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Š 2012 by Mike Burwell and Sandra Kleven, Editor Cover Photo: Brenda Roper 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: cirquejournal@yahoo.com


CIRQUE A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Volume 3 No. 2

Summer Solstice 2012

Anchorage, Alaska


From the Editors Many of you may have already heard about the major changes at Cirque in an email sent out earlier to past Cirque contributors and supporters. The two biggest changes being the gradual shift in editorship to Sandra Kleven, past contributor to the journal and an energized promoter of the writing arts in Anchorage, Alaska. The second big change is our decision to discontinue giving hard copies to contributors. In addition, it is time to announce the winner of our second annual Andy Hope Award. A New Editor: Between Issue #5 (Winter Solstice December 2011) and Issue #6 (Summer Solstice June 2012) many changes have come down in the house of Cirque. Editor Mike Burwell has moved out of the Pacific Rim to Santa Fe. With the move, he has decided to gradually step away from Cirque in order to put more time into his own poetry. Anchorage poet, artist & essayist Sandra Kleven has stepped up to take the reins of Cirque, and for the next few issues, the editing of Cirque will be a collaborative Kleven/Burwell effort. Sandra Kleven is interested in building a reading staff, so if you are interested in screening submissions for poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, plays or doing book reviews and writer interviews contact her at cirquejournal@yahoo.com. And speaking of reading staff, we need to extend a big thank you to Vivian Faith Prescott for her indispensable help in reading submissions for this issue. No More Hard Copies: Another significant change is our decision to discontinue giving hard copies as payment to those published in Cirque’s pages. This change will begin with the next issue—Issue #7 Winter Solstice 2012. Providing hard copies to authors doubles the cost of each issue of Cirque and we hope this will not deter writers from submitting their work. Current and past issues will continue to be viewable full-text online and free on Cirque’s website at www. cirquejournal.com and for sale print-on-demand at MagCloud at http://www.magcloud.com/ browse/magazine/54110. What this means is that your work is forever viewable on line and for sale in hard copy in perpetuity. You never go out of print! This change will go a long way to further guarantee Cirque’s long life. Andy Hope Award Winner: The award is given to a Cirque contributor whose writing in the past two issues stands out in some significant way. The editors are proud to give the second annual Andy Hope Award to Gretchen Brinck for her outstanding nonfiction contributions to the last two issues of Cirque. Her hard hitting essays are a poignant testament to the problems, complexity, and pathos of Alaska village life, told in a style that is direct and engaging. Congratulation Gretchen! Also, don’t forget the deadline for Issue #7—September 21, 2012 for the Winter Solstice Issue. And keep those high quality submissions coming!

Mike Burwell and Sandra Kleven, Editors Anchorage, Alaska Summer Solstice 2012


CIRQUE

A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim Vol. 3 No. 2

Summer Solstice 2012

Contents

Non-Fiction

Erica Watson Wendy Uzzell Stefon Mears Richard Mack Monica Devine Janet Buttenwieser Gretchen Brinck

Poetry

Alexandra Appel Michael Aspros Christianne Balk John Barton Maureen Donatelli Melina Draper Susi Gregg Fowler Alisa Gordaneer Ela Harrison Gordon Shane Harms Jacqueline Haskins Hannah Hudson Max Hjortsberg Susheila Khera J.I. Kleinberg Sandra Kleven Emily Kurn Simon Langham Charles Leggett Dan MacIsaac David McElroy

End Words Waiting for Me to Follow Engineering Coincidence Searching for Thoreau (Misdemeanor Beachcombing) Water Mask Ke Garne The Fox Boy

7 8 12 14 16 18 22

#59 from The Anchorage City Poems, July 2011 Back Country Tea Like Water Mist The Seven Deadly Sins Window Tongue to Tongue Like an Amaryllis Solstice: Summer Solstice: Winter Equinox: Spring Equinox: Fall A Book’s Two Halves Songs South of the Border Iron John Unemployed Wind Bones “If you are squeamish, don’t prod the beach rubble” Birds Evidently Are You Safe? Bones For Richard Who Knows Everything The Places You Drove Me August and Beyond All-Ages Latin Music at the Famous Spiegeltent Spirit Bear In Your Child Soldier Dream Take an Orange in Case You Get Lost Videographer

27 27 28 28 29 30 30 30 31 31 31 31 32 33 34 34 35 35 36 37 37 38 39 40 40 41 41 42


Suzanne Miles Anne Millbrooke Sharon Lask Munson Nicole Stellon O’Donnell Tim Pilgrim Matthew Campbell Roberts Steve Rubinstein Caitlin Scarano Tom Sexton B.L. Shappell Leslea Smith David Stallings Carey Taylor David Wagoner Kameron Walters Paul Winkel Allen Qing Yuan Changming Yuan

Fiction

Jean Anderson Polly Buckingham Lucian Childs Andrea Garland Michael Strelow

Interview

Sandra Kleven

Field Note The Green Man in Winter Creation Day Going Home Chilkoot Trail 300 streams of memory Painting the soul The Coast Storm at Dash Point Farmhouse Circling Sun To the Gatekeeper Sunday Morning Near Anchorage The Art of Howling Terra Incognita The Icon in My Room Showdown Pangaea Lost The Algol Paradox The Chairman The Finish Line Sod Huts The Old Ways Occupied Land China-Charm: For George Lai Yuan Eternal Expansion

42 43 43 44 44 50 50 51 51 52 52 53 53 53 54 54 55 55 56 58 58 59 59 60 60 61

Bird’s Milk Chapter Nine: Haunting The Errand Passing Cape Caution A Little Lower Layer

62 66 70 74 80

The Wilder Parts of Nature: An Interview with Mike Burwell

84

Contributors Submit to Cirque

Photo: Mark Stadsklev

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Vo l . 3 N o . 2

NONFICTION Erica Watson

End Words

I once wrote a sestina once about a person I never knew, an important character in the past life of someone who was important to me. Certain qualities in the telling were almost mythological, and they bore repeating: her soft-spoken expert knowledge of birds, her long blond hair and a haunted look in her eyes that drew people— men, women, gold miners, tourists—to her, and the fact that “the last ‘anyone’ knew,” she’d run away to live in a hole in the ground near the Arctic Circle with a militant secessionist miner. “Do you want to go find her? Can we go visit?” I teased once, near a turn-off on the Dalton Highway where it might have been an option. “No, I don’t, and we can’t,” was the decisive answer from my then-lover, whose heart she had perhaps irreparably broken when she’d left fifteen years before. Her ghost joined us in the car. When my undergraduate poetry workshop discussed my clumsy sestina, a hippie girl I often sat with in class leaned over and whispered “I lived in a hole once.” “Yeah? How was it?” I imagined the Kantishna mining district in the final years of its transition from pioneer outpost to tourist destination, and the seemingly plausible alternatives that might have been offered to an impressionable twenty-something Minnesotan blond.

this woman who for me lived only in stories. “It’s sad. They’re living in pure squalor, in this shack, and it gets cold there…two kids, she can’t afford to feed them, and Emmett’s so anti-government he won’t even let her get food stamps. Martha drops them food sometimes, but God, her eyes were sunken in, and so skinny…she was trying to homeschool the kids, but what they need is to get out. This is not the romantic dream of bush Alaska, it’s just tragic, and man, is he a creepy, creepy guy…” In the poem, she named birds for eternity, and returned to the hole at night at peace with her life, narrated in neatly organized repetitive and wholly unmemorable stanzas. I pictured her as the beautiful, lost girl my exlover met in college and convinced to come with him to Alaska. But in that moment this personal myth became a very real woman starving to death in the woods with two kids and an abusive man. The hole and all its figurative appeal collapsed, and in its place stood a poorly built wooden shack, surrounded by the usual snow-covered detritus of rural Alaskan living. I hoped she still saw the birds. My friend and I fell into silence. As the sun dropped again below the horizon, I began to rethink this stranger’s story, the kind of story that never really ends unless we stop talking.

I knew even less of this girl sitting next to me. Her poetry, like all of ours, was overpopulated with the wrong men, whiskey, and metaphors comprised of stray cats and rain. I pictured her in a dug-out pit in a Tucson backyard, strewn with cactus, cinderblocks, and cracked sun-baked lawn chairs. “It was amazing,” she said, and looked at me like I was supposed to understand something. I nodded. She turned back to the copy of my poem on her desk. Years later, it was seventeen below and the noon sun barely cleared the snow-laden spruce lining the road. I was driving out of Fairbanks with an older friend, and the ghost appeared again. “So you knew her too?” I asked. “Yeah, I haven’t seen her for two or three years, but when we worked out in Kantishna, we were close, before she took off with Emmett,” my friend said, about

Vic Cavalli


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CIRQUE desperation. This story helped me understand my grandpa, and myself. This is how I can tell it to you.

Wendy Uzzell

Waiting for Me to Follow

Cold air fills my lungs as I step on leaves covered with droplets of frozen rain cupped within their curling edges and littered across the forest floor. Frozen in their interrupted descent, held back from melding into earth moisture, they are individual for a time. One, plump and perfectly rounded, is surrounded with tension that keeps it immobile until the air cools it and it becomes hardened. Another is elongated and almost broken free. I wonder if it mourns the lost chance to become a rivulet. # Grandpa Lyman had a stroke one summer when he was in his sixties, before they knew how to minimize the damage. At first it wasn’t so bad. He could sit up in his hospital bed in Seattle, and speak clearly to me. It was decided by my mother that I would have the time to attend to him, to see him daily. The bus deposited me on the outskirts of the hospital parking lot. I remember the heat of the summer day and the noise of diesel engines belching as I walked across the barren surface, miserable in my ignorance of how to be a caregiver to one who had never seemed helpless. Because Grandpa’s frame was wiry I could help him sit up on the side of his bed. Then I would tuck a napkin under his chin, cut his meat into small pieces and spoon his meal to him. He had no use of his left arm and limited use of his right, but he could chew and swallow. His horseshoe fringe of white hair glinted in the window’s light and his blue eyes reassured me. I tried not to stare at his left hand as it cupped uselessly in his lap. He was always happy to see my awkward, bony, thirteen year old self and we giggled together the day I fed him gravy like it was soup. We joked about the ever present gelatin side dish, and I helped him drink his coffee. Sugar, no cream. I imagined that he would get better, and be my long striding Grandpa again, believing I could ignore the inevitable that I could not understand. # There are stories that I have heard, of the time Lyman and his small family lived far away in the Aleutian Islands in the 1930’s. They worked hard and were determined, but it was also equal parts hope and

May is when the waves and storms are as easy as they will ever be in the Aleutians. Shaking off the shackles of winter weather Lyman is venturing out from sheltered waters, and seeking opportunity. With practiced moves he eases off the skiff’s throttle as he enters the bay of the island. He is amazed at the tonnage of rock spread across the sweep of beach and tall cliffs rearing upwards further than he can crane his neck to see. Spreading a hundred yards from one side to the other, the sandless beach is filled with boulders, all of a size and offering treacherous footing. Larger slabs intrude randomly, offering their own island of stability. There is no greenery on the shore, not even a tussock of grass. The skiff pushes through the water into the sheltered area. The sky hasn’t changed; it remains the gunmetal gray of threatening rain. He looks up at the boulder beach and a narrow rift promising a path to the interior of the island. It isn’t a valley with gentle slopes. All it can be called is a cut, a steep slice into the cliffs stretching hundreds of feet up, the v-shaped surface covered with rough rock. Seismic quaking has carved out broken bedrock, and the force of rain deluges turned waterfall has pushed them down to litter the base. High above the salty rime of wave splash and barely holding on at the edges, wind gnarled brush begins a tentative possession in the dark volcanic dust and grit. Lyman reaches back and switches off the fuel and steps into the shallows. He winces as the cold water soaks his woolen trousers to the knees. Splashing through the uneven footing he quickly pulls his skiff above the high water mark. He looks around in awe of what nature has provided, both enticement and barrier. # In sixth grade I began to notice the pervading grayness of Seattle, the rain, the concrete of the cityscape. Our house never had a blade of planted grass, only large raised planter boxes filled with tomatoes and flowers. The ground next to the flower boxes was neglected, a scraggly patch of weeds, while the rest of the property was so steep that rugged Scotch Broom was planted and left to run wild. We children were told to go down the paved hillside to a playground, one square block of ball field, swings and clubhouse, and only five large oak trees. It is difficult to move around the city without being on concrete. There were concrete stairs to reach


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Vo l . 3 N o . 2 the street, concrete sidewalks to move down the block, and concrete roadways for the cars to move along. I suppose I should be grateful that the climate encouraged the growth of greenery in yards as it gave some visual relief to the gray vistas. But, all of that beautiful growth was private, not allowed to be touched or played upon, and closely guarded by rightful owners. Trespassing not allowed. I chafed at the sensory deprivation. When our family drove to the waterfront and boarded the ferry for Bainbridge Island I held tight to the rail with the wind blowing hard against me. As the fog horns mourned our passing I shivered and waited for the landing, eager to go to Grandpa’s ten acres of forest and pasture, his fishpond and apple trees. He had a swing in the front yard pines that made my stomach flip as I soared in carnival sized arcs. There were cats that lived under the back porch and berries in the summer. I remember the smell of cedar, the whir of grasshoppers chewing the tall grasses and shouting aloud just to hear myself. # Stretching his back after the rough ride across the strait Lyman turns to see the cliffs and evaluate the ascent. The murmur of wavelets reminds him of the sea behind. He looks for evidence of red fox, narrow trails on the cliffs, or scat on the rocky beach. It is the reason he is here on this island, the reason he has spent hours circling and looking for a way in. He sees the dark pigeon guillemot nesting in the boulder rubble at his feet, while scarcely higher petrels and auks nest in the shallow hollows of talus, easy pickings for a determined predator. Further up are rock burrows, deeper into the cliff and harder to reach. Higher yet are soil tunnels hidden in the sedge grasses and on top are the gull’s flat ground nesting sites, which are the easiest of all for fox to find. He must search until he finds their trails because if there are birds to feed them, then fox would have been set ashore here sometime in the last hundred years. The auks and terns circle in the wind above, screaming at his intrusion. The islands are volcanoes, usually covered by lowering clouds, and he has grown used to this lack of vision, never really knowing what he is committing to when he climbs. The knapsack he carries is filled with hard biscuits and meat wrapped in a cloth. His small canvas canteen isn’t necessary because he can drink from any one of the thousands of waterfalls on the rocky cliffs. He picks up his rifle and slings it over his shoulder, preparing to find places to set trap, to kill the fox and harvest the pelts. He must provide for his family and his job is clear. Lyman hesitates before the climb and thinks of Florence and the children, at home in the tiny trappers

shack on Kanaga Island. Florence will not rest easy until he returns. She doesn’t trust the sea or the storms when he is gone. She will fix the children’s meals and feed the coal into the stove. She will haul water to heat and wash the clothes. The wind will try to blow the small clothes away but she will capture them and weight them down with rocks. She will watch and wait for him. He knows it isn’t fair that she must wait, but this is her burden. He turns and begins the climb. After the first thirty yards, it becomes increasingly difficult. The slope is more vertical. Footing falls away as he attempts to push himself upwards. He grabs at another rock, it comes away and he starts to slide downward. He flattens against the slope, using friction to slow himself. He pushes his body harder into the rocks, arcing his neck back to protect his face and eyes. He becomes still, the blood rushing in his veins fills his hearing more completely than the distant crash of waves or the cries of the gulls. He struggles for composure, fights back the fear, and opens his eyes. He sees a small green plant. It has white flowers, only a quarter of an inch in size. It too is precariously perched among the talus, rooted in a windblown pocket of soil scarcely there. He carefully lifts his hand and places it on another ledge about a foot above the plant. With some care, he lifts his torso away from the surface and begins his ascent again. He adjusts his foot placement to avoid the small plant, it seems fitting that he let it live in the spot it has found refuge. He understands about finding refuge. Lyman keeps climbing the face of the rift for what seems like hours. He eventually reaches an area where he can turn and sit comfortably on a small ledge. Below, he sees the toy sized skiff and Kanaga Volcano across the strait. He hopes he will make it home tonight or tomorrow. After a few minutes he stands and begins his climb again. Soon he will reach the top and see what is there. With a grunt he climbs over the last treacherous rock and faces a fan shaped plateau of sedge grasses and scattered boulders. The sun chooses that moment to peek out of the clouds and illuminate the tall, serrated edge of the crater looming across the furthest side. The reflected flashes of sunlight draws his attention to the strangely polished roots of the toothsome, jagged barrier. It seems to him a primitive fence, designed to keep things out of the ancient caldera, or maybe within. It intrigues him. He makes a decision, forsakes his mission of finding fox, temporarily forgetting his family, pushing away his burdens. He looks across the plateau, confident he will find passage to the crater. His pace is quick and he moves with renewed vigor. The wind refreshes him as it hurls cold gusts into his face and he


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CIRQUE

Vic Cavalli

doesn’t falter as he moves past tumbled boulders strewn eons ago in volcanic fury. Soon he is on the final slope leading to the jagged crater. The rim stands tall against the broken clouds, and glints in the fitful sunbeams. # In my childhood experience, getting well enough to go home from the hospital meant that you were fine. When I was really young, I had my appendix removed and after a week or so I was ready to go back to school and play with friends. I supposed that Grandpa would be getting ready to go back to living on the farm and building churches. I had no idea that he might not ever be that man again, a man who made me comfortable when I was in his world, someone who had the same kinds of interests. A love of the island woods, a natural rapport with animals, and a fast moving stride on city sidewalks made us two of a kind. I overheard conversations, about the value of

farm acreage at Bootlegger Cove on Bainbridge Island. I heard an impossibly large number for the price offered, but I thought Grandpa wouldn’t ever leave the farm. He and I belonged there. Under the guise of being closer to the hospital my step-grandmother sold it and bought a house in a suburb of Seattle where houses had numbers seven digits long and the streets had no names, just numbers. My parents pulled up to their new house, no longer the rustic cottage on ten acres of pasture and pine woods on Bainbridge Island. No cement block dairy building with four milking stalls, filled with cobwebs and dust, forever waiting for the heifers. No rock skipping pond with tiny little fish that would someday be ready to catch. No apple trees filled with fruit so tart it made my teeth tingle. No swing in the front pines to fly through the sky, pushed by Grandpa as high as he could make it go. We were shown the vast living room, the lovely kitchen, and the spacious bathrooms. The beige carpeting was not fir boards mellowed to deep amber gold, the kitchen vinyl was not a linoleum rug. The bathroom was


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Vo l . 3 N o . 2 large enough for a wheelchair. Windows overlooked the yard landscaped with rigid roses, carefully placed rockery and mulch to stop the weeds. No berry bushes were in sight and there were no cats hiding anywhere. Not one tree taller than a roofline was within sight. I asked to see Grandpa and the cats, but he was taking a nap and we couldn’t disturb, the cats were happier on the island. I knew he hated that place, as I did. # Lyman first thinks he will be able to climb the glossy surface easily enough. He places his booted foot on the incline and shifts his weight forward. The surface holds him and he climbs a bit further up. He grabs at an edge and suffers a cut on the palm of his hand. It bleeds slowly, the sting is mild but persistent. He wraps his hand in his lunch rag and reaches a little further up the incline for another hold. He gains some height, but he sees the edges at the very top are razor sharp. He also sees that the wall isn’t thick and he is anxious to be inside. He drops his left shoulder and slides the strap of his rifle down to his elbow, where he catches it with his rag wrapped hand. With a click he opens the rifle and checks to make sure that it isn’t loaded. Reversing the rifle, he strikes the face of the incline with the stock, wincing as he hears chips clattering down. Checking the gun, he is relieved to find the wood intact, and the volcanic razor edge diminishing. He takes another powerful swing and feels the impact of the stone against the stock. He strikes it again and again, until ever larger pieces begin to fall away and an entry opens into the crater. # Looking back at my teen years, I confess to being self-centered and clueless about family obligations. The high school hiking club walked ten miles in on a good trail to the Ross Dam reservoir the weekend that I should have stayed home. We walked through a beautiful fir forest, admiring the abundance of water and the fresh air. Our shaggy crew of teenaged hikers was appalled to see the skeletal remains of the drowned forest awkwardly constricting the small bay where we camped. The bleached trunks and sharp branches made it too dangerous to swim in the area, so we sat smelly and bored around the campfire. The boys teased the girls, who teased them back, and both the dead and living forests were ignored. Later in the evening the whiteness of the dead grove of fir trees glowed hauntingly in the moonlight. But this is not

why I remember it so well. I walked away from the group to the shore of the reservoir, seeking relief from their company. The black skies here were undamaged, the stars a thick carpet filling the sweep of darkness from horizon to horizon. From the city you could not see the stars, and while tales of Orion and Sirius were fascinating, I could not isolate the few among the many. My intent here was to absorb myself into the stars and travel from my earthly place to the heavens. I sat in the dirt and leaned until I lay flat, and I cried. I did not attend Grandpa’s funeral that weekend. I didn’t want to sit in a stuffy room full of strangers, and hear about what a good man he was, and all of the other platitudes offered by ministers for the comfort of the living. I already knew. I wanted to be where the woods and dirt and the sky surrounded both of us. I wanted to be there with him, in that place he told me about, the place where no one had ever been before. # Lyman carefully edges his way through the gap in the sharp edged ridge surrounding the ancient caldera. He drops down a few feet to an inner ledge and then steps down to the bottom. The wind passes over the top of the jagged edges and continues on. Where he stands it is silent and breathless. He looks around at the hard glossy surfaces and gritty, dusty bottom. He walks across and there are no animal tracks to be seen, no other boot soles, and no soft leather clad footprints of the first people. He lies back, and marvels at being in a place that no one else has ever been. # It is nearly eighty years since my Grandpa climbed to that caldera on an island still lost to me. I am no different than he, still seeking through blind stumbling and earnest effort to find my place. I yearn to see frozen droplets of rain within his footprints in that ancient caldera. But the torrential rains of typhoons sweeping up from Japan, the heavy snows that gather their weight in the Gulf of Alaska have probably worn the sharp edges, and the never ending winds have smoothed the gritty soil and rendered it trackless. Maybe the wind still skips over the top of the jagged edges and the rain and the snow follow it upwards, never falling there. If I climbed, and passed through that chipped away opening, would I find his footprints there, waiting for me to follow?


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CIRQUE

Keith Moul

Stefon Mears

shirt or hat while watching the game at home means the difference between winning and losing for their teams playing on the other side of the country. A joking reference to death or illness might make a listener knock on wood to avert the omen. Even a certain promotion, job, or college admission might be spoken of in uncertain terms – or avoided entirely as a topic – to avoid jinxing it. These are referred to as superstitions or “magical thinking.” Everyone “knows” they aren’t true, but people still knock wood, hush the audacious, and wear their special shirts and hats. Just in case. * * *

Engineering Coincidence

Sitting still in a place made for speed, I sigh at the sea of cherry-red brake lights. No radio report warns of this. No one cries at the damage to a car or loved one. No overzealous driver rests his head on the steering wheel while a highway patrolman writes a ticket. We are stopped on the freeway by a fluke, a snarled confluence of rushing and merging. I take a deep breath and speak a name of power, drawn not from the obscure writings of some medieval heretic, but from a book available in most stores: Condensed Chaos, by Phil Hine. I complete the summoning with an act of visualization. I imagine a Doppler sound, rocket-swift, and a sleek orange cat pulling up next to me. He wears stylishly cheap black sunglasses and rides a red skateboard. In my mind I step on the skateboard behind him, relaxed, smiling, and wearing matching sunglasses. We zoom away together. The whole process takes less than five seconds, and a moment later traffic begins to move. Just as we approach freeway speed I see a turn signal. Someone wants into the space ahead of me. I let him in, though it stalls my acceleration. That’s my part of the deal. * * * Humans have an amazing ability to make connections, to see patterns in the world around us. Other animals may have fur, fangs and claws, but we can correlate information and draw conclusions. This is the source of our art, language, science, perhaps all our developments. Sometimes we connect effects to questionable causes. Sports fans may believe that wearing a certain

Alone in my apartment late one night, weary of my dating options, I wonder how I can improve my bleak prospects. I reach for my deck of Tarot cards. I spend a few minutes meditating, letting go of my loneliness and quieting the emotional storm I feel building within. Sedate, I prune the question into shape. I shuffle the cards and focus on one thought: tell me about my love life. I do not ask cards for advice or predictions. I make my own decisions. I practice divination to understand a situation, to show me a view of it I cannot see from my current mindset. I cut the deck into three piles, reassemble them in a different order, and deal out ten cards, face down. I turn them over and see my current conflict played out in graceful images. Nothing surprising, but one strange point – if I am reading them right, the cards indicate that someone special is coming, albeit a few months away. I snort at that idea, but make my notes about the divination before putting away the cards. I forget all about it. Eight years later I run across that journal, and flip through it to see what experiments I had been running. I almost drop the journal when I see that divination. Four months after that night I was living in a different city, attending a party thrown by a new friend. I met my wife at that party. * * * When most people speculate about magic, they speak of the miraculous. They imagine that with a wave of a hand, or a twitch of the nose, they could fill a room with gold, travel across the world in the blink of an eye, or transform a house into a floating palace. What a crock. Real magic is a lot of work, and it bears little


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Vo l . 3 N o . 2 resemblance to the power fantasies of people’s daydreams. Think of it as engineering coincidence. Magic can shift a chance from possible to probable to certain, but the results appear ordinary. Cast one successful spell for a good parking space downtown and it might be luck. If fifteen consecutive attempts open up the best spots for you, well, you might suspect that random chance is not the whole answer. You might look closer at those parking rituals. But that would be a mistake. Magic is in the ritualist, not the ritual. It starts with study. Once this would have meant finding an occult lodge of some sort, such as the Golden Dawn or the Ordo Templi Orientis. Today a wealth of once-oathbound material awaits you online through community projects like the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn. (www.osogd.org) Bookstore shelves teem with complete systems vying for your attention. For me it started in grade school with a library book sale. For two dollars my parents bought me everything I could stuff in a paper grocery bag, including The Black Arts, a history of magic by Richard Cavendish. He wrote without judgment, reporting his research without imposing his views. I came curious and left wondering. I sought answers in everything I could find, from reprints of nineteenth century manuscripts to nineteen seventies self-help styled distillations. Eventually I worked up the courage to try a spell. A single white candle in an empty kitchen during the witching half-hour between my return from school and my brother’s. Shaky hands sprinkled a small circle of salt. Heart pounding a primal rhythm in my ears, I forced a chant through nervous lips. At the apex of the effort I clapped out the candle. My first spell. My first failure. I no longer remember what the goal was that day, but it didn’t come to pass. But like bad experimental results in a science class, I assumed that the flaw was in my technique, not the theory behind it. I had crossed a line in my head, from wondering to acting, from hopeful youth to budding magician. Countless hours of meditation and mental training lay ahead of me, honing focus, visualization and more. No matter the system, at its core it includes an approach to personal development that mandates deep levels of honesty and self-analysis. Magic requires you to stare into Nietzsche’s abyss until what stares back is yourself. * * *

I am standing on the beach in Half Moon Bay. Eyes closed, my breath falls into a familiar pattern as I quiet my mind enough to reach out. A few minutes prior, near the tide pools, waves splashed me several times. It felt mischievous. I observed that my two companions – the woman I was seeing and the man who wanted to steal her – were not being splashed. I wondered if undines, local water sprites, wanted my attention. I push my thoughts across the dry sand to the wet, continuing into the water. My skin tingles as though my still arms stretch for something just out of reach. Before long I sense a presence. It feels like two people on the other side of an empty room, when you know they’re there but you can’t quite say how. You aren’t looking at them, or listening to them, but you are still aware of them. I take no action, enjoying the playful sensation and losing any sense of time. “Stop showing off,” says the would-be poacher, jarring me out of my reverie. I open my eyes, puzzled, to see that the tide has come in. It splits just before reaching my shoes, letting me stay dry though the water line has passed me. I say a quick word of thanks to the undines for their company and their thoughtfulness before returning to my companions. * * * I suspect that everyone has had experiences along these lines, tiny miracles that could easily shroud themselves under the cover of coincidence. Stories they won’t tell until they know you better, perhaps in the midnight hour after a drink or two. Do I have more of them than most people? I might, but whether it’s because I make them happen or because I look for them is open to debate. I don’t dismiss or overanalyze them. I accept them with what Austin Osman Spare called, “non-attachment, non-disinterest.” In the end there is no certainty, only acceptance or denial. Without a special effects budget, no “proof” will ever persuade a skeptic. The gullible will assume responsibility for any fortunate happenstance, despite a lack of effort on their part. Somewhere between the two is the path of magic. Finding it takes an open mind. Walking it teaches the confidence of success and the humility of failure. But other paths teach those lessons too, and an open mind can lead many directions. Magic calls to those who look for answers in the cracks and folds of reality, those who might look at a traffic jam and see a spirit cat riding to the rescue on a skateboard.


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CIRQUE

Richard Mack

Searching for Thoreau (Misdemeanor Beachcombing) I. Standing on the boardwalk at Long Beach watching the sun flatten into the western waters, thinking, perhaps unconsciously, of Thoreau and his hike along Cape Cod, a thought seems to whisper from beneath the boardwalk, “If Henry David can walk the Cape, why can’t you walk the Peninsula?” While it’s true that Cape Cod is a longer walk, Thoreau did it in three tries from 1849 to 1855, so I decide that Long Beach to Oysterville in one fourteen mile overnighter would be equal. Standing on the dusk darkening boardwalk watching the fading light siphon the few remaining beach walkers off the sand and back to town, I picture them heading for clam chowder, a cozy condominium and a gas fireplace. But none of that for me, I decide. As Thoreau said, “Not until we have lost the world, do we find ourselves.” A few years earlier, standing on the boardwalk at Eastham on the Cape Cod National Seashore I promised to devote more of myself and more of my time to Emersonian “nature,” to reconnect to the web and to stretch the tendrils that trail off into “cosmic awareness.” Well, what better time than now to “lose the world and find myself?” With that decided, I head for town and some hot clam chowder. In the Crab Pot Cafe, over chowder, corn bread and coffee, that I make my plan. The eight miles north to Klipsan Beach can be covered by mid-afternoon and after finding a spot in the dunes to sleep, the last six miles to Oysterville will be a breeze. The only worrisome point is the occasional reference in the tourist brochures about, “no camping on the beach.” Questionable reasoning leads me to several questionable conclusions: (1) Technically, I won’t be sleeping “on the beach;” (2) I plan to build no fires; and, (3) I won’t really be camping, only resting and “connecting to the cosmos.” II. Awaking to slender rain and a pressing fog that hangs offshore and overhead, I pack a small “possibles” bag and walk to the beach. Sanderlings scurry in small colonies, chasing each wave toward the sea and then retreating

with each incoming mini-tsunami. Herring gulls and ravens ride the rails of the boardwalk, waiting for the sun maybe, or just hoping for free bread. The coastal scene is a watercolor of gray, as if one is viewing the world in an antique mirror that has lost its silvering and can give only an unreliable impression of reality. Off-shore breakers thunder as if inhabited by Tibetan “wind horses” carrying greetings to the day. It is a good day for a walk. Standing in this wave-washed water world watching the seascape just “exist,” I begin to feel slightly euphoric and a grin of giddiness creeps over me. I know that this overdose of negative ions is common. It is part of the “collective unconscious” and has been felt by explorers, mountain men and women, deep sea divers, lovers and dogs all over the world and through all time. The feeling is too large and deep to define, it can bring tears as easily as giddy grins and, at times, it can bring both simultaneously. After relishing, for a time, mist on skin, the sound of whispering surf, and musky salt/sand smells, I know it is time to move. I choose to leave by the “whale.” The “whale” is a small monument placed along the Discovery Trail that runs from Ilwaco, Washington to Long Beach. The preserved bones of a Gray whale that washed ashore in 2000, a reminder to modern day visitors of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Thoreau mentioned the difficulty of walking in the soft sand away from the water so I choose to hug the edge of the tide and walk on hard sand for the most part. As I walk, I find my gaze drawn to the play of wave on sand. Water’s edge churns in a series of chimerical swirls as each receding wave leaves behind an altered sandscape. Pebbles are rolled to new resting spots, kelp is buried with one wave and then undulates like a medieval banner in the wash of the next surge, salt water runs in tiny rivers and leaves behind new miniature dunes as the outflow returns to the sea. I have seen these same phenomena repeated in much larger scales (the scablands of eastern Washington, the islands of the Columbia, the “erratics” of the Missoula flood) and am, again, reminded of the connectedness and continuity of this earthly environment. Miracles are abundant, visible and repeatable. The wind blows constantly, south to north, and invites frequent rest stops among the dunes where the gale is buffered and quiet prevails. Dunes, by nature, build and unbuild, advance and retreat, migrate and morph. Here, among the Long Beach dunes, I lie back and watch the European and American dune grasses sway above me. These are the grasses that hold the dunes in place and their slender leaves and tan stalks add a note of grace and fluid movement to the foredunes. Scattered among the dunes with less frequency but with a more


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 obvious beauty are the Beach Peas (lathyrus japonicus). Here, in late September, their flowers are an unexpected treat for the eye and they shade from deep violet to a pale cornflower blue. Overhead scudding clouds thrill me, streaming winds soothe me and the quiet embraces me. Joaquin Miller says that silence is God’s poet and Lao Tzu adds that silence is a source of great strength. Both of those statements seem true here in the shelter of dunes and grasses. Of course, silence is relative at the seashore, but the mix of wind and surf lend the perfect background music to push thoughts forward and make them soar. A red and white kite cuts unexpectedly across the leaden sky and breaks the revery. It reminds me that this quiet beach is the home of one of the West Coast’s most famous kite flying contest. Other kites appear and draw me back to the beach. Tan and black dogs chase frisbees and I resume the walk up the coastline. III. In the dream a great river lies frozen, deep snow covering the thick ice. The only relief from the whiteness, the dappled trunks of birch trees, raking scratches against the low, rolling hills. Suddenly, ice appears to shatter into crystal shards and the sharp crack of it can be heard in all directions. Awake, the patter of early morning rain tapping on the plastic tarp covering me sounds suspiciously similar to cracking ice and the stiff cold of pre-dawn might explain the images of snow. I have awakened from a night in the dunes. The cold is real but not penetrating and soon I have coffee heating on my home made Sterno stove. The stove is made from punching holes in the bottom of a coffee can and then inverting it over a flaming can of Sterno. It had served me well the night before to heat my dinner of vegetarian chili and instant coffee. Here, this morning, sitting among the dunes with a thin plastic tarp as a barrier against the persistent rain and my hands wrapped around the warm coffee mug, I watch cormorants brave the weather to pursue their ever relentless search among the waves, and I feel lucky to be “connected” in some small way to these surroundings. Last night, I had waited to “make camp” until late sunset so that the beach would be empty of visitors and I could find a spot in the dunes undetected by tourists or landowners. The sun had not left the sky in any particularly spectacular fashion, but had simply vanished into the gray ocean. I rolled out my tarp and lighted my Sterno stove in anticipation of a dark night. However, I discovered that the later it became, the more light it became as the lights

15 of Long Beach peninsula reflected back from the low fog. There were few, natural sounds in the night, no birds or animals, only the irregular pulse of the waves that rose and fell in rhythmic patterns. The most surprising sounds were the number of vehicles on the beach throughout the night. From my dune canyon, I could first hear and then see the cars and trucks of night. Their headlights cut small tunnels of light along the sand, illuminating a narrow path that seemed treacherous from my vantage point. I wondered what type of “crazies” would drive these tidal areas at night. Then I realized, had they known I was there, they probably would have wondered what kind of “crazy” was the guy in the dunes with the beard and a can of Sterno. Finally, I had wrapped in my coat and tarp, using my backpack and shoes for pillow, and had drifted off to sleep to “Neptune’s Rhapsody.” Now, in the morning, looking out to sea, beyond the pale roll of breakers, the world seems to end in the rainy mists off shore. It is easy to imagine the misfortune of mariners as storms pushed them too close to shore and the grinding grasp of ever-changing underwater sand bars. In the last one hundred years, there have been more than two thousand vessels run aground along this peninsula and over seven hundred mariners have perished. The clandestine camp I have chosen is near Klipsan Beach. Klipsan is the location of the first U.S. Lifesaving Station on the peninsula. Built in 1891, it housed a crew of oarsmen, a few Dobbins rescue boats and horse drawn carts to race to any reported shipwreck along the shore. Thoreau hiked the beaches of Cape Cod before the famous lifesaving stations were built, but he foresaw the need for them as he opened his book Cape Cod by describing the grisly scene of a shipwreck at Cohasset in October, 1849. Today doesn’t seem like a day for a shipwreck, so hoisting my backpack, I leave the dunes and return to the beach. By 10:00 A.M. the fog has cleared and the clouds have been torn into scattered flags that flow across an increasingly blue sky. Fishing boats are visible off the coast in open water. The walk is nearly finished. I have avoided detection by the beach police, survived instant coffee and now, I am walking in sunshine. I didn’t actually see Henry David Thoreau on my journey, but I know he was here. I swear I could see the divots from his walking stick leading me down the beach. Finally, I reach the access road to Oysterville, the end of the trail. Turning west to face the ocean, I feel that I am standing back to back with Thoreau as he faced east. Looking across the sand, the breakers, the open ocean I admire the play of sunshine on salt spray and join Thoreau in saying, “Here is the spring of springs, the waterfall of waterfalls, a man may stand here and put all of America behind him.”


16

CIRQUE

Monica Devine

Water Mask

The women in my family never cared for cooking. My mother, feeding a family of seven, preferred the simmer and stew of one-pot meals where she measured ingredients in pinches and handfuls. Adhering to the basic recommended food groups, simplicity was key and evolved from a sense of necessity, keeping the troops’ bellies full, rather than a desire to artfully create a fourcourse meal. Years later then, it was only natural my mother take to fresh red salmon caught and harvested in one fell swoop, in a most enthusiastic way. On her last visit to Alaska, we sat dreamy eyed around a campfire on the Copper River, watching a fish wheel make languid sweeps in the sludge-brown current. The wheel’s baskets, waiting to be filled by hefty salmon charging upstream to their spawning grounds, gently scraped the river bottom, producing a comforting sound of tumbling rocks. Squawking gulls circled overhead, waiting for fish to be caught and harvested. We sat on birch stumps roasting marshmallows and talked late into the light-filled night. My mother was a believer in ESP, or extra sensory perception and the value of dreams to hint at future events. Shortly before my grandmother suffered a debilitating stroke, my mother had a dream of lightning striking a power line, producing a ball of fire, and likened it to my grandmother’s spark-filled brain and its accompanying disconnected circuitry. My mother believed in angels and UFO’s and freely talked about death in a light-hearted way, like it was the most natural thing in the world, which it is, but most people uncomfortably shake off the discussion with laughter or by changing the subject. In the middle of our discussion on the value of cremation, a loud thumping sound brought us to our feet. The first red salmon slid into the wheelbox, followed by another, and then a deeper sound, a king salmon followed in quick succession. We jumped up and rushed down the silty bank to retrieve our bounty. “Lazy man’s way to fish,” my mother said, shaking her head in both disgust and delight. Such heady abundance, and all without lifting a finger. But the harvesting was work, and my mother eagerly pitched in. With the sun on our backs at midnight, she helped clean and fillet the fish on a makeshift table at the river’s edge. A slanted board from the tabletop sent guts sliding down into the river where they were instantly

fetched by a flock of gulls, the birds wheeling around our heads. Fresh from fish wheel to campfire, we fried chunks of meat with onions in an oversized iron skillet for a late night dinner. Tired and sated, my mother never tasted fish so good. In my youth, our weekly allotment of fish was served every Friday night, as dictated by our Catholic faith, the one meatless meal per week. My mother fetched battered fish from the freezer, and served it with yellow potatoes and canned peas. Every Sunday we attended Mass, she being a dedicated church-goer in step with my father’s side of the family; but I’d always sensed she’d felt caged and yearned for a deeper connection to a more earthly spiritual god; something deemed holy yet outside of rules and ritual. Maybe I was projecting my nature-led spirituality onto her, or maybe she had, all along, been feeding me with her otherworldly thoughts and desires. She spoke of returning for next year’s fishing season, that is, if she were still around. I knew this meant if she were still alive, although she was not in poor health at age seventy-six. Yet she‘d always had a sixth sense about matters of the heart. I remember one day when I was ten, we were sitting on the front porch admiring my newborn baby sister, the last of five siblings, when my mother, with a faraway look in her eyes said, I wish someday one of my kids would move to Alaska; so I could go there too. Then she sighed, got up from her chair and began collecting 4-o’clock seeds in her cupped apron. She shook each plant with resolve akin to a clearly focused attention that paralleled how she took care of her family…with unwavering commitment and dedication. Other women viewed my mother rather oddly in her old age; she didn’t drive a car and never cared to learn. Instead, she rode her bike to the grocery store and bank, or to visit one of my aunts. Not a fashionable 10speed, but a bike with fat wheels and a basket on the front to carry small groceries. She rode up and down hills, even in winter, and when people would stop and ask if she wanted a ride, my mother would politely decline, assuring them she was just fine. People in the community got to know her this way, recognizing this old lady from “back in time”, riding her bike in all kinds of weather. She detested scarves, never wore a hat, saying she couldn’t stand things on her head, or belts bound around her waist. Too many things hemmed her in, and to me, she was a caged bird, always grasping for some type of freedom. I still remember her hand gesture, a shooing away as she’d say to me, “go…go see the world; experience everything while you can.” Ultimately, that’s exactly what I did. Although the doctors said massive infarction and no chance for recovery, we stroked my mother’s comatose


17

Vo l . 3 N o . 2 body, searching for a meaningful response. We cried and laughed over simple memories--how our lunches were faithfully packed for school each morning, our choir robes ironed, our illnesses swept away with chicken soup and TV privileges for the span of an entire day. We gathered round her, my sister and three brothers. I admired her hair, still remarkably thick and wavy. Her chest rose and fell in quiet bursts of air, then slowed and shortened. As she drew her last breath, we looked up in wonderment to the sound of a Braham’s lullaby playing sweetly over the hospital’s PA system. I searched my brother’s bewildered face, and then we smiled with the realization that this is how the hospital routinely celebrates a birth; just one floor above us a baby was birthed at precisely the same moment of my mother’s last breath. By choice, my mother lived sparsely, holding on to ancient items that were dear to her, things her children crafted decades ago, like wooden hot plates and pillows sewn in home economics class. My mother had our names taped to the bottoms of specific objects she wanted us to have: the organ for my brother, the musician in the family; a women’s bible for my sister; and her “good” dishes, the ones used only on special occasions, for me. She had written her own will, in her elegant handwriting on plain lined paper; she did not want a Catholic Mass (like my father’s funeral). She wanted a simple cremation, with her ashes scattered in the Eagle River, in Alaska, miles and miles away from her home and the cemetery where her kin were buried in Michigan. She wanted to be free. My four siblings and I split up all of her belongings, one by one. We sat on the living room floor of her apartment and as each object was passed around, a story was told or a memory reflected. After the last piece of furniture was hauled away, we scanned the empty rooms and readied to leave. As I shut the door behind me, my sister turned and clutched my arm. “Wait, where’s mother?” she said. “She’s in my purse,” I said innocently. Laughter burst forth like popping balloons. In my purse, my mother was ashes in a box, she was in my purse, and we were laughing. It felt natural and so perfect. Sometimes, for reasons unknown to us, death feels right.

a wider worldview, to that perhaps of indigenous people whereas the world assumes a fixed quantity of energy that flows between all creatures. Every birth engenders a death, and every death brings forth another birth and in this way, the energy of the world remains complete. Nothing is wasted. She once told me she did not expect to meet loved ones in a “heaven” but would simply fold back into the earth, naturally. We scattered her ashes in June near my home, when the Eagle River ran slow and shallow. The rivers source, a glacier fourteen miles from where we stood, emblazoned its reflection on the water’s glassy surface. It is a place where salmon spawn and die, where horsetail and loosestrife thrive as summer weeds. I recited a poem by Jim Harrison (author of “Legends of the Fall” and a native of Michigan):

I’ve decided to make up my mind about nothing, to assume the water mask, to finish my life disguised as a creek, an eddy, joining at night the full sweet flow, to absorb the sky, to swallow the heat and cold, the moon and stars, to swallow myself in a ceaseless flow.

Near the end of last year’s season, the water of the Copper reached its highest level in recent memory. During break-up, the river spread its icy fingers inland and took out the cut bank that housed the fish wheel. The wheel catapulted downriver, wrenched away in the churning silt, along with the old birch stumps circling the fire pit, and the weathered fish table where we filleted salmon into the long bright nights of summer. This year’s wheel, bigger and sturdier than last, stands erect on a new site, hopefully free from unexpected flooding. Like a giant clock the wheel clicks forward with a steady rhythm, waiting to be filled and emptied. As I run cold water over a freshly harvested red, kneading the meat with my thumbs, I think of my mother. “Catching fish the lazy man’s way,” she’d said. I know she would have cooked it simply.

* * * I picked wildflowers, and scouted a sacred spot on the river for her, protected from human activity. Her beliefs in life were not solely attached to religion, but inclusive of

Monica Devine


18

CIRQUE

Janet Buttenwieser

Ke Garne

On the second week of my Nepal trek the fog arrives, a heavy curtain cutting visibility down to twenty feet. We’ve entered higher country by this point, and views of the mountains, we’ve heard, are spectacular. But not for us. We walk vista-less in a bubble of faint light, Mount Everest a distant peak we cannot see. The fog muffles sound, too, so that we cannot hear bleating sheep, laughing children, passing airplanes, the bells of passing pack animals -- yaks and dzopkyos – until we’ve nearly run into them. Nima and I, in contrast, can hear each other quite clearly. A squirrel scrambles across a rhododendron branch immediately to our left. I point. “Lokharke,” Nima says, and I repeat the word, trying to copy his accent. “Squirrel,” I say, and he repeats it, stumbling. “That’s a hard one,” I tell him. He repeats the word two, three, four times. “Hard one, didi,” he says. This language lesson has been going on for days. One morning as the group set off, I took my usual position in the back. A few minutes into the walk, I noticed someone immediately behind me. I turned to see Nima, one of the cooks’ assistants. I stopped, and he stopped. “You go ahead,” I said. “No, didi. I go behind.” Apparently he’d been promoted to assistant guide. While the rest of the crew walked ahead of us, setting up first lunch, then our tents at the end of the day’s hike, Nima and the lead guide bookended the five American women in our trekking group. The Nepali men on the crew call each of us didi, meaning sister. We, in turn, should call them dai, brother. Only I can’t. It feels too strange on my tongue, to address people I barely know as though they were members of my family. Instead I call them by their names, which I learned on the first night at camp. In Sherpa culture, it is common to name children after the days of the week. Our lead guide is Furba, meaning Thursday. Nima means Sunday, and it also means sunny. This seems to fit Nima’s personality, the smile always plastered across his face, the eager tone of his voice as he pronounces words, asks questions about my life in America. I, in turn, want to know all about where I am. I have fallen in love with Nepal, the slow pace of life in the mostly roadless country, the rawness of daily existence at

10,000 feet, the warmth exuded by every Nepali person we meet. One day we trek through Furba’s village and have tea in his mother’s white cement house, blueshuttered like the others around it. The porters climb onto the roof to install the solar panel that Nima carried all the way here, and we all cheer when a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the one-room house lights up. Nima and I have less than fifty words in common, yet somehow we say a lot in the spaces between words. We lack the vocabulary to make small talk, so we skip that stage, and sidestep the usual conversational inhibitions in the process. I’m using my working memory when I speak Nepali, my brain searching for words while outside events attempt to interfere – the scent of burning twigs from kitchen fireplaces, the sound of a child singing as he harvests pumpkins growing on his roof. If my working memory is strong, I can block these other events out and focus on the effort of learning the language. But I don’t want to ignore anything. My senses are heightened, or so it seems to me, to take in the entire buffet of foreign sights, sounds, smells. I don’t know that a year from now, I will return to Nepal to live for half a

Brenda Roper


19

Vo l . 3 N o . 2 year. I think this is my only visit, so I want to hoard each detail like a bar of fine chocolate stored in my freezer and eaten over months, square by square. At the beginning of the trip, I learn the phrase ke garne: what can you do. It’s always said as a question, and is more or less the national motto. The bus gets a flat tire: Ke garne? The fog rolls in for three days, preventing trekkers from flying back to Kathmandu: ke garne? With the aid of my phrasebook, Nima tells me his youngest child died shortly before our trip. He meets my eyes with his own, pausing a beat before recomposing his face. “Ke garne?” he says. Mid-morning, the fog still thick, our group stops at a teahouse for chiya, hot tea mixed with milk and sugar that we drink from short glasses. We sit on a cracked concrete wall, singing the song that Nima taught us yesterday, Pan Kho Pat. We’ve hiked several miles each day, and haven’t showered in over two weeks. Each of the Americans has taken a turn with intestinal discomforts, and the high altitude and hard ground keep us from sleeping soundly most nights. We are punchy, sing extraloud. “Marsyangdi, sa la la laa,” we belt out. Nepalis stream past us on the trail, on their way to Namche Bazaar, a town three days’ walk away that serves as the marketplace for the region. Each person carries a woven basket affixed with a thick strap stretched across the carrier’s forehead. The basket rests on the person’s back, loaded with vegetables, shoes, teapots. Young children carry leaves, older ones firewood, as they build up the thick neck muscles required to transport goods around the countryside. A trio of women walks by, giggling as they pass us. I turn to Furba. “What are we singing?” I ask him. “What does it mean?” He thinks for a minute before answering, looking skyward as he makes a mental translation of the lyrics. “I float down the Marsyangdi River, smoking marijuana leaves and thinking about my darling.” Everyone stops singing. We laugh. I look over at Nima across the trail; he’s helping one of the porters re-tie our duffle bags to the top of his basket. He is nothing like my own brother. But right now he feels like a brother to me, one who would teach me a silly song or scamper across a rickety bridge, then double back to coax me across. I can’t say the word out loud, but I can hear it in my mind. Good one, dai. * * *

Before she took up swearing, my older sister

taught me French. At our grade school, French classes began in seventh grade. When my sister was twelve, I was six. A year before she’d taught me how to read, and now I scoured her French textbook, trying to decipher the phrases underneath the drawings of telephones, tables, dresses, and cars. In French class, students watched a 1950’sera cartoon filmstrip based on the lives of Monsieur et Madame Thibault. Monsieur was an engineer, often at the office while Madame bustled around their kitchen wearing colorful aprons and making elaborate French food. My sister loved to imitate the filmstrip narrator as he described the Thibaults’ apartment building. They lived on the seventh floor. “Au septieme?” my sister would say while she washed the dinner dishes. “C’est haut!” In high school, my sister would enter what my family later referred to as her Angry Period. She argued. She drank. She stayed out late. She got arrested while trying to hitch hike from New York to Boston. And she swore. Not the occasional cursing my mother did, phrases like damn it or shit in a basket coming out of her mouth only if she was lost while driving or couldn’t get the jar of spaghetti sauce open. As a teenager, my sister released strings of profanity. I remember the feeling of the floorboards between our rooms vibrating when she punctuated an argument with my parents by slamming her door and screaming fuck you. First, though, my sister taught me about France: how ambulances and telephones sound different there, and french dogs barked ouah ouah instead of woof woof. Her accent was crude, but at age six I did not notice, and would chime in with her while I cleared the dinner table, our voices in loud unison as we admired the height of the Thibaults’ apartment. C’est haut. * * * Dogs, whether floppy-eared or furry, small and yippy or big and slobbery, frightened my one-yearold son. Why, then, did his brain choose dog as his first spoken word? Did he have a particular dog in mind when that word came tumbling out? Maybe the dog who lived across the street and barked from her fenced front yard all day. Or maybe he had an early vision of the dog he hopes we’ll get someday, and now asks for weekly – a mediumsized, calm one. And preferably black. My pre-schooler’s favorite color is black. Billions of words passed through my son’s brain by way of his ears before he turned one. His brain worked hard to come up with his first word, conceptualizing the idea, then translating the thought into language, then


20 changing linguistic code into motor code before moving his muscles in the final execution to spit out the word. My daughter, in contrast, emitted a first word entirely fitting her personality: Hi. As a one-year-old girl with blue eyes and curly white-blond hair, hi is all the vocabulary you need. Equipped only with hi, you can flirt with a group of middle-aged men, the entire table full, when you sit near them at a restaurant. You can charm the grocery checker, the bank teller, the mail carrier. You can win over your parents’ friends, even the ones who claim they don’t like children. At two-and-a-half and four-and-a-half, Helen and Caleb have gone from their daily acquisition of new words to more complex sentences and concepts. One day in the car, Helen piped up from the back seat. “It’s not a scary owl.” It was ten in the morning, and we were driving in an urban neighborhood. No owl out the window. It took me a few beats to catch up with her. Bambi. The DVD, sent as an Easter present from the grandparents, was the current favorite at our house. Helen was inexplicably afraid of one of the characters, Friend Owl. She laughed during the scene where hunters and dogs charge into the forest, thirsty for Bambi blood and general woodland creature demise. But when the owl came onto the screen, she cowered behind a couch cushion. “That’s Friend Owl,” my husband Matt and I would say reassuringly. “He’s friendly.” Finally, here in the car, she was agreeing with us. Helen is all about exploring emotions, while Caleb is full of Big Questions. Last week featured inquiries about uteruses, and, a few days later, umbilical cords. Then he attended the burial of our next-door neighbor’s cat. When he returned from the service he had more to say about the cat-shaped cookies than the ceremony in the backyard. I put him to bed that evening, turning off his reading lamp before I kissed his forehead. As I opened the door to leave, he sat up. “Mama?” he asked, a placeholder to get me to stay while he gathered his thoughts. “When people die, do they have hair?” My mind leapt to my friend Beth the last time I saw her. Contrasted against the bleach-white pillowcase and lit by a sunbeam angling through the gauze window shade, her hair was an almost blinding shade of copper. The chemo did not take it after all. This felt like a particularly vivid memory, heightened by the emotions surrounding seeing my friend in the final hours of her life. But, I learn later, it’s no more accurate than any other memory I have. My brain’s emotional center, the amygdala, was activated while I sat on the foot of Beth’s bed as her chest rose and fell in a

CIRQUE morphine-induced sleep. My mind could only focus on one thing: Beth is dying. I’m watching her die. Standing in my kids’ darkened bedroom, I wanted to remember the everyday moment that is also extraordinary – my children developing before my eyes. Helen slept face-down at the edge of the bed, a twist of blankets at her feet, her left arm wrapped around her stuffed dog. Caleb in spaceship pajamas, face turned toward me expectantly, would file away my response, a fact to call up later. I am not the only source of his information about the world. But I am the most important one. I need to choose my words carefully. “Yes,” I said to Caleb. “They do.” * * * “Okay,” I say as I pat myself down, making sure I have everything. “Okay. okay.” Beth and I are leaving work, and I do this for her benefit. I’m imitating Peter Falk in his role as narrating grandfather from The Princess Bride, a favorite movie of ours. We’ve memorized much of the film, and try to work lines of dialog into our conversations whenever we can. “Stop rhyming now, I mean it!” Beth says from my office doorway. “Anybody want a peanut?” I say as I turn off my desk lamp, shoulder my pack, and follow her out the door. At the restaurant, as we settle in for drinks, Beth makes her declaration. “Spanish only for the rest of the evening.” I’m sitting in a restaurant with Beth, getting a post-work drink, when she puts down her menu and makes her declaration. “What?” I say. “Really?” “Si.” She smiles. “Que estas tomando?” What are you drinking? In one month, Beth and her boyfriend Kevin will leave for a year-long stay in Ecuador. Beth studied Spanish in college and traveled extensively in Latin America; she’s nearly fluent. I am contemplating a career in social services, and, deciding that I should know Spanish for the job, I’ve enrolled in an evening Spanish class at the University’s extension school. I’m in my second quarter, which means I can understand a lot, but can only speak a little. “Agua,” I answer her question. “Yo tomo agua con gaz.” “Bien,” Beth says. I open my menu, consider an appetizer. I look up and scan the room until I find a clock on the wall behind me. 5:15. This time-check is a reflex, leftover from


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 a household rule my mother imposed when I was young. She served dinner at 6:30 every evening, timing the dicing, frying, boiling, salad tossing perfectly every time. In order to ensure hungry children at dinner, we weren’t allowed to have a snack after 5:00. As an adult, I check the clock without thinking to see if I’m violating the rule. And then I violate it. I turn back to the menu, laughing. “Cual es tan divertido?” Beth asks. What’s so funny? I take a deep breath as I prepare to explain. “Mi madre,” I begin. I search my brain for the words for snack, or cookie, or food. The invisible conveyor belt in my brain drops the word: khanna. No, that’s not Spanish. That’s Nepali. This happens in the classroom often. Even though I lived in Nepal four years ago, even though I also know French, much more closely related to Spanish than Nepali, it’s Nepali that my brain calls up. I try to override the process, switch back to Spanish to tell my story. But I don’t have the words. “Como se dice ingrained habits?” I ask Beth. “Habitos. No se ingrained. Lo siento.” She is teasing me, the perpetual apologizer, for overusing the word sorry in English and Spanish both. “Lo siento,” I say. “That’s my line.” Cells and proteins gather in my brain to create the memory of my mother’s snack rule. Later, cells will team up in Beth’s brain, too, abnormal ones plotting their attack in advance. Years from now, when she awakens after surgery, she’ll understand the nurse speaking Spanish in the hallway better than the one speaking English by her hospital bed. We go on, discussing my Spanish class, her evening at the basketball game with her cousin. My Spanish emerges in a series of stilted, broken phrases, while Beth converses effortlessly. As the sunlight dusks into evening and cars zoom past the restaurant window, we dip triangles of pita into a glass bowl of hummus. Beth drains her beer slowly, steadily, while I sip my club soda. Almost without noticing it, we’ve switched back to English. I ask about the food in Ecuador. Beth is a vegetarian, and I ask if she’ll be expected to eat meat while she’s there. She wrinkles her nose. “Under no circumstances will I eat cui.” “What is cui?” I ask. “Guinea pig.” She lifts her arms up to her chin and bends her hands down in an imitation. “Cui!” she says in a soft squeal. “No como.” She goes on to describe other food she’s more excited about: fresh-squeezed juice, a potato dish called llapingachos. She tells me she plans to eat an entire avocado every day. “For the whole year?” I ask. “Si,” she says. “365 avocadoes. And then I’ll come

21 home.” Years later, as I recall the evening, I will feel frustrated. It wasn’t a profound moment in our friendship, thus I didn’t record the details with care. The scene only stands out now because there weren’t as many of them as there should have been. The curtain fell before we’d said all of our lines. But why do I expect my mind to recall every episode in the same way? Each event makes up a different contour line on the map of my memories. When I strip away the words, the setting, the wheels of our brains as they turn, there is just me, and Beth. We are both going to die, one of us way too soon. I will remember what I remember, and forget more than I want to. Ke garne? “Don’t go,” I say to Beth, mock-distressed. “To Ecuador?” “Yes. What will I do without you?” Beth laughs. “You’ll coordinate some volunteers,” she says, referring to my job. “See some movies.” Matt and I have agreed to store some of Beth and Kevin’s belongings while they are gone. “I’ll watch your TV and eat all of the canned pumpkin.” “And then you’ll come visit,” she says. I turn and look at the clock. Time to leave. Beth is headed to dinner at her aunt’s house. “Off to the ‘burbs,” she says as we pay the bill, slip our arms into coat sleeves. Outside there is still faint light in the sky, the indigo watercolor bleeding at the edges of the horizon. Rain moistens my cheeks as we linger by my car in the parking lot, still talking. “Okay,” Beth says finally. “I gotta run.” She walks to her car and gets in as I stand by the door of mine, fishing in my backpack for my keys. She backs out of her space and keeps reversing until she’s level with me. She rolls down her window. “Lunch tomorrow?” she says. Unless one of us is out of the office for a meeting, we take our lunch breaks together, trading bites of her leftovers for my sandwiches like middle schoolers. “Of course,” I say. We wave goodbye and she pulls to the edge of the lot. I watch her indicator flash as she waits for a break in the traffic, then turns, merges, and drives away. I stand, my door open, still looking at the space where her car idled just a moment before. Lunch tomorrow? A phrase from The Princess Bride floats into my mind, one the character Westley uses to substitute for I love you when wooing young Buttercup. The traffic and the rain and the night swallow my words as they move from brain to vocal chords and emerge from my mouth. “As you wish.”


22

CIRQUE

Gretchen Brinck

The Fox Boy Some in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta…remember the case of Gabriel Fox. Thirty years ago, Gabriel walked away…Searchers chased the boy on their snow machines but he was too fast for them. As he ran, his feet didn’t touch the ground, Jacobs said, holding one hand about 10 inches above the other. --Liz Ruskin, Anchorage Daily News, 5/15/00

When Gabe Fox disappeared in 1968, I did not hear about the snowmobile chase. Yup’ik Eskimos told me they saw him in the distance and that he was changing into his animal namesake. He lives on in Yup’ik mythology and children’s games -- “Don’t let Gabe Fox get you!” – but I remember him as a real boy. I was the social worker who took him from his home. In October 1968, two weeks after I started my job as Child Welfare Worker in Bethel, Alaska, Judge Nora Guinn summoned me. A Yup’ik Eskimo, she was the first Alaska Native ever appointed to a judgeship. Often she conducted court in Yup’ik, telling white attorneys, “Now you know how they feel when you do everything in English.” The first time I saw her was at a town meeting. All sinew, energy and outrage, the tiny mother of 10 stood on a table and shouted, “These men getting drunk and beating their wives has got to stop!” She was a powerful, righteously raging woman combating insurmountable social ills. Bethel was considered “the frontier,” or “the armpit of Alaska.” Population 2000, it was an overgrown Eskimo village suffering poverty, cultural upheaval and crude legal and social agencies. If Judge Guinn wasn’t winning the battle against these problems, I wondered what could a shy and totally inexperienced child welfare worker like me do? Answering her order to see me, I entered her courtroom, a small auditorium with her desk on the stage. She glared down at me. “You have to take those Fox kids to the Children’s Home. Their mother stays all the time drunk in the bars.”

How did one decide when to remove children from parents? What were the laws? How did a social worker coordinate with courts and police officers? My graduate education had barely touched these subjects, and laws, guidelines and studies about child protection lay years in the future. At least I knew enough to conduct my own evaluation rather than blindly obey Judge Guinn’s demand. “I hate to take kids away unless there’s no other choice,” I said, as if she and the case didn’t terrify me. “I’ll meet with their mother.” Non-Native Child Welfare Workers from the Lower 48 came and went in Bethel. What Judge Guinn thought of them I did not know, but in her position, I would have been skeptical. “Work fast,” she said. “The son is out of control. He went to school so drunk he fell out of his chair.” What was I supposed to say to a young teenager sliding fast into alcoholism? I didn’t know, but I told the Judge, “If the kids do need placement, I want time to prepare them.” One thing graduate school did teach me was that children adapted better to major life changes if given information and some time to adjust. Judge Guinn nodded. “Report back in one week.” Few residents had phones, so I could not call the mother for an appointment. Neither would I drive the Department’s jeep to the house. The unpaved roads were disorganized, deeply grooved and always muddy or frozen. My boss drew me a map so I could walk to the Fox address, helpful since street signs barely existed. Exiting the Welfare Department’s ugly yellow Quonset hut, I crossed the gravel lot to the road, which squished from fresh, cold rain. Ice glinted in shady patches. In this pre-winter season, I wore knee-high boots, stretch pants, a cotton turtleneck and a lined, waterproof jacket, a far cry from the dress and high heels a professional social worker would consider work attire in the Lower 48. After getting lost twice in twenty minutes, I reached the house, a small, unpainted box much like the others scattered along the road. When I knocked, the door cracked open and a boy peered out. “Gabe Fox?” I asked. Welfare records reported benefits and food stamps for the mother plus Gabe, 13, and two girls I will call Jewel, 10, and Bess, 7. Gabe’s narrow face had no peach fuzz. His short, lean body had not started its adolescent growth spurt. “I’m Gretchen from Welfare,” I said. “May I speak to your mother?” “She is not here.” His face remained neutral, his


Vo l . 3 N o . 2

tone cautious. “May I visit you and your sisters?” I spoke gently and maintained eye contact, wanting him to perceive me as non-threatening. I very much wanted to win the children’s trust. He stepped back and let me enter the front room. Bare plywood floor. Pale light through grimy windows. No electric lights or oil heat on. Gabe wore a jacket and the two girls watching wide-eyed from a safe distance had traditional long-sleeved, hooded, corduroy dresses trimmed with rick-rack. “I like your kuspuks,” I said, which made them drop their eyes. Gabe wasn’t so shy. “You are a gussock?” Coworkers had told me that this term for white person, which could be descriptive or insulting, derived from the era of the Cossacks. His smirk told me he was being rude, but I let it pass. “Yes, I’m a gussock. You are Eskimo?” He smiled at my effort to pronounce it as locals did, Es-kee-mo. “I show you my house,” he said. Of course he thought I would snoop around. I had read the notes of my long-ago predecessor who had done so, but I wanted to be therapeutic and helpful, not bossy and intrusive. Still, I followed him to a narrow kitchen. A nearly empty Wonder Bread package lay on the counter. Most women in town, both Native and white, baked their own bread, and

23 Fry Bread with dry fish was the staple of the Native diet. It seemed these children bought Wonder Bread because their mother wasn’t preparing their meals. “You do the shopping?” I asked Gabe. He looked away. “My mother.” The first lie, I suspected. I glanced around. Other homes I had visited were cluttered with boots, parkas and pots hanging on walls; grimy armchairs piled with clothes; wood tables sticky with fish oil, jam, Fry Bread; beds used for storage during the day; tools, fishing poles and animal skins Sandra Kleven jammed anywhere they could fit, air smoke-filled from lanterns. I saw little of this homey mess in the Fox house. It felt bare and cold. Gabe led me to a bedroom and sat on the rumpled bed. I perched on the opposite end. The girls watched from the doorway. “Judge Nora Guinn and I are worried,” I said. “Your mother isn’t home to take care of you. Also we’re worried because you got suspended for being drunk.” “Only one time,” he said. “I get sick.” “I wonder where you got the liquor.” He would not say. “I need to talk with your mother and see if she can be home more.” “She come back at night,” he said. Was that lie number two? “Where is she now?” “Work.” For sure, lie number three. Welfare records indicated she was unemployed. “Police told me she gets drunk a lot.” Hard words, gentle tone. “She don’t drink.” Of course he would protect his mother. “If she doesn’t stay home with you kids,” I went on, “Judge Guinn wants you to go to Kwethluk.” This meant the Moravian Children’s Home, which I had visited the week before. Seven miles from Bethel and accessible only by boat or plane, Kwethluk was a tiny village where


24 the German Moravian Church had built an orphanage in the late 1800s in response to “the Great Death” -- illnesses like TB and flu that killed many Native children’s parents. Since the 1950’s it also housed and educated wards of the State. Though the administrators, Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Hinkelman, were too religious for my taste, they acted down to earth and caring with the children. “It is a school?” Gabe asked. “Yes. One where the children live.” Years later I would see documentaries that exposed the cruelty Native American children endured in boarding schools and orphanages, but I knew nothing of that in 1968, and my instincts told me the Hinkelmans were good people. What else could I do anyway? Bethel had precious few foster homes and no Childrens Shelter. Agencies often sent Native children to white foster families in Anchorage, far from their own language and culture -- a practice I considered appalling. At least in Kwethluk, the Fox children would be in an Eskimo village close to home. As Gabe questioned me, the girls inched closer. Bess touched my long hair. “Your eyes are blue,” she whispered. “Yes. And yours are brown and beautiful.” Olive-skinned, black-haired and slender, the Fox children had classic Eskimo features. They were goodlooking, sweet children. I printed a note asking their mother to meet me there the next afternoon. “Please give this to her.” “Yes, Mrs. Greshen,” said Gabe. “You come back?”

CIRQUE “Tomorrow.” Saying it meant I must do it if I expected them to trust me. It pleased me that when I left, they waved as if I were a friend. I had not expected this warmth and suspected it revealed their neediness. The next afternoon, Gabe opened the door and burst into a smile. “You come back!” “Yes.” “Our mother is not home.” “Did she get my note?” Gabe said yes, but was it true? “You come in?” he asked, so I did. Again we sat at opposite ends of the bed. This time Jewel and Bess pressed up against me, warm and small-boned. They would blossom with a little love and care, but would the Children’s Home provide that? When I told them about the Home’s summer gardens and fishing, Gabe challenged me. “Bess and Jewel go. I stay here.” “If Judge Guinn orders you to go, you must obey. You’re too young to be on your own.” Again I left a note he was to give to his mother. I considered searching for her in Bethel’s 2 bars, but my boss and my husband objected. Those places could be violent, and I was young, blonde, middle-class and not streetwise. I went a third time. Still their mother was not home. When I reported that the mother and I never connected, Judge Guinn slapped her desk. “Every day she is drunk in public! Tonight we arrest her. Police will bring the kids to court in the morning. Then they go to Kwethluk.” I hated it but realized their mother was unlikely to change even if I could work with her. In 1968, Bethel had no treatment programs for addictions, and I certainly had no skills in that area. There was one thing I could do, though. “I’m going with them tomorrow.” Judge Guinn looked hard at me. “They’ll be scared,” I explained. A sharp nod. “I’ll tell the trooper to save you a seat.” She gave no clue whether my predecessors had done the same Sandra Kleven


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 or simply sent children away like baggage. When I rushed over to update the kids, Bess opened the door. “Gabe hide,” she said. Inside, I found myself ankle deep in clothes and bedding. The explosion of fabric covered every floor in the house. Muted giggles erupted behind the girls’ hands. “You find Gabe?” Jewel asked, and I realized they were testing me in some way. I played along. “Hm, Gabe is hiding. Where could he be?” Now the girls laughed openly, but surely Gabe was too old for this childish approach. I crossed the front room, pushing clothes with my boots. “No Gabe here.” I checked the kitchen, whose counters were bare this time. I turned in a slow circle. “He must have a really good hiding place.” When I approached a pile of bedding in the closet, the girls snorted with giggles. “I’d better see what’s in here.” I pulled up dank blankets. “HERE’S Gabe!” Curled in a nearly fetal position, he met my eyes solemnly. “I hide and you come find me.” “Yes.” “When I hide, you will find me.” His expression told me this was serious to him. I repeated, “Yes. I will find you. Did you hide because you don’t want to go to Kwethluk?” He shut down and I did not pursue it. I did not pursue it. This sin of omission would pain me the rest of my life. I prepared the children. “Don’t hide when the police come,” I warned. “They’re not arresting you. They’re only giving you a ride to Judge Guinn.” Gabe asked, “You will come with us to Kwethluk?” “Yes. We’ll go in a small airplane.” It felt wrong to leave them alone the night before they lost their home. Yet they had spent many nights unattended. I could not stay with them, and the town offered no other options. I said good-bye, thinking I had done the best I could. But I had failed to prepare them for their mother. In the courtroom, I found them in folding chairs, solemn and still. When Judge Guinn entered, officers brought in the mother. Short and stocky in jail clothing, she was glowering. Probably she was starting alcohol withdrawal as well as facing humiliation in court. Officers guided her into a chair facing the few people in the courtroom. In 1968, the battles to protect the rights of families and Native Americans had barely begun. Parents and children did not have legal representation in such

25 proceedings, nor did the courts require much evidence to justify taking children from parents. My investigation had uncovered neglect but not abuse. I had not searched for relatives who might take the children in, nor had I reviewed the mother’s arrest history or gathered information from neighbors. Judge Guinn questioned a police officer about the mother’s drunk and disorderly conduct. Then she said, “The Child Welfare Worker visited the home four times. Please stand, Mrs. Brinck.” I had not known I would testify. As I fumbled through a description of my visits and the notes I left, the mother half rose, hands gripping the chair arms. “You stupid damn kids!” she shrieked. “Why you let that damn social worker in my house? Now they take you away!” I struggled to hide my shock. The children hung their heads and bit their lips. Their anguish entered me like a chill. Obviously she never saw my notes. Either she never went home or Gabe had been afraid to give them to her. How dare she blame the children for her neglect? Judge Guinn ordered placement in the Children’s Home. The State Trooper stepped forward and I pushed between him and the kids. “I’m going too!” In the cramped six-seat airplane, Gabe avoided my eyes. “Your mother is mad at me and the Judge, not you,” I insisted. “You didn’t do anything wrong. She’s upset because you’re going away.” Then I broke my rule against criticizing a parent to a child. “It’s not your fault she goes away and drinks.” “That is Bethel down there?” asked Jewel. This was their first plane ride, after all; I shut up and let them enjoy it. We pointed to tundra that stretched to the end of the world. Then a few shacks appeared below us, the Children’s Home looming in trees and high grass behind them. On the landing strip, a narrow, short gash in the ground outside town, the Hinklemans greeted us. I made introductions. Mrs. Hinkelman put an arm around each girl. “We’ll go in now and give you your baths and cut off your hair.” “Cut off their hair?” “Yes, we need to do that.” “Oh, girls, I’m so sorry! I didn’t know!” The handover happened too fast. I wanted to go inside, see their beds and tell the Hinkelmans how the mother berated the children in court. I stepped forward, but the Trooper said, “The plane’s waiting. Let’s go.” Gabe


26

CIRQUE

Sandra Kleven

and Mr. Hinkelman were already entering the building. I called, “Gabe! Good-bye!” Did he look back and wave? I can’t remember. By the next week, ice sheets were spreading across the surface of the Kuskokwim River, which in time would freeze deep enough to support snowmobiles, trucks and mail planes, though far below the current would still flow. Shortly after freeze-up began, the State Trooper stormed into the Welfare Department and shouted, “Gabe Fox disappeared!” If he was wandering on the tundra in the freezing cold, his life was in immediate danger. I jumped up. “I have to get to Kwethluk right now!” “No room,” said the Trooper. “I’m filling my plane with searchers.” I turned to my boss Greg, but he refused to give me a travel voucher. “There’s nothing you can do. The National Guard is coming.” “Gabe expects me to look for him!” As clearly as on a movie screen, I saw him hiding and watching the searchers. Did he want me to find him, or fear that I would? My boss said, “You’re too emotionally involved.” “What?” What difference did my affection for Gabe make? Unless someone found him, he would freeze to death. I repeated softly, “He thinks I’m coming. I need to be there.” Greg and the Trooper turned their backs. Could I hire a charter plane on my own dime? There wasn’t much money in my account. Also, with the National Guard and State Troopers swarming over Kwethluk, I would have no place to stay if weather trapped

me. Nor could I risk losing my job in a town with no other social work positions. Gabe expected me, but I saw no way to get to him. For the next seven days, I heard reports of the searches. State Troopers and National Guardsmen walked the tundra and flew above it, over and over, until blizzards stopped them. “He can’t still be alive,” the Trooper told me. Some locals blamed the new gussock social worker for taking Gabe away. They believed he ran away from the Home to avoid punishment. No wonder they thought that, since many of them had been abused in government boarding schools. Yet nothing seriously negative about the Children’s Home has ever surfaced; many of its former residents express fond memories of it. Peter, an Eskimo welfare worker who grew up in a village, told me, “Gabe is town Eskimo. He want to come home but he don’t know the tundra. So he walk the river, but he can’t read the ice. It break. River take him far away.” Officials believed this too, because no one ever found Gabe’s body. He was probably dead before I knew he was missing. I see him approaching the partially frozen river in his boots and scruffy jacket. Does he think his gussock social worker is about to find him? I doubt it. I believe that until the ice broke beneath his feet, he was trying to reunite with his mother. All winter, villagers reported fish and meat stolen from their caches and that they saw a wild child, part boy, part fox, in the distance. “He is turning into the animal he came from.” In Yup’ik Eskimo spiritual and mythological beliefs, a person lost on the tundra may fall into a state called “cillem quellra,” meaning roughly, “made cold by the universe.” Frightened and unable to feel cold, the person may become light enough to walk above the trees. A Yup’ik Native, Apanguluk Kairaiuak, interviewed one hundred elders about this and explained the traditional belief that each person is created by animal, bird and fish spirits. A crisis can drive him back to the non-human phase of his existence. Poems about Gabe filled the Spring 1969 Bethel High School literary magazine. One remains forever paraphrased in my memory: I see the boy far away. A salmon is in his teeth. Hair grows from his long ears.


27

Vo l . 3 N o . 2

POETRY Alexandra Appel

#59 from The Anchorage City Poems, July 2011

in the long daylate of summer in the 49th parallel on Chess street a neighbor I hardly know, her slow death lures a constant stream a pale sound, family saying their last; I am a stranger to death myself, to family the magpies chatter the squirrels bitch, my dog with incredible dog knowing does not bark does not bark at the strangers who come or bark at shadows cast by quaking trees In the presence of this other stranger the one I hardly know, and know enough to feel the passing, diminished in to the rapid decent of evening, the song a pale sound, my dog barks. Michael Kleven

Michael Aspros

Back Country Tea

The silence of Waldo Lake numbs my ears. My cheeks are like river rocks in the Cold backdrop of night.

Dan Holiday

These mountains point to stars, and deliver A clear river, which I drink Worn rocks and pine trees, Steeped in my cup like tea.


28

CIRQUE

Christianne Balk

Like Water

I take in the unexpected sweetness of the dusk, the way wood sings before the hatchet’s silver edge splits the heart knot, pieces of the core letting go, falling away from one another, rippling like water streaming from mottled rock, rinsing the stained stone tablets of the earth.

Kate Worthington

Mist

streaks the lake like a tossed-off silk sleep shirt dropped in shreds by an unseen giant’s hand the coots’ white mustaches gleam, small headlights swiveling towards the early morning shore strong legs outstretched, ducks land not far from where we lie together in our patched pup tent the child who cannot yet walk is with friends overnight, safe in their arms for a while not far from where we sleep, leaves bend themselves to fit the faces of stones edged by waves a cormorant flies by, dark belly skimming the swells softly heaving themselves over and over, slashed by lines of bright sunlight too bright to look at. How important it is, Michael Kleven

this single glance of morning we do not want to see. I turn towards your sweet back curving to you the way clouds cover low foothills somewhere east of the sharp shore rocks.


John Barton

The Seven Deadly Sins

Lincoln Kirstein re-hangs self-portraits by Paul Cadmus down a hallway in his Gramercy Park townhouse

Pride

Egg tempera on pressed wood panel 24 x 11.75 inches, 1945

Our skin a tempest-blue balloon Coiffure a coronet of curls Face gin-rouged, wrinkles puffed immune To gilt, mirrored-back truths; youth’s pearls Pasty solitaires weighting down A majestic gaseousness Breasts swelled, corseted by blowzy Peacock plumes, herringboned, peerless. Sloth

Egg tempera on pressed wood panel 24 x 11.75 inches, 1947

Envy

Egg tempera on pressed wood panel 24 x 11.75 inches, 1947

Medusa’s venomous veils enshroud us As warily we traverse salty wastes Without oasis, resenting the haste Loneliness calls for, empathy concussed Blind to the reflections the earth entrusts Silvered clouds overhead with, sallow-faced Bent and shaky on our feet, venting snakes Through anemic skins, thirst’s alkali husks. Avarice

Egg tempera on pressed wood panel 24 x 11.75 inches, 1945

Spidered in cracks, we horde our scattering bones After death, refuse to resurrect, only The fingers articulate, grasping rare stones. Gluttony

“Beware, God sees”—Bosch’s table so adorned At the Prado, in gold leaf above the bed

Of Philip of Spain, Mary’s bloody consort Pious words consummating nothing, their web

A world bursting inside the gut All mouth, the spaghetti we eat Slick intestinal floss we void To re-eat, emptiness a rut Infinity’s sole loop replete Sewing us closed once we implode.

Purblind and enervating, flesh caught forlorn The flies we are: suspended in noisome threads Till sucked to willing shells, self-regard stillborn Pleasures avoided, our pleasures voiding dread.

Anger

Lust Egg tempera on pressed wood panel 24 x 11.75 inches, 1945

Light unrolls prophylaxis down the shaft The body turns us into, longing’s touch Heat lightning to re-sex us: artifacts All orifice, caring annulled, debauched Scorched eyes wandering and unfixed, bereft Our chameleon gaze at one glance louche Unbewitching the next; none circumspect.

Egg tempera on pressed wood panel 24 x 11.75 inches, 1949

Egg tempera on pressed wood panel 24 x 11.75 inches, 1947

Conflagrations of viscera and nerves Each time we crash into unseen plate glass Constraining us, fists carved up once we swerve Against it, shards hanging fire as we bash Through, hurt burning rash because unobserved By self, Armageddon’s inchoate gas Uplifting us, its soporific verve A blood fever none may staunch or bypass.


30

CIRQUE

Maureen Donatelli

Window

Susi Gregg Fowler

Out there, morning spills blue into the all but abandoned except for gulls, shaped after crucifixion, skimming elemental brine reed legged plovers mowing the dusky shore; sweet flesh sweet seed collide. All marvel, all flow.

Like an Amaryllis

My daughter grew that way, stem-like toward the sky. Because she seemed no wider as she grew up and up, a slender stalk, it took the rising line of skirts and trousers to wake me to the change. Then I saw that what I’d thought only germinal already shivered at the edge of opening.

Jennifer Andrulli

Melina Draper

Tongue to Tongue

Undressing the moose down to the damp white bone. On a table, haunch. Ball of knee. Exclamation point of hoof. Open eyes. Recipe for tongue: boil four hours in salt water till the outer layer peels off. Season. Serve. It dissolves at the roof of your mouth. Mineral and dark.

I held my breath so hard it hurt. Can change occur so quickly, so unobserved? One moment she hinted at something tender, possible. The next, she blazed into color, wildly herself. Gaudy. Glorious.

- for Angie


Alisa Gordaneer

Equinox: Spring

Solstice: Summer Because the chickens know today the eggs are plentiful: they have eaten rainbow chard until the sky lights up with evening, have clucked white brown edged curved shells into being. Because we are eating eggs this morning, each yolk like sun. Which has risen and stays aloft behind a kite, balloon, montgolfier: you call these small things miracles, dip your toast and chew.

There’s an art to moving: cats know it, as do girls, with sinew. Soft and supple. Leather, you know, is also skin: you touch it to my cheek. It feels like a lover’s nipple. You sway, breezes sway. Reddened curtains part

Because the forest thrush has told the barn swallow to wake before dawn, to tell the chickens what they need to do: eggs, perfectly oval. The day uncovering itself, a sky so round and blue.

to reveal you (what you say):

Solstice: Winter

Equinox: Fall

Better if you’re not looking backward or forward— from here everything is bright. It’s the first truth you’ve told since summer. Because it’s dark each morning, even the sparrows sleep in. I reach for your hand under the duvet, its sleeping weight a pound of feathers. It’s the warmth I like, your hand curled as though round an egg at dawn, until you rise under bare sky, naked trees waiting for snow. This is the season we’re supposed to feel pity: bird with its head tucked under a wing, the man you give quarters to, your missing cat. Watching you leave, I light a candle. At six a.m.. In this season, I will forgive anything for the sake of light.

You have come to tell me you are moving away.

Too busy to travel into yourself these days, so full of papershuffle, canning pears, drying corn and squirreled moments while the days are still long. You’d think poets, at least, would pause, watch the moon rounding gold a moment, over the Garry oaks. But not even the languid green forest, even the wide glaciated rocks and their moss meadows, not even the cobbled beach or the rustle of waves can draw you out. No time. No time. Until between yellowed leaves and slate sky something red dangles, suspended by spidersilk: maple, in this case, scarlet. No wonder we notice—red hovers above the sidewalk on a rained-out morning you pay attention, stop the car, hold the children still for just long enough. remember that metaphors hang in the balance. What’s left is left and nothing is more. Equinox, evening, day and night.

Kimberly Davis

That’s when you walk more slowly— between, and despite.


32

CIRQUE

Michael Kleven

Ela Harrison Gordon

A Book’s Two Halves

In sleep, we part company from each other, from ourselves. Clothed in a single comforter, we fly our dreams like kites, each anchored to the umbilicus of separate inner lives. Although we lie back to back, facing out with unseeing eyes, when we alight, simultaneously, to morning, we turn in, face to face, chest to chest, closing the book of the night; we part, still joined, one volume.


33

Vo l . 3 N o . 2

Shane Harms

Songs South of the Border

Near the border, Washington and Canada

Like nullified bear teeth And boulders gleaned by mountain spates.

There are fences of water: A sound rills and fords.

Songs flow into glacial lakes Concentrated like viscous andante diamonds

Look through this device, Do you see God again and again?

Where too, drift wood Of sunken cabins and galleons run adrift

Lay it at the door on the porch The porch our grandfather nailed together

The sodden stanchions and keelsons marked and weathered Smooth by stone and ice

Listen from the grass A loon’s hymn out past the rocks and trees

Where a mountain’s cold cello din can be heard Droning velvet in calyx cacophonies

Moving like shoals of salvelinus Across plains of gliding molasses seas. Loon dive as a song of rings: Border crossers. Do you know where a song resides? Where a long and heavy consanguineous cadence nests? Maybe songs keep singing Past the birch’s curl,

Where arctic Moons thaw, churn, and sift Pouring into astral pools Where sun-milk shimmers and cools In mason jars set out For a grandfather and child eating salami sandwiches: In the afternoon heat Pounders of nail and huckleberry hoarders, Framing a small cabin south of the border.

Hanging at the tops of pines like lichen laving An old foam, fertilizing stars. Perhaps wolves swallow the notes whole And report to the moon the tune they already know Or hooves of heavy moose trample songs Into mud of swamp beds. Maybe songs leech into The floorboards of the cabin The floorboards our grandfather laid and measured Long Doug Fir planks built up to dissipate, Trodden and worn down by sand covered bare feet

Michael Kleven


34

CIRQUE

Iron John Unemployed

In morning after she has taken her white tea In a thermos and left a bowl and spoon in the sink, With make-up sodden cheeks and heels tapping wood floors, She leaves for class, and he emerges from the room like a bat lost in sunlight. His morning erection has faded and his mother has called. He traces a trodden deer track to a room with a computer To check a digital mail account that does not seem to collect Digital mail from digital people. By the emerald buds pushed out from the laurel tree There is evidence of an early spring but he makes head way in winter, Shoveling the heavy heaps of snow in layers, until he finds the path To the house, hidden like an un-rung bell. If he had existed then, could he have taken scalps From the apex of federal men? Or taken up rotten treatise? He does not know these things during the day But in a dream he is there in the buffalo grass waiting.

Jacqueline Haskins

Wind Bones

One February the wind wove her backbone eight miles long. She tore off, tossed aside, roofs, howling sand flaying nightmare. Eight miles of flex whip-cracked grass, tree limbs, people, prostrate, our heads pointing east. Only the ignorant, children, burst out, danced inside her, laughing as she scorched faces with shark and steel wool. My son, arms outstretched, leaned crowing into her wormy flour in a meager fist, blackout, razor wire, orchid, hillsides flaming, the glint off glass, off blade, off neglect. Come eat, I shrieked. He tumbled in, drenched. Rain machine-gunned our window. We had, then, a glass window. Mama, he called out, look, the window bends.

Michael Kleven

Even on such a night, survival prayer and prayer simply please, a child grows sleepy. I wrapped him in a whispered song that could only curve within the rib cage of the broken orchestra bending our sky, of wind bones virgin-bare as a turtle skull tossed up by surf. Small crabs, scrabbling sideways, claws tapping like white canes, find crevices, and shelter there.


35

Vo l . 3 N o . 2

Hannah Hudson

“If you are squeamish, don’t prod the beach rubble”

--Sappho

If you are squeamish, don’t prod the beach rubble. Don’t explore the dark crevasses that lie in wait for a soft heart. Seaweed strewn across the rocks embedded into an organic rot. Michael Kleven

If you are squeamish, don’t prod the beach rubble. No, let the waves sooth over the drift, washing the footprints clean.

Max Hjortsberg

Birds Evidently

Eighty-three sand hills standing in a wetland preparing to fly south to the North Platte. Outside the kitchen a catbird hops from limb to limb in a lilac tree eyeing the world with care, its name a wonderful contradiction like the dogfish.

Brenda Roper

The passing freight trains sound their air horns, long and short blasts fading across the river bottom in the still of the early morning night.


36

CIRQUE

Susheila Khera

Are You Safe?

Hopes the mother for the son And the son for his mother. Rows of earthenware vases, planters, flower urns baked dun, ochre, pink, stacked on palettes, the handmade exports of recovery.

An orange ball shines through layers of haze. Leaving home, I’m at the beach in ten minutes watching the sun sink into the Pacific.

In practiced strokes I brush on the slip that fires to a dusty coat. Evening light glows blood red through the muggy city air.

I’ve been here since I was five, eating meat and corn, drinking milk every day. At dusk I look across the blackening sea from where I came.

Each finished vase that I take from the kiln has my handprint on its round shoulder, a small greeting that I send you from afar.

Brenda Roper

At night, while waves beat the shore, retreat as crackling foam, I breathe the scent of kelp and salt. When I go back to look for you, I’ll repeat my name (not Tom, but Tha’ng) asking, Are you my mother? Did you save me as the city fell? Until I find you. Shipping containers filled with decorative clay garden pots cross the ocean to America. Maybe one day you will come and find me.


Vo l . 3 N o . 2

37

J.I. Kleinberg

Bones

Kate Worthington

Teach me to fly these wings of bone These ribs a stringless harp song of tidal memory Their weightless feet the gnawing of time’s teeth No heated pulse, no marrow, only this hardening silence. These wounded symmetries of shadow Dive into the indigo forgetting Ancient aching wrist, gouged rib, tidal knot Digits curled toward Bering shore, fluke, no fluke. And does cartilage remember the wide curve of desire Frozen in a receding glacier of truth? Breach, all weight, all weightless, through this viscous blue. The dream’s gallop: hooves mired in wet sand, remembered fragrance of sunheated hay, long bones stretching toward flight. Spread this fan of wings, loose this frozen memory, Break the rules: sing me the sandpiper’s song.

Sandra Kleven

For Richard Who Knows Everything One day you’ll look at me and think, “She’s getting old,” but you won’t say it. You’ll see lines around a grin that frowns, eyes lost in fleshy veils, creped throat, long chin. But you’ll say, “You are beautiful.” and I’ll believe you.

Michael Kleven


38

CIRQUE

Emily Kurn

The Places You Drove Me

You drove me places, this I remember. To school on mornings so thick with fog, the world outside our blue Toyota could have looked like anything. Your two hands were fixed to the wheel as you drove me to ballet, to soccer, to the places I needed to go. The orthodontist, of all placesthe stubborn wire- the torn mouth I remember bleeding into Kleenex as you drove me, your face blurred by a winter fog I could not clear and so I swallowed the blood for you, smiled from the back seat of the Toyota. After the wreck, the steaming blue Toyota belly up like a burnt beetle, you drove me places in the new white Toyota, and still I smiled at you from the backseat, my rutted cheeks remembering what was once smooth, my tongue asleep in the fog of my swollen mouth, and you- you drove me: to piano lessons, to synagogue you drove, and I studied Torah- you in the white Toyota, me in the square rooms musty and fogged with the dust of old books that told of places past- of Russia, Egypt. Of Auschwitz. Remember, the Rabbi told us. My hope for you is that you always remember. And so, above all else, I tried to commit you to memory. I watched you. I watched you drive me some place else I cannot remember and then I watched out the window of the white Toyota at the afternoon’s endless procession of places vanishing behind us in the advancing fog. Later, on our way home, so thick was the fog that the world disappeared no matter where you turned, as if it wasn’t there, as if all the places we had been that day- ballet, synagogue- had been driven out of our memories. It was you and the Toyota and me in the back seat, hoping one day I’d remember

Kimberly Davis

more than the places you drove me, more than you at the wheel of the Toyota. But fog has the power to consume everything we want to remember.


39

Vo l . 3 N o . 2

Simon Langham

August and Beyond

Deep into August, its weather, I work as each day assures a greater loneliness, sleeplessness conjures morning long in coming, these waning days of summer still demand attention. (Is there some ritual I should be performing?) What can I say I look to have happen, pin me down to some direction, I might just stay the winter, maybe I’ll stay. Beyond tattered, this evening clouds tear, rents reveal a deeper layer twisted into coils of angry blues and grays, wind moving this mass past the bluff, everything in motion grass and fireweed whipping an autumn cream spruce boughs nodding, the way they respond bay below in tidal heave, wide beaches appear from a strand of shore. (Isn’t this my kind of drama?) Natural, unbeakoned, unpredictable, clouds close with the earlier darkness, the last flowers of summer shiver but stand ground, a change of season, a change, a bold step towards him. This man, whose intentions I often confused, speaks of an old man’s young man’s dream. (I will come to you, traveled through time with the receding glacier.) Lean as the crust of the planet, when I touch him I touch earth. Floor around the woodstove colored with peony petals, dry as moth wings, but in his passion he handles me, pins my arms forces his chest down onto me so that I must time breathing, (You are a man from a distant age.) Weather in the skylight, with its showy rainbows sky spinning a wheel of clouds, sun, rain, hale, sleet. This morning, what clouds are left tuck behind the mountains, like rumpled covers at the bottom of the bed. I abandon taking this relationship slow, my eyes do not know where to look, bay, rising sun, flames of the fire, pink and white mountains, the man beside, nude sculpture.

The full moon sets below the hillside finally the flood of light, that quicksilver cold light passes, a desperation develops in our passion, a knowing of the shortness of life, time left. (Such open hearts, so raw and barely done with their bleeding.) The blue skies force so the dome can support unseen flocks of southbound birds, suspend the flight of our dreams, drink the ocean moisture to store away for afternoon rain. (Your happiness, the solvent that will unbind my heart from my past.) The hillside smells of fall’s decay breezes keep curled leaves crackling plummet in their dagger shape. A patch of alder next to the canyon not more than six feet wide, he notices the smell of winter from the glacier across the bay blown over by the southeast breeze. (You above me, bluest skies a frame.) Naked gold limbs of cottonwood, falcons pair chase each other in thermals, leaves and moths find home in my hair spread behind me into the trail below the tops of the rosehips and dry stalks of grass. We fall asleep, as lovers, as dreamers, not to have dreams while asleep, but never dreaming of a more perfect place, together, to sleep in our brief time.

Dan Holiday


40

CIRQUE

Charles Leggett

All-Ages Latin Music at the Famous Spiegeltent Colors: through stained glass set in the roof; leaves glimpsed meandering out open upper windows; wood browns, of column, floor and booth; bright primaries of baby carriages. Of all these shades of skin, the darkest is set off by the starched white of its wearer’s pant suit and matching head wrap: the vocalist’s, her lowhanging earrings, oval gold.

Michael Kleven

—Caliente la banda, Adelaide, South Australia, February 2002

Dan MacIsaac

Spirit Bear Ursus americanus kermodei

At the river’s black mouth, the white bear waits for the swimmer. He plunges into shallows and seizes the quick fish. He bolts it back, glisten of silver along cinder lips. A cedar twig cracks and he lunges out for the far shore murky with hemlock. He disappears like froth spattered on dark rock. Brenda Roper


41

Vo l . 3 N o . 2

David McElroy

In Your Child Soldier Dream

You belly past the goat corral and roosting chickens. You’re hungry until the pills kick in. Now you’re brave, braver than men. Your machete or rifle sling might catch in sorghum leaves and rustle the spotted dog awake, but you’re a vet. You take your time. You take care of the dog. If you’re caught and ditch the gun, you’re just a kid.

No moon, moving up wind in dirt, you do as you’re told, do as others do. You fan out. Two by two, hut to hut, you sneak up and wait on the edge of the sleepers’ dreams. Alert but quiet, nothing wild, you know the drill. You wait for the signal. You’re someone they count on. You’re not a difficult child.

Seat cushions get hard, snow squeaks under feet and wheels. High tech parkas crackle like shopping bags. Noon twilight, heavy on the blues, pretty much says it all. It pays to have a past you can use.

The hands you chop and tumble in a plastic sack bring you food in camp, good soldier, and praise. Manioc is warm and comfort on your tongue. You remember yams. Fried plantains are sweet, and relief rice fills. You remember meat. Back meat, thigh meat, even arm and heart, heat your dreams.

Your good money bringing the menu and a tanker out back with a 3 inch hose pumping a liter of house red. Art, language, agriculture. O the pizza, the pasta, the whole grilled fish, and your one and only strolling in with the gift of fire.

Sudden soccer is futbol. You kick the round cane thing the legless goalie throws back. You play, you laugh, you sleep. You scream in dreams you dream of. If school should come, marks on the board are beyond you. Ball is sometimes boy, and leaf is life. When rice is rock, dirt is dog dead in dirt.

Take an Orange in Case You Get Lost

Half throttle for break away power gets you rolling. Tires stiff and flat on the bottom thump for a hundred feet until they round out by the runway for the machines we use to move us along into our dark day’s work.

The ball of the world, for example, rolling under the sun, and the furniture of wind pushed into the corners, rivers running, and all the flyers plus swans coming in with the grace of snow to mate, nest, and feed.

Sandra Kleven


42

CIRQUE

Videographer

“So this is what I do when I’m not around,” And he sends a couple pictures of himself surrounded by computers and a mixing board. We look over one shoulder and then the other seeing only the merest angle of his brow, cheek, and jaw lit by the screens, knowing him mostly by blood, memory working out our full frontal son. The wonders of wide angle dimly reveal balcony seats to each side and the glow of a woman in a bare back gown checking her smart phone, itself a lesser source of light. The stage below repeats and repeats one bright beauty after another on the screens. Like a NASA shuttle launch, the mystery moves for man at the controls, man in the dark. Why these pictures validate his life, or kind of do, he doesn’t know, but we remember him playing in boxes, making shadows, shining a light. Scene dissolving into scene, light line along hip line, the gold glow of a rolling shoulder, sheath spangle and flash, the arms reaching into focus, he loves being the guy in control, guy in the dark. Brenda Roper

Suzanne Miles

Field Note

Rolling smoothly toward the Chugach range, I remember “lift mine eyes,” and understand at least those words… Bare bones of earth and rock soar into an azure sky. Cloudshadows deepen the colors, and a low, rich bell vibrates the road between heart and eye.

Jennifer Andrulli


43

Vo l . 3 N o . 2

The Green Man in Winter --inspired by a photograph in the Anchorage Daily News, March 2011

The Green Man’s jovial summer gaze retreats into a cold white calm. His merry eyes glazed over, he watches street, garden and house with a level stare belied by the curved archaic smile beneath a mustache that flows seamlessly into streaming, snowy hair. His leafy summer crown is stripped--bare black branches jut like Cernunnos’ horns, a thorned halo lacing him to the fence, against the silver sky. Michael Kleven

Anne Millbrooke

Creation Day

October 23rd is Creation Day converted from the Julian a calendar no longer used. In the seventeenth century a Bishop named Ussher literally read the Bible literally counted the begats literally restricted time to Creation Day 4004 B.C. conveniently a Sunday. As Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College (Dublin), he restricted all history to the period since that “first day of the creation and the first motion of time.”

Meanwhile over at Cambridge, John Lightfoot, also a Vice Chancellor, determined the hour of Creation as 9:00 in the morning. He did not say which time zone because there had been no time and no place before 9:00. Ussher’s chronology appeared in The Annals of the World (1658) and later went into Bibles published in the kingdom, the Kingdom of Great Britain that is. Mean Mondays, by the way, began when God forced Adam and Eve from Paradise on November 10, 4004 B.C., a Monday — a mean Monday.

The year 4004 B.C. was long before the Christian epoch in which James Ussher had been born and baptized and before the religious reformation that gave him Calvinist faith. Brenda Roper


44

CIRQUE

Sharon Lask Munson

Nicole Stellon O’Donnell

Going Home

Chilkoot Trail — San Francisco to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Fall 1897

--June 1969

After nodding hello, there is silence. The Air Force plane wings its way into evening — leaving Okinawa for Travis Air Force Base, California. I fuss with the overhead, recline, read. My seatmate sits upright. She gazes out the window. The sky darkens. Dinner is served. I pull foil off baked chicken. She breaks a hard roll. He’s in baggage, she says softly. My husband. Not a casualty of war. Not the Viet Cong. Not an airstrike. A heart attack. She puts down the bread, turns to face me. Collapsed at his desk in late afternoon. I’m taking him back to Arkansas. Family, you know. Elderly parents. We had plans. A little travel. Visit the children. A year from retirement. A boat. He was a fisherman. Largemouth Bass. He was looking forward. It’s the cold you see. He never liked winter. It’s frigid below. Oh, I know, she says. Shakes her head. Can’t bear the thought of him in cargo. Trays are removed. We snap off lights, share the armrest. Her fingers tremble. Her arm against mine, the cold blue-gray light of a winter night. I remain motionless. Her skin warms into mine, her breathing slows. She sleeps.

August 14, Portland Dear Nellie, I have a bad pen; excuse the haste. On the way to the Klondike, waiting is my occupation. Rumors scratch the days and chew the minutes. When we leave depends on when she gets her freight aboard. Her freight is us and our outfits. We are ready to board, yet the weight of our gear holds us up. All day we lift and load: sacks, tools, lumber. Each man I see has the same scowl, the same set jaw. Each man folds his arms, and looks down. One has new boots. Another’s are worn. One shifts his weight and looks away. One has brought a good hat. One wears wool britches without patches. One cracks his knuckles and stares at the water. We shake hands and nod, firm, stone-eyed. We lean over the rail and spit. I know few names, most nicknames, some hometowns. There was rough passage Wednesday afternoon. Some were sick, slumped against the rail, but I was all right, so was John and the dog.


45

Vo l . 3 N o . 2 On Tuesday, I’ll take in more wash, but I will think of you. On the trail you will be the grime that clings to your clothes. At home, I am the quilt suspended, the half second before it falls to the mattress, ripple of patches and labor, floating above the sagging, empty bed. Your wife, Nellie

August 21, Queen Charlotte Sound Dear Nellie,

Brenda Roper

Tell Tommie and Elmer to be good boys. It’s time they learned to do without their father. When they come to work the claim I stake, they’ll have enough of me. Good-bye, Dear Wife, Joe

Dear Joe, This morning I snapped out the quilt over the mattress, and for a second it stayed suspended, borne only by my fingertips and air. If I knew what to say, I’d pull a page and pen from the desk and write. Instead I draw in the wash, sweep this day’s dust from the kitchen, and feed the boys.

Near the Alaska boundary, the fog is so thick we will have to lay here all night. The ship pitched so much this morning that the breakfast table sat empty of patrons. Men clung to the rails. I wavered with them. The mules, stowed below, are in a good place. I hear they may not survive the trail. Barebacked and tethered, they wait without knowing they wait. When this ship stops rocking, men will fold against the rail, weighted with concern: steep ascents, wrecked rafts, dry goods soaked. Even our imaginations are heavy. We will reach Dyea about Saturday. Ready or unready, our walk will begin there. Remember me to the boys.


46

CIRQUE He holds his spoon like you, and when he smiles, I expect your laugh to follow.

Believe love is a blessing. Believe I will write again, Joe

I believe. I do, in the envelope, in the letter passed from hand to hand.

Dear Joe, This morning the fog rolls off the bay and mutes the early light in the window. I can’t find you or write you. Instead with your letter creased in my lap, I consider your boys.

I believe you will send for us. Despite myself, I trust that claim. Yours, Nellie

At fifteen, Tommie is so like my father, and Elmer at thirteen is so like you.

August 23, Fort Wrangell Dear Nellie,

When he ducks his head toward his bowl at breakfast, your eyes peer out from under the blunt cut of his hair.

We reached Wrangell at six this morning. Fog detained us. Now stopped here for fresh water, we rise and breathe as if we belong to this boat. We cut logs, haul them aboard, and stack them to feed the engine before we can move forward. Every passenger has a partner and believes he will be the next to hit pay dirt, that his struggle will bring gain. There are moments I wonder how much gold there can be. There are moments that longing alone propels this boat. We are impatient to reach Dyea, but we’ll have enough of walking later. On the boat, it’s out of the question.

Brenda Roper

I expect to see Juneau this afternoon. I will write from there. God knows when I will get another chance.


47

Vo l . 3 N o . 2 They say thousands are hung up at the pass, but I pay no attention to rumor. We are going through the worst right now, or I fear, the best. All for the present, Joe

Dear Joe, I pay some attention to rumor. I know what the neighbors say, what gets whispered nights on the other side of the thin wall. For every miner, a wife waits. For every wife, a shot glass. For every glass, a bartender. For every bartender, a stool. For every stool, a petticoat, a boot heel, a bare knee. I do pay some attention to rumor. If women gambled like men, clutched cards, stared firm into each other’s hardened eyes, I know what the odds would be on your promises. But women gamble like women, so, eyes closed, I wait for your next letter. Yours, Nellie

August 26, Skagway Dear Nellie, There has been a terrible storm. We worked night and day to get the Skagway freight ashore.

We heaved, dragged, and soaked ourselves in mud, before we even saw our destination. On the rocks at Dyea, men outnumber stones. The beach is piled with outfits, grub, canvas-bagged and stacked, tools teetering atop the mounds. There is no warehouse, no dock, no ceremony, just baggage and cussing, shouts blasting across the water. Anxious to get the boat turned around they threw the horses into the water and let them swim to shore. The mules and dogs as well. I watched them bob and struggle, wild-eyed and snorting. Skagway measures time in arrivals and departures. Because there are no days, there is no Sunday, no rest. We will start the trail on arrival. Men tell it is terrible passing. There are about four hundred people striving along in White Pass and over two hundred on the Dyea. They say White Pass, just a cut through the woods, is as much a lie as a trail. They say the end disappears like a rumor whispered too long from ear to ear. I’ll take Dyea. White Pass, lined with dead horses, was supposed to be easy, but clearing the trees and the rain ruined it. There’s so much rain these past days that the horses sink to their necks. Corduroy bridges, log stacked after log for traction, send more horses, broken-ankled to their deaths.


48 I can’t describe some of the men gone clean crazy. Two from this steamer have lost their minds. I long for a camera to record their eyes, but I suspect, the loss wouldn’t show through even then. More are giving up, turning for home. Some sell flour for 50 cents a sack, some burn fuel, and more are going to winter in Juneau. Others cut trees, chink logs, and plan to stay here. I am going on. When I strike pay dirt, I will send for you in June or May. Tell Elmer to be a good boy, and tell Tommie to keep that big head of his well and slick. This is the last we will be able to send out until we get moving. My Love, Joe

Dear Joe, That big head of his is the same and so are all the other boys in town, after their fathers head North as they wait for calls to follow. I don’t know what’s behind their eyes. Our sons grow taller and more quiet. They measure and weigh, think before speaking. The boys they once were fade more with each morning’s sun. In the kitchen, they grunt and gulp coffee, scrape their plates clean. The world is wearing on them, like all of us.

CIRQUE San Francisco, or the whole coast, has become a waiting parlor. Women shift on benches, read papers, force smiles, fret. So many men have gone. In letters, some husbands tell it true, others polish their words and set them carefully. Many don’t write at all. No one here talks about what you’ve written me, about the trails, the rain, the men. The only reading we admit to each other is the newspaper, and we imagine the struggle it will be to carry bags full of gold dust down from the hills. Eyes shining, men smile, buy outfits, and wait on the docks. They slap each other on the back, laughing, but in the news the photographers catch them stern-mouthed, serious, plotting. It’s the Klondike, not the trail. They don’t even consider the trail. If there are more men than stones, there are more men to come. The beach will be built of their bones before long. Your wife, Nellie

September 29, Lake Lindeman Dear Nellie, I have been upriver getting out timber. The boat will be ready to launch tomorrow about noon.


49

Vo l . 3 N o . 2 We will start at dawn, all being well. The state of affairs on the trail was past description. The camps have names: Sheep Camp, Stone House, Pleasant Camp, Canyon City, Happy Camp. A map rewritten would read: Misery, Distress, Turn Back. Only those with the most money or strongest ever get through it. I got the grub, a winter’s worth, over the pass. I will get through. Snowing here. I have been sleeping in my wet clothes for over a week. Each morning, flinching, I wring them out, and, still cold, pull them on and start the day.

Dear Joe, There are objects in this house that have weight, that ask in their lifting, for a certain effort: the washtub, the iron kettle, the laundry wringer, your mother’s old skillet. The boys too, once. Years ago I hefted them onto my hip, worked single-armed, twisting to keep them away from the hot stove. They grew, gained their legs, and I regained my arms. Underfoot, larger, but less weight for me to carry, I could go about my work with them weaving around my skirt, shouting and singing. They changed and changed me. If our marriage has a weight, it’s not cast iron or painted china. It’s not the shifting slop of a bucket, or ten pounds of burlap lumpy with potatoes. It’s like our boys, first pink

I send out my love for a dear little wife.

and wailing, light, sized to be tucked into the crook of an arm, then heavy,

Do not write to me as you cannot reach me.

struggling and clinging. Now they’re grown. They can work and they will leave. Alone, with

I will write as soon as I reach quarters.

you up north, I sew and visit, eavesdrop on the neighbors’ squabbles, and I feel

We may get frozen on the river or stormbound on the lake. So you may not hear from me. Remember me in your prayers. Write to father and mother.

weightless. When you finally call for us, I will answer and even follow, but I wonder if you have really gained your legs. I wonder if I have the strength to heft anything more. I am not so lonesome as I thought I’d be.

I am lonesome, Joe

Still yours, Nellie


50

CIRQUE

Tim Pilgrim

300 streams of memory

I dream about time and the distance between us, how age settles like silt in a Montana stream, replay wounds of cutthroat laid side by side for gutting, out of the wicker creel, where they gasped in unison, each hoping to see water again, feel comforting coolness,

Rich Kleven

dart down to a pool, deep, lie healing, until time to feed.

Painting the soul

Artists learn early: use shadows to create the face, body too. Make darkened line a thigh -swooping smudge, a derriere outlined black against faded sky. Purple daub ties highlight to shadow, a grave awaiting its final filling in. You departed, lithe, hips curving down an evening path, finally obscured by oaks cloaked in gray, loss paralleling hope to paint the soul. Charcoal turned to black, no touch of red, hint of light, also gone, futile watercolored try – bring what’s dead to life.

Brenda Roper


51

Vo l . 3 N o . 2

Michael Kleven

Matthew Campbell Roberts

The Coast

Boats that pulled last hauls decades ago are marooned in meadows and muck just out of reach of tide water. Dead-standing cedars, bleached silver, house the saw-whet owl. A cranberry bog sulks in unattended silence, but its surface ripples as a midge struggles to free its casing. Nothing else moves. Shore pines are bent and thinned from scouring sea winds and the last light bathes the shimmering stones. Now the world begins its procession over, of deciding what will stay or go, or what will form another life for another time. The self peels away into wind and waves as the slow journey unfolds and some other wild, splintering place emerges within. There are eternities in this coast’s vaporous sky; too much gray for a land to absorb.

Storm at Dash Point

I watched a tanker cross the channel between Vashon Island and Dash Point as a pier fisherman, listening to a congested radio, leaned into the wind and swells that carried the Brant and Bonaparte gulls to shore. How easy a day like this can bring you back to the self you once believed in. Just to sit on a log and guess at the tide or scavenge for sea glass and agates at the edge of breakers. Or do nothing at all and not worry about the news or work. How easy it all goes by if you accept the life that says, “This is who I am now� and let the rest of the world follow one storm after another.


52

CIRQUE

Steve Rubinstein

Farmhouse

You sat with your back against a clapboard wall in the sweet cicada heat of summer not looking at me or the dust running swirls across red clay fields as you counted the ways love falls apart like the rhythm of crickets gone over to the sound of one pair of legs. My own legs dangled off your split pine porch bare feet buried in dust my eyes squinting for stars Suanne Sikkema

finally free from the city light clamor not even wishing it was me you might love or that love would have lasted between you both just listening as the piedmont defined

Circling Sun

The sun rises twice on this farm first as the cattle stamp their feet searching our house for a shadow a door gently closed behind dogs.

how what we knew would soon be gone when we stood up and brushed off the clay.

A clatter of hooves on hard snow mist rising as if from an autumn pond but only the water trough open, heated, glinting in day’s first light. Mountains stand up in this dawning having waited another deep night to see who among us today will bear this weight of water and obligation. Winter, its flat arc, is an effort to rise against darkness to fall each day behind peaks so tall we must get up and get up again.

Brenda Roper


53

Vo l . 3 N o . 2

Caitlin Scarano

Tom Sexton

Sunday Morning Near Anchorage

To the Gatekeeper

Mother, you are in the night of your dying garden, a forced space, delicate beauty. Shepherd, keeper of the gate, you watched over this garden, from the chipping mailbox to the pecan tree that marked the last of our land. Solemnly, you counted three daughters each frail sunrise. The flock, proof of your living. But now you’re curled on your side, the same shape we hollowed inside of you, that world within a world. You’re clawing the loamy earth, nails bloody from all that love and loneliness. Who will hear your last wail of guilt but the daughter still flanking you, the one sheep the shepherd kept close? Your dead father still presses on you, hands, like spiders, crawling over our histories. Hunter who snuck through the gate to the garden over and over. I used to think you buried him, a wolf with a hound, that storming blue night you buried our collie under the last pecan tree in the backyard. Yes, worms had eaten out the dog’s heart as well. But before you die, giving into this night with a requited sigh, handing me a pitcher, a spade, a key, and a white stone, I will give back to you the gift of sleep and say: This is living. The gate is always crossed. And there was never anything to forgive.

I hear the rotors before I see the helicopter with a dead wolf in its sling that’s swaying back and forth in light beginning to flood the marsh where yesterday I saw a wolf. What did it do to deserve this fate? Will its pelt be made into massive jock straps and bras like those in the window of a downtown shop? Don’t be sentimental, I mumble, don’t look away.

B.L. Shappell

The Art of Howling

As the first few dogs begin to gather their sound it gets tangled in their throats and drops to the dirt but just before it breaks off completely more pick it up and draw it out a bit longer, a bit higher wavering just enough now for the rest to join in and out as together their cries begin to weave in the air hanging over the land long after sunset like a tapestry held up for the ear.

Jennifer Andrulli


54

CIRQUE

Leslea Smith

Terra Incognita

Many have traveled here, so why are there no better maps? No one wants to come here. No one says how about a trip to the land where you watch your beloved face death? There’s no Fodor’s guide, no Let’s Go: Mortality, no restaurant ratings, no packing list (don’t forget the Kleenex). You’ve no choice but to wander aimlessly here, searching for signs in a language you understand. You took Spanish in school. There was no elective called How to Read Tumor Markers. Walgreen’s doesn’t carry an SPF high enough to keep you from getting burned here. REI doesn’t stock a parka thick enough to keep out the chill of fate. With what binoculars do you look for miracles? Don’t bother with a camera. There’s nothing pretty in this place, nothing you’ll want to look at later. But there is beauty, stark desert beauty, if you can learn to see it. Grace, if you will.

Brenda Roper

The Icon in My Room

Shalom Prayer Center, Mt. Angel, Oregon

My Jesus emerges from an engineer’s blue print, the lines of his divinity drawn in with compass and rule, the symbols of his story like notes to those who would build from this plan. My Jesus has hair as voluminous as an encyclopedia, a nose as thin and straight as a number two pencil. My Jesus has sparse facial hair. With enough neglect, I could grow a thicker mustache. My Jesus has eyebrows arched like the Fremont Bridge, unlike the caterpillars that march, unplucked, across my brow.

Brenda Roper

My Jesus wears a necklace of creases in his skin, as I do now, I’ve noticed: an ornament of gravity, a sign of looking down then up again.


55

Vo l . 3 N o . 2

David Stallings

Showdown

You peer out at me, caught by micro camera. Your pasty face, surrounded by healthy pink duodenal wall, is grimacing and angry. That makes two of us. Three days ago, half my blood volume detoured through you— unstoppable river of black tar spilling into toilets. I sit up in my hospital bed. Hey, you, Acidhole. Ride hard, die free! you snarl. So I shut up, start drawing a series of one-panel cartoons. I embody you: first, as an alpinist, among larch, avalanche lilies, paintbrush. In another, you nod with U2 on headphones, sucking a microbrew. Later, you manage an erection, contemplating adventurous sex with Holette, your kinky partner of many years. Eventually you are a robed monk, sitting with candle, incense, flower. You smile, sketch a circle in the air, whisper Live to ride, ride to live, and disincarnate. I pack my hiking gear as soon as the hematocrit rebuilds, use this chance to walk by the sea for as long as it takes— and listen.

Brenda Roper

Carey Taylor

Pangaea Lost

It was to be my brave new world, my personal private continent; an urban forest of bald eagle Bach and blustery beach. I drank my morning coffee in empty homes and short sales, researched annual rainfall, bakeries and bookstores. At night I shore walked and woke in other writer’s homes. Wind whipped on the ferry I didn’t think about the monster beneath the bow - running East-West, buried beneath the bed. I ignored evidence of beaches raised and lowered. I rationalized geological time was not my time. But when the earth shifted unable to bear the strain any longer, and espresso ripples sloshed and the croissant missed my mouth and fear ran down my face while looking for my children, in that one second, and not the thousands before, I understood fully the need for release.


56

CIRQUE

The Algol Paradox

I.

Newton’s First Law: “Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straightforward line

Imagine three-inch heels clack, clack, clacking on the freshly waxed and polished floor; see her crown just mown in a sexy boyish way. Run your palms over her red race car hugging curve of a dress and inhale her perfume contrail; a thick, sweet smothering on honey scent, reeking of arrogance. Now picture his back at the chalkboard. See his gray wallet worn corduroy pants and frayed clown suspenders; walk-a-bout his head decaying and browse his bushy beard. Watch him turn to face the class with blue eyes piercing and wait to speak his name. Hover above us for an hour, as we watch with cataract-covered eyes as the chalky green fills with equations. Sneak up behind us and sniff Kimberly Davis the fear in our silence. Read our thoughts: “The syllabus was clear - no math pre-requisites”. Understand we crave narrative - not numbers, of a universe unfolding - hoping that knowing a waxing from waning moon might get us more than just a goodnight kiss as we stumble home drunk in the early morning light. unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.” At first break notice the downcast eyes of her classmates as she slowly stands up. See the short dress and high heels egging her on as her syllabus shaking hand extracts an explanation. Watch him squirm; confused, thinking the math isn’t even difficult. Understand her threat when she insists a course change is in order if he wants them to return. Cringe as the child’s wooden chair/desk he is wedged in, strips him of any power he thought he might possess. Watch her soften, as she looks into his sad puppy eyes, saggy and kind, as he tells her she has nothing to fear. Notice him stare at her brick red lips, when she says “fine” in the snarly tone of the unenlightened. Newton’s Third Law: “For Every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite re-action.” In the dampness of your car, that eternal rainy spring, you will watch her return week after week, her posse in tow. You will doze in the back of the room, half listening to lectures on stellar evolution, the solar system, stars, the history of astronomy, comets, and galaxies and her favorite celestial neighbor - the Moon. On one cool, clear sky evening, he will haul his telescope from the back of his moldy blue Ford Pinto (parked next to her new Audi) and you will see her face yield to an unseen force. Secretly you watch her eyes memorize his lanky, lean frame, his faded jeans with a knee emerging, his North Face jacket - cerulean blue that match his sky bright eyes. For her first view of the night sky, you will huff beside her on the way to the roof, eavesdropping as she whispers to her classmate girlfriend “well he seems to be a bit uptight, a bit uncomfortable in his own skin, but he does have a nice ass.” Her friend will cock her head, stare into her eyes and smugly laugh, “What he needs is a good fuck.” Her cheeks flood crimson as you hear her silent plan to beat her to the punch.


Vo l . 3 N o . 2

57

II. Sirius, Albireo, Alpha Centauri, Epsilon Lyrae, their mysteries became my salvation, their light-my hope, their beauty-my desire their distance-my loneliness their teacher-my friend, my lover, my binary star the scientist who ripped my world open, the first time I looked through the telescope lens and he said “can you see them?” as I searched for the Rings of Saturn in the universe that birthed me. Thanking the Gods I didn’t believe in, (yet how could I not) for Einstein, Galileo, Newton; the patient midwives, who delivered mein one greedy gulping cosmic breath, covered in stardust and blood, to my beginning ending placethat sweet black hole buriala mere star shooting by.

NASA


58

CIRQUE

Brenda Roper

David Wagoner

The Chairman

-excerpt from Chapter Two of The History of Chairs

He was, at first, the only one with a chair. He could sit down in it when and if he needed to for some fundamental purpose like having had his say while standing up and wanting to emphasize how easily he could assume a comfortable position associated with and demonstrative of That’s that for now. But all too often one or more of the others sitting on benches or standing around or kneeling or on their hunkers or even daring to sprawl cross-legged sideways, bracing insubordinate heads in their cupped palms, would ask the wrong questions or giggle or crack wise or fart and smile and chat about new matters nowhere on the agenda, so it was thought better and wiser to add a few more chairs of a lesser sort along a beveled log and limit attendance to relatively smaller numbers of younger relatives.

The Finish Line

You knew where it was. You knew what it was. You’d seen others crossing it, going full tilt forward, bowing their heads to get something of theirs across before the rest of the runners who were maybe almost even though nobody dared glance aside to make sure, for fear of stumbling or losing ground and risking a dead heat. And yet when you finally crouched. and knelt on one knee, just short of the starting line, all ears for the starting gun, and after you were off and running, arms flailing, aiming what you told yourself to hope were the best, steadfastest muscles and bones and nerves in the right direction, you could feel yourself wanting to slow down to a walk and think it over, to take it easier for a while, to lose track of all this hurry and heavy breathing over a finish line, which was after all, just another erasable mark across an old lane of cinders.

Michael Kleven


59

Vo l . 3 N o . 2

Jennifer Andrulli

Kameron Walters

Sod Huts

We make our sod huts The way our ancestors Peel off parts of our skin Carrying the sheets off To sleep beneath the moon Imagine the stars and the clouds, the clarity Imagine the warmth of your fathers flesh It is the moment just after terror When you begin to descend But remain above The shedded leaves of your body My mother buried her womb, But my grandmother fed on hers, so that She says, My name would not stink while hunting Still, my thoughts are loud, and without my skin, They resonate in the woods as if it is Just after storms The blankets we use all have Red on their crests But the clouds carry the shimmering blood Of their sun, refusing to consume it And our sod huts, the wind Inward wind, wind in Skin from our homes to dream inside

The Old Ways

The sod huts in the arctic are not the mossy patchworks hid den to the wisdom of the lands they are the quilts of skin that have had hair by hair pulled from as hunters leave trails leading them away to home The leather of man and woman’s face is not the child of wind but the turning of living into the animal that opens the eyes of the carcass it is skinning leaving them open even as the organs are exposed in grips of bones After a northern couple lost in the forest fed each other leg by leg of their own and were still able to walk because they saw in each other the loneliness of looking across stretching tundra and seeing only the cloudless sky After this the moose and the caribou and the elk did not give their antlers back for walkers to avert their gazes from And the ones that had taken from them their skin did not remain for the unease of their species but instead withered into themselves leaving only the very center of each lung to mark with others leading away to home


60

CIRQUE

Paul Winkel

Occupied Land

High priests of the nation stalk the land in long black robes. Raise high the banner of their cause, inviolate Constitution, might of the Right. Voodoo writs conjure life out of nothingness, soulless corporations declared flesh and blood.

Brenda Roper

The powerless mass of one person, one vote, reels before the self-righteous one corporation, one million votes.

Allen Qing Yuan

China-Charm: For George Lai Yuan

* * * * * * Ghosts wander the halls of their repossessed homes, lost, confused.

Blood-red, blood-bound thread of life Passing through a shadowed pin point The lid, lukewarm, dulled and dusty Inside the glass of time A five year old grain of rice Remains odorless, almost invisible

With it, a petite pretty purplish petal Flourishing without air, like amber Its potential limited by its surroundings. Inscribed on the smooth Yellow-tinged surface of the rice Are yuan qing, my Chinese name Looking like two Taoist paintings It is a single small grain, But I never forget the wide fields Swaying back and forth without a swish It hangs high on my lamp head, like The memory of China sitting on a treetop Within my heart, a charming charm Suanne Sikkema

Restrained but living Living though not thriving.


61

Vo l . 3 N o . 2

Changming Yuan

Eternal Expansion A fragile front page Of last year’s newspaper Falling down from nowhere Begins to drift around As if to cover the entire city With its faded words Some broken into small Fragmented lights, some burned With frantic ambitions, others glistening Like the stars beyond the horizon Where the headlines run parallel To the midnight, leaving the content of The same old story, yes, the same Old story partly saved Partly crashed Somewhere within this universe Still expanding

Michael Kleven


62

CIRQUE

FICTION Jean Anderson

Bird’s Milk (for V.N.F.) He’s so rich he has everything but bird’s milk. – a Russian saying –

1. Amerikanski “Da, da, Amerikanski,” says the voice, waking Janet. Who squints, shakes her head, fumbles for her glasses in the small unfamiliar bedroom. Hugh’s voice, but how? Has he called to her – DZanet! – as they all do, speaking their careful English? Not her name, but a word so strange its first letter takes up two of theirs. Their D pushed hard against the letter she thinks of as a ballerina on a stick, its arms and legs spread wide – little star, an asterisk, Zhuh – DZanet. But who? J isn’t even in the Cyrillic alphabet, though the pocket dictionary lying face down on her pillow holds January – as Yanvar – and July, which is now, Yul 1991. And they do say something that sounds almost like Julia. So, dammit, they can! The old song pours like a plea from radios all over town: “Yul-ya, Yul-ya –” So sad, honeyed, hopeless seeming. Ripe with repressed desire. A desire that defines Siberians? “Nya Anglise, nyet. Amerikanski, da, da,” comes the voice again. Then a cluster of sounds spoken loudly and clearly, slowly, words she might understand if he’d only repeat them, more slowly yet: “Nyet.” She kneels on the bed, pushes back the stiff curtain to stare down at the courtyard through a rectangle of lace tacked to the open window. The playground is empty – barren, brown, ugly, no children yet, no trees or shrubs, no grass at all, only wornout-looking jungle gyms and mud puddles – which Lera says is an obscene word. Puddle, a word men use about women. Lera laughed when she said it, wrinkling her nose, shaking her head, pointing at a puddle: “Again? Poudel?” “Nyet,” again from the voice. Janet rubs at her eyes, pulls on her glasses, stares out at the buildings beyond the playground. They’re identical to this one. Ugly linked gray cement-block boxes, five-storied, bleak. Built on squat pillars to keep their heat from thawing

the permafrost everything rests on. A lone man leans, smoking, against the banister of one faded blue-painted porch across the way, a travel foto – while a new thought leaps through her head. This lace at the window isn’t for beauty, but for use! Another idea from nowhere. A gift. The way most bits of ordinary life come to her here, layer upon layer, unbidden. Somersaults of mind-boggling insights like revelations: It’s tacked to the window frame to keep out insects fierce as the ones at home in Alaska! Use – like the long lace curtain billowing, swelling with darkness, filling the doorway to the porch in the main room on her first day. Only yesterday? Yes. Sunday morning, 2:30 a.m. Not Saturday – Hugh’s day – lost forever to the International Date Line. Such fine lace, not just for beauty! For flies, mosquitoes. No gnats yet in Siberia. They’ll come in August the way they do at home. Thoughts like gnats filling her head, stinging her mind with small bites. Like – Saturday? No, Sunday morning again. Dead tired from flying for hours, then undressing in the faint sunrise of 3:00 a.m. Here, in this narrow bedroom that holds books, books, books: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gogol. Turgenev? Transliterating wearily as she pulled off sweaty clothes, mouthing each cherished word. Name after hard-won name. Ah! Two books by her own beloved Chekhov! Not for mere decoration. Lace means use! Wall, screen, cloak – a defiant shield against invaders. Rebirth for the word, like her own name. DZanet, secret dancer. She presses her forehead to the lace while the man’s weighty words flow on – incomprehensible, steady, a voice that knows all. “Vechearja, da?” he’s saying, which she knows is yesterday, yes? Peering straight down she can finally see him. A heavy old man leaning into a small, sturdy, boxy old car — a Russian car? A Volga? A Yugo? Or maybe Japanese? He’s talking to someone she can’t see inside. And the car is orange-ugly like Nicholai’s car, her host’s father’s car. A Trabant! The new thought is another tingly shock. Nicholai drove a very muddy Trabant! “Volkswagen of the Soviet world,” as Hugh called them. “Sturdy, cheap little beasts.” This one’s clean. It’s parked in the rutted mud of the unpaved street below the window where Nicholai parked to unload her suitcases Saturday night. No, no, Sunday. Though she’d left Alaska hours before on Friday. Two big suitcases (half full of books, meant as gifts) and


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 a heavy carry-on bag lifted carefully from the muddy trunk by a small, aging man. A man like the workhorse of a car Hugh talked about from his year in Berlin. She’d forgotten. Soviet cars now being abandoned in the West by East Berliners escaping since the wall fell. “Nyet, nyet,” she must not carry anything. Broken-tooth grin, slow, kind, generous: Nicholai. Extravagant, shameful, too much. Why did she pack so much stuff? Ugly – herself. She’d known it then, a first hard revelation. Rich Amerikanski. So maybe you do know nothing about home till you leave, as Hugh always said? Or about yourself till you try to climb from your old life? No dancer. A butterfly weighted down by her suitcase. But the deep-voiced old man isn’t Nicholai. Nor does he resemble Hugh – who means nothing to her anymore, dammit! Nothing! Why does she always think of Hugh? Brown fedora, white cotton shirt, broad shoulders, baggy slacks, his weight and shape, all are so achingly like Hugh’s. Though the man’s certainly older. And he repeats it again (in awe?): “Americanskii, da?” while he continues – yes, yes, da – to offer the driver of the car – Nicholai? But what? What’s he saying? Wisdom? Advice? Warnings? Information about these strangers? Foreigners – invaders? Herself? Here in Yakutsk. In Siberia. Here – Yakutsk, coldest big city on Earth. Monday morning, 8:00 a.m. And sunshine after the heavy rain last night. A bit of blue sky, that chemical stench gone from the air. With humidity – heat – more of both than ever in Fairbanks. So maybe it’s more like the home of her childhood – more like St. Louis in Siberia in summer than like Fairbanks? Eighty degrees when she went to bed, but cooler this morning. Cloudy, with a hint of sun. So very oppressively humid! She sinks backward on the narrow bed to think. To try to fix it all in her mind. Asia, Russia, Siberia, Yakutsk – I’m here! As amazed by all this as the deep-voiced man, who repeats it a final time: “Da, da, Amerikanski!” 2. Sisters “Syesters?” asks V., her host. He’s gesturing, spreading an arm, joking again. Or trying to joke in his terrible English as they walk across town. It’s later on Monday morning, 10:00 a.m. “Kahk? How? Ah – vhy. Da, vhy syester? Vhy nyot brat? Brudder, da? Yakutsk es gearl? Fearbinks, gearl?” He shakes his head as if at the squalor of his city, the ironies of life.

63 They’re bending to walk under a huge crumbling pipe that hangs at eye level between the ugly apartments. V’s just nodded yes to her question. She thinks so anyway. Yes, the battered pipes do carry water and heat, bringing city utilities to the flats everyone lives in. Khrushchev apartments. Before she came she read about this name. But nobody calls them that anymore. Pipes hang everywhere in the treeless air between buildings. Barrel-sized, ugly, yellowish-gray. Sprayed with cracked and peeling urethane, often wrapped in rags. Chunks of foam coating line the footpath, among the weeds and puddles, bits of rusted metal, dribbles of dried cement, and she trying to laugh at V.’s second joke of the day (a sexist joke?): “Yes, sisters.” He’s just told her everything in his country is razbiteh. Broken, needing repairs, said like a joke. (As she is?) So she smiles, tries to respond, again. Pitiful words. That the Sister City group she’s come with links people in similar cities across the world, as Fairbanks and Yakutsk are now linked, as friends. “So maybe sisters seem more friendly than brothers?” (But why? She agrees in a way. Females of any species are surely as deadly. How many times have other females betrayed her? And both cities a kind of frontier. She thinks all this but how can she ever say it? Then suddenly: Stereotypes rule here too! A shock.) “Peaceful and gentle may be what’s intended,” she says. But surely he knows all that ridiculous stuff. The point of his joke: Of course! His own most withering phrase. Spoken clearly in English, over and over. V. looks grim as she talks. “Too fast,” they all say, just like at home. Meaning kahk – what? Too wordy, too soft-voiced, too serious, too complex? Too introspective – and now hopelessly humorless, too? Broken? Really, she’s come not for friendship – or for commerce, her group’s secret goal, she sometimes thinks in disgust – but for love. For love of Chekhov, something harder yet to explain. Even to V., who is a writer too. An editor and a poet – like Hugh. He has read Chekhov a bit he says. Yes, da, in school. And he glares at her suspiciously. At this plain, tall, awkward and clumsy, badly dressed American. Who chatters on pointlessly, as she did yesterday, touring local museums. Who says she is a writer but cannot yet count to five in Russian though he’s tried and tried to teach her, using his fingers, then hers. A feat simple enough that two-year-old Anya can already do it, ending in triumph with the word that truly boggles Janet’s mind. Kulak. Like gulag? It sounds the same. And it’s what she must ask – but how? Kahk? The building’s uneven


64 cement stairsteps make her think of Solzhenitsyn. Ivan Denisovich. One book she didn’t bring, and why not? A thought she stumbled on in the dark hallway yesterday, after that mind-boggling tour of city museums. The hallway’s bare lightbulb stolen again, V. warned – as she tripped, nearly fell. Scraped her knee, twisted her ankle, grabbed desperately for V.’s arm, her eyes tearing up. Not pain, but so foolish – again! So clumsy – rude! – to her kind and generous hosts. V. and his beautiful wife Nadia. Five! Pyat! Then Anya’s chubby fist held above her head shyly, obediently: kulak! Ah – Nadia to the rescue again with the thick red dictionary borrowed from their friend Lera. Russian-English: kulak. In English, fist. But why? Everything boggles DZanet, though she feels a great swelling zest for it all too. Undeniable, like love. Like falling in love as she always has with the most difficult male of all. The odd one, the wild one. Sarcastic, gifted, old, overweight, sickly. Hugh. Dammit! Why must he haunt her still? Two years after the divorce he said he must have. So like him to die two months later. Because she – ? No. Unthinkable. In love. In love with the crooked steps and the steam pipes. With the rancid smells in the hallways. With Persian carpets that hang on the walls and V.’s mother’s small kitchen with the tiny aged fridge and sink. A wash basin on the floor under the leaky drainpipe that overflowed on her first night: “I fix, I – “ V. pointing, laughing, relaxed, himself for the very first time. [Second disaster in an hour: his father’s front tire gone flat in the dark and rainy airport parking lot. A rusty nail. (Sabotage? Against V.? Janet suspected this. {Or against herself? Enemy?} And both of us writers.) But no. Nobody reads anymore. Time to consider all this as she sat, dry, jet-lagged, alone in the back seat of the muddy Trabant. V. and his father insisted: she must wait in the car while they changed the tire in the rain.] 2:30 a.m. and V. shaking his beard at the spurting, rag-wrapped pipe spilling water onto the clean kitchen floor. Nadia toweling it up, straight-backed, smiling, so beautiful. A ballet. “Nyet, nyet.” DZanet must not help. Not ever – their guest. And the cubicle toilet – in a separate tiny room from the tub and sink. With its ancient overhead flush tank that made a sound, only once, last night overnight, like a rat. Terrifying. Even when the noise took on that steady rubbery surging that had to be mechanical, not live. Not a rat. Only the city water system failing again (as it does daily, they all joke). No more hot water. Still terrified. In

CIRQUE love. A joke? Like her life? But then, hasn’t she come here most of all in defense of failure? So usual, familiar, even familial? Failure, abuse, misuse, poverty, mourning, all making Siberia right? She’s taught part-time at the university in Fairbanks for ten years, lecturing well, brilliantly sometimes. With no benefits, menial pay – and they’ve chosen somebody else for their sole annual real job, not her. Chosen a beautiful young graduate student, despite Janet’s book and its fine reviews. Or because of them? Clearly, they’ll never appreciate her or her efforts. So she’s quit. Enough! In May. But nights at home she dreams teaching. Her arm outstretched to scrawl on the board when she comes to herself. Though surely it shouldn’t be teaching but life that she mourns. Her own life. Which she’s wasted – she sees it now. Or Hugh’s. Hugh’s death. But how could she fly Outside to Seattle for his surgery during that harried, awful semester? Anyway, he was not her aging lazybones. Not hers, no spouse anymore, thank God. And how can you mourn your entire misspent life? V. is talking on in his slow, steady, terrible English. Not patient but trying to be. Pretending. Heavily accented, hunting for words: he will do his work this morning and return – or maybe his colleague Lera (who speaks real English) will meet DZanet again, as she did yesterday at the museum. After she – DZanet! – exchanges her green dollars for bright-colored rubles with all other Alyahskans. Not at a bank, but here at City Hall. Which looks like an old, old 1890’s schoolhouse in St. Louis, maybe. Or an aged public library. The kind of institutional building she once loved, before she came to Alaska. Faded and dingy marble floors, that elegant old-fashioned staircase. Dim cast-iron light fixtures. People who lean against walls, who walk quickly or slowly, pausing to pick up – what? Heavily-inked sheets of cheap yellowish paper that must be official forms? Or job listings? News? Brochures? People bored/preoccupied/blank-faced. Just the usual Monday-morning faces – ordinary big-city faces? Or guarded? Protectively private? Closed? The enduring effects of the gulag? Everything dingy but proud. Shabby, old, sad, dull, dutiful, tired – and maybe even hopeful. Yes, maybe, another English word V. knows well: “Maybe, maybe” – he’ll meet her here later this morning and show her around town. Maybe at 11:00. He says that as he walks


Vo l . 3 N o . 2

65

Vitus Bering. Carried – or worn? Introduced accidentally or transported with intention? Brought into Alaska, like so much of the deeprooted life she loves in the American North, from Asia? Then the equipment – dozens of ancient planes, a graveyard of planes lining the cracked and weedy cement-looking runway that disappears under their modern plane’s shiny wings. Gray-yellow concreteblock apartment buildings off in the distance, dreary and empty looking, like a black-andwhite film – twin to Yakutsk, she’ll discover in a few hours. Then a battered bus like a school bus, with faded kitchen-print curtained Kimberly Davis windows. Its eagerly smiling driver pulls up long before anyone else arrives. And wornout-looking fire trucks that away. Waves a careful hand. Gives her a guarded halfarrive soon after. Rusty and faded, antiquated to Alaskan smile. Maybe. Sisters? Could she be more confused, more eyes. Then the unimaginably seedy fuel truck, with its boggled? Or is she only secretly broken? Again? uniformed official escort – three old men in a battered military truck and a small rusty car. All are a shock. People 3. Ivan’s Tea so harmless-looking and ordinary. These hulks our terrible enemy’s actual stuff? Alone, climbing the steep stairs in City Hall, Janet TV has not prepared the Alaskans for this. A joke. thinks back two days. When their Alaska Airlines plane Yet being there is also suddenly frightening – not news couldn’t land in the fog at Magadan and fuel ran low, they film, not a time warp. Though the Alaskans chuckle and had to backtrack and land unannounced – unscheduled snort, laugh nervously, huddle against the windows to – at Anadyr, to refuel. So their first stop on Russian soil stare. To wave, snap photos, stare some more, hoping to was Anadyr, a Soviet air base on Siberia’s far northeastern be allowed off the plane. coast, still closed to the West despite glasnost. Their They are not allowed, though the plane grows landing will become news: Saturday afternoon in Anadyr, more and more humid. Hot and stuffy, airless with its though still Friday night to the Alaskans – tourists, excited, engines shut down. Refueling is done with passengers eager: Sisters. on board. A slim, beautiful, very young Siberian woman From the plane windows Anadyr looked bleak. refuels their plane – blonde and delicate, small-wristed, Flat, treeless, still, empty. But the first thing Janet saw as graceful, elegant in her coveralls. She smiles serenely up the plane banked was – yes, fireweed! Evanche, Ivan’s tea! at the Americans while she holds the fuel line and nozzle The most common, most beautiful wildflower in Alaska – in place. amazing! – in truth, a weed. Then a foto through the plane She’s clearly a Russian (and typical, as Janet window with the cheap camera she bought three days will soon learn), a European Siberian rather than one of ago on sale. (The camera, or her misuse of it, will soon the “small people” Janet’s read about in her guidebook: lose all her imagined, irreplaceable color photos.) Siberia’s indigenous people, like the Yakut, whose name Fireweed, just as at home! Long-stemmed, adorns Fairbanks’ Sister City’s region. And whose women billowing, stalky and lush, its deep pink glow like a lipstick will also be slim, beautiful, modern, bright-eyed. Not one smudge kissing the dull land. Has it come from Alaska as of the Siberian women she eventually meets, to Janet’s their plane has? Borne by wind and air? Or carried on amazement, will resemble the pale, shabby, bovine small boats? Soviet females she’s seen so often on TV. In the distance, No. Far more likely walked – east, not west – over children straggle across the airfield with a dog, waving the Land Bridge centuries ago. Eons? Beringia, long before to the Americans who peer out the plane windows. They


66 stop in a patch of weedy bushes to pick and eat – what? Raspberries! – like at home, late July. Janet’s certain of it, her heart swelling again with that surge of revealed truth, like joy – as with the fireweed. {Evanche, Ivan’s tea: that’s fireweed! An everyday food, then? A common drink from the earth – but when?} In the distance, the Bering Sea – dank and cool on the breeze through the just-opened cargo hatch, where everybody squeezes together to breathe it: Ocean. Night in its scent, or love maybe – sex – that magical heady stench from which arises all earthly life. When somebody closes the door to an overhead storage compartment with a bang – like a gunshot! – they all bristle and jump. Startle, shiver, laugh a bit too hard. Begin a series of new jokes. “The Bering Sea,” the Alaskans tell one another, pointing it out. A sliver of light far off in the distance, close and strong in the air. Fingertips touch their location on an Arctic Circle top-of-the-world map somebody produces. “Nome here, just across the way. Anchorage there, below. Nearer to Alaska than we were two hours ago!” “What did I tell you? A timeless experience,” says Bibi, their teacher and translator, the American group leader. Fluent in Russian – an exchange student in St. Petersburg years ago. Everyone chuckling, grinning, sweating, taking photos that will capture only dull pinpricks of faded objects on a vast and bleak yellowishgreen landscape: Siberia. Janet had never before felt quite so American. So Alaskan, so Northern, so foreign and yet attuned – unprotected and vulnerable, afraid and eager at once. When their plane lifted off, heading south for Magadan’s grayness and the 1940’s-style Aeroflot hulk they’d board for the dark overnight flight to Yakutsk, fireweed was the last thing she saw. Like a sign from home, she’s thinking, a good omen. Something she could use now. She’s beginning to feel that same complex of emotions – almost abandoned. She looks around while she climbs. No other Alaskans in sight, not one familiar face. Abandoned in Yakutsk’s City Hall? Lost without V. and his repetitive, maddening “Of course!” She’s actually wishing for V., a person she can’t yet accept or trust, when she sees him. The deep-voiced man? That brown fedora. The rolled-up sleeves of the sweatdotted brightly clean white shirt. He’s bending to examine a tray of brochures: Hugh’s twin. Her good omen? Maybe, maybe, and she sighs with relief and climbs on.

CIRQUE

Jennifer Andrulli

Polly Buckingham

Chapter Nine: Haunting

excerpted from Long White Robe

Fog gathered above the shore like strips of ghost. The muted blue and white sky repeated itself in tidal flats. Rose’s feet broke the sky, each print filling with dark sand. Behind her the sky swallowed her footsteps as if she’d never been. Monty made her feel as if she were disappearing sometimes. Ahead of her, Benny was kneeling in the sand. He stood up waving a stick. Cookie ran through a flock of birds that flew up leaving behind doubles in the flats. “Look here,” Benny said walking toward her and holding out a tar ball at the end of the stick. “I bet there was a spill recently.” “There are always spills,” Rose said. Usually in February the beach was streaked with black. Winter currents stirred the ocean floor, broke up oil slicks floating far out and carried bits of black onto the coasts; the waves a deep green on the underside, brown and white on top, broke day after day onto long empty strips of beach, leaving behind black tracks, as if underwater spirits had deposited their oily shadows. It made her think of Hawaii, though she’d never been. Monty had told her about its black, volcanic sands. Some beaches were completely black. She imagined sitting with him on a black beach, a volcano pouring smoke hovering behind them. The smoke smelled dry and damp at the same time. It descended on them and hid their feet and hands. It skidded down the black beach and covered the blue water. “It’s gross,” Benny said. “What?”


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 “The tar.” “Yeah. Sometimes it sticks to your shoes.” The lower portion of the humped blue hills of Tillamook Head turned white with fog. On every ocean beach in Clatsop County if you walked south, you were always walking toward Tillamook Head. And on every beach the distance appeared the same. Rose had never been to where Tillamook Head finally met the shore, and she suspected it was inaccessible. Still, it was curious how it hung like a destination. “You believe in ghosts?” Benny asked after awhile. “I guess so.” Far away, Cookie was a gray blur blowing down the beach. “Have you ever seen one?” Benny was squinting sideways at her. “I don’t think so.” She followed the edge of a thin wave as it washed over the flats. Eventually she let it wash over her feet. Cold water rose to her ankles then halfway to her knees and pulled out again. “My aunt used to say your place was haunted.” “Really?” Benny stopped and stared at her. “Why didn’t you tell me before?” They stood in the blue glassy sand, their footprints entirely erased. “I guess I didn’t remember until now.” Maybe it was the way the beach looked half in this world and half out that made Rose remember her aunt. She knew Benny felt she was withholding information, but it was not reluctance. There were many things she couldn’t recall, but until she met Benny, nobody had taken much of an interest in her memory. And though this new awareness of gaps in her past was mildly troubling, she pictured memory as fog, a thing that descends and dissipates; memory was more a matter of perception than reality. It seemed only natural that it would come and go. “How was it haunted?” Benny had that strained, eager look on his face. She knew she would not have the information he needed, but she did her best to sort through the tangled lines of recollection. Her aunt, wearing a long black skirt, stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the porch. “That place is a ghost hole.” “You’re so full of shit,” her father had said. He sat on the porch looking out across the pasture; his elbows rested on his knees as he blew smoke into the evening. Rose sat in the damp meadow grass watching the smoke disappear into the haze and stealing shy glances at his distant blue eyes. “I didn’t even know you had an aunt,” Benny said. “It’s not so unusual. Lots of people have aunts.”

67 “Well, yeah, but—” “She used to own the bead shop on Commercial.” “And she said the cabin was haunted?” “She said it was a ghost hole.” “What’s a ghost hole?” Rose shrugged. “Don’t know.” “What else did she say?” “I just remember the ghost hole thing.” “Does she still live in town?” “No. She’s been gone longer than my father’s been gone.” “Where’d she go?” Spray on the edge of a wave mingled with fog. “I don’t know,” she said. She had liked her aunt. Aunt Lily. She’ always visited with a pocketful of colored stones and tiny, pewter animals. It seemed to Rose the night her father and her aunt argued about the ghost hole was the last night she’d seen Aunt Lily, though she couldn’t be sure. She tried to bring back the evening, but the most important bits were slipping as quickly as they had risen. What remained seemed inconsequential and blurry. There were other people at the house. A family. Her cousins. A little girl with pale red hair and dirt stuck to Popsicle slime at the side of her mouth sat beside her in the grass. Her cousin Maddy. They were shy, at least Rose was, and didn’t speak. Darren and Dennis were sword fighting with sticks, the grass hiding their shins and feet and even Dennis’ knees and thighs. Darren poked Dennis in the face, and Dennis howled and stumbled through the grass to Aunt Margie sitting with Rose’s mother at a picnic table. From a distance, she could not tell her aunt Margie and her mother apart. She remembered Maddy’s torn sleeve. “It’s none of your damn business,” her father had said to Aunt Lily. “It’s people like you who make a place haunted,” her aunt said. Rose had watched three figures with instrument cases walking down the logging road at the far end of the pasture. She picked out the outline of a large man with loose, curly black hair. Maddy drew her knees into her body, and Rose scooted closer to her and reached for her hand. Then she turned and looked at Aunt Lily, into her freckled, wide face, so different from Rose’s Mom’s and Aunt Margie’s. She’d never before felt the sensation of seeing helplessness in an adult. But that’s what she saw in her aunt’s gaze. And if the world could make Aunt Lily helpless, then the world was something to fear. Cigarette


68 smoke drifted in layers between Rose and her aunt, and in the time they stared at one another, Rose, knowing the men were now halfway across the pasture, began to understand that the safest place was inside herself. “Musicians lived in the cabins,” Rose said. “Musicians and artists.” ���You just remembered that?” Benny asked. “Well, yes.” Her father and her aunt had argued; there had been music; she could not recall the faces of the other adults; she could not recall how the conversation started or when the arguing had turned to music or the music to arguing, whether her aunt had driven away down Palmer Mainline or stayed late into the night. She did not remember if she’d seen her aunt again after that night, or if her aunt had said goodbye or what explanation she’d given, if any, for leaving. She remembered the closed for business sign on the bead shop door. She remembered the mosquito trapped in amber her aunt wore on a black string around her neck. She remembered Maddy with dirt on her face stuffing three fingers in her mouth and the far off trickling of the creek. She remembered lying on her back in the damp grass, the sky filling with stars, the clouds taking them away again. “Well, I think your aunt was right.” How easily Benny had stepped up beside her disappeared aunt. “Really,” he said. “I think it’s haunted.” “I believe you.” Her voice boomed between her ears. It broke the steady rhythm of waves; it punctured the continuity of fog. Looking into Benny’s open face, she wanted to say it again, I believe you, but it stuck in her throat. She’d liked Aunt Lily; she’d liked Aunt Lily more than she’d liked most people, but what she remembered now was how silently she had observed her aunt, how she’d fingered the amber and strained to see the mosquito. How she’d felt frozen also. Once she’d had a lot to say, but after Aunt Lily left, she stopped speaking. Now she’d simply forgotten what it was or why it had seemed so important. Had she really believed her tiny child voice could have changed anything? And then, of course, Aunt Lily had disappeared, like most things. Cookie sat in the dry sand just above the tide line waiting. The fog, which had trapped the glare of the sun, hung above the tip of Tillamook Head. When they’d come to the beach that afternoon the blurry sun had been overhead; they’d watched the fog burn briefly away then roll back in. Now it stuck like a chill to the hairs on her arms and legs. She wondered if Monty was watching the fog from the railroad tracks. She hadn’t seen him in the two weeks school had been out. When she was still

CIRQUE in school, she’d wandered along the tracks almost every day, and in this way, she’d run into him once or twice a week. But she hadn’t been able to get to town much recently, and she hadn’t been there in those afternoon hours before dusk. And though she’d ridden her bike to places she felt he might be, Coffee An’s, the tracks, the mission, her attempts at finding him were random and unsuccessful. It didn’t help that her mother felt it was necessary to know where she was at all times. “Riding my bike” was not enough, but “bike riding with Benny” was. “Why haven’t I met this boy?” her mother had asked once. Still, she knew well where Benny lived, and thanks to Darren—“That guy’s a fruit”—she didn’t seem concerned about Rose spending time with him. It seemed to Rose her mother’s concern wasn’t particularly sincere anyway. She knelt beside Cookie. “You tired?” Cookie licked her hand, little white hairs poking out of her gray muzzle. Her tail thumped against the sand. “We should probably head back now. She’s pretty stubborn when she’s worn out.” Fog pulled in around them, so thick she could no longer see the Columbia jetty at the other end of the beach. Benny wandered up into the driftwood to search for glass floats; Cookie walked slowly beside Rose across the tidal flats, her gray reflection like a shadow. She would have to take Monty here sometime. She’d told him once before how she and Benny had been going to the beach, how she could borrow the car as long as she promised to take Cookie. “Oh, so now you have two boyfriends,” Monty’d said. “He’s not my boyfriend.” “Right, little girl. I’m keepin’ my eye on you.” Some conversations were impossible to have, like, “Will you come to the beach with me?”“You sure you want me in your parents’ car?” Still, walking this way, imagining how the ocean curved into the river and the river lead to Monty, her mind slipped easily into scenarios: lying in the warm sand backed against the dunes with Monty, clouds scudding across a blue sky, dune grass rustling behind them, the sandpaper waves polishing the shore. Benny had disappeared into the fog. She could no longer see the dunes and when she glanced behind her, Tillamook Head was gone. Small transparent dots played before her eyes. It was impossible to tell if they were actual bits of moisture or her eyes reflecting the moisture, or an inseparable combination of the two. It was as if she were walking through a cloud, a dense nothing with no time and in no real place. The last time she’d seen Monty,


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 they’d talked about beaches; Rose had told him about the beaches on the Oregon coast because he hadn’t seen many of them. She told him about the cave and the waterfall at Hug Point only accessible at low tide. She’d collected mussels there with her cousins. She told him about Short Sands and the surfers and the shark attacks. He told her about the beaches in California, Mexico and Hawaii. He told her about the beaches in Vietnam. “The mangroves look like they’re on steroids,” he said. “What are mangroves?” They were sitting by the railroad tracks. The day was surprisingly bright. “God, girl, you sure are sheltered.” “I’ve never left Oregon,” Rose said. She did not consider herself sheltered. “What are mangroves?” “They grow by the water, and they have these roots like giant spider legs. They’re all over Vietnam, any place hot and coastal. It’s hard to see anything but branches when you’re in them. They’re growing up around your feet too, right out of the water.” He looked out onto the bright gray surface of the river. “Hotter than hell in there.” “In the mangroves?” “Air doesn’t get through the roots. And the mosquitoes are hell, flying jaws.” She tried to imagine mangroves, but she kept picturing the roots of coastal forest trees curving into mossy knuckles. “Are they trees?” “More like a huge bush. Fucking quiet too, freaks you out—except for the mosquitoes.” She looked at his thin face, the hollows beneath his cheekbones, the slivers of blue which were his eyes looking back at her. His t-shirt clung to his narrow shoulders. She reached out and ran her hand along his shoulder, cupped her hand inward where the shoulder met his chest. She listened for the silence of mangroves and wondered what other sounds you might hear in

69 that silence, what ringing in the buzz of mosquitoes. She knew he was staring at her in that long hard way he did sometimes, but she had looked away, her gaze now fixed on his jeans streaked with black grease. Ahead of her the fog had thinned letting in gauzy blue. She could see the dunes again and Benny sitting on a piece of driftwood beside the dunes’ trail putting on his tennis shoes. By the time Rose reached him, Cookie was sitting beside him with her nose to the wind which was blowing the fog bank toward Tillamook Head; Benny was scratching her chest. Rose put on her shoes and sweatshirt, and they climbed the dune. When they got to the top, they turned back to the beach. It was wide and empty and blue with water and sky. Looking across the flats was like looking into a fish tank made twice its size by the mirrored reflection of water against glass. The flats appeared a mirror reflection of the ocean and sky. Far off small lines of white waves were disappearing into the shimmering low tide. “One good thing about this town,” Benny said. On the other side of the dune, the empty parking lot was dwarfed by the expanse of low dunes bent with dune grass. The legs of an old railroad extended out into a half moon bay lined with strips of dark brown shoreline littered with driftwood. She could see the jetty and the river and the lighthouse at Illwaco. She could see Astoria, tiny town on a far away hillside surrounded by a maze of water, and the green stretch of the bridge. Brenda Roper She watched Benny’s black head move through the dune grass. His thin arms dangled at his sides. Maybe she could find Monty tonight after she dropped Benny off. Maybe she’d have more luck in the evening. She could borrow the car as long as no one was home. Cookie paced impatiently behind Benny, pressing her nose against the back of his knees until finally he stepped aside to let her pass. Rose picked a small handful of dune peas which grew along the edge of the path. Then she zipped up her sweatshirt and followed Benny and Cookie down the trail, the rustle of dune grass so steady it seemed like silence.


70

CIRQUE

Lucian Childs

The Errand

Cody woke in the dark to a high-pitched whine, then static, then a song on the Radiola—“Cold, Cold Heart” turned way up—his father keeping time on the parlor floor with his cane. That January, when Hank Williams passed away, his father’s mood had darkened, worse than when cow/calf prices dropped, or the time the broodmare, his latest surefire moneymaker, had gotten bastard strangles and died. Ever since, his father only listened to the sad songs, and it scared Cody, like riding bareback at a gallop with no bridle. The program on the radio changed, the morning farm report. The volume dropped. Cody listened to the house creak, his older brother, A.J., breathing in the next bed, the sound of keys dangling from a belt loop like a warden’s. The bright yellow line at the bedroom door

Brenda Roper

widened to reveal his father, silhouetted by the light of the bare bulb that hung from a wire in the hall. A short man, solid, with a barrel chest, he had his black suit on, his hair slicked back. Scrubbed-red fingers, swollen by labor and disobliging farm machinery, clutched the crook of the cane. “Get up,” he said, rapping it loudly against the wooden door. Sitting on the edge of his bed, A.J. stretched and yawned. He rubbed his eyes, stood, then padded off urgently to the outhouse. His brother was squat as well, but Cody in his ten years had grown timber-tall and fine-boned, as if he were someone else’s progeny and might blow away in the winds that scoured down off the Bitterroots. Cody dallied. His father stooped to pull him up, planted his cane on the corner of a burlap sack that protruded from under the bed. He scowled. Retrieving the sack and another lying next to it, he shoved them, stiff-armed, in Cody’s face. The eyes in that face were pleading. “Cain’t be no killin today,” his father said, as if in reply. “Go on. Git dressed. It’s a long way to church.” His father tossed the sacks on the back of the room’s lone chair as he left. At the dresser, Cody poured water from a pitcher into a porcelain basin, cupped the cool liquid, then sloshed his good face on. He slipped into black pants—shiny from too much ironing—threaded shell buttons through the frayed holes of his Sunday shirt. In the rectangle of light coming through the open door, the sacks hung limply, jerked from their hiding place. With each day that had passed, his father’s will unanswered, they had grown in significance. He lifted one to his nose, the ripe smell like that released from a mat of decomposing grass in the thaw. His mother’s worn Bible lay open where she had forgotten it, on the seat of the paint-chipped chair. He couldn’t shake last night’s reading, the Book of Job, kept short, for his mother had skipped great chunks of it, saying it was hard to understand. The Bible draped around his hands when he picked it up. He read of the creature again. By his sneesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. He beholdeth everything that is high: he is king over all the sons of pride. From the parlor, the scratch and drone resumed, the waltz’s plaintive sound drawn on a steel guitar—just like that midnight train, Cody thought—then Hank’s


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 voice unwinding and every word like a prayer. Cody’s cheeks flushed. He felt ashamed by how he’d hidden his tears the previous night as his mother had read. He’d been about as sorry then as he ever had—the once-favored man brought down so—and he’d dreamed of fire and a boiling sea, of the horned Leviathan. He set the Bible down, the story troubling him still, as Preacher last week had said—God’s seeming capriciousness and the monstrous fragility of the flesh. In the hall, he squinted against the light, ran his hand across the stain that grew in the yellowed wallpaper each time rain thrummed on the tin roof. Once he had thought it looked like a horse, but now it seemed the scaly, fire-breathing beast itself slithered down the hall to meet him. Cody’s shadow elongated across the parlor’s floorboards to where his father stood, a sullen presence by the RCA Radiola. The big dial shone like a yellow moon against the general darkness. “Pa?” Cody said, wanting to say more. The word trailed off under the singer’s sad refrain, the upward tilt of it the sum of the gulf between father and son, wide as the Big Hole that was their home. Late afternoon sun blasted down from Idaho in smoky yellow shafts between the barn’s falling-apart board and batten. Cody flung a quilt into the air, watched the tattered cloth float, then settle on the straw like a revival tent folding in upon itself. He stretched his lanky frame out on it; the black pants hung from a rafter on a nail, his shirt floating next to it in the slant light like a ghost. Half lit in a patch of sun, the queen stirred in an alcove in the hay and bent her back into a high arch. The tabby’s ears were nicked and cut, and times when she had been bested traced a map of scars across the stripes on her back. Splaying her toes in front of her, she dug in her claws, then stood warily watching him. “Seen the boy?” Cody heard his father ask from the other side of the wall. “Not since church,” his mother replied. “Denison, don’t be givin me that look. I mean it, I ain’t seen him.” “You spoil the child, Mother. Fillin his head with ideas.” “Teachin him what’s right, is all.” “And how’s that goin a help him out here?” “You got so hard, Husband. You didn’t use to be hard.” As his parents moved to the house, there were

71 words Cody couldn’t make out—his father’s voice, deep, commanding; his mother’s an urgent staccato. The screen door slammed. The rattling of pots and pans. Rising onto one elbow, Cody twirled a length of straw between two fingers to catch the cat’s attention. She jumped down from her alcove and sat motionless like a sphinx three paces off. Out of a brown bag, its crinkled paper soft as worn cloth, he pulled wax paper wrapping, drew from it a would-be lunch remnant. With tongue against upper palate, he made a clicking sound like that of a small bird pecking on a log. The queen stirred, walked cautiously forward, and took the lunchmeat from his hand. She retreated to eat at a distance, then curled up on a pile of his discarded clothes. One by one, kittens ventured from their hiding places in the hayloft, eyes squinting against the light. Cody laid them on his chest, fluffy bodies gray against his ribbed white undershirt. He called each of them names made up on the spot, laughing as they licked his face, his nose. And laughing, he failed to notice the barn door swing open, missed the syncopation of boots and cane drumming across the rutty wooden floor below. Denison Siever shook the ladder, thumped it against the edge of the loft, looking up at his son disapprovingly. “Boy, you’re gigglin like a girl.” Wearing his suit still, he shifted his weight and winced. “Go through this ever year, son. Too old for that kind of nonsense. Bring fleas in the house. Come down with somethin, you keep that up.” “Yessir,” Cody stammered, bracing himself on one hand to turn to look down at his father. The queen had disappeared in an instant, leaving the kittens piled up around him crying helplessly. “Be weaned fore long. You will take care of em like I told you.” Cody grimaced, a spiderweb of wrinkles bursting from the corner of each eye. “Can’t A.J. do it?” he asked, knowing his brother would relish the job. “Toughen up, boy. It’s your turn.” His father spat, shifted his weight back onto the cane. “We got bigger fish to fry. Only three days fore Thomas’ boys come help put up the hay. Your brother’ll be fixin that piece a crap beaverslide. Need you a drive the rake in the mornin. I cain’t do it with this bum knee.” Cody absentmindedly stroked one of the kittens that had stolen back into his lap. “You lissnen to me?” “Yessir.” “Well, leave the dang thing alone then.”


72

CIRQUE

Cody placed the kitten in the pile with the others. “I’m dependin on you a windrow that grass,” his father continued. “Reckon you can get her done?” “Yessir.” His father brought his free hand to his neck, kneaded the creviced skin, brown like cured leather. “Mrs. Thomas spoke to Mother at church today. Asked why didn’t you have no lunch last week. Don’t suppose Mother told you that, did she?” “Nossir.” “You shamed her, boy. You like that?” “Nossir.” “Next time you help out over there, you’ll be takin the lunch your mother took the trouble a fix you, not leavin it here for them mangy things. Won’t have it like we cain’t feed our own.” The yellow shafts extinguished as the sun winked out behind Sheep Mountain. A heavy feeling seized Cody in the chest: all that work, wrangling the tedded grass into neat rows, manning the big hay-stacking scaffolds for days on end. “Well, put your clothes on. Come down to supper. Mother’s fixed your favorite again.” Because his mother could no more stand the heat of the house, they ate their meal on the porch out in the cool evening, arcs of snow in the pale light limning the high peaks of the Pioneers across the Hole, the lights of Wisdom and Jackson dancing beneath them. Afterward, they listened to the old-time music show on the radio station over in Dillon—songs of love lost, children dead and gone, and glory coming, songs played on a fiddle and a lone guitar and a sad voice calling.

tossing him the burlap sacks. “The queen too. She’s a piss-poor mouser, and that’s a fact. We got the tom, don’t need her.” Cody’s mother pulled her gray hair into a bun, wrapped an apron around her waist, then sprinkled the tabletop with flour. “Biscuits and gravy!” she sang in her happy voice. Watching her as he moved to the screen door, Cody tried to frame in his mind the question he was forbidden, how he would call out to her, how her help would be a sustenance. She threw a round of dough onto the dusted table, rolled it flat in short, quick jabs. She kept her eyes fixed on the rolling pin as he passed. Cody slouched across the yard, the barn barely visible, as if in a picture book like the one he’d seen at his cousins’ up in Butte—like it was on a printed page and not close about. Once inside, he waved his arms in front of him until he found the chain; he pulled it, a wedge of light slicing the darkness. He climbed the ladder, and when he reached the hay pile’s top, the kittens clambered toward him, the big male in first position and the others following in order after. Cody dropped them, purring, one by one into the sack and tossed it down to his brother, who’d come along for the ride. The queen sat on her haunches, eerily still, like some discarded, threadbare toy, her forelegs straight,

*** That evening passed and the three days after. Gray-green lines of cut grass snaked across the valley floor toward the Pioneers like pickets on some drunken fence. Cody hadn’t disobeyed his father lightly, but each time he had seen the queen looking down at him, set on death’s errand, he’d known which side he was on and retreated down the ladder with the sacks. On the fourth day, another pitch-dark time before dawn, bone-tired, Cody fumbled with a button of his overalls in the hall. “They’ll be no laggards today,” his father said, steering Cody by the shoulder into the kitchen and

Brenda Roper


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 her button-eyes watching. When at last she came to take the lunchmeat and he grabbed her by the nape of the neck, all hell broke loose, until he forced her, spitting and clawing, into the sack. In the yard, as the sky lightened and the shadows of things sharpened, he found his father waiting next to a washtub filled with dirty water. By his father’s side, Cody’s smirking brother held the dripping sack. “Shit-for-brains here beat you to it on them kittens.” His father slapped A.J. on the head with the back of his hand. Cody turned toward the house. Framed in a kitchen window, his mother stood, motionless, a dark shape bisected in squares of light. “Get the show on the road, son. Time to be a man.” The tub seemed to bob and advance as Cody walked across the yard. A quantity of something soft flowed through him suddenly so that he froze by the side of the tub, the sack jerking in his hand. Looking up at the dirty-gray, cotton ball clouds tinged with purple light, he heard Hank’s voice in his head clear as a bell. Only it was the songs his father no longer favored that rang in Cody’s head—songs set to a jaunty guitar, honky-tonk songs of big-time flirting, pretty women, secret love—things waiting for him out on the edge of childhood. Cody fixed his mind on them like a drowning man reaching for a ring, as if the memory of them might wash away a world of meanness and pain. He heard his father’s cane lifted hard to strike; whiffle past his ear. The screen door slammed. Moved at last, his mother ran from the house to stand opposite them, her hands and apron dusted white. “Denison, please!” Leaning unsteadily, his cane upraised, his father whispered in Cody’s ear. “Boy, don’t make me strike you in front a your mother.” His jaw set, Cody nodded and, turning his head and thrusting the sack quickly under, he heard water splash, felt muscles writhe through burlap and skin. The queen lifted her head from the surface of the water, and through the sack loosed a shriek—like misaligned tines of a wheel rake slicing into one another—that charged up Cody’s spine, washed Hank away. She twisted onto her back. Claws raked his wrists; the top of his hands were streaked red. Plunging the sack deeper—stillness, then water rippling against the side of the tub. Cody straightened. The lump in the sack floated to the top, then bobbed. Blood dripping from his fingertips blossomed in

73 the dirty water. “Clean this mess up and come to breakfast,” his father said, in his voice a poorly veiled sadness. Patting his son on the top of the head, he turned and shambled, slump-shouldered, back to the house. It came to Cody—startled him even, expecting then either indifference or a begrudging expression of pride—the manner of his father’s diminishment, that an honest day’s work was not a promise, that the other notions his father took stock in, duty and manhood, had failed him. False hope, they had only ever been. The yard flooding in yellow light, the side of Cody’s face warmed and he felt a rising anger. In the corner of his eye, a flash. He turned and saw the sun through a gap in the somber, ruddy-tipped peaks of the Pioneers. “You see?” Cody said to his mother, firing her a look that made her back away. “The eyelids of the mornin, Ma.” Wiping her cheeks with a corner of her apron, she shook her head in, to Cody’s mind, amazement or, perhaps, dread, then hurried to his father, threaded her hand through the fold of one arm. With a grunt, Cody hurled the shovel into the hard clay behind the barn, jumped on the flat of the blade, and jerked the handle back and forth as if trying to strangle it. Marking the shallow grave with the seven crosses he’d made of willow twigs, he prayed to be forgiven. A.J., who made short work of the whole thing and of Cody as well, spat and said, “You’re loco,” to his brother, bruised and broken now, splayed out on the ground among the splintered twigs, the wreckage of the little family. His brother’s footsteps padding away, Cody raised himself onto a forearm. He gazed off through tears across the hardscrabble land—rooftops glimmering in the distance; hay mounds lined up like rows of cooling, fresh-baked loaves; the big beaverslide hay-stackers presiding over the wide morning. The John Deere’s engine whined; the Thomas boys joshed in the yard. Cody thought of Job again, how he’d loved God anyway, how when the man had given up, he’d gotten everything back. Scooping dirt over claws that stuck out of a boot mark in the roughed-up ground, Cody stood, patted dust from his clothes, dabbed tears from his face with the back of his hand. And wondering, hardly ever having anything, what might be returned to him, he hurried back to the yard so as not to be late for the haying.


74

CIRQUE

Andrea Garland

Passing Cape Caution

It wasn’t my fault but I still thought Pop would be angry. Always-Punctual-Pop said to meet him at six at his favorite quiet little pub off of Fremont. I wanted to retake my freshman year at the U-Dub. He’d said he’d spot me a second chance if I made good working for him that summer. I’d busted my ass at that marina all summer long, but any time I tried to ask him about signing up for fall semester, he’d put me off. Blinded by the bright street sunshine, I bumped a table as I searched for him. I heard his voice say “Son” and felt his soft hand on my forearm. “Eric the Red,” he said, lifting his glass of ginger ale in my direction. “I’m sorry I’m late,” I said. “This couple kept hanging around. I thought maybe they would want to look at that sloop.” “The sloop sold,” Pop said. “That’s what I want to talk to you about.” His unfashionably clean-shaven old jowls shook as he spoke. “We sign papers tomorrow at three.” “I don’t understand.” Without thinking, I reached for a glass to take a drink, but I hadn’t ordered anything yet so there wasn’t any glass there. I know Pop saw me do that. “You could have told me,” I said. He shrugged. “Your efforts weren’t in vain. If they’re interested they’ll come back tomorrow and I’ll find some other boat to meet their needs.” “So, you sold something,” I said. “Good for you.” I hadn’t made a sale all summer. “Well, I tried to sell. You can’t fault me for that.” I raised my hand and tried to catch the waiter’s eye. “I don’t fault you, exactly” he said, stressing “fault.” “So, I can sign up for fall semester?” I asked. “The deadline is Friday.” The waiter came over. “Scotch on the rocks,” I said. Outside a pretty girl walked by in a red-checked dress. I watched her through the window, slinging her books from one arm to the other as she boarded the bus. She wouldn’t give me the time of day if she saw me repairing an on-board toilet or scraping barnacles or half the tasks I’d done all summer. Pop watched me, his hand trembling a little from the shrapnel he caught on Iwo Jima. He sighed. “I’m not sure going back and repeating your classes is the right

way to go about it.” “Pop, I have busted my ass for you. I earned this.” “I’m not saying I’m unwilling to pay your tuition,” he said. “I just don’t know if you’re really ready for college.” “What?!” I thought of scraping the bottom of the dinghy in the hot sun. It took me days to scrape the old paint off, then repaint. I didn’t know you had to replace caulk before you paint, and had to redo it, but I redid it. I put in a lot of time on that project. “Son, you failed everything, every subject last year.” “That was last year. I was still finding my way, getting my sea-legs like you said.” “How could you fail Freshman English?” he asked. “You speak English every day. Social science? Accounting 101? At Harvard we called those the children’s classes. Son, maybe your strength is more,” he hesitated “hands-on.” “Huh?” “Well, Paul was the one who was good at sums and books. You were better at running, wrestling” “Sailing,” I interrupted. “Sure.” He pursed his lips a little, then smiled at me. “You’re good in boats. It’s just the business of selling them, of running a marina. That doesn’t come easy to you, does it? That’s okay.” “What?” “You were the sailor. Paul was the scholar. Maybe I expected too much from you.” Feeling my face redden, I gripped the sides of my chair and took a deep breath. “Pop, I screwed up, okay? I don’t have anyone to blame but myself. I didn’t do well because I spent all my time with my fraternity and chasing girls. It will be different this time. I won’t drink beer.” He smiled. He almost never smiled since we got the news about Paul. “What if you went back during Winter semester instead?” “Winter? Am I supposed to keep caulking decks and picking up trash until then?” “Actually, I have a rather important chore, well, errand. It would require you to really step up -” “But -” He put up his hand, “Don’t argue. Listen. This is important.” “I swear -” “ The couple we sold the sloop to are from Alaska. They bought the boat but they don’t know how to sail. They’re going to hire you to teach them while they sail the boat to Alaska.” I put both hands on the table. “Pop, I swear, I had


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 no idea. All the way to Alaska. Do you think I can?” “You won all the sailing races in Lake Union, Lake Washington. You know boats. Of course you can.” I took a deep breath, blinking at the tears suddenly in my eyes. “I won’t let you down, Pop.” Three weeks of bad weather, worse food, and John and Kathleen Burrows’ two babies underfoot on a twenty-five foot boat, and I’d had enough. It was not my idea of sailing. But a contract is a contract, so there I was, on the way into Shelter Bay. We had to cross Queen Charlotte Sound, Dixon Entrance, and after that, we’d be in Alaskan waters and I could fly home from Ketchikan. At Shelter Bay, British Columbia, I didn’t like it. A gentle swell came in as we motored around the bay. I stood in the cockpit, tiller in my hands. The guy who actually owned the boat, John Burrows, stood in the bow, ready to drop anchor while Kathleen stood on the steps of the companionway, her head out the hatch, telling me the depth sounder readings. “Ten fathoms,” Kathleen said, then “five fathoms, four fathoms, three fathoms, two fathoms. . . I’m switching to feet. . . eleven feet, ten feet.” I tried to hold up the charts so I could find the cove where we could anchor. “Nine feet . . . eight feet . . .” Kathleen said. I guess I was holding the chart upside down. I turned it right side up, but still couldn’t see where that guidebook said we were supposed to anchor. I squinted, trying to see which little numbers on the chart matched the depth of the water under our keel. I looked again at the beach. One grey tree-lined beach looks like any other grey tree-lined beach up there. I had no idea where to park. I couldn’t see any buoys. “Six feet . . . three feet,” Kathleen’s voice rose in pitch. “You need to get us out of here.” “Okay, okay,” I said. “Two feet,” Kathleen said. John turned around from the bow. “Hey,” he called. “I think we’re getting a little close.” He used the boathook to push us away from a jutting outcrop of black rock. I crumpled the map. “This chart is bad.” I turned the boat around. With the twenty-foot tides they had around there, I couldn’t tell whether we were in too much water or not enough. “John, come on back,” I said. “Seven feet,” Kathleen said. John came back to the cockpit. “The holding ground is bad,” I said. “It doesn’t say that in the Coastal Pilot,” John said.

75 “Plenty of people have anchored here.” “It’s really bad,” I said. “Once the tide goes out we’ll be left high and dry.” He stood there, shifting the boat hook from one hand to the other, then set it down and dug under his wool sweater and finally pulled a copy of the tide tables out of his breast pocket. “Put that away,” I said. “It’s not on daylight savings time.” But John opened the small orange booklet, frowned, and tapped his nose. “Shelter Bay isn’t even on there,” I said. “Well, actually, it looks like the tide is almost out. If we find a place here, the water won’t get much lower.” “It’s just fine here,” Kathleen said. “Look at that other boat,” and she gestured off at a fishing boat. I looked over at John. “There’s too much of a swell over there and it’s too shallow over here. Those fishermen have better anchors.” John frowned. “Well, what do you think?” He picked up the boat hook again. “We’ll be fine,” Kathleen said. “Just go over there, where that guy is.” We heard a cry from below. For the umpteenth time, one of the twins needed something. “Oh -” Kathleen said and disappeared down into the cabin. John looked down the hatch a moment. “Okay?” he called. “Under control,” she said. “They’re fine. I’ll get dinner started.” “We can’t stay here, or we’ll wind up on the rocks,” I said. “What other anchorages are there in the area?” John asked. “Kathleen,” he yelled down the hatch, “bring up the Coastal Pilot guide.” I heard her say “Hold on,” from below. “There aren’t any,” I said. Honestly, I didn’t know, but I didn’t think there were. “We’ll have to run all night.” “But, . . . ” his voice died away. He tilted his head to one side. “Yeah, I know. Queen Charlotte Sound.”I shrugged. I looked out at the opening of Shelter Bay where the swell came in. “We’ll just cross it.” I nodded as I spoke. “Well, but, is that really a good idea?” he asked. “We have to cross it anyway,” I told him. “There will be less traffic at night.” I thought of Pop: he’d done a lot of things but he’d never crossed Queen Charlotte Sound in the dark. “Just aim north, take a couple of turns, morning comes, we keep going north.” I had talked to my mom, long distance when we


76 stopped in Nanaimo. She said if I was back in Seattle by September 10th, I could still make it to the fall semester start at the community college. I could sit down and study in a warm dry place. “We should talk about this,” he said. “Kathleen,” he yelled down into the cabin. “She’s busy,” I said. “I’m busy,” she yelled up. “See?” “Kathleen, we need to discuss something,” John yelled. He hesitated. She didn’t appear. “The sea waits for no one. We must go now,” I said. “Well,” he said, “If you really think so.” Smoke from the wood stove came up out the hatch. “Hey, put it out,” I yelled. “We’re moving.” Kathleen poked her head up. “I’m just getting dinner started.” “We’re moving on.” “What? To where?” “Alaska,” I said. I aimed into the swell. “Are you crazy? It’s getting dark.” John looked at his wife and looked at me. “That’s what I wanted to discuss with you. It’s too late…I tried…” His voice trailed off as she glowered. He glanced below. “Pew - I think one of the kids needs a diaper change.” “But -” she began, then looked down below and disappeared into the cabin. John, grinning and singing “Fox went out on a chilly night,” helped me put up the sails. I closed up the hatch and gripped the tiller, weather in my teeth, prepared for the oncoming storm. Kathleen climbed up the companionway and handed me a plate of some kind of freeze-dried, reconstituted camp food. “Why didn’t we stop in Shelter Bay?” she asked. The wind tore her hair around. “Impossible. The holding ground was bad. Look, I can’t see with the hatch open. Close it,” I said, just as we hit the swell. The waves around the shallower water near Cape Caution mixed up with the ocean, so every once in awhile a big wave hit the bow for a near vertical drop. As we fell down the other side, I heard a crash below. I felt my stomach rise as the boat fell. Kathleen hurried below. “Close the hatch!” I yelled. Something broke. I gasped, but I couldn’t do anything besides hold the tiller. John went below, then came back up. “The food locker door came open. Stuff’s everywhere. Kathleen’s cleaning it up.”

CIRQUE “What was that crash I heard?” “Exploding jar of baby food.” John said. I smirked and tried to laugh. “Jar she blows!” “Yeah,” John said. He didn’t laugh. “How come it’s so choppy, all of a sudden? I mean, I know we’re getting ocean swells, but what’s with all these bumps?” “It’s the Cape,” I said, pleased. “A cape extends underwater from the land. It falls away in underwater ridges. When the swell moves over the shallower water, the waves mash up, don’t have the same rhythm. Their shapes change. Some become vertical. Hey!” I yelled, as a wave hit us right on the beam. We were drenched. “Shit!” I yelled, as we fell down the side of the next wave. I gripped the tiller. The sails luffed, slack a moment. As we recovered, I tightened the main sheet. It was getting really dark. I kept the sails up but turned on the motor for extra power. John frowned. “Well, I guess that’s it, then. That’s the Cape right there,” he said, stroking his stubbly beard with one hand and then the other. “I didn’t think we’d reach it so soon.” We looked toward the Cape Caution lighthouse. We couldn’t see more than a dim less-dark fuzz, but I knew it was Cape Caution because the charts and Coastal Pilot said it flashed in six second intervals. “Four, five, six,” I said, watching the flashes. Running all night, we would have to spell each other on alternate watches. “You have the watch after midnight.” He nodded. “Is this alright?” He gestured at the waves. We were about 400 miles north of anywhere I had ever sailed before and we were really out in it. “Fine and dandy, Johnny B.,” I said. “I’ll wake you up at midnight.” He went below. “Close the hatch,” I yelled through 20 knots of wind and and sheets of rain. It had rained every day since we left home. I lost my Marlboro Man tan. The Cape finally off our starboard stern, the chop died down. I shivered and wished I’d said no to Pop. It grew even harder to see. Worse, I wasn’t sure whether anyone could see us - the battery on the mast light looked like it was going out. I groped in a box behind the cockpit, hitting the gas can with a hollow tin clank - not as full as I thought. I located a flashlight and held it up to read the Coastal Pilot Guide. Stay three nautical miles west of Cape Caution, then turn north,” The light in my hand trembled. Sail north five and a half nautical miles. Pass one nautical mile west of Egg Island. The Egg Island light flashes in five second intervals. Once you pass Egg Island, continue north


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 seven and one half nautical miles further to South Passage two nautical miles west of Dugout Rocks, then turn 65º North to enter Fitz Hugh Sound. I set the Guide in the front of the cockpit, the flashlight on top of it. I grabbed for the tiller, thinking I saw a log floating ahead. The whole Northwest is logging country so the waters were lousy with them, all just waiting to punch a hole in our hull. I squinted, trying to see, well, anything, but no logs appeared. Mainly, I looked for the blink of the Egg Island light, but I also tried to avoid logs and rocks and stuff too. I took a deep breath and looked as far ahead as I could. It seemed like I had been on that course too long not to have spotted Egg Island. I unsnapped my cuff to see my watch, which snagged between my sleeve and my wool sweater. I tried to unfasten it while still holding the tiller. I got it halfway off and looked for the time, which I couldn’t see in the dark. I saw a light off my port bow, but not where I thought Egg Island should be and not flashing. It grew brighter. I waved the flashlight then held it over my head. I turned to starboard, and as I did, saw flashing far off to starboard. I felt sick, but counted five second intervals: Egg Island. Right in front of me, the bright light - looked like a tug boat - also turned. I set down the flashlight and turn harder to starboard. My watch fell off as I shoved the tiller. As the swell hit us the watch flew past me, right over the rail. I dropped the flashlight too, but luckily it just rolled around, fell into the cockpit, and came to rest against my feet. The Coastal Pilot Guide, sodden, went nowhere. I steered us between the tug and Egg Island with no idea how far off Egg Island we were, only that it was somewhere to our right. The tug passed, its barges passed, their wake hit us, but we kept on. Now, I seriously had to take a whiz. I managed to fasten the tiller to the stays and open the hatch. Below, babies swayed in their white hammocks, their breath and murmuring calm and regular. My eyes watered in the warm, close, milk-scented air. If I went below, could I bear to come back up? I closed the hatch, unsnapped my rain jacket, and undid my cover-all rain pants. I tried to aim away from the wind, but of course, it blew back at me. Rain and spray soaked my pants. Darn jeans soaked up

77

Michael Kleven

gallons of water. Zipped back up, I still felt freezing. We were somewhere off Egg Island, itself surrounded by rocks. The Dugout Rocks were north, and if we were going east, around the north side of Egg Island, we would hit rocks that way too. Teeth chattering, I yelled down the hatch. “John, you better come up here.” He popped up fully clothed. “What’s our position?” “We’re the Fug-Aw We Tribe,” I muttered, teeth chattering. “I’m not sure.” John picked up the wet charts underneath the Guide, and shined the flashlight. He pulled a course protractor out of his jacket. “See, there’s Egg Island.” I pointed it out. “There’s supposed to be lights at the entrance to Fitz Hugh Sound. One at Clark Point, on the west side and one at Dugout Rocks, just a few miles south of the east side entrance. I think we might be going around Egg Island.” “We’ve got to find those lights,” John said, grabbing my arm. “Or we hit the rocks,” I said, nodding. “I think maybe we should just turn left, head for open ocean.” My chin quivered. “There’s rocks that way too,” John said. “Let’s just find those lights.” “We can’t.” I couldn’t see anything and what I could see just confused me. Waves, the flash of fish going by, phosphorescence. “There’s nothing but diatoms and darkness, and the Egg Island light.” I wiped my eyes. Stroking his beard, he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I think we ought to continue this


78 course, maybe a little more north. Of course, there’s no way of knowing what the current is doing to our position either.” This last, he muttered. “What, and hit the Dugout Rocks?” “There’s rocks on the way to the ocean, too,” he said “Besides, the Dugout Rocks should have a light.” “I can’t understand the lack of markings. Washington is full of markers. This place, you can’t see fuck all.” “You said you could get us through this,” John yelled. “We should have anchored in Shelter Bay.” “There were unmarked rocks there, I could tell. We could have died there.” I said. I took a deep breath and kept my voice from breaking. “If we turn around, we’re going back to Shelter Bay,” he said. “We are not turning back,” I said. “I think Egg Island may be falling behind us,” he said. “Look, we’re lost, likely about to hit the rocks,” I said, pushing the tiller as if to turn. “If we don’t find the lights to enter Fitz Hugh Sound in fifteen minutes, we’re turning west and heading for open ocean.” “No, we’re not,” John said. “Who’s the captain?” “It’s my boat.” “I’m the captain while I’m on the boat. You’re just my student.” I shined the flashlight in his eyes. “Don’t mutiny. You want to drown?” “It’s still my boat.” He blinked in the glare. Kathleen popped her head out the hatch. I shut off the flashlight and set it down. John gave Kathleen a guilty look. “Close that hatch!” I yelled. “Close it,” John yelled. “We can’t see.” Kathleen in her lifejacket, climbed halfway out the companionway. “What’s going on? Where are we?” “We’re somewhere south of Fitz Hugh Sound,” John said. “You don’t know where we are?” she yelled. “That’s Egg Island back there,” he said, waving behind him. No one could see anything but darkness behind us. “We’re heading for the open ocean,” I said. “We’ve got to do it to avoid the Dugout Rocks.” “I’ve seen the charts. There’s rocks towards the ocean too, hundreds of them,” she said. She turned to John. “How did you get us into this? The girls are just babies.”

CIRQUE “Close the hatch!” I yelled. John got on his knees in the front of the cockpit, leaning hard on the cabin wall to brace himself, his hands together in a steeple. I couldn’t see anything through him. “Get out of the way,” I yelled. “God,” he said, “if you can hear me, get us out of this. If you can hear me, I promise, if you help us find our way to Fitz Hugh Sound and up to Bella Bella without hitting rocks or sinking, I promise,” he paused. Kathleen, standing in the cockpit, her hair blowing all around, grabbed at his hands. “Stop it!” “I promise I’ll have both children baptized,” John said. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” Kathleen yelled. “We agreed not to bind ourselves to patriarchal traditions!” “Get out of the way!” I yelled. “I promise I’ll have both of my children baptized,” John said. “Hold on,” Kathleen yelled. “We agreed.” She looked up at the sky. “He doesn’t mean it.” “I do!” “I can’t see around either of you,” I yelled. “You can’t do this,” she yelled. “It’s not binding.” “I mean it to be binding,” John yelled. “It has been fifteen minutes,” I said, not caring that my voice sounded like a sob. “I’m turning.” “No,” John grabbed the tiller and kept me from turning. “I see something!” “It’s nothing,” I said. “Just diatoms. I’ve been seeing them all night,” but once he got out of my way, I saw it too. “I can’t believe you just did that.” Kathleen punched John as he stood next to me in the cockpit. I held the tiller tight, tears rolling down my cheeks. What was Pop thinking, sending me up here to die? What was he thinking, sending Paul to Vietnam, for that matter? If Pop had said the word, Paul could have gone to Canada. Instead, here I was, somewhere off the coast of Canada, probably about to die too. My generation would never be so cold-blooded with our own kids. I blew my nose on soggy tissue then threw it over my shoulder, overboard. “It’s another light,” John said. “And it’s flashing at regular intervals.” I could barely see, but he was right. They were regular: two flashes at twelve second intervals. “It’s the Dugout Rocks,” I yelled. “Okay, there it is,” John said, grinning but I saw him shudder. “Just keep it on your side.”


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 Kathleen gave us a disgusted look and went below. But how close was it? “Where’s the other light? The one on the west side of Fitz Hugh Sound? How come they’re so hard to see?” I asked. “It’s dark, Genius,” John said. “It’s hard to see in the dark.” “These are beacons for Christ’s sake,” I said. “Washington has them all over the place, bright enough you can actually see them.” The engine sputtered a moment. I thought of the half-empty gas can. “This wouldn’t be so hard if we’d waited and gone in the morning,” John said. “But -” I blew on my hands and rubbed them together. “Hold on, there’s another one off the port bow,” he said. “Look at that.” “That must be the west side light.” “We’re at the entrance to Fitz Hugh Sound.” He reminded me of Pop, pointing like he knew the way, I’d say another forty-five minutes went by but since I lost my watch, I couldn’t be sure. We passed another beacon which we recognized as the Addenbrooke Island light. I’d led us to the right track, but still couldn’t figure our position relative to the light, whether we were safely mid-channel, or about to scrap the rocks on shore. The waves suddenly sounded really loud. “Jesus Christ, those are breakers,” I yelled. “We’re going aground.” “Our father, whoart in Heaven,” John chanted. Even clenching the tiller in a death grip as I had, the word “Father” pissed me off. I kept my nerve and kept the tiller. We didn’t crash. “It’s a tide rip,” John said. “It just sounds like breakers.” My cold hands could barely hold the tiller but I wouldn’t ask John to take it. “There’s got to be another light up ahead,” I said. “We have to enter Lama Passage.” I looked at the chart. I squinted where I thought the horizon should appear. “Where?” John smiled and nodded. “You know, it’s after midnight. It must be three or four. Why don’t you go below and some sleep? I can take over.” “No,” I told that patronizing bastard. “I’m in charge.” “You don’t know where we are,” John said. “We’re on a boat, you damn fool.” “Not what I meant.” “You don’t know where we are either.” “We didn’t turn onto the rocks. You can go to bed.”

79 “Look, why don’t we stay where we are?” I asked. “We can’t find the entrance to Lama Passage, so let’s just go back to Addenbrooke Island and keep that in sight until it gets light enough to see.” John leaned over and shut off the engine. “Hey!” I yelled. “That will conserve fuel.” His voice was smug but his hands shook. We sailed back past Addenbrooke. A few miles south of Addenbrooke, we turned and came back up Fitz Hugh Sound. As I looked back, I saw the light now off our port quarter. “Hey!” I pushed the tiller to starboard. “It’s the current, pushing us east,” John said. “I know,” I said, looking back again to readjust. “It’s light.” I stopped trembling. We sailed on. We finally saw the outline of mountains to the west. “5:30,” said John. “Almost.” I saw the shore. We were nowhere near it. “Yes!” I pointed. “Yeah!” I yelled. “We’re going to make it! I can see!” John whooped too. We hugged each other, jumping up and down. “I did it!” I yelled. “I brought us across Queen Charlotte Sound in the dark! I did it! Hot damn!” In my mind’s eye, for the first time that night, I could see myself in a warm Seattle bar, telling this story to my pals. I could smell the smoke and almost taste the beer. “Whoo hoo!” John yelled. “It’s morning! We can see!” Our arms still around each other, we screamed, laughed, and wiped our eyes on our sleeves. The tiller swayed. Kathleen came up on deck, a round-eyed sleepy toddler in a life vest on her hip. “You stupid sons of bitches nearly got us killed,” she yelled. “It’s,” I paused, about to let them have it. It wasn’t my fault they had no radar, no visible depth sounder, or reliable lights. We all knew from the start it would be a dangerous journey at that time of year in that little boat, and I was sick and tired of it all. Instead, I exhaled and said “It’s pink there.” Yes, I knew how stupid that sounded. I pointed at the remnants of last winter’s snow on the mountains, turning pink in the dawn. “Another month, they’ll get fresh snow,” John nodded. It looked as if it might not rain again for at least a couple of hours. For a long time none of us said anything as we sailed along, listening to the gentle lap of waves against the hull.


80

CIRQUE

Michael Strelow

A Little Lower Layer

The number of jack rabbits that evening was astounding. Driving at 55 returning from the bird refuge, Thomas calculated he hit a rabbit every twelve seconds. Most were crossing the road, but sometimes one simply stood up on the asphalt, so big, reaching about three feet as if on tip-toes trying to see itself in the head lights when the thud came. It was a slaughter, the vision of a slaughter: rabbit apocalypse. He drove back to selfservice car wash in town to flush the blood and fur from his bumper. An old man sat on a plastic milk crate. He looked like he worked there checking on soap dispensers, the condition of hoses. Thomas said, “The year of the rabbit,” pointing to the gore washing toward the drain. “I’ve never seen so many rabbits, and they just kept coming. I couldn’t seem to miss them even slowing down.” Who’d thought so many had died, he thought. Rabbit inferno. The old man didn’t say anything. And then he did. “There won’t be any sign of any of them by mid-morning tomorrow. Eagle and coyote food.” He paused and looked down the road from where Thomas had come. “And not the year of the rabbit, though there’s plenty of ‘em. It’ll be the year of the rattlesnake this year. And again next year with all those baby rabbits to eat. You’ll see. Years of the rattlesnakes thick in the sagebrush. The rabbits are just what you see. They’re just for making more snakes.” The old man got up and stretched. And farted a resonant punctuation to having peered through nature’s illusions into its Ahab-heart. Thomas finished up by hand-rubbing the fur out of the bumper bolts, and when he looked up the old man was gone. He laughed at himself as he thought of the insubstantial wraith, the old prophet, the mythological old man who speaks cryptic truths and then glides back into the mist of nature. The folk figure, the ur-father, he

thought, the conduit of natural wisdom. The non-man who speaks like a man. Gilgamesh. Noh play. Bear standing on its hind legs to speak and then dissolve back into the forest. How many versions of this had he run into while teaching? The year of the rabbit. The year of the snake. He rode the asphalt whine toward the city. A hawk sat the fence pole, then another and another. Same hawk, occurred to him. Same pole. So what was the other lower layer, the snake layer? His apartment smelled like city except for his jacket that retained the tang of the bird refuge. He tossed it on a chair, his keys in the bowl, kicked his shoes under the coffee table. Open on the table was a large book displaying several owls, and there were copies of Audubon prints in a cluster on one wall. John’s parents and sisters occupied one end of the mantel while Mexican whistles in the shape of grey birds held down the other. There was an arrangement to the room that allowed Thomas to retrieve order after it had been disturbed by a party or the cleaning woman’s misplacement of a photo or bird whistle. A way back, he came to think of his order, a way back to what it used to be like. Order was a time machine not just a temporary stay of chaos. I should call her and tell her I’m back safe. Just put my feet up a minute. He dreamed of the rabbits; this time they flew slowly from the bumper arching into the evening sky and disappearing into the low hung stars. Brenda Roper He woke to his cell phone. She wanted to know all about the birding: what he saw. He didn’t want to tell her about the rabbits, knowing she would beg off at the first detail: the gore on the bumper; the odd, standing suicides; morning carrion eaters—the interesting parts. She wanted the red ibis, the white pelican, the sandhill crane, the nighthawk. He walked to meet her for dinner and passed the tchotchke shop, and there in glass, he hadn’t noticed before, were a preponderance of rabbits lying sitting standing and a few snakes caduceus-like. When he turned from the window, sticks fallen from the sycamores writhed on the ground. Let’s see, he thought. Nietzsche’s eternal return. No. More Jung and Northrup Frye—big anthropological urges working their way out. He kicked a stick. Another one.


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 At dinner he noticed how long her fingers, how soft her hair. She reached over to touch his hand when she laughed. She seemed like a rabbit sometimes and then a snake sometimes. “Tom. Tom. Are you there?” He’d been staring over her shoulder. “Sorry. I’m just…It was a long drive back…” “But worth it? The birds and everything?” He thought he might try to tell her about the rabbits, but without the gore. “There were a lot of rabbits,” he started and then stopped. “Coming off the sanctuary at night there were rabbits everywhere.” Lots and lots and lots of rabbits. Too many rabbits. “I’d never seen so many like that. And…and I hit some with the car.” She waited. “And you hit some rabbits…? “I did. I don’t know why it should bother me. So much. I don’t know why it should bother me at all. It’s pretty common to hit rabbits out there.” “I remember when we hit the young coyote, or thought we did,” she said. “We stopped, remember? But couldn’t see anything in the dark. Ok, so I thought a wounded coyote might attack us. What did I know about coyotes then? What did I know about the whole western business?” “You thought coyotes were just little wolves.” “Well, you try coming off the streets of the boroughs all your life and see what you think of sagebrush and coyotes.” She laughed and touched his hand. “So you were saying, you hit a rabbit…” “I hit more than one. I guess a lot. Without trying to hit them. I didn’t weave around the road trying to pick them off or anything.” “I can’t see you hurting them on purpose. We had an eye doctor in the city and someone told me that he drove a black Cadillac and tried to hit cats with it, swerved after them trying to kill them. It seems he volunteered in a free clinic and was always treating poor children for cornea scratches from cats. The kids would try to pick up those alley cats, and the cat would scratch at their faces and sometimes got an eye.” “That sounds like a problem from an ethics class. Are you making that up?” “No. No, really. Someone told me he did that, and it sounded like something a doctor might actually do.” She rested her case. “Well, I didn’t go after them. They just…there were so many of them it was hard not to hit them without slowing to a crawl. You know that stretch. It’s about fifteen miles coming back from the field station. You have to drive it.” “Of course you do. So how many do you think you hit? Like five or six?”

81 “More. It doesn’t matter. What’s good here?” “No like ten. A dozen?” “Let’s not do dead rabbits before dinner.” “Hey, that’s my line remember? Nothing icky while we’re eating. When we were first going out you said the word ‘slug’ at the table, and I couldn’t eat my meatballs. I don’t know why. My family was very careful about dinner talk. You could say wound, but not puss. You could say…” “Ok. Yeah. I remember. I was just trying to say there were more rabbits than I ever remember.” “How many?” She held up two hands full of fingers and flashed them twice. “Twenty?” He didn’t know how many he’d killed. Wham, then wham, then wham, one after another. There could have been a hundred in fifteen miles. Every twelve seconds—five a minute. Sixty miles an hour—a mile a minute by fifteen miles. Seventy-five? Maybe there were seventy-five and then the standing ones that just seemed to appear right at the bumper. But he wasn’t going sixty. Maybe fifty. What would a stack of seventy-five jack rabbits look like? Or hanging on a barn wall. He’d seen an old photo of community rabbit-shoots with a barn wall covered in dead, hanging rabbits flanked by proud men and women with their small-bore rifles. What did they do with all those rabbits? Where did all his rabbits go? The old guy seemed to think they would be gone by noon the next day. Recycled. Fill the stomachs of golden eagles and coyotes. He remembered stopping by the side of the road to watch a young golden eagle that had a still wriggling rabbit in its claws. The eagle couldn’t seem to get airborne with the big rabbit, but wouldn’t leave it even when Thomas approached close enough to watch the action. The eagle had screeched at him and hopped with the rabbit to get a little more distance between them. Finally he left and watched from a distance, and when the eagle calmed it began to eat the rabbit until the carcass became light enough to fly with. She had an early morning event; he was tired. He never told her exactly how many rabbits he must have killed. Seventy-five seemed like such a big number that you couldn’t claim accident any more. That would be too close to her eye doctor chasing cats in the alleys. I’m innocent he said to himself, recalling Kafka’s K. It was just some weird natural event, some excess, one of those atrocious coincidences nature concocts. El nino. A tomato shaped like a perfect valentine heart. Seventyfive jack rabbits in a heap. A heap of rabbits. More rabbits than any ten people will hit in their lifetimes. More than fifty people. The next day in class Thomas wanted to put his


82

CIRQUE

hand into the wound of the world to feel how deep. What if what he now thought of as his rabbit-principle occurred in another context? At school? He’d always suspected that along with his good teaching there was a certain amount of collateral damage—the wrong impression, the fragile student, the misunderstanding turned awful and then destructive without his knowing about it. Some comment, maybe meant as a joke, that without his intention burrowed itself under the thin skin of a student and left the student less and weaker instead of stronger and better as intended. What if the rabbit-principle applied? One day there might be the equivalent of the rabbit slaughter—but with students. What would be the snakes? What would feed on that slaughter and then become legion itself? God, that way lies madness. She called at noon. “Ok, how many rabbits did you kill today.” She thought that would be a hilarious way to begin the conversation. She couldn’t stop laughing at her own cleverness. “I’m going with one-fifty. Best guess. The few rabbits that lived on that stretch of the road are telling the story of that night, and by now re-telling how the black Toyota just seemed to draw them in from off the road, into those two wild lights that sang a siren song. Or the rabbit equivalent, anyway. Not so dramatic, maybe. You know how rabbits understate.” She gasped with laughter on the other end. He couldn’t leave it alone. “So they went around in the failing light gathering up the departed. The heap of bodies loomed higher than the sage, a new mountain against the night sky.” “Yeah. Yeah. Can you get away for lunch? Maybe we can find some place serving rabbit. Or Welch rarebit, which I always thought was a kind of way to fix rabbit. Turns out not, but could be a substitute. What d’ya say?” What did she suddenly find so engaging about this whole rabbit business? Should he tell her now about the snake part? And when would the snake part kick in? The little lower layer? *** Thomas felt sandwiched in the layers of glass, out the revolving door then up the warm concrete street, his shoes clicking to him like cicadas, then around the corner to where the wind, having worked its way up the number streets buffered by the named streets, howled from the south. He practiced his recitation of bounty. Practiced it because she had informed him he was becoming so negative about everything that

he needed some appreciation of the world to offset his souring character—an antidote. The bounty of his students’ never ending ignorance that provided him a job, the bounty of struggling writers trying to crack open God’s own private stash of language to say something worthwhile, the bounty of sin. He had said he’d work on the bounty idea, and he was also sure this list would not qualify him for reprieve from her scorn. But it was a start. The bounty of death. The birds at the refuge always relieved him of his negativity. They seemed so intent on replicating themselves with every scintillation of burning energy that they left themselves no room for their own doom; they were interchangeable one sparrow with one willet. Somehow this gave him comfort. One bird would eat whatever another bird missed—dinosaurs that they were, a reduction sauce: they became thick with their own species. And the rabbits, too. Then all of their lives and deaths were concentrated too. Thomas taught the singing of the sirens in a chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses. On the way home, stalled in traffic, a rabbit hopped to the center of a vacant lot and stopped there with nothing visible to eat but dirt. He couldn’t remember seeing a rabbit in the city before. Maybe they were coming after him. He laughed. Maybe they could dance the lambada, too. Maybe the cracks in the world he had always suspected would widen and swallow finally what they needed to swallow. The rabbit sat for as long as the line of traffic idled in waiting. Then, as if releasing the traffic, the rabbit and cars moved together. Maybe, thought Thomas, the rabbit was just checking about how cars moved so he could return to the refuge and report. She? It? There is the bounty of forgetting, the bounty of oblivion, the bounty of animadversion. Not an acceptable list either. Maybe the creatures of the refuge were working. Somewhere he read that the largest useful number was ten to the 124th power. That was the number of fermis in the known universe—all the things there were or could be. Maybe there were an infinite number of…of rabbits to realize in one’s lifetime. He would resolve also to finish with the rabbits (already) and take his bounty more sincerely. Thomas felt he had paid his dues, and now his life would be stronger and more positive. He forgot the rabbits until he returned to the bird refuge almost a month later. The sun was high and made photography more difficult, so he put away his camera to wait for kindly light and shadow. A pair of red ibis were eating


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 their way in and out of the shallows. One had a snake, he watched. Then the other a frog. Life seemed good in the shallows, and he remembered the rabbit day and counted it a bounty. There was an older couple snapping pictures beside the slough with cameras and gear hanging from them as if any second they would begin hawking it in the marketplace. He heard the seedpods rattle just down the path between them, heard the cameras’ clicks. Once he had watched a man here, a considerable man portly and broad, perched on a monopod stool staring into the brush with a tiny camera in his fleshy hand. And he rethought the concept of refuge—all these too needed a refuge. Now the couple moved off, maybe to their refuge. He had come again for the birds and for the antidote to the city. After the day with the rabbit in the vacant lot, there were no more signs and portents in the city, no more indicators that nature had sent spies among the city refugees. Thomas found himself more and more genuinely amused by the memory of being distraught. He thought again of the evening he hit all the rabbits, and now it seemed long ago and far away as if some weird confluence of stars and cosmic affiliations had concocted the event for him. And then he wondered about the trail it left: the glass rabbits in the store window, the bunny-inthe-lot day, the love of his life so perpetually amused by his story that rabbits became her incessant joke. *** He waited for evening (it was a different time of year, different conditions) and drove slowly. I wonder, he thought, do I want there to be rabbits again or not to be rabbits. The slaughter, that carnage had briefly organized his life, made things mean that wouldn’t have meant, made slings and arrows into rabbit fur and bits of meat. Maybe serial killers-- young men in towers with rifles, creeps in basements, there didn’t seem to be any women serial killers—maybe that’s what they were actually doing, organizing life around an event, an eventuality of consequences temporal and eternal. They were sinning so grievously that forever thereafter life would take on meaning for them. Had he gotten away with serial murder—but with rabbits. He began chuckling to himself about his cosmic meanderings and laughed so hard he had to pull over, tears running down his cheeks. I never was able to amuse myself like this, he thought. The world has become much funnier. Or I have. He sat and caught his breath as the light faded. Two cars passed and then a truck. Then there were no lights in either direction. He opened the door and stepped out on the gravel of the roadside. And suddenly

83 he heard—they must have been there all along but he wasn’t listening for them—sounds in the sagebrush: a clicking as if clocks giving last gasps, irregular and out of rhythm; a sonata of rustlings just out of sight in the shadows; a low tone that seemed to come up out of the landscape, part of the dirt or the wind far away plucking away at the ridges and phone poles. Why hadn’t he heard these before? What kept him from hearing, from listening? He stepped carefully down the ditch and up the other side until he could see into the sagebrush better without the glare of the car lights. He retraced his steps to the car, shut off the engine and the lights, closed the door and then stepped back into the sage to listen again. The car clicked and cooled and then stopped. The evening owned everywhere he could look. Where are they? Where are the rabbits now? Where the snakes? The road seemed to retain more than its share of the failing light as if the asphalt husbanded the photons of the world. He started to laugh again, at himself, the photons. Then a rabbit hopped out onto the road, hesitantly at first, just at the edge. A watch, a waistcoat, my ears and whiskers, he thought. Alice’s rabbit hole is right here somewhere. I think I have been ready to follow her for a long time. The rabbit got bolder and hopped out to the middle of the road and found something there, something edible, maybe grain blown off a truck. The rabbit lifted its head and chewed, then returned to the road. Thomas watched and thought he could hear the rabbit’s toenails click as it hopped a little ways and ate again. Could he hear it breathe? Could it organize the whole world for him without being hit by a car? The rabbit hopped a ways down the middle of the road pausing to eat its invisible feast. Something rustled very close to his right leg, and Thomas thought he might have fled, at one time. But now he felt like he belonged to the rabbit and the rustling if only because laughing had brought him to stop exactly here, and now the rabbit and the road and the rustling and the low moan of the hills… The rustling and the rabbit. Thomas sat and his head disappeared below the sagebrush. Whatever rustled—come. Whatever wanted to crawl up his pants leg, lay it eggs in his pocket, come. What wanted to take him back right here in this thin light and stones. Come. And whatever is the opposite of love, the coming undone and ultimate not caring, he would say yes to it here and now and resolve himself into wisps and snatches of sound and creaking of wood. The rabbits could take him back.


84

CIRQUE

INTERVIEW Sandra Kleven

The Wilder Parts of Nature: An interview with Mike Burwell Cirque is remarkable. Its look – layout, graphics, perfect binding, - is polished and, well, classy. That it is accessible, free forever, online, makes it, also, chummy – Cirque is always a click away. This attractiveness – which draws submissions from established and emerging writers throughout the region, coupled with ease of access is allowing Cirque to do something it may not have intended. It is discovering, revealing and defining the amorphous shape of something. As through sea mist, one makes out the hulk of a gorgeous old wreck, an Evergreen island, or a granite redoubt, never mapped. Each issue of Cirque uncovers elements belonging to a collective, loosely termed, perhaps, as writers of the region, who until now hardly knew each other. As Burwell puts it, a conversation has begun. A few issues back, I told Burwell that I wanted to submit an essay about Theodore Roethke. He was interested. I asked for some guidance. He said, “Just do your quirky Sandy thing.” That’s what I did. Now, he has asked me to steer the ship of Cirque. This too will suffer the quirky Sandy thing but I am keeping Burwell close by. If this issue is any example, we are a crack team. As far as I am concerned, Santa Fe is part of the Greater North Pacific Rim. I suggested this interview as a way to process this transition. I had a lot of questions. Burwell tells quite a story. Will you do an interview?...If the answer is yes… then start right here and say something about a life with a career and, yet, enough of a literary noose to get into the MFA, sort of later, I’d guess. Did you have a BA in something unrelated that qualified you for the job finding the shipwrecks? What did you do before? Where did you come from…?   What got me to Alaska originally was too much Arizona sun and tiring out of Southwest low wages. I had recently graduated from the University of Arizona (‘71) with a BA in literature and writing and soon a marriage would end. I wanted to leave the desert behind. I applied to about 20 National Forests--this was 1972-- and the Tongass Forest offered me a job at the Ketchikan Ranger District. They offered to train me as a surveyor. This all fit into my dream of moving more West and getting OUTSIDE after 4 years in college classrooms (and returning to the Northwest where I had grown up). I flew to Ketchikan and was flung into the Southeastern landscape surveying logging roads on Prince of Wales Island. This was in the heyday of SE logging and fishing and it was an exciting life of working hard surveying a centerline for a road through the wilderness of Prince of Wales Island (I was too young to be thinking about the larger questions of preserving the

~ Sandra Kleven

environment) and playing hard in the bars of Ketchikan.  This survey work was the basis for what is now an around-the-island road system. But then it was just a small gravel road through virgin forest. Today, it is all clear-cut and I have never had the heart to return although many of my poems in Cartography of Water return to this place and try to make sense of this. After the FS job I briefly worked surveying mining claims on Noyes Island before the work season ended. That summer started a life that alternated between Arizona winters and Alaska summers: I was working again in 1975 as a road inspector for the FS out of Sitka and got to see the lands of Chichagof, Baranof and Admiralty Islands. The summer of  1977 I made my first foray into Interior Alaska and climbed around in the Alaska Range and did an ascent of Mt. McKinley with my friend Bob Jacobs in the days before ascending the mountain became a popular and complicated and crowded reality. I was back to Alaska in 1979 working as a climbing guide for Jacobs, who had just started a guide service in the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains a year before it became a National Park. We did a first ascent of Mt. Sulzer and guided some folks from McCarthy to Nabesna. The route through Chitistone Canyon is today a very popular hiking route but, in those earlier days, we had to find our own way.


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 Next came three years in Arizona--one at a remote cabin in the Chiricahua Mountains--and then my move for good to Alaska in 1982, after too many summers baking my brain in the Sonoran Desert surveying in hundred plus degree heat and making too little money. I spent that summer  and winter  land surveying in Anchorage and that little bit of winter surveying in October convinced me it was time to change directions. I went to an art fair at UAA that fall and listened to a poetry reading. At the reading Ron Spatz spoke about the UAA writing program and he inspired me to enroll in January 1983. It was a joy to be surrounded by like-minded folks and to not have to apologize for being a poet  and to be in the midst of such a rich group of writers and artists--Susan Fair, George Bryson, Mary Katzke, Dana Stabenow, Mike Armstrong, Leslie Fields, Peter Porco, Sally Carricaburu, Randol Bruns and lots of others. And of course, the brilliant teaching of Tom Sexton and Ron Spatz. I got my MFA in 1986 and got some introductory writing classes established at UAA’s Eagle River campus that I managed to keep teaching for the next 20 years. I am amazed to read some familiar names. Peter Porco and Mary Katzke. Mary and I just wrote a grant together. I didn’t know she had been part of that earlier group. Ron Spatz was a key figure in my life, too. He accepted a piece I wrote, (“Holy Land”) for AQR, spring, 2005. I landed in literary world as an unintended consequence. Stabenow needs no identifiers. I didn’t know she’d been a student of UAAs, Creative Writing and Literary Arts Program. The MFA got me a summer job as a technical editor for the Feds at the Dept. of the Interior that eventually

85 led to a full-time technical writing position there where I functioned mostly as a cultural anthropologist writing impacts sections  on subsistence, Native communities, environmental justice and archaeology. Minerals Management Service sent me to UAA to get a Bachelors in Anthropology and I got the equivalent in credit hours and then because the department faculty and the students were so exemplary, I signed on to the Anthropology Masters program. Shipwrecks came out of the  earlier editing days. While editing a technical paper for another analyst--a shipwreck list for Alaska--I became interested and the author kept handing me books. After a while, I realized that the author needed help with his research and eventually I became a second author for the list. The whole process opened up a new interest in Alaska  maritime history that just kept growing until a few years later I had Brenda Doucette a database of 5,000 wrecks and had become the go-to guy for shipwrecks in Alaska. Eventually we put the list on the Net and this led to a constant barrage of emails from folks searching for wrecks, looking for relatives lost in sinkings and people just generally interested in ships. MMS let me do maritime history papers at conferences. All in all it was a great side duty to my EIS writing duties and it allowed me to learn so much about Alaska history and connect with shipwreck aficionados around the State and the West Coast. When this group of MFA people, in a sense, created a literary community, did you hang out? Did you do stuff? Establish things? Was there a link to the artists of the community, too? You had feet in a few different worlds, obviously, where was your heart?  


86 George Bryson went on to edit “We Alaskans” for the Anchorage Daily News and for many years this was Anchorage’s outlet for strong local writing. There was no Ice-Floe in those days and AQR already had a national reputation, so you were lucky if you got a poem or two in it. In general, local poets sent mostly out to lower 48 journals as there was only one game in town-AQR. Susan Fair, a fine poet in this group found her way in anthropology and folklore but kept writing poems but I know she felt stifled by the lack of places to publish in the region. Leslie Fields went to Kodiak and out of sheer will and talent gradually got much of her writing into print. Many of us became adjunct writing instructors--Burwell, Carricaburu, Porco, Armstrong, Fields. Mary Katzke went into film. Mike Armstrong kept writing science fiction and eventually became the lead reporter for the local paper in Homer. Dana Stabenow dug in and wrote her novels and created her own universe to thrive in. At the time the UAA English Dept had money to bring up many influential writers for readings. I especially remember the visits of Gary Snyder, Joy Harjo, Lowell Jaeger and William Kittredge. I also remember the department’s support for MFA student readings even after we had left the program. JoAnne Townsend, Alaska’s poet laureate at the time, put out a small anthology in this era called The Sky’s Own Light and Brian Hutton did one called North of Eden. I was thrilled and honored to be in both. I have to say that in this time it still seemed like a small isolated bunch of writers. It was the next generation of MFA’s who changed things and really seemed to me to turn the wheel on creating a writing community--Shannon Gramse started Ice-Floe and gave many poets in Anchorage and elsewhere in Alaska a forum, Arlitia Jones made it big with her poetry book Bandsaw Riots, and Andromeda Romano-Lax started 49 Writers. Also the effect of Rachel Epstein at the University Bookstore and Steve Lloyd and Julie Drake with Title Wave Books and their commitment to bringing nationally known writers and poets to the State was profound. Somewhere in here the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference went on line and it created much fertile writing ground for local writers both as instructors and as students. Much later came the impact of UAA’s

CIRQUE Low Residency Program, new publishers like Anne Coray and her NorthShore Press and my literary journal Cirque. After I got my MFA, I got very focused on becoming a writing teacher. Tom Sexton encouraged me to pioneer the curricula for a number of introductory writing courses that had been created in the aftermath of combining the community college with the university. I went up to the Eagle River campus and made a successful pitch. Twentyfive years later I was still teaching them at Eagle River. This success quickly spread to the main campus and many of the MFAs from this era cut their teeth on teaching these introductory poetry, fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, and children’s stories classes. One of the most successful and well enrolled was the introductory three genres class--nonfiction, fiction, and poetry-that I taught without a break for two decades. These classes were very Brenda Roper instrumental in developing lots of local writing talent and funneled many writers into the UAA MFA program. During the mid-80s I was really intensely occupied learning how to teach and was teaching composition and literature, as well. I was also a technical writer for the US Dept. of The Interior where I wrote environmental impact sections on Native subsistence practices. I got to go to Bush communities and this changed my view of what Alaska was and started me on my second career as an anthropologist. In addition, I was deepening my appreciation of Alaska history with my job-related work on Alaska shipwrecks. All of these interests (as well as my earlier mountain climbing and guiding days) poured into the context for my poems. My first real publishing success came in the late 80’s when I was sending out my chapbook mss North and West and getting rejected. Then someone in New York thought it magnificent and published it in 1989. I remember how validating that was. When you used poetry to make sense of your earlier adventures, what were you examining? I have the Cartography of Water, right here, and I could just open it and remind myself but, hold forth. Poetry, in general, say what you will about writing it. Teaching poetry, how you manage a class?


Vo l . 3 N o . 2 Anne Coray did an interview with me at Lake Clark in 2007 and put it on a CD that comes with my book Cartography of Water. In it I talk about “presences”--these voices or feelings or spirits or forces that come with the winds, that percolate up through the earth. The souls of things past that are underneath our feet that we walk on every day, the breaths of past beings that still populate the air. Early on, I needed to be out there on the landscape listening for these things. Out in the wilder parts of nature was where I could hear them the best, as this was the farthest away from the busyness and metallic clank of everyday affairs. I always felt that strong outsider vibe for my culture, so nature was always the place of solace, refuge, clarity. It’s clearly Rousseau’s  Romantic view of reality but I think I had it before I ever knew about Romanticism or Rousseau...It’s a straight road from there to writing lyric poems.  It’s also what Tom Sexton said in the interview I did with him in the last issue of Cirque--You place yourself out in nature. You don’t begin with an idea, you begin with a reaction to something, something you see, something you feel, and then you see something out there that carries the feeling. Nature is that place where you are rooted, that other world of solitude and quietude. Nature is your literal place in the world where you look around and be quiet long enough to see and hear things as they are. You find a place where you can anchor yourself and observe; then you write down the detail. As Tom said, “you need a place to stand.” In this way the “idea” of the poem comes organically out of the observation....The poems about my son in Cartography took years to write. I carried my feelings about his pain around for months and then would see something in the landscape that pulled the poem out of me and that served as a metaphor that allowed me to construct the poem...I think I may have just defined my poetic...  Teaching poetry was an acquired skill for me. I think I got better and better at it over the years, based mostly on being able to keep my compassion for people and their written work which always comes from such a private and vulnerable place but that is often very strong-stronger than even they know. I would tell my classes (after years  of learning how to articulate this) that my class was conducted on the editorial model not the critical model. A critic is always judging things to be good or bad to help people keep from wasting their time on what is bad. On the other hand, an editor has accepted a piece of writing for a journal and his task is to improve it, to make it the best it can be by entering into a conversation with

87 the writer. So in my classes I wanted to make everyone better at what they were doing, not make judgments on whether their writing was  worthy or unworthy. I set up a process where in discussing each piece of writing the good, positive, memorable and extraordinary things about the piece were always discussed first, with me holding back my comments until the class was done with theirs. Then we proceeded to what was confusing, what didn’t work, what  needed improvement. This process worked because it  validated a piece of writing first; it was always easier and more likely that the author could then hear the criticism that followed. The other way around and the author shut down and was defensive and wasn’t listening. Through both these waves of feedback the author was not allowed to speak. At the end of the class discussion, the author could ask questions, thank us for our praise, defend the work against the less positive critique, or say nothing at all. My job was to orchestrate this process and I think I learned how to do this pretty well over the years. It has been interesting to carry this model into the editing of Cirque submissions and find that it translates to actual journal editing quite well. Your take on teaching poetry is refreshing and perceptive. I am reminded of Theodore Roethke, who said “I teach out of love,” though you sound more supportive, kinder, than abrasive Roethke. Have any of your students gone on to publish work? Or to teach? Anne Coray took one of my intro poetry classes back in the late 80’s at Eagle River and went on to get her MFA at UAA and then publish five books of poetry and start NorthShore Press, Martha Amore got her start in my classes at ER and went on to get her MFA and to win the ADN/UAA Annual Creative Writing Contest twice in fiction. She’s now teaching at UAA. There are probably a number of others that I am forgetting.... Martha Amore was in my first poetry class. Sensitive writer. Anne Coray’s NorthShore Press has a great reputation. She won an award from the Center for the Book, last year, right? What was the inspiration for Cirque? Where does the name come from?   The genesis for Cirque was the fact that the very fine circumpolar poetry journal, Ice-Floe, the labor of Anchorage teachers and poets Shannon Gramse and


88 Sarah Kirk, had stopped publishing in the Winter of 2006. When Ice-Floe disappeared, I felt that many poets in the region had lost a significant platform for their writing. About a year later, I teamed up with my friend and fellow poet Randol Bruns in Wasilla to do a journal that would be half standard literary journal and half performance/slam poetry, but for a variety of reasons we just couldn’t get the number and quality of submissions to make this editorial concept work. Things languished for a year or so and then on a visit to Lake Clark in the Summer of 2008 to see my friends Anne Coray (her NorthShore Press had published my poetry collection Cartography of Water in 2007) and Steve Kahn, the fire was rekindled. We brainstormed the journal’s name--Cirque: we all liked the sound of the word and the concept of a high mountain place where beautiful things would form, literally mountain lakes and more figuratively written works, that were informed by the northern landscape.... The process languished again because I was still working work full-time, in the process of getting a degree in anthropology, and poet Buffy McKay, who was my chief editorial assistant at the time, got very sick. All this time I was amassing submissions and folks were wondering what I was up to with them. Then,  in the  fall of 2009, Rachel Epstein at the UAA Campus Bookstore convened a panel on literary journals and invited me to talk about Cirque. I realized I needed something concrete to report. So for two intense weekends in September I read submissions, sent out acceptances and rejections, and ended up with the material that became Issue #1 of Cirque.  Ironically, it was at this same UAA forum that Tom Sexton told me that Ice-Floe had been resurrected by the University of Alaska Press, and I wondered what I was doing trying to fill a void that had just been reconstituted. I was able to talk to Shannon Gramse at the forum and see that his concept of one published volume per year of poetry was not really going to threaten submissions finding their way to Cirque that by this time had morphed into a full scale regional journal that wanted fiction, nonfiction, interviews, plays, reviews, and photography-as well as poetry. In the home stretch, it was Janet Levin’s photographs and editorial savvy and graphic artist Paxson Woelber’s text and web design artistry that heroically and

CIRQUE

Brenda Roper

finally got Cirque up and running. We have now produced six issues (full-text online at www.cirquejournal.com and hard copies available at the MagCloud print-ondemand site at http://www.magcloud.com/browse/ magazine/54110). As we arrive at this issue (Issue #6, Summer Solstice 2012), I have decided to move away from editing Cirque and more toward my own writing. I have moved to Santa Fe, and to honor the primary concept of the journal’s regional identity, I have handed over the reins of editorship to writer Sandra Kleven from Anchorage. The next few issues will be a collaboration between us, and I am glad that the conversation that Cirque has forged for writers, photographers, and artists in the Pacific Rim will be able to continue.


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CONTRIBUTORS Jean Anderson is the author of In Extremis & Other Alaskan Stories and co-editor of the regional anthology Inroads. The chapters of “Bird’s Milk” published here are part of a short novel set in Siberia a few weeks before the Russian coup. Anderson has lived in Fairbanks since 1966 and has recent work appearing in Connotations, Northern Review, and Cirque. Jennifer Andrulli is inspired by the patterns, textures and light of the natural environment, Mother Earth. Drawn to the quiet lush places and to wild craft plant medicine and edibles she walks in two worlds, capturing the essence of life with her lens and with her harvest. Searching for patterns requires intention; textures are always a surprising blessing and light is life, in time: she is always shown the perfection of nature. Her passion for traditional healing and plant knowledge has taken her around the world to sit with elders; to listen and learn. Her journey continues. Alexandra Ellen Appel:   My philosophy:   Simplicity.   Nuance the layers.  That, and dogs. Michael Aspros lives in Portland, OR, on the edge of Forest Park. His poetry has appeared in Audubon’s The Warbler, Columbia Land Trust’s Quarterly newsletter, Trust Talk, and is forthcoming in The Grove Review and Fault Lines Poetry. Christianne Balk’s books include Bindweed (Macmillan, Walt Whitman Award), and Desiring Flight (Purdue University Press). She loves broken music, the haunting Anglo-Saxon rhythms of everyday street talk, and riding her mother-in-law’s thirty-year-old bike in triathlons. After majoring in biology at Grinnell College, she studied English at the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared in The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Measure, Prairie Schooner, Switched-on Gutenberg, and other journals and anthologies. From 1984 to 1987 Christianne lived in Fairbanks; since 1990 she has lived in Seattle with her husband and daughter. John Barton has published nine books of poetry and five chapbooks, including Great Men (Quarry, 1990), Designs from the Interior (Anansi 1994), Sweet Ellipsis (ECW, 1998), Hypothesis (Anansi, 2001), Asymmetries (Frog Hollow, 2004), and Hymn (Brick, 2009). He also co-edited Seminal: The Anthology of Canadian Gay Male Poets (Arsenal Pulp, 2007). A selected poems, For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin, and a chapbook, Balletomane: The Program Notes of Lincoln Kirstein, are forthcoming respectively from Nightwood Editions and JackPine Press in 2012. He lives in Victoria, B.C., where he is the editor of The Malahat Review. In 1968, Gretchen Brinck was the world’s greenest social worker with the world’s hardest job: child welfare in Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. She is completing a group of non-fiction stories about that experience. “The Fox Boy” recounts her first -- and most tragic -- case. Her unrelated book, The Boy Next Door, true crime, came out in 1999 and remains in print. Now retired, she is free to pursue her first love: writing. Polly Buckingham’s work appears in The Literary Review, The New Orleans Review, The North American Review, The Tampa Review (Pushcart nomination), Exquisite Corpse, Kalliope, Hubbub, Raven Chronicles and forthcoming in Whitefish Review and The Chattahoochee Review. She is the founding editor of StringTown Press, and teaches writing and literature at Eastern Washington University. Her collection of stories The Stolen Child and Other Stories was a 2011 finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award and a 2012 Bakeless Prize finalist. Janet Buttenwieser’s nonfiction work has appeared or is forthcoming in

89 the Bellevue Literary Review, Los Angeles Review, Soundings Review, and won honorable mention in The Atlantic 2010 Student Writing contest and the 2011 Artsmith Literary Award. She is the assistant nonfiction editor for Soundings Review, and an MFA candidate at the Whidbey Writers’ Workshop in Washington State. Vic Cavalli’s poetry, short fiction, photography, and visual art have been published in various literary journals in Canada, the United States, England, North Africa, and Australia. He is currently living in British Columbia, Canada. Lucian Childs currently lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where he makes his living as a graphic designer. He blogs for the 49 Alaska Writers Center and is a coordinator of their reading series. This January, he received an Honorable Mention for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in  Compass Rose, Quiddity, and Rougarou. 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. Monica Devine is the author of four children’s books, among them Iditarod: The Greatest Win Ever, which was a nominee for the Golden Kite Award. Her adult nonfiction piece, On The Edge of Ice, won First Place in Creative Nonfiction with the New Letters Magazine of Writing and Art. Monica currently writes memoir, poetry and fiction from her home in Eagle River, Alaska. Maureen Donatelli is a poet and photographer living in the beautiful Fraser Valley of Southwest British Columbia. She received her BA in English from The University of the Fraser Valley and is currently working on her first chapbook Anthos. Brenda Doucette is an oil painter in Santa Fe who was irresistibly drawn to photograph the iconic face of the world renown poet Mike Burwell. Her art can be seen at www. bfdoucette.com Melina Draper’s book of poems is forthcoming from Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. She holds an MFA in writing from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and lives in Fairbanks with her family. Her collaborative poetry book Lugar de Origen/Place of Origin written with her mother, Argentine poet Elena Lafert, was the Winner of the 2008 International Latino Book Award for Best Bilingual Poetry Book. Susi Gregg FowIer lives and writes in Juneau, where she grew up and where four generations of her family still live. Her publication credits include Windfall, The Binnacle, Christian Science Monitor, Skirt!, Tidal Echoes, and eight children’s books, including the Christopher Award winning I’ll See You When The Moon Is Full (Greenwillow). Her ninth book, Arctic Aesop’s Fables: Twelve Retold Tales (Sasquatch/Paws IV) is scheduled for spring 2013 publication. Andrea Garland works as a public defender in Salt Lake City, Utah. Born in Anchorage, Alaska, she has a degree in Economics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has also lived in Juneau, Fairbanks, Nuiqsut, and in Washington State. She is a mentor for the Salt Lake Community Writing Center writing group Palinca. Alisa Gordaneer is from Victoria, BC, where she writes poetry and both creative and technical nonfiction. She teaches writing of all sorts, and contributes a monthly column about the arts to Victoria’s Boulevard


90 magazine. She’s won many awards for both her poetry and journalism, including from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. Ela Harrison Gordon is a poet, translator, teacher and bluff-dweller. She is a first year student in the Rainier Writing Workshop, PLU’s low-residency MFA program. Shane Harms was born in Palmer, Alaska and grew up in Minnesota. He currently lives in Seattle, WA. His work has appeared in Northern Eclecta, Stone Hobo, Forty Ounce Bachelor, The Conium Review, The 555 Collective, and Quite Shorts. When he is not writing, he is foraging for mushrooms or gardening. Jacqueline Haskins is a biologist of wild wet places, from cypress swamps to glacial cirque swales. She is also an MFA student at the Whidbey Writer’s Workshop. Jackie’s poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction appear in Raven Chronicles, Meadowland Review, Shark Reef Literary Magazine, Inlandia Journal, Six Minute Magazine, Soundings Review, Bacopa Literary Review and Redheaded Stepchild. Max Hjortsberg is a poet and mapmaker who lives with his family in Livingston, MT. He is the author of the chapbook Bonnie & Clyde (An American Daydream). His poetry has also appeared in The Livingston Current, The Big Sky Journal and counterpunch.org. Dan Holiday had his first camera at age 8, a Kodak Brownie that cost his dad about $4. He had to scoop snow and mow yards to buy film and pay for the processing. And he still is doing things he would prefer not to do just to get another chance at doing better than he did when he was young. And still paying for the results.

CIRQUE Alaska. This is her second 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. Charles Leggett is a professional actor based in Seattle, WA. Recent publications include poems nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize by Kansas City Voices and the Golden Sparrow Literary Review; his long poem “Premature Tombeau for John Ashbery” is an e-chapbook in the Barnwood Press “Great Find” series. Dan MacIsaac’s poetry has appeared in Wascana Review and The New Quarterly, and has previously appeared in the UK in magazines such as Weyfarers and Other Poetry. He has published short stories in numerous journals, including Dream Catcher, and has fiction forthcoming in Stand. His translations of the poetry of Lorca, Michelangelo, Ovid and others have been featured in a wide variety of literary magazines. Richard Mack is the author of a novel, Quail Song and three books of poetry and essays, Against a Western Sky, Among The Western Hills and Reflections in a Western River. His prose and poetry have been published in such journals as Red Cedar Review, Wind Literary Review, South Dakota Review, Salal Review, Clearwater Journal, Cape Rock, Branches, Green’s Magazine, Denver Post, Circus Maximus, Palouse Review and others. His poems have appeared in three Oregon anthologies RondeDance (Wordcraft Press), Deer Drink The Moon (Ooligan Press) and A Sense of Place (Oregon Libraries).

Hannah Hudson is seventeen years old, and is an eleventh grader at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Washington. She enjoys writing prose and hopes to pursue the occupation but has also taken an interest in poetry. Hannah credits the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austin and Margaret Mitchell as her greatest literary inspirations.

David McElroy lives in Anchorage and works as a pilot in the Arctic. He has a book of poems called Making It Simple and his poems have been published nationally in various journals.

Susheila Khera lives and works in Fairbanks, Alaska. Two of her poems appeared in the first issue of Cirque.

Stefon Mears is an MFA candidate at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. His recent publication credits include The Prose-Poem Project, KNOCK, Witches and Pagans, and Bacopa Literary Journal (www.stefonmears. com)

J.I. Kleinberg works and plays with words. She is co-author of the book Fat Stupid Ugly: One Woman’s Courage to Survive, is a past winner of the Sue Boynton Poetry Contest and blogs at http://chocolateisaverb.wordpress. com. She lives in Bellingham, Washington, and doesn’t own a television. Michael Kleven is a Seattle filmmaker and photographer. His company Kleven Creative Services produces independent film and commercial projects documenting nature, people and events in both stills and motion. Michael works on other film projects as director, DP and sound recordist. Some of his work can be seen here: www.michaelkleven.com Rich Kleven, photographer, prefers images from nature to portraiture or those from urban settings. His collections include shots from Yellowstone and from remote Alaska. Rich’s work has inspired younger photographers, especially, his son, Michael, who worked with him for many years. Sandra Kleven’s work has appeared in Cirque, Alaska Quarterly Review, Oklahoma Review, Praxilla, and Stoneboat. She’s received two Celebration Foundation grants for creative work. Kleven holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska/Anchorage. Her sexual abuse prevention children’s book, Talk About Touch: Alaska, is due out in July (2012). She is taking over the editorship of Cirque from Mike Burwell. Emily Kurn is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the University of Anchorage,

Suzanne Miles: As an immigrant from the Midwest, it’s the Alaskan light, mountains and myths that have captured her. In 1987 the US Army transferred her to Alaska; she’s been living in Eagle River, Alaska ever since. She completed her master’s degree in English at UAA and has been writing poetry for years, and fiction more recently. A few of her poems have been published in small journals and the anthology North of Eden: An Anthology of Alaskan Writings. She has been an adjunct English instructor for Alaska Career College and a volunteer with 49 Writers Group. These days, pastel portrait painting vies for place with poetry – but in Alaska, poetry insists – whatever else you do. Anne Millbrooke writes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction and is a history professor. Her poetry has previously appeared in Cirque. Since  Keith Moul’s last appearance in Cirque,  he’s published  Beautiful Agitation, a 2011 winner in Red Ochre Press’ chapbook contest.  It was released earlier this month.  He’s also been very busy taking and editing new photos. Sharon Lask Munson is the author of the chapbook, Stillness Settles Down the Lane (Uttered Chaos Press, 2010) and a full-length book of poems, That Certain Blue (Blue Light Press, 2011). She taught for twenty years in Anchorage, Alaska. She is now retired and lives in Eugene, Oregon.


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Vo l . 3 N o . 2 Nicole Stellon O’Donnell lives, writes, and teaches in Fairbanks, Alaska. Her long poem “Chilkoot Trail” appears in her novel-in-poems, Steam Laundry that was recently published by Boreal Books. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, Dogwood, and other literary journals. She writes a monthly column for Literary Mama, an online literary magazine. Her websites are http://literarymama.com/ and http:// www.nicolestellon.com/ Timothy Pilgrim, a Montanan and journalism professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, is a Pacific Northwest poet with over 140 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 the Seattle Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Windfall, Meadowland Review and Cirque. Matthew Campbell Roberts is an English Instructor at Green River Community College, in Washington State. He’s lived in Washington for thirty years. His recent work appears in StringTown, Clackamas Literary Review, SmartishPace, Cortland Review and other literary journals. Besides writing and teaching, he enjoys fly fishing Northwest waters. 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 previous issues of Cirque, Calyx A Journal of Art and Literature by Women and her website/blog www.brendaroper.com Steve Rubinstein has lived in Alaska since 2005. He currently runs Alaska Pacific University’s Graduate Program in Outdoor and Environmental Education and oversees the Spring Creek Farm Campus in Palmer. He also does what he can to help keep the family farm, Sun Circle Farm, alive and well. Caitlin Scarano is originally from southern Virginia but now lives in Alaska, where she is a poet in the University of Alaska Fairbanks MFA program. Her poetry is forthcoming in CALYX Journal. Tom Sexton’s latest book is Bridge Street at Dusk, Loom Press, 2012. He was Alaska’s poet laureate from 1995 until 2000. B.L. Shappell is a self-taught poet, who has travelled widely and has held a variety of jobs, from dairy worker to teacher. He currently lives at a truck stop high above the Arctic Circle in Coldfoot, Alaska, where he has spent the last two years working as a cook. Suanne Sikkema loves the feeling of a camera in her hand. She is passionate about photography, travel, good food and wine. She is the owner of Arctic Sun Gardening, a residential garden design company in Anchorage Alaska. Leslea Smith is a poet and lawyer, not necessarily in that order, who lives just above the 45th parallel, in Hillsboro, Oregon. Her poems have been published in Cirque and Verseweavers. 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. Mark Stadsklev came to Alaska 20 years ago to begin a lifelong professional bush pilot career. For the last 10 years he has flown for Rust’s Flying Service out of Lake Hood, Anchorage, Alaska. His professional photography career began 8 years ago, and he has been printed in hundreds of publications including National Geographic. Mark’s new large coffee table book Alaskan

Air, Nature’s Artwork on the Alaskan Landscape is available directly from him at stadsklev@gmail.com or through Anchorage based alaskacalendars. com and Amazon.com Michael Strelow’s publication history includes a novel, The Greening of Ben Brown, Hawthorne Books, 2005, finalist for the Oregon Arts Awards Ken Kesey Prize. He has published short stories, poetry and nonfiction in a number of literary magazines including: Bellingham Review, Kansas Quarterly, Poetry Mid-West, Sou’wester, Humbug, Willow Springs, Northwest Review, Cutbank, and others. Carey Taylor is a native of the Pacific Northwest, and recently retired school counselor, turned writer. She currently lives on Bainbridge Island. Wendy Uzzell is a graduate student in the writing program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, pursuing an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction. She has lived in Alaska for the past 40 years. David Wagoner has published 19 books of poems, most recently After the Point of No Return, (Copper Canyon Press, 2112). He has also published ten novels, one of which, The Escape Artist, was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He won the Lilly Prize in 1991, six yearly prizes from Poetry, two yearly prizes from Prairie Schooner, and the Arthur Rense Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. In 2007, his play First Class was given 43 performances at A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for 23 years. He edited Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002, and he is professor emeritus of English at the U. of Washington. He teaches at the low-residency MFA program of the Whidbey Island Writers Workshop. Kameron Walters lived in Alaska for eight years. He recounts the experiences from the times he lived in Spain, Washington, Colorado and Alaska when writing his poetry. He is currently studying creative writing at Boise State University and has had poetry in Cirque, Ice-Floe and Understory journals. The University of Alaska, Office of Undergraduate Research published his chapbook, skylines. Erica Watson is a student in UAA’s low-residency MFA program. She lives outside Denali National Park with her partner, a greenhouse, skis, and a collection of books about the desert. Paul Winkel is a retired engineer and poet who lives in Eagle River, Alaska. His most recent work can be seen in Braided Streams at http://www. cirquejournal.com/braidedstreams.shtml Paxson Woelber is livin’ life and lovin’ every minute of it. After 17 years of Alaska living, Kate Worthington ran off to the Southwest to warm up. A self-admitted “smash-and-grab” photographer, she’s lucky to end up with some photos for Cirque while dabbling in shipwreck archaeology in AK during the summer. Allen Qing Yuan, born in Canada and aged 16, currently attends high school in Vancouver and, encouraged by his poet father Changming Yuan, has had poems appearing in Chrysalis, Contemporary American Voices, Istanbul Literary Review, MOBIUS, Ottawa Arts Review, Spillway and others across nine countries. Changming Yuan, 4-time Pushcart nominee and (co-)author of Chansons of a Chinaman (2009) and Three Poets (2011), grew up in rural China and published several monographs before moving to Canada. With a PhD in English, Yuan teaches in Vancouver and has poetry appearing in Asia Literary Review, Barrow Street, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Cirque, Cortland Review, Exquisite Corpse, Mad Hatters’ Review, Redactions, RHINO and nearly 500 others in 19 countries.


How to Submit to

CIRQUE Cirque, published in Anchorage, Alaska, is a regional journal created to share the best writing in the region with the rest of the world. Cirque invites emerging and established writers living in the North Pacific Rim—Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Yukon Territory, Alberta, British Columbia and Chukotka—to submit short stories, poems, creative nonfiction, translations, plays, reviews of first books, interviews, photographs, and artwork for Cirque’s Winter Solstice 2012 Issue.

Issue #7—Winter Solstice 2012 Submission Deadline: September 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. -- Replies average two to three months, and we don’t mind you checking with us about submissions

Please Send Inquiries and Submissions to:

cirquejournal@yahoo.com Submission Guidelines also at: http://www.cirquejournal.com/submittocirque.shtml

Photo: Mark Stadsklev


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Cirque, Vol. 3 No. 2