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The Apparition at Fort Bragg Tiffany Higgins


The Apparition at Fort Bragg Tiffany Higgins


Editor-in-Chief

Leslie Jill Patterson Nonfiction Editor

Elena Passarello Poetry Editor

Camille Dungy Fiction Editor

Katie Cortese Managing Editors

Fiction Trifecta

2016

Joe Dornich Sarah Viren Chen Chen

Associate Editors: Chad Abushanab, Kathleen Blackburn, Margaret Emma Brandl, Rachel DeLeon, Nancy Dinan, Allison Donahue, Mag Gabbert, Jo Anna Gaona, Colleen Harrison, Micah Heatwole, Brian Larsen, Essence London, Beth McKinney, Scott Morris, Katrina Prow, MacKenzie Regier, Kate Simonian, Jessica Smith, Amber Tayama, Robby Taylor, Jeremy Tow, and Mary White. Copyright © 2016 Iron Horse Literary Review. All rights reserved. Iron Horse Literary Review is a national journal of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. It is published six times a year at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, through the support of the TTU President’s Office, Provost’s Office, Graduate College, College of Arts & Sciences, and English Department.

Cover photograph: Tiffany Higgins. Interior photographs from Pixabay and Wikimedia, except for those by SD Dirk and Tiffany Higgins (as indicated).


The Apparition at Fort Bragg


—Fort Bragg, CA up the coast we pass through Caspar, some tit to Russian past; we’ve been brought on 28 through winding wineries—Alexander Valley—Oh, I know that appellation! Mom’ll say later. I’ve seen it on labels—then the 1 narrows to become Main St. through the little town of Fort Bragg— You’re going to North Carolina?! Mom said, excited—a low two-lane not updated—with the one shop named Windsong, selling used books, records, 8-tracks, & crystals—rainbow fish kite limp outside—next block, the shop Fiddles and Cameras, though inside it’s mostly the second, lenses and filters— two galleries next to one another, one owned by a stern graybeard who himself has carved the redwood bowls (only salads, nothing hot) and that two-tier sculptural table for $1,742, which seems a stretch, but I guess if only one sold—he hovers nervously, sure I won’t buy anything (he’s right)—and who’s to say those redwood burls were honestly sourced? Did you know it’s a trade up here to saw those breasts off the giants in forests by cover of night? Meth heads and the like, or just the unemployed. Everything’s a trade here, because nothing is: January, sudden rains have sprouted gigantic proliferate mushrooms in yards and sides of road, dim dens below shade canopy—the mushroom lady who owns Hidden Campground lays out large plastic mesh trays (to stay dry), one must trust her friend(s) who gathered to know what’s safe and unsafe—one variety black and rooty, like dark coral, another mustard colored and sooty,

Tiffany Higgins

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or these dainty-stemmed, pale, with floating disc of umbel— such as Alice might have plucked— she says, Try one! and despite my fear, I chew: What’s this called? She says, Fairy, the one word enough, surely, and I taste and swallow awkwardly. Very good, thanks. $12 / lb., she reminds me. Much cheaper than where you live; people come here and resell them there for a markup. She speaks intently and without smile—to which I’m accustomed to ease the pain of purchase—looks directly at me without the swerve I’m also accustomed to—someone looks at you but is not really looking, isn’t that our style of days? Not her—this could be her mortgage on the place. I’m sure all she says is true, but I turn away from the kitchen-table-sized trays of mushrooms, a hopeless shopper. Why buy when one can be? My motto for 2016. (Later, at the Botanical Gardens down the road, mostly geraniums and roses rather than native plants I hoped for—I decline the $14 tour—but ask the host lady about them, and she laughs stiffly, slightly offended. When pressed to explain, her face powder not quite covering that patch on the nose, she’ll say haughtily, I buy my mushrooms in the grocery store, and then, defensive, seeing how the lines are drawn here, I’ll want to return to the Hidden, ring up pounds of fungi.) On the main drag, I pass across the street to the Guest House Museum. In front, a carnelian red boulder, chest high, upright, its white veins ridged as I touch them. Behind, a dark circle of wood reaches twenty gloomy feet up, shadow mandala: I think it at first, in its perfect roundness, to be the work of an artist: oh but no, it is an artifact, slice taken from a great being— she was 1,753 years old—had witnessed emperors,

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The Apparition at Fort Bragg


Joan of Arc, the Siege at Agincourt, coexistent with pyramids—and wasn’t she one, apex of light? Picture affixed of white men sitting on her open stump, leaning triumphant on an ax. Do you think it a mistake that in 1,753 years not one Mendocino tribesman or woman had bethought themselves, Let’s cut down majesty? You may say a lack of tools, but I will counter, Integrity: to not take when one might take, to feel gratitude for nonmarket value one is offered: to sense shade for creatures, the arboring of life, what is exchange: gift of breath from bark and branch to pulse and skin and back again. I’m as mad as if it had just happened yesterday in a corner of the county, and I not there to fell their hand. My European brothers who thought it a swell idea: I should have stopped them. Who drained all the life, de-animate, which made possible the cut—25' saw trophy extends, over my head, across slice of stump— and I think how we do this over and over again. Now the adjacent “demonstration forest,” eerily without understory, run by BLM, makes “sense”: my brothers already cut down every redwood on these hills, severed strands of life thousands years old, and declared this the New Land. Know then that any New is birth of that long severing, demonstration saw thousands of feet wide, pulling across our skinsoil.

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The Apparition at Fort Bragg


Let us know them/us closers of that life, each day when I think of my agenda, my to-do as I walk in my neighborhood by that Coast Live Oak tree as if it were backdrop landscape to my drama rather than coequal being, singing its life, which I’m missing. Recent science now confers upon them plant intelligence— they see, move in reply, seek— Yes, go read the studies, but consider why we need such research to say what we have ceased to feel, to statistify #s on presence, record their dignity of real? May we put down our pics and texts. Let us open our circles to tremble within their rings. Walking up on the porch of the Guest House Museum, I read that Fort Bragg was founded in 1857 (named after a corporal) on the site of the Mendocino Tribal Reservation. This raises questions until the next line: The fort was founded to keep order, the phrase creepily vague, implying a lack of order on the part of the Mendocino Indians. Heck yeah, I think, immediately seeing the perspective of the Indians, how they’d defend the very definition of life before those who trod it with their mucky boots: I wished I could be that courageous. The fort was abandoned—closed—by 1866,

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The Apparition at Fort Bragg


and again, the terseness affects me: that is to say, the Indians were ordered, controlled, or killed? The lines on the paper are few, and we are left to guess. Later I’ll learn that in the year after the closure, seven lumber mills were built on seven river mouths where the Mendocino Indians once lived. My book tells me in 1851 D.C. had sent three commissioners to California, signing eighteen treaties with different Indian chiefs to cede their large territories in exchange for small reserves on which at least they’d have rights. But gold had come to the golden state, and the slaughter of Indians by Anglos flowing in for that metal only increased, and when the commissioners brought the agreements back to D.C., the Californian senators lobbied against them, so they were never ratified into treaties. The Indians on the shrunken lands had few rights, more like refugee camps. And this Guest House upon whose steps I stand was a hospital in this time. Though it is closed and still on this Sunday, it is as if the movement of those ghosts begs to be accorded, and I can hear or feel what might have been here, indistinct coils of suffering. I walk to the back and peer in a slanted window, shuttered-over. Eyes that are not eyes see a cold fog of fear runs through me and I run across the clipped-close lawn. I run away.

Tiffany Higgins

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!" as I drive up the 1, here narrow, side to side signs to sell propane, and down there, the lumber yard: what is sold here, trees and gas, as if still back in the 1950s. I feel the slight panic of the urban resident faced with a place where I am useless: no skill to offer here, I am off market. In a front yard, someone has cut cords of wood, in their quarter of a circle shape, the inside-tree-tendons’ orange-red triangle tip sharp—a hand lettered scrawl reads: $5 a bundle. oh my, they are chopping down their own trees— or poaching others’. I feel the embarrassment of the guilty, of one who doesn’t have to cut down her trees to eat. The railway used to follow the coast, and the abandoned rails now follow us, and from time to time, we pass over a river 200 feet below that feeds into the dark rock-cut sea, the river’s shores sandy and wide, so on its banks nest little houses—used to be a whole village tucked in there, a bustling fishing industry such as Steinbeck understood: Noyo River, but then that harbor became where boats go to sleep, a ghost fishing boat camp, boards slowly fading to be eaten by salt of sea. on up the 1, McKerritcher State Park, we swerve in. A volunteer ranger is just ambling in to open the small entrance station with its pamphlets on natural history. I come in all cheery with questions,

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and he responds, beige-shouldered and quiet, and once again I am reminded of my strange urban self and how his time swings differently than mine, and I think I must go out and live with the animals, I must listen more, why haven’t I been listening? on his direction, we walk down a path, red needles below feet, air damp, green boughs wide around us, slope down toward—there— silver space opening—air unenclosed—over water— Lake Cleone—all is silent here, we see no one, a secret grove. here, a boardwalk, boards and rails over a kind of swampland, not evergreens but slim gray trunks crossing, the interweave, by which I mean, hillocks of brambles sprouting abrupt before you so that to imagine walking is to be denied passage, no right angles or perpendiculars, only one trunk in view vertical, its brethren on slopes, diagonals, if you stop for a moment then before you all seems to be weaving, tucking in and lifting under, hoisting and bowing and heaving, almost as natives here once wove grasses for the basket, bowl of the world, in which appear shapes of hawk, jags of thunder, rattlesnake notches, in which all is carried aloft and whirled and spun in the dance of being. Elsie Allen, Pomo, down the coast was one of the best, and it continues.

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The Apparition at Fort Bragg


photograph by Tiffany Higgins


Down at my feet, lichen shapes in clouds float pale green on dark gray grain of boardwalk, like Monet’s lilies on the depthless pond. Yes, the moss is the greatest artist, it paints its lines between the boards below, bright green alarm of expression, strophes and stanzas and punctuation, to the sides of the walk it even spits, flicks tongues of what it has to say, so much, between my thighs orange lichen, these creatures will not let us creatures get away with any pristine. We have come here to write ourselves, and you are no obstacle, they intone as they grow and grow in the damp of the wetland, and I picture the builders who with care laid down the boardwalk, its high rails, just-new-from-sawmill planks, now being grayed and eaten away by the moss and the lichen of astounding varieties, they munch, here and there a board fallen in, just step over it, a Pollock painting of color and throwing and movement, monument of animism. Who wonders if plants possess ambulation need only look here, the proliferate propagation. on a wooden inset bench in the boardwalk, my golden pal and I sit, with still a little tea left in the silver cup, we sit and I sip; in her elder years, she has taught me what it is to rest and be.

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The Apparition at Fort Bragg


not to rush on, to act so busy. to edit, to do less: do less to do more. thick yellow paws out before her, orange felt ears up on alert, not for a hunt, but for this newness, everything changing, which even she, mostly deaf, milky blue film on her eyes, can see. she gazes at it as if it were TV. nose going, wrinkling, shifts of scent flowing through nostrils, raw data she reads. (though limbs ache, she will walk this whole circle today, out to beach of black sands and back, simply for scents.) for now we sit and watch the weave of all. In high school, the teenage me absorbed empiricism, read with alacrity John Locke who mocked the man who would doubt his own existence: I need only bite you, he almost said, for you to perceive it, for whom all knowledge extended only to what can be known by our senses. Teenage me loved this, for I could then dispense with echoes of platitudes by my elders— truth, wisdom—to the extent that two years later at a summer job for MassPirg, canvassing for the earth, when Woody, my Quaker manager told us to visit the people on our neighborhood list with love, I stopped the meeting to ask, What is this? You don’t really mean that, do you? Curt, he replied only, Yes.

Tiffany Higgins

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photograph by Tiffany Higgins


There I was more challenging than curious, for in that word I heard an absolute blank. It helped with the divorce— my parents’—which I saw as an entirely practical arrangement. Though when by accident, in a file to my parents’ bedside, I saw the actual papers, citing as reason Financial disagreement, I balked at their lack of honesty, minimization of what had been so large. I was convinced when Locke explained that most of our “complex idea of gold” is made up of sensations of “yellowness, great weight, ductility, fusibility, and solubility in aqua regia, &c.”—I starred it in the margin— and thereby refuted Rationalism’s credence in innate ideas crowned somewhere in the ether. I let all of it dissolve into fragments of sensations that I daily collected. It didn’t take much to see then that my identity (which he also discusses) is not fixed either, but utterly malleable, shaped not by ideas but experiences. I made a vow then to collect sensations, as many diffuse and distinct ones as possible, the more seemingly different the better, like dipping the statue of myself into the water of so many different pools and watering holes, to see thereby how the material I might be altered. The alteration required thus little reflection: do, do, be, be. This vow would lead me, along with something else I heard in high school—Go west, young—woman?—out to California in my search for novelty, though when I arrived I felt, surprisingly, without anyone, lonely. Contemporary of Locke, George Berkeley wrote, “all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any substance

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without a mind, that their being is to be perceived or known; that consequently so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that of another created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or subsist in the mind of some eternal spirit.”* But then how to explain that I sit here, golden pal at my feet, and feel— in the forest of McKerritcher State Park on the coast of Mendocino— and feel the weave of trunks over and under, bob of birds, surge of hummocks—the aliveness and sentience of all, as if it were my own skin, the content of my content exchangeable with their content, my character, corpuscles vesicles, exchangeable with theirs, i.e., I am not perceiver, am not observer, not describer— for isn’t it the idea of “I” that has peeled us away from “it”— (thereby to drain, shape, frack, mine near and far at home and in stock portfolios and spreadsheets abroad) hadn’t I we better be interpenetrated, not human subject that separate considers, looks, clicks— not this packet of human personality, fixed, carting itself around an indifferent “landscape” to assemble documentation to verify that it was there— febrile motivation of so many of our journeys— why not instead verify and perhaps avert the passing existence of so many creatures from our earth? *

“Of the Principles of Human Knowledge,” #6

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The Apparition at Fort Bragg


The morning, as I sip my little tea, my golden pal at my feet, is alive with meaning, birds expressing and moving like notes along the staves and lines of trees, in winter divested of leaves, seen as if through scratches of brambles and hummocks. There is a narration spun in skull above that I quiet, instead let all be that be. There is a magic of early hours that will let you believe that all is simplicity. It must be something about the complex music of the creatures. Little “human,” caught in ego and pride, seeking to blast my image upon the spheres to be devoured, let me be digested only by this moving place. Let me feel my edges begin to alter, this thing I call skin I truck around in which is contained, supposedly, my “personality,” with predictable tragic and comical results. Let me unresult. Let me be an inlet. Cartoon outlines, thick pen solid, around self, become more pencil-thin, gently scumbled at edges, rubbed, erased, jagged as a fractal coastline, I imagine us open, all of us curved in interchange, I ask for the patience and openness to listen.

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May we converse, this strange spot of space into which by chance I was born and all the cosmos that here exists beyond and around and surrounding and within. Who called you “human� to divide from all that which once was union? Call us all creatures. Call us all budding and blossoming and fruiting bodies. Call us all entropy and forgetting, call us all remembering. Call us all brief beauty going to seed, call us all dispersed upon the air. Call us all gathering in as if to listen to the bass, sax, clarinet, beating of someone’s skin drawn across a hoop, that alternating conversation with its spaces and attending to and anticipating and replies, call us individual and then again communal, call us all into being in the inharmonious harmony and its breaking and finding again, call us all clattering, crashing, and finally, through untampered space, leaping. Call it good, call it good, call it good. And somehow perhaps the inner content, on which one has been so intent, is changed, the actual pulp and cords of the fidgeting tree that is by chance named me to be exchanged with the innards wishes of the gray and arching trees thereby to allow for a conversation between this self I cart around and all that exists in this moment beyond and around and surrounding and within? For there is no out or in, illusory ideas, no?

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The Apparition at Fort Bragg


Photograph by Tiffany Higgins


photograph by SD Dirk


The Steller’s jay: its indigo coat sweeps like royalty as it ascends the length of the tree extension, black spiked headdress, hops up and down the branches—if to a near one, jay only seems not to fly but to levitate sudden upward shift, like stop motion where character suddenly appears in a new window position, almost comical. Also cool is how it jumps over and down to yon branch, yellow claws extended, wings in counterbalance brought aloft and back, not really flying but in counterweight to claws, Wheeee, Grap! as aloft in trust it leaps then, yes, grasps, clamps on target perch. Got it. I watch the jay’s movements in admiration as if by doing so I could learn to be more human, possibilities for being we may have forgotten in our curtailed range of postures: hunch over glow, view and tap arrow. and there is no box to click on, no hypertext to open to another link, this is itself the origin of link of being with being and interlink— put away that box in your hand, can you just for a moment go thingless in your hands, present yourself naked to this throng? you’re worried you will die without capture, click— you will pass and forget you were ever here— well yes, may I suggest to find another way to record the experience deep into your cells of being? the problem is not with your memory, it’s with your now. why don’t you sit here, Tiffany Higgins

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on this bench? I will teach you how. forget lunch, you didn’t pack your lunch? you can eat moss if need be. let’s plan on hours. but first sit. imagine that everything around you is alive with its own intelligence. beings rooted, that doesn’t mean they don’t move: and don’t monks from trees in storm learn to bow? think of them as first teachers, most of them your elders, around here year after year longer than you, they too have observed history, the odd habits of humans. do you know that Kirlian photographs of leaves cut and uncut detect distinct molecular differences for each, i.e., the cut leaf has replied to human slicing? and when a person thinks mad vs. nice, the tree also rearranges its composition of leaf ? there, there, let’s infer many more off the charts sensitivities of these creatures—we are all, all of us, only creatures— Let’s dispense with this Ladder of Being holdover of Human over Animal distinct from Green Beings— we are all, or should want to be, Green Beings— you thought at the top of the ladder was Reason or God but this was just a thought flatus of your/our society, a roughly 600-year-long blip in what is our much longer universal history of existence, a little mistake of Rationalism and Humanism which erred to cut us from all else and placed Human experience at the very center of all. false.

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The Apparition at Fort Bragg


and see from this thought us brought to brink of tip-tipping: the whole planet: from these thoughts: so give a thought to that when you’re about to laugh when I say that the tree, I tell you, that one before you, senses you. you are not alone, dear human. is this good news? I think so and might be a remedy for all the anxiety and depression prescriptions written in the United States. let’s start with the state of your thoughts. sit and look at what’s near and far. and so the problem of the environment is a problem of the self. let us get to the interweave. my real vow for this year: to stand with the plants. when I tell anyone this, they bend in and bend out their ears, not understanding and doubting they actually want to hear: and what if the invisible were the exact replica?

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Tiffany Higgins is the author of And Aeneas Stares into Her Helmet, selected by Evie Shockley as the winner of the 2009 Carolina Wren Press Poetry Prize. Her poems appear in Poetry, Prelude, Massachusetts Review, Kenyon Review, Broadsided Press, Taos Journal of Poetry & Art, Catamaran Literary Reader, From the Fishouse, and other journals. Poems are forthcoming in Ghost Fishing (an anthology of ecojustice poems, from University of Georgia Press) as well as Drought Anthology (Tiger’s Eye Press). Her translations of Rio de Janeiro poet Alice Sant’Anna’s poetry, Tail of the Whale, was published by Toad Press in August 2016. In addition to translating emerging Brazilian writers, Tiffany volunteers for Amazon Watch, translating news articles on socioenvironmental threats to peoples in the Amazon Basin. Originally from Massachusetts, she teaches English at several colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area. To know more, and to follow her Brazilian travels, please visit http://tifhiggins.blogspot.com. About her poem, The Apparition at Fort Bragg, Higgins writes: “This poem explores many questions of long-standing interest for me: how we define a human self in relation to an ‘environment,’ human in relation to non-human, and culture in relation to nature. I’d been reading a lot of texts that call these divisions into question (and suggest that they’re demarcated differently depending upon our societies): to name just a few, Brazilian Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa’s The Falling Sky, Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s writings on Amerindian Perspectivism, and What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz. The real impetus for the poem came from my dear dog Golda, faithful traveling companion. Although I tend to be shy of travel, even in my home state of California, as dear Golda continued to age marvelously, increasingly I wanted to give us the gift of some road trips together. I got out the atlas and, somewhat whimsically, selected Fort Bragg, north of us in the San Francisco Bay Area. It would be a place Golda and I visited three times.

Tiffany Higgins


As for compositional process, I had a small Moleskine notebook that I stuffed into the pocket of my jacket, upon which I took quick cryptic notes, observations and phrases, as we were out en plein air. These were extremely condensed bits of the experience, and in the evening, after a day of busy wandering, as we settled down in our hotel, I tried to use the notes to flesh out these thoughts. Nighttime is not my usual writing time, so at that point, I was simply trying to fill in memories of sensations, impressions, and musical lilts as best I could. I had never written in this talky, blowsy form before, with twists between different genres, such as travel narrative, memoir, ecohumanist lecture, meditation teaching. As is often the case, I had a couple of mantras buzzing around my head, among them “culture is not separate from nature” and “the problem of the environment is a problem of the self.” In addition to Viveiros de Castro’s writings on how indigenous societies define culture/nature and human/non-human in a startlingly different manner than dominant societies in the global North, I was reading U.S. writings that also call into question nature/culture dichotomies: The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World, an anthology of environmental writing by people of color, edited by Lauret Savoy and Alison Deming; Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille Dungy; and Brenda Hillman’s Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire. I came away from these works feeling that our nature poetry, and even ecopoetry, has trained the camera eye on too narrow an area, a “nature” that excludes culture. These works modeled for me how key it is to braid the two together, to critique systems of injustice that affect both humans and non-human creatures. I began to suspect that nature poems which narrow the camera eye to “nature” only, erasing and/or failing to question human participation, only confirm the objectification of an idealized, pure nature—which allows us to continue exhausting nature, secure in the idea that an idealized nature may still persist, uncorrupted. In Fort Bragg, as a matter of principle, I was pretty sure that anything I would write about it would need to include humans. I assiduously took notes on human aspects of this place, not sure what I would do with them, but wanting to notice, sure they were somehow important for understanding the whole. “Widen the camera eye,” I coached myself.


Iron Horse Literary Review would like to thank its supporters, without whose generous help we could not publish Iron Horse successfully. In particular, we would like to thank our benefactors and equestrian donors. If you would like to join our network of friends, please contact us at ihlr.mail@gmail.com for information on the various levels of support. Benefactors ($300) Wendell Aycock Lon and Carol Baugh Beverly and George Cox Sam Dragga Madonne Miner Charles and Patricia Patterson Gordon Weaver Equestrian ($3,000 and above) TTU English Department, Chair Bruce Clarke TTU College of Arts & Sciences, Dean Brent Lindquist TTU Graduate School, Dean Mark Sheridan TTU Provost’s Office, Provost Rob Stewart TTU President’s Office, President Lawrence Schovanec

Photograph by Tiffany Higgins


cover photograph by Tiffany Higgins

The Apparition at Fort Bragg, by Tiffany Higgins  

The 2016 IHLR Poetry Trifecta

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