CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 10, N O. 1
CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 10 No. 1
ÂŠ 2019 by Sandra Kleven & Mike Burwell, Editors
Cover Photo Credit: Untitled, from the Flow Series, by Hal Gage Table of Contents Photo Credit: Shoreline, by Nard Claar, Design and composition: Paxson Woelber ISBN: 9781098928575 ISSN: 2152-4610 (online)
Anchorage, Alaska www.cirquejournal.com All future rights to material published in Cirque are retained by the individual authors and artists. firstname.lastname@example.org
Coming soon from
CI RQUE PR ESS
Cirque Press (CP) began creating books in 2018, with the release of three amazing poetry collections: Apportioning the Light, by Karen Tschannen, The Lure of Impermanence by Carey Taylor and Kristin Berger’s Echolocation. A year later, CP has six titles in print with three books planned for summer release. Spring, 2019, Karla Linn Merrifield’s latest volume of poems, Athabaskan Fractal, takes the reader on a monumental journey across the Far North of the American continent. Stories and recollections by Clif Bates, in Like Painted Kites, are based on years spent in Asia and the Alaska Bush. The third of this group, Tim Sherry’s, Holy Ghost Town, is an homage to Holden Village, a Lutheran Retreat Center, located in the wilds above Lake Chelan in WA State. In production are Rules of Thumb Among the Amazons by Kerry Feldman, Seward Soundboard, by Sean Ulman and Silty Water People, by Vivian Faith Prescott. Cirque Press continues Cirque’s commitment to writers of the region whose work could be lost if it were to remain scattered in journals across the literary landscape. CP was established to gather this work into remarkable books, to be experienced coherently, as statement, observation, and artistry. “We are just getting started.”
Sandra Kleven – Michael Burwell, publishers and editors 3978 Defiance Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99504 Books from Cirque Press can be ordered directly via email:email@example.com Or find them on Amazon.
APPORTIONING THE LIGHT BY ALASKAN POET KAREN TSCHANNEN
Poems so compressed the page itself trembles. So brave, in dark places, the reader clutches the poet’s sure hand. Apportioning the Light shines. It shines. AVAILABLE AT AMAZON OR BY EMAIL:
firstname.lastname@example.org, $16 - CIRQUE PRESS Sandra Kleven & Michael Burwell, CIRQUE Publishers
“A life lived to its fullest, a craft perfected so that it seems seamless, the highest compliment I can give to any writer. I read it from its beginning to its end without putting it down. Kudos to Cirque for publishing Apportioning the Light.”
– TOM SEXTON, ALASKA POET LAUREATE
Karen Tschannen has been published 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. Tschannen was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016. Her perceptive verse is notable for the care taken with language in both the sound of a phrase and the appearance on the page.
“…An impressive debut collection of poetry that deeply satisfies the ear and the mind… There is power in the understatement. Such masterful simplicity is never easy.” Gary Copeland Lilley, author of The Bushman’s Medicine Show Available at Amazon or email: email@example.com $15.00 - CIRQUE PRESS Sandra Kleven & Michael Burwell, Publishers
Carey Taylor was born in Bandon, Oregon and has lived her entire life on the western edges of Oregon and Washington. Her work has appeared in regional, national and international publications and she was a Pushcart Prize nominee in 2015. She received a Master of Arts degree from Pacific Lutheran University and a Bachelor’s Degree from Linfield College.
Joseph L. Kashi Attorney at Law ~ Accidents and personal injury claims ~ Business sales and purchases ~ Commercial and business law ~ Real property litigation 907 – 398 – 0480 firstname.lastname@example.org www.kashilaw.com 205 East Beluga Soldotna, Alaska
Joseph Kashi’s photographic art can be seen in this issue of Cirque.
CIRQUE PRESS is pleased to announce the publication of
E CHOLO CATIO N: POEM S By Kristin Berger From both the visible and invisible margins of life, from the Oregon forest to high desert, from lake to river, these poems seek to reconcile memory and loss with a world still very much alive and beating. In a time of diminishing truth and light, this book locates beauty and holds space for its returning. "If we have forgotten that poetry is a call sent out into the world to rediscover and name our hearts, minds, and bodies, Kristin Berger’s beautiful new book of poems reminds us of poetry’s good and necessary work. Berger’s Echolocation leads us into that work, honestly and elegantly inviting us to know our own lives and landscapes." - Annie Lighthart, author of Lantern and Iron String
Available at Amazon , or email: email@example.com $15.00 - CIRQUE PRESS Sandra Kleven - Michael Burwell, Publishers
Kristin Berger is the author of the poetry collections Echolocation (Cirque Press, 2018), How Light Reaches Us (Aldrich Press, 2016), and a chapbook, For the Willing (Finishing Line Press, 2008), and co-editor of VoiceCatcher 6 (2011). Her long prose-poem, Changing Woman & Changing Man: A High Desert Myth, was a she hosts a summer poetry reading series at her neighborhood farmers market. More at www.kristinberger.me.
EDITING RESEARCH PROOFREADING --Will edit/proofread your poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and technical writing. --25 yearsâ€™ experience as (1) a technical editor and writer; (2) teaching college level creative workshops, and grammar, composition and literature courses; (3) perfecting online newspaper database searches, and (4) founder and co-editor of Cirque. --Generally, I charge $35.00 an hour with shorter jobs at $2.00 per page, but these rates change based on the amount and depth of edit needed. --Send a few sample pages, an estimate of document length, and your deadline, and I will quote you a rate based on the amount of editing I think you need: firstname.lastname@example.org www.michaelburwellpoet.com
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.
Cirque Press proudly announces
BY: CLIFTON BATES â€œWhether the journey is to Southeast Asia, Southwest Alaska, or into the depths of the human heart, Clif Bates has a knack for illuminating the exotic within the ordinary. Celebrating our shared humanity, this engaging collection of poetry and prose will have you begging for more.â€? Deb Vanasse, author of Cold Spell and Wealth Woman The many years Clifton Bates spent living and working in rural Alaska and his time spent traveling in parts of Asia are the basis for much of his writing. It is writing with thoughtfully chosen words that are calm and culturally intimate due to very sensitive and watchful eyes. No axe to grind here, no flags to wave: just scenes and experiences captured truly and with a purpose in mind. There is certainly a wide range of subject matter and presentation styles displayed between the covers of this book that has its own distinctive voice and awareness. The varied pieces within have appeared in publications in the US/Alaska, England, Germany, Paris, and Malaysia. Clifton Bates learned through his experiences and travels, for example, that villages along the Kuskokwim River in Alaska and villages in Northeast Thailand share many similarities: elders are respected, there is a strong sense of community, extended families and neighbors support each other, and everyone watches out for everyone else. Be it a village in Asia, a village in Alaska or any place, any where, it is a fruitful world full of the most interesting humans that just call out to be put down on paper and, if one is interested, one tries to do so the best one can.
Available at Amazon or, email email@example.com
Sandra Kleven-Michael Burwell Publishers and Editors
Cirque Press proudly announces in the Spring of 2019
K A R L A L I N N M E R R I F I E LD Mystical and visual—Karla Linn Merrifield’s latest volume of poems, Athabaskan Fractal, takes the reader on a monumental journey across the Far North of the American continent. Here is a collection that is surpassingly beautiful. Here is a reverence for nature where lush descriptions abound. Here is life in all its extravagance and austerity conveyed in poems of intimate details of texture and form and set against the vast sweep of endless space from sea to shining sea. You’ll quickly discover why Merrifield is widely regarded as a supreme observer of the Earth’s majesty. “In poems of intimacy and celebration, elegy and generous mythologizing, Karla LinnMerrifield’s new book is teeming with the ‘minute particulars’ of her Alaskan travels. Here you will find that the fir trees, the mists, the creatures, the stones themselves come lovingly alive. But in our 21st-century world of ecospheric drama and disarray, the ‘field guide’ reveries are shot through with the stark realities of our desecrating human footprint. Athabaskan Fractal will take you places that Frommer’s and Lonely Planet can only dream of!” Ralph Black, Professor of English, The
College at Brockport (SUNY), and author of Turning Over the Earth
Available at Amazon or, email: www.cirquejournal.com
Sandra Kleven-Michael Burwell, Publishers
Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-inResidence, has had over 700 poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 13 books to her credit, the newest of which is Psyche’s Scroll, a book-length poem, published by The Poetry Box Select in June 2018. Her Godwit: Poems of Canada (FootHills Publishing) received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. She is assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye. She is a member of Just Poets (Rochester, NY), the Florida State Poetry Society, the New Mexico Poetry Society, and The Author’s Guild.
Cirque Press proudly announces
HOLY GHOST TOWN by TIM SHERRY
Tim Sherryâ€™s latest volume of poems, Holy Ghost Town, tells the story of a place in the wilderness that is more than trees. In plainspoken language, he takes the reader to Holden Village, an abandoned mining town turned into a Lutheran retreat center in the North Cascades of Washington state. And there he explores the balance between faith and doubt, escape and reality, history and hyperbole, the serious and the hilariousâ€”in the wilderness, a place to find answers beyond the questions of everyday life. Holy Ghost Town is a remarkable book-length evocation of a very special place. In the genre of place writing, it compares to Paterson by William Carlos Williams. Whereas Williams focused on the city in the person, Sherry gives voice to the community in the person, the community that embraces its interrelatedness with the other-than-human world. I admire how these poems honor and enact grace, ecology, hilarity, and diversity. As they seek divinity, they do not shy from religious language and ritual. At the same time, the wisdom offered here tells us that sometimes we need to skip church and follow our feet into the woods where stillness, silence, and attention become prayers in the divine mystery of wilderness. Derek Sheffield, Poetry editor of Terrain.org and author of Through the Second Skin
Available at Amazon or, email firstname.lastname@example.org $15 POETRY
Tim Sherry, after earning a B.A. in English from Pacific Lutheran University and an M.A. in English from the University of Chicago, was for a long-time a high school teacher, coach, and principal in and around Tacoma, Washington. Not published until 2002, since then his poems have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Rattle, The Broad River Review, Cirque, The Raven Chronicles, and others. He has been a Pushcart nominee, had his poetry recognized in contests, and in 2010 he was an Artsmith Artist Resident on Orcas Island. One of Seven Billion, his first full-length collection, was published by Moonpath Press in 2014. Sandra Kleven-Michael Burwell Publishers and Editors
Our mission: to a build literary community and memorialize writers, poets and artists of the region.
From the Editors With Cirque Vol 10, No.1 (our 19th issue), we enter our 10th year of publication. Michael Burwell and I take pride in having done the work of Cirque with focus and determination – while still carrying on with our day jobs; Michael teaching Technical Writing at the University of New Mexico and me, as Clinical Director in Behavioral Health for a Native Health Organization. We stop here and take a deep breath just to acknowledge our work of (nearly) ten years. We credit the hundreds of artists and writers of this vast North Pacific region who have made the work possible. Without you, this independent journal would not exist. Here are some recent names: Cover artists: Hal Gage, Jack Broom, Tami Phelps, Mark Muro. Artists whose style impacts most issues: Jim Thiele, Sheary Clough Suiter, Nard Claar, Kim Davis, Brenda Roper, Monica O’Keefe, Matt Witt, Robert Bharda, Jill Johnson and so many more. We thank writers, artists and poets of great merit who send us their work and whose participation in readings, promotion and fundraising have helped sustain us. Some have provided transportation, lodging, “tabling” (i.e., sitting at a table to sell Cirque), spreads of wine, fruit and cheese. Some have managed the logistics of setting up readings. You are appreciated. This is a long list but with a focus on recent years we acknowledge Carey Taylor, Nancy Woods, Diane Corson, Bruce Perry, Paul Hader, Joe Kashi, Barbara Hood, Kristin Berger, Karla Linn Merrifield, Peter Porco, Eric and Marilyn Johnson, Christianne Balk, Diane Ray, Jan Jung, Jim Misko, Teresa Carns, David Pilgrim, Jerry McDonnell, Cynthia Steele, Lynda Whisman Humphrey, Kay Fisher Meyers, and David Cheezum. Celebrate our 2018 Pushcart nominees Cirque, Vol. 9. No. 1 Poem, Itzel Yarger-Zagal, "Still" Cirque, Vol. 9, No. 2 Nonfiction, Monica Devine, "Mission of Motherhood" Nonfiction, Todd Sformo, "Gray" Fiction, Paul Haeder, "Bloody Sheets" Fiction, Sean Brendan-Brown, "Quitting AA" Poem, Gretchen Diemer, "Notes from the Tour Guide: Seychelles Islands" The why of Cirque Press Cirque Press (2017) seeks to gather the work of Cirque contributors into book form. These writers and poets are often widely published in an array of journals. Their writing is significant. It is personal. It is strong. It draws on the vast geography we claim in ways that add to the culture of place. Cirque Press gathers the writing into a coherent collection of poetry or prose. The Cirque Press ad that follows celebrates our first books by Karen Tschannen, Carey Taylor, Kristin Berger, Clif Bates, Karla Linn Merrifield and Tim Sherry. Cirque and Cirque Press are independent entities staffed by volunteers. We count on you to help us pay the bills. Thanks, for your donations, subscriptions and your submissions. Thanks for backing this (nearly) ten-year endeavor.
Sandra L Kleven ~ Michael Burwell Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Sandra Kleven and Mike Burwell, Editors Paxson Woelber, Lead Designer Allison Castillo, Ad Designer Published twice yearly, Summer and Winter Anchorage, Alaska
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 10 No. 1
FICTION Martha Amore Winterkill 19 Julien Appignani Slattery’s, Capel Street, 1999 23 S.W. Campbell An Apple A Day 27 Paul K. Haeder Lost Spirits of the Lake Where a Mother Found the Face of a Mountain 28 Ken Post Walking Out 32
NONFICTION Jean Anderson Shadow Play: Writing Introspective Fiction in an Action Oriented Land 38 Judith Barrington Atlantic 44 Jordan Luz Orientation 45 Ryleigh Norgrove The Individual 48 K.M. Perry I Was Raped Yesterday 50 Brenda Ray The Most Beautiful Thing 52
POETRY Kari Nielsen Amlie Christmas in Patagonia 57 10-Minute Lunch Break Poem 57 Diane Averill After World War II 58 Chaun Ballard My Father as Daedalus 59 Carol Barrett Seascape 60 Barry Biechner Full Cowboy 61 Rachel Barton Long Stint in King Salmon 61 Stephen Bolen Markings 62 Abigail B. Calkin April in America, 1995 63 Kersten Christianson Hygge and Sisu in 3 Parts 65 Margaret Chula On the Slopes of Ch’an Mountain 66 Nard Claar Blue Wheelbarrow 66 Tiffany Rosamond Creed Window Seat, 153 67 Lin Davis Pantoum for Pulse Orlando 67 Kemuel DeMoville “the capacity or power to do work is not a magical cloud of consciousness” 68 Alayna Doyal the sign of the crossing of legs 68 Angela Dribben Good whiskey burns 69 Judith Duncan Gathering Eggs 69 Robert Fagen Milkweed Field 70 Barbara Flaherty The Seduction of Walrus 70 Andrea L. Hackbarth Almost Spring 71 the morning after 71 Jim Hanlen Back of America 72 Esther Altshul Helfgott Abe’s Red Suspenders 72 Sarah Isto Year Without Winter 73 Susan Johnson Along Scatter Creek 73 Desirée Jung Reconciliation 74 Aurelia Kessler Magpie 75 Eric le Fatte Chief Joseph Pine 76 Alex Leavens The Crows that Live Across the Street from My Mom 76 Peter Ludwin Collage 77 Shawn Lyons Sea Birds 78 Kilmeny MacMichael The ‘F’ Word 79 Ruth Marcus Apple 79
Terry Martin Re-mission 80 David McElroy Ars Poetica 80 Karla Linn Merrifield Crossing Hecate Strait 82 Psalm of Mist 82 John Morgan Mt. Rusty Cars 83 kjmunro the book on the shelf 83 Linnea Nelson Smoking the Lucky 84 Paulann Petersen First Task 84 Timothy Pilgrim Intensely dead 85 Timothy Roos Straw 85 Joel Savishinsky We Are Not Welcome Everywhere 86 Sales 87 Tamara Sellman Kanab 88 Tom Sexton Sea Street 89 Fall Equinox 89 Philip Shackleton The Heroine of my Disorder wants to find the better Virgin of Me 90 Karen Shepherd Grandparents 92 Alex Skousen Nihil/Void 92 Kathleen Smith Moose 93 Makani Speier-Brito Night Crawlers 93 Jeremy Springsteed Seattle 94 Kathleen Stancik Dry 94 Travis Stephens “Twin Disc 514 Transmission” 95 Margaret Swart What’s Next? 95 Grace Tran How Dare You Quote Sartre While Eating Chicken Wings 96 Heidi Turner Mentor 96 Lucy Tyrrell Waiting for Low Tide 97 Katherine Van Eddy Halloween Party in Newark 98 O. Alan Weltzien Mater Dolorosa 99 Josh Wisniewski Spring Corridor Opening 100 Kanéisdi Shaa Sutra 100 Tonja Woelber Making Love in Hope, Alaska 101
INTERVIEWS Marybeth Holleman Travels with Thomas: Kathleen Witkowska Tarr on the Maverick Monk and the Modern Contemplative 103 Katharine Salzmann Katharine Salzmann talks with Kristin Berger over Italian coffee and cannoli about Berger’s new collection from Cirque Press, Echolocation 112
F E ATU R E Emily Wall At Home in the Poetry World 116
REVIEWS Emily Wall An Orchard of Poems: A Review of Li Bai Rides a Celestial Dolphin Home by Tom Sexton 117 J.I. Kleinberg The Lure of Impermanence, by Carey Taylor 119 John Morgan Every Atom, by Erin Coughlin Hollowell 120 Paul K. Haeder Desperately Seeking Inebriated Inspiration: A Review of Last Call: The Anthology of Beer, Wine & Spirits 121
C O N T R I B U T O R S 125 H O W T O S U B M I T T O C I R Q U E 134
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1
FICTION Martha Amore
Winterkill The infant had a pale rubbery skin, a bald head exhibiting a pulsing network of cobalt veins, and deepset watery blue eyes unadorned by lashes. His doughy face appeared to Trish as unbaked, unfinished, yet at times he held the shrewd expression of a wizened old man. During pregnancy, Trish often imagined the joy of meeting her child, her baby, the flesh of her own flesh, and anticipated an immediate connection. But after the first week with her newborn, she sensed no such relation. The birth had been difficult. Twenty hours of labor ended in hemorrhaging, and so the doctor sawed her open in an emergency Caesarean. Now Trish no longer felt human, but like a collection of damaged body parts. Her swollen middle was stitched shut in an angry red seam that oozed and throbbed and threatened to burst. Her cramping uterus shed clots of bloody discharge without signs of slowing. Her engorged breasts, hard as concrete, painful as a deep bruise, leaked milk and then blood as the chafed nipples deteriorated into open wounds. Meanwhile, the infant’s demands on her were constant. He screamed and howled and shook with rage. The mother-baby bond that Trish had heard so much about? She now knew it was a lie. Nothing existed between her and the infant except hunger, his hunger. He was ravenous. Daniel, her husband, told her appetite was a good sign. “Our boy will be big and strong. He needs his milk.” “Every second of the day and night?” “Isn’t this why you quit your job? Sleep when the baby sleeps.” “He doesn’t sleep. I don’t know how much more of this I can stand.” A look of disappointment overtook Daniel’s features. “At least you don’t have to work all day.” Trish ran her fingers through her greasy hair. Of course, he was right. Her salary was a lot for them to lose, and Daniel was working all the overtime he could get. Still, they were falling behind on their student debt, relying more on credit cards. At least they owned their home, thanks to a small inheritance her parents had left
her. It was just enough for the down payment on a fixerupper some distance from town. A home and a healthy baby. Trish told herself that she was lucky, blessed even. This was the word Daniel’s mother used when she called each day from New York to check on the baby. “You’re blessed.” Trish wanted to believe it. Blessed. I’m blessed. Before the baby was born, she fantasized about holding him close, bathing him, rocking him to sleep. Now that he here, different thoughts consumed her. These new fantasies involved a return to her old life. She pictured showering peacefully, without the panic brought on by the screaming baby, or dressing in her nicest work clothes rather than the stained sweats she wore both night and day. She imagined playing music on the long drive to the architectural firm where she and Daniel worked in admin. She thought wistfully of typing up meeting minutes and running copies for the firm’s partners. Of course, she knew such thoughts were wrong. How could she prefer work to her own child? And then she started to worry, Oh God, what if he somehow senses these feelings? Most days, Trish was alone with the baby. They lived on the mountainous edge of a cold northern city. Their house, after many years of work, remained a workin-progress. An old log structure constituted its tiny core of a kitchen and den, with timbers that retracted during cold snaps and shed an ancient chinking of moss and shredded news. Sometimes Trish could decipher bits of the newsprint, making out a word, phrase, or date. It used to be a game between Trish and Daniel, decoding these messages from their house, Sale Everything Must Go, Robbery Suspect Arrested, Temperatures Plunge. For years, Trish and Daniel had labored on the home, building a new edition of bedrooms, a bath, plus a larger, remodeled kitchen. They had completed the nursery just in time for the birth, a small round room that jutted turret-like above the old den. Both rooms offered a sweeping view of a greenbelt that spilled from a snowy bowl funneling down from the wild space beyond. In midwinter, when the sun labored for just a few
20 hours, spreading long shadows before darkness fell, Trish sat in her highbacked red leather chair, the infant in her arms, feeding, always feeding. Often, by the pale light of the moon, she saw sleek forms of coyotes padding past her house as they followed prey or one another along the corridor of the greenbelt. Trish found herself waiting, throughout the hours of each night and dark morning, for signs of the pack gliding through the snow. She found herself musing about the animals, their habits, their way of life. Trish wondered if the wild hearts of coyotes churned with the same waves of sorrow, pain, and fear as her own. Always at night, in the very darkest hours of winter, the baby grew inconsolable. His face scarlet, he choked on his own screams, his arms and legs thrashing out of his swaddling so that Trish could scarcely hold him. Daniel was asleep—he had to sleep each night in order to work each day—and Trish understood the importance of his job, the fairness of the plan. She was the one who had taken leave. The baby was her problem. For hours she paced with the howling thing, theirs the only movement in the dark night except for the bits of moss and news wafting from the log walls. Now she understood that the house was disintegrating. They hadn’t preserved history; they had built on decay. All the reinforcements, all the permits and city codes, and yet one day the house would collapse. The baby screamed and screamed like he was being tortured. What is wrong with you?! What is wrong?! She sang, she danced, she rocked. Why won’t you just shut up?! She grew weak. No sleep, and still bleeding between her legs, clots, wet scabs of her insides, and she didn’t trust her arms, her legs, her hands, her feet. She slid to the floor with the kicking, thrashing infant. Eat! Eat! But he was too upset to nurse. He latched on, suckling in a greedy panic, but soon spit Trish’s bloodied nipple from his mouth, batting and kicking his tiny limbs at her, his hoarse cries turned to growls more animal than human. She came to fear darkness. The baby screaming, the mother weeping, the husband sleeping, while outside coyotes slunk down from the mountains on their mission of blood. At the six-week appointment, the doctor put the infant into a plastic tub and weighed him. “Gaining,”
CIRQUE he said. “He’s doing great. Do you have any questions? Anything you want to discuss?” Trish froze. Discuss? She wanted to break down. Something must be wrong with him! Or me! I cannot survive another night with him! She twisted her wedding band around and around her finger and took a breath. “He nurses a lot,” she said. “I mean, a lot! And if he’s not nursing, he’s screaming.” The doctor offered her a sympathetic smile. “A touch of colic, huh? He should settle down in a few more weeks.” “But, well, I wonder if something might be going kind of wrong, like with me, how I’m handling him? Or maybe with the milk? I mean, he nurses so much that I’m bleeding. There’s blood in the milk. Could that be bad for him? Do you think he’s crying because the milk is spoiled?” Opening a drawer, the doctor pulled out a small tube. “Try this. It’s lanolin, extracted from sheep’s wool. It will help heal your skin. But I don’t want you to worry about the milk. You are doing everything right. Bleeding is common for new moms. Believe it or not, it’s probably good for the baby. Blood is full of iron, which is the one thing breastmilk lacks.” He peeled a pamphlet from a stack on the counter and handed it to her. “And you might try reaching out to this volunteer group, full of experienced moms. You can call them for support or advice about breastfeeding.” She thanked the doctor, but left the office feeling worse than she had before. Of course, she knew the milk wasn’t spoiled. The problem was much deeper than that. What should be happening naturally, wasn’t. Feelings that should simply be there, weren’t. And how could she explain this to a group of normal mothers? One night she ran her fingers along the infant’s gum line and felt two tiny needle-like points. Could his teeth be coming in already? She shined a light into his screaming mouth, and yes, two white nubs of canines appeared in his swollen red gums. She shined the light on herself, and then quickly clicked it off. She couldn’t look at the deep puncture wounds, the torn skin. She had become an actor, a person pretending to be a mother who loved her baby. “I love you,” she whispered over and over into that tiny whorl of ear. And yet, she knew that he sensed her lies, that like a dog, he was reacting to her underlying emotion. And he was becoming strong. At just two
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 months, it was impossible to keep him wrapped in a blanket, and he often managed to tear off his pajamas and onesies and diapers. He refused anything but her body to touch his skin, and then only as he fed. One night, Trish could not soothe the infant at all. It was hopeless. Her milk had run dry, and the baby was now feeding off her blood alone. She wedged a finger into his mouth to break the suction, and thick red rivulets ran from his mouth and down his chin. She dabbed at the mess with a tissue, and the baby snapped at her, his face growing scarlet as he choked with the effort of his own screams. Although Daniel was just in the next room, Trish felt alone on the planet—alone with a monster. She lurched downstairs with the infant, struggling to keep hold of him. In the dark den, she leaned against one of the old timber beams and slid to the floor. He kicked and thrashed out of his blanket and clothing and diaper, Golden Blur and as he howled, she laid him flat on the worn wood floor. His skin glowed white in a thin stream of moonlight. A bit of detritus wafted across her field of vision, dancing in the air, moving to the sound of the baby’s fury. It must be cold, she thought. The walls are shedding. She caught up the bit of newsprint in her fist and then smoothed it open in the moonbeam. Faded, barely legible, certain letters stood out, a G, a T, an OU. What did it spell? Was there a message? G-E-T-O-U? Get out? A shadow loomed over her. Daniel. “Honey?” His voice was thick with sleep. “What’s wrong with him?” she said. “What’s wrong with him?” Daniel scooped up the baby. “What’s wrong with you? What are you doing? Where is his blanket? You can’t leave a baby on the cold floor like that!” She looked around her, just coming to understand where she was. “My mother had five kids,” Daniel said. “Why is one so hard for you?” “I don’t know,” she answered. And she didn’t. She didn’t know what was wrong with her. She put her
21 head in her hands, too spent for tears. After a moment, Daniel softened. “Hey,” he whispered, a look of concern coming over his features. “It’s okay. You’re just tired. I’ll take over for a while. I have to be up in an hour anyway.” He tucked the squalling baby into his robe and bobbed him up and down. The baby quieted. Headlights from a car on the mountain road flashed for a moment and then slid over the forms of her husband and son. Trish stared up at them, her eyes burning in their dry sockets. A picture of love, Trish thought. Or did she say it aloud? As the weeks wore on, she began to have strange nightmares. They were odd in that they might occur at any time of day, and often she was awake. Trish sensed the dreams were not real, and yet she could not control them, but only watch on in horror. She became a victim of her own visions. In one scenario, Toni La Ree Bennett she pitched the baby from the bedroom window, and in another she sent his stroller wobbling down the driveway and into the ravine. Sometimes she locked him screaming into the black Subaru and threw the keys into the snow-filled forest, while other times she leapt from the driver’s seat just as the car and child careened down the mountain. After such imaginings, remorse consumed her. Trish gently stroked the baby’s rubbery cheek while he gummed her wounds. Whispering, whispering, her dry lips on the crack of his skull, she promised him that she was not she, but better. One wintry morning after the baby had fed but continued to scream from his crib, Trish collapsed in the red leather chair. She shut her eyes and soon imagined the baby’s howling to be music playing, trumpets and baritones and saxophones. This slowly transformed into a chorus of birdsong and then magpie squawking and then the clanging of a train, or was it a train whistle? It blew and blew. She woke with a start. It wasn’t the baby. The baby was asleep! Trish couldn’t believe it, but the baby had fallen asleep on his own. The noise was her cellphone.
22 She fumbled it from the side table. “Hello?” she said. “Hello?” “Who’s this?” “Who’s this?” Was it her own voice? She looked at the screen and saw her name, her number. Did she dial herself in her sleep? Was it possible to call yourself? To talk to yourself? She blinked her eyes and hung up, but again the phone rang, and there was her name. “I know this isn’t me,” she whispered. “I know this isn’t me.” The phone must be broken. It must be calling me and then recording and replaying my words. She was sure of it. Yet the voice didn’t sound like her, not exactly. It sounded like somebody doing an impersonation of her. An excellent impersonation. “If you aren’t me, then who are you?” “WHO ARE YOU? WHO ARE YOU?” Trish dropped the phone. She had been yelling, and now the baby erupted with screams that pealed like laughter. She ran to the closet and hunted for her old hiking boots and Gortex jacket, her thick mittens and rabbit fur hat. Get out, she thought. Just get out! The driveway was pure ice, glinting in the sunlight. She wanted to go down the mountain to the city below, but every road was made of ice. Impassable. She made her way behind the house, each step breaking through the hard rime of ice into deep powder, but still she could hear the baby’s violent cries. They seemed to follow her as she climbed the game trail up and up to the wilderness beyond. Finally, silence prevailed. She moved slowly in the paw trampled snow, her breath inhaling with a sting to the lungs, exhaling as white steam. When she reached the saddle of the pass, Trish lay down in the snow. She had overheated, and the dull cold seeping through her layers felt good. A sense of calm loomed like a faraway cloud drifting closer, closer, and Trish saw several clouds in the sky, and she felt she could remain there forever, simply watching the clouds move across the expanse of bright blue. She felt something like happiness come over her. But from the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of movement. There, underneath a collision of white boulders, stood a skinny coyote. Trish stopped, suddenly afraid. Meat hung from its mouth. No, not meat, not a tiny corpse, but something else lodged there between its fangs. A pup. Just born, bright pink and wriggling against
CIRQUE the dark form of its mother. The coyote raised her nose to the wind, and then stared forlornly in Trish’s direction. The creature was halfstarved, her rack of ribs cut through her ragged coat. How on earth will she make it? Trish wondered. Winter will kill them all. The coyote disappeared into the white pass, and in that moment, Trish thought of her own baby. She had left him all alone. How could she have done it? Fear shot through her, throbbing in her pulse. For a moment, she could not move, but only think, He could be dead! He’s dead! Trish started to run down the mountain. When she reached the edge of the forest, she unzipped her jacket, gasping for breath. Terror fueled her as she slipped, rose, and slipped again on the slick coyote-made trail. Throwing open the door to the house, she hurried up the stairs leaving a trail of snow from her boots. The house was silent. He’s dead! He’s dead! She clutched the rail of the crib and steadied herself. Slowly, she placed an open palm onto his bare chest. She felt warmth and movement, the gentle thrumming of sleep. She stood back and watched. How peaceful he looked. The delicate shape of his ears, so small, and his full lips, nursing in his dreams, kissing the air. Do I feel anything at all? The shadows grew long and then darkness fell. Still the baby slept. Trish went down to the den and took up a position in the window. Could a person learn to love? She looked for Daniel’s headlights in the driveway, but of course the ice would stop him. He would have to park far below and travel the rest of the way by foot. Again and again, she peered outside. There were things she needed to say. Right or wrong, she needed to say them. When she finally caught sight of movement outside, it wasn’t her husband but a line of coyotes floating across a patch of moonlight. They were heading up the mountain. Trish couldn’t wait anymore. She moved to the desk and eyed the pamphlet the doctor had given her, ran her fingers over the purple print. La Leche League. It was impossible. This wasn’t the right place to call. A milk club? What would they think? And could she keep from weeping? And how on earth would she even begin? But she grabbed the phone and hit the numbers. Somebody picked up. “Hello?” Hello, Trish thought. I’ll begin there.
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 Julien Appignani
Slattery’s, Capel Street, 1999
And to the men of Carnival Saloon
I remember quiet evenings / Trembling close to you
– Tom Waits
You’re a dark figure walking downstairs. Dark to her, who sees you walking downstairs. Feet, legs, hips, chest, head. Frowning, most likely. You did a lot of frowning, back then. You are each other’s first. You’ve been together three months. But it feels like three years. Lifetimes. At first there was happiness – great happiness. Then there was anguish. The happiness never returned – a childhood memory, a wonderful dream. The anguish strangled you and never let go. And you are sure, you are sure past any capacity to doubt – you are sure it never will. You enter a hallway at the foot of the stairs. It’s dark there, it’s late afternoon. The middle of fall. But now you’re together. Maybe she gives you a peck on the cheek. Or tries to rub out the crease in your brow. You might even hold hands. You step into the kitchen together. The kitchen is light with bright lights. There’s a dark garden out back. This is her house – your girlfriend’s house. Her brother’s house, her parents’ house. A family’s house. You’re a guest. You are, in fact, the guest. The first. No one’s home. What to do? Cook something. Say something, say something now. She’s looking at you. But there’s nothing. There’s you, only you. You with your guilt and your gripe and your sulk and don’t talk. You brood. Why, you don’t know. But this, more and more, is what you do. You’ve been together once that day – just now, before coming downstairs – and that’s good. It was not easy for you, it never is, but it’s good. Her eyes say she’s happy. She loves you. She’s in love with you. But now you’re downstairs and you frown. You don’t know what to do. Worst of all you won’t talk. She tries drawing you out – gently – poking fun just a bit. But that never works, and it doesn’t work now. Perhaps it makes things even worse. Still, she is doing her best. No one could do better. Very, very few would do so much. There is this black anguish. Oppression,
hopelessness. You don’t know what it is. You don’t know if it’s you, you don’t know if it’s her. No, you know – you know it’s not her. But it feels like maybe it is. And all you’d have to do is just make this one cut – and then? Begin again, begin afresh? You’ve been insulted and injured, rejected, humiliated. You’ve felt ugly and stupid, unwanted, unloved. Other things too, but these ones have stuck. They’ve dug themselves deep. In some sense they’ve poisoned your blood. Given these things the fact that this is your girlfriend seems all but impossible. She is beautiful – kind, and intelligent, and beautiful. It started like something out of a book. You saw her in the library. You were studying in the lower level. For some reason you looked up. There she was, walking downstairs. Your eyes met for a moment. Longer than a moment. Just long enough, just a little too long. Long enough to make you stop. To make you wonder. Then she went away and you put your head down again. Then it happened again, and again. In the library. At the entrance to class. At the college bar. After two weeks you made up a plan. If you saw her at the bar again… You did. It took thought and care and perhaps some courage. Bred of hope, fed of despair. But she helped from the start. From the start – not by her words, which stopped you short, but by her smile – she helped. It was the best thing you ever did. Now you’re in the kitchen and she’s put Rachmaninoff on and you’ve started cooking without talking and all of a sudden it’s darker than ever. There’s blackness, there’s less and less air. If it weren’t for the music there’d be nothing at all. The chopping of garlic. The drone of the burner. The sizzle of oil. Despair. Though you’ve tried to smile you haven’t said a word since coming downstairs. And yet she doesn’t grudge you. She doesn’t wince. She wouldn’t leave you, not now. No doubt she’s concerned. But you make her life easier, she says. Those are her harshest harsh words. You work side by side. Cutting a pepper, putting up water. And there is no doubt that you love her. You are numb and feel nothing. It’s been this way for months, forever. But you love her as much as your hurt heart can
24 stand. You love her as well as a wasted and wounded youth can. A shaft of light pierces the darkness. You’re surprised at its strength. The feeling is almost physical. You look up. Who knows where it’s from. The smell of good food, the easy feeling after being together, a favorite musical phrase. You don’t ask, it doesn’t matter. You restrain yourself just a bit. In your warmest voice, in your grandfather’s voice, you say – She smiles like you’ve stepped out of the mists. You’re careful not to encourage too much. But it’s true. A few days from now, you’ll see the band play. God knows what does it. It may be the light in her eyes. But for a moment, just a moment, you relive the night – You crossed the busy city street. You put a hand just at her waist. When it came back to you there were two. Now he rides the morning mist With a big-eyed hawk on his fist You were not halfway there. It was ten more minutes’ walk to the stop. You didn’t know if you could make it. But you talked. You talked just like you’d talked before. At the nerveracking tryst at Front Gate. All the angsty walk to the concert. At the bar it got better. The band was fantastic. All that dark room soft and warm. You’d been there before. Early on, with strained nerves and few friends. A loose student group. A girl you’d yearned toward like a dream, a guy you’d learn to hate and fear like a nightmare. You hadn’t fit then. But since then you’d been back. Now you tried to own it like home. Calling out a guinness, a whisky and coke. For the first time she let you buy her a drink. She smiled a lot. You’d never have guessed what she was thinking. Because she was thinking: Yes. She listened and smiled. You waited and watched. Tipped back your drink. Shivered. You had just a rough idea where the bus was. You agonized about how to finish the night. You talked and you fought, trying not to get sucked in the shit. Awkwardness, paralysis, embarrassment, death. For all your fears you knew the night had gone well. But you had to think of some way to close, you had to think of some words to say. That This has been fun, maybe, that Maybe we can do this again. The bus pulled into view. You weren’t ready for this. Because now you knew. Because here it was, here it comes again, another disappointment, another rejection. The big empty. Three weeks’ hopes, one night’s joy, all that light to die from your eye. Maybe it showed in the way that she stood. Like she didn’t just pause but stepped in, stepped forward. Closing the distance. In an instant you realized she still held your
CIRQUE hand. You must have been smiling, for all you were scared. And then your heart was caught off guard, and then it was blown open. Keep your eyes shut. Keep your eyes shut. You stare in fear and wonder. You’ve never seen anything like it and you never will again. This is it. What it’s all for. You’ll remember this face for the rest of your life. You’ll remember this image and wish yourself dead – You also smile. For a minute the anguish has passed. In a few days, yes, you’ll see the band play. She clasps her hands. She gives you a kiss. It’s not a quick kiss. It’s a will into you, a kiss square in the face. A stake, a claim. I am yours, and you are mine. II The candles are lit on the small square tables, there’s a stained murky look. Smoke blown in the dark, laughter, strong drink. All at once applause. The players take the stage. Lead man, keyboard, guitar, bass, drums. Everyone claps. A few people clap hard. Those who know what they’re in for. Those who know there’s no show like this on earth. They take it away. Goin downtown, down, downtown. The lead man’s something to see. A short swarthy man with the truculent look of a bull. A showman second to none. Black hair, black jacket, black pants, black shirt. The guitarist hardly moves. Only his hands, his fingers. The jumps and runs seem effortless. Meantime he smokes like a stack. The cigarette sits straight in his lips. The butt glows, fades, falls. And again glows. The light never expires. He seems to sense this. Once in a while he smiles. The bar is impossibly dark. The stage shakes with bass and pulsating lights. They finish the first number and the lead man leans in: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome… Dark Halloween doll, conjurer digging in his black bag of tricks. A hand lamp hangs from the mike. He takes it. In the gridded glare his grin grows ruddy. Antic jack o’lantern in black. He scrapes and he waves, introducing the troupe. The lights strobe again on keyboard, bass, drums. The pianist shapes a salsa line in the bass. Bassist and drummer breathe in together. The guitarist gives a sly smoky smile. Then the man grabs the mike and the bar falls black dark. The strobelights explode, the stage sways like a ship. The man slams his boots, stamping the beat. On the offbeat he smashes the lid on a trashcan. With a
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 voice like gravel he growls down the dark: Edna Million in a drop dead suit Dutch Pink on a downtown train Two dollar pistol but the gun won’t shoot I’m in the corner on the pouring rain The band sways, the stage shakes. In this dark city bar a strange pagan air, the fire’s in the mountain, the dew is on the moor. But you love it. You love it so much you can almost relax. You’re trying your best. You’ve brought the stout, you’ve brought the whisky and coke. She seems happy. She holds your hand but doesn’t just. No. She holds toward her middle, toward the most sacred place. You don’t know how precious that gesture is.
The Flip Side
Though it’s only the two of you this time you have a strange feeling there’s someone else there. Two people. Figments, visitors. A male and a female. The guy, the girl. There’s no reason for them to be there and even if they were it’s the last thing you ought to be thinking about right now. But you can’t help it. It’s in your head. You’re anxious enough you take a quick look around. Of course she notices. She looks at you. With a squeeze of the hand she pulls you back in, or tries to. In the wretched state you’re in you’d never realize that this itself is a miracle. This glance, this gentle pressure at the hand. You look around captively, trying to smile. You’re drifting away. Remembering things. Feelings. Wants, hurts. Lonely days, agonies. All this should be gone, but it’s not. It lives, and still lives. The band plays. Your girlfriend holds your hand. All of a sudden between this music you love and this girl that you love you’re lonelier than ever. You wonder when they’ll play a sad song. A slow song, a lonely one. For there’s another thing. Apart from the guy, apart from the girl. From long before, forever. You’ve heard it way down, in the keyboard, in the words. In the song. It’s what’s kept you coming back, isn’t it? This, more than anything else. This wringing of the heartstrings. This rending of the vital fibers. The night would be empty without it. With it, the night will be hell. You know that it’s coming. Halfway through the act, a good time for a slow one. You stiffen, you sit back. Your girlfriend is growing alarmed. Your face pales. Fear and desire, desire and fear. You dread this like nothing else. You dread it like the final cut. The song starts. And you think yourself back, back, back. To someone you’ve never known. To somewhere you’ve never been. Is it there? And: Is it still there? The song tells you it is. And just like that you can’t take anymore. Will riddled with conflict and guilt, junk board shot up for a target. Disappointment wound Susan Biggs
26 around your throat like a rope. You’re tired of being cheated, you’re ill with feeling nothing at all. You want what you want. You want what’s in the song, you want that most of all. So you’ll go. You’ll run after a song. Now nothing can turn you around. The best of youth, the best of love. And once you’re there you’ll enter the circle. The circle that lures like bright fire, and inside is frigid as hell. You see it in the song, you hear it in the words. Will o’ the wisp. A figment, indeed. For there’s no replacement for this. Is not, and can never be. There’s only this ring of false fire. Entering, reentering. The loss and the pain, the pain and the loss. Sirens, eidola. The golden age, Claude Lorrain. Impossible dream every person has dreamed. A sill geranium lit in bright light. Late evening. On a green leaf, tiny, lying in wait, a spider. You try to look at her but you can’t. The words and the words and they hurt and they hurt. And all of a sudden you know it. You’re done for. One of the lost. Fire in the lake, these God forgets. A short dark man walks in at the door. He holds in his hands roses. It’s that time of night. He’ll mill through the aisles, greet each table and smile: Roses, red roses, red roses for you. You still wouldn’t look but she would, and she will. She stares right at you. You can’t help but stare back. You’re somewhere far away. You’re almost someone else. She’s seen you like this before but just once. Even then it was awful. But this is much worse. There’s fear in her face. Fear like you’ve never seen there before. Visceral fear, as if you were about to be run under a car. You also are scared. But it is too late. Maybe you say something, maybe you don’t. It hardly matters. The meaning is clear. You stand up. She turns in her seat. You almost smile. As if this wasn’t quite real. As if this was all only just for a while. Fool. She watches you go. In a few steps you cross paths with the man. In the dark he can’t make out your look. He holds a rose out. Smiles. He turns his kind eyes toward the girl: A rose for the lady. So great a beauty. A rose for… No? Her hand’s on the chairback. A wet light rises to her eyes. But you do not stop. Mister, he says. Mister? He lays a rose on the table. Soft as a wreath on a grave. He touches her shoulder, says it’s for free. Then swings around, diving into the crowd, smiling to all, holding red roses out.
CIRQUE III You are out on the street. A damp night sky sits over the city. You’ve the look of the terminal hypothermic, a burning man rending his clothes in the snow. Or the look of one who, in a bad fit of temper, or perhaps on a dare, downs a drink that just might be poison. Now you’re waiting to see. Holding out hope till the pain proves you wrong. What can’t you stand? The lie, the guilt? It will not end well. You walk down the block. It’s a Saturday night, a busy night, people are out. You turn down an alley, avoiding the crowd. It’s cold and it’s dark. Seaboard weather. Not the proud sail of your great verse… Dumpsters and trash, gray rain in streetlamps. You lean on a wall. In your mind’s eye there’s a body. Across the way, strewn in the floor. I’ll kill you, a righteous voice says. Kill you… like a dog in a ditch. Or a railroad, maybe. He’d wanted to die… like a dog, your russian teacher would say. You whirl off the wall. Start back toward the street. It’s a sunny spring day. It’s never hot, but it’s hot today. Your jackets are off. You’re just in t-shirts. Holding hands, strolling. A great rose garden, close to her house. Limitless grass, towering trees, roses of every variety. Pale, yellow, red, gold. Bloodcolored, skycolored, firecolored, mauve. You remember a line: The sky… was blood-red, immense, streaming like an open vein. Leaves light or dark, leather, copper. Thorns strong and sharp. Apt place for parables, this. The spider love, the serpent. You’ll never know what you felt like that day. But remembering it now it seems the last time you were happy. You didn’t have to watch yourself. You weren’t afraid you’d cast off her hand. You make it back to the street. Turn into it. But there are people, there are too many people. You are crying. You hurry along. You vanish down the next alley. Running, running. You don’t stop till you’re far down. In the dark you feel out the flat of the wall. You lean back. O lady, consider when I shall have lost you The moon’s full hands, scattering waste, The sea’s hands, dark from the world’s breast, The world’s decay where the wind’s hands have passed, And my head, worn out with love, at rest In my hands, and my hands full of dust. You remember the band, you remember the song. You see her face, the first night you kissed. You see it and then it is gone. She’s no longer yours, but part of the song.
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1
An Apple A Day
It was the crack of dawn. While his wife snoozed in their bed, Hank Edwards quietly put on an old t-shirt, faded jeans, and wool socks. He picked up his book from the nightstand, took one last look at Marie, her mouth hanging slightly open, and slipped downstairs to brew a pot of coffee. The smell of roasted beans permeated the kitchen. Hank stared out the window and watched the sun rise above the distant hills. Four months of sun rises. All slightly different, but individually indistinguishable in memory. Hank eyed the growing beams of light. He noted the position of the wisps of cloud. The shift of every shadow. He stared at the rising orb until dark spots flashed across his vision. The coffee went into a thermos. Hank put on an old pair of leather boots and slipped on his old Carhartt coat, noting the added weight in one of the pockets, and with the thermos and book in hand, went out the backdoor into the cool crisp air of fall. The ground was tinged with a thin layer of melting frost. Hank inhaled deeply, smelling the air, scented with the rot and decay of what was once green and vibrant. It was a strong smell. A good smell. The world was quiet. Every step across the fallen golden leaves went off like a string of firecrackers. The closing of the door. The rustling of Hank’s clothing. The sharp note of a songbird. All was unnaturally resonant. Hank knew he had to enjoy the peace now while it lasted. Soon the hills would echo with the sharp blasts of rifle fire. The first day of deer season had come. The cellar door was held closed by an old screwdriver in the hasp. The screwdriver’s wooden handle was gray with age. The darkness of the cellar was pushed away with the pull of a string. East Hill A single light bulb illuminated wooden boxes sitting on rough wooden shelves set against dirt walls. Apples, pears, potatoes, carrots, onions, and beets. It had been a good growing year in Marie’s garden, and the boxes had all
27 been refilled. Hank picked up an old metal pail and filled it with apples from one of the boxes. They were medium sized and green, tart to the taste, and likely to lead to regrets if too many were eaten. Bucket in hand, Hank turned off the light, and returned to the world above, securing the cellar door with the screwdriver. Carrying the thermos, book, and bucket, Hank tromped down a well-trodden path from the house through packed wooden sentinels of elm and oak. Dappled sunlight broke its way through the tangle of gnarled branches and the dying leaves which still held stubbornly on. The declining angle of the trail made Hank’s worn out knees scream in protest. Once Hank had been a carpenter, until the sale of his father’s farm had made working unnecessary. What had been farmland was now a strip mall and houses. The sale had come in time to save Hank’s back, but not soon enough to save his knees. The first sounds of distant shots. The rapid series of a semi-automatic which made Hank snort derisively at the lack of skill exhibited. When his knees had still worked, deer season had been a big part of his year. The getting up before daylight. The sitting in the stand high above the ground. The waiting. The tension. The release. He had always used a bolt action. The slower reload time forcing a greater amount of patience and skill. His rifle,
in its cabinet next to the washing machine, was covered with dust. A quarter mile from the house the path ended
28 next to a fence of green metal posts and bright new barbwire. Signs declaring government property and no trespassing were hung every hundred yards in both directions. A decaying lawn chair sat beneath an ancient oak. A deer call hung by a string from a nail hammered into the tree. Hank took the deer call and gave it a couple loud blasts. He sat down in the lawn chair, pulled out his pocket knife, and started cutting the apples into quarters, throwing them just on the other side of the fence. It did not take long. They came out of the trees showing no signs of fear. The does with their fawns trailing after. The bucks, with their antlers proudly held high, alone. When he had started four months ago, they had been cautious. They would approach slowly, stopping to wait and listen. Drawn by the apples, but spooked by the figure in the chair. They were braver than they should be. They did not understand the meaning of the words wildlife preserve, but they knew that the land along the creek was safe. Hank never made any sudden moves or noises. The first month he had just sat quietly in his chair, reading and drinking coffee, letting the repetition meld him into the surrounding scenery. The second month he had started getting up and walking around. Spooking them at first, but slowly getting them used to his presence. The third and fourth months had been the hardest, but the effort had been well worth it. Nearly every deer that regularly came when he called was willing to take a slice of apple from his hand. Hank sipped his coffee, read his book, and waited. He had been watching these deer since the buck’s antlers were still in velvet and the fawn’s tan hides were still covered in spots. He knew their habits and their personalities. The six point was always the last to come. The six point was a magnificent specimen, a hunter’s dream. He came walking towards the fence with the poise of a king, his widely set antlers a crown upon his head. Hank got up from his chair and with a slice of apple in his hand walked up to the fence. The six point moved forward with the air of a master accepting a gift from a servant. Hank held his breath and willed his heart to slow its beating. The six point reached for the apple. Hank put his free hand into his coat pocket and withdrew it with a fluid and easy motion. The pistol shot echoed across the creek bottom. Birds took flight, deer scattered and ran, and the six point fell dead to the ground. Hank, adrenaline coursing through his veins, put the pistol back in his pocket, quickly climbed over the fence, hoisted the deer over, and then climbed back to his side of the line.
Paul K. Haeder
Lost Spirits of the Lake Where a Mother Found the Face of a Mountain She wakes up in a flash of pouring sweat. The tires rolling through the mud startle her, but she knows not to jerk or bring attention to her stowaway mini island of absolution. The smokestack clouds rise from the vestige of volcanic up thrust. Tory likes that about Mount Hood, how it’s its own weather machine and cloud incubator. Anything else in her past is a blur, broken frames of a slideshow. The mountain, however, is a constant weight in her brain. Fractured images of a father chopping wood for the pot-belly stove. A mother torn between the beatings and the bottle, yet raging inside Tory is the feeling of slag spilling over a metal barrel. The red glow of her life witnessing beatings and the assaults. A brother up in the rafters of the rain-spilling barn. US Army Ranger Dead on Arrival. The arrival being the hurricane cone of childhood vigilance from beatings and humiliation and the pursuit of happiness first with pain and the fright of war, then the drip-pan hell and ecstasy of intravenous drugs. Eyes of two barn owls her only witness to her last moments with Jimmy-boy before she cuts and runs. Out of the glow of morning lifting shadow from the mountain, she packed Jimmy-boy’s Army Ranger rucksack with as much as she could roll up before the rotting mold of a hungover mother came pouring into the small kitchen. Tory touches Jimmy-boy’s feet, as he is like an exclamation point in the shadows of a roof-fallen barn that served for nothing more than a refuse bin, all shadowy with old man’s beard and foot pad moss spread throughout the rafters. Light cuts into the sides and roof, and where Jimmy-boy is, a light rain drips onto him. Stalactite or stalagmite, she thinks while touching his bare feet and ankles. Irish ropes with demonic skulls braided in were tattooed on his ankles and legs up to his calves after his
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 first deployment. She touches them, traces the bumps from the last remnants of veins that have collapsed under the strain of hypodermic needles. Tory was there for two sisters, sometimes for her mother, and never for her hunching father while Jimmy-boy went inside the black womb of war for the rich man’s adventures in torture in the Middle East. Somehow the country expects boys and a few girls to come out whole, like some Norman Rockwell placemat at the Cracker Barrell. Boys to men to decrepit beings. Girls to women to slaves of pain and military sexual assaults. The project of war Tory always rebelled against, and protested. Jimmy-boy swings lightly in that after-death pendulum rock. His last vision, she thinks, were the piles upon piles of spent paint cans, beer cans and whiskey and other booze bottles. This once old quintessential red barn Tory’s grandparents tried to keep up had now turned into a nightmare on Huckleberry Lane, the updrifts and downdrifts of the mountain constant reminders to her that a white clan mixed with German-French-Dutch was the seed of filth and despoilment in this land of Salish and river tribes. She rolled up clothes and made sure the shoes were paired, and then stuffed Jimmy-boy’s field rucksack with as much as she could find in the dark before her mother cracked open her bloodshot eyes looking for a dram or two perk-me-up. Before the old man limped to old stove to reheat the coffee from two days before. Tory took the money stashed in some old Swisher Sweet box. Took the lighters and the smokes, too. Her last words to the world were to the girls on the other side of the hallway, still asleep: “You have to find the angels, Dana, Darlene.”
bear trails, the still intact small herds of elk. Entire books about the hell and heaven visions inside her head. To tell the girls now about the egg growing inside, with their fire-throated parents in dervishes of ancient pain, cyclical sexual abuse and beatings, Tory wants to parachute out into another world. She knows it’s going to be her biggest regret. *--*
“There’s nothing more to say,” Tory says to the tall brunette. Her angel is swaddled now, carried off by the woman who calls herself Ruth, but Tory knows it’s all a ruse. She knows this moment is the only salvation for her angel, Angela. The woman’s entourage includes her husband, big, thin cotton sport jacket, grey goatee and hands that show the work of pen and computer mouse. Another fellow is in sweat suit, and he’s something out of a Scorsese movie. “Child mother surrogate granddaughter clouds old camp baby clothes the strain in my breathing no breath left for Jimmy-boy.” The other angels – her sisters -- now in foster care, her kid sisters, 14 and 16, their mother full of the same cancer Tory has eating at her. Father worthless, still in his anger after each pitch of empty bottle where Jimmy-boy with his perfect self-inflicted slip knot noose hung, his face not at peace but bearing the strain of eyes screaming out against the life he was whet nursed to and his tongue as large as an eggplant between rotting teeth. Tory knows her life was meant for something else – the poetry, the visions, her own clock set way outside the confines of those old parents and a broken system and resentment and the entire mountain full of the wrong people in the wrong land.
The road down from the dirt track is already lit up by the father of the growing thing inside her. He is two years older, and also wanting to lift away from the old people, the surly loggers, and leave behind the cut of the land by the offspring of Oregon Trail miscreants and want to be’s. Somehow, even the uninitiated children of the pioneers knew asphalt, gasoline, bulldozers, the rot-gut of modern food, life, TV and boredom were blasphemy to the mountain.
Voices from trees and crows, and the wind spirits, Tory writes about. Tory and her seed inside, the cancer inside bones, so young, everyone says. Tory writes her story, long lonely journey into nightmare. Tory goes one or two more with her own nights held down by interlopers, the white demons of the Oregon Trail, offspring, her own father, and later, the devils of the night, white and spindly, the meth monsters of Portland.
Tory had written poems about the mountain, the last
Alone, in a deep canyon, fed by streams and fish and
Rhapsody of LIght. Mt. Angeles, Olympic National Park
huckleberries. The kid who took her under his wing, brings her food and fresh kill meat, a child really, this seventeen-year-old Tory saved from a knife fight under the gloom of Stump Town drizzle, and he is in unrequited love with this hitchhiker almost 10 years older. She writes furiously as the cancer comes into her like the clouds gathering around the glacial shawls of Mount Hood, and as her angel grows. One year old in the tent, and in the woods, Angela will have a book she’ll know is her mother’s story, or, her own might begin here. The magic of the night in the river ravine is part of Tory’s story, 26 years making sense out of the cacophony of absurdities and alienations, a tribe of people she brings with her on the page. Incongruences, these stories, hers, and the light of the word will live somewhere. I will not die alone, and the few months with check in hand, the selling of a child for the betterment of the child, Tory tells as many people she knows she is at peace. These people – Angela’s adopted parents -- are not blessed with Tory’s street sense, but they want a new love in their lives. The toss of the coin of the realm Tory knows is the luck of the draw in life. Her own life spewed
out onto this magnificent country ruined by the spittle of the white man and his toxins. *--*
Pah-to and Wy-east, Wasco legend had the two mountains close to the Columbia river, where a bridge or arch spanned the river which was a calmer, fuller force, and full of pooling areas as big as lakes. The two mountains were jealous of each other, in awe of the other, and so they made the earth tremble, knocked trees down, and eventually, the jealousy got so bad the two mountains, Pah-to (Mt. Adams) and Wy-east (Mt. Hood) started brawling as mountains do – tossing granite, scree and basalt at each other. The Great Father in the sky heard from the people and the animals, pleading for intervention to stop the feuding of Pah-to and Wy-east. As volcanoes do, they got angrier and angrier, throwing hot flaming stones at each other, filling the beautiful lake under the arch with flames and hot red stone, and that lake dried up from the hissing boulders and boiling caldron. The great power above was tiring of the shenanigans of the two mountains, and eventually the two mountains
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 caused a great earth shaking, with all the trees sliding into the river and that great arch collapsing. The river was no longer the same, now full of rocks and waterfalls and rapids. The Great Power was so angry he came down, stood near the two white mountains, and took one and threw that Pah-to as far as he could, and then the other, Wy-east, was tossed as far as he could in the opposite direction. The two mountains stand there, apart, watching the great Columbia River on its way to the sea. *--*
Angela takes the book, the hard back and traces her mother’s face on the jacket. Two Angry Mountains Making Peace: The Story of Tory Eagle Spirit Jenson, and the people at the bookstore look at the strong chiseled face of Tory’s Angel, and Angela is tall and muscular, having the fortitude of a mother who left home under the same feuding those two mountains did in the legend of Wasco. Angela is talking about her own story and her mother’s, two separate lives, hers splintered from the ugly family line and her own mother’s gift to a child to carry on in a family with the semblance of normality, with the physical comforts Tory and Jimmy-boy and the younger girls never saw. Angela has taken the gift of walkabout and knowing with a camera and canvas and has traveled the world looking at shape – the shapes of cultures denigrated and harassed by the very tools of capitalism that she was lucky enough to benefit from at an early age. Tory wrote about the strong winds of pain inflicted on so many people here, and she wrote about the visions of mountains and their spirits, and the hard-scrabble mental chaos of drug use, running from the law, and finding a slice of life in her last lurch through gravity with her cancerous bones. Angela’s paintings and photographs cover the gallery wall, and the images are of those spills, the split earth, bulldozed and sprayed with acids to reveal the metals of war and commerce and white man’s subjugation. Brown and black people pounding earth and mud and hill and cliff for the ores of the warring White Man, and
Angela is proud of the way and shape of things now, and her mother’s book, published a month after she died, and now, years later, revived by her daughter. The Lake of Lost Spirits, another book, about all the work Angela did to find her mother’s spirit, the living one, and all the work Angela has done to bring to light the killing fields of her adopted father’s profession – mining. Honduras, Chile, New Guinea, Australia, Congo, and the American Southwest. *--*
Smart Crow pretended he was wise and lied about a vision: A long cold winter with a lot of snow, endless chill, death. He told the hunters to kill as many animals as possible for the cold winter. Plain Feather at first refused but gave into the sly Smart Crow’s story. He killed many deer and bear, and then a herd of five elk, he killed all but one, and that one he wounded. Plain Feather didn’t know that was his guardian elk, and he followed the wounded elk deeper and deeper into the forest. Deep in the mountain he found a beautiful lake, and not far away he saw the wounded elk in the water. A voice said, “Draw him in.” The voice kept repeating, “. . . draw him in . . .draw him in.” Soon, he was next to the wounded elk, and the elk said, “Why did you disobey me, Plain Feather?” All around him in the lake were the spirits of all the animals Plain Feather had killed, and the elk said, “I will no longer be your guardian. All around you are the spirits of the animals you have killed. You have disobeyed me and killed my friends.” Plain Feather went back to camp, on his hands and knees, sick with this knowledge. He went into his teepee and died. Even after, the Indians called the place Lake of Lost Spirits. Beneath the blue waters are the thousands of spirits of the dead. On the surface is the face of Mount Hood. For Angela, the face of her mother is on the surface looking down at the dead spirits of the millions of people murdered by the force of warrior miners and devil oil diggers.
Walking Out Matt presses the mic button on the radio, “Gilbert Bay, we’re ready for pickup.” The only response is the scolding chit-chit-chit of a squirrel from a nearby branch. “Try again,” Don says. “Gilbert Bay, this is Dickens on Channel 3. We’re ready for pickup.” Too tired to stand, I squat on my haunches, not wanting to sit on the cold ground. Mud streaks one side of Matt’s face and a red welt rises on the other side where a branch smacked him. A spray of wood chips laces Don’s shirt. “So where are they?” Don asks. “Call one more time,” I suggest. With a burst of static, the radio comes to life. “Somebody calling Gilbert Bay?” It’s Walt, the helicopter pilot. “Gilbert Bay, this is Dickens on Channel 3,” Matt pauses for a moment. “We’re ready for pickup.” “There’s a problem at our end,” Walt says. “I’m getting some kind of warning light in the cockpit, and I can’t fly until I get this sorted out. I’ve been working on it the last hour so I didn’t hear your call.” “So what does that mean?” “You need to hike back to camp,” Walt says. “Shit!” Don rips the hard hat off his head and Frisbees it into the woods. It sails through the trees, careening into a spruce before disappearing in a blueberry thicket. “So what’s the plan?” I ask. “The plan is,” Matt looks me in the eye, “we walk.” Matt looks off in the direction of Don’s hardhat. “You’re gonna need that.” “I know, but it’s a solid six miles to camp and I’m packing this goddamn saw. Monty, you saw where the hardhat landed, didn’t you? You get it,” Don demands. “You threw it, you get it,” I respond. “Don, get the damn hat,” Matt cuts in. “Let’s get this show on the road.” Don grumbles and tromps off into the tangle of green. “Found it!” Don holds the hard hat triumphantly aloft. *****
The three of us are a Forest Service timber sampling crew working in the depths of Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. We are so far off the grid we might as well be on another planet. Don is our faller. Aside from being our boss, Matt measures the cut trees in the plots we sample, and I’m the “go-fer” who packs the who packs the .375 H&H magnum for brown bear protection. I struggle matching these woods warriors passing through the forest with the ease of animals. Don is short with a body of coiled muscle and Matt is tall and rangy. It’s a long walk back to camp and I wonder if I can keep pace. Trees tower over me, blocking the sky in a dizzying kaleidoscope of green canopy. I’ve worked with these guys for six weeks, and it isn’t always a ton of laughs. I’m new to Alaska and while I’m here for the adventure, the money’s not bad either. The hard part is fitting in with my coworkers who show little tolerance for rookies or in my case—a “flatlander” -- since I’m from Indiana. I zip my jacket in the chill of early afternoon. “Which way?” Matt hunches over, staring at the aerial photo. To me, the photo is a blank page filled with blurs, and light and dark areas. Some parts are easy to spot: lakes, the coastline, and mountain tops, but to divine a route avoiding acres of downed trees, steep ravines, or beaver swamps takes skill and practice. When it comes to maps and photos, Matt “sees” the subtleties in a slope or the slight change in tree size. Transforming these flat objects into three dimensions in his mind, it’s like he mentally walks the route before ever setting foot on it. Matt’s focus is on getting our sample plots done before field season is over. He presides over a small camp of people laying out a timber sale: surveyors placing wooden stakes for potential roads, crews marking harvest units, and us. I see his steadiness and calm, laying out everyone’s work and managing camp logistics, and I can’t tell if he enjoys the job. His dark eyes reveal little, and there is no tolerance for slackers and whiners. I want to see my boss let loose, but his smiles are rarer than a sunny day in Southeast Alaska. Matt points to the photo, “I think we should get to the beach where the walking will be better. We’re gonna work our way through the woods for a while instead of going straight because the short way is hellish and my way is just plain shitty.” “I think we should go straight and get this over with,” Don suggests. “Or just hole up in the woods for
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 the night until the chopper gets us.” Don is like an AK47, safety off and one in the chamber. He’s contracted to fall trees—period—and does as little in camp to help as he can. It’s like being around a downed high-tension line. “Too steep--the chance of someone getting hurt is higher the short way,” Matt says, “so that’s out.” “What about holing up?” “You ever been stuck in the woods before?” Matt asks. Don readjusts one of his suspenders. “Once.” “How’d it go?” “It sucked.” Spending the night in the woods doesn’t foster fond memories for me either. Years ago, our Boy Scout leader got lost, and we hunkered under our ponchos for the night while a thunderstorm flashed, and a cutting rain strafed us for hours. To cover his ass, the next day he told us it was “emergency bivouac” training. Under the best of circumstances, a night out without proper gear in Alaska in mid-October will be cold, sleepless, and definitely miserable—even if we manage to keep a small warming fire going. “What do you think we should do, Monty?” Don asks. “I’m with Matt; I’d rather keep moving than camp out.” “Besides,” Matt adds, “there’s no guarantee the helicopter will be fixed tomorrow.” “Oh alright, I might as well go with you guys. I don’t want to freeze my ass out here alone.” We walk and tendrils of heat work their way back into my body after the long break. The first stretch follows a deer trail meandering along the base of a long hillside before ascending and dropping to the other side. In places, trees crashed across the trail, forcing us to route around them, often into layers of brush before we are back on the trail. As we wind back up a long hill I’m in a stand of immense trees with a clear view through the woods—a rarity in a verdant rainforest—and stop to take a 360-degree picture for my memory. It reminds me of why I came to Alaska: Old Forest
awe-inspiring trees, luminous snow-covered mountains, and vast stretches of wilderness. “Hey, break time is over!” Don’s voice cuts across the gap between us while I am tree-gazing. I hurry to catch them and Don offers to Matt, “Mark this place on your photo for a future plot—there’s a lot of volume to cut here.” That’s Don’s thoughtful way of erasing my memory with his chainsaw. The trail evaporates and we are in a clawing lattice of blueberry with several large fallen trees. The pace slows and my breathing gets heavier as I grab and push brush, looking for the path of least resistance. An occasional “shit” or “fuck” comes from Don who has the worst of it carrying the chainsaw. Matt and I grunt periodically before I get yanked to a stop when my rifle sling snags on a branch. Matt’s hands are white and shriveled from the damp cold. There is no talking—it is
just a slow onward surge through the vegetation. I bump into one bush and it dumps a load of cold water down my neck; it seeps past my shoulder blades, leaving a damp spot by my belt line. “Damn.” Finally, we find a well-worn deer trail and break into an opening in the forest with small bonsai-like trees and waterlogged ground—better known as a muskeg. The route follows a game trail and the deeply imbedded tracks of bears leave unmistakable flattened depressions in the moss where paws have been placed for generations. About halfway across the muskeg Matt stops to review the photo. “Don, drop your saw here. We’ll come back for it when the helicopter can fly.” “I’ve never left my saw in the woods—ever.” “Do you want to pack it another five miles?” “Not unless I have to.” “This is the only muskeg big enough for a chopper to land between here and the beach,” Matt says. “It’s now or never.” “What about the three of us switching off with the saw? That way nobody will get tired. Monty can take it first.” “We need to move fast and that saw is an anchor no matter who is carrying it.” Matt takes off his hardhat and scratches his head. Don looks around the woods for a few seconds and plops the saw on the ground. I’m thrilled not to sling the heavy Stihl chainsaw over my shoulder. “Well, I guess it’s settled.” Matt pulls a roll of
CIRQUE fluorescent orange flagging from a vest pocket. He hands me flagging and points to a scraggily pine in the middle of the muskeg about 30 yards ahead. “Flag the hell out of that tree over there. Make sure it’s something we can see from the air.” Shortly afterwards, we find ourselves on a bluff’s edge and slant down it, moving along a distinct game trail. The angle steepens, and we hear water rushing far below us. It is not much further before we stare from a rocky outcrop overlooking a deep ravine. Not really a cliff, but a lot more than a steep hill. Matt bites his lip. “Wish I had a Jan Jung rope in my pack.” The drop is so sharp we can almost walk out on the tree tops below us. Matt says to Don, “How’d you like to be packing a chainsaw there?” “No fuckin’ way.” “Any other route?” I ask. “Believe it or not, this is the least of all evils.” Matt cinches his shoulder straps. “Just take this slow,” Matt tells us. “Don’t crowd, and pass the rifle to the guy below when you need to.” Don goes first. He tests each foot hold before putting his full weight on it. There are roots and he grabs a small tree on the way. “Good so far.” I follow Don’s route and lower the rifle to him at one spot where I need two hands to hang on to the slope. I wish I had three hands and four legs and make a point not to look down. Soon, we are standing on a small platform at the base of a tree—the only place flat enough before continuing. Don leaves the ledge to create a place for Matt, and maneuvers along a wall of moss-covered rock. There is no space large enough for us to take a break so Don continues down. I watch from above and mimic his movement. I see a small seep oozing from the ground. Don takes one step and I hear a Whoooaaa! from below. Luckily, Don catches himself with some nearby branches and comes to a stop eight feet below the slip. Don cups his hands to his mouth and yells over the din of the creek, “Slippery—watch that spot!” I consider my options. Farther down, the creek
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 is a blur of white like a never-ending freight train. For a second, a wave of dizziness flashes and my stomach roils like it is ready to flip. I head left and am surprised to find a small series of hand and footholds, not visible from above. In a minute, I’m standing next to Don, the shaking in my thighs subsiding. Matt joins us and we all look at the stream in front of us, running bank to bank with rainfall over the last few days. Upstream is a pinched ravine with a torrent pulsing like a fire hose. Fifty yards downstream the creek disappears over a ledge. Matt points up the ravine. “Look.” A large fallen tree spans the entire creek. Don sprints to the tree. “Just what we ordered.” He climbs the tree bristling with dead limbs and starts walking across, using the limbs like a handrail. Halfway across, a doormat-sized piece of bark slides out beneath his foot and he is in the creek bobbing and rolling, pushed by the current. Instinctively, I drop the rifle to the ground and charge into the water—over my boot tops— and latch on to Don’s arm just as he’s almost past me. I feel the current ripping Don away. Don’s fingers clamp around my forearm while my fist is full of his jacket. With one last heave, I lurch backwards and we stumble into the shallows of the creek. We’re dripping and adrenalinefueled, but know it will wear off and the cold will send in its cloak of hypothermia. I’m soaked to mid-thigh and ice water flows out of the top of my boots, and Don is drenched. His teeth chatter and he shakes like low voltage current is passing through him. Matt helps us to the bank. “Keep moving to get the body heat pumping.” He reaches into his pack, unscrewing the cup from a thermos and fills it halfway before handing it to Don. Steam hovers over the cup. Digging deep in his pack, Matt produces a wool stocking cap. He hands it to Don who pulls it over his wet matted hair. Matt looks at me and does a quick triage assessment: “You’re not that wet so you can help find wood.” Don stomps around, drinking, and eating a chocolate bar to stay warm while Matt and I search every sheltered tree crook and trunk cavity in the area for anything burnable. Matt rummages through his pack again and yanks out a Ziploc bag with a lighter, candle and a can of dried spruce sap—instant fire starter. A large pile of branches is gathered and Matt uses the candle to ignite the spruce sap. It burns hot and steady as we place branches on the growing flames. Don is practically
35 standing over the fire, not wanting to miss one BTU, smoke curling around him and steam rising from his wet clothing. I sit on a damp log, boots off and the wrung-out socks so close to the fire I smell singed wool. Staring at my prunelike toes, the warmth from the fire creeps back into them. Matt peers at his watch after 15 minutes. “Time to go.” Nobody wants to leave the comfort of the fire but there is no choice—it’s bad enough to spend the night in the woods, but to do it with wet clothes on a frosty night pushes the hazard meter in my head to “red” level. Only the rushing stream makes any sound. We kick the remains of the fire, grind it out with our boots and head to the tree Don fell from crossing the creek. “I’ll go first,” Matt says. “Monty, want me to carry the rifle across the creek?” I’m offended Matt isn’t confident I can pack the rifle across the creek. I’ve lugged the gun all over the woods for weeks and in a weird way, bonded with it and all the forms a rifle is carried: cradle, shoulder, onehanded, two-handed, sling, and everything in-between. “I can handle it.” “Suit yourself.” Matt is on the horizontal tree, moving gingerly from limb to limb, probing for any loose bark. Don follows and steps past the spot that sent him into the creek, looking relieved when he touches the far bank. I sling the rifle around my neck and stare ahead at each limb, careful to not get mesmerized with the creek hurtling past below me. When we are all across, Don hands me a candy bar. “I don’t know how long I’d be in spin cycle if you didn’t pluck me out.” Matt raises his eyebrows to acknowledge a rare moment; humility and contrition from Don are not qualities in large supply. This is the closest we might get to an admission of fallibility. I drink it in and savor it. Matt stands stiffly. “Probably time to push ahead. Let’s hope the rest of this bushwhack is less eventful.” Once we climb out of the ravine, the terrain flattens and light filters through the woods. “Thank God,” I say. “I see the beach.” “Well, it’s about time,” Don says. “Three hours of hell.” Matt checks his watch. “It’s 5:00 p.m. and the tide is coming in.” If we don’t move fast, the tide will push us right into the trees where the walking is much slower than on
the beach. I’m 50 yards ahead, walking steadily, my mind toggling between the blister erupting on my heel and the rifle sling chafing my shoulder. The allure of such a beautiful place is replaced with fatigue and the dampness from my clinging, sweaty clothes. It doesn’t take long for Matt and Don to catch me. We keep one eye on the approaching tide and the other on the rocks and sand in front of us. We need to travel a long arc of shoreline, cross a rocky point, then angle along the beach for another half-mile before we are at camp. At this time of the year it gets dark early, too. The forced march continues at a pace somewhere between a brisk walk and a half-trot. The threat of hypothermia held at bay—momentarily--by our rapid pace. We cross the treeless prominence and see water lapping at the rocks just below us. Don breaks the quiet. “I just want a big juicy steak tonight.” Nobody answers. “What about you?” Don asks. “I’ll eat anything they put in front of me,” I say. Matt chimes in, “I’m with you there.” Soon we are back on the beach, tide at our heels. We slosh through the water in our rubber boots as long as possible before it gets too deep and then move off the gravel and rock into the beach grass—our last haven before re-entering the darkening woods. The water edges into the grass with the tide and we plunge across a small creek. The radio surprises us: “Dickens, this is Gilbert Bay, over.” It’s a reminder that there are other people in this world, in this bay, and the comfort of camp is not far away after our grueling hike. Matt forages in his pack and pulls out the radio.
“This is Dickens, go ahead Gilbert Bay.” “The helicopter is fixed but it’s too dark to fly now. What’s your location?” “We’re just north of camp.” “Okay, shouldn’t be too long before we see you,” Walt says. “I’ve set out a lantern on the big rock in front of camp to guide you.” “Much appreciated.” “Tell them we want steak!” Don says. “I’ve got a pretty hungry crew here. Hope dinner’s ready.” “Dinner will be waiting. See you in a bit. Gilbert Bay out.” “You should have told them we want steak,” Don adds. The tide pushes us into the narrow space between the scrum of alder marking the beginning of the woods and the last of the tall beach grass. The grass hides logs and chunks of driftwood half-buried in sand. In the diminished light it’s a minefield we pick our way through, half by sight, half by feel. We cross a small spit with a copse of young spruce trees and see the lantern not far in the distance. Our pace quickens once again and Don bustles ahead of us. “Take it easy or you’ll break a leg before you make it to camp,” Matt cautions. “But I’m God-damn starving,” Don says. We stumble through the dusk for another few minutes, the ground turns sandy, our footing improves, and then the scent of a barbecue hits us. Don runs full speed and disappears into the clearing at camp. Matt’s disembodied form in the fading light says, “Race you to camp?” It’s a nutty thing to do but maybe Don inspired a little crazy in us. The twin horsemen of fatigue and hunger do their job. “You’re on.” The lantern is a charged speck in the distance as we race off in its direction, our arms wind milling, raincoats flapping, packs bouncing on our backs, as graceful as two charging water buffalo. Collapsing on the ground and laughing in the flicker of light, we gasp for breath. A side of Matt reveals itself as subtle as a window curtain slowly parting. I no longer feel the nagging blister on my heel or my boulderheavy thighs. For me, at this moment, we are truly a crew—and for once, I am part of it. And I smell steak.
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Reach to the Clouds
NONFICTION Jean Anderson
Shadow Play: Writing Introspective Fiction in an ActionOriented Land Beyond our kitchen window, a flock of spruce grouse rests under the branches of a namesake tree, dark spots in the snow, round shadows like miniature soccer balls. One is fully exposed, basking in February morning sunlight while I wash breakfast dishes and ponder the use of introspection in fiction. Or try -- the visible one lifts its head, plumping soft-looking brown feathers -their sentry maybe? Are there four -- or five? The others seem asleep, nearly hidden under dark sloping branches -- if they really are grouse and not shadows or rounded curves of roots. My husband Don and I have lived in this house for thirty-five years, but this winter we’ve seen more spruce grouse than ever before, a few even landing on the deck above the snowy backyard to peck at sunflower seeds dropped from the feeder by our old friends the chickadees. For decades we saw none, almost no grouse at all. This year, complicated curves of grouse tracks crisscross the yard like rows of cable stitch on a sweater. Their paths are dominant among moose-track postholes driven deep and a line of straight, seriously-on-course, top-of-the-snow small prints edging the whiteness that borders the woods, which I think is a path left by a fox. And, rather than staying on mental task, I’m deep into thought itself, introspection, pondering wintry northern images, everyday sights of life in Interior Alaska, wondering now if bird tracks inspired patterns in knitting -- maybe embroidery too, and beadwork, tatting or crochet? Tents, I think for the umpteenth time, surely come from the useful image of a fallen sapling angled against upright trees, found everywhere in these woods. Last year a grouse flew into our neighbor’s kitchen window and splintered it; recalling that specific small disaster gets me back on track. Grace’s repairs were amazingly costly. Life in the north requires endless unanticipated and
complicated tasks. And ideas too, and probably always has -- for humans and animals -- tasks both routine and shocking, ideas changing with altered necessities and seasons. Sinking into luxurious thought like a warm bath not only frees me from the bounds of inescapable daily minor duties, it’s a useful way to try to understand this northern life I love. For me, understanding often begins with the written word. When Don and I came to Alaska in 1966, one of the first things I noticed was that this amazing place had almost no modern literature -- yet. There were adventure tales ranging back to Jack London, and powerful mythic stories from Alaska’s first people, wondrous examples of nonfiction, plus some very fine poetry, but nearly none of the rich detailings of humanlife-in-fiction that I love most, as found in Canadian, Norwegian or Russian literature: darkly beautiful stories gracing our northern world with splendid truths drawn straight from the cold. What seemed to be missing was not adventure or imagination, not action or history, but a deeper human context, that passionate soup of dream and love and loss and triumph that comes from what Eudora Welty called a ponder heart: the secret inner world of a well-drawn human. Writing may be, as William Butler Yeats has implied, the most introspective of art forms: the social act of a solitary man. Yet we humans -- all of us --are surely creatures of words, as someone else proclaimed, and that affinity for words must help to create a society, drawing on the human need to communicate. Maybe that sense of physical adventure which so strongly defines Alaska could benefit most of all from introspection, perhaps in as simple a way as basic contrast? Quiet thoughts -- even raging ones -- woven into well-shaped fiction might serve Alaska’s budding literature in powerful and beautiful ways: as pattern, as image, as lens, as voice, or even as a layer of nuance, linking action with formal aspects of vision. I pondered all that back in the 1960s. Recent decades have brought an amazing increase in fiction written by Alaskans. We now have emerging writers like the terrific Rosemary McGuire and Martha Amore, plus established “elders” like Kris Farmen, Don Reardon, Deb Vanasse, Frank Soos, Nancy Lord, Rich Chiappone and others. Possibly encouraged by small presses and journals, by regional awards and success on a national scale for a few Alaskans -- or by sheer population growth, bringing book reviews and reviewers, formal or informal courses and programs, writer’s conferences, writers’ groups, and maybe even the contagious effect of
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 good writing happening here -- we now have a growing body of Alaska fiction, including work found in longlived journals like PERMAFROST, ALASKA QUARTERLY REVIEW and ALASKA WOMEN SPEAK and, of course, appearing regularly in CIRQUE. Other literature builders have vanished: like HARPOON in Anchorage, Fireweed Press in Fairbanks, Midnight Sun Writers Conferences held during long-ago summers at UAF, and the distant encouragement of small presses like Plover Press in Hawaii featuring Alaskans. All these certainly meant a lot to me. I myself had wanted to write since childhood, and wrote a bit in my teens. But I didn’t try seriously until I reached my late 30s, deliberately choosing short fiction -- short stories, the form I love most: if -- finally -- I was going to try to write, why not write what I love? I’ve written, edited and published a bit since then, after earning an MFA as a mature student at UAF. So I’ve been at this task for decades, and the comment I still hear most often about my writing is: “It’s so introspective.” That’s said in praise sometimes, but more often as an opening for the helpful suggestion that there might be more action, more event or plot to “strengthen” the piece. As if I’d simply forgotten to include those crucial elements rather than purposefully chosen a different and beloved path. Maybe I’m stubborn by nature (and frankly, I’m also terrible at “plot”) but I’ve always considered intellect a fine human attribute, so I decided early on that I want thoughts -- introspection -- IN -- in my work. At its core, in fact: I was not about to weed out what I see as the heart of fine prose from my own writing. I told myself that repeatedly. But I do tend to take advice seriously and (maybe characteristically) ponder it. Recently this pondering has become an informal look at how introspection makes fiction stronger.
39 hold to a middle ground -- or shift poles and sites and styles within their texts. As yet another perhaps obvious principle, I’ve come to suspect that introspection is in fact a starting spot for each and all -- generative, home base: the writer’s mind and its “what if” stance an unrecognized structural ground we all build on -- a place of shadow play upon which reader and writer find footings. Nonetheless, as a practical fact, I’d say the advice people give is accurate: introspection works best on the page when it’s embedded in vivid action. Even quiet action may do, but interior monologues simply matter most when they’re found within action -- action that’s strongly felt and vividly drawn. So, if a character shares emotion-filled thoughts central to the heart of a piece -- value-laden musings, feelings at the root of things, thus part of subject or theme, truly thematic -- and also paced well, balanced, placed inside lively doings -- plunging us in, immersing us in interesting new situations -- well, then things move along nicely. Recent fiction by three Alaskans illustrates all this. In her novella Going Too Far, Anchorage writer Mei Mei Evans chooses a provocative title to immerse us in powerful themes. Going Too Far suggests not only the sheer distance of the 49th state from the rest of the nation, but also our state’s wilderness and our wide range of lifestyles. The phrase also hints at that sense of reinvention -- “finding oneself” -- which so many of us seek here, and see as central to an Alaskan identity. The title also suggests the fearsome possibility that taking risks and entering a new world may prove to be beyond one’s skill set or comfort zone. Yes, Evans offers a richly allusive title (Going Too Far, found in Building Fires in the Snow, University of Alaska Press, 2016, p. 262) and the novella’s first sentences keep the title’s promises, in scene, characters, and plot:
*** Starting with a few general principles, let’s first consider the suspension of disbelief, that basic “worldsof-what-if” starting point that’s most likely required by all of us, readers and writers. But next comes what I think of as two obvious and fairly basic poles of fiction, like the north and south poles, with gradations between. Some writers move strongly into action -- often embedded in history, invention, myth or fantasy; others (like me) set implicit goals of psychological exploration or structural experimentation (at times while seemingly entering the mundane world of “realism,” which I also love); still others
It was late in the day when Tierney and Robert crossed the Alaska-Canada border at Beaver Creek. They were both so pleased with their accomplishment that they decided to continue hitchhiking together to Fairbanks the next day, where Robert would apply for a job on the new pipeline and Tierney would look for whatever work she could find, wherever she could find it. She figured she was doing Robert a favor by hitching with him since guys alone or in pairs often had a hard time getting rides, and he definitely provided protection for her--everybody
40 knew what could happen to girls who hitchhiked alone. Besides, Robert had a tent, which was vastly preferable to the sheet of plastic under which Tierney had tried to sleep her first few nights on the road, before she met him on the Yellowhead Highway. Her body was coated with dust from the unpaved Al-Can, her hair so dirty that it had begun to clump. As promised now, in a clearing beside the highway, Robert snipped off her long locks with the tiny scissors on his Swiss Army knife, and Tierney loved the unaccustomed weightlessness of short hair. New look for a new life, she thought, patting her head happily before realizing how horrified her father would be. He was always commenting on her hair, “long and beautiful, just like your mother’s.” Robert’s hair was not a problem for him since his head was completely shaved, matching his clean-shaven face. After several days together, she still thought he looked a lot younger than twenty-three. […] Tierney thought Robert bore an amazing resemblance to the guy on TV commercials, “Mr. Clean,” except that Mr. Clean was some kind of giant and Robert was pretty short for a man, only slightly taller than she was at five foot five. In any case, his baldness was just one of the things about him that Tierney had begun to find irritating. Another was that he’d believed her when she told him she was eighteen. In her opinion, if he was really as old as he said, he should know when a sixteen-year-old was lying about her age. Evans’s style is clearly realistic, but also bold, fresh, funny -- and rich, strengthened by bits of vivid and useful introspection. In Tierney, a sixteen-yearold runaway, we have a well-drawn Alaskan-to-be, her thoughts giving this place authentic life: introspection illuminates and deepens Tierney’s world with sensory details, elements of plot, and hints of motivation, all characterizing her (and Alaska) in powerful immersive fiction. Homer fiction and nonfiction writer Nancy Lord creates similarly realistic prose. Lord is also a strongly thematic writer who definitely cares very deeply about the natural world, and like Evans, she gets her concerns down on the page quickly. Ray, a central character in her novel pH (WestWinds Press, 2017), is a scientist and
CIRQUE longtime college teacher / oceanographer studying ocean acidification (the pH of the title) and its harmful effects on tiny sea creatures. Ray loves Alaska and wants to protect it, putting him at war with his star-power colleague, Jackson Oakley. Their battle begins on pH’s first page: It was cold, standing at the ship’s rail that early on a September morning, without a hat. Ray’s annoyance at having left his wool cap in his cabin only added to his general peevishness about all things Jackson Oakley. “Puker,” he said to no one in particular, as the smaller boat approached their ship. “Huh?” Colin, as usual, stood attentively close--too close--as though mother-of-pearl wisdom would fall from Ray’s hard mouth and he would be there to catch it. “Puker boat. You know, what they call those sport boats that take tourists out fishing, and everyone spends the whole trip puking over the side.” He gave the gangly young man with watery eyes […Colin is Ray’s student…] a sort-of grin, as if to say: Not like us, serious seagoers doing serious work, nothing so trivial as slapping around for sport.... It had been just over a year since Dr. Jackson Oakley […who, characteristically, in this opening scene is escaping his dual professional duties of studying the effects of acidification and teaching students at sea by leaving on the “puker boat”…] came to campus and Ray still wasn’t sure what he did in the new Office of Ocean Acidification Science. […] In the elapsed year, Oakley had not, to Ray’s knowledge, spoken out about the dangers of ocean acidification. Jackson Oakley, Ray’s nemesis, has won big pay and a fancy office by suppressing science (possibly in service to huge multinational corporations…) rather than studying or teaching it, and Lord employs Ray’s voice, in bits of sometimes humorous introspection, to present plot, theme, characterization, and motivation -- plus troubling or often amusing warfare, as when Ray makes a visit to Oakley’s office, later (on pages 88 to 89): … [T]hen [Ray] was stumbling over more plush carpet into a spacious, brightly lit corner office with a view of birch forest dusted with
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the season’s first snow, a desk with multiple computer monitors, a small conference table surrounded by three chairs, a couch, and an ornate antique floor lamp…. Ray took all this in before sitting down in perhaps the nicest office chair he’d ever experienced…. (His own office not only lacked windows but smelled of formaldehyde.) When Oakley leaned forward Ray saw that his chair, squeaking, was black leather and chrome--a chair with a designer name, incredibly expensive, the kind you only saw (or imagined, in Ray’s case) in oil company boardrooms…. So, we’re off and running, with plot, characterization and theme, aided by introspection. Similarly, thoughts bubbling through a character’s head may handily (and, again, even comically) advance plot. Juneau Fairbanks writer David Marusek is also a valued friend (as both Nancy and Mei Mei are for me: one nice thing about writing in Alaska is that you do get to know other writers). But Marusek writes in a totally different vein -- as a science fiction novelist, a creator of universes. His latest novel Upon This Rock: Book 1, First Contact (A Stack of Firewood Press, 2017) brings science fiction, in the form of alien -- or maybe angelic -- invasion, to the humorously realistic Alaska-newsinspired tale of an enormous homesteading clan, the Prophecy family. The Prophecys look a lot like Alaska’s real-life Pilgrims, the family which made headlines in Alaska a few years ago -- but this big clan is invaded by aliens. Or maybe by angels. A central character outside the family, Jace Kuliak, is a bachelor park ranger seeking clues in the invasion, and he advances the novel’s plot when (on page 138) he thinks this: …Jace’s mind was elsewhere when he first spotted the light in the distance, and it took him by surprise. He stopped his snowmobile and consulted the GPS. The light appeared to be within his search area, and at first he supposed it came from snowmobile headlights. Someone had discovered all of his grid tracks in the snow and was investigating. But the light didn’t move and
didn’t look like headlights. He stood on top of his seat and opened his helmet for a better view. The light shimmered a little, was rosy at its center, and radiated pale violet streaks around the edges. No, not headlights. Then what? Jace’s heart began to pound…. He pulled the Ski-Doo to within a dozen yards of the strange light and stopped. A slender, glowing, translucent stalk appeared to have sprouted from the snow. It was taller than he, maybe ten feet high… and crowned with a tulip-shaped bell. Elsewhere, Jace has already revealed his interest in one of the Prophecy “children,” a beautiful and intelligent mature young woman, Deut (or Deuteronomy), who is being held nearly captive in her family’s remote compound, a euphemistic Alaskan “homestead” turned family-religious-cult. In the novel, Marusek tackles the daunting (and comical) challenge of giving voice (and interior lives) to multitudes of characters with wide ranging thoughts: pros and cons, Outsiders and Alaskans, Prophecy believers and secular enemies and/ or rescuers. In this task, introspection becomes a major
42 tool of fiction for Marusek, with thoughts woven into the family backwoods / cult-life helping to develop plot, aid characterization, give thematic advancement, and offer lots of subtext humor. Introspection can round out characters too, making them more real. Ray in Lord’s novel pH becomes more human when he wonders why nobody ever gets his jokes, or worries that he’s drinking too much, or wonders if he’s merely jealous of Oakley. Marusek and Evans, too, effectively use introspection to build characters, advance plot, subplot, theme and style, and to increase the innate powers of Alaska’s imagery. Maybe fiction of all types is shadow play, working to advance, question or search for truth -- in its ever-shifting, playful, abstract or profound and puzzlelike form. Or simply to add needed layers of nuance to its wordy essence. Within this larger inventive space, introspection may be oblique and thus employed for a quick sentence or two (as we see in the Evans passages) or steady: an all-knowing narrative voice hovering over things so silently that he/she/it seems invisible, but is nonetheless an actual form of introspection. We barely notice when it’s used this way, as a voice (which nonetheless is how we most often see it, I think) veering inevitably into characterization, theme, or subtext. *** Writers may choose introspection for experimentation of course, ranging back to stream of consciousness devised by masters like Joyce and Faulkner, and still employed today. It was my great pleasure to be on the staff at the 2018 Kachemak Bay Writers Conference in Homer, where three fiction writers on staff presented more forms and examples for inspiration. Diane Glancy, in recent collections like The Servitude of Love (Wipf and Stock, 2017) writes experimental short fiction, often about modern life among Cherokee Indians. Glancy’s funny, fresh stories are distinctly unlike anyone else’s (aided by introspection-as-voice, used to build characters and themes); she often draws upon or plays with structure too, bringing her values and unusual subjects to life. Jean Hegland’s amazing novel Still Time (Arcade Publishing, New York, 2015) creates fiction firmly based in “mind,” taking place almost entirely inside the head of a Shakespeare scholar experiencing Alzheimer’s. Her central character, John, sometimes cannot recognize people he loves, like his estranged beloved daughter, but he can give -- often humorously or poignantly
CIRQUE and sometimes amazingly appropriately -- pointed quotes from the Bard’s plays. The novel, like Glancy’s work in this respect, is an inspiring feat of realism-asexperimentation, including drawing strongly on memory and its loss. The keynote writer at the 2018 Kachemak Bay Conference was novelist Anthony Doerr, author of the bestseller All the Light We Cannot See (available in many editions). Frankly, I had to work hard to get into Doerr’s rich prose, and onto his stunning wave length, but seeing his work as a kind of magic contained within a framework of narrative cognition, helped me to appreciate his wideranging, global realism (which, I think, in this single novel spans the range of my proposed north/south pole analogy and other ideas explored above). Reading back into an early (also amazing) collection of Doerr’s short fiction, Memory Wall (Scribner, c2010), we find Doerr wholly immersed in cognition: memory and its grandeur and pain, its overarching life-giving power for us humans and its horrific loss; we also find this memorable quote, in the short story “Village 113”: What is a seed if not the purest kind of memory, a link to every generation that has gone before it? Doerr himself was friendly and down-toearth in Homer, generous to other writers and offering many ideas -- including the helpful notion of keeping the paint wet when you’re working on a daunting project in fiction. So, again, introspection can supply form, art, style and subtext. It can offer subtle or bold humor and expand or deepen the fictional universe in which it lives. It can give rhythm and music. And, finally -- often -- it can lift up and draw upon memory. Here, I’ll mention two of my very favorite writers: Lucia Berlin, a short story writer who was born in Juneau, and Ivan Bunin, a 20th-century Russian (who in his youth was friends with my all-time favorite writer, Anton Chekhov). Both Berlin and Bunin draw strongly on memory, which, perhaps like voice, may be the strongest traditional literary use of introspection (and again most unrecognized). Each led a fabulous (and often terrible) life: Berlin traveling across North America as the child of a mining-engineer father and an increasingly alcoholic mother. Detailed in her best known collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women (Picador-Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015), Berlin’s fiction includes wealth, poverty, passion, family, friendship and illness, plus what I suspect was a lifetime of playful or painful introspection, all shaped by memory -- with hard work and talent -- into stories that live on the page in vivid, clear, fresh American prose.
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 Berlin writes in a mode that’s sometimes categorized by the French as auto-fiction (or “self-fiction”): the narration of one’s own life, artfully told as fiction. But there’s no self-pity or self-absorption here; she’s a bold (and humorous) camera: witty, playful, full of fun, but enduringly deep -- never superficial. Bunin, who was similarly blessed and cursed by life, saw learned loved ones lose everything to a bloody revolution. He himself -- a hard-working scholarly writer and reviewer, editor and poet -- was hounded by crude tough-guy Bolsheviks he despised, who’d claimed political power. Bunin and his wife escaped the new Russia they saw as entirely brutal, to live in France in near poverty -- in exile from the country they loved while he wrote with vivid and passionate realism of a vanished world to which they could never return (see, among others: Collected Stories of Ivan Bunin, translated from the Russian by Graham Hettlinger, Ivan R. Dee Incorporated, 2007). Bunin was the first writer-in-exile to win a Noble Prize in Literature; his blessing and curse was, surely, to know a world destroyed but vividly preserved by his own life’s work in fiction.
Some works cited in the essay: Going Too Far, a novella by Mei Mei Evans, in Building Fires in the Snow, edited by Martha Amore and Lucian Childs, University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks, 2016. pH, a novel, by Nancy Lord, WestWinds Press, Alaska Northwest Books, 2017. Upon This Rock: Book 1, First Contact, a novel by David Marusek, A Stack of Firewood Press, Fairbanks, 2017. A Manual for Cleaning Women: selected stories, by Lucia Berlin, Picador - Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. Collected Stories of Ivan Bunin, translated from the Russian by Graham Hettlinger, Ivan R. Dee Incorporated, 2007. Human Being Songs: Northern Stories, by Jean Anderson, University of Alaska Press, 2017.
*** I’ll end with the repetitive notion that all literature surely builds on introspection: as a lens through which we see action; as a voice with which a character speaks and becomes real (and thus an aspect of characterization) or as narration (which can be a voice barely noticed: wallpaper) and thus also as background, context, subtext, humor, nuance, mood, music, or style -- and as theme (thus a means for a writer to build both ideas and passion, to create a fictional core) and -- with memory -- as a pathway-in-words preserving shared experience, human-life-in-literature. The various poles or realms of fiction do not necessarily mesh or cross, I think. But, like tracks in the snow, they’re all valid and strong and “real.” All are, perhaps, a useful part of any fiction lover’s game of shadow play, a means to enter other worlds on the page. Maybe introspection in fiction, in Alaska and elsewhere, is part of a grand universe of images: purposeful, enduring, rich -- and yet transitory -- like the paths spruce grouse leave in the snow, marking life and times and places we’ve gone or may yet go. [Adapted from a talk given March 5, 2018 at the UAA Campus Bookstore]
Josei En Fauve
From Brine: a memoir in oceans
The fire rages through the cruise ship. Flames leap from wall to wall, blaze up into the smoke-filled night air, lick the new paint into sizzling bubbles, and chase the small group of passengers into the dining room. Everyone else has left, jolted down the side of the ship in half-filled lifeboats, some tipping over and throwing their people into the water before they hit the surly skin of the Atlantic. In the dining room, lit only by the lights of the Christmas tree that, by some miracle, are still working, one of the passengers sits down at the piano and strikes up Silent Night. Voices are shaky. The bare arms of women are covered in goosebumps. Everyone’s hair stands on end. Men remove their dinner jackets and drape them over women’s bare shoulders. Perhaps they have seen pictures of the Titanic: they will be just as gentlemanly as those famous folks. Back away from the scene and look from afar. (The First Noel is drifting faintly across the sea.) Black water is all around you. Here and there a patch of oil catches a moment of starlight and gleams. You can see the burning ship, bright and tiny, as if in a spotlight. You’re too far away to see the deck rails twist as they melt. Flames shoot straight up and all you can hear now are faint calls for help from somewhere out in the darkness. You’re too far away to see your mother climb carefully down the swaying rope ladder. You can only imagine her gasp as the water takes her in. You are much too far away. * According to the Irving Berlin song, “the Atlantic isn’t romantic…” and I have to agree with him. Some people may find romance sunbathing among the toned, gay bodies of Provincetown, or splashing among the horseshoe crabs of Florida’s coastal waters, but for me the Atlantic spells out death. It is the one ocean I look at without seeing the surface: I see no colors of reflected sky or forest when it’s lake-calm and no massive rolling waves with their wild-horse manes when it’s wild. No—what I see is seabed and deep deeps, all filled with human bones. Although my parents both drowned in that ocean, their bones didn’t take up residence, but were hauled out
by a rescue ship and buried in a cemetery at Gibraltar. Nevertheless, I’ve always had an eerie feeling about the dead who haunt Atlantic’s 41 million square miles, and it was the great poet, Lucille Clifton, who helped me understand that feeling. Riffing off the traditional Gospel song, “…them bones, them bones will rise again…” she wrote: atlantic is a sea of bones my bones, my elegant afrakans connecting whydah and new york, a bridge of ivory… Whydah was a major slave trading post on the coast of West Africa, which exported more than one million Africans before closing its trade in the 1860s. More than a million exported does not, of course, mean that a million arrived in New York, since vast numbers died at sea or threw themselves, or their children, overboard rather than enter America as slaves.
…some women leapt with babies in their arms. Some women wept and threw the babies in.
No wonder, then, that Lucille ends her poem like this: Maternal armies pace the atlantic floor. I call my name into the roar of surf and something awful answers. Once I had pictured those piles of bones massed on the ocean bed, swirled hither and thither by powerful currents even at a depth of 12 or 13 thousand feet, I could no longer think of the Atlantic, much less look at it from a beach or headland, without seeing ghosts. Sometimes it would be a low cloud formation that resembled one of the mothers, rising up with her baby in the crook of her arm; other times a miasma seemed to hover above the enormous weed patches that float around: not sargassum, not sea holly, not Gulf weed, but markers in the brine that indicate, like the flat stones in my local cemetery, the underlying presence of the dead.
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1
Orientation Hui, try listen fast kine . . . You listenin’ or wot? Can or no can? Here he goes again. You see, my dad always used to give me these serious, life-lesson talks that always started off the same way. As soon as I’d hear those four magic words, try listen fast kine, I knew what was coming. But don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I hated his monologues – it was the complete opposite. He had this way of articulating his thoughts that always left me in good spirits. His tone would always start off somewhat calm, slowly mounting its way up to his grand finale – and that’s when I knew he was almost pau talking. It reminded me of the rise and fall of the tides at White Plains beach – but I was still able to stay afloat, thanks to his wisdom. Except the only liquid that was splashing on me were his salty beads of sweat. Although my dad wasn’t the kind of person who’d wear his heart on his sleeve, I knew he cared deeply about me. He just had his own way of showing it. In moments like this though, my dad would catch on quickly to my fish-eyes. Eh, now dat I got your attention, I wanted fo tell you sumtin,’ k. No, dis not da usual scoldings u get—da wun where I end up yelling by da end of it all. Dis is more of wun critical conversation wit you, boy—ho, how you like my smaht vocab usage ah? Sound like I wun college teacha or sumthing. Watchout LCC, I ready fo’ take classes! Bum bai I actually gon become wun educator li’dat. Nah, no ways bu—I no tink I ready fo da big leagues yet. Quite frankly, my dad would’ve been a perfect educator. He had an aura that would uplift and rile those around him to engage with not just him, but with each other as well. He always made it a point to make sure everyone’s voice in our family was heard, no matter the circumstances. He constantly tries to downplay his ability to teach, but it’s obvious that part of him still wishes he chose that career path. Regardless, he was my source of wisdom. Fo now, I gotta stick to direct engagement, ah? To make sure
I reach out to folks like you cuz dose high makamaka pricks no even tink twice about giving you guys wun chance. Just cuz you my son, no mean dat odda boys not goin through da same ting. Shoot, I goin off track li’dat—wot you call dat, one tangent? Anywayz, wea wuz I? There was merit in his words – I’ve witnessed instances where resources and finances were directed more towards private schools and less towards public schools. Shit, I’ve heard of some private schools having their own writing center. But my school? Pssh, no ways. Not at Waipahu. Why? Because the private school kids were “farther ahead” than most of us public school kids. What does “farther ahead” even mean? Or look like, for that matter? K, so u stay feelin’ all discouraged cuz you neva get into college, feelin all sorry for yo’self. Let me ask you sumting. wot acting li’dat gon get you? I not tryin fo’ say dat you shouldn’t feel anyting—it’s okay fo feel li’dat. Da reality of it is dat you just got rejected. But he was completely right. The amount of discouragement I was feeling was at an all-time high. Granted, I was fully aware that I’d probably face more rejection in the future – whether it be from job applications, scholarship essays, or even asking a girl out on a date. But considering that this was my first major rejection, I honestly didn’t know how to act. I’d been moping around and feeling shitty about the whole situation. At the same time, however, where was acting like this going to get me? Rejection hurts, brah. I not gon tell you straight up dat it will be okay cuz sumtimes dat may not be da case. Fo sum people, dey may get over it real quick. But it might take sum time for oddas. Wot I tryin fo say is dat it’s okay to have those feelings. No wun likes getting rejected, k. Fuck, I no even like getting turned down. But u kno wot, shit li’dat happens all da time. Wot, you thought life always goes da way you want? No ways, brah. I’ll be honest, I needed to hear this. Shit, I think everyone who goes through rejection needs to hear this. Especially those who are accustomed to having things
CIRQUE put things on hold, to choose doing homework over hanging out with my friends and having to take care of my grandmother. There were so many times I wanted to head down to the Waipahu District Park gym to shoot some hoops and play volleyball. I’d have to suffer from the verbal shots of being boring – that’s all I’d hear whenever I’d turn my friends down. I felt bad but I had shit to get done. All of those moments served as detours and dead-ends. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through high school so far without the support of my grandmother or making sure I finished that assignment on time instead of blowing it off. You not stupid, k? I know dose private sku kids look down on you too, sayin anykine stuff like: oh, guys like you neva gon amount to anyting, you only good enuff fo’ community college and not wun real university, you only gon work da shitty kine jobs, da works. Screw wot those private sku kids stay sayin’ bout you.
go their way. Little did I know, this piece of advice would stick with me for the rest of my life. Not just because of its logic, but because his death stare never faltered while he spoke to me. Part of me thought, shit, how can you not even blink? Freakin’ sweat stay goin’ in your eyes. Must be sore. Not only that, his voice continued to grow louder and louder. But he kept on trudging on and I continued to soak it all in. It’s wot you do afta dat proves your resiliency—ho, how you like dat smaht vocab coming through again? No let sumting dis manini get you down, boy. I know dis might seem like it’s one big deal but try not fo’ look at em dat way. Tink of dis as one stepping stone. Da kine dat gon’ lead you to your next path in life. Life is not like wun straight climb to da top. You gon’ take shortcuts, hit dead-ends, take detours, backtrack, da works. Das wot life is all about. And get dis, you only one senior in high school. You get choke time fo’ figga yo’ shit out. Remembah dat, k? Life is not linear. Damn. I never thought to look at life that way but he had a point. If it was, everything would come so much easier to me. But like he said, nothing in life is easy. I tried to think back to all the times I had to
Sadly, I’ve been on the receiving end of those comments. In the summer of my sophomore year, I signed up for this writing session over the summer at Punahou. It was called the PUEO Program. I can’t remember the full details of it, but it was basically a program that assisted students with “academic potential” from low-income communities in improving their reading, writing, and mathematic skills in hopes of inspiring them to seek higher education. How can they even gauge what “academic potential” looks like? I’ll never forget the first day of class. The teacher started off by saying, “Look class, just because you’re public school students doesn’t mean you’re any less smarter than private school students.” Even though I was a sophomore, I immediately thought to myself, what the fuck did he just say? That line struck me because this teacher was already establishing the power dynamic between private and public schooled kids. Shoot, I know they’re more privileged at private schools but that teacher’s comments were like stuffing a spoonful of wasabi and bagoong into my mouth. Shortly after that, one of the teaching assistants made an ignorant comment that I’ll never forget either. “It’s sad because these guys will never be as good at writing as we are.” Hearing comments like that further shot my confidence down even more – but I tried my hardest to take my dad’s advice to heart. I shouldn’t let a few ignorant folks like them determine how successful I can be. Brah . . . lemme tell you, das all I heard wen I wuz at Waipahu
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 High sku. Ho, how’s Waipahu? Dose guys are frickin’ dumb, dey said. Da kine education dey get there is so shitty, dey said. In fact, Waipahu wuz neva really looked at in high regard. Wot dey call em? “Da Filipino Headquarters of O`ahu.” “FOB Central.” I heard choke kine names while growin’ up. But most of da peepo I wen graduate wit neva go college either. Waipahu High still had a bad reputation – at least not as bad as my dad had it when he was going there. Shoot, the chances you’d see a white kid attending Waipahu was slim to none. And the ones that did were from low income families like me. I still heard how shitty Waipahu was and how our education here was lackadaisical. But you know what, it was far from that. Waipahu was trending upwards and as a student, you could see how the administration and faculty were putting their time and effort to improve the conditions of our school. But what can you do when negative stigmas are tossed around like a football? So wot? Dat no mean dey not successful ah? Some of dem stay making good money AND dey just bought dere own house. Success not defined by goin’ to college. You guys only been taught dat college equals success. But lemme tell you right now, success can be achieved in many odda ways. By this point, my dad’s voice reverberated throughout the garage. It was so loud that I was pretty sure our neighbors could hear him too. Cuz da fact of da matter is, college not fo’ every wun, brah. But becuz dat mentality has been forced into you since you wuz young, it’s easy fo’ tink you wun failure. Dat you neva gon make it anywea in life. Dat you neva gon be betta dan dose private sku kids cuz dey always get da good kine opportunities. The only path to success was going to college. That mentality was instilled into us for as long as I can remember. Not once did I think that there may be other paths to success aside from college. It reminded me of my dad’s earlier comment of how life isn’t linear. It’s the same thing with achieving success – the path towards it isn’t going to be linear. And if college isn’t your path, that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve success in other ways. I know me talkin’ to you bout dis not gon change yo’ mind right away. Das not da point. I tryin fo’ let you know dat it’s
47 okay to fail. And not just wit dis. It’s okay to fail in all aspects of life. Nobody perfect. No let dis wun circumstance set you back. Shit, I bet you probably neva even experience rejection li’dis before either, huh? If das da case, take da time to feel down about em! College might not be fo’ you right now or maybe not at all. My advice to you is fo’ take couple steps back, but not too far back ah? Once you do dat, start lookin’ into odda options. Da military. Dey can pay fo’ your sku. Or even start applying fo’ jobs and see wot you like do. Evaluate all da options you get n den move forward from dere. Shit, you might even end up goin’ to college after all. It just might not be now. Main ting is, you gotta keep yo’ head up. Dis not da end of da world fo’ you, I promise you dat. You still young, get choke opportunities waitin’ fo’ you out dere. It’s up to you fo’ take advantage of em. Even if dat means movin’ one step at a time. By the end of it, my dad’s glare was still locked onto me – only now, his beat-up Daiei tank top was completely soaked along with his face covered in even more beads of sweat. This didn’t distract me that much though. I took his message to heart. There was a need for self-reflection, a need for introspection into who I was. I just didn’t feel confident enough to do it. Sometimes, you need a push –whether it be a slight nudge or a shove into the deep end – support can go a long way. He didn’t expect a response from me – he always remained silent after giving me these long talks. He sat there solemnly for a few seconds, gave me a hopeful smile, and got up and gave me a light tap on my shoulder before getting up to leave for work. I watched him drive off until I couldn’t see him anymore. The trade winds were coming in strong that day, as the breeze blew towards the direction my dad had driven off in. The sky was overcast but pockets of sunshine broke their way into our neighborhood. I continued to stare off into the street – with all its stop signs, pot holes, and construction being done, my father was still able to make it through this street for as long as I know. Perhaps that’s what he wanted me to do, to find my own street and navigate my way through it: to let the winds guide me, the pot holes to challenge me, the stop signs to reflect, and the construction to find an alternative route.
CIRQUE The very ones now curled around my father’s index finger.
The Individual The Individual of or for a particular person; adjective The individual is best defined as the summation of one’s life experience; the dense, fibrous, inner-workings of one’s mind, body and spirit. It is, quite simply, a tumultuous lifesentence. The Spirit the quality of courage, energy, determination or assertiveness; noun The wall of our motel was covered with pineapples and tiki heads. I’m not kidding, the place was straight out of Blue Hawaii —containing just the right amount of kitsch. The stench pulsated. It was filled, piled to the ceiling with dirty towels, dirty socks, dirty sandals, restaurant menus, bathing suits, gift bags, scattered suitcases and a few, lonely paperback novels, soaked in sun and salt. The mess pushed air out of the room, and the anger twitching in my father’s brow raised the temperature a few centigrades. Aching for breath of clean, cold sky, I sat, silent in the far corner of our cluttered chaotic. Stationed on the eastern wall, a large poster of Marilyn Monroe, lounging on a white sand beach in a dreamscape not far from our own veranda. She was, in those days, my perfect woman. My father’s hands, white dinner plates crisscrossed with time and work, held my glasses. My very first pair—they were small. Small enough to perch on the end of my nose. I remember sitting in the back of Mrs. Thorpe’s fourth grade classroom mesmerized by the chalk’s blurry abstract. My teacher—the magician, wrote secrets in a sporadic swirl. Not long after this phenomenon, I was fitted with fuchsiapink-cat-eye-goggles.
He thundered, crushing the will of my mother, who sat, wilting in the adjacent corner. His voice gobbled the remaining air, filling each crack in the ceiling, and stretching to each corner of the room. There were words, I am sure, though they are long forgotten now. Miss Marilyn smiled quite prettily into the infinite oblivion. She curved in at the waist, frozen, a captive to her beauty. My gaze caught the glasses, tiny, pink, frail, idle in his grasp. In the space between my heart and lungs, a crack of independence rose, coating my throat and encircling my tongue. It climbed, licking my ears and cradling my jaw, aching to breathe, begging to expel my misguided, teenage rebellion. I held it tight in my cheeks. In one motion, he shattered the frames, bits of glass splintering to the floor. I exhaled. It was silent. The room vanished in a technicolor-tiki-abstraction, the scene too muddled to see clearly. The Mind the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought; noun I sat on top of my desk that day in English class. It was strange, admittedly, but my teacher didn’t mind. His other students minded of course, but that couldn’t be helped. My fingers and nose were smeared with ink—the black pitch of creation dressed my wounds. I decided to write. After class, I bombarded my teacher with half-written testimonials and love letters to the sky and proud reclamations of identity and hate mail. It was grey outside. The clouds, sullen windows to the sky, framed my sullen existence. In his kindness, he urged me to continue. I had taken to poetry— see, I had learned you could whisper your secrets to universe in only a handful of words. Hence the black scrawl, racing across my notebook and lining the curve of my wrist. Cradled in my lap, the testimony of one man, poet-father,
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 who inspired my odyssey—Mr. Allen Ginsberg. “I could get fired if anyone knew I gave this to you,” the teacher whispered. (The book featured some particularly graphic depictions of the male genitalia and tumultuous lovemaking.) I carried it with me, under the bleachers during our homecoming game (we lost 60-7), on the sidelines during my brother’s little league finale, and most notably, during Mr. Bernard’s unshapely geometry class. Swimming in the stories, swimming in my self-doubt, I worshiped the language and with the man who had flowered from madness. I was illuminated, in awe of his great, undeniable escape. A Creator. Perhaps, like myself. The Body the physical structure of a person or an animal, including the bones, flesh, and organs; noun The date is September 4th; the time is approximately 1:37 a.m. the year is 2016 I am awoken to the haunting melody of betrayal. My friend pounds the spirit, the tenacity, and the strength from the shell that remains of my body. His cold, uncaring fingers burn the pieces that remain. My tormented fibers freeze in disbelief, straining for the finish. The moment stole my breath, continuing in its slow, methodical procession. It felt like ages. The date is December 22; the time is approximately 4:56 p.m. the year is 2017 “You should be careful; those things are permanent you know.” My mother, voice laced with disapproval, sat across from me. She was, in those days, my perfect woman. Her shoulders were set, rigid and sturdy, against the wailing of my rebellion. Near the bend in her arms, hitchhiking soap suds settled— her blouse a casualty to the kitchen’s every whim. “You should take more care with decisions like that,” my father translated. Allowing my mother this grace, he had, in the previous evenings, given way to her in a loving stride.
They spoke to my sunflower, etched into the garden of my skin. I was quite proud, the tattoo a permanent reminder of my perfect-excellent-lovely-sunflower-existence. “Tell me again why you did this to yourself?” she demanded. I was stationary, solid against the wall of words pressing against me. What were they going to do, wash it off? “It’s based on a poem. A poem about sunflowers, by this poet I like,” I said. Melting in my seat, I tried to tell her how this voice had breathed on the page, painted stardust in my hair, and saved me from an empty, bleak oblivion. That I, in a dress of dust, a veil of darkened railroad skin, had found salvation in the persistence of a sunflower, trapped in language and time. I had cracked open my soul, shown the grisly red to the stars, bleeding language and independence, twitching at the touch of a poem, dense in meaning and doubt. “How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?” asked the Creator, Mr. Ginsberg. “Who?” “A poet Mom.” “You did this for a poem?” “Yes.” “Why?” “Because those words are important to me.” “Will they matter in fifty years?” “How can anything?” She was silent. Light glinted off the grey in her hair. Time had dismantled her smile. In a single frame, she had chipped away at the womanbravery I had claimed as my own. “Maybe that’s the point,” I finished. My stomach, rooted in misery, marveled at the miles between us. The Resurrection the revitalization or revival of something; noun On a fire escape—miles from my mother and the bay, and
the shelter of familiarity, I am enveloped in the warmth of my city and licked cold by its breath. I am solitary, under the eye of the moon. My mind, like most, is fractured into bits of wonderment, violence, audacity and creed. So, tonight I’ll walk, voice of Creation in my ear, and female-woman-madness in my bones. My reflections: 1. I despise this skin, this coffin of mine, holding life I try to worship. 2. Etched into my form, his thunderous hands. The Man who claimed me. Rootiped fingers forever digging into my skin, hunting for bone—vines of flesh and madness and desire and need and sin and salvation and submission and solitude eternally encircle my spine, hand and tongue. 3. With a notion to drive and a penchant for cigarettes, I am in fact, a tightly shrouded mass of woman. In conversation with the sky, I ask of its wisdom: Teach me to strangle this city, battered and strange, as it coaxes from within my throat canned music, and horrible bouts of emotion. It replies: Fuel for the soul comes in the form of darkeyed womanhood and knowledge and creed and cynical, thoughtful boys and madness and moonlight and the brazen ramblings of your pen, nearly out of ink. It follows in my wake, this frigid femininity, aching to know which direction to turn. Through its thin silence, I am forgotten, swimming in the luminous existence, marveling at the daisies, the Men, and the sunflower all lining the battered tenacity of my path. Previously published in BlackList Journal, 2019.
Two Part Harmony
I Was Raped Yesterday I was raped yesterday. Yesterday sounds more realistic than today. How could I have gone about my day if I had been raped today? I repeat the words, silently to myself as I walk home. As soon as I get home, I say it aloud for the first time, just under my breath. “I was raped.” I say it a little louder in the shower. I keep practicing saying those same three words. They sound so different out loud than deep inside my being. Some day will be the right time to speak those words to someone. The right person will listen without judging. There will be a perfect day to say those words, not a fun day, not a busy day, not a romantic day, not a day where someone needs me to listen to them. Not on a holiday or a workday. Not on a day when news articles say, “Why did the women wait so many years?” Not to a church leader who says, “children lie.” Not to a friend who will say, “but, you never said anything about it at the time.” I find new rules; I tell stories I feel are more important to share. Suddenly, I am one of those women who 34 years later wants to say I was raped yesterday, but I remind myself of those ominous words a boyfriend once told me about being a domestic violence victim, “No one will believe you.” So I stay silent. I go on a hike. I ride my bike. I hike a mountain. I read a book. I write a poem. I feed the homeless. I go to work every day. I go out to dinner with friends. I photograph whales and bears. There is never a good day to interrupt the rest of my life and say I was raped yesterday and then politely listen to the comments I don’t need to hear. I found it hard to believe I had to wait in line to get a seat assignment. At the other train stations, the seats were all first come, first serve, so I arrived at the Los Angeles Union Station early to get a window seat. My backpack was heavy on my shoulders standing in line. It seemed each person was having a fifteen-minute conversation at the ticket counter. I hoped I would get a window seat. My train wasn’t departing for two more hours. The slow line was okay; there was no rush. I shifted the weight off of my bad ankle, which then meant my opposite hip would ache from a nerve being pinched if I stood in place too long. “I’ve never ridden a train before. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” A young man, nicely dressed
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 in a business suit, seemed slightly distressed, waiting for my answer. I asked him where he was headed and found out he was going to be riding on the same train I was. I felt a little embarrassed, in my wrinkled travel clothes, chatting with this lost businessman, wondering why he was wearing a suit on a trip that would take him three nights. I explained what little I knew about the process of getting a seat assignment and how we were then to wait in the cordoned off area until we would all walk together to our train. I listened to his story of heartbreak and the spontaneous trip he was taking across the country to spend Thanksgiving with his family. I could have interrupted his story and told him 34 years ago I was raped on this train, but instead I told him the sanitized, official version of my trip that I had told my family and friends; this was my 50th birthday vacation. “I’m going to buy something to eat. I haven’t eaten all day. Do you want anything?” I shook my head no and watched Mr. Heartbroken as he walked to the nearby shop. I was guessing his wife had kicked him out that morning with just the clothes he was wearing. He probably cheated on her. It really didn’t matter right now. I believed people were put into our lives for a reason. I appeared to be his designated friend for this time in his life. He came back with a large sandwich and quickly ate it. We compared tickets in the waiting area and our seats would be several Tucson Summer 1955 cars apart from one another. He continued to tell me how upset he was. I continued to tell him he was going to be okay and he was doing the right thing. You’re just visiting family. You’re just giving the situation some space. Let things cool down. You’re going to be okay, but I understand this is a difficult situation. My life was saved when my grandfather died and my grandmother asked me to go on a vacation with her. We would take the train to San Diego from Seattle, stay in a hotel with a pool for five nights and return on the train. I had never told anyone what my home life was like. I had heard teachers at my parochial school scold my
51 classmates who were tattletales, so I knew that I would be punished if I told anyone what happened to me at home. While my grandmother was reading her romance novel, I took a walk through the train cars and ended up in the downstairs café car. The five Marines playing cards asked me to sit with them. One of them kept winning, so he bought me a soda and said I was his good luck charm as he patted my leg. I didn’t want my grandmother to wonder where I was so I said I needed to go back upstairs to my seat. I was his good luck charm. The Marine kept reminding me of that while he held me against the metal wall of the train and raped me in the narrow space before the steep staircase. He grabbed my face and told me not to tell anyone or he would get in big trouble. I knew from reading Nancy Drew I should try and remember everything about him, but his nametag on his uniform was a blur. I hadn’t noticed the color of his eyes; all I could say for certain was that he was white and taller than I was. I could hear the four other Marine’s laughing around the corner as they continued their card game. When I got back to my seat, my grandmother was sleeping. I was in pain, but didn’t want to wake her. I didn’t want to ruin our weeklong trip that had only just started the day before. Just like at home, I thought of something to dream about to distract me from the pain. Tomorrow would be a new day I told myself. I added another rule to my list: wait until my grandmother Toni La Ree Bennett passes away before telling anyone I was raped while in her care. I wouldn’t want her to feel sad about our train trip to San Diego and staying in the hotel with the pool. Having a free newspaper delivered to our door every morning while we drank coffee together and I felt so grown up. Maybe she would have told me that at fourteen I shouldn’t have been hanging out with five Marines. Fourteen years after her death, I still can’t find the right day. Mr. Heartbroken continued talking; I continued listening. I gave him encouraging words at the appropriate times. It wasn’t the right day to tell anyone I was raped yesterday.
The Most Beautiful Thing A friend once asked me, “What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?” and I could never really give him a straight answer. To some people this is a fairly easy question. Some people say, “The birth of my child,” or they say, “the mountains at sunset,” but not me. I could never find enough words to describe how it feels to look God directly in the eye. So I forgot about the question entirely and years and years went by and then one day, out of the blue, I saw it. And that is how it happens. You don’t really ask for God, she just sort of shows up. Except it wasn’t out of the blue at all. It was more out of the gray, the gray dark skies of a morning in March, that was the month my brotherin-law died, the month everyone stopped what they were doing and came home, when all of the days swallowed themselves in one aching hollow cry. On this particular day my sister Cassidy was sitting in the red velvet armchair in the downstairs family room watching the E Channel. She wasn’t crying. There were flowers everywhere, flowers in the window, flowers on the table, flowers in the closet, flowers coming out our sleeves, our eyes, our throats. The TV was blaring on and on, something about the Kardashians. Cassidy was wearing her gray sweats and it reminded me of that time when she and Jimmy lived in the basement apartment in that building on Capitol Hill. She’d walk around in those gray sweats and Jimmy was kissing her all the time, and saying things like, “Guerra,” (white girl) and laughing at all her jokes. I went over to that apartment once when I was crying. I don’t quite remember what it was I was crying. I don’t remember what it was I was crying about but I remember Jimmy held me for a long time and Cassidy stood back and watched, her smile underlining the living room in a gentle easy glow. Now I could barely look at her in those gray sweats. I don’t know why but every time I saw her in them, I couldn’t help but feel that she was fragile all over again, a little girl in a woman’s body. She was staring at the TV, vacant. No one tells you grief is an awful lot like an acid trip or psychosis or sleep walking. You are disconnected but awake all the same. The worst part is the world keeps spinning. The
sun keeps rising and setting and people keep getting in their cars and driving to work and sitting in cubicles and driving home. You want to go out in the middle of the street and scream, “Everyone stop! Can’t you see my brother-in-law died?” but you don’t. You go about your business, finishing your classes or planning a funeral, all the while knowing you’ve seen something you weren’t supposed to see, you know something you weren’t supposed to know, and now you are left dumbfounded in the wake of your own ignorance like a child who has walked in on her parents having sex. This was just how it felt when I picked Cassidy up from the airport. After Jimmy died, she flew home from New York almost right away. I waited outside the security checkpoint and watched all the passengers exit their planes, greeting their family members, hugs and balloons, the way families do. I sorted through the faces of strangers, waiting and waiting for my sisters to come around the corner. For a moment I forgot it wasn’t the holidays. I wasn’t waiting for an aunt or a cousin. It was March and I was waiting for Cassidy, waiting for Cassidy because Jimmy had died. Then all at once there she was, my mom and dad on either side of her, Jimmy’s parents and sister, closely behind. She stepped through the exit and I pulled her into my arms and held her there like a precious unspoken tragedy, all five of my brothers and sisters surrounding us. The entire airport stopped to watch. This was the first time I’d seen my sister since hearing the news. I thought that by seeing her somehow my feet would land back on the ground, the gray filter would be lifted and I could see the world as it was, but it didn’t. My feet remained dumb, tangled. The black and white film kept rolling as if the whole month of March was meant to take place in a silent theater and perhaps the month of April too and June and July and August and I didn’t know when it would stop. I felt like there was music playing all the time, like I couldn’t shut off the elevator music. It was itching my ears, clouding my mind in a numbing white noise. When I saw Cassidy for the first time, I thought for sure I would cry. I thought for sure I would howl but I didn’t. There was no voice igniting from my throat, no whimper, no want. I could not gather enough moisture from the dark pools inside myself to form all the tears I ought to cry. It was the pools I worried about, the ones that hold of our deepest longings. I grew worried that perhaps I had no longing at all. Maybe life had dragged
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 me along far enough that my longings had splashed out and everywhere. All at once, I was left to draw from a well that had been emptied. Even as I saw her, even as she hobbled through the sliding doors effortless and defeated, tears tumbling from her eyes, I could not feel a thing, my face dry as a bone. Everyone tells me it will come. Everyone tells me I am in shock, that when the deadbolt slides the floods will come in and wash over me, a holy cleansing that will leave me more beautiful than I have ever been. But the deadbolt is still closed, has been closed, for a year now, locked. Even I do not have the keys. Months later my mom would tell me Cassidy drew a lot of strength from my strength, that when she was feeling the most vulnerable, she gathered nourishment from my steadfast backbone, my unapologetic eyes, a roaring in my voice that I cannot silence. I did not tell them about the well. I did not tell them about this hinged deadlock. There is nothing brave about not feeling. Sometimes I would watch my sister Amanda and envy her kindness, the way she gave her empathy so effortlessly. You ought to watch Amanda watch Cassidy. It is one of the most moving things you’ll ever see. You would think that Amanda was staring at the Sistine chapel, you would think that Amanda was sifting through the ruins of a decimated city. The way her tears spill, willful and generous, I could watch Amanda watch Cassidy all day. It teaches me, if only what love looks like, even when I can’t always know what love feels like. I have never cried for Cassidy like that but I can tell you that the other day on Capitol hill I watched a fourteen year old boy waddle to the bus stop and when the bus drove away the boy reached his hand out and shouted, “Wait!” and his voice squeaked into a hundred pitiful shards and just like that I started crying. Not because he missed the bus but because I watched the bus drive away from him and perhaps that is a snapshot of his whole life. He doesn’t look right. He doesn’t sound right. He’s not cool enough. I thought about that boy for weeks. He reappeared in my mind’s eye over and over again in the most peculiar places, the line at the grocery store, the drive on the way to work. I prayed for him more than I have ever prayed for Cassidy. I prayed he had parents who loved him. I prayed he had a group of friends that he enjoyed. I prayed he would have sex with someone at least once in his life. I suppose, it’s not that the well is empty, it’s just that my well chooses to spill at
53 the most peculiar times and for the most peculiar reasons. After picking Cassidy up, I remember taking the escalator down to baggage claim and holding her hand and not knowing what to say. “I like your shoes…” I offered. She could barely smile, “Thanks.” And I felt like such an asshole. Manners, manners at a time a like this. The luggage went around the belt and my dad, Jimmy’s dad, and my little brother gathered the incoming suitcases one by one. There were so many of them, filled with clothes and pictures and silverware. Cassidy sat beside me, pulling her large black sunglasses over her face and whispering, “Can you fucking believe this?” It was only ten months earlier that we’d dropped the young couple off at that same airport. “Good luck at Columbia!” We told them. “You guys are doing big things.” And that was the truth. They were. Cassidy smiled at us. Jimmy beside her and fumbling through an itinerary as she pointed at him and rolled her eyes, “This is my life now guys.” Jimmy looked up, a grin plastered to his face as he reached for the suitcases. “Come on Guerra,” he said. “We love you guys.” Now in the red velvet arm chair Cassidy was subdued. It was hard to tell what kind of morning she would have. Some mornings she would wake up howling and moaning, others she would be quiet or content. Once she came downstairs dressed to the nines, her blonde hair blooming into a mountain above her head. “The book says,” she explained, “to take care of yourself, wake up each day and choose an outfit, do your hair, feel good about yourself.” But out of all the mornings there was always one thing that we could count on. Every sunrise whether content or sad, or noisy or silent, or dressed or naked, Cassidy would come down the stairs and say, “I hate being awake.” On this particular morning she was quiet. All of her grief had settled nicely into the bones of her shoulders, the ends of her hair, the corners of her eyes. It was one of those days when she was only existing and even that was almost too much. We had gone out the night before. Cassidy asked to borrow one of my shirts, the blue one with the open back. “Yeah sure,” I told her. And we went to a bar on Main Street called, “Hannah’s” the one with the cover band and lots of dancing. I remember watching her on the dance floor and thinking it was funny because only one year ago we had danced at this same bar, in front of this same
54 band, and she had borrowed that same blue shirt and won a vibrator because the lead singer heard it was her bachelorette party. And that’s funny how some things stay, how shirts stay and bars stay and bands stay when everything else has changed. We didn’t quite make it to the end of the night. Cassidy asked us to step outside for some fresh air and when we did, she led us across the street and began to cry. We all crowded around her, my mom, my sisters, my cousin. “I can’t do it,” she said. My mom lit up a cigarette, “That’s okay honey. You tried. You tried and you did good.” We drove home listening to Elton John. “What do you guys wanna do next?” I asked. Cassidy was slouched in the passenger’s seat, her cheek pressed up against the safety belt. “Kill ourselves,” she muttered. “Besides that!” I shouted. And the entire car burst into laughter. And we drove home singing “Bennie and the Jets” and “Crocodile
CIRQUE Rock” but we didn’t sing “Candle in the Wind.” The next morning, we came downstairs one by one, with me being the last because I almost always sleep late. When I got there Cassidy was watching the E Channel. She liked the E channel because she said it required no thinking whatsoever. There was no real story to get attached to, no characters to invest in, no plot, no nothing, only fashion and boys and gossip, the only thing on television that didn’t hurt to watch As the E channel droned on my sisters and I settled amongst ourselves, quiet and resigned. My father was outside working on the lawn. We caught the reflection of him moving across the yard as he pulled branches, shoveled dirt, and trimmed bushes. This was our father on any given Sunday. We had memories of him calling us out back and announcing that we were to move this pile of woodchips from the patio to the fence. We’d all bust out in a harmony of wailing, “Dad! We just got home from school!” or “My favorite show is on!” or “I have to do my homework!” And every time he always said the same thing, “Come on guys! There’s six of us. If we all pitch in, it will only take ten minutes.” We had other memories of our dad in that yard too. We used to play dodgeball and we’d run, screaming like a fistful of giggles, from one fence to the other. Once I didn’t make it in time and I panicked in a frenzy, tripping over one of my bedazzled pant legs and gripping the nearest pine tree. “This is base too!” I shouted, “It is dad! It is! It is!” I still remember the way he laughed, the way he shook his head and said, “No…. no, Brenda.” Even now it is the same laugh. It is the same voice that cradles my name so easily. But there was something about that yard, something about him being in it and on it and moving through it that always made us feel like the world was all as it should be. On this particular day my dad came into the house for no reason at all. He was wearing those clothes that don’t belong in the house, those tattered blue jeans and that old, “Celebrate Life” camp T-shirt and dirt and dirt everywhere all over his hands, his pants, his shoes. And I remember he crossed the family room and crouched down on his knees in front of the armchair. When something holy is about to happen, everyone Jim Thiele
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 stops to watch. So all of us turned from the TV to see what my dad would do next. And he leaned forward and he put his forehead against Cassidy’s forehead and all at once he started crying. And that was it. He just cried and cried,his tears broken and humble and silent. We watched his bowed head, the feeble cracking of his armor. Cassidy began to cry too. And there it was, just the two of them, forehead to forehead, weeping. The funny thing is that The Kardashians was playing the whole time, going on and on in the background about shoes and clothes and clubs, but it didn’t matter. God was right there, in the corner of our family room. And we couldn’t bear to take our eyes off him. I remember Cassidy had her eyes closed. And she was drawing those tears from the deepest pools inside herself, the kind of pools we all harbor but don’t dare draw from. They were spilling down her cheeks, her neck, her collarbone. And then she did something, something that I have never seen a human do in my life. She reached her hands up and put them against my dad’s face. But she didn’t hold them there. She didn’t settle on his cheeks’ bones. She didn’t cup one of his shoulders, or rest her palms against his neck, instead she moved her hands about his face, tracing his skin with the edge of her fingertips like an old map. She moved along his cheekbones, his mouth, his eyes, navigating through the tears, she explored his entire face, the both of them silent, both of them eyes closed. What I love most is that he let her. He didn’t flinch or pull away or ask her to stop. She felt dad using just her hands and he crouched there crying. I couldn’t stop looking. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing except that I knew it was more than a wedding day, more than a birth, more than lovers, or father and daughter, or even sex for the first time. It was something else. They say that when you see God you recognize her immediately. Some people see him in church, others in grocery stores, some in bars. My mom saw God for the very first time in the woods behind her parents’ house. As for me, I saw him in the red velvet armchair, in the corner of our family room, on a gray morning in March. In truth I have been crying all along. In truth I have been missing Jimmy ever since he stepped out of his body over one year ago. It’s just that I have cried for him in misplaced, disfigured ways. There are some days when I am so broken that I
55 can’t even take a step without feeling the earth give way beneath me, days when I am so lonely that I long for my lover’s mouth like a child rooting for her mother’s soft heavy breast, when my body is so ripe for touch, that the thought of a stranger’s hands overwhelms me. When you have seen that which you were not meant to see, it takes months or even years to reassemble the pieces, to find those people who can gather you when you cannot always gather yourself. I remember one night Cassidy was sobbing inconsolable in the blue room upstairs. There were three of us on that mattress, me, my sister Chelsea, and Cassidy. Chelsea and I doing our best to hold what Cassidy couldn’t as she flailed like a toddler. “Jimmy wake me up!” she kept screaming, “wake me up, wake me up, wake me up.” The relentless begging in her cries as she arched and curled and screamed. Chelsea clung onto my torso in shaking sobs behind me. I held still for her and stared ahead at Cassidy in strong, sturdy patience. When she was done reeling, I reached my hand out in the darkness and placed my fingertips against the small of her back, moving them up and down again in gentle cascading movements. Cassidy’s body settled into whimpers and after a while she finally said, “that feels good.” I said nothing at all. Unwilling to stain the silence with my words, I moved my hand up and down, scratched her back for hours until she fell asleep. Sometimes that is all you need, those simple lingering moments when the emotion has drained and you are left stagnant and defeated. This is the eye of the storm, on some days this is what I can most hope for. Those tiny calming moments mean more than a job, more than a high GPA, or a good boyfriend, or a brilliant poem. Some days, being okay is my most prized possession. It is a blessing, even if just for a few moments at a time. The Buddhist says that the answer is in you and some people will spend the rest of their lives never knowing what that means. I know what it means. My sister Cassidy knows what it means. Those of us who have had the misfortune and the honor and the privilege of diving into the wreck know what it means. What they don’t tell you about grief is that afterward, everything is beautiful, every single heartbeat, every sunrise, every fat cell, every birth, every joke. You can barely look at anything without crying. What they don’t tell you about grief, is that just like that, all at once, your life and everyone in it, is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.
Stacks 2 Rodrigo Etcheto
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POETRY Kari Nielsen Amlie Two Poems
Christmas in Patagonia We lie in bed together on Christmas day— our rainy late afternoon siesta. You and the dog are both twitching; your hand grabs my thumb that rests on a hipbone. How many babies have we not made, together? Is this what you ask when the question is how many times we’ve made love? It’s the first time here, now, on this day, at this time, in this bed. Old rain stained the ceiling shingles. Old holes in the beams. Rough-hewn rafters. I won’t move to attain the peace of your sleeping. You had read some Polish poets while I slept. Some aloud, to wake me, softly, out of dreams. My head turned and pages flipped under a thumb as you lay there, like the dog, dreaming of chasing rabbits and hooved animals across the prairie and pampas. Mind is full of a novel. I long for this poetry, space, the page, sparseness, visible architecture— rafters, beams, shingles. Beneath this roof, I can hear the rain and feel your heart and your breath.
Circa 1908. Upper Tubal Cain Mine, Buckhorn Wilderness
10-Minute Lunch Break Poem Cut palm on the tip of a knife— the one you made for me— but the sheath for another. Not deep enough to gush, but went through palmskin. Electrical tape swathe over sheathe and wound. Sometimes connected to this land— rivers, granite talus, August haze in July— at others, backpack is the burden, mountains the knife. What is home? The cliffs with the last sun look like Patagonia of my life and Armenia of ancient memory— or so I want to believe— or will home be somewhere new, that we’ve never seen and never dreamed of? Like monasteries, mountains cannot be a whole life. Too many vision quests, too much asking for assurance, too much listening to self. I’d live by a lake with you.
After World War II We lived in our little house bought with something called the GI bill. We children made forts with brown army blankets, without quite knowing what they were. When I was eight years old I found something my mom called a “footlocker” in the corner of the garage. She opened it, brought to light to an airman’s uniform, told us Dad had flown a glider into occupied France on D-Day, lay all night with a broken leg wondering if the French or the Germans would find him in the morning. It was the French. The purple heart showed that he was a war hero. He and the other men who had fought in the war preferred not to talk about it, to put it behind them. I didn’t know then that the shrapnel still lodged in his leg would puncture our perfect peace. My father became a manager for a “motion picture” studio. One of my jobs was to iron the five white shirts, leaving no wrinkles: One for every day of the week. I’d watch him put a tie around his neck, a noose, then pull at the collar as if he was being choked. Bits of toilet paper still clung to the bleeding spots on his face, left by the immaculate razor.
My other job was to make my parents twin beds. The white sheets were covered by scratchy wool blankets, then satin quilts. My mother’s bed was easy. She slept quietly, folding down her covers like an unopened letter. Dad’s bed was torn nightmares, where he’d turned over and over, blankets not right. I felt his prison of civilization. On a beach vacation we children jumped the little waves. Mom lay sunning herself on a beach blanket. Dad went far beyond, into deep ocean, began swimming powerfully, arms and legs muscling forth like a strong mammal let loose from the coastal aquarium. Frantic Mom called for him to come back, and when he didn’t, I jumped up and down and screamed my delight. Sometimes, when he’d settled down again in our rigid life-especially when he started drinking himself to an early death-I wished he’d turned into a sea creature, kept on going into a wilder life.
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My Father as Daedalus I often imagined him inside the labyrinth of a warehouse, driving a forklift with a pallet of boxes, bottom heavy, towering to the top like a well-watered bush with just-trimmed hedges. Iâ€™d imagine him skillfully mapping each course in his mind, marking each spot meticulously before making his way toward the nakedness of a cement garden. Heâ€™d lower the pallets one after the other, creating as he went a kind of peristyle with varied pieces (sometimes two to six boxes high), terraces and courtyards,
footpaths with space enough for the shoulders of three minotaur to move through. But Daedalus was not my father, though the myth of him would grow in the tales I would tell the child in me waiting each bodily return, each evening escape from the labyrinth he made and remade.
the sea is a useless teacher, pitching and rolling
no matter the weather ...
Rolling waves fan out along the shore, as I wend through grasses and purple vetch, random patches of pine gradually hiding the cabin, the dunes accruing inches each year, the Columbia with its torrent of sand, clay and bark, dropping its gray cargo miles from the mouth. A bevy of gulls draws me, clustered about a mighty spruce or cedar, unearthed, laid bare in the tide. But no, a young whale, beached, two walkers say, Memorial Day weekend. Several gulls prance along its back, peck ruthlessly. Others, content with the aroma of decay, nestle in damp sand. The smooth forked tail, almost buried. A University extension team has come to study the remains, puzzled at this sudden breach. They have removed the head, slit the blubber in fourteen inch panels, seeking anomalies to explain this vast death. The gulls flutter closer now, claiming their mammoth find. A few waddle off to the sea, gulp and splash. In good times, in bad, the waves carry on their sea-worthy duty, protecting, then finishing what remains of life. In town, red signs warn of undertow, riptide dangers of a nonchalant swim, pronounce how to flee a tsunami. I circle this wind-blown carcass, while the visitor says better to die on dry land, than be singled out of the herd, lagging behind. Sharks out there. Later I learn she ate only plants: Minke whale, one of the smallest baleen whales who strain krill. All the fish were safe around her – sea perch, sunfish, young salmon. I was young once. My roommate stacked alternating towels of aqua and peach near the shower. A few weeks back we re-connected: heady exchange of roving stories, her handstitched quilts, my fever of poems, the son she adopted from overseas, the daughter finally caught in my watery womb. Thirty years, the waves went about their relentless swoon, pitching and sighing. She thought she had a bladder infection, drove to the doctor’s office, died after they cuffed her arm for the squeeze. This from her mother, who waits for the autopsy to roll in, the service already floating in the papers like a loose piling. News from Coos Bay, earlier this spring: jumping on a rolling log, a girl killed, selfie with classmates intact. She was only fourteen. Didn’t anyone warn her? Like a jelly fish, the quick sting of her picture. Happy, beyond fear, beyond her friends’ panic in the foam, the intractable log, intractable grief. It made me recall the Indochina youth lodged in their cabin, below deck, snapping photos of their sliding selves, as the ship’s captain dove into an ocean of guilt, having told them to stay put, the voice of authority condemning them to watery graves, their parents receiving these cell phone pictures, crooked on the screen. The waves eddy, and retreat, carrying coral and burgundy shells tossed from crab boats, wood planks that will dry, in time, in the coming sun. If you gauge the tides right, you can follow your own footsteps back to where the misty journey began.
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 Rachel Barton
Long Stint in King Salmon He called every day at the end of his fourteen-hour shift while his dinner thawed in the microwave or charred in the skillet. Sometimes he talked while he ate which was one of his particular talents and she would hear an occasional crunch or slurp, distorted over the distance as if to add extra consonants and muffle others. Sometimes the phone died and she would have to wait, would have to guess whether he was going to call right back or maybe take his shower first or finish his Salisbury steak. Was he snapping the ring off another can of Coke? Was he washing his dishes?
Salmon Swimming through Alaska Flag
Full Cowboy I have started wearing a cowboy hat. Just around: to parties, the bar, the grocery store.
She liked to hear his voice just before his head hit the pillow —his longing, as he began to relax, for all that was not work. To hear him sigh deeply brought him closer to her as if his pillow nudged hers, as if her long day ran parallel to his in a kind of tandem. So much relied upon his auditory cues, his inflections, which were hard to read through the telephone’s hardware. So she would imagine them, translating the clicks, whines, and pauses, like dolphin sonar, hoping to close the distance between them. Sometimes, she knew, when his work was all-consuming and his mind couldn’t leave the map and inventory of wires and outlets, junction boxes and flex conduit, that he sorted code against blueprint in his dreams.
It makes me feel good. I like to make slight adjustments by grabbing the curved top part. My father used to wear a cowboy hat, when I was a boy. Special occasions: the rodeo, County Fairs, the bar. He kept and rode horses, my father. The hat made sense for him. It never occurred to me a horse was something that needed to be ridden. So I guess it never seemed like an option, the hat. I must be the age, now, that my father was. When he had the hat. Horses have a proud nature and hate the wind. I never had children.
Markings My prophecy within parallel Whispered black ink directly above my heart Regard the end, in old words On my back so I know where to look Right on the blade where my rifle hangs from
A bumble bee in blue on a blue flower My right arm, in the inside so I can go to it when I need to It finds the most beautiful blossom for nourishment Creative in its search without question The red sparrow–it’s outlined upon my left forearm It’s analytical in its approach, yet does not share with me its reasonings But it is the first commissioned mark, and it is for me Then there is the band around my right ankle My lead foot, made up of a trio The Red, the Black, and the Blue It took hours, bloody in its scar The hunter of the land and his pain The warrior when he needs to be Great in his dutiful disdain The others are of pure flesh They’ve healed to a scar Each teaching a lesson Each in want, desiring to be the grandest mark of all in ending me A few almost had, but almost is a heavy word My nose is left crooked, giving my right eye the first look Yet I’m always dreaming with that side The reasoning left shuts and dreams with it Of all the marks I am to bear Without a doubt, these marks are mine
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Abigail B. Calkin
April in America, 1995 Fairweather Range, Alaska
Murrah Federal Building, Oklahoma
April 7 Three young men paddle past eagles cross Sitakaday Narrows—heaving swirls of ocean’s incoming tide—to head upbay. Aaron pulls Elijah in a red wagon past Zackary wiping Baylee’s tear as Chase and Colton stack blocks. April 11 They see a brown bear newly awakened from his winter’s sleep, hope they do not meet his cousin at Reid Inlet. Twenty young children sing Itsy-Bitsy Spider went up the waterspout as mothers and fathers type, file, meet. April 13 Three young men stash their kayaks, carry five hundred pounds— food and home up the side of the glacier.
Mothers or fathers kiss them, leave to work in offices, then return for lunch with their cherished gems of life.
April 14 They ski new snow over ice feel spring’s snow flurry against their faces, the steady pull of the heavy sleds on their shoulders.
A couple checks into a Junction City motel for his weekend at Ft. Riley. She sees Ryder truck in parking lot never moves.
Families are home that Good Friday. A father gives a ride on his shoulders, feels a breeze on his face.
CIRQUE April 16 Three young men ski Reid Glacier, tent on Brady Icefield in two degrees and 40 mph winds—climb and wind down and up crevasses.
Oh, Honey, did you make it for me this beautiful green tree with red blossoms as the child runs off with a giggle.
April 18 Summitted Bertha, can see the Pacific, bring Mom here some day, she’ll love this spot, he writes by sunlight that night.
You’re well enough to go to nursery tomorrow or perhaps I should stay home one more day…but the report is due…
April 19 Blizzard. Base camp one more day. We sang crazy songs tonight—Itsy Bitsy Spider as out of tune as when we were young! Blast at 9:02 9:02 9:02 April 21 Orville next! Let’s be the first to summit it. Eagles! Don’t you feel on their wings in this peace on earth? Do I empty their closet? How do I answer ‘Do you have children?’ What do I do with such abundant grief? Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
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Over green grapes housed in clear plastic boxes she tells me, We’re both
Hygge and Sisu in 3 Parts
widows now. She compared her 56 years of marriage to my 20, that her husband
told her he’d not die that day, but did the next. Widow. This label, I’ll not carry;
Like the wax on a gym floor we strip the hygge. Empty kitchen cupboards of the food
these grocery store conversations I abhor. Condolences offered, I ponder the red-breasted robin
we do not particularly like: crunchy granola bars, Mac & Cheese. In our despair, we high-shelf the candles in a closet, box up the unwritten Solstice cards. Blankets, unshared, collect the cold slithering through the crooked tooth gaps around the door. Loneliness
that one autumn refused to fly. In sun, it perched on the warmed rock wall. In squall it hid in the iris. Without a sound it one day disappeared. Without a sound my spirit nears.
III. Restoration rattles the windows. We want nothing more than for you to stride up the darkened road,
Once lost, can it be found? Violet flame, amber shade; does it all begin with candles?
cross the threshold between where you are and where we need you.
Look at my house. Its thinking chair with woolen blanket, worn slippers. Prisms Bingo blottering cedar walls, wood floors, eclectic in their frolic. Daughter and I read words from book piles to the cadence of rain, open windows wide to catch the breath of wind, of gust that lulls my solitude to sleep in the quiet sea of a bed at dead low tide. I can dash a wish on that flame: a hopeful return of laughter painting these walls, a someday warm hand to cup mine again. Hygge rebirthed.
Sheary Clough Suiter
On the Slopes of Châ€™an Mountain
All my life I have wanted to renounce this world of drifting clouds and restless chatter. To retire to a thatched-roofed hut where sun and moon rise from my window and set behind trees that have leafed out in their unrelenting cycles. In spring, I emerge from my shell, listless as a cicada, wet-winged and half blindâ€” Horned Peak
inch my way across rain-soaked ground, fissured by earthquake and the radiant path of snails.
Nard Claar In summer, morning glories entwine my hut. I take pleasure in their transient beauty
and in the glazed eyes of dragonflies, vacant souls of hermits sealed in gossamer wings.
Blue Wheelbarrow sits in the sun rusts in the rain always waiting to carry the load
Osmanthus drops its golden blossoms in autumn, perfume for incense and for the leaves of my tea. I follow the meandering trails of deer and wild boar, observe the universe in the globe of a turnip. In winter, the voice of the wind my only companion. A candle on the window ledge keeps it vigil as I compose poems throughout the night. Wolves scrape their claws along the threshold.
blue wheelbarrow not so blue any more rust and splinters flat tire no air to float the load blue wheelbarrow carry me carry my load ease the burden I carry I must endure blue wheelbarrow my friend stand by me help me work another day
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Tiffany Rosamond Creed
Window Seat, 153 My forehead is cool against the vibrating window, My eyes melting from the sun on its sleek mirror. I’m spilling ribbons of river water down my cheeks That only the clouds can see, I’m being discreet. Your boyfriend make you cry? He says, His teeth are sparse like the last ice flows. I tell him I don’t have one. Then who did that? He says. His wife’s face remains light like the first snow. She looks at me like she knows something I don’t. As the flight attendant passes, she says I’m sorry, Sir, you’ve had too much Corona. She’s had too much Crown and too much Coke.
Pantoum for Pulse Orlando Buttercups rock-step across my yard after June 12, 2016. I could not mow them down these flower friends running light. After June 12, 2016 Gentle medics un-hugged Orlando bodies. Flowers ran light along police fencing. Dead Latinx lovers. Quick quick slow. Piled Orlando bodies hugged gentle as shooter prowled 3 hours, killing more Latinx lovers quick quick slow. Michigan mom visited Pulse with son.
Previously published in Qargi Zine.
As shooter prowled 3 hours all dancer phones shook and rang. Michigan mother killed. Son lived. Later, rescuers slipped in blood. Dancer phones rang and rang. Photos smiled, rode a world of light. Rescuers slipped in dance floor blood. Merengue, jibaro, bachata. All their photos rode the world with light. My cousins often danced at Pulse, learned merengue, jibaro, bachata and passed tall smile of woman door guard. My cousins loved Pulse dancing. They did not salsa there that night. Did not pass the woman guard with neighbor wave the night of 49. Her smile died first.
At the Threshold
My cousins were not there that night. Alaska buttercups rock-step my yard the night of 49 shot to death. All summer I could not mow them down.
68 Kemuel DeMoville
“the capacity or power to do work is not a magical cloud of consciousness” So. So. I have seen two men die. Watched with my eyes as they faded away like a block of ice in the sunlight slowly leaking back into the earth. I’ve known others who have died. But I’ve only seen it twice. Seen the shadow settle with my own eyes twice. Most death arrived by email or phone call or word of mouth. Like you woke up and missed the end of a movie. A distant stoppage. But not all things that decay have died. And only moonlight turns the tides. Not me. Not men. Not I don’t think I could comprehend death. My death. My eventual syrup slide back into whatever. Until middle age and kids. And friends and family and lovers started to drop back into that still whatever. You can’t comprehend water until you’ve seen the sea. Same thing. So. So. The two men. Some say lost but I know where they are. One is dust on a mountain top and One is dust in the sea. I wonder what breeze will take me when I start my sloppy shattering un-wind-ed fade back (or forward depending on who you ask). Or maybe I’ll be swallowed by the sea. Aren’t we all eventually anyway? Anyway. My grandfather died gasping with lungs full of old ash And my father in law faded to gray like bad beef. And nothing seems to stop the moon but morphine.
the sign of the crossing of legs you teach disconcerted plaid-skirted polo-shirted introverted girls to wring every droplet of pixie dust purity into catechism of father man of son man of holy spirit man oh man oh man oh man then locate audacity from which to craft the question why do so many young girls not believe in themselves? talk about misogyny, inserted. talk about hierarchy, perverted. talk about egalitarianism, inverted. as if a woman cannot spread her wings and soar to the heavens on her own volition. i have averted from the concerted. i remain unconverted. all my faith rests with women. girl power will haunt religion. i believe in my mother and my sisters. there is nothing apparitional about us.
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Good whiskey burns at the back of the mouth. Honey, cinnamon, caramel, all things buttery, warm, hinting of sweet. In the background oak barrels and singer-songwriters fill the space. I watch my husband more than I listen. Each barely red curl resting on top of the one beneath it without disturbance. He missed a spot shaving. Same spot he always misses, in between his goatee and his earlobe. I trace the scar along the length of his nose where they took out his cancer. Only with my eyes, my fingers will remind him of it; knowing it has been seen, he’ll determine it ugly. Lifting my glass inhaling the scent of sugars coaxed from American Oak. Allowing only a taste to slide between my lips and all the way to the back of my tongue just before my throat. This is all I can think of: buttery, warm, hinting of sweet, burning at the back of my mouth.
Sheary Clough Suiter
Gathering Eggs This country is going to hell in a hand-woven willow basket trimmed in rough cedar a loosely woven carrier of bitter words. It holds our country’s divisions– politics red to blue gender collision true and untrue. Reaching under my hens I gather eggs listen to soft clucks a momentary peace.
Milkweed Field An auction of stolen light seizes the never-ending. Anything can wheel and curve if it has green in its veins. Rise if you will, drop if you will, watch, something moves nearer. It grows over stone, it knocks and pauses at the edge. It is not to blame. It knows only shadows and the tense certainty of florets endlessly repeated.
Drops on Pink Petals
The Seduction of Walrus Walrus hide is thick in old males. With their broken tusks and balloon cheeks they bob on the water or haul themselves with effort onto ice floe or barren rock. With their broken tusks and balloon cheeks walrus appear out of the sea ill at ease heaving with effort onto ice floe or barren rock to rest and breathe the air they need. Walrus appear out of the sea ill at ease heaving into the deep, beneath the waters, underneath. To rest and breathe the air they need they must endure lumbering awkwardness. Into the deep, beneath the waters, underneath they are the grace of birds in air and then once again they must endure lumbering awkwardness. Do not be fooled by walrus.
They are the grace of birds in air and then once again, there is a certain drum beat can you feel it? Do not be fooled by walrus. They pull you underneath. How will you breathe? There is a certain drum beat can you feel it tugging at your feet, your belly, your heart, your groin. They pull you underneath. How will you breathe after your spirit dances heaving you into the deep?
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Andrea L. Hackbarth Two Poems
Almost Spring Today the air is both weightless and ripe or ripening and the child cannot help himself. He calls to it with his own green voice. He is loud. He is raucous. He is so pleased with himself and his creation, the way his opened throat carries glee to the air
the morning after
and to the nearby raven, who responds with his own guttural appreciations. They take turns, the boy and the raven. They squawk. They yell. They cluck and cry. They try to fit their unformed thoughts into coherence. They improvise and riff off each other’s youthful lack of inhibition, their calls rising and rising each above the last until they harmonize a primitive gospel chorus, with the early springtime winds. She feels herself too much grown to join them. She finds her joy in the small but vital role she plays in this wild jubilation. She holds the boy tight and steady in her lap as he sends his voice flying to the spring.
late yesterday afternoon the snow began the kind that’s warm and heavy and sticks to even the thinnest branches at the edges of the lilac bush so this morning it’s like the sky has called a do-over like how my two-year-old sings his alphabet gets to Q and stumbles forgets what comes next and starts again with A but the voices from the kitchen radio keep on scrambling up the letters into incomprehensible combinations like casualties and automatic and students yet they speak so fluently so free somehow of stutters enough with words my love I call and heft his solid being to my hip as a flock of redpolls descends upon our porch let’s go and watch the birds because what else am I to do while we wait but start again with this boy here (who still for now is mine) show him how to marvel how to weep at the fragile splendor drawn with tiny feathers quivering across the canvas of this day
Ravens and Hearts
try to keep from him the terror I see in the gathered birds their small red caps their rosy chests beating against the snow
Esther Altshul Helfgott
Abe’s Red Suspenders Teresa Carns
Back of America You can’t see the boy from Kabul. He has built three mountains in the lot behind the apartment. Very American. He hides behind the third hill when his mom calls, embarrassing him --- “Rajid, Rajid, come eat.” They had walked three hills to Kabul and now they lived in the back of America. You can’t grow weeds from this ground. Rajid patted the third mound he had built. He rolled over and looked up at his mom who was tired of remembering, Rajid still remembering.
He wore red socks too. That’s what caught my eye, the red socks, ski hat, and twinkly eyes. He sat down next to me, held out his hand and said Hi, I’m Abe. What could I do but shake his hand and say Hi back? Where you from, he asked. Not Seattle? Baltimore, I said. You? The Bronx, he announced, as if it were the center of the world, and it was to him, although he’d been away from there thirty years or more. No coincidence we met in a Jewish history class at a neighborhood shul. In Seattle, there are some Jews like me who never walked into a shul before moving West and ended up in one just to hear familiar Ashkenazi sounds, to meet people who were short and moved their hands when they talked. I move mine a lot; so Abe liked me, not just for that of course, but also because I liked his red socks which I told him, and it made him smile. At the time, he wasn’t wearing suspenders but later, when we were married at least ten years, he started wearing them because his body was changing and belts didn’t work as well any more, He’s been gone eight years now. I still have the suspenders but threw the red socks out. They were full of holes.
Sheary Clough Suiter
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Year Without Winter
Gray rain, gray rain with wind battering and racketing our roof tin. January is almost spent but still our nights and days are dim. Bare dirt cannot reflect a streetlight, nor puddles glint back a sun so thickly masked by soaking clouds. In December, one week of hope— snow enough to muffle clean the land, to bring out shovels and road-scraping plows, to sled with children down the white hill of the cemetery and over its flat headstones. But the mercury would not hold and bulged high into the forties. Everywhere stained rivulets unveiled sticks and plastic trash as if a million fires and factories, planes and cars had opened tiny Krakatoa mouths to plume the air with heat and smog no longer sealed safe within earth’s crust.
Seawalk, Juneau, Alaska
Along Scatter Creek
The pebble in the brook secretly
thinks itself a precious stone. Japanese proverb
And aren’t we each a pebble, stone broken long ago, one piece of great formation, purified in mountain melt, ground by glacier flow, tumbled, rushed through eddies, under rapids, shaped, polished, magnified in water, jewel among jewels, as light as the weight of god?
I envision what the white bear cannot that next year and the next the snow will vanish, ice will shrink, the acid sea dissolve the shells of her children, yet still we will be unable to loosen our grip on extravagant comforts. Do not cremate my flesh with fire Do not embalm my body with toxins. Allow my modest carbon to refresh the soil. Bury me plain in wood with a flat stone in hope that our human course will change, our land will cool again and once more sledders will return with shouts and laughter to keep me winter company.
A Home in the Forest
Reconciliation He told me, he was always praying for the Brazilian slaves. Agitated, he insisted on reconciliation. Canada has changed me, he said, or at least I like to believe it.
Holding my breath, I knew part of me was dying too, losing loved ones along the way, away from home because home is where I stand.
I nodded, listening to his memories, escaping the dictatorship, bringing with him only poets and stanzas full of sins. I could almost hear his guilt and the shipâ€™s bell.
Portugal is forgiven, I told him, all is well. And for the first time, I spoke to him in Portuguese. I told him I was Ă deriva too. And like him, would feel saudade of the geese, one day, after I became ashes thrown in the mountains of this province.
Holding the thermometer, I knew he had very high fear, and fever, and even though he was dying, I kept wishing he would get better, expecting God to save him.
He tried to speak but eventually the room grew quiet, his hand in mine, colder and warmer, colder and warmer, like many others before him.
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Magpie At the playground she sifts through dirt, tucking plastic beads, bottlecaps elastic hair ties into her pockets, her fists full of sticks. She gathers pink erasers, magnetic marbles and pattern blocks from classroom centers stashes them in her backpack where I discover her secret cache between rain pants and a handknit scarf.
It was the first time I saw someone cast out a demon, the first time a man laid his hand on me and told me to pray out loud. When I was my daughter’s age I was afraid of the lick of eternal flames. I never stole anything.
Clutching stolen treasures she goes back to school opens her palm, a confession on trembling lips, an offering to her teacher. One week later she bangs up steps kicks off rubber boots peels damp sock from wrinkled foot glass beads tumble onto the hardwood floor. She looks up and sees me watching the wink of guilt dissolves before I can touch it she grins, it’s a miracle her socks were full of gems. When I was a child, my friends told me about finding gold teeth in their mouths, cut diamonds under their tongues, shimmering dust on their palms. I sat in their pews, the murmuring voices around me in unknown tongues watched a man place his hand on the forehead of a woman while she writhed and groaned.
Eric le Fatte
Chief Joseph Pine It wasn’t an elk he brought home, but a tree. Snow had begun to blanket the bunch grass. Hooves that surrendered the mountains streamed into canyons. There were enough tracks to punch each hunter’s tag. But where others had passed, a flash of gold needles disarmed him. This dwarf of a pine was like nothing he’d seen. The wilderness kneeled. The sky swam around it. He set down his gun. He freed the roots from the ground with a hatchet, and bore the luminous find back to camp. At the end of the season, as neighbors froze game, he made for his farm and planted his prize.
Scott Road and 92 Ave., Surrey, BC
The Crows that Live Across the Street from My Mom The crow pushed a Cooper’s hawk from the trees, where limbs of a horse-chestnut and a maple reached out to one another, where sunlight teetered on the leaves, stumbled through the different shades of green, and both birds fell hard onto the pavement. I’d never seen this type of hawk next to a crow. It looked too small. Its grey wings, long tail, too thin—maybe it was the smaller cousin, the Sharp-Shin. The hawk flew to a branch, lowered its head, and beat out a series of calls. I heard a fledgling crow in the trees and it all seemed fair, whatever counts as fair in the lives of birds. I’ve seen an eagle snatch a crow off its branch. A mob of crows can kill a hawk or eagle. My friends ate a Redtail that was killed by crows, with instant mashed potatoes, for the best Thanksgiving they ever had. Crows rob each other’s nests but they won’t forget those who come after their young. They kept an eye on my mom, all the while spoiling her birdbath with food scraps and bones. They attacked her in the open after she saved a fledgling that had fallen in the road, and then for three days as it wandered the sidewalks. So, she kept her distance and followed wherever it wanted to go, but kept a lookout for cars, like she used to do for her children and her grandchildren when we were young.
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Collage There’s big, bearded, molasses-voiced Rory Funk in shorts and socks on a bitter December day as he shovels snow from his houseboat deck, and you, inept at masking envy, wish you could do the same. Dressed in layers, to be sure, but favored by lungs of water, the breeding ground of dreams. Here, asleep on the floor with friends years ago, you awoke to a squawking mallard that dashed between the bodies. How, you remember asking yourself, would the I Ching interpret that? Taking a cue from Funk, you found a houseboat for rent on the Ballard Ship Canal. A three-month idyll rocking with the wind. And on Sunday evenings, when boats returned from saltwater, you hailed them with blues guitar. Until they condemned, then tore down the dock. Those old houseboats from the ‘50s and ‘60s crowded out by million-dollar rivals grace an endangered species list. If you look hard enough you can still find, lost among moneyed hulks, a floating shack on logs. One whose deck—littered with junk, plants, an arthritic bicycle, a washing machine barely escaped from pre-TV times— hints the owner has been here long before Microsoft, then Amazon, changed the rules of the game. A poet, perhaps, pencil still pinched between finger and thumb, a shaman who hones the slippery planks of language. In hock to waves, to gulls.
Sea Birds Having no time for niceties, Sea birds don’t sing, Having only time for necessities, They cry, They caw, They croak, They squawk, They squeal, They scream, They shriek at intruders, They nag at the neighbors, They carp at the weak, They moan at their mates, They murmur at their chicks, But they don’t sing, They don’t chant like birds of the forest, They don’t carol like birds in the garden, They don’t warble like birds in the field, They don’t line branches in cartoon-like choruses, Harmonizing with the breeze, Humming in the sunlight, Cooing in the moonlight, All to the pizzicato of rustling leaves, The legato of a rushing stream, No, The birds of the sea croak, Hoarse and loud, Needing their calls heard, Needing their needs known, Heeded over the din of waves, Over the crashing curls of whitewater, Over the breaking barrels of foam on rocks, Over the roaring of winds through dingles, Over the clattering of tides on shingled strands, Through the lashing rain of storms, Through the howling winds of blizzards, Beating down on bare rock heights, Scouring across shivering-pebble beaches, Needing to survive, A puffin flailing and wailing wildly at a scavenging peregrine, An auk pecking and shrieking at a thieving fox, A bundle of gulls screaming over a fish carcass, A petrel,
Wings tucked in a steep-pitched dive, Screeching as it plunges, Plummeting into the tossing waves, A cormorant, Neck curled back in sorrow, Keening skyward over a snatched chick, And a lone fulmar, Out upon the horizon-less sea, Wings outspread in the gray wind, Feathers fluttering furiously in the wetting gusts, Calling as it wanders over the foaming waves, Not a song of repose, Not a lyric of revelry, Not even a hymn of hope, But only the call of tenacity, Cawing itself hoarse, Laboring every hour against the main.
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The ‘F’ Word F for fidelity. His feline lack. F for his foolish feasting on forbidden flesh. F for her fury. At her discovery. F for fraying, fallow, fealty. F for fighting. For fast fierce words thrown in frantic morning. F for fantasy. A florist’s bouquet of flowered fantasy that fact can be forgotten. F for her failure of forgiveness. Perhaps, in her, then, too, fault. F for friends, for frivolous feigned frolickings of frustration. F for his futile tears. F for the fascination of her freckles. F for his fine, faultlessly fair-featured face. F for F for fatigue, for feeding on fennel. F for finality. Decision. F for fate, forking. F for family, flustered, fondly offering finite fixes. F for fragmentation. F for familiar footsteps fading. F for fear, and exasperation at the fright, at bumps in the night. F for fabulously fuchsia wine, spilling to fluted glass to filling mouth to floor. F for fleece-wrapped fragility watching famous fifties phantoms in fedora flaunting films. F for floundering, for a less forthright future. F for faint first light. F for fanning of flickering internal flame. F for fashioning of force to stop fall, for forswearing waking with carpet fuzz stuck to cheek. F for ferreting out forward path to follow. F for fastening to frail regain of self favour, desired dignity, faith and fortitude. F for finding freedom.
Ruth Marcus [with apple painting by Elizabeth Reutlinger]
Apple alone in a room with easel and paint one greenish apple artist waits for the sun to rise for dew to dry from her eyes a night of anguished painting— food for the hungry Green Apple
Ars Poetica Never begin with a bucket of shims. Open with red stilettoes cupping the lovely feet of flight attendants tick-tocking the black glass floor through Barcelona International. Welcome impalas pulling roller bags, breaking everyone’s train of thought. all trades, the gear tackle and trim, the varied carols. Winter Birch
If you quote, quote your betters. If you plant, plant your beauties close. Not much art, not much weed. Go for abundance, go for broke.
Time on flowers is good time. Peonies done, delphiniums mostly, bee balm coming on strong and red along with lilies, mostly yellow, some orange and spotted Tiger Lilies, too. If your winters are long and summers cool, Himalayan poppies, frilly and blue, stand tall for something beyond words and sing verse after verse the gospel of mulch and protozoans, their own hosannas, Jesu, joy of man’s desiring, beneath the watching trees.
Now you are in a different place, the old no longer right, the new not yet announcing itself. Becalmed, you sit and breathe. Waiting, for that faint ripple of wind to touch your sail, for that shift of attention, an awakening. For that summons to riffle the white page.
Power wash the deck, hose out your gutters, rotate your tires. Dog down your lugs. Shoulder in and torque to blue torque. Calm your winter bear, and rejoice in traction, time in snow light, time in the dark.
If you explain thunder to your dog quivering between your legs, you can mention Sarajevo and Selma, pick one, and, though it’s been done, Troy. Vukovar is good if you have been there, and Wounded Knee is always here.
If you explain your lover’s beauty, mention hunting and gathering, oatmeal and agriculture, bones inside the kiss, and the cuneiform bones writing the curious poems of the feet. Admire the time you stop at red lights. Your lover’s disease and the woman crossing the street remind you of cut-away charts in the doctor’s office. Muscles, arteries and veins rivering up and down inside her skin, and the heart working overtime like Kenny the plow guy in big snow. The bones, the guts, small and big snaking north to south, the great purple lake of the unsung liver, the pancreas lying like a sea cucumber against the spine under the stomach seeping juices to keep her alive. You see her shiny hair bouncing with each step, and see the bravery of bones shimming the intricate feet in leather boots tick-tocking concrete. You see the tiny spot growing on her lung. If you read from your work, go to your nearest garage. Lift high the lube rack. Let hydraulics expose the belly of your Mazda, her sway bar, oil pan, differential, and trany, all the muddy, knuckly stuff of transport. Seat lovers of the spoken word on stacks of tires and pickup beds, anything handy, a bucket of shims. Marathon Battery calendar pinups line memory’s walls. Air hoses coil, and fan belts loop above the bench where mind and heart assemble the bolts, bushings, and blood, the sticky note metaphors, the O-rings ooing and ahing, the washers and gaskets, last year’s bird’s nest and an earring. Sign your books on the hood of someone’s beloved Studebaker centered in the richness of messy work.
Go to a hospital or butcher shop where hanks of haunch drip from hooks. Carefully note the chopping blocks set with hors d’oeuvres, code blue up in 5-0-2, pink tassels twirling overhead on ceiling fans, books CAT-scanned, pulse taken, dumped on scales and sold by the pound, celebration of place where things that matter happen. Visit your landfill where matter that happened rots in midden. Where rats and rot change the past to other things-Argentine mothers marching the plaza to shame the world and bring other things-husbands returned, sons and daughters made whole, Vukovar festive, Kirkuk diverse, bison calving, Lakotas grilling hump in the back yard, cracking fat from marrow bones, and woman, woman dancing in a jingle dress. Where plastic diapers deliquesce to peat in five hundred years, we hope, dig deep to mine a dream of the winter bear. With paddle ears and doofus nose, with intricate lips feeding on shadows twig by twig, build the yearling moose you think you know line by line ungainly as the train of thought that walks you here. Roll back the busted toilets of time. Find and fold velvet seat covers to stitch the floppy antlers of June. Bend the long legs over blow-downs and stand them tall to blend with roadside alders. What you write means nothing for most, an ear flicker shadow in shadow, good for nothing, a rustle in the brush, honey gone from a plastic squeeze bear. Still, in silence, as any beast will tell you, there is domain in vast holdings beyond saying in weeds or words. Let spring stir and study the dump. Let grass in wind flow like water to heal our souls and soil. Defending us, the trees leaf out in battle, and the long tongue of the cub bear licks the wish and history congealed in your empty bottle.
Karla Linn Merrifield Two Poems
Crossing Hecate Strait If I could be a totem pole, I’d be the type of mortuary monument, a looming column of cedar ravens, sculptured in mourning centuries ago— artist gone, his people lost, or not— and weathered by prodigious rainforest moisture, ravaged by rampant verdant vegetation, effaced by rapacious wasps stripping the cellulose fibers of my body’s skin for papery seasonal abodes.
M/V LeConte Docked at Hoonah, Alaska
I’d be grief on a new moon leaning into mists, tilting into darkness of tide’s brief future.
Psalm of Mist The mist is my seraphim, I shall not want. She swirleth me above frigid waters; she lifteth my soul: she concealeth beneath veils of mystery for inspiration’s sake. Yea, though I sail through glaciated fjords, I will feel no grinding pressure, for thou, winged Ephemerality, art with me; they drifts and wisps they console me. Thou preparest a shifting vista before me in the presence of Pacific swells; thou annointest my being with dew; my imagination runneth over.
Surely spruce-forested islandscapes and confused ocean currents shall recreate all my breaths and I will dwell in the realms of clouds forever. These poems can be found in Athabaskan Fractal, published by Cirque Press, Spring 2019
Mt. Rusty Cars
Tanana Lakes, Fairbanks, Alaska
The orange metal of abandoned axles, crumpled hoods, radiators, fenders and parts unknown like some cubist apocalypse after a war— cars totaled on bourbon rollovers at three a.m., stockcars run off the track, pickups sliding on icy pavements into a tree, or the bloody upshot of a road-crossing moose, all roped off and piled in a hillock, rust-orange and brown on which a swallowtail lounges taking in sun and where a sign incised in birch declares with a wink, “Mt. Rusty Cars,” just as we hear a fisherman shout, “Oh, shit!” for the big one that slipped his hook. Our last time here Ben spotted an eagle perched at the top of a spruce. Now he’s moved on into his grown-up life, and like the couple we were in our early years, we tread a path of our own. This morning’s walk meanders down “Chickadee Lane”—taking our time and listening to trills, a yellow-rumped warbler, or is it a hermit thrush? Your cracked pelvis mended, my prostate tumor tamed, yet they forewarn like the riff you performed the other day in a minor key, a requiem without divinity. Last week a small plane went down in the hills killing the pilot—the father of a friend—aged 81. You say, “I don’t even plan to be driving a car by then.” The whole of life comes crashing to an end, but as the horizon angles in precipitous, we cradle moments like these as sunlight sparks through aspen and birch— like holding a newborn granddaughter in your arms, smelling her waxy scalp and kissing her sleepy eyes.
Rusting Life Away in the River
the book on the shelf on the first anniversary of the publication date tightly bound & uncreased the spine uncracked its clean cover perfectly solemn the book on the shelf looks down on another volume resting beside a common magazine on the coffee table – dog-eared & stained worn pages torn & folded to mark a penciled note in the margin can shelf life etiolate a leaf of a book? if only it could shake itself from the shelf slake its secret desire to be ripped open in bright sunlight & defiled by the grit of many fingers
Smoking the Lucky I started holding my breath thirty seconds before Smoke
Kari Nielsen Amlie
the registered nurse said smiling they’re called café au lait spots & so it isn’t cancer & probably nothing at all to worry about I let the stale air out I tell my man the news over crueltyfree something couscous & kale sautéed in coconut oil after dinner we smoke the lucky the last cigarette in the pack the one we turned upside down at the beginning there is more than one explanation for this none of them are that good we say we will try hard now we call tomorrow day one & I think how harmless-sounding the term for what
spattered on a body slipping motionless
First Task To sweep from my front porch fallen blossoms. What falls from the hanging basket of fuchsias. What drops from the planters lining the porch’s north edge. To eliminate what a plant no longer needs. With a wooden-handled, straw broom. Flexible, corner-scraping. To sweep away illusion. A flower is not too lovely to fail. No matter how much I strive, I cannot make this entryway’s garden ever-lush. Petals are crushed to wet pulp under the broom’s scour. To sweep away attachment. Mine. For the blown and moist and fragrant sex of a flower. With even and long strokes, to take the occasional shed leaf. Bits of grime.
scared me to death is & still wonder why the face turned towards mine is flecked with shadows
To create an openness where a next spent bloom can fall. An emptiness where I can place my feet. To waylay my urge. Waiting until tomorrow’s morning is here to sweep again.
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I fish a cheating creek alone — meadowed, willowed, snaking wide, my last fly looped through fading sky, riffle teased on the far, dark side. No blurred flash, no cutthroat splash, hopeful offering left afloat, I yield, find tent, snuff the light. Dream life’s center will not hold, lightning strikes my lover, asleep beside another. Smoldering, seared, she survives, proves death now not a final dip, the end — instead, with depth, degree. Deceptive, like a dive to ever deeper sleep, fathoms past passed away. A chance to be intensely dead. Given endless time to fish ebony streams, extinguish dreams, rise, build morning fires, heap them high with black tears. “Intensely Dead” will also be
Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge Trail, Juneau, Alaska
Straw Rats gnawed through siding of our leaning pole barn, carried their gift at making soft, strong, insulating down from fine strands of hen-coop straw.
published in Harbinger Asylum.
They centered a nest over dust of a padded seat that held our daughter to my bicycle long-past, warm evenings. Sunk another inside a spare car wheel left behind her teen-age accident and the wrecking yard. Their thread links straw, twigs, pinecones, bits of tarp, towel, rug. Tailings of unremembered stories their talismans. “Rats!” my father used to swear at his mistakes. But how can I despise them, with our children home for summer, our shelter made from love’s available husk? Little Red House
Joel Savishinsky Two Poems
We Are Not Welcome Everywhere We are not welcome everywhere. Even Homer was banished from Plato’s Republic. Langston Hughes hid his heart in plain sight. Pablo Neruda was exiled, Garcia Lorca executed. Poets ask too many questions. Most don’t feel they need to be answered. We lay out words, leave spaces, plant the unquiet seeds of silences. Readers close their eyes, trying to see what they were meant to hear. It is hard work. Many just turn the page, or close the cover, pick up the remote, become remote. Resigned, they put down the book like a rook in defeat. Even with manuscripts in hand, we are still among the undocumented, our songs an alien tongue, awaiting translation, hoping for advocacy, for someone’s understanding. The borders we stare at in wonder never recede, run through our bodies with the blood of migrants.
Rust Nard Claar
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Sales I. At my first Board meeting, Mary Ann, in the next seat, told me she was “in sales.” Real estate, she explained. Adding, a moment later, “but really, I can sell anything.” II. On my fifteenth birthday, I was sitting alone in my family’s apartment. Only relatives and friends took the dark, narrow staircase up to it, so a knock was a shock. He may have been 60, or 65. His thin face and graying hair, deep eyes and cheeks, sallow but mottled skin, and clean, faded coat, made me think of the old men I saw each week at the Irish and Polish bars near Saint Brendan’s and Saint Stephen’s, the churches I passed when making my way to Hebrew school. “Excuse me,” he began, sweeping an arm to one side. His smile was weak, barely formed, as if he were hiding some missing teeth, but his eyes said he was working hard to make the corners of his lips curl up. ”Sir,” he said, overlooking or neglecting my age, “Sir…,” but his words were cut off by a series of coughs, which came in a stubborn staccato, and which he strained and failed at first to control. “Excuse me,” he finally managed. Coughing, shielding his mouth with one hand, he reached out with the other, offering a thick, brown folder. The cover fell open to a stack of glossy, colored cardboards, bright reds, blues, pinks, and radiant greens, each with a large-lettered, glittery text: The Ten Commandments. “Every home,” his chest hacked and spasmed again. “Every home,” he rushed to get out “should have one of these.” Then slowly, his cough stifled, his tone softened, “don’t you think? Only fifty cents. They’d make a thoughtful gift. Maybe,” seeing my age now, “maybe for your parents, an aunt, your grandmother?” God, I first thought, what is he, what am I, doing here? But in a few seconds, on that once-a-year day, my young mind -- hungry for a sign, a meaning, or a message – recognized the tragic face of fate itself, its unmediated melancholy, something I could not turn away from because it had sought me out and I stood, mute at first, a sour breath away: a Siddhartha moment, the first memento mori of adolescence. Glued to a grief for which I had no name, I reached out and examined a few sheets, designed in almost childish simplicity and garish sincerity. “Sure,” I said, managing the only word I could find in my narrow throat. “I’ll take three. No, four. Make it four.” He dealt me one of each color, offered his thanks, and quietly took my two dollars. Turning to go down, he left me standing with a foolish, frozen grin whose edges would not fall till he closed the bottom door. III. Many years later I worked as a counterman and short order cook at a small market. I sometimes ran the cash register too, but rarely urged patrons to add what they hadn’t laid before me. I could never, then or later, “sell” anything, convince people to buy what they did not already want. Food, furniture, appliances, toys. Surely not real estate. Thou shall not sell necessity or desire. It seems to be one of my own commandments. I do not know the name of the salesman at my family’s door. I never will. What lingers is the quality of loss forever woven by my teenage mind into the fabric of other people’s pathos. Our few minutes together had emptied my heart of solace. It was, up to then, and until now, even with the deaths of generations, the saddest moment of my life. IV. As the Board meeting came to order, my neighbors and I turned to look at the chairwoman. In a corner of the canvas made by the long room, I could see Mary Ann, just to my right, playing with her green pen, silently scratching bright geometries on a pad. Staring at them as they took shape, stroke by stroke, I swallowed a cough, moaning with the realization she had sold me this poem.
At least it won’t kill you.
I want to go to Kanab. Dry and red, hot and lost, a place of high-noon distress.
What do these words even mean?
There I could be a hermit, I could build a kiva, disguise it with sagebrush, sink into its cool shade, stare down scorpions— anything to silence words and voices.
I know what drizzle means, and high slack tide, Old Man’s Beard. I remain on the island, damp and green, cool and contained, a place of hard-pan clay.
At least you don’t have cancer. At least it won’t kill you.
I hear the voices in the fog, find their clever words veiled in the constant and unlikely solace of tinnitus.
Instead my days are links in an endless chain of rain, moss, and MRIs… blood draws, talk of the risks of immunomodulators, guerilla approaches to side effects.
The joints of failing alder trees pop against autumn gusts, promising windowmakers hidden in the furred and widespread arms of cedar.
My speech—already compromised by a broken brain—fails new vocabulary lists: parasthesia, gadolinium, Lhermitte’s, neurological pruritis.
This is no Kanab, but I will make do.
Meanwhile I can still pronounce geoduck. Kinnick-kinnick. Aurora borealis. Sequim. My old self at diagnosis was tossed like a broken mannequin into the salal-ridden ditch of lost identities, not by a careless doctor or a cruel nurse, but by those who I expected to know better than to lob trite comparisons. Chronic autoimmune disease, without a cure or even an understanding of root cause, is no better or worse than any cancer or other protracted death. It’s the devil of uncertainty which unites us all, indiscriminate. At least you don’t have cancer.
Untitled, from the Flow Series
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Humpback Whale Tail in Lynn Canal, Alaska
Fall Equinox Tom Sexton Two Poems
The first harbor seal I’ve seen since my return to Eastport takes my measure then slips beneath the placid water. It’s the golden hour suffused with light. I watch an urchin dragger move away. Picturesque, but its days grow longer. Its drag closed tight, holds only air.
It’s far too early for snow, but there it is on the mountains now that the clouds are beginning to lift. The birch have put aside their yellow vests. They know the heaviness of snow but not so the highest peaks who welcome it. I can see the mythical fox of Sami legend, the bringer of winter’s Northern Lights. He’s circling Denali’s windblown summit with his long tail fluffed and glowing. This is his second visit to one of my poems. He must be pleased with what I write. How wonderful it is to be almost eighty and still alive.
When the moon’s full, the tide high I hear Arnold’s eternal note of sadness in the waves. Yesterday, a friend asked, “Why do we read poetry at all today? I had no answer, I have no answer now. St. Brendan thought the Right Whale’s song, soft as a harp through mist, a hymn. Rio Cachett
Kari Nielsen Amlie
90 Philip Shackleton
The Heroine of my Disorder wants to find the better Virgin of Me When the Heroine of my Disorder found the stranger in me had become too real to think or feel she restated the decay of a world inside, the fragility she tried so hard to give us; present all your pretty feelings. I don’t even know you, but with open eyes— the more I change, the more you remain the same, I just have to guess what’s on your mind. I thought of her as Queen, and she became— if I was to speak to her, or of her I did so only in a whisper—or I’d be punished. The more she changed, rearranged within us, the less of myself I’d control. What I needed now, with so many years living as a ghost, chasing the shadow cast about by her sun— was to find the better virgin of me. She broke the violence of silence in the place we called home; don’t abuse this weakness change the subject— a subtle fuck you. I make myself quiet clear when I want to fuck you. negate your vision; look at me; and ask the question, I am the answer to. Would she laugh when I caught my breathcleared my throat (Would my heart bleed out for the last time?) when I submitted to her as the day I was born in this glorious mess we called us? I tried to listen to her make conversation, but found it the hardest music of all to master;
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Sex with is like walking with the wounded. Until I take you into my mouth and you forget the rules; your voice rises above the required whisper and for once in your life something excites you. Now you must be punished my lovely distortion, as she took me into the kingdom between her lips and I became a debtor to every blowjob of our broken dreams. If I am being punished why do I enjoy it? And why does she frighten me? * * * Those little red panties passed every test. With a guilty notion, not to be confused with anything else, I reached my fingers tips inside and played the loveliest instrument of all. Despite my penetration, she still had something deep inside of me— We both knew I was unstable; as my monsters had become able shackling me to this living death. Would I ever recover the person I was before, first the drugs than the medication numbed my brain? Would I meet up with a pretty little Mistress in my bed whose will alone might cast away The Queen’s Sun: Or, should I just go crazy? I am a little intense; on the bright side of hell-bent but I’m no longer in doubt, I have returned to myself after twenty-five years away to choose the crossing buried only in the land of… as I go down her every hour of every day searching for that better virgin of me. BANG, BANG there’s going to be trouble as this velvet drip city fades away in her service (and I thank her and hers for this absurdity) cause I don’t fucking mind that none have the mind to comprehend what I’ve become: The Crown Prince of the Distorted staring down her sun as I speak in a whisper and go down on her every hour of every day, waiting to find the better virgin of me, waiting to change; not to recover what was, but to find out what could be.
after Skylar Alexander
What I’m saying is I don’t know who I am and every day under my blankets is progress that’s becoming easier and easier to shirk.
Her Dad’s Metronome
Grandparents He found her at a yard sale, he always told us. She would smile, pat the gray curls under her hair net. The yellow and blue plastic weave of the lawn chair left wiggly patterns on her sunburnt arms and the backs of her legs: imprinted waves and he wanted to swim. Random knickknacks for a quarter, 45’s for a dime, a few pennies for words in dusty paperbacks fading in the sun. He reached into his pocket, only a cigarette. She gave him a match.
I’m begging for closure but when I told my father I’d broken my vows he just said, “as long as you’re not asking me to save the hens anymore” and I said, “dad I’ll never stop asking you to spare the hens” and we missed it: everything in flux despite the importance we place on memory everybody is, beneath the makeup and war dances and safety nets, together roiling and reveling along like rabbits, all of us quivering before a hawk
He would wink and squeeze her hand, make us groan with comments of slippery nights, slices of moon served on bare hips, the taste of summer in crevices. She never blushed. Under his pillow, he keeps a scarf: a temple of salt and dust, her words bleached and forever imprinted.
The Neighbor’s Hens
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Night Crawlers There is only the pale moon glowing through the backseat window: you say my skin is so beautiful, my body glows white and pale and we try to hold on to one another and press for more and more. This late there is only the forgotten rubbish of the day: the night crawlers, a woman in leopard pants sleeps in a wheelchair, her face covered in a dirty sheet beneath the awning of a video game store.
The lost ones roam the deserted streets, they wander like ghosts minutes later you were trying to suck the sweet pulp from my skin.
Moose Time changed the morning I met the moose. It was fall, but before the school bus. A morning fishing trip to cling to the last straws of summer. Once, the Monagan Hole was a gravel pit. Sitting at the point where two rivers joined, it filled with water. Nobody knew how the fish got out of the river and into the Hole. Spring flood, or stocked in the failed resort attempt. Since there were perch in the Hole, but not in the river, some two-legged must be to blame. But this is about the moose stopping time. Just as I came around the small dunes between the Hole and the North Fork, her eyes met mine. When I saw the calf I knew that she would kill me if she had to though she wished me no harm. Her bull stood atop the next dune, his back to us, his rack magnificent in morning sun. She looked me straight in the eye, passed on the primal message: all is as it should be. Death need not carry meaning in the wild.
In the morning the eye is bloodied under the freeway on the sidewalk covered with playing cards by a crow ripping out the throat of a rat.
No rain for weeks. No poems.
Everywhere there are eyes peaches are being decimated by ants. Their fury like 6,600 volts into an elephant. A few blocks to the west the wasting is pretzeling sea stars. Their limbs go walking off. Then the flattening. This has nothing to do with death nor pushing riot cops into the gutter; or nothing more than the connection riot cop: death: gutter.
The page is high desert. Vowels lie like skulls in the dust. Lines wither and crackle like a snake’s shed skin. A scattering of consonants sparkle like jewels in the sun but it’s too hot to gather them. Rhyme skitters off to a burrow abandoned by badgers. No water to soothe me with its rhythms. My feet sear through the soles of my shoes. Even the coyotes howl only one note. A poem blinks tiny eyes in the night, disappears by the morning.
All day people have been walking. The entire time some of them use crutches. A population on its feet. People have been talking on their phones to their mothers. Someone was running late to work and worried that this is the one that does it. Still the murders go on crowing the sky. Yet the insects devour. All the while the suicides in their moment of flight. At the same time sea stars rip themselves apart. What can one do in a city let alone a world? Hasn’t it been recordedUndo Restraint
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“Twin Disc 514 Transmission” I went to Prince William Sound for a temporary job as boat engineer. On the Alaska power catamaran which ran twenty knots to the glaciers the regular deckhand/engineer had written on the engine room bulkhead DON’T TOUCH IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT ITS FOR plus, a more recent KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF. He was an intense guy, gone bald early, prone to 410 shotguns and snagging salmon. A Prince, William. When I had relieved him, I re-read his note above the Twin Disc gearbox and thought one gear forward, one reverse; how hard is that? Think of splined wheels meshing with another in a warm bath of amber oil. Think of the speed, propeller slip, the endless retreat of glaciers. Consider the distance between this job and you in our apartment. Measure the contract by the dollars, the day rate and days left. I decide to leave the regular guy a little note of my own, courtesy of Jenny Holzer: A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE CAN GO A LONG WAY.
Untitled, from the Flow Series
What’s Next? When I lay down in your river bed and let the current tumble me over the smooth stones of memory, I flow to the moment our canoe struck the sweeper. I spin there as the slick metal flips, driven by new water and a squirrel chirps “What’s next?” as all the next thoughts stand rigid in morbid panic. If the anchor hadn’t caught in submerged roots turning our twisting boat into a throwing arm, pitching us into charcoal water, would we have learned the lesson? Holding on preempts what’s next. Swimming from depths to shallows, walking out of danger, shaken and stirred.
How Dare You Quote Sartre While Eating Chicken Wings
he says to me, teriyaki sauce on his tongue and words seeping out of his mouth.
The lightsaber duels in the shadows on the mountain, little giggles at the mystery of God, squeezing my hand while I imagined where North was,
You reached your hand, too large, for mine while I found the trail back home, and you were laughing at flashlights in the fog,
And you found the constellations that I myself had taught you to look for, pointing out where in the cloudiness we would see Orion
he speaks sweetly with an edge to his voice, made bitter by vinegar, seasoned with salt.
On a different night with the precision of faith; I envy that you saw gods and jedi where I saw darkness, felt only your hand.
we are melting with every moment. chicken dissolves. we absolve ourselves; judge. jury. executioner. we stand and together we are ten-foot-six, still as short as when we do not perch on each otherâ€™s shoulders. i am solitude; i am my own voice, stuck miles in between the sound of others; i cannot move for fear of treading on a loose limb. i do not understandâ€” i cannot understand. i believe nothing at all. if hell is other people then hell is both the most treacherous and beautiful place i have ever known.
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Waiting for Low Tide
for my father on the anniversary of D-Day
Across time’s channel, gripping sepia photo of you in army uniform, I step into water as if spilled from your ship at afternoon’s low tide. Your skinny frame wades bravely too— you do not know how to swim. Through time’s sleeve, we step toward wide sweep of sand— Normandy’s Gold Beach, at Ver-sur-Mer. We climb gentle rise of land, boots wet from wading. Can we travel together these five miles to Arromanches, where row upon row of calm waves at low tide roll against German army hedgehogs— welded steel angled and exposed?
In Arromanches, I squint-see ships moored in mulberry harbor, strain-hear your red-crossed trucks rumbling ashore, the ones that take you on to Bayeux, where you follow the front, arrange field hospitals, carry bandages, morphine; where your hands— ones that later hold me, a child, as I try to stand— care for the wounded lying sleepless on their cots. At war’s end, you wash and feed skin-draped skeletons at Bergen-Belsen—beyond liberation’s hall of mercy, still an unthinkable stench and horror. You survive to love, tend gardens of colorful azaleas, push war aside.
I walk—not knowing what glimpse of June 6 sighs from seventy years ago. Forget slipped-time rank—you, the British medic and I, we cover these miles, along the same coastal road as then. Taking in water, land, sky— neither of us returns the same. Together we pass fields tranquil with cows, not ones filled with wings of dead aircraft or corpses of troops. I have no chance now to ask for reluctant details. Lingering smoke and cries of soldiers rise with a singing lark, golden on the fly. Threat of lightning and drops of rain build trivial discomfort for me— for you, whistling sky-threats flash fear, wetness seeps from blood-soaked fallen fatigues.
A Hero's Journey
Sheary Clough Suiter
Katherine Van Eddy
Halloween Party in Newark No one else in the kitchen cares that he’s stumbling heavy footed on the carpet red plastic cup in his hand his cardboard box costume with holes for arms and legs large dots painted show the faces of a die. I stop him at doors tell him to stay out of rooms where other women have already gone to sleep. His glazed eyes don’t see me and anyway I’m not thinking about him when I reach for his drink only he’s had too many and I’ve had enough our hands both pull until I feel plastic crack sticky warm liquid runs down my hand and arm then his hand strong and rough on my forehand his thick fingers in my hair as he pushes my body backward down the hall into the kitchen where everyone sits and everyone watches. I go to the sink. I wash my hands.
O. Alan Weltzien
Mater Dolorosa They carried stillborns around on their backs until they dissolved back into the ocean.
—She’s Come Undone, Wally Lamb
Tahlequah’s calf, which she birthed weeks ago, lived half an hour but she won’t accept death, instead she carries the stillborn behind one fin or pushes it with her head, poised on her rostrum, a thousand miles. The calf wastes away slowly, still-life parody driving Tahlequah’s fierce maternity and when it slips her grip she takes several breaths then dives deeply, returning with her body to the surface, and we hold our breath with hers. Scientists track Tahlequah and J pod, her family clan who slowly starve and drop due to declining chinook salmon runs. In Puget Sound and far beyond we’re paralyzed
by her grief as she refuses to let go even as she falls slightly behind though J pod rallies around, maybe nudges a chinook towards her. The research director of Wild Orca says, “She is stuck in a loop, we are stuck in doing the same thing, expecting to get better results.” Tahlequah, Mater Dolorosa, can’t avoid symbol and elegy, poster mother of decline and fall in the Northwest’s Salish Sea. The scientist says, “What is beyond grief? I don’t even know what the word for that is, but that is where she is.” When whales breach and blow we hover nearby our sister mammals, so Tahlequah scratches our hearts through her obduracy until we bleed as she carries us all to “where she is,” where she holds fast against death and we hold her image, stuck, as we decide “what to make of a diminished thing.”
Josh Wisniewski Two Poems
Spring Corridor Opening From Sealing Cove, Out Middle Channel Round Makhnati Island, West Channel, Halibut Point, Old Sitka Rocks and Middle Island.
Kanéisdi Shaa Sutra
Other trollers wave and pass. Poles down, running through their gear.
You there, Mountain Every day I look out and see you
Hand pulling lines Shaking rockfish Letting lines slip back through fingers.
How blessed I am Sometimes—
Somewhere kings are feeding But not here.
With clouds With fog With winter snows With nothing but empty sky I follow trails up your slopes When I walk through town, I walk with you walking with me When I ride my bike or drive, there you are, always, walking with me When I was an anthropologist I was interested in concepts of place How foolish you make that seem, this human history “Yes, I was here even before all that” I realize I’m in the presence of a great master Can I know mountains walking? Putting down my pen and notebook I stand and humbly offer—
(Kanéisdi Shaa –Cross Mountain– is a pre-colonial name for Mt. Verstovia)
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Making Love in Hope, Alaska Newly-warm April sun floods the tidal fan. Snowbanks heaped beside swollen streams melt over rounds of velvet moss. Salt-scent of warming earth. Willow buds strain, gold against the brown. Eagles chitter from spruce tops, ruffle new pin feathers. Ducks in tight formation arrow across the flats, while a returned redpoll cocks a curious eye from a quaking branch. Birch and alder breathe in the freshening forest, inhaling, exhaling, waking, stretching and then it begins to flow, sap, viscous and sweet, rising, rising.
A Wing and a Prayer
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INTERVIEWS Marybeth Holleman
Travels with Thomas: Kathleen Witkowska Tarr on the Maverick Monk and the Modern Contemplative Kathleen Witkowska Tarr [www.kathleenwtarr.com] will be the first to tell you that she leads far from a contemplative life. In fact, at one of many well-attended gatherings at which she plays the consummate host, assuring that every person at all times has perfect food and drink and introductions and conversations, two fellow writers sitting on the couch referred to her, admiringly, as a force of nature. And yet, there was something about the life of one of America’s most well-known contemplatives, the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton, that so captivated her that she has devoted the last twelve years of her life to studying, researching, traveling, writing, and finally publishing a book about Merton and his little-known sojourn to Alaska. We Are All Poets Here, published in early 2018 by VP&D House, is both a biography of Merton’s September 1968 time in Alaska and his importance in our culture, and a memoir of Tarr’s own journey toward an interior life and a sense of belonging. What emerged from her deep dive is the story of two spiritual quests, Merton’s and Tarr’s. Tarr arrived in Alaska in 1978, spending her first few years in Yakutat. She was the first Program Coordinator of UAA’s low-residency MFA Program, and she earned her MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, where her thesis chair was Lee Gutkind, founder/editor of Creative Nonfiction Magazine. Her essays have appeared in such venues as Sewanee Review, Anchorage Daily News, Creative Nonfiction, TriQuarterly, and Cirque, as well as several anthologies on Thomas Merton. She’s traveled extensively throughout Russia and lived for seven months in Krakow, Poland. We Are All
Poets Here is her first book. One of things that strikes me about both the book and Tarr’s talks about the project is how she embodies something all writers must have to complete a process as daunting as writing an entire book: discovering the subject that so engages them that they’re willing to devote years of their lives—and almost all of their creative and mental faculties—to it. And dive in headfirst Kathleen Tarr did. So much so that she is now a William Shannon Fellow of the International Thomas Merton Society and a sought-after guest speaker at Merton conferences. Over the course of several months that we worked on this interview, Tarr traveled to New York City, the United Kingdom, Pittsburgh, Kodiak, the Kenai Peninsula, Nome, and Yakutat. She gave over a dozen talks and helped organize and lead the ground-breaking Thomas Merton in Alaska conference that drew hundreds of people from all over the US. Hardly the life of a contemplative. And yet, Tarr proves that there are many ways of living an intentional, thoughtful, and deeply felt life; one only need read the insights she expresses in We Are All Poets Here: Thomas Merton’s 1968 surprise sojourn to Alaska, a shared story about spiritual seeking. Sitting in a coffee shop, showing me the dog-eared copy of Merton’s Alaska journal (not published until 1998), she pointed to the cover photo of a snow-covered but somewhat blurry mountain photo that Merton took from the window of a small plane during his jam-packed Alaska visit. Because he died before returning home to Kentucky and cataloguing
104 his photos, no one knew which of Alaska’s hundreds of mountains it was. Tarr asked many Alaskans far and wide, consulted with Merton scholars, poured through his journals and notes at the Merton archives in Louisville, Kentucky, stared and stared at the black and white photo, and wondered. Then one day she walked out of a southside Anchorage restaurant, looked up, and saw the mountain. A mountain she had been living under off-and-on for over 10 years but had never, she said, truly seen. The Chugach Range’s own O’Malley Peak. She told me the story as proof of how blind she’d been, but I heard it as proof of just how clearly she now sees. Marybeth Holleman: Thomas Merton: who is he, and why should we care? Kathleen W. Tarr: Trying to explain Thomas Merton to anyone who has not heard of him before is like trying to explain why mountains hold spiritual meaning to someone who’s never seen or been on a mountain. This is a big subject. You have to experience the concrete reality, the sensory experience of the real mountain for yourself—you can’t just rely on somebody else’s words and descriptions about what makes any mountain special. To gain a fuller understanding of its physical and spiritual powers, you have to engage directly with the mountain, in heart and body. Battle the winds, slip on the scree, ache in the elevation, but also be an eye-witness to its beauty. I know that whatever feeble attempts I make to try and explain Thomas Merton will fall short or sink into abstraction. Each reader has to discover that which is relevant, meaningful, and long lasting for themselves in any experience they have in crossing paths with Merton. To begin with, Thomas Merton was one of the most influential spiritual thinkers and writers of the 20th Century. I like to think of him as an imperfect monk in an imperfect world. As a peddle-to-the-metal kind of monk whose intellectual gifts and explorations knew no end. As a monk who was unconventional, paradoxical, prophetic, restless, endearing—who was constantly questioning, doubting, and grappling like the rest of us in this crazy life who find themselves searching for meaning beyond consumerism and whatever society and the powers-that-be might try to do to control or dull our minds, our behavior, our time, and even our privacy to buy into “the system,” “the machine,” “the illusions” or the “Unspeakable” as Merton called it….
CIRQUE whatever it is that makes us follow in lock-step to the conventions and dictates of the day where inner freedom is compromised or lost. Thomas Merton, ultimately, became a maverick-monk, a poet-monk, a monk for the literati, and a monk for the everyday people. He was a monk for the peaceniks, a monk for the “greenies,” and a Catholic monk for the irreligious. He was an explorer-monk who could reach out and deeply understand and communicate with Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and the Orthodox. In other words, he was like no other monk in American history, and not like any kind of monk that his fellow Catholics, and especially not the more dogmatic Catholic hierarchies of his day, had ever seen before. A few very basic details about Merton’s life: he was a Trappist monk in the religious order known as the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, an order that originated in medieval France. Ironically, he was also born (1915) in France, in Prades, to two artist parents, an American woman and a New Zealander father who had met at art school in Paris. Briefly, after he graduated from Columbia University with a Masters in English and literature, with a dream to become the next great American novelist or a famous poet, as a young man of 26, he “walked away from the world.” He left his first university teaching job in western New York state to become a poor, chaste, obedient, and mal-nourished monk in an over-crowded monastery in the knobs of rural Kentucky. He lived in the monastery—the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani south of Louisville—from December 10, 1941—as the United States entered World War Two—until his sudden death on December 10, 1968, at age 53, presumably of accidental electrocution outside of Bangkok. This was just two months after Merton had been in Alaska. Merton was a brilliant, prolific, and bestselling writer who authored more than 60 books from that monastery (using a borrowed typewriter!) and from his cinderblock hut, or “hermitage,” which he was privileged to live in full-time on the monastery’s property roughly from 1965 until 1968 when he left on his global journeys. It’s important to know that his most important and best works were not anything pious, strictly religious, theological, or devotional, as you would expect a religious man to write. Merton wrote volumes of poetry, essays, and
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literary criticisms as well as over 10,000 letters to correspondents around the world, including such figures as Boris Pasternak, Czeslaw Milosz, Rachel Carson, Jacques Maritain, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ernesto Cardinale, some Ph.D. nuns, and Latin poets.
One day, I strolled into the Caliban bookstore near Pitt’s campus and purchased The Seven Storey Mountain—the book that made Merton world famous when published in 1948. (It’s still a big selling book, though Merton later regretted some of its “in defense of Catholicism” tone.)
Merton wrote autobiographically, and in such enduring and powerful ways, that a broad spectrum of religious and secular readers alike immediately were attracted. Merton’s more intimate writing style—how he shared the crucible of his personal experiences and reflections—was something different than what most people expected from a devout and obedient Catholic monk. Plus, a modern-day spiritual conversion story, especially after the devastation of World War Two, struck deep emotional chords in readers who felt a spiritual hunger. In Sixties lingo, he really “turned people on” with the way he related his interior struggles, and how his warm narrative voice and reflections on so many diverse topics could draw you in, how as a writer he charmed and challenged you with his erudition, wit, and observations.
This was NOT a good idea, in spring of 2005, for me to take on any extra reading because I should have been focused on completing everything I needed to do to earn my MFA and then return to Alaska and find a job again. My professors, in fact, were advising me to extend my stay in Pittsburgh to refine and polish my thesis some more (Lord knows, it needed it!), and not rush back to Alaska.
But more so, you got the impression that, although he existed as a semi-cloistered monastic in a strict religious order, as a writer he was full of Life. MBH: An imperfect monk in an imperfect world. That’s wonderful. You know, I’ve carried a few of his quotes around with me for decades, but very rarely do I come across any reference of him. So I wonder, how did you come upon him and his work? KWT: Marybeth, I have to tell you it wasn’t for religious reasons, not because I was thinking about becoming a Catholic or anything. I went to him as writer-to-writer, purely because of literary curiosity. I was out of Alaska, my permanent home, attending a three-year, traditional MFA program in creative nonfiction at the University of Pittsburgh, which also happened to be the city where I was born and reared until age 17. During my last semester while desperately trying to finish my thesis and teaching freshmen composition under my fellowship, I kept seeing Thomas Merton’s name pop up on various book lists like the “Best Memoirs of the 20th Century” or the “Best Spiritual Books of the 20th Century.” Who was this guy, Merton? Why was he so special? Plus, as an Alaskan, I liked that his famous spiritual autobiography had the word “mountain” in it!
As a “non-traditional” student—older than every single person in my MFA program—I had already worked in management jobs, raised two sons, and been in a marriage for over 20 years. When I took a good hard look at myself, I saw a forever-emerging writer. I carried around a trunk full of doubts about who I was and what exactly I was doing in an MFA program after having left my husband back in Anchorage working his full-time job and holding down the domestic fort while I celebrated in the luxury of attending poetry readings where I could smoke clove cigarettes and pretend to be cool. I spent hours filling up journals, and the more I wrote, and the more I studied the great writers (in the university, by the way, none of those assigned “great writers” in my nonfiction program at least hailed from the canon of classic spiritual or religious writers), there always seemed to be a wall of separation, and as I learned from my fellow writers in the program, the less faith I had in my abilities. I had started too late. Maybe I was delusional to believe my true vocation was to be a writer. I didn’t measure up, was never satisfied, and should probably pack up and go home. But of course, underneath all this literary angst, there were other currents ripping through me, namely, a sense that maybe as a writer I was adrift because spiritually I was adrift, too. At the deepest center of myself, I had no interior grounding, no sense of my spiritual identity. I couldn’t quite articulate it. From what core values, what history, what place, what faith, if you will, was I writing? In other words, what lay beneath all this writing besides a desire to be a successful, recognized, validated writer? And when I asked myself these questions, I couldn’t come up with proper or satisfying answers because I hadn’t stopped the treadmill of life long enough to delve into my
106 inner self, to think deeply about the interior journey which, ultimately, is the most important journey of all. Everything up to that point of first coming across Merton was external and clouded by family problems, job roles, obligations, earning a living, fitting in and being somebody. In other words, there wasn’t time to think about my relationship to any Higher Power, or to the Supreme Lyricist. MBH: I can see how that book, and his work, must have been a lifeline for you as a writer! That you came upon that book when you did is, dare I say, miraculous? As writers we have to keep our eyes open for those serendipitous moments, and you certainly did. But to devote the sustained time and energy to create a full-length book takes an incredibly tenacious interest. What was the one most important thing about Merton and his work that kept you entranced enough to complete this book, and to continue working within his legacy?
CIRQUE No need to recite all the tragedies about assassinations, protests, upheavals, racial strife, but it was the year from hell, when Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated and of surging and violent protests to the Vietnam war. Before I tell you why it’s so significant that Merton came to Alaska, I have to confess I’ve been obsessed with 1968 for a long time as it was a pivotal year in my life, too, when I was coming of age as a very young teen and watching the world crumble around me, the sadness and chaos saturating the news, and the ongoing conflicts in my own family. As I’ve written, an inner restlessness seemed to form in me during those unsettling times that I’ve never quite shaken off. At the same time, however, I remember how I soaked up all the great rock music I heard on the radio, and I admired the hippies from afar on television. I wondered just when the heck my life was going to get going. I wanted to grow up fast, break some female barriers, and to high-tail it out of the then-rust-belt of Pittsburgh to all the cities that seemed more exciting.
KWT: You said it, a lifeline. Quite simply, Merton became my spiritual guide, not just a writer I admired. I related to his paradoxical ways, how he seemed to be traveling in two different directions at-once, creatively Alaska’s mood in 1968 was practically synthesizing ideas, experiences, and the opposite of the rest of the country. learning incessantly from others and The Prudhoe Bay oil discovery was from whatever he laid his hand on to announced in June and the young read. He may have been an acclaimed state was jubilant about its economic Kathleen Witkowska Tarr monk, a Roman Catholic priest, and a prospects. Of course, Merton didn’t great and revered writer, but he was clearly as mixed up pay attention to oil pipelines, but he was sensitive to as me. And he was a humble seeker until the day he died women’s issues and the growing feminist movement. universally human. In this surreal, disruptive, paradoxical year, Merton shows MBH: And there was the Alaska connection, too. What’s up in Alaska on his way to Asia. After 27 years of monastic the significance of Merton’s time in Alaska? life, Merton was finally given permission by his superiors to leave the monastery for more of an extended period of KWT: Well, I don’t have to tell you about Alaska’s time, other than for jaunts to doctors for his bad back and surroundings and great silences as a magnet for artists, bursitis, or for an occasional meeting he was sanctioned poets, dreamers. And wayward monks! This is another to attend. (During the 1950s, on the pages of his journals, question that requires some background and context. and through letters to his religious superiors, he explored Thomas Merton spent 17 days in Alaska in autumn of 1968 the possibility of leaving Kentucky to go into deeper while on his way to Asia. The year 1968 has gone down solitude in more isolated contemplation, by perhaps in history as one of the most horrible years in twentieth trying to become a Carthusian). century America. The whole country suffered some kind of political or cultural neurosis as one crisis after another Though 1968 was volatile and fraught with violence, smacked people in the face and crushed their spirits. Merton himself was going through a kind of transcendent
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 spiritual moment. And I’d say that as a writer, he was, too. He was deeply involved in his self-study of Buddhism which led him to change his perspective, to desire more direct seeing and experiences rather than to read and write so many books! I find it an exceptional twist of fate that he wound up in Alaska for a time. We can think of Alaska as geographically at the crossroads between East and West—the Aleutians practically extend to Japan and we’re situated on the top of the Pacific Rim. It’s as if Merton’s psychological frame of mind—to be open to change, to be adventurous, to be paying closer attention to landscape, place, the environment and nature—all precisely coincided and aligned with Alaska. And I like to point out that the highest elevation mountain in Kentucky was only about 4,500 feet and it was nowhere in sight of his monastery. He was a land-locked monk, too. The 586,000 square miles of Alaska also boasted pristine beaches, untouched coastlines, crystalline lakes, remote and isolated rivers. As anyone who’s ever traveled to Alaska knows, through its vast and grand scale, it’s a great place to adjust your perspective, and to put your ego in-check.
107 India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and elsewhere was going to be life-changing, something radical, as it had been when he first entered the monastery. Only now he hoped to turn himself into more of an outright hermit. And as a writer, maybe even write less, or at least publish less. In order to do that, he’d need to find a suitable location somewhere where he could live out this dream. Remain a monk affiliated with the Abbey of Gethsemani, but live geographically distant and remote, in a purer, more ideal form of solitude as a writer who was less and less interested in words. I bet he fantasized about living under a glacier-filled mountain or on some deadend road in a log cabin in the woods. And the idea of living near or among indigenous cultures would have also matched his newfound intellectual pursuits at the time. Alaska ended up on his hermit’s hitlist…and to borrow a mountaineering term, he wanted to reconoitter the far northern landscape. Maybe Alaska would be the perfect spot in which he could live as a hermit, because as he later quipped after he flew around the wilds in much of the young state, “Alaska had more square miles of solitude to last any hermit to judgement day.”
(Marybeth, you and I have both had this geological lesson driven home to us again very recently with the 7.0 Fr. Louis, as he was monastically Marybeth Holleman earthquake that struck Anchorage at known, came under the invitation of 8:29 a.m. on November 30th…I happened to be sitting the gung-ho first Archbishop of Anchorage in the newlyat my laptop and reading over one of our Q&As for this established diocese to give talks and conferences to interview when the quake hit, my power went out, and I priests, nuns, and chaplains—to the “freezing faithful.” ran screaming in terror to find my winter coat and boots.) I find it utterly remarkable how much ground Merton By this time, as a religious celebrity (his picture or portrait covered in Alaska as a first visitor. He saw more of the was forbidden to be splattered all over the media or in state than most people ever do on their initial visit, and magazines, however) a prolific author, and as the Master of he had never been in a bush plane before. Scholastics to the younger monks, he had reached a kind of inner transformation by seeking a deeper awareness I’ve been carrying around his quickly-jotted Alaska of reality……an inner peace. Well, this must have been journal—my battered copy looks like a rodent has been because he had worn himself out intellectually! chewing on it—for 12 years, and every time I re-read it, I’m astounded by the profound insights he shared here He felt this global trek, with a 17-day surprise sojourn in on community, and the need for reconciliation in politics Alaska, meant he was truly on his way somewhere, that the rather than false dichotomies, especially with the nuns Great Unknown of this amazing physical journey he was to whom he gave Days of Recollection talks. And not to undertaking to California, Alaska, New Mexico, Thailand, belabor the alpine references, but in my quick estimation,
108 Merton mentions mountains over 70 times on the first few pages of his Alaskan notebook. Alaska greatly impressed him. That’s the bottom line. Earthquakes would have traumatized him, as they do us, but in my heart, I know he would have returned, if fate hadn’t intervened. MBH: I love that you’ve carried around his journal for so long. If that’s not a sign of the kind of tenacious engagement an author needs, I don’t know what is! So: for us writers: What lessons—about life, about writing— have you learned, and can we learn through your book, from this monk? KWT: Oh dear, this is a tough one! You’re putting pressure on me here. It’s like you, my fellow writer and a poet no less, expect me to sound as if I finally know what I’m doing as a writer. Let me start with this part of the question: What lessons have I learned about life and writing from having written We Are All Poets Here? Perseverance to never quit, to never believe it’s too late, to never give up. That’s the first thing that comes to mind even though I know it sounds trite and cliché.
CIRQUE with our gifts and talents—we should be doing more with them, or we’re questioning whether these truly are our gifts, or we would rather go off and do something else that earns us more money, and quit using these gifts altogether because it would be so much easier to walk away, to ignore them, to do something else that seems less complicated and difficult. Believe me, Merton went back and forth on this. But we keep being pulled back into it, like Jonah in the whale, a favorite metaphor of Merton’s, and we curse and we growl because the universe seems to be sending us in a different direction, against our will, until we realize it’s not solely about our will anyway…and then we feel those moments of joy and inner serenity, and that what we’re doing is what we were meant to do the whole time. We can be torn up, shredded by a tractor blade at times, and yet we know our inner selves are growing and that we are really on the right path. Who ever said using your gifts was going to be a walk in the park, without a pogo stick or an oxygen tank? Merton has taught me to take deep breaths, to step back, to deepen my interior life as a person and as a writer. In
Truth is, writing and researching this book felt like I was trying to climb Denali on a pogo stick. I made the tiniest steps forward then was thrown backwards down a crevasse and had to claw my way back up from some icy abyss. And this went on for over 12 years. The only way the book could get finished was if I stayed on the pogo stick, no matter how ridiculously slow and absurd all of it seemed. Now the second part of the question: what lessons can we learn from the monk about writing? Our gifts, whatever they may be, are burdens and blessings at the same time. We are happiest when we are expressing these Godgiven gifts, but at the same time we are often beating ourselves up because we’re never satisfied Thomas Merton
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 his writings, he railed against the dehumanizing forces of systems, dogmas, doctrines, and totalitarian rulemasters as witnessed through twentieth century history. From Merton, I also learned to be vigilant about those dehumanizing forces swirling around us. I’m interested in the times I’m living in, as politically empty and as dangerous as these times may appear. As a writer, I feel now is what I should be paying most attention to. It’s not the world’s fault if I don’t get it. I can be blinded by my own biases and thinking and can therefore look around and let myself sink into despair. But the fault is mine alone if I do. Seems to me as a writer I shouldn’t offer critiques only. I shouldn’t be thinking in dichotomies either. Merton was like an intellectual and spiritual sieve, open to possibilities, the forever enthusiastic, wide-eyed student, as well as a sharp and astute social critic. Merton the monk had plenty of distractions as a writer— too many visitors, too many lessons to teach, too many letters to answer. And let’s not forget all the daily prayer cycles! I don’t know what he’d say about social media, Netflix, and Twitter. But I have to plough through these constant interruptions and my own weak will and find the stories that matter. I have to write well and say something. Not add more words upon words that people will glaze over. Who can keep up with anything anymore? It’s not a good time to be a writer, to feel so useless and marginal in the daily digital stream. But isn’t that how writers have felt in any era until a Tolstoy or a Thomas Merton comes along to disrupt things a little? And isn’t it better to be a nobody, as Merton would say in one of his best Zen moments? With all that’s going on today with fear-mongering over immigration, anti-Semitism, the dumbing down of the electorate, the deadening and debasing of language— it’s a long and troublesome list of “what’s wrong” with the country we’re living in—I have to do what Merton did and that is to love the world. MBH: Okay. Climbing Denali on a pogo stick is one of the best metaphors for writing a book I’ve heard in a long time! Now, the book is part biography and part memoir. How did you come to choose this hybrid form? What about this form allows you to tell the story you wished to tell?
109 KWT: It’s not something I consciously chose or thought up, not at all. The hybrid, and yes, meandering form of We Are All Poets Here did arise organically after many years of failure in trying to write a coherent narrative. I didn’t want to assemble a collection of linked essays. I wanted to write a narrative. I just didn’t realize it would take over a decade. At first, when Merton was but a blip, a shadow, I imagined I would write a single Merton chapter. But as I was living parts of my spiritual journey as I was writing it, Merton’s importance as a spiritual mentor grew, the synchronicities with him multiplied in strange and mysterious ways. And as a character he naturally expanded. I realized I couldn’t just start talking about this fascinating, dead Trappist monk if the reader didn’t know anything about him. And that the reader wouldn’t understand my fixation, or why I came under his spell, if I didn’t reveal more of the salient details about who he was as a person. After many years of immersion in his life and legacy—I took so many notes on my Mertonian readings and in my physical re-tracing of his steps—I started to feel I was writing another Merton biography! But the world, I concluded, did not need another one of those, thank you very much! I needed to share more of my personal reflections and experience. If I was going to write about Merton, I realized, it would have to be something fresh, something truer to who I was as an Alaskan. That, in turn, affected how I would interpret Merton. Not as a scholar, not as a biographer/ historian, but through memoir. But there was an almost insurmountable catch: As a writer, I was a nobody, and who would want to read a memoir from me? I hadn’t done anything remarkable. I didn’t walk across Greenland with a box of power bars and a sled, I wasn’t the granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt. I didn’t have a love affair with Vladimir Putin. I didn’t belong to any church or practice any religion. I was a contemporary Alaskan full of spiritual confusion, a modern-day seeker, a broken, neurotic, 21st Century woman who hadn’t a clue what her relationship to God was. Hmmm….this could be enough, I surmised, if I told my story honestly, genuinely, authentically as a kind of “journey through a consciousness.” How Merton, Alaska, and old Russian culture, too, all converged in this beautiful
and unpredictable troika that infused my spiritual journey.
like an Amazon warehouse.
I knew it sounded too quirky and maybe “over-the-top.” I remember a NYC agent telling me once that it would simply go “whoosh” over peoples’ heads if I tried to do too much.
I finally came to the point when I envisioned the narrator on a quest, meeting different characters from her past and present whom she hoped might shed some inner spiritual light or point her in the right interior direction. Some of these were sourdough Alaskans, modern day Russians who were ironically former Communists, Tlingit women of Yakutat, poets, and of course, Merton himself.
But I didn’t do it by formula nor any outline. A spiritual journey does not begin precisely at some imaginary Point A, and then neatly moves to Point B, Point C, and so on. You might say that structurally speaking, the spiritual journey cannot objectively be Google-mapped; it’s more nebulous, mysterious, chaotic, unpredictable. It’s only years later with some reflection that a narrative “ordering” might arise, as it did for me, and as it did for Merton, too. Once he got into the monastery, after many emotional trials and tribulations, and after the loss of his family members, and after a few more years went by, he sat down on some uncomfortable wood chair and desk at the monastery and tried to write the story of his religious conversion, how he went from his three-piece suits at Columbia University and “the world out there” to living in the backwoods of Kentucky wearing a soiled monk’s habit and scapular. What I ended up with in We Are All Poets Here is this hybrid. The writing itself led me there. This form allowed me to tell Merton’s story as it is filtered through an Alaskan lens. I did not have to consult the scholars and historians to get anybody’s permission or to correct my footnotes. I could delve in and tell it from a particular point of view— mine—which helped to narrow things down from saying everything there is to say about someone as monumental as Thomas Merton. I want to emphasize the allegiance to authenticity. It’s not some literary device or gimmick. I couldn’t have made this story up because it was too full of mystery. MBH: Kudos for letting the story take its own unique shape. That takes courage. And a lot of hard choices, I’m sure. How did you decide how much of the memoir thread to include in the book? That is, how much of your personal history to reveal as you tell the story of Merton’s time in Alaska. KWT: How many times have you heard writers say this: “I threw away a lot of scenes and material.” Well, that is what I did, too. The cutting room floor in my case looked
After you write for years and years, you finally do see what is essential to telling the main, overall story, and what is fluff, or what may very well be important, but not to that particular story you’re telling at that particular time. Out it goes! It was quite a juggling act to weigh all these writerly decisions about my personal story, for instance. How much do I say about my family? My marriage? The places I lived and what I did, where and when? We Are All Poets Here is a spiritual journey story; not an autobiography by any means that became my narrative framework and once clearly seen, I could sharpen the editor’s pencil. I didn’t go into my life story, per se, and tell about all the neighborhoods I lived in and the boyfriends I kissed and schools I attended. This is not an autobiography of my whole life (how dull!), but a memoir about one aspect from a life—a spiritual quest, again, as told from a certain moment in time. I also remember my oldest son, who reads a lot of science fiction, telling me he hates writers that wander off onto too many tangents with their information-detail-stuffing diversions which detract from the story at hand. One sure fire way to take the power out of the story is to provide too much information. There must be white space. Pauses. Time for the reader to imagine. As a journalism major in college, I admit I am prone to information overload. There’s just a million little tidbits you want to include for those “teaching moments” as a nonfiction writer. But cut, you must. And the same for overly lyrical language or MFA-ese, as we sometimes call it. There’s a difference between lyrical that is too lofty and show-offy, and lyrical that is natural. You’ve heard this repeated before: the important thing is for the writing to not sound like writing. You want the reader to forget time.
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 You don’t want to resort to gimmicky effects, melodrama, or to write in a way that serves no purpose other than it’s trying to impress. We appreciate it when a purity of spirit is behind the writing, a true and vibrant presence, because the reader can always sense phoniness. MBH: Speaking of verbal phoniness… Memoir-writers often struggle with how to write about the still-living: what to include, how to portray them honestly. Did you have any such struggles? If so, how did you deal with them? KWT: While writing this book, I lost many family members which is painful to recall. I didn’t have to worry about how my mother, father, niece, or brother were portrayed. I do wonder about what they’d think, though, if they had ever read it. I can hear my mother saying, “Jesus, Kathy, you could a made me sound better!” But my sailor father, who has been dead since I was a senior in high school might have been impressed and overjoyed that he made it into the book since I only
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saw him a few times in my life after age 6. I think memoir writers are often accused by the real and living characters in their books of making them appear too one-dimensional or of screwing up the facts with their fuzzy memories. A few weeks ago, for example, I was in Yakutat, a Tlingit community on the north Gulf of Alaska coast where I once lived and where much of my book is set, giving a book talk. And a 90-year old man came to hear my presentation, someone I knew years ago when I first moved to the fishing community. I was so excited and thrilled to see Jim after many, many years because Jim appears as a character in one of my book’s early chapters when I was meeting my first “real” Alaskans in bush Alaska. Anyway, I gave Jim a copy of my book and he called me up in Anchorage a few weeks later after he read it….“Hey, Kathy,” he said, “I gotta tell you, I never smoked Camel cigarettes, only Lucky Strikes!” I stand corrected.
Katharine Salzmann talks with Kristin Berger over Italian coffee and cannoli about Berger’s new collection from Cirque Press, Echolocation Katharine Salzmann: I’m gonna say a word and ask you to riff on it. Are you game? I have a few words. But I want to start with: Detroit Kristin Berger: Best pierogis in the Midwest. I have all the feels about Detroit. KS: You grew up there, yeah? KB: I did. Well, I was born in Detroit proper. I grew up in a few burbs around it, on the west side. Westland, Canton, Dearborn Heights, and Dearborn. KS: And do you still have people there? KB: In Dearborn. My brother lives in the house my grandparent’s built in 1951. My dad lives Down River, and my mom and step-dad live just north-east of Lansing. Our family still has a cabin in Northern Michigan, in a little township called Tower in Cheboygan county, on the Black River. KS: Here’s the next word: Playa KB: Breath. Home. I’ve never had a place feel more like home and I wasn’t raised anywhere like it. I’ve had no experience with the desert, the high desert. But I understand it, the weather, it’s like I’m hungry for the weather out there. I think it’s because I don’t feel claustrophobic and I can see what’s coming. That’s pretty exciting to me, to feel like I can see horizons and also make predictions and maybe be surprised. If you see a cloudbank coming and can tell what kind of weather is associated with that cloudbank but then something else might happen — I’m having a hot flash just thinking about it. KS: And you have been to the writers’ residency there… KB: Three times. The first time for five weeks in October. It was really warm at the beginning and it snowed towards
the end. The other two times were in February and March, at the bookends of migration, so the cranes were coming back. Playa’s right at the south side of the Summer Lake National Wildlife Refuge so there’s a ton of snow geese and cranes — all sorts of migrating birds. I love that place, it’s just magical. I hate that word because it can sound cheap or like it doesn’t really encompass everything. But there’s something alive for me out there. And some of it’s human. You can see the footprints of old farm houses. There are petroglyphs. KS: Did you write Changing Woman / Changing Man out there? What’s happening with that manuscript now? KB: I did. Most of it. I’ve been working with an artist I met at Playa, Diane Sandall. I really love her prints. She’s made a few prints and has ideas for the whole book. We’ve got a bookmaker in mind, also someone from Playa, so there’s a plan. My goal is to do a fundraiser and have the proceeds from the book go to Playa. They’ve given me tremendous support and I would like to give back. And it feels like it belongs there. With a few exceptions, the whole thing was written there, most of it in one sitting. While I was bleeding. During a snowstorm. I sat put for three days and wrote that motherfucker. So it would be nice if someone read it. KS: It’s such a powerful poem cycle. It will be an amazingly beautiful work of art. So, Echolocation. Did you write that at Playa? KB: Not much of it. Some of it was born there, but it was largely written since then, over this past year, winter and spring. KS: It’s a beautifully designed book. I love the dropdown titles.
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 KB: I like that too. The font is smaller than I’d like, but we wrestled with how to fit some of the crazy lines on the page. I was insistent on my long lines existing as long lines so we brought the font size down. There’re a lot of new forms in here for me. Playing with language that way was fun because that’s not usually my bag, thinking about how a poem fits on a page and the space it creates. That second section gets a little wild and feels more intuitive, telling the impulse of the story. It’s flashy: here’s a moment, here’s the moment, here’s a word that might occur with the moment, trying to describe a wordless moment. Being in bed with someone. You know, you don’t have a narration going when you do that, but you might think of a word, things might surface. That’s where the fluidity of “Before Waking I Rearrange Myself” and a couple other ones came from. KS: I read the whole thing cover to cover again last night. It clearly has a part one, part two, part three. Part one is first contact, part two is wild and full of feeling, and then part three is the releasing. KB: In all my books I try to have an arc of hope. I don’t know that I write towards it, but I definitely try to organize - in a way that will feel more buoyant at the end. But this book doesn’t have that. It definitely feels more buoyant at the beginning. KS: So here’s another word from my riff list: heartbreak KB: What’s that Rumi line about heartbreak, “shakes the branches of the heart”? That’s Playa. I didn’t want this book to end in heartbreak though, because I don’t think there’s ever an ending to that story. There’s a place of trying to just accept it, to not be lost in it. I didn’t want it to have an endnote of despair but an endnote of heartbreak accepted. When I first showed you the manuscript, you told me it should have more angry poems. “You’re not pissed enough,” you said. (Laughter)
113 KS: I just wanted to give you permission. KB: You did give me permission and I did write some stuff that was definitely more true to the bone about those feelings. KS: For example? KB: They’re in the last section. “Finding Out Where You’ve Moved To” (p 66), “Under Taurus” (p 65), that really short one, “Mantle” (p 62). Mike (Burwell) wanted me to lead the third section with “Mantle.” I don’t feel that comfortable with a pronouncement poem like that. It would set the tone and would sound like OK here’s the bitter part. That’s in there, but I wanted the last section to be about forgiveness. But also to say, this is what actually hurts. KS: In the poem “After Reading Sharon Olds” (p 47) there’s a line, ”I can talk about it any way I want” which is not a typical line for you. You’re rarely that direct. KB: It felt good to write that line. KS: It felt good to read it. I feel you’ve done a service by writing that line, the way Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” was a service to humanity. KB: Well, thank you. I want my poems to be more direct. For me, reading Sharon Olds is shocking, even though I can identify with almost everything she writes about from motherhood to sex to marriage, into the wild animal part of her. Because she writes the way she does, she gives permission, to women especially, to just feel those things. But also, you can write about this too. I was tired of approaching things only in a lyrical way. Sometimes it serves the poem to be lyrical, but in this case I wanted to talk directly about sex, a bit defiantly, and it was a little frightening. So I had to put that line in to get me to write the poem, to finish the poem.
KS: Lemniscate. Is it a noun or a verb? KB: (reading from Wikipedia:) “In algebraic geometry, a lemniscate is any of several figure-eight or ∞-shaped curves. The word comes from the Latin ‘lēmniscātus’ meaning ‘decorated with ribbons’, from the Greek λημνίσκος meaning ribbons, or alternatively may refer to the wool from which the ribbons were made.” It’s a noun. It’s like infinity. That poem was, god, traffic, and how my life is constructed, which is very much like driving figure eights: my kids to school and back, to work and back and having that feeling like it’s going to go on forever… how relationships can... there isn’t any true end to a relationship, just how it can double back around and how history can repeat. That’s where that came from. KS: You said that earlier when you were talking about heartbreak, how there isn’t really an end. KB: Yeah, I mean, I feel like this book, yeah, [is] the story that never ends. KS: There’s a poem in the book called “The Story That Never Ends”! It’s a really great poem. “Hard truths come at 80 miles an hour…” KB: Oh! I wrote a poem about it. I forgot (laughing). I love that poem.
The backstory to this poem: I was driving between Tucson and Phoenix, listening to the news on the radio about Comey releasing Clinton’s emails right before the election and thinking, Are you fucking kidding me?! Talk about heartbreak. And the landscape is just a bit wasted there. It’s beautiful but seeing the human imprint in the desert… and this was a much more recent human history. For years, I have been using the hot pads my great grandmother crocheted with kitchen cotton, really fine. They’re starting to fall apart and I have the urge to like, Oh, I don’t want this to become a rag, my great grandmother made these. These are the best hot pads. They’ve lasted for 50 years. They’re part of my kitchen. They’re being used. They’re living, breathing, not in a box. Even though, especially like old malls, that’s really sad. It kind of fills me with hope if they get repurposed, sometimes, for example, into churches. Putting the story out there so that it exists in time and space and doesn’t get lost, that’s very important to me. KS: I want you to write a poem entitled Old Malls (laughter). Poet Claudia Savage writes in a blurb on the back of the book, “Hope for the future flutters like prayer flags. ‘How does the earth tilt toward a deaf darkness / while the body, somewhere, aches towards bloom?’ Only Berger seems to be able to hold this tension, this unknowing….Berger convinces us that the world is on fire and love is the rain.” I thought that was very astute. So here’s the next riff word: climate change. KB: I’ve been really wrestling with this for a while, years, especially lately. I was talking about this with a friend, about how our kids have a really different perspective on this than we do. We can see what we’re about to lose. And our kids, because they’re young have a we’ll-just-fix-it attitude or we’ll-just-adapt, have a little less sentimental attachment. I mourn what my children’s children won’t have and I also mourn what I won’t have and what my kids won’t have. Will they have a beach? Will they have birds? Will they have snow? KS: Do you discuss it with your children? KB: It was a taboo subject for me. It felt harder to talk about than sex because it felt like letting in so much of the reality of the world. Like having a conversation about guns. This is not the world I promised you. Sex is easy, that’s a good thing they have coming to them if they
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 choose….Food insecurity. Fire. Living in the Northwest, hearing the doomsday predictions. When you have kids, a child that is already sensitive to the world around them, how do you give them hope to put anything forward? Teenagers are already questioning what’s the point. That’s what terrifies me more. I hope there will be enough creativity to figure out things like how to grow food and how to prevent fires or to keep safe in a drying world, how to find water. I’m having a really hard time right now wondering what the role of the artist is with climate change. What I say might process what I feel, but it’s not going to change a thing. I feel a little helpless that Art will do anything. I could argue myself back into saying Yes, it will. It will keep us on the planet. It will keep us connected. It can regenerate hope.
115 I had an interesting thing happen with this book. It was almost like I wrote the map for it. I went back to Crane Hot Springs with my kids this summer and I went there with my grief about a relationship, but they didn’t know that. I was going to show them this place and we were going to have a vacation but there was also this private little mission that I had: Could I withstand it? Could I go back to a place where these memories were born? And could I go into the water, which is mineral water, which is hot 104° scalding earth rising. It’s a primal place to expose yourself physically, to get in it almost naked and the desert is all around you and the weather all around you. It was solstice. It felt very ritualistic and right for me to go there and be next to loss, physically. But then, experiencing it with them and seeing some of the same themes come up for them, seeing the same urges and the same connections happen with them made me — well it didn’t make me, I think I already realized it — that it wasn’t just this one story, that it continually happens. And then we met people out there floating around in the water who had their own stories, and the birds would come and fly over our heads and, you know, everyone comes to the water with the same thing. There’s nothing unique. There might have been something unique in time and space for me but there’s nothing unique about this urge to meet the more-than-human place. Going back to one of your first questions, Why playa and the desert? It’s because I actually feel quite small there. Some people get very nervous around that feeling. I don’t. I feel very much like I’m where I belong because I feel smaller than everything else. It’s sort of the same feeling as swimming in a mountain lake up in the Cascades: it doesn’t look all that hospitable for swimming, there’re weird logs, you don’t know where the bottom is, and it looks sort of…unknown. I love going out there. I don’t know how deep it is, it’s totally black, sometimes it’s blue and you can see all the way to the bottom. I never feel like I’m going to drown. I never feel like I’m going to lose it and panic. I just feel really held in that smallness. That it’s all going to be okay.
F E AT U R E Emily Wall
At Home in the Poetry World
“She got out of the car here one day,/ and it was snowing a little.” William Stafford opens his poem “Emily, This Place, and You” with a moment we shared and that I remember vividly. I met Bill when I was a 20-year-old undergrad at Colby College in Maine, home for Christmas break, and that meeting is one of those life moments that became a touchstone for me. And now, twenty years later, that moment has once again given something beautiful to me, connecting me to two new friends, two poets whose work I admire. Recently my poem “This Forest, This Beach, You” was chosen to be placed in Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan, Alaska. This is part of the Poems in Place project where poems by Alaskans will be placed in parks all across the state. The organizer of the project is Wendy Erd, who knows and loves Bill’s poems. She dreamed this project up with Kim Stafford, and they modeled it after Bill’s River Methow poems. I didn’t know Wendy before the project had begun, but spent a beautiful weekend with her in Ketchikan this past September, attending events and giving workshops that celebrated Poems in Place. One morning Wendy and I were sitting in our funky hotel room on the docks in Ketchikan and we were talking poetry while we drank this rich, dark coffee she had brought. In the way of poets, we were reading each other snippets of our poems, and reciting lines from poems we loved. At one point we both started reciting lines from a William Stafford poem and that got us laughing and talking about the River Methow project. Wendy mentioned that she knew Kim, and I was eager to hear more about him, and his writing life, as I only knew him from his beautiful poems. As we talked, I told her I thought I might be the Emily in Bill’s poem and she jumped off the couch and exclaimed that she and Kim had always wondered about this “Emily.” I had never told anyone that story, as of course I’m not sure that poem is about me, but the events of that poem match perfectly with my recollection of that day. Some time after Bill’s death I was home again in Portland (this time from graduate school in Arizona) and browsing in Powell’s Bookstore and found the book The
Way It Is. In the front matter is a hand-written poem, his last poem, written on August 28, 1993. The poem opens: “Are you Mr. William Stafford?”’ I felt a chill, as I read that line—that’s exactly what I had said when I walked up to Bill on that January day that we met. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I blushed, realizing how formal and weird they sounded, but of course Bill just smiled and invited me to sit down. So I did, wondering how it was that I was actually meeting William Stafford, actually sitting down with a National Book Award winner. A few months before this meeting, I was at Colby taking a writing workshop with the wonderful poet Ira Sadoff. When I mentioned how much I loved Bill’s poetry, Ira told me I should write to him. I was from Portland and of course Bill was there. It took me a few months to work up the courage, but I did write him a letter to tell him how much I loved his poetry. That fall I was reading Bill’s poems daily and learning so much. Along with my letter, I included a poem of mine. And then a few weeks later, I opened my campus mailbox to find a letter from Bill, who had taken the time out of his busy writing and teaching schedule to write back to this undergrad on the other side of the country. He wrote that he liked my poem (oh joy!) and invited me to come meet with him when I was home on winter break. Standing in Powell’s that day, holding The Way It Is, I had to catch my breath before I kept reading. Could it be that Bill had borrowed that line from me? Perhaps. But what was really amazing was that he had taken this awkward, stilted, line and turned it into this poem of grace. For me, that so encapsulates him as a person and as a writer. I continued to flip through the poems, reading a few here and there, and then my eyes fell on “Emily, This Place, and You.” I read the poem with shaking hands, and then read it again. It was like Bill’s voice talking to me, assuring me, returning somehow to check in with me, to see if I was “getting used to being a person.” I had gotten out of the car there that January, and it was snowing a little as I walked up to the library on the Lewis and Clark Campus. It was right after Christmas and I was getting ready to fly to England where I would study at Oxford. As I recall, that’s mostly what Bill and I talked about that day. We sat by a window and watched the snow falling through the trees and we talked about the Romantics and Oxford and poems. I remember him talking to me as if I was a writer, as if we were just two poets talking craft. And what a gift that was to me then,
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 as I was just beginning to decide if this would be my life’s work. As a professor now, I’m even more amazed that he devoted this time to me—a student not even his, on an afternoon he could have been working on his own poems. I remind myself often of this generosity, especially at times when I’m not generous enough with my own students. In August of that year, after I returned from England, I read in the paper that he had died. There was a memorial service on the Lewis and Clark campus so I went, and sat on the lawn along with so many other people, and listened to poems and stories from his life. At the service his poem “Assurance” was passed out. It felt again like a little friendly wave from Bill, another way he was offering himself to us, even after his death. I have that poem now in my office. Sometimes when a student is sitting in my green chair and crying or frustrated or just feeling down, I copy the poem and give it to them. I can tell by their faces that they get the same little jolt of recognition and joy that this poem gives to me. The day my poem was unveiled in Totem Park Bight I spent an hour down on the beach. It was a beautiful fall day—amazingly not raining—and I had this miraculous quiet time to myself. With three children, a husband, and a teaching job I rarely have this. But on this day, on this beach, I had quiet, and the memory of reading his River Methow poems for the first time, and the memory of meeting him that January day. I picked up a few stones to take home with me, and looking out over the water, thought of his lines: “But now, looking out there,/she felt easy, at home in the world.” “At Home in the Poetry World” first appeared in the in the William Stafford Newsletter (2014).
Sun Notch, North Ridge, Mt. Angeles, Olympic National Park
REVIEWS Emily Wall
An Orchard of Poems: A Review of Li Bai Rides a Celestial Dolphin Home by Tom Sexton University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks, AK, 2018 Many years ago, I got an email from poet Tom Sexton. We didn’t have any friends in common, and our paths hadn’t crossed—both surprising things in a state where the writing community is so small. He wrote me saying he had a new book, had seen a few of my poems, and would I be willing to blurb his work? I knew who he was—a former Poet Laureate of Alaska!—and was pretty happy to be meeting him. I jumped at the opportunity and Yes! Send me your book! And that began our long correspondence over email, and my deepening respect for his poems. That first book he sent me blew me away, and his poems have only gotten better since then. Every now and then he sends me a few poems “to look at” and this past year I was lucky enough to read his new book in manuscript form. When the editors of Cirque approached me about writing a review of Tom’s new book, titled Li Bai Ries a Celestial Dolphin Home, I once again jumped at the opportunity. “We/came upon a tree, heavy with yellow/ apples” is one of my favorite sequences from this book, and it’s an apt metaphor for his poems. Sitting in my office with piles of papers to read, I sometimes take a break and pick up his book, sink into my green velour chair, and start hungrily reading. His poems, like yellow apples, taste sweet, and offer that wonderful thing poems can do—take us out of our world, out of our frenetic lives for a few moments—to pause, to taste, to savor. In this book, Tom and his wife retrace a crosscountry voyage from Massachusetts back to Alaska, a voyage they took 50 years ago as newlyweds. Back then
they drove a Volkswagen bus with four bald tires, dreaming of their new life in Alaska. Now they retrace those steps, stopping in hard-luck towns, truck stops, and small cafes— taking it all in again, and helping us see this vast landscape in a slow, and quiet way. Many of the poems in the book are classical “travel poems” but in the tradition of Li Bai, they help us not only see new places, but see ourselves, and the way we fit into this world, in a fresh and often startling way. One of my favorite travel poems is about a man driving back and forth in front of a hotel café. The poem begins “A man about my age drives past the once fashionable/Fort Nelson Hotel three times while I drink/a cup of bad coffee.” The poem then unfolds in a surprising way, linking poet, the man driving, and the reader in a shared history of need. This poem is what I think of as classic Tom Sexton—an ordinary day, and a poet who notices something we all missed, then gently shows us how it matters to us. In the middle of the book Sexton slides in a series of poems written in Denali National Park where he spent time as a poet in residence. He uses an ancient Chinese 8-line form taken from Li Bai and writes a series of persona poems in that poet’s voice. This combination suggests the poems would be stories of reverence or holiness but Sexton shows his playful side here too: many of the poems are in the voice of a hungover, disappointed poet who hopes to see a wolf, but mostly sees “busses that travel the park road all summer.” The sly humor of the poems in this section suggests a familiarity with Tlingit poet Nora Marks Dauenhauer and her Raven trickster poems. Midway through the book, I take a moment to admire the way Sexton balances both the light and the dark, and how many of the poems ask us to live in the space between those polarities. The darker poems make the moments of pure beauty that much more vivid. We have wolves who have been trapped out of Denali, and a truck downshifting
on Christmas morning. But those grating images make the moments of quiet and beauty that much more luminescent: after the truck, we have a snow shower. After the wolves, we have cabin full of books. Sexton uses both images and music to create this balance. His music is subtle, and used sparingly, but he offers it right when we need it—often as a counterbalance to a dark image: “sound of a snipe/two more towns to go tonight” or “Jewelry and guns./ No one was out for a morning run.” This counterbalance makes it more noticeable and more memorable. In creating this yin yang of tone in the book, Sexton is able to make ordinary objects and moments feel more important, thus reminding us of the deep beauty in this world. Sexton’s poems are always rooted deeply in the natural world. But this book also moves beyond that trope and offers poems of pure imagination and fancy. What interests me, is that for poems of pure imagination they are so real we taste them. He never uses any abstractions, never uses the word “dream” or “imagine.” He simply takes us into imagined narratives that are so detailed they must exist. In “Lake Utopia”— one of my favorites of the book—he builds an entirely fantasized scene so real we forget it’s not real. “They lift small cups of wild-civet coffee/to their lips” and “they leave her a tip and the key in the mailbox.” This intense focus on precise details takes the reader into the imagined space in an intimate way, making real something only dreamed about. Perhaps this is what I really take from these poems: the way Tom always invites me in—never leaves me out, never leaves me guessing—but lifts me gently into whatever world he’s inhabiting. He has the mature poet’s deep trust in his own writing and a wonderful faith in his readers— he assumes we will see what he’s saying, and that we too, will care. And that makes this world he’s created, this delicious orchard of his poems, a place I want to spend time in, every day.
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The Lure of Impermanence, by Carey Taylor
Cirque Press, Anchorage, AK, 2018
Carey Taylor’s first collection, The Lure of Impermanence (Cirque Press, 2018), follows the fault lines of a life – those that have ruptured to displace innocence, and those still placid beneath the surface. Taylor’s poems are painterly and cinematic. They are personal without being confessional, her cast of characters suggestive of people we do not quite know: she, her, you, he, a husband, a son, a father, family. The poet’s language of close observation – “wallet-worn corduroy pants,” “cauterized earth” that follows wildfire – and her full palette of colors offer the reader glimpses into story, character, and, most profoundly, place. Though they range far and wide, literally and figuratively, most of the poems are anchored in the towns and shores of Oregon and Washington, where Carey Taylor has spent her life. Whether place is natural (forest, bay), cosmic (Cassiopeia, Sirius), or banal (Walmart, laundry room), Taylor treats these visits with wonder and respect. There is longing, loss, observation, and grief intertwined with the hard truths of personal and political history. Reference to geography and topography allow her to map the upheavals of a life fully lived – nostalgia, desire, a parent’s feelings of impotence, a grown child’s feelings of loss. Taylor considers the many ways we’re born into change – through words, gestures, through teachers, parents, friends, through what we believe and what we’re taught to believe. With scenic mysteries and suggestive lists, each of her poems opens for the reader a “short-lived space / between roof and sky.” Crafted with care and precision, The Lure of Impermanence reflects a poet whose interests and appetites are robust and wide-ranging. It is a rewarding read and an apt selection for the very welcome expansion of the Cirque Press publishing imprint.
Every Atom, by Erin Coughlin Hollowell
Boreal Books, Pasadena, CA, 2018
Back when I was in college, my “new critic” teachers insisted that the I in poetry should never be confused with the poet. The I was always referred to as “the speaker” and was assumed to be, at least in part, an ironic literary construction. Around the same time, however, the confessional poets, among them Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Ann Sexton, rebelled against this doctrine, writing openly about themselves, flaunting their individual experiences (even if they made some of it up for dramatic effect). As a result, the distance between the speaker and the I of the poem narrowed. And these days, except in the case of obvious persona poems, we’ve gotten used to identifying the first person speaker with the poet. Every Atom, Erin Coughlin Hollowell’s somber new book about her mother’s decline into senility and the effect it had on her, is packed with this kind of powerful personal poetry. As the book opens she talks to her mother on the phone and her mother asks her to call her father, even though he’s sitting right there next to her and “He’s the one who handed her the phone.” The mother is losing her identity, and this loss is echoed in the snowy winter landscape outside the poet’s window: “First/the mountains disappear, then the water,/the trees…now all is white.” Most of the poems in the book are in regular stanzas, imposing a sense of order on the wrenching emotional states Hollowell captures as her mother declines. We feel the inner conflict and the writer’s strain in trying to maintain control but we also sense that these events follow a methodical, if heartbreaking, progression of their own. Again and again the natural world is invoked and we watch the seasons advance, sometimes as consolation but more often as an echo of the poet’s anxious inner state. And throughout the book we follow as the poet reassesses her relationship with her mother. In an
early poem, she confesses, “I was an accident,” and the reader wonders at what age and under what circumstance this revelation came to her. Hollowell goes on:
How easy it is
now to enumerate the many small disappointments
that have worn my clothing.
It takes a brave poet to offer up such a story, but the well-crafted honesty of the writing holds us and compensates for the book’s bleak narrative. We are all aging, all losing pieces of our early glory, and we need, at least once in a while, to face up to it. But the world retains its beauties, and Hollowell’s writing is alive to these as well:
How the light sluices across leaves so new they purl and shine. How two swallows flaunt above Me carving wedges of blue…
An unexpected presence in this book, serving almost as a guardian angel, is the poet Walt Whitman. Every Atom as a whole and each poem in it take their titles from Whitman’s Song of Myself. “For every atom belonging to me,” Whitman wrote, “as good belongs to you.” But his long poem is mainly a celebration of the self, while Hollowell’s book deals with the difficult ending of her mother’s life. The connection between the poets is not always easy to see. The prose poem “Hankering, gross, mystical, nude,” however, takes the form of a letter to Whitman. It begins: “Dear Walt, I see you around town, your scraggly white beard and ragged jacket.” The speaker (whoops, there I go) seeks comfort from this master, and he seems willing to offer it, but even here doubt and confusion intrude. The poem’s ending offers a temporary if sardonic consolation, advising us to “hold our lovers close while we can still remember their names.”
Erin Coughlin Hollowell
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Paul K. Haeder
Images of mirrors recur throughout the book as the poet observes herself at different stages of her life, building up toward the powerful final poem, which takes the book’s title, “Every atom.” It recounts an anecdote from the poet’s childhood when she burst in on her naked mother coming out of the shower. “And there you were, the age I am now.... The scars from my entrance into the world…creasing your belly.” The child was clearly shocked by what she saw, but as an adult, the poet looks in the mirror and sees “I am that woman you were.” We recognize the echo of Whitman’s famous line, which Hollowell reverses in the final stanza: “for every atom belonging to you/as good belongs to me.” The poem and the book end with a recognition of Hollowell’s and her mother’s parallel fates: “Just two passing/memories of the stars that spawned us/and sent us on our way into the dark.” Despite its distressing subject, Every Atom is a stirring book. Hollowell’s masterful writing and her profound reflections on her mother’s final year hold us and carry us through this grave but illuminating collection.
Desperately Seeking Inebriated Inspiration: A Review of Last Call: The Anthology of Beer, Wine & Spirits James Bertolino, Editor World Enough Writers, Tillamook, OR, 2018 Will salt rubbed in the wound of you dull the ache of time and tears. Will I continue to swig with eyes closed until my lips taste the worm. Karen Vande Bossche, “Grief Like Alcohol”
Living on the Pacific now, where towns like Newport and Lincoln City are my gateways to those tap rooms, wine tasting salons and hard-bitten oyster and booze bars, I am looking with a keener eye at James Bertolino’s 2018 book of poems, AKA homages to the fermented libations. Interestingly, the majority of the poems (177 total) covers the gamut of what it means to feel or be a human with celebrations, humor and lamentations all somehow and in many ways hitched to booze. This is not a Bukowskiflavored collection, with the 154 poets contained herein vying for some thematic or philosophical scaffolding around mead, beer, wine and spirits.
122 Bertolino does set the stage of this World Enough Writers anthology with a Charles Bukowski dizzy tied to his own alcohol-ridden world, a compelling overlay to simmer the entire suite of poems tied directly or indirectly to some form of imbibing: That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen. The anthology is broken into four chapters, as Bertolino, a poet with 12 volumes and 15 chapbooks to his name, courses through the many points of view and levels of what it means to be a crafter of words and a lover of drink with the poets he gleaned to be in the 302-page book: I. Odes & Other Poetic Libations; II. Belly Up to the Bar; III. Raise A Glass; IV. One for the Road. Early on in the anthology, poet Sheila Nickerson pivots her words around comparing a racehorse called Cherry Wine, with the liquid of the same name. The horse ended up placing second at the Preakness but faded to seventh in the Belmont Stakes: It’s like that with cherry wine – so much depends on soil, weather, and conditions of the heart as you start to crush the cherries, pouring in every win and loss. To make the finish you must be strong— bold as a stallion, but sweet as summer fruit. Remember, you were born to run this race. Many of the poems about wine are hinged to the precept of the aged grape liquid being seductive and blood borne. Many of the poems drive an epistemological theme culling the entire “water into wine” Christian parable as part of their underlaying of the miraculous molecules which seep into our consciousness and subconscious. “When you drink this wine, you believe / the Holy Spirit has visited upon your house / And you know how climatic it must feel to be saved / to speak in tongues and to rise up in glory/ when the choir sings, How Great Thou Art “(Blaise Allen, “The Rapture”). In Brandon Marlon’s “Cenobite,” he alludes to the convent
CIRQUE and monastery, places of mead, wine and port, into the vault “where malted barley and hops are alchemized into beer / and honey and water fermented into mead / planishing metal drums as kirsch, perry, and cider / distend oaken barrels and casks / under the scrutiny of the manciple and cellarer.” The following poem, one crafted by Cale Budweiser, “5000-year-old Beer Discovered,” eloquently broaches this archaeological find where Stanford University researchers used ion chromatography to analyze this discovery: Before Confucian Analects and Taoist anecdotes, upon the Central Chinese plains, 5000 years ago, shaped funnels, pots and jugs were found that brewed and filtered beers, produced with broomcorn, millet, barley, tubers and Job’s tears. Of course, the drinking poems are splayed human foibles, coupled with tumblers full of laments, as each poet looks deep inside the chamber of age and regrets, while the fermented liquids draw both sharp/occluded memory and lost hopes. In “Cocktail Hour,” poet Patricia Wellingham-Jones throws the light onto a couple, thirty years into their relationship, with threadbare familiarity as they are in the same room with their different passions: “red-wine the color of hummingbird throats diluted with water and a trail of mucous down the side” (the man’s poison). For her, “crystal tumbler of scotch over ice barely watered retaining the golden hue of dried gorse and bracken.” The spouse “wonders where wonderland went” before refilling her glass with scotch and then methodically heating dinner. Many of the pieces in the collection float between lament and woozy memory. Using Sheila Farr’s epigram for her poem “Long Night,” from Frida Kahlo, seems apropos for most of the collection: I drink to drown my sorrows, but, the damned things learned to swim. Throughout the sections, the poets unify the very idea of introspection and looking from within to the outside world, many times populated with the wonderment of the natural world – butterflies, spiders, birds, coyotes, coatimundis, pigeons, hummingbirds, dogs, felines. Many of the poems mix gin, whiskey, tequila, chardonnays and pinots with inebriated observations about life through
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 the lens of animals. For the poem, “Last Call,” David Alpaugh delves into the wonderful world of fermented fruit on a pyracantha bush or cherry tree causing overly hungry waxwings (or in my personal case, cactus wrens in Tucson) to fly away, full blotto, into an avian DUI: Hearing that dull, disheartening thud, I’ve wiped blood from my patio window and buried a drunken Bombycilla cedrorum twice this winter (pretty necks broken). From avian drunkenness to one of the typical bar scenes many writers find themselves in, talking to someone from the opposite sex/sexual preference, John Guzlowski puts out the reality of being really wasted at a party in his poem, “Talking Drunk to a Drunk Woman I Don’t Know.” so again I ask where you come from and you tell me there are moons that never see sunlight, books that never see rain, and I try to shake my head clear The booze takes over, in a surreal way, and in a dreamy way, as the narrator of Guzlowski’s poem is trapped in his own spell, the brain blurring of drink after drink at some party, any party will do: “I try to stand to go to the bathroom / but you pull me down into a puddle of bones / and finally I know your words make sense.”
loneliness, and we see this drunken journey clearly in Judith Barrington’s, “The Thirstiness of Grief.” The poet attempts to tackle her grief over her dead mother, with bottle after bottle of fermented libations as her propellent to understand that sadness and loss. The narrator takes the deceased mother’s car and retraces their trips inside an unidentified Latin country. In the end, the thirst is more than the desire for booze; the thirst is in knowing why the dead hold such a penetrating weight on the woman. Bars and café tables line my routes champagne spilled over the laze of days.
Tio Pepe said my dead mother Martini Blanco said the red letters on parasols Anis del Mono said my dead mother’s best friend, Germaine
as if we were all really thirsty – though we knew nothing of how our parched throats would burn with the array of poisons yet to come.
Kathleen McClung tackles the moon, the galaxies, and the bourbon-greased party goers in her poem, “The Party Guest Considers the Sky (A Cento for Danusha Lameris).” The juxtaposition of beauty and darkness is a common thread in other poems, but in this one, McClung looks at the scene as ominous. The artist of a painting asks the ultimate question about art:
I’ve reviewed hundreds of books over the years, as a book reviewer for the Gannett/El Paso Times. One of the compelling parts of my job was I usually got to pick the books I would read and riff with, so for my own sanity for getting paid squat for all the work, many of the reviews over the years were deliberate books for which I found a deep interest. A few reviews were hit jobs, like a book praising George W. Bush or some celebrity biographical nonsense. The books that were sent to me by editors, to be reviewed as part of a mandatory “this writer is a personal friend” assignment or because the publisher of the newspaper wanted a review to coincide with the writer’s appearance in El Paso, were acts of drudgery.
Doesn’t everything that shines carry its own shadow? Not the language, but the bones of the language after our banquet of loss. Life requires collapse.
This anthology was sent to me as a favor to help out the editors of Cirque. I found many of the poems intriguing, with poets very capable of working the magic wordsmiths can conjure up with or without the lubricating magic (or sometimes dark spell) of ethanol.
The power of altered states of consciousness is studied in many of the poems, and the elixir of the gods posits awareness, an almost divine truth seeking and repelling quality. Poems deal with the inner sanctum of fears and
One of my friends, Tod Marshall, Poet Laureate of Washington, plows through drunken fun with friends downing Rainier, PBR, and Kokanee, in his poem, “Coyotes.” The high of drinking turns into an encounter
with coyotes, in Spokane, these friendly and mysterious canine-like wild creatures but still wary of people, especially guys more than just tipsy. Marshall discovers nature out rivaling humanity when he pats one animal’s head while the other one strikes his Achilles: From the ground, the row of mailboxes looks like a line of stiff letter Ps or lockjaw Fs that say here now, right here is a Feast. Hungover in the morning. fizzy water and orange juice help. God, the day ahead is busy Good books have good closers, and Last Call ends with good ones: “Twisp, Washington” by Sibyl James; “Pinecones, Venice” by Kate Huck; and John Davis’ “Replenished.” James’ poem is thick with narrative depth, looking at land and geography as part of the inner soul, how that small town of Twisp represents a new person, not afraid of being lonely, deep into a new life contrasted with big city life back East. All about being snowed in and having a go at the Branding Iron bar: the night you stayed past closing in the Branding Iron while the waitress shared Wild Turkey on the house, let you talk until she turned the empty bottle over, smiling, handing you the news the pass was open, like a word she’d dusted off that morning and knew you’d just turned foreign enough to use. Take a swig or your cup may not runneth over. The book has gems and sweet tumblers of mescal etched into many of the pages. True, in this anthology, the poet is the writer is the artist, drawing words from the drug of ages; however, the poet here, with jug or pint in hand, is no revolutionary, no rabble-rouser. There is no PC writing here, but it’s clear that Bertolino either never received or didn’t solicit more bawdy, and I hate to cliché it, edgy stuff which would have helped balance the book overall. Maybe the touchstone of this book is the Billy Collins epigram in Kate Huck’s poem, “Pinecones, Venice”: but there was nothing to write about except life and death and the warning sound of the train whistle.
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CONTRIBUTORS Rose Algarme lives and photographs in Seattle, Washington. Kari Nielsen Amlie is originally from Montana. After receiving a BA from Middlebury College, she worked seasonally for five years as a guide and wilderness ranger in Montana, Utah, Patagonia, and Alaska. Her work has appeared in Waymaking, A Narrative Map, and The Esthetic Apostle. She is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Wyoming. Martha Amore teaches writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She achieved her MFA from UAA in 2009, and soon after VP&D House published her novella in the anthology Weathered Edge: Three Alaskan Novellas. After winning a Rasmuson Individual Artist Award in 2015, she and Lucian Childs edited the University of Alaska Press anthology Building Fires in the Snow: A Collection of Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry, which was a finalist for a LAMBDA Literary Award. Her collection of short fiction, In the Quiet Season & Other Stories, came out in 2018, and she is currently at work on an interdisciplinary PhD on feminist gothic literature through the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Jean Anderson is the author of two collections of stories, most recently Human Being Songs: Northern Stories (University of Alaska Press, 2017) and In Extremis & Other Alaskan Stories (Plover Press, 1989). She also coedited the anthology Inroads (ASCA, 1988). Her work has appeared in several anthologies and in journals including Prairie Schooner, Kalliope, Alaska Quarterly Review, Alaska Women Speak, Cirque, and elsewhere. She has lived in Fairbanks since 1966. Julien Appignani: Although I’ve finished two novels in the past eight years, I’ve managed somehow to publish neither; this piece, accepted by your magazine, represents my first work in print. I grew up in Staten Island, New York; majored in English at Trinity College, Dublin (hence this story); wrote a doctoral thesis on Dostoevsky and worked on a charter boat in Chicago, Illinois; and currently work as a park ranger at Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Diane Averill: I am twice a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, first for Branches Doubled Over With Fruit (The University of Florida Press,) and then for Beautiful Obstacles (Blue Light Press.) Since then, two more books have been published. My work appears in many anthologies around the United States. I am a graduate student of the MFA program at the University of Oregon, and taught literature and poetry writing workshops full-time at Clackamas Community College. Chaun Ballard: My chapbook, Flight, is the winner of the 2018 Sunken Garden Poetry Prize and will be published by Tupelo Press. My poems have appeared or are forthcoming in ANMLY (FKA Drunken Boat), Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Chiron Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Frontier Poetry, Grist, International Poetry Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Rattle, and other literary magazines. I received nominations for both Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize. Carol Barrett holds doctorates in both clinical psychology and creative writing. She coordinates the Creative Writing Certificate Program at Union Institute & University. Her books include Calling in the Bones, which won the Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press, Drawing Lessons from Finishing Line Press, and Pansies, a work of creative nonfiction, just out from Sonder Press. Her poems have appeared in JAMA, Poetry
International, Poetry Northwest, The Women’s Review of Books, and many other venues. A former NEA Fellow in Poetry, she lives in Bend, OR. Judith Barrington’s Lifesaving: A Memoir was the winner of the Lambda Book Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. She is also the author of the best-selling Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art and five collections of poetry, most recently: Long Love: New and Selected Poems, released by Salmon Poetry June 2018. She has been a faculty member of the University of Alaska, Anchorage’s low-residency MFA Program and teaches workshops around the U.S. and in Britain. More at: www.judithbarrington.com Rachel Barton, poet, writing coach, and member of the Calyx Editorial Collective, edits Willawaw Journal, and co-chairs Willamette Writers on the River. Find her poems in Hubbub, Oregon English Journal, Whale Road Review, Cloudbank, and other journals. Out of the Woods was released in 2017. Happiness Comes is just released from Dancing Girl Press. Toni La Ree Bennett is both a photographer and writer. She attended the University of Washington where she received a Ph.D. in English and a Certificate in Photography. She was lucky enough to study with Mary Ellen Mark in Oaxaca, Mexico. Her photographs have appeared in Women Arts Quarterly (cover), Cimarron Review (cover), Nassau Review (cover) Rappahannock Review, Glassworks, Gravel, Grief Diaries, Memoir, Stickman Review, on the cover of Dear Caro, a poetry chapbook published by Desert Willow Press and her own poetry chapbook, Solar Subjugation, out in March 2019 from Finishing Line Press. Her work has appeared in many exhibitions in the Seattle area and is in private collections and online at tonibennett.com. Kristin Berger is the author of the poetry collections Refugia (Persian Pony Press, 2019), Echolocation (Cirque Press, 2018), How Light Reaches Us (Aldrich Press, 2016), and For the Willing (Finishing Line Press, 2008). Her long prose-poem and collaboration with printmaker Diane Sandall, Changing Woman & Changing Man: A High Desert Myth will be published in 2019/2020. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she cohosts the Lents Farmers Market Poetry Series, which has brought over 40 local emerging and established poets to the neighborhood. More at kristinberger.me. James Bertolino taught literature and creative writing for 36 years, and retired from a position as Writer-in-Residence at Willamette University in 2006. Bertolino’s poetry has been appearing internationally in books, magazines and anthologies for well over 40 years. His first book was published in 1968, and his most recent of 28 titles, Last Call: The Anthology of Beer, Wine & Spirits is reviewed in this issue. Barry Biechner is a poet, artist, and raft guide. He lives in Idaho. Susan Biggs: I classify myself as an emerging photographer. I’ve always loved taking pictures, but these last few years I have developed that love into an art of expressing me. My work has been well received: I have pieces in state-wide juried shows including Rarified Light, All-Alaska Biennial, and Alaska Positive. Over the past several years I’ve been in galleries in Portland, New York, Minneapolis, San Diego, Fairbanks, and Kenai, and won first place in Alaska Magazine’s Photo Contest. Besides solo shows, Veronica’s Coffee House in Kenai has a
126 revolving collection of my works on display. Stephen D. Bolen is a poet from Kotzebue, Alaska. He currently attends university in Anchorage. 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 before being hired as a reporter at The Seattle Times 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. He is currently President of the Puget Sound Camera Club, an affiliate of the Northwest Council of Camera Clubs. Abigail B. Calkin: My recent publications include literary nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, and publications in behavior analysis. In its April 2015 issue, the online poetry journal, Poetry Repairs, published 30 of the poems that are in my book, The Soul of My Soldier (2015). My article, “Writing on Writing,” is in the International Journal of Educational Research (2018). A fun one to write, it is an analytic and measured look at the creative process of teaching writing and of writing The Night Orion Fell (2012). S.W. Campbell was born in Eastern Oregon. He currently resides in Portland where he works as an economist and lives with a house plant named Morton. He has had numerous short stories published in various literary reviews. His first novel, The Uncanny Valley, and first short story collection, An Unsated Thirst, are available for purchase at his website, www.shawnwcampbell.com. He has been published previously in The Soundings Review, Flash Monster II Mega-Issue, China Grove, The Bellevue Literary Review, The MacGuffin, Apeiron Review, Permafrost Magazine, New Plains Review, Tin House Online, and Clackamas Literary Review. Teresa Carns: Photography complements my written work, providing a different path to the world around. The camera focuses on snapshots, a point-&-shoot collage of each day.
CIRQUE Nard Claar: “I am inspired by the wild world of nature with its mix of light, color and shapes. Art is my expression to explore my whole self. I sink my roots into this world of inter-dependency and interconnections...” Claar has studied art in workshops and academic settings. He teaches classes and provides demonstrations here and abroad. From government employee to business owner, Nard has held a variety of roles. He has been a wilderness guide, trip guide, ski instructor, carpenter, commercial photographer, and published poet. He works with several non-profits to promote the environment, arts, and community. A member of both local and national art groups, Nard was featured in the Pike’s Peak Library District’s art video “Landscapes of the Mind,” online at http://vimeo.com/26206752 Janet Clemens is known for her colorful acrylic paintings with embellishments and artwork that often feature Alaska wildlife. Tiffany Rosamond Creed earned a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies from Portland State University (’13) and a Master of Fine Arts in Literary Nonfiction from the University of Alaska Anchorage (’18). Her written and visual work has been published in The Qargi Zine, Alaska Women Speak, Into the Void and Cathexis NW. In 2018, she was a featured poet with Poetry Parley of Anchorage, Alaska and an exhibitor at the Anchorage Museum during Anchorage Design Week. She enjoys drinking coffee, discovering new music, and watching the sun come back a couple of minutes at a time each day. She lives in Kotzebue, Alaska Kimberly Davis is Alaskan born & raised. As a local residential gardener Kim is inspired by the beautiful flora that surrounds her summer days. She has a great love of the outdoors, travel, and photography. Lin Davis: Through Alaska Buttercups, this pantoum ran to Lin, weed eater in hand. Shy poet, LGBTQ, daily hiker in Juneau rain, a hound or two bouncing the trail ahead. Sitka spruces watch as word rivers braid through her. Tidal Echoes and Southeast Alaska’s Capital City Weekly kindly show Lin’s poems. Tribe times at Skagway’s North Words and Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conferences. Classes with Emily Wall, University of Alaska Southeast professor poet: touch the fire; choose brave; haiku your heart.
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 chapbook titled What Caught Raven’s Eye (Petroglyph Press, 2018) along with her first full-length collection of poetry, Something Yet to Be Named (Aldrich Press, 2017). Kersten is the poetry editor of the quarterly journal, Alaska Women Speak. Margaret Chula has published eight collections of poetry including, most recently, Daffodils at Twilight. Grants from the Oregon Arts Commission and the Regional Arts and Culture Council have supported her work as well as fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and Playa. Maggie has been a featured speaker and workshop leader at writers’ conferences throughout the United States, as well as in Poland, Canada, and Japan. She has also served as president of the Tanka Society of America and as Poet Laureate for Friends of Chamber Music. Living in Kyoto for twelve years, she now makes her home in Portland, Oregon.
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 Kemuel DeMoville is an award-winning playwright whose work has been produced internationally every year since 2005. His work was the recipient of both the Residents Prize for Playwriting, and the Hawaii Prize for Playwriting from Kumu Kahua Theatre. His work has been published by Spider Magazine, YouthPLAYS, Heuer Publishing, Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, Meow Meow Pow Pow, and is included in 222 MORE Comedy Monologues from Smith and Kraus Publishers. Alayna Doyal: my name is alayna. i’m twenty-three years old. i reside in seattle with the love of my life. i scoop ice cream for a local business and create written content for another. more than anything, i want to making a living writing poetry. nothing keeps me going the way writing does. Angela Dribben: I moved to Idaho 14 years ago from Southside, Virginia. I am pursuing my MFA at MUW in Mississippi. I attend my first Bread Loaf this summer. Judith R. Duncan: Growing up on a dairy farm in the foothills of the Ozarks and hiking the forest in-between milking times, I am grateful for retirement in the beauty of the foothills around Sequim, Washington. Retired from university teaching and software development in Chicago, I tend chickens and take long walks with my husband and dog. I believe that a walk in the forest solves most problems that worry me. Rodrigo Etcheto: A native of the Pacific Northwest, Rodrigo began his excursions into the forests, mountains and coast as an exercise in philosophical contemplation. Spending time alone in the wilds turned from a therapeutic endeavor into a passion for capturing the unique moments he saw. An avid reader and student of philosophy, Rodrigo derives much of his inspiration from the works of the ancient Stoics and Epicureans. He is obsessed with the flow of time and themes of change, impermanence, life death & rebirth, and tranquility. As a father of three young children, he has a daily reminder of the incredibly rapid flow of time and the incessant change deep inside each of us. Robert M. Fagen lives in Juneau, Alaska. A zoologist and recreational dancer, he performs annually in a local production of the Nutcracker ballet. His poetry has appeared in several publications, including Cirque, Blue Unicorn, Comstock Review and Crab Creek Review. Barbara Flaherty: These poems, originally meant as a personal integration, are being released now in gratitude as a way of memorializing a truly remarkable generation of Alaska Native men and women who emerged from the long silence of colonial oppression imposed by church and state. After the passage of the 1978 Freedom of Religion Act that made traditional healing practices and ceremonies legal, they courageously sought to revive the traditional worldview and practices, and integrate those with useful aspects of the western healing tradition in order to strengthen their peoples, and heal the wounds inflicted by colonization. Barbara Flaherty is a poet and western trained counselor who collaborated with them in this adventure of spirit, and whose own worldview was transformed by them. Allen Forrest is a writer, graphic artist, and filmmaker, the winner of the 2015 Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine, he lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. His Bel Red landscape paintings are part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection in Bellevue, WA. To find more of his published works, please visit him online at http://art-grafiken.blogspot.ca/2016/04/poetryand-prose.html to browse his poetry and prose collection; and http://
127 art-grafiken.blogspot.ca/2016/12/graphic-narrative.html to browse his graphic narrative collection. Hal Gage: Born and raised in Anchorage Alaska, Gage’s career spans 40 years. He studied painting and drawing and photography at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Gage mounted his first one-person show of photography in 1989. By the late 1990s, he was represented by the Weston Gallery in Carmel, CA; Benham Gallery in Seattle, WA; and the Fotografie Forum in Frankfort, Germany. In 2004 he had his first major one-person exhibition at the Anchorage Museum which traveled to the Alaska State Museum and other venues in Alaska and Oregon. That work is on permanent display at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, Fairbanks and is in the permanent collections of the Alaska State Museum, Juneau; Anchorage Museum; and the Pratt Museum, Homer, Alaska. Among other distinctions, Gage has twice been awarded a Rasmuson Fellowship. His public art commissions are sited in Fairbanks, AK and Seattle, WA. Hal Gage lives in Anchorage, Alaska with writer Jean Ayers. He teaches classes and workshops and exhibits work around the world. Giovanna Gambardella is an architect born and raised in Italy and living in Alaska since 2001. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Genoa, School of Architecture. She had the opportunity to live, work, and study in Italy, Spain, Guam, and the US. During her travels she developed an interest in photography. In the US, she designed multiple building types, including libraries, museums, schools, medical office buildings, and multi-family residences. She approaches design with creativity and patience, always keeping the users in mind. Design contributions in Alaska include projects in Juneau, Fairbanks, Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula, and Interior Alaska. Andrea L. Hackbarth lives in Palmer, Alaska, where she works as a writing tutor and piano technician. She holds a BA in English from Lawrence University and an MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Some of her work can be found in Mezzo Cammin, Gravel, Measure, and other print and online journals. She blogs about poetry and other poetic things at www.thelostintent.com Paul Haeder: I am widely published in newspapers, literary journals, online publications, collections and magazines. I have been a newspaper reporter, college faculty, dive master, PK12 teacher, social worker and am currently working in a homeless shelter for homeless veterans. Jim Hanlen has poems in The Connecticut River Review, English Journal, Rattle and Cirque. Jim wrote 17 Toutle River Haiku and coauthored Postcards to Jim with Jim Thielman. Jim retired from teaching and lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Kay Haneline has lived in Alaska since 1965 and Anchorage since 1973. She discovered Cold Wax Medium (CWM) two years ago which re-awaked a desire to work in oils. Previously she had focused on glass tile mosaics, watercolors, fish prints, silversmithing and jewelry making. While making mosaics was rewarding, she felt constrained by the colors available in glass and missed mixing her own colors. CWM opened the door and reignited a desire to paint. Working with CWM has taught her patience, learning to let the paint dry…and working on more than one project at a time. Landscapes of favorite Alaska scenes as well as abstracts provide a variety of opportunities for expression. Kay has exhibited previous work at the Cosmic Cafe, the Loft, the Aurora Gallery, and Art Works. She has studied art at University of Alaska, Anchorage, the Oregon School of Arts & Crafts in Portland Oregon, Hui
128 Noeau on Maui, and with Sonia King in Falmouth Massachusetts and Janice Mason Steves, Jerry McLaughlin, and J.C. Hickok. TA Harrison is an aspiring writer and photographer from Seattle. His goal is make the otherwise boring or unseen parts of life interesting and full of color. Esther Altshul Helfgott is a non-fiction writer and poet with a Ph.D. in History from the University of Washington. She is the author of Listening to Mozart: Poems of Alzheimer's (Cave Moon Press, 2014); Dear Alzheimer's: A Caregivers Diary & Poems (Cave Moon Press, 2013); The Homeless One (KotaPress, 2000). Her writing has appeared in American Imago; Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer's Disease; BlackPast.org; Blue Lyre Review; Cirque; Floating Bridge Review; HistoryLink.org; Journal of Poetry Therapy; Raven Chronicles, Ribbons; and elsewhere. Esther is the founder of Seattle's It's About Time Writers Reading Series, now in its 29th year. Yuliya Helgesen-Thompson was born in Russia and raised in Germany. She got her MFA and moved to Alaska in 1997. Routine has never been a statement for her painting or her life. She likes to channel the medium that seems most relevant to her at the time and to use it to enable her to create a piece of art in the moment. Visually, Yuliya wants her paintings to speak musically through the crafted shapes, colors, surfaces and space. Yuliya’s art @ Facebook and at https://yuliyaht. wixsite.com/website Marybeth Holleman is author of several books including The Heart of the Sound and Among Wolves, and editor of Crosscurrents North. Pushcart-prize nominee and finalist for the Siskiyou Prize for Environmental Literature, she’s published essays and poetry in such venues as Orion, Sierra, Christian Science Monitor, North American Review, ISLE/OUP, The Future of Nature, and on National Public Radio. She’s taught creative writing and women’s studies at University of Alaska and in wilderness workshops throughout Alaska, speaks regularly on writing and the environment at universities and conferences nationwide, and runs the blog Art and Nature. She earned her B.A. in Environmental Studies from UNC-Chapel Hill and her MFA from UAA. Raised in the Smokies of North Carolina, she transplanted to Alaska’s Chugach mountains thirty years ago. www.marybethholleman.com
CIRQUE Susan Johnson writes in Roslyn, Washington, her home of forty years where she met her husband, raised their family, and taught in the schools. She continues to hike the trails, welcome her grandchildren, and participate in a supportive writing community. Her work has appeared in Raven Chronicles, Windfall, Cirque, Rise Up Review, Poets Unite! LiTFUSE @10 Anthology, Yakima Coffeehouse Poets Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three, and Twenty-Four, WA129+, and Earth's Daughters. Desirée Jung: I have published translations, fiction, and poetry in Exile, Modern Poetry in Translation, The Antigonish Review, The Impressment Gang, Belleville Park, Echolocation, Carte Blanche, Hamilton Stone Review, Ijagun Poetry Journal, Scapegoat Review, Perceptions, Loading Zone, Star 82 Review, The Steel Chisel, and Off the Coast among others. I have participated in several artist residencies including the Banff Centre, in Canada, Valparaiso, in Spain, and Martha’s Vineyard residency in the US. My book of short stories Desejos Submersos is published by Chiado Editora. I have a film degree from the Vancouver Film School as well as a B.F.A and an M.F.A in Creative Writing, as well as a Ph.D. in Comparative literature, all from the University of British Columbia. For more information, see: www.desireejung.com Jan Jung lives in Bellingham, Washington with her husband and their beloved dog, Renny. She enjoys walking in the woods, choral singing, photography, and visiting with her three children and five grandchildren. She has worked as a mental health counselor and an elementary/special education teacher for many years. Jan has a passion for capturing images that might otherwise go unnoticed. Her photos have appeared in Cottage Magazine, Cirque and in the children's book, Bridges Cloud. Aurelia Kessler lives in Juneau, Alaska. She is a knitter, reader, and aspiring hiker. Her poetry has appeared in Alaska Women Speak and Tidal Echoes. J.I. Kleinberg is artist, poet, freelance writer, and co-editor of 56 Days of August (Five Oaks Press 2017) and Noisy Water: Poetry from Whatcom County, Washington (Other Mind Press, 2015). A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, her poetry has appeared in One, Diagram, Otoliths, Raven Chronicles, Cirque, Psaltery & Lyre, and elsewhere. She lives in Bellingham, Washington, and blogs most days at chocolateisaverb. wordpress.com and thepoetrydepartment.wordpress.com.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell is a poet and writer who lives at the end of the road in Alaska. Prior to landing in Alaska, she lived on both coasts, in big cities and small towns, pursuing many different professions from tapestry weaving to arts administration. Boreal Books published her first collection Pause, Traveler in 2013 and her second collection Every Atom in 2018. Her chapbook Boundaries was published in 2018 by Dancing Girl Press. She has been awarded two Rasmuson Foundation Fellowships, a Connie Boochever Award, and an Alaska Literary Award. She teaches for the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference and the University of Alaska Anchorage Low-Residency MFA program. She is the executive director of Storyknife Writers Retreat, a writer’s residency in Homer, Alaska.
Eric le Fatte was educated at MIT and Northeastern University in biology and English, and worked as the Returns King at Eastern Mountain Sports, but currently teaches, hikes, and writes in the Portland, Oregon area. He has published poems in Rune, The Mountain Gazette, Windfall, The Clackamas Literary Review, The Raven Chronicles, The Poeming Pigeon, Verseweavers, US #1 Worksheets, Perceptions, and yes, in Cirque.
Sarah Isto lives in Juneau but spends the equinox months in Interior Alaska where she was born. Both these home places continue to nourish her for which she is grateful. She is author of two non-fiction books published by the University of Alaska Press. Her poetry has appeared in Gold Man Review, the Penwood Review, the Timberline, Perfume River Poetry Review, Minerva Rising, Windfall, Cirque and elsewhere.
Peter Ludwin is the recipient of a Literary Fellowship from Artist Trust and the 2016 winner of the Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Award. His most recent book is Gone to Gold Mountain, which was nominated for a Washington State Book Award, as well as an American Book Award by the Before Columbus Foundation. He lives near Seattle.
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.
Justin Luz: Aloha, my name is Jordan Luz and I teach first-year writing
Vo l . 1 0 N o . 1 courses in the English department at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. I was born and raised in Hawaii and received my MA in English at UHM as well. I have a profound interest in writing in Hawaiian Creole English, also known as Hawaiian Pidgin, as it has shaped part of my identity growing up in Hawaii. Part of this piece is written in HCE and is based partly on my own experiences. Shawn Lyons, by vocation and avocation, lives a life of many parts-classical guitarist, teacher at UAA, and hiker and climber. In regards to the last, after many long hikes through many a valley and over many a summit, many consider him the hiking guru of South Central Alaska. As an ultra-athlete, he won the Iditashoe snowshoe race 9 times, and the 100-mile Coldfoot Classic, held on Halloween above the Arctic Circle, 3 times. Shawn’s outdoor narratives appeared in a weekly column for The Anchorage Daily News. He now publishes articles and photographs of his hikes and climbs at his own website: shawnlyonsbooks.com Kilmeny MacMichael lives in western Canada’s Okanagan Valley, where she writes flash and short fiction. She has been published online with The Ilanot Review, Watershed Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and other publications. Poet Ruth Marcus lives in Sequim, WA. She appreciates regular visits from the Muse and loves ekphrastic poetry inspired by artists’ paintings. Her poems are published in WA129 Poets of Washington; Tidepools (Peninsula College literary magazine); Art Inspires Poetry: An Anthology of Ekphrastic Poems and the Art that Inspired Them (Craven Arts Council & Gallery, NC); Last Wednesday: A Pacific Northwest Anthology of Poetry, and in The Words of Olympic Peninsula Authors (2017 Ed.). Ruth’s creativity shines in a body of work titled Haiku & Mandala: The Wedding of Ancient Art. Her creative spirit loves being with other creative types. Terry Martin used to teach, but now she doesn’t. She lives and writes in Yakima, Washington—The Fruit Bowl of the Nation. 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 three books of poems: Making It Simple, Mark Making, and Just Between Us that came out in 2018 by University of Alaska Press. He is a recipient of grants from the National Council on the Arts and the state of Alaska Council on the Arts and Humaniti999es. Karla Linn Merrifield, has 13 books to her credit, the newest of which is Psyche’s Scroll, a book-length poem, from The Poetry Box Select (2018). Forthcoming in June 2019 is her full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North, from Cirque Press. Her Godwit: Poems of Canada (FootHills Publishing) received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. She is assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye. Visit her blog, Vagabond Poet Redux, at http://karlalinn.blogspot.com. Google her name to learn more; Tweet @LinnMerrifiel; https://www. facebook.com/karlalinn.merrifield John Morgan has published six books of poetry and a collection of essays. In addition to Cirque his work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Paris Review, and many other magazines. His Collected Poems, 1965-2018 was published this Spring by Salmon Poetry. Morgan divides his time
Beach Rocks Arranged on Shipping Pallet, Kotzebue Sound, August 2015
Tiffany Rosamond Creed
between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Bellingham, Washington. For more information visit his website: johnmorganpoet.com Originally from Vancouver, Canada, kjmunro moved to the Yukon Territory in 1991. She is Membership Secretary for Haiku Canada, & she founded & facilitates “solstice haiku,” a monthly haiku discussion group in Whitehorse. She has two leaflets with Leaf Press, & co-edited the anthology of crime-themed haiku Body of Evidence: a collection of killer ’ku. Her submission “the distance” was shortlisted for the Vallum Chapbook Award 2018, & she was Artist in Residence at Jenni House in Whitehorse for the month of June 2018. She is currently compiling a weekly blog feature for The Haiku Foundation. Mark Muro is a poet, playwright and performer who lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska.. Linnea Nelson received her MFA from Oregon State University, where her mentors included David Biespiel, Karen Holmberg, and Jennifer Richter. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Rattle, Gold Man Review, The Adirondack Review, San Pedro River Review, Tule Review, The New Writer, and Tribeca Poetry Review, among other publications. She is Associate Editor for Cloudbank Books, and lives in Corvallis, Oregon, with her husband and two sprightly cats. Ryleigh Norgrove: My name is Ryleigh Norgrove, I currently live and work in Salem, Oregon. Creatively, I write poetry, creative-nonfiction and flash fiction essays. I also have extensive experience writing journalistic articles and rhetoric essays. K.M. Perry enjoys living an adventurous life to the fullest with a love for traveling, photography, writing, hiking, and humanitarian aid work. She is currently based in Juneau, Alaska. Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita, has six full-length books of poetry, most recently Understory, from Lost Horse Press. Her
130 poems have appeared in many journals, including Poetry, The New Republic, Prairie Schooner, Willow Springs, Calyx, and the Internet’s Poetry Daily. A Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, she received the 2006 Holbrook Award from Oregon Literary Arts. In 2013 she was Willamette Writers’ Distinguished Northwest Writer. A seventh collection of her poems, One Small Sun, was published by Salmon Poetry in March 2019. Tami Phelps is an Alaskan artist who paints with cold wax medium and is also a fine art photographer. She sometimes combines the two, and often adds assemblage. Music is a big influence in her work and she rarely passes up an antique shop. Her art is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Encaustic Art in Santa Fe, NM and the Anchorage Museum of History and Fine Art in Alaska. Timothy Pilgrim, a Pacific Northwest poet with several hundred acceptances by journals such as Seattle Review, Cirque, San Pedro River Review, Toasted Cheese, Hobart, Windsor Review and Third Wednesday, is author of Mapping Water (Flying Trout Press, 2016). His work is at www.timothypilgrim.org Ken Post: Originally from New Jersey, I came to Alaska and spent many summers deep in the woods working for the Forest Service. My previously published work includes a nonfiction article titled “Admiralty’s Trail Crew Goes Back to the Future” for Forest World magazine. My name is Brenda Ray, an Idaho native. I am an MFA student and teaching fellow at The New School university where I study with John Freeman and Brenda Wineapple. Previous publications include Brooklyn Magazine, Four Chambers Press, and SoFar Sounds New York. Elizabeth Reutlinger was born in Louisville, Kentucky and moved to Port Townsend in 1976. Her education includes a BFA degree in ceramics and jewelry design and an MA in psychology. She has
CIRQUE worked as a sculptor with a variety of mediums, including concrete, bronze and found materials. In 2007 she attended an introduction to oil painting class given by artist Diane Ainsworth. Since then, she has taken any and all art classes that interest her. She currently paints in her home studio in Quilcene with the company of her husband, David, and their cat, Louis. Timothy Roos: I grew up in western Washington and have lived in central Washington, southern California, and on the Olympic Peninsula where my wife and I raised our two children. My poems have appeared in such journals as Poetry East, The Raven Chronicles, Pontoon, Alba, and Soundings Review. My interests include photography, mountaineering, and helping my healer-mix in the art of frisbee. I work as a high school teacher in Port Angeles, WA. My photographs have been displayed at a variety of shows and venues in the North Olympic Peninsula area, and recently in Cirque. Katharine Salzmann is a poet and playwright living in Portland, Oregon. She has two chapbooks, Hemopoiesis (1995) and Prayer Ceremony (2007), published by the pop-up impress persian pony press. She makes her living as a massage therapist in private practice. She recently traveled to Iran which was, she reports, quite a bit like home. Joel Savishinsky: I am a retired professor of anthropology and gerontology, and have studied human development, adaptations to diverse ecosystems, and the aging process, in the Canadian Arctic, Turkey, the Caribbean, the US, England and India. Those privileged opportunities inform the way I see, think and write about the diversity of human experience and the nature of my own society. My books include The Trail of the Hare: Environment and Stress in a Sub-Arctic Community, and Breaking The Watch: The Meanings of Retirement in America, which won the Gerontological Society of America’s Kalish Award for Innovative Publishing. My poetry has appeared in several places, including Anthropology and Humanism Quarterly, The Avocet, The Berkshire Review, Crosscurrents, The New York Times, Pageboy, Passager Journal, Right Hand Pointing, Starfish, Third Eye, Windfall, and Xanadu. Tamara Kaye Sellman is a widely published writer living in Bainbridge Island, WA. Her work has recently appeared, or is forthcoming, in 50-Word Stories, Something On Our Minds, The Nervous Breakdown, Halfway Down the Stairs, Collective Unrest, Postcard Poems and Prose, and Crab Creek Review. Her work has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. She works as a sleep health educator, healthcare writer, and MS advocate/columnist when she’s not crafting creative prose. 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
Trucks of Red
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and finally dropped into their new, foreign environment. The same can be said for some of us. Michael Sobel at www. michaelsobel.photo Makani Speier-Brito grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii and is a recent graduate of the University of California – Santa Cruz. She received her BA in Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in several publications including Z Publishing ‘Best of California,’ Matchbox Magazine, Red Wheelbarrow, Chinquapin and Forever Spoken. She loves the beach, chai, hugs and the feeling after it rains. Jeremy Springsteed is a barista living in Seattle. He was one of the founders of the Breadline Performance Series and is one of the organizers of the Chain Letter Performance Series. His work has been published in Rue Scribe, Mantis, Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia, The Paragon Press, Pidgeonholes and Pageboy. Cheryl Stadig grew up meandering the woods, fields, and waterways of Maine. She lived in Alaska for almost 20 years, at various times calling Teller, Anchorage, Ketchikan, and Prince of Wales Island (POW) home. Raising two sons on POW and the experience of everyday life in Alaska influence her work greatly. Her work has been published in Cirque, Inside Passages, and other publications. She currently explores from New Hampshire.
Mirror #2 dozen collections of poetry. His latest collection, Li Bai Rides a Celestial Dolphin Home was published by the University of Alaska Press in August 2018. Philip Shackleton: I am poet and short-story writer currently living in Oregon. I graduated from the U of O and I am a native of Alaska. My last published poem was in an English Anthology. Karen Shepherd lives with her husband and two teenagers in the Pacific Northwest where she enjoys walking in forests and listening to the rain. Her poetry and flash fiction have been published in various journals including riverbabble, CircleShow, The Literary Nest and Halfway Down the Stairs. She is just learning how to tweet at https://twitter. com/karkarneenee Alex Skousen is a writer and poet living in Portland, OR. Kathleen Smith is a northwest poet with roots in Montana’s Flathead Valley. Her work has appeared in Raven Chronicles, Windfall, Cirque, Helen: A Literary Journal, Rise Up Review, Baseball Bard, and The Far Field. Also included in several regional anthologies: Okanogan Poems 2 and 3, Floating Bridge Review #7, Poets Unite: LitFuse @10 Anthology, Yakima Coffee House Poets Twenty Second, and 129+ More Poets of WA. She lives and writes in the community of Roslyn, WA. Michael Sobel is a Seattle photographer, with a focus on the natural world and the people in it. These photographs are part of a series entitled “Glacial Erratics.” These rocks don’t belong to the native geology of the region where they’re found—they have wandered there. In fact, they have been carried long distances by ancient glaciers,
Kathleen Stancik lives in a small community on the eastern slopes of the Washington Cascades. Her poems have been published in Cirque, Twenty-Third, WA129+3 Digital Chapbook, Poets Unite! The LiTFUSE @10 Anthology, Ekphrastic Journal and others. She was a featured poet at the Inland Poetry Prowl in 2017 and has been one of the organizers and presenters at the Roslyn Winter Poetry Series for the past four years. Travis Stephens was raised on a dairy farm before departing for the West Coast. A sea captain, he worked the North Pacific from Vancouver Island to the Bering Sea. His work has appeared recently in Stoneboat Review, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Southword, Havik, and Pennsylvania English. Online his was a Poem of the Week for Silver Needle Press and poems appeared in Ink & Voices and HCE Review. Sheary Clough Suiter grew up in Eugene, Oregon, then lived in Alaska for 35 years before her transition to Colorado. Her encaustic fine art is represented in Anchorage, Alaska by Stephan Fine Art, in Camas, Washington by the Attic Gallery, in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado by Stones, Bones, & Wood Gallery, and in Old Colorado City, Colorado 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, Colorado Springs Fine Art Center at Colorado College, and works from her studio in Colorado Springs. Online at www.backdoordesigns Margaret Swart lives in Fairbanks, AK in a log cabin home. Her companions include one lap dog, four indoor cats and sixteen outdoor chickens. She has worked in Public Relations, Education and the nonprofit sector. She is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and returnee to Alaska, the home of her heart. She is enjoying retirement by steeping herself in the concentrated reflective arts of poetry and
132 fiction writing. Her inspiration comes from Nature and tackling the unknown as if she could do anything. Kathleen Tarr, Anchorage, is the author of We Are All Poets Here (2018, VP&D House), part-memoir, part-biography, a modern-day spiritual journey involving Alaska, Russia, and Thomas Merton. Her work has appeared in a wide range of anthologies, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and literary journals including the Sewanee Review, Cirque, Creative Nonfiction, and TriQuarterly. Kathleen served for five years as the first Program Coordinator of UAA’s low residency MFA Program in creative writing. She has been a regular instructor for 49 Writers. In 2016, she was named a William Shannon Fellow by the International Thomas Merton Society. She is a contributor to a special volume of essays commemorating the centennial of Thomas Merton’s birth: We Are Already One: Merton’s Message of Hope (2015, Fons Vitae Press). And her work is forthcoming (2019) in the anthology, Thomas Merton and the World’s Indigenous Wisdoms. Kathleen earned an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Pittsburgh. As long-time Alaskan, her deep interest in Russian history and culture has made her a frequent traveler throughout Russia since 1990. For the past four years, she has been involved in the production of a soon-to-be-released documentary film “Big Lies” which focuses on the brutal repressions and atrocities committed by the Soviet regime against the peasantry during the collectivization of farms in 1932-33. We Are All Poets Here is her debut book. Carey Taylor is the author of The Lure of Impermanence (Cirque Press, 2018). Her poetry has appeared in regional, national, and international publications and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Born in Bandon, Oregon, she has spent her entire life at the western edges of Oregon and Washington. Taylor has a Master of Arts degree in School Counseling, and when not worrying about earthquakes, enjoys hiking, traveling and a smooth whiskey. She lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. 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 has worked for The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the University of Alaska as a biologist but now is a financial advisor in private practice. His photographs have been seen in several publications, including Alaska Magazine, Alaska Geographic, and Cirque. He lives in Anchorage with his wife Susan. Taking photos forces him to stop and really see the world. Grace Tran lives in Portland, Oregon. She has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and was a 2017/2018 national and “Best of Issue” winner of the American High School Poets “Just Poetry” quarterly contest. She has been both a runner-up and fiction grand prize winner of the Scholastic Kids are Authors contest. She has also had works appear or be forthcoming in The Pangolin Review and Polyphony H.S.dc Heidi Turner is a writer and musician from Maui, Hawaii. She holds a Master’s in English from Azusa Pacific University and has been published in Cirque as well as in Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Gravel Magazine, and The Adirondack Review. You can follow her work at www. hidturner.com Lucy Tyrrell finds inspiration for her poetry/creativity from nature and wild landscapes, outdoor pursuits, memories, and travel. In 2016, after 16 years in Alaska, she traded a big mountain (Denali) for a big lake (Lake Superior). Lucy lives the spirit of Alaska deeply even while living near Bayfield, Wisconsin.
CIRQUE Katherine Van Eddy is a California-born poet living in Tacoma, Washington with her husband, two young children, and their cat Dexter. She earned a BA in Creative Writing and MAT in Elementary Education from the University of Puget Sound. Her poems have appeared in Crosscurrents (University of Puget Sound), Creative Colloquy Volume 4, Gold Man Review, and HoosierLit. She is a member of Striped Water Poets (based in Auburn) as well as Third Saturday Writers (based in Tacoma). She currently teaches 3rd/4th grade at a Catholic school while moonlighting as a writer and runner. Emily Wall is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Alaska. She holds an M.F.A. in poetry and her poems have been published in journals in the US and Canada, most recently in Prairie Schooner and Alaska Quarterly Review. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and recently won the Minerva Rising chapbook Dare to Be Contest with her chapbook Flame. She has two books published with Salmon Poetry: Liveaboard and Freshly Rooted. Her third book, Breaking Into Air: Birth Poems is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. Emily lives and writes in Douglas, Alaska. She can be found online at www. emily-wall.com.. O. Alan Weltzien, an English professor in Montana, grew up summers on a Puget Sound island and often writes poems about salt water life. He’s published a chapbook and two poetry collections, most recently, Rembrandt in the Stairwell (2016). Josh Wisniewski is a recovering anthropologist, a hand troller, a subsistence fisherman, a poet, and hermit, currently living in Sitka, Alaska. He has lived in diverse locations across Alaska from Shishmaref to Prince of Wales Island, and has long been interested in the aesthetics of coastal Alaska life-ways and the diversity of human relationships with the natural world. 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, the American Alpine Club, and more. He has been the designer and web designer for Cirque since its inaugural issue. paxsonwoelber.com Tonja Woelber has called Alaska home for 40 years and enjoys the mountains in all weathers. She thanks her collaborative poetry group, Ten Poets, for their patience and diplomacy. Nancy Woods lives in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales From a Pacific Northwest Writer and Hooked on Antifreeze: True Tales About Loving and Leaving Alaska. Her poem “Remembering Harding Lake,” published in Cirque, won the Andy Hope Literary Award. https://nancy-woods.com/ ZsaNan (janeAnne Narrin) is “un-retired” to Asheville, N.C. from her homes in Friday Harbor and Seattle, Washington. She is a contemporary visual artist and the author of various print publications and web sites including The Sage Companion Project –(https://www.whitehair365.com/ ) and ZsaNan Studio 7 – (https:// zsanan.pixels.com.) ZsaNan’s art pieces blend bold and striking colors, intriguing textures with a touch of surrealism, whimsical feel – contemporaneously with visionary fantasy and abstract overtones. This is a unique style- a “voice” recognized as her very own. Her paintings and photographic art are spontaneous, free expressions created with heart and mind that reflect her spirit and expressive freedom.
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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 2019 Issue. Replies average two to three months, and we don’t mind you checking with us about your submissions.
Cirque #20 (Summer 2019) Submission Deadline: April 21, 2019
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
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 10, N O. 1
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim