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© 2010 by Mike Burwell, Editor Cover photograph by Jim Thiele Design and composition: Paxson Woelber
ISSN 2152-6451 ISSN 2152-4610 (online) Published by
Chipmunk Press Anchorage, Alaska
www.cirquejournal.com All future rights to material published in the Cirque are retained by the individual authors and artists. Portrait of “Pirate” Mike by Brenda Doucette
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CI R Q U E A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 2 No. 1
Winter Solstice 2010
From the Editor:
I am happy to announce the new Andy Hope Literary Award, the brainchild of writer Vivian Faith Prescott. Vivian co-directs Raven’s Blanket, a non-profit based in Wrangell, Alaska, whose mission is to enhance and perpetuate the cultural wellness and traditions of indigenous peoples through education, media, and the arts, and to promote artistic works throughout Alaska of both Native and nonNative Alaskans. Andy Hope, an influential Alaska Native political activist and writer of prose and poetry, died after a brief battle with cancer in 2008 at the age of 58. The $100 annual award will go to an author of prose or poetry published in Cirque. The first recipient, chosen from the first three issues of Cirque, will be announced in the Summer Solstice 2011 issue. One of our special submissions came last summer at the First Annual Cirque Fundraiser Barbeque at Lila Voigt’s house in Spenard, Alaska.
Andy Hope. Clan Conference, Klukwan, Alaska, 1993. Sergei Kan photo.
Her granddaughter Arial Collins read her poem out loud to those assembled and officially submitted it to Cirque. Arial loves words and sees and feels her world with true poetic discernment. Here is her submission “Walking With Nature”:
Mike Burwell, Editor
Anchorage, Alaska, Winter Solstice 2010
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Volume 2 No. 1
Winter Solstice 2010
Sally Albiso Jean Anderson Trish Barnes John Baalke Kirsten Anderson Miriam Beck Clifton Bates Pete Bogart Cindy Bell Randol Bruns Marilyn Borell Vic Cavalli Debbie Cutler Geordie de Boer Jason Elsert J. Ramsey Golden Phil Gruis Jim Hanlen Robyn Lynn Comes-Holloway Carol Hult Ted Jean Michael Lee Johnson Robert Hill Long Janet Levin Sandra Kleven John Morgan Keith Moul Ron McFarland David McElroy Buffy McKay John McKay Anne Carse Nolting Joe Nolting Amy Otto Deborah Poore Timothy Pilgrim Doug Pope Kate Rhodes Bob Ritchie Cassandra Rockwood-Rice Leslea Smith
Ravens Rolling in Snow 7 Roma: St. Louis, 1947 8 Winter 8 So Many Miles of Coast 9 Stolen Sun 9 To the Hunter 10 Jacob Made Cold 10 Haiku 11 A Young Guitarist Downtown on Solstice Weekend 11 Those Images Inaccessible To My Pen 11 Evaporated Jesus 12 Foster Daughter 13 To a Daughter Conceived While Doing Time 13 Melody 14 Still Life with Chainsaw 15 Big Lake 15 Approaching Lindisfarne 16 Postponing penance 16 They think you’re miserable 17 Iraqi Bird Census 18 My mother sketches a nude for Marlene & Jack 19 My grandma, the pimp 19 In the still of winter 20 Ashes of Love 20 Caricature of an Early Planter: Edmonton, Alberta, 1978 20 Song of the West 21 The Only Thing I Know Now 21 Bridges 22 Two Views of the Wreckage 24 American Taliban 24 Taking Words Out of His Mouth 25 Hemingway’s Yo-yo Tricks 25 Pall Bearers 26 Volcanoes in the Window 26 What I Thought I Left Behind 27 Doogle David 28 12:21 29 Numbers Game 30 Bridge to Nowhere 31 Fini 31 Letter found on a flash drive near the British Columbia border 31 Arctic Char 32 When Perennials Overcame the Esker at Mamalilaculla 34 Time Frames 35 The Guys of Geography: an Address 35 Alaska Reverie 36
David Stallings Michael Spring Keli Stafford Nichole Taylor Doris Horton Thurston Elizabeth L Thompson Demi Trezona James Valvis John Sibley Williams Paul Winkel Nicole Stellon O’Donnell Vivian Faith Prescott
Pose reclamation Kafka on the wall Blackout The Gamers on the Bus Wilderness Morning Looking for Larry Envelopes Fire and Love Sleepless Harbor Survey Report Infidelity The Dead Go To Seattle
36 36 37 37 38 38 38 39 40 40 41 41 42
Pickle Days (Revisited): A One-Act Play
Plastic Christmas Washy, Washy Girl Stuffed Copper River Red: Your Mother’s Recipe in 13 Steps Women Picking Berries Fall Capacious Our House Devil’s Club Chronicle Cabin Fever Into the Promised Land North of Sixty: A Writer’s Journey
58 59 61 62 65 72 73 74 76 78
Panther Three Unicorn Stories Long Tail Coverts I Don’t Care if I Never Get Back Men of the Woods Magpies- Black and White Green Dream Scenes Pieta
85 89 90 93 94 98 98 100
An Interview with authors Steve Kahn, The Hard Way Home, and Anne Coray, Violet Transparent
Play Mark Muro
Nonfiction Jim Sweeney Theresa Bakker Emily Schikora Susan Pope Shannon Huffman Polson Sara Loewen Linda Martin Jonna Laster Katie Eberhart Barry Zellen
Fiction Justin Hermann Beate Sigriddaughter Simon Langham Peter Porco Chris Scarrow Wayne Owen Sean Ulman Marjorie Kowalski Cole
Interview Lauren Stanford
Reviews and Excerpts Bill Sherwonit Mike Burwell Jeremy Pataky
Review of The Hard Way Home by Steve Kahn 109 Review of Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness, by Bill Sherwonit 110 Review of Inside, Outside, Morningside by Marjorie Kowalski Cole 114
Contributors Submit to Cirque
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POETRY Sally Albiso
Ravens Rolling in Snow
Ravens rolling in snow, tumble like dark winging stones,
Did you think you would rise with wet as you shiver with laughter,
black encroaching on white the way dreams trespass on morning.
the black nap of your coat darkening, pitching down a hillside,
I would lie in that coolness with birds, coast on wings
and you a whirlwind of limbs, running until your legs give way?
lifted by the skyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s pale beckoning. How you open your arms,
How you open your arms, lifted by the skyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s pale beckoning,
running until your legs give way, and you a whirlwind of limbs,
coast on wings. I would lie in that coolness with birds
pitching down a hillside, the black nap of your coat darkening
the way dreams trespass on morning, black encroaching on white,
with wet as you shiver with laughter. Did you think you would rise,
tumble like dark winging stones, ravens rolling in snow.
become a balloon of flesh, pulsing where light and distance converge, your head thrown back, mouth agape, your eyes t earing as if you mourn those birds rolling in snow, their dark joy akin to pain?
In snow, their dark joy akin to pain, those birds rolling, your eyes tearing as if you mourn, your head thrown back, mouth agape where light and distance converge, become a balloon of flesh pulsing.
Roma: St. Louis, 1947
Three things. First, Roma. From the attic window, we stare down at their caravan like a picture from a storybook: a covered wagon magically dropped into the bare weedy lot behind my cousins’ three-story brick house. It’s almost dusk, and an old woman in a flowing and flowery long red skirt bends over a huge pot on the ground, stirring -- cooking food with no stove; my cousins say that. Children dart, hop, play among dark-skinned men wearing odd hats, bright scarves, and a few more women, younger, maybe mothers -- but so glowing, so dark-skinned. I’m six-and-a-half. It’s Grand Avenue, the near north side by the old water tower, Spring I believe, and the War’s ended. My cousins are grownups and Joy’s saying she loves Zane Gray: What a writer! Or was it Dee? Yes. I’ll be the flower girl in Dee’s wedding soon, so I’ve promised not to skin my knees anymore. Until after: Dee insists. But the sound of that strange name -- Zane, with its bee’s sting -- gives the second light in this slow unfolding, a word nearly as thrilling as the gypsies. Best is the third, gypsy moth of my future: to see, to hear for sure than an adult, too, can live for those shimmering worlds called into being by books. This last bit of memory’s bright triptych that’s outlived Dee still gives me chills.
Outside— just a window and some way-back branching of evolution between us— a mule deer roots at the butt of the apple tree. Strange year, 2009, when leaves did not fall but blackened and stuck there, all for the few this deer searches under for fruit. The master rancher told us ungulates know precisely when to eat all gestures of green. And science confirms nutrient saturation just as dark lips rip out each expression in its turn from the bracing growth of spring. Now it’s December. Black bags of apple wine stay pinned to branches in the air. The deer roots for nothing this year.
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Today the sun came up lying across the slack jawbone of the mountains. It surprised me, the hit to the eye at 10:30am, its shock brightness like a warming fire Jason Mercer
So Many Miles of Coast
You tell me to be careful as I eat my pan-seared halibut because you’ve found small bones in your salmon filet. You are seated beside me, yet so many miles of coast still lie between us: Searose Beach, Cape Sebastian, Mendocino—
except it had no warmth. It was the first time it graced an appearance in weeks, the ravens’ down stretching midnight thick over the skies of arctic morning for so long. And for you, I wanted to take this light, bent at the wrist, its hand a shallow tent over the city, and keep its frozen paradox from the return of their beaks.
the places you will travel through, somatic markings that will settle in your memory, make you who you are. The pink salmon on your plate fed in the wide Pacific, then returned to the coast to find its home waters; and now it becomes you with every bite— fork in your right hand, laying aside the tiny pin-bones, words formed out of sheer breath— telling me to be careful.
To the Hunter
Lay out your bait and step back with your knife. Watch as shadows trace the earth’s rotation. You and your quarry circle in this life— Twin paths seek a destination.
Jacob Made Cold
When I awoke the atmosphere was murky. Not bright and clear, shades of white or gray: no sun, no rain. It was murky. Film covered. No matter the actual weather.
Now, at night I can leap only so high before the hidden magnets bring me back down to earth. Something to get used to, and I have. But they release me at dawn to skim across the land like in an impossible dream. The tundra is a huge expanse. I spring and glide and land Let temptation draw him nearer. amongst the willows. Snowy, icy, wet, spongy, or summer dry The softening shadows feed his courage. tundra, it is all the same: wind or no wind. No matter to me. The surface of the blade is mirrored-- But Fate gleams on the sharpened edge. My fingernails grow and curl; my hair is long, thick and matted. I don’t feel the cold, the chill of the wind, the rain, the The softening shadows free his courage. summer heat. I am impervious. I need no sustenance. Water He feels the power of the earth’s great spin. disappears in my mouth. I am always thirsty. I am visible, but Let your awareness hone your weapon’s edge. animals pay me no mind. I am as sharp as a fox and awake to Breathe in his exhaled breath as he steps in. everything. Gain the power of the earth’s great spin, Travelers spot me. But I bound away and quickly vanish. Live briefly in the grace of purpose. As you exhale and plunge the weapon in, Branches in the few tall trees are good perches. Effortlessly I Two forms reflect from its bright surface. leap up and perch. And watch. It doesn’t matter now if I am occasionally spied. Live briefly in the grace of purpose. You and your quarry circle through this life, I have become feral. Too much time has gone by without Twin reflections on a gleaming surface— receiving what I have needed: human touch. Lay bait, stand back, and wait to feel the knife. Furtive creatures have begun looking my way: they see me now and pay me mind. But I have stopped looking for the entrance. I realize I am caught in the cold fold, and I understand this might mean forever. Wait as shadows trace the earth’s rotation. The bait’s aroma pulls him nearer. Twin paths approach a destination-He’ll glimpse your blade as his last mirror.
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It’s a perfect spring Most cherry blossoms ever Oh where is Basho?
A Young Guitarist Downtown On Solstice Weekend He sang a chorus ending with “aqui,” his melody bright as the reflection of metal on passing cars outside the window, each strum of fingers on wire magnified in the acoustic terminal until the transit cop wearing black pants tucked into military boots said, “You can’t do that here man, outside, but not here,” and it was then I realized what Anchorage lacks, each strum of his fingers then extinguished into dampened air, the silence reverberating in this city’s hollow heart.
Those Images Inaccessible To My Pen I can only tell you of the time I washed the dishes, the summer after he raped me; the sink was filled with suds, and I plunged my hand into the fragile form of a tall, cylindrical glass that shattered, cutting a gash through my middle knuckle. Blood streamed into the dirty dishwater while I reached for the roll of paper towels, which staunched the flow by pressure of wad to split knuckle. The next day, butterfly band-aid in place, I donned my sixty-five pound backpack, gripped the six-pound Pulaski with the injured hand, and hiked miles into the Marble Mountain Wilds for a six day hitch. Each strike of this axe tore apart sticky platelets, but I barely felt the rip of new flesh each time I swung first from the right, then the left, and again from the right, chopping a groove through dead wood, clearing a new path for myself.
I went to town to buy a sink and ended up in Vietnam. It’s funny how that happens. The “Associate” in the Kitchen Department, who is in charge of selling sinks, tells me his story about being in the Navy for 2 tours, after trying to get out of the draft by claiming he was a Quaker. A Quaker? But the local draft board, made up of his neighbors, would have none of it because they all knew him from childhood. All I am trying to do is buy a sink, I think do I really need to listen to your story? But I listen, because I am polite and also strangely interested in what my Associate has to say. I want a sink, stainless steel no faucet, just the sink yet I can’t help but think of the 2 and a half million Vietnamese, dead the 55 thousand US soldiers’ lives, all Evaporated, Jesus what were we thinking?
Personally, I am thankful, the Army overlooked me, in their mad search for warm bodies while I was “hanging” at the University sorta studying sorta, you know what I mean. I mean, the US Army left me alone for which I am eternally grateful that my name is not on that black marble wall in Washington, DC. Now, I know how noble it is to die for King and country: flag, honor, courage etc., but I wonder, how many of those whose lives were extinguished in Vietnam, now wandering in gray haze of eternity, would give anything for a single day to walk the empty isles of this Home Depot marveling, at the mystery of so many colorful sinks? Brenda Roper
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I waited until nap time to pack your things, knelt for strength, cried like a baby. You stared as I stowed familiar toys in the station wagon, sat mute in your car seat, an animal cracker in each hand. Your mother’s apartment charmed you while I hauled stuffed animals, bags of clothing. Vic Cavalli Looking back, this goodbye was easy. When I returned in a week with the last of your clothes, you clung to me like static. I had to push you back inside, closing the door like a too full suitcase. Epiphanies are rare in jail, but As the sun was setting in mid-February in 1974 Dangerous men were looking out the library window When suddenly in the distance They saw the heavy sheeting rain cut off And a thick shaft of sunlight push back the clouds And a fresh gush of golden light hover At the edge of the far-off skyline. Then darkness began to close back in Until a thrust of wind opened a narrow entrance And an intense blood rose—its petals flaming—flashed Towards the concrete walls of the prison: The cement was illuminated—all of its imperfections and hand ball stains obvious, And then the flame narrowed into a single pink blossom of concentrated pure light, Its radiance softened and it dissolved into the night descending gently And warm around it—a great surge of energy relaxing into an exhausted embrace. All of the prisoners saw the vision and told me about it when I returned from my Weekend pass. It seemed an odd story but I listened. They had no reason to lie to me. And now, after 35 years and your recent emails I understand that what They saw was your conception. From 42 miles away my cell mates saw the love your mother and I shared in the Basement of that house in Vancouver where her DNA was braided with mine And you were ignited in our beautiful abyss.
To a Daughter Conceived While Doing Time
She hung herself While under suicide watch In the psychiatric ward During a shift change So they wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t notice That is not the Melody I want to remember I like the day she came to my house Two years ago Pink hat and fur coat Dancing to songs as she fried tofu Singing as I captured her On my digital camera Images meant for her new boyfriend Broad smile and warm heart Loving, living
Excited about her new love Who bought her a New Yearâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Eve dress Black, red and sexy She tried it on Singing la, la, la While dancing a jig As the camera rolled That was a year before they crushed her spirit Labeled her a woman of sin For living with him Cast out by some in her church family And the lives of those who claimed to love her Even her sons and daughters She loved God more than life itself But died not believing In amazing grace Anymore Janet Levin
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Geordie de Boer
Still Life with Chainsaw
It’s quiet out here, where the stillness of chainsaws deafens one to the haunting hoo-hoo of the nesting owl. Blue language wisps away into the depression grey sky above the Hard-Times Tavern, where discouraging words don’t change things, but for perspective, which stretches all the way from the pacific forests to the pacific sea.
On this boat, on this lake, the wind cools us. Men with their shirts off, women in bikinis. Coconut tanning oil, sweet ‘n sour, tequila, canned beers sweating their coolness to the sun. The loons look ahead and the ducks go under. As my brother steers we move slowly around this lake, its edges, the jagged skylines of car keys1 He opens another, turns up the radio, points to the fireworks over head and says, this one’s gonna burn for a long time.
David Berman. “Black and Brown Blues,” from the Silver Jews’ album, The
Natural Bridge, 1996.
J. Ramsey Golden
born of sky so sharp it cuts itself and bleeds pink-green light on coasts of frosted shoal on labyrinths of ice and stone they emerge from fog air hisses across their skin keeping breath with the oars muscles tighten reach creak of leather wood the ocean’s bearing shoulders narrow broaden narrow closing in they slow slither-slow and cease
Please direct me to the person (or other entity) to whom (or which) I may confess. And my confession is this: I am not sucking up my share of this world’s miseries.
they drift silence holds the sky above conspiracies of wind hushing pines along the shore they wait oars aloft the ocean trembles smoke trickles from the horizon seeps into a gloaming sky steel stirs against their thighs their oars fin-faithful sink then surface fast falling drum steady rise gleaming dripping silver plunge toward shore
I’m not sick, broke, incarcerated or foreclosed upon. Can’t get laid off – haven’t had a job in years. I am loved by a woman and a dog and I’m not widely detested – if only because I’m not widely known. I have pills, and the list of things about which I don’t give a shit magically grows longer each day. Sorry about all this – but in my next life I promise to make myself miserable, and others as well.
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They think you’re miserable
A squall is thrashing up the lake. Alone in your cabin you step outside among the swooping bats to revel in that first savage blast that panics the trees and swallows the air. Over your shoulder, through the window – a face! It’s yours. It hovers, cruelly furrowed, more droopy than you’d thought, and sickly green. The others know this to be the pallor of loneliness. Your ghostly phosphorescence – riven with shadows like a lost planet – proves to them your despair. You hear them cluck in incredulity and reproach. They are mostly pink and fleshy and mean well, but these people hoot along with canned laughter, read their insurance policies, obsess over lawns. What they say, they say incessantly, electronically, to ever-more people who aren’t listening.
They’re busy propping up their claim to be busy because they can’t imagine what they’d do if they weren’t. Busyness would make you less pathetic, they hint. Draw you back from the void. And it might improve your pallor. But trading hoo-hoo hoo-hoos with a barred owl doesn’t qualify as busy. Nor does exercising the canoe. Your waggling of fingers at a keyboard is discounted because they see no results. You talk mostly to the dogs. You do the dishes and watch for bears. You don’t try to explain peace – though you believe it requires loons, and the absence of straight lines and small gasoline engines. As rain spatters, quick-step back inside, sit down and write – words that even they will heed – in the light cast through the old emerald shade of the lamp that’s lit your desk forever.
Iraqi Bird Census
2002 Mesopotamia birds are old. Oldest. Label them Assyrian or Babylonian, it really makes no difference. They’re all descended from Eden, where birds were too many to count. Summer on the Euphrates, winter at the Tygris. Why would you leave? Today they’re ascending to heaven the one day we count scripture. 2004 We count the foolish ones. There are only the smart ones and the foolish. These are wild times. Smart birds have left. The foolish are on the fence, gawking, hanging on and shitting. The foolish sing at every little thing: parades, women with dripping buckets, explosions that look like sunrise and need some kind of song. The foolish are happy to take the left-over bread, the soiled lamb and the rotted secrets under uniforms. 2005 Sometimes they’re counted twice. When you see them here they’re Shia. Over that wall over there they’ll be Sunni. But fat chance, they’ve turned off the water. And do you see any trees? What you’re hearing is American music, the drive-by kind. The ones, those overhead, headed east, how many would you say, they’ll be counted again. Dress them up as Kurds the Turks will see them as Turks. No Kurdistan, no birds, some days, birds are more than birds.
2006 Not many. Not as many as you’d expect. The male birds the ones that sing in old Persian have been run off. Those birds that seem to fly above it all they’re not from Iraq. The sleek ones are from those high rises in Abu Dhabi, the rest from the Emirates probably wintering in Turkey and Greece. If you flew over Baghdad, checked out those courtyards only a few shade trees left, those black birds walking around look like lost ladies in burqas.
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Robyn Lynn Comes-Holloway
My mother sketches a nude for Marlene & Jack
Colin and his old lady strip naked (he laughs under his breath, she whispers), light up a joint to ease their excitement, tangle themselves on an old chaise. My mother arranges her pastels on the pallet to her left, clenches a charcoal pencil between her teeth, and pins her hair on top her head while Colin and his old lady try not to fuck. She sets her easel and pulls a quick drag and, while Colin and his old lady still try not to do it, warms her oils on the bodies in her head: muscular hands … curved bellies…. My mother has drawn a thousand naked Christs as though His pain were sexy, but flinches at these two, stoned and giggling. Colin trying hard to remain still. To relax. Mother had invited Jack & Marlene to voyeur from the barn door shadows her mastery at scrubbing crayon lines into thin fleshy shapes and not the swelling between Colin and his old lady. These moments she forgets herself, has forgotten Colin and his old lady in their own act of creation, succumbing to the tension of their stillness, moving the way naked lovers and artists move.
My grandma, the pimp
She shows up one day with a Liz Taylor knock off. Synthetic Liz looks so much like the original that she rarely pays for gas, caviar, dinners at Chasen’s. But she does buy men. And she wants to buy my dad. “You can pay rent and buy groceries,” grandma tells my mother. Bastard Liz is perfectly coifed. Her dyed black hair sexy, messy, restrained by a gaudy white scarf. Grandma pretends not to hear the shock, pain in my mother’s voice, strains for any sound of yes from my dad. Liz glistens with large fake rocks, fake gems, gold plate. Glass and metal dangle from her ears, neck, wrists, and ankles. Her eyes, painted with thick Egyptian lines, are real, the color of guest room hand soap carved into sea shells. Her gauzy kaftan floats as she circles my dad, eyes him like he’s a new handbag. She smirks, “I’ll take him.”
In the still of winter
I drop to the center of an unforgiving island, cloaked in rain, fog, storm, held numb in place by a cold fact of latitude. It is not the black of night. It is the gray of day. Absence of color shuts down the eyes. The axis inside holds steady but fools the body. Everything is stuck. I cannot climb out. The best I can do is touch the walls around me and keep breathing.
Ashes of Love
You may have seen photos of the couple disinterred from the ash at the foot of Etna, turned to one another, arms and ankles twined, eyes lifted and locked, electric, empty sockets speaking sonnets out of shadow orbit and torus of bleached bone. Their fossil knees cannot quite touch, as they did at the instant of their deaths, when they apparently recognized the magnificent final opportunity of that carbon monoxide tide before the fiery rain. How could they have guessed, and posed the perfect preservation of their testament to rapture, or did they care?
Michael Lee Johnson
Caricature of an Early Planter Edmonton, Alberta, 1978 He is a gardener with a spyglass. With an ice pick cavities are chopped out of the earthâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s torpid mouth, dry seeds are packed in with frostbitten fingertips. He rakes his yard clear of all snow in winter so green blades of grass will pop through frozen earth. He will weed, thin his garden early. He is a realist; he writes poetry also.
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21 Robert Hill Long
Song of the West
In camp she was drinking a wine from Languedoc. The checked oilcloth reddened with sunset calming the north Pacific a few steps west and she was content to celebrate another equinox
she ought to place a personal ad ( oenophile desired) or adopt a greyhound. It was then she heard oc oc oc in redwoods overhead: raven’s goodbye to the sun hissing in the cold blue well
here, the mosquitoes killed by predictable weather like her dog-month frets about premature white hair, joint pain, living out the long coastal nights debating whether
to the west. Langue d’oc, she sang, tongue of the west, and drank its blood, and let night cup her breast.
The Only Thing I Know Now for Dennis Phone in hand, hot sun on the deck, I imagine with him, through his eyes, through the years, the ‘50s landscape he remembers now through cloudy eyes, same time of year as now but no time then to sit in unseasonable heat and, least of all, tan. He’s nearly ninety now, changes tires by touch, switches out the tractor’s mower, installs the snowplow with not enough sight but plenty of tactile memory imbedded in fifty-plus homesteader years. The independent living lady came today, he says, and my heart skips, wondering if his wife has lost more ground. Or maybe it’s him. There’s this newfangled product could help him check the dipstick, something about projecting an image on a screen big enough so he can see when to crack open a quart. She thinks she has one in the office. It means one more thing he can still do, still another normal task on the table.
There are spaces in our conversation, not awkward but his answers tell me he’s not hearing my questions, nor is he responding to my comments. It’s just me here, listening. But I don’t think I can plow this year, he says, my legs just won’t hold up. I hold the phone against my heart, close my eyes, lift the receiver, and tell him the only thing I know now, to me, the only thing that matters. I tell him—this Wyoming man whose parents leased land to grow crops when there was no money, no work this man who cowboyed until he flew fighter planes in the South Pacific, experimented on the Kenai with cattle, and wired it after the road was built. I tell him I love him.
I. To all you bigwigs, I have to ask How did you get to be so stupid? Don’t ask me because I sure don’t know. What do they teach you in those schools, anyway? They don’t teach common sense. I can tell you that much. Wouldn’t you know we’d get a new post office? Real nice for our hometown. Better than the one Bertha worked in that froze up all the time. Sure enough, a bunch of guys from the Lower 48 show up to build it, even though, last year, they trained our boys as carpenters. That’s okay. You get that all the time. Thing isthey built this bridge for the handicapped in wheelchairs. It crosses back and forth to help a person get up, maybe, six steps. Must have cost $10,000 with what they pay those boys from down states. We got no handicapped in wheelchairs here. But even if we did they wouldn’t be pushing themselves to the post office. They’d never make it. This village is all mud, everywhere and, in winter, snow and ice. Somebody would get the mail to save them a bum trip like that. No roads in or out, just the airstrip for small planes. We got no strangers showing up in wheelchairs wanting to mail a letter. Just officials who have big problems thinking straight and they don’t get no mail here. That ramp just sits there except sometimes used by kids with skateboards, or little kids running, falling. That metal grate has teeth that tears skin. There’s another one over there at the new Head Start building, two more at Traditional Council and city office. One hundred villages in Alaska, and each has four, maybe five, ramps for nobody. Big waste of money.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 II. Then you’ve got your Bering Sea land bridge, you know-- long time ago. Same thing. Somebody’s got a screw loose with that one. Where did they come up with that idea anyway? They must think we walk everywhere we go. We didn’t need no land bridge to get here from Siberia. We got boats in summer. Always did. We got sleds and dogs in winter when the Bering Sea is ice. How far do they think it is anyway? It’s not that far. Hell, I got relatives over there on the Russian side, right now. Do they think we trudged through the mud dragging our stuff behind? On a good day you can see all the way across that water. What is it, maybe, 58 miles? If you can go by boat why would you walk? Figure it out. Add to that the way we know ice --the way we read ice. Hell, water and ice never held us back. Not for a minute. Land bridge, phooey to that. I know what they did – them boys in Washington, or in some college. They never came out here to take a look. I could have taken them out there to size it up. They looked at a map and made something up That’s what they did. Holy cow!
23 Why didn’t you ask us natives before you came up with all this garbage? Now everybody’s got it wrong. Once you say something, they believe it and pass it on like fact. None of these young guys have the balls to say “Ridiculous!” Now, I’m not saying there was no land bridge way back when. Maybe there was. Who knows? I am saying it didn’t help with traveling. It would be a hindrance. How could we climb over mud and rocks, cliffs and landslides? Besides that all your greenery -- willows, snares and whatnot, bogs you can’t cross without a lot of trouble. More likely your bridge slowed us down as we came over, went back so many times, pulling sleds, hunting, fishing, whaling from skin boats, dying out there sometimes. It’s all home to us. It’s our back yard. And our graveyard, too, I guess. Can you see how it was back then or is your mind already made up? That’s the question I have for you. Can you listen to reason or not? What do they teach in those schools, anyway? Honest to God, I don’t know. Locks in stupidity, that’s what I think. Locks it right in.
Two Views of the Wreckage
for the artist, Kes Woodward
Janet Levin [Note: Climate change models show interior Alaska becoming dryer while coastal areas flood worldwide]
Kibitzing over your shoulder as you sketch those billowing clouds above the staved-in houseboat in its dried up slough, I sense the berrying bear that ambled by a day or two ago leaving this gritty substance, fear, like a pheromone, hanging there and there—and because we codgers share a wish to buck the laws of change and chance you cache the present scene while I flash on distant glittering Venice seen back when the band played gaudy Liszt and Beethoven and Sputnik shimmered over St Mark’s Square where now high waters climb the palace stair as ice-sheets thaw and toxic tides roll in.
Because of divorce he sought wholeness, because of affluence, poverty. Inflexible diversity drove him toward uniformity, though if he’d been truly violent, he’d have put on a uniform.
Drawn to his local mosque by the flatteries of prayer, he fell on his knees toward Mecca, and took up a new fidelity, then making his way to Yemen, joined in an antique reading
to fight. We saw him the other night, carried from the cellar of the bloody Afghan fortress and met our own confusion in his swooning, sleepless eyes, but hidden in their wounded animation, cocked grenades
of the text, which speeds from the Prophet’s hand straight to the eyes and heart of man. As hair and beard grew wild, he mixed with the sons of tribesmen, no longer a skittish child, and girded himself
beneath a turban, were the fateful words of Allah, merging camels and commotion, the Covenant and Gospels, donkeys drowned in swirling waters in the land-locked land of Omar, doubtful nation,
where devotion haunts the part of us we squander when we batten down or knuckle under and calls upon that goodness which created us in stages—called by us, like Noah, “God-possessed.”
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 Keith Moul
Taking Words Out of His Mouth They agreed she was no thief but surely she had taken the words out of his mouth, as though words were Christmas gifts disguised, fun for the unwrapping. But the holiday led quickly to winter dormancy, hard efforts in the face of snow, like the hunter, beyond hearing, and sighting only a single rabbit. Stowed securely in basements even ornaments most prized could break mysteriously.
Hemingway’s Yo-yo Tricks
We have it on reliable authority that Hemingway, sometime between A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, developed his hitherto unacknowledged skills (concealed, perhaps, within that meta phorical iceberg) with David Duncan’s new yo-yo. By ’34 Duncan was turning out the classic blue-and-red Imperial on the patent (the internet says) of Pedro Flores, an instrument to be reckoned with, and Papa, perhaps dodging butterflies and bombs and romancing a certain blonde in Madrid, entertained Dos Passos and others by spinning it around-the world, looping-the-loop, rocking-the-baby, walking-the-dog, kid’s stuff, he growled over the howl of blitzing Stukas, nothing compared to writing one true sentence. Jim Thiele
Volcanoes in the Window
Three women half my size help each other heft bags of sand at least their weight onto their backs. With tump lines across their foreheads, they lean into their steps. The scuffling of bare feet, their breath, and the whisper of hand-woven skirts is all you hear. Janet Levin
Shadows in the foyer condense to a woman who knows just what to do. She’s small, wears black of course, and one hand cups the other in the professional pose of not standing out. She sorts us by size: big, medium big, bigger. We follow her out to the hearse down chapel steps like obedient retrievers tracking the beautiful balls of her heels. She rolls the casket half way out, and we clump around. One with a torn rotator cuff switches sides, but she keeps us moving and smiles us into position for the lift which must be level up stairs, around doors, and in. There’s no ignoring the weight. The shrunken woman we imagine inside also smiling has this little job in mind, and we bend to this work and honor, clumsy but careful. Her face, the priest says composing his, was the map of Ireland. We wipe our eyes and sniff or laugh as stories from son and sister lead along her life from birth, family, something about work, and now this. Soon the professionals and organ lead us with this load of transfiguration, but it’s slow going for us, out and down the steps. Death may be light, but not the box it goes in, and we are such beginners.
With the kind of muscle that once built pyramids, all day they haul sand from the beach of the lake up hill to the expat’s house, five plots bought from locals, each deed signed with a thumbprint. The women labor through the gate of the wall they helped build to keep themselves out. Over stones of five homes men with shovels, not even a wheelbarrow, mix the sand with water and cement on the floor of the what will be the living room. “Go with Santos. He’s honest and takes care of everything,” the new owner says with new owner pride for the archeology he’s building. He shows me kitchen counters with bullnose tile, the terraced yard with tons of rock work, irrigation from the village creek. “They do good work for which I’m glad to pay with only here and there a mistake.” You have to admit the view over the wall of this paradise and the next takes your breath away. You have to admit you can afford this.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
What I Thought I Left Behind
Pomace stubbles the pint glass; cider apples September’s lavender air. I petition the gloaming night sky’s boiled dinner of bishops’ robes and marigolds, steeped until moonlight. The neverness of passage, the stippling of light: Waverly’s trains rumble over roaming ghosts dead from plague. My geisha geist wanders renovated precincts, tunnels between wet dusk and sea-salt dreams. After rain, sandstone buildings seem to breathe, clasp afternoon gold that fades to cold dun again. I thrill and warm as noisy gulls cross-hatch a purple sea. Spindle-twin to litter
in detritus of the tide, sea-glass glows in my hand, clutched all the way from Portobello Beach on the 34 beside muttering drunks. I bare my pith to bide and sidle in blue rain among mumbling trees, lochs shot with lightning. Livid across The Mound, a skyline blooms, kindles winter dark. Naked branch-tips natter at me. The old Indian man feeds me each Friday from chipped Delft, whispers secrets of the saffron, mourns neglectful children. I queue for the bus with my plenitude: Brussels sprouts, newspaper, hot bread. I rub the window’s filmy breath in time to cast the short round man in a baker’s hat, four clear, steaming bags of buns tight in each hand.
The sandy cliffs of my first kiss where the apple orchards meet Lake Michigan were left by unseen glaciers about the time, according to some creationists, the earth and all life were begat and began, left by Ice Age vandals who carved their marks in the deep woods for all to see: L.O. loves L.E., L.M + L.S. + L.H. — I heart Great Lakes. People whine about leaving nature as we find it, but without these, Carl Sandberg would have been one poem short of a load, the Edmund Fitzgerald would never have found its way home, I would not have found the Petoskey stone I gave your mother, or played football, barefoot in the hot sand, pure sand right the way down, pure as you will always be. I’m told since I went north to the future, a fence now cleaves the dune grass and our beach that Bob and Jim and Jay and I marked off with towels and suntan lotion goal posts, theirs and ours, and sports a sign dividing ours from the Palisades Nuclear plant, but I don’t know. Some things left behind stay whole in your mind. The cliffs of my advancing are seamed with coal. They overlook glaciers still retreating, with good cause I’m sure, and Kachemak Bay, teeming with life, where we came once, and your brothers and I still play. I was thinking about our trip today, as I look past the Spit toward Aurora Lagoon and the head of the bay. That long drive to Homer, the intolerable preparations. Your mother packed the cooler, while I stitched together her mother’s tatted lace napkin and my grandpa’s white hanky, with the little white on white M, long since rinsed of salty sweat from Saginaw’s foundry and sermons at St. Pete’s. Janet Levin
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 Little brother, middle brother you were, and then you weren’t. We watched your shape, your movement, and then we watched your shape —
Anne Carse Nolting
And when you would not come of your own accord, you were carved out by fingers of ice and as if your weight were not enough, I plucked from our flower bed a garnet-studded chunk from the Stikine’s banks that caught my eye long before your mother did – she had a name, too, Sue – and added it to your shroud, with the grainy rounded trapezoid that was your only baby picture, and carried you to the car for the five hour drive. It was not a day like today, brilliant and hopeful. It was a snotty September day, as Howard nosed the K-Bay dory out of the harbor, into the chop. The clouds became the waves that battered the bow with each swell that stood between us and halfway to Bear Cove and when it was right, but it never was, we let go, cut the motor, cut the cord, as you went overboard past jellyfish and dollies, puzzling Irish Lords and teasing otters until you landed among the halibut and dungies and fixed the center of our universe.
feathers, translucent, layered fronds, brittle breaths of dew, brilliant as sun sweeps sleeping snow fields; a season hence lush ferns replace glitter’s incandescence. Isangelous
I stab the fork into the flesh of last season’s salmon. A hollow voice on the television details the latest death toll in Afghanistan. It’s all a numbers’ game my friend had said. We’d been dipnetting— clinging to the canyon walls plunging our nets into the churning roil of the Copper River’s icy waters. Numbers organize the carnage he said as he eased his net into the current’s back eddy. People like things arranged and counted. It camouflages and puts in order the wasted lives. He swung the net toward me. I reached in and grabbed the sockeye and smacked it on the skull with an ax handle. I slid the knife blade across its gills. Blood pulsed from the silvery fish covering my boots in crimson. I eased the lifeless salmon into the gunnysack. How many do we have my friend asked? And I shrugged indifferently. I’m good at killing them I said but I have trouble keeping track of numbers.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 Amy Otto
Bridge to Nowhere
Cordova, August 2009
It’s been raining since the fast ferry docked, rivulets of water run down the cracked pavement of First Street. Boy Scout Island barely discernible from the cabin on Eyak Lake. The friendly inquisitive seal, disappearing under the lake’s flinty surface; he doesn’t like the splash of the dime-sized drops on his head. I’m looking for the proverbial critters in pairs as the water level rises …one foot, two feet… the salmon weir in the river underwater and the mountain’s sliding into the road. Mud-hued water sluices across white birch trunks beside the old rail bed track. His wary glances at the narrow, deficient gravel berms, hands tight, knuckles white, on the wheel, the Chevy’s cab air thin and cold. But I had to see the million dollar bridge, steel and rust, planks and grates, spanning the Copper, soaring, stretching, reaching.
What is an ending-dropped seed and fertile soil dried twig, crumpled leaf dew of next season’s sprouting.
Letter found on a flash drive near the British Columbia border
Linda, your memory steeps, gets me up at dawn. I hang on -- Birch Bay, U.S.A., far northwest corner of Washington state. My life floats in Puget Sound toward the border. If only you could save me now. How did we ever fall out of touch -- your hand, mine brushing by, 1973? We got on so well -- you with Johnny, me, all three singing, “Bye bye Miss American Pie,” hating Nixon, getting high, loving silent on my boat, Johnny, drunk, snoring as our mingled breath brought moistness to purple slits of dawn, the dappled sky. How did such drift not grab and hold? Please phone, e-mail, risk a note. Let’s sing Brautigan, Lennon, to life again, drink red wine, make love all night -- this time, moan, reverse the bloody flow -determine for ourselves which way not to go.
When the char surges I let it run, Beth is seven months pregnant. trying to keep it from the fast current, We’ve rationed food for a week. or wrapping the line around a willow. We need fresh meat. When it stops, I gently reel in. We’re camped on a barren gravel bar But, then it runs again and I have to start over. in the western Brooks Range , After 30 minutes my wrist is aching three hundred miles down river but I have managed to work it from where we launched our kayak. to a tiny gravel beach. I convinced Beth we would catch lots of fish. The char lays on its side, But, the river was low from the start and its gills barely moving in and out. we caught one grayling the first week, I reach down and grab the line instead of the fish. not much more than a mouthful apiece. The char flops, comes out of its stupor, Yesterday, I spotted a flash of color in a small pool and throws the hook. as we drifted by the mouth of a stream. “Noooo.” “Red flash,” I thought, “maybe a char’s belly.” The char slithers through the shallow water. But, it’s a spawned out dog salmon I dive with both hands outstretched. with bright red sides, green back, I can feel the char’s smooth skin big toothy nose, and only half a tail. on my fingertips, When I laid it in the bottom of the kayak, but it slips through my hands and is gone. on a bed of grass, I stand up and look down river. Beth arched her eyebrow. Beth is laying on a foam pad on her back, The flesh was white and mushy, her pregnant belly a bump in the flat landscape of the river bar. but we ate it for dinner. I can’t face her yet. And now, another day down river, Noatak Village is still two days downriver. I’m scrambling from one pool to another, searching the clear waters of the Kelly River for an arctic char. A flash of silver appears behind my spoon and then is gone. “Silver,” I think, “not red.” I cast again. The line shudders. When I lift the rod tip, a hefty char breaks the surface. My tackle is light, the fish is strong, the pool is small.
Painting by Angela Ramirez
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
When Perennials Overcame the Esker at Mamalilaculla
A half-life never gripped you like this time Josephine when you reached for that troubled canvas— when you painted his hair thin in yellow ochre and white and his eyes creased when he wasn’t smiling. His ebb always seemed too urgent when you used your fingers to shape the spread of his nose. And Josephine what of this now? When you left the tidy pallor of your studio and walked all those fathoms to the shoreline it seemed you went with the flight of the seabirds. There was a silver strand of hair you left in the thicket of the thimbleberries in the winter as it rained. The leafless fruit vines caught your threadbare Indian sweater elbows holding you like a homesick child heavy laden with dampness and sinking into the earth. You loved him didn’t you Josephine? You loved his weathered face, gentle like the Nanaimo cliffs— that he promised you wouldn’t fall. Josephine the ocean always waits to canonize poor swimmers like you. Sand and grass pressed white creases against your palms and you felt their independence from each other and elevated by the cliff you looked down on the shifting line of water. You remembered so many months— years still fragrant with impasto and cumin. How long has this blanket of ocean been falling, Josephine? How long has it been winter? When I met you on the beach that last time your eyes and your cuticles had grown tawny grey. You said they meant everything if the sand had low-curling waves. You kept repeating yourself. And that was it, Josephine. You turned your unlit eyes to your shoulder. You said something to the wind. I could not hear, but I understood. When you walked into the permission of the surf I knew you would weep salt for salt and I knew you would not come back. Josephine, I know. You always believed you would go first.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 Bob Ritchie
The door frame doesn’t seem different from all the others in the house. But on closer inspection one finds the tiny ticks of lead, the pencil marks climbing the edge of the wooden frame. Simply speaking, the space between any two marks measures the physical growth of your daughter. But caught between any two marks, there is so much more than change in a little girl’s height. Between marks is your life as exposed as the grain of this pine board. In a space no greater than the width of a thumbnail, or a stack of a few quarters, a year passes. Maybe 1978. In that space she started pre-school, the old 1963 Mercedes Diesel still ran, you shot your second moose on the Flats, and an ermine, not yet white, visited plates in the drying rack of the kitchen of your small cabin, where love was tested. Between those two lines you drove the Baja and wintered away from frosty November mornings of Alaska. But you remember most the forced stay in San Quintin, Ocotillo branches lifted by a Verdin singing, village kids crowded around tools and oily engine parts, your wife and daughter bound in desert light. Did you ever imagine that asking her to stay still, while you rested the book’s spine atop her head and marked another line, another year, that you would crowd this space, between pencil marks, with so many memories?
The Guys of Geography: an Address
Perplexed by soft cotton aventurine t-shirt or stone grey cardigan, the one with sea-blue grid stenciling blushing less. He is indecisive about his address and it’s marked in his dress. Anchored in this town of anchors we contemplate the endlessness of summer nights and double the equator in a book. I sit here and wish there was a mind I could make-up as if it were a bed or a pretty face. My cell phone rings cherry and cheap as this hypothetical city where snow melts for cynics who can stand to stick around. West of the West children play freely in woodlands. They say the only way there is through. It’s my brother. He gets up at 3pm on the other side of town. He gets pissed easy. Apparently his lamp is straining to stay awake and he’s called to entertain me with his headache. He says he enjoys the windrose in my bedroom window because it’s “pretentious and idiotic”. I wonder at latitudes and parallels. Observation is telling, that’s the trick. “No” I say, “It looks like the eight-pointed star of Venus.” The winter curtain is yawning ten long degrees downwards to where you live in the uk. Where do you contemplate snow, volcanoes or swans, or what’s alive in our histories or said from the mouths of oceans? Altogether now, lift the cartography of your guise, as if it were a desert mirage, the soft faded green map of your eyes and the cardinal from the open cage. Must they appear only in the child the sage?
We said yes to Alyeska, why not, we’re on vacation, resorted to a roomy room on the eighth (top) floor, valley view, meaning the mountain out this side is farther away than the mountain out the other side. Light and shadow play tag in the clouds skimming the highest ridge. I scan compulsively for Dall sheep, ecru colored flocks of dots on green vegetation or gray scree, moving, unlike as yet unmelted spots of snow that fleck the flank of the mountain. One night here, then back to Anchorage for a night, then home to Oregon, nice to go home to from anywhere but it’s not Alaska. Alaska, state of my birth, state of my mind, home of my heart, with what gravity do you tug the tide of my blood, with what polar force do you spin my needle northward? I keep finding reasons to be with you again, to inhabit you as you inhabit me, only I am so small and you take up all the room in my heart. Are you somehow sweeter because I cannot stay? Like Basho in Kyoto: I walk through Alaska, smell the fireweed, and I miss Alaska.
Holding a .410/.22 over-and-under shotgun across her knee, my mother scans the peaks above Resurrection River. Her husband’s low camera catches her right foot braced on a snow bank. She wears a blue kerchief, red and black buffalo check jacket—a displaced Tennessee girl, now forty, with eleven year old son, two years into a failing marriage. Here, she is still trying. Seward, Alaska, 1954
I reclaim the stitches the doctor pulled from my chest when I was five and the blood and the blue light that flooded my dreams I reclaim the oxygen tent and the fluids that pumped through the machines and the hole in my heart the surgery repaired I reclaim the ouija board from my late teens the one that brought news of my friend and sent my own ghost into orbit I reclaim the mushrooms I ate which turned the clouds into a soup of voices and the river into an erotic menagerie I reclaim the news of the lunar missions and my first glass of Tang I reclaim my bedroom window that portal I often climbed through to meet with friends in the park I reclaim the sweet smell of upturned roots and the trees that looked like giant flowers and the hushed music when the owls took flight
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
Kafka on the wall
I do not know Who hung this painting here Thin face full Of muscular shadows I hear the lake in the walls. Languid waves and the shifting gravel. I will not sleep for fear of someone lurking in the woods The moon is gibbous – pulling away from the trees.
Last night the power went out: the lights, the computer, the TV with Brian Williams anchoring the Democratic National Convention. I lit a candle on the end table, and its pale yellow flickering made the living room a cave of meditation, like the grotto of our Sorrowful Mother I visited when I was young, where I prayed for all the souls lost in limbo, convinced the Madonna knew I cared. She stood resolute, votive candles casting shadows across her ivory face. And that small light sufficed.
Elizabeth L Thompson
The Gamers on the Bus
“Have you played Left for Dead?” he asks his bus seat neighbor, raising his arms and hands excitedly. Red, open mouth and Skin hoodie. Tired face and eyes, but wildly moving. He leans in and exclaims “Dude, the online version is best.” and explains his favorite characters, tricks and levels. This tired young man leans in closer and asks “Have you played the Wrath?” “Awesome, man.”
for Larry & Jenny Gwartney
She’s seeking wheels To motion her carriage, Sugar cube for her mare, Face paint and a warrior. She needs campfire To warm her core, Buffalo in her prairie, A gem to seal any wound. Searching The Lantern Bar For the light of a man Who would dance with her, She’s looking for Larry. She’s tracking Kokopelli Along the Salmon River, With an eye-full of jade And a chest-full of heart.
Doris Horton Thurston
Looking for Larry
If there were no sounds other than the chittering of chicory squirrel and my laughter, it would be a small world. But listen. Hear the creek singing its rock song, hear the alders whisper their greetings to rising sun: hear the complaint of Raven, the soft hum of a four-wheeler on a distant road and the world creeps in, outruns the squirrel’s retreat, swallows the separateness of night from day, and makes space for the yodel of a neighbor coming up-trail for breakfast coffee.
She carries a fist-full Of Indian paintbrushes, Hand-full of heart rocks, A head-full of crystal stars. Searching The Lantern Bar For the light of a man Who would dance with her, She’s looking for Larry. She’s trailing Cupid With agate arrows, Tailing the man With a healing chant. She’s sure he would Blanket her soul, Idolize her spirit, Expand her homestead…
And in The Lantern Bar, She found the light of a man Who would dance with her; She found Larry.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
The envelopes are smudged with gun that’s turned the army-issue paper gray in spots. The paper is almost see-through, but I haven’t looked close enough to make out any words. I’ve been told the letters are important; But I don’t know who they are or what they are about. Maybe they were for a princess, an enemy, a father, a best friend that was never seen again. I haven’t gone far enough in history class to know all the wars, but I imagined that’s what they were for. Wars over things I don’t know about, but someday will. Wars over family and kingdoms with castles as tall as the tree house Daddy built for me. He tells me I’m his princess but still, he won’t let me look at the letters kept inside the envelopes, grayed by my imagined wars. It’s a rule. I’m not allowed to open the shoebox that’s kept on the shelf in the back of the coat closet; my untouched kingdom. Not allowed to lift the lid to look at the dirty Not allowed to unfold the tattered paper and try to decode what I imagine is beautiful, flowing penmanship. The kind I’m told princess’ have. The glassy gun oil stains wars. Even imagined, they become real. In wars over kingdoms, rules can be broken. In wars over families, I can break the rules. I can sneak into the back of the coat closet and uncover the old shoebox, unfold the tattered, graying envelopes, and discover the importance of Daddy’s letters. The writing would be smeared by the rain, or His tears or another’s? Probably both.
Fire and Love
What I like about fire is how it takes everything and leaves behind only ash. What I like about love is it does the same thing only quicker.
John Sibley Williams
At four o’clock
in the gun-metal blue dark
we hear the first crow of the first cock.
Growl the gray unseen storm clouds above, too the whaling vessels constructed less for these silent moments before; uneasily bound to each other, bound to the harbor long sheathed in unending smokeless factories expecting a return to wordless grass; all knots untethering her “horrible insistence” that all these silent cries individually symbolize our weaknesses yet united define us entire;
then she asks us to “think of someone sleeping in the bottom of a row-boat” as if we could imagine any other sleep.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
Snow blows sideways, stings my cheeks. Zero on the Bering Sea coast. Numbed hands in thin gloves twist levers, turn knobs. Teary eyes squint through the scope, note angles and distances. Feet stomp to break the chill. Hands move back to pockets, the sting of the heat packs. A count to thirty. Out comes pencil and book. Stiff fingers write numbers and letters. Teeth chatter. Hey, my name is Hank. A big grin splits a weathered face. His bare palm squeezes my glove. You weren’t born here, can’t work in the cold. Give me your book. You look through your machine, tell me what to write. I will help you. I call out degrees, minutes and seconds, feet, house corners, road intersections and power poles. He grasps the yellow #2 in his naked gnarled fist, puts down careful block print, better than mine. The pencil moves on. I offer him bills, but he shakes his head. You go back to your place, drink hot coffee. Maybe we get flush toilets. With a wave of his hand he walks off into blowing snow.
Nicole Stellon O’Donnell
If he looks sidelong as the door swings open, pretend not to notice. If he asks you, smile and look through your lashes at the scar just above his left eye. Take in that curve, the tender looking skin, but remember how rough it feels to the touch. If you find words have escaped you, like the ice that cracks along the banks of the river in spring when frozen boulders tear through the bridge, don’t forget that people line the banks then, hungry for slices of daylight and wind. They listen to the ice grind and the high-pitched whine of wood posts about to give way. If you hear the clamor of a crowd, know they applaud destruction. Know that spring is the same as what you have done. The difference is in the number of eyes and the wood smoke of hushed conversation rising out of the cabins at night. Once you tear out the pilings, you make your own way across the river, while they draw plans for the new summer’s bridge.
Vivian Faith Prescott
The Dead Go To Seattle
Sometimes, people slip in their XTRATUFs, foot on the gunwale, and they go down, cold green water fills their boots. And sometimes it’s a hook and line catching their arm, yanking them down, thrashing. Or maybe, it’s the rotten stump they’ve stepped on to get a better view of the deer in the meadow below that gives way. Either way, someone’s seen them in Seattle during yearly trips to the malls for school clothes, or get supplies to build a new house. They’re there, the dead, turning their heads in a crowd crossing a street at a red light or walking with a golden retriever by UW. They’ve been spotted—a child holding a white Styrofoam cup of clam chowder down by the wharf, an uncle sitting on a curb, a cousin on a park bench. They’ve been jogging, strolling, driving even. Reported alive-and-well—no seaweed weaving through their hair, no crab eaten faces, or moss growing over their bodies. Just sitting on the bull rail at the old piers, pulling a wool coat closer, their hats hanging low on their foreheads, waiting at the old ferry dock for a ride back home.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
P L AY Mark Muro
Pickle Days (Revisited): A One-Act Play
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
MAHTINA PUFFY aka FUTURE GIRL HAYLEY SCOTTY DONNIE LUIS aka CHOO-CHOO CHUEY JACK FELDSPAR
All actors play early to mid 30’s, except for Jack Feldspar, who is a youthful 75. THE TIME: The present. THE PLACE: A stage set. Act One. Scene one. Twenty years after its cancelation, the former child actors from “The Pickle Factory”, a popular semi-educational kid’s television show, gather for a televised reunion special. ACT ONE Scene One SETTING: The actors sit on large cubes painted in bright primary colors arranged in a semi circle mid upstage facing the audience. Downstage right is an old desk with a telephone, a mess of papers, an ash tray, a couple of framed photos and a bottle of booze. This is where JACK F ELDSPAR sits, toying with an unlit cigar. AT RISE: CHUEY, downstage left, provides unobtrusive, occasional electric guitar accompaniment: low volume heartbeatlike repetitive figures; moody background ambiance; emphasis on chosen words, phrases, and actions, as comically or tragically as directed; perhaps creating a theme or motif for each character. While the characters are clearly engaged as an ensemble, each individual monologue is direct address unless otherwise noted. The LIGHTING is generally subdued except for a spot downstage center as each actor comes forward to deliver their monologue. Mahtina If I said I didn’t know why I was here, I’d only be half truthful. Actually, that too would be questionable... No, I’m sorry… let me start again... OK, I think i got it... Did you ever have a memory, that was so far behind you, that you weren’t really sure if it was really yours? Or not? Like, if it really happened to you in first place? Or perhaps that memory, that thing you just remembered, was something that maybe you just made up, and then forgot, and then remembered… or maybe it was something you saw somewhere, in a dream… or just happened to glance upon randomly, like in a book, or like
something you saw on television... Well, now I think I’m getting closer. Yes. I’m here to tell you my story. My story. You see, once upon a time, I was a memory... I was also one of the Pickle Kids... Puffy (Still wearing HER ‘old’ Future Girl costume: a worn, glittery, skin-tight, semi-sexy type of space suit. SHE holds a matching ray gun.) It was the happiest day of my life! I passed the audition! Mr. Feldspar said he had never seen a more camera-ready girl. Not only was I gunna be a Pickle Kid, but Mr. Feldspar said I could also be his Future Girl! Hayley The audition was a nightmare. There must have been five hundred kids there that day. All with their mothers. All crushed together into this old Sons of Norway meeting hall. The heat was suffocating. It was total chaos. It’s what I imagine one of those sub-Saharan refugee camps might be like, only with all the girls wearing those pouffy “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ type party dresses which were so popular at the time. Feldspar… Jack Feldspar just loved to keep people waiting. Donnie I remember thinking that I wished I was home playing my drums. That’s what I really wanted to do, play music, not be trying out for some lame kiddie show. I looked around the room and saw all the same kids I knew from theater camp. I couldn’t stand them. So phony and obnoxious and insecure. But when your parents sink twenty-thousand bucks into your career, and you still haven’t landed a paying gig, I guess that’s how it has to be. Scotty It was the weirdest audition I’d ever been to. Feldspar’s people were totally obsessed with security. They were convinced Disney was sending spies over to see what the new project was. I remember, the casting people, they wouldn’t even let us go to the bathroom by ourselves. So when we had to go, we were supposed to ask these guys who were dressed up as clowns, and they had to take us. They were our ‘designated bathroom chaperones.’ Totally creepy. In white face, with stubble. And they smelled really bad. Must have been street bums they hired for the day. No wonder I pissed in my pants. Hayley We were there all day. The only food they offered us was Hawaiian Punch and Hostess Twinkies, an old kid’s show trick to keep the ‘excitement level’ up. By the time they let us leave, we were all in a state of hyperglycemic insulin shock. Puffy I knew that the competition would be stiff, and I would have to somehow stand out from the pack. So while all the other little girls sang “Tomorrow” from Annie, I went ahead and did my Lotte Lenya medley. Mr. Feldspar loved it! My mother was so, grateful... She worked so hard to get us there…my moth, rest her soul, being a single parent was tough enough on both of us. We barley had enough to eat. I don’t know what we would have done if Mr. Feldspar hadn’t picked me for the show. Jack Feldspar Sure! Sure, why not? The kid was cute. And talented. Her mom wasn’t so bad either... Ah, “The Pickle Kids”… See, when people ask me how I got the idea for the show, “The Pickle Factory” I tell them it’s autobiographical. That’s right, that’s how I started, working as a pickle kid. Literally. I’m the original Pickle Kid. Down on the Lower East Side my family had a pickle factory. For real. We lived above it. The stench was unbearable. So when it came time to put together the show, all I had to do was think back and connect the dots... Hayley Ever since I could remember I wanted to be an actress. Meryl Streep was my hero. The way some kids watched the “Lion King”, I watched “Sophie’s Choice.” By the time I was six I must have seen it 45 times. I can still speak German with a Polish accent. For me The Pickle Factory was just a way in.
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Donnie The Pickle Factory was the most popular kids show of the mid to late 80’s. The only problem was that it ran on public television, which meant we were contracted into accepting slave wages. Nobody made any money, except for Feldspar and his slime-ball partner, Sid, Sid what’s-his-name... I read something about him recently, that he just died in jail, or something... Mahtina Our schedule was intense. We worked an average of 12 hours a day, sometimes 7 days a week. By the time I’d get home I’d be too exhausted to sleep. And then before you knew it, it would be time to go back and do it all over again. But it was so much fun. I didn’t have to go to school. I got to wear all kinds of cool costumes. I learned to kick box, and got to beat up my brother. I got to ride yaks in parades. We rode our skate boards everyday. And with all that exercise, for the first and only time in my life, I was skinny... One year, they even made me Pickle Princess. Hayley was so jealous. Hayley Oh yeah, no doubt about it. That fruit juice they gave us to drink, it was spiked. Why else would Feldspar make sure we started each day off with a big glass of it? He used to call it our special “go juice.” Donnie We were everywhere. On t-shirts, posters, pajamas, coloring books, breakfast cereal. Saturday morning, weekday afternoons. Everyday, after school at 4:30. For half the kids out there we were a daily ritual. I meet people all the time and they can’t believe that I was Donnie. I tell them I still am Donnie... But by then it’s too late... I guess my proverbial fifteen minutes expired with the last bag of Pickleville Pretzel Puffs. Scotty You guys are so fucked. The Pickle Factory was the biggest pile of shit since Walt Disney puked up Mickey Mouse. What was it? A handful of overworked, drug-addled brats, pushed out into the spotlight in order to sell boatloads of cheap overpriced crap, manufactured by other overworked kids on the other side of the planet. Total exploitation every step of the way. The only advantage was that we, the trained monkeys known to America’s television heartland as ‘The Pickle Kids’, were lucky enough to have been born on the other end of the supply chain. Feldspar is a criminal. The worst kind. Belongs in a cage with Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney. Shy and tentative, LUIS moves downstage holding a Captain America action figure. HE struggles to speak, fights frustration and distractedly returns to HIS cube. Mahtina It really was a tremendous learning experience. We were taught so many things. Singing, dancing, juggling, balancing those pointy red things on your head... Once I had to kiss a hedgehog... If I told you I loved every minute of The Pickle Factory, I’d be lying. I mean, as far childhoods go, there are plenty of worse experiences in this world than having been a Pickle Kid... But there is one thing... and I know this might sound silly, especially after all these years... But, those horrible pickle noses they made us wear, during the Pickleville part of the show... I still find them, incredibly upsetting... They still frighten me... I’m sorry, but, but that was just wrong. Feldspar The pickle noses! Yes... oh yeah, yeah. The pickle nose was Sid’s baby. He got the idea in the middle of the night. By now everybody knows the story, but OK, again, one more time... So Sid wakes up in the middle of the night, it must have been 3 or 4 in the morning actually. Morning, night, whatever. And Sid’s hungry. You know, you go to the kitchen and it’s dark and you open the refrigerator for a little snack. Well, Sid goes downstairs, and he opens the fridge, and there’s a jar of pickles. And bam! He sees it! All at once. A vision! Pickle Kids? Pickle nose! A kid with a pickle nose! Simple... Yeah. So how come nobody else came up with it? Say what you will about Sid Melnik, but the man was a genius.
Donnie Yeah, the pickle noses were pretty disgusting. They were made of this smelly, nasty latex stuff, which I later found out I was allergic to. You can still see the scars on my nostrils from the rash... Mr. Feldspar is a very sick individual. Feldspar See, we knew from the beginning that gurkins were out of the question. For a while we toyed with the idea of using crinkle cut slices, but we had trouble stacking them up into something appropriately nose-like. We must have considered every pickle known to man, before going right back to where we started. In the end we went with the what Sid suggested in the first place. There was really no way to improve upon it. The classic jumbo dill schnozzola, which everybody knows and loves till this day. A television icon. Scotty I suppose the show might have had a tiny bit of educational value... The diphthong pony, that stupid geography trick and those personal hygiene songs. (SCOTTY mimes a very regimented, almost robotic, exaggerated tooth brushing, hair combing, then hand washing exercise, which progresses into an apparent Obsessive Compulsive ritual, all accompanied by matching music.) But, for the most part, it was like every other kid’s show: nothing but a big baby sitting-length commercial designed to train consumers and market useless merchandise... Everything else was just collateral damage. (refers to LUIS) Hayley (eager to change the subject) Once we had to do this big unicycle routine. You know, all of us riding around in formation, making patterns so they could shoot it from above, like one of those old Busby Berkley movies. Well, I don’t know if it was the pressure from sitting on that hard banana-shaped unicycle seat for hours and hours that caused my hormones to kick in with such a vengeance, but whatever triggered it, (snaps fingers) all of a sudden I was a woman, right there in front of everybody, and gushing like a faucet. There was so much blood on the floor that we were all skidding and sliding around, out of control, crashing into the cameras, the lights, the craft service table. A total mess. They had to close down the set. Till this day, I can’t see a unicycle without reaching for a tampon. Donnie Why don’t we talk about Feldspar and Sid, Sid Melnik, and how they were so cheap, that by the last season of the show, they refused to buy us new costumes. My shorts were so tight I had blue balls for a year. Puffy I don’t see what the big negative fuss is all about. For me it was magic. Even now, I’m still famous. People see me on the street and they say, “Hey! There goes Puffy Michaels! Go Future Girl, go!” Scotty (to PUFFY) They say that because you walk around dressed like a demented freak and they feel sorry for you. Puffy (to SCOTTY) No, that’s not why Snotty Scotty. They like me because I cheer them up. No matter how miserable and depressed a person appears to be, I could see their entire aura change the moment they encounter me, dressed as Future Girl, or otherwise. It happens all the time. Their aura goes from a dark runny greenish yellow brown to a nice apricot blushy kind of a pink. And then they feel better. What’s not to love about that?
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Scotty Well, if you’re so in tune with the interpersonal vibes of this cosmic cesspool some call humanity, tell me what color is this guy’s halo? (refers to LUIS- who remains expressionless) No? Then maybe you can tell me why he’s like this? Can anybody here tell me what happened to him? What happened to Luis? Huh- No, I didn’t think so Mahtina You know what happened Do I?
Mahtina (trying to lighten the tone) Look, we all have our problems, right? We had ‘em then, and we have ‘em now. All in all, I still have to say, that no matter how things turned out, The Pickle Factory Show did us a lot more good than harm. Scotty You do, huh? Try asking HIM. (pointing to LUIS) Then come back and tell us about your concept of ‘harm’-- and try to inform me, with a straight face, about all the good Jack Feldspar and Sid Melnik did for us, and the world.
Mahtina (bracing for negative reaction) I know you’re not going to like hearing this Scotty... but this Pickle Kid thing, this thing we all share, isn’t the total ‘be all/ end all’ definition of our lives. It’s just another thing. Like anything else in life. (carefully) Some of us move on... and some of us... unfortunately, try, but don’t make it very far.
Scotty Oh really? Is that right? Well, maybe some of us don’t get very far because some of us get hit by banana trucks while riding our bicycles. Mahtina You know I didn’t mean it that way. Scotty Just why did little Luis take off from the studio like a maniac that day? Riding his bike all the way downtown through heavy traffic, with the sole intention of having an eight thousand pound banana truck converge with his skull? Huh? People who saw him say he was plowing through intersections without looking. What exactly happened here? What could compel little Luis Ramirez, this eleven year old child, to have to get so far away with such blind determination? What could he have been running from that day, after his Pickle Factory obligations? Haley Not what Scotty. Who. Who was Luis running from? Scotty Exactly! (pause) Turns out that truck was from the Esperanto Banana Company, which, at the time, was owned by Sam
Feldspar, one of Jack’s brothers What are you saying?
He’s crazy! Mahtina Would you two stop being so confrontational? (pause) Can we please, if just for today, not focus on the bad stuff? Scotty Easy for you, and that guy up there. (refers to CHUEY). He’s still walking around in one piece. Looks like he’s doing pretty good. (goes over and feels CHUEY’s lapel- admires his guitar) Nice ax, stud... Hey, does everybody know that these two (refers to CHUEY and PUFFY) are the only ones of us who are still getting royalties? That’s right. Guitar boy here, and future slut. Tell me, how did that deal come about? Why do you think that is? Hayley Is that true Scott? (to Mahtina) Is what he just said true? Mahtina C’mon guys. We didn’t agree to come here to fight over the past. This isn’t about blame. Scotty Oh, it’s not? Well, I sure didn’t come here to reminisce about the good old Pickle days. Feldspar Which were my favorites? (laughs) What kind of a question is that? How can I answer? Ask any parent, a parent who really cares... I had no favorite. They were all my favorites, they were all special... Although... between the ages of 12 and 14, Puffy Michaels did have some ‘qualities,’ that were really quite exceptional. Puffy Mr. Feldspar was the closest thing I ever had to a father. My ‘real’ father left us when I was one. Years later, he called us, my biological father. I guess he thought I was getting residuals and could help supplement his habitual tendencies. When I finally got to the part where I ask him why he ran out on mother and me, he said it was because of me. Because I was ‘high maintenance’. Said I was too demanding. Well, I’m sorry ‘Daddy-dearest’, but I knew, even then, that if I didn’t act the prima donna, I would never be taken seriously on the stage or off... Mr. Feldspar understood that about me. He gave me what I wanted. Put my face on a Pickle Jar. Something my real father would never have done! Hayley Of course we were close. We had no choice. Feldspar invited himself into every aspect of our lives. That’s how they worked, him and Sid. We had no privacy. They controlled our every move. Birthdays. Christmas. Promotional weekends in Reno. Trips to the free clinic. It was always ‘Uncle Pickle’ and ‘Daddy Dill’... except I could never get straight who was who. But it didn’t matter, really, because I was usually too drunk to care.
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Scotty We used to take these field trips to Disneyland. When I say we, I mean just Feldspar and us Pickle Kids. No mothers or fathers or siblings. Feldspar hated Disney with a passion. He was extremely jealous. He wanted to be Disney. Just as big. Bigger. It was a dream of Jack Feldspar to open his own theme park. He had it all drawn up. “Pickleland” he was gonna call it. Of course, whenever we went to Disneyland, he made us wear the pickle noses. Just to piss Disney off. One time, when we were doing that Pirates of the Caribbean ride, this old guy in a suit pulls up in a boat beside us and demands to come aboard... Yep, you guessed it, the guy turned out to be Walt Disney himself. See, somehow, he found out that there were micro-cameras hidden inside our pickle nosesOh yeah, that’s another thing. Because we were small, Feldspar would have us sneak back behind the scenes to take pictures of the mechanicals that ran the rides. That stuff was all a big secret back then... Anyway, here’s Feldspar and Disney, standing in the boat, yelling and screaming and cursing each other at the top of their lungs... and push comes to shove and it gets ugly... Needless to say, it was pretty funny watching these two old guys trying to bash each other’s brains in with plastic coconuts... When it was all over, they confiscated our noses and escorted us to the gate. No one ever mentioned it again... Feldspar and Disney, man, they were both very dirty fighters. Puffy Would you get real! That Disney story you go around telling everybody- I just read it again in Was Magazine- It never happened! I can’t believe you actually think people would believe such bullshit. Walt Disney was dead since before you were even born. Scotty So? Ever hear of cryogenics? ...Maybe they just stuck him in a deep freeze and thawed him out. Same goes for a lot of people... Howard Hughes, Timothy Leary, Elvis... and for all we know, Osama Bin Laden. Or maybe the old guy in the boat was really Dick Disney, Walt’s twin brother? Or a double? (shakes head vigorously) How the fuck would I know? Puffy You know, I would have loved a feature in Was Magazine... But what’s even worse is, you! You’re making us look like a bunch of liars! You’re destroying our credibility! Scotty Oh, knock it off! Listen, I’m just doing what everybody does: using the media to create a “legend.” How do you think it happens? Huh? The official story, the conventional wisdom, what passes for reality? It’s all mythology. What? We, the little nobodies, we’re not allowed to create our own ‘reality’? (pause) And it wasn’t a feature, it was just a sidebar on the “Lucky Losers” page. Mahtina People! People! We all have our issues- You think I like being married to a dental hygienist?...If I hadn’t been seeing a therapist all this time... I don’t know where I’d be. Scotty (referring to Puffy) Well probably, you’d still be running around in your old Pickle costume, acting like an ass, and trying to tell Was Magazine about how fucking wonderful it all is! Was... whatever. Feldspar Those were the best times of my life. Complete creative control, over 6000 products licensed worldwide, a line of disposable diapers that would knock your socks off. Yeah, for a while we were the kings of the educational kid’s shows, me and my partner… Until... until the ‘scandal’ hit... Sid, Sid, Sid... you were like a brother to me... I told you, anything you
want. Anything! But keep your mitts off the kinder... Ah, what can you do? I guess you could say he was ‘incorrigible’... (shrugs)Allegations or no allegations, one of us had to take the fall. So, to avoid any hardship, or damage to the kids and their families, especially after that ‘traffic’ accident thing with-- (snaps fingers, tries to remember) that kid… I had to throw Sid to the wolves... Poor schmuck. (Shakes head, lights cigar, takes long puffs) Those were the days.... Encouraged by CHUEY, LUIS moves downstage into the spotlight. HE quietly mutters to HIMSELF, as stage fright blossoms into panic. MAHTINA, concerned, approaches, as if to rescue HIM. Luis?
Scotty Hey man. Back off. It’s his life. Just, just let him... OK? OK.
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LUIS remains in the spot, calming HIMSELF; HE slowly begins to recall fragments of a song. Luis It’s a big world... a big, big... bad... bad, big... big... bad... wolf... world... (LUIS returns to his cube, shaken.) Hayley The show had become procedural. I wasn’t growing. The plots- when there was a plot- were the same old insipid, onedimensional drivel. Purple alligators and big yellow birds? Like hello? They had their ideas and I had mine. See, I wanted to make it real. You know, have the show reflect something people could relate to: Blood. Vomit. Dildos. It was supposed to be a pickle factory, right? So why not real pickles, real factory, real pain? What? Since when did they start taking the bones out of pickles Mr. Feldspar? I actually asked him one day. Feldspar told me the audience wasn’t ready. Then he tells me- get this- he told me I was ‘unsavory’. Funny, coming from an old goat like him. Donnie I still perform. I got a magic act. Check this out. (DONNIE takes a deck of cards from pocket, fans them out and removes one) Is this your card? Yeah... I do birthday parties, night clubs... birthday parties... I’m thinking about doing a thing with Hayley. She’s a performance artist now. She says that magic is the new mime. She says we can team up and make some real art. I’m all for it, but, I don’t know... It’s not that I’m squeamish, I mean blood is cool, I got use to that, kinda, with Hayley... But do we really need vomit too? And what’s with the dildos? Scotty Well... Yeah... You bet I learned a lot working down at the old ‘P’ Factory. It was a real education... I used to think that I was the one. You know, that I was the only one who couldn’t grasp the social relevancy of what we were trying to do. That being an unhappy Pickle Boy was all my problem, all my fault. I tried to figure it out for years. Then I had an epiphany. And I finally realized, that the whole Pickle Factory gestalt was not the cause of our collective national degeneration, but just another symptom. Seems like a small, obvious thing now, but at the time, it was huge. Mahtina Lately, I’ve been contacting some of the others. It’s easy with the internet. It feels really good to talk... It’s a dream of mine to have a really big get together some day. A real reunion. It would be so great. As much as I love my dog grooming business, I do miss the excitement of performing. Feldspar Oh sure, I’m busier than ever. I have a chain of health clubs, the Jack Feldspar Spas, home of the ‘Van Tan’, you know, the mobile tanning things we advertise. Come to your home, park out front. Street tan, a real time saver. Get nice and tan like me. And I still keep my hand in the TV racket. Produced a pilot a few years back, called it ‘The Pie Factory’. For cable. It was an educational show, with kids. A totally original concept. But they didn’t go for it. Too advanced for them. What do they know? It’s their loss. Too bad because the project was very close to my heart. The inspiration for it was essentially autobiographical. Did I tell you? I grew up over my family’s pie factory down on the Lower East Side. Luis (Comes out spinning around in circles like a child) Spin, spin, spinspin. Spin, spin, spinspin. Spin, spin, spinspin, Choo-choo! Spin, spin, spinspin. Spin spin, spinspin. Choochoo! Choo-choo! (Stops abruptly, realizing there’s an audience. Smiles, satisfied with HIS turn and returns to HIS place.) Puffy I’m still in touch with Mr. Feldspar. I know the others disapprove of him, but he really is a very... interesting man. We’ve been working together on some special projects. We’re creating a line of Future Girl tanning products. I’m so excited. I’m
gonna be his spokes-babe, and once he decides-
Scotty (interrupts, stepping in front of PUFFY to resume HIS monologue) I got an e-mail the other day. From one of the old Pickle Girls. I sent her a picture. Wonder if she ever saw a pickle with meth mouth? Puffy Hey! You interrupted my monologue. Yeah, it’s her turn.
Scotty Sorry. But you two don’t get any more monologues. You’re not interesting. You’re too... normal. Donnie Please Scotty, let’s not be rude. Fuck you Houdini!
Mahtina Scotty, we haven’t seen each other in twenty years. Can’t we enjoy this and have a good time?
Puffy What can you expect from a 33-year old loser who lives in a trailer with his mother? At least you finally lost the mullet. Scotty At least I’m not some pathetic infantilized has-been who hangs out in supermarket parking lots, wearing that stinky old flying saucer disco slut suit, trying to sell inflexible, discolored action figures of herself to horrified preschoolers. Hayley He was always a creep. Scotty Hey! I used to give you my Skittles. Hayley The only thing you ever gave me was herpes! Scotty Uh... If I did, I got ‘em from her. (points to PUFFY) Puffy Pay no attention to him! He’s just a drug-damaged conspiracy obsessed internet weirdo.
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Scotty Listen! If anybody says that 9-11 wasn’t an inside job they’re either a total idiot, or they were in on it! He has a point Puffy.
Mahtina (ALL pause, then, as if to say ‘break-time’) Well, I don’t know about you guys, but is anybody here as hungry as me? Why don’t we(LUIS begins to emit a strange semi-human cry. PUFFY reacts with an anguished cry of her own, a shock of recognition, which SHE tries to suppress. LUIS, agitated, yet consoled by PUFFY’s reaction, comes downstage and holds PUFFY’s hands, shaking HIS head and looking into PUFFY’s own pained eyes, silently imploring HER to speak.) Puffy (PUFFY starts a tentative, heartfelt confession) Maybe... there’s something I should tell you... something that’s been bothering me for a long time. (to Scotty) This is as good a time as any, right?... I don’t know why I didn’t tell them back during the investigation... but that day, that day Luis was hit by the truck? Well, I was the last to see him, I mean, I think I was... Everybody had already gone home--we all worked late as usual--and I was waiting in the reception area for my mother to come and pick me up. I was by myself. And I heard something. I heard a scream... and then I saw Luis come running out from Sid’s office. And then I saw Sid come out. Right behind Luis. Chasing after him. Yelling for Luis to slow down, to stop, to wait... But Luis was wild. And he was running so fast. As fast as he could. Luis, he seemed almost possessed. I never saw somebody run away so fast. Haley Sid Melnik! How come I’m not surprised? Feldspar’s scum, this I always knew. But Sid? Sid’s a monster. They say he ‘died’ in jail? (laughs) Sure, right. You know what they do to his kind in jail? (smiles) I just wish I could have been there to see it. Scotty That motherfucker! I knew it! I knew he had a thing for Luis- no wonder he was always taking those trips to Mexico! (to PUFFY) And you knew it all along? And you never said anything? Not even during the investigation! (tries to control HIS anger) That’s why you’re always sticking up for Feldspar! You’ve been on the take all along! Puffy Michaels! You fucking bitch! You’re just as guilty as Sid! Puffy (terrified, about to speak in HER defense, but cut off ) Hayley No. She’s worse! A lot worse. (to PUFFY) You should have stuck with us Puffy. But now it’s clear! It’s been you and Feldspar and Melnik all along! (clinches fists in angry frustration) Ahhaggh! (CAST remains in place, stunned, trying to re-evaluate their positions in the group. HAYLEY begins to methodically advance toward PUFFY with harmful intent.)
Chuey No! Stop! It’s not—it’s... let’s just, calm down--please. Scotty Don’t try to save her! It’s too late! She wouldn’t come forward when she had the chance. As far as I’m concerned, she ruined your brother’s life, just as much as Felnik and Melspar! I mean Chuey No! Please. Listen to me... she’s innocent...It was me. It’s my fault, Luis, Luis is like this... It’s because of me... That day Luis was hit by the truck--it happened downtown. The accident happened a block from, the museum... From the museum! I should have been there, I should have been there... I don’t understand-
Scotty Let him finish you freak! Chuey That day… Later on, that day, at the hospital...when the nurses gave me his stuff to take home...I found this in his jacket. (CHUEY removes from HIS pocket a dog-eared glossy pamphlet, and looks at it ruefully. MAHTINA crosses, takes it from HIS hand examines it.) Luis was carrying it around with him for months. Mahtina: (reads pamphlet) “The Art of Cartography: 25 Centuries of Mapping the World.” (DONNIE looking quizzical, is about to speak. SCOTTY glances malevolently toward him, effectively silencing any potential remark.) Mahtina It was this, (referring to the pamphlet) wasn’t it? This exhibit. Luis was trying to get to the museum to see it. This (reads) ‘cartography’ show, at the museum downtown.
Chuey Yeah. ‘25 Centuries of Mapping the World’ (wistful) Not exactly a blockbuster, but to a kid like Luis... Well, you know, he was the ‘Geo-Kid’; maps, geography, the globe, that was his thing. He was obsessed. A big exhibition all about the art of making maps? Yeah. That’s what Luis wanted to do. He wanted to become a cartographer. A mapmaker, when he grew up... He wanted to see this show so bad. It’s all he talked about. Every weekend for months, he practically begged me to take him... and every weekend, I’d promise him, then wind up blowing him off... I always had something... or somebody better to do... (sighs) Anyway, it was the last day of the exhibit, and the museum was closing at 7... (resigned)
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You know how it is with these kind of things. You always think you got plenty of time, and then, before you know it, the last day comes around, and then its too late... and then, the show’s over. Donnie But you were his brother Chuey. You shoulda looked out for him. Hayley And that’s why he bolted out of Sid’s office? Chuey Yeah... Luis was, for lack of a better term, Sid’s favorite. No, noooo, don’t go there…It’s not what you think. See, Sid believed the success of The Pickle Factory was largely due to Luis. To Sid, Luis represented a new demographic, or something. Sid used to like to call Luis into his office to show him the ratings, (laughs) which was the last place Luis wanted to be, listening to that old windbag go on and on about Nielson and Arbitron... Shit, he was only like, what? 10 or 11? I only know all of this because Luis used to tell me. He used do this really funny imitation of Sid getting all excited talking about the ratings...He’d drool and everything, exactly like Sid. But on that day, the last day of the ‘map show’, it must have been excruciating for Luis to sit there, and be all polite and deferential and pretend to be interested, watching the clock tick off the minutes, while Sid droned on and on about audience shares and the September sweeps...That’s probably the scream you heard. Luis would sometimes do that. Well, you know that from rehearsals. He’d go along like things were OK until he’d reach his limit. Then he’d just loose it...and that’s when Luis got on his bike Donnie And rode like a bat out of hell. Chuey (nodding) He tried to make it to the museum before closing time. (in tears) Poor baby...
Chuey So, it’s all my fault... for not taking him to the museum. Scotty (pause-angry) Yeah... I’ll say it is. It is all your fault. You. Your fucked up brother. Your highly emotive cover story. Bullshit! All of it! Mahtina What difference does it make now? What’s done is done. Sid is dead. Luis is here. At least we’re all still here. Scotty So much to be thankful for. Donnie No one’s to blame, Scotty.
Scotty I can think of a couple of people! Hayley So can I! (SCOTTY and HAYLEY lunge for PUFFY and CHUEY.) A big argument breaks out with pushing and shoving. LUIS, who has calmed down by now, has been sitting quietly, playing with HIS Captain America action figure. He registers alarm and comes downstage, putting HIMSELF in the middle of the commotion. LUIS breaks up the argument as it’s about to become physical, gently forcing the group to calm down and ‘make nice’ by placing their arms around each other. CHUEY then takes LUIS by the hand and leads HIM downstage into the spotlight of a television studio. Chuey (with LUIS downstage center in a video-tinged studio style spotlight- CHUEY affects the ready-made for TV upbeat tone of the symmetrically simplified ‘official story’, while the REST OF THE ENSEMBLE return to their cubes, except for PUFFY who is now wears an audio headset and is the show’s floor manager. SHE cues CHUEY.) Hi. My name is Chuey. And this is Luis. I guess you heard about him by now. He’s my brother. We’re identical twins. Really. We used to look exactly alike. That was before the accident... Luis loved being a Pickle Kid. He was the most popular one. But he doesn’t remember any of it. Maybe you do? He was the Geo Kid. Entire Pickle Kid Ensemble (automatically in loud unison) Geo Kid! Geo Kid! Spin! Spin! Spin! Chuey That’s right. Knew where every place in the world was. We would spin the globe and Luis would close his eyes and stick his finger down on a spot on the globe, then open his eyes and tell you all about where ever he landed, even it it was in the ocean, which is where Luis landed four-fifths of the time. Ah, now you remember! Luis still has a great sense of direction. Even now, twenty years after the accident. In fact, the doctor said his sense of direction might have actually improved... Yeah, Luis is doing good. And he loves his job. He’s even got a new name. Now they call him Choo-Choo. Because he’s fast as a train. Luis used to love to ride his bike. He wanted to be a bike courier when he grew up... but now, now Choo-Choo is a foot courier. He works on foot. Knows the city blindfolded. And he’s fast. Just like a train. Goes everywhere. Who needs a map? From now on, it’s just Choo Choo and Captain America. Choo-Choo’s famous! All the PICKLE KIDS now come downstage and line up straight along the apron of the stage, with their arms at their sides like in “A Chorus Line”, standing proudly as a series of VOICES are heard over the theater’s sound system. Voice #1 The Pickle Factory changed my life. Voice #2 Inside every child lives a Pickle Kid. Voice #3 The Pickle Kids will live forever. Ich bin ein Pickle Kid.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 Viva Le Pickle Kids!
Voice #6 Domo arigato Pickle Kid. Voice #7 El mundo es un grande fabrica del Pickle! Voice #8 As long as there are dreams, there will be a Pickle Factory. Voice #9: (Feldspar’s voice) Those crazy Pickle Kids... they’re mine forever! The LIGHTS COME UP. LUIS happily begins moving like a choo-choo locomotive. HIS excitement is infectious. The KIDS disassemble and with impeccable timing, as the music begins, choo-choo into position and break into the Pickle Factory theme song. JACK FELDSPAR, still seated at HIS desk, watches on. HE is delighted, proud and visibly moved. The Pickle Factory theme song To be sung and danced exactly as THEY used to as kids on the TV show, except for LUIS, who hard as HE tries, remains partially out of it, a step or two behind. we’re working we’re playing we’re having lots of fun we’re living we’re giving we’re loving everyone the world is a carousel of pickles there’s one on every street a pickle a day makes the warts go away cos I’m the pickle you need to eat! we’re singing we’re dancing we’re happy all over the place we’re smiling we’re laughing we’re the pickle in your face! hey hey pickle town we come back home to stay its up to you it up to me at the Pickle Factory We hear JACK FELDSPAR’s laugh echo and fade as the LIGHTS DIM. End of Play
NONFICTION Jim Sweeney
It’s five thirty in the morning and I’ve hardly slept a wink. Alute, my Alaskan husky, ran off last night and did not come back. I left the door ajar and she came in once, but when I stirred, she ran back out. A dark grey veil hangs over Anchorage as I head out to find my dog. Rain drops straight from the sky and snow covers the city, but it’s hard to call this a White Christmas. At the bottom of the stairs Santa lies disheveled and torn. I’m really worried now. Alute does not like Christmas. I’m going to hide Santa and put him in the seat next to me. He looks pitifully weak. Sliding my car into the icy alley, I see more of the havoc Alute has caused. A dim string of Christmas lights wiggles down the path. Oh no! This time has she mangled a Wiseman. I need to hide these guys and slide the poor Wiseman into the Subaru, beside Santa. He’s more limp and beat than Saint Nick and they quietly share the passenger seat. The Wiseman lurches forward like a drunk; slamming his head against the windshield as I skid to a stop. “Alute!” I yell out my window. She is a skittish, spiteful, 1-year-old puppy; a malicious, vandalizing bundle of energy bred to run to Nome. She’s faster than a cold north wind blowing down from the Arctic and more destructive than King Kong. Gloom glares off the dark icy streets. I don’t see any Christmas lights. Robbed, mugged, and abandoned, another Wiseman sprawls in the middle of Northern Lights Boulevard. Next, I find Rudolph, lying on his back. He didn’t have a prayer against the speed and fury of Alute. Rigor mortis has already set in. A few feet further baby Jesus hangs in a bare bush. Alute has committed a sacrilege. Giant candy canes and plastic Virgin Mary’s have become speed bumps. Why did I let her loose? As I drive through the damp, icy drabness, Christmas lies
in ruin. Neither Rudolph nor his reindeer friends will fly this year. My Subaru slides around the icy streets as try to find Alute. Once, I see her up the street dragging and shaking a giant plastic wreath and then she is five feet in the air pulling a sleigh faster than any reindeer ever did, while now she juggles a manger. I only hope that the Son of Light will be all right. But, he rolls out and my Subaru hits the little fellow with a thump. Now I am implicated and Alute is nowhere to be found. Down the street Joseph looks like a white-robed street bum, sitting in the gutter with two big plastic Santas. And a reindeer has his leg chewed off. I head for the house that won the citywide Christmas lights competition. The place has everything: lit reindeer teams, stand alone Rudolph with moving head, and a tenfoot high dancing Santa. Knowing Alute, it’s a likely target. Soon the children will be out, walking to their bus stops on the last day of school before Christmas break. I have to catch Alute. Taking a right turn, I’m even more worried. All is dark. I drive slowly past the house. Not one light burns. Broken, the ten-foot high dancing Santa boogies no more. Christmas is gone. I see Alute, jam on my brakes, and jump out careful not to fall on the ice. I call for Alute. She does a loop around the car and amazingly gets in. On my way home, I see the first children on their way to school. It’s 7:30, an hour or two before dawn. The clouds part to reveal a full moon. It’s white and pink. The children look up. I stop in the middle of the road and in the quiet moonlight I hear a faint, sweet sound. I think my stereo is on. Then I realize the kids are singing. Alute howls. It’s a beautiful scene. Beneath the solstice moon, we don’t need plastic Christmas.
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Washy, Washy Girl
The Japanese boys came out of the egg room in single file, moving in a wave of efficiency and politeness. They held their hands out in front of them as if in prayer. “Hello, Washy, Washy Girl,” they said when they saw me. “Very clean. Very nice work.” They were a close-knit crew who barely spoke English. I often encountered them from this pose. Bent over a steaming bucket of soapy water, mopping away the mud and dust that workers tracked into the fish factory, the slime that dripped off their clothes after a shift spent processing tons of salmon. This was the job I’d found at the end of my journey to Alaska, a minimum wage factory position to fuel my summer adventure. The Japanese boys were handpicked from home for their small hands. They packed sacks of roe in little wooden boxes with symbols spelling out “Alaskan Salmon Eggs” on top. Those sand-colored crates with peg-and-grooved corners reminded me of something I’d steal when I was a little girl, the perfect size for storing my treasures – gold-flecked pebbles, bookmarks and locust shells – under the bed. What was really in those boxes had nothing to do with my own fertility, but that’s how the Japanese boys made me feel. Like the Goddess of Homemaking. I’d come a long way in a few weeks to find that glimpse of home, the comfort of domesticity among the fish guts and salmon roe where I cleaned the gear, washing fish slime off t-shirts, keeping cotton gloves clean, inspecting the rubber ones so they wouldn’t grow holes and let in the freezing water from the fish cleaning tanks. I washed loads of fleece jackets and long underwear. I swept and mopped, swirling Ajax into toilet bowls and scrubbing the shower stalls, every day for the men’s bathroom; not so often for the ladies. It was 1992; the year Northern Exposure finished its second season on TV. I watched the show every day after work in my Pittsburgh apartment the year following my graduation from college. The same year I met Stacey, who wanted to spend the summer in Alaska. She showed me the glossy brochure detailing all the jobs in the salmon fishing industry. We crossed the country together. Washy Washy - for short.
59 The Japanese boys really did call me that. A squeaky, scrubbed-clean name that came on account of my job at an eyesore of a plant on the old dock in Valdez. Nautilus. Or “Not-A-Lot-of-Fish” to us fish hippies. A place named after the twenty-thousand-leaguediving submarine or an ancient fish with a prominent head and tentacles, shrinking back into its perfect circle of a shell at any hint of danger. The processing plant was a living fossil, the perfect setting for the nihilistic clan I met around the campfire each night. A Frank Zappa lookalike was responsible for the salmon I never could have afforded at the supermarket back in Pennsylvania. He’d slip the fish down his loose-fitting rain pants and blame his stiff-legged stride on a cramp. The tent city residents knew each other better in the course of a week than our high school classmates ever would. We tent dwellers knew who was trying to save money for law school, who believed in saving themselves for marriage and who spent years collecting donations for a multi-national corporation that promised to save the trees but wouldn’t splurge on health care for its workers. And I knew them best. I was the first one up in the morning, hauling water for the coffee, greeting the egg room boys as they emerged from their private break room. “Good morning, Washy, Washy.” Before I packed everything and travelled to Alaska, I’d heard the news about Valdez, a place made famous by oil spilling from a tanker. I was working at my college radio station and didn’t know how to pronounce the name. Not with a hard second syllable the Spanish way, an ice breaker of a word plowing through conversation, valDAYS. Instead, the second syllable trailed from my mouth like the phosphorescent glow of algae, val-deeeeez. The pronunciation didn’t make sense. That irritated me back in my college radio days when I thought everything depended on truth. What I knew about the events that unfurled beginning on March 24, 1989, I read about—live—on the air. After the routine loading of 53 million barrels of oil at the Alyeska pipeline terminal, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound around the nautical corner from its departure point. The ship maneuvered off course to avoid icebergs, but there was nothing mechanical to blame for it fetching up hard aground and leaking millions of gallons of oil from a rendered hull, not rudder failure or a lack of engine power. Not even a wayward whale sparking an unavoidable decision, “It’s us or Bligh Reef, Captain,” just a crew of humans making the
CIRQUE Sandra Kleven
kind of mistakes that lead to disaster. By March 25th, the first accounts of the oil spill from the Associated Press began rolling off the printer at WIUP-FM in Indiana, Pennsylvania, spilling onto the floor on spools of cheap brown paper. The radio staff used it for everything from mopping up spilt coffee to writing rough drafts. As the type tit-tit-titted across the ticker tape, a little bell dinged to announce breaking news. A colleague gasped when she saw what was written. “Oooo, it’s bad. This will be our new lead.” Maureen, who loved Eric Clapton and Squeeze, the future public relations expert who would one day return to her native Pittsburgh and put to good use all those power suits paired with folded down socks and tennis shoes. Maureen was my co-news director. At first I wrote her off, figured she got the job because of how she looked, not because of her news sense. We bonded during those Exxon Valdez days, checking each morning for the latest updates. How many hundreds of miles of coastline coated in oil? How many thousands of animals destroyed? The story of the oil spill filled reams of paper, generating an automatic lead for every newscast. It became a reason to pursue a career in journalism, affirming it as the right kind of work. The oil spilled in a place I could only imagine
from my university town tucked into the coal mining and Christmas tree farming belt of Pennsylvania. I did not know it then, but someday I would glide by the same spot the oil tanker did in a tiny kayak, watch the water sparkle in an otherworldly display of fireworks, not a trace of the spilled oil in sight. By then I would know it to be a place of extremes like anywhere else, with a community that both relied on jobs from the oil industry and expected the company to keep them safe. By the end of the semester, the oil spill had fallen below the opening segment of the newscast. I hadn’t thought much about it since the shock from those initial reports had worn off, until I arrived at that fish processing plant in Valdez. I worked with some of the same people who came to Alaska for the cleanup. Now they were overflowing with stories of how fruitless the effort, how fertile the paycheck. They spoke of the drudgery of earning that reward, of spraying miles of beach down to what looked like pure sand, only to return the next day to another layer of oil. Years later during the 21st anniversary of the spill, people found no cause for celebration. Although it could have been a celebration of sorts—an observance of the earth’s resilience and of our willingness to persevere, even after a disaster of that scale. An Alaskan posted a familiar opinion about the event on a popular website, the kind
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 where people brandish opinions like a sword of truth, “There is no recovery, only prevention.” Was that true? Recovery may not look the way we want it to, but who could deny that things had returned to normal. People still fished in the Sound. Animals still cycled through population dips and swells. Who ultimately decides what normal looks like and whether that kind of sin can be forgiven? When I was Washy, Washy Girl that summer in Valdez, I woke up before five a.m. each day to start my job, walking past a line of cars idling noisily in the predawn mist while they waited for the ferry. Huge tankers hurtled through the inky black water. Fishing boats hovered around the harbor. The water churned with a mix of rotting fish flesh from the plant, engine oil and exhaust. Lugging giant coffee urns to the spigot in the egg room, I watched the night crew clock out, a group of Spanish-speaking workers who would be rounded up in an INS raid in a few weeks. I didn’t know much about them, where they stayed or what kind of rain gear they wore on the line. They kept to themselves. They washed their own laundry. That summer in tent city marked the beginning of my exploration of sex without the safety net of a relationship. I didn’t have much practice at any of it. Lying under the papery-thin tent roof, watching drips of condensation collect along the seams, I savored how good it felt to be asked, the fingers and tongues trading places, making a connection with touch instead of words. Until the fumbling penetrations and messy dismounts made me feel unclean. Later I would try to identify the moment when a smile and a similar taste in music dissolved into clammy hands, rotten mollusk breath and a whale blubber heavy body trapping me under a tarp of a tent. When my coworkers saw me emerge – hair disheveled and jeans unzipped – did they wonder whether I was good enough to wash their clothes? I’d watch the faces file past from my post in the laundry room, hands grabbing gloves and reaching for aprons and rubber pants. Some smiled, saying, “Thanks.” “Very clean, Washy Washy.” If they only knew how dirty I felt, waiting until the coast was clear, slipping away as the crowd drank the coffee I’d made, sneaking off to sit on top of the dryer with my earphones plugged in, the lyrics from my favorite band swirling around in my head, you tucked me in, stopped my tossing and turning, but I turned back the covers and saw those sheets are dirty, the rhythmic vibrations making the pleasure come through in waves.
Stuffed Copper River Red: Your Mother’s Recipe in 13 Steps
Step 1: Marry your 3rd husband. Marry your daughter’s violin teacher who you have admired for years from behind your knitting needles, sitting in the dark Music Mart basement listening to her lessons. Watch his beard grow as her violins increase by quarter sizes year after year. Step 2: Travel to California for the wedding. Let your 3 angry teenage daughters braid flowers into your hair. Remember them as little girls, little girls with little violins. Remember the sleep you have lost for them, the men you have stayed with for them, the way they used to be comforted when you gathered them into your lap. Step 3: Have your 6th and final child with your 3rd husband. Name him Søren. Marvel at his perfection, his blue almond shaped eyes, his size. He will be your tallest child. Your only child who is still a child. Step 4: Move from Fairbanks to Cordova with your 3 youngest sons. Watch Søren grow up by the ocean. Watch Grafton change from a chubby little boy into a fisherman. Watch Zak struggle, choking under the weight of his last year at home. Step 5: Buy your husband a fishing boat. Buy him a fishing permit. Mend the holes in his net when he catches schools of sharks. Look out your living room window at night, down at the harbor, out towards Kayak Island. Wait for his boat to appear in the distance, loaded down with fish that you will filet, package and sell. Step 6: Kill your first bear and feed your family for the winter. Kill a moose and feed them for another winter. Fill your freezer with the fish you catch off the ferry dock while your husband is out on the boat.
CIRQUE Janet Levin
Step 7: Cajole your 3 daughters, your 3 oldest children to come home for Grafton’s high school graduation. Watch them survey your new house, not the house they grew up in; your new town, not the city of their childhood; your youngest son, not a brother they grew up with. Watch them look at Cordova and your husband and you. Try to read what is behind their eyes. Buy them water boots so they don’t ruin their city shoes. Step 8: Watch your son graduate. Throw him a party on a cool sunny night on the beach. Invite his father who sets your teeth on edge. Wonder how you married him. Wonder who has changed more, you or him. Watch him watch your children. Watch him watch Grafton, his youngest son. Step 9: Catch the first Copper River Red of the season off the ferry dock. Bring it home and filet it in the special first fish way. Salivate. Think about your daughters, who are all home for the first time in years. Step 10: Stuff the Salmon with sautéed zucchini, onions, carrots and mushrooms. Add dried bread cubes. Watch the pink fish flesh absorb the vegetables. Watch the vegetables and the bread cubes absorb the rich fish oils. The richest fish there is. The summer’s first fish. Step 11: Wrap in tinfoil. Bake for one hour in your tiny oven, in your tiny kitchen while you listen to Søren run up and down the porch steps. Step 12: Watch them all together, your 6 children around your kitchen table. Watch them eat off the same mismatched plates of their childhood, the same stained tablecloth. Listen to them talk to each other about life away from you. Watch fish oil gather at the sides of their mouths. Watch them wipe it away and lick their lips. Watch your daughter’s faces as they eat the first fish for the first time. Step 13: Write the recipe on pages torn from your mother’s cookbook, and give one to each daughter. Bring your daughters to the airport and hug them goodbye while Søren tugs at your skirt and wraps himself around your legs. Hope that someday they will come back and cook the first fish for their own families, living easier lives than yours.
Women Picking Berries
Kim saved up all her cash for this trip-of-a-lifetime to the Arctic. Since we touched down in our fat-tired bush plane two days ago, she’s like a teenager in love. She can’t sleep, eat, or settle down. She acts like she’s the first person to be left breathless by the brief gold and scarlet splash of fall in the Arctic. We old-timers allow her this love-at-first-sight romance with the land because she reminds us of why we live in Alaska, and why we’ve chosen to head north in this fickle time of year. She steps up-slope and snaps a picture. “Women picking berries,” Kim captions us. High above our camp on the Canning River we’re harvesting a patch of late-blooming blueberries overlooked by hungry bears, squirrels, and voles. Plump, tiny berries, as purple as dusty plums, clustered beneath crimson leaves no bigger than my pinky-fingernail, growing just inches from the spongy ground. We eagerly pop them into our mouths. Aged by the summer’s constant light and now the first frost, these berries are sweeter than any fat, uniform store-bought berries in their plastic cages. We four women savor this unexpected gift, an excuse to pause in our labor up the mountain. Nancy gently pulls the berries from their fragile stems. She squats, knees together, feet splayed apart in a pretzel pose my rusty joints could never achieve. Her cracked, dirt-lined hands are topographic maps of past wanderings from the Arctic to Antarctica and points in between.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 When we’ve wrested all the ripe berries from their stubby bushes Nancy hoists her duct-tape patched rain pants up over her scrawny hips, and heads up the mountain with Kim. They are mountain women. Kim lives in a cabin high in the Rockies and Nancy, just days before joining the trip as our guide, completed a solo trek across Iceland. Deb has no need to push farther and hunkers into a shallow depression in the damp tundra. “I’m going to write in my journal,” she says. “Or maybe take a nap.” I’m curious to find out what’s on the other side of this mountain, so I follow Kim and Nancy. Like a little sister, I try to keep up. I’m at least 10 years older than each of them, though, and after a few minutes I tuck into a swale to catch my breath. By the time I start moving again, Kim and Nancy are out of sight, their voices faint burbles drifting back on the wind. The higher I trudge, the worse my knees will feel on the trip down. I stop briefly to catch a picture of our tents below—multi-colored eggs nesting in the ruddy tundra--then I backtrack to Deb. Deb and I met in a nature writing course several years ago. We share a sisterhood of bad knees, alcoholic fathers, wacky mothers, and an obsession with the written word. Deb’s motto is “no stinking trees” and this is her kind of place. Raised in Colorado, stationed in the National Park Service at outposts as disparate as the Florida’s Dry Tortugas and International Falls, Minnesota, Deb is happiest at latitudes with clear views of the horizon. We have traveled to the deserts of Namibia together and there are no more seasoned or unflappable travel companions than Deb and her husband Jay, who is fishing somewhere below us on the river right now. There are no prissy women on this trip, not like the crew from back East on another Arctic trip a few years ago along the Kongakut River. These three women emerged from their tents each morning fully made-up and perfectly coifed, looking like models for a trendy outdoor clothing catalog. I am elated to be in the company of women not afraid of dirty hair, stinky clothes, wet feet, or squatting in the willows. Of my sisters, daughter, grandchildren, cousins, aunts and uncles, I’m the only one crazy enough to enjoy such a trip. In a strange sort of way, I have my mother to thank for this. # Mom was a city girl uprooted and transplanted to the rough, wild territory of Alaska in the early 1950’s. She was only person in her family to ever live any further
north or west than Buffalo, New York. Tired of uncertain work in the dying steel industry, my dad longed for a chance to earn steady money and become a permanent member of the middle class. He convinced Mom to sell the few possessions they had accumulated in nine years of marriage, pack up the two kids, and follow him to Alaska. Mom tried to adjust to life on the last frontier without her family. Dad found a job at the power plant on the Air Force base and they rented a one-bedroom house with a big yard surrounded by dense forest. You would think that having grown up during the Great Depression Mom would have learned some basic survival skills, but she did not know how to cook or plant a garden or drive a car before she married Dad. She grew up in a family of five kids in a land of buses, trains, neighborhood groceries, corner taverns, and the parish church down the street. Dad, from a family of 10 kids, grew up in rural New York and Pennsylvania. His father worked as a surveyor at remote sites around the U.S. and Canada and would return home long enough to start another baby and take off to his next job. As one of the older siblings, Dad went to work early to help support his family. In our new home in Alaska, with the big sloping front yard, my parents planted a garden and grew peas, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, beets, strawberries and raspberries. I’m sure Mom never envisioned a life tending a garden, butchering a moose, plucking shot from spruce grouse before cooking them, cleaning fish, or making jam. One fall morning, Mom, my two-year-old sister Patty, and I headed off to the woods behind our house to pick berries. Mom carried an empty coffee can, Patty a pintsized plastic container, and I, the six-year-old big sister, carried a slightly larger version of the same receptacle. We were bundled in wool shirts, rubber boots, and jeans. Frost had already wiped out the last of the garden peas. Mom had tied her wispy hair back with a red and blue scarf. The tart, heady scent of high bush cranberries pierced the cool morning air, forever imprinting on my brain the tangy wet-earth smell of late Alaskan fall. The lawn, dripping from the thawing frost, quickly gave way to tall grass, soaking our pants and shirts. We tromped through the thick underbrush into the woods, Mom lifting Patty over fallen trees, scooting her past the prickly devil’s club growing at shoulder height. I trailed along, not sure what we were looking for, but watching out for the bull moose with the giant antlers we spotted earlier devouring the last of Mom’s cabbages. “Look at all these berries,” Mom said. The plump, translucent, ruby berries hung in clusters against serrated leaves bigger than my six-year-old hands.
CIRQUE Janet Levin
“I think these are high bush cranberries,” Mom said, and we began picking. Patty popped one in her mouth. “Yuck” she puckered her lips and spit it out. I tried one and the taste reminded me of throwing up. “I’m not eating any jam with these berries.” I said. “Grace said they need lots of sugar.” Mom replied. Grace, Mom’s friend and tutor in ways of the North, was Dad’s boss’s wife. As a young woman, Grace had moved to Alaska from her home in Quebec, running away from something to find something better as were most migrants to Alaska back then. She found a job as a waitress, and later a husband with whom she had three children. Grace knew a lot about survival in a foreign land. Patty and I picked and dumped, picked and dumped from our smaller bins, filling Mom’s coffee can. We turned back toward the house, and Mom entrusted me with the can of berries while she lifted Patty over and around the deadfalls and scraggly black spruce. We scooted carefully down the slick grass on the hillside and reached our lawn thoroughly soaked from top to bottom. “Give me the berries,” Mom ordered as Patty skittered to the sidewalk beside the house. I handed them to her, relieved that I was no longer in charge of making sure they didn’t spill. Mom and I squeezed past the empty chicken coop, stepping on an old piece of plywood to avoid a puddle. Suddenly Mom slid across the slimy wood, falling backwards, and clunking her head with a loud thunk against the board. The berry bucket flew out of her hand, sending the perfect little balls exploding into the air and rolling into the grass, into the puddle, and under the chicken wire. Mom lay with her eyes closed. “Mommy!” I said. “Are you ok?” No answer. Patty scurried back from the sidewalk
on her fat little legs. We leaned over Mom’s body, her soft blonde curls unleashed from the knotted scarf on the plank beside her. “She dead?” Patty whispered. I couldn’t hear Mom breathing. What should I do? Patty and I were alone. Dad was far away at work. Our nearest neighbors were across the highway or down that long sandy road that led to the lake. It was my fault, I knew, because I didn’t catch her. At that moment I reached a conclusion that would be reinforced many times throughout my life. I couldn’t rely on Mom for survival. She was not immortal. Something could happen to her and I would have to take care of myself and Patty. Dad would have to work and we’d be left on our own. My life was in my own hands. Mom’s eyes flickered. She moaned. “Get up, Mommy,” I said and held out my hands. She opened her eyes and stared straight up at the cloudy sky. Slowly she sat up, shook her head, and rubbed the back of her neck. “Oh, look at our berries,” she said. Red orbs bobbed in the brown puddle like cherries on a glass of root beer. I planted my feet and pulled her up. She staggered, tried to brush the mud from her jeans, and stooped to retrieve the few stray berries that were visible in the thick grass. At that moment, I knew how fragile she was, and how tenuous our life was in this big new place. That winter, Mom lay in bed with some mysterious illness that many years later I learned was a pregnancy gone awry. I watched over Patty, brought Mom coffee, food, and cigarettes, believing that Dad expected me to keep her alive while he was gone, a job I felt was mine for life. # Deb and I scrunch down into the soft tundra, plundering our bags of trail mix and jotting notes in our respective journals until the clouds shroud the sun, our butts grow numb and our muscles seize up. Before we left on this trip Deb and I each had our knees shot up with some magical lubricant that temporarily delays a major overhaul. It allows us to climb this mountain, squat, and hoist our butts in and out of our tents, but it offers no elixir of youth on a long downhill run. We reach into our packs for rain coats as mist drifts in from the Arctic Ocean. We shiver, shake out stiff legs and begin the long downhill climb. We hurry as much as possible over spiky-headed tundra tussocks, trying to coax warmth back into cold feet and hands, headed for camp, and something hot to drink, our hard-earned berries safe in our bellies.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
Shannon Huffman Polson
It is an evening so perfect I should have seen it couldn’t last. My husband and I are returning from listening to owls call to each other from the top of the scattered trees along the Denali Park Road. A shy half moon rests on the purple silhouette of mountains against a dusky sky. Walking back to our car, a meteorite flames across the horizon. Peter puts the key in the ignition and starts the car, turning slowly back onto the pavement and toward our cabin to the south. A few miles down the road, hot pink flares slice through the dusk, burning through our contemplation. Peter eases on the brake and comes to a stop. It is the same section of highway where Peter had seen a grizzly on his bike ride earlier that day, just before the bridge crossing the Nenana River. A semi-truck cab is parked on the side of the road in the opposite lane of traffic, its shiny grill warped and bent like a grotesque post-modern sculpture. The engine makes a grinding metallic sound as the driver tries to start it again, and again. After several minutes, the policeman lets our lane of traffic go—only one car following us this late in the evening and in the season. Past the semi, on the other side of the bridge, another police car sits, its lights flashing. A thick darkness lies twisted and smeared on the asphalt for a quarter of a mile up the road, an impasto of pain. I feel alternately sick and sad. “He must have hit a moose,” Peter says. “It looks like he dragged it all the way down the hill,” I say, and hope my wilted heart stays hidden, hope that we can regain our sense of nighttime wonder. “I’ll bet the moose never saw it coming,” he says gently, pulling into the driveway. The highway carnage wins. Back in the cabin, I am silent all the way until bed. A smaller vehicle would have been totaled, and the driver killed. The semi driver was lucky, though his cab took a
65 beating. We drove on by. We went about our business. It was time to get home. Past terror and pain written over the unforgiving surface. Written on this road passing through wilderness that did not allow the wilderness passage through it. Reconciling nature and man, beauty and brutality, is the essence of life in Alaska. It is a task reminiscent of Sisyphus; each time you push the boulder up the hill, something knocks it to the bottom again. My boulder has been a slippery one. There were times it almost flattened me on the way down. *** Many years before, I sulked in the living room of our little log cabin, the refuge tucked away in Denali my stepmom brought to our family. Though a four drive north of our Anchorage home, we went as often as we could, looking for quiet and wilderness. Low gray clouds oozed mercilessly, thwarting my plans for a hike. I tried to read, and plowed through one page after another with grim determination, absorbing nothing. Slowly a smell of orange and sugar curled around the corner of the cabin wall. There was a tartness there too— lingonberries mixed in, picked that day just outside the log cabin walls on the tundra in interior Alaska. Lingonberry-Orange-Nut Bread. Food of the gods. My defenses dissolved. I was helpless to stop them. “It might be a little soft in the middle,” said my stepmom, Kathy. “Perfect!” I said, not remembering my bitterness moments before. “That’s exactly how I like it!” My dad’s six foot four body hovered, waiting for the first slice. I liked the ends, where the crispness of the crust concentrates the sweetness, or the middle, where it isn’t quite cooked enough. Kathy loved to see us enjoy it so much. Dad and Kathy married the summer before I left for college. I regarded my new stepmom with considerable wariness. Her quick smile and sparkling blue eyes made her impossible to hate, frustrating me all the more. I followed along when she scheduled a color assessment for me, coaxing me beyond my tom-boyish ways. I wore the clothes she sent. She treated me as a daughter at
66 times, and a friend at others. I welcomed and resisted both. Though craving maternal affection, I didn’t want to recognize the shift in dynamics in our household. We weren’t any of us so different from the bull-moose that butted heads in the woods outside our home and cabin. We sparred to establish dominance; my father as parent, me as teenager growing into an adult; my step-mother defining her new role, me resisting change to a precarious settlement of earlier family brokenness. We left a few antler prongs on the ground. Once focused exclusively on us kids, Dad had found happiness with his new wife. I was too selfishly absorbed to worry about parental satisfaction. My one aim in life had been to please my father; I didn’t know what to do if he was no longer as interested. The dynamic of women in a household, even a daughter and step-mother doing her best, can chafe through civility at times to reveal a hardness as sharp as the shale in the Chugach Range behind our home. Even so, after leaving home before every Christmas and Thanksgiving, a heavy, shoe-box sized package arrived at my address wherever I was living at the time. Inside was a gift from Kathy—on behalf of both her and Dad, but Dad didn’t bake. A tinfoil wrapped loaf of heaven: LingonberryOrange-Nut Bread. It was an expression of love when words did not come easily. It was the sweet tartness of cold fall days, memories of picking berries a few months before, sweetness balancing the acerbic lingonberries, a promise to work through this challenge of reconstructing a family. These are all only memories now. Memories I hold onto like a child clutching a beloved blanket. Memories from crisp mornings and cool days gently stroked by distant sun. Memories of picking cranberries on reddening tundra, and baking cranberry bread. Of cold fingers and warm ovens. I grasp these like a child’s blanket, because they are all I have left to hold onto. This same wilderness canvas of my childhood took Dad and Kathy on their sixteenth anniversary. Away kayaking a river in Alaska’s Arctic, a grizzly slashed through their tent, ripping them out of this world. Drawn to the wild, it was the wild that took them. It was one thing to spar with my family; but when life and loss came at me with antlers lowered, with a mass and velocity I never saw coming, they took me down. I didn’t think I would ever get up. How does one know how to get back up? For a long time after they died, I walked around in a freeze.
CIRQUE I sat and stared out of windows and saw nothing. I walked in the mountains and felt nothing. I read books and understood nothing. I went through motions at church, said prayers, and sang music, and believed nothing. What do you do when there is nothing? For a while you might not get out of bed. And then one day you do. Then you go through the motions. You take a shower. You get in the car, and drive to work, and then you drive home. You eat something, sometimes just crackers. In the category of things to do, I knew I didn’t have to go back to Alaska. I was living somewhere else, all grown up. I could immerse myself in the concrete city, the arts and dinner parties and wine tastings. Everyone would understand if I never went back outside. If I didn’t want to sleep in a tent ever again. I went to church. I sang beautiful music. But I came back, I came back. I had to come back. I still have to go back. It is something that pulls me. It is the place I feel most at peace. It is a place I can breathe. It is a place I realized I didn’t really know, and needed to explore. It is a place that Dad and Kathy gave me. I loved this place. There was so much to learn. So much I resisted I need to know. And maybe if I tried, someday I would understand. *** Fall is my favorite time in Denali, when as an adult I make my regular visits home. I go for the memories. I go for the drama. The same time of year school kids line up at bus stops with shiny new lunch boxes, somewhere far to the north a violent event as vital as the fall colors is playing out. Antlers clash, propelled by thousands of pounds of raw power as bull-moose compete for mates. This is called the rut. Tourists here this late in the season line up on the side of the park road with long-lensed cameras, hoping to see the fight, like crowds at a hockey game. I haven’t stood in line for the school bus for twenty-five years. Instead, I leave Seattle’s high summer to travel north where the tundra is reddening, already well into autumn. Heading out to hike the past two years, just before the rut, I’ve watched two bull-moose through the trees on the Denali Park road halfway to Savage River. Feeding on willow and dwarf birch, their prodigious racks sway gently among the branches. Further back in the park the story of a fierce battle is scribed on the tundra in the hieroglyphics of wildness. Two skulls, antlers interlocked, lay intact on the tundra. The story writ is this: It is a rainy fall. The colors simmer
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
67 Janet Levin
with reds and golds like the hot coals of a long fire. Two massive bulls face each other, heads down, racks swaying, pawing the ground with huge, heavy hooves. Nostrils snort steam into damp fall air. In an instant, they charge, their racks colliding with a CRASH! They separate, and two tons of muscled bone charge to collide again, and the prong of one antler plunges into the soft eye of the other, hooking into the bony eye socket. The two great beasts lock together. One stumbles to his knees, pulling the other with him. Lungs respire forcefully. Natural instincts are foiled by a cruel trick of the very nature which gave them instinct. The two bulls lay in the tundra until each took his last, shuddering breath, shiny eyes dulling. Now the skulls and antlers sit mounted at the Eielson Visitor Center far back in the park, there for tourists who see them to try to imagine. Even in the city and suburbs of Alaska, moose roam roads and railroad tracks. Grizzly and black bear leave scat on the edge of just-mowed lawns. Most of the large animals are shy. Though they walk the same paths as humans, they’d rather avoid interaction. Despite seeing the evidence of
bear in our yard, building forts in the woods, I never saw a bear except the one pacing dejectedly behind iron bars in the city zoo. Moose were more common, roaming the ski trails just outside of the home where I grew up in the suburbs. It was not the bulls we had to be most careful of; it was the cows watching with wary eye to protect their calves with sudden charges and sharp hooves galvanized by a thousand pounds of raw maternal power. We knew the dangers, and how to live with them. To an extent, we accepted the risk. Born in Alaska, I never considered life would be different than that. It is rare that we understand what accepting risk really means for ourselves, or for those we love. We do not understand how fragile are our bodies, or our hearts. Moose traversed our yard with no interest in property lines or park boundaries, eating newly planted flowers and the lettuce and broccoli in our garden boxes. We banged together pots and pans from our deck to scare them out of the garden, rarely eliciting even a raised
68 moose eyebrow. Every spring a moose calved in our yard and brought up her newborn in the woods around our house for its first few weeks of life. After I had grown and gone, Dad called me to report that the moose had calved on the lawn just outside the dining room window. He and Kathy watched the steaming calf emerge from her body, followed by her placenta, which she ate. Hours later mother and calf both stood, the mother nursing and nuzzling the new life beside her. A picture taken when I was five shows me with a wide, crooked-toothed smile, wearing a hand-knit sweater and holding out a handful of berries. Berry picking was one of the first things my dad and I did together outdoors, after I was too big to put in the backpack, and before I was big enough to carry my own backpack and hike by myself. Our family traipsed through the woods and mountains of Alaska on camping trips, first staying in forest service cabins, and then in tents. When I was ten, my dad led my younger brothers and me back into the Chugach Mountains to camp at the base of Williwaw Peak, close to Williwaw Lakes. The word “williwaw” refers to a katabatic wind, dense cold air descending from high mountainous terrain to the sea accelerated by gravity—and that night the wind ripped our tent down around the center pole. The nylon whipped shrieking around us like angry ghosts. My brother screamed. We started hiking out in the four AM light. Our golden retriever ran gleefully across the shale of the mountainsides, cutting her paws, blooms of blood blossoming behind her on the snow. My Dad put her in his backpack, and we continued out to the parking lot and back home.
CIRQUE With all of our adventures, nature’s cruelty did not escape me, even then. Tiny songbirds committed suicide against our shiny windows several times a summer, flying toward brightness. I gathered them up each time and carried them down to graves I dug just inside the woodline past the edge of our yard. I named them, gave them quiet burials from a miniature Book of Common Prayer, and wrote their names on rocks I found in the woods to mark the graves. Once another bird remained perched on our bird feeder above its friend lying still and cold on our porch. I put my finger under its feet, and it stumbled onto it, its tiny toes grasping my flesh. Its eyes blinked at me. I moved it back to the feeder, where it wobbled to stand. I buried its friend. Only then did it fly away. My family picked berries together—and did just about anything—better than we expressed love. Expectations of performance and behavior came first; strong opinions hardened conversations and challenged each of us to work hard, but did not show us how to tell each other we cared. What I didn’t understand until later was how much the time spent together in nature really gave me. How it was not only the activities, but the places my Dad and Kathy offered that filled in the inevitable gaps of family. Places became parents. As with my own parents, I resisted the lessons sometimes. I ignored them. I rejected them. Most frequently, I couldn’t see them. And ultimately, brought to my knees, I wept as they revealed themselves and I saw the love wrought in their mystery and beauty. Every fall, I go to Denali. The complex drama of fall in Denali for me is played not with clash, but with color. With
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 color and with memory. Memory informed by color. I go back to Alaska, back to our little cabin perched on the bluff above the Nenana River. I lived in a deep freeze for a long time. At some point, as quietly as the change of a season, deep in the frozen barren ground a breath of life whispered. Over time the soil thawed. At some point a tiny shoot broke through the frosted soil. And then another. Knocked to the ground, I had to learn to consider the world from a different perspective. I had to learn to see again. *** I get up early to walk the trail along the bluff. I never walked this trail on earlier visits. I don’t know why. I can taste the morning frost. I breathe in the golds of the aspens. I feel the rush of the river at low water at the base of the bluff. I smell the crispness in the air. I hear the letting go of summer and the approach of winter. A translucent moon floats softly in the pale blue sky, singing the night song into early morning. Walking along the trail leading from the cabin along the bluff is like walking into a symphony. A sea of gold washes over me as the aspens, glowing, enfold me. I have to look up words to describe what I see. One place the trail descends into a small depression. Walking toward the auriferous aspens, I follow the trail down. Then it is all around me, this fall, this gilded light. Gold hanging and trembling on tall straight trees above me, trunks almost white in the soft morning light, gold on the forest floor climbing the hillside beside me, gold scattered along the pine needle padded path like precious coins, a wild extravagance.
Have you ever been surrounded by aspen leaves in the fall? These aspen leaves? Quivering, quaking, fluttering, shivering, shaking; if the Celts were right, and there are thin places, borders between worlds, this is what that border would be like. If this were music, each leaf would be a trill played over the glissando of forest. In places the reds of dwarf birch and blueberry overtake the lutescent flora, eschewing the constraints of the color wheel, each leaf progressing through vermillion and burnt embers, magentas and purples even along the veins of the leaves. In air so clear and cold, the river below is a mystery in the morning, hidden beneath quiet fog resting on riverbanks. I pay attention. I am supposed to be here. I am supposed to learn. Every day is different, as if the Master Artist delights in painting new landscapes. New swaths of yellow glow and brighten and fade on the spruce and aspen covered hillsides, and others appear. When it rains, the watery sheen deepens the colors. When the sun shines against the bluest skies, an aureate palette leaps from the trees, swirls suspended in the air. Molten season. Even as fall progresses, and colors deepen to fulvous ochres and sienna, the Master stays at task. Lines of landscape appear and fade with each painting, each stroke of sun on an afternoon hillside. Around our cabin, lingonberries grow nestled into the mosses of the boreal forest. Lingonberries are low-bush cranberries, much smaller than their larger and better known cousins growing in bogs. Despite their smaller size, they pack a surpassing flavor density and tartness. Alaskans know them as cranberries. I have picked them before, every year, building up the stockpile for bread, but never known anything else about them.
70 I look them up. The leaves are evergreen and oval shaped, and white pink-streaked bell shaped flowers turn into the tart fruit. The plant spreads by rhizomes, root systems spreading underground and growing new plants at intervals, a system counteracting the brutality of winters. This fall drama is only the backdrop for my memories. Memories of sitting on the soft tundra and picking cranberries, cold, red, hard shells falling easily into warm palms. Crisp air stung cheeks and noses and chapped hands. Every year, Dad, Kathy and I picked in the woods surrounding our cabin on that bluff overlooking the river. Dad lay on his side in the tundra wearing Carthartt overalls, an unconscious smile on his softly aging face. Kathy wore jeans and a faded blue Nantucket sweatshirt that set off her light blue eyes. Pink cheeks and eyes smiled, teasing jokes and laughter floating with the leaves. In the city, jewels sit in cases behind glass windows off concrete sidewalks. In Denali I hold ruby cranberries against my skin, marvel at the sapphire sky above and the diamond raindrop reflecting the sparkling world in the leaves of the lupine, the emerald of the verdant tundra. Set in the gold of the aspen leaves and the silver of the shining river below, life is rich indeed. Below the bluff, the river curves gracefully, a calligraphic embellishment, glittering north in the autumn sun. With all of this, it is not an easy thing. There is no resolution. I wait for the fall, watching fireweed blooms ascend their purple stems, upon reaching their apex, portending snow. Willow ptarmigan dart about, leg and belly feathers turning white to camouflage them in the coming snows. Swans land on the lakes against mountainsides of yellow aspen, the deep green of alder, the yellow green of willow, the deep reds of blueberries and dwarf birch, pausing briefly in their journey south as though only to give us the gift of long white necks arced against the changing colors. Summer is dying. Fall has arrived. The leaves! How do they get like this? I look this up, too. In summer, chlorophyll hoards the sun’s energy, manufacturing sugars and starches from carbon dioxide and oxygen, and the green pigment of the chemical overwhelms other pigmentation. As a result, green buds yield the green leaves of spring and summer. As fall arrives, the tiny factories of nutrients in the leaves grind to a halt. Chlorophyll deteriorates. Carotene and xanthophyll pigments already present, but previously masked by the intensity of the chlorophyll, spark into prominence, and
CIRQUE yellows and oranges emerge. In other cases, the chemical anthocyanin develops even as the chlorophyll breaks down, and vibrant reds or deep purples flame from the branches. The most spectacular beauty shows in the death of what appears as life. This coming of fall, turning of colors, ripening of berries, is not driven by the calendar. Anywhere from mid-August to mid-September, lingonberries come with the height of the fall colors, the blazing aspen, the flaming tundra, the reds of the dwarf birch and the gold of the willows. Starting out bright red as oxygenated blood, they are not yet ready. After ripening in the hot days of summer and sweetening through the first frost, lingonberries deepen to the dark red of arterial blood, swollen and ready to burst. Nature pulses through them. When their color deepens to the essence of life, they are ready to be picked. It is as if nature is saying: if you pay attention, I will give you a gift, many gifts. The Labor Day weekend before Dad and Kathy died, I traveled from Seattle to visit at the cabin for what none of us could know would be our last fall weekend together. Friends with small children joined us. That weekend, a steady, cold drizzle leaked from low, dark clouds. The glow of the wood stove on oiled logs called, and there were books to read, and games to play. It was the children who heard the voice and sensed the rhythms and the trembling readiness of nature, and pulled me back outside. Walking through the woods, brushing against wet branches drenching her rain parka, the youngest girl filled her tiny knit mittens with berries, and could not be coaxed back to the cabin until her pockets, too, were full. At the bottom of the bluff, the river murmured. The tangle of memories and hopes about people and places and times gone by knot me into its snarl, each day more impossible to unravel. Maybe it’s not the memories that answer questions of life and loss. Maybe the memories just play out against the world. In time, a child grows out of her threadbare blanket; it falls apart. Memories, too, wear with time, leaking out of our clenched hands like water, eluding our grasp like the mist on the river. Maybe it is not the memories at all, but something that they hold, whispers of wisdom, which leads us to truth. Maybe it is my memories that are the backdrop for fall. I walk the trail from the cabin another fall day. It is afternoon, and the sun lays swaths of light through the aspens and across the trail like a ladder. When the grade
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 of the bluff just off the trail lessens, I veer off the trail, scrambling down the slope to the river. I have to lean back and sideways into the slope to keep from pitching headlong, grabbing the smooth trunks of aspen to slow my descent. I go down, down, down the hillside. This is new territory. At the base of the bluff I pick through the tundra to the river. Just downriver of my intersection of the riverbank a large rock juts out from shore. I clamber onto it and sit, looking at the river churning around it and then back into the main current. I sit there for a long time. I look across at the colors flickering up the hillside opposite me in the aspen and spruce. I look at the trees just across the river. And then I saw something I had never seen before. Several feet above their roots, the bark on the trees just along the opposite riverbank had been peeled, gashed, gauged, deeply. I found out later that week that what was called a “major ice event” the previous winter had damaged the trees; in a warm period of the winter, the ice, many feet thick over the river, broke and erupted against the shore, slashing the tree trunks. The trees still stood, still reflected the sun off golden leaves shivering in the breeze and needles bristling against the coming snows. Battered and bruised, they stood tall. Moving through to a new season takes acceptance of aching absence, weathering the wildest winter. It takes looking at the forest floor. It takes looking to the sky. Heraclitus tells us we can never step in the same river twice, as the water brings new life. Life’s carnage will not win. The bear will come out of her den. Green buds will unfurl into leaves. And at the end of the summer, when the golden leaves of aspen shimmer against blue skies, or glisten in the rain, the lingonberries will be ready. When we buried Dad and Kathy in a rural graveyard in the Alaskan tundra, the priest sprinkled water from the Nenana over the coffins three times with a branch of spruce: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” River water. Moving water. Holy water. I knew the burial service from the Book of Common Prayer. It is the ritual I used for birds. “Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you our brother and sister…” Later that summer I went to visit the grave, ringed by mountains of the Alaska Range. A close friend of Dad and Kathy’s was there, too. “I still talk to them when I’m out on the river,” he said,
71 watering the grass he had planted on the grave. “You do?” I asked eagerly. “Do you hear them?” “Oh, I don’t know,” he said slowly, looking off toward the mountains. “But the longer I live, the more I understand that the line between the living and the dead isn’t much of a line at all.” This year I consider my berry picking, my spending time with memories and newly known wilderness. And it occurs to me—perhaps it is the trees that say this, or the river—that I am here to make new memories, too. That the old and the new are not so different. The old becomes the new. This doesn’t make everything all right. This doesn’t explain violence and death. But it gives me a better understanding of life. I bring the cranberries inside. I put them into a colander, rinse them, and lay them out on a dish towel. I pick out the tiny hard green leaves which have made their way into my pot. And then—I almost know the recipe by heart—I pull out a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon. I rinse an orange, and press it against the micro-grater, dragging its sweet flesh against the rough metal. The sweet tartness fills the kitchen. Flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda. Orange juice. Orange zest. Butter. Cranberries. Chopped walnuts. The fragrance of the sweet bread fills every corner and crevice of the cabin, nestles between the logs, bursts into the cool fall air when my husband opens the front door. By the time hikers discovered the dueling moose in Denali, their skeletons were pulled apart, nourishing any number of other animals. In the elemental dance of life, they came to death earlier than would have otherwise been proscribed. In their death, they nourished new life. How many other stories lie written in the finest hieroglyphics we cannot, or do not read? How much is death not the end at all, but only part of life? This journey is not one of resolution, but reconciliation, moment by moment. This is what the trees say. This is what the leaves say. This is what the animals say. If creation can happen each moment, so then can reconciliation. We live on borders, looking to the sky, but watching our step. This fall, a baby curls in my belly, hibernating, growing, waiting to join this world. A daughter becomes a mother. A grandchild is born. Rhizomes have spread beneath the cruel freeze of winter and come up again in the spring with new life. Next year a little child will crawl on the soft tundra, cranberries slowly filling a bowl, the river below us still flowing, bringing new waters.
CIRQUE Janet Levin
Capacious As in a capacious vessel, room, bay or harbor.
The cabin at our fish site in Alaska has a high ceiling and might feel spacious if we could flit like birds through the air above our heads. On stormy days the antonyms apply: cramped tiny squeezed. Like the time I find to write. Or sharing a bed with a Labrador, six feet something of husband, a two-year-old who prefers to sleep diagonally. Those nights I hold myself in place with one hip anchored to the wooden bed frame. We spend our summers on a bay that opens to the Shelikof Strait. Summer here is cold wind and waves. The silver glint of salmon sloshing in totes of ice. I crave a desert summer with its bright heat, hard rains, and lightning fading to muted evening. But because a northern June offers generous light in place of warmth—when it isn’t soaked up by fog and storms—I still think of summer as the most capacious season. I find myself subscribing to impractical magazines hoping to share in that other summer unfolding far away from our cabin. But sometimes the stone fruit recipes and photos of garden parties start me lusting after sweet juicy peaches and plums and nectarines and cherries enticing birds in orchards, rolling fat and tender out of grocery bins. All my favorite fruits ripening to perfect luscious mouthfuls and I am missing it. I settle for poems soft between my teeth. Lee Young-Li’s Succulent peaches we devour, dusty skin and all, comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat. O, to take what we love inside, to carry within us an orchard, This year I planted a small cherry tree hardy enough for our constant winds, not for the fruit but for the bright June blooms. ~
Capacious ends with a wet mouthful of sounds. Ends with sh and s like the feel of a skirt swishing against bare legs. A feminine word to rhyme with flirtatious, curvaceous. Not a wanton word. The word wants to be good. Capable of containing a large quantity, spacious and roomy: she rummaged in her capacious handbag. A little like pregnancy then—for the baby in the womb—not the mother. Maternity clothing, of all clothing, should qualify as capacious but a truer category is just awkward. Motherhood, pregnancy, there aren’t nouns big enough to hold both the gift and burden. I aim for the synonyms. Abundant gratitude. Comfortable in this way of life. Generous with affection. Can I make a place of calm in this world? Be that place? I aspire to the idea of a capacious life, but I feel funny trying to grow spiritually, to make my thoughts more expansive after reading some meditation book or an Oprah article. I struggle just to use the word in a conversation. “If we had a nanny I think I could be more capacious,” I say to my husband. “What?” “I think I could be more capacious.” “What’s capacious?” “You don’t know? Darn. I was trying to see if I used it right.” A full life. Able to contain a great deal: affording much space. As in a colonial fireplace capacious enough to roast an ox. But of course, in saying that I hope to live fully, I mean that I am hoping for a life full of good. “It just means that I’m going to lead an interesting life,” I once told my brother when he noticed the excessive lines on my palms. My handprints are like cracked mud, a
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 fractured windshield. “Well, you’d better get started then,” he replied. ~ Lately, my son has been begging for one bedtime story over and over. One based on a true story that I only planned to tell once. What’s that old joke? Where does the lion sleep? Anywhere he wants to. And on our island, where do red foxes poop? On any claimed space, on every path and flowerbed and berry patch. This is the story my two-year-old adores. The time the foxes pooped on the ___ (insert any item here). When he asks for the story again and again, I scold myself for encouraging potty humor. Until I hear him laugh. The last of the baby is there in that sweet and flawless sound. I would say anything; tell any story for that sound. I would do anything to make room for laughter in his life as he takes in the wonderful and terrible of a world big enough to hold all of it. This fishing season and my second pregnancy will both end by October. I have to stop now to catch my breath when I carry my two-year-old up the hill from the beach. When I heave myself into our skiff and we lift and fall over the swells, I wonder if the baby notices the water’s motion or if it’s all the same to him. Waves inside and outside. I’ve become a vessel. A sea beside the ocean.
We were in our thirties, married two years, with a baby girl. We carried her in an eggshell-colored basket that just fit between the bucket seats of our blue Nissan pickup. Neither of us needed a real house. We’d been content to rent and move at will, but that little person waving her arms and cooing her way up the Alcan triggered a house-building urge in Larry. He owned three lots in Homer because his father had advised him to invest his fishing money one summer. So we cleared alders, dug trenches and began to build a cabin on pilings. Our little girl watched from a nest of blankets and pillows, playing with leaf shadows, growing, learning to laugh. Larry carpentered on someone else’s house all day. Our building project took up evenings and weekends.
We slept in a cold-water apartment over a garage next to a meadow where golden-crowned sparrows nested. Their three-note song poured through the dormers of our sleeping space on shafts of midnight sun. I nursed our baby. She learned to sit up, to play with her toes. I grew up on a farm in Montana, in a big white house with a red gabled roof and treasures stored in dark closets and the attic. My mother kept house joyfully. She polished windows and dusted shelves as if she were dancing. She stayed up late at night to sew curtains, to hook rugs. She loved wax and paint. When I left that place behind I became a renter. I could spot a For Rent sign blocks away. I could move everything I owned in my Volkswagen convertible with the top down: Floor lamps, canvas chairs, the futon. A box of dishes, a box of books. Sometimes I hung posters on the walls. Sometimes I walked through neighborhoods where the smell of fried chicken and the sound of children practicing pianos filled me with bourgeois longing. I never expected to own a house. I was a product of the 1960s, educated away from money and establishment. Liberated. We pounded nails through plywood to make a floor. We raised four walls, plumbed for a kitchen and a bathroom. Our simple plans got bigger when Larry’s friend Pete stepped in to help. We’d have stairs and a loft. We put plywood on the roof, and tarpaper. We sided the walls with plywood sheathing that I painted Cape Cod gray. I learned about vapor barriers and insulation. I remembered one rented apartment in Missoula, a duplex with such thin walls I could hear my neighbor crying at night. My electric bill seemed high but I paid it without question until a man I knew decided to lift a little door in the floor and look into the crawl space. It was inches deep in warm water. A rusted-out water heater. My ignorance of building upkeep shocked me. Indignantly I called the landlord. Our cabin would have electricity. The electrician was another friend of Larry’s. He’d be stringing wires through 2X4 studs, and then suddenly rush outside to listen to sandhill cranes gathering for their fall migration. It was a wiry sound, and wild. It sounded like a warning. Time and weather were running out. Larry put insulated sheathing around the base of our cabin. It was chilly and damp inside and our baby caught a cold. We locked the door, gave Larry’s brother the key and drove our pickup down the highway. We were summer people. Larry knew what real Alaskans thought of summer people. By the second summer we decided to stay. We put up sheetrock, built a
74 boardwalk and a front porch. When our daughter was two Larry built a basement on our third lot, the one closest to the creek. The ground froze hard enough in November for a crane operator to swing our cabin, electrical wires still attached, from its pilings to a solid foundation. I stood at our living room window afterward, feeling suddenly rooted. We fixed up the daylight basement— two bedrooms, a second bathroom, niches for a washer, a dryer and a heating stove. Larry got a job on a dredge in the harbor, working seven 12-hour nights all one summer, for Davis-Bacon wages. We were rich. We replaced our plywood kitchen counters with store-bought cabinets, a gas cook stove and a full-size refrigerator—six thousand dollars from Spenard Builders Supply. We put carpet and tile over the painted plywood floors. Larry got another good job close to home on the Bradley Lake hydroelectric project. We had a baby boy. Larry and his brother added an arctic entry to keep cold air from wafting in on our son as he learned to crawl. Larry built a bay window in the living room for my birthday one year, with a window seat. We rearranged the kitchen cupboards to make room for another bay window over the kitchen sink. I watched birds from that window: chickadees in the spruce trees, bohemian waxwings in the mountain ash, the occasional skittish pair of varied thrush. We cut a hole in our northeast wall and enclosed a small deck we’d built over the downstairs bedroom. Now we had a dining room with big windows. The children grew old enough to help us put vinyl siding over the old plywood. It took two years to finish the job. We worked on it when we had time and extra money. Larry fell from a ladder at a job site and broke both of his heels. Our friends built a wheelchair ramp on the front of our house. When Larry recovered enough to work again he tore down the ramp, sank sauna tubes filled with concrete into the ground and built a wide deck along the west side of the house. I planted lilac and tulips and a honeysuckle bush. Our little girl grew into a vibrant teenager with her room upstairs painted lime green and yellow. When she went to college our son moved into her room. He hung a sheet of plywood from the ceiling and put his mattress on it for a bed. On the floor he had a TV and a futon, stacked around with baseball mitts, football cleats and lots of socks. I’ve painted walls, waxed floors and hung curtains for twenty-six years at the same address. Our daughter is married; our son is nearly finished with college. They’ll be making their own homes, remembering ours but moving
CIRQUE on. We’ve turned their bedrooms into tidy guest rooms. When I garden and Larry tends the yard we remember child voices calling where the swing set used to be. I suppose we could leave this place. Just pack up what’s movable and live without the window seat and the view from the kitchen sink. I suppose there are other sunny dining rooms where I could hang our family portraits and stack our photo albums. We could pick up that liberated life we left when we built this house and settled down. We could be renters again, or condominium owners. But I look at the red-leaf rose bush, finally flourishing after all these years. I admire the clematis vine that climbs one side of the house, the tamarack trees along the creek filling out from the spindly starts of ten years ago. Even in winter I know these things are coming back. I count on seeing them again and again. I can hear chickadees calling from the feeder. It’s good to be home.
Devil’s Club Chronicle
I hold my breath. I try not to move. I do not want to jostle the quiet memory I have just stepped into. I am four years old and the ceiling of the forest creaks ever so slightly. An errant breeze, softer than a whisper, dislodges a fine spray of dust. Yellow leaves sigh one over the other then loosen and sprinkle onto the mossy ground, creating inverted halos beneath birch trees whose trunks are as silver as bars of moonlight. This is more than a recollection of chiaroscuro breaking through a canopy of ocean-side spruce and cottonwood. This is also the scent and taste and sound of the forest. It is a forest perched on a cliff of rock
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 overlooking Kachemak Bay where sudden breaks in the cloud cover emit a light that lances into the chill water as brilliantly as any fire, forging a metallic sheen across the waves towards Seldovia. The intense salt tang of the deep sea water rises up and seeps into the woods that are a part of our homestead. The odors of decaying crab, starfish, and urchin blend with strong whiffs of muck and seaweed – all made clean by the cold Alaskan air and the sea itself. And since I like the gulls that drift and flock in the sky like living storm clouds, and the ravens who call out with voices like wood blocks striking, I am happy. I know they will soon be feasting. Low tide sets the table, the distant bark of a seal calls out; the banquet has begun. There is a snuffling sound, a low huh, huh, huh. Even in memory I step back and feel the fine hairs prickling up my neck. My father tells us: Keep your eyes peeled. Pay attention. Always respect bears. Bears love those drooping cones of red berries, the ones that top off devil’s club stalks. Dyes and salves and special fish hooks have been made from those plants for thousands of years by Raven’s people. Walking off the path, pushing through brush, you don’t want to grab a handful of devil’s club. Sharp spikes coat each high stalk. The huge velvety leaves seem to float and bob in the dapple light but their undersides are covered with thorns. I was shorter than some of those stalks and I would stand dangerously close, look up at the leaves made golden with the sun at high noon, and think of Kingsley’s Verses on Water Babies, a tale of naughty children whose hides were made to sprout prickles and thorns. Mom would caution me as we moved into the woods to gather mushrooms. As we hiked to the cliff and climbed down it to run and yell along the shore, she would say, “Keep your eyes peeled. Think about where you are putting your hand.” If my brother or I spied a retreating fox, or a distant moose, or a stand of mushrooms that could be eaten, Dad would say, “Keen eyes.” That was, to me, the highest compliment because it meant you were paying attention, you were listening to the world, you were able to read the forest. All of our meals were cooked over an open fire or prepared in a big iron skillet on top of the wood stove. Dad’s seafood stews were seasoned over the fire. Moose steaks were sautéed in that skillet. And birthday cakes were prepared in it. The cakes looked like puffy round chocolate pillows. The green army surplus tent that we lived in was
75 roomy enough for four cots and several thick cardboard barrels of belongings. The wood stove was in the center, stove pipe emitting smoke through a hole in the tent’s peaked top. My world was comprised of twenty six acres of meadow, forest and cliff. All directions and inner maps were drawn to that scale and labeled with the places I could explore, climb up into, and burrow under. Alders were named monkey trees because in them I hooted and swung like a monkey. Diamond willows were called Mom’s singing trees because she adored them; she hiked with a diamond willow walking stick. She would later water witch our deep artesian well with diamond willow rods. The trails and paths laid down by bear, moose and deer were my trails as well. I reach out, in the certainty of recollection, and touch a slab of spruce trunk worn as smooth as a chunk of ivory by a bear pausing to rub against it, to scratch an itch or leave his bear scent behind with a few long dark hairs. We walk between two banks of ferns the color of emeralds. Dad scoops me up so that I can sit on his shoulders. “Look for bears,” he says. “They like to nap in the cool places. They don’t like to be woken up by strangers.” I rest my elbows on dad’s head. His wavy brown hair smells like yeast; he and mom had been making bread. At night kerosene lamps illuminate the pages of books. Wherever we go, the books go too. My favorite are the Book House Books, bound in a green that is close to lime green. MY BOOK HOUSE, volume three: Kingsley’s Verses on Water Babies, is as worn as a bear tree. As summer ends and autumn cools, we go to sleep earlier. We sit on our cots and read while dad stirs a saucepan of fudge. My brother and I are each given a spoon so that we can lick the pot. Mom tells us a story about betrayal and fear and hate, “Out, out damn spot!” She rolls her sparkling hazel eyes and lifts her dark eyebrows. We applaud. Dad pretends to be a famous violinist. Two long wooden spoons are his bow and violin. The fudge has set and we each get to eat one piece before snuggling into our sleeping bags. Poochie Pie, our black cat, winds around dad’s ankles looking for a treat. The dogs, Queenie and her son Prince, sigh and settle down, laying their muzzles on their paws. Later in the night Queenie will give a soft woof but she won’t go out. In the morning large hoof prints are visible in the heavy dew; sometimes there are other kinds of tracks. “Queenie is smart,” dad assures us. I agree. She is a silvery dog with a curled tail, pointed black ears and kind brown eyes that notice everything. I can taste the fudge mixed with a little toothpaste,
76 rinsed with a half-full cup of water, but still there is a bittersweet sliver of chocolate flavor. Mom turns off one lamp, dad turns off another. Slowly the humming fades and light dims. The interior of the tent is dark. Winter is coming. The long, long days of summer are at an end. The midnight sun is replaced with millions of stars as bright as campfires set across the Milky Way so that Raven and all the others can settle down comfortably and tell their stories. Memory shifts. Air cools. A flash of brilliant fireweed blooms against a sky as gray as wet slate. Iridescent foxtails shimmer. Our garden has been emptied of potatoes and cabbage. The carrots have almost all been pulled, and the onions. My brother is away playing with older friends. Mom and dad are busy hauling lumber, sawing and hammering; they must hurry if our house is to be finished before the snow accumulates and winter becomes a fact. Armed with a long metal spoon I head to the warmed furrows of garden earth and begin to dig for treasure. Such treasure is bountiful: coiling and uncoiling earthworms, compressed skeletal remains of cottonwood leaves, rocks imprinted with leaf fossils, or pebbles with wonderful colors embedded in them that I try to match up with the crayons I possess. All is sun warmed. There is a laziness and calmness in me, in the earth beneath me, even in the yellow finery of birch leaves – as if we were all preparing for the long snooze under winter’s comforter of snow. Queenie snarls. I look up startled. Her inquisitive face is tilted. She eyes me and wrinkles her nose. Is she angry? Is she mad? I tremble all over, drop the spoon, and stand. Prince joins his mother, growling low in his throat. I think of the movie we saw during our yearly grocery trip to Anchorage: Old Yeller. Had my dearest friends in all the world gone rabid? I faced them. Aware of the tremor in my legs. Aware of how I felt balanced between angles of light and shadow. Aware of the grainy dirt that had worked its way under the soles of my feet. “Stop!” To my own ears my voice sounded tiny and not powerful at all. Queenie walked towards me, her front legs stiff, her head lowered. Prince started to bark; I began to cry. Queenie was going to bite me. Her white sharp teeth flashed. She held my arm in her mouth and started pulling. Prince nipped at my feet as if he were saying hurry, hurry. I half stumbled in the direction Queenie was leading me. Vision jogged unevenly as we headed towards an old tar paper shack where dad kept his tools. I ran into the shed and slammed the door. From a narrow square of heavy plastic, which was the shed’s only window, I peered out at the two
CIRQUE dogs. They were no longer growling and showing their teeth at me; they had turned away, hackles raised. A bull moose, close to a ton of muscle, bone and hoof, stood pawing the ground right at the very spot where I had sat idly digging for treasure. Queenie and Prince continued to bark. The moose charged, running straight for the shed and slamming into it with the force of a small earthquake. I ran to the back wall and screamed. This time I let the scream travel up from my feet all through me and out of my mouth with a force and volume I didn’t know I had. I did not sound like a little girl playing with a kitchen spoon. My friends were out there barking and yelping and lunging at an enraged moose. It was only right that I add my own howling to theirs. Sound can get lost in the curve of trees and gradients of hills. A neighbor who lived a mile or so away on a rustic homestead of his own was driving down the winding East End road, his stogie lit, his window down, when he heard one “heck of a hullabaloo!” He drove to the building site where mom and dad were hard at work. Minutes later dad came running, 30.06 rifle raised to his shoulder even as he sprinted. The moose gave one last mighty whack to the shed, kicked towards Queenie and her son, and then loped away as if he had never been angry in the first place. In other times, along other latitudes, people talk of coming of age, of walkabouts, or other rites of passage designed for certain pivotal points in life. That night, on the verge of turning five, I was given a rite of passage that I will never forget; it is in me, in my skin and in my dreams that are filled with silent wild places. The sky turned a shade of black which is the color of dye taken from devil’s club, the color of ink drying. That evening Queenie slept under my cot, and Prince curled by the wood stove. My brother put down the book he was reading. Dad switched off the lanterns. As the air buzzed into a still duskiness around us my mother, her hair as dark as a raven’s wing, looked at me and said, “Tonight, you tell the story.”
Each year I meditate on March: drab, dusty, wind scoured and still not spring. March is the month when thawing ground and melt puddles seem a long way off but each day I anticipate geese and swans even knowing that
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it’s too early. In March I consider the possibility of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, but cheer myself with the blue of the sky. One March, it was the stairs that attracted my attention, the carpet in particular—a short napped rug once as mute and calming as the sea on a cloudy day but now drearily smudged, flattened by uncountable footsteps, and weighted by glacial silt that comes unbidden, riding fierce winds and sifting through the slimmest crack. Once this carpet had been new, replacing the long threaded, thinly stitched carpet that came with the house. When we moved in, multiple-hued green shag covered the stairs and hugged the floor of the tiny upstairs hall, spreading like a synthetic sea across the bedroom floors. I tried to recall what was wrong with the stairs that other time, between carpets, when the steps were bared to our view. There would have been a reason we had quickly put down new carpet, but enough years had passed that I had forgotten. Once, I heard this house described as “a rundown old farm house” and it is true that the house dates back to the Matanuska Colony when farmers from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan came to Alaska as part of a New Deal relocation project. It was 1935 and each family received 40 acres, $3,000 and a 30 year loan. They got off the train in Palmer and found they were allotted a tent, along a street lined with identical tents, until their house was built. White spruce (Picea glauca) is a medium to large tree, 40 to 70 feet high. It grows slowly and is dense and straight. In favorable places it might reach a height of 100 feet and 30 inches in diameter. Spruce makes good house logs.
77 A photo of our house (cabin number 135) shows logs stacked into walls and more logs on the ground. There is little resemblance between the cabin in the photograph and the house where we live. The house has a dormer and picture windows. The cabin had narrow windows and a pitched roof and seemed to grow out of the earth, the forest close and overbearing. The house is tied to the ground by a foundation and basement, and the comforting shrub-fringe of lilac, honeysuckle, and mountain ash. The land rises gradually here, towards the mountains, not exactly foothills, but benches and ridges— moraines—snaking hills of sand and rocks, debris from glaciers that melted long ago when, to us, the landscape would have been raw and inhospitable. In that time, rugged low-growing plants would have slowly colonized the rough ground, followed by larger bushes and trees, the seeds carried on the wind or by birds and animals. But now the ground is well-covered by gnarled birch, spruce, and hidden among the undergrowth of highbush cranberries and wild currants, monkshood, larkspur and prickly roses, are stumps, slabbed by saws and silvered with age—stumps from trees that might be the walls of cabin 135. When you leave a place you have lived for many years, there is a time when the past starts to come unhinged. Memories that seemed so snug and secure within a familiar routine begin to evaporate, perhaps thinly at first and then as a new life takes root, more rapidly, an ablation actually, somewhere between the slow erosion of a glacier and a quick amputation. The day we looked at this house, I think the displacement had already begun for Mrs. Webb. She seemed to be a motherly woman, guiding us through her comfortable and cozy rooms, perhaps seeing her house through our eyes, us the age of her children, her children grown and gone, as if she was placing decades of events and occurrences onto the shelves of memory. One story she told as we climbed the stairs. The stairs, she said, had a landing and went down into the living room. I held the railing at the place where the landing would have been, trying to imagine walking through the front door and seeing stairs instead of a wall. (This house was a cabin first and everything else came later. Electricity. Plumbing. The bathroom.) The bedrooms were upstairs and the bathroom was downstairs off the back hall. Mrs. Webb said that one day she’d “had it” and ripped out the bottom stairs with the idea that the stairs would start in the back hall, not the living room. She said, before her husband could go to bed that night, he had to build new stairs. These were not ordinary rectangular
78 stairs but steps narrower at one end than the other, and the space was far more cramped in the small hallway. Years have passed, years raising our children, now grown and on their own. It was a day in March when I sat on the top stair and shoved the crowbar with the words Wonder Bar stamped on it into a seam in the inner angle of the step and pried until I could grab a corner of the dingy gray carpet. I yanked an edge free, my breath dank inside the dust mask, some protection against a couple decades of carpet-caught detritus—dust mites, insect bits, pollen, and silt. One of the latex gloves ripped and I switched to leather gloves and kept at it, working my way down the stairs, scooping marble-size chunks of foam pad and slices of carpet into a bag. The hammer clanged loudly against the Wonder Bar until the notched edge wedged beneath a nailhead. I pried and the tack strip came loose, bared were rows of sharp spikes like tiny steel shark teeth or a medieval torture device. When the carpet was finally gone, the steps naked as bleached bones, I could clearly see the problem that twenty-some years had eased from my memory. The bottom stairs were a hodgepodge of boards and plywood in odd shapes and angles. The prior owners’ nighttime stair-building emergency had not resulted in a uniformity of shape or rise, or materials. In the thousands of journeys I have taken on the stairs, I learned which foot to place first so (like any sporting event where precision matters) you are ready for the bigger challenge (the leap into space, the high jump, the long jump), in this case it was the oddly shaped treads at the bottom of the staircase—two narrow, two wider, one much wider, and a couple more but I did not know that each stair was also a different height until the carpenter who built the new stairs mentioned it. March lapsed into April, then May. The leaves popped and birds returned from California or Mexico or farther south, bringing their exuberant songs. In the space beneath the stairs we found scraps of lumber, sawdust, and the top half of a whiskey bottle, the thick clear glass embossed with the post-Prohibition words Federal Law Forbids Sale or Re-Use of this Bottle and beneath this cocoon of trash there was yet another step, a raised platform, rectangular and covered with ragged white linoleum as if from another era and a different house entirely. With the lower stair treads gone, I shined a flashlight up and under the edge of the steps that would have risen from the landing in Mrs. Webb’s story, stairs that now stopped nightmarishly in midair, and in this dark interior space, rectangles chopped in unfamiliar
CIRQUE wallpaper descended stepwise to meet the dirty linoleum platform that had been beneath the angular bottom stairs. We leaned a ladder against the lowest hanging step and waited for the new stairs to be constructed. May is as hopeful as March is bleak. The space beneath the stairs was sealed again, and the staircase rebuilt from bottom to top, this time with birch from up the highway. It was a pickup truck of birch that had been milled, planed and kiln-dried, glued into thicker wider boards, the edges bullnosed, so that now each time I climb the stairs I see among the patterns of light and dark, of creamy sapwood and chocolaty heartwood, a portrayal of seasons and years. The new stairs are nearly symmetric and rise evenly, they are a pleasure of form and beauty, and necessary for climbing between floors. But besides their utilitarian nature, the stairs are also a narrative replete with additions, deletions, mystery, and unanswered questions. As I peer at the story of the stairs from different angles, I imagine the stairs as a heart repeatedly repaired and reconstructed and, as with a heart where each overhaul adds a layer to the person’s story, it becomes clear to me that each of the staircases of cabin 135 is another leaf in the long tale of place and climate, history, habitation— and memory.
Into the Promised Land North of Sixty: A Writer’s Journey
I: The Write Stuff I’ve never before shared my thoughts about writing; it’s something I do every day, and every night, but seldom think out loud about. Writing is an inherently paradoxical art in that it is both extraordinarily private and yet visibly public. An author, more than many, must bare his or her soul for all to see. This can be frightening as it can be liberating. My greatest fear in the unmasking process that comes with publication is that a really stupid error made its way past the defense perimeter of copy editors and
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proofreaders, and escaped my own weary eyes in the last read before production. Like the time I discovered at a dinner reading of my first book that my index-generating software application, which didn’t include first names, requiring that I insert them manually, one at a time, in the late night hour before the final deadline, had left me vulnerable to an easily prevented error. While manually adding the first names of the famous personages listed in the index pages, I flubbed the first name of a former Alaska attorney general – Charlie Cole – substituting in my late night edit session the first name of a college professor, the moral philosopher Robert Coles, who shared with him the better part of a last name! And so the first edition is forever blemished by the listing of a fictitious attorney general named Robert Cole; the eternal nature of an egregious typo is thus locked forever in stone, or the print equivalent – printed in bulk, bound, and preserved deep down in library basement stacks the world over. Luckily, second editions come along eventually, and the folly is eventually forgotten, at least until the next moment of the author’s unmasking reveals another preventable typological error, a momentary lapse in diligence and a reminder in the fallibility of man. When I was little, I always wanted to be a writer. I just knew it in my bones. When the mood would strike and the pen made its magical connection to the pad of paper, it would take on a life of its own, as if the inner psyche found its voice and could leap past all the filters of mind and the nonsense taught in school about how there needs to be a set structure, an intro, body and conclusion. I never
understood why. If the structure is imposed, does it not mold the thought itself, transforming it to fit? It’s like the youngish generation borne of a world of PowerPoint slides; their ideas risk being gutted in the constant effort to fit the next bullet point. God help the Twitter generation; though it may yield a resurgence in haiku, it certainly increases the pressure to contain expression to fit an ever smaller template. My favorite writing platform, even in this age of Tablet computers and Netbooks, is still to sit at our kitchen table, somewhere between the midnight hour and the first hint of dawn, and let the pen and paper make their own intimate connection when all else are asleep. In this darkest, loneliest hour the words come alive, dreamlike to dance on the page. In these hours I have long imagined having the creativity and passion to spin fictional narratives, and when younger had the energy if not the vision. But as I get older, I write more slowly, and find my words remain constrained by what is and was. Each time I put pen to paper, I am pulled back toward historical truth; that is my constant. And so, while fiction continues to elude me, I have instead elected to write historical nonfiction, a world that is as unknown and mysterious before discovery as that imagined by the novelist. II: Cold Facts, Harder Truths Many years ago, I lived down in the Mackenzie Delta, wearing the hat of a small town journalist, with the coolest job in the world, publishing a bilingual newspaper serving the Inuvialuit villages of the Western Arctic, with half the page in English and the other half in Inuvialuktun, trying to balance two worlds, two traditions, at a fascinating but uneasy crossroads. By day I was a journalist, but by night I was fast becoming an amateur historian, learning as much about the grand sweep of northern history so I would understand the issues of the day with greater depth and clarity. In the course of being a journalist, from time to time I would report on what might be viewed by political elites as bad news, the kind they hoped might never be written – stories of local corruption, land claims money wrongly spent, placed into the pockets of a few board members and not the people for whom it was meant. The more I read and the more I learned, though, the more I came to understand that these setbacks were temporary, that these early scandals in the post-land claim era appear to be a common growing pain across the entire North, and
80 reflect a common vulnerability for all societies new to capitalism, where democracy and accountability have yet to mature, so when the windfall comes, temptation soon follows, and before you know it corruption sets in. But if you wait around long enough, that corruption is eventually unmasked, as newer, wiser leaders step up to fix what’s broken, to reboot a system that is not irreparably damaged, but merely off course.
This happened in Alaska in those first post-land claim days, and sadly recurred in the Mackenzie Delta after its claim was settled in the mid 1980s, and followed in turn to Nunavut and Nunavik further east. It’s not that the North is inherently corrupt; in fact, it is one of the most honest, wholesome places on the Earth, a place with no secrets. It’s just that the rapid introduction of capitalism and with it economic modernization, in a culture where subsistence reigned supreme for untold millennia, is at heart a traumatic change to undertake in a single generation. Heck, on Wall Street, the ground zero of modern capitalism, two centuries of experience has not yet been enough to purge the system of a recurring greed that rises up anew each generation, resulting in a crisis of trust and confidence in the system itself. Indeed it was not much more than a year ago that we all appeared to be poised at the very edge of a global systemic collapse on a scale comparable to that which destroyed world communism. Only one generation later and nearly on the eve of the Berlin Wall’s remarkable fall, the globalizing system of world capitalism nearly imploded, taking with it the wealth of an entire generation. This, in the very nerve center of our global economy, where a deep and festering fraud set in, exacerbated by the complacency of regulators and fueled by the greed not just of the elites but those who aspired to join them. It will be some time before the mess that we created is sorted out, and while the crisis seems to have subsided, a total collapse of a system that is rooted ultimately in fallible humanity seems to be inevitable, some day. Few systems endure so long; even the template of endurance, the Roman Empire, would prove to be as mortal as the rest, collapsing in the end after a millennium of rule. So what does this mean for us? First, it means that when we watch capitalism, modernization, and globalization take root in the Far North we should not forget how new modernity itself is here, how young remains the very presence of the modern state. It was not that long ago that
CIRQUE the Age of Empire brought Europeans to the North, from both the East and from the West. It was not that long ago that colonization quietly surrendered to self-government of a sort, albeit one from afar; that Alaska ceased to be Russian and Canada ceased to be British, all within a single day in 1867. Fast forward only a century and we see territorial status give way on our side to a state, and on the Canadian side to a process of northern balkanization resulting in three distinct territories north of sixty, one overwhelmingly non-Native, but still partly indigenous; one about half non-indigenous and half indigenous; and the newest, Nunavut, still 95 percent indigenous: three snapshots of northern demographic evolution, one taken after the Klondike gold rush; one taken after World War II; and one taken just a decade ago. Each has had its own unique relationship with the southern world, its own level of economic integration and modernization. And each retains its own connection with its indigenous past, to varying degrees. Each, as well, has experienced the land claims process, the shift of investment capital to new Native elites, that first generation of growing pains before the new system takes root, and in the end, a new balance between the forces of tradition and modernization. But just as the modernity of land claims eventually affected the entire Arctic rim of North America, the persistence of indigenous subsistence also unites the Far North. And it is this endurance that I believe is the greatest lesson the North can teach the South. When the world economic order looked like it was on the edge of an abyss, as if a great depression might once again restore poverty to the most modern of the world’s nations, as retirement nest eggs evaporated, housing prices collapsed, and banks collapsed like dominos, nearly taking the world economic order with it, the places that proved most resilient were those where subsistence economics, subsistence values, subsistence culture, remained. And some newly modernizing corners of the North, like the island-state of Iceland, saw their new and shiny modern economies collapse entirely, realizing at the end that their humble yet self-sufficient roots as fishermen were what would get them through their cascading economic collapse, as their currency quickly became worthless, their stock market a field of dreams that in the end did not come true. Their banks went under, taking into oblivion the investments of countless millions, from not just Iceland’s
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 300,000 citizens, but from many more citizens of the UK and mainland Europe, drawn to the icy waters by high (and in the end unsustainable) interest rates. The shiny office towers, not so different from those that sprouted up in Anchorage or Inuvik or Yellowknife with new land claims money, emptied out, the fishing boats were once again full, and subsistence proved to be Iceland’s constant, its connection to a more natural temporal flow. Sometimes the villages of the Far North are called a “Fourth World” and the lack of cash economies perceived to be a failure in economic development. But the absence of a vibrant cash economy masks the presence of something more enduring, a subsistence economy well suited to the land, one that is self-sufficient, whose values tie humanity to the land from which we evolved, and upon which we still depend. The hunters and the trappers of the world possess a wealth and a power that investment bankers and hedge fund managers will never know, something enduring, something spiritual, something that is more essentially human than any modern artifice. The same is true of fishermen and farmers, who live on a more harmonious plain. Many post-apocalyptic and sci-fi stories speculate that the future world, after a great calamity, whether by alien invasion or some Armageddon-like event induced by fallible man, will be one where subsistence once again is essential, whether the surviving humans waging war against the machines as in the Terminator saga, or in another more recent James Cameron tale, the idyllic people of Pandora, the Na’vi, who are hunters still, and who live in perfect harmony. Their collision with modern, corporatized, invading humanity, while simplified for the sake of the big screen, captures an essential truth: that there is much of beauty worth preserving in the traditional life, a beauty we can still find here, amongst ourselves. And that much of our modern world, for all its many advantages, should never entirely replace that which came before. Just as there is wisdom in the elders and their stories, there is something sacred in the values that they’ve carried across history to us. Even as we continue on the path of modernization, we should therefore maintain our connection not only with the past, but with the land in its most natural form – something we in the North can still do with relative ease, the footprint of modernity being still just a tiny part of our world.
III: State of Nature During the last few years, I published what started out as a trilogy on how the Arctic has transformed and modernized, as the two worlds collided: the modern, globalizing world, and the traditional, indigenous world. Along the Arctic coastal plain, and Canada’s high northern archipelago, this collision of modernity and tradition has been one of the final chapters in the expansion of the modern state, a halfmillennium journey of which we get a front row seat to the final chapter. The expansion started out brutal, a conquest by war and later treaty, an imposition of alien values, and the oppression of memory and language. But as time flowed, the conquest shifted in style and tone, as culture, language, and identity began to mix into something new. What was once European became Americanized, and what was now American began to modernize and mature, growing confident in itself and becoming more sensitive to its many distinct voices, past and present. While the journey is ongoing, and my trilogy completed, I realized I left one piece of the puzzle unexamined. That piece is really a story of philosophy: that commonly referred to as the “state of nature.” When philosophy reemerged during the Renaissance amidst a fractious but increasingly secular chaos, and medievalism surrendered to the rise of the modern state, many grappled with the fundamental question of humanity: what is our fundamental nature? Men like Hobbes feared the worst, while Locke and Rousseau hoped for the best. Even now, echoes of their ideas play out in the TV show Lost, where characters named for history’s greatest state of nature theorists are thrust onto a tropical island not unlike that explored by Huxley in his final novel, or more darkly by Wells on his lost island where Dr. Moreau darkly reversed evolution in order to unmask the human soul. Which island are we on? One of darkness and despair, or one of light – or a bittersweet mix of the two? We of the North, newcomers and oldtimers alike, have a special insight into these essential questions of humanity’s essence. We are closer to nature, inspired by its presence, humbled by its power, and blessed by a remarkable mixture of peoples, some whose roots to this land date back millennia, others like myself still newcomers, still in awe that so special a place can exist. So in my newest book project, I’m revisiting these classic works that address the riddle of the state of nature, wondering if a mix of philosophy, and fiction, and traditional myth and legend, might shed some light on who we are, and where we’re from – and more importantly, where we might be going.
CIRQUE Jim Thiele
IV: Into the Promised Land My new work dives into the ambiguous and haunting imaginations of philosophers of the state of nature, that allegorical, proto-historical realm of pre-history that describes mankind before the erection of political artifice. Even the classical era’s city-states, as fractious as they were in their constant state of war with their neighbors, are well beyond the primitivist world that these guys were trying to conjure up. Hobbes’ massive tome Leviathan has become an archetype for the darkest view of man, though only one chapter in his million-word, four-part tome is widely read, and one sentence quoted (and misquoted), the one that describes life in nature as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” if my memory serves me still. When I went north in 1988 for what I had imagined would be a short motorcycle journey to the end of the road, I found that life truly began where the road came to its own gravelly conclusion. I had until then been imprisoned by the hive constructed two and a half millennia earlier by Aristotle, the Academy, actually Plato’s invention, placed outside the city gates to prevent the demos from lynching any more of its high faculty as they did poor Socrates, who
practiced his new art of philosophy in the marketplace of Athens, royally pissing off the men of wealth who felt impoverished by his constant questioning. So they killed him, and in response Plato exiled the Academy, for its own protection. Then came Aristotle, Plato’s best student who strived to outsmart his teacher and create the very philosopher king that Plato had imagined but tragically failed to nurture in Sicily, nearly dying in the process. Aristotle founded his own competing institution of learning, the Lyceum, which he opened in Athens after returning from his own exile to the Macedonian court, which now ruled over Greece as its hegemon. There, Aristotle had tutored and unleashed upon the world his most infamous student, Alexander, who went on to swiftly impose regime change upon Persia, breaking the back of its empire and usurping its King, hoping to export not democracy per se but Hellenistic values to the entire world, but which, upon his untimely death, instead planted the seeds of lasting chaos, and even more so than Herodotus or Xenophon, poisoning relations between East and West. My issue with Aristotle was not his bold ambition to unleash upon the world a grand vision of unification as practiced by Alexander. Indeed, had Alexander lived he would
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 likely have conquered India, and from there, China, so in the end, one vast, ethnically intermixed and rebalanced society would remain, as old and new co-mingled: One world, one empire forged of so many peoples, a world with no more war. Maybe not so bad an idea? But after Aristotle unleashed Alexander, he came back to Athens to open his Lyceum, where he put pen to paper just the way I like, writing in longhand all of his great works, in essence creating the superstructure of the modern academic world to perpetuate his new intellectual order, an edifice of ideas and observations as grand as Alexander’s military conquests. But what resulted was as vast a bureaucracy, a realm where administrators rule, and where ideas reify into a bureaucracy that replicates the polis in its conquest of nature. Blame it on Aristotle. He not only sought to have his pupil conquer the world. He sought to systematize all knowledge, and did a remarkable job when you consider this was only the third generation since the very birth of philosophy. But his legacy has been oppressive, as knowledge, meant by Socrates to illuminate, became transformed into a tool that crushes the very spirit of mankind, and rids it of all natural instinct. So when I came North, I was in search of a world still free, not subdivided by academic disciplines and its many morsels of disaggregated knowledge or its institutional resistance to cross-pollination across disciplines, its impulse to crush contrary views that did not conform to party line and which threatened to upend this new artificial order. And so I headed north, to the end of the road, thinking it might be refreshing to see the last frontier. What I did not anticipate was that the frontier itself was an interface between ages and cultures, that where the road ended, a pre-existing world re-emerged, one that is still with us, one beyond the road’s end, beyond our own divisions, beyond Aristotle’s superimposed vision that presumes the known world defines the whole world, when it is the world unknown that we should aspire to know. Alaska is like that, a special blend of known and unknown, a realm where roads are still the exception. It has a tiny road network around which is clustered a world familiar to anyone from Outside, with its same Starbucks and Fast Food, the same McCulture that has replaced Alexander’s vision with its own world conquest. Alaska is blessed to remain mostly unpaved, where roadways seem to give up without a fight, and surrender to the predominance of nature, with the exception perhaps of the Alcan which the necessity of war precipitated, enabling one major push across fifteen
hundred miles of taiga and bog, forever binding here with the there of the Outside. One long, thin line, like a slender intravenous tube connecting us to the machine that keeps us on life support, unable to survive on our own. If only we had the courage to cut that line. To cross into the realm where there are no roads, where no roads are wanted, nor needed. That world is our state of nature, the world that has been here long before we even knew there was a here to come to. A world as God imagined it, a promised land as innocent and pure as He conceived it. Not without heartbreak or tragedy or malice, no Rousseauian paradise. A rough and tumble and cold and forbidding land, one that is harsh but is also full of beauty and grace. When I first came North, I put pen to paper to describe the world that re-appeared as the road ended, a world I felt more intuitively at home in than any place else the road interlinked, any place else I had ever been. When the road disappeared, replaced by river and lake, I could breathe deeply, for the first time, knowing the air that I inhaled was my first taste of nature’s purity. Though I put pen to paper for the first time twenty years ago this week, the words I wrote, my first impression, my first taste of freedom and my first intuition of the state of nature, were my most insightful observations, as if my eyes had opened for the very first time ever. V: First Impressions, Last Forever When I first came North two decades ago, I met the editors of a now defunct magazine called Dannzha, which aspired to be a Tundra Times for the Yukon but which was doomed by a lack of funds and a tiny market to a short life. But in its brief reign, it gave me my first opportunity to publish my thoughts twenty years ago this week (April 1, 1990), with no editorial constraints. I was free to write what I truly saw for the very first time. Here’s how it began: In October of 1988, I hopped on a small, cherry red Honda Rebel 250 motorcycle, and rode up the ALCAN to Alaska. I stopped in the Yukon and NWT, discovering a unique world that reminded me of my own heritage – as a Jew, a wandering Jew in a strange and in so many ways foreign land. I found the Aboriginal peoples of the North to be in a state similar to my own people, in conflict with a White European culture that rejects tribal relations and nations without states as anachronisms, primitive and obsolete in a modern age. My people were almost exterminated by the hatred of the Nazis,
84 and brutally suppressed by the Spanish Inquisition and repeated European pogroms. My people almost lost their Old Law and their old ways, and by almost forgetting their old knowledge came close to cultural extinction. I saw the First Nations at a similar crossroads, with signs of cultural renewal mixed with the decay of the traditional ways. Each revival and remembrance seems to come at the expense of several things forgotten - be it language, religion, social relations or other aspects of aboriginal culture. The fate of the First Peoples seems to hang in an unsteady equilibrium, much as Judaism did throughout the modern era. After describing in brief the historical struggle of the Jewish people to survive a world of pogroms, inquisitions, and holocausts, and the modern world’s constant effort to oppress its tribal remnants from an earlier time, I went on to describe the world I found in the North, a world I fell in love with: Up here, I found the first landscape that truly felt welcoming to me. Vast, open spaces; large gaps between those ugly pockets of civilization with Fast Food and shopping malls. I wandered up the Dempster, staying a while in McPherson and Inuvik, and later Tuktoyaktuk. I met the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit and I discovered people not unlike my own. Fellow wanderers, who went east instead of west, and who crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia; the people of the north came to North America thousands of years before my people crossed that hot, dry desert to build their nation. The people of the North are still wanderers of a sort, hunting the migrating caribou or living along the icy Arctic coast. They follow the seasons and live close to the land – just as my people subsisted in the desert, rendering dry waste land into fertile and productive soil, living in a place considered barren by those who knew less, and by those who failed to see life growing where their minds said it couldn’t. ... I met Elders that still spoke their native tongues, who still wore traditional clothing. Who still ate of the caribou or the Beluga whale, and lived close to the land. And this made me happy. But I met so many – especially among the young – who knew not their traditional language and customs. Like my people, they had become assimilated, their culture eroded
CIRQUE and consumed. Many had been forced by missionaries to abandon their native language, torn from their families and ripped out of the fabric of their societies … I full well understand the power of the white world, as I am borne of it. I likewise know its danger: I saw so many young people turn to the poison of alcohol and drugs and to the temptations of the bootlegger… poisoning themselves with an opiate foreign to their land, and introduced as a tool of repression. The cross and the bottle seem to have come together, agents of a slow and silent conquest. And this made me sad, and sometimes frightened. But while I saw much to fear, I knew from my people’s own struggle to survive, and to overcome its brush with cultural extinction, that there still remained much reason for hope. Since in the end survival comes to those who hold on and ride out the storm – and who never give up: The strength and power of my people came from within, by resurrecting our old ways. It came from the heart and soul, the very source of our identity. And it came from the faith that we kept, in the face of adversity, condemnation and ridicule. White society has the powers of numbers, just as Ancient Egypt did. And it has the wizardry of technology. But its power is not eternal nor is it infinite. The Jews learned this by keeping their Faith, and after almost losing it, restoring it with a cultural renewal and national rebirth. We did not fight back so much as we held on, until they stopped beating us into submission. Our victory came from our endurance against all odds. And so can yours.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
FICTION Justin Herrmann
Toilets get dirty. Even at the bottom of the world. I came down to Antarctica to work as a janitor. My wife Emma wasn’t thrilled about it, and I can’t say I was thrilled to be away from her either. But it made sense. It made sense to me. To say we had been scraping by would be like saying the Buffalo Bills’ Super Bowl streak was a little disappointing. I grew up with little, but that’s another story, and it’s no way I ever wanted to raise a family. Emma and our seven-year-old son, Georgie, went to stay with her mother up in Little Rock. I am sure her mother had plenty to say about me, but that’s also another story, and it’s nothing new. Me working down here would give us a little to start over with. Not a lot. But enough. Enough to do the kind of thing we wanted back when we still had plans. A down payment on a little place up in Oregon maybe. Somewhere with a lot of trees. This place, this place where I work, McMurdo, a former Navy base, it looks like a cross between a paper mill and west-Texas trailer park. The ground and everything else here is covered by a dark grit. There is the constant noise of loaders. Loaders moving shipments of frozen pork and blazing redfish to the galley to feed the thousand or so of us living here, loaders moving wood and metal from here to there, loaders moving our trash. There are loaders moving supplies like liquor and foam toilet seats to where they will be helicoptered off to camps around the continent, and the noise of the helicopters. And you’ve got the noise of kids fresh out of college in tight shirts and expensive shoes made out of Gore-Tex and rubber, kids looking to make their lives special, kids working what they think are the worst jobs on station, the same jobs like the one I have. You’ve got the noise of them playing pool in lounges, or drinking beer in hallways. You’ve got the noise of them complaining after a few weeks about sharing rooms with people like themselves, complaining about eating rosemary pork and blazing redfish again, and of all things complaining about the money, the money and that they are overqualified to clean dishes or shit. And you’ve got the old-timers, guys with thick beards and women with skin grizzled like rhinos, people who come back year after year, plumbers, lineman, airfield
85 operators, people who have found a home, a place of routine, an easy life where they are given what they need and only have to give back a part of themselves they no longer want. But still they complain about rosemary pork and blazing redfish, complain about neighbors, complain about rules. Everything here is noise. Noise. But I have work, which counts for something. I have been scrubbing shit or doing honest work most of my life. I am not embarrassed by it. The money isn’t good, but the difference about being here is Emma’s mother can look after her and Georgie for a while. I’m not proud to ask for the help, but what else is there to do? I can save something here. The only place to spend is at the bar, which I do, but still I save. Here at McMurdo if you are willing to look up you can stare over the frozen sea to mountains called Discovery and Terror. The reflection off the sea ice is blinding. I’ve heard someone say that it reminds them of what they thought heaven looked like when they were a kid. It’s just a matter of remembering to look up. I don’t know. When you are working what we work, nearly sixty hours a week, worrying about your wife and kid, worrying, despite what she says, if they will be there when you get back, knowing a night at the bar could be a day or two of meals for the family, when this is on your mind you forget to look up. My roommate, Bernie, is a fellow janitor. He’s a heavyset guy from San Diego. He never stops talking and he’s got a dumb joke for everything. He’s the kind of guy who forgets to zip up his fly. You can’t help but to feel sorry for him, and you can’t help but to like him. His wife was killed by a Panther at the San Diego Zoo. Him and her were both big cat trainers. Had been high school sweethearts. Doing what they loved for a living. The whole shebang. Then that cat ended it. How can you go back to doing what you love, what you know how to do, after that? He told me about it in a calm way over a beer once. Like the way someone would talk about dental work. How the cat went for her neck. How it was shot and killed so they could try to get to her and save her life. How he was supposed to do the feeding that day but was bullshitting with the guy from the reptile house so she did it. How this happened in front of customers at the zoo. Kids probably eating popcorn. Crying. So here he is. Me and Bernie go to the bar and play cards after work. A place called Southern Exposure. A windowless joint that’s kept so dark you can’t see the stains on the floor remaining from when it was the Navy NCO Club. Rare shelter from the season’s constant sunlight. Smells like stale smoke and body odor. The young girls that come here make eyes at the old-timers and the old-timers pay for
CIRQUE Paxson Woelber
their drinks, though the young girls, who end up drinking way too much, go home by themselves or with the kids in tight shirts and expensive shoes. Bernie’s not much of a card player. He isn’t good at keeping rules straight. Lays down pairs in Rummy, that sort of thing. It makes no difference to me. I don’t see the point in correcting his mistakes. Playing cards is something to pass time. A time to relax. Talk about things that don’t matter like sports and work. There is this system called Skua here, named after these scavenging birds that come around. Like big seagulls, but mean. It’s a hand-me-down system. A free Goodwill. Anything someone doesn’t want but someone else could use goes to this little hut. Useful stuff like boots, sweaters, and open medicine, and less useful stuff like open jars of jelly and used underpants. I walked up to that hut one day to look for an extra pair of shoes. Extra shoes are a good thing to have. The conditions here are hard on soles, even ones made out of expensive rubber. There was a young girl there, early twenties maybe, attractive. I smiled at her and she smiled back in a shy sort of way. That’s the way it is here. Despite the differences, people smile more. I am not sure if we are bonded by anything more than location, but that sort of thing goes a long way. It’s the one place in the world where it seems normal for a guy to smile at you in the pisser at the bar. But in this case I wish I didn’t smile. I saw that she was holding a partially used tube of Monistat 7. It’s the sort of thing someone would leave there as a joke, but still it must have embarrassed her, me smiling at her like that while she held it. So I looked away and sorted through the shoe selection. I found a pretty decent pair of Asics. A little
big, but okay shape. The girl left while I was looking at the shoes. She didn’t take the Monistat of course. My wife Emma was writing lots of letters. More than I was that is. She’d write about how her mother was driving her nuts. No details necessary. I understood. One of the big reliefs of being in Antarctica. She’d write about how Georgie was getting into trouble at his new school. Getting into fights. His arm was broken in one she said. She blames it on me for not being there. Says a father should be there for his son. Like I wasn’t trying. Truth is the kid has a temper. Always has. He’s small for his age, but that doesn’t stop him. I’ve been waiting for him to grow out of it, but he hasn’t yet. Still I hope. One time he took scissors to both my neckties. I have no idea why. I wonder if he knows, to tell you the truth. I wouldn’t be surprised either way. But he’s my son, so who else can I blame? I write her back and tell her that I’ll take him fishing when I get home. Talk to him. And maybe I will. Sometimes she writes and tells me she misses me. There are things I miss and things I don’t. I don’t write this. One night at the bar when Bernie was way up on me in Five-Hundred (he wasn’t bothering to suit his runs), I saw the girl from the Skua hut. Her and another girl, a fatter and less attractive one, were drinking shots of tequila and Tabasco. A drink they call Prairie Fire. Never tried it. I felt like I should say something to her. Talk to her about anything. Anything so she doesn’t remember me as the pervert from the Skua hut. Her friend was sitting on the lap of a guy named Robert, a plumber who would no doubt pick up their tab. The Monistat girl was standing at the opposite end of the bar from me and Bernie. She was wearing these big
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 glasses. The kind old women and librarians wear. I’ve never seen them on anyone younger than forty-five before. One arm of the glasses was held together with tape. I was sure they weren’t her own. Probably just something intended to draw attention to herself. But it gave me something to talk to her about. I laid my cards on the bar and started towards her. Bernie called after me, “You going to take a piss or what?” “Yeah, Bern,” I said. He said something about waiting on me because it was my draw in Rummy, but I was barely listening. The glasses made the girl’s eyes look huge, and even in the poorly lit room I could tell they were a pretty shade of blue. “What’s with the glasses?” I said. “Do you use them to help start fires?” “They’re my birth control glasses,” she said. “My friend Roxanne says they’ll help keep me out of trouble. We found them in Skua.” Her mentioning Skua made me feel nervous. I looked down at her empty shot glass. “I don’t know how much trouble they can keep you out of if you keep drinking those things.” She was looking at me hard. Seemed to be studying my face for something. “Do I know you?” She said. “You look like someone I know. A teacher of mine, maybe. Were you ever a teacher?” “Never,” I said. “I imagine those glasses can’t be good for your eyesight.” “You talk like a teacher anyway.” She kept the glasses on. “It’s hard to breathe in this place. I’m going to get some fresh air and go for a walk,” she said in a way that I knew meant I could follow her. I would have followed her even if she’d invited me to drink battery acid. I didn’t bother telling Bernie I was leaving. We walked to Observation Hill. On one side it overlooks the fuel tanks, MILVANS, and the endless piping that connects the ninety or so buildings that exist here, and the other side looks out towards the mountains over the blue and white frozen sea. I tried to think of something to talk about. Anything. But I felt nervous and unsure like I used to around girls in high school. A familiar feeling, though I hadn’t had a person to feel that way around in a dozen years or so. Not since Emma. On the way up the hill she was having trouble getting her footing on the loose volcanic gravel so I reached for her hand. She let me take it and she squeezed my fingers a little. Halfway up the hill we stopped at a landing where
87 there is a building that used to be a nuclear reactor back in the seventies and eighties. They say it leaked, but you hear a lot of things here. We stood on the landing, still holding hands. She touched my wedding ring with her fingers. “Tell me about your wife,” she said. Though Emma is what I thought about most in this world, she was the last thing I hoped to talk about with this girl. “Looking out at these mountains,” I said, “it reminds me of a trip me and her took to Bastrop State Park in east Texas years ago. We drove all night because she wanted to be around real trees. We lived in southwest Texas where trees aren’t bigger than cactuses. I remember we climbed some hill. There were trees, some kind of pine, surrounding us for miles. She said something to me. She told me to think of all the animals living under those trees. She told me to think about mice fucking mice and about snakes eating those mice and about eagles eating those snakes. She wanted me to see something about life, I guess. She was always wanting me to see things she saw. The two of us stood there for a long time. I held her close to me and I could taste the salt from her scalp. That was the morning after her father’s funeral. When she first told me she wanted a baby. At least the first time I knew she meant it.” I stared out towards those mountains. “So did you have that baby?” she said. I knew it was the same here. A whole world alive under the frozen sea, but all I could see was rock and ice. “How about we get out of this wind,” I said. We went inside the old reactor building though the wind wasn’t bothering me. Doors are rarely locked around here. The building was just used for storage now, but I don’t know for what. There was graffiti all over one of the walls. Not very good graffiti. Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to vandalism on a moral level. I know what it is like to be young and destructive. God, did I have my days. But it seems wrong to spray paint things like hairy testicles anywhere in Antarctica. If vandalism is something you feel the need to do here then make it count for something. “Antarctica,” she said in a way that made me think she was far more drunk than I had thought. “My father worked here twenty-one years as a welder. Got the job the same year he met my mother. He didn’t spend a Christmas home with us till I was seventeen. He’d send me the same stupid stuffed penguin almost every year. He wasn’t a big talker so it’s no surprise he didn’t have a lot to say about this place, but I figured he must have loved it. Why else would he have come back year after year?” She paused, “I can’t fucking stand this place.” Her eyes began filling with tears, which looked
88 like puddles under those glasses. I wanted to know the right thing to say to her, but I have never been good at comforting people. Just ask my wife and kid. I squeezed her hand like she squeezed mine before. “Are your hands cold too?” she said. “A little,” I said, though they weren’t. None of me was the least bit cold. She brought my hand close to her face, and put her mouth on my pointer finger. She put each of my fingers in her mouth one at a time. She didn’t stop when she got to the finger with my wedding ring. I didn’t stop her either of course. After she got to my pinky, she pulled me in closer to her and began kissing me on the mouth. I could smell the tequila and Tabasco. We carried on like this for a while. Kissing and holding each other. We carried on like this until she stopped. She looked at me, waiting for me to make the next move. But making a move myself wasn’t something I had in me. “Do you have any pets back at home?” I said. She flashed a smile. “Why do you want to talk about my pets?” She said. I didn’t have an answer. It wasn’t an easy question. She began kissing me again. First on the neck and then on the lips. “I have a lab named Luke. He’s fourteen and pisses on the carpet,” she said. She unzipped her standard-issue red down parka. She took my wrists and put my hands underneath her armpits. “I have two goldfish, Deloris and Luke Jr.” She was pressing herself tight against me. I could feel the wires of her bra, the warmth of her body, the dampness and soft hair of her armpits. “I have an owl and Gila Monster and a giraffe. I have dozens of rats. I have an ant farm.” She kissed harder and bit my lip. A couple years ago I brought a cat home for Georgie. The one pet we ever had. I had seen the kid hit the poor cat with things like a toy tractor and his shoe. I have never laid my hand on the kid. We had the thing for less than a month before I took it back to the shelter. I removed my hands from under her parka. “It’s late,” I finally said. “I have to work early.” “Everyone on station has to work early,” she said. “And there are plenty of people down there still having a good time.” I tried to smile at her. “Look,” she said, “then why don’t you just call your wife and jack off to the sound of her voice.” “I don’t want to jack off to my wife’s voice,” I said. “Then call her and talk to her about snakes and eagles, or penguins and whales, or whatever the fuck you guys want to talk about.” And she went out the door of that old building. I understood that she was drunk, and
CIRQUE I understood that she wouldn’t have been there with me if she weren’t drunk, but I wanted to say something. I followed her out of the building. “Hey,” I said to her as she was already walking down the hill. “When my wife and I were first dating,” she turned around and looked at me, “I was working late shifts at this tire factory outside of a town called Uvalde. Emma, that’s her name, she’d wait up for me, and get drunk by herself on cheap champagne. And she’d write messages on her body with magic marker for me to discover. ‘I love you’ on her stomach. ‘One per customer’ on her breasts. ‘This is the road to eternal happiness’ on her inner thigh.” There’s a lot of things in this world that I don’t understand, but I understand the kind of love that Emma and I had. She didn’t say anything else. She just turned around and kept walking. And all of a sudden I had more I wanted to say. I wanted to keep talking. I wanted to say more about Emma. I wanted to shout to her. I wanted to shout about back then, back then with the factory and the champagne, when there were nights too that I’d come home and she’d be so drunk that she’d have pissed the bed. And what would I do? I’d change her panties. I’d move her to the sofa while I stripped and changed the bed. Then I’d take her back to bed and kiss her on the lips before crawling in myself. I wanted to shout this, but instead I put my hands in my pockets and watched the girl until she disappeared near the dorms, and then I walked down myself and headed back to the bar. I missed Emma then. I missed the way she used to be. There was a time I would have sworn she was all I needed to be happy in this world. More and more I realize I have no idea what makes me happy. At the bar I was glad to see Bernie was still there. I didn’t much feel like playing cards, but I dealt them up anyway. He didn’t ask where I went. He might have known. With Bernie there’s no telling. He just started saying something about tongue depressors and cleaning sinks, but I couldn’t make myself stop thinking about other things. I wondered how Bernie did it. “You got the next round?” Bernie said. “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.” “Bernie,” I said. And I thought about him and his wife and what might have been the last thing they fought about. If they’d have children by now, and if they’d both still be doing what they loved. If they’d still be happy together if it weren’t for that panther. But I didn’t say anything else. I just bought another round. Listened to him tell me about the sinks.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
Three Unicorn Stories
(1) Freud Scholarship When Dr. Freud heard too many stories of incest from his female patients, the astonished unicorn learned, he decided that simply wasn’t tolerable. Therefore, so as not to offend the sensibilities of his upper middle class fellow citizens, some of whom were clearly and unimaginably implicated, and so as to at the same time not to endanger his own sky-rocketing career, he decided that all that incest took place only in the wishful imagination of neurotic females. When he added to that philosophy his own wishful thinking that all females would actually envy those admirable penises that had been forcefully marketed for the last 5,000 years, whether anyone, male or female, really wanted them or not, his messianic mission was complete. Point in fact: his fame has already outlasted the typically allotted 15 minutes by well over one hundred years. (2) Feminists and Salamanders “I feel sorry for women, especially fantastic women writers, who don’t consider themselves feminists, wanting to be only human, not this gender or that, especially not wanting to be limited to the gender they are,” said the unicorn to its wise friend, the fox. “That’s like salamanders wanting to be only amphibians.” “But do you cry for salamanders under any circumstance, whatever they want to be called?” asked the fox. “No,” the unicorn had to concede. “I merely always admire them.” “Well, then….”
(3) The Devil’s Advocate “It isn’t only your hearts that are damaged,” said the unicorn, flaring its pale nostrils. “You human beings are math challenged besides.” “How so?” asked the devil’s advocate with one of his wider grins. “With ninety million women missing in Asia alone, aborted, abandoned, left to die, or even killed swiftly—it doesn’t take much, babies are so small— because you all want sons, it still isn’t the end. All of those sons in turn want to have sex with a virgin, despite the elective disparity.” “I’ve never insisted on a virgin,” said the devil’s advocate. “Well, good for you,” said the unicorn, breathing hard through its nostrils again. “Still, the demand for virgins appears to be huge. To cure misinformed Africans from AIDS, for example. And don’t certain suicide bombers look forward to the virgins allotted them once they make it to paradise? 72, I believe?” “Well, there you have it,” said the undaunted devil’s advocate. “That’s probably where all those missing girls have gone, to wait for their heroes to show up in paradise.” The unicorn’s own heart ached as though a huge griffin held and squeezed it in its claws. Good, perhaps, for otherwise its heart might have shattered into 72 times 72 pieces.
Long Tail Coverts Hope is the thing with feathersThat perches in the soulAnd sings the tune without the words-
Hope hears the husky barking in the yard out front. She is sick again, curled tightly with her blanket on a short couch draped with clothes. Maybe the barking dog has something to do with the beautiful feathers, freed from her grandmother’s room and put out in the open. A car in the drive turns off its motor. Even with the TV always on, and now the dog’s deep bark, Hope hears all the noises around her. This may be because her fluid filled middle ears wash sound against her eardrums, as though she is holding a shell from the bay to the side of her head. The yard and driveway are a tipping frozen lake, common to this coastal winter. How can ice form so uniformly on sloping land? If the parked car or the doghouse ahead of it with its long chain were given a push they would slide away downhill, into the early evening’s darkness. Yelling starts from the yard. “Does your dog bite?” a woman’s voice from the driveway. Hope sits up on the edge of the couch waiting for her father to notice her. She wants to get up but she feels a little tippy. The lady’s voice comes again. Hope grabs up her blanket into a tight bundle under her chin and her father looks to her. She answers his look by turning her head to the door. The voice shouts over the dog’s barking. Hope’s father takes her hand and they go to the door. When he opens it the room breathes in the dark air, the door whines, like it hurts, as Jake pulls it over the tilting floor. The freezing rain nearly snow, pauses in the light from the open door. It makes Hope think of how sleep must look. “Does the dog bite?” The woman yells again. “I don’t know, maybe,” Jake says. But the husky loses interest in barking now that the door is open. In the rectangle of light that defines the doorway, Hope can feel the lady’s eyes on her. Her father stands on his heels and stretches his short neck up so his
hair reaches his shoulders, thick black hair that shines blue sometimes like the feathers. Hope’s mousy hair doesn’t ever shine. She is small for five. She doesn’t care to talk and hasn’t bothered to learn. Because her nose is so stuffed she only sucks her thumb in little gasps. Sometimes the spit gathers in the corners of her mouth and she bubbles or gurgles. From the long narrow room behind them escapes a female voice that sounds like it spends all day yelling at children. “You the lady that called?” The lady takes sliding steps on the ice. She makes scuffing noises just like Hope’s brother always does. The light coming down from the open door makes the woman’s eye sockets dark and deep. Her chin is pushed back into her neck by the shadows and Hope thinks this lady must be very old even though she skates in her boots like a boy. In the deep distance of the room, Dotty, Hope’s grandmother, strokes the Tiger Tom cat in her lap. Her other hand holds the cat there. The long room is like a child’s shoe box diorama, nothing quite level, every flat spot piled with active and inactive belongings. Not a book leans anywhere. Abandoned animal food overflows broken dishes on the floor. A tangle of dog harnesses is pressed into a pile behind the front door. The color scheme is like a child’s finger painting, all the colors mixed until it just turns red-green-brown, brown, except for the feathers on the dresser. Even the curtain less windows are a frosted daze. The cat wants to get at the feathers on the dresser behind Hope’s grandmother. The feathers, peacock tail coverts, stand in a thick bundle, some of them nearly five feet tall. Hope worries if her grandmother can really keep the cat in her lap, away from the feathers, the only beautiful things. “That’s my son-in-law, Jake,” says Dotty as she looks the lady over. “I’m Dotty.” Jake reaches out to shake hands and Hope snakes behind him examining the lady from between his legs. The lady has brown curls of hair down her neck. Hope wishes her hair were that way, down her neck so pretty. The lady makes little sniffs, Hope looks up, sees her nose holes get bigger when she sniffs. It’s like she is testing the air in Hope’s house. It doesn’t look like the lady likes the smell in her nose. “I’m Amanda.” Jake takes her hand gently, like he does Hope’s. Maybe he mistakes the lady’s thinness for sickness.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 “Turn that TV off, Jake,” Dotty orders. Jake turns off the TV as Hope’s six-year-old brother attacks Amanda by head-butting her twice. When the boy comes at her a third time Amanda side steps and his outstretched arm wraps around her hips, twisting her skirt a full ninety degrees. He pops out from under her other arm and spins another four times. Like a handful of pebbles thrown into a puddle, this spike-haired boy sends divergent ripples through the room. “So, you folks raise peacocks, here in Alaska?” Amanda asks. “Used to. Had about thirty before we sold ‘em, last year,” Dotty says. Did this lady come over to talk about having peacocks? A wind blows under the door and Hope feels it strike her ankles. When it gets to the end of the room the wind climbs up the wall and causes the feathers and Hope to shiver. Hope’s brother flings his way back to the lady, grabs her hand, twisting her fingers until she draws her hand away arcing it through the air. The lady has long fingers; the knuckle bumps hidden in the taper. She moves them carefully. She has no rings but Hope thinks she should because the rings would make her hands a thing of real beauty. “How much did you sell your flock for?” Amanda asks. “Twenty-five bucks a head. One guy took ‘em all.” “They were worth more. They were beautiful, in the trees, in the yard, and their calls…” Jake speaks softly. The lady answers, “The first time I heard the peacocks, their cry of ‘He-elp, he-elp,’ I was on my honeymoon. They woke me from the cedar trees the first morning of my married life. ‘He-elp, he-elp,’ I was eighteen years old.” “They were beautiful in the neighbors’ gardens making a mess of it, Jake. How many feathers you want?” Dotty asks Amanda. The lady doesn’t want peacocks. She wants the feathers. But she can’t want all of them. Hope hears the cry of the peacocks in her head now as she worries about the feathers, finally out of her grandmother’s room where she can see them, but where they aren’t safe anymore. “I’ll get ‘em down,” the boy says. “She don’t want ‘em all broken.” Dotty’s arm knocks away the boy’s outstretched hand.
91 “The children at the school won’t be able to balance them if they’re broken,” Amanda explains. “He’s six.” Dotty nods at her grandson. “No school will take him. Can’t set still. Get down from there I said. Jake, get ‘em will you.” The feathers spread in the jar when Hope’s father brings them down as if they were still on the tail of the
peacock. The eyes stare into the room and Hope peeks from behind her father’s pant leg where she wipes her nose clean, then drops her blanket to the floor. She has never been allowed this close to the feathers before. She can’t believe how beautiful they are so close. “How many you want? They’re dollar a piece. Except the snake eyes.” Dotty moves her mass across the room and pulls two feathers from the jar. The snake-eyed feathers have two eyes each, deep indigo centers cupped in a bowl of neon blue and surrounded by a halo of Irish auburn. “Three bucks for the snake eyes. Two eyes in one feather, see it? Like a double yolk.” Hope wants her grandmother to hold the two
92 feathers so Hope can see them too. But all she can see is the back and it is like the wrong side of her blanket, the pattern dull and washed out. “Why you want ‘em?” The six year old demands as he launches from a bag of feed onto the couch. “For teaching balancing. I teach circus skills. I’m an artist in the schools.” “You paint pictures?” Dotty asks. Amanda shakes her head no. “You put the bottom of the feather in your hand, or on your chin or forehead. You just keep your eyes on the eye of the feather and it will stay up, perfectly straight, like sword balancers in the circus. You’ll learn all about balance, forces and things in school.” “Not him,” says Dotty. The lady gestures for a feather from Hope’s grandmother. The lady pulls back her chin into her neck, tilts her head back until she looks only at the ceiling and places the end of the quill into the dent of her chin below her lip. She lets go of the feather and the feather stays straight up in the air. The lady’s feet don’t move. Just her head makes the slightest sideways adjustments to keep the feather in place. Her arms are straight out and the fingers of her hands are spread like they are resting on a pile of flowers. Then she bends and straightens her knees like a ballerina and the feather bounces off her chin onto her open hand. Hope is sure she could learn to do that, to be below the column of feather looking up through the barbs like fringe on a magic carpet. “Thirty-five bucks. I’ll throw in these little ones without eyes.” Dotty is all business. “Thirty-five feathers aren’t enough for the class.” Hope fixes her thumb in her mouth and her face flushes. She moves in front of her father’s leg to see the jar of feathers up close, hears the small noise of her clothes rubbing against her father’s pants. It’s a shiny noise. She reaches to her father’s hand on the dusty jar. Her fingers, small and tapering like the lady’s, light on his wrist and she pulls down to get him to drop his hand. Hope ignores the flamboyant tips of the feathers with their dilated blue pupils and traces the quill, the same alabaster as her finger, until it comes to the shaft where the barbs attach. She runs her finger up as far as she can and the light from the bare bulbs in the ceiling performs among the barbs in green and gold flashes. A new stream of snot replaces the old one on Hope’s upper lip. Dotty grabs it with her thumb and
CIRQUE forefinger, wipes them on her housedress. “She’s always sick,” Dotty says. “Could be allergies.” Jake bends and gathers Hope up in his free arm. The little girl’s face becomes a part of the display of feathers and she noiselessly removes her thumb from her mouth. Disembodied among the foliage, she parts the feathers slightly with her hands. Her feverish face whitens like the stems, her eyes just two more in the bundle of thirty-five. Hope hears the lady lick her lips and sees how dry they are. Not all the things of beauty, that lady can’t have all of them. “That makes forty-one bucks with the snake eyes,” says Dotty. “There’s nobody else with peacocks around here anymore. That man, bought our flock, left.” Dotty puts the snake-eyed feathers back into the jar. “Forty-one dollars--cash,” says Dotty. “Do you have change for a fifty? I was planning to buy more.” Hope’s fingers coil tightly around the white stems. The feathers quiver from her touch and the unblinking eyes at the tops appear to stare accusingly. Hope hears everything in the moment, her grandmother in her wallet and the coins clinking as she hides the one dollar bills, the lady licking her bottom lip, the bubble of saliva that is caught and breaks under her tongue. As Hope pulls the feathers closer some of the eyes brush her face. It makes her feel pretty; pretty things are never sick. Amanda gives the fifty to Dotty. “Gimme ‘em, girlie,” Dotty demands the jar as she gives Amanda a five. “That’s all the change I have.” Hope’s eyes drop to her hand around the feathers. At first she does nothing, listens to the cry of the peacocks in her head. But then her grandmother makes that noise in her throat, a warning noise. Hope opens her hand slowly, reluctantly releasing the quills as if they were butterflies closed carefully in her palm. There is a tiny lip smacking sound as she lets go of the dampened quills. Her grandmother takes the whole bouquet of feathers from the jar and hands them to Amanda. The wet bottoms of Amanda’s boots squeak when she turns. The air in the room rushes towards the open door, the feather barbs shrug in the lady’s hand as the air passes. Hope can’t hear the cry of peacocks anymore in her head and a new wave of aches and fever flush her face and wet her eyes. But the lady doesn’t look back. Instead she hurries with the feathers through the door, the whine of its closing hangs in the icy night like a moan.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
I Don’t Care if I Never Get Back
“Peanuts! Peanuts and beer! Getcha cold beer here! Peanuts and beer!” The vendor was climbing up toward Tino and Gerry. Tino didn’t want another beer. He’d had enough peanuts. The new left-handed first baseman was pinchhitting and took the first pitch, a strike on the corner. “Peanuts and beer! Getcha cold beer here!” Tino wished the vendor would shut the fuck up already. The Yanks had a chance if this newcomer could get on. All around Tino and Gerry, the crowd was in a frenzy—but not everyone was rooting for Tino’s team. Surprisingly, many of them wore Boston caps and cheered the Sox’s six-foot-seven righty whose fastball, this late in the game, was still popping like gunfire out here in the left-field terrace. “Peanuts! Peanuts and beer!” “Strike Two! Attaboy, Carlos! Bury ’im, Baby!” the Red Sox fans cried on the right-hander’s next pitch. The batter had swung powerfully and smoothly but the ball blew past him in a blur. “See, son?” Tino said, looking across 360 feet to home plate. “Watch ’im. Watch how he tucks that elbow close and brings it through the swing? Yeah, sure. He swung and missed that time, but he’s got a beautiful swing. Whaddya think?” Gerry did not see the batter. He was looking at a comic book in his lap. With his left hand he absentmindedly held a Louisville Slugger upright beside his knees. “Hey!” Tino yelled when he turned and saw that Gerry’s attention was not on the game. “Why ain’tcha watchin’?” “Strike Three!” The Boston fans erupted after yet another fast ball was swung on and missed. “Two out, Carlos! Eat ’em up, Carlos! One more, big fella!” “Peanuts and beer here! Getcha cold beer here!” “I said, why ain’tcha watchin’ the game?” Tino said. “I dunno, Dad. I just wanna read this,” Gerry said, eyes on his book. Tino’s left hand shot back behind his son’s seat
93 and came forward as sharply as the righty’s fastball, whacking the back of Gerry’s head. “Whaddya mean, ‘wanna read this’?” Tino said. “What the hell you doin’ with that lousy comics? We’re at a BALLGAME, for Chrissake! It’s Bat Day at the Stadium, and you got ya head in a stupid comics? I’m GONNA KILL YOUR MOTHER, y’ know that? Your MOTHER’S GONNA DIE FOR THIS, y’know that? you good for nuthin’ rat bastard. I told her, no comics until you get your swing down.” Again Tino jerked sharply in his seat, and his left arm and open hand whipped forward against the back of his son’s head. “OW! Please, Daddy, stop!” Gerry cried. “Please. I’m sorry. I won’t read it anymore. Please stop!” “You’re a little ingrate, y’know that? You come to the stadium, you get a free bat, I tell you how to watch the hitters, and you wanna put your face in that stupid comics. What’s wrong with you?” “Nuthin, Daddy. It’s just … It’s … It’s boring.” “Boring? BORING? You don’t know shit from Shinola. Boring!” Tino let fly with yet another whack to Gerry’s head. The vendor, climbing past them, saw it and so did a dozen fans sitting near Tino and Gerry. “OW! That hurts, Daddy. Stop it. Please!” Gerry massaged the back of his head and skulked down into his seat. Tino noticed dirty looks coming to him from every side. “OK, c’mere, son,” he said quietly, putting his arm around Gerry’s shoulders. “I don’t like to hurt you, son, y’know that? It hurts me to hurt you, did you know that? But you gotta understand, Champ. Get outta the habit o’ reading them things, and practice your swing more— from both sides of the plate, too.” “Daddy, I told you, I’m no good at baseball. I don’t even like it.” Tino’s ruddy jowls quivered. “What … did … you say!?” he spit out, lurching for his son’s neck as Gerry squirmed away. “YOU DON’T LIKE BASEBALL?” Tino’s eyes bulged like blue-tipped eggs coming through an oviduct. “YOU’RE A FREAK! I’LL KILL YOU!” he said. Gerry had jumped out of his seat to his left and was now running up the stairs. Tino suffered a moment of gelatinous confusion as if he couldn’t decide which part of himself to lift out of the seat. He pivoted side to side at the same time that he tried to slide forward and up. All the while, he kept up a spittle-garnished rant. “YOU ARE YOUR FREAKY MOTHER’S FREAKING FREAK OF A SON, Y’KNOW THAT? So help me, I’m GONNA KILL YOUR MOTHER. Then I’M GONNA DIVORCE HER.” By the time Tino was out of his seat, Gerry had
94 gained the walkway above, where he bumped into the vendor. “Help! Help me,” he said to the man. Tino was starting up the steps. The vendor pushed his tray of wares to his side and grabbed Gerry’s shoulders. He swung the boy around to face the field as Tino struggled up the steps below him. Tino’s face was almost as red as the Boston caps. “Here, kid,” the vendor said, taking Gerry’s bat and placing it on the boy’s right shoulder. He finessed Gerry’s position so that the boy gripped the bat with both hands and turned to the side. The comic book was on the floor. “Get it far back, kid,” the vendor said. “Yeah, like that. Tuck your elbow in. OK, kid, here it comes. Take a good cut and rock it outta here.” As Tino closed in, just three steps from the top, Gerry swung as hard as he could and connected in an upstroke with his father’s head. The bat initially struck Tino’s mouth on the left side, smashing flesh, spattering blood and breaking teeth. The meat of the bat continued to grind upward, breaking through Tino’s nose and rasping his left eye before flying up over his head and back around. The huge man was staggered to a halt and began to drop away. He would have tumbled directly down the steps, except that at the last moment, he’d made a rightward waddle that gave his massive bulk sufficient momentum to carry him backward into the seats to his right. There Tino fell on top of a young woman who, along with everyone around her, had been keenly watching the Boston left fielder race back to the wall below them to catch a well-hit fly. Tino collapsed on this poor woman, crushing her forward, her head thunking the back of the seat in front of her at the moment the fielder caught the ball with a jump. The thud made by her head hitting the board was identical to that of the fielder’s body crashing into the wall, so hardly anyone noticed that she had become immediately unconscious and was spurting blood from her head beneath Tino’s convulsing body. “Beautiful! You got a real nice cut, kid,” said the vendor. “Yeah, yeah!” said Gerry. “I think I got it.” He sped away in a hurry, stopped after a few steps and turned to the vendor. “Thanks!” he cried. “See ya!” Gerry dropped the bat and ran off. The vendor swung his tray to the front and went back to work. “Peanuts! Getcha cold beer here.”
CIRQUE Jim Thiele
Men of the Woods
Before the cold sun had breached the frost burdened horizon, the boy woke, but decided to hide it. The old man was up and already dressed. He slowly rose from his old cot; it creaked and so did his bones. Fire light struggled through the iron grate of the wood-burning stove and painted his shadow as a great bear on the tent’s stained canvas wall. The stale smell of smoke and sweat hung heavy in layers. It conspired with the dry heat thrown off the stove, sapping the eyes dry, from grapes to raisins. It was stagnant, but to the boy, blissful. The old man absently scratched his face where tiny white whiskers had erupted, and looked down at a fringe of sandy brown hair. He paused, aware that the child was awake, aware of the boy’s role, aware of his own. Secretly, the boy squeezed his eyes a little tighter and squirmed a little deeper into his sleeping bag, like an infant butterfly fighting its inevitable transformation. Outside, the frozen wind from the North had finally made its violent journey to this place. This place of skeleton poplar graveyards, hills just deep enough to cast pits into permanent shadow, and glassy pockmark lakes scratched opaque. The wind announced its arrival fiercely, thrashing and moaning in the darkness before dawn. The tent was not phased. It was sturdy and strong—a veteran of all the epic storms you hear stories about, a protector of generations of men of the woods. It wore its stains on thick, yellow skin like badges of authority that could only be earned. The old man made his way to the flap door that split the front of the tent, held
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 together by haggard brown leather strings. He untied the highest one and peeked outside, wincing as the bitter cold drove shivers from his neck down his spine like a frozen prairie fire. Good, he thought to himself, dark enough. He looked at the sky through half-closed eyes, a mass of silver stars swallowed amongst a black sea. He inhaled deeply through his nose. The thin, icy wind stuck his nose hair into stiff bundles and stretched his lungs with the shock of the cold. He returned to the thick heat of the tent and kicked the leg of the boy’s cot. “It’s time,” he grunted. “No clouds today. Goin’ be cold.” They walked for miles in the blue darkness of morning. Slowly, methodically, they pushed through deep pockets of forest, following ancient veins of trails that carved through the trees discretely. The wind could not pierce so far into the forest, so the air was thick with silence, broken only by boots and branches. The old man led, of course. The boy was his shadow. He fought through tired, itching eyes with his father’s rifle slung on his shoulder, following every sudden stop and start. One day the boy and his father had spent a whole afternoon digging a hole in the backyard. His father had been gone for months, but had got to come home, just for a little while. He was quieter now, but as they dug, he told the boy what life was like in a trench, in a hole just like this one. The boy was alone that summer during the war. He hid in his hole, drawing stickman soldiers in the crumbling walls, embracing the sweet smell of the earth that rose from the soft ground beneath his knees, still damp from the dewy remnants of the morning. He would sometimes poke his head out of the hole and look back up towards his house sitting solitary on the hill, wondering if his father would maybe walk out the back door onto the porch. Maybe he would sit on the weathered wicker chair overlooking the pasture and smoke his pipe in silence before dusk had set in. Maybe the boy would run up the hill to the house and sit on the porch beside him, back against the white washed siding, and they could both stare into the pasture in silence. When he had come home that summer, his father made the boy a little wooden rifle. He carried it everywhere, except when his mother took him to church. Then one day they stopped going to church, and the boy stopped carrying the rifle. The men of the family left every winter to come here. Nobody went during the war—that wouldn’t have
95 been right—but the war was over now, years had passed, and men have responsibilities. The old man knew much of responsibility; for his country, for his family, for himself. He had raised his son to know the same. His son had known. The boy followed the old man faithfully through the forest, stalking shadows of transient starlight. They shuffled through frozen sheaves of dying leaves and the sweet stench of decay wafted up and engulfed them. The boy shrugged up his shoulders and dug his nose into the collar of his wool overcoat. The skin on his cheeks, cold and pink, was scratched by the itch of the grey wool. He exhaled and the wetness of his breath condensed in his collar, moistening his lips and chin in a glorious warm bath—he inhaled and it turned to ice. A skinny branch rolled off the old man’s shoulder and snapped back, lashing into the boy’s exposed forehead. He sucked wind through his teeth and squeezed his eyes against the thin, searing throb that instantly welted there, but he carried on silently. The old man had no time for other people’s pain—he looked disapproving at the impotence of the world, his judgments written firm in the wrinkles of his brow. The boy had grown up knowing he would one day be here, and today was his day. Today, he would become a man, and the old man would look at him and know. As they walked, the boy struggled with his father’s rifle. It was so heavy. Slung over his shoulder, the metal bolt dug into his back and the crude leather strap rubbed hot and raw under his overcoat. He leaned uncomfortably to one side to keep the muzzle from scraping along the forest floor—the rifle was nearly taller than he was. The scarred wooden stock cracked into his knee nearly every step; he could feel tender swelling heat deepening in the bone there. He had to shift the rifle off his shoulder and cradle it in his arms, gripping it awkwardly in his small hands. Soon his forearms burned and ached with the weight and his fingers grew stiff in the seeping cold, and he had to shift it back. He carried on silently. The old man had grown impatient. Four goddamn days and no sign, he thought. There was a certain urgency pressing on him that he had not felt for years. He looked over his shoulder at the boy behind him as they walked, barely discernable in the dawning sunlight. He felt pity, then purpose. This will be good for the boy—just what he needs. The boy’s eyes, tracing his steps in the frost, were much like his fathers, a burning blue, pure, like condensed lightning. They had not yet lost the hidden depth of sadness they concealed. He was too young to know how to bury loss with pride. The old man sighed. He thought of his own son.
Grey daylight slowly spread itself thin over low rolling hills, illuminating the sheaths of fragile frost that wrapped around the short broken straw. Up the backside and crowning the top of one of these hills was a fringe of naked poplar trees, bleached and stripped of their leaves, which now lay discarded in a yellow-black sea of decay. The wind, exhausted, whistled only intermittent now, encouraging the restless flutter of the more rebellious leaves. The sun just rising from the south filtered through the trees, casting alternating bars of thin light and leaden shadow over the crown of the hill. The decline flowed smoothly in slow-rolling mounds of concrete-grey to where it was abruptly cut off by a much thicker expanse of evergreen forest. Steam lazily rose from the frozen ground there and joined with the low-lying cloud shifting through the forest. The old man crept through the poplar at the top of the hill, hunched, with his rifle in his hands. Before he breached the tree line he paused, his faded blue eyes piercing into the forest at the bottom. Without looking away, he motioned for the boy to come to his side. Wordlessly, the boy crept up beside him, hunched, staring deeply through the mist among the trees. They both took a knee at the edge of the trees and the old man quietly, almost breathlessly, rasped, “There’s a lick back somewhere in the trees there—See the gap on the right? More’n likely somethin’ll come up the tree line and feed into it there.”
C I RJanet Q Levin UE
They sat cross-legged in the leaves with their backs against the poplars. The boy propped his father’s rifle against one leg and grabbed the cold steel bolt. It opened eagerly and slid back like silk in his hand. An acrid, sulfuric scent escaped from the chamber, magnified against the sterile cold of the morning air. He pushed forward on the bolt and watched the jagged copper-tipped brass slide into the bore. It clicked as it shut and he winced as the sound pierced the air. It was ready to kill. He put the safety on and settled the rifle into his lap. As they glassed the forest below, the boy glanced sideways into the old man’s eyes. They were wider than before. There was tension in them, an excitement, a pressure. Hours passed. As the sun clawed higher into the empty sky, the bars of shadow cast over the hilltop slowly crept back towards the trees, but the forest below remained shrouded. Suddenly, the old man tensed. He stopped breathing. Eyes fixed forward, he slowly reached sideways. Scraping the brittle straw and crystals of earth, his hand moved along the ground to squeeze the boy’s frozen boot. The boy, then, tensed. He followed the old man’s gaze to the gap in the trees. The stag emerged through the trees in deft silence. Once fully exposed in the low part of the shadow-
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 drenched ground, he twitched both of his long ears to the front, then looked back over his shoulder into the forest. He turned forward again, tilting his massive head as he did so, making a show of the rack of forked bone that crowned it. Beneath this, his wide face housed round, deep brown eyes and narrowed to a wet black nose. He was regal; his broad coat of thick grey-brown fur rippled with winter fat on top of his front two shoulders. This was his clearing, his forest; he stared out intently with wisdom and belonging. Another ear twitch and he at once absorbed the universe in sight and sound and discarded his discoveries. He dipped his head and grazed with light spindle steps through the straw. Up on the hill, the boy shifted onto one knee at snail-pace, eyes fixed downhill, moving while desperately trying not to move. A pressing, breathless whisper emerged at his side, “Take him, now.” A pause, then another whisper, this time almost hostile, “Take him. He’s broadside.” The boy’s heart pushed a pressure through his veins that throbbed in his ears with each thump. He grabbed his father’s rifle with his right hand, silently hauled it up onto his erect knee and braced it with his left arm. He forced himself into a shooting stance; he bent his neck awkwardly to see through the bobbing iron sights, cheek pressed against the cold, smooth stock, the scent of grease and steel between his hands. His hands. Suddenly, this was all very real. His lungs weakly grasped at the thin air, chest constricting tighter with each sharp, shallow breath. He wiggled slightly, lower onto his pinched ankle, more to the right, forward onto his knee, rifle cutting into his shoulder, left arm stretching, shaking to brace it. His arms stretched to their fullest, tearing at the muscles as he struggled to fit the rifle into his frame. He reached and he reached, but—“Come on boy!” the old man hissed, turning wild eyes towards him. Eyes threatening menace, laced with confusion. Something sore pinched in the boy’s throat. Frustration flushed in his face. Fear welled up in his eyes. The rifle trembled in the boy’s arms, speaking words he could never utter by mouth. Then, he caught something moving on the far edge of the tree line. He relaxed his arms and lifted his head, just slightly, and looked over the rifle. The old man turned away. A fawn had cautiously moved into the clearing through the fog, some hundred yards from the stag. His little spike antlers, not even forked yet, were barely visible behind his pointed ears. The boy watched as the small
97 deer grazed knob-kneed and gangly, skirting the tree line, playfully flicking his short white tail. He stretched his slender neck and licked the frost off the tips of the stout evergreens in the background, keeping his distance, studying in secret. The buck casually lifted his head and looked back at the fawn. The fawn froze, eyes wide as the stag flexed his thick neck, showcasing his antlers, sizing up the intruder in his midst. He turned away, silently acknowledging the fawn’s presence, allowing him to learn all the things that must be learned. Just then, the straw beneath them was ignited in sparkling frost as the sun finally peaked in the sky. The boy was transfixed. He didn’t hear the old man cock his rifle, but the vicious crack that followed splintered the still morning air. The lingering echo of the shot, a distant foot scraping rocks on concrete, abruptly faded and gave way to total silence. The fawn had already vanished into the forest-shifting fog. The stag’s skin rippled like a still pond surface pierced in slow motion. In a single movement, he bolted twenty yards along the tree line, then faltered, and stopped. He nearly stumbled, but then dug his hooves in deep, stuck out his broad white chest and snorted out a thick column of steam, utterly defiant. A trickle of blood dribbled out from his ribcage and beaded down to his white stomach. A second of pure silence passed, the buck rooted unyielding, proud. Then another gurgled out, a little thicker. His chest expanded and contracted in a shudder, another violent snort and rolling cloud of steam. At that moment, his body emptied through the hole punctured in his chest; blood gushed out in a short, powerful burst, quickly dribbled to a stop, and then sprayed again, heavy and violent. His shattered heart beat twice more, and the flow withered to a weak trickle. The rear leg crumpled first, the rest of him seized rigid and crashed backwards into the ground with a hollow thud. The glinting frost drowned beneath a smooth blackcurrant pool. The old man shakily lowered his rifle to the ground. His chest heaved with heavy breath as he slowly turned to the boy at his side. The boy had dropped his father’s rifle. He was standing now, looking down at the old man. The golden straw at his feet glistened as it exposed itself to the sun, shedding its frozen armor, shining in the wetness of the boy’s wide eyes. But there was something else that flickered there. Something deeper. The wind was gone, the leaves had settled. Shadow melted into the earth as the sun made all things transparent.
Magpies—Black and White
I hit a magpie with my truck today. A pair of crows had been mocking and chasing it along the roadside hedgerow when the young bird suddenly veered into my path. There was nothing I could do. I heard the dull, glancing thump against the windshield before I was fully cognizant of the bird coming toward me. I stopped immediately and walked back to look at the bird. A cool, steady autumn breeze rustled its spiritless feathers. I kneeled beside the bird and studied its nictitating membrane-clouded eyes and the dark-red trickle escaping from one naris. I stood after a moment and gently pushed the bird out of the road with my boot; I had work to do and so did those hungry crows. I remembered making great sport of shooting magpies as a teen in rural southern Idaho. I was encouraged to do so by every adult I knew, and the local irrigation district occasionally offered a fifty cent bounty on right wings. I remembered the exaltation I felt on hearing the report of my 12 gauge shotgun, the heat of the recoil deep in my shoulder, the triumphant smell of burnt powder. I remembered the rush I felt when black and white feathers erupted from my target before it tumbled headlong from the sky in a parabolic ballet of ballistics and power. I remembered feeling a flush of pride shared with friends as I gathered up my trophy up for their approval. Today, forty years later, the heat I felt was a tear welling in my eye.
Green Dream Scenes
Everett’s dreamer stumbled incessantly. Groggy and bogged down on live ground – tundra melt to breathing bog, muscle-flexed muskeg, heaving hacking hummocks; a few stubborn scattered ice rocks. He planted his gigantic feet in the organic marsh and surveyed the midnight sights. The Grid entirely ridded - a preventative tactic enacted by the Grand Galley of Ghosts through fantastic organization and drastic effort. The towering cliff survived in semblance, a spectral skyscraper suffering a power outage. His surroundings settled. Seaweed slapped and tickled his ankles, tying loose loops to suggest he still stand still. A gray skeleton of the sun sunk. Stark darkness softened. He could see the landscape switching. Sea sounds sped – purling shore poundings, petite white caps, fizzy foam, full-grown groans. As the sea of tumult turned turgid, the sounds swung urgent – roaring rollings, ripping canvas whaleboats, dire commands in his native language squandered by the deafening squall, panicked breathing, a sped pulse’s thump-thump thumping. The smooth thud of a thrust harpoon lodged in blubber flattened the sound storm to sheer silence. The marshy earth firmed. Everett snuck a dream nap. Celebratory sounds – drumbeats, laughter, screaming kids – streamed in as he opened his eyes. Back home in Barrow. Two celebrations - the spring butchering of the bowhead whale and blanket toss honoring successful whaleboats. Fur-coated crew members carved gray blubber. Slabs sloughed onto the sky blue ice. The surf dyed rosy red by shed whale blood. Tossed by ten people in seal skin furs flicking a canvas blanket, a hopping hunter threw out heaps of hard candy. Jubilant children chased sweets. Three elders seated in the center watched with stoic approval. Three drake Spectacled eiders glided by. Several eye sets swung with the birds. Everett saw his parents. His father, the captain of the honored crew, removed his wolverine-skin hood. He grinned grandly a moment then humbly detailed the adventure and adjustments of the hunt to another captain. He pointed out the young hunter who had placed the killing spear (a young man who looked a lot like Everett, Everett thought) and pantomimed his stance – bowed legs, raised arms,
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 jackhammer thrust. The turquoise embroidery cuffing his father’s sleeves gleamed. When his mother smiled at him her green irises flashed and filled with extra jade color. A line of drummers drifted by drumming. Everett noticed that the circles of the stretched seal skin drums matched the shadowed spheres of the drummer’s hoods. His mother swayed to the low light rhythm. He saw a bump bulging off the small of her back. His baby sister sleeping. His mother pointed toward the blanket toss. His father flung super-high. His turquoise cuffs sparkled against cold true-blue sky. On his fifth ascent his father did not come down. Everett fretted. His mother smiled serenely, her eyes closed as if in prayer. The blanket tossed a new hunter half as high as his father. Everett felt dazed. He watched his mother phase in and out and eventually fade away. He looked at the whale carcass. It was still there. A hard edged hump of gray, but whole again, its hot-air balloon-sized belly rising and falling. Its desperate breaths made Everett picture a colossal cavernous nose clearing floods of phlegm. The gray sun grew lime-green. Sudden sodden heat made his head ache. An errant elephant trampled by. The whale sprouted a spout of spittle and flopped into the sea, crystal blue and bloodless now. Concerned for the whale’s wellbeing (transferred from fear for his father) Everett ardently watched the sea so he might see the whale blow a geyser or merrily leap twist and plash. Instead he saw a stegosaurus, first its spine scalloped with triangular plates then its spiked club tail. His mind was simply drawing bland associations now as he struggled to stay asleep and hold the scene. A damp draft drifted into his actual Seward apartment. His shepherd Sheba hopped onto his bed and balled up. The ice melted. Darkness descended. The hardened marsh rumbled. He flopped face first, smelt and tasted stale moss. A tundra pool leaked under him and froze. His face got wet and cold. Deep down in calm water he saw a glow. He saw green hills, spaced out straw huts, seaweed gardens, olive trees – an underwater hamlet, futuristic yet bucolic. A native girl – jeans, sweatshirt, seaweed hair (noodled flowing kelp) was hopping from hut to hut offering her help. As the ripples in his fluttery view flattened he could see evidence of the aftermath of some natural disaster. Ripped in half huts, soaked crops uprooted, floating dun seaweed (flat tubed bubbled), erosion depressions in torn terraces. He thought it might be flood damage but thereafter realized that the settlement was underwater and therefore operated under a different class of natural laws. An invasion of extra air? This hypothesis pleased him, for it proved his brain, an
99 organ of reactive motion and memory up to this dream junction, could make thoughts. Everett’s dream clone lay prone, face froze to frozen pond. A grove of sprouting aspen trees grazed his gazing glass. The post-abrasion explosion sundered the planar pane dividing dream ecosystems. Glass dust crusted the cusp of his cut nose. He sneezed. No blood spray, nostrils not flayed. He smelled green leaves. Sludgy kelp clamps still slimed his ankles. Alice with seaweed hair swam toward him, slaloming aspens. “Ah, so you’re asleep now, too.” She flickered and faded. Photosynthetic fragrances fell out. The white bark of the aspen trees grew gray, bowed boughs crinkled brittle. The tallest tree toppled. He sensed his shepherd Sheba nested at the foot of his bed sensing his shivering state. Battling between awake and asleep, Everett boxed his shadow. A ring of felled aspens, a clamorous crowd (toads atop toadstools toasting his success, crooning raccoons, whistling weasels, booing baboons). Holding a glass-shard-encrusted fist hard to his nose, he embraced to be knocked out (woken up). Closing her eyes, Alice closed his hands. He closed his eyes but could still see clearly - pistachio ice cream ski hills, levitating bottle green putting greens, a green giant’s braided broccoli beard, a bevy of olive rivers bifurcating from far-flung chunky green glaciers, and verdant seas of seaweed. She pointed to two green lanes. A tidal channel churning a swath of seaweed, bulbous tips tipping. And beside it, wind winding through knee-high knife-edged sedge. Wind whooshed harsher. Spread sedge, grass flapped flat. Adjacent mold-green tombstones with two lime irises blooming between. His parents’ resting place. Alice’s deadpan conveyed the entrenched comprehension of someone who had lost a parent. Someone who knew that the bad in life fell way worse than the good got good; life was a sad scale (losses grossly outweighed gains) and, life included death. She nodded at the night sky where a whale celebration scene sprawled (he saw his father’s twinkling turquoise cuffs, his mother’s emerald eyes) before being windswept within granite clouds. Blinking a reflective eye, she attempted to attune him to the truth that you could remember. Cement clouds split, minting incalculable minttinted cloudlets. She blinked again. You could forget. Her hand moved onto his shoulder blade. He wanted to return her touch. He wanted to laudably love her. Tall palmetto blades bowed. A moss-matted path fed a jade river. He followed her until she turned to shadow. The raucous rushing river washout robbed all sound. He was
100 in the ring again, back to the mat, twitching, tussling to stay asleep. His jaw draped loose. He reached into his mouth and plucked three cracked teeth. In his hand the teeth became green gum tablets. He tossed them back in and chewed stone grit. The teeth once again teeth. At the foot of his actual bed, Sheba whined. In his dream he saw her huffing beyond his tingling toes, trotting haughtily, seaweed dangling out of her mouth. She curled up under the turnbuckle and guarded her sea slime as if it were rare steak - gnawing, growling. A bald referee flung fingers at Everett. Dream Sheba snarled. Sweat wet the ref’s zebra shirt as he sped the count, ‘6 7 8 9.’ Everett saw black, heard white noise, touched soggy air, smelt snow. He anticipated awakening. The trapezoidal dimensions of his room, sleepy Sheba, the remaining slice of morel mushroom quiche. His eyes adjusted. He saw edges, overlapped shapes, whorled eyes in aspen trunks. He listened intently. Swishing tree tops. Diffused droning dribble of the distant sea. The fragrant air lent scents of leaf and brine. A series of sounds struck erratically. Some drummed his eardrums. He imagined layers under the ocean floor, cloud centers, hollowed boulders. Everett felt like he was being buried alive. Earthquake clatter rattled. Ice crackled before it cracked. Aspens snapped. Doom boomed. Rainfall resembled the grim pop of broke bones. He watched Alice’s miniature silhouette bopping about, repairing scenes that glowed clandestine green a moment before flashing, pulsing then draining. Precipices clover-bed bedded, lily pads padded by neon moss, rainbows’ green rays braiding green aurora borealis bars, ephemeral emerald shooting stars. Everett heard puppet-like laughter, haughty and high-pitched. He heard chewing, advancing pitter-patter, chipping, chopping; frazzled foreign phrases, fingernails scratching scalps, termites gnawing cement. The final sound block – the fullblown groan of thousands of people awakening - arrived along with a batch of compound smells. Soapy maple syrup, fertilized cut grass, silage-sewage, barbecue, glue, fried fresh fish, spoilt fruit… The final noise was waking breath. There was no scuffle nor ring nor ref. After seeing his ceiling, he laid his hand on his dog, closed his eyes and tried to slide back to the dream. He was distracted by reflective reflexes. Alice with seaweed hair, passing on making a pass at her, green scenes composed of film and paint combined, the ref in the ring, lapses between snapped aspens… The smells held his waking curiosity captive. The sounds were too new to judge. He stuck his head out the window, into blizzard. He smelled. He listened.
CIRQUE Janet Levin
Marjorie Kowalski Cole
Monty thought about leaving Kim. Almost every day he thought about it. Up here on the roof of the post office this windy September afternoon he knew in his heart, in his gut or whatever, this was no way to live, this silent, sick, grim existence. There had to be something better. Even a better way to deal with the death of a child than this. Even after the death of a child, there had to be good times again. Rolls of Grace roofing fabric sat about at strategic points on the vast, flat roof. Monty and Tom unrolled, measured, cut and stapled. A job that could be so dull and hot and horrible at times was just what the doctor ordered today, methodical, rhythmic, soothing as a waltz at the Nine Mile Bar when he used to take Kim dancing. Tom Clare was a good guy to work with, quiet like a monk, as always.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 Heart-shaped aspen and birch leaves, the color of pure gold, lay everywhere on the black Grace. Thin and sharp, like they were shaved off of something bigger. They even covered the toes of Monty’s boots. Every so often a shower of leaves would come over from the trees to the east of the building. Monty and Tom would stop and look. Then go back to work. This afternoon’s work was so pleasant, or at least pain-free, that Monty did not want to go back in his thoughts to last year. Did not want to let that happen again. Tried to stop his own thoughts when he felt the memories welling up. He missed a stroke and cursed. Tom looked over; Monty waved and shook his head. At the far end of Kim and Monty Feller’s yard, the rising slough made a pleasant rushing noise against the cutbank. Normally low and silent, like tea left in a cup, for a few weeks last fall it became deeper and audible. Monty and his son Jeremiah, from his first marriage, came up the slough from the Tanana River a week before the accident and saw that Kim and Monty’s three year old daughter Corinna was poised on the bank to greet them. “Get back, honey!” He called. Where was Kim? But then Kim was right there before he even finished the thought, her arm scooped around Corinna, hauling her back. They drew an imaginary line across the grass, three feet back from the slough. They talked and talked about it. “Stay behind that line, Honey.” “What color is the line, daddy?” “It’s orange. It’s International Orange-- no it’s red, and it says: STOP.” The weather was great last year. Kim and the kids were outside every minute. She even read the junk mail outside. She’d take out all those catalogs she got and the laundry and pin the laundry up and then she’d stick her head into those catalogs and do a little bit of daydreaming about things to buy for the new house, while Corinna and the neighborhood kids played. “Miz Feller, where’s Rinna?” Max, from down the road, was five years old. Kim smiled at him before answering, smiled happily at the excitement and urgency in his face. “Well, she’s here, Max. Where’d she go? Are you hiding from each other?” “No, I can’t find her. We’re riding the big wheels and she went behind the rope.”
101 “Then she’s behind those sheets is all,” Kim said, turning her head to look at the clothesline. “No, dother rope, the red rope there.” He pointed at the empty lawn that fronted the slough. Slow motion, and then the speed of light. Kim turned her head and looked, so slowly. Then she was over the lawn to the slough without even taking a step, she was just there, she was everywhere: no Corinna. She ran up and down the bank, she ran through the house, she kept wanting to stop and throw up, her stomach wanted to throw out this fact, fact of taking her eyes off Corinna, fact. Throw it out. Everywhere, calling. The state troopers arrived, the neighbors, Kim looked at her watch: two hours! Two hours with no Corinna! With every person who arrived, every phone call, Kim expected to see a grin of relief cover every face, a blond head pop up in a car window. Over and over, that failed to happen; over and over the same story from Max: “We were racing the big wheels down the ropes. Then I turn that way and she turn that way and then I can’t find her. I waited for her. I can’t find her. I went to ask Miz Feller where she is.” She had to describe what Corinna was wearing. What difference did it make, just rescue any kid you find in the slough, who cares what she’s wearing! But she had to tell them: black rubber breakup boots with a red line along the sole, blue jeans…a blue sweatshirt, rhinestone earrings. She has pierced ears, like Mom. Oh, but in the days that followed, the weeks, her arms became so hungry to be filled with that familiar body, the weight just right, the softness, the life. Give me that one moment, give me back that moment. Someone put a poem in her hands, about God loaning us a sweet child. Kim stared at it in disbelief. What is this all about? She looked over at Monty who was staring at her with some kind of hope in his face, like maybe he thought this poem would help. Why couldn’t he have been here that afternoon? How could Monty be thinking about anything else right now but Corinna gone? What the hell is there to have hope about? During the funeral mass she couldn’t hold her head up. She looked down at her own body. Empty arms, empty lap, flat and bereft. Every cell in her body held Corinna’s absence. Every cell in her body was used up, wrung out, abandoned. Three weeks later Jeremiah turned nine. She heard Monty and his grandmother planning the party and Kim said, “I’ll make the cake! I’ll make that tunnel of
102 fudge cake he liked so much. Go on now, do something else, I’m doing this. I know what he likes.” She fought with herself to give Jeremiah his own day. She took a little pride in this show; no one else thought she could do it, but she did. The next day, she could not get out of bed. She lay there all day, studying the lack of pity in the world. Here was a world without Corinna’s small hands touching her mother’s face. Mothers are big, soft dolls to small children. Corinna’s arms around her neck, Corinna’s hand patting her cheek, playing with her hair. Kim stared at the space in the world that was now endless, infinite, important: space empty of Corinna. She stared. “Sometimes I feel like leaving her,” Monty Feller blurted to Tom, when their stapling brought them within three feet of each other. He hadn’t planned to say a word. He didn’t even introduce the subject, he just spat it out. But Tom had that way about him, he looked like someone who thought things over. Tom could flare up, he could be a moody s.o.b. but most often he knew how to listen. The guy was available. Though Monty had never confided in anyone about Kim and her craziness, and especially the way it wore him down, something about Tom’s receptive presence next to him brought the words out. Made him erupt. As if maybe Tom could take away some of this pain. Then he didn’t want to stop talking. But after awhile Tom said the wrong thing. He said, “My mother was never the same after my brother disappeared.” How dare he bring that up? Monty knew the story: Tom’s brother, mentally ill, never showed up in town after a cross-country hike from Circle to Fairbanks, ten years ago. Yeah, Monty thought, but he was full grown, and mentally ill besides and he did it to himself. That’s not the same. “Even so,” Tom went on, “My mom was a lot older than Kim. She had been a mother for a long time, already suffered a lot of disappointments. Had some experience of the world. They say a year isn’t much, isn’t enough time to know what to do next. That’s what they told us.” “She’s off the wall,” Monty said. “Everything comes back to her grief.” “She on anything?” “Valium. I hate it. On good days she works with this lady who makes candles and soap at home, one of those cottage industries. I hate the stuff. She always smells
CIRQUE like a perfume factory. Actually, a little like a hospital. She smells like a hospital.” Or a funeral home, he thought. That faint smell in the background all the time. Oh, Christ. He’d give anything if she smelled of firewood or gasoline or fresh salmon, like she used to. “The girl I married,” he went on, “she was so active, a cheerleader type. Always jumping around. Muscle and spirit. Now she’s in her head. All the time, in her head. And I have no clue what is going on in there.” They moved on widespread legs to the edge of the roof, bending and stapling. Tom stood up then and put one hand on his lower back, stretched. He looked out at the aspen grove across the street. “I sure do like working high,” he said. “Gives me a weird mood. Really different.” Monty wondered if Tom Clare might be a bit crazy, like his own brother, the one who disappeared. What was it made you confide in this guy? Maybe just his name. Tom Clare. Sounds like a priest. But Monty did not like weird stuff. He did not like the way Kim kept everything inside these days, when it was Monty’s own fault, the accident, thinking he could warn a little girl back from the edge of the slough! A warning, for the love of God, he warned a three year old! Oh please, again, he said the prayer he had said a thousand times: I hope it was fast, make it too fast a drowning even to want her mother and father, please make it so that she died right away. Right away. Thank you, Amen. He ruined more staples and a stretch of fabric. Tom lent a hand, and when they finished the repair, still on their haunches, gasping a little, Tom put his hand on Monty’s arm. “So today you feel like leaving her,” he said. “Yesterday? Tomorrow? Go ahead and say it, at least to yourself, say it every day, how it feels. Tomorrow, for instance. Tell someone.” Monty’s face burned. Christ, he thought, will you shut up with your advice? What do you know? Tom didn’t have a wife or a child either one. Least as far as anyone knew. Who’s to know. He moved forward to the next grid of roof to be covered, swung the roll of Grace lengthwise, kicked the bulk of it so it rolled out like a carpet. Very unprofessional. “The girl I married,” he said. “I keep thinking that: where is that girl? How can she disappear so completely? Do you know what I’m even talking about?” “Yeah, I think.” Tom walked patiently the length of the fabric, straightened it, lifted his knife from his hip. Stuff it now, Monty thought. I’d better save my
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 shit for another time. I need this job. Do it right. “Truth is,” said Tom, “even in good times, the people we know disappear. Because if nothing else, Monty, young people turn into older people. You just have to believe there’s a girl in there who’s waiting for some kind of help, some kind of something, I don’t know.” It was forty miles after work to get home, down the Richardson Highway to the Fellers’ road. Monty stopped off these days at the Nine Mile Bar for a cold one. Helped a little. The girl I married, he thought. He shouldn’t even go there because that was some kind of lie. That was a dead-end. There is no such thing. That’s what Tom was saying. The girl I married. Kim had the yellowiest hair, and great legs. She played volleyball. She’d run around on the lawn and muscles would move under her skin. Made her legs change shape and every shape, each and every one, was beautiful. And firm. God. Her torso was so small and firm, all of that and she was just so gentle. The way her fingers moved up his neck into his hair. Drove him crazy. “I’m comin’ after you,” that’s what it meant. She loved making things nice for Jeremiah, too. She loved that house they built, filling the pantry with pickled green tomatoes, blueberry jam, canned smoked salmon. What a sight that was. She never got wired, like other women, rushing around like she was so damned important. She just did these nice things. Now, she was broken glass inside. Or wacko on Valium. There’d be eggshells in the scrambled eggs, the salmon burned. Wild eyes looked into the next room, right past him. He would have done anything to make her feel better. She rejected every single offer. He could see two strange cars in the driveway, one of them oh no a State Trooper’s car. Monty parked carefully and climbed out and walked toward the house. People he didn’t know on the front porch looked at him, and then went inside the house, leaving Kim and Jeremiah on the steps. Watching him. Monty gasped with relief: his son and his wife were okay. He hadn’t even put words to his panic yet, but to see them there, staring back at him, tears came to his eyes and he thought: whatever it is, they are okay. This is relief I’m feeling. Whatever happens now, it doesn’t matter compared to this I swear to God. He walked closer. Kim had something in her lap, and between the two of them he saw what looked like an old plastic tricycle. A big wheel. It was Corinna’s, wasn’t it?
103 “Dad,” called Jeremiah. “Hey,” said Monty and held out his arms. Jeremiah’s face was puffy. He had been crying. Monty grunted and hoisted him, and the boy’s legs wrapped around his father’s hips. Monty walked up on the porch, over to Kim. She looked different. Her left hand lay on the handlebar of the big wheel, her right arm cradled something in her lap. Her eyes, shining with tears, looked directly at him, right at Monty, right into his heart. “They found these about a half mile down,” she said softly. She hadn’t looked at him like that for the whole year. She had not wanted to look at him at all. Monty looked down at her lap. A boot, a child’s black rubber boot with a red line around the sole. Corinna’s. They’d found it, then. It was twisted, pinched at the ankle. “It was wedged in the trike. Who knows when or how that happened. She couldn’t stop herself, or maybe it happened in the water.” Monty sat down in the empty chair next to Kim’s. Corinna’s last journey. The river took her, he thought in wonder. He put his hand on Kim’s arm. We waited a long time. He let his eyes rest, looking out over the golden tops of the trees, resting in the far distance, in the empty sky. He didn’t realize until that moment that he had been straining every day to see her again, to see her waving confidently from the safety of her own home, waiting to see her restored to her mother’s eyes.
INTERVIEW Lauren Stanford
An Interview with authors Steve Kahn, The Hard Way Home, and Anne Coray, Violet Transparent
Spending my childhood summers in the wilderness of Lake Clark, I was bound to run into interesting creatures, local folks included. I’ve known Steve Kahn and Anne Coray personally for most of my life, and lately gained fresh perspective on my friends through their new books, Steve’s The Hard Way Home: Alaska Stories of Adventure, Friendship, and the Hunt, and Anne’s Violet Transparent. Recently I attended their latest reading at UAA’s Campus Bookstore. By way of e-mail, I asked Steve and Anne a few general questions, and then dug a bit deeper into their new books. Lauren Stanford: It’s probably fair to say that the drive to write is mostly about sharing. What do you hope readers take away from your writing? Steve Kahn: New or renewed feelings of respect and appreciation for the Alaska environment. The realization that the nuances of living in a place define it as much as major events. A sense of history, of what Alaska was like in the recent past. I want people to care for and value wild places more than they did before they read my work. Anne Coray: Above all, an appreciation for language.
That’s what it’s all about: sound and rhythm and syntax, and how these can be used to greatest effect for what I’m trying to convey. This new book, Violet Transparent, has a lot of environmental poems, but the content is bolstered by careful selection of words, use of metaphor, assonance, and other tools we writers have at our disposal. Content doesn’t mean much unless things are said in fresh ways. That said, I hope people come away from my book with a resolve to stand up for the natural world, to protect and care for land and resources, and to think about their own role in preventing further losses. LS: If your text were studied in a nonfiction or poetry class, what elements of your writing would be highlighted? SK: From a formal standpoint, perhaps the use of flashbacks and the weaving in of other stories within the context of the main narrative. Also, the use of poetic passages to create mood. I would hope that the sense of humor in many of the essays is evident, and that it would be advantageous to study a text that combines philosophical asides, humor, and storytelling in one narrative.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 AC: Beyond my attention to language, I’d like my work included in classes devoted to the study of American poets who don’t shy away from political and environmental commentary. We live in a very PC age—so many writers are afraid to express their views! I realize that there is a ton of such writing that can be relegated to the rubbish bin. But there is good stuff, too; poets like W.S. Merwin and William Heyen exemplify that polemical writing can be done well. I recently read an interview with the late Norman Mailer; he stated that “most writers who are timid are afraid of pissing people off.” He thinks good writers shouldn’t be afraid of that. Of course Mailer was kind of a curmudgeon, but even someone as affable as Edward Albee believes that if one of his plays gets nothing but rave reviews then it must be sub-par. Controversy makes people think; that is what art should do. LC: You’ve told me a good writer not only writes, but must also be an avid reader. What writers, if any, do you draw inspiration from?
105 behind most of their work that says, “This poem needed to be written.” LS: It is a frigid Lake Clark evening. What book do you curl up with by the wood stove? SK & AC: We try to read a variety of books. Years ago we read an article about someone who gave himself a list of books to read for the year, which included biographies, history, poetry, fiction, investigative journalism, etc. That made an impression. The idea of going outside your “reading comfort zone” is a worthy effort. Neither of us is that structured, but we try to read a range of books, many times having two or three going at the same time. It’s so interesting to look at your own work, to think back and realize, “Oh, that’s where that idea came from! It was from reading such-and-such.” LS: Do you find anything in your rural lifestyle limiting to your writing?
SK: The poetry and prose of John Haines is remarkable for its mythic quality. Ted Kerasote because he shares his personal story along with his quest to understand his own and others’ outdoor ethics. Nick Jans never disappoints, and he really knows how to end a story. I love early Barry Lopez. Although I lean more toward nonfiction than fiction, I find the work of Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx amazing.
SK: No—I am my own worst limitation, always wanting to split wood, check on the boat, etc. We never consider writing retreats because we live in one!
AC: For Violet Transparent, W.S. Merwin and William Heyen were great inspirations. But as you can see by my notes page at the end of the book, I owe a debt of gratitude to many authors—not just poets but also nonfiction writers and novelists. In fact, it really amazed me to look back and see how much influence other writings had on my collection.
LS: I wouldn’t want to upset your domestic tranquility, but here’s a question I have to ask. Do you consider your spouse a writing mentor?
I’ve also admired Charles Wright, Christopher Merrill, Robert Hass, and Joanna Klink. Of course, there are many, many, excellent poets out there, and I’ve only read a fraction of them. Deborah Digges (recently deceased) wrote some amazing poems, and going back a little further, John Berryman and T.S. Eliot. As the publisher of NorthShore Press, I’ve had the opportunity to publish some great local talent, including Gretchen Diemer and Cirque editor Mike Burwell. This fall NorthShore Press is putting out a book by Ohio poet Doug Ramspeck. All these writers have inspired me by reminding me that the best poetry is about language first. There’s an urgency
AC: I don’t find the lifestyle limiting, but I do sometimes feel limited by the lack of access to other writers. There’s nothing quite like a face-to-face discussion. The Internet will never replace that.
SK: Absolutely, Anne is my number one mentor. She is a skilled teacher and demanding editor. AC: A mentor? No. (Sorry, Steve. No offense.) He is a great resource, though, for fact checking. I’m constantly asking him questions about animal behavior or characteristics, landscape phenomena, etc. He’s pretty darn astute when it comes to observing the natural world, better than many so-called scientific specialists. His knowledge is often more intuitive than studied. He has also developed into an excellent first reader, and that is a tremendous help. LS: Anne, having heard you read your poetry, I found the writing even more profound, as your voice adds an acute amount of emotion. How would it be possible for more readers to hear you read your poems read aloud?
106 AC: That’s a great question! Actually, the reading you attended at UAA was recorded for a podcast, so students or others interested can download it. Personally, I LOVE hearing poetry read out loud; I find it much more exciting than on the page. Poetry has historically been an aural art form. You don’t know how many times people have told me, “Oh, I understand the poems so much better, now that I’ve heard them read.” The problem is getting people to attend readings! I’d like to explore the idea of getting more poetry recorded for the web. Steve and I are considering a blog, and maybe we can include some recorded excerpts from our books on it. I did have a poem read by a professional actress on the poetry.com website, and she did a wonderful job. The poem is titled “The Egyptians Had it All Wrong,” and is included in my next book, A Measure’s Hush, due out in April. LS: Throughout Violet Transparent you reference a wide variety of history and culture. For example, in “Eulogy for the Galapagos Tortoise” you reference Greek mythology. “A Hunger” cites the consumption of hummingbird tongues, which was considered a delicacy to the ancient Romans. What sort of historical and cultural facts do you find most intriguing and inspiring enough to incorporate into a poem? AC: Wow, I think almost any snippet of history is probably interesting enough to be included in a poem. History is fascinating, as long as it’s not presented in the traditional high school textbook format, where we get twoparagraph summaries of events that unfolded over the course of many years. I think the trick to incorporating history in literary work is not to include too much at a time. Throwing a hard historic fact into the middle of a poem has a way of jolting us awake, reminding us that history is always lurking behind our actions, our intolerances, our pettiness. I’m not really a fan of poems that assume the persona of an historical person. I like history in smaller doses, as a kind of wake-up call. LS: In “Blue Mountain Pine” you bring to light little known, or perhaps forgotten, history regarding the cruelty applied to Aleuts. “Martha” highlights the final moments of the last passenger pigeon. These are only two examples of several in which you give due attention to tragic occurrences. What effects do you think retelling the shameful and neglected past will have with readers?
CIRQUE AC: Wouldn’t it be nice if our words could change the world! But as Auden so famously said, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” At the risk of sounding fatalistic, I think the best that poetry can do is serve as a reminder. It’s something to give us pause. Of course, the people who could really benefit from hearing those reminders are the least likely to read poetry. So there’s that inevitable risk of preaching to the choir. But if, as a writer, you are compelled to address these subjects, you don’t really have a choice. You say what you need to say. It’s going to register with someone out there, somewhere. LS: Steve, in The Hard Way Home you reference real people and real events. Although last names are usually never used, the circumstances are unique enough to possibly identify an individual. Did you have any misgivings about the stories you published and how they might affect your relationships with those people? SK: Of course, I struggled with that, especially in my story “The Wake.” I wouldn’t want to tarnish a relationship, but I wanted the reader’s experience to be as authentic as possible. Respect and criticism of our friends should go hand in hand. Personally, I don’t want to read stories where everything a friend does elevates them to sainthood. I thought hard about how to handle this. Humor helps; including my own flaws allowed others’ shortcomings to come across as less of a personal attack and more of a commentary about human nature. I also realized that, as a reader, my greatest appreciation is for authors like Ted Kerasote and Mark Jenkins, who write about relationships with honesty; they gave me a model to follow. LS: Unlike the stereotypical hunter, you have a unique appreciation and compassion for living things, whether it be considering the well-being of the undersized and female crab that are tossed back to sea to developing a relationship with a flock of cranes that could have provided sustenance in a time of need. What would you attribute this to? SK: I’ve always loved the outdoors and felt myself fortunate to spend so much time in it. From an early age I’ve been fascinated by the natural world—I think it is hard to be enthralled with something and disrespect it. Of course, reading, the process of writing, and being around like-minded people have greatly aided my maturation in that regard.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 Janet Levin
107 Janet Levin
SK: Yes, I believe in luck, I was born in Alaska after all! Living in the bush, working with and around boats, airplanes, chainsaws, wild animals, thin ice, etc. are challenging. Our bodies are so fragile. How easily we can bleed or break bones or collapse. Inexperience leads to dumb moves that we often survive by chance alone. Those are brilliant opportunities to learn. Although experience helps minimize those moments of stupidity, it doesn’t eliminate them. Sometimes things just happen. As I continue the slide past middle age I find I’m more cognizant of the potential for harm. That awareness brings even more caution. But back to luck: in this day and age, with fewer and fewer people reading and more and more people writing, getting a book into print is lucky indeed. An excerpt from “Standing on a Heart” from The Hard Way Home ©2010 by Steve Kahn:
LS: You’ve survived charging bears, a moose that would not die, and carbon monoxide poisoning, just to name a few. Do you consider yourself lucky? How have these experiences influenced how you live your life today?
I quit trapping. Years passed and I came to live on another lake in remote Alaska, surrounded by different mountains. A neighbor to the east fed and photographed the animals; another to the west trapped and skinned them. One winter when I watched the easy gait of a westbound wolf, my heart lifted, then too quickly, settled. I never heard the shot, but the voice of my neighbor was clear as he boasted over the VHF radio how he never had to leave his cabin, just picked up his rifle and opened the window. Later I passed by the crumpled carcass, misshapen and bird-picked on the ice. The cold I felt was boneand-muscle-deep, and the ice I stood on was not the only thing that had buckled and fractured.
Two poems from Violet Transparent ©2010 by Anne Coray
We do not die beautifully like the salmon. In September, bodies of sockeye are carmine, cadmium red, maroon, their heads olive to emerald green. We do not die beautifully. We turn sallow, fail to leap and zigzag our last crazy stitch through water and air. Our snout does not metamorphose back to the shape of a primitive beak as if to say I’m bird reborn, I’ll learn yet to cackle and sing. Our teeth, if anything, grow smaller, ground down like gravel on a surf-wracked shore each wearisome, worrisome day. We sprout no backbone arch filled with pearl-gray fat to give us a bold and heavenly bulk. We grow meager with the terror that we’ve never been good, nor wild, nor wise, did not love other lives enough to offer cartilage, muscle, skin, and blood to sky and beach, talon and sharp jaw.
Late afternoon light shrining the ocher stalks of last year’s hillside grasses, a gentle, easterly breeze— March in Alaska’s the most pleasant month, few visitors, no bugs, snow enough on the mountains to lend a winter flavor. It won’t always be like this. Again the climate’s changing; Who knows when the swag-bellied bear will cease its hibernation, the ptarmigan and weasel dull to a twelve-month brown? On the west coast of Cook Inlet a petrified gingko pillared a siltstone bluff. A tree native to China, its delicate, fan-shaped leaves and fleshy, yellowish fruit preceded alder and white spruce. Through earthquake and thunderburst it stood millennia, unwilling to cede rock hardwood and grain to urgent weather. It crumbled finally in a winter storm. What is acceptance but erosion of resistance: the mineral wish to stay the foam and the tireless rush, the deaf and sickled surf.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1
REVIEWS and EXCERPTS Bill Sherwonit
Review of The Hard Way Home by Steve Kahn (2010, University of Nebraska Press)
I admit to some initial disappointment when I began reading Steve Kahn’s new (and first) collection of essays, The Hard Way Home: Alaska Stories of Adventure, Friendship, and the Hunt (University of Nebraska Press, 2010). Several essays in the first section of his three-part book left me wanting more. More depth, more reflection, more story, more something. A number felt unfinished, in one way or another. Then I jumped from Part One: Ranging Out, to Part Two: Guiding Days. And suddenly, happily, I found that the essays grabbed my interest and attention in a way the book’s opening bunch hadn’t. The stories seemed deeper and richer, more reflective, more satisfying, more focused, more polished. The quality of the pieces remained high throughout Parts Two and Three (“Settled In”). By the time I’d finished, I knew this is a book I can recommend to people who want to learn more about Alaska, those who call the “Last Frontier” home, and especially the complex relationships between humans and the animals with which we share the landscape (wherever we live). Kahn presents the varied perspectives of a lifelong resident who’s something of an outdoors renaissance man, Alaska style. As he notes in his introduction, “Many Alaskans enjoy jack-of-all-trades lives, we go in various directions, trying our hand at different things.” For Kahn, those things include angling, commercial fishing, trapping, piloting small planes, oil spill clean-up, carpentry, hunting, big-game guiding, and homesteading. Kahn touches on all of those. But the heart of his book – and the best storytelling – comes from his time as hunter and guide and backcountry homesteader. Not coincidentally, those are the essays in Parts Two and Three. I think Kahn is at his very best when telling “animal stories.” Many of those stories involve death. Kahn is often, but not always, responsible for those deaths in his roles of subsistence hunter and sport-hunting guide (and in one sad story, as a trapper). But he is, it’s fair to say, conflicted. Raised in a hunting culture whose signs “were everywhere” (while living on Anchorage’s fringes in the 1950s and ‘60s), Kahn later chose a “bush” lifestyle in which subsistence activities – whether fishing, hunting or berry picking – are essential. In an era when people are increasingly removed from the sources of their food, Kahn has remained intimate with the animals necessary to his own sustenance, both physical and spiritual. His essays demonstrate a thoughtful and respectful attitude toward
life and death, unlike so many Americans – and Alaskans – who consume the pre-packaged meat of factory-farmed animals. Harder to digest is Kahn’s decision to be a biggame, trophy guide. Perhaps realizing that, his “Afterword” presents a defense of guiding – and some pointed criticisms. While I have long been philosophically opposed to big-game hunting and guiding – I can’t accept the killing of animals for mounted heads or skins, a place in the record books, or to satisfy an ego – I greatly appreciate Kahn’s writings about his own experiences. He openly shares the ambiguities, questions, and internal conflicts, along with the “intoxicating” freedoms and challenges, and occasional glories, of guiding. Not the glory of the kill, but of the landscape, the wildness, the personal discoveries, and unexpected wildlife encounters peripheral to the hunt. One of my favorite essays is “A Face in the Fog,” which ends this way: “If all the reasons for me to be here could be distilled and placed into a pair of eyes, it would be the eyes across the pond. The promises that pull me back to guiding are moments like these, when the photographer forgets the camera in his hand or the hunter his rifle. These are the moments when spirit and body meet and become the same. We are two animals alone in the world. Then, in a swirl of cloud, one.” Another favorite is “Trespass,” about a guided bear hunt. Kahn’s description of an encounter with two brown bears – one killed by a client, the other apparently standing guard – is filled with tension, remorse, and bewilderment. Like Kahn, I couldn’t help but wonder about the animals’ connection to one another, and the surviving bear’s actions. I absolutely understood his comment that “circumstances had gone beyond my comfort zone – past any preconceived ideas of the interior lives of animals – into an issue of privacy and voyeurism.” There’s plenty more to celebrate in The Hard Way Home, including the title story, but (running out of space) I’ll mention one more. The final essay, “Salvage,” recounts the discovery – and harvest – of a pregnant cow moose that drowned in icy waters near the homestead where Kahn lives with wife and poet Anne Coray. As in a couple of other essays, Kahn interweaves his perspectives with Coray’s. Here he also includes one of her poems and the combination of both writers’ words and thoughts is both heartfelt and heartbreaking.
Review of Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness by Bill Sherwonit
(2009, University of Alaska Press)
At the beginning of any journey, we find uncertainty and worry, and later, down the trail after we have shouldered our packs for the first few miles, we find a new rhythm; find ourselves at home in the new landscape, looking around, stretching out. Bill Sherwonit, in Changing Paths, swiftly grabs our sympathy as a narrator because we find that we too after the initial shakedown are walking and praising and reflecting with him in the wilderness landscape of the Brooks Range. From blisters to being rain soaked, from fears of river crossings to his lyrical descriptions of peaks and flowers and wolves, we are next to him and fall in step with his wilderness journey. Sherwonit sets out on a 50-mile solo trek from Anaktuvuk Pass to the Gates of the Arctic that becomes part reflection, part meditation, part history and natural history, and part self-initiation for him in his 50th year. Along the trail, his meditations take us back to his Connecticut childhood where he first tasted nature, to his college years when his geology training first brought him to the Brooks Range, and finally to the present as a nature writer who returns for a two-week wilderness trek that he hopes will offer an opportunity to more deeply unify his needs and beliefs about wild nature. Changing Paths is broken into three sections: Part One sets the context for the immediate trek which includes his early days as a geologist prospecting for minerals in the Brooks Range, his introduction to the writings of Bob Marshall and others, and his pivotal and life changing realization while prospecting for minerals along the Ambler River: “I tried to imagine the changes that could occur here: by my way of thinking, it was an ugly picture. And I realized, with a clarity that approached the Ambler’s streaming water, just how special this river and its valley had become to me. It was a remarkable place, even a holy place, whose purity was held and reflected by those sparkling, rushing
waters…Could I bear to know the Ambler had been harmed because of the work I had done….I felt a clash of values, more strongly than ever before.” This realization began his dissonance with geology and initiated his budding career as a journalist that would reach fruition later as writer and wilderness advocate. In Part Two, we get Sherwonit’s childhood reflections on place and belief. It also here that the trek moves deeper into the sanctum of wilderness. But the real soul of Changing Paths takes shape in in Part Three, especially in Chapter 15 “Gates of the Arctic” where Sherwonit lays out the whole history leading to Gates of the Arctic National Park. In Chapter 17 “In the Shadow of Doonerak,” we find some of the book’s most lyrical writing. On a trek to the flanks of Mount Doonerak, Sherwonit rhapsodizes: “…Desolate, yet sublime. The word, the idea that keeps coming to mind, is transcendent. I’ve been lifted into an extraordinary realm. It’s not only Doonerak that overwhelms me, but also its neighbor, Hanging Glacier Mountain, and the chasm, Bombardment Creek, that both separates and connects the two. A deep gash between looming, steep-sided rock walls three thousand or more feet high, this narrow gorge is unlike any I’ve seen. In its shadowed, bare-rock bottom are remnant snow fields, cascading whitewaters, landslide and avalanche debris, and, near its head, a stair-step waterfall fed by gleaming snowfields and corniced, knife-edged ridges…” In Chapter 18 “Wilderness Music” (excerpted on the following page), he hears a wolf howling and it triggers a reverie: ”…to be with howling wolves in the arctic wilds—well, there is no greater magic. Beneath the tarp and later in the tent, I imagine distant, intermittent
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howling throughout the afternoon and evening.” The book’s concluding chapter “Return to the Gates” leaves us with a plea for attention to the harder issues now facing our planet and a powerful discussion of the evolution of the American wilderness ethic and the present debate about what wilderness is—an important narrative for a world debating the impacts of climate change and the need for sustainability. As Sherwonit muses at book’s end “…not everyone can get into the wilderness…” or even the wilderness debate, but for those of us who cannot make the literal trek, we can get pretty close to the actual physical, intellectual, and spiritual epiphanies of the trail with Bill Sherwonit in Changing Paths.
“Wilderness Music” excerpted from Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness ©2010 by Bill Sherwonit
At age 50, nature writer and wilderness advocate Bill Sherwonit went on the longest backpack of his life: fifty miles in two weeks, across mostly untrailed wilderness in America’s remotest and arguably wildest parkland, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Traveling alone, he explored parts of the Central Brooks Range first made famous by Robert Marshall’s Alaska Wilderness. America’s “ultimate mountains” are also where Sherwonit first got his taste of Alaska’s wilderness, while working as a geologist in the mid-1970s; in a very real way, the Brooks Range transformed his life. The following excerpt is taken from Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness (published in fall 2009 by the University of Alaska Press), which describes Sherwonit’s solo trek and also moves across space and time while reflecting upon his days as a geologist, his Connecticut roots, the importance of wilderness to humans as a life-affirming, life-changing, and life-enriching presence, and, just as importantly, the inherent value of wild nature, in and of itself.
Camped alone deep in Alaska’s Brooks Range wilderness, I find a comfortable spot along the North Fork of the Koyukuk. Then, placing my head beside the river’s churning aqua waters, I listen closely to its fluid play of sounds. I’ve heard beautiful Celtic-like chanting, off and on, for the past few days. The songs seem to come from outside me, from the forest and tundra and especially the river, but I suppose it could all be in my head. I’ve even put words to some of the music: “Holy, ho-o-o-ly, holy . . . ”
As the melodies and words play through my head, I’m left wondering what combination of landscape and wind sounds mix with my memories and thought processes – and several days of solitude—to produce these voices, this music. My musings are interrupted by an unmistakably “real” voice that has nothing to do with my imagination: a howling comes from the forest, behind my tent. It is a loud, clear, resonant wail that rolls across the valley, of alto key. The howl triggers an immediate physical and emotional response: heart races, pulse quickens, spirit lifts. Instinctively I turn from the river, binoculars in hand, and face the wooded hills above camp. With all the tracks and scat on this riverbar and across the North Fork, I’ve anticipated – and sometimes imagined – wolf howls throughout my three-day campout here. Each morning and night I’ve swept the hillsides with binoculars, hopeful of a miracle. Now one has come to me. I peer at two tundra knobs a few hundred feet above camp, then scan the spruce forest below. Even as I do, the howling resumes. The first baleful voice is joined by a second, higher pitched. This one is more of a soprano. The trembling howls blend and shift key. Are there more
112 than two wolves? Hard to tell. Wolves are known to mix their voices in a way that produces a magnified sense of numbers. The rain that began earlier in the day as a gentle mist is falling harder now, but I barely notice. The wolf songs last a minute or two, but resonate much longer. This is what I dream about, to share the wilderness with howling wolves. I ask myself which is more desirable, to see wolves or hear them sing? There’s no simple answer, but there is this fact: over the years I’ve seen wolves a halfdozen times, yet heard them howling only once. Those songs came from a distance in these very mountains, though in another valley, miles to the west. More than a quarter century has passed since that rainy autumn afternoon, but the haunting cries still ring out sharply in my memory. I don’t think the wolves would disturb anything in camp, but to ease any nagging doubts I walk across the gravel bar and check my tarp and tent. Then back to the water’s edge for more searching. Even before I reach my “lookout,” I spot a wolf, upstream from camp and halfway across the braided North Fork, not far from where I crossed the river three days ago. Maybe 200 yards away. I can’t be fully certain from this distance, but the wolf strikes me as female and that’s what the animal becomes. If I had to name her color, I’d say white wolf. But that ignores the subtleties of her coat. Bringing her into focus with my glasses, I see she has a mostly white face, with some gray atop her head and on her neck. Her flanks are light gray, legs are white, tail the color of gathering clouds, becoming darker, like storm clouds, at the tip. In her wettened coat, the wolf appears lean but not skinny, and I assume, for no sure reason, that she’s in good health. The wolf crouches low as she crosses the midriver sand and gravel bars, as if to avoid detection. She glances now and then in my direction and I’m sure she sees me. Moving slowly, she reaches the final, deepest channel. She steps gingerly at first, splashing across the milky green river. Then, for the final few feet, she plunges
CIRQUE and swims across. The wolf stops at the forest’s edge and looks back intently – but this time not toward me. I’ve swung the binoculars back and forth across the river two or three times, expecting another wolf to appear, but none follows. The wolf moves into the forest and I assume our encounter’s over, but she reappears, walking slowly along the woods’ margin. Once she steps into the open, smells something on the bar. Then back under the trees. She takes one last look across the North Fork and turns away. Her walk becomes a trot and she’s gone, melted into the forest’s shadows. Minutes later, there’s more howling – from my side of the river, though farther downstream. Perhaps the second wolf was unwilling to cross the stream within sight of Steve Kahn me or the camp. The white wolf sings back, briefly. Then silence returns to the valley, except for the rushing, rattling, humming North Fork and tapping of rain. In a growing downpour I stand still another 30 minutes, maybe even an hour. Finally I give up my watch, grab shelter under the tarp. I notice I’m shivering; from the wet chill, yes, but also from the song of Canis lupus. I love grizzly bears. They are one of my primary totem animals, maybe my most important. To share the landscape with grizzlies is always an honor and delight (and occasionally worrisome). But to be with howling wolves in the arctic wilds; well, there is no greater magic. Beneath the tarp and later in the tent, I imagine distant, intermittent howling throughout the afternoon and evening. It’s amazing how much a river or the wind can sound like wolves. I’ve had a feeling about this place since first seeing the many wolf tracks along the river. I’m convinced there’s a den not far away and have wished I might stumble upon it, or even see wolf pups from a distance while scanning the landscape. But I’m satisfied now. I’ve had my communion. Both body and soul have been stirred by songs that tell, without words, of mountains and rivers, of mysteries as ancient as music itself.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 Throughout this trip, my most memorable times have come as moments of surprise: sudden (even if anticipated) encounters with the Valley of Precipices, Doonerak, grizzlies, a bear skull, now wolves. Animals have been the best example of this. For all the looking and “hunting” I’ve done, the wildlife I’ll remember most have come to me. It seems I’m being given new opportunities to let go of expectations and, at the same time, be open to possibilities. Both ideas, and the practice of them, have become important guideposts in my middle years. After spending much of my life trying to keep things under control, I’m learning to surrender to life’s experiences, while also embracing the opportunities that come my way. It’s not easy, as demonstrated on this trip by my worrying, my off-and-on watch monitoring, and my efforts to stay dry and cozy in my overly large and weather-resistant tent. Yet I’ve remained flexible and taken some risks, both here and generally. It still sometimes seems amazing to me that a person so drawn to comfort and predictability would take the leaps of faith I’ve made, from geology to journalism and then to freelancing. And settling in Alaska, of all places! Not many of my childhood friends – or family members – would ever have guessed that the small, shy, sensitive boy of long ago would become an author, wilderness lover, and activist, or that he’d some day ascend the continent’s highest peak or trek alone across miles of untrailed Arctic wilderness. The sun briefly returns in the evening and I hike to a rocky knob above camp. From here I get a better sense of how the landscape sweeps out and away from the Ernie Creek-North Fork confluence and the two streams’ large gravel bars, first to lowland forest and then upland tundra meadows and willow thickets, and even higher to encircling tundra-topped foothills and mountains with bare, jagged ridgetops. Beyond those hills and mountains are more waves of peaks and hidden valleys. I feel so lucky, so happy, to be in the heart of this vast wilderness, where wild places still mostly free of human influence span dozens of miles in any direction. I need these trips for so many reasons: to refresh my spirit, test my limits and stretch my horizons, embrace solitude, expand my sense of what’s possible, encounter “the other,” renew my bonds with wildness in its many forms, and see more clearly what’s important, both here in the wild and back at home. Still, I can’t imagine making a home here (if it were allowed), so far from other people and the conveniences of modern living. I don’t try to fool
113 myself: this northern wilderness is a harsh, demanding place, and to live here year-round would require skills I haven’t acquired. Thinking about the trials and perils of Arctic homesteading, I again recall Ernie Johnson, “the most famous trapper of the North Fork,” for whom Bob Marshall named Ernie Creek. According to Marshall, “Although [Johnson] had come north on a gold rush, he had also been drawn by his love of the woods in this greatest wilderness on the continent. Here he spent all but about two weeks in the year out in the hills, away from the ‘cities’ of Wiseman (population 103) and Bettles (population 24). . . . He trapped and hunted, averaging a yearly income of about twenty-five hundred dollars. ‘I can make better money as a carpenter,’ he said, ‘but I am staying out here because I like it among these ruggedy mountains better than anywhere else in the world.’ ” Here was someone who’d chosen the hermit’s life I once talked about pursuing while fed up with people and relationships during my grad school days; someone who actually chose to spend most of his adult years in seclusion. What revelations and understandings did Ernie find here among the sheep and grizzlies? As much as I desire and seek out solitude, I can’t imagine a life so empty of people. From the perch above camp I trace much of the route I’ve followed along Ernie Creek, from the Precipices to the North Fork. Then I look downstream, where I’ll be walking tomorrow. It appears I’m bound for “the dark forest.” Thick stands of spruce press close against the meandering river. I will likely cut through the woods in places, either to shorten my route or where pushed into the trees by steep, river-eroded cutbanks. I hope it’s not too dense or brushy for easy path finding. While plotting my route, I hear more howling, downriver. The wolf song is loud and clear, but brief. I wish for more, but instead hear only the rush of river. And gradually, more chanting voices. These are less pleasing, more eerie. My mind imagines a chorus of “sorry . . . sorry” sung in a mocking, almost malevolent tone. Is the darkness in this chant tied to my worries about tomorrow’s route? The chant unnerves me and I’m unable to get the words out of the head as I descend back to camp. Can such things come from too much solitude? Again I wonder how much I’m “hearing” and how much imagining. The presence of these landscape sounds and voices has been among the stranger aspects of this trek.
Review of Inside, Outside, Morningside by Marjorie Kowalski Cole (2009, Ester Republic Press)
Novelist Marjorie Kowalski Cole ventured away from the familiar territory of prose to try on poemwriting in her debut book of poetry, Inside, Outside, Morningside. The poems, predominantly narrative and mostly autobiographical, render a tender and felt experience of domestic moments, romantic love and the body, sickness and season, wildlife and family, nature and community, home and the foreign.
Unfortunately, Cole passed away while the book was at press. It may have been interesting, if she were alive, well, and still writing poems, to see how her stance toward poetry would have shifted with a second book, or how her poetic process might affect her fiction. This initial and final foray into poetry holds some deeply pleasing poems interspersed with weaker ones which collectively provide an insight into both her manner of inhabiting the world and her evolving poetic process. Many of the poems self-referentially comment either on poetry and poetics directly or more loosely on the creative process as it manifests through writing novels, cooking, or even reading. Throughout the book, it is difficult or impossible to forget Cole herself, to hear any voice but her voice echoing between the lines, to hear a silence particular to her in the white spaces. In one piece, called “Old Clothes”, Cole names and seems to comment on the poem itself, perhaps unwittingly, or perhaps ironically: “old clothes are not poetry // but closer to prose.” The moment comes like an admission to the reader near the end of the middle section of the book, entitled “Travel,” appropriately enough – like the speaker of these poems who knows she is far from home territory but is happy for the chance to explore, Cole is a citizen of prose, traveling in the land of poems with a stack of postcards. This middle section, probably the book’s least compelling stretch, hops through Ireland, Michigan, California, Spain, Holland, and other locales. The middle section is bookended by sections set closer to home, in Alaska’s Interior. The first section, called “Desire,” and the last, “The Work of Our Hands,” contain the book’s strongest poems, as well as a few that are extravagantly sentimental. One is a eulogy to Cole’s dead dog, followed by a poem about a pet cat, which Garrison Keillor read on The Writer’s Almanac. Many of the poems about her sons, though sweet, seem similarly precious and aesthetically unambitious; they are honest and unabashed, though. At her best, Cole brings her attention and skill with language to bear upon the natural world and the daily intersections of nature and daily life. She demonstrates the ability to describe the world simply and refrain from too much commentary or interpretation, as in the poem “Summer Night:”
A beetle meets me face to face on the screen door. At ten p.m. sunlight turns the treetops yellow and where a soaker hose drains the rain barrel
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sunlight catches the drops, sparkling the length of black among the potatoes….
The poem, in a loose broken sonnet form, ends with “Past midnight, the woods below those buttered treetops / are stirring with animals, wondrous with light.” Other gorgeous lines, like “Our long-legged alphabet is my flock of cranes”, stand in stark contrast with lines like “I almost mail ordered a snowglobe.” That kind of duality evident in the book makes for a lightheartedness which one could only imagine might be required of a writer struggling to create, and persist, as her world closed in with sickness. We come to know something of this poet and writer through this, her last, book. The act of reading it lends us the chance to contribute to some semblance of symmetry as we meet a poet halfway in her last effort to communicate, share, and interpret her experience of the world, remembering someone we may not have had a chance to know any other way.
Marjorie Kowalski Cole
Forest Floor After Rain
Our trail leads through a riot of toppled mushrooms. One wrinkled fellow nudged with a boot exudes fingerpaint of kindergarten yellow. Sponges, boletus, fried chicken fungus clump atop each other, hedgehog mushrooms with tops like old car seats, amanitas tawdry as revelers the day after Mardi Gras. All day rain is open sesame to the forest floor. Back home, “don’t sit down,” you cry, hand me a steel bowl to fill with vegetables. We race the coming downpour through your garden with knife and shears. Curly chard, beans, leeks, a stalk of Brussels sprouts. Your spirit aroused you throw in cilantro, thyme, art deco squashes. Flavors and shapes fill my arms. Is it tears or rain upon my face? More fruiting bodies will spring up tonight, a free-for-all in the forest garden, untended, rampant. Fungi work the soil all summer long; August rain their curtain call. From Inside, Outside, Morningside ©2009 by Marjorie Kowalski Cole. Used with permission Ester Republic Press firstname.lastname@example.org
CONTRIBUTORS Sally Albiso lives west of Port Angeles, Washington, on the North Olympic Peninsula. She is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her chapbook, Newsworthy, published in 2009, won the Camber Press Poetry Chapbook Award. Jean Anderson is the author of In Extremis and Other Alaskan Stories, and co-editor of the regional anthology, Inroads: Alaska’s 27 Fellowship Writers. Her recent stories appear in Northern Review, Chariton Review, Ginosko, and Kalliope. Kirsten Anderson is a poet who lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska with her husband and 4 year old son. John Baalke lives and works in the Dena’ina village of Pedro Bay on Lake Iliamna. He has an MFA from Seattle Pacific University and has published poems and reviews in various journals. Theresa Bakker has worked at public radio stations across Alaska and has written for small-town newspapers, magazines and on-line periodicals. She has an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University and lives on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks. Trish Barnes lives in the city of Cranbrook, BC which is set in the trench between the Rocky Mountains and the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains in the southeast corner of the province. Bruce Barrett has lived in the Yukon since 1978, first in Dawson City, then Whitehorse. He’s been an avid outdoor and performance photographer since that time and also indulges in various musical pursuits, a family, and a government job that makes the fun possible. Clifton Bates is originally from the Pacific Northwest and has lived in Alaska since 1977. He was a teacher and school district administrator in rural Alaska until 2001. Since then he has been a professor with UAF. He co-authored a book with the Very Rev. Dr. Michael Oleksa, entitled Conflicting Landscapes, American Schooling/Alaska Natives.
CIRQUE Her collection of short stories, The City Beneath the Snow, is will be published by the University of Alaska Press in Fall 2011. She lived in Ester, Alaska until her death from cancer late in 2009. Debbie Cutler is managing editor of Alaska Business Monthly. She has been published in many publications statewide and nationwide, including Cirque, Editor and Publisher, We Alaskans and many more. She is working on her MBA at Wayland Baptist University. Geordie de Boer, a rambler and wrangler of rhyme (internal), and lover of alliteration lives in southeast Washington (state). He’s been published most recently by Eighty Percent, Muddy River Poetry Review, The Meadowland Review, Stone’s Throw, Mobius, and Miller‘s Pond. Nancy Deschu lives in Anchorage, Alaska and has traveled around the vast state for scientific studies. Along the way, she writes nonfiction, poetry and captures photographic images. She had a photo in Issue #2 of Cirque. Katie Eberhart’s prose and poems can be found in the Palmer Arts Council poetry anthology Voices Between Mountains and online at Plasmamag.org; her book reviews are at Tarpaulinsky.com. Katie was selected as an Artsmith Artist Resident in 2009 and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop. Jason Eisert lives in Anchorage, AK and is in his last year of graduate school pursuing an MFA in creative writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Jason substitute teaches high school in the winter and runs a roofing company in the summer. This is J. Ramsey Golden’s second appearance in Cirque. She lives with her soulmate in Anchorage, AK. Her hobbies include cooking, and occasionally mustering the willpower to write instead of spending writing time playing with the two sweetest and sassiest distractions a poet ever had. Phil Gruis is the author of two chapbooks--Outside the House of Normal and Bullets and Lies (Finishing Line Press). His poems have appeared in Slipstream, Spillway, The Minnesota Review, Iconoclast, Aesthetica Creative Works Annual 2010 and other journals in the US, UK and Canada. He’s also been a Pushcart nominee.
Miriam Beck is an aspiring writer and artist who lives in Anchorage. “Hunter,” a pantoum, is her first published poem.
After burning the Christmas tree, we take one coal into the house to save. Thanks to everyone who brings the light back. Jim Hanlen enjoys his retirement in Anchorage, Alaska.
Cindy Bell is an author with a passion for haibun and teaches it online. She has worked as a retail manager, wildland firefighter, and trails crewmember.
Justin Herrmann does janitorial work at McMurdo Station, Antarctica and is an MFA candidate at University of Alaska Anchorage.
Pete Bogart started writing in Vietnam as a way to keep something of himself alive. Since then he has filled 48 blank books for the same reason. This is his first time in print.
Robin Hiersche’s current life in the maya manifests in train travel, poetry, black bear, banjo with the Yaquis, savage jazz, synchronicity, transplantation, and breakfast at Tourette’s Cafe on the Oakland fifth avenue riviera. Her artwork has appeared in the first two issues of Cirque.
Marilyn Borell earned her MFA degree in poetry from the University of Alaska Anchorage where she is employed as Academic Coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences. Her poems have appeared in the Anchorage Daily News, the anthology North of Eden, and Cirque. Randol Bruns came to Alaska to canoe down the Yukon River. He built a cabin on the Talkeetna River and has taught in Yup’ik Eskimo communities on the Lower Yukon. He is currently building a house on the Little Susitna River. His poems have been published in Ice-Floe and Cirque. Vic Cavalli is a writer and visual artist. His poetry, short fiction, and visual art have been published in literary journals in North America, England, and Australia. He lives in British Columbia, Canada. Selections from his visual art portfolio can be viewed at http://vittoriocavalli.com/ Marjorie Kowalski Cole was the author of two novels, Correcting the Landscape, which won the 2004 Bellwether Prize for Fiction and was published by HarperCollins in 2006, and A Spell on the Water, which will be published by the University of Michigan Press in Spring 2011.
Robyn Lynn Comes-Holloway lives in Juneau. She has had several poems published in the UAS Literary Journal, Tidal Echoes, and is currently finishing up a new manuscript that centers around growing up during the 1960s in Topanga Canyon, California with her hippie parents. She organizes the annual Juneau writing contest, Poetry OmniBus. Carol Hult’s nonfiction work has ranged from news stories for Manor House Agricultural Centre in Kenya to essays published in the Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering. After several years as a freelance editor, she is currently rebooting her personal compass by writing poetry and learning to live in Kodiak, Alaska. Ted Jean writes, paints, plays lots of tennis. His work has appeared in a dozen or more publications in the past year, including Magma, Third Wednesday, Blue Earth Review, Poetry Quarterly, and The Delinquent. Michael Lee Johnson is a poet and freelance writer from Itasca, Illinois who lived for 10 years in exile in Edmonton, Alberta during the Vietnam era. He has published in 23 countries and runs four poetry sites.
Vo l . 2 , N o . 1 Sandra Kleven is a poet, film maker, and collage artist. Her poetry and other writing has appeared in Cirque, Alaska Quarterly Review, Oklahoma Review, Topic Magazine, F-Zine and the anthology, Cold Flashes: Literary Snapshots of Alaska. She recently produced a film, “To the Moon: A Tribute to the Poet, Theodore Roethke,” which debuted at the residency of the UAA, Creative Writing MFA Program where Kleven has been a student. Simon Langham’s fiction has appeared in the South Dakota Review and Verbsap; her poetry most recently in Issue #2 of Cirque. A playwright and variety performance artist, she lives in Homer, Alaska building Alaskan yurts for cold climates. Born in Alaska, Jonna Laster currently resides in Juneau and is enrolled in the UAA low residency MFA program. Her writing has been recognized by the Whidbey Island and San Francisco Writing Conferences and Science Fiction Writers of the Earth. Her poem Beachcombing Kotzebue appeared in Issue #2 of Cirque. Janet Levin’s poems have appeared in Cirque, Ice Floe, McGuffin, Pearl, The Portland Review, The Texas Review and other journals, and were recorded live on Alaska Poetry League’s Slam Poetry CD anthology. She lives in urban Alaska (mostly) and rural Mexico. Her photos debuted in Cirque. Sara Loewen lives on Kodiak Island with her husband and two sons. She teaches at Kodiak College and spends the salmon season in Uyak Bay. Her stories have appeared in Terrain.org, Pacific Fishing Magazine, and Literary Mama. Her Anchorage Daily News columns can be found at www.saraloewen.com
117 ing in Washington on the Canadian border. His chapbook, The Grammar of Mind, was recently published by Blue & Yellow Dog Press. Mark Muro is a poet, playwright and performer. His most recent work, “Apocalypse When I Get Around To It, or Civil War III, Part 1” was recently performed at Out North Theater in Anchorage. For 10 years Mark has hosted Stagetalk, a weekly conversation about local theater, for KSKA public radio in Anchorage. His poems have appeared in Cirque. Anne Carse Nolting has published three novels. Her nonfiction articles appear in periodicals; 2003 and 2005 Holt Language Arts textbooks, and “Measuring Up To The New Jersey State Standards in English”, published by The People’s Publishing Group, Inc. Joe Nolting lives in Palmer, Alaska and is currently working on a book of essays about his 30 years teaching in Alaska. This past spring he coedited and produced the Palmer Arts Council’s poetry anthology Voices Between Mountains. His passions include education, wilderness, and the arts. Nicole Stellon O’Donnell’s poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Women’s Review of Books and other literary journals. In 2007 she received a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award to support work on her manuscript, Steam Laundry, which is forthcoming from Boreal Books in 2012. Amy Otto lives in Palmer, Alaska with four cats, loves to travel around Alaska in the summer via motorcycle, and dipnetted for reds in the Copper River for the first time this summer. Next summer’s goal is to actually catch one. Her poetry appeared in Issue #1 of Cirque.
Robert Hill Long is the author of The Kilim Dreaming (Bear Star Press) that won the 2010 Dorothy Brunsman Prize. His earlier books include The Work of the Bow and The Effigies. His poems and flash fictions have appeared in the Kenyon Review, Poetry, Web del Sol, Sentence, Del Sol Review, Manoa, Zyzzyva, and The Prose Poem.
Wayne Owen lives in Juneau, but grew up in southern Idaho. His work has taken him around the world and around the United States where he has sought to understand the nexus of nature and humanity in a variety of cultures. Wayne’s short essays in the botanical digest Lingua Botanica are collected by the National Agriculture Library.
Linda Martin lives in Homer where she and her husband Larry own and operate a glass shop--as in glass for home, boat and auto. She is currently working on an MFA in poetry through the Rainier Writers’ Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.
Jeremy Pataky earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Montana. His work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, The Southeast Review, Left Facing Bird, Square Lake, Anchorage Press, Anchorage Daily News, Cirque and on Alaska Public Radio. He is the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountains Center.
David McElroy works on the North Slope of Alaska as a pilot but makes his home in Anchorage. A former contributor to Cirque, his poems have also appeared in numerous journals nationwide. His book of poems, Making It Simple, was published by Ecco Press. Recently he has written articles for the local Anchorage arts and culture publication F Magazine. Ron McFarland teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Idaho. His most recent books are a critical study of regional memoir, The Rockies in First Person (2008) and The Long Life of Evangeline: A History of the Longfellow Poem in Print, in Adaptation and in Popular Culture (2010). Ron’s fourth full-length volume of poems, Subtle Thieves, is slated for publication in late 2011 by Pecan Grove Press. Buffy McKay is a poet and has lived in Anchorage for about 20 years. She is of Inupiaq and Scottish descent, and has lived in both Scotland and Alaska. She has written a poetry chapbook, Salt & Roses, and her personal mission in life is “to see the world in as many ways as possible.” John McKay moved to Alaska from Michigan in 1977. He supports his poetry habit by lawyering and teaching media law as an adjunct professor at University of Alaska Anchorage. This is his second appearance in Cirque. Jason Mercer is a life-long Alaskan, and plans to keep it that way. Fairbanks poet, John Morgan has published four collections of poetry, most recently Spear-Fishing on the Chatanika: New and Selected Poems. For more information about his work, see his website at: www. johnmorganpoet.com Keith Moul’s work has appeared for more than 40 years in the US and Canada and in Britain and Australia more recently. He is retired now, liv-
Timothy Pilgrim, Montana native and associate professor of journalism at Western Washington University, has published over 80 poems in literary journals and anthologies, such as Idaho’s Poets: A Centennial Anthology (University of Idaho) and Weathered Pages: the Poetry Pole (Blue Begonia Press). See his poems at http://hope.journ.wwu.edu/ tpilgrim Shannon Huffman Polson is a writer living in Seattle, Washington and spending as much time as possible at her cabin in Denali. She has written feature articles for Seattle Magazine and Alaska Magazine, and has an essay forthcoming in TRACHODON. Deborah Poore was born in Alaska before Statehood, and grew up on her family’s homestead beside the Kenai River at Eagle Rock. Schooled as a teacher in Alaska and Massachusetts, she is retired from the classroom. She lives along Kachemak Bay in Homer, Alaska with her husband and two sons. Doug Pope is a lifelong Alaskan who writes non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. His first poem was published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner when he was a junior in high school. More recently, his poems have appeared in the anthology 50 Poems for Alaska and in Issue #1 of Cirque. He lives in Hope with his wife Beth. Susan Pope has published essays in Pilgrimage, Alaska Woman Magazine, Damselfly Press, The Southeast Review and Crosscurrents North: Alaskans on the Environment. A lifelong Alaskan, she explores wild places ranging from the woods behind her house, to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Kalahari Desert, and the dunes of Namibia. Bronx-born Peter Porco has lived in Alaska for 30 years. “Wind Blown
118 & Dripping,” his play about Dashiell Hammett as editor of an Army newspaper in the Aleutians in World War II, received its first production in Anchorage early this year. Vivian Faith Prescott is a fifth generation Alaskan and the Co-Director of Raven’s Blanket. She holds a Ph.D. in Cross Cultural Studies. Her digital poetry chapbook Slick can be read online at White Knuckle Press. Her first book of poetry The Hide of My Tongue will be published by Plain View Press in Spring 2011. Angela Ramirez is an edgy Anchorage 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/ Kate Rhodes is a freelance writer and artist in southwest Washington. She has published numerous poems and fine art pieces in the literary magazine Wordsworth. Kate was also recognized as a finalist in the Nancy Thorp Poetry contest in 2008, and was published in the fall 2009 edition of Creative Communication’s anthology A Celebration of Poets. Bob Ritchie has lived in Alaska since 1972 after hitching up the Alcan Highway. He works as a wildlife biologist in Fairbanks. Besides a couple of poems and a few natural history articles in professional journals, Bob is very much a novice in publishing his material. Cassandra Rockwood-Rice is a 31-year old mother, poet, artist and entrepreneur. She attended the University of Alaska where she studied art and creative writing, as well as Oxford University in England. She now lives in Hawaii with her nine-year old daughter. Her poetry can be found in The New Delta Review, Savannah Art and Literary Review, and Understory. Brenda Roper spent over 20 years in Alaska and is currently living her creative life crossing borders, painting large, writing small and taking photos to mark her path. She hopes to re-invent herself on one coast or the other in due course. Her art is published in Calyx, A Journal of Art & Literature by Women, Vol. 22, No. 3 /Vol. 25, No. 2. Chris Scarrow is an History and English student at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He is an avid hunter and is currently in a long-term relationship with the outdoors. Emily Schikora is currently living in Portland, Oregon. She grew up in Fairbanks and has lived in Juneau and Anchorage for short periods of time. When she goes home to visit it is usually to Cordova where her mother is now raising her youngest brother and several of her siblings while they are fishing. Anchorage nature writer Bill Sherwonit is the author of 12 books. His newest is Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness, published in fall 2009 by the University of Alaska Press. Three times a Pushcart Prize nominee, Beate Sigriddaughter has published prose and poetry in many print and online magazines. She also established the Glass Woman Prize to honor passionate women’s voices (details at www.sigriddaughter.com). Leslea Smith is a student in the low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Alaska-Anchorage; an attorney at Legal Aid Services of Oregon; and the crazy cat lady of her neighborhood. Her poems have appeared in Verseweavers and Cirque. Michael Spring is the author of three poetry books: blue crow, Mudsong, and his most recent book, Root of Lightning, available in January 2011. His poems have appeared in the Atlanta Review, DMQ Review, The Dublin Quarterly, The Midwest Quarterly, and NEO. He lives in O’Brien, Oregon. Keli Stafford lives in Oregon with her husband and children. She holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska Omaha and her poetry has most recently appeared in Whiskey Island Magazine, 2River View, Blue Earth Review, and the Thomas Merton Seasonal.
CIRQUE David Stallings was born in the South and raised in Alaska and Colorado before settling in the Pacific Northwest. Once an academic geographer, he has spent many years promoting public transportation in the Puget Sound area. His poems have appeared in several U.S. literary journals and two anthologies. Lauren Stanford received her B.A. in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing, from Colorado State University and plans to pursue her MFA in fiction. The granddaughter of Jay Hammond, she currently lives in Anchorage and spends her summers at Lake Clark. Jim Sweeney writes short stories, poems and is currently writing his first book. His stories and poems have been published in Alpinist Magazine, The Anchorage Press, and The Anchorage Daily News. His nonfiction appeared in the first two issues of Cirque. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his dog Alute. Nicole Taylor has attended college in Salem, Oregon where she lives near her siblings, mother and other family. She has been published in her college newspaper, one recipe anthology and some online. She has had two poems online at www.wordgathering.com Jim Thiele worked as a photographer for a biological text book company for several years, before moving to Alaska in 1974. He has worked for The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the University of Alaska as a biologist, but now is a financial advisor in private practice. His photographs have been seen in several publications, including Alaska Magazine and Alaska Geographic. Elizabeth L Thompson was born on May 31, 1976 and raised in Salmon, Idaho. She now lives in Big Lake, Alaska and writes poetry & songs daily. Doris Horton Thurston was born in Kelso WA, but has lived in the states of Oregon, California, Louisiana and Massachusetts. Her travels to McCarthy, Alaska have been every summer/autumn for the last 38 years with a few skiing days in early winter. The wilderness is a soul-saving grace in her life. Demi Trezona is a 17 year old student interested in dance and creative writing. “Green Dream Scenes Streamed” is an excerpt from Sean Ulman’s epic novel about Seward. Other Seward excerpts have appeared recently in The Emprise Review, The Scrambler and Thieves Jargon. James Valvis lives in Issaquah, Washington, with his wife, daughter, and quickly graying hair. His writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in such venues as Arts & Letters, Atlanta Review, Blue Lake Review, Chiron Review, New York Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Pank, Rattle, River Styx, Slipstream, South Carolina Review, and Tule Review. A collection of his poems is due from Aortic Books next year. John Sibley Williams is the author of A Pure River (The Last Automat Press, 2010), along with publications in over 100 literary journals, including The Evansville Review, The Journal, and Flint Hills Review. He is Acquisitions Editor of Ooligan Press and Publicist for Three Muses Press. His website is www.TheArtOfRaining.com Paul Winkel is a retired engineer who wonders what he will do when he grows up. His poems appeared in the 2008 anthology 50 Poems for Alaska and in the first two issues of Cirque. Paxson Woelber is an artist, graphic and web designer, and award-winning animator. He has been interviewed by Popular Mechanics, Kultur Zeit (a German pop culture TV program) and by the Anchorage Press. He currently owns and operates Paxson Design, LLC, www.paxsondesign.com. His portfolio is online at www.paxsonwoelber.com Barry S. Zellen is the author of books on Arctic politics and history: Breaking the Ice: From Land Claims to Tribal Sovereignty in the Arctic (Lexington Books, 2008); and Arctic Doom, Arctic Boom: The Geopolitics of Climate Change in the Arctic (Praeger, 2009). More about his writing including current works in progress can be found at www.barryzellen.com
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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. This regional literary journal invites emerging and established writers living in the North Pacific Rim—Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia and Chukotka—to submit short stories, poems, creative nonfiction, translations, plays, reviews of first books, interviews, photographs, and artwork for Cirque’s Summer Solstice 2011 Issue.
Issue #4 Summer Solstice 2011 Submission Deadline: March 21, 2010
Submission Guidelines http://www.cirquejournal.com/submit_to_cirque.html Please Send Inquiries and Electronic Submissions Only to: email@example.com