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ÂŠ 2011 by Mike Burwell, Editor Cover Photograph: Douglas Yates 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 Cirque are retained by the individual authors and artists. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 2 No. 2
Summer Solstice 2011
From the Editor With this issue, Cirque completes two years of publication. Submissions continue to pour in from all over the region, and over 21,000 readers have visited the website. The most exciting new feature on the website is an “Audio & Podcast” option with links to podcasts of local readings. Also, local poet Brian Hutton has provided audio from The Radio Show—Brian’s four year labor of love that includes his interviews with nearly 50 Alaska poets and writers. Other website changes include: • select books for sale, a subscription option, and for those of you with extra cash, a way to give some of it to Cirque via donation—all with a PayPal option • more links to regional journals, with continuing updates • a link to Anchorage poet Jeff Oliver’s site that makes a grand attempt each week at listing Alaska statewide writing events • an author index and a listing of live links to our contributors’ published works Finally, I am proud to announce the 1st winner of the annual Andy Hope Literary Award (Vol. 2, No. 1 for details). Portland writer Nancy Woods’ poem “Remembering Harding Lake” (Vol. 1, No. 1) resonates with the elements I hold dear—the importance of place and a strong articulation of its essence. I regard Woods’ poem as a trope for Cirque’s intention: an aspiring forum for writers who risk going deeper into something richer and more human. My thanks to Vivian Faith Prescott and her organization, Raven’s Blanket, for funding the award.
Remembering Harding Lake
You know that lake that round, ripple-skinned lake that bowl-bottomed lake that’s lined with grass? Would you meet me there to shed our personalities at the shore along with our skin color parents and places of birth to dip soul naked into the deep and risk coming out just human?
Mike Burwell, Editor Anchorage, Alaska Summer Solstice 2011
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Vol. 2 No. 2
Summer Solstice 2011
Skylaar Amann Alexandra Appel Trevor Barnes Vincent William Brady Gabrielle Barnett Rebecca Brothers BreAnn Brandlen Michael Berton Douglass Bourne Debbie Cutler Fern G.Z. Carr Bill Carty Gretchen Diemer Jason Eisert Katie Eberhart Marybeth Holleman Katherine Eulensen Sherry Eckrich Maxine Franklin Sierra Golden Robyn Lynn Comes-Holloway Jim Hanlen Laura LeHew Carol Hult John Ippolito Dane Karnick Allison J. Linville Marie Lundstrom Karla Linn Merrifield Anne Millbrooke Christopher Lee Miles David McElroy Susanna Mishler
When the Waves Rise #54 from The Anchorage City Poems, Winter Sibiu Târgu Lăpuş Untitled Santa Cruz The Faithfulness of Tea Grabbing at Clouds The Smallest Happiness Desire Want Need Revenge Columbia River Haiku The Weight of the Roof Death Becomes Him Return to Sender The Watchtower Monarch Migration Farm Visitor, Romania The Courage of Sophie Scholl Building a Campfire with my Father River Rehabilitation The Fantastic Skies of Orphan Stars The Wing Feather The Haircut Carmino de Santiago Persimmons Skagit River Spirits Pelican, AK Fisherman in the P Bar Don’t piss in the vat When I think of third grade, I turn on my headlights Alaska Cardboard Beggar The Fate for Which We Must Prepare Wilderness Dreams The Awakening To Skunk Cabbage Drawing Skills The Most Silent You’ve Ever Seen Me Ravens in the DMV Parking Lot On a line borrowed from Marge Piercy Oyster Hour Hybrid Dirge Uncovering the abandoned property Bin Emptying Ice Road Trucker Some Fogs It’s Not So Much What’s Here, It’s -
7 7 8 8 9 11 11 12 12 12 13 13 14 15 15 16 16 17 18 18 18 19 19 19 20 21 21 22 22 23 24 24 25 26 26 27 27 28 30 30 30 31 31 32 32 33 33 34
Susanna Mishler A. Molotkov kjmunro Jeremy Pataky Deborah Poore James Petit David Stallings John McKay Deric Saffell Scot Siegel Leslea Smith Cynthia Lee Sims Georgia Tiffany Doris Horton Thurston Tim Troll Flory Vinson Matthew Wappett Paul Winkel Tonja Woelber Erin Coughlin Hollowell Simon Langham
Geoff Burns Vivian Faith Prescott Patty Somlo Clifton Bates Len Kuntz
Kathleen Tarr Katie Eberhart Lionel Fisher Kelsea Habecker Suanne Sikkema Douglas Yates Janet Levin
To Eat Here is to Celebrate the Guava Tree Which Like All Trees Throughout History Has Been a Symbol of Life Not to Say Nourishment of Spirits Which Sometimes Appear as Bats Untitled amazon read it again as a question Raspberries Early Blueberry The Duck Hunters Remains Always More: Thirteen New Ways of Looking at and Listening to a Black Bird Labor Day at Glen Alps The First Step Remote Settlements Let the Ravens Come Tremolo At The Museum of Native American History The Hunt The Tale Tradition The Ravens of April The Red Wild Salmon Alaska Synapse Shots Family Time Mail Plane No Regrets: 35,000 feet Keeping You Alive Fortune I HAD JUST FINISHED EXPLAINING
39 40 40 41 42 42 43 43 44 44 45 45 45 46 46 47 47 48
The One That Got Away The Alien Stories For The Last Time To The Here and Now Family Meeting
58 63 66 69 70
My First Discovery of Richard Rodriguez The Fragrance Of Memory Growing Up Brown Excerpted from I Watch the Snow Cry (a memoir-in-progress) Recipe in 10 Steps of Who I Have Become, Plus Peanut Butter Cookies Tracking Wild Calligraphy Are You A Potter?
73 78 80 84
In A Class With Poets: An interview with poet David Wagoner, about his teacher Theodore Roethke
Contributors Submit to Cirque
35 36 36 36 37 37 38 38
87 88 89
91 96 99
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POETRY Alexandra Appel
# 54 from The Anchorage City Poems, Winter Skylaar Amann
When the Waves Rise So I was raised by the ocean and listened to the waves each night as I slept, marking the tide’s rhythm better than my own heartbeat. In loneliness and poverty, I walked the shore, heard the waves roar like gospel. I steadied my breath for each next day, readying myself endlessly for tomorrow and better. I sat in dunes like pews, the infinite horizon my priest, recanting holy, ancient texts, silent instructions heard only by the truly devout. In my own way, I prayed to the sea, attended sermon after sermon, summoning my courage to believe I could survive the damage of childhood. I never pretended to understand gospel or gull speak or lullabies, but somehow the great power is water, whatever you believe. And after this unspeakable devastation, where the sun rises and the tide begins, the planet is unified in grief. A horror so great, I can barely comprehend what the sea has done. We hear stories of the bodies, drowning dogs, lost babies, flooded homes. There’s word of fish diaspora, their gasping bodies strewn helpless on land. Everyone holds their breath, waiting for what’s next. Aftershock after aftershock. Then, nuclear apocalypse? The fear buries deep down at a cellular level, while survival stubbornly continues. People blog and text and tweet, needing someone— something—to blame, and while they talk of moving inland, away from coasts and volcanoes, I sit quietly, unable to move, clinging desperately, eternally, to the one I cannot betray. It’s not her fault, I think, trying to convince only myself, as I mourn the loss of life across multiple species. Because I love her, and it’s the closest feeling to faith I’ve ever known: It’s not her fault.
Mother, the day is come, a ghostly rain turns to snow in this winter pale light some remembered embrace, a child I miss the terrible meals you served potatoes par-boiled casseroles made from ‘frank & beans’, your signature dish I miss your leaving for the train station apron tied about your waist, your foot flooring the gas pedal, belching fumes the Buick soars down ‘Snake Hill’ Daddy coming home sways in the Bar Car Scotch, neat, a few barbiturates under his belt, the 5:55 from Grand Central. The teen-aged daughter smoking dope hides out till supper, the onions brown in a pan of Crisco, garlic too. And Daddy, glass in hand, sits at the table, the dog bears witness I miss the fragrance of your mink coat, and the light liquor of your breath after a night on the town, glamorous lipsticked mouth, frosted hair sprayed to perfection, Chanel #5 I miss the pretension, the half-truths the secrets I miss your blood red fingernails clicking across the piano keys, Chopin gone bad I miss the house on Grandview, the towering maples lining our street the ugly aluminum chairs defiling the grand front porch and the flocked wallpaper traveling up the central stairs to my coveted hideaway over the eaves of the back porch, facing west I learned about the setting sun and came to this City, where finally you do not exist, the years of anguish unravel in the deep Arctic night and I may now miss the falling of your light and forever look for you, your great beauty in all I see
Sibiu breakfast: white slabs of bread, tomato wedges, strings of roast beef and orange fanta. the dead sit outside in their serried ranks, stiff as stale crusts. they sent a little message to me this morning (as is their custom): my cold cuts curled up into crude letters: we hear your prayers but we don’t trust them so let’s stop pretending your magic music is here to save the day shall we? I rearranged the cured meats carefully on the tray and clanged the kettle to ward off their sort-of threats. took out the old eightstring and tried to chord something. the dead just stared from their perches astride the roof’s black balustrade.
our roundabout van-ride through the carpathians is like being shot with a green bullet, moss pouring out the ends of the entry wound. soon we triangulate the dirt road and the square village church within which not a soul has heard the sound of a drum-set or plugged-in mandolin: so go bury your unbearable gun deep in the ground.
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Vincent William Brady
Untitled Would my lovely stray? would that hunger bottom out, and flex and lay about the crowd? i say, some people and their highest imports. their cunning tastes their longs and shorts. as i’ve said i worried for nothing-my nascent comedienne reassured me with her kiss. and i said to her before she rowed out on gondola, on sandmans dreamy drift‘Maria, my miss, and in time, my Mrsthere was a sweeter star in the poisonous clusterthe cancerous shine that in its raying, raying down, diffused a purer, golden light.’ see, in all the glowing nauseous,
in all that constellated, sickening glow, in all the panicked-my-circuits that hurried my poppops voicestruck with confusion and anguish and worry over Minneapolis/Alaska telephones‘Dad, I am a-strickenmy body’s a-fucking slight of me-’ ‘Son. Son, a plane ticketwith love, with love, see now that you see your way home-’ the purer, warmer light, shown way the cold of home, brought me to a father’s care, wantonly absent before (beyond his obligated food and roof and maybe little mores)(but a father’s love was alwaysthough awkward, and grumpily reticentthere-) that beam, among more noxious coruscating, warped me here, carried me to messages in Your Type, then to the sound of Your Voice on the wire, then finally, apprehensively, come you to my sightthe big green eyes (and blue) that burn their way out of your dye-straight, pulled
10 back into a tail, and secret under capselsewise, the pitch tresses fall in lengths, and sweep along your spine. well here you are, short and fully fineto the busted ass or mouth(whichever structural orifice) is Castle Casa’smy b-vitamin piss-hued abodes front door. i asked if you enjoyed my cave, my mountain lair at dusk; we lingered awkwardly there, and trust-just like that, the hand that stitches us Infatuate sewed its first seam, seemingly, and clean. so we decided on a drive by icy city roads, by which we’d meet and greet our sun-starved arctic sea. though frost ridden, the streets were hardly treacherous, and we reached the place, and from its vantage, the cold made warm, when was pressed between our hearts, the world, and its cities, each and all dreaming their monolith dream. and we hardly talked- we smoked, and breathed, and were Simply Being Be, warm of each other despite cold and dark and snowy, our thoughts, like our vapour breaths mingled in the arms of trees, hung crystalline bejeweled the clergy robes, the snow sleeves that wear themselves white on barkskinthe sparse woods that ran off down the bluffs, down the cliffside in patches,
CIRQUE in woody winter throngs, their fingers pushing whispers from the edge of cliff and sea-no doubt gossip about her and me, in a language that’s by summer lush, verdant with the crush, the brush of leaves. “look, all inward human silence, but commotion, still. all distressed-all howling and stampede. crook in, past their breastbones, to hear the thing that beat with much ado. their heads in a tizzy, a tumult, out here among us, in the salt and dark, spun with rust and blue.” well, i can thank your mother for your presence. (and i certainly, certainly do). but, as for circumstance, there is One to whom i bend all credence toand by the ineffable presence, i have cursed and cried and spit and stamped and screamed and sobbedand then, have been given over to bouts of quietof seeming brain deathof seeming that my throat be throttled-
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 i have come aroundcome around again to anguish with my fingers sinking, striking deep the scars, in the muddy upturned bogs
After sunburned foothills and phosphorus ocean midnights, bitter cherry blossoms from winter rains. Spring stalls, then slides: trillium, lily, lupine, mud. Frogs and bright salamanders awake to earth gouged by flood. Egrets flock white near pesticide fields of artichoke and strawberry, while ceanothus paints the highway cut a fairy tale blue. Summer calls me home.
that drip and drawlthat these corridor walls are have been and becomebut have come around to thank Him, yet again for Love’s shoring up, and then again, even as i come undone.
The Faithfulness of Tea Life hangs by a spoon in the lemon hour, tapping on old china and listening. The cup breathes for you in the palm-stirred air. It has spread across the world like a sugary plague. Roadside workers, emergency-room waiters, a hundred queens, a thousand convicts, one old pensioner in her flat, all in my cup. I am seduced by lace and rose prints. Life knocks. I say,
-- Let me put on my boots.
Grabbing at Clouds On that last morning, mourning for our departure, I woke up early, padded down to the porch in sleep-warm feet, still with that grainy fuzziness on my skin. The floor was moist, the mist clinging to it like a toddler to a knee, extra clouds of it snoozing on their tour down the canyon. The deaf dog pressed himself against my leg, pushed his nose into my hand. I rubbed the damp warmth behind his torn ear, watched his bedmate snuffle by, and heard the bells as the sheep climbed the hill, blessed to stay as I return to turmoil.
The Smallest Happiness A horror-film-part-of-me wants your brains bloody through my clenched fingers, clenching into fists for you, once a week. Wants your chapped lips chopped off, as if they were the ears of baby pitbulls.
You are exactly right—you are not young, with those grays, those crows who I hope haunt your daily mirror, your heart and crotch weathered in drought.
It’s Halloween, and I want you comatosed in nightmare, never grasping light or the smallest happiness possible in your small life:
A man. A child to love you.
Desire Want Need Revenge They say white is the start of the canvas, is the symbol of patience; the bending of branches before the break. Impossible to spot the hare in the white of this. Tree skeletons thickened from bleak heaviness. There is no blue or yellow in this picture; only the desire for stains, dirt or the footprints of some thing. New birds will nest when this barrenness subsides. * The winter raven is perched, stares with its black beak clenched down on a frozen herring, on the bed of a small town pickup in an iced-over parking lot. Even in this there is mocking: the scarcity of one simple craving left unsatiated. * The book says never to hit, especially on the nose—loss of smell. That if you lose patience, it’s not for you. Still, I make her mine, spank, swat, and cuss, scream till I loathe the day I have children. After it subsides, I think: Everyone must go through this. * In the New Old West, it is big trucks, big guns, a thousand beers, and everyone’s girl is an old lady. We pass through mountains alone for hours, no one else taking pictures of ancient Irish Canyon carvings. No one was black or gay. And no one spoke of the haunt of the Indian. Or how we were not the firsts. But of seconds, thirds, fourths. Of cowboys.
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The Weight of the Roof
Columbia River Haiku
El Niño whips coast cascades salmon down gorge mouth spawning strength breaks dam
And so I affixed a gargoyle to my A-frame. This isn’t the typical water spout like the ones in the city attempting to keep water off buildings. Oh no. Nothing shoots out of this country-folk, gargoyle’s mouth. This beast is more functional than that. It’s hinged to the world of art. A balance scale dangles from its mouth, gold coins weighing down one side, a wee sequoia in the other. It doesn’t fit the style of the house in the woods, but I like it. Sometimes snow will cover the miniature tree, but an undetermined source of heat melts snow, ice, even raven shit immediately off the coins. During summer, I like to stand in a funny little position, way back from it by the garden. I view a direct line: my eyes, my gripping fingers, and the tree. I act as if I’m adding weight to the scale, helping the tree balance against the coins, but I’m the only one who can see it. I keep hoping one day the winds will change and blow some of the coins away. The tree has a good root system. It’s not going anywhere. Maybe some day the roof will collapse. Perhaps I will be inside and I will die with the house, like the cliché of the captain and his ship. I didn’t build this house, but the carpenter knew how to shape wood. Actually, I will be long dead before this house crashes to the ground. It’s an A-frame, essentially a triangle, the strongest shape, stronger than an arch. Engineers can find flaws, and actually describe a sturdier structure but this one seems long lasting. Neighbors have told friends about my gargoyle with a scale. Sometimes when I’m out in the yard trying to add weight to the tree, people I don’t know will point from cars. They point at the gargoyle. Sometimes they point at me. I imagine children asking their parents “Why does that man have a monster-dog statue on his roof?” “I don’t know,” they respond.
Death Becomes Him Paul Router traveled more dead than alive after his family split urn ashes during a dispute on who would get them Katie, while gliding on borrowed rollerblades, tossed shards into the wind as she swished down trails of yellow birch thick with warblers whistling songs, along city streets beneath sandlewood clouds that hung in ceilings over honking cars and blaring radios. She blew ash from her hands as she sped down coastal paths that wound and turned where silty winds threw saltwater in her face and she’d gasp “Goodbye Daddy, goodbye Daddy I love you.” Molly skied to places untouched along lakes and valleys where owls hoo-hooed and coyotes yoooooowled where moose would crunch through thin ice,
falling knee-deep in water not caring And she’d build a fire that glowed orange in a world colored white, heat snow ‘til it melted. Mix in ashes. Then toss it to the heavens and watch it freeze fall in droplets, like tears of nature Max took his into his small two-seater plane and as the engine roared and whined he watched, he waited for the perfect mesa for the ideal monument then in one big swoop, he dumped a fistful of Dad across the Grand Canyon watching it trail, then fall to the Colorado River below in the same place they had all dropped the ashes of their mother Jimmy took his into a Spenard bar that his ex-wife frequented before, during and after their marriage he waited till she came in half-dressed in a shroud of black silk then poured ash into her drink when she wasn’t looking
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Fern G. Z. Carr
Return to Sender Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
--Inscription on the General Post Office, New York City
No snow, no rain, no heat, no gloom of night – just good old-fashioned sunshine enveloped the mail truck as it dog-ged-ly grappled its way to the summit passing conifers and homes nudged slightly askew by their mountain host
The Watchtower (an excerpt) Hostels are closed, exchange rates ridiculous.
on a glorious Disney morning – flowers a-bloomin’ and birds a-tweetin’.
That history of runaways means the zoo holds nothing
The postmistress steered her van with one hand while she sorted mail with the other,
feared or ferocious. I eat a baguette. No wind,
experienced eyes darting back and forth – road, mail, road, mail, road, mail
yet some current cracks my cuticles. Someone wished
until the road got lost in the mail and she found herself being returned to sender,
this lakeshore to be, someone else the trout brook,
truck plummeting into the azure lake below. A splash. Silence. Eternity....
the pool and waterfall. I wanted the cave behind
Now she is but an anecdote stamped into memory— local folklore shared with tourists on lazy summer days.
the falls. On its walls were old scribbles. Faces of hunters flickered in my candlelight, yet their horror was just another dead language, so removed were we from what we ate and what ate us.
Monarch Migration On the day of your death one thousand and eighteen migrating butterflies clustered outside a window facing south... I am on a beach in Mexico there are no butterflies, only waves and black rock a few fisherman throwing out their lines
Farm Visitor, Romania
...they roosted for the night outlined by the frame of a window not mine or yours
[I ask] the Gypsy from Romania ”What do Gypsies believe?” The Gypsy looks away and doesn’t answer. The rain keeps falling... --Simon Ortiz
crossed the border flying to Ocampo or Angangueo east of Ciudad Hidalgo in the state of Michoacán. I am on a beach in Mexico, the shore too rocky and rough for swimmers. Brown pelicans fly over. A few fishermen pull in their lines, the sun shifts and drops into the sea.
I believe in rain, in the man soaked to the skin, staring at his crops, in the words he mutters: it’s raining all over Romania the wheat and fruit will rot, sooner or later we will all go hungry.
Someone with a flashlight hunts for crabs between the rocks a coati drinks the chlorinated water from the pool, stares when I rise to the surface. In a place of the fishermen, violence is not confined to the cities. Swimmers should use extreme caution. On the day of your death I reel in my line, dive into the waves dream there are no butterflies.
the gypsy looks away...
...and on the road cluttered with broken tools and old clothes, I call out to the hungry dogs dodging the donkey carts: gobble the meat scraps I toss to you and go on, your bellies still empty. Look this man in the eye. Tell him what you already know. The fruit molds on his trees. There is no good in the world.
The gypsy does not answer. He has seen this before. A handful of coins. A string of sausages. A woman crying in the wind.
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The Courage of Sophie Scholl*
For the man pouring rain from his shoes, I have no answers, only my feet covered in mud, a train ticket to Bucharest. I have no explanation for the shattered glass in the road, the bleeding from his hands the children at the window of the car.
If I were you, Sophie, I would speak out, speak up, shout curses at the pavement, pile leaflets on every doorstep, I would take a chainsaw to the trees blocking the road, erase my image from the janitor’s eyes this, I would do
I only know he holds a dog like his injured brother, mutters in Romanian, apa gust de rahat as if I did not know: the water tastes like sewage
but I am not you, telling the judge: what we wrote and said is believed by many, they just don’t dare express themselves. I am not you, convicted and sentenced to the guillotine, saying good-bye to mother, my father, without tears. I am not even
and whether the dog lives or dies the rain continues the gypsy man knows the story:
able to count the bodies, those lost for any reason, I am simply at home, in the kitchen, with water running and my eyes
Forty Days. Forty Nights. Rain. the flood will come
filled with tears---from the onions frying on the stove from dust gathered on the bookshelves and under the stairs. We are, as we all know, born of dust and to dust return disintegrated bodies passing through, like the white roses arranged in a vase by the fragile light of the fire, wine poured, a glass for each of us. Drink up. To your health. To mine. Drink up, drink up.
* Sophie and Hans Scholl were founding members of the Nazi resistance movement, “The White Rose.” The brother and sister were arrested on February 18, after a janitor reported seeing them distributing leaflets at the University of Munich. They were executed four days later, on February 22, 1943.
Building a Campfire with my Father Lean the logs against one another like a Tee Pee. Not too much. Not all at once. Slowly, you say.
You want to do this slowly.
Let the embers do the work. Let the wind do the work.
Rehabilitation I have a new view of the old barn walls, a forearm-long myopic perspective. I watch, my arms triangled to the steel brush, dry-scrubbing rough weathered wood, releasing large motes like dander scaling off, and crumbs of silver lichens. Dust. A spider steps out of a crack and looks at the obscene destruction. I flick him away. Off. He drops to the ground gracefully without wings or a rappellerâ€™s lurch. Even before painting, the steel brush has lightened the wood.
River It all started in the backwoods. Two fishermen enjoying the cold malt and tenuous flow of a river. Locked in with the current rhetoric of, What will I do tomorrow? How much money will I need? Am I throwing it all away? After they leave they can smell the fish their breath heavy in the air like dissipation at a gas pump. The younger man looks at his father and says, Dad, a river is something to love.
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The Fantastic Skies of Orphan Stars
I rejoice to live in such a splendidly disturbing time. -Helen Keller
Perhaps I’ve been searching too close to ground. Perhaps I’m blind to think every answer lies beneath my feet. Giving life should be enough to ask of one blue sphere spinning in the dark. Oh, to be an orphan star, to see my birthplace from the outside, the blue-white brilliance encircled by yellow spirals, the whole spinning parent galaxy, and then to move slowly away into the safety of the void.
The Wing Feather I swore to take only pictures and leave only footprints, but I cannot leave a single one of the plastic bottles on the beaches. My family makes their living by bottled water, leaving me to shoulder that weight every time a bottle washes to shore, half-full of water not as pure as what the streams give here. I gather them, stuff them into crevasses in my kayak holds, a full empty load. On this last evening’s beach, no different: I pick up both bottles, empty and crush them, take one more step and find an eagle feather, so perfect I look up to see if its owner still soars above. An immature bald eagle, by the mottled white and brown, and so large it must be a wing feather. Thinking it my reward for cleaning the beach, I thank the bird and pick it up. But it’s not long before the burden of ownership sets in, and I wonder: was it a gift to be taken, or a gift to be seen and left? If I take it, I promise to return it within the year, after gleaning the muse from its vanes. Sitting on my desk, something might change: perhaps a thin layer of dust, or the dry air, or the smooth surface of a desk instead of the wet, cobbled beach. Too late I will realize it was never the feather I wanted, but that moment on the beach: living like that, being like that.
We did it in the lilac garden – all Sampson and Delilah – him pulling my ponytail taut before the quick snip and the brushing of hair on dirt. If it was an idea to make me trust him it didn’t work. If it was an idea to be like the white lilacs we cut for the bathroom vase, the petals were already turning. Jim Thiele
Camino de Santiago
I. Cheatgrass keeps growing, invading, even in Spain, the wheat of the medieval camino trail. We remember your father’s sure hands on the tractor’s wheel, the handkerchief tied under his hat, thin rosewood beads slung from his pocket. He left three years ago, so now we walk quietly with the red poppies and green wheat. II. We mop the floors of the albergue after the manic French woman flung the shower curtains open on my friend. The dingy cotton hangs like worms off the wooden handle as we push, silently. Again, last night, I dreamt of you, my dead friend, crushing poppies in your father’s field. A little sad, or maybe just tired.
III. Coppery puddles in La Rioja spread red dirt in streams. Shifting through wind and rain, my friend pissed herself in the ditch on purpose for a little warmth while we wished for more gear to push us over the mountain mudslides. On sunny days our pee hisses to grass between our feet, but here you wouldn’t hear it happening except for the laughing. IV. Once more, wheat fields bleed poppies. My cupped palms grasp water that pours from the rusted faucet. The crumbled convent, like everything else here, bears the name of St. James and reminds me of his medieval title: Matamoros, and how the old peasant pilgrims might have cheered on their knights: kill the Moors, kill the Moors. More midday heat – we eat bread turned brown in an old woman’s oven, drink a bottle of La Rioja wine we bought cheap. I think of St. James, or Jesus, one of those Moors, their bleeding poppy hearts, and the unquiet drip of water that continues after I leave.
Vo l . 2 N o . 2
Persimmons Don’t try to tempt me with your ripe persimmons. I know too well their fragrance of fruit at its succulent peak, the heft of one in my hand—cool, yielding, flat seeds ready to slip out if I squeeze too hard. Those soft orange orbs bring back lunch hours spent in your Toyota, parked along Lafayette Square, dodging the hand brake, holding our mouths together in perfect harmony as if we’d been trained. Keep that sweet fruit away from me—I don’t want to feel the steady warmth of your hand on my thigh.
Skagit River Spirits
We can say this of our house: We live somewhere beyond it. The river flows through us, endless And quiet, even at flood-time. The moon Rises outside our broken windows, hangs in branches Of trees that bend close to the water. We live There too, dwell in flood and moonrise. We passed through, Ate the fruits and meats of the earth, formed Things, useful and playful, with our hands. Wept, danced And sang our sorrows, then melted away To silt and sand. Now we recline Translucent memories on beds of dewy moss, Breathe moon-mist. We float on a skin of light, slipping Silver shapes and shadows. Our gifts to you: Our absence -- an empty meadow for your lives to wander, Shape-shifting forms at the edge of your vision.
CIRQUE Janet Levin
Fishermen in the P Bar
Teeny-Weenie Contest cries the poster tacked on top of ragged old fliers, corners flapping in a stiff breeze, but this one is glossy, bright like new shoes or copper penny nails at the local hardware (if we had one). It’s covered in red, white, and blue stars. It’s “the big deal” around this fishtown, so don’t go thinking dirty thoughts. It’s all fun and games and, truth be told, the Fourth of July needs every teeny-weenie bit of excitement teenypeenies muster up. “Dying Town Loves Sex” headlines the paper two islands away. A tourist trap of Princess Cruise Line jewelry stores, that town likes to joke the top prize is the biggest truck around, but Pelican is a boardwalk row of shanties built on stilts above the tide: there are no roads. We just want to see the little guy win big for once.
Sitka, AK God damn doesn’t it feel good to be crammed in here, letting smoke tendril over the horseshoe-booth, letting booze glisten in perspiring glasses, letting a beer tab tsssst promise to quench my thirst? A half-shaved one-eyed dog wanders in; his all-drunk dread-locked owner stumbles out. Sinking-boat photos hang on snuff-stained walls and tell a certain slant of truth. It’s busy tonight with the seine fleet in town. They arrive like crows attracted to the silver of beer cans and salmon. They squeak Extra-Tuff rubbers across the black and white floor. They puff up in competition for the fat girl plopped at the counter— it’s the only pussy in town that isn’t underage or spoken for, so they rib each other until the brokest of them all rings the bell, buys the house a round, and celebrates the ability to earn, though he hasn’t earned anything yet. He, like the rest of us, expects to become living lore every time he saunters out the door, and, like us too, he makes a story up each time he comes in looking for a Crown on the rocks. The bartender slides him another just for the look in his eyes. He pays his bill with a crumpled check meant to pay his girlfriend’s rent. No matter, it still feels good to be here, still feels damn good.
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Robyn Lynn Comes-Holloway
Don’t piss in the vat Hippie families we Wavy Gravy like all joyful dippie Good Will clothes wearing sunflower seeds in our meatloaf eating joint smoking kefir drinking a little acid dropping barefooted family: Jack & Marlene the Cepins Lee Connie Kathy the Lathers mom and dad Eli’s family the Rice’s we kids except
All the moms all the dads all the people are high on ritual ceremony love everybody is gorgeous each other’s during those long days nights of groovy fun.
we commune very single day without the bright psychedelic painted buses tied-dyed tents flowers braided in our hair ‘til the one weekend comes when the canyon shakes off the gray dust of old rain and ash we put on our vine crowns and bind ourselves to each other at the Birdsall’s grape stomp Axis Mundi Old Canyon and Skyline
Maybe all the moms and all of the dads carry us away to our beds after too many swigs of wine draw up our quilts too sleepy to dream of vinifara and tired themselves retake the ritual of the ordinary of school lunches and bath time until the next crop turns red.
How did all that stomping end? Jack nudging purple friends sleeping it off in his yard stoned saying You don’t have to go home, but..?
We’d trek to a northern vineyard to camp pluck burgundy grapes juicy fat dusty eat fresh venison or whatever dance around great bon fires as big as houses plucking and plucking the shitload of grapes we’d toss into trailers for the long ride home. There are three vats under the sycamores one for bathing one for kids and the prudes and then there’s the one vat for the adults Grapes everywhere stick to our shins bellies like leeches. We get out tinged and purple. We rest dance eat nap wear our underwear old t-shirts or nothing at all jump in out into the thick:slick juice all day long. Our parents are slippery and grapey and sexy and stoned and happy smell like that syrupy pungent smell of coming wine that stains the feet and knees and crotches and breasts of men and women whose only obligation to the winemaking craft is to not pee in the visqueen lined cask.
When I think of third grade, I turn on my headlights In 1968, cars drove during the day with their headlights on. After Dr. King died. After Bobby died. I asked my dad, how come? He said: That’s how people show each other they’ve lost something they loved. Our teacher’s sick of our third-gradedness. How we laugh at words like “rumpus,” glue our butts to our own chairs. Cheat during rainy day games like Heads Down, Seven-Up. And how we all do math all wrong, all goddamned wrong! I’m new to this school and awkward with kids who may or mostly not become my friends. And since her mom tried to kill her during the suicide, Melanie’s awkward, too. I don’t understand that story. We laugh, whisper the other stories of ourselves to each other: she’s rich, I’m poor, she’s blonde,
Alaska Cardboard Beggar My cardboard sign reads LIVING ON FUMES NEED a CHANGE. Eye contact helps with a sense of humor. I only work Northern Lights three hours in November. Some people mistake my hand out for a protest AGAINST THE DYING of the LIGHT rage, rage, I keep in the corner. Does this sound okay? This literary thing isn’t taking off. Or is this too political, socialist? WE NEED EACH OTHER.
I have mousey brown hair, she eats cheese toast for lunch, I get cashew butter and sprouts. Every recess, we do the rings. Our palms
If they open their windows I don’t mind the stale, brief warmth and half smile, whatever opens a wallet.
tear and callous and tear and callous, tear …. I hold Mel’s silver cat ring. Its green eyes glaring. I don’t have jewelry. Not since I
Today I block letter
was three and ate the gold ring my grandma gave me for being born. One recess, I lose Mel’s ring, and she asked if I stole it. “No.” It’s true. No green-eyed lie will shatter us. Though her dad’s death will, when she gets scared. Later. When she needs another family. Takes mine.
CONSIDER THE LILIES OF THE FIELD AND ME good for a few bucks. One night they pulled the bill back after reading more closely DO not GO GENTLE into that GOOD NIGHT.
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The Fate for Which We Must Prepare All warfare is based on deception. --Sun Tzu
write your death poem
a huge fireball slams into Jupiter hurricane season brings flooding, landslides, an enormous sinkhole 12 million cadmium-tainted Happy Meal glasses recalled an impaled ocean endures the corruption of oil wetlands suffocate under thick coats of emollient slick-soaked wildlife adorns the seaward limit of land once white sand—sea turtles, brown pelicans, drown in tar tides covered in unguent unable to eat or drink if rescued, if they survive the eco disaster cleansing— a complicated hour of scrubbing, rubbing, rinsing— residual oil remains in their mouths, in their eyes bite down on the mahogany red cherry juice and pit—bite down to a curious cleft the dull tremor, the slow actualization—the death of tooth and root
open your robe, take up your sword, make the plunge
Wilderness Dreams We dream of people out here, two solitude seekers in the company of water and sky. We follow the moon and tides out here, rise with birdsong or a whale’s loud breath, move with the wind, sun, rain. Each night we carry our kayaks above the reach of tide and perch our tents beneath a canopy of trees or nest on the beach like oystercatchers, protected by alertness and the bluish dark of a northern summer night. We sleep the deep sleep of gratitude. Each day we paddle deeper into the Sound. Harbor seals guide us through one bay, jumping salmon through another. In the distance, the Pleiades appear like mushrooms. Along a fjord, we share an arc of beach with icebergs stranded by the tide, looming sculptures that glisten in the moonlight. In the morning sun, the sand holds prints of a wolverine who visited in the dark, and a bear saunters out of the distant stream and disappears into the woods. I tell my friend I dreamt of people again. Me too, she says. It’s always that way. Still, peace is palpable in this wild place. Water flows from the mountains. Wind blows cool in the face. We find everything we need and leave it as we find it. A cave for shelter, moss for a resting place.
The Awakening Squinting, creaking, stretching drifting, wandering. Hunt the tide line, follow the ravens. What’ll it be? What’s to find? Sedges, clams, roots? The last banquet was months ago. So long, I’ve forgotten how ravenous I am. Shake off the stupor. Scan the horizon. Clues, scents, familiar Chase the scent. Follow the light. Nourish the pangs.
One more night in the wilderness. Water laps the shore, beloved friend sleeps nearby. Sea lions slip out of sight as I crawl into my tent, then there is traffic lined up along a DC street, horns honking, voices, my daughter is asking about a man stepping into an old car. Crowded sidewalks, a tense undertone. The Chinatown bus pulls up. In the morning, again, I am on this rocky beach in soft light. The water is calm. Birdcall breaks the quiet. I take a deep breath. My companion stirs. Ten days out here, nine nights. How long would it take to dream only of wilderness?
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To Skunk Cabbage Your throat of chlorophyll swallows my vision a beast of green with your veins crossing your arms that unfold with colossal flora ready to engulf attention as easy as your brute smell that lingers a few seasons while moist ground supports your body of cells a Hercules of foliage that swaggers in the fall under the weight of old age smashing you to pieces until you are unbirthed by the womb of time larger than your days alive.
I aced the course of abandonment giving up on myself last quarter with life models posing unguarded blunt persistent staring back into my glare provoking me to respond with charcoal in hand dragging thick streaks on paper to meet strokes of distrust gathering contours on the easel that resembled a man bent over perhaps reaching for something but more practice with shading revealed a sketch of each nude undressing my grip until nothing could hide my features exposing a birthmark of fright.
Allison J. Linville
The Most Silent You’ve Ever Seen Me [I] A hotcake, a coffee mug. It’s history here and no one understands it. Say heavy, necessary, watch us like a wave in the ocean. Water always wants to return to where she came from, but what if, after many years, she comes from too many places? It snowed on my window house that weekend and I was homesick for any old home and I missed the sun in my hair. Someday I will have to leave so I live this like I am older and already reflecting on it. “Don’t do that,” says Matthew, “you’ll lose the moment.” These moments are so easy to pick up; you can touch each one as it floats by, abutted by the next. June is grass and green leaves. July: weather, work. Storms, sun, longing. August is too many things to remember and some of them were far away. My mom was having a birthday, having cancer, and no one told me. I hiked back and the sun told me ahead of time she was leaving soon. Fall will be here tomorrow, the trees whispered, with yellow corners. Thank you, I was afraid it would end without warning, it went so fast. But fall is not a cliff and it won’t drop you. It leaves you alone until you’re ready, until the green is yellow and the pointed desire is smudged and darkness calls lay here, just lay. We float along the river of autumn, warm and gentle and you’ve been looking forward to it all along. We would be blond, we would be beautiful. The sandhill cranes land on the prairie now that it’s September. The river is lazy and says, do you miss me? Rosehips scrape my legs and romanticize about tasting as sweet as wild raspberries. How did it get here? We were just walking under golden leaves to the Danaher, sitting in clear meadows while the sky showed us rose, violet, forget-me-not hues and perfect outlines of every tree I’ve never seen.
This is what it is, it goes: I’m crying, you’re reading. We work for a living. Real, deep down, work to live. If it’s something you do every day, you might find yourself in the forest, standing ankle deep in grass and wondering, “Where is the nearest rainbow?” To find the answer, you will need to identify your fatal flaw and yell it to God from Pagoda Peak. He is always listening, you know. I think I read that somewhere. We are like that. We are cliffy, in the sunshine. Scarface wouldn’t kill me and Charlotte wouldn’t love me so I exhaled them hard and went inside. You thought I was asleep but I was standing there. I dream of carnivals, of westerns, and when I wonder why you didn’t reach for me, I realize you were running cattle all night. It’s a hard job, I guess. A left arm, a holding stable. You surprise me by being casual, by being old, by being in bed with me. In the mornings, people ride around on horses looking for each other. We are not explorers but I learn something new every day and I’m drawing a map of what we used to be. You don’t understand cold. Exhaust this. Wear it out of you. Walk up the White River and say bright, tired, windfall of longing. You can’t hear me; you are thinking of going home or last year. No one can tell what you are thinking so they talk about it, like you care about them. The trail follows a side hill to the marshes. That’s what Danaher means; marshes. I can see the connecting ridges from the lookout but I can’t tell where the trail is. I imagine meeting you there, at the crest, and saying the right thing. You let us meet at the forks of the river. Wait, this hasn’t happened yet, none of this has; I am still alone in my bed and it’s snowing, I know because this whole room is windows. My secret doesn’t hold to you. I talk too much and you think you know me. Let’s fly to the airport and then see what happens. The hardest part will be telling him I left him last year without saying
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 anything. Fucking you, now that’s saying something. Braid my hair, you westerly wind, and send a message home that I’m coming, as soon as I wake up. [III] She says, I am too powerful, you can’t do that to me. The mountains say that too and that’s why they are a part of her. When she reads this, it will remind her of a letter, of something lost and forgotten. Forgotten is wind; when it looks clear and warm but blows a bitterness into you that is breaking up. Break apart my tiles, pack them away send them with the man who makes us laugh. I fight your face now and it is draining. Let’s talk about drainage. How you taught me to dig and then believed in me and then dug right through me. It smells like ignored in here; I need to get outside. Sun lightens your hair and sinks in your pores and pulls your skin apart when you sleep in it. Stretch it out in the sunshine, tan and push and when the water dries up it is august, it is lovely. Barren exposes so much of yourself you may be afraid of it. You may be tempted to pull it apart too, but you will only find piles of leftover sunshine. To harvest them, fill the holes in the field of questions and wait for September. It is not a month, it is a time in your life. What did you do with all the words I gave you? There is yellow in that season and it glows like fulfillment. When I am fulfilled with leaves and sky, set me out so I can dry, So I too can die in color. What is this thickness on my face? It’s yesterday and it has been here too long. It was good when it was raining but it never did again although I danced and danced, pirouetting to our downfall. It is speaking to us, it is the wind, and it is only there for those who want to listen. It says that they are calling me, my mother needs me; catch the next gust home.
[IV] More people left today; they walked across the field, went out the gate, and became as small as the rest of us in this big sky. She gave me seven black and white photos and I saw that they are what I’ve been trying to describe this whole time. I added more work this year. It was energy I didn’t know what to do with, it was my drive that made you take my face off and I gave it all to you because I had to use it somehow. Give me something I can use. If all of that energy were in a black and white photograph, it would be the same bursting clouds she gave me on film. That is what it’s like and you still grew over it, around it, and into next year. I’m not sure how to do it but I think it goes: walk under the aspens to the river and wash with the cloud solution. Wash until the mountains look blurry to your clean eyes. Where will our inspiration go when we are gone? Will it collect in a puddle in this meadow until I come back? I will look at my reflection, wash my face in it, drink it dry and it still won’t bring you back. We are short with each other, we are new to this. In case you are wondering, I went outside last night and stood in the meadow with the milky way. Side by side, we discussed things that are real and those that aren’t, like new moons, lips, and sideways embraces. What a good reminder that we are temporary, we are small, and our granite bones will crush us when we try to outgrow them. The colors are broken reflections. They let me stay here long enough to see them appear. It feels so solid; that’s how we know it’s fleeting. A mountain told me that. Hello! I say to your mountain top. Let me live here. Let me love this without moving. Give me permission to miss this when the wind blows its blue self over me and I am standing alone on the summit.
Ravens in the DMV Parking Lot Cops at a crime scene argue over a doughnut mashed into the ice. Even cars veer from their black noise.
On a line borrowed from Marge Piercy When I was a pale pencil of a girl I sang soprano, but wrote falsetto, grayed with guarded pencil, hiding secrets deep: the real, imperfect, prideful girl, afraid. Clever words I thought and sometimes said but never wrote for judging eyes to scorn. Authentic voice through keyboard, speech, or pen stayed shrouded, like a child unborn. Why now, then, after fearful years and dark, do tamped-down words ooze slowly out to light? In elder years, I‘ve found how small the risk— when writing true, my spirits lift to bright. The truth of self comes out by one’s own choice when age trumps fear and frees an honest voice.
Karla Linn Merrifield
Oyster Hour Long since sent, the messages of oysters clustered on exposed granite shelves above tide line this idle time of day between ebb & neap. I listen to faint echoes rushing across the late stirring of water as currents shift. What was once spoken from shells in the whispers of succulent bodies, a pearl or two amidst thousands of their seething kind like lisps of secrets, does indeed pass— pass into a fleeting wisdom.
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Christopher Lee Miles
A little rhythm and a little rhyme, lyrical smitham, measured and metered, everything in its place and in its time.
You, who are lost to me, Iâ€™m finding you in the tawny grasses, the pale cinder.
function not form
What you left behind begins growing. I follow like roots, like a mangy calf.
over under and in the clouds
or range, but some quadrant far beyond time. There, every color is you, enfolding
here you in purple, yellow waxing your face. You, who are beneath the grass, are above
here and over there content with content
Hills, I know you are beyond them, sleepless, Touching a dimension that is not height
the ground. I lose and lose you, I who keep finding you, facing you, and finding you.
Uncovering the abandoned property What alchemical vines cover was once home. The surrounding fields guard empty space. When a storm blackens in, threatening to unhinge the tin talisman screwed over the front door, the wind deafens us to sharp cries of small prey: field mouse, rabbit, vole — each running to the underground city I found deep beneath the barley field. The inhabitants thought stalk chatter the sounds of a coming apocalypse. Unable to defend my knowledge with reason, they packed my suitcase with yellow dahlias, blinked expectantly, guided me home. Our fat cattle tread their roof now; I lead them over its near invisible camber, back and forth, as the moon lights my brother, cleaning his blunderbuss in the front yard. Some of the fields have not been planted. Some of the pines have remade the world — those that are split, cleaved-apart by bolts of lightening, their yearly rings exposed. The lark goes over my brother’s head, back and forth. Back and forth. It knows the aplomb and current of our lives, spells it in cloud. It is male, the shape of bathos; a forked body prying at the blue. No one is beside my brother; his ankles hemmed in wet straw. He looks down through a clean barrel, whistles. How he flows from one motion to another. How unchanged he is between all etched spaces. Birds envy him. The cattle, having reached the far end of the meadow, where the canebrake gives way to bull thistle and burdock, are lowing. Their dung piles steam. I buried my suitcase with a collection of the talisman’s fingers we had replaced over the decades, until we arrived here, running. Now the decades run and burrow in any dry ditch beside asphalt. Now my brother sharpens a corn knife at the grinding wheel beneath the workbench in the machine shed. After my eyes adjust to the dimness, I see the dust floor imprinted with the deep teeth of tractor tread, and the Gleaner combine behind his shoulder is no longer a dinosaur. Yes it is, he says. He is ready to cut vines, fingers tracing the uneven blue-grey blade edge. His other fist tightens pink around the smooth cork handle. He swings once at the air. The lark swoops. Or is it a bat. Those flesh-colored vines, he says, roping over the roof, clogging the gutters. They have got to go.
Bin Emptying This ribbed space, named bin, is hum of harvest, Is gist of impossible summer, Deluge. Our comeuppance for grace is work; For wheat, is mineral and whisk of seed. We live behind corrugated metal Sealed with tar. Our life is not the honey, Not what you recall from a magazine, But crest of salt from sweat, inbraided prongs That wind virtue over black macadam. We empty bin beneath rainbow, maple Leaf and thunderhead. Bin’s mouth is an eave, A spectra, screwed to concrete and humming Tinny notes before a torn open earth.
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Ice Road Trucker “The more I do other stuff the more I like trucking.” Because she’s pretty it works, and they put her on TV. Reality looking good entertains you, me, and the dummy next door. Producers riding along, aware of tracking polls, ask dumb questions. What’s this thing for? She’s not so pretty some say. Look, crooked teeth. bunny boots, work gloves, sweatshirt and fleece jacket. We’re not fooled. The beauty’s in the machine. There’s the clutch and here’s the stick. She will belch her diesel and crank those double axel drivers high and low, hooking tons of manifest past switch backs, no guardrails, gear by gear. When stuck we love her chaining up down on her knees. “I also like painting my nails,” she says, and we love her, the snowy hills, the miles and miles.
Some Fogs I ask around and most agree the Lady of the Lake rises like radiation fog from cold water chilling and condensing over night the air above. When temperature and dew point meet, she wears a diaphanous gown and moves like furniture on rollers, Anglo, voluptuous and cruel, beguiling boaters, pilots, and wandering knights in love. Advection fog comes from elsewhere. It’s the northeast wind, Inuit sea smoke off pack ice in a rush of mukluks onshore, that drops temps 30 degrees and drives back North Slope mosquitoes giving caribou some relief. It’s the moist gray fur pushing up slope into the Rockies, good hiding for history-hidden women picking berries in fall. It’s the cool flow off Michigan invading the Loop. This is the one with cat’s feet.
The international protocol for aviation weather reporting lumps freezing fog with ice fog. They’re not the same, as we in the Arctic know, and we blame the French who like officious difficult friends won’t see in fog what is when you tell it like it is. For reasons of trade, those great Bordeaux and cloudy tons of lingerie the world thinks we live for, and for another grand alliance in a new crusade we die for, we allow reports with BR (short for Brouillard) meaning mist (falling droplets, visibility 5/8 mile plus) and FU (Fumeé) meaning smoke, meaning the usual war somewhere, forests burning, oranging the sun for over-the-pole cargo planes.
34 No, freezing fog is just frozen fog, official, Gaullist and gloomy, no exit, up and down and all around. I think instead of old Matisse shaking with palsy, dropping the brush, picking up the scissors to make with civilizing cuts the nudes and leaves we love. Only by contrivance with artifice do the delicate instruments of homing lead us out always a little lost enough for discovery, as walking is controlled falling, a kind of failing forward into the clear. Ice fog, I mean to say, is ice crystals needle-shaped and suspended vertically. Your steps crunch in the pale pall of minus 20. You look up in daylight and see the low lemon sun, fuzzy and flanked by sun dogs. In the dark, straight up, stars stare, northern lights waver, and plane lights pulse. Those galleons bear our bullets and beans and recordings by the stack of Django Rheinhart, who lost the use of two fingers in a fire and found a new way to fret and run the guitar. Some nights he plays forever his Gypsy jazz with lambent licks fast and sure on “Lady Be Good.” He swings with the wounded hand of man. If you’re flying in ice fog on approach, weary traveler, merchantman, knight errant, the crude hand on the yoke always correcting is yours. On the gauges, you scan with a subtle eye. Perhaps you’ll glance below and see the small circle of tundra following you all the way in. At the last second the runway’s lights will open her sparkling arms and see you home. Trust me. I know my fogs.
It’s Not So Much What’s Here, It’s – Please excuse my lapse. Here, birds overhead appear bird-shaped holes in the sky. I wake to light and I sleep to light. That is, I try to sleep. Spaces between leaves are leaves of light – they twist and glint. Sometimes mountains tire of us, wrap themselves in clouds to confer privately. A hushed room may or may not contain silent people. Meanwhile, our shadows grow thirstier. The incessant photons at our backs pitch us into dirt to dig with summer’s immense appetite. A land of labor full of winged absences. Someday someone will reach into a raven and pull winter out so we can put our shovels down. Since light won’t quit we make our own black bouquets. This is just the beginning. Things bloom inside us we have no control of. Geese headed south will drop snow from their silhouetted Vs, the flakes will reflect in our windows, along with spaces between flakes. A blanket of snow is made mostly of not-snow. Soon those needy absences will cover us.
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To Eat Here is to Celebrate the Guava Tree Which Like All Trees Throughout History Has Been a Symbol of Life Not to Say Nourishment of Spirits Which Sometimes Appear as Bats Taste I will never forget. Out in the orchard. Walking past the ancient sprawled oak. Late spring. We moved from sun to shade. We had crossed state lines for me to meet her parents. A northerner may enter a dreamlike state of disbelief upon arriving in a place where tomatoes grow in thickets without greenhouses. That is she may feel she’s reading a story of someone else in that place. Lemons and loquats dangled from branches like Christmas bulbs and guava trees bloomed. You can eat the flowers you know she said. Her eyes moved to me then she reached up into the leaves, said open your mouth and placed one fat white petal on my tongue. If you have never tasted one I can say it was like satin breaking and oozing honey. She leaned and bit off the edge sticking out. I remember it not as floating or swimming but as standing there, really standing there. As if my skin had snapped into focus and a cottonball tumbled from each ear and as Cummings says, “The ears of my ears, the eyes of my eyes” the skin’s awakening is grape pulp slipping liquidly from its case. That evening her father stood in a lit motorhome doorway. I steadied my knees and climbed to clasp his hand. He smiled said hold this handed me a screwdriver
can you think how to fix the cupboard latch see it comes undone when we start or turn left and all the spice jars tumble. I bent to look. The hasp rattled between thumb and forefinger. He laughed and said to his daughter three rights is a left and you never start if you never stop.
Ripe guavas are split and eaten from the rind. Such things I learned from her tall stepmother as we sliced vegetables for dinner in the main house. All through the meal our glances flicked over the table like cat paws. Small but persistent hungers.
after Anne Carson
Untitled open your eyes and if you can’t open your lover’s eyes
amazon what if I were to tell you of a place where people eat their dead cannibals they cremate them first & then mix the ashes in banana soup only family members drink the soup & they don’t use up all the ashes at once in treasured clay pots they save some for later when all the ashes are gone no one is allowed to speak the dead person’s name again what if I were to tell you you can live there if you want
read it again as a question every diaper changed is a poem not written
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Raspberries The range is a fretwork of fog, unseen rivers we believe in, wet raspberries, and clouds low by the creek, south, wet valley shining in a northern west under sun, harping. No rain, but the river’s up— just outside the door I mash two wet raspberries with my tongue. I walked clear home in darkness, last night, and heard the rain through sleep, no sky or window light, no solstice flaunting the ripe season, no alpenglow donning a dress of distance to stun me through, just nightfall swaddling moments when weather or the state of a season is a short and lucid arrest— raspberries cold with rain and night blistering in my mouth as I notice the first yellow willow leaves—
they are changing, I remember their bones. It was night and late, I walked home through shapely darkness, through rain, I lit a match inside, I found my way to sleep.
Early Blueberry Kate Worthington
Snowmelt rushes down the back gully as I gather a few sprigs of Early Blueberry. Early, because they bloom before leafing. Tiny creamy lanterns edged in pink on deep red stems (Geishas’ lights along stone pathways) tender green rolled leaves here and there. Gathered in a black, spouted teapot on the windowsill.
CIRQUE Michael Kleven
The Duck Hunters
(Goose Point, Willapa Bay, Washington)
It seems natural to hide behind white Driftwood in a cold drizzle, waiting for Birds to home on our three decoys bobbing In the shallow surf. Four circle our way, Struggling, tilting in gusting wind, tired.
With their wings set, they glide wind and light Before cutting away from our fakes Rolling in the break. We each fire twice: A drake tumbles hard, splashing, broken, Our cue to end this in the damp chill.
The single-engine plane arrives to lift Dick, my mother and me from the tiny lake after four luckless days. Airborne, the bush pilot spies a small herd of caribou nearby. He and my stepfather agree, The kid should get his first caribou. We all know air spotting is illegal.
Walking to me, holding its slender frame, My friend—some would call him a city kid— Says, “Do we have to?” and I catch the eyes Of pain in his arms and for the first time I wonder how to undo what I’ve done.
We land, hike from the lake toward the eight caribou. Downwind, I kneel, carefully locate a buck’s shoulder spot in the sights of my old .30-40 Krag. Deep breath, slow exhale, squeeze trigger gently. The caribou stumbles, falls, heaves. His enormous panicked eyes meet mine. Dick roars, Bad shot, bad shot! Bad! We take off again, dressed meat and bloody rack secured between the plane’s floats. I turn, see the pile of discarded bones, sinew, organs on the ground below. There, Janet Levin
a half-century later, buried by a thin accretion of tundra soil, lie two spent bullets and a part of me. Southwest of Fairbanks, 1955
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Always More: Thirteen New Ways of Looking at and Listening to a Black Bird
(with thanks to Wallace Stevens)
XIV Roosting on the jade-striped ivory ball blackbird looks across the green and takes his cue from the soft-spoken man with the big stick. Heâ€™s got solids, looking to run the table. XV Blackbird kibitzes from a spruce bough at the edge of the bight, relaying secrets from the shark swimming beneath him to the totem of its Wooshkeetaan clan. XVI Trickster shifts from her summer shape, assumes command of the neighborhood; glaucous gull looks good in black.
XVIII Take me in your beak I am swallow the moon me Salome and I We will dance Dance with me Until he Comes To ruffle your black feathers. XIX Black bird lurches fro, as if with ankles fused from too many bad landings, like the jay from Lake Clark, as if approaching the finish line in a gunny sack race.
XVII This king of the Kongakut, feeding on remains of caribou calves and the occasional musk ox cull, carries more weight than his citified cousin patrolling my alley.
XX You think because your head is white, with gold at your feet, you can take my young from their nest, but you are not the symbol of this black birdâ€™s nation. XXI Preening, spreading his chest feathers, raven clears his throat, chats articulately, Janet Levin
40 claiming no superiority to grackles, crows, starlings and his other lesser cousins.
XXII When blackbird sits on a blowdown spruce in the middle of the forest, with no one around, singing in the dead of night, do you hear his cry?
XXIII To him they were scary thugs, ready to pounce; to her, the great black birds were respected elders wielding wisdom.
Labor Day at Glen Alps A tinge of bitterness in the air, Middlefork, with my chimera. The marmot king surveys his realm, lousewort, larkspur, saxifrage, red-bodied spider on camouflaged legs, parky squirrels dodge eagle shadows across rusty slopes of blueberries, through green brocaded hills the clash of racks, four bulls in rut, resounds. Funny how easy footing is lost, how treacherous familiar ground, up the couloir, through the scree, one last hike to JoLu peak. A trace of bitterness bites the air.
The First Step
At a starting line ready to run I hold calm for the crack of thunder
Blackbird flies east, past my window: momentary eclipse of the sun.
A cold wind blows snow over my self The flakes kiss my tense cheeks for good luck
A grey ocean waves foam far below A cool breath fills my lungs in forecast
Sitting silent on the telephone pole, raven threatens to reveal what he knows of my ancestorsâ€™ crimes.
Vertigo sways inside future thoughts Seashells echo the fresh smell of fate Legs push off the edge out into sea Out into the blank slate of the world
XXVI The tide turns. The ice flows in each direction. Raven goes both ways.
Vo l . 2 N o . 2
–After a visit to Southeast Alaska for the Borough of Wrangell Comprehensive Plan process, 2009
Citizen Comment Our biggest problem on the Back Channel is we can’t remember what day it is. * Note From Olive Cove just leave us alone would you like some coffee? * Meyers Chuck We need no government here This is no settlement, just a few
We play peeka-boo with shot guns & tie-up our friends’
The weather forms a barnacle crust on our lips Some say our beards are alive! *
vessels Farm Island on a minus tide–– So bring plenty of muscle fresh game
I am the fisherman whose troller they repossessed Each year the Stikine eats a little more of my life savings
& red wine! *
I rip-rap what I can from loose scraps of others’ wreckages
folks who happen to live on the same bay.
Here we subsist on what we can hook or net
I don’t try to impress & neither does the river
When the State or some other kind of developer
or haul from the depths of the muskeg
Someday, they say, we will be one
threatens our way of life, We band together
We are Americans with the husk on;
& Potluck-‘em! * Union Bay Ladies We are pretty strong
non-indigenous, but native, nonetheless–– Yes, winters here are long; we bathe in salt & bask in a forest of rime
Cynthia Lee Sims
Tremolo Loons, trout, and strands of hair refract light like glass on the lake in shattered images. A body floats vertically, standing underwater where your eyes clouded over. Your arms reach out to me. This is not Ophelia’s shallow pool; this lake is deep —
Let the Ravens Come After the grizzly gets me and takes what she will, let the ravens come and take my heart. Let the eagles come and take my eyes. Let the magpies come and take my tongue. Let the wolves come and take my bones. Whatever is left of me let rot into the earth. Let the berries take me and the fireweed. Let the winter come and bury me. Let the spring come and drown me. Let the summer come and grow me again. Let the willow come and reconstruct my frame. Let me lie in the shadow of the mountain.
five miles long yet no one rescued you because you are invisible beneath the surface like Golden Plover on land. Hundreds of cabins lay vacant in autumn. Near the lake’s surface you called to me. I’d just seen you. What was real is a dream. Voice echoes from a machine. I never pushed play, never heard your voice until your body lay stowed away, horizontal in the Aurora Cemetery. We’d packed inside a tiny, white church where your brother and friends hoisted you up, carried you down the corridor. Must have been a hundred of us inside that church. “Call me,” you said. Your arms float inert—without force. My short lashes flutter in the brownish water. I see the boat from the wrong angle atop the lake and think, “There is nothing wrong with the boat.” It took on no water and yet my ears won’t pop. I’m glad I’m under water. I glance up at the boat’s paint, light blue worn through in patches, old but intact. Why two men barely out of high school abandoned a boat in need of nothing save a little paint we’ll never know. Nor why John swam while you drowned. When I close my eyes, murky, tepid lake water and you stand frozen in time. For ten years I could never go anywhere near that foreboding lake. Did you suddenly breathe in the water like air? You can’t see me but my hazel eyes still plead. Stretching within inches, trying not to lurch awake, my dream world melds with the real; all day, pinpricks. And in my ears, the sounds of the tremolo— The Common Loon’s insane laughter.
Vo l . 2 N o . 2
At The Museum Of Native American History When I saw the Eskimo painting of that bear with its ubiquitous gaze and the human head in its mouth, I remembered my neighbor’s wife who disappeared while they were picking huckleberries. Across the bear’s forehead, a hand that could have been her hand, and inside the bear’s body, a human body that could have been hers. It had no eyes, no face, a cave for a belly, and a pawprint on the heart. The story haunted the front page for days. Twenty years later, my neighbor still searching told anyone who would listen, “Bears are attracted to female blood.” No blood, no clothing, no tracks were ever found. Picking huckleberries last summer, heat thick with mosquitoes and ill-omened dusk, I lost my husband in an Idaho woods long enough to imagine my own disappearance under layers of silence that bury an unanswered call. And when he came so sudden and bear-like to confront the spilled berries and me, terrorized by his shadow lumbering out of the trees, I broke for the highway, limb-heavy and mauling the air.
The Hunt When she agrees to do the elk hunt with “the boys,” she thinks the trail this year holds promise; she has the scent of it, more than musk, more than maleness, a space for death where she might belong. High above the Clearwater, they make camp, but for two days, spot no elk. The first night they eat in Weippe; the second, feast on three fat grouse and a couple of quail. On the third day, they leave her behind “to tend camp” and take off for the mountains. Where last May a blue sea of camas spread its underwater bulbs sweet and feeding, wind stings and flattens the grasses, folds November into itself, collapses all that cold into the wait. Tracking small game over the burial, she aims at nothing, powerless to find any beauty to blame. From noon ‘til dusk, the boys stalk a five-by-five through open flats into the hemlock, return to camp blue and steaming, their unkempt beards frosted, their voices glandular with visions of bull elk
and the magnificent rack they would haul home. Tomorrow they will wound it, pursue it to an undergrowth of sumac, carve out the great rage still moving under its skin.
Doris Horton Thurston
The Tale Tradition
They tell tales I can’t match or even write on paper. Young men of exact walk and penis talk, hardy survivors of ice cliffs and rock falls—why should they not spin their own yarns, embellished with the will of wine, women and song! In the bar they sing it well!
But for now, they squat by the fire, gnaw on charred squirrel exhumed. What is she trying to prove, laughing at their body-jokes, passing the Jägermeister around? At what point does she know she would lie with any or all of them to survive the hunt? Could it be holy, ritual close as animal, the open mouth bleeding out?
I’ve watched one of them, nearly every day, stop to pee in front of my cabin. Deliberate, I think, though he’s never glanced my way. Perhaps it is a salute to the sled dog that lives down the road, that pees on the very same bush every day, bays at the night moon. Outside the bar they sing well.
Nothing in her life has prepared her for this. Unable to sleep, she watches the five of them hard at work in their dreams, smells their unwashed bodies, and her own, hears the lungs inflate, deflate as if they had grown suddenly old, too heavy with their needs exposed, their breath thick with liquor, the threat of snow, the bordering pines, black Bitterroots to the east.
That’s how I live their tales, and set to paper my songs. In the bar I sip long. I listen well.
The Ravens of April There is no solace in the sound of ravens cawing in the flat light of late April afternoons Nor comfort in these longer days marking the turn to the promise of June
There is only Winter cloaked in black wings perched in the high timbers to mock our awkward walk toward Spring
Vo l . 2 N o . 2
The Red Wild Salmon --after William Carlos Williams
so much depends upon a red wild salmon spawned in spring water Suanne Sikkema
beside the white mountains
Alaska Synapse Shots Apun, qunnik, pukak --how many words for snow? How many for cold and dark? Nine tails semaphore a solid trail. Sled runners hiss through fresh packed snow. Hmong women kneel in the dirt of a community garden nurturing cabbage transplants and a new life. Ripped gills bloody a silver body frantic tail beating to a heart’s dying rhythm. Berry-stained fingers signal the changing season: Autumn is zip locked into memory.
I don’t wear a watch anymore, I follow the openers: December is Opilio crab In the Bering Sea; Every year I break a bone or two. January we go for spot and Side-stripe shrimp, They taste so sweet Boiled with butter and bay; There is nothing I won’t do For that paycheck February we fish Snow Crab, just for fun; I work my fingers till they crack March we long-line halibut in the Gulf where I’ve seen waves 40 feet tall April we move to shorelands For herring sac-roe; Could be a bust or $20,000 per set; Worth the gamble. I’ve tried to quit, and I always go back May thru September is salmon All five kinds; the best money Competition is tougher Every year and the farms Down south hurt profits. We fill the fall, October November with cod and dungy’s. I think I live by the seasons I’m brittle from the salt and weather Next year I will take my youngest Daughter.
46 Paul Winkel
CB crackles. Mail plane just left Sleetmute, should be here in half hour. Johnnie and I grab coats, race out the door. Maybe Costco order? He pulls start rope on our 3 wheeler. I zip my coat, stuff hands into moosehide mittens. Cold at the airstrip. I scream, hold tight. We bounce over ruts in the frozen road. Hair whips my face. Johnnie drives crazy. Mr. Perkins from the store is already there in his pickup. Snowball smacks his side window. He smiles and waves. George stuffs snow down my neck. I twist away, chase, but he runs fast. Larry shouts, points out over the river. I see him, I see him. Everyone stops, turns, smiling mouths half open, bright eyes wait.
No Regrets: 35,000 feet Lifted seabeds under blistering sun shelter nothing. A lone lizard lies with half-closed eyes on a sandstone pyre, gives up his last moist breath. Once this dry arroyo filled with flood, brought cranes, grasses, red riot of desert bloom; cacti offered their soft pears to a crescent moon, mule deer nuzzled moss beside translucent pools. I buy you a painted cactus flower on an airport mug. You touch my arm, turn away, shrink to nothing on white tile. Dry lightning whitens the western sky. At the end, Nevada from the air: a crumpled brown paper towel.
Vo l . 2 N o . 2
Keeping You Alive I listen for your voice in the wind as my boots press the spongy tundra. I listen to the big winds that blow the seas around the earth. I listen to the little wind that is my breath. The wind is everywhere like my memories of you. The wind comes out of nowhere and lifts me, or pushes me down. I cannot see the wind, but I hear it on my walks, in my dreams.
Your name is spoken by the ravens and carried by rough currents. It is sung by small birds that arrive in spring and sounds like glass bells, ringing. Your voice resounds in clouds and pummels my cabin window. There is no place it cannot find me.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell
Fortune Spreading out her deck of rain, cards snick to the table. She shakes her hair â€“ winter silence. A different game by the small fire.
I want to hear it again and again, but cannot force the windâ€” cannot, by calling it, make it come. I can only wait, silent and hoping, for the wind to tell me you are still here.
White stones and black on the walnut board, patterns. All the long dark months we tried to read them, find her method instead of the baffle of her incessant humming. What did we expect? Integrity is a reticent thing. We wanted to go through her pockets come spring, spill out the beads and seeds, find proof.
All summer she shared her coins until we forgot. The tree-line ripe with whispers. She taught you a snare with string, and for me, a way to win at anything.
I HAD JUST FINISHED EXPLAINING To the bellydancer how I lost my partner of thirty-six years, she is sad for me and glad he has become available. “Good dancer,” she says. “When I find a good dancer I don’t see any of his flaws, move him right in give him my paycheck, I’m single a lot.” Then the generous crab fisherman with an envelope of hundred dollar bills hands them to bartender long brownhair horsetail swishing back of her thighs, “A hundred twenty-seven bucks.” Two drink tokens clink in my pocket, it is the second time he rings the bell, buys house around. His beatup hand on bottle, bottle to barbarous beard, he wants to dance. “Three months--outer shelf--sperm whales,” is how he talks it. Wants to dance with me generous crab fisherman without a wallet. Dances a weepy willow around me, a willow then a cobra, warmblooded reptile brushes me. I match his steps, his leans, let him squat arms wide open like holy ascension. Face turns up, takes my hand, arm gentleraises so I can turn and turn under our shared impression. And when he stumbles, sea legs their lilting balance, his arms never stiffen, the sea in his movements, could dance on deck in a gale, even speaks in little waves hitting side of boat. “Lamanja,” he calls me, Sea Goddess, her castle all fishermen go when they drown. We roll a ballet down into the depths of the room, no one watches him/seakelp, me/seahorse, us/seafoam, ocean/planktonic. “Lamanja,” he wants my phone number when I leave, “Lamanja—” he keens. “No fisherman wants to die in their bed.”
Vo l . 2 N o . 2
P L AY Barry Zellen
Dumbfounded Dumbfounded is a play about justice in the North; it seeks to capture by way of satire the inherent injustices faced by aboriginal Natives in the criminal justice system that exists across the North. While based on events in Whitehorse, Yukon this story pertains to the entire North, wherever the old and new worlds collide.
ACT I Scene 1: (This act takes place in jail. The stage is divided into three sections. The center is Willie’s cell. It is a one-man cell, with a metal bed and a toilet bowl. It is caged by thick metal bars. Its lighting is dim. To the right is another cell, in shadows. It
seems to be empty. To the left is what appears to be a bar. There is a high bar facing the stage, with two stools along it.
Willie - a 19 year-old Gwich’in youth arrested for assaulting a white man at the 60 Below. Nick-named “Dummie”, he is unable to talk to most people, and is considered to be a mute, though his impairment is psychological, not physical. Grandfather - a voice of an elder in the cell next to Willie; while he identifies himself to Willie as his Grandfather, he is really a spiritual guardian angel, perhaps even the voice of the Great Spirit. Guard - a large, ignorant man, dressed up like a Nazi storm-trooper in a paramilitary uniform and arm band. Blond hair, blue eyes, and mean. Mountie - a RCMP officer who arrests Willie and appears at his trial. Gold Panner 1 - the man at the 60 Below who picks a fight with Willie, and who at the trial turns out to be the Crown Prosecutor. Gold Panner 2 through 5 - friends of Gold Panner 1 who jump and beat up Willie after he strikes GP1 in desperation. Maura L. Compromise - the Defense Lawyer at the trial who defends Willie half-heartedly.
In the foreground are two tables, each with two chairs and a bowl of popcorn on top. Bottles of booze are lined up against the back wall. Willie is brought to the center cell in handcuffs; he is wearing a jean jacket and a head-band. He looks bruised, cut and bandaged. At the top of Willie’s cell is a small window; through this we (the audience) can tell approximately the time of day of the scene. It is black, signifying darkest night. )
Guard - Okay, Dummie! Welcome home, from Skid Row to Death Row! Ha ha! Ha ha! I guess you probably know you’ll be stuck here for some time. The Judge is in Mexico on holiday. You just never do seem to learn you can’t go beating up white guys. (Guard takes off Willie’s cuffs, and pushes him roughly into the cell, so hard that he falls onto the floor.) Did’ja have a nice trip, Dummie? See you in the Fall! (Willie looks at Guard coldly and silently) Can’t you even laugh? That was funny. You must really be dumb. Or maybe you’re a drunk like all them other Indians around here. Are you a drunken dummie, or just a dummie, Dummie? (Willie just stares back) Well, if you need anything, just holler. Ha ha! Ha ha ha! (The guard exits to the left, laughing as he goes.) (Willie gets up, walks over to the metal bed, and collapses onto it in exhaustion. The lights dim until the stage is dark. Scene ends.) Scene 2: (Same place; it is early morning, and a yellow-orange light comes in through the window in Willie’s cell. Willie wakes up, slowly. His metal bed has no mattress or blanket or pillow. He is lying beneath his jean jacket. )
Judge Harshly - the presiding judge at the trial of Willie who is quite sympathetic to Willie, but whose hands are tied by the Law.
50 Willie - (yawns and stretches) Ouch! (He looks at his bruises, touches his swollen and split lip.) Those sonsof-bitches really got me good! I just don’t get it. A white guy can spit on me and harass me with the vulgarest of curses, and if I hit him, defending my pride and the pride of my people, I get arrested. Worse - after I hit the guy, he and four of his buddies jump me and kick the shit out of me. And they don’t even get reprimanded by the RCMP. Self-defense, they say! What do you call my single punch? (He looks to the audience) I bet you want to know why that guard called me Dummie; it’s not my name, really; though most White people call me that. My real name is Willie Martin. I got my last name from my Dad, who got it from the missionaries. They thought my Dad trapped lots of marten for the Hudson’s Bay Company down around Dawson, but he said he hardly ever got out on the trapline. But the name stuck. We lived up in Fort McPherson, a long time ago when I was just a little kid. My folks got killed when I was still a baby, hit by a big semi hauling boot-legged booze up the Klondike Road to Dawson; they were changing a flat tire on our pick-up when the semi lost control coming down the crest of a hill. I never saw it; but my Mom did, and she threw me into the ditch just in time. She saved my life, but lost hers by doing it. I got sent to a mission school, where I used to get beaten for not speaking English. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to speak in English. I didn’t speak Gwich’in either. I couldn’t speak nuthin.’ I wasn’t stupid. It’s just around white people, I get torn up inside and can’t talk. I lose my voice. I’m not scared; it’s just that I feel alien, like a foreigner in my own land. At the Mission school, the kids started to call me “dummie;” they thought I was a deaf-mute. But I heard everything. It was bad enough that my folks named me after a “willy;” they might just have called me “penis.” Doctors and nurses poked and probed me, but their tests said I was normal. They brought up a psychiatrist, who said I was suffering some kind of delayed-stress trauma, like all those soldiers from the Vietnam War who get flash-backs and can’t hold jobs and keep ending up in prison. They said it was a result of witnessing my parents getting killed, and repressed guilt for getting saved by my Mom. What do they know? I didn’t mind native people calling me “Dummie,” ‘cause they don’t do it with hate in their hearts. But when white people do it, it pisses me off. I ran away from school when I was sixteen, and came to Whitehorse. They kept sticking me in foster homes, but I kept running. I got sent to jail a few times, but they always let me go, feeling sorry for me.
CIRQUE The judge is an okay dude. I like his name. Judge Harshly. He seems to understand. But all the guards, they’re a bunch of storm-troopers, racist jerks. They always make fun of me and push me around. When at the juvenile detention center, I kept running away. One time I beat the crap out of the guard. Everybody - that is, White people thought I was dangerous! What about the guard - he kept pushing me around and humiliating me in front of the other boys. I had enough. Now he works up here at the jail. The way he eggs me on, I know I’m gonna lose it. I wish I could find my voice and tell him off. But I can’t; the only way I have left to speak out is with my fist. If I don’t hit these assholes when they taunt and torment me, I just stand here, dumbfounded and furious. That’s why I hit that white guy at the 60 Below, and ended up here, again. (Suddenly a bright light illuminates the left part of the stage - it is the bar where Willie got in the fight. The bar-tender is wearing a white wig; it is Judge Harshly, as we discover in the next Act. Gold Panners 1 through 5 are sitting around, loud and obnoxious.) I was sitting there, having a drink, and trying to mind my own business...I’ll show you. (Willie exits the cell and takes a seat at the bar. The bartender/judge pours him a draft. Then the lights dim and a narrow beam focuses on Willie:) This big, ugly white guy comes over and sits down next to me. I knew it was trouble! I’ve seen him around before, over at the court house. I know he knows who I am. (The lights brighten again.) Gold Panner 1 - Hey there, Dummie! Long time no see... or talk! How are you doing? Oh - that’s right. You can’t answer me, can you. I guess that means you’re as dumb as you look! (The lights once again dim, with a narrow beam focusing on Willie:) Willie - I wish I could have answered that white guy. I was getting mad. But my voice just disappeared, as usual, inside of me. And he kept on bugging me. (The lights reilluminate the bar:) Gold Panner 1 - Come on, Dummie. Talk to me! Don’t you know it’s rude not to answer a question. Didn’t your momma teach you any manners? (Willie tries to shrink, hunching over and nursing his beer, hoping the white guy will leave him alone. The lights dim again, leaving Willie lit up by a narrow beam of light). Willie - Boy, I was getting sore! He just wouldn’t leave me alone. That guy was asking for trouble. But without a
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 voice, what could I do? (The lights come back on again:) Gold Panner 1 - You’re one rude Indian, boy! But maybe it’s cause you’re drunk, like all the rest of you Indians here. Are you a drunk dummie, or just a dummie, Dummie? (Willie is visibly enraged, shaking. He turns to the White man, and with his right hand directs a punch toward his jaw, hoping to shut him up. He misses, but does manage to bop him in the nose, breaking it. Suddenly, four buddies of the white guy - Gold Panner 2 through 5 - converge on Willie and descend onto him, punching and kicking him, shouting “Dummie, Dummie, you drunk Indian Dummie!” A RCMP officer arrives, dressed brightly red in his Mountie Uniform. He blows a shrill whistle, and the pile of belligerent white guys backs off, leaving a bruised and bleeding Willie on the ground.) Mountie - Okay guys, what’s the ruckus all about? Who started the fight? Gold Panner 1 - He did (pointing accusingly at Willie); it was the dumb Indian. We were just trying to enjoy ourselves, have a couple of beers; and he attacks me violently. Mountie - I should have known it was you, Willie. Don’t you ever learn anything? You just can’t keep starting fights wherever you go. This time I’m going to have to run you in. (He grabs Willie’s arms and puts on hand-cuffs.) Let’s go. (The lights dim again, except for a red beam on Willie and the Mountie. They walk to the center of the stage as a loud siren is played. The Mountie hands Willie over to Guard, who in turn pushes Willie into the cell. In slow motion, Willie falls to the ground. The Guard reiterates his earlier invective, this time with a heavy German accent:)
Guard - Okay, Dummie! Welcome home...I guess you probably know you’ll be stuck here for some time...You just never do seem to learn... Ha ha ha... ha ha! (Lights fade out on to Willie, lying on the floor, as the echoing laugh of the Guard continues. After a moment, the lights come back on. Willie is once again alone and it is day.)
Willie - Well, that’s what happened to me. (In response, an Elder’s voice, belonging to Grandfather, emanates through the cell wall.) Grandfather - I hope you got him good Willie!
51 Willie - I sure did! Busted that asshole’s nose. But I aimed for his mouth, to shut that white guy up once and for all. Grandfather - And this makes you proud? Willie - It sure does. Grandfather - But by using violence, you are no better than that white fellow who harassed and tormented you. Was there not a better way? Willie - It was the only way. Grandfather - What about your voice, Willie? Willie - I have no voice! Grandfather - But you are talking to me now. Willie - That’s different...wait a minute...I’m talking to you! Who are you? Grandfather - I’m just a very old, though some say very wise, man. I know a great many things, about the past and future. I know you will regain your voice. Willie - But I usually can’t find my voice, at least around other people - especially white people. Most Indians, too. Except my family, but they’re all dead now. I used to be able to talk to them about everything. Grandfather - I know. It was very sad to lose them. I cried and mourned for many days and nights. Willie - Me, too. You knew my folks? Grandfather - Yes. I know all my sons and daughters. Willie - Your sons and daughters? What are you saying, old man? Who are you? Grandfather - Call me your Grandfather. Willie - I thought you died a long time ago, when I was a baby. Grandfather - A lot of people did, but as you see, or at least hear, I am very much alive. Willie - Why didn’t you call me Dummie like the Guard did?
52 Grandfather - I could never call my grandson such an insulting thing. Willie - But you seem to be saying it was dumb of me to hit the white guy. Grandfather - I said only that it is wrong to feel pride in using violence. For our people, violence has always been a last resort, to redress only a gross injustice or violation. Violence is only acceptable after talking has failed to resolve a dispute. Willie - But I can not talk! Grandfather - Yes, you certainly can. I will show you how. (The lights blacken. End scene 2)
Scene 3: (The setting is the same place; it is later in the day and a long shadow is cast through the cell window by the low sun.)
Willie - Grandfather! Are you still there? Grandfather - Yes. I have not yet left this place. Don’t you worry. I’ll be here a good long time. Willie - Do you still think I was wrong to hit that white guy? Grandfather - Your question is difficult. You had to speak up and defend your honor, and you used the only way you knew how. It saddens me that you have lost your outer voice. But your inner voice remains so strong and clear. That is why I know you will once again possess the power of language. Willie - I have always been able to speak to myself, inside my own heart. I can hear each word echo, in my mind. But when I open my mouth to defend myself, the most that I can squeeze out is a long stutter or a gag. And then people really have a good laugh. I thus learned to keep my mouth shut good and tight. Grandfather - I have seen this happen so often, my people driven into silence. Not in submission or acquiescence to the white man. But from the feeling of oppression that comes from the white man’s foreign presence, his modern ways. Stricken dumb, we either look down at the
CIRQUE ground or strike out in violence against the source of our alienation in our own land. Willie - I wish I could just shout at them, or even make fun of them to their ugly faces. But I’m locked up inside this wall of silence. Each time I try to break out of it, I end up locked up inside these walls of concrete and steel. I don’t know which wall is worse. Grandfather - Their walls are not so mighty. They erode on their own, washed away by the rain, cracked by the winter ice, broken down with each breath of the North Wind. Our people have lived here for ten thousand years. Their walls will last just one generation. Just as Dawson once was a great city with over fifty thousand foreigners, and is now a decaying archaeological site, our land will again be ours. It is your wall of silence that troubles me now. That inner wall keeps your voice locked up. That is the worse culprit. We must break it down. This other wall will crumble of its own accord. Willie - No! We have to smash their walls down. It is they who occupy our land and make us feel like unwelcome guests. They pollute our waters and kill our caribou; they poison our air with their lead dust and exhaust, and they clog our veins with alcohol. We need justice, and justice comes from the fist. Grandfather - But that is what they say justice is, is it not? Willie - What do they know of justice? There is no justice in their system. Why am I in jail, when five of them jumped me and beat me up? Is that justice? Grandfather - You are right that there is no justice for our people in their system. It is not like our system of tribal justice, which once kept the peace throughout the entire Gwich’in nation, from the Brooks Range to the Peel River. Wherever the Porcupine Herd wandered, our people knew justice. But your vision of smashing down their walls is no different from their vision. Using your fist is not the answer. Willie - Then what is? Grandfather - It is easier to refute justice when ill-defined; but to define it clearly for ourselves, this is an elusive task. I have thought much about this concept while imprisoned by these many walls of steel and concrete and fear and alienation and hate. White people define justice as a kind
Vo l . 2 N o . 2
of order, a kind balance maintained from the top or the center, more often than not using force and violence to scare their people into submission - or by building walls that are impenetrable. Hence their order is preserved, and justice is maintained. I have spoken with their great philosophers. A Greek man by the name of Plato tried to build a mighty Republic in his mind, using justice as its mortar. It could not stand on its own, so he invented powerful Laws to support it from the inside. But even then, it would not stand. This order could not be held for long, as it was against nature. An Englishman named Thomas Hobbes knew better; he invented a frightening, powerful force called the Leviathan, willed into being by the frightened masses, scared and weakened by the chaos of nature. This beast scared the people into submission, and thus order was preserved. The whole history of white men is a history of trying to build Leviathans - of trying to construct an order to withstand the forces of nature. Forces of dissension, of disintegration. Only the ancient Romans mastered the art of the sword. Roman justice, the foundation of white man’s concept of legal and social justice, emerged from the sword. Just as your vision of justice emerges from the fist. This way goes against nature, and it goes against the wisdom of the Great Spirit. It is the same with the White Man’s church; it is only his threat of eternal damnation and the fires of Hell that scares people into accepting Christianity, into accepting the word of the missionaries, who also ruled by the sword and the gun. But up here, it is not the right way. Willie - Well, what is? Grandfather - Do you know of our traditional ways? Of the way of the Great Spirit?
53 Willie - My folks used to talk a lot about it, in Gwich’in. I remember the Shaman and the sweat-lodge. In prison, a lot of older guys have turned to the old ways. But I never stayed in jail long enough to learn very much. Grandfather - The old way is interpreted in nature. It is about harmony, living with the ebb and flow of the seasons. It is not about forcing a balance amongst hostile and competing social forces - these things are alien to us. Instead of building balance within the nation and between nations, our way constructs harmony between our nation and Nature. Willie - What happened to the old ways, Grandfather? Grandfather - Our people have wandered from the old ways. They have been distracted and confused by the ways of the White Man. His childish quest for Gold from the earth, stealing it from our land and poisoning our waters with mercury. His fire-water, his whiskey, and his disease, alcoholism. His cities and his laws, all so alien, all so out of touch with Nature. His presence here has disrupted our harmony with the forces of Nature. We must restore the natural flow. Willie - We must then drive out the White Man! Grandfather - No. They are too many and we are too few. Our sisters and brothers tried this in the South, and they were exterminated. Willie - We’ve got to try harder. Grandfather - And end up rotting in their jails for the rest of our lives? Or, hanging from trees, dead - like our forefathers, who rebelled against the White Man, fighting him on his own terms? No, that is not the way. We must return to our villages and to the land, leaving their cities behind - and with them all that money and booze. We must shun their education, which is just a tool of forced assimilation and the gradual erosion of our ways, our knowledge of this earth and the way of the Great Spirit. We must restore the teaching of these things, and restore tribal justice, in our villages. Willie - Who will guide us there? Will you, Grandpa?
54 Grandfather - No, Willie. I am too old and tired. My time here is too short now. It is up to you to lead our people home. Willie - Me? But I can’t even talk. Grandfather - Yes you can, at least to me. With my help, you will be able to repossess your outer voice, and with it show our people the way back to the promised land of yesterday. Willie - But I have so much to learn. It will take so long! Grandfather - I am in no hurry; and behind these bars, you shouldn’t be, either.
center, is lit up. As Willie rises from his bed, the Mountie - also
justice done, and to lock your ass up for life. (Willie looks down on the floor; he is trying to find his voice.) Come on, you dumb-ass Indian, You know what I am saying; don’t you understand an order? Or are you a retard, too? Is that it - Willie the dumb-ass retard Indian? (Guard enters the cell, reaches for Willie and grabs him by the hair.) It’s Judgment Day, Dummie. Or as we call it here, pay-back time. (He reaches for the cuffs to put on Willie.) Time for your muzzle, retard, (By this point, Willie has had quite enough. But he can’t find his voice. He tries to speak, but keeps wheezing and gagging; the best he can do is stutter.) Trying to speak? Animals can’t talk. Don’t waste your time. (Willie strikes out with his right hand, catching the guard squarely in the mouth, knocking him back. The guard reaches to his jaw and holds it.) You asked for it this time, Dummie. You might have thought four months was a long time. Well, it’s gonna be a hell of a lot longer now. You’ll pay for your violence. There is going to be justice today. (He cuffs Willie, and roughly drags him over to the Mountie, who takes possession of him.) Mountie - I saw that, William. You just don’t ever learn, do you? Time for justice, and this time it will be swift and efficient. I’m going to have to tell the judge you hit the guard, without provocation. Why don’t you ever seem to learn, Willie? (Willie shrugs. He is led into the courtroom, to the Defense Attorney on the left.) Maura L. Compromise - Hello, William. I’m so sorry it took four months to bring you to trial. The Judge was on a long holiday to Mexico, and there wasn’t anything I could do. Please take a seat. Would you like some popcorn? (Willie shakes his head. The lights dim for a moment. End Scene 1.) Scene 2:
in the courtroom, stands up and walks slowly toward the cell.
(The lights fade on, until utterly bright - almost blinding to
One can hear the loud boot-steps of the Guard coming from
the audience and to Willie. This is the court-room scene, the
off-stage to the right. )
apotheosis of the play. To highlight its underlying premise, that
(The lights gradually dim; scene ends and so does Act I.)
ACT II Scene 1: (A light slowly fades in, from red to orange to yellow to white. The sun rises up and is visible through the cell window. Willie is lying on his back, under his jean jacket. His face is bearded now - with four month’s growth! His hair is a lot longer now, too. Much time has passed. The storm-trooper Guard returns, and he too is bearded. To the Left, where the bar was in the last act, we have a courtroom. It is identical to the bar, except a judge’s elevated chair is on top of the bar. In it sits Judge Harshly (with his white wig and a Mexican hat on his head. He, like everybody else, is bearded. The two tables are now the Defense and Prosecution’s desks. A woman lawyer sits at the desk on the left - the Defense Attorney, Maura L. Compromise. The belligerent Gold Panner 1 is the Crown Prosecutor. Both lawyers have thick beards - obvious fake, a symbol of time passing. The bar/courtroom is in shadows right now. The cell, in the
Willie - Oh no! Grandfather, the Guard is coming for me. Grandfather - (Quietly, obviously weak) Remember what I have taught you. Use your voice, not your fist. (The Guard arrives.) Guard- Come on, Dummie! It’s Judgment Day. Time to see
justice is essentially off-limits to Natives and inaccessible, the dialogue of the Judge and the Lawyers is ultra-fast, like when turning a record from 33 to 78 rpm. Utterly incomprehensible, though key words will be emphasized. )
Judge Harshly - Buenos Dias, amigos y amigas! The trial of Mr. William. “Dummie” Martin is called to order. The charge is aggravated assault against a White Man, as it
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 turns out, the Crown Prosecutor. A very serious charge. William Martin, how do you plead? (He looks at Willie. Willie shakes his head.) Speak up, Mr. Martin. (Willie keeps shaking his head, back and forth.) Maura L. Compromise - As my client is unable to speak for himself, I enter the plea of guilty with explanation for him. (Willie begins to shake his head wildly, and he begins to groan in self-defense, still unable to find words.) Judge Harshly- Even with explanation, the crime remains quite serious, and it is exacerbated by the accused’s prior criminal record, a prior escape from the Juvenile Detention Center after assaulting the guard there, and, I am told, of yet another unprovoked assault this morning against the prison guard. Maura L. Compromise - But your honor, there are mitigating factors. Gold Panner 1 (Crown Prosecutor) - I object! The drunken Indian attacked me without provocation. He was wild, out of control. It took four of my colleagues from By-Law Enforcement, including the Dog Catcher, to subdue him until the RCMP could arrive. I demand justice. Maura L. Compromise - But your honor, there are mitigating factors. Judge Harshly - I over-rule the objection for the timebeing. Miss Compromise, what are these so-called mitigating factors that you would like to explain? Maura L. Compromise - I wish to point out to you the contents of Exhibit A. (She holds up a file.) It is the record of the defendant, and it explains to you his special history. In it you will read of the accidental and grisly death of his parents in front of him when a bootlegger lost control of his tractor-trailer and collided with Willie’s parents on the Klondike Road; you will read of his consequent muteness and the psychological scars that he carries which have prevented him from speaking. You will come to understand his emotional volatility and his predisposition to violent outbursts. To send him back to prison will not solve his deep troubles, nor will it cure his problem. He is a very sick boy and needs proper psychiatric treatment. Something that we cannot provide up here in the Territory. Judge Harshly - What do you recommend to the Court,
55 Miss Compromise? Maura L. Compromise - I recommend that my client be sent forth from the Territory to the South, where he can be assigned to a proper psychiatric institution for lengthy treatment with therapy and new drugs that control violence in such individuals. In time, he’ll be as passive as a ptarmigan. Judge Harshly - What if these treatments fail? What will then be done to protect the public from this dangerous man? Maura L. Compromise - Well, there is always shocktreatment. But if that doesn’t work, there is the “final solution”. Judge Harshly - And what is this “final solution”? Maura L. Compromise - It has two parts. The first is lobotomy, which kills the dark side of the soul. And if that doesn’t do the trick, we have the patient put down. Judge Harshly - Put Down? Put down where? Maura L. Compromise - Ah, it’s just an expression. A euphemism, your honor. It stands for euthanasia, putting the patient out of its misery by lethal injection. Judge Harshly - I understand. Is there any objection from the Crown Prosecutor? Gold Panner 1 - No, your honor. The sooner the accused is out of the Territory and in the Loony Bin, the better. Then we can feel safe again up here, and at the 60 Below. Judge Harshly - Fine! Fine! Then we have justice once again. (With this mention of justice, Willie stands up at the table. While the trial was conducted in high speed and barely comprehensible language, the mention of justice suddenly awakens his outer voice. His mouth opens. His first word, “Justice”, comes out as a long wheeze. He tries again, and again. The entire court turns to him. He then finds his voice in its entirety and speaks:) Willie - JUSTICE! What do you know of justice for my people? Judge Harshly (looking shocked) - You can talk?
56 Willie - Now I can! How dare you even suggest that I be driven from my homeland. My people have lived here for ten thousand years, and we’ll still be here in ten thousand more years. I may seem guilty of hitting White People, but only because I have been harassed and tormented, insulted and humiliated, abused and defamed by one and all for the simple crime of keeping quiet. Since when is it illegal to keep to one’s self? Since when is it against the law not to speak out? You say I struck without provocation. Yet I have been provoked to strike out since I was an infant. I can talk now. But for a long time I had lost my voice. Until my Grandfather spoke to me, and taught me how to reach inside, behind my wall of silence, and to find my voice. And then to use it, to speak to my people, and to speak in defense of my people. You dare to speak for me, to call me insane or sick, and to threaten to drive me into exile from my land and my people. You insist on making me feel like an outsider, an alien in my own land. How dare you! And you then dare to speak of justice? You mock justice! You’re justice is borne of hate and fear, of racism and repression. Not of harmony with nature, of love and respect for the Great Spirit, of living off the land and obeying Nature’s cycles and limits. You call me Dummie, and make fun of my silence, while you pollute the water and poison the air and drug my people with liquor and rob them of their heritage. Have you no shame? Have I no right of silence, to close my eyes and ears and heart to your ugliness and hatred of our old ways, our old law. You have no right to judge me, nor to accuse me. My people should be accusing you and judging you, for all that you have done in ignorance and malice, desecrating our ways. I have sat in jail for four months, awaiting trial to face charges of which I am innocent. I was indeed provoked to strike out, harassed and insulted. I had no choice, for you robbed me of my voice--I had to use my fist to redress the injustice of your vicious assaults of my character and of my privacy. Is this so wrong? Have I thus sinned, by daring to stand up for myself, the only way you have left for me? You talk of justice. Well, after four months of prison, of isolation from my people, of abuse from your arrogant, racist guard, I want justice. I am innocent of your charges, and you are guilty of my charges. I want to be free, and I
CIRQUE want my people to be free. Let my people go! Let me return to the village where I was born, way up North along the Peel River, where the caribou still roam in their ceaseless quest for food, and the Northern Lights illuminate the winter skies that wrap us up in their cold darkness. I am innocent and demand my freedom. I will stop hitting, striking out in self-defense. Now I will use my voice, and with it I will crush you. I have found my voice, and with it I shall lead my people, and guide them home again (Willie sits down, exhausted. The court officials look around, stunned.) (Judge Harshly rests his chin on his fist, and contemplates justice, and then Mexico, and then justice again. He finally speaks:) Judge Harshly - Will the two attorneys please approach the bench? I think we need a brief conference. (They step forward and after a brief chat, they return to their seats.) William Martin, I am quite impressed with your defense, and while unexpected, I am very glad you chose to speak to the court at last. I accept your sudden verbal clarity and your promise to stop using violence as a positive sign indeed. It seems that rehabilitation has succeeded, and that perhaps you have at last learned your lesson. But our system of “justice” has existed here and in the Old World for a very long time, and I am responsible to it and must obey its rules to the letter. As such, I sentence you for the charge of assault against the Crown Prosecutor four months ago to serve a term of four months imprisonment - which has already been served by you while awaiting this trial. But your attack this morning, of the guard, demands further justice. For this new charge, I now hereby sentence you to another four months in jail. But with good behavior, I will have you released on an early parole. Do you have anything to say before commencing to serve this sentence? Willie - (Standing up) No, your honor. While I consider myself innocent, and any further incarceration a personal injustice and disgrace, I know that I will benefit from another four months of instruction and dialogue from my Grandfather, who has guided me this far, and who has shown me how to capture my outer voice, hidden for so long. Judge Harshly - Whatever...so long as you stay out of trouble. Let justice be done! (Lights blacken. End Scene and ACT II)
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 ACT III Scene 1: (This Act occurs in the jail cell at the center of the set; it is several weeks later now. Willie’s hair is now down past his shoulders. The sun has just risen at the start of scene 1: )
Willie - Grandfather! How are you this morning? Grandfather - (His voice much weaker, barely a whisper now) Much worse, William. I feel much weaker today. I am afraid that I will soon have to leave you. Willie - No, Grandfather! No! I have so much more to learn. Grandfather - Perhaps, but this you must learn on your own, out there in the bush. You must learn the ways of the Great Spirit, from observation and study. By immersing yourself in Nature you will learn its secrets and its way. Then you can bring this knowledge back to our people. I can teach you no more. But the Great Spirit can. Willie - But Grandfather, don’t go! DON’T LEAVE ME! I can’t bear to live without you. Grandfather - If you follow my way, you will never be far from me. You will hear me speaking in the bubbling of the brook, the whistling of the wind, the thundering of a thousand caribou passing through the Eagle Plain, in a million different ways. You are ready to be on your own, and I am ready to move on from here. Goodbye, Willie... (His voice fades)... Willie - Grandfather! GRANDFATHER! Don’t die, please don’t die. Grandfather - (Only a faint whisper) I will never die, my son. I will always be near you...(He becomes silent)... Willie - Grandfather? Grandfather? GRAND FATHER!! Oh Great Spirit, do not let him die. Guard, guard, guard! (He is screaming) - Please help him! GUARD!! He’s dying, dying! My Grandfather is dying. (The Guard returns - he is a different fellow from the old guard.) New Guard - Willie! What is it? Are you alright? Willie - It’s not me. It’s my Grandfather. He’s dying, or dead.
You’ve got to help him. New Guard - What are you talking about? How do you know about your Grandfather? You’re in solitary confinement. Willie - No, I’m not. He’s been next door, in the cell to my left, since I got locked up in here. New Guard - What are you saying, Willie? That cell’s been empty since you got arrested. Nobody is in there. Nobody at all. Willie - Just look. That’s all. Please look in and see if he’s there, and if he’s alive. Please! New Guard - (He walks over and aims his flashlight in the other cell on the right) (A light illuminates it for the audience, too.) It’s empty, Willie. Just like I said. I can show you, you know. Willie - You can what? New Guard - I can show you. I was just informed by Judge Harshly that you are free to go. He signed your release papers today. See! (He holds up a signed document.) He says he was impressed by your behavior - that you’ve set a good example to the other Natives in here. Come with me. You’re free to go! (He unlocks the cell door and Willie steps out.) Willie - (Walking over to the other cell, and looking in.) Goodbye, Grandfather! I will see you again soon. (He bows to the cell, in reverence to his Grandfather.) (Lights dim, end ACT and PLAY.) THE END
FICTION Geoff Burns
The One That Got Away It’s the first of the month and the place is pretty full. I’ve been off the stuff all winter, but I go down just to see everyone. It gets kind of lonely in the room, watching the same shows every day, my Louis L’Amours falling apart, covers gone from half of them, pages missing. Most days I go to the library to check out the box scores. It’s a place to go, waiting for the mission to open, before dinner. I watch the people. It’s not like before, people in the living room at Mom and Dad’s, Sunday dinner: pies on the hutch, turkey and dressing on the table. I always looked forward to that. Especially in the summer: it made the long hours in the field seem worth it, not that I didn’t like working. I did, too much. I would have been better off finishing school, learning a trade. I’d have something now, a living room with people in it. The Lucky Penny’s OK, but it’s not a living room. Everyone is in a good mood; pockets full of cash. When the checks come in I can drink all night for next to nothing. My schooner is never empty for long what with the pitchers lined up. But I am sticking to Pepsi. Christmas day was pretty bad, the sheets caked in what I’d eaten the night before and me too sick to do anything about it, just lying there in it. I decided I had to do something, and there was only one thing to do. It was hard at first. Seems like one day drags on just like all the others, not much more than the tube and Louis to occupy me. It can get to you. A little buzz lifts me out of that, talking to the guys at the Lucky Penny, feeling good for a change. Things go easier if I am half way there; if I could stop half way it’d be all right. But I never do, so I am drinking Pepsi. The girls are down, too, it being the first and all. They know when a guy’s got some cash. It makes it more fun, having them around, and I don’t have to worry about money. I’m not expecting much, but it’s OK listening to them laugh, the stories they tell, if you know what I mean. Keeps it friendly, unless a couple of guys are set on the same one. But none of us are rutting too hard at our age. We’re mostly past that stuff. Most of the guys are here. Willie and Dale have the big table in the corner. Willie retired on disability from
the railroad after getting twenty years in, so he’s usually pretty flush this time of the month. He and Dale each have a honey sitting by them. They have their grin on, cigarettes glowing, with a half full pitcher on the table plus two others. There is a big blond sitting alone next to Dale’s girl. I say alone because Willie and Dale are pretty busy with the gals they’ve cut out and this one is sitting not talking or anything, just staring ahead, twirling her schooner around and around. She is a big girl, strong looking with a pug nose and hands like a logger, but she has a pair of jugs on her. I think maybe, her being left out and all, I can get something going with her, someone to talk to, you know, so I slide in next to her. Willie says to get a glass and fill it up, there being plenty of beer, so I tell him I am off the stuff for a while. “Suit yourself,” he says. Bethune is her name. Said she grew up in Ola, but now she is living in Sweet, working on a dairy. Says she likes working with cows; been around cows her whole life she says, since they had a few on the eighty acres in Ola. It isn’t like the old days though, where she would walk to the pasture twice a day and talk to the girls as she led them into the barn. Back then she milked them by hand, just the few they had, never more than three or four. She says she misses the old barn, the hay stacked in the loft, steam rising off the cows’ backs while they munched on the grain, cats meowing in anticipation, the warmth of the teat in her hand. “It’s all production now,” she says. “Big business. The barns have been replaced by giant parlors, milk a hundred cows at a time. It’s all machines now,” she says. “It’s cows, though.” It takes me back to our old place in Indian Valley, about the same as hers by the sound of it. We had a few cows, too, but I didn’t get out of it what she did, getting up before dawn and rounding them up. They were just stupid smelly animals to me, but I milked them just the same or I’d of had to deal with Dad and his belt. I didn’t see any romance to it, not then anyhow, but listening to Bethune I kind of think that I had missed something. Oh, I liked the farm all right, but I remember different things than her.
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 Like stacking hay, balancing on the stone boat behind the old Case tractor, the sound of the runners through the stubble, one bale after another, the steady throw of the hook and jerk, leather chaps on my thigh as I kicked the bale up onto the boat. I remember the ache of my muscles and the smell of my skin, sweaty and brown from the sun, the clouds billowing up over West Mountain, the haystack growing square and tall, as beautiful as any building. It’s all about the same, milking and stacking, just some folks prefer one over the other, I guess. She and I are having a good visit, talking about how things used to be, her in Ola and me in Indian Valley. I can almost smell the pie on the hutch, if you know what I mean. Then I have to get up, my bladder not being what it used to be. I make my way back to the head, visiting along the way. When the bar is full like that it is hard to get from one end to the other. Back when I was on it I could drink three or four schooners just working from one end to the other, saying hello and what not. So I am probably gone ten, maybe fifteen minutes. When I get back Shorty is sitting in my place. He’s a fidgety guy, not much more than five feet tall, the kind of guy who could blow away in a strong wind. I think about sitting down opposite them, wait him out, but then I think that with all the noise in the place I won’t be able to hear them, so what’s the point. I figure he won’t last; no one can talk to Shorty very long, him being so fidgety. I sit at the bar where I can keep an eye on them, wait for my chance. I figure she might look for me, throw me a glance or something. I’m sitting next to Bobby where I can see them in the mirror, no need to turn my head and make it too obvious. But then I worry that she might think I’ve lost interest, but I’m already stuck. Shorty can’t hang in there all night, I think. His bladder can’t be too big, small as he is. After a while I can see that I have figured this all wrong. They are getting along pretty good. They’re putting the beer away and every time Shorty says something Bethune throws her head back and laughs like crazy. I can see that she has real nice teeth, straight and white as piano keys, and her laugh is kind of girlish, not like her hands. He’s got her going pretty good. Then I see his little hand on
59 her thigh, like a chipmunk on a log, and she doesn’t seem to mind. She’s looking at him like he’s something special; you know the look a girl can give a guy, the one you hope you get. Shorty is getting it. Before long she has her arm around his shoulders. They make quite a couple, her twice as big as him. I start to think about how they might match up, his face in her tits and his toes not much past her knees, but then I stop that. I stop looking at them in the mirror. I don’t like what I am seeing. Bobby and me are talking, not about much. The weather, the box scores; mostly about how the monthly checks don’t cover what they used to. I’m thinking I’ll head back to the room. Everybody’s having a good time, the place is pretty Janet Levin loud, but I’m not feeling it. I’m having a hard time hearing Bobby even though our heads are just a few inches apart, leaning over the bar; it’s like he’s down a long hallway; I can barely see him. Soon as I finish my Pepsi I am going to go. Then Bobby turns over his shoulder and it’s Shorty. Says he needs a room, him living on the river and all. Girl is hot, he says; don’t get many chances like this. Bobby looks back over the bar, taking a drag on his cigarette. He’s not interested in helping Shorty out. “I’ll let you use my fishing pole,” Shorty says. Everyone knows how much his pole means to him. All he does is fish, practically lives on fish, in his camp up past the golf course. “Come on Bobby,” he says, “have a heart.” But Bobby just keeps studying the mirror, elbow on the bar, chin in his hand. When Bobby gets like that there’s no turning him. “I’ll tell you my favorite fishing hole and even show you what to use,” Shorty says. He’s getting real fidgety now, dancing around like a kid that’s got to pee, but Bobby isn’t budging. I’m thinking about summer evenings down on the Weiser, the water boiling with hungry trout rising to the hatch, pole bent over and line humming, the big one running. “Isn’t much but you can use my place,” I say. Shorty looks over at me, considering. “How’s your
60 place,” he asks. “Bobby always keeps his clean.” Like as if he’s got a choice, I’m thinking, remembering why I don’t talk to him much. “It’s clean,” I say. “Where’s your pole?” “I got it in the back,” he says. “Never leave it in camp if I’m not there. Always take it with me. Where you going to stay,” he asks. “With Bobby,” I say, like it’s all been arranged. “I can sleep on his sofa.” Bobby’s chin is still in his hand, smoke rings rising blue above him. “You got the key?” Shorty asks. I give him the key and then he goes and gets his pole and a plastic cottage cheese container. There’s some spinners and hooks inside. “Take this silver spoon and hook a big worm on it,” he says. “Where’s the worm?” I ask. “That’s your problem,” he says. Then he turns and puts his hand on Bethune’s shoulder, whispers something in her ear. She says something to the girls with Willie and Dale, finishes off what’s left in her schooner and stands up. The top of Shorty’s head is at her armpit, and I start to get that same picture in my mind. Shorty’s got his arm as far around her as it will go when they walk out the door. Bobby lives in a one bedroom house between downtown and the river. It belonged to his wife. She’d grown up in some small town in Nebraska or Kansas, some place like that. Her dad owned the general store, so they were set up pretty good. One summer when she was a girl they took a trip to Yellowstone. After that all she could think about was the mountains, being from the flatland and all. That was how she ended up here. Then her dad comes out to visit and by the time he leaves she is moving into this house. Not long after she meets Bobby and he moves in. Turns out she gets some disease called Huntington’s, but Bobby stayed with her, took care of her, wheeling her downtown so she could feel like a part of things, cooking for her and cleaning up, that sort of thing, right up until she died. Then she left him the house. It could use some paint, that’s for sure, but it’s pretty cozy, her having bought the furniture and all. You can tell a woman’s been around. I don’t mind going there, I can tell you that. We sleep in the next morning. I’m not in a hurry. I have all day. Bobby has some eggs in the fridge, and he fixes toast, too, and coffee. I feel pretty good after. I just sit on the couch thinking about breakfast, how good it was. Bobby cleans up. When he comes in the front room I ask
CIRQUE him if he wants to go with me, up the river. “Might as well,” he says. “What are we gonna do about worms?” I say. We both sit there for a while, Bobby picking the lint off his shirt. He’s like that. He likes order. I get Shorty’s pole out and study it. There are about five different pieces of leader tied together on it and the line is the same. I figure Shorty must have found pieces of it along the river and tied them together. I dig the spoon out of the cottage cheese container and tie it on the line. “We could look around the neighbor’s garden,” Bobby says. “What for?” I ask. “Worms,” he says. “Be a place to start.” I say. “You got a shovel?” “Neighbor might,” Bobby says. I follow him around back to the neighbor’s garage. Bobby goes in the side door like he owns the place. There is a shovel in the corner. It is pretty cold out and the digging is pretty hard. “If there are any worms around they must still be hibernating,” Bobby says. “Fish like marshmallows,” I say. “You got any?” Bobby asks. “And salmon eggs,” I say. Then I think about not having any of those either. “How about corn?” I say. “I got corn,” he says. We go back and Bobby gets a can of corn out of his cupboard. “You got anything for sandwiches?” I ask. “Sure, just take everything I own,” Bobby says. I can tell he’s not too serious. He gets out some baloney and mayonnaise and cheese. “Cheese might be OK,” I say. “Now you’re getting picky?” he says. He likes the company as much as I do. “For the fish,” I say. We put our coats on and I get the pole and lures, Bobby has the bag of sandwiches. It’s a long walk up to Shorty’s camp, about three miles. It’s cold, you can see our breath, but the sun is out. There are a lot of people walking the path along the river. They all seem happy, just to be walking. I kind of like it, too. The cold on my cheeks feels good, and after a while my body gets warm, my legs are moving pretty good, better than they have in a long time. I try to think of the last time I was on the river. I can’t remember. We walk like that for a good half hour without saying a thing, just taking it in: the people, the scenery,
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 our muscles working. Then we come to a place where there’s a creek that comes into the river and a wooden bridge. Beyond the bridge the creek widens into a pond, and beyond the pond, beyond the cattails and marsh grass, is a big lawn with flower beds and fruit trees and an enormous two story brick house with white trim. In the middle of the lawn is a bronze statue, a golfer with his club on his shoulder, watching the flight of the ball. At the far end of the pond there’s a dozen ducks. The ducks are floating in pairs, hens in front and drakes behind. Sometimes the drake catches up and taps the hen’s back with his bill, like he’s the boss. But wherever the hen goes, the drake follows. Then they’ll stick their head in the water and tip so their tail feathers are sticking straight in the air; feeding on the bottom. Bobby and I stand there on the bridge, arms resting on the rail. It’s more than we can get ahold of, but we can’t stop looking. It takes us another hour or so to get up to where Shorty said to fish. There’s a small dam across the river and a big concrete irrigation gate where a ditch takes water from the river. “It’s pretty good below the dam,” Shorty said. “The dam churns up a lot of feed, and there’s big deep pools for the fish to lay in. You should catch some there, all right,” he said. “If you want a big one, try the ditch behind the gate. Don’t look like much, but fish get in there and can’t get back out to the river. That’s where I caught the four pounder.” There’s a rock, round and smooth, overlooking the river. I sit on the rock and set the pole and lures down. Except for the water rushing over the dam there is no movement; the world is hidden behind a curtain of sound and what I see is its pale reflection. I want to walk through the curtain, but this is as close as I can get. So I just sit there. “You want a sandwich?” Bobby asks. I’m looking at the river, the tree’s skeletons on the other side, almost as high as the mountains beyond. The tops of the mountains are covered in snow. I imagine an elk up there, stuck in the snow, surrounded by wolves. “Shorty said he saw a cougar out here last year,” I say. “You don’t say,” Bobby says, looking around like he just noticed where he was. “They follow the deer down, mostly in big snow years.” “How was the snow this year?” Bobby asks. “See for yourself,” I say. “Snow line’s pretty high up; shouldn’t be any cougars around.”
61 “Oh,” Bobby says. Bobby came out from Cleveland and this is about as wild as he’s seen. It’s nothing like where I’m from, but it’s plenty good enough. If I pretend that’s West Mountain I’m looking at, I could almost be on the Weiser. My dad used to take me down there in the evening, after the hay was all put up, before the snow came. He had a bamboo fly rod that had been his dad’s; said it’d be mine some day. He showed me how to lay the line out soft so the fly would light gently on the dark water under a grassy bank. Seemed like every time he cast, a fish would strike. If there’s one thing my old man could do it was catch fish. I used to get so mad, him showing me how to do it and me not catching a thing, him catching a fish every cast, that I’d start bawling. That’s how mad I’d get. Then when he got one on he’d hand the rod to me so I could feel that fish tugging on the line, almost like our muscles were attached, and my tears would stop. You can feel your heart pound strong in your chest when you have a fish on. “You gonna do any fishing?” Bobby asks. “Not just yet,” I say. “Best fishing won’t start for another couple of hours.” “Mind if I give it a try?” he says. I help Bobby get set up. I put some corn on the hooks. I show him how to flip the bail out and hold the line against the pole with his index finger. Then it’s all about timing, I say. A quick flick of the wrist, more wrist than arm, I say, and let the line go. He takes the pole and tries it. The spoon crashes into the water at his feet. It goes like that for the first few casts. “It’s all about timing,” I say. “Flick your wrist and release your finger about half way,” I say. Before too long he’s sending it out there. I point out the good water. “Right below where the water’s roiling,” I say. “The fish sit in there picking off what ever comes over the dam.” Bobby stays at it for a while, but I can tell he is getting bored. “I thought Shorty said this was a good fishing hole,” he says. “Fish don’t feed all the time,” I say. “Fishing’s about patience.” “You can say that again,” Bobby says. “I don’t think they’re hungry today.” He’s been at it maybe twenty minutes. “Why don’t you try the ditch?” I say. “Where he caught the four pounder?” he asks. “Yeah,” I say. “Behind the gate.”
62 “I was saving that for you,” he says. “Go ahead,” I say. “I don’t fish ditches. You can save the river for me.” Bobby reels the spinner in. “Wait a minute,” I say. “Let me put some cheese on it.” The corn is long gone, so I put some cheese on the hooks, a couple of big hunks. Bobby walks up the bank and across the path. The water in the ditch is running slow, but it looks pretty deep, like it could hold some big fish. “Just try it out there,” I say, “over where the grass overhangs the bank. They like places like that.” Bobby puts the lure right where I tell him to, but nothing. He casts a few more times, then all of a sudden his pole has a bend in it. “Have you got one on?” I ask. “I think so,” he says. He sounds excited now. “It feels like a big one.” “Maybe you’ll break Shorty’s record,” I say. “Don’t pull it in too fast,” I say, “or he’ll get away. Just take your time. Play with it a little. Tire it out.” “Do you really think I’ll break Shorty’s record?” Bobby says. I can see the kid in him. “Never know,” I say. “We’ll find out. Just play him a bit. Don’t get in a hurry.” “He ain’t jumpin’ or nothin’,” Bobby says. “You sure that’s a fish you got, Bobby?” I say. “Could be a shoe or something.” “There it is! There it is! I told you it was a big one!” Bobby drags it in. The fish is rolled over on its side; I see the ugly under slung mouth. “Looks like a sucker,” I say. “What kind of a trout is that?” Bobby says. “Not a trout, Bobby. It’s a garbage fish,” I say. Bobby turns and looks at me, his eyes sinking the way they usually do. “Can you eat it?” he asks. “Never heard of it,” I say. I’m wishing I hadn’t said that about the garbage. “Good for nuthin’, huh?” he says. He’s back in himself now. “Makes good bait,” I say. “You can cut it up and put the pieces on the hooks. Oughta catch some fish that way.” “Naw. You can if you want,” he says. “Think I’ll just head back now, if you don’t mind.” Bobby hands me the pole. The sucker is gasping
CIRQUE on the bank; the hook is still in its mouth. “You got a spare cigarette?” I ask. Bobby reaches in his shirt pocket and pulls out his pack. “Here,” he says, “take an extra. Need matches?” Bobby heads back down the path. His shoulders are sagging; there’s a hobble in his gait. I take the hook out and find a rock so I can put the fish out of its misery. Then I clean my hands off in the ditch and pick up the pole. I’m hungry now, so I sit back on the rock and eat the baloney sandwich. It’s late afternoon; the light is getting softer. There’s a heron standing on one leg up the river; he’s standing still as can be, waiting, his long neck in an “S” shape. He’s watching, listening. I watch him the whole time I am eating my sandwich. I don’t want to miss the lift off, the long swooping grace of his wings. When I finish my sandwich I pull out a smoke. It feels good, sitting there by the river. It doesn’t get any better. The heron still hasn’t moved, not a muscle. That’s patience, I think. He’s a fisherman. I think about cutting up the sucker, using it for bait, but I haven’t got a knife and I don’t want to touch the slimy stink again. Just as I’m ready to get up, put my line in the water, I notice something. A big black beetle is walking across my rock. It’s too cold for bugs, I think, but I’ll take it. I pick the beetle up and put it in my pocket. I’ll just keep it there, I say, for when the time is right. Shorty’s got a plain hook in his can, about a number twelve. That beetle will fit on there pretty good, I am thinking. I stand up with the pole in my hand and look up the river. The heron is gone. I’m on the gravel at the edge of the river. The diversion dam runs across the river maybe thirty feet above where I am standing. It is maybe eighteen inches high, just enough to force some of the water into the ditch gate. The water is a deep murky green, then breaks into a frothy white. Below the dam the water swirls in eddies. Then the fall line drags the water into a current shaped like a “V”. That’s where I want to fish, in the “V” where the current carries all the churned up food. That’s where a smart fish would be, I think, and smart fish get to be big fish. But I start out fishing the eddies. It’s been a while since I’ve done this, and I don’t want to scare the fish away. I’ll just get the hang of it again, I say. I get the spoon dangling a few inches below the tip of the pole, press the line against the pole with my finger and release the bail. Then it’s just an easy flick and release. After a few times I’m sending it out there pretty good, maybe forty feet or more. I’m not getting any action, but it feels good
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 standing there on the river like when I was a kid. The dam is kicking up all the water’s aroma. It smells fresh and wild to me. I can feel it in my skin. Pretty soon they start feeding. I can feel them nibbling on the hook. Sometimes when I reel in they follow the spoon. They look too small to get the hook in their mouth. Lucky for them, I think. Then I catch a few. Nothing too big; just eight or ten inchers. I throw them back. “Come back when you grow up,” I say. It’s almost dusk now, almost time. Then I see some raccoons across the river, a momma and six babies. Momma is digging with her paws in the water. Crayfish, I think: dinner time. That’s when I know. I crawl back up on the bank and get the cottage cheese container. There’s a pair of fingernail clippers in there that I use to cut the spoon off. Then I dig out the number twelve and tie it on the line. I tie a double knot just to make sure. I unbutton my shirt pocket and reach in with two fingers. The beetle is still there, squirming for cover. That’s good, I think. Go ahead, squirm: the more the better. I stick the hook in right under his head and roll him onto it so the hook comes out the back of him. I go down to the gravel by the edge of the river. It’s a ways out to the “V”. There’s no weight to the beetle; it’s farther than I can cast. I step into the river. The water is cold, freezing. But I am a fisherman, I say, so I keep going till I am about twenty-five feet from where the current falls into a riffle. The water is up to my thighs and I am losing feeling in my legs. Then I take the pole back and cast the beetle to just above the beginning of the current. The beetle is flopping around pretty good, trying to save himself. The beetle is drifting slowly to where the current picks up, to where he will be swept away. Then, as he begins to move quicker toward the chute, I see the big green back break the surface and the smack of the tail on the water. I pull back hard, setting the hook. I ease up on the line and let him run. The reel is whining, emptying fast, and I wonder how much line Shorty has on. Then I see him jump, a good eighty feet down the river. Two times he gets himself completely out of the water, twisting with nose and tail both headed toward the sky before crashing back into the river. Each time he jumps I reel in a little, and when he is done I take in some more. He is tired from his run, from his aerial feats, his run for freedom. He runs three more times, each time finishing with the explosive reach for the sky. His spirit is strong. I can hear my dad behind me, telling me how to play him. I do everything he says. Each time the fish tires I reel him in,
and each time there is a fierce tug on the line I let him run. “Don’t get in a hurry. Let him do his thing. Feel him in your hands, right up your arms, Johnny. That’s a boy,” he says, “tire him out. He’s a good one, all right.” I can hear the purr of the old Ford truck, the headlights on the willows. There’s the smell of hot cocoa, a hand on my shoulder. Proud. Eventually the trout is spent, his fierceness dissolved in the battle. I reel him in to my feet and pull him from the water. He is thick and sleek and long, almost two feet I’d say: a Brown. I think about tonight at the Lucky Penny, the Brown hanging behind the bar for everyone to see. What a fuss we’ll cause. They’ll be talking about us for a month, my fish and me. We could have a barbeque, invite everyone. Then I take the hook from his mouth and walk back out into the water. I bend over and, holding him between my hands in the water, rock him back and forth. Maybe he has been weakened too much, I think. Maybe it’s too late. But then his tail moves a couple of times and slowly he swims away. I sit back down on the rock and light up. The smoke feels good in my lungs before it flows out into the fading light, hanging lazy above the water. I sit on my side of the curtain. Then I get to thinking. I think about the Brown, about his strength and dignity; about how good it was to be a part of it. I think about the stone boat and the haystack in the meadow, I think about the bamboo rod, I think about Bethune and her cows. And then it comes to me. I’ve got to do something, I say. I’ve got to do it soon.
Vivian Faith Prescott
The Alien Stories And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws. —Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
Wild Things MINA: Liv said that when she came to babysit us after Momma had run off, we were like wild animals. She said I rocked back and forth in the corner pulling out my hair. She had to teach us manners and all that. SUVI: I caught momma in bed with that guy, John, and told Daddy. Momma hated me after that.
64 RIKKA: When I was young, I didn’t remember Momma at all—it was weird. I don’t remember the cult—just images and something like I was being smothered by a man or someone on top of me. VIEKO: I don’t remember her, either, because I was a baby when she ran off. MINA: More like she got run out of town by Daddy and his friends. RIKKA: Suvi remembers a lot. She doesn’t like to talk about it do you Suv? (Suvi says nothing.) (Mina laughs.) SUVI: I remember being kidnapped, when Momma tried to steal us from Daddy. I remember what the bushes smelled like. I remember my feet hurt in my boots. I remember the van that John and Momma shoved us in and how scared I was. MINA: I remember that van too. The smell. I still can’t stand rusty tools. RIKKA: I can’t stand small dark places. Reminds me of the van. SUVI: It’s a good thing the airline agent was a friend of Daddy’s and didn’t sell Momma the tickets. MINA: What do you think would have happened if we’d gone with her? You know, with the cult to Oregon? RIKKA: We’d be begging in the airports. SUVI: We’d be dead like the hail bop cult. MINA: Heaven’s Gate? SUVI: Yeah. They all killed themselves. MINA: They thought they were aliens from outer space just like Momma and her friends. RIKKA: Yeah, do you think we would have done that? SUVI: Well, Momma’s spaceship never came to save them from this planet, did it? RIKKA: No. SUVI: So how were they going to get to their planet then? RIKKA: True. VIEKO: I don’t remember it anyway. And I don’t want to think about it. MINA: Well, I stopped some little girls my age from playing with your penis. Momma said it was okay and I got mad. You were a baby. She said they were just curious. I stopped them. I was only about five years old then but I knew enough not to trust her or Maggie’s kids either. SUVI: I think Momma left because she was in love with
CIRQUE Maggie, her best friend. I don’t think it was about the men in the group at all. RIKKA: (shrugs) Could be. MINA: When I was little, I thought Momma was a devil worshiper, then, when I was an adolescent, I thought she was following Charles Manson. We used the word “cult” but no one, not even Daddy or Liv, explained what one was. I figured Momma had crazy eyes like Charles Manson because I didn’t even have a photograph of her; but I had the book cover of Manson on Helter Skelter. RIKKA: Yeah, I was afraid of everything under my bed, in the closet. Everything. MINA: I remember there was a children’s book called “Are You My Mother?” It was about a little bird that fell out of a nest and kept looking for his mother. I remember there was a monster, but I think it was a big heavy equipment or something that picked up the bird. Maybe a front-end loader. I couldn’t read that damn book without getting upset. One time, I think when I was a teenager, I read that book again and I actually cried. I hate that book.
Landra stood on a stool at the kitchen sink, her hands in soapy water. She cocked her ear slightly towards men who were telling tales in the living room. She looked out the kitchen window towards Elephant’s Nose silhouetted in the sky. The moon cast a path from the strait to the harbor, but the only bright light she saw was the Christmas star high above the island—her dad
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 told her it was the planet Venus. Landra, nine years old, sneaked from kitchentalk–a recipe for deer stew, cousin’s pregnancy, a breech baby–to the living room near the Sparks oil-heater where the men sat: fishermen scrubbed after a week in slime and scales from fishing the salmon grounds, dressed in black jeans and wool shirts, and rolling Prince Albert tobacco into cigarettes. She inhaled their smoky tales: UFOs—the one Jim saw, cigar-shaped—while trolling near the beach at Elephant’s Nose; or the story about ball-lightening zipping through the rigging, blue fire chasing Uncle Chet round his boat deck; or talk of the landotter man jumping from the bow of her grandfather’s boat—no splash, no sound. Landra stared at the planet. She’d read about aliens in the Spaceway magazine. Her aunt said there might be aliens on other planets but she wasn’t sure. Landra often wondered what it would be like to go there. Would her skin turn green like the aliens? Would there be machines to help cook dinner, or magic unicorns? Maybe they’d welcome her as the princess of aliens. She’d have long silver hair which they would brush for her every day. Yes, this is what she wanted—their perfect world. Landra sniffed the cigarette smoke coming from the living room. She loved this visiting-time— the time before television came to the island, before outboard motors, before bedridden with scarlet fever, before marrying at age 16, before she learned to gather data while doing laundry, reading Worlds of Tomorrow, Thrilling Science Fiction and Spaceway, before Father gave her psychic research, years before she starred in her own myth, before she ran off to follow the saucer people.
A Ceiling Hung with Vines
Landra followed her oldest child, Suvi, and her middle daughter, Mina, up the trail to the top of Mount Dewey. Suvi and Mina each carried a Folgers coffee can on a string around their necks. “Over here, over here.This is the best spot, Momma,” Suvi said skipping to a big patch of salmonberries. Landra had left her toddler, Rikka, and the baby, Vieko, home with Grandma back at the house on the hill. Now, further up the hill, the town below came into view. Landra helped the girls pick their salmonberries, filling up one can nearly half-way, although Mina’s was nearly empty because she couldn’t stop eating the berries. Landra sat in the clearing spreading out her wool halibut jacket on the ground for the girls to sit on. All around them, the one hundred year old spruce were draped with old-man’s-beard-moss. A raven chortled in
65 the branches. She took out two peanut butter and jam sandwiches from her pocket and gave each girl a half and ate one of her own. “There’s Elephant’s Nose.” She pointed to the island directly in front of town. “Yeah,” Suvi said. “It looks like an elephant.” “Yes, sweetie, it does. And, did you know that’s where the spaceships are, too. You know, like the one Captain Kirk flies.” “I like Captain Kirk,” Suvi said. “Do you think he can take us for a ride on one?” Mina asked. Landra closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of forest. “I don’t know. They say that space is the final frontier.” Landra recalled her last channeling from Albert Einstein; he had explained to her how flying saucers were propelled. She had written it all down. “Yes, people are going there, way out there. Away from here,” she said. “How come you want to leave us?” Mina asked. “Leave? No honey, I don’t want to leave you. I want...” Landra said, her voice trailing off. Landra thought about the voice in her head repeating that her best friend Maggie’s and her destinies were together. Maggie was so smart, so different from any friend she’d known. Maggie claimed that one of her children had lived before on a planet made of metal. Landra thought that was a fascinating concept. Things were always fun and exciting when she was around Maggie and her other new friends; but at home with her four kids, things were stressful. Landra thought about how her fingers had felt around Mina’s little neck. How Mina looked at her with those big trusting blue eyes. “I’d like to kill you,” she’d screamed at Mina. “Yes, I want to leave,” she said to the girls. Landra sat down on her coat, her children beside her eating salmonberries from the coffee can. She enjoyed spending time with her two oldest girls; she loved reading them stories like Rose White and Rose Red. When Landra was a teen, her friends liked to hang out with her because she’d tell them her imaginary stories; then, later, she’d read the ones she’d written in her notebook. Now, she looked down at the town of Wrangell below and thought about the Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever.” She considered the ancient ring in the television show, and wondered if it was like the one “Father” used to communicate with her and Maggie. She thought about the temporal disturbance she’d been feeling lately, and wondered if time would ever resume its shape, if all was as it was before.
Walls Becoming the World All Around Jesse sat with little Rikka on her lap. Rikka’s red hair stuck up in all directions and snot dried on her cheeks. A few minutes before, Jesse had tried to rinse the child’s face with a wash rag but Rikka had started to cry. Now, Rikka rubbed her eyes. Jesse held Rikka’s pale fingers in her own brown ones and touched the monster on the book cover. “See, it can’t hurt you. This is a funny book. He has people feet and big horns. And see that boat there? The monster is going to meet a wild little boy very soon.” Rikka’s sisters, Suvi and Mina, were playing outside Jesse and Charlie Johns’ house on the swing set. Jesse and Charlie’s son, Ray, had long outgrown it, but they kept it anyway, because the neighborhood kids liked to visit and play on it. Jesse scooted her rocking chair over to the large picture window so that she could watch the kids in the yard play. The girls had come down Mt. Dewey through the trail that ended across the street from Jesse’s place. Typically, they’d run around all day at the Petroglyph Beach beside their house. Now Rikka, the littlest girl, had tuckered out. Rain or shine, she always played outside in her boots, clomping around behind her big sisters, making them carry her whenever she tired. Jesse draped a small granny square quilt she’d made across her lap, covering Rikka’s skinned knees. Rikka leaned in against her, nuzzling Jessie’s chest. Jessie opened the book and started to read, “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief one kind or another his mother called him wild thing...” Rikka fussed and turned her head. “What’s wrong honey?” Jesse asked. “Did momma leave because I’m ugly?” “God, baby. Ugly? Who told you that?” “They did, sort of,” a child’s voice said from behind. Jesse turned. Suvi and Mina were standing there. Suvi had helped herself to a glass of Kool-Aid, like she’d done a half-dozen times at Jesse’s house. Suvi walked over, glass in hand, a red mustache above her lip. She said, “John, Momma’s boyfriend, told Rikka to sit on the couch all day and not to move. She minded him. We were at school, Mina and me. He told Rikka she had demons in her and the demons were all around and they were going to get her if she got off the couch.” Jesse frowned. “Did you tell your momma?”
“Momma knows.” Mina said. “She says we all have bad things in us.” Jesse grit her teeth. She remembered the stories her own mother told her of missionaries punishing her mother for speaking Tlingit, saying it was the language of the Devil. Jesse herself was taunted in school as being an “Indian.” When she was five, she once tried to scrub the pigment off her hands. Jesse said, “No, you girls don’t have bad things in you. You’re made in God’s image and you are all beautiful—every one of you.” Mina and Suvi smiled at Jesse, then the girls turned and skipped out the door back to the swingset. Jesse leaned back into the chair with Rikka. She moved her moccasined toes up and down, rocking the chair back and forth. She inhaled the pale red-haired child’s scent. She remembered her own baby, limp in her arms one night from a fever she knew he’d never wake up from. Rikka flipped through the book’s pages. She stopped and struggled to read the words, “And...the.. wwild things...roared…their terr...ible...roars...”
For The Last Time That Friday morning, Andy Connor was sitting on the bank of the Willamette River, his eyes fixed on the mill. This is what Alice Major, who owned a shop in the center of town called Knit and Purl, told the deputy sheriff after Andy’s sister Kathy reported him missing. Alice, like many people in town, knew that Andy had been sitting in that same spot every morning for months now, ever since they’d closed down the paper mill for the last time. The same age as Alice, Andy was forty-nine. He’d worked at the mill since high school. Alice knew this fact because she’d dated Andy in high school. The deputy sheriff who’d moved to the county only ten years before from down near the Oregon-California border, didn’t know about Alice and Andy, as did most people in town. At one time, they had even been engaged to be married. This was one piece of Andy’s life story that came out in those first days and weeks after his disappearance. Detective Scott Brown was assigned to the case and he made an appointment to meet with Alice at her house, early on a Tuesday morning. Alice had a fresh pot of coffee
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 brewed but it turned out the detective, as he explained, was coffee’d out. “I’m happy to answer any questions you have,” Alice said to the detective, as she gestured for him to take a seat across from her at the small oak kitchen table. “I don’t know if I’ll be much help. Andy and I haven’t had much of a relationship for years.” Detective Brown took in the critical details of the woman he’d come to interview, which he would use in his report. And also, though this was still considered a missing person’s case, the detective liked to be prepared for when and if it shifted to something more ominous. You never could tell and it was best not to leave a single stone unturned. Brown thought in clichés like that. Whenever his wife pointed this out, he responded, “That’s the way I was raised.” Scott, who’d recently passed the forty-year mark, would have described Alice Major as a woman who looked awfully good for her age. She was of medium height, slim and fit, with short blond hair and a pretty oval face. Like most people in town, he knew that Alice had been married more than once – three times to be exact – and happened once again to be divorced. “Is there anything you can tell me about Andy that might help?” the detective asked, once Alice had settled herself at the table across from him with a steaming cup of coffee. “Well, let’s see,” she said, looking off in the distance while she tried to trace back the image in her mind of Andy sitting on the bank of the Willamette River. “I suppose everyone’s told you already. Ever since they closed the mill for good, Andy’d been sitting there across the river, just staring at it.” “Why do you think he did that?” Alice smiled. “He’d done it for years. Sort of a habit.” “Done what for years?” “Sat there and waited. Every time they shut the mill down. You know, whenever the economy went bad, they’d lay everybody off and close the mill. But a few months down the road, business would pick up and they’d hire everybody back. So, Andy’d sit there and wait. “Some people said he did it ‘cause he wanted to be the first one in line. Other people thought he just didn’t know what to do with himself if he wasn’t working. And later, a couple of people said it was sort of a superstition with him. Like if he took his eyes off the mill, then it wouldn’t reopen.” After meeting with Alice, Detective Brown made his way around town, sitting at kitchen and dining room tables, and eventually in a quiet dark corner of the Logger
67 Tavern, where mill workers gathered to play pool, shoot darts and throw back draft beer and shots. The interviews filled out the picture of Andy Connor that his sister had first drawn for Brown, of a solitary man who when he wasn’t working, liked to lose himself on forest trails and in thick stands of fir and cedar, where he’d pitch his tent close to the stream and fish for Kokanee trout and Coho salmon. A month passed and Detective Brown had come no closer to finding Andy Connor than he’d been the day Connor’s sister Kathy reported him missing. For reasons he couldn’t explain, Brown found himself drawn to the Willamette River bank across from the mill, where he tried to make out the blue metal roof on the shuttered mill through the dense morning fog. Brown marveled at the silence. Ever since the clanging machinery of the mill had stopped, the air in town no longer carried the sweet sour smell of soaked pulp. The cloud of white smoke rising in the air was gone. Detective Brown had never noticed how pretty the river was at this spot. Even in the fog, a sliver of light broke through and brushed the tips of waves on the small rapids in front of the plant, causing the whitecaps to shimmer. “Morning Detective.” Brown turned around. He nodded at the woman dressed all in black – black coat, black close-fitting hat, black pants. “Morning,” he answered back. “He’s not here, Detective,” Alice Major said. “I know. I was just going to search the bank another time. See if there might be something we overlooked.” “I thought of something,” Alice said. “Something about Andy.” “What’s that?” “It’s probably nothing. I don’t know. Ever since he disappeared, I can’t stop thinking about him. Remembering stuff, you know. “This morning, I thought about when we were young. Andy was always talking about leaving. Getting away from this town.” Alice stopped and studied the river. For the first time, she wondered if Andy might have given up. Had he jumped in the river one night? That didn’t seem like the Andy she’d known. No. More likely, he’d just drifted off. “He talked about taking a sleeping bag and one of those little camp cook sets, you know, just as much stuff as he could carry, and starting to walk. He dreamed about walking all around the United States.” The detective turned and looked at the woman
68 standing next to him. He’d only seen pictures of Andy Connor, with his straight brown hair, square jaw and blue eyes, but decided then that it must have been this woman who decided to break the engagement off. “He always went on these short trips,” Alice went on. “Not walking but driving his truck to some remote spot. He used to say that he felt alive in the woods, when nobody else was around. I don’t know how he stood being cooped up in the mill all those hours. “Anyway, I know I’m just rambling but maybe he finally decided to follow his heart.” Detective Brown turned away from the river and looked at Alice Major another time. His wife always said that Brown had a good sense of intuition about him. Brown thought about that, as he looked at this woman and decided that she had never really stopped loving Andy Connor. The following afternoon, a search party was formed, mostly of the men and women Andy Connor had worked with in the mill, who were now unemployed. The sheriff’s office provided the searchers with several German Shepherd rescue dogs. One of the handlers named Mike Fisk let the lead dog Buddy smell Connor’s sweatshirt and then proceeded to walk along the bank. At times, Buddy strained against the leash and Mike and the other searchers close to him thought they might be onto something. But the dog soon relaxed and the search continued. The next week, the teams went out past the riverbank, to search the trails leading into the woods close to town. Each day ended without a shred of evidence about what had become of Andy Connor. The rains finally let up as usual in mid-July, and the bright warm days arrived. Talk at the Logger Tavern had taken a new turn. A Chinese company was preparing to close the deal on buying the shuttered paper mill. The owner of the Logger Tavern, Bill Hines, had heard from the town’s mayor, Bud Hathaway, that the mill would soon reopen. Another part of the rumor Hines chose not to pass on. When the mill reopened, wages and benefits would be half of what they’d been, under the previous management. The announcement was made on the hottest day of the season. That afternoon, temperatures throughout the state reached record highs. Standing in front of the silent plant were three Chinese men, sweating in dark suits, white shirts and blue ties. In an uncharacteristic move, Alice Major showed
CIRQUE up at the Logger Tavern for the celebration. She was dressed in a pale gray tank top with thin straps and a short white cotton skirt. Detective Brown, who spotted Alice the minute she walked in, got up from his stool at the bar and headed over. “Hi, Alice,” he said, when he was standing in front of her. “Oh, hello Scott.” Brown couldn’t help noticing how thin the cotton appeared in that top. He also couldn’t take his eyes off Alice’s breasts. In the air-conditioned bar, Alice’s nipples had started to poke at the material. Brown could tell that Alice wasn’t wearing anything underneath and it excited him more than he cared to consider. The trees along the riverbank were shades of gold and red the afternoon Andy Connor came back. He had a thick dark beard covering his cheeks and chin. His hair, greased and combed away from his forehead, covered his neck in back and brushed his shoulders. A month before, the search for Andy Connor had been abruptly halted. Connor, who by this time had made it all the way to and from Montana, where the state tapped the Canadian border, didn’t mind. If the men and women leaving the mill at four o’clock that afternoon noticed a bearded man sitting on the opposite bank, they didn’t say. It was nearly dusk and the light had faded. Someone did notice the man’s dark silhouette, after the sun dropped behind the plant’s blue metal roof. That was Alice Major. She knew, without looking closely or even walking over to the bank, that Andy Connor had come back. The next morning, on the way to open her shop, Alice walked over to the riverbank. She stopped a few feet from where the man had been the previous night and stared at boot prints he’d left behind in the dirt. She sat down on the spot where she’d seen him and looked across the river. From the roof of the mill, white smoke belched out. For the first time in years, Alice remembered the night Andy brought her here to sit by the river. He held her hand tightly, as they leaned back to take in the wonder of the sky. Without letting go of her hand and in a calm, steady voice, Andy said to Alice, “If you marry me, one day we’ll fly up there to the stars.”
Vo l . 2 N o . 2
To The Here and Now I may be able to strengthen myself with the intellectual idea that once in Zigi’s town, I had been completely convinced of the beauty and desirability of the mere act of living. -- Journey Without A Map, Graham Green
I found the yacht tied near the floating restaurant just as they said it would be. Ah Po, the captain, didn’t seem to doubt that I was a part of the evening’s get-together, so I nodded and smiled and climbed on board. He grinned and motioned toward a case of San Miguel on the deck. The cold cans beading with moisture were inviting. I was early. After a regular workday the others were probably sifting through the rush hour traffic in the heat. So far my business meetings in Hong Kong had gone well, and I welcomed being out and away from airconditioned offices. I looked forward to this excursion that I was so kindly invited to attend. Ah Po busied himself while I sat in the stern. Observing the surroundings, I tried to shake the past, forget the future and just relax. Unlike the life on the island with its traffic, noise and masses of people all magnified by the heat, things here seemed in slow motion. I opened a can of San Miguel before Ah Po put it into the cooler, sipped and watched an aged Chinese lady try to sell bamboo hats to the foreigners as they walked out to the floating restaurant. Time was nothing while I waited. Then they arrived. Several young Chinese women in light dresses and half dozen Chinese men in dark suits arrived from their office with my business connection. Some carried white sacks containing a full-course meal for us all. They smiled excitedly as they boarded the yacht and the mood was quietly festive in the after five o’clock heat and humidity of the harbor. After the calmness when waiting for them and all the activity upon their arrival, we got underway. The yacht headed out to the waters of the South China Sea when a flurry of exchanges in Cantonese caused Ah Po to cut the engines and cleverly swing the craft around and squeeze into a maze of traffic. The Chinese captain’s skill in maneuvering the yacht in the crowded Aberdeen harbor was impressive. We slipped into an extremely congested residential area of floating junks and sampans. I learned our reason for turning
69 around was to get some bait. I couldn’t take in enough of all that was happening in this world of families living on their boats. Various dramas seemed to be occurring everywhere I looked. One of the men on our yacht jumped ashore, disappeared, and soon emerged from the mass of activity with a small bag of uncooked prawns. As we headed out once again toward the islands, the traffic thinned. I looked at Ah Po, expecting to see a hard face navigating the inland waters of the South China Sea. What I saw was a slouching man with a lazy hand on the wheel leering at the young woman sitting across from him. For some reason this made me feel good. Amused, I leaned against the rail, lifted my face to the sticky breeze and felt the late afternoon sun reflecting off the water onto my skin. For a change, I was enjoying myself. Before long we anchored a hundred yards off a small, uninhabited green hill of an island. We used hand lines in hopes of getting a few fish. It was merely an outing and not a real fishing trip. We talked and drank beer. A few of the men put on bathing suits and dove off the boat and swam around. Some wanted to go ashore to the island. They climbed down to the dinghy. Ah Po spryly jumped in, moved forward in bare feet and stood with his toes curled over the prow. He used one oar in a way I had never seen before which propelled the boat at a very fast pace. Ah Po skimmed right in, deposited the passengers then glided right back to us smiling away. We nonchalantly held hand lines and watched as the sun set and the lights came on in the direction of Hong Kong. There wasn’t enough lead to weight our lines but someone made the point that that was good because with weight, we would have no way to tell when the fish were biting. The others quietly laughed and continued joking. My host translated the gist of it to me. Only he and Ah Po and I drank beer. One of the typically thin Chinese men with his suit coat off caught a small poisonous blowfish. It was peered at and discussed. My host told the usual story that the Japanese would eat this fish, but only if it was prepared and cooked by a licensed specialist. It rested its thorny spines on the deck, expanded and gasped while we studied it like any curious kids before tossing it back into the sea. Darkness was close. Ah Po retrieved those on the island, and we quietly talked on board. Some distance off we heard the steady muffled bang of a diesel engine. Ah Po tensed and the rest of us followed his example. Pirates still exist, but Ah Po spoke quietly to my host who told me that this was a snake boat. The junk with no lights
70 proceeded slowly, hugging the shoreline of the small island. We could barely see it against the charcoal-green vegetation. This was a stealthy operation. I could see why they called them snake boats. It quickly dropped off the illegal immigrants, and I thought of the relief the junk pilot must have felt as he pulled away from the IndoChinese refugees scrambling inland. When he was quite a distance away a few lights appeared on board. It was getting late and everyone was for heading in after this glimmer of excitement. The three of us had another beer. The others put the hand lines and food away. Ah Po sat in his chair and started the motors. I watched him then quickly caught his eye and pointed to the bow. When I made the motions of pulling an anchor on board, he broke into a big grin and shut off the engines. Nimbly making his way up front he pointed to himself and explained his error by saying, “beer.” With his muscled legs apart, he bent over and pulled up the anchor. I heard a male squeal that made me rear up. He did a dance as he brought on board a contraption resembling a birdcage that was full of little fish. The anchor had managed to catch a line on a series of fish traps, and Ah Po was very happy with his luck. He called below for some wicker baskets. He emptied the one trap, pulled the line and found another just like it attached. He emptied it as well and went on to the next one, quite pleased with his unexpected bonus. My host crawled up through the front hatch and watched the containers fill with flapping little fish. He explained that Ah Po’s wife would beat them into a paste and his family would have a real treat. I told him that where I came from, it just wasn’t right to mess with another person’s traps or nets. My host laughed and asked me if I was going to question ethics while Ah Po celebrated good fortune. After emptying three cages, Ah Po said it was enough. He was about to let go of the line when I stopped him and grabbed a trap. I reached into my pocket and took out three Hong Kong five-dollar pieces because they were large enough to not fall through the webbing. I placed them inside the trap with the bait. Only Ah Po saw what I did. He looked at me for an instant before a smile cracked his poker face. He laughed, his white teeth showing and his eyes alive, and he patted my shoulder as if he felt sorry for me. He shook his head and muttered, “Americans.” After he let loose the traps and stowed the anchor, Ah Po started the solid-sounding motors, and we made our way toward the glow of Aberdeen. I positioned myself
CIRQUE in the darkness on the front deck and leaned against the glass of the cabin, making sure I was not in Ah Po’s line of vision. I glanced at those sitting comfortably in the stern. The motion of the yacht created a refreshing evening breeze filled with humidity and an Oriental greenhouse of mysterious smells. I looked at the approaching metropolis. The vertical reflections on the water of its many colored, kaleidoscopic lights created a fantastic city seemingly built upon neon pillars. I raised my San Miguel to this city, shook my head and smiled to myself about the past and the future, and toasted to the here and now.
Family Meeting THEN We knew something was wrong because our sister wasn’t there. Ray and Davey looked at me like a pair of frightened dogs, their eyes jumpy and evasive. Each had their fingers clasped and held between their thighs to keep them from shaking. I was the oldest and they expected me to have answers. I shrugged, but the fact was my cheek twitched. The table shone glossy, waxy-looking, something you’d see at a diner, yellow from use with ribbed aluminum railing for edges. I studied my reflection because I was too nervous to face Mother. “Here he is now,” she said, clearing her throat. In recent months she had taken to coughing often, hawking up stuff she spat into a hankie hidden in her lap. My father was still in uniform. He’d come directly from the station. No matter how many times I’d seen him dressed that way, it always thrilled me, same as a The Mad Hatter ride at the fairgrounds. He’d told me plenty of times not to stare at his gun, yet my eyes always disobeyed before my brain could set them straight. There was something new in his comportment, a heaviness, worry or regret staking claim and taking root right there in his grizzled mug. He lit a Marlboro, took a long drag and blew smoke at the hanging lamp all in what seemed a single maneuver. “Here’s the thing,” he said, “I’ve had the day from hell. I’m tired. But your mother--your mother and I, we called this meeting because something of hers was missing and she found it, found them, the articles in a
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 place they shouldn’t have been.” Davey squinted at me as if I was the sun. Ray bit his bottom lip. They were good kids, a bit directionless, but not thieves. “So who knows what I’m talking about? Who’s the culprit?” “You might need to be more explicit,” Mother said, her voice warm but brittle. “The person that did it knows what I’m talking about.” Somehow Dad had finished the cigarette and was onto his next. “Come on, let’s get with the program here. I’m not a detective.” He wasn’t but I knew he wished he was. He thought riding around in a squad car boring. He’d once confessed that most of his time was spent writing speeding tickets. “I haven’t got all goddamn night!” he said, slamming his fist so that one of the daffodils broke its spine and toppled from the vase onto the table, flinging water driblets against my cheek. “Daryl,” my mother said. Her voice was enough to calm him these days. There’d been a time when nothing could, when he was as mean as a scorned bear and would take to beating anyone of us with his weekend rodeostyled belt. “Why isn’t Lilly here?” Ray said, convincing me further that his mouth was going to be the very thing that kept him from making it in the world. “She’s not feeling well.” “Nuh uh,” Ray said. “She’s up in her room playing her dumb David Cassidy albums.” “Ray,” I said aloud because I couldn’t get his attention otherwise. “If this is a family meeting, she should be here too. Maybe she took those things. She--” “Enough!” my father screamed. He ran his thickfingered hands across his face and tugged on his jowls. “I’m sorry Linda,” he said. “You just wouldn’t believe the day I had.” Mother put her palm on top of his hand. I watched her thumb work overtime, as if she were scraping glue off his knuckles. “I found some of my intimates in the rec room,” she said. “What are intimates?” Ray asked. “My matching bra and panty set, plus my good pair of black heels.” “Why were you undressing downstairs?” Ray asked. “She wasn’t, that’s the thing,” I said before I knew I had. “And how do you know that?”
71 “Isn’t that why we’re having this meeting?” I said. I knew how those raccoons felt now, once they stepped into the traps Dad had set and the metal doors slapped shut. I looked him in the eye, taking in the creases of skin nearby and the wisp of cigarette smoke that flirted with his cornea. He blinked and I knew. “They had obviously been worn, used. They’re not clean anymore, my panties,” mother said, dropping her head and speaking to the table top. “We just want to know. We’re a family and a family that keeps secrets is a family that’s doomed.” “I ain’t gonna wear your underwear!” Ray said, emphatic. “That’s sick.” My father swallowed and withdrew a third cigarette. “It was me,” I said. Davey jerked and Ray slugged himself. “I told you,” my father said to my mother. His jaw was set. He looked triumphant and defeated at the same time. I followed the rug of smoke hugging the ceiling, fanning out like fog, breaking apart in tufts and then disappearing.
NOW I was on-call, so Jean took the kids to her sister’s place in Seaside for the weekend. I didn’t mind some space. When my cell rang, I figured it to be the hospital but it was him. It took me a few moments to sort it out, the unfamiliar number on caller I.D. and the fact that he was bawling, not saying anything really, just raging into the receiver. “Dad, Dad, what is it?” I stared out the window at all of the lifeless greenery. Our house sat in a cul-de-sac, yet these were acre estates and the Baker’s and Hahn’s never stepped foot outside. “I killed a man today.” “Killed?” “Shot him dead. Three times.” “At work? I mean, on the job or what?” “I haven’t ever killed anybody.” He was never good with details. “Dad, help me out. What happened?” “He wasn’t even a man; he was just a kid, a punk.”
“Dad?” “I met his family. His mother, she’s destroyed.” I thought of my own mother, the swift moving cancer taking her away ruthlessly, horribly. “Was it in self-defense? Dad, it was in self-defense wasn’t it? In the line of duty?” At The Evergreen Fair one year we watched a cow give birth. Its bar soap tongue lolled out and she moaned so low and pained it seemed as if her calf were Satan clawing his way to life. That’s how my father groaned into the phone, just like that show cow. “You don’t know what it feels like.” But I did. I had lost patients in surgery, a few I shouldn’t have, and some that wanted it that way. I listened to him mourn. My only other option was to hang up, which I’d done a couple of times in the past when he was loaded and babbling. I could tell he hadn’t had a drink yet tonight. Though he was choking and crying, his words were too crisp. “What’s a little fucker like that doing with a gun anyway? Why do you need a gun if you’re just hot-wiring cars? It doesn’t make sense.” “A lot of things don’t make sense, Dad.” “What’s that mean? What’re you trying to say?” “Nothing, I don’t know. I was only responding.” “Why don’t you ever call? Why’s it always me that does?” “I’m sorry.” “I’ll bet you are.” “Dad?” “You grew up to be one mean son of a bitch, didn’t you?” After I hung up I threw the phone at the window so hard that the glass cracked and a piece of metal casing bounced back and ripped a decent-sized chunk out of my cheek. I was going to the hospital after all.
I met him at Fred’s Tavern in Snohomish. Mother loved that place because she was a beer drinker and they had every kind of ale God ever created. I had to make myself promise I’d go. Do you ever do that--talk to yourself, talk yourself into something even when you’re pretty certain it’s not going to be any good for you? There was any number of excuses I could have invented, many legitimate.
“Hey, here he is, the golden boy,” my father said, rising at the same time as number six. “I thought you were going to stiff me for a minute there.” “Come on, Dad, really?” He pounded my back harder than necessary. During the hug, his whiskers bit my cheek skin near the fresh scar. “This is Roberta, Bobbie this is my son.” She was black-haired like all the others, all except mother. Her lips were too pulpy, as if they’d been injected. But what I did was I studied her eyes, even to the point of making her uncomfortable. After a moment I could tell she didn’t know. We spoke small-talk and then nothing while we ate. It was me that got drunk and when he offered to drive me home I was clear-headed enough to get a cab instead because I had lied about Jean being gone. The next morning he found out anyway. He waved at Jean when she dropped me off on First Street in front of Fred’s. I wasn’t sure how long he’d been waiting. “He looks so sad,” Jean said, trying not to move her lips. “Don’t you go feeling sorry for him now.” “Everyone deserves happiness Derek, everyone deserves to love and be loved.” “You sound like my mother.” “That actually makes me happy, you comparing me to her.” I didn’t want to cry but I felt the press and sting on my eyes. “Last thing?” she said, and I nodded. “Usually love requires a sacrifice from one party or another.” I ran my thumb across Jean’s eyebrow, wishing there was some way to tell her how much I loved her, how little my life would mean if she weren’t in it. She’d had my back from day one and that much gave me peace. I turned to go but she caught my arm, pulled me back. A squeeze toy squeaked as she took my face in her hands and kissed me open-mouthed. “It’s not his fault, you know. What he does, it’s not as weird as you make it out to be.” “Sure.” “He needs his son.” “He has two others.” “But he lost you a long time ago.” It was hard to breathe in the car and I kept thinking how I’d need to shower once I got to the hospital, but even before I did that I’d be catching shit from Sanders and that dick, Armstrong.
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 He didn’t look at me right away. Something on the face of the windshield had his attention, a cluster of dead bugs maybe, or bird crap. “I loved her, you know,” he said, his voice thick and metallic. “I do know that.” He reached his arm across the car seat. It seemed as if the arm were moving independent of the rest of him. His hand landed on my thigh. For some reason it surprised me that it was warm. “There’s something I have to,” he said, his voice breaking apart, too weak to hold the idea. I pondered for a moment. I talked to myself some more. I said, Go. Get the hell out of here. Then I recalled Jean and I said before I could stop myself, “Go ahead.” When he sighed, his breath fogged the window glass. He wouldn’t face me, or maybe he couldn’t. “Dad, go ahead.” “I need to know.” His voice shook sounding like bits of gravel under tires. “What?” “Do you?” he asked. I knew what he was asking now. I’d been waiting for the question most of my life and now that it was presented I feared my answer. I thought about my brothers, my sister, Mother being gone, and the man beside me. We were a unit, bound by blood if nothing else. “If you don’t, then say you don’t,” he said. Did I love him? I wasn’t sure but I said I did anyway. He burst out crying, shuddering against my shoulder. I’d lied before when it mattered. My wife’s comment about sacrifice came back to me. I’d done my part, and for his sake and the sake of everyone involved, I’d do it again.
NON-FICTION Kathleen Tarr
My First Discovery of Richard Rodriguez
September 29, 2003. Pittsburgh, PA. Free lunch. Literary fate. I am seated with about ten fellow graduate students at the Carnegie Museum restaurant, across the table from Richard Rodriguez. He wears a navy pinstriped suit, crisp, white shirt, and maroon tie; his face is deeply tanned. A vested-waiter pours coffee from a long-necked, silver pot into delicate, china cups I’m too clumsy to hold. Rodriguez orders a cheese omelet and a glass of white wine, and I like the way he asks for it: “I’ll have a glass of sexy wine.” In between delicate bites of food, he clasps his hands, locks his fingers together, and speaks in somber tones of how, after having written the book, the writer on the shelf will never age. A faint smile crosses his face. He sips more sexy wine. Each time he raises his glass, the right hand quivers slightly. Rodriguez leans forward, seems genuinely interested in being among students, chit-chatting about our lives and origins. We jockey for the chance to pose a question of the Distinguished Visiting Author from San Francisco. Do you have any literary advice for us? He says he has figured out some things about writing essays: “I view my essays as public performance pieces with touches of theatricality…We have to find our audience, advertise ourselves.” He said something similar in his book, Brown: The Last Discovery of America: “My interest is in this intersection—the intersection in America of the private theatrical with the public theatrical; the intersection of the closet and the meetinghouse; the impulse to play and the fear of play.” It’s my turn to speak and share a bit of personal history: born and raised in Pittsburgh, migrated briefly to Florida, wound up in Alaska where I built a life, raised a family, and quit a managerial job in my late 40s to attend the University of Pittsburgh. “I don’t understand how people can move to Janet Levin such completely different environments and feel
Alaska for over 25 years, and had spent the first four of so comfortable. It’s always been a mystery to me,” those years living in an isolated Tlingit Indian community. Rodriguez says. Native Alaskans often shared personal stories about A few minutes later, Rodriguez stares into my the state’s early history and the many wrongdoings green eyes. committed by the controlling white people: the blatant “You have a complexion that reminds me of racism; the imposition of Outside educational values; the peaches.” forcing of Natives to speak in English only; the pressures I blush red as a radish. He is looking at my and expectations to conform and assimilate: Ditch those complexion, and he doesn’t see white, he sees peaches! seal skins, fish intestines and mukluks! Dress more American! I do have a certain, orangey-red-peachiness about me. Get yourself some dungarees, longA peachy-faced Irish-Polishjohns, and tennis shoes at your nearest Alaskan-American. Part of the Alaska Commercial Company store. blotchy-skinned, red-haired, freckled population— a northern The cultural conversation European mestiza, of sorts. But I around Alaska—the historical can remember as a child in the interpretations that played over inner-city of Pittsburgh wanting and over again—went something to have browner skin, more like like this: the newly-arrived, white my public school classmates— people, under the name of the federal like the hues of the Supremes government, had tried to repress or or Lena Horne or the brown eradicate Alaska Native culture, but shade I’m now admiring in this through time, much struggling, and handsome, Ree-chard Roadperseverance, the cultural spirit of ree-guess. Instead, as I moved Native people prevailed, to an extent. into adulthood, I claimed my Indigenous people had reclaimed their ancestry as nothing more than ancestral ties while guardedly moving a “Heinz-57.” People always into the economic mainstream. appreciated that honesty and Prominent Alaska Native businessmen humor, especially because I representing the newly-formed really did hail from Pittsburgh— Richard Rodriguez regional corporations, addressed the birthplace of the ketchup chambers of commerce wearing tribal company. But the Heinz 57 necklaces under their sports coats. Tlingit kids attended lineage was also a source of some embarrassment. I village summer camps to help keep their traditional didn’t know anything about my murky family tree and storytelling and language alive. what ancient blood really mixed in my veins. Rodriguez, born of Mexican immigrant parents, admitted he wanted to be white while growing up near Sacramento. In essays and interviews, he explained that being white represented several types of freedom, the freedom to be nothing—to be free from color boundaries and racial stereotypes, and to be free from the past. But Richard, I want to shout over the white table cloth, I can’t free myself from an ancestry I know so little about. How could I distance myself from a line of history when I couldn’t begin to trace the line? A tradition of notradition. Who are my people? I don’t know what to do with all this whiteness.
By the time I met Rodriguez, I had been living in
Controversial land claims were slowly being defined and negotiated in the courts, promising more long-term security. Native Alaskans across the state proudly and visibly worked to preserve their honored past, but in the way of life I had known, we had willingly forgotten ours. A few weeks before Rodriguez’s campus visit, I had been immersing myself in his work. Literary discussions among emerging writers often revolved around the topic of narrative voice. We could distinguish the authoritative, yet almost non-existent “I” voice of John McPhee; the cool control of Joan Didion’s narrative style; the friendly, conversational tone of an E. B. White
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 essay. But with Rodriguez, I heard a sonic imprint unlike any nonfiction writer I had read. His narrative voice was mercurial, unpredictable, and idiosyncratic, covering a broader range on the essayistic spectrum. I wasn’t sure how to describe Rodriguez’s prose style, especially in Brown: The Last Discovery of America (2002). His voice can be sarcastic, melancholy, or scholarly—all within a single paragraph: a kind of fusion prose, as I called it. Rodriguez alternates between Richard the Historian, Richard the Ph.D. Scholarship Boy, Richard the Social Critic, Richard the Catholic, and Richard the Gay Man. An American Scholar reviewer once said of him, “He writes in the realm of semiotic play.” His work is hybrid literary Americana—a glorious melting pot of voices, like this bit of fusion prose from Brown: The Last Discovery of America:
75 his narrative voice and flipped moods and perspective. It was a bold literary move. Was this ability to seduce the reader through tonal shifts part of the theatrical impulse he was referring to? He’d remind his darlings—this is his authentic voice, too, to call you darling—that as a writer, he did not like being lumped into categories or stereotype based on race, ethnicity, class, or sexual preference. He could easily assume the Queen Mum’s English or he could be the queen. In writing, Rodriguez embraces what he calls those brown literary moments, when words embody different personalities, textures, and rhythms. He captures a real sense of language as it has been spoken in a particular time and place in history. Americans do not speak “English,” he says in Brown:
“…The barely inhabited West was where socio-paths roamed, where Gabby Hayes minced around in an apron, and mountain men bedded doe-eyed Indian maidens who had hearts of wampum, but would never live to wear-um gingham.”
“…Even before our rebellion against England, our tongue tasted of Indian—succotash, succotash, we love to say it; Mississippi, we love to spell. We speak American. Our tongue is not something slow and mucous that plods like an oyster through its bed in the sea, afearing of taint or blister. Our tongue sticks out; it’s a dog’s tongue, an organ of curiosity and science.”
Rodriguez exerts the force of his personality through many literary guises and, as a nonfiction writer, I was riveted by his jaunty syntax. On the opening pages of Brown, the author re-imagines a scene with Alexis De Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America. Tocqueville is traveling through 19th century America recording observations about the land and people, including its African and Indian populations. Rodriguez talks back to Tocqueville—the sophisticated European—and pokes a little fun. In an italicized section, Rodriguez addresses him: “…But cher Monsieur: You saw the Indian sitting beside the African on a drape of baize. They were easy together. The sight of them together does not lead you to wonder about a history in which you are not the narrator? These women are but parables of your interest in yourself. Rather than consider the nature of their intimacy, you are preoccupied alone with the meaning of your intrusion…” His nonfiction writing felt more refreshing, emotionally powerful, and visceral. Here was Rodriguez directly addressing a famous and deceased historical figure and by doing so, he showed there are many ways to improve the entertainment value of your prose. No need to speak in stodgy, indecipherable, academese. He varied
Reading Rodriguez, you soon start to see that he likes to rattle the reader a bit. Sometimes his prose caresses your back, and at other times, electric bolts shoot up your spine. He doesn’t want to sound on the page the way you expect him to sound. When he speaks of his love of language in the old Latin masses he heard in Catholic churches as a boy, he sounds mystical, then confesses his is really a metaphorical soul. He likes to work silences into his prose, makes you hang with him awhile before he ties fragments of thought together, if ever he does. On the page, his literary manner is magnetic and charming and sometimes obtuse, but there is never the dry and lifeless voice of factual reporting. Let us not forget the erotic pleasures of reading, my sweets. Be intellectual but please breathe more life into the content of your ideas, he seems to be saying. Pick an argument, yes. Have your say with the status-quo, yes. But also make ’em laugh. The best time to write is now, to write about what it’s like to live in your time. Now. Be provocative. Disturb, if you must. Make the reader shudder or squirm. But move beyond simply being competent and clear. Writing is about
more than remembering concrete details and skillfully composing above-average sentences. Play a little! Take your sentences swing-dancing.
Our student lunch with Rodriguez is ending, but I’m consoled knowing we’ll see him again the next day at the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers’ Series on a panel called, “Is Diversity Dead?: Richard Rodriguez on the Browning of America.” I rise from the table to exit the Carnegie Museum. Another stroke of literary luck! Rodriguez is walking out beside me. I calculate I have less than a minute before reaching the curb on the other side of the street to articulate why his ideas and writing have meant so much to me. In my mind, I start rehearsing what to say: Yes, as a culture, we are most definitely absorbed into one another’s stories. It’s true we are walking paradoxes of impurities, but reluctant to discuss those impure and erotic moments in history when we have been attracted to “the other.” Russians and Native Alaskans intermingled and procreated, and if only we stopped to examine history more closely, we’d discover a more complex story than the conqueror and the conquered, usurper and usurped. I want to impress him, to sound intelligent, and of a certain literary sensibility when sharing this memorable moment with the urbane Richard Rodriguez. But I don’t sound anything like that. In my haste to describe the northern peoples—particularly the linked and blended story of Alaskans and Russians—I realize I am making no sense at all and Rodriguez is probably thinking I am some peachy-skinned, sub-arctic fool. I wait for the typical reply from this Distinguished Visiting Author, the obligatory, overly-polite après-lunch comment about how my project sounds utterly fascinating, and that I am most certainly on the right literary track with this AlaskanSiberian migratory motif, and that he wishes me mucho, mucho success. Yawn. Yawn. “I think what you need to do is allow your mythological, poetic self to meet your historian’s self,” he says matter-of-factly, as if he had just told me where the bus stop was. And then Richard the Cosmopolitan turns and walks away. What mythological self did he mean? What poetic self? I am left standing, on the corner of Forbes Avenue, smiling, grateful, but quite befuddled. *** The lecture hall of the Carnegie Library’s main branch fills up, and I can’t wait to hear Richard Rodriguez
speak on this evening panel about cultural diversity. He begins by talking about the stories in history that embarrass us, what Americans really don’t want to openly speak about—our many brown children, for example. He tells of his desire as a writer to research the history that leads off the page, to the lesser-known historical anecdotes and truths. My mind stuck on this one: When Christopher Columbus’s ships entered the harbor in Honduras in 1492, those Indians, they didn’t run, he says. They didn’t run off into the woods afraid of the white European man. They came down to the water’s edge to watch Columbus, to take it all in, but not to take. To see the ships. All the ships. Rodriguez says it was a radical historical browning kind of moment, the impulse those Indians had to absorb. Curious folks, those half-naked, very tan people, the writer reminds his audience. Maybe an essential part of our brown history, Richard the Historian says, to absorb, not to segregate. His insights weren’t derived from public school text books. I had never heard the Christopher Columbus story, ingrained in me since childhood, re-narrated in such a surprising way, from an entirely new point of view. I was near the top rows of the lecture hall, far from anyone I knew including one of my closest friends in the University of Pittsburgh’s creative writing program. I ran into Jessica right after the two-hour program ended. I think I spoke to her without taking a breath for maybe ten minutes, and being the good graduate school compadre she was, Jessica stood, patiently listening, to all my gushing, and to the historical facts I was reeling off about Russian explorers and their three-masted sailing ships crossing the treacherous North Pacific; fascinating facts about the Tlingits and their very different contact with the Russians, compared to the Aleuts who suffered more enslavement. I continued rambling about Alaska as the new American West, oh, yes, he’s so right about that, and then I mentioned more ships and more explorers. Rodriguez’s fusion prose and engaging speaking style had generated some literary heat in me. This Chicano writer with espresso eyes helped me re-imagine my family’s cold, bland history. And then my dear friend, Jessica, who by this time, was starting to look quite exasperated by all my hard-to-follow commentary told me to shut up and go home. “Listen to yourself. You sound different. I’ve never heard you sound like this before. You need to go home right now. This instant. And you need to write down your ideas and whatever comes into your mind.” “But it’s almost eleven o’clock,” I said, “and I can’t possibly write now, it’s been a really long day and I’m
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 tired, what are you talking about?” She insisted I go back to my studio apartment on Allequippa Street where I lived all alone—to write. I sat at the card table, turned on my laptop, and began writing without stopping to think. In my literary delirium, I wrote for 30 straight minutes and produced close to 1,500 words, a feat I’ve not repeated since. I printed the single spaced pages and stuck them in a file without reading one word of it. Three days later, I decided to pull out the mess I had written. Darlings, I was afraid the prose was indecipherable, nonsensical—a fusion of confusion. But I emailed it to Jessica anyway. Here’s an un-edited sampling of what I scribbled that night: “…I’m an Alaskan-American. For so long, the saga of Alaska has been told by East Coast writers and federal agents and military men and tawdry writers. For so long, Natives have been saying, this is my story and these are my people…Once, a Russian ship came into port. They pillaged and plundered and stole and wasted the resources of Alaska. But in the wake of this ship, they left something else, a Russian Orthodox cross on a white wooden church….Whose shelf-worn narrative is it now? The ancient ideas are resurfacing, Rodriguez says...The saga of Alaska, does any of it belong to me? We don’t read the history the way the history really happened. History is multi-hued, more tawny, more blood red, more erotic blue, than we had imagined. As humans, we have this peculiar make-up. We want to go through a door to see what and who is there. The door could be the Bering Sea Land Bridge. Or a Russian ship named St. Paul. Or a Spanish ship named the Santa Maria. We’re all on this voyage…”
A few hours later, my phone rang.
“I read your free-write from the other night,” Jessica said, “And I admit I don’t really understand what any of these historical tidbits really mean, but I have to tell you, something’s happened here. Your voice on the page sounds different, looser, and edgier. You’ve had a breakthrough and you just need to keep going with it.” *** That is how it happened—how I first discovered the literary finesse of Richard Rodriguez, and his ideas about the paradoxes of race and identity. He introduced me to brown in all its living color: the brown of history, the brown of tragedy, the brown of comedy, the brown of duende. His brown metaphor and perspective could be applied to Alaska’s contemporary culture. And to my impure Heinz 57 heritage—brown in all its complexity and mystery. My family simply cannot pinpoint their ancestral burial grounds, their sacred places, and their traditional hunting and fishing sites—they wouldn’t know where to begin. I’d like to think that my people, whoever they were, had caravanning souls. Possibly, they sailed northern seas, scaled a few mountain passes, rode horses across an empty steppe, or limped in pauper’s boots and pulled a cart of cabbages. And wherever they went, they encountered others, stayed for a while, made war, and made love. They kept moving, however they did, to whoknows-where on the map, until…until the palette of their origin story grew messy over time, and the colors spilled and smudged, and new mixing zones were created while the ancestral stories once passed down were lost to dreams. Rodriguez teaches us to plant our feet in those mixing zones because it’s there, in the overlap, where the tantalizing, and still un-told stories are found. In the literary landscape, we journey down the Old Silk Road, absorbing the new tongues—their sounds, rhythms and textures—from the travelers we see along the way. We can harness those experiences to create more of a sense of play in the public meeting places, and in our essays. As writers, don’t be pigeon-holed, I can hear Rodriguez say. Who says you can’t fuse together voices? Our narrative voice is not a required uniform that we slip into and wear forever; it’s more like a costume that changes with the act. As I wander down the Old Silk Road, the many brown words of Richard Rodriguez ring in my ear. Words belong as much to the body as they do to the mind. And when my historian’s self comes out to meet my mythological, poetic self, I really want those playful, erotic sparks to fly.
78 Katie Eberhart
The Fragrance Of Memory I stomped the forked spade into the earth beneath the lilac and rocked the handle until the tines loosened a patch of clover. Bending, I grabbed the hunk of stems and roots, heavy and dribbling soil, and flung it towards the wheelbarrow then turned and again plunged the prongs into the dirt. In my mind, the garden is partitioned between desire and dislike, work split between nurturing and eradicating where the reality is orderliness squeezed and displaced by unwanted plants twining through lilies and irises, claiming both surface and subsurface, light and dark, bane as the old English knew—slayer or destroyer. Weeds specialize at invading and colonizing. Clover expands outward from the center, dandelion seeds sail on breezes, and quack grass roots push through the soil in any direction, segments with shoots punching up here and there in the hunt for light and warmth. I fight weeds because they take away the pleasure and esthetics of the garden and after all it is gardens, like tablecloths and china, that make a place a home. I prod beneath the delphinium, the dirt cool and crumbly to my touch, and tug the stringy grass roots as if unweaving a section of messily-made tapestry. Moisture leaches a cool wetness into the fabric of my jeans and kneeling makes the house seem taller than normal, and the large picture window above me solidly vertical but, like a mirror brightening a room, the glass diffuses and reflects light back across the garden. Inside the house, the window defines and frames views both up-close and distant, of flowers and mountains, and trees grown large in twenty-eight years. Above me, the reflection-in-glass is an invisible wall and deadly flyway. Raking dry leaves into little piles with my hands, I uncover a wing and skull bleached white, the beak-bone curving like a long fingernail. The word gardening is code for shovels and dirt, clippers and trimmings, flowers unfurling, seeds dropping, moths and bees, chickadees or nuthatches picking insects from crevices in bark, the invisibility of pollen. A dead bird buried in the dirt. On a shelf inside, I have entombed within a small clear box two tiger swallowtail
CIRQUE wings (yellow-and-black like a scrap from an old dress), a fragment of gray wasp nest paper, and another bird skull I found in this same place beneath the window. On your knees weeding, you see fine details that escape notice when standing, like the Bergenia’s early spring blooms of shocking pink flagrantly strung on glossy red tubular stems, as if kitsch tailored for bumblebees and hawk moths flying slow and low, still winter-drunk. Later, the Siberian irises split their pale green wrappers, first as dark purple buds neatly pleated like an elfin robe but then flaring out into a trio of wide petals striped creamcolored, burgundy, and pale lavender, as if someone had painted fantastical birds strangely tethered to the ground by a long green cord. Himalayan poppy stems sprout cactus-like wiry hairs, a leash for fragile blooms as pale blue as a clear dawn sky. Once I started Himalayan poppies from seed and only found out much later that to get blooms every year you must heartlessly pluck the first-year buds. In a quarter century of gardening, I’ve learned a catalog of plants. The tiger lily, already growing here when we came, has survived despite our disruptive digging, healing-in, and replanting, and every year it produces a mass of dark-speckled orange blooms as big as your hand and four on-a-stalk. The long-spurred columbines have also thrived, every summer blanketing a garden niche in pastels of lavender, pink, yellow, and creamy white. Delphiniums sprout easily from seed and within a year or two mature into tall clumps densely hung with deepest sapphire blue or indigo blooms. But despite the showiness, these flowers are merely understory to the lilac, a substantial bush with branching architecture boasting the most enduring delicacy, fragrance, and sheer quantity of blooms. The lilac hugs the corner of our house, her branches leaning over the eaves, and in spring her pale pink blossoms send a sweet perfume through the open windows. Of course, this lilac did not emerge on its own from the chill boreal earth but was carefully planted, perhaps by a colonist, a woman who cherished her memories, a woman I never knew from another generation but with whom I share a craving—the need to remember. Yet again, another spring, I’m on my knees in the damp earth beneath the lilac and the picture window. I’m tearing at a dense carpet of sprouts because the prior summer I had not pruned the lilac’s fading blooms and so the seeds dispersed, eaten by birds or falling into the dirt. The act of weeding is one of repetitive motion
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 that encourages reminiscing. Weeding, your fingers and limbs work without much mental supervision, leaving space for your mind to wander, a place of emptiness that encourages and encompasses percolating memories. While engaged in motions of fingers picking roots from soil, you might find you imagine how things might have been or how what seems a small event may cause large changes in a person’s life, changes even echoing through later generations. Along the south and west sides of the house, shrubs soften the hard angle between house and ground, hindering the wind here where in spring the Knik races warm and Chinook-like out of the southeast and, during winter, the Matanuska Wind bores up and out of the river channel with a shrillness and pervasive Arctic chill. Warmly indoors, you see the window shiver in the frame, sucked and pushed by the wind as if a membrane not hard and brittle glass. Many conversations have started with a comment about the weather and indeed destructive forces of hurricanes, floods, and even freezes have motivated people to move. Other times though displacement begins with something human-caused—conflicts or wars, or even a technology gone awry, like the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. When times are bad, it’s only natural to begin figuring how to move somewhere safer, friendlier, with opportunities. Sometimes the adult-children go first, the grandparents following later, and I can see how a nostalgia might remain with the grandmother for the home of her youth. It would be a longing for the familiar— the food, flowers, trees, views, and scents—a yearning for snow-in-winter, roses-in-summer, and lilacs-in-spring. Yet another year, I was sympathetic to the lilac’s profuse progeny. Of course, good gardeners would have clipped the faded blooms, but I am not that kind of gardener. That spring, I filled a bucket with lilac shoots and dirt, certain that I would transplant the long-rooted leafy sprouts later. Several weeks had passed when an old pickup drove into our driveway. I expected that the people were lost, or evangelists, and waited as the driver, a middleaged man, opened his door and climbed out. “Hi,” I said, ready with the “we’re not interested and don’t want any” speech. He shrugged slightly in a ‘what can I say’ way and said, “my mother is looking for trees and saw your bush.” An old woman clambered out of the passenger side and walked around the truck. She wore a cotton print dress and head scarf and spoke carefully, pronouncing the single word “bush” then after a pause “flower” and she
79 waved her hands expansively as if holding a bouquet and breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of invisible blooms. In a rush, she finished with the words “home, like home.” Imagine, leaving the country of your youth and ancestors and thinking that you will never return. I had not moved across an ocean to where the language and even the alphabet were different, I had only migrated from Washington state to Alaska, from the desert steppe to the subarctic, from a place of dark, star-filled summer nights to summers of near-perpetual daylight. Eventually, we bought a house with a lilac already well-established and a garden with tiger lilies, delphiniums, and columbines but it is the lilac which reminds me most of my girl-self, of a time when my sisters and I cut and glued paper baskets which we filled with lilacs and on May Day ran and stealthily hung the sweet-smelling blooms on our neighbors’ doors. I don’t know what exactly brought the old woman to Alaska, but from the road she saw the large lilac—Syringa vulgaris—of May Day baskets and Mother’s Day bouquets, with aromatic blooms that attract hummingbirds and butterflies, bees and moths, and now she looked at me hopefully, an old woman in a new life, an old woman who grasped memories like birds to hold for herself and give to her children. “Lilacs,” I said and pointed at the gnarled shrub heavy with pale pink blooms. “Yes. Lilacs,” she repeated, the skin around her eyes crinkling as she smiled. The man smiled, too. From behind the house, I retrieved the container of lilac sprouts. “Here, take these,” I said, holding the bucket out to her. “They’ll grow. Like home.” “Thank you,” she said, her smile widening. “Like home,” she sighed, holding the bucket of lilacs tight. Like home.
Growing Up Brown Nine-tenths of wisdom consists of being wise in time. -- Teddy Roosevelt
What the old man remembers of that night fifty years ago begins when he is shaken awake. He opens his eyes to see a man bending over him. The man’s face is covered by two white handkerchiefs, one tied around his forehead and flipped backwards over his hair, the other tied across the bridge of his nose to hide his face, leaving only a slit that reveals his eyes. The boy remembers thinking in those first confused moments that Blanca, the family dog, was having her puppies and he was being called to watch. He remembers being led to his parents’ bedroom where his mother and father are seated on the bed, just to the right of the door. He remembers seeing another man in the room with his parents, handkerchiefs also hiding his face. The man tells him to sit and the boy sits on the floor next to his mother and father, his back resting against the bed. He remembers seeing his father stand up suddenly and lunge at the man, clutching him around the waist, grabbing at the wrist of the hand that holds the gun. He remembers watching the two of them struggle, sees the man shoot his gun at the ceiling. He can’t remember whether he is standing now or still sitting, but he is very close to the two men locked in their frantic embrace because he remembers the puzzled, plaintive look on his father’s face as he grapples with the gunman, as if asking himself, “Why did I do this? What do I do now?” The old man remembers his mother holding desperately onto his father as he struggles, pleading with him, “Sit down, Stanley, sit down, let him go,” and saying to the man with the gun, “He doesn’t mean it, he’ll sit down, he doesn’t mean it,” then again to his father, “Let him go, Stanley, let him go, please let him go, it will be all right.” He remembers this most of all. “Mrs. Fisher was helping her husband, biting at the gangster,” one newspaper reporter wrote the following
day, but that’s not what the old man remembers because he can still see his father’s stricken eyes, can hear his mother’s pleading voice. And that is all he remembers of that night. He doesn’t know whether he turned away or chose to forget the rest of what he saw. But he doesn’t remember his father being shot, doesn’t see him fall, doesn’t see him die. There’s a picture in his mind of the dead man lying in the bedroom on that night long ago, but it came from a blackand-white photo in one of the news clippings that he waited fifty years to read. In the grainy image preserved on yellowing newsprint his father lies on his back, feet bare under striped pajama bottoms and a light-colored bathrobe. His left leg is bent, the knee propped on the wall against which he must have fallen before slumping to the floor. His face is turned toward the camera, but the features are obscured in the shadow of a dresser. Only a dark stain extending down the left shoulder and across the upper chest of the light bathrobe is plainly evident. “Against the five masked gunmen,” reads the caption under the photo, “Mr. C. S. Fisher had no chance.” Putting down the faded newspaper clipping, the old man picks up the phone and calls his bank to inquire about the U.S. dollar-Philippines peso exchange rate. A clerk tells him it was currently .02612 and offered to do the math for him. A few moments later she said, “At today’s rate, 300 pesos is worth $7.84.” “Why did he do it, die so pointlessly?” the old man asks himself, then remembers the reason his mother gave a long time ago: “His favorite expression was ‘My home is my castle.’ He said it often. He died because he loved his family, because he was English and he was proud and he loved his family. That’s why he died.” An everlasting regret is that he never asked his mother to tell him about herself and his father, about their family and the early times of their life together. In her last painful months, it would have been an act of kindness and grace for him to have sat and listened to her talk about the halcyon years in Hong Kong and Manila. But she is gone and there are things he will never know because learning was painful and knowing not important until it became
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 too late. And he is left with only what he can remember. Now he yearns to tell his children so much more than what he knows about this strong, complex, courageous woman, but he can’t and their loss is as great as his own. *** They met in Hong Kong in the summer of 1926, an improbable couple in those primly proper British Colonial times. He, Cornelius Stanley Fisher, Sr., 28, an Englishman born and raised in London, a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy; she, Mercedes de Ocampo, a 27-year-old schoolteacher from a prominent Manila family, alone on her first two-month holiday abroad. He was in Hong Kong because his ship, the H.M.S. Kent, was in port for several months. She had treated herself to a vacation on the Isle of Victoria after two years of teaching English composition at a Women’s college in Manila. In this romantic setting, they met, fell in love and were married on May 2, 1929, two days before he resigned his Royal Navy commission to begin a new life and a business career in the Orient. She would bear him three sons and a daughter in Hong Kong: Arthur, Lionel, Elinor, Robert and a fourth son, Stanley, in Manila, where they had moved in the fall of 1938. The youngest boy was born on September 26, 1941, nine weeks before another fateful event. On the Monday morning of December 8 -- Sunday, December 7, in Honolulu -- Japanese planes struck at targets throughout the Philippines, as they did simultaneously at Pearl Harbor. In the ensuing weeks, the air raids over Manila intensified until, on December 15, General Douglas MacArthur transferred his headquarters to the island fortress of Corregidor. A month later, Japanese troops engulfed the defenseless city, stranding thousands of British, American, Dutch, Polish, Spanish, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Cuban, Russian, Belgian, Swedish, Danish, Chinese and Burmese civilians, our family among them. The Japanese cannily selected the University of Santo Tómas as an internment camp for the large population of enemy civilians trapped in the cordon of the invading army. Occupying sixty acres in the dense heart of the city, the venerable institution founded by Spanish Dominican priests in 1619 was surrounded by high masonry walls with an ornate iron palisade guarding its imposing
entrance. The rectangular campus with its massive buildings and spacious dormitories was ideally suited for its grim new purpose. The first 300 internees entered Santo Tómas on January 4, 1942. When the camp was liberated on the night of February 3, 1945, it held 3,700 men, women and children. During the three-year Japanese occupation of Manila, a total of 6,874 civilians of countries at war with Japan were interned at Santo Tómas and a second civilian internment camp built in 1943 at Los Baños, 35 kilometers away. A total of 362 internees died in the two camps, most of them from starvation, almost all at Santo Tómas. “The rescue at Santo Tómas came on the eve of the 1,126th day of imprisonment,” reported The New York Times on the front page of its February 6, 1945 edition. “It came in time to prevent further deaths from malnutrition, principally among veterans of the Spanish-American war, old men whose diminishing stamina could not withstand the ravages of beriberi, pellagra and other diseases.” Marooned in Manila at the outbreak of hostilities, my mother, father, sister, two of my three brothers and I spent the war inside Santo Tómas. I was seven years old when we walked through those tall, ornamental gates in January of 1942, ten when we were liberated and expatriated to the United States in March of 1945. We returned to the Philippines in May of 1946. The New York firm that had employed my father before the war had asked him to reopen its Far East branch in Manila, a city once called the Pearl of the Oriented, devastated by the war but resolutely rising from its ashes. And so we went “home” again. Four months later, I watched my father die. He was 46 years old. I was 12. *** Here at the beach a half-century after what happened in those early morning hours of September 17, 1946 in Manila, I finally allowed myself to remember, to grieve at long last, to make peace with the shattering events of my childhood, with my resolute denial of them and the lifelong disavowal of myself. After my mother died of cancer in a New York City hospital in the winter of 1981, I took the scrapbook she had given me back to Oregon, along with the 13 single-spaced
82 pages she had typed in her bed during her last painridden months. She had done it for her grandchildren, she said. Those pages tell of her life in Manila and Hong Kong, and they are priceless to me now. But after she died, I hid the words away, along with the clippings. I couldn’t bear to look at them. I didn’t try for another 20 years. On the Pacific Northwest beach to which I’d retreated to face myself alone, to confront my deepest disquiets, my lifelong unease with who I really was and all I would never become, I finally read the yellowed, crumbling newspaper clippings my mother had preserved in a cardboard scrapbook along with the telegrams and letters of condolence she had received. I had never asked to see them; I had never wanted to. Now the memories came flooding back, coursing over the weirs of denial I’d built to hold them at bay for as long as I can remember. With them came the remorse, the renounced sorrow of a lifetime of failed choices, lost opportunities -- all the irretrievable acts of love and courage and kindness never consummated because I hadn’t understood their importance until it was too late. The boy was 12 when he watched his father die in a suburb of Manila on the night of September 17, 1946. The September 18, 1946 issue of The Evening Herald, Manila’s English-language newspaper, carried this front-page account of the crime: Briton Killed by Five Gunman In Pasay Home Cornelius Stanley Fisher, manager of the Specialty Corporation and a native of London, was riddled with bullets in his bedroom at 923 F.B. Harrison, Pasay, at around 3:15 this morning by five unknown men who broke into his residence to rob. In the investigation conducted by Detectives P. Penaranda, C. Lagadi and D. Tugade of the homicide section, it was disclosed that five unknown men entered the house by cutting the wire screen of the window at the kitchen. Pio Teves, the houseboy, who sleeps in the kitchen, woke up because of the commotion, but before he could call for help, one of the men pressed a revolver behind him and
CIRQUE ordered him to keep quiet and to lead the malefactors to the room of Fisher. Two of the unknown men stayed on the ground floor to act as guards while the remaining three went up with Teves who brought them to Fisher. Fisher, at the sight of the men in his room, tried to reach for his .45 caliber revolver which was grabbed by the robbers. The family of Fisher was herded into the room with a lone armed guard while the two ransacked the rooms for loot. It was at this juncture that Fisher grappled with his guard for the possession of the firearm. The pistol in the course of the struggle went off attracting the robbers who were busy taking loot. The robbers went into the room to help their companion and they riddled Fisher with bullets, killing him instantly. Found missing from the Fisher household after the hoodlums had fled were P300 cash money, Fisher’s .45 caliber pistol and personal papers. Cornelius Stanley Fisher, who is a British subject, has his office at the Wilson Building at Juan Luna. Fisher is survived by his wife, Mercedes DeOcampo Fisher, 45, and five children. *** And so I rose and went to my Innisfree by the sea, to a snug little house, not of wattles and clay in a bee-loud glade as in Yeats’s poem, but where the murmur of surf on sand lulls my gimcrack spirit. In January of 1994 I moved -- I mean really moved -- I, my old dog Britt, and an iguana named Mel. “Gone to the beach,” read the change-of-address notice I tucked into my greeting cards that Christmas: “I haven’t retired, just retreated. This year I stopped the world and got off on Washington’s North Beach Peninsula, about a mile from Oysterville. Drop by for a beer if you’re in the neighborhood. If I’m not home, check the beach. I’ll probably be walking the dog.” Yes, indeed. Surfside is a far smaller place than anywhere I’d lived before -- miniscule, nondescript, inconsequential alongside Portland, Miami, New York, Chicago, San
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 Jim Thiele
83 He remembers a story his Filipino mother told him when he was a boy in Manila, a story his English father had laughed at heartily. “When God created man,” his mother said, “God fashioned a figure out of clay and stuck it in the oven. But God took it out too soon. And the white man was born. “So God tried again, but this time left the clay figure in too long. And the black man was born. “Then God tried once more and took him out exactly on time. And the brown man was born.” So, the boy learned, God finally got it right on the third try. But as a U.S. Marine stationed in America’s Deep South in 1957, he discovered a different set of partialities.
Francisco, Manila, and Hong Kong, my former cities of residence before this galactic leap of faith. It’s a reclusive place, the last knuckle on a rain-scoured finger of land lapped by the beige waters of Willapa Bay and the gray Pacific, wrapped by khaki sands and olive clouds, except in summer when the sky is the color of washed denim. Here, wind and water lean on the land, thrusting a constant coolness from across the sea, buffing the stars at night to a sculpted brilliance. Here, I’ve become like Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s open, empty beach, “erased by today’s tides of all of yesterday’s scribblings.” And here, when the old man allows himself to remember, he realizes he must accept and forgive yet another denial as great as the boy’s disownment of his father’s death: his lifelong repudiation of himself in search of someone he would never find, the person he could never be. He recalls words he once read, what another Eurasian author had said about her own yearning for acceptance: “Everywhere I belong, and everywhere I’m an outsider.” The author’s name has long been forgotten, but her words are lodged indelibly in the old man’s brain.
After his graduation from boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, the young man was assigned to the Second Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Soon afterwards, he and another marine, who also had enlisted in New York City and gone through boot camp with him in the same platoon, visited a town near the sprawling base. As the two PFCs were about to enter a restaurant in the small rural community, a man barred their way. After peering intently at both, he told the 22year-old English-Filipino Marine from Manila, “You can come in.” To the 19-year-old African-American Marine from the Bronx, he said, “You can’t.” Both men left quietly. That evening, back at the base, the two were told a saying they would hear many times again. “Around here,” another Marine cautioned them, “if you’re white, you’re all right. If you’re brown, you can hang around. If you’re black, stand back.” The Eurasian Marine had come to America when he was 18, dispatched to a Catholic boarding school for his senior year of high school from a distant land and far-different culture peopled no longer in familiar shades of brown and tan but in starkly contrasting tones of white and black. He arrived at the most vulnerable time of his life, not man or boy but something in-between, feeling lost and separate, excruciatingly alone -- neither white nor black nor brown but an ambiguous alloy of indeterminate origin, desperately wanting to blend in and belong, to be simply, indistinguishably American.
*** Such, the old man realizes, is the power of denial, “vanishing cream for the mind,” as English writer Jeremiah Creedon calls it, a comforting ally in our struggles for survival, a fierce foe in the quest for ourselves. He understands finally that much of what he disavowed in himself before recognizing its irretrievable value, most of the heartache he caused himself and those who chose to love him, came out of that repudiation of his true self. And he learns this about regrets: they don’t go away. Most things distance themselves with time and space, to eventually slide off the edge of our consciousness and disappear forever, but not regrets. You can shove them aside, disavow them for a lifetime, but they always return. And the longer you deny them, the more they punish you when they can no longer be held at bay. Regrets, he has found, are particularly poignant for the old and the dying, those who have used up most of the chances they’ll ever get and are left to make peace with their failed choices. We are the sum of our choices, he now knows. The right choices result in our goodness and character. The wrong choices harden into bitterness and despair. And if we don’t have the wisdom to make good choices when we’re young, we need the grace to make peace with the bad ones when we’re old. Luckiest of all are those who still have the time to replace their bad choices with good ones. Good choices in the nick of time can banish regrets. Regrets are a constant visitor to the old man at the beach. They come and they go at all hours of the day and night. He lets them in, barring none their entry, allowing all their full measure of blame so that when they return the next time, and the next, they will be a little less hurtful. By remembering, he thinks, he will understand. By understanding, he will be able to forgive -- himself above all. And through forgiveness, the regrets will begin to resemble hope.
I Watch the Snow Cry
Break and Entry The air was so hot, so muggy, I thought I’d die. I do much better in cold than in heat, which is why I liked living in the Arctic. I’d picked a bad day to barbeque an enormous pan of shrimp we’d gotten earlier at the fish mongers around the corner from the French Market. On summer break from our teaching jobs in small village on the North Slope, my husband Huck and I were living in a Creole cottage in the French Quarter of New Orleans, on Governor Nichols street. While I was in the cottage’s kitchen, cutting thick slices of a fresh baguette to sop up the peppery butter the shrimp was basting in, Huck was in the living room on the phone with Pal, the school’s principal. “Oh god,” I heard him say. Shit. We were due to return to the village in a week, at summer’s end. When Pal called, I presumed he was just looking for a quick strategy session with Huck about the upcoming start to the school year. But Huck was mostly listening on his end of the conversation, not saying much more than “oh god.” I poured myself a glass of wine and walked out the door from the kitchen to the ivy-covered brick courtyard at the back of the cottage. The shrimp still had ten more minutes in the oven. I sat at a black wrought iron table. The air felt thick like a heavy, damp sponge, like I could squeeze it and it would cry. Huck soon sat down heavily in the chair next to me, pulling his hands through his sand-colored hair. “Tawni and Esther broke into our house,” he said. Tawni and Esther were in high school. Both girls had been in Huck’s middle school class the first year he taught. Tawni wanted to be a poet. I’d been working with her after school on her poetry, when she’d show up. She often didn’t show up. She was a drunk. She was also the village’s prostitute, more or less. I was a brick wall, darkness crawling over me like thick ivy. “They used an axe to get in the door,” Huck said.
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 “The public safety officers spotted the mutilated door on one of their rounds. So they went in to investigate.” “What did they find?” Huck’s eyes closed. For a flash of a second, his chin trembled. “They were in our bed, wearing your pajamas and clothes,” he said. “They were looking at our photo albums.” Inside, the timer went off. “They were also reading your journals,” he said. A shrill beeping continued. I ignored it. Let them burn. Let the shrimp just burn in their butter. “I can’t go back,” I cried. “I know,” said Huck. Something started to smell bad from inside. “I will go back,” I said. “I know,” said Huck. A week later, I was back in the village, but more than just the door to my house had been battered by the break-in. Tawni and Esther spent a few weeks in juvenile detention, then came back to the village, too. The first afternoon I saw them in school, Tawni was wearing a shirt I recognized as my own. Rally Midway through the school year, we were having a pep rally before a big basketball game. The whole school was gathered in the gym on the bleachers. I sat with my Early Childhood Education class in front of the bleachers, on the gym floor. The bleacher seats were too tall for my young students. On the first day of school, I had showed the three-year-olds how to fold their legs like a pretzel. I gave them each a mini pretzel to eat during the lesson. “Now, sit in your pretzels while I read you a story,” I coached. Whenever we went to the library or sat for story-time in our classroom, they had to be in their pretzels. This helped keep them still. My little ones were all in a neat row, in their pretzels, lined up beside me. Kunuyaq was in my lap, my chin resting on her head. Nettie, the Inupiaq woman who was my classroom assistant, held a student on her lap, too. Older students sat higher up on the bleachers, each grade-level sitting together. The high school students, mostly dressed in black, oversized sweatshirts or outdoor jackets, sat at the very top. Community members often attended school pep rallies. The far end of the bleachers, nearest the front entrance of the school, was reserved for the community.
85 Elders and aunties and uncles and parents frequently joined us, cheering on the kids, celebrating whatever we were all rallying to celebrate. In the village, we celebrated anything we could. A couple of microphone stands were set up out in the center of the gym floor. Pal was talking into one of them, talking about the upcoming tournament we would host over the weekend. Nap Ripashook , a parent, stood up suddenly from the bleachers and began to walk toward whoever was holding the microphone. Nap had several kids in the school, mostly in upper elementary or high school grades. He was middle aged, but his slow gait and his missing front teeth made him look much older. As he approached, he reached out his hand, as if asking for the microphone. Everything about his gait and they way he held his body, slumped as it was, suggested that he felt urgently about something. Pal looked startled but recognized the urgency and handed Nap the microphone. Nap wore sagging jeans, a dusty, dark-colored jacket with an elastic waist, and unlaced work boots. His dark, unkempt hair was covered with a hat, which he pushed back off his brow, nervously, as he turned to face the crowd on the bleachers. He trembled visibly as he raised the microphone to his mouth. “You all know my son, Dennie,” he said, in a shaky voice. “He ain’t in school today.” He raised his hand to wipe his brow again. And his voice broke into a sob. In awkwardness and embarrassment, he held the microphone up against his face to hide his crying, which magnified the sound of his weeping and projected it across the gym. “I’m asking for your help with Dennie,” he said, after he’d gathered himself again. “Dennie’s been thinking them thoughts again. ‘Bout suicide. Like his brother done.” And then, he doubled forward and sobbed. A few people jumped up to envelope him, comfort him, and escort him out of the gym. The rest of us sat in stunned, sobered silence. Clearly, we all needed to rally. We’re Going Down (A Small Metaphor) The whole craft bucks and shakes. We’re headed straight toward the ice, spinning a thread of smoke as we drop from the sky. The pilot fell asleep in the cockpit. Birds hit propellers. The door flew off and air dragged us down. Mechanical failure. Fog and squall fought and won.
It happens in slow motion, like grease-ice floating the swells. The plane folds up against an impenetrable floe. The plane rams the ice, impact splitting the frozen skin and dark water opens in fissures that spread out from the plane’s rumpled torso. Everyone is dead. A baby flew from his mother’s arms on impact and lies on the ice, butt up. Someone lost a head. A heap of unbuckled bodies twist together on the floor. I alone am alive. Alone. Crawling up out of the wreck toward the tail, clawing toward the munitions box that holds survival gear—flares, tinned food, a gun. I hurl it all onto the ice as the plane slides down into the water, sea swallowing disaster whole. With one final sigh it’s gone. I have a blanket and a thousand days of cold. I have a flare and a thousand miles of ice. I have all this Arctic silence and only a gun to speak my name. Things We Never Learn Nettie kneeled over the cook stove. Wind whistled under the flaps of the heavy tent. She filled a mug with dark tea from the heavy kettle and handed it to me.
I had untied the hood of my heaviest parka and was sitting on the cot. “Taikuu, Nettie,” I said, holding the hot mug gratefully. Thank you. No matter how many layers I put on my hands, my fingers always froze when I went out onto the sea ice to visit whaling camps. Nettie was already back on her hands and knees on the plywood floor of the tent. Big slabs of beluga meat were spread out on heavy black garbage bags on the floor. Nettie’s hands flew over the thick slabs, her uulu flashing in the sunlight that came down through the air vent at the top of the tent. Rocking the rounded blade back and forth, she worked off thin strips of flesh, and then sectioned those strips into bite-size chunks. Most of the chunks she piled up, to be divided up amongst the whaling crew she belonged to, but some went straight into a big pot of boiling water on the cook stove. Beluga soup would await the men when they came in off the ice for a dinner break tonight. The sun shone brilliantly that afternoon and it was nearly twenty degrees out. All day at school, we’d been hearing about the hundreds of belugas that had migrated past camp the previous night. Belugas as far as you could see, we heard over and over again. Huck and I had left the school building as soon as classes were out, gone home to put on our heaviest gear, and climbed onto our Honda four-wheeler for our last trip out to the sea ice. Our machine bucked wildly over the rubble of sea ice. The lead was close to shore this year, so camp was easy to get to. When we arrived, we sat for a while on some of the packed up ice floes, looking out to the lead of raw, open water. We were quiet and moved carefully. Camp is always quiet, until a whale is landed. Whales have good hearing and in the water underneath they can feel vibrations from movement on the ice. No boats were in the water, no whales in sight. After a while, I went into Nettie’s tent while Huck stayed out on the ice. “You want some beluga?” she asked, popping a raw piece into her mouth. “No, thank you, Nettie.” I’d never learned to like whale meat or muktuk. The Arctic is the only place I’ve ever lived or even visited where I hadn’t been been able to develop a fondness for local cuisine. “Adii,” Nettie laughed. “You never learn yet, huh?” No. I’d never learned. I’d spent five years in this tiny village, and there were so many things I’d never learned.
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 Flight The pilot climbed in and pressed the “Play” button on the cassette recorder that played the prerecorded safety message with information about survival on sea ice and the flares and emergency gear stowed in the tail of the plane. After dozens of flights in and out of the village, I’d memorized the message and on that morning deliberately tuned it out. Against all odds, seemingly, the rickety plane lifted off the runway and banked a hard left to fly me over the village for the last time. As we looped west over the Arctic Ocean, far out on the horizon sea ice revealed where the pack ice had already begun to break up, though it was far too early for break-up. I could just make out the white tents of whaling crews, stationed out by the lead of opening water, who I knew even at that moment were alert for both the exhalations of the migrating bowhead whales and new fissures and cracks in the ice. As if the pilot knew I was saying good-bye, he turned the plane back to pass low over the village before making our ascent. We passed over the cemetery fenced with whale ribs, whale jaw bones forming the monuments on the graves. The hide of the polar bear a hunter caught in January still hung slackly on its frame on the outskirts of the village. I ticked off the few streets in the village in my head as I flew over them, mentally recounting the families who lived on each one. In the center of the tiny village was the school. Far larger than any other structure, it dominated the village. I watched it grow smaller as I lifted into the clouds and was gone.
Recipe in 10 Steps of Who I Have Become, Plus Peanut Butter Cookies Step 1: Be born to a woman who gives you away at birth. Float in foster care for six months before being welcomed into the home of two middle-aged people. Develop into a toddler who tortures the flabby gray cat grabbing and yanking fistfuls of fur. Travel for miles and miles on my father’s back while he pedals his black bicycle through the countryside. Step 2: Grow up in a town steeped in the blood of the Revolutionary War. Learn to swim in the clear waters of Walden Pond diving to fetch shiny foil-covered stones. Jump between mossy rocks while my father lightly casts his caddis fly onto deep amber river pools. Gobble up grassy open meadows. Feast on fireflies’ luminescent light. Devour the dogwoods’ pungent scent. Step 3: Fly to Alaska to catch thousands of flashing silvery salmon. Fall in love with a curly headed fisherman med school dropout. Mush dogs for miles and miles under the cover of a bone-chilling moon. Perfect the act of peeing between the sled runners without having to stop the team and set the snow hook. Voraciously swallow Alaska in huge gulps. Telephone home enthusiastically while my father audibly shakes his head in disbelief at who I have become. Step 4: Finish a BA degree with a book proposal ready for submission. Discover that no publishing company has any interest in what I have to say. Follow flowered dreams to planting perennial gardens that gorge themselves on the midnight sun. Spend summers with dirty hands slaving long hours through sunscreen and rubber raingear. Sit with my father in his backyard of citrus trees watching the violet desert sky. Step 5: Travel with wild abandon. Study the art of Lomi Lomi massage in Hawaii. Relax on the
88 lanai watching surfers return from wave riding, washing their sculpted bodies with jugs of fresh water. Drool. Spend copious time in the archipelago of Indonesia. Stuff myself with the sweat and spirit of the place. Share photos of favorite places with my father and watch him shake his head in disbelief at who I have become. Step 6: Enter not so gracefully into middle age with a broken heart. Wonder endlessly why I am here and come to no real conclusion. Endure a grey rainy summer that breaks my spirit a little. Watch my father lose his sight and hearing. Visit him in his new retirement home named for some glamorous tropical island. Shed tears for the loss of who he has become. Step 7: Attend a class in Botanical Medicine in North Carolina. Distill plants to their alchemical essences. Stir pots of potions and lotions. Appreciate the sweet and spicy blend of bone-sucking BBQ. Plunge into bubbling vats full of buttery salted grits. Travel due west to celebrate my father’s 80th year. Bake his favorite peanut butter cookies from an old tattered recipe written in his own hand. Mix in extra amounts of love. Step 8: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream ½ C sugar, ½ C brown sugar with ½ C melted butter. Beat in 1 egg, 1C peanut butter, ½ t vanilla. Sift 1 ½ C all purpose flour, ½ t salt, ½ t soda together and then fold into wet mixture. Step 9: Roll dough into small balls and place them on a cookie sheet. Press flat with fork making a crisscross design. Bake for 15 minutes before placing on rack to cool. Step outside into the winter sun while they bake. Marvel at the bizarre beauty of a Claret Cup Cactus. Step 10: Indulge in warm cookies with my father. Watch crumbs form at the corners of his mouth as we laugh and rifle through memories of days and people long gone. Hear him curse as he removes his dentures to free peanut pieces sandwiched between his teeth and gums. Laugh again, this time at the fragile human condition. Realize these simple loving moments with my father feed my deepest hunger of all. Feed what we both have become.
Tracking Wild Calligraphy The Mentasta Mountains of Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias Preserve, hard by Canada’s northwestern boundary, feed the waters of the Tanana River. Drawing early strength from the Nebesna and Chisana Rivers, the Tanana’s 570mile length cuts a swath of boreal forest threaded with tributaries draining a watershed that dominates much of the eastern half of the state. A meandering force, the stream doubles back on itself, a serpentine behavior that punctuates the mature floodplain with oxbow lakes and and narrow sloughs. After the river leaves the mountains, it flows westerly along the northern flank of the Alaska Range before joining the Yukon River at the village of Tanana. In July, when the temperature reaches the mid-90s, this stretch of river is wide and braided. Running at 40,000 cubic feet/second, as swift as the Colorado River gorge at flood stage, the Tanana clocks a steady 6-7 miles per hour. The water is coffee-colored, thick with glacial loess, mountain rock squeezed as fine as flour by alpine glaciers. The sediment load increases as the river transects a region rich with aeolian loess, wind-blown deposits laid down in thick layers millennia ago. Particle size ranges to 20 microns and smaller. Dip a hand in the stream and it disappears before your wrist is wet. Where the river sweeps by Fairbanks its active channels and islands span nearly a mile of territory. The distance has stymied bridge builders, leaving the south bank isolated and wild. Islands’ upstream shorelines are jackstrawed with trees, felled by seasonal floods and the river’s unpredictable course. Here, with modest protection, forest succession begins anew. Sedges, willows and alders quickly recolonize cut banks stripped of vegetation a year earlier by ice or high water. High-water events on the Tanana are invitations for a closer look. Rain and melting glaciers swell the river and threaten to push it over its banks. Rising water and higher velocities undermine the foundations of 220-year-old white spruce trees, toppling them into the current as banks collapse and trails disappear in the froth. Half-submerged spruce, the size of house logs, and commanded by 15-foot-wide
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 root balls, plow downstream like exposed submarines. Islands disappear, channels get wider; new ones open as logjams divert the water’s course. And where downed trees and snags ground out, gravel collects in the out wash and new islands begin to form. Erosion and deposition: Beware - large forces at work. The riparian zone is being pruned, peeled and serrated. A pulse of change oscillates from the headwaters to the confluence with the Yukon, and down to its delta on the Bering Sea. Landscape-scale events and realignments of forest structure, however, don’t interest my eye as much as the micro-relief left in their wake. When the temperature cools, or the rain slows, the Tanana drops back into its banks. On the emerging floodplain, observers find a foot or two of fresh loess, scoured and shaped by hydraulic action. Powerful vortices, columns of spinning water, own the effects. Its gyres and turbulence reflect Chinese calligraphy’s organic energy. In other places the reddish grey silt, flecked with light blue clay, uses the river bed to showcase labyrinths of scalloped slopes marking with precision the water’s retreat. The phenomenon appears linked to vortex shedding, shallow inclines, and the sediment’s fine grain.
Douglas Yates - reliquiae
The flood’s smallest artifacts are self-organizing, threedimensional fractals. Finely wrought dendrites, sinuous undulations, patterned corrugations; iterations in elevation, frequency and amplitude. Though ordered by morphological principles, discovering them in the muck can’t be predicted. They are products of chance. Some are as surprising as crop circles, others as common as calico or the backs of our hands. When illuminated with this
latitude’s low-angle, mid-summer sunlight, the formations’ ambiguities gain significance. Often so intricate as to defy explanation, they enchant, beguile and seduce. Erosion and deposition is a complex, nonlinear process; it has a capricious character that defies accurate modeling. Variations on these forms are as countless as snowflakes or clouds. On an ephemeral scale, they’re more durable yet degrade with time. Fresh from creation, recorded as photographs, the figures resonate with harmonies of form and proportion that expose us to wonder and reflection. Born of water, they speak of ‘flow’, a convergence of energies that rely on the vessel as much as the fluid.
Are You A Potter? The deadline had come and gone for the Community Schools catalogue listing “Clay Sculpture based on Women Who Run With The Wolves.” I knew this was the right instructor for me. Underenrollment cancelled the class, a blessing in disguise when Arlene gathered some potter friends not to teach but to meet weekly to work. That first Saturday in May only she and I showed up at the studio. She set a gray block before me. Standing, nervous, aware of the clay’s smooth coolness, I made a few little jabs, and two little objects. “Sit down,” she said, her tone sounding sharper to me than it probably, actually, was. “Just hold the clay. Breathe. Relax. Feel it in your hands. Your first piece is edgy and the second is coiled tight.” Like a therapist she accurately cut to my emotions, and hot tears. She read to me from an article in a magazine, something sounding like the ecology or metaphysics of clay. Several hours later I was fascinated by the movement of my thumb on the coils. As I worked them together sometimes in upward movement, sometimes downward strokes, I felt the clay and breath and eye combine. Arlene was a new mother, and I’d worked with kids and moms for years. We were a perfect match, teacher and student to each other. She gave me a lot of leeway, pointing out ways to strengthen joins with a coil when I attached a base to what wanted to be a Japanese tea cup. She encouraged me greatly after I made a set of slab glasses. Saying they were beautiful, her voice and eyes
cheered my creativity on at this result of an accidental rolling out on cardboard which produced lovely corrugated waves to which I added, looking around the room for another layer of texture, fine mesh screening in geometric pattern. I told her how normal it was, as the mother of a seven month old, to feel so much love and still want more time for clay.
only by virtue of having attended some meetings with Arlene. But I jumped at the opportunity. I thought six weeks would be ample for glaze tests.
Over the course of the summer we worked outside in the sun under a tarp, next to her garden, making dinnerware. We talked about doing fairs in the fall, which seemed to me so big, so fast, so unattainable.
One firing after another, the glaze colors were okay, but just that. And the lovely ivory bisqued ware turned a flat tan at cone 6. I tried this, I tried that, four weeks quickly passed and someone in the guild suggested that maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself. She was right, of course, but I figured I had until the night before the fair to give up. So I shifted gears. “Nerikomi is pretty ambitious for a beginner,” said the guild member after I set out my wares on the craft fair shelves. Nineteen pieces, marbled and inlaid, black and white on stoneware with a clear glaze.
Soon enough we watched the geese honk south. MidSeptember the rains came. The tarp held up, but cold weather was imminent. I knew our daily working together was about to change, and one stormy night turned greenware back to clay. About the same time, Arlene was offered a teaching position close to home. Separation was, well, what it is — painful, and full with promise. I felt scared and angry, utterly unready to be on my own. She felt guilty. I went back to the studio with windows along one wall, a low drop-in facility rate and two electric kilns. I had thirty bowls and plates to bisque; and I’d glazed only twice before. All but two wares survived the first firing. A friend, selfprofessed non-lover of ceramics, was there when I opened the kiln. She LOVED them. So did I. And then the invitation came. The clay arts guild was asked to participate in a holiday craft fair. I was a guild member
A lifetime might not be ample for glaze tests. (There’s the story about a thirty-years’ potter who devoted an entire year to perfect a temmoku.)
“Are you a potter?” asked a shopper. In much less time than it takes to tell, I ran through my mind an uncomfortably lengthy explanation, a cumbersome litany of qualifiers before answering. Clearly, all she wanted was to distinguish me from the artisans in adjacent booths, it wasn’t my psychological profile she was after nor my developmental history. I thought of Arlene. I said yes.
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INTERVIEW Michel Kleven
In A Class With Poets: An interview with poet David Wagoner about his teacher Theodore Roethke Last year, I made a movie about Theodore Roethke. My oldest son, Michael Kleven had just finished the highly regarded film and video program at Seattle Central Community College. My youngest son, Tyler, offered his skills as a film editor. In January of 2010, we worked with a film crew in Seattle’s University District. During this period, we made first contact with David Wagoner by phone and email. By May of 2010, my boys and I had produced an eight minute movie, “To the Moon! a Tribute to Theodore Roethke.” In September, 2010, Michael interviewed Wagoner in the District’s University Book Store. -- Sandra Kleven David, as witness to decades, discloses, here, new news from In the mid-1940’s, Wagoner was a student of Roethke’s mid-century. The reader will learn that Roethke didn’t really at Penn State. In 1947, Roethke arrived in Seattle to teach like the wild; what faculty wives did when he felt them up at poetry at the University of Washington. In 1954, Roethke parties; how mania and madness work on a poet. It is news. persuaded Wagoner to take a job teaching at the U, too. It is funny and terribly sad. But most of all, the past is present Today, Wagoner is Professor emeritus at the UW and is as framework for what will be. recognized as a leading poet in the Pacific Northwest. His publications and awards are numerous. Michael Kleven: Roethke’s portrait hangs at the Blue Moon tavern. I’ve heard he was a kind of regular, there. After Roethke’s death in 1963, Wagoner worked with the 215 spiral notebooks Roethke left behind. He published David Wagoner: After being Roethke’s student at Penn excerpts in a compilation entitled Straw for the Fire. When State, I became a teacher there myself and, by then – Roethke had been dead almost as long as the 55 years in fall, 1947 – he came here [Seattle]. He got married in he lived, Wagoner wrote a play about him, “First Class,” 1953, to Beatrice and I don’t think he went to the Blue a dramatic monologue with Roethke haranguing and Moon very often after that… He haunted the Blue teasing as he did in 1963. It was published in 2006, in Moon, I suspect, between 1947 and1952 and 3, when the Georgia Review. In Seattle, it played at ACT, always he started wooing Beatrice, back east. Those are his to a standing ovation. David writes, “In “First Class” I’ve tried to re-create the atmosphere of one of Roethke’s poetry workshops, working mostly from my memories of him and a number of examples of the kinds of poems and opinions he admired, some of the near rituals he used both on students and himself, some of his unique spirit, and some of the hectic ways Time and Place would leap over each other for him as if he were in charge of both.” David Wagoner has not entered old age at all. I see the date of his birth on the bio sheet. I marvel that he is older than my mother. I see that he is five years to ninety but nothing in his presentation of self makes concession to age. David is simply not an old man. He brings fresh news from seven or eight decades but he doesn’t live there. He is present. He teaches poetry. He has made peace with it. You might do this, too. Roethke did it.
92 Blue Moon Days. I wasn’t here then. I came here in ‘54. I haunted the Blue Moon myself. But Roethke came in only a couple of times, that I knew of. But Dick Hugo was here and James Wright and other poets and they invaded the place, and maybe they spent time with him there. MK: How did he influence so many poets? DW: We were his students. We took classes – his workshop. Hugo, James Wright, Carolyn Kizer, Tess Gallagher, many others who went on to teach and publish. MK: What did he do to impart knowledge? DW: I wrote a whole play about it. MK: I know you did. DW: I think you can download it from Google. It was in the Georgia Review. He knew reams of poetry by heart and he cared so much about it, that alone was electrifying to me and to others. MK: Roethke remained part of your life for fifty five years after he died. DW: He certainly did. When he died, I took over his class, so naturally I felt connected. I used many of his methods. I developed my own, of course, but they were based on his principles. I think the same happened with Dick Hugo who became a teacher at the University of Montana and of Carolyn Kizer who taught at a number of places and of James Wright who taught at Minnesota and then Hunter College. Their teaching was all based on the principles that Roethke had taught us. MK: Could you elaborate on those principles? DW: Well, one of them – probably the basic one – was that sound and rhythm in poetry are essential and are of equal importance with meaning and if you study poetry only for its meaning, you are losing the whole deal. Dylan Thomas said the same thing to me. He agreed with Roethke If it doesn’t sound right and move right, it’s crap. Sound, rhythm and meaning must all be together and intermingle and support each other. And you have to read, read, read till you
CIRQUE find enough of the poems you love. MK: Did you ever drink with Roethke at the Moon? DW: Yes, a couple of times. MK: Do you have any stories about that? DW: He often was morose and I have no particular memory about how he acted at the Moon. All of his highjinks and stories of his cutting up must have been before my time when he was a bachelor. MK: Some call him a womanizer? DW: He was a formidable man, physically. He was, I think, about six feet, three and had long arms and legs and a lot of vitality and he was a feeler up of faculty wives at parties and a general cut up. A lot of it was just show. I wasn’t around him when he was a bachelor, in Seattle, so I can’t say for sure what he did then but I watched him in other places and other events. It was mostly a kind of bravado – a way of occupying a room (laughs), and he… I think most of the women he toyed with forgave him or were amused. He was more orderly in his private life and public life after he was married. MK: His relationship with Beatrice? Was it a deep love? DW: I think it certainly was. He told me so and I saw them together, again and again. He gave her— because of his mental troubles and his bi-polar life—he gave her some tremendous strain. I mean–she developed tuberculosis at one point and had to be in a sanitarium. That’s usually a sign of some deep emotional trouble – at her age, anyway. She was a very beautiful woman and, still is, in her eighties. I think he found a kind of ideal in her. The poems certainly say so. It freed a whole barrage of love poetry from him that he had been unable to write before because he hadn’t had those feelings. He had a number of affairs and an illegitimate child that was put out for adoption– some of them later were quite – I don’t know what the proper words are (laughs). You can read about one of them. The poet Louise Bogan wrote a letter to Edmund Wilson, the critic, saying that she and Roethke were having an affair and rolling around on the floor like teen-agers.
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MK: Would you say you had a deep and abiding friendship with Roethke? DW: He was a really kind and caring mentor to me. He recommended me to people in the literary world, to Robert Lowell, for instance, and a number of others. He praised me to them and paved the way for my relatively easy early career, as a poet. MK: You were obviously very talented. DW: I worked hard at the craft. And he told me I had a good ear, which he considered of primary value. He was the first living poet I ever encountered and when he became my teacher, I found a role model (except for his mental life) that I had never seen before. I never had the idea that you could be a poet and a teacher and that could be your career. I thought I was going to be a chemist or an actor and even made some plans in those directions. He changed my life. MK: Would there have been greater work without the madness? DW: In Ted’s case, I can’t give an exact answer to that, I guess, because he wrote about his madness with such originality, but he never wrote well when he was manic. The stuff that occurred -- you can trace on the pages by date and other means – are relatively incoherent and quite bad. He was always best – and his friends were always glad – when he became morose -- when he became gloomy and down – because that meant he was going into a period of good writing. The madness actually interrupted his work and harmed it. It harmed him physically. I don’t know what madness has meant to poets in other cases. DW: The lives of poets are very depressing reading. The management of balance when you are trying to deal with your unconscious mind – from which most poetry has its source, anyway, if not its final manner-- is dangerous and to free your unconscious mind is to go a little crazy sometimes or to seem so, to a sober world. That’s the balance between turning the mind lose and managing to behave in the real world, in some kind of orderly way, is tough. I don’t know why some people are bipolar and others not. He had that burden. Dylan Thomas is one other really horrible example of private and public life I encountered early. He said to me, “I’m only a poet when
ROETHKE’S STUDENTS DAVID WAGONER (1926 - ) “He was a really kind and caring mentor to me. He recommended me to people in the literary world – Robert Lowell, for instance, and a number of others. He praised me to them and paved the way for my relatively easy career, as a young poet.” CAROLYN KIZER (1925 - ) “When I go back now, and look at my notebooks from those days in his class ’55 – ’56, I’m amazed that my teaching methods are such a duplicate of his. I’m surprised that I haven’t thought up anything much on my own. I’ve simply carried on as the master taught me.” In1985 her collection Yin: New Poems won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Kizer cofounded Poetry Northwest, a journal she edited from its inception in 1959 until 1965. RICHARD HUGO (1923 – 1982) “He was probably the best poetry writing teacher, ever. That is impossible to prove and silly but I had to say it, just once.” Hugo House, A Seattle-based Writing Center, is named for Richard Hugo. JAMES WRIGHT (1925 – 1980) “He taught mainly the craft, and he, like Berryman and like Lowell, was an entirely conscious craftsman.” In 1954, Wright studied with Theodore Roethke. When he was still a graduate student, W. H. Auden selected Wright’s manuscript for publication in the Yale Younger Poets Series. TESS GALLAGHER (1943 - ) “I was ghosted by this encounter. What I experienced in the class was a kind of retroactive preparation for an event which was already past.” Tess Gallagher was a student in Theodore Roethke’s last class. Her first collection of poems, Instructions to the Double, won the 1976 Elliston Book Award for “best book of poetry published by a small press.”
94 I’m writing poetry, the rest of the time, I’m… well, Christ look at me.” He was covered with cigarette ashes and wearing dirty clothes. He said, he never wrote when he was drunk – only wrote when he was cold sober – which wasn’t often enough. Roethke had some of the same trouble. MK: In the film, “To the Moon!” our Roethke character walks across the University Bridge. We had no evidence that he ever did but it seemed as if he might have. Did Roethke storm across the U bridge, in a manic state, trying to get to class? DW: That was a very sad day. It was the first day of classes for the fall quarter. I guess he couldn’t get a taxi. He came all the way, dressed in a summer suit, all the way from downtown on foot and some of it running. By the time he got to Parrington Hall on campus where the English Department office was, he was drenched with perspiration. He had a container of, I think, Seconal. He was overdosing on those, eating them like popcorn. He was incoherent. He had a can opener. A beer can opener. The department head, Brents Sterling, and Arnold Stein and I and several others in the department got very worried about him because it was obvious he was in a manic state. He got afraid that we were going to hospitalize him or something bad was going to happen – and it was true. The department head had already called the police because he’d begun to threaten us with the can opener. We all just, sort of, tried to calm him down. He was having conversation with people who weren’t there. Finally, after about ten or fifteen minutes of this, a state policemen came in wearing a crash helmet and boots, by himself. He just walked right up to Roethke and twisted his arms behind him and handcuffed him, and Roethke was bowing at the waist and saying “Don’t hit me in the head. Don’t hit me in the head.” Those were his only words, as he was led out to a state police car and was taken away. That was a very, very sad performance and we stood there afterward, deeply depressed. I think it was 1961 – a couple of years before he died, maybe 1960. MK: Have they ever figured out – are there any theories about what caused his death? DW: No question about that: he had a heart attack while swimming in a private pool on Bainbridge Island. He
CIRQUE bragged that he had a strong ticker that he could always depend on. So he was swimming laps. He would exercise violently for a while and then do nothing for an extended period–then he would exercise violently. He had swum a couple of lengths. He stood up in the shallow end and collapsed. Summer of 1963. MK: When he was manic, where was he hospitalized? DW: Several places. There was an institution in a large private house, frame house, called Halcyon, near present Northgate. It was there. That was his favorite place because they treated him with respect. I don’t know where else exactly he went, but we visited him there in the violent ward. James Wright, the poet, and I went to see him. He’d done some goofy paintings with fingernail polish—the only colored material he could get hold of—to go with some incoherent poems. He was planning to send a mailing-tube full of these to Pasternak in Russia in order to enhance the likelihood of his own nomination for the Nobel Prize. But that’s another story. It would take too much time. I wrote a poem about some of it.
Vo l . 2 N o . 2 MK: Is it here? Could you read it? DW: No, I didn’t include it in my collected poems. [But this poem, “Halcyon Days” does appear as a sidebar in this interview.] MK: What do you think about Theodore Roethke’s impact on the Northwest poetry scene? I understand that he’s still considered a Midwest poet. DW: I can’t understand how anyone could say that. I think it means they haven’t read the poems. His “North American Sequence” is deeply Northwestern. I think his influence is absolutely pervasive in this part of the country because so many of his students have become teachers in this area and they have produced students of their own who have become teachers. There are several generations of these. You could make a list. Easily. Not just me. Some have
Halcyon Days for James Wright
Remember the day we went to Halcyon to see the poet? The thick front door was locked and the door at the top of the stairway, but his door had a hole for a doorknob, mesh for a window. We sat. He smoked a cigar for us, rehearsing or reenacting Hell for our benefit-two former students who racked their brains for him, who went there sober and came away as drunk as judges, refusing sentence after sentence. They’ve taken the place apart, yanked off the roof, scrapped all the tubs, and beaten the walls out. The Violent Ward, including the Rec Room, has wound up upside down in the driveway without permission, and chunks of linoleum lie strewn on the slope like manic steppingstones. They’re leveling the bluff with a bulldozer, smoothing everything out. It’s visitor’s day all day and all night from this day forward. Here lies one whose nest was built on water.
95 left the area but quit a few have not. When he first came here in 1947, he told me that the department head, Robert Heilman, who was his protector and sponsor, said to him, “Ted the land is yours. You’re the only poet within 500 miles in all directions who’s been published in national magazines. You can do anything you want.” It was true. The writing scene was pathetic. It was all local. You were considered a Washington State writer, period, and that was it. The novelists hadn’t developed yet. The Egg and I hadn’t been written. MK: Was there a relationship between Roethke’s writing and the Northwest school of art – Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, and others – artists sometimes considered mystic in an Asian or Native American sense? Or did was he influenced by the region mainly in the sense of wildness and freedom to express one’s self? DW: I think one of the few weaknesses in Roethke was that he was always looking east for his models and rivals. They were British and East Coast. He grew up in the Midwest, but he wasn’t looking west. There was a Whitman-esque and Mark Twain-ish part of Roethke that he didn’t give full scope to and couldn’t. I think he was ready to in his fifties. If he had lived longer, it would have happened. The “North American Sequence” shows some of that. He felt that he was at heart an Indian – an American Indian, then. He said so. But it wasn’t true, not yet. It could have been, before long. MK: Did he relate to our natural environment? Did he walk in the trees and enjoy that part of nature? DW: As far as I know he never walked more than one hundred yards at any one time, if he could help it. Except, for the time, I told you about when he was manic. No. He would go to the edge of it maybe. He would go to the shore. He would go to woodsy places and then he would sit. That was it. Sit as soon as possible. And think and watch and listen. Be involved in the landscape around him. No, he was not a hiker or a climber. I took him up into the foothills of the Cascades one time – him and Beatrice -- in my car, up an old logging road. I thought he was going to bail out several times, while we were moving. He was afraid of the slopes. I think he had a little bit of fear of heights. It may have been my driving. I don’t think he
96 liked the wild either. MK: I suppose back then even Seattle was wild as maybe North Bend is now? DW: You could drive for an hour in any direction except under water and be where there was no trace of man. MK: Do you think – this is just one of my curiosities – the Northwest artist and perhaps Roethke also-do you think the weather, the rain, the tall trees influence…? DW: Oh sure. He was a good friend of Morris Graves and lived in his house for a couple of years when Morris was abroad and he knew Mark Tobey and— if you
CIRQUE are speaking of Northwest graphic artists. He had little sensitivity to the art world, I think. He knew he didn’t know much about painting, so he took other people’s word for it. Yes, the climate. God knows. Yes. He enjoyed rain. But he did not care for serious contemporary music or classical music. He liked jazz and old pop but that was about the end of it. He had a collection of records and would play them very loudly, sometimes when he was trying to write. It was one of his kinds of silence. Shut out the world. I can remember going to see him one evening at his house. Beatrice came to the door and said, “No, he’s working.” I could hear the jazz blaring upstairs in his writing room.
CONTRIBUTORS Skylaar Amann is a poet and artist living in Portland, Oregon. She has selfpublished several hand-bound hardback and chapbook editions and writes regularly on the subjects of the sea, love, and chronic pain. Alexandra Ellen Appel lives and works in Anchorage. A chapbook of her work is scheduled for production with Meridian Press, San Francisco, in late fall 2011. Selections from the Anchorage City Poems, “Roadside Markers” and “Burials” will be included in the collection. Alexandra is a laid back poet, rarely submitting and constantly reading and working on her craft. Among Alexandra’s favorite poets are Theodore Roethke, Lucille Clifton, and W.S. Merwin. Trevor Barnes is the associate director for the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. He is currently working on an MFA in poetry from Seattle Pacific University. Gabrielle Barnett lived in Girdwood, Alaska for most of the past 20 years but recently moved to Anchorage. Sabbaticals in Vancouver, BC and Santa Cruz, CA strongly influenced her writing and experience of the Pacific Rim environment. She teaches as contingent faculty at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, in the Liberal Studies and Dance programs. Edith Barrowclough is a photographer who lives in Anchorage, AK. She is a co-owner of a local business, and she enjoys taking pictures on her travels around Alaska and the world. Her photos have previously been published in scientific journals and F Magazine. Clifton Bates works with UAF out of his home in Chugiak, Alaska where he writes and lives with his Belgian Shepherd, Quinn. Michael Berton has had poems published in Fireweed, Sin Fronteras Journal, Megalopsychia, Liebamour, Perceptions, and Snow Monkey among other journals and reviews. He lives in Portland, OR. Douglass Bourne’s screenplay, The Old Way, was awarded a Sir Edmund Hillary Award at the 2011 Mountain Film Festival. He has essays and poetry forthcoming or appearing in Quay: A Journal of the Arts, Cold Flashes: Alaska Literary Snapshots, The LBJ: Avian Life, Literary Arts, Tusculum Review, and Pank. Twenty-three year-old Vincent Brady never asked much out of life. He hoped to attend art school, wanted to marry his girlfriend, and he dreamed of having his poetry published. In March of 2010, while suffering from an aggressive childhood cancer, Vince e-mailed his girlfriend’s mother, excited that his writing might be considered for publication. “…I’ve got a friend in Montreal who is convinced that I might be able to publish some of my words in literary vehicles--so I got all excited and picked up a fat Manila envelope from the UPS store, that I can load…with the stuff…and send it to him. Wouldn’t that be swell if any of it did? Caught the roving mechanical eyes
of a magazine editor? Yes! My fingers are latticed with all hope, to be sure.” Vincent Brady died on May 15, 2010 without any of his dreams realized. This poem to his girlfriend is his first published poem and was written shortly before his death. BreAnn Brandlen is in the process of completing her MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska Anchorage when she is not being a new business owner of an antique store in her hometown. A notable gig was once opening for Nuyorican Slam Poet Edwin Torres at Anchorage’s Out North Theatre. More recently, her poem Untitled was displayed in the MTS Gallery’s “Words & Pictures” art show. Rebecca Brothers is an English major at Walla Walla University. In keeping with the tradition of English majors, she’s not sure what she’ll do after graduation, but a master’s degree in library science is at the top of the list of possibilities. Her work has appeared in Walla Walla University’s annual arts and literature publication, The Gadfly. Geoff Burns: After a lifetime of working throughout the West, on ranches and construction sites, I have recently begun writing. This is the second story I have had accepted for publication, and will be the first to appear in print. I am currently living in Idaho where I spend time in the mountains and wet a line whenever I can. Fern G. Z. Carr, lawyer, teacher and League of Canadian Poets member, has been published extensively from Finland to New Zealand. The Parliamentary Poet Laureate recently selected her poem, “I Am”, as Poem of the Month for Canada. www.ferngzcarr.com. Originally from Maine, Bill Carty lives in Seattle and teaches writing at Edmonds Community College, 826 Seattle, and the Richard Hugo House. He attended the MFA program at UNC-Wilmington. A retired science teacher, Gail Coray now divides her time between life on the road in a small RV and a small cabin on the north shore of Lake Clark, along with her husband. She’s a life-long Alaskan, which has nurtured her naturalist inclinations. Debbie Cutler is managing editor of Alaska Business Monthly, where she has worked for 13 years. She has been published in many magazines, including Cirque, We Alaskans, Editor and Publisher and Independent Living, and has won numerous awards for her writing. When not traveling, or dreaming of traveling to some far off place, Gretchen Diemer is writing poems on her cluttered kitchen table. At other times, she teaches at Pioneer Peak Elementary School in Palmer, Alaska. Katie Eberhart’s poems have received recognition by the Palmer Arts Council and the Fairbanks Arts Association, and her essay “Cabin Fever”
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was in Cirque, Winter Solstice 2010. Katie has lived in Alaska for over thirty years and has an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.
Dane Karnick grew up by the Colorado “Rockies” and lives in Seattle. His poetry has appeared in Spindrift, Kindred Spirit, and Canvass and is forthcoming in Drash. To read more, visit www.danekarnick.com
Sherry Eckrich lives, writes poems and essays, and appreciates life in Eagle River, Alaska. She has an MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Her work has appeared in several small journals and My Alaska, Too, an art installation in the lobby of CenterPoint West in Anchorage.
Michael Kleven is a filmmaker and photographer. His company is Aesthetica Pictures. He was director of the film, “To the Moon: A Tribute to Theodore Roethke.” Kleven’s films have appeared in Seattle’s Local Sightings Film Festival 2010, (Solving the Quantum Riddle: Interrupted), and the 2011 Park City Utah Film Music Festival, (Marcell) and are listed on IMDB. Some of his work can be seen on his webpage www.michaelkleven.com
Jason Eisert lives in Anchorage, Alaska where he is a teacher, roofer, and musician. He is also an MFA candidate at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Katherine Eulensen is a displaced Oregonian currently living in Seattle in the MFA program at the University of Washington. A former journalist, newspaper columnist, corporate communicator, advertising creative director and freelance writer, Lionel Fisher is the author of three non-fiction books including Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid Solitude from which portions of this essay are excerpted. He lives on Southwest Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. Maxine Franklin: I’m Athabascan/Yupik. Our spiritual culture’s ultimate aim was a strong yearning to explore the intricacies of the landscape as well as its larger geographies. In my poetry I try to wed the scientist’s “objective” interest in groups and populations and the discovery of the few natural laws that determine the shape and qualities of our universe with compassionate care and concern for individual living beings, the Buddha’s insight. In the old days natives “cried for” a vision, and helper spirit animals. Now we need to be the helper spirit animals for our fellow creatures. “Skagit River Spirits” is a major revision of an earlier version published in 1990 in Dancing on the Rim of the World, An Anthology of Contemporary Northwest Native American Writing, ed. by Andrea Lerner (Suntracks & University of Arizona Press). Helen Geld is a graphic designer living in Seattle, WA. She enjoys drawing and photography of subjects found both in the wilderness and in the city. Sierra Golden is an MFA candidate in poetry at NC State University where she studies with Dorianne Laux and John Balaban. Originally from Washington State, she now splits her time between North Carolina, Washington, and Alaska. She has been published in Cold Flashes: Literary Snapshots of Alaska and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. Kelsea Habecker lives in and writes from Alaska. Her book of poetry, Hollow Out, was published by New Rivers Press. Jim Hanlen: The poem came about with a competition with my father-inlaw. While cruising Northern Lights Blvd., we tried coming up with sayings we would put on our cardboard if we were begging. I adapted his wordage for the beginning of the poem. Dan Holiday is eclectic and reflective, a railroader who sometimes wishes he had never gotten off track and woke up in the world of the biological sciences; just a misguided farm boy from Nebraska who cannot believe he took so long to return home to the big wild. Marybeth Holleman is the author of The Heart of the Sound: An Alaskan Paradise Found and Nearly Lost and co-editor of Crosscurrents North: Alaskans on the Environment. A North Carolina transplant, she has lived in Alaska for 25 years. www.marybethholleman.com Robyn Lynn Comes-Holloway lives in Juneau. She has had several poems published in the UAS Literary Journal, Tidal Echoes and a previous issue of Cirque. She is very close to completing her manuscript that centers on growing up during the 1960s in Topanga Canyon with her hippie parents. She organizes the local Poetry OmniBus annual literary contest. Erin Coughlin Hollowell has very recently returned to Homer after a decade living on Prince William Sound and in Ketchikan. She is a poet and artist, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University, concentration writing, and her MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, Washington. Her work has most recently been published in Terrain. org, Weber Studies, Alaska Quarterly Review, Crab Creek Review and Blue Earth Review. Carol Hult is an editor, poet, and nonfiction writer whose essays have been published in Canadian and American journals. This is the second time her work has appeared in Cirque. She lives in Kodiak, Alaska. John Ippolito is a wildlife and landscape photographer based in Eagle River, AK. Specializing in fine art giclee prints, his photography and photo illustrations can be viewed at Alaska Wilderness Images www. alaskawildernessimages.com
Sandra Kleven’s recent work can be seen on-line at Praxilla.net. Check YouTube for her fine moments in poetry and the less than fine, as when she read via Skype for Stoneboat, in Wisconsin, and her husband fired up a nearby table saw. It’s all there. At present, Kleven is curating a night of chaotic poetics and hot jazz for Anchorage, Alaska’s, Spenard JazzFest, “Live and Moving: Poets in Full Meter.” Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State. His writing appears widely in print and also online at such places as Camroc Press Review, Blue Print Review, Elimae and also at lenkuntz.blogspot.com Simon Langham’s fiction has appeared in the South Dakota Review, most recently the winter 2010 issue, and VerbSap. Her poetry and fiction have also appeared Cirque. She is a variety performance artist (an elevated clown) living in Homer, Alaska when she’s not chasing circuses and contra dances around the country. Laura LeHew is an award winning poet whose work appears in a myriad of national and international journals and anthologies. Her chapbook, Beauty, Tiger’s Eye Press, 2009 is in its 3rd printing. Laura received her MFA in writing from the California College of the Arts, had writing residencies at Soapstone and the Montana Artists Refuge, interned for CALYX Journal and was nominated for a Pushcart prize. She edits Uttered Chaos www. utteredchaos.org Janet Levin’s tomato plants have thumb-size fruit, the container lettuces are looking good, and the bacon’s in the freezer, awaiting toast and mayo. Her work has appeared in Cirque and other journals, in “Words and Pictures” at MTS Gallery, and recorded live on Alaska Poetry League’s Slam Poetry CD anthology. Allison Linville is originally from Emmett, Idaho and now lives in Whitefish, Montana. She spends summers working in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness, and in the winter she works at Whitefish Mountain Resort and teaches yoga. A retiree from the school and library worlds, Marie Lundstrom works as an editor of military-related publications, but she has a “poet” bumper sticker on her car. John McKay is an Anchorage poet who is finishing his MFA in poetry at UAA this summer. He is a regular contributor to Cirque, has been published in Crab Creek Review, and has been selected for recognition in F Magazine, Anchorage Daily News and Anchorage Press writing competitions. He has also written several short plays. In his spare time, he is a lawyer, adjunct professor at UAA, and the father of two gainfully employed sons. David McElroy is a poet who lives in Anchorage and works as a pilot on the North Slope. A previous contributor to Cirque, his poems have appeared in other publications such as Great River Review and in his book, Making It Simple. Karla Linn Merrifield has published eight books of poetry, including Athabaskan Fractal and Other Poems of the Far North, forthcoming from Salmon Press. Christopher Lee Miles grew up on a farm in Minnesota. His work has appeared or is forthcoming from the following journals: Connecticut Review, South Dakota Review, Cortland Review, and War, Literature and the Arts. He lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. Now living in Bozeman, Montana, Anne Millbrooke writes non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies and magazines, including Eleutheria: The Scottish Poetry Review and Ice-Floe, International Poetry of the Far North. Susanna Mishler’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Hotel Amerika, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review Online, Michigan Quarterly Review and elsewhere. In 2004 she earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she served as a Poetry Editor of Sonora Review. She lives in Anchorage and earns her bread as an apprentice electrician. A. Molotkov is a writer, composer, filmmaker and visual artist, and cofounder of the Inflectionist poetry movement (Inflectionism.com). Several of his published poems are available online at Carcinogenic Poetry, Aquillrelle, Rusty Truck, and World Riot. Visit him at www.AMolotkov.com
98 Born & raised in Vancouver, BC, kjmunro now lives in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. She has poems forthcoming in Lake: A Journal of Arts and Environment. Her poem “gift of the land” won the 2007 Whitehorse Poetry Festival poetry contest. Monica O’Keefe photographs and paints both distant vistas and close-up views of the natural world, using her digital photos both loosely as inspiration and more exactly for details of paintings. Jeremy Pataky earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Montana. His work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, The Southeast Review, Anchorage Daily News and many others, and he won the 2011 Fairbanks Arts Association’s statewide poetry contest. His chapbook, Fata Morgana, is available digitally by Blue Hour Press. Jeremy is a founding Director of the 49 Alaska Writing Center and is the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountains Center. James Petit grew up on Willapa Bay, an estuary of 20 rivers on the southwest Washington coast. He received an MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is a fisherman, teacher, poet, and writer living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry Northwest, Illahee and other journals. His chapbook, Willapa Bay, was published by Limner Press. Deborah Poore was born in Alaska before Statehood, and grew up on her family’s homestead beside the Kenai River at Eagle Rock. She comes from a long line of teachers, farmers and carpenters. Schooled as a teacher in Alaska and Massachusetts, she taught in Homer for twenty-one years before retiring from the classroom and now spends time gardening, writing and traveling. She lives along Kachemak Bay in Homer with her husband and family. Vivian Faith Prescott is a fifth generation Alaskan living in Kodiak, Alaska. She holds a PhD in Cross Cultural Studies and will receive her MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2011. Her poetry, fiction and nonfiction have recently appeared in Cirque, Turtle Quarterly and Arcadia. Her first book of poetry, The Hide of My Tongue, will be published by Plain View Press in the winter of 2011. I’m Deric Saffell. I’m a part time student at UAA who majors in English and Art, with a minor in Creative Writing. I love to write. Scot Siegel’s second full-length poetry collection is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry of Ireland in early 2012. In addition to Cirque, he has recent work in High Desert Journal, Naugatuck River Review, and Open Spaces: Voices from the Northwest, edited by Penny H. Harrison (University of Washington Press, 2011). www.redroom.com/author/scot-siegel Suanne Sikkema lives in Anchorage, Alaska and finds inspiration in writing and photography. She has a passion for plants, owns the small company Arctic Sun Gardening, and loves to travel and eat delicious food. In December 2010, Cynthia Lee Sims received an MA in English Literature from the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she teaches composition; she is grateful that the CPDS (PREP) and English Departments employ scribblers. She has served on the board for Understory, UAA’s undergraduate literary journal, for the past three years, and her writing has appeared in Red Ink Magazine (The U of AZ Indigenous Journal) and Anchorage’s community journal F Zine (2010). Leslea Smith has deep Alaska roots and is an attorney and manager of a legal aid office in Hillsboro, Oregon. Her poems have been published in Verseweavers and Cirque. Patty Somlo has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her debut collection, From Here to There and Other Stories, was published by Paraguas Books in 2010. David Stallings was born in the U.S. South, raised in Alaska and Colorado before settling in the Pacific Northwest. Once an academic geographer, he has spent many years promoting public transportation in the Puget Sound area. His poems have appeared in several U.S. and U.K. literary journals and two anthologies. Ben Stanton is a geologist and rock climber. He lives in central Washington with his wife and takes photos while out enjoying Nature. Kathleen Tarr lives in Anchorage and works as the Program Coordinator for UAA’s Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing. At present, she is working on her first book, a spiritual memoir involving Thomas Merton. She hopes to finish the draft manuscript before it finishes her.
CIRQUE Jim Thiele graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in Biology. He worked as a photographer for a biological text book company for several years, before moving to Alaska in 1974. He has worked for The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the University of Alaska as a biologist, but now is a financial advisor in private practice. His photographs have been seen in several publications, including Alaska Magazine and Alaska Geographic. He lives in Anchorage with his wife Susan, and has a daughter and two grandchildren who also live in Anchorage. Taking photos forces him to stop and really see the world. Doris Horton Thurston: Born in Kelso, WA before the last Depression, grew up in Woodland, WA during the Depression. Attended college at the University of Oregon, finished my BA at Evergreen State College. Raised five children in Marin County, CA and indulged in weaving, painting, photography and some writing and story-telling. Moved to Port Townsend, WA in 1975. Published in Minotaur, Tidepools, Frog Pond, Northwest Literary Forum, and Bottle Rockets. Georgia Tiffany, a native of Spokane, Washington, now lives in Moscow, Idaho. Her work has appeared in such publications as Weber Studies, The Xavier Review, Athena, Tar River Poetry, Flint Hills Review, Willow Springs, Malahat Review, Poetry Ireland, and North Dakota Quarterly. Her chapbook, Cut From The Score, was published by Night Owl Press. Tim Troll is a 32 year resident of Alaska. His artwork was recently included in an exhibit that he organized with his brother Ray entitled “Art Brothers” at the gallery of the Ketchikan Arts Council featuring seven pairs of brothers who do artwork in Alaska. His poetry has appeared in various small journals including Kansas Quarterly, Ice-Floe and Painted Bride Quarterly. His most recent publication is an historic photo collection entitled Sailing for Salmon: The Early Years of Commercial Fishing in Alaska’s Bristol Bay – 1884 1951. Flory Vinson is a pioneer Alaskan. She has hunted, fished, picked berries and gardened for 46 years in this great land. Flory enjoys the bounty of Alaska and the diversity of its people. Matthew Wappett is a displaced Alaskan, living, writing, and teaching on the north Idaho Palouse; he’s a professor at the University of Idaho by day and a poet by night. He writes poetry to combat the mind-numbing side effects of academia. Paul Winkel is a retired engineer who wonders what he will be when he grows up. His poems appeared in the 2008 anthology 50 Poems for Alaska, Understory, and in the first three issues of Cirque. Paxson Woelber is a professional artist, graphic and web designer, and award-winning animator. His animations have been featured on the home page of YouTube and on Spike; commercial clients include Governor Parnell, Lt. Governor Treadwell, nationally-distributed magazines, business startups, and law firms. To see his work, please visit www.paxsonwoelber.com Tonja Woelber is a 30-year resident of Alaska. She likes country music, fishing, gardening, and long hikes with her Mountain Poodle. Her poetic inspirations are Anna Akhmatova, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, and the Tang Dynasty poets. Kate Worthington takes her best photographs while on shipwreck-related projects in Alaska, where she lived for seventeen years. Douglas Yates is a writer and photographer. Raised in Boise, he moved to Alaska in 1975. His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, UTNE, Whole Earth Review and Crosscurrents North, Alaskans on the Environment. His images of the Tanana River flood plain are part of an art and science collaboration sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the US Forest Service and the University of Alaska. Barry S. Zellen is the author of three books on Arctic politics and history: Breaking the Ice: From Land Claims to Tribal Sovereignty in the Arctic (Lexington Books, 2008); On Thin Ice: The Inuit, the State and the Challenge of Arctic Sovereignty (Lexington Books, 2009); and Arctic Doom, Arctic Boom: The Geopolitics of Climate Change in the Arctic (Praeger, 2009). He is also author of the four-volume bookset: States of Mind: The Realist Tradition and Foundation of Western Order forthcoming from Praeger in August 2011; his newest book, State of Doom: Bernard Brodie, the Bomb and the Birth of the Bipolar World is soon to be published by Continuum.
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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. Cirque invites emerging and established writers living in the North Pacific Rim— Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia and Chukotka—to submit short stories, poems, creative nonfiction, translations, plays, reviews of first books, interviews, photographs, and artwork for Cirque’s Winter Solstice 2011 Issue. Issue #5--Winter Solstice 2012 Submission Deadline: September 21, 2011
Submission Guidelines: --Eligibility: you were born in, or are currently residing in, or have previously lived for a period of not less than 5 years in the aforementioned North Pacific Rim region. --Poems: 4 poems MAX --Fiction, Nonfiction, Plays: 12 pages MAX --Artwork: 10 images MAX accepted as lo-res email attachments (jpegs). Production will require hi-res images (1 mb or greater). --Bio: 1-3 sentences MAX. --Contact Info: Street address is required for UPS delivery of contributor copy. If your email address changes, update us. To ensure that replies from Cirque bypass your spam filter and go to your inbox, add Cirque to your address book. --Electronic Submissions Only --Attach a Word document to your email or imbed submission text within the body of the email; use 12pt font in a common, easy to read typeface (Times, Arial, etc.) --Subject Line of your email should read: “Poetry Submission,” “Fiction Submission,” “Play Submission,” “Non-fiction submission,” etc. --Submissions will be recycled. --Replies average two to three months. Please Send Inquiries and Submissions to: email@example.com Submission Guidelines also at: http://www.cirquejournal.com/submittocirque.shtml
Photo: Paxson Woelber
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim