CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 4 , N O. 2
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 4 No. 2
Summer Solstice 2013
ÂŠ 2013 by Sandra Kleven & Mike Burwell, Editors
Cover Photo Credit: Nellika Little Design and composition: Paxson Woelber ISBN-13: 978-1490386522 ISBN-10: 1490386521I SSN 2152-4610 (online) Published by
Clock Point Press Anchorage, Alaska www.cirquejournal.com All future rights to material published in Cirque are retained by the individual authors and artists. firstname.lastname@example.org
From the Editors “A lively understandable spirit once entertained you. It will come again. Be still. Wait.” - Theodore Roethke The goal for Cirque a few issues back was self-sufficiency. Sales and readings will soon cover the cost of each issue. We were a bit short, two months back, and a single email to the Cirque mailing list resulted in contributions to cover all unmet issue costs. Seriously, just one message out and within two days, we were covered. Thanks are due to: George Rooney, Raymond Hutson, Elaine Shea, Pat Lambert, Joseph Nolting, Dee Longenbaugh, Patrick Dixon and Kathleen Tarr. This generous response allows a focus on writers and readers, sparing the editors from the headache of arithmetic. We have added to our staff, two individuals, who give their time to assist with marketing and events – Erin Monahan, in Portland, Oregon, and Kellie Doherty, in Eagle River, Alaska. We will set up readings in Anchorage, Portland and Seattle, culminating at the AWP conference, in Seattle, next February, with an event we are calling, “Saginaw-Seattle: The Reach of Theodore Roethke,” To set the stage, look in this issue for Jeff Vande Zande’s story about Roethke, his Saginaw home, and Jeff’s prize winning book American Poet: A Novel. Cirque # 8 brings a tremendous mix of work, a balance of image and text. We bring new artists and writers and those we want, always, to hear more from. We’ve pulled excerpts from several published books, Jim Sweeney’s Alaska Expedition: Marine Life Solidarity, Kris Farmen’s Turnagain, pieces by Andromeda Romano-Lax and Nicholas Dighiera from The Better Bombshell and a poem by Tess Gallagher from her collection, Midnight Lantern. You will find Eva Saulitis’ review of Christine Byl’s Dirt Work, and former poet laureate, Tom Sexton, reviews Forms of Feeling, a collection of essays by poet, John Morgan. Ela Gordon interviews Erin Hollowell about her new book Pause Traveler, providing insight on a poet’s process and the task of putting together a collection of poems. We offer our gratitude again to all contributors of literary work, images and cash. Another Cirque, a solstice gift.
Sandra Kleven ~ Michael Burwell, Cirque editors
CIrque, a Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Sandra Kleven and Mike Burwell, Editors Paxson Woelber, Designer Published twice yearly on the Winter and Summer Solstice Anchorage, Alaska Poetry Editors Rosalie Loewen Katherine Eulensen Flory Vinson Alexandra Ellen Appel Fiction Editors Gretchen Phelps Susheila Khera
Nonfiction Editors Steve Taylor Cynthia Sims Douglass Bourne Marketing Specialist Erin Monahan Intern Kellie Doherty
C IRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Vol. 4 No. 2
Summer Solstice 2013
POETRY Megan Alford Protect You 7 William Alton A Cauldron of Secrets 7 Gabrielle Barnett Mountain Men 8 Kristin Berger Border-Crossing: Nicaragua 8 James Bertolino Eagle Watching 9 Polly Buckingham Exile 9 Patrick Dixon Spiderweb 10 Jason Eisert Darwin’s Bar 10 James Engelhardt Boreal Halloween 11 David Fraser 100 Percent Milkshake 11 Leslie Fried Existential Texas 12 Tess Gallagher Karver Bookstore: Montenegro 13 Maya Ganesan Catharsis 13 Ela Harrison Say “Yes” To Where You Are 14 Jim Hanlen Chena River Strategy 16 Bob Hicks Chuckanut Crest Without Us 16 b. hutton a nod to kerouac, bukowski, waits, and the inventor of the humancity 17 Juleen Eun Sun Johnson Blink for Luck 18 Michael Johnson The Logger’s Lament 18 Michael Lee Johnson Coffee Time, Fuller’s Restaurant 19 Mary Kancewick Women Boating 19 Eric le Fatte The Physics of the Size of the Moon 20 Rafael Levchin [an optimistic apocalypse] 20 Blake Love Bible Paper 21 Marie Lundstrom Old Warbirds at an Airshow 21 Carmen Maldonado-Patrick Spring 21 David McElroy Just Between Us 22 Terry Martin A Question of Rivers 22 Kate Miller Solar Storm 23 Sharon Lask Munson Subject to Division 24 Nahaan Dipping 24 Sheila Nickerson While You Were Having Your Operation 25 On Moving into the Blue Victorian House on Elizabeth Street 25 Joe Nolting Ghost Island 26 Bill Noomah The Waters Saw You 26 Doug Pope Christmas 1961 26 Peter Porco Saloon 28 Betty Scott A Northwest Winter’s Dream 28 Tom Sexton The Man from Here 29 Visiting the Haines Homestead at Richardson, Alaska 29 Dawnell Smith fucking crickets 30 Marla Sloan when you are gone 30 Coleman Stevenson Who will not run? 31
Mary Ellen Talley I Will Hurt You Somehow 32 Carey Taylor Heirlooms 32 Jim Thielman When you picture 33 David Wagoner In Memory of Closing Time 33 Emily Wall Where I’m From 34 Liza Williams The Ahupua’a 34 Paul Winkel Caribou Crossing 35 Tonja Woelber Exit Glacier, July 35 Changming Yuan etc. 36 Mary Mullen Nikolski 1984 36 N on f iction Eileen Arnold Bird World 37 Lyn Baldwin Finding Home 39 Deborah M. Bernard Debbie Does Deadhorse 43 Julius Rockwell Jr. The Fudge Theory 46 Andromeda Romano-Lax She Looks In The Mirror 49 Kaz Sussman Chipmunkus Interruptus: An Interloper’s Lament and Other Observations 51 James P. Sweeney Wet Down Bag 52 Steve Taylor A Trained Professional: Out of the Group Home and Into the Field 53 Jeff Vande Zande Theodore Roethke, a novel American Poet 55 Fiction Nicholas Dighiera Naked Pictures of People You Know 58 Nathan Einbinder Giang 63 Kris Farmen Turn Again 70 Donna Mack Courtship 72 Leota Hoover Momma’s Moose 74 Nathan Shafer A Few Notes Concerning Alaskan Death Metal 77 A n d y H ope Awar d 80
Eva Saulitis Tom Sexton
R e v ie w s Wild is the Writing of Christine Byl: A Review of Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods 82 A Review of John Morgan’s Forms of Feeling: Poetry in Our Lives - Essays and Interviews 84
I nter v ie w Ela Harrison An Interview with Erin Coughlin Hollowell--Discussing her new book, Pause, Traveler 85 C O N T R I B U T O R S 92 ho w to s ub m it to cirque
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
POETRY Megan Alford
Protect You the shaved hair along your ear, the piercing in your nose, how it catches on the air and flakes dead skin, onto the mat, onto the carpet I am the only one in the world, (except for our mother, our father), who remembers you when you were small, small enough to bundle up in the arms and hug, your cheeks red and flushed from too many blankets, (and later on a temperament), luminous, and doughy, soft and squished, your eyes, two crushed cartons of blueberries, always smiling, always running around, on two small knees, crawling into crawl spaces, dryers and cupboards, then onto your rocking chair, pulling the dresser over as you climbed, and the crawlspace of air between the fallen chair, and the falling dresser, I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think anything else, will ever protect you as well
A Cauldron of Secrets I was awkward and nervous. She was a cauldron of secrets. I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t read her face or the way she held her hands. We spoke of work and money. We told stories about our parents, our brothers and our sisters. We grew into each other like ivy taking over a tree.
Edible Alaskan Greens, Juneau Alaska
Mountain Men Idle gossip brews with more coffee, mug and stove stoked, room wood-warmed against drizzle damp, low clouds funneling through the pass. So many chores waiting: haul, build, split, lay in, mend, feed, stack. Envy those cats, always napping when there’s work to be done. Talk turns steamy, beyond the new root cellar and leaky roof: who left who, why, when and how, running feuds, domestic and neighborly. “Tucker” Semaken’s Dogs Finish Strong Fire now crackling with a steady blaze, the rumor mill churns, cranked by a full pot of caffeine: custody suits, court proceedings, escalating beyond divorce, they’re calling it neglect, abuse, child endangerment; the bitch went and called DFYS, all over a little weed, and my thing for men, doesn’t make me a pederast, Kristin Berger does it? Men aren’t boys and we’re talking about a two year old and I wanna know, where are the stats on guys messing for Johanna & Joan with underage chicks: look at Vanessa, felt up by her mom’s new squeeze, did some time When you left us, crossed and he’s back on the scene, still into other mothers’ neighborhoods, lusting after those fresh teen tits, southerly and hot – out of arms’ reach – too much hot-blood in that Harley-riding man. a new language rolling
Conversation drained to the dregs, damper closed, and pain set back on its shelf, he loads up rototiller and chainsaw, lurches on up the dirt road, “steep enough for a tank,” he always said, a fading southern queen keeping the homestead dream alive, just barely in the bush highway hum always drifting down valley with the clouds.
from your tongue like a song stirring a clay flute I knew you would find true center: the fountains and watering holes that replenish whole villages – hermana, tia, abuela bathing together out in the open where words slip like clothes into a siesta-heap of skirts and shawls I knew you would be recognizable, but lighter, like a bird after her first migration
Hourglass Under Construction
smelling of deep wells, red dust and the smoke of other mothers’ cookfires plaiting your still-wet hair.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
Eagle Watching After walking the bay-side beach for an hour, I cut through a salt marsh, all the while watching a bald eagle hunting. He would circle like a vulture, constantly changing elevation, then dive in a gentle arc toward and over the grasses, and back up. That powerful bird repeated this strategy at least a dozen times, and it occurred to me that, with the obvious expenditure of energy, he would need something to eat soon.
I decided to climb onto a cozy looking beach log so I could continue to watch in more comfort. The predator knew I was there, of course, and after
a couple more rotations flew closer. When he was directly above, I gave a screech I’ve learned to make, having heard many eagles and hawks.
Winter is the silence after your death
He suddenly pulled back in the air—not unlike someone turning away in revulsion when they’ve heard something crude or disgusting. Then he disappeared
your ghost blankets the trees
over the trees, and I felt like a jerk.
the sheathed heron bends her head reaper of stillness handler of a sickle moon I listen for my breathing as your spirit leaps toward me the only joy I want is the joy of grief sorrow’s whitest snow
10 Patrick Dixon
Spiderweb There’s been no snow to speak of this year, and the fog drifts in most days after dark, reluctant to leave until late the next morning. We spend our early hours inside low-slung clouds that draw the landscape in sketchbook gray. Fog on land is unlike fog when you’re afloat: it’s a muffled calm in these damp woods that obscures the scene above the muddy ground. The mystery it carries in its arms enhances: sounds you know but can’t quite locate; shapes you question, then recognize. *
Darwin’s Bar --For Z.K.: 1981 – 2010
He orders up two Makers’ on the rocks And two shots of Jameson For him. For me. We smoke cigarettes at the bar, One after the other. More drinks. He tells me, I don’t want to die of old age. I don’t want to suffer.
On a drift at sea, the fog is a mask the world hides behind; a wall between you and the horizon, disaster flirting behind curtains of mist, every sound amplified, every splash suspect.
It’s one in the morning on a Tuesday In Anchorage, downtown, January. The wind and snow blow Sideways Outside at ten below.
Sandwiched between green radar and red compass is the hollow in your chest where nothing is quite right the world’s edge hangs off the bow, and you should turn the wheel before it’s too late. You are lost and out of breath on that sea inside you, a colorless shadow towing a net inside a shroud. Your vessel rolls and the sounds distort,
And we drink until there is nothing left of us. Steely Dan on the jukebox all night In this tiny bar, Its stale, salty popcorn, our only sustenance.
a boat passes by, its engine too close, too loud - going too fast never materializes, and the noise fades into the dream.
I’m serious m’man, I don’t want to die a boring death. You won’t, I say.
* You sigh and watch the corks bounce on the chop as they disappear into fingers of mist. A wave slaps the stern and reminds you you have two choices when the fog creeps in: pull the gear and limp off, hoping you’ll steer clear of the spiderweb of nets lacing the sea around you, or wait, not knowing if the gear has fish in it, not willing to check. Because if it doesn’t, you have to move, and if it does, you have to stay.
Boreal Halloween Sweet quarter candy harvest and laughter moon. The town kids cluster at schools and churches, costumes invisible as spirits under snowpants and parkas. The night moves in, but right now we’re all awake. Cold webs the quarter-year holiday, all those Celts and Saxons and Norse consulting the dead just before the long night relaxes into moon slabs and chips of starlight. Polished metal cups and bowls, wooden tafl pawns, a bent man holds these two-generations-old objects. He runs calluses over thoughts about what the shaman and witch told him over a strong mushroom drink. Cloudberries ferment as well as blue and bear berries a solace and practice refined—distilled, you might say—during nights like these, and longer. Hands slip, thinking shifts to vapor. The fence between worlds breaks, even now, and a wolf’s steamcloud howl calls for a round as the young village men wait for the bush plane with a hot-blooded eagerness, their women alone.
100 Percent Milkshake Gotta stumble on a place that serves ‘em right, like those old dairies in small towns, places where they still delivered milk, and it’s the milkmaids of yesterday, pure like the clean teats their soft hands pulled, from cows that roamed on grass outdoors, gave birth every two years, and lived five times as long as they do now. A milkshake’s gotta be one hundred percent made of milk, not some plastic filler shake from fast-food counters with names we know, and there’s gotta be that extra in the aluminum container beading up a frosty line, tempting you way past full, once your glass is drained. A hundred percent and you— too young to know the difference— sitting on a red upholstered stool, swiveling round and round, sucking on your straw, just in the moment of a milkshake, the tops of the girl’s young breasts dragging your quickening heart away from childhood and down the long dusty, boulder-broken road.
Existential Texas Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s winter it rains I read a book take a train go east from Seattle a year ago today someone in my house died three weeks from a shipwreck in a bar two weeks past coffee and flowers one week all night shivering drunk-assed two days after sex, on the train my shadow is my letter of introduction a tin medallion byss and abyss the business of being tis most certain thou shalt be free from trouble and want the last time he sighed and whispered my name, the train shushshushshushes through a flat cracked game board a copper colored caddy slinks along the access road I close my eyes I see winter a proud beast see limbs disconnected under that sheet as sooty careless clouds drift across Texas like gods ink blotter, invitation to a farewell dinner.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
Karver Bookstore: Montenegro After my poems, read in translation by Varja against a backdrop of photos projected of Ray and me when we were young, the man in the black leather jacket approaches to tell me he hates the Irish, especially the sound of their language. I repeat that I am Irish, Cherokee and English, something already mentioned in Varja’s introduction. He doesn’t register. He worked with an Irishman. He now knows all Irish people. Nonetheless he pursues me at the party. Having heard of my cancer survival, he confesses a fear of prostate cancer. He wants to know my treatment, trying to gauge my survival chances from drug properties – how much was done to keep me here. From his questions I realize he’s a pharmaceutical salesman. He casts a rant against everyone around us who is smoking and that is everyone. “You could have stopped Ray,” he tosses, widening his will to damage. Not having met Ray’s demons he could imagine lifting them. Nonetheless, I wish it had been true, and that Ray was, in fact, standing there instead of me. But I cannot even calm this man. Soon two writers lift him under his arms and carry him outside like a small disabled scarecrow. The residue of accusation, of hating the Irish, of disgust with smokers hangs in the air – everyone still talking about him. “He said he was from Sarajevo,” Varja says, “but maybe just to engage my emotions.” Someone offers: “His accent was Northern or maybe Bosnian.” “Well, it doesn’t matter,” Varja answers. “No, it doesn’t matter.” Someone else quietly pulls the moment into focus. It isn’t about where he came from or ethnic identity. He is one man saying
what he says and getting himself kicked out onto the terrace above the river while everyone tries to get away from the sludge, the intricate detritus of what they wanted to feel about a man nobody knows who came into their midst with unhappy things on his mind, and unhappy ways of trying to make the world carry it, and him. Yes, we still have to carry him. And even now, remembering Ray, I make room for the scald of him, his heedless taunt, the outcast moment when his hatred-sword was raised over me and I wished for him, somewhere out there in the night, the largesse of that one whose gift had brought us all together. “Karver Bookstore: Montenegro” (c) 2011 by Tess Gallagher. Reprinted from Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems with the permission of the author and Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota. www.graywolfpress.org
Catharsis We wake up cold, rough curtains banging our stone arms and stone cheeks. I have a headache, and your lips are open but unspeaking, and your steel-blue eyes are stars zipping through our vortex. We are planet and moon, clinging on to distance, the space between us stale. The smoke from your morning cigarette washes over my dirty hair. We lie still for a long time, listening to the heavy nothingness, the tides in our fingers rushing.
Say “Yes” To Where You Are Just arrived: Anchorage teemed with rain, and in a cab from the airport’s not-here-not-there, the driver’s accent might take you to Europe, Mideast, or Asia. Yellow cabs, a line of sleeping men, feet tossed up, limbo of reclined seats, except the young man with the minivan front of the line, eager to take my bag—he ushered me in where the seats were spread with curtains, fleur-de-lys printed, bagging, too big for the space; their brocaded cords swung, trippers, from the seat-backs. He punched buttons, started the meter. I gave the address, carefully enunciating, clarified “between Gambell and Ingra.” The meter climbed its 25-cent increments, every few strokes of the wipers. “Cun yu find uddress?” Before I realized he meant me, I recognized, “He’s Turkish,” and heard again Buyurun, word of welcome, even in a space not your own, unsaid partner to his gracious movements when he let me in. I suggested a route, heard incomprehension in silence. He passed me the cellphone: an uncle? “I’m sorry, he’s new”—same accent, aged and fluent. (New to what? To Anchorage, rain, soon snow? To speaking English? To driving?) I repeated the address, sent the phone forward. He listened. “Evet,” he said. “Evet...eh-vet,” then mellifluous syllables I couldn’t parse. Some languages have no “yes” at all; I can’t think of any, save Turkish and Magyar, that award it two syllables. They seemed a luxury in his mouth. “Evet.” I understand. “Ehvet.” Got it. “EEh-vet.” Uncle, gimme a break, I’m doing my best here. On buses in Turkey, the conductor heralds journey’s end with “Evet. Istanbul.” “Evet. Izmir.”— “Yes. Here we are. Yes. This city.” Being in this here city, named as a place of arrival, is what made my driver new: an apologetic term. The meter kept climbing as we drove the streets and I pushed aside uncharitable suspicion of meanders (word coined from a river in Turkey) to bring up the fare. Who am I to know Anchorage so well? Not being new makes less difference
than uncle implied. I could see the driver’s face in his mirror: black bangs halfway down his forehead; heavy brows crowding close over deepset eyes: so much like one of my cousins he looked...
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 What are we doing here—we people of olives, grapes and figs—in this gray sprawl? His eyes flicked toward mine in the mirror—caught, I turned, stared out at the rain. You could have gone to Germany, where there are millions who speak your language, spread curtains on seats (as my mother also does); or to London, to Green Lanes, where bakeries featuring the gamut from magnificent frosted cakes to the flat lavoush my mother loves proclaim Siçak Ekmek for “Hot Bread;” social clubs are called Dostlar; there’s olive bars at the markets; Hurriyet on the newsstands, men (who look like but unlike my uncles) sitting outside Dostlar in white shirts, reading Hurriyet with its tissue-blue paper, or playing pool inside, white lino-tiled floor like the stone-tiled white floors of the Middle East. Why here? And I— I said yes to a risky love and opening—a door I would never have approached; yes to the world through others’ eyes: better to have risked… Still the wipers, 25 cents more. There is no “Green Lanes” here. No place of reminding, where we may feel close that world of sun-drench, olives figs and grapes. Eyes down, cousin: through the rain, let’s hold remembered words and smells, threads of our fraying curtains. When lost, ram your knuckles into your eyes, squeeze forth a ration of those home colors, brighter than this climate’s sun can cast. Eyes down: as we arrived, he said a soft “Yes.” I wanted to thank him “Teşekul” as I paid. The word formed, no air came to launch it. Money passed silent, he drove away.
Sacred Time Sacred Space
Chena River Strategy Forward over bad ground over good ground over right guard watch the sidelines watch them Hail Mary Faster follow the ones before the great ones Sewanee Mississippi Missouri Columbia and the little Horseman Chena Moon over the Yukon River, Kaltag
Clear-eyed hear the chanting Chena Chena Chena and the team pours right past us you couldn’t miss it it slips all tackles you couldn’t put a hand on it.
Chuckanut Crest Without Us Pitch and dark and chill seeped into us, grasped us, shepherding our pace for the remainder of the trail. The forest below – matted burnished needle and gold leaf. The forest above and about – charcoaled green fir and cedar staggering. Everything dusked at noon. The quiet was loud, insistent wind bluster covering our heartbeats. We stood at the rock face in a mist of unknowing.
Montague Island, Gulf of Alaska
This is a taste, a measured sip, of the world as it is each moment without us.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
Juleen Eun Sun Johnson
a nod to kerouac, bukowski, waits, and the inventor of the humancity he was never much accused of any ‘serious’ poetry. couldn’t tell you a sestina from a sonnet a couplet from a conceit his was the poetry of the humancity overheard in seedy bars and bus stops cell blocks and psycho wards caterwaulings of the wounded wafting up from city streets in the middle of the night blue collar laments of lost love and violent regret drunken glee and hangover cures the hard verse of hard times and heroic gesture beating the man and being beaten back lessons never taught in the halls of academia of lives lived fast and loose at last outlived by the creep of impotent rage and the ravages of age a sage sodden finally by his refusal to look away from the sadness the madness of the indomitable will in the face of crushing existence. his was the curse of an honesty unbidden his was the verse of the forgotten man.
Juleen Eun Sun Johnson
Blink for Luck
Steinbeck Library, Salinas, CA Wednesday March 10, 2005
The yellow grass starts to turn green. The four--thirty shade creeps in, the sun departs. Shadows fall on John Steinbeck, his statue, the masked half of his face. Two teens flirt on a cement bench, kissing with their wild eyes. Bees buzz with nectar from a dandelion in a crack of the cement bench. Red and yellow roses wrestle against the weight of the light wind. Two glass doors swing open exposing books The Dead and the Living, by Sharon Olds, Eulogy, by Larry Levis, Not this Pig, by Philip Levine, Essential Works, by Rumi. In the children’s corner, a garden snake sleeps in a glass cage, A dictionary on top. He cannot escape. In the other corner, a round table with books, and pint-sized chairs. in the center, seven computers two are empty. On the screen, in front of one boy, a picture of a moon halo. When moonlight reflects off ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, the computer tells him, moon halos are created. Now I know what I want to be when I grow up, the boy says, an astronaut. Another boy, about eleven years old, looks at his freshly--primped pages bound in book form in his hands. He has just created them. He blinks in astonishment at his work. He goes back to his computer to type. Mouses click to the beat of books being checked out and everyone in the library blinks all at once. Maybe it is for luck.
The Logger’s Lament
Sunrise raises a bristled crop of quicksilver across my lawn and the torn edges of treeline where each of my birches and cedars gradually topple to the river. Their elegant sway, each one’s gentle lean and submission, that exquisite geometry of the land redrawing itself in slowly shifting lines and rushing things, all seems somehow voluntary, a willing sacrifice, much the way a daughter becomes a wife. So I stand, a father, watching the water my trees are wed to, feeling a small pain at each, because I can’t bless, offer, or even give, what was never mine.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
Michael Lee Johnson
Coffee Time, Fuller’s Restaurant (Edmonton, Alberta)
June 29th, 1980, three o’clock A.M. And I’m getting older by the minute. Thinking about it makes me tired. Outside traffic crawls slowly over slippery pavement like inebriated turtles. Inside, at the coffee counter, I flirt with a waitressfresh young fruit from Montreal. She insists on calling me Vincent Price and speaking French in Alberta. I’m trying to read Periods of the Moon, by Irving Layton, selecting the human condition, repetition, and insomnia as my main themes. Next to me, a street gypsy drooping over the counter beside me, pulling scraps of dog-eared aged newsprint from a doggie bag. She stares squint-eyed at a picture of John F. Kennedy for two hours, manages to laugh an incredible 29 times, sorry, 30 times, 31. Counting makes me tired, makes me take notice of this gypsy and disapprove.
Women Boating An open skin boat. Geese overhead. A seal leading.
We move our limbs in rays, our paddles in ripples, our faces in season our voices in the time that moves all
together. We are the nanogak, women boating.
[an optimistic apocalypse] Translated from the Russian by Olga Livshin and Andrew Janco
[an optimistic apocalypse] the light is shining we’ve no care for dark we’re sealed by the moon times of trouble times of harvest the world is hard and dear there are no more wings or flippers no more goodvil no more evood scholiasts don’t see witches’ kitchens and the goat’s howl Dorotaya
coriander cardamom cumin an’ cinnamon out stink out
Eric le Fatte
The Physics of the Size of the Moon We noticed how the moon shrank as it rose. It wasn’t through an elemental change, but just how we saw it, the scaling of perception. Above the sound of trickling water, the glacial basin of seven lakes, osprey wings, Eagle Cap, Horton Pass and constellations, the moon had become a bureaucrat. We both preferred the other moon, the one with attachments to earth and dust: huge and tangerine, chin resting on the eastern ridgeline, the lamp that softened our granite ballroom. The moon is large when it’s one of us.
time’s moving to the end a kick to the face tzim tzum Beispiel
Notes 1. In the Kabbalah, Tzimtzum refers to the notion that God “contracted” his infinite light in order to allow for a conceptual space in which a finite, independent world could exist. This contraction is known as the Tzimtzum. 2. Zum Beispiel (German): for example.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
Old Warbirds at an Airshow
I learned everything I know by watching the uneven plane of sepia desert dry. In the curls of heat evaporating the water grown green in aqueducts, there was promise.
Those lumbering B-17s tighten throats of old men who flew them hot, dealing and dodging death, when both were young.
My feet hissed onto freshly tarred tracts. Skin in midday bubbling like Yucca sap the color of smoke, course dust. Unafraid of wind and netted by psilocybin
Even we who were kids in those ration-card years, knew Flying Fortresses. Our war flew above our heads, so we didn’t recognize it later in our high school history books.
the foam dregs coated cheap beer cans, acting as oracle. I plotted how to begin again like a rattler in Spring sizzling in clumps of burning poppies.
The earth didn’t vaunt a misty omen the day I drove away sucking cigarettes rolled with paper torn from a blue bible my Grandmother gave me.
Original # 213
Do you think this is spring? We’ve learned to accept it over time that spring is a cold, gray thing a dirty, wet road muddy snow branches still naked and flowers still dead but it’s March and something in the air says it’s here I feel it, some shifting— it is spring after all it’s laying there, underneath waiting to happen, and thank god— I thought it wouldn’t come this time. Every year winter gets longer. One day I’ll wake up and look out into the white that has been there for a decade and think wistfully about these springs, the ugly, dirty springs that kept me going.
Just Between Us I have the perfect face for melting into a crowd. Muddy green eyes, potato nose, some foggy hair clouding my El Capitan half dome. I could be a spy, a mole, that quiet drinker at the bar. I give the effect of tan wallpaper in a dental office, empty African savannah, possible but unlikely lions in grass behind the chair. North Slope oil workers mistake me for air, cold wind on the face, just outside of where the mind wanders: fishing the Kenai, mother humming a little something, rubbing clove on a toothache. Women let me stare at beauty they hardly know they own, fingernails clicking meaning into keyboards, or shucking hillside corn, baby in a sling, sun scorching caramel on their arms. There I am dozing on the chicken bus or commuter train, my face in dappled shadow, our dusty fraternity nodding off dreaming against indifference. In the lobby on a cell phone, that’s me turning away for a fraction to whisper of love or work. Sometimes for me you hold the elevator, sometimes I lift your bucket full from the well.
A Question of Rivers The care of rivers isn’t a question of rivers, but of the human heart. Tanaka Shozo
The pine tree lacks ambition. The wild rose longs for nothing. Restless as wind, thirst unsated, voice hollow, I’ve come to let the river work on me. Breeze whispers through evergreens. Current rushes on like it always has. Finches swoop and glide in pairs, untouchable gold at their centers. A chattering chipmunk scrabbles dust, comes close to get a better look at this strange newcomer, her head in the clouds. Stopping next to my foot, he cocks his head, clear eyes curious, wondering.
To do anything entirely, with whole attention, is prayer. Wild mind pinballs from thought to thought, past and future squeezing out now. My restlessness is a script I must learn to read.
For my father
This is the autumn I forgot the anniversary of your death. Every day a suffocation of flags. Across the street my neighbor bellows, his snarls seep out the shuttered windows, a thin stream of kerosene. On the other side of the lake, up the furred green flank of Stewart Mountain, a single yellow poplar, like a match, struck. Last night, the Northern Lights, a green flick and simmer this side of death. The heart, fatigued muscle, stutters, stops. Remember that day we flew to Sitka in the Piper Cub, you already thigh high in the grave? How afraid I was to fly, and how ashamed. The pilot, barely drinking age, buffed his fingernails, clouds smoldered below us, a buck might have stepped out of the forest, lifted his massive rack, chuffing. Your cedar box sits on my bureau. I used to tiptoe into your bedroom just to touch it, pester you to show me the medals that rattled and rolled like bones inside. Lately you’ve been circumnavigating my dreams, I hear you whistling in the attic, thumping down the basement stairs, laughing in the next room, telling stories about that time you cut my hair short as a boy’s. Sometimes I think it’s easier to talk to you now, your body gone to ash and the rest of you so widely dispersed. “So what’s it like, where you are now?” I ask as I split wood for kindling, the clean curve of the ax cleaving each piece of milled fir. “Vast,” I hear you say, “vast” and I see again the mountains that rippled out below the plane: unnamed, uncountable, and your face, just this side of death, backlit against the window, bedazzled.
Sharon Lask Munson
Subject to Division Before another night of arguments, threats, ultimatums, held captive within a smoldering marriage, she stuffs an overnight bag, tiptoes downstairs, steals out as the clock chimes midnight. After the separation he claims ownership of twelve place settings of blue Wedgewood he had once thought her extravagant to buy, their prized collection of antique miniatures she had spent a decade collecting, and her grandmother’s hand crocheted ecru bedspread unfurled in the guest room, upstairs. After the divorce he felt he had the upper hand— potentate of possessions, trappings of bits and pieces, he moved through silent rooms fondling, caressing .
Dipping i sang glacier songs for saltwater and sky stood waist deep in winter crystal clarity to call old growth to the forefront of my being. i know they hear me. i see their silhouettes amongst the fog touched tides and mountain sides. praying through my river voice
She asked for nothing—soared away as graceful as a mourning dove.
Juleen Eun Sun Johnson
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
Bare Tree Sunset
While You Were Having Your Operation That morning the smoke crawled over the mountains from Wenatchee and Table Mountain into Skagit Valley, you were having your operation. Crows were floating over mowed fields reading rodent news while you were having your operation. Spiders were resting from their nightâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work and horses waiting at their pasture gates while you were having your operation. They brought me your valuables-eyeglasses, a telephone, a watch-while you were having your operation and smoke was sliding down the hills filled with scenes from far away of crows and mice and those who wait vacant by a closed gate holding treasures in their hands.
On Moving into the Blue Victorian House on Elizabeth Street On Elizabeth Street, trash is picked up Mondays. Lilacs come in May, cherries in July, and so the small seasons of the heart pass by. We set the table, every day the same, with plates of white and blue, but no one can explain the presences that come to join us every night. We changed the locks; still something stirs, as if a cat, gone feral, got left behind and claimed the space between the walls we think we bought. We tried to find its history. The house was old but would not tell itself. And so we went on living there, guests consulting calendars and clocks.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it. —Revelations 20:13
Ghost Island Japan’s apocalyptic trinity: earthquake, tsunami, nuclear implosion casts an island of debris adrift— refrigerators, televisions, fishing boats— a nation’s web of catastrophe pulled eastward by the Pacific’s ceaseless currents. The tangled, floating relics: a one-eyed doll an unfinished painting glasses without lenses drift to a distant dark cove where memory is stretched thin and grief is swallowed whole.
The Waters Saw You after Psalm 77:16, NIV
The waters saw you, as you idled the boat from the harbor, past the breakers toward the fishing grounds, the old gill-netter’s diesel churning a wake, the waters saw you and writhed, the dark hours broke like water under the keel, and we fought sleep. Then, the very depths were convulsed, salmon hung in the waves cresting above the deck. A portion of net, eased over the stern, anchored us to the sea. We kept the careful watch of fear.
Christmas 1961 Ice covers my bedroom window. Until last week, temperatures were hovering at -40. Then they started dropping. Christ, I think, it must be 50 below. Someone’s pounding on the back door of our country store. The old man goes downstairs to check. It’s Smitty, who works in the butcher shop, looking for a Christmas pint. He started drinking two days ago. Excited voices come from the living room. My two little brothers must be up. Last night, I babysat for them while my mom and the old man went to Pauline’s Rainbow Room. It’s a squat bar near the main highway, with red, blue, and yellow stripes. Pauline has thin red hair, lots of rouge, bright lipstick. My mom changed into a white blouse. The old man put on a string tie. They got home late, arguing. After he disappeared, I yelled at her for leaving me with a two-year-old while they got drunk. Now, it’s Christmas morning. I’m by the tree we cut with an axe. My nine-year-old brother shows me a gift. A sixth grade chemistry set with a red ribbon tied around it. I realize the set is for me, and drop it on the floor. Jesus Christ, I’m a high school junior. In the kitchen, the radio is tuned into The Littlest Angel, “sponsored by Marvel Mobile Homes.” It’s twilight through the window. I stare at a frost-covered birch, and think about my escape plan. Palming a buck from the cash register when I can, hiding them in a box under my bed. More than fifty stashed away so far. I know the plan needs more money and warm weather. I ‘ve gotta get out of here, I think, then grab the News-Miner and look inside. Two movies are playing at the Lacey Street Theater. Yule Brynner is starring in “Once More, with Feeling” at three. “Song Without End,” at five, is about the “life, loves and music of the fabulous Franz Liszt.” I think he must be a 50s blues musician.
But, the Lacey Street is downtown. Getting there is a half mile walk to the main highway, then six miles of hitchhiking. No matter what, I’m going. The old man comes back from drinking with Smitty. “You checked the trailers?” he asks. “I checked last night,” I reply, “before I closed up.” I know he remembers backhanding me after discovering a cold trailer with a busted water line, toilet pinned to the ceiling by a mushrooming glacier of ice. But, it’s Christmas, and he doesn’t yell at me to get out there and check again. Instead, he looks at my mom. She’s holding a glass of VO and coke. “I’m going to the Badger Den to have a drink with Verl.” “You’re going to see that hooker,” she says, her voice rising with each word. “Shut up, bitch,” he shouts back. When he leaves, I go to the phone, put my finger on the disconnect button, start dialing. “Are we still on?” I ask in a loud voice. “Mike and I are going to a movie,” I say, “looks like a good one.” “On Christmas Day?” She slurs the words.
I put on a car coat, insulated shoes, earmuffs and gloves. The sliver of daylight is gone. I head out the gravel road for the highway, looking for the light at the junction, holding my right sleeve against my forehead. And then my left. By the time I get there, my forehead is fine. My thighs are numb. I could get warm at the Rainbow Room. “Honey, knock on the back door anytime,” Pauline always says. But I stay there, under the cone of light from the mercury lamp, curling my tongue while breathing in. Two dim pinpoints appear through the ice fog and get bigger. I stick out my right hand and thumb. It’s a pickup with the windshield frosted over. The driver has big mittens and a hat with flaps tied under his chin. When I slide onto the seat, I look straight ahead and say, “Downtown.” He reaches for a putty knife and scrapes frost off the windshield all the way to Second Avenue. The big thermometer on the bank reads -55.
The door is open at the Sportsman’s Arcade. No one is shooting pool or playing the pinball machines. Guys in back are sitting around a card table with Velveeta, Vienna sausages, and saltines spread out, drinking from paper cups. They look up, don’t say a word. I cross the street to the theater, walk under the neon sign, glance at the movie posters, buy a ticket and some popcorn. One other person is inside, sitting near the front. I sit in the middle of the back row. The movie is about a famous piano player falling for a married Russian princess while he tours Europe. There are a lot of scenes where he is in a black cape wearing white gloves and she is dressed in red or black. But it is warm inside. Although my mind drifts during the piano parts, I stay until the end.
Saloon She walked in with him. Devil only knows I felt then the slope of her back, warm cup of her chest. My boot bashed the railed oak bar. I thought: Hell! Look what’s in my hand now. He’s got her, while for me, this long bottle, neck sloping to a voluptuous chill, a cool IPA rapture on my lips, hops with a bite like those I’d greet her hips with. She pulled up on the stool to my side, her ankles laced in longing, lazy smile breaking my way, eyes of easy fire. ’Til his thumbnail stroked her chin, swiveled her his way. Hell. This IPA and I? Why we’re soaked in friendship deep enough for love.
A Northwest Winter’s Dream
In tribute to William Stafford and for my brother who share the same birthday, January 17th.
I do not know how I arrived on this mountain, or where we are destined, but my car is filled with passengers. We climb a steep road, red-soiled, wheels spinning, crushing rock. When we reach the summit, the cliff edge beckons. My car could sprout wings, but I swerve from ledge and air and wake up scared. How mute, this day-break, how silent this call to change my way on this, my distant brother’s birthday. While trees pine in greens and browns, the sky in empty gray, I breathe in the awe of dawn, the light that shimmers through my bedroom shade.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
The Man from Here Pale green leaves were opening on the trees when I saw him climbing the bank from a beach that appears when Cook Inlet’s tide is slack. Smoke rose from the ashes of his driftwood fire. Once on the trail, he began to walk toward me as an ancestor of his would have walked toward Captain Cook’s crew sent out to see if this inlet was their goal, the fabled Northwest Passage. A street person and he’s after change I thought, but all he wanted to know was where I was from. “Massachusetts” I said “ been here for fifty years.” He swept his arm in a wide arc from Point Possession named by Cook to the mountains curving north and east before he smiled and said “I’m from here.”
Visiting the Haines Homestead at Richardson, Alaska In memory of John and Jo Haines
The empty cabin’s door is open to the wind, the new owner lives in town, the bare frame of their greenhouse could be a longship arrived to carry their lingering spirits over Banner Dome, over the bloodred tundra, over the mistshaping ghosts of the Dorset People, over the polar ice into that endless startimbered shaft we know as myth where Odin waits with a raven perched on each shoulder while the poet, Bragi,
plucks a stoneharp to welcome them.
when you are gone
how thoughtless death is never right, never ready never when you’ve got summer in jars, and winter battened down and stored beneath the stairs tidy as anything, no-death insists on the middle, as if the unfolding of your red petals with the sun translucent behind you doesn’t matter, as if the butter you melted isn’t needed for the dough, as if the map of the gridded streets, crossing each other at right angles was worthless anyway
my mother the revisionist historian says that I never liked bugs as a girl and that’s why she never crawled on her hands and knees like I do now sifting through dirt and grass for ants and harvestmen or copulating crickets to toss into the pond so that my own two boys, hovering at the water’s edge, can see a blaze of trout swallowing two at a time
(It’s easier catching them that way, conjoined and in a bind)
she says too that things were okay until the year she and dad bought the saloon and he had to decide whether to drink and die or just die as my brother and I, lingering by the kitchen table, rolled our adolescent eyes and wondered how and when to reel in the line of drool hooked to his slack blue tie
(I feel bad about the crickets but am mesmerized by trout as they circle and rise, circle and rise slicing the surface for a taste of sky)
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
Who will not run? …its general appearance can best be expressed as being like an umbrella pine, for it rose to a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into branches… - Pliny the Younger, Selected Letters of Pliny
The volcano at the Science Fair actually worked and spewed its baking soda foam down the paper mountainside. Chemical reaction, it bubbled and rushed the rough slope toward the tiny Pompeii’s cobbled streets, Play-doh villas, shrubs, even a bakery.
Missing here, as Pliny described it, the ash that moved like a flood on land, the sky that broke into a red-hot pumiced rain until there was no daylight in the day— absolute black of a windowless room in which families searched for each other by their voices in the dark.
Old Man and Young Woman Dancing as Jealosy (Envy) Looks On
The actual deaths— so very quick—mid-action in the pyroclastic heat— one moment reaching for a door—the next forever in that reach—
He hurried to the place which everyone else was hastily leaving, the Younger said of his uncle, the Older, who stood on the shore to see it better before the fumes choked and felled him like a tree,
proof that there are some who will not run, who want to see it coming for them— to look up into the stars until smoke and ash or their failing eyes blot out every last one.
Mary Ellen Talley
I Will Hurt You Somehow There is a bell Hanging from a cedar Near tree line It often rings Without wind Just from the commotion of memory
Heirlooms The Fourth of July roses hang from my father’s arbor. Sweet apple first, then ruffles red and white, with buttery bean sprout centers. Worn linen petals flutter, flutter and wave welcome, inviting one last look--before their canes are frost-filled streams, and hips are bird-picked clean. On each visit we tarry, tarry at the trellis. He admires how far they’ve grown, awaits the inches left, touches green tenderly, turns The Old Church Steeple, Kaltag
and asks again, aren’t they something? As if I hadn’t heard him on all those previous visits-as if I didn’t understand what he was saying to me-as if in the gloaming summer fade I had somehow missed the flicker in his eyes-when he snipped then passed on that pinwheel jewel--as if
Penstemon on a Sunny Hike
in his eighty-year-old hand, I couldn’t see his mother’s crooked finger.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
When you picture the rabbit the magician pulled out of a hat do you ever wonder what kind of world it would be if rabbits pulled magicians out of tomato patches or the woman having been sawed into two pieces became two women who didn’t take kindly to being part of an act and wanted more out of life and began arguing and pummeling the magician with the hat and saw and maybe even the rabbit, letting him know they deserved better and the audience would rise up and shout, throwing fists in the air because they might not understand magic but they did understand being pummeled and things not working out and parties getting ruined and they weren’t paying good money for that.
Oranges and Lemons
In Memory of Closing Time There comes a time in the night when all young singers and scribblers and dabblers and sketchers and story-tellers and revisionaries disunited have to accept the closing of tavern doors in front of their faces and, with an about face, must face the Absolute in the form of going home, which is a way of saying to the place where they’ve been having the least success in not being themselves any longer than necessary. They remember how their feet are arranged to go forward one or two at a time or sideways under the friendly impulse to digress from sidewalk to gutter and out into cross streets whose signals and intersecting cross-purposefulness are dear to the hearts of discursive controversy illuminated by private power and public light where they have the nightly choice under the influence of themselves to choose among leading small parades, festive fandangos, hoe-downs, funereal recessions with tears and indignant laughter, or what have you depending on seasonal winds under the windows of more organized and habitual members of the subhuman community. They take their miscues perhaps from the self-counseling of James Joyce who would announce midway by flickering gaslight Spider Dance! and go loping and leaping, legs askew, from cobblestones to puddles to unschooled slate to the doorsteps of paudeens and put their feet down for him and down again and up to the verge of the immediate future each step of the way as Hardy thought Browning did, not knowing he was tripping along the edge of a cliff in the fog of his own bewilderment, or if they haven’t suffered the happy fate of Schubert whose friends wouldn’t let him think of sleep, but would find another place to make him make music, they let themselves lie down with the noise of their beaten hearts, assuming several of many uncompromising positions, and are, till tomorrow, stunned by dreams--oh, those dreams!- of their own invention.
Where I’m From I am from rain sluicing through spruce, black bodies of orcas rising through water. I’m from beach fires in Thane nights atop Mt. Jumbo on solstice only a few hours of dark stew eaten right out of the can. I’m also from Food-4-less on Powell Street Portland dark interior, food sold in bulk taking food stamps. I’m from remedial math in a room with kids who can’t read a gang girl who slaps me for wearing a blue bandana. I’m from a band teacher with a skin condition who dared to teach us, who everyone said I was sleeping with. And also from a house on a river built by a grandfather who died early I’m from slipping into the river in my underwear, age fourteen, after cleaning that house all day, just my head above water as the boats roared by. I’m from writing in the beach mud with a stick: my name, imagined name of my husband, children. I’m from the word Alaska carved deep carved over and over.
Softly sweeping mountains down to sharp blades of ‘aki‘aki ocean dwelling calling manō at her side parading deepness feet in soil earth seeping up between toes no difference of salt and water and breezy ocean balm and skin as silky as deeply colored earthen rocks as strong as nā makani o nā pali softly scented laua‘e reaching up and over and downward in a sweet but deep embrace, intertwined sweeping past its fingers reaching down into ocean depths beyond the sands and back, to fragrant coves of misty naupaka, the naupaka kahakai the white petals of our collective lands and waters the inheritance of the careful tending of earth, soil, wind, and sun, the echoes of our ancestors. Glossary: Ahupua’a: A land division that extends from the uplands to the sea. ‘Aki’aki: A type of seashore rush grass, a coarse grass which grows on sandy beaches. Manō: Shark. Makani: Wind, breeze. Pali: Cliff, precipice, steep hill or slope. Nā makani o nā pali, the winds of the steep cliffs.
Caribou Crossing Dark dots speckle the mottled green of tundra. We fly above Caribou by the thousands, migrating to the coastal plain. Next morning the work starts. Measure drain line elevations, distance between manholes. The village sewer system is expanding. Ground and manhole covers frozen. Start at the top, hauling scope, rod and pickaxe. Pick point under a cover, I pry, lift fifty pounds of cast iron. Just as Joe reaches, the pick slips, a finger is crushed. Head thrown back, body arched, mouth open in a soundless scream, right fist clutched to chest, limp glove trapped under cold iron. His first words to me, “Not your fault.” Village health aid dresses his hand as best she can, calls for a medivac flight. I carry the glove, still holding a severed finger. Below the plane’s wings, caribou meander north, as they have for thousands of years, grazing as they go.
Exit Glacier, July Rocky mountains ring me with spires, circle me in snow-streaked arms, magnify the melody of mossy streams; crystal water cascades over stone, violets appear at every turn. Wonder and delight combine in a paradise of endless day until I see enormous shoulders coming down a green slope yards away, rippling with black fur, each paw as wide as its leg, and feel the needle of adrenalin spark my blood and telescope my vision, every sinew poised for flight. Her eyes meet mine, her nose twitches she turns, bolts uphill at lightning speed, leaves and branches fly skyward in her wake. I drop in a meadow of bluebells, gasp for air.
etc. we, yuan ii, by the grace of god, emperor and autocrat of all english words, king of dreamland grand duke of assonance and consonance, author of allen qing yuan, architect of george lai yuan, last scribbler of poetic lines, et cetera et cetera et cetera et cetera etc herein proclaim ourselves as no extra ordinary line but an ellipsis...
Nikolski 1984 You could see their faces staring at the sky a sky too limitless and intimidating
Western Cook Inlet, Alaska
on this near calm sunny day. The denim blue water of the north Pacific was all a glitter this day you could see their faces staring at the sky. Nostrils upâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; hearts wave at Valerie, the last young one in the village who must fly off to high schoolâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;she is too graceful and brave to look down at her elders who know that the village grows closer to death with every foot the Cessna 180 climbs.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
NONFICTION Eileen Arnold
Pennsylvania smells like wild onions and honeysuckle in the summer. I never noticed this until, biking home from work one day, I heard a bird call. The sound was so sudden and piercing that it made me stop on the side of the road, which is surprising, because I didn’t stop for much in those days. The summer I was 20, every morning at 6:45 my dad would load my bike into his car trunk and drive me to work. I finished at three, but he wouldn’t finish until five, so I would have to bike home. I dreaded the ride home. It was a 45 minute, mostly uphill trip on back roads in the heat of the day. There were no sidewalks, so I would bike as far to the right of the two-lane road as possible, always fearing the housewives and landscapers who would fly past me in mini-vans and trucks on the newly paved asphalt. The road bisected thin forest and abandoned farm fields, so I was always balancing uneasily, trying to avoid cars on one side, and vegetation on the other. Temperatures that were constantly in the 80s, frequently in the 90s, and humidity warnings that prompted our local weather people to advise us to stay inside with the air-conditioning on made it the lowest point of my day. I didn’t think about much besides work and school during those commutes. I had three jobs to make tuition for college. The ride home led to a three hour break, and then the third shift with my dad and siblings at a shipping company. All my energy was used in manual labor and most of my brain power too. Sometimes while biking, I would think about the value of a college education and if it was worth working 14 hours a day. Most of the time, though, I counted. I counted how many hours I worked in a day, how many hours of sleep I got in a night, how much money I made in a week, and how much of a dent that would make in a year’s worth of tuition. On the grueling bike ride home, I counted how many leg pumps it would take me to complete a road or get up a particular hill to focus my brain on something abstract while my legs and arms (already tired from unloading truckloads of merchandise all day) strained and trembled in the heat. The steepest road, called Graterford, was the final stretch before I turned into my housing development. The road before that was Sunset, which was relatively flat. I would
37 coast on Sunset so that I could catch my breath and gather myself before the final exertion. One day, somewhere in the middle of July, I was drifting along Sunset when I heard a sound like an alarm, directly to my right. “RI-cherd, RI-cherd, RI-cherd!”“RI-cherd, RI-cherd, RI-cherd!” At that time of day, everything intelligent was sleeping. Creatures were always darting across the roads and into the underbrush in the early mornings and evenings, but usually I didn’t pass anyone or anything alive unless you count the cars. The mechanical buzz of power lines and--more pleasant--the hum of cicadas was the only thing I ever heard. The call, which started loud and then crescendoed, obviously came from a bird, for although it sounded like someone was insistently calling the name “Richard,” it had a musical, tweeting quality to it. The bird sounded like it was extremely close-practically at my feet, but the trees, dense with leaves, kept it hidden. The sun shone brightly on me, but couldn’t illuminate the bird’s hiding place. It kept calling “RI-cherd, RI-cherd, RI-cherd!” “RI-cherd, RI-cherd, RI-cherd!” Birds had never interested me in any way. But this one interrupted my blinkered, focused life and made me notice it. I wanted to see it. The bird never showed itself, but while I balanced on my bike and stared into the trees I caught the scent of onions and honeysuckle. I was then, and still am, somewhat inattentive to the world outside my head. I like to say that I’m cerebral. Oblivious might be more accurate. Faces don’t stick with me, I’m hopeless when it comes to directions that involve landmarks, and it’s not uncommon for me to walk way beyond my destination if I’m deep in thought about something. When I say that I noticed the smell of my surroundings I’m saying it was one of the few times my parietal lobe cared about the outside world. It was a big deal. The last border before the forest was the honeysuckle growing along the edge of the road. Honeysuckle is not traditionally beautiful, as far as flora goes, but it has tiny, sweet looking clusters of white flowers that reach and twine around the twigs and leaves of other plants. I was wilting in the summer heat, but they were thriving. They smelled like melting honey, something you could drizzle over ice cream. The onions smelled sharp and acrid--they were the one thing that could cut through the humidity. Five minutes after the bird stopped me, I continued on my way. I wish I could say I walked into the trees to try to find the bird, pick some honeysuckle, or figure out which of the plants were onions. I wish I could say that, once home, I discovered what bird says “RI-cherd, RI-cherd, RI-cherd! The truth is, once I got up Graterford,
panting for air and watching the heat rise above the road in mirage-like streams, I was thinking about water, not ornithology. The truth is, I got home, ate a bowl of peaches with milk, and lay down to sleep on the living room floor for a couple hours before my dad got home. And I didn’t think about that bird again for almost ten years, though I did enjoy the honeysuckle and onion bouquet every day for the rest of the summer. *** I came out of college intact and with minimal debt. The Jesuit Volunteer Corps lured me to Bethel, Alaska, and eventually, a local man made me want to stay. For the first time since I was 15, I worked only one job and had tons of down time. Bethel is a place where you get a hobby, or you get out. The entire town is a little less than 50 square miles and there are no roads in or out unless you have a snow machine to travel to one of the villages or plane fair to take you to Anchorage. Winter weather can start as early as late September and last until late May. You need something to do during those long, cold months--you need something to do during the long, cold, light months too. I’ve taken classes in yoga, mystery novels, and photo journalism. I’ve sewn a kuspuk (traditional native clothes) knitted dozens of scarves, and collaged a year’s worth of birthday cards. I’ve played pick up games of broomball, ultimate frisbee, and run the Bethel Half Marathon. I’ve been a member of a Star Trek club, a drawing club, and an exercise club. None of them stuck, but they were fun diversions. One summer, my boyfriend, Kevin, and I saw a flyer on the grocery store bulletin wall that advertised bird walks run by the local Fish and Wildlife services. We went on a lark, if you’ll forgive the pun, but mostly because we had nothing else planned for that Friday. We met a group of other Bethelites at the Fish and Wildlife building off of Chief Eddie Hoffman highway, the only paved road in Bethel. Kevin and I knew almost everyone by sight except for the “Friend of Fish and Wildlife” from Juneau that was going to lead the tour that day. She was an expert birder, but it was her first trip to Bethel. Tours run by outsiders are bizarre. Among other places, she took us to Hangar Lake. I had been up and down that bumpy mud road dozens of times when I was training for the half marathon. There are only 16 miles of road in all of Bethel, so I’ve been up and down them all, multiple times. It was really entertaining when she said, “This is Hangar Lake.” She identified a pair of canvasback ducks on the lake, and passed around a pair of binoculars so everyone could get a good look. In my life, ducks have only been mallards. I could never have imagined a canvasback with its red head and
red eye; it looked robust and intimidating, a characteristic I had never thought to ascribe to a duck before. After that, it was little yellow warblers in the willow trees behind the Fish and Wildlife building and baby ravens in a nest at the Federal Aviation Administration housing complex. I had been all over Bethel how many times and never noticed the sheer variety of birds in every part of it. Suddenly, Bethel was new again because there was a rusty blackbird in Pinky’s Park. Birding is treasure hunting. It’s exciting to look for rare birds and to skulk around fields and forests. Birds are treasure: they are seriously beautiful and have amazing, mysterious lives. They sing songs that inspire poets and made envious generations of humans who wished to fly. For me, birding is a way out of my internal world and into the external world. Paradoxically, it’s also a way back out of the external world and into the bird world. Birds sing their mating calls by throwing back their heads and sounding their call as loudly as possible. It looks like wolves howling at the moon. Migration is still shrouded in mystery to scientists. There are so many things in the lives of these tiny, feathered creatures; it’s endlessly engaging. *** The summer I was 29, I went to a conference in Philadelphia and then visited my family in the next county. Despite having lived in Pennsylvania for four and a half years, plus a couple extra summers, I had never noticed how beautiful it was. The fields and forests rolled gently, the heat was like a blanket, and everything was so green. I suspect I never really looked at any of it when I lived there. Birding in Alaska had honed my observational skills and my ability to be in the world. Now I could appreciate it. I’d been birding for two years by that time, but only in Alaska, so I was excited to see the birds of Pennsylvania. I had managed to hook my sister, Carolyn, into birding, so the first morning we were there we went to the Audubon Center in Audubon, Pennsylvania. There are many Audubon centers throughout America, named after the famous bird (and wildlife) artist John James Audubon, but this was the original Audubon--it was the site of his first American home back in 1803. I had lived fifteen minutes away from this place for four years and never knew it existed. Carolyn and I walked around the woodsy grounds of the Audubon for a couple hours in the early morning and saw a great variety of birds: Chimney Swifts, Eastern Phoebes, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, House Wrens, Carolina Wrens, Barn Swallows, Great Blue Herons, Common Yellowthroats, Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 Towhees, and Orchard Orioles. There was great variety of habitats in the 175 acres of land in that Audubon Center, which you need for birds, because they don’t all build nests in trees. We were walking in an open field with the edge of the forest to our left, when I hear a bird call, ““RI-cherd, RI-cherd, RI-cherd! “RI-cherd, RI-cherd, RI-cherd! The phantom scent of wild onions and honeysuckle washed over me. I turned to my sister. “What is that bird that just sang?” “That’s the ovenbird. They’re really hard to see, but you hear them all the time in the summer. I only saw one once. They look a lot like a couple different kinds of thrushes; the only reason I knew it was an ovenbird is because it was walking on the ground, instead of flying in the trees. All the bird books say it sounds like it’s calling, ‘Teacher, Teacher, Teacher.’” It was an ovenbird that had caught my attention all those years ago. They are six inches tall with an olive colored back, streaked white breast with an orange crown and a white eye ring. Their nests are built on the forest floor and are shaped like a dutch oven, hence their name. As far as birds go they are pretty drab and inconspicuous. But then, there’s something wonderful about a bird that makes such a loud call, and manages to remain hidden. We didn’t see the ovenbird that day, but just hearing one transported me back in space and time to Sunset Road at 20 years old. The first time the ovenbird invited me out of my head I stayed only for five minutes, but in those minutes I came to love the smell of rural Pennsylvania.
Finding Home Thirty years ago, it started with the words of a poet. At the time, like so many western kids before me, I had been pulled east by the allure of a private, liberal arts education. Growing up in the scarred towns of Montana and British Columbia—where the boom-and-bust rhythm of mining and logging and ranching nearly always fell heavy—I had pitched my lot with the stories found in books, not with where I was. Compared with the romance of life set in the grand castles of Scotland, on the busy streets of New York City or in the flinty corridors of New England prep schools, home seemed little more than a place to leave. Imagine my surprise when I found the subdued outline of Vermont’s Green Mountains poor substitute for the crenulated spires of glacial-carved peaks. Imagine my shock, that first semester away from the soft piney forests of home, when I bore the full weight of living beneath unnamed trees, when I realized that I had more in common with rowdy ranch kids than with wealthy young sophisticates. Imagine my consternation when I enrolled, rather breathlessly, in a poetry class only to sit for weeks, silent and confused. Deep in the stacks of Bennington College’s library, working on a term paper for my poetry class, I was tired of lives I didn’t recognize. Then I saw it on the shelf—spine uncracked, never checked out, but there. The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir is a slim book of poems, written by a westerner about western things. All names have power, but none speak so loudly as familiar names found far from home—Absarokee and Butte; Helena, Milltown, Victor. Sinking to the floor, I read—no, inhaled— Richard Hugo’s stories about small-town Montana. Most were blunt, some were ugly. Children huddled in cold cars outside tavern walls; old men raged in forgotten towns. Tall mountains “turns this water black late afternoons” and names engraved on wooden headstones “got weaker each winter.” Not everything was harsh. A person could see trout “curve in dandelion wine” and magpies “spray from your car” amidst ringing creeks and bison. The details didn’t matter—hard or soft, town or country. Finally, it was landscapes and people I knew. Good stories have always pulled me, but until that moment, I had no idea that my home could provide anything more than a place to stand. In the small libraries
40 of my childhood, few books spoke of familiar terrain. My first job, washing dishes in a local bar, taught me home stories—but many were ones I didn’t want to know. And then books led to university scholarships and a ticket out of town. Kicking Horse Reservoir was part of the life I had meant to leave. The memory of finding Richard Hugo’s poetry has always been potent. I don’t remember the term-paper I eventually wrote, but somehow, I am not surprised when I find it—typewritten text smudged and blurry, yellowed pages held together by a now-rusting paperclip— buried in a box under my husband’s workbench in the garage. In my hand, it is a tangible artefact of a defining moment. Long ago, in a building filled with rich kids from New York City, none of whom knew how to pronounce Butte, I learned that stories could be the antidote to “the homelessness that haunts us all.” I wasn’t a poet, and never would be, but “The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir” taught me that odd kids like me who read too much and didn’t like horses or guns could find their own stories in the west. When I did return permanently to home ground, landing a job at a small university in southern interior British Columbia, I carried with me the tools of an ecologist. I used words like “sagebrush steppe” and “interior Douglas-fir” to describe plant communities and I knew the biological distinction between native and exotic, noxious and naturalized. These are arbitrary boundaries, yet ‘native’ usually implies that a plant or animal species was present in North America before European settlement. Noxious species are both exotic and aggressive, ignoring ecological constraints and disrupting pre-existing relationships. Other exotics can naturalize, finding their place among the existing inhabitants with much less fuss. I may have come home, but set against the long arc of human habitation in this place, I am not native. My genes still carry the weight of my ancestors’ long association with crop species and herd animals, first in distant landscapes and then closer to home. In this northwest corner of North America, north of the American border, but well south of the boreal forest, along the silty banks of the Thompson River, my red hair and light skin, my ability to metabolize milk and alcohol, clearly label me as an exotic. It’s not that I haven’t done time in this landscape. Before my family moved south to western Montana, I played as a child in the North Okanagan—a wetter
CIRQUE valley southeast of the one where I now live. While my older sister helped my parents rebuild the barn and the chicken coop and roto-till the garden, my little brother and I rampaged across the outer acres of a previously abandoned homestead. Dave and I played under mixed canopies of Douglas-fir and aspen and imported fairytales of another land—of foxes and grapes and tortoises and princesses with long blond hair hanging out of turret windows. By definition, every exotic lacks intimacy with its landscape. What stories create intimacy for girls like me? At first, I thought science alone could do it. As a doctoral student, I relished the lean truths that come with hypothesis testing and statistical significance. But individual nuggets of knowledge rarely add up to stories of belonging. Even as I spent field seasons in BC’s dripping rainforest collecting data on plant distribution in smudged pencil on my Rite-in-the-Rain data forms, I found myself cultivating other ways of knowing. With pen and paper, I explored shadow and light and learned to listen for the cadence of words written for sound. I deciphered the full wash of watercolour and played with the scritchy feel of a crow-quill pen against smooth paper. I mastered the bind and weave of a Coptic stitch and used it to assemble folded papers into the open spine of a field journal. Now, these hand bound journals fill a shelf in my office and the current volume comes with me everywhere. Within their pages, there is a confluence of traditions—poetry jostles for space alongside natural history observations, drawings erupt between lines of handwritten text, and “to do” lists languish beside sightings of returning songbirds. Collectively, these field journals are the record of a search. Jonathon Kingdon wrote that the “humblest field record is always an act of translation” and my field journals represent a 17-year deciphering of the stories that let me belong. Some pieces of the story I’ve found in the dense writing of academic articles or in the spare language of poets like Mary Oliver and William Stafford. Others I’ve found, field journal in hand, out on the land, in places that take heart and muscle to reach. Regardless of the source, it is within the covers of my field journal that the individual bits weave together, forming a place for me in the greater fabric of the land. Every landscape is storied, and every place leaves an imprint. But in my field journals, the stories of one place show up more frequently than others. On the map, this place has no name, but my students and I call it Botany Pond. Just northwest of town, up off a gravel road, a small diamond-shaped pool of water sits embedded
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between grassland and forest. If I claim intimacy with any landscape, it is with this place. This where my first research students collected their data; where I take visitors when I want them to fall in love with my home; where stories have built into a layered kind of knowing.
jack-in-the box—escapes me. Tiny glimpses of the lives of other. It’s not just the scarlet nape and throat of the sapsuckers that call to me, it’s the rhythm of two birds going about the business of life.
On an early June morning at Botany Pond, pants wet to the knee from brushing against grasses still loaded with last night’s rain, these are the stories I collect. I learn that the drift of eyes matter. Last year, my field botany class found chocolate lilies on the margin of the aspen stand immediately uphill of the parking pullout. Today, I’m here with only my dog, Shasta, and I have more time to explore the habitat of these extravagant flowers, deep chocolate petals spotted yellow and orange. We meander our way across the rolling hills, following the trace of one aspen stand to another. I make and discard hypotheses as we walk. Most abundant on the crest of hills; no, more abundant where the shrubs are few… Always in the tension zone between aspen and grassland, except where the aspen canopy is tattered and thin… Limited on steep south-facing slopes where soil moisture evaporates quickly. Every species has a defining range and I search for the boundaries of this lily. At the edge of the last aspen stand, I am concentrating on the pattern of plants below my feet when a lean mottled bird—maybe with red?—zips over me. I spin in my tracks to watch a male red-naped sapsucker land in the ponderous limbs of an elderly aspen tree. Through binoculars, I follow the bird’s erratic hops from one branch to another, until a furious squeaking erupts from a neat hole in the trunk. A different bird (the female of a mated pair?) pops up from the hole; the male disappears. Up, down. A startled giggle— the kind that a toddler might make when surprised by a Chocolate Lily Field Notes
I learn that every path has a tale to tell. Most days, I stick to the grassland-aspen edge, but today I want to see past the ridge on the far side of Botany Pond. One side of the kettle-hole pond is newly fenced to protect wetland plants from over-grazing and trampling. On the pond’s calm surface scaups paddle, green-winged teals dive, and a female bufflehead leads seven ducklings. Above the pond, tree swallows swoop and dive; at its edge, a killdeer calls piteously, intent on distraction. Just as we come abreast of the pond, the prehistoric rattling call of sandhill cranes punctures the air. Milliseconds later, I spot their too-large bodies lifting from the green slope. For a long while, they spiral upward, their silhouettes fading into and over one another, their
42 calls echoing in the morning air. When I finally turn back to the pond, all the ducks have paddled away. The cattle that graze here each fall have worn a path into the sod and Shasta and I follow it uphill. At the crest, a sharp wind quickly encourages me to change direction. It’s only when we turn around that I notice the big pile of stones neatly piled in the middle of the grassy slope. Shrubs—saskatoon?—cluster on its far side. Was this field cleared? I know there were homesteads just a little further to the north and there was once even a schoolhouse just down the road. I grew up picking rocks from stony fields and I know nobody wants to lug field stones very far. If there’s one pile, there should be more— over there, by the Douglas-fir trees, is that another? Shasta is already half-way down the hill but turns back when I whistle at her. We contour across the slope into the Douglas-fir trees and I find several more piles before getting distracted by the wet smell of a north-facing slope in early summer. When we circle the pond and come back into grassland, more flowers greet us. Larkspur and deathcamas. Wild onion and penstemon. Fading balsamroot and new bastard toad-flax. The list is never constant. Already, Indian potatoes and yellow bells and sagebrush buttercups have come and gone. As we retrace our steps beneath the sapsucker tree, I look for the birds but see only more holes. Do they reuse the same nest or just the same tree? On an adjacent tree, I find the deep claw marks of bear. What led the bear up this tree? Fresh buds in the early spring? A foolish dog? Knowing layers into new questions that spiral again into knowing. There are no simple truths but only a dialogue that arises from the intimacy of chance encounters. I learn that the less I look, the more I find. Saturated with stories, we are on our way home, cutting through the matrix of wetlands crowded near the final hill, when another (same as earlier?) male sapsucker abruptly lands in the shrubby water birch next to me. The bird is too close, a mere hands’ breadth away. Even as my mind is trying to understand, I am backing up, giving the bird distance. There are more birds—a ruby-crowned kinglet, a yellow-rumped warbler—in the same shrub. Across the small hollow of sedges, I squat, binoculars at my eyes, needing to understand. Finally, I see it. The sapsucker has stripped the bark on each birch stem, opening rectangular windows into underlying tissues. Sweet sap runs freely. Kinglet
CIRQUE and warbler are taking advantage. The sapsucker leaves and returns, only to leave again when Shasta comes thundering back to find me. I hiss at Shasta to lie down. But it’s too late, the sapsucker is gone. Their name, sapsucker, tells the tale, but I’ve witnessed their active feeding only at a quiet fen much farther to the north. That day, white-faced hornets drank alongside the sapsucker; today, I’m grateful only songbirds share in the bounty. I move off. These birds have a living to make and I’m impeding it. I am not native. But in this lifetime, I have first rejected and then cleaved to the intermountain west, using my field journal to story a foothold amidst its rocky terrain. Others, with their own traditions, have come before me. I try to imagine the figures that worked the stone piles in the grassy slope above Botany Pond. Born on another continent, they likely came with their own imaginings of land and place, displacing people who had come even earlier. I try to imagine a time when only First Nations walked across these aspen stands. Living within the rhythm of a seasonal round; coming to collect the early bulbs of Indian potatoes, then balsamroot taproots and chocolate lily bulbs. The possibility of deer and bear and duck. Unlike the first inhabitants or even early European settlers, I don’t depend on this soil for my bread. I don’t have the stories of generations tying me to this place. I will never know the intimacy of necessity. Yet, each time I walk here, more stories accumulate in my field journal. Each volume I finish ties me both to specifics of this land and to a broader naturalist tradition—a line of inquiry that spirals back past Lewis and Clark and Darwin and Linnaeus. This is the confluence of traditions that allows me to claim intimacy. If I don’t belong to this land, where do I belong? We all came first as strangers. Thirty years ago, a man’s poetry pointed a way home. Today, all I really know is that the bridge from exotic to naturalized is built with attention. I no longer worry if attending occurs through poetry or science, if the subject is the wild hills outside of town, the ordered harmony of a city garden, or the rowdy chaos of a bar downtown. It doesn’t matter if the tale is bitter or sweet. In my field journal, the craft of attending blurs the difference between native and exotic, the boundary between them and us. When I didn’t know any stories from here, leaving was easy. Thirty years ago, I denied home’s imprint; now its storied landscape binds me in place.
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Deborah M. Bernard
Debbie Does Deadhorse Being from Deadhorse, Alaska, is absurd. Nobody has ever really, been from here. We are the southernspeakin’ oilfield workers from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana. And we are the Inupiat, the Eskimo people, whose fathers and uncles roamed through Deadhorse in a nomadic effort to acquire caribou or whale for our villages, who might have built temporary igloos as a hunting camp, but who never claimed, nor wanted to claim possession of this land. We are the Alaskans who came to cash in on the cornucopia of jobs that would change our state forever. We are the opportunists from the lower 48 who heard there was work, there were wages to be earned in this remote wilderness region. Yes, we are “The Breed of Men Who Don’t Fit In,” according to Robert Service. Being from Deadhorse, we inhabit frantic, yet hilarious, family-like subgroups. We know that we are here because dinosaurs once walked on the tundra, plankton lived in the warm shallow seas that covered the arctic, and then they died off. Millennia of pressure and heat turned their remains into fossil fuel, the black gold underground. We know that we are here because global investors have deemed it profitable enough to mine this oil.
But, the SMALL picture, the relevant reality of our lives is this: We are a group of adult human beings who have arrived here with neither pedigree nor family history. Such things are irrelevant in this environment of the early oilfield. Our reactions with one another are virginal, fresh, raw. Nothing is based on prior entitlement nor history. The playing field is level, for once. It’s not about from whence we came, who our people are or what we have ever accomplished. It’s not about where we might be going in the future. It’s just about what, and who, we are in this present moment. There is no class system here, save one: the working class. The working class, on steroids: Seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day, striving to achieve what may be impossible in brutal weather that may be intolerable. Like souls in Antarctica, or people who have been gathered in a Plexiglas bubble containing heat and oxygen on the ocean floor, the only relevant thing is what we are capable of right now. “Cocaine is God’s way of saying you’re making too much money,” said my camp roommate, Ellen. She was sitting cross-legged on her twin bed in our shared room, expertly drawing lines of white powder on a mirror in her lap. It was 6:30 in the morning. Ellen had thick black hair and creamy brown skin. She was pretty of face and figure, soft spoken, genuinely sweet. She was 20 years old and working as a Teamster Office Technician. She was making $20 an hour for basic secretarial work, $30 an hour at time-and-a-half, and $40 an hour on Sundays. In 1981, this was money beyond belief. I worked for a different company, doing the same kind of work that Ellen did, but I was a non-union secretary. I made $12 an hour, time-and-a-half for anything over 40 hours a week. No double-time on Sundays. No shop steward nor union protection. Still, that translated into about $1200 a week for me. I was thrilled. That was $400 more, per week, than I had made in a month as a fulltime journalist and bureau chief, Orcas Island Branch, of the Friday Harbor Journal. Ellen made double what I made for doing the same job, and I taught her the tricks of the trade: how to center a title on our IBM Selectric Typewriters. How to change the metal ball for different font sizes, a necessity for the Sunday reports that ARCO demanded: seven copies of a 15-page report on that week’s progress of our respective contractors. Extra credit for charts. Highlight
44 the name of each recipient. Bind the report in the clear plastic folder with the ARCO Blue slider down the left side. In exchange, Ellen taught me the ropes for surviving camp life in the arctic. My first day at ARCO’s MCC, (Main Construction Camp,) I put my suitcase in my 8x10 room which I would share with Ellen. I walked down the green paisley carpeted hallway to the ladies’ bathroom. I encountered a woman, a fellow East MCC Camp dweller, and said, “Good morning.” As nice and bright as I knew how to be. She was three feet away from me and did not acknowledge that I even existed. “Oh, dear,” I thought. “Perhaps she is deaf?” Then I encountered another woman. Same greeting. Same non-response. “Oh, no!” I thought. “Have I been in a couple relationship so long that I have lost my ability to relate as an individual?” After work that night I met Ellen for the first time, in our room, and shared my experiences. She laughed brightly and said, “Oh! Don’t take it personally! Those women work directly for ARCO. They’ve been instructed not to fraternize with us!” “Who is us?” I asked Ellen. “Well, we work for the contractors that work for ARCO,” she said. “We even made up a little song about it.” Then she launched into this ditty, sung to the tune of “Camp Town Ladies Sing This Song:” “Lowlife, scumbag, contract hands, Doo-dah, doo-dah! Lowlife, scumbag, contract hands, Oh, da doo-dah day!” Well. I was relieved. It wasn’t me so much as it was who I worked for. Phew! Ellen also taught me the cocaine protocol: If somebody offers you a line, snort the line if you want to. But if you do, remember that you are socially obligated to reciprocate at some future date. Like going to somebody’s house for dinner, you will be expected to pony up in the future. “Well, that lets me out,” I told Ellen. “I will probably never spend $125 for a tiny envelope of cocaine, so I will just always say no.” “Unless----,” Ellen said, “you are at a gathering in somebody’s room, and they pass around a mirror with several lines on it. Then you should partake so they don’t think you’re a nark.”
CIRQUE Good to know. Ellen enjoyed her cocaine, and I enjoyed our friendship. So I was sad when her oilfield career was cut short by her passion for the substance. Ellen stayed out late on a Saturday night, partying with her friends. I hadn’t gone. I never went because of The Protocol that she had taught me. She was so exhausted that she missed work on Sunday. That was $480 in wages that she missed, plus somebody else had to do the mandatory ARCO report. Severely reprimanded, Ellen vowed to never let this happen again. But it did. The following Sunday. The oilfield is a harsh and demanding mistress; it’s miraculous that she was allowed even a second strike. As Ellen packed her suitcase to leave, forever, she shrugged philosophically, and said again, “Cocaine is God’s way of saying you’re making too much money.” Nineteen eighty one. Ronald Reagan has just taken office and had cancelled all extensions to unemployment benefits. Joseph, the love of my life, and I were on unemployment for the first time in our lives. (I was 29, he was 35.) We had been looking forward to a “long winter’s nap.” When President Reagan (the Old Prospector) cancelled the benefits, we were more or less summoned to Fairbanks, Alaska, by Joe’s older sister Jean. May Day 1981 was record heat in Fairbanks. Literally 90 degrees. We had to leave Jiminy Crickett, our poodle mix, in Jean’s pickup while we went into the unemployment office. After a surreally long wait in line, we got up to the window, where a weary, black, 40’s-something clerk greeted us. We told him we wanted to find work in the oilfield, preferably together, and on the same R-n-R schedule. “Honey,” he said, his voice plaintive, “don’t you imagine that if I knew how to get up to the oilfield, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to YOU?” We registered for work anyway, and for unemployment, then went back to Jean’s pickup where poor Jiminy’s tongue was hanging out. Emergency water rations for our dog, then on to the employment agencies. Three days later, Alyeska Security called Joseph to be a security guard at Pump Station One. I got a call from Cecil Kessick, Insurance Adjustor, because a company called Frontier Equipment just had a shop burn down up in Prudhoe Bay. Cecil needed a temporary secretary to go help him catalogue all of the items lost in the fire for
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 Lloyds of London, the Insurer. Joe put the Alyeska job on hold, hoping for something where he and I could work together. I left with Cecil the next day to fly into Deadhorse. Cecil was 60-something, a very compact and chipper little man who wore an Eddie Bauer tan plaid shirt with his beige khaki chinos and rubber-soled boots. He was a hunting guide, with insurance being his avocation. He proudly showed me the stuffed musk ox, Boone and Crockett certified World Class, at Fairbanks International Airport. It bore a brass plaque with “Cecil Kessick, Hunting Guide” engraved on it. A musk ox looks like a big ox with a prehistoric headpiece over it’s horns which looks like Jackie Gleason’s parted hair. We landed in Prudhoe Bay, where the ground was still frozen and the snow had not yet melted, despite the 90 degree weather in Fairbanks, 500 miles to the south. Driving over the gravel roads to Frontier Base Camp, Cecil acted as tour guide, pointing out the facilities that rose impressively on the gravel pads built on the frozen tundra. “We call this one “the Hilton,” he said, pointing to Sohio’s camp, an ultra-modern modular, two story structure, balanced on support beams. “It has an Olympicsize swimming pool, complete with sauna and steam rooms. And they’re no fools. The standing water of the swimming pools reduces their fire insurance.” We got to Frontier Base Camp. Like most smaller camps, it was a collection of ATCO trailer units, with a roof and a floor built over and under so residents walked down interior halls to get to their rooms, bathrooms, dining hall. The company was owned by John C. (“Tennessee”) Miller. He was one of that breed of men who don’t fit in, who went from rags to riches to rags to riches on a regular basis. Tennessee Miller was a brilliant “dirt man” and had brought his bulldozers and other equipment up from Fairbanks on a “cat train.” Which was: Some ATCO units and other equipment pulled along by D-8 Caterpillars over impossible terrain. This project was so dangerous that his progress was charted and reported daily in the Anchorage Daily News. He pioneered the building of the Dalton Highway, the 500-mile dirt road from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, the lifeblood of the budding oilfield. But that came later. When I met him and complimented his on his Cat Train accomplishment, he said, “Oh, I had to keep that
45 equipment movin’. It was about to be re-possessed!” Mr. Miller had raised Tennessee Walking Horses down home in Tennessee. He hired scores of people to work in the oilfield. He had a union side: Frontier Rock and Sand. And a non-union side: Frontier Transportation. But there was a giant rift between Tennessee Miller and Jessie Carr, President of the Alaska Teamsters. Nobody knows what caused it. Tennessee hired every union worker for the union side of his company. The 302 Operators. Laborers. And he contacted the Teamster hall in Fairbanks every Monday with a list of workers needed. Jessie Carr never sent him any Teamsters so on Wednesday he would hire non-union “drivers” from the general population. I found out much later that it wasn’t my secretarial skills, my stellar resume, that caused Cecil Kessick to hire me. They were looking for the quintessential dumb blonde. Somebody naïve from out of state, for this insurance project. Somebody who had never heard that Tennessee Miller, owner of Frontier Companies, and Jessie Carr, president of the Alaska Teamsters, were sworn enemies. Why? Because if one breath, one hint of even slightly suspected arson were whispered, the insurance company wouldn’t have covered the shop fire loss. Cecil set me up in an office and had me interview man after man who came forward with a list of what they lost in the fire. Everybody had arctic gear, tools. A half dozen guys had large boom boxes, and some had Walkmans and a lot of cassettes. My only job was to neatly type up the contents, without judgment. I did secretly wonder how large that shop would have to have been, to accommodate six large boom boxes. The foremen came forward with theirs lists: giant pieces of equipment. D-8 Cats and Front End Loaders and a B-70 Belly Dump. One cabover PeterBilt 18-wheeler. All of these terms were foreign to me except for the Peterbilt: I had heard truckers guffawing with each other at their hangout, The Sunset Strip, in Fairbanks. “How’s YOUR Peter Built?” they would say, then roar with laughter. My temporary job would soon be over. I inquired who a girl had to hug to get a permanent office job at this company. Tim Tyler, the office manager, was known as The Round Mound of Sound. He commandeered a desk that had three telephones and two crackling CB radios, often all five squawking at once. He took me under his wing. Said to go see K. Freeny, the manager, up in the Crow’s Nest. Do not accept a drink, if one was offered, and do
NOT, repeat, do NOT wink at him. “Why would I wink at him?” I asked Tim. “Mr. Freeny has a tic that makes his right eye wink constantly. Don’t wink back; he’ll think you’re mocking him,” Tim, my new mentor, said. We met. I didn’t wink. He hired me for Frontier Rock and Sand. From the ashes of Frontier’s shop rose the Phoenix of my oilfield career. Joseph landed a job with Childs’ Equipment Services less than a week later. He was hired to be their Hardware Man, to build and stock a new hardware stock connected to their general store, which was already a going concern. Joseph was an accountant and not familiar with any tools. He wasn’t handy at all; his gifts lay elsewhere. We once had a fight because we couldn’t hang a paper towel rack, which had pre-drilled holes. (In our defense, the holes had been drilled wonkily at the factory, but we didn’t discover that till later.) So he embarked on his oilfield career on uncharted waters over unfamiliar seas. As did I. I went from being a journalist to being a secretary for an oilfield equipment and construction company. I learned about heavy equipment and the men and women who operated it. I developed a southern accent from sheer exposure to my Tennessee and Oklahoma co-workers. Thus began our oilfield adventure. Kind of like a fairy tale, to me. The difference between a fairy tale and an oilfield story was explained to me by a sweet-talkin’ southern roughneck gentleman named Bobby: “Well, a fairy tale begins with, ‘Once upon a time.’ But an o-field story begins with, ‘Now this ain’t no shit.’”
Julius Rockwell Jr.
The Fudge Theory
After my junior year at college I had a summer job as a camp counselor at Camp Winniecook in Unity, Maine. The camp was managed by Ed Rand, the owner’s son, a young bachelor of many extraordinary talents. He was inclined to give me advice on many aspects of my life and he was brilliant and creative. In the summer of 1939 he asked me how I did with the ladies. I told him that I took them to the movies and dancing about once a week. He asked me how I felt about them. I told him I had a vague feeling of wanting to be with them and that this feeling was difficult to define. He asked me if I had an objective with them. I said not exactly. I just wanted to be with them. I would invite them to do things with me that I thought they might like to do. He replied that I would get nowhere that way, that I needed to have an objective with them. To accomplish anything, he said, I needed to have an objective. He cited Hitler who wanted all of Europe but set an objective of getting just one piece at a time. This he could do and did. If I did not know my objective with the ladies, he said, I should make one up, better to have a fake one than none at all I asked him what he had in mind. He answered, “Take something simple and direct. For instance, get them to make you some fudge. If you can get them to make you some fudge, you can probably get them to do anything you want.” I asked him, “If one made me some fudge and I still did not have a better objective what should I do? He said that I should learn about fudge. There is no perfect fudge. Some is too sugary; some is too gooey; some lacks nuts, raisins or little gummy things, etc. The point was to keep her trying to please me until I was ready to move on.
For a 20-year-old this idea seemed fraught with desirable possibilities.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 As a camp counselor my options were quite limited. In my senior year in college, I needed to get all A’s to make up for a low average so I stuck to dancing and taking my ladies to the movies. After college was the Navy, where I thought things would be different. It was amazing. I asked for fudge and received nearly everything except fudge. For instance, there was an attractive woman whom I often took dancing. Whenever I took her to the of the Mark (Hopkins) in San Francisco and started dancing, the band would automatically play, “Don’t throw bouquets at me.” She asked me what she could do for me, and I said, “My dear, please make me some fudge.” She said, “Are you sure you want fudge? Okay, then, fudge it will be.” Later, she brought me brownies, but not fudge. I received brownies, pies, chocolate layer cake, tarts, cookies, etc., but no fudge. My friend Ed was right when he said, “It is not as easy as it sounds.” Six years in the Navy and no fudge. At the end of the war, I went to the University of Washington to study fisheries. My friend and roommate, Christopher, and I rented an apartment right next to campus. Christopher had a girlfriend, Ellie Mastors, the daughter of a famous Broadway actress. She was going to the School of Drama which was nearby. Ellie and a friend of hers studied in our apartment during afternoons. Ellie felt my beautiful feisty Norwegian lady friend was not good enough for me and that the woman with whom she studied would be much better. I had never met this person because I was at work when they studied in the afternoons. Her friend had to go home for dinner across town at 5 PM. Chris and I never saw her because we both worked and came home at 6 PM. Then, generally, a group of us ate at a little Greek restaurant on the Avenue. Conversations varied and, of course, I explained about the Fudge Theory in considerable detail. Ellie liked this and thought the theory was hilarious. When summer came, Chris, I, and two others were sent to Alaska to study the environment of the salmon that spawned there. We made these studies on several carefully selected pristine streams isolated from most human activity. We traveled to them in small skiffs. We chose Bell Island Hot Springs as our
47 headquarters. Bell Island is located in Behm Canal and is about 75 miles northeast of Ketchikan. Bell Island, when we stayed there was a “historical resort.” The warm springs were wonderful. In a special building there were large stone tubs. The tubs were deep and long enough for one to lay in full length and be completely covered with water. Each tub had three pipes with wooden plugs: one for draining, one with very hot water from the springs and one with cold water from the stream. It was easy to regulate the temperature and keep it just right. Bell Island Hot Springs had its heyday before inside plumbing was installed in homes in Ketchikan. People would come out there and get a nice, easy, hot bath. The owner built cabins so visitors could stay as long as they liked. A store was built so they could buy food and other tourist’s needs. He established a post office because mail was always the primary means of communication. The island had its own stream that had salmon and trout in profusion with a nice trail beside it. It was very easy to fish. At the time of our visit, only trollers and other fisherman used the place to get a warm bath and pick up mail and food. We were able to rent the one usable cabin as our home base. It had no leaks and four large rooms on two floors. One room had a stove. We were remote, isolated and secure. On the way up in Ketchikan We all decided to grow beards. This was a hazardous process for me because during the early stages the hair on my face reminded observers of a movie star whose role was torturing people in horror movies. Once, in a bar, someone tried to attack me for this reason. My friends got me out of there. The full-grown beard turned out to be quite handsome. On the job we worked in pairs, and used two small skiffs to go out to our streams. One day when we returned, one of the two ladies that ran the place brought up a package that had come in the mail. It was addressed to me from Ellie and her friend. It was 8 inches long, 4 inches high, and 5 inches wide.
We opened it immediately, of course. It was fudge! Not only that, but it was exceptional fudge, just the right consistency, not too sugary and not too gooey. It had crumbled nuts in it; it had tiny raisins; it had little gummy things in it. It was beyond belief! To thank the two young woman for the fudge, I wrote up a description of one of our adventures we called “The High Tide,” but that is another story. On our return to Seattle, my Norwegian friend was absolutely nonplussed by my beard. Apparently she liked to read the emotions on my face. This was impossible now, even though it was a nice black beard and I had it well trimmed. I went to Michigan the following week to be best man at my brother Frank’s wedding. I was surprised to learn how different cultures were in 1947. In Seattle, beards were occasionally seen and taken in stride. But in Michigan nobody had beards and the presence of mine brought pandemonium. On one occasion while out walking, a kind but unknown person, half a block away yelled directions to the closest barber shop. Socially, all conversations would stop if I entered a room of twenty guests. A few actually liked it. I contemplated cutting it off because I did not want to steal the show from the bride on her wedding day. My New York uncle, a professor at The Union Theological Seminary, who was marrying the couple, begged me to keep the beard. He had had one once and had regretted cutting it off. But people’s reactions were so strong that I decided to cut. My new sister-in-law thanked me after the wedding.
On returning to Seattle, I found that my Norwegian lady friend was greatly relieved to see my beard gone. Ellie said that the time that come for me to meet her friend and thank her for the fudge. Being in the School of Drama, they had to do everything like this just right. In the University District of Seattle ”The Avenue” ran parallel to the University Campus. The little Greek Restaurant, the School of Drama, and our apartment were on it. Also on it, was a small tea shop, a favorite for young women. It was always full in the afternoon. Ellie told Chris to meet her there at three o’clock. She told me to accompany him. We were to go to the tea shop, enter and look around in a lost way, at all the full tables. We would see Ellie and her friend sitting at a table with two empty chairs. Ellie would invite us to join them. The rest was up to us. Everything worked as planned and I found myself sitting beside the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I had to arrange to see that person again, and again, and again. My interest in my Norwegian lady faded away. Here was a woman who made me the perfect fudge without ever having seen me. We were married in four months.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
She Looks In The Mirror A novelist explores the image and self-image of a mostly forgotten woman, from one century ago. On a spring day at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York — far from my home, over 4,000 miles away — I am searching for clues to the personality of Rosalie Rayner Watson, a woman who attended this school during the First World War, nearly a century ago. Anything helps: letters written by one of Rosalie’s professors, Margaret Floy Washburn, the first woman to get a Ph.D in psychology; alumnae updates by friends and classmates, who help fill in the portrait of an early 20th century professional woman’s life. (One classmate complains openly in an alumnae note that her university employer does not feel compelled to pay her beyond what she brings in with her own grants, since they are already paying her research-partner husband. Many other academic women, once married, find themselves excluded from research or teaching entirely.) But as for Rosalie — she leaves few traces, as if determined to pass silently, to keep her dreams and doubts to herself. Here in my room, alone: under the sweater I wore today to the lab, my white blouse with Navy-style lapels, neither dowdy nor fashionable, and under that, a camisole of the simplest type, only one ribbon of lace along the bottom edge. I am not a biographer; I am a novelist. So the lack of substantial documentation about Rosalie Watson, wife of the famous behaviorist psychologist John Watson, is not the same obstacle for me that it would be for a nonfiction writer. If anything, the unknowns and the ellipses can be more intriguing than troves of data, leaving space to imagine and to invent. Still, I do not invent out of thin air. I want to be true to an era and to the realities of women’s experiences in that era. As a historical novelist, I will dramatize scenes, dialogue, and other details. But I do not want to invent Rosalie’s essence. Rosalie can represent the experiences of many, but first, she can only be herself: that dark-haired girl who poses for a rare college photo, standing near a wall in a winter coat, face turned coquettishly over her shoulder, toward the camera. A woman who might consider her own private reflection on other occasions — receptive to her own feelings in that unguarded moment when no one else is looking.
49 And now I am standing in front of a mirror, dark shoulderlength hair limp, face pale. I rub my hands along my bare I arms, I inhale, I hold my hands to my face: nothing. Nothing to hide, or to show. At Vassar, in the Library of Congress, in the once-elegant streets of Baltimore where I gain fortuitous entrance to her family’s mansion thanks to a kind building owner, I discover more of Rosalie’s background — one document, one photo, one chance encounter at a time. She comes from an accomplished, upper-class Jewish Baltimore family. She excels at science and keeps a low profile, leaving few traces in the yearbook or in any college files — perhaps not because of shyness, but only because her heritage makes her stand apart from most Vassar girls. She is younger than many of her classmates, having entered college at the age of sixteen. But she likes to have fun. She likes to laugh. During periods of great personal difficulty, she will insist on putting a brave face on things. But that comes later. We are still in the 1910s, and Rosalie, in that first and best photo from her college years, is a Progressive Era bombshell: bright, hopeful, sassy, charming, ambitious, and living on the leading edge of modernity. I feel like such a different person already, not just Rosalie of Girls’ Latin School and Vassar and Eutaw Place anymore... She graduates college in 1919, one of the last of the “New Woman” generation. In that same year, the 19th amendment gives women the right to vote, and First Wave feminism comes to an end, with many goals seemingly accomplished. And now there will be a broad cultural shift away from seriousness, toward fashionconsciousness and frivolity. It may seem like women are gaining even more ground, but they are being co-opted, too — their flamboyant appearances and rising hemlines just another marketing tool, their aspirations unequal to the history around the corner. (By the Depression, men’s need to find work will eclipse serious notions of a women’s career. In many cases, married women will be disbarred from working entirely if a man needs the job.) Post-college photos — and there aren’t many — will show Rosalie finding early success conducting pioneering psychological research on infants. I feel like such a different person, but there is no evidence, nothing that will remain if in another week, another month, if the work suddenly stops, if I am reassigned to another
50 project or professor. I envy the farmer with his face reddened by the sun, the manual worker who returns from a new job after just a few days and has new calluses to show for it, the visible proof of transformation. I feel like I have changed already. But I want proof. This will be followed almost immediately — in mere months — by academic and marital scandal, when it is exposed in sensational headlines that young Rosalie and her graduate school mentor, John Watson, are having an affair. John, a father of two and married into a prominent political family, has used up his wife’s patience over the years. This dalliance with a 20-year-old is the last straw, and the public is eager for the sordid details, including amorous notes exchanged between the two laboratory love birds. Dr. Watson’s objective demeanor doesn’t prevent him from gushing privately to his much-younger assistant: “Every cell I have is yours, individually and collectively. I can’t be any more yours than if a surgical operation made us one.” John — unapologetic to the end — is fired, never to hold a serious academic position again. It goes almost without saying that Rosalie’s psychology career is over almost as soon as it began. John says that introspection is beyond the point — and more than beyond the point — he doesn’t believe in most kinds of mental images or processes at all, actually hates the word “image,” its abstract fogginess. He has said that our modern preoccupation with the mind is no more sensible than past centuries’ preoccupation with the soul: a medieval distraction, preventing us from achieving real progress. News clippings and other documents round out the portrait of a woman who largely disappears, post-scandal, into a role as young mother and second wife to a man famous for his extreme behaviorist tenets, including the recommendation that parents should withhold physical affection from their babies and children — a position that will radically steer American ideas about childraising until the early 1960s. And that is only one of his views. He blames women (especially mothers) for many of society’s problems, continues to indulge in extramarital affairs, plays stern patriarch to his troubled children, and finds a new career in Madison Avenue advertising, where
CIRQUE he is among the first to advocate using psychological techniques to sell everything from cigarettes to cold cream. Rosalie briefly hopes for an advertising career, too. Fat chance. Known mainly for her connection to a difficult, provocative, and influential man, Rosalie will become — will forever remain — a footnote. But if there is no mind with which to contemplate oneself, no inner “self” at all, then who am I, standing here — bare feet long and narrow, bare arms, white slip, camisole, thin, plain, darkhaired, blue-eyed, a young woman of no visibly definable heritage who could have come from any place or any time? Based only on my initial research forays, she is more than a footnote Amanda Paredes to me. She is a woman who will continually surprise me, forcing me to realize again and again that awoman of the 1910s was far more like a woman today than we often realize — more “modern” in fact than some of our received Hollywood images of women from more recent eras. I can feel, I think — no, I am sure — that I am changing, that some pressure or potential is building. But Watson would say that isn’t so. Until I behave in some new way, there is no change. And why should I want so desperately to change? Discovery: Women attended college at nearly the same rate as men from 1900 to 1930, with a substantial gender gap opening only later, in part due to the GI Bill. Discovery: Rosalie drove a racy convertible called a Stutz Bearcat, and most likely smoked and drank and danced with abandon — even before the 1920s were fully underway. But to be so bold in the 1910s was not unknown. Even the word “flapper,” synonymous with the 1920s, actually was commonplace a full decade earlier. How easy it is to underestimate women from earlier eras, failing to see how progressive they could be, even ahead of the fashionable periods we recognize best. Maybe — I tell myself, looking for something larger outside myself to explain the swelling emotions that I am feeling — only because to be an American is to want change, to be living in a new century — the ringing telephones, the spewing ticker tape, the clanging streetcars, the comic honk
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 of an automobile passing — is to need to change, or else to be swept under the tide of changes that can’t be stopped. Rosalie reminds me that the march to modernity is not straight forward and evenly paced. It’s actually more of a lurching dance, or an unhappy tussle: two steps forward, one (or more) steps back. Or maybe I am just young. Tragically, Rosalie Rayner Watson will never grow old. Dead at 36, most likely from dysentery or pneumonia, entrenched in her footnote status, long outlived by her famous husband. A bombshell in 1919, disgraced in 1920, a surprisingly traditional mother just a few years later, and in 1930, a woman who answered a college alumnae survey by checking “no” in response to one question after another: No publications, no accomplishments, no significant activities of any kind. This was not true, but she seemed flippantly insistent on negating herself. Rosalie’s life might be a cautionary tale about women’s roles, a symbol of history’s dismayingly cyclic nature: the progressivism of the 1910s eroded in the 1920s and ‘30s, the Rosie-the-Riveter advances of the 1940s turned back by the conventional 1950s, the radicalism of the 1960s and ‘70s rolled back in the conservative 1980s. But I hope she is more than just a symbol. I am still looking for her, still looking for photos and glimpses of women from across the eras who show us what history cannot obliterate: that moment of truth when a woman looks in the mirror, refusing if only briefly to be defined by anything other than the fleeting vision of her own deepest and most timeless self. “She Looks in the Mirror” was first published in The Better Bombshell, released in 2013 by Wolfram Productions.
Chipmunkus Interruptus: An Interloper’s Lament and Other Observations Working a woodlot for sustainability has its dangers as well as its rewards. It’s a very different thing though, from the clearcutting done by transient loggers skidding from one prime slope to the next. Despite this, many landholders have been yielding to the saws and their promise of pocket change. As if the decision affects only them. Entire clans of creatures disappear as microhabitats are destroyed. As if woodpeckers can tap clouds for food; as if squirrels can leap from raindrop to raindrop; as if the amber pitch droplets bleeding from the fresh stumps weren’t the earth’s quiet tears. These clearcuts are replanted with cloned monoculture firs bred to grow quickly in identical rows similar to the ticky-tack subdivisions these trees will soon be cut down to build. The ridgeline above the Willamette Valley where we have our few acres was last logged over 50 years ago. We’re lucky that they did it the old timers’ way and left several old-growth Douglas Firs to re-seed the ridge. The local wildlife and prevailing winds took care of the rest. The result is a naturally evolving environment. First the grasses, quick-growing vine maples and firs spout up, and then the oaks. After that the madrones begin to stretch for the dappling light. As the firs continue their growth, they overtake the hardwoods and block their sun. Eventually a random fir is storm-struck or a light-starved madrone becomes its own lever and pries itself from the ground. A sturdy oak one day loses its hunger and curls into its shadow. It’s an organic process far removed from my neighbors’ clearcuts. And these days, since much of the surrounding habitat is being cut, our place is fast becoming its own Ellis Island as the creatures that have been displaced by logging elsewhere fill our trees. There are an easy hundred trees within striking distance of our home. I’ve tried to reach a respectful balance with them, and understand that this hillside is made to be a forest. No matter how sweet the home is that I have carved into the earth’s flank, it is built with lumber that is cousin to the trees still standing nearby. There is something rude to this arrangement. It’s like a roadside billboard featuring plump pigs extolling the virtues of
52 Bubba’s BBQ Shack; sheep into mutton, cows into beef, fish into seafood, trees into lumber, death into collateral damage. Life reduced to chaff. Trees do come down as windfall. One of our two grand old-growth firs had its back broken by a rogue tornado several years ago. Last year one of three tall trees near the house came crashing down. Its twisted roots now finger the sky. The other two were pummeled from the savage winds. They both needed to be taken down since the nearby buried water and electric lines were now at risk. It was the classic interloper’s crisis: my emergency, however, had no meaning to the nature of this place. Once the trees are dropped, they still have to be cut into cordwood. I limb the slash for the biomass pile and buck the logs into rounds. After that the wood still needs to be split, hauled and stacked. In the wake of a storm it can be lethal to be working in the woods. There is always the danger of widow-makers still hung up in the stand, snagging nearby branches, seesawing in the treacherous winds. Yet, what I tell visiting cityfolk is that the chipmunk mating season is the most dangerous time of all in the woods. I tell tales of prodigious little buggers whose coupling dance is an arboreal rodent Saturnalia. They are acrobats d’amore, I say. However, the branches chosen for their trysts are at times dead and unstable. This necessitates a dangerous feat of balance that often results in chipmunkus interruptus. These limbs are the true widow makers. At times the only warning that a woodsman has before a loosened limb hurtles silently down is the faint squeal of rodent orgasm. Each year’s wind-fallen trees are a necessary resource for our woodstove, and I rent a hydraulic splitter for the job. This past year, after I had returned the splitter, I could see that a few pieces needed another whack. No problema, I figured. I’d hand-split it with the maul. At first it was sweet. I popped the wood apart as if I was a firewood samurai. And then, that one wrong move. In just the merest moment of hubris, I forgot to hold my balance and to protect my injured lower back. Wham. The impact split the wood and crumpled me down at the same instant. Somewhere between my old ruptured disc and my splayed hip, my body surrendered to the electroshock. I lay there sprawled akimbo on the ground in brutal back pain, nerves in spasm, unable to stand. In the trees directly overhead I could hear the oblivious chipmunks, their ecstatic love-talk, and the creak of the teetering branches. Chipmunkus interruptus! Gritting my teeth, I start crawling from the woods before the snags begin to fall. Like everything else sharing this hillside I know I am future mulch for a patient earth, but until then I’ll just keep on crawlin’ forward.
James P. Sweeney
Wet Down Bag No one cares that I’m lying in a wet down sleeping bag at the base of Mt. Johnson. I’m all alone and barely conscious. My femur is fractured. My hip is dislocated. My head is bleeding. Spindrift snow buries me. I’m freezing to death. My heart pounds. My leg shoots pain to my head. My teeth chatter and my body shivers. Black dreams and Irish Catholic guilt fill the spaces. If I don’t do something I’m going to die. I have to light my stove and warm myself up but I can’t do anything. I can’t even lift my arm. I don’t know anything except my MSR stove is the only thing that is going to keep me alive. My girlfriend Robin cares but she’s down in Homer 250 miles away lying in bed watching Seinfeld with her dog and cat. She doesn’t think I could get hurt. I’ve kept her in the dark about how dangerous climbing is. After Seinfeld she lets her dog gypsy out. She looks out over the twilight on the bay. The water and sky are the same dark blue. The mountains and glacier beyond are pink. Robin is very spiritual so she wraps me in a white protective light. She calls for the dog puts another log in the wood stove and goes to bed. I can’t move. I can’t lift my arm. I have to push the snow off of me and light the stove but the black dream is a tunnel of darkness and a canyon of flames. Everything I’ve ever done wrong chases me. I don’t know what I did but it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done. Move your arm and light the stove! I tell myself. Move your arm and light the stove. Move your arm! I can’t make the connection. My mother lives 3000 miles away down in Nevada City California. She cares about me but I have seven brothers and sisters. Right after I was born my mother got sick and then she got pregnant. She always felt bad but she’s not worried about me because I’ve got a little brother Pat who’s a junkie. I don’t know how long it is before I move my arm. I lift my arm and pass out between each effort. The snow is coming off of me, but there is only pain cold and black dreams. I have to get my hands on the stove.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 Before Dave left he told me the stove is right in front of me. He thinks I might need to make water. I’ve had a white gas stove like this for 20 years. I know my stove. I’m fading fast but I have my hands on the stove. I can’t work the controls. I can’t pump the pump. I have to get up on my elbow and use both hands. When I do get up on my elbow I’m only there for a second before I collapse and fall back into the black dream. Light the stove. I tell myself. I don’t know how I do it but I’m up on my elbow. I pump the stove. The pain and the cold are the same thing. The stove has its own lighter and it takes forever to light. It explodes in my face. My hair is burning and I smell flesh when I grab the stove. I pass out and when I come to the stove is lying on its side sputtering a hazy yellow blue flame. I struggle to pump it a few more times and the flame is blurry blue. I slide the stove into the sleeping bag next to me and crook my arm to keep the bag from touching it. I pull the sleeping bag over my head. It feels so good. Then the black dream is back. The woodstove at my house is stuffed with wood. My gal sleeps between her dog and cat. My mother has a woodstove too. She sleeps well. My partner Dave is at the Mountain House. It’s warm and stuffy there. Shadowy figures chase me down dark tunnels. I see a woman I admire--I’m flying towards a white pinhole. I’m sucked through the pinhole and when I wake up my sleeping bag is on fire and full of smoke. It takes a while--then I push out the stove. The sleeping bag still burns but that’s okay. It’s a wet down bag. “Wet Down Bag” is an excerpt from Alaska Expedition: Marine Life Solidarity, first published in 2012 by VP&D Publishing House.
A Trained Professional: Out of the Group Home and Into the Field Staff asked me to be at the group home when William got back from his home visit.and I was desperate to kill something. William’s mom wouldn’t give him his meds all weekend and he would start trying to bite people when she dropped him off early Sunday morning from his furlough. I was the only one who could handle him but had been hunting only about three times all year and the last Sunday in January is always the last day of quail season. So I trot out the idea of taking the group home boys hunting with me. Being creative, I called it an “Upland Awareness Experience”, so sensitive social workers couldn’t object. This is California, after all. I assured the caregivers the boys would not come near guns and that I was, of course, responsible for anything that happened. This would make a less dedicated hunter pause, but I’m a trained professional and would make this a positive therapeutic encounter for these boys. Besides, I could use the extra bush-beaters to flush those damn mountain quail. Mountain quail. Simply the most elegant upland bird anywhere and no one hunts them. They’re big and beautiful and tasty. And stupid. They don’t see many humans, so when you find a covey high in the Sierra they usually just cluster up in a white-thorn bush and wait for you, clucking nervously, watching which way you’re coming then fly out the other side, keeping the bush between. This prevents a good shot, so the key is to have several humans advance at different angles to confuse them. I explained and diagramed this strategy to the boys on the group home’s whiteboard in our pre-hunt briefing. You walk behind me and you can talk all you want, I told them. I passed around a picture of a mountain quail and I blew my call in the activity room early that Sunday morning. There were four boys in the group, all about 16, and I’d never seen them so attentive. There was no cussing, no bored looks, and they raised their hands to ask questions. “What kinda Gat’chu got?” “It’s a 20 gauge, pump shotgun, Trey, a Browning.”
54 I said. “And if you’re going to start with the street stuff we’ll forget about this whole thing.” “My bad. I swear I’ll be good.” “What we gonna do with the quails we catch?” “Eat them, José. If you come along and I bag some, you’re going to at least take a bite.” The group paused. “Can we go, now?” William asked. They somehow understood a very rare trust was being given. Staff let them watch TV, play video games and maybe some basketball. They go to school and maybe the mall and park. That’s about it. Of course they had never been hunting before, never seen legitimate guns in rational hands. Two of them had never even been to the mountains, which were just 35 miles from where the group home stood in Stockton. They were quiet and sitting bolt upright before me now like young men. This might actually work. I don’t ask people I meet what they do for a living, because I don’t want to answer the same question. I’m a therapist, with framed degrees on the wall to prove it but no one believes me. I talk like a cowboy and I certainly don’t look the part--no beard, no glasses, and I will never wear Birkenstocks. There’s no couch in my practice. Hell, I don’t even have an office. I make house calls. I put myself in their environment, working to change the structure of group homes to change the behavior of kids with real problems. “Intermittent-Explosive Personality Disorder” is your diagnosis if you throw extremely violent tantrums every couple of weeks for no particular reason. There’s something called “Reactive-Attachment Disorder” which causes kids to be most vicious to those who love them
Canadian Geese in Flight
CIRQUE most. Then there’s “Oppositional-Defiant Disorder”, which is self-explanatory. When their parents, schools, and cops can’t handle them, they’re sent to live in group homes. Then they meet me. These are the boys riding in the truck with the dog and me, the boys I’m taking hunting. The mountains seem close but it took over two hours to get high up, the roads so steep and convoluted. The boys were silent and intent the whole trip, straining toward the windows to take in the new planet. They were slack-jawed at the huge redwoods, the twisted manzanita, and Juan squealed when we started seeing patches of snow. Every turn we rounded produced another collective “Daaannngg....,” the modern adolescent chant of wonder and excitement. The higher we climbed, the quieter they got. We got out on one of my favorite fire roads in an old burn about 6000 feet up. I sent the dog and boys into the bush along a wicked slope. It was perfect. I could keep them in sight and spot anything moving in front of them in the low shrubs. I felt colonial and almost bad, me walking along the nicely groomed road while the beaters were sweeping the hill but these guys are young and had energy to burn. They used it-- shouting and ordering each other around as they threw rocks, kicked logs and punched stumps walking their picket line. Gone was the “pimp roll”, the walk young men of all races today work so hard to perfect, that ape-like shoulder sway you see in rap videos and hate. They pulled up their sagging pants and were boys, maybe for the first time. Trey stopped to look at colorful fungus on some rocks. William walked unsteadily across a fallen tree and almost fell. Juan made a snowball and just admired it.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 About a quarter mile into the hunt the mountainside morphed into huge exposed granite rubble and discipline began to break down. Trey couldn’t find a low way around a blowdown and hiked high and out of sight. José sat down to rest, William ordered him to continue, and mothers were insulted. The dog and I kept hunting. About 100 yards further down the road I saw the dog getting birdy, zig-zagging crazy fast with his tail rolling in huge circles. I huffed up the slope myself and caught a glimpse of a straggler, a pigeon-sized bird scuttling through the brush at an impressive clip. I huffed and caught up to the covey at a large rock about the same time the dog arrived, sending about ten brightly feathered quail blasting out the other side of the boulder. I fired and a bird fell. The continuous chatter I heard behind me stopped when the echo hit them. The dog retrieved the bird to hand about the same time the boys covered twice the distance. They stood gasping in a circle around us, quiet at first, looking at the still, tattered life I was holding. Then the rapid-fire questions started. “Is he dead?” “Why are his eyes open?” “Is it a boy or a girl?” We spent a good five minutes there in a ravine in the high Sierra discussing the fallen mountain quail. I was relieved. I was worried one or all of them would be somehow aroused by this killing, given the nature of psychiatric conditions, but each was clearly grossed out in a healthy sort-of way. We walked on another hour, covering about a half-mile. The rest of the covey ditched us, although the boys called out possible sightings every few seconds. We walked the road back to the truck where I built a small fire and plucked the bird while the boys ate sandwiches on the tailgate. They each dutifully ate a sliver of the single, small blackened breast I skewered on a Tamarac branch. Then we drove back to the group home in the rain: full and complete hunt. I’d like to say the hunting experience I provided these young men heralded a new vista in their rehabilitation, but it did not. They still cuss out staff, fight each other and steal everything that isn’t nailed down. Wholesale life changes after a one-time encounter of any caliber, even with Freud himself, only happens in the movies. But the four boys are still there, still in the same home. The best we can do for kids like these is to keep them stable until they grow out of their selfishness and aggression. Most guys mellow and get responsible when they get to be about my age.
Jeff Vande Zande
Theodore Roethke, a novel American Poet Around 1900, the lumber barons pulled their logging operations from Michigan’s Saginaw Valley to relocate to the tree-rich Pacific Northwest. Interestingly, approximately 50 years later, Theodore Roethke (a poetry baron of sorts) also left Michigan to take a post at the University of Washington in Seattle. The lumber barons didn’t leave much behind except a couple dozen opulent mansions on a few tree-lined boulevards. Similarly, Roethke left behind his boyhood home at 1805 Gratiot in Saginaw. With his father’s greenhouses torn down and the fields and woods of Roethke’s childhood developed into subdivisions, the house is one of the only reminders Saginaw has that one of its native sons was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. Sadly, on most days, it doesn’t seem that the people of Saginaw much care about Roethke. Saginaw, like many Michigan cities, still carries the scars of being lifted high by the auto industry, seemingly to discover from what height it could be dropped without shattering into oblivion. Most of its residents are too concerned with the pragmatics of survival to fret about whether or not Theodore Roethke’s legacy, or for that matter his boyhood home, is preserved. Regardless, some residents do fret, like the nonprofit group known as The Friends of Theodore Roethke. Their mission is “to promote, preserve and protect the literary legacy of Theodore Roethke by restoring his family residences in Saginaw, Michigan, for cultural and educational opportunities.” They hope to preserve Roethke’s house, but also his Uncle Carl’s house, which is located next door. When I came to the Saginaw Valley to teach English at Delta College in 2000, I didn’t know anything of the Friends of Theodore Roethke. I only knew vaguely that Roethke had been born in Saginaw and that his house was somewhere in the city. For a decade I lived only fifteen miles from his home without ever once visiting it—having no idea that I would write a novel in which his house would play a pivotal role. It was around 2006 that I saw the house for the first time. My daughter’s elementary school is just down the road from it, so I had to drive past it every day. The house is a lot like the man was—big, looming, and gloomy. During my first six years at Delta College, I’d learned some things about the Friends of Theodore Roethke. More than
56 anything, what I heard was that they struggled financially to keep the Roethke House functioning as a museum. As a community college instructor and a father of young children, I didn’t guess that I had much to offer the Friends in the way of money or time to help their cause. Then something very odd happened. One morning, after dropping my daughter at school, I drove past the Roethke House. Looking at it, I received a vision of a young man up on the roof, clinging to the chimney, holding a bullhorn. The vision stayed with me for days until I realized that it was asking me to do something with it, to turn it into a story—to write the thing that would tell me just what in the hell that young man of my hallucination was doing up there. I decided to name him Denver Hoptner. His name was the only thing that came easy to me. The first time I tried to tell his story, I wrote it as a screenplay. Thirty pages into the script, I recognized that it wasn’t working as a movie. I abandoned the project for six months, but still couldn’t shake Denver. When I took up his story again, it was as fiction. Seventy-four pages into a third person narration of his tale, it occurred to me that it needed to be in first person, which stalled the project for another four months. By the summer of 2011, however, I was back at work and making good progress. The opening of the book finds Denver returning to Saginaw after completing a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree in poetry at the University of Michigan. Unable to get into grad school or find a job, he’s forced to move into his estranged father’s basement. It is while in this miserable condition that he learns of misfortunes at the Roethke Home Museum. He decides that he wants to help. While writing the novel, I discovered that I needed to know more about Roethke’s life. I bought a copy of Allan Seager’s The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke. The biography really opened my eyes to the importance of Roethke’s boyhood home. I had always thought of it as the place where Roethke was raised and collected memories. It was only after I read Seager’s book that I learned just how much writing Roethke did in the house. Struggling with depressive episodes, he would often return to Saginaw (prior to marrying Beatrice O’Connell) and let his sister and mother care for him. While there, he wrote, including many of the poems from his groundbreaking book, The Lost Son. One of those poems was the oft-anthologized “My Papa’s Waltz.” As it turned out, I also needed to know more about the house. About halfway through the book, Denver pays a visit to the Roethke House. I’d never been there myself, so I began to search online for pictures of its interior. How ridiculous, really, considering that the actual house was
CIRQUE only a short drive from my own. Eventually, recognizing my own absurdity, I called to schedule a tour. Doing so, I had the chance to meet Annie Ransford, President of the Friends of Roethke. She gave me an extensive tour and let me take photographs of the various rooms. Of course, the most wonderful room in the place is the kitchen. Standing in it, one can’t help but think of Otto dancing a young Theodore about, beating time on his head. Standing in that kitchen is akin to standing in the middle of a poem. My visit to the Roethke House went a long way toward adding authentic detail to my novel. More importantly, though, I connected with Annie Ransford. That friendship has proved invaluable to the creation of the book and to its subsequent reception after publication. Shortly after my tour of the house, I was invited to attend a meeting of The Friends of Theodore Roethke. At that meeting, I read some of the manuscript aloud to the board members. Hearing that I was writing a serious book that celebrated Theodore Roethke’s legacy in Saginaw, they made the offer that I could spend a night in the house. Beyond affording me some time to write, the night had a payoff that I never could have anticipated. October 22, 2011, I arrived at the Roethke House with an army cot and a sleeping bag. I was ready to get to work. Taking breaks from writing, I wandered around the house. A part of me was afraid of what spirit I might see—maybe the ghost of Otto Roethke or Ted’s sister, June. Either one, it is rumored, might haunt the place. I also wanted very much to feel the spirit of Theodore Roethke. Working on my novel on the very second-floor writing porch where he worked on some of his most groundbreaking poems was both surreal and sublime. In Roethke’s boyhood bedroom, I found a guestbook which contained an entry by nationally-known poet William Heyen. As it turned out, Heyen had also spent a night in the house in May 2002. Heyen addressed Roethke directly in the guestbook when he wrote, “Ted, years ago I spent days with your papers at the University of Washington, walked where you taught; twice in the past I’ve visited your grave; now I’ve been to your home. Be with me, old snail, glister me forward forever to where you keep the great ones company […] now that I’ve been here, I miss you even more, and less.” After my night in the Roethke House, I emailed William Heyen to let him know that we were in a unique club. We were the only two writers, besides Roethke himself, to spend a night in the house. The upshot of our exchange was that Heyen wrote a blurb for the back cover of American Poet. I finished the novel shortly after staying in Roethke’s house. It ended up being about much more
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
Nobody in Michigan had the chance to know than just some misguided young man trying to save a Roethke as a teacher. We are only the stuff of his source literary landmark. It’s about activism versus writing. It’s material: the greenhouses, the root cellar, the river, the about fathers and sons. It’s about the power of friendship fields…the portentous father, Otto. Perhaps it was his and the virtues of hard work. It’s about poetry. difficult relationship with his father that compelled him It’s also about Roethke, the man. to have such a nurturing relationship toward his students After all the reading I did about him, I knew at the University of Washington. that the novel would touch on Maybe he gave to them as a him as a poet. He was unique in teacher to make up for what he felt that he pushed himself into new he did not receive from Otto as a territory, new voices, and new son. style with every book. One of Notwithstanding, I believe the characters in the novel even that the University of Washington comments on it: also played a big part in allowing “And as a poet… my God. him to become such a force in the It’s like he reinvented himself with classroom. He found a sympathetic every book. Read his greenhouse environment there that had eluded poems and then read The Far him at other institutions. Michigan Field. Stylistically, length, tone— State University was severe toward all of it. It’s like two different men, his mental condition. Penn State, but the same dirt is in there. I don’t Jeff Vande Zande at the time, was not enough think enough has been said about of a liberal arts college. As for that, about how hard that is. It’s Bennington, it held too many temptations of the female hard enough to find one voice, one way to get at things. He variety. The president, Lewis Jones, saw the writing on the had so many.” wall and did not renew Roethke’s contract, according to In my research, I also learned that Roethke was an Seager. exceptional teacher. With almost no guides, he seemingly It was at the University of Washington, Seager created the art of teaching poetry as creative writing. In suggests, where Roethke found the progressive the novel, Denver’s father revealed that he once had the surroundings that his teaching needed and the chance to meet Roethke, when Roethke came back from compassionate administration that his illness required. Seattle to Arthur Hill High School to receive an award. Once while at UDub, a state legislator questioned Denver’s dad explained that a few students were allowed Roethke’s frequent sick leaves. In response, the head of to meet Roethke: the English Department wrote a remarkable, four-page I reached up under my sleeve and scratched my letter in Roethke’s defense. The letter ended as follows and shoulder. “Just random students?” shows that Roethke had found a safe harbor in academia: He crossed his arms. “No, not just random students. I was there because I wrote this paper on fur trading in the In all of these ways—teaching, developing Saginaw Valley.” He looked at the radio and touched his interest in a great literary form, training writers who finger along the top of it. “And because I’d shown an interest themselves go on to become known, and doing his in wanting to teach.” He looked back at me. own distinguished writing which has won all kinds “To teach?” of acclaim—Roethke is performing what I call a Dad nodded. “Yup. Teach history.” He was quiet for continuing service to the University, which goes on a moment, touching the radio again. “Anyway, Roethke was whether he is ill or well. When we keep him on the a big, gloomy looking sonuvabitch. Dressed like a funeral payroll when he is ill, we are not merely helping a home director. We all lined up—there were five of us—and sick man or aiding a fine artist; in realistic terms, we he came through and shook our hands and asked a few are simply continuing to pay a great University debt. questions. I remember he stopped when I told him that I I shall without hesitation continue to recommend wanted to be a teacher. He pointed at my heart. ‘Don’t give we continue with this policy whenever he is ill. ‘em everything,’ he said. ‘They’ll take it. They’re hungry.’ Then he shook his head. ‘If you’re doing it right, though, you won’t Sincerely, be able to stop giving… even if it’s killing you, even if they don’t deserve it.’ Then he looked at me. ‘And, if you’re really Robert B. Heilman good—like me—not one of ‘em deserves it, not what I give.’”
I don’t doubt that he also needed that move to the Pacific Northwest to carry out a final, significant rebirth as an artist. I would wager that if he hadn’t left the Midwest, he wouldn’t have written the poems he wrote later in his life—the poems that provide evidence to the fact that he never stopped evolving as a poet. Clearly, Roethke needed both Michigan and Washington to become the poet and teacher he became. Born and raised in the Midwest, he later settled in Seattle, WA. After years of teaching and writing in the Pacific Northwest, he died and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Saginaw, MI. He came full circle, back to the soil from which his poems sprang, back from the secure position that had seen him fully blossom as a teacher. So far, my novel about Roethke and his boyhood home is doing well. The Friends of Theodore Roethke allowed me to have a book launch right in his living room. We sold 60 copies. In the spring of 2012, the book won the Stuart and Vernice Gross Award for Excellence in Michigan Literature, which is awarded by Saginaw Valley State University. Then, at the end of 2012, I was notified that American Poet had been named a Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan. The novel has also brought some needed attention to the Roethke Home Museum. Annie Ransford tells me that the book has put her organization’s efforts in “a new universe.” It really pleases me that my little work of fiction is having positive implications in the real world. A few people have asked me if I’ll write a sequel to Denver’s story. I suppose if I do, I’ll have to send him out to the Pacific Northwest, following in the footsteps of the man he so admired. At one point in the novel, when things are really going poorly for him in Saginaw, Denver considers hitchhiking his way out to Portland, Oregon. I could see that…or maybe even Seattle.
FICTION Nicholas Dighiera
Naked Pictures of People You Know Jake was in the kitchen pouring three fingers of scotch while his wife talked to the guests in the other room. “How was the salmon?” his wife said. Before she received a response, she called back to Jake. “Jake, can you bring the bottle out? Their glasses are looking empty.” He walked into the room and handed the bottle to his wife, April, who set it on the floor. She wore a tight cashmere top and a wool skirt and was sprawled on the couch, taking up two thirds of it. Jake flopped down next to her and took a drink. She reached over and rubbed his knee while she took a drink from her glass. She turned to the guests. “And the salmon? Good?” “The salmon was great,” said Ethan, who was sitting in an easy chair across from the couch. Ethan was plain except for his hawkish nose. April had invited Ethan and his wife Sara over for dinner. They were new neighbors from a few doors down. “Yeah, April, well done,” Sara said. “Not the fish, I mean, but the job you did on it. Well done, like a compliment. Shit.” Sara giggled and took a drink. “Good scotch, huh?” Jake asked, holding his glass aloft. Sara chortled, jostling her drink. She was wearing a light dress and began wiping at drops of scotch that landed on it. “Well done,” said Ethan, and everyone laughed. “I was just telling these guys about what we found when we were going through your old college stuff last week,” April said. “Shit, guys, I gotta get this out,” said Sara, still wiping at the dress. She got up and walked down the hall to the bathroom, taking her drink. Ethan watched her go, turned to Jake, and said, “Yeah, April said she found some interesting stuff. Like an old jock strap that apparently hadn’t ever been cleaned.” “Seriously,” April jumped in. “That thing stunk. I could smell it the moment I opened the
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 box. I didn’t even pull it out. Right to the trash.” “That’s fucking gross…sorry, is it okay to say fuck?” Ethan asked. “Yeah, it’s fucking fine,” Jake said, laughing. April switched the glass to her other hand and popped Jake in the shoulder. “What?” he said. April made a face, but said nothing. “What else did you find?” Ethan asked. A toilet flushed somewhere in the house. “Yeah, Jake, what else did we find?” April said, getting up from her seat and smiling at him. She grabbed the scotch from the floor and looked at Ethan. He nodded and held out his glass. She poured. “April wants me to tell you that we found some porno magazines,” Jake said. Without looking at her, he held his glass up to April, who began filling it. Ethan laughed a bit and took a drink. “Porn, huh? I mean, it’s college, right? And the internet wasn’t around back then.” “Seriously?” asked April. “Every guy looks at it.” Sara walked in from down the hall, straightening her dress with one hand and taking a sip of her drink with the other. “Every guy looks at what?” “Porn,” said April. Sara giggled and fell into her chair. She pulled her knees up tight in her lap and said, “Yeah, who doesn’t know that?” “Amen,” Jake said. Ethan smiled in Sara’s direction, and she winked at him, giggling again. They each drank. “I mean, sure. I guess I knew that. Sure. But I just never really thought about it,” said April. “Power of deniability, right?” She coughed twice and said, “It’s not like I care, I just never thought about it.” “Sure you haven’t,” Sara said. “I haven’t,” she said. “And anyway, I just wanted to bring up the magazines. I thought it was funny.” She looked at Jake. He was smiling to himself. Ethan ran his finger over the rim of his glass. “What’s funny is that you kept them,” he said. “Who does that?” Jake laughed. “Yeah, I guess. I forgot they were there. I hadn’t really thought about them. They’ve been in there almost ten years now. Hell, I’ve had them for fifteen.” “That’s fucking sick, man, keeping your high school mags.” Ethan was out of breath from laughing.
59 “Who knows what’s on those pages.” “Who wants to know?” April said loudly. Sara chortled, maintaining control over her drink this time. “I don’t know,” Jake said, “I just forgot to throw them out. My brother gave them to me when he graduated college and I loved ‘em back then. Ethan, you know how it is.” “I do. I do.” “I remember there was this one, I didn’t know the name of it because the cover was torn off, but it was trashy. Really low stuff,” Jake said. “But there was a set of pictures with this darkhaired girl, kind of goth-like, with all of these steel cables coming out of her who-who. That image, it’s just stuck in my mind. It’s not that I liked it or didn’t like it, but the image just stuck.” He took another drink. “Who-who?” Sara said. “Yeah. Who-who. Deal.” “I like it,” Ethan said. “I’m going to start saying that. As in, what am I going to put in this who-who today?” “Nothing if you keep that up,” Sara said with a grin. “Where did your brother get these? I’m fascinated by the underworld distribution of porn magazines to young men,” April said, sarcastic. “Who knows,” said Jake. “It’s not like I cared. Or we cared, really. There was a group I hung out with back then. A couple of guys. The twins, Doogan was their last name, but everybody called them both Doogan. And Simon, this nerdy kid from up the street. We didn’t care where the mags came from. But we cherished them. Came up with all kinds of hiding places to keep them secret. Porn was precious back then. And the raunchier the better. Pictures of cock tips almost touching a woman’s lips or her who-who spread out like some kind of autopsy photo, we couldn’t get enough. Except Simon. Simon didn’t like porn.” “Was he gay?” Ethan asked. “No,” Jake said. “No.” “Was he blind?” Both Ethan and Sara laughed. “No.” Jake took a long drink. The bottle was getting low now, each guest refilling on their own. Ethan, Sara, and April watched him while he poured another. April spoke first. “So? So, what? You can’t leave us hanging like that.” “I haven’t thought about it in a while is all.” He
60 took another drink. “Fucking Simon. You know those friends, where you wonder how they got into your group? That was Simon. Like, at one point he was there and no one ever said no. Spindly kid. Thick hair, always shell-hard from the Aqua Net he used on it. The Doogans gave him a lot of shit, but for some reason we liked him. “The Doogans’ parents were pretty loose, and they would let us hang out in the twins’ bedroom all night. That’s when we looked at the mags, mostly. The Doogans were obsessed with this magazine. Cherry. It was about spanking. I remember one cover, there was this schoolgirl lady, plaid skirt hitched way up, and this schoolmarm was paddling her ass. It was red. Doogans ate that shit up.” Jake laughed then. “Cherry, huh?” Ethan said. He pretended to write it down on his hand. April raised her eyebrow and looked at Sara, who shrugged. “Yeah, the Doogans loved it. I really liked the raunchy stuff too, though. It’s weird. I thought that’s what we were supposed to like, you know. I don’t like that now; actually, I can’t remember the last time I even looked at porn,” Jake said. Ethan blurted out, “Sure you can’t, buddy.” “Seriously, it’s not really a thing anymore.” “Oh, it’s a thing,” Ethan said. “A daily thing.” “Sadly, I can attest to that,” Sara said, leaning over and poking Ethan in the arm. “Yeah, that’s not the tone you had last night,” Ethan replied. Jake laughed. He started again. “Well, Simon, he didn’t like any of it. Kept saying that he didn’t know any of the women. We’d be in the Doogans’ room flipping through some mags, everybody except Simon. He would ask us questions, like, how many ways do you know her? What kind of question is that? But we’d say, I don’t know. And then he’d say, one way: You know her visually. You know what she looks like naked. And that’s it.”
CIRQUE “Isn’t that enough?” Ethan said. “Yeah, that’s what I said,” Jake said, throwing up one arm. “But that wasn’t enough for him. He said those girls, they didn’t have any secrets. The only thing you knew about them was their deepest physical secret. That’s not it, he would say. If you know them first, and then you see them naked, that’s it. It’s like you know something about them, what their voice sounds like, the type of clothes they wear, what their real hobbies are. He said that the more things you knew about them, the better picture you had in your mind. You might find yourself into a girl you would never be attracted to on looks alone. Might find yourself fantasizing about whether her nipples were big or small, pink or tan, or maybe those inverted funky ones. Simon said it was the mystery that was hot.”
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 “And this kid was, what, 15?” April asked. “Yeah. Maybe 16.” “That’s kind of weird,” she said. The others nodded. Sara said, “Yeah, I would say this kid was a weirdo.” They all laughed. The scotch in their glasses was low and the bottle was dry. “Maybe even creepy,” Ethan said. “But I like him. The kid’s got style.” “You would,” said Sara. Ethan held up his glass to clink it with hers, but she pulled hers back in a joking way. “You know you like it.” Jake said, “I thought he was kind of weird too, but at the time, you know, we had our priorities. And the Doogans definitely thought he was weird, but we still hung out with him. He always brought something to the conversation. “So we would look at porn, Simon would criticize and tell us we needed naked pictures of people we knew. We didn’t know very many attractive women, so this seemed like a waste of time. We wanted to stick with the fine ladies in our magazines.” Jake said, with a fake air of superiority. “With cables coming out of the vaginas and cherry red asses, of course,” April added, smirking. “Of course,” Ethan said. “Yes. Of course,” Jake said. “Anyway, Simon’s visits got less and less until one day Doogan pointed out that he wasn’t there anymore. Simon had stopped hanging out with us. I guess we didn’t look up from the mags that much to notice. It was summer so we couldn’t track him down at school. It was the Doogans who said we should go over to his house. “Even though he lived a few blocks away, we had never gone there before. He said his parents were really strict and that didn’t play into our magazine time. But we showed up, I think it was a Tuesday night or something, and knocked on the door. His parents led us upstairs where they knocked on his door and told Simon some friends had come over. There were some shuffling noises and the door opened. We could tell he was surprised to see us. But with his parents there, he couldn’t say no. So he let us in and shut the door. “His room was exactly like you would imagine. It was pretty bare except for some framed photos. Really artsy type pictures of sunsets and fenceposts, that sort of thing. He had a desk that covered half of his room, it was L-shaped and integrated into his bedposts. His bed was
61 tightly made and there were stacks of pictures all over the desk’s surface. There was some kind of mobile hanging from the ceiling. I can’t remember what it looked like, but I’m sure there was something there.” “Mobile of severed ears?” Sara asked. Jake got up for more scotch. “No, no ears,” he called over his shoulder. He kept talking as he grabbed a new bottle. “The Doogans piled onto his bed, messing it up with their boots. They both pulled mags from inside their clothes somewhere. They always had one. I started going through the papers on the desk. Simon just stood there, this dumb look on his face. Stunned, I guess.” Jake walked back into the room now, topping every drink off. “I got into this pile of pictures and I asked him, what is all this shit? And he started scraping them all into a desk drawer so I said, whoa, whoa, whoa and I tried to stop him. The Doogans saw this; they jumped up and grabbed him. Simon was struggling, but it was nothing the Doogans couldn’t handle. And I said, oh, touchy are we? What is this? And I started pulling all the pictures out of the drawer. There were tons of them. There were pictures of flower gardens and toys scattered on the lawn and a whole bunch of house numbers. I pulled more and more out and got down to the bottom of the drawer where there was this white binder. I said, what’s this. He lunged hard and the Doogans punched him in the gut. Simon dropped to his knees. I opened the binder.” “Shit, this is getting good,” Ethan said, scooting to the edge of the chair. “So shut up so he can finish,” April said, getting a laugh out of Sara. Jake sat there for a moment, not saying anything. He drank twice. “Well, what was in the binder?” April asked. “Sorry. Yeah. Binder.” He took another drink and his voice slurred when he spoke. “Naked pictures of people we knew.” Ethan sprang from the seat, his smile broad. “What the fuck.” Sara’s eyes were intently focused on Jake. April had her hand over her mouth. “How come I’ve never heard this story until now?” “I don’t know. Guess I forgot about it until now.” “More,” Ethan barged in, an eager crook to his smile. “This is fantastic and I need more.” Sara laughed at him.
62 “The first picture was of an old woman from down the street. We didn’t know her name. She was naked except for her panties, which were huge. The picture was taken from outside her window, and I would say from a ways off. But the picture wasn’t of her boobs. It was like he waited to get this side-back view of her. And she was wrinkled and fat and white. Paper white. I looked at Simon and his head was almost on the floor. The Doogans saw the picture and let him go. They pushed in close and started going through the book. “The next picture was of the librarian at our school. She was standing naked in front of a mirror and she was putting on her earrings. Her body was lumpy, but nothing like the old lady. She had this look on her face, like she was pleased or, you know, just happy. “There were a lot of pictures of one of a women who bagged groceries at the Wegman’s on the south end of town. There was this one picture, and thinking back on it now it’s so clear in my mind. Simon must have taken the photo from close to her house, the picture was of her back, and she was topless and putting her hair up while sitting in front of a vanity. You could only see the faintest edge of one of her nipples because the perfume bottles and the jewelry boxes on the vanity covered everything else.” Jake took another drink then, the room silent. He closed his eyes and spoke, “It’s like I can see that picture just now. It’s weird, I remember it exactly. She had these curly mud-brown ringlets that somehow Simon captured in a perfect moment. Like she was piling them up on top of her head and they kept falling down. He caught that just then, a tiny piece of wonder. And she wasn’t all that good-looking, at least to us then. She was really skinny and had this long face like life hadn’t been good to her. I never saw her smile. But in that picture, I don’t know.” He breathed deep. “I don’t know.” He paused. There was a distant car horn somewhere outside. “Yeah, the Doogans kept flipping through the book. And it was photo after photo. Some of the women I knew, some I didn’t. And then the Doogans found a picture of their mom. They were on Simon so quick I didn’t know what happened until I looked at the photo. They were holding him, one with a hand over his mouth so he couldn’t scream and the other just wailing on him. I watched. I saw his eyes. He stared right at me. Then Doogan waved me over and I just sort of fell in there with him. I started punching Simon in the ribs. I hit him hard.
CIRQUE There was a crack somewhere inside him, just below his armpit. And Doogan had knocked his nose flat. We kept hitting him. Hit him hard.” Jake studied his glass. “I hit him hard.” “We heard pounding feet on the stairs, so we kicked him a couple more times and then jumped from the window to the ground. We ran.” Jake relaxed a whiteknuckle grip on his drink. “Holy shit,” April said. “Yeah, holy shit,” Jake said. “I haven’t thought about that in so long. It’s so strange looking at it now. It seems so long ago, but I still remember Simon’s blood on my hand. Looked like a bunch of kidney beans.” “What’d you do? Did you get caught? I mean, his parents had to know,” Ethan said. “They found the book, didn’t they?” Sara said. “You left it out, didn’t you, when you left?” “Yes. At least that’s what we assumed. We didn’t see him for a few weeks. Then school started and he wasn’t there. A moving van showed up at his house one day I saw it from my bedroom window. And we never heard from him again. His parents came to talk to us. I heard a rumor he was working at a department store down in Brisco, but it was probably just a rumor.” They were all silent. April coughed and said, “Well, I think he deserved it. What kind of creeper…what kind of sick kid takes pictures like that?” “I thought the same thing then,” said Jake. “And still feel the same way now, about those kind of pictures.” “Yeah,” Sara said. “I mean, I feel bad for him. But still. What if some kid had pictures of me? Even perfect ones? It’s wrong. It’s still wrong, what he did, when I think about it like that. I’m okay with porn, but this is something else.” April nodded. Jake’s eyes were back on the scotch. “I abstain from passing judgment,” Ethan said. “For fear of being called a pervert.” A big smile broke on his face and they all began laughing. “You would,” Sara said. “What?” Ethan asked, the sarcasm thick. They laughed more. Except Jake. Jake swirled the scotch in his glass. He looked at his hands, turning them over. And he got up and went to the kitchen for some water. “Naked Pictures of People You Know” was first published in The Better Bombshell, released in 2013 by Wolfram Productions.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2
Giang She arrived in October, just as Indian summer made its quick decent to winter. A day with high translucent clouds and dry gusts that stripped the last of the browning leaves from the aspen and paper birch. At any time the snow would arrive, sweep down from the arctic or through a gap in the mountains, and cover the hard packed ground for six months. Giang had never felt cold like that day, a mild day by northern standards, let alone seen a snowflake. My sister Abbey and the neighborhood girl, Rachel, saw her before I did, through the front window. I was in the back yard, walking circles in my gumboots and crushing the dry leaves under my feet. Under my breath I sang a verse over and over from some country song I heard in dad’s truck. “Don’t act weird,” dad would say. “Kids’ll make fun, call you a fairy.” And I knew he was right because he always was. So when no one was home, except for Abbey and her friends, I went to the woodlot in the far corner of the yard and let myself dream. That particular afternoon I remember dreaming of the coast near Prince Rupert. It had been a month since I went there with my aunt Beth, the first time I traveled west of the Coast Range Mountains. We didn’t talk much on the drive, but she told me what I needed to know. That’s how she was; she said only what needed to be said. Some people took this as unfriendly but I got it. She didn’t care that much about people stuff, she was concerned only with nature. She talked about why the trees changed, and the color of the river water. Where the birds were going. Her place, a silver airstream trailer with an awning and wide cedar porch, sat on concrete blocks at the end of a large field of bracken and tall swampy grass. Behind the clearing were trails that lead to the evergreen woods; muddy pathways overgrown with devils club and salmonberry, Sitka spruce and Alaska yellow cedar, their needles humming relentlessly to the salt wind. In the late afternoon, after walking and sitting quietly on the front stoop of her trailer, we’d drive to the harbor and eat fish sandwiches covered in mayonnaise and ketchup on the back deck of the pub, watching the boats move slowly across the glassy waterway, the eagles and gulls trailing close behind. I dreamed hard of the wild coast that afternoon,
63 longing for our own backyard grove to be that fluorescent green; thick sponge moss and lichen dangling from the trees, and for the air to be so thick and cold in my lungs. But here in the interior the grass was already brown, and even when it was green, middle of summer and wet from snowmelt and flooded fields, the trees were too small and thickly grown, and the ferns were slender and wilted. Nothing like the rainforest. I walked broad circles around the woodlot and into the neighbor’s older patch of trees, scheming up ways to get back to the coast and live for good. I thought about what it would be like if we got up and moved. How I’d learn to fish salmon in the bay, and run the rivers in cedar bark canoes like the Natives did. I’d have maps on the walls of my room of the inlets and fjords, the offshore islands and provincial parks. Eventually there would be a following of people who wanted to know the land as well as I did. And I would teach them everything. But unlike the times when I could dream like this for hours uninterrupted, attaining something almost tangible in my mind, something embarrassingly real, I knew that any moment dad would arrive with this woman, Giang, his new wife to be, my new mother, and that the encounter would be awkward, and everything would change. I could feel something odd in my chest every time I imagined her, how I might feel upon seeing her. This strange foreign woman who’d never seen snow or eagles. It was just three weeks earlier that I learned of dad’s engagement, on a clear, almost full moon night. I should’ve been asleep, but like so many other nights I was on the floor of my bedroom, nestled amongst pillows and a feather blanket. And when I heard them arguing, I peered out towards the living room through a gap beneath the door. “I just don’t understand,” my uncle was saying, slowly shaking his head. “Why can’t you just find a woman like everyone else does?” Dad took long pulls from his can of beer and put it back down on the table, next to a growing stack of empties. He looked exhausted from work, a double shift at the mill running a forklift, and he still wore his blue jean jacket and boots. He ran his fingers through the thin greying hair, back and forth, and settled into his chair before responding. “I’m not a young man anymore, Pete,” he said. “And even if I was, you seen the choices around here?” “Other people figure it out,” Pete returned, tilting his chair back against the wall.
64 “Yea, other people without kids. Other people twenty years old going to the pub every other night, or getting the hell out.” I could hear the alcohol in him, getting looser, more emotional than he’d let on sober. Both of them looked toward the family room and eyed the television. After a minute or so my uncle got up and shut the window in the back door. Dad sat there rubbing his knuckles, his eyes cloudy. “I’m just looking out for myself, for once,” he eventually said. “I got no problems bein’ alone. Shit, you know that. But I don’t need to end up like Burt out there on North Peters, in that shit box of a house. Goin’ rotten.” “Oh please, Christopher,” Pete said, with a short laugh. “Burt Anderson? He’s an old man. Got mental problems too.” Burt Anderson. I remembered seeing him in town, Mom always pointed him out and felt bad. Sometimes we’d see him at the Wildwood Café, sitting hours at a time and staring at the door, drinking one bottle of Coca Cola after another, letting the caps fall to the floor. “He’s waitin’ for somebody,” Mom would say in a whisper, putting down her magazine. “But that somebody ain’t comin.” When he finally checked himself into the hospital the nurses had to cut the stained denim overalls off with scissors, and the smell was so bad it made Nora Becker vomit into her mouth. “What’re people going to say,” Pete started again, “when some gal from Taiwan shows up all the sudden, living out here and wanderin’ around town?” Dad looked at him and shook his head with a frown. “Well first off, Pete, she ain’t from Taiwan. She’s from Thailand. And second, like I give a rat’s ass what all them say. And you of all people…” He paused and cracked his neck side to side and smiled faintly, condescendingly. “Besides, it ain’t that outta the ordinary, no matter what you think. Buddy a mine from Ft. Alex told me just yesterday that half the guys at the new mill got foreign broads. From all over the goddamn place.” My uncle took a deep breath. “Look Chris, all I’m saying is, why don’t you just sit tight? I mean, it ain’t been that long.” “A year yesterday,” he said, matter of fact. Pete looked down at the table and took another deep breath, exhaling in a long, raspy sigh. He pulled himself from his chair and walked slowly towards the fridge. He seemed much taller inside the house than out, and had to tilt his head sideways to avoid scraping it on the ceiling. When he sat back down he handed dad
CIRQUE another beer and opened one for himself, the fizz dripping down the can. Dad watched the TV in the other room. The Canucks game, on mute. “Sorry, Chris. Really. I forgot it was so close.” “Well, now you know,” my father said, and took another long slug. I didn’t know back then the exact day of mom’s accident, but it seemed right, because it was always late in September when the dust from the road was thickest. But then again, the dust that summer was bad from June on. And when there wasn’t dust, there was smoke. The fall and winter snows were thin that year, barely covering the ground even at Christmas, and when spring arrived, when the melt usually overtakes the rivers and wet-slide avalanches rip through the willows on Red Mountain above town, it remained clear and windless. By July the roads were three inches deep with powder-like dust. It coated the thimbleberry and dogwood bushes so much that they didn’t even flower. In August there were hundreds of wildfires in the Interior. Where we lived, in the dry zone east of the Coast Range, where the lodgepole pine forests were already dead and cracking from the bark beetle, the blazes were quick to sweep over the mountains. I remember a night when the fires were closest and we climbed to the roof and watched the flames move slowly across the ridgelines. Finally storms drifted from Alberta, hard rains with lightening and balmy downdrafts of wind that went through the night and into the next morning. The storms put out most the fires north of the Frasier, but started more in the south. Mom loved the thunder and lightning and sat with us on the family room couch with candles lit when the power died. She had grown up in Ontario where it stormed all summer long, and she told us stories about the lake where her granddaddy had an old summer lodge, where the whole family would gather for two weeks in July. There was a diving rock and dinner parties and an old motorboat named Charlie Rose that they would go out in at dusk, with cocktails and long cigarettes. It was before I was born that they sold it off to pay the debts everyone had. They were the fondest memories of her entire life, from the old lodge. The road out to our place was muddy and slick for a few days after the rain, but once the atmosphere dried out some, the dust was worse than ever. It was a warm and calm late afternoon when it happened, a Saturday. Mom went to town for groceries, Abbey and I promised not to watch television the whole time she was gone, but she
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 knew we would. I imagine it was Willie Nelson, or perhaps David Francey playing scratchy loud on the tape player, drowning out the hum of the engine and the jarring sound of the tires over the washboard tracks in the road. An opened can of beer rested in the center console. And when she made the hairpin turn out past the McCullen place, she squinted her eyes against the sun, a sharp golden blaze in the low horizon, holding steady over the first desiccated ridge of coastal mountains. I see Jim Thompson waving as he passed, his face stern and cold, and the fine cloud that trailed his F-250 truck as he made his way home from work. For an instant all is red, like early morning in an Arizona slot canyon, only brighter. Dad found her For the Birds while driving home from the mill, nearly an hour after she went off the road. The truck lay in the ditch like a helpless beetle that had been flipped, legs up in a puddle of brackish water teeming with mayflies and mosquitoes. By then she was long dead. Neck broken, face smashed in. Lungs full of thin, ashy mud. The conversation between them ended as it often did, with Pete quietly stepping out the front door, my father no longer talking. That night he walked all the way home along the railroad tracks, at least twenty kilometers, after his truck wouldn’t start. Dad slowly broke the news to everyone in the weeks following that night. He would always begin with the same line: “Well you remember Jim Crawford, eh? And that lady he met on the dating service? Yea, over the Internet. Well it’s kinda the same thing. Man did I get lucky…” It was a painful thing for him, trying to convince
65 everyone—including himself—that what he was doing was normal, even worthy. And you could see it in the scrunched up look on his face when he told people about her, the forced smile that created new lines of stress on his forehead and beneath the eyes. His friends seemed excited for him, but their wives had a different look, not quite aversion, but rather fear, and disgust, and they studied their husband’s reaction. I can only imagine the conversation once they got home. At school, at least in my grade, where kids cared little about adult matters, there was just the usual making fun on the playground and the bus. There were Tim and Bear Reynolds two grades older who would let me hang out with them on the side of the playground, building tunnels and talking Katherine Coons about trips into the wilderness. And it was around that time they invited me over their house in town, a doublewide mobile home in a park with lots of stray dogs and Native people with thin mustaches and sad expressions that never left their dry, weathered faces, even when they were laughing. We ate hotdogs their mom warmed up for us in the microwave and watched cartoons on a small television that sat at the end of the table. “We got a boat, McCraken,” Bear eventually said. “We’re going to take it out on the river. You can come if you want.” From their place we walked toward the launch through downtown and the rail yard. We had paddles and life jackets and Bear had a fishing pole. They told me about how they had shot a beaver on the banks of the river just a few days before with their dad, and threw it back in the water for the sturgeon to eat. I wasn’t sure if I thought it was funny or not but laughed anyhow and stared at the ground.
66 We walked past the braided network of train tracks and through the lot where they used to pile up mountains of wood chips before turning it to pulp. It still smelt like spruce pitch and sap, sweet and moldy at the same time. Against a tall cottonwood tree was the aluminum skiff, tied up with rope and locked with a rusty chain. Bear had a key in his pocket and after he unlocked it, we dragged the boat away from the thicket down to the edge of the water. “C’mon Bret, get in,” they yelled, pushing it into the turbid, swift-moving Two Horse River. It was a rainy summer and the water was high and filled with wood debris from the clearcuts. I jumped in, dragging my feet in the water. They laughed at me for a moment, then became serious as the current took us downstream. “Get to the back McCraken and steer!” They paddled furiously, one on either side. “Left!” They yelled, in unison. I looked down at my oar, at the current rapping against the side of the boat. “But…how do I do it?” I asked, feeling stupid, but equally scared that I’d cause an accident. Bear quickly climbed to the rear and grabbed my paddle. “Like this!” He yelled, turning the blade flat to catch the flow of water. We veered to the left of the river, missing a small logjam. “Now you do it, McCraken. I got to be up front with my brother.” I took the paddle back and jammed it into the water, open to the right, to the hard resistance of the flow. Almost immediately it was stripped from my hands and hammered the side and rear of the boat before disappearing into the river. They looked back instantly to see what the noise was, and realized that I had lost the oar. “You friggen idiot!” yelled Tim. They looked at each other and shook their heads, disgusted and annoyed, but there was also a hint of a smile, as if they knew it would happen. “Out of the way, McCraken,” Bear demanded, scrambling over his fishing rod to take my place at the stern, while his brother moved back and forth to either side of the boat, paddling hard depending on what we needed to avoid. Off to the side I watched the two as they maneuvered us through a small set of rapids, communicating with glances and quick spurts of inaudible language, until we finally arrived to the calm water extending from downtown and the two high bridges. “Let’s go to Dead Man’s then back along the east trail,” Tim said, after he caught his breath. He looked at me and spat: “Man, McCraken, if you were in anyone else’s rig,
CIRQUE you’d get tossed too!” They both laughed and I tried to as well, making light of the situation, even though I knew I blew it. Any coolness I earned over the past few months was gone, and tomorrow would be a nightmare at school. I turned my head down toward the water, letting it splash my face. The boat scraped the pebbly river bottom as we approached Dead Man’s Island. Bear took off his shoes and hopped out, dragging us to the shore by a rope and tying it to a beached log. Then they were off, running down a faint trail. I tried to keep up at first but then I slowed and walked at my own pace. I always looked at the island from the high bridge over the river, wondering what it was like, but this was my first time out. “They call it ‘Dead Man’s’ cause that’s where the Indians used to bury people,” Dad told me. But I wasn’t scared. I stepped off the trail into the grass, walking slowly, and came upon a pile of bear shit, stained blue and red from bog cranberry and cloudberry. Clouds of gnats hung near the shore. I heard them laughing in the distance but figured it was something I didn’t care about, something that was between them, an inside joke. So I walked back to where the boat was and tossed flat river rocks into the water. I watched the current as it approached the tip of land where I stood and deflect off to either side, down the two channels. I could feel it in my legs, the hum of the river. I never heard from any of the kids at school about me losing the oar, but I didn’t see Tim or Bear much anymore either. Nancy Anne, a girl who lived in the same mobile home park, told me that their mum had a new boyfriend who let them do whatever they wanted. “Well what about their daddy?” I asked her. “He’s gone, I hear. Went to work in the oil up North. So those two just run aroun’ all day fish’n and stuff.” So I hid out again during recess or went to find my uncle who was a teacher next door at the high school, in social studies. He was all the kid’s favorite, especially among the girls. It was his smile, they would say, and his deep green eyes. And I prayed that one day I would resemble him in any form. As for the parents and some of the other schoolteachers, my uncle was a troublemaker, along with Keith Waters, his old college flat-mate who moved up from Vancouver. “The real histories,” was what he taught his senior classes, about the residential schools, and the treaties, and the companies who employed their parents at the mill. He wrote papers to academic journals that no
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 one understood except a handful of social scientists, and he wrote petitions to the local government against the pipeline they were building from Alberta to the coast. He and Keith would have to leave a few years later, forced out of the North for good, but that’s a whole different story. After school got out, before the bus arrived to take us on our forty-five minute ride home, he’d be sitting on the bench near the stop, his long back arched over as he waited for me, grading papers. “Well, did you learn anything good?” he’d ask, almost every time. “Nah, you know, just the normal stuff.” I’d tell him. And as we waited for the bus he’d joke around with me and Abbey and the other kids, and give us stale oatmeal cookies he’d taken from the teacher’s lounge. The day Giang arrived was a Sunday so I was at home all day with Abbey and the neighbor kid who watched over us. My sister was old enough by then to take care of us both, but dad still had her come over to make us peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and make sure we didn’t do anything stupid. Anyways, the neighbor kid bolted out the side door when she heard my dad’s truck pulling down the long dirt driveway. Abbey remained at the window. “Bret! They’re home! C’mon inside!” she hollered. But instead of coming through the back I went to the side, and stood at the gate. Dad’s Chevy truck sat and chugged in the dirt driveway and finally died. The clicking noise of the engine seemed louder than usual as they sat in the cab. From where I stood I could hardly see anything inside; insects and grit clouded the windshield despite him cleaning it for over an hour that morning. Soon enough he opened the door and made a quick, awkward dash to the passenger side, opening the door and grabbing her purse. She emerged slowly, hopping down from the cab onto the hard ground. I never thought of my dad as a large man, compared to other dads I knew, woodsmen and millworkers, but next to Giang he looked immense. His girth particularly. The width of his shoulders and gut, the size of his forearms and head. Walking from the truck he called out to us. “Bret, Abbey. Come on out here and help us with stuff.” My heart thumped again through my chest; rapid, irregular beats with a force that rang through my ears and the back of my skull. I stayed halfway behind the fence as long as I could before he saw me, and looked again to the ground.
67 “I said get over here, Bret. We need help bringing things inside. Where’s your sister?” “Inside,” I said, eyes still to the dirt. “What’d you say? Speak up and walk over here,” he said sternly. Abbey walked out the front door, smiling. “Hiya!” she exclaimed, walking toward the truck. “I’m Abbey.” A dry, dust-filled gust of wind ripped down the driveway, throwing Giang’s long, jet-black hair into her face. She smiled embarrassingly and giggled, brushing it quickly away. She looked freezing, trembling uncontrollably every few seconds. Her lips were the color of overripe blueberries. “Helloo.” she responded. “I am Giang (sounding like, zhang, almost). Nice to meet you.” Her voice sounded less foreign than my sister or I expected. She put out her hand to shake with Abbey and nodded furiously. Her smile was immense. “Go ahead and grab a suitcase from the back, Abbey.” Dad said. “Bret, move.” I walked slowly towards the truck, head and eyes off to the side. The meadow grass from the pasture hissed in the wind. The dry stalks pressed toward the ground. “You grab this one,” he said, handing me another bag from the bed of the truck. She must have brought half a dozen bags, and two cardboard boxes covered in duct tape. I looked up at her for a brief moment. She was eying our home and front yard, still smiling. Her face was as thin as her body, with long cheekbones protruding horizontally from the bottom of her eyes. Her skin looked unnaturally white, almost powdery. We made several trips to the car and then went inside and stood in the family room. “This here is Bret,” my dad told her. “He’s a shy one at first, but once you get to know’im he’ll talk your ear off.” “Nice to meet you,” she said, smiling so grandly now that her lips moved beyond her teeth, exposing her bright, fleshy gums. “Nice to meet you,” I responded, and stared at her face again. “Why don’t you and yer sister show Giang around while I situate her stuff,” dad said, grabbing an armful of suitcases and heading to the back room. We walked slowly away from the door and Abbey began to point things out. “That’s the kitchen over there. Those are mine and Bret’s rooms. Pretty small place, you know. You’ll get used to everything fast, I’m sure.” I looked around and suddenly felt embarrassed
for the condition of our house. The peeling wallpaper above the stove, the beer stained carpet, the television on the floor. Even the Reynolds’ trailer house was tidier. “Is very nice,” Giang said, looking at everything. Dad came out from the room and picked up another load of her stuff. “Why don’t you show her the backyard?” he said over his shoulder, walking back to the room. “The garden and chicken coop. She’ll like that. She loves to garden.” “I have big garden, back home,” Giang responded, looking back at my father. “That’s cool,” Abbey said, standing in front of the back door. “Who’s going to look after it while you’re gone?” “Mommy and daddy, and my bro’ser.” “Huh,” Abbey said, unremarkably. “Well, it’s totally different here, as I’m sure you know. All our plants are dead now. Frozen shut. You won’t even see green here till May. Pretty different than back home, eh?” Giang looked perplexed, and I wondered if she understood what my sister had asked. Abbey led us out the back to the small wooden porch over the yard. Once the sliding door was closed shut she turned to Giang and asked, “So how exactly did my dad meet you?”
The wind struck the trees violently but against the house we were mostly protected. Giang stood with folded arms and tightened her scarf. She peered back through the glass and into the house. “Your daddy don’t tell?” she asked. “Nope. I don’t even think his friends know. You’ll get a million questions in town, I’m sure.” She looked out to the neighbor’s yard, then to my sister. “Internet,” she said, enunciating each syllable. “We meet over Internet. A company help us. I go to big building in city, talk for many hours with your fa’ser. He meet my cousin, my mommy, and bro’ser. Tru’ a camera on the Internet. We talk many hours. One time, all night.” Her nervousness seemed to make her English worse than before. “We talk for many, many hours,” she said and giggled lightly, her face nostalgic and dreamy. “Huh,” my sister said again, unconvinced. “Well that’s a little weird, you know. Not that normal. What do you plan to do here? I mean, are you going to get a job?” Giang was taken aback by this one and looked uncomfortably into the house again, and then out to the chicken coop and the patch of woods separating the neighbor’s yard. “Can we look at the rest?” she eventually asked. Abbey stared at her unabashedly and continued to interrogate, her words harsh and loud. “What will you do all day while daddy’s at the mill? Do you even know what a paper mill is?” Giang smiled uneasily, like a small child, and fidgeted with her hands. As embarrassed as I was for her, and ashamed, I wanted to know as well. What was she thinking, leaving her family and culture to come here, the far North, to be with us, and my dad of all people? Her mouth worked as she thought of a response, or perhaps another request to avoid the matter altogether, yet just as she seemed ready to speak a shower of pebbles came down upon us and onto the roof. A larger rock, though still only about the size of a grape, hit Giang in the side of the head, just above the ear. She held her head with her long nimble fingers and crouched down and made a short, high pitched squeal that sounded a bit like a caged bird. After the barrage seemed through Abbey and I turned to the back fence and saw Kenny and Bruce, the twins from down the road, standing at the gate and squealing with laughter. When they saw us looking they pulled their eyes back with their hands, making them slant across their ugly, round, freckled faces. “Go home jerks,” Abbey yelled.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 They shook the fence and kicked at it, continuing to pull at their faces. Giang remained crouched down yet looked up through her hands. Abbey seemed unconcerned, if not slightly amused. “Don’t be so scared. It’s just the idiot Blakie boys. Trash. Here, stand up.” She pulled at Giang’s arms, helping her up. “Just a little rock that hit. It don’t hurt that bad does it”? “No,” Giang said, standing back up. “Just scared.” Her lips trembled, and the despairing look in her eyes brought a sudden lump into my throat and chest. “Well, they’re only six,” Abbey continued. “Meaner then hell, but still.” She turned to them at the fence. “Beat it, jerks!” They laughed, mockingly. “Or else what?” Michael yelled back. “Or else I’ll get my daddy to teach you a lesson.” “What about yer new mama?” Kenny asked, slowly knocking his head against the wood. “Shut it Kenny,” she hollered. “C’mon Bret, let’s go back inside.” She glanced up at Giang. “Better get used to this. We all need to get used to it.” Dad met us at the door and ushered us inside. “What the hell’s going on out here?” he asked, looking at my sister, then me. “I heard yelling.” “The Blakie boys were at the fence, acting like jerks,” Abbey eventually said. “So I yelled at them to leave.” He smoothed his hands over his face and looked worriedly at Giang. Her eyes were tearing up, her cheeks red and chapped from the cold. “I tired,” she said, no longer smiling. “Bet you are.” Dad said quickly. “After that long trip and all. Why don’t I take you into the back where all a yer stuff is and you can lie down, take a rest.” We followed them for a moment, stopping in the living room as they continued into the bedroom. Through the doorway I could see that it was all cleaned up. Bed made, floor sparse of the usual clothes and dishes. They walked in and closed the door behind them, Dad giving us one last look, lips tightened. “Well I’m fucking out of here,” Abbey announced. It was only the second time I heard her swear. The first being when she found out her best friend Jenny had put the moves on Jim Lunderwood, her first real crush. “That bitch!” She screamed on the phone. And was grounded for a week. She grabbed another coat from the rack and marched out of the house, the last time we’d see her for a week. I watched the door slam behind her and remained
69 in the same spot for several minutes if not longer. I felt my balance shifting slowly back and forth, a tingling in my hands and feet. The shallow walls seemed to bend and cave with the gusts. I looked around the house, letting my hands fall to the scratchy wool blanket that lay across the backside of the couch, stroking it lightly. For a moment I thought I might go outside again and continue my laps through the woods and field, but it seemed too colorless and windy through the glass door. Dust and willow leaves swirled about, the sun shone weakly through a uniform and drab steel sheet of cloud. Then there was the dreadful thought, that even if I did walk my circles, there’d be no dreams left to spin. The stillness of the house buzzed with growing intensity and rang through my ears, constant and high pitched. There was nowhere to go and nothing to think that would connect me to the world I once knew, just hours before. I had to move or else I’d surely lose my mind, I’d scream and throw things and maybe hurt myself to stop the ringing. Finally I walked towards Dad’s room, slowly, almost mechanically, and stood outside the door and listened. It was perfectly silent. Perhaps they slept, the both of them. Dad on the floor, her on the bed. I imagined her sleeping, her eyelids fluttering lightly, the heavy winter blankets covering her bony frame. I let my body descend to the ground. Down in a ball, protected, like I used to in this very spot, on nights when my dreams were too vivid. She would come out and take me back into my room. I was light enough to carry, then. I fell almost instantly to sleep—that midday half sleep where the outside world is still heard and recognized, yet the inner is overpowering. The weight held my body to the ground, pulling softly. I couldn’t lift my eyelids for the weight, but could hear her readying to leave. Grabbing her purse and keys. “Last chance, Bret,” she said. I got up and followed the voice outside. The sun was brilliant, warm and slanted so far in the sky that my shadow crossed the entire driveway. I pulled myself into her old truck and before I knew it we were moving down the dirt road, over the washboard and ditches. Everything appeared blurry at first, like underwater in a swimming pool, but eventually my vision cleared. She looked just as I remembered. Brushy unkempt white hair, turquoise earing’s dangling and wrinkles that extended from the side of her eyes like seashells. Hands
70 and face weathered from so many years outdoors. She wore blue jeans that fit snug around her hips and a loose fitting button-down shirt. She turned to me and smiled, her teeth stained yellow and crooked. I wanted to get closer to her but couldn’t move from the door. She drove with increasing speed down the road, kicking up a white cloud of dust. The truck slid out beneath us when we hit the sharp corners after Roberts Creek but I was neither scared nor excited, everything felt secure and right. The fires were nearly out yet a hazy smoke lingered in the horizon, and it merged with the high clouds, the chemical trails left from airplanes, and the reflection of the distant ocean. “Soon they’ll be out, and the sky won’t be so colorful,” she said. “Take it all in while you can.” Her voice was muffled by the wind coming through the open windows and the diesel engine and the hard road. I tried to say something in response but like most dreams I couldn’t make sounds let alone words. I just watched the sky like she said and felt the warmth of the air against my face. The distant mountains were barren and imposing, intimidating even, how I always dreamed they would be. Hard granite edges and cirques glistening in the afternoon light. A cloud of dust marked the road as it zigzagged through the valley and toward the range. The sobbing came dry and unintended, and I curled harder with my knees to my chest. I was in my body again, brought back by the wind as it entered through a crack under the window and toppled an empty vase to the ground. Everything was black and starry; I could see the violent pulsing of my heart in my eyelids. I heard movement in the house, but could not fully wake. Suddenly I felt her standing above me, watching. After some hesitation she knelt down over me, and with her long fingers, she touched the back of my head, slowly moving through my hair and onto my scalp. Her fingers were soft at the end and slightly cold, and the feeling of such things brought goose bumps all over my body and I shivered with good feeling and contentment. She moved my hair from the forehead and gently brushed my face with the palm of her hand. I sighed deeply once or twice, letting her continue, and eventually forced open my eyes. She remained kneeling over me, off to the side. Her long black hair covered her face but I could still see the smile, not as wide as before, and the eyes were cloudy and mournful and wise.
Turn Again Me and Yasha headed up Turnagain Arm the next day. It was just the two of us though he told me he had tried mightily to get Fedosya to come along. He’d even approached her aunts and her parents, but got only a firm “No” for his trouble. Her father told Yasha, “You call yourself a trapper, and you got American money and fine store clothes and a repeating rifle, but I aint seen you bring a single pelt out of the woods. And until I do, my daughter aint going nowhere with you.” It’s true that Indians don’t put a lot of effort into marriage ceremonies the way Russians or Americans do, but this does not mean a father takes lightly the betrothal of his daughter. Her aunts, who actually had more say in the matter than he did, was of the same mind. So it was just the two of us with the team of four dogs that Belukha Pete had gathered for us. They wasn’t exactly thoroughbreds, but they was adequate for our purposes. We cut cards to see who would walk them up the Arm and who would paddle with our supplies. Yasha turned a jack and me a six, so I leashed the dogs and slung my Sharps rifle over my packboard and started walking to the mouth of Sixmile Creek. Yasha paddled his bidarka, towing mine behind by a line. This was no mean feat of boatmanship, especially in the treacherous currents of Turnagain Arm, but he had the easy end of the deal—he made it to camp in a couple hours while I spent two days hoofing it with four badly-behaved malamutes. When I arrived at Sixmile he had a comfortable camp set up and had shot some ducks and geese and caught and dried several dozen silvers as extra insurance on our dog-feed pile. We used the dogs to line our boats upstream to our cabin-site under the cottonwoods where we found our stack of house-logs just as we’d left them. A squirrel had been using them as a dining room, and there was mounds of spruce scales everywhere. We built a fish trap for the silvers in the stream while we slabbed and notched the logs with dovetails. To fortify ourselves when the nights got cold, we put up a batch of quass made from several gallons of crowberries and blueberries mashed up with sugar and yeast. We had the walls up by the time the leaves started to drop. The scent of cranberries hung heavy in the air.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 The puschki weed was dead and brown like cane by the time we had the sod roof in place and the sheet-iron woodstove set up. This was real deluxe living for us. Prior to our cleanup at Tutsilitnu we had been planning to build an old fashioned pit-house with a Russian pitchka furnace. Our plank door had rawhide straps for hinges, but we had brought up a real glass window, and let me tell you, that made all the difference. Yasha and me was agreed that those old pit houses was not a healthy place to dwell if you had any choice in the matter. As it was, it had been a real trick getting up there with the stove and the window. Yasha had the pane lashed to the deck abaft of his boathatch while I paddled with the stove thrust down before me and my feet pushed into the firebox through the open door. This was every bit as awkward and uncomfortable as it sounds. We killed a moose for meat, then a black bear that come to investigate our comings and goings. We made daily patrols through the woods, scouting the best trapline routes and cutting trails as we went. Stove wood was sawn and split. Traps was boiled and dyed, snowshoes made, and also a good trail sled out of split spruce. The ponds was froze hard by the time we was ready to go, and we watched the sky every day for snow. Much of this work would have been considerably easier if we’d had women along, but we knew we had to bach it for at least that first winter, so we didn’t complain. In the evenings I got into Melville’s book Typee, which is a story of an American sailor jumping ship in the South Seas and being held captive by the Natives there until he could escape. Melville spared no expense of words to describe this island tribe and their habitations, and of course the free behavior of their women was of no small interest. There was also a recurring daydream of having Polly with me, alone, on just such an island. We started dipping into the quass as soon as it was ready. This beverage is not as potent as vodka or
71 even Scotty Keogh’s poteen, but it does get the job done eventually. I was coming to love the buzzy sensation that it brought me, though waking up the next morning could be something of a trial. That first batch went fast, so we picked a couple more buckets of late-season cranberries and set them to ferment. I could see that Yasha missed Fedosya already, but I told him to be glad she was only a short trip away where he could see her whenever the urge took him. My girl was all the way down at Deep Creek, so far away she may as well have been in Frisco. I often wondered how she and her dad were getting along. His illness was no doubt becoming a real hardship, and it pained me that I could not be there to help her. The quass loosened our tongues on these matters. “You really think Polly would marry a Creole like me?” I asked Yasha one night. It was dark, the candles blown out for the night. We was abed in our bunks with a skinful of home-brew, and I was holding on tight to the wall. “If she loves you she will.” He had the top bunk; he’d offered to take it since he got the easy ride up the Arm. There was a little patch of moonlight that spilled onto the floor through our glass window. The dogs was quiet outside for once, and there was no noise but the whispering of the fire in the stove flue.
Linda Infante Lyons
72 I heard the springy spruce poles squeak under his blankets as he rolled over and hung his face over the edge. “The room spinning?” he said. “Yeah.” Yasha listened to the stove for a moment. He hadn’t drunk as much as I had, and I was suddenly envious of that. “You really think she’d want to come live up here?” he said. “A Yankee girl like her?” The room slowed itself down somewhat, so I loosened my grip on the logs. “I hope so. She’s got pluck.” In the dimness I seen Yasha cross his arms and rest his chin upon them. He looked out the window at the moonlight on the dead brown fall-time grass. “We could build another cabin come spring,” he said. “Me and Fedosya could take this one and you two could have the other. Nice and close so the girls can keep company. We could just fish and hunt and trap. Live good and easy up here, you know?” “There’s those yellow rocks to be had if fur comes up short,” I said. Yasha’s voice was muffled by his mouth pressing against his arms. “I say we forget about that. You promised Lucky Jim. I’ve heard George Washington say more than once that the Yankees will wreck this country if they think there’s gold to be found here. And if we start paying our bills in gold every year, folks will start to talk.” “I don’t want to be no prospector,” I said. “Only a fool would shovel sand all day when he could be out hunting and trapping.” Yasha laughed. “Tell that to a prospector. Belukha Pete told me they call us cat stranglers.” “You and me?” “I mean trappers. The miners call us that.” I watched the moonlight on the floor. The room had finally settled down to sleep. “I reckon you might be on to something, Yasha. Not the prospectors, but all of us living up here. You, me, Fedosya and Polly. It would be like having our own little town up here, but with just the people you want to have around.” “You know it.” I rolled onto my stomach and closed my eyes with this pleasant thought in my head. It was a night for dreaming. “Turn Again” is an excerpt from a novel, of the same name, first published in 2012 by VP&D Publishing House.
Courtship Though the children sat huddled about her on the wooden bench, he hardly noticed them. He was aware almost singly of Margaret, the young widow on relief. And of the muffled yearnings of his own body, and of something else, like a forgotten song. Margaret in turn gradually became aware of Urs Wagner’s interest. She began noticing his bulky strength and patient, hovering attention. One night after bingo, he worked up the courage to make his move. The winds had been merciless all month. They had nearly cleared the land of snow, driving the fine white dust into the ditches and into the coats of the animals. With a penetrating force, the winds drove the cold dry powder into the very land. That Sunday night, after bingo, Urs kept his employer, Dale, waiting a few moments in the car before he appeared outside the driver’s window. “You go on without me,” Urs shouted into the crack above the rolled down glass, pulling up the collar on his coat, hunching down away from the wind, “I got another way home.” Dale smiled and gave Urs an exaggerated wink. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” He had been watching his hired hand’s patient attention to the young widow for some time now. He saw each Sunday as Urs’s eyes intently followed Margaret to the communion rail. He saw the pleasure on Urs’s face as the widow tipped her head and closed her eyes taking into her pretty mouth the holy flesh. Sometimes when Dale’s wife was in the kitchen out of ear shot, Dale would begin. “I hear those Eigler girls are a lusty bunch.” Or in the barn before the hanging teats, “They say once a woman has had the taste, she can’t turn it down.” Dale extracted from the cluster of emotions Urs felt, the driving one, the one long buried that made him toss and burn at night. Urs had been Dale Swanson’s hired hand for more than fifteen years by that time, and though they labored side by side, Dale never let Urs forget his inferior position. Hoping to be noticed, hoping to be appreciated, Urs always did more than was necessary. As Dale’s sons moved forward through the Christmases and Easters they grew until they established their own farms and businesses, while Urs remained. That Sunday night after bingo if Dale had known it might cost him Urs, he most
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 likely wouldn’t have given his permission. Instead, Dale had rolled down the car window a bit more and shouted hastily over the howling wind. “Tomorrow we got to take out the last of the hay if those cows are going to make it, so don’t be too long.” Then he withdrew a flask from his inside coat pocket. “Here have some of this, keep you warm.” After a few quick gulps, Dale was off, driving down the only paved street in Drake, the wind twisting and distorting the puffs of white that rose from the exhaust in the near darkness. Urs shivered standing alone in the empty street. When he got back to Margaret, she was covering the two smaller children with heavy blankets. They lay sleeping, wrapped and bundled between the side boards of the small sled. The oldest boy, Danny, stood beside his mother with a glazed look. He had sprung from sleep in that way children sometimes do without fully gaining consciousness. In a moment she had him seated in the back of the sled, sleeping once again. “Let me pull the sled for you.” Urs said it awkwardly, gruffly, fortified by the blend of liquor and desire coursing through his blood. At the rough command, Margaret automatically stepped aside. The sled floated easily over the ice-glazed grass of the churchyard. Both Urs, a bit ahead, and Margaret behind, hunched into the wind wrapping their scarves up around their noses as protection from the stinging snow. “I was going three ways in that last game,” Urs turned slightly as he spoke. “I almost had the pot three different ways.” Suddenly, the sled became heavy as the metal runners strained against the pavement. A spark flashed. Danny sat up bolt upright in the sled. Where was he? Why was it so cold? Who was that strange man? Oh yes, he remembered him now. He had seen him before. They continued down the side of the road in silence. It was lucky for Urs that he walked ahead, that his scarf hid most of his face. For with each few steps his mood swung and his expression with it. Sometimes he grinned so much that his eyes teared and his cheeks rose so, he could hardly see. His mind held no thoughts at all. Instead, there was a kind of joyful exaltation, just barely contained. In a moment though, his face would fall as the energy drained away, as doubt replaced exhilaration. His only awareness became the straining need that throbbed inside him. It was all that kept him going, that and the thought that had crept into his mind. “She’s lonely,” he
73 muttered, forcing one foot before the other. “She’s lonely,” he said just below hearing, over and over with each step. “She’s lonely and she wants a man. She‘ll want me.” He clung to that thought for the courage to go on. Margaret, for her part was merely grateful to be relieved of the sled and for the quiet place in Urs’s wake, somewhat protected from the wind. When they reached the small house, Urs opened the door for her, as one by one, Margaret carried the sleeping children into the house. When it came Danny’s turn she stood him on his feet. Urs followed as she led the boy, limp and stumbling, to the clean bed the children shared. Danny’s eyes were open. He lay looking out with calm from the small bedroom off the kitchen while Urs stoked the fire for the night. An electric light burned overhead. “Thanks for helping me with the children and the fire,” Margaret said. Her red, woolen scarf hung loose around the collar of her coat. She still wore her mittens and boots. “Maybe I’ll see you at bingo again some time.” She guided Urs toward the door where she smiled and said goodbye. Urs turned and put his arms about her clumsily. He pressed his face next to hers whispering hoarsely. “Aren’t you even going to ask me in to sit for a while?” Moving his body like a heavy, slowly closing iron gate, he forced her into the little living room. Urs took an aggressive lead in the quiet dance. “Now let’s not wake the children.” He swallowed and smiled, though tears were running down his face. There on the sagging couch he had his way, both of them still in their coats and boots. Afterward, when he stole back out through the kitchen, he noticed through the open doorway to the little bedroom, Danny staring calmly. Then Urs found himself standing outside the warming house, in the bitter, blowing wind. By the time he’d walked the three miles back to Dale’s farm and entered the little room off the kitchen, his face and lower legs were numb. Where the buckle boots rubbed his shins were bright, red rings of flesh, chapped raw. But in spite of the cold and the chapped legs hadn’t everything gone well? Hadn’t everything gone just as he had hoped? He answered yes, both times but when he pulled down the covers and climbed into bed there swelled in his chest such sadness.
“Courtship” is an excerpt from Donna Mack’s first novel Whispered Secrets, Whispered Prayers to be released in June 2013.
Momma’s Moose Anna refilled Ed’s cup and turned back toward the sink. “Ran into Sierra yesterday in Anchorage and she said Paul’s going after their moose this weekend.” “Paul’s a fool,” Ed managed around a mouth full of waffle. “Moose’s still too high. They won’t be in the valley ‘til after the first snow.” “It better come soon – freezer’s almost empty.” Her voice soft, barely audible, Anna spoke more to herself than to Ed. “If you think I’m drag’n a dead moose halfway down a mountainside, you’re dumber ‘n you look!” Ed snarled and jumped to his feet with such force his chair fell over backwards. He grabbed his coat, kicked the chair and bolted out the door. The chair spun across the kitchen floor and struck Anna in the shins. She almost dropped the coffee pot. Her face flushed and she fingered the diamond stud on her earlobe. Outside the truck door slammed, the starter grunted then caught. Anna didn’t move until she heard the truck bump through the deep pothole at the end of the driveway and accelerate onto Marten Rd. Another day in paradise, she thought and returned the coffee pot to its niche, righted the chair then sat on it to examine her shin. It was going to bruise but luckily no skin’s broken. What set him off this time, she wondered and absent mindedly pulled at her earlobe. All I said was “. . . freezer’s almost empty.” No reason to get angry, so early in the morning. Anna peeled freezer wrap from the lump of moose burger and put it to thaw in a shallow bowl. She glanced out the window above the sink and, as always, the view pulled her away from the chaos of her marriage. Her eyes traveled beyond the swing set in the sloping front yard of mowed weeds. No houses were visible, no human sign posts. Just Anna and the green mountains with snow dusted tops and the muskeg bog across the rutted dirt road. Her eyes picked at the dense growth of fireweed that grew at the bog’s edge. Fireweed – Anna’s calendar, her solace. In spring it was the first green color and it whispered a promise – brighter days ahead. July into August it sent up stalks of magenta flowers to heights of five feet that invited her to celebrate, to dance along the banks of Alaska’s salmon streams – to fill her freezer with life sustaining red fillets. September’s frost
turned the plant vibrant red and the ripened seeds spun a white, silky filament. Anna heard the white-topped weeds shout, “Moose season. Hunt. Winter’s here.” Worry knotted her stomach. Ed out of work, no moose in the freezer – how would they manage? A brown blotch in the fireweed on the other side of the bog jolted Anna from her daydream. What is it? Could it possibly be? Yes, it’s a moose! Does it have a rack? She ran for the binoculars on the bookshelf. She scanned the muskeg perimeter, located the moose, was sure – fairly sure – it was a bull. The rack wasn’t big, but any size rack would do. She bolted to the phone. Who can I call? Where’s Ed? Phone in hand, Anna froze – she didn’t know. He’d been unemployed for over a month but she didn’t dare ask where he spent his days. Damn, wouldn’t you know it, a moose practically in our front yard and no Ed. “Sonof-bitch!” she said aloud, “I’ll shoot the damned thing myself.” Her mind raced. It can’t be that hard. I’m a pretty good shot with iron sights, and Ed’s 30.06 has a scope – piece of cake. Back to the bookcase, she reached between it and the wall, grabbed Ed’s 30.06, and drew back the bolt. Empty, damn! Where does Ed keep the shells? Shit, I should pay more attention. His dresser. I know I saw some in his sock drawer. In the bedroom, Anna ran to the dresser, jerked open the top drawer and spilled the contents onto the floor. On hands and knees she shuffled through socks, belts, handkerchiefs, and assorted junk. Nothing but .22 shells. Nothing big enough to fit the 30.06. For an instant she considered her Smith & Wesson revolver in the nightstand but knew it wouldn’t do the job. 30.06 shells, where could they be? The bookcase ... why not? He puts everything else there. Back in the living room she pulled the coffee table across floral printed carpet to the bookshelf. Standing on it, she fished a box of ammo from the top of the shelves – a yellow box with green letters – Hi-Power 30.06 cartridges. Bingo! With the rifle across her lap, she took one shell from the box, pulled the bolt back and inserted the tip of the bullet into the barrel. It went in crooked; it jammed. Try as she might, Anna could not get the bullet into or out of the rifle. Shit! A winter’s meat waiting to be harvested and I can’t get the damned gun loaded. In the space of two breaths, she dropped the rifle to the floor, stepped over it, sprinted to the desk and returned with a ball-point pen. She inserted the pen under the bullet, pried it up and out of the opening. Without hesitation
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 she pulled a different bullet from the box, measured it for length against the first – they were all the same. Damn. Do something, her brain screamed. The Bakers. Paul should be home. She ran to the phone and dialed. “How do you load a 30.06?” she blurted. “What’s wrong?” Paul asked. “Nothing’s wrong, there’s a moose standing in the muskeg across the road, but I can’t get the damned gun loaded.” “Where’s Ed?” “Don’t know.” “Want me to come shoot it for you?” “It’ll be gone before you get here. I’ll shoot it. All I need’s to get this damned gun loaded. I tried but the bullet got stuck in the barrel and I liked to never got it out.” “You don’t put the bullet into the barrel,” Paul said. “Push your finger down on the bottom of the opening created when you pull the bolt back. It will give, then spring back. That’s the magazine. You push the cartridge straight through the opening and into the magazine. It will feed automatically when the bolt closes. Try it. I’ll wait.” Anna dropped the phone; it hit the desk with a bang. She crossed to the rifle and quickly pushed a shell through the opening into the magazine, then another. It was so easy. She held the rifle in one hand and retrieved the phone with the other, “Got it. Bye.” On her way past the sink, she stopped at the window and checked to see if the moose had moved. Nope, still there. But only the rump was visible. His head was down and alder bushes hide his front quarter. OK, I’m really going to do this. What next? She scoured her memory for any helpful tidbit left there by Ed’s boasting of each year’s kill. I can’t shoot across a road – that’s illegal. OK, I have to cross the yard, cross the road, and get to the fence line without spooking him. If he sees me, he’ll walk into the bushes and out of my freezer. Anna stepped onto the porch and pulled the kitchen door closed behind her. It closed with a loud click; she jumped. Was it always that loud? She stepped off the side of the porch by the wall and walked on tiptoes to the corner. Leaning against the sticky tarpaper siding she gripped the rifle hard, with both hands. She held it diagonally across her chest. Blood pounded in her ears. Her palms throbbed with each heartbeat. Her nostrils flared to suck in more air – air bloated with smells. Her chest came more alive with each gulp and her body felt
75 lighter. She crossed the small open patch of lawn in a half crouch, keeping her head lower than the alders that hedged it. Her surroundings appeared edged in light; walking was easy, more like dancing than walking. And the smells. Detergent, green-apple shampoo, onions and exhaust fumes from an absent vehicle mingle with grass and damp. Anna shivered and realized she had never felt so alive – so powerful. Now I understand. The hunter is invincible. She reached the road and crossed it quickly, still bent from the waist like a soldier going into battle. She jumped from the road into the deep sponge of muskeg and was again assaulted by smells – crowberries, wet wood, decay. The muskeg sucked at her feet as she crossed to the fence. I’ll wear boots next time. She brought the rifle to her left shoulder, braced the barrel against the fence post, and eased her eye to the scope. She checked for antlers but saw ears. The moose was looking straight at her, the ears swiveled. Did she see antlers? Yes... No... The scope turned green; tilting the rifle down she found the head again. Yes, antlers – but not much bigger than ears. Hurry! Hurry! Pull the trigger or he’ll walk into the brush. But where to shoot? She lined the cross-hairs up just behind the shoulder, midway between back and belly. Was that right? Yes, shoot. Hurry, or winter’s meat will walk away. She held her breath, cross-hairs steady, she squeezed the trigger gently. Anna’s focus was such she didn’t feel the blow to her shoulder that will leave a purple bruise, nor did she hear the shot. No kick, no sound, just the smell of burned gun powder. The scope went green. Oh, my God. No… No! What have I done? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Remorse fell over her like a body bag. No apology would bring the bullet back, once fired a bullet had no conscience. Man – moose, it didn’t matter. Tears filled her eyes. Anna let the butt of the rifle fall to the ground. Holding onto the barrel she leaned forward and vomited. The next black wave to overtake her was fear. She heard a car and dropped to the ground on her belly, numb to the wet that seeped through her clothes. The car sped by and out of sight. Anna picked herself up and with rifle in hand she sprinted across the road and retraced her path, skirted the lawn, kept low behind the alders. Back in the kitchen she threw the rifle onto the counter. It knocked the bowl of moose burger into the sink. The bowl broke and the meat lay among the shards. Her face was a mask of terror smeared with tears. Her clothes wet. Dead weeds clung to her front.
76 Purple crowberry-blood spotted her chest – mock bullet wounds. She raced around the house, closed drapes, pulled shades, locked doors. In one lucid moment she wondered, what am I afraid of? I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t kill anyone. The moment passed and her fear accused, “Murderer.” No… No. I didn’t do it. It was only a moose. “You don’t have a hunting license. They’re going to come get you; throw you in jail. It was a cow.” Anna rushed to the bathroom and vomited into the toilet. Shaking and crying she rinsed her mouth at the sink but avoided the mirror. Gravel crunched in the driveway, the sound sent her into the closet. She squatted behind the coats and stuffed her shirttail into her mouth to stifle sobs. She heard heavy footsteps on the porch. Someone tried the door. “Hey, open up,” Ed shouted and beat on the door. Anna didn’t move. Finally he stopped pounding and used his key. “Anna… you here? Why is the house shut up?” He saw the rifle on the counter, broken glass and moose burger in the sink. “Anna, where are you? Stop fooling around… This ain’t funny.” With her toe Anna pushed the closet door open but made no move to get up. Ed crossed to the closet and looked in at her huddled against the back wall. “Baby, what’s going on? Did someone hurt you? Why is my rifle in the kitchen?” He reached down. She took his hand and he pulled her up and out of the closet. She collapsed against his chest. His scratchy wool shirt smelled of beer, cigarette smoke, and perfume. She didn’t care. “Come on. Stop crying. Tell me what’s going on. What happened here today?” “I shot a moose,” she mumbled. Hands on her shoulders, he stepped back and bent down to look into her face. “You shot a moose? That’s great. Where is it?” Anna stared at a stain on his shirt. “It’s across the muskeg.” “How do you know you killed it?” “The scope went green.” “It probably walked off.” “No, I think I killed it.” “The house all closed up, you hiding in the closet looking like you’ve been run over, all because you shot a moose?” “I thought they were coming to get me; put me in jail. It was awful. Like I’d shot someone – a person.” “A person? You? Shoot a person?”He straightened
CIRQUE released his grip on her shoulders and crosses to the kitchen window. “That’s a hoot – you couldn’t shoot anyone.” But Anna knew different. She stood alone, head down, lost in memory. Her right hand pinched her earlobe and the diamond stud earring, hard and sharp, bit into her index finger. The earrings were a make-up gift Ed had given her after he’d used her ears as handles to slam her head into the floor as he sat astride her chest screaming, “I love you. I love you.” Never again she’d promised herself. He’ll never hurt me again. I’ll point the pistol at him and he’ll stop. Anna had believed the Smith & Wesson would keep her safe. But as she stood frozen she watched a different scene play out as if it were a movie. Ed crazy maddrunk came at her. She saw him pull his arm back – cocked – ready to fire his fist. Her hand went to the nightstand’s top drawer and came up with the pistol. She held it in both hands aimed at him and yelled, “Stop.” But he kept coming, eyes bloodshot, mouth drawn down into a sneer that hurled curses, “Bitch. Whore.” “Stop.” she screamed again. He was supposed to stop. But he kept coming. Her finger tightened on the trigger. The gun fired. Ed turned from the window distracted by a sound, a whimper. He saw Anna shudder. “What’s the matter, Baby? You cold?” “Yeah… cold.” “You better get out of those clothes, they’re wet. Why are you wet?” “Huh? Wet… oh, I fell …yeah… better change.” Halfway up the stairs Anna heard Ed switch on the evening news. In a solemn voice the channel-five anchorman said, “Today a mother of three was sentenced to life in prison for the shooting death of her children’s father.” Anna’s knees buckled. She grabbed the banister for support. That could’ve been me. I came so very close, she thought. In the bedroom she crossed to the night stand, opened the top drawer and drew out the suedeleather gun case. She sat on the bed and unzipped the butterfly case to expose the Smith & Wesson .38 Special. It lay there innocuous but ready. A deep sob shook her body. The instrument she’d once seen as her protector had become dangerous – a threat to Ed’s life, her freedom and the children’s wellbeing. She cradled the gun in her left hand and pushed the cylinder release with her right thumb. The cylinder swung open to expose six brass buttons. With her left index finger Anna drew the ejector rod back and the unfired cartridges fell into her lap. Anna
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 collected the cartridges and fumbled in the top drawer for their box. Where can I hide these, she wondered. It’s then she remembered the old ribbon box on the top shelf of the closet, a keepsake from her favorite aunt. With the cartridges hidden safely away, Anna returned to sit on the bed and used her shirt tail to wipe her oily fingerprints off the gun before she zipped it back inside the case. She returned it to the top drawer. Without pause she brought the phone onto her lap and dialed her mother’s number, “Mom?” “Anna? Is that you? Have you been crying? Are you hurt?” Anna cleared her throat, “No, Mom. I’m okay. Can me and the kids come stay for awhile?” “Yes. Of course. But why? What’s happened?” “I’ll explain when we get there. I need sorting and I can’t do it here.” Anna heard the door slam and the sound of running feet downstairs, “The kids are home from school, Mom. I gotta go. We’ll be there tomorrow.” Anna pulled on dry jeans and replaced the crowberry stained shirt with her wildflower sweatshirt. The fireweed pattern was a faded pink and the cuffs stretched and threadbare – her butchering shirt. She dried her face and turned to check herself in the bathroom mirror. For just a moment, Anna didn’t’ recognize the image reflected there. Who was that tall, square-shouldered, capable looking woman? Where had that frightened, foolish girl-self gone? From downstairs Anna heard the refrigerator door open and Ed called out, “Bring your ole Dad a beer.” Another evening in paradise, she thought, and started downstairs. Before she stepped into view Anna took a deep breath, extended to her full height and adjusted her sweatshirt on her hips. At the landing she paused to shout, “Hey… Who’s help’n Momma dress-out her moose?”
Anastasia Stanley, Kaltag
A Few Notes Concerning Alaskan Death Metal Author’s Note: This text comes from a digital storytelling project being developed in augmented reality, called Non-Local. The stories are a mix of science fiction, near-future Alaskana and contemporary raven lore. They make use of locally based oral traditions in concert with global digital formats. In the logic of the stories, several unique Alaskan art forms have developed as the people of the world struggle with the realities of global warming and the realization that they are not alone in the universe by way of an online video game.
There are a few characteristics that make the subgenre of Alaskan death metal such a fascinating cultural phenomenon. One, almost every lead singer is female and they almost all incorporate the death growl. Two, of the 20 or so active Alaskan death metal bands, 16 of them sing the bulk of their songs in an indigenous Native Alaskan language, the most popular being Yup’ik, Tlingit, Dena’ina and Iñupiaq. The Dumpster Ravens lead singer, Xiolle Belle Cupun, grew up in Kotzebue speaking Iñupiaq. She sings mostly in her native tongue, but will also sing in Tsimshian or Haida. She particularly likes singing in Haida because it doesn’t sound like any other language and produces a truly unique effect when done with the proper death growl. She does not speak Haida or Tsimshian fluently, just incorporates some of the words and phrases, stories and structures that she picked up from being around others. A lot of the kids are doing it. Three, the mega-diverse death metal culture in the urban areas (Anchorage, Balto, Mat-Su, Kenai, North Star, etc.) has taken a keen interest in obscure artistic practices from around the world and from many different time periods, which they fuse together with their contemporary Alaskan identities, creating some wonderfully unique forms. Most of the obscure artistic practices the youth are interested in incorporate some aspect of an anti-aesthetic: noises, irrationality, found things, nonsense, and a healthy obsession with the undead. One of the bands, Battle for Everything, combines elements of the 20th century revolutionary group the Situationist International with traditional Unangan war armor. They occupied an uninhabited island near
78 Unalaska as a social protest and broadcast themselves playing around a campfire in full regalia. They create band personas based on a fusion of legendary figures from Northwestern storytelling traditions and revolutionary figures from the past. Their lead singer goes by Sedna Goldman (half mother of the sea mammals and half Emma Goldman, anarchist). Other members include Tootootch Guevera, Blackskin X, Kushtaka Proudhon, Salmonboy the Uprising and Bear Mother Jones. The band Kinnikinnik is fronted by Hmong woman named Su Ler, whose stage name is Bimbombam. To pronounce her name correctly, you have to say it very fast, almost missing some of the consonants. They blend radical politics from around the world, folktales of cultures dispossessed from their homelands and a special hybrid of street noise, hip hop and shoegaze grindcore. Their latest album ‘Resistance Feet’ is highly regarded for its innovative combination of yodeling and the recreated stories of the Hmong crossing the Mekong to Alaska. Four, they are not using the term ‘death metal’ out of context or disingenuously. They are sincerely interested in the sound structure and expressive potential of death metal’s atonality, rapid key changes, rhythm, tremolo and tempo. The singers are using vocalizations to get at deep, subconscious, untapped forms of humanity, some of the first singers in the sub-genre were activists artistically tackling serious women’s issues in Alaska, which at the time had one of the highest rates of sexual abuse in the United States. The sound itself, evolved out of a case of artistic empowerment for the community, adding a uniquely female tone to a musical genre that has almost exclusively been a male dominated sound from its inception. The local flooding of the field by female vocalists has also fostered an inclusive nature taken from so many other cultures and formats. Many of the bands get accused of cultural appropriation by special interest groups, who are not seeing the simple genius of this music – luckily, most bands respond to accusations of cultural appropriation with the sharpest of all the conjunctions, “and?” It can’t go unsaid that they are also really into loud, distortion-laden heavy metal because it just plain rules. The reason they are using such an old structure of music making (we are talking about classic death metal here) is they see it as one of the more authentic pan-arctic or sub-arctic art forms, with its expansive sub-genres all over Greenland, Lapland, Iceland, Siberia and Canada, even if it is from many, many generations ago, before the internet even. Five, they treat the death growl like a classical singing style synonymous with operatic singing, but mostly they see it as an extension of the traditional Inuit
CIRQUE throat singing technique, which is sometimes called Inuk throat singing, or locally, the Tikahtnu growl even though Inuk throat singing is not an Athabascan cultural tradition. Inuit throat singing is called many different things regionally, but it probably originated in modern day Nunavut. It is a highly creative and improvisational musical style of singing that can be both voiced and unvoiced, incorporating sounds from a myriad of sources, and it is performed by women. It can be a competitive duet or a singing game, seeing who can outlast the other in the will to sing. Sometimes the women hold arms and dance as they competitively sing in patterns and tones, imitating then outdoing each other. Sometimes they will make animal-nature noises, or explore large emotional tones and forms in the continuous stream of vocal sounds. In some places the women would sing so close to each other’s faces that they would be using the other’s lips and mouth cavities as vocal resonators, amplifying and modulating their songs. One of the origin stories is that Inuit throat singing came about as a game that women would play while the men were out whaling. There is no real consensus on that, but it is definitely a female vocal form. Sometimes it comes across like a fun singing game. Sometimes it has a very sexual feel to the performances or vocalizations. Sometimes, when it is performed by a vocalist singing alone, it can be emotionally dynamic and full of speech patterns or the sounds of people trying to communicate with each other. In civilized Alaskan death metal circles, Inuk throat singing is regarded as one of the most original and important art forms ever created by the denizens of the north. Alaskan death metal bands will often feature two female lead singers, and it is not uncommon for lead singers to break into minutes long throat singing breakdowns. They have yet to term the solo styling of the death growling throat singer sub-form inside of Alaskan death metal break down. The singing style is called the Tikahtnu growl (Tikhatnu being the Dena’ina word for Cook Inlet). Some refer to it as the death whispers or curdling, some people give it the term yakkeling and treat it like an Internet meme, with rigid, ludicrous structures. The lead singers Tisha Provetchka and Saline Sagpiaq of the band Panderworld will break into a beat-boxing throat singing competitive duets several times during a set. There are a couple bands that have incorporated the use of European classical instrumentation as well. Nip Sarcophagus of the band Extra Lives of the Epicmiut plays the contrabassoon on most tracks. Nip Sarcophagus is a second generation Alaskan, whose great-grandparents came from South Sudan during the civil war of the early
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 21st century. Extra Lives of the Epicmiut moved to Portland and then to Seattle trying to get a record deal, and are one of the more successful Alaskan death metal bands (some say because they are one of the few that has a white male for a lead singer). They still travel back to Anchorage every summer and record tracks with local bands. They are one of seven Alaskan death metal bands to have toured Europe. Six, one of the most prevalent lyrical topics are the reconstructed or deconstructed stories from the circumpolar north. They are especially fond of the scary stories. Some of Xiolle Belle Cupun’s favorite stories are the Haida tales of boogeymen with coal for hands, the people who turn into walruses at night and ghost stories associated with the hairy men or the kushtakas. Seven, the silkscreened images of logos for Alaskan death metal bands has become part and parcel with the city. They are everywhere, and it would be freaking the old folks and official harbingers of culture out more, if their approach were not so historically adept. It is hard to be angry with a punk kid for having beaded eyebrow rings and a gross image on their t-shirt if they are referencing Kristeva and Baba while discussing the finer points of the traditional Tootootch Thunderbird Tale. When realizing this, some old folks have simply held their hands aloft in the devil horns, wishing the children of Anchorage peaceful journeys and much festive rocking, to which most of the kids would of course gag. The locus of Alaskan death metal is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Anchorage – Spenard. For many years after its founding by the lumberman Joe Spenard, it had been a bustling town in its own right, especially when Anchorage was just a squalid little tent city down on Ship Creek. It is a wonder that the city, when it finally amalgamated, chose the name Anchorage over Spenard. Spenard has always had the reputation of being a bohemian district, where artists, criminals and musicians live. It was one of the original red light districts in the Bowl, and if you started or wanted to start a death metal band in Anchorage you were going to live in a shitty little trailer or backyard apartment in Spenard. If you wanted to make a ton of money and pick up a major record deal, your band would have to relocate to Seattle or Portland, but for all intents and purposes, Alaskan death metal is Spenard. There are a few clubs in Spenard that host death metal wakes as they are called: The Spenard Recreational Death Metal Center (housed in an old abandoned strip club), The Back Pain Specialists (they kept the previous name and sign of the business that went under at the building they bought) and Potlatch Projects (where the price of entry is a homemade dish to share). There
79 is also one in Ship Creek called Quonset Ninety in one of the old Quonset huts down on the river. It is for the well-to-do metalhead and features a smoothie bar with unhealthy sounding beverage names like unbridled ogre breath (featuring fresh garlic and kale) or blood ground conspiracy (with beets and grape puree). ‘Blood Ground Conspiracy’ will become the name of an album by the Dumpster Ravens in three years’ time, after the beverage gains the mysterious aura of an urban legend involving a mining supply company, human organ trafficking and police complicity in the home death of a state official. The Alaskan death metal kids can usually been seen about town in big pants that have an excessive assortment of buckles, straps and zippers. They will also wear stylish and tasteful qaspeqs in the traditional manner, with floral patterns and solid trim. Xiolle Belle Cupun is known to wear very beautiful qaspeqs on stage – a picture of her wearing the one her mother gave her as a birthday present at the Girdwood Forest Fair last year made the cover of the International rock publication, Witching Ours, doing a special issue on Alaskan death metal. The lead guitarist for Dumpster Ravens had popularized the birch bark hats from the Inside Passage, in the Anchorage scene just before the article came out. Dumpster Ravens fans have been dutifully wearing the style ever since. Many kids will also wear the Sagpiaq bent wood hats and incorporate Dena’ina style beadwork into their leather jackets, usually elaborate and intricate floral patterns, with dangling beads and brightly colored porcupine quills. Some of the young ladies into the death metal scene will spend months beading the perfect winter outerwear, with the frolicking ornate beadwork that moves in plastic waves around their bodies. Some of the kids have taken to integrating ubiquitous computing into the beadwork, using smart beads that could levitate or magnetize, or record data or house LED displays. Those little huckleberry pi computers are everywhere anyways. The traditional beaded look on a leather jacket with the old school cut out punk t-shirt design safety pinned to it is the most popular by far though. One would have to go to a wake in Spenard to catch a glimpse of a kid in skull print qaspeg wearing a birch bark hat with an integrated open-source sound system, or some hardcore gutter punk wearing smart snow goggles at night. The metal kids wearing clothes with beautiful Dena’ina style forget-me-not patterns that can be seen in any convenience store or mall across Anchorage are the face of the scene to the rest of the city, but that sub-genre of the tech savvy kids is starting to peek through.
A N D Y H O P E AWA R D It is the future. Alaska death metal is huge and the kids in the scene are steeped in Pan Arctic and Alaska culture like it was part of them. And it is cool. Not just in Alaska but globally. Eight of the twenty metal groups toured Europe last year and one band leader, (wearing the “beautiful quspek” her mom gave her), made the cover of an international rock publication. But it’s more than a music scene, the resulting style, attitude, and outfitting are a hip fusion of Alaska Native cultures and languages.
emblems, resulting in style, sound, and attitude. “…of the 20 or so active Alaskan death metal bands, 16 of them sing the bulk of their songs in an indigenous Native Alaskan language, the most popular being Yup’ik, Tlingit, Dena’ina and Iñupiaq.” The genius of the piece? Shafer’s rock critic persona, speaks with authority about potential reality and, amazingly, it rings true, even when pure concoction. For instance, the nonchalant narrator describes the integration of throat singing in Alaska metal bands, detailing the history, the performers, and how throat singing is used, giving no sign that this would be unexpected in the world of death metal.
Nathan Shafer’s winning piece “A Few Notes Concerning Alaskan Death Metal” is written in a Rolling Stone style of “aesthetic journalism.” The piece details essential components of fictional Alaska death metal groups like, “Blood Ground Conspiracy” “Alaskan death metal bands The Andy Hope Literary Award recognizes and “Dumpster Ravens.” The will often feature two female an outstanding piece of prose or piece relates to a larger group lead singers, and it is not poetry by a writer who has published of stories, titled “Non-Local.” uncommon for lead singers in Cirque during the previous year. Shafer says, “The stories are to break into minutes long Andrew, “Andy” Hope III, Xaastanch; Néech speculative fiction, set in a near throat singing breakdowns. Deiw, and of theSik’nax.ádi, X’aan Hít, was future Alaska, with a much They have yet to term the solo a political activist and a writer of prose larger population, dealing with styling of the death growling and poetry. In 2008, at the age of 58, Andy global warming and a new throat singer sub-form inside died after a brief battle with cancer. This relevance in the global culture.” of Alaskan death metal break award also recognizes Cirque’s efforts in Shafer says, “My down. The singing style is creating an exciting journal that provides utopian gesture in the stories called the Tikahtnu growl publishing opportunities for North Pacific is that the kids of Alaska have (Tikhatnu being the Dena’ina Rim writers. The first recipient was poet been taught all about Panword for Cook Inlet). Some Nancy Wood (2011) and the second Arctic and Native Alaskan refer to it as the death whispers recipient was Gretchen Brinck (2012). cultures in school for decades or curdling, some people give The Andy Hope Literary Award is the using video games, comic it the term yakkeling and treat brainchild of two Alaskan poets, Vivian books and digital storytelling. it like an Internet meme, with Faith Prescott and her daughter Vivian In the stories, every kid that rigid, ludicrous structures. The Mork, who practice the art of mentoring graduates high school in lead singers Tisha Provetchka with Alaskan artists and writers. Anchorage has taken at least a and Saline Sagpiaq of the band year of Dena’ina. Their parents Panderworld will break into took Dena’ina in high school. a beat-boxing throat singing They all used an old-fashioned 64-bit role-playing video competitive duets several times during a set.” game in school to learn about the shared history of Beringia and the Arctic.” The piece throbs with embedded cultural respect while fusing elements of soft, tech, and clever, such as: “Xiolle Shafer imagines this death metal culture that, while as Belle Cupun is known to wear very beautiful qaspeqs on being as counter-culture and revolutionary as it ought to stage – a picture of her wearing the one her mother gave be, creates fusions of cultural elements and revolutionary her as a birthday present at the Girdwood Forest Fair last
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Named in honor of Andy Hope, an influential Alaska Native political activist and writer of prose and poetry, the $100 annual Andy Hope Award goes to an author of outstanding prose or poetry published in Cirque.
year made the cover of the International rock publication, Witching Ours, doing a special issue on Alaskan death metal.” This future helps me remember. Youth is bold. Culture brings roots. New comes from the mixing it up. Fusion is remarkable. Does Shafer’s account make sense? Absolutely. This could happen. This would be cool. About digital story telling Shafer says: “Non-Local” is a digital storytelling project I am doing in augmented reality. Augmented reality (AR) is a genre of new media art that juxtaposes digital information (3D models, audio files, videos) with the real world via smart devices. I have been using it to make art work for a few years, and it has proven awesome in its ability to be all over the world. I can connect one of my stories to an image, or a very specific spot on Earth through GPS. Earlier this year I first exhibited some of the stories, one in a group show in Manhattan called AR 2 View and a solo show at Noxious Sector Projects in Seattle, which is located in an old Chinook section of town near the water. The story I showed in Manhattan was called The Big Bad Broo, about three kids who accidentally observe an alien civilization without realizing it while playing a mixed reality playered game (MRPG). In Seattle I showed a suite of stories focused around the MRPG which is called Cosmic Constant. In June, some of the death metal stories will be in an AR festival/ political intervention in Bushwick Brooklyn.”
Discover Augmented Reality 1. On a smart phone, download the app, “Layar Augmented Reality.” It is free.
2. Scan the target image (above). 3. Touch the augment that appears over the image and listen to the audio recording of the story.
Pictured at left, Andy Hope Award winner Nathan Shafer Photo Credit
R E V I E WS
the muck, sweat and ache of it – her life as a “trail dog,” a seasonal laborer, one of those mostly invisible people who build, maintain and repair the trails that take us deep into wild places and keep us from getting lost. If you imagine a spruced-up crew of well-built, clean-cut do-gooders Eva Saulitis in Park Service uniforms, think again. These are not the “feds.” They are motley, young to middle-aged men and women, bawdy, brawny, macho, tough, feisty, smart (or not), foul-mouthed lovers of the wild who, on their days off from climbing steep trails with ungodly weight on their backs, shouldering chainsaws and shovels, choose to climb some more, for fun. Byl opens a window to this way of life, not romanticizing or glamorizing, but making it real, making it matter. This is a woman who loves her (Beacon Press, 2013) work, has chosen to love it, despite its toll on body and lifestyle. After turning the last page of Christine Byl’s Byl can spin a great yarn, describe the bucking terrific new memoir Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods, I up of a fallen tree, render gorgeously coarse dialogue. couldn’t help thinking back to where it all started, for me, But she’s also chosen to think about these things, about my literary apprenticeship to the wild, both human and what it means to put your body and heart into each day, non. My relationship to wilderness has been entwined, physically, to get your hands not only dirty but scarred and from the beginning, with words. It started with Anne calloused and even mangled: “If you had told me when LaBastille’s Woodswoman, a book loaned to me by an I was a intent on grad school in philosophy that I would earth-mama friend from Syracuse. Let’s call her Dana. one day bring home a paycheck by hauling brush and We were the same age. I was going to university; she then spend it on the porch of a ratty wasn’t. Dana embodied for me bar, I would have laughed I thought the grit of the real, a quality absent of myself as a thinker. My mind was from most of my cohorts at the the muscle I’d trained, and as Plato College of Environmental Science and Augustine taught me, it was the and Forestry. Dana’s self-education place where my elegant soul dwelt. was reflected by her crowded I didn’t think much about what bookshelves, by her closet full of the body could do.” In the book’s climbing and backpacking gear, by dedication, she calls her husband her living alone in a tiny walk-up, Gabe “the original workingman’s working two jobs to pay the rent. thinker.” She could just as easily be She loaned me Woodswoman, and describing herself. then Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She There is poetry in Byl’s took me rock climbing, and when prose. T.S. Eliot wrote, “When a poet’s I panicked near the top of my first mind is perfectly equipped for its belayed ascent, she leaned over the work, it is constantly amalgamating edge, stuck out her hand, and pulled disparate experience.” He goes on me up over the rock lip, ignoring my Author Christine Byl to claim that “the ordinary man’s teary shame. I wanted to be like experience is chaotic, irregular, Dana, fearless on that rock wall, but fragmentary.” Dirt Work suggests a more nuanced view. I wasn’t. It would take many more climbs, break-downs, The “education in the woods” Byl describes, not only in her miles, and yes, books and courageous women writers, to own apprenticeship, but in her co-workers’, is chaotic in the uncover woods woman in me. the way erosion is chaotic. It is irregular in the way geology Christine Byl, in Dirt Work, is that kind of woman, is irregular. It is fragmentary in the way perception – and writer, and guide. As readers, she puts us smack dab into poetry – can be fragmentary. As in poetry, it is through
Wild is the Writing of Christine Byl: A Review of Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 attention to chaos, fragmentation, and irregularity that amalgamation happens. And in this book, it is the way love happens. Byl doesn’t tell us she loves her work and wilderness in gushing exposition. The love comes through the language; she is head-over-heels for the words, the terms, the vocabulary of work, tools, and wilderness, inside and out. In a world of increasingly homogenized discourse, this kind of writing is an act of language conservation – the celebration of the unique, vital lexicon of a particular trade. You get a sense, though, that love like that is earned the way status in trail dog culture is earned. As the Bob Franke song goes, “Yes, it’s hard love, but love all the same.” When I am in the hands of a true writer, I know it because I sense her obsession with words. And not words as “signifiers” or “signs.” But words as objects, as tools. True writers feel about their raw materials – words – the way painters feel about paint. My painter friends tell me how much they simply love their medium. They love paint, its squelch and smear and oily stench. They love to lay it down on a canvas. They love to scrape if off with palette knives, thumb it, let it ooze and drip. They love its pure physicality. I love my friends’ studios for the evidence of this: the paint-spattered tables, the streaked jars of brushes, the half-empty, crumpled tubes, the paint-tracks on the floors. Reading Dirt Work, I imagined Christine Byl’s drafts grease-stained, carpenter’s nails scattered across her desk, sawdust collected under her computer. Dirt Work is divided into six long chapters, each beginning with a consideration of a tool of the trail dog’s trade from various angles. Take the first, “Axe,” which covers these bases: “History,” “Warning,” “Etymology,” “History” again, “Varieties,” “Mythology,” and “Scenario.” Any impulse to skim through these sections will quickly be forgotten as a reader runs head-long into Byl’s language, the rhythm, the physicality and embodied-ness of the writing. Under the heading “Warning,” you feel the threat: “On a fire crew, a woman put an axe through her kneecap, slicing to bone. A friend splitting kindling with a hatchet severed his
83 thumb above the knuckle. An ax can leave a mark.” Under the subheading “Mythology,” a voice-shift into the playful gives you this quirky, archaic advice: “Want to prevent a hailstorm? Throw an ax.” These fragments suggest Byl’s economy; not a word in the book feels extraneous. It took me time to understand how Dirt Work was put together, besides the obvious: each of six chapters focused on one particular park or trail system. Within each section you’ll find excellent story-telling, but no straight chronology. Each white space after a narrative section leaps to a surprise: consideration of a particular flower species, a reflection on geography, or a recurring treatment of the word (and concept) “wild.” In the first chapter, a long section on work gloves (opening this way: “You can’t work for long in the woods without gloves”) jumps to this: “Should you have an unexpected shit-in-the-woods scenario, look for ‘toilet paper plants’: false hellebore, thimbleberry, mountain maple.” This is what I mean when I say she plunks a reader down right in the narrative: there is an implied assumption that you, reader, might need this advice someday, and you had better damn well know how to tell thimbleberry from cow parsnip. This is the truth of dirt work: it’s not just the big stuff, the muscles, the skills with a chainsaw and hammer and bobcat, the time put in, but the nitty-gritty that builds to competence, to being at home in the body, in the woods, in the mountains, in the labor. It would be easy and natural to choose a chronological structure for a memoir about one’s“education in the woods.” But that is not the way education happens, and that’s the story Dirt Work’s organization tells the reader. Learning is not a linear process, as any teacher can attest. It’s accrual and plateau and breakthrough; it’s layering and decomposition. It’s vocabulary and technique and finesse and break-down. It’s the acquiring of skills, scars, and years in the field. It’s endless repetition. It’s the bruised thumb, the chainsaw-nicked Carhartts. And ultimately, it’s the acquiring of some kind of wisdom about what it all means. That said, there are individual stories such as a grizzly
84 encounter in snowy woods that will stay with me forever. Byl gives us narrative, scenes, moments, interspersed with reflection worthy of Wendell Berry. (“An authentic life will be built, at least in part, of ordinary verbs: wake, plant, dig, mend, walk, lift, listen, season, note, bake, chop, store, stack, harvest, give, stretch, measure, wash, help, haul, sleep.”) We gain a sense of what it takes to be a trail dog through accrual of experience tempered with thought. We come to know our trusty, honest narrator through this gradual process. We feel ourselves on the outside, until we are gradually in. When we come to the end, we realize the narrative that drives this book is as much about finding home as it is about finding work. Perhaps home is all of these things: dwelling, community, place, body, work. The body will fail us. But when work is an art, when the shovel is considered an object of scrutiny, history, and dignity, then the lessons of the body endure. In other reviews, Christine Byl’s been called a female Edward Abbey/Wendell Berry. And sure, those influences can be felt. I’d add Edward Hoagland’s Notes From the Century Before and Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces to the list of books Dirt Work brought to mind. But Christine Byl is ultimately not a female version of anyone. She is her own, a blue collar writer, a working woman writer, a poet. This is where she breaks with Woodswoman and Thoreau’s Walden and Cheryl Strayed and Into the Wild. Many memoirs arise out of the selfimposed back-to-nature retreat. The woman (or man) invariably takes up a pen, chronicles the close encounter with nature and with the self. How many books can you name in which the subject is physical work? When it is clear that work is the point, not the occasion for writing, but the means and the ends to the crafting of an honest, meaning for life? Now there is such a book. Written by a woman who writes of “wild” in this way: “Wild will fight for itself. Wild is unhemmed, cuffs dragging in the mud, fist balled up, thumping. Wilderness may require paperwork to bolster it, but wildness is wisp of instinct, a hunger silhouetted. Palm open. It is both cusp and center.” Wild is Byl. There was no Dirt Work in my literary pantheon, and as a young woman, I was the poorer for it. If I wanted literary mentorship for a life working in the wilderness (and not just retreating into it in order to write about it), I had decades to wait. Thankfully, Byl’s book is out in the world this spring, in time for mud season, for field season and fishing season and building season, in time to inspire us to not just wrap our heads around the notion of living a meaningful life close to nature, but to put our backs, hands, boots and hearts into the effort.
A Review of John Morgan’s Forms of Feeling: Poetry in Our Lives - Essays and Interviews (Salmon Poetry, 2012) Two things are immediately evident when reading Forms of Feeling, John Morgan’s collection of essays: his decency and his commitment to poetry. He wrote his first poem when he was in ninth grade. For comparison, I wrote my first poem at twenty four, two years after I got out of the army. The essays reveal a modest man almost self-effacing, but they also reveal a man with a strong sense of who he is. As he writes “you see before you no superhero – just an ordinary, striving, fatherly, husbandly figure…” How refreshing. No self-congratulation here even though he certainly rubbed elbows with the movers and shakers of the poetry world at Harvard and then at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He writes insightfully about his time at both places in these essays. In essence, what we have here is a collection of essays by a man who has thought deeply and written well about that mystery we call the creative process, that gift that creates a worthwhile poem or in this case a collection of essays that touch upon just about all aspects of life from his experience taking acid, to his childhood crush on his family’s Irish maid, to his days at Harvard when he was a student in Robert Lowell’s poetry workshop, to his first experience with antiSemitism, to his years in Alaska where he has lived with his wife and children for almost forty years. There are only a few “Alaskan” essays in the collection which is both strength and a weakness. Author John Morgan
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INTERVIEW Ela Harrison
An Interview with Erin Coughlin Hollowell-Discussing her new book, Pause, Traveler Erin Coughlin Hollowell studied at Cornell University, where she forsook the sensible biomedical engineering track to study poetry. After a sojourn in New York City and another in the software industry in the Bay Area, CA, and time spent almost everywhere in between, she completed her MFA at Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop while teaching high school English in Cordova, Alaska, which was like having two full-time jobs.
No matter what his subject, Morgan always comes back to the creative process, to his need to write poetry and his understanding of how difficult that is to do well even when he is discussing religion, painting, paleontology, his marriage, or music. His essay about his time with a joint Harvard/Princeton paleontology expedition to Wyoming is one of the best in the book. He was sent home for a reason you will have to discover for yourself. On the flight back to Boston, he reads John Ciardi’s translation of Dante’s Inferno and decides he’ll be a poet not a paleontologist. There is much of interest here for the general reader. One doesn’t have to be a writer to appreciate these essays; however, if you are, his discussions of craft which take up about a third of the book are well worth your time and attention. A brief note about Salmon Poetry, Ireland: Jessie Lendennie, founder and publisher, has been a longtime supporter of Alaskan poets and poetry. Sheila Nickerson has a book forthcoming from Salmon, and I’m sure there are others I don’t know about.
Erin is a literary citizen of Homer, Alaska, and far beyond. She is widely published as a poet and sometimes critic, including in all the major Alaska journals. She champions poetry and the arts in her day job managing the Friends of the Homer Library. In this capacity, she has brought Ray Troll and Tim O’Brien to Homer, to name just some recent visitors. Her handiwork abets the production and promotion of the annual Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference. She’s regularly chosen to judge the many and varied writing competitions that enrich the state’s literary enthusiasms. She stays in town late and teaches poetry and English classes for Kenai Peninsula College. She is a presence, a force, with her height, her strong voice, her big heart, her passion. The heart and the passion are also tangible from her blog, beingpoetry.net, through which she is influential as a literary citizen, championing to a farflung audience the aim of living life with poetry as guiding principle and spiritual practice. Erin and I sat down together at the Homer Public Library one day in late April to talk about her new book, Pause, Traveler, a poetry collection published by Boreal Books, April 2013. Ela: I wanted to start by asking how you came to the structure of the book, which is essentially a chronological approach. Some people say a fiction writer’s first novel is
86 their autobiography; I wondered whether one might think of your first book of poems in the same way. ECH: Well, I started out with the poems in no particular order, but then I noticed two specific loci, New York and Alaska, with a few in the middle that were all diner, road, roadside attractions, truck stops. So the arc was really more about place than it was about my life. Some poems may seem autobiographical, but there’s just a little nugget of life event and then the poem is built around that. So, it’s interesting, it isn’t really the story of my life; it’s more just riffing on some of the things—I’ve had some rocky relationships, I’ve moved a lot, that rootless feeling of never knowing who you are, where you came from, or where you’re going. So I started with those three sections (New York, on the road, Alaska), then had a bunch that didn’t fit in any of these, so I looked at them in terms of poems addressing the past and poems addressing the transition period; what it is to move from being someone living in New York City to a life in Alaska. Ela: Speaking of displacement, I noticed in several of the poems a sense of ambiguity as to whether the speaker is watching or being watched. The most striking example for me: at the end of “Corn Palace,” “we push through / the turnstile and are gone.” Normally to be gone denotes an observer’s standpoint; if you’re going, you simply go. How much is the traveling, such a theme of this collection, a journey from outside of oneself to centeredness? ECH: Very much so, at least I hope so. A twofold journey; a physical journey and journey to who you really are as opposed to how circumstance places you. Ela: What is the significance of coming to grips with who you are specifically in Alaska? ECH: I think Alaska gave me the space mentally and physically just to be. Elsewhere, I always had to put on a different construct. In New York City, I had to be “tough;” in CA, I had to be okay with that “California” vibe, plus I
CIRQUE worked in the software industry, so the geeky software thing. Alaska is very tolerant of individuals and of bucking the tide. I couldn’t have said “I am a poet” in any other place. I’d have always been thinking “I’m not a famous person.” I went to an undergraduate program that was so competitive, and so east coast competitive; I thought to truly be a writer of any ilk you had to be published at one of the big New York houses and hold an endowed chair at a major Ivy League Institution. Ela: That leaves out a lot of people. ECH: Indeed, (laughter)
Ela: That’s a tough thing to break. ECH: When you’re involved in competitive organizations that’s a tough thing to break in itself—you’re always comparing yourself to other people; that’s what’s instilled in you. But poetry’s not really competitive is it? It was only after I was quite a ways along the path that I realized it’s all about the daily practice of writing and reading and attention. Ela: Is that intense competitive spirit part of what prevents you from being your real self—part of that being outside and coming in; does it partly come from a habit of watching yourself from the outside? ECH: Oh yes, obviously, if you’re always competing you’re not just a watcher of everyone around you but also of yourself—in a damaging but also a disembodied way. You’re always scrutinizing yourself did I just say that? instead of being in the moment. But that disembodiedness also comes when you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t see you. And a lot of these poems are about being in a relationship with a person who doesn’t see you as yourself; they just see you as whatever it is they want. Ela: And some of the most memorable lines and images are generated by that sense of being unseen, as if feeling unseen makes you see yourself at a distance instead of embodying yourself. ECH: Very much so.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 Ela: You say the collection’s not really autobiographical, but the “coming into yourself in Alaska” section poetically mirrors real life—a reader can feel in that final section the groundedness of a functional relationship in the writer’s voice. ECH: And I hope that’s what people take away. It’s maybe a triple journey now I think about it—there’s the place and the person, and then, in order to have a relationship that was the least bit non-psychotic, I had to be the kind of person who could do that. I wasn’t that person for a long, long time. And I had to be someplace where I could work it out. Where I could walk away into the woods and work it out. Which is what Alaska has done for me. Ela: So the groundedness came before the relationship. ECH: Hand in hand. When I came to Alaska I had a brand new relationship and it was bumpy, like every new relationship. But I felt really drawn to this place. So I was good. Even when I was wondering “oh my God, how did I end up here,” I just felt okay, I’m good. I can do this. Maybe this is a function of getting older, too. You learn that you can get through. Ela: So it’s a coming to maturity. ECH: I hope so. I certainly feel the poems I’m writing now are so vastly different than the ones in this book. I wonder if it’s just me seeing them that way but I sometimes wonder about the next collection I put together whether people will say “wow, how did she make the jump from those to these?” They just feel really different. Ela: Different in terms of craft? Of content? Of aesthetic? ECH: I feel they’re different in terms of the level of craft I’m using. Definitely different subject matter. Also in terms of the idea that I have an arc I’m already writing for. I’m not taking a bunch of poems, putting them together, and saying Where’s the arc? The arc is already there. But it’s funny; they don’t come out in order. It’s not like I can say the next poem’s going to do this. But all the poems are within this continuum. Ela: So this is an arc for a new collection, not for your life as a poet. ECH: Yes, I think the idea behind all these new poems was how do you encompass it all?—both joy and despair—
Mitchell, South Dakota The girl takes our money. Her bright blonde hank down her back, her cheery readiness to answer questions. Face unlined as if she bathes each morning in milk and sprinkles on freckles as after thoughts. Four days of road grime no meager hotel spray can wash off. The city far behind us but the scent of too many people still rank in our pores. We want to ask what is it like to wake each morning surrounded by susurration of cornfields rippling like a docile beast’s back in sun. She hands us our tickets and motions toward the rack of postcards. We push through the turnstiles and are gone.
Spring I remember a taxicab pulling up to a crowded rainy curbside. A man opened the door for me. Blue as storm and April, there was a moment when his eyes broke open to let in my face. If I were to guess, I might say it was like budding. His hand reaching out to touch my skin. You can be taken by kindness just the same as by anger. A small bird needs a small branch.
88 how do you balance aging with feeling like you’re not aging? How do you balance all those changes in your life, so that they don’t destroy you? And some weeks I’m better at that than others. (laughter) Ela: I’m sure you feel your poetry practice itself helps you do better at that.
January Shallows The duck and his mate swim circuits, ornate hands around a blank dial. Slough rough and dark, tides rise and fall.
Ela: Which is another way poetry and life interact.
Relentless, they wind the clock of winter. He is a flash of teal and russet, a daubed dabble, she with white patches among dusk.
ECH: Very much so. At least poetry slows you down enough that you can go over feelings and applications and thoughts. But it makes me listen so much better.
Where were you when I stood watching, ears ringing with the emptiness wind makes when it is blowing someplace else?
ECH: Oh yes.
Ela: To people and to yourself. ECH: Yes. And to what I’m reading, and just the world around me. But especially to what I’m reading. I’m such a closer reader now. I used to just read volumes and volumes of poetry and prose. But now I will read the same book of poetry four or five times. And then put it away. And then a year later pick it up again. Ela: One more question about your book as a whole. I recently showed your collection to a friend who’s also an accomplished writer. There were a couple poems, the left-handed one (“Kindergarten, 1969) and the “brother” one (“Playground”) where she was curious about the factual details in order to understand the poem. Do you care if someone not privy to details of your personal life doesn’t necessarily get the poem? ECH: I’m not sure I care if they get the specifics. I care if they get the emotional content. If they walk away understanding something more about… anything… I’m not positive that it’s my agenda to have it be completely transparent. So often we want a poem to sit neatly and have its hair combed, but maybe it’s okay if it doesn’t! Maybe I’m just coming to this lately because I’m reading so many poets where I’m left in the dirt. And I think maybe I only get annoyed with that if I don’t get the emotional content. I’m okay with not understanding the situation completely if I get the emotional hook. But if I don’t get the emotional hook and I don’t understand the situation… I’ve got nothing I can hang onto. Ela: Let’s talk about craft. Something that everyone who comments on the back cover acquiesces in is the
I would have swum circles around your shrugs, never aspiring to spume and spray, a shadow always to your spark, your harlequin. Now, I can not pretend to be drab stone, the ledge you shelter on, the one to lift you out of the cold and always shifting sea. Along the shore, bare alders rankle. The wingbeat of my heart shallows over the shattered slate water.
wonderfully terse style with incredibly memorable images. Generally, you have this very plainspoken conversational voice, and then the image that grabs the reader…like the “birdsong like pennies / tumbling in a glass jar,” (“Story to Improve Behavior”) or the “twenty / kinds of sugar, / and I can’t remember anymore / what I like” (“Truck Stop, Route 81), or “the emptiness wind / makes when it’s blowing someplace else” (“January Shallows”)—which might be one of my favorites, it’s one of those that I might not have thought about, and as soon as I hear, it just hits me wow. That, to me, is the real strength of your poetry. This conversational bent means generally you resist the florid, you resist the purple. So then there are a few spots where you are overtly “poetic;” the highfaluting makes an appearance. Suddenly we get “surrounded / by susurration of cornfields / rippling like a docile beast’s / back” at the end of “Corn Palace,” where you’ve got the dictionary word and you’ve got the emphatic alliteration and the very obtrusive simile; or in “Wolf Moon”“the moon / a bright wheel / worthy of shop-worn worship reeled,” where you’ve got this sudden chiasmus and you’ve got
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 the rhyme. So, I was curious: something that purple in the context of a style generally so much sparser…you’ve got to be very, very conscious about where you put that. ECH: I think what we’re looking at…I tend to write that way, the very complex way, if allowed. And I will lay that all at Gerard Manley Hopkins’ feet—you know I adored him so much and read him like food for years and Yeats, the same thing, and so it is my nature to use words like “susurration” and then when they’re not there, you know they’ve been edited out (laughter)—consciously pulled back from the edge. Ela: Or unconsciously? ECH: Yeah. Ela: Why do you pull them back, then? ECH: I think, well, it’s like eating too many turtle bars at Two Sisters. Then everything tastes like turtle bars…And I find now with my writing I try to have that same plain-spokenness but now I try to get that chime with the image and so…
89 once you had the arc and knew what the collection was going to look like? Or were they all in existence? ECH: Oh no, I’d say that maybe a quarter of them were written… not necessarily to fill in but… Ela: …because they were waiting to be written and it was like there was a place for them now? ECH: Also, you know, “it would be good if there was a poem here.” But some of them were written before my MFA and I was clutching them in my hot little hands… edited quite a bit then placed in the collection. It helped to have people say “this is missing here” or “you need a bit more of this.” Ela: How did you get that? As writers, these are things we don’t always have the distance to be able to tell for ourselves.
ECH: Well, Peggy Shumaker! Peggy was my thesis year advisor for the MFA. I wanted to work with her because I knew that she would help me by being firm but kind. Author Erin Coughlin Hollowell Ela: In terms of word choice? Peggy’s way of teaching is to ask questions which lead you to a wiser place from which to ECH: Yes word choice but also, if something’s going to be make decisions. She helps you see your work differently, odd or out of place or jolting, it’s an image rather than which we all know leads to stronger work. I also worked words. with—not a book doctor—an outside editor, after the manuscript was put together (and after I had graduated), Ela: So, working with the image that you very very and then Peggy and I talked a little further. I was glad to get effectively bring up before the reader’s mind’s eye rather that outside editor’s suggestions because she didn’t know than getting the words to ring. me or anything about my personal life. Her suggestions were made solely on the work, not on the ghost of what it ECH: That’s what I’m trying; I don’t know how successfully. once had been or what she might have hoped it would be. It was a great way to proceed. Ela: If someone who’s read the collection were to hear you say the only reason it’s not full of words like “susurration” Then, Peggy is the editor of Boreal Books and was a great is because you edited them out they might be surprised. person to work with on how to structure the collection. The tight and yet conversational voice is very convincing. Ela: And then you were able to look in your existing body ECH: Well, yeah. A lot of these poems have been worked. of work, and within yourself, and say “I have been waiting Quite hard. Some are from my MFA, and some… to write a poem about…and here it goes.” Were all the poems painstakingly “worked” as you said before, or were Ela: How many of the poems were written retroactively there some that came rather quickly?
90 ECH: Oh, just until this year I have always worked as an impulse writer. I would just get an idea and I would write it. And that’s the beauty of an MFA program, that there’s a deadline, which spurs you to sit down and be open to that idea coming, but almost all of these are just poems that are given as an image and then the poem built from it; or an incident and a poem built from it; or even something somebody said and a poem built from it. It’s only recently I’ve started out at the beginning of the week with a title and walked around carrying a notecard in my pocket, jotting things down all week long and sat down at the end of the week to make a poem from that. Ela: This is your Walt Whitman project. ECH: Yes, the title on the notecard is a quotation from Walt Whitman, and the quotation becomes the title of the poem I work on. A new quotation every week. I put this Mary Oliver quote on my blog last night about listening, really listening to the world, and I feel like that is what I am doing now. As opposed to before, when the world had to be actively shouting at me before I went “Oh! Maybe I’m supposed to write about that.” Ela: And you’ve got that Whitman quote to anchor, and every week a new one—that must be so much fun. ECH: Oh it is; it’s a hoot. I’m enjoying it. Ela: “The world had to be shouting”—that’s a great image in itself, but funny how you can get into that situation partly because you get so wrapped up in writing another poem/working a different image. ECH: I think that’s true. I think what’s also true for me is that during the time of my MFA program, when I was working eleven hours a day at school, then another three hours every night grading papers, something would have to be shouting pretty loud to get through that amount of static. So I would just sit down at 10 o’clock every night and hope that something came out of the blue. And sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t. For every poem in the book there’s several others that died by the wayside. As opposed to now, where I’ll take a poem that’s failing and work it and work it and work it and work it until I feel there’s a chance that it might be drawing breath on its own. But sometimes you still just hit a point where you say “this is dead’ and put it away.
CIRQUE Ela: So, you said some of these poems had been worked pretty hard but you also say you have been an impulse writer, and lately you learned to resuscitate failing poems; how did you balance those themes—how were you able to learn stay on one poem and polish it? Was it part of the MFA process? ECH: I think part of it was the MFA process, and I think part of it had to do with David Biespiel, my second-year mentor, who really taught me not to take anything that was already written for granted. Ela: How do you mean? ECH: Well, you know I had always felt once I wrote it, it was there. I might tinker with it, I might change a couple lines around, but essentially…And he really taught me to break it down to its essential marrow, turn it around, look at it in every possible way. He’ll put a poem on a rack until it squeals what it’s really about. He’s an amazing editor, so working with him for a year certainly made me change my vision of “I write it down and it’s done” (laughter) to “I write it down and now what it is, is just meat for the meal.” He’d be so happy to hear that! Ela: Well, maybe we’ll send him a copy of this! When we start a poem from such a strong felt sense or image, clearly shaped, it’s often hard to accept that the poem might truly need to be about something different, in a different form. How wonderful to have worked with someone who wouldn’t let you cling to the vatic. “I’ve written the poem.” “No, you’ve written something we can start from.” ECH: “This is just the start. Look, now you can see the road.” A lot of poems got edited out of this collection as well, from the standpoint of “Is it worth publishing this if it might hurt someone?” Ela: Former partners? ECH: No, it was much more about not wanting to hurt my family. I’m seriously doubting any of my former partners will read this book and if they do, they’ll know exactly who they are! (laughter) Ela: The poems about your family, which are mostly toward the beginning in that first section, are very restrained. ECH: At least three had to be pulled. Pulled, actually,
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 pretty far into the process. When I went oh, this is actually going to get published—aahh! You know, someday my dad is going to be holding this book in his hand. Ela: And it seems the family poems also often have an extra lens, for example the one with the image of birds as pennies I quoted is a story—a “Story to Improve Behavior,” so it has that extra layer— ECH:—which makes it easy for people who don’t want to see themselves in a poem to pawn it off, and once again, lots of things are just little bits of the personal…an instant can be blown up to fit a whole poem.
“Playground” and “Family Reunion;” “The Way We Do It Here,” “Corn Palace,” and of course the title poem, and “Coupled.” So that’s quite a few, but there’s a lot more poems in the collection. A reading is another, more condensed way of putting your work out into the world, so, how do you choose? Are these your favorites? ECH: Oh no, they’re not my favorites, but they are points along an arc that anchor, so if you’re reading something representative of a collection, you try to find the poems that pull you through the collection. And certainly those are some of them. Ela: Tell me about the cover.
Ela: Yes. And to hold the rest of the timeframe in which it belonged. You do a lot of that blowing up and shrinking, both with time and with incident. ECH: I think so. I think that’s the way memory works. Something that might have been just a moment to you at the time has great import as you get older. Or something that seemed hugely important at one time becomes unimportant as you get older. Ela: I wanted to know how much the title dictated the theme—you know how I’m into titles… ECH: The title came from running across a quote…maybe in another poem—holy mackerel it’s been a long time!— with the epigraph siste viator, which means “stay, traveler,” which used to be carved on tombs and at roadside rest points and crossroads. To me, that was very much what the whole process felt like. Writing these poems was like, “pause.” And I’ve always felt like a traveler. Before I was out of college I’d already lived like eight different places and for the next decade I moved once a year. And it wasn’t until I moved to AK… it’s amusing that saying I’ve only moved three times in the past eleven years counts as stationary… but I never stopped! And part of that was because I never felt at home, but also because once you stop you have to own yourself. Every time you move you can completely reconstruct your entire personality, past, everything; but if you live in one place for a while, people know you, you can no longer be malleable, so…and I was ready to pause, to stop traveling. Ela: I wanted to hear about your favorite poems. At your readings, there are poems you choose over and over. Off the top of my head—“Canal St” and “Chelsea” and
ECH: The artwork is by Sarah Tabbert, a Fairbanks artist. She had an exhibit at Bunnell St. Gallery right when I moved back to Homer [from Cordova] a couple years ago, and I loved her stuff because it was a mix of printmaking and, like the piece of the cover, it’s carved and then painted, on a polished piece of wood. Peggy really likes Alaska artists on the covers [of Boreal Books publications]. I was looking for about two years from when I first heard it would be published to when it was in the pipeline. I wanted something that spoke to Alaska but not too blatantly. Ela: How do you mean? ECH: As an Alaska poet I am proud of being an Alaskan. And Alaska poets are super conscious of not being pigeonholed into a little nook. And yet how often do you pick up a book about Alaska with a raven on the cover? (laughter) And I didn’t want to go there. I just loved Sarah’s work, and I thought it would be appropriately atmospheric. Sarah was super gracious when I wrote and asked her if she’d be willing to license this image. And I was so happy when I got the book in my hands, because they’d picked up the colors from inside the book to complement the colors of the artwork—they’d even gone with a tint of page color that matches the color of the birch bark on the cover, and I said Oh, I’m so happy that they did such a beautiful, beautiful job. It’s not just my words anymore; it’s now this object with a life of its own. And I know that the people I’ve sent it to have felt the same way, family members and friends have been like “Oh, it’s really beautiful.” Ela: Does having consciousness of the book as an entity beyond you help to create distance between yourself and
that awful anxiety felt by newly published authors? ECH: I think someday it will. Right now it is so fresh, so fresh, I can absolutely, absolutely dredge up the entire moment I looked at it the first time, which wasn’t that long ago. For a long time “I’m going to have a book” “I’m going to have a book,” and you wait such a long time, and then, there it was. And I pulled out my iPhone and took a picture! (laughs) Just because it was like “here’s the book” and I hadn’t seen it before. I literally walked into AWP and I hadn’t seen it. I’m just so grateful…I certainly understand that the next one—that’s why I want to get it done—will be a process all of its own. It’s actually harder to get a second one done. Ela: So, you’re excited to do the next one, even as raw and tender as this one still is. ECH: Yes, for me poetry exists first as a process, and then as the final product; and that final product is very gratifying to have out in the world. But even as you create that final product—and get distracted with all the production stuff (laughter)—the process must continue, must always be the primary thing.
CONTRIBUTORS Currently based in Vancouver, Megan Alford received her BA in Creative Writing from Montreal’s Concordia University and Diploma in Dance Performance from Toronto’s George Brown College. Shortlisted for the Irving Layton Award in both fiction and poetry, she has been featured in Matrix Magazine, Soliloquies 16.2, Encore Literary Magazine, Vallum and Room Magazine. Her debut pop-folk EP, The Men, was released this February, 2013. William L. Alton was born November 5, 1969 and started writing in the Eighties while incarcerated in a psychiatric prison. Since then his work has appeared in Main Channel Voices, World Audience and Breadcrumb Scabs among others. In 2010, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has published one book titled Heroes of Silence. He earned both his BA and MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon where he continues to live. You can find him at williamlalton. com. Nicky Andrews is a concert photographer and collage artist based in Washington State. Her influences include Max Ernst, Michael Parekowhai, and Hannah Höch. Please visit her blog, whennickysnaps.tumblr.com for more information, or her online store, society6.com/NickyAndrews, to purchase prints. Jennifer Andrulli - I am inspired by the patterns, textures and light of our environment, Mother Earth. Drawn to the quiet lush places to wild craft plant medicine and edibles, I walk aware of my breath and my thoughts. Searching for patterns, blessings and enjoying the light, in time, I am always shown the perfection of nature. My passion for traditional healing and plant knowledge has taken me around the world to sit with elders to listen and learn; my journey continues. I could not see the essence if I did not know where I came from, if I was not taught to respect soul, mind and body. I have a private practice in Anchorage. Eileen Arnold. I came to Bethel, AK as a Jesuit Volunteer in 2005. I currently work as the Youth Services Coordinator at the Tundra Women’s Coalition. I’m taking a creative non-fiction writing course at KUC with Ben Kuntz and wrote this essay for his class. Lyn Baldwin teaches botany and ecology at Thompson Rivers University amidst the sagebrush steppe and inland coniferous forests of southern British Columbia. Although Lyn has primarily published in scientific journals, she has been telling stories about her home in the northwestern corner of North America in her illustrated field journals for nearly 20 years. Her journals have been exhibited in local libraries, university art galleries, and science museums. Further excerpts from her journals can be found at her blog, http://viridianlife.sites.tru.ca/ Gabrielle Barnett’s poetry has appeared in Cirque and Contact Quarterly. Her non-fiction writing has been featured in the Arts section of the Anchorage Daily News, as well as POL, Art Matters, Next Stage, Wild Voices, and Contact Quarterly. Her scholarly writing has been published in Technology and Culture; Theatre; Socialism, Nature, Capitalism; and Polar Geography. She is a founding member of Venus Transit, an ensemble that experiments performing poetry.
Edith Barrowclough lives in Anchorage where she is part owner of a tax business. Her photos have appeared in previous editions of Cirque and in other publications. She travels widely, taking a broad view of the world through the narrow lens of her camera.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 Kristin Berger lives in Portland, Oregon, and is the author of a poetry chapbook For the Willing (Finishing Line Press, 2008), co-editor of VoiceCatcher 6 (2011), and curates her blog, Slipstream (www. kristinberger.wordpress.com). Her essays and poems have appeared in Calyx, Milk & Honey Siren, Mothering, New Letters, Passages North, and Poppy Road Review., among other publications. Kristin was awarded OSU/Spring Creek Project’s Andrews Forest Writers Residency for November 2012. Deborah M. Bernard received her BA in Journalism at Western Washington University in Bellingham, wrote for The Bellingham Herald and the Friday Harbor Journal, then moved to Alaska’s oilfield with her husband Joseph. They lived and worked in Deadhorse for decades, she as postmaster, then both as “shopkeepers for the Slope.” They recently moved back to Bellingham where Deborah is enjoying writing classes at her Alma Mater. This piece is an excerpt from her Memoir-inProgress, You Can’t Beat a Deadhorse. James Bertolino’s eleventh volume of poems, Every Wound Has A Rhythm, was published in 2012 by World Enough Writers in Kingston, Washington. His last faculty position was as Writer-in-Residence at Willamette University in Oregon. Since he retired in 2006, he has served, five times, as an American Book Awards poetry judge. Polly Buckingham - Polly Buckingham’s work appears in The Literary Review, The New Orleans Review, The North American Review, The Tampa Review (Pushcart nomination), Exquisite Corpse, Kalliope,Hubbub, Cirque, The Chattahoochee Review, The Moth and elsewhere. She is founding editor of StringTown Press and teaches creative writing and literature at Eastern Washington University. Her books have been finalists or semifinalists for the following awards: Flannery O’Connor Award (twice), Bakeless Prize, Blue Lynx Prize, the Snake Nation Review Contest, and the Spokane Prize (twice). She is currently a finalist for the Jeanne Lieby Memorial Chapbook Award. Vic Cavalli’s poetry, short fiction, photography, and visual art have been published in various literary journals in Canada, the United States, England, North Africa, and Australia. He is currently living in British Columbia, Canada. Selections from his visual art portfolio can be viewed at http://vittoriocavalli.com/ Katherine Coons - Presently, Coons is an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska. The experience of completing artist-in-residency programs in New Delhi, India, and Kodiak Island, Alaska, lecturing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and traveling widely throughout Southeast Asia and Europe has inspired her artwork. Coons received the prestigious Pollock-Krasner grant from New York. She was given a cash award for one of the best paintings in the show “The All Alaska Juried Exhibition” at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, juried by Elizabeth Brown, chief curator at Henry’s Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle. Important solo shows in the state of Alaska include the Bunnell Street Gallery, Alaska Pacific University at the Carl Gottstein Gallery, MTS Gallery, The International Gallery of Contemporary Art and The State Museum in Alaska, Juneau. Kimberly Davis is an Alaska girl born and raised on a homestead in the Salcha Valley. She enjoys time spent with her children and grandchildren with whom she is always seeing life through fresh eyes. Kimberly is inspired in everyday life as a residential gardener who loves the outdoors, interior design, travel & photography and relaxing at the end of the day with friends and a delicious glass of wine. Nicholas Dighiera - Nick. A guy who writes, has a world champion moustache, and a storied past of legend spoken on the winds like
93 whispered heritage. He would be humbled that you read his work and would be happy to discuss the intricacies of homebrewing or wax poetic about the mighty VW Vanagon; Syncros especially. He is the type of guy who enjoys the sound of a well-executed fart. Nick is that guy; and even if you don’t know him, you probably know him pretty well. Patrick Dixon is an independent writer/photographer from Olympia, Washington. His blog, “Gillnet Dreams,” consists of stories about commercial salmon fishing on Cook Inlet, Alaska, near Kenai, where he lived and fished for 23 years. More of Patrick’s poetry may be seen at www.patrickdixon.net Nathan Einbinder was born in California but has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 1999. Much of his fictional work is set in the resourcebased communities of northern British Colombia, where he spent considerable time. He currently resides in the Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon. Jason Eisert lives in Anchorage, AK with his black lab/German Shepherd mix, Cooper. He is a candidate in both University of Alaska Anchorage’s MFA and MAT programs. Jason is a roofer by trade in the summer and plays the drums and saxophone. James Engelhardt’s poems have appeared in North American Review, Lilies and Cannonballs Review, Hawk and Handsaw, Isotope, ACM, Painted Bride Quarterly, Natural Bridge, and elsewhere. Work is forthcoming in several journals. His short fiction has appeared in The Cupboard. His ecopoetry manifesto is at octopusmagazine.com. He is the Acquisitions Editor for the University of Alaska Press. Kris Farmen is a novelist, historian, and award-winning freelance journalist who splits his time between the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage. His previous books include Turn Again and The Devil’s Share. The forthcoming book Weathered Edge (written with Buffy McKay and Martha Amore) will feature his novella “Edge of Somewhere.” David Fraser lives in Nanoose Bay, on Vancouver Island. He is the founder and editor of Ascent Aspirations Magazine,www.ascentaspirations. ca since 1997. His poetry and short fiction have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Rocksalt, An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry. He has published four collections of poetry, Going to the Well, 2004, Running Down the Wind, 2007, No Way Easy, 2010, and Caught in My Throat, 2011; a collection of short fiction, Dark Side of the Billboard, 2006 and On Poetry, a book on poetry and poetics, co-authored with Naomi Beth Wakan. To keep out of trouble he helps develop Nanaimo’s spokenword series, WordStorm. www.wordstorm.ca. In October 2009 and 2010 he participated in Random Acts of Poetry, a national poetry program that brings poetry to the streets of Canada. In May of 2010 he participated in the Off the Page Program for the Federation of BC Writers. David is a full member of the League of Canadian Poets and has performed his poetry in British Columbia, Ontario, California, and Switzerland. Leslie Fried - I moved to Anchorage from Seattle to be the curator of the Alaska Jewish Museum in Anchorage. I was born in Israel, the daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who settled on New York’s Lower East Side. The history of my family - its trials and tribulations - has been an ongoing source of fascination for me. I began as a visual artist so writing for me is like drawing; it falls somewhere between gesture and detail. The absolute truth is evasive. Tess Gallagher is an American poet, essayist, and short story writer. She attended the University of Washington, where she studied creative writing with Theodore Roethke and later Nelson Bentley as well as David Wagoner and Mark Strand. Her honors include a fellowship from the
94 Guggenheim Foundation, two National Endowment for the Arts awards, The Maxine Cushing Gray Endowed Libraries Visiting Writers Fellowship (University of Washington), and the Elliston Award for “best book of poetry published by a small press” for the collection Instructions to the Double (1976). Her late husband, Raymond Carver, encouraged her to write short stories, some of which were collected in The Lover of Horses (1987) and At the Owl Woman Saloon (1996). Her book Moon Crossing Bridge is a collection of love poems written for Carver after his death from cancer in 1988. Maya Ganesan’s first poetry collection, Apologies to an Apple, was published by Classic Day Publishing in 2009. Her poems have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Hobble Creek Review, Fire on Her Tongue (Two Sylvias Press), and other journals and anthologies. She lives in Redmond, Washington. Levi Hastings - Levi is a freelance illustrator, visual artist and fulltime graphic designer in Seattle, Washington. A frequent contributor to Ten Paces and Draw, his work has also been featured on The Better Bombshell, The Fox is Black, Juxtapoz, Capitol Hill Seattle, The Artfuls and The Random Illustrator. From tattooed brawlers to wigged aristocrats, foreign streets to fashion footwear, his illustrations reflect a lifelong obsession with high and low culture, tied together with fine lines and loose watercolor. Raised in the mountains of Idaho, Levi grew up on a creative diet of dinosaurs, comic books and National Geographic, all of which fed his desire to escape, travel the world, and draw everything along the way. Jim Hanlen lives in Anchorage. Ela Harrison is a poet, writer, translator, and teacher. She is a secondyear student in the Rainier Writing Workshop, PLU’s low-residency MFA program, and blogs at http://ulteriorharmony.blogspot.com Bob Hicks is a social services manager and grant writer. He has written poetry, essays, and a novel. His poems have been published in Jeopardy, Stories of the Skagit – Anthology II, and Whatcom WRITES. Bob was a 2012 Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest Walk Award winner and received second place in the Bellingham Fiction 101 contest. Leota Hoover - Alaska was Hoover’s home from 1965 – 1989 and her writing reflects personal experience in that unique environment. Literary journals where Hoover’s essays and fiction have appeared are: The Healing Muse, So to Speak, 2009 Byline Calendar, The Companion Parrot, and Threshold. B. Hutton is a performer, playwright, former columnist for the ANCHORAGE PRESS, and former host of THE RADIO SHOW on KNBA, which showcased Alaskan writers. He has performed in a variety Anchorage venues and organized reading series and Spoken Word & Writing workshops since 1996. Andrew Janco is a Postdoctoral Lecturer in the Human Rights program at the University of Chicago. His translations, in collaboration with Olga Livshin, have appeared in Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology and other publications. My name is Juleen Eun Sun Johnson. I was born in Seoul, South Korea. I was adopted and taken to Valdez, Alaska at the age of 3. I moved to California in 2001 to attend Reedley College, which is located in the San Joaquin Valley. There I studied poetry rigorously. I attended CSU Monterey Bay where I double majored in Humanities and Communication & Visual and Public Art. I obtained my MFA in Visual Studies from Pacific Northwest
CIRQUE College of Art. I am currently residing and creating in Portland, OR. Michael Johnson grew up in Bella Coola, British Columbia. His work has appeared in The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, Weber Studies, The Pedestal Magazine, and Mid-American Review, among others. He works as a wine consultant in Vancouver. Michael Lee Johnson, who lived 10 years in Canada during the Vietnam Era, now Itasca, IL, runs seven poetry sites, has over 60 videos on YouTube, published 4 books/chapbooks, and has been published in 25 countries as of this date: http://poetryman.mysite.com/. Mary Kancewick lives in Eagle River Valley where she can walk to river and mountains from her doorstep. She has learned a lot in the course of visiting almost a hundred Alaska Native villages. She has published in a few journals, won a poetry prize, and received an NEH grant to work on creative non-fiction. Eric le Fatte - I was educated at MIT and Northeastern University in biology and English, and worked as the Returns King at Eastern Mountain Sports, but have been teaching, hiking, and writing in the Portland, Oregon area for many years. I have published poems in Rune, The Mountain Gazette, Windfall, The Clackamas Literary Review, and The Raven Chronicles, and am grateful to have the opportunity to submit to Cirque. Rafael Levchin A poet, writer, playwright, artist and performer, Levchin spent much of his life in Kiev, where he was part of the highly influential group of authors known as the Metarealists. In 1991, he moved to Chicago. The author of five books, he has also participated in numerous international festivals and projects that explore boundaries between the arts. Levchin is the editor of the bilingual journal REFLECT / KUADUSESHCHT. Nellika Little is a former Alaska resident currently based in New York, with interspersed wanderings where she searches out the familiar in the unfamiliar. She was raised in Afghanistan and continues to do humanitarian and development work internationally. Most of her photos featured in this issue are from Mongolia in early 2013. Olga Livshin’s poetry and translations have appeared in Jacket, Mad Hatters’ Review, and other journals. She taught Russian at the University of Alaska Anchorage for four years and was recently appointed the Head of the Russian Language Program at Boston University. My name is Blake Love. I live in Portland, Oregon and I walk a lot. I like the way the sky looks when it is sliced by architecture. Marie Lundstrom is a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing student at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She works part time as an editor of National Guard magazine articles. John Lyle lived and taught in Kaltag from 1980-1985. He then moved to Fairbanks where he completed studies in counseling and guidance at UAF and worked as an elementary school counselor for 15 years. He’s presently working as gardener in residence at The Center for the Study of Something, which at first may seem trivial but upon closer inspection takes on global significance. Linda Infante Lyons has a degree in biology from Whitman College, Walla Walla WA and studied art in Chile at the Vina del Mar Fine Arts School. She has been painting and showing her work for 15 years. Her work is part of the Anchorage Museum’s Contemporary Alaska Artists Permanent Collection and she was recently awarded a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award.
Vo l . 4 N o . 2 David McElroy lives in Anchorage. He has been published previously in Cirque and in national journals. His book of poems is called Making It Simple. He works in the Arctic as a pilot and travels widely with his photographer wife, Edith. Donna Mack - Many decades ago Donna was awarded a NEA fellowship and later earned a MFA at UAA, Anchorage. She served on the board of the Alaska State Council of the Arts as well as the Anchorage Arts Council. Donna helped judge the Anchorage Daily News annual writers’ contest for several years and was an editorial reader for Alaska Quarterly Review. Her short stories, reviews and poetry have appeared in several publications including Essence, The Alaskan Quarterly Review, The American Bee Journal and most recently Cirque. Over the years Donna participated in workshops, readings and conferences with writers such as Alice Walker and Maxine Hong Kingston. Terry Martin is an English Professor at Central Washington University. She has published over 250 poems, articles, and essays, and has edited journals, books, and anthologies. Her second book of poems, The Secret Language of Women, was published by Blue Begonia Press in 2006. She lives in Yakima, Washington—The Fruit Bowl of the Nation.
Ten Poets, but is embracing the rich B’ham literary scene. Bill Noomah - I am an elementary school teacher and professional storyteller in Homer, Alaska and have been living in Alaska for twentynine years. I am the winner of the 2012 Kenai Peninsula Writing Contest in poetry. Monica O’Keefe paints both distant vistas and close-up views of the natural world, using color and detail to illustrate her feelings about the outdoors around us. Getting outdoors is important to her artistic process, and it is while hiking that she comes up with many of her inspirations and concepts for paintings. A big road trip around the West and maybe headed North is where she’s at now. Peter Porco is a writer, actor, teacher and journalist living in Anchorage, Alaska. Doug Pope grew up in Alaska and has been writing short stories and poems since high school in Fairbanks. More recently, his poems have appeared in 50 Poems for Alaska, and in Vol. 1, No. 1 of Cirque. His stories, in collaboration with artist Angela Ramirez, have appeared in the Vol. 1, No. 2, and Vol. 2, No. 1 issues of Cirque. He lives in Hope with his wife Beth.
Carmen Maldonado-Patrick lives and writes in Anchorage, AK. Katie Medred was born and raised in Alaska, but over the years she’s had the good fortune of calling Olympia, WA; Santa Fe, NM; Reno, NV and Portland, OR “home,” at one point or another. Medred currently resides in Anchorage where she writes and contributes photography for the online news magazine “Alaska Dispatch” and “Beat and Pulse, Alaska,” a music blog focused on the state’s budding indie music scene. Kate Miller has lived in Bellingham, WA since 1997 and teaches English composition, Native American Literature, and creative writing at Whatcom Community College. She is an avid reader and has written all of her life in multiple genres; including poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction. She is currently taking a memoir class with other fantastic Northwest writers. Mary Mullen is a writer, teacher, mother and poet who was born in Anchorage and raised in Soldotna. She currently lives in Galway, Ireland. Zephyr, Mary’s first collection, was published by Salmon Poetry in 2010. She is working on a second poetry collection and a memoir. Sharon Lask Munson is the author of the chapbook, Stillness Settles Down the Lane (Uttered Chaos Press, 2010) and a full-length book of poems, That Certain Blue (Blue Light Press, 2011). She publishes widely in literary journals and anthologies. She lived in Anchorage, Alaska from 1969-1989.
Angela Ramirez is an edgy artist and blogger who gets around winter and summer on her bicycle and publishes “Life in Spenard: One artist, one bike and a love of the human skull” at lifeinspenard.wordpress.com/ Dr. Julius Rockwell Jr. is a 94-year old New Englander and an alumnus of Phillips Andover, University of Michigan, the Naval Academy, U. of Cal., Berkeley, and the University of Washington. He has worked as a naval Officer at Sea, as a salmon researcher in Alaska, electronic R&D in Seattle, oceanographic instrumentation in DC, the Pipeline Construction, taught at APU, organized cave exploration in Alaska, served on the Board of the Anchorage Waterways Council, and is starting to write poetry, plays and his life’s stories. ”Fudge Theory” was performed as a play in 2013. Julius is a Fellow in the National Speleological Society and the Marine Technology Society. He has 34 publications including several patents. Born in 1970 in Chicago, Andromeda Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction. Her first novel, The Spanish Bow, was translated into eleven languages and was chosen as a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year. Her second novel, The Detour, set in 1938 Italy and Munich, was published in 2012 by Soho Press. Andromeda lives with her husband and children in Anchorage, Alaska, where she co-founded a nonprofit literary organization, the 49 Alaska Writing Center. She is an associate faculty member of the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Anchorage Alaska. Eva Saulitis’ most recent book is Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas. Her poems, reviews and essays have appeared in numerous magazines, including Orion, Crazyhorse, and Ecotone. She teaches in the UAA Low-Residency MFA program.
Nahaan (Vaughn Eide) is a of the Tlingit tribe of South East Alaska. He is of the Dakh’laweidí clan of Klukwan. He belongs to Keet Gooshí hít the killerwhale fin house. His grandfather’s people are the Inupiaq. His father’s people are the Paiute and the Haida. His outer shell are the Lukaaxh.adí. He is a dedicated learner of the Tlingit language, way of thought, protocols, songs, stories and carvings. He is a native rights activist, and co-founder of the 2.5 year running “Woosh Kinaadeiyí” poetry slam in Juneau Alaska and currently resides in Ketchikan, Alaska. He enjoys the combination of coconut and anything.
Betty Scott Betty Scott lives in Bellingham, WA, where she is at work on a second book of poems and a collection of essays. Her poems have won awards and appeared in regional and on-line publications in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.
Sheila Nickerson, a former Alaska Poet Laureate, lives in Bellingham, Washington.
Tom Sexton’s latest book is Bridge Street at Dusk, Loom Press, 2012. He was Alaska’s poet laureate from 1995 until 2000.
Joe Nolting recently moved to Bellingham, WA, after spending the past 35 years in Alaska. He misses the Alaskan writing community, especially
Nathan Shafer is a speculative media artist, digital storyteller and educator from Alaska. He is currently one of the Art House Residents
96 at Out North where he produced the Exit Glacier AR Terminus Project. Recently, he received a Rasmuson Award to turn the unrealized EPCOT of the North, Seward’s Success, into an augmented reality work. (It was supposed to be the world’s first domed city). He received his MFA from Rutgers in 2008. Since then he has founded the Institute for Speculative Media, which develops new media curriculum and large-scale mixed reality art projects in the Arctic Regions. He lives in Anchorage. Marla Sloan lives in Victoria where she stares at the sea and writes poetry. She believes that one is a new person every day, so all things are possible. She believes in peace and children and the natural world. She’s also the co-creator and designer of Mediator in a Box, a conflict resolution tool for two. It’s on the web. Dawnell Smith lives in Anchorage, works at an art house, skates on four wheels, and writes whenever she can. Coleman Stevenson’s first collection of poems, The Accidental Rarefication of Pattern #5609, was published by bedouin books in 2012. Her poems have also appeared a variety of journals including E-ratio, Seattle Review, Mid-American Review, Louisiana Literature, and Burnside Review. She now lives in Portland, Oregon, where she teaches design students about poetry, cultural communication, and word/image collaboration. Kaz Sussman is a curmudgeon recently ensnared by the full moon. He has been a carpenter and disaster response worker, and lives in a home he has built in Oregon from abandoned poems. His work is available or forthcoming in Caduceus, Boston Literary Magazine, Kingpin Chess, Raven Chronicles, Nimrod International Journal, From Here We Speak (Anthology of Oregon Poetry), Bacopa Literary Review, Misfit Quarterly, and Gastronomica among other publications. James P. Sweeney has had stories published in the Anchorage Press, The Anchorage Daily News, Alpinist Magazine, Alaska Dispatch and Cirque Literary Journal to name a few. He’s read his stories on KSKA, KZFR, and KEUL Public Radio stations. Jim also starred in Alaska Avalanche, the finale of Discovery Channel’s hit series, I Shouldn’t be Alive. His fall, injury and ensuing epic of survival are Alaskan legend and the motivating force behind his drive as a writer. James P. Sweeney has many stories to tell. Mary Ellen Talley’s poems have most recently been published in Main Street Rag, Windfall Poetry of Place, Redheaded Stepchild, Cascade, Switched-On-Gutenberg and DRASH: A Northwest Mosaic. She works with words and children as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) in the Seattle Public Schools. Carey Taylor is a former school counselor, who now lives and writes on Bainbridge Island. When not worrying about earthquakes she enjoys walking, traveling and eating seafood. Her poems have appeared in Cirque and Brevity Poetry Review. One of her poems was recently selected by the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council for their annual “Poetry Corners” contest. Steve Taylor works as Behavior Analyst in group homes throughout California’s Central Valley to support his hunting and fishing habits. Jim Thiele worked as a photographer for a biological text book company for several years, before moving to Alaska in 1974. He has worked for The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the University of Alaska as a biologist, but now is a financial advisor in private practice. His photographs have been seen in several publications, including Alaska Magazine and Alaska Geographic. He lives in Anchorage with his wife Susan. Taking photos forces him to stop and really see the world.
CIRQUE Jim Thielman lives in Richland, Washington and writes poetry while watching the Columbia River from his home. For inspiration, he rides his bike beside the river or other bodies of water and reads and ponders the distance between himself and the infinitely small and infinitely large spaces within and without. Jeff Vande Zande teaches English at Delta College. His books of fiction include Emergency Stopping and Other Stories (Bottom Dog Press), the novel Into the Desperate Country (March Street Press), the novel Landscape with Fragmented Figures (Bottom Dog Press) and Threatened Species and Other Stories (Whistling Shade Press). His most recent book is a novel entitled American Poet, which won the Stuart and Vernice Gross Award for Excellence in Writing by a Michigan Author and a Michigan Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan. He maintains a website at www.jeffvandezande.com. David Wagoner has published 20 books of poems, most recently After the Point of No Return (Copper Canyon Press, 2112). He has also published ten novels, one of which, The Escape Artist, was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He won the Lilly Prize in 1991, six yearly prizes from Poetry, two yearly prizes from Prairie Schooner, and the Arthur Rense Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. In 2007, his play First Class was given 43 performances at A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for 23 years. He edited Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002, and he is professor emeritus of English at the U. of Washington. He teaches at the low-residency MFA program of the Whidbey Island Writers Workshop. Emily Wall is a poet and Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. She has been published in a number of literary journals in the U.S. and Canada. She has two books of poetry, Liveaboard (2012) and Freshly Rooted (2007) both published by Salmon Poetry. Liza Williams - Liza is currently a PhD Candidate in the Department of American Studies at New York University and is residing in Honolulu, Hawaii. She was born and raised on the island of O’ahu and after spending most of her graduate program in New York City, she has returned to Hawai’i to complete the research for her dissertation on Native Hawaiian Politics. She has previously published a poem in the NYU journal Anamesa and a book review in the North American Congress on Latin America Report (NACLA). Paul Winkel is a retired engineer who lives in Eagle River. His work previously appeared in Cirque, Understory, and the anthologies 50 Poems For Alaska, Braided Streams, and Liberty’s Vigil, 99 Poems From The 99%. Tonja Woelber is a member of the collaborative group “Ten Poets.” She has lived in Anchorage for 31 years, enjoying the mountains in all weathers. Her favorite poets are Anna Akhmatova, Sylvia Plath and Tu Fu. After living years in Anchorage, Kate Worthington takes pictures on streets and in nature whenever and wherever she feels compelled, as a thief of small images. Title credits to Josh Nairn-Mahan. Changming Yuan, 4-time Pushcart nominee and author of Allen Qing Yuan, holds a PhD in English and tutors in Vancouver, where he edits Poetry Pacific at poetrypacific.blogspot.ca. Yuan’s poetry appears in 609 literary publications across 23 countries, including Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Cirque, Exquisite Corpse, KNOCK, Hawaii Review, Portland Review, Santa Clara Review and World Literature Today.
Photo Opposite: Kimberly Davis
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Buy Cirque at University of Alaska/Anchorage Bookstore, Homer Books (Homer, AK), Cover to Cover Books (Seward, AK), and New Renaissance Books (Portland, OR).
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 invites emerging and established writers living in the North Pacific Rim— Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia and Chukotka—to submit short stories, poems, creative nonfiction, translations, plays, reviews of first books, interviews, photographs, and artwork for Cirque’s Winter Solstice 2013 Issue. Issue #9—Winter Solstice 2013 Submission Deadline: September 21, 2013
Submission Guidelines: • Eligibility: you were born in, or are currently residing in, or have previously • • • • •
lived for a period of not less than 5 years in the aforementioned North Pacific Rim region. Poems: 4 poems MAX Fiction, Nonfiction, Plays: 12 pages MAX Artwork: 10 images MAX accepted as hi-res email attachments (jpegs) suitable for production (1 mb or greater). Bio: 1-3 sentences MAX. Contact Info: Make sure to keep your contact email current and be sure that it is one that you check regularly. If your contact information changes, make sure to inform us at Cirque. To ensure that replies from Cirque bypass your spam filter and go to your inbox, add Cirque to your address book.
• Electronic Submissions Only • Attach a Word document to your email (preferred) or imbed submission text • •
within the body of the email (not preferred); use 12pt font in a common, easy to read typeface (Times, Arial, etc.) Subject Line of your email should read: “Poetry Submission,” “Fiction Submission,” “Play Submission,” “Non-fiction submission,” etc. Replies average two to three months, and we don’t mind you checking with us about your submissions. Please Send Inquiries and Submissions to: email@example.com Submission Guidelines also at: http://www.cirquejournal.com/submittocirque.shtml
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim VO LUM E 4 , N O. 2