Feather Chronicles College of Menominee Nation This volume contains creative work selected from Feather Chronicles, online literary magazine of the College of Menominee Nation, principally the spring 2011 edition, but drawing on earlier editions as well. See the magazineâ€™s website (follow student club links from www.menominee.edu) for all current and archived work. College of Menominee Nation students produce Feather Chronicles twice each year. It includes work contributed by students, staff, and others from the communities served by the college. Cover image and logo by Michael Gomeyosh. The content of Feather Chronicles is protected by copyright controlled usually by the original author and in all other cases by Feather Chronicles. U.S. and international copyright laws apply. The Scott Zager Venture Fund makes production of Feather Chronicles in hardcopy possible. Proceeds from sales go to the College of Menominee Nationâ€™s student government.
Wendy LaTender: The Braid in your hair is twined black white bad good hate
where are we
home away where are we
until the e n
Harlan Pygman: Troubled Water Laura opened one eye enough to see her nightstand clock. In the darkness, simple green lines transformed into meaning. Already she would be rushed to get out of the house and over to Tiffany’s on time to ride with them. She had been dreading spending this Saturday morning with her daughter, Tiffany, and her beloved granddaughter, April, for weeks. In fact, she slept poorly and her friend, Lois, commented several times that she seemed distracted since she found out about the first-grader swimming class in which Tiffany enrolled four months earlier. “Come on you big baby,” she said, though there was no one to hear. Under her warm comforter, with her eyes closed, she did the stretches she would have done this morning in her aerobics class. Five minutes later, she sat up on the edge of the bed and massaged her whole face with both hands. “Cereal and coffee, shower, dress, and go,” she thought and started down the path her day would take. “I should tell her I’m sick,” she thought as she sat with her coffee, not noticing a slight tremble was causing a pattern of circular waves on the surface. She always enjoyed her morning coffee, not just the aroma from the freshly ground beans, the strong familiar taste and the physiological effects, but the time it gave her to sit and reflect. Unfortunately, today she was late and had to bring the cup to her dresser and finish it while she dressed. She was standing on one leg with one sock on and the other stretched open between two thumbs when the phone rang. Tiffany’s voice asked, “How’re you doing?” “I’m going to be there for April,” she heard herself saying. “Good. I really appreciate it, Mom.” Laura’s family had been comfortable enough, but certainly not wealthy. She made her own way. So most days, Laura appreciated nice things like the flexible soft texture of her baseball-glove leather seats, the solid comforting sound of her driver’s door latching, and the subtle complexity of her perfume in the enclosed cockpit of her sports car. But not today. By the time her midnight blue Mercedes 560 SL reached the interstate, her mind began the replay that played nearly every day of the thirty-seven years since that June day when she was twelve. 4
“You know we’re not supposed to take the canoe out when Mom and Dad are gone,” her eight-year-old sister, Susan, said. “I want to practice my J-stroke and we’ll stay here between the points.” “The life preservers are in the speedboat.” “We’ve got the floating cushion. We can practically see the public launch from the south point.” “Ok, but I get to paddle in the back too.” “There’s a little wind now. If it quits, you can.” They stepped into the canoe with Laura in the stern where she could watch which side Susan paddled on and switch sides accordingly or use a wide stroke or her J-stroke as necessary to keep their canoe on track. “Put the floating cushion on your seat so you’ll be high enough for your lower hand to clear the gunwale and row with your paddle straight down so I don’t have to swing mine wide all the time,” she told Susan. “Ok, let go of the dock and push off.” As they slipped away from the dock, Laura could see two waterlogged twigs and a small oval stone on the sandy bottom through the cold, clear water. Just beyond the dock, the drop-off made the water over-your-head deep and limited the girls’ water activities to splashing in the shallows when they weren’t in the speedboat or the canoe or fishing from the dock. “Switch,” she commanded after about two minutes and Susan swung her paddle to the other side without comment. The girls had been at the cabin most summer weekends since birth and it showed as Laura piloted her craft across the cove. She was intent on keeping her track straight and making efficient use of her paddle. She should have paid more attention to the growing waves on the bay and the patterns of ripples in the cove. Susan’s fine hair, which stayed blond since birth, was beginning to distract her. When she stopped paddling to move it out of her eyes, she threw Laura’s rhythm off. Also, the bow would swing a little with the wind forcing Laura to modify her stroke. “Pull it back and redo your hair tie,” Laura said. Susan set her paddle across her knees while she worked with her hands. She dropped the tie, but found it quickly enough among the 5
white cottonwood fuzz that always seemed to collect no matter how often they tipped the canoe on shore to clean leaves and twigs out. “Watch what you’re doing up there.” Susan turned back toward her sister. “What?” Her knees tilted and the paddle slipped over-board. “I’ll get it,” became an unintentional duet. Both girls simultaneously reached over the side of the canoe to grab the paddle. “Get back!” Laura screamed. With both of their bodies leaning over the gunwale, the canoe capsized and both girls fell in the water. Laura caught hold of the canoe. In seconds, the wind moved the canoe out of reach of the paddles and the floating cushion. She heard Susan coughing and her frantic splashing before she could see her. “Grab something!” Time seemed to warp as so many things happened so quickly in slow motion. Laura was certainly out of her dog-paddle range and could never catch the canoe again if she let go. Susan’s skills were much more limited than that. The only thing floating anywhere near her, the cushion, inched out of range, pushed by her frantic random splashing and the now menacing waves. “Susan!” Laura’s screams were lost on the wind that day but echoed down through the years... A silhouette bounding across the picture window as Laura turned into the driveway became April at the door. Laura’s tomboy whistle that April liked so much, failed her today. Each time she noticed her tense muscles she tried to make them relax, but still her jaws ached. April’s ponytail galloped wildly as she crossed the lawn, a few loose strands going it alone. Laura said, “Hello, Honey,” as April climbed into her arms. Her excited breaths smelled like bubble gum. She didn’t realize she’d kicked her grandma in her quavering stomach. “Grandma! Look at my new swimming goggles.” “Oh, Honey, the blue matches your eyes.” She had to work at sounding normal. “My pulse must be racing,” she thought. “Try to breathe deeply and regularly.” “And my swimming suit.” 6
Tiffany headed toward the SUV so they drifted that way. “Will you hold Delores while I’m swimming, Grandma?” “I will be very happy to.” Laura saw the treasured doll swinging feet up/head down grasped in her granddaughter’s hand as she ran to where her mom waited to get her child restraint seat. “Did you eat something?” Tiffany asked as she backed out of the driveway. Her voice was low and she cast a sidelong glance at her mom as she slowed for the stop sign. She had the same long, full, brunette hair as her mom and used the same coy movement to flip it out of the way. Laura could see that the tendons in her neck as she swallowed were more pronounced than normal. “Yes.” For some reason, she couldn’t think of anything to say that would change the conversation without seeming trite or obvious. From the back seat, she could hear April telling Delores, “Breathe, stroke, stroke, roll, breathe, stroke…” Laura looked back and saw that she was wearing her goggles. Her daughter asked, “Did you get groceries yesterday?” “I could have done better than that,” Laura thought. Tiffany lifted her daughter out of her seat and they crossed the high school parking lot with April holding her grandma’s finger with one hand and her swimming bag containing suit, towel and goggles with the other. ??? Grandma held Delores and mom closed car doors and opened school doors. Only the high school had a pool and it was only available on Saturday mornings. The hall lights were on in the corridor leading to the pool, but the other hallways had only one of every four fixtures on leaving her with the feeling that she should not be there. The sound of little feet running and a woman’s voice calling “Slow down, Cheryl” echoed in the hall. April went into the girl’s locker room to join the other swimmers while mom and grandma went up the stairs and through the entrance to the balcony bleachers. The pool walls and ceiling were sterile and white. Lit by cold, blue, mercury lamps, the large room had the feeling of a medical school operating theater. Chlorine had completely replaced the oxygen in the air. Tiny drops of sweat appeared on Laura’s forehead in the warm humid room, but her hands felt cold and clammy. Tiffany took her mom’s hand. “You want to wait in the car?” 7
Yes, that is what she wanted very much. But she said, “Thank you, Tiffany, but no, I promised April I would watch. I didn’t realize it would be this hard.” She squeezed her daughter’s hand and let go. A whistle’s screech sent a shiver down Laura’s spine and eleven excited first-grade girls exuding energy entered the pool area with a thin girl that Laura took to be their teacher/coach. “She looks as young as Lois’ daughter who’s just begun babysitting,” Laura thought. Why she wore jeans, a baggy sweatshirt, and tied tennis shoes instead of a lifeguard’s swimming suit, Laura could not imagine. “Did you bring a bottle of water?” Laura asked. Tiffany looked down at her jeans and shook her head. In her mind, Laura could see April’s face instead of Susan’s, frantic in the water, and then motionless, fading like the end of a scene in the movies as she disappeared in the depths, eyes gazing beyond Laura, no longer seeing. Waves of nausea flowed over Laura. She could taste copper. Her tongue was dry enough to crack if she talked. From the pool came the command, “On your mark.” Her alarm at learning of the swimming lessons had resulted in Tiffany taking a firm stand. “All of her friends want to swim and so does she. What reason should I give her why she can’t? Actually, I think it’s a good idea. And the websites I read all agreed that the earlier you start, the better.” No one needed to remind Laura that it might have been a good idea if she and Susan had known how to swim... “Get set.” Laura started to rise, unconsciously but quickly. Tiffany took her hand and remained seated. “Go!” The first wave of six racers dove in to begin the one-poollength demonstration race. Cheers reverberated off the pool surface, ceiling, and walls generating an overwhelming pressure that forced Laura back down into her seat. Laura looked anywhere but at the water, so dizzy she was afraid she would fall from the balcony bleachers over the rail and roll into the pool. Awareness rose as though from the depths and she realized that Tiffany was jumping up and down in front of her seat next to Laura. “Go April, Go April,” she shouted. “Mom, look!” Laura 8
looked in terror at the racers coming toward them and saw little April’s dolphin swimsuit in second place. April’s hand touched the edge of the pool at the end of her lane and with her face streaming with water, looked directly at Laura. She screamed, “Grandma!” and waved frantically. Tiffany grabbed her mom’s hand and pulled her down the bleacher stairs where a very wet little swimmer threw her arms around their necks. When her grandma wrapped her towel around her, April didn’t’ realize that her grandma’s face was wet with tears, not pool water. She heard her grandma say, “I’m so, so proud of you, my little angel.”
By Linda G. T. Grignon: Bear made from cast bronze mounted on a rosewood base. Created using the lost wax process.
Barbara Johnson: Heart Carved on a Willow Tree I yearn for the hot nights of summer So sweet tasting, meant to reminisce Innocent nights under the starry sky I tried to go back, but am left without The answers blowing through an old willow tree Whispering your name on every branch; broken Bewildered by every hopeful heart broken Apart on every blade of grass, reaching up to the sky Consumed by the wisdom weaved into a willow tree Etched with broken smiles, that long to reminisce Of a joyful time never forced to live without The trickery illuminates the sky Searching for weakness wished upon stars in the night sky Exploding with dreams made to be broken Upon a hazy reflection without The chance to soak up the youth of summer Shading the chance to reminisce;
Regress into a silent despair telling secrets to a willow tree Refrain from carving hearts upon the peeling bark of a willow tree Leaving you naïve to wink back at twinkly stars thrown against the sky Luring you; playing connect the dots, beckoning you to reminisce Desperate to hold onto promised fairy tales now beyond broken Inevitably wilted on the succulent lips of summer Fading into dying leaves used to falling without Regret nor thought. Reflections fading without Ever hearing the words escaping throughout a willow tree Left with only the waiting period of summer Unable to decipher what radiates deep within the endless sky In gaping wonder; illuminating all that’s broken And ending with only a somber silence to reminisce The moons enticing cry will make you succumb to reminisce Upon blue hour searching for an absolution without Mouths spitting lies shattered and broken Damaging entwined roots beneath the willow tree That spent its life clawing from the ground to reach the painted sky Eluding to a long sultry summer Let us reminisce upon our own long ago summer Full of dreams not broken, encased within the old willow tree Who no longer will go without whispers hushed beneath the sky.”
Wendy LaTender: Goodbye wrinkles by my face and blank in my eyes watching you walk away was further than my reach curling my fingers into crippled circles into the ground I bury the stars and only one shines on and on
Justin Gauthier: St. Norbert Swam in the Mill Pond In autumn 1934, rail riding was coming to a close for all summer hobos. Hap and I had ridden the train from Neopit to De Pere and back again once a week to work the foundry for years. A nickel note a week seemed a fair price to give the old woman with rooms to let in the rickety De Pere house we flopped at for work. Besides, our hoboism allowed us some extra money to bring home for our families, which was the whole point.
Drawing by Madona Wilber The 66 miles of track between home and work got shorter with each weeks’ ride. It helped that, at times, we shared our car with various raconteurs and generally disreputable characters who usually were vagrants. There were also good people. One was a man that called himself, “A number 1”, Hap took a shine to him right away on account of his easy, affable nature and his ability to tell tall tales that he swore were true. Generally, the train left the mill in Neopit on Sunday in the early afternoon. We’d hop it in the lumberyard and click-clack our way to De Pere. The pace of the train was often slow in urban areas, and it allowed us time to talk or eat our lunches, which usually consisted of a small loaf of bread, a type of meat, usually venison, and a hard-boiled egg or two. Just last year, Hap’s wife bought him a fancy jug called a Dewar flask, a fantastic invention that kept liquids insulated for hours on end. He would brew a strong batch of coffee at home to bring along 15
in colder weather or a nice, cold pitcher of lemonade to relieve us in the heat. Sometimes we finished the coffee or lemonade and used the urban pit stops to fill the flask with beer or some other libation. My brother, Happy, or Hap as I called him, was ironically nicknamed. He could be ornery and did not mind fisticuffs, in fact, he relished it. To his credit, he was quite a good boxer and was never beaten in all the dozens of matches I’d seen him in. There was silence broken by a thunderclap the night Happy fought the brute who claimed to be the sparring partner of both Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey. He caught our Pullman on the fly in Pulaski, startling us all, lumbering in from the darkness. The city lights filtered in, showing his profile. He had cauliflower ears, a face reminiscent of James Cagney, if Cagney had had his nose broken a dozen times and decided to menace instead of entertain. “Hello boys,” he said. We grumbled hellos as he plopped down next to A no.1 “Hey, old timer, you have anything to eat?” laying his bindle down and staring hard at A no.1 “Ya, I got this half-loaf.” A no.1 produced the crumbly lump from inside his lint knit sweater and smiled to the stranger. “I’ll split it with you.” “Thanks landlord.” The stranger grabbed the half-loaf from A no.1 and began eating the bread with abandon. “Hey! That’s all my food you’re eating!” A no.1 said. He stood up and began stomping his foot in protest, the stranger pushed him back to the floor. “Shut yer trap old fool! You’re gonna put me off my feed.” Hap was a blur as he darted to A no.1’s side. “You alright?” he asked. “Ya, I’m okay, this bindlestiff just got the drop on me that’s all.” A no.1 said. “Hey! Watch who you call a bindlestiff you old tramp. I’ll grease the rails with ya,” The stranger said through a mouthful of dry bread. “Say, I’m dry, any of you no accounts got any swill?” Lightning flashed as he stood and began stalking the floor, addressing each man personally. “My name is Luke Briar, from Spokane, Washington. I’ve fought with Jack Dempsey and Johnson. Rode the rails from coast to 16
coast and border to border, when I ask for a drink, goddamn right somebody better jump up and get me one!” Thunder pealed. Hap’s Dewar flask lay next to me, Luke’s eyes brightened as he spotted it there. “Well, friend, what’ve we got here?” Luke snatched the flask, inspecting it in the cone of lantern light we all sat around the edge of, seeming pleased. He shook it and heard liquid sloshing around inside. I stood up to confront him but Hap was already between us, he whispered to me. “Let me take care of this Si.” Luke was twisting the cover off when Hap snatched the flask out of his hands. “That’s my flask, I’ll be damned if some blowhard is gonna lift it without even knuckling down for it.” Luke looked impressed at Hap’s speech. “Well, you talk tough, but…” Luke never finished this sentence, trying to dry-gulch Hap by pushing him out the partially open door of the car. Hap dropped his flask and gripped the edges of the door. Luke backed up and took the stance of a seasoned fighter as Hap hung outside the door. There was a slight taste of copper in the air as Hap forcefully pulled into the railcar. Using momentum, Hap swung, as he did so, a bright flash filled the car. A deafening clap of sound burst in the confined space. Illuminated, blank faces witnessed a bolt of lightning strike Hap in the back and travel in a dazzling blue bolt through his arm into the face of Luke Briar. Luke launched off his feet, through the opposite wall of the car into the dark, rainy night he came from. Hap was a smoldering heap by the door. I tended to him and discovered that he had burnt his back and arm, miraculously, he seemed fine. Hap changed after that night. He became penitent, attending church obsessively. We never found out what became of Luke Briar. Hap never fought again.
Elise Dudley: Risky Berries My brother Bucky and I moved to Rome a couple of summers earlier. It seemed like a neat little town to grow up in. There were two main roads intersecting and maybe half a dozen or so other streets running through town. Rome was so small it didn’t even have stoplights; just a few stop signs. The population was 118 people, with all but five families related. Everyone seemed to be kin to everyone else, except us. We were part of the outsiders; the rare few in town not related to the rest of the folks. Bucky, age eleven, and I were blue-eyed, brown haired gangly kids. Bucky had a horribly scarred left arm, the result of an accident as a toddler. I guess that was part of why we were so close. The accident slowed him down physically and developmentally so that while 15 months younger, I caught up with him. Jerry Collins was a pudgy brown haired blue-eyed rather frumpy looking twelve-year-old kid. No matter what time of the day I saw him, he always looked like he had just rolled out of bed after sleeping in his clothes. Maybe, he did. It didn’t seem like Jerry got too much parental supervision. I thought he was kinda nasty but he and Bucky were the best of friends. Colleen Arndt was short to my tall. She was thin as a beanpole and always hungry. She had huge brown eyes in a narrow face with flyaway dark brown hair. Colleen, at eleven, had already been through her parent’s divorcing and having a step-dad to deal with. She seemed sometimes to be a know-it-all, arrogant little cuss. Colleen too ran freely. She’d be at my house from early morning until her mom, brother or sister would come track her down to haul her in for the night. Many nights, she’d wind up back at my house with her paper bag filled with a change of clothes and her essentials ready to stay the night anyway. We were best friends; ‘blood-sisters’ even complete with the mingling of the blood. It was a beautiful clear blue skied summer day. The trees were all adorned with their full quota of leaves. Robins, blue jays, wrens, and cardinals were chirping away, flitting about from tree to tree. The fat bushy grey squirrels were happily chasing each other around and up and down the big old maple tree that provided shade for our outdoor fireplace and picnic table. The grass was a 18
lush green carpet beneath our feet. The four of us were just hanging around the picnic table in our back yard trying to decide what to do for the rest of the afternoon. Summer break was like that. We couldn’t wait for it, but when we got it, we couldn’t keep ourselves content. I’m sure it must have been Colleen who piped up and suggested, “I know. Why don’t we go see if ole man Schmidt’s blackberries are ripe?” “I don’t know.” Jerry hesitated. “He seems like he might be a mean ole coot.” “Aw, Come on, “Colleen challenged, “You ain’t afraid of no ole man, are you?” “Nope, I ain’t afraid. I just don’t need no trouble.” “How ‘bout you guys? You game for raiding the ole guy’s patch? Jerry asked Bucky and me. “The ole man’s probably napping. It’s that time of the day for the old folks. We’re in.” I answered for both of us, nodding my head at Bucky willing him to agree. True to our nature, he went along with me. Armed with a bucket for holding our intended booty, we headed down the street. There were only five homes and some empty lots separating our house from our destination. Ole man Schmidt’s place was a spooky looking old brick house that set back in at the end of the block. Beside the ole guy’s house was a partially wooded empty lot. His property was backed by woods. Not wanting to come in his place head on, we slipped into that empty lot. Quiet as the calm before the storm, we hunkered down and stealthily made our way into the edge of his prized blackberry patch. He truly had the finest patch around. Great big fat juicy sweet blackberries gleamed in the sun. We were happily munching our way down the row, occasionally tossing a few berries in the bucket for later. All of a sudden, we heard a screen door slam. Almost flattening ourselves to the ground, trying to be a part of the patch, we scarcely breathed. “Who’s out there?” we heard the old man holler. From my vantage point, hidden in the mass of his blackberry patch, I dared to take a peek. He was a crusty looking old man, dressed in 19
faded jeans held up with ratty-looking suspenders and a well-worn flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up. A snow white fluff of hair circled the dome of his head. I swear the old man could smell us. His hand over his eyes squinting against the sun; he stood like a dog sniffing the wind. He dropped his hand to his hip and I swear he looked right at me. “I know there’s someone out there,” he said, “You’d better scram before I fill you full of buckshot.” With that the old man turned and went back inside, the screen door banging shut behind him. “You think he’s goin’ for his gun?” I whispered to no one in particular. I could feel all the bravery draining out of me. I just wished I were safe in my backyard instead of in this old man’s patch wondering if he was ornery enough to be going for a gun. I guess he was ‘protective proud’ of that blackberry patch because hearing the screen door slam shut; I looked to see him standing there on his porch with a shot gun in the crook of his arm. “Once more, “he warned, “I’m telling you to get off my property.” With that, he loaded his shotgun and clicked it. Buzzing bees decided at the most inopportune time to nose dive toward my face. Not being fond of being stung, I lifted my hand to swat them away. “I said get.” The old man hollered. After seeing my movement, he took aim. “Run!” I screamed. BANG!!! We heard that gunshot blast and off we ran, our hearts beating like they were going to jump right out of our chests. “And don’t come back,” He yelled as he heard us beating our retreat. Buckshot raining down on us, even after we cleared the old man’s yard we kept right on running. I don’t recall my feet touching terra firma until we were safely back in our yard. Landing at the picnic table, we were all holding our sides and gasping for air. That was a mighty long run but the fear of a load of buckshot pushed us home. Somehow, in all the terror and confusion Jerry had managed to hang on to our pickings. Once our hearts settled down and we 20
managed to catch our breath, we divvied up our ill-gotten gains. I savored those big fat sweet juicy blackberries; that those risky berries were worth the risk. We never ventured into ole man Schmidt’s blackberry patch again. We had to admit that he sure did have some of the best berries we’d ever tasted. Even being young and foolish, we still weren’t brave enough to try that adventure again. There’s just something about the sound of a shotgun blast and knowing how close I came to feeling those pellets that stayed with me for a long time.
Six-Word Short Stories* Reveal something, not everything, promiscuous girl. – Sunnie Action/Adventure Brown Tornado! Seek cover! Endure. Rebuild. Endure... – Joel Kroenke Old car, will push, a lot! – Kelly Kriescher Personal Reflection Money, fame, mansions, alarm clock rings. – Sunnie Brown Cold, dark, sad, my life now – Alyssa Werner: Me, myself, and I...all lost. – Kelly Kriescher: Smart,? Where's his common sense? – Stacey Wilber I’m sorry. Miss you. Please call. – Harlan Pygman Old dog, no teeth, still bites – Kelly Kriescher Humor Man Steals dog, sent to doghouse. – Theodore Kurowski-Belleau Surreal/Spooky Just Married. Bridesmaid sure looks good. – Harlan Pygman I'm Home! Too quiet. Who are...? – Harlan Pygman Found on Match dot com: Transvestite... – Nalonnie Von Gunten Life Narrative She wanted ice cream, not cancer. – Justin Gauthier Sturgeon at the dam. Snow...Damn! – Joel Kroenke Five days fun, two days none. – Stacey Wilber They kissed, smooth lips, big smiles. – Paula Gauthier * Feather Chronicles occasionally includes authors taking up Hemingway's challenge to compress the short story to six words. Hemingway's tragic piece: "For Sale: Baby Shoes; Never Worn" sets the benchmark for this literary endeavor.