ISSUE 8 Fall 2015
Mount Hope is published bi-annually in Bristol, Rhode Island, by the Roger Williams University Department of English and Creative Writing. Individual subscription rates are: $20 annually or $35 for two years. Mount Hope © 2015, All Rights Reserved. No portion of Mount Hope may be reproduced in any form or by electronic means, including all information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission of Mount Hope magazine or authors of individual creative works. Any resemblance of events, locations or persons, living or dead, in creative works contained herein is entirely coincidental. Mount Hope cannot be held responsible for any views expressed by its contributors. www.mounthopemagazine.com Individual Issue Price: $10.00
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Editor’s Note: The essay “Cut Wide Open,” by Amy Amoroso, which was published in Issue 5 of Mount Hope, has been named a “Notable Essay of 2014” in the anthology Best American Essays 2016 (Mariner Books). The Mount Hope staff congratulates Amy for this richly deserved recognition.
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EDITOR Edward J. Delaney
ASSISTANT EDITORS Abigail DeVeuve Katherine Gladsky Margaret McLaughlin Stephanie Nisbet Sean Nickerson Alexandra Orteig
WRITER-IN-RESIDENCE Adam Braver DESIGN EDITOR Lisa Daria Kennedy Massachusetts College of Art
COPY EDITOR Connor Lahey
POETRY EDITOR Shelley Puhak Notre Dame of Maryland University
EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Jared Clough Shannon Cullen Courtney Danforth Nadine Hapst Kevin Marchand Christi Mercuri
ASSOCIATE EDITOR Amish Trivedi
COVER ART to both the ocean, Puget Sound, and Lake Washington. College rowing crews, pleasure boats, and houseboats occupy on Lake Union. Artist Allen Forrest, born in Canada and bred in the U.S., creates cover art and illustrations for magazines and books. Forrest has received the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine. His Bel Red painting series are part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection.
Seattle, WA, Lake Union, Yellow Boat, oil on board, 9” x 12”
This painting is from Allen Forrest’s Greater Seattle series. Lake Union is a city-bound body of water that connects MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
CONTENTS FICTION 5 The Last of
NONFICTION 17 The Boxing Archangel Who
The Old Guard by Jesse Mardian 34 Home by Céline Keating
Guards The Gates of Heaven by Karen M. Radell 78 The Ginger Snap by Harry F. Dodge
POETRY 15 The Spot
INTERVIEWS 29 The author Arthur Bradford
by Douglas Cole 16 Wind Horse by Douglas Cole 26 Carrier Pigeon by John Gery 27 Canary in the Mine by John Gery 28 Mockingbird by John Gery 45 Tooth by Diane Glancy 76 What My Autopsy Will Reveal by Jen Karetnick 77 Labor by Jen Karetnick
Interview by Kevin Marchand 63 The poet Chase Twichell Interview by Christian McEwen
GRAPHIC ARTS 49 Storyboard by Gilbert Johnson
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The Last of the Old Guard by Jesse Mardian
The scar was a reminder of what could have been. Sitting up in bed, he stared at it—the thin red line along his patella like a child’s crayon scrawl. He ran his fingertips along the scar tissue, feeling its coarseness. The flesh was a part of him now. He shut his eyes as the morning breeze filtered through the window. Outside, waves ended their long journey on the sands of Cadiz, MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
and Gabriel Reyes listened closely as each one died on the shore. Soon the sound of waves transformed into cheers, roars, and he was in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu—the lights illuminating his body as he dribbled fiercely toward goal. Louder and louder, invisible voices rained down, and as the ball left his foot he held his breath. The cheers became boos and again became waves. On the veranda, Gabriel sipped café con leché and watched the people, the gaditanos, walking along the cobblestone streets. In the Puerto de La Bahia, boats cruised, and somewhere a church bell chimed. He mused about the places he had gone and lived throughout his career—from the various clubs in his motherland, Argentina, to London where he had astounded fans of The Blues. Then it was off to Spain where he played for the capital and he suffered the ACL tear that changed everything. Then to Sevilla (another knee operation), Valencia (fitness decline), Granada (his last operation), and now Cadiz, playing (or perhaps sitting) for a second-division team in a promotion battle. While he lingered on this thought he smelled the sea and felt the warmth of sunlight beam upon him. Of all the places, Gabriel decided Cadiz was the most fitting for a farewell. As he accepted this, a knock came at the door. “Still in your robe at this hour?” said the portly man, standing in the doorway. “Still in your monkey suit?” Gabriel said, kneeling slightly to embrace Pippo’s bulbous frame. Always fashionable, Pippo De Rossi wore a black shimmer Italian suit, which seemed to be bursting at the seams. Grey, thinning hair slicked back and a pack of cigarettes in his breast pocket, Pippo entered the loft with his briefcase in hand. “If you ever catch me wearing anything else, shoot me,” he had once said in the early years. And now, as Gabriel poured his agent a café, he realized he had never seen him in anything else. When he had first arrived at the academy in Buenos Aires, nearly fifteen years before, Pippo (already gargantuan) wore an Italian suit as he signed the young prospect, stating, “The future is precious, my boy.” The two sipped café on the veranda, staring at the blues of the horizon. Far north, the sky was grey, clouds staining a blue canvas. There will be rain tonight, Gabriel thought. Beside him, Pippo ran his fingers through his sparse hair, a habit which Gabriel knew to be a sign of stress. The silence between them said more than words, and Gabriel, following a flock of seagulls over the sea, had a sinking feeling that something was ending. “I come with news,” Pippo said abruptly, retrieving a cigarette. “A contract offer from Barcelona?” Gabriel joked, rubbing his knee. “Tonight’s match,” Pippo said, blowing smoke, “it’s important.” When Cadiz F.C. signed Gabriel, he was promised a central role. 6
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“You will be the club’s heart,” Pippo had promised. Yet, even then, Gabriel knew this statement was as flimsy as his aching knee. If anything, he was a name on a jersey, a memory of greatness, a living statue on the bench. Intocable, they had once called him. Untouchable. The way he played the game, attacking at defenders with speed and decisive dribbling—this had made him a promising young talent. And his touch! It was if the ball was magnetized to his cleats; Never a touch too hard, or too soft. He and the ball were dancing partners, moving step by step. He knew when to pass, he knew when to shoot, and he knew when to use his energy. Untouchable. And just as he was at the apex of his abilities, his knee gave out on a torn field in Málaga. So now he was just Gabriel Reyes, ordinario. “A verbal offer from the States,” Pippo said. “Nothing official, but there are eyes watching, there is life in you yet, Intocable.” “Don’t call me that,” he said, rising to his feet and turning his back to the Italian. “Why not!” the agent said, smothering the butt of his cigarette on the balcony railing. “Do you think I’d stay with you this long if you were anything but? Yes, you are older and slower, but you are also wiser. Where is your confidence? Where are your balls?” “They’re still here, old friend! But you know and I know that the States is no place for a futbolista. It’s a cemetery, Pippo.” “Sure it’s not La Liga, but it’s a place you’ll be at the top, the best! They will appreciate you there, just think of it!” Watching the little man stammer, as he had done in recent years, made Gabriel smile. There weren’t many agents like Pippo nowadays. Money had drowned the sport, giving insurmountable power to the wealthy MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
He and the ball were dancing partners, moving step by step.”
clubs. The best agents weren’t human; Gabriel knew this. He placed his hands on his friend’s shoulders, feeling the sweat and heat soak through the polyester. “Maybe,” Gabriel said. A win tonight would mean a step closer to promotion for the club—a feat they hadn’t achieved in over a decade. It wasn’t a title, nor a match of international acclaim, yet the game meant everything for the fans of Cadiz. A win proved the team was worthy of playing with the stars of Gabriel’s past. Whether or not he would be on the pitch would be up to the manager, but he began to feel that if he could just show a glimmer of his old form things could change. Pippo was right, Gabriel’s knowledge of the game was still intact, his touch remained, and he was always capable of a deft pass. If only he could prove himself. Later, as Pippo steered towards the Estadio Ramon de Carranza, Gabriel stared at his own reflection in the window. Briefly, he saw himself as a young man—long hair, wrinkleless skin, the hungry eyes of a competitor staring back at him. He remembered the long nights, the clubs, the women, but most of all the way people would look at him as if he were something majestic. In one interview, he had even been compared to Maradona. But that was Intocable, and now Gabriel stared at a shorthaired man that tried to hide his age with facial creams and clean-shaves. As the car passed high-rises and palm trees, he fought the ever-emerging thought of finality. Considering his age, his decline, and the aching knee that never seemed to heal, Gabriel knew this could be perhaps his last match. Self-doubt, a crippling sickness creeping in. He could not tell Pippo this, but Gabriel knew if he didn’t play well tonight he would not play again: And if this was it, what next? What does a man do when all he knows is sport? He had forgone a family life for the leisure of bachelorhood during the peak of his form. All he had was his legacy, and what did that amount to? As they arrived at the stadium a group of ultras loitered, holding up banners and scarves. When they saw who was inside the black car, they began to shout. “Tocable, tocable, where has the magic gone?” “Nothing to see here, solamente una estatua!” “The only gold that ever rusted!” Unable to hear the fans’ words, Gabriel smiled at them, waving as the car pulled into the gated lot. “This is where I leave you, old friend,” Pippo said. “Who are you calling old?” Before them, the unspectacular stadium loomed in blue and yellow. Gabriel looked up at the modernist structure, wondering why someone would design something so plain—a square of colorless concrete. “Listen—time is a lecherous bitch, my friend, but you were great; you 8
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are great, and this is not the end. I haven’t stayed with you this long to just watch everything fade to black in Cadiz! You will play tonight, my god, you will play.” Gabriel winked and shut the door, walking with his bag down a small incline into the stadium. Somewhere above, he thought he heard a fan shout, “We believe in you, Intocable!” But when he looked up all he could see was the storm approaching. Framed jerseys of past legends hung along the walls of the long corridor. These were men before Gabriel’s time and he wondered if his jersey would ever hang in a dark hallway in the depths of a stadium. He was early for warm-ups and thought he would be the first into the locker room, but there stood the towering form of Sokratis, shirtless, all muscle, wrapping his wrists with tape. “Geia sou,” Gabriel said, careful with his Greek pronunciation. “Buenas dias, viejo,” Sokratis said without looking up. The captain, Sokratis, had been at the club nearly his entire career. Like Gabriel, he was past his prime, however the life of a goalkeeper is less arduous—a longer life expectancy. But unlike Gabriel, he had never achieved stardom. He didn’t know of the riches that Gabriel once had. That world never existed for the hard-working, unlucky Greek. The life of a goalkeeper is one of chance, and Sokratis was simply unlucky, never finding consistent form. He would never know what it felt like to be in the spotlight of a hundred thousand fans. Never would he feel the energy of greatness. He was, in essence, mediocre. Yet the club held onto him for his experience and low wages—a tacit, mutual agreement. Since Gabriel had joined the club only six months prior, he and Sokratis had formed a professional relationship—they were neither friends nor enemies, only contemporaries who happened to find themselves together; passengers on a final voyage. Together, they dressed in silence, until Sokratis began whistling a tune. “What is that?” Gabriel asked. “An old paean—a song of triumph,” he said between breaths. “My mother would hum it to me as a child before bed. ‘Dream of the blessed future,’ she would say.” Gabriel tied the laces of his boots in a double-knot, listening to the lows and highs of the tune—a sad melody that soaked through his skin into his aching bones. “Where is the triumph?” he finally asked, applying tape along the sides of his knee. Sokratis stopped whistling, stood, and threw on his jersey. His grey stubble ran down his neck, hairs burnt by age. “We are the triumph,” he said, staring at Gabriel with his dark eyes. “The last of the old guard.” He grabbed his gloves and left the locker room. Gabriel MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
could hear his giant footsteps fade into the patter of rain. It was several hours before kick-off and the team commenced their warmup drills. Fans filtered into the stadium with yellow and blue umbrellas. It was only fitting that a team nicknamed “the yellow submarine” would be playing in the rain, Gabriel thought as he jogged down the sidelines. The rain became a blanket of mist draped over the pitch. The manager, Quique Sandoval, and his coaching staff divided the players into groups. Throughout his career, Gabriel had seen every type of entrenador—the tinkerers, the professors, the gamblers, the attackers, the defenders, the strict, the lazy, lost, at the end of a rope, former players who had no other option. Quique was a tinkerer, changing formations and positions to suit his style of fútbol, a counter-attacking play dependent on the speed of his squad. It was a system unfit for the technical, thoughtful player that Gabriel had become. Thus, his place was mostly on the bench where players are dreamers and spectators. On the other side of the field, the jugadores of Granada C.F. jogged in their red-and-white striped kits. Gabriel had worn the colors briefly before his last operation. They had terminated his contract immediately after, but Gabriel held no grudges, by then he was already numb. Briefly, he watched the other team as they ran in circles on the pitch—they were a group of young men, most of whom were on loan from bigger clubs who sent them away for experience in the lower division. A tough side, Granada C.F. was a team of youth, quickness, and strength. “Gabi! Group A,” Mister Sandoval yelled. Completing various lunges and joint exercises, Gabriel felt the soreness in his knee—a fire fueled by ligaments. But he showed no signs of pain as his group began crossing and shooting drills. When they began warming-up the keeper, Gabriel looked to the stands and saw Pippo—his face masked by the smoke of a cigarette. Beside him, two men in matching suits gazed down at the pitch. Knowing the size of Sokratis, Gabriel shot low and hard into the corner, beating the Greek with every shot. A renewed vigor arose within him—an anticipation and a hunger to play and win. After firing a rocket into the net he looked to the stands but his agent and the men were gone. In the locker room, Mister Sandoval, wearing a blue-and-yellow tracksuit drenched in hundreds of raindrops, listed the starting lineup as his team gathered. When he called the last name, Gabriel was not surprised. He knew the mind of a Tinkerer, and if he were to play tonight it would surely be off the bench. But secretly he had hoped to gain the start, if not for himself, for Pippo. “I’ve seen many matches,” Quique started. “And in my time I’ve learned that the most important are the ones that are seemingly the least. Sure, we could lose this game and still get promoted, but this game could also lead to a downward spiral. Joder! Down the toilet our dreams; treat this game with 10
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care like you would a woman!” The old Mister laughed at his own remark, slapping a clipboard on his thigh. “We are a better team built around better players—remember this, remember this.” In the tunnel leading to pitch, Gabriel stood behind the starters, wearing a fluorescent pinny over his training garb. As is custom, both teams lined up side by side, awaiting their entrance. At the end of the tunnel the stadium lights flooded in. Outside, the cheers began to lift, and for a moment Gabriel closed his eyes, listening to the hollow cacophony of rain and roars. He summoned a never forgotten time and was taken back to the Estadio de Los Dios. He kept this memory in his heart as the Yellow Submarine walked out onto the pitch. The game began in erratic fashion. In the rain, both teams struggled to keep control of the ball as it sloshed around, sped up, and flattened. From the technical area, Mister Sandoval screamed at his team, “run, corre, attack, calmante, hold, attack!” As the game settled into a rhythm, Gabriel studied the flow of the match. Granada relied on the speed of their left flank, constantly running at the Cadiz right-back, Sergio. With each possession, they sped and crossed the ball into the box where their center forward would try to get a head on it. But each time, the ball, a missile in a storm, failed to hit the mark. Even on the bench, Gabriel was awed by the fútbol played by his team. Just as the Mister had taught, the Yellow-and-Blue contained the attack of Granada, almost seducing MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
Before running onto the pitch, Gabriel kissed his fingers and touched the earth.”
them forward until, like lightning, retrieving the ball and sprinting forward towards the opposing net. However, with each counterattack the backline would be exposed, vulnerable if they were dispossessed quickly. So, it was no surprise to Gabriel when, on such an attack, Granada stole the ball, and as if playing a game of checkers, they crisscrossed passes—uno, dos, tres—and then shot into the back of the net. An enraged Sokratis, muddied after the missed save, picked the ball out from the net and dropkicked it high across the field screaming unintelligible Greek at his defenders. The fans, hidden by a sea of umbrellas, went cold. Yet, it was early in the match, and once the referee blew the whistle to restart, the cheers arose again. On the south end of the stadium, behind Sokratis, the Cadiz ultras waved their banners and bellowed their songs. While the other coach stayed dry under the dugout, Mister Sandoval hurled directives at his team, unfazed by the downpour. But the team, shell-shocked, struggled to hold possession as attack after attack pushed them deeper into their own half. If only someone could hold onto the ball, Gabriel thought. When the half-time whistle blew, the downtrodden Yellow Submarines jogged off the pitch, seeking shelter, down by one. Back in the locker room, the jugadores shed their soaked jerseys and replaced them. Mister Sandoval, dripping from head to toe, remained cool and composed. “It’s nothing, boys,” he said, wiping the moisture from his forehead with the back of his hand. On a whiteboard he began marking plays with arrows and dots. “You see here! When we counter, we must get the ball to the volante, siempre el volante! He’ll hold and watch the run until releasing the through ball.” As he said this, he met the eyes of Gabriel who now knew he would get his chance. Adrenaline surged within him. And as the team headed towards the tunnel once again, the Mister pulled Gabriel aside. “Do you think you can conjure some old magic?” “Old magic,” Gabriel paused. “No. But perhaps I can show you something new.” The Mister squeezed Gabriel’s shoulder. “Then show me.” The linesman held up the substitution marquee, a green light illuminating the number ten. Before running onto the pitch, Gabriel kissed his fingers and touched the earth. Sparse cheers from the crowd. He made his way into the heart of the formation where he would play as a springboard for the attack. Awaiting the whistle, Gabriel looked around him. These young men were playing for their futures while he was playing for survival. Another year in this sport he loved; another chance for an appropriate end. As the rain continued to fall, Gabriel understood he’d have to be careful on the soggy grass. He rolled his sock over his knee as the whistle commenced. As planned, he lingered in the center of the field, just above the opposition’s attacking line. Each time Cadiz won the ball, he’d drop deep for 12
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a pass, and every play he’d be wide open. Either he would draw the foul using his body to block the ball, or he’d cleverly nick the ball with a one-time pass to the winger, Beto. Yet still after twenty minutes, they were a goal down. Granada was relentless. Pushing their team high, keeping the ball out of their own half. But just as they had done to Cadiz, the yellow and blue retrieved possession on an errant pass and countered quickly, giving the ball to Gabriel who skimmed a line-drive pass to Beto who broke free, running, running, and chipping the keeper. The ball spun in the air, spurting droplets over the keeper’s head as it sailed into the net. Life surged through the stadium as cheers rang out. Wasting no time, feeling the tide change, Gabriel picked the ball from the net and ran to his celebrating comrades. “C’mon, the game’s not won yet!” No longer were the yellow submarines submerged by the attack of Granada. They pressed and pressed and pressed some more. From the sidelines, the Mister yelled at Gabriel, “Press higher!” So now, as Cadiz started another attack, Gabriel passed the ball to Beto and ran alongside him up the pitch. He could feel his calf muscles start to harden, but he kept going, sprinting towards goal. His thirty-five-year-old legs didn’t seem to be a part of him, as if they disobeyed the brain’s order to slow. The crowd’s thunder increased as yells came down from the heavens. As Gabriel finally galloped into the box, the spry Beto fed him the ball. His heart nearly stopped, as he wound up his weakened leg, cocking his rickety knee, and let go. But just as foot was to meet ball, in that wondrous moment, a defender slushed and slid through the shooting Gabriel. He felt his legs give way as he fell into a pool, drowned by rain. In a puddle, he lay dazed, praying he could stand. In that moment, silence, his heart fluttered as the ref ’s whistle blew. The noise seemed distant at first, but as the Beto helped Gabriel to his feet, the sound broke through the storm. Despite the mob in red and white surrounding the ref, pleading with him, he pointed to the spot, a penalty rewarded. “Take it, Intocable,” the winger, Beto said. “Bury it,” the center forward, Javi said. He looked at his team, the collective youth, the future of the game. As much as he tried to picture himself among them, his age proved too much. His knee shook with fear, his body felt like bricks without mortar; his mind was cloudy from the rain, the lights, and the moment. He picked up the ball and held it, gazing around the stadium. He looked for Pippo. He looked for the men from the States. But all the faces were shadows. In the distance he thought he heard the old paean of Sokratis, but really it was the ref ’s whistle, shooing off the angry opposition. For his teammates this was a beginning, a goal to start a long journey. They would get a taste of something that Gabriel already tasted, they would get to see places Gabriel had already seen; they would experience the glory that Gabriel had already wasted. He walked to the spot, twelve yards away, MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
the ball still in his hands. His fingers ran along the seams, which appeared worn and feeble, as if one kick would deflate the ball completely. A part of him wanted to take the shot, sink the penalty, and cherish a winning feeling one last time. He walked away and placed the ball in the hands of the winger, Beto. Without a word, Gabriel stepped out of the spotlight; the paean sounded, and he watched himself as a young man shoot, score, and become something great.
Jesse Mardian recently received his MFA in Fiction at San Jose State University. Currently, he is revising his first novel, a picaresque tale set in Sevilla, Spain. He lives in Los Angeles where he works as an elementary school teacher by day. 14
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The Spot by Douglas Cole There is a crazy woman who keeps hanging around the street corner. She lives up the street in a dilapidated, as you’d expect, dark window-shaded house with a yard grown up like a wild jungle, somehow symbolic of her mind and most accurately resembling her hair. She wears a filthy lambskin coat and hovers around the cross that marks the spot where Beau Kirschner was killed by a bus back in ‘95. It’s like she’s got a hold of something, there, at this memorial of death, like she’s guarding something with her grim fierce eyes that rake everyone who goes by. I’m not sure. I sometimes imagine she imagines it’s her own child who died here, and she’s searching for his spirit. Or Maybe she’s got hold of his soul and won’t let go. All I know is she attends this spot like a vampire, as if the spot weren’t haunting enough, and makes of it a stranger vortex of energy as crows begin to circle and clouds slow to a halt above, their shadows like a halo on her crouching form. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
Wind Horse by Douglas Cole Lung Ta, ripples on the hill beside the bodies frozen in mid-step or where they fell, preserved in perfect fields of ice.
breath and labored step the plucking at your arm that is not the pull of wind alone but the hands of those who linger in gleaming coats of ice begging you to take them with you to the summit.
Lung Ta, as if the air took breath from the lungs only to give it back again, there where Hall looked West into the Cwm, and felt as cell by cell his legs wove deep in the quickening ground. With each breath he said “I am coming down,” into the radio with softer and softer voice as though before him he beheld some beauty more entrancing than life below the base. Om Mani, the mountain whispers, and Padme Hum, for if you climb as they have climbed, higher through that field of burning white, you’ll feel with every shallow
Douglas Cole has had work in The Chicago Quarterly Review, Red Rock Review, and Midwest Quarterly. He has published two poetry collections, Interstate, through Night Ballet Press, and Western Dream, with Finishing Line Press. He is on the faculty at Seattle Central College. 16
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The Boxing Archangel Who Guards The Gates of Heaven by Karen M. Radell Limbo was a difficult concept for me as a child, no matter how many times Sister Mary Joseph explained it. It was not that I could not believe it existed; I knew it must be real, as real as the wooden desks with their inkwells which we sometimes hid under during the air-raid drills, which were held in case of attack by the “Godless hordes.” These hordes we knew, without being told, were the dark and mysterious Russians, though the good Sisters who ran St. James Parochial School in upstate N.Y., in 1956, never actually articulated it. Everyone knew by then, with the Cold War well underway, that Russians were always the Bad Guys. I realized that Limbo must be as real as the lines we formed every morning on the playground to chant our prayers out loud, two by two, with our hands folded together in a point like a steeple. Most troubling to me was the permanence of a sentence in Limbo, for it seemed to contradict the immense stress put on forgiveness and the mercy of Jesus Christ. I especially could not bear to think that poor, un-baptized babies (heathens, the Sisters called them) from distant countries, who were unfortunate enough to get sick and die, were also condemned to fly about in this Limbo for eternity. It just did not jive with what I knew about Jesus, and sitting in Mass in the church of St. James, especially after the priest had begun his sermon, I would study the ceiling and marvel at all the cherubs painted there. This was how I pictured those babies in Limbo; too many cherubs flying around and bumping into each other because there was no exit. I felt grateful to be among the baptized; at least I would never be sent to Limbo, which, I surmised, was very crowded and therefore undesirable. Purgatory seemed much more real and Catholic to me, with its emphasis on penance and absolution—at least in Purgatory the gates would occasionally open and you could be released into the waiting arms of God. The priests were definitely real; they sometimes socialized with mere humans and they spoke to my mother quite often, but I could never quite picture MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
the Pope as real because he just seemed to be too close to God and therefore completely out of reach. The pictures of Pius XII hanging on the walls of my oldest sister’s French school in Istanbul, run by the nuns of the order of Notre Dame de Sillon, only reinforced this notion. The color portraits of Pius showed a thin, ascetic face which bore no resemblance to the faces of priests I knew personally, all of whom looked well-fed, some even handsome. The nuns who prepared us for our Confirmation a few years earlier in Beirut only added to the Pope’s mystique when they spoke of a mere bishop, the Bishop of Beirut, in the hushed tones of those who had witnessed a miracle, like the multiplying of the loaves and fishes. The nuns informed us that we were blessed children indeed to have someone as exalted as a Bishop perform our humble ceremony of Confirmation. Not too many children in this world would be allowed the opportunity of kissing a bishop’s ring, they told us more than once. We knew Pope was a rank elevated high above a bishop, so we speculated that this Pope was somewhere unseen, high in the stratosphere, and we wondered, secretly, if he really existed in the flesh or if we were simply to take him on faith, like the Holy Trinity. As for the Holy Trinity, while God the Father seemed as distant and remote as the Pope, God the Son, namely Jesus, did seem real, like his mother Mary, as befitting those to whom one prayed for guidance, and more often than not, for forgiveness. What seemed unfathomable, however, was the third member of this Trinity—the Holy Ghost. I found it nearly impossible to work him (or Him?) into the scheme of things until I was about eight and had discovered Casper the Ghost comic books. To my immense relief, I could now fill in this blank spot in the Trinity and I began to picture the Holy Ghost as a Casper-like creature, completely benign and helpful, and rather sweet. It made sense to pray to Him and to ask for His help and guidance. The Confirmation ceremony is the high-water mark of a Catholic childhood and requires some intense preparation. I was in a special class with my next-oldest sister, Michele. What I remember most is that I never missed an answer to any question posed by the nuns, and that my sister and I were the only two who stayed behind when class ended to have tea with a white-haired priest named Father O’Malley. Lebanon has a lovely, temperate climate, so we always had our afternoon tea outside at a table shaded in part by trees that ringed the large verandah between the rectory and the church. As there was an orphanage on the grounds, we sometimes saw a toddler in a smock dash by, chased by a nun or an older child. We tried not to pay too much attention to these poor orphans whom God had abandoned, as we saw it, into the clutches of the too-serious nuns. The Sisters reminded us constantly to thank God we had parents and were not orphans ourselves. To be honest, we liked the nuns or Sisters in small doses only, but we never tired of tea time with Father O’Malley, who served us tea and chatted congenially until my mother arrived and joined us. None of the nuns ever joined us, nor did they speak to Father O’Malley on 18
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these occasions, and we had the distinct impression they did not approve of the priest treating us like guests, offering us tea and fancy English biscuits. O’Malley was a monsignor and therefore allowed to wear purple socks; they were the only priests allowed this privilege, the Sisters informed us. We could not conceive of the Sisters, as serious and unfriendly in general as they were, enjoying anything as much as we enjoyed those afternoon teas with Monsignor O’Malley. Because I was the best student in the class, I was awarded a prize—a beautiful, shiny, color picture of Jesus, the religious equivalent of the movie star’s 8-by-10 glossy. I remember it had a distinct sheen to it. It was the traditional Catholic Jesus, in blue-and-white robes, with hands upraised, stigmata showing on His palms, and the heart painted outside the body and pierced with a kind of dagger or small sword. I took this to be what the nuns always referred to as “the bleeding heart of Jesus,” and I was disproportionately proud of my singular honor. The Sister had actually said to me: your mother will frame this and hang it on the wall in your room, which only proved that she did not know my mother very well. My mother was what they liked to call a “good” Catholic, from a large Irish-Catholic family, except for the fact that she had married my father, a non-Catholic (he was Serbian Orthodox), but she did not believe in religious ostentation… hence, none of her four children was allowed to wear a gold cross or a religious medallion around our necks, not even a gift from a Catholic relative. I knew perfectly well that I would not be allowed to display the bleeding heart of Jesus picture in my room, but I asked anyway and was not surprised when my mother took it and said she would put it in a drawer for safekeeping. I never saw that picture again, nor did I win any more religious prizes, but none of that mattered; I had had my moment and I had been confirmed by the Bishop of Beirut, along with my sister, and we had taken tea many times with the urbane Monsignor O’Malley. He seemed to enjoy entertaining my sister and me, but forty years later, I had the realization that it had been my mother’s company the priest had found so charming and refreshing—not ours—and he no less than the Papal Nuncio to Lebanon at the time. My mother commented later that O’Malley was one of the Jesuits whom the Anglo-American community in Beirut in the Fifties liked to invite to their cocktail parties, precisely because they were so brilliant and urbane. According to my father, who worked from home in those days, this O’Malley often came to our apartment and engaged him in long philosophical discussions about theology and morality, with the not too subtle intent of perhaps converting my father, intellectually, to Catholicism. My father said he quite enjoyed these talks with the Monsignor, and when I asked him once why he was so sure the Papal Nuncio was trying to convert him, he answered: well, the strange thing is that he ONLY came by when he knew your mother would be gone, and then, on the pretense he was willing to await her return, he would sit down, over tea or whiskey, and begin a serious discussion with me—you MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
figure it out. Several other things stand out in my memory when I think of our life in Beirut, not the least of which is the apartment where we lived. It was a two-story luxury apartment with a curving staircase, which had an aquarium beneath it on the first floor. The building was very modern, with French balconies that faced the sea and a sculptured piece of stone in front. It sat directly across the street from the ocean and Pigeon Rock, a towering formation that rose up out of the sea, inhabited only by pigeons; hence the name. Other things that I recall are the flotsam and jetsam of childhood— how I played behind the building with the son of the concierge, who spoke some French—he was a boy about my age who spoke only Arabic, but as we had to take it in school, this was not a problem for me (in fact my mother stated more than once that I was the best Arabic speaker in the family); we used to look for field mice and dragonflies in the peaceful, open fields back there. Or how I did not like the English girl who lived on the floor below us who was always prissy and fake around adults, but I remember how mean and mean-spirited she could be when there was nobody around to witness it except her parents’ maid. To be honest, I was a little afraid of her, even though she was younger than me. Then there was the incident with the large dogs that my oldest sister walked on a daily basis for a French woman in our building, until they tried to savage a local street vendor. He was quite friendly and the kabobs roasting on his spit smelled wonderful, but as we never had any money, he would roast up a plain pita, tear it into small pieces, and just give them to us. One day my sister came down with the dogs, on leashes, but they broke free and attacked the man with great viciousness and without any provocation. All those who witnessed it were terrified. When my sister took the dogs upstairs and told the woman what had happened, she merely shrugged and said, they were doing what they are supposed to—they have been trained to attack Arabs— they know them by their smell. After my sister reported this to my mother, she was not allowed to walk the dogs again. It was a good year after the Confirmation ceremony with the esteemed Bishop of Beirut that my three sisters and I found ourselves at St. James Parochial School, which is in Johnson City, adjacent to Binghamton, N.Y., where I was born, my mother was born, and most of her family stayed. We lived in the neighborhood and could walk to school and on Sundays, to Mass. The nuns who taught us at St. James belonged to the Order of St. Vincent de Paul and wore large, heavily starched wimples. They spoke of the Mother Superior in such hushed and reverential tones that we could hardly believe she was mortal. We lived, essentially, in fear of being sent to the Mother Superior. This was the dire fate of especially bad children, children who failed to show proper respect for the Sisters. It was not hard to get us to behave: we were afraid of the nuns, who were apparently afraid of the Mother Superior. We were not fools—we understood the chain of command quite 20
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well—we recognized that only a priest outranked the fearsome Mother Superior. Imagine my surprise when I finally met her in the flesh. We were being led outside to rehearse our May Pole ceremony that would take place on Ascension Thursday, when she passed us in the hall, smiling and nodding beatifically at the rows of children. When my teacher, Sister Mary Joseph, addressed this short, round-faced nun with a bow of the head and a breathless Good day, Mother Superior, I was astonished. Astonished and perplexed. I could not reconcile this diminutive, harmless looking creature with the awesome power accorded her position. Then I realized that this was one of God’s more unfathomable mysteries, but I was not too unhappy; on the contrary, I discovered that removing most of the mystique of the Mother Superior also removed most of the fear. But a Catholic education is never short of things to fear or to become anxious about. Near the end of the third grade at St. James, one nun in particular visited our class, which was one of the few taught by a lay teacher, and lectured us about what she referred to as the call from God. We represented the lay teacher’s swan song, though she had lost her grip sometime before. She once hauled off and smacked a red-haired girl who sat directly in front of me for “sassing” her—I could see a peculiar glint in her eyes and feared the old woman had lost her mind—I made myself as small as possible at my desk and thereafter, I made a point of never, ever even thinking of talking back to a teacher. The nun who visited my class harped for several weeks about her subject—getting called by God to serve in a religious order—she told us that the worst tragedy in life was to miss the call from God. She insisted we be prepared to receive God’s call. At eight years of age, I was still quite literal and more than a little impressionable, so I spent several days sitting by the phone after school until my mother asked me why. I told her I did not want to miss the call from God that the Sister talked about. My mother explained that as God knows everything, he knew better than to call me when I was not at home. Ultimately, the only mystique that remained was the mystique of the priests. We saw how much deference they were shown by everyone, nuns included. The long, black cassock the priests of my childhood still wore only enhanced their mystique—they were clearly a breed apart. They were the only people to whom you could confess the most egregious or pathetic sins. They always took a child seriously, no matter what was confessed. And though they often assigned the heaviest penance possible for our transgressions, they never scolded. That was beneath them, and by implication, beneath our sins too. They made us take the attainment of grace seriously, and, we knew, they had the power of the Last Rites. We spent many hours pondering all the possible scenarios that could result in our needing a priest to give us the Last Rites, a ceremony that beckoned to us with nearly irresistible drama. Father Murphy, however, was the priest I knew, and frankly, loved MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
best. He taught us our Catechism in the third and fourth grades at St. James. He was patient, kind, and funny, and he exuded a sunny optimism that was in sharp contrast to the serious demeanor of the nuns. He also did not require us to get up from our desks in order to speak in class. When we were perplexed by this and asked why we had to stand to speak to a nun but not to speak to him, he answered, very diplomatically, not wishing to undermine the authority of the nuns: this is a discussion, not a class—that makes all the difference. He had a delightful way of drawing even the shyest child into the discussion. We thought him darkly handsome too, and one bold day, my best friend and I blurted out our admiration: Father Murphy—we think you are the handsomest priest we ever saw! Why, thank you girls! was his gracious reply and we were pleased with ourselves; we had mustered up the courage to say something personal to our beloved Father Murphy. After I finished the fourth grade at St. James, my family moved to Italy and spent four glorious years in the land of Dante (our sixth-grade class trip was to Florence) and Romeo and Juliet (we actually lived in Verona), where Catholics and Catholicism were the norm. There, we usually attended the noon Mass, or the “hangover” Mass as it was called by the American parishioners at the chapel on the military base, Camp Passalaqua. This had more to do with the time required to get four girls fed and dressed for church than with any sort of partying the night before. On the rare occasion when we were too late to make even the hangover Mass, we went to Mass at a local church. The one we liked best was situated on a lovely little piazza tucked away one street over from one of the main boulevards in Verona and what a contrast to the American churches we were used to—there was constant chatter from the parishioners, which reached a muted cacophony, but the priest did not seem to notice or to mind. The Italians were dressed to the nines, and expended a great deal of energy admiring each other, but they kindly made room for the foreigners who shared their religion. However, we returned to the States after four years (in 1962). We lived in Maryland, so we only occasionally returned to St. James for Mass, whenever we were visiting my mother’s family. Because of this, I did not see Father Murphy again for some time. One summer Sunday, my cousins Bobby and Kevin, who were brothers, were forced to come to Mass with us by their mother. We had just made the last Mass and when we arrived, they refused all seats in the pews, preferring to lounge against the pillars in the back of the church. About fifteen minutes into the service, Father Murphy, older, more serious, and more muscular than I remembered, entered from the side door that connected the church to the rectory and quietly but firmly grabbed each of my cousins by the nape of the neck. I was sitting far enough away to pretend I was completely absorbed in the service, but I heard the priest, in a menacing undertone, the envy of any Mafia Capo, query my cousins: Just what do you boys think you are doing back 22
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here? Holding up these pillars? I don’t think you can see the altar from this angle – the altar is up there. He turned them slowly around, rocking slightly on his heels like a boxer in the ring, his muscles tensed for any sign of resistance. They gave none. Even in a cassock, Father Murphy had the air of a man who could go ten rounds without breaking a sweat. A nun’s attention or admonition my cousins would have happily, even snarkily, shrugged off, but they knew they were no match for Father Murphy. The two cousins outwitted that Sunday were Kevin and Bobby McGuinness, and one of them, Kevin, had been my own personal cherub some years before. When he was only three, a perfect replica of the very chubby, very appealing winged cherubs on the interior dome of St. James, I had actually had the temerity to take him into its sanctified space. Kevin was three and I was nine and I loved him as if he were my own brother. That spring day, so long ago, how proudly I walked him to the church, his hand in mine, his short, three-year old legs trying to keep up. I wanted to show him the wonder and the peace of the empty church. I think he enjoyed it, but when a row of wimpled nuns filed into a pew and began to pray, we had to make a hasty exit as Kevin suddenly pointed at them and began to squeal with delight. When the row turned and shot us a hard look that seemed second nature to them, mixed with surprise at the source of the noise, I knew it was time to take my cherub and flee. When my Irish grandfather, James Harold Murray, died in Binghamton, I was nineteen. All of his children and the thirteen grandchildren gathered. People my mother had not seen since her own childhood appeared at the funeral home to pay their respects. Some of my grandfather’s siblings, whom I did not remember, also came by. As the oldest in her family, my mother made the arrangements. There was to be no Requiem Mass, which we had celebrated for my very devout grandmother (my Nana) a few years earlier. Harold, as my grandfather was known, had not been so devout. My mother and her brother and three sisters decided on a simple Catholic burial service at the cemetery and all of my male cousins would serve as pall bearers. On the way to Mt. Calvary Cemetery, I discovered my mother had asked Father Murphy, whom she had known all her life (he was the baby brother of her best friend in childhood) to perform the funeral rites. I suddenly remembered my childhood crush on him from ten years earlier—I was a little embarrassed at the thought of seeing him again, but I reasoned that after so many years and with so little contact, it was unlikely he would recognize me. I blithely approached the spot near the grave site where everyone was waiting and nodded politely at Father Murphy. He looked at me and said: Hello, Karen. It’s nice to see you again. What did I do? I blushed deeply and looked away for a moment. (I am still well known for blushing and I am in my mid-sixties.) We all bowed our heads during the service, but my curiosity demanded a closer look, so I glanced up surreptitiously while Father Murphy spoke MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
the prayers for the dead. I had been right about him; he was the handsomest priest in New York and he looked like he could still take down my cousins if they needed humbling. He was a righteous force in the best sense. I am now what is technically called a lapsed Catholic, though no less a personage than the writer Graham Greene once told me this is a meaningless term. Either you are a Catholic or you are not, he insisted, when I interviewed him for my dissertation. There exist in this world those people who naturally exude goodness and Father Murphy was one of them. Not because he was a priest, for as we know too well, priests are subject to the laws of human nature and they can be careful, lazy, sloppy, vain, perverse, pious, or evil men. Piousness does not necessarily equal goodness, but Father Murphy was good and decent, plain and simple —he did not know how to be otherwise. I was extremely happy then to have the opportunity of seeing Father Murphy once more. In the summer of 2004, when I was visiting my Aunt Rita (my mother’s next younger sister) in Binghamton and she happened to mention that Father Murphy lived in a retired priests’ home about five minutes from her, I decided I had to call on him. We had a lovely conversation about the past, the school at St. James, and of course my mother’s family. When I told him my mother had been gone for about five years, he said he would say a Mass for her—they had a small chapel in the home. Father Murphy had weathered the nearly forty years since we had last met well, in spite of losing his left eye to cancer. He was silver-haired, much thinner, and a bit frail, but the eye patch he wore gave him a slightly jaunty air that seemed to suit him. And of course, when I called my sister Michele to tell her of my good fortune in finding Father Murphy again, the first thing she asked me was: is he still handsome? I rarely attend Mass now, although I have a tremendous fondness for the churches and great cathedrals of old, never missing a chance to enter one, if not to pray or light a candle, then to contemplate the grand design. I find that whenever I have occasion to meet one of the “new age” priests, as I like to call them, who often appear without their collars and who sometimes say call me Father Tom or hi; my name is Bob, I think of the beautiful Father Murphy and his fierce dignity and patience. I think also of the harm done to the good priests, the serious priests like him, by the terrible revelations of the countless victims of the molesters, the predatory, evil men masquerading as priests. In my own case, it was a grade-school music teacher (just before my seventh birthday), not a priest, who was my molester. And it happened in Beirut. However, I had no conscious memory of it for most of my life—this does not mean that I wasn’t tormented by it or that my life wasn’t changed by it, but within six months to a year of being molested, we had left Beirut and I had buried it very deep in my subconscious until circumstances finally forced me to remember. Still, I don’t remember his name, and though I have had opportunities to find out exactly who he was, I have not followed them 24
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up. Why? Because if I knew his identity, I would have to hunt him down and cut his heart out. Someone once offered to look for the betrayer of the Frank family in Amsterdam after the war, but Dr. Frank, Anne’s father and the sole survivor said no. He did not want to know, I’m sure, for if he found the man who had destroyed his family, he would have to exact revenge, and that would mean sinking to the bestial level of his enemy. I don’t know if this is correct, but it’s what I believe. I still have my Nana’s rosary with its beautiful robin’s egg blue glass beads and its gold mesh case with a small cross on the front. I sometimes carry it when I travel. I don’t know whether I’ll see Heaven, but I do know it is there. Why? Because Father Murphy told me so and because, like Graham Greene, I have to believe in Heaven because I surely believe in Hell. Celestial topography is not my strong suit, but there has to be a place where the truly wicked, i.e., the tormentors of children, will be served their just desserts. The man who molested me guaranteed my silence by threatening my family and me—he said he would break my arms if I ever told anyone and would do the same to my mother. I could tell he meant it, or I thought he meant it; he was a panicky adult and I a frightened and confused child. It did not help that he threatened me practically under the eyes of my mother, so I spent the rest of my childhood thinking I must have done something wrong or else my mother would have intervened. Of course, my mother was horrified when I finally told her what had happened. She told me that he would be dead, for my father would have killed him if my parents had known at the time; I am ashamed to say I was sorry he had not met his end at my father’s hands. Consequently, I was determined not only to be good but to do good, and I was often teased by my sisters for being what they called a “goody-twoshoes.” Little did they know that I was haunted by terrible though unclear memories that compelled me always to seek to do the right thing, especially where my parents were concerned. I had buried the molestation deep in my unconscious mind and did not retrieve the awful memory until my very late twenties. Perhaps this is why I am such a believer in Hell—I know there has to be Divine Retribution for some sins, especially for destroying innocence and almost ruining a life. I like to think the punishment will come in the form of an Eternal rabbit punch, delivered by a weary but not unhappy angel. Yeah—I like that idea—a boxing archangel. Who may or may not resemble Father Murphy.
Karen Marguerite Radell is a retired university professor and tribal college president who now teaches part-time at Mid Michigan Community College. She completed her graduate work at Binghamton University and Kent State University in 1985. Radell has published poetry in Louisiana Literature, The Comstock Review, and Stone Canoe, and also had a personal essay on meeting Graham Greene published in The Michigan Quarterly Review. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
Carrier Pigeon by John Gery With a brain as small as mine, how can I be expected to carry more than others’ messages? I wait in line behind this one elected to go first. His wing smothers my view—yet what can I do but take my place, depending what vital secret comes next? It’s my turn. Once this war’s through, tossed aside and pretending no more to believe the text I convey, what then? Head empty, chest hollow as at my birth, might I start to volitate – or fester? Who will exempt me and who recall me to earth maybe to propagate maybe to propagate or just bask in her nest? By then compromised by all I’ve flown not mine, and battered from war, too old for any young hen, I’ll take off like now, alone.
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Canary in the Mine by John Gery Now this feels like the bottom yet still the earth beneath me is loose, crumbly. I just don’t see a way further down. Regardless, I’ll keep looking. My breast swells,
dissembles like soft rock off a wall, as black dust filled her tiny lungs. Now I can’t say and, doubting a next one after me, see no point in speculating. If I find my way back up somehow,
my gullet’s clammy—so little air, although enough, still, to breathe. Others must’ve made their way here, and either returned or disappeared. But no one’s left a note, unless there
I’ll be too distracted to remember this, and new songs, doubtless, will flare from my throat. But as the light fades, falters, and my thoughts get garbled, I yellow while my sadness turns gray.
behind that hunk of ore too embedded to remove without a crowbar. What, anyway, would she have had to say not already clear? Surely, no one thought one like me would drop down this far to read or listen, or even exhale. Still, I would have liked to know, once the oxygen slowed, what ideas, if any, came to her, whether being alone at the end matters much or, finally, pain
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Mockingbird by John Gery When she sings she imitates not those others so much as me, but what of what I try to sing that none of the others can hear since, like young dolphins at sea, they hear only voices they want and want only the voices they hear? Whatever she wants she just steals. Oh, to tether the voice of another to cover your own gray feathers yet still feather your nest is fraud. And me? I was taught all wrong by those I sought so long to mimic: To behave in accord may bring me food, food and rest— sumac, envelopes, the tweaks of fame. But the music itself I share, whether full and moist or surreal, has no savor now not redolent of my own shame, and the more I listen to her, the more she sounds the same.
John Gery’s seven books of poetry include The Enemies of Leisure, A Gallery of Ghosts, and most recently, Have at You Now! (CW Books, 2014). A Research Professor of English at the University of New Orleans, he also directs the Ezra Pound Center for Literature, Brunnenburg, Italy. 28
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Interview: Arthur Bradford The author Arthur Bradford talks about the craft of writing with Mount Hope’s Kevin Marchand.
As a filmmaker, Arthur Bradford has been nominated for an Emmy Award; as a writer he has won an O. Henry Award and been published in Tin House, McSweeney’s, Zoetrope, and many other respected journals. He is a writer who works most frequently in the short story form and can rightly be considered a contemporary master of the form. His first book, Dogwalker (Knopf ), is a collection of short stories. His newest work, Turtleface and Beyond (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux), focuses on the short story as well. The latter is a series of twelve stories, each of them narrated by Georgie, a consistently beguiling character who seems to be unable to do anything but live at the mercy of the chaotic world around him. Bradford currently lives in Portland, Oregon, where he continues to write while working at a juvenile-detention center. He was interviewed by Mount Hope’s Kevin Marchand.
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KM: I would have to say that my favorite story from the new collection is “The LSD and the Baby.” Watching Georgie try and figure out what to do with this sick baby that’s not even his is just pure comedy. What is your favorite story you’ve ever written and why?
the book contract ahead of time helps fight that particular anxiety. KM: When did you start writing and who were your biggest influences when you were just beginning? AB: I enjoyed creative writing classes in school, grade school and high school. I was motivated by the desire to impress my peers during the sharing part of the class. I have a twin sister who has always been a voracious reader. But I’m a slow reader and didn’t read a full novel on my own until I was in 5th or 6th grade, maybe even later than that. Even then it was probably a shorter book, like a novella, probably Of Mice and Men or The Old Man and the Sea. My father would read to us a lot when we were young though and those books have stuck with me. The Chronicles of Narnia and Animal Farm were big influences. Classic children’s writers like E.B. White, Jack London, and Roald Dahl have always been heroes. As I got older I became impressed with the rebellious, sometimes druggy writers like William Burroughs, Jim Carroll, Ken Kesey, Katherine Dunn, and Flannery O’Connor.
AB: Different stories become my favorites at different times. Right now I’d say it’s the title story in the collection, “Turtleface.” I like the sense of danger at the beginning and the odd comedy at the end. I tend to go for humor foremost in my stories. I’ve heard it described as dark humor, but I don’t see it that way. Like with that LSDand-baby story. That’s a funny story to me, though I recognize that some people find it uncomfortable. I’m happy to hear you liked that one. Back when I wrote it I probably liked it best. Often my favorite story is the last one that I wrote. And sometimes I look back at certain stories and wince. A couple of the stories in my first book, Dogwalker, feel a little forced to me now. KM: What is it about short stories that appeals to you so much? As far as I know, you’ve never published a novel, do you plan on doing so in the future or do you see yourself as solely a short story writer?
KM: Which story from Turtleface was written first and how many were written before you decided on compiling a collection of stories about Georgie?
AB: I’m under contract to complete a novel for my publisher, FSG, right now. I sold it to them with about 45 pages and an outline. I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but lack a lot of the discipline and long-term concentration. Having a deadline helps with that. I write short stories because they are shorter and don’t take as long to complete. Also, I don’t like the notion that I might spend a lot of time writing something that no one will see. Again, having
AB: I think the first story I wrote in this collection was “Build it up, Knock it Down.” I wrote that one after re-reading The Catcher in the Rye and I was trying to mimic Salinger’s funny way of making side comments about the action and Holden Caulfield’s touchingly cynical voice. I couldn’t really pull it off and ended up with a guy who was a bit more of a doofus, hence Georgie. I 30
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had probably written four or five stories with a narrator named Georgie before I thought I could do a collection of them. Even then I was resistant to the idea because I thought I should publish a novel first. The real motivation to putting together the collection was the idea that I could couple it with a proposal for a novel and get something under contract so I would have to finish it.
with incompetent thieves and living in the bushes with psychopaths. I got to know Lars and he would describe his decision making as desperate, but I also think he had an admirable lack of cynicism towards other peoples’ motivations, coupled with deep curiousity. If Georgie is likable, and I really hope he is, I think it’s because he doesn’t think he’s better than anyone else. He’s trusting and unafraid of weirdness. If nothing else, this can make for interesting stories. His greatest fault is an inability to think things through to their logical outcome. But as a storyteller, this fault can be turned into a strength.
KM: In your opinion what is Georgie’s greatest fault? We see, at the end of the collection, in “217-Pound Dog” that he has learned something: “I did not take him up on this offer.” But, besides being somewhat of a doormat for thirteen stories, what other personal faults do you think lead Georgie into all of these outrageous situations? And does he have any truly redeeming qualities in your mind? In other words, what is it that makes us like him? Because somehow, I do. Is it pure pity, or something more?
KM: What advice would you give to aspiring writers today? AB: I would echo the old saw about writing every day. Writing is like any other pursuit in that you get better with repeated practice. I’d give the same advice to a youngster who say, wants to play professional basketball, or be a musician. Do it often. Force yourself to write even when the mood to do so is not there. I used to also tell aspiring writers to get rid of their TV sets as it’s too much of a distraction. Now I think it would be some version of shut off your internet connection during the day. You don’t need to be connected to everyone else’s musings so constantly. It’s a huge distraction for a writer. I’m not saying isolate yourself, just don’t be tweeting and Facebooking and Instagraming all the time. Go out and talk to some actual people face-to-face. Internet ineractions are
AB: Well, you could see his willingness to enter into dubious situations as a fault, or, perhaps it’s a strength. I, for one, have a lot of admiration for people who don’t overthink things. There’s this book I really love by a writer named Lars Eighner called Travels With Lizbeth. It’s nonfiction and it’s about his years living as a transient, hitchhiking back and forth from Austin to LA and trying to find work as a writer. He uses incredible, very educated prose, and you can tell he’s intelligent, yet he keeps walking into these ridiculous situations, riding around in cars MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
not very interesting as story fodder. KM: How does the other work you do (with special needs children, I believe) influence your work?
I’d give the same advice to a youngster who say, wants to play professional basketball, or be a musician. Do it often. Force yourself to write even when the mood to do so is not there. I used to also tell aspiring writers to get rid of their TV sets as it’s too much of a distraction. Now I think it would be some version of shut off your internet connection during the day.”
AB: I used to work at a residential summer camp for adults and children with disabilities. Later on I became the director of this camp. I don’t work there any more, though I’m still involved with the place. I also worked at the Texas School for the Blind and currently work part-time at a juveniledetention center. Incarcerated youth, aged 14 to18. All that work has been very influential for me, though I’m not sure it shows up directly in the books I’ve published. I suppose it gives me courage to explore certain types of behaviors and circumstances. I don’t see the world of disability as sad or lacking humor. I started working at the detention center about two years ago because I wanted to know more about that world, to see if it had the same hidden inspirations as the places I’d worked with people with disabilities. I’m still learning about that though. KM: Does Georgie have any true friends in Turtleface? To me it seems as if he does not. Is there a point being made here? Possibly about the disconnectedness of today’s society? AB: Yeah, that’s a good point. I would actually imagine the Georgie does have friends in his life, but now that you mention it he doesn’t describe many good relationships in this book. Maybe that’s his problem. He can’t make friends. I know people like that. They can’t understand why they don’t have more meaningful relationships in their lives. The answer is usually pretty clear to everyone except themselves. I’d say Georgie’s best friends in the book are the women JoAnne in “Cold Feet” and Lila Harper in “The Box.” He likes them and they help him out without ulterior motives. If I was going to write another 32
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Georgie story right now I’d try to write on about a real friendship he had. That would be a good story to tell. Oh, he’s friends with William the Hermit too, in “Cold Feet.”
KM: Can you talk a little bit about the title story? Because I think the inciting incident in Turtleface is absolutely brilliant. When Otto begins running down that hillside it is clear that something bad is going to happen, but smashing his face on the shell of a turtle… I never saw that coming and even after it happened I had to re-read it to make sure I was reading it correctly. But, as you continue through the rest of the stories, the incident fits right in and (to me) actually sets the tone for all of Georgie’s adventures.
KM: Is there anything new in the works? After enjoying Turtleface so much, I will surely be going back to read some of your earlier work, but what can your readers look forward to in the future? AB: The novel I’m writing, referenced earlier. It’s called The Rodent King. It’s about a guy who befriends a herd of talking capybaras. I also make documentary films. The big one in the works is about Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park and the Broadway show, The Book of Mormon. I meet up with them and film every two months or so. We’ll be filming for another few years so it won’t be out until 2017 or so, but it will be really interesting to watch when it does.
AB: I’m glad you liked that. I was once on a canoe camping trip where we were all running down this sandy cliff into the water and I wondered what would happen if someone hit something. I tried to think of the oddest thing one could smack into when diving into the water. Interestingly, after that story came out in Tin House magazine another friend of mine told me he knew someone who dove off of a sailboat and hit a sea turtle. That person died. So it can happen. What I liked about the situation was that there was also collateral damage. The turtle was injured too and this caused loyalty issues for Georgie. I think everyone feels badly for the turtle in that situation but we’re a little afraid to admit it because there’s a hurt human as well. I liked that the other character, Tom, wanted to kill the turtle and make it into soup. That was a fun conversation to write. I have a friend named Tom who is very similar to that character, but of course when he read the story he saw no likeness there. He just thought it was a coincidence that I’d named someone Tom.
KM: In your opinion, what is the most absurd situation in Turtleface? AB: I think the most unlikely situation is the presence of the government scientists in that underground hovel in “The Box.” That was the most recently written story in the collection and I had to really put a leash on myself to keep it within the realm of reality. I like to write stories that are slightly unrealistic, stories with talking animals and stuff like that, but I didn’t want any of those elements in this collection. It’s all supposed to be realistic. So, in terms of “most absurd” situation I’m having to think about that for a bit. I’ll say it was when the sweaty man Willis asked Georgie to suck the snake poison out of his leg. That story still makes me smile when I read it. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
Home by Céline Keating
Molly was in love even before Billy; she was in love with the way the sand dunes drifted to the ocean’s edge, the way the clam and mussel shells crunched underfoot at the shore near the Point, the way her skin smelled after a day in the salty surf, baked in brittle sunlight. But most of all she was in love with the harbor, with the thick coils of rope and the lobster crates massed near the fishing boats, with the stench of dead fish and dried-out seaweed and the flavors of lemon and salt and grease of the fried clams she had every day for lunch at the Promised Land Bar. “Unload these, will ya?” Phil, her co-worker said, and Molly nodded, wiped her hands on her soiled white apron and leaned her weight against the dolly, shoving it with all her strength along the wooden floorboards, her rubber boots making wet, sucking noises. It was heavy, sloppy, exhausting work, but when she left each evening she felt strong and complete, and she slept at night as if she were falling down drunk. And now there was Billy. Three weeks ago she hadn’t even met Billy; now she was moving in 34
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with him. She had never done anything so wild and improbable in her life. Billy came from a long line of fishermen on his mother’s side. He worked the charter boats during the season and crewed on a trawler in between. His parents had died the year before, and he had taken his kid brother to spend the summer with relatives in Wisconsin, the only summer he had ever been away. Molly met him on Labor Day weekend, the day before she was due to return home after this, her first job after college. If Molly hadn’t met him on Labor Day, she wouldn’t have met him at all. Lucky lucky lucky, she chanted to herself. “You look like a madwoman with that blood and your hair a mess,” Vince, the owner, said as she pushed the dolly against the swinging doors into the shop. She laughed, slipping on thick rubber gloves. In the display case the light caught and reflected the sparkles of freshly chipped ice. She began to lift the fish by the tail and lay them down with expert flips of her wrist. Those for filleting she set aside for Vince, who would soon instruct her in that art. Over the summer she had sold fish and lobster and hauled and mopped and cut. She had learned to gut, leaving on head and tail, learned to scale so skillfully that not a wispy flake remained. But now that she was staying on, Vince would teach her how to make the clean slice under the head, insert the sharp, thin blade, and, with only a few deft motions, remove filets. She took the dolly out back and left it near the dock, busy with men—for it was only men who worked here—unloading the tuna, thicker than her waist, and recoiling the ropes and emptying the buckets to the plaintive cawing of the gulls as they wheeled overhead and dove for scraps. Rounding the spit of land that poked into Block Island Sound, the last boat, the one Billy worked, was coming in. As she watched it make its stately way, circled with gulls like tiny white flags, like a flock of angels, she felt as if the buoys floating on the water were bobbing around inside her, little capsules of joy. “Hey, give us a hand?” Phil cuffed her hard on the arm; she could barely feel it through her thick sweatshirt and slicker. “Sorry!” She took a deep breath, filled her lungs with salty air and pungent fish perfume and, stuffing her hands in her overall pockets, went back inside to work. Billy admired her quietness, her white-blond eyebrows, her tall, strong body. He boasted to his friends how easily she lifted the heavy, ice-packed crates of fish. Billy too was big; even stretching herself to her tallest, the top of her head only reached his ear. For the first time in her life—on the docks and with Billy—she felt comfortable with her body. It was as if she’d been living among Lilliputians and only now was in a world properly proportioned. Billy liked her scruffy from work, sleeves rolled up to reveal bruises, blood under her fingernails. He shook his head at the flowery print dress she wore for their first date and gave her some of his oversized jackets and white shirts, his straight-legged cords. “See,” he said, turning her to face the mirror. “You’re so sexy when you look tough.” She didn’t see sexy, just the contrast of the dark men’s clothes with her thick, paintbrush-straight white-blond hair. Billy liked it when she wore her hair down and he liked when she plaited it into a long braid he swung like a rope to tease her. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
Billy liked her scruffy from work, sleeves rolled up to reveal bruises, blood under her fingernails. He shook his head at the flowery print dress she wore for their first date and gave her some of his oversized jackets and white shirts, his straight-legged cords.”
Now he jumped out of his truck and enveloped her, his mouth all over her face like a puppy’s. She laughed, pushing him away. He wore a blue wool cap, a cap that contained in its smell the secrets of the sea. His eyes had seen horizons she could only imagine, and his saltroughened hands, which touched her so gently, had battled with shark and tuna and swordfish and cod. Molly grabbed her duffle and climbed in, pushed aside the nest of seaweed-encrusted coils of rope, metal buckets, and other gear. The seat springs bit her bottom as they turned down a rutted road. “Don’t expect too much,” Billy said. While he and his brother were away he had rented out his house and only just reclaimed it; Molly was moving in sight unseen. The road began to wind through forest with taller trees than any Molly had seen before on the peninsula. “Pretty,” she said. The light, sifting through branches, was as hazy as gauze. “It’s a bitch to clear through this shit, let me tell you,” Billy said as the trees gave way to bramble. “Jonah knows I’m coming, doesn’t he?” A nine-year-old boy; what would a nine-year old be like? “He’s stoked. I told him how terrific and gorgeous you are.” “Oh Billy, now he’ll be disappointed.” “You’re an idiot, you know that?” Billy said. They took a last turn and she saw a grassy clearing and a weathered bungalow fronting the bay. Molly took in the expanse of water, the brackish line of seaweed and shell, the short pier and small boat. “It’s paradise!” “You’re sure not going to feel that way when you see the inside.” Billy took her hand. “Remember, this was just a fishing shack in the ’20s.” Billy had told her his house was in a small community of fishing families, but she could make out only one house in the distance. 36
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“It’s so private.” “That’s why it’s worth a fortune now.” He pushed open the door, its screening ripped and sagging, and waited for her to precede him. Molly took a step back. “You’d never think of selling, would you?” Billy took a moment to answer. “I guess not. But the money is pretty tempting. The neighbors on both sides are in contract.” “They have to be crazy to give this up.” Billy touched her cheek. “Come.” The door opened directly into a narrow pantry and square kitchen. The ceilings were low, the wallpaper a faded flower pattern, and on the walls flanking a tiny porcelain sink were open, wooden shelves. Framed photos were grouped on the wall, faded shots of men standing in or around water and boats. Molly followed Billy into a narrow corridor that opened into a living room and a set of uneven stairs to a second floor. She had never been inside a building so old. “Jonah—get your ass down here!” Billy shouted. A pair of sneakered feet came stampeding, and a tall, skinny boy skidded to a dead halt, slipped, and fell. Billy let out a guffaw. “Billy!” Molly reached out a hand to Jonah. “Are you O.K.?” The boy made an indecipherable gargling noise. He had the same square and stubborn jaw as Billy’s, but his brown hair was light where Billy’s was dark, and his blue eyes were ringed with envy-inducing lashes. He began to pick at a scab on his elbow. “Stop,” Billy said. Blood oozed from the scab. Jonah examined it with satisfaction. “Would you like to show me your room?” Molly asked. The second floor was two small bedrooms tucked under dormers with a bathroom in between. Billy’s faced the bay, while Jonah’s fronted the forested area through which they had driven. Cut-out photos of sharks, dolphins, and whales papered his walls. “I like dophins and whales, too,” Molly said. “Sharks, I’m not so sure.” “This is a hammerhead,” Jonah stroked the glossy paper, “and that’s a great white. Did you know they mostly hunt at night? Whales are my favorite. I know someone who saw one from the beach.” “Have you ever gone whale watching? We could go sometime.” Jonah shrieked and raced back downstairs. “Billy! Molly’s gonna take me whale watching!” Jonah wasn’t going to pose a problem at all, Molly thought. It’s like we’re already a family. She wrapped her arms around herself and gave a little squeeze. Lucky, lucky, lucky. “I haven’t been able to get you to myself since you moved in,” Billy said as they sat side by side on the dock a week later, Jonah at a sleepover with their cousin Julienne’s son, Max. Molly had been afraid that Jonah would resent her; instead he couldn’t get enough of her. She thought it might be MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
because she could cook. The way he and Billy threw themselves at the food she prepared made it clear how they had been faring since their parents died. The water was spotted with sunset, the sky pale over rose-tinged clouds hanging just above the horizon. Molly slid her hand through the water, still warm from the day’s heat, and tapped her heels against the dock. Billy rested his head on her shoulder. A feeling like honey spread through her body. “What do you want more than anything else?” she asked. Billy thrust out his lower jaw in the way he did when concentrating. “Me personally? Not something like world peace?” “Right.” Molly smoothed the wiry black hairs on his forearm that went every which way. He leaned back on his elbows. “What do I wish…I wish you’d come here and let me put my arms around you.” Molly obliged, her back against his chest. He placed his hands over her breasts. “Holy mother of God.” His breath on her neck was moist and warm. “Billy, I’m serious.” “So am I.” “Answer my question.” “OK.” His hands on her breasts went slack. “I’d like to have enough money so I wouldn’t have to worry.” “That’s reasonable.” Molly waited for him to ask her. She wanted to tell him how, with him, she had everything she’d ever wanted, especially what she hadn’t even known she wanted. “It might sound reasonable, but it isn’t. You think if you work hard you automatically get ahead, but that’s a hoax.” “How do you mean?” “My parents were always thinking, maybe this time we’ll get ahead of the bills. But if we got ahead one season, we fell behind the next. The ones born ahead stay ahead. People like us race like crazy their whole lives and barely stay in place.” Billy made a sweeping gesture at the opalescent sky. “This is all wasted on us. We’re too busy worrying about how we’re going to feed ourselves, repair the roof. But if you had enough money, can you see how everything would be different?” Molly had grown up in a middleclass family up island; she had never known true want. She squeezed Billy’s arm. This wasn’t the moment to talk about her happiness. She’d keep it to herself, husband it like the conch shell they’d discovered on the beach. Later, when they were in bed and Billy asked her why she’d asked him such a strange question, she told him she’d been reading a fairy tale, the one where the fisherman catches the golden fish and throws it back in exchange for having his wish come true.
By October tourists had abandoned the area along with the warm 38
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weather. The air drew sharp and cold and there were two hurricane warnings, Abbot and Becky, neither of which amounted to anything. At the market, Vince told her that they would be cutting the hours back to just weekends until spring. It was what they did every year, but she hadn’t known. Seeing her face, Vince kept saying how sorry he was. She’d talk with Billy about applying to the Kmart for holiday work, Molly thought, though it would mean a 30-minute commute. When she reached the clearing behind the house, she was surprised to see an unfamiliar car, a white compact, out of place besides Billy’s beat-up truck. As she pulled alongside she spotted a decal for Shore Realtor. Her breath seized. She ran her eyes over the house, at the curled up shingles, the mold darkening the top of the door under the eaves where sun didn’t reach, the sagging wooden steps. The house canted slightly, but its small proportions were reminiscent of fairytale cottages, dormers like jaunty eyebrows over the windows. Billy stopped in midsentence as she walked in. A man, dressed in a soft charcoal V-neck sweater, rose, hand outstretched. “Theodore Miloxi.” His face was thin and very tan, a few age spots gracing his cheeks. Molly sat next to Billy. She couldn’t read his expression. From outside came the cough of an outboard motor. “We were talking about your lovely property here,” Miloxi said. “Billy tells me you’re opposed to selling.” Molly felt her face heat and shot a glance at Billy; he picked up the white rock on the coffee table they used as a paperweight and began shifting it from one hand to the other. Molly turned back to Miloxi. “It’s not my call.” “Billy cares what you want,” Miloxi smiled. “How can I change your mind?” “It’s been in Billy’s family for generations. It’s his legacy, his brother’s legacy.” Her words tripped over each other. “Ah, sentiment,” Miloxi nodded, as if saying, ah, foolish youth. “You could get something far nicer with what I would pay you. A beautiful new home where you could start fresh.” Molly’s jaw set. Had Billy told him they had been talking about marrying, even trying for a baby? The motor coughed again, and through the window behind Miloxi’s head, she saw a small boat pass. When she said nothing, Miloxi continued. “My dear, there are very few parcels on the water that will allow me to realize my dreams, and I mean to have this one. I envision a development with a waterside park. It requires that I buy this whole stretch.” “Build around us.” Miloxi chucked, as if amused by an adorable child. “I don’t think so.” Billy stood abruptly. “We’ll give it thought.” “The faster you sign, the more I’ll pay. Hold out, and it will cost you.” Miloxi moved swiftly across the room, shut the door decisively behind him. “Oh my god,” Molly breathed. “He was awful!” MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
Billy’s face was flushed. “He’s such a prick I wouldn’t sell to him if I had a choice.” “But you don’t have to sell, do you?” Billy ran his hands over his face. “I’m just trying to be responsible. It would be the smart thing. I know you don’t want me to.” “Billy, it’s not my decision.” “We’re together now, Molly. We decide together.” Outside, the boat motor abruptly died. A week later she was slipping a lasagna into the oven as Billy strode in, cheeks raw from the wind. He held his wet boots off to the side as he kissed her. “Smells wonderful,” he pulled out a chair, legs scraping the linoleum. “Listen, Mike is going south next week. Maybe 10 days. What do you think?” “You’d be gone for 10 days?” “Maybe 12. If it’s OK with you.” “I applied to Kmart.” When he didn’t say anything, she said, “but they didn’t call me for an interview yet.” “Maybe they’d let you hold off for a few weeks?” “I thought you wanted out of fishing.” She turned the oven dial and wiped her hands on the dishtowel. “It’s a lot of money to turn down.” Only if there’s fish, Molly thought. “If we’re not selling, I’ve got to fish until I figure out some other way to make a decent living.” As soon as Billy left, the weather turned cold. The ferocity of the wind came as a shock. It was an antagonist, a malicious spirit unleashing all its fury. If she forgot a hat, her hair was whipped into a cyclone of strands stinging her face. She tried not to think of Billy miles from shore, pitching on heavy seas, lashed by wind and rain. She tried not to think that it was her fault, because if it weren’t for her he’d sell the house and have enough money to get off the water for good. It got too cold and dark to take Jonah for a walk on the beach after school each day, so they stayed inside. She prepared dinner while he did his homework. He talked aloud as he worked, scrunching his face close over the paper, gripping his pencil awkwardly in his left hand. He talked through dinner, and he talked as they cleaned up, and he talked as she helped him prepare for bed. But then she shushed him and took a book from his bookcase to read aloud. He pressed so close he was practically in her lap, and she breathed his scent of eraser and bubblegum toothpaste. She missed Billy and she knew Jonah did too, but there was something special between them nurtured in the space Billy left behind. Sometimes she lay next to him after he fell asleep and listened to his breathing, imagining she was on the boat with Billy, lying together on the slicked-down surface, staring up at the stars, sharply etched in 40
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the inky blackness. All over town scarecrows appeared—an octopus reading a prayer book in front of the church, a surfer in front of the sports shop. Jonah decided to be the Tin Man. They punched holes in cans and ran fishing line through, and then she stitched the cans to an old thermal shirt. She told Jonah that Billy wouldn’t be home by Halloween, so if the boat made it back it would be a surprise. After nine days out at sea, Billy got in touch to say they were heading home; the captain didn’t want to take any chances with the impending nor’easter. On TV, the weather map appeared with blue-black Van Gogh swirls. Molly looked out at the bay being whipped by the wind and measured the distance from the shore to the house in her mind. Halloween morning she drove Jonah to school dressed in his costume, clanking as he walked. She hustled him to the school building, afraid the wind would rip the cans right off. Around them ghosts and witches and batmen were racing to get inside. “I’m surprised they didn’t call off school,” a woman pulled her collar up. “The school’s the shelter,” another chimed in. “They’ll be safe here.” “It’ll stay out to sea,” a man said authoritatively. “The usual overhype.” The school doors closed behind the last child. Above, the clouds didn’t seem to be moving, but from the direction of the ocean came a low keening sound. Billy was cold and exhausted; his hands criss-crossed with cuts. His share of the take would be almost two thousand, but he’d never do this again, never. He’d had it. Some guys had salt water in their blood. They saved until they could get their own boats, captain their own crews. They loved seeing the sun set over infinity, the thrill of the chase. But it wasn’t in him. Or, rather, something else was in him, something that pushed against those things, something he might call caution, or fear, or premonition. He thought of Molly and Jonah, alone in the house. It was so dark it was hard to believe it was the middle of the day. Overhead was a thick, cottony gray mass; beyond, as if someone had drawn a line in charcoal, solid blackness. As Molly drove home through the woods, leaves rained upon the car, and rain sounded hoof beats on the hood. The bay was covered with roiling whitecaps, and the wind was so strong she needed both hands to open the kitchen door. She thought of Billy, the boat heaving beneath him, and, feeling herself sway, grabbed the doorjamb. Water, flashlights, sandbags. She shut all the downstairs windows and then raced upstairs. Looking out at the bay, she was shocked to see the water MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
was already level with the top of the dock. The rowboat! She grabbed her rain jacket and ran back outside. The wind snapped the hood from her head; rain dripped down her neck. The dock was partially submerged, and the boat strained against its mooring. Could she wade through the water to reach the rope and have enough strength to heave the boat up and onto dry land? The water seemed to be rising before her eyes. She hesitated only a moment, then turned away. In the tool shed, 50-pound sandbags teetered in a dust-covered stack, but after her summer hauling fish crates, she could lift them easily. She carried them one by one and lined them in front of the house, then stacked two more layers. Back inside, she piled what furniture she could onto the kitchen table and the living room couch. The lights flickered and she held her breath, but they stayed on. She grabbed toiletries and underwear, and stuffed a flashlight in her pocket. She hoped Billy knew the school was the shelter. She hadn’t been able to reach him since the storm began. Whipped by the wind and soaked to the skin, the crew brought the boat in on pitching waves. Despite the storm they unloaded the catch—that, or lose everything—then raced to their trucks. Billy turned on the ignition but just sat, shaking with chills. He blasted the heat and held his hands to the vent. The wind shook the jeep, whistled through the windows. He had been in nor’easters and hurricanes before, but this storm seemed like another beast altogether. He tried his cell again. No signal. He threw the phone on the seat. He should never have gone on this trip, never have left Molly alone with his baby brother. Rain slashed the windshield, and the inside of the window fogged up. He turned on the defroster, then pulled out, careening around turns, driving as fast as he dared. At the clearing, he saw that Molly’s car wasn’t there. He fought the wind and rain to the front of the house. The bay waters were already halfway up to the kitchen door. His heart caught in his throat: Molly, his magnificent Molly, had stacked sandbags across the base of the house. They spent the night in the school, bedded down on a wad of blankets, Billy enveloping Molly and Jonah with his body. Every time Molly moved, Billy’s arm tightened, as if he were afraid to lose contact. They awoke to a morning clear and windless, with an intense blue sky. After dropping Jonah at school, they drove through town, skirting large puddles where the ocean surge had breached the road, and then headed toward the bay. Small branches were strewn everywhere on the dirt road; several times they had to get out and heave off a limb that blocked their passage. When they rounded the bend that opened out onto the clearing, Billy let out a cry. Large pieces of roof dangled over the upper windows. The dock 42
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was gone, the rowboat was gone. The front windows were blown out, pieces of glass strewn everywhere, sparkling in the indifferent sunshine. The storm made everything simple. Billy’s parents had purchased flood, but not storm, insurance. Billy filed a claim anyhow, but it was denied. The house would be lost if not fixed quickly, but an appeal would take years. “There’s no other way,” Billy said. Molly nodded, pressing her fist into the space between her breasts, pressing the pain back into her body. While they waited for everything to be finalized, they lived in a cottage at the motel owned by Billy’s cousin Julienne. Jonah frequently woke Molly with nightmares. She would stroke his forehead until he fell back asleep, then stand by the window listening to the sound of the ocean surf, a sound so different from the lapping of the water by the bay. Billy slept through it all, as if all his cares had been relieved, a weight taken from him. The amount they got from the sale, though lower than it would have been had they accepted Miloxi’s offer, seemed staggering. “But this is crazy,” Molly said. “There’s not even much of a house left.” “It was always a teardown.” Billy said. “The storm just helped it along.” They agreed to set aside a third of the money for a college fund and a third for savings and the rest to purchase a new house outright, all cash, no mortgage, because Billy’s parents taught him that a mortgage was a noose around the neck. With no steady fulltime jobs, a mortgage was unlikely anyway. “I’m sure we can find something on the water,” Billy said. But the broker, a local woman, just shook her head. “Not in this price range, Billy.” It became clear, as they looked at one listing after another, that they couldn’t afford even a distant view of water. Days went by, weeks. “Stay as long as you like,” Julienne said, but they knew come summer she would need the income from the bungalow. At last they settled on a small house on a slight rise of land not too far from the docks. The back deck looked out onto neighbor’s yards, complete with trim lawns and wooden tables, chairs, and umbrellas. This could be anywhere, Molly thought, any suburb she’d ever been. “You know, with sea level rise, it’s smart to be away from the shore,” Billy said. “Eventually the water will come to us.” “We should get a boat, then,” Molly joked, but the words burned as they left her mouth. They had never found their rowboat, just a washed up piece of the rope where it had snapped. When they brought Jonah to see the house, he took in the close-by houses, the manicured lawns and asphalt, and turned to Molly, his expression troubled. She pulled him to her before he could say anything, and rested her MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
head on his. “I know,” she whispered. They got him a puppy from the Animal Rescue Center, a little black mutt he named Licorice, and on weekends went for walks along the ocean or in the woods. Billy found a job with a landscaping company, and when it was warm enough they turned a patch of soil for a vegetable garden. They told themselves they would have picnics at the lighthouse come summer and go cranberry picking in the fall. But it wasn’t the same, though none of them would say it out loud. As if they had made a solemn oath, they never talked about the storm, or about their old house. One day, Molly drove back through the woods to the bay. It was spring, light dappling through trees just beginning to bud. She lowered the car windows and the air rushed in, fresh, smelling of damp soil, reminding her of the early mornings when she would go outside in her pajamas with her coffee cup, the ceramic warm against her hands, the grass cool against her bare feet. But when she rounded the bend to the clearing, an enormous new house blocked the view. A berm had been created fronting the shore, and the ground was covered with bright-white crushed rock. She did a quick U-turn and drove away. Jonah and Billy were outside throwing a Frisbee with Licorice. The dog leaped high, mouth open, as if hungry for air. She decided not to mention where she had gone. With spring, the fish market expanded from weekends to four days a week, and most mornings she walked to work along a route linking a patchwork of small open spaces through the residential area. As she walked anticipation built for the moment she would emerge from the clusters of houses to the sight of marinas and boatyards, to men with shaggy hair wearing coveralls and rubber boots, to the reflections of boat masts like ribbons on the water. In the fish house, she stood inhaling the odor of ice and chill and salt, then took her apron off a hook and slipped it over her head. Fish were waiting, piled in heaps, ready for packing. Their scales were glistening, their eyes searching for home.
Céline Keating is the author of novels Layla (2011) and Play for Me, a 2015 National Indie Excellence Award finalist. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in such literary journals and magazines as Prairie Schooner, Echoes, Emry’s Journal, North Stone Review, Santa Clara Review, Poets & Writers, Coastal Living, and Acoustic Guitar. Keating lives in New York City and Montauk, where she serves on the board of environmental group Concerned Citizens of Montauk. www.celinekeating.com. 44
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Tooth (sections from) by Diane Glancy 1. She was from a family of many children. The missionaries came and took her to boarding school. She wouldn’t cooperate— and was isolated in a wash house. She walked away from the school— not knowing where she was going— and froze her feet, which had to be amputated. She had to walk on crutches— so that she had four legs with hooves more than feet— and the story of Jesus she did not understand came to her in a different way. She wrote her story in the pages of a book—and a missionary banished her to an island in the string of Aleutians— Her story said a walrus God killed his own son—as walrus will kill their offspring to mate again with the mother. But this was a different story, as cruel and primitive. God killed his son on a cross to draw his people to himself where they became dead to themselves, but alive to him. It was hard to understand. How driven the missionaries were who came to tell that story. How wrongly they told it— in a manner that wounded those who heard. What kind of father eats his children? The missionaries, I would say. Ask anyone whipped in boarding school. Isolated from their language. Belittled for what they are. How the beatings felt like teeth. She wanted the missionaries to keep their stories in their mouths—but out there in the snow— near death— with her feet frozen— there was the walrus— Out of all the animals— seal, caribou, wolf, white fox, bear, the whale in the ocean, the birds of the air— It was the walrus. This is the story that spoke with mine.
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4. Did you know my front tooth is broken? When I was a girl, I tripped and fell and chipped a corner of my front tooth. I had a metal band around it for many years. Then a cap, which is just a little whiter than the other front tooth I did not chip. Did you know if you are silent long enough you hear the howl of the world? I think there are cannibals on this island. I believe the earth is round. The last time I looked— no one came after me. I am writing my own words. No one can take them. I hold them in my teeth. I have no one to speak to except the migratory birds and whales spouting off shore. Stay in that chair, the missionary said. If you get out of the chair— You will fall off the earth. You will be sent to an island. When the missionary saw she was writing her own words— she was sent to the wash house. She was sent to the snow. I believe a volcano is the cause of this island. I do not believe Christ is the Savior of the world. I see the waves coming like pages turning. More than anything I want paper. 6. Did you know there’s an ivory carving of a tooth with a worm in it? The Inuit believed tooth decay was caused by a worm gnawing into the tooth. Sometimes I hear a saw going back and forth— Sometimes, I hear a cannibal hunting ice worms on the glacier. At night, I hear him chew. Did you know the job of the first dental-assistant was to hold down the flailing patient? The dentist put a wedge in my mouth to hold my teeth apart. I think he pulled as slow as he could to prolong the pain. I wait for him in this dentist chair. He does not come back in the room— leaving me with cotton wads in the empty sockets. These rages are helpful to me. 46
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A tooth sits in a row with other teeth. Did you know a tooth is deaf? Once a man left his wife in their cabin to go hunting. While he was gone, a bear tore off the roof of the cabin and ate his wife. Later, the hunter saw a tooth in a bear’s scat. I read my words to remember where I’ve been when one day is like the next. I cry and no one listens. I dance and no one looks. 7. In her dream, her oldest uncle returns from hunting with a whale— He has the same mark on his forehead as the whale he caught. When a hunter spears a whale, he bears the mark of the whale. I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus— the missionaries said at the cutting of the whale. Her oldest uncle offered blubber to the missionaries, but they turned away. When she was in the snow with her frozen feet— she saw the polar lights above her. They licked her toes. They would have eaten her legs but she saw the walrus coming and they fled. Polar lights are from the surface of the sun. They fly through space like the tooth fairy. They collide with the earth’s magnetic field. They are runways trapped in the earth’s atmosphere. They are a collision of charged particles along field lines dragged by solar winds. Go away!! Leave us alone. What kind of God sends messengers like that with their discipline? Their disease? Their death? Did you know I howl at God’s house?— When he has it closed up tight for the night, I sit at his window to let him know not everyone is warm. Did you know sometimes the moon is thin as a tooth? Not even leftovers on its plate. They came with their gasoline cans to the straw mattress of her bed. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
We ride the ocean on our ice floe to an unknown destination. The walrus leads us. Who is this God who likes missionaries? Once this place was ours. Yet a storm brought others. I’m sitting on top of the world. I’m showing my teeth. Did you know she heard a snowmobile on the road? Through a narrow space in the boards of the wash house she saw a small headlight like a seal-oil lamp. She banged the wall of the wash house. She bellowed like a moose. But the snowmobile passed. She thought he was lost and would be back. The last time I looked, no one came. I stand frozen as a tooth. Someone will come for us, even if a bear from the woods.
Diane Glancy is professor emerita at Macalester College. Her 2014-15 books are Fort Marion Prisoners and the Trauma of Native Education, nonfiction, University of Nebraska Press, Report to the Department of the Interior, poetry, University of New Mexico Press, and three novels from Wipf & Stock, One of Us, Uprising of Goats, and Ironic Witness. 48
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STORYBOARD: A sequence of drawings, typically with some directions and dialogue, representing the shots planned for a movie or television production. ---New Oxford English Dictionary Gilbert Johnson has worked in all aspects the film industry --- including storyboard artist --- for over 25 years. As a storyboard artist, Gilbert has storyboarded Dorme (2006), Me & Mrs. Jones (2001), Boy’s Night Out (1996), Nash Bridges (1 episode - 1996), and Titanic: Treasure of the Deep (1992) as well as numerous commercials and script promotional storyboards (Wooden Children, American Peepshow, etc). Outside of working as a storyboard artist, Gilbert is a poster artist, creating pieces for local concerts and festivals. He is also a set designer for theater and film primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area but also as far away as Los Angeles and Miami. Gilbert lives in an artists’ community in Vallejo, California. For more about Gilbert and his work, go to imdb.com or gilbertjohnsondesigns.com. “As a storyboard artist you are the cameraman, the costumer, director, set designer, and the actors. You do everything all at once. It is the first point of visualization of the script and the first interface between the page and the final visual medium. Creating a storyboard is the moment where words start to become images. It is also the first chance to see the shot. The director may suggest an angle, but it is up to the storyboard artist to portray the look and emotion of the shot through the set up. Verbal descriptions of movie sets are usually very sparse so the storyboard artist must create a ‘picture with the information.’”
Interview: Chase Twichell Talking about poetry with interviewer Christian McEwen
Chase Twichell was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1950, one of three sisters. The family spent almost every vacation in the Adirondacks; Twichell grew up with a passionate love of nature, “a tree-climber, and a fisher, and a camper,” like the son her father had always wanted. At fourteen, Twichell went to boarding school in Maryland. She began to keep a notebook (for her eyes only) and read poetry constantly, “everything from Yeats to Ferlinghetti to Milton to Allen Ginsberg.” In the years that followed, she attended a number of different colleges, graduating with an MFA from the University of Iowa. She also studied graphic design and letterpress printing, and in 1999 founded the Ausable Press, which was acquired by Copper Canyon in 2009. A longtime Buddhist practitioner, Twichell has published seven books of poetry, winning the Claremont Graduate University’s Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for Horses Where The Answers Should Have Been. She has received numerous other honors and awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Nation. She and her husband, the novelist, Russell Banks, live in Keene, New York, deep in the Adirondack wilderness. Writer Christian McEwen spoke to Chase Twichell when she came to read at Smith College, one of more than thirty such interviews McEewen conducted. McEwen’s new book, Sparks from the Anvil: the Smith College Poetry Interviews, appeared in April 2015 (www.bauhanpublishing.com). McEwen notes, “Both Chase and I were childhood hermits and adventurers, and now share a Buddhist practice. Her interview is one of my favorites.” MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
Christian McEwen: I wondered if you’d talk a little bit about your growing up. I’m thinking of a few lines in Perdido, “I had as a child a mind/ already rife with sacred greens/ I could neither harvest nor ignore.” And I wondered if you’d comment on the power of place and landscape in your life.
treasures that were possible doors into another kind of consciousness. I was aware from earliest memories that language had that possibility. That there were ways that you could use language as a door to go somewhere else. CM: Thank you, that was a beautiful lucid answer.
CT: I had the great good fortune to grow up in the Adirondack wilderness, which is the largest significant wilderness east of the Rockies. And I grew up in the middle of it, at least in the summers. We lived in Connecticut, and my father was a schoolteacher, but we spent all summers there and many weekends, and always spring vacations and Christmas vacations, so it was really the holy locus of my childhood. I was a very lonely child. I was the oldest of three daughters. My parents had a rocky marriage. And I think that most of my childhood—and I could probably say the same of myself today—I identified more strongly with animals than with human beings. Both painting and poetry were early avenues for me into kinds of consciousness that let me take a vacation from, or escape from, the normal human consciousness of the household.
You spoke about your love of animals and the early love of language, and I was struck in some of your poems by a kind of cross-species communication. Conversation with animals, conversation with place. I wondered if you’d comment on that. CT: Well, I used to believe when I was a child that I was actually half dog. I mean that quite literally. [Laughs]. I felt more comfortable with the family dogs than I did with the family. I used to announce that I really didn’t speak human languages, I only spoke dog, horse, etc., and I would go to great lengths to assert—until I was maybe eleven, when my credibility began to suffer for it – that I really was able to communicate with dogs. I was also around a lot of wild animals when I was a kid, and they became emblematic, also, of…a life that was wordless in the usual human sense, and that relied upon other ways of communicating. And so to me, even though I was joking about learning to speak animal languages, animals did seem to me to have a language, and the world itself, the natural world, had a language, or many languages between them, to which I think I became sensitized very early, partly because I was in the wilderness, partly because I was a kind of dissociated, lonely little kid and I spent a great deal of time in nature, in the woods. And so I think that my identification with animals and with the natural world was really a bedrock part of my identity from a very early age.
And so those lines, “I had a mind/already rife with sacred greens”—I read Keats early on as a kid, I came across him in a children’s book, and I think my encounter with him was significant because it gave me a piece of information that was very important to me, which was, “There are other people out there in the world who speak a language different than the one that most people speak,” and which I on some childish, inarticulate, gut level, identified with. And so the phrasing of things, words, came to me when I was a child, and I would write them in a notebook, and even though I didn’t know what they meant or what I was going to use them for, they were like secret 64
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CM: Thank you.
And so the tomboy becomes, in the poems, a defended creature, a creature that insists it’s not a girl, that these things do not happen to boys. And it was a way of creating a kind of armor or shell around myself, an alteridentity, alternative identity, so that I could still be a child, but not be the child to whom these things had happened. Because I certainly wasn’t an adult yet. I’m talking about age four, five, six, seven, somewhere in there. And then perhaps a little older. So the tomboy becomes a stand-in for the wounded child; the tomboy can fight; the tomboy can be someone who did not live through what I lived through but is still me. And is also part dog. [Laughs].
Connected to this is the theme of the tomboy, whom I love and identify with myself. I adored that poem,“Girl Riding Bareback,” and I’m thinking of the lines, “Arrows of sun falling harmless on a girl/ and the big imaginary animal of herself.” And I wondered if you’d talk about that tomboy girl and the ways in which she’s still present in your poems. CT: That’s a really huge question. I’ll start off answering it small, and stop me if I start expanding beyond the pale. I was a tomboy. I think that my father wished I were a boy. I grew up with pitching practice, and abhorred dolls, wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress, wore high top black Keds until I was about fifteen. [Laughs]. And I simply did not identify with little girls. Most of my cousins were boys; my crowd was boys; I was a treeclimber, and a fisher, and a camper, and—not a fighter….
CM: There’s a lot of layers to this. CT: Yeah. That’s why I said it was a really big question. And in fact it was interesting. I didn’t realize how many times I used the word “tomboy in the new poems. In all my books I’ve crept around the edges of this. I had an interesting experience putting this book together because it’s a New and Selected, and so I had to go back through all the early books and figure out what should live and what should die, which was not easy, and what I realized was although I thought that I had avoided writing about this—and I made a conscious decision—I didn’t feel ready to write about it, it seemed prurient, sensationalistic, and I just didn’t know how to handle it—but I realized in going back through all the books that in fact I managed to get it in there anyway, and there are poems that allude to it, or that hint at it, without really coming right out about it. So one of the decisions that I had to make in writing the new part of the New and Selected, and also in the last book, Dog Language, was that I had to quit pussy-footing around and deal with it. If I was going to mention it at all then it was time to deal with it. And after
And there’s another element in there, aside from wanting to be the creature that my father wanted me to be. I—I had some bad experiences when I was a child, as a girl child. I was never physically injured, but I was put in some compromising situations. I realize I’m dancing around the subject here a little bit, and it’s quite overt in the poems, so I don’t know why I’m being coy about it. But I did suffer some sexual abuse when I was a child. It was mostly being photographed. There was a person in my life who was an amateur photographer, an older man, who as far as I can remember— and I was pretty young, and so—any of this stuff, I hesitate to call it facts, because some of it’s facts and some of it is speculation and so forth—but I think he basically made kiddy porn in his basement…and that I was, well I know that I was part of that. MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
all I’m almost sixty years old, I turn sixty in a couple of months, and if I haven’t dealt with it by now, when am I ever going to do it? So I decided to come out of the closet about it.
Connecticut, and when I was in fifth or sixth grade, our art teacher became ill, and at the last minute the school hired a graduate student from Yale, a guy named George Chaplin, who was in the painting program there. And this guy was a genius. He’d never taught before, but he ended up being my art teacher through eighth grade. The first thing he did was change all the furniture in the art room, so that all the chairs faced the wall, and no one could see what anyone else was doing. And then he put a bathtub, a claw-footed bathtub, in the middle of the room, and he used to scrounge through the dumpsters at Yale at the end of every semester and collect all the old canvases that they’d thrown away, and all the oil paint, and we had an entire bathtub full of half squeezed tubes of really good oil paint to paint with, and we only painted on canvases that had already been screwed up by somebody else, so there was never any possibility of fearing the blank page. And since he didn’t know how to teach fifth graders—I think I was ten—we did Josef Albers color studies and did some pretty sophisticated stuff, but for us it was just fun, it was just games.
CM: Would you like to read one of those coming out of the closet, tomboy poems? CT: Sure….Let’s see…All right, this one is called “Sideshows.” [Reads “Sideshows”]. CM: Thank you. You spoke about Keats and the lusciousness of finding the right language, or people who spoke a language other than the home language. Could you say more about the ways in which poetry entered your life as a young person, and what encouragement you had, if any? CT: That’s a complicated answer also, but an interesting one. My father was a classicist; he taught Latin. And so I grew up on the classic tales and had The Odyssey read to me as a bedtime story, slightly synopsized by my father, cutting out all the boring parts and concentrating on things like the Cyclops, and Scylla and Charybdis. I think he added a great deal of his own personal detail. But I was captivated by the language and the song of it, the ongoing human song. So that was one element. My parents were both literate, well educated, and poetry, although it was not a regular part of my life, was certainly not something that was foreign to me.
By the time I left that school in eighth grade, I was pretty seriously obsessed with painting. I would go home after school every day and paint. And I can bring my mother to tears by reminding her of this because she feels so guilty, but my parents decided that it would be bad for me to continue studying art because it might socially isolate me and I was getting a little weird. So I was forbidden to take art
I went to a grammar school in New Haven, 66
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classes when I was sent off to school. I got my revenge by starting to write poems. And that was when I really did begin to write my first poems as a sort of “screw you” gesture to the world. If I couldn’t get there through paint I was going to get there some other way.
CM: I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your childhood. I’m thinking of the “cherries in the chilled silver bowl.” That side of life: the finger bowls, the linen tablecloths. Both what was hard about that world and what was gracious and delicious.
For years I had the feeling that I’d given up my true calling, but eventually poetry supplanted painting, and it became my secret life in high school. I had a notebook that was for my eyes only. I read poetry constantly, to the great detriment of my other schoolwork. And by the time I got out of high school I really was as obsessed with poetry as I had been with painting. So that was the early avenue in. And I read everything. I read everything from Yeats to Ferlinghetti to Milton to Allen Ginsberg. Everything. And at that time I probably didn’t have much sense of what the differences were. All I knew was that there was this big, wild circus of a world out there and I wanted to be part of it.
CT: Well, I did grow up with a privileged background. My grandparents on one side were an old New York State, New Haven, Long Island WASP-y family. And the other side were from California, from northern California; my grandmother was born in San Rafael and came east when she married. And I did grow up in two grandparental houses that had finger bowls and chimes that rang here and there, and little bells for the next course, and people waiting on table, and so forth. So I came from that kind of WASP background. In a way it was of course an advantage: I got to go to great schools, and so forth, and I never had to worry about having enough to eat, or a roof over my head, or tuition, or any of that stuff.
CM: Were you alone in that great world circus, or did you have other friends who were But on the other hand, it was a very isolating also passionate readers and apprentice poets? kind of background. It made it hard to just fall in with the crowd. And of course I got teased CT: No. Creative writing was not taught at about it a lot as a kid. Kids can be pretty my high school, which was a very repressive, brutal. But I never felt it was really a handicap. small, boarding school in Maryland called St. For one thing it gave me social confidence, Timothy’s. We had one creative writing class because the training in households like that the entire time I was there, and it was taught starts very early. I will always be grateful for by a teacher who didn’t have any particular that. I really feel comfortable in pretty much connection to creative writing, but was just any social situation, whether it’s a black tie, teaching it because somebody should teach fancy-dancy affair where I have to talk to soit. I always felt completely misunderstood by cialite types and whatever, or whether it’s just him. I felt that I knew far more about poetry, the roadhouse down the block. I really do feel and did know far more about poetry than pretty comfortable in any social milieu. I’m he did. It wasn’t until I went to college that I married to someone who grew up in a house really was able to take creative writing classes without plumbing or heat, and who was a and have real teachers. And that’s when some- wrong-side-of-the-tracks kinda guy. And we’ve one began to encourage me for the first time. managed to find middle ground that’s very comfortable for both of us. But I did grow MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
up with, I think, real exposure to art, to really good paintings, and good books and good music, all of which I’m very grateful for.
whom I wanted to have children. So it was not something that I grieved over. And then when I met Russell, he had four grown-up daughters and a vasectomy, so that settled that. I inherited four daughters and a step grand-daughter which has more than fulfilled my maternal instincts, and being a grandma is the best part ever. You get to skip all the hard part, like twenty years of hard part, and go right to the fun part. But it was never a big sacrifice for me. There was a time in my life where I tried on the idea of it having been a big sacrifice, and it just slipped right off my shoulders. So I honestly can say I never suffered over it. In fact, I felt relieved. I simply cannot imagine how I would have been able to write my books and have children at the same time. And yes, there are times when I think, “Oh no! I’m getting old. When I’m in a nursing home, who will come and visit me? Who will balance my checkbook for me?” But maybe I’ll just hire someone when the time comes. [Laughs]. Or draft one of my fabulous stepdaughters.
CM: Since you mentioned your husband, who is the novelist Russell Banks, how is it to be married to another writer? CT: Divine. [Laughs]. It’s great. He’s ten years older than I am, and of course works in a different genre, so we’ve had to fight none of the battles that are so famous between two poets, two fiction writers, whatever, especially if they’re of the same generation, duking it out over careers. Also, he is way, way, way ahead of me in his career, and would be even if he were ten years younger. [Laughs]. He’s at a completely different stage of career-life than I am. So that’s always been very easy for us. We’ve never been competitive, never jealous. Which is really lovely. Also, we didn’t get married ‘til late, so we didn’t have to go through any of those adolescent, life-changing marital wranglings that a lot of people have to go through when both parties are writers. CM: I was very moved by your poems about childlessness, unborn children, poems like “Nostalgia for the Future” and “The Shades of Grand Central.” I wondered whether you’d comment on those.
CM: [Laughs]. There you go. I was so relieved to read your poems like “City Animals,” and “Shades of Grand Central,” because I felt such admiration for the way in which you face the anguish of every day, and combine personal pain with the larger pain of the world. I feel like I don’t often see that done with such skill and such integrity.
CT: You know, I was always ambivalent about having children. I was never one of those young women who fantasized about the children that I would have and how many I would have, etc. It always remained a kind of anxietyprovoking, mysterious area of my life. I pretty much decided fairly early on that I would not have children, because I was hyper-aware of the over-population in the world, and I was not convinced that I would be a good parent. I was working through a lot of things. And I never met, during those years, a man with
CT: Well, thank you. Those poems came out of a book called The Ghost of Eden, which took me a long time to work up to, partly because ecology was a trendy subject to write about, so I wanted to avoid that at all costs, of course. And also it was a subject that was extremely painful to 68
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me, because I did grow up in a pristine wilderness, and have personal, long experience with the world as it once was, and have had, during the course of my life, to say goodbye to it. It simply doesn’t exist anymore. Anywhere. Every single inch of the earth is polluted. I was just listening to something on PBS the other day about what’s in mother’s milk….I mean, all these evil chemicals start at conception practically. It’s just a fact of our lives.
the work that I did in writing that book was the work of grieving. I had gone through the grief and come out in another place. It was as if the person for whom I grieved, which in this case was the Earth, had died and I had survived its death, and was continuing to live on. And it reminded me of something Keats wrote in a letter, and I used that quote as an epigraph in The Ghost of Eden. “I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence.” That was what it felt like, and it was a great relief to me to be done with it, because it used to take so much out of me. Though even now I sputter with rage when I watch the news, and I think what a very dim-witted species we are in terms of our home, our only home, this planet.
And it’s something that enrages me so profoundly that I found myself speechless about it for a long time, and in a state of real grief. When I finally worked up the courage to begin the poems in The Ghost of Eden I realized that not only did I have to write them, but that—a volcano was about to erupt. And I tried to curtail it. I said, “All right, I’m going to write ten or twelve of these, and that’s it, that’s my contribution to the poetry of ecology and then I’m going to move on.” And every single poem in that book said, “Sorry pal, you’re not done yet,” and did a U-turn, and I ended up writing an entire book. Which amounts to a kind of ecological diatribe.
CM: Perhaps you could read just one of those poems. I particularly love “Touch-Me-Not,” and “The Rule of the North Star,” but choose whichever suits you. CT: “Touch-Me-Not” is long, but I’m happy to read it.
It was really interesting because after I finished the book I felt myself to be numb in a way that I’d never felt before. I thought of it as numbness at the time, and I really worried about it. I thought, “Well I’m exhausted from writing this. Maybe I’ll wake up in a little while.” And it went on and on for more than a year, and I really wondered if I had done something to myself by writing the book, if I had accumulated a kind of armor that was preventing me from feeling what I felt I should be feeling. I was asking myself, “Where did this righteous rage go? Surely you’re not going to let go of it, turn into an ecological wimp at this point?”
CM: Let’s go for long this time. CT: OK. For those who don’t know, touchme-nots are a form of wild, shrubby plant, and the flowers are like little orchids, and when they go into the seed stage they make fat little pods, and the way they propagate is, if an animal brushes up against them, or you touch one, it kind of explodes, and that’s the basic metaphor. [Reads “Touch-Me-Not”]. CM: Is there anyone who’s tackling subjects of that scope among your contemporaries, or whose work you especially admire?
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CT: Hmm…I always go brain-dead when 69
someone asks me a question like that, and I think of ten thousand people and none at the same time. The greatest twentieth century poet of ecology was Robinson Jeffers. I go back to him all the time. I think Gary Snyder has always been a kind of covert crusader without ever preaching about it, on matters of ecology. And then there are poets like William Heyen, who’s written about it quite powerfully. And of course poets like Wendell Berry who’s made it his subject. Among younger poets (I mean my age!) I think Tony Hoagland has been brilliant in his handling of it inside out—the view from the mall. Most poets that I think of, though, have touched on it and left it, touched on it and left it, rather than really immersing themselves in it. And for me the difficulty has been to avoid any kind of preaching about it, because—politics doesn’t seem to work. It has to be a much more intimate contact with the Earth, a real intimate knowledge. And a lot of people simply didn’t grow up around nature, and can’t see as clearly what’s happened. When I stand on our front porch—we live still, in the Adirondacks, in a very remote area—and visitors will come and say, “Oh, look at that. Those trees are so beautiful. I love the reddish ones.” And I think, “Yeah, the reddish ones, those are the beeches with blight, those are the red spruces dying from acid rain, that pretty color that you like so much is the maple thrip that’s moving in.” When I look at it, I see the diseased world. I can no longer simply see it as beautiful. I remember having an argument with my father while he was still living, and he grew up here, but he absolutely could not accommodate the notion that anything about it was spoiled. I remember one day we were at someone’s house and looking out. There had been a forest fire really far away, I think in Canada, and there was a kind of haze. There was purple quality to the sunset that was very abnormal, and I was 70
saying to Dad, “Wow. Look at that, it’s amazing that this pollution could travel this far.” And he looked at me and he said, “That’s not pollution. Those are”—I remember his exact phrase, he said, “That’s not pollution: those are wisps of mist.” And I just looked at him. And I said, “Well, maybe you’re right.” It was not wisps of mist. It was decimation. Well of course now I’m getting a little carried away. So… circling back around to your question, there are individual poems I can think of that are moving to me in that way. But maybe the poets were just smarter than I and didn’t let themselves get saddled with the subject for a whole book. CM: So you’ve done that subject, in a sense. You don’t feel pressured to write more poems of that kind? CT: Actually it creeps back in all the time. But I feel that I got it out of my system. I don’t think that I could say it better now. But the spoilage of the world is now simply part of the landscape, in my life and in my work. I look back at some of the early poems, in which nature was still a pure god, and nature was my god when I was a kid, it was the thing through which I was able to be in touch with the numinous. It was the higher power. Pure and simple. And I still, I see it still as a holy thing, but as a thing that’s damaged, surely beyond repair. I’m sure that the human race will survive; I’m sure that our planet will survive. But it’s never going to survive the way it was made; it’s never going to survive in its healthy form. It’s compromised forever, I believe. And I’m glad I lived this span of years, that I was born when there still literally were places untouched on the planet. Untouched. Virgin. And now there are none. And that happened in sixty years.
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CM: I wanted to ask you when the Zen practice entered your life. Because it did seem to me that from really early on you had what one might call the gift of seeing, and that probably goes back to the love of nature and the love of painting. This eye, this enormous, encompassing eye. The honoring of the natural world, the naming, the knowing of the names, which many children now simply don’t have.
the basement and started reading them, and it was truly amazing: lights went on, one after another; I began to gobble up books because here was proof that all along I wasn’t alone, that there were lots of people in the world going back centuries and centuries who had intuited the same relation between human and world that I had in my own childish, inarticulate sort of way.
CT: You know with hindsight I can say, “Yes, it’s true, it goes way back.” But at the time I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it in that way. As for Zen, I had a flirtation with it when I was in college. I was very interested in it, and I took courses in comparative religion and in Chinese and Japanese religion and so forth, and I began to sit zazen by myself, without a teacher. I was quite fervent about it but ignorant, and I had a couple of really scary experiences in which I had small hallucinations. In fact they are extremely common. They’re called makyo, and they’re simply a sort of side effect of sitting zazen. The corner of the rug will seem to curl up, or you’ll imagine that someone is standing just outside of your peripheral vision, but no one is there. Little things like that. But at the time they were quite scary to me, and I thought,“Oh, I’m going nuts. I better stop doing this.”
I guess every religion defends its truth, but I can say that when I started to read about Zen I recognized in it what I had already instinctually come to believe was the truth. So for a couple of years I read and sat by myself, and then I realized that I needed to find a teacher. The notion of having a teacher is very important in Zen. It’s considered mind-tomind teaching. You learn from someone else. There have been plenty of cases historically of people, Buddha himself, figuring it out alone, but most people benefit greatly from the guidance of a teacher, and from a sangha, a group of fellow Buddha-heads. So I decided to go online and do research, and my plan was to locate maybe ten or a dozen Zen centers in the Northeast, and visit all of them, and then make a decision about what was right for me. The very first place I went to was Zen Mountain Monastery, which is just southwest of Albany. I opened the door, walked in, and I recognized that it was my home. And it was a very odd sensation. And I thought, “Oh, this is so New Age, I can’t stand it. I walk in the door and I’m home. I can feel my eyes glazing over.” So I was very suspicious of that reaction in me and I thought, “Oh, now you’re suddenly going to become a joiner? You’re going to become a religious person? Ha ha ha!” But I was completely captivated by the place. I was amazed by the monastics, amazed by my fellow practitioners, by the practice itself, and by the time I left – I went
It wasn’t until after I finished writing The Ghost of Eden, the ecological tirade, and found myself in that state of unanticipated, um… what word shall I use? There was a kind of equanimity that I was not used to at all, and it felt very alien to me, and what it reminded me of more than anything was what I had read about, about Buddhism in particular, and about Zen in ultra-particular, and the way that meditation had once made me feel a little bit. So I got really curious about it. This would have been in the early 80s. So I went and found all my old Buddha books down in MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
for an introductory weekend, in which they just kind of plunk you into the system and you learn a little about this, a little about that, and just kind of get a taste of what the whole thing is about—I was signed up. I suppose it was like a seventeen-year-old boy wanting to get into the army and faking his age. I just knew that it was for me. And I never did ever go to any of the other centers to check them out. It’s been fifteen years since I became a formal student. I was there for about eight years, and then I dropped out for a while for various complicated reasons, and I just re-entered as a formal student last year. But that is my home away from home. CM: Can you say something about how Zen practice has shaped or transformed your poems? CT: I’ll try to give you the bouillon cube version. [Laughs]. Zen has called into question the whole role of language in human consciousness. That’s a rather large statement to make, I realize. But I used to believe that language was itself the tool by which one came to consciousness about things. And that it was through language that it was possible to articulate what was previously unknown to oneself. And I still believe that language plays that role: that by writing the poem you figure out what the poem is about. You can’t know in advance.
make an exact translation or paraphrase into words. My husband (Russell Banks) and I argue about this ad infinitum, in fact we refer to it as Argument Number One. Once we get into it we’ll just say, “Oh, it’s Argument Number One. We know where this is going.” Because he still believes that language is the tool that takes you all the way to the articulation. Whereas I think language is a tool, one of many, that takes you to that place. And so the problem, and the fascination, that comes up is, “How do you use language to say what cannot be said in words?” I think Russell believes that anything can be said in words if you can get it right. But it has been my experience that there are states of mind and kinds of human perception and consciousness that are simply not translatable into language. But language can point at them. Language can turn your head so that your eyes are looking in the right direction. There’s that old Zen maxim, you know, of the finger pointing at the moon. I think a poem can be the finger pointing at the moon, but it can’t be the moon. So that’s kind of the quandary that I’m working with.
As a result my poems have gotten skinnier; they’re almost anorexic now, and I’m much more interested in the holes in them and I think that’s one of the most common miscon- the spaces between them, the slats in them ceptions that people have about poetry—that through which one can look, and less inyou get an idea for a poem and then you sit terested in their surfaces, so that I’m almost down and write it. Whereas poets know, in fact, completely intolerant of decoration now. For if only that were true! instance I used to love those winding, mossy ways of Keats, and just the lushness of physiBut I have come to see language almost as an cal description. Much of what I loved when obstacle in the writing of a poem. Because the I was younger, is something that I would not thing that I’m trying to express, which is unbe particularly enamored of now. I’m really known to me before and during the writing of interested in poems that somehow manage to the poem, is something that language corrals become transparent so that you see through or closes down, and I’ve never found a way to 72
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them to something else. And I’ve been reading, as a result, mostly anonymous ancient Asian stuff in translation, and so my head is full of that now.
out as someone who suffers from depression, in poems like “Neurotransmission” and “The Fifth Precept.” CT: Mmhmm. It was…it was actually a kind of a relief to me. There are three subjects that I try to bring out of the closet on a regular basis. One is that I’m a cancer survivor. One is that I’m a depressive, bipolar II. And the other one is the childhood sexual abuse stuff. And, what I have found is that people are very wary about talking about any of those things, but if someone starts the conversation, it is extraordinary how responsive people are. I once gave a reading in Texas, at a little conference called Round Top. There were maybe fifty people in the audience, and I would say it was roughly half men and half women, maybe a few more men. And that was one of the first readings I did in which I just sort of took a deep breath and said, “I’m coming out with this stuff.” And I stated that I had had this experience as a child and so forth, and then I read some of the poems, which were new at the time, and which were pretty rough.
When I was the editor of Ausable Press, which I was from 1999 to 2009, I read probably eight hundred unpublished manuscripts a year, so my head was full of unpublished contemporary American poetry. And in the time since I stopped doing that, I find that my mind is in a completely different place; when I let it float it goes somewhere else entirely. It’s exciting to me, but I also feel kind of out of it as far as what’s going on in the contemporary world. CM: It’s so interesting the way you describe it. I have to say, I have an enormous fondness for your ornament [laughs] and your clear, exact seeing. But there’s room for both. CT: Yeah, and who knows? I mean when one moves through life as a poet, things that I discarded years ago are now the newest thing I’m just discovering. [Laughs].Things reassert themselves, and so who knows what’ll happen? That’s what makes it interesting about going back and looking at old work. Of course there are the poems where I think, “Oh, I was so vain to publish that. I only published it because of that cool bird image,” or whatever, and I realize that the poem doesn’t go nearly as deep as I wish it had gone in retrospect. But then there are the ones where I think, “How the hell did I write that? I couldn’t write that now. I wish I could write that poem now but I can’t, I don’t know how.” And it’s kind of wonderful when that happens. CM: It’s terrific.
And after the reading, out of an audience of fifty, eleven women and one man came up to me privately, and said, “It happened to me too. It happened to my daughter. It happened to my sister. It happened to my mother when she was young.” I mean, that’s close to a quarter of the audience. And statistics do say that one out of four women is sexually abused in some way or another as a child. Look around a room of twenty people, that means you’ve got company. But it’s not something that’s common knowledge, and it’s certainly not something that people feel comfortable talking about.
This is doubling back into personal history, but I wondered how it was for you to come
And depression too, because I’ve been depressed since I was a child, and I’ve been
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taking psychoactive drugs for twenty-five years—thank you, pharmaceutical industry… I just feel it’s really important to make it part of the common discussion and consciousness. Because it’s something that people feel guilty about, they’re embarrassed by it, and they suffer so unnecessarily because they’re afraid to get help. And I know from having been there that it’s life-threatening. It’s a life-threatening illness. If you are severely depressed and you don’t get help, a high proportion, a scarily high proportion of people commit suicide. It is that painful, it’s that dangerous. A lot of people think, “Buck up. You know, think happy thoughts.” They don’t understand that it’s a biochemical malfunction of the first order.
CT: I actually don’t. I actually don’t. My husband says I behave like a graduate student, which I do—I read a ton of books about Zen. I read anything I can get my hands on about Zen, and I like to read big, juicy novels. I read a lot of poetry too. But I really like to get in bed at night with a novel and just disappear into another world. CM: There’s a line in one of your poems where you said that your ambition was once to “write the star-lit poems of our age.” And I wondered what your ambition was now, particularly as it’s been inflected by the Zen practice. CT: Well it’s funny because that is a line that actually got changed fairly late in the revising of the poem. In the original version I said my ambition was not to write the star-lit poems of our age, and then as I was working on it—I’d been working on it for a few months —I thought, “Who are you kidding? Who is this liar, liar?” Of course I wanted to write the star-lit poems of our age. Who doesn’t? What young poet doesn’t want to be the Emily Dickinson of the twenty-first century, or whatever? When I was younger there was always the possibility that maybe I could write the great poems of our century. And then as you get older you realize that the poems that you’re writing are just your poems, and no one in this century is going to make any decisions about what the great ones were—we’ll have to wait a couple hundred years to figure that out —and that it was really kind of a silly ambition, even though I was being sort of tonguein-cheek admitting that I’d once had it.
And so for me, it’s actually been kind of exciting and a relief to be a crusader for it. Because I’m not embarrassed. I mean, there are times when the word “bipolar” scares people. I’m not a manic-depressive. I’m bipolar II, which is a completely different diagnosis. So I don’t walk around saying, “Hi, I’m bipolar II.” Whereas I am likely to say, “Oh yeah, I’m a depressive; I have to take my pill now.” That doesn’t bother me at all. But I do realize that there’s a kind of alarm that goes up in people when they hear the word “bipolar,” so I do have a little spiel about what the difference between bipolar 2 and bipolar is. But it’s just part of coming out in the world and being who you are—or being who I am, I should say—without apology. And it’s a great relief, not to have to keep secrets. CM: Yeah. Thank you. I wanted to ask you what you read that had nothing at all to do with poetry. I’m imagining from the accuracy of your natural history that you read books about landscape and so forth.
But what I’m more interested in now is writing poems that simply express what it means to have human consciousness. I would like them to be little arrows of insight—and “arrow” is the wrong word even. There’s no equivalent in words. I would like them to be 74
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little windows, or holes, through which one can glimpse what’s really true. The way things really are. What Shunryu Suzuki, the Zen master, described as things-as-it-is. [Laughs]. I always loved the way he used to twist the language to keep you from just hearing it in a simple form and make you hear it some other way, and he said, “Just look at things as it is.” [Laughs]. I would like to write poems about things as it is. In fact, that’s going to be the title of my next book, Things as It Is.
to go somewhere. It should take the reader somewhere, but in order for it to do that it has to take the writer somewhere. In order to trick yourself into going somewhere you haven’t been before, you have to be really patient, and you also have to be really open to being stupid, being inarticulate, getting it wrong, getting it backwards, going off on long sidetracks, being inaccurate, all those things. You have to be willing to just put it out there and give yourself enough room for it, the thing, whatever it is, the poem’s real subject, to reveal itself. So Piece of Advice Number One is: “don’t start polishing the poem and shaping it up until you know what animal you’ve got.” I see so many poems on worksheets and from student poets that are starting to be closed in and closed down and finalized when they don’t have any idea what the poem is about. Or it may not even be about anything yet. And so that’s part one.
CM: I wondered if there’s any advice you have for poets who are just starting out, and perhaps also for those who are older and may be a little discouraged? CT: What always comes to mind when I’m asked a question like that is the advice that I give myself more often than any other advice, and the advice that I constantly find myself giving to students when I look at their poems. When one is in school, and putting poems in front of workshops, the assumption is that the thing on the paper is a poem—an unfinished poem, but a poem—and that the group is there to advise the poet on what ought to be done to it to make it more successful. What that does not take into account is the fact that what is on the page at that time is almost entirely arbitrary. Had the poem been written on Wednesday morning after a sleepless night instead of Tuesday night after two beers, it would be a completely different poem. And to allow a poem to close down prematurely is one of the greatest mistakes that a poet can make.
And there’s an adjunct to that: the “Don’t start polishing” part. Because if you start to polish a poem before you know that information, you are basically building a house you’ll have to tear down. And so resist the impulse to do that as long as you can. Because that’s the fun part. Once you know what the poem is supposed to do, then you know how to write it. But until you know that, you don’t know how to write it. Which is why so many poets say, “I know there’s something happening here, but I don’t know what to do to it next. Should I cut it? Should I expand it?” And that’s because they haven’t gathered enough raw stuff for that thing to become clear. And so I’m always saying to myself, “Don’t stop yet. Maybe there’s more.”
So one piece of advice I give is, “Don’t let go of the roughness of the draft until you really know what’s going on or what the poem wants to do or what your basic question is.” Because a poem can’t just express what you already know. It can’t just be an opinion about something, or a description of a feeling. It has MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
CM: So allow the chaos at much greater length— CT: Learn to tolerate chaos. Learn to generate and tolerate your own chaos. 75
What My Autopsy Will Reveal by Jen Karetnick The glass houses of organs were bottles with ships atilt inside. Stones made fences where not even dust should have been raised. Hits were recorded, not recovered from; meals became anthropologic; wisdom was lost long before memory was impacted like molars. A tree damaged more than fifty percent in a storm, this body, split along the sap lines, should have long ago been removed, stump dug up, trunk ground down, its remains spread over the mango roots to fertilize the living fruit, the one task it could embrace without failure.
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Labor by Jen Karetnick In the womb of the furnace the glass can only imagine itself. Sibling between sand and lava, it is a nova on the end of my pole that I must power like a spit so that it doesnâ€™t fall slow-motion in a luminescent globule on my foot or worse, the floor. Dip into tint and spin; wash in water and spin; return to flames and spin as cramps sweat under my skin and I unlock the damper of my diaphragm, loosen and harden in turn to breathe, breathe, breathe this body into being.
Poet, writer, critic and educator Jen Karetnick is the author, co-author or editor of fourteen books, two forthcoming in 2016: American Sentencing (Winter Goose Publishing) and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press). She holds an MFA in poetry from University of California, Irvine, and an MFA in fiction from University of Miami. Her work has appeared in Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, The Greensboro Review, North American Review, and many other journals. She works as the Creative Writing Director for grades 6-12 at Miami Arts Charter School, and as a freelance dining critic and food-travel writer for several outlets. MOUNT HOPE â€˘ ISSUE 8
The Ginger Snap by Harry Dodge January of 1979 my earnest intention was to find a crewman’s job for the Kodiak tanner crab season. The previous two winters I had trapped on Kodiak’s south end, but it was not a tremendously profitable profession. Hearing of the five-figure crew shares being racked up on crab boats, I was determined to give it a try. The long grueling hours of work, learning the skills of a deck hand, and the dangers of winter fishing were challenges I hoped to meet. Though strong and a hard worker, I had never worked on a fishing boat of any kind. This lack of experience was a serious impediment to my efforts in securing a job. I walked the docks and talked to fishermen, seeking any leads or rumors of boats looking for a crewman. Most boats had their crews and were in the business of putting finishing touches to gear work, loading pots, and hauling them to storage closer to the fishing grounds in preparation for the upcoming opener. There were a few boats, however, that were yet in need of a crewman. I met with skippers, all cut out of the same mold: big, overweight, friendly but gruff. In each case, the interview bogged down when it got to the matter of experience. “We can’t take on a green hand,” was the universal judgment. Successful, established skippers had good reason to avoid hiring greenhorns. The tanner season usually lasted one or two months, but it was important to strike early. Ideally, you’re on crab when you splash your load of pots at noon on opening day. After emptying the deck of pots, you take on another load, brought up from storage depths, and run them out to the fishing grounds. The procedure is repeated throughout the night, until you have all your pots in the water. Then you turn around and start pulling the pots you’d set. You eat/nap while running to the next string of pots. If you’re on crab you re-bait, but if you’re not (and this would be bad), you start stacking pots. You fish around the clock until you get that first load. You know the season will get scratchier as it wears on. The big hits will be over, necessitating much shuffling of pots, prospecting and hitting secret honey-holes, each good for a small string of pots. The dependence on a fast start meant most skippers didn’t want a greenhorn slowing the operation. Opening day of the tanner season a strike over the prices offered by the canneries was declared, and the crab boats stayed tied to the docks. This development gave me hope that I might yet find a boat, and I renewed my efforts. 78
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Finally, I got a hot tip from a friend. She knew the skipper, even though it was a boat out of Homer, not Kodiak. “He’s a nice guy, but I’m not sure how much crab fishing experience he has,” she cautioned. I was desperate and felt this was my last chance. I found the boat tied at the transient float. It was a wooden power-scow, painted a rusty shade of red. At first glance, it looked like part of the dock- a section not maintained and probably closed to the public. The boat’s appearance, and its name—the Ginger Snap—did indeed give me pause. But I wasn’t to be dissuaded. I would yet live the life of the crab fisherman. Though not much to look at, it was the biggest boat I’d ever been on, and that lent it a bit of excitement. The galley was roomy and warm, and I sat at the table with the skipper, drinking coffee. He was friendly, with nothing of the dismissive air of the other skippers. He was from Seattle, where he’d been a professional bass fisherman. He and a business partner bought the Ginger Snap, and he’d spent the summer tendering salmon with it in Cook Inlet. The tanner season was a chance to establish his boat in a lucrative fishery and to pay up on his investment. He wasn’t very concerned about my lack of fishing experience. He was as desperate to find a crew as I was to find a job. He had fired his entire crew a few days before. A dispute had arisen, and he had to force them off the boat at gunpoint. The skipper’s wife was named Ginger, which helped explain the boat’s name. But it still bothered me, this so un-crab fisherman like name; not the Sea Witch, not the Bold Warrior. I could see the Ginger Snap pulling into port, the crew at the rail; not Spike, Butch and Tiny, but Allistair, Alfred and Rupert. Thus, I signed on the Ginger Snap, and the skipper assembled the rest of his crew. He hired Tim, a giant from Minnesota, as engineer. Tim was a good mechanic and powerful on deck, but he had never worked on a boat engine in his life. The other two deckhands were Marvin, a fisherman from Homer who had fished crab before, and Max, a younger guy from Kodiak who reputedly had crabbing experience, but he didn’t last long enough for us to find out. He quit before we actually started fishing. The boat was experiencing mechanical difficulties, namely the transmission on the port engine that had lay dormant the whole time I’d been on board. This necessitated taking it apart twice, and I spent my birthday, February 5, toiling in the engine room. The project drug on for days, with much time spent waiting for the mechanic or for parts. During such lulls, there were plenty of other projects to keep us busy. One afternoon, while scrubbing the deck above the galley and flying bridge, I stepped backwards and fell to the deck below. My back hit a wooden stanchion, momentarily taking my breath. The pain was intense, but it appeared my backbone wasn’t damaged. My ribs had absorbed the blow, and were sore for many days after. The incident made me wonder how injury-prone I’d be on a heaving deck in big seas. The strike was still going strong, and this buoyed our spirits. It seemed like everyone in Kodiak was broke and waiting to go fishing. Once the boat was ready we planned to run to Homer, but the weather delayed us further. All the pots were MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
was coming in faster now that we were getting towed into the waves. I watched the skipper for any signs of distress. Though his face was white and pasty, he remained calm.”
in Homer, supposedly rigged and ready to go; all except for a string they’d dropped on the way to Kodiak, this, of course, done during the strike. On February 12 we departed Kodiak late on the morning of a beautiful, calm day. We cruised out the channel past canneries, the ferry dock, houses, all land-bound and static. I was excited to be underway, on my maiden voyage as a crabber. Sailing was smooth as we passed Marmot Island and headed out, away from shore. We were approaching the Barren Islands when it was my turn for wheel watch. Navigating in the dark by radar and compass was a new experience. I was learning new things every day. But we were all eager to retrieve our pots and move them out to the fishing grounds. We knew the strike could end any day. The seas began building as we neared the Barrens. For awhile we were in the lee of the islands, but when we emerged from their protection at the other end, it was into a full gale from the northwest. The winds were still coming up when Marvin relieved me of wheel watch. I lay down in my bunk, glad to be free of the stress imposed by the weather. Waves pounded the hull, and I bounced up and down in my bunk. It seemed cozy at first, but conditions quickly deteriorated with the growing seas. The boat shuddered and loose objects careened about the forecastle. The tremendous power of the storm made me feel insignificant and vulnerable. A monster wave struck the boat and almost turned it around. I made my way up to the flying bridge to see what had happened. The Ginger Snap had lost steering, and we bobbed helplessly in the maelstrom. The skipper put out a call for help. The Ranger, an oil-rig tender, was an hour or two away and was diverting to assist. Meanwhile, Tim reported that the engine room was taking on water. The pounding had apparently opened seams in the wooden planking, and the bilge pumps couldn’t keep up. We took turns bailing with a five-gallon bucket. Everyone was seasick. It was my first 80
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experience with seasickness, and I was soon vomiting uncontrollably. Tim left to attend some other concern, leaving three of us to bail. I puked away as I stood in knee-deep water, pitching bucket-load after bucket-load of water out onto the deck. The boat was tossed unmercifully by the waves, and Max was thrown against the exhaust pipe, sustaining second-degree burns to his hand. The Ranger finally arrived and maneuvered to a position off our bow. Three crewmen stood on the Ranger’s stern, illuminated by the deck lights as if on stage. One of them held a coil of line. With a great heave he tossed us the line, and for years to come I would marvel over that throw . Thrown in a fifty knot wind between two wildly moving vessels, the line fell directly across our bow. We pounced on it, seized it and got it cleated off. Though under tow and on our way to Homer, our trials were not over. Water was coming in faster now that we were getting towed into the waves. I watched the skipper for any signs of distress. Though his face was white and pasty, he remained calm. The absence of a true salt aboard to calm and reassure left us to look at each other with expressions of questioning horror. The skipper notified the Coast Guard, and they were launching a helicopter that would drop us some water pumps. Meanwhile, I took up my station in the engine room and resumed bailing. It became obvious we would never make it to Homer, so we turned into Port Graham. We dropped anchor once inside the bay and bid the Ranger a fond farewell. A villager came alongside in his skiff, bringing us a water pump. But after we got it up on deck, he wasn’t able to get it started. Dejectedly, I descended back into the engine room to continue bailing. Soon, however, the Coast Guard helicopter arrived, and they lowered two pumps. They were able to purge the bilge, and we were truly saved. Tim worked on cleaning the engines and getting the boat in shape to make the short run to Homer. He noted the bilge pumps had been clogged by cardboard from boxes that had been thrown into the bilge in the heavy seas. It was evident that the Ginger Snap was in no shape to face a tanner crab season. But as luck would have it, the Port Graham village council owned a steel-hulled, 85’ power scow, the Beluga, that sat anchored in the bay. The skipper negotiated a deal for us to fish the tanner season with the Beluga. The Beluga was clearly a superior boat. It looked like a crabber, rather than presenting the morphodite visage of the Ginger Snap. The morning of the 17th we were finally ready to take the Ginger Snap to Homer. Everyone awoke sickened by the exhaust from the pumps, but we were able to get the boat to the harbor in Homer, to be hauled out of the water. We flew back to Port Graham to pick up our spiffy new boat. News that the strike settled dampened our mood, however. Now we were going to miss the opening, and every subsequent day missed would compound our despair. Ten days later we were still in Homer, trying to get the Beluga ready. At one point we were going to go out and pull the string that had been set a MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
month earlier, but we had to turn around due to noise and vibration caused by a bent propeller. We started hearing rumors about the Beluga, that it was known for breakdowns, that its former skipper had quit, vowing never to set foot on the boat again. There was a water-line visible in the engine room, documenting the level of flooding in a previous mishap. The crab pots that were supposedly awaiting us proved elusive. The Beluga had pots in storage, and we spent a couple of days rigging them. Many of the pots were beyond repair, leaving us but a half load. We visited a series of pot yards and were able to scrounge enough pots to make a load. Max quit, but the skipper quickly found a replacement. We took on a new deckhand, Bill, who was young and energetic, but had no experience crab fishing. The U.S. Marshall had seized the Ginger Snap. The finance company had foreclosed on the loan, but the skipper figured he could get the matter straightened out after the tanner season. Boats started putting into the cannery docks with cargoes of Kodiakcaught tanners. Watching the crane lift tote-loads of crab from the holds fueled a desperation to get underway and start fishing. We departed Homer on February 27 with a load of pots aboard. I had hoped we’d pull the string of pots on our way across to Kodiak and at least get some crab aboard, but the skipper thought it better to go directly to the fishing grounds and get our pots in the water. We set the pots across the Shelikof from Kodiak, between Castle Cape and Kukak Bay. I felt better, now that we were actually fishing. The skipper had a line on more pots in Kodiak. It was late at night when we idled up the channel, passing cannery docks bristling with activity. Boats pumping down their holds created great swaths of foam and milky water. That the season was ten days old and we had yet to put a single crab in our hold was a horrifying thought. I catalogued the crew by need. At the top was the skipper. He was heavily invested, much in the form of loans and promises. Next was Marvin, whose wife was due to have a baby at any time. Tim was single, but was hoping to make a start on Kodiak. As for myself, I had averaged just two thousand dollars trapping the previous two winters, so even complete failure wouldn’t hurt my overall portfolio too seriously. We visited more pot yards, and the skipper struck a deal to lease 36 pots. Hurry as we might, the trip still consumed two days. We set the pots closer to town, off the west side of Kodiak, then steamed across the Shelikof, eager to check our main string. Once the first buoys were aboard, the line threaded into the block, the hydraulics singing and the line whining and popping, I felt energized. This was what we’d come for, and we were finally here, doing it. As one pot after another came up, our optimism waned. Most held just two or three legal-sized crab. Several were entirely empty. We started stacking pots on deck. When we had a load of pots, we cruised one or two hours 82
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down the coast to re-set them. Once we had pulled and moved the entire string, we crossed the Shelikof to check the other pots. If it’s possible, the fishing here was worse yet. We stacked all the pots and headed back across the strait. March 10 found us off Kukak Bay with the load of pots aboard. A storm was in the forecast, and the wind was already starting to pick up. Wanting to get as many pots fishing as possible before we anchored to wait out the storm, we started setting pots on the way in. The pots were stacked three high, and I was atop the stack untying and hooking pots up so they could be moved to the launcher. The seas were rapidly building, and the Beluga was pitching and rolling. Suddenly, the whole stack of pots moved beneath me with a grinding vibration. Marvin was standing at the launcher and looking up at the stack. On the next roll the stack slid back and forth, covering a wider swath. I was knocked down, and I grabbed webbing and held on for dear life. “Get away from there,” the Skipper yelled to Marvin, who was grabbing the railing as if he contemplated jumping overboard. Everyone made a mad dash for the flying bridge. “This is a bad situation,” the skipper said. He looked pale, alarmed. The pots shifted again, sending a great shudder throughout the boat. “We have to get the top layer of pots off,” he shouted. It was our stupidity and lack of experience that was the root cause of the dilemma. The Beluga didn’t have a steel rail on the port side, but instead had a heavy cable that ran through eyes bolted to the bulkhead. Tying the pots to the cable rather than to a more secure anchor allowed the whole stack to move. If the tie-lines parted under the tremendous force of the shifting stack, we would be facing disaster. Marvin and I climbed back onto the stack and started untying pots and pushing them overboard. Wet snowflakes plastered our faces as we worked feverishly. I was relieved to see the load diminished, but MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
If the tie-lines parted under the tremendous force of the shifting stack, we would be facing disaster.”
hated losing the pots. While we waited out the storm the following day, Tim and the skipper conferred over mechanical issues. There was a problem with the steering and we would have to return to Kodiak for repairs. This news was met with sighs and grumbles. “We’ll pick up the old string on the way back and make a delivery while we’re in town,” the skipper said, trying to sound upbeat. We had to make a lengthy detour to reach the fabled string of gear. I was beyond caring if the pots were set during the strike. It didn’t begin to make up for all the time we’d lost. The first pot came up loaded with tanners. The cheering wavered once the crab spilled onto the deck. They had been in the pot for so long they had lost legs, in most cases multiple legs. Some crab had no legs at all. We culled through the lot, discarding a great many. Our standards modified as more pot-loads of mutilated crab came aboard. If they had at least two legs, they went into the hold. We hoped they would blend in with the healthier crab when we delivered. Once we had all the pots aboard we turned for Kodiak. It seemed we’d barely left the dock, and here we were back again. We delivered our meager load of crab. I half expected the unloading crew to laugh, but they didn’t seem to care. They did scrutinize some of the crab, however, and a few, legless, were pitched overboard. While we chaffed under the delay, the skipper seemed to delight in the society of other skippers. Charts tucked under his arm, he met with them at cafes and aboard boats, drinking coffee and alert to any information or rumor. Throwing a damper on the skipper’s revel, however, came the information that his partner in the Ginger Snap was suing him and to top it off, his wife was leaving him. As bad as we had it, the skipper’s trials helped to keep things in perspective. On March 16 we set out again. Bill had quit, so now we had Ed, who had fished the earlier part of the season on a different boat with poor results. It was good to know we weren’t the only disaster in the fleet. It was dark by the time we got across the Shelikof, but we found the end of our string and started pulling pots. We re-baited the pots as we went, not that there were many crab, but we already had pots on deck. We began to encounter ice, and it got thicker as we went. Soon we were enclosed in a river of ice. We crept through it like an ice-breaker in the Arctic. Trying to find buoys in the maze of icebergs proved fruitless. We found one, not ours, and decided to give it up. At some point, the boat picked up line in the wheel. Discouraged and disgruntled, we limped behind Kiupalik Island and anchored for the night. The skipper arranged for a diver to fly out from town to cut the line free. While we waited, we heard the announcement over the radio that the tanner season would close on the 26th. Spirits drooped as we realized our season was soon to end. 84
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The ice that had flushed out of Cook Inlet made a mess of our pot strings, and much time was spent looking for buoys. Some of the pots were never found. We moved gear around, picking up a few crabs as we went. Finally, we established a smoothly-running routine on deck, and we were able to operate without mechanical interruption. It was too late, we knew, and I was left to wonder why we couldn’t have started out this way. The final day of the season, while we were pulling pots and loading them on deck, there was a clunk and the engines throttled down to idle. We’d lost a propeller. With the loss of power and a bad weather forecast, we wouldn’t be able to pick the last string of gear. Instead, we started for port, running on one propeller, a new frustration heaped onto the pile. We got as far as Cape Douglass before a strong NW wind came up, and we took shelter for the night. The wind howled all night, gusting to 100 knots. Twice we drug anchor and had to relocate. When the wind abated we resumed our course for Seldovia, where we agreed we would all quit the boat. I suspected the skipper was planning to jump the ship, as well. He said he’d hire someone to pick up the pots we still had in the water. I didn’t ask for details. Soon after docking in Seldovia a boat pulled alongside. I dropped down to the galley to see if they were tying up to us when I whacked my head on a low hanging beam. I went down to my knees, seeing stars and blood streaming down my face. The skipper rushed me to the infirmary, where a doctor stitched the gash on my forehead. The following morning, and the last day on the Beluga, I was lying in my bunk when I heard the skipper rummaging about the galley. He stepped outside on deck to brush his teeth and came back in swearing, “Thun of a bith!” When he had spit over the side, his front teeth went overboard. Now he would have to MOUNT HOPE • ISSUE 8
We began to encounter ice, and it got thicker as we went. Soon we were enclosed in a river of ice.”
hire a diver to retrieve them. I couldn’t help but laugh, and I couldn’t stop laughing. This was a fitting culmination of all our trials. When it came time to settle up, the skipper handed me a check for 350 dollars. As paltry a sum as it was, considering I’d invested two months of labor, I was still surprised to get anything. My dream of a fat payday was a flop, but I had learned to fish crab. And compared with the skipper’s challenges: lost crab pots, retrieval of pots left in the water, paying for the diver and flight to get him out there, dealing with the Port Graham Village Council and whatever they expected to get out of the deal, to say nothing of being sued by his business partner and losing his wife—I felt rich, indeed.
Alaskan Harry Dodge has been hiking and guiding tours through Kodiak bear country for forty years. Respected locally as a leader in the field, he is a trained biologist, wildlife advocate, and author. 86
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