Vo l . 3 N o . 1
ÂŠ 2011 by Mike Burwell, Editor Cover Photo: Suanne Sikkema 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
CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim
Volume 3 No. 1
Winter Solstice 2011
From the Editor This fifth issue of Cirque includes the poetry of the present Alaska Poet Laureate, Peggy Shumaker and two past laureates, Sheila Nickerson and Tom Sexton. We also have poems by one of the Northwest’s major voices, David Wagoner. His 19th poetry volume, After the Point of No Return, is due out in 2012 from Copper Canyon Press. Wagoner was awarded the Arthur Rense Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. Entering the third year of publication, in this issue Cirque offers its first translations—a short story Brenda Roper “The Teeth of An Upper-Class Family’s Dog” by Vietnamese author Nguyen Cong Hoan translated from the Vietnamese by Quan Manh Ha and two poems by Chilean author Eugenia Toledo translated by Carolyne Wright. Our author index and contributor publications links are now up to date, and we have added other new links and podcasts. New website book selections include Braided Streams by the Ten Poets poetry group in Anchorage and Chulitna II: A Further Conversation in Poems by Randol Bruns and Mike Burwell. Finally, the Cirque submissions base well represents the North Pacific Rim region (except for Chukotka). Toward spreading the word, I ask past and present contributors to send me news of their current or upcoming publications, and I will post them on Cirque’s Facebook page. And consider “show and tell” at your local independent bookstores—Cirque has had two very successful readings in Anchorage, and one in Bellingham organized by Cirque contributor Sandra Kleven. Others could easily happen in Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, and Fairbanks.
Mike Burwell, Editor Anchorage, Alaska Winter Solstice 2011
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Vol. 3 No. 1
Winter Solstice 2011
Donna Mack Doug O’Harra Patty Somlo Beate Sigriddaughter Simon Langham Nguyen Cong Hoan
Ana Maria Spagna Gretchen Brinck James Edward Reid Kristine McRae Michael Engelhard
Jean Anderson Kirsten Anderson John Baalke Scott Banks Doug Blankensop Lorelei Costa Patrick Dixon Katie Eberhart Carolyn Edelman James Engelhardt Molly Lou Freeman Jo Going Jim Hanlen Shauna Hargrove Eric Heyne Curt Hopkins Brenda Jaeger Bill Jansen Anne Millbrooke John McKay Pamela Kearney Linda Martin Emily Kurn Janet Levin
Prologue to the novel Season of the Ploughshare Mothering Standing Guard The Mistakes Funnelcakes The Teeth of An Upper-Class Family’s Dog (translated by Quan Manh Ha)
7 9 14 17 21
When We Talk About Courage A Boy Who Would Go Deaf Inside the Glacier Second Language Berry-Pickers and Earthmovers
26 30 33 35 39
The Escape The curve of the earth Give Me an Endless Range What I think about when writing captions The truth about a wave She Don’t Know Nothin’ A Gull at Requiem Overboard Facets Crapshoot Czarnina (Duck Blood Soup) Lord, You Are Wolves Looking Under Yeats’ Bed dear Spring Forward, Fall Back On Moving to Paris to Start a Wan Tubercular Literary Journal You Could Hang and Swing Tillamook Dawn Teacher Aubade, in Geologic Time I am from Esther Building a Boat Want Last Testament Headwaters At Alpine Above Hope
41 41 42 42 42 43 44 44 45 45 46 47 48 48 49 49 50 50 51 51 51 52 53 53 53 54 54
Ron McFarland Patricia Monaghan John Morgan Mary Mullen Sheila Nickerson Tom Sexton Peggy Shumaker Anne Carse Nolting Joe Nolting Nicole Stellon O’Donnell T.J. O’Donnell Pianta Tim Pilgrim Vivian Faith Prescott Laura Read Brenda Roper David Stallings Leah Stenson Noah Ross Frank Soos Michael Spring Teresa Sundmark Elizabeth L Thompson Pepper Trail Karen Tschannen David Wagoner Kameron Walters Tonja Woelber Nancy Woods Eugenia Toledo Changming Yuan
Catch-and-Release Dancing with Liberty Arrival Firestorm Noisy Untitled Sailing in the San Juan Islands: Late August Summer Ends in the High Latitudes Trumpeter Swans Our Hand Carved Ornament of a Great Blue Heron Insomnia Stop Bath A Toast Archive Paying for Passage River Town Raven “The Dark Is Hurting My Eyes” Road to Red Deer Doing nothing wrong and still losing Misery Index: 13.55 Lilac City For the Boy Who Flipped Me Off on My Way Home A Cup of Coffee Petition The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree Fisgard Street Tents Grace Fly Rod the neighbor’s garbage Floating Lakeside Dream Wreck Each Tomorrow Strange Men in Hats Next Door Poetry In Motion Daylight Savings Amchitka Doing Dishes Ascent New Order Praying, Alaska Style Embalse Puclaro (translated by Carolyne Wright) Cantando la tierra (translated by Carolyne Wright) English Irrationalities
55 56 57 57 58 58 59 59 59 60 60 61 61 62 62 63 64 64 65 66 66 67 67 68 69 69 70 71 72 72 72 73 73 73 74 74 75 75 76 76 76 77 77 78 79 80
A Place to Stand: A Conversation with Poet Tom Sexton
Contributors Submit to Cirque
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
FICTION Donna Mack
Prologue to the novel Season of the Ploughshare
Sofia stood at her window watching the woman and child approach the house. As they crossed the windswept farmyard the edge of the woman’s long coat flapped like the dark wing of an injured bird. Beyond woman and child, the icy sleeved stalks of last year’s sunflowers jutted from the flat North Dakota prairie. The March day was cold and bright. The sky a piercing blue. How like Mother Russia, the old woman mused wrapping herself in the black shawl. Now Sofia was Hebamme. The old woman bent to turn the kerosene heater up a little and went to open the door. “Come in, come in.” she nodded, as mother and daughter climbed the steps and entered the closed in porch. “You stay out here.” she added to the girl. “This business is not for children.” Annie’s cheeks grew hot. Stunned, she wilted to the floor, straight-out legs ending in brown high top shoes. The Hebamme opened the curtain to the hidden room off the porch and the two women disappeared inside. The old Hebamme saw at once that Margaret was pregnant. She struck a match and lit the candles flanking the Virgin while whispering a few Gelobet seist du Marias. As she chanted Margaret focused on a mole dancing on the woman’s upper lip. “How are you feeling, Margaret?” she asked, slipping the fine silver chain from the nail where the golden drop of amber hung. “I get sick with this one,” Margaret answered. “I
wasn’t sick with any of the others. Not since Danny.” The scent of candle wax blended with dried herbs assaulted her. The kerosene heater ticked in the cold room. The Hebamme crossed herself and dangled the amber pendant motionless before Margaret’s face. “Look into the stone, Margaret. Don’t blink anymore than you need to.” Margaret took in air and settled. The pendant glowed in sunlight streaming through the window. The roaring wind clattered canes of a naked rose bush against the side of the porch. “How old is Danny, now?” the Hebamme asked. Margaret thought for a moment. “He’s almost seventeen, already,” she said. “Seventeen in July.” “What else?” the Hebamme asked, taking one of Margaret’s hands. “There are spots of blood every month even now, this late. I lost one already, years ago. Before it was even a baby. I bled with that one too, but I wasn’t sick to the stomach like now. Not since Danny.” Margaret lowered her eyes. “Well, let’s see what we can find out.” The Hebamme scooted closer placing her Beth Hartley hands firmly one on each side of Margaret’s face. Bare tree branches swept against the roof line. “Now let your eye go soft, Margaret, but keep it open. Don’t look at what you can see.” Concentrating intently, the Hebamme leaned forward and began reading Margaret’s eye. The astonishing blue iris was rimmed in gold. It pulsed faintly in the changing light, undulating
8 around the black center. The women leaned closer; staring into each other. Sharing each other’s breath. In the Hebamme’s eyes, Margaret saw a golden field at harvest undulating in the wind, stretching to the blue, blue sky on the steppe of Russia. The tall grain pulsed in eddies, changing with the light. Two women worked side by side. The only sounds were the sweeping of their scythes, and the clattering of the stalks as they set the bundles. Overhead, a bird of prey, its wings flapping darkly, soared high in the deep blue. But now Margaret’s eye was turning. Though she willed it straight ahead, Margaret’s right eye turned outward to the corner. The Hebamme readjusted herself, staring deeply into Margaret’s other eye. As she entered it she glimpsed a family in a horse-drawn sleigh at night, the mother staring straight ahead. Now images were coming faster, a woman throwing golden grain while chickens swirled, a bear on two legs beating his chest, a young man and a beautiful woman running naked into the sea. Outside the sunlit room Annie drew her knees to her chest and took the puzzle out from the breast pocket of her bibs. Her older brother, Danny had made it from three twisted sixteen penny nails somehow joined together. How was it Danny had separated them with just a few twists of the wrist? Annie laid out the puzzle in her palm. Where the three twisted nails were joined she imagined three heads locked together. “How can I get away from you two?” One nail asked, as Annie shook it by the one straight leg. “I don’t like this any better than you!” the second nail complained. “Me neither,” said the third. “I need to get away from both of you.” Annie tried patiently to separate them, until she jingled the nails in frustration. Leaning close to the Hebamme, Margaret heard them coming, the jingling of horse’s reins, and a terrible thunder from the low hill behind the working women. The men bore down, heads turbaned, faces and eyes dark. The whites of their eyes stood out, starkly. And their teeth. Margaret shook, clinging to the rails of the chair. She willed herself back to the small room, to the statue of the Virgin, to the wispy smell of candle wax. Instead, there was the acrid smell of blood. The Hebamme stared blankly. She had fallen into the wisdom from long ago—when Hebammes performed the Nah Tauf, the baptism the church refused to perform on the black-eyed babies born of force and sacrilege, with
CIRQUE the bluish spot at the bases of their spines. Annie shivered. Just a little heat was coming out now from under the curtain. Again she focused her attention on the nail puzzle. “I just have one leg!” Said the first nail. “If one of you would loan me your leg, maybe we could walk away.” Annie twisted two nails trying to free them from the other. “Ouch! Our heads are still tangled.” Annie said in a squeaky whisper for the third. In a while she gave up and tossed the nails with a jingling thud on the floor beside her shoe. When would her mother come out of the secret room? She tapped her feet impatiently, waiting, anxious. Margaret clung to the shaking chair-—again the jingling. Horses thundered into the distance. Two women lie in the golden field at harvest. Their lilac flowered babushkas torn from their heads, their blouses ripped, their skirts splattered with spots of blood. Above, only the startled blue sky. Now the Hebamme willed herself to stay with Margaret’s eye as she backed out of the spell. A bear growled as a hawk took flight. A dragon spitting fire. A man taking a woman on a battered couch. A bunny swirling in a stewpot. She leaned forward looking deeper, not a bunny, a malformed baby girl turning in the womb. At this the Hebamme shuddered, but held her ground. It would be dangerous to lose her concentration now. She began softly chanting the Gelobet seist du Maria in a low voice until it was safe to slowly step away from the blue, blue eye. She stood upright and picked a packet of herbs from the wooden box in the corner. Margaret leaned back, smoothing the soft wellwashed cotton of her lilac flowered house dress. “It will be a girl,” the Hebamme said. “There might be something wrong with her.” Margaret lost her color then, bringing her hands to her belly. The Hebamme handed Margaret the little bag of dried herbs tied with red string. “This is shepherd’s purse; drink it in a tea once a day to stop the bleeding. It should help. And let my daughter Katie know right away if you go into labor, even false labor early on. And Margaret, try not to work too hard.” Margaret accepted the small bundle, keenly aware of the texture of the cloth, of the feel of the planked floor under her shoes. The Hebamme laid aside her mother’s dark, fringed shawl. She was once again her neighbor’s strange mother, Sofia. Margaret pulled aside the curtain. There was Annie looking up at her with dark questioning eyes.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
A thousand times the sun warmed my face through the plate glass, and the truck drivers took my hand into their rough palms. For years I saved what they gave me, the nickels and quarters, the crumpled bills. I ate pinto beans instead of steak, and sewed my own clothes though I hated it because momma had done the same. I banked my waitress wages, and one day I finally leased my own diner in the strip mall on the road north of Wasilla by the Pittman Road stop, put my name on the sign, and discovered my black hair strung with gray. My baby boy had grown up by then, old enough to pour coffee for customers and talk of getting away from the Valley to attend college in the city, or maybe nail a Slope job, or drive Outside to see the country. He had listened to me when the black ice formed and the highway lay empty and doubt soured inside me like red wine flu. He had his father’s furious eyes, but he was still a good boy. I could always speak frankly to his face. I thought that we had made it at last to that safe place beyond the flickering oh-shit memories, solid high ground where you’ve lost sight of childhood and see nothing but sky and beyond, where I imagined we’d focus on the descent into his own adult life: college, career, serious girlfriend, and god forbid, maybe grandkids, for who knew what might come? But that’s not what happened. On a workday afternoon a few weeks after he graduated from high school, he stepped in front of me in the corridor, taking a widefooted stance, leaning like a fisherman bracing against the current in the Little Su. And he asked me yet again: Just where exactly — the word “exactly” this time spoken with a drawn-out and nasty inflection that seemed to accuse me
9 of misdirection — did I figure he might track down his father? “Come again?” I said, though I had heard him plain. I carried the bucket of pickles into the walk-in cooler, slammed the door and wiped my hands on my apron. He was waiting for me. “You’re going to have to tell me sooner or later. Because I’m going to find him.” Through the doorway chattered the lunch crowd, and I knew Amy and Freddie had fallen behind on the sandwiches and soup and fries. I had been taking orders and frying myself, and I really couldn’t talk, not then, not with people eating my food in the next room. But there he stood, arms folded, scuffing a stain on the linoleum with the toe of his boot. “Your timing’s real bad, honey.” “You can’t slam the door on me here.” “Don’t you think as a general rule we ought to tackle the big questions after the lunch rush?” I tried to see his eyes, but he had turned his face from me and was chewing his lip. He whispered something under his breath. All of a sudden, I felt I had done something truly bad, not just wrong but kind of dirty, like striking someone’s pet dog with a car and then driving off without trying to help. I hadn’t felt that way since I was a girl, and my hands got clammy and I wiped them again. “How the hell would I know where he’s at? This is the damn lunch hour. What makes you think I got time to gab about that man now?” When I passed, I could see the tickets had stacked up, curling on the clips like dead skin. The odor of fresh fries hung in the air and the hot oil sizzled and that burble of a room full of talking and clinking china, noise that means I’m making payments, drowned out the sound of my own heart. Amy sang an order out to Freddie and spun to a new table, but I could see people who had not yet been served. So I took the pot and stalked the room. I smiled into men’s hooded eyes as I filled cups. I did not think, but rang up tickets and took orders until once again I came upon my boy. He was sitting at the two-seater by the door, grinning as he scooted an empty cup across the surface. “No such thing as strong coffee,” he said. “That’s right.” I filled his cup. “Just weak people.” “You got it.” Then our eyes met, and his grin faded. I held the pot with both hands. “I have to know,” he said.
10 “Michael. This isn’t the time. Please.” “That’s what you always say. You’ve been telling me ‘later, later, we’ll talk later’ all fucking week.” “Michael!” “I just want an address.” “I don’t have an address.” “You know, when I was little, you told me he was rich, with lots of trucks parked in his yard. That he had a Peterbilt and a Mac and an Autocar that a dozen men drove for him up and down the West Coast.” “No I didn’t.” “I remember you told me they know his name in every truck stop on I-5 between LA and Seattle.” “Come on, Michael.” “And another time you told me they said he was such a mechanic that he could make dead engines come alive just with the parts he had laying around his shop.” “I never told you any such thing.” “I’m just now remembering all the crap you’ve told me, years of it, and I don’t know what’s bullshit and what’s true.” “You are raising your voice at me.” “Come on, Mom. Just give me a name then. A town. Something.” I tried to keep my voice low. “Michael! This is the damn lunch rush.” His eyes widened a little, and I knew he’d heard the tremor. I started to turn away, even took a step back, but the corners of his mouth turned down, and he was so like a little boy then, that I wanted to set down the pot and take hold of his face. But the murmuring of the men pressed against my back like a hand, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being studied. Then Michael sighed and began tapping the spoon on the table. “Stop that,” I said, instantly relieved. “This ain’t a garage.” “Sometimes, I just want to see him, not even talk to him, just see him walking around by all those trucks. And other times I want to grab a hold of him and smash his face.”
CIRQUE He pounded the table with the fist holding the spoon, like he were stabbing the Formica, and his coffee cup jumped enough to spill. I sprang forward to wipe, but the lull in the voices of the customers made me realize that I would not be able to continue the pretense. I opened my mouth, but could not speak because of a sudden pain in the pit of my stomach. “I’m out of high school, but you treat me like a fucking baby,” he said loud enough to draw more glances. “We will talk later,” I managed. “I promise.” Brandon McElroy “Are you worried I’ll hurt him or something?” “Hurt who?” said Jack, who had just entered the door. He was a big-shouldered man who hauled drilling pipe to Prudhoe Bay, who took me dancing sometimes and always claimed that he was the best hydraulic man between Anchorage and Deadhorse. He rubbed his beard and grinned down at Michael and glanced sideways at me. “You got troubles with some of these Houston punks, you talk to me, kid.” “Oh no,” I said, laughing, wiping the table. “He’s just talking. Come on, Michael, you get up and let Jack sit down.” I glanced around the room, seeing that a stool was empty at the counter. “Let him sit. I don’t like to come between a man and his dinner.” I laughed gaily and turned from the table, dipping my shoulder away from Jack’s hand, touching my bob to make sure the pin was still in place. By the time I looked back, Jack sat alone and had spread out a used shopper under his elbows. Michael’s cup had been scooted to the far corner. I didn’t know a lot when I got pregnant with Michael, but I knew this: I would raise the boy without the fear that used to squeeze my shoulders. Yet I had seen his father’s expression light up his young face, and sometimes, especially when someone got loud in the restaurant, he would stand with his head down, his eyes flat and mean, and I would see so much of his father that I wondered if he had any of me in him at all.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 I always told myself that everything I did was for him, for the boy. Now I’m not so sure, though I was once. I was still a girl when I left home, but I had already seen more than enough. Think of one of those San Joaquin trailer parks with the double-wides lined up like trailer vans ready to haul. Our metal door opened onto gravel, and the floor sounded hollow when you walked. The windowless hall tilted, and at the end was the door to the big bedroom where Mama and my step-dad slept, but that door wouldn’t shut tight. When the hall was dark, you could see light through the space at the bottom, and sound carried with clarity that made you suck in your breath and hold it. They argued a lot, too, an understatement that, and a couple times a month he’d walk out, knocking Mama’s magazines off the kitchen table or just upending one of the chairs as he went. There’d be the same noises: the snapping of gravel under tires, the rustling of clothes as Mama got up to her feet. If I went in, she would just stare at me with one fat arm folded across her chest, cigarette in the other. Mama was almost as big as him, and her face like a man’s as she squinted, her cheeks pinching and the tip popping, and I could see that her thumb was massaging the shiny lighter as though she wanted to rub the etching of a crane right off. Then she’d stab out the cigarette and set the lighter back on the stand. “Get back to bed, Lucy,” she’d say. “At least he doesn’t drink up every dollar like you know who.” I’d do as she said, but sleep was hard because my door jiggled in place even when I locked it. If shoved real hard, the lock would slip and the door would swing free. Sometimes he’d be there in the opening, his breath just loud enough. In a moment that lasted a thousand years, I would lay with the sheets pulled up to my chin and my eyes squeezed shut. I would know that he had crouched beside me when I smelled the unfiltered Camel smoke and lingering odor of underarm sweat. When the sheet slipped from my shoulders, I would concentrate on the smacking of tomatofield sprinklers and the whine of LA-bound trucks on I-5. As his thorny fingers dug into me, I would ride those sounds into the suffocating air above the irrigation wheels to find the hope in highways, and cool night air, and the speckle of starlight that smears across the dome of sky when the compressed stems of dry grass itch themselves right into your bare back. When I was seventeen, I walked. Nothing much had happened. It was just a regular afternoon with him out cold and Mama gone someplace. Into one of Mama’s vinyl suitcases I packed two blouses and jeans and a dress and the yearbook and her lighter from the nightstand, and I stepped out the
11 hollow door into the bleached sunshine. I looked back once, and there was my little brother, his son, pressed against the screen, not wearing a shirt, kind of crying after me. I waved him back. I had told him to go to the neighbor’s trailer, but I guess he was too scared. I’ve not seen him since. For many years, I worked as a waitress at truck stops and cafes outside Modesto and Stockton and on up the highway toward Sacramento, and then further north: Medford, Portland, Tacoma. I had friends, a Chevy Malibu, and kept trying to save enough for a down payment or maybe just a real vacation, but a man always spoiled everything. I would have to run all the way to my girlfriend Sandy’s and spend the night smoking cigarettes and drinking gin and tonics while she watched out the window. Sometimes the man came and stood outside in the yard, shirt undone, raging like a bee you squirt down with the hose: “Lucy! I know you’re here!.” We’d giggle and hide behind the shades until he left, or began pounding on the door. As I grew older, I learned to watch hands, the hands that pat your ass and rest on your shoulder and clamp down on your arm. Some of them are cruel and rough, all calloused from the lifting and forcing they do at work. But Michael’s father seemed different, because he always worked with gloves. With him, it had been OK for almost a year. His thick shoulders stuck through his T-shirts like truck fenders, and he worked as a handyman-dock foreman or whatnot for a fruit wholesaler north of Olympia. In his arms at night, I’d feel wrapped in a straitjacket, but it was like being a little girl, awful and safe. When he touched my face, I always felt how soft the skin had been kept within the wide stiff cuffs and greasy, leather fingers, and I would kiss back, because that’s the way it was. Down inside I would want to say something, but I muzzled my feelings like they were strange birds, all claws and wings. I had this feeling that I was good enough, and if I just let go, I could leave all the rest of it behind. Of course, men have all got their quirks. Michael’s father always took good care of those damn gloves, hanging them on hooks like they were hats. I wasn’t supposed to use them, but I had taken a pair to weed my garden and then left them in the yard when I irrigated. When he came through that door, I looked at his hands and I knew he was going to hit me. They were clenching and unclenching as he walked. The whole thing happened really just because I told him I was pregnant. Afterwards, I had lit a cigarette and I kept snapping the lighter on and off. I remember that we both watched that flame shoot up, and I could smell the fumes. Then he asked the question, which I don’t totally blame him for. Still, he deserved to hear nothing more than what he expected. So I told him: “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do
12 about it now.” I think I also said something like “Jesus, what do you think, you were gone 12 hours a day for months” or “I’m doing you a favor” or “I’m telling you because I love you. Another girl would have said nothing.” I’m pretty sure I told him that, because that’s when it hit him and he went out into the yard where he found those damn gloves all wet from the sprinkler. He stood there looking at them like they were some strange thing he’d never seen before. He squatted by them and reached out and turned them over in the grass like you would a puppy that had died in the road. He didn’t move when the sprinkler splattered him, and I almost yelled at him to get out of the way. A long time passed, with the sprinkler slowly rocking away from him and then back. When he stood, his hair plastered his head, and his shirt clung to his chest. Beads of water ran down his face. He bent over and gathered those gloves up and slapped them against his jeans, and I knew he was a long ways past regular anger. I started trembling all over, like I was freezing cold. He came through the door and flung the gloves down on the kitchen table. “All right, then, Lucy,” he said. “I guess we’ll just have to deal with this too.” His voice was so controlled that I knew something terrible was coming. He approached me in slow motion, his expression flat as a giant face on a highway billboard, his arms spreading apart like he was going to wrestle me to the floor. But I would not let it happen. I jumped past him into the kitchen, opened the cupboard over the stove, pulled out a pan or God knows what I can’t remember, and I swung around as hard as I could with a two-handed grip and all my weight behind it. It connected to his temple and he dropped to the floor. I jumped over him and gathered my things and was trying to step past his body when he grabbed my ankles, crying out, “Lucy! Jesus! Why’dya hit me? Why’d you? Why’d you?” and I started kicking and stomping and screaming to leave me the fuck alone until he let go or passed out or something, and I jumped on out the door. Later on, I trotted up the highway, walking backwards when the headlights caught the signs. In my purse. I had forty-seven dollars, a pack of cigarettes and my Mama’s steel lighter. A trucker hauling shiny new cars picked me up right away, and I told him I was called Jean Anne Radene, Grandma’s maiden name. His hands were large and fleshy and rested on the wheel as round and large as a table, and he looked like Captain Kangaroo. In Spokane, he bought me eggs and sausage and introduced me to another trucker on his way east. I took that ride, and then another, and by the next day, I was halfway to Chicago, and I didn’t stop moving for half a year when I took a one-way flight to Anchorage and found a prep cook gig in a highway restaurant that allowed
CIRQUE me to sit at a table in my maternity smock. You understand that at first I figured that Michael’s father was probably dead, and I was beyond scared, beyond feeling anything, though I shriveled every time I saw one of those highway cops with their broad-brimmed hats. I know now that they would have gotten me before I made Spokane if they’d wanted me. By the time I found out that he was fine, which is another story that I’m not getting into, it was way too late. Almost a thousand weeks have passed since I left that man, and I don’t think about him much. I did what I did because inside my belly I could feel the stirring of the baby, and he was so like a tiny animal caught in a net, kicking and wriggling, that I believed he was too special for any man. The whole time I was on the road, until I delivered as a charity case at Providence, I had this feeling the baby would have bones as fragile as butterfly wings, so sheer that his father would crush them without even trying. One thing in my life was going to be mine alone. So I did what I thought best, and I will not regret it, not even now. I can’t change it anyhow. I guess I had decided that Michael did need to hear some of this, but I couldn’t think of how to begin. So after I closed the restaurant, I drove around until it was almost dinnertime. Our house, with its half-painted T-111 siding, sat alone on a half-acre in the gravel scrub suburbs northwest of Wasilla. As I turned up the drive, I saw Michael standing behind his old F150 pickup, backed right to the open garage door. I pulled into the drive fast, and I slammed the door too hard. Under the canopy that covered the truck bed, he’d placed a duffle bag, two garbage bags full clothes and boots, a wooden box with an old coffee pot and metal dishes and a plastic milk crate of books. The sleeping bag was sprawled over a foam pad. A red, dented Coleman stove, which I had never seen, sat on the tailgate. Michael was fooling with a fuel tank, and his jaw was set, like he was gritting his teeth. “What’s all this?” “Stuff for my trip, I guess. “ “What trip?” I kept my voice regular. “I’m going to drive down the Alcan. I’m going to drive to Washington first.” “Oh? You just going to walk out on the station?” “I quit.” “You quit? When did you quit? You didn’t ask me about that. “ He didn’t answer. I was starting to get angry, but it was cold and hard, like headlights reflecting off greasecolored snow. “I don’t think this is a very good idea, Michael. You are only 18 years old and I am your mother and I’m not going to have you driving away like this. Besides, I don’t think this
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 truck would make it that far.” He turned from me, and I found myself looking at the back of his head, where his ragged hair covered his thick neck, almost a man’s neck. “It’s running fine,” he said softly, like he was talking to himself. I grabbed a hold of his shoulders and tried to swing him to face me, but he was stiff and firm, and I could not move him. “Michael,” I grunted. “You…turn…around now.” I jerked again on his arms, digging my fingers into his skin, which felt sweaty and sticky under my palms. He placed his hands on the bed, leaning away from me, using his weight against my strength. I pulled as hard as I could, but he just flexed against me, gripping the edge of the pickup
with both hands. Finally, I let go, and he moved forward as I released. I stood a moment, catching my breath, and I decided. “You want me to tell you about your father? Is that what this is about?” He shrugged, but he straightened up. He was paying attention now. “I never told you the truth about your father because I never knew who he was.” Michael did not move. “Do you hear me?” I said, and there were tears rolling down my cheeks and my voice cracked. “There’s no one out there, Michael. There never has been. “ “You never knew?” “Oh Michael, it wasn’t my fault, don’t you see? I was just a girl. For god sakes, what was I supposed to tell you? I didn’t want you to grow up without a father.” Michael turned and stared at me like he had never seen me before. His mouth was open and red, like a gash. His
eyes fixed to mine, dull and a little sick, a drunk man’s eyes. “I don’t believe you,” he said at last. “You’re lying to me. You just don’t want me to find him.” “There’s just me, Michael.” I was starting to lose my voice. “I have a name, you know.” He told it to me. My heart jolted, I flushed, and I could tell from the widening of his eyes that he had seen my reaction. But I responded with as much scorn as I could muster. “Where’d you hear that?” “I don’t know. You were talking about him once when Aunt Sandy came to visit. I was hiding. Under the stairs.” “Well that was none of your business. And that’s not him besides. I think I’d know. So. Please. Michael, honey. Put that stuff down and come inside. We’ve got to talk. I understand what you’re going through. Just tell me that you love me and we’ll be OK.” His face screwed tight with such disgust that it kicked me all the way back to the beginning. The words — “Yeah, I love you, Mom” — were barely out of his mouth when I slapped him as hard as I could. He staggered back against the bed of his truck. “Oh Michael!” I gasped. I jumped forward to throw my arms around him, but he stopped me, his open hand striking me flat in the chest. His fingers and thumb were stiff and they dug into my breast so hard that the pain almost took my breath. I stepped back so that he wasn’t touching me, and I gaped at him, really just shocked, but his eyes were so flat and mean, so hateful, that I couldn’t say a thing. He held his other hand against his cheek, and I could see where grease had etched in black the whorls of his skin. I turned and went into the house. I lit a cigarette and waited by the front door sidelight. I was trembling, but I was wrung too dry for any more crying. I could still feel the imprint, and I knew I would be bruised in the morning. As I listened to Michael’s footsteps on the gravel and the thud of things landing on the bed, I suddenly felt like I used to, that there was something wrong with me. For a moment I didn’t know anything for sure, and all I wanted was to hear him calling for me. But I got a grip on myself. I had done the best I could to save him from becoming like his father and the rest, and I wasn’t going to let anyone, not even Michael, tell me different. Then his truck door slammed, the engine rumbled. I went on into the kitchen for a beer as he drove off. I couldn’t tell you if he looked back.
“He’s been standing there all morning,” Iris said, wiping her hands on the white tablecloth wrapped around her hips and knotted at the waist like an apron. “Do you think we should go out and talk to him?” Iris’ husband Ed stepped over to the large window and shook his head. “Best to leave him be.” Iris wiped her hands again, front and back in two hard swipes, as if an extra effort was needed to get them dry. “Such a shame,” she said. “And look at that rain. He must be soaked right down to the bone.” The dining room was empty at this hour, tables set with silverware, napkins, water and wine glasses. The boy stood at the edge of the water, which today was the color of charcoal. The rain hadn’t let up for days and wind was stabbing needles of it against the panes. Water cascaded in thin lines the length of the glass. Iris had noticed the boy standing there when she drove up and parked next to a mountain of abandoned oyster shells. The sun-bleached shells were a stark contrast to the sky. Iris considered going over to him but knew the ground would be spongy between the old wooden deck and the bay. This time of year it was impossible to know where the safe ground ended and the dangerous part started. “Well, we can’t stand here all day,” Ed said. “Got a restaurant to run.” “What if he doesn’t leave?” “We can call Miles.” Miles was one of the Peninsula’s four cops and Ed’s best friend. “Let him come out and talk to the boy.” Iris didn’t say whether she thought they should call Miles or wait. Long before Iris gave up teaching to run a restaurant where tourists came to watch herons scan the shallow water at low tide, the other teachers and some people around town said the boy wasn’t quite right. Of course, no one bothered to explain what they thought might be wrong. Iris had noticed that the boy had a dreamy quality. She’d seen how exquisitely he painted.
The boy worked in watercolor like his mother, though his paintings were more abstract, with dark wide splotches of color. You had to step back to see the painting come together. A week after graduation, the boy enlisted in the army. Iris and several other teachers had a bad feeling about it. “They’re gonna send him over there,” the chemistry teacher Bill Ayres said several weeks later at Iris’ retirement party. “To Iraq.” He pronounced the I with what Iris considered an unnecessary hardness. “What’s going to happen to a sensitive, talented boy like that in the army?” Mary Wilson, the history teacher, asked. None of the teachers or their spouses standing in the small circle dared answer. A few days later, Iris and Ed bought the old Bayside Café from the family of the previous owner. Iris’ fellow teachers applauded her for not wasting retirement watching TV. But some secretly wondered why anyone would want to take on a restaurant at that stage of life. They knew, of course, that Iris and Ed had no children and couldn’t spend their golden years with the grandkids, as most teachers Iris’ age planned. Known for her cooking, especially breads and desserts, such as Marionberry crisp and crème brulee, Iris had dreamed of owning the Bayside for years. There was something about the view that could be seen from every table. Floor-to-ceiling windows surrounded the place on three sides. Even in the raucous weather the Peninsula was famous for, the Bayside had a special feel – with the grassy shoreline curving ever so gently in front and the dark hills across the bay reflecting the glowing light of the sun. On gray days when light slivers slipped through the clouds, poles the oyster growers planted created slender, wavy reflections in the water that left Iris feeling breathless. Iris reminded herself that she needed to put the finishing touches on her dishes. A big party was coming tonight to celebrate Alice and Fred Mullens’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. Loaves of Iris’ signature bread, with its suggestion of garlic and dill served warm and sliced thick, in a brown wicker basket covered with a red cloth napkin, were sitting in small tins waiting to go into the oven. Baking normally erased the silent brooding Iris was prone to. It wasn’t that she had wanted children – Iris and Ed had made the decision not to have a family early
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 on. But Iris hadn’t bargained on the loneliness and the often long, silent times. Ed contented himself with wood projects in the shop he’d built for himself back of the garage. But Iris needed people – friends to talk to about books or to walk along the beach with and share disappointments and problems. Her friends were often too busy with their kids to spend that kind of time with Iris. Ed grew bored with Iris’ talk. She would settle in across the kitchen table from him to talk about the knot that had left her feeling low. Ten minutes into the conversation, she’d notice Ed’s large brown eyes wandering and then he’d push his chair back and say, “Well, Iris. You’ll work it out. I know you will.” Iris walked out to the dining room one more time. Nearly all the brightness – and there hadn’t been much to begin with – had vanished from the sky. Lights under the roof eaves lit the path to the water. The boy was still out there. What could he possibly be up to, she wondered Iris had heard the boy was back from Iraq the morning she ran into the town’s mayor on Pacific Avenue. “Not so good, I hear,” Mayor Brad Cummings said. “I suggested to his mother that we organize a little welcome home parade for him, like we’d done for some of the other boys. She didn’t think that would be such a good idea.” Soon after, he heard that the boy’d been standing in his room staring outside for hours on end. Word traveled quickly down the fingerlike line of sand that stretched along the coast, past the river, and out between the ocean and the bay. The handful of year-round Peninsula residents had too much time on their hands, when winter storms kept the crab and salmon boats tied up in the harbor. Over coffee and pie at the Beach Bakery or shots and beer inside the knotty pine walls of Bill’s Tavern, folks sat out days and nights of howling wind-driven rain and gossiped. Iris considered going to visit the boy’s mother Glenda but put it off. She thought about that, as she watched the boy and realized what a damper his standing there would be on the Mullens’ anniversary party. She found Ed at the back of the kitchen refilling ketchup bottles. “I think I’d better go out there and talk to him,” she said, wiping her hands for the umpteenth time on the soiled tablecloth she was wearing as an apron. “Why don’t you let me call Miles?” Ed’s eyes stayed fixed on the bottles, watching the thick
red sauce slowly slide from one bottle to the next. “I’d rather try and talk to him first. He was my student after all.” “Don’t you have things to do?” Ed asked, setting the bottles down on the counter and proceeding to screw the white cap on the full one. “Everything’s ready to go,” she said, wiping her palms and the back of her hands another two times. “At least put a coat on,” Ed yelled to her, as she strode out of the kitchen. The cool wet air refreshed her after standing next to the hot oven inside. Iris had reached the age where the slightest heat sent her temperature soaring, until she felt ready to explode, sweat beading her forehead and neck, at which point chills set in. The rain had softened into a drizzle and drops dotted Iris’ glasses. Iris didn’t know much about war and what it did to soldiers but she had enough sense not to surprise the boy. As she got close, she coughed several times and said the boy’s name. “Andy. It’s me. Iris Chandler. Mrs. Chandler, your English teacher from Ocean High.” She waited a few feet behind to see if the boy might turn around. When he didn’t, she opted to move forward. “Andy, are you all right there?” She stepped up next to the boy and saw what he was wearing. No jacket. Nothing to keep out the rain. All he had on was a shirt and pants, wildly spotted, earth and khaki-colored cotton fatigues. The boy didn’t turn to look at her. She took a chance and set her fingertips on his upper arm. “What do you see out there?” she asked. She didn’t get a response, so she turned in the direction the boy was facing. The bay was swollen and choppy, rolling toward shore in continuous, angry gray waves. On the opposite shore, the hills looked black. Scattered lights along the shore near the oyster beds pricked small bright spots into the darkness. Maybe Ed had been right. She should have left the matter to Miles. What did she know? Sure, she’d taught kids for forty years, with all their stubborn emotional problems. But there’d never been anything like this. “I was thinking about how you used to paint,” Iris said, the words slipping out before she’d had a chance to consider them. “Have you thought about coming here and painting the bay? You could sit on the deck. There’s a roof, so you wouldn’t get drenched.”
16 She waited, afraid this wasn’t getting her anywhere. “This has always been my favorite spot on the peninsula. When I was young, I was terribly unhappy. I felt so lonely. I thought I was the only person who felt that way, that nobody could understand what I was going through. “I used to ride my bike down here and sit and write the most awful poetry. Thought they were masterpieces at the time. I figured out soon enough that I didn’t have much talent for poetry. Anyway, after a while, I grew out of that sadness some. ‘Course, you never lose it entirely. “You have a talent, Andy. You might be able to take some of those thoughts you’re having and make something of them in your art.” Iris took another risk and ran her fingers down the boy’s arm. When he didn’t flinch, she let her fingers move up to his shoulder, where she stopped and then circled her arm around to where her fingers managed to graze the opposite arm. “How about some nice hot clam chowder? You must be starving. Standing guard out here all night.” He jerked his head in Iris’ direction. Her hand flew off his shoulder and she jumped back. “Standing guard,” he said, his voice hardly a whisper. He turned around to face the water. Iris decided it might be best to let him be. The rain came down steadily for eleven days in a row. At the height of the storm, wind gusts out by the lighthouse hit one hundred and twenty miles an hour. Lying in bed reading while Ed snored, Iris shuddered each time she heard the wind’s eerie howl and cry. The sound made her recall an old story about one light keeper’s wife who committed suicide by jumping into the roiling waves from high up on the bluff. The sound of the wind drove her crazy. The storm ended with a calmness as sudden as the rain began. The day dawned clear. Still as glass, the blue-green surface of the bay was broken by scattered reflections of the thinnest white clouds. Iris stood at the window not wanting to let go of the sight. He had set his easel down close to the water. He’d worn the camouflage pants again but instead of the matching green and khaki-splotched shirt, he had on a bright white tee-shirt. The easel was set sideways rather than straight on, which made Iris curious to see what the boy might be up to. She went into the kitchen and filled a mug with
CIRQUE coffee. Since she had no idea how he liked it, Iris left the coffee black. As she walked, her feet sank into the ground. The grass was saturated and spongy from the storm. For the first time since the afternoon he arrived in Bagdad, Andy felt cold. He had stood out by the bay for three days in a row under that crazy damn rain. Now the sun was out and hell if he wasn’t cold. The old teacher was right. Bringing his stuff here– the easel, metal paint box and palette – he’d quit feeling hot. He couldn’t explain this to his mom or anybody. Yeah, he’d come home. But he’d kept that dammed desert inside. This is somethin’, he thought, letting his eyes take in the dilapidated wooden cannery with the barely visible red letters that spelled out PACIFIC SEAFOOD on the graybrown, bleached cedar siding, the blue-green bay and dark hills across, on out to the western edge, where the freshwater bay flowed into the salty ocean. When Andy was young he and his brothers and cousins used to come here. Wearing big rubber boots they’d slosh around in the mud and dig up oysters. Even then – he must have been nine or ten – he brought the sketch book his mom had bought him and a box of colored pencils and did up quick little drawings. He’d carry the drawings back to his room and tack them on the wall. He felt cold. What a crazy dammed thing to be happy about. He strangled the metal tube, squeezing drops of red paint onto the palette. Andy turned when he heard a cough. His old English teacher was walking toward him carrying a green mug. “Morning, Andy,” she said, as she came closer. “Thought you might need some coffee. I wasn’t sure how you liked it, so I brought some packets of cream and sugar.” “Thank you,” he said. Iris handed him the mug and then the sugar packets and creamers. “I’m feeling a little cold,” he told her. The sun was shining. The light breeze felt warm. Suddenly, the smile slipped from Andy’s lips. Crimson paint ran down his arm. He jerked his head around, dropped his gaze and aimed the red-soaked brush, level with his eye. A red stain bruised the white tee-shirt. Paint bled onto the canvas in a jagged red downward spiral. Iris feared the red splotches on her blouse would never wash out.
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“No. I thought of it. You have to do something around here to earn your keep. OK, here she comes,” Scilla prompts. “Now.”
Imagine the city touched by spring. An aging civilization has been under a spell for five thousand years. Still spring happens. The sun coaxes yellow crocuses from swollen buds; purple ones, too, and a handful of snowdrops on the edges of the dark top soil flower beds. Two girls sit on the lowest step of five stairs leading up to a brownstone building. Their murmur and occasional giggles fill the air. Mandy wears her favorite red shortsleeved linen shirt over jeans. Scilla feels a thickness in her chest. She is jealous and sad. Her mother does not allow her to wear red because she is chubby. If she stays chubby and wears red, no man will ever marry her. A pregnant young woman named Gerda waddles toward them, her face puckered with the discomfort of her heaviness. “She’s fat,” Scilla whispers. This surprises Mandy. True, the woman has a large belly, now that Scilla mentions it. Mandy hadn’t noticed before. “Tell her,” Scilla urges, suspecting, correctly, that Mandy has no concept of pregnancy. Scilla has just recently learned about it from her older brother in hushed tones. Mandy shakes her head. It feels too dicey, though it might not hurt the woman’s feelings anyway. People always call Mandy skinny, and it doesn’t bother her. It’s just how she is. It bothers her mother, though. Once, as they were walking hand in hand, two boys behind them had made boisterous comments about her stick legs. Now Mandy has to wear two pairs of wool tights in winter to make her legs look thicker. Otherwise people might say her mother wasn’t feeding her enough. Fortunately it is finally spring and legs are allowed to be what they are once again because nothing can be done about it. “It’ll be fun to tell her she’s fat,” Scilla says. “You’ll see.” “You go ahead and tell her then,” Mandy says.
Meanwhile Mandy’s mother, AnnaBeth, is washing dishes in her kitchen. The sun slants through the crystal pendant hanging in the window and paints faint rainbow patterns low on the wall. AnnaBeth doesn’t notice. She is busy with her porcelain and the second best silver, and with her thoughts and her exhaustion. She feels frumpy after yesterday’s run-in with her mother-in-law. “Tom is my husband,” AnnaBeth had stated in proud self-defense. “A man can always get another wife. But he can only ever have one mother,” her mother-in-law had countered with unassailable logic. There’s something about this motherhood mystique that bothers AnnaBeth all along. Not that you can put your finger on what the problem is exactly. Motherhood is always promised with such sunny colors as incredible fulfillment. Honor is part of the promise, too. And joy. But that’s not exactly what you get. You get embarrassed sex, a pleasure strictly for the entitled husband’s benefit, and then you get condemned for it from the church pulpit while sitting in the pew smiling and wearing your best hat. After that you get the Kate Worthington agony of delivery, aching breasts, maybe a photo taken from time to time, in which you smile even wider than in the church pew, and aside from that you get a lot of heartache and responsibility and a little bit of pride. But honor? Not in her experience. You do get love, however. AnnaBeth loves her little daughter, her youngest child. Mandy is bright and times are changing. Perhaps it will be easier for her. AnnaBeth’s sons are already older, almost beyond her influence. Meanwhile two birds are chirping back and forth in the forsythia bush by the steps outside the building. No one notices, except perhaps some other birds at a distance. Pregnant Gerda has reached the two girls. The skinny one points at her with a shaky finger, grows beet red in her face and says, “You’re fat, lady.” The other girl,
18 the chubby one, laughs. This is the last straw. “You’ll hear about this,” Gerda hisses at the skinny girl who looks at her with shocked and frightened brown eyes. Without giving the brats another glance, Gerda lumbers past them and up the five stairs, breathing heavily, the laughter of the chubby one still ringing in her ears. She is twenty-two and feels like an old woman, a thousand years old. She has to get home and lie down. Not that home is any great joy, with her mother administering the daily poison of contempt, which is, however, not nearly as hurtful as her elegantly whitehaired father’s avoidance of any eye contact and his endless pre-dinner prayers to his God in heaven who is far more important than any daughter on earth. To placate both the father in heaven and the one on earth, Gerda is forced to pretend to be married to a worthy missionary currently in Ethiopia, and presumably destined to die from malaria in due course, or some other suitable ailment, which fictional marriage precludes, of course, any contact with any non-fictional real men, not that any of them would look at her twice, genetic plainness now compounded by the baby in her womb. Worse, it precludes contact with any women, too, for fear, her parents’ fear, that she might spill the beans in a moment of vulnerability. With the result that she would cause shame and indignity to her parents, and, worst of all, to her parents’ highly judgmental God. Gerda is lonely. She wishes she had the strength to break away. Here comes her narrow-eyed mother. “You’ve been rather a while,” her mother says, suspicion exuding from her like a sharp scent. Gerda’s nostrils flare. She wants to scream. She wishes she had somewhere else to go. But she is frightened and trapped. The refrain “so long as you live under our roof” drums through her throbbing head. “I need to lie down,” she says, avoiding eye contact and further questioning. Her mother mutters something unfriendly behind her aching back before Gerda closes her door. Meanwhile skinny Mandy, a bit troubled still about having let Scilla talk her into something she didn’t want to do, has returned home. She is slightly bored. AnnaBeth smiles at her daughter with warm brown eyes. Their eyes are like mirrors of one another. “Later you can come shopping with me,” AnnaBeth says. “But I need to take a little nap first.” Mandy nods. Her mother does look tired. Mandy settles down at the kitchen table to cut out paper dolls
CIRQUE from a clothing catalog. Something rattles against the window. For a moment, Mandy hopes for a secret magic message from someone, perhaps a fairy visitor, perhaps a little gnome with magic powers, perhaps even an enchanted fox. But when she looks up, it is, as usual, only the wind. Mandy sighs. She already has a stack of catalog paper dolls at least two inches thick. But there are always more pretty women with nice dresses and beautiful faces to cut out and add to her stack whenever a new catalog arrives and she is allowed to cut apart the old one. AnnaBeth ruffles Mandy’s hair and kisses the unruly brown curls on top of her daughter’s bent head before she leaves the kitchen. The doorbell rings. Mandy hears her mother talk, then another woman’s voice. The voices are not happy, and getting less so. Mandy’s mother is often not happy, and there is nothing Mandy can do about it. She knows. She has tried. Her best bet, therefore, is to tune out. Mandy sings to herself and starts cutting the outline of a smiling model in a billowing red dress. Until her mother opens the kitchen door with a loud snap. AnnaBeth now looks like an ogre. Her face is blotched with red. Her checks are puffed out over thin lips and bared teeth. Her eyes are filled with hatred. Everything in Mandy’s body bristles and tells her to flee. But it is no use. There is nowhere to escape to. Meanwhile two squirrels chase each other around the tree that reaches up to and beyond Gerda’s second-story window. They spiral up. They spiral down. But Gerda doesn’t notice. She lies flat on her back on the rickety bed in her old room. She wishes that damn child downstairs would stop screaming. She’s hot enough as it is. With anger. With shame. With everything. It’s probably one of the same kids that sat out front. First hurting her with their rude laughter and comments. Now making a ruckus. She wishes the horrible screaming would stop. The pillow over her head doesn’t help; it only makes things hotter. The screaming just keeps on coming, like a filthy wave. The bed meets each movement of her body with a different lump. Her body is heavy and hot. Too heavy to get up and do something about that brat. Why must it be like this for her? She knows she must be grateful, even for her thin-lipped pious parents and their dance of her father’s dominance with her mother acting as his faithful executioner, making it all happen according to his will. Gerda could be feeling this heavy and swollen and smelly and helpless elsewhere. Out on the street, for example, without shelter. Destitute. “You can stay with us,” her mother had said, speaking for both parents as always. “But if you do, you do
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 it our way.” Which means with the obligatory lies, so that her father continues to look good. So that God continues to look good. Everybody must look good. Gerda feels nauseous, not like the first weeks of her pregnancy, but because she is heavy and afraid and there is no way out. Gerda wishes she had a God to pray to, any gentle God other than the stern one of her parents. Meanwhile the sun is lovely outside, the singing of birds has picked up in the yard. The forsythia bush keeps bursting forth with yellow exuberance. A white cat sniffs the dark soil near it, contemplating chewing on something green.
Downstairs, inside, Mandy is screaming, having reached a sorrowful depth of despair. “Stop, Mom. Stop. Please stop.” It’s all a mistake, but Mandy can’t convince her mother who keeps hitting her with the old hand broom. And she won’t stop. Even though it is a mistake. It doesn’t matter that it was Scilla’s idea. That Mandy didn’t want to insult the woman. Here comes the wood. No. Stop. Brown, gray, old, splintering hard wood. Mandy screams that she will apologize to the woman. She doesn’t know exactly why, but she will. Now is not the time to understand. Her mother has never hit her before. It must be a mistake. Nothing makes sense.
19 Mandy has done things far worse without her mother beating her. “Stop, Mom. I’m sorry. I’ll tell her I’m sorry.” Why is her mother beating her? Perhaps she doesn’t love her anymore. She has never beat Mandy before. Nobody has. Dad only beats boys. “Please stop.” Mandy would do anything to stop the beating. There’s blood on her skin. It frightens her. And still her mother doesn’t stop. “Mom, please, please, please stop.” The only thing her mom has said is that she is ashamed of Mandy and that the woman upstairs is carrying a baby and that’s why she now has to beat Mandy. “Please stop. Mom. Pleeease.” Meanwhile outside the sun is shining and inviting pleasure on anyone’s bare skin, inviting blossoms to open, birds to carry sticks to their nests, white cats to stroll. AnnaBeth has no thoughts, no compassion, no understanding, only unrelenting fury and a vague awareness of her misbehaved daughter’s irritating screams. AnnaBeth moves like a machine. Lifting the broom and hitting her daughter’s bare bottom, lifting and hitting. There is no more Janet Levin reason, no consciousness of all that makes up this merciless rage, only that the rage is there. It has swelled from a life-time of being taught to be ashamed of being a woman, of compliantly knowing her place, of the effort of holding her nose just an inch above water, smiling, sitting in church, greeting people, knowing all the same she is despised, a handmaid, a cook, a cleaner, an organizer, and a receptacle for the husband’s sexual needs, one who tractably keeps silence in the churches. Numbed by rage she dimly knows she has split from all sanity. One day she’ll look back and be ashamed of this, too. The day I hit my daughter. But she cannot grasp it now. She is out of control. It is a horror to her, her own daughter mocking
20 a pregnant woman. She must teach the little miscreant that you do not mock a pregnant woman, a mother to be who should be held in the highest regard. You do not laugh at the fruit of sex. Her rage is huge. Meanwhile the spring day keeps unfolding blossom after blossom into a balmy mid-afternoon with no one the better for it. At long last Mandy is exhausted with screaming and begging and pleading. It feels as though her mother has beaten her for hours. Everything hurts, her throat from screaming; her chest from being unable to get her mother to stop; her bottom. The blood still frightens Mandy, though not too much. She’s scraped her knees often enough. But that ugly gray hand broom keeps coming at her, over and over and over again. The worst now is the fear, though, that this will never stop and she will never be loved again. “Please, dearest Momma. I’ll never laugh again at anyone, at anything. I’ll ask forgiveness. Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me. Please stop.” Mandy is good at asking for forgiveness. She has lots of practice, as she always has to ask for forgiveness from her father anyway. It usually works. “Please forgive me.” She wishes her mother’s face would be less frightening. That horrible wood, that horrible face. “Forgive me. I love you, Mom. I’ll do anything you want.” Her mother smells of soap, sweat, dust. Meanwhile, up by the squirrels who still chase each other around the tree trunk by the second story window, Gerda, beaded with perspiration, calls for her mother. Here she comes, thank God for that, even with her long-suffering face. “Mother, could you please do something to stop that kid screaming? I feel so sick and the screams are giving me a headache.” “Gerda, I can’t and I won’t. I just got back from their apartment telling that rude girl’s mother how they had laughed at you, and now you want I should go over and stop the punishment? Make up your mind, and go yourself if you want.” Her face is mean. Is that what Gerda hears, the child’s punishment? She understands now. Her bed feels slimy with sweat. She should change the linens, but it’s so much effort, and she can’t ask her mother to do it for her.
CIRQUE “Okay, Mother,” she hears herself say, but it isn’t exactly she who is speaking, is it? It’s the corpse lying on this bed. Now she just wants her mother to go away. She wants the screams to stop. How long does she have to listen to them? Most of all she wants her mother to go away and leave her alone. She must think. She must do something. It’s safe here, except that she is so tired and her soul is dying. What could she possibly do out there in the world? Would she really starve and be left to die, together with her baby, born or unborn, without help? She revisits the dull fairytale that has her married to a minister, someone like her father, a holy man. A far cry from the handsome dandy she went clubbing with three times before he persuaded her to let him have sex with her in the back of his black hooded truck. Now she needs to keep up the fairytale so that her father won’t lose face. In front of whom exactly? Does God keep track of their puny little lives? Is it really all so important? If she wants to save herself and her sanity, she’ll have to leave. Does she have that kind of strength? Suddenly she notices that the screaming has stopped. She can’t quite remember when. There’s stillness now. It feels like a blessing. She is sorry now for the little girl downstairs. And she is sorry for the sweet child in her body. That child is no shame. That child is a blessing. That child is life. She will sleep now. Tomorrow she needs strength. Meanwhile, downstairs, AnnaBeth has fled into a migraine, and Mandy has fled into a corner of the living room, behind the potted rubber tree, waiting for love to resurface, almost convinced that eventually it will. The spring blossoms that day will have blossomed almost in vain, and yet they are bursting forth with their relentlessly gorgeous zest, and roots and leaves stretch out with their eager tendrils of life. Imagine these tendrils of spring and of love burgeoning out. Perhaps someone will leave the city under its arid spell and find another way, or perhaps someone will come and teach something fresh. And then again, perhaps not. The crocuses are hopeful. The forsythia bush is hopeful, the snowdrops, the birds, the squirrels, the white cat. The sunbeams connect with life and lure everything into becoming juicy again. Imagine.
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By Friday I couldn’t see the funnelcake wagon from the road I drove because the carnival rides had unfolded from the flatbeds overnight, just like the leaves had unfolded from the tree branches that morning. Spring had arrived with the carnival, as if the season rode north shut up in the cyclorama and tilt-a-whirl on the backs of the trucks. The man was there again with the little girl in the stroller. He was alone, bent down wiping her chin and pointing to the empty Ferris wheel that turned in the damp air of the morning. He was so gentle with her face, put a small toy in her hand then straightened and resumed pushing the stroller against the muddy tracks of the midway. A full week ahead of the carnival the funnelcake wagon had squatted in the middle of the lot, a muddy couple of acres of gravel, brushed with flattened dead grass. The wagon was white, a band of black and white squares cramped its middle like a belt. Just like the one I worked as a kid. Its shutters were folded down and painted with shelves and milkshake glasses, the high gloss pink lettering stood out, lonely color in the late Alaskan spring. I couldn’t keep my mind from the man with the stroller all that day. I had seen him every morning since the funnelcakes wagon arrived. The promise of at least a partly sunny day and the chance that he would be there decided me. I would go to the carnival that evening with the young woman I’d been care-giving for since she was a little girl. Faith loved the idea of going places far more than actually being there. I still enjoyed getting her all dolled up and believing that this time it would be different and she would be able to stay strong enough and alert. She had survived being hit by the school bus as a child but the accident left her damaged all through. On the edge of my bed, she mooed her excitement as I brushed her hair, then leaned her head against the inside of my arm, her way of receiving affection. It made me forget she was a woman now. Since I lived alone she usually spent the night at my cabin. I kept her clean, moved her body around her tight joints. We listened to the radio. Went places. Tonight I would take Faith to the carnival. I even thought about taking her to the age and weight-guessing booth where we would be sure to win a small prize. Brain damaged people just don’t seem to age in the same way.
21 By six o’clock the carnival lot had a rim of parked cars. Kids ran from thrown open backseat doors and parents walked slowly or pushed baby joggers. I looked for the man with the stroller, wanted to rush to the funnelcakes wagon. With Faith up against the car I buttoned her sweater, tightened her ponytail by spreading the thick hair like wings and replaced the kerchief she wore around her neck with a clean one to catch the drool that spilled from her lower lip, a lip always turned down to rest on her small chin. Her eyes pointed in slightly different directions but I had learned she saw things best when they were to her left, so I always kept her on my right side. If it weren’t for the chance of meeting the man with the stroller, and eating funnelcakes, I wouldn’t be dragging Faith to shuffle over the uneven ground. We looked the pair. Faith dressed like she was ten years old, bright child colors, pink sweater, animal sox and a hair tie of curled rainbow ribbons. I was in black, jean jacket, scoop neck T-shirt, jeans and chunky heeled boots. It was as dressed up as I ever got in this town. Even though we were often seen together no one ever took me for Faith’s mother. I draped Faith over my shoulder like a heavy pack and we struggled to the midway, her twisted legs scissoring, making the rhythm of our steps choppy compared to everyone else. Halfway through the midway I felt Faith tiring and I hadn’t found a ride she could get into, the funnelcake wagon, or the man with his little girl. I leaned Faith against the candy apple wagon so I could tie her high top shoes and when I stood back up there was the man with the stroller in line at the window. His maroon jacket read “Rick’s”, same as the ball cap with his red hair tightly curled below the edges. Taller than most of the other men in line, he joked with the girl in the window. He laughed and his voice was deep and beautiful like a man speaking in a holy garden. Before I got Faith back on my shoulder he left the window without having bought anything. He moved on, looking to his right and left. We followed. My arm ached and my hand felt numb from Faith’s gripping at my elbow. I kept sight of the man, and we finally came up behind him as he stopped to lift his little girl in the stroller. I swiped at the drool hanging from Faith’s chin with the dark kerchief. “Are you looking for the funnelcakes wagon too? I love funnelcakes more than anything.” I said it from behind him, didn’t wait until we really caught up, boy did it sound goofy but didn’t want to lose him. “I’m looking for the gypsy tent where you turn left and then it’s the next wagon after,” he said as he pulled the little girl’s pant legs down over her ankles, smoothed them with his hands that were dinged up over
22 the knuckles. But he rippled them over her legs, arched gently, like a piano player during the quietest part of the song. I pointed just as Faith shifted her weight and I tried not to wince at the new tug on my shoulder. He turned away to follow my pointing and said to all of us, “The gypsy tent. We’re almost there.” We left behind the carnival rides, the mixed up music, the machine sounds. Now venders were barking at their booths and I imagined, like I always did at carnivals, some romantic man was winning me a huge stuffed bear and was falling in love with me as he was winning it. “We’re right behind you,” I said not willing to give up. He slowed his pace and we came up next to him. Faith wobbled like a bowling pin between us and all I could see of the little girl were her scrawny ankles where they had poked out of her pants again. Faith was getting really tired now but I couldn’t see any place to sit her down. The gypsy tent came up on our left where it fell into what Faith could see and she stopped, fixed by the bright folded cloths of the tent, or the gypsy violin music that rushed scratchy out of it, or maybe the smell of sickly sweet incense that escaped when the drape opened. A dark skinned woman with a gold tooth stared out. I knew I wouldn’t get Faith going again now. “They get tired,” Rick said. “How about I get funnelcakes for both of you and bring them back?” As soon as he said that I went for my wallet in my back pocket. But I had worn my tight jeans in case I met someone, in case I met him, and now my wallet, trapped in the pocket, would take two hands to work loose which I didn’t have. “It’s all right,” he said as he pushed away with the stroller taking the turn to the funnelcake wagon. His step seemed bouncier now. I didn’t really want to move in case Rick would miss us but Faith insisted on getting closer to the gypsy tent, insisted by yanking on my arm and leaning in that direction until we both almost fell over. There never was anywhere to sit down at a carnival unless they got you to pay for it. People moved around us as we stood in the middle of the midway. I just followed Faith, if you called it following when I was the leaning post and kept an eye out over my shoulder for Rick and the stroller. We reached the sandwich board in front of the
tent just as Rick and the little girl broke out of the midway crowd behind us. The stroller came at us bouncing because he could only drive it with one hand, the other hand had a stack of funnelcakes. For the first time I saw the little girl full on and she seemed to be sleeping even though the stroller pitched so. “Thank you so much, Rick,” I said taking two of the cakes. “Rick. It’s written on your jacket.” He put his hand to his jacket. “That’s right. Are those cakes good as you remember? “I’m a funnelcakes expert.” I took a bite out of mine right off the paper then started tearing off little pieces for Faith, putting them in her hand and guiding them up to her mouth. “The funnelcakes wagon was where I grew up. First love, first loss, first adult best friend. Every summer during high school I worked the state fair. Thirteen hours a day. Camped there at night. It was like living in another country.” “I bet I bought some from you. I went every year for the drag races,” he smiled, took a powdery bite and I looked again at his hands now dusted with white powered sugar, all the creases highlighted like old man hands all of a sudden. “You probably did. I made millions of funnelcakes. No two alike, just like snowflakes.” “The best part for me was when I got to the front of the line--.” “There was always a line.” “And I could watch the blobs of batter hit the hot grease--” “It was grease too, not oil.”
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 “And swell up to a golden-“Raft and float up to the surface.” “Here’s to funnelcakes.” He raised what was left of his and bumped mine. “What’s your name?” His voice leaned into my ears just the way a note on my piano does when the sustain peddle is pressed. “Vision, Vision Peace. That’s really what my mom named me. She was a Rainbow Festival Gatherer.”I laughed and forgot about my shoulder hurting and I almost forgot about Faith. I wiped my mouth with the back of my sleeve leaving a trail of the white powder on my arm. “And who are you?” Rick took Faith’s empty hand and gave it a soft squeeze. Faith turned her head so she could see Rick and then lifted it and gave a moan that came out lonely like a wild animal’s. “This is Faith. Wow, she hardly ever says anything to anybody. Unless she’s mad.” “This is my daughter, Patience, but I call her Patsy mostly.” He reached over and stroked her hair even with his powdery hands. “She doesn’t say much either.” I noticed he didn’t say ‘we call her Patsy’. She gave a full body twitch in the stroller, rolled her head to the other side and the drool of spit spun from her chin to her bib. I saw she was older than I first thought, five or six, maybe even seven. “It’s late for her. I need to get her home.” But Rick didn’t move. “This has been a long outing for Faith too. It’s going to be a slow walk back to the car.” I didn’t move either. Rick looked at Faith and got a faraway look. But he snapped back right away. “Vision, can I call you? Maybe we can have funnelcakes tomorrow too. We’ve only got the weekend with the wagon here.” I looked at Patsy while he searched his pockets for a pen. She was a sick little bird with her fingers and wrists curled. While I stared at Patsy, Faith tried to reach for the funnelcakes in my hand and they flipped to the ground, powdered sugar side in the mud. “Aw, Faith.” “Funny how good they are at demanding your attention,” he laughed and this time I laughed with him. “I don’t have a pen. Would you take my card and call me? I’m at my shop until noon and now we really need another funnelcake.” He handed me his card. “I’m parked on this side.” “I’m the other way.” I said and started the adjustments to change Faith from a leaning position to a walking position. A baby cat noise came from the stroller. “I’d better get going. Will you be all right?” He said it and touched my hand. His hand was warm.
23 “We’ll be fine. Thanks for the funnelcakes, Rick.” “Call me, Vision,” he pushed on the stroller and a louder cat noise came out of it. In a moment he was gobbled up by the crowd. I held his card, supporting Faith, when the grindy gypsy music got louder and a gas of incense left the tent. A teenage girl exited and the gold toothed woman said in a deep man’s voice, “Mmm, you next?” “Do you mean me? Next for what?” “To have you future told. If you not, move from my sign. You block it.” She gave a motion with her hand that could have meant come or go. The bracelets on her wrist were too tight to jingle. “Mmm, what about a fortune for you? “No, thank you.” I looked over at the sign we were blocking, painted all swirly smoke rising colors and letters. Madame Clair-Heureuse, Teller of Fortunes, Is there hope for you future? “What about you girl there?” She meant Faith and I thought how easy it would be to say yes, how we could both use to sit down. But then I’d probably have the devil getting Faith going again. Anyway, maybe if we got right home early enough I could call Rick tonight, hear his voice again saying my name. “The crystal ball, tea leaves, the cards? Mmm, why not? Nothing in the future to be afraid of.” “Because …” I looked down at Rick’s card, thought about the two of us sharing funnelcakes, me holding a huge stuffed bear. Rick and Vision. Like I was seeing my future already. “Sure, how much?” “What’s a matter with you girl? The gypsy squinted at Faith. “Someone gave you evil eye long time ago. No fortune for you. Get on, you block my sign.” She spat between her two fingers. An evil eye a long time ago. That damn ugly gypsy. “No matter,” I spat back at her, “I’ve already had my fortune told.” Then I held up Rick’s card in my free hand. I smiled until Faith’s hand, with the quickness she used to spill her drinks, grabbed the card, crumpled it in her fist and threw it in one continuous move. It bounced and stopped next to what was left of the overturned funnelcakes in the mud. Patience and Faith. Fortunes and futures. Rick’s card. The long walk to the car. Leaning Faith to get her to take the first step. The first step. There was no way to bend over with Faith on my arm, no place to sit her down, no use trying to pick Rick’s card out of the mud. I leaned Faith away from the sign, leaned her to take the first step. “It was in the card,” I strained to whisper, and let my boot come down hard in the mud, splattering the gypsy’s sign and Faith’s animal sox.
Nguyen Cong Hoan
The Teeth of An Upper- Class Family’s Dog
Translated from the Vietnamese by Quan Manh Ha
About six o’clock, an automobile approached; its headlights brightened the horizon. The car crossed a bridge, and as it came closer to the front of a Western-style house enclosed by an iron fence, its honking resembled a frog’s croaking, and then the car stopped. Just before the car came slowly to a complete stop, a dog jumped out from the car onto the ground, wagging its tail and barking at the same time. The dog then reared on its hind legs to greet two people who then were getting out of the car—one was the master of the house, and the other was his guest. The car lights were turned off, and the doors were closed. The master and his guest entered the house. They both wore Western clothes designed for hunting, and their gaiters were covered with mud. Upon their shoulders rested hunting guns, and they held a heavy string of game birds. As the dog ran ahead, it looked back, wagging its tail and yelping. The master invited his guest to have a seat on the living-room couch. The room was built and decorated in the modern style, with a shiny wooden floor and washes of light sky-blue paint on the walls. The mantled gas lantern also was light blue. One could tell from looking at the living room that its owner was a wealthy, sophisticated, and extravagant gentleman. The master’s wife had just finished her make-up and came to the living room to welcome the guest. The dog sat on the fourth chair, panting with its tongue hanging out while observing each person present in the room. It is a universal truism that rich people love to show off, and the master of this house was no exception. To him, this mansion, this automobile, this living-room, and this dining room were somewhat out of date, and he was no longer enthusiastic about showing them off. Thus, he acquired something new—his dog named Lu. “Hey brother, my dog’s breed is Bleu d’Auvergne. I got it for seventy dongs from a Frenchman who offered me a good deal on the purchase, because he had a high opinion of
me. The dog should have cost at least four hundred dongs! Few breeds are better than this one, and generally they cost more than five hundred dongs, but rarely do you see an Annamese daring to spend even four hundred dongs on a dog—quite an extravagant expense. Moreover, there are not many Annamese who know the value of these dogs, so they would consider it a waste to spend their money on a dog. Hey, take a closer look at my dog. Its ears are large, its nose is always wet, its legs are long, and it’s a spotted dog. If you don’t notice these characteristics, then you might mistake this particular breed for others. I love this dog most of all for its square-shaped head, like the Chinese ideograph for field. Look, here is a horizontal stroke; here is a vertical stroke. Isn’t that great? If a dog of this breed has a sleek belly, a short muzzle, and ribs that swell like those of a goat, it’s a healthy and fast dog. You surely appreciated my dog’s stately posture earlier. It is always ten meters ahead of me, isn’t it? It’s true—you could use a yardstick to measure the distance. My dog looks great, especially when it shifts its gaze and sniffs with its nose. If it catches the scent of a bird hiding in a bush, it ducks its head and quietly puts its tail up to signal me. After I have loaded bullets in the gun and made a clicking sound with my tongue, the dog leaps toward the bird. The bird then flies out, and ‘Bang’—how can the bird escape my shot? It always is just like that, ten times out of ten times!” The dog sat on a chair across from its master, moving its muzzle slightly as if it were listening attentively to the conversation. “My dog not only hunts well, but it also finds lost items cleverly. Why don’t you let it get the scent of your eye glasses, hide them in the garden, and I then will order my dog to find them for you?” The guest also was a dog lover and wanted to test Lu’s talent. Not surprisingly, within less than five minutes, Lu held his eye glasses tightly between its teeth, wagged its tail, and returned them to the guest. The master was quite satisfied and laughed loudly, caressing the dog, embracing it affectionately, and then kissing it, just as if he were overjoyed at a son making excellent grades in school. “I tend my dog very carefully. I never let it eat from the ground; that’s why it is used to cleanliness and has become quite smart. No wonder Western dogs always
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are better than our Annamese dogs. Annamese dogs not only have ugly hair but they also eat food and snap at people indiscriminately. Sometimes they sneak up behind you and bite your pants. Very dangerous, indeed! But my dog is different— if it barks, there must be a thief attempting to break in. It will leap at the thief and maul his face. If a thief breaks into my house, he is out of luck—he may lose his head and have nothing to put his hat on! But my dog barks only after 10:00 p.m.” The food had been prepared, and dinner was placed on the table. As the master and the guest were inviting each other to be seated, the dog sprang onto the table and sat in front of its master. “My Lu is very respectful. It took me a long time to teach it to behave. Here is its own plate of food—rice mixed with meat, so delicious—but if I don’t permit it to eat, it doesn’t dare to, even when I am not here.” The master then took the dog’s plate out to the front yard. The guest and the dog followed. Lu wagged its tail, signaling its happiness. The master placed the plate in the middle of the front yard. The dog bent its head to sniff. When it was about to eat, the master cried out loud in French: “Attention!” Realizing its master was not addressing it as usual, Lu stepped back slowly. “I don’t need to stand here and keep an eye on it. I bet you, after we have finished our dinner, this plate of food still will remain untouched. Please go in and dine with me.” At that moment, if the master had been paying attention, he would have noticed something large and dark at the gate. It was in fact a beggar, sitting with his arms around his knees. His peasant hat was so frayed that it revealed its lining. He wore a loin-cloth and his tattered shirt had only one sleeve, and they exposed his long, scrawny, darkened arms and legs. His begging sack was wide open and lay next to his thin, worn-out shoes.
The beggar had been waiting there a long time. He heard the sounds of plates and chopsticks in the kitchen and smelled the scent of stir-fried food that a breeze carried out from the house. He cried out loudly, begging for some food, but no one heard his pleas. When he saw two people walking into the yard, he knelt down and begged until froth covered his mouth, but the two men were too busy playing with the dog to pay him any mind. The beggar realized that and tried to cry out even louder, but when the master heard the beggar’s cries, he glowered and yelled angrily: “What are you crying for? You interrupted our conversation. Get out of here now. If not, I will kick you to death!” The unfortunate man was silenced. The master and his guest went inside to have dinner. Just after that, the beggar looked hungrily at the dog’s plate. He was starving, and he started to drool; he didn’t have even enough control to swallow his saliva. He wished to steal a bite from the dog’s plate of food, but he was fearful that the dog might bite him. He couldn’t understand why the dog kept standing close to the plate without eating the food. He thought that the dog didn’t like the food, and he wished he could be a dog of a rich family, rather than a mere man. If the dog knew human language, the beggar would approach it more closely and tell the dog about his hunger. Hopefully, the dog would be moved to sympathy for his situation and exercise some “humanity” by giving the beggar its unwanted food. Or did the dog guard
its food because a stranger was sitting at the gate? The beggar quietly walked behind the gate so that he could take a better look. After a while, the dog walked slowly toward a dark area near a wall and lay down. Seizing this opportunity, the beggar risked his life and stepped forward. But suddenly, the dog stood up, stepped forward, and snorted. The beggar stared at the dog, and the dog, in return, stared at him. The plate of food was between them. If the beggar stepped forward, so did the dog. If the beggar stepped back, the dog did the same. Both of them yielded and stared at each other, and both were on their guard against one another, as if they were mortal enemies. It was just like that—neither yielded. About ten minutes later, the beggar thought of a ruse. He picked up a big rock, hid it behind his back, ran toward the plate, grabbed a quick bite, and chewed. But the dog also was fast. It ran quickly toward the plate, leaped up, bared its teeth, growled, and attacked the man. The beggar extended his arm straight away toward the dog’s mouth, and he hit the dog hard with the rock. The dog yelped in pain, and as fast as a thunderbolt, it pinned the beggar down on the ground, scratching his face and mouth with its nails. The dog then received another blow on his head and released the man. It lay down on the ground and yelped loudly. As soon as the master heard his dog whine, he put down his chopsticks and rice bowl, leaving his wife and guest at the dining table, and hurried out, carrying a lamp. “Oh, no! What has happened to my Lu? Oh my God, two of its teeth are broken! Poor me! He screamed and called his servants, and he held Lu to his chest and took the dog inside. He then ran toward the gate to see who injured the dog. In the far distance, He saw a dark shadow running fast. The master turned on his car lights and saw that it was the beggar who was fleeing. “Ah, he dared to break my dog’s teeth. I’ll run him down and kill him. I’ll compensate for his death later. It will cost me less than thirty piastres! He then turned off the headlights of his car and sped to catch up with the man …. (Note: The term Annamese was first used in 1825 by the French colonists to refer to the Vietnamese people.)
NONFICTION Ana Maria Spagna
When We Talk About Courage On Martin Luther King Jr. Day they flock into the room: kids and adults, black and white, bored, exuberant, and curious. It’s free admission day at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, and while outside rare winter sun reflects off wet sidewalks and clouds swirl against wide swaths of blue, inside the remembering begins. I’m here to tell stories about unsung heroes and she-roes of the Civil Rights Movement, so many of them, stories about bus seating protesters that I learned while doing research about my dad’s small role in the movement. So I’m excited. I’ve put together a slide show, and I’ve rehearsed the stories, and still I’m unprepared for my unease as the crowd files in and the lights go down. I take a deep breath. It’s not just the big names, I say, not just the stories we know. I flip through slides trying to give voice to courage. Here’s young Irene Morgan who refused to give up her seat on a Greyhound in 1944 – eleven years before Rosa Parks! – and took her case to the Supreme Court. She won. Here’s Claudette Colvin, the feisty teenager who took a similar stand on a city bus in Montgomery seven months before Rosa, nudging the movement forward a step or three. And here are Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson who were arrested in a bus seating incident as college students in Tallahassee, Florida in the 1950s. When the Klan burned a cross on the lawn outside their dorm, the bus boycott in that city, the one my white father later participated in, began. I pace my voice, try to make the stories as thorough and miraculous as they can be in a few short minutes. The audience listens, these good people. They are wowed. They have to come to learn about how far we’ve come, about the victories we’ve achieved, and I am glad to fill in those blanks, but something is nagging at me. Here’s the problem. Nixon lied. Sharon Ryan pulled her station wagon into the driveway and hopped out with the engine running. “He erased the goddamned tapes,” she yelled. I was five. Iran-Contra broke while I sat in a college class called Crisis in Central America. The professor announced it, body shaking with rage, and we
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 thought he had lost his mind. Surely he had made up this elaborate paranoid scheme. He had not. The Berlin Wall fell while I camped in the desert. When I saw the headline a week later, I thought it was someone’s bad idea of a joke. What I’m trying to say is this: when you take in Watergate when you’re five, you learn cynicism by osmosis. And it’s hard to shake. Downstairs, before my speech, an actor played the part of a child activist, reading a dramatic script while behind him film footage from Birmingham and Selma and Montgomery flickered on a big screen. Some of it was hard to take. Marchers, many of them children, approach fire hoses, nightsticks, tear gas. They move forward toward the danger and forge on into the heat, into the very heart of it, beaten and bloody, maimed and stooped and sometimes crawling. Why so much violence on a day set aside especially to celebrate its antithesis? Why the war-like subtext? In my own presentation I flip to a newspaper photograph of a Klan rally – men hooded and faceless, crosses aflame – and take another deep breath. I tell myself: there’s no way around it. In high school, after my dad died, we attended Holocaust Awareness Day annually. Check that. We were dragged to Holocaust Awareness Day at a local synagogue, a hoard of Catholic teenagers overcome, year after year, with dread. We dreaded the speeches, the prayers, the gravity and solemnity, and most of all, the black-andwhite film footage: chainlink fences and emaciated bodies, the piles of bodies. We could not take it. We tried to ridicule the stories, we made lame jokes. We also wept. If we thought it was cruel for our teachers to bring us here, unfair, we also had to keep our complaints in perspective. Cruel? Really? Unfair? Compared to what? For the rest of my life, those days would haunt me. When I grew older and heard the unending stream of commentators rage against Holocaust commemorations – Why not the Native American genocide? Why not Stalin’s Russia? Aren’t we forgetting Rwanda? – I took it with a grain of salt. No need for comparison shopping. The setting might be different but the message is the same: Never again. Never again what? I flip to another slide, not a newspaper headline this time, but an actual photograph from a Klan rally in Tallahassee. There is no atrocity here, no baton, no nooses, nothing aflame. On one side of the screen: a lone Klansman. He wears the white robe, which hangs past his knees and he wears a half-smirk on his face, as one hand reaches for the pointy head hood to pull it finally down. He looks easy, comfortable, as if saying to us across the
27 decades: What? What are you looking at? On the other side of the screen: a crowd of festive white folks. A man in dress pants lights a cigar, a shirtless boy stands hands on his hips, a mother cradles a toddler in her lap. There are sulking teenagers, men in hats, women in dresses, grandmothers even – all of them, to a one, looking eager and attentive, as though awaiting a fireworks show on 4th of July or a parade. Never again what? Never again go along to get along. In the corner of the screen: one young boy. He’s the only person in the photo who looks uncertain. His hands grip the single strand of barbed wire that separates the crowd from the Klan, and he gazes askance, off-camera, as if considering an escape. Go, I want to say. Get the hell out of there. I doubt he will. Long before I ever attended Holocaust Awareness Day, I knew all about going along to get along. Who didn’t? We were in high school, for chrissake, and the whole point of high school is to go along to get along. And it didn’t end in high school. These days I’m a gay woman living in a very small rural town, an environmentalist living among property-rights enthusiasts, a Democrat in a bright red county. Like adults everywhere, there are times I have to go along to get along. Plenty of them. If I didn’t, my life would be hell. Next slide. We’re back with the heroes: the bus riders, the lunch counter sitters, the marchers and their everyday acts of defiance, building one on the next, over years, decades. These are rousing stories, so exhilarating, and I can sense the museum crowd getting on board, so to speak, being moved. Who wouldn’t be? And isn’t that why I’ve come? We love to feel a part of it. We’re spectators on the sidelines, delegates at a political convention, kids at a pep rally, fans at a rock concert with lighters flickering, hoping for an encore, screaming our throats raw. One more. Just one more. How does this collective river spill over the dike from exuberance to irrationality? From nationalism into genocide? How do you see that line? Where do you learn? Cynical: Def. 1. believing that people are motivated in all their actions by only selfishness; denying the sincerity of people’s motives and actions. Clinton lied. Enron collapsed. The housing bubble burst. Bush was elected. Sort of. Maybe I am not cynical. I am skeptical. About penitent speeches penned by publicists, about press releases submitted by campaigns or marketing departments. About the efficacy
28 of the stock market, the neutrality of the judicial branch, the ability of men – and women, too – to make and keep commitments. To be steadfast. Next slide. Here’s C.K. Steele, leader of the Tallahassee boycott. I’d rather walk in dignity than ride in humiliation, he said. C.K. Steele, father of six, who when his living room windows were shot out by thugs left the bullet-scarred blinds hanging for decades so everyone would remember. C.K. Steele who was arrested with 11 other boycott leaders for running an illegal carpool and proceeded to preach several sermons every Sunday for the rest of his life to pay the $11,000 in legal fees. Did they achieve victory? Eventually, yes, but not right away. Bus segregation remained legal, on the books at least, in Tallahassee until 1972 – for fifteen years after the boycott – but never did C.K. Steele waver. Not once. He was steadfast, I tell the crowd. He knew what was right and stood for it. Period. But I worry about this message, too, how it can be twisted to level the playing field of oppression, to flatten it to meaningless. The land owner who can’t log the trees from the banks of a salmon stream is oppressed. The woman in line at the emergency room behind an illegal immigrant is oppressed. Righteous indignation does not hinge on righteousness. Even protest seems suspect, fair game, co-opted. In Spokane a few months back I stumbled upon a lively rally – chants and speeches and citizen activists – featuring posters of President Obama with a Hitler moustache. What did they oppose, these sincere people? About what were they so defiant? Taxes. Cynical Def. 2.sneering, sarcastic. The indie band Luna sang: “Driving to Tacoma, driving kind of fast. Nixon’s in a coma and I hope it’s gonna last.” Now, in Tacoma, I can’t get the song out of my head. Is it pop culture that makes me cynical? It is not. Here’s a slide I don’t show: a Greyhound bus aflame on Mother’s Day in Anniston, Alabama 1961. I don’t show it because it’s not exactly relevant and because I’m not sure I can maintain composure. The bus had been carrying Freedom Riders – white and black volunteers riding together, integrated, testing that Supreme Court decision from 1948, the one Irene Morgan instigated. The laws had been on the books for thirteen years, but were rarely, if ever enforced. Especially in the South. The crowd in Anniston, a well-dressed after-church crowd, stopped the bus and threw gasoline soaked rags through open
CIRQUE windows. Then a match. “Burn the goddamned niggers,” they cried. So-called niggers and so-called nigger lovers debarked safely, sweating and coughing, before gas tanks exploded. In photos, descending the steps in suits and ties, the Freedom Riders do not look dissuaded. They look tired and a little frightened. Soon, a new bunch will re-board and continue. It’s not the Freedom Riders who snag my attention in the slide. It’s the onlookers and one in particular: a woman smiling so wide, laughing really, lips pulled back from her teeth and gums, like a mule. A hideous mule. Sometimes I want to kill that woman. Then I think about what made that woman want to burn the goddamn niggers. Same urge. How do you tell a room of children: be what you want to be, be bold, be brave, but also be discerning, be compassionate? Think before you join. Consider the consequences. Fight oppression, but also prevent oppression. How, especially, when the potential for cruelty is within us? I have scanned my own heart in search of that woman with the mule-lip laugh. I have told myself, genuinely, that she’s not there. But it’s not true. When I was in third grade, I led a small band of bully girls. The Gorillas, we called ourselves, and we chased after a smaller group of fat girls. We called them names, to which they replied “sticks and stones may break my bones” which further enraged us, so we yelled some more and chased them harder. Why? Just to see them run? If so, then why did I hit them? Because I could. I remember the moment I realized I could get away with punching them; I was, in fact, getting away with punching them. Power welled like adrenaline. I was more athletic than these girls, physically stronger, and a goody two shoes besides. My teachers would never suspect me. It’s not the same, I know, I know: playground meanness and the killing fields. True enough. But where did the urge come from? I was a well-loved child. I’ve got no excuse, sociological or psychological, for leading the Gorillas’ charge or, more troublingly, for the way the memory has lodged so hard in me: the grassless playground gravel and the traffic beyond the chainlink fence and pudgy girl-fisted blows glancing off of me, ineffectual, and the look on my victim’s face of disbelief and disdain and disgust. All of it, every aspect, excited me more. See? I do not distrust my sincerity. I distrust human nature, including my own, which can, on so many occasions, be sincerely fucked up.
Bush lied. No one hollered in the driveway. No
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
one resigned. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe there is a new generation, unscarred, oblivious, who will carry the MLK Day message forth unsullied, without nuance or incessant irony or complication, to a place that spawns action and discretion in equal messages. I hope so. I sincerely do. But I am skeptical. Part of me thinks maybe when you learn cynicism by osmosis you are better prepared to parse the truth. And then – here’s the kicker – to tell it. We are winding down. I tell the crowd how the local newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat, suppressed news of the bus boycott in that city, that it was, in fact, one of several Southern newspapers to issue apologies, fifty years late, for having purposely suppressed news of the movement, to keep it from getting too big, from getting too much media attention, yes, and also to avoid condemning subscribers. Surely, the editors thought doing so would be like tugging on the threads that held the city together, pulling the very fabric apart, starting the unraveling. A necessary tugging, we can see in hindsight. Next slide. Does anyone recognize him? No one does. Congressman John Lewis. Veteran of the March on Washington, Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer, arrested more than 40 times, beaten unconscious by state troopers on Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. Since 1986, he has served in the U.S. House of Representatives. I admire John Lewis. I revere John Lewis. I trust John Lewis. And now I have to follow in his footsteps, do a little tugging of my own. I say: I’ve lived with a woman for twenty years.
Her parents, in fact, are here today at the museum with our young nephews. I say: In 1996, as Congress debated the Defense of Marriage Act, the anti-gay marriage act, Congressman John Lewis said this: “Marriage is a basic human right.” He also said this: “I have known racism. I have known bigotry. This bill stinks of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance. It should not be called the Defense of Marriage Act. It should be called the defense of mean-spirited bigots act.” This is not what I wrote a book about, not the story I was invited here to tell, and my motives are both sincerely selfish and sincerely selfless, and it’s such a small stand as to be hardly worth it. But I take it. Then I pause. The room is silent. Here’s the truth: I am not so much cynical as afraid. I stand in front of a room of people telling stories about courage, but I am afraid. Afraid the Civil Rights Movement did not accomplish enough. Afraid what it did accomplish will erode. Afraid of how reactionary forces held sway in this country for nearly a century after the Civil War, and how they hold sway now. Here’s another truth: I stand in front of a room telling stories about courage. Period. Next slide. There’s my dad who sat beside a black man on a bus and got arrested to test a lousy segregationsaving law in Tallahassee back in 1957. A very small stand. My dad died young, yes, so he couldn’t tell me about it, but – next slide please – here are his friends, Johnny Herndon and Jon Folsom, who told me their stories of courage and his. How they received hate mail and couldn’t find work and had to quit college for lack of funds. How thugs shot holes in Jon’s car. How the cops picked Johnny up in a new wool suit and made him work the chain gang wearing it until it was tattered. Your father, they said, was a brave and good man. Where do you learn? You don’t learn from the television. You don’t learn from a pop song. You don’t learn from a newspaper headline. You just don’t. He stands behind me now, my long-dead father who took a small stand in a lifetime of small stands, in a slide show alongside a dozen other heroes and sheroes who took small stands, while I stand in a room with a hundred people who have, no doubt, taken their own small stands and will take them again, and who have brought their children here to hear stories. The children, we all hope, will learn to speak up, to vote, to attend rallies, to sign petitions, and to watch carefully, vigilant always, for what can rise up within them and without them. Next slide.
A Boy Who Would Go Deaf
The letter came in April, 1969. Child Welfare Worker: You need to take my student Peter Bear away from his mother. She won’t put drops in his ears for his otitis media as ordered by the Public Health Nurse. He will go deaf because she won’t lift a finger to help a son she doesn’t deserve to have. Head Teacher, Emmonak, Alaska
When I first became the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta’s Child Welfare Worker in October 1968, I might have accepted this teacher’s conclusions. With a brand new Masters in Social Work and zero experience with Eskimos or child welfare, I had been the world’s greenest social worker with the world’s hardest job. Covering Bethel, Alaska, and its 56 surrounding Indian and Eskimo villages along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, I was responsible for all child abuse cases, adoptions and 75 foster homes. With no on-the-job training, I learned fast, leaving some mistakes and heartbreak in my wake. My skills grew, but the job never provided many happy endings. Long before the teacher’s letter came, I had learned to distrust rumors and angry perceptions like hers. Otitis media –- middle ear infection –- seemed as much a part of Native Alaskan life as harsh winters, mukluks, fry bread and salmon fishing. Every village had children whose ears drained bloody gunk, but I had not heard that eardrops cured them or prevented deafness. Villages had minimal access to medical care. No roads linked them to Bethel or each other. To get anywhere, people depended on planes, snowmobiles, dog sleds or, in summer, boats. This geography plus lack of electricity and phones isolated villagers. Eskimo health aides with basic First Aid training reported to doctors in Bethel via short wave radio and doled out medication as the doctors ordered. Sometimes Public Health Nurses visited. If a Public Health Nurse had provided eardrops for Peter, why wouldn’t his mother apply them? Would he
really go deaf without them? I asked a friend who also was a doctor with the Alaska Native Service Hospital in Bethel about this. “Otitis media is an epidemic in Eskimo kids,” he said. “Because of the harsh climate?” “They’re more susceptible than we white people are.” “Why would that be?” “Their heads and Eustachian tubes are shaped differently.” This struck me as racially prejudiced pseudoscience, but years later I learned that a Canadian study in the ‘60’s had proved, through hundreds of x-rays and measurements, that Caucasians do have narrow, twisting Eustachian tubes and Eskimos have short, wide, straight ones. His next remark sounded crazy too: “Eskimo babies get ear infections from bottle feeding.” “Bottle feeding?” “Yep.” Again, he was right and I was still green. A few years earlier, a medical team had studied Eskimo children’s ear infections in several villages including Emmonak, where they must have met Peter. This study and another in Canada demonstrated that when Eskimo mothers switched from breast to bottle feeding in the 50’s, Eskimo babies’ ear infections multiplied many-fold. “Sucking on a bottle alters inner ear pressure,” my doctor friend explained. “Milk leaks from the throat into the Eustachian tubes, and because of the way Eskimo babies’ tubes are shaped, bits of it stay there and get infected.” He said Peter had a chronic ear infection that would perforate or even destroy his eardrums. “Antibiotic eardrops might prevent that,” he said. “That’s why Public Health is sending Public Health Nurse Specialists out to the villages.” * I threw clothes, emergency supplies and prenatal vitamins into my backpack and took the mail plane to Emmonak, one of the most distant villages from Bethel. Below the plane, the Yukon River split into segments and twisted through the tundra like snakes in a nest. Rivers and ponds broke through everywhere, suggesting that the land was more ice and water than stone and soil.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 Emmonak lay 143 miles northwest of Bethel where the Yukon River converged with the Bering Sea. Its small frame houses were scattered along a narrow path a couple of miles long. Except for the white teachers, store owners and the priest, the village’s 600 people were Eskimos. Soon I was walking the path between the houses, some brightly colored, others weathered to gray. Though it was a sunny April day, ice cracked beneath the mooseleather soles of my sealskin mukluks. The snow beside the trail was solid as a glacier. Even the smoke from the Bureau of Indian Affairs School seemed a frozen pillar. An Eskimo woman in a long, fur-lined dress called a kuspuk pointed out the house where Peter and his family lived. * Peter’s mother faced me from her wood kitchen chair. Wiry gray threaded through her black hair. Her features were weathered, her cheekbones sharp, her eyes sunken. A blanket on a rope separated the home’s two rooms. Mukluks, snowshoes, parkas, a cross, photos and animal skins hung on the walls. An oil stove provided heat. Crusty dishes sat in an enamel dishpan. Villages did not have running water or plumbing, so women heated water in kettles for washing clothes or dishes. Mrs. Bear’s kettle sat on the floor. Peter, a husky boy, stayed home from school for my visit. His ruddy, chapped cheeks told me he ran outside in all weather. Clots of blood next to his ears verified his chronic ear infection. He watched us intently, perhaps because of partial hearing loss. Mrs. Bear saw me take in the dirt and disarray, which was not typical in Eskimo homes. Then I spoke about the eardrops. “Yes,” she said. “The nurse Ginny gave us medicine 2-3 months ago.” Peter lit up. “Ginny come back soon?” “What did she tell you?” I asked. “May. Or maybe June.” “Will you and your mom start using the ear drops?” I gestured toward his bloody ears. He turned away, and Mrs. Bear lifted her hands. “I cannot.” Inflamed knobs deformed her knuckles and finger joints. Those swollen fingers could not grip a Q-tip to clean scabs and blood from Peter’s ears or squeeze a dropper to draw up medicine and squirt it. She could not feed herself except by shoving a spoon into her weak fist. She demonstrated that she could not button clothes, cut food, lift a pot to cook or a bucket to haul water, nor could
31 she scrub clothes or pin them on the line strung across the room. In summer fish camp, she could not grip an ulu to filet salmon. Even heating canned soup was beyond her. “I cannot open a can.” “You have a lot of pain?” I asked, immediately thinking, what a stupid question. But she seemed to appreciate the sympathy. “It hurts always, but most bad in cold.” Lacking regular medication for pain and inflammation, this woman lived between a frozen river and Bering Sea icebergs. “Do people help you?” I asked. “Sometimes.” She bowed her head as if ashamed. In a place where everyone except teachers and store owners subsisted by hunting, fishing, trapping, hauling water and gathering driftwood for fires, there were few resources for the disabled and little time that people could spend doing another’s chores. Tilting her chin toward Peter, Mrs. Bear added, “My son. He haul water. He cook some.” “Oh, good for you, Peter,” I said, but he stared at the floor. “That’s a big job,” I persisted, wondering how many buckets he hauled to fill their 50-gallon barrel. He flicked his eyes at me. “Sometimes I wash clothes.” “I’m glad you help your mom.” “He is good boy,” Mrs. Bear said. “I see that. Could your husband give him his ear drops?” “He will not. He have to fish. Hunt food.” “An older sister?” “Peter is my last child. Others are big. They are away.” “How about the health aide?” “She is afraid.” Health aides only knew basic first aid, so I could understand the person not wanting to poke a Q-tip into Peter’s putrid ears or squirt in medicine. Mrs. Bear could not take care of her son. She needed care herself. “Let me see if there’s a way to help you and Peter,” I said. “No promises.” Services throughout the region were limited. Even Bethel, considered a city though it was really an enlarged village, did not have long-term assistance for people needing help. I walked to the school and caught Peter’s teacher at lunch break in the school kitchen. “Did you know Mrs. Bear has bad rheumatoid arthritis?” I asked. Almost smirking, she nodded. “You understand that she physically can’t give him ear drops?”
“Mm-hm.” “So she isn’t neglecting Peter on purpose. She’s disabled.” The distinction mattered to me, though the effect on Peter’s ears was the same. Washing down her sandwich with tea, Peter’s teacher said, “What little work gets done in that house, he does. You rarely see the father.” She confirmed that the health aide and the father wouldn’t administer the drops. “Anyway, it’s the mother’s responsibility to find a way to help him.” A cultural chasm yawned between Peter’s teacher and Mrs. Bear. Eskimos often feel shame if they cannot manage a problem or are doing more poorly than others. They are unlikely to confide with neighbors. “How about you or your teacher’s aide?” I asked her. “Peter could lose his entire eardrum.” “We’re busy. If his mother won’t do anything, he needs a foster home.” I believed Peter felt responsible for his mother and would be distraught if he were taken from her. Most likely he would end up with a white foster home in Anchorage, and what I had seen of village Eskimo children in white, middle class, urban families wasn’t pretty. Though offered a path into mainstream life, the children often missed their language and culture desperately. And why couldn’t his teacher donate 2 minutes a day to Peter, since she claimed she did not want him to go deaf? I informed her, “I can’t remove a child because no one will give him ear drops. He’s a whole person, not just
CIRQUE a walking ear infection.” She jumped up. Her dishes clattered into the sink. “Mrs. Bear feels sorry for herself,” she said. “And she drinks.” Of course the woman drinks! I thought. She has no pain meds! Peter’s teacher demonstrated the truth of the rumor that certain teachers worked in villages for hardship pay, not because they cared about Eskimos like their many dedicated counterparts did. And me. * Back in Bethel, I contacted Peter’s Public Health Nurse Ginny, based in Anchorage. Though she knew Mrs. Bear had deformed hands, she had not realized Anne Jensen no one else would give Peter his drops. “I’ll visit in 2 weeks,” she said. “His ears are really, really bad.” Next I consulted Bureau of Indian Affairs supervisor Gene Reynolds. The BIA had programs the Welfare Department did not. “This is perfect!” shouted Reynolds. “I’ve been looking for cases to introduce the Homemaker program! We’ll go set it up.”The BIA would pay someone in Emmonak to do Mrs. Bear’s chores (though not to care for Peter’s ears). With pay, a villager should be happy to help. Then I met Ginny in Emmonak. Peter sat with her in an office at school. Near my age (27), Ginny had years of public health experience plus training in otitis media. Plump with short hair and pink cheeks, she had a bubbly personality. “I’ve been with Peter all morning!” she announced, as if this were the most exciting thing possible. “Peter, tell Mrs. Brinck what we’re going to do!” “She teach me to clean ears and put in medicine,” he said. “If I do it every day and my ear get better, when she come back she give me a present.” “What will it be?” she prompted. “Lots of balloons!” When Peter returned to class, Ginny explained, “I’m trying behavior modification. He can handle the drops, I think. I wish someone would remind him, but his mother has so many problems, and his teacher, well . . . .” We laughed. Ginny went on, “The house is cleaner, and there are hot meals and Mrs. Bear seems less depressed. It was
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 great you could get her that homemaker.” We parted on waves of mutual admiration. Peter no longer needed me. It was Ginny who would continue a relationship with him. It made me wish I were a Public Health Nurse. Her tangible, practical services helped people immediately, while I struggled with awful problems that often ended poorly. It turned out, though, that Public Health Nurses were not immune from sad endings. * Alaska was huge geographically but small with population. In social work and public health circles, people connected in many different venues. In July, Ginny and I ran into each other in Anchorage. “So,” I said, “how did Peter Bear’s behavior mod turn out?” “You haven’t heard?” “I haven’t been back to Emmonak.” “Well, the behavior mod worked.” “That is excellent!” I told her. “He did fantastic with his ear drops. His ears were clean and less infected in June. We blew up balloons and sent them into the air and I twisted some into dogs and made a huge celebration out of it. Every kid in town was racing around and playing with them. I was proud of him and he was proud of himself too!” She pulled a snapshot from her wallet. In it, Peter grinned while clutching a giant orange balloon to his chest. Behind him flowed the wide Yukon River, its banks green after snow melt. “You did a wonderful job,” I said. Our teamwork had resulted in one of the best successes I had experienced as a Child Welfare Worker. Ginny asked, “Have you heard about Public Health flying kids to hospitals for eardrum reconstruction?” “Yes. I’m so glad.” “I was setting Peter up for the operation, but . . . .” Suddenly her eyes teared up. “He went fishing.” I held my breath. “He and his father were in their boat. And a big wind came up.” “Oh, no, Ginny!” “You know how ignorant people ask why can’t Eskimos swim? Well, how can anyone swim in water as cold as damn ice? Peter was a tough little guy, but when they capsized, he couldn’t save himself and no one else could either. They both drowned.”
James Edward Reid
Inside the Glacier Yesterday, a 70 year old camper was attacked by a bear at a campsite in the mountains near Banff. He had followed the Park Visitor Guide recommendation to curl up on the ground when a bear appeared. It left the site after the man’s 68 year old wife, ignoring the curl up recommendation, hit the bear on the head with a cast iron frying pan. Her husband was recovering in a Calgary hospital. But today seemed quiet. A mild, early September day in the mountains. Late in the afternoon a few tourists lingered in the peace up on the Athabasca Glacier. I started climbing the ice field with two cameras cradled against my chest, and a tripod in my left hand. The sun was setting behind Mount Columbia to the west. Alpenglow, that brief and perfect mountain light at sunset, began to bathe the sky. Its brief radiance and delicacy was nearly impossible to capture on film. As the lengthening shadows of the sharp peaks reached across the glacier, a chill filled the air. The other photographers and hikers picked their way down the massive sheet of ice toward the parking lot. I set the tripod down on the ice. The light was too low for the film in the big Mamiya. But I braced my Nikon and focused on the unearthly glow of the light in the sky and on the peaks, and pushed the shutter release. The park staff had gone out on strike today. In the deep silence of the mountains, I was alone now. I liked being alone whenever I was here. But I heard an odd click and whirr behind me. And another click and whirr. I walked west toward the sound, and heard it again. Followed it to a crevasse in the ice, and looked down. Two men were standing in the bottom, taking Polaroids. I stepped back, so as not to disturb them. When they finished shooting their film pack, they helped each other climb out of the fissure in the ice. They nodded appreciation that I had not disturbed them. One of them stopped and said, “Hi.” I asked him, “How’d your photos turn out?” “No good. The light’s too low down there. And the flash bounced off the ice.” “Is it safe?” He looked hard at me, “Down in that slot? Inside the glacier? Safe? Fuck, no.” Then he smiled, “You thinking of going down there?” “Maybe.”
James Edward Reid
“Alone?” “Maybe.” “You must be crazier than I am.” He laughed. And started down the icy slope toward the parking lot with his friend. I looked down into the fissure in the glacier. Implacable light filtered from inside the mass of the glacier, and illuminated the bottom of the crevasse. Like no light I had ever seen in the mountains. Or anywhere. Most of the light was concealed under a large overhang suspended over much of the fissure. It might be difficult to climb out from under that alone. But the light called. And the concealed source of the light called even more. If I had trouble getting out of there, I could put the tripod across the top of the crevasse, and pull myself back up onto the ice field. I lowered the tripod to the bottom of the slit. And then slipped down the icy wall to the bottom. The soft light was waiting. Fading. Cold and wet and blue. Unearthly. Silent. I squatted, and eased in under the roof of the glacier. Toward the icy forms. Into their hidden slick anatomy. Giant interlaced fingers of wet blue ice rested on the floor of the opening that led into the glacier. I reached out and stroked one of the giant knuckles. A taut pendulous form suspended itself from the ceiling. Deeper inside, clear light poured down into another crevasse. And beyond that, in the deepest part of the glacier, an impassive slash of hard dark azure light beckoned. I took some photos before crawling deeper inside the small cavern. Then slung the 35 mm camera onto my back out of the way. The falling light was far too low to shoot handheld with the Mamiya. Moving fast, I set the tripod up on its shortest legs, and screwed the
big camera on top. Threaded the cable release into the shutter button. Framed. Focussed. Metered very slowly. Pushed the cable release button. Counted off the four second exposure. The light was so low and uncertain that I had to bracket the first shot with two more exposures. A deep thunderous vibration shook my feet. Shook the glacier. By the time I reached to steady the tripod, the glacier was silent and still again. Very still. What? What had happened? I took a deep breath. Maybe the sudden chill had shifted part of the glacier, and it had broken loose. If so, I should have bolted out from under the overhang right away. I glanced up. Hundreds of pounds of ice rested a few inches above my head. But. The light. I might not see it again. In the silence, I turned the film advance handle one frame. Gently. As if to disturb nothing. As if. Reached for the aperture ring on the lens and closed it one stop. Pushed the cable release again. In the silence, the four seconds were longer this time. Too long. Closing in. Claustrophobic. The shutter clicked shut. Somewhere in the glacier, I heard a massive groan. Distant or close, I couldn’t tell from its migration through the ice. I advanced the film. Opened the aperture two stops, and pushed the cable release. The shutter opened. The longest four seconds. The shutter closed at last. With the Mamiya still screwed onto the tripod, I scrambled out of the crevasse as fast as I could. Stood up on the ice field. Breathing hard. Heart pounding in the silence. My van was the only vehicle in the lot at the glacier’s lip below. It was a stupid thing to do alone. Or at all. But maybe I had that light in my hand. In the camera. The glacier shook again. The icy overhang collapsed, and shattered inside the crevasse.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
As Maria’s ESL teacher, I pledged to reveal all things English. I promised to be clear with my explanations of irregular verbs and the past progressive. I translated with precision the junk mail she received from the Victoria Principal skin-care line. Without complaint, I swam through sweepstake applications that promised $250.00 worth of free products. I didn’t mind spending hours negotiating the voice mail of the U.S. immigration service, only to be connected to, and then insulted by, an agent from Indiana. I invited Maria to my daughter’s birthday party, and she cooked for me: empanada, bolillo, adobo. We became friends. She trusted me. So why do I feel like a fraud? It’s not that I don’t know how to teach English to foreigners. I do. I have credentials. The language part is easy. It’s this place. What must these students think when they arrive on the beach in Nome, Alaska from such faraway lands as Vietnam, Thailand, and Mexico? The ocean is solid ice for half the year. The horizontal snow casts a permanent fog that allows you to see only what lies directly in front of your face. Forget about not seeing the forest for the trees. There are no trees. The wind gusts up to 50 miles an hour much of the winter. No roads in or out. Maria had heard of Eskimos, yes, but not musk ox. Or walrus. Her idea of a beach is fine sand, blue surf, hot sun. The beach on Norton Sound is cool and coarse in the summer, dotted with optimistic gold miners and freckled with brown children who dash into the arctic surf then run along the rocky coast until the sun dries their skin. Maria told me about a seashore her family visited in Mexico, “You will no believe the sand! Is so hot to burn your foots!” And she raised her eyebrows at me the first time I referred to the jagged coastline that borders our town as a beach. I was born and raised 400 miles to the east, but most people come here from someplace farther. And for different reasons. For some it’s the hundred-year promise that their dreams will come true at the Rock Creek Gold Mine. Others are recruited to provide medical services to the fifteen surrounding villages. Still more are dizzied by the government’s financial commitment to social programs and education. Desire for a taste of the “real Alaska” tempts urbanites to the bush and captures them for a lifetime. For immigrants, like Maria, the reasons
35 are as varied as the species of tundra lichen. Most have family connections. Over half the restaurants in town, including the Italian, Japanese, and Chinese, are owned by Koreans, which is good business for me. But I didn’t come to Nome to teach English. I came because I wanted out of my interior Alaskan comfort zone. To see if, beyond the microcosm of the Goldstream Valley on the outskirts of Fairbanks, beyond the ski-sauna-potluck-parties, a certain kind of love could survive the frigid coast of the Bering Sea. The answer is yes, love can survive. But, like for tundra plants, the season is short. The top level of soil thaws long enough for plants to grow and reproduce, then fall dormant under a winter’s sheath of snow. ~ Maria grew up in a village north of Mexico City; her parents had recently died within a year of each other. Her sister, because she feared Maria wouldn’t be safe living by herself in Mexico, insisted Maria join her in Nome, where she’d lived for almost ten years. The first day she walked into the office where I teach adult basic education I noticed her smile, how it took up her whole face. At once I admired the chestnut hair that fell below her shoulders and framed her presence. How many times I’d wished to have dark, lush hair; not the pale limp locks passed from my German ancestors. Once, while trekking around the desert with my dog, I splurged on a night at a motel and dyed my hair drugstore black. I looked like a vampire, as if I’d been prepared by an experimental undertaker. I felt grateful my dog was colorblind. At first it was all about the language. She visited me twice a week, spoke little, and when she did talk she covered her mouth with her hand. In splintered sentences, Maria told me about her family and her town, where she’d worked at the telephone company. She learned the names of foods from a picture dictionary, and admitted she didn’t like pizza. We studied a map of the United States. She had never been to Las Vegas, but she wanted to visit. When she used the progressive tenses correctly I joked, “Goot. Betty betty goot.” She loved that, and it was the first time we laughed together. Over the months, Maria relaxed into her new home. One day in late May we stood at the edge of town facing Norton Sound as the ice broke free and drifted out to the Bering Sea, officially marking the end of winter. On sunny days, we moved our studies outside to skip around puddles, to wander up and down the dirt roads, to learn new words: shrub, tundra, willow. In turn I learned about her favorite fruits that grow in Mexico: anona, guanabana and granada, which is one of my favorites,
36 too: pomegranate. We fished together at the mouth of the Snake River and cooked our salmon wrapped in foil over driftwood fires. From an elder native woman Maria learned traditional beading, and she gifted my daughter and me sealskin bracelets, each adorned with a bright pink tundra rose. Some days, after we’d practiced the imperative until we were dizzy with words, I would share with her the things I love: cross-country skiing in the afternoon sun along the coast near town followed by mochas at the pizza parlor; open-mic night at the mini-convention center where we entertain each other by crooning botched bluegrass tunes; the 4th Avenue hut where King Island Eskimo dancers beckon their children with ancient drum beats. ~ In November, when the storms subsided and the sea had cooled, we studied prepositions. Maria’s brown eyes followed me as I jumped around my small office and stacked books and cups and bumped into my desk and stood on my chair. At my prompt she’d shout “Above!” then, “Below! Behind! Beside!” With our fingernails (hers polished amber, mine a pale shade of jagged) we scraped the frost from the window in my office and watched the thickening water swallow the sun before it dropped off the edge of the earth. I couldn’t tell if she understood that the words modified the subject. Does “on the horizon” have meaning without the sky or the ocean? Sometimes we gathered at my house for international cuisine with my other ESL students. At one of our potlucks, Huong, an older woman from Vietnam who’d come to live with her sons, asked me if I thought Maria was happy. “So saaaad, her face,” Minh whispered and drew a weathered hand in front of her face. Maria sat cross-legged on the floor with my daughter, helping place her stuffed animals in a circle for a tea party. I didn’t tell Huong I think happiness is a current we are lucky to catch when the water is running high. I didn’t tell her I feared Maria’s soul would evaporate in this northern desert. I looked around at the women. Our homelands covered four continents, and it scared me to think about what they had given up to come here. But I was careful to preserve my students’ impression of me as a strong and energetic woman, wife, and mother. They needed me as a guide to this desolate destination. I saved the periods when my own soul grew vacant for the friendships I’d fostered with a few, special, women. In December we lose seven minutes of sunlight a day. On the winter solstice the sun rises beyond the ice
CIRQUE just before noon, glides across the sky for three hours of twilight, then drops, leaving us again in darkness. I watched Maria gaze out at the miles of ice and wondered what she must be thinking. No one is free from this loss of light, this threat to wakefulness. I couldn’t teach her all the words she needed to understand this place. Words like blizzard, drift and pain are translatable, yes, but their meanings are mastered through experience. On her way out the door, after she’d bundled up so that only her eyes weren’t cloaked, Maria looked nervously at the whiteout. “I will walk across the snow, it so deep, yes?” I thought for a moment. Through. Across. I was tired of words. “You will make it.” I tried to smile, and I watched her push a path with her new boots. I had a family, my teaching job, preschool fundraisers, and watercolor classes at the community college. That’s how I made it. And as the days grew shorter, I’d stack on more. I swam against inertia, through opaque hours, gunning for spring. ~ She had been here almost a year, and I worried I was failing her as a teacher. She was forming bad habits. Maria’s desire for communication began to override her concern for proper grammar. While I was tickled she was speaking more and more, I grew frustrated with her persistent disregard for pronouns. And instead of describing things in terms of what they were, she insisted on describing them in terms of what they’re not. “She no white.” Right. Eskimo. “It no warm today.” Right. Cold. I tried to focus on her progress, but she seemed hasty, almost careless, in her desire to learn. She had a secret. “What?” I giggled, “What are you not telling me?” “Well,” Maria said slowly, “he is very nice boy.” My face mirrored her delight and together we split with laughter. ~ One afternoon Maria arrived for her lesson breathless and trailing snowy imprints from her small boots. She sat down quietly, eyelashes frosty from the walk. Gone was the smile that usually met me on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Her cheeks were red and blotchy from the cold. Her skin shone with anger. And for long minutes we did not speak. “Nobody told meeeee!” Her whine held back a scream. “I know,” I whispered. Nobody told you the sun disappears for six months; that your bronze skin would fade to yellow; that loneliness extorts you with the
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 promise of companionship. I wanted to tell her that loneliness is sometimes the better option. ~ At Christmastime I walked with my daughter to the post office to mail our yearly gifts of blueberry jam; jam cooked with the berries Maria helped us pick. We had taken her to our favorite spot but didn’t realize we were competing with a grizzly, hungry for a few more pounds of berries before her winter hibernation. When we heard the muffled grunts and snapping twigs coming from the willows we happily turned our patch over to the looming, ginger hulk. It always takes my body a few hours to process the adrenalin after I’ve come close to a bear and, compared to me, Maria had appeared calm and inquisitive. Her stoicism impressed me until I realized no one had yet warned her about the inherent risks of berry picking. And four months later, as our boots creaked along the chalky snowpack of Front Street, I flashed to another regional risk from my own Alaskan childhood. Beside me my three-year-old shuffled through a cloud of frozen exhaust that spewed from vehicles left idling on the curb, illuminated in the dark afternoon by the streetlamp above. Maria told me she was getting married in two months. She’d like to wait until summer, she said, until her boyfriend had completed the police academy in Fairbanks. But he wouldn’t wait. He was impatient for her to become his wife. For them to live together as a married couple. Fervor flew from her mouth and I winced at the grammar. She embraced her new vocabulary, and
37 I was glad for that, yet she sacrificed form for the sake of fluency. I had to fight the urge to correct her. “Do you love him?” I asked. “Oh, Kristine,” she sighed, “I want have love in my life. I want have family. I twenty-eight year old I need get married. Maybe nobody love me and I think I need get married.” And I asked her again if she loved him. “He so nice boy. He only twenty-one but he so nice and he family so nice and my sister and he husband they love him so much.” I didn’t ask again if she loved him. Although I knew she didn’t have the language to do it, maybe I was afraid she’d tell me that sometimes our need to survive occludes our desires. Or that, eventually, the two bleed into the same thing. I didn’t know her fiancé, not personally. His grandmother had been my husband’s teacher aide at the school before his grandfather shot her in the head while three of their grandchildren slept in the next room. When he turned the gun on himself he succeeded only in lopping off the side of his head. Her fiancé’s mother was in jail for killing a man when her car overturned on the coast road with winged intoxication. The police blotter described these as “incidents involving alcohol.” But I’d heard her fiancé is a not a drinker. A nice guy, worked a steady job at the hospital, drove a nice truck. The truck that would jut its nose from an alley or a side road as Maria walked through town to work or to class or to the store. “Yes, Kristine,” she said, “he . . . how you say . . . yeluss.” “Mmm, jealous?” “Yes, he jealous, but he say it only because he love me so much. I think it not so bad, he love me so much.” What I wanted to say was yes, I believe he does love you and yes, I think it is so bad. ~ Maria muddled around her usage of the word get. I thought, it’s too soon, but I handed her a three-page list citing 17 uses for get. She stared at me with disbelief while I read through phrases like “this is getting serious”, “please get me another can of coke”, and “she didn’t get up until noon.” “Don’t you get it?” I joked. She didn’t, but nodded and said “oh, ah ha,” in all the right places. A few weeks later she asked Douglas Yates
38 me to charge her wedding dress on my credit card. “You can get this for me, yes?” she flirted. She would give me cash from her earnings cleaning offices downtown. While she and I shopped online and he called three times in 25 minutes to check up on her, I had a feeling. When he drove by my office four times then sat outside, his truck idling in the whiteout blizzard, while we finished our lesson, I knew. Then I charged his tuxedo to my credit card. Didn’t our friendship oblige me to speak with candor about her relationship? But all I said was “Are you sure?” And she said, “I need make change in my life.” “Change?” I asked. “How about highlights? How about new shoes? How about finally learning to conjugate irregular verbs?” She collapsed into tears and I regretted my sarcasm. Sobs diluted her words as she explained that when she asked him to postpone the wedding he said he’d kill himself if she ever broke up with him. “Do you think that’s OK?” I asked, donning my best amateur counselor face. “Oh, yes, Kristine. I am OK, you know. Only I no know how it be after I married.” I raised my eyebrows for her to continue, and I recognized her misunderstanding of my question. “It only that he no let me talk nobody who a man is. He get so mad. He say I want other man but I no want other man, right? He crazy, yes?” I could feel her desire to transcend love and logic. To reach beyond this man, this town, and jump back into a girlhood dream. Yes, I thought, he crazy, but I said nothing. ~ Last winter four people froze to death on the jumble of giant boulders that protects Front Street from ruthless ocean surges, the Seawall. All were homeless and inebriated. Yes, I live in a community that allows its residents to freeze to death within a two-mile radius of almost every house in town. On one of those nights, while my husband and I sat close to the oil-fired heater watching season three of Deadwood, a man I once helped apply to culinary school drank himself stupid, beat up his wife, and stumbled to the edge of town where, in time, he dropped to the ground and passed out. Forever. I tell myself it’s the intense climate combined with the cultural chaos that magnifies the pain to a realm so unbearable that we tuck ourselves in; we insulate ourselves so we can find our way to forgetting. ~ In January the air was heavy with moisture. Spicules of rime jutted like little knives from the willow branches. The steady north wind chiseled the sharp tips so that they all pointed south, like a barricade surrounding
CIRQUE a fort. Wait, I wanted to tell her. Wait for spring. You’ll see the speed with which snow drifts turn to mud and give way to bristled tundra. Watch as the tundra transforms into home for migrant flocks eager to hatch children who will follow them south. We wait nine months to hop over a flowing creek. But, when the shezrit finally pokes up in July, I can’t collect enough medicinal stalks for salve to heal the pain of even one family. I had to tell Maria that I wouldn’t be able to attend her wedding. My father was scheduled for lung surgery in Florida. I would be with him as he had the lower left lobe of his lung removed; the one that encased a seven centimeter tumor. There were complications. I was thankful my excuse warranted no apology, that a family medical emergency excused me from explaining my absence for some other reason, like I couldn’t bear to stand behind her as she pledged her life to man who would certainly be her ruin. On her big day I imagined Maria, piling her long hair on top of her head, begging the butterflies in her stomach to fly in formation. While I waited with my family on the third floor of the Moffitt Cancer Center for the surgeon to come out and tell us what we already knew, she fretted in a borrowed dress because the gown we ordered online from China was waylaid in San Francisco. ~ I returned home two weeks after Maria’s wedding. One evening, while my husband wrestled with our daughter and I stacked the dishes before our evening walk to the creek, the phone rang. My students often call me this time of night. “Kristine, what it mean, beech?” “Huh?” I said. “You know. I think it bad word, this beech, but I no know what it mean.” “Oh,” I said, “bitch.” “Yes, beech. You know? It bad?” “It’s not good,” I said. A week later Maria walked into my office with a short stack of papers. Her left cheek swelled purple and pushed into her eye socket. When I sat with her to fill out the restraining order, I realized I hadn’t taught her the words she would need: punch and bruise and assault. As Maria’s ESL teacher, I was complicit. I wonder which language I’ll choose next time; comprehension in place of rhetoric? Perhaps I’ll consider the futility of language as a means to communicate pain and just tell her what I think. Maybe that will be good enough.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
Berry-Pickers and Earthmovers
I kneel on the slope below Newton Peak, one hand cupped, receiving the land’s gifts. Sunshine massages my shoulders while incense of crushed Labrador tea rises from the warm tundra. Claret-colored blueberry leaves, orange dwarf birch, and bearberry, crimson as freshly spilled blood, mingle in fall’s high-latitude quilt. I delicately strip berries from twigs, letting them roll into my palm before placing handfuls into a yogurt container. This late in the season, the plump flesh bursts easily, staining my fingertips purple. The fruits’ signature hue—a pale, dusty indigo rarely encountered in nature—surprises and then draws you in; their scattershot growth lures you farther and farther as hours slip away, unnoticed. Lulled by the meditative activity, I pop a few berries into my mouth, where tartness explodes like insight between my palate and tongue. Most blueberries sold in stores pale by comparison; obese and engineered into blandness, they betray an obsession with quantity, a disregard for season and place. One Fairbanks friend crushes such cultivars to dye skeins of wool, which hardcore gourmets consider the only use. Not a good berry-year, this one—few sunny days in the past months. My bucket fills very slowly. People have flown up from Anchorage, because throughout southcentral Alaska caterpillars have been shredding berry bushes. More than usual, information about productive patches has been guarded like insider trading-tips, shared only with friends. Blueberries are selling for twenty dollars a quart through our town’s online exchange network, often to locals too busy or impatient to pick. Regardless of the shortage, I shun berry combs, the plastic-and-steel gadgets that mimic bear claws, because they bruise fruit and collect too much debris. They keep me from handling the velvety spheres, and their efficiency strikes me as semiindustrial. Berry picking appeals to me for its humbling pace, its quiet thrift. It requires no fancy tools—no fishing rods, four-wheelers, high-powered rifles, or outboard motors—no logistics or permits—just an old bucket and a strong back. Far out, afloat on sheet-metal glare, barge-like
39 gold dredges sift Nome’s ancient beaches, submerged when ice sheets melted and the sea repossessed land at the end of the Pleistocene. Belches and growls from heavy machinery waft up with an onshore breeze. A belt of scars girdles foothills below, outlining an even older beach and placer-rich stream gravel buried beneath glacial till. Earthmovers and caterpillars are tapping the gold-bearing layers, throwing up molehills of human industry. Dwarfing all present-day efforts, long-necked, turn-of-the-century dredges wallow in marsh ponds like doomed brontosaurs. A quirky town with a makeshift feel, Nome still attracts dreamers and schemers. It’s a lot like Cicely, the setting of Northern Exposure, only less photogenic, much rougher around the edges. Curbside dredge buckets planted with flowers pass for beautification here, and the world’s largest gold pan, vis-à-vis the Methodist church, resembles a UFO driven partway into the balding lawn. At low tide, swigging oblivion from brown paper bags, the uprooted strand around driftwood fires behind the revetment where, despite the dike’s granite boulders, the sea tries to steal from the shore. Up-valley from wind turbines that mirror-flash with each revolution, some bright satanic mill disembowels Mount Brynteson. With the economy’s nosedive, gold has reached an all-time high, renewing the frenzy for pay dirt: a blueberry-size nugget is worth twelve hundred dollars. Fortunes made, fortunes missed—lives spent pawing the ground—and a few miners breaking even. Stuffy and dark as animal dens, the bars along Front Street stay busy, as does the town’s only bank, handing out berry buckets with its logo as if promoting frugality. The payback as well as the scale of extraction differs, but diggers and pickers like myself equally feed desire, not need. Secretive and territorial, we move on when the yields no longer warrant the effort. Quitting is hard. As the year tilts toward winter, the berries turn mushy; earth and sea harden to human intrusion—frost and ice put our ambition on hold. Typically seen as women’s business, berry picking lacks the excitement of striking gold or of killing a moose, except when blundering into a grizzly with a sweet tooth in your chosen patch. Berry size simply does not matter as much as nugget- or rack size. As a rule, swamps, rivers, and mountain ranges need not be crossed chasing fruit. No guts, no glory. Not bringing home bacon. Men stalk— women stoop. Alas, research has shown that in some hunter-gatherer societies plants contribute most of the calories and prove more reliable than migratory game.
Comparing mental maps of both foraging sexes also made clear that they lived in different worlds: weighed down by toddlers, women knew smaller, nearer places more intimately, while men, unencumbered and perhaps rushed to return, excelled at remembering long-distance trails but in less detail. It is tempting, from this perspective, to contemplate domestic dynamics, attitudes toward the settled and the unsettled (or the unsettling), the bird in the hand and the birds in the bush. My girlfriend, for instance, loves combing the outskirts of town, looking for musk ox wool, mushrooms, or chips of opaque beach glass—turquoise and cobalt—the kinds no longer made. Although she’s an avid hiker, an evening stroll through the neighborhood suits her just fine. She can pore for hours over furniture catalogues. Not the homebuilder or handyman type, I’ve bunked in barracks, tents, monasteries, a guest ranch, log cabin, sauna, storage unit, stick lean-to, garage, various trailers, rock alcoves, the belly of a ferry, a houseboat on dry land, a survivalist’s underground bunker, and a bluetarp tootsie roll on the banks of the Rio Grande—all furnished minimally or not at all. Only half-joking, she accuses me of ADD and of having become jaded about small things in nature, such as birdsongs, snowflakes, or scents. It is true, I did inherit the wandering gene, possibly from a great-grand uncle who sold the farm and joined a traveling circus. I crave a fresh view, and forever following rivers, and piecing together new backpacking routes—big picture stuff. Even the flat prospect of a topo map tickles me. Luckily, the rewards of wild fruit—culinary and otherwise—prompt me to cherish the tangible and nearby, not just the abstract, faraway. Back home, I carefully rinse leaf litter from my
CIRQUE loot before freezing the berries in Ziplocs. The local Inupiat stored theirs in skins bloated with seal oil, preventing spoilage and scurvy. Our stash likewise provides precious vitamins where produce is airlifted in and therefore expensive. In the bleak pit of December, when snow buries porches and winds wail like errant Janet Levin souls, our berry-inked lips mock hypothermia. Cocooned in the light of our kitchen, we relish summer’s dense flavors, memories of lush life. We fold them into muffin- and pancake batter, fill jam jars and piecrusts, or spoon them directly from a bag as a substitute for sorbet and lost daylight. Berry picking can be many things to many people: livelihood, pastime, fresh-air therapy, pause for reflection, or displacement activity—even act of resistance. I vividly recall a field trip with an ethnographer—a deadringer for Yul Brynner—to an Inupiaq village up the coast. In her single-room home, he was grilling some grandmother, who had dressed in her best kuspuk, about his pet theory—the existence of Eskimo clans before first contact with Anglo-Americans. Repeatedly, and with great patience, she denied ever having heard of such kin groups. When the researcher kept pressing, her gaze wandered out the window. “It’s such a nice day,” she said sweetly. “I think I’m going to look for berries.” On the year’s last fishing trip, to Council, I meet Cassie Walker, an Inupiaq elder with silver pageboy hair and skin mottled—strangely—like the worn-out salmon in the river’s pools. She was born there, in a cabin above the Niukluk, during the Great Depression. As her mind peoples a near-ghost town with spirits, she points out who used to live where. Many of her parents’ generation perished from ills that dog vagrant fortune seekers everywhere. The newcomers drove away game and introduced God, booze, and diseases; but berries kept bluing, in good as in bad years. In 1959, after boarding school in Sitka, Cassie moved to San Francisco, where she still lives. Now, perhaps for the last time, the old woman has come to this river, to claim days long gone, and the berries that mark vital ground.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
POETRY Jean Anderson
for John Haines, 1924-2011
January, and he’s had his fill of healing. He pulls street clothes from the narrow hospital closet, jots a note for the steely-eyed nurse: GONE HOME-then rests against stiff white sheets, mounded pillows before he begins to dress. So incredibly slow. Dials 9, Alaska Cab, and steps into his shoes--done forever with boots and parka, light jacket enough for the journeys remaining. Winter and the world can take him as he is, again. Snow and frost were his brothers, frigid night
The curve of the earth
stretched across long years, scratch of pen on paper and kerosene lamp hissing. No more. Hallway, elevator, lobby--cold air like a slap to his skin through the glass doors, and the cab driver’s just a kid who sees through him. Fellow truant: no nurse,
My son asks what are the heavens, his brush hovering over watercolors with the deliberation of a bee’s errand, watching horizon floods of green take shape across white paper like the curve of the earth.
no chair, no solicitous friend. But the kid takes his elbow, positions his cane for the short ride. Warm cab: he’ll doze. Save strength as always for words-typewriter, pen, that grand escape into freedom. A life beyond life, stalking earth’s magnificent truths.
There are many things I thought would be difficult to explain, but heavens wasn’t on my list. In my pause he tells me it rhymes with seven— and perhaps this is how everything begins—an object paired with another, rhyme begging for rhyme, hungry for its own lines of definition— And starting from seven, I said: the moon and sun and an alphabet of planets and stars, everything beyond the horizon, where the earth bends—
not knowing if gods come into this, or if my child’s question is enough of an answer.
Give Me an Endless Range
Not really a range but I remember nosing up to the window to see that big hill called Rib in central Wisconsin as the family Buick hurtles north for muskellunge and pike This is my dreamland of foggy-morning lakes with quiet bays named Monkey or Little Beaver where painted turtles live peacefully with stately blue herons Uncle Bud spends time here smoking his pipe and telling about the day he hooks a snapper on his best Suick and hefts it hissing like a cat into the boat with a gaff Augie the Italian from Chicago cooks the awful turtle soup in his cabin singing Cavalliâ€™s Ercole amante to his terrier and I consume it all reading Sunday funnies on our porch In seventh grade I travel west to the Mitchell Corn Palace and Wall Drug where jackalopes and cowboys will sing for a quarter and the ice-water is free The Badlands jut against a blackening sky and sparse grasslands where buffalo graze and prairie dogs stand watch as I flash my little Yashica These eroding wonders give rise to a range of new earth where a boy can come to settle for resurrection and a spirit might breathe lungless without suffering
What I think about when writing captions How can people Know that much Of the drivel they Read is generated By demented copywriters Listening to African Music, pausing to Look out the window To watch the girl With the great legs, Cross the street.
The truth about a wave Thereâ€™s always another behind it To chase its past up the beach In memory of rain.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
She Don’t Know Nothin’
Said Gus nodding towards his cousin doing Her nightly diagonal across the Yard towards the other side of the village. A world of the Two Sams separated By the school. Junior, the cowl of His Polaris up for days, reeking of Diesel and alcohol, on one side and Cottonwood cloud of smoke cured geese on The other. Bergman’s place. Don’t know nothin’ That girl. She don’t know nothin’. She’s a big Girl, stolid of step but her curly-haired Son as lithe as an antelope, almost Two. She can’t hardly read Gus continues Before going into the Biblical Genealogy of the father who Is in jail, or in school – but out of this Picture, out of this town. Then the usual Gossip of the homicide, the robbery Of the store. A thousand, that one – The other side of the alley’s nightly Flow through town. The school separates the Two like so many things here, a culture in Conflict. Michael Jordan wearing moose-hide Gloves, porcupine quill earrings snuggles up To an iPod. The school separates the Two and his Know Nothing cousin, Cruising for action, just fourteen years old.
Overboard “It was a cannery truck, after all,” we said afterward. “Unreliable. It stalled when he would bring it to a complete stop. He probably coasted through the stop sign.”
A Gull at Requiem
The wind is smart with seaweed, salt, and mold. I push my slumping body through its pulls; it flails my rubber coat with brackish gusts. I trudge along the beaten crescent beach, impounded by gray granite headland walls and cymbal-smashing dies irae waves, past stinking heaps of purple mussel bones. The tangled seaweed sinews snare my shoes. A memory of watching Perseid from here with her recedes, a decrescendoing recessional. A lighthouse wails a single French horn note. Some ten tones up, a seabird imitates, a matted gull on guano-crusted rock. With depthless marble eyes he watches, blank, not me, not sea, but nothing, everything, and cracks the note apart atonally. He’s not a raven, thrush, or nightingale; his song is neither love, nor prophecy, nor soulful fling, but empty piercing shrieks, of endless, apathetic sea, a cacophonous anti-melody. There’s nothing here but mildewed requiem. I turn back to the cliff-hid path for home.
“Bone cancer doesn’t relent,” the doctors told her. “Go. Live. Enjoy the time you have left.” For five years she did exactly that: dove the Great Barrier Reef. Went to China. Fished the lake near her house with her niece. When she was done, she slipped away overnight. It doesn’t take much a gentle roll of the boat as the wake passes underneath; the brush of an elbow, and the power-drill, set too close to the edge, tips and tumbles overboard. You see it roll: watch without moving, frozen like a dream has materialized before you, It doesn’t even complete a full circle before it hits the water - that flashlight or 10-inch crescent wrench, or your cell phone slipping out of your pocket as you bend down in the air before you know it. It lands on the water’s surface like you land on the bed after a long day, blankets fluffing, rising as they are displaced, absorbing the impact and falling back again; only the water receives and moves aside, and you see your knife, the one you spent all those seasons sharpening, the one you got in France years ago, on vacation - a gift from the vendor who loved that you were a fisherman and insisted you take it – suddenly out-of-reach, beneath the surface, fading, getting smaller and dimmer as it recedes from you and all your memories of it, out of your grasp forever in an instant, like your friend who tipped over the edge after the long struggle to keep a hold on the rail while the disease rolled under her... or the buddy who was brushed away in the morning light when a car crested the hill and elbowed him into the air before he knew it - a short fall into deep water.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
I stand and scrutinize rocks and boulders caught in a long fall across a dirty glacier and above on cliffs clumps of pink dwarf fireweed colonize. Through binoculars I spot more plants, yellow and green leaved, that lure me higher up the dry slope until I am looking down on students standing on ice, their shoes imprinting the tarnished crust of worn glacier marked by paths of rocks tumbling, and a malaise of dirt transforming ice from white to brown, a dingy grime lowering albedo and hastening melting. It is a question of time, like the moment when the conductor freezes, her baton upraised, and breaths or heartbeats measure the duration of the fermataâ€” the orchestra waiting for the baton to fall. . . From my crumbling rock vantage of young people on a steep worn glacier, my momentary revelation is chronologies interleavedâ€”as if to say the glacier in its time the students in theirs me in mine. The ship that brought us drifts idly in green water between dry rock faces. Now and then smoke floats upwards from the funnel-stacks.
This is what you get-this nose these eyes these wide hips from your mother. Oh, yes, this is your mother and this is the egg that is your egg that has loitered all this time. Itâ€™s your good luck or bad where she lies tonight-whose company she keeps with his stampeding hordes and the one who enters and dominates or pairs recessive leaving you with lank hair light eyes skin that freckles from the sun-Or whether she retires alone with a book and a box of chocolates sleeps all night and wakes refreshed while you journey unacknowledged.
Czarnina (Duck Blood Soup) Capture and cut with a steady hand the duck a hunting cousin brings over. Spill vinegar into the heavy crockery bowl one of the old women brought from Krakow. Drain the blood into the vinegar. Have your daughter, young and attentive, stir the mix constantly. The rest of the family tangles just outside. More cousins, nieces and nephews, many born here. Simmer the duck trimmings and blood with spareribs, celery, a few sprigs of parsley, one onion, four whole allspice, four whole cloves, some salt. And three peppercorns. Your mother called the dish czernina, but your daughter will hear it wrong and her husband won’t hear it at all. Even when his spoon dips again. He won’t know that you and she conspire against more children. Her sisters know the secrets, too, secrets easy to keep from the men and their priests. When nearly done, add dried prunes, dried apples, dried pears, three handfuls of dried cherries or raisins. Can you use something besides celery? How can you find it around here? Does celery seed store well? Keep the stovetop hot with cowchips. Insist on scouring with handmade soap after each stoking. The soup’s close to done, now. Stir in flour, a cup of cream, honey and more vinegar. Show your daughter how she can approximate these measures. You don’t know what you’ll give to her, if she’ll outlive you, or if her husband’s family will have a collection of scales and domestic tools. Whisper to the girl that she can use a pig’s blood instead of duck. Never tell her husband or the other men. They don’t need to know. Then call the table open.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
Molly Lou Freeman
Lord, You Are
somewhere—in sticks and shadows, (strewn) leaves and branches rusty in rain, yellow and that kind of green— in places—also imagined views of mountains without name. Not far from here— (behind, within each), thought, not far—not far away— as in the form (like love) of all things seen—the lake’s lower, darker part— and elsewhere implied weeds, sunburnt and insect-swarmed leaves, and always there again in light through spacious, silent summer trees. Kept in thought—within— the interior of leaves— pond scum, on glossy, muddy water, when sun turns silt, half green fabulous imperfections, stained, torn, abstract refractions—bent things changing— or often implied and implied only, also —understood— like these (cold woods) wherein such paths lead nowhere one can go—under horsetail and devil’s club, bramble and slash.
Still—in the unsaid of the mind in contrast to the good morality of grassy green— the big, blue landscape wet meadows, each stem distinct as when the sun remakes the rained-on world, cuts forms as with a blade. Lord— there is a place —I know— between here and the would-be— time, the unlived part, the not-yet-now and will it (ever) a place distance distorts, distance distracts— I know, I believe that—
Watching the tumbling awkward play of the pups, and the pack near Toklat by the river bed in the sun of another endless arctic summer, I know now just how it was when Francis spoke to the wolf at Gubbio, just what he said to the wild longing tucked into his heart in the ocher hills of Umbria, his mellifluous words marking patterns of presence, patterns of peace,
Looking Under Yeats’ Bed
I’m not hurricane material. I’m more of a dust-up, spin a couple words and raise a cloud. Younger I would charge out to the Rattlesnake Mountains. You wouldn’t notice but I took the tumbleweeds with me. Headlines like Alaska Oil and Bad Back Cures were more than rolled directions and faded newspapers. Ambition? I’m hollowed out, happy now to be confused for dust bunnies under William Yeats’ bed. A neighbor said she thought she recognized me when she returned from Ireland.
architectonics of lasting communion.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
90 east is a lonely stretch even when you’re not alone projecting into black trucks and cop cars and the ghosts of old barns like memories of sepia road trips the backseat of a wagon scratchy AM, counting signs always wishing the car would give up and you’d roll out among the trees and disappear under their cover now the wind exhales through a breach in a rubber seal, sighing and you’re sighing and even though you’re driving and you can stop anytime you want you keep going long into the afternoon a bullet aimed at forever gliding on a track until you see her (she doesn’t see you) your brain calculates speed, velocity, the laws of physics and you break your thirty-seven mile silent streak to choke, dark hollow dread panic and shifting and the scream of tires and bones until you both stall and hum mechanical and organic you freeze and stare, blank the lines on the road and the light in her eyes, everything gone or draining away fast you look away, see the trees lining the other side of the highway a dark fence of freedom from this and yourself and the parts of life that crush you under their weight but you stay with her instead feeling her warm go cold and ignoring her gaze to the woods
Spring Forward, Fall Back
The sky gapes wide and wider like the flowering of a cell (how they will laugh one day at our primitive fears), as if the coming season were not as false as the voice on the other end of the aether. Meanwhile of course the dark shrinks like the aperture on last year’s camera obscura and we are the film, obsolete, faded gently by light into ghosts, or shapes, or souls.
You Could Hang and Swing They make that kind on the reservation Ralph said. Those 2x4’s are strong, build looms that withstand the rain and the wind. They hang them outside and when they need them, bring them in. 1 X 4’s would do just fine.
On Moving to Paris to Start a Wan Tubercular Literary Journal Look at my hands, my beautiful hands, A chanson of priestly violets. Gestures, like oysters, take on the taint Of metallic, Gallic melancholy In this sea of twilights. And these are not the only costs of empire. Voices rise like stalks of breaking light, Playing to the cameras on the rue des Poissonniers. The hollow-eyed children of the Place Vendôme Have their tailor-made sackcloth and ashes. But I who have nothing, who have only nothing, Have only my beautiful hands.
Well then, we have a tie to the reservation, I said, with our heavy looms, our understanding of the hours spent weaving --- changing sheds, sliding in the batten over and over, the beauty of overspun wool, pairs of warp threads soothing in the rhythm of crosses. You could hang on that loom and swing all day! Sharon laughs, tells me what her Ralph said as he pounded nails into a new loom, built with 2x4’s, pipe and one-inch dowels. He’d made one for her mother, too, long ago. We’re all working in unison, making looms for weaving: hammer, nails, screws, twine, angle irons, corner braces, bolts, nuts, and a drill for most. Soon, with Pat’s help, a tension rod holds the warp, battens and a heddle rod, sheds to open, sheds to close, memories of Spider Woman, Changing Woman, and lives changing with each row of wool, each planned or unplanned design, each Spirit pathway, door open.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
Tillamook dawn is a small flint boat spinning in a red whirlpool. In the small boat there is not quite enough room for both a virgin stand of Douglas Fir and Chartres Cathedral. A fine problem you remark to nobody as the ocean comes up behind you with a long knife.
I ignored my work thus far today. Instead I wrote a poem. I ate leftover spaghetti for breakfast. For lunch I enjoyed freshly picked raspberries over vanilla ice cream. Regarding that midriff budge, perhaps the afternoon bike ride will reduce it, but more likely not. Iâ€™ll be riding the bike that I got decades ago in college because I like riding the bike, not for any Puritanical requirement that all my waking hours be productive. That I have learned, that I teach.
Aubade, in Geologic Time
When the moss leaves the stone it is without rancor. It is because it is time, beyond time.
I am from Esther
I am from nowhere safe and nowhere beautiful. Childhood is a spell. I am from great great aunts burned alive in a milliner’s shop by Bolsheviks because they were Jews. Odessa, Russia, 1917. I am from Esther who escaped the Nazis in Berlin, settling in Malta & then in Mobridge, S.D. She became a Lutheran after that. I am from Florence who went all crazy in the end, breaking her sliding glass window with an ax because she thought she saw G men floating down from heaven, killing herself by throwing her emaciated body down the stairwell of a nursing home. Childhood is make believe. I am from Liam, the Irish grandfather who ran off to South America deserting Florence. I am from Florence who left Ethan all day in a pen alone because she had to work. I am from Ethan who was a mathematical genius, but not a gifted father. I am from Ethan who tried to strangle me one night because my dreams were too loud; he said this over and over to Joan. I am from Joan, who never stopped Ethan, who was hung up like her pots and pans. I am from Forrest who molested my sister, who shot himself in his kitchen after eating a jelly roll. Just like that. I am from Florence and Liam and Esther and Forrest and Ethan and Joan, whose names mean nothing without the actions attached. I am from black seas and white cliffs and barbed wire fences and dust bowls and dreamstooloud. I am from converted Jews and lapsed Catholics. I am from golf and karate lessons which became our religion. I am from the question: Does God have a solar plexus? I am from kosher denied and gizzards rolled flat. I am from Tang and Ovaltine malts and Orowheat toast and all things suburban which look harmless on the surface. Childhood is a well. I am from “I’ll give you something to cry about.” And, “There’s more than one way to skin a bad papa.” I’m from my sixteenth birthday when Rick G. my too-old boyfriend, a golf-pro or something, drinking Tequila all day, smashed out my bottom teeth with a nine iron. I’m from Ethan, refusing to take me to the dentist, teaching me a valuable lesson for my wayward ways. Oh yeah, childhood is a fucking treasure box. I am from my own two feet and my thumb and from Sal, the trucker, driving a New England semi, going only to Downey but driving me all the way to Alhambra to Esther. (Keeping a rolled dishcloth against my swollen empty mouth, I didn’t talk much. Sal’s daughter’s name was Elisabeth.) I am from grief and loss and hallucinations and nightmares and fear and rage and loneliness and psychosis and imagination. I’m from no place safe and no place beautiful. Except— I’m from Esther who bought me new teeth, or the best she could afford. And I’m from lemon groves and bougainvillea and crab grass and sweet peas and snap dragons and shielding banana trees that sound like the ocean in Esther’s one acre yard in the middle of an East L.A. burning down.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
Building a Boat
Father and daughter set out to build a plywood boat of fourteen feet. Forward and back with sanding blocks they move together through her fourteenth year, singing along to radio oldies, under halogen spotlights in the shop. She knows all the words to “Wild Thing.” He teaches her how to run a drill. It takes four hands to hold things in place as they stitch plank to plank with wire and glue. Transom, breasthook, gunwales, thwarts— the boat takes on a floatable shape. Like scientists behind white masks they lay down glass and epoxy. Then the paint in her shade of blue, in three slow, careful coats. Time to place the oarlocks, wrap leather at the pivot points, fasten a line to the graceful bow, truck the boat to the harbor. He kneels on the dock and shoves her off. Forward and back she bends to the oars. He watches from shore as she rows away, her boat looking small in the distance.
The neighbor’s dog is on the roof again, pacing from edge to edge, his mouth around a dying bird, her wings drawn tight like a walnut. It’s the taste that he comes back to again and again- the last smooth pearl of bone, the salty gristle, the sweet tea of her organs and blood, the euphoria like a wing lifting his fat little body into the open air, his tongue unrolled against the wind, his felt ears flapped back, his eyelids pulled wide. I will be the bird and you the dog. Meet me on the roof and catch me in your mouth. I want to come apart there.
My people have been through the mouth of the monster, beaten their fists against the back of time, dripped sweat into the trembling palm of industry, breathed fire and shaped stone, cast mud into music and flesh into drums, turning and turning in the wooden wheel, my people have tasted the sugar of August wine, failed and triumphed and made proud any number of gods, and in the fleece hush after life on Earth, when another galaxy rings itself against the silver walls of stars and its people come to study us, may they find nothing but our bones laid down together in the soil, calcified hands holding, pressed lips eroded into earth, and let it be testament that my people, of all things, were capable of love.
Collecting shower water in a small blue cup as it races down her body, the stream bending left and right over the uneven terrain of her pubic hair, I kneel at my motherâ€™s feet and the heat of the water fills the cup and runs over onto my hands as I collect every last drop before it is gone.
At Alpine Above Hope
Half an hour above Hope:
a few blue gentian genuflect at alpine mirrored in azure stirred surface breezes scurried cumulus, autumnâ€™s flush hurried toward night, half a pink-tinged moon.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
Maybe a friendly rancher built these stiles beside this trout stream, near a pair of bridges where cutthroat hang out for the right flicker of sunlight, the right swirl over a sudden run on gravel and stone. Forty years I’ve fished this stream alone, weekday afternoons when no one pays attention. Today I count a dozen logging trucks rolling past, mostly Kenworths, loaded with cedar, white pine, Douglas fir, wave at the drivers who dream of taking my place, who pop their Jake-brakes and flip me off, grinning. But the cutthroat couldn’t care less for my fluffy brown-and-white Renegade. And what jolly rancher planted that fresh barbed-wire fence across my path? Finding no posted signs I crawl on my back under the lowest twisted strand, recalling John Wayne pulling it off under fire, grateful at last to have been too small to make the football team, and tie on a black Woolly Booger, and suddenly don’t care about the Dow going under, the high cost of health care, illegal immigrants, the latest bad news from Afghanistan when a fat trout takes it seriously.
I tie on an orange Stimulator and try not to think how folks in Idaho like to shoot first sometimes, think later. Property means a lot out here, the Constitution, the Second Amendment, the right not to be infringed upon, the right to build fences. Nothing likes that pattern. When in doubt, I always say, think Adams. A branch snaps. I guess it could be an angry and righteous rancher, but it’s only an Angus calf, curious as she is black, and just like that the best trout of the afternoon rollsonit, rolls hard and plants the number fourteen barb deep into one of its pectoral fins, and so I find myself fighting a couple of muscular, desperate pounds sideways through the current, not knowing at first why the laws of physics, the aerodynamics of fish through water, appear to have failed. Following some unwritten law of inept anglers, I release the foul-hooked trout and leave.
Behind me about forty cows, mostly done up in beige, watch as if they’d always thought of taking rod in hand, or hoof, instead of spending their days breaking down stream banks, aiding erosion, abetting siltation. Around the next bend I find a lone posted sign nailed to a cottonwood just below eye level, blink or turn your back and you might miss it altogether. I blink.
Dancing with Liberty
(Madison, Wisconsin, February 19, 2011)
out from the Capital steps, and after a few minutes we were dancing to
My friend called to say, “I’m waiting at the top of State,” but I was across
Michael Jackson, swaying and pumping our arms, Show me what Democracy
the square, so I kept walking with the crowd past the media stands where a few angry
looks like-This is what Democracy looks like-and somehow, my friend
men screamed through bullhorns while we answered the call: Show me what
never did find me, and none of us who are hoping for justice know
Democracy looks like, singing back over and over, This is what Democracy
whether we will find it, now or soon or never, but what the heck, my friends,
looks like, the marchers slowing to let parents with strollers cross to the Capital,
isn’t this what Democracy looks like: each of us, all of us, dancing with Liberty?
past the costumed onlookers, past the sax player giving us “Solidarity Forever,” past the Harley-jacketed family, past “Queers from Chicago” with raised fists, Show me what Democracy looks likeThis is what Democracy looks likebut at the top of State, amid thousands of marchers, my friend and I could not find each other, so I called and told her, “Look for the man dressed as Liberty,” and cut through the crowd to stand beside a young black man in green silk and a plastic-foam Lady Liberty crownShow me what Democracy looks likeThis is what Democracy looks likeand he told me he was from Milwaukee, and that his mother was a teacher, and I told him I was from Alaska and my father was in the service, and all the while music was pounding
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
Denali National Park, 6-19-09
Fourteen caribou at Sable Pass, pestered by a pair of long-tailed jaegers— bright barbs of ruckus, territorial, they swoop down like spear-heads, loop, wheel and shout. While focusing ‘binocs,’ my elbow hits the horn and baffled by the blare, fourteen caribou stop dead and stare. * Perched in flinty stillness on the porch—cupped ears and stubby tail—a resident ground squirrel sizes me up. * While foxes den a hollow hillside by the river, magpies flit, a rabbit grazes and moves on. * These green and ochre hills dotted and streaked with white, backed by the snow-splashed peaks of Polychrome, shift in softening light. * Browsing the cabin’s logbook, ten years of visitations, the tribute of one artist draws tears to my eyes: “It’s as if you dropped me off in Paradise.”
Its green arc flares, swings low, crinkles, snaps while stars behind glint through like sequins on a shawl. Where does it come from? he asks. The sun, you say, I think, pull to the shoulder and step out into chill. But we only see it at night. Does it happen in day-time too and we just can’t see? It riffles, billows, flaps like a pennant although there is no breeze. His eyes dilated, dazzled by this binge of fractiousness beyond our steady state, plumb a strange new paradigm of space. Drawing back, it slings a swarm of arrows tinged with pink. You duck. It points a warning finger: Look out, mortals, things could get much worse.
you are the queen of improv a thrush on red willow scatting jazz be da be da dat dat dat de da be da be da but you always wanted to be a chic ka dee dee dee on a skinny and fro zen bir ch near that club on the Chena de da be da de da
Untitled It is called a trainer bra so us untrained parents who can barely hear the tiny snap of elastic on small shoulders of daughters who do not want to know that such developmental sounds rattle us down to our runners (be calm but do not be hip) It is called a trainer bra so parents who hear the tiny snap of elastic on girl shoulders can figure out the kinks in our own breastplates
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
Sailing in the San Juan Islands: Late August The park ranger at Sucia Island hangs his wash between grapes and sunflowers. Leaving the boat, I approach his gate guarded by a Blue Heeler and picture him inside his cabin, writing. Our passage was rough, nights now cold. Soon his garden must be turned and color stripped from Rosario Strait. His solar panels will stay open, but sky will slide shut, along with every cockpit on the coast. No letters will make it out, and I will stop remembering--his laundry, his dog, his chimney, its smoke.
Summer Ends in the High Latitudes and the Red Cross asks for blood. The light is empty now, drained of birds and flowers, brittle as glass. At night, porcupines dressed in stegosaurus silhouettes patrol our sidewalks seeking last raspberry canes. We need Type O, the Red Cross says: the universal type, my type. But I cannot give my blood away, not now with air so fragile, not now with branches taut in the waiting room of cold.
After another winter of snow and ice, I hear their long-necked trumpets sounding, this pair of swans in springâ€™s thin light, white as snow that fell overnight on the mountains and is already rising as mist. Like gods who have cast a spell, they come to rest in a greening marsh.
Our Hand Carved Ornament of a Great Blue Heron I watch you lift it from our tree, still redolent when touched, and wrap it for another year: Our Great Blue Heron, my favorite ornament. A glass of dark Newfoundland rum is near at hand, a nip for my heart. I’m feeling old, but when your hand cradles it like a nest I see it rising from that marsh. We hold our breath. We’re young and driving west for the first time again. The aim of all art, I pontificate, is to give us second sight even when the artist’s eye is cold and dark like the bitter taste rum has, even if slight. You wonder if it when it raises its head at night it imagines the stars are herons in flight.
Sleepless, I watch the birch trees glowing even though it’s only 4 a.m. Not a sound is coming from the snow covered road. How can snow be like light coming down? This must be how angels once appeared to us at dawn, their great wings silent, filling the room with an otherworldly light, taking our hand, whispering have no fear.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
How many winters did you traipse through snow to the riverbank, toting tripod, lenses, filters, new body? How many times did you check the light, wait in hard cold, Douglas Yates
check again, stiff fingers barely curled around the camera. How many bends and riffles tripped you, brittle weeds held fast? How much overflow crept out from under ice, hardened, gushed, seeped, froze? How many years looking before you framed these crusted steps of ice stopped in silver gelatin? How many times did you point out on archival paper what’s right here, look, under our frost-nipped toes.
~for Barry McWayne
Here’s to arthritic hands crocheting purple strands of net
Here’s to wings, to rising, to sandhill cranes’ gawky dance,
into scrubby pads. Here’s to purple petals of wild iris swelling underground.
to the great migration. Here’s to brooding one place, fattening
Here’s to burgeoning catkins, to blushing willow. Here’s
in another. Here’s to teaching the young to take over the sky with throaty gronks
to tight buds, to split bark scrolled back
pulled back to this day from some ancient time. Here’s to hieroglyphs
on paper birch. Here’s to shadows again after long dark.
of crane legs, to the crimson slash across sloped brows. Here’s to the sharpened awl
Here’s to dark, to the great black mouth of mystery--
of each beak, gleaning. Here’s to stone, to plain rock that unlocks
may it swallow each of us every day. Here’s to swallows
patterns, patterns we humans notice only when stones have spoken.
swooping low over a fresh hatch, tiny wings rising.
Anne Carse Nolting
In the beginning happiness was never programmed to produce anything.
Evensong approaches. You can see for miles here; beyond glacier lies the Sound where silence hangs deep-chested, swallowing windbound moon in purple lung of sailcloth. The eagle watches from his perch atop the spruce. What are words to him… or history.
Paying for Passage
I slip the priest crisp hundred dollar bills— Entirely unnecessary he says as the money disappears inside the silky folds of his vestments where so much magic awaits: wine becomes blood, bread turns to flesh and today’s alchemy of shifting my mother’s soul from one world’s threshold to the next.
Then let night rise, breadth of whale slicing sea and all that lies beneath this sigh keeps scrolling back the beach.
I wonder if I paid enough to cover this trick or if she might end up short-changed in Purgatory like an insect trapped in flaming amber. Nieces and nephews, startled as snared animals— wheel the coffin toward the altar past my kneeling father whose empty face could fill a winter sky. When the offertory basket drifts into my hands I empty my wallet trying to get it right while the priest drinks from the golden chalice and beyond the stained glass a pigeon takes wing, rises higher until its tiny penumbra is swallowed by a distant, brilliant horizon.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
Nicole Stellon O’Donnell
River Town The men who became street names meet in a saloon in the afterlife.
The bank president looks down from his corner onto run-down apartments.
They raise glasses, clink. Whiskey spills over the lip and onto their dirty fingers. They smile
On Saturday nights, cruiser lights reflect off him, as men in handcuffs shuffle through the winter’s first snow.
and nod, bob their heads in the only agreement they’ve ever all shared:
The rent collector snakes from First to Third, disappearing before Fifth. On that street, everyone locks their doors.
it’s a pleasure to see the roads they cut through stands of willow paved.
When a boy jumps his bike over a curb, and looks up, he thinks he hears faint applause.
Whether they’re in heaven, surrounded by dance hall girls, straps falling over shoulders,
And the woman signaling left on Isabelle feels an inescapable longing as the tick of the turn signal counts out
or they’re in hell, sweating in starched paper collars, bones aching with regret, they’re still with us,
her heartbeats, as if she had to sneak out of town in the middle of winter in a sled, hands clasped in a wolf fur muff.
perched on poles, peeking out between the loops and columns of the letters on their names. The two brothers-in-law who intersect at the library and the Korean restaurant
All of them wish they could climb back down, muddy their feet on the riverbank, but the afterlife, if anything, is green and reflective, and perfectly still, unlike the river, which so long after they bottomed out,
watch a man jaywalk, wondering if he ever sold out a partner, or brought a bank to ruins. is still going the same brown direction.
I want to ask you what it is like to stand solid against the snow, to swallow the short daylight, and preen yourself into night. Woodstove black. Feathers, feet, eyes, the curve of your beak: one mind. I move beneath you weighted by my borrowed skin— wool skirt, gray ruff, blue coat, leggings, thick knit hat. Hauling firewood, I hear your call, wordless, unfrozen, between the trees; then, the dry slice of flight above my head before you disappear. I see your belly, your wings, their cloak of certainty, your unified purpose, and I want to ask you how to survive winter along this frozen river, but I only muster the hollow chock of log on log as I stack the sled. My body, its cobbled mess, gangly, lacking grace, sputters, stops, then goes again. You glow, live coal, living cinder, fleeing each evening to the dark hills, the crooked rookery of spruce where hundreds of black eyes dream the same smoldering dream.
“The Dark Is Hurting My Eyes”
Is that you or December talking? The grieving and moaning keeps the dog up at night. November a gray memory. a city of drizzle, we hobbled through its close stone walls, slate roofs. Dragging a leg to the operating table they lay me down in blankets smooth my hair, close my lids. Lifted, my ribs rise and fall. Short winter sun. They’re taking me home with the headlights on. I like to feel the wind and see the breath. Smoke is coming out of me, wind is coming out of my nose.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1
Road to Red Deer
I hear his compositions the night before the three travel to Red Deer so he can play in a competition Ho’okipa Sails is slack key Gmajor G/C with the undercurrent of flamenco trills I am heady with joy for I hear his mother in that-the soft roll of the waves a gentle Kalākaua o ke kai tide pouring over the ‘ili ‘ili scattered along the lines of the shore made to refine sharp serrations into smooth rounded stones his own sensibilities preferring the wavering tones of the fig-bodied oud written into an untitled piece I hear this tie to the ancient in the way his father has built a lyre of stag horns upon which he intuited that only three will play
they drive the next day through snow passing dots of towns as the land stretches before them in a strata of their own lifted up to cirrocumulus stratiformis horizons and layers till they reach the city as this— a music of light a future of flurries and ice unbound
Doing nothing wrong and still losing
(for Lois and Jim Welch)
Sometimes I recall how father departed, floating off paralyzed, carried away by a bevy of good men, me 5 at the time, back joyful from bending down a young pear tree, fruit not yet ripe, certainly not safe from my raid on its sweetness. Half-yellow pear in one hand, I watched him wave, paw wild at me, at dying sky. I dream a bear, Indian poet’s orchard, risking all Missoula’s wrath to rake in fruit it smelled, regardless of Blackfeet claim on land, prayers offered, ceremonies of death. Apples left
Vivian Faith Prescott
Misery Index: 13.55 We can’t afford coffee. We give it up. The washing machine breaks. We do laundry at cousin’s house. We eat from a five-gallon tin of rice my longshoreman grandfather gave us off the Japanese lumber ship. We find restaurant-size packages of crackers and jelly in a box on the highway. Scoop it up like manna. We eat soup on rice for dinner. There’s a cyclone in India, an earthquake in Bucharest, a blackout in NY City, and someone built two towers that touch the sky in NY. The Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline opens. There is hope for the world.
on trees, no need of hope, knew they would be spared. I didn’t dream emptiness then, tender-skinned Bartletts, more vulnerable than apples -to bears and me -- exuding sweetness, permitting it to waft skyward, ripeness caught by wind, not cloaked by granny skin so thick black bears, their noses lifted, miss the scent, rumble off, intent on Indian fruit again.
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For the Boy Who Flipped Me Off on My Way Home It was one of those first spring afternoons when the grey sky breaks into pieces of blue and clouds and it’s like when a body Suanne Sikkema
He’s the cool dad so he keeps calling Matthew my brother, keeps giving him the fist bump, the peace sign, calls him over to whisper, If you want to be cool, get big muscles, smile at girls, wink. This will be our secret. But Kaylee is nine and she knows he sees her. Her hair is long and falls like snow melting down a mountain, her legs are starting to curve like a deer’s. Matthew tells me about the girls in the purple dresses who came to their school, how they told her that some day she can be a princess too. We are the Lilac City, so in May the scent of purple lifts from our streets like music
comes out of its clothes, a body you’ve never seen but you’ve been wanting to see for a long time so you have to look at it and not at the road which curves a little but you know the curves and how to lean into them the way the road leans into the river. I had the radio on and it was Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, and the water was bubbling up in the creeks between the mountains, and all this long fall of notes and road, you drove behind me, coming up close to let me know I was in your way, you wanted to go faster. Your car was white like mine and showed all the dirt of winter, and there was a hole as big as a fist in the window like the hole in my window years ago that he said a rock made but I knew it was him. He was angry and it was something to hit and he didn’t think it would crack and the cracks would spread so when I looked through them they were long
and our high schools choose one girl to be their brief flower, to ride on the float in the Torchlight Parade and wave
and beveled like lines of rain. When I was driving, they made the world two worlds—one up close and one far away.
her white hand, cutting the air like the blades of the fan in the room she’ll sleep in for years next to the boy who saw her and felt the cool air
Back then, I wouldn’t have done what I did today after the road widened and you passed me, your middle finger up. I wouldn’t have
blow towards him like when he stands for a long time with the refrigerator open because he is hungry but nothing looks good.
pulled up next to you at the light and stared until you felt my eyes hot on your neck and you had to turn and look.
A Cup of Coffee I bought a stranger a cup of coffee at the airport this morning and now the natives on 4th Avenue are asking for quarters. Smile, ignore them politely, and keep walking I whisper as I turn the corner into a cold afternoon, protected in my given skin and now the natives on 4th Avenue are asking for quarters blue-black hair, wrinkled brown skin, weathered stains upon the sidewalk. I glance down as I turn the corner into a cold afternoon past five men huddled in thin denim jackets, and I feel the need to defend my existence against their blue-black hair, wrinkled brown skin, these weathered stains unprotected. They stand huddled as weak walls against the world in thin denim jackets, and I feel the need to defend my existence as if one act of kindness is notable and enough to justify the unprotected as they stand weak against the world. If I dump all my quarters into the pink palms of their hands, what will they have? As if one act of kindness is notable and enough…as if quarters are enough. I bought a stranger a cup of coffee at the airport this morning.
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Petition He stands alone outside the San Rec Room, where he often plays ping-pong, jokes and flirts with native girls whose parents are in the TB Sanitarium. He doesn’t know why, but this will be the place, and now will be the time: Tuesday afternoon, June 26, 1956. Remember. Tomorrow they leave. They’ve packed up the stick shift ’53 Olds and will escape from this damned place, as his mother and stepfather put it— when they’re not arguing. The son asks, Why do we have to leave? His mother only says, Alaska hasn’t worked out very well. They’ll head for Colorado, where they’d spent a few days at a stopover on their way to Alaska. We were happy there, his mother reminds him. The boy has given his collie to their neighbor, paper route to his best friend, said goodbye to everyone he knows. He places a hand on the white wood railing in front of the rec room entrance, looks up to the clear sky, reaches out to his self-to-be: Find a way back to this moment. Help me understand. I’m counting on it.
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree
One summer day my daughter phoned home to Oregon on her lunch break at art school in Greenwich Village. I mentioned that I was going blueberry picking. What? she asked, shocked and surprised, as if to say, Are you sure you are okay? In reality, she said Why are you going to do that? Who are you going with? Because I want to freeze some berries for winter. I’m going by myself, I replied, patting myself on the back for how far I had come—from New York, to Tokyo, to Oregon. How disappointed I was in my daughter’s big-city mentality! Perhaps I had somehow failed her. Soon after our conversation, I set out for the berry fields. I couldn’t find the turn-off after 10 minutes of driving down country roads. I started to think that it was a very hot day and there would be bugs on the berry bushes so I pulled over to the first farm stand and picked up a flat for 20 bucks. In a New York-minute I had more than enough berries to last all winter.
Fisgard Street As the leaf of tobacco extends itself to me, sitting here on a bench in the street, I extend outwards into the street and the people sitting and standing here, talking with each other extend also out into this street. Here in the land claimed by the state of Canada and the words and thoughts of a thousand poets. Here in Chinatown where thousands and thousands of Chinese people have gathered and bought and sold goods, where Douglas fir once stood and may again stand. Here where people sit slouched against walls offering their hats, near where the sea water now flows and bicycles take people by on their paths. Here where the mail is delivered and all the other little things that keep all this running, all these contradictions, all this life. An initial stanza, a passage that extends to where a thousand poets have cast their words, have spoken life to add another layer to these passings and to these gatherings here in this Canadian street, this Chinese street, this colonized street which history never leaves to be merely a street of connections, a street of consumption and desire this street that is never finished, these desires which are never realized. In the sun this stanza rises with the long slow voice of the poets running through all of this, never fully realized, and yet realized in small ways, in silence and in the laughter, the visions that have occasionally guided this life evoking different words, different gods. May these words evoke that god that listens and walks with animals, a god who listens to history and remembers the Doug fir forests. May they evoke a god of remembrance, a god of children and wanderers who likes to stand in the forest and bask in the sunshine by the sea, and who burns a stick of incense every day for the past so that the future might be watchful and attentive. A god of small fires and old villages, a god also of harvest, of the wild,
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a god who walked with Ariadne on her nighttime ravages and who sat with Saint Francis as he talked to animals, a god whose shrine at Tungnath has been watched for a thousand years, who flew with raven when he dropped a clam shell on the beach, laughing as raven enticed the humans from the shell. A god who was silent during the student movements of the 1960s until he heard of the multiracial congress at Wounded Knee in the 1970s and who cried when shots were fired and Dick Wilson’s militia bayoneted the sacks of grain carried through the FBI’s surveillance. A god who has the innocence to smile at the sounds of people in the streets even when he remembers all the blood that the rain has washed off them, a god of people gathered together, of laughter and markets, a god that presides over glowing mounds of fruit, a god who accepts children’s tears and mixes these tears with the blood of beets, a god who watches bicycles pass in this street, in Fisgard Street, and stands here among the talking people, watching it all. [Dick Wilson was chairman of the Oglala Lakota Sioux on Pine Ridge Reservation in Dakota during the time of the Wounded Knee uprising in 1973. Wilson’s militia were called the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOON’s) and stand accused of a series of prosecuted killings of Wilson’s political opponents on the Pine Ridge Reservation.]
When our ancestors walked off the dry savannah, how did they make their way through the world? Mountains, valleys, rivers: One hard day after another. They must have come up with tents soon enough, those portable homes that might be carried on camelback, horseback, on their own backs if it came to that. Inside, while the wind and rain shook the fabric, a person might seal out the elements and everything else. Here is our collapsible castle, hard floor of our conceiving, our snuggle home: plush pillows, oriental rugs, dancing girls, reindeer hides, buffalo hides, sleeping bags filled with goose down, a candle lantern suspended by a string. Brenda Roper
Any minute the elements might tear a tent to pieces; how like it is to ourselves.
I believe if I go to the river often enough, everything will happen. A fish rises to a fly six inches from my leg in thigh deep water. Another rises across the way and I see its mouth open to sip the fly down off the surface. A mink swims the river, looking from my distance like a piece of beaver gnawed birch until it comes up on the far bank, shakes itself dry and goes on. And because of the fish by my leg and the one across the way, I don’t mind the big salmon running up river indifferent to what I have to offer. To have seen them is enough.
I’ve heard that before his death by suicide Richard Brautigan took his fly rods over to Tom McGuane’s house and gave them to him for safe keeping. I’ve wondered over the years, were these low-end bamboo production rods gleaned from dusty corners in San Francisco junk stores, guides replaced, rewrapped with sewing thread? Hard-used, but good enough? And I’ve wondered, too, whether McGuane saw this act for what it might have been, a gift of love, a sneaky lie, or the ultimate giving up on all the chances the world had to offer: The promise that in any backwoods creek, even one lined by brush, poison oak, even a creek as slim as 12,845 telephone booths in a row, where prospects of catching fish were even slimmer, where a dry fly might be left to drift the length of a pool because you never can tell. And to give up on that was to give up everything.
the neighbor’s garbage
the ravens have strewn the neighbor’s garbage across the dirt road there are soggy bags and rotting vegetables mixed with wads of duct tape and broken glass buried in a heap of gelatinous flour appears to be a dildo under an egg carton the underwear I lift with a stick hangs heavy with syrup and rose petals I know this is random material – household flotsam – but I now visualize my neighbors in strange scenarios I should clean up this mess but instead I fling the underwear onto a low branch the ravens in the leaves above my head chatter and cheer the underwear looks like a melted face let the next person passing by stumble here let them wonder let them try to make sense of this
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I would have been comfortable floating somewhere near medium in the realm of muted colors, suburban yards and lite-rock. But with you it’s AC DC, 1975 green shag and weeds so tall it’d take a machete to cut a trail back to normal.
Elizabeth L Thompson
Damn, you looked like triple heaven!— standing next to Grandpa in that fire-engine-red dress in 1947—beauty as bold as the grandest poinsettia ever sold! lips like in a glossy magazine, skin porcelain poetry, eyes hazel-green— you two, as true as time! your love, sweet as a tangerine.
On the sleeping ship None see this sight but me As we sail toward Japan Through a night of dying birds Siberian warblers, flying south Drawn into the whirlpool of our lights They rise and fall in the glowing mist Like bits of barley in boiling soup The blinded birds drop all around me Strike bulkheads, windows, wires Break themselves, litter the decks In ruffled heaps, or crouch along the rails Beads of blood glittering on their faces I hold their vibrating bodies in my hands Walk to the rail, close my eyes Fling them away into the darkness Some tumble into the black water Some are blown against the ship Some few flutter upward Regain the night, are saved At last I turn away, go below Sit empty-handed in the dark, while above The wrecked birds stiffen in the cold wind That blows them south no more
Early this morning at Potter Marsh I see the swans at last, resting in their white-winged elegance among the reeds. Laura tells me from the valley the cranes feed again on the hay flats. Rotten inlet ice will soon be gone, our bitter winter ravens leaving town. Trees and grasses take on a tender green. Soon is the time of bees and damsel flies. Soon, too, Dahl sheep with their new kids surefooted on the cliffs south of town. Our todays start early, each tomorrow distanced by a widening light. When sleep does come, it comes with the ease of first loves, intense without intent, pure and simple. The waking to new vision, fresh, without effort. Smiling. This is the time for forgiveness. And all our tired griefs rest quiet on a swept hearth. Suanne Sikkema
Strange Men in Hats Next Door strange men in hats next door strung bright ribbons cross the house and went up and down up and down the front stairs real fast and there was faces in the windows of all the houses and mamma said no you canâ€™t go out and play so long as thereâ€™s lights flashing on our street then mamma got on the telephone in our front hall and talked to somebody with her voice all strange and whispery saying she was strangled in her bed but she never said who was strangled in her bed and I dint know if it was joannie or her mamma or her auntie lou who came there last summer and just stayed and stayed and never went back home but she was real nice to joannie and me too when I went over to play but mamma said she was flashy and loose but I thought she was pretty and I liked her and I never saw her wobble or flash
then daddy came downstairs in his work pants and blue shirt and rolled his sleeves down and I could tell he was mad cause he dint look at me or pat my hair and dint call me punkin just said to mamma dammit keep the kids off the windows and donâ€™t go out then our 21 streetcar come up screeching to the stop and the motorman in his hat hollered alloffendoftheline and got out and pulled the poles down on his end and went round the other and set them poles up to the lectric lines and there was lots of flashes and sparks and daddy put on his hat and got his lunch box and mamma got his paper off the porch and he said lock the doors and went and got on the streetcar to go to work at the ship yard where he makes metal things so he dint have to go to france and shoot strangers with guns
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Poetry In Motion
The dancer spins from point to point, and the halfback threads his way through a broken field untouched, and the power forward hangs in the air too long to be quite human, and the weightless gymnast whirls to a balanced standstill. The commentators call these Poetry in motion, as if to say poetry might be almost as wonderful if only it could move like them, if only it could swivel and pirouette, and if only it knew how to carry itself at suddenly shifting speeds, alone and upright, and then turn in unexpected directions among opponents, if only it could leap and linger there, up there, as lightly as if there were nothing at all on earth to be heavy about, if it could seem as buoyantly graceful as the human body watched from a safe distance, if only it could move itself and more than itself and still be there, not here strung out flat on a page.
It sounds like a bad bank, but we bank on it and in it and make it spring ahead in spring and (in the wisecrack) fall back in the fall, and there we sit, almost catching up with the sun in the evening, but letting ourselves lag a little further behind at nearly the same different time by the new dawnâ€™s earlier light, so what do we do with that extra clutch of feathers from the wings of the chariot horse, but go on shuffling them like cards around the hot country stove where the easily missed spittoon and cracker barrel support wise old timers cracking wiser by the hour.
In the sea it was as if the quiet volcanoes, Whose angry awakenings were the islands above, Were rising from titanic sleep, Their grindings and mutterings huge disasters For the tiny occupants on their shoulders. Like the snarling mouth of a rabid dog, The sea frothed and turned, seals too weak Were cast from this world and the delicate Universe at the bottom of the ocean Learned of disturbed dust and loosened bubbles. The descending tunnel that was the bomb’s Final march began in a land not unknowing Of the movements of the Earth’s joints. Their knowledge was scattered with them. Later, in government narrated videos The rocks floated up from the land And a blister rose on the barren landscape’s skin. Compounds and facilities raged upon By peaceful men were raged upon By man’s canistered imitation of Earth’s quivers. From the war buildings were left. More were built for the bomb, and then left. Winds shook and rains razed the precision Planks, shipped from not this land. Imploded, collapsed, boiled and shaken. In time the island returned to man What man had buried in her. Now the wind blows death, the dirt bleeds disease, Nothing upon that ground doesn’t soon recall The tectonic tumor that has starved Amchitka.
Doing dishes with you, music Filling the space air normally would, I wonder if you have somehow Put a spell on me, with the incantations Of love floating about, the gentle swaying Response of our hips, the mindlessness With which we heed our task And the mind we heed one another, My mind on you, yours on mine- I’m thinking of you. Will light come again outside the window Now playing back just the two of us and black? How will this song end if our doors are closed And we capture it with each other’s hands, hips? I do not know if it was dinner and wine We just had, or the washing of dishes, Like now, as long ago back with Sinatra and his mic, Singing songs to couples on bent streetlight-lined Riverwalks, white jacket black dress dinner parties and Late night gazes at fallen asleep lovers. And of these your spell has me here, A dim kitchen and running sink, doing dishes, The best of which, I would say, And where I will always stay.
From the top of Everest Where they shot a 360 view Passing over prayer flags, The slow crawl, the foothill clouds Hikers remove their air, momentarily Feeling height, a pedestal, drunk On thin air. Another Everest Higher and hikers are a rock, Dirt displaced by a glacier sliding From altitude. And another Everest the curve of the Earth Makes itself known like a rising sun, And another, the Earth is a ball, Hung from a mobile, a drop Of water in zero gravity. And further Saturn’s ring is the highest podium, The greatest skybox, the ultimate Zeppelin describing the planet’s orbit, A meat slicer through gravity And stars and dark matter. From the surface Looking out, its vertical, a rock wall And a troubling ascent.
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The times are churning, raw. From courts to streets, the wronged are hounded to submission, hoard the little left. Feudal lords of this new order gaze from mirrored towers, plot to keep their gain like villains in medieval tales, lawyers and accountants hired guns; more each day afraid to fall below the line where children canâ€™t be fed, left to battle through the halls of schools abandoned to the armed, teachers terrorized, barricaded in their rooms, each of us alone, waiting for a hero, or the last collapse.
Praying, Alaska Style
She took some comfort From birch-wood altar Moose-suede Bible Stained-glass parent Bending over a stained-glass child She gave thanks for Raisin-eyed priest Blood-red carpet That ran between the pews But did most of her praying outdoors All alone Kneeling pink-cheeked in the snow Offering her face To the falling heavens Catching real communion wafers On her outstretched tongue Carving cold temples Out of the white stuff Using nothing more than a kitchen spoon
Translated by Carolyne Wright with the author
Titanes viven a la entrada del valle sus mujeres llevan los senos al aire el verdoreo tapiza su piel perfumada con aguardiente de uva sueñan con los sinuosos lechos de río desdeñan las vías férreas
Titans live at the entrance to the valley their women walk around with bare breasts in the air verdure lays its tapestry on their perfumed skin with grape whiskey they dream of sinuous riverbeds and disdain the railroad’s straight tracks
Las aguas subieron de nivel Gualliguaica quedó hundida como el Titanic
The waters’ level rose Gualliguaica sank like the Titanic
Los Titanes hacen su agosto en este valle de lágrimas esconden sus cadáveres en los pozos azules bajo el cemento del mundo
The Titans make their killing in this valley of tears they hide their corpses in blue wells under the cement of the world
Minotaurios / marmolistas industriales / religiosos inversionistas
Minotaurs / marble workers industrialists / religious investors
(El color de tus ojos semeja un embalse y bajo tus aguas encontramos los restos de tus crímenes)
(The color of your eyes is like the dam and under your waters we find the remains of your crimes)
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Cantando la tierra
Esta vez quisiera irme recordando tu casa de lata y los tizones de tu poesía ardiente sin fronteras (Por todas las tierras pasaremos) El tiempo te curte la frente marcas un rumbo sin faro que te asista y dejas una impronta en el cielo (Franquear la vida) Chirihue dorado / de alas abiertas / te imagino libre o enjaulado / eco sin retorno ¿Cuántos países puede tener un ser humano? (Los caminos / las piedras de la memoria) Miras el horizonte tatuado lo saltas como un ciervo tu tierra ¿una ilusión o una imagen multiplicada? (A veces avanzamos) Voz del desplome / voz tallada en el papel realidad y utopía / tinta y estampa
Singing the Land
This time I wish to leave remembering your house of tin and the embers of your poetry burning without borders (We will pass through all the lands) Time sears your forehead you mark out a course with no lighthouse to guide you and you leave a stamped seal in the sky (To cancel the stamp of your life) Chirihue dorado / with wings spread open / I imagine you free or caged / echo without return How many countries can a human being have? (The roads / the stones of memory) You look at the tattooed horizon you leap over it like a deer your land / an illusion or an image multiplied? (Sometimes we advance) Demolished voice / voice sculpted in paper reality and utopia / ink and print (Notes: The Chirihue dorado is the greater yellow finch, Sicalis auriventris. The lines in parentheses are from the art-book Copihue, Flower of Ňielol Hill by Orlando Nelson Pacheco Acuña, visual poet of Temuco, Chile.)
There might be love in between gloves But no egg in eggplant, or ham in hamburger English muffins did not originate from England Nor French fries from France Sweetmeats are actually candies While sweetbreads are meat though not sweet at all Readers read, singers sing But typewriters do not type, nor fingers fing A mouse can multiply into mice But a grouse never into grice People may recite at a play and play at a recital Their noses run while their feet smell They park on the driveway, or drive on the parkway Ship by truck and send cargo by ship Teachers may be taught, but preachers are never praught One goose may stand between two geese So may one tooth between two teeth But a booth can never be between two beeth If vegetarians eat vegetables What would so-called humanitarians do to humans?
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INTERVIEW Mike Burwell
A Place to Stand: A Conversation with Poet Tom Sexton
In his thirty years of teaching at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Tom Sexton pioneered its creative writing program, was one of the original editors of the Alaska Quarterly Review and its long-time poetry editor, and mentored scores of new Alaskan writers. From 1995 to 2000, Sexton was Alaska’s poet laureate. During his time in Alaska he has produced twelve books: Tierra Incognita (1974), Late August on the Kenai River (1991), The Bend Toward Asia (1993), A Blossom of Snow (1995), Leaving for a Year (1998), Autumn in the Alaska Range (2000), World Brimming Over (2003), The Lowell Poems (2005), A Clock with No Hands (2007), Crows on Bare Branches (2008), For the Sake of the Light (2009), and I Think Again of Those Ancient Chinese Poets (2011). His newest collection, Bridge Street at Dusk, is forthcoming in 2012. A poet largely of Alaska particulars and place, Sexton, since his retirement in 1994, has spent every other winter in Eastport, Maine and has often shifted his focus to writing poems about his early years growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts. What follows is a conversation between Sexton and Cirque editor Mike Burwell over the course of three hours at an Anchorage restaurant in late July 2011. up there on Friday night after school was over…it was Tom Sexton: You mentioned my poem “Poolshark.” before the snow machines really got as efficient as they I’ve made a few more changes. That’s a 30year revision. are now. We’d get in there on Friday night, and chances I had the image of clouds like a tent, and it never really are we wouldn’t see a soul worked, so I changed it to until we left on Monday. clouds like a window… It wasn’t all crisscrossed thin like a window which with trails, and I’d bring a went back to the window book of Chinese poetry in the beginning of the He was an ancient gambler long banished with me because there poem. It took me 30 years from the window table where the game was something about the to do that, and that’s not became a way of life, a badge of honor. mood of that poetry and a great change. You know Dim-eyed and reptilian, Willie Provencher being there surrounded by as well as I do you can’t sat on his favorite bench near the door the Talkeetna Mountains, see those things. I knew scanning the room for fish, and we came with trackless snow. I didn’t like “buckles like duck-tailed and dumb from school to lose a moonlit tent above us” at eight ball to that dank and wrinkled shark MB: Right, What you even though that might who held a dime store magnifying glass said [in a blog post to 49 against one eye to line his shots before have been the image that he chalked his cue and ran the table. Writers in December 2010, actually began the poem. He took our palm-wet quarters one by one. http://49writers.blogspot. A fingerling anxious for the sea, I left that world. com/2010/12/influencesMike Burwell: That’s There’s no small change in this Alaskan city guest-post-by-tominteresting, because I can where I live. Crude oil sets the table now, sexton.html]…these ideas see that image. and sharks wear silk not threadbare overcoats. about the mountainous I can see the earth’s inviting bend toward Asia, landscape, the love of TS: Yes, but it was wrong and from time to time when moonlight falls solitude, the brevity of the there for the context. You through clouds as thin as window glass, I expression, the attention also asked me about the long to shine like bait cradled in Willie’s hand.. to detail. Chinese. I started thinking about that. You know we from For the Sake of the Light, University of Alaska TS: It wasn’t planned. They had a cabin in Chulitna Press, 2009. Used with permission. seemed to be the perfect for 10 years. And I’d go
82 poets for the place. You wouldn’t want to read Wallace Stevens or Yeats there, as much as I love Yeats. You probably feel the same way. Writing a poem, you have to…it’s probably lyric because they don’t begin with an idea, they begin with a reaction to something, something you see...or even something you feel, but then you see something that carries the feeling. Those brief Chinese poems, with their emotional impact just seemed to be perfect. I’d wander around… I’d actually wander around at midnight on snowshoes. I couldn’t get real lost because you’d hit the railroad tracks. It was just wonderful, and then I’d go back and start writing a poem. MB: So would you really literally carry this stuff around with you and read them in different places? Like on your hike? TS: No, I’d read them in Tom the cabin…and you’d sit there by the little gas lamp, and it was just incredible. And, I remember reading those Rexroth poems, not necessarily the Chinese translations, but the poems about being in the California mountains…So I wrote a lot of poetry that way...and it was mostly winter. We went in there in the summer, but it was so wet, and fourwheelers destroyed the trail. MB: Is that what finally drove you out of there? TS: Yes, snow machines. I just couldn’t take it any longer. That’s the only thing. I’d probably still have it [the cabin]. I wasn’t real good at maintenance, but it was the snow machines. They’d come in on the weekend, hauling a sled full of beer and their movies that they would watch in the cabin after they ran around all night long. I didn’t want to be there…That’s interesting, you’ve pinned it down exactly. It was Rexroth…
CIRQUE MB: When you’re in Eastport, [Maine] you sort of feel that pull for Lowell, [Massachusetts where Sexton grew up] and you can write those poems with that place of support as the entryway? TS: Now that’s a good word, because you do, you need an entryway. MB: Here, you’ve got the wilderness to pull from where you live in Anchorage, to pull you into the wilderness. TS: I don’t know how you explain it. But it does…it just draws you away. It’s really worked for me. I haven’t had a cabin for a long time, but I have the memories. MB: It’s like you have the “practice” of a cabin. You know what I mean? TS: Yeah, that’s it. I couldn’t do it…I couldn’t do it before I ended Sexton up with the first cabin because I was at the university all the time. The cabin gave me another world to enter. I bought Butterfly Lake at the end of the winter, and it snowed really heavy snow. The cabin ended up--it’s on stilts--and the reason it’s on stilts is because it’s in the middle of a snow machine trail. I asked the guy I bought it from, I said, “Is it quiet here?” He was a fireman, he couldn’t hear a word. He was essentially deaf. “Oh, never hear a sound.” We couldn’t use it in winter. The wonderful cabin was the one on Trapper Creek…You were away from everything. That’s where I really started to write again. MB: So the cabin thing for you is always that way, a way to get to that other world, get to that solitude, get to that quietude, and get it done. *** TS: I wish the hell I was a harder worker. I think you
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 understand this now. Probably have always understood it, maybe better than I have. People were asking me the other day “What poets right now are you reading and like?”…I’m paying most attention to my own poetry to try to perfect it. It doesn’t mean I’m not interested in these other poets. It means I’m almost consumed with trying to do my own work. Do I want to go out and get all the new books by everybody coming out? Not really. I don’t mean that in a negative sense at all. If I’ve got a line in my head, I’m going over, and over, and over that line. MB: I think it’s what you helped me figure out when I did my thesis; that you’re kind of in a lineage. You keep returning to those people who speak to you. You can’t read everybody. God knows, I try. It’s just hopeless. There’s so much new poetry that I can’t even begin to assess it... TS: When I was at that Massachusetts Poetry Festival, I was on a panel called “Meter in Contemporary Poetry.” I may have been a little misplaced, even if my poems are not without meter. But they started talking about all of these people, and I was thinking...I didn’t really join in that conversation. If you figure there are now 40 years of, conservative estimate, 100 MFAs a year. That’s a lot of poets. Somebody said to me the other day, “Well what about these groups like 49 Writers? I thought writers worked in isolation.” I thought about it, “No. You do what you have to do as a writer. If belonging to a group is what you need to do, then you’d be foolish not to do it”… …Now, as you said, I really like what you said, it’s the practice. I’ll never have another cabin. I had that incredible piece of land up past Talkeetna that, if I’d kept teaching I would’ve been able to build a cabin. You know that view of Denali coming into Talkeetna? I had that view… Right off the railroad tracks, and straight up a bluff. The river, of course, on the other side. It was eight miles from Talkeetna.
it isn’t even in the close past; it’s a long way off. Haines wrote about a place that, except for a few years, he left 40 years ago, but it was there. MB: I made a list up one time, all the lakes I’ve lived at… And that’s what turned into my book [Cartography of Water, NorthShore Press, 2007]. That’s where all the water came from. I go back to that list and it’s 20 years old. TS: You ought to go back to it again. And you need a place to stand. I can put myself sitting on the porch of that cabin in Hurricane, imagining that Tu Fu is in the mountains chanting a poem, but…I think you need to be able to be in that setting, to sit there and imagine it. Not only to imagine it, but have some validity, some possibility. We were talking the other day about entering the imagination of another writer. Well, those Chinese poets wandered for years between wars at the whim of the emperor. Many of them, they weren’t exactly hermits, because there’s a bit of literary convention there, but still, they were in the wilderness. That’s a theme that’s in all literature. Thoreau going to Walden. Thoreau didn’t stay at Walden. I find that it’s almost impossible to articulate, but that’s what kept me going. Then after you start building that world, you can build on it…If you write a poem, and if you have those, not themes, but you have that setting, then you can continually expand on it. MB: Keep going back to that setting. TS: Yes, and keep going out from it. And not in any programmatic way. It even gives you a place to stand to think. MB: That’s right, because you go back to that place. And the last time you wrote about it, it went this way, and then the next poem goes behind you... TS: Yes, one poem goes over the mountains...
MB: You would’ve taken the train in? MB: Or you go down the road three miles. TS: We did take a train, even though we walked up quite a bit. I finally realized I may be a little old to be climbing up and down that bluff. I enjoy it more in the winter. I like it in the summer…but you can move around in the winter. I’ll never have a cabin again. This kind of bothered me, then I realized, no, I have all those memories, and there are poems in I Think Again of Those Ancient Chinese Poets where I simply say “I remember” or “It was.” You can tell
TS: Or you go down the Yukon River. Or you go down the river toward Talkeetna. Or you go toward Denali, with all the incredible possibilities that that adds…and beyond Denali, the Yukon, and you keep going, and you get to Russia or you get to Asia. You can just tie all these things, but you still have to be somewhere. That’s what Frost did. Frost farmed in New Hampshire for 10 years with
84 another man helping him. But he located himself in New Hampshire and Vermont, no matter where he was. He even started dressing the way a Yankee farmer would. I can’t quite do that. I don’t need to be a Yankee farmer...So no matter where Frost was...surprisingly enough, going back and reading those poems, he’s still on that farm in New Hampshire. MB: That’s what Roethke did. TS: It’s like you’re not going to sit down and go, “OK, I’m going to...” It just evolves. Haines has a little essay about being born as a poet on a hillside 66 miles outside of Fairbanks…You know, he shifted the focus of his poetry towards the end of his life. Most people don’t really notice that he went back to the art world that he came out of, and wrote all those fine poems about sculptors and paintings. MB: There was political stuff, too... TS: What I kind of like is knowing that there was so much turmoil in ancient China that kind of mirrors our times. MB: You have that parallel…That’s a beautiful observation: that even in their world we think of them as unattached in other ways, and really the background is every bit as enormous as ours. TS: Just like ours. Even more so now that our empire seems to be in decline…So, I guess I am political, but I’m not overtly political. When I switch, when I write poems about Lowell, that’s the world I was born into, and you never completely leave it, nor would I want to leave it. I grew up in a working class mill town. In that context, I think writing about my family is important because that’s what I really know. In a sense, the good and the bad of what happened in my own family is emblematic of life in one of those places. MB: It comes down to what you said in your 49 Writers blog post: It always comes down to either place. So in place, if you’re looking around, if you’re there...that’s what you see. That’s what you said in that Gary Metras interview, that you want to leave one of those poems that resonates forever about Lowell [Gary Metras interview with Tom Sexton for the Jane Crown Show, July 4, 2010, http:// www.janecrown.com/show_download_page.html].
CIRQUE TS: And it wouldn’t work to bring in my love of Chinese poets or my love of nature…because that’s not the world I’m in then...And the style’s different, that’s why they’re longer poems because it’s more toward a narrative, to telling a story. Here’s something that I find interesting, and I don’t know the answer. Just the landscape here is so enormous, I don’t think you could write a big poem about it and try to encompass the whole. MB: It’s like trying to write a poem about the whole world. TS: Exactly. I don’t think you can do it. You can take a small bit of it. Haines’ Alaskan poems are the same way. Yes, he was writing in (as I started out and still go back to) this very narrow imagistic style. But it’s almost as if that’s the right way to write about the North. MB: It gets back to this whole sort of basis for a poem. You start out, you know, “no ideas but in things.” It gets back to the real basic, basic, basic. That’s where you start. Crummy poets write big poems that aren’t attached to anything. TS: Oh, that’s a good way of putting it. MB: They’re all just in their head. You can’t literally figure out where the poem is. It’s disembodied. TS: That’s the hardest thing in a workshop to try to explain to someone. *** TS: Until I left teaching, I didn’t really begin to become much of a poet. I was 54. Almost all this work has been written since I left the University. MB: I know. I was looking at that. Your productivity level from 2005 on…You’ve been able to put out a book about every two or three years. TS: I think I’m going to slow down now…But that’s all I do. Frost said...I keep going back to Frost even though I have mixed feelings about him. Well no, I don’t have mixed feelings about him as a poet. But Frost said, “A poet needs time to do nothing or at least to give the appearance of doing nothing”…You can’t do that [when you work]. I couldn’t do it. I think poets who teach who have all this time to produce their own work aren’t putting that much effort into teaching. At least, I couldn’t do it. I taught and I
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 had a little time to write my own work. But even then, my mind was on the student’s work, not on my own work, so I needed a break. I needed a clear mind so the only thing I had to focus on was my own work, my own ideas…I met with MFA students for an hour every week when they were finishing up. Then, of course, when I retired that ended immediately. It didn’t even go on for another semester. But that was draining. I didn’t realize how draining it was. That’s what Frost was talking about...See, I was reading in a little book, this guy... I actually bought it, but this guy was a newspaper reporter in Bangor. He had done a review of one of my other books, and it wasn’t all that positive. It wasn’t negative. I asked him if he might be interested in looking at my new book. He said sure, so I sent him a copy. He told me he had a book coming out; it’s called The Other End of The Driveway [by Dana Wilde, Booklocker.com, 2011]. Anyway, it’s a really good book. In it he had written about Mozart’s starling, when Mozart had this starling that whistled a couple of lines out of one of his concertos…I found that fascinating. I went home and I looked up Mozart’s starling and then started finding out about that starling. I want to write a poem about it. Well, here’s the difference. I can spend six weeks on nothing. The poem didn’t really work. But I still have the time, if I want to spend the next month between eating and sleeping and working on that poem about the starling, I can. I can do it…I’m never going to be famous, but I think I’ll lodge a couple of poems. I’m satisfied.
the pleasure and the love of it. Why, suddenly, did I start writing poetry? I can’t answer that…I can’t answer that question. I don’t know. MB: To me, the answer is that writers have to make the world make sense through their own writing. You don’t take anybody’s word for it. We’re stubborn, in some ways... TS: I once thought you could make the world make sense by drinking beer. MB: That works, too... TS: But writing’s a great way to spend your time. *** MB: Let me ask you some more questions… Does anybody ever ask you about the nonwriting period? Do you have a stock answer for that?
MB: That’s what matters…I think what it really still comes down to is you observe, you find a place and you write down the detail. It’s interesting you said how the idea comes out of the observation. I’ve never said that so clearly to myself, but that’s how I work. I have to look, and look, and look, and then, “Oh, that’s what it’s about,” and then you can write a poem. It’s not like you bring an idea to the page. It’s just never worked that way. TS: But see, you don’t, unless you’re Ezra Pound, you don’t set out thinking that way…it’s like he set out as a rhetorician, or a philosopher who was going to have this large philosophy that he could hang everything on. That’s what he was, actually. He was the spokesman for a new kind of poetry. That’s what he started out doing and that’s what was always most important to him. It’s a completely different thing. It’s difficult enough trying to have some inkling of why do I write poetry? Except for
TS: When I was not writing? For 10 years, I was the entire creative writing program…I taught poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and drama. MB: I didn’t know that. TS: From the late ‘70s well into the ‘80s. I was the
department chair. That really took up all my time. As I said, I know this sounds selfserving, I was very, very thankful for having a teaching position. I always felt I owed the university something. MB: So you gave back. TS: I gave back…I did it willingly. The way I write is, again, as I said, I need to have time to run these ideas, just let something suddenly appear, go places. There was really no time. There wasn’t much time for writing…Oh, and I was writing articles on the history of photography and the history of Alaskan photography…You could say I had my hands full. I was the coordinator of the philosophy program...and I served on several university committees. I think the best way, and I’ve never said this to anybody before because I hadn’t thought of it this way: I felt a great debt of gratitude to the university for giving me a position, and by God, I was going to pay them back. MB: And that’s your whole history coming to that point with that gratitude, right? Because you worked your way through junior college...
Memoir To dispel my melancholy, I write another poem.
I read that line years ago at dawn and imagined melancholy as an old sweater worn and thinning at the elbows, a dark conceit to be used one day. Today is the Winter Solstice. The light barely touched the ground when I went out to check the mail where I found my sister’s unexpected novel and discovered that we had different fathers, hers revealed by an aunt in her cups. What am I to do with this image of my mother hanged by her own hand in our basement when I was learning how to be a soldier? It’s already pitch black to the north. I’ve pulled on that sweater to keep out the cold. from A Clock With No Hands, Adastra Press, 2007. Used with permission.
TS: When I was hired here, it was a vast amount of money. I’d never made more than $1.50 an hour in my life. And then, suddenly, I’m a professor… MB: Two more things. “Did success with writing about place in Alaska create an opening for your Lowell poems?” I think maybe you’ve answered it, but that’s how you gained your poetic facility, and then Lowell came in. TS: That is a very interesting question. When did I feel comfortable enough to deal with the darker side of growing up? The answer, of course, is as I honed my skills as a poet, I realized I could deal with that as a poet…I think the best poem for illustrating that is “Memoir” about my mother’s suicide, where I begin with the quotation… from Tu Fu. MB: …What’s interesting to me is I went through all your work and then For the Sake of the Light and noted the poems that are left out of it. I can see why you left out the Lowell type poems. What’s interesting is that “Memoir” is in both worlds…but…you always see that as a Lowell poem. TS: Yeah…But the framework you just put it in, of course, it isn’t a Lowell poem. It’s a unified poem because the work I did in refining my sensibility as a poet through the nature poems, through the Chinese folk verse...See, being able to take that quotation and frame that terrible knowledge, I had the ability to do it because I had begun, as we were talking about, a conversation. That poem is part of that conversation, which has allowed me to deal with my mother’s suicide and my father’s death in a flophouse. After that poem...I could go back and forth. MB: You can start anywhere…Although you don’t do a Lowell poem that ends up in Alaska very often do you? TS: Well, “Poolshark.” That’s actually the only one. MB: But even, “Uncle Paul,” because I kept reading it and I thought, “Well, that’s the map.” That could be your map. TS: I never thought of that. My Uncle Paul was not very tall, the Hupmobile was about three blocks long, and I remember him sitting there telling my father about his plans…These things, of course, were never going to happen…It’s interesting, that framework of “Memoir,” because that’s it right there. That’s the referencing the Chinese quote, which then comes back into the poem…I probably couldn’t have written that... Well, I could have
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Uncle Paul I still remember walking with him and my father in the warehouse on Suffolk Street where Paul worked until it closed. We made the rounds checking doors and punching clocks.
things happened,” not, “Look at what happened to me”… After all, given what happened to so many of the people, so many of us that I know, we’ve lived pretty privileged lives. MB: Sometimes these kinds of questions are sort of silly, but it seems like you’re an early morning poet? TS: I’m a 6 AM boy.
Few mills were left when I was seven. Paul would sit in our front room for hours with my father talking of going to Arizona or Alaska. By the end of August, he was dead. He fell and broke his neck while picking apples.
MB: So many poems start where you haven’t slept very well, you’re getting up, picking berries for breakfast, the tea’s on, and it’s this beautiful little doorway.
The other pickers weren’t the least surprised. They thought he was strange at best. A small man who picked only the ripest apples and left row after row half empty. The boss would have let him go by Friday.
MB: Does that mean you go to bed late?
Sometimes when the autumn air pricks my skin like a bailing hook, I can see my Uncle Paul. It’s Sunday. He’s sitting in the ancient Hupmobile he bought somewhere for fifteen dollars. His pockets are stuffed with juicy apples. Beside him on the seat is an open map. His route west is marked with dark lines as thick as the veins on the back of his hands. from For the Sake of the Light, University of Alaska Press, 2009. Used with permission.
written a different poem, but yeah. I don’t know how to explain it, but there was a merging, and it opened up the world for the Lowell poems. MB: So “Memoir” was one of those poems that sort of pushed that door open a little bit? TS: Yes. Because after I had written that, I guess the feeling was that my past was worth writing about. MB: Yes. You could put it all on the table… TS: And it was worth writing...and writing from the point of, it’s not, “Oh, poor me”…I’m trying to frame it: “These
TS: Because I do get up early.
TS: No, I was going to say, there aren’t many night poems because I’m asleep; 11 o’clock for me is really late. Again, it’s that solitude. Sharyn gets up later. The world isn’t busy; I don’t even turn the radio on. What I’d love to do, you probably thought of this too, I’d really like to have a reading schedule where if I get up at 5:30, I read from seven to nine. Even though you don’t think about it, some of what we write is unconsciously influenced by what we have been reading. Reading about the budget being passed, and the war on the poor gets you so... MB: What you’re saying is you don’t have that reading regime… TS: No, but I’ve got a house full of poetry books, and I’ll just pull something down and read a little bit, and close it up and maybe something will be set off. Only once can I remember consciously…I read a little poem by Seamus Heaney. That was just a short descriptive poem about driving by one of the lakes in Northern Ireland. I really liked it, and I thought to myself, “I can do that.” That’s the poem “Late August in the Alaska Range”…I thought to myself, “All right, I can do that”…That poem was a springboard. MB: I think that happens a lot. Sometimes it’s other peoples’ poems, sometimes it’s just the mood; it puts you into that contemplative place. Sometimes, though, it is literally, “I want to do that.” TS: But actually, you’re right. It’s putting you in the mood; it’s shifting you into a poetic world. If you’re lucky, you can stay there for a couple of hours... MB: …I still come to poetry with my body, with my
feeling and my sensibility. The everyday world has to get disengaged. This is the last question. The walking, the walking puts you out in the world, gets you observing? TS: I think it gives me a rhythm, too.
MB: Exactly. TS: You go on. You don’t know what it’s going to be. But I had those four names and I knew that I had to write a poem about them. I suppose that’s one of the big advantages of just wandering around.
MB: Because you walk every day as well, right? MB: Because you discover. TS: Absolutely. I guess what you could say is if I start a poem, then I walk. I’ll take a walk downtown with something in a poem that I’m trying to figure out, how to end it, and I’m walking, it’s just running through my mind. I carry little scraps of paper, just jot things down. There’s an amazing connection between walking and composing. Look at how many poets have done it. MB: …I used to do that running because I needed a kind of a rhythm. It just freed up so much. TS: Then the rhythm gives you the line. *** MB: I never asked you the sonnet question. So many of your things are 14 lines, 6 8, 8 6. TS: I know, I landed there unconsciously, and then I started consciously trying to work in that form. It’s just where I was ending… MB: I like a lot of those Maine poems, especially the one [“Islesboro”] where you come across the graves of those four kids… TS: See that was just, I was just wandering around in the woods.
TS: You discover things waiting to be written about.
Islesboro When I found them deep in bittersweet and alder, I was looking for holly to decorate the Christmas wreath we bought to make us feel at home and not outsiders on this island. I knealt to read the fading names: Auzilla, Clifford, Jessie, Ralph, “the only one to see the apple blossom twice,” as if they were my kin and not a stranger’s children buried in a long-forgotten graveyard off the coast of Maine— four small white stones shaped like loaves of rising bread. Auzilla. Clifford. Jessie. Ralph. from Leaving For A Year, Adastra Press, 1998. Used with permission
MB: I know…and you go “Well, there’s a poem here.” TS: I’ve always been a tombstone reader. Of course Massachusetts was a great place to read tombstones. MB: But those names, the way you repeat them in the poem. TS: I came out of thick woods into this little clearing with this old wrought iron fence around a part of it, a family graveyard. You’re sort of shocked into poetry. That scene deserved a poem. Janet Levin
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CONTRIBUTORS Jean Anderson writes mostly short fiction. She is the author of a collection of stories, In Extremis and co-editor of the regional anthology, Inroads. She writes occasional poems and has had two short plays selected for performance in Fairbanks. Recent work appears in Northern Review, Connotations, and Cirque. Anderson has lived in Fairbanks since 1966 and was friends for many years with John Haines. Kirsten Anderson is a poet and student in the MFA program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage and lives in Anchorage with her husband and son. John M. Baalke lives at Pilcrow Cottage in Three Lakes, Washington with his wife Gabrielle. He works for the Pedro Bay Village Council in Pedro Bay, Alaska. He has an MFA from Seattle Pacific University, and has published poems and reviews in various journals. He and his wife maintain a blog: www.pilcrowcottage.wordpress.com. Scott Banks is a writer living in Anchorage, Alaska. His poetry has appeared in previous issues of Cirque and in Stoneboat. His essay “Rink Rat” appeared in Cold Flashes: Literary Snapshots of Alaska published in June 2010 by the University of Alaska Press. He has an MFA in Creative Writing and Literary Arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Edith Barrowclough is a photographer who lives in Anchorage, AK. She is the managing shareholder 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 Cirque. Clifton Bates has had a variety of poetry, short stories, education articles, and one book published. Three of his plays have been staged (in Denver, England, & Anchorage). He also fiddles with music, drawing, & painting. And he continues to work on his Asian & Alaskan short story project. Doug Blankensop received his MFA from the University of Alaska, Anchorage and Tom Sexton was his mentor/adviser. In 1953 he came up on the Alaska Ferry with his parents from the Western Slope of Colorado and lived, taught and traveled throughout the state from Annette Island to Deadhorse. After a career of child welfare in remote Eskimo villages followed by medical social work, Gretchen Brinck retired to pursue writing (and hiking). She is currently doing non-fiction short stories about the Alaska experience. “Boy Who Would Go Deaf” is her first publication since her non-fiction book The Boy Next Door, 1999. Lorelei Costa lives and writes in the Butte in Palmer, Alaska. A backpacker, choral singer, and pianist, Lorelei’s two great passions are music and the outdoors, and she fantasizes about ways to mingle the two. Kimberly Davis is an Alaska girl born and raised on a homestead in the Salcha Valley. She enjoys time spent with her children and grandchildren with whom she is always seeing life through fresh eyes. Kimberly is inspired in everyday life as a residential gardener who loves the outdoors, interior design, travel & photography and relaxing at the end of the day with friends and a delicious glass of wine.
89 Patrick Dixon gillnetted for sockeye salmon on Cook Inlet, Alaska from 1977 to 1997. A photographer and writer, he has been published in Smithsonian, Pacific Fishing, National Fisherman, The Alaska Fisherman’s Journal and The Journal of American Life, and in the literary collections Shaping the Landscape and Like Fish in the Freezer. A retired educator, he teaches photography at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, where he lives in the winter. Katie Eberhart writes about nature and the north and has journeyed to Iceland, Greenland, Labrador, and Nunavik with Students on Ice, an organization educating high school students about Arctic science and issues. Katie has an MFA in Creative Writing and her work has appeared in Cirque and other publications. After thirty-two years in Alaska, she now resides in Bend, Oregon. Carolyn Edelman lives most of the year in Gustavus, Alaska. She is the co-editor of the community’s monthly newspaper, The Fairweather Reporter. Michael Engelhard is the editor of four prose anthologies and author of an essay collection. When he is not lollygagging on the tundra, he works as a wilderness guide in the Grand Canyon and arctic Alaska. James Engelhardt’s poems have appeared in Laurel Review, Hawk and Handsaw, and Painted Bride Quarterly. Work is forthcoming in North American Review, Natural Bridge and other journals. His ecopoetry manifesto is at octopusmagazine.com. He is the Acquisitions Editor for the University of Alaska Press. Molly Lou Freeman grew up in Alaska and took degrees with honors in poetry from Brown University and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she won an Academy of American Poet’s Award. Her poetry has been published in numerous American poetry journals and in a chapbook, In Wind: A Paper, from the University of Iowa Center for the Book. She has received poetry grants from the French National Literary Endowment and lives in Paris, France. Jo Going, now residing in a coastal Alaskan village, lived for many years in a wilderness homestead cabin in interior Alaska. Her writing is published in many journals and anthologies. Her book of poems and paintings, Wild Cranes, which won the Library Fellows Award and was published by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, is also held in the permanent Franklin Furnace collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Wild Cranes can be viewed at www.jogoing.net. Quan Manh Ha is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Montana. His first literary translation is Kim Lan’s short story entitled “Common-Law Wife,” which appeared in the Southern Humanities Review. Jim Hanlen: While living and teaching in Burbank, WA, I grew to like the subtle semi-desert colors of the Tri-Cities. Who can’t be attracted to the geography and names of Horse Heaven Hills and Rattlesnake Mountains? One time tumbleweeds did outrace my car. Shauna Hargrove is a photographer who takes portraits of unwilling participants and a poet who writes about strangers she meets in her dreams. She is inspired by dogs, Antarctica, twin sisters, Pantone 181655, abandoned shopping malls, and Sublime cover bands. Her work has been published by Matter Press and will appear in the Winter 2012 issue of Amethyst Arsenic. She lives in Seattle. Beth Hartley is a full time ESL teacher, and part-time poet, author, photographer and, yes, cat lover, in Eagle River, AK. She has published
90 poetry, short stories, research and professional articles over the years and is currently gestating a science fiction/fantasy novel whose working title is the “the dreams of trees.” Eric Heyne teaches American literature at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Nguyen Cong Hoan (1903-1977) was born in northern Vietnam. After the August Revolution of 1945, he held various important positions in the North, such as supervisor, editor-in-chief, and chairman of different organizations. He is a pioneer in Vietnamese literature of critical realism, and his writings, especially short stories, often satirize the lifestyles and hypocrisies of the upper-class people of the semi-feudal, semi-colonized Vietnamese society in the early twentieth century. Dan Holiday is an anthropologist/biologist/natural historian/exrailroader/photographer (from Greek φωτός (photos), meaning “light,” and γράφω (graphos), meaning “written”) who has travelled far and wide, but is happy he presently resides in the last terrestrial frontier where the tables are turned and there are more moose and bear than people. So far. Curt Hopkins is a slender and pretty and lives in Oregon where he writes about robots for nerds. He recently went to Africa and saw a rhino. And more nerds. In addition to Cirque, my poems, plays and essays have been published in and by 3:AM, BlazeVox, Gloom Cupboard, Exquisite Corpse, Cavafy Forum, Rhythm, Perceptions, Full of Crow, Cavafy Archive, Good Foot, Protestpoems, Bluelawn, SPSM&H, Dada, Catalyst, Big Talk and others. Brenda Jaeger was born and raised in Alaska. Her poems have been published in The Salal Review, Calapooya Collage 16, Calyx, Lynx, The Written Arts, Northwest Magazine, and Whole Notes. Bill Jansen lives in Forest Grove, Oregon and has been published recently in The Centrifugal Eye, Hanging Moss Journal and Asinine Poetry. Anne Jensen lives in Barrow, where she has the farthest north garden in the United States. An archaeologist, she has worked in Alaska for 28 years, mostly on the North Slope, taking pictures along the way. Her photography has previously been published in scientific journals, and has also been used in archaeological exhibits and in her blogs, Out of Ice and Time and TundraGarden. Pamela Kearney is a recent MFA graduate from the University of Alaska, Anchorage (technically, I still must bind the manuscript and forage for those worthy signatures.). I lived in Alaska for two years, mostly in Knik, dog musher country. I now lives in Julian, California on forty wild (WILD) acres in Eastern San Diego County. Nine dogs own me. Emily Kurn is a first year MFA student in Poetry at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. This is her first time appearing in Cirque. Simon Langham is a writer/performance artist who spent the last year seriously distracted by the circus arts as a clown, juggler, acrobat and trainer. Her poems and prose have appeared in Cirque, South Dakota Review, and VerbSap. Homer is home, a yurt on the hillside where the winter writing season unfolds. She intends to resist all temptations, stay chained to her desk, and finish that manuscript, so she can finally recycle all those drafts to start her fires this winter.
CIRQUE Janet Levin’s last few container tomatoes ripen on the sill of an Alaska window with frost on the inside glass. She also lives, writes and photographs in Mexico, but the backyard iguanas get what she grows there first. Donna Mack: Many decades ago I was awarded a NEA fellowship and shortly after that earned an MFA at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. I then went on to raise a family and run a small import and retail business. I am now retired and pulled out the novel started long ago. It is finished at last and I am looking for an agent. My submission is the prologue to that novel. Linda Martin lives in Homer where boat-building is part of life. Brandon McElroy is the founder and director of Progressive Media Alaska, a video and multi-media production company in Anchorage. He has enjoyed the experience of spearheading several documentary projects in Alaska, especially those that are agents for positive social change such as suicide prevention in Barrow, Alaska, and oral history narratives with indigenous Alaskan elders. Ron McFarland teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Idaho. His most recent books are a critical study of regional memoir, The Rockies in First Person (2008) and The Long Life of Evangeline: A History of the Longfellow Poem in Print, in Adaptation and in Popular Culture (2010). Ron’s fourth full-length volume of poems, Subtle Thieves, is slated for publication in late 2011 by Pecan Grove Press. He is currently completing a biography of Lt. Col. E.J. Steptoe (18151865), and is looking for a publisher. John McKay is an Anchorage poet who has recently finished his MFA in Poetry at UAA. He is a regular contributor to Cirque, and has been published in Crab Creek Review and selected for recognition in F Magazine, Anchorage Daily News and Anchorage Press writing competitions. His work is included in Braided Streams, a new collection of work by Alaska poets, and he has also written several short plays. In his spare time, he is a lawyer, adjunct professor at UAA, and the father of two amazing sons. Kristine McRae is a student in the University of Alaska, Anchorage low-residency MFA program. Originally from Fairbanks, she has lived in Nome since 2000. Anne Millbrooke writes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. As the poem “Teacher” suggests, she is a teacher, a history professor. Patricia Monaghan graduated from West Anchorage High School in 1963 and is now professor of interdisciplinary studies at DePaul University in Chicago, teaching literature and environment, as well as Founding Fellow of the Black Earth Institute, a progressive think-tank connecting environment, spirituality and social justice. She is the author of more than a dozen nonfiction books including two encyclopediae of mythology; she has also published four books of poetry, most recently Homefront, a thematic collection on the influence of war on families. She divides her time between Chicago and Wisconsin, where she has a small organic farm and vineyard. Salmon Poetry will soon publish Mary: A Novel in Verse. John Morgan has published four books of poetry, most recently SpearFishing on the Chatanika: New and Selected Poems. A collection of his essays, Forms of Feeling: Poetry in Our Lives is due out soon from Salmon Poetry.
Vo l . 3 N o . 1 Keith Moul: Cirque recently published one of my poems, which I’ve published widely for more than 40 years. Blue & Yellow Dog Press released my chapbook, The Grammar of Mind, last November. My photos have begun to appear over the past year or so. Mary Mullen is a writer and poet and mother. She was raised in Soldotna, Alaska. Her book of poetry, Zephyr, was published by Salmon Poetry. Sheila Nickerson, Bellingham, Washington, is a former Poet Laureate of Alaska. Her most recent poetry title is a chapbook, Along the Alaska Highway. Her nonfiction titles include Disappearance: A Map, Midnight to the North, and Writers in the Public Library. Anne Carse Nolting has published three novels. Her nonfiction articles appear in periodicals; 2003 and 2005 Holt Language Arts textbooks, and ”Measuring Up To The New Jersey State Standards in English.” She is a previous contributor to Cirque. Joe Nolting lives in Palmer and is currently working on a book of essays about his 30 years teaching in Alaska. His interests include educational reform, wilderness preservation, and public support for the arts. Nicole Stellon O’Donnell lives and writes in Fairbanks. Her first collection of poems, Steam Laundry, is forthcoming from Boreal Books in January 2011. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Women’s Review of Books, Beloit Poetry Journal, and other literary journals. TJ O’Donnell lives in Fairbanks. He spends his time teaching first graders how to read and playing upright bass in bluegrass bands. Doug O’Harra is a writer living in Anchorage. Born and raised in Hawai’i, Pianta teaches and writes in San Diego, California, but she considers the islands her home. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ekphrasis, Terrain.org, Bamboo Ridge Press, Bloodlotus, Istanbul Literary Review, Pyrta Journal and others. She is grateful to Sara, Louie and Micah Turchet for inspiring “Road to Red Deer.” Micah is an emerging self-taught flamenco guitarist, and the Turchets raise Arabians in Caroline, Alberta. Timothy Pilgrim, a Montanan and journalism professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, is a Pacific Northwest poet with over 110 published poems. His work has been accepted by poetry anthologies such as Idaho’s poets: A Centennial Anthology (University of Idaho Press) and journals such as Seattle Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Windfall, Meadowland Review and Cirque. Vivian Faith Prescott is a fifth generation Alaskan living in Sitka and Kodiak, Alaska. Her poetry appears in Drunken Boat, Tidal Echoes, Catapult to Mars, and Yellow Medicine Review. She was recently nominated for Best of the Net. Her website is http://www. vivianfaithprescott.com and she blogs at http://planetalaska.blogspot. com. You can follow her on Twitter @poet_tweet. Laura Read has published poems in a variety of journals, most recently in Rattle, The Mississippi Review, and The Bellingham Review. Her chapbook, The Chewbacca on Hollywood Boulevard Reminds Me of You, was the 2010 winner of the Floating Bridge Chapbook Award, and her collection, Instructions for My Mother’s Funeral, was the 2011 winner of the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and will be published next year by the University of Pittsburgh Press.
91 James Edward Reid is a Canadian editor and writer. He publishes regularly in Vallum: International Poetics, The Sarmatian Review, and The Pacific Rim Review of Books. His work has also appeared in The Dance Current, Off The Shelf, The Globe and Mail Books, and Highgrader Magazine: A Voice From the Northland. His poetry has appeared in Canadian Forum, The Sarmatian Review, and The Guardian. He is now living at his 23rd address in Canada. Brenda Roper spent over 20 years in Alaska before moving to the oldest artist colony on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. She indulges her creative life by crossing borders, painting large, writing small and taking photos to mark her path. Her work is published in Calyx A Journal of Art and Literature by Women and her newest writing practice/blog: www. artistsofelzaguan.blogspot.com. Noah Ross is an activist and sometimes employee of various businesses who holds an MA in Cultural, Social and Political Thought and spends his time in British Columbia between Winlaw and Victoria. Tom Sexton’s latest book is I Think Again of Those Ancient Chinese Poets, University of Alaska Press, 2010. His Bridge Street at Dusk will be released in April of next year by Loom Press. Sexton was Alaska’s poet laureate from 1994 until 2000. Peggy Shumaker serves as the Alaska State Writer Laureate for 2010-2012. Her most recent book of poems is Gnawed Bones. Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. Professor emerita from University of Alaska Fairbanks, Shumaker teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop. She is founding editor of Boreal Books, publishers of fine art and literature from Alaska. She edits the Alaska Literary Series at University of Alaska Press. Beate Sigriddaughter, www.sigriddaughter.com, lives and writes in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Suanne Sikkema lives in Anchorage, Alaska and has a passion for photography. She recently returned from a class in Contemplative Photography which focuses on images that capture the synchronicity of the heart, mind and eye. Patty Somlo grew up in a military family that moved every two years. She now calls Portland, Oregon home. She has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and is the author of From Here to There and Other Stories, http://www.paraguasbooks.com. Frank Soos is the author of two collections of short stories, Early Yet and Unified Field Theory, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and a collection of essays, Bamboo Fly Rod Suite. Most recently, he has collaborated with his wife Margo Klass on Double Moon. These three short pieces are from a new assemblage, The World’s 100 Best Ideas. Ana Maria Spagna lives and writes in Stehekin, Washington, a remote community in the North Cascades accessible only by boat, foot, or float plane. Her books include Potluck: Community on the Edge of Wilderness, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus: A Daughter’s Civil Rights Journey, winner of the 2009 River Teeth literary nonfiction prize, and Now Go Home: Wilderness, Belonging, and the Crosscut Saw, named a Seattle Times Best Book of 2004. Her work has appeared in many journals including Orion, Matter, North American Review, Oregon Quarterly and High Country News, and in anthologies such as Wild Moments, A Mile in Her Boots, and Best Essays NW.
92 Michael Spring is the author of three poetry collections: blue crow (2003), Mudsong (2005), and Root of Lightning (2011). His poems have appeared in numerous publications, including The Atlanta Review, DMQ Review, The Dublin Quarterly, The Midwest Quarterly, NEO, and New Works Review. Michael lives in O’Brien, OR. He is currently a natural builder, a martial art instructor, and a poetry editor for The Pedestal Magazine. 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 North American and U.K. literary journals and anthologies. Leah Stenson is a Board Member of Friends of William Stafford, coordinator and host of the Studios reading series in Portland, and Regional Editor of the upcoming Ooligan Press anthology The Pacific Poetry Project. Her chapbooks include East/West (William Stafford Institute at Lewis and Clark College, 2005) and Heavenly Body (Finishing Line Press, 2011). Teresa Sundmark lives in Homer, Alaska and is an MFA student at University of Alaska Anchorage. Jim Thiele worked as a photographer for a biological text book company for several years, before moving to Alaska in 1974. He has worked for The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the University of Alaska as a biologist, but now is a financial advisor in private practice. His photographs have been seen in several publications, including Alaska Magazine and Alaska Geographic. He lives in Anchorage with his wife Susan. Taking photos forces him to stop and really see the world. Elizabeth L Thompson has been a certified Reiki Practitioner for 11 years and has lived in Alaska for 10 years, currently residing in Big Lake. As far as Elizabeth is concerned, “everything is a poem.” Eugenia Toledo was born in Temuco, Chile, and grew up in the same neighborhood as Pablo Neruda. She came to the U.S. in 1975 to pursue a Ph.D. in Latin American Literature at the University of Washington. She has published eight texts and two manuals for Adult Education (Ministry of Education, OEA, Chile, 1986); a book about the Spanish writer Fray Luis de León (Editorial Cíclope, Santiago, 1986); two books of poetry, Arquitectura de ausencias / Architecture of Absences (Editorial Torremozas, España, 2006); Tiempo de metales y volcanes / Time of Metals and Volcanoes (Editorial 400 Elefantes, Nicaragua, 2007); and a chapbook Leaf of Glass, which won an Artella contest in 2005. A new manuscript of poems, Trazas de mapa / Map Traces, written after her return to Chile with Carolyne Wright in late 2008, won a 2009 grant from 4Culture. Other poems of hers in translation by Carolyne Wright have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Los Angeles Review, New Letters, Palabra, Poetry International, Rio Grande Review, and ZYZZYVA. Pepper Trail lives in Ashland, Oregon, where he is a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His poetry has appeared in Windfall, Atlanta Review, Comstock Review, Open Spaces, Borderlands, Kyoto Journal, and other publications. Karen Tschannen has named Alaska home since 1961. Some of her words have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Ice-Floe, PNW Poets & Artists Calendar(s), and the anthologies North of Eden (Loose Affiliation), The Sky’s Own Light (Minotaur), and Crosscurrents North (Snowy Owl Books). David Wagoner has published 18 books of poems, most recently A Map of the Night (U. of Illinois Press, 2008). Copper Canyon Press will publish his 19th, After the Point of No Return, in 2112. He has
CIRQUE also published ten novels, one of which, The Escape Artist, was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He won the Lilly Prize in 1991, six yearly prizes from Poetry, and the Arthur Rense Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. He was a chancellor the Academy of American Poets for 23 years. He edited Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002, and he is professor emeritus of English at the U. of Washington. He teaches at the low-residency MFA program of the Whidbey Island Writers Workshop. Kameron Walters has lived in Alaska for eight years. He recounts experiences from the times he lived in Spain, Washington, Colorado and Alaska when writing his poetry. He wishes to thank the editors of Cirque for the opportunity to share his poetry. Nancy Woods was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska. She now lives in Portland, Oregon, where she divides her time between working as the editor of a community newspaper and missing Alaska . Her poem “Remembering Harding Lake,” published in Cirque (Vol. 1, No.1), won the Andy Hope Literary Award. www.nancy-woods.com. Paxson Woelber is cooler than a polar bear’s toenails. Tonja Woelber is a member of the collaborative group “Ten Poets.” She has lived in Anchorage for 31 years, enjoying the mountains in all weathers. Her favorite poets are Anna Akhmatova, Sylvia Plath and Tu Fu. Kate Worthington appreciated views of Alaska through a lens for seventeen years. She is now warming up in the southwest but comes north for the inspiration. Carolyne Wright’s nine books and chapbooks of poetry include Seasons of Mangoes and Brainfire (Carnegie Mellon U Press / EWU Books, 2nd edition, 2005), which won the Blue Lynx Prize and American Book Award; A Change of Maps (Lost Horse Press, 2006), finalist for the Idaho Prize and the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, and winner of the 2007 IPPY Bronze Award in Poetry. A Seattle native who studied with Elizabeth Bishop and Richard Hugo, Wright spent a year in Chile on a Fulbright-Hayes Study Grant during the presidency of Salvador Allende. She is completing a memoir about this experience, while serving on the faculty of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts’ Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Program. She returned to Chile in late 2008, giving readings and workshops with Eugenia Toledo, and reconnecting with her Chilean past. Her volume of translations of Chilean poet Jorge Teillier, In Order to Talk with the Dead (U of Texas Press, 1993), won the National Translation Award from the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA). Douglas A. Yates is a writer and photographer. Raised in Idaho, where the Boise River was a prominent feature of his childhood, Yates spent two years in the US Marine Corps in the late 1960s. An Alaska resident since 1975, Yates has been a legislative aide, a naturalist/guide on the Haul Road, and a photography instructor for Elderhostel. His work has appeared in UTNE, Whole Earth Review, Alaska magazine, and the Christian Science Monitor. In 2012, his images are scheduled to appear at several National Science Foundation conferences. douglasyatesphoto.photoshelter.com. Changming Yuan, (co-)author of Chansons of a Chinaman (2009) and Three Poets (2011), as well as a 3-time Pushcart nominee who published several monographs before emigrating out of China, currently teaches English in Vancouver and has had poetry appearing in Barrow Street, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Cirque, Cortland Review, Exquisite Corpse, RHINO and nearly 400 other journals/anthologies in 17 countries.
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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 Summer Solstice 2012 Issue.
Issue #6—Summer Solstice 2012 Submission Deadline: March 21, 2012
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 hires 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