CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 11, No. 1
ÂŠ 2020 by Sandra Kleven & Mike Burwell, Editors
Cover Photo Credit: "Rent" by Jim Thiele Table of Contents Photo Credit: "Afternoon Faun" Robert Bharda Design and composition: Signe Nichols ISBN: 9798569728664 ISSN: B08QRVLSZB (online)
Anchorage, Alaska www.cirquejournal.com All future rights to material published in Cirque are retained by the individual authors and artists. email@example.com
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.
Lily is Leaving Poems by Leslie Fried “…our house is tiny a chicken coop once a crazy quilt now of wood and windows under the great fir…” Leslie Fried is an archeologist of the soul, digging through the fractured histories of ancestors, and her own past with parents, lovers and sons, to describe the forces that mold our characters and haunt our dreams. She uses her acute powers of observation, and vivid images and metaphors, to relate both the depths of trauma and the heights of delight. —Tonja Woelber, poet, whose collections are Glacier Blue, and Tundra Songs
Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Leslie Fried came to New York at the age of six. Her parents’ families came from Poland and Lithuania and ultimately settled in Brooklyn. She turned to poetry after thirty years as a scenic artist in theater and film, and a muralist working in paint and plaster. Her writing reflects her love of imagery as a means for addressing difficult subjects. In this, her first book, she draws on the themes of death, love, family and history to weave her emotional tapestries. Ms. Fried is Curator of the Alaska Jewish Museum in Anchorage. She has two sons, Daniel and Julien, and a granddaughter Sacha.
$15 Available on Amazon January 2021 Pre-order at: email@example.com
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.
Wide Open Eyes SURFACING FROM VIETNAM
Stories by r e d e a H k r i K l u Pa
"Each story in this collection is cut from flesh – believable, bearing witness of their own survival, and depictions of this scrum where life is lived on the edges." —James Crumley, Author of The Last Good Kiss "Paul Haeder is an American voice from an America most people forgot exists... except those living in it. It is a postcard from the dark shadow land of western consciousness. Read it." —John Steppling, Playwright, Critic, Teacher
Includes Beautiful Photographs by Photographer Makenna Haeder and Paul Kirk Haeder
Available on Amazon
Drunk on Love
Twelve Stories to Savor Responsibly
By Kerry Dean Feldman
CIRQUE PRESS “For the characters that haunt this provocative collection of stories and poems, Love is their god, its pursuit their religion. They do so with reverence, abandon, and, best of all, with humor.” Don Stull, coauthor of Slaughterhouse Blues
“An offbeat Tom Robbins-esque romp that stands tiptoe on the brink of erotica and oozes with sexual energy and honesty that will skip your heart, cause a belly laugh, and have you ponder exactly what the fairy dust of love-lust is really all about.” Monica Devine, author of Water Mask
New Release by
Vivian Faith Prescott
From Cirque Press, Silty Water People is a collection of poems exploring the effects of assimilation on contemporary Tlingit/Scandinavian families in Wrangell, a small island community in Southeast Alaska. Two hundred and twenty years after colonization began, through the complex themes of intergenerational trauma, identity, racism, and history, Prescott uses mythology, geological time, and a deep connection to place to weave Silty Water People.
“...universal resonances within its sense of place...” - Ishmael Angaluuk Hope, author of Rock Piles Along the Eddy
“Deeply personal and powerfully written...” - Nicole Stellon O’Donnell, author of You Are No Longer in Trouble and Steam Laundry
“...characters landing like words, like rain, onto the text-peppered page...” Available from Cirque Press, your local Indie bookstore, and Amazon.
- Kersten Christianson, author of Curating the House of Nostalgia
“We won’t soon forget the bedrock exposed in these poems.” - Emily Wall, Professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast, and author of Flame, Liveaboard, and Freshly Rooted
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New From Cirque Press by author
Sean Ulman Hundreds of thousands visit Seward, Alaska, each summer, wondering what it would be like to live there. A woman wrestling with a return to her hometown, a man studying the play of light, and daily snapshots of citizens, their art and their stunning yet f itful environment bring a year in the mountainrimmed por t city to life.
In Sean Ulman’s Seward Soundboard, he does what few are capable of doing by appreciating the delicate and minute details of the Last Frontier’s harsh and wondrous life and then setting it in motion to the ebb and flow of a small, Alaskan town.” —Rickey Gates, author of Cross Country
Available from Cirque Press, your local Indie bookstore, and Amazon.
Ulman’s style is unique with skillfully crafted language, both poetic and lyrical, creating a quirky and recognizable small-town Alaskan community. —Vivian Faith Prescott, author of The Dead Go to Seattle
Brenda K. Jaeger Art Studio Paintings and Private Online Lessons Now accepting new students email@example.com (907) 350-4539 P.O. Box 142252 Anchorage, AK 99514
With great pride, CIRQUE PRESS announces the publication of
The Lure of Impermanence by Carey Taylor With a deft touch, Carey Taylor’s poems acknowledge all that drifts to dust as well as the lure of possibility in every new start. Firmly rooted in the road of observation these poems merge onto a highway we all must travel—towards the fleeting nature of all things.
“…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 CIRQUE PRESS Available at Amazon , or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
$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.
by Monica Devine University of Alaska Press Picture Alaska--her braided rivers and Arctic tundra, her tidal shorelines and thrashing salmon. Water Mask reflectively captures these Alaska experiences alongside stories of New Mexico deserts, Wyoming horses and family ties both near and far…making accessible through lyrical essays this remarkable American landscape. —Page Lambert, author of In Search of Kinship and Shifting Stars In Water Mask, Monica Devine explores the unmapped edges of the human spirit with the same poet’s eye that she describes her raw encounters with the natural world. This is a book to be savored, the way one might sip the first rays of sunshine cresting the peaks of the Chugach Range. —Kaylene Johnson Sullivan, author of Canyons and Ice and Our Perfect World
Amazon, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite bookstore
Cirque Press proudly announces
Life Revised A M E M O I R
by Leah Stenson
A ME MO IR
Life Revised A ME MO I R by Leah Stenson
Leah Stenson is the author of Heavenly Body and The Turquoise Bee and Other Love Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2011 and 2014); a regional editor of Alive at the Center: Contemporary Poems from the Pacific Northwest (Ooligan Press, 2013) and co-editor of award-winning Reverberations from Fukushima: 50 Japanese Poets Speak Out (Inkwater Press, 2014). Her full-length book of poetry, Everywhere I Find Myself, was published by Turning Point in 2017. She serves on the board of Tavern Books. More at www.leahstenson.com
Life Revised is a literary montage of poetry, narrative prose, essay, newspaper reportage and images in which the author examines her reactions, as a child and as an adult, to the simultaneous loss of her grandparents— one by suicide and the other the unintended consequence of that suicide. This unflinching and revealing exploration of personal tragedy takes us beyond the author’s suffering through her creative, emotional and spiritual development and ultimate healing. “…a moving and courageous book….” — Lex Runciman “…elegant prose and heartfelt poetry… fresh and vital to the last page.” — John Sibley Williams “…wise and compelling.” — Penelope Scambly Schott
Sandra Kleven—Michael Burwell Publishers and Editors Available on Amazon or email: email@example.com $15 Memoir
Author Photo by Anthony Bruzzese
Cirque Press proudly announces
BY: CLIFTON BATES â&#x20AC;&#x153;Whether 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&#x20AC;? 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.
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Sandra Kleven-Michael Burwell Publishers and Editors
Our mission: to build a literary community and memorialize writers, poets and artists of the region.
From the Editors Dear Friends of Cirque, Monica Devine has created an amazing new issue of Cirque. Greatest appreciation offered for a long intense effort compensated only by gratitude and affection. You have done fine work. Her “Love Letter to Cirque” appears below. We live in times that will make all the histories. Don’t you think? From the insanity of recent politics to the even greater insanity of a deadly pandemic. It’s been the year of indoors. And I was so optimistic about 2020. Ya’ know, 20/20 vision. It was a sure thing. Maybe, we will collectively experience 2020 insight. But for the insanity and the incredible dying, it hasn’t been all bad. We have been publishing books at Cirque Press. Working with writers lifts the spirit. Even the hassles bring eventual joy — once resolved. In 2020, as part time publishers, we have published nine books. Too many to list here but you can find them in full color display in the first pages of this issue and on the new Cirque Press link on our Cirque web page. Nine books and two issues of Cirque. I celebrate us (and I question our sanity, but that’s another matter). With Michael Burwell, I am so proud of the books we brought into print. And now we at Cirque Press offer this: Cirque #21. It will be salve for the soul. You will know you are not alone. There are intelligent and compassionate people all around you. I think it’s time to make a new tomorrow. Breathe. Hold it. Let go. With this issue we bring our Pushcart Nominees for 2020 from: Cirque, Vol. 10. No. 2 (#20) Fiction Larry Slonaker, “No More, Ever” Kimm Brockett Stammen, “Azures” from: Cirque, Vol. 11, No. 1 (#21) Fiction Paul Haeder, “Bird Stamp” Nonfiction Justin Bongi, “How to Be Tender Again” Poetry Alice Derry. “The Genesis of Life Lay Deep and Anticipant Under the Sky, 1944” Marc Janssen, “Willamette August, San Salvador Park” Congrats to our nominees. Warm thanks to our contributors, our readers and those who support us in other ways. Sandra Kleven ~ Michael Burwell
Governors Award in Arts and Humanities — Rachel Epstein Rachel Epstein was featured in Cirque's last issue where an in-depth interview detailed the last days of her 20-year career providing public programming at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. We are delighted to announce that Rachel Epstein has been selected to receive the Governors Award in Arts and Humanities for distinguished service in the humanities.
Love Letter to Cirque: I sat on an old tree stump in my backyard, notebook in hand. Pencil to page, Cirque was my subject. Suddenly the wind came up and blew my hair in lashing strands across my face. I looked up, startled. The treetop leaves were rolling like whitecaps over water. Now that is some strong communication, I thought. Good vibrations. Potent expressions. Like how a poem goes one way, then about-face, turns another. Surprise! Like Cirque. I’ve written love letters to trees, horses, mountains, the sea. But never a literary journal. As a guest editor, my job is not to delete lines or red-pencil metaphors. My job is to be receptive to strong impression. To notice slant rhymes. Follow an emotional flow. Make Monica Devine sense of the landscape of the mind. Or, as any poet will tell you, not make sense. At least not right away. Poems and prose insist on patience. The details, the language must earn the real estate to be granted a home in the writing. That’s ultimately what it’s all about. And I take 100% of my direction from you, writer, through every soft-leaved poem, every wobbling page of prose. I am grateful to you, every writer in the bound pages that tend to Cirque as she shocks, soothes, and sparkles-up our imagination. Wait. Did I just say “she?” I know boats are female, but what sex is attributed to literary journals? He loves me, he loves me not. Petal by petal, poem by poem I go. No matter Cirque’s gender. There is only this: “I love to immerse myself in beautiful flowers. And you, dear Cirque, are one.” — Monica Devine, poet and author of Water Mask, a memoir.
Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Sandra Kleven and Mike Burwell, Editors Cynthia Steele, Editorial Assistant Lauren Scantlebury, UAA, MFA Intern Signe Nichols, Designer Published twice yearly Anchorage, Alaska
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 11 No. 1
NONFICTION Shehla Anjum Solastalgia in a Time of Disquiet 31 Lyn Baldwin Seabound 33 Justin Bongi How to Be Tender Again 38 Amy Johnston Dark Energy 44 Ronald Smith Wolverine and Bears 46 Roger Topp Green Room 49
FICTION Clifton Bates Jax 54 S. W. Campbell Man of the House 55 Daniel Dagris Dirtlings 57 Paul Haeder Bird Stamp 61 Adrian Markle Midwinter 70 Michael Mattes Ginny's World 73 Ron McFarland The Professor's Door 76
POE TRY Deborah Akers feast 82 Alexandra Ellen Appel Correction, American Dream 82 Drue BeDo Wolf Country 83 L.V. Berne Dear Ms. Angelou 84 Nancy Diamante Bonazzoli Skin-Touch of Love 85 Kristina Boratino I Am the Beauty in Every Foreign Land 86 Rainbow Brite 86 C.W Buckley He Leaves The Way His Grandparents Came 87 Abigail B. Calkin Trolling for Words 88 Susan Chase-Foster Walking with Crow Along South Park Drive 90 Don Colburn Early Winter In The Methow Valley 92 Mary Eliza Crane Siberia Reflected 92 Alice Derry The Genesis of Life Lay Deep and Anticipant Under the Sky, 1944 (Morris Graves) 93 At the Bird Refuge 94 Diane DeSloover There Was Once a Glacier 94 Judith Duncan Star Blizzard 95 Rob Jacques Tsimshian Carver (for Dale Horne) 95 Marc Janssen Willamette August, San Salvador Park 96 Susan Johnson One Moment (after Denise Levertov) 97 Karen Jones Raven 97 Pacific Yew 98 Kaija Klauder Feeling for the Sky 98 Kathleen Kinney Raspberries 99 Kelly Lenox Vagabond Duck 100 Wisdom Said 100 Sherri Levine Gold Star 101 When I Wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t Eat My Disgusting Liver 101 Adam Mackie A Travel Sonnet 102 David McElroy Widower 102 Ron McFarland Poetry Fire Destroys Home 103 The Raccoon 103 Zsanan Narrin Tracking a Shadow 104 Terry Persun Magic 104 Timothy Pilgrim Wash your hands 105
David Romanda Suggestion Box 105 Connie Wasem Scott The Light Went Out Before It Was Lit 106 Tom Sexton SpaceX’s Dragon Prepares to Launch 106 Kit Sibert The buzz around me 107 Craig Smith My Word Jail 108 Kathleen Smith Consider the Blue Jay 108 Rebecca Smolen Emerge 109 Carmi Soifer Whiteout 109 Mary Lou Spartz Going, Going, Gone 110 Richard Stokes Seasons 110 Tim Whitsel Waterfront 111 Tonja Woelber Seen From The Train: Williston, North Dakota 112
P L AYS Mercury-Marvin Sunderland Orpheus and Eurydice and the Pica Disorder 114 Beth Hartley Shadow Play 119
FEATURES PROFILE Dan Branch ‘49 Writers’ Alaskan Writers Series: Clifton Bates 122
INTERVIEW Yvonne Garrett An Interview with Clifton Bates (Sapling's Five Questions for Emerging Writers) 125
REVIEW Linda Ford Opening Eyes—Paul Haeder’s Stories of the Vietnam Legacy in America A Review of Paul Haeder’s Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing From Vietnam Cirque Press, Anchorage, AK, 2020 127
INTERVIEW Emily Green Collection of Short Fiction Relives Memories of Vietnam and its American War: Author Paul K. Haeder discusses his new book, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing From Vietnam 129
REVIEW D. Donovan A Review of Rick Steiner’s Oasis Earth: Planet in Peril Cirque Press, Anchorage, AK, 2020 133 Catherine Abbey Hodges To Suture the Impossible Review of to cleave by Barbara Rockman University of New Mexico Press, 2019 135
INTERVIEW Carol Smallwood An Interview with Judith Skillman 136
REVIEW John Straley Like Water In A Time of Drought: A Review of Emily Wall’s Flame, Minerva Rising Press, Tampa, FL, 2019 139
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V o l . 11 N o . 1
NONFICTION Shehla Anjum
Solastalgia in a Time of Disquiet Anchorage’s second snow of this winter finally arrived in late December. Dread, however, tempered my joy—I worried another blast of warm air and rain would take it all away. I fear the sight of snow might become a privilege one day. The first big snowfall after Thanksgiving had softened fall’s dark days. But within days temperatures soared, rains arrived, and snow disappeared. Anchorage turned drab again and my spirits, momentarily uplifted, sank again. It happened again. Temperatures on New Year’s Eve reached a new high for the day, but by nightfall the mercury plummeted and snowed arrived once more. Our days have been a climate whiplash that swings between extremes. Most of this fall and into winter the grass and clover remained green in my back yard, and birch sprouted buds. It felt like late spring or early summer. It was neither. Usually, this was the time when snow lies like fleece upon the land and brightens it. Instead bare ground and darkness prevailed. These variations do not bode well for Alaska, my home for more than four decades. This is more than just weather. We have seen several winters like this. Something fundamental is changing. Climate-related disasters regularly make the news—Australia is the latest. The problem is recognized, but with no consensus even on a name for the impacts. It matters not whether we call it climate crisis, global warming, climate emergency, or climate change. It’s all the same: a rapid rise in temperatures from burning of fossil fuel by humans. In some areas of the world drought renders everything to dust, searing heat and fires create infernos, or water wreaks destruction on property and lives. California, Greenland, Australia—the list goes on. We have had years of hot summers and warm winters before. What is different is the duration of such spells, the intensity, and their effects. Our leaders refuse to act (our governor abolished Alaska’s climate change
strategy commission established by his predecessor), and many believe the disasters are simply part of a cycle. I never imagined that experiencing this climate crisis would pull down my spirits. I felt a lassitude, an ineffable sadness. Friends also spoke of suffering from a malaise related to climate change though we didn’t know what to call it. It was in Robert Macfarlane’s book Underland, about explorations into the depths of the earth, where I found a word—solastalgia—an apt description for my state of mind. The word, which means “a form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change,” resonated. Solastalgia is a new word coined by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2003 during a study of impacts from drought and large-scale mining on communities in New South Wales. Albrecht created the word when he realized no other existed for the distress local people felt about environmental changes they could not control. The summer of 2019 began normally. I expected it to be filled with visitors, hikes, short trips around the state, and the usual mix of sunny and cloudy or rainy days. The first two weeks of June passed quickly. We planted flowers and barbequed fresh salmon. It all seemed normal; but it wasn’t. In the heat and abundant light, flowers grew fast and thick and trees finished leafing out. Then temperatures rose well above normal, stayed high for weeks, and Anchorage smashed temperature records. Wildfires started. In mid-June, a faint plume of smoke from the Swan Lake fire appeared above the Kenai Mountains, across Turnagain Arm from our home. For a few days it hung like a veil of muslin, rendering distant views hazy yet visible. I felt little concern and thought either rain or firefighters would put out the fire. But it turned out differently. By June’s end the smoke thickened into a wooly mass and stayed put, until a wind from the right direction whisked it away for a while. But it kept returning.
I had a feeling of disquiet I couldn’t quite understand. Our days and nights became unbearable, Windows stayed shut, a small fan, used sporadically in summers past, whirred nightly, and it only moved warm air around. In early July friends from the United Kingdom
arrived expecting to tour our state but fires frustrated their plans. Kenai was out because of road blockages and unhealthy air. We took them north but also found smoke in Denali and Fairbanks. It was not the best time to see Alaska. Their visit was a bust, but they were too gracious to complain. In mid-July our friends left; little else changed. Fires burned on. Bright days became rare; the smell of smoke began to grate on me. What began as an irritability at what I could not control slowly became a despair I could not dispel. Everything felt out of joint— the sun, the air, the light, the landscape. In years past in summer’s long hours of light the spacious land behind our house comes alive in hues of greens. This year smoke concealed it, shrank it, and rendered it flat, dull, lifeless. Concern about climate change is not new. In his 1884 lecture, “The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century,” John Ruskin, the English social thinker, called attention to the pollution from industrial development. Ruskin links the increase in England’s dark, cloudy days and foul air to the coal used in factories. His words are applicable: “In those old days, when weather was fine, it was luxuriously fine; when it was bad—it was often abominably bad, but it had its fit of temper and was done with it—it didn't sulk for three months without
letting you see the sun.” A summer with hardly any rain left trees parched. I sensed their distress when the birch began shedding leaves earlier than usual—in early August. Normally leaves dancing to the ground wear the gold of autumn— now their attire was either burnt brown or green. Unable to sustain every leaf and twig the trees let go of both heat-scorched and healthier green leaves. The change in our environment became clearer during a late August hike. On a rare, nicer day of summer, my husband and I hiked toward two small lakes at the head of Powerline Pass in the Chugach Mountains behind Anchorage. We reached the first and found the shimmering, shallow lake replaced by a mosaic of white-caked mud polygons and two mudholes with some water. We abandoned plans for lunch by its shore and the walk to the second one. I choked back tears as we turned around. This climate crisis took time to manifest and yet many governments and individuals refuse to believe anything is wrong. We never thought it could get worse. But it did and now it is time to act. It will mean making changes in our lives and sacrificing some accustomed conveniences such as ordering items online that are shipped from long distances. I believe we have the intelligence to tackle this problem. I feel heartened that young people across the world are rising to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Young friends tell me they walk or bike, buy energy efficient cars, consume less meat, or go to second-hand stores. At the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention in October, two young Alaska Native women, 15-year-old Nanieezh Peter and 17-year-old Quannah Chasing Horse Potts, proposed a resolution declaring a climate emergency. The young women spoke passionately of the fight for survival and won over the convention. There was opposition, but AFN adopted the resolution. The way forward lies with the younger generation, with people such as Nanieezh Peter and Quannah Chasing Horse Potts. I believe this generation will fight for its right to live in a world not beset with climate catastrophes. The young generation will show us the way forward. That is my hope. This essay first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News in January 2020.
V o l . 11 N o . 1
Seabound “Every boat claims you.” That’s what I think, standing thigh-deep in the salty water of British Columbia’s Desolation Sound. In front of me, the sea mirrors the day. On its surface, Fucus-bronze, cedar-green and Racomitrium-gold dance alongside sky-blue. In the kayak beside me, my dry bags are packed, food measured into daily allotments, clothes and sleeping bag double-wrapped, camera and field journal locked in a waterproof Pelican box. It’s time to go. My husband, Marc, and my impetuous eleven-year old daughter, Maggie, are already paddling away. I wonder if they paused moments ago as they clambered into their double kayak, or if hesitation lies just within me, an indelible stain of the ten years I spent going to sea. I started out a reluctant sailor. Less lured, than press-ganged, by the scarcity of jobs for novice biologists, I boarded my first boat in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the main port for the Bering Sea fishery, on a grey January day in 1990. Climbing the metal gangplank, I dragged behind me the bright, baby-blue sampling totes that marked all of us who went to sea not as crew but as the governmentmandated guests known as fisheries observers. My decade at sea wasn’t continuous, nor was it on the same vessel, but at least once, sometimes as many as four times, a year, I would step from stable ground to shifting platform, from dock to deck. Some voyages lasted for three months, others were as short as a week. However we go, I think, as I push off into deeper water, balancing my weight above my kayak before sliding legs into cockpit, bum into seat, it’s the boat that’s the thing. Today, we’re not going far—only three days of paddling—and Marc and I have been here before, but given our terrestrial biology, hesitation seems reasonable. Going to sea. It’s an odd phrase. It implies that the sea is a destination, but you can’t go to sea in the same way that you go to Jack’s house. When our ancestors dragged themselves from the water millennia ago, they started on a path that would leave us addicted to atmospheric oxygen. For terrestrial animals, going to sea means perching atop temporary platforms of existence. Without the ability to filter oxygen from water, full immersion in the sea results in the suffocation we call
drowning. We may carry seawater in our cells, but we can’t have it in our lungs. The irony is, that once ashore, terrestrial organisms never stayed in place. Chance, made physical in flood or hurricane, regularly pushes land animals into the sea. Most die; a lucky few survive. In 1995, fishermen found fifteen green iguanas clinging to the surface of hurricane-uprooted trees on the beach of Anguilla Island. These terrestrial lizards must have spent at least three weeks drifting at sea before coming ashore 150 miles north of their known range. Even plants, as seeds, can travel oceans. Nearly ten percent of Hawaii’s vegetation is believed to have rafted to the islands on large mats. And humans? By accident or with intent, going to sea is one of our oldest stories. ⸙ ⸙ ⸙ I no longer remember how many different fishing boats I worked on in the Bering Sea. I do remember the first: a 280-foot factory trawler called the Starbound. A big boat, nearly brand-new and housing a United Nationslike crew: a German engineer, an American captain, a Norwegian fish master, Japanese quality-control techs, deckhands from Seattle, factory workers, including a dozen or so women, from across the US. This crew of more than a hundred was diverse enough to absorb my presence and my sampling gear—totes, metal scales, and logbook—with few ripples.
34 I remember the best: the Patricia Lee. By the time I boarded this boat, I’d already spent nearly two years working as an observer. I’d learned to brace myself against the pitch and roll of a Bering Sea winter storm and to linger in the light on deck whenever I could. I knew how to measure cod-ends jam-packed with pollock on icy trawl decks, the best way to sex and measure blue king crab in cargo holds, how to finger tally the goldenspecked bodies of Pacific cod that came lumbering up on longline hooks. I’d even survived a stretch on one of the worst draggers in the fleet—an enormous catcher processor with a dirty crew that fished even dirtier. My hesitation the March day I boarded the Patricia Lee was caused not by the boat or by its all-male crew, but by where she was headed. To reach the Patricia Lee’s fishing grounds from Dutch Harbor, we would steam nearly 1000 kilometers west, trading today’s western longitude for tomorrow’s eastern designation. There, past the International date line—in a territory centered on the volcanic Semisopochnoi Island and an underwater feature referred to as ‘the Hump,’—the boat would pull and process brown king crab for ninety days without returning to port, supplied only by itinerant tramp steamers that would deliver fuel, mail and groceries in exchange for frozen crab. From March to June: ninety days without touching land; without access to a phone; without saying hello to a stranger. Paddling behind Marc and Maggie, out past the long linear sandspit that envelopes this tiny bay, it’s not our isolation but the shift in perspective that startles me. I’d forgotten this. At sea, your horizon is the boat’s horizon. There are no hills to climb other than the ones made of wind and wave. Even on the coastal chart strapped to my deck, the low-lying ridges surrounding our launch site pale in comparison to the lines of relief extending beneath the water’s surface. At sea, we are beset by motion beyond our control. On fishing boats, I came to expect my body’s temporary rebellion to this altered perspective knowing I would spend the first twenty-four hours curled into a coma of misery on my bunk. Even when not sea-sick, your profile—that simplified drawing of self—becomes subsumed. In front of me, Marc and Maggie have become an elongate line with one small and one big bump positioned amidships. When I finally catch up to Marc
CIRQUE and Maggie in the main channel of Okeover Arm, we pull the boats side by side to look at the chart. Marc and I decide to cross from one side of Malaspina Inlet to another, intercepting a small islet, Lion Rock, on our way. I wonder if leaving the shore will make Maggie nervous, but before I can ask, Marc and Maggie paddle out of easy conversation range. ⸙ ⸙ ⸙ Going to sea complicates communication. In the close quarters of a fishing boat, banter rises, slips and falls. Stories get retold, again and again. Late at night, when pots rise—empty of crab, full of bait—nearly any syllable risks offense. More often than not, the words of men dominate. During my time aboard the Patricia Lee, the only female voice I heard—other than my own—was on the radio. Peggy Dyson gave the weather report twice a day for the Bering Sea, area by area, over the single-side band radio from Kodiak, Alaska. “Hello, all mariners. This is WBH-Two-Nine Kodiak. Today is Wednesday, May 5, the time is 0800 hours, Alaska Daylight Savings Time. This is the National Weather Service Marine Forecast, valid from present time, 8 AM Wednesday to 8 AM Thursday.” Not only would Peggy stand by to repeat the forecast to the gaggle of voices that followed—“Area seven bravo, repeat please,” “Area five, repeat please,”—but her words were echoed, deep voice to deep voice, to those beyond the reach of her radio. Other times, words carved space for me. When I first met Mike, the skipper of the Patricia Lee, I thought he was too beautiful to be a fisherman: James Dean eyes, long thin body, worn Levis that tucked into short leather boots. He’d come north to Alaska to make the money for a graduate degree in painting, only to end up as captain
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and part-owner of a crab boat. Mike had taped photos of his wife and new son, Alexa and Luc, on the instrument console above the captain’s seat. It was only near the end of my time on his boat that I learned Luc was his second son. His first son, Mathew, born to a previous girlfriend, had died in his crib on Kodiak Island. Every landscape—even isolated platforms of wood and metal and men—I realized, was awash in stories. ⸙ ⸙ ⸙ In Desolation Sound, we are well past Lion Rock when I realize a different story has caught up with me. Pulling into a small rocky cove, Maggie and I leave Marc with the boats while we clamber up a talus slope of moss and lichen covered rocks until we are beneath the cedar trees. Of course, it is only when my shorts are down— Maggie’s too, I think—that a large crashing sound comes from the ravine to our right. I look up. Marc is staring at the ravine. The noise is big and headed downhill. Clearly it will make it to the boats before Maggie and I can. I’m still trying to figure out what to do—other than pull up my shorts—when an undulating line of fur, complete with an impossiblylong tail, comes into view. A river otter. Close encounters with beings of another kind. No sea journey is without them; all of them immerse you in the immediate. On the Patricia Lee, I learned to cradle least auklets, trapped in the processing room, in my hands until the deck crew finished setting pots. It was the first bird species whose plumage I learned in hand, rather than through an illustration. Each time the boat moved from one string of pots to another, there was the chance of Dall’s porpoises. Peering down from the shelter deck roof, I would watch their sleek bodies slip and slide in the bow wake, feeling encircled in their joy. Who could resist the sea otters, lying on their backs, sharing with their pups the crab bits tossed to them by the crew? Even the brown crab, with their long spidery legs and ruby red eyes perched on stalks, pulled at my
imagination. What was life for them, crawling on the ocean floor, fathoms of water beneath us? Back in our kayaks in Desolation Sound, the river otter pops up in front of us twice more before we paddle out of its company. It’s not far to tonight’s camp at Hare Point. Marc and I have planned this trip to be short on paddling time, long on “puddling” time. All of us, but perhaps Maggie most of all, love tide pools. We’re not disappointed: in the rocky expanse beneath our campsite, the shapes of urchins, sea stars, crabs, mussels, barnacles, and spiny cucumbers challenge our understanding of life’s possibilities. The sea has always been a cauldron of re-imaginings. Even today, long after life has evolved from its earliest unicellular beginnings, there are many more ways to be an animal in the sea than on land. After dinner, the incoming tide chases us onto the granite rocks knuckling up out of the sea and mosquitoes drive Marc and Maggie into the tent. But I’m reluctant to abandon the long light of a summer evening. Just below my dangling feet, marbled murrelets raft between bobbing seals and farther out, ospreys plunge into a placid surface. Tonight’s sea might be flat, but I don’t trust it. Every sea—even a sheltered one—is a twitchy beast. When I look at the water closely, I see restless currents, driven by tide, streaming around Hare Point’s rocky protuberance. I’m glad I’m on land; it wouldn’t take much wind to prod this tidal rip into standing waves. Not often, but more than once, the turbulence of the Bering Sea sent the Patricia Lee scurrying for the lee of Semisopochnoi Island. Other days, the same water settled down, flat as a mirror. Mike called such days “floating through sea” days. When he showed me photographs of his paintings, I asked him if the Bering Sea ever crept into his paintings. “Do you mean do I ever paint boats? No, I never paint boats. But the light, I always take the light home with me.” Here in Desolation Sound, gold races before
36 dark; its retreat illuminating the island opposite me, Josephine Island, with an inner glow. I race to get it down, scribbling graphite, slapping pigment, on my field journal page. I stay as long as the light, filling the pages of my journal with sketches of seals and shadows, islands and arbutus trees, before climbing back up towards Marc and Maggie. Close to our tent, I hear Marc reading aloud to Maggie. I settle on a rock, wanting a bit of the story before I interrupt. Some people go to sea with mysteries or potboilers. My husband brings Homer. Maggie has caught her dad’s enthusiasm and has her own favorite parts of the Odyssey. Tonight, Marc is reading from well into the book: Poseidon’s wrath has forced Odysseus from the limited security of his hand-hewn raft and Odysseus is adrift in waves, struggling to reach the shores of Scheria. When Odysseus finally makes it through the breakers and falls asleep, safe in a “fine litter of dead leaves,” I unzip the tent. On land, I’ve never been a night owl. On the Patricia Lee, I learned to inhabit the dark, one or two hours at a time. The day I boarded, Mike asked if I would stand wheel watch along with the crew. The idea was terrifying, but I’d agreed. Each hour I spent behind the wheel would be an extra hour of sleep for a crew who rarely got more than five or six a night. Wheel watch depends upon routine: wake, shaken out of sleep by calloused hand, stumble to the galley, pour coffee, slop milk, climb with cup in hand to the wheelhouse and clamber into a seat still warm from the man who just woke you. Drive the boat in circles, following the green line plotted by Mike before he went to sleep. At the end of the hour, check instruments, descend into the roar of the engine room, check gauges, return to main deck, wake whoever’s name lies below yours in the watch list taped to the instrument console. Climb back up to the wheelhouse. Wait. Routine, yes; but something like magic hovered in those Bering Sea nights. Clouds passed over the moon. Underneath me, the boat swam through blackness, its movement mirrored in the green light of the instrument panel. Auklets zipped through forward deck lights while the snores of men—Mike in the cabin just off the wheelhouse, the rest of the crew in the deck below—blew counterpoint to the soft sounds of Sinead O’Connor, John Prine, Bruce Cockburn, the Waterboys, Daniel Lanois. It was in the dark—driving someone else’s boat,
CIRQUE alone but for a few lights in the far, far distance—that I began to understand how where we are can shape who we are. Everything in the Bering Sea was big: big men who pulled big pots, big waves that could swamp even bigger boats, big work that alternated with big boredom. Sometimes it was too much. Midway through my time on the Patricia Lee, a crew member refused to leave his bunk. Eventually Mike arranged transport home via one of the passing steamers. Thirty years distant, I wonder if it wasn’t also in the dark, driving the Patricia Lee in green circles, that I found the space to imagine anew. To realize that for me, the sea would be less destination than crucible. ⸙ ⸙ ⸙ At sea, the platforms that we rest upon—a boat, a kayak, even an island—are by definition, spatially limited. Returning the next afternoon from our day-long paddle out past Gifford Peninsula, Maggie wants to land on both Josephine Island and the small islet beside it that she calls Josephine Island Junior. Earlier this morning, we’d found a stretch of shore cleared of rocks—likely a historic canoe skid maintained by the members of the Sliammon First Nation—but there is no such landing on Josephine Island. Urchin-covered boulders crowd its shoreline. Finally, we decide that Marc will nose the big kayak in close enough for Maggie to jump out, run up onto the shore and I’ll photograph her landing. As I record the evidence, Maggie standing proudly first on Josephine Island and then on Josephine Island Junior, I wonder how much of her first sea journey my daughter will remember. Islands—bits of seabound land—have a way of altering those species or individual biologists who linger on them. In evolution, the isolation of islands combines with chance to ferment species change. In BC, island wolves are smaller and less aggressive than mainland packs. Rather than pulling down moose and fighting off grizzlies, these smaller wolves prey on clams and barnacles. On other islands, raspberries lose their thorns, birds abandon flight, and iguanas learn to swim. The ocean may be the birthplace of large-scale differences in body plans, but islands are the cradle of species diversity. In biological theory, the patterns of islands punch far above their total land mass. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace—the men who first articulated natural selection as an evolutionary driver—were both obsessed by what they saw on islands. Although I dreamed of its volcanic flanks often, I never once stepped ashore Semisopochnoi Island, the visual centerpoint of the Patricia Lee’s fishing grounds. As I watch Maggie climb back into the kayak from Josephine Island Junior, I realize
V o l . 11 N o . 1 that it was not outcrops of sand or coral or bedrock but floating boats that served as islands in my life. ⸙ ⸙ ⸙ Returning home from a sea journey has its own difficulties. Just ask Odysseus. Any hesitation I ever feel at the beginning of a sea voyage has always been equaled by my ambivalence at its end. On our final morning at Hare Point, it’s clear that Marc and Maggie share this feeling. We are slow eating breakfast and even slower breaking camp. Once the dry bags are stowed, Maggie asks if we can circumnavigate Josephine Island one last time before we head for home. Even though we know the outgoing tide grows stronger with each passing moment, Marc and I agree. It’s not just tide, but wind too, that drag at our boats when we come out from the lee of Josephine Island and turn southeast. At first, I’m more puzzled than alarmed. Southeasterlies are not the winds I worry about here. But by the time we reach the elongate Cochrane Islands—less than a third of our way back to our launch site—the wind has grown into a full-throated roar. Bright sun still shines, but I can’t feel its heat. Wine-dark sea runs through wind-braided sprays of white. Each time my kayak bounces down, water splashes my face. Salt trickles into my mouth. Squalls race towards us, dragging walls of friction across the water’s surface. In front of me, Marc and Maggie paddle steadily, the distance between our boats stretching as the combined force of tide and wind saps my shoulder strength. I see Marc’s face, shadowed grey under his ball cap, turning back to look for me. It’s too far, too windy, to shout. I know Marc’s worried about me, but he can’t stop until we find some protection. Only momentum keeps our narrow boats from turning broadside into the rising waves. And Maggie’s in his kayak. This is not the worst weather we’ve paddled in, but it’s certainly the worst we’ve paddled with our daughter. Without pausing the movement of my arms, I lean forward to see the chart. It looks like the cluster of three islands off the end of Coode Peninsula might form a windbreak. It’ll mean backtracking if we can’t slip through the tidal gap between the last island and the peninsula, but I find myself willing Marc to make this gamble. He does. When I turn into the narrow cleft, the water instantly calms. Marc’s already onshore with the hatch of the double open; Maggie’s turned in her seat, watching for me. As I slide in next to them, Marc hands me our last sausage. Without waiting for a knife, I gnaw
37 off a hunk. Maggie’s eyes widen. In my family, I’m the reluctant meat eater amidst the carnivores. But I want calories. I think I’m going to need them. And I do. Returning takes three times as long as our paddle out. The pull in my shoulders solidifies into spears of pain even as Maggie and Marc pull further and further away from me. In the final kilometer, the water boils greasy and yellow-tinged above the sandspit guarding the bay we left three days ago. The moment I clear these breakers and turn downwind, the relief is exquisite. Not dissimilar, I think, coasting in on a roller, to what I felt when Maggie finally squeezed out of me. ⸙ ⸙ ⸙ Going to sea is one of our oldest stories; no one returns unchanged. What did I learn from the days I spent living aboard floating platforms of wood and steel and fiberglass? Definitely a love of light, a hunger to know the natural world, and most importantly, I think, the understanding that I thirsted for intimacy, not just with people, but with place itself. Life at sea bred within me a desire to be shaped in the same way I understood Mike to be shaped by the underwater contours of his fishing grounds, the snow-covered slopes of Semisopochnoi Island, the filter of pale light through grey cloud. But such shaping requires commitment and continuity. Each time I left to go to sea—on a fishing boat, in the eighteen-foot kayak I paddled the length of the Baja Peninsula or on the expeditionary cruise ship I finished the decade on—I lived temporarily, as a guest not a resident. Even worse, each trip disrupted whatever bonds might be developing between me and the place I was trying to call home. The imprint of place accumulates best when the patterns of each season layer over top others. If I wanted to know the full possibility of place, I had to choose—boat or land, travel or home, guest or resident. Today, paddling in the final few feet, I remember what it was that finally stopped me from going to sea. It was a deliberate imagining, the most overt commitment I’ve ever made, first hoped for here in Desolation Sound more than a decade ago when Marc and I came alone; the result of which now stands, only a head shorter than her dad, waiting impatiently for me to come ashore.
How to Be Tender Again The truth is, I don't have a clue what tenderness is. I know the word makes me think of plump old women with well-worn smile lines, clutching watercans in the middle of verdant gardens. Of the way a schoolboy cocks his head, attempting to understand the pain of his scraped-knee friend, then offers a hand. Of a certain languor of being. Of chamomile tea. The word to me evokes little more than an amalgam of sensations, the giddy levity-of-soul that transpires when you're under the covers with an upturned flashlight and a person you love dearly, and you've just split yourself open at the seams for them and shared your darkest shames and they didn't leave you immediately and so, still slick with the sweat of sex, you hold the crook of their hip and trust that this moment will not end, ever, then meet their eyes with yours. That moment. That's what I mean. And that's just about everything I can offer, by way of explanation or image.
We were cruel, barbaric children, and we did this every day. I remember it well: how the punishment for loss was a force-feeding of mud. Then, the loser's lips stained with fertilizer pellets and shredded grass, he would put his hands behind his back, hang his head, and recite the words like a prayer: "I'm a weak little sissy". That slow, insincere cadence, of contrition whispered postconfession. The victor child would smirk and lift his hands above his head. And then the next fight would begin. A wrist was broken on occasion. I remember gathering around one poor friend and cooing at the way the bone pressed white against skin. Oftentimes, one of us would cry. We always turned away from that. And the school itself let loose these banshee bells to announce the ending of recess, shrieks which would startle us as if from a dream, calling us back to the cinderblock rooms where we'd sit and listen to the gospel, hiding our gored-up hands beneath the desks, turning them over and over. Looking at our hands, we wondered about a lot of things. Wondered about ourselves and who we might become, we to whom violence came so naturally. We maintained an encyclopedic knowledge of excuses for the blood. We
But I also know that tenderness is a predicate of pain, and really can be quite an awful thing, especially when you start to examine it in a cause-and-effect, pros-and-cons kind of way. There's the sad algebra of asking yourself, was it worth it to open myself up to the world? and, digging your fingers into the wound in your side, coming up with the answer: no. Step One: Get in a fight. I recall a group of boys who would congregate behind the rectory, back behind the western flank of the baseballpitch (out of the fourth-grade teacher's sight), where we would beat the ever-living shit out of one another. There in the wheatgrass, one boy set as lookout for the pastor, or any sort of adult, we would trample each other down, digging our nails into flesh, biting, punching, grappling until one fighter succumbed. The more dimwitted or proud among us forgot to take their rosaries offâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;these were easily twisted and used for strangles. Faces were offlimits, but groins were fair game. Graphite pencils made for easy garrotes. Some of the fights only lasted a few seconds.
V o l . 11 N o . 1 staggered back to the real world, lying to our teachers, one another, ourselves. Step Two: Kill an innocent animal. About three years back I was driving home at midnight on the California interstate, making something like 70 mph. I wasn't drunk. It was a fawn, though, and redwoods abutted both sides of the highway. In short, it came from nowhere. The sound seemed to precede the shadow: first the whipcrack of bone interrupted by steel, then the bleatscream of a creature knowing death. The Honda's frame shuddered as spindly legs, black in the wash of headlights, flailed, the body launching forward and collapsing against the median, but only after skidding some ten or twenty feet and kicking up gravel. I don't remember pulling to a stop, or whether I had to reverse to find the fawn, but seared in my mind is the way my shadow, as I stood in front of my car, seemed to wrap the writhing thing in a blanket of black, and the way the synthpop from my radio just droned on and on in the night, saccharine to the point of sacrilege as I stepped in the blood of this terrible little scene, blood which was already thick like barley, and would later impel me to take backroads past Arbuckle because no one ever came to clean it up and it stained the pavement with my mistake. I try not to listen to that song nowadays. It's a song about palm trees and being barefoot on the beach. And there I was forcing this baffled and infantile being to suffer through lyrics about young love and vistas he would never live to see, melodies of hope when really there was no hope, and both of us knew it. I wasn't sure what to do, so I called 911. The operator put me through to animal control, or maybe gave me their number. I really can't remember. But in the meantime I sat with the fawn, speaking to it and apologizing and pouring water onto the concrete which it lapped at with a sideways tongue. It screamed occasionally, between bouts of labored asthma. The rest of the time, it just kicked at air with its shattered legs, trying to get away. It was afraid of me, for very good reason. Animal control didn’t come for two hours. Step Three: Crash again. Fourth of July, 2016. Rural America, sometime past ten p.m. Back then I rode a 250 Rebel motorcycle, a 1977 which whined like a mosquito, even moreso when you rode two-up. My best friend, a girl who made Ohio feel massive, who was a genius and recluse and, above all, a
maniac like me—she screamed at each and every firework we saw as we rode. All our friends were elsewhere. We were alone out there, riding north on an abandoned, half-paved road. The pyrotechnics lit our way, rattling our skulls with their booms of thunder. The air was warm and drew out tears from our eyes, tears whipped away by the howling wind. We were alive. The world seemed infinite, the heavens unending. Invincible, nostalgic for the very moment we were basking in, chasing light down that flatland illusion where red and blue bombs arced the dome of the sky—we believed, really believed, that the vanishing point of the road, like a hallowed ramp was the edge of the world itself: if we rode fast enough we could catch it, and sail into the fire of living, of glory, of now… I crashed the bike. A great tumble, the clatter of steel I am now intimate with, shot me far up the berm of the road, headfirst into thornbushes, landing me on my back. Like that, I could see the sky, and still, the fireworks blazed. That's how I knew I was alive. I called the girl's name and my voice cracked. There was a pause. "You could have killed yourself" was all she said as she emerged from the gully, down where my bike lay mangled, her forehead bleeding and a tooth knocked out, limping but alive as well. "That really could have been bad." And then we walked the bike home, our backs turned to the light. Step Four: Linger too long in fraudulent love. Love didn't align. I loved too much, and she, hardly at all. It's a familiar story. Crash-and-burn situation. We oncelovers found ourselves silent on a drive to the airport. I was going away for a bit: a 4000-mile bit. It was four in the morning. A pre-dawn Ohio passed without beauty, and the birds had not yet awoken to sing. Perhaps admirably, perhaps naively, we'd tried to fuck the night before, she and I, a lascivious sort of litmus test to see what, if anything of us, was worth the effort of saving. It had gone as well as one might expect. There, in her tiny twin bed, we'd ended up naked and afraid, impressively acrobatic in our distance from one another, splayed so that between us the only point of contact was a ring of thigh and a mesh of pink which appeared almost clinical in the moonlight of her single, canted window. She told me each time I kissed her, it made her love me a little less. It made her a little sick. Then we stopped. We slept facing away from one another, and then it was morning. Her car felt small and cramped. The air traffic tower appeared over the horizon and planes screamed overhead. The
40 rest need hardly be explained. In the terminal, I passed through security and boarded my plane without ever looking back, remembering how I'd left a letter in her room, a letter whose location I would never reveal. I don't think she ever found it. Step Five: Attempt suicide. I was living in Germany. The circumstances leading up to it, the rationalizations and reasoning and psychoses, don't matter. Or maybe they do and I'm just not ready yet. I'm sorry. But the point is, I ended up in a bathtub. No, well, let's backtrack. I ended up in Görlitzer park, a greenspace designated as a 'pink zone' for drug dealing. See, Berlin grants asylum to a commendable number of refugees. The refugee visa, in an effort to protect citizens' jobs and retain public support for the program, doesn't allow the refugees to work. The economic algebra here is simple though strange. These people, these nationless souls, have to put food on the table, but lack the legal rights to work stable jobs. When begging isn't fortuitous, the situation lends itself to illicit forms of employment— like dealing drugs. As such, there's a pink zone, where the police turn a blind eye to drug dealing, so long as the dealers keep an eye on one another and keep the park safe. It's a bit jarring the first time you see it. There are inordinately polite men at each of the park's entrances, men whose faces read so clearly as down-on-luck, scarred and tanned to leather, yet men whose outfits and overall mien read like five star concierges, smiling and greeting you in French, English, or broken German. They won't offer you drugs unless you ask for them. They'll pick up trash after others who've left it. Still, the general populace, for reasons of blatant racial depravity, refuse to interact with most of these gentle stewards, opting instead to shuffle past or scoff, or write angry letters to editors at right-wing newspapers, calling the refugees' presence a scourge and a travesty, etc. There's this look of quiet desperation on all of the refugees' faces. One wrong move and they'll be deported, sent back—where? Surely it can't be called home. One man at Görli, an Eritrean with a golden grill, remembered my name after only a single meeting. His was Alex. See, I lived across the road from his entryway haunt, so would pass him every day to the tune of "Bonjour, hello, Justin!" He became acquainted with my coming and going (making a livable income entailed
CIRQUE working 24/7 for him), and every time I would leave in the morning or return home from a bar at night, every time I was inebriated or with a "stranger of night," as he called them—Alex knew. If I was free, I would stay and chat. We had to hop around a few different languages, all broken, to make ourselves understood. He said he was excited for winter to be over, not because he was cold, but because then the flowers would bloom again. He said the gold ring on his hand was from his ex-wife, a woman who turned out to be a witch and had cursed his penis, but that he continued to wear the ring because he still loved her very much, even though she was a witch. Overall he was a charming man. He showed me stones he had found which he liked the shape of. He spoke often about his mother too. I only bought from Alex a few times: some pot here and there, the occasional weekend's worth of pills. Never anything too serious. My primary vice was drinking, after all, and he knew this well. I gave all my recyclable bottles to Alex, to be resold in the supermarket. He would cluck his tongue at the sheer weight of the garbage bag, but never anything more than that. I assumed he'd seen far, far worse. Alex was more observant than I gave him credit for. He may have been the only true witness of my rapid, self-destructive spiral, yet I assumed he met so many people that I may as well have been anonymous. That delusion was part of my spiral; I certainly felt anonymous. I'd pushed all those who'd loved me away. I hadn't spoken to anyone from home in weeks. Eventually, both bronchitic and depressed, lost in an altogether novel and overwhelming way, there came a month where I didn't leave my apartment at all, except to smoke and buy groceries. I don't know. It's difficult to talk about—difficult in both the way the experience remains ineffable, as if the storm above my head were too large to be put into words, and in the way the words, when I do have them, seem to resist their typing out on the page. I remember having the thought, I don't know how long it will be before this pain goes away, or whether I'm strong enough to wait that long. I remember being terrified to fall asleep. Lying in bed at night and waking up in the morning were when the voices got to be the worst, as if a demon were crouching beside my bed, cooing me to sleep with promises of peace through death, and shrieking me awake with
V o l . 11 N o . 1 harrowing reminders of every time I'd ever done wrong, every person I'd ever hurt, every inadequacy and insecurity and failure. I mean it when I say I just bought the pills to help me get to sleep. With what felt like great courage, I emerged from my apartment after that month looking like a man who had lingered in winter while the world had moved on to spring; the birds were out, the parks lush, the sun golden and high in the sky. I, for my part, was coughing up blood and forever cold, anemic and skeletal, pale and wrapped in a long black fleece, a shadow others stepped out the path of. "The petals, they have bloomed!" Alex explained when he saw me, his mouth smiling but his eyes concerned. I nodded that I understood. I don't think I even greeted him. Alex grunted when I told him what I wanted. "How many?" I told him thirty. "Thirty?! No, no, no, no, thirty, it is too much for one man." So I explained about the voices. I told him I was afraid of losing my job, of going mad, or letting them get to me; I explained (and believed) that the pills were actually going to save me, that they would be facilitators of life rather than lapses in it or concessions to the crouching, nectar-tongued man. "I will give you one a day," he compromised eventually. "You will come out and I give it to you, each day. I will be your medicine man." I looked Alex in the eye and got mean. There were a hundred other dealers in the park there, any of whom would be willing to sell me sixty, hell, even ninety pills, let alone thirty. "Hundred dealers, but how many are friend?" Alex replied, holding me by the arm and tapping my shoulder with his witch ring. "Eh? Eh?" I ended up buying from a man named Ezichi. Three days later and I was face down in my bathtub, retching sputum and bile and blood, my mind seeming to fight my body, the former seeking death, the latter refusing to let me go. I had eaten as many pills as I could. And now I
was here. A Turkish man, my roommate, stood above me, shouting. He said he was done with me, with all my shit. Then he went silent. I had stopped moving. He shook my shoulders with fury. He sobbed. And then I was gone. By the time they wheeled me out to the ambulance, I was fully unconscious, submerged in a feverscape of dreams which I can only describe as dark and depraved. Though distant from the world, at times its noises invaded my nightmares—the anxious jargon of EMTs, the grumblings of passersby, the sirens—then: "Hello, hello?! Where do you take him?" A cold response. Some arguing. "You must… I have a rock for him. A rock I found. You must put in his pocket to protect him…" But they wouldn't let him near me. I never saw Alex again. Step Six: Make yourself small. The gentlest woman I know is half-blind and wears a set of false teeth. She was thirty-six years old when her then-boyfriend (later her husband, now deceased) took a whistling tea kettle to her face, then his very own fists. The event put her in the hospital for two weeks straight. The week she got out, it happened again. Nowadays, she works at a center for children with autism, teaching them how to cut pink and orange butterflies from construction paper, and things like that. She smiles when she answers their questions about the burn. She knows each child by name, and can distinguish them by the unique shufflings of their feet or the timbres of their voices. On weekends she can be found at her usual table in the diner I work at, where she orders cinnamon french toast and a second order, plain, for her two dogs back home, one slice each. This is how I know her. She is courteous to me and my fellow servers and always tips Brenda Roper well, especially considering the size of her meal. In a way, she is apologetic in her poise and tone of voice, as if she regrets wasting our time spent
42 doing the tasks we are paid to do. Her eyes are milky and defocused, and she stares up and to the left of our faces when she speaks. It's bad enough now that she cannot cook for herself. Meals as simple as toasted bread, buttered, seasoned, and ladled with syrup become, as she puts it, "true-to-life Himalayan blunders," a phrase I do not understand, but which always makes me laugh. Some five or so years ago, shortly following her husband's death, she was driving home from a university office in her husband's old Chevy. She'd been working late on a lecture about Aristophanes' play The Birds. She wasn't drunk either. But by fate or happenstance, the bumpercrack and chassis-shudder turned out not to be a deer at all. She stopped her car and got out to look, but by then the night was dark and the grass tall, her eyes already far enough gone that she couldn't see the small shape of the slumped child or his bloodstained bike in the copse. Believing whatever creature she'd just hit to be wounded but still living, merely having limped off into the woods, the woman drove home and attempted to calm her nerves with a glass of tea and a sleeping pill. Elsewhere, when the struck child failed to return home, his mother left their home to search. She had warned the boy about riding on the lip of the frontage road, but knew that he liked to do it anyways. This was the first place she looked, of course. By the time she found him, he had already passed. Come morning time, the police had reviewed the traffic cams and arrived at the half-blind woman's house with their sirens blaring. What they encountered there was a suspect described in the police report as "visibly intoxicated," with "prescription narcotics found on the scene." For reasons to me both mysterious and regrettable, the prosecution opted to show a photograph of the mother's nightgown to the jury. It was explained that the woman had torn it from herself out of grief when she'd found her child dead in the grass. Pictured in grainy film, there it lay, tattered on the pavement like a collapsed PietĂ , the Madonna absent, the child an afterthought of blood, like a shadow. And so, as it turns out, this woman who eats in our diner is perfectly capable of cooking cinnamon french toast for
CIRQUE herself. She's just too ashamed? Embarrassed? Mortified? I'm not really sure, but it certainly makes sense to me. She's hesitant to tell the truth before she knows you're willing to listen. So she lies. But the real reason she comes to the diner is simple. The district judge, receptive to her selfevident remorse and, even in spite of the prosecution's appeals to pathos, opted to revoke her license instead of indicting her for vehicular manslaughter. In effect, he thus arrested her to the confines of this 2,000 person town, a town in which there are no affordable supermarkets and no public programs for the disabled. As a result, the woman, with what nominal amounts she receives via disabilities checks, is forced to rely on our kitchen for her daily sustenance. She dines with us twice a day. She's an easy patron. No-nonsense. Her only request is that she be seated at the quiet, estranged table, hidden from the rest of the customers. Eventually, on a quiet day in the restaurant, I told her about my story with the deer. I expected her to say, "Just be thankful it was only a deer after all." Instead she took my hand in her own. She remained silent as she listened. It was the only time it had ever appeared as if she were really looking into my eyes. Is it naĂŻve to be forever surprised by our unending capacity to cause pain? Recounting a quiet winter on the Wyoming prairie, Gretel Ehrlich observes, "The toughness I was learning was not a martyred doggedness, a dumb heroism, but the art of accommodation. I thought: to be tough is to be fragile; to be tender is to be truly fierce." She's right. Of course she's right. Still, I submit a simple revision: to be tough is to know you are fragile. All of us are delicate, easily broken when strained at the right seams. But only the good among us accept this factâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;often, of course, because we have already been broken. Because we are forced to. And so, the tender soul begins as a paranoid. She seeks patterns in her past, attempting to identify which events, exactly, led to all that harm, all those woes. She descends into the panic of ambiguity, realizing: it's impossible to know. Anything could have led to it. As a result, she resolves not to act at all. Gentle people are broken hearts too large for bodies, the way growing children can be awkward about the newfound length of their limbs, the propensity for parts of themselves farthest from the heart to swipe fragile things from tabletops. These gentle
V o l . 11 N o . 1 ones, these children, they have no choice but to make themselves small. Yet, it is from within this smaller self that the tender human learns again to love and nurture. They make themselves small so that they may learn of healthier ways to grow; beginning again as nothing, they have the potential to become anything. To be gentle is to return to this state of youth: miniscule, yet forever amazed by our sizeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;our bodies and their capabilities a bewildering provenance. From there, the process begins with a rediscovery of wonder. You can tell a tender person by the way they touch a plant: so often with two fingers, brushed, yes, gently, against the underbelly of a leaf. Why is it always this gesture? Because everything which lives may bruise. What more do these children know that we have yet to learn, or forgot long ago? Step Seven: Create fire. My earliest memory might not be entirely real. Because I was only three or so at the time, I am certain the experience has transmuted from the way it truly occurred in my nascent perception, as a flurry of lights and trumpets and strangers' faces, into something more solid, rendered coherent and thus an illusion of sorts, by the later learning of words such as parade, or sparkler, or family, or love. The reason I am skeptical is because a photograph exists. In it, I am seated on my grandfather's shoulders, my face awash in a sea of magnificent orange almost like firelight, the bokeh spheres of colored streetlamps over my shoulder in blues and reds. We are outside and it is raining. My grandfather's face is impenetrable just as it always has been, but veneered with a youthful joy, as though the cataclysmic wonder of my own (mine is a face of true euphoria, my mouth agape and eyes wide, tight with laughter above him) could, by some miracle of heartstring osmosis, reach and rejuvenate him, he who was stoic, straight-laced by a lifetime of strain. We are two-tall and hold each other tightly: his timeworn hands around my ankles, my tiny ones in his hair which he always wore neatly, a proud vestige of his military days, but which tonight he let me fray. Before us, unpictured, scroll a thousand men and women. Some of them are marching, others perched on extravagant floats of plaster and steel, others driving old hot rods, touting dixie horns and streamers. They cascade down the street while we, the spectators, cheer. Those among them marching are theatrical and large, reaching out into the
43 crowd and waving at every child. They are dressed in turn as mice and outrageous men, some pirates, others fairies or ghouls. And in this moment, my grandfather and I are happy. We are happy in the simplest way. But all of this might be fiction, a fabrication borne of fantasy, of the story being told by my parents, or my studying the photograph and seeing what I need to see thereâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;all might be false, except for one detail. The kernel of this moment, the one detail which thrice exists: in my memory, in the photograph, and in my lap now as I write this, is a small device. The device is an electric whirligig, a little purple handle with a button and three rubber strands sprouting from its top, a colored bulb at the end of each. When you press the button, the strands spin and the lights shine, brighter than one might expect. The whole thing couldn't have cost more than a couple of dollars. But there it is in the photo, clutched like a lifeline in my tiny fingers, caught up in the mess of my grandfather's hair. I remember my grandfather buying it for me. I doubt he thought anything of it. Or maybe he knew. Because the first time I pressed that button, it was as if I'd jumpstarted the reel that has become my life. That was my beginning, the first time those lights shone in my hand. And I've wondered a lot about that: how our first memories are decided, what makes our minds cling to one moment and not the next. I think, now, as I hold this device and stare at this picture, that I know. It seems to me that this device, this simple circuit board, where finger pressed button and button made fireâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;marked my first foray into the fragile science of wonder, of agency in this world, a reckoning with the fact that my smallest action could bring about beauty, that it was within my power to contribute to humanity's parading sea of shining lights, a firmament's worth of color and motion and glow which could even draw out, from the oldest man I knew, some youth; it was nothing less than a miracle to me. It still seems like one today. And I remember holding that button and never letting go, even all the way home, watching the lights twirl and my phosphenes leap, until the battery died, later that night.
Dark Energy There are days where the sun paints the sky the kind of blue that poems are written about. Where the grass is so plush and green that kids can’t help but roll around in it, getting strands in their hair and stains on their jeans. Where the breeze is warm and light and every breath you take tastes like morning. On these days, I don’t feel like my bones have turned to a rusting iron that’s straining against my muscle tissues, inches away from splitting my skin. Well, not usually. * The universe and I have something in common and that something is called “dark energy.” The same force that is currently making the universe expand at a rapidly accelerating rate is what makes me turn off all the lights in my apartment and lie on my back in the living room for hours on end, trying to convince myself that the human body can’t spontaneously combust. Trying to convince myself that if there is a floor underneath me and I can feel the strands of polyester carpet between my fingers, then the world is a static being, not out to get me or working to crush me, or utterly indifferent to my presence. Just the world. Or, if it’s not the exact same force, then they are at least related. We cannot see either of these dark energies. We cannot understand them. * Ingredients to make a universe: - 68 cups of dark energy - 27 cups of dark matter - 2 cups of celestial bodies, assorted - 1 cup of gravity-flavored space-time - ½ cup of sifted elements - 4 tablespoons of sentience - ¾ cup of half-understood phenomena - 1 tablespoon of philosophy (store-bought is fine) - ¾ cup of confusion - A pinch of cinnamon, to taste Ingredients to make me: - 1 universe - Patience *
Years ago my father and I took our annual trip to Roaring Springs Water Park in Meridian, Idaho. (This was back when I was a child and still comfortable letting anyone see more than 25% of my skin at any time. I no longer own a bathing suit.) We had to drive ten minutes on the freeway to get there. Usually no problem. But an accident up the road got us stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in an old truck with no air conditioning. We baked. Even my sweat felt like it was sweating. I could feel my dad getting crabbier and crabbier with every millimeter we moved down the road. Go, stop. Go, stop. So I smiled my biggest smile. “You know,” I said. “The water’s gonna feel so good when we get there because we’re so hot right now.” I want to make it clear that I’m an optimist. When I look into the void of space, it doesn’t scare me. It excites me. It’s just that it’s not the only void that exists. * An entry from my journal on May 29th, 2018 reads as follows: Sometimes I don’t feel happy or sad. Sometimes there’s this heavy, cloying feeling that is not an emotion in the regular sense of the word. It’s like an anti-emotion. A nothing. But I can feel it, so it is tangible. I feel like wool. Warm, wet wool. In my head, in place of my muscles and bones and organs. Wool all the way down. It is constant and lethargic and all-encompassing. But it’s not sharp. It doesn’t hurt. It’s just weird. And while I don’t particularly like it, I’ll take it over sad or angry. Not over happy, though. I prefer happy. * Nearly every charged particle in the universe has a corresponding antiparticle. Which means that, in theory, we could combine enough antiparticles together to create anti-anything. Anti-dogs, anti-cats, anti-people. Our antiselves could write anti-essays about their corresponding anti-science. Does my anti-self take my emotion, sometimes, and replace it with her own? And if that’s the case, does that mean that she spends most of her life with the antiemotion? I hope not. The only reason I get through the wet wool times is that I know they’ll come to an end, eventually. I can’t imagine living in it forever. But it would explain why sometimes it feels like I’m going to explode. When matter and antimatter interact, it doesn’t end well. * The light from stars traveled billions and billions of years to get to us, so of course the night sky would
V o l . 11 N o . 1 be beautiful. It’s had a long time to perfect itself. People stare at a sky that demands to be seen, demands to be wondered at and understood. They connect the dots and form pictures and stories, ignoring the darkness in-between. That’s just the backdrop. The blank stage. And looking at it for too long makes people uncomfortable, because then they have to acknowledge that there’s a lot more backdrop than there is anything else. They look at all that darkness, and they’re reminded of just how small the lights are. How small we are. But I’ve never felt small. Because we are just like those stars. We are a something in the nothing. And with a whole lot of nothing… doesn’t that make us all the more special? Don’t we value gold so much because it’s rare? * But. The stars are being pushed away. And we won’t even get to say goodbye because they’re too far out to hear. Dark energy is working to assure that, billions of years from now, our night sky will be only backdrop. And no one will ever remember there were lights in the sky, telling stories only we could see. Maybe that’s what I’m afraid of. That my dark energy, like that of the universe, will eventually push all the stars away, and I’ll just be empty space. * You can try to chase after the speed of light the same way you can try to chase after your childhood: ineffectually. Light travels at three-hundred million meters per second, and the biggest rocket in the world couldn’t match it. Even if we could come close, the fabric of space and time would slow us down gradually and we’d never quite get there. We want to traverse the universe as fast as possible, but even light takes billions of years to get around to us. And that’s the light we can see. The light we know of. Past the reaches of the observable universe, more light is waiting to be found. I wonder if the stars inside me are observable. If my good qualities outweigh the bad. And that’s assuming I have good qualities in the first place. How can I possibly
know that? How can I possibly see that? It’s all inside. I look in my past and I see this happy, charismatic kid who didn’t care if people heard her singing or saw her in a swimsuit or thought she was annoying. Who jumped all the way down a flight of stairs and teetered over the edge of the Grand Canyon, fearless. As time passes, how fast are my stars disappearing? Do new ones ever pop up? Or maybe none of this makes any sense, and I need to go lie down on the floor again. * An entry from my journal on February 2nd, 2018: Sometimes I wonder if I’m a waste of stardust. People would miss me if I was gone. I don’t doubt that. I’m loved. My family loves me. My old friends back in Idaho love me. I bet there’d even be some people here in Washington that would be sad to see me go. I’ve been here long enough to make, if not best friends, at least Friends with a capital “F.” I wonder if I would miss me. * When the universe decided, billions of years ago, to go ahead and inflate faster than the speed of light, I think it knew what it was doing. Things could have stayed static and small, clumped into a singular space,
46 surrounded by nothing – but instead it expanded. It grew. And it continues to grow. Light’s chasing after the dark because the dark got a head start. But there is still light. And those lights are the reason we’re here. Because some stars burned out, collapsed, and exploded in a burst of elements heavy with power and purpose. Something as cataclysmic as a supernova is what allows me to stay up late binging TV shows when I should be writing. It’s what allows artists to create art or something similar to art. It’s what allows kids to eat ice cream and cops to eat donuts – it’s what allows everything. All that work, to get life. * Another scene in my dad’s truck. He and I always seemed to talk the most when we were working to get somewhere else. My dad loves to talk – specifically about science. He says the same things over and over and doesn’t seem to mind that I’ve heard it all before. “Life is the universe becoming conscious of itself!” he said then, cutting down the highway to his house. It was insightful the first time, familiar the first five times, and now it bounced off of a mind too full of her own thoughts to take in another. “Religion’s always asking why we’re here,” he continued, “but the how is so much more interesting!” “I know why,” I said, but when my dad gets on a roll, it’s hard to cut in. “The universe is like my spirituality. Maybe that sounds silly, but it’s true. I don’t need religion when I’ve got the whole of space to think about.” “I mean, I think I know why,” I continued. “Religion as a concept is ridiculous, anyway. Who would choose ignorance? Who would choose to disregard all the evidence stacked up over the years in favor of fitting into the confines of some archaic mindset?” “We’re here to wonder why we’re here,” I said. He paused, finally, and glanced off the road and at me. Then he laughed. “Maybe,” he said. “Maybe.” If life is the universe becoming conscious of itself, then it would make sense for it to have some questions. * I love learning. I go out of my way to do it and I’m pretty freaking good at it, considering my consistently great grade point average. The teachers at my high school were always a little disappointed hearing that I wanted to be an English major. I was good at math, science, history, pretty much every other class. I could see it in their eyes: She’s got all this potential and she’s going to waste it.
CIRQUE I hate the word “potential.” * If you could take all the mass in my body and convert it into its dormant energy, the resulting explosion would be catastrophic. Potential energy is a dangerous thing. But I suppose it’s a little reassuring to know that, no matter what, no matter what major I pick or what career path I go down, there’s one way I could leave a lasting impression. * The universe mixed all these ingredients together billions of years ago and came up with life. Came up with volcanos and books and black holes and, yeah, even came up with me. I can’t understand the universe’s dark energy and I can’t understand my personal dark energy, but I can at least understand that no matter how much space either of them take up, it’s not all there is. If it was, dark energy wouldn’t have anything to push around. It’d be useless. * An entry from my journal on March 16th, 2015: We are the universe. The universe is in us. Why? I don’t know. But I don’t think I need to know. I don’t think knowing will do anything for me or anyone. Of all the people I could be, I’m me. I’m the way I am. The creative, selfish, funny, lazy, thoughtful, awkward, inspired, abnormal girl from Nampa, Idaho. And I somehow fit perfectly into this universe because it’s what I am and what I will become. And that’s pretty astounding.
Wolverine and Bears
The year is 1970. I am twenty-seven years old. My graduate student, Al, is twenty-three. The old World War II weapons carrier aka heavy duty pickup truck comes to a stop. I think I’m out of gas. The fuel gauge on this thirtyyear old truck doesn’t seem to be working. I started the afternoon with more than a quarter tank and have only driven fifteen miles or so. Al is back at the Quonset hut on Izembek Lagoon getting dinner ready. I told him I’d be back in an hour, that I wanted to scout the north end of the National Wildlife Refuge. We are here to survey the fishes in the lagoon and see how they adapt to freezing temperatures. I wanted to see if we could trailer and launch our Boston Whaler up here. Now I know; we can’t. The terrain is mostly flat with a scattering of low
V o l . 11 N o . 1 hills. Some of the hills are glacial in origin. Others are plant-covered dunes. In the distance are some larger hills of volcanic origin. There is nothing for it but to walk back to the station—the Quonset hut—and perhaps tomorrow get a message to the refuge manager. Maybe his assistant can bring us some gas. I check my backpack: raincoat, flashlight, extra shotgun shells. I put the key to the weapons carrier on the bench seat, grab my shotgun, close the door, and head down the gravel road. Rays from the setting sun glance in under the cloud layer and pink the low tundra landscape. The scattered taller shrubs, willows and a few alders, cast long shadows. The shotgun is an old Ithaca Model 37 pump in 16 gauge. It is so worn and has been handled so much over the decades that none of the original bluing remains. Before this field work, I removed the magazine plug that limited the shotgun to two shells. Now it will hold four. As I walk I feed shells into the old Ithaca. First, a buckshot round, now a slug, another buckshot, another slug. Now I slip a buckshot load in the chamber. Five shells in all. The Izembek Wildlife Refuge is located at the end of the Alaska Peninsula near Cold Bay. Cold Bay is a deep water port on the Pacific Ocean side of the peninsula. Izembek Lagoon is a shallow eelgrass lagoon on the Bering Sea side. The Quonset hut, our field station, and thousands like it are remnants of war in the Aleutians. Cold Bay was
the site of Ft. Randall Army Air Field. The huts at Izembek housed troops in part of the outer defensive ring around Ft. Randall. Very few of the huts are still intact. The lagoon in spring and fall is a waterfowl staging area. It attracts upwards of a million Canada geese, Emperor geese, pintails, mallards, white-fronted geese, widgeon and other ducks in the fall. The rolling tundra surrounding the lagoon is covered with crowberries, bog blueberries, low-bush cranberries and salmon berries, food for waterfowl. Birds fatten on the berries and on invertebrates attached to the eelgrass blades in the lagoon. Streams flowing into the lagoon nurture fingerling salmon that go to sea, mature, and return to spawn. The fish plus the berries are excellent forage for brown bears, some of which match in size the more famous Kodiak brown bears. Hence, the presence of my old Ithaca. Visitors to Cold Bay and Izembek are encouraged to be timid about shooting these giant bears unless they are actually hunting them. Somehow, the bears seem to know this. Consequently, they are not much afraid of humans. Some months ago a wildlife photographer went missing. Last week his boots were found with his feet still in them. Hence, the presence of my old Ithaca. --It is dark now with the cloud cover blotting out moon and stars. But, there is a faint cloud glow in the east, a reflection of runway lights at Cold Bay, maybe eight miles away. The runway is 10,000 feet long, an improved hold-over from Ft. Randall. It can accommodate any aircraft on the planet. Lots of runway lights. In the middle of nowhere. The Vietnam War is still raging and Flying Tigers freight aircraft land to refuel in Cold Bay, their only stop from California to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. Cam Ranh Bay is a long way from Izembek Lagoon. A world away. I think about the Imperial Russian Second Pacific Squadron stopping at Cam Ranh Bay in 1905 on its 18,000-mile journey from the Baltic to the Russian Far East. The squadron needed coal to fire the ships’ boilers. But, Admiral Rozhestvensky, the fleet commander, was only granted a 24hour layover by the French to complete their provisioning. The Admiral didn’t realize—how could he—that the coming Valerie Egan
48 confrontation with the Imperial Japanese Navy would be calamitous, catastrophic, cataclysmic. How could he imagine that every major ship in his armada would be either sunk, scuttled or captured during the Battle of Tsushima Strait? How could he imagine that his coming defeat would lead to the unrest that sparked rebellion and the eventual overthrow of the Tsar? I wonder if Cam Ranh Bay may, once again, be a focal point for an impending military and political disaster. Not Russia this time but the United States of America. The prosecution of this undeclared war has already set off waves of protest across America. As I walk, I lift up a silent prayer that our current unrest doesn’t boil over into a real rebellion. Regime change? Maybe. But let it be through the ballot box, not the bullet, bayonet and bomb. As it is, the lying and obfuscation from our government has undermined our trust. --I walk down the middle of the road since that is where the gravel is packed by the few vehicles traveling this way. To my left, toward Cold Bay, I can make out a darker shape moving against a dark background, angling toward the road. I decide to move to the right as the shape reaches the road. It begins to move down the road paralleling me, matching my pace. I slow my pace; the shape slows its pace. It isn’t big enough to be a brown bear, at least not an adult bear. I’m thinking, “Please, don’t let this shape be a playful brown bear cub!” --My companion has been with me an hour now, speeding up and slowing down whenever I do. It stays exactly abreast. My curiosity is making me consider stopping, putting down my pack, fishing out my flashlight and looking at the animal. I’d have to put down the shotgun. I keep walking. The wind, until now, has been steady out of the southwest, off the Bering Sea. Blowing from me to it. I get no scent cues. I have paged through my mental bestiary and am pretty sure my companion is a wolverine, an interesting alternative to a large brown bear. Wolverines are known to pull down very young caribou and other slow-moving prey. They are ferocious enough to take kills away from bears and wolves. I am pretty sure I am in the “slow-moving prey” category. “You know,” I say to the shape, “you’ve been sizing me up for a while and haven’t made up your mind. Let me tell you, if you come for me you may succeed but it’s going to get nasty. My first shot will send nine big
CIRQUE pellets at you and I bet at least one of them will find you. Maybe bust your jaw, part your hair deeper than you like, put a hitch in your git-along. I know you are tough but, injured, you are going down, easy prey to one of those giant bears.” The road takes us past a low ridge to the west. The wind squirrels around it and I finally catch a whiff of my companion. There is a musky component indicative of this largest member of the Mustelidae-weasels- in Alaska. Another complex odor I guess to be essence of rotted flesh. Wolverines are, apparently, not fastidious about either grooming or oral hygiene. I hope I don’t find out which. Maybe the wolverine processed my little intimidation speech. Maybe I am too boring as a travel companion. Maybe he has arrived at his destination. Maybe he senses trouble ahead. Whichever, he drifts left, leaves the roadbed and disappears. It has been spitting rain through this entire beastly encounter but now it starts raining in earnest. I put down my Ithaca and pack, pull out my raincoat, pocket my flashlight, then pick up pack and shotgun. The road turns ahead and I recognize where I am. The dump for the city of Cold Bay is 200 yards ahead. Why a dump is located in a wildlife refuge is a mystery to me. Perhaps the townsfolk wanted the dump, and the bears it attracts, as far from town as possible. Between the reflected light from the runway and the flickering light from burning, smoldering garbage, I can make out three bears: a sow and two half-grown cubs. The sow looks to be at least seven hundred pounds, the cubs combined another six hundred. Another mystery: the dump is surrounded on three sides by fence. Wooden posts and three strands of barbed wire. Does anybody think that such a fence, open on one side, will keep bears out of the dump? Or keep the wind from blowing the unburned trash away? Fortunately, the garbage is set back about thirty yards from the road. I’ll be able to raise my shotgun if the sow decides to charge. There is nothing for it but to walk past the bears, crunching along the gravel road, making food-like sounds. The sow looks my way and stands on her hind legs. One of the cubs takes three steps in my direction. I keep walking. The bears seem to lose interest. The road bends again and I am now walking upwind of the dump and the bears. I glance over my shoulder and make out, in the gloom, the sow on her hind legs again. I keep walking and sense, though it is too
V o l . 11 N o . 1 dark to see, that I am being followed. The last quarter mile to the Quonset hut that serves as our marine lab is taking an eternity. Finally, I climb over the berm surrounding the hut and pull open the door. There are two deadbolts and three cross-bolts on the door. I lock them all before I set aside the Ithaca. Since I am almost an hour late, Al has to ask: “Trouble?” I reply, “No gas, a wolverine and three bears.” “Really?” As if in answer to his question, the bolted door begins to rattle. “That would be the bears,” I say. Al screams like a girl and I have to admire both his breath control and his falsetto. The door stops rattling and we hear a “huff” out there in the dark. We stand listening for a full minute and hear nothing else. Al breaks the silence. “These bears are unnerving me! Next they’ll swim out to our boat when we’re in the lagoon dragging our net!” “Easy now. Let’s keep it in perspective,” I say. “Perspective! The view from its mouth? From its claws?” “Al, remember, we could both be in Vietnam right now. These bears don’t rig explosives, they don’t pretend to be our friends, they don’t dig tunnels from which to sneak up on us and they don’t shoot at us.” After a long pause, during which Al catches his breath, he says, “You’re right. They are probably more rational than the guys prosecuting the war. Let’s eat.” “What do we have?” “Mashed potatoes. I used the entire five-pound bag.” “Perfect!”
Green Room In the green room, Tavin said I walked like one walks in a park, like it was warm out, as if the sun were shining—even though we were underground. The green room is often underground. The green room is without sunlight. The walls are painted black. The furniture is second hand, and painted black. There is typically a couch. The green room is only green if the green room is a forest. Make no mistake, this is also underground, and also a difficult place for the mind, if not for your feet, not for walking. Your shoes are well worn and perfect for forded streams, scarred hardwood, nonslip deck, or metallic strip. Your jacket too, and your bottle of water, or coffee, or a weak green tea in a thermos you have opened and closed so many times—during rehearsal and quiet mornings and the whisky evenings you’d soon forget if you could remember them—the lid pops free of the threads now and again. The tea is not green. It is a brown teardrop on your thumb. The fluid enters hot and if the flip-cap is turned over, plugging the hole, the pressure will burst the cap 30 seconds later. It is possible to plan, to wave a hand, to do magic. Tavin said I walked like I was happy to see her. I waved, the way I do, a lift of the forearm and the wrist, but she noticed I did not stop to chat. No hesitation. Of course, this was a part of the instruction. Acting 101. Two students start at opposite ends and walk past each other. What happens then is supposed to be natural, spontaneous. We were not supposed to act a part. We were not supposed to make something happen, afloat, in the middle of the green room. We were supposed to be ourselves. At sea, where every point feels like the center of the ocean, a ship is a character without blocking. At sea, we do not root to the spot. At sea, we stay busy. We prowl the stage. We rail against the isolation. On ship, I put a camera to my face, recording the actions of the crew, the repeated words, the routines. This is my role, and then I comb through each day’s hundreds of photographs of people and machines and pressure vessels under fog, under sunset, under fog. When I expend the photographs, marking the few we will remember, I’m caught without business to perform. Time to sleep or to write, scribble really. Afterwards, when I look up, I’ve walked off and down, back into the depths where one stops Susan and thinks, Reach to the Clouds Biggs
50 “How was that? Was that me?” A quarter million-dollar production before breakfast. Another after dessert. Back to the lab. Back to the coffee. Busy is an act. Am I becoming comfortable in this? At sea, I watch the table tennis in the main lab for two days before I pick up a paddle. I haven’t played in more than a decade, but I live for muscle memory. I explain it was never my sport, but as teenagers, we had a table in the garage, and now I have a learned fear of losing the ball under a chest freezer or a cluttered workbench. “Ball sports in general,” I say. “Never liked running after things.” “My sport is fencing,” I say, “and badminton in a pinch.” Won a national championship, and without a coach—but I have a knack for role-playing. I am good with a role and a goal. Idle hands paint. This is why sailors—all voyagers—make things, if only a shaped stick or a cairn for the next. The ship cuts a wake, displacing an ocean and then the one next to that. I cannot remember how Tavin crossed the room. I remember the moment as if I’m not walking but sat with the other students watching. I imagine myself jealous. I find the boy gangly and dangerous. I cannot recall the actress specifically, how she walked across the green room, and obviously I can’t properly recall myself either, because the image I have of the boy is an imprint, a dodge, an edit. Mystery Maybe the instructor knew the epiphany would come, if a quarter century late. Being ourselves is an act, and deliberate. I am most myself in sport. In sport, the green room is a perimeter. The green room is the width of a line. Stepping across that line makes the green room what it is—if done well, if done right, a razor’s edge. If done wrong, you are impaled. When in the ring or on strip, or the court, you cannot think about that other, deliberate you. You cannot afford to see the audience in the stands. You feel them is all, and sometimes you hear your name, a familiar echo, and realize this is why your parents gave it to you. The before is the worst part, the green before-
CIRQUE the-business-at-hand where we are most vulnerable, where the Internet is sketchy, where we are hushed and reverent, the idle time where we begin to watch ourselves and how we can’t seem to be anything but awkward. But we step across the line, and we transform. We shrug one outfit for another, one persona for another, thinly veiled or not, as needed. In the green room, we are proud of nothing. There is no pride in being between things. In the green room, we say hello and goodbye. In the green room, the actors remind us to get inside where we can wedge ourselves between a wall and a desk and suck on ginger peels such that this day we are consumed by storm but not swept off ship because we want to take pictures of long, slender ruined ice. The ship is a factory floor tossed liked a coin. The sea batters the ice like shorelines, and their hollows burn green. Everyone passes through on their way to the specific, such that we expect the in-between to be forgotten. But whether we board a ship or a court, or rise to a first date, or ascend the stairs to the stage, it is all the stage. And in fields, the green room is broad as a forest, as the tundra over mountains, as an arctic sea thick with old ice. The green room is a container for the fragile, for the temporary—a collapsing structure, an artifact of physics. This is why there is a room, a safe space, a beach, a barrel of a wave, a fey glen, a place of hollow, echoing transformation. I’m more comfortable Zsanan Narrin walking, the one waving hellogoodbye. When walking, I am not watching myself walk. When walking, I am comfortable in the park. I’m comfortable on stage. But that happened, right? It’s done. Now impatient, we walk across that floor and those unmoored moments before we clear our minds of baggage and become something else. The green room is heavy with spray. We’re a life raft. We’re not a life raft. We’re raw, hard, old ice rafted in nilas—reclaimed by the sea, or perhaps just tasting of salts after. I’m not sure what led me from the Beaufort Sea to Charlottesville. The photographs, perhaps were an effort to get, briefly, off the boat and escape the restlessness of constant motion. Maybe the folders on the laptop had drifted near to each other. Perhaps I wanted
V o l . 11 N o . 1 to expose more for strangers stumbling from the edge of the frame than those I’d put front and center. “You’ve been aboard before?” “I’ve lived in that room and in that room, I think— and that room twice.” Repeat performance. The ice floes make the work stable, after a fashion. If there is nausea, it is more from the noise, the brightness of the ice, the relentless cycling of shifts, the stresses of an unscripted ocean. I took a break from the winches and the Mustang suits, the nets and gawking at sea ice and walrus, polar bears, and the lab-distillation: chlorophyll and zooplankton meat—maybe half an hour, about the same degree of breathing I spent with Catherine’s tree once I found it. I escaped to sit beside a gas fireplace in a café, in summer, and I bought the same T-shirt I always buy when I return to Virginia. I wanted to find Catherine’s tree, and I needed to walk Rugby Road in the aftermath of the Rolling Stone debacle and with REM in my head. And I wanted to figure out which house was Phi Kappa Psi, because, well—the names never meant much then—but I wanted to see if my memories were accurate down to the hedge and the tree on the left a dozen yards before the next standing lamp past the brick corner. I wanted to walk the ways I walked 25 years ago—but entire paths have been rerouted. The theatre lay in the same hollow, but the paint on the bridge was beyond the inch thick. “Kiss me Kate.” In the play, I propositioned the woman in front of her boyfriend. The plot had it he couldn’t object. She defended herself well and in doing so broke a series of objects across my head. Each time I regained consciousness, I was oblivious and I picked up where I left off. Do not excuse me because it was scripted. All I saw was the woman walking towards me. Later, I repaired to the Lawn under cover of lukewarm twilight, and as during the day took photographs pretending I was alone. It is not a hard thing to make a crowd invisible, in the dark and between the streetlamps and the louvered effect of the colonnades, the textured firewood, the way ghosts are. Maybe I needed to escape even the natural things, the upwelled emulsion, the fog and ice and water, the vaporous horizon, and find the firmer edges of the sunset. Perhaps the bright red mooring floats and the falling snow over bird-free grey water reminded me of winter berries and trail lamplight, even in the thick of summer.
51 Maybe I was possessed by a residual reverence for a new form of instability, bright now, and digital—which is exactly what architecture is meant to do, the machine nature of a village where no photograph escapes the fact this place is once again under construction, once again an evasive thing, transforming in an effort to remain exactly the same. A fence ran across in front of the Jefferson’s Rotunda as scaffolding enveloped Monticello a quarter century before—and Catherine’s tree? It was girded by gates and signs I ignored to get to it. I reported to her widower that the memorial plaque was gone now—we hoped temporarily, her name to return before the light of the fall barbecues. The blocking—who keeps track of it all? Each tree requires a black and white hung in the lobby. I’m not much at sea anymore, and each time I disembark, I don’t know that it’s not the last time—and I don’t mean that this is always a possibility. I mean that it is likely. Each time we sail for the mouth of the harbor— it’s a gift—a return to an old life. We set out excited and always, days before we return to port, we lick our lips wondering why none of our chemists have concocted fusel oils. We want the extreme drinking, the stagger and the singing, saké after beer after saké. We need both the freedom of not seeing each other and the one last act of togetherness, the way we sometimes say goodbye with sex. A wrap party is saying goodbye. And then I’m in the director’s bedroom. She apologizes for the state of the floor, and I count the pleats of her skirt. We decide what we want to have happen next. Continuance, perhaps, holding on to the frayed. Now she directs screen graphics for Hollywood film and TV, the stuff you see on computers in the background, or more often now, floating in air, responsive to tai chi and yet curiously anchored to all the oxygen in the room. Sometimes the famous point to it, as if they understand all the lines and wrapping code—arrows and marks and colored tape, hot, scribbled lines in space. With a gesture, I open a folder of older, grainy photographs. A sport of gestures, fencing is a deceptive art, less scripted than science, more so than a stage play. It’s the perfect sport for not telling your partner what you intend to do. It’s getting close without permission. It’s performance. At the championships, when they called my name to stand beside the other finalists—I couldn’t so much as walk on my own, my left calf having cramped
The Child Within
earlier in the competition, becoming a knot the size of a large pickled onion. This did not stop me. I edged close before my name was called, my leg howling when I put pressure on it. I did my best impression of health, an act I’ve repeated since. I shook hands and wondered if I wanted to be seen carried back to the medical tent— arms around shoulders—I do not remember whose. This was eighteen years ago. They are older now. The hours ran like matinees. I left the tent to report to the strip—hook up, salute with weapon, mask on, taking as few steps as possible—then became someone else and whereby felt no pain. After I won, I hobbled off-strip like a fuck you, you have no idea—and back to the tent. Massage and repeat. I have a photo of me standing on the raised stage about to begin the gold medal bout. One of my hands is outstretched fingers slightly curled. I do this, make my hands into the shape of claws when I’m in pain. I’m controlling pain. I’m setting it aside one last time. I’m jonesing for a real meal. I’m in control, and I win. My celebration is brief, cut short by fatigue and stepping back over the perimeter to acknowledge the injury. Most people I know, know this story. It’s a highlight, a national championship, a crutch I’ve leaned on for years. What I don’t mention, most times, is the untidy second act, that I came back the next day for another event, and again made the finals. I have little recollection of those bouts, or how my leg persevered 24-hours later, but I expect at that point I had mastered the lines. I fell into the job, for at least a little while, the belonging before leaving.
It is better than being left behind, better than pacing post-exits and listening to the broadcast from the stage. I’m comfortable being the one walking. Sometimes, it is a drunk walk—the one where I’m conscious of each foot placed in front of the other, bodyweight something passed from toe to heel, and deathly important, I decide each moment, each step, what it is I want, and where I want to end up. “What are you doing?” she says. “Come over,” she says. Back at sea. Back to port. We’ve sailed. We’ve sung. We’ve compressed three weeks of drinking into a single, long night. Norway is half a dozen steps in front of me and Michigan. Men, smoking in doorways, watch us pass. We’re not taking our eyes off our crewmate until she is safe to her hotel. Only then will we succumb to oblivion, let the party go, and leave the Greek roads behind us. “Kiss me Kate.” Lips pursed. Eyes closed, pretending the sugar vase hasn’t happened—how many times before? And one day you just stop. You move cities and never check in with the local repertory. You crack a rib and begin a new hobby weekends and evenings. You stop calling the old crew to let them know you need to get back on the water. And all of a sudden, you are content to listen to the public address. Someone has just flubbed a line and all will be okay. Someone has failed to make seed, and the world moves on. Are you content? Or do you find solace in remaining perfectly still, laboring the same person at all hours of the day? Bridge of the ship. The third mate admonishes the second mate for not cleaning the landing craft. “I know it sucks to be second mate,” he says. “If you don’t have the courtesy to wake me up, at least clean up after.” Once the steam and the cap has settled, the coffee takes hours to cool, insulated as it is, sandwiched between tin walls and resting on the non-slip pad in the port side windows of the bridge’s wing where I can look almost straight down on the water and the white and blue and sometimes brown islands of ice that pass neatly by, as if we’ve avoided them, as if they have given us space. Once in a while, if I forget where I am and who I am, I wave. A peculiar sensation, catching oneself waving to an ice floe. The pure ice is blue ponds encircled by hillock amphitheaters: miniature crags of alabaster, and lime, compressed by winter. Where the wild sea has begun to creep aboard the eroded floes, the shipped water is green. Lakes become miniature fjords soft with plankton, finding refuge in a cove the size of a dinner plate in all this ocean.
V o l . 11 N o . 1
Apologies to Edvard Munch
FICTION Clifton Bates
Jax You’d think an albino raven that lived untethered in a man’s home would have a name; being a one-of-a-kind white raven for crying out loud. And they’d been together for years. For some reason, though, Jax never got around to giving him something to go by. He certainly was a brilliant bird. A name wouldn’t have hurt him in the least. Jax was a peculiar bird himself living like he did in his triangular house. No television, no newspapers or magazines; just a few books. He had his own ways of occupying time. One example, he had three hives in his side yard (off the hypotenuse) where he collected butterfly honey. He had nearly a half dozen tiny jars of the stuff in his kitchen cupboard. Unlike bee honey, this thick, jewel-like liquid had a strange, orange glow to it. For wealthy people in the East, it was an extremely rare, much sought-after healant, an elixir. Of this, Jax was unaware. He knew it had healthy qualities, but had no idea it was so valuable. An idiosyncrasy that Jax possessed was that he had an extraordinary fondness for beef jerky. Actually, any kind of jerky. He was quite poor and whenever he found himself with some extra resources, he’d purchase some inexpensive cuts of meat, marinate them for days in his own special sauce, and then slowly dry them in his oven. Then he’d enjoy the results each day until it was all gone. When he didn’t have the money to purchase any
meat, he used scissors and cut inch-and-a-half wide strips of cardboard from boxes that he carefully selected that had that special corrugated aspect to them. It illustrated his addictiveness when he marinated these and proceeded in his usual manner in making his tasty jerky. He told the albino raven that this was “Poor Man’s Jerky.” The sun was setting on one of the three sides of his home. He deemed it time to enjoy a piece of his Poor Man’s Jerky. He gnawed off a good chunk, closed his eyes, chewed away and savored his most favorite of flavors. But this time, as they say, it went down the wrong pipe. The Poor Man’s Jerky lodged in Jax’s throat just like an unwelcomed chicken bone. He flailed, gasped, turned blue, his eyes bulged. There was no one around to perform the Heimlich Maneuver (he had always thought it should be called the Heimlich Remover). The cowboy hero in a white hat showed up in the form of the albino raven. The no-name bird bounced over to the commotion, investigated, diagnosed the situation and used his pale beak to cleverly reach down Jax’s throat and kindly pluck out the wet, jammed piece of flavored, corrugated cardboard. Jax gasped for air. His proper color slowly returned. He breathed gulps of welcomed air. His throat hurt terribly. He could hardly swallow. The edges of the cardboard were unforgiving. Fortunately, though, Jax had an adequate supply of butterfly honey to sooth and help heal his ravaged trachea.
V o l . 11 N o . 1
S. W. Campbell
Man of the House Things have reached a stalemate, though you are the only one to have reached the realization. Tiring of the yelling you storm off into the cold night, with a jacket that is too light, and the shocked silence left behind by your swift departure. Breath steaming in the chill, you climb into the family car and throw it backwards from the driveway, headlights illuminating the tan paint that was her preference. Retreating down the street before the front step can be darkened by a panicked shadow rushing forward to pull you back in. The car moves on automatic, taking lefts and rights without prior plan. It does not matter where you are going. The refuge of solitary stillness has been reached. You switch off the radio, pre-set to her favorite station, and watch the endless rows of houses roll by, each containing lives that must be so much simpler and easier than yours. Even in the light jacket you begin to sweat, so you turn the dial down, keeping it at just enough to keep the glass from clouding up. The chill air feels good Esten Boxing against your skin. You have always liked the cold. The constant fight of your body to maintain its constant temperature. Your muscles unclench. The cogs stop turning. You let your mind free to roam. Back to simpler times. Back to childhood days. Back to you and your brother’s brushing your father’s hair. The fire in the wood stove crackles, providing warmth, but sucking away the last of the moisture in the winter air. The brush is passed around. The handle plastic, made to look like wood. The bristles greasy, and filled with strands of the lion’s failing mane. The old man sits at the head of the dining table, back erect, and eyes proud. The brush is passed into your hands. You pull some of the hair out of the brush, wait for the moment when your mother,
55 scrubbing dishes at the kitchen sink, is not looking, and let them drop to the floor. Each stroke lifts the salt and pepper hair higher. Lifted by the static in the air. Loud bursts of childish giggling. Your mother looks over and smiles and you even notice an upward curve on the lips of the old man. You pretend not to notice, even now knowing that it is what you are supposed to do. The insistent hands of your brother reach out, and the giggling is reduced to squabbling. The game is ended and your mother hustles her brood to the bathroom to brush their teeth. She helps the youngest at the task, but leaves you and the oldest to do it on your own. Your older brother is careful not to brush too hard, lest he knock out anymore of the loose ones like he did last week. Teeth cleaned, you are marched back to the dining room, where the old man, his hair still frizzed and wild, reads the paper. You and your younger brother kiss your father on his cheek. You feel the roughness of his whiskers on your lips. Your older brother hangs back, unsure. The old man looks unsure as well. Your older brother leaves with just a whispered good night. Your mother tucks you in. You in the bottom bunk, your older brother in the top, and gives each of you a kiss before turning out the light. From the room of your little brother you can hear your father reading. You strain to hear, only Ann-Marie Brown every other word making it through the wall. Your older brother does not need stories any more, and the two of you are kept in lockstep by the sharing of the room. You feel proud that you stopped needing stories at an earlier age than him. The car finds its way, following the curving road up onto the hill. Through the gates of the cemetery. Down the narrow gravel lane between the rows of monuments to strangers. You are far from home, and it is for none of the resting spirits that you’ve come. At the back fence the car stops, the headlights turn off, and the noise of the engine ceases. The lights of the city stretch outward across the flats. A tightly knit galaxy of stars, stretching towards the far horizon. You sit quiet and look out across your world.
56 Stand up straight. Tuck your shirt in. Keep quiet. Quit fighting. Sit still. God why couldn’t we of had girls? Everyone says that girls are so much easier. Toughen up. That wasn’t so bad. Quit crying. You don’t want everyone to see you crying do you? Your father never cries; don’t you want to be like your father? You feel your eyes grow moist, but nothing falls. Even here they do not flow. The pumps stay off. You pound your fist on the dash. The bottom of your fist hurts, the muscles bruised. Fuck. The sharp explosion of the expletive ricochets through the car’s interior. Your body tightens and shakes. You pound the dashboard once again. It hurts like hell. The blasts subside. The debris settles. The dust falls from the air. Your muscles loosen once again. You sit and look out over the city lights, trying to spot your house amongst the herd. The old man walks into your room to yell at you to hurry up. You're going to miss the bus. He looks down and spots the old pocket knife with the cheap plastic handle sitting on the dresser. He asks if it is the same one that you were given when you were ten? It is. He tells you again to hurry up, and then leaves the room. You finish getting dressed and rush out to the dining room table to hurriedly force down a dry bowl of bag brand frosted flakes. Your father eats oatmeal, eggs, and coffee. The same meal he always eats, every day except Sundays. Your mother leans against the kitchen counter, eating toast. The air is tense. They’ve been fighting. They’re waiting for you and your little brother to leave for the battle to renew. The arrival of the bus offers you an escape. You spend all day in the classroom. Sitting in the middle of the room. Not up front with the over achievers. Not in the back with the slackers. You sit and stare at boobs out of the corner of your eye. You’re glad you’re sitting down. You get caught looking. She gives you a dirty look. You can read her thoughts through her expression. Pervert. What the fuck are you looking at? They’re just boobs. Just part of the human anatomy. Not wanking material for your dirty fantasies. These are something special. These are my magic secret. I only show them to guys I like. You’re not one of the guys I like. You're weird. Remember that time in sixth grade when you cried on the playground? Everyone remembers. You shift in your seat uncomfortably and try to focus on the blackboard, but all you see is boobs. That evening is the basketball game. You’re on the JV team. You spend most of the game on the bench. Your little brother spends most of the game on the court. You feel a deep sense of shame. You make sure no one
CIRQUE notices that you feel it. You laugh and make jokes with the other benchwarmers. The coach yells at you to pay attention. The final buzzer sounds and you head down to the locker room. Your mother and your father stand in the crowd at the doorway. Your mother tells both you and your brother good job. The old man remains quiet. As you head down to the locker room you can hear your mother comment to another woman how much your little brother looks like his father. The next morning there is a small package on your dresser. It’s a new pocket knife. The windows are steaming up, so you turn back on the car. You click on the radio, and play with the dial until you find some music that you like. It’s getting late. It’s well past midnight. There’s no reason to stay up here all night. You flip the switch for the headlights and put the car back into gear. It doesn’t drive in automatic. You have to think about it every time you hit the brake or gas. Each turn of the wheel to the left and right. You feel tired. Exhausted. You’re ready for bed. Tell me how you feel. You are my rock. Why don’t you ever talk about your feelings? I don’t know what I would do without you. Quit trying to fix it. I hate it when you try and fix things. I’m sorry I forgot. Why don’t you ever do anything for me? I just want you to listen. The shower drain is clogged, would you mind fixing it? Why don’t you do what I ask? You're so selfish. Not now, I’m tired. Quit acting so weird. I’m glad that I found you. Jesus, can’t you act like an adult? Act your age. I just want you to ask me about my day. Don’t turn this around on me. Nothing I do is good enough for you. It’s not my fault. I’m doing the best I can. I can’t believe you said that. Is that what you really think? The car pulls into the driveway. You set the radio back to her station and move the dials for the heat back to where she likes them. You turn off the car and sit for a moment, enjoying the silence. You breathe in and out a couple times, and head inside the house. She’s sitting on the couch. Her eyes are puffy and red. She looks up as you come in. You sit down on the couch next to her. You apologize, then you go to bed.
V o l . 11 N o . 1
Dirtlings “Alright,” said the judge, “Miss Pease, correction, Miss Miller, you’re hereby divorced. The double wide will stay in your name. The plot of land off old Highway 30 will go to Mr. Pease as the land use restrictions make it, well, practically worthless.” “You’ll fit right in, Merle,” said Amber. Merle stared at the floor, rubbing his palms on his thighs. The judge placed his hands down with finality. “Anything else?” Amber’s flip-flops were already slapping against her heels, the sounds echoing off the marble, as she left the courtroom. # Merle’s rig moseyed along the shoulder of Old Highway 30 where a stretch of dense woods stood in defiance of entry. No driveway, No trail. Just a defensive line of green, autumn yellow, and orange pressed toward the highway. It was still morning as he crept between mile markers until he saw a space where the larger trees were a few yards apart, leaving shrubs and shoots to dominate. He turned off the road into tall grass. From the back of his old International Harvester Scout, he retrieved a handsharpened machete, which cleaved his way through the foliage until he could drive deep enough for the Scout to not be seen; and then deeper. Zig-zagging around trees, he used large clippers to slice small bushes off at the base, a shovel to dice at the roots of black and marionberry bushes, and a hatchet to punish wandering tree branches. By evening he had piled cuttings all along the new driveway; at first having tossed them into the woods as he cut, but finding pieces underfoot all too often, he began to make piles almost as a boundary not to be crossed. Tomorrow he would bring out a chainsaw and start cutting down trees. Environmental protections didn’t feed his kid. Actually, the state did at the moment, since she had broken into a few cars; and there were those sex worker charges, but he didn’t want to think about his little girl turning tricks. The point was, she needed somewhere to land when she got out of lockup. This time she would get clean and stay that way. Sticky with sweat, sap, and spider webs he sat in his rig, moving aside the sack of empty beer cans: he’d
been drinking as he worked. Just a nap until dark. He’d earned it. # Merle woke up to tapping at the window and roof of the Scout. The wind was up. Branches waved back and forth all around him, a parade with nobody passing. After napping in the driver’s seat, which had no headrest, Merle had bile in his throat and a kink in his neck. Drunk enough, you can sleep anywhere. He tried to roll his head from side to side but felt pain spark when it strayed from center. Turning the ignition key, the rig coughed and started, and Merle backed up, around the trees that made his new driveway wind like a snake. Branches scratched and scraped his rig though he could have sworn that he had provided himself a wider and taller birth. # The Yacht Club was a belly-flop bar. “Beer.” Merle said, paid his two bucks, and drank. He sat down next to the only woman seated at the bar. Many other stools were available. “You ever been to paradise?” She turned to him, what looked like acne strewn about her face. “Yeah. Why? You holding?”
58 “I got a nice little place in the woods. Plan to make a home out of it. It’s fresh, but it’s got potential.” “Good for you,” she said, already turning away. “You from around here?” He said to the back of her head. “Nobody is.” “What do you mean nobody is? People grow up here.” “Nope. People come here to die. Anyone born out here never grows up. I’d know.” “That’s deep. I’m Merle,” he said, extending his hand. “Whatever,” she said, shaking her can of beer, and hearing nothing, she tossed it over the bar into a bin on the other side. She pulled on a hoodie and a jacket, planted her hands deeper than the pockets wanted to go, and shuffled outside. Merle watched the bar binge and purge customers. Four beers later he worked his way into the stream of people leaving and was expelled into cold autumn night. “Feels like summer never happened,” Merle muttered to himself, buttoning his jacket. # The next afternoon, Merle was already drunk when one of the logs moved, unprovoked. Or was there a rat? A snake? No, only small ones are native here, he thought. It must have been a squirrel with its tail spread wide, he decided. “Bahh!” Merle shouted at the piled wood. “Amateur hour over here. Seeing things ain’t there.” He chucked his can at the stack of wood. Beer splattered out on impact. Nothing ran scurrying for cover. “Only a child can’t hold his liquor and run a chainsaw.” He shrugged and hunched over to get a fresh beer from where they stayed cool in the shade of his rig. As he opened it, he heard wood crack, snap, and tumble. But there was only the logs and the slash pile. # “Daddy, they say I’ve had too many chances. When I jimmied that car window, because it was a Nova piece of shit, that was one thing. But they say having a gun on your person, and selling stolen meds, that’s too much for a wrist slap. They say I’ll be out in fourteen months, nine with good behavior. Maybe you can pick me up?” Merle listened to the voicemail from his daughter while eating the blue-plate special at the Yacht Club. They let him charge his phone behind the bar.
CIRQUE “You can plug this baby in at that motel on Gardner Street, too. They got showers and everything.” said the bartender as she topped off Merle’s mug. “A shower and a bed and coffee for the morning. Did I mention the shower?” In the bathroom Merle washed his hands up to the elbows and ran his wet fingers through his hair, brushing out moss, sawdust, and a potato bug. “Good as new.” # On the way back to the clearing Merle got a good deal on a case of Old German. He celebrated his stomach full of real food with a couple of beers as he walked the perimeter he’d created. “A septic tank would go real nice right about here.” He tripped on a cut log, firewood length, that had probably rolled off the pile he’d stacked nearby. He didn’t see it because of the angle of the sun, the uneven ground, and yeah, also the swig he was taking. His ego and toes were real sore after that. He tucked his foot under the log and tried to sling it back toward the stacked wood and slash pile a few yards away. The wood held tight, causing something to pop in Merle’s knee. He fell on his ass, and felt splinters enter his hands as they splayed into the woodchips beneath him. He reached for the log and pulled at it, meaning to carry the tug into a throw, but it didn’t come easily. The sound of roots tearing left him dumbfounded. He had cut this wood earlier in the day. He sat there staring at a lengthy root system that had somehow sprouted its way out from between cracks in the bark. “I know you’re still green, but damn.” Merle had never seen firewood so committed to second chances. This wasn’t a twig set in a mason jar of water, but a human thigh of oak that had sprouted months’ worth of roots, from the strangest of places, in a matter of hours. Merle tested his knee, and though it hurt, realized he could walk on it. He tossed the log back onto the pile, but it rolled off and landed at an angle, and there it stayed. He ambled over to where its beard of new roots faced him like a beheaded shaman; three knots staring at him like eyes with a mirror house of irises. Merle leaned over to pick it up, this time with the intent to gently add it to the pile. It didn’t budge. He scraped at the dirt around it so he could lift it from the bottom, but he couldn’t find the other end, even though he had just held it. It now seemed
V o l . 11 N o . 1 to extend into the ground like any other tree stump. He sat down on it and rocked back and forth, side to side, arguing the rules of nature, plucking splinters from his hands, but mostly driving them in further. He walked to his rig and grabbed his axe. Using the flat backside, he swung it like a sledge. With a dull ding it glanced off the log. He flipped the blade forward and chopped. The blade sunk in but didn’t move the wood from where it had fallen minutes ago. “Am I crazy? Was there a stump here?” The three eyes stared up at him while he hacked at the wood until its sap lathered and turned red. Merle faltered, and let the axe fall from his hands. He scratched at the splinters, which had started to sting like mosquito bites. # Fleas feasting on Merle’s ankles had been a part of every summer, as far back as he could remember. Some winters too, depending on the assortment of pets his family had that year, the harshness of the winter, and if the cats and dogs slept in his bed with or without him. On Merle’s twelve birthday, his dad was opening cans of chili while a pack of frozen hot dogs thawed in the sink. “You want to know what I want for my birthday?” Merle said. “Chili dogs,” said his father. “No, I mean for my present,” Merle said, laughing. “More chili dogs?” Merle shook his head. “It’s good not to expect too much. Then you’re never disappointed.” “That’s okay, it isn’t for me.” “Oh really? What is it then?” “Five flea collars!” Merle held out one hand with all fingers spread. “One for Snow, and Bear, and Miss Peppercorns, and Fire Crotch—" “Rudolph,” his father corrected him. “But you call him—" “That’s just a joke. You don’t talk like that.” “One for Rudolph and one for Willy.” “Yeah, yeah, I follow.” Merle’s parents got him one flea collar. They strapped it around his right ankle. “If it’s safe for cats and dogs, it must be safe for you.” They checked on him a few times daily to make sure he was wearing it, and that the bites were going away. They did, but Merle kept scratching.
“Now you’re just being dramatic.” So, Merle got used to the bites. # As night fell, Merle unloaded his rig to clear himself room to sleep in the back. A night under the stars was one thing, but the land had become more of a worksite than a campsite. Merle gripped the edges of the bench made of plywood planks that he’d handcrafted years ago to be the Scout’s backseat, and managed to stair step it off of the tailgate and onto the ground without hurting his knee too much. He swept the bed clear of debris with an old sock. A human ripeness had soaked into the driver’s seat, but more of it followed wherever Merle’s sack of clothes was stored. Even the wooden planks of his homemade backseat had taken on a hint of Merle that mingled with the plywood pine. Merle shook out an old wool blanket, laid it across the bed of the rig, and then curled up in it. For a pillow he rolled up his puffy jean jacket on the tailgate. He needed sleep. All of this would make sense in the morning, he thought, as he watched the sunset, which swam like a mirage due to the waters inside of him. # Merle had climbed on top of his rig and into nearby trees to lop away branches and give his vehicle an extra five to ten feet of clearance, and yet he was awoken again by the skittering, tapping, and sliding of branches across the roof and windows of the Scout, as if great wooden hands had reached down and were feeling for the seam that would crack this shell, like tree roots through a sidewalk. He looked at the shadows around him, which seemed to crawl like an ant hill. Creatures that were accustomed to passing through these woods only days ago, were now realizing someone had other plans. Squirrels, racoons, skunks, porcupines, birds, deer, beavers, even cougars, and bears could be wandering past. He pulled his body in tighter and tugged the back of the rig closed. # “Now, where in the hell is my backseat?” Merle’s head hurt. His eyes stung. He had started to feel like he always needed to pee, but when he did, it was never worth the time it took him to unzip. He also wondered if his hair had started to fall out faster. The splinters in his hands, as well as various bug bites that had gathered on his legs and arms, had raised into boils from scratching at them in his sleep, he assumed. “Need to be watching closer, if my shit is going to
60 start walking off. Neighbors coming over in the middle of the night. Stealing a handcrafter, one of a kind, hard-ish wood…” He looked into the forest in each direction, none of which seemed likely to have a neighbor within miles. “No more drinking. Today is the first day of a better life.” # Merle unloaded his tools from a yellow threegallon bucket he carried them in and drove to where he had seen signs for a manmade swimming hole. There he found a waterspout meant for washing sand off your feet. He slipped the bucket underneath the spout and stepped on the on-switch. “Isn’t that for laundry soap?” asked a little boy who was dripping wet and covered in sand. “Sure is. That’s how you know it’s clean.” Merle lifted the bucket, halfway full, shook it into a swirl. “Arms up now.” The kid lifted his arms and dramatically squeezed his eyes shut. Merle splashed the water onto him. “Woh!” he said, gasping for breath. “Again!” Merle was already refilling the bucket. “You bet. Need to rinse this thing out more anyhow.” When Merle looked up again, the little boy was being pulled away by his father, who was shaking his head. “What did I say about talking to strangers?” After rinsing and filling the bucket, Merle drank from it before driving away. The water mostly didn’t taste like laundry detergent. Standing in an aisle at Walgreens, Merle’s head pounded as he stared back and forth between generic aspirin, and a giant bottle of children’s aspirin, a whole two dollars cheaper. In the parking lot he chewed on children’s aspirin, and squirted diet berry flavoring into his almost entirely sudsless bucket of water. He washed down the powdery medicine with another dozen swallows. # Head swimming and eyes blurry, Merle drove back to his plot of land. He let out a sigh as the branches scraped his roof, doors, and windows and the Scout jostled over bumps. He was certain that he had cleared the drive and trimmed out a wide tunnel with room to spare. But somehow, it kept growing back. Part of him had started to question if there might be a reason nobody built here, and maybe it wasn’t by choice. Merle felt a stabbing pain. He had been scratching again. He looked at the back of his hand where
CIRQUE the smallest of leaves must have fallen through the open window and caught with other dust and debris on one of the lymph dampened boils. He went to flick it away, but it must have been sticky with sap because it didn’t move. He pinched the tiny leaf between his fingernails, and as he drove over another bump, he plucked it from his hand, but with it trailed a thread of root, draping down into his skin. He slammed on the breaks. He pulled the leaf until the roots were taught. After that, he felt them sliding out from under his skin, like a snake being pulled from the earth. He started prodding the other inflamed mounds across his hands and arms, fishing for places to tear back flesh. As he did, the flaps revealed more leaves. He plucked one after the next, each drawing a taproot from where it had wound between his follicles and metacarpals. Each, when expelled, left his hand looking more withered after its removal. As if they took color and strength with them. The series of punctures they left behind looked, at a glance, like age spots. Hairs nearby began to catch the sunlight and shine a little more silver. He pulled out a handful of them with growing panic. The last broke off, leaving tendrils wriggling inside him. Pain shot up his wrist, arm, and into his chest. He shifted the Scout into reverse and started to back it out towards the road, but when he used his hands—or was it as he pulled away from the heart of this place—the pain became unbearable. He reached for his cell phone and dialed 911. “911, what’s your emergency?” “Something’s wrong with me. You’ve got to pick me up.” “Ok sir, can you give me an exact address?” “I’m on the old highway between mile marker 87 and 89.” “Have you been in an accident?” “No accident. I’m alone in the woods, kind of. There’s something inside me. I might be sick. I feel sick.” “We’ve got paramedics on the way. What’s the nature of your ailment?” “It’s like something tunneled into me. Like that moth that plants its eggs in caterpillars, and they eat their way out when they hatch. Except, it’s trees.” There was a long pause on the other end of the call. “Have you taken anything today we should know about? Drugs, medication, alcohol, anything that might be poisonous or might cause allergic reactions?” “Just some kiddy aspirin,” Merle said, then looked at the bucket. “And I might have drank some soap.”
V o l . 11 N o . 1 “Sorry?” “Laundry detergent.” “Like a Tide pod?” “Nothing fancy.” “I’ll let the paramedics know.” Merle started scratching at one ankle with the other foot, the edge of his boot chasing an itch up his leg. With a realization he dropped the phone and stripped off his pants like a child with a spider down his trousers. He opened the driver’s side door and kicked them off into the brambles. When they landed, they didn’t stop moving, but scurried away like a Chinese dragon in a parade. The boils on Merle’s legs opened and sprouted saplings. Leaves unfurled. Flowers budded and reached toward his face. Watching plants grow from his body at time-lapse speed entranced him every bit as much as it terrified him to watch his limbs grey and deflate. His nerves were aflame and then went numb just as quickly as shoots and bark shed his skin as if it were a costume. He reached to touch his face but instead saw the arms of an old man swinging upwards. From his hand, leaves continued to free themselves, growing limbs and using them to press down on his flesh and lift themselves out of him, as if from a manhole, until their roots were freed to carry them scampering into the forest. Merle’s arm became as cracked and gnarled as centuries old tree bark. The flowers reached closer and closer to his face until their petals, still unfurling, covered his eyes. His jaw sagged and his vision clouded. He had felt adrenalized just minutes ago, but now felt tired, numbed, ready to rest. His vision began to clear. He was staring at his own face, eye-sockets empty. Eyelids closed. Drained of summer. Raisined with rot. Yet, watching his dried-up corpse as he released it, Merle had never felt so content in his own company. That body, so frail, had more to give in its undoing. He even took pride in the wild bouquet that grew, withdrew, and scattered, deflating the last of his human shell’s nutrients. There was no more pain. He watched the driveway collapse once more in lush growth, feeling relieved instead of aggrieved this time. The harm he had caused to this land was being forgotten before his eyes, each nestled in a mane of salmon pink petals, as they bobbed toward the roadside. Bits of Merle took root throughout his land. An ambulance screamed by, paramedics shouting. It returned past twice more, and then never again.
Bird Stamp She holds the glassy rock from Deep Creek Canyon, chipped from 16 million-year-old Columbia River Plateau basalt, while watching the sea west toward Tulum, sifting hues of blues and greens into the coral reef where tangs and parrotfish and damsels zip and zigzag in the summer light. He's sleeping in the hammock on the porch where the 90-degree air tussles his gray hair. Near the bottle of half-had rum, his faded passport lays open to a colorfully stamped page. Is it an act of faith to expect him to stay with me, to hold me when the radiation and chemo make me look like my snowman? Will he be there when I vomit up chunks of my gut? Will he want me when I don't remember his name? Birds—gulls and pelicans and these black and white waders whose name she can't recall, maybe a hookedbeak clammer, or something in Spanish of Nahuatl—are bombing the secluded beach down below the resort, pajaros azules aguas, blue water birds. Tearing and jostling for a position to chew on the bloated shark that's on the beach, the birds seem like the little greedy humans on the Mosquito Coast in Nicaragua who from time to time find the 500-kilo loads from cocaine smugglers who've run aground or afoul. Things like that stick to her, since the first bout of chemo and radiation. A story out of the International Herald Tribune or Christian Science Monitor, read in a doctor's office, or on the jet from Seattle on the way down here: poor Nicas—Nicaraguans—getting set for life after finding a load of coke on the beach. Entire neighborhoods decimated by cocaine addiction. Odd things she remembers. And forgets. The birds scramble over the shark's mottled skin, slicing into the tough shark hide. She remembers the parties in Missoula and Portland. They gobbled caviar and inhaled line after line of Peruvian dust. Over and over, the people kept pushing and shoving for more and more of the drug. Gallon after gallon of Seagram's and Southern Comfort gulped down. Discarded bones from sticky chicken wings in the condo's fireplace like a pyre of Viking bones. T-bones full of pink gristle thrown in the koi pool. What a terrible greedy lot we were, she thinks.
Face to Face
Young, self-indulgent, way before my Spokane cloistering. God, like a lifetime away. She wonders what images will pop into her head when she's going in and out of consciousness during chemo, surgery, death. That clear, sharp serpentine Little Spokane River in her kayak with blue herons dive-bombing cottonwoods? The time she was so silent on the river that she and her kayak almost went under the belly of a bull moose who was chomping down on daffodils? "Is that what death is about, departing the place where memory is sealed inside some real and beautiful natural world?" The birds on the Mayan beach are frantic, scraping the cement-hard bulwark of the sea wall with bloody feet. Chunks of softball-sized pebble-encrusted coral splash into the sea. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are on upstairs in another tourist's cabana. Refugee and smiling
through the free fallin'...where Mary Jane had her last dance...she remembers the music, remembers Tom Petty at one of those parties in Sandpoint. Somewhere. She's feeling heavy like that solid carved snowman she has outside their entrance in her Spokane triple story overlooking Hangman Creek. This weird white elephant of a thing—4 feet tall, carved out of white pine by a one-armed Vietnam veteran from Ione. Funny scarf wrapping around the fat jolly corpulence. A chimney sweep's hat barely covering the round head. Pelón. "Baldy" in Spanish. Painted white and plaid. All solid wood. She wanted the 6-foot-tall grizzly bear in the jujitsu pose. But he opted for the kitschy design. Stuck on the cool Mexican tile, the smell of antiseptic mixing with the Caribbean breeze and the hot gas coming from the bloated shark, she tries sliding her heavy limbs, and wonders: Hammerhead? Nurse shark? Lemon? She can't tell. But she feels the coolness under her bare feet and thinks of the cold black eyes of a great white shark. The "Cozumel Is Fun" tote bag is filled with cans of jalapenos, a Amy Sinisterra six-pack of Corona, vanilla extract, things she can buy back in Spokane. And the small jaw of a blue shark, bleached, three rows of sharp teeth in a yawn. She can't watch him sleeping anymore. The passport, open, fluttering in the breeze, something inside her thinks she might get to witness something deeper in him if she looks. Hidden man. Deceptive husband. Those two months he was away, in Manzanillo, Veracruz, Campeche, working to put in oil refineries. Months in Saudi Arabia. Months away with Vietnam War buddies, now movers and shakers in more of the same invasion, but this time for oil, with suits, with mercenaries working for the ex-Vets. Junkets away from Spokane and the Seattle office so he can frolic with his señoritas. She can only imagine. She can't take that barrage of pain during a third bout with chemo and radiation.
V o l . 11 N o . 1 She told him to stay in Mexico, finish the contract, that the cancer was treatable. The first chemo would be a cakewalk. "I'm the stronger swimmer of both of us. Get real. I can take pain."
The little bird in his heart that must have fluttered when he imagined his wife vomiting up blood and guts. Little bird inside him wanting to go south, to the warm womb of the tropics, to this woman's open arms and legs.
Will he be there when I'm crawling on all fours? He wasn't after the seventh place in the Ironman race in Coeur d'Alene. Didn't stay for my sister's mastectomy. Will he be there for his old wife's death?
She thinks about bald eagles yanking kokanee out of the lake. Spinal cord ripped from his splayed body.
The quetzals are wonderful in his passport. She imagines him, in some jungle town, dancing with flocks of the rare bird overhead, buzzing into the foliage, into the woman's sweet sweaty breaths. Five bird stamps, five entries he made into Guatemala. She only remembers him mentioning two. She touches the colorful stamps. Thinks about the green carpets of cloud-encrusted jungle. Belize. Guatemala. For thirty years, they had their secrets. Now his are stamped on the passport. Open. Places they haven't shared together. Never will. While she was spitting up blood in Spokane. While he was south, here, in Mexico, supposedly putting his nose to the grindstone. The quetzal is so beautiful. How wonderful? How will he shrug this off? Business trip. Geologists and geophysicists looking for up-thrusts, pockets of methane, some quiver in the seismic readings? He's a steady man, more a mercenary than his own people. Vietnam major. Vietnam hidden worlds. He smiles in the hammock, still sleeping off the night dive, the frivolity of the post-dive drinking in the Mexican "part" of Cozumel. She was so gallant underwater, so focused. She drifted in the beams of their underwater lights. It was like being inside a space continuum, or wormhole. So many odd shapes of fish and crustaceans and feathery coral creatures as the heavy current drifted them closer and closer to the 1,500-foot drop-off. The quetzals are almost alive in his passport. She imagines him dancing with a short, young woman, this woman's face the color of coffee and cream, the young girl's long black hair touching the floor as they dance and laugh and hold each other. Strangers. Stranger touching, stranger sex, stranger morning after. All exotic stranger experiences. If not a dark woman from Guatemala, then some biker babe from Spokane.
And as she touches the passport, the stamp, the smudged bird, she imagines the quetzal spreading its wings, taking her away from the cancer ward, back to the sea, this place, underneath the world just yards out there past the bloating shark and tugging terns, where the sun is absorbed by the dancing fish. Like fairies dancing on ancient Mayan tombs. *--* “Not so safe, not for you, not for me. Going deep, well, there is a balance between the blue, aquamarine, and the current that takes you into the blackness. Qué capacidad, we say. Como se dice, ‘surreal’? What do we say, ’fantastica’ and ‘real’ at the same time? Some force, it drives us to that edge, to the limit," Roberto says, his eyes sharp piercing obsidian watching the bumper-to-bumper cars and motorcycles stream outside in the street while still absorbing Bettina's presence, and the presence of the two other guys, his assistants, dive masters Juanito and Mario. Roberto looks like a very young Robert Blake, but he's darker than Blake, a little hefty, like in Blake's Baretta days, but strong. He's wearing the same trunks he had on during the two dives he supervised that afternoon. He's got no shirt on. "Big sponges...you can park a Volkswagen bug inside some of them...muy grande. Black coral branches as big as olive trees. Incredible. People go there, illegally, and attempt to harvest the coral from the marine reserve. Several have penetrated the reserve...at night. Bye-bye...down, down, down they go, lost inside the Mayan miasma, no? Rapture of the depths, they call it. I am not referring to nitrogen narcosis. I'm not referring necessarily to some divine rapture, tampoco. Spiritual, no? Or primal? Whatever you call it, I cannot risk that with a fine tourist like yourself." Roberto looks grave, throws a hard look out toward the moving cars and locals and tourists. "I've been on more than a dozen dives here. I mean, sure, I want to have you take me down deep, but I don't want to risk your license. You yourself offered, but I don't want to
64 jeopardize things for you. And it is a day dive, Roberto. No en la noche," Bettina says. She's been talking to Roberto in the dive shop—El Caribe Charters—for two hours. One hour after her husband, Victor, opted out, instead needing some unwinding from the two dives. The turistas unwind a là Senor Frog's: loud tanned women, cruise ship personnel in an overflowing dervish, hot and spicy food, bottomless margaritas and tequila sunrises. She feels the Guatemalan stamp, looks at the patchwork of stamps from Costa Rica, Belize, Honduras, Panama. Big man in the geological sciences. Exotic places. The usual suspects: big spenders, Mercedes Benzes, helicopters, big government deals, wheeling and dealing, booze, women, Third World exploitation. She wonders how old the girls are, if there's one woman, hoping for an escape to El Norte. Victor Galway, hailing from Spokane, via Colorado, Texas, Venezuela. And his entourage. What's Victor going to do, bring some poor girl who's bent over for him to Spokane? To live on the South Hill, dine at the Davenport? She remembers Victor opting out time and time again when she had just gotten into a conversation with some stranger, a man with lesser financial means or goals but with what, more disposition to understand a woman? A sweet peck on her cheek, a see-ya-later wave, his nervousness around a loose cannon like Roberto— seasoned in the art of conversation in several languages, accomplished musician, renegade roustabout of the world, full of laughter and intensity—Victor exited. Is he really thinking Roberto and I are going to 'do it,' as he always says? 'That's how his cheating mind works,' my Tara says. Roberto and me in the hammock out back to ease Victor's dirty conscience? She wants to hear all the ins and outs of Roberto's diving experience around the island, around the other parts of Mexico Roberto's dived. General diver b.s. from Roberto's two dive masters and the two other tourist divers who were on the same outing. Those two honchos from Texas finally called it a night 10 minutes ago, looking for some tequila, their Lone Star libidos lusting for some white trash tango. She never expected this funny, goofy man who she barely knows—just met him two days ago on the first two
CIRQUE dives and the night dive—to be so, it's hard to pin down for Bettina, so paranoid but real and funny and erudite. Articulate but intensely funny. Cantinflas gestures but Jean-Paul Belmondo's face and a young Robert Blake's physique. Just yesterday, he was all calm and businesslike, working diligently to make sure his customers, mostly rowdy and overconfident Texans, didn't screw up and end up bent. The dive masters and the captain and all the other support staff show him a big slice of respect...but then there is that respect coming from the place of fear. Fear of his conspiracy theories about the island's police chief and the immigration honcho and drug importation. Roberto smiles, then mimics playing a trumpet. A hypersweaty Miles Davis under purple and blue light is on a poster behind him, crowded out by dive merchandise logos and promos. The office smells of antiseptic. It's jammed full of equipment in various states of repair and disrepair. Yma Sumac is low on his cheap boom box, sounding like a cross between a mermaid sinking into the deep, drawing her human swimmers nearer and a pod of whales lifting water in their bubble net. It's everything Spokane is not, and Bettina thinks for a moment she can have this out-ofbody experience where she is actually far from the Inland Northwest, away from the dank light, the snap of winter in the air half the year, far from the sameness of people who have money—like her and Victor—and who care little for the other three-quarters who don't. Bettina's sitting on a cot where Roberto sometimes sleeps after unloading the gear and making sure his assistants clean and prep it and charge the tanks for the next day's dives. He tells her that he rarely makes it back to his apartment in the scummy part of Cozumel: "what you call a dive, so to speak." The part of town Bettina wants to spend time in. Two young shirtless men, their skin smooth and hairless, light coffee-colored epidermis, come by and rap on the window. The two dive masters tilt their heads back, and Roberto hand motions to them all to settle down. He semi-bows to Bettina, and puts his stubby thumb and index finger ever so close to each other and says in a kind voice, Momentito, por favor. Bebitas y motitas, su puesto. Bettina smiles. The smell of pot, one of macho dive masters popping the Bohemia beer bottle cap off with a quick and graceful pop of his palm on the edge of an old valveless tank, the sound of marimbas somewhere out in the street,
V o l . 11 N o . 1 Yma Sumac on the boom box, the sound of the ocean a block west down the cobbled street, and this master of disguise, Roberto, smooth and handsome, but so platonic in his suave manner. Yes, Bettina is now comfortable again, after the dive, after the belly and uterine pain when they reached 100 feet, after the twinge of tachycardia as they descended. She didn't tell Victor or Roberto about the post-chemo quirks, and they eased, almost vanished at 120 feet. She wants her cancer, the impending Hiroshima treatment, the hairlessness and upchucking, all of the mortal mess she will be about to experience in Spokane under a canopy of icy Ponderosa trees and that diffused post-nuclear bomb light, she wants that to not be between her and Roberto. But she senses his keenness, that he has that innate ability, even at just forty-three years of age, to see inside people. Especially the superficial Yanquis and Texas tornados who have to be scolded by this "lesser" man, a Mexican who is servicing the Americans, instructing them in how to equalize their eustachian tubes correctly, to listen to and watch the dive master as if he is their daddy, and to leave the pokers and metal prods and spear guns back in their hotels. "It is, after all, a marine reserve, and any reef damage attributable to one of my divers, well, there are fines...possible jail terms. For both the dive master and his charges." Roberto likes it when rich, powerful Americans from Dallas to Seattle flinch over the possibility of losing all freedom in a Mexican jail. *--*
what it is that I am duping them into." According to Roberto, he nonchalantly tells Bettina, the "it”, the motion toward intercourse, usually begins at an outdoor restaurant. The foreplay—caricias estimulantes— and then it shifts to her air-conditioned room in whichever tourist hotel along the western side of the island her travel agent has thrown in with the three-day "drink and dive the exotic waters of the Mayan" package trip to Cozumel. "It's a matter of vulgarity, with many of your American sisters. They want—expect—all us Mexicans to be vulgar, nothing but fornicating beetles. Bedbugs with their penises pushed through the ladybug. Traumatic insemination, I believe it's called at the beetle level. They want to know the Mexican slang for everything. Tits, well, we say shelves, repisas. How many ways to say 'we have to have sex,' that's what's on their minds. Subir al guayabo—go up to the jelly. Or words for their genitalia. La panocha—sweetbread. And an affair out of marriage— bombear—to pump, literally. You tell me, since I am hard pressed to understand your fellow travelers from, a donde?—Spokane, Washington. What would a girl from Spokane need with the vulgarities of the street in my country? Interesting." Bettina is intrigued, all the Spanish slang for the sexual acts and positions and crude street cussing, between a man and woman, a man and man, a woman and woman. Revisar los interiores—visiting the interior parts— fornicating. Angel de la guardia—condom. She sinks into Roberto's paranoid but cogent world.
Roberto explains, between drags of pot, the cot's an option for when he hasn't gotten an invitation from a turista to watch her drink Don Pedro brandy and cokes while he smokes mota and then witnesses her clumsy and drunk and scuba-wasted body yaw toward him in her attempt to sleep with a native man who plays trombone riffs on the balcony overlooking the malecón and the deep ink sea filled with aurora borealis bioluminescence.
“It's a matter of me, shhh, a comunista, si, una comunista from Acapulco, anti-capitalista who plays the salsa trombone and slides with Miles, yes, a matter of having conjugal visitations with some of your more—what do you say?—peppy American brethren. A little drink here and mucho shots of tequila there, and, voilà, your estranski Americanski, well, she just goes ga-ga over the swarthy man from Mexico showing her the fine points of salsa trombone breathing and vulgar slang, all of which incapacitates her into her American drink-and-drown ecstasy.”
"A brush with exoticness, yo? Verdad, that's what they say. Blondes, these, I don't know what to call them, these reality television gurus. Yo, sexy? I'm not Brad Pitt prancing around, no siree, but they find my tousled hair and verbosity, well, sexy. You're Americana, you tell me
Bettina sees how serious he is after the dive. Out of the blue, when one of the Dallas “gurls” keeps pawing at him, Roberto tells Bettina so earnestly these insights about Americans, about American women, about the American system, as if Bettina has been Roberto's long-lost
While sipping the full-bodied pilsner Juanito just opened for her, Bettina goes back to the previous day...
confidante. With his intense gaze from the big deep blues looking directly into Bettina's chemo-weary hazel-green eyes, he is honest. And he seems to know the worry inside her, the scarred insides, the two feet of intestine and part of the colon cut away and thrown into a Zip-Lock bag and incinerated. And Roberto listens and speaks to her, with the added droplets of rain he frequently mimes with his ten strong, stubby fingers as an accent to his discussion. And down, down, down, la señorita capitalista will go with the funny man with the jet fins on and who has bursitis from too many dives.
of chemo tethered to her—"special cases like me"—and the radioactive seeds inside her uterine cavity floating as she glides closer to the dark inky edge of the drop-off which is a huge trench between Cozumel and the Yucatán coast.
For some unknown reason—trapped nitrogen slithering through her medulla oblongata, the giddiness of seeing so many marine creatures under the blanket of night— she laughs hysterically. And she can't stop. Roberto stays serious, deadpan, lifts a bottle of beer in a toast—salud— while Victor lifts his bony shoulders and twirls his triplejointed index finger around and around his ear, to indicate "My wife's a loony." All the while watching the blonde scuba diver from Denton, señorita rubia capitalista, adjust her screaming pink thong-thing.
Mario lights up a thick but well-sealed joint, passes it to Bettina, who pulls slowly, and then passes it to Roberto. He smiles as Bettina lets out a ring of smoke. She gulps, smiles, and coughs a bit.
*--* “Ha, my license? I'm what, as you put it in America, a marked man? The island's commissioner of tourism, he's a very interesting foe of mine. From Mexico City. Exsecurity colonel for the president's office. Has his hand in smuggling, taking the bite—mordida—from the dive shop owners. He's got me marked. It's just a matter of time before they yank my license. He's waiting for me to mess up one more time, and then, plop, plop, plop." He makes that trademark childlike series of hand gestures indicating descending bubbles. She laughs. "You have a reputation that precedes yourself," she adds. Roberto looks at her nonplused, almost too serious, even though she was just kidding. "Rumors. Yes, I know. Rumors like that have grounded me. Shut me down for months. I have been so frightened to go back in the water because of those so-called rumors." He lets his fingers cascade and flutter down again. He smiles at the word "frightened." "Roberto, I mean a good reputation, good rumors. 'The best diver on the island,' that's all I hear. Someone who's dealt with all sorts...cases like me..." She imagines the lines
"You know, it has been two months since I last dove. Today, my fine Americana, and last night, were the first in two months. I am still apprehensive. Paranoid, no. Six months since the incident. But I have to get back onto the bicycle. Try again. You compelled me, motivated me, Mrs. Galway."
"Two months dry-docked until today, señora. Two months since the situation with the Japanese. Before that, six months ago, the three U.S. Marines and their disappearance. At least that is what they told me, that they were from your military. Marines? Army? Back from Iraq. Showed me burns on their rib cages. Showed me their identifications. Six people in less than half a year, lost. And then a bent dive master to add to that humillación. You can see him walking down this street, twice a day. He goes to the recompression chamber for treatment. Walks with a pronounced limp. The nitrogen came out of solution, turned around in his spinal column, and lodged between nerves. He comes by here for some money. Loans. Drinks mango and some Chinese infusion of herbs and dried animal organs to alleviate the pain. So much for the heroics of we underpaid workers of the rich Americanos in Houston. David. Da-veed en Español. He went many yards below the maximum depth range in order to try and retrieve the Japanese. Two hundred and fifty or sixty feet. It was a planned 80-foot dive to the caves. We weren't prepared for anything that deep. The Japanese just went, plop, plop, plop. And, if you ever make it to narc-ed divers, believe me, I have had the unfortunate experience with this situación several times, they can go crazy. Tear at your regulator, after they have discarded their own tether to air. Bring the dive master right down with them." Roberto stops, shakes his head vigorously, again motioning with his thick fingers the drop, drop, drop of rain or bubbles in an upside-down world he has imagined. "Wandered off. Kept swimming away from the group,
V o l . 11 N o . 1 and before we knew it, plop, plop, plop: 180, then 190, 200 feet. Pretty soon they had gone way below the 220 mark. Marked for death." He slides his big paws over his forehead, pushes the sweat back into his thick, shiny hair. "Terrible. But it isn't your fault if they go off on their own. Disobey the dive plan," she insists. "How can you be blamed if they take it upon themselves to self-destruct?" He smiles, appreciatively, as if gaining a spiritual refuge inside the respect and manner of this woman from Spokane. "Complete supremacy. That is what the dive master holds over the tourists. I should have resisted. Very lousy English, these guys from Nippon. No Spanish skills. They just nodded on the surface before we went under. As if they understood my every word. I was the only dive master on the island who would even risk the liability. They went, plop, plop, plop." Roberto gulps in more hot, wet marijuana-singed air, then passes the joint to Juanito, who doesn't drag, instead passing it to Bettina again. "It's a matter of Martini's law, right," she said. "Me, for instance, many men, including Victor, my husband, el macho, think because I am so slight that I am so susceptible to the rapture of the depths. But I don't have the effects at a 150 compared to some of the fellows I dive with in our neck of the woods—Lake Pend Oreille. Whereas Victor is gassed at that same depth. Like five Martinis at 150 feet. In really cold water in one of America's deepest lakes in Idaho, I hold up. It's not your fault when good guys have bad things happen to them." "Very kind. Very kind. But I was the lead diver. I had 13 others to take care of. I went 222 feet. David, well, I motioned to him not to come down that deep. Too many variables. The other dive masters were with the group of turistas. We were one short that day because of various circumstances, no? David was reckless, but a hero. And the Japanese just went plop, plop, plop into the deep. You lose sight of them when ascending." Roberto's intense, remorseful, but there is that big kid's smirk, that odd hint of a smile. And his plop-plop-plop and big hands indicating dropping in a sing-songy kind of way. "No signs of the lost men? Never found?" "Who, los japonesas?" He's a bit agitated now.
"Yes, the irresponsible, crazy, divers from Japan." "They, yes, no, they have never been found. Maybe a painless death. Narc-ed and loopy and pushed farther into the channel. Unbearable pressure. Ha, maybe made it back to Tokyo." "Some would like to die that way. You tried everything to stop them. And one of your men...nitrogen narcosis." "Yes, señorita, crippled forever, no. But these incidents, they are noticed on the island. Written down and recorded by las capitalistas. El Jefe, the so-called commissioner of tourism, he's just waiting for one more screw-up from Roberto Hinijosa. And what could I say if it was a fine lady from Spokane, Mrs. Galway, who decided to go into the deep, to experience that realm? Your nirvana? Or some codified suicide pact?" Roberto makes rubbery facial expressions, draws the air in front of him with an outstretched hand, sliding the other hand with the burning joint as if he's playing a trombone. "Nice música. Really wild music once you go past two twenty-two feet, Mrs. Galway." He plays the imaginary trombone, quickly, big band salsa style as he throws sweat into the room. "Bettina. Call me Bettina. None of this Mrs. crap. I'm honored that you personally took me to the caves today. Honored. Your reputation on the island, well, you are called the best diver. The most experienced. And last night, having you in the water, leading us in the current, all the fabulous species out at night, your patience, the incredible current pushing us through our own bubbles, through the phosphorescence, clumsy in full gear, you seem like a ballet dancer. And prepared. I am sure you exude the most confidence of all the divers on Cozumel...can handle todo." Juanito, a redheaded Mexican from Ensenada, tall and skinny and freckly, nods in agreement. "Roberto's got most dive experience. Most dive experience on island. Those three marines...he don't like talking about them. We divers not see them as dead guys. Roberto, he has the story...the true story, verdad?" *--* She watches two maids from the hotel carry plastic bags of shark viscera and body chunks as a rail-thin man— ratty-looking, not outfitted with the requisite hotel staff duds—saws into the remaining carcass of the shark with a
series of rapid but efficient machete swats. The maids are pouting, holding hotel towels to their faces as they stumble through the sand to get the heavy bags of shark guts out of their sight and into an incinerator.
Somewhere on the reef, right at the final shelf when all land curls under and draws down toward the channel, there are quetzals prancing over sponges big enough to hold an entire Guatemalan family.
The New Delhi-looking fellow saws and saws methodically while Victor sleeps in the hammock. As if he's spent all his life in a hammock. His body is crunched up in the sisal and cotton cords of the parrot red and yellow hammock. As if he belongs in the tropics, not in the South Hill hot tub overlooking the valley that leads south to the Palouse.
She hasn't told Victor yet that she is staying on the island for another week, maybe two in the Yucatรกn. Possibly go to the mainland and climb the big pyramid at Chichen Itza, and maybe take a bus to Palenque. Victor doesn't know that she is planning a deep dive, to the edge, where barracuda school by the hundreds at the precipice, where the corals are 12-feet tall, where all the fairy bass and rare tropical fish zigzag in a world of wavering blue light, where heaven sinks into the dark cataract of the ocean bottom 1,500 feet down, just a quarter mile away from the resort spots. Where Wave Runners and parasails entertain the aggressive tourists. The gorge or channel, whatever she believes it should be called, is where she wants to go, with Roberto. An extra tank. Deeper than 200 feet. To where the Japanese novice divers floated away. Narc-ed out. Completely loopy. She wants to float near the sheer wall of coral and sponges and schools of tropical fish and watch the battalions of barracuda patrol the black line of sapped light. Sharks and sea turtles. Jewfish and schools of groupers. Victor's eyelids are fluttering, REM, like jellyfish in a frying pan. Lupita. Lorena. Some girl from the sticks in Antigua, Guatemala, whose body is muscular but a virgin's, whose legs and arms taste of maize and mango juice. Big-spending Americano. Lies about this and that deal in Spokane. Practicing his Spanish. Impressing her with hotel dining and helicopter rides over volcanoes at the edge of rebel-held jungles where black gold and blue gas hold the despots' attention. And she thinks of those quetzals, the endangered birds with whippet tail feathers that slow them down, make them wonders of the forest, and have turned them into easy prizes for hunters to hawk to hat makers and haberdashers.
They're quiet before they reach the spot where the captain will stop the launch and let them drop rapidly to the edge, a quick freefall of lung-crushing, steady kicks until they reach the 200-foot mark. It's an act of faith to be gliding over what appears to be the 1,500-foot channel, and then all of a sudden, a huge shelf appears, with a cacophony of fish dashing in and out of a sponge and coral labyrinth. Roberto watches her eyes, looks at the light coming in from the ripped sun cover on the boat. Juanito and Mario and a couple of other guys Bettina doesn't know well are in charge of the eight tourists who will dive at 80 feet while Roberto and this crazy woman from Spokane go to the edge. Victor is probably still in the air, above Oregon, maybe all the way to Seattle where he will work with his GIS and satellite imagery and geological maps of overthrust belts and infrared images of the pockets of methane so he can lead the charge for another energy conglomerate to exploit more farmers in yet another volcano-festooned valley or black sand beach. Roberto promises her that they'd go to 230, if Bettina isn't too loopy, too far 'round the bend when they reach 200. He promises her that he'll show her black corals as big as fig trees. Show her a pocket of reef where nurse sharks by the dozens float in timelessness waiting for wrasses and odd purple and pink cleaner shrimp to gouge out the parasites from their gill slits. Black bass as big as Harleys. Jellyfish waves as thick as the fog coming down the Spokane River basin near Nine Mile Falls. She holds the basalt stone, rubs it as the blue world below her captures her. She fiddles with it a few more minutes before putting it away in her buoyancy vest. She imagines the ice dam crushing away, water running down across the Rathdrum Prairie and through the Spokane Valley. Flood velocity of 45 miles an hour. Nine and a half cubic miles per hour rushing from Montana through the valley. Ten times the flow of all the world's rivers combined. She remembers these odd bits after all the chemo.
V o l . 11 N o . 1 That dark recess where sharks and whales and sea vents persist, it reminds her of her home, the geological wonder of her Spokane and Grand Coulee, the Columbia River and Pend Oreille. How large geologic time is compared to her paltry 51 years on earth, the miniscule time helping poor families and working with Habitat for Humanity, compared to all the money spent on designer olive oil, salmon jetted from Alaska, wine, vacations in San Francisco, the add-on to their already too big home. Bettina knows she will get the nerve to tell Roberto the meaning of basalt, about how the great flood carved the final resting place waiting for her. She'll describe to him, after this deep dive, how the light hits the backs of salmon. Spokane, translated as children of the sun, but meaning "refractive columns of light that make scales on chum and chinook look like stars under water."
putting up two fingers, meaning "two minutes." Two-minute breath hold. And then he splashes overboard. Bettina, without Victor's lumbering presence, without his judgmental ways, without the secrecy and lies about these clients in Mexico and Guatemala, feels free and does the same with the joint, handing it to the weathered captain, and then follows Roberto into the big blue, her breath held tight with the fabric of the jungle and songs from Mayan princesses and the stealth breathing of the jaguar trapped in her lungs. Plop, plop, plop. Roberto looks back, watches her come toward him, her gracious fin swats gliding her to the coral edge, toward the hematoma that throbs underneath the colorful menagerie of fidgeting fish painted the color of Van Gogh's dreams. *--*
He watches the sun sparkle in her hazel eyes, powerfully alive, etched and cracked from so much living and so much death coming into her at such a young age. She knows he knows. He is like a beagle that can smell seizures and death coming onto its owner. "Remember, kick as hard as you can. The sooner we get to our depth, the longer we stay down. Here, the captain knows how to read bubbles. When he returns, they throw over the spare tanks. But only for an emergency. You will feel like you've been down for hours, even though it'll be minutes. An unusual awe of life, no, maybe? You follow me," Roberto says, adding the "plop, plop, plop" while balancing a half-smoked joint between his fingers. "You look at my watch. You look at my depth gauge. You look at my tank pressure. I will do the same for you." She sees that underwater valley, a gorge encrusted with soft and hard corals, sponges not yet named, strange angler fish with electric currents and toady looking fish with blinking scales that light up at night. She wonders where the meteor crater is that helped crunch the scale of life of the dinosaurs. Somewhere off the Yucatán; that's the theory. "Now, madam, you can do it the Roberto Hinijosa way, or your way. Acapulco or Spokane." In a breath, as they pass the joint, and as they finish fiddling with equipment, Roberto takes in a long last toke, zips his mouth mime-style, and then points to his watch,
“Si, Bettina, these fellows were powerful swimmers. Said they were in Iraq. Military. Something unusual about them because they knew their way around scuba gear. Navy SEALs, maybe si, but guys who have used diving as part of their job. “It was as if they planned it. A dive on the Caribbean side, where the rough waters are: strenuous currents, deep, deep ocean east of the island. They had a bundle of cash. Something about them. Well, I have had my time with small-racketeers in Acapulco. I'm not such a pure man. “Powerful swimmers, that's all I can say. And they knew where they were heading. Into the current. It flips around and heads directly to Cuba. “The people on the island think I'm crazy. You think I don't fear your CIA? I have the letter. Made copies. Six months later, just one week before we met, señora, the letter. From the three Americanos. From Cuba. You think I'm crazy? Not so far away, Fidel-land. They were big guys with big vests on and waterproof bags. Who knows what they had arranged? Why go to Cuba? They had money? Diamonds? Why go to Cuba? “Well, with the Japanese right after that, the consulate fellow and his companion, CIA, no doubt, they asked me all the usual questions. I didn't have to tell them the whole story. Caught in currents, bent, whatever, way above their heads as divers, I said. The logical thing is that they went
too deep, military know-it-alls, and got over their heads and got in trouble, and I had to bail out at 220 feet. But the CIA fellow, he didn't believe me. “The letter from some fellow signed Bob. A joke, no? From Cuba. The stamp and postmark. No return address. Sent to me here, to the dive shop. Addressed: Dive master Roberto. Funny thing, he signs it Bob. Tells me not to fret, that is the word, "fret." Don't feel responsible that the currents took them. All three were picked up by a shrimp boat. Cubano. Not to feel bad, that they are alive and well. No deaths on my watch as dive master that day six months ago. And asked me to not tell anyone in their government, or in mine. Said they were enjoying the Havana hospitality. The old Hemingway haunts. Jokesters. “So, there it is...something out of a Tom Clancy book. And, you, my fine amiga from Spokane, you have it. Why Roberto is paranoid. Why I am now reluctant to go down deep.” *--* He's smiling, at the edge of the reef, 20 feet below Bettina's 222. She feels the cancer lift out of her, and her head is airy. Martini's law. Warped sense of light. The opiates strumming polytonal voices in her head. Great Dali-esque bending of dials on her gauges. He's swimming like a child, using his hands and fingers to draw the picture of raindrops. She can hear him playing the trombone as he takes out the regulator's mouthpiece and feigns playing salsa trombone. Barracuda are diligently schooled off into the clear open water. A lemon shark flashes at the edge of the land mass—a hundred feet below them. Bettina sees all the fish, like birds, dancing along the rock face, through the tunnels of sponge and light filtered from above. Two hundred and twenty feet is nothing on land. Not as wide as their lot on the South Hill. But here, it's atmospheres of pressure on top of her. And it meshes with the compressed air, and the blood vessels, and her brain. She laughs at Roberto, knows this man will be there, maybe, in Spokane, at the edge, when the light begins to fade. He will be there running through the pine forest, his dark, muscular body contrasting with the snow. He will be in his swimming trunks, and he will be smiling, letting his
stubby fingers play in the air like snowflakes. Victor will be there, maybe. Hospice people strumming a harp, maybe. The light lifting from the scablands, from the floodplain, and this man, Roberto, who takes her to 230, in this magnificent trench, with the Van Gogh fish actually dripping their colors. Like the Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala, almost extinct because of people like Victor, dragging the air with poisons. And then, the current will float through the basalt and moraines and kame terraces. Streams rushing out of her as she lets Roberto take her to the pinnacle—the bottom—where the fish are quetzals. —Winner of the Pacific Northwest Weekly Inlander’s Ninth Annual Short Fiction Contest. Art by Amy Sinisterra appeared with the Inlander’s publication of the story.
Midwinter He hadn’t been involved in purchasing the buggy, but it handled the cobblestones so well that Nessa slept undisturbed as he rattled her down the narrow lanes looking for the path he’d only ever heard of before while fat men in wetsuits hot-stepped toward the sea. A woman in a purple windbreaker hurried over, looked at Nessa through the plastic rain cover. “She’s beautiful. Such bright eyes.” “Where’s the coastal path?” he said. She looked to the midwinter sky, where clouds hung low and dark. “That a good idea? Path’s steep. And slick. Been raining, you know.” “I know. Where is it?” She gestured. “Past the shops, steps on the right. But I wouldn’t. Not carrying this.” “Thanks,” he said, already walking. “And it’s kind of late,” she said, quietly enough that he didn’t feel the need to respond. He bear-hugged the buggy up the steps. Nessa gurgled. It sounded happy, but he wasn’t certain, as he’d fixed it so she faced away. After only a few minutes of shoving her along
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the muddy path, the wheels jammed up. He looked over where shrubs grew high and wild, the rain started down. his shoulder for that woman, detached the carrycot, and He looked back at the miles of path, at the gouges his wedged the frame between two bushes, pushing some feet had carved into it, and forward at the fifty meters branches across it so she wouldn’t see and know she’d between him and the cross—not a fucking horse in sight. been right. Or a person, he realized. He tucked his coat more tightly “Most stories your mom used to tell about home around her. were about midwinter. I forget why. Honestly, I...didn’t “She really wanted,” he panted, “You to see listen too close. There’s Montol, tomorrow. They dance this,” and advanced despite the quickening rain. “So let’s paper ships around a fire, shoot off fireworks. In other fucking see it.” places, there’s masquerades and winter swims. In the The sky darkened, the scrub parted, the cross spring they follow a horse around town—like, a fake one, rose up tall above him. The cliff fell off sharp behind it. with people in it—but we’ll miss that. Don’t think we’ll get And huddled by its base, in one tight group, all facing back here, once we get home. Well, not home for you, yet. away from him, were horses. Ponies, maybe. Short off the My home. Your grandparents’ home. But it’s okay to miss it; ground with coats dull and matted and hip bones sharp, your mom had something their manes and tails she wanted to show you were thick and tangled, that was better than some twisting in the wind. fake horse.” No playful greetings The clouds thinned like she’d described, no a little, hinting about the prancing or jumping, sun. no eyes glinting their When he topped recognition the blood the hill and the coast of an old friend when spread out before him, it’s borne to them in a he heaved and dripped muddy plastic carrier. with sweat and slid his “Well, there thin jacket into the carrier. they are.” He held the The path ahead split: Vault carrier up towards the Beach near on the left, and row of horses’ asses, and on the right, along the cliff Nessa made a whining Sunset, Fall Equinox 2019, Bishop's Beach, Homer Teri White Carns edge in peaks and troughs noise, and then the first for what looked about two sputtering coughs of a miles, the stone cross on Dodman Point. cry. The rain fell fast, and the sun was falling from the sky “She explained the names once, but I don’t faster. remember. There’s horses there, wild ones. Her first friends, He turned away from the horses and the cross she said. She walked out here the day before midwinter. and started back to the village. With his first step on the She couldn’t wait to take you.” muddy path, his foot slid out from under him. He pitched Nessa didn’t say anything. forward, the carrier coming down hard on the ground He continued along the path, drier where it was beside the path, and he landed flat across the mud and exposed to the wind. By the time he’d walked almost an stones, his knee crashing on a rock. hour later, his legs wobbled, arms burned, and sweat Nessa started to cry, and he slowly crawled to overflowed his brow like a stopped gutter. sitting and levered his knee back and forth. “Big cross, obviously, and the horses, but other Using the handle of the carrier to steady himself, stuff too. She said caves, for pirate stashes, but I think they he stood. His knee held his weight, but it screamed with were probably just exploratory digs for mines.” pain. Some sheep were scattered through the fields Nessa kept crying, water streamed down his face, above the beach, but that was it. “I don’t see any fucking and the waves smashed oblivion against the rocks below horses, Nessa,” he said. him. He spun the carrier to face him, Nessa’s tiny mouth When he reached the edge of the headland, wide in a wail, the first hints of her teeth cutting into the
72 cold air. Her eyes were her mother’s same mossy green. He took another tentative step down the path, and his knee buckled when he again slid in the mud. “I can’t do this,” he said. “I just can’t.” The path ahead was too difficult, too unstable. He set the carrier down and pulled out his phone. He pressed the button that should have brought it to life. The screen was shattered, and dirty water ran through the cracks. His jeans were soaked through, like the rest of him. He threw the phone off the cliff, and his knee almost gave out with the effort. Nessa cried and he picked her up and limped her back to the horses, the awkward rocking of his gait actually quieting her. “Bad news, Kid. I don’t think we’re going to any of her festivals. By the time we get back . . . that’ll be enough adventure for a while, don’t you think? Just the airport. Just your grandparents.” He wondered if he could set her somewhere around the cross for shelter, if he could keep the rain off by pressing up against it, maybe even around the horses if they were as friendly as he’d been told. The horses’ ears were pinned flat back when he approached. They twitched and a few of them pumped a rear leg. He moved in clumsy lurches, and Nessa cried out. She quickly trailed off into nothingness, but it was enough to set one of the horses off. It danced sideways, pumping its feet like pistons, spinning to face him. It backed away. He backed away too. There was no shelter to be had from the cross at all—the pillar of stone was cold and wet on all sides. Then he remembered what she’d said about the names. Dodman came from “dead man,” the fate of the sailors who mistook this point for a welcoming one, and Vault was where their bodies waited to be found in the morning. The horse apart from the herd tossed its head powerfully up and down. The first sliver of the moon shone off its black eye, and then it turned and looked like it walked right off the cliff. Then he realised that the path continued down beyond the cross. Maybe there was somewhere around there he could shelter. “I guess we’re following the horse around after all,” he said, not seeing the animal anywhere anymore but still hobbling after it. It was rockier that side, firmer, easier to walk. At the edge of where he could trace this line of earth with his vision before it curved away, there was a rock, a boulder really, possibly large enough to provide some cover. He approached it casting nervous glances to the carrier, knowing he needed to get her shelter, but Nessa so far did nothing but grow heavier and heavier in his grip. He spent
CIRQUE a few seconds crouching down against different parts of the boulder, but the rain kept finding him. He pressed his wet back against the stone and croaked out, “I don’t know what to fucking do here, Kid.” Then, a ways down the path and a few steps off it, there was an overhang, the earth almost leaning out an archway. He dragged himself and the carrier, arm half numb, toward it. It was some kind of cave, and the step down into it was steep. The moon pushed his long shadow inside, so it took a moment to pick out the details. It went back into the hillside only a couple meters and was damp, but the wind and rain were off him immediately. Empty cans and plastic two litres of cheap cider lay around the remains of a fire. He set the carrier down at the back and shook his hand to dry it as best he could and slid one hand under the plastic cover. His hand tingled a bit with the warmth in there and he sobbed, a pitiful, wracking sound that scared his daughter, and he turned away, embarrassed. Inside the carrier wasn’t exactly hot, but it was much warmer than he was. He’d dressed her warm and loaded her up with blankets that morning and had added his jacket. It wasn’t bone dry, but it would be fine for a while. The bottle and diapers were, he realised then, packed underneath the frame he’d thrown in the bushes. She’d have to go the night without them. He inspected the area around the fire for matches or anything that might bring it back to life, but found only a big, blue cider bottle that had its lid on and was a third full. He drank all that stale, syrupy flatness with a surprising, sudden, and desperate thirst. He wrung out his clothes away from Nessa and put them back on, still damp but better, and sat back against the wall. He pulled the carrier onto his lap, slid his hand back through the plastic cover like she was one of those quarantines in hospitals and tried to adjust her beanie, make sure it fit snug. It was hard to do with one hand, but he got the hang of it. And he pulled the blankets up and his own jacket too, so it was only someone else’s eyes that looked back at him through the impromptu, shit-looking mask. “She’d probably have said this was from pirates.” He kept his hand in there to rise and fall with her breath, and watched the moon ignite the clouds that sailed past it like ships with pregnant sails. He jerked awake in the morning and set her crying. His right hand, which had been in the carrier, was not so warm anymore, and though her crying was proof she was alive,
V o l . 11 N o . 1 he still worried more about her than he’d thought was even possible. His other hand, which hadn’t been in the carrier, had gone half numb. He lurched to his feet and flexed his hand and reached for the carrier with it, but it was too stiff and weak. He switched hands and hefted her up and staggered out of the cave into the misty half-light of dawn and limped toward the point. But even with the cross just behind him, everything looked unfamiliar. It was misty, the light was different. Things looked to have shifted overnight. His mind was fuzzy. He knew objectively where he was, but he couldn’t translate that into knowing where to go. He stood and tried to orient himself, to focus, while she cried beside him and unseen birds cried back. It seemed hopeless. He started to cry again. Then, at the far edge of his vision, a man in a red-armed wetsuit shot out from the shoreline into the cold dark of the sea like a firework through the night sky, signaling his way back home.
Ginny's World I find Brooke gazing out our bedroom window, running her fingertips along the curve of her ear in a gesture I’ve observed a thousand times. She says as I come up beside her, “We’ve never seen it so exposed. The barn.” As if guided by her words, a stray gust buffets a corner of the roof where the metal is no longer riveted down. It creates a percussive sound we often hear at night. “You seem rapt,” I say as she continues to stare. “Apparently someone fitted an Andrew Wyeth into our picture window while we were off on our hike. All we’re missing is the waif in the field.” “That barn is gray, I believe. If we’re talking about the same painting.” She considers this and replies, “All right. A Grandma Moses, then.” “Those are two very different artists.” “Aren’t they, though,” she says with a small laugh. It is near dusk and color has drained from the sky. The barn, a single-gabled affair, appears mid-collapse, as if waiting for us to turn away. The wagon door facing us lists in its frame, its crossbucks awry. What remains of its ochre paint feathers over the desiccated plank siding. I watch a moment longer, then leave Brooke to her thoughts.
73 We awoke this morning to the thrum of a track loader leveling the untended expanse on the far side of our cedar rail fence. Twice a year I jump that fence, machete in hand, and spend hours beating back an encroachment of Himalayan blackberry, which grows rapaciously in this area. It’s a dreadful job, so the arrival of heavy machinery was welcome, never mind the hour. Before Brooke and I left for the day, I stepped outside and flagged down the operator. When land is cleared on the plateau, new development often follows, and some deeper contemplation over coffee had me wondering. As he dismounted from the cab, I recognized the adult son who lives with his mother in the modest yellow farmhouse a hundred yards or so beyond our shared property line. Unable to retrieve his name—a sighting of him is that uncommon—I asked first after his mother, Ginny, who we’d heard was in declining health. He confirmed as much, if only vaguely. Guessing at my more immediate concern, he swept his eyes over this long-forgotten backacre of the twenty or so they still own, saying, “I rented the shovel for some other work and had an extra day before the pickup.” He added with a half-smile, “I’ve seen you out here with the samurai sword.” I laughed off the remark, aware of how comical it must look. I might have pointed out, but didn’t, that the infestation was born essentially of his own neglect. Trying to hold the line at the fence was the assignment he’d left for me. Himalayan blackberry is the closest thing in nature to razor wire, setting aside its ability to autonomously grow and propagate and overrun everything in its path. It has clenched, plunging root-crowns that knot into anything that isn’t bedrock, and arching whorls of thorn stalks that ensnare and hold hostage competing vegetation, from mature, multi-story firs to ground cover. Appreciation of this reality came soon after our arrival here, and a decade of manual abatement has ensued. Our politics prevent us from spraying. I’ve lost sleep trying to rationalize it. The conversation with Owen, whose name Brooke reminded me of afterward, was brief and impersonal. His reference to having the loader “an extra day” was improvised, plainly. Reflecting on it now, there was scant reason for me to take an interest. We live on land once owned by his family, as do several of our neighbors. This final piece will be shed as well. We’ve known that all along. When Brooke and I returned from our day-long trek to Snoqualmie Lake, the defoliation was complete, insofar as he evidently planned to take it. The high, sprawling thicket was crushed but not removed, and the
soil, and the roots it concealed, remained unscraped. The barn was there, of course. Is there. Until today, nearly subsumed by overgrowth. The sheathing of the gable and the uppermost boards of the support walls now joined in plain view by the wreckage underneath. It stands destitute in a razed field. A latticework of severed vines clings to the rotted wood. As I lie awake near midnight, the roof intermittently clatters in the wind, a little more resonant than before. Returning from an appointment in the city, I discover Brooke’s easel set out under our deck awning, along with its accompanying miscellanea: brushes, pie pans, palette knives, etcetera. I attempt, in the relative quiet, to sense where she might be, then retreat to the garage for a drop cloth, which I unfold beneath her work area. She’ll tell me later, “I would have done that,” which may be true. But I just reoiled the deck and still feel the proprietary afterglow of a recently completed task. After pouring a gimlet for myself, I reposition one of the Adirondack chairs so I can better survey the barn. There is little doubt that the presence of the easel is attributable to it. For days, Brooke has fixated: peering out our bedroom window; gazing from our vegetable beds, hose dangling at her side; leaning against a fence post, her chin in her hands. I search my memory: when last have her supplies found their way out of storage? She painted and drew for a time while her mother was dying. Then again as a childhood friend of hers was ushered out. Has there been another occasion since our youngest was born? Kira is off to college next year, so more than a decade and a half without any sustained effort. There are practical reasons for this, certainly. Career. Motherhood. An aversion to all the solvents, spirits, noxious tints, and other constituent tools of the trade. At some point our household embarked on a quest for purity—in the air we breathe, the space we inhabit, the objects we live with or consume. Ascent to some untainted realm became the métier for Brooke, and ours by proximity. The lime juice in my glass is organic, the vodka distilled locally; the chair beneath me hewn from a reclaimed boat hull. “When did you sneak in?” she asks, parting the leafy overhang along the walkway leading to the deck. “No sneaking involved. Must be the lovingly restored surface underfoot.” “It does look nice,” she says, then sniffs the air in mild rebuke. I used Penofin, a kind of rosewood extract,
after marshalling arguments as to its durability and UV resistance. A faint, sulfurous vapor still lingers. “I’ll take that as the half-compliment it was intended to be,” I say. “I have some news, or non-news, depending on your perspective,” she says, ignoring the snark. “Only the area near the barn was cleared, plus a corridor leading from the house. I was just over at the Maier’s, and Vanessa and I walked the entire length of their boundary with Ginny’s place.” “You can’t see it all from there.” “You can see most of what we’re unable to see. Enough to piece it together.” “So, what do Vanessa and Will think?” “That they plan to use the barn again, that’s all.” “It’s falling apart. It would be unsafe for almost any purpose.” “We’ll have to wait and see then, I guess,” she says and lifts the glass from my hand, takes a cautious sip. Enough to wet her lips, nothing more. Stepping inside, we have to navigate around the easel, but I decide that it’s too soon to remark upon. Perhaps she’ll stay with it this time, perhaps not. No one is dying, at least. Not that I know of. In our circle, that is. Only a couple of hours ago my hematologist gave me the all-clear, or maybe I’d wonder. Brooke muses over her subject. She constructs and deconstructs. Moves from rough sketch to formal composition to digressions in light and scale. Plays with
V o l . 11 N o . 1 mediums, tools, texture, dimensionality. The view alters slightly each day as the barn withers in the unfiltered sun and wind, and blackberry canes not shorn from their roots bow upward from the flattened scruff. Three weeks have passed and new work continues to appear—if necessary, set to dry on the deck, then stacked inside the kitchen nook. She is aloof from us during this time. Not cold but contained; focused. This is the pattern, from experience. The aspect I always forget. That she drifts away from us for a while as she searches for balance. She has quit before she has found it, in all but distant memory. “Start over,” I say. “Tell me everything that happened.” Stifling her annoyance, she begins again, “I’m upstairs. I’m raising the blinds in our room. And I see him drive from the house to the barn in that farm buggy of theirs.” “It’s a golf cart. With ATV tires.” “Fine, a golf cart. Does that matter?” “Probably not,” I say. “Thank you. So, he’s headed this way, and Ginny is seated beside him. But then I can’t see because, you know, they’re on the other side of the barn. When the cart appears again, he’s alone. Driving back to the house.” “Leaving Ginny.” “Which doesn’t make sense, right? Even from a distance she looked incredibly frail. So I’m watching from the window … ten minutes, twenty, I’m not sure. But he left her there, okay? She’s out there by herself, and I’m stressing about this the entire time. So I go over the fence, go inside the barn, and there she is.” “Having tea, you said.” “Yes. No. She’s in a wheelchair, pushed up to a small table. And she has dolls—two antique, porcelain dolls propped up on crates. There are cups and saucers and a teapot; a linen tablecloth. She—they—they’re having a tea party. A pretend party, like you have with dolls.” “And she’s talking to them? Like, a conversation?” “Of course. Offering them cookies and such.” “Of course?” “You have a daughter, Jeff, correct? She’s upstairs. I’ll introduce you when she comes down. She was a little girl just a few years ago.” “All right, all right …” “And so I ask Ginny if I can join her, and she says, ‘Please do.’ And she offers me tea, and it goes on from there. Like I’m a friend she has invited or another of her
dolls.” “Did she recognize you?” I ask. “I mean, when she was still getting around, we saw quite a bit of her.” “I’m sure she didn’t. I just never had that feeling. And then Owen came back, maybe a half-hour after I sat down. He glanced at me but didn’t say anything. He lifted Ginny out of the chair, really gently, and carried her to the buggy … she’s a leaf now, Jeff. I could have carried her. And then they’re gone, and then, ah … I don’t know … I just don’t …” She gazes past me, lost in a way she so rarely is. I offer my shoulder and she accepts it, but I have the sense that she’s hardly there. It’s as if our view, our Wyeth, has become animate and drawn her in. Made her a part of its blighted tableau. Perhaps this is the reason, the essential reason, she has given up art in the past. She finds herself vanishing into her subject … her subject being death, disintegration, erasure. The certainty that we have arrived there again is the tension in our embrace. The scene repeats itself the following afternoon and the next one as well. Brooke goes over the fence each time. Ginny would play there as a child, it seems, inside the red barn. In the slow peeling-away of her memory, she has alighted there once more. There will be no fourth day, as it happens. We learn, in the course of the week, of a home-hospice arrangement. Help is offered, flowers are sent, meals brought to the door. The Maiers take the lead. It proves necessary for only a short while. Owen remains a specter throughout. Before long, the property is sold, all twenty acres. The structures are dismantled; the land contoured and subdivided. Foundations are poured and houses framed. Brooke records the progression. She doesn’t paint every day, but the intent is there. We begin to talk about a studio. Two summers on, we have several new neighbors. Young families with tots and grade-schoolers. While idling on the deck one day, we spy a small figure in the narrow greenbelt that now skirts our backyard. The county, we were surprised to discover, owns an easement along the dividing line, and it prevented the developer from grading right up to the fence. I call it a greenbelt, but, of course, it’s a bramble of blackberry and strangled seedlings and very little else. We watch as this slight, darting imp, the child of one of the newcomers, moves from stalk to stalk, carefully plucking among the thorns. He sees us and grins, his chin smudged
purple. The berries are dark and sweet right now, and we’ve enjoyed a good many ourselves. It’s neither here nor there, how things have settled out. Benign neglect has given way to contrived order; still life to movement and motif. The field itself was the canvas in this respect, and in the playfulness of a child we can admire the craft. In turn, we’re the preserved image now. The known world the boy sees when he glances this way. We do what we can about the upkeep.
The Professor’s Door Professor Wibbles stares at the door to his office with what would pass for contentment if he were the kind of man to allow for such smug self-confidence. He catches himself thinking this and thinks, “How very subjunctive of me!” He means this as a compliment to himself, knowing as he does (thanks to a note in his Random House Webster’s College Dictionary) that “The subjunctive mood has largely disappeared in English.” How sad, he thinks. Flanking the handsome bronze plaque bearing his name: PROFESSOR T. ROLAND WIBBLES On the right is a photograph of his wife Florence as she looked when she was a Lilac Princess in Spokane forty-odd years ago, blonde and slender in a tasteful black swimsuit, and on the left is a snapshot of himself at age forty-two holding an improbably large rainbow trout he landed on the Madison in Montana on an Adams dry fly. Although he cannot claim to have been acquainted with Florence when she was eighteen years old, the photograph reassures him of her beauty—then palpable, now sadly faded—and it is that image of his wife to whom, or to which (or with whom or which), he makes love on what has become in the past few years rather rare occasions. He clears his throat uneasily as that thought sweeps across his mind. In fact, even the often-recounted battle with that big rainbow has lost so much of its once vivid presence that he can no longer appreciate even the somewhat glamorized version of the event into which he has allowed himself to lapse. Nick Adams’ handsome trout from “Big Two-Hearted River” has long since become more real to him than his own feat of twenty years past, and Maclean’s trout taken on the Big Blackfoot in that
mythic summer of 1920-something is also more real, and isn’t it embarrassingly true that when he looks away from his own grin in that photograph he visualizes not himself really but the boyish grin of Brad Pitt from the movie of A River Runs through It? When was it that he lost all genuine enthusiasm, his fervor, for angling? He winces as he opens the door. Also on his door, he has posted four carefully typed aphorisms: What he believes in, at least to some extent, at least provisionally, conditionally, at least most of the time. First and foremost, the wisdom of that intense communist and homosexual, André Gide: “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” And just beneath that one, to confuse the idle passerby, a line from Victor Hugo, the Romantic master of Les Misérables. “The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.” Not that he has ever managed to read through that massive and rather lugubrious tome, nor has he seen, nor does he intend to see the musical version thereof. “It is more difficult to love than to die,” wrote the Nigerian novelist and Booker Prize winner Ben Okri in The Famished Road, “It is not death that human beings are most afraid of, it is love.” That one always brings him to a pause, stops him in his mental tracks. There is one other, a pearl, from Voltaire: “Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives, and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of their time.” It is said in the English department that when Professor Wibbles retires—if indeed he ever does— he will have to take his office door with him, as he has Super-Glued his fine brass nameplate to it so firmly that it can never be removed. He rather fancies the image of himself being carted out of his office on that very door, serene and scholarly in his death, the very antithesis of Housman’s young athlete. He has not been the smart lad who had the good sense to die young, and his laurels have, accordingly, per the poem, somewhat “withered,” and perhaps his name has already “died before the man.” But no, he reprimands himself. Self-pity being the most repulsive human emotion, he will not tolerate it in himself. He’s run a good race, and there’s more left in him, he reflects, rubbing his osteoarthritic left knee as he settles into his chair before his strategically cluttered desk. The door is a testament to Wibbles’ stoic commitment to moderation, restraint, and decorum. He will not litter his door as do most of his colleagues with cartoon strips and taped words of wisdom ranging from Zen to Mark Twain to Jimi Hendrix. A rock star, for God’s sake! This from one of the young lecturers with which the
V o l . 11 N o . 1 department has gotten itself overburdened, for The Dean will by no means countenance the filling of a professorial line in these hard fiscal times. “Purple haze all in my brain.” Yes, that about says it all—along with an iconic bushy-haired image of the rockster. Nor will he follow the lead of Dr. Jennifer Brooks, whose door features a myriad of family snapshots surmounted with a nameplate fashioned by her daughter when she was eight years old—in crayon on faded pink construction paper with at least a dozen stickers ranging from stars and balloons to kittens and unicorns. The child has left an “n” out of her mother’s name, but of course Jenny Brooks believes that makes the conglomeration just that much “cuter.” Or what about Walter, the chair, who keeps his door plastered with yellowing comic strips and cartoons from The New Yorker? One of the items features a cowboy shooting a book of poetry from the hands of another cowpoke. It reads, “’We don’t hold with Elizabeth Barrett Browning ‘round these parts!’ explained Big Jake.” As if it weren’t already hard enough to get these students to take literature seriously. About a week later the professor brings himself up short at his office door, immediately aware of the sort of discord or disharmony one might encounter all too often in what passes itself off these days as “contemporary poetry.” Should such a course even be offered, he has asked himself on more than one occasion. Shouldn’t a solid course in modern poetry—Yeats, Eliot, Stevens, Roethke, perhaps the likes of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell— shouldn’t that be quite “contemporary” enough? As it happens, Walter Bagley now teaches the Contemporary Poetry course and is wildly popular, addle-pated though he may be. Mr. Alexander Pope had it right about three hundred years ago: Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside. Certainly Mr. Pope had nailed it with that first line, at any rate. But Dr. Wibbles’ door: something is missing—the photograph of Florence posed a little self-consciously in her black swimsuit and perched on the edge of a white wicker chair, a vase of fake bamboo rising over her left shoulder. It’s gone. His first thought, however, is not of his wife, but of the imbalance of it all, as if a metric foot were to be lost from or added to one of Pope’s heroic couplets. It is simply not right. His photo, still there, on the left, holding the trophy trout, should be balanced on the right by Florence’s image. The lack of symmetry is appalling. Entering the orderly demesne of his office—three
77 carefully alphabetized bookcases, his perfectly cluttered desk centered exactly on the window that looks over the quad, a four year-old photograph of Florence to the left (rather a flattering portrait, he thinks) and one of their son Rob and daughter Susan at her high school graduation a good dozen years before that to the right—he settles himself into his shabby, brown, cloth-upholstered chair and makes a mental note to request a replacement soon, one of those dark leather chairs he has noticed in Jenny’s and Ben Johansen’s offices. Why has he been overlooked? The necessary evil of the word processor occupies a smaller desk to the right. It is Professor Wibbles’ policy to turn on the cursed machine—to “boot up,” as the department’s cyber-guru likes to put it—no more than three days a week and to read his damnable email only once a week, on Monday mornings before class. He will not allow a computer to dictate his life. But that photograph of Flo, of Florence—what the devil could have become of it? Flo? Virtually never does he think of his wife as “Flo”—it is a banal, trivializing diminution of a lovely name. Teasingly he has called her that on occasion, and when they were dating he had thought of calling her “Flossie,” like the poet William Carlos Williams’ wife, but it did not fit, does not fit, and besides, he is not all that fond of Williams’ poems, particularly “The Red Wheelbarrow,” which he considers the most overrated poem in English. His Florence will remain simply and elegantly Florence. He looks again down the hall and on the floor of his office in case the photograph has fallen and perhaps slipped under the door. But nothing. Perhaps it has somehow made its way under Jennifer Brooks’ door across the hall. That would make sense. He’ll ask her to look once she shows up, which will of course not be until well after nine. Unlike most of his colleagues, especially those connected with the relatively new and (sadly) flourishing creative writing program, Professor Wibbles prides himself on being at his desk before eight o’clock every school day and on most days when classes are not in session. As he awaits the arrival of Dr. Brooks, a colleague almost certain to languish at the rank of associate professor until she retires, Wibbles rummages over the list of likely culprits from among his current and recently past students. The name Gary Byron comes immediately to mind—a mediocre outfielder on the baseball team (waste of a full ride there), a class-cutter who always has an excuse and often a signed affidavit of one sort or another, and one of the myriad who cannot bring himself to read the assignments. The boy fancies himself a clever chap, a bit
78 of an outlaw, and he’s managed to have both of his arms tattooed from elbow to wrist with some Celtic designs intended to intimidate the world with their magic. The boy likes Tolkien and Anne Rice. The boy does not care for the prose of Henry Fielding or Samuel Johnson, however, and that is a pity, as he has just ten days ago managed to flunk the midterm exam. Perhaps he should recommend Chad Harbach’s baseball novel—Ben has been raving about it lately—The Art of Fielding. But that would work only if the thing ran under three hundred pages, which it does not. Jenny Brooks looks around when she arrives, and she invites Wibbles to look as well, which he does, despite the alarming debris of her office—books displayed horizontally on the shelves over the tops of other books, which are arrayed in any conceivable manner, not including alphabetical, and books stacked on the floor, and reams of paper scattered randomly, as if the notion of filing them had never occurred to the poor woman. But they find no photograph. Brooks styles herself a “gynocritic,” and that, Dr. Wibbles believes, is all one needs to know on that score. Yes, young Mr. Byron seems a most likely suspect indeed. But how to confront him on this delicate matter? Back in the day, as he has become all too fond of saying, Professor Wibbles would have gotten right in his face, but these days one must tread more gently. And after all, he has no evidence and no very plausible motive, come to think of it, except his own sense of the matter, which is that the boy is trying to get back at him. An image of Gary Byron flinging a dart at the photo of Florence affixed to his frat-house door comes to mind. Flashes, he thinks, on his occipital lobe. The “young man,” that is. Yes. He decides he should simply invite young Mister Byron to come to the office to talk about that exam. But no. No, Mr. Byron is not interested in talking about the exam; he did not study hard enough, he knows that, and he deserved the grade he got, and in fact he discarded the exam right after he got it back. He had, he says, wadded it into a tight ball and swatted it out the window of his fraternity house with his aluminum baseball bat. All these details via email. Reluctantly, however, after the professor lures him with the promise of an extra credit opportunity, Gary Byron agrees to show up the next afternoon. Wibbles decides to display an unaccustomed cordiality and to set the boy off-guard by pretending some appreciation of baseball, particularly here at the University of Northern Idaho, home of the mighty Pikeminnows. The team mascot had formerly been the voracious and predatory
CIRQUE “Squawfish,” but that moniker has been discarded as being both racist and sexist, by Idaho Fish & Game and (after much alumni protest) by UNI. Professor Brooks “rejoiced” on that occasion, Dr. Wibbles informed his wife, “and made exceeding glad.” “So how are the Pikeminnows looking?” the professor asks. “Not so hot, I guess,” answers the outfielder, his lip bulging with a wad of Copenhagen. The professor suspects the young man spends much of his time running punitive laps and riding the pine. “We’re 0 and 4 now. Pitching sucks, hitting’s not much better.” “Do you get to play much?” “Nope. If it wasn’t for the scholarship I’d prob’ly quit.” So much, Professor Wibbles tells himself, for the casual approach. He makes a couple more stabs, however: What position does he play? Wherever. Where’s he from? Boise. Does he miss Boise? No. Is he majoring in English? Yeah. Why? Because he hates math and his mom teaches English in middle school, and besides he likes to read, but “not the kind of stuff we’ve been reading.” The professor offers up an extra credit assignment worth a few points— enough to get the kid’s exam grade up to a C—and decides to drop the matter, confident that Mr. Byron will not avail himself of the opportunity to improve his literary lot in life. He thinks again of Chad Harbach’s baseball novel but decides to let it pass, as he hasn’t yet read it himself, but has only heard Ben Johansen go on about it. “Oh, Mr. Byron,” Professor Wibbles remarks as if the subject has suddenly come to mind, “did you ever happen to notice those pictures on my door?” “Huh?” “Those two photographs . . . on my office door.” “No, not really.” “One of them has gone missing.” “Oh.” “It’s a photo of my wife, Florence, the way she looked when she was about your age.” The professor pauses, scans the blank face for signs of guilt, or in fact for any sign at all, but no. “You’d like her. She’s a pretty . . . neat . . . lady.” He pauses again, but not a flicker. The boy is edging forward on his seat. “It’s . . . that that photograph is . . . irreplaceable.” “Wow, man, that’s too bad.” “So, if you should see it around somewhere.” What is he thinking? That this kid is going to confess? Or that,
V o l . 11 N o . 1 assuming he didn’t do it, which now looks to be the case, that he’s going to keep his eyes open, and if so, for what, since he apparently has never noticed the photo before. The lad does not seem terribly observant. Momentarily, he imagines young Byron smacking the game-winning hit, and then lines from Housman’s immortal poem: Man and boy stood cheering by, And home we brought you, shoulder-high. He shakes the image from his head. “You never noticed that picture?” The outfielder shakes his head, edges out of the office into the hall. But who knows, Professor Wibbles decides, maybe the photo fell to the floor and one of the janitors just picked it up and tossed it. If it were facedown it would look like just another scrap of paper, and the halls are full of such litter by the end of the day. His mind clicks back to an afternoon a few years back when he experienced a ridiculous moment with the surly, brooding janitor, who left town a year or so later. Where had the man gone? Fishing for salmon in Alaska? Roustabouting in the Wyoming oil and gas fields? Pushing pot somewhere in Oregon? Rumor was that he had a record, probably drugs. Meth. But then he learned the guy had turned his life around, had some sort of posh job in Silicon Valley. Go figure. The happily successful quondam custodian has been replaced by a flimsy-looking kid from Guatemala and a drab, chunky woman who rarely says a word, indeed rarely even lifts her face, as if her stare were devoted to flooring. The skinny Guatemalan speaks very little English and does not appear to have muscle sufficient to enable him to wrestle the large trash can the former janitor so liked to manhandle. Neither custodian claims to have noticed the photo. When Professor Wibbles tells Florence that evening about the lost photo, she agrees with his “custodial hypothesis,” as he playfully terms it, and offers him an even better photograph of herself when she was a cheerleader at a small college in the Midwest, before they met in graduate school at Indiana. She insists she wasn’t all that fond of the other photo anyway—her legs looked too heavy in it and the swimsuit was not very “cute.” Dr. Wibbles tacks the new photograph to his door the next morning and admires the restored balance, noting that his wife’s smile in this photo
79 better matches his own as he displayed the big trout with the scenic Madison flowing in the background. Or was it the Beaverhead? He has been telling the story for years, garnishing it with fresh details from time to time, gilding it perhaps, as having taken place on the Madison, but now that he thinks about it, perhaps he took this particular rainbow on the Beaverhead, and come to think of it, the fly wasn’t an Adams at all, but almost certainly some sort of caddis, yes, an Elk Hair Caddis. But the new photograph lasts no more than a week. When he returns to his office the next Monday morning, the photo has vanished, and once again, he observes, his own image remains unmolested. Surely if this were the vandalism of some irate student he or she would have pilfered the shot of himself giddily displaying his glorious trophy to the world. Florence had taken that picture, and she was, is, a superb photographer. How old were the kids then? In school certainly, but Rob was still too young to be doing any serious fishing then, so maybe six and seventeen. Did Rob still do any fishing? Probably not, being stuck in Chicago. How long has it been since Rob and Susan have been back out to Idaho? Too long. Wibbles reports the theft to Walter Bagley, who seems only mildly concerned and proposes an option to the “custodial hypothesis.” Dr. Wibbles should be flattered, the chair suggests, that some jock or some fraternity boy
80 has shown himself to be such an astute judge of feminine pulchritude. “It’s the way of the world,” Walter says, and he sends out a list-serve to Engfac advising anyone against posting irreplaceable photographs on their office doors. In fact, Bagley suggests, perhaps personal snapshots ought to be thought twice about. For several days, Roland Wibbles leaves the space on his office door quite empty, but as he tells Florence one morning, “nature abhors a vacuum,” and he, being a confirmed rationalist, a man of reason with a capital R, a man devoted to logic, clarity, order, decorum, and harmony, cannot tolerate the flawed symmetry. On the other hand, agreed . . . but before he can complete his ratiocination, he finds himself at his office door where he discovers, pinned to the formerly empty space, a fresh daffodil. Who could it be? His first suspicion lights on some prankster—Sam Oliver comes to mind, or even Jenny Brooks, but more likely one of the grad students, perhaps someone from his seminar on Dryden and Pope, which has not proven to be one of his more inspired projects, particularly relative to Binford Lang’s offering on Cormac McCarthy (twelve enrolled, two on the waiting list). Wibbles mentally scrolls down his class roster of seven souls, four women and three men, and alights on the most obvious suspect: Samantha Prime. “Sammie,” or even “Sam,” as she prefers to be called, took two of his classes when she was an undergraduate here at UNI, and now here she is in his seminar, eager as always, dominating class discussion, smart, witty, and (to employ a term that seems even to the professor a tad “retro”) “buxom.” He has carefully eschewed referring to her as “Sam” or “Sammie,” in favor of the more formal and distant and less personal “Samantha.” Has he been subconsciously aware all along of her infatuation? Ridiculous, he tells himself, a fifty-something-year-old man, bald, or at least, to be a little more generous to himself, “balding,” not altogether pot-bellied exactly, but yes, a tad paunchy of late. Perhaps he should get himself back to the fitness center, resume jogging. But stop! What is he thinking? He is, after all, a quintessentially happily-married-man, right? But Sammie does have startling azure eyes. He noticed them from that first semester when she took his British lit survey course and sat front-row-center and aced every assignment. And then her senior year she took his Restoration & 18th-Century class, wrote a terrific term paper that he nominated for an Evans Award, which it won. They’d met in his office several times over that paper, and when he thought of her, she was always wearing the
pale yellow sleeveless silk blouse she’d worn one sultry afternoon in late May. He takes the flower carefully from his door, empties the last of his coffee, fills the mug with water, and places the daffodil in it. And why not? If the Florence now were the Florence in those two missing photos, perhaps such a question would not obtrude, but that Florence has vanished. “We are not what we were.” Thirty pounds overweight her last checkup. “But that which we are, we are.” It is April, daffodils in bloom everywhere, National Poetry Month Sandra McGint reminds him, “the cruelest month,” she says, smiling, trying to imitate T.S. Eliot’s drone. The next morning, a folded piece of pale yellow paper occupies the space formerly filled by the daffodil. The professor pulls it from the door and breathes the fragrance of jasmine, and his memory goes back to that afternoon in May a year and a half ago. When Samantha rises to leave his office, he extends his hand, but she waves it aside and takes him into a quick embrace, and for an instant, before she giggles as she moves away, he becomes fully aware of her body through the silky yellow fabric. “Have a good summer,” he remembers having mumbled lamely. He seriously considers reading the note before crumpling it into a tight ball and dropping it into his wastebasket. He might simply ask Samantha about this matter pointblank. Or he might forget about it (she is surely the brightest student in his seminar) and replace his wife’s picture on his door with something else, perhaps another one of himself, to reestablish the necessary balance, the symmetry. He decides on the latter expedient, and without mentioning it to Florence, he rifles through some old photos, coming up with one she took on their last vacation to Glacier. The snapshot shows him standing near an imposing Ponderosa pine and wearing a blue-striped shirt, sleeves rolled to just below the elbows, his legs confidently spread—faded blue jeans, rugged leather hiking boots. His face is set with what may be a sad or sardonic smile—not a frown, certainly, but not the happy grin he wore years ago in honor of the big trout he caught on the Beaverhead, Madison, wherever. Professor T. Roland Wibbles looks bigger in the more recent photograph than he really is, and the tree contributes to the solid impression of a man who knows how to take care of himself.
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P O E T RY Deborah Akers
feast baking dish no longer stowed or grimed with disuse spice bottles newly brimmed spurs a cold day's whimâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; embarking into cornbread folding egg and oil soured milk and soda into batterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s warm promise and when the bread fails (dusty flour, spent meal) the grainy brick is cubed and thrown to a few scavengers dignifying the yard that caw and soon the street roils with black birds hopping and pecking later, we spot one soaring blocks away golden chunk
cradled in claws
a travelling feast the stuff of crow legend
Teri White Carns
Springtime ravens courting at Fred Meyer
Alexandra Ellen Appel
Correction, American Dream there is so much anger I did not know it nor did she yet the miscreated chicken the parboiled potatoes and LeSueur peas set the kitchen on fire while over in Washington Heights Grandma plucks a chicken blindfolded and the Bridge shines in the early morning light as if it were no thing at all what with her widows peak and sprightly fingers there is the past the history of deft marching and fear riddling American bones, Mother, swathed in Mink, Dad
one eyebrow cocked is it all for nothing, this begotten history of sorrow ending the way it begins keening and devoting a catcall for love blinded for justice herself lady liberty keels in devotion carrying light into the darkness
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Wolf Country Blue Wolf
What if grandmother Was really just a nasty bitch Ordered flannel nighties from the NRA Christmas catalogue Each winter, slept beneath patchwork pelt coverlets Cleaned her hunting rifles on the kitchen table Never owned anything resembling a rocking chair
What if she and Al Franken drank cheap beer together in Spring When the pups came tumbling from their warm safe dens Alive to a new world. What if she was One of those kinds of grandmothers Who, instead of eating the sugary cupcakes and cookies Transported by basket each month Tossed them out the window or down the garbage disposal Telling her little ruby-caped girl She should go into Accounting Maybe she’d been a city gal, living in a crowded cul-de-sac Or near a school, cursing the crossing attendants Flipping them off every morning as she barged At her own goddamn pace through packs of Slow-poke kindergartners Giving a fuck about Safety
What if this cabin in the woods hadn’t been her idea But, rather, his. He was a leader, after all, and something Had to be done. Generations to come would thank him What if fairy tellers had nothing to do with this. You’ve seen them, no doubt, late at night Under a full moon, her blood red Glossy lips whispering sweetness meant only for large ears Past that sharp white smile of his Dancing wildly: Fox-trot. Tango. Her claret miniskirt. His tuxedo tail Both of them, howling and wide-eyed Devouring each Savory bite Wiping their mouths on Flannel napkins
Dear Ms. Angelou Can I call you Maya? Ms. Maya? In my heart you are an old friend, a constant companion whose words have become embedded in me. You saved me. Gave me something I could cling on to – dig into with tooth and nail. Someone, I think my mother, gave me (a poor skinny white girl) a book of your poetry.
I felt it in my bones – and still I rise and I rose – rose like a dandelion that can’t be killed – like scrub brush that won’t die – rose from the cold and mold in the trailer park to the sunshine looked all the people who lined up to tell me “no” in the face and told them I rise turned my face towards the sun and didn’t look back I rise I rise I rise So, thank you Ms. Angelou for teaching me to rise.
I read it like it was oxygen, I read it like I had been in the desert for 40 days and it was cold fresh water. At night in the cold damp trailer – with poverty nibbling at my toes – I recited your poems to myself “With certainty of tides, just like hope springs high, still I’ll rise” It became my mantra, my place of safety – still I rise. The place I retreated to when I ran into the wall of “no, this isn’t for girls like you” “no, girls from trailer parks don’t play with my children” “no, you’re from the wrong part of town” “you’re too poor and you don’t belong here” – to that I would say “does my sassiness upset you?”
Window of a Skeptic
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Nancy Diamante Bonazzoli
Skin-Touch of Love Ferocious night. We left him there; his inhalator gone silent as his heartbeat. We slam the car doors, surrender to grief. You turn the key. Windshield wipers echo his ghost-dance rhythms. Defroster on the fritz, our exhalations fog, dripping sheen. Pressed against icy glass, your fist’s edge squeaks round and round; our flooded eyes plead for vision. Squinting bravely, you attempt to steer us home. They’ll move him soon, lay him on a slab colder than this end-of-year night. Opening the windows I tip my head, invite the deluge to salve. I take no Sabbath from his memory his legacy my inheritance— his love the warm skin-touch.
Hope Against Hope
Kristina Boratino Two Poems
I Am the Beauty in Every Foreign Land I am the beauty in every foreign land, the remnants of sand and sea— I’m the ebb and flow traveler, and your favorite mystery I am the ruins rebuilt, the driftwood bones I’ve found— I’m a wandering pebble, and Susitna River sounds
Full Moon and Snow
I am the awe inspired silence, the sift-shaking sands— I’m Sedona at sunset, and an old San Juan dance
I am the lengthy beach pier, the Taos Pueblo secrets— I’m too close to the shore line, and Whidbey Island regrets
I am the plush El Yunque Rainforest, the sandcastle heart— I’m the lost, lonely ferry, and the sturdy camping tarp
I am the skydiving free-fall, the betrayed jellyfish sting— I’m tipsy luau margaritas, and one too many engagement rings
I am the curious Kenai Fjords, the long walk to school— I’m a sorbet sunrise, and every lover's fool
I am the beauty in every foreign land, the remnants of sand and sea— I’m the ebb and flow traveler, and your favorite mystery
Rainbow Brite I finally fell asleep once the bloated moon disappeared behind the big tree in the front yard. When mommy got home in the morning, I could instantly smell the spilled Chardonnay and stale cigarettes. As she slipped into the ragged-rusty orange loveseat, I saw Rainbow Brite dangling from her hand. I leapt over to grab her as mom gently patted my head with her cold, floppy fingers. “Happy birthday.” She drifted off to sleep. I became instantly obsessed. I took her with me everywhere; she became a second sister. A few months later, on a crisp-crunchy fall day, I came home from school to see mom throwing our things into huge black garbage bags, then tossing them on the front lawn. She was giving us away and trying to get help. “She doesn’t deserve this!” I furiously ripped Rainbow Brite out of the trash bag. I held her until the last minute, then I kissed her cheek and placed her on the window sill, so she could wait for our return home.
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He Leaves The Way His Grandparents Came Ferrous earth breaks through chaparral while sunrise warms Shasta He tells himself the yellow looks like gold A few green pines, trunks scorched Dark on the fringe of last year’s burn He imagines the scent Is not unlike their living room Dusty pine and plaster laid in the thirties Memories burning with the emptiness around them That room will soon be overtaken by condos Rising at the fenceline all the way down to the tracks behind This last visit home revealed more loved ones Below the ground than above Now a sunlit ranch on California’s other border Gives in to tule fog with a long-haul trucker’s fog lights Two lanes of Highway 97, one last tunnel before Dorris Then it’s all behind him When she left the farm at ten Grandma’s train carried her three days west From Colorado on a wooden bench Two sisters, one brother, and their fatherless mother
Calling it a mistake But he knows better: Grandpa cited chapter and verse Now a heron opens Klamath Lake before him Tall grass gives way to geese working the open shore Into Sprague River’s yellow grass and scrub With ducking green all along the tracks
Imagine the elbowed ribs, sour glances Whining quickly shushed Everything he’s returning to now Probably a doll and a basket lunch
Miles and years behind, they once brought men through the yard Where Grandma sent them on their way with breakfast Now they only carry away, like the sunset cars He once counted from the fence until the caboose
Grandpa found his way in a boxcar Away from the orphanage and Georgia’s bloody dirt There are no family stories from this time before town But his deathbed letter cites Daniel as his favorite
What is memory now was unknown then The New Deal, the Wars, the Movements The family and the funerals The rail was always safe passage to what came next
Let him be wet with the dew of heaven Let his lot be with the beasts in the grass of the earth Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him And let seven times pass over him They prefer to think he meant the lions
Theirs was the hearth that proved Santa real That Christmas Grandma with her broken leg and Grandpa Terminal slept downstairs And he in their room above Half a century later their hearth remains cold Except for a pair of Keds worn once round the world, then bronzed And their anniversary smiles, painted From photos onto tent canvas by a G.I. A river solid as Earth passes away beneath these tracks Sun Pass State Forest, edged with snow to the ravine Distant Mount Scott guarding Crater Lake beyond Today he wakes with Google Maps to name every empty space
How Fish See Rain
Abigail B. Calkin
Trolling for Words (Знаю, /znah-yoo/ is Russian for I know.) On a winter’s day when the sun hovers twenty-two degrees above early afternoon’s horizon, I ponder what words I can troll. I check lines, fuel, gumby suit—a euphonic word— and temperature, +10. I zip my warmest gear, start the engine, leave the river, and turn to sea.
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When I reach the Fairweather Grounds, I set my lines and run a slow troll. Знаю, I know, the sound of I know—Знаю I snap the gear as I run out my line—and wait… drink the bitter coffee as we, the boat and I, troll to the west. I hear the bell that says all is well. My hands are warm, waiting inside alpaca then rubber gloves. I begin to run the gear… The winter’s azimuth comes first, a gentle time I shall keep. I throw it on deck to gut and analyze when all words are in, am at dockside, and home for a soon good sleep. Apricity flops on deck, almost of its own volition —oh, that warmth of winter’s low sun setting on my face— I leave it there lying warm and silent against the gunwale. Знаю, I quietly know the next one that I take off its hook. I put this one in my pocket to keep my knowledge warm within me as this trip flows in language I know.
Yuck, this double ugly has too many plosives and so little meat. I cannot compare it to the elegance of felicity or homily or mackerel and toss it back. Silence of home, of ocean—how did I get two on one hook? Did they grab the bait at the same time or one eat the other as one lies atop one below, wedged together as if one? Next flops a fellow tough to take off the hook a brazen tattarrattat whose front is his back, no back fin on this character, just horned heads at both ends. He’s a knockabout on deck, but I’ll keep him. I like his shuddering, shattering bang-a-clang. Ah these lines…do they and I offer one another justice? Have I tied them 60 on the deeps, or 25 on this inside gear? Do I have load enough to head back from a money-making trip? As I pull in my lines, I land one more—a lugubriosity— who reflects my feelings at the end of this or any trip to sea, that mournful sorrow of leaving my ocean of water of words, of placing these fish in order, of finding the tender where I offload and sell this morselled miscellany. I am bereft when they are no longer in my hands. I head in to my long sleep
Walking With Crow Along South Park Drive A flutter of caws and you appear, dragging your shadow, a black cape, an indigo comet hurled into my horizon. Until today, I was terrified of crows, though my mother was a notorious, and some would say irritating, crow whisperer in our neighborhood and beyond. She called them black birds, which may have come from her early years on a Kentucky farm. But they were definitely crows, perched like upside-up bats by the hundreds on the massive dawn redwood that dominated our backyard. There they waited, a chorus of caws, gurgles and clicks calling for the daily scattering of scrambled eggs we kids refused to eat with our bacon, chunks of moldy cheese and, on Saturdays, leftover red snapper or trout from the night before. Circumambulating the feeding frenzy, Mom prayed the Rosary loud enough for the crows and anyone nearby to hear and, like her favorite saint, Francis of Assisi, with one or more crows occasionally riding on her shoulder. While most of our neighbors agreed that she was probably a saint, my brothers and I thought she was crazy. On the asphalt road you’re crazy-close to me, talking in a language I garble back, matching my steps as I amble along the sidewalk past wooden houses perched on steep lawns. Lucy, my umbrella-bearing, storytelling Swedish grandma, ignited my fear of crows when she warned me to stay away from the angry spirits of murdered men. By that she meant, not Mom’s yard crows, but the congregation of corvids in the alley behind her own house. Those crows worked in trios, quartets or large murders body-bombing Lucy’s metal garbage can until it tipped over and the lid popped off, spilling maggoty chicken bones or moldy tunanoodle casserole onto the driveway. When I suggested she was joking, Lucy smiled at me through her seriously thick bifocals, handed me her black umbrella and said, “Well, at least walk under this umbrella next time I ask you to empty the garbage, or those birds will likely pluck out your eyes. Remember, eyes to crows are like tootsie roll pops to you, and blue has always been their favorite color.” I stop. You stop. We look at each other. “Crow,” I whisper, “You are more blue, than black.” You say nothing, or maybe you sigh. Starting and stopping, we continue on. One winter day, our family sat in front of the hissing fireplace sipping hot apple cider and telling ghost stories because we were snowed in and there was nothing else to do. It was then that Lora, one of my Irish aunts, informed us that crows were messengers of death. “You see a crow, you know somebody’s gonna die. Maybe you…or you…or even you,” she announced, stopping to point an infinity of finger at each of us wide-eyed kids. Those words so freaked me out that for years I refused to even look at a crow, if I could avoid it. If I couldn’t, I’d lay awake in bed all night, waiting for death to slip under our bedroom door, listening to my brothers breathing, poking them to make sure they were still alive.
V o l . 11 N o . 1 I step forward. You step forward. Giggling? You look at me, hop from foot to foot. I echo your movements, giggling, trying to caw, but I’m too out of breath.
Through high school, university, raising my kids, traveling to and living in many places in the world, the idea that crow-equals-death continued to play out in my life and mind. For the twenty plus years, now, we’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest under Doug, the towering fir who reigns over our backyard and hosts crow families nesting high up near his crown. From there, I’m guessing nesters feel relatively safe from hawks during the day, and at night owls, who prefer dining in the dark on crows and their chicks. But what is it like for crows to watch humans dashing around below? Do they still remember the guy down the street who shot a nest out of a cedar last year, killing every crow inside, including eggs? Surely, to survive, crows must remain as cautious of humans as I have been of crows—until today. What next? If I cross the road will you follow? Yes! You flap your wings, root around under one with your beak. Can a human do this crow asana, too? Caw! More than once, while walking past Doug on the way to my writing cottage, I’ve heard a gawdawful raucous of warnings coming from sentry crows on duty on his lower branches, followed by dive-bombings and strafings near my head. Another time, on the way to my car, I found a baby crow, still alive, but lying on the sidewalk. A pack of screaming crows beaked my back until I ran into the house, remembered Grandma Lucy’s warning, grabbed a golf umbrella and headed outside to my car. This time, the crows squawked, but did not attack me. When I returned home, the baby had been airlifted back into the nest and the crows were quiet. Close enough to high-five or in your case high-four, I reach out. I pull back, wanting our journey to last, and anyway, you’ve flown up, perched yourself on a nearby cedar branch. A wise woman I know, a shaman, once told me that human language began when people started duplicating the sounds of birds. “Birds spoke first, and before people were people, they were birds. At the core of our coexistence,” she said, “birds and people speak the same language.” Long ago my mother—in trying to explain how she and crows were able to understand each other—told me the same thing, but added that our language came from many animals, not just birds, as we do, and that after we die we will revert back to our animal form. That’s why we are attracted to certain animals. Today, Crow came to me. We walked and she spoke to me in an ancient language that I had once spoken, had later lost, and am now beginning to remember. Then, she flew away with my fear. You utter a gravelly, satisfied sound, fly across the road to a house gable. I can’t do that, though something has been given. Something has been lifted. I wave my arm like a wing, watch you watching me until I turn my face, and walk away so you won’t catch the tear glinting in my blue eye.
Early Winter In The Methow Valley Chickadees’s down jacket packs a thousand feathers after summer sloughing, then grows back hundreds more for what’s to come. Chickadee flitting in the rose hip thicket has his ways to stay the winter as he will, and as I won’t. He can shiver, fluff-plump and ratchet down his body thermostat toward torpor, nuzzling in a nest inside the cavity of the tall black locust by the river. Still not enough against the deepest cold, cold that gels propane and splits bark, fracking the starry night silence. Come November, signaled by its waning, Chickadee grows a bigger bird brain less likely to misplace a thousand hidey holes for seeds, hedged bets against the scurrilous squirrels and scavenging crows — all this buying time toward spring, the chance to shed and fly light-headed.
Wild Rosehip in Snow
Mary Eliza Crane
Siberia Reflected This remote land on the opposite side of ours is like us. Birch and larch and two-needle pine, nothing we wouldn’t recognize. Storms are cold and wet with thunder and lightning, and mornings when puddles span the road, fresh snow appears on distant peaks. The sky gleams a sapphire blue, and breath drawn in is cold, clear and stunning. Mushrooms thrust their way through rain-soaked soil, succulent caps of russet, gold, ivory and brown, as woodpeckers resound across the southern taiga. A foreign word. One look in the mirror is all that is needed to read their illegible letters. A mellifluous vowel to our growling consonant. Their tongues are open and voluble, warm and engaging, harsh and pushy, like us.
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Alice Derry Two Poems
The Genesis of Life Lay Deep and Anticipant Under the Sky, 1944 â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Morris Graves i After I held you, dead, in the chilly April dark, after the sheriff and ambulance, I went inside and locked the door. I turned on all the lights. I climbed the stairs to our bed and lay on it because hours would have to pass before gray could come to the windows. I lay in the dry electric glare, magnifying black outside. I went over and over the details, but nothing emerged. ii Graves was jailed for nearly a year, refusing to serve in World War II. When they couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t keep him longer, he fled to his cabin on Fidalgo Island. It held the genesis of sky, he wrote. He painted furiously from his humiliation, nights too, black waves, sparklered, as water reaches to the leading moon. He was painting to get his life back: the sound carried clearly, intensely, he wrote. Living alone in the forest, kerosene light, you spent a lot of time outside, just listening.
iii The genesis of life lies deep, its end the same. Grief handed out like tides, indefinable except for change. Nothing to see, I listen. You died when light was coming on, your last reaching-out to help me. The May dusks which followed already diffused with exuberant dawns. I could wake early, so early, and not be afraid. Doves and Eagles of the Inner Eye. In the Moonlight. Graves heard dark and light, coming and going, making each other possible, especially as waves fold through. Every morning is expectant and for those unafraid, every night.
At the Bird Refuge Carrying the secure anchor of grief—Hilma Wolitzer “I know your mind and heart,” a friend says, but he doesn’t. This small February sun knows it, dissolving the fog bank. Onto the globes of rosehips, some blasted past fall prime, it pastes the light, this little sun I want to lie down and roll in. The more I say, Yes, it’s been a terrible time What a great guy he was Thank you for thinking of us, the more he talks over me because he wants to have said the special, truly comforting thing.
Diane DeSloover Rosethorn and towhee, sparrow and field grass. This prescient blue affirms the end of snow, not enough to swell our rivers in July. Grieving too might leave me. Then it will just be emptiness. I’m jealous that he bicycles on with his still-blond wife, not that young, but athletic. I was braving my walk, I was taking heart in the habit of rosehips and lichen, their heedless loyalty.
There Was Once a Glacier Massive slab of rock scarred by ice wears moss in shadowed clefts, splotches of lichen, like white paint. Today it's Nora's playground. She prances up steep slope, slides squealing to the bottom. We head to the glacier lookout. Nature nymph runs ahead, a feather on the breeze.
My heart has no way to be known, doesn’t want to be coaxed there. Once roused, it might blast the skies with its wailing, Don’t try now, friend. Carry on, willow and Saskatoon, shorn of your leaves.
At the end of the trail I study shrunken blue ice, bony shoulders exposed. Nora sends a rock flying into the silty lake. Glorious splash, soon to be forgotten.
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Star Blizzard Raven, Bear, Salmon and Wolf, Owl and Orca, they stand eerie and weird, spiritual silhouettes awaiting woodcraft’s solidity to spring to sight and be again emblematic of life’s designs, of human myth-making, imagination’s might.
in the forest at night my world, the circumference of a flashlight beam footsteps startle ducks to a hissing snakelike quack
Wood’s rawness is ready. It’s with a prayer stories begin, that first spoken stroke gouging time, that first sawdust curl coming out, space now occupied by thought-chiseled forms, a tale being told by hew and cut and trace.
where deer sleep bracken fern lies flat
And when it’s done, let it stand in our silence, testament and tribute to the maker and the made, acknowledgment of tales both primal and rare, and let the carver rest, carver humbly loving, carver touching truth and beauty newly there.
the world widens in a grassy field— to a blizzard of stars mouth wide-open I fill with light circle home
Tsimshian Carver for Dale Horne From a willing tree, the wood, too, is willing, lying ready to receive chisel, gouge and skew worked to tell a story. Hands rub rough grain, fingers lingering to trace imagery airily along a cedar surface, a tale along an invisible plane. In the room’s corner shadows, or just beneath the ceiling, or hidden barely beneath the floor, they wait, called into being here, once more needed as they once were in forest and sky, in ocean and mountain, to act and testify.
Willamette August, San Salvador Park You sneaky old bitch. San Salvador park was quiet A suggestion of wood smoke Broken glass hidden in parking lot dust And the river Oh the river Smooth Calm Content Bordered by Oregon maples and cottonwood And occasional riot of blackberry vines It is so easy here The cool on a hot day
Look at the treesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; under-leaf shimmering Look at blue of the sky enhanced by occasional white Look at the heron croak and will itself into the arms of a nearby snag Look at the irrigation pipe laying on the cliff face like an exclamation point Look look look And forget about the water That in its turbulent grip, sweeps you past the unnamed gravel bars, temporary islands and everything you remembered you wanted.
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One Moment after Denise Levertov Two cities. Two days. Dead—thirty-one. Wounded—fifty-three. And across the country, we gathered in vigil. We pray without ceasing.
Underwater at Lost Lake
Now on this river trail, your tiny hand curls into mine. A single shaft of sunlight
Karen Jones Two Poems
showers you, a perfect circle. Woodpecker tap taps her work in the pines.
Raven Hop, strut, brash swagger. Shag neck, dagger bill. How he watches our eyes.
For one full moment—sun, tap-tap, this gathering of trees, our clasped hands.
Scavenger. Black on ice. In a warrior world, he knows where the corpses lie. Sidle up to this bird, touch his black luminosity, study his religion of tricks. What use is kindness? Cleverness survives. And knowledge of tidings. And ravenous hunger. Feed his greed. His prison of gluttony brings new life. He’ll find a way to give light back to sky, recreate the shadows.
Chris Laskowski Monet Afternoon, Alaska
Pacific Yew Furry man of the old forest, beards of lichen hang from your face. Ferns adorn your ancient elbows, your fuzzy fingers entwine. You haven’t changed your mossy clothes for a long, long time. Iron-muscled, lean, stooped but never tottering, you grow slow and strong. Blood red bark abides beneath your shaggy blankets. Strange one, comical conifer, ragged crown, twisted trunk, how long have you lived at the bottom of the forest, unnoticed among the great straight firs, leaning, listening, whispering the old stories?
Feeling for the Sky Children know to pick up even the feathers of common birds — crows, doves, nameless gray-brown flitting flocks — to marvel at these tiny, intricately-barbed tools. To brush them across their fingers, feeling for the sky. Even common birds can fly. Julie Lloyd
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Raspberries It is about the next year’s growth, I say. It is about encouraging the canes. I show you how to note the difference-these used-up stalks bending with decay to reach the earth below, and those grey stems whose best growth lies in wait. In this time between, not winter nor yet spring, when snow is gone but ground is frozen still and arteried with scamper paths of voles who built a world of runs and chambers on the sheltered earth, you work with me, lift ten bent years of canes and broken frames surrendered to their weight. Some posts are bowed beyond repair; after the thaw they can be pulled and stout ones pounded there. When I first dug this bed I could not know that it would be another to surrender as I walked away. Your father did not care for berries, but you remember gardens, footfalls among the canes, and summer. Today we work as one and something is reborn. Reclaiming now that effort by this effort, I bend and lift the detritus of years beside the man you have become. I explain the cycle: canes that do not break and crumble in your hands will bear new fruit. Young canes will sprout; those hold the next year’s harvest. When autumn comes, the older canes must go, must be removed and give way to the new. I tell you that the spent canes must be burnt to keep the fresh growth safe, destroying covert pests that thin the coming crop; that keeping this bed cleared so light flows in will make the young canes strong and better able to defend the berries. I show you where moose have trampled canes; some injuries are not foreseen nor can we guard against. Raspberries are resilient, you tell me, and say—they will survive. You ask if wood ash would be good for roots. I tell you when forests burn the berries thrive. This will be on you, I say, the pulling out of posts and putting strong ones in, tell you where to find them, how to stretch supports between and lay the greened canes on them, leaning free above the scampering voles and seductive process of decay. This is a good bed, I tell you. You agree. I say in summer mornings you will savor berries, and in the fadings of your evening find sweet fruit red upon the vines. I do not say that I will feed you still someday when I am gone but not with berries. This day is what you need and what I need to give. I do not say that this cane bed assails us today with pricks and scratches, burying needles underneath one’s skin, but the sweetness will be what you will remember and you will tell your children it is about the harvest yet to come.
Kelly Lenox Two Poems
Vagabond Duck A rubber duck heads out to sea Catches wind at the peak of a wave then tips, falls fast, doused with spray. Unbroken sun fades a blue eye. On the third day, the duck grabs a ride to shore. Summons a hand. A pocket. A ride home. A child none the wiser. But now and then, Sea Side This Side
Wisdom Said Wisdom said, Greet the mountains with the right shoes onâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; you might need to run.
with a net, pin it to a board, label its taxonomy.
The oceans fill with plastic, with lost ice, lost awe.
The shoes fit well. I am cooled under deep sky.
* In the introspection palace I am warm, tempted to approach mystery
a strange taste, as of salt.
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Sherri Levine Two Poems
Gold Star I sprint down my street as if I just discovered light after being lost in a cave for weeks. I tell my mother that a man wearing a black leather jacket rolled down his car window and told me to climb in. I tell this to the policeman taking notes from our blue plastic-covered couch. “Do you remember what his car looked like or the number on his license plate?” I bite my lip until it bleeds. I grip my knees and count all six points on the gold star pinned to his shirt pocket. He scribbles something I cannot see in his little book, stuffs it into his back pocket, gets up to leave. Outside, I hear kids still playing wiffleball in the street.
Rare Bird in the Garden
When I Wouldn’t Eat My Disgusting Liver When I wouldn’t eat my disgusting liver my mother said I should be grateful, Children are starving in Africa, she’d say, dumping more ketchup on my plate. When I was sick and wanted broth my mother told me it could be worse; I might be dying of diphtheria. You should be grateful you have your health. . When my husband left, she said she never really liked him, that he was way too young for me. I watched her pull back her wrinkles, sighing into the rearview mirror. Look, you should be grateful that you are still young and pretty. I remember when you were a little girl you used to dance in front of the stove; you looked so happy— When I started losing my looks she said, be grateful at least you have your legs. Recently, I lost my job, A slap in the face, she said. Well, at least you have your teeth, she said pointing to her implants—These cost a fortune. First published in Clackamas Literary Review, Volume XXIV, 2020
A Travel Sonnet For my friend, Arnello, & written for a Cirque travel writing workshop with Tom Sexton How heavy do I journey on the way, When what I seek, my weary travel's end, Doth teach that ease and that repose to say 'Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend!' —William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 50” (1609)
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm Out of the whinnying green stable On to the fields of praise. —Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill” (1945) When I’m quiet, I hear him whispering, ‘Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend!’ Even many years after his passing, I hear his voice speak from around a bend, around the whinnying green stable near fields of praise for Shakespeare or Thomas – my grief outgrows poetry and labels – I love my friend & it’s my friend I’ll miss. It’s like a spurring poke from a boot heel to think of his ashes on Mount Tremper, to realize my friend will no longer feel the Mid-Hudson Valley breeze in summer, no longer hear mourning doves in the trees, no longer look down on my muddy feet.
Widower The body takes us where it will. Each step is a journey, and we but try to enjoy each one no matter how many-to the mailbox standing alone on the street or up the canyon alone for ptarmigan feeding on dwarf birch buds in snow. I enjoyed my body as a younger thing, the versatile Morgan it was for saddle, cart, or plow. I used it hard--the back, the neck, the knee that is sprung, the cramped hands from seining the generous ocean, and the crunching muscles I used for love. Now cold and removed as the moon, I think of my body and her systems as the planet farthest from your star. Whirling in balance, centrifugal, scientific and magical, pulled out, pulled in, no matter how long the year.
Sunset in the smoky summer, June 27, 2019
Teri White Carns
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Ron McFarland Two Poems
Poetry Fire Destroys Home Hard to believe Terri Perez only got “therapeutic community service” for burning down her boyfriend’s house. Prosecutor said she was in a crazy jealous rage when she set fire to the poems she’d written for him last spring when she believed in love and knew for sure she was pregnant. Poetry, she’d read somewhere, “ends in wisdom.” She could’ve gotten one to ten, but the judge went easy on her. No record and all. She’s a pretty little thing, claims that boy would’ve married her baby and all, but he never did care for poetry.
The Raccoon There’s something momentous about coming upon the carcass of any animal, but it must be sudden. Sudden. Last winter when I investigated flooding under the deck in back, a large, frozen raccoon startled me, trapped and afloat under the faucet from which water continued to pour. This stiff, un-clever omnivore surprised, but failed to frighten me with its bared teeth. The deep freeze had deprived it of threat or stink, reduced it to an easy solution. Roadkill cannot qualify—squirrels, tawny deer stiff at the road’s edge, pet cats or dogs flat and sad, do not startle us out of ourselves. Anonymous insects cast on windshields, rank fish festering by the stream, even the cedar waxwing, dead, inebriated on fermented ash berries and beautiful, cannot quite shake us. But death suddenly happened upon breaks us from complacency. Or disgusts us, as when I hefted that sodden raccoon and left it in the garbage can for someone else to think about. Yet now, that hard winter past, that icy mammal occupies my memory, not unlike the handsome cock pheasant I dropped twenty-odd years ago and proudly stuffed into my game pouch, feeling myself quite invulnerable whether I was, or am, or not.
Tracking a Shadow This is how Mon-Chat tracks his shadow, testing with an apprehensive pat the space between each shade-of-cat, the secrets of attention, rapt, the moves to make through this-or-that Mon Chat
until the industry of ants distracts him.
Magic Hold your future loosely between palms as each moment you decide the next. There are no secret words and no secret emotions that slip from the mystery. You never know what might happen each day— sure proof of real magic. What you consider your self doesn’t know what it’s about to do moment to moment. The you, you think you are isn’t driving the husk you pretend to be, it is the blind brother.
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Wash your hands after, and before, you go. With this virus, rinse away the desire to touch everything hugged, grabbed, stroked by roving hand. Wipe off dirt, germs, those deeds long in need of a serious clean. It’s not as if we were paintings being restored, say, every century or so — sucked-up dust, lifted grime, colors vivid, brought back to life — nor glaciers on the rise, climate change un-bona fide, years, decades, scores ago. Think of it — stranded on roofs, no fever, not coughing, risen sea all around,
the unwashed, certain they’ll stay pure, never be stricken, never sink down.
Suggestion Box jenny is hot Your burgers are I don’t know Just make better burgers The Mens is stinking bad and someone shattered the mirror. BRAD THE SUPERVISOR IS CREEPY FUCK THAT CHILLY SMILE My milkshake tasted like soap. I waited in line for 23 minutes I’m Disappointed Fire Erik. Jodie Filan
Connie Wasem Scott
The Light Went Out Before It Was Lit She wanted to give her new friend something she already owned, but it seemed only the light inside the lamp was hers. She watched how it seeped under door jambs and through vents and felt plentiful. Light travels like that, tunneling its way toward the dark. When he appeared at her doorstep, squinting at the porch light, it was his initial silence that first reached her. His words arrived next, feeble like the tongue of a distant torch. After he showed up, she lit a new candle on her porch. She wanted to watch the flame a while, so she told him, This candle won’t insist that you speak. He didn’t get the chance to see how a warm light can rise from her skin. The month he died, a month after he arrived, she planted a poplar in her backyard and fed it water Glacier Moon and light. It will grow into a knobby pole and will be here when he’s not. It won’t shade much of her yard.
SpaceX’s Dragon Prepares to Launch After supper, I pour a shot of Irish whiskey and wait by the window for the moon to rise over the still snow-covered Chugach mountains. When it does, I raise my glass and say: Elon Musk and his investors have their eye on you old friend. Your titanium ore perfumes their every dream; then, with a slight catch in my throat, I recite Basho’s haiku about moonlight on a cotton field.
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The buzz around me (Havana 1952 - 1959) Many believe the hummingbird is a symbol of rebirth. That dazzling bee bird, tiniest in the world. Child in Cuba, I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t remember seeing one. If they died in battle they would be reincarnated Was I too busy hunting hermit crabs, grabbing lizards, running from fighting cocks? as one of the tiny birds. Rising out of the killing in the mountains, swamps, jungles, the streets of Havana, Taino warriors were called Calibri or Hummingbird Warriors. buzzing with transformation, they must have been flying all around me.
Cerinthe major (Honeywort)
My Word Jail I own and operate a word jail For all the words I despise The words can ask for parole But it will never be granted You are locked up forever, you dumb words I’m talking about you, “nosh” And you, “ascertain” Hope you like your 8 by 10 cells Settle down “lugubrious,” I’m tired of your pompous self Just as you are weary of living With your cellmate “foodie” Hey, “irregardless!” Who let you out? Get back behind bars This isn’t Club Med And take “interface” with you
Sorry, “nuptials,” That you didn’t get lunch yesterday I was busy booking “swag” They brought him in at noon
It’s not easy being a word warden It’s a thankless volunteer job Soft-hearted critics say, “Let the words loose!” I just reply, “Somebody has to be the sheriff.”
Consider the Blue Jay I have heard the pillow talk of eagles, returned from fishing to nest trees above wild rivers. Seen them share the tender care of young. Surely, we demand more toughness from our national bird. In the nation’s early days Ben Franklin favored turkeys. Once, in Texas, I saw a whole flock try to top a fence beyond their gravity. Each one followed the leader as they wacked their loyal heads upon the topmost board. So consider the blue jay as our new national bird. More raucous than crow relatives, less tuned to ritual and cooperation. He does not share his territory or give quarter to a smaller bird. Behold him as loud spokesman of his right to this land, resplendent and true blue.
V o l . 11 N o . 1 Rebecca Smolen
Emerge Gibbous moon swims in blue sky. She points me to the plum blossoms that begin to pop, open late or just later than last year. Though I doubt they care and truthfully, I did not want to emerge in February either. Seasonal Affective Disorder struck swift and undetected until too late this year, like when people don’t see the shooter or hear the gun— only a sudden warm or burning sensation.
Or when a collision is not foreseen. My body did not tense in anticipation, did not brace for it, but the doctors say it was what saved me: shoulder slammed into the door, my head through the window, neck loose so nothing snapped. No smell of any brakes or burnt rubber. Only the sound of twisting metal as they pried open the car to get me out. I still wonder if that guy saw me inside as he drove into my side mirror. Did he realize I lost consciousness as my body unhinged into the middle held back by seatbelt, then woke thinking my discomfort was my morning alarm, as if my day had not yet begun?
Whiteout here I go into wilderness again this time with you not exactly by my side but lingering perhaps in the two-seater that almost clears that mountain or behind the next ice dune magnificent, foreign I crave your touch sun losing its warming powers
Fascinating the superpowers of the mind; an over-protective parent or liar. I still keep my eyes on the moon gibbous or otherwise because she is magnetized to us and our waves to her and there is no such thing as a perfect circle. When will the moon’s timing be off? When would the plum blossoms bloom too late?
Mary Lou Spartz
Going, Going, Gone Once the nurse hangs up the new morphine drip I’ll laugh over broom closets and bingo cards. You’d laugh if you could as I go on and on about French drains and old fashions. Sure you’d laugh. You’re like that. Even now as death
tippy-toes around the room. You are still you.
Seasons Sunshine falls on my book and a hand belonging to a much older person. Liver spots pepper wrinkled flesh stretched over blue veins and ropy tendons. As I end my afternoon walk darkness shrouds the ridges. At this time last month, sunlight gleamed, pinks and purples filled the western sky. Seconds, hours, years creep by, then, surprise, here I am surrounded by loved ones and a grave looking doctor.
This is Senecio
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Waterfront Just like the moon that meets the evening sunset Or how the heat becomes the breeze. â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Sara Gazarek Spring melt and mud have resolved to a snake of silver water, the swimmers balance volleyballs and little brothers. Distant ships unload cars, take on coal, shelled corn. Hoists like teams of scarlet ibis perambulate over high tide. Cars flick by below the causeway, ignored by hooded teens whoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll climb mint green girders to scrawl Chinese. Scrawl signatures and epithets. Sunset tints the bluff, urban glass echoes. Legions of blind revelers flame the amphitheater. Behave dear kleptomania, my old fleece.
Seen From The Train: Williston, North Dakota Brown clouds rise behind a pick-up's wheels, a green-gold tractor crawls across ribbed fields, horses clip new grass, dark cows dot the hills, warm breezes lift the northern morning's chill. A semi crests a rise and then is gone, returning ducks score patterns in long ponds, pale willows mark the creek bends, bowing low over shadowed mounds of late-spring snow. In this vast space a scattering of graves, tilted headstones in a lonely place, a faded yellow ribbon girds a nearby tree and I'm blinded by a storm of memories.
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P L AYS Mercury-Marvin Sunderland
Orpheus and Eurydice and the Pica Disorder INTERIOR THERAPIST'S OFFICE. AFTERNOON. ORPHEUS and THERAPIST sitting in the office. It is a sparsely-decorated place. Orpheus is protectively holding an URN. He is robed. The therapist is wearing modern clothes, and has a clipboard. Therapist is middle-aged, dressed formally. Proper, sits themself very neatly in their chair. THERAPIST So how do you start your day? Orpheus gets up. The surroundings change. We now see Orpheus with the urn. He's just woken up, in his bed. ORPHEUS (V.O.) Well, I wake up to Eurydice next to me. THERAPIST (V.O.) You sleep with the urn? ORPHEUS Yes. The urn fades into EURYDICE. She is a beautiful robed woman. Shots show him kissing her, and going to the kitchen. He is laughing, joking with his wife, as he makes breakfast. ORPHEUS (cont'd) And every morning, I tell her, "Good morning, Eurydice." And I kiss her. And then I make breakfast for both of us. I always make her favorite. Pomegranates and ambrosia. THERAPIST And is this usually when you first start eating the ashes? ORPHEUS Well, I usually start when I wake up in the morning. But, yes, I do eat some of the ashes when I am eating with her. THERAPIST And what do you do when you go to restaurants?
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Sonoran Wedding Dance
Shots show Orpheus walking with Eurydice into a restaurant. They take a seat at a table. ORPHEUS Well, I take her with me, of course. Like I said, I take her everywhere. When we go to restaurants, I place her right across from me or right next to me. I ask her first, and let her choose. I like to play my lyre to her. There isn't a waking moment I spend without her. THERAPIST Do you know the way your wife died?
Shots show Eurydice in the field, running and celebrating. Shot of her stepping on a viper, and instantly dying from the bite. ORPHEUS She ran into the field when we were celebrating right after our wedding. And then she stepped on a viper and died from the bite.
Shots show Orpheus' despair. Him walking into the Underworld. Him in the Underworld begging to Hades. Hades sobbing.
ORPHEUS (cont'd) I knew I had to get her back. So I went down to the Underworld. I went to Hades and Persephone -- king and queen of the dead -- and I told them my story. I played the saddest tune I could on my lyre. I left them in tears.
Hades and Persephone sobbing. Orders from Hades. Orpheus walking out of the Underworld with Eurydice.
ORPHEUS (cont'd) Hades told me that I could have Eurydice back. But I'd have to walk the whole way back to the living world with Eurydice right behind me. He said that if I looked back, she'd be gone forever. Walking. The joy and excitement of Orpheus. ORPHEUS (cont'd) But right when we were about to get back, I ... Orpheus looking back. Eurydice disappearing. ORPHEUS (cont'd) I thought about how much I loved my wife. And I looked back. And she was gone forever.
THERAPIST Do you play the lyre for anyone else?
The trees bend to listen to Orpheus' music. ORPHEUS No. I used to play the lyre for everyone. But not anymore. I was so good that the trees would bend to listen.
Illusion halts. Eurydice turns back into the urn. Orpheus' FAMILY looms over him.
THERAPIST How does your family feel about -- this? Shots show a robed man on a mountain. He's playing a lyre. ORPHEUS Well, I don't really talk much to my family anymore. My dad's Apollo. God of music. A guy that busy doesn't really have much time to spend with his son.
V o l . 11 N o . 1 Shots show a robed woman in a forest. She appears to be reciting. ORPHEUS (cont'd) My mum's Calliope. She's the muse of epic poetry. So, I mean, she's also too busy.
Faded shot of a large group of people in robes. Very fuzzy, shows that Orpheus is having a hard time recollecting this. ORPHEUS (cont'd) Most of my family is just too busy to get to know me. And I don't know. When they do, they say I'm weird or that I need help. But I don't. THERAPIST What happens if you don't eat the ashes? Shot goes to whiteness. It's blank. Nothing. ORPHEUS She disappears. THERAPIST How?
Orpheus is shown, on a blank background, holding the urn. ORPHEUS Well, if I don't eat them, I just see an urn. THERAPIST Is your dad still Apollo when she disappears? The world around him disintegrates.
CIRQUE ORPHEUS I don't know. THERAPIST Is your wife still dead from a snake bite when you don't eat the ashes?
Full shot of the therapist's office. Orpheus' face. THERAPIST (cont'd) How much of those ashes have you eaten? ORPHEUS I think a pound. THERAPIST How much did she weigh when you first got her from the crematorium? ORPHEUS Five pounds.
THERAPIST Why have you been eating these? ORPHEUS I -THERAPIST How did you start? ORPHEUS I mean -- I mean -- she's there if I eat them -- I never intended to start -- I just -- I just -- one day her ashes got on my hands. And I didn't want to brush her away. And then I thought about how we could become one. I miss her. I miss her so --
THERAPIST You've already lost your wife. Possibly even twice. Do you really want to lose her again? Silence. Shot of Eurydice, disappearing. Orpheus holding his head in his hands in the therapist's office.
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Orpheus sits there, thinking about what Therapist has said. He avoids looking at them, looking at everywhere else but them. There's a silence as he tries to make sense of this world. Finally, he looks up. ORPHEUS Can you help me? THERAPIST Of course I can, Orpheus. FADE OUT. END.
Shadow Play In the middle of the hotel driveway his grizzled head bent over the silver grocery cart, he reorganizes. Perhaps something fell in. Who knows? Who was watching when it first happened? Things could easily get lost among the mounds of red, grey, and blue quilted blankets that top the cartoon-book pile of the found and collected. Red, square eyeglasses take up too much space on his chocolate brown face, but I like the combination, kind of like Elton John. Minnie Mouse waves gaily from his bright yellow cape. Act 1 His mouth moves As he sports a few dance steps holding a chartreuse boombox on his shoulder a silent picture show framed in my 3rd floor, hermetically sealed window. I canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t hear his music.
In Granny's Piano
Act 2 In one magicianâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s step he bends out of sight escaping his shadow. The shadow a great hunched wolf hounds the dark of the sun slow, deliberate, intentional. Transfixed my fear fights with curiosity I am captive. Act 3 Reappearing as if on cue, reunited with his shadow he turns, looks up, grins and waves a little raggedy monkey toward my window. Startled, I half giggle. Repacked, he pivots, transporting his cart of treasures off stage, out of sight beyond the bushes.
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FEATURES PROFILE Dan Branch
‘49 Writers’ Alaskan Writers Series: Clifton Bates
Writing has been an important part of Clif Bates’ life since before he moved to Alaska in 1977. He arrived that year in Bethel with his wife, Pia, and a contract to teach English in the local schools. They stayed even though it meant living their first year in a converted army horse trailer with no running water, a honey bucket bathroom and little natural light. The author sketch of Bates in his book, Like Painted Kites & Collected Works, shows a young bearded man in the trailer, leaning back from his portable typewriter, maybe having just put down a mug of coffee.
The Covid 19 pandemic continues to diminish opportunities for Alaska writers to get the word out about their work. The Alaskan Writers Series is an effort to help. Today, board member Dan Branch shares a profile of Clifton Bates, author of Like Painted Kites & Collected Works, published last year by Cirque Press. Like painted kites, those days and nights they went flyin’ by The world was new beneath a blue umbrella sky (From the song, “Summer Wind,” by Johnny Mercer, Henry Meyer, Hans Bradtke, and Heinz Meier)
Drawing of Author, 1977, Bethel, Alaska by Thomas R. Pickering
By way of a disclosure, I had coffee with Bates in that converted horse trailer when we both lived in Bethel. We have kept track of each other in the forty-odd years since. But I wouldn’t write this profile, centered around Like Painted Kites, if his book wasn’t well written. The book, published last year by Cirque Press, is a collection of short stories, poems, essays, and short plays. The essays first appeared in Conflicting Landscapes: American Schooling/ Alaska Natives, which Bates coauthored with the Very Reverend Doctor Michael Oleksa.
This Bethel house was not available when Bates and his wife moved into a converted horse trailer in 1977. Photo by Dan Branch.
The first set of short stories are set in or near Hong Kong and in Thailand. Bates crafted the stories with believable descriptions. During a recent conversation, he told me that he had written the stories after he spent four months in Hong Kong, visiting his brother. The fact that he could capture such details about the place in such a short time establishes that he is a careful observer. His late wife, Pia, was from northeast Thailand, and they spent a good amount of time there with her family.
V o l . 11 N o . 1 The protagonist of the Asian stories grows in confidence and knowledge of people and place from the first story, “To the Here and How,” to “Into the Night After Night,” the last one in the set.
123 Bates told me that he generates writing ideas when cross country skiing or walking in the woods. Any insights are recorded in a moleskin notebook that he keeps in his
“Bulldog Dour Confesses” is my favorite of the Hong Kong stories. It describes evenings spent listening to live music in Hong Kong’s Red Lips Godown. This quote from Ernest Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream provides an epigraph for the story: “At this time I was in Hong Kong, which is a very wonderful city where I was very happy and had a crazy life.” The story’s protagonist, a young writer and jazz lover, might be a rendering of Hemingway’s in Hong Kong. In the opening of “Bulldog Dour” a Satchmo-like piano player named Mr. Nightly accuses Bates’ Hemingway of being a scrutinizer. Before returning to his piano, Nightly
Line Drawing by Bates included in Like Painted Kites Painting by Thomas R. Pickering, included in Like Painted Kites
explains, “You’ve been taking notes since you first came here. Let me know if you ever do anything with those notes. Here’s some of my notes.” Nightly honors other bar patrons’ requests for Irish ballads, Mose Allison, Gene Autry, Brazilian sambas, and classical sonatas. But he refuses the protagonist’s request for a song by Phoebe Snow because “She’s too sweet for me.” “Bulldog Dour” contains some detailed and vibrant descriptions of jazz solos performed by the Red Lips house band. The reader can imagine Hemingway, or the young Bates scribbling down a quick description at the end of each solo.
pocket. It takes him a long time to turn the insights into a finished story. He works to make sure that the story is truthful without taking the life out of the piece. Bates produces many drafts before he is satisfied, stopping only when he feels in his gut that it is done. At the end of the year he lights a bonfire and burns all his pre-final drafts. The idea for one of the short stories in Like Painted Kites came to him in a flash when he was waiting to board a flight to Fairbanks. He scribbled out notes for the story on napkins. During the meeting he attended, he spent the time writing out the story as inconspicuously as he could. A collection of short stories set in villages along the
Kuskokwim River dominates the second section of Like Painted Kites. These stories deal respectfully and honestly with the resident Yup’ik people. Bates had spent much time living and teaching along the Kuskokwim River. In
Chevak Elders. Photo by Dan Branch.
she shared with him spotless. Now the house and Kimboy are a mess. Using a well-worn bird wing that the grandmother had used to sweep out the house as a metaphor for the Yup’ik culture, Bates writes that it now hangs behind the door, forgotten. “One year [in high school, Kim-boy] won the state wrestling championship in his weight class. But now, in his mid-twenties, Kim-boy was no longer the little lion. He was an alley cat, quite undignified, and he had lost all the respect of his relatives and the people in the area. They were bewildered with the drastic changes in Kim-boy, and stayed away from him.” Kim-boy’s relatives welcomed him back after he gave up drinking. They told him how surprised they were when he “went off” on alcohol and were happy and thankful “that he had come back.”
addition to Bethel, he was the assistant superintendent for the Kuspuk School District based in the Yup’ik village of Aniak. In 2001, he retired from the Aniak position. Thirty days later he began an 11-year career as an educator for the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The position involved a lot of travel to the Kuskokwim, helping Bates deepen his appreciation of Kuskokwim people. The first Kuskokwim story, “Kim Boy, The Little Lion” is loosely based on Aesop’s “Androcles and the Lion.” Kim Boy’s high school wrestling coach nicknamed him “Little Lion” for the determined way he competed. Androcles is Mr. Andy, the junior high school teacher who taught Kim Boy to read and to take pride in himself. The arena where the lion spared Androcles is a village roadhouse where Kim Boy’s former teacher stumbles onto a drunken party. During our recent conversation, Bates told me that he considers himself fortunate to have been given the opportunity to experience the Yup’ik culture by living in the region and visiting people in the villages. He tried to be as accurate as possible in describing it in his stories without criticism or negativity. In “Little Lion” and the other Kim-boy stories, Bates doesn’t avoid the uncomfortable topic of alcohol fueled violence. He correctly portrays it as an aberration that prevents people from living in the Yup’ik way. Kim-boy is a drunk in his mid-twenties at the start “Little Lion.” Before she died, his grandmother kept the house
Drying Salmon in Bethel. Photo by Dan Branch.
The reader might wonder whether the story, “A Dayspring” was inspired by a tale Bates heard over tea in a village kitchen. How else could someone born outside of the Yup’ik subsistence culture describe in the story a courtship that involves ice fishing and the offering of jerked ptarmigan meat. Kim-boy met his future wife, Sophie, while on his way to check the net he had set under the river ice. She was ice fishing for pike. Sophie agreed to join him the next day when he again had to check his net. “When they got to his net, she didn’t just stand there and watch. She started right in helping him. They worked, and it went smoothly, and they often laughed together… Sophie surprised him again when walking back to the village. She took out of her other pocket a small sack of ptarmigan jerky she shared with Kim-boy. It was delicious, too, and he was very happy.”
V o l . 11 N o . 1 In the short story, “Living and Dying Naturally” Kim-boy tells his boyhood friend that his grandfather believed that kass’aqs, white people, are always asking questions because they fear silence. “What other reason could there be? They don’t seem to be interested in listening to the answers much. Sometimes they should maybe just watch, look and not talk and talk…It is best that you say you don’t know to any question they ask, unless it is someone you know who really wants to know the answer.” Bates continues to write. He is currently putting the final touches on a novel called Sky Changes: Kim-boy on the Kuskokwim. In the meantime, readers may obtain a copy of Like Painted Kites & Collected Works from Amazon.
stories, drawings, a play, and poetry, had been included in various issues of Cirque, so I replied to their interest in publishing books by individuals who had contributed to their journal. I submitted my proposal, it was reviewed, and after various communications, they agreed that Like Painted Kites & Collected Works was a book they were interested in publishing. Sapling: What was your experience with the editing of the manuscript? Did you have an opportunity to make revisions either at your own suggestion or at the suggestion of your editor? How involved were you in the design aspects of the book's production (cover image, design, etc.)?
The profile first appeared on the 49 Writer’s blog on July 10, 2020 and is being reprinted here by permission of 49 Writers and Dan Branch.
INTERVIEW Yvonne Garrett
An Interview with Clifton Bates (from the pages of Sapling, a Weekly Blog of Black Lawrence Press) Sapling’s Five Questions for Emerging Writers: Sapling: Tell us about the process of getting your book published. Did you enter contests? Open reading periods? What transpired between sending the manuscript out initially and its acceptance by your publisher? Clifton Bates: Cirque is a high-quality literary journal based in Alaska. Its contributors are from the Pacific Rim (Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Idaho, NW Canada). It was started in 2009 by Michael Burwell. Twenty superb issues have been published since that time. A few years ago, Sandra Kleven and Mike Burwell decided to start Cirque Press and, as independent publishers, they have now published over thirteen books. When the Press began, it was interested in supporting the authors who had appeared in their journal. Some of my short
Clifton Bates by Teri Carns
CB: Once Cirque Press expressed interest in publishing Like Painted Kites, I began communications with Mike Burwell, the editor. We developed an excellent dialogue, and we would carefully go over each piece, sometimes again and again. Now he lives in Taos, New Mexico, and I live in Chugiak, Alaska. We communicated via email and, occasionally, would hold a telephone conference to go over issues that were difficult to convey by email. He is quite adept at grammar, usage and mechanics, but he was also extremely in tune with what I was trying to accomplish, and he offered on-target suggestions. I was very fortunate to have his counsel. I had every opportunity to make revisions in collaboration with my editor. It was a very positive experience. As far as the design of the book, I was as involved with that as was the editor. There were some challenges in its
126 design because it wasn’t ‘simply’ a novel or a short story collection. The book consists of prose poetry, short stories, essays, poems, plays, black/white and color paintings, and drawings. Thus, there were many issues such as spacing, placement, alignment and color/ tone that made things a bit more difficult and time consuming. I always wished I could have been in the room with the designer and simply pointed out, “No, that line needs to be indented, this stanza needs to be placed lower, the color is off here a bit, etc.” But that was not possible. I was allowed to approve/disapprove the choices the designer made. It just required many drafts and changes. The editor was much more patient than I was. But that is what was required: patience. I am quite pleased with the end result. Sapling: Did you publish any excerpts in literary journals or other periodicals before the publication of your book? If so, did this seem like a necessary part of the process for this particular project? CB: All the pieces within Like Painted Kites were published previously over many years in various literary magazines/ journals in Alaska/US, England, France, Germany, and Malaysia. One play had been put on stage in Yorkshire, England, another in Denver, Colorado. For this particular project, because I had been a Cirque contributor, it was not a necessary part of the process. It did help with the editing time, I believe, because most pieces had already gone through at least some degree of editing. Sapling: In what ways have you been involved in the publicity and promotion of your book thus far? In what ways is your publisher helping you with marketing your book? CB: This writing to Sapling is, actually, my first effort in doing any kind of promoting of this book. I am a bit of a recluse and self-promotion is not something I am comfortable with doing. I did participate in the launch of the book in Anchorage and uncomfortably read passages
CIRQUE to an audience. Cirque Press is very supportive of its authors. In the last two issues of their journal a full-page advertisement about my book was presented quite nicely. They can only do so much since both individuals involved have full time jobs. As the Press gets more established, I’m sure it will develop ways to better market the books they are publishing. But they do spend a great deal of time being unselfish advocates for their writers. Sapling: What are some things that surprised you about the process of getting your book published? Is there anything you wished you'd known beforehand about putting a book out into the world? CB: I didn’t realize there would be the design issues and problems that there were. But I came to understand that it is a process, a long process at times, draft after draft, and it requires a great deal of patience to go through that process. And I was a bit surprised that, at least in Alaska, book reviewers are simply not interested in even looking at books that are published by independent publishers. * Clifton Bates is originally from the Pacific Northwest. He has spent the last 43 years in Alaska involved with Alaska Native education as a teacher, school district administrator and university professor. With the Very Rev. Dr. Oleksa, he wrote Conflicting Landscapes, American Schooling/Alaska Natives, a one-of-a-kind resource. He recently completed a novel about a Yup’ik Eskimo’s life in western Alaska, and he is now ready to seek a publisher. He is retired and living in Chugiak, Alaska. Yvonne C. Garrett is Senior Fiction Editor at Black Lawrence Press where she also edits the weekly newsletter Sapling. Sapling is a curated weekly newsletter highlighting the best of the small press world geared for writers looking for new venues for their work.
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REVIEW Linda Ford
Opening Eyes—Paul Haeder’s Stories of the Vietnam Legacy in America A Review of Paul Haeder’s Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing From Vietnam Cirque Press, Anchorage, AK, 2020 I can’t pretend to be a literary critic, but as an historian and one who’s plenty old enough to know something about the effects of the Vietnam war—Paul Haeder’s stories about the lasting, inevitable impact of the Vietnam experience, in his new book Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam, are just riveting. The problem is, of course, that people did (and do) not want to open their eyes wide enough to see all the horrors and lasting pain and enduring legacies of that era and that experience. When I was a junior at SUNY Albany (1970), the editors of the college yearbook, “The Torch,” decided to insert a photo of a severed head of a Vietnamese child hanging from a pike between each senior’s photo. This was a time of in-yourface political protest and the editors’ statement caused a huge uproar and a lot of discomfort. I think that’s what Haeder’s stories are doing—opening eyes and creating discomfort by showing how the horror of that severed head appears in the apparent normalcy of people’s lives. So in many and varied stories, with their many and varied characters, he is involved in a disturbing but very valuable enterprise. Haeder’s time in Vietnam in the 90s, working on a biological survey, solidified a connection with a people who “had no stake in America’s way of life.” They were just being invaded by “another colonialist.” Just more victims of American Empire. Haeder sees their experience as a “linchpin” for other American “adventures” in places like Iraq. I also see it as the beginning of the inflating of the Big Lie as government policy that Philip Slater wrote about
127 in Pursuit of Loneliness, a book which had a tremendous influence on accelerating my continuing disillusion with America and its so-called superiority and greatness. And as Haeder says, this awful war came into everyone’s living room—with the media’s attempted sanitation of it—and with those of us who began to know it was a lie, creating huge rifts between, generations, friends, families—and huge rifts within the culture. Each of these stories is an opportunity to go into a deep pool—sometimes of pain, and sometimes of triumph. One of my favorites is “Conversation in a Second Story Studio Apartment.” As a bookseller myself, I sympathized with Jacob Weiss, the widower “Bookman,” in his efforts to keep bugs, etc. away from his books (mothballs are a bad idea, however). Weiss has unsuccessfully tried to instill anti-war sentiments in his Vietnam vet Air Force Lt. Colonel son, who “exterminated people thirty thousand feet down”; and he has not been entirely successful trying to start a relationship with Ramona Vinkovska, ballet instructor. These characters are not romantic leads—they are flawed people—and that makes them interesting. Jacob complains that there in Albuquerque, he can’t sell
128 Yiddish poetry—people want books on horses, and war. Ramona lost her husband and baby daughter when she lived in New York, a place where she had lost her chance at being a ballerina. But they both have their dreams, separately and together. They make do, do the best they can, and put off decisions. They deal with their tragedies and they survive, helping each other through painful remembrances.
CIRQUE author who was a “darling” on the talk show circuit. The convoluted, secret plot of an American attack to kill Major Wat (Di-Di) and her unit, ran into and attacked Scordato’s unit and his mission to save civilians. This incident was something everyone wanted to stay hidden—another perfect illustration of America’s Big Lies and its constant collateral damage that Haeder displays so well.
When Scordato and his friend Flip In “Sister of Glaciers,” protagonist talk about what happened that day, Tony’s sister was married to a Scordato reveals his still painful scars, war dissenter, and Tony is himself and when they talk about Trung, Flip about to go to war in Viet Nam. says good for her: “Fuck the war. And His sister died in a motorcycle bravo to her.” Sums it up nicely. Flip accident and his mother has “acid also talks about the “corporate world” eating her thoughts” about that being behind the wars, and how loss, and about Tony going off “CIA types” get away with this sort of to war. Tony’s thoughts revolve operation all over South America—but around the blame that “old men ”nobody cares now.” All so true. I like in Washington and corporate the way Haeder meshes his politics America” hold for the war. Guilt is with his fiction—it all fits—not always Paul Haeder key here: Tony’s is for going to war smoothly, but it fits. During the reunion and for not being able to heed his sister’s pleas against of Di-Di, Scordato and Flip, they acknowledge their truths: the war, but instead giving in to his father’s desire for Tony the former hate, the attempts to sanitize what happened to be a soldier. His father excommunicated his daughter to them. And they find common ground—again—in food for being with an AWOL soldier. Haeder says the war killed and the sharing of that truth. The vets who were there Tony’s dissenter sister, Her (AWOL) husband’s will to live, protesting Di-Di’s presence, accepted the food that Di-Di and “his mother’s spunk,” along with Tony’s spirit. Tony (who, like Scordato, also had a restaurant) and Scordato finally finds peace after spreading his sister’s ashes into had cooked together—but only some of them. When the ocean. Keeping some of Kathleen’s ashes with him in asked by an NPR reporter if he would have saved Trung’s a leather pouch, he says he wants to take her “whole” into life if he had known who she was and that she would war. This account is incredibly sad, but Haeder is able to continue her fight against the Americans, Scordato told also present people—again—who survive and still have the reporter he should not ask that question unless he hope. had been there that day. He asked him which side would he have been on? With those who shoot to kill with no Sacrifice and sadness and never-ending pain under the questions asked, or with those who questioned who surface are also the themes of “Scordato’s Famous Pasta should be killed? We know which side NPR would be on and Shrimp and Peanut Sauce” (which sounds really good now. to me). Martino Scordato is lauded for his food and also for his purple hearts, but Viet Cong were among the villagers All of the “mainstream” media hype war now—just as they he saved in 1968, so he is not entirely a hero to Vietnam hype the corporate/capitalist world agenda. Haeder’s vets. It’s particularly interesting to me as a women’s characters have a knowledge: they know too well what historian, that Haeder’s character “Di-Di,” Trung Giang such agendas bring. The “higher-ups” plan and scheme McEvoy—the Viet Cong leader that Scordato saved— and the people who have to carry out the schemes suffer was named for one of the sisters who were warriors and and pay and try to forget. My taste in fiction tends to run then martyrs for their people in 40 A.D. “Di-Di” fought to romance and happy endings, but sometimes you just the American invasion, but also eventually married have to read something real—something gritty, with one of those invaders and left Viet Nam, becoming an warts and all—Paul Haeder-style.
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Paul K. Haeder, author of Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing From Vietnam, captured this photo outside the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam.
INTERVIEW Emily Green
Collection of Short Fiction Relives Memories of Vietnam and its American War: Author Paul K. Haeder discusses his new book, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing From Vietnam Paul Haeder is a lifelong journalist who now resides in the small town of Waldport on Oregon’s central coast. His new book, his third, is a collection of 17 short stories. While fictional, the protagonists are based on people and composites of people he met when he worked in Vietnam 26 years ago, surveying wildlife, and in his capacity as a social worker serving veterans, many of the Vietnam War. He also writes a regular column for Street Roots called “Finding Fringe.” A reader may find Wide Open Eyes (https://cirquejournal.com/ book/wide-open-eyes-by-paul-kirk-haeder/) both beautiful
and jarring. Haeder’s descriptive precision invokes a vivid sense of place and time, with the book serving as a literary time capsule containing Haeder’s real life muses, all of whom have died. Emily Green: Can you tell me about the impact the Vietnam War has had on your life, by way of the impact it had on your father? Paul K. Haeder: There is positive and negative impact on my life. The positive was that my dad was in the Air Force before the war. I grew up the first five years of my life in the Azores Islands, but then we went to the U.K.
Then we got stationed in Paris, France. Then, when I was 14, we were living in Arizona. That’s when he went to the Vietnam War, and he was shot.
watching these invaders do these crazy, crazy things, and they’re just trying to get their land back. They’re farmers. So it was a love-hate relationship with my dad.
I wasn’t speaking to my dad before he was shot because I did not believe in the Vietnam War and a lot of the rhetoric that was behind it, but then he got shot, and so I realized the fragility of life. From the age 14 on, the war impacted me because he was a professional soldier, 32 years, two Purple Hearts; he wasn’t really a macho guy — he never talked about it.
It was sort of a hidden life I had with my military students because I had to keep my job, but I didn’t divorce myself as a human. I was known as sort of the liberal or the commie; they made fun that I was a socialist, and I wouldn’t hide that, but I gave them a couple ounces of respect and the allowance to learn, and not to agitate, because it’s easy to be against the war and to know more than the soldier who was there eight months.
I learned a lot from the Vietnam War through my sister’s friends who were soldiers who lost legs, and lost arms, and were burned in the war. I used to hang out with them — they were sort of bikers, motorcyclists, some of them were drug dealers and all that, the under-the-table economy, so that was my tutelage. Then, when I was trying to survive as a graduate student, I ended up taking teaching assignments in Fort Bliss (Texas), at the Sergeants Major Academy, of all places. It’s the academy for all the enlisted people in all branches of the military to get their last stripe, and so I was thrown into the military and Vietnam War again and again because many of my students — when they did their composition assignments — were talking about the effects of the Vietnam War on them. They were old enough to have been in it.
I studied the war, people who wrote books about Vietnam; some had never been to Vietnam, and those books are the most valuable records of the war in many stages. I went to Vietnam when I was 36 and sort of saying goodbye to my dad; he had died the year before. Now, it’s 2020, and I’m still around the Vietnam War because I’ve got these Veterans for Peace, people are dying who, when I was working at Central City Concern, were homeless veterans from the Vietnam War. It just doesn’t go away.
Then later, talking to my dad — he finally admitted there were a lot of bad things about the war — he gave me a lot of insight into the terrible stuff that he saw was happening in the war as a professional soldier; locking up weapons at night because the American soldiers had vendettas against each other. There were race wars; there were bazaar things going on in Vietnam. He respected the Vietnamese soldiers because on New Year’s, American soldiers got White Castle burgers, they got an Army-Navy football game, they got Blue Bunny Ice Cream, they got parties. And the Viet Cong and people fighting for the North Vietnamese Army, they got an extra bowl of rice. He told me they watched outside the wire all these crazy Americans getting drunk on Budweiser, shooting off fireworks, gorging themselves, and the Viet Cong, North Vietnamese Army, would get an extra bowl of rice on their New Year’s — it was not the same day as the American New Year — and it’s their country. They’re
Round woven boats near China Beach, Vietnam, fishing for crabs and squid. Photo by Paul K. Haeder
Green: You worked with veterans as a social worker, and I was wondering if you’ve noticed anything unique to veterans of the Vietnam War that you tried to impart in this book? Haeder: The whole idea is that they were the ones that were spat upon; they were the ones that weren’t respected. Thank you for your service — those were lies.
V o l . 11 N o . 1 There is a great documentary called “Sir! No sir!” and it’s about how members of the U.S. military were actually fighting in the military against the Vietnam War — activeduty Navy people refused to go on an aircraft carrier in San Diego. And, it’s about how a reporter studied all the news of major newspapers and never saw a true incident of girls, women, hippies spitting on people when they returned, but there is a mythology tied to that. You have to remember, there was at one time 530,000 Americans in Vietnam. Those people mostly didn’t see combat — they were rear guard, logistics, all this stuff that Radar did on MASH, but I still think that there are olderera Vietnam veterans, they still believe in the mythology that we were treated like crap, they spit on us, they called us baby killers — but it didn’t happen that often. They said the “televised war,” putting it on TV, would make people hate the war. It actually did the opposite. It gave people more support of the war because 1,000 hours of film was brought down to a 35-second or oneminute news clip with Dan Rather, and people felt that it was like the war movies. It was unreal; it wasn’t the true filmmaking, and like the news we have now where you have extended interviews of people coming to reckon with the fact that they hate this war, you didn’t have a lot of that on those CBS, ABC news reels. The Vietnam-era soldiers, most of them never saw combat, but they’re receiving benefits. They’re homeless, but so are others — about the same percentage. There is a big difference between a soldier that was drafted and joined up in an economic draft versus those like my dad. My dad was (in the military) 32 years, and so somebody who was eight months or 16 months in the Army, and they are now my client, their experience of the Army is a snapshot. I have more experience with the Army than that. It’s their own focus, their own lens, so they have a very unusual viewpoint of what it was to be a soldier and a returning soldier. And they still feel they did not get their just cause — and they’re right. If you look at the Agent Orange battle, they are still coming up with some new chronic illnesses that they are attributing to Agent Orange. It just got accepted two years ago that people who were stationed at Camp Lejeune (North Carolina) and their offspring are now getting VA benefits because of the pollutants they put into the water that went into the whole water system that people on the
post and outside the post used. I have a soldier who is 62, and I just helped him get his disability based on his Parkinson’s disease that was rushing like a tsunami the few months I worked with him, and it was attributed to the pollutants, water exposure. I heard every single chief of staff that went into war after Vietnam say, “This is not going to be another Vietnam.” Every war, I heard the rhetoric. And they are absolutely lying about it. Every war since has been the Vietnam War on steroids because of the civilian military industrial complex, the complete rip-off game, the bad equipment, the bad intel, the hubris, the racism and the patriarchy and xenophobia, it’s still there — every single war. We did not learn from the Vietnam War that created terms like ecocide, and now we’re finding out Agent Orange was not just a defoliant. Robert McNamara (former U.S. secretary of defense) and the head of Dow (Chemical Company) said that this is going to be the toxin that is the gift that keeps on giving; it will destroy their rice crops, it will destroy the soil for generations to come, so there is a mythology that it was just to take off canopy in the Vietnam jungle so you could see where the Viet Cong were walking. That’s BS. These are war crimes. They did it to destroy the soil. When I was in Vietnam in 1994, I was with a team that was studying women’s breast milk and girls that were lactating; they had 16 times the PCBs allowable by our own EPA, and it’s all attributed to dioxins coming directly from the Agent Orange that was sprayed throughout the country. And so you bet, never another Vietnam — it’s always another Vietnam, with more technology, more drones and more firepower. It’s just amazing we don’t learn the lessons. And Vietnam veterans are dying. We’re losing groundtruthers, so we have to depend on people studying the Vietnam War and finding all these old documents that reverse the mythology of the history of the Vietnam War. Ken Burns’ history of the Vietnam War — terrible! Read the reviews from real soldiers and historians. He created a false balance. Green: So much of your book was about the pain and discomfort, and the after-effects of violence and exploitation over in Vietnam. What are you hoping
CIRQUE people are gone; they’re dead. The way we treat homeless people and veterans, it’s so different — even the collective consciousness of those characters, it’s gone. It’s 26 years ago that I traveled to Vietnam. Things have changed a lot in 26 years, even our collective consciousness. Green: One thing I took away from it was Vietnam as a sense of place — how vividly you were able to describe the people, the jungle, the animals, the food. What kind of place in your heart does Vietnam hold, and how has that perception changed over time?
Haeder: I have several friends who were teachers in Vietnam. Vietnam has lost one A pond in Vietnam’s Pu Mat National Park high primary forest, where Paul Haeder spent breaks from person with COVID-19, and there are a lot biodiversity transecting to write stories and journals in the mid ‘90s. of stories about how Vietnam as a society, Photo by Paul K. Haeder even after all the wars — remember they were invaded for 1,000 years; Americans were not the readers glean from these little slices of that experience? first invaders — and it’s a heroic story that Vietnam is doing the right thing to stop COVID-19 from becoming a Haeder: People might look for some universalities in pandemic in that country. their lives — that’s what fiction and poetry are all about. It’s about really interesting characters that happen to be The Vietnamese are depicted in all the war movies or in bad situations. Some of the stuff is comedic — it’s not books: They’re either raped, saved, killing — but you all trauma and all of that — but I think all of us though, never get Vietnam, and you never get the Vietnamese. war or not, are working through trauma. And, I think what So it hasn’t changed since my time in Vietnam; it has just I want people to get away from it is entertainment, and become a much more dynamic and heroic country in my it’s the fine line of am I telling them to be more aware of mind. It just symbolizes — I hate to use the term Third their belief systems and the history of war, including the World — developing countries, how they can break out Vietnam War? I don’t think I did that, but when you read of these terrible imperial wars, and do they have trauma? it, I certainly think that’s there. People don’t think of Vietnamese having trauma or generational trauma. Of course they do, but when you’re And there is a long preface where I pontificate and in Vietnam, you don’t feel it as much as you do here. Three contextualize a lot of stuff. A fiction writer is like a million people died. They had 800,000 missing in action. shaman; they take the energy from their muses and Many Vietnamese were blown up, and their bodies just from the culture and create a two- or three-dimensional rotted. So talk about the MIA thing. written work. That’s what I hope they see, and I hope there is a newfound love of serious fiction that they may Every day, it just becomes another touchstone. Can you get from a short story collection. Or, I might say, it’s not learn from Vietnam? Can you learn about that agricultural experimental, but it’s sort of weirdly experimental that society? Can you learn about that society that is blending they are all thematically connected. The narrative voice socialism and market capitalism? Can we ever learn how in some ways sounds like the same voice, but in other they dealt with the COVID? And it just seems like the situations, I was sort of playing around with the palette United States of America cannot learn from their enemies a lot. It’s ethos; it’s pathos; it’s logos. It’s “entertainment. that have actually opened their arms and said, hey, we’ll do trade with you. I’m not sure what entertainment is, these days. Maybe this is just a slice of time that will never happen again. These Roof Lucy Tyrrell
V o l . 11 N o . 1 Those are things that are so valuable in our society, and we keep forgetting them and try and reinvent the wheel. We have no collective consciousness saying that if you didn’t learn about the Vietnam War, you’re never going to learn about Sudan; you let Libya happen; Somalia, come on! Yemen? Yeah, sure. Afghanistan? How’s that one working out?
Living is about a revolution. It’s about radical — get to the root. If Vietnam is not your example about how the root should be, how we should treat people, we are just going to keep abusing and misusing more and more countries and more and more nations, like we are, every day, as a country. Emily Green is Interim Editor & Senior Staff Reporter at Street
In America, we’ve allowed that stupidity and that imperial hubris and lockstep exceptionalism to destroy our own people, but also those other people. The Vietnamese, ironically, are not destroyed, and that’s a lesson I don’t know if Americans ever want to learn from. I know a lot of ex-soldiers go there, and they want to learn from it. A lot of people go over there, and they retire. Vietnam has a certain attractiveness to people. It’s this exoticism. Vietnam is Chiapas, it’s Chile, it’s Bolivia, it’s the Bolivarian Revolution, it’s Ho Chi Minh, it’s Che Guevara, it’s all of it; it’s all threaded together for me.
REVIEW D. Donovan
A Review of Rick Steiner’s Oasis Earth: Planet in Peril Cirque Press, Anchorage, AK, 2020 (240 pages. $35 as large paperback, $5 Kindle or free download at the author’s website) Oasis Earth: Planet in Peril does what other books often fail to achieve - it delineates the current precarious state of the planet and mankind's contribution to its decline and looming fall, offering a game plan for redemption in the face of certain disaster. Rick Steiner maintains that humans have only ten years left to end mankind's unrelenting assaults on the biosphere. But he doesn't stop there.
Roots: Emily Green at email@example.com Street Roots newspaper is an award-winning, weekly publication focusing on economic, environmental and social justice issues. The newspaper is sold in Portland, Oregon, by people experiencing homelessness and/or extreme poverty as means of earning an income with dignity. Learn more about Street Roots at (https://www.streetroots.org/about). We thank Street Roots for permission to reprint this interview.
134 This approach may sound similar to other messages, but Oasis Earth does more than present a set of dire warnings. It backs up its contentions by documenting each separate piece of the interconnected whole of Earth's various ecosystems, including humanity's rise and current downward progression, then provides a second section packed with sustainable alternatives to the current trajectory. This is an immense subject...too broad for most books to properly tackle. It's too easy to become bogged down in detail and overlook the bigger picture when the topic is as historically, scientifically, and ecologically complex as this. But Rick Steiner's gift lies in the ability to synthesize the facts into easily-digested admonitions and insights: The current trajectory of global environmental decline points toward a rapidly approaching dystopian future for civilization and the biosphere. As we exceed planetary boundaries, the way humans live on the Earth will change, one way or the other, very soon. Either we will adapt our lifestyle to a sustainable biosphere, or we will not survive. Too many discussions consist entirely of text without illustration, but Oasis Earth includes hard-hitting, artistic photos from the U.N. Environment Program's international photographic competitions, NASA, Greenpeace, and others to back the facts and provide visual embellishment. This crafts an inviting, accessible atmosphere that pairs hardhitting footnoted references and statements with colorful food for thought.
CIRQUE become part of humanity's toolkit for salvation, and this will involve a revision of ideals not just on a political or social level, but personal values and perspectives on life. Steiner juxtaposes scientific facts and cautionary tales from past collapses of society, pinpointing large-scale human failures and the lessons to be learned from them, creating a survey not only of past patterns of failure and redemption, but how the future might look if these fixes were undertaken and human purpose itself was transformed. Books on ecological conservation and sustainability run the gamut from dry studies to simplistic admonitions. Oasis Earth represents a much-needed middle ground in its ability to synthesize hard data into a digestible, revealing set of insights the everyday reader can readily understand. The inclusion of practical guidelines for a revision of human goals and perspectives adds an invaluable conclusion to the force of this collection: we all live in the same place. Setting up personal and political avenues for preserving the environment is key not just to human health and happiness, but our long-term continued survival. Diane Donovan is the Editor and Senior Reviewer for Midwest Book Review and author of San Francisco Relocated.
The call to action section is quite specific: We the people have to make the environment a central issue at all levels of governance - local, regional, national, and International. Politicians need to understand that it's not just the economy that matters, but also environmental sustainability, and the two are inextricably linked. Citizens need to nominate and elect candidates who support progressive environmental policies, and need to express concerns on environment to all elected officials, proposing not just general views but specific, science-based legislative and administrative actions. Oasis Earth is filled with admonitions for positive change at all levels of society, pointing out that competing plans for idealistic changes don't necessarily acknowledge the drive for consumer goods or the greed of not just corporations and governments, but individuals. Steiner points out that a redefinition of 'progress' itself needs to
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REVIEW Catherine Abbey Hodges
To Suture the Impossible Review of to cleave by Barbara Rockman University of New Mexico Press, 2019 Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series “There was a dream of a room,” begins Barbara Rockman’s beguiling, inventive, rueful, wise, mysterious, and beautiful new book of poems, to cleave. “Snow Cave,” the opening poem, is richly suggestive of the journey we’re in for. As the poem unfolds, we come to understand that the speaker, a girl, is not dreaming but working—creating something she had seen in a dream, the snow cave of the title. Evocative, visceral lines (“snow creaked beneath my knees,” “sun nudging its orange ball / between my knees half of me in / on all fours half of me out”) do two things simultaneously: first, they render a child utterly possessed by the process of creation, and second, they offer a powerful birthing image. The poem, an ars poetica, closes with the result of these labors: a door a roof coming true and walls curving up and I did not stop to think am I happy did not pause to hear an odd bird I’d have a house at dusk I’d have a home before dark So the made thing—the result of intense focus and effort in the service of something seen in a dream (or glimpsed at a level other than workaday consciousness)—becomes a dwelling: “a room,” “a house,” “a home.” This is true for both the poem and the book as a whole. Oh, but to cleave is a complicated house, and the speaker’s euphoric discovery that she has a “home before dark” is counterweighted by contradictions which haunt the collection and offer one of its deepest satisfactions. “While She Slept, Her Husband Made Chai,” the source of the book’s title, begins with a spare list of contradictory definitions of the verb “to cleave” (“crack splinter stick fast
135 to”), and ends with “a whole / language of the cloven / the cleaved”—an apt description of the collection, as well. The contradictions of life may indeed feel like “yoked oxen pulling / opposite directions” (“In the Diner of a New Day”), yet in Rockman’s hands, the oppositions make for strange and beautiful cohesions as well. In “To My Husband, Collector of Found Objects,” disjuncture operates at the level of diction, so that we read the elevated, even exultant, “Revel me, not Once, but Now,” and four lines later the dime-store pop-culture declaration, “I am famished for a Whitman’s sampler.” The poem closes with what we might interpret as a nod to the efficacies and attractions of such contrasts: “that is how to love me.” This interpretation is born out in “The Assembled Discourse,” a poem built of opposites and slant-opposites (“She eats meat he shivers / He harvests she lies in a furrow of thorns”) and containing a line that is at the marrow of this collection: “Opposition ferries us shore to shore.” Satisfyingly, given the line’s importance, the book contains a number of bodies of water. “Sift me / into the lake I love,” for example, closes “Elegy for Myself.” Thinking of John Donne, we might not be altogether surprised if the shores between which “opposition ferries us” turn out to be part of a single large continent. Donne aside, I can’t be the only one for whom maps of ferry routes
evoke sewing images, with their dashed lines resembling lines of stitching. And several of the poems contain nomenclature and images from sewing. “I never taught my daughters to mend,” admits the speaker in “Reverie on a Frayed World.” But it’s not too late, apparently, so together she and they “steady the needle’s eye, / enter failed fiber, / suture the impossible.” Torn cloth, opposite shores: the collection suggests, delicately and without dogma, that there are ways to mend, to join. To make whole.
INTERVIEW Carol Smallwood
An Interview with Judith Skillman Judith Skillman is the author of around twenty collections of poetry. She is the recipient of an award from the Academy of American Poets for her book Storm (Blue Begonia Press). Her work has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, the UK Kit Award, Best of the Web, and is included in Best Indie Verse of New England. A faculty member at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, Washington, Skillman also paints. Carol Smallwood: You hold a Masters in English Literature from the University of Maryland and have done graduate work in comparative literature at the University of Washington. When did you begin writing and was it poetry?
The early poem “At Rest in Rain” begins with an epigraph from Rilke: “My looking deepens things and they come toward me to meet and be met.” That which is deepened and draws near in this poem is a mated pair of deer, but the epigraph is apt for the collection as a whole. Again and again, that which Rockman observes and contemplates deepens under her gaze, a gaze enacted by the poems. In the poems, the contradictions (like the deer) approach her, trusting her attention. And this quality of clear-eyed, transactional witness Rilke identifies—might it not be part of the mending, the joining? It’s hard to believe otherwise after dwelling inside this marvelous book. to cleave recently won the National Federation of Press Women prize for poetry and is an International Book Awards Finalist. Catherine Abbey Hodges’ most recent book of poems is In a Rind of Light (Stephen F. Austin State University Press 2020). Catherine teaches English at Porterville College, mentors student writers, and collaborates with her husband, musician and labyrinth-maker Rob Hodges.
Judith Skillman: I began writing poetry as an undergraduate student and then, when I went back to get a master’s in English Literature, I got it with an emphasis in creative writing. The MFA degree didn’t yet exist. It was quite a privilege, as I got to hear the excellent poets who came to read at University of Maryland’s reading series: Galway Kinnell, Tess Gallagher, Stanley Kunitz, and others. Actually, looking farther back, I wrote my first poem in fourth grade as an assignment, after Kennedy was assassinated. CS: Your poem, “Blue Note” notes: those holocaust stories told and later taken back, as the most difficult facts come to be handled by time and distance. The Truth About Our American Births (Shanti Arts, April 2020) asks questions about a German Jewish heritage and of generations. Do you think it takes a certain time in one’s life to really delve into family history?
V o l . 11 N o . 1 JS: Yes, I think the family history has to be somewhat removed by time in order for it to stand out as a subject matter. It wasn’t until my children were in school— two of them even in college—that I began to have the detachment necessary to ask questions about how I’d been raised. I knew I’d felt like an exile in Prince George’s County Maryland, where we lived when I was age six until twenty eight. I felt “different” than my peers, who had Christmas and other things I envied. The feelings were there, but I had no way to articulate any coherent questions about the past. CS: The collection shows your easy relationship with other languages. How did it come about and what use have you made of it? JS: Well, that is kind of you to say. I am not fluent in any language except English. But I do love the sound of other languages. My maternal grandfather was Russian born and spoke English and French with a Russian accent. And as it says in the poem(s), my paternal grandmother spoke five languages fluently. My parents talked to one another in Yiddish when they didn’t want us to understand them. Also, I spent three months in France as a high school student, and some time in Quebec, so I’m a definite Francophile. I think it is good for poems to employ foreign words where they make music, and not artificially, but from a memory of a conversation or having heard the particular words. This may be true even if one doesn’t know what they mean. CS: Reviewers have noted your figurative language and imagery in the 47 poems in the book. I particularly enjoyed these lines from “Rift:” Hardened is the name of woman. All hands and arms. Hangnails come to tell. Chores for the charwoman. See her bend into soap. Lean away from leisure. In her stained rag a map of the world. Countries never seen. Why did you use a period at the end of each line? JS: I suppose end-stopping these lines seemed appropriate when I wrote it because the persona is angry. She is enraged at the misogyny that exists in society and culture and religion throughout history. And so the poem became deliberately choppy.
CS: Agatha Christie is mentioned in poems. Please tell us why. JS: Well, as the story goes, my grandmother wasn’t good at tending a house, or let’s say, “housewifery.” She would put a roast in the oven, and then she’d forget it entirely. The meat would burn because she went back to reading her Agatha Christies. She was an avid reader and loved mysteries. CS: In “Dahlias:” Inside the kitchen the woman who fed them on manure, who would turn their white shallot-heads in shallow graves once they finished You express sharp contrast; please give readers another sample: JS: That’s an interesting observation. I love to paint with oil, which is all about relative contrast. From “Polish Mother:” She lights the apple orchard with a lamp called moon and then goes to bed in a dirty housedress.
138 CS: Who is Marie Luise Kaschnitz who you quote in the beginning of your collection? JS: A colleague introduced me to the work of Marie Luise Kaschnitz, and I fell in love with her. The quoted poem is excerpted from her Selected Later Poems, published by Princeton University Press. She was nominated for the 1967 Nobel Prize for Literature. Kaschnitz (31 January 1901–10 October 1974) was a German short story writer, novelist, essayist and poet, and is considered to be one of the leading post-war German poets. CS: What have you noted about the generational role of women? JS: This is a big question. Women give birth, nurture infants and children, and hold families together. I would say that from my own experience, women create in many ways, and provide a “generative” force as well as one that spans the generations. In addition, because we are trained to be verbal from an early age, we women often end up as the “storytellers” of the family. This is an important role in that creating family certified “tall tales and legends” may enable those who are young to better understand their own origins.
CIRQUE The cover art is “Rocky Beach, Appledore,” by Childe Hassam. He is one of my favorite artists. I chose this piece because it depicts a shoreline and at the top—which is just a fraction of the painting, a relatively small couple, a man and a woman, stand together against sky. For me the rocky climb up represents immigration and assimilation. CS: What are you working on now? JS: I am working on a manuscript that pulls work from six books and contains poems written over the past couple of years. Also I’m co-editing an anthology on domestic violence http://www.persephonesdaughters.tk/submit/ CS: Readers can learn more about Judith Skillman on her website: www.judithskillman.com Carol Smallwood, MLS, MA, Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, is a literary reader, judge, and interviewer; her 13th poetry collection is Thread, Form, and Other Enclosures (Main Street Rag, 2020).
But because ours is a patriarchal society, more often than not the work of women isn’t recognized financially. My views are admittedly 20th century, but in fields where women abound, such as teaching, they are under compensated. In arenas where women compete, including the arts and sciences, still females often are the ones who take it upon themselves to provide for basic needs of family and offspring. There are so many strong women I admire, including my mother and sister. All have had substantial obstacles to overcome. CS: What are some journals where your work has appeared? JS: I’ve had poems in many journals, including Threepenny Review, Shenandoah, Midwest Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Seneca Review, Tar River Poetry, Poetry, Southern Review, Tampa Review, and elsewhere. CS: Did you paint the cover of The Truth About Our American Births? JS: No, though I can’t help but be flattered that you would ask such a question.
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REVIEW John Straley
Like Water In A Time of Drought A Review of Emily Wall's Flame Minerva Rising Press, Tampa, FL, 2019 Emily Wall has written a lovely chapbook of poems in the persona of the Virgin Mary. The language is plain and the imagery is kept realistic and simple. I found the poems to be moving portraits of a sensitive young woman who finds herself in the most extraordinary of circumstance, and Wall expresses a profound and physical mother’s love throughout these poems. That said, though these poems have a calming voice, they come with a worldly tension that rides on the slipstream of its historical persona, and this tension is not necessarily always under the control of the poet in a circumstance like this: speaking in the voice of a mortal become deity. Let’s start with the poet’s first choice of making a persona poem. In a persona poem the poet takes on the voice of another person. The chosen persona comes with its own poetic heft, or gravity. The more a reader might know about the person whose voice is supposed to be rendering the words, the more chances there are that the reader might slip the grasp of the poet’s intention and go off on their own feel, or understanding. Consider if a poet were to write a book in the voice of Abraham Lincoln; now consider the hundreds if not thousands of volumes that have been written about the sixteenth American President, what he intended, what
139 he felt, what went into almost every decision he made in his life. Does the poet need to incorporate all that detail into their Lincoln? Do the poems have to address all of the controversies of the historical record? I don’t imagine there are hard and fast rules. Writers most often simply stake out their own ground on how they want to view and present the speaker of their work. The Lincoln of the Lincoln persona poems will be the creation of the poet to the liking of the poet’s politics and views. Yet, I know that to write a persona poem in the voice of Abraham Lincoln it would be safe to say that the poet would need to be brave, for there will be argument to come if the work is to gain a wide readership. What then about the poet who writes a small book of poems in the persona of The Virgin Mary, the Mother of God? Okay, the problems there, as they say in the English Department, are “more fraught” and many, many times more courageous to choose for your persona poems… or maybe more foolish. Some obvious things about Mary: she remains a contentious figure. The nature of Jesus, Man, God, or both depends on what you believe Mary’s role as a mother is. Of course there is much history and hundreds of years of books and papal encyclicals written about this subject. Let’s just say that many people to this day have very strong feelings on the subject. To be crass and ridiculously over simplistic, Catholics and the ancient Christian Church venerated Mary as the Queen of Heaven, some coming to believe she was born free of sin, lived free of sin, and was taken directly into heaven body and soul to live at the right hand of the Lord. When the Protestant reformation came, she became more of a symbol of the repression of the Catholic Church and to some she represented the abuses of the Church’s hypocrisies: the maternal face of the Inquisition,
140 imperial conquest, the hard slap of the dictatorial nun. To this day there are many “recovering Catholics” who see the Virgin Mary as a creeping shadow on their conscience, or worse, a monster under their bed. In an interesting article by Timothy George, in the December 1, 2003 Christianity Today on why American Evangelicals should reconsider their understanding of Mary he begins: In his History of the Reformation in Scotland, John Knox described an incident from his early life as a Protestant. Having been delivered from "the puddle of papistry," as he called it, he was taken as a prisoner and forced to row in a French galley ship for 19 months. Soon after the arrival [of the galley ship] at Nantes…a glorious painted Lady was brought in to be kissed and, amongst others, was presented to one of the Scottishmen then chained. He gently said, "Trouble me not; such an idol is a curse; and therefore I will not touch it." The Patron and the Arguesyn, with two officers, having the chief charge of all such matters, said, "Thou shalt handle it"; and so they violently thrust it in his face and put in betwixt his hands; who seeing the extremity, took the idol, and advisedly looking about, he cast it in the river, and said, "Let our Lady now save herself: she is light enough; let her learn to swim!" So much for Mary Worship. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, feminists have argued that Mary was devalued for her femininity and her gender alone and have begun to hold her up as their standard bearer of the feminine force in litany that had been suppressed by the more modern church. Here too there is complex and fraught scholarship, for much of the adulation of Mary bears close examination as to the origin of the veneration. Venerations get wound up with State support and monarchs support of dictums over the centuries. There is too much to go into here. Let’s just say it all depends on whose team you cheer for. We could go from Arius, and the Council of Antioch of 268, all the way up to The Punk Prayer and the imprisonment of the Russian all female band Pussy Riot who were jailed partly for declaring, “Mary was a Feminist!”
CIRQUE But few writers or sects consider The Virgin Mary as a flesh and blood Mother. Even the ones who venerated her think of her womb as a sterile host for the God-being to gestate. I think it’s safe to say that after the Protestant Reformation, many believed that Jesus was wholly God and he was gestated in a Holy State in Mary’s womb made sacred by the prophecies and by the angel Gabriel and passed through Mary “as clean water through a hose” (Timothy George, Christianity Today, 2003). In Flame, Emily Wall starts with an image of a pomegranate seed: a seed wrapped in sweet blood-red pulp. This is almost all you need to say about her difference in philosophical perspective of Mary’s role in the birth of Christ: Pomegranates Are a luxury of time. To pinch out each seed, feel its plump body in the fingers, its quick crunch in the teeth. Its sweetness. Here the seed is wrapped in the sweet body of the host fruit. Here the life to come is indistinguishable from the beauty of what has been prepared already. The seed is part of the sweetness of the fruit. The seed is not pushed through like clean water through a hose; the seed is part of the womb, part of the fruit. Wall takes each step of this young woman’s journey with a sensual eye out for the details noticed by a kind heart, and a generous nature. In this telling, like the red pulp Mary is very much part of Christ’s nurturing. This is what she imagines, and I’m certain knows what the mother pulse to be. This, she argues is the love of and the nature of Christ’s love for humanity. Jesus learned human love from his human mom. This is a radical and in some quarters still a heretical teaching.
V o l . 11 N o . 1 Soup It’s ok to pray to me. You’re not going to blaspheme The creator, or my son.
This type of motherhood, the loving involvement of the feminine, is what raises Mary into Heaven and not her “sterility” not her being a woman set apart from all others but a woman who began “with the work of the body,” just as her son did who “fed many people:”
Some men will tell you You can’t pray to a woman, to anyone but Him.
There were children in the crowd who were hungry and crying. Their bellies do not wait
I don’t sit on a throne. I don’t Start or stop the rain. I don’t cause a girl to look over her shoulder.
and so their mamas cannot wait. He didn’t miracle them into silence.
But one night, I did birth a beautiful boy. I did hold a first breath in my hands. You mothers know this weight. I do stop by his house, on Saturday nights with a pot of soup, and sometimes advice. I’m here now, watching your hands light that prayer. I do sometimes remind him to listen, when those who birth the world, are asking.
He didn’t take away their hunger. He picked up a loaf of bread and broke it and gave some to the small girl in front of him. (From “Blood,” page 21) This too explains Emily Wall’s choice of simple diction and plain language in the poems. This is the mother of child born to a poor desert community. Water is scarce. Recourses and energy are not wasted on excess. The line “It’s ok to pray to me” is in keeping with both Wall’s political and spiritual choices. This is a simple and loving working mom. This is not a queen of Heaven set apart from all women. These poems work beautifully no matter what your faith or philosophy. They glow with details, making the heart rise in parallel with a mother’s love, and finally it's the restraint in the language and in her commitment to the subject which makes these poems work on the human and the feminine level which the poet so clearly desires. This is a profoundly human, sensual, political book of our time, which slakes our thirst for justice. Does it settle the question of Mary? Of course not. There will be some who are deeply offended by what they may see as a lay poet tampering with a deity’s divinity; others just might not be able to get past the Hail Mary’s they have been made to say after confession to see The Virgin in any new light. But for contemporary readers of poetry this is a welcome, brave, and beautiful addition to the conversation of the tension between love and justice in our time.
CONTRIBUTORS Deborah Akers is the author of two poetry collections: partly fallen (Airlie Press, 2015), and backward pilgrim (I-Beam Books, 2013). Her awarding-winning poems have appeared in many publications, and she has received several Pushcart Prize nominations. Deborah makes her living as an educational editor and writer. She and her husband abide as quietly as possible in Portland, Oregon. Shehla Anjum, a longtime Alaska resident, lives in Anchorage and is originally from Karachi, Pakistan. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage and an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School. Shehla works in a family-owned publishing business. She also writes personal essays and features. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Sugar Mule, First Alaskans, Alaska Magazine, Alaska Business Monthly, Anchorage Daily News, and Dawn (Pakistan’s largest English newspaper). Alexandra Ellen Appel, formally of Anchorage and Boise, currently lives and writes in Northern California. Lyn Baldwin calls the sagebrush-steppe and coniferous forests of the Thompson Valley in southern British Columbia home where she teaches university botany and ecology. Operating from the belief that restoring the world must include re-storying our place within it, Lyn uses the practice of illustrated field journaling to re-imagine her relationship with home and community, place and dwelling. The stories Lyn finds with her field journal, expressed in both image and text, have appeared in journals such as Terrain.org, The Goose, Cirque, and Camas. Lyn’s field journal art has been exhibited in science museums and art galleries throughout the mountainous west. Clifton Bates is originally from the Pacific Northwest. He has spent the last 43 years in Alaska involved with Alaska Native education as a teacher, school district administrator and university professor. With the Very Rev. Dr. Oleksa, he wrote Conflicting Landscapes: American Schooling/ Alaska Natives, a one-of-a-kind resource. He recently completed a novel about a Yup’ik Eskimo’s life in western Alaska, and he is now ready to seek a publisher. He is retired and living in Chugiak, Alaska. Drue BeDo began writing poems on a sandwich board so strangers would have a little something to contemplate as they walked past her mailbox in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Prior to poetry, she was steeped in playwriting, including writing an adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (published by playscripts.com) which initially launched on 03/03/03 as a theatrical effort to embolden peaceful actions following 9/11 and is still being performed around the world. She received an MFA from Columbia University, has taught and created curriculum for undergraduate performance and writing, and recently returned from Nepal where she conducted workshops in poetry and performance in Kathmandu. Originally from Alaska, L. V. Berne moved to Colorado in 2016. She is a poet, mother, wife and a Deputy District Attorney. Her poetry has appeared in Alaska Women Speak’s 2019 Spring and Fall issues, Ghost Road Press - 2006 Anthology, and Esthetic Apostle: September 2019 edition. Her long-term goal is to survive balancing her career, motherhood, and art and to publish a collection of her poetry. You can follow her on Twitter at @lvberne1
Originally from New York City, Robert Bharda has resided in the Northwest U.S. where for the last 35 years he has specialized in vintage photographica as a profession, everything from salt prints to polaroids. His illustrations/artwork have appeared in numerous publications, both in the U.S. and abroad, and are current on covers of Naugatuck River Review, Blue Five NoteBook, book covers and within recently published Catamaran and Cirque. His portfolios of images have been featured in Cahoodahoodaling, Blue Five, Superstition, AADUNA, Serving House Journal, The Adirondack Review, Ekphrastic Review, The Critical Pass, Cold Mountain Review, Santa Clara Review and more. Also a writer, his poetry, fiction and critical reviews have been published in The North American Review, Northwest Review, Shenandoah, Quarterly West, Willow Springs, ACM, Cutbank, Fine Madness, Kansas Quarterly, Yellow Silk, Poets On, Cimarron Review and many others, including anthologies. Nancy Diamante Bonazzoli, D.Min., is an Oregon poet, writer, and Zen Buddhist Minister. She earned an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from the Fielding Institute and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Mathew Fox’s University of Creation Spirituality. Nancy is a past winner of the William G. Doody Memorial Prize for Poetry, and her debut collection, Absolution, was published in October 2019 by Luminare Press. Individual poems have been published in various journals, including The Stray Branch, River Poets Journal, Ars Medica, Blue Moon Literary & Art Journal, Euonia Review, Down in the Dirt, and Bewildering Stories, as well as in the anthology Sacred Voices: Essential Women’s Wisdom through the Ages. Justin Bongi is an itinerant queer, writing as they return homeward, westward, on a never ending adventure, the road of which has as many twists and turns as a good book about pirates or detectives or kids who are very, very lost. Their work has appeared in Stone Canoe, Wilder Voice, and Black Horse Review, and a debut novel is forthcoming. Kristina Boratino was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, where her wanderlust soul is quenched daily by surrounding beauty. Kristina has been published in Cirque Literary Journal, Sonder Midwest Magazine, Compassion International Magazine, Route 7 Review, and more. She resides in Edmonds, Washington with her two children. Dan Branch lives in Juneau, Alaska. He won two first prizes for poetry, one awarded by Charles Bukowski. Kestrel included one of his essays for their Fall 2015 issue. Others pieces were recently published by Cardiff Review, Gravel, Metonym, Tahoma Literary Review, Punctuate, Swamp Ape, Windmill, and Portland Magazine. He recently received an MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage where he won the 2016 Jason Winger Award for Creative Nonfiction. Ann-Marie Brown is a Canadian artist working on the west coast of B.C. in a house she shares with her husband, son, dog, and the occasional bear. Her oil & encaustic paintings have been exhibited across the United States & Canada, and have found their way into public, private & corporate collections. 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. He began his work in photography in the 1970s as reporter/photographer for The Wenatchee World before coming to The Seattle Times as a reporter in 1977. In recent
V o l . 11 N o . 1 years, his photographs have won awards at state-fair competitions in Washington and have appeared in previous issues of Cirque, including two Cirque covers. His work has been featured at Red Sky Gallery in Lake Forest Park. He is currently president of the Puget Sound Camera Club, an affiliate of the Northwest Council of Camera Clubs and the Photographic Society of America. A fourth generation West Coaster, C.W. Buckley lives and works in Seattle with his family. He writes about precious things, and what their loss means for us all. His writing explores geek culture, conscience, faith, and fatherhood. His work appeared most recently in Sunspot Literary Journal and the anthology Undeniable: Writers Respond to Climate Change. A contributor to Washington Poetic Routes, he has appeared in Dappled Things, Timberline Review, Camas, Image Journal, and Catamaran Literary Reader to name a few. He is the author of BLUING, a chapbook from Finishing Line Press. You can follow him at @chris_buckley on Twitter. Mike Burwell’s poems have appeared in Abiko Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, Ice-Floe, Pacific Review, Poems & Plays, and Sin Fronteras. His poetry collection Cartography of Water was published by North Shore Press in 2007, and in 2009 he founded the Northwest literary journal Cirque. He’s been a Taos resident since 2013 where he finally found home among the wild landscape and its wildly generous poets. Abigail B. Calkin writes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and articles in the field of behavior analysis. She lives in coastal Alaska with a longtime second home in SE Oregon's High Desert. 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. If you’d like to read more of his writing, check out his website: www.shawnwcampbell.com Teri White Carns publishes haibun (Japanese-style short prose combined with haiku), articles about bread and wheat, and occasional blog posts about all things wheaten, at Wheatavore. Her lifetime awards include best poem in the 1980 Alaska Bar Association’s paper, Bar Rag for a humorous poem about fly-fishing and not catching fish. After a long hiatus, she has returned to creative writing, earning an MFA in Creative Nonfiction in December 2017 from the Antioch University Los Angeles’s low-residency program. Vic Cavalli studied the visual arts and photography as a young man, and later in life discovered the potential depth and force of literature. In graduate school, he concentrated on the complex interpenetrating relationships between literature and the visual arts. He has been teaching Creative Writing at the university level since 2001. Susan Chase-Foster mostly lives on the edge of the Salish Sea in the perpetually rainy town of Bellingham, WA. In Fairbanks, she also enjoys chunks of time mosquito slapping in summer and tromping through snow-covered spruce woods in winter. Her work has appeared in many anthologies and literary magazines, including Cirque, Alaska Women Speak, Clover: A Literary Rag, For Love of Orcas, and in Xiexie Taipei, Susan’s collection of poems and photographs from Taiwan. She is currently gathering her Alaskan “poemoirs” into what is sure to be a dazzling boreal tome.
143 Don Colburn came late to poetry during a career in journalism. A longtime staff writer for The Washington Post and The Oregonian, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. He has published five poetry collections, including four chapbooks; all five won or placed in national manuscript competitions. His latest collection, Mortality, with Pronoun Shifts, won the Cathy Smith Bowers chapbook award. Other writing honors include the Discovery/The Nation Award, Finishing Line Press Poetry Prize, Cider Press Review Book Award, residencies at The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, and five Pushcart nominations. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Mary Eliza Crane is a poet of the Cascade foothills. A regular feature at Puget Sound readings, she has read poetry from Woodstock to LA, as well as with Siberian poets in Novosibirsk, Russia. Mary has two volumes of poetry, What I Can Hold In My Hands and At First Light, both published by Gazoobi Tales Press. Her work has appeared in many journals and northwest anthologies including WA 129 Poets of Washington (2017) and Bridge Above the Falls (2019). Mary co-curates and sometimes hosts the monthly Duvall Poetry reading series in her community, continuously running more than fifteen years. Daniel Dagris was born on the mean streets of Las Vegas, raised in the backwoods of Winlock, Washington, and tear-gassed in Thessaloniki, Greece (because, college, right?). His work received honorable mention from Glimmer Train, and has appeared in the Buckman Journal, Feels Zine, Chaleur Magazine and elsewhere. Shania Deike-Sims: Born and raised in Alaska, Shania enjoys spending time in the great outdoors and finding new and exciting adventures. Alice Derry lives and works on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Her most recent volume is Hunger, from MoonPath Press, 2018. Her website is www.alicederry.com. In fall of 2019, Derry joined poet Tess Gallagher for a Michigan reading tour, honoring poet Theodore Roethke. Diane DeSloover is a long time resident of Juneau, Alaska where she taught elementary school and raised her family. Retirement years have allowed her to more seriously pursue a lifetime love of writing poetry. Diane has had her poems published in the Juneau Empire, Alaska Women Speak and the UAS literary and arts journal, Tidal Echoes. Monica Devine is a poet, essayist, and artist. Her recent book Water Mask is a collection of stories that reflect on motherhood, place, memory, art, and perception in the natural world. She is a first-place winner of the Alaska State Poetry Contest, and her piece “On The Edge of Ice” won first place in creative nonfiction with New Letters journal. View her work at monicadevine.com Judith Duncan retired from software development in Chicago to live on the Olympic Peninsula, WA. Raising chickens, writing poetry and prose occupies her time. Her writing has been published in local anthologies (authors limited to the Olympic Peninsula); Tidepools from Peninsula College; and regional journals such Ekphrastic from New Bern, NC; and Cirque, A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim. Valerie Egan is a poet and painter/weaver from Portland, Oregon. Her poetry has been published in the Dragon Poet Review, Voicecatcher, Ink and Voices, and Oregon Humanities magazine. More of her work can be found online at https://eganvalerie.wixsite.com/portfolio
144 Jodie Filan is 27, from Saskatchewan, Canada. Completely self taught, she can be found at JodieFilanArt.com or deviantart.com/kentcharm. Linda Ford has always been fascinated by stories about her female forebears. She’s from rural central New York—Madison—and grew up with feminist tendencies: as in resenting not being awarded a high school letter for Social Studies in 1967 because it was “not for girls.” She was in an early consciousness-raising group in NYC and started a NOW chapter in Saratoga Springs in the late 70s. She got her PhD from Syracuse University in 1984, where she petitioned for and got a women’s history minor. Ford was a history professor for 15 years, and then a bookseller in Massachusetts and New York. She has now written three books: Women Politicals in America: Jailed Dissenters from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart is the latest; the first two were Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman’s Party (1991) and Lady Hoopsters: A History of Women’s Basketball in America (2000). She has also written numerous print and online articles on women’s history/ feminist subjects. Yvonne C. Garrett is Senior Fiction Editor at Black Lawrence Press where she also edits the weekly newsletter Sapling. Her writing has been published in a wide variety of outlets including The Brooklyn Rail, Publishers Weekly, and The Baltimore Review. She holds an MLIS (Palmer), an MFA (The New School), two MAs (NYU), and is currently working on a PhD (ABD) in History & Culture (Drew) focused on women in 1980s punk rock. Emily Green is the Interim Editor and Senior Staff Reporter at Street Roots, an award-winning weekly newspaper sold on the streets of Portland, OR, by people experiencing homelessness and/or extreme poverty as a way of earning an income with dignity. Emily's reporting on social and environmental justice issues has appeared in street papers spanning the globe and across the United States. She is a graduate of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Paul Haeder has been a newspaper reporter in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, as well as journalist for magazines and newsgroups. He's widely published, from an early age -- 17 years old, Skin Diver magazine. He's been a radio show host, social worker, K12 teacher, college educator. He fights for people living inside the world of precarity, not only as a social worker but journalist. His latest regular column is in Portland's Street Roots, appropriately tagged, "Finding Fringe." He's currently finishing a non-fiction polemic on the good, bad and ugly of public education; a blended biography and autobiography about a Portland art collector; a short story collection; and a collection of profiles of people living on the Oregon Coast. https://www.discoverourcoast.com/oregon-coast-today/columnists/ Beth Hartley has lived in Alaska since 1989 as a teacher, consultant, college professor and horse drawn carriage driver. She stays active writing poetry, short stories, as is working on a Novel. Beth nurtures her summer flower garden and frequently enjoys worldwide travel adventures with her husband James, always returning, in the end, to Eagle River and their two well behaved cats. Someday they are retiring to Taos. Catherine Abbey Hodges’ most recent book of poems is In a Rind of Light (Stephen F. Austin State University Press 2020). She is the author of two previous full-length collections: Instead of Sadness, selected by Dan Gerber as winner of the 2015 Barry Spacks Poetry Prize, and Raft of Days (2017), both from Gunpowder Press. Catherine teaches English at
CIRQUE Porterville College, mentors student writers, and collaborates with her husband, musician and labyrinth-maker Rob Hodges. www.catherineabbeyhodges Rob Jacques resides on a rural island in Washington State’s Puget Sound, and his poetry appears in literary journals, including Atlanta Review, Prairie Schooner, Amsterdam Quarterly, Poet Lore, The Healing Muse, American Literary Review, and Assaracus. A collection of his poems, War Poet, was published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2017, and a second collection, Adagio for Su Tung-p’o, was published by Fernwood Press in 2019. Marc Janssen coordinates the Salem Poetry Project and Salem Poetry Festival. He is a 2020 Oregon Poet Laureate nominee and his poetry is scattered around the world in places like Penumbra, Slant, Cirque Journal, Off the Coast and The Ottawa Arts Journal. Jill Johnson splits her time between Alaska and Eastern Oregon. Feels lucky. Amy L. Johnston: I am a recent graduate with a BA in English from Western Washington University. This would be my first published work. I live in Bellingham, Washington, where I spend my time writing, talking to myself, and selling T-shirts to tourists. Susan Johnson writes in Roslyn, Washington, her home of forty-one years. Her work has appeared in Earth’s Daughters, Raven Chronicles, Yakima Coffeehouse Poets, Windfall, Cirque, Rise Up Review, Poets Unite! LiTFUSE @10 Anthology, WA129+, and Washington Poetic Routes. Karen Jones: I am a teacher, poet, and lifelong learner from Corvallis, Oregon. Some of my recent work has appeared in Willawaw Journal, Earth’s Daughters, Rise Up Review, and Plum Tree Tavern. I have enjoyed the work of many poets who have been published in Cirque. Jan Jung lives in Bellingham, Washington with her husband. 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. Kathleen Kinney: I have lived in Alaska since 1972, primarily in Fairbanks. Kaija Klauder lives and works in Denali National Park, Alaska. She enjoys trying to explain how exterior landscapes are also interior landscapes, science, noticing things outdoors, and puns. She plans to be a fox when she grows up. Poet and essayist Sandra Kleven has published work in AQR, Oklahoma Review, Topic, Praxilla, Stoneboat, F-zine and the UAP anthology, Cold Flashes. She was twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her writing has also won notice in the UAA Creative Writing and F’Air Words contests. In 2015, Kleven was named to the Northshore School District, Wall of Honor as an outstanding graduate. Kleven has authored four books, most recently Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing (VP&D Publishing House). With founder, Michael Burwell, Sandra Kleven is editor of Cirque. She works as clinical supervisor for a Native corporation. In 2018, Kleven and Burwell established Cirque Press. As of this date, late in 2019 CP has published seven titles of poetry and literary prose.
V o l . 11 N o . 1 Kelly Lenox, a former hazardous waste regulator, is editor in chief of the Environmental Factor for the National Institutes of Health. Her poems, prose and translations are published or forthcoming in Gargoyle, EcoTheo Review, Hubbub, Split Rock Review and elsewhere in the U.S., U.K., and Ireland. Her debut collection, The Brightest Rock (2017), received honorable mention for the Brockman-Campbell Book Award. She has received Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations and holds an MFA from Vermont College. Kelly makes her home in Oregon. Sherri Levine is the author of In These Voices (Poetry Box, 2018). She is the recipient of the Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize and winner of Poet’s First Choice in the Oregon Poetry Association Contest Fall, 2018. Her poetry has appeared in the Timberline Review, CALYX, Driftwood Press, Verseweavers, Willawaw Journal, Worcester Review, The Opiate, and the Sun Magazine. She lives in Portland, OR where she teaches English at colleges and universities. She hosts Head for the Hills! a monthly Poetry Open Mic at the Hillsdale Library. She escaped the harsh weather of upstate New York and has ever since been soaking in the Oregon rain. Julie Lloyd: Pressed flowers and plant life are my medium. I also use my computer to change the color or feel of the image. I’ve lived in Oregon all my life and for over twenty years I’ve enjoyed making art from plant life, some in unexpected ways. From the ethereal to light hearted, plant life offers such joy and beauty to an image and creating the art itself creates a wonderful work-life balance. Adam Mackie lives in Anchorage with his wife, Margaret, and two children, Noah and Hazel, and teaches English Language Arts at West Anchorage High School. Mackie has received multiple honorable mentions for his formal poetry, contributed a poetic reader’s note to Ruminate magazine and published poems with BlazeVOX [books] in Western New York and Cirque in Alaska. Mackie also has written articles for Alaska Business Monthly, the Anchorage Press, the Alaska Humanity Forum’s FORUM magazine, Edutopia, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and various other publications. Additionally, Mackie has published a dictionary titled A New Literacies Dictionary: Primer for the Twenty-first Century Learner and co-edited Ethics in Higher Education: A Reader for Writers. Mackie is moreover a lover of music and plays, sings, and writes songs in a local band called Folk Medicine. Originally from Canada, Adrian Markle is an idiot who lives in Cornwall, UK, and keeps going back to school. He has had work recently in Dream Catcher, The Roadrunner Review, and Aethlon, amongst others. Originally from BC, Canada, he is desperately trying to finish his PhD at the University of Exeter in Cornwall, UK, which is where "Midwinter" is set. Recent fiction by Michael Mattes can be found in the Santa Monica Review and World Literature Today. Prior work has appeared in West Branch, The Carolina Quarterly, Southwestern American Literature, Northwest Review, Portland Review, and elsewhere. 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 by U. of Alaska Press came out earlier this year. He is a recipient of grants from the National Council on the Arts and the State of Alaska Council on the Arts and Humanities.
Ron McFarland lives & writes in Moscow, Idaho. Zsanan Narrin: Figurative abstract work and eclectic visual storytelling reflect my mission—to start a conversation, to create an uplifting space where balance and a bit of magic can happen, and to engage the fraught process of selection we—each of us—face daily—and a choice to look for pure possibility in what is around us. Nam Nguyen is a multimedia artist who enjoys photography, writing, and filmmaking. He has been published in Ducts Review, Jabberwock Review, J. Mane Gallery, Sunspot Lit, The Ephimiliar Journal, The Esthetic Apostle, Cardinal Sins, Ember Chasm Review, The RavensPerch, Wild Roof Journal, Havik, The Paragon Journal, The Finger Literary Journal, The Write Launch, and Chestnut Review. With an equal love of sound, images, the written word and software, Signe Nichols has loved working with authors and publishers for over 15 years. The creative outlet of helping artists achieve their design objectives and desires motivates me personally and professionally. Signe is inspired by being around other creatives and meeting Mike Burwell of Cirque in Taos, was perfect professional fate. Signe designed the cover and the interior of Paul Haeder's book Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing From Vietnam; she is the current designer for Cirque Journal and assembled the website pages for Cirque Press Books. You can connect with her at firebirdmediamanagement.com Terry Persun has published six poetry collections, six poetry chapbooks, dozens of short stories, and over 20 novels. He is the recipient of seven novel and poetry awards. He writes across a variety of genres from mainstream to science fiction. He lives and writes from Port Townsend, WA with his wife, seven horses, two donkeys, a dozen or so chickens (at any one time), and several cats (a few strays). There's no telling what animals will come to live with them next. When he's not writing or with the animals...well, you probably won't see him—except here: www.TerryPersun.com Tami Phelps is an Alaskan mixed-media artist using cold wax medium, photography, assemblage, and fiber. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, and the Museum of Encaustic Art in Santa Fe, NM. She has exhibited internationally as well as in Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, and Washington. Tami is invited regularly as Artist-In-Residence at McKinley Chalet Resort in Denali National Park, Alaska. She grew up in Anchorage, Alaska where she works in her studio loft. Thomas R. Pickering is the brother of Clifton Bates and produced the front and back covers, paintings within and the sketch of the author in Bates’ Like Painted Kites & Collected Works. Now residing in Calgary, Canada, Pickering lived and worked in Asia over forty years primarily in Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and China. Prior to his retirement, his final endeavor was teaching at Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. Timothy Pilgrim, a Pacific Northwest poet and 2018 Pushcart Prize nominee with several hundred acceptances by journals such as Seattle Review, Cirque, Santa Ana River Review, San Pedro River Review, Toasted Cheese, Windsor Review, Hobart and Third Wednesday, is author of Mapping Water (Flying Trout Press, 2016). See www.timothypilgrim.org for all his poetry. Barbara Rockman is the author of Sting and Nest, winner of the New
146 Mexico-Arizona Book Award. Her 2019 collection, to cleave, University of New Mexico Press, received the National Federation of Press Women Poetry Book Prize and was a finalist for the International Book Awards. Recipient of the Baskerville Poetry Prize, New Mexico Discovery Award, and The MacGuffin Prize, her Pushcart Prize nominated poems appear in Calyx, Cimarron Review, Bellingham Review, terrain.org., Thrush, Nimrod, Louisville Review and Poetry Daily among many others. Barbara teaches poetry and memoir at Santa Fe Community College, at Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families, and in community workshops. She earned her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. David Romanda was born in Kelowna, British Columbia. He currently lives in Kawasaki City, Japan. His work has been published in CAROUSEL, Existere, Grain Magazine, PRISM international, and Vallum. Brenda Roper is an occasional poet artist whose love of travel corresponds directly to her love of photography. It comes alive when crossing borders of the foreign kind. Now that the US passport is deemed mostly worthless, she is leaning into the authenticity of the times: abstract walks around the hood, iPhone in hand. Keeping tabs on that fine line between apocalypse and hope. Anyone with a UK, AUS, Canadian or EU passport willing to marry this trapped in the USA traveler? Masked and at the ready in Santa Fe, NM. www.brendaroper.com Connie Wasem Scott lives in Spokane, WA, where she teaches at Spokane Falls Community College and enjoys the great outdoors with her Aussie-American husband. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Journal, CITRON, Shore Poetry, Streetlight, Minerva Rising, Cathexis Northwest, and elsewhere. Tom Sexton spends his days walking his Irish Terrier, Murphy, writing poetry, and making breakfast for his wife. Many years ago, he began the Creative Writing program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage and was the English Department Chair for many years. He is proud to say Mike Burwell was his student. He has two books coming out this year: Snowy Egret Rising, Chester Creek Press, and Cummiskey Alley: New and Selected Lowell Poems, Loom Press. Kit Sibert's childhood as an expat in Havana, Cuba from 1950 to 1960 defines this life, this work. These poems are in WIP Dreaming Havana Home. Her love of the Pacific Northwest is present with that natural tropical bent. She lived on the East and West coasts of the U.S. Now settled in Eugene, Oregon. She has written two chapbooks: Beyond Me (integral an art show), What You Have Become (Finishing Line Press), and How the Light Gets In (lulu.com). Her poems are in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Amy Sinisterra teaches photography at North Central High School in Spokane, Washington where she lives with her husband and dog. Judith Skillman is the recipient of awards from the Academy of American Poets and Artist Trust. Her recent collection is The Truth About Our American Births, Shanti Arts Press. Poems have appeared in Shenandoah, The Southern Review, The Threepenny Review, Zyzzyva, and elsewhere. Skillman is a faculty member at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, Washington. Visit www.judithskillman.com Carol Smallwood, MLS, MA, Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, is a literary reader, judge, and interviewer. Her 13th poetry collection is Thread, Form, and Other Enclosures (Main Street Rag, 2020).
CIRQUE Craig Smith is a retired Seattle Times sportswriter who worked for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in the mid-1970s. He grew up in the Seattle suburb of Kenmore and is a journalism graduate of the University of Washington, where he was editor of the UW Daily newspaper. Craig and his wife Julie live in Kirkland, WA, and have two adult children. Kathleen Smith is a northwest poet with roots in Montanaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Flathead Valley. Her work has appeared in Raven Chronicles, Shrub-Steppe Poetry Journal, 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 Twenty Fourth, and 129+ More Poets of WA. She lives and writes in the community of Roslyn, WA. Ron Smith grew up in northern Arizona, New Mexico and desert California. He moved to Alaska fifty years ago from Miami, Florida, where he earned degrees in marine science. He retired from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1999. He is the author of three books: Interior and Northern Alaska: A Natural History, How Not to Die Hunting in Alaska, and Undeserved Punishment. He had short pieces published in Watershed Review and Cirque. He and his wife Marsha spend part of the winter in Wenatchee, Washington. Rebecca Smolen is a writer based in Portland transplanted from NH in 2014. She grew up on a dead-end road exploring drainage pipes and pond life. Now settled here with her family, she works as a veterinary technician. Rebecca is a true believer of once down in print, words are no longer for the writer, but instead are meant to support, heal or console others. You can find her writing most recently in the Unchaste Anthologies, Mutha Magazine, VoiceCatcher and her first chapbook, Womanhood and Other Scars published by PoetryBox.com. Carmi Soifer lives in Suquamish, Washington, where she can see Mt. Rainier from her mailbox. Her poems appear in anthologies and journals, most recently in The Healing Muse, Poetry South, Tule Review, Passager Journal, and Main Street Rag. She was Artist-in-Residence at Rocky Mountain National Park. Cynthia Lee Sims, a published poet and nonfiction writer and award-winning photographer, has an MA in Literature with a published thesis on Jewish/English WWI poetry and a BA in Journalism. She served as editor of UAAâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s True North Magazine and The Northern Light. As an adjunct instructor for several years, she assisted with editing and layout for Understory, UAA's creative arts journal and joined as an associate editor Cirque, and she occasionally reads for Poetry Parlay. Mary Lou Spartz, a poet and playwright, is a long-time Alaskan and Juneauite. Poetry, writing or reading, never ceases to challenge and delight. To capture the joyful and the not-so-joyful never loses its appeal. Rick Steiner is a conservation biologist in Anchorage, Alaska, and has been involved in the global conservation movement for over 40 years. From 1980-2010 he was a marine conservation professor with the University of Alaska, stationed in the Arctic, Prince William Sound, and Anchorage, specializing in marine conservation, and worked on environmental effects of offshore oil, climate change, fisheries, marine mammals, habitat conservation, and conservation policy. He has authored over one hundred publications; written commentaries for many national and international media outlets including USA Today, LA Times, The Guardian, and Huffington Post; and worked around the world with
V o l . 11 N o . 1 governments, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and many Indigenous People’s and non-governmental organizations in diverse regions including Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Pakistan, China, the Middle East, the South Pacific, Australia, the Arctic, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, and El Salvador. He has received several conservation awards, and The Guardian called him “one of the world’s leading marine conservation scientists,” and “one of the most respected and outspoken academics on the oil industry’s environmental record.” He has delivered Oasis Earth: Planet in Peril as a public presentation for over 30 years, in many venues around the world. firstname.lastname@example.org and www.oasis-earth.com Born and raised in Georgia, Richard Stokes has lived in Juneau, Alaska since 1971. After retirement from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, he has worked as a naturalist guide with Gastineau Guiding Company. He has self-published three chapbooks of poems. John Straley is a novelist, poet and a private investigator. He is the author of ten crime novels and five books of poetry. He has received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and was the twelfth Alaska Writer Laureate. He has served on the Alaska State Council on the Arts (one year as acting Chair) and on the University of Alaska Press advisory board. He lives in Sitka, Alaska in a bright green house next to the beach with his wife Jan who is a prominent marine biologist and his dog Dot who is young and unruly.
147 has two books published with Salmon Poetry: Liveaboard and Freshly Rooted. Her next 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 Tim Whitsel: I am a journeyman writer originally from Ft. Wayne. My years since high school have been spent on the West Coast where I studied with Stanley Plumly, David Wagoner and Colleen McElroy. Airlie Press published my first full-length book Wish Meal in October 2016. We Say Ourselves, a chapbook, came out from Traprock Books in 2012. A poem is forthcoming in December. Other recent poems appear in Cirque and Capitalism Nature Socialism. Matt Witt is a writer and photographer in Talent, Oregon who has hiked and backpacked all over the Pacific Northwest. His photography and blog may be seen at MattWittPhotography.com. He has been Artist in Residence at Crater Lake National Park, Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Mesa Refuge, and PLAYA at Summer Lake, Oregon. Tonja Woelber is a member of Ten Poets and loves the mountains in all weathers.
Mercury-Marvin Sunderland (he/him) is a Hellenist from Seattle. He currently attends the Evergreen State College, and his dream is to become the most banned author in human history. He's been accepted for numerous magazines such as Antioch University LA's Lunch Ticket Magazine, UC Santa Barbara's Spectrum Literary Journal, UC Riverside's Santa Ana River Review, UW-Parkside's Straylight Magazine, The University of Wyoming's Owen Wister Review, and The New School's The Inquisitive Eater. He can be found as @Romangodmercury on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. 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. He is a recently retired financial advisor. 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. Roger Topp: Previously from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Yorkshire, I have lived in the boreal forest of Interior Alaska for 26 years. I came north for the snow and the nightlife and received an MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. By day, I direct museum exhibitions and travel to write and photograph research fieldwork funded by the likes of the NSF and National Geographic. Over the last couple years, my writing has appeared in more than a dozen publications including Maine Review, Dunes Review, Into the Void, Bennington Review, and West Branch. Read more at thewellandthewicked.com. Emily Wall is a Professor of English at the University of Alaska. She holds an MFA in poetry and her poems have been published in journals across the US and Canada, most recently in Prairie Schooner and Alaska Quarterly Review. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her most recent book, Flame, won the Minerva Rising chapbook prize. She
HOW TO SUBMIT TO CIRQUE Cirque, published in Anchorage, Alaska, is a regional journal created to share the best writing in the region with the rest of the world. Cirque submissions are not restricted to a “regional” theme or setting. Cirque invites emerging and established writers living in the North Pacific Rim—Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia and Chukotka—to submit short stories, poems, creative nonfiction, translations, plays, reviews of first books, interviews, photographs, and artwork for Cirque’s next issue. Reading Now for Cirque #22 Submissions Open for Issue #23. Deadline: March 21, 2021
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: 5 poems MAX -- Fiction, Nonfiction, Plays: 12 pages MAX (double spaced). -- Artwork and Photography: 10 images MAX accepted in JPEG or TIFF format, sent as email attachments. Please send images in the highest resolution possible; images will likely be between 2 and 10mb each. If you do not submit full-size photo files at time of submission, we will respond with an email reminder. No undersize images or thumbnails will be eligible for publication. -- Bio: 100 words MAX. -- Contact Info: Make sure to keep your contact email current and be sure that it is one that you check regularly. If your contact information changes, make sure to inform us at Cirque. To ensure that replies from Cirque bypass your spam filter and go to your inbox, add Cirque to your address book. -- Submit to https://cirque.submittable.com -- Replies average two to three months after deadlines, and we don’t mind you checking with us about your submissions. -- Cirque requires no payment or submission fees. However, Cirque is published by an independent press staffed by volunteers. Your donations keep Cirque Press going. You will find donation buttons on Submittable and you can also support us via PayPal to email@example.com. Thanks for your poetry, prose, images and financial support.
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