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High Desert Journal

“A mystic’s view of the universe looks toward a world unseen, but an unseen world that is believed in fervently nonetheless, like the belief in rainfall, and the belief in water, where there is little, or none. It is a religion. It is a religion in which the unseen rain might yet fall, and it is a religion that worships not rain, but the ghosts of rain.” from ‘The Ghosts of Rain’ by Bruce Van Noy




high desert journal

by Judy Halebsky


women under trees

it’s the harvest Mom says work night and day so there’ll be food in the winter she’s talking about me and homework and trying to graduate suede sneakers and bay windows you would find me a couple bars under healthy in the bedroom too small with all the noise from the street you might think these aren’t my words not my body, not sounds that shaped me when I was growing through shadows on the wall

海女 婪

amame ocean woman: a woman diving for shells

kan three women: wickedness and mischief

雨女 these words flood into the river they are trees that rise uprooted they are butterflies in the trees

ameonna rain woman: a woman who brings rain

High Desert Journal 2 23 26 31 41 52

Alan Brandt. Looking to Black Rock Point Geoff Krueger. Dolce Domum Steph Parke. Plastic Landscapes Christine Bourdette. Gold Rush Stuart Murtland. Photographs Sara Stein. Photograph



8 16 20 28 32 35 38 39 42

Joe Wilkins. A Story and a Prayer Bruce Van Noy. The Ghosts of Rain Molly Gloss. The Hearts of Horses Annick Smith. Chicago Bound Craig Johnson. Old Indian Trick John Rember. When a Cold Place Turns Hot Robert Schultz. Renata Klotzinger is Dead Michael Sykes. The Man from Planet X c.vance. impasse


2 15 22 22 30

Judy Halebsky. Woman Under Trees Ellen Waterston. Painted Shut Rumit Pancholi. Soil Neil Browne. At Lake Hope Watching the Ice Form Tod Marshall. The Work Poem

47 Erik Muller. Review of Lessons for Custer 48 Ellen Santasiero. Review of Home Land


















by Alan Brandt

Looking to Black Rock Point




m y far ns, b g o i t c se omin ht . C ed in g i n i a l r t y st id , ou ose t rrow ife is h a l t en d l e l e r A rk s. Ev He g le s . nual ry pa n n e a a n t i e h e gh ma c lo u s es ri ed-fr f we eticu g tak o n m i s o – w k or g ht r o ted k na c pain -brig nick g w k o n l t o l l n , ye orta e sill ular n i mp wh i t iang r ’s t r e the u om c e nt oth sts fr irl a ur m u g r o r eanc y o on he b acts t ighb x e o e t n e in der he . Sh pped ays t w un shut o p o r l , d s p , e r fly wich d son f eve ouse sand ht s o e goo ad h g h e t u d , o ou very c ra c k all th i le y for e t and s and y wh i a k s l r I t a t e s ash r wif corn bag am … ried s you d A f . d dre o e n s s l a e e l g i in m ng und ythi h sw g an porc he ro t e , r h i t s doin a er on nt y f g riv peas ins e cou cuin i h l t r s nap ned t beg t u i e a c t , e f e s o o h o s au ell, t nly t ace, l bec e ere o our f r id. W n tel y H g a . p gaug c s e u I e h rcl ll my sed. y l it nd t i l s f f u a e of c i o s i p f r me s br ea con e ha pulls he y heel m T d i w . l t r s n i e i o r a or e Fer the w the r w. M el. of th l i ke ty in id ja t i i g I trav v i l r a l t r ip r w r e g o u m r h o s e y e I e oth ing. ey ar . Som meth ut t h s o B s s . e s h ck ht n eig d b lo a lig to w e roa r w it h me. a s lk to o rd a w T . u yo ow . For ur pl ff yo away o t e G


to aters len W

by El


Ellen Waterston’s Painted Shut is

the winner of the

Obsidian Prize – the

High Desert Joural’s

literary prize – in the poetry category.

high desert journal

D AY O N E . M a y 1 1 . R o g e r s P a s s .


Swooping down the Continental Divide alon

of Rogers Pass (famous for boasting the coldest temperature – minus 70º – ever recorded in the contine of the film I made about him in the summer of 1977. It began with Dick driving these roller-coaster hill was humming to a Benny Goodman tune played loud on the tape deck. Hugo was Montana’s great poe with me now, the words of his poem, “Driving Montana,” as alive as his spirit.

The day is a woman who loves you. Open. Deer drink close to the road and magpies Spray from your car …

For me, the enamored day is more likely a man than a woman. Perhaps a child or a dog. No matter. This day is sun gold. The grasslands are newly-risen. And, yes Dick, open. I want to shout, “Goodbye life-asusual, I’m truckin!” The Rocky Mountain Front rears sharp as a pen-and-ink drawing, peaks silver blue on the horizon west. Was it Clark, or Lewis, who called them “the shining mountains?”

S u n R i v e r.

I walk with Bruno on a bridge embankment along the Sun River. The Sun is a relatively short river. It rises practically within eyesight on the east side of the Continental Divide in the Bob Marshall Wilderness near the escarpment called the Chinese Wall. Its sun-splashed waters fall through elk preserves and pictureperfect dude ranches to this bottomland of hayfields and wheat farms and bungalows on tree-lined streets. Red-winged blackbirds flush out of willows as we stir the tall grass. The river is high with run-off and Bruno looks back at me, hesitant in this strange territory, but he is game for any river, any walk. I put my arms around his wide, furry neck. “My sweet boy,” I whisper. I inhale his musky scent. He’s got no demands that conflict with mine. I taught school in this snug town for a week in the early 80s, commuting to Great Falls because there was no motel here or anywhere nearby. I taught filmmaking to seventh and eighth graders and we made a Claymation film. I remember the slimy worms of clay; the ranch kids with rough, red fingers piling one worm on top of another; finally seeing a creature morph and grow as the Super-8 film sped through a projector (this was before Camcorders). Fetching water for Bruno’s dish, I step into mud that is black and squishy like that long-ago clay. It clings to my sandals and between my toes. I know he is thirsty, but the crazy dog won’t drink.


G r e a t F a l l s B u s D e p o t . “Last bus’s gone,” says the burly man in a gray uniform. I don’t want a bus, just directions on how to get to Lewistown. My plan when I entered Great Falls was to drive to Fort Benton and watch the Missouri swirl at high water around its circular cutbank before it heads down along the much-traveled Lewis and Clark water route past Pompey’s white pillars, Fort Union, then south through the Dakotas to where the historical West is said to begin at Independence, Kansas, or even further east at the Missouri’s confluence with the Mississippi in St.

Louis. But that route is out of my way. The bus man points me toward Hwy 87 going southeast and I feel like the dummy I am. Was in such a hurry to leave, I neglected to bring along a map – any map. Seemed more flaneur-ish to follow my nose, Bruno fashion. Nose – the very word gives me a shudder of free association. It reminds me of Pinky MacNamara, my long-dead husband’s best high school buddy who, I’ve learned, is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. It is hard to imagine Pinky shorn of the wit and sharp tongue that made him so special. Hard to see friends disintegrate and disappear. This is the worst thing about growing old. I met Dave Smith when I was sixteen going on seventeen, and Pinky shortly after. The two had grown up in Hastings, a small town on the Mississippi River south of St. Paul, Minnesota. Both came from the wrong side of the tracks. Pinky’s father was alcoholic and had abandoned his wife and five sons. Dave was illegitimate. But the boys became local heroes when their basketball team won the state championship in 1951. When I began dating Dave, he was on a basketball ride at the University of Chicago, and Pinky played Big Ten football for the Minnesota Gophers. Dave was fair-haired with a perfect Nordic nose while Pinky and I were well-endowed – his snout Irish potato, mine prominent Jewish. My mother was constantly after me to get a nose job so, as she said, “you can look like Elizabeth Taylor.” I laughed at her. I did not have violet eyes, big breasts or a 20 inch waistline. “If you had a nose full of nickels,” Pinky teased, “you’d be rich.” But his schnoz was biggest. He had a nose for gold. I stayed poor. He got rich!

J u d i t h B a s i n . The historical marker says here, at the turn of the 19th century, for the first time in Montana, agriculture replaced mining as the primary economic activity. In 1910, three trains loaded with homesteaders passed through Judith Gap every day. That was the original land boom. Now mining is about played

HICAGO BOUND by Annick Smith

ng Lewis and Clark’s trail on highway 200, from pine forests on the west side

ental usa) to the windy plains of the arid east, reminds me of Dick Hugo and s in his green Buick convertible. His balding head shone in the sun and he

t and a friend of mine, and he died too soon in October of 1982, but he rides

out and agriculture’s mostly a starvation deal or gone to agribusiness. The gold is in tourists like me and in land for wealthy folks and retirees wanting vacation homes and escape from urban stress. I walk Bruno among cottonwoods near a fence bordering ranchlands, keeping as far as I can from the highway. He follows squirrel scents and is happy in his sniffing. His pleasure makes me happy. I believe I am more solicitous about this dog’s comfort than I was about my children’s, and that recognition turns me sad and guilty and prone to self-justification, which turns me back again. Life was so complex then, and I was young, living day to day. Maybe only grandparents are sane and selfless enough to care for kids and dogs. Or maybe it was the particular me – too self-absorbed, driven, stressed-out, poverty-bound, and husband-centered to be the good mother I wanted to be. I make a U-turn across highway 200 to take pictures, no cars coming or going. These two-lanes to oblivion are as empty as the plains they stripe. The photos I take will not be good enough even for postcards, but the horizontal perspective, the geometry of buttes, the dominant sky in stained-glass reds and oranges and purples are Charlie Russell pure. This is the cowboy West Russell ran off to when he was 14. America’s fantasy was enacted then in horseback work tied to land and weather, and in myths of red Indians. The young artist recorded the life he witnessed and the past he imagined in pen and ink, chalk, and oil paint. Now horse herds and cowhands are rare, replaced by four-wheelers and pickups; most Indians live on reservations; and many old ranches are real estate developments or preserved with conservation easements for out-of-state gentlemen ranchers (a good thing, considering the alternatives). The land, however, like Charlie, remains inebriated. It is packed with jokes and violence. Intractable.

Lewistown. 8:40 p.m.

It’s getting dark. I’m hungry. I pass up the Motel 8 (can’t stand the plastic-clad beds) and drive the classic main street happy to see red-brick storefronts as they were a century ago. We stop at the Yogo Inn, named for Yogo sapphires pried out of the Judith Basin’s bedrock. I order a last minute Yogo Burger while checking in, for the restaurant closes at nine. The only other customers are a pair of middle-aged tourists, him in Hawaiian shirt, eating steak, her skinny with dyed black hair picking, between cigarettes, at a spinach salad. A slim-hipped, graying fellow in jeans and cowboy hat saunters in after me – a local. The blonde waitress flirts at his booth. They chat and laugh. He gets his burger first. I sneak Bruno in the motel’s back door. Have to yank him and kick him in the butt (not hard) to get him up the stairs to the second floor. The mutt is phobic about stairs with open slats; phobic about cliff edges. How did I get such a chicken dog? When we reach the top, I realize our room is on the ground floor. Now I have to get Bruno down the stairs. He braces his feet and won’t budge. He’s too heavy to carry, so I nearly choke him with the choke chain and pull until gravity does its work. Finally we settle into our room. I feed him, then take him for a stroll along the railroad tracks

behind the motel until he does his duty. When we return, I turn on the TV. Bruno looks up at me and, without permission, jumps on my bed. This is how we watch TV at home in the small den where Bruno sleeps: me on the old couch with torn cushions; Bruno stretched beside me, head in my lap. He is big and warm and smells of male dog. We enjoy a cuddle and he returns to his rug on the floor. I read Bruno his first poem: “Dog” by Billy Collins

I can hear him out in the kitchen his lapping the night’s only music, head bowed over the waterbowl like an illustration in a book for boys.

Then he makes three circles around himself, flattening his ancient memory of tall grass before dropping his weight with a sigh on the floor. … This is the spot where he will spend the night, his ears listening for the syllable of his name, his tongue hidden in his long mouth like a strange naked hermit in a cave.


(Excerpted from Crossing The Plains With Bruno)

Profile for High Desert Journal

High Desert Journal #6  

The best literature and art of the interior West.

High Desert Journal #6  

The best literature and art of the interior West.