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High Desert Journal Witness to the West

issue 18, fall 2013


issue 18, fall 2013

High Desert Journal

Witness to the West

cover: Clare Carpenter Figure 1. The end of the Road, 2013 Photopolymer plate, letterpress 11 ~ 14 inches this page: Thomas Osborne Steeples, Winnemucca, 2013 Photograph

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fi c t ion

6 Robert Stubblefield. Orbits 29 Wiley Jones. Ni単a and Magpie 39 Maxim Loskutoff. End Times

n o n f ictio n 10 13 16 24 21 32 36

Aimee Lyn Eaton. First Meetings. Excerpt from Collared Shawna Bethell. Coyote Melissa Mylchreest. Just Who Is Vic Charlo? Ellen Waterston. Red White Woman Keri Rosenstein. Passing Days: How I Came to Know Roger Walker Kim Cooper Findling. Eagle Spirit: The Artistic Journey of Apolonia Susana Santos Amy A. Whitcomb. Celilo by Sonar

p o etry

12 Shaun T Griffin. Last Night in San Jose 15 Mary Jane Nealon. This Dog

art

21 Roger Walker. Drawings 32 Apolonia Susana Santos. Paintings 42 Clare Carpenter. Prints

r evi e w

44 Review by Jamie Houghton of High and Inside by Russell Rowland

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by Robert Stubblefield

ORBiTS

Scott believed he’d long ago lost faith in the simple life, even by surrogate, but any idyllic vision he held of the Peete family collapsed following a chance encounter with Billy just outside of Kelso, Washington. Billy told Scott his parents had separated years ago, shortly after leaving Tri-Creek, and that he was uncertain as to the location of the rest of his family. Hearing this, Scott realized he had constructed an image of the Peete family together in that timeless pear orchard of his youth, an image fabricated unwittingly as daydream yet fitted carefully as an intricate jigsaw puzzle. On that day, northbound traffic was an orderly line of commuters leaving Portland and Vancouver, falling away like booster rockets at the exits for Ridgefield, La Center, and Woodland. Scott was bound for Chehalis to have dinner and spend the night with his girlfriend, Catherine. He managed a store selling athletic shoes in an outlet mall on the eastern fringe of Portland and would be back to open in the morning. Selling probably wasn’t an accurate term. Most people entering the store trusted they received “First Quality Merchandise at Substantial Savings.” And although the outlet mall was crowded all hours of the day, customers still believed on some level they were onto a secret, were sharper than the suckers paying full price at department and specialty stores. That shard of belief, a kernel of what once seemed inside information, remained enough to move shoes out the front door, and Scott spent most of his time on the lookout for the occasional shoplifter making a run for it or an employee carrying shoes out the back door. Scott’s days off were Monday and Tuesdays, and with the Thursday night dates and Catherine’s weekends, they spent five or six nights of the week together. He liked that Catherine preferred to be called exactly that—Catherine. People assuming she preferred Cathy or Kate were mildly put off when she said Catherine, and often began scanning the 6

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assemblage for a friendlier face, certain Catherine was not someone with whom they would become close. The driving time from Portland to Chehalis seldom varied more than 15 minutes. Punctuality was a small, effortless way for Scott to evidence reliability while working at the bigger picture. The bachelor’s degree in business he’d earned a year ago had become like a car you buy, and then upon driving off the lot begin encountering the identical make, model, and color at every stoplight. He alternated between holding the line of “starting somewhere” and considering graduate school. Catherine already had her M.B.A. and worked at a savings and loan, building her resume in hopes of landing something in Portland or Vancouver. Wed to routine, overeducated and underemployed, they would split a bottle of wine and prepare frozen lasagna, a green salad, and garlic bread, Scott drove with his window down. The evening was cooling, but not uncomfortably so—one of those rare days of late spring and early fall when the air blowing through the car was exactly the right temperature. Mile to mile the scents, one familiar if not pleasant as another, mixed and alternated pulp mill waste, pollinating conifers, and diesel, all shot through with the yeasty riot of molds and mildews marking spring in the Cowlitz lowland. Scott almost always stopped at the BP outside Kelso, roughly the mid-point of the trip, for a Coke, or just as often a beer, to drink on the remainder of the drive. He didn’t need gas, so Scott swung around the self-serve pumps, parked perpendicular to the glass storefront, and immediately recognized the man walking from the pumps toward the door. Even with the short haircut and Oakland Raiders cap pulled low, it was undoubtedly Billy Peete. Scott ducked into an aisle leading to the soft drink cooler, took his time making a selection, but the payment line moved slowly, and he stepped in only two spaces behind Billy, as


unsure why he would have avoided Billy as he was certain he desired the first word or none. “Billy?” he said. Billy turned too quickly to show any emotion other than surprise followed in a blink by recognition. They stepped from the line and shook hands. Billy was returning to Fort Lewis. Standing with Billy next to a row of glass cubicles filled with slowly rotating, lipstickpink, shining hot dogs and stale, yellow popcorn, Scott discovered John, May, Billy, and Karla Peete were scattered from each other’s orbits, long-lost to any gravitational pull of blood, trust, or hope. Billy had never defended his father regarding that summer night years ago, never requested anything from Scott as dangerous or mutable as truth. Billy Peete remained silent, lacking the confidence and frayed edges of defiance now marking his voice. Scott had passed on any opportunity to admit what he might have witnessed that summer night, an admission which would have changed nothing for him, and perhaps a great deal for John Peete. Scott had been a boy then, possessing little knowledge of the slivers of faith and chunks of doubt enabling people to cling to their place in the world, although inherently aware of the margins within which those pieces were tolerated and abided in small, eastern Oregon towns. The lasting, tangible memory Scott held was of floating along in the Peete’s Pontiac GTO, speed parting air until it seemed the car could ascend. Front windows halfway down, night roaring past and sifting through the openings. Deepest summer. A night when heat, light, and movement intertwined. Bubbles of tar risen during the heat of day popping like gum beneath the whining tires. The car gliding through the river canyon. Dark, basalt rimrock radiating stored heat. John Peete drove fast, as always. Scott sat behind the driver’s seat, Billy’s sister Karla beside him, Billy beyond her. Scott remembered the glowing shoulders of John Peete’s t-shirt, as likely true as anything, since John wore a white tshirt year-round, covering it with a plaid, wool jacket during cold weather. May tuned in the country station out of Prineville with its constant heartbreak playlist of Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, and George Jones. John turned the radio down to offer the boys advice ranging from always taking the first pitch to avoiding air conditioning in all forms, then turned the volume back up. John had been a star halfback in high school, but said he wished he had made baseball his game. Too small for football beyond high school, he maintained basketball and football had been taken over by outsized freaks, that baseball was the only game left. John Peete coached the Little League team, spent hours playing catch with Billy and Scott. Billy, neither athletic in frame nor competitive in demeanor, was barely good enough to hang onto his right-field position, which suited him fine. Scott and Billy ate peanuts, cracking the shells and tossing them to the floorboards. John Peete had bought the GTO used and kept it immaculate, but allowed this indulgence while returning from baseball games, then vacuumed the car early the following morning. Karla stared straight ahead through the gap between the two adult heads in the front seat. She was a year older than Scott and Billy, already bored by them, bored by everyone as far as Scott could tell, with the possible exception of her mother. John shelled and ate peanuts, holding a beer in the crotch of his worn Levi’s, steering with his forearms resting on the wheel. He never drank before baseball games, but sipped

beer steadily all the way home. When his beer was drained he held the bottle out the window, his tan, wiry, left arm crooked at a 90-degree angle and his wrist cocked as the speeding Pontiac approached a road sign. As John Peete held the bottle, calculating aim and trajectory, the dregs of the beer sprayed cool and bitter in Scott’s face. John tossed the bottles over the top of the car, toward the faces of cautionary signs lining the right shoulder of the road. He usually missed, and glass popped and shattered as the bottle struck rocks along the highway. But occasionally, often enough to keep him throwing, John Peete connected, and depending upon the composition of the sign, Scott heard the clatter of glass striking metal, or the solid thunk of the empty bottle against wood. When John hit a sign it seemed impossible that he might have missed, as if every variable in the world aligned for him exclusively at that precise moment. The baseball diamond, and there only rarely, was where Scott sensed any alignment in his own life. John Peete told him to imagine his glove a magnet for the ball, and sometimes playing shortstop he could, and chance played a smaller part in the game. “What about pulling over by the river and cooling off,” John said. “There’s a nice sandy spot up here.” He lifted his foot from the accelerator and the GTO eased to the apron, the whine of pavement giving way to the staccato crunch of coarse gravel. July heat turned the world nocturnal in the river canyon. Stepping from the car, Scott heard frogs and crickets, the night filled with sound compared to the indeterminate midday humming of the high desert. John Peete walked behind the Pontiac and opened the trunk. Ice rattled as he pulled a beer from the cooler. “Follow me and watch for snakes,” he said, stepping from the shoulder of the road and descending the steep trail to the beach. May and Karla carefully sidestepped down the bank. Scott and Billy followed. Karla Peete wore a white cotton jumper with suspender straps. Scott watched her sit and slip her leather sandals off in an exact imitation of May. John leaned back on the beach, resting on his elbows. “What you think of this, May?” he said. “I wish we could stay here all night and swim tomorrow instead of working,” she said. Scott thought of them all swimming. He had been in the grocery store with May and Billy earlier that week, and Billy had pointed to a Playboy magazine and half-jokingly asked May to buy it for them. May replied if the boys wanted to look at naked women, then she would take her clothes off when they got home. Her statement had the desired effect of silencing and embarrassing Billy, but Scott thought that would not be something he would mind. The Peete’s worked in an orchard outside of town. During the cherry, peach, and apricot harvests the entire family worked long days together—May and the children picking and John as foreman and general organizer. In February, Scott had stayed overnight with Billy. It was unseasonably warm, and the next morning the boys walked with John while he pruned apple trees. The orchard floor was spongy, and John said it had been frozen and dead the week before, and had “come alive overnight.” The musky odor of rotting leaves mixed with the fertile wetness and warmth of an early spring. Billy knew every motion and the purpose behind it, which branches remained and which were to be lopped. Scott knew few details regarding his father’s job high desert journal

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PASSING DAYS ROGER WALKER how i came to know

by Kerri Rosenstein

images: Roger Walker drawings, from 2003 and 2004, all untitled, all 8 ~ 8.25 inches, all ball point pen on paper.

I love public libraries. They remind me that everything is connected. They are sanctuaries where silence is refreshingly coveted, solitude respectfully accepted, and loneliness completely absent. They are warm, safe places that operate largely on a system of trust, empowerment, honor, and self-responsibility. Librarians are some of the most unsung social workers in the world. At the library one can be actively involved as a member of society with absolutely no pressure to socially engage, no need to say anything smart or funny, no need to spend money, and no worry of wearing out a welcome. As long as one minds one’s own business, causes no harm and keeps the peace, anything goes. It all makes for an unparalleled sense of family and home. In 2002, I was in my last year of graduate school at The University of Montana studying and teaching painting and drawing. I lived in a tiny apartment of a converted Victorian home directly across the street from the public library in downtown Missoula. Eight odd little apartments of odd little characters—drug dealers and thugs, artists and musicians. If ever I felt like anyone had my back, it was when I lived in that house. Coming home to transients and druggies sleeping in the stairway, and late night waking to street brawls and alleyway shenanigans hardly fazed me. My life was a circling between the university, my studio, that house, the library, and endless hours of combing the valley’s mountains and hills. Perpetually preoccupied with art, as well as naturally magnetized to quiet peaceful beings, I often find myself pseudo-snuggling up to intriguing strangers. This is how I came to know Roger Walker. Most days I visited the public library. Sometimes to sift through the free books and magazines, sometimes to borrow stacks of cds, sometimes in search of something specific, and other times just for a general feeling of touching base and passing through. It was part of my day in the way brushing my teeth is part high desert journal

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< r o g e r wa lke r

of my day. I didn’t necessarily think much about it. There were many regulars who clearly had their posts yet staked no claims. Roger was there everyday from the moment the library opened until the moment the library closed. He was dirty and disheveled, yet his demeanor was as composed, if not more, than most anyone’s. He reeked of body odor, cigarettes, and overall stench, yet never a trace of booze. His hands were thick, weathered and filthy, and he carried his weight as if it were a load of bricks, yet there was a quality about him that was of utmost delicacy and sensitivity. Roger Walker was a most unassuming and unthreatening presence. Being around him would cause something in me to settle. A seeming complexity about him and his mysterious story came off as refreshingly simple in what I witnessed of his existence. The table where he sat would be covered with newsprint page puzzle-books and a medley of standard blue and black pens dumped from his small shoulder bag. From my observations, he worked diligently and arduously all day long, taking only an occasional nap. He often did the puzzles, mostly number crossword puzzles, then masked out a border and filled in the whole page with overlapping rows of upand-down vertical lines, black-ing or blue-ing the entire page until it became a filled rectangle. Pure and honest, they were not drawings that were trying to be anything. Roger Walker was not a man trying to be anyone. Sometimes I would sit near to him and allow for appropriate distance. Other times, I would stand at his side and blatantly watch over his shoulder, until the awkwardness of me standing there would dissolve into something more along the lines of accepted company, a supportive and captivated onlooker, and maybe even an unspoken friend or peer, at least I like to think so. We never spoke words (at this point). I never spoke of him to others. I finished school that winter and moved to a different

part of town. I was running a contemporary art gallery, Farm Art Space, with artist Wes Mills. It was a stunning small space that Wes immaculately renovated in a prime downtown storefront spot. We exhibited the works of emerging and established regional, national, and international artists, as well as rare private collections and other hard-to-come by gems. Wes and I had known each other for a couple of years and had worked on other projects together. We understood one another. Our pairing remains a significant and unparalleled relationship for me, particularly in terms of sensibility and vision. A decade later, I still think of Wes as a Mr. Miyagi sort of character—deeply philosophical, insightful, visionary, and complex—subtly teaching me life lessons in ways in which I will always be indebted. Wes had also dialed into Roger and his drawings and unabashedly befriended him. Knowing that Roger would throw each day’s worth of drawings out upon the library’s closing, Wes asked and offered to hold onto them. He brought Roger to the gallery and showed him where to find him. Likewise, Roger showed Wes where to find him—which turned out to be an inconspicuous, nondescript patch of grass, out of view, off the side of the highway where he had some black plastic garbage bags covering his small pile of things and ramshackle sleeping spot. Roger’s story slowly started to unravel. I wouldn’t say he lived on the streets and I wouldn’t say he was homeless. If anything, he was making his own way— outside of societal norms. He had been living like this for decades and seemed somehow content about it. He didn’t want to sleep at the shelter because of hooligans mixed up with drugs and alcohol. Roger was a loner. I never saw him hanging with others and I never saw him sprawled out on a sidewalk. He preferred quietude and simplicity. He’d walk the streets in the morning daylight, scavenge his meals from restaurant dumpsters, draw all day at the library, and nestle into some natural crevice by nightfall. His drawings made perfect sense. They were beautiful. They were a most peaceful and eloquent way of passing days—both through disappearing in time and likewise creating a world of utmost focus and presence. All of these

his drawings made perfect sense. they were

beautiful. They were a most peaceful and eloquent way of passing days— both through disappearing in time and likewise creating a world of utmost focus and presence. Roger Walker Untitled, 2002, 8 ~ 8.25 inches, color ink pen on paper. 22

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JUST WHO IS VIC CHARLO?

POET PLAYWRIGHT FATHER GRANDFATHER TEACHER CHIEF

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by Melissa Mylchreest

Sitting in a corner booth at the Old Timer Cafe in St. Ignatius, Montana, Victor Charlo shares stories between bites of waffle. Outside, cars fly north on Highway 93, passing by the little town. It is late summer here on the Flathead Reservation, the hills yellow and dry, morning sun baking the dust. Just a few miles from where he was born and raised, the 75-year-old man with the white whiskers and sly eyes looks out the window and says, “I stand in middle of who I am. I am an Indian. I tried to change it, tried to be a white person, just one of the guys. Can’t do it. And so I’ve claimed who I am.” But just who is Vic Charlo, really? Poet, playwright, father, grandfather, teacher, chief. All of these are true, and none are sufficient to describe the man who asks in one of his poems, “Why did I learn how to write? Why did I want to? / Is it worth the loss of your world going away?” ,” as well as a playCharlo is the author of the poetry collection “ wright who has, in collaboration with Zan Agzigian, written several


Vic Charlo. Photo by Zan Agzigian. plays about life on the Reservation and the struggles of being Indian in the 21st century. He is a proud father who used to imitate Bill Cosby to make his four children laugh, and he is a spiritual guide for his people, deeply reverent of tradition. He is soft-spoken and laughs easily. When Charlo talks about writing, the act of translating the world onto the page, his eyes grow wide with excitement and wonder. He speaks of his own life with a mixture of pride and astonishment, as though he has arrived where he is now through some kind of luck. “To this day,” he says, “I don’t know if I can write or not. But I do my best with what I have.” Perhaps it has all been luck. But it is also true that Charlo has spent a lifetime witnessing the world, stepping lightly through its many doors and asking questions all along the way. Vic Charlo was born in 1938 on the Flathead Reservation, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. He is the great-great-grandson of Chief Charlot, negotiator of the 1855 Hellgate Treaty and the ancestral chief of the Bitterroot Salish, who were forced off their homeland in 1891. As such, Charlo is today the traditional Chief of the Salish people, although this is a role about which is he humble. “I do claim it,” he says, “but I don’t ordinarily say that. I don’t even talk about it.” Although his bearing is reserved and

manner self-deprecating, there is a natural sort of quiet leadership in his attentiveness to doing right, both by his people and by his traditions. Plagued by illness during his earliest years, no one expected the young Charlo to survive. “They dedicated me to the Blessed Virgin,” he says of his parents. He suffered infantile paralysis, and white hospital doctors told his family there was nothing that could be done, sending him home to live out his final days. “My mom was feeling pretty bad, so she took me to this (Salish) guy named Jerome Lumpry. He doctored me one or two times, and all of a sudden, one day, my mom looked over and I was crawling.” This admixture of worlds—the balance between white and Indian, with a vein of spiritualism running through portended the future. As Charlo thrived and grew stronger, he often went into town—the bustling hub of St. Ignatius—with his parents and siblings. In the store, he found his favorite items: “I used to love the erasers and pads and pencils. I didn’t know how to write, but I loved them!” He covered pages with meticulous scribbles, filling each line, and then buried these missives in tin cans behind the family root cellar. “For all I know,” he says, “it’s all still there! My first writing.” Charlo struggled with a stutter when he was young, and didn’t fit in at school. He recalls being six years old, when high desert journal

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HIgh Desert Journal #18  

HIgh Desert Journal #18  

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