of community empowerment and self-mastery through the methods of Indigenization decolonization and activism. Judi Nyerges has been chasing her Muse for years. She began searching on stage at Bothell High School and the University of Washington in the 1960’s, but, alas, Muse was not to be found. Later, Judi sought her in Art Colleges in Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Again, Muse eluded her. After years in the Heartland, Judi returned to the Pacific Northwest, surprised to find Muse had beaten her back home and was waiting, patiently, holding watercolors and a word processor. Muse was waiting for Judi to just GET ON with her painting and writing. And she has. She writes when the Muse smacks her on the back of the head to get her attention, but that doesn’t happen nearly often enough. Monica O’Keefe has always been drawn to the outdoors, to wild scenery, and the quiet of natural places, where she finds subjects to interpret in paintings. She is intrigued by variations in scale from tiny to vast. She has been experimenting with using various acrylic mediums along with hand-cut, self-made stamps and stencils to apply color and texture and create interesting patterns in her work. Jocelyn Paine has published in Cirque, Poems-For-All American Haiku collection, AH, Soundings, Finding the Boundaries (Alaskan Writers), and in other literary presses for people who like words. A career as a professional newspaper and articles writer almost ruined her for poetry. She particularly enjoys performance poetry, collaborating with musicians or with dance to expand the experience. A month spent writing a haiku-a-day changed her approach to poetry and is an exercise she recommends for any writer. Jackie Pels was born in Seward and reared mostly in coastal Alaska. She graduated from Kenai Territorial High School in 1953 and from the School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, 30 years and 6 children later. Her latest book is Framed by Sea & Sky: Community Art in Seward, Mural Capital of Alaska.
Peter Porco is a Bronx-born, Alaska-steeped writer of stage plays, prose fiction, poetry, and journalism. University-level instructor. Former newspaper reporter. Coached the first Alaska teams at the National Poetry Slam (2000, 2001). Manager of Denali basecamp on Kahiltna Glacier (1986, 1987). Played title role in Dick Reichman’s play & movie “Bruckner’s Last Finale” (2012). 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 and the Jason Wenger Award for Literary Excellence. Her short stories have appeared in Tidal Echoes, Cirque, and Cold Flashes: Literary Snapshots of Alaska, and elsewhere. Her short story cycle, The Dead Go to Seattle, is forthcoming from Boreal Books in the fall of 2017. Nick Ravo is a writer in Seattle. His poetry has been published in numerous journals in the United States and abroad. He is also a former reporter for The New York Times. Diane Ray is a Seattle psychologist, poet, and former performing modern dancer who has been published in small journals, including the three prior issues of Cirque, and Voices Israel Anthology 2016. In order to not choke on the news at breakfast, she is setting up volunteering to teach dance at a refugee organization’s pre-school, and volunteering to conduct asylum evaluations through a human rights organization. She is also awaiting the joyous arrival of her first two grandchildren. Jim Reichman lives in Kirkland with his wife, writer, Ellen Reichman. He took this shot at the Tsuga Gallery where she was among those reading. Joe Reno is a well-known Ballard artist who has never stopped loving the Northwest. He was once one of the youngest painters to be considered part of the Northwest School. His work can be seen at William Wikstrom Gallery in Seattle, and at Ballard High School there is a large Reno mural. A Reno landscape of Seattle appears in The Pacific Northwest Landscape: A Painted History. Matthew Campbell Roberts teaches English composition at Pierce College. His poems and other work appear in Cirque, StringTown, Clackamus Review, The Adirondack Review, The Cortland Review, Whatcom Places 2, The Kennesaw Review, Windfall, Jeopardy, The Methow Naturalist, SmartishPace, and other literary journals and anthologies. He currently lives in the south Puget Sound region where he fly fishes for sea-run cutthroat. When not teaching, he divides his time between Port Townsend and the Methow Valley. He can be contacted at mattcamroberts@gmail. com.
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Brenda Roper spent 20 years in Alaska before moving to Santa Fe, NM where she resides in a studio casita in a historic neighborhood too many miles from the ocean. Her work investigates the texture of relationships in an emotional landscape through photography, poetry, mixing media, and travel. She explores the use of text and images in the way of a poet per se never a scientist. Nothing is exact. www.brendaroper.com E.R. Sebenick is a freelance copywriter based in Hatcher Pass, Alaska. Though previously unpublished, she seeks out individual stories with unique perspectives while she and her husband travel the world. Erin is a member of the Alaska Writers Guild, is currently working on several short stories, and also seeking representation for her completed novel.
Uplift Deborah Chava Singer is originally from San Diego, California where she studied truth with the Mesa College Theatre Company and Queer Players. While going to school (in something else) in Toronto, Ontario she remembered her heart first belonged to the creative arts. She now resides in Vancouver, Washington. Her photography and writing have appeared in Jonathan, Chaffin, Cirque, Heart and Mind Zine, Snapdragon, Twisted Vine, Off the Coast, Labletter, Off the Rocks, Rockhurst Review, Trajectory and Steam Ticket. In 2012 she received a GAP grant from Artist Trust to work on her play “Hidden Potential, or The Straight Gene.” www.latenightawake.com Lois Paige Simenson moved to Alaska from Montana in 1983. She retired from the U.S. Department of the Interior after 35 years in Anchorage. Lois’ work has appeared in The Anchorage Press, Alaska Magazine, 49 Writers, and Erma Bombeck Humor Writers.org. She writes a blog called The Alaska Philosophaster. Her short story, “Embers of Memories,” won a 2016 Alaska Press Club award in the Best Alaskan History all media category. The story tells a suspenseful tale about fighting wildfires in the 1980s. She’s working on two books, The Butte Girls Club and Otter Rock. Judith Skillman is a poet and a painter. Poems have appeared in Shenandoah, Zyzzyva, FIELD, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Her collection Kafka’s Shadows is forthcoming from Deerbrook Editions in 2017. As an artist, Skillman is interested in the intense feelings engendered by the natural world. Her medium is oil on canvas, and she aspires to create an unlabored sensibility of the pastoral. Her work is can be viewed on fine art america: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/judithskillman.html?tab=artwork or visit www.judithskillman.com Dawnell Smith goes from a righteous communications job to a shared desk pod/family room at night where she tries to make ends meet through freelance work and miscellaneous gigs. When not on skates, in the mountains, at the office, working on art projects, tending to teenagers, and attempting to make headway on an infinite to-do list, she makes essays, poems, and other mixed-genre literary work. She received a Rasmuson Fellowship in 2015 and is currently working on a collaborative memoir and video/audio project with her partner, Teeka Ballas. Her fiction piece “What Would Derby Do?” was recently published in an Alaska anthology, Building Fires in the Snow. She lives in Anchorage with her family, rescue dogs, and renegade shrews. 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. 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. Joannie Stangeland is the author of In Both Hands and Into the Rumored Spring from Ravenna Press, plus two chapbooks and a pamphlet. Her poems have also appeared in Prairie Schooner, Cimarron Review, DMQ Review, and other journals. Currently, Joannie is enrolled in the MFA program at Rainier Writing Workshop. 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 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. 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. Sheary Clough Suiter grew up in Eugene, Oregon; then 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 Old Colorado City by 45 Degree Gallery. When she’s not on the back-roads of America traveling and painting with her artist partner Nard Claar, Suiter teaches at Bemis School of Art and works from her studio in Colorado Springs. Online at www.backdoordesigns.com Joan Swift is the author of four full-length books of poetry and two chapbooks, as well as a small book on the early history of the City of Edmonds, Washington where she lives. Born and raised in Rochester, New York, she has a B.A. from Duke University and an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Washington where she studied in Theodore Roethke’s last class. She is the recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, a writing grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and a Writer’s Award from the Washington State Arts Commission. Two of her books of poetry, The Dark Path of Our Names, and The Tiger Iris, were honored with Washington State Governor’s Awards. Her poems have appeared in such publications as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Yale Review, The American Poetry Review, Field, Poetry Northwest, and dozens of others, including more than two dozen
CIRQUE community, at the old prison on 3rd Avenue, and as a poet in the schools. Recent work has appeared in Cirque, Minotaur, Sin Fronteras: Writers without Borders, and in David Pring Mills’ anthology, Tiny Secrets. Marie Tozier is an Inupiaq poet who lives in Nome, Alaska. Her book, Open the Dark, will be published by the Boreal Books imprint of Red Hen Press in 2020. Tozier’s poetry has appeared in Yellow Medicine Review and Cirque, and is forthcoming in the Alaska Quarterly Review and Catamaran Literary Reader. She is a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage low-residency MFA program. Tozier and her husband share their home with seven children (some home-again, college-again) and three huskies.
anthologies. Her latest book, The Body That Follows Us, from Cave Moon Press is due out in 2017. Kathleen Tarr lives and writes in Anchorage. She is the author of We Are All Poets Here a blend of memoir and biography about her spiritual odyssey with Thomas Merton forthcoming from VP&D House (2017). In 2016, she was named a William Shannon Fellow of the International Thomas Merton Society. From 2013-2015, Kathleen was a Mullin Scholar at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies. Her work has appeared in the Sewanee Review, Creative Nonfiction, TriQuarterly, Cirque, and in a variety of magazines, anthologies, newspapers and blogs. She is also a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and teaches creative writing for the Alaskan Writing Center (49 Writers). Carey Taylor is a poet and Pushcart Prize nominee from Port Ludlow, Washington. Her poetry has appeared in: Cirque, Clover: A Literary Rag, Off the Coast, Snapdragon and others. When not worrying about earthquakes, she enjoys hiking, traveling, and a good scotch whisky. https://careyleetaylor.wordpress.com Matthew C. Taylor is from Washington State. He currently resides in Minneapolis, where he is an MFA candidate at the University of Minnesota. This is his first publication. 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. Former Alaska Poet Laureate, Joanne Townsend, lived in Anchorage from 1970 through 2005. She now lives and writes in southwest New Mexico. Her poems have won many awards both inside and outside Alaska. She was the recipient of an Alaska State Council n the Arts Fellowship and taught at UAA, also in the greater Anchorage
Karen A. Tschannen - Some of her words have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, IceFloe, 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 a poet in Anchorage, AK. His published poems can be found in Cirque, and if you look closely, you might find his name attached to various floating bits of clickbait around the internet. Lucy Tyrrell uses her interests in nature and wild landscapes to inspire her writing, art, quilting, and recreational pursuits, including mushing, hiking, and canoeing. She retired in 2014 after working as research administrator at Denali National Park and Preserve for 14 years. She cherishes her 16 years in Alaska but moved with eight huskies back to the Lower 48 in September 2016 for a new chapter of life (she submitted her entry from Grande Prairie, Alberta while in transit). Sean Ulman, a Seward novelist, is the editor of Seward Unleashed Vol 2. His chapbook, “Radland” (Deadly Chaps) was nominated for a Pushcart. His other reviews have been featured in Pank and elimae. Michael Wanzenried has been living and working in the coastal, inland, and (currently) northern Pacific states for the last nine years. Prior to moving to Anchorage in May 2016, he worked on his MFA at Boise State where he continued for a while as adjunct faculty in the creative writing program. The majority of his non-writing time, however, is spent doing archaeology. Most recently, he spent all summer and fall surveying parts of the arctic. He and his wife and cat live in a fabulous well-lit basement apartment in Midtown, Anchorage. Margo Waring has lived in Alaska for nearly 50 years. She completed a doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in English Literature and taught there and at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Margo’s poetry has appeared in Cirque, Tidal Echoes, Alaska Women Speak and other publications. She always thanks her writers’ group for their support and enthusiasm. Sandra Wassilie lives in Oakland and writes poetry and fiction. Born on the other side of the Bay, she was raised in Alaska where she still has family, including grandchildren. She has served as poetry editor for Fourteen Hills and in 2013 cofounded the Bay Area Generations Reading Series. She has written one chapbook Smoke Lifts and was recently interviewed by LitSeen for The Write Stuff online. Her work appears in
Vo l . 8 N o . 1 Alaska Women Speak, Between the Lines, California Quarterly, Cirque, and several other journals. Lee Waters - Teacher by day and Artist by evening/weekends/ vacations/any time “I can get.” I have been surrounded by art all my life and have experimented with many different Mediums. Lately, my muse has taken on the form of beeswax, damar resin, and pigment. I relish the freeing nature of limitless boundaries, exploring whatever whimsy may come. It is my hope that my creations will delight you, evoking memories of our great state of Alaska. Kaylie Weable - I was born and raised in Auburn, Washington. I have spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest and frequently hike, camp, and backpack the Northern Cascades. Along with photography and writing, those are my biggest hobbies. Toby Widdicombe was educated in England and the United States. He has been a professor at UAA for nearly a quarter of a century and a teacher for forty years. He writes poetry, nonfiction, children’s fiction— and academic argument and analysis of all sorts. Richard Widerkehr earned his B.A. from University of Michigan where he won two Hopwood first prizes for poetry. He earned his M.A. from Columbia University. He has two collections of poems: The Way Home (Plain View Press) and Her Story of Fire (Egress Studio Press), along with two chapbooks. Tarragon Books published his novel, Sedimental Journey, about a geologist in love with a fictional character. Recent poems have appeared in Rattle, Floating Bridge Review, Crack The Spine, Soundings, Cirque, Clover, and Penumbra. Poems are forthcoming from Measure and Naugatuck River Review. He is one of the poetry editors for Shark Reef Review.
who abused her brother, who was spirited out of the country shortly after her brother brought his crimes to light. Ms. Nockels Wilson is a recipient of the Rasmuson Individual Artist Award and the Jason Wenger Prize for Literary Excellence. She is working on a forthcoming manuscript, perhaps in Frank McCourt fashion, but more importantly an ode to her mother and Ireland. Matt Witt is a writer and photographer in Talent, Oregon who has hiked and backpacked all over the Pacific Northwest. His photography and blog may be seen at MattWittPhotography.com. He has been Artist in Residence at Crater Lake National Park, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, and 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 enjoys the mountains in all weathers. She is a member of Ten Poets, a collaborative writing group, and appreciates Asian and nature-themed poetry. Nancy Woods, born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, now lives in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales from a Pacific Northwest Writer and Hooked on Antifreeze: True Tales About Loving and Leaving Alaska. Both books are available at amazon.com. Woods’ poem “Remembering Harding Lake,” published in Cirque (Vol. 1, No.1), won the Andy Hope Literary Award. www.nancy-woods.com
William H. Wikstrom works out of Wikstom Gallery near Wallingford in Seattle, WA. His own work includes painting, sculpture, poetry, set design, and video production. Born in 1952, in Seattle, WA, he is the son of Robert C. and brother to the artist Brom Wikstrom. WW has done art all his life and has done all kinds of art. First published in Yellow Dog Funnies in ‘68, WW has also done two covers for the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Disinheritance and Controlled Hallucinations. A six-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, 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, The Massachusetts Review, Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Arts & Letters, Columbia Poetry Review, MidAmerican Review, Third Coast, Baltimore Review, Nimrod, RHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Joan Nockels Wilson is a writer and attorney in Anchorage, Alaska. She excerpts from her manuscript, The Book of Timothy: A Sister’s Pursuit of a Predator Priest. The memoir tracks her efforts to locate and question the priest
HOW TO SUBMIT TO C IRQUE Cirque, published in Anchorage, Alaska, is a regional journal created to share the best writing in the region with the rest of the world. Cirque submissions are not restricted to a “regional” theme or setting. Cirque invites emerging and established writers living in the North Pacific Rim—Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia and Chukotka—to submit short stories, poems, creative nonfiction, translations, plays, reviews of first books, interviews, photographs, and artwork for Cirque’s Summer 2017 Issue.
Issue #16—Summer 2017 Submission Deadline: March 20, 2017 SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: • Eligibility: you were born in, or are currently residing in, or have previously lived for a period of not less than 5 years in the aforementioned North Pacific Rim region.
• Poems: 4 poems MAX • Fiction, Nonfiction, Plays: 12 pages MAX • Artwork and Photography: 10 images MAX accepted in JPEG or TIFF format, sent as
email attachments. Please send images in the highest resolution possible; images will likely be between 2 and 10mb each. If you do not submit full-size photo files at time of submission, we will respond with an email reminder. No undersize images or thumbnails will be eligible for publication. Bio: 100 words MAX. Contact Info: Make sure to keep your contact email current and be sure that it is one that you check regularly. If your contact information changes, make sure to inform us at Cirque. To ensure that replies from Cirque bypass your spam filter and go to your inbox, add Cirque to your address book.
• Electronic Submissions Only • Attach a Word document to your email (preferred) or embed submission text within • •
the body of the email (not preferred); use 12pt font in a common, easy to read typeface (Times, Arial, etc.) Subject Line of your email should read: “Poetry Submission,” “Fiction Submission,” “Play Submission,” “Nonfiction submission”, etc. Replies average two to three months, and we don’t mind you checking with us about your submissions. Please send submissions to:
Photo Credit: Jim Thiele, Yampa 225
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 8 , N O. 1
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim