CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 9, N O. 1
CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 9 No. 1
ÂŠ 2018 by Sandra Kleven & Mike Burwell, Editors
Cover Photo Credit: Jack Broom, "Chain" Table of Contents Photo Credit: Jack Broom, "Wisteria Pods 2" Design and composition: Paxson Woelber ISBN-13: 978-1984039910 ISBN-10: 1984039911 ISSN: 2152-4610 (online) Published by
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MIKE BURWELL recently retired to Taos after 30 years in Alaska writing environmental impact statements for the Feds, doing maritime and shipwreck research, and teaching poetry at the University of Alaska Anchorage. A chapbook of his poems North and West was published by Heaven Bone Press in 1989 and his full-length poetry collection Cartography of Water was published by North Shore Press in 2007. He founded the literary journal Cirque in 2009.
Alaska’s newest indie bookstore is coming to Spenard!
The Writer’s Block Bookstore Café Opening Jan 2018
We are excited to announce the construction of Alaska’s newest independent bookstore, located in the heart of Spenard. The Writer’s Block Bookstore & Cafe will proudly support local authors, publishers, artists and musicians in a beautiful new building. Come and enjoy a fine selection of classic and local literature, new books, great music, and a variety of local art. Relax in a comfortable, friendly setting with a fine wine, cold beer or excellent coffee. Experience international cuisine, and discover something wonderful! 152°
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In October of 1894, the anthropologist Rebecca Ashford arrives in Kodiak, Alaska to interview a Russian prisoner with an American name and an Athabascan Indian past. Aleksandr Campbell has been sentenced to hang for a double murder, killings that took place in his homeland far to the north on the Kenai Peninsula—a little-known part of the territory where Russian is the common language and the handful of resident Americans are foreigners in a strange land. His tale, recorded in her notes as he waits for the gallows, spans years and miles of wilderness and clashing cultures. It is a story of young love and of old magic that is rapidly draining out of the country with the coming of the gold rush. It is a story of being Alaskan at a time when Alaska barely existed.
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“I was told you were a magic man.”
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—Michael Burwell, Author of Cartography of Water and founding editor of the literary journal Cirque
Author of critically acclaimed novel, The Raven’s Gift
Done in poems and personal essays, Sandra Kleven’s Defiance Street is a wild ride of discovery. Inside the fury of the 60s, Kleven finds a hunger for language and truth-telling that bursts out in resonant poetry and prose speaking to feminism, sexuality, mothering, love, betrayal, loss, luck. Her language is direct, playful, surreal, and full of her own personal music. As she comes of age, her words turn to the pathos of aging, memory, the deepening of love, the inevitable mortalities that stop and remake her, and her journeys to bush Alaska where she speaks of its people with uncommon authenticity and candor. These poems are at once wise and vulnerable, powerful and quiet. This is poetry you will relish, prose you will cherish.
Defiance StreetPoems and other
I knew I’d need to say little else about Defiance Street besides: You must give this book a chance. —Nathan Brown, Author of My Sideways Heart Oklahoma Poet Laureate
6/5/2017 5:11:30 PM
Kathleen W. Tarr
She went after boys who looked like Jesus, sandaled, contemplative, guys with that crucified look.
In her new collection of poems, Defiance Street, Sandra Kleven soars, wildly creative, using language as a ringmaster uses his whip: to move the beasts around the ring and into the light. She marshals the almost-invisible, rapidly-shifting world into place for her readers again, and we become sighted again, raw, as that first human must have been seeing the world fresh. I had this idea that the right words would help, writes Kleven (“Jaden is Calling”). She has made good on the promise in that. —Anne Caston Author of Flying Out With the Wounded
“Pack your bags. Kris Farmen is one of Alaska’s finest writers and Blue Thomas Merton’s 1968 journey to Alaska, Ticket is one helluva an exciting ride through the wilds of Alaska in 1948. a personal story about No spiritual No one captures historic Alaska like Farmen. one. Blue seeking Ticket soars with characters you’re rooting for and bad guys you’ll dread. Hold on, this is one flight you won’t soon forget.” —Don Rearden author of The Raven’s Gift and Permafrost Heart
VP&D House, Inc. Anchorage, Alaska www.vpdhouse.com
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“The Cult's song Wild Hearted Son reminds me of Kris Farmen. One of the wild men of Alaskan writing, he never fails to kick up a fuss on the page. Get it. Ride it. Love it.” —Luis Urrea Author of The Devil’s Highway
“Kris Farmen’s Turn Again is a spellbinding masterpiece. A Producedpowerful By: epic with unforgettable characters, rich Alaskan history andCompany culture, and an authentic glimpse at a time when humanity was The Alaska Map forsaken in the name of progress. Farmen has crafted a haunting tale of mythical transformation and lost love. There is much to be Kenai Alaska learned from this modern parable.” —Don Rearden MMXII
Sandra Kleven walks a path of beautiful grit and hard honesty that remains uncompromising throughout. In poems like “Lament for Scott” and “As She Waits for Word on Her Biopsy,” she gnaws her thoughts on aging to the bone with confessions borne of a poet’s long consideration. Kleven’s prose pieces are wall-to-wall poems. She speaks of the famous Blue Moon tavern, of the birth of the second half of the 20th Century, and of Theodore Roethke better than he ever did. Bottom line? When I read Sandra Kleven’s lines:
Defiance Street: Poems and other writing
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Deserving of high praise, Karen Tschannen’s meticulously crafted collection Apportioning the Light gives us poems that move through a woman’s memories, joy, sorrow, loves and wisdom. —Joanne Townsend, Alaska Poet Laureate, 1988-1992
From the Editors Cirque Press – Motivated by the recognition that Cirque publishes exceptional writers, we have established Cirque Press. Twice a year, we’ve been reading Cirque submissions. After eight years, we saw that many fine poets have a body of work never collected into a single volume. They may be widely published, but many factors stand in the way of gathering one’s work into book form – It’s highly competitive. Uncertainty is a constant. Much disappointment and discouragement are involved. Who has time for this? As a journal serving the North Pacific Rim, Cirque was established to provide writers, poets, and artists of our vast region with more opportunities to publish. Cirque Press extends this mission, allowing us to give poets/writers the permanence and cohesion that comes with a book. First to be published by Cirque Press is Apportioning the Light by Karen Tschannen. Find an announcement of publication in this issue along with four poems from this fine collection. We are publishing in a partnership with poets/writers, so there is a sharing of costs. But, due to print on demand, the costs are reasonable and may be paid over time. We are prioritizing Cirque contributors. Query us if you have an interest. We are now using Submittable to manage all online submissions. To submit writing or images go to: https://cirque.submittable.com/submit Pushcart Prize – In November, Cirque nominated six of our exceptional writers for the Pushcart Prize. They are: Vivian Faith Prescott, Quinn Grover, Kathleen Tarr, Judith Barrington, Lauren Ebright, and Tim Whitsel. Congrats! A Loss to Alaska – We were saddened to learn of the passing of Nora Marks Dauenhauer, who passed away in her home on Marks Trail in Douglas, Alaska on September 25, 2017. Nora's awards include: Humanist of the Year (1980), Alaska Governor's Award for the Arts (1989), Community Spirit Award (2005), Lifetime Achievement Award (2007), American Book Award (1991 and 2008), Alaska Women's Hall of Fame Inductee (2010), Indigenous Leadership Award (2011), and Alaska State Writer Laureate (2012). Support Cirque – An independent journal supported entirely by writers and readers through direct donations, subscriptions, and sales of individual copies. We also offer full-page, full-color ads for the best price anywhere - just $100. We run a tight ship with many volunteers and a print-on-demand model. We can get out an issue for less than $2000. We appreciate the generosity of all those involved with Cirque. When we meet funding goals, we can focus all our energy on producing this beautiful journal. Thanks so much.
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 Editors Monica Devine Cynthia Steele
Fiction Editors Jerry McDonnell Sean Ulman
Drama Editor Jerry McDonnell
Nonfiction Editor Gretchen Phelps
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 9 No. 1
NONFICTION Sarah Mouracade Tunneling Through 17 Doug Pope Dispatch From Hope 21 KJ Roe Road Trippin’ 23 Harvey Schwartz Zen Rules the Road 24 Bill Sherwonit Green Man 28 Dan Walker The New White Guy 34
FICTION Susan Banks Bitter Lonely Souls Welcome 39 Nicholas John-Francis Claro Hotel 42 Kathy Ellis Happy Valley 47 Alex Gallo-Brown The Organizer 51 Benjamin Toche Cucks Unlimited 56 Heidi Turner Thorn 60 Christian Woodard Animal Behavior 64
POETRY John Baalke Tricked Out of Meaning 74 Joshua H. Baker The Secret Language of Leaves 74 Ray Ball Subjunctive 75 Scott Banks The Muse Stays Home 75 Carol Barrett Button Hutch 76 Judith Barrington from BRINE 76 Robert Bharda Imogene Silva 77 Sally Biggar Ready To Fall 78 Karen Vande Bossche I’ve Smoked 79 Kersten Christianson The Longest Night 79 Diane Corson He Lays Down the Poker 80 Hood Canal 80 Lorne Daniel Grace 81 Patrick Dixon Weather Systems 81 Gene Ervine Fruitland Valley Memories 82 Leone Mikele Fogle Julia Pastrana: female oddity laid to rest in Sinaloa 82 Leslie Fried My Man 85 Jim Hanlen Remembering Thanksgiving 85 Paul Haeder a RIVER runs through thirteen reservations… echoes of the beginning of cold war 86 Sarah Isto Vernal Equinox, 63° North, 73rd Birthday 87 Fia Jampolsky Night 87 Susan Johnson Iodine 88 Anya Kirshbaum Lessons in Gravity 89 Tricia Knoll Windfire Smoke From The North 90 Alex Leavens The Vulture and the Bear 90 Peter Ludwin The Worm that Inches through Sleep 91
Dorothy Lyon Letter Never Sent: 1954 92 Adam Mackie Total Eclipse 93 Terry Martin Chemo, Month Four 93 Victoria McCallum I Live in a Boxcar 94 David McElroy Chemo 95 Karen McPherson Air Quality Advisory 95 Bruce McRae Outpost 96 Rainbow Medicine-Walker Conversations With A Medicine Woman 96 Jesse Minkert Enthusiasts 97 Max Peterson Spring Green 98 Tim Pilgrim Beginning of Forgetting 98 Diane Ray Still Life 99 Zack Rogow Legacies 99 Barbara Rockman Departing a Long Retreat in the Great Basin 100 Linda Schandelmeier No One Asks About The Bridge 101 Eugenie Simpson Intersection 101 Kathleen Smith Jolly Mountain Smoke 102 Cheryl Stadig Cider from the Old Orchard 102 David Stallings What the Bowl Says 103 Kathleen Stancik to children who never call 103 when she finds her father 103 Carey Taylor After 104 Jim Thielman God Must Be a Woman 104 Anthony Warnke Not to disappoint 105 Fits 105 Tim Whitsel Graveyard Nurse’s Rime 106 Daniel Williams Astronomical Poesy 106 John Sibley Williams Aubade with Spent Fireworks 107 Tonja Woelber Avalanche 107 Itzel Yarger-Zagal Still 108 Todavía 108
P L AY Doug Capra
F E ATU R E S, R E VI E WS, & I NTE RVI E WS Karen Tschannen Four Poems from her forthcoming book Apportioning the Light 116 Sean Ulman Following Christy: Sean Ulman Interviews Christy Everett 118 A Tribute to Seattle Poet Joan Swift 124 Former Poet Laureate, Tom Sexton Presents the Renga 133 Michael Dunham Rock Piles Along the Eddy by Ishmael Hope 136
C O N T R I B U T O R S 139 H O W T O S U B M I T T O C I R Q U E 148
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
NONFICTION Sarah Mouracade
Tunneling Through Marie-Aurèle: her name connotes a sort of grace her demeanor does not reveal. She seems a little haggard, maybe even dissociative, when you chat with her about mundane things. Perhaps, her appearance creates this impression, with jeans too small, sweatshirts too baggy, and glasses taped at the hinge. She may be in the same room as you, smiling, while using her tongue to play with her lip piercing, but her mind seems to be somewhere else. Or maybe nowhere else. Like she is just letting the sensations rush past her. I do not blame her, though. She has gone through too much heartache for being in her twenties, even if her suffering may be self-inflicted. Pain is pain, no matter the source, just like loss is loss, no matter the cause. I have found that emotions do not discriminate. You may pick up on Marie-Aurèle’s distancing herself from you by the way she quickly changes conversations. Yet, if you pause to consider her actions, you will see her grace. I do. For instance, she gives out hugs liberally, and I sink into them. I am not sure if it is the intensity behind them, as she firmly grips me like a mother does a child, or that she towers almost a foot over me. She never hugs Gabriel, the little boy she gave birth to – the child who is now my son – the same kind of hugs that she gives me. I cannot understand why, and it hurts. Marie-Aurèle loves to tell Gabriel and me stories – real and imagined, hers and others. He and I sit there, enthralled, while she talks. You would love Marie-Aurèle’s presentation, too. She is persuasive, engaging. You would laugh, a deep belly laugh, right along with her when she gets to her punch lines. Gabriel and I do. I’ve been told that, starting at the age of five, she began telling stories in classrooms and assemblies across the Anchorage School District. She captivated audiences – children and adults alike – with her ability to draw people into her stories as she recited folktales and made the characters come alive through her expressions and her inflections. So it isn’t hard to believe that, by the age of seven, she went to Johnson City, Tennessee to compete in the National Storytellers Network competition. Returning the next year, Marie-Aurèle won first place there, earning her the honor of being the youngest winner ever. This
award sparked an onslaught of events for her to attend throughout the rest of her childhood and into her adolescence. Marie-Aurèle toured across Alaska, speaking at bookstores, museums, and more schools. In fact, Lisa Murkowski even gave her a Congressional Award to acknowledge her accomplishments. Marie-Aurèle confessed once that my having a Masters in English was one of her deciding factors in picking me to be Gabriel’s mom. She said that she knew I loved a good story and that I would foster that appreciation in Gabriel. Marie-Aurèle does not know this, though: her believing I liked stories prompted me to begin writing my own. Gabriel has started recounting his memories too and memorizing and repeating sections from books and Pete Seeger songs with Marie-Aurèle’s same gestures and tonal inflections. You cannot look at Gabriel and not think of Marie-Aurèle. They are spitting images of each other. The fullness of their cheeks, the pink of their lips, their tall, thin bodies with wispy blonde hair. Their guttural, sustained laughs and their mischievousness. The kind of trouble other people want to join with them in. I would love to see them tell a story together someday. But, for now, when I hear Marie-Aurèle tell her stories, I am reminded that her story-telling is one of the biggest indicators of her grace and her ability to connect, even if inconsistently, just like my son. Marie-Aurèle’s transparency about her past is one trait that exposes her instinctual gentleness. Maybe she is innocent, and her vulnerability is rooted in those formative childhood years – performing, smiling, building attachments with audiences and admirers, but not friends. Was it all an act? Would that help explain why she seems fond of mentioning memories from her youth, like how she had a pet snake named “Hissssterical?” She stops fiddling with her lip ring and lets the “ssss” linger when she says its name. Or are her stories a façade? I have learned that telling stories always includes some fabrication, whether intentional or not. I try to remember Marie-Aurèle’s stories like they are my own. Then, I can share them with Gabriel, reminding him of the ones she tells us together and
someday giving him the ones she tells just me. She tells me about her first marriage, how she turned to drugs and alcohol, and why she surrendered her children for adoption. She even gave me one of her journals to give Gabriel when he gets older. She had written it while she had been pregnant with him and going through her separation with Gabriel’s birth-father. I find myself debating about the right time to pass her stories along – and even which ones I should. No matter what I choose to tell Gabriel, I guarantee you that I will only tell him. I am not Marie-Aurèle’s mouthpiece. Open adoption does not grant co-opting a birth-mother’s life. You see, I believe MarieAurèle’s stories are just that. Hers. Unlike her child who is now mine. That assertion sounds so course. I’m afraid that it does not convey the care I have for Marie-Aurèle. But, nonetheless, it is true, because I am Gabriel’s mother now. I feel a twinge of sadness – maybe guilt, maybe jealousy – when she refers to Gabriel as “my son.” I want to remind her, “No, Gabriel’s mine.” Yet, I know that would be unkind – and untrue. He Small Works is both of ours, granted in different ways. So I bite my tongue, and MarieAurèle keeps telling me her secrets. And I will do my best to protect them – as well as her child. To me, that safety is what open adoption demands. Marie-Aurèle began telling her stories to me the first day we met, hours after I had met Gabriel. She sat in my living room and interviewed my husband and me to decide whether we should be Gabriel’s parents. She gave us enough of her background to get the conversation going. Then, she plowed into the issue that concerned her most. “Would you be willing to agree to an open adoption?” she asked. We would. Obviously, we did. -- Most people have only a general idea about what open adoption entails. I certainly had limited knowledge. At first, like many others, I thought that it looks like this: a birth-mom agrees to surrender her child to the adoptive family, usually meeting them while still pregnant. They
discuss the terms of the adoption, which often includes receiving annual pictures and reports about the child by mail. Then, the woman gives birth and walks away, hopefully certain she did the right thing. The birth-father may or may not be involved at all. But let me tell you: negotiating an open adoption, relinquishing a child, and receiving a child is not that simple. I had a lot to learn. There appears to be a misconception that adoption is like a divorce, ending what once was, freeing all parties to go out on their own. Rather, I believe that open adoption is more like a marriage. You have bound yourself to another family, through a child – their child, now your child. Your future together unfolds before you without orders dictating how often you have dinner together, which relatives you spend holidays with, or what parenting strategies you use. Try as you might, you cannot just leave that other family behind. The birth-parents may not ever again be with you in person, but they will still be there physically, embodied in your child. Your child smiles and grows, laughs and cries, Katherine Coons even digests his food, just like his birth-parents, not you. You may teach your child better manners or how to ask for help when he is sad or frustrated. Yet, his instincts remain grounded in his genetics, not his environment, as we adoptive parents often want to believe. Even when you get used to the physical similarities, the birth-parents are definitely still there – in your mind and in your child’s mind. Everyone involved wonders what the others are doing and feeling. You are connected, for better or worse, until death do you part. From the beginning, our agreement with MarieAurèle had different rules than most open adoptions. Marie-Aurèle was one month post-partum when we met. She was still nursing Gabriel, despite continuing to drink and smoke. Marie-Aurèle had brought Gabriel to my house, had interviewed me, holding her baby much of the time, and had left with him. As she closed the door behind her, carrying Gabriel out, my gut turned to rocks. I could not stop peering out the stained glass panels in my front door. I watched Marie-Aurèle load the used Graco carrier, where Gabriel had already fallen asleep, into the car and drive away. I accepted, then and there, that Marie-
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 Aurèle would give the commands, and I, like a hungry puppy, would obey them all to get what I wanted. But, as is true in all open adoptions, eventually the roles reverse. Once your adoption goes through, seeing the birth-parents can throw the washing machine of our lives into an unbalanced spin cycle, whirring and whirring away. At one point or another, everyone feels exhausted, dizzyingly churned. So – please forgive me – we often tell ourselves that less is best. Maybe that emotional turmoil explains why we adoptive parents often opt for one-sided mailings of pictures and reports to the birth-parents about their child’s development. You can pat yourselves on the back for having an “open adoption” while protecting yourselves from seeing the pain flash across the faces of the birth-parents. You do not have to come to terms with their struggle to be on their child’s periphery. You do not have to acknowledge that they may still be grieving, whether they feel open to expressing their sadness or not – and usually they do not. If you do not have to see your child’s birth-parents, you do not have to watch them wipe away tears as they head for the bus stop after a visit. You also wipe away tears, but you are sitting on a heated leather seat in your Volvo hatchback. You may seek out comfort as you tell your child that now he has a “forever home,” because home is where the heart is, right? But every time we leave Marie-Aurèle, I see on Gabriel’s face that part of his heart is with her. And how can I begrudge either of them that? His eyes follow her as she walks away. So do mine. Marie-Aurèle always looks back over her shoulder, waving goodbye one last time. -- Six months after our adoption was finalized, I still struggled to understand what an open adoption should really look like. I wanted guidance from experts. So I reached out via email to The Donaldson Adoption Institute, an organization which had received a Pulitzer Prize for their work on adoption issues. I needed to better understand the implications of an open adoption, especially one like ours, which included frequent visits with Gabriel’s birthfamily, who all lived within miles of us. In that email, I provided a couple details about how we met Gabriel and about his birth-family’s history. I was surprised when their president, Adam Pertman, called me on my phone. As I paced around my living room, I shared a bit
more information with Adam about our open adoption, worrying out loud if I was on the right track. “I’ve not heard of circumstances quite like yours,” he said. “But I can tell you, without a doubt, open is best.” We continued to talk for awhile, and Adam reassured me that all of it was up for negotiation, flexible, evolving over time. All I had to do, he maintained, was find the conditions that worked for my family, reminding me that these conditions may change with time, too. “Just remember: it does look different in every open adoption. Do what feels right,” Adam said, drawing our conversation to a close. He was right. No two adoptive families are the same. There is a spectrum of involvement in an open adoption, and the furrowed brows of some of my friends remind me that I’m at the far end of it. I see spouses shoot a quick glance between each other, especially when they learn that Marie-Aurèle is a recovering addict. These looks confirm for me the simplest of truths: each family operates differently, no matter if they are adoptive, blended, or biological. Haven’t we all been given a block of stone and been told to make something beautiful out of it? The question is: how do we succeed? We look at our material and the tools we have available, and then we envision a final product. We set about on our work, slowly, realizing art takes time, accidents will occur, and flaws will become evident. So we progress as best we can, relying on our unique skillsets. Ultimately, we all sculpt our families as we see fit. As for me, I carve away at our open adoption, like an artist using a point chisel on marble. Since Gabriel is only three, the stone from which I am working is still large, mostly unshaped. The form evolves as I tap, etch, and whittle away at it, knowing that with the wrong touch, my sculpture could shatter. Every decision, every flaw, every right choice becomes apparent the further in I get, and I must deal with the good and bad, the joy and loss, as they present themselves, one by one. -- “We’re going to see Mama Marie this afternoon,” I say to Gabriel as he eats breakfast. Mama Marie is what we now call Marie-Aurèle and because Gabriel is only three years old, I tell him about a visit with her on the same day we’re going. Apparently, too much notice is a bad thing. He might fixate on the visit or on missing her. However, no notice is worse. So his
20 therapists insist that predictability is key. Surprise visits – just like no-shows – can cause the washing machine of all our lives to get stuck back in that awful spin cycle. We must strive for balance, for everyone’s sake and, most importantly, for Gabriel’s. Sometimes, Gabriel does ask without any prompt when he will see her, though. Then, I answer his question only if I know exactly when we will. “Yes, baby,” I say. “We’re going to see her next Friday after preschool. That is five sleeps away.” Together, he and I count down the days until our visit. However, if I don’t know when we will see MarieAurèle again, I take a different approach. “That’s a great question, sweetie. Let me find out what works for everyone. Would you like to see her soon?” Either way, every time I tell Gabriel we are going to visit her, he is thrilled. “Gabriel see Mama Marie! Gabriel see Mama Marie!” he repeats, no longer interested in his yogurt and granola. “Mama Marie bring Gabriel a scooter!” She did bring him a scooter last time we all got together. As he rode off on it down the trail, she asked me if she could buy him a tarantula. She knows that Gabriel loves bugs, but I had to put my foot down on that offer. “I can deal with the risk of broken bones from the scooter, lady, but spiders in my house is a deal breaker,” I teased Marie-Aurèle back. Fortunately, Gabriel did not hear her suggest that gift. I still have no idea what his therapists would say to do in that situation. I should ask them. I am allowed to enforce some boundaries, after all. I know that Gabriel will have more energy than usual when we are with Marie-Aurèle. He begs for her attention with every word and every action, and I cannot help but wonder if she is requiring the same attention of me. Inevitably, when the conversation shifts to her life, as it often does, and she begins recounting stories that aren’t for Gabriel’s ears, he notices it and finds a way to pull Marie-Aurèle’s eyes back to him. Often, he screams. Or he laughs. Mostly, Gabriel laughs when we are with her. That same big laugh Marie-Aurèle has. I think we all like our time together. But when he screams, we all remember. Once the three of us were at the Valley of the Moon Park in Anchorage, when Gabriel started screaming. I honestly cannot remember what set him off. He had probably tripped or someone other than MarieAurèle and myself had looked at him. But I know that he was frustrated, since I recall so vividly what happened
CIRQUE next. In a flash, she and I both were by his side, and MarieAurèle led us onto the part of the trail that goes through a tunnel under a busy road. “When I’m mad, I let out the biggest scream,” she said. “Like this.” Marie-Aurèle hollered like I have never heard someone holler. I think there were some theatrics behind it, which is probably why it was such a death-curdling yell. I imagined her again as a child, performing her stories convincingly. Gabriel’s eyes were wide. He was not screaming any more. I squeezed Gabriel’s hand, pursed my lips, and squatted down to his level. “Is that funny, Gabriel?” I asked. “I think Mama Marie is pretty funny. She’s got a great idea. I’m gonna try.” I screamed. I screamed as loud and as long and as hard I could. It felt good to get it all out. Marie-Aurèle was on to something. Gabriel started laughing and laughing. Then, he tried, and we egged him on, taking turns, playing with our voices. The tunnel caused all of our screams to echo, reverberating and bouncing around the metal surrounding us, dancing in our ears, like Marie-Aurèle’s stories. Sounds going nowhere, simply fading out. Some cyclists passed us by. They looked at the three of us, terrified, or maybe just confused. I bet that they could hear us quite a ways down the trail. I wonder if they thought Marie-Aurèle and I were a lesbian couple. We have gotten that question a couple times since Gabriel calls us “Mommy” and “Mama.” As the bikes sped out of the tunnel, we started giggling again, screaming and giggling, and then screaming some more. The cyclists had encouraged us, even if they did not mean to. That day, when we left, Gabriel did not stall, like he usually does. He was happy, content with his visit. But in the days that followed, like the days after other visits with Marie-Aurèle, he got more frustrated than usual. Although I am constantly aware of his emotional state, I only check in with him occasionally about how he feels after these visits, and I do not specifically mention Marie-Aurèle. I let him bring her up. When he does – and he will – I do not ask if he is upset about seeing or leaving her, because his therapists have advised me to make myself available without being intrusive. I should not assume Gabriel is sad or happy or draw any other conclusions about the visits. Only Gabriel gets to decide which emotions he has, and whether he wants to voice them. My job, as his mom, is to be there when he does and to help him, when necessary, find the best outlet. Together, he and I continue to hew away at the stone and the stories that are ours.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Dispatch From Hope We were visiting family outside when my friend Jim Sweeney called to say our septic line was frozen. I had a visceral reaction. “I’m sick of it,” I told my wife Beth. A day later, I was on a flight to Anchorage. Our log cabin in Hope didn’t have running water for eighteen years. Ten years ago, when we decided to move there full time, Beth and I gambled on building an addition with bathrooms. Since then, the septic line has frozen three times. What was I thinking? I wondered. My flight descended into snow flurries, I dug the car out of a snow bank, and made it home while there was still some light in the western sky. The diesel stove on the ground floor was working, but the hot water boiler in our crawl space wasn’t. The drain in the downstairs shower was backed up. The culprit seemed to be a faulty valve in the bathroom sending down a steady trickle of water. I surmised the trickle had slowly “glaciered-up” into a plug in the septic line just after it leaves the warmth of the crawl space. That’s where the line plugged before. Hope is a small community where neighbors help each other. In the morning I walked a block to the historic Hope Library where Sweeney volunteers. Jim is an outdoorsman with a loud voice and strong opinions about everything. He was behind the counter with Dorinda and yelled when I came through the door. “Pope, did you figure out your problem?” I poured a cup of coffee and sat down. “The line’s got to be frozen right after it leaves the wall,” I said. Dorinda told us her water line had frozen the week before. She has a smooth face and looks younger than her years, but she isn’t a spring chicken. Her husband’s legs won’t bend at the knees, she said, so she crawled under the house on her belly to thaw the copper line out with a hair dryer. But, the line had split and she didn’t have the right tools or know how to fix it. Two neighbors showed up unannounced to repair the line. I told her I had crawled under a trailer once at fifty below. A broken line had filled the crawl space with water. “I had to dive under the axle to get to the shutoff valve.” “At least you won’t have to put on hip boots this
21 time,” Sweeney said. Dorinda looked confused. I told her my parents had a trailer court outside of Fairbanks in the fifties and sixties. “And cabins,” Jim added. “It was before septic systems, and the trailers and cabins drained into a cesspool,” I said. The cesspool was just a log crib buried deep in gravel and silt. When it got too full at forty or fifty below, the incoming line froze and toilets backed up in the cabins and trailers. My older brother and I would put on hip boots and climb down a ladder into the cesspool with a steam hose to thaw it out. We’d find the outlet and push the steam hose in until it thawed the frozen part and sewage started spewing out.
22 “We’d climb up the ladder as fast as we could,” I said. Dorinda looked bemused. Sweeney’s face got red and he started a rant about how people had gotten soft because it hadn’t been real winter for years. He was right. Winters had been so warm I had developed amnesia about how vulnerable water and septic lines can be. I told Sweeney I needed help draining the line in the crawl space so I could access the frozen part. “It’s a two man job,” I said. “Somebody has to drain the line into a bucket and the other has to haul the bucket up the ladder.” “You know how I love crawl spaces.” I left and called Wally in Seward. He’s a small, energetic plumber who is old time Alaska. Everything is done on a handshake. I told him our diesel boiler wasn’t working, the septic line was frozen, and I needed hot water to thaw it out. He said it was raining in Seward and the roads were glare ice and would let me know when he could come. A couple hours later Sweeney showed up. We opened a trap door, climbed down a ladder, dragged two five gallon buckets over to a spot where there is a cleanout plug in the line. I slowly unscrewed the thread until sewage water trickled out. Sweeney filled the bucket and swung it around to me when it was nearly full. I dragged it over to the ladder, carried it up and out the front door and dumped it over a bank. I heard a knock and stuck my head up through the hole. It was Willy, a neighbor who plows our streets. He was turning his big yellow road grader around in our driveway, had heard our septic line was frozen, and knocked to see if he could help. I started handing buckets up to him. In thirty minutes the line was drained. I told Sweeney and Willy I had some steaks I could thaw out and invited them to dinner. Sweeney brought beer. I made a fresh pot of strong coffee because that’s all Willy drinks, even late at night. Even so, I offered him a glass of wine. Willy smiled but shook his head. “I’m on call.” “That’s what you say every time,” I laughed. It’s true. Willy operates the only wrecker in Hope, and he often gets calls in the middle of the night when someone is in the ditch. He’s a stout man with a cherubic face, and, like many old timers, loves to talk. Willy and I were both born at the end of the war. After high school, I worked my way through college as a laborer on construction jobs while he operated heavy equipment. We found common ground talking about construction. Sometimes he’ll stop his grader and lean
CIRQUE out of the cab while I roll down the window on my pickup so we can swap stories. We’re both old men, but I don’t kid myself, there is a big difference. I may still walk like a younger man, but I pace myself while Willy still works hard every day. I told Willy and Sweeney about a time the Fairbanks cesspool overflowed when it was forty-five below. It was too cold to pump it, so sewage flowed out for days. A green glacier built up between the cesspool and a slough where we hunted ducks in the fall. My older brother and I pushed a wood-fired boiler bolted to a sled through the snow to the glacier and built a fire inside. Green water laced with paper oozed out the hatch of the cesspool. As the boiler started to heat up, I pumped water from a tank to coils inside while my brother laid out a steam hose and hooked it up to a piece of lead pipe. When the steam gauge hit the red line and the fittings hissed, we started steaming holes straight down into the glacier along a line to the slough. My dad hooked up wire to dynamite and packed the holes. I told Willy and Sweeney how there was a pause after he pushed on the plunger, and then a whoompf. The ice lifted thirty feet into the air before it crashed back down into chunks big and small. It was a mess, but we had blown a ditch to the slough, and the green water trickled in that direction. We all laughed. Wally showed up at ten the next morning. He put on kneepads and a headlamp, and disappeared down the ladder into the crawl space. The circuit board on the boiler had failed, so he replaced it and was done in an hour. I called Sweeney, but there was no answer. It was a sparkling sunny day, cold and dry. I assumed he had gone skiing in Turnagain Pass. The boiler has a valve I could tap into for hot water, but I needed help fabricating a hose connection. I walked down a snowy path and across a foot bridge to Jim and Pam Skogstad’s log house. Jim has worked as a builder for forty years. He’ll help anyone and never gets around to charging. I told him what I needed, and he took me over to his enormous shop heated by a barrel stove. I mentioned Sweeney was AWOL skiing. He offered to drop everything and come over. I’ve seen him grimace when he’s on his knees. “I’m trying not to get you involved in the crawl space,” I said. We fabricated a hose connection to a flexible plastic half-inch water line I could shove down the septic line. I tried to pay Jim for the parts at least, but he waived me off. That night I took a bottle of wine over to his house
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 and shared a glass with him and Pam. Sweeney called the next morning. Sure enough, he had been skiing, and he hadn’t gotten home to his cabin until late. We met at the only coffee shop open during winter. He was there with a young couple who live in a small dry cabin. “Pope’s dealing with a frozen septic,” he said. I thought they’d probably never heard of cesspools, so I told a story about letting a cabin freeze up at fifty below. I just couldn’t bring myself to check it. The water line to the toilet split and kept spraying for days. “A column of ice built up, ripped the toilet off the floor; shoved it clear up to the ceiling.” We all laughed. Sweeney and I finished our coffee and headed for the crawl space. We hooked up the hot water hose to the boiler, fed the plastic pipe down the septic line until it stopped, and turned on the valve. The ice plug was thawed in ten minutes. We left the hose connections there for the next time. The whole experience triggered memories, but it also got me to thinking. Why do men joke about things that aren’t really funny? Once, at my Aunt Pat’s 90th birthday party, my older brother and I told the adult son of a cousin about being down in the cesspool in hip boots. We laughed and snorted while he looked at us sideways and shook his head. But, there was nothing funny about it at the time. Every time it stunk so bad I had to hold the crook of my elbow over my nose. Sweeney says I’m marked by my days in the cesspool. Maybe he’s right. When people say life must have been really different on the frontier, I say be careful romanticizing it. Beth says my childhood was like a black comedy, and maybe she’s right too.
Road Trippin’ I wake up in the morning and let the dogs out, to be greeted by a bright moon spilling a pool of light in a single spot between a few leafless birches. Incandescent, mysterious. Beautiful. Despite the early iciness, I pause, feeling the glow, before going about the morning rush. We leave the house as pink tinges the mountains in the distance and tops the trees. It’s a day trip today, 150 miles one way to take my daughter to see a specialist who’s been following her for twelve years. The way is familiar, as is the terrain. And yet, it’s not. At every turn in the road, every rise and fall, my heart lifts and my breath catches. How is it that I have been blessed to live surrounded by such magnificence? What an indescribable gift to be able to see, once again, the same mountains, the same rivers, that are never the same, always changing, a million, myriad ways of being. The light on them varies from minute to minute, illuminating a new texture, casting a new glow, revealing hues I’ve never seen this particular way before. I stop to take pictures, but there is never enough time, never enough places to stop, and the pictures never capture the breathtaking beauty saturating the landscape. I take deep breaths of the cold air, shivering in the wind; today’s wind chill is about ten below zero. Parts of the biggest river are thawed; a group of swans, royal birds, hold court in its current. My daughter, teenager that she is, soon tires of my cries of “Oh my gosh! Look at that! Look how pretty it is!” She asks me to turn the music up, and I gladly oblige, after commenting that she won’t know what to do when she’s all grown up and on road trips without me singing to her at unreasonable decibels. Our soundtrack for today is a combination of a hard rock station (Iron Man is one of her favorite songs), a Christian pop CD (it’s weathered many trips up and down this road), and a Rascal Flatts CD her big sister left in the car and I have since claimed. Unfortunately, her plan didn’t work; now I’m yelling over the music, “That’s gorgeous! Look, look!” (At this point in her life, I figure I’ve earned some paybacks for cleaning up middle of the night ick, early morning wake-ups, and pretty much anything coming up in the teenage years, so her eye rolls and glares bounce off my cheery armor.) We’ve made this trip at least forty times, so she knows there’s no hope for a reprieve. And judging from her older siblings, road trips with music blasted and stops for pictures becomes a kind of inherited,
favorite bonding time activity. I take another few pictures, marveling at how each moment, each trip, each landmark is so different, yet so much the same. I recognize this particular mountain, remember I took a photo of it on the last road trip, and ponder how it contrasts with that time. I never get over how impossible it is to capture every shift in the beauty that is in this world. What infinite creativity God has! The light changes, the view changes. Other valleys, more crags become visible. It occurs to me that the mountains and rivers are a lot like people. They can never be fully known. Forces of nature, weather, they alter the landscape over time. The light can only reveal so much at any given moment. So too for me. There are depths and valleys to my soul that others don’t see, shadows and pain they don’t know about, peaks and beauties not yet explored. My hopes and fears and prayers and desires are only completely understood by God, and he’s not gossiping. The thought stays with me as we park and I am caught anew with the realization of how much my daughter has grown since the last time we were here. Not just physically, but in maturity, in her interests, and her interactions. Who she is becoming is an enigma, a mystery that I am eager to get to know. Yet, as much as I love her, I can never fully know her either. For today, the specialist chats for a few minutes, does his exam, checks his notes. Then he gives us another gift: We don’t have to come back for a year. We’ve been hoping and thinking this would happen soon, but it takes a few minutes to really sink in. What great news this is! My daughter and I celebrate by browsing the hospital gift shop and having lunch in the cafeteria. Go to a secondhand store to buy her some much-needed pants and a second-hand book store to get her some drawing books. Then we start the trek home, music playing as she reads her new books, with me annoyingly pointing out more vistas along the way. The timing is perfect – as we pull into our town, the sky is once again pink, the distant mountains are purplish, and we are laughing. Life is good.
Tern Lake - Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Zen Rules the Road The goal of our eleven-member commune was simple. Redefine life. We had cheap rent in a stately old mansion on Philadelphia’s fashionable Main Line. It awaited demolition, just like our former lives. It was to become an upscale apartment building. We desperately needed to transform into something other than our parents, but had not a clue of who to become. We were halfway between the homes of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, the boxing legends of the day. We knew that life would not always be this easy. But we were center ring, relaxed and ready for the next punch. We kept our communal money in a cookie jar in the kitchen. Take some out when you need it. Put some in when you have it. Herb had recently picked up a roughedged hitchhiker who crashed with us for a while. Had he noticed anyone taking the money? Would he help himself? The cookie jar became a focal point of trust. How much did I trust? Sheldon’s freak flag flapped proudly behind him as we headed toward the Pennsylvania Turnpike in his brown ’66 Plymouth on what I didn’t know was a trip to discover a new way of living. His waist length ponytail had survived an epic battle with the rules at Temple Medical School. My well-worn Woodstock tee shirt had faded from yellow to gray. I was brimming with confidence and transformation; felt remade by the commune. But I was only five miles from my parent’s house and my zip code had hardly changed. The Apollo XI moon landing, two years earlier, implored us to think big and Woodstock put a exclamation point behind that. The highway was pulling me like gravity. A month earlier, I had nudged my girlfriend, Bernadette, to hitch alone across Canada. I felt that she needed to find herself and somehow didn’t realize that I needed the same thing. Sheldon’s car stopped at the Valley Forge entrance. I pulled out my backpack. A voice came from the direction of the highway. I looked up. A guy was yelling to me from a red, late model Ford pickup that had pulled over. “Need a ride?” “Yeah, where you going?” “Just out for a ride; I can go either north or west.”
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 “I’m heading north, is that okay?” “Sure.” I said goodbye to Sheldon, who rolled his eyes at my good luck. He said, “Figures!” I threw my backpack into the flatbed and was off. The turnpike entrance branched west towards Ohio or north towards New York. I planned to head toward Canada, and then to the west coast for what I thought was a summer vacation. I learned a very important lesson on this first ride. Listen to my inner Zen teacher of hitchhiking. I quickly realized that I was sitting next to an unusual dude. He was looking for a hitchhiker to have someone to talk to. I know that barbers, massage therapists, bartenders… are de facto therapists. Add hitchhikers to the list. Zen Rule Number One: Do not think of yourself, grasshopper. Be receptive. Do not judge. We are all struggling souls. Accept gifts and learn. Besides, I needed to get to Canada. Everything about him said that he didn’t have any close friends. My survival instincts were on alert. Luckily, I had a fair amount of practice hitching near Philly and the summer before around Europe. Yet, this guy seemed stranger than many of the oddballs that had picked me up. Do not seem concerned, grasshopper. Troubled souls will be your friend, if you will be theirs. Zen rule number one must never be broken. Don’t ever look at your ride like he’s crazy, is how I translated that. Walt was in his early thirties and a bit pudgy. His protruding gut accentuated the store bought clothes that had a hippie style. This was the sure sign of a wannabe. The pickup cab smelled of patchouli oil and I noticed an alligator roach clip on the dashboard. I had Walt pretty well sized up before anything was said. He mentioned that he was having problems with his wife as he passed me a joint. Zen Rule Number Two: Keep your wits. If you embark on herbal journeys, do not overdo. Always have clear thought. Your survival and needs must always come first. And, I needed to get to Canada. The longer I talked, the farther we got. Gas cost about thirty-five cents a gallon. I was a lot cheaper than a therapist and became a sympathetic ear for his laundry list of problems with his wife. Then, I was cautiously honest with him.
Way of Tao
“I don’t think that you’ll stay married too long if you keep cheating on her.” I had a feeling that he might not like that perspective, and it was then that my luck ran out. He decided to turn around and head back to Philly. Zen Rule Number Three: Honesty is always the best policy. It just might not seem that way at the time. I was on the side of the road north of Allentown. Another ride took me to upstate New York. I was dropped off in a picture postcard setting of verdant fields, bellowing cows, and a mosaic of scattered farmhouses. There was one minor problem. It was starting to get dark, hours before sunset. A cooling wind soon got my attention. Suddenly, I was in one of the most ridiculous rainstorms ever. It came down so hard that it hurt. Cars were stopping because the drivers couldn’t see. I could barely discern a distant farmhouse through the gray torrents. Getting there took on Brigadoon proportions. I didn’t think that I could make it. Zen Rule Number Four: The universe may test your resolve. There is always an answer. Sometimes, it is right in front of you.
CIRQUE this day and realized that the hitchhiking gods may have been testing my mettle that first day. What if I had gotten discouraged and turned around? I had $200. Just a fraction of that would have caught me a bus ride back to Philly. Those thoughts never occurred to me. From the look on his face, I could see that he thought hippies were from Mars. I’d seen that look many times. My strategy had always been the same. Ignore it. Zen Rule Number Seven: Every challenge has a reward.
Windy Water Tree Tile
I decided to knock on the windows of the stopped cars. The first one was a blue Volkswagen bug with a young Japanese couple. The back seat looked empty. I felt good about my chances. When I knocked on the window, they pointed to the back seat where a baby was sleeping on a blanket. I walked to the next car. It was a travelling salesman in a late model brown Chrysler. He wore a grey suit with a blue tie that seemed tight and uncomfortable. He had neat, color coded shirts and suits on a wooden bar strung across the back seat. But the front passenger seat was empty. Zen Rule Number Five: Release expectations. Be clear about what you want, but don’t be needy. Well, maybe I cheated a little on that one and had some pleading in my eyes. It felt like I was in a hurricane with no rain gear. I had a fleeting thought about setting up my new, unused tent, which would have been a disaster. Zen Rule Number Six: Ignorance is bliss (for a while). Luckily, I didn’t discover that my tent was worthless in the rain until much later in the trip. I waved to him and he lowered his window just enough to talk. “Any chance you could take me in?” It wasn’t until recently that I looked back to
I pretended to not notice his expression, which was akin to how he might have looked after stepping in dog poop. “What are you doing here?” he said. I knew that he was buying time to figure out how to say no to me. I smiled and said, “I’m hitching to Canada and got dropped off here. I just need to get to the nearest town.” I guess he couldn’t figure out how to say no, plus he lived in that town. He wouldn’t be stuck with me for too long. He got drenched opening the trunk for my backpack. After he mumbled something about the weather, I gave him a crash course in being cheery under difficult conditions. It was a hard sell. I noticed him eying my muddy tennis shoes on his meticulous floor mat. During the short ride, he told me a little about his linear life. He had just a hint of jealousy at my freedom, but this was easily negated by my sorry state. His world did not include casting your fate to the wind. But it did include a waiting, home cooked, meal. I envisioned myself being there. Then my fantasy went on to a shower and a warm bed. No such luck. But, the hitching gods were kind. He took me to a homeless shelter in the clean and well-lit basement of a church. There were about fifteen cots set up in a big empty space. Nearby was a kitchen with a large table and chairs next to it. I was too late for dinner, but they still had some food. Someone warmed up a plate for me. I realized that I hadn’t eaten all day as I wolfed it down. The director came over while I was eating and told me that he knew someone who was driving to Canada the next day and had arranged a ride. The snoring in the room that night hardly bothered me, and after a great sleep and breakfast, I was on my way to Canada. It was a warm sunny day. We crossed a bridge at Niagara Falls. There was a tollbooth with a sign that said Ten Cents.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Zen Rule Number Eight: Be generous of heart.
Okay, I realize that ten cents doesn’t sound like a lot. But it was a good feeling to contribute something. “I’ve got ten cents!” I said, realizing that was the first ten cents that I had spent on the trip. We drove across the bridge, which had a sign saying Welcome to Canada. My general destination was Vancouver, B.C. Along the way, I would spend ten days camping in Banff National Park. Each evening, the provincial government provided a huge pot of soup for the travelers that had popped up like mushrooms. This spot was a magical respite from the road. I was prepared, having bought my pack, tent, and sleeping bag in downtown Philly just before the trip. I had been slowly figuring out how to pitch my tent along the way. The weather had been in my favor and I still had no clue that it was worthless in the rain. In the nearby town of Banff, I bought secondhand felt cowboy boots lined with fake fur. I was preparing to climb Mount Norquay. It loomed ahead at over eight thousand feet. I had rarely seen, and never climbed any mountains. I had no idea what I was doing. Zen Rule Number Nine: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. In this case in the teacher was a ragtag crew of other wanderers that may have climbed a mountain or two. No one had proper equipment. Fifteen of us exuberantly made the top. I looked at the mountains and lakes around me and had the sensation that gravity might forget about me and that I would float away. I felt like a giant that could bound miles at a time. I had to fight this feeling as I climbed down a sharp rocky ridge. To me, mountains had only existed in paintings and photographs. Huge, racing cumulus clouds were just over my head. My perspective was somehow shifting as sepia imbued sunset clouds raced by, as if they could transport me to the land I sought.
figured out the route down the mountain by sense of feel. They stood below us and physically put our feet in cracks of the rocks. When we got to where they were, we did the same for those behind us. We couldn’t see far enough to be scared. All we could do was take a step at a time. Just like our lives. A few days later, after tackling a second mountain, I looked at someone’s map. Zen rule Number Eleven: Set goals but keep your peripheral vision. I noticed that Alaska didn’t seem that far away. Leaving Banff, I got a ride to where the nearby highway split in two, just like the Pennsylvania turnpike had earlier in the trip. The larger and busier branch headed west to Vancouver. The smaller road went north to The Yukon and Alaska. I stood on the highway with a cardboard sign that said Vancouver in large letters. Below that in much smaller and less distinct letters, almost like an afterthought, it said or Alaska. A guy pulled over in a black panel truck that looked like a turtle, with a homemade upper camping area. He jumped out and yelled to me in a strong Tennessee accent, “Hey, you got yourself a ride to Fairbanks!”
Zen Rule Number Twelve: Never look back.
Zen Rule Number Ten: Sometimes outside influences are needed to help us find the answers within. My linear mind was starting to realize that all answers were not hidden within me in an accessible way. Sometimes they need to be plucked from a nearby tree before I realize that the same tree is inside me. Soon it was pitch black. Our leaders must have
High and Dry
Dirk HR Spennemann
Green Man Hanging on my bedroom wall is a small ceramic mask, which depicts a pale and sober man with pursed lips and small, dark eyes that are both piercing and sad. A trace of gray around one puffy eye suggests tears have fallen. Especially striking is the green bushy hair that surrounds the ashen face, formed by spruce branches that sprout from the man’s head, nose, and mouth. The wall decoration immediately grabbed my attention when I first noticed it years ago while browsing through an art gallery in the coastal town of Seward. Taking a closer look, I experienced an Ah-hah moment of recognition. A glance at the back of the mask helped to explain why. Alaskan artist Lynn Marie Naden identified the figure as Spruceman. On a card that accompanied the mask, she commented, “Spruceman is my own tribute to the spruce trees that surround my studio, most of which are dead and dying from the spruce bark beetle. I sculpted this mask as I watched an 80 acre parcel come down just east of me in less than two weeks, only a few old birch trees were left. I realize we are living through a cycle of forest, is it a natural progression or are we as a species encouraging the demise of these noble trees and its habitat.” Naden’s words stirred sorrowful memories. Years earlier, I had witnessed the death of many large spruce trees in my Anchorage yard during a beetle infestation that swept across Southcentral Alaska. But even more powerful for me—and hopeful, in a way—was the manner this Homer artist had chosen to honor her neighboring trees and commemorate their death: with a local, contemporary version of the Green Man, a centuries-old archetype whose origins predate Christianity. When I happened upon Naden’s Spruceman, I also happened to be immersed in an informal study of the nature deity who’s intimately associated with wild forests and, more generally, all plant life. Though dimly aware of the Green Man for years, in the early 2000s I’d finally begun to explore his roots and nature, spurred by a desire to better understand notions of wildness and my own, inner wild nature. Over the course of several months, I delved deeply into the characteristics and origins of the Green Man and his connections to another mythic being who’d burst into my life in the early 1990s: the Wild
Man, revealed to modern Americans by Robert Bly, in his best-selling book Iron John: A Book About Men. I suppose it’s more accurate to say that Bly popularized the Wild Man, since that ancient figure has always been known to some, even when he’s lurked deep in the shadows of mainstream U.S. culture. My desire to know more about the Green Man faded for a while, as my life moved in other directions. But recently our connection has been resurrected, and I’ve renewed my quest to know more about his mythic nature and his role in societies around the world and across time, including—and perhaps especially—our nation’s contemporary culture. *** In learning about the Wild Man and Green Man, I’ve also come to better understand what’s meant by an archetype, especially used in a mythological and psychological sense. It seemed no simple coincidence when, roaming the aisles of a favorite local bookstore, I found William Anderson’s Green Man: The Archetype of our Oneness with the Earth. (Like Bly’s Iron John, Green Man had been published in 1990, but more than a decade would pass before it caught my attention.) As Anderson explains it, “An archetype can be thought of according to the older use of the term as one of the eternal ideas of Platonic and NeoPlatonic philosophy and therefore as an ever-living, vital and conscious force, or in the sense in which Jung made use of it as an image of the Collective Unconscious of humanity.” In both worldviews, archetypes appear at different times and cultures because they are “part of the permanent possession of mankind.” One might say such figures are deeply imbedded in—take your pick—our human genes, our psyche, our spirit. Anderson further notes, “It is a sign of archetypal power in an image that it should be capable of transference from one culture to another, from one set of beliefs to a fresh paradigm of faith. This means it expresses something permanent in the human soul, however much one age may lay different stresses on it from a preceding time.” So it is with both the Wild Man and Green Man. Archetypal figures who symbolize our species’ connections to the Earth and wild nature, their stories have been told for thousands of years, in societies scattered across much of the world. They appear, vanish, and reappear, taking on different forms and meanings that reflect the beliefs and
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 customs of a particular time and place. Or, put another way, it’s as if these wild mythic beings fall asleep awhile, then awaken in a transformed state. A question naturally arises: why is the figure male? For the purposes of this essay, suffice it to say that both the Wild Man and Green Man have their feminine counterparts, though examples of Green Women are rare. Anderson emphasizes that the Green Man “could not exist without the feminine principle any more than mortal men can exist without mortal women.” In this case, the Wild Man/Green Man is closely connected to another archetype, the Great Mother or Great Goddess. Alternately life enriching, terrifying, or vengeful, her various forms represent the feminine aspect of the Earth. She is the Mother of All Things, who both gives life and takes it back. Another question to ponder: just how are the Wild Man and Green Man related? The simplest and shortest answer: they are different aspects of the same spirit, the same Earth energy. The Green Man is part human, part plant. In art, he’s most often pictured as a leafy head; often he’s disgorging leaves or vines that wrap around his face and head. As an image of renewal and rebirth and irrepressible life, the Green Man “symbolizes the union of humanity and the vegetable world,” Anderson says. “He knows and utters the secret laws of Nature.” Author and teacher John Matthews adds another interpretation: the Green Man is nature’s spirit, Being itself, overflowing with both physical and spiritual abundance. The Wild Man, too, is sometimes clothed in leaves. Other times, as in the Iron John myth, he’s a “hairy man,” his body and head cloaked in long, dark hair that may have a rustiness to it. This is the Wild Man I first came to know and the one with whom I’m most familiar; the one who connects us humans with both the larger animal kingdom and our animal selves. Because I’ve previously written at considerable length about the Wild Man, here I’ll focus on the Green Man and what I’ve learned about him—and why I believe he has now regained my attention after several years of largely lying dormant in my consciousness. In exploring the nature and history of this mythic figure, I will lean heavily on the research done by Anderson and also Matthews, author of The Quest for the Green Man. One final note seems essential before I more closely examine Green Man’s roots and evolution: Our culture tends to define myth as a “made up” story, something fictional or false. Yet for most of our species’ history—and from what we can tell, our pre-history—
myths have been viewed as ways of explaining human nature, our relationships with the larger world, and the origins of our species and the cosmos. Or as Robert Michael Pyle, a favorite author of mine, has put it, “a myth is simply a system of belief.” *** Not only is the Green Man pre-Christian, his story appears to be one of the oldest in the world. There’s evidence he first appeared in prehistoric times, which makes sense, since humans were then most intimately connected to the wider world and their own wild nature. Across the millennia, he has appeared, disappeared and then reappeared many times over; appropriate behavior, I’d say, for a symbol of renewal and rebirth. While people around the world have recognized deities or spirits associated with the plant kingdom, the Green Man as he’s generally pictured in the U.S. today comes to us from Europe and the Mediterranean basin. In visual portrayals, he is most often shown as a male “foliate head” with recognizable humanoid features—eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks, forehead—intermingled with the parts of plants, usually leaves but also branches or vines. Sometimes he has a playful or mischievous expression, but more frequently he appears stoic or mournful or angry. The Green Man is closely aligned with several other archetypal images, most notably the Great Goddess, the serpent or dragon, and the sacred tree. According to Anderson, the Green Man is “the son, the lover, and the guardian of the Great Goddess.” When one of the two appears in history, the other is apt to be present. The snake, meanwhile, is likely the earliest, most primal, image of rebirth, given its ability to shed its skin and replace it with another. Adorned with wings, the snake becomes the dragon. And then there’s the tree connection. Nearly every culture has some form of sacred tree. Symbol of life’s mysteries, it’s found in the myths of Oceania, the Americas, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East. It’s also central to three of the world’s great religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and stories about the Garden of Eden. The tree’s ties to the Green Man are apparent in his leafy visage and Anderson suggests that the leaves often flowing from his mouth are “an answering song or incantation in which the spirits of trees speak to man. There are many myths and stories of trees that sing and speak. The very thought of a speaking tree implies an
intelligence or spirit occupying or dwelling in the tree.” This close link of the Green Man to the sacred tree therefore makes him, too, a guardian or revealer of mysteries. In their earliest forms, Green Man’s forefathers likely arose from the spiritual intuitions of tribal peoples who roamed Europe’s once-vast woodlands. To them he was a spirit of the woods, a messenger of nature and symbol of the mysteries inherent in the plant kingdom’s annual cycles. From hazy prehistoric beginnings, the Green Man and his beloved, the Great Goddess, evolved into gods and goddesses more recognizable to us moderns, many associated with agricultural societies: Aphrodite and Adonis, Isis and Osiris, Cybele and Attis, Dionysus, Bacchus, Cernunnos, al-Khidir .
When depicted in statues or paintings, a number of those deities were shown in green; and al-Khidir literally means “the Green One” in Arabic. The importance of the gods’ green nature can’t be overemphasized. As Matthews explains, “Green is experienced as the color of life itself. . . . It is the color of rebirth and resurrection.” In a similar manner, virtually all their stories involve some sort of metamorphosis, symbolic of nature’s ever-changing forms, of death and resurrection. In the artwork of this nature-god era, the earliest Green Man motifs merged human and plant. The two appeared entwined, just as humans and their gods were inseparable from nature. I’ll mention here that several of these deities have also been linked to the Wild Man figure, further illustrating how the mysteries of plant, animal, and human are intimately interwoven. The Green Man’s nature was itself transformed by what Anderson calls “the greatest psychic revolution in the history of our [Western] culture”: the victory of Christianity over paganism. Instead of worshipping or revering the wild Earth, followers of this new religion became increasingly estranged from it. The gods and goddesses of nature were replaced by an ethereal, heavenly Father whose kingdom was raised above, and separate from, sinful humanity and earthly temptations. In their hostility toward nature gods and pagan worship, Christians cut down many of the ancient tree groves once held as sacred. In the process, you might say they also chased the Green Man into the forest’s darkest shadows. He didn’t entirely disappear. But where he survived, his features gradually changed, reflecting new attitudes toward wild nature. In his earliest masklike images, human and plant features were essentially one. But now the Green Man’s human face is more separate from the vegetation and he’s often pictured disgorging or devouring leaves and branches. The changed image reveals a critical shift: not only had humans grown apart from nature, they increasingly believed it their duty to master it. After sinking into obscurity for a time— no surprise, given Christianity’s newly
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 dominant influence—the Green Man returned in what Anderson calls “a damburst of imagery” during Europe’s late Romanesque and Gothic periods, approximately the eleventh through sixteenth centuries. Perhaps nowhere is the Green Man’s renewed prominence—and his adoption by Christianity—more evident than at the Chartres Cathedral in France. Here he appears in three different forms: as leaf mask; disgorger of vegetation; and, in his newest incarnation, the fruit of plant life. What’s especially noticeable about the Chartres images, Anderson notes, is “the new feeling in their faces. In their portrayals of the Green Man as a benign and beaming image, they expressed a new attitude to Nature . . . the kindly ally of man.” Another symbol of the Green Man’s resurrection was Robin Hood, whose heroics were recounted in popular Medieval ballads. A legendary champion of the common folk, he fought injustices from his refuge in the forest. He also presided over May Day festivities, known for a time as Robin Hood’s Games. Centered around the May Pole—traceable to the ancient sacred tree—such revels presented opportunities for people to feast, make love, get drunk, dance, play games, and otherwise be rowdy. In short, they celebrated life while offering opportunities for ritualized wildness. What I find especially striking is how differently the mythic figures of Green Man and Wild Man were perceived—and treated—during the Middle Ages. While the Green Man was broadly celebrated, the Wild Man of Medieval Europe was condemned by the church, particularly his passionate impulsiveness, spontaneous outbursts, and unrepressed sexuality. An unrepentant sinner, paganism’s hairy man would no longer be tolerated. In literature, woodcuts, paintings, and folk pageants, the Wild Man was increasingly portrayed as a threat or an outcast. Covered in shaggy hair, his various forms were rejected as deeply stupid, primitive brutes who lived outside civilized society, symbolically banished to the deep wilderness. I think this has to do with their respective natures: the beastly Wild Man is inherently a more threatening creature. And perhaps less malleable. Christianity’s leaders couldn’t as easily adapt—or convert—the Wild Man to their own ethereal purposes. He, more than the Green Man, clung tenaciously to his earthy, pagan roots. The Green Man’s role in European culture shifted again during the Reformation. Though still popular in artwork and architecture, he moved from the sacred to the secular. Instead of cathedrals, his image appeared
on chimneypieces, tombs, gateways, weapons, and embroideries. At the same time, many protestant leaders sought to end the wanton May Day celebrations. In places they were banned, but here and there they persisted. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Green Man had largely vanished from Western art and architecture, an exception being gardens. Beyond changing artistic tastes, this likely reflected the influence of rational-scientific attitudes and the Industrial Revolution. Yet once more the Green Man shows his adaptability, by resurfacing in May Day celebrations as a leaf-covered character variously called Green Jack, Jackin-the-Green, and John Barleycorn. Different forms of those festivals have persisted into the present, as have legends of the Green Man, most notably Robin Hood. And those who look closely can still find foliate heads scattered through Europe. And even in the U.S. *** Indigenous peoples scattered across North America have long recognized the existence of large, two-footed, hair- or fur-covered creatures who resemble humans but behave in many ways like wild animals and sometimes have supernatural abilities. Called by many names—including “Hairy Man”—these furred anthropoids roam forests and mountains across much of the United States, including Alaska. There are also more westernized, mainstream versions of these indigenous figures: the giant, shaggy primates popularly known as Bigfoot and Sasquatch. To my mind, all bear a strong resemblance to the mythic Wild Man (and Wild Woman), who’s been recognized—and either celebrated or vilified—in cultures scattered around the world for thousands of years. Yet from what I’ve been able to learn, North America’s first peoples—at least those inhabiting the continental United States and Alaska—have no widespread and long-lived equivalent of the Green Man. That’s not to say small groups or local communities haven’t recognized such beings; I simply have been unable to find evidence of an archetypal Green Man presence among Native Americans. Or perhaps he’s remained deep in the shadows, hidden from a larger cultural awareness. Despite the apparent dearth of “home grown” Green Man figures with roots in America’s wild forests, plains, deserts, and tundra, this archetypal being has become an integral part of our nation’s contemporary
32 culture and is arguably more prominent than his furred relative, the Wild Man, at least in some circles. One substantial measure of the Green Man’s current popularity, in the United States as well as Europe, is his widespread presence on the worldwide web. My recent Internet search of “Green Man” turned up more than 800 million references. Many have no connection to the legendary character but lots do, including websites, books, and opportunities to buy Green Man statues, antique collectibles, and T-shirts. How American is that, to turn a mythic presence into pop art or apply his name to a brewery? Another sign of the Green Man’s resurgence are festivals being staged with his name. The grandest and best known of those celebrations occurs in Wales, and is simply known as “Green Man.” But a few have also sprung up in the U.S. Most seem to have remote ties, if any, to the mythic figure. But the Green Man Festival in Maryland clearly connects itself to “the ancient tale of the Green Man, the ‘Spirit of the Natural World.’” The question, I suppose, is whether commercialized festivals and businesses that use the Green Man’s image to sell their products actually deepen public awareness of the mythic character and what he stands for. And, more importantly, whether they get people to think more seriously about their own relationship with wild nature and then act in more Earth-friendly ways. Such questions need to be seriously considered, given our society’s regrettable habit of trivializing powerful symbols through pop culture, commerce, and the media. Just as once meaningful anthems or folk songs become advertising jingles or folk tales become Disneyfied, so archetypal figures can be transformed into cartoon figures. But there are other—and I would argue, more significant—ways that both the Green Man and Wild Man have been “remembered” by modern Americans. Or, it might be said, they’ve reappeared in our collective consciousness and influenced our behaviors. The most important of those is the environmental movement of the past half-century and what might be called “green activism” of many kinds: efforts to preserve wilderness and “save” various wild species whose existence are threatened by human activities; rewilding projects; environmental justice; expanded recycling and energy conservation; the rejuvenation of small farms and farmer’s markets and the associated “locavore” movement; and the growing grassroots and scientific push to address climate change and associated large-
CIRQUE scale crises, such as ocean acidification. It makes great sense that in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, increasingly “green” values and behaviors would be manifested in what might be called the spirit of the Green Man/Wild Man archetypes. What better time for them to be resurrected than in response to our planet’s deepening “environmental” crisis; an illness, one might say, of global proportions? And a crisis directly connected to our species’ often reckless and, I’d argue, immoral behaviors. In my more hopeful moments, I see abundant evidence nowadays of the “genuine friendliness toward the wildness in nature” that Bly describes as evidence of the Wild Man’s—and I would add Green Man’s—presence in males. Or the Wild Woman in females. I see it not only in green activism, but also in science, as manifested in deep ecology, the Gaia hypothesis, and the confluence of physics and mysticism. I note further evidence in efforts to re-link nature and spirit, displayed by revived interest in Celtic traditions, in Wiccan and Neo-pagan practices, and the increased respect for indigenous traditions, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. It’s also reflected in the teachings of people like theologian Matthew Fox, who has worked hard to revive Christianity’s mystical roots, particularly through creation spirituality, a tradition that “celebrates the original blessing of creation, which includes all beings and all things.” Finally, I would point to the mythopoetic men’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Like thousands of other American males I was drawn to its promise of new possibilities. As I’ve described in more depth elsewhere, it offered alternative images of manhood, different ways of being and acting. Its leaders also uncovered many longburied myths, including that of the Wild Man. Sadly, the mythopoetic men’s movement has largely faded away, though remnants of it remain scattered here and there, with a focus on “men’s work” of an interior, healing nature. **** So what about my own Green Man “revival”? Why, after several years of barely noticing the Spruceman on my wall, has he again grabbed my attention? Why am I drawn to re-read Anderson and Mathews and search for other Green Man references and seek to know how—or whether—this mythic being has appeared in Native American cultures? At least part of the answer is this: now in my late 60s, I’ve been reconsidering what’s most important in
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 my life. And what is “real.” What, exactly, do I believe? I sometimes describe myself as a “fallen” Christian and exgeologist who’s become a nature writer and something of a pantheistic pagan. I’m among those people who believe that if anything is sacred, then all of nature—or creation, if you will—is sacred. Even that gets tricky. What do I mean by sacred? And what is pantheism? For help in answering those questions, I turn to two women who write frequently and well about wild nature. In her book Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist, Sharman Apt Russell explains, “Pantheism is the belief that the universe, with all its existing laws and properties, is an interconnected whole that we can rightly consider sacred.” Or holy. Or, as Matthew Fox might say, blessed. And she describes paganism as the religion of anyone not specifically a Christian, Muslim, or Jew. That’s me, though I’d describe myself not as a religious person, but a spiritual one. The difference being that my belief is not tied to any organized religious institution, but is deeply personal. Kathleen Dean Moore takes a different tact; it too makes sense to me. In her essay “The Time for the Singing of Birds,” Moore suggests the idea of a “secular sacred,” then adds, “Here is what I believe: that the natural world—the stuff of our lives, the world we plod through, hardly hearing, the world we burn and poke and stuff and conquer and irradiate—that THIS WORLD (not another world on another plane) is irreplaceable, astonishing, contingent, eternal and changing, beautiful and fearsome, beyond human understanding worthy of reverence and awe, worthy of celebration and protection.” If the right word for all of that is “sacred,” Moore continues, “then so be it. Even if we don’t believe in God, we walk out the door on a sacred morning and lift our eyes to the sacred rain and are called to remember our sacred obligation of care and celebration.” In Moore and Russell’s musings, I found parallels to ideas expressed by two other people I admire. One is Loren Eiseley, an acclaimed scientist who believed in miracles and embraced mystery. In his compelling book, The Immense Journey, Eiseley confides, “I have tried to put down such miracles as can be evoked from common earth. But men see differently. I can at best report only from my own wilderness. The important thing is that each man possess such a wilderness [one might substitute wildness here] and that he consider what marvels are to be observed there.” The other is the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who offers this wisdom: “People usually
33 consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” Nhat Hanh’s quote, like the Spruceman mask, is pinned to my bedroom wall. As I write—and think— about all of this, the two seem intimately connected, just as the notions examined by the authors above are linked to the Green Man: reverence, holiness, pantheism, the secular sacred, the miraculous, the celebration and protection of our original home, the Earth. Like many others in these sorrowful, troubling times, when the Earth faces so many huge insults and losses because of our species’ egocentric and harmful behaviors, I wonder what I can do to make a difference for the larger good. The Green Man, like the Wild Man and the contemporary wisdom-keepers who’ve informed this essay, offers hope and inspiration. And direction. They remind me, again, of a belief—a truth—that’s become central to my life and work: we only value and love that which we know; and what we truly love we are most likely to protect with the sort of wholehearted passion embodied by the Green Man and his faunal counterparts, the Wild Man and Woman. Only in getting to truly know wild nature will we learn to embrace and cherish and preserve it, both within ourselves and as manifested in myriad other forms, in the larger, more-than-human world. Such a full embrace is possible, no matter how frightening, because at some deep level, we and all “the others” are part of a larger, sacred oneness. All of the world’s mystical traditions teach this. Even Christianity maintains that we are all part of the creation: people and trees and hills and butterflies and bacteria. And though it doesn’t normally use words like “sacred” or “holy,” science now confirms it too. The good news is that wildness reaches everywhere. We—I—can choose where, in what form, and in what way we get to know the wild. But we must make some effort, if we care at all about healing ourselves, healing the world, keeping things whole. In touching the Green Man, the Wild Man or Wild Woman, we learn to better love the world. And in loving the world, we embrace our own richly wild essence. This is what I’m newly reminded: to re-open to the world and my own inner knowing; and, like poet and author Gary Snyder (another of my heroes), to “keep working for wildness, day by day,” in whatever ways I’m able, big or small.
The New White Guy Selmer Jackson pointed his fillet knife at me and said, “It’s ‘cause your white, you know.” I gaped at him then said, “What?” “That’s why they all want to talk to you.” We were working across the table from each other filleting flounder and sole the way Selmer had taught me. The June days were the hottest so far that summer and even the fans and a pan of ice for the fillets were not enough to keep sweat from running down my back and starting the daily soaking of my kitchen whites. Selmer’s black hands kept working on the fish as he talked, filleting fish no larger than one of those hands. He had showed me on my first day how to slip the point of a filet knife between the thin layer of flesh and the fragile rib bones then slip the blade the length of the fish letting it ride on the ribs so the meat lifts away in one piece that is still attached at the tail. “Yeah, that’s why they’re always chewing your ear, the busboys, the cooks, the waiters. They want you on their side, to be their buddy.” “But I’m the new guy. That’s all.” Selmer laughed and tossed another flounder into the ice and picked up a red snapper. I was still working on my first. The second side of a flounder is more challenging than the first with meat and bone on the bottom separated and offering no support for the hand. With the fillets separated from the backbone, the base of the backbone is severed with the stiff base of the knife blade, leaving a pair of filets joined by the tail. “No. You’re the new ‘white’ guy. They don’t come talk to me ‘cause I’m the ol’ black guy who been here forever. Everybody want you for a friend, on their team.” That summer in Houston, Texas, I was the new white guy on the crew of a busy steakhouse, and I’d come to Texas to spend the summer with my mom before heading off to college. I’d been cooking for a couple of years even though I was only nineteen, so the steakhouse job was a good one for a kid. From Late May through August in 1972, if you ordered a steak, deep fried oysters, or broiled flounder stuffed with crabmeat at Kelley’s Steakhouse, it was pretty likely that I cooked it for you. And I was the white kid. Selmer was the chef, but called himself the head cook. He and I were the first ones there in the afternoon to cut steaks and prep fresh seafood for the dinner menu.
He was a big Astros fan, and that year, César Cedeño was lighting up the Astrodome. We would listen to afternoon games while Selmer used those massive hands to show me how to take whole fresh fish from the Gulf of Mexico and turn them into dinner. As the afternoon progressed, the Greek maître d’ would strut in and talk with Selmer about the menu across a stormy gulf that neither could or would cross. Selmer’s wife was the expediter, which meant she coordinated and organized the food orders as they came in from the dining room. She took her job seriously and interpreted it to mean that she ran the kitchen when really she was just there to organize the orders and be a buffer between the front and back of the house. Her husband had a way of looking past her and didn’t seem to hear when she talked down to the Mexican dishwashers and sauté cooks. “They are lazy and they steal, but I guess we’re stuck with them,” she said one day when she had cornered me in the cooler during my first week. “If I were you, I stay away from them.” “Who?” I asked. “The spicks,” she said. “Now they’re good dishwashers if you keep an eye on ‘em, but god knows who thought you could ever make cooks of them.” I pursed my lips and nodded. “I’m just here to cook steaks.” That moment in the cooler, I realized that this Alaskan homestead kid was a long way from home. I was working in a milieu that was as unfamiliar as the fish I was learning to fillet, cook, and plate. It was as hot and unfamiliar as the alley I worked in between the heat lamps and steam table, grill broiler and deep fryer in Houston, Texas where the summer humidity often meets or exceeds the temperature. And I was the White Guy. I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t. I wanted to be just another guy cooking steaks and frying oysters. I was trimming a tenderloin to cut in to steaks when the Greek maître d’ came in the kitchen to chat me up. “So, Daniel,” he asked, “How is your mother, that lovely lady? You must have her come in for dinner.” He liked to shake my hand and squeeze my shoulder with the other hand, smiling warmly as he talked and acted like Selmer was not even there. I was starting to realize that Selmer was right. I was the new White Guy. And the Greek saw me as an equal. He ignored or talked down to everyone in the place. He was only civil with the one waiter who I think was Israeli and the only other man on the crew that looked white to me; apparently I was the only one who
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 felt that way, for most often this fellow moved through his day at the restaurant like the shadows created by the sun in a room. His job peers, the two waitresses, wanted nothing to do with him. They acted like being a waiter was really not an option and was more to them just a “head busboy” and not a server like they were. The poor waiter had to work with, around, and in spite of a pair of ageless waitresses with bleach blonde hair, cake makeup, and that “sweety,” “honey,” “goddammit” vocabulary that made them seem more like aging Barbie dolls than anything else. I never figured out if they felt threatened by a man moving in on female turf, or they distained a man who couldn’t do better than being a waiter. In other words, here was a man that wasn’t any better than they were, and they were middle-aged women in 1970s Texas. When I came to Texas, I didn’t have much experience with bigotry even though I grew up with it. My relationship with bigotry was like my relationship with fish. I knew how to filet a salmon or gut a trout, and I could slickly remove the massive slabs of meat from a fifty-pound halibut, but hand me a flounder, red snapper, or catfish and I didn’t know where to start. I grew up with bigotry like I did salmon. Most of my family didn’t like black people, and many of my high school friends made fun of the Alaska Natives, unless they were clever and attractive enough to make us colorblind. East Anchorage High had hundreds of black students and though I got along well with many of my black classmates we didn’t hang together except in sports. Even then it was clear to me that a large number of the black students wanted nothing to do with white people. Here in this Texas steakhouse, I was having a whole different experience. I was stuck in the middle of the United Nations of food service, feeling most days that Selmer and I were the only ones without an ethnic ax to grind. The maître d’ looked down on everyone in the front of the house, deigning only to make small talk with me, and, of course, the owner when he made a rare appearance. The waiter disparaged the two immigrant busboys from Lebanon who skulked around the dining room trying to be invisible, seeing I’m sure, no way to rise against the foot held on their neck by those above them. The waitresses complained of the boys’ lack of good English and the waiter ridiculed their intellect, a burden of their origin, according to him. The Mexican dishwasher and his amigos, the grill cook and pantry man, worked at the bottom of the kitchen pecking order and suffered much the same treatment as the busboys, but more vocal, from the black expediter whose tongue was loud and sharp.
35 These fellows had stiffer spines and gave as good as they got but usually in Spanish out the sides of their mouths behind the safety of the steam table. With me they were cheerful and friendly sharing the usual banter that cooks on the line do when they are grilling and plating and burning and baking in the heat ditch of the busy kitchen. This was work banter of people working in close spaces, so I had no ax to grind, and I never found myself questioning their work ethic. This innocent perspective was what Selmer was trying to clarify for me while we fileted fish. I’m sure he would much rather talk about the Astros chances of making the playoffs and César Cedeño’s run for the stolen base record. But he was taking the time to help me see where I stood. If people followed his lead, they might see what I saw, that people were making most of their own misery by hating other people. I saw the difference one day when an order of sautéed oysters that Bernardo had working ended up on the floor instead of the plate and had to be restarted. The rest of the order was already in the window and the sabre-tongued expeditor responded with a string of expletives. “It’s cool,” I said., “I’ll just replate the steaks so the veggies are fresh.” “You’d think we could get one decent order off this station!” she snarled. “Jesus Christ.” I saw it then plain as day. The day before in a similar situation, we had a big order of steaks and seafood. I lost track and left a stuffed flounder in the broiler too long and it came out charred beyond serving. “Sorry!” I said, “I gotta run this again.” The spider lady smiled and waved her hand. “That’s all right baby! You just get it out fast for me.” And that was that. She wasn’t going to talk to me the way she would Bernardo, whether she felt the same or not. The white guy got treated differently just because he was. I never had the experience before, or maybe I never recognized that being the white guy made people change their behavior. I don’t know if that was the most striking discovery of my summer for I also was realizing that that bigotry was not a white privilege, but was shared with all peoples. Blacks could hate Latinos and vice versa, Greeks could distain the Lebanese and any other familiar but different people. This curious mix of peoples and cultures was educating me in a way that college never could. Kelley’s Steakhouse did have one other white person, a pretty, twenty-one-year-old hostess who stood aloof from all of us, spending her time and conversation on the customers like she was more one of them than one
36 of us. And maybe she was. That was her job, to dress like and befriend the guests when they came into the Steak House to eat. If a hierarchy existed in the staff of Kelley’s, the hostess stood apart. She and the maître d’ were the only ones on the staff in street clothes and the maître d’ wore his stiff black suit like a uniform, so it really didn’t count. The browbeaten Lebanese busboys would pass for average white guys, but they were too foreign for anyone to even see them much less think they were white. That’s the key. Familiar, but different people. That same year I went to college and studied Anthropology where I learned that part of cultural beliefs was something called ethnocentrism, which is what President Trump is promoting when he says, “America First!” Ethnocentrism is putting us and ours first. Our family, our group, our culture, our race is more important than any other and one way of reinforcing that is to build a belief that other groups, other peoples, other colors are weaker, dumber, lazier, crueler, and generally less than we are. One day, I was cutting steaks for dinner when Selmer pulled out a big mixing bowl, and I smelled bacon cooking. “What you got going there?” I ask. “Selmer smiled and winked. “Your Kentucky mama teach you to make biscuits?” “I’ve made a biscuit or two.” He pulled a big stainless mixing bowl off the rack and set it on the table. “Maybe you make us all some of your mama’s biscuits. Make a big batch and I’ll show you how we eat ‘em down here in East Texas.” He went off to tend to his bacon, and I finished up my steaks before tackling the biscuits. The stores in this kitchen were pretty traditional so I was able to find lard, always the preferred fat choice for traditional biscuits. I found baking powder and flour but had to ask Selmer for buttermilk. He must have planned ahead because he pulled a half-gallon carton of buttermilk out of the walk-in. I knew he was watching me, not as much critical as curious to see how this Alaska homestead kid born in southern Ohio to a Kentucky mom would make biscuits. I did the calculations in my head, converting mom’s standard recipe for biscuits into a batch big enough to make about four dozen biscuits and measured two quarts of flour into my bowl. I added salt and baking powder, whisked it up with a little air; then measured in about two cups of lard that I worked in with a pastry blender before adding three cups of buttermilk. I rarely make biscuits without remembering my mom’s story of how her mother made biscuits. She kept a hundred pound bag of flour in the kitchen and whether she was
CIRQUE making biscuits or dredging chicken, she worked right in the top of the flour sack. She just added her baking powder, salt and lard like I did then mixed in her milk. No mixing bowl needed. I was cutting biscuits with a water glass when Selmer cycled back to check on me. He laughed. “We got a biscuit cutter around here somewhere.” “This will work.” “Yeah it do. By golly, I think you know what you’re doing.” “It felt good to have Selmer’s approval, something I felt he didn’t give lightly, especially when he could have easily made the biscuits himself with his smooth competent hands big enough to swing a sledge hammer but softened by years of kitchen work. Like him I think, soft on the surface but strong below. The biscuits came out golden and tall, so I could breathe a sigh of relief like I had passed some test that only Selmer and I would care about. “Biscuits!” Selmer called into the dining room, “And then he called across the kitchen to the segregated Mexicans, “Come on! Dan’s made us biscuits.” Beside the tray of biscuits, he sat a bowl of butter and a pan of hot bacon grease. He added a dollop of butter to the grease then half a bottle of molasses. After a stir, he slid the pan across the table toward me, “Pour that over your mama’s biscuits there Dan! Or you can just dip them.” They all came from every corner of the restaurant, they put down their prep work and came to stand around Selmer’s table and eat biscuits, my biscuits, the white guy’s biscuits. They didn’t talk much except to compliment the pastries, but they came. Even the aloof maitre d’ made an appearance, and Selmer’s wife put two biscuits on a plate with a drizzle of dip and retreated to lean on the steam table and stare at the backs of the boys from Lebanon nodding and smiling with their cheeks full of food. Selmer had brought the whole squabbling crew together around the stainless worktable. Selmer and I shared a love of biscuits, the first thing I learned how to cook. My mom made sure all of her kids knew how to make biscuits as a source of family pride. I found that same selfish “us and ours” reaction when he started talking about how to make the best biscuits. No matter where I went, I never found biscuits better than I grew up with. When I watched Selmer throw the simple ingredients into the a bowl, the same ingredients I used, I realized that biscuits are biscuits and the key to good biscuits is having the touch with mixing and feel for the dough. He did add a little sugar to his biscuits, something
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we never did at home, choosing to keep them savory. Many times that summer, Selmer or I would make up a big batch of biscuits, for the crew. Pulling the pan of biscuits out of the oven and onto a waiting platter, he called, “Biscuits!” loud enough for everyone to hear, and we’d gather around the stainless steel table and eat biscuits dipped in molasses and bacon grease. I don’t think Selmer’s biscuits did much to build unity in the workplace but for a few minutes every few days, we stood in civil harmony of good food with baseball on the radio in the background. And in reality, when you took one of those flakey biscuits and dipped it still warm into a bowl of warm bacon grease and molasses you can’t help but feel good. Talk about eating America. For me it was a summer job, and by the middle of August I was gone, but for the others, Kelley’s Steakhouse was their place of work for the indefinite future, and they were anchored there. I blew in like the summer heat and left after pausing for a time in this hot pot of turmoil. I would wonder sometimes after I left how those people carried on day after day, living and working under a truce devoid of respect or tolerance. It was long time before I realized that many people reside in such a state of tension within surroundings that cannot be removed as easily changing the menu. It was such a strange thing to see and learn that
white people didn’t have a monopoly on bigotry and intolerance. I knew about bigotry. I grew up with kids and adults using words like nigger, kike, spick, greaser, clootch and salmon cruncher, but I lived in a white world where I only heard white people talking down to and about other races. It was my mom saying someone was “really nice for a black person.” It was brothers and playmates calling you a clootch or a nigger if they really wanted to hurt you. I never heard it the other way. I wasn’t very old when I started to develop my own sense of values and didn’t want to be like that, hating other people. I realized I wasn’t a bigot. If I didn’t like someone it was personal not prejudice. When I started thinking that way, it was easy to be friends with black and Native kids at school and share jokes and banter even about the racial conflict that raged around us. Even then I wasn’t safe from the tension. I remember one day offending a black girl in the cafeteria. I can’t recall the details, and I never knew the insult, but suddenly, there I was facing a tall athletic girl with a metal hair rake in her hand. “I’m going to open your face with this, white boy!” she yelled at me. Students fell in around us so I was left in the center of this ring of hate. I was scared, confused, and pissed off all at once. That makeshift weapon flashed in my face and I was desperate to be away, to be understood, to explain that I was one of the enlightened ones that I didn’t hate like they thought I did. “Wait! I’m sorry!” I said, “What’s your problem?” “You’re my problem whitey!” And then I was saved, not by reason or discourse but by a white male teacher that extricated me from the clench of anger. I have to think now how that probably just fed the anger within that girl with the vicious tongue and sharpened afro comb, having a white man save a white boy from her like that. In that kitchen in Texas where I learned to filet and broil flatfish, I began to understand the relationship between status, bigotry, and racism in a way that thirtytwo credits of anthropology never could. Just like the girl in the cafeteria, my co-workers in Texas didn’t see me for who I was. They had no reason to think that I wasn’t just another white boy. They couldn’t tell that I was an enlightened, progressive fellow with good intentions toward all people. Nor could they see that I carried my share of white guilt, ashamed of what “my people” had done or were doing and little aware of how patronizing that was. Obviously, there is little comfort in knowing that bigotry was not exclusive to white privilege, for Greeks, Blacks, and Mexicans can hate with the same fire as American white folk do.
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FICTION Susan Banks
Bitter Lonely Souls Welcome Nothing important happened in Roland. It was the kind of town that had shriveled and nearly died but for the residents who’d never known anywhere else. When the freeway skirted around it, folks stopped for fuel and a bag of Fritos, or maybe they didn’t if they had enough gas to make it to the next exit. Unremarkable before the freeway construction, afterwards, Roland slipped into depression. At least to Ford’s way of thinking. Born and raised there, he couldn’t muster the guts to leave. Sometimes, he blamed it on the death of his mother shortly after he turned 16, but on the inside he knew it was his own flawed sense of himself that kept him from leaving. Every day he thought about his mother. And every day he hated his father for keeping her in a town called Roland that eventually killed her. An unwanted pregnancy after a chance meeting with Malcom in Denver had quelled her dreams of becoming an artist. Roland smothered her spirit, and then cell by cell the cancer stole her body, gradually, until one day she faded away. “Where’s your mother?” friends would ask. “I haven’t seen your mother in a while.” Ford’s father ignored them. Ford simply said, “gone.” Soon people quit asking. And Ford and his father quit talking to one another except for occasional grunts and gestures. After his mother died, there was nothing to say. She’d been their interpreter and mediator. Now they found it tolerable not to speak. The house they lived in occupied a corner across from the BP station. Fitfully, they lived together as they had before Ford’s mother died. Ford went to school and raised himself while his father hustled odd jobs as an electrician. When Ford turned 18, he accepted a job at the BP station working nights so he wouldn’t have to see his father. Ford struck a match on the sole of his shoe and lit a cigarette, the stillness of the night broken by the rumble of a reefer truck. Across the street, the lights in his house
blinked off at his father’s usual bedtime. Ford caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror beside the bathroom door. It was eerie how much he looked like his mother but without her beauty and softness. His red hair, thick and brassy, stuck out in tufts despite the gel he massaged into it. Most of the time he wore a baseball hat to conceal it. Thin but not skinny, his eyes were gray with a slight milkiness that made him appear dull. His ruddy skin freckled and burned during the summer months if he wasn’t careful. From his father, he’d gotten his height. His short torso and long legs gave him the appearance of being taller than six foot. Now he sucked on the cigarette, ashes floating onto the counter. Then he snubbed it out and stuck the half-stick into his pack of Winstons. He’d been warned about smoking inside the station but he didn’t care enough to stop. Getting fired wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. Staying in Roland meant certain death. Ford turned toward the pumps. He watched the truck driver jump from the cab and begin fueling. When the man tipped his head, Ford nodded. He settled onto the counter next to the cash register thumbing Car & Track without reading it. Secretly, he wanted to be fired because he was too indifferent to quit. He had a bed to sleep in and spending money. On his days off, he hung out with his friends at the Buckaroo Bar over on Maple Street. His girlfriend, Lela, didn’t demand much. Sometimes he let a week go by without calling her. He wished he had talent like his mother, but look how her life turned out. Little by little it had been leeched by a town that didn’t know Manet from manure. Ford wanted another cigarette but resisted the urge to light up. When
Morning Chain IV
the truck driver rumbled north, Ford picked up his cell and dialed his father’s number. He knew he’d be asleep; he was always asleep by midnight. When he answered, Ford ended the call. Every month or so, sometimes twice a month, he called his father and woke him up. He never mentioned the calls. If he had, Ford thought, he would have stopped making them. The only time he heard his father’s voice was when he called. At dawn, Ford restocked the shelves and balanced the till. As soon as the day attendant arrived, Ford went home. His father shaved, listening to the classical station, the one his mother preferred when she painted. On the foot of his bed, his clothes were laid out in the order he put them on: socks, briefs, T-shirt, and jeans. A white handkerchief peeked out from the pocket, his belt threaded through the loops. His father’s habits were rooted long before he’d gotten married, and were as predictable as the town of Roland. County fair in the summer (it always rained but no one wanted to change the dates), the high school production of Our Town in the winter, and Mrs. Gibson’s Christmas party between Thanksgiving and Christmas (every year the guest list changed depending on who was on the outs). Ford hunched over the kitchen table and lit up. His father hated cigarettes, but he wouldn’t break the code of silence. Once when Ford got home from work, all the ashtrays had been thrown away and his carton of cigarettes crushed. Ford retaliated by unlooping his father’s belt and shoving his neat stack of clothing back into his drawers. After Ford heard his father retreat to his bedroom, he sat down at the kitchen table. He’d slept fitfully the previous day, the vivid dream of his mother dancing joyfully on a stage preoccupied him. Ford picked up a pad of paper and pencil and doodled, the first time he’d wanted to draw since his mother had died. The pressure of the pencil on the paper and the scratch, scratch, scratch, as he sketched pleased him. After his father left the house, Ford continued to sketch. When the pages were full, he tore them out and shredded them. *** After work the next morning, Ford found himself with a pencil and pad again. Every day now he doodled for hours. He ripped up most of the drawings as soon as they were finished, or he hid them under his bed inside a sketchpad that belonged to his mother. He waited until his father left for work to start sketching and worked until he couldn’t hold a pencil. Sometimes he drew at the BP
station, careful not to let cigarette ashes fall on his work. Six months later, Ford finally worked up the courage to look inside his mother’s closet. The mixture of mustiness and perfume made him sneeze. His father had left his mother’s closet untouched. In the back behind her dresses, he found her paintings wrapped in an old sheet. Ford carried the bundle into his bedroom and laid the pictures on the bed and then lined them up. He wondered where the rest of them were hidden. At the end of the hallway between the bedrooms, he positioned a ladder, peering into the attic. Leaning against the walls were the pictures coated with dust. Ford recognized the oil painting of himself when he’d been a baby, holding a stuffed bear in one hand standing in his crib. He carried it down the ladder staring at his mother’s signature, Rose Ford Julius. Ford heard the creak of the front door. Sometimes his father came home for lunch. A shadow fell over the picture. The bulk of Ford’s father filled the hallway. His face tightened making his eyes look small. He reached for the picture. “You had no right.” Ford clutched the picture to his chest. “I have every right.” His father let go and gathered up the other paintings. He carried them into his bedroom and wrapped them in the sheet before he put them back into the closet. After he shut the door, Ford hung the baby picture on the wall above his bed. When he left for work that evening, his father’s door remained closed. *** Ford’s father, Malcolm, never cried after his wife died. His tears had vaporized with her body and now he was numb. Even his feelings for his son were gone. It made him angry that he looked just like her. Why hadn’t he died instead? The pain of seeing Rose’s pictures crushed him, as sharp as the day she’d died, a searing pain, bone on nerve. The paintings were Ford’s as much as they were his, but he wasn’t ready to give them up. Now the trashcan in the kitchen overflowed with papers from a sketchpad. He retrieved a few and studied them. He could see her talent in Ford’s rough sketches, and over time, they were becoming more sophisticated. He wished he could tell his son but he had let the silence go unbroken for too long, and now he didn’t have the courage to make things right. Ford must hate him, he thought. Why else would he call him in the middle of the night? Malcolm knew Ford had to leave Roland or it would kill him, just like it did his mother. As long as things were easy, Ford would stay. Malcolm looked at his
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door. Two suitcases were lying on his bed. Ford opened his father’s closet. He unwrapped his mother’s pictures, and stared at them. Then he climbed into the attic and carried the rest of the pictures into his father’s bedroom. He found a hammer and some nails. Ford worked steadily, his palms sweaty from gripping the hammer. One by one he hung his mother’s pictures. He worked until the walls of his father’s bedroom were covered. They were arranged in groups. Oil paintings on the north wall, watercolors on the south. On the other two walls he hung portraits and family pictures. Ford was pleased with his work. He stood in the doorway studying them, rearranging a few. It didn’t take him long to pack. He took his pencils and sketchpad, and the baby picture that his mother had painted. Before he left, he opened his father’s bedroom door and stared at the pictures as if to memorize them. Silently he shut the door. Soliloque
Sheary Clough Suiter
*** sketches again and smoothed out the best one. He laid it between two pieces of cardboard and hid it inside the closet with Rose’s. *** Every morning as soon as Ford’s father left for work, he poked around in his mother’s closet. The scent of her drifted over him, warm and familiar. What was he looking for? Perhaps it wasn’t anything. Most of the time he stared at his mother’s drawings hoping to learn something about her he didn’t already know. It unnerved him that he resembled her. He wished he’d inherited her natural ability to draw instead of her complexion. Now Ford slept until ten minutes before his shift. He picked up his sketchpad and sauntered across the street. Mondays were always slow at the station. Later, he checked his cell phone. He hadn’t called his father in a while. After four rings his father picked up. “God damn it, Ford, quit calling me. I know it’s you. Son of a bitch.” Ford ended the call, shocked that his father was on to him. Christ, what had he become? A loser waking up an old man in the middle of the night. After his shift, he waited until his father left for work before he walked home. When he opened the door, his father stood in the living room. Through the window, Ford could see his truck parked in back. “I want you gone by the time I get home. Pack your bags and leave.” Ford’s mouth went slack. He took off his hat and put it on again. His father left slamming the
Malcolm wanted to be sure Ford was gone by the time he got home. He stopped at a nearby tavern to kill some time. A sign hung above the door: Bitter Lonely Souls Welcome. The plastic letters were bent and the dot was missing from the i. In the corner, Ford’s girlfriend, Lela, hunched over a bottle of beer, a snake tattoo coiled around her upper arm. After four shots of tequila, Malcolm worked up the courage to go home. The house was dark, the door to his bedroom closed. Ford’s suitcases and his baby picture were gone. He opened the door to his bedroom. For a moment he couldn’t breathe. He thought if he took a breath that he would die. He made a choking noise. Rose’s pictures covered the walls. Malcolm began to cry softly and then he howled, crumpling onto the floor. He lay there until morning, crying off and on until he fell asleep at dawn. His knees were drawn to his chest like Ford’s when he was a baby. When Malcolm woke up, he was still lying on the floor. For a moment, he couldn’t remember what had happened. Then his eyes focused, and he saw the pictures. Malcolm thought about his son. He got up slowly, working out the stiffness and searched his closet until he found the cardboard where he’d hidden Ford’s sketch, the copy of the baby picture Rose had painted. He poked a small hole through the top. Then he scanned the wall where Ford had hung the family pictures. Malcolm took down the portrait of himself and hung the sketch on the nail. His knees gave out, and he collapsed onto the bed, weeping.
Nicholas John-Francis Claro
Hotel You are just back in your underwear when she comes out of the bathroom looking like nothing happened. Her hair is done up, nice-looking, professional even, like she’s about to do a shoot for that fashion magazine you flipped through; the one someone had left in the seat pocket on your flight earlier this morning. She’s fixed her makeup. Her lashes are more pronounced, thicker, sticking up like porcupine quills. She’s redrawn her eyebrows and wears a different shade of lipstick; this one is dark purple, like the skin of a grape. Her clothes are definitely designer, something you hadn’t noticed earlier. You look her up and down and don’t find a single wrinkle on her skirt or blouse, even though they had both lain in a heap by the dresser for nearly an hour. After she opens the door to your hotel room, she throws you one of those looks over her shoulder. “See you around,” she says. She winks and gives you a wave that’s all fingernails. You turn on the shower and wait to get in until the bathroom is transformed into a Russian banya. You let the water pour over your head and down your back and you feel your skin tighten. You take a long piss. Of course it’s yellow. After your conference you had some beers at dinner, then switched to bourbon and martinis at the bars. You haven’t drunk any water since breakfast. When you’re finished, you lather up. You soap your armpits, neck, and arms, but leave your hair alone. You had it cut yesterday, so there’s no need to wash it again. Then you scrub the hell out of your dick and balls for a solid two minutes, like you still care, like you hadn’t worn a condom. But it’s not like you’re going home after this and need to take extra special care to make sure you don’t carry the faintest trace of that woman on you. So, you remind yourself you did wear a condom, and you’re not leaving tonight. Your flight isn’t until early afternoon tomorrow. So you rinse off and cut the water. You take a pair of boxer briefs out of your suitcase. You slip them on. In the chiller, on the little round table situated between two chairs near the window, is a bottle of champagne you bought from the duty free shop in the airport before you cabbed it to the hotel. You and the girl drank a good bit from little cups while making small talk just before everything went down. You were nervous, even though you’ve done this before. All
you could think of remarking on was the illuminated red lettering of the Crowne Plaza across the way, and then of the courtyard below; the one with the rows of trees and black tables with orange chairs. You overpour yourself the rest of the champagne in the last plastic cup. It cascades over the lip. When it settles, you slam it back. You toss the cup, missing the trashcan. You run a hand down your face. Then you notice your reflection in the window. Even as dim in it as you appear, you see how fucked up your hair is, like it’s been rubbed with balloons. Maybe you should’ve washed it. Your eyes are swollen from drink and your skin looks pale. For whatever the reason it’s right then you say, “My wife is a good woman.” And that’s all you say about her at these conferences whenever someone notices your ring (which you left on) or one of the older, corporatesince-birth sort of guys who have probably never married or haven’t for a while been, asks how long. Eight years, to a good woman. Always you cut it off there. Then you find an easy way to redirect the conversation back to business, politics, or some other such thing, because the last thing you want to talk about is your home life; how it started with you knocking up your girlfriend—your now wife— when she was 20 and you were 25; how, when she came to your house that night and held the test out shortly after the two of you started talking, you knew there was no point in taking it from her steady, indefatigable hand. Same night, you tried to talk her out of it, you did, but she stood her ground, wouldn’t give an inch. So you did what you thought was the right thing to do. The two of you went to the courthouse that week. She brought her friend, as witness. Next, you moved her into your place and moved your foosball table and kegerator out of one of the spare bedrooms and put them into the garage. She painted the room beige. “It’s neutral,” she said. The smallest part of you still loves your wife, a little more of you your daughter, but resentment, like a tide, has washed over that love again and again, each time pulling more and more of it away. And after years of halfassing it, you’re now a full-fledged empty husband, an all but absent father. You routinely tell your wife it’s work that’s the root of your absences; why you’re hardly ever at home and why, before your daughter was potty-trained, you had been scolded several times for wiping the wrong way and, on top of that, you never quite could get the diaper on right. It’s why you’ve missed nearly everything: first steps and words, anniversaries, birthday parties, trips to the ENT, doctor’s office, and an emergency room visit where your wife really needed and expected you to be
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 there. She deserves better, you know. And of course you aren’t too proud or afraid or ashamed or anything like that to admit this. You’re not. You aren’t. Hell, you just did. Sprawled out in bed you watch Netflix on your MacBook until the blood in your eyelids feels like it's been replaced with cement. You close the screen and set the computer on the ground. You have the little chain in your hand, about to snap the light off when you hear your phone ring. It’s coming from you pants, which are still in a pile at the foot of the bed. You fumble, reaching in the wrong pocket before taking it out of the other. It’s your wife making a Facetime call. On the screen she’s pushing your daughter on a swing. They are both smiling. “Hey,” you say, expecting to see your wife’s face, but it’s your daughter’s. However, your wife’s head is visible in the background, craned over your daughter’s shoulder a few feet back, looking like a deer who’s just heard a twig snap and has flipped up its tail, revealing the spade of white fur on the bottom side of it. Blue light blinks on her face. She’s watching TV. “You’re up late.” “Two-hour time difference, honey,” your wife says. “You were supposed to call.” “I know. Sorry,” you say, not even trying to make up an excuse. “It’s fine. I know you’re busy,” your wife says. “One quick thing though, you’ll be back in time for tomorrow, right? For my work party...” You suppress a shrug and say, “As long as nothing is delayed.” “Great.” She laughs. “People are convinced I’ve made you up,” she says. “I’d like to show you off, you know? Danielle is going to babysit.” It takes you a second. Danielle is your next-door neighbor’s sixteen-year-old. “Sounds good.” Then to your daughter you say, “What’s up, kiddo? She’s beaming. She says, “I got a hundred percent on my project at school today!” “That’s great,” you say, trying to remember what it was. “Tell me about it?” Each student was assigned a state to report on. Your daughter got Hawaii. She has a hard time saying archipelago, because it’s a difficult word for a seven-yearold. But on the third try, she nails it. “Archipelago.” The 44th president, Barack Obama, was born there, in Honolulu. The state fish is the triggerfish and the flower, yellow hibiscus. While she drones on about climate, Pearl Harbor, other historical tidbits, you zone out. After she finishes saying something you snap out
43 of it and look back down at the phone, and, through a yawn, say, “No kidding?” “No, no kidding!” she says. You say, “Anything else?” She thinks for a moment, her eyes shifting in all directions, like she’s on stage and has forgotten her lines. Then she informs you aloha means a few different things: Peace, mercy, affection, compassion. But sometime in the eighteen hundreds, English speakers adopted it and began using it to say both hello and goodbye. You never thought there was any truth to the beer before liquor, never been sicker, thing. But, what you do know is no matter how much or how little champagne you consume, the next morning you’re going to feel like you’ve been struck by lightning. You feel it coming, but before it’s really begun, you swear off champagne for good, even though it has been a steady prop in each one of your extramarital affairs; your semi-subtle way to show off how much money you make. And what better way to do this than to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on something that eventually winds up in the toilet? You check your phone. It’s 9:27. Your alarm is set to go off in about an hour, but you know there’s no falling back asleep. The moment you sit up, it hits you; one of those headaches that feel like it’s pushing your eyeballs to the backs of their sockets. From your shoulders down to your calf muscles, everything aches. Your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth, like your body is incapable of replenishing saliva. There aren’t any more disposable cups, so you tear the $10 price tag off one of the bottles of water on the desk. You take several pulls from it as you collect your belongings and make your way to your suitcase. After you pull out some jeans, a V-neck, socks, some Nikes, you just toss everything else in there. When you finish the water you look at the front label. Then turn it and read the back one. It pontificates how the water you just slugged down evokes the taste of pure, glittering streams flowing through foreign, snowcapped mountains. To you, it tastes no different than water from the tap. Minutes later, you let a family go in the elevator and stay put even though there’s more than enough room to fit you and your luggage. “It’s fine. Really,” you say when the woman pulls her son close, just to show you how much space. “I’ll catch the next one. Thanks.”
Downstairs, the clamor of people checking in and out, milling about in groups, happily chitchatting away, is almost enough to rupture your eardrums. You checkout; you hurry through the lobby and prop your suitcase near the double, glass doors of the concierge lounge and fumble taking your wallet from you jeans pocket, nearly dropping it. First try, you scan your Elite Member card the wrong way. Inside, you place your suitcase near a chair that has an end table placed alongside of it. You avoid the buffet. The smell is almost enough to make you sick. Instead, you walk over to the older gentleman standing behind a small bar. He’s wearing a bowtie and vest. His nametag reflects light coming from the massive chandelier above you, but you know what it says. “Hey, Jimmy,” you say. “Mr. Finlay. Been a while, friend.” “Please call me Loren,” you say. “And what are we having today, Loren?” “Martini. Extra, extra dry. Forget a garnish.” “Vodka or gin?”
“Vodka,” you say. You slide a twenty across the bar top. “I don’t care what kind.” You don’t even mind it took almost two full minutes for your drink. Jimmy really shook the hell out of it. It’s so cold on the first sip your front teeth ring and the normal charcoal-like bite of vodka you were expecting is nothing more than a nip. You look back toward the bar and see Jimmy is looking at you. He sets down a metal cocktail shaker with a pint glass wedged in it. You hold up the martini. You mouth perfect. Jimmy puts his hands together and gives you the slightest bow before he picks the shaker back up. Ice clatters in it like a maraca. You open Facebook. You have a couple notifications. Someone replied to a comment you don’t remember leaving. Your sister shared a memory of your nephew from a few years ago. He’s sitting on a countertop, covered in flower, holding a rolling pin. You hold the LIKE button down until a row of animated emojis pops up. You select the heart emoji. You continue to scroll through your feed, finding most posts are political, either
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 vituperative or funny, the latter usually in the form of a meme. After a little, you switch over to Instagram. There are the usual posts: selfies, sunsets, sunrises, pictures of homemade meals and from restaurants, all of which have several hashtags highlighted blue intermixed with the exposition below the photos. A buddy of yours from high school who recently went through a divorce, has had Invictus tattooed across his collarbones in Old English. The skin around the shiny black lettering is bright red. There are endless pictures of newborns and toddlers. Then you see a picture of your daughter your wife posted yesterday, about twelve hours ago. Your daughter is grinning. She’s wearing a lei. She’s standing next to a large display board with the Hawaiian Islands spanning across all three folds of it. There’s a sizeable photograph of Obama. There’s a picture of a fish that looks like it was plucked form a Dali painting or a Pixar film. There’s another of a flower. Several other smaller photos are pasted around those two, but you can’t make out what they are, and all the writing on the board is too small to read. Below the photo your wife has written: Lenny got an A++!!! #littlegenius #mybabygirl #montessori. You shake your head. You can’t fucking stand that your wife calls your daughter Lenny. It’s a nickname for Valencia you’ve always disliked because, for starters, it’s a boy’s name. If that weren’t bad enough, it’s a stupidsounding, redneck name at that. Before you abandoned this argument altogether a few years ago, you’d asked your wife why Valencia just couldn’t go by Valencia? Or, if she had to have a nickname, couldn’t it be Val? “Because,” your wife said, “Val is a stripper or call girl’s name. That’s why.” The photo has 176 likes. Hair of the dog is dangerous. Just enough booze can set you right. But even the teensiest, tiniest bit too much, and you you’ll be shitcanned all over again. You think about this as you set your empty glass down. By now your headache has reduced to a minor annoyance and you’re pretty sure if you wanted to, you could spit across the room. Regardless, you’re still thinking about getting another round. Not a martini. Maybe a beer, or bourbon cut with water. Something you can sip. There’s a line for the bar. While you wait, you hear the sound of a cork pop. From the front of the line, women laugh. As you inch forward, the smell of horseradish and tomato juice grows stronger. You wonder what asshole thought up the Bloody Mary. Really? Tomato juice? You think maybe it was the byproduct of leftover ingredients and someone’s desperation; the bleary-eyed morning after a gathering where they woke miserably hungover
45 and that’s all they had to work with. “Another martini?” Jimmy says after two people break in different directions in front of you. “Oh, I think maybe I should pump the breaks,” you say. You look over the bottles of bourbon. None of which you really care for. To you, vodka is just vodka. But there’s a big difference between good and mediocre bourbon. You glance over the few tap handles. There are the usual domestics: Bud Lite, Coors Lite, Miller Lite, and the last, is Boulevard Wheat, which is brewed a few blocks from here. You don’t want to ask Jimmy for a beer list, or from memory to list off everything they have in bottles, so you say, “You know what? Yeah. I’ll have another.” While Jimmy goes to work on your drink, someone behind you says, “You see? That’s what I’m talking about. A person who’s not afraid to just do it, to say to hell with the status quo. Darling, how many of these people do you think wants a martini but ordered a Bellini instead?” Over your shoulder you see an older gentleman, mid-sixties. His face is bloodless, wrinkled in a smile. But even so you can tell once he was probably handsome. He has a finger hooked in the collar of a dress jacket that’s slung over his shoulder. The sleeves of his shirt are rolled up and on one wrist the size of the face of his watch is gigantic. His other arm is around the waist of a much younger woman. It takes you a few seconds, and after nearly running the risk of staring, you finally recognize her. It’s the woman from your room. You’re sure of it. But, last night she was a brunette; this morning she’s blond. You wouldn’t have been able to tell she was wearing a wig had you never seen her before. “And what’s so wrong with champagne?” She glances at you, looks you up and down, and bites her lower lip before redirecting her eyes back to the man. “I happen to love champagne.” The man laughs idiotically at this, nearly dropping his jacket. “Of course you do,” he says. And why, for Christ’s sake, do you start to feel this way? Sweat has begun building up on your face and palms. Your heart races. The tips of your fingers tingle. You want to blame this sudden surge of anxiety on your waning hangover, its last overbearing reminder to you that you went too hard last night, but even you can’t convince yourself that’s it. You laugh, too, but it’s a jittery laugh that comes out of your nose. You’re all set to turn around when the alarm on your phone, that terrible submarine alarm noise you chose because it is terrible,
46 and so loud, erupts with its Ank! Ank! Ank! You rip the phone from your pocket and turn off the alarm. The girl and the man give you awful looks. You bring the phone up to your ear and say a few words as you make your way to your suitcase. You hear Jimmy say, “Loren?” You pretend not to hear him. You roll your suitcase out of the room while continuing your phony conversation. It’s gray outside. The wind feels colder than it probably is because of the sweat you’ve neglected to wipe from your face. So, you wipe your face. You stand a moment with your eyes closed. When you open them, a young valet says, “You okay, man? Need your car?” You nod to indicate you’re fine; then shake your head. He seems to understand he can’t do anything for you. Then he rushes over to a white sprinter van that’s just pulled up. The passenger-side and sliding doors of the van open up. A cluster of men around your age, far as you can tell, spills from them. You can smell pot from here. One of them wobbles while lighting a cigarette. Another is laughing and running a finger under his nose. The driver appears to be the only sober one. He speaks with the valet for a little before dropping the keys in his hands. Then he claps the kid on the shoulder. They both laugh. Then the driver notices you looking at him. He throws up one of his heavily tattooed arms in a wave. You try not to be, but you’re jealous. There’s no denying that. You wish you were part of their group. Knowing they’ve probably rented the van and driven up from somewhere not too far away, Omaha, Nebraska, or Fayetteville, Arkansas, because it’s Saturday and you know there’s a concert at the Arvest Bank Theatre tonight, which is only a block away. They’ll likely spend the day barhopping and have dinner before the show. Afterward, they’ll barhop again; probably end up at Up-Down, because you know it’s always packed with women. But who knows. You figure they probably don’t have anything set in stone, except the show, and their nights could end up in a myriad of different ways. But not yours though—you know exactly what the day has in store for you. You know it’s too early to go to the airport, but you request an Uber anyway. You know the driver will ask you all the recycled questions: Where’s home? What were you doing in KC? Enjoy your visit? At the airport, you’ll either kill time watching more Netflix or having drinks at one of the restaurant bars. You’ll fall asleep on the plane. At home, you’ll hug and kiss your wife; you’ll pick up your daughter and kiss her, too. You’ll tell them both you missed them. You’ll shower
CIRQUE while your wife gets everything in order, meaning, whatever food she’s made to bring along. After you’re ready, Danielle will arrive. You’ll tell her to eat and drink whatever, to watch whatever after Valencia goes to sleep, which is around ten o’clock on the weekends. Then you’ll let her know when you plan on coming home. You’ll drive to your wife’s boss’s home, which you’ll find is in a gated community at the base of the hills near the edge of town. After you park at the end of a line of cars, because you and your wife are never on time for anything, you’ll walk up, holding the tray of food in one hand, your wife’s in the other. She’ll ring the bell. Both of you will wait, not saying anything. And when the door opens, her boss, Mr. Granger—Philip—will be a little red in the cheeks already, and he’ll smile and wave the two of you in, saying, “Come in! Come in!” Behind him the house will already be packed with partygoers. Then you’ll enter hand-in-hand with your beautiful, young wife. Your wife will introduce you to people whose names you’ll instantly forget. They will be smiling the whole time during these introductions. And you’ll smile right back, looking like you couldn’t possibly imagine being anywhere else than where you are right now.
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Happy Valley May, 1974. Fairbanks, Alaska. I work as a legal secretary in a one-man office on Second Avenue, above Co-op Drugstore. Early spring – here called break-up -- is all about change. Newly open water in the Chena River greets migrating geese. Melting snow exposes a winter’s worth of trash. Tiny green mouse ears tip willow shoots. Warm against walls, crocuses push through softening slush. Brilliant blue skies lift my spirits as daylight hours stretch longer. Night still ices puddles, but afternoon sun kisses my sky-turned face. Pipeline construction season is in full bloom; sidewalks swarm with strange men who crowd the union halls mornings, the bars at night. One day on my lunch hour, as I stroll along Cushman Street, a long, white Cadillac pulls up beside me. The driver is a black man in a 3-piece white suit and a white leather cowboy hat. “Hello sugar. Don’t you look fine.” I don’t disagree. Me in my flowered shirtwaist dress, newly exposed legs, auburn hair cascading down my back. I toss my curls and keep walking. “How about taking a ride with me? “No, thanks.” Back at the office, I mention the encounter to Peter, my boss. He laughs. “Trisha, don’t you know what he was?” I shake my head. “That was a pimp! He was trying to recruit you.” Without doubt, Fairbanks was now a boomtown. Grocery prices doubled overnight. Rents were soaring. My paycheck could barely stretch to cover expenses. Peter was a kind boss; I’d gotten this job straight out of high school, on the strength of my typing skills and flawless spelling. After two years, I was feeling restless. The work wasn’t nearly as interesting as I’d imagined. But it did buy me independence. After that day, I started listening when Seth’s buddies gathered in his living room to drink beer and talk about the big money to be made on the pipeline. For me, getting hired would be easy. I was an Alaska resident, and a female. Pipeline hire contracts required hiring a certain percentage of minorities. Blacks, natives. And in construction, women counted as minorities. Seth was a Teamster with a cushy job driving forklift in a warehouse. I considered trying for my
47 Teamster’s card. But those were hard to get without experience. Laborer’s union had lots of jobs with no experience required. Getting hired would be a snap. And the weekly paycheck would be twice what I took home in a month as a secretary. “Don’t do it, Trisha.” Seth urged. “You don’t need to. My job can support us both. We can get married. You can stay home and have a baby.” I thought I might love Seth. Almost a stereotype of tall, dark, and handsome, he was also hard-working and seemed to love me. But no way was he telling me what I could and couldn’t do. “I want to make some money of my own, Seth. I’m not ready to get married. I’m only 20!” “Well, if you go to the pipeline, you can just forget about us.” He said that, but he did take me out to dinner on my last night in town. When we parted, he pressed a small, hard object into my hand. “A whistle?” “Just keep it in your pocket, okay? It could come in handy.” ****** The bus from Ft. Wainwright carried me to my first laborer job at Isabelle Pass – a dream job. Including me, there were six women on the crew. We spent our days wrapping insulation around the pipe and using a silicone gun to fasten the sections together. Summer in Interior Alaska is dazzling – vibrant blue skies, endless sunsets melting into sunrises. Above timberline, the earth is carpeted with a mass of tiny shrubs; pockets of pink saxifrage and alpine azalea dotted the landscape. Blue dragonflies darted above melt-water ponds. I grew tan and fit, watching paychecks stack up in my bank account. Isabelle Pass is on the highway between Fairbanks and Valdez, which meant the camp had road access. There was a lodge with a bar down the road. And, so I was told, a whorehouse. Women on our crew dressed alike – overalls, flannel shirts, work boots, our hair hidden under bandanas. Doing our best to blend in. There were roughly three hundred men in the camp, maybe twenty women. Some of the women found boyfriends. Some of us kept to ourselves; our choice. But the job ended in early October and we all got laid off. My friends were planning to winter in Hawaii or Mexico. I considered that option, but was more tempted by money. I returned to Fairbanks and
48 slept on a girlfriend’s couch. I didn’t contact Seth. Away from camp, I felt out of place. After a week, I answered a minority hire call to Happy Valley. The name sounded good. And I was curious about life in a far north construction camp. Happy Valley was above the Arctic Circle, about 85 miles south of Deadhorse. The Beaver circled Happy Valley for a rough landing, followed by a pickup truck ride to the camp office with a silent driver. Manning the desk was a woman with a face like leather from years of too much sun. Her dark eyebrows matched the roots of her peroxided hair. “You ever worked at a camp before?” “Four months at Isabelle Pass. So, there’s a woman here I can room with?” “Oh yeah, there sure is. Here’s your key. Good luck, Honey.” Like at Isabelle Pass, workers at Happy Valley lived in trailers called Adco Units. Corridors of two person rooms divided by a hall, with a common bathroom. The main building contained the kitchen, chow hall, small store, some offices and a clinic. After working at Isabelle Pass since early June, I felt adjusted to dorm life. I knocked politely on the door, not really expecting my roomie to be home since it was day time and she was likely at work. The door was opened by a woman with huge hair and as much makeup as I’d ever seen on one human being. “You must be the new girl. Come on in, Sugar.” This was not a normal pipeline bedroom. It featured the usual windowless beige walls, the two single beds topped with grey wool blankets. But there the resemblance ended. Instead of being papered in tropical beach posters, the walls above both bunks featured posters of cartoon-figure humans engaged in every conceivable sex act. Both beds could be curtained off with folding vinyl accordion screens that attached to the ceiling and floor. “This here’s your bed. A girl could learn a lot, here. Right?” “Well, I guess . . .” “Good money too, sugar pie. Specially for a young, good-lookin’ gal like yourself.” Don’t imagine I didn’t consider the offer. Inside work and plenty of it. Good money. But the occupational hazards were a definite turnoff. It dawned on me that October was not the best time for beginning a new job. As darkness grew and cold hardened the landscape, the need for workers dwindled. It was this job or nothing. I felt prepared with my Alyeska Parka, down snow pants, and bunny boots. Determined, also, to fill my bank account
CIRQUE and finish paying off my two acres of south-facing hillside on Chena Ridge, with enough left over to build myself a cabin. I had come here to be a laborer. “You know what, there must be some mistake. I’m going back to the office and ask for another room.” “Suit yourself, sweetheart.” I had not noticed the man sprawled on one bunk, leaning against the wall. His masculine southern drawl jolted me out the door. After leaving my bags in another room, this one with a female roommate who worked nights in the kitchen, I met my foreman at the office and we headed out to the work site. When we got there, he kept the pickup idling. “So, this job could be kind of rough for a girl. This here is a batch plant. Our crew is making cement collars to hold the pipe down at river crossings. Course, we won’t be installing them until next summer, once the river thaws. But we’ll be ready. How you come to be here anyhow?” “Just working to save up some money.” He looked to be in his late thirties, with a curly dark beard and bloodshot brown eyes, and he chewed tobacco as he talked, spitting brown juice into a can. And dribbling some down his chin. “I’m ready to start working now.” “Well, just thought I might could offer you a different job. See, I need someone to help me keep track of the paperwork. You could ride around in the pickup with me, sit in the warm-up shack and record these timesheets for me. Long as you and me get along real good, no need for you to be out in the cold.” “Thanks, but no thanks. I just want to be part of the crew.” “Gets mighty lonely for a man up here, Darlin. You could be making a mistake. I can help you out a lot if you just be nice to me.” “I’m not nice.” “You one a them man-haters or what?” “No.” Out of desperation I finally blurted, “I have a boyfriend back home in Fairbanks. He’s a Teamster. Works in a warehouse there.” “Can’t see how a real man could let his woman come out here all by herself. But if you’re so set on workin like a man, okay then.” Turned out my job that day was using a shovel to move a humungous pile of snow into the back of a dump truck. Because using a front-end loader to move it all in one scoop would have been too easy. By quitting time, my palms were blistered. I had no trouble sleeping
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that night. Next day I woke stiff, with aching muscles. There was no “special” ride to the batch plant. I rode the bus with the rest of the crew. Thankfully, I was not the only woman on the bus. The two of us sat together. After introducing herself as Dawn, my new friend proceeded to doze until we reached the batch plant. Darkness. Humming generators, klieg lights, piles of dirty snow, cement dust. This was our world for twelve hours a day. Midmorning coffee break was a welcome relief. I watched the sunrise paint the sky in streaks of mauve and rose. The distant peaks glowed. Noon brought lunch break on the bus. The crew was a mix of Message in a Bottle – Clam Gulch, Alaska Tami Phelps long-haired hippie types, work-hardened laborers, and us two women. On the bus, there was smoking, cursing, men leering at the Penthouse I missed Seth. I could use my fingers to pleasure myself, centerfolds taped over the windows and muttering to but it was not the same as feeling him inside me. each other. Dawn and I sat together, but she never said Then came the morning I awoke to hear much and she always seemed exhausted. Dawn softly sobbing, and saw that one of her eyes was The days settled into a pattern. Working as blackened and swollen. The entire side of her face was a team of two, Dawn and I moved piles of rebar from one gigantic bruise. where they had been dumped, carrying them to the two “Oh my God, Dawn. What happened? You need iron-workers who welded them into cages, which would to put some ice on that. I’ll go get some.” eventually be inserted into plywood forms and filled with “Okay, but don’t say nothing.” cement. These iron-workers were friendly. The second In the dining hall, men sat hunched over their day, one of them gave me advice. coffee. I grabbed an empty bin from the counter, filled “No need to be working so fast. Slow down. Take it with ice from the drink dispenser, hurried back to the your time.” room. Using a damp towel from the bathroom, I wrapped “Why?” it around a fistful of ice and pressed it to Dawn’s cheek. “This is a cost-plus job. The slower we go, the “Will you please tell me what happened?” more money we all make. Don’t give your youth to the She shrugged. “Some guy got rough.” pipeline.” “Who was it?” October dwindled to November, as darkness “Don’t know his name. Didn’t ask.” swallowed more light each day. Dawn and I became “How can that be? Did he just attack you out of roommates after my other roomie headed south. But I nowhere?” saw little of her, outside of work. We would sit together at “No . . . don’t you get it?” dinner, chowing down on the bottomless buffet of steaks, “Get what?” salads, potatoes in every form, fried chicken, biscuits and “I was working the party room.” gravy, ham, roast beef. Dawn always disappeared after “Party room?” dinner. I would head back to our room to read, do laundry, “Where they tried to stick you when you first got write in my journal. A lot of partying went on in the camp here.” after work hours. Alcohol and drugs were banned, but Oh my God . . . that was where she went every since no luggage got searched, plenty of both were night? available. Having arrived in camp with two duffel bags – “Do you do that a lot?” one for clothes, the other loaded mainly with paperback “Most every night. Don’t got much choice.” books, I read myself to sleep most nights. Sometimes “How can that be?”
50 “They got me a fake Alaska ID so I could get in the union and get this job. Now they use that against me, make me do what they want.” There was a lot I didn’t understand, but this was not the time for more questions. It was time to get dressed, eat breakfast, and go to work. “You should take the day off.” “No. I’ll just wear a lot of make-up and a scarf. Nobody will notice.” It was true that we worked with our faces mostly covered, between our parka hoods and the scarves covering our mouths. “What about the black eye?” “Sunglasses.” That night in the dining hall, I sat down next to Dawn. Still in her sunglasses, she was picking at a pile of mashed potatoes, her steak untouched. “Just tell me one thing, okay?” She shrugged. “Why not leave? Get out of this place?” “They won’t let me get on the plane.” “Who is they?” She glanced around. “Can’t talk here.” For once, Dawn returned to our room after dinner. She sat on her bunk and I sat on mine, facing each other across an enormous gulf. I knew she was from Oklahoma, a high school dropout. But that was all l really knew about her. “So, I’m asking again. Why not just leave?” “They threatened me. Plus, I got no ID ‘cept for this fake one. They took my real one.” Her eyes spoke fear. “Plus, they keep saying I owe them money.” “For what?” “First they said it would cost me $2,000 to get the job. Once I got here, they upped it to $5,000. I send my paychecks home to take care of my mom and my two boys. The only money I got for them is what I get from the party room. And they take most of that – call it my rent.” Who are they? She looked so frightened and miserable I couldn’t bring myself to ask. I gathered her into a hug. “Don’t worry, Dawn. We’ll figure some way out.” I thought of calling the Troopers, but how? Our only communication with the outside world was through mail and radio, and the radios were all in the office. A place I knew would not welcome me calling in the troopers. Then my thoughts turned to airplanes, and I remembered Seth’s good friend Blue was a pilot, with a
CIRQUE license and his own Piper Super Cub. Time to write him a letter. Seth would be surprised, after not hearing from me since June. I wrestled with what to say. Finally, I decided to just tell him the truth and ask for help. Flights landed daily with supplies and mail, so Seth’s reply came quickly. “Told you that was no place for a woman. But I talked to Blue. He can sub in on a supply run. When he gets it scheduled I’ll let you know. Then your friend has to be waiting in the flight shack.” Just had to say I told you so. At least he was helping. Dawn agreed to the plan. Waiting was hard; she continued working the party room. Every night, I lay awake until I knew she was safely back in our room. Both of us were so tired we sleepwalked through our days. After two weeks, the letter arrived. It was a Thursday. She was to be ready on Saturday. She decided to take only one small bag. We figured out the shortest route from our room to the flight shack. The plane always landed at midday. She would need to fake sick and skip work that day. So many things could go wrong! But nothing did. Dawn made it safely onto the plane. As I watched it circle over Happy Valley and fly south toward Fairbanks, tears stung my eyes. I prayed she would be okay and make it safely home to her Mom and boys. That night after dinner, I was stretched out on my bed reading “Watership Down” when pounding shook the door “Who is it?” “Where the hell is Dawn?” “How should I know? Where she goes every night.” “Open this goddam door!” I obeyed, and faced the man I’d seen that first day in the party room. “Where is she?” “You can see she’s not here. I don’t know where she is.” “I think you do know. I heard there was two folks left on that plane today, and one of em was Dawn. I think you helped her get away.” He grabbed my arm, yanked me toward him. “Let go of me, you creep!” “Who’s gonna make me?” Since arriving at Happy Valley, I had carried Seth’s whistle in my pocket. Its ear-splitting noise sent my attacker running and two women racing into the room. “I’m okay. He was looking for Dawn and didn’t find her.”
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 “If he’s got in in for you, you best be leaving this place and quick.” I bolted my door and got into bed, but slept little. For hours, a group of men took turns banging on the door and shouting obscenities. Around four, I finally drifted off. Soon after my alarm woke me, I tracked down the foreman. “Guess I’ll be dragging up.” “Just tell the office where to mail your last check.” ***** Somehow alerted to my arrival, Seth met my plane. Relieved at feeling safe for the first time in weeks, I collapsed into his arms. “Glad you’re okay,” he murmured into my neck. “Guess you’ll be ready to stay home now.” “Can I sleep at your place tonight?” “Sure. Kind of thought you’d be moving in.” “No . . . I still need my own place.” “You are one stubborn woman.” He grinned as he tossed my bags into the back of his pickup. That grin made me weak in the knees. My heart started racing as I remembered the feel of his body pressed against mine. Then I saw an image of Dawn’s battered face. “Seth, we need to tell the troopers what’s going on in Happy Valley.” “Don’t think that’s a good idea. Don’t guess they would even care.” “What? Of course they would!” “Let’s take a little detour before we head home.” He steered the truck toward downtown, turned onto Second Avenue. Crowds of men thronged the sidewalks. It took a moment for me to take in what I was seeing. Hookers. At least four of them on every corner. These women were real pros – stiletto heels, big hair, mini-skirts, lots of cleavage. How could they stand the cold? And the men . . . the men standing in the shadows, watching the women. Pimps. Those men were pimps. “The pimps rent the hotel rooms and the women work for them,” Seth explained. “Cops, troopers . . . everyone looks the other way.” “Why?” “There’s so many guys in town, so many hookers, so many pimps. The troopers can’t do a thing.” I hadn’t told Seth the story of my first day at Happy Valley. It would be years before I told anyone that story. For all the women in all the party rooms, and especially for Dawn, this is my story of Happy Valley.
The Organizer To his first day of work, the boy wore black shoes, black slacks, and a blue button-down shirt. They were the only dress clothes he owned. The only ones he had thought to bring with him on the move. The other trainees were similarly dressed. The exception was an older guy at the end of the table who wore a black tee-shirt and jeans. The boy decided to like him. The others he did not like. They were glossy, snide. He wondered why they were here. At the front of the room, a senior organizer stood to face them. He sported a brown hooded sweatshirt and jeans and wore a surly expression on his face. After he introduced himself, he turned his back on them. He began to make marks on the green chalkboard. The boy tried to pay attention, but his mind skittered, leapt. He wondered if he would be bad at this job. He thought, maybe, that the union would provide him with a GPS. * The boy had moved to Seattle without knowing anyone at all. After graduation, he had spent the summer delivering pizzas and bussing tables while living with his parents at home. He had saved enough, he thought, to live and work for a time while he figured out what to do with his life. But this was the fall of 2008. The housing crisis had just hit; the wheels of the national economy were beginning to come off. The boy applied for every job that he could find. Office jobs and restaurant jobs. Coffee shop jobs and valet parking jobs. Telemarketing jobs and casino security guard jobs. He applied for them all. While he waited for someone to call him back, he drank French-pressed coffee and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes and made himself bean and cheese quesadillas in a pan. He watched movies and jerked off to internet porn and read articles and smoked. He went on walks through his neighborhood past people with coffees and briefcases and smart phones and pets. It was strange, he thought, not having enough. As a kid, his family had never been wealthy, but they owned a house, two cars, had plenty of food, could eat meals out. Even away at college he had not had to think about
money much. The loans and scholarships had taken care of tuition. His parents put money in his checking account for him to buy beer and fast food. His ID card enabled him to eat most days. But he had also known what it was like to serve people. During high school, he had worked in a grocery store and Italian restaurant. Away at college, he work-studied, keeping time at swim meets and setting the stages for visiting authors and musicians. He knew intimately the degradations of low-wage work—the thoughtlessness and entitlement of the customers, the cruelty of the higher-ups. At the same time, the money he made had always been extra, since his parents paid all his serious bills. He had never had to worry about health insurance, since he had been included on his parents’ policies. It was different for the people he worked with, some of whom were older and had no college degree. Others held advanced degrees but could find no work to apply their Set Brake skills. One woman, he remembered, had earned her doctorate in English. She had written her dissertation on Pound. At the time, he had felt sorry for her, but mostly he had not given her much thought. Now he felt ashamed. He read about mortgage lenders who issued subprime loans while high on methamphetamines. He read about stockbrokers who hired high-class hookers mere hours after nearly wrecking the country’s economy. He read about people living out of their cars—not a few but thousands of them in one county in California alone. More than forty percent of the nation’s wealth, he learned, was concentrated in the hands of the top one percent. Thirty million people had no health insurance. More than fifty million were on food stamps. Had it always been this way in America, he wondered? Or was this something new? When a posting popped up on one of the job boards that a union was hiring an organizer, he sent in an application on a whim. They invited him to interview the very next day. * They had hired him to organize a chain of grocery stores with locations scattered across the state.
It would be his job, he learned during the training, to drive from house to house asking workers to sign union authorization cards. Once he and the other organizers had collected enough cards, the union would hold a company-wide election. If a majority of workers voted yes, the union would be authorized to represent them in
negotiations with their employer. That was nearly as much as the boy understood about the technical aspects of union bargaining. He was subjected to a week of training with senior organizers, each of them detailing another aspect of the campaign. He knew that the information was important, but he found that he had trouble concentrating or keeping all of the details straight. From the beginning, he had thought that he would use his experience working in grocery stores to connect with people at their doors. “Don’t get lost in the weeds,” one of the organizers said. The image stuck. He planned on keeping his conversations strictly canopylevel and above. * On his first day in the field, the boy drove north on I-5 as gray clouds spattered his windshield with rain. The sky was gray, he thought, the highway was gray. Even the cars were gray. How did people stand it? He reached for the radio. On NPR, the host and his guest were talking about climate change. Americans needed to wake up, the man was saying. If they don’t cut
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 down on their consumption soon— He felt a flash of anger. He spun down the sound. The man didn’t give a damn about working people. * His first house was located in a neighborhood where all of the houses looked the same. Same ranch structure, same paved driveway, same dilapidated lawn. He pulled in behind a pickup truck. He went up the walkway. He knocked on the front door. “Not interested,” said the man before he could introduce himself. “I’m not selling anything,” the boy said, trying to smile. “I’m here because workers from all over the state are coming together—” “Like I said. Not interested. Now get off my porch.” The man closed the door. He tried to laugh as he went back down the walk. But his heart would not stop pounding until he was three blocks away.
all over the state are coming together to form a union. Have you ever been part of a union before?” “Union,” repeated the man. “That’s right,” said the boy. The man laughed. “What’s funny?” the boy asked, color rising in his cheeks. “What can union do,” the man asked, “about New World Order?” “What’s that?” he asked. “United Nations,” the man said. “Federal Reserve. What can union can do about them?” “Go on,” said the boy. The man railed against politicians, bankers, the Catholic Church. When he was done, the boy offered a few theories of his own. Only by coming together with fellow workers, he said, could they solve the problems that he described. Only through collective action could they make the changes that he wanted to see in the world. Only through the union— “All right, all right,” said Pavel. “Let me have the card.”
* * His next house had trash bags littering the front porch and a couch blocking the door. He avoided the front, going around the side, where he found a brood of chickens pecking around a picnic table and a pickup parked farther out in the grass. Then he noticed a woman. She was crouched low to the ground. She appeared to be scraping at the dirt with a kind of metal gardening tool. “Hey, there!” he called. She turned, then stood. She seemed unsurprised. “Is Pavel here?” he asked. A chicken squawked to the side of her. She lashed out with her foot, missed. “Pavel?” he called again. “Why do you want?” she asked, her accent Russian or eastern European. “I’m here about work,” the boy said, clasping his hands in front of him. “About workers. Coming together.” “One moment,” she said. The man who emerged from the truck’s cab wore blue overalls and black work boots, the laces were untied. He lumbered across the grass rubbing at his eyes. “Who are you?” he asked when he was close. “I’m here,” the boy said, “because workers from
At a third house that day, a woman invited him inside. She led him through the house to a living room where a bearded man was hammering away at a video game while three teenagers behind him gazed into the screen. The boy thought back to his own childhood home, where video games were not allowed. He tried to imagine his own father playing them, but he could not. After the man finished his game, the family turned its attention to the boy. He explained the election, the authorization cards, everything that was at stake. Then he asked the older girl on the couch to describe her experience at the store. Her manager was all right, but he had a temper with those he didn’t like. They didn’t give her benefits, but then she hadn’t expected any. She’d probably keep on working there until she found something better. As he listened to the girl speak, he felt love surge inside of him. He was not attracted to the girl sexually, but suddenly he found her beautiful. They all were. He loved these people who had invited him into their home. He loved himself for being there when there were so many other places that he could be. He loved the entirety of their economic system for making such an encounter possible.
CIRQUE It helped that the girl signed the card. *
He spent the new few weeks driving, knocking doors, and grabbing quick meals from diners and chains. His first paycheck was enough to cover his monthly bills and leave him with plenty of spending money besides. A letter arrived in the mail informing him of his new health insurance. He even received notice that money had been set aside for him in a 401k. He found the organizing conversations to be sources of pleasure and pride. He enjoyed meeting with workers and learning about their lives. He touched hands, met eyes, and accepted whatever he was offered to eat or drink. He mentioned the union sparingly, brought up politics never. At night, after work, he went out to bars that were walking distance from his apartment. He sat at the counter and drank pints of draft beer and smiled at the pretty hipster girls. One night, a girl smiled back. “I’ve seen you,” she said, clattering her glass beside his. “You’re always sitting up here by yourself. What’s your story, man?” “My story? No story. Just winding down after work.” “Let me guess,” she said, considering him. “Programmer?” He shook his head. “Dog catcher?” she asked. “Bank teller?” “Union organizer,” he said. “No way, man. Far out.” “How do you do?” he said, doffing an imaginary cap. “What’s that mean, anyway? Organizer. I’ve never heard of that before.” “I talk to people about our union,” he said. “How about you? What kind of work do you do?” “I piece things together,” she said. He laughed. “I used to be one of those.” “Really, though, I’m in a band,” she said, drumming her fingers on the counter. “In high school,” he offered, “I used to play guitar.” “And how about now?” “Now,” he said with pride, “I organize.” “What’s that even mean?” she asked. “Shuffle papers around an office somewhere?” “No, man. I talk to people about coming together. About the power of collective action. Did you
know that we are living in one of the most unequal times in our country’s history?” “I do now,” she said. “I’m all for music,” he continued, “but music’s a luxury when you’re having trouble buying food.” “Hold on,” she said. “Music’s necessary. It’s as important as food or anything else.” “It’s selfish,” he insisted. “It’s about you and nobody else.” Abruptly, she turned away from him. “I don’t think I want to talk to you anymore.” * They were long days knocking doors, broken up only by organizing conversations and stops at diners and chains. His favorite parts were when workers invited him inside. After work, he took himself out to restaurants, places that had been reviewed in the local weeklies or that he had heard about on NPR. He sat in dimly lit dining rooms and ate locally grown vegetables piled alongside ethically raised meats. The food was excellent, even beautiful, but it often left an acrid taste in his mouth. How could people eat like this, he wondered, when there were so much suffering in the world? * A couple of nights after he started working for the union, he drove north on Aurora Avenue past car dealerships, Vietnamese restaurants, and casinos. He ignored them. He had his sights set on Sugar’s, a strip club that he had passed several times over the weeks. It had a blinking neon sign of a top-heavy dancer and an oldfashioned marquee that advertised cheap rib-eye steaks. Who would eat in a place like that? he had thought as he drove past. His heart was jabbering as he pulled into the lot. The last time he had been to a strip club he had been just barely eighteen. A girl had been nice to him, he remembered. She had rubbed his head and called him sweet. Now he wondered how much of his tip she had been able to keep. He pushed open the front door. A bouncer asked for his ID, which he supplied. The hostess asked him to pay the five-dollar cover. He complied. In the next room, a tall, topless stripper was swiveling around a pole. She had short brown hair, large
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 swinging breasts, a slight endearing paunch. He took a seat at one of the tables and watched the woman do her work. She was pretty, he thought, but no prettier than the woman who had greeted him at the door. Why did one woman dance on stage while the other worked the floor? He wondered how their managers treated them. He wondered if they had ever tried to organize. Then the song became something soft, even sweet. He watched as the stripper slowed, swaying towards the back of the stage. Her eyes were closed. Her mouth moved. She was singing, he realized, whether mouthing the lyrics or belting them out he could not be sure. How vulnerable she looked. How isolated. How alone. After the song ended, she gathered her scattered singles and tromped off the stage. * She appeared on the floor. He followed her with his eyes. Eventually they found hers. “Hey, baby,” she said, teetering towards him on high heels. “Would you like a dance?” He gestured to the seat beside him. “Can I buy you a drink?” “No drinks here, baby,” she said as she sat. “No drinks?” “None with any alcohol, anyway.” She laughed, displaying a forest of scraggly teeth. She touched his arm. “Your first time?” “No. Not my first.” “You not from around here then?” she asked. “It doesn’t matter. How about you? Where are you from originally?” “Here,” she said. “Born and raised.” “What was that like? Growing up here, I mean?” “Relax, baby,” she said, squeezing his leg. “How about that dance? Two songs for the price of one. I’ll give you a good deal.” He felt himself begin to stiffen. He straightened in the hard chair. “They treat you all right?” he asked. “They give you a hard time?” “Who’s that, baby?” she said, stroking his leg. “Your boss. Your manager. Whoever’s in charge?” “You want to know about me?” she asked. He nodded. “C’mon, baby,” she said, whispering into his ear. “You know that’s not what this is about.”
* The next afternoon, he drove east on I-90 away from the city, a folder of workers’ contact sheets on the passenger seat beside him. The union did not provide organizers with GPS systems, he had been disappointed to learn, although they were free to purchase their own. He exited the highway in Issaquah, progressing onto a succession of smaller roads until he found himself in a neighborhood with no sidewalks or street signs. He had entered a trailer park, he understood. He did not think that he had ever been inside of a trailer park before. He found the address he was looking for. The trailer was bigger than he expected, not much different than a small house. He let himself through the screen. He knocked on the front door. “Union,” snarled the woman after he had introduced himself. “I’m here,” he said, “because workers are coming together from all over the state—” “And which state would that be, son? You don’t sound like you’re from around here. Where you from, anyway? California?” “No, ma’am. As I was saying, we’re forming a union because—” “Because you want to take money out of my pocket? To pay the salaries of people like you?” “We’re joining together because—” “You don’t look like much more than a boy. What’s your name, son?” “My name?” he said. “Who are you, boy? Why don’t we start there.” “I don’t really see how that matters,” he said, “when we’re talking about forming a—” “It matters plenty, son,” she said. “It’s practically the whole goddamned deal.” * After that, his attitude towards the work changed. You want better lives? he felt like telling them. Sign the goddamned card. He began to listen to more music while he drove, songs that soothed him, quieted his throbbing heart. He had been in the city for only four months, but already it felt like a lifetime, like a series of lifetimes. Why had he come here? he asked himself. What did he want? Driving the lonely roads, evergreen trees thrashing the sky above him, he realized that he didn’t know.
CIRQUE >I nope out on all the losers there >she’s frustrated and so am I >sex life goes to shit, constantly making excuses for no sex >not sure if she’s fucking around on me already What do bros?
Cucks Unlimited “No,” Crystal explained again, “it’s not like cheating because you’ll know about it and we’ll do it together.” “I don’t know,” Mike said and stood up from the kitchen table, “it seems, off... or wrong, or something.” She pouted, “Come on. I do things for you.” “Yeah, I know.” He reseated himself on the bench seat next to her. “This feels really big, you know?” “Maybe it would make you feel better if we both look.” She tilted her laptop screen back, the better for him to see. “I’ve seen some good looking guys already and we can search for someone for you too.” Crystal snuggled closer to him on the hard, flat wood of the bench. Mike didn’t pull away but he didn’t put his arm around her either. ### Mike, having gradually lost contact with any real friends in whom to confide, turned for advice to the warm digital embrace of strangers on the internet. Late nights, after Crystal had gone to bed, most times after a torpedoed request for intimacy, he took refuge in various online communities and had posted so frequently, in some, that most users awake and hooked in at that time of the night were familiar enough with his story. Still, he began each thread in the same characteristic fashion – a truncated summary of his situation in order to bring newcomers up to speed and to identify himself in otherwise anonymous venues. >be me >31 year old >wife of 4 years is 29 >LTR with her since her sophomore year in college >was a happy loving relationship, very intimate >no real problems or anything we can’t talk about >not that long ago she out of the blue brings up polyamory >says she wants to try it out >says it will only make our relationship stronger >says that if adding another guy works we could bring in a girl >we start browsing craigslist for potentials
The responses were seldom helpful. ###
Crystal stood before the mirror topped dresser in their bedroom and applied rouge in long slow sweeps. Mike lounged on the bed, watching as she prepared for her monthly night out with her bestie Natasha. He wore a sheepish face, mostly owing to the erection that tented his sweatpants, but he couldn’t stop watching. “Where are you headed for tonight,” Mike asked. “Dunno,” Crystal said without turning from the mirror. “It’s your typical girls’ night. You know how Natasha is when she gets a few in her. Probably Fast Eddie’s first then somewhere else for dancing later.” “Text me when you get there?” Crystal put down the rouge brush and looked at Mike in the mirror. Her eyes focused on his face but she in no way failed to notice the bulge in his pants. “Keeping tabs on me now?” Crystal smirked. “You know it’s not that. I like to know you’re safe,” Mike said, rising from the bed. “Oh honey,” Crystal said as she turned. Mike approached, close enough to smell her perfume but not so close that he invaded her space. “You think you could,” he shrugged and looked down at his crotch. “I just put on my makeup.” “Nothing too eventful.” He took a step forward. “What,” Crystal asked. “Maybe a little tug?” “Natasha’s going to be here any minute,” she said and turned back to the mirror. “Please? It’s been a while.” Crystal sighed. “Fine, you can jack it into my hand but don’t get any on my clothes. I’d hate to have to change out of my favorite dress.” Mike came closer and Crystal cupped her right hand, palm up, on the dresser’s top. Her scent fully enveloped him now, a crushingly industrial vanilla, and freeing his tumescence almost sent him over the edge. He was close to her, nearly touching, and they watched
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 each other’s faces in the mirror’s reflection. As Mike’s harried, tussling masturbation arched his breathing into the shallow approach of orgasm, Crystal bit her bottom lip and they locked eyes in the mirror. Mike finished filling Crystal’s palm and became a jagged mess of respiration and convulsions. Crystal turned and wiped her hand down his shirtfront. Out in the driveway, a car pulled in and honked. “That’s Natasha. Don’t get too crazy at home tonight without me, okay? I don’t know when we’ll be back but don’t wait up.” Mike couldn’t find words as Crystal leaned in and pecked his cheek with her obscenely red lips before leaving him in front of the dresser to go wash her hands. ### Crystal arranged, via Snapchat, to meet Carlos in the atrium of the student union of her and Mike’s alma mater. She’d not been back since her graduation but in the interim the place had changed little. Now, she stood among a student produced “art” exhibit – nearly all of which were mixed media collage productions with an absurdist or abstract flair – that she perused while she waited for Carlos to arrive. She was making her third round of the exhibit when she saw him descend the stairs from the mezzanine. If she’d not have known what he looked like, he would not have struck her as remarkable in any way, except for perhaps how he wore a paper thin sheen of cocksurety about himself like a cloak. This unfounded bravado had been the thing that had drawn her to him, the reckless boldness of his communications and the way he pursued her in the digital world that alluded to his ability to have carefree fun, no strings attached, with no silly thing like emotions involved or any messiness on his part. He knew he was nothing but a good time. When he saw her he raised his eyebrows but stopped at the bottom of the stairs to chat with a woman waiting there, a girl really, who clutched a MacBook to her chest and looked at him coyly. This deferment of his attention set off a cascade of sensations deep in Crystal’s abdomen that struck her as not altogether bad. He approached and in the coming he slung his shoulder bag from left to right in a manner that further agitated the feeling in Crystal’s bowels. “Hey,” he said. “Hey you.” Carlos put out his hand and Crystal reached out across the gulf between them, watching her hand and nearly shuddering under the wave of depersonalization
57 she felt. His palm was warm, soft, one unaccustomed to any sort of duress. The bulkiness of his frame, one that suggested at least infrequent workout sessions, multiplied the deliciousness of his skin’s softness. “You want to get out of here,” Carlos asked. “To the point,” Crystal said. “Right here,” he made motions at the artwork, “isn’t the place to talk to anybody for real. I mean, look at this crap.” Crystal chuckled, “True. Where should you suggest we go?” Crystal allowed herself to be shepherded to the small remove of the student union coffee shop, still in view of the “artwork,” but behind banks of windows that offered a refuge from the ambience of people’s comings and goings. Carlos offered to pay for two terribly scalded Americanos and Crystal let him. They took their paper cups to a table near the windows and they sat for a moment in the empty cafe, appraising their coffees, taking sips and grimacing afterward. Crystal put her chin in her hand and placed the other, strategically, on the tabletop and looked out the window with an air of polite boredom. Carlos followed her gaze and after a bit, spoke first. “You still want to do this, yeah?” Crystal took a moment in answering, “Yes. I do.” “Your husband on board yet?” “He’ll come around.” “You haven’t told him.” “Mike’s scared. He needs a final push to really let go. He’s going to love it.” Carlos took a sip, “That’s cool. As long as you’re sure he’s down that’s all good with me. I don’t want there to be any problems you know? That never makes for a good scene.” “Don’t worry about Mike. He’ll go along with it. I know.” “Yeah. Dudes are like that. If you say he’s chill then he’s probably chill.” “How many times have you done this again?” Carlos chuckled and looked at Crystal. With a delicateness that made Crystal more than a little uneasy, he traced a line down the back of her hand on the tabletop. “Enough to know my way around.” “Oh, well,” Crystal exhaled, “We should set a date then.” “Heh,” Carlos said, “I’m busy this weekend, but anytime from next Wednesday on is good for me. Hit me up and I can probably be there within the hour. Where do you live?”
“Here,” Crystal said as she took out her phone to text him her address. ### The first time wasn’t as bad as Mike imagined it would be. True, the experience was a haunting amalgam of emotion and psychology infused with a thrilling and terrible lust but days later, shame and embarrassment arrived as he replayed his memories like the pornographic VHS cassettes of his youth, starting and stopping at the most torturous and delectable parts. His favorite was Crystal on all fours in the middle of their bed with Carlos working behind her and Mike kneeling at the bedside. Crystal had bored her eyes into Mike’s and kept repeating, “Harder, harder, harder,” as if she were channeling some deeper and universal existence via mantra. That night, after it was all over, Mike had shaken Carlos’ hand on the doorstep to his and Crystal’s home. After Carlos pedaled away on his bike, Mike remained on his porch and wept in what felt like heartbreak but not quite, a feeling that Mike relished in a way he considered twisted and unholy, yet scintillating all the same. Mike mulled the events of the evening as one recalling a nearly lucid dream. He examined it from all the angles he could conceive, running through a raft of perceptions and feelings from despair to joy. Oddly enough, the one emotion he failed to conjure was regret. Much later, Crystal came to the porch to get him and he followed her in, both unspeaking, into their bedroom where they engaged in the most intimate sex that lasted for quite some time. Afterward they’d slept in each other’s arms, much as they had in the heady days of their first year together in college when the world was new and they’d promised to love only the other, forever. In the weeks that followed, Mike’s memory of the night did not dim but his rationalization of it changed so that, when Crystal suggested another tryst with another guy chosen from the internet, Mike agreed. A few days later, Crystal revisited this acquiescence. “So,” Crystal said over a breakfast she’d made and served, “his name’s Gianni. He’s Italian.” Mike chewed his mouthful of eggs slowly, watching Crystal watch him over the top of her coffee mug. “I thought we were supposed to choose them together,” Mike said. “I know,” Crystal took a sip of coffee, “but work’s been so,” she made fluttering motions with her free hand. “I don’t think it’s really cool if you decide without
me.” “You were busy, and I didn’t want you to stress about it.” “I want to be part of this.” “Honey, I know, it’s…” “If we’re going to do this, we have to do it together.” “Come on, Mike.” “If we’re not doing this together what’s the point?” Crystal sighed. “Don’t be that way,” Mike said. “I’ll give up a lot for us but you can’t take it for granted.” “Don’t act like it’s some big sacrifice for you. Like you don’t love it.” Mike set his fork down and looked at Crystal, “I need to see any guys before you agree to meet.” Crystal huffed, “Fine.” “I’m serious, Crystal. What the hell? You said we’d get girls too. You had a guy. It’s my turn.” Crystal’s face turned sour. “You don’t have to remind me of what I said.” “It’d be nice for me, Crystal.” Crystal huffed. “Like it’s so easy for me to watch you with someone else.” “Mike, I need to be 100 percent sure I can deal with that before we try it. I’m still trying to process that. I don’t want to invite a woman here and then be too uncomfortable with it and have to send her away. God, how embarrassing would that be?” “But you’ve got no problem inviting another guy.” Crystal’s face softened and she reached across the table to Mike. “You loved it last time. We both did. Remember after he left? That was the best. That’s the whole reason I wanted this in the first place.” Mike looked down at her hand but made no move to take it. “Please, Mike? I know it’s asking a lot. I get it. It’s unfair. But I don’t know if I’m ready for another woman yet. I want to be sure I’d know how to act. What to do. How to feel. I have to really know before I commit.” Mike looked around the kitchen before returning his eyes to Crystal’s. “It’d be different if we’d, you know, did it more often too. Maybe I wouldn’t worry so much.” Crystal smiled. “Oh Mike, come here honey. Let’s go back to bed for a bit and talk this over.” She stood and held out her hand for him to take. He did.
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In this manner, the issue of Gianni was resolved. ### After Gianni there was Frank, then Tyler, then a string of young men that Crystal had not even told Mike their names and with whom she surprised Mike, once a month, when he arrived home from work, then Marc, then John, and finally, most recently and after a protracted stretch of inaction, came Darius. After Darius, Mike slept on the sofa for a week, called in sick to work, and spent much of his time in a stupor of drink. Crystal didn’t mind sleeping alone, or Mike camping on the sofa during the day, nor did she complain about Pond Petals the amount of liquor he consumed. Although he seemed deeply shaken by their most recent lover, Crystal wasn’t too troubled at his emotional low and reasoned that when Mike was ready to discuss his feelings, he would. She spoke little over the course of the week. In the mornings, she engaged in a polite dialogue that left him with a kiss on the cheek and a murmured “I love you” or “See you after work.” Coffee traveler in hand, she departed into the day that, once clear of Mike’s raincloud, brightened and seemed more free than those she’d previously experienced. Evenings were polite surface-level conversations required to discuss her day, or dinner, or household chores, and the studied avoidance of anything Crystal considered too “touchy.” He’d be fine, he just needed time to process. That weekend Crystal left an already half in the bag and Adventure Time marathoning Mike for her night out with Natasha. Crystal kissed him, deep and hard, with a violence that made his face contort in an unspoken question that Crystal left unanswered. At Natasha’s house, Crystal entered and found her friend at the kitchen island, corkscrewing a jug of wine. “Let’s do this,” Natasha winked as she popped the cork from the bottle. Crystal helped herself to a glass from the rack under the island and held it out for Natasha to fill. “You’d better make it a double.” Natasha winked, “Oh girl,” and she chuckled a prurient note as she poured. Glasses filled, they sat and Crystal nosed the wine. “Well,” Crystal paused to drink. She swallowed and sighed, “Darius was the best yet.” “Umm, details,” Natasha said.
“I don’t know where to start. He was the best. I’ve never had it like that before, not with Mike, not with anyone, and it wasn’t just his size. Everything about him, his body, and skin, and eyes, and voice was so,” Crystal closed her eyes and grunted softly, “I couldn’t stop coming.” “Damn girl, sounds like you’re in love.” Crystal sighed, “The only problem is Mike. He’s been moping around like a kicked puppy since Darius left.” “I can imagine.” “I don’t really get it though. He said he was fine with him before he showed up and he’s never been weird about the others, even the ones I got without his knowing.” Crystal paused to drink, “Plus I can’t bring up the subject for discussion because he’s got this look like he’s waiting for some excuse to completely fall apart on me.” “What was he like during?” “Fine. I asked him to do something but not anything we’ve not talked about.” “Like what?” “Oh,” Crystal bit her lip and the image of Mike wearing lacy white stockings and a chastity cage flitted before her mind’s eye, “something we tried out. I told him he could object to it if he felt uncomfortable but he didn’t. That’s the whole thing that’s weird. He was enthusiastic about this new thing while Darius was there but after he left Mike got, I don’t know, listless. He didn’t even want to make love after like he has.”
“Hmm. He didn’t say anything?” “No. And that’s the worst part. We’ve barely talked. I don’t know what to do.” Natasha considered the issue at hand as she drank. “Well, maybe tell him to man up and fulfill your needs once in a while? Doesn’t he know how lucky he is to have you at all?” Crystal rolled her eyes but smiled all the same, “You know it’s not like that.” Crystal downed the rest of the wine in her glass. “Come on, finish that up so we can get out of here and on the dance floor.” ### The tallest of the men called Mike into the room in the aftermath of the orgy. Crystal lay on her back on the bed, seemingly unconscious, a wreck of fluids, limbs, and wildly awry hair. He couldn’t see her face but he watched the long, slow undulation of her bare chest as she breathed. She didn’t raise her head as Mike came to the bedside to study her more closely. A burst of sobs gathered in Mike’s throat while a fire kindled his groin. The men around the bedside, all nude and covered in sweat, seemed disinterested in both him and Crystal. The men wore their satiety like a thick parka and looked around at each other with the faces of those involved in a successful team effort. No one paid attention to Mike as he stood watching Crystal’s breathing. After some minutes in that strange congregation, the men stretched and yawned and began to retrieve their clothes from the floor and dress themselves. Mike didn’t turn to look at them but he could feel their collective disdain seeping into the room. This was life now, his life, their life. This was the arc of his being and each point of its curvature was just as absurd as the one that came before and as improbable as the ones that followed and by examining one instance nothing of the past could be inferred and none of the future extrapolated. A scant six months had passed since Crystal’s night with Darius. Now he was here as the witness to this seemingly ultimate reality. Who knew what the future held? What kind of scenes lived there? What manner of sensations, both ecstasy and despair, filled those niches? What would Mike do with himself and all the panoply of being in a world that was so alien that it could and had produced this reality at that instant? “Well,” the tall man said as he stood in the bedroom doorway to leave, “I guess you better clean her up.” Without speaking, Mike set to his task.
Thorn Christie didn’t wake up when the girls screamed in the middle of the night, but she did when I called out for her. She came bursting in the door in her pajamas and that big t-shirt that made it look almost as though she was wearing a bra—of course she wasn’t—and Keoni who’s now her husband didn’t notice because there were other things to watch; he didn’t want to slip and fall on Jacks, and he had to somehow get me off her, until he realized why he shouldn’t, and why I was holding her with both hands. Church camp doesn’t usually go as well as we hope, and that year was just very bad. I was eleven my first year there and I didn’t have my period yet. It wouldn’t come for two more years, because I was a “late bloomer.” I was also Christie’s sister and that made me cool, especially because Christie’s least favorite person was usually Jesus and she didn’t have much room left to hate anyone else back then. Sometimes, she would let me listen to her Alice Cooper albums while she dyed her hair in our tiny shared bathroom sink, and she didn’t throw things at me if I caught her crying, which I guess some sisters do. She’d reach out a hand in the darkness of her bedroom—she’d painted the walls midnight blue, the real kind, so you couldn’t tell where the window began except for the stars—and she would grab my hand and squeeze it like she was checking for my pulse. Her fingers would press on my wrist and she’d purse her lips and say, “If you can feel it, I can too,” five or six times, until I believed it. Of course, she didn’t do anything weird like that at camp, because camp was not home and the cabin walls weren’t blue. They were the dingy white that might have been pearl back when they’d built it, but this was the millennium and the people had thought Jesus was coming didn’t bother to repaint. So, the walls were dingy. Christie said she liked them that way when she moved her girls into the other girls’ cabin and I followed a different teenager (who smiled too much) into her cabin/ my cabin, where Jacks and I called the first bunk by the door, and I got to sleep on the top. That first night all I heard was the wind and when I got a little older, I knew what I was hearing: the sound of four horses galloping, of power moving past me, just too fast to let me feel
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 their coats. I slept sound the next few nights, once I made friends with the horses. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t. “Elle, do you have any cigarettes?” That was when Jacks—Jaqueline—and I were not quite best friends. We were twelve then. “What?” I asked. “Do you have any of Christie’s cigarettes?” Jacks asked again, looking up at me from the bottom bunk, her hair scraping the ground like a perfect brunette shovel. Her hair was well-trained. I lay back against the bunk. I ran my hands through my hair so it stuck up and ran the wrong way down the side of my head. My sister Christie liked punk rock music from the ‘70’s, and I wanted to be like her, so when she started spiking her hair and rebelling I did too, only I didn’t do either of those things all-out. I only ran my fingers through my hair and made sure I never “trained” it. “Hon, you have to teach your hair to fall the right way,” my mom would say; I didn’t want to. I wasn’t sure if this damn pastor’s kid was trying to trick me, but I didn’t have any cigarettes; Christie did, but I’d never even thought about stealing them until that moment. Christie barely smoked anyway; nobody knew that she would quit within seven weeks from that night in the cabin in the valley. Jacks looked out the screen door, watching for movement in the dark cabin across the way. “Someone turn off the light,” someone mumbled. Jacks went outside, hitting the switch. In the dark, the wind blew monkey pods off their trees, showering the tin roof with bullet sounds. An eleven-year-old, the youngest girl at camp, screamed. Someone gasped so loudly it made me gasp. Rocks rolled down the hillsides surrounding the cabins like a drumroll. A red light I thought was Christie’s lit outside our window. And God saw that it was dark and God didn’t send the moon. Jacks didn’t tell people she missed her parents like she didn’t tell people she wet the bed when we were children, but I heard her crying that first night. Someone always does, only I didn’t think it would be Jacks. Last year, Jacks and I swapped stories with the two guy counselors and I lost $2 because I bet that the wrong little boy would be the crier. I’d put my money on a boy who I found out
61 later ran away from home. His parents didn’t know he’d gone to church camp, and didn’t care when they’d found out, because he was “fucked up the ass” with or without God to do it, and the real crier was a kid who seemed to hate everything who was just scared of the things he was scared of. He was in Keoni’s cabin that year, back when Christie didn’t like him, back when he said “Jesus fucking loves you, man” to every new kid at the camp. Christie never stopped him from saying it and watched the good kids’ eyes get wide and then wet and then they were crying on her shoulder and she was suddenly their mom, and they were all alone, just like every statue of Mother and Child you’ve ever seen. Christie’s favorite part of being my sister was probably the part before I was born. She liked me a little as a baby and not at all as a kid until she stopped being a good girl and started smoking cigarettes. She liked me when she realized I got her, or wanted to, and the millennium still felt fresh and young and hopeful, except that there was a War and poison in the mail and no one knew what it meant that Jesus didn’t come years ago, back when 2001 was a good year, the first new chance since the last big, big time Jesus didn’t show up, and it was 2005 and too late for Him to come without disrupting regularly scheduled programming on Fox. I didn’t quite get it then and neither did Christie, since we both knew that Jesus liked to show up at church camp. We’d sing a song or two and suddenly we’d hear something, like someone crying in the back, and suddenly everyone was crying, or laughing, and it wasn’t surprising when the pastor would cancel a few rounds of games because Jesus had decided to attend the camp we threw for him. Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb, oh sinners let’s go down, let’s go down, are you washed in the Amazing grace of the Lamb are you washed? But Jacks fell off her bed, and it made a big noise; both shoulders and her hands and her feet had all hit the ground all at different times like a drumroll, and I heard it over the wind. I climbed down. Jacks hadn’t woken and didn’t wake when I hopped from the last rung of the 2x4” ladder nailed to the bunk. The cool air blew up my shorts so they puffed out, because they were hand-medown Gap pajamas I would never admit were scratchy. I’ve tried to remember the sound of the footsteps from six years ago every day, only I can’t, because the what-it-was didn’t make sounds like that. If it had, I’d have woken up. I know that. Instead, I curl a lock of hair around one finger
Sheary Clough Suiter
until all the blood gets cut off, my way of making sure I could feel it. I don’t remember if I heard Jacks come back in after she left, if I heard her padding in the darkness back to the bed below me. Why would I remember the footfalls of someone so close to my own weight and size and strength? I am in my own cabin and Jacks is in another one. We’re at a different camp this year and we never go back to the other camp in a valley on the other part of the island: we don’t want to, our church doesn’t want to, and nowPastor Christie doesn’t want to and that’s that. Christie’s word is law now and no one really gets why I don’t mind as much as they think I should. Christie doesn’t seem to care about Jacks and I, or maybe she just knows who we really are, and the past, and lets us be. We pretend for the girls in our cabin that there are no scars on us and that we never saw anything and hallelujah, I can’t see. Tomb is empty. Cross’s full. Tomb is empty, cross’s full; tomb is empty. Jacks didn’t move anymore so I crawled closer and when I put my hand on her thigh it was sticky. I thought it was sweat, and then I started sweating, because I thought she’d started bleeding and beat me to being a grown-up, even though her hair was trained and she didn’t look up to anyone and never thought a thing about other people. I tried to turn her over and she was sticky in the front and I thought I might throw up,
because I already knew you didn’t put tampons in that high. It wasn’t until I felt wet—real wet, active wet—on her side that I turned on the light, and when the first scream died down I called for Christie. Jacks was bleeding all over now, and it rolled down her flat stomach under her t-shirt soaking her t-shirt/soaking my t-shirt when I started feeling her skin to find the hole and nearly screamed again when I felt her belly button and that it was full like it would be at the beach or bath time. I saw a big thing under her shirt, and it was a thorn and the blood was coming from there, so I pulled it out and stuck my finger in her side, laying over her. She woke up then and didn’t say a word because she was looking at me and I was looking at her and we were making promises. I know what she looked like when she saw me laying on her with my fingertip almost scraping her rib until Keoni picked us both up because I wasn’t letting my finger out, and he laid us both in the backseat of a van and we were flipped around, with me under her, and her hair fell around my face, well-trained. When the night is long (no, dark), won’t you stand, stand by me? Christie always drove the van from the first time she got her permit, even though it wasn’t legal, she was doing the Lord’s work, even if she was a smoker, and it’s the Lord’s work in public that’s rewarding for a teenager; she drove it until that night, she drove that night, and when we got to the hospital she called Jacks’ house from the payphone without even looking up her number, because she’d heard me singing it to myself until I remembered it and she remembered it so I could call Jacks the minute our mom got off the phone with her prayer group, because our mom believed cell phones could give us cancer in our breasts and our hands and our ears. And where did you go when I was watching you watching me where did you go when you put your fingers in me where did you go and why did you stay? If Jacks hadn’t lived, no one would have stopped to ask a thing. “Young lady, where’d you get that?” even though I couldn’t see them I knew the doctor talking to me had never seen a monster before. I didn’t realize I was still holding the thorn until Keoni tried to take it from me when Jacks went away into
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 surgery, and I knew right then it looked bad, because I was holding a big thorn and Jacks was only sort-of holding a pulse. “I didn’t get it anywhere—I got it by Jacks when I tried to figure out why she was on the floor, and it was under her shirt.” “Why would Elle do that?” her mom asked, pressing me against her chest because her daughter was too bandaged up on the side and the I.V. wasn’t staying in. “Why would anyone?” the doctor replied, running his hand over Jacks’ forehead. I washed my hands in the sink while they talked, adding soap when the doctor wanted to be sure no one thought it was me, because why would I do it, how would I? “What’re you trying to say?” Christie leaned in toward the doctor and he took a step forward, like they were going to throw down right then and there, only Jacks’ mom was there, and she didn’t believe for a second I could hurt Jacks, and I didn’t think my parents would think so either, and neither did Christie, and besides, where could I have got that thorn? And I washed myself until a big cop—with tattooed shoulders and fire-burns on the inside of his calves—grabbed my hands and held them together because my hands were already warm and I needed to feel them and feel them and not the inside of Jacks and not the inside of me.
didn’t have a valley that made noises like the first one, that it didn’t have monkey pods, that overlooked an older hatred that was getting colder with every new year, that shrank from the sound of horses, of four horses. “Elle, I’m scared,” Jacks says, and I kiss the side of her head and turn on a flashlight that shone straight up past the red lights floating in the black ocean, either fishing boats or something else, and I was back in the valley again. I am twelve years old, I am scared, and I don’t know if it is really the future until I hear drums coming up from the ocean between the rocks and echoing around them, and the lights in the jungle are dimming and the lights in the jungle are coming closer. “I’m already praying,” and I am already screaming for Jesus to come down into the wind and my voice falls over the cliff onto the backs of the horses and we hear whinnying in the sea that drowns out the sound of drums, and the red lights in the jungle are getting colder and colder, and the girls in our cabin call our cell phones to tell us there were voices on the wind and we tell them they can’t use phones and they should go to sleep and listen for the sound of hoof beats and that there’s nothing to be afraid of unless you hear the sound of footsteps. We don’t explain. Jacks gets up, silent, stepping through the weeds, not caring if they leave scratches on her legs. I am watching for thorns.
Who is that with that thorn in his hand, and mister you can’t stick that up my shirt and ow! No I won’t scream I thought that would hurt more, get your hands off me, you’re a bad man, aren’t you? But the thorn was not from our island. It was from the wilderness far away, “where no one but Satan had ever been,” whatever that means. The doctor and the police didn’t really like my story until they tried to ask who else could have done it, and when Keoni said “something else,” no one laughed. The policeman kissed a cross he wore around his neck and his lips split, burning wind blowing in over the gold beams, blasting my face. Jacks lived, and that means we won, kind of, because Jesus doesn’t have to fight over that valley anymore, because we don’t want to win those fights anymore, and Jacks’ mom said she would sue the church if they ever asked any of us to go there again, and the police already had my fingerprints and already thought that two little girls couldn’t be so interesting, so I couldn’t do a thing but hope that the new camp far away on a cliff
Animal Behavior Graham followed, bloodying his palms on the salmonberry to catch his balance. “It’s important to be wounded,” he said. He showed his hands to the guide then wiped them on his new pants. “I avoid it when I can,” Falco said without looking back. He followed game trails through birches which sometimes opened into cottonwood orchards where deer had trampled the meadows to mud. The elder bushes were bitten back hard. Too many deer. They were going to fish on Park Creek. That’s what Merle and Falco called the drainage that linked their camp to the center of the island. Merle had built the camp near Park Creek’s mouth, where it carried quartz and gold dust to a black gravel delta that, at low tide, nearly closed off the bay. It was an old mining claim. Falco was taking Graham to the pool where silver salmon collected before thrashing up a canyon. The drainage hooked behind one of the long, peninsular ribs that descend from the backbone of the island and define its bays. Merle had always called those sharp, icy mountains “The Spine.” They were nearly to the pool when Graham whispered, “Look,” and pointed out a lone hoof track in the mud. “I think there might be a deer here.” His eyes went wide inside their heavy brows. “I think you’re right, Graham.” Falco tried not to treat him like a child, but he couldn’t help ending sentences with his name. He led with exaggerated quietness, stopping sometimes to listen. Graham unslung his rifle -- a Savage 30-06 that still had stickers on it -- and tried to walk exactly in Falco’s footsteps. It was the same, ordinary rifle Graham had used two days before to shoot a mountain goat through the hoof, across the rump, and in the gut before they could finally get close enough to kill it. Falco’s rifle wasn’t old, but saltwater had corroded the blueing and its butt stock was chipped because he used it as a walking stick. He was hard on his body, too, which at thirty-five had bad knees and back, arthritic fingers, and deep lines around the mouth that showed through a fine blond beard. The skin above his cheeks was thin and creased, which gave him a distant expression. From time in the binoculars, he thought. His eyes, though, were quick and earnest. In
close conversation he had the same youthful energy as when he had first met Merle at O’Hare. Falco had stood at the baggage claim, looking for an Alaskan Hunting Guide that had rescued three Kodiak bears siblings when their mother was shot. The Zoo was flying Merle down for their bear symposium. Big beard, Falco had thought. Plaid shirt. “You the zoo kid,” a very tall man asked. He wore a blazer. The man bent toward him and Falco could smell booze on his breath. His short dress pants made him look even taller. Falco stood quietly until his expectations adjusted. “How did you know?” “You smell like shit.” Falco worked in an animal behavior lab where he entered data on a computer. He wished he smelled more like shit. Merle leaned down again and winked. “No. I can’t smell worth a damn, anyway.” At the symposium, Merle had talked about how trophy hunting helped Kodiak bears. One of the scientists asked how many he’d killed and Merle said he had only taken one bear himself. “I caught her knocking down my cabin wall,” he said. “Wish I didn’t have to do it.” “But when you take trophy hunters, do you carry a gun?” “Of course.” Merle shook his head slightly at the scientist. “I back my clients up, if that’s what you mean.” The man smiled. “How many bears have you pulled the trigger on?” Merle thought for a minute and counted on his fingers. “Close to a hundred, I’d guess.” Doctor Petersen stood quickly and thanked Merle politely for saving the baby bears. Merle sat down heavily next to Falco. “They think I’m a peasant who accidentally dug up a pot of gold,” he’d said from the side of his mouth. “These bitches,” he finished his wine and exhaled, “wouldn’t know a tapeworm if it crawled out of their ass.” Falco quit his job and went to Kodiak that summer. Merle flew him to the hunting camp in his 206. Neither of them had been south in eight years. Falco walked upstream until the canyon vaulted above them. Its whitewater swirled and churned into a dark pool. He pointed out the slow, dark dorsal fins of salmon resting at the inside bend. “Just cast across them and pull your lure through that bunch.” “Won’t we scare them?” Graham scrunched
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his eyes shut when he asked questions. He might have thought he was blinking, but it used more cheek than eyelid. “I doubt it,” Falco said. “Good job walking quietly back there, Graham.” Falco picked a stem of dry rye grass and chewed it while Graham lowered himself down the cutbank and threaded his rod. Once, in the zoo basement, Falco had found an escaped chimp tugging at a payphone. The monkey squinted at him. With a sudden violent motion it broke the telephone cord and galloped down the hall holding the receiver. Graham glanced up at Falco and moved a few steps upstream. He swung the rod with the bail closed and the lure splashed into the shallows. Graham slammed the reel open and tried again, losing his balance with the cast. Falco turned his back to the stream so Graham didn’t feel watched. Falco had gone to college for animal behavior, which had all the benefits though none of the social requirements of studying people. He had had a few strong human relationships, but they’d all soured in the end. It had been that way with Doctor Petersen and the director at the lab. Merle was different, though. Merle had never meant to misuse him. When Falco had cornered the escaped monkey it brandished the phone receiver. He knew he should return the chimp to its enclosure but crouched to speak softly and the animal came to him. It rested the thick skin of its palm on Falco’s shoulder in the sort of gesture only one free being could give to another. He let it walk its strong fingers up to his ear. They faced each other curiously. “I’m sorry,” he’d said. Startled, the monkey jumped back, clubbed him on the forehead with the phone and run out into the hallway. Oh well. He had been sorry, all the same. Graham made a few casts well short of the fish, which held their place. The lure was heavy enough that he should have been able to send it all the way across. Graham relaxed into the gentle repetition of retrieving the spoon. Maybe he just wanted to fish without actually catching one.
much anymore, but it happened to Merle, and Falco still had the small bag of his ashes in the hide shed. The new pilot was young and couldn’t get the back door handle to turn. When it did pop open a flat of eggs slid onto the dock. “Sorry,” he said. “Rough flight.” Falco set the eggs on a fuel drum. Graham stumbled off the plane under the weight of his backpack. His lips and eyebrows stuck out so that he looked like a pensive, balding ape. He shook Falco’s hand and then leaned in for a back-patting hug. Falco had hunted with Graham before -- sheep and moose in the Alaska Range and once for brown bear on the Peninsula. Graham pretended to be a plumber, but he sure had a lot of money for trophy hunts. Falco planned to bring the ashes into the head of Park Creek, but he was booked solid through the winter. He’d have to get up there on a hunt, and needed a strong client to make it over the mountains and back. He and Merle had always wanted to hunt up there. Once they’d watched from the plane as forty-six goats formed a line and walked out the head of the valley through a narrow notch. They could plot approaches on the map, but neither of them had made it to the high bowl that looked, from camp, like the belly button of the island. Falco helped Graham carry his bags up the slick stairs. Camp was a collection of buildings racked by wind. Merle built the main house and a guest cabin; Falco had added a small cabin for himself. There was also a small shack leftover from the mining claim that, by unspoken tradition, they left to decay. They stretched and salted the hides in there and hung mesh meat bags from the haphazard rafters. So far, it still stood. Canning salt seeped from its foundation and the door skewed off one hinge. The charter plane roared away from the cove. Graham set down bags at his cabin. He spread his arms and sighed deeply. “It’s good to be back,” he said, and wrapped Falco in another hug. He meant Alaska, maybe, because he’d never set foot on Kodiak. Falco imagined that Graham was the disappointing son of a powerful businessman. He tested Graham’s gym muscles under the new camo jacket. He could probably make it to the Spine.
When Graham had arrived three days earlier, Falco expected to see Merle get out of the floatplane, too. The old man wouldn’t be tying up at the floating dock anymore. He had flown straight into a mountain that spring, when the ceiling closed down during one of his rare runs to town. Crashes like that didn’t happen very
Finally, by luck, Graham snagged a silver in the heavy current. After a few runs he pulled it onto the clay. The fish was pale red, with its silver scales long gone, and lay tangled in monofilament from desperate rolls to throw the lure. As Graham worked the line off, a few orange eggs
66 rolled out onto the bank and back into the water. “A nice fish, eh?” “A very nice fish.” Falco used pliers to pull the rusted treble hook from where it had snagged, near her vent. “Would you like a picture?” “Of course.” Graham held the fish gently for the photo. “Nice. You know how to let her go, running the water over her gills?” “I’d like to keep it.” Falco always paused before speaking. This came off as awkwardness among people who prepared their next statement while the other person spoke. Here on Kodiak, though, he felt that clients appreciated time to weigh their thoughts. “Will you eat it? The meat will be pretty far gone.” “No, we’ll mount him.” The fish moved quietly and Graham squirmed against it. Clients came to escape whatever trapped them down south, and Falco didn’t like to burst their bubbles. Falco touched his waxed baseball hat. “They don’t do skin mounts on fish anymore. A taxidermist will use a photo and measurements to make a fiberglass model. You’d better let her go before she’s too weak to swim.” “Aren’t those skin mounts in the house?” Graham squeezed his eyes closed and shook his head a little. At times, Falco pitied his clients so much he forgot to be angry with them. “Yes, but they were done fifty years ago. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who does them, now.” “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll find someone,” Graham said, handing the fish back. “Can you kill him, please?” Falco didn’t notice Merle’s absence so much a shadowy presence in his own habits and attitudes. Now wordless, Merle-like hatred overtook his pity. He rapped the fish on its forehead with his knuckles. She jerked and the muscles quivered. Graham scurried off into the weeds, probably to take a shit, which he did after most exciting events. He slid the thin tip of his boning knife into the fish’s skull, cut out the stiff gills and washed her in the water. Even so, her body undulated in the current. Dying was such a long process. Her skeleton was already soft and the throat had separated so that her head gaped free, attached only by the backbone. She was a poor, midsized fish. He held her over the water and massaged the eggs from her belly into the current. Salmon, he thought, most ancient of fish. Female antecedent to all. The current was probably too strong for them to be fertilized but
CIRQUE what did it hurt. The canyon cut its top layers through glacial sediment and volcanic ash, but the bottom was a dark corridor of smooth schist. Salmon rested in pockets carved into its overhung walls. A few bright dikes of quartz receded up the black walls, padded with moss and fern. Falco had tried to walk around it on a bear hunt last year, but his client had been fat, and they had to turn back. Even after the canyon it was many miles to the green, headwater lake. Two days ago they had nearly made it over the mountains to that basin where spring’s lemony green held long into the fall. Falco loved Kodiak’s insistent wetness. The water that evaporated here seemed to fall right back down. There was always a bit of life crawling out of some sodden pore. He’d had his eyes on the highlands and when he looked back down, a bear walked on a sandflat downstream. It moved slowly with steps originating in its swinging belly. Falco liked watching them peel open salmon and swallow them down. The bear looked at Falco, glanced above him to where Graham may have been pulling up his pants by now, and disappeared silently into the alder. They walked back to camp, where he set Graham up in the guide cabin with a small curved knife and a sharpening stone. Falco demonstrated how to pull the blade over the stone, and George tried with shaking hands. “I don’t think I can do it,” he said. “You got it, boss.” Falco opened the fish down its side and set it in Graham’s lap. It would be difficult to finish without ripping the decaying skin, but Graham needed to do something for himself, even if he failed. Falco got some beer from under the porch and pulled a broken plastic chair next to Graham to work on the goat head. The painstaking work of ears nose, eyelids and lips would last him the afternoon. Falco stropped the fine tip he needed. He adjusted the diesel stove and made his first cut to pull clean, white skin away from the skull. Falco loved the inner workings of animals -- where the blood comes and goes; how the bones fit into one another. Muscles peeled apart in perfect packets like they were supposed to be meat. On the mountain he was careful not to set boned meat on dirty rock or lichen. Sometimes, he would drag an animal a long way to get it to snow or a stream where he could clean it properly. He had made Graham drag the goat to the edge
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of the snowfield so Falco could look down into Park Creek while he worked. It was such a perfect, blue day to walk and still early. Falco had tried to settle into skinning, but the ragged flaps of hide were dirty and he had to be careful around the hind flanks where a bullet had creased both haunches and the scrotum. Maybe his bullet. The front hoof was punctured through its hard sidewall. Viscous oil poured from the soft interior pad where the goat used to feel its footing on slate. He blamed Graham for taking the shot, but Falco should have been a better babysitter. They had watched the small billy for a few minutes. It was at about four hundred yards, sidehilling talus. It had small glands and spiky horns and was no trophy, but it kept glancing up before moving. Falco snuck ahead to see if it was looking to more goats above. He hadn’t been ready when Graham shot. Falco turned to see the goat hunch and stumble before trotting down the talus. It looked like a good chest hit from the way the animal shrugged, so he was slow to find a rest on his jacket, dial down and shoot. He should have been able to put the goat down, but the animal ran before Falco got on. He’d hit it once at about five hundred, and he’d broken its front leg at even farther. That was long range for a .375, but Falco wasn’t proud. There was no reason for a fit guy like Graham to take a long shot like that. With a little patience, you could usually get inside a hundred yards. He’d never done it with a client, but once, wearing a white Tyvek painting suit, he’d come close enough to see a big billy’s strange, squared pupils. The hunters always brought camo, but
goats were more comfortable with white. Graham’s goat dragged itself downhill to lay in the melted pocket under a boulder. It raised its head to moan as they picked their way down. It looked like a yellow stain in the shadow. At two hundred yards, Falco made Graham shoot again. “Hold right where its shoulder pokes out. You can kill it, Graham.” But he’d missed and it still whimpered when he shot again at a hundred. Sick with its distress, Falco ran up and killed it from ten yards. He smoothed the goat’s ears as it finally quieted and waited ten minutes with his fingers in the coarse hair. Falco wanted them both to calm down before they did anything. Falco stood slowly. “Alright, Graham?” “I feel awful, man.” His eyebrows were pulled down tight and their wispy outer edges quivered. Falco eyed the pass above them. Once he’d seen a bear run through that gap. It wasn’t likely, but if it happened, he wanted more time before it got to the goat. He took a piece of cord from his pack and slipped it around the hind leg. “Drag him down where the ice rolls over that edge. Not too close, though.” The guts were destroyed. They poured out in a stinking mess, purple and green and all mixed up. Above the diaphragm the lungs were roiled with broken ribs and froth from his last shot. He found a fragment of Graham’s 30-06 against the far hide and held it up. “That’s your bullet,” he said. “Went through the chest, probably your first shot.” Graham had a small knife out but hadn’t found a
68 way to help. “It’s ruined, eh? The trophy?” Falco turned downhill. The body cavity breathed rank steam across his view of Park Creek. “No. The taxidermist can fix it. At least it didn’t lose a horn, like if it had fallen off a cliff.” “They do that?” “Fall off cliffs? Yeah, when you poke holes in them. A taxidermist can make up a fake horn, even.” Falco worked the hide off the ribs. It was a three-year old and came off easily. He hardly had to use the knife. “The fall’s what kills ‘em a lot of the time. They’re one hell of a tough animal, and yours wasn’t in a place to fall.” From where he skinned, the hanging lake at the head of the valley looked like a green eye. Park Creek’s highest spring sprouted from a bank of wet stones below the lake. Falco pulled the undamaged tenderloins from the vertebrae and sensed his own hidden muscles with a sinking thrill. Merle had shown him that the island’s interior was a secret. Kodiak’s people had always looked outward, drawing their life from the sea. But the interior -- its thickets and milky streams, berry-covered highlands and long plateaus -- remained a mystery to almost everyone. Pilots flew over and knew the landmarks, but Falco had run his hands through its hair. He finished two beers before he looked up. Graham was running along pretty good. He had his tongue out between oversized lips, which he hadn’t opened to speak in who knows how long. Falco let out an impressive fart. It was magnified by the plastic chair on the raised plywood floor and they both paused before laughing. “Whew!” It was nice to see a smile on Graham’s face. He’d been taking himself so seriously since the goat. “You know, I’ve been married twenty years, and I’ve never farted in front of my wife.” “Go ahead,” Falco flipped the skin off the head bone, “I’m not your wife.” “I mean anybody.” Falco gestured around the bunkhouse—antlers and bullet boxes, old gloves and knives. “This is the best fart rehearsal room in the world.” He stomped the resonant floorboards. “Makes even an amateur something special.” Graham laughed again and with a distracted gesture put a long tear in the fish skin. He swore and jiggled his foot. “That’s it, then. The whole thing is fucked. I ruined it.”
CIRQUE That was the same way he was on the way up the mountain, poor guy. Always ready to blame himself. They were almost to tundra when he realized that every movement of his arm spun his scope turret. It was an expensive scope, but Graham hadn’t marked the zero, so he couldn’t tell how far off it was. “This whole hunt. I’ve been planning it for years, and now look. My rifle is fucked.” Then he ran into the bushes to shit. Falco said it was okay, that they could boresight it when they got to camp and if nothing else, he could use Falco’s gun. Beneath his reassurances, though, Falco’s anger rose against the pitiful, frantic energy. Falco set down the nearly skinned head in his lap, its lips inside-out. The fish skin was torn across the belly. He reached down to the sixpack and opened one for each of them. “You’re going to have two ragged trophies from this trip,” he said, and drank half the beer in a gulp. He raised the can. “Congratulations.” “You said the taxidermist could cover up the damage, right? Because the hair was so long?” “He will.” After a year or two of looking at the perfectly mounted animal, Graham would forget how they’d ripped it apart. And how it lay there bawling for half an hour before they could finish it off. Falco despised clients who mangled the pure essence of things to serve their ego. Few didn’t. “Fuck, man. You know I feel awful about how that went.” Graham extended the tear in the skin until it separated into two strips over the gray flesh. “It’s not polite to talk about it.” Falco lifted his hand. He was ashamed of ruining Graham’s hunt and disappointed they hadn’t made the high valley. He would be polite. “I just wish we hadn’t ruined that goat’s day.” Falco knew that Graham was waiting for an opportunity to justify himself. He’d probably start by glorifying the animal. “It’s okay. They’re just tough animals. Magnificent animals.” Graham sipped his beer with hazy eyes and exhaled like he’d taken a shot of liquor. “I just like being in their country.” They sounded like soothing phrases that Graham had repeated to himself before he came, but also like practice for stories he’d tell his indifferent wife. Next, Graham would say something about friendship. He always talked like Falco and Merle were his buddies, but you don’t pay your buddy this kind of cash. “I’m glad we could go up there together,” he said.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 Falco wished they hadn’t gone up there at all. “They are tough.” They both drank their beers and stared at the wall. Falco turned down the oil stove. Graham burped loudly. Getting warmed up for a fart, maybe. “How come you never got married?” He rolled strips of fish skin into little balls. Falco shook his head and pulled the wooden form out from the ear. Just the eyelids left to finish up. “Not fit for female company.” “Don’t you get lonely?” Falco was lonely but not for women. He wished Merle was there to help him hate Graham. Merle always believed that living without humanity is superhuman, but made an exception for Falco. “I was born lonely, I think. Nobody to remind me of it around here.” “I’m the opposite. I have to try hard to get alone. Back home, everybody wants me to do something.” He laughed. “Try being married sometime, man.” Falco coughed. “You’re not lonely, then.” “Not when I’ve got good friends to hunt with.” Falco had the uncomfortable sense that Graham was about to lean against his shoulder. He scooted his chair away. “Listen, man, if I could live this life, I would. Little house on the water. It’d be perfect.” Falco finished his beer. Graham looked so mournful that the pity returned against his anger. “I don’t have to bite off farts for anybody, anyway.” “But I didn’t grow up to it. You must have done this since you were a little kid.” “Nope. My dad ran a grain elevator.” Falco hadn’t admitted that in years. “I’m from Indiana.” “What?” Graham shook his head. “Guess I never knew you could. Until too late. How’d you start guiding, then?” Falco laughed a little and crushed his can with a twist. “I got a college degree for it.” “Stop shittin’ me.” “No, I did. Animal Behavior. Had a bunch of stuck up bosses, then I met Merle by accident.” Merle was the first man he’d met who was proud of imperfection. He wore t-shirts filigreed with sweat holes. He spit into the bottom of the skiff. It wasn’t always easy to be around him, but it was easier to be around himself in Merle’s presence. Falco clenched his jaw to keep the tears back. “I never went to college.” Graham turned the fish’s gray flesh in his hands. “What are we doing tomorrow?” Graham had paid for a five day hunt and they were only two down. Three days was a long time to sit
69 around camp. They could go ocean fishing, but the halibut had likely moved deep by now. They could hunt deer or chase ducks around in the skiff. “Haven’t decided yet. You think about what you want to do, and let me know in the morning.” “What time is breakfast?” Graham stood and dropped the rank fish skin in the scrap bag. “I’ll get you up,” Falco said. Graham stepped outside then peeked back in through the almost shut door. “I’m sorry about Merle,” he said. “He was a good friend.” Falco nodded slowly. He waited for Graham to close the door before slowly shutting his eyes and squeezing tears onto his nose. You got no idea, he thought. Falco finished the head and took the hide to the shed. His headlamp cast plump shadows from the meat bags. He unfolded the skin on the floorboards and poured salt from a forty pound bag. He knelt to spread salt across the flapped skin. The hide would cure here for a couple weeks before he sent it off to the taxidermist. Every animal out of Merle’s camp had paused in this building before its immortal tenure in somebody’s trophy room. Falco liked the humid, metallic smell. Moisture from the skins of all the bears and deer and goats and even a few foxes had joined the air in this broken down shed. He liked that their living wetness stayed on Kodiak so the hunters took nothing but dry, dead husks with them. The salt got into nicks on his knuckles he hadn’t noticed. Falco carefully worked the fine crystals into sinuses of the goat’s face. He turned out his light and knelt over it a long time. He listened to the dock sway under light waves. An oil drum bonged with the cooling temperature. The salt dissolved with a subtle hiss. He cleaned salt and fat from his fingernails. Falco turned on his light, nodded to the rafter where he’d hidden Merle’s ashes and went in to bed. Falco slept badly and got up to piss. The moon was down and it was past the middle of the night by the tide. The dry skiff was about to float. His inland mind told him that a moonless night is pure dark, but the sea gathered starlight and the subtle electrical pulses of its creatures and heaved itself luminous on the shoreline. The Spine’s was a jagged, blank border below the stars. Merle was up there. The Coast Guard retrieved his body but up high, Falco felt, he could still meet Merle. He didn’t know if they’d recognize each other, Merle being dead. Some old trait would give him away, though -- long
70 steps on the outside of his feet, maybe. He expected to see Merle through the binoculars, striding a distant ridge. Merle never said much, so it wasn’t right that they’d talk. Even just a wave would calm him down. In the last few years, Merle resented his clients more and more. Falco didn’t think it very professional, but as part of his unconscious imitation, he indulged himself in the same, quiet judgements: naive, childish, helpless, egotist. To avoid confronting those traits in himself, Falco tried to live one moment at a time. He didn’t give much thought to the future and hadn’t considered what guiding would mean without Merle. He hadn’t planned to take over the operation but he was licensed for it, and the hunts had already been booked. Graham was his first client since Merle died. Falco had put up with him so far, but the remaining three days weighed like a dense pack he couldn’t find a place to set down. Falco hummed but it made him more lonely. The nights in October were too long to wait for sunrise. They could still make the green-eyed lake, he thought, if they got an early start. Graham was fit and if they escaped the brush before lunch they could take two days up with
He's Not a Wolf I Swear
CIRQUE one to get back down. The tide filled under the skiff and it floated free to the end of its painter. He went into the main house to make breakfast. He said they were going deer hunting. They ate in the dark and by the time they skiffed to the gravel flats it was dawn. Falco carried their camp and Graham, his rifle. The deer were just standing from their beds as the sun hit them. “What about that one?” Graham pointed to a tall deer with his nose up a doe’s butt. “That’s a little guy.” It was a nice three-by, but Falco wasn’t hunting. If they were going to make it, he needed to keep Graham from shooting anything. By lunch they had passed the canyon and were in the broad, meandering flats. Graham had figured out they were making a dash for the Spine. “Better deer hunting up high, eh?” Falco stayed in his binoculars, watching an eagle fluff itself by the water. “That’s where the big ones are.” They camped on a small rise where they could see the rolling backs of salmon headed to spawn in stillwater crooks. A small bear walked out of the alder
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 and through the floodplain grasslands at dusk. Graham reached for his rifle but Falco touched his arm. “He’ll scent us when he gets to those trees,” he said. The bear made the downwind birches, then turned and put its weight on its hind legs to sniff at them. It dropped its ears and loped sideways across the stream. “He sure doesn’t like how you smell,” Falco said, and Graham smiled a little. He had peeled the stickers from his rifle, maybe seeing that they weren’t an integral part of the gun for the first time. It’s easy to get attached to things you don’t need. Falco remembered when he’d showed his first rifle, a Browning .338, to Merle. The old man said there was a lot of extra gun there and took it to the shop. Falco had watched, speechless, as he hacksawed four inches off the barrel. “It’ll just slow you down in the brush,” Merle had said, “You don’t need it.” It looked stubby for a while, but Falco got used to it. He got them up early. They ate by headlamp and started walking with the first blue light. Falco angled uphill to get out of the river, where it was too easy to surprise a bear in the brush. They left the cottonwoods and every clearing stretched longer than the last. By midmorning they were below the snowfield where Graham’s goat had bawled, waiting for them to kill it. Bears had already visited the carcass and spread ribs and back and leg bones along the snow’s lower skirt. Falco stopped to watch the ravens fight over scraps of fat. One flew with a strip of meat and the rest harried it. “It doesn’t take long to disappear out here,” Falco said. He wished the Coast Guard had just left Merle on the mountain. “Don’t let me die on this mountain, man.” Graham was only partly joking. “I want to tell stories when I get home.” After four days most clients got a little homesick. Falco scanned the valley through binoculars. He could never remember where Graham was from, but it had to be shittier than this. Falco had lived with general homesickness for too long to recognize it in himself. “I wouldn’t mind turning into raven poop.” “You know if I were younger, I’d be doing what you’re doing.” Graham heaved a heavy sigh. Why did they all say that? Like they were victims of their age. “Nobody’s getting any younger.” Falco led on, using his rifle as a walking stick. Graham struggled behind. He’d hurt his knee and tied a red bandanna on as a brace.
71 They sat in the vibrant, antlered lichens that topped the hummocks to eat candy bars. Graham hadn’t seen them yet, but they had pushed a line of ten goats onto the bulge to their left. Ahead of them was the steep trail that he and Merle had watched the huge herd use. The final push. “Is that the top?” Graham asked. “I think so.” It wasn’t quite, but from there they could look down into the lake. “Christ. I don’t think even a goat could get up that.” They dropped their packs and went up, leaning into the hill. The ridge was too thin to stand comfortably, so they lay down and peeked over the edge. The far side was a steep gully of broken rock that emptied onto a hanging patch of ice before dropping again into the green lake. It was perfectly round except for a small dent below them at a rockfall. Falco had thought that the lake was Park Creek’s source. He’d imagined that this ridge was porous so that its water seeped into the stream. But they had climbed on solid rock, and the lake met the cliffs in a clean line. Falco saw now that it was a terminal basin. It didn’t drain to anywhere, and the same water had frozen and unfrozen in that pocket every year since the glacier melted. “Is that the Spine?” Graham pointed to the serrated cliff opposite the lake. It was. If they got on those cliffs, they could see the other side of the island, but now that he was here Falco didn’t feel like exploring. “I thought it was going to be different,” he said. Falco shuffled forward on his knees and peed over the edge. Graham tried, but was too scared to get any out. They returned to the grassy bowl behind them to set up camp. The willow twigs around them were covered with hanks of dirty goat hair. Falco lay on his pack and glassed the herd they had displaced. They made dinner, and sunlight walked up the opposite slope. By then the goats had come down and stood near camp, even though Graham wouldn’t shut up. “What a beautiful spot!” He said, yet again. “Thanks for bringing me up here, man.” Falco drummed his fingers on a wet stone. He had expected this to be a sacred place but couldn’t get into the mood with Graham around. Falco uncapped his binoculars and glassed the nearest goats. “Too bad we didn’t see any good deer, eh?” Of course he still wanted to kill something.
72 “You have another goat tag,” Falco said from behind the binoculars. “That one by the stream is a huge nanny. She’s got to be twelve or better.” “You mean shoot her?” “She’s inside two hundred yards.” There was a big billy, too, but he was farther and Falco didn’t trust Graham’s aim. “You can use my rifle if you’re still worried about yours.” They watched her for a few minutes before Graham picked up Falco’s gun and stretched off the scope cover. He sat quietly on the ground and settled his elbows into his knees. The nanny fed toward them. She was very white against the yellow willows, and the hair fell from her flanks in twisted dreadlocks. Falco heard the safety tick off, the bolt draw back and the familiar clink of one of his jacketed rounds in the chamber. She lifted her head to the noise. Dusk was coming quickly, and the first stars were out above the bowl. The goats, bunched around them in the depthless, rolling flats, appeared to float as they fed. If it couldn’t be sacred, Falco had a perverse desire for the chaos of fleeing goats and the transformation of a gorgeous wild animal into nothing but a carcass. “Just keep shooting,” Falco whispered. “If she’s still moving, reload and shoot her again.” He slid a rack of bullets against Graham’s leg. “Should I wait until she turns?” Head on wasn’t a great shot, but he wanted Graham to blow her to bits. He shrugged. “Your call.” She had a narrow face and graceful horns that seemed to almost touch in the back. He usually tried to ask the forgiveness of animals but couldn’t tonight. Graham adjusted his seat and settled the stock into his shoulder. His breathing was fast. “Damn. Can’t hold it.” He put up the gun and stretched prone, resting the stock on a hummock. Graham’s breathe slowed and Falco hunched his shoulders in anticipation of the shot. The dark was coming quickly, but things looked brighter in the scope. Graham still had a minute or two. Falco heard the safety click back on and the rustle of Graham lifting the rifle to vertical. “Not going to shoot her?” “That’s okay,” Graham said. “That would be a long way to carry her back.” Falco nodded. He slumped against the pack, and his sweat chilled him. All his overlying emotions had burned out, and Falco drifted on his sadness. It was a pleasant enough night up here. He couldn’t remember why they’d come. Deer hunting. He laughed silently. “It’s a still night for a shot, anyway.”
CIRQUE Graham dropped the magazine, ejected the chambered bullet and handed the rifle back to Falco. “You know, you could live up here.” Poor guy. Falco understood that Graham’s life felt like a cage, but this was a little extreme. “No, you couldn’t.” “I mean, make a little hut from stones, eat ptarmigan and goat and deer.” In a minute he sat up. “It’s a tough winter this high. See that line where the grass stops? The bowl is drifted full to there. There’s no wood to keep a fire going. No place to land a plane. You’d have to make it down to salt every time you needed something.” He shook his head. But, even with all those reasons, he knew it could be done. They both knew it was possible, just hard and lonely, which heightened the attraction. “But still,” Graham said. “Maybe in that hollow by the spring.” Falco already had looked it over. “That is a likely spot.” “They’d probably find us eventually, though.” “No, man. Nobody comes here.” He wondered if Graham would ever suggest a rock hut on the Kodiak Spine to his wife. Moonlight filled the valley, and the goats bedded on the face turned to vibrant silver splotches. A few still fed across the moraine where their feet skittered on loose stone. Falco stood with the bag of ashes. “We can catch you another fish on the way out, tomorrow. I should have helped you skin it last time.” Graham looked up at him. “Where are you going?” The valley had a companionable emptiness. His loneliness, most palpable in town and on the coast, was soothed by the encircling bowl. He rolled up his sleeves so his sweat could burn off. “On a walk.” “What about bears?” Graham’s eyes showed a prehistoric fear. He pursed his lips and looked around for his stickerless rifle. “Don’t put a bullet in your chamber,” Falco said. He smiled in the dark. “I’m going to come back in a few minutes. I might snuffle and stomp a little, and I don’t want you to shoot me.” Falco walked uphill across broken flat slates that rocked under his feet. He climbed in a light shirt to the ridge, where the lake was already in moonlight. The moon’s shadow line crept across the Spine. When it reached his knees, he poured ashes from the corner of the bag in a thin stream along the boundary.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Morning Glow Falls
POETRY John Baalke
Tricked Out of Meaning It begins when a word slips inadvertently from the mouth’s cusp. Water seeps from above, then freezes to expand a hairline fracture; something always moves. Granite shards unhinge, drawn by earth’s unwinding pull to join the jumblesnake of medial moraine. This is not what you meant to say at all. Murmurings were unintentionally amplified, whispers sent over the edge by a face of stone. Glacial ice calves, plummets into silty froth at the reverberation, and the years of hard-pressed snow float away in the current.
Purple Haze 1
Joshua H. Baker
The Secret Language of Leaves The leaf pile quartet assumes a frozen diamond decay pose simple procrastination or a localized spin on Nazca lines, a pattern visible from above, preordained signal to sentient beings Desperate tinfoil hat plea for help curing the globe of its current political morass Perhaps this resident hails from the tundra zone Unfamiliar with deciduous trees shedding their coats Months of moldering leaf mounds birth new populations of potato bug, beetle, worm, not a rake in sight Each time I approach the doorstep mailbox, I pick my way between piles, bills and glossy ad cards in hand, wondering if I’m in a bullseye Daffodils are in bloom when someone removes the piles the lawn now pockmarked with grassless circles One to-do list is finished, another just begun, offering us The templates of future questions.
In late August, leaves start their descent anew, brown and crackling as they land, whispering through dry movement, shuffling across the lawn Beside boot steps. When I trap one, a plaintive crunch like a language of mystery aimed at observers with need for neither tongues nor judgment
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Subjunctive What preposition is this? The wrong one sometimes slips off a bilingual tongue with an accent thick like honey. Here in this foreign land, I’m more than a tourist but not quite expatriated. My tongue forks with hypothesizing: Sapir-Whorf. But is any tongue perfectly bilingual? In a word: no. For a moment: yes. Language shapes me into a new being. I am displaced, searching for elegant subjunctives. If I were me that is not quite the me that I am right now, I would put up my metro map and not got to the museum. If I were the me I once was, I would Skype you and even though English is my native tongue – even though you wouldn’t understand – I would say, “te quiero mucho.” But there is no subjunctive rendering of the time zone. It is synchronic. And while you sleep, I will go to the museum and select a floor plan and an audio guide in Spanish.
The Muse Stays Home You know how this goes. I bake a plate of chocolate chip cookies as bait, but cannot lure her away from whatever else keeps her busy. I eat the cookies myself. Then I put pen to paper and start to write. Second Thoughts
Sheary Clough Suiter
Button Hutch In the basement where the plants too large for the stairwell landing groped toward dim light: drawers, six across and five down slid into service for repair of jeans, pedal pushers, my father’s work shirts laden with paint, poodle skirts with metal zippers, orlon cardigans, dresses gathered trimly at the waist. Some buttons adorn small cards bearing their cost, but most jiggle loose like the moments between things I remember: ballet lessons, husking corn, dinner parties for all the nurses at St. John’s. Two-hole, four-hole, rhinestone, leather, wood, pearl, small beaded incidentals that saved the day, many days no longer in line for salvage. We learned the art of knots, the knack of thimbles, the way to slip a swath of cardboard behind a woolen coat button so it’s not too tight, slides in place like something lost turning up after a ripping search. I finger compartments, pulling as with needle and thread, finding what I did not expect -- a feeling boxed up like my brother’s cub scout patches in the upper left hand drawer, just above the coiled frogs, the black hooks and eyes, begging closure.
The Whale Decides?
During the glacial stage that began some 1.8 million years ago, the sea-level around Britain was almost 400 feet lower than at present and The English Channel was dry land. During warmer interglacial periods, the fauna resembled that of modern-day Africa, with hippos, elephants, hyenas and lions roaming southern England. During the cold episodes, they were replaced by woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceros and reindeer. As the climate began to fluctuate, glaciers from the north and east of Britain, sometimes three miles thick, began to melt, carrying down gravel and sand and creating new courses for rivers such as the Thames (which would later, during the Great Frost of 1608, freeze over again and allow Virginia Woolf’s hero, Orlando, to skate under London Bridge with a Russian princess.) This water might have captured my imagination if I’d known any of its history, but I thought of it only as “the sea.” Ever since the second-century geographer Ptolemy dubbed it Oceanus Britannicus three centuries ago, the French have boycotted that name, calling it instead “La Manche,” which refers to the Channel’s sleeve shape. But to those of us who lived on its northern shore it was not a sea on a map with a name—not one of many other named seas, but simply the sea. Not only did we take it for granted, we hung it in our minds as the backdrop to everything: rides to school on the number 12 bus, which took the seafront route; gallops on the top of the downs that looked out beyond the power station across the water towards France. Even when we walked the dogs along the lawns behind the sedate bathing huts at Hove it was there: a quiet but reliably joyful presence. -- Excerpted from a longer prose piece of the same name soon to be published by Gulf Stream Magazine.
Victory Lake Nursing Home
In comes the doctor, in comes the nurse. In comes the lady with the alligator purse. The schoolyard thundered jump rope rhyme. But for me, it was spring puddles that un-focused time; my fingers pleasuring the mud as I watched tiny creatures born, thrive the murky slime. “Joy beyond joy!!!” I whooped, like God on the fourth day.
From the potter’s wheel, I threw figures in cool nativities. Now I can’t bolt my crap house door. In another dream, my father owns the dark, sidles into bed with me, his groping backflash branding my flesh. I hit him on the head with a clay pot I’ve made. “Use this to keep him away,” my mother says. She hands me a mat made of wicker….
Fire rapes my valleys with horns of wind. You can ogle everything now; all my pages embering ash. On the hillside the wicker man spies. As flames whip the hollow statue’s thighs, obscenities fly from lips of naked victims caged within. “ Am I outside, or in?” “In,” I curse. Soot scrapes my palms, tits as I monkey the web of ribs, my shrieking face: its heart…. “Turn the fucking heat off, “a voice beside me spits. My husband damps my forehead with a cold swab. Someone’s in the room I don’t recognize. I count again. One is my husband, two my son, three my daughter-in-law, four their child. and 5? I re-tally.…
“Filthy buggering faggots!,” someone yells into my ear. Everyone knew of my womb in violate except this voice so near. I am letting go of who I am. “Why do you undress In the closet?” my husband once asked. “Can’t you see?” I backhanded. “There’s something you can’t know about me!....” *
Can the fragment remember the whole? The kiln’s fierce heat bred a silent dialogue. “With imbroglio, the broken pot’s more than grist for the grog,” my mentor summated. “Design and purpose transform in the ‘memory’ of the shards.”
July, father felled the lightning struck oak, its girth four children ringed by hands. Toppling, our eyes smarted as ghost clouds of moths birthed from the shattering bark. Dusk, my brothers chased the yearling shoat, its shrieks a needle embroidering all childhood. The shouts went dumb under father’s club. “I am the shoat,” I saw. *
In riot, the forest fauna races before the fire. Explosions liquefy the ground, as mushroom clouds crowd the horizon. My husband and I enter an old cornfield, dry leaves snapping like static hair. Kernels jump into our pockets, as a man made of grass pirouettes before us…. *
* “Ass sucking eunuchs and whores!” a voice near mine Tourettes… There are no more secrets. In the old farmhouse where I was born, I watch father clean the woodstove, a soft light warm around him. I look in, see my face above the grate, the pitch. The last embers spit against his poker. “Here child,” he says, “scatter these ashes on the garden.”
Ready To Fall Is it any wonder we both still remember a luscious golden pear we shared in my father’s orchard? We can still remember how it slipped into his outstretched palm from a tree in my father’s orchard with the ease of a silk chemise. Into his outstretched palm it slipped sweet-scented and sensuous. It’s like your saffron chemise, he sighed. So willing, so ready to fall. Sweet-scented and sensuous the first bite a spike of pleasure. It was ready to fall, so willing so warm, so sweet and delicious. Each bite a spike of pleasure with a lingering afterglow. So warm and sweet, so delicious we licked our sticky fingers. Lingering in the afterglow of our luscious sun-kissed pear he licked my sticky fingers. Is it any wonder?
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Karen Vande Bossche
I’ve Smoked I’ve smoked and it hasn’t done it. Didn’t bring you or even me back to myself. So I’m sitting and thinking what comes next. The wine. I got some in the bottom, very bottom, of a bottle and I could squeeze some out of the box in the fridge. House wine. House whine. Walking out with a tumbler, not stem, all those broke, to see the babies. They have stems. Little pea sized tomatoes, sassy fat blousy basil, those jolly green peppers that I’ll never eat except maybe after the wine, if there’s enough in the box, black box of house wine, black house it won’t bring you or even me back to myself this time.
The Longest Night Inviting the poet Haines to the solstice party invoked questioning. Would he prefer beef tenderloin, or halibut? Jim Beam or Jameson? Would he feel sociable enough to perch on the couch with merry strangers, joy ablaze by twinkle lights and cabernet? Or in the midst of chatter, would he drift outside, alone, to stand on the nighttime stoop, to search the onyx sky for the waning gibbous
Sheary Clough Suiter
moon? To search for the hushed owl always calling his name?
Diane Corson Two Poems
He Lays Down the Poker He lays down the poker as if it were a word onto the floor just behind him the fire becomes lit and there he is beside himself in admiration for fire that lights him already ablaze with his breath he makes words using the same breath ignited from before he was a man at a time when fire was not acquainted with him was not known to him then
Toilet Window in Uganda - Green
Hood Canal Weâ€™ll have one beautiful Last burst Before Before anything later or really Anything to follow All thatâ€™s left to say
or to you until now
with his breath.
Come taste of me Come taste my Hama Hama oysters In your bath In Hood Canal with you Transporting currents To the ends of piers Where Taco bars sit on stilted piers With you going by Nameless---
Come near my fire The bay of special effects Has a taste for you
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Grace At John’s table the best meals which is to say all meals began with giving thanks and ended with the words that will keep body and soul together or that will suffice, shared with the full belly chuckle
a man who had walked the spare high country of East Africa, lived
Patrick Dixon with the hunger. A sandwich offering on the fender of the Jeep under the shade of a eucalyptus
or the groaning board of plenty, no matter, his mission was simple. Patting his belly
When we built the house on the bluff near the river mouth, I didn’t realize how exposed I’d be. The weather would rattle windows, and ash from exploding volcanoes across the inlet coated the house more than once with abrasive gray silica.
knowing the momentary fullness, knowing full well how we are each insufficient beyond the bread we break together, the hands we clasp, the circle we form for this temporary feast.
I didn’t realize the tradeoff for a view was listening to the gusts howl and rain spatter against bedroom windows in the early mornings before a fish day. I’d lie awake, listen to the first boats leave the river, their drone rising and falling as they’d slam into rollers and whitecaps stirred up by the wind and tide. The knowledge I was leaving in an hour or five would hang over me – my own weather system of dread swirling around the bed in the pre-dawn gloom, feeling each gust in the pit of my stomach.
Blue and Battered
Dirk HR Spennemann
I’d roll, toss blankets and pillows. You’d eventually awaken, turn toward me, whisper: You know you don’t have to go, rub my back until I’d drift off, until the alarm sent me out the door jaw clenched, head down, ball cap on tight.
Fruitland Valley Memories for Marie Lundstrum
North of Alder Creek pines hum a small song in the dry air from a distant ocean beyond the mountains and far away. Down below a small girl notices that rhythm sees the shapes of the stories of her valley Now years later she remembers wisdom learned beside the kitchen range, beside a red checked table. So much gone, yet remembered. This land abrades, then grades and sorts everything: crop, stock and stories In fields of words running ridge to ridge she turned over dusty furrows and found promise there, near home. These memories refuse silence like a sign screeching in the breeze over busted tires beside an empty filling station. In barns, store, or grange, so many aromas sweaty plaid shirts, dusty boots, Butchwax, Old Spice, cigarette or pine smoke, lager. There are songs, stories and conversations tied to all the remembered names and dramas. Fertilized and harrowed, all this waits harvest. Where the sunlight pounds rocks high in the pines, timber rattlers hot and lazy, taste the bit of breeze. Words come together and grow ripe then threshed and gathered in truckloads, a crown of sonnets, a country bounty nutritious, warm, a quilt of memory. Moon in the pines, music and laughter, tragedy and hope, silence after a raucous rollover. Some people never come back. It is a great dance that some have to sit out. Steel cat tracks rasp across stones. North of Alder Creek pines hum a small song At a white church or grange weathered rope rings that bell echoing off cliffs above flickering cottonwoods, reverberating under that hot, dry sky.
Leone Mikele Fogle
Julia Pastrana: female oddity laid to rest in Sinaloa Mis pecados burn to the tips of my breastsâ€”mis pezones.
Husband, you are proof gentlemen take after wolves. Hairs weep from your jaw to your mouth--they will choke you. My jaws are caught, you left me in iron. The regulars come to look at us. Us oddities. Todas nostras rarezas. No dream goes through me. My babushka wipes me. Gossip roars out of her pail, in bass notes. Your banknotes floated down the Moskva-es eso correcto? Did you perform your jack knife, charge admission, pass around a hat? Strip to your balls? Ladies standing at their ready, spitting and wiping their lorgnettes, dropping a chirik in your shoe. What howls. Aullidos. The whores throwing kopeks, drawing up a manifesto to tell the diferencias between orang-hutans and men. You suck your kopeks con una sonrisa estĂşpida. Cretino, they will clap you in a manicomio. Mi amor, if you want to absolve yourself of sin, you will assist me to get out of this cabinet of fools. My back is a rack of rods. My skirt drank this embalming fluid, it torments me like flame, my skin is a sampler of stiches and scars. Your new paramour is handy with a needle. Send her to me. Escucha: the scientific wing. Tell her to bring my sewing box. She is not your puta anymore. She is mine.
Milk sprayed like cream, a towel soaked my babyâ€™s head. He cried. For my sake. I count, re-count how many times, how much sangre. Leche. Blood. Milk.
To be finita with your permissions. To flanner on the boulevards without you, embarazada del hijo. To be finita with médicos, monocles, Satanic calipers, Beelzebub measuring tapes. To bite those knuckles, gristle in my mouth. Tom-cat Head, in Berlin you said: my femme doesn’t speak a word of German, but of course, Herr Manager, she sings it like a canary. This canary bird sings Canzonetta Spagnola. Yes, confession time: in Warsaw, Boots proposed a tickle. He danced with me mazurkas, cabrioles. Tom-cat Head, you chewed your paws. Whipped your tail. Un tornado. Ladies liberated their fans, their ear flaps, their braids. I was always innocent: Boots said: puis-je vous toucher, Madame? Votre barbe? I said: je ne suis pas marié, Monsieur. Boots asked permission to touch me.
In my human strangeness tent-men, would you like a song or a minuet? Temblan de miedo—they make pee-pee in their pants. They throw pennies. At my eyes. My breasts. My poor abscesses. My gums. I had devils in my mouth in Moscow. Outside, la nieve brillaba con muchos colores. Snow, demasiado. Madame Landlady rolled her starch cuffs to tell me un descubrimiento muy importante: man found in a snow bank this evening, perfect block of ice. Au revoir monde. Your samovar needs a light. Au revoir, Madame Landlady. You can leave me a key. If I discover you in my samovar de nuevo…. Que belleza, aunque, landlady’s engravings of Russian steppes. Beautiful. My pictures ran to hide between Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Karl Marx—looking from their frontispieces. Wolves. You came in, Mr. Tom-cat Head, Frozen Paws, fed me meat pie. Your fingers slow and cold. Our famous key made us un ménage à trois. Vodka kissing the air, your fat stomach making squeaks. My lips and Monsieur Gioachino made us ménage à cinq. Gioachino es alegría, incluso si el está faltando un “i.” I said: next time you leave, Tom-cat, leave a key for me. He said: Monsieur Chirurgien issued you an ultimatum. I said: No, I want to go out, I want to see the steppes. He said: Folie. But his head would think about it.
CIRQUE Go to the bones in my chest, the colinas of my body. Vaya, sangre, corer por mis arterias. Por favor cúbreme.
Entonces, Husband, if you cannot find our son, come. Muscle your shoulders into my glass case. Tip me, pass me to this babushka. Porque I am crumbling. I am tiza. Yo de chillido antes de que se desmoronan. But dime primero. En ninguna parte? Then I want to go back. Find Mexican silver. Sew it to your pockets. Buy dos entradas for a freighter. The sea sickness will be my alegría, my felicidad personal. Cuando las estrellas run steep, lizards look with tin eyes. Climb. Hire tres burros to go up the Sierra Madres of rocks and dirt. Entonces, lay your wife en una colina. Lunas de plata on her eyes. Blacuaches, criaturas, will suck on her blusa. Mice will leave scraps in her folds. Lizards will tap scripture on her eyelids. Stamp vermillion on her mouth. Bermellón. Nada mas. No stick or shovel. Ni siquiera un sacerdote. No band. No governor of Sinaloa picking, mashing, enjoying migajas de su almuerzo. Entonces ve. Go. Decay will find her. Una bendición. Hombres, te gustaría una canción o un minueto? Estás haciendo pi-pi en tus pantalones. Por qué? Am I not a wo-man? . Julia Pastrana, an indigenous woman from Mexico, was exhibited as a freak throughout the U.S. and Europe in the 1850s. Born with hypertrichosis, gingival swelling, and a double set of teeth, she died in childbirth at the age of 24. Her corpse was mummified and displayed beside her baby’s at Moscow University. In 2013 her body was turned over to the government of Sinaloa, and buried.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
My Man A hundred eighty pounds of intellect and good looks wants his coffee wants ten bucks wants me don’t go a friend says don’t go to the yellow house by the freeway you’ll get stuck, across the floorboards lights loom and wheel a waxing and waning tide pool
Reflecting on Days Gone By
for hermit crabs to scavenge bits in the dark, what can be done
man would cry when I’m gone
shriek as I turn the corner like a candle burning low thinking about this my feet hurt
You gripped the fork like a wrench and went about the job scraping white calcium, the pipe’s tight rust, while turkey scraps stink at your feet and your face turns forty from the exertion.
what can be done.
You grip the fork while your dad talks on the telephone to Syracuse, a prodigal son, who won’t come home for dinner. Your brother, who as a child mapped all the house pipes could have unscrewed this pipe before dinner. You chip flakes with this fork into your eye and you get a clear look at your family, dad studies his prints on a whiskey glass, auntie reclined, the cat so full it can’t purr and the radio your mom put on, forgotten.
Self Portrait 1
a RIVER runs through thirteen reservationsâ€Ś echoes of the beginning of cold war you shoulder invasives French broom like sappy skeletons flecked in yellow, ragwort the tansies potent stalk hard scrabble of forests cleared of ancients duff replaced with tarmac, evolution unturned by walled species, each corner measured rushing water stagnates hydroelectric projects pushing glacial melt to the bad crop, wheat ninety falls covered in slack water, Salish petroglyphs submerged forever dams corralling the gorge where tritium, cesium, heavy water leech a hundred miles away into Portland radioactive bivalves as far away as Astoria, hot clams I recall my Richland farmer showing me a death mile 25 named-known neighbors pock marked with cancers â€“ thyroids livers marrow blood brains we cruise through old Thunderbird his elementary school friends farmers, teachers, neighbors strafed by clouds of plutonium nanoparticles, six feet under Little Boy greased with plutonium decaying along banks of Columbia destined for Hiroshima Fat Man singeing life, Nagasaki uranium clouds forever shaped human remains shadows etched into walls
I hike Dog Mountain arrow leaf balsam root explosions of daisy-like flowers entire cliff escarpments like Kandahar fields below river like arteriosclerosis swollen and deep barges pushing mountains of durum, semolina, soft white wheat destined for markets noodles, pan, flatbread pita, crackers, tortillas invasives, corridors of automobiles California gold rush 21st century green mountains, digital canyons hipster city, sprawling counties ripe for California boom or bust, angle of repose our forests cleared for three-car garage backyard deck, three-story squared species, sipping wine named Rattle Snake Basin Merlot wineries verdant, cheering sunsets more roads, less fir-evergreen invasives like plague of burning bushes, ornamentals beckoning in the last of our Gorge remnant of fishers occasional postcards Umatilla tribe in F-150s selling smoked sockeye waves of tourists salivating
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Night So the singer says to the blind man I’ve lost my song, I can’t sing a note My throat is tight Totem Bird
Vernal Equinox, 63° North, 73rd Birthday Midnight, no moon, only endless black punctuated by ancient light from stars.
It’s like I am drowning In the night. Just feel the groove, Says the blind man as he takes the singer’s hand And traces the scar on his throat We all miss a note here and there But it’s never for good Says the blind man Never for bad neither
Suddenly, the Aurora.
The blind man shows the singer a new step he learned The other day when he hit a crack in the sidewalk
A pale slash opens the dark and spreads green-white strands arcing east to west, horizon to horizon.
Sometimes you have to dance Before you can walk. He says
Then in the zenith directly above my head, a crown, a corona forms. Streams of light approach and flee its center like winged creatures.
I never met a crack I couldn’t dance to. She says As she lays her head against the stone
Pedestaled on illumined snow, enrobed in down, I know I am standing at the center of our infinite universe. Einstein wrote that each of us, unmoving on this earth and gazing outward, may claim this center— a man pausing between barn and house no less than myself. But I say to you, this is my birthday. I say to you, like winged creatures.
Beach Ice 2
Iodine The element of iodine was once used as a disinfectant. Her mother kept a brown bottle in the medicine drawer. The round odor of purple stain, the cool tip of glass wand, the confidence in her mother’s song, calmed the injuries of childhood. When heated, iodine evaporates into a beautiful violet vapor. Her father loathed the color violet, called her a tart at twelve when she posed with a friend in purple pants and peasant top. She exchanged those clothes for a blue plaid skirt and white shirt like her uniform at Catholic school.
Her mother discovered her kissing a boy “just like the squirrels in broad daylight.” She watched herself evaporate, vanish in the heat of her mother’s anger. Iodine solutions were eventually replaced by antiseptic agents that sterilize effectively. Her mother eventually replaced the brown bottle with hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl alcohol. They kept her clean, sterilized effectively, never tempted her to trip and fall. She avoided the injuries of adolescence though she longed for the earthy waft of purple stain.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Lessons in Gravity When the mourning doves were all hidden in the Tulip Tree, she would crouch between the split and sloping trunks of the Acacia, so to consider how long it would take a rocket to reach Jupiter
and how this is not the same as a father who runs the car into a telephone pole with mother in the front seat. In the comfort of the small wood, consider how though— all doves all parachutes and all fathers come down,
or whether some night the doves might try but fail, tumbling into the little wood beside their house, and whether they would croon as they fell or whether the world would be silent, except for the sound of swept leaves and the thump as they hit and how she would carry them into the streets, lamplight to lamplight, and kiss their battered tender heads. So to consider, how a father lying in a bed is not the same as a father carving driftwood into mermaids with a pocket knife.
it is good to attempt again—from each childhood ache, (its crown both binding and blossoming) the traveling of great distances— past the split and wrinkled trunks, up the star lit branches, to the hum of greenly leaves (a cathedral’s elaborate filigree), and to far off corners— where lamplight casts down over the streets
and burns for Jupiter.
Or to consider, a father, who drops his white handkerchief so gently quietly above her head like a parachute for lessons in gravity, is not the same as a father who falls as he walks down the aisle of a plane. Crouched in the crevice under the canopy, to consider a father, who has hands that tingle (only slightly, he would say) Self Portrait 2
The Vulture and the Bear I spooked a vulture off the forest floor. Her wings pushed the smell of carrion toward me and forced a cloud of blond fur into the air. Half-buried next to a tree, I saw a calf and a dog—both dead as their stench.
Windfire Smoke From The North Not just hills obscured behind a thin skim, nor sunsets ignited like flames of forges. Not the crackled whine of trees going gone, or soot smells that bed into sheets on the line. Think photos of cities we thought were China. Thin drifts of smudge that share nothing with mist. Summer grief that turns the clock back to zero on that regrowth plot of trees. Two new parents worry about the lungs of a newborn boy named for mountains. The sting of red eyes, ash tastes on a tongue that licks lips like an eel entering a trap. These and the flailing ghost’s promise – this begins what happens next.
Then I heard the curious squeaks, craned my head around the trunk, clinging to the tree, a small bear craned back just above where the vulture had been. I watched as he climbed as high as he could, a yearling boar, he would have denned with his mother last winter. I don’t blame the first peoples for believing in shape-shifters. I have followed one beast through the thicket only to find another in its place. I don’t blame them for wrapping a blanket around the night, pricking it with pins and giving birth to stars. People have always found comfort in story. In bear country, I don’t blame the rancher for dumping livestock far from his pasture. and I understand that bear, his first summer alone, why he climbed high into a tree, to find comfort in what his mother taught.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
The Worm that Inches through Sleep I am become Death, destroyer of worlds. --the Baghavad Gita I bless the cedar in a clearing, chain saw dangled from my hand. The texture of its strip-smooth bark shapes me as wind molds the clouds. Yet who can say what plants this urge, the current that shocks my veins to blue ice? Always I have walked here as pilgrim, hat in hand, my petition voiced in moss. This time someone else. This time a logger, 1930, the tale of sap rising within loin and thigh writ large in the rhythmic cut. No one foretold that when the blade bit deep through outer sheath to the pulp, the core, I would become the man clearing his homestead land for crops. Someone married to a bunkhouse in the woods, my saw the driver of Weyerhaeuser’s wealth. I feel his forearm flex and torque when the old-growth trunk—in this valley they were all old-growth then— shudders, sways, then crashes to the forest floor. Then praise the stump that will never grow anew. Neither loss nor regret but a conquering pride pricks the blood, the opponent felled and ready to be bucked, choker-set, dragged to the skidding track. I stand now as one, brother to the hand raised against Abel.
Arnello Sirignano April 22, 1954 - Sept. 1, 2017
Bicycles for Rent
Letter Never Sent: 1954 Never trust your body, child. Watch my lips saying this: Your body will betray you. Count your ribs. Close your fist tight in the dark. The first two were girls: they grew up speaking two languages and moved far away. The third time, full of metal-tart jelly and ripe child I lay on the white table, cold, contracting. A little blue boy no bigger than a shoebox; The damson-plum of the scrotum, blank eyes, and a head of black hair like broom straws. Your ghost-father, a sketch of the boy who arrived one year later, bawling, the kinked length of umbilical clutched in his fist like a parachute ripcord. You must never trust your body, a factory turning out breakables, dark-eyed unknowns. Whatever your man spells out between your legs Could be a letter never meant for the eyes of the world.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Total Eclipse To approach the Other in conversation is to welcome his expression, in which at each instant he overflows the idea a thought would carry away from it. It is therefore to receive from the Other beyond the capacity of the I, which means exactly: to have the idea of infinity.
--Emmanuel Levinas . . . when I look totality in the face, with my eyes resting on the infinite, gazing skyward toward the horizon, bent, I see a trace of the divine and the moonlight glowing, bright as ever, and what I see I mistake for a sign . . . . . . I leave myself behind, still following the self who came before, still following all that's wrong: morning, dawn, not mine, not anyone else's either, a golden crown belonging to the dark, and in disappearing, a reminder . . . Beach Grass
Chemo, Month Four Boots crunching snow we hike a new trail you and I, alive under all this sky. What matters now is that crow in the field, black against white, and the field itself and what insists through the coldâ€” here, the sumac, blazing red there, the pampas grass, Moon Over Bear Scat â€“ Kodiak, Alaska
I Live in a Boxcar I live in a boxcar pulled from the rails hid in the pine on the mountain by the lake. I live in a boxcar with a round window drilled and pounded out during one hundred nights of wind and rain. I sit on their cot and eat potato soup. You live in a treehouse in town. You light your candle at night and read The Book of Wisdom. You are a carpenter. You build houses in your dreams, drink Coors, and make love to Vietnamese women. I live in a boxcar. Tomorrow I’ll carpet my floor with pine needles and rose petals. In August I’ll make curtains, lavender ones. I’ll pick blackberries and crush them on a flat, white stone and stain the gauze that will blow out of my round window.
Yesterday they gave me new shoes. They’re too big, but I pretend elephants follow me everywhere. I live in a boxcar up on the lilac mountain by the firefly lake. You should see it. Yes, come Wednesday for red clover tea. I’ll boil the water and say the words. You won’t get sick. Sorry, but I don’t have any cake. You must bring one. She lives on the corner across from Farmer’s Insurance. She wears a soiled white nightgown and a blue blanket. People toss coins in her empty tin of Shirley Jean Christmas candy that sits on a bundle of clothes in her Safeway shopping cart that holds, she thinks, the baby Jesus. You live in a treehouse. He lives in the park. She lives on the corner. But I-I live in a boxcar. I have a home. I have a home.
We shower in the morning and they check us for lice. He lives in the park of wild, thornless roses and dripping fountains. He holds the silver lid, his shield, and with the tree branch, his sword, he jabs at the paper searching for his deed from the King who says the park is his fiefdom, the ducks are his peasants, the pond is full of snapping turtles, and all poachers will be guillotined
Abandoned Cabin in Montana: Lath Wall
95 Karen McPherson
Air Quality Advisory Last night the sun set sickly green while the moon rose, a bloody thumbprint, through the smoke. Joe Reno
Chemo After diagnosis, Whipple Procedure, drains put in, drains pulled out, after they put the port in her, they let the poison flow, poison flow. Years from now troubadours might sit by rivers and tune what might be lutes to sing of bonnie nights and lady loves, dark and light, dark and light.
Wildfires rampaging east of the Cascades from Chelan to John Day and all the way down to Canyon City. Inside the house this morning, the rooms are limpid, filtered, cool. But step out onto the porch and our emerald summer is flattened under a Mordor cloud, our dazzling blue of sky completely vanished, the valley choked in gritty gray to every smudged horizon. As you swallow into your lungs invisible syllables of air, they slide easily down your throat, but leave an aftertaste of something charred.
Or sing how wrong we were to half kill our lovers to fully kill we hoped the mad mitosis in their mad, mad cells? Mercury, lead, and leaches once were cures we thought, and good wars well fought made pride something to sing and sing about. Like earth herself, my true love lies ill in her cities and hamlets, and farms swarm with drones from the medical empire diving down her subclavian vein. Let lutes sing and banjos plunk of nausea, mouth sores, anemia. Like our nation, she lies depressed by war-damaged collateral, smart bomb errors in a lung, a market, a wedding party, a valve in the spleen, and a woman hoeing in the March garden of her heart. Bring back my bonnie, bring back her hair.
Crescent Shadows, Solar Eclipse - Aug. 21, 2017
Conversations With A Medicine Woman Quintet
Sheary Clough Suiter
Outpost Dark city. Dark outpost. Dark thoughts in a forest of clouds. A false god going in and out of the harbour of a dreamless state. I sleep with the lights on and my eyes open, seeing into the shapelessness, not-seeing into the formless hollows, the dark above and behind all other dark matters, that which is beyond myself. In the dark I read elegies and timeless narratives, God’s age-old manuscript, lost lists, the journal from a dread-filled voyage. The dark is ghost-written, signed Anonymous. The sentient dark is a blackboard, the illegible writing mostly unintelligible, definition at the mercy of other meaning, sense sacrificed for a conveniently swift finale, one I’m incapable of understanding. Dark earth. Dark sky. Dark water. Wherever and whoever we are we pay witness to that which travels unseen, night within night ad nauseum, twilight conjoined with darkness, awareness a little black light in the earthshine. We’re here, in Shadowland, where there are no shadows, no shade, no blanks, no black-outs. We’re animals of blood and language. Creators of heresy and hearsay. Makers of dark ages.
Catherine ‘Katie’ Ward? Medicine Woman of the Cherokee? It’s me, your great-great-great- great granddaughter and I have some tough, personal, provocative and complex questions for you. They may be unanswerable and I mean no disrespect, but we are all struggling to cope right now and the hard stuff needs to be asked. Did you feel successful in navigating the collision of radically opposing worldviews and the rapid, often violent changes of your place and time? Or was too much happening too fast to do anything other than hold on tight for the ride? Were you aware of the misogynistic erosion of your legitimate rights as a clan mother? Or were you so overwhelmed by the assimilation process that you were unable to contemplate each separate strand of your own experience? Did you still kneel at the hearth and recite sacred formulas invoking protection for your family and the home that, according to tribal law, should have been owned by you, the female, of the house? Or did your white husband forbid such heathen rites? If so, did you obey him? Were your children taught to go to water to pray, bathing daily in the river? Or were they ‘sanitized’ early on and made to believe that the traditions of our people were superstitious? You were the last of my line to live and die in our ancient territory, because your descendants were forcibly ‘relocated’ by a government greedy for gold and land. Always, more land. Yet you live on in my own body. In the dark of night, when I cry out in fear, I feel your strength flow through me. It would be wonderful to converse face to face. It seems risky though. What if our contexts were so different you rejected me as too bizarre and alien. I would want you to recognize me as a daughter of your blood, enfolding me in loving arms and bringing me home to myself. It would hurt if you didn’t. Either way, finding out whether I have always belonged or that I never will, would release me from the terrible uncertainty that can be more painful than knowing for sure, one way or the other. In the larger scheme, your acceptance doesn’t matter as I already embody many of your answers. Life itself has encoded your genetic information into my own DNA, compelling me to carry you forward into this modern world in my own unique way. Day after day, after day.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Enthusiasts A coastal artery bleeds traffic north and south through scents of rain on asphalt, oceanic salt, and dead roadside cow. Air sweeps down from clearcut ridgelines. carries cool glossy hints of mold, tidal mud, redwood bark, sawdust, rotten robins’ eggs. Cattle egrets twist their bills to the smell of recent rain. The sun slides into the salty basin. Glimmers pulse on the tips of waves. Fires flicker on pyramids of driftwood gathered on the beach. Dislocated urchins doze in a van, a sanctuary on the porch of the continent. In what remains of daylight, Maynard sits on his cedar stump. His swollen fingers throb in the twilight. His indecision spills between the evening and the air that whispers past the eastern tree line. Salty sand thumps like a drum to a lumber-laden train. Steel wheels stir sawdust clouds above the roadbed.
Out of sight in the switching yard Loretta dances her dance to coax the engineer to blow her whistle. In the dark they snigger. At the cabin Maynard wraps his legs around a stovepipe. Warmth seeps from the black iron barrel. He stokes it with the last of the splits. Loretta imagines the engineer warm asleep beside his wife. Her mouth trembles, impatient to kiss him. Darkness folds over the cabin. Lights wink on the wing of a jet. Maynard’s pickup rusts in pools of rain on the gravel drive. Loretta tiptoes through the back, undresses, and settles beside him on the mattress. She runs a finger on his ear. He faces her. “This drifter,” he says, “trembles like a moth inside a spider’s ball of silk. She may be convinced of her innocence, but aches, under all her gashes, just the same.”
By the track Loretta removes her blouse. The engineer tickles his whistle to praise her round and silky bop. Loretta’s tits implore the engineer to slow the engine, to feel his fingers tremble on the throttle. Neighbors from their windows hoot and wave. In Maynard’s mouth saliva burns like vinegar. His skin is a document of marks and fissures inflamed and open. In the garage he faces into the shadow. Wine pours into the hole in his face. He wonders where, after the closing bell, the two enthusiasts have fled. Steel Wheel
Spring Green The bush shivered, florid with black-throated sparrows allowing themselves to frenzy. Each courtly iteration, iridescent and garrulous, sprang to the sparking fuse of the day. Purple martins bent the branches, turned their watching and rode the firing pistons back into the air. She smoldered at the core all the ash of a cremation, dusty and erotic. Her green eyes switched this way, crazy and pure with the honesty of violence. The pins of her turned, like lightning which struck.
Beginning of Forgetting (with a nod to Marguerite Duras) I sensed within me…enough cowardice to resign myself to life as it is.
Every voice cried out, ravished and beholden as she stalked away, candid in her blurred thickness. Her mouthful a perfect instrument of movement, stilled. They conversed wildly, some never having known flight like that. All at once, the scenery folded in on itself, A wrinkle, moving knowledge across the edge of suspicion. She caught my eyes when I shifted. Unblinking, she began to disappear. A blazing sureness sinking into the brush. Spring green Orgasmic and stationary, Retreating from the freshness of dusk.
--Gabrielle Roy, Street of Riches
I was lost before I was lost, couldn’t find myself in Dixon, Paradise, Plains, Hot Springs, missed me in Ravalli, Arlee, even my mirror looking back. Seems I can’t get a compass right, leave Missoula behind, head west, reach the Snake, the Columbia, Camas, Astoria, the sea. A lover who loves rescue said go, find some deserted beach, plant strands of wire, wait for spring, see if barbs grow. Better, I rent a place near Forks, maybe Queets, sleep alone, dream myself a philosopher of loss. Like Duras, map a way out. Find loss, itself, not to be the finale -- but a great darkness falling, the beginning of forgetting. A way to kindle hope — to become certain the end does not become the end.
I plant this poem in the mulch of January, the little bloom of light winnowing me, cleansed at my sink by a pearl-washed sky. Bless the goodness of kitchen windows, this one hosting three narcissus lofty and aquiline. Bless the women of Crete who curtained light in lace and tasseled happiness. Bless the time machine of window ledges, belief secured in tchotchke analogue-my children shining for my father on the cup at death returned. Bless Wendy who writes and therefore knew I needed a five inch wind up rent-a-wife with telephone dial eyes and aluminum curls and a built-in spatula. Bless tracks of brightness on the glass bowl drying.
for Eva Saulitis--Alaskan poet, essayist, marine biologist
You sketched your mother-in-law so clearly in your poem: her fearless mouth and hairstyle, and the list you made of what she left you: “Hiroshige prints, a 1950s lamp, and a volume of bad Hawaiian poetry.” I’ll never get to tell you now, Eva, how much I like that poem. But still your voice permeates the page, the voice I came to know when I tried to keep up with you jogging around the lake of weeping loons and when you brewed hibiscus blackberry tea in the dorm room you turned into a home the two weeks a year we taught together. I only knew your poems, your laugh, and those deep-set Latvian blue eyes. I didn’t know your meticulous recordings of the croonings of killer whales and how you and your husband showed that the private conversations of the pod spelled their genetic isolation. The two of you theorized that the oil that bled from the Exxon Valdez doomed this generation to be their last. Then you discovered the tumor you called your “intruder,” your “fugitive.” How to fathom such a life as huge as a statue, though pretension never had the smallest niche among your thoughts.
I’m still trying to catch up to you in your poems with their sampler of birdsongs, Polynesian trade winds, and mountains that hold onto the dark even after the sky has begun to glow.
Departing a Long Retreat in the Great Basin Last of the bleached grasses striping the fields Last of aspens’ blond lashes veining rock ridge Last of the days of awe I take its heat its wind and terrors My body less indignant less alert to what might be lurking that isn’t The locust whinnies its withered nostrils Under eaves wasp nests Starlings swoop in wish they’d claimed its overhang A long cloud presses gray orange amber layers to horizon as if a hot iron on last night’s tablecloth crumbs and hands shaken off partyers departed No sun Up to the rain to fill the hours Up to me to follow with words Somewhere a woman stumbles toward work A girl curls into a dog A husband blows his nose and brews tea Buses and turnstiles Stock brokers and thieves sharpen their wits Soon I return to curbs and box stores pissed off drivers and defeated men to an election that will alter history or refuse it Give me the starling’s sheen through rain my daily flicker knocking my sealed pane locust waving stained gloves for the train I am on the platform turning back turning toward hard passage out of the country of nothing into the land of over kill
No One Asks About The Bridge Charlie, our packhorse, is tied in the pasture nosing wild grass like he’s never been away, belly full of our potatoes. Before that there was no time to dally, it was a relief no one was around except the rooster crowing down by the house. Before that everything was topsy-turvy, wrecked— even alders in the ditch with their branches and toothed leaves reminded me of past whippings for broken dishes and wet shoes. Before that I chose the shortcut over our small footbridge nailed together from skinny spruce and planks. Partway across, poles splintered, sagged v-shaped toward the ditch, dangled midair as we skittered to safe ground. Before that, big as a moose. Charlie followed me— If he bolted, I might have been dragged through Joneses’ field, tangled in willows and sharp stalks of dry grass. Before that I grabbed the frayed rope hanging like a serpent from his neck, hoped the pail of culled potatoes I carried would tempt him home. Before that I set out to catch him. I was almost ten, so I knew to lure him in by rattling the pail of food. Before that I noticed that Charlie had broken free from his stake in the muddy ground. Before that small tufts of wind stirred the quaking aspen leaves. It was a perfect June day, juncos fussing in last year’s leaves, their black and white tails like fans. The sun playing peek-a-boo in the shredded summer clouds.
Hooper Bay Boardwalk
Intersection The makeshift shrine has grown for weeks a whitened bike the stone wilting flowers each day I pass, my gateway to the fray. The cyclist in his crimson pants released this once! the urge to fly downhill ecstatic at the crossing. The driver perpendicular and rushed turned the light so near to green... were they wheels or wings that shock of color rising? What was it like that breakneck spin the reach the dazzle and the fleet dance with untethered time? And did some god with unbegrudging grace watch the rapture of his flight? And did some arms fly up to catch the groundward grinding soul before its final gaffe?
Cider from the Old Orchard
Jolly Mountain Smoke No smell but skunk cuts through smoke. We learn this breathing grey haze on brittle summer roads. The river runs with us, copper under a metal sky. In an old snag left by Taylor Bridge Fire, two crows huddle on a silver branch. They know flying in this stuff could kill you. No time now for acrobatics in the updrafts. Enough to cuddle in with those you love, breathe slowly, and see each other through. Sometimes patience is our best alternative. Sometimes our one and only. Skunks and crows, still and dark as old charred logs, have learned this way before.
The Old Orchard
Iâ€™ve shaken up the memory and I will pull it in, between clenched teeth, loving the cool, coiled bite. Sharp, unfiltered flavors of moonlight and frosts, soft dawns and fog, sunshine and fierce rains sliding over smooth, tender, red young skin down lanky limbs and volute trunks to taproots sunk in hallowed ground the wind raced over and children flopped down on. Decades later hanging on, tattered stems still stand holding on what leaves they can to create just one more temptation. I squeeze my eyes shut, harder, to find each memory of all the years it took to cultivate, to prune, to bring to fruition that one exquisite glass of cider. All the months it took to grow, one sweet drop at a time, what I have gulped down in only a moment of heady bliss; Faster than I should have Faster than I wanted to. How long it took, you said, to reach my lips. Still, you sighed, it was worth the wait.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
What the Bowl Says This blue bowl came home with me following a visit with friend Joe who’d retreated to a northern island with the first of several wives/partners, built a pottery studio, sold his wares. The bowl didn’t seem right for morning oatmeal— a blue too intense, in spite of the masterful glazing and flower pattern. So it rested for years on a shelf, as I ate from a supermarket knockoff of Chinese porcelain ware, complete with blue mythical birds and ideograms. But when that one chipped, I took down the blue bowl, found it somehow perfect for my morning mountain of oatmeal, fruit and yogurt.
to children who never call coyote brushes against my flank plain blinks bitterweed at dusk sun tucked inside my fist. in our heyday your arms fit snug a quilt against my neck your bony butt on my hip. white powder snow tastes like sundown a forgotten shed clatter of crows’ wings echoes in chill stalactite sky my phone serene in my pocket two plums left on a tree.
when she finds her father all she can see is the unnatural hinge of his jaw the terrible laxity of ligaments the black hole of his mouth home to a thousand galaxies his teeth ten thousand suns
Each morning as I place it upside down on the drying rack, the signed bowl says Joe.
she did not expect to find this yawning entryway to feel the coal-black bands of ice the final whisper of his gravity
her fingers brush against a cheek packed with secretive worlds she feels the stop of his spin the eclipse of his starlight the chill of his dust
one by one
her moons collapse
After Because only 59% of the Moon’s surface is visible from Earth I am reminded how little you know of me. Toilet Window in Uganda - Blue Lucy Tyrrell
The broom in my hand is not about clean
Jim Thielman sofa pillows plumped not about neat
God Must Be a Woman
carpet vacuumed a path to somewhere else.
She stared at frost on the window, intricate leaf shapes, delicate lines feathered out from frosty ferns. The nuns said God was a man. But that can’t be, she thought. Father’s rough hands could cut and hammer wood or steel but he couldn’t carve a fern. Mother sketched flowers in ink, dressed each plate with food and sewed the clothes she wore, sometimes without a pattern. Mother was the one who could create something from nothing like God, exactly like God.
And if you ask (which you never do) why a clean house is so important to me I will tell you this— with scrub of tile black dissolves in polish of chrome reflection returns on bleached sheets purity found that as our world spins off its axis— a tidy house is the only thing I manage to keep well-tended.
Elizabeth van Lent
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Tornado Weather, Montana Hi-Line
Anthony Warnke Two Poems
Not to disappoint After the calving afterbirth, vultures flee the firs. No offense, this place is not the watercolor I remember. Dark edges. Drab river. Now this, morning. Outcasts stagger on branches cultishly. I can’t look, I say, and move closer. Black stares back at me. You’ve been away too long, my sister interrupts, not reading my mind, but reading me. I heed the fat hissing on her griddle. I dive down not to disappoint.
I can’t shake my enthusiasm. Dark roast moves through me with such force. Showers clear the air. Tulip tourists flee the Valley. Thursdays are my Fridays, and it’s Wednesday; it’s my Thursday. I’m off. Radio jingles for market gains get me pumping my brakes to the beat. I drum the dash to the thump of sleep humps on the I-90 shoulder. Today, I’m a careless Kia drummer, wrecking the cupholders, taming the manual windows. I think I could be the man. In class, I nod to everyone’s everything. Yeah, right. At lunch, I fast-walk the gym track and can’t think up an enemy. I arrive on time to a subcommittee and volunteer to take the minutes. Later, when I try to smoke the feeling down, my enthusiasm only grows — deeper in, brighter in, color. Is it that it’s late April? I don’t think so. It’ll be my birthday, and I’m turning older. Is it that you’ve entered the last stage of pre-grief, and you’re lightening? Look at me. I’ve packed on denial like divorce weight. Now that you mention it: Is it those pants you found that fit you, on clearance, at Ross? It is. It is. That’s it. They’re beautiful.
Graveyard Nurse’s Rime Arm the shock paddles eleven seismic apoplectic then serene hours. —glazed pupils, jumped like a dry battery. Pinch, jot, flicking IV lines, jot the Intensive Care—outside, icy drizzle. Bums you met while waiting for the bus stumbled on—eternal transfers. Paunchy cauliflower faces with no tribe but the curb, no totem but a bronze Public Market pig. Pike Place & Impossible. Uphill an accordion bus disgorges chill notes. The graveyard shift of coffee scuds your insides like a harsh tide. You soothe the sow’s statuesque flank— gold in morning light. Docents of the wee hours sleep propped against the luggage of dreams, fresh bruises, hiccupped raw talk. Consider these bright salmon and fresh-cut flowers—craving. You clutch ivory spider mums for cover, drop coin into an upturned palm. Gulls nip at wind wringing bluster from Elliott Bay’s blue salt-bones. You can’t go home again. You must. All hearts rush away.
This poem previously appeared in Whitsel’s poetry
collection WISH MEAL (Airlie Press, 2016)
Astronomical Poesy In June 2012 I wrote a poem entitled Venus in Transit I’m sure another poet will record this event 105 years hence when next it happens that is if our species still has eyes ears hearts imagination and an in-born sense of awe Every 33 years left-overs from comet Temple-Tuttle scratch like match heads— the Leonids as seen from Sentinel Dome some 40 per hour flashing out of Leo the lion as it truly becomes Blake’s tyger tyger burning bright in our forests of the night A comet named for Newton’s friend Halley whose clockwork orbit takes it to Pluto and back every 75 years candle for Mark Twain’s birth then gave him a fiery chariot ride out again I built a quartz bench in my garden to observe it upon which another poet may sit amazed in 2061 Comet Hale-Bopp a chunk of ice 2 miles wide spent over a year traversing the stygian darkness of Yosemite Valley a classic comet with glittering tail I was honored to sing its elegance at Glacier Point as prelude to its next 2,392-year ellipsis of the sun Comet Ison huge and close glowing 15 times the brightness of our moon measured and theorized by scientists at the close of 2013 a 10-million-year orbit means it will never be seen again the telling of its beauty measured by the depth of the muse in this poet’s eyes in 20 years she’ll not be seen here again either
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
John Sibley Williams
Aubade with Spent Fireworks
Avalanche It’s the weight of snow in the end. Gravity is always there, pressing its anvil against the earth’s heart. Wind plays a role, slicing cornices into waiting ravines. But really it’s the weight.
Nettles and wing bones, sand, burnt out bottle rocket shells we try to make fly again. Stones circumscribe last night’s fire like an unconquered city, about to fall. The truth is: none of us know how to be in this world. After the telling, our stories seem so small. The tide smoothed a few stones and the shapes of egrets tore open the sky and we made love drunk under stars and woke to a blue dawn peeking through holes we thought we’d burned all the way through to heaven. The truth is: the field rippling with car parts and shed planks back home isn’t much different than what we leave of ourselves onshore. Scaffolds of bare legs. Photos of wind-bent trees. Not an ocean we haven’t filled with islands, a forest we haven’t drained of deer. Banded cliffs jut up from a false horizon. Morning kites stutter along their lines. If truth is what we make of it, let’s tell everyone the firmament quaked, broke open; that our rubbing the dried bones of birds together kindled flight.
It begins with pale dust on an autumn day, the sky still bravely blue, aspens edged with liquid gold of retreating sun. Hard to believe these feather wisps of cloud will pillow together and pour white down incessantly inexorably into the lifted arms of mountains, fusing into uncountable layers of locked crystal, growing heavier each day cracking with warning, pregnant with doom. In the end it’s the weight. Not each fluffy flake --- so innocent, so bereft of intent --but the weight, the sheer weight, on a date no one can calculate that brings it down.
Beach Ice 4
I am the blood that spouts from the scar woven on a waist loom. The map of a mestizo nation making mazes with paper kites. The memory of the absent ones who left to return perhaps.
Soy la sangre que brota de la cicatriz tejida en telar de cintura. El mapa de una nación mestiza que hace laberintos con papalotes de papel. La memoria de los ausentes que se fueron para volver quizás.
You find me in the callused hands of those who collect red strawberries, you find me behind the stove from the fashion exotic restaurant, in the sweet and sour lullabies.
Me encuentras en las manos calludas de los que recogen fresas rojas, me encuentras detrás de la estufa del restaurante de moda exótico, en las agridulces canciones de cuna.
I come from the land where mothers with empty arms shout: Not one more!
Vengo de la tierra donde las madres de brazos vacíos gritan: ¡Ni una más!
I come from the field of lemons and avocados who plant men to export. I am the eyes that throw themselves into the sea wishing path adrift.
Vengo del campo de aguacates y limones que siembran hombres para exportar. Soy ojos que en la mar se avientan deseando rumbo a la deriva.
We are the children who want to be men and women who want to believe they still are.
Somos los niños que quieren ser hombres y mujeres que quieren creer que aún lo son.
Canola Fields in Bloom, Wallowa Mountains, Near Joseph, OR
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Breasts of the New Fallen Snow
P L AY Doug Capra
Letters (Dark stage. Lights up slowly. Two men in their seventies sit at kitchen table beside a window in a run-down secondfloor city apartment. Sounds of traffic and distant thunder. They’re reading letters from stacks on the table. As the lights slowly rise, we hear talking but can’t make out the conversation. It’s late afternoon. Lights up) “Who were Anne and Less?” “How the Hell am I supposed to know who were Anne and Less?”
Oh, come on now. It’s not that bad, is it? Looking at old letters from those two years we spent together. We’ll put this all together. Why the Hell do we need to put all this together?
“Thought you might remember. Their letter says they have a little girl named Melanie. Does that help?”
Don’t you want to? It’s fun?
“Oh, yeah. Sure. That helps a lot. What’s the date on the letter?”
Yeah, fun. Did you know I was dying when you looked me up?
“No date on the letter but the envelope postmark says 1968.”
No, I didn’t. How would I know that? I’m dying.
“What does the letter say?” We’re all dying. “It’s hard to figure. Hippy stuff. Remember those days?” I’m dying now, as we speak. “No. I was inhaling too much of that Hippy stuffy. As I recall, so were you.”
So am I.
“So -- that letter goes over here in the mystery pile.”
Not the way I’m dying, you son of a bitch.
“How big’s the mystery pile?”
We all die in our different ways. (Pause. Rumbling thunder.)
“Let’s see. Looks to be (counting) about a dozen or so... “Bastards. Who the Hell were they, anyway? How many? Fourteen.
These letters are all written to us. Where are our letters, the ones we wrote to them?
Not too bad.
You got my letters...I got your letters. That’s part of the puzzle. I wasn’t expecting to find you. That was surprise enough. You saved all the letters you got.
No, not at all. We’re remembering most of these people. That’s why I looked you up. I can’t believe I actually found you.
I didn’t save them. My wife did. She saved everything. Saved things I told her to throw out. Lied to me. Said she tossed things.
Disrupted my life, you did.
I wish I had met her. I bet she was a wonderful woman.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 Who the Hell was Carl Eisner?
You want a fucking cup of coffee, get it yourself.
Eisner. Carl Eisner… Of course. We met him in Rome. In that pastry shop, remember? Big guy, scruffy, long hair, boots, leather vest. We called him Ike. He’d just been discharged. Marines.
Okay, I will.
Oh, yeah. Got himself arrested and kicked out of Italy.
With the letters.
Geeze...He almost got us kicked out too. Looks like he ended up in a mental hospital. That’s where this letter is from, somewhere in Massachusetts. He’s writing about what life is like on the wards with all those crazy people. Is this the only letter you got from him? Any more?
..and you say -- hey, let’s figure out who these people are and how they fit into the two years we spent together thumbing around Europe and the states -- fifty fucking years ago.
No, that’s the only one. Did you get any? No, never heard from him. We met him in Granada, right? We hitchhiked with him a few days. Then split up. Met him again in Barcelona. You kept a journal. Is that the way it went? Then we didn’t see him again until Rome.
I made some fresh this morning. I was just about to have a cup when you knocked on the goddamned door…
You started reading them. Right? And you’re enjoying it, too, you stupid ass dumb shit-- admit it... And you started putting them in this pile and that pile and the other pile... Want some of that coffee you made? Some toast. Where’s the bread?
Yes. That’s about right. I think. Did you answer his letter? I don’t remember, but I must have. I answered all my letters. I didn’t.
…and this just gets me more frustrated because we can’t figure out who these people are because we only have half the correspondence...Geeze... Here’s the bread. Want some toast?
I know. You’ve got twice as many letters from me as I got from you. (Pause) How’d your wife die?
...and I just mention in passing that my wife died last year and now just in conversation you ask me how she died... Geeze...It was cancer, all right? Want more details? Want to know what kind of cancer...Geeze...
Why do you want to know? Why do you care?
What kind of cancer?
Just making conversation.
Just making conversation. Geeze. That’s just conversation to you? You show up this morning, ring my God-damn doorbell, I haven’t even had my coffee, yet -- reintroduce yourself after 50 years with an idiotic shit-faced smile, I hardly remember you -- you dumb ass – and then you dump a pile of letters on my kitchen table, I haven’t even had my breakfast yet, not even a cup of coffee...
Toast? Yeah? We were talking about Ike.
(Pause – More thunder.)
Whatever the Hell happened to Ike, anyway? He’d just done his second tour in Nam when we met him, right? Remember him telling us about that?
You never even offered me a cup of coffee...
Shit. Your bread’s all moldy. Any more bread?
Forget the bread. Remember what happened in that pastry shop in Rome? He told the baker his crap was too expensive and he pulled out that survival knife he had strapped to his leg. Here’s your coffee. Cream -- sugar? Sure. Where’s the cream and sugar? In the freezer. The freezer? Yeah. Why the hell do you put the cream in the freezer? Sugar’s in there, too. Stand
Sheary Clough Suiter
(Opens the freezer) By God if it isn’t. Cream doesn’t go bad that way and it cools down the coffee.
You didn’t…did you?
Why the sugar?
What do you think?
That way it’s always with the cream and I can find it.
That where your wife kept it?
I don’t know where the Hell it is. That’s why I put the sugar in the freezer with the cream. I could never find the goddamned Mickey Mouse sugar bowl. I never found out where she put it. It just seemed to appear whenever we had coffee or tea. Okay?
Hell no. She woulda gone nuts. Everything had its place. She kept the sugar in a little Micky Mouse bowl. You held on to Micky’s ears to take the cover on and off, twist it to close it tight, poured the sugar out of his mouth... Geeze... Where is that sugar bowl? I’d like to see it.
Whatever. Why are we doing this? What do you expect to accomplish? How the Hell did you find me after 50 years?
It’s gone. The internet. Where’d it go? I buried her with it, okay?
What the Hell am I doing on the internet? I’ve tried to keep a low profile.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 You’re on it.
What kind of cancer?
Why won’t she talk to you? (Long pause)
I even found a picture of you?
I met Alice before I left for Nam. Got engaged. I was messed up when I got back. We shoulda never got married.
What picture? So – why doesn’t your daughter talk to you? Head and shoulders. You’re ID. Real ugly. You got any kids? So you know, then? Had a kid. Know what? Had? Yeah, you know. (Long pause. Big clap of thunder.) He died. I have another box of letters in my car. Want me to get them? How? What’d you do after we split up? Did you get married? Any kids?
Why doesn’t she talk to you?
She thinks I killed her mother.
In a way.
Briefly, after I got back. One kid.
How’d your kid die? (Long pause. Thunder. Rain.)
Girl or boy.
Go get the other letters.
Girl. She’s a doctor in Phoenix. Won’t talk to me. (Long pause. Rain.)
It’s raining. Never been wet?
Go get the letters. Ah, forget it. Waste of time anyway. Why won’t she talk to you?
(He leaves. The other man gets up, looks out the window and watches. His companion returns a few minutes later with a box. Shakes off the wet. He puts the box on the table, sits, opens it. He grabs some letters and passes them across the table.)
How long you got? Long story?
You start with this pile. I’ll go through these. (Silence as they look through the letters. Rolling thunder and rain.)
No, I mean, your cancer.7
Six, maybe eight months.
What way what?
You killed your wife.
What happened to your wife? (Pause)
I don’t recognize half of these names. How about yours?
Overdosed. Took some of my stuff when she left with the girl. I didn’t find out until two years later. The girl had just started school when it happened. Went to live with my wife’s parents. (Pause)
Why we doing this shit? And don’t say because it’s fun. Isn’t it?
The girl? What’s her name. It’s frustrating. The past isn’t fun. Madelyn. Isn’t it? Why Madelyn? What way? (Pause) I don’t know. My wife picked the name. (Pause) We’re doing this because we’re the last fucking generation to have a pile of letters from the past. No one writes letters anymore. It’s all either emails or texts or tweets. (Pause) I was messed up, started drinking after she was born, then drugs. Alice left with her when she was five. Never really got to know her. I hit the street for a few years. Finally got back on my feet. Tried to write her but she wouldn’t answer. Sent her emails, even texts. No answer. Don’t blame her.
What are you doing now? Retired. From what? Law. (Laughing) You were a fucking lawyer?
Any tweets? Yeah. Oh, shut the fuck up! You don’t tweet people. You just tweet. (Pause) How’d your kid die?
Jesus Christ! Get the hell out of my house and take these goddam letters with you.
More fun, huh? Oh, shut up. What about you? How? (Pause) Twelve years old. Got hit by a car while riding his bike. (Long pause)
Don’t pretend you don’t know. You found me on the internet. Yeah.
Wanna see a few of your letters to me? I found some.
In this one you’re telling me about meeting your wife.
No James Bond stuff. Accountant. Sat in an office all day taking down white-collar crooks. (Long pause as they look through the letters.) Who the hell was Lennie. Just signs his name Lennie. Got three letters from him.
Let me see it.
How’d you get into the FBI?
It looks like it wasn’t long after we got back from England.
What’s he write about?
Here’s one talking about you two getting engaged.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 Lennie?
A Denny’s just down the street.
Looks like he knew your sister.
I don’t have a sister.
They got a senior menu.
Well, he knows somebody’s sister.
Oh, swell. Let’s go then.
You have a sister?
What about the letters?
Couldn’t be mine.
Just leave’m on the table.
You’re FBI. Figure it out.
(The conversation fades as they leave)
After dinner maybe?
Let me see it. (Pause. Rain. Thunder) Wanna get something to eat?
Maybe. We can walk.
Nothing here. How far? (Looks out the window) Where do you eat? Ten minutes. I got a car. We’ll walk. What’s good there? The coffee. Anything else? The pie. It’s raining harder. So what. We’ll get wet. Never been wet before? Yeah, when I went to get the other box of letters. (Conversation barely audible. Lights slowly fade on the pile of letters. Blackout. Rain. Thunder.) Cobblestone
Sheary Clough Suiter
F E AT U R E S Karen Tschannen
Four Poems from her forthcoming book Apportioning the Light
From Cirque Pressâ€”Our First Book Venture
Homework Keep your hand moving she tells us and donâ€™t take your pen from the page until you write through to what you want to tell what there is to tell without concern or pause for punctuation like those german writings that go on for a whole page without a period and are just one long sustained spilling out of words words words vast constructs gathering up power and they knew it they knew how the sheer weight of words can reveal obscure control smother or create the world like a magician saying look look look see the wicked witch of the west in all her noisy glory dancing dancing toward us and here she comes with fat balloons spilling out behind her filled with words words words like a Sylvia cartoon character with her ruby slippers striding through her world creating herself creating her world and loving herself like black francis saying in an interview Iâ€™ve never written a love song and he wants to write one like a homework assignment and how I understand now wanting to write one because last year there were poems and they were all love poems each and every one even those without the word love and some were even good poems but all the poems were poems of lost love or poems to those who left for other places or who just left so that is how I know songs of love are the saddest songs but the best songs like that song that sings a song of love is a song of woe hi lily hi lily
Exorcism The sweet dreaming of it had gone on too long and the dreaming of you and this longing that had gone on too long came back and it came back until there was nothing but the bones of it and I had forgotten the sweet singing of it I had forgotten how the shout of it leapt up like a bright silver fish forgotten until there was nothing but the bones and the bones came in the night and lay down with me and the bones beat on my body and the bones beat until they were no longer desire but only bones beating waking me into night dreams bringing me up from that wide bed to send me out searching and after that there was nowhere to go but back to that bed and so I put myself back in that bed and looked off into the shadows in the corners but the corners were black and out of the black in those corners the bones came and they beat on my bones and they sent me out.
Credit: Sandra Kleven
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Some Night Music Shouldn’t there be some rule of logic? Some rule like the Calculus of Relations? Or some formula factoring love and distance And flesh times time? Something Einsteinian, perhaps, explaining With the mathematical elegance of astronomy or Bach The complexities of life after your death? Can you still see me? In that chill uninterrupted space Past that last singing planet, do you still hear me? Is there some far off prominence where you watch In only so much light as stars once brought This still warm curve of thigh? Elegance be damned, I’d like to think You would be pleased to turn your distant sight Upon this place and hear at last My small night songs of gladness That each morning brings once more A bright, heaped-up sun rising enormous On the edge of autumn’s clear and crayoned days.
Going Into Winter It is starting to snow out over the lake. It is important my wrist not fail this weight of bone grit and ash, staining the lake. But what now is to be done with the box? I had not considered the box--its hard blackness, the brevity of its labelled summation: “Cremains: Name DOB DOD File # Is there a prescribed ritual of disposal? Does one burn it with proper solemnity? A kind of mini-cremation? If so, then, what of the residue? Does one cast it out over a pond with seemly ceremony? Is there a metaphor here? Is this black box a receptacle of a receptacle? A problem of infinite regression? What is the validity of frames?
Chilled by this early winter, I must remember how I once stood in the light of your look, how I would rise each morning recreated and estimable. Now on this hard ground of winter, I want to write of loons at the lake dreaming of returns. But those who know of such things tell me writing of loons at the lake is the worst sort of cliché--and this is true also of waterfalls. I want to write of Summit Lake where sudden snowmelt falls down over the rocks in panic, where the road goes weighed down by a low sky and beaver mounds heap empty in black ponds. And of the hard choice to love my life. It snows again. And I must learn new words for each day’s weather.
INTERVIEW Following Christy
Sean Ulman Interviews Christy Everett
Seward writer, Christy Everett, won Cirque’s Andy Hope Award for her story “Why Not Mine” featured in the previous issue of Cirque. That story is an excerpt from her phenomenal ongoing blog “Following Elias.” Her entries, about five quality updates a month since 2006, exhibit “a special-needs mama, learning from her micro-preemie son and typical daughter, one awkward step at a time.” Sean Ulman: Congratulations on winning the Andy Hope Award for an outstanding piece of prose or poetry published in Cirque. How did it feel to make that kind of debut in the journal? And what did it mean to be chosen by Andy Hope’s son, Ishmael, who is also a poet. Christy Everett: Honestly, I almost missed opening the email, thinking it was another publicity spam, as I receive a lot of those for writing a blog. When I read that I won the award, an award I didn’t even know I’d been nominated for, I burst into tears. The message arrived during a week this summer when I was truly questioning myself as a writer. I’d been spending more time outside than at my computer and didn’t feel that need to write that usually resides in me. I was also doubting that I had anything original to say, and questioning why I felt the need to continually express myself with words and share my posts with others. The award surprised me, helped me silence my inner critics (yes, I have multiple), and inspired me to keep writing. I was especially honored to be chosen by Ishmael, Andy Hope’s son, as it feels like a direct line to the man who is the inspiration for the award itself. I am humbled to be chosen by an accomplished poet, as I sometimes feel unworthy of the term, even though I’ve been writing poems since grade school. SU: Andy was a political activist, as well as a writer of prose and poetry. Politics, or larger social issues, often crop up in your personal essays and poems. Is writing your best means for being political or sharing your beliefs? CE: I have always turned to my notebook to process personal and political events; the act of writing helps me understand my internal universe and the external factors that influence me. The first piece of writing I
ever shared publicly was a poem I wrote about sexual assault that I read at a Take Back the Night event, in Maine, back in the late nineties. I remember standing on a make-shift stage, in downtown Portland, with my piece of paper and microphone, feeling like I reclaimed a part of myself with my spoken words. When I moved to Alaska in 2000, I discovered slam poetry and continued to weave together poems that were both personal and political, addressing social issues from gender to war to racism to the environment. When my son, Elias, arrived four months premature, my world shrunk, and for years I didn’t even write poems, and politics rarely entered into my blog posts as my focus shifted to the health of my son. I became an advocate for people with disabilities, but other issues fell off my plate, as special needs parenthood took center stage. Something broke loose in me in the fall of 2016; the political became personal again with candidate Trump bragging about his sexual predation, and I found myself returning to poetry to process my feelings. I also felt the need to speak beyond issues of parenthood, disabilities, or life in Alaska in my blog, and could no longer keep politics out of my writing, as my view again grew wider than home and family. So yes, writing is how I make sense of the world, how I process personal, social, and political issues; and when I share my writing publicly, it’s one meaningful way I can work towards change. SU: I’d say there’s a lot of well worthy poet stuff in that answer. Plus, I’ve seen you perform poetry. That’s fair you cried upon finding out you won, too, because reading a lot of your blog lately has helped me catch up on my crying. “Why Not Mine” is a superb heartstring-plucker. But a lot of your blog entries are. Why did “Why Not Mine” win out as the piece to submit?
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 CE: I submitted three essays and Cirque selected “Why Not Mine”, which is one of my more polished pieces, in part, because it has gone through more revisions than any other piece I’ve ever written. It was originally multiple blog posts that I combined into a much longer essay, primarily about dip-netting, that the Salmon Project published on their website. I submitted the essay to Arctic Entries, a live storytelling event in Anchorage, and when I met with the story coaches, they said I’d have to cut it in half for consideration. And one of the coaches, Will, told me something like: “Right now it’s ninety percent about fishing and ten percent about your son Elias. I’d like you to flip those numbers and make it primarily a story about your son, Christy Everett with dip-netting as the backdrop.” So my story went through a rigorous editing period with feedback, a process I really enjoyed after years of selfpublishing my blog. Once I had a final product, I had to practice saying it out loud and memorizing it, and this process forced me to cut it even deeper so the words could flow off my tongue. SU: It is so polished, while the blog, quickly published by comparison, can have a certain rawness at times, which I like too. In “Why Not Mine” you alternate between two movements – dip-netting and Elias’s birth. This format works so well as you bring the stories together with Elias, now a child, at the river rooting you on. He asks “Mom how do I undead a fish,” which connects back to him being brought back to life as a newborn. The authorial control, as you pour out gritty honesty, is marvelous. As we swell with emotion, you go back to the river scene, let us exhale, then get heavy again, back and forth. You’ve made my eyes tear cups. It’s a touching
119 exercise. Hold. Spill. Tip. Empty. Refill. You are totally on top of the tension, tightening the screws. I’ve noticed this alternating between scenes or storylines so expertly in a lot of your blog posts. How long have you been doing that? Did writing get easier for you when you honed that format? CE: This is an interesting question for me to reflect upon. I think I’m drawn to this way of weaving narratives or images or metaphors together because my brain naturally makes leaps, and struggles to stay in chronological order. I hated numbered outlines as a student, and found them more painful than writing the actual research paper, but I loved the concept of bubble graphs, with one central idea in the middle and countless tangents surrounding it. I would be a horrible eye witness in Credit: Kim Lesley a criminal case because time and sequence and logistical details tend to stray in my mind that seems to run in a circular pattern rather than a linear one. With my blog, I often start one place, say the beach at Lowell Point outside of Seward, and then stray to Cape Cod, where I spent my summers as a kid, or begin with a conversation with my daughter Olive that leads me to a political issue and then to the eagle calling from the hemlock tree and back to Olive calling my name. Over the years, I’ve grown to trust this way of storytelling, of letting my writing lead me down unexpected trails, instead of trying to force myself into a more logical pattern. SU: Olive has some hilarious lines. Elias also makes me laugh a lot. So do you. Comedy is definitely at work in your lives and your blog. Laughing can balance the crying. And you can play more with that building up and release of readers’ emotions. How important do you think humor is to the experience of reading “Following Elias”? And, given how hard writing
120 humor is, how much do your kids contribute to you being a funny writer? CE: I can’t tell you how many times Elias or Olive will say something and I’ll think, “I need to write that down before I forget.” And of course, it’s usually when I’m driving or out in nature, without a pen, so then I try to repeat their words in my head to remember. I don’t always know how the line or conversation will be used in a blog post, but I know I want to record it, either to capture the humor or insight my children so often reveal. Young kids, like Olive, lack filters; and one of the gifts or curses of autism, depending on the situation, at least for Elias, is a lack of self-consciousness and a tendency to be brutally blunt in social situations, which can be a natural recipe for humor. Elias is also adept at laughing at himself when he falls or makes a mistake which has taught me to take myself less seriously. I think it’s important for me to capture these lighter moments to balance the grief that often permeates my posts. Sure, its cathartic to cry sometimes, but it’s equally healing to laugh. SU: Your first entry, of eleven years (and counting) of posting, begins: “I sit here at the computer with glee in one pocket and fear in the other. Excited to have a public forum for my words. Terrified to have a public forum for my words. How do I begin? What if I have nothing to say? What if I can’t write down my feelings and thoughts? What if no one cares about our story?” What was the final push that made you start writing this project? And posting. Was sharing the processing of your family’s story ingrained in writing it? CE: When I was in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, with Elias, at Providence Hospital in Anchorage, one of the social workers set us up with a website where we could privately post updates and share pictures for family and friends outside of Alaska. I had always journaled, and so I found myself naturally turning to this website, not just for medical updates, but to share my thoughts and process my feelings. And I continued to post even when we left the NICU, after 94 days. A friend of mine worked for a website called ClubMom, and when Elias was two, she called to see if I was interested in applying to be one of the paid bloggers for their site. “What’s a blog?” I asked, a little slow on the uptake. So that first post you mentioned,
Son Elias and dog Tonsina
Credit: Christy Everett
was my first public blog post, shared beyond my small circle of family and friends, and I still vividly remember how nervous I felt to push the button that said: Publish. I stood up and walked away from the computer, not once but twice, before my index finger pushed down on that key. I knew I needed to write for me; I always had ink stains on my fingers, having started my first journal in kindergarten, I just wasn’t confident my words deserved an audience beyond the people I loved and who loved me in return. And yet I also have always, even as a kid, privately imagined other people reading my sentences. Before publishing that first blog post, I remember feeling so pulled between these two forces of mind. SU: And how do you look back on that first entry now? CE: I think that first quote captures a split way of thinking I still carry, often wanting to hide after a public reading, or desperate for a microphone and a stage if I’ve been in my cabin too long. And yet I no longer doubt that I have a story to tell. A decade plus of blogging has given me the much-needed practice, and the forum, to cultivate my craft. It will always be
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 a work in progress, but I can now push that publish button with less angst. SU: And I’m sure you know how much people care about your story. With all the posting these days, I think we get so used to seeing empty comments sections. Not the case with “Following Elias.” Heartfelt comments stack up under many entries. Can you talk about that great by-product of the blog – the comments, feedback, connections, help – that have come from sharing your story so candidly and copiously? CE: Oh, this has been the biggest gift of blogging, the feedback and connections I’ve made along the way. What amazes me, even after all these years, is when I publish a post that feels especially vulnerable, these writings are often the ones I receive the most comments on and the most support for sharing. It has taught me that I’m not alone with my shame and guilt and fears, and that when I bring them to the surface, it can be cathartic, not only for me, but for my community of readers. Or when something joyous happens, like when Elias took his first unassisted steps, I felt like he was applauded, and we were embraced, by people who may have never met our family personally, but who, through the medium of stories and images, have become invested in our well-being. There are also concrete and practical ways in which my readers have helped our family. For example, a long-time reader named Sarah from New York, told me about an alternative intensive therapy for kids with cerebral palsy, and we ended up traveling to Seattle to participate in a similar program, during which Elias graduated from using a walker to the use of forearm crutches, or as we call them, canes. And whenever I wander away from writing, it is my community of readers that brings me back, back to this place I belong. SU: That’s awesome. You reach out, a caring individual reaches back. And I’m onboard about reading “Following Elias” being cathartic. Eyes stuck like tear cups, as I said, and as I read, the notions to be more grateful and be a better person stay close. I think your voice and style is always up to match your hi-caliber material. This voice you’ve honed over the years is powerful – direct, poetic, wise, muscular, also lean. It hits so hard because it’s straight from the core. How has your potent authorial voice changed and grown over the years? CE: Thanks Sean, for your way of describing my voice. In the past year I’ve been reading over my original blog
121 posts and culling them for longer essays, and just as I’ve matured as a woman and mom, I can see my voice has grown as well. I’m even more honest now, often asking myself: Is there more to this story? Am I telling the whole truth? What do I really feel? Why is this important? And I think my writing has expanded to include more than my internal struggles, as I’m finally able to look beyond my family to society and the natural world. Those early blog post were filled with so many desperate questions, and it’s not that I’ve found the answers, but rather I’m more at peace with living without them. Also, I often take more time to edit my writing now than I once did in my rush to produce material. I like to write a first draft in my notebook and let it percolate before typing to see what else my mind or the world might deliver; and before I publish the post, I tend to read it out loud to see what I can cut— so write, expand, and then whittle it down to the core. SU: There is an expressed wisdom to your writing. I’m thinking of the title to a recent post, “The answer I come to every time is Gratitude,” and the line “Love – it’s all you got sometimes.” Or after a heavy conversation with your kids about people suffering from natural disasters, you conclude, “We always have to be ready to help.” When you share your deep and often optimistic life findings you get to the point so clearly. Gratitude, Love, Hope, Help - permeate these posts. How important is it to the blog to remind readers that life is a gift? And to motivate readers, and perhaps yourself, to be better people? CE: I think one of the rewards of truly experiencing grief, of letting myself weep and rage and question, is that it frees me to experience life in its fullness and thus to appreciate the beauty, joy, and humor as well. During Elias’s first week of life, a nurse I only remember as Laura, sat Nick and I down and said something like: “I’ve seen marriages die here. You need to take time for each other. You need to leave the hospital and go for a walk or a ski or go out to dinner—and do not feel bad for doing so.” I will be forever grateful that nurse Laura took time to nurture me and Nick that first week, when we still didn’t know if Elias would live through the night. Her words have echoed throughout our marriage and held us together for thirteen years and counting. I also think my lens shifted when my introduction
122 to parenthood came with the words: “Your baby is alive but I can’t tell you if he’s going to survive.” Isn’t that essentially true for all of us? We are alive, but we don’t know if we will survive. Yet we generally live without appreciating the fact that we are breathing, today, now. I am often guilty of slipping back into this fog of existence, and I guess writing helps me to wake up. As do my kids, who are far better at living in the moment, and often shake me into being present so I can recognize the beauty of this world. Where we live sure helps. When I feel stuck in my writing or my emotions or in certain situations, I tend to go outside, to walk on the beach of Resurrection Bay or hike the mountains in my backyard, and, without fail, I return home in a more grounded open state of mind. SU: For sure. I am grateful to have found Seward and Alaska. We both got a taste of the sublimity and sanctuary of nature growing up in New England. I love that line you read this summer at Zudy’s Café – “I was raised with the beach and woods as my spiritual places and sports teams as my community of one. Nature and my teammates have always come to my aid in desperate times.” Chills down my spine when you said that. Going camping and skiing in Maine, and to the ocean, as a family were special trips for me. So to reside in a mountainous landscape of such a scale…and the access. Out our door, up the mountain. And the abundance of trails and adventures. It’s such a source of health and happiness. How many of your blog posts were hatched on a hike? CE: More than I can count. So much of my writing is inspired by the beauty that surrounds us, or formed by giving myself the time to explore the mountains and beaches and woods. As I hike, I often waiver between noticing details that I may use later in my writing and turning over ideas in my mind— conversations, worries, news, that work their way into stories. I also take lots of pictures when I’m outside that often work as prompts for my writing when I’m not sure where to begin. So yes, I don’t think I’d be the writer I am now, without the natural world as my muse. SU: “Following Elias” feels very much like a book to me, a widely appealing, literary, ready-to-publish book. You recently wrote “As I age, I feel less attached to the outcome and more enriched by the process…and feel satisfaction every time I actually sit down to write instead of measuring my worth by publications.” Dig
CIRQUE that. But to share your family’s story in a book - is that something you are pursuing? Hope so. CE: Yes, I have been working on a book for about a year now, reading through those beginning posts and choosing excerpts to stitch together for longer essays or chapters. It’s going slowly, in part because I keep wanting/needing to write about our current life and have been feeling called to work on new poems, and in part because of that age-old dilemma of time and the balance between parenthood, work, and writing. SU: You work part time now as an Advocate at the Independent Living Center. How do you budget your time to make room for writing? Like I’m guessing if you didn’t keep your art moving, you’d probably be worse off intellectually than admittedly being “a mom with mush for brains”. CE: If I don’t write for a couple weeks, I can feel the tension in my body, the same way I feel when I stop exercising. I need them both regularly for my optimum physical and mental health. And it’s almost as if I don’t know how I feel about an event until I write about it, so if I don’t give myself the time, my mind gets stuck. My mom will often call me, after a particularly emotional post, to ask if I am alright, not realizing that the moment I finished putting my thoughts down on paper, I felt better. That’s the cathartic effect of writing for me. Time is always a challenge, especially when I worked full-time in Anchorage as a school counselor and didn’t start writing till after the kids went to bed. Now at least I have a couple hours each day, in which I can choose to write or play outside, depending on the weather. SU: Right. I like that natural writer’s punch clock of Seward and Alaska. During a stretch of sunny weather, around break-up I think, Seward writer and mountain runner, Fred Moore, told me (and I’m paraphrasing) he would sit down and write the piece he had all lined up in his head once the rain returned. “Certainly not today,” he added as we both looked up dreamily appraising which trail to take upwards that afternoon. Do you like being pushed by the weather to write or not write? And, training for the Mt. Marathon race in May and June - does that cut into your writing time, and are you just fine with that like me? Running trails and racing up mountains has helped my writing in so many ways. A lot of the similar stuff goes into each – discipline, perseverance, patience,
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 incremental improvement. CE: The extremes of this place, especially with the daylight and the weather, do dictate my writing schedule. I do not have a daily discipline where I write at the same time or the same place. I tend to grab my notebook and bring it with me on a hike if it’s warm, or sit in Rez Art Coffee House with my laptop if it’s raining. Sometimes the weather can be the perfect excuse not to write; but like Fred said, I am always composing, even if I’m not yet getting words down on paper. And yes, like you, I enjoy the spring transition to training during my free time instead of writing because there is a nice parallel between writing practice and preparing for a mountain race. You just have to do it. No matter how you feel. Lace up your shoes and trudge up the mountain. Start with a blank page and begin. And somewhere in the middle it hurts. You question yourself for doing it in the first place. This sucks, you think. Whether you’re muddling through a messy paragraph or climbing over boulders. And yet when you get to the top and see where you’ve been, or when you finish an essay or a poem or a post, the struggle is worth it, and so you want to do it all over again. Or maybe you just want to rest, but I think that’s important too. I no longer think of my time spent not writing as writer’s block but more of a collecting of experiences to mine later when I sit back down at the computer. And well, a week of warm weather in the summer in Alaska, or a fresh powder day in the winter, I think in those moments, we are just meant to play outside. SU: I mentioned I’ve seen you perform your poetry and essays. Your sets are professional and powerful. The pacing, pausing, various tones of voice, and they are typically memorized. When you are on stage, I find myself making mental notes on how to improve at performing, and then just give in (as I should) to getting totally whammed. Can you talk about the differences between performance and print? CE: I tend to be a lyrical writer, even in my prose, often choosing a word for the way it makes a sentence sing. So I love the opportunity to read my
work aloud, or to memorize and perform a piece. This adds the medium of my voice to the poem or story, allowing me to bring tone, emotion, speed, and silence to a piece. There is something magical about shrinking that distance between writer and audience, and seeing all those eyes looking at mine, the muchneeded chance for human connection as we share an experience fostered by the spoken word. And even if I can’t see people’s faces, due to stage lights or the size of the crowd, there is a certain hush, almost a collective holding of breath, that you can feel as a performer when the audience is with you—and this is so validating as a writer. This happened for me at the Performing Arts Center, the first time I told the story Why Not Mine for Arctic Entries, in 2016. It was my first time returning to a stage since I participated in the National Poetry Slam in 2003, since the premature birth of my son the following year, and I remember thinking: Wow, I can actually do this again. For years, as I grappled with doctors and diagnoses and rearranging our lives to include disability, I couldn’t imagine choosing to be vulnerable or judged before an audience. As I said earlier, I never stopped writing, but my world shrunk, and I needed to limit any additional stresses such as those that come with performing. Now, I find myself seeking opportunities to share my work aloud, to commune with an audience, to be part of something bigger than myself.
Daughter Olive and dog Lola
Credit: Christy Everett
F E AT U R E Carey Taylor
A Tribute to Seattle Poet Joan Swift Poet Joan Swift passed away on March 13, 2016 at the age of 90. As Paul Constant wrote in SEATTLEWEEKLY on May 10, 2017, “It was a loss that felt like the fluttering turn of a page.” He goes on to share, that “Swift’s passing was a sad and significant moment in Seattle literary history, a loss of generational proportions.” I couldn’t agree more. Joan had the ability to connect with not only those in the literary top rungs, but also with those like myself, who were just beginning to dip their pens into the world of poetry. She was transparent to those who knew her in both her literary and personal life, and her inclusiveness allowed a space for us to connect with her without judgement. This is to not say she was always easy, especially when it came to editing her words, either those she wrote or spoke. She was a perfectionist about her craft, but in the end, I believe many of us who knew her, felt privileged to have spent whatever time we had in the presence of this master poet. Cirque has been instrumental in sharing the poet Joan Swift with the broader poetry community, by publishing three of her poems, inviting her to readings in Seattle as a guest poet, publishing her final interview conducted by myself called “Still Breathing: A Lifetime of Poetry,” and having her words about what it was like to be a student of Theodore Roethke forever documented in the play by Sandra Kleven called “The Influence of Theodore Roethke: 'I Teach Out of Love.'” So, when Sandra Kleven asked if I would consider writing a tribute for Joan, I suggested a tribute that would come from those who knew Joan both as poet and friend. A tribute that would allow poetry to speak for us, to say the words we possibly didn’t say during her lifetime—that we loved and admired her. A tribute that in some small way would allow the poet community she surrounded herself with, to grieve her properly, and more importantly, to not let her be forgotten.
Joan Swift and Carey Taylor, ACT Theatre – Seattle WA, Feb. 28, 2014. Credit: Michael Kleven
Leone Mikele Fogle
Moving farther from grace She knows who she is, the one who creeps Through fescue and Highland Bent, Her whole body twisted, looking behind.
Hounded by a pimp my second evening in the city, all of eighteen, asked to back up into a theater director’s erection at an audition, asked to take off my clothes and spread my thighs for a fashion photographer, the sentimental shot, fist in my face five hundred times, first husband, my employer suggesting several times my throat would be a cozy place for his dick, dogged by man packs, skittering down centers of streets to keep assault a few kick-steps away, breasts not fine enough to be seen, ever, even clothed, my face just attractive enough to give head, and this is where the old grace drops in— my body does not have a brain so up to now I’ve been grateful to be used. The epigraph is from Joan’s poem “Somewhere,” published in Intricate Moves, Poems about Rape (Chicory Blue Press). Joan Swift’s poems about sexual predation and the consequent fracturing of her psyche are soul-shattering. I revisited them and couldn’t look away. She retaliated by enlisting the help of the criminal-justice system, but experienced guilt throughout the many years of her ordeal. Her exploration of the themes of collective guilt, as well as collusion and participation in our own fracturing has prompted me to share my shame. Joan’s message is steeped in grief—that there is no happy resolution for any party involved in sexual abuse.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1
Esther Altshul Helfgott
Dear Joan— I hover over you as I did my mother when she was sick and dying. Yet you’re nothing like her all the while you are—my teacher of poems I haven’t written yet and those I have. I wish the two of you would have met— sat across the table from each other and spoken—words of similarities and differences— one from you, one from her and back again the two of you conversing —whole paragraphs— as I listen.
Joan Swift and Esther Altshul Helfgott, Apple Store, University Village, Feb. 20, 2013
I met Joan at the Frye Museum around 1999. She was giving a reading with some other poets, but I only remember Joan. She was stunning. Each word she read was distinctive, special. After the reading, I told her how much I appreciated her work and how she read as if she were in love with each letter in each word of every poem. She was grateful for my response to her reading, and then she asked me about my writing, what I was working on. I told her I was writing some mother poems, and she lit up, said she was too, and we talked to the front door. We made a date to meet and became friends. I loved her like a sister who loved me back.
Holly J. Hughes
If the River
After/ for Joan Swift Slowly the river sorted its way over the same old stones, braided the several blues it kept using over and over. If the river knew it wasn’t telling. If Joan Swift and Sandra McPherson visiting Gwen the river knew its way, it only muttered Head, Port Ludlow, WA, 1982. Credit: Laura Jensen slick syllables against stone so we turned our backs, quit listening. If the river knew the way out, mum was the word it never spoke, only breathed, cupping each fallen star in its wet arms, mouth full of stones, murmuring the ancient stories we no longer could hear. Listen, the river is running, braiding the several blues, weaving dark with light, stars falling and shattering in its arms, the swift river keeps running, keeps holding the fallen, keeps telling the mustn’t tell stories, braiding the tears, the blood, the stirring, the swelling, the sweaters that shielded, the sagging sac, the red blossoming, abandoned, current carrying all that can’t be said as words, insistent, nudge mute cobbles, all the bodies, the dreams, the shattered stars flowing down to where the river weaves the mustn’t tell with the imagined, the unseen, the unheard, the fragile, the tough with the tears, the scorned, the over looked with the bright fallen stars into one story that stays and stays. The epigraph and the last line were taken from the poem
A few years ago, I heard from Tess that Joan was in a rehabilitation
“Stillaguamish Flood” that appeared in Joan Swift’s last book, The
home after taking a fall, so I visited her, taking copies of The New
Body that Follows Us, published posthumously by Cave Moon Press.
Yorker, flowers, and dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s. I’d read her poems from The New Yorker and with a sly roll of her eyes, she’d
I met Joan Swift through Tess Gallagher, though I’d long before
pass judgment without saying a word.
fallen in love with her fierce, exquisite poems. Because I taught at Edmonds Community College for many years and Joan lived in
Not that Joan held back in life or in poems. She dedicated herself
Edmonds, I always imagined we’d run into each other someday in a
to a life in poetry early on, and she and Tess were forever bonded,
coffee shop, scribbling poems.
having been students together in Theodore Roethke’s last class. She didn’t have an easy life, and poetry allowed her to transform
But we met in Port Angeles at one of the June celebrations Tess
not only her own suffering, but the suffering of others into
held to celebrate the annual bloom of her mother’s amazing
powerful, moving art. As she wrote in “Leaving Rio in the Rain,” her
rhododendron garden. There, we discovered connections in
poems arose out of “a kind of longing/to make descent beautiful,
addition to poetry: we’d both lived or worked in Alaska and we
to wrap/whatever kills in tenderness.” In The Body that Follows
shared a love of good dark chocolate. Later, I was honored to
Us, her posthumous book, she leaves poetry that is as lovely and
read with Joan at the Edmonds Book Shop, our local independent
enigmatic as she was, poetry that is at once fierce, tender, austere,
bookstore, and we delighted in discovering how water wove its way
compassionate, and transcendent.
through many of our poems.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 Sandra McPherson
(hearing Joan Swift, from a lifelong friendship)
In my mother’s country, In her Sweden, When leaving someone’s home, Waver a moment Until you get to the doorway And step outside Before putting on your coat. To do so earlier suggests You are eager to leave. My way was eager welcome. If my doorbell rang, It was something ordered From snow or tropics, a mystery SASE, a child with a lost ferret photo. So I waited very little At the chain and knob, Even caught wearing the ethereal Under a tired robe. I would advise you not to do this. When you and I were gorgeous (As we confirmed in windows) we’d stir Secrets into whiskey on my balcony, In jeans, as if in kimonos, Like layered woodblock bijin. The Sound smoothed its reflection In my sliding glass doors. Glass can’t discriminate Between your outside And your in-. And only a little Between waves of women And weather-beaten men.
I passed through San Quentin’s — If I were expecting Swedish Tole bouquets, or herringbone Barnwood, I looked again — They slam and seal. Still, once inside, I read my poems Until doors opened In imprisoned eyes. I’d leave things at your house . . . The pale blue silk shirt, my summer Hibiscus lipstick, a white granny. I’d forget earrings on my vanity at home, On my way to yours, Where I’d lose my sweater. Shivering a bit, I Was never in a hurry to say goodbye. I’d come back if invited any time. You’ll find my black-pearl underslip On the floor behind The guest room door, Where it pools, teasing The doorstop.
I first met Joan in 1966, when my then-husband Henry Carlile brought a few of his friends (which included Joan) to our Wallingford apartment in Seattle. We were friends ever since. Our “third friend” was Gwen Head. We loved being together and telling funny autobiographical stories. We shared poems. Each of us had a “special” daughter. We went out on Joan’s boat, The Sestina. When I was teaching at Cal for a month, Joan would come over to the Women’s Faculty Club, where I was being housed, and we’d drink champagne and I’d play the piano and Harold Witt was there and he and Joan would sing. There was nothing we couldn’t tell each other in our lifetime of friendship. I tried to put a little of this long alliance into “Stage Whispers.”
As I Watch the Wake from the Deck of the Edmonds Ferry For Joan Swift you've become the silt you run over the willow root you unwind pink of Plumeria washed up on a black sand beach purple jacket the color of lilacs top beginning to wobble, manuscript on a kitchen table, narrative shaped in stanza and line where you dazzle your way through a tunnel of sorrow body of all this water where you still rise to the surface and take the breath we who are left
Joan Swift and Sandra McPherson visiting Gwen Head, Port Ludlow, WA, 1982. Credit: Laura Jensen
are still breathing for you
The words in italics in the first stanza are from Joan’s poem “Tebay Lake” published in The Dark Path of Our Names (Dragon Gate) and in stanza five and six from her poem “Identity,” published in The Tiger Iris (BOA Editions, Ltd). I first met Joan on February 28, 2014 when I was asked by Sandra Kleven to play the part of Joan in the performance of “Seattle-Saginaw: The Reach of Theodore Roethke.” Joan was in the audience when I read her own words about what it was like to be a student of Roethke’s and we became friends after that. We read together at two Cirque readings in Seattle, and I would visit her over the course of her remaining years in Edmonds for lunch or coffee. The more I got to know Joan and her work, the more impressed I became with not only her level of craft, but her innate ability to write fearless poems in parallel with poems filled with subject matter more domestic, but no less impressive. Wanting to know more about her life as a poet, I asked Joan if she would allow me to interview her for Cirque. Luckily, she agreed and I spent the Summer and Fall of 2016 conducting what was to be her last interview, which was published in Cirque in the Winter of 2016.
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Endecasyllabics: Joan When we first met, you limped, balanced on a cane, but your coiffure was flawless—frosted blonde curls— your eyes mascaraed and shadowed mauve pastel, your blouses shimmering like tropical birds. You smiled and laughed your throaty, ironic laugh. I admired your style, your focus on detail as much in your poetry as in your dress. You didn’t fear revision: of iambic lines, or images, or that dissolving hip. Hip replacement surgery was on the way, 1985, when you and I sat down with other poets—Tom and Madeline, Tess and sometimes Ray, Walt and Sandra. Could we guess how soon Ray would leave us, and Walt a few years hence? Post-surgery, you were walking freely— happy years we met for poetry and wine, readings at Elliott Bay and Open Books and stories afterwards: Roethke’s final class, years when Kizer and Wagoner “were an item” and they were editing Poetry Northwest. You recounted these episodes in phone calls about poetry contests, and conferences that might hire us—or ignore our messages. Stories of your daughters and your husband Wayne. And always, warm memories of poet friends— our drive down to see First Class at A.C.T., playwright Wagoner coming out to greet you afterwards, taking your hands and asking you if the actor brought Ted Roethke back to life— in all that audience, only you could know! You flushed, smiled with pleasure: yes, exactly yes.
I taught your books, especially Intricate Moves: Poems about Rape, your own heart-raking story, and of that other Joan, murdered in your name when your rapist, plea-bargain released, prowled your old neighborhood seeking his revenge. One student, Bob, was “stunned and shocked,” and he wrote his essay to struggle with those “difficult truths.” I took him to meet you, with gifts of wine, hors d’oeuvres and Bob’s favorite: whiskey and cigars. It was best friends at first sight—you sipped and laughed, traded jokes and anecdotes all afternoon. We visited again—this time you tottered on the stairs, your welcoming smile a grimace, but you were made up, a blue-green raw silk blouse. From then on it was email and Facebook posts, your last a birthday wish, and “since I never see you anymore, what have you two been doing, besides that dance?” I “liked” this, with a heart, but never answered, and next I heard, you were gone. Joan, this is for you—may you continue in your moves like water: the bright path of your name.
I met Joan in the summer of 1985, probably at a reading or literary reception, when I was back in Seattle for a few months after teaching for a year as a Visiting Poet at Whitman College. This meeting was most likely connected with Madeline DeFrees, who had recently moved back to Seattle after retiring from teaching and directing the Creative Writing Program at the University of Massachusetts. Madeline was a mutual friend, though Joan was more of a peer and closer to Madeline in age, and I was more like a younger colleague, since I had been in Madeline’s workshop, as her “Xerox slave,” on a working scholarship at the Port
And then the falls started—on the mountain trail, the ski slope, in the Kauai parking lot, on the stairs of your hillside home with Sound views after Wayne passed on and you lived there alone. You kept the house, kept up appearances despite the death of one daughter—ill for years— struggles with your final manuscript, your life’s declining balance. We kept in touch: emails, phone calls, and Facebook after I finally Booked My Face. We shared jokes, anecdotes, complaints about some editors and praise for others.
Townsend Writer’s Conference a few years before. All I recall from this meeting is that Joan and I hit it off, and we began talking on the phone and getting together fairly regularly that summer with Madeline and other mutual friends among Seattle-based poets.
A Review of Intricate Moves: Poems about Rape by Joan Swift Chicory Blue Press, 1997 After reading Joan Swift’s chapbook Intricate Moves: Poems about Rape (Chicory Blue Press, 1997), I nearly shredded the book. I was a victim of sensory overload. By the end of it, I had met a poet capable of dissecting her experience of rape and its subsequent aftermath, with brutal objectiveness. An approach which allows Swift to convey many meanings at the same time. The hallmark of a master poet. Okay, I did not throw away that book or shred it. Instead, I allowed the power of Intricate Moves to consume me, as it was meant to do. I was stunned and shocked. What, exactly, had Swift done to evoke such empathy from me? How had she pulled it off? After a week of meditation, I took the time to figure it out. Was it just me, or were there universal truths being parlayed from art? I began with the obvious element of structure. Intricate Moves is a straightforward and linearly constructed chapbook of four chapters, supported by a Prologue and an Afterward. The chapter titles are nothing simpler than the years in which certain events took place. This saves Swift from the tedium of having to narrate, through poetry, when this or that event occured. There are no ‘Four score and seven years ago today,’ poems in this collection. And where simple exposition is needed, she relies on simple narrative and/or newsprint to the news. In an interview in 2011, Swift nearly dismisses this structure; when asked, she said, “How could I do it otherwise?” As though it were simplicity itself. After some thought, she said, “I’m more concerned with the studies of personality than narrative event.” Swift wastes no time in getting to the heat of the story. In 1970, she was raped by Charles Jackson. A plea bargain bought him a five year sentence. Ten years later, Jackson was on trial for the rape and murder of a Joan Steward, also of Oakland, California (just three blocks from Swift’s initial attack) and Joan Swift was asked to testify at his arraignment. This is her canvas. In “Afterword,” she admits that ‘structure and various forms’ are liberating. “Poetry has no boundaries,”
she writes. “Even when I’m writing a poem in form, I’m not limited. I find the (forms and structures) . . . an invitation to free the imagination, to break through the dictates of the form in the wide open field of variation.” Writers and poets would do well to keep this approach in mind. Once Swift had established the linear story structure, she is free to express herself with a more lyrical voice.
The Distance of Negative Capability
Make no mistake. In Intricate Moves, Swift is fearless. It is through negative capability that she encourages reader participation. Couple negative capability with the ability to control poetic craft, and the reader is bound to the narrative to the end. The prologue, “Somewhere,” is not unlike the start of a horror movie, and with lightening speed, the reader knows what’s at stake. “This was the last lullaby:/”Don’t kill us,” she said./But he did.” This dramatic distance of finality, created through negative capability, ensures ample opportunity to explore the personalities of this particular drama. It is not always pretty. But it is always beautiful and true. This approach also works as a secondary structure to the book. Swift now has two structure (or self appointed rules) to work with: linear structure and negative capability. Negative capability was Keats’s paradigmshift contribution to the craft of poetry. Briefly, as Keats put it, it is that capacity within an artist to “overcome consideration,” by “being capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts.” Swift does not play the doubt game by pointing the finger at anyone. She declares the facts: this man raped me; the same man was charged with murder; he had a family; he is now dead and I am now alive. Negative capability is, in essence, the ability to wear another’s hat and shoes. It is this ability to be open to the world, as Keats suggests, that strengthens Swift’s position as a narrator of events and artist. One way she enhances negative
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capability is through her use of the pronoun ‘you’. From “Your Hands”: I was grass you fell upon That morning, quick as a storm. The black cloud of your hulk. In through the door and my neck. There is no assessment here of how it felt to be ‘fell upon.’ In the first two lines, there is awareness of presence, the surprise of speed, and the immutable nature of weather but there is no finger pointing, no announcement of emotion, and no declaration of helplessness. All of emotive elements of the poem are left to the reader. Swift trusts the reader to get it. The fact that much of the work is devoid of emotional content is what gives it its authority. The effect is a staggering sense of isolation and helplessness that is never overcome. There is no redemption from such an event. Understanding? Perhaps. But as Swift states, “I’m not out for revenge. I got away. He’s disgusting. I did not feel vengeance – I felt sorry for him.” When asked who the poems were written for, she answered that it was for herself, for Jackson . . . “Well, for everyone!” Negative capability is a choice. With the storyline out of the way and the fantastic established, Swift is then free to investigate many themes throughout the book: power, character, identification. In my interview with her, she stated that Intimate Moves is a sequence of poems about power. She recalled with chagrin, as if fate had brought the metaphor – a power outage had occurred during the rape. To her it was a part of the power trip. “Exchange” coldly recounts the moment: And you gave me your history there, that old black book, turning the creamy pages until you shook me out, a pressed flower. I gave you my stem and my leaf. Black bee, you gave me your sting you gave me your life. Again, though the graphic nature of the pain is implied, it rests on the reader to interpret them. Swift will make no such judgment. I confess: I cried. Adding to the fabric of the poetic narrative, Swift
moves from intrapersonal to the interpersonal. With one exception (“Another Witness”), all of the poems in the chapter “1983” deal with personalities other than herself. The effect of pointing outward, rather than inward, creates an opportunity for the reader to participate in the narrative. In her essay, “Dynamic Design: the structure of books of poems” in Iowa Review, Natasha Saje (paraphrasing Barthes) calls this “process of reading, a questioning of convention” and asks, “How does the structure carry the reader over the threshold into bliss – thus, making the reader a producer of the text.” Now, ‘making the reader a producer of the text,’ is an insightful way to look at the other side of the negative capability coin. One side deals with the author’s contribution and intent, while the other deals with the reader’s contribution to the dialog set forth by the artist. Reader contribution is often described as being wanted, but seldom is a solution to the problem presented. How can an author ensure reader participation? Swift points outward; the reader looks within. In conversation, she explains the outrage: that it could’ve been her daughters; the fear that she has to confront Jackson in court; guilt, not just, as she describes in “Testimony”: “female unconscious which seems to grip all victims of rape,” but also that his fate was in her hands. Swift is a savvy storyteller. These presentations
go beyond the ‘show not tell’ element of craft. This seemingly disproportionate attention on others creates a burden on the reader to look elsewhere – other than the author – for answers. And where else to look? Only within. Swift never answers. Though there is little doubt emotional assumptions can be made on her part, she is too clever a craftswoman to dismiss the absence of selfpity. It is present, but only in trace amounts. Swift speaks volumes for others but little for herself. A newspaper journalist speaks in “Jury Deliberates Fate of Sex Slayer”; “Ravine” acts as a double metaphor, that which takes water and body and the rapist, who takes on the nature of a ravine: the storm moves in his whole body and nothing can stop it, his hands are around her throat as he drags her into acacias and ferns, feels himself slip . . . Even the coroner has been given voice: “I had a tape recorder with me and a map/of the human body. I was not lost. She was.” These are the dramatis personae. She gives character to the victim’s husband; the murdered victim (Joan Stewart); Jackson’s mother; his sister; even where he grew up, in Louisiana, in “D’Lo, de l’Eau.” When, at last, Swift gives voice to herself in “Another Witness,” she reestablishes her guilt as a survivor and self-appointed accomplice to the murder. But “Another Witness” does not say anything new – it offers no new insights. It does reestablish the anonymity of one who wants to hide from the possibility that her involvement with this man may have somehow enabled his criminal behavior. She is also insistent that the reader share in her experience and the only way that can be accomplished is if the reader gets it. Perhaps then, the reader becomes a producer of the text. These experiences can convey truth and truth assessment, no matter the gravity of the subject. In Lao Tzu’s Art of War there are four lines which address the many sides of this experience: At first be like a virgin. The enemy opens the door. Afterward be like an escaped rabbit. The enemy will be unable to resist. (Tzu. 54)
When the above poem was shared with Swift,
her reply was one of comprehensive shock, “it never occurred to me that he came back to kill me.” She agreed that the above nature of ‘the enemy’ was one possible explanation appropriate to Jackson’s behavior. The cycle of intuition returns to Swift in the form of her art which is then carried to the reader. To clarify: It should be noted here that she had called the police immediately and the following day they discovered Jackson waiting in a ravine outside her home. For humanity, rape exists as a perversion of power and a telltale sign of weakness, a last ditch effort to possess the unpossessable. Rape is a tool of war and ranks down there amongst the cannibals. In the recent past there have been brave women stepping forward to confront their assailants, CBS reporter Lara Logan; Peace Corp Volunteer Jess Smochek in Bangladesh; and in 1970, poet Joan Swift. One could hope for a decrease in the activity of rape or one could do something about it. Joan Swift has made her offering. When my wife reviewed this article, she asked me why I said little of the healing power of the work. Outside of the obvious affection I have for the work as a bitter pill against the pain of rape, I feel little qualified to know. I’m a middle aged white male who is largely outside the affectation of rape. I defend and comfort where I can. Years ago my mother, now passed away, admitted to having to deal with rape all her life. All I could do was hug her and point to counseling, but I could not relate. Intricate Moves is no less a moving artistic expression of the horrors of humanity as is Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Through art, Swift settles the larger picture of structure and craft, especially with her ability to engage in negative capability, to make way for the larger issues. Her goal is to “tell people they can get over it (the trauma) and go to the police . . . and not huddle in a corner.” Demanding words, perhaps, but no less needed and here she provides a model. In confronting difficult truths, Swift leaves a legacy that could well inform humanity for generations to come. Intricate Moves therefore embodies a universal truth of rape. That truth is not palpable or pleasant, but one that currently remains with us. Are we capable of confronting these truths or shall we stuff these truths into our closets with the other monsters, only to have them come out when we’re not looking? Swift uses linear storytelling to set the ground rules and then universal truths that create a void of personality. Let the reader also be the producer of the art. Swift is here to hold the hand of the reader.
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F E AT U R E Former Alaska Poet Laureate, Tom Sexton Introduces the Renga Last Fall, Tom Sexton introduced the Japanese forms tanka and renga in a class offered through Cirque. Each poem in the renga responds to the poem that immediately precedes it. In this case, fourteen poets/students formed two branches, beginning in response to poems offered by Peggy Shumaker and Tom Sexton.
Alaska Renga, 2017
Blue light has slipped back between paper birches, bold shadows returning long days of dark, long season without scent. Nearly over. Moose scoop thigh-deep snow off bent-flat willows. So still this river of ice creaky and stiff, soon to break. Liquid again. River song. — Peggy Shumaker
at evening’s edge moth wings stirring new leaves spring tides rising fast
To the north, it’s already dark, the moon rising pale as a moth’s wing over the Tanana Valley, over Denali’s blue shadow, over the snow-blind rivers: Chena Nenana, Tanana. How sad it must be to not love the moon, its rivers of flowing light. — Tom Sexton
pushing the boat with its nets against the freshening waves Denali’s blue sides caught in the dawn’s rose currents on pebbled stream beds salmon leap at morning tide waiting for the boat’s return — Teri White Carns small consolation the mountain salmon stream beds what good can they be or boats or nets or moth-wings which of those can save her now down on her wrecked knees scrubbing botched linoleum as if it matters as if any of it might redeem the ruined marriage — Anne Caston birch branches pawing at the pearl moon’s face unwrapped misery’s relief
gaze toward the life-saving light rescue from all that is close.
This is where we go on a soul’s journey deep outside the dark trouble
nightfall opportunity hush, hush, going nowhere now — Sandra Kleven
This rescue from loneliness trembles from a window’s view. — Scott Banks
Venus tailgating moon above crisp evening calf asleep in glade
pearly moon shines down young lovers sway and tremble sorrow’s bright relief
mother’s frosted huff warning trundling toward the Evergreens
gaze into the firmament for broken halo wishes
giant boulders wait on shores of frozen water crackling, extending
birch branches pawing against dawn’s chapped face biting snows and winds
soon to welcome blocks of ice bobbing, rolling to the sea — Mary Crosby
in deep dark water’s stillness leaf floats into forever — Kathleen Witkowska Tarr long slender shadows thriving in taiga birch forests forgetting the arctic tern’s migrations a light on flying feathers swift with quick moving wind-chill a stern morning perch a boreal owl overlooking caribou arriving from the tundra — Adam Mackie Tom Sexton Renga Class
blind sun on snow-scape canopy of blue hushed steps remember a path baskets of birch silent breath meander to the night-edge slowed with burden time caribou scrape for lichen boreal owl seeks the vole
Branch Two After days of fog early winter snow falls fresh on barren branches. Heading home, white lattice frames the pale glow of my car beams.
Credit: Ted Leonard
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 Cottonwood, spruce, birch. A forest cloaked in silver, a season changing.
against the massive flat face of King Mountain in dawn’s light — Tonja Woelber
My tires turn uphill beneath an arching gateway of light. — Barbara Hood
gray is forgotten as sun climbs Chugach Mountains summits suddenly
The old house is new, edges rounded by snowdrifts. Unapproachable.
illuminating every frost-swathed branch of black spruce
Each tree bows in penitence for sins inexplicable.
ice on branch of creek closes in like fragile mouth lacey at the lips
Whatever’s been lost in the yard will not be found. It has been reclaimed.
raven protests intrusion of boot soles squeaking packed snow — Marilyn Borell
Take it as a luxury: Starting new, now, with nothing. — Egan Millard
winter wind blows down from Wolverine’s mountainside skimming birched ridges
Hands unfold to catch snow falling, to hold wind gust and this rare silence
leaving treetops bare of frost and lower branches glistening
where the sound of one’s own blood flow and heart beat deafens night
a first skim of snow covers winter wooded paths dead roots of live trees
if snow possessed a song, it would bury us in its tangled melody of
still show through gray against white marking trails of moose and men — Eric Johnson
willow branches and the bones of all animal hunger. — Gretchen Diemer
Rough cabin by the lake no smoke rising from the roof is there no one here?
black sky melts to gray lone squirrel trembles on limb tail furled over head
how sad only one bleached oar rests freezing to its chained boat
keen shiny black eyes survey mist rising from river’s braids
Cold cuticle moon hangs sharp behind thinning clouds shadowed trees brighten
some lost chickadees waltz with sodden snowflakes to the wind’s tempo
my sweetheart left without me to hunt the late caribou — Karen Tschannen
REVIEWS Reviewed by Michael Dunham
Rock Piles Along the Eddy by Ishmael Hope At the Sesquicentennial of Alaska’s “purchase”— Insights from a Persuasive Native Prophet
Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, Berkeley, 2017
Many Alaskans know the work of Ishmael Hope from theater, comics and Xbox. He wrote the script for an award-winning video game, “Never Alone,” a stage adaptation of Moby Dick that toured the state, and the text for “Strongman,” an illustrated retelling of a traditional legend used in public school curricula. A smaller audience recognizes his talent as a poet. His second book, Rock Piles Along the Eddy, has been recently released. Among other things, it considers the acquisition of Russian claims in North America by the United States 150 years ago — the so-called “purchase” of Alaska — from the perspective of one who sees himself both as an Alaska Native and a world citizen. “This collection’s starting point is indigenous thought,” says Hope, who is of Tlingit and Inupiat descent. “Indigenous Thought” is in fact the name of one of several poems in the book that take a tone widely associated with Native American ontology. What are we but the walking earth? Gravel that thought it could think, and even sing… Everything perceives, everything is perceived… But the concept of the integration of all things is hardly unique to one ethnic group. As a student of global literature, Hope is aware of this and robustly expands his queries into the realm of universal cosmology. He often seems to be in conversations with ancient Chinese writers, medieval monastics, or contemporary physicists. In the beginning the earth made love with the sun …
No, something didn’t come out of nothing… (“Scientific Observations”) The edge of the universe is like a rainbow. You can never reach the end… Just beyond it is finally nothing, which is just negative space waiting to be witnessed into being… (“Talking with an Ancestor”) A recurring theme is social justice linked to ruthless self-interrogation. Now, as much as ever, and as always, we need to band together, form a lost tribe, scatter as one, burst through rifle barrels guided by the spider’s crosshairs. We need to knit wool sweaters for our brother sleeping under the freeway, hand him our wallets and bathe his feet in holy water. (“Canoe Launching Into the Gaslit Sea”) Though the book has a 2017 copyright, the indictment in “Children’s Cries” of America’s collective tolerance for what is called “collateral damage” seems directed at the administration in power in 2016. We kill with milk chocolate, with aluminum tentacles, with votes. We are responsible, the most to blame,
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 because we sit by and shrug though we once took to the streets when a politician we didn’t like was doing the killing. You were the last line of defense. You were supposed to hear those cries. I am the most to blame. With the word “blame” the author reveals willingness to personally answer for his actions or inactions. Among the nobler impulses of humanity, it was a compulsion among the most esteemed Tlingits of old, who willingly forfeited their lives when they felt such was required for the good of the community. But in accepting his own obligations, Hope also tries to stir non-Natives — aka “colonizers” — to acknowledge theirs. Here. Drink from the jug of tears, the tears of those who hid in tents when our people were infected, the tears of our grandmothers who swallowed their language, the tears of those perusing their bodies for gunshot wounds from past lives… The jug of tears was collected from your guilty, forgotten dreams. Drink. Drink from the jug of tears. (“Indigenous Thoughts”) The word “decolonization” has lately been misapplied to art and culture, Hope says. Its real meaning lies in real estate. In “Steps Toward Dismantling Collective Psychosis on Colonized Land” he makes an unapologetic argument for territorial claims that Tlingits have consistently pressed since the first American troops landed in Sitka in 1867. For many non-Natives, its Old Testament-style witness will make it the most difficult poem in the book. This is Native land. Until you recognize this, there is no justice. Until you act on this, there is no justice. Until you dig deeper than empathy, there is no justice. Until you give up what you never should have had in the first place, there is no justice… It’ll never feel right. Excoriation is not Hope’s purpose, however. Rather, as
137 the title of the book suggests, his goals are respect and compassion. His ancestors placed rocks in streams to create eddies where salmon could rest en route to spawning grounds. This helped assure the health of a critical food source, but it was also undertaken as a kindness toward fellow creatures, he says. In person, Hope comes across as charismatic and cheerful, a soft-hearted father of four, an optimist and a scholar who loves his craft. “Nothing comforts me like poetry / these days, and I have no way / to explain this to my family,” he wrote in his previous collection, Courtesans of Flounder Hill (Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, 2014 [Reviewed in Cirque, Vol. 8, No. 1]). The two books are best read as a pair. They contain many of the same motifs. Poems in one volume comment on, continue or complete poems in the other. But Courtesans, composed at a time when the author was mostly selftaught, has some of the formality of the traditional oratory and storytelling of his earliest mentors.
Rock Piles comes out as Hope is pursuing an MFA degree in creative writing and wears some of the new clothes of a different sort of formality. For instance, though both books use litanies, the new one is more apt to crowd independent words one after another. Nettles sting feet, skunk cabbage, devil’s club, rhubarb, spruce tips, blueberry bulbs… (“Midnight Forest”) Although verbal mosaics can be an effective technique, it risks the appearance of playing with your food. And using lists may make some readers listless. But the whiff of academia is not off-putting, not yet, and Hope’s words remain directed to the gamer and comic book reader as much as to serious literati. One trusts he will continue to learn from current mentors without losing what makes his best writing persuasively prophetic. Ishmael Angaluuk Hope
Credit: Ursala Hudson
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CONTRIBUTORS John Baalke has published work in Ice-Floe, Cirque, Web Del Sol Review of Books, and several other journals. He has an MFA from Seattle Pacific University, and works for the Pedro Bay Village Council (AK). Joshua H. Baker lives with his wife and pets in Oregon, where he works for the U.S. Postal Service and enjoys visiting desolate wilderness areas. His writing has appeared in publications like No Depression, Adirondack Review, and Foliate Oak, while his photographs have appeared in multiple shows. Ray Ball has a PhD in History and is a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. When not in the classroom or the archives of Europe and Latin America, she enjoys hiking, biking, running marathons, and spending time with her spouse Mark and neurotic beagle Bailey. She has published history books and essays with several presses, including Louisiana State University Press. Her poems have appeared in Alaska Women Speak, Foxglove Journal, and Eunoia Review. Scott Banks is a writer and photographer living in Anchorage, Alaska. His poetry has been published in 1932 Quarterly, Permafrost, Cirque and Stoneboat literary magazines as well as 49writers online. His poem “I Wore Cowboy Boots To Work Today” was runner up in the Harold McCracken Endowment Poetry Contest. His essay “Rink Rat” was published in the anthology Cold Flashes, Literary Snapshots of Alaska, published by the University of Alaska Press. He has an undergraduate journalism degree from the University of Oregon and an MFA in Creative Writing and Literary Arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Susan Banks grew up in Anchorage, Alaska and moved to the Seattle area in 1989. She is a gardener, cook, volunteer, and librarian, who later in life realized the essence of her work is to connect people with information, other people, and themselves. She is the coauthor of Good Times at Green Lake, published by Washington State University Press; her short story, “Fried Egg Sandwiches,” appeared in Raven Chronicles. Carol Barrett holds doctorates in both clinical psychology and cre-
ative 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. Judith Barrington has published four poetry collections, most recently The Conversation (Salmon Poetry), and two chapbooks: Postcard from the Bottom of the Sea and Lost Lands (winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Award). Her New and Selected will come out in early 2018 from Salmon Press. 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. More at: www.judithbarrington.com. 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 poetry, fiction and critical reviews have been published in The North American Review, Northwest Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Shenandoah, Quarterly West, ACM, Cutbank, Fine Madness, Kansas Quarterly, Yellow Silk, Poets On, Cahoodahoodaling, Blue Five Notebook, Conclave and many others including anthologies. Sally Biggar moved to the Olympic Peninsula 25 years ago from her native state of Maine. The first thing she does every morning is check to see if Mt Rainier is out. She began writing poetry in 2010, rather late in her life. A member of the Port Townsend renku group, she enjoys the challenge and unpredictable nature of collaborative linked verse, and feels a delightful afternoon composing a renku with friends brings a joyful balance to the solitary life of a writer. Her solo work can be found in bottle rockets, A Hundred Gourds, Ribbons, Moonbathing, Daily Haiku and tinywords. 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. 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 in such journals as River Poets Anthology, Crack the Spine, Sweet Tree Review, Cirque and many others. Jack Broom is a Seattle native who retired in 2016 after 39 years as a reporter and editor at The Seattle Times. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University in 1974. His work in photography began in the 1970s as a reporter/photographer for The Wenatchee World, where he worked be-
New Year's Day at Skilak Lake #2
CIRQUE Nard Claar has studied Art in workshops and academic settings. He teaches classes and provides demonstrations here and abroad. Nard has filled a variety of roles from government employee to business owner. He has been a wilderness guide, ski instructor, carpenter, and commercial photographer. Nard is a published poet. He works with several non-profits to promote the environment, arts, and community. Nard is a member of several local and national art groups. He is featured in the Pike’s Peak Library District’s 2011 video “Landscapes of the Mind,” online at http://vimeo.com/26206752 His work is currently exhibited at 45 Degree Gallery in Old Colorado City, Colorado Springs, Manitou Art Center in Manitou Springs, Michael’s On Main, Sarasota, Florida, Sevigny Studio Gallery in Anchorage, Alaska, and Encaustic Art Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nicholas Claro is a fiction writer living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His stories have appeared in The Idle Class, Existere: A Journal of Arts & Literature, Pithead Chapel, and others. He is currently at work on a novel.
fore joining the The Seattle Times staff in 1977. In recent years, his photographs have won awards at state-fair competitions in Washington and have been featured in previous issues of Cirque. My name is Courtney Burke. I’m 28 years old; I live in a little town called Buckley, WA with my boyfriend of 9 years and our two dogs Lexi (German shepherd mix) and Chance (German shepherd). I enjoy photography, writing, painting, singing, and reading. My dream is to live on a lot of land one day, rescue animals, and run my own business. Doug Capra lives in Seward and is the author of The Spaces Between: Stories from the Kenai Mountains to the Kenai Fjords. His play about Nellie Neal Lawing (aka Alaska Nellie) ran for five summers in Seward. His play about American artist Rockwell Kent in Alaska, And Now the World Again, has had several workshop productions and should be completed by 2020. Capra has written forewords for two of Kent’s books about Alaska and is currently writing a book about the artist called That Infinite and Unfathomable Thing: Rockwell Kent’s Alaska Wilderness. Teri White Carns publishes haibun (Japanese-style short prose combined with haiku), articles about bread and wheat, and occasional blog posts about all things wheaten, at Wheatavore. Her lifetime awards include best poem in the 1980 Alaska Bar Association’s paper, Bar Rag for a humorous poem about fly-fishing and not catching fish. After a long hiatus, she has returned to creative writing, earning an MFA in Creative Nonfiction in December 2017 from the Antioch University Los Angeles’s low-residency program. Anne Caston is a professor and former nurse, born in Arkansas and raised in the Deep South. Caston teaches at the University of Alaska where she has taught for 19 years and is core faculty in poetry in the Low-Residency M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing. She is the author of three books of poetry: Flying Out With The Wounded (NYU Press, 1997), Judah’s Lion (THP, 2009), and Prodigal (Aldrich Press, 2014). She makes her home now in Anchorage, Alaska with her husband, Ian. Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, Alaskan. When not exploring the summer lands and dark winter of the Yukon, she lives in Sitka, Alaska. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing (University of Alaska Anchorage) and recently published her first collection of poetry Something Yet to Be Named (Aldrich Press, 2017). Kersten is the poetry editor of the quarterly journal, Alaska Women Speak. www.kerstenchristianson.com
Katherine Coons is presently an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska. The experience of completing artist-in-residency programs in New Delhi, India, and Kodiak Island, Alaska, lecturing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and traveling widely throughout Southeast Asia and Europe has inspired her artwork. Coons received the prestigious Pollock-Krasner grant from New York. She was given a cash award for one of the best paintings in the show “The All Alaska Juried Exhibition” at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, juried by Elizabeth Brown, chief curator at Henry’s Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle. Important solo shows in the State of Alaska include the Bunnell Street Gallery, Alaska Pacific University at the Carl Gottstein Gallery, MTS Gallery, The International Gallery of Contemporary Art, and The Alaska State Museum in Juneau. Diane Corson: It wasn’t until more than thirty years ago during a blackout at a film, that in the dark she began to write her words on paper. This after most of her life seeing poetry in the air, floating on a river, or in a stand of trees…they materialized themselves onto paper. In the last five years having been a transplant to the Northwest, she is actively writing and holding readings. An invitational reading was at the NW branch of Multnomah Library. She and her husband have an active salon in their home, Salon Argyle in north Portland. Diane has written three chapbooks: Poor Tree, 2013, elemental, 2016, and There Being, September, 2017. The Pacific Northwest flora seems to be her greatest influence with place certainly as input; humanity and behavior are distant influences. Diane has an Art degree from Montana State University where she lived for 35 years. She has been published in the 2003 Poetry Anthology, Theory Magazine, along with a few other publications. Mary Crosby has been writing poems off and on since she was eleven. She recently took Tom Sexton’s class where she learned about Renga poetry. It was great to collaborate with the class and have our finished poem published in Cirque. She works at the Anchorage Public Library where she handles many books. Lorne Daniel is a Canadian of Scottish and American ancestry. His poetry and non-fiction have been published in dozens of literary journals, most recently Earthlines (UK), Soundings (US) and Terrain (US). He is a past winner of the Jon Whyte Memorial Essay Prize. He is an explorer of urban and natural place, and in recent years has participated in writing residencies through the University of New Orleans, Pacific University, and Simon Fraser University. Lorne lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Kimberly Davis is Alaskan born & raised. As a local residential gardener,
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Kim is inspired by the beautiful flora that surrounds her summer days. She has a great love of the outdoors, travel, and photography. Author/artist Monica Devine writes across genres. She is an award-winning author of five children’s books, and a former Alaska State Poetry Contest winner. Her photographs and writings have appeared in New Letters, The Ultima Thule: Stories of the Alaskan Arctic, Stoneboat, Cirque, Alaska Magazine, Last Frontier Magazine and three anthologies. In addition to writing, painting and experimental photography, she gets her hands dirty throwing pottery from her home in Eagle River, Alaska. monicadevine.com Gretchen Diemer is completing her second book of poems. Her first book, Between Fire and Water, Ice and Sky, was published by NorthShore Press in 2008. When not travelling, she lives in the community of Ester, outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Patrick Dixon is a writer and photographer retired from careers in teaching and commercial fishing. Published in Raven Chronicles, Mountain Ash Trees and Birds Joe Kashi Oregon Coast magazine, Claudius Speaks, FISH anthology, Oberon Poetry Journal, and Smithsonian, he is the poetry editor and a contributor for National Fisherman magazine and their quarterly, North PaLeonie Mikele Fogle is a Seattle native and recent (2015) graduate of the cific Focus. His chapbook Arc of Visibility won the 2015 Alabama State Northwest Institute of Arts’ master’s program, where she studied poetry Poetry Morris Memorial competition. His poem “Coal Train” was recentwith David Wagoner and Carolyne Wright. Her full collection tempo rubato/ fortnight of phantom love was selected as a semi-finalist for Fordham Unily selected for a broadside and inclusion in WA129, the anthology edited versity’s POL prize (2016), and was an honorable mention for the Concrete by Tod Marshall, the Washington State Poet Laureate. Wolf Press Louis Award (2017). Leonie lived a large part of her adult life in Michael Dunham is a retired newspaper editor and reporter, formerNew York City, where she received a bachelor’s degree in acting from NYU, and before that where she danced as a scholarship student at the Joffrey ly with the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Dispatch News, where his Ballet School in Greenwich Village. Currently she is working on a documenprimary work involved coverage of the arts. He is the author of brief tary film with David Wagoner and poetry in general at its center. biographies of Tsar Alexander II and William Seward titled The Man Who Sold Alaska and The Man Who Bought Alaska, and the editor of Osahito Leslie Fried has been the curator at the Alaska Jewish Museum in AnMiyaoka’s A Grammar of Central Yupik. In 2017 he received the Howard chorage since 2011. Though originally from the wilds of Long Island, she Rock/Tom Snapp First Amendment Award from the Alaska Press Club. spent eleven years in Oregon and twenty-seven years in Seattle before coming to Alaska. Besides receiving a Graduate Certificate in Museum Kathy Ellis, an Alaskan by choice since 1970, I started out in the InteStudies and a Master of Library and Information Science from the Unirior but soon migrated to Juneau. I currently divide my time between versity of Washington, she also holds a B.A. in Fine and Applied Arts Juneau and Mexico. My past lives include off-grid living, working on from the University of Oregon. She likes to dance. construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and owning and operating a gallery of Native art. Gene Ervine: I grew up in the woods in Washington State; we had a garden, berries, a cow, and a wood lot. Childhood was scarcely constrained by television. I read books and imagined. All of that has seasoned my poetry and helped keep me happy. It was enough. Recent events have led me to conclude that these are difficult times regardless of our own particular challenges. Poetry, nature, and community are each important to us now. This evening a fragment of Gary Snyder’s poem “For the Children” slipped into my thoughts “... stay together, learn the flowers, go light!” Good advice! Christy Everett represented Alaska at the National Poetry Slam in 2003 but stopped performing after the premature birth of her son in 2004. She started a blog, which she still writes today, called Following Elias, sharing stories and poetry about motherhood outside the norm and life off the grid. Christy returned to the stage in 2016, performing two stories at Arctic Entries and winning the October Classic Poetry Slam. In 2017 she won the first ever Moth Story Slam to be held in Alaska and was humbled to receive the Andy Hope Literary Award from Cirque. When not writing, and not responding to the needs of her two children, you’ll find Christy on the beach, woods, or mountains of Lowell Point outside of Seward Alaska.
Alex Gallo-Brown is a writer living in Seattle. His work has appeared in many publications, including Los Angeles Review of Books, Lit Hub, Vice, Tahoma Literary Review, Pacifica Literary Review, and Seattle’s City Arts magazine. He is currently a writer-in-residence with Seattle Arts and Lectures’ “Writers in the Schools.” Paul Haeder lives and works in Clackamas County, Oregon, as a social worker with youth, 16 to 21. His poetry and prose has appeared in Small Pond Review, Rio Grande Review, Turnstile, William and Mary Review, Cirque, and dozens more. He’s a journalist, former college English faculty, union organizer, sustainability director, and currently is helping organize social services workers in the Portland metro area. Jim Hanlen has poems in 13 chairs, Cirque, Rattle and English Journal. He was nominated for a Pushcart last year by Kerf. Jim retired and lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Gordon Harrison is a calligrapher and ceramic artist who lives in Juneau. Esther Altshul Helfgott is a nonfiction writer and poet with a doctorate in history from the University of Washington. She is the author of Listening to Mozart: Poems of Alzheimer’s (2014); Dear Alzheimer’s: A Caregiv-
er’s Diary & Poems (2013); and The Homeless One: A Poem in Many Voices (2000). Her writing appears in American Imago, BlackPast.org; Journal of Poetry Therapy, HistoryLink.Org; Raven Chronicles, Seattle P.I., Seattle Star; and elsewhere. Esther is a longtime literary activist, a 2010 Jack Straw poet, and founder of Seattle’s “It’s About Time Writer’s Reading Series,” now in its 27th year. www.estherhelfgott.com Robert Hoffman, an accomplished poet, essayist, and fiction writer, returned to college after raising a family in Southern California. He obtained two MFAs from NILA, with extended duties as TA, assistant editor for Soundings, as well as being VP, webmaster, and contest editor for the ASB. Currently, Bob organizes the annual Cider Toast Conference in Whidbey, Washington. Though he has mentored writers, he constantly seeks to expand his passion for poetry. Recently, he has published in Panoplyzine, Sadie Girl Press, and Goldman Review. 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 name is Khaagwáask’. He is a poet, scholar, actor and storyteller who shares his cultures, reads his poetry, and engages in creative projects nationally and internationally. Notable projects include his poetry books, Courtesans of Flounder Hill and Rock Piles Along the Eddy (Ishmael Reed Publications); codirecting with Scott Burton Lineage: Tlingit Art Across Generations, produced by KTOO Studios; and serving as a lead writer for the video game Kisima Ingitchuna: Never Alone (Upper One Games). He lives in Juneau, Alaska, raising five children with his wife, Lily Hope, a Tlingit weaver. Holly J. Hughes is the author of Sailing by Ravens (University of Alaska Press, 2014), co-author of The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World (Skinner House Press, 2012), and editor of the award-winning anthology, Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease (Kent State University Press, 2009). Her fine art chapbook Passings (Expedition Press, 2016) received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation in 2017. She spent over thirty summers working on the water in Alaska in a variety of roles, including commercial fishing for salmon, skippering a 65-foot schooner, and working as a naturalist on ships. She currently teaches writing workshops throughout the Pacific Northwest and consults as a writing coach, dividing her time between a home in the Chimacum Valley and a small log cabin built in the 30s in Indianola, Washington. http://hollyjhughes.com/
Masters in Fine Arts program in poetry. He is also currently working on a novella and also writes short stories. He has a short memoir published in Anchorage Remembers, and has a poem accepted for Leaving My Shadow: A Tribute to Anna Akhmatova. He has also been published in the literary journal Cirque. Jill Johnson splits her time between Alaska and Eastern Oregon. Feels lucky. Susan Johnson writes in Roslyn, Washington, her home of thirty-nine years where she met her husband, raised their family, taught in the schools, hikes the trails, and is grateful to be a part of a vibrant writing community. Her work has appeared in Poets Unite! The LiTFUSE @10 Anthology, Yakima Coffeehouse Poets Twenty-Second, Rise Up Review, Cirque, and is upcoming in Digital Washington 129 and Windfall. Joseph Kashi is a trial lawyer in Soldotna, Alaska. He received his BS and MS degrees from MIT in 1973 and his JD from Georgetown University Law School in 1976. While pursuing other disciplines at MIT, he also “casually” studied photography with prominent American fine art photographer Minor White. Since 2007, he has mounted more than a dozen solo exhibits at various university and art center galleries in Alaska. Anya Kirshbaum lives in Seattle, Washington, with her family, her bees, and her Catahoula leopard hound, Juniper. When not exploring the world or her own subconscious, she is a psychotherapist, helping others do the same. Her work has appeared in The Comstock Review. Michael Kleven is a production sound mixer and filmmaker based in Seattle, Washington. He produces videos and documentaries through Heartstone Studios. His freelance services company is 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. Poet and essayist Sandra Kleven has published work in AQR, Oklahoma Review, Topic, Praxilla, Stoneboat, F-zine and the UAP anthology, Cold Flashes. She was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her writing has also won notice in the UAA Creative Writing and F’Air Words contests. In 2015, Kleven was named to the Northshore School District, Wall
Sarah Isto writes non-fiction and poetry often inspired by her life in coastal and interior Alaska and by the constant revelations of the human condition. Her poetry has appeared in Tidal Echoes, The Gold Man Review, The Penwood Review, Windfall, Perfume River Poetry Review, Cirque, and The Timberline. Having developed a taste for travel and adventure from a young age, Fia Jampolsky and her partner headed north after law school to article and to spend a year or two experiencing Canada’s north. The adventure never stopped and now includes kids and the dog. Between a busy law practice, kids and the dog, Fia’s writing has resulted in a winning prize of a trip to Europe and publication in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. Eric Gordon Johnson was born in Fairbanks, Alaska and raised in Anchorage. He is a retired Geotechnical Engineer and is enrolled in the University of Alaska, Anchorage’s
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Vo l . 9 N o . 1 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. She works as clinical supervisor for a Native corporation. Tricia Knoll is an Oregon poet witnessing climate change as an eco-poet. A new collection of poems, How I Learned to Be White, comes out from Antrim Press in early 2018. For information on other poems, visit triciaknoll.com Alex Leavens has worked as a naturalist for the Portland Audubon Society, backcountry ranger and firefighter in the Olympic National Park, and primitive survival instructor in Southern Utah. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Portland State University, and currently lives in Portland, OR. Elizabeth van Lent is a writer, maker, and forager from Fairbanks, Alaska. She spent half her childhood in Hawaii and the other half in Alaska. In her work, van Lent uses themes of nature, magic, and myth to create narratives: stories from both her own imagined world as well as history’s dusty dreams. She works in pen and ink, the written word, needle and thread, and photography. Kim Leslie lives, loves, teaches and plays in Seward, Alaska. Her philosophical flow can be summed up by: wonder leads to wisdom leads to action. Peter Ludwin is the recipient of a Literary Fellowship from Artist Trust, and the 2016 winner of the Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Award from The Comstock Review. His latest book is Gone to Gold Mountain from MoonPath Press. For many years he has been a participant in the San Miguel Poetry Week in Mexico, where he has studied under such noted poets as Mark Doty, Tony Hoagland, Joseph Stroud, and Robert Wrigley. A world traveler, he also enjoys playing his 1968 Martin D-18 guitar. He works for the Parks Department in Kent, Washington. Dorothy Lyon is a writer living in Anchorage, Alaska, with her spouse, two small children, and her black cat. She is working on a poem cycle entitled Ghost Bike Ghost: A Midwestern Elegy, and a novel entitled The Visions of Erasmus Jones. Adam Mackie was born in Anchorage, Alaska. He currently teaches English Language Arts at West Anchorage High School. Mackie has received multiple honorable mentions for his formal poetry, contributed
a poetic reader’s note to Ruminate magazine, and published poems with BlazeVOX [books] and Cirque. Mackie also has written articles in Alaska Business Monthly, The Anchorage Press, the Alaska Humanity Forum’s FORUM magazine, and various other publications. Additionally, Mackie published a dictionary titled A New Literacies Dictionary: Primer for the Twenty-first Century Learner and co-edited Ethics in Higher Education: A Reader for Writers. Melinda Maier is a lifelong Alaskan who grew up developing a love of nature and the outdoors which is prevalent in all of her artwork. Melinda has worked with fine art, designing custom frames, and preserving peoples’ treasures since 2003. She earned her Associate of Arts degree from UAA in 2005. Melinda currently works at Denali Graphics and Frame. She lives in Bear Valley with her four children. You can like and follow her page on Facebook: Mudgirl’s Mystical Mountain. Terry Martin has published hundreds of poems, articles, and essays, and has edited journals, books, and anthologies. Her most recent book of poems, The Light You Find, was published by Blue Begonia Press. She lives in Yakima, Washington—The Fruit Bowl of the Nation. Victoria McCallum was born in California, moved to Eugene to attend college, and lived in Oregon for ten years. She was Professor of Reading at El Camino College in Torrance, California, where she taught for seventeen years and then retired. The call of the Northwest never left her, however. She moved to Bellingham in August 2016 and has enjoyed performing her poetry at open mics around town and walking in the woods. Her poems have appeared in ONTHEBUS, inside english, Poetry Motel Wallpaper, and other publications. David McElroy lives in Anchorage and is semi-retired as a commercial pilot of small planes in the Arctic. He attended the Universities of Minnesota, Montana, and Western Washington. A smokejumper, fisherman, and taxi driver, he also taught English in Guatemala and Seattle’s community colleges. He has two previous books of poems called Making It Simple, and Mark Making; Just Between Us by U. of Alaska Press is coming out in Spring 2018. He is a recipient of grants from the National Council on the Arts and the State of Alaska Council on the Arts and Humanities. Karen McPherson is the author of one chapbook Sketching Elise (Finishing Line, 2012) and a full-length volume of poems Skein of Light (Airlie Press, 2014). Skein of Light was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry. She has also published a book-length translation of poetic essays by Quebec poet Louise Warren. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals including Descant, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cider Press Review, Zoland, and Potomac Review, and her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart prize and for Best of the Web. Sandra McPherson is the author of 20 books. Of the larger collections, 5 were published by Ecco, 3 by Wesleyan, and 2 by Illinois. She taught 4 years at the Iowa Writers Workshop and 23 years at University of California at Davis (She also taught a bit at Cal/Berkeley & Portland State.). She founded Swan Scythe Press, which published Joan Swift’s Snow on a Crocus. McPherson is the great grandniece of feminist/abolitionist author Abby Morton Diaz. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abby_Morton_Diaz. Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician currently residing on Salt Spring Island BC, is a Pushcart nominee with over a thousand poems published internationally in magazines such as Poetry, Rattle and the North American Review. His books are The So-Called Sonnets (Silenced Press), An Unbecoming Fit Of Frenzy (Cawing Crow Press) and Like As If (Pskis Porch), all available via Amazon.
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CIRQUE publishing poetry, non-fiction stories and essays, and short fiction since he was in high school in Fairbanks. Diane Ray won Honorable Mention in the 2017 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Contest. A native New Yorker living in Seattle, she is a clinical psychologist and poet at work on a first novel. Her writing has appeared in multiple issues of Drash, Cirque, and Voices Israel Anthology, as well as in Common Dreams and The Women’s Studies Quarterly, and will appear in the forthcoming In Layman’s Terms. Diane feeds her soul through sharing life with her husband, daughters, granddaughters, her invaluable colleagues at Women of a Certain Age Poets, and the lyrical world of ballet class.
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Rainbow Medicine-Walker is an Earth Warrior Ceremonial Leader and Teacher. She is an enrolled member of the Western Cherokee Nation and the granddaughter of Cherokee Admiral JJ Clark, Chief Water Dweller and Chief Thunderbird. She lives near Bellingham, Washington. Egan Millard is a poet and journalist originally from New York. He lives in Anchorage, where he is a news editor at the Anchorage Daily News. Jesse Minkert lives in Seattle. In 2008, Wood Works Press published a letterpress collection of his microstories, Shortness of Breath & Other Symptoms. His work has appeared in about fifty journals including the Georgetown Review, Confrontation, Mount Hope, Floating Bridge Review, Poetry Northwest, Common Knowledge, and Harpur Palate. Sarah Mouracade has an eclectic combination of academic pursuits, ranging from ancient languages to business plan writing, and astonishing experiences, like unexpectedly meeting a four-week-old baby in Anchorage, Alaska who moved in with her two days later and eventually became her son. Lots of time, the randomness of her life only feels relevant when she’s making literary art. Fortunately, she’s pursuing an MFA in creative writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage, so she has lots of opportunities to put her background to good use. Max Peterson: I am a current student at Boise State University and work as a consultant of writing in the Boise State Writing Center. Tami Phelps is a fine art photographer and mixed media artist who has called Anchorage, Alaska home since 1970. Her passion for art led her to create work in several mediums, including hand-tinted photography, cold wax, and resin, sometimes in combination with each other. Her art has exhibited in Alaska, Colorado, and Washington, and is included in the permanent collection of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. www.tamiphelps.com Timothy Pilgrim, Bellingham, Washington, is a Montana native with several hundred acceptances from journals like Seattle Review, San Pedro River Review, Windsor Review, Third Wednesday, Cirque, Clover, A Literary Rag, and Toasted Cheese. He is author of Mapping Water (Flying Trout Press, 2016). His work can be found at timothypilgrim.org. Doug Pope lives in Hope with his wife Beth. He has been writing and
Joe Reno is a well-known Ballard artist who has never stopped loving the Northwest. His work can be seen at the Wikstrom Brothers Gallery in Seattle and at Ballard High School there is a large Reno mural. His work appears in The Pacific Northwest Landscape: A Painted History. Joe says “On the easel is a huge Mt. Rainier.” He adds, “The artist gets older. I turn 75 soon.” He concludes, “I look good.” http://voomers.blogspot.com/ Barbara Rockman is author of Sting and Nest, winner of the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award and the National Press Women Book Prize. She leads poetry and generative writing workshops with diverse communities and is a founding member of Wingspan Poetry Project, bringing poetry to victims of domestic violence. A resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, she spends part of each year on the Northwest Coast and recently received a fellowship to PLAYA in Oregon’s Great Basin. That particular and haunting landscape inspired a forthcoming collection. Another collection, Absence of Wind is forthcoming from University of New Mexico Press. KJ Roe loves life in Alaska with her family. She has a weakness for words, kayaks, and chocolate, and has a habit of adopting extra kids and animals. You can read more of her writing at dreamsofshadowandlight. wordpress.com Zack Rogow is the author, editor, or translator of twenty books or plays. Kattywompus Press published his eighth book of poems, Talking with the Radio. He is also writing a series of plays about authors. The most recent, Colette Uncensored, had a staged reading at the Kennedy Center in DC and ran for six months at The Marsh in San Francisco and Berkeley 2016–17. His blog, Advice for Writers, has more than 200 posts. He teaches in the low-residency MFA at the University of Alaska Anchorage and serves as a contributing editor of Catamaran Literary Reader. www. zackrogow.com Linda Schandelmeier is a longtime Alaskan poet who lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. She has Anchorage roots, having grown up on a homestead there. Linda is the author of one poetry collection, Listening Hard Among the Birches. Her work has appeared in the Northern Review, Ice Floe, Cirque, and the Connecticut River Review, as well as in anthologies. When she is not writing poetry, she spends her time as a gardener and an activist. Harvey Schwartz learned Americana growing up on the East Coast. He unlearned it at Woodstock, a hippie commune, and during extensive hitchhiking. A long chiropractic career offered another perspective. He’s been published in Clover, Inkspeak, Jeopardy, The Kumquat Challenge, Noisy Water, Peace Poems, PidgeonHoles, The Sun, Tulip Tree Review, Westward Quarterly, and Whatcom Writes among others. Bellingham Repertory Dance, Snowdance Film Festival, and the Direct Short Online FilmFestival have featured his work.
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 Tom Sexton lives in Anchorage with his wife, Sharyn, and their Irish terrier, Murphy. He first came to Alaska as an army private in 1959. He began the creative writing program at the University of Alaska Anchorage in 1970 and retired in 1994. He’s the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry. His latest collection, Li Bai Rides a Celestial Dolphin Home will be published by the University of Alaska Press in August 2018. Anchorage nature writer Bill Sherwonit has called Alaska home since 1982. His essays have appeared in many newspapers, magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. Sherwonit is the author of more than a dozen books, including two collections of essays Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska’s Wildlife and Living with Wildness: An Alaskan Odyssey.
is a USMC Vietnam Vet. He enjoys photography as a hobby as well as spending time with his 10 grandchildren.
Eugenie Simpson is a retired psychotherapist who lives and writes in Bellingham, Washington where she finds good company. She enjoys textiles and experimental embroidery, playing with her two small dogs, drinking coffee, and talking with her husband, Donald, also a writer, reading literature, writing letters, and most especially writing and sharing poetry. She has resumed writing in the past couple of years after a long hiatus, finding that it sharpens and deepens daily experience. Eugenie has had her work published in Psychopoetica, Boise State University’s coldrill, the Billie Murray Denny Prize Poems, and the Longview Daily News. Peggy Shumaker is the daughter of two deserts—the Sonoran desert where she grew up and the subarctic desert of interior Alaska where she lives now. Shumaker was honored by the Rasmuson Foundation as its Distinguished Artist. She served as Alaska State Writer Laureate. She received a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Shumaker is the author of eight books of poetry, including Cairn, her new and selected volume. Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. Professor emerita from University of Alaska Fairbanks, Shumaker teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA at PLU. She serves on the Advisory Board for Storyknife, and on the board of the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation. Shumaker is editor of the Boreal Books series (an imprint of Red Hen Press), editor of the Alaska Literary Series at University of Alaska Press, poetry editor of Persimmon Tree, and contributing editor for Alaska Quarterly Review. Please visit her website at www.peggyshumaker.com Emma Smith has spent a lifetime in Hooper Bay. She has a strong interest in photography and in preserving the unique aspects of her remote village on the Bering Sea. Kathleen Smith is a Northwest poet with roots in Montana’s Flathead Valley. Her work has appeared in several regional anthologies including Okanogan Poems volumes 2 and 3, Floating Bridge Review #7, Poets Unite: LitFuse @10 Anthology, Yakima Coffee House Poets Twenty Second, Helen, A Literary Journal, the Far Field, and Rise Up Review, and Baseball Bard websites. She lives and works in the community of Roslyn, WA. Tracy N. Spencer MD is a retired, hospital-based Critical Care physician residing in Mukilteo, WA, for the past 41 years. He grew up in WV, attended UNC-Chapel Hill, U of MD Med School, U of Colorado residency, and
Dirk HR Spennemann (www.ausphoto. net) is a photographic artist who uses a range of purpose-built cameras and lenses to translate and his mental visions. The images in the series Alaskan Boys and their Toys were taken with a through-the-viewfinder technique, generating gritty edge-distorted images. As a historic preservationist, he has worked in the Aleutians and shot a series of social commentary images in Anchorage. Dirk has had solo exhibitions in Anchorage, Juneau, Riverside (CA), Saipan (MP), and various public art galleries in Australia. In addition, several of his images have toured regional Alaska as part of a National Park Service exhibit on Kiska.
Cheryl Stadig has enjoyed living in a variety of Alaska locales including Teller, Anchorage, Ketchikan, and Prince of Wales Island. She grew up in Maine meandering through the woods, fields, and waterways, expanded those adventures in Alaska, and continues them in New Hampshire. Her work has appeared in Inside Passages, Cirque, and other publications. Horses, weather, and exploring provide more than sufficient inspiration for her photos and writing projects. 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. Kathleen Stancik has lived in Washington State since 1961 when her father decided to build a family resort on Lake Cle Elum. She is semi-retired and spends her time writing, singing in community choirs, and acting in local theater productions. She was a featured poet at the 2017 Inland Poetry Prowl. Her poems have been published in Manastash, Poets Unite!, Twenty Second, and online at ekphrastic.net, riseupreivew.com and the upcoming WA129 online anthology. 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 was born Joan Angevine and grew up in Rochester, New York, but lived most of her life in Edmonds, Washington. She received a B.A. from Duke University and an M.A in English-Creative Writing from the University of Washington where she was a student in Theodore Roethke’s last class. Two of her full-length books of poetry, The Dark Path of Our Names and The Tiger Iris, both won the Washington State Governor’s Award. Among her prizes and other awards are three National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, an Ingram Merrill Foun-
dation Grant, awards from The Washington State Arts Commission, The Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a Pushcart Prize. Her full-length collections of poetry include: The Dark Path of Our Names (Dragon Gate, Inc., 1985), Intricate Moves: Poems About Rape (Chicory Blue Press, 1997), The Tiger Iris (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1999), Snow On A Crocus-Formalities of a Neonaticide (Swan Scythe Press, 2010) and The Body that Follows Us (Cave Moon Press, 2017). Joan Angevine Swift died on March 13, 2017 at the age of 90, in Edmonds, Washington. After her death, and as a way to honor her legacy, Poetry Northwest established a new prize called “The Joan Swift Memorial Prize for Women over 65.” Kathleen Witkowska Tarr lives and writes in Anchorage. She is the author of We Are All Poets Here (VP&D House, 2018), a blend of memoir and biography involving the world-famous Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, and his surprise 1968 sojourn to Alaska. She is a frequent contributor to Cirque and received her M.F.A. from the University of Pittsburgh. Carey Taylor lives in Port Ludlow, Washington. Her poetry has appeared in Cirque, Clover, Off the Coast, Snapdragon, Shark Reef, Dodging The Rain (Ireland) and others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and has a MA degree in School Counseling from Pacific Lutheran University. When not worrying about earthquakes, she enjoys hiking, traveling and a good scotch whisky. https://careyleetaylor.com Jim Thiele worked as a photographer for a biological text book company for several years before moving to Alaska in 1974. He worked for The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the University of Alaska as a biologist and then as a financial advisor in private practice until he
recently retired. 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. Jim Thielman published Postcards from Jim with fellow poet Jim Hanlen. He has published in Cirque before. Three of his poems were included in the Twenty-Second poetry contest, reading, and chapbook of the Yakima Coffeehouse Poets. Now retired from teaching and from working as a writer in industry, Jim is concentrating on poetry, yoga, learning Spanish with Babel, reading, and travel. He lives with his wife Pat in Richland, Washington along the Columbia River. Benjamin Toche is a baffled man who can be seen wandering the streets of his current hometown and talking to birds. He received an MFA in creative fiction writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage and his work has appeared online in some places, in print others. Internet him for further details or visit wordsworthing.com for a better look. Karen A. Tschannen - Some of her words have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Ice-Floe, PNW Poets and Artists Calendar(s), North of Eden (Loose Affiliation Press), The Sky’s Own Light (Minotaur Press), Crosscurrents North, Cirque, and other publications. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016. Look for her collected poems under the title Apportioning the Light, to be released from Cirque Press in January 2018. Heidi Turner is a writer and musician from Maui, Hawaii. She earned a Master’s from Azusa Pacific University, where she studied the postsecular, the Inklings, and creative writing; while there she also earned a reputation for professor impressions. Her works of poetry, fiction, and review have been published in Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Gravel Magazine, The Adirondack Review, and The Victorian. Lucy Tyrrell’s interests in nature and wild landscapes, outdoor pursuits (mushing, hiking, canoeing), and travel are what inspire her writing and art. She cherishes the 16 years she spent in Alaska, but moved back to the Lower 48 in September 2016. For her new chapter of life near Bayfield, Wisconsin, she traded a big mountain (Denali) for a big lake (Lake Superior). Sean Ulman is a novelist in Seward. He’s had fiction and reviews featured in Cirque. Dan Walker is a homesteaders’ son who grew up to become a teacher and a writer. Dan has over thirty years in education and was named Teacher of the Year for Alaska in 1999. His work has taken him throughout Alaska from Sitka to Barrow to Perryville, where he is devoted to working with teachers and students and rewarded by experiencing the remote Alaska that few people get to know. Today, Dan shares life on a lake near Seward, Alaska with his college sweetheart and muse, Madelyn. His debut novel, Secondhand Summer, was released in June 2016. Anthony Warnke: My previous work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bayou Magazine, Painted Bride Quarterly, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, and The Prose Poem Project. I teach writing at Green River College and live in Seattle, Washington. Tim Whitsel published Wish Meal his first full-length book in October 2016, from Airlie Press. A review can be found online at http://omniverse. us/sara-burant-reviews-tim-whitsels-wish-meal/ We Say Ourselves, a chapbook from Traprock Books, was published in 2012. He has been active as a writer, workshop member, and Windfall Reading Series host (or attendee) in the Eugene community for many years. He lives in a valley
Vo l . 9 N o . 1 east of Springfield. Tim has been honored for his work by artist residencies in 2014 and 2017 from PLAYA at Summer Lake. A poem of his appeared in Cirque 16. Daniel Williams is a poet of the Sierra Nevada in California and is a long time member of Poets & Writers as well as PoetsWest in Seattle. As a stand in on various film projects, he has worked with River Phoenix, Richard Dean Anderson, and as Christopher Lloyd’s stand-in in Back to the Future III. His haiku, “Starmates,” is engraved on MAVEN, the Martian explorer, and his poems are found in Yosemite’s time capsule to be opened in 2140.
John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Disinheritance and Controlled Hallucinations. A seven-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Vallum Award for Poetry. He serves Reflections Nard Claar as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Yale Review, Midwest Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts laborative poetry group “Ten Poets.” Her favorite poets are Tu Fu, W.B. Review, Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, Columbia Poetry ReYeats, Anna Akhmatova, and Billy Collins. She enjoys the mountains in view, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various all weathers. anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Christian Woodard: I have a degree in Environmental Writing from Matt Witt is a writer and photographer in Talent, Oregon who has Middlebury College and have worked as an orchardist in Vermont, a hiked and backpacked all over the Pacific Northwest. His photography news reporter in Haines, a setnetter and meat packer on Kodiak, and and blog may be seen at MattWittPhotography.com. He has been Artist currently build trails for the Forest Service. in Residence at Crater Lake National Park, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and PLAYA at SumCarolyne Wright’s new book is This Dream the World: New & Selected Pomer Lake, Oregon. ems (Lost Horse Press, 2017), whose title poem received a Pushcart Prize Paxson Woelber is a creative professional based out of Anchorage, Alaska. His creative work has been featured by National Geographic, the Atlantic, the Huffington Post Canada, USA Today, Google Street View [Grand Canyon project], the American Alpine Club, and more. He has been the designer and web designer for Cirque since its inaugural issue. paxsonwoelber.com Tonja Woelber lives in Anchorage, Alaska, and is a member of the col-
and was included in The Best American Poetry 2009. Her ground-breaking anthology, Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace (Lost Horse Press, 2015), received ten Pushcart Prize nominations and was a finalist in the Foreword Review’s Book of the Year Awards. A Seattle native who studied poetry with Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Hugo, and William Stafford, among others, Wright lived in Chile and traveled in Brazil on a Fulbright Grant during the presidency of Salvador Allende, and spent four years on Fulbright and other fellowships in India and Bangladesh, translating Bengali women poets. Her latest volume in translation is Map Traces, Blood Traces / Trazas de mapa, trazas de sangre (Mayapple Press, 2017), a bilingual sequence of poems by Seattle-based Chilean poet, Eugenia Toledo (two of which appeared in Cirque Vol. 3, No. 1). She teaches for Seattle’s Richard Hugo House; for the Antioch University Los Angeles MFA Program; and for national and international literary conferences and festivals. A Contributing Editor for the Pushcart Prizes, Wright has received grants and fellowships from the NEA, 4Culture, Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, and the Instituto Sacatar (Bahia, Brazil). Itzel Yarger-Zagal grew up below the volcano Popocatepetl in a town called Tepetlixpa. Her writing is influenced by her experiences as a child growing up in rural Mexico and then later as a human rights advocate throughout Mexico, Central America, and the United States. She writes bilingual poetry, children stories, and short stories on issues related to immigration, decolonization, gender equality, and peace among others. She has published poems in the El Sol de Medianoche, Antologia Muñecas, and Antología Grito de Mujer. She holds a LL.M. in International Human Rights Law from the University of Notre Dame. She lives in Alaska with her family and loves to go on walks.
Window Shopping on Rodeo Drive
HOW TO SUBMIT TO C IRQUE Cirque, published in Anchorage, Alaska, is a journal created to share the best writing of the North Pacific Rim with the rest of the world. Cirque publishes twice yearly – summer and winter. The deadlines are on the spring and fall equinoxes – March 21, and September 21. Cirque submissions cover a wide range of topics and are not restricted to a regional theme or setting. Cirque is an independent journal staffed by volunteers. We are funded by donations, ads, sales of single issues and subscriptions. Your support keeps Cirque in print. Cirque invites emerging and established writers living in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia and Chukotka— to submit short stories, poems, creative nonfiction, translations, plays, book reviews, interviews, photographs, and artwork for Cirque’s Summer 2018 Issue. Replies average two to three months, and we don’t mind you checking with us about your submissions.
Cirque #18 (Summer 2018) Submission Deadline: March 21, 2018
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 (double-spaced) MAX Artwork and Photography: 10 images MAX, 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.
New - We are now using Submittable to manage all submissions. To submit writing or images go to the Cirque website at www.cirquejournal.com and use the Submit button or go to https://cirque.submittable.com/submit Correspondence email is: email@example.com
On The Sand
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 9, N O. 1
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim