Page 1

Artwork by

GINGER ELLIS WALLACE Conversation with

NEIL GAIMAN

EST

1983

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST www.weber.edu/weberjournal


EST

WEBER 1983

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

Deriving from the German weben—to weave—weber translates into the literal and figurative “weaver” of textiles and texts. Weber are the artisans of textures and discourse, the artists of the beautiful fabricating the warp and weft of language into everchanging patterns. Weber, the journal, understands itself as a regional and global tapestry of verbal and visual texts, a weave made from the threads of words and images.

So I went out and bought myself a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, bought lots of magazines and got on the phone and talked to editors about ideas for stories. Pretty soon I found myself hired to do interviews and articles and went off and did them.

MAGAZINE

A OR A NEWSPAPER IS A SHOP. EACH IS AN EXPERIMENT AND REPRESENTS A NEW FOCUS, A NEW RATIO BETWEEN COMMERCE AND INTELLECT. —JOHN JAY CHAPMAN

Anna liked MAGAZINES. They were glossy machines. The only technology that she could fold.

There’s very little advice in men’s magazines, because men don’t think there’s a lot they don’t know. Women do. Women want to learn. Men think, “I know what I’m doing, just show me somebody naked.”

—Neil Gaiman

MAGAZINES ALL TOO

FREQUENTLY LEAD TO BOOKS AND SHOULD BE REGARDED BY THE PRUDENT AS THE HEAVY PETTING OF LITERATURE. —FRAN LEBOWITZ

—Jerry Seinfeld

—Sarah Schulman

I’M ALWAYS IN THE KITCHEN, COOKING AND EXPERIMENTING — I LOVE IT. AND EVERY NOW AND THEN I THINK, “I SHOULD WRITE A COOKBOOK” OR, “I SHOULD WRITE FOR FOOD MAGAZINES.” AND THEN I GET DRAWN BACK TO WRITING FICTION AGAIN. —KIRAN DESAI

My eyes are darting to all the places my magazines are hidden. I feel like an idiot sometimes for having printed evidence. My friends look at stuff on their phones like it’s their job. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve looked, and there’s some alright stuff online, but I prefer the magazines. I guess I’m a retro sort of man. Call me classy.

Front Cover: Ginger Wallace, Untitled #1, mixed media construction, 25 x 31 in., undated.

—Hannah Moskowitz


EST

1983

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

VOLUME 32 | NUMBER 1 | FALL 2015


EDITORIAL BOARD EDITOR

Michael Wutz ASSOCIATE EDITORS

Kathryn L. MacKay Russell Burrows Victoria Ramirez Brad Roghaar MANAGING EDITORS

Kristin Jackson and Kelsy Thompson EDITORIAL BOARD

Phyllis Barber, author Jericho Brown, Emory University Katharine Coles, University of Utah Duncan Harris, University of Wyoming Diana Joseph, Minnesota State University Nancy Kline, author & translator Delia Konzett, University of New Hampshire Fred Marchant, Suffolk University Madonne Miner, Weber State University Felicia Mitchell, Emory & Henry College Julie Nichols, Utah Valley University Tara Powell, University of South Carolina Bill Ransom, Evergreen State College Walter L. Reed, Emory University Scott P. Sanders, University of New Mexico Kerstin Schmidt, Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt Daniel R. Schwarz, Cornell University Andreas Ströhl, Goethe-Institut Munich James Thomas, editor and writer Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, author Melora Wolff, Skidmore College EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS

Monica Linford and Erin Seaward-Hiatt EDITORIAL PLANNING BOARD

Bradley W. Carroll Brenda M. Kowalewski Angelika Pagel John R. Sillito Michael B. Vaughan ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Shelley L. Felt Aden Ross G. Don Gale Robert B. Smith Mikel Vause

Meri DeCaria Barry Gomberg Elaine Englehardt John E. Lowe

LAYOUT CONSULTANTS

Mark Biddle and Brandon Petrizzo EDITORS EMERITI

Brad L. Roghaar Sherwin W. Howard Nikki Hansen

Neila Seshachari LaVon Carroll

EDITORIAL MATTER CONTINUED IN BACK


TABLE OF CONTENTS VOLUME 32 | NUMBER 1 | FALL 2015 | $10.00

ART 38 Ginger Wallace, The Whimsical Work of Ginger Wallace

CONVERSATION 7 Scott Rogers, Living in the Universe—A Conversation with Neil Gaiman

ESSAY 18 Wilfried Wilms, Mountains Ablaze: The Alpine War 1915-1918 50 Barry Laga, Swapping Memories 94 John Nizalowski, Night in World’s Center 135 Michele F. Valenti, Bonneville

Ginger Wallace...................................38

POETRY 34

Connolly Ryan Impossible to Paint, Nature Persists And Now a Word From Our Refusal to Evolve Usufruct 37 Jan Minich Winter Solstice 49 David Nielsen Metamorphosis 55 Dinitia Smith The Great Grigsbys Poem for Theresa Knight on Setting Out to Find the Bodies of Her Murdered Children 68 Michelle Bonczek Evory Final Hike Milk 79 Betsy Martin Before It Closes Traveling with My Mother The Worm 89 Charlene Langfur Finding the Right Amount Climate Change in the Mind

Neil Gaiman.........................................7

Wilfried Wilms....................................18


Some Say All There is for Some of Us is Making Do The Land The Moon Through the Window 103 Christopher Cokinos Logan Dry Canyon 112 Gale Acuff Timex Getting to the Bottom 115 Helen Wickes California Mission Suite 120 Lawrence Eby Your Children Inorganic The Oak is Not an Oak Numbers 132 Abby Rosenthal High Plains Quartet 141 Sarah Rehfeldt Traveling with Light Leaves, Rain, Return Cloud Song, November On Learning How to Look 143 R. Steve Benson We 152 Chang Ming Yuan My Fortune Teller Says September 7: For Allen Qing Yuan

Helen Wickes...................................115

FICTION 28 59 71 82 104 117 123 144

Trevor Conway, Lansha’s Way Tom Cantwell, Country Fair Victoria Ramirez, Ma Loves Jete Jeffrey Rindskopf, Full of Poison G.D. McFetridge, The Lost Cabin Max Orkis, A Sunset in the Sunset Michael McGuire, Sleep with the Angels Evan Williams, The Repair Job

READING THE WEST

154

Victoria Ramirez................................71


C O N V E R S A T I O N

Scott Rogers

Living in the Universe— A Conversation with Neil Gaiman

Mikel Vause


PRELUDE In October, 2014, the Ogden School Foundation invited a​ cclaimed author Neil Gaiman to speak at its annual fundraiser. Gaiman first rose to fame in the late 1980s with his groundbreaking Sandman comic series. Gaiman ​is the author of a number of works of adult, young adult, and children’s fiction, including Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett, 1990), Neverwhere (1996), Stardust (1998), American Gods (2001), Anansi Boys (2005), The Graveyard Book (2008), Coraline (2009), and The Ocean and the End of the Lane (2013)— two of which have been adapted into films.

He has worked on a number of television shows and films, including writing two episodes of Doctor Who​and ​co-authoring the screenplay of Beowulf. He is the winner of both the Hugo and Nebula A ​ w ​ ards, as well as the recipient of both the Newbery and C​a​rnegie ​M​edals. I had the privilege of speaking with Gaiman about his writing process, about how he sustains his prodigious level of literary output, and about the demands the writing life places on authors and their families.​Thank you to the Ogden School Foundation for making this interview possible.​

CONVERSATION When it was suggested to me that I approach you for an interview, I immediately crowdsourced “what do you guys want to know?,” and apparently everybody wants to know your composition process; everyone wants to know just how you write. Back when we corresponded, you told me that you can write anywhere. As long as you’ve got pen and paper you’re good to go. Is that still the case?

backup to my backups. I do better writing if I’ve cleared my life out and if I’ve put together a kind of a schedule. For example, a perfect writing day for me, particularly on a novel writing kind of work, is get up in the morning, exercise, go for a run, get back, eat lunch, get my stuff, head out to a coffee shop, or if I’m at home, go out to my writing cabin into the woods and just sit and write, and do it for. . . as long as I’ve done my thousand words.

That is still the case. It definitely helps these days to have no internet access or to be out of a cell phone pocket. These are good things because what I miss is silence and just not having people yelling at me about urgent things that they need. And as long as I don’t know that they need these urgent things, I can still write anywhere. People always say to me, “why do you always have a notebook?” and “why do you have so many pens?,” and the real reason why I have so many pens is it’s quite possible for one or more of them to run out of ink and I like having backups and

Is that what you shoot for? A thousand words per day?

8

WEBER

Yeah. If I do less than a thousand words, I know that I’m screwing around.

And you occasionally take retreats, right? Yeah I often will just take myself off the map, like, “I’m gone. I’m off writing.” And I can write comfortably on an average day probably 1,500 to 2,000 words of useable stuff. I can have occasional magic, manic, days. When I look back, there are exceptions—like “Snow,

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


Glass, Apples” was written in a day, “How to write long sensible emails. I remember the Talk to Girls at Parties” was written in a day— days when I wrote long sensible emails. I but they are anomalous. Those are 6,000 word remember the days when I blogged every day. days, or 5,000 word days, where you start a And I miss blogging every day, but that daily story and you finish it. “Dream of a Thousand blogging has now been eaten by Twitter and Cats” was written in a weekend. But I’m now by Facebook. I cannot do it all. old enough and canny enough to know that You’re incredibly active on Twitter. those things are anomalous, and when you get one of those it’s like being given a gift by Twitter is an interesting thing because Twitter the gods and you just say “thanks!” and carry exists in the crevasses. Twitter, for me, is on. One of the things that I do, because it’s something that—the perfect time to be on nice about writing by hand—and I do it partly, Twitter, for me, is fifteen minutes in a taxi in in all honesty, to shame at myself—is I will New York. change pen color each day. (NG pulls out a There are things that I am starting to do moleskine-type notebook and begins to flip now. For example, 2016 I am marking off. My through the pages.) speaking agent is That way I can say, going to be getting an “I probably made my email from me saying, thousand words there” It definitely helps these days to have “We are doing nothand ‘”I made my ing in 2016. I know no internet access or to be out of a thousand words here,” this is kind of early cell phone pocket. These are good or “I definitely didn’t to take this radical, make it there,” or “I things because what I miss is silence but I think I’m gonna almost made it there.” have to be skipping and just not having people yelling I can see what I did 2016, because I know at me about urgent things that they that day and I can see what I’m doing with that I did stuff, and it’s need. And as long as I don’t know the first half of 2015 good fun. It makes me and I know what I’m that they need these urgent things, I feel like I am actually going to be finishing can still write anywhere. producing. And I can in the second half of see what was obvi2015. And by the end ously a bad day. And of 2015 I’m going to the trouble is that the be behind, which means that 2016 is going to bad days have less to do with writer’s block be. . . .” or being grumpy, and more with how much space I cleared for myself to write in. Have you moved house? Are you still liv-

How do you maintain this level of production? It’s like, despite being so productive, you still manage to be productive. I don’t know how you do it. Do you know what I mean? Part of it I do, because there are things that I fail on. I look at my friends, who, if I email them, email me back with a reply and everything is good. And they do things and

FALL 2015

WEBER

ing . . . .?

I’m in both. I’m “bihousel” or whatever the word is. I haven’t actually moved from the Midwest, and that is actually where I think of as home—that Richard Burton line, “home is where the books are.” The library is still there, and that is why the Midwest is where I still live because that is where my books are. I get genuinely frustrated at not knowing spatially where all my books are. I used to be able to

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

9


C O N V E R S A T I O N close my eyes and know exactly where everything was. Especially once the library overflowed from the basement into the upstairs, and I could think, “there’s a book there and it will be on the third shelf up, or by my bed, or whatever,” and I can’t do that now because there’s just so much stuff and there’s stuff just scattered all over two houses.

You’re up in Albany, or somewhere around there? Yeah, up in Woodstock.

Is Amanda in Cambridge? Amanda lives in Cambridge, stays in Hudson a lot, and lives in Woodstock sometimes with me. I live in the Midwest and in Woodstock. At some point she’ll get a place in New York, which will be, again, a place where neither of us properly live. The best thing about me being with her—and I think sometimes for her being with me—is that I understand it. And she understands it. Which means that we’re not having to try and explain it and all that stuff. You know, coming back from tour and needing a buffer zone of recovery time is something the other one knows, and either of us will leave the other alone when we come back from tour. There will sometimes be two or three days where we will sit and do nothing but laundry and sort of zombie. Then you come out.

Your schedule is—I can’t even imagine. But what really kills me is that, even knowing these schedules and knowing just how incredibly busy you are, you still manage to produce so much stuff. If I didn’t, there would be no point in doing all of the other stuff. From my perspective— there was a point about a year ago where I put up a reply that just said, “Thank you for your email. It may or may not get read by me. These are the people you should

10

WEBER

probably be talking to. . . . Here’s my agent.” And I’m having to do this to stop myself from being somebody who writes as a hobby and replies to email as a living. And just because I discovered that I’m now at the point that I would get up in the morning, and at 9:30 I would start replying to email and at 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon I would knock off email exhausted and then go off to work and come home brain-dead.

Was there a point when you became aware that you needed an assistant, like your former assistant, Lorraine? Well, what was interesting was that the kind of assistant job grew as I grew. I’d hired Lorraine to put my books on the shelves in alphabetical order. That was her entire job, and we figured it was probably going to be ten days’ worth of a job when I moved here to America. I moved to America and I’d turned the basement into a library. The books were coming over by container and they didn’t turn up for, like, another three months. So at that point, three months in, I needed somebody. I vaguely knew Lorraine and she’d been doing helpful stuff with Steve Bruce, and so I said, will you come out and put books on the shelf in alphabetical order and I’ll tell you what’s fiction and what’s non-fiction, where things go. And that is where she came into my life. What was interesting is that it was really slow—the growing—it was cooking a frog in hot water; you just start cold and get hotter and hotter and hotter. There came a point where she had to learn how to deal with airplanes and airlines, so she got pretty good at that. Then she had to start dealing with foreign publishers and how to organize a book tour across nine countries with seven different publishers involved, all of whom

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


The process of writing a novel is essentially getting up every day and running a marathon. Writing a novel is going by bicycle from New York to Los Angeles, and the only way that you’re going to do it is by getting on your bike every day and doing it even when it doesn’t feel like you’re making any progress, but when you look at the map, you obviously are. would be paying different amounts for their thing. For her it was a “do it or perish.” Every now and again she would be off for a day and I would wind up doing her stuff, and I wouldn’t get any work done and it was like, “Ah! Yes, it is very important for me to have you do this.”

Is there ever a sense like, “I have to have an assistant. I have arrived?” No. Mostly for me I need an assistant in the same way that I need a car. There are things you need to make your life easier so you can write. Could I do it without an assistant? Yes. Would I get significantly less writing done? Yes. And again it goes back to the answer of your question, “how are you so productive?” Well, I have to be, which means that I have to divest myself of bits of life, including some of the bits that are fun. I remember the point somewhere around 2003 or 2004 when I realized I was no longer gardening. I used to love doing the vegetable garden every year. I would tend it and plant different things at different times; I would make sure that my peas got in and that my radishes got in first, then my beans, and then I’d be planting my pumpkins and things, you know, then get the corn in and your timing was always fun, making sure that everything was watered. It

FALL 2015

WEBER

was this thing that I loved doing. Then one day I looked up and Lorraine seemed to be doing the gardening. Because I was no longer doing the gardening. Because I was writing.

To just shift gears for a second, is your process or is your life different when you are writing for the media, or for TV, such as The American Gods series ? How involved in that are you? There’s a few different questions there. The first is, yes. The process changes depending on what you’re writing. But that has more to do with length, because the process of writing a novel is essentially getting up every day and running a marathon. Writing a novel is going by bicycle from New York to Los Angeles, and the only way that you’re going to do it is by getting on your bike every day and doing it even when it doesn’t feel like you’re making any progress, but when you look at the map, you obviously are. Whereas a short story, or a short short story, or an introduction or whatever, is obviously going to be different, because you may be thinking about doing the whole thing in one little burst.

Is the conception process different? When you’re writing a television episode versus a piece of short fiction, are you imagining it differently and how it might be staged? Do you see what I’m getting at? So let’s talk media, because that’s an interesting thing. Different media have different strengths and different weaknesses. What you’re doing as a writer is you’re trying to play to their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. And very often the strengths and the weaknesses are exactly the same thing. Novel: strengths—it is unmediated between you and the reader. You are relying on the reader’s vocabulary and imagination. But essentially prose fiction is the nearest that we get to telepathy, because something is actually coming out of one mind and going into another. The downside to that is that

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

11


C O N V E R S A T I O N you’re relying in a lot of ways on the intelligence, vocabulary, and imagination of the reader. Everybody is going to have a different experience. This is a good thing and a bad thing, you know. Everybody’s Holden Caulfield looks and sounds different. Movies: movies move. They exist over a specific time period. They have actors, they have sight and sound, so you can see them and hear them and feel them. There’s nothing empathetic about them. You can’t casually and easily flip back and check things. By the same token you’re not creating, you’re not forcing the person at the other end to create; they are an audience. Radio plays are really interesting, because with radio plays you are using both, so it’s a sort of weird transitional thing. You’re imagining it and it’s happening in real time. Comics for me are very similar to radio plays except you’re trading out the visual part for the sound part, because comics have no sound, but they do have pictures. They are forcing you to imagine and create, but your imagination creation process occurs in the gutters. It occurs in the spaces between two walls, because comics do not move; they are static. And yet as you start experiencing comics your start to realize that there are places where. . . . One reason why fumetti (photo comics) don’t work is that a photograph exists in a discrete moment in time. In comics, you’re reading in the western tradition from left to right. In any panel you have a progression of time that actually exists from left to right. Even though the panel is one image, it’s actually a progressive image. You are moving through it.

As opposed to a captured moment? Exactly. A captured image says, this is one moment. But comics aren’t one moment; you are actually moving through it and you’re using the medium’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, a moment in Sandman where I did something dead clever—it’s from

12

WEBER

early in Sandman, so I’m spoiling things for people—is the point where you think that Morpheus is dead with a white background, and you turn the page and you realize that the white background was Morpheus’ hand and we have a huge Morpheus. One of the reasons why that works is because you’ve turned the page. Normally in fiction—unless you’re Laurence Sterne—you’re not in control of page turning. You can’t control or reveal. And I’m waffling here about media. I could go off and talk about what poetry can do and can’t do, as opposed to some of the media we’ve talked about, or what television can or can’t do. You look at something like Breaking Bad and go, “OK, Breaking Bad does something that is actually different. It uses the techniques of serial fiction and yet it has created this fifty-hour long story that is unlike what we’ve learned of in any other serial fiction, whether it be Dickens, or the penny dreadfuls, or Updike, or whatever.”

It’s novelistic. Exactly. It’s novelistic and yet it isn’t. It’s TV, it’s filming, but it’s not. It’s designed to be watched at your own pace. It’s this whole new thing and how this works is something that

Comics for me are very similar to radio plays except you’re trading out the visual part for the sound part, because comics have no sound, but they do have pictures. They are forcing you to imagine and create, but your imagination creation process occurs in the gutters. It occurs in the spaces between two walls, because comics do not move; they are static.

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


we are still figuring out. So for me, a starting point is normally, “well, what does this feel like? In my head, what does this feel like? Am I picturing it moving with pictures? Am I picturing it more as something that you feel?” If I’m thinking of something as more of an emotional experience, then I’m much more likely to go novelistic than I would be to write a screenplay. I’m also well aware that writing a novel or writing a poem is an absolutely solitary pursuit. Writing a comic or writing a radio play is something that you are doing with a team of people. By the time you get to movies or TV, you are much more like an architect drawing up plans, which are then handed to people who really have no idea about your plans, and you’re handing them over to builders who (a) have their own ideas and (b) have a budget, and you’re not quite sure where their budget is going to go. Sometimes they’re going to do things where you just go, “OK, why did you think putting a purple toilet in the middle of the kitchen was a good idea?” And they go, “Look! A purple toilet in the middle of the kitchen!” And you go, “Yeah. You don’t even have a stall. You realize you’re going to be pissing and shitting in public in the kitchen where we’re eating! There’s a reason why I made the bathroom over there!” And they go, “Oh yeah. We can see that now, but actually we are out of money and we had some purple paint left over.” Sometimes that is the film. The reason why that character is in the novel but not in the movie is not for all of the reasons that you have outlined; it’s because they needed to save one day of filming, because they needed to get back on budget because they overspent on the Iceland sequence, and the only way that they could get back on budget is simply to lose that scene. And they go, “if we lose that scene, then that character is gone and we haven’t shot this stuff yet.” And so she’s out. The actress was actually hired and she had lines, and she knew them, but actually now she’s not in it.

I was thinking about David Mitchell’s comments on one of the more recent Guardian books podcasts. He says, “I may not have control over how I’m interpreted, but I will have the last say on what I meant.” That’s a lovely thing to say. He is so smart. My attitude is to go and pretend I’m dead. But in the “pretend I’m dead” comes “get your fucking facts right.” I saw a thing the other day that I didn’t reply to because life is too short, but it was some big takedown of me on American Gods for some of the Native American stuff, where there was some writer that was saying how I got it all wrong and was talking about how I have this old magic guy called Whiskey Jack in there, but that I don’t understand this and I’m not paying attention to that, and so forth and so forth. And I’m going, “okay. If you do not know who Wisakedjak is, and you think this is an old magic man—a magic Native American character—then you have taken yourself out of the list of people to whom I am going to pay attention to about American Gods because you are actually demonstrating way out front that you don’t know what you are talking about.” So that’s right up there with Bruno Marcello

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

13


C O N V E R S A T I O N

We writers are so full of shit, and we are really good at making things magic—I mean, I am still in awe of the first writer, whoever that was, who came up with the idea of writer’s block. That is brilliant! He deserves some kind of magic writer’s prize.

saying, “In the West, they have this beardy magic man who climbs up on this cross thing from time to time.” I’m going, “Guys! No!” So I will, from time to time, say this is factually untrue. On the other hand, there are places where you want to go, (a) intend matters, and (b) times change. The bottom line equivalent would be defending Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. And he does not need defending. And you’re going, “you had better read this book in context of when it was written, who was writing it, and what it says.” Because in terms of what is being said about poverty in America, race at that time in America, slavery at that time in America, this is big and important. If you were going to go, “Well, it’s racist. It’s using words we don’t use now and styles of speech that we don’t use now,” then you’re missing the point.

You’ve collaborated a lot over the course

14

WEBER

of your career. I’m thinking about A Calendar of Tales. It seems like you and Amanda both are interested in how the Internet distributed content creation— I think that’s what I was most interested in with A Calendar of Tales. When I was a kid—a teenager, a young teenager—I was fascinated by Harlan Ellison’s writing in bookstore windows, and I talked to Harlan about that, about that process of writing in public. And he said that the most important thing for him on that was that you are demystifying the process, or more to the point, that you are showing people that it is a craft. And the craft of writing. We writers are so full of shit, and we are really good at making things magic—I mean, I am still in awe of the first writer, whoever that was, who came up with the idea of writer’s block. That is brilliant! He deserves some kind of magic writer’s prize. Up until then, over the years people would ask a writer, “How’s it going?”— “Oh, I’m stuck.” That makes it sound like it’s fixable. It makes it sound like maybe you’ve just gone off the rails a bit with a character, or maybe you haven’t quite figured out the plot. You’re just stuck. The guy who said, “I’ve got writer’s block” was like, “No, the gods have spoken! I cannot write today. I have writer’s block.”

A friend of mine says, “Nobody gets juggler’s block.” Exactly. Nobody gets juggler’s block. Nobody gets gardener’s block. It’s bullshit. It’s not to

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


say you don’t get stuck, which is not to say you don’t get miserable. Which is not to say that you don’t have days that you don’t feel like writing. It just means there is no magic thing. And writers are very good at making the writing thing seem magic. And it is magic. But it goes back to you saying, “Can you write anywhere?” or “What’s your process?” The truth is, there’s no reason why you can’t write in the window of a bookstore. There’s no reason why you can’t sit somewhere and write something really good in the window of a bookstore. And there’s no reason why you can’t write something really good in a bookstore where a costumer who spends—I think $100 on books can give you a word or a name or a title or something. I just loved that! Harlan did it and I loved it! I thought it was absolutely just brilliant. There is genius, there is talent, but there is also craft. Why turn up at schools like this? The biggest reason, for me, is when I was a kid, authors were unicorns. They were mythical, magical, wizardy beings.

One of the things about the internet is you can make the writing process completely visible, drafted at all stages—but that becomes a money issue, I guess. Would the publisher allow you to make public every draft? I’ve never really had any real interest in that. Only because, for me, there is a magic trick. Something like A Calendar of Tales. There is almost no process. There’s the handwritten scribbled ones, there’s the typed up ones—I wrote those in three days. There are twelve stories and I was doing three or four of them a day. I would write them, I would handwrite them, I would type them up and they were done. For me, there is a magic trick quality. When doing a really

FALL 2015

WEBER

Nobody gets juggler’s block. Nobody gets gardener’s block. It’s bullshit. It’s not to say you don’t get stuck, which is not to say you don’t get miserable. Which is not to say that you don’t have days that you don’t feel like writing. It just means there is no magic thing. And writers are very good at making the writing thing seem magic.

good magic trick, there are things that you want to—you want to get good enough at palming the coin, so that the coin is palmed. You want to get to the point where you bring your assistant on and you cut off her head, surprisingly, and everyone goes, “Oh my God, you just cut off that poor woman’s head,” then you put her head back on and she talks and walks off. For me, showing all of my drafts would be very much the equivalent of watching me drop the coin. Repeatedly. It would be the equivalent of turning the woman around forty-five degrees so that you can see where her head actually is and how it seems to fall off. Those are rationalizations; those are coming in after the fact. The truth is, it would make me self-conscious. I was explaining this morning to a bunch of eleven year olds, fourteen year olds, sixteen year olds, nobody ever has to see your first draft. The first draft is the thing you do for you. You can change a character’s name every time they appear until you find the name that you like. You can have the plot set out to be one thing, and it’s only when the thing finishes that you find out what the plot was all along. You can do all of these things. What is great about your second draft is that the second draft is the one that you

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

15


C O N V E R S A T I O N do to make it look like you knew what you were doing the whole time. I don’t think I’d want the feeling that the whole world was looking over my shoulder. Now weirdly, the truth is that once I’ve finished my first drafts I don’t care and normally—notebooks with novels in or notebooks with short stories in, or whatever—I’m very happy for academics to go through. But I think it’s probably very necessary for my process to assume that this is just me and the world. What I was going to say about A Calendar of Tales was that that was the equivalent of writing in a bookstore window. I’d be reporting them on Twitter; I’d be starting this out on Twitter; you can tell when I start and when I finish each story; you can be there with me.

You had been really active though. You blogged just a ton — For me, I honestly don’t think there’s anything unusual in that—I was talking to Les Klinger the other day about his The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft. He was talking about Lovecraft being an APA (amateur press association). APAs have been gone for years. The way that APAs worked—you had a group of ten, twelve, maybe fifteen people, and they would write things that would get circulated, or they would all write things that went into some kind of little magazine or whatever. It was never for public consumption, but it was like a group of people. You also had fanzines, zine-culture, mimeograph, if you remember mimeos and all that kind of stuff—so, I came of age as a writer in the mid 80s. When I got my first computer, I was also sold my first modem. It was, I think, 300-baud uploading . . . and there were bulletin boards and I remember moving from bulletin boards to Compuserve.

16

WEBER

Compuserve opened up in 1989 in the UK just as Terry Pratchett and I finished Good Omens, and we had no real way of getting the manuscript to each other except by posting discs backwards and forwards, and I remember we actually connected with each other’s computer using our modems because we could. It would actually have been easier and quicker to phone up the other and dictate over the phone. But then there was Compuserve, and that was when I was active on the Comics Forum and the literary forum and I made friends with people. There was a lady named Diana Gabaldon, who had just written a book that she was about to sell and was on the literary forum, so I am always vaguely thrilled when I see Diana’s new giant best seller and I think, “I remember when it was you and me, hanging around the literary forum.” Moving to America, then there was GEnie (General Electric Network for Information Exchange), and then there was The WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link)—so for me, the point where I started blogging seemed like it was the right time to start blogging. These days the world no longer deals with blogs or reads blogs the way they did.

I blame Google for that. When Google Reader went away, and there were no replacements for it. Right. Mostly for me it was a matter of being in different places at different times and enjoying it. Writing is a lonely profession. Ray Bradbury said, “Death is a lonely business.” Writing is a pretty lonely business too. Even when you have collaborators, it’s mostly just you and a notebook or you and a screen. So it’s nice to have people you can talk to who do the same thing, whether that’s H. P. Lovecraft in a writer’s circle with August Durleth and Bob Lock and those guys, or whether it’s being on Compuserve with Terry Pratchett and Diana Gabaldon, and whether it’s having a blog or now being on Twitter. There are ways to not be lonely while you’re off in a room on your own staring at a blank piece of paper.

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


Your discussion about empathy and libraries I thought was completely fascinating, and I read the Guardian piece that you wrote. Is this attention to politics something relatively new? You know, it’s weird. Yeah, it is. It’s not that I’m saying anything different. It’s not like I didn’t find myself embroiled in politics from the word “Go.” One of the very first comics I ever wrote was a chunk of outrageous tales from the Old Testament, and I found myself being attacked by conservative MPs and nearly sending a Swedish publisher to prison. The only reason why he didn’t go to prison was that the stuff actually was in the Bible.

Is this post-Coraline? No. A lot of it is post-Newbery Medal. After the Newbery, most people were just saying, “we love you, we love your stuff and you’re now actually respectable.” You have a Newbery Medal. It’s like at the end of The Wizard of Oz when the Lion gets his medal. I then had my medal and everybody went, “Ah, now he’s respectable.” And as a respectable entity people would ask me to do things, ask me to speak up on things, and a lot of the times I would say, “Yeah, I will.” But it’s also stuff that I’d been talking about on my blog the whole time. It’s weird. I tend to be apolitical in American terms, because I’m from England.

You seem to consistently be interested in old things coming into contact with new things. Is this a Lovecraftian sort of bent, or is this something else you’re just interested in? I think that if you’re living in the universe, the thing that is most interesting is that old things and new things are continually bumping into each other. And that also there are no new things. The more things and people seem to change, the more cultures change, the more it becomes incredibly apparent that we are the same thing that we have been for thousands of years. For me, one of the things that I keep learning and relearning is that they were us. And that little phrase “they were us,” it comes true over and over. I was talking to a friend who’s an Egyptologist a few weeks ago, and she was telling me that less than 5% of all of the historical sites in Egypt have been excavated. And she was telling me about how at the end of a one-day dig, they got together and told stories and some of the locals had come in to help them dig and one old man sat and told them a story around the fire. And the story he told was a tale of two brothers. A tale of two brothers is from about 3,000 B.C. We have this story, it’s one of the oldest. But what was interesting was that he was telling it because he’d been told it by his dad. He wasn’t telling it as a historical artifact; he was telling it because it was a story that his dad had told him; it’s a great story. And you’re going, “they were us.” They are us. Same story.

Thank you very much!

Scott Rogers (Ph.D., Oklahoma State Univ., 2003) is a Professor of English at Weber State University. He has special interests in Victorian literature and popular culture studies.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

17


E S S A Y

Wilfried Wilms

Mountains Ablaze: The Alpine War 1915-1918

T

he spectacular discovery of Ötzi, the Iceman in 1991 in the Ötztal Alps in Austria by hikers who had strayed off the trail at over 10,000 feet was a sign of things to come. In a channel filled with meltwater, the hikers observed a brown figure that they assumed was trash. Upon closer inspection, however, they realized that it was instead a mummified corpse, potentially the victim of a long-ago mountaineering accident. Or so they thought. It was lying facedown, the back of its skull exposed. The lower half of the body was still solidly encased in the ice. The refuge keeper of the Similaun Hut nearby, together with a local gendarme, began to extract the carcass using a pneumatic drill. They failed to free the body, in part due to the worsening weather. It took several days before it was finally removed, placed in a body bag, and flown by helicopter to the town of Vent, together with artifacts found nearby: leather strings; straps; a copper-bladed ax; and clumps of hay, among others. Eventually everything was taken to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Innsbruck. Six full days after the mummy was discovered, archeologist Konrad Spindler was brought in to evaluate the find. Analyzing the objects in front of him, he concluded that the mummy was at least 4,000 years old and that it belonged to the Chalcolithic period. As the oldest natural mummy in Europe,

Austro-Hungarian mountain corps, 1915.

Ötzi quickly became an archeological sensation. The circumstances of his presumably violent death caused around 3,300 BCE by an arrowhead embedded in his shoulder only added to the mystique of the discovery. Today The Iceman can be visited across the border in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. In the past 25 years or so, people and artifacts have been melting out of the ice in many places, typically due to retreating glaciers. Another sensational


find occurred in 1999 when the remains of the British climber George Mallory were discovered on Everest, 75 years after his disappearance on the mountain he attempted to climb three times in the early 1920s. In the European Alps, where war raged in the decade preceding Mallory’s ill-fated attempts on Everest, many relics of the centuryold ‘White War’ between Austria and Italy have been reappearing despite the so-called ‘salvagers’ having already combed the mountains for scrap metals for years after the war. With the snow and ice retreating at an alarming rate, fallen soldiers occasionally thaw out of the ice just as Ötzi did. After being preserved by the cold for only a century or so, the mummified remains, of course, never reach a museum. Instead, they receive burials in local war cemeteries, sometimes after futile attempts to identify their origin. Since 2004, when three Austrian soldiers were found, around eighty such corpses have been located on a number of glaciers. The Alpine War, fought (Above) Corpses have been found in the Alps almost between 1915 every year since 2004, and 1918, turned when these mummified the Eastern Alps remains emerged. (Right) An Austrian rifle into a kind of found poking out of the battlefield the ground, protected until world had never its discovery by a thick layer of ice. Many finds seen. Followare stripped bare by ing the Italian looters who sell the war artifacts on the internet. declaration of war against

FALL 2015

WEBER

Austria-Hungary on May 23, 1915, the four hundred miles long mountainous front between the two countries soon stretched from the 12,812 feet high Ortler adjacent to the Swiss border in the West to the Karst Plateau near the Adriatic Sea in the East. In over three long years of savage fighting under most brutal conditions, Leslie Stephen’s “playground” of Europe became a cemetery for more than a million soldiers from both sides. Twice that many were injured, in most cases severely. The roots of the conflict stretched almost as far back as the golden age of alpinism itself. In fact, the publication of Stephen’s mountaineering classic The Playground of Europe in 1871, accompanied by other greats that same year such as Edward Whymper’s Scrambles Amongst

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

Museo della Grande Guerra, Peio

Museo della Gran

de Guerra, Pe

io

19


E S S A Y The outbreak of the Great War between the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) and the Triple Entente (Britain, France, and Russia) in the summer of 1914 provided a golden opportunity for the nationalist irredentist movement and its professed ‘sacred egoism’ to flourish. Although still part of an alliance with Germany and Austria, Italy declared itself neutral at the onset of the conflict, pointing out that the treaty with its northern Allies was merely a defensive one. By May 1915, Italian Alpine troops during the First World War, 1915. and after secret negotiations leading to the Treaty of London, the Alps and John Tyndall’s Hours of Italy joined the fighting on the side of Exercise in the Alps, coincided with the Triple Entente, declaring war on the completion of a drawn-out Italian Austria. Italian soldiers crossed the unification process, the Risorgimento, Isonzo River into Habsburg territory on which ended that same year after three May 24, 1915. Austrian emperor Franz wars of independence and with Rome Joseph, already 84 years old at the time becoming the capital of the Kingdom of and nearing the end of his life, reacted Italy. But around the time the English with anguish, writing to his people: gentlemen of London’s Alpine Club “The King of Italy has declared war on rejoiced in their recollections of advenMe. A betrayal of a magnitude history ture and triumph in, primarily, the has not known hitherto.” But his affect Swiss Alps, Italian nationalists already was not truly rooted in political reality. lamented the so-called unredeemed In fact, the conflict with Italy had long lands that had not become part of Italy. been in the making. The multiethnic While some irredentists—inspired Habsburg Empire had for a while been by the long shadow of the Roman dealing with stirrings about indepenEmpire—went so far as to claim terdence in many corners of its vast lands, ritories in North Africa, Italy’s “Fourth and as a result the Austrians had begun Shore,” these terre irredente concerned the construction of fortifications along primarily multilingual and multiethnic linguistic borders already years prior territories to the north and east of the to the war. Even the construction of existing borders, that is, areas with Gerthe Dolomitenstrasse (Dolomite Highman, Italian, Slovene, Ladin, and Croaway, completed in 1909) connecting tian populations, among others. These Bolzano and Cortina d’Ampezzo along lands (and Italy’s supposed natural an east-west trajectory, was influenced borders), however, were part of the vast by defensive thinking and not merely Austro-Hungarian Empire. And they constructed to ease the ever-increasing were only to be obtained via struggle.

20

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


tourism in the region. Naturally, Italy did not join the war due to altruistic sentiments. The prize for its engagement was geographic (and geopolitical) expansion. Following a presumably successful campaign, it was to receive the territories of Friulia, including the Adriatic port city of Trieste, Trentino, and Alto Adige (South Tyrol), up to the Alpine watershed on the Brenner Pass. The unredeemed lands—the Italians liked to refer to them as their spazio vitale or vital space—were supposed to finally come home. The result was three and a half years of war amidst pristine and sublime scenery. The Austrians, most of them local militiamen due to the fact that their main troops had been fighting in far away Galicia since 1914, quickly occupied the strategically important high ground, fortified their positions, and waited for the inevitable Italian assaults. For the militiamen, the great majority deeply religious and with century-old connections to their lands, it was an intensely personal war. At stake was their homeland, as were their farms and families. Often enough they could see their occupied villages below but were unable to reach their own families and did not know whether they were well. The youngest amongst these troops were around 14, the oldest was over 80 years old. Even priests fought from time to time. Feldkurat Josef Hosp wrote into his diary: “A shot! The person standing upright swayed towards the east, a scream … a fall, … that one is finished!” The defense of their birthplace made them into mythical heroes. The Sextener mountain guide turned militiaman Sepp Innerkofler might be among the most famous and provided fodder for literary and cinematic homage in later years. The first of such references might well stem from Erich

von Strohheim’s film Blind Husbands (1919), featuring a mountain guide called “silent Sepp.” Austrian by birth and making films in Hollywood after his emigration in 1909, von Stroheim dedicated the movie to Innerkofler, “who risked his life again and again to save others, finally sacrificing it on the Monte Cristallo.” When the Italian assaults came, however—and they did come over and over again—the results were generally unheroic massacres, blatant examples of what Ernest Hemingway famously had called the “most colossal, murderous, mismanaged butchery that has ever taken place on Earth.” After offensive preparations involving ever more artillery, the Italian Alpini would storm uphill in close formations against obstacles made of nearly impenetrable barbed wire. The Austrians, taking

Sepp Innerkofler in Austrian Mountaineer uniform, 1865-1915.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

21


E S S A Y advantage of gravity, would mow them down with devastating machine gun fire, hand grenades, or simply by throwing rocks. Hand to hand combat, when it occurred, could involve daggers or spiked clubs. Poison gas was used. Attacks and counter-attacks typically restored the initial front lines. Changes were generally measured in yards, yet demanded heaps of corpses and wounded soldiers each time. Twelve battles along the Isonzo River in the East (today Slovenia) between May 1915 and October 1917 illustrate the waste. In the four battles waged in 1915, Italy suffered 174,000 casualties. In the four battles during the next year, the number was 134,000. In 1917, matters got worse. In three battles, including a decisive twelfth battle at Caporetto in October and November, Italy lost a staggering 368,000 men. 265,000 were captured when Austro-Hungarian troops, supported by German stormtroopers (and the use of flamethrowers and gas), finally overran the defensive lines of Italy’s Second Army and marched deep into Italy. A certain Erwin Rommel, later to be known as Nazi Germany’s ‘Desert Fox’ and commander of the Afrika Korps, came to fame as a junior officer at Caporetto, winning the Pour le Mérite.

Where armies and weapons failed to kill, nature did the job. By some estimates, many more soldiers were killed on the front by nature-induced deaths such as exposure, lightning, mud and stone floods, and especially avalanches, than by bullets or shells.

22

WEBER

Where armies and weapons failed to kill, nature did the job. By some estimates, many more soldiers were killed on the front by nature-induced deaths such as exposure, lightning, mud and stone floods, and especially avalanches, than by bullets or shells. The winter of 1916-17 brought record snowfall. High mountain passes saw as much as 35-40 feet of snow. According to Mark Thompson, December 16, 1916, known as “White Friday,” had some 10,000 soldiers disappear in avalanches. Unaware or ignorant of the dangers of high alpine landscapes, superior officers insisted on erecting or holding positions that appeared strategically desirable on maps, yet proved imprudent given the terrain and conditions at hand. The Austrian position Gran Poz near the Marmolada, the Dolomites’ highest peak, is still infamous in that regard. Despite numerous warnings by mountain guides and against the direct request of the commander Rudolf Schmid to abandon the site temporarily, headquarters of the 90th Infantry Division decided otherwise. On December 13, an enormous avalanche descended from Punta Rocca and swallowed up the entire position. Of the 321 men buried in the snow, 270 could only be dug up dead. One of those rescued, Josef Strohmaier, writes: “We saw an array of beams, boards, arms, corpses, and heads. In front of us someone was dancing and singing creepily. He had gone mad.” The area around Marmolada is also known for one of the more curious engineering feats of the war. A comparatively flat glacier on the north side of the mountain exposed the Austrian troops to shelling by the enemy during intense fighting in the summer of 1916. Due to the troops’ location, Austrian positions had to be resupplied across

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


up rock bands or entire summits, either crushing enemy positions with tumbling rockslides or sending them high into the skies. If one was unable to fight the enemy off the mountain peaks by traditional means, one simply resorted to blowing them to smithereens. Famous examples of this new type of warfare were the Dolomite mountains Col di Lana (nicknamed Col di German troops marching along the Isonzo battlefield during the Battle of Caporetto. Sangue, Blood Mountain, and blown up by the Italians the glacier, yet even at night they were in April 1916) and the Lagazuoi (blastclearly visible to the Italians. Mountain ed in May 1917, by the Austrians, in guide Leo Handl, an engineer by trainJune by the Italians). ing, had the peculiar idea to move the The battle at Caporetto on the Isonsupply lines underground—deep into zo, however, would eventually wipe the belly of the ice. By 1917 an entire out whatever gains the Italians had village had been created, consisting finally achieved in the Dolomites after of a five-mile long network of tunnels years of fighting, mining, and dying. and caverns up to 120 feet below the Facing the possibility of being cut off surface. The soldiers moved not only by the quickly advancing Austrian and through the glacier, they also literally German troops, Italy had to withdraw moved in. The excavations and shafts all the way back to the Piave River. It even received names. There was “The took the Italians a full year to recover Dome” or “Kärntnerstrasse,” evidently from the blow, and to achieve victory reminding the soldiers of home. But against the exhausted Central Powers life in the glacier, while protected from in the last massive battle at Vittorio shells and machine guns, was also perVeneto in October and November of ilous. Soldiers disappeared in crevasses 1918. But when triumph was finally in or suffered from rheumatism, gout, and Italy’s hands, it would soon be labeled joint pain due to the cold and humid a “mutilated victory” by one of its more climate inside the ice. notorious poets, Gabriele D’Annunzio. Engineering proved its most The stage would soon be set for the invasive and nature-altering when fascists under Mussolini to take further it resorted to blowing up mountainsteps towards expanding Italy’s vital tops alongside enemy positions that space. seemed otherwise impenetrable. The political, cultural, and environWith the fronts petrifying into trench mental fallout of the war was severe. warfare, combatants turned to digThe characteristic postwar consequencging mineshafts deep into the rocks es of economic exhaustion, starvaand underneath enemy fortifications. tion, disease, and mass death among A large chamber was then filled the civilian population (an estimated with explosives that would blow FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

23


E S S A Y 600,000 Italians died) were profound. Borders were redrawn and ethnic conflicts ensued, especially in South Tyrol. Woodrow Wilson’s insistence on selfdetermination as a pre-condition for a lasting and just peace did not serve the German-speaking majority in the lands south of the Brenner Pass. During the 1920s, the Italians would launch a harsh and at times violent Italianization campaign under men like Ettore Tolomei that attempted to undo hundreds of years of cultural traditions. South Tyrol had to become Italian by whatever means possible. Not only pan-German nationalists like Fritz Weber or Anton Graf Bossi-Fedrigotti were outraged, dreaming up visions of redemption for the supposedly German lands south of the new border. Hitler and Mussolini,

facing the need to affiliate for geopolitical reasons, set the South Tyrol question aside only as late as 1939 when both dictators provided the population with the choice to either leave South Tyrol for Germany or to become fully and irrevocably Italian. Dictators came and went, but the South Tyrol question did not go away. The realities created during the First World War remained after the Second. South Tyrol became an international issue, eventually leading to terrorist attacks in the late 1960s in the name of liberating South Tyrol. Today, due to the involvement of The Court of Justice in The Hague as well as the fact that the European Union has done away with its borders, the region is not only Italy’s wealthiest province, but also one that enjoys a high degree of autonomy. Yet questions of national identity and tensions remain to this day.

IWM (Q25946)

The Battle of Vittorio Veneto, October-November 1918. http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/2143

24

WEBER

The cultural fallout of the war in Germany unfolded when both literature and cinema identified the ‘White War’ for audiences eager to lick their wounds. The culture of defeat in Austria/Germany produced at least three films in the early to mid 1930s that remembered war in the South Tyrolean mountains, beginning with Luis Trenker’s Berge in Flammen (The Doomed Battalion, 1931) and, only one year after, Der Rebell (The Rebel, 1932). The latter revisited the story of the Tyrolean Andreas Hofer, leader of the rebellion against Napoleonic and Bavarian oppression in 1809. Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels was ecstatic over what unfolded on the movie screen,

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


henceforth using Trenker’s picture as a with Trenker. Instead of Fanck’s film, model for the future of film. Goebbels’ Weimar audiences enjoyed Trenker’s diary entry dating January 19, 1933 creation. His war film stood in stark (less than two weeks before Hitler was contrast to the antiwar films of the sworn in as Chancellor of Germany by previous year, both G.W. Pabst’s WestPresident Paul front 1918 and Lewis von Hindenburg), Milestone’s All Quiet on reads: “In the the Western Front (1930). evening a movie. Where Pabst and MileLuis Trenker, Der stone rendered futile Rebell. A masteranonymous slaughter piece.... Hitler is in the fields of Flanders, blown away.” Trenker discovered The story’s heroic individualism 20th century counand steadfast camaraterpart was on derie in the Dolomites. display in Berge Berge in Flammen in Flammen and was a phenomenal would become success and cemented cinematic history Trenker’s star status only after a plagiafor years to come. The rism suit between ensuing discourse conTrenker, on cerning the whose novel by war in the the same name mountains the movie was progressivebased, and Dr. ly pushed a Arnold Fanck, pan-German the German program that pioneer of the entertained mountain film the idea of genre in Weimar a return of Germany durSouth Tyrol ing the turbulent to Austria/ 1920s. Fanck, too, Germany. was interested The Nazis Luis Trenker as Florian Dimai in Berge in Flammen, 1931. themselves in banning the Alpine War on celluloid and raised the bar was working on a script that wove and produced Standschütze Bruggler Innerkofler, war, love, and espionage (Militiaman Bruggler, 1936) only a few together into a gripping (and faryears later. Mountains and climbing fetched) story. The female lead of what as central features of the traditional was supposed to become Die Schwarze mountain film fall more and more by Katze (The Black Cat) was to be played the wayside, serving as a mere physical by Leni Riefenstahl, impersonating illustration of a homeland justifiably Innerkofler’s daughter Christel. Yet defended by unpretentious and sincere the courts thought otherwise, siding local militiamen. As so many other

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

25


E S S A Y propagandistic pictures of the time, mountains and mountaineering were the film creates an entertaining tale of increasingly discussed as a national war and loyal service for a pan-German sanatorium for the defeated and trunfatherland. Most certainly, the Austrocated German nation and, by extenGerman solidarity behind a shared sion, the individual. Critics identified machine gun that ultimately repels climbing as a therapy towards future the Italian attack on the movie screen German greatness and the restoration could, in 1936, also be read as a warnof a virile masculinity lost in defeat. ing to Italy. The climbers of the so-called Munich Last, but not least, School, men like Wilthe experience of helm (Willo) Welzenwar in the Alps also bach or Willy Merkl, The experience of war in the affected alpinism looked at the Alps itself. The mountain anew and focused Alps also affected alpinism climber had given on dangerous new itself. The mountain climber birth to the mountain routes up familiar warrior, and the latter had given birth to the mountains. never really left the Hardship, danmountain warrior, and the heights thereafter. The ger, and a readiness latter never really left the ice pick was replaced to sacrifice one’s life heights thereafter. The ice pick became accepted by the rifle, then reinstated again. In a great was replaced by the rifle, then trademarks of scaling number of publicatreacherous north reinstated again. In a great tions after the conflict faces in the 1920s. The number of publications after the Alps were turned Nordwand (North into monuments, and Face, nicknamed the conflict the Alps were climbing became ever ‘Mordwand’ or ‘murturned into monuments, and more militarized and der wall’) of the Eiger climbing became ever more tied into both the rise turned into a national of nationalism and a obsession after 1933, militarized and tied into both quest for redemption claiming the lives of the rise of nationalism and or national regeneramany of the best cona quest for redemption or tion. Gustav Müller’s temporary climbers. “The Mountains and So did the Himalayas. national regeneration. their Meaning for the While the British Rebirth of the German repeatedly went to Nation,” published in Everest with war veteran George Malthe journal of the German and Austrian lory before disaster struck in 1924, the Alpine Club in 1922, might be paradigGermans hurled themselves three times matic for this trend. The essay reverberat another 8,000m giant, Kanchenjunga, ates a deep sense of crisis and considers between 1929 and 1931, then four times the mountains as an educational tool of at the ‘naked mountain’ Nanga Parbat central virtues: struggle, duty, camarathroughout the 1930s under the leaderderie, challenge, courage, and sacrifice. ship of men like Merkl and Paul Bauer One could argue that after the failure (and with the strong backing of the to expand outwardly during the war, Nazi regime). But Germany’s ‘Mounthe conquering of the interior unfolded: tain of Destiny’ claimed life after life

26

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


a staggering 31 climbers and Sherpas perished before the Austrian Hermann Buhl succeeded in a solo-attempt on July 3, 1953. Returned together with the anniversary of the war and its conserved victims have also and again numerous cinematic commemorations of the conflict. Two feature films reached smallish audiences in the spring of 2014, Ernst Gossner’s Der Stille Berg (The Silent Mountain) as well as Hubert Schönegger’s Tränen der Sextner Dolomiten (Tears of the Sextner Dolomites). They are, sadly, symptomatic for our apparent 21st century inability to depict war as the gruesome experience it is, devoid of sentimentality and loaded with pain and waste. Both pictures weave heart-rending stories of love. In the first film, an Austrian-Italian-American co-production, we are encouraged to

cry alongside the forbidden affection between the Austrian “Anderl” and his young Italian lover, “Francesca.” In the second, it is the love and competition of two militiamen for “Anna,” the gorgeous daughter of a doctor that propels the plot forward. The clichéd soap-opera formula around forbidden yet ultimately culture-uniting or remedial love is oddly reminiscent of how unified Germany has recently recalled other historical experiences of mass violence, for example the bombing of its cities by Allied air forces or the expulsion of ethnic Germans after the Second World War at the hand of Soviet forces, in television mega events such as Dresden (2006) and Die Flucht (March of Millions, 2007). Whether this kind of reoccurrence of history is for better or worse is an open question, or perhaps simply a matter of taste.

Wilfried Wilms (wwilms@du.edu) is Associate Professor of German Studies at the University of Denver (PhD, Indiana University, 2000). He has published on German intellectual history and on literature and film. His research focuses on the history, memory, and representation of war/conflict in literature and film. He is the editor of German Postwar Films: Life and Love in the Ruins (​New York: Palgrave 2008) and Bombs Away: Representing the Air War over Europe and Japan ​(​Amsterdam: Rodopi 2006​)​. Currently, he is working on a book project that discusses the Weimar "Mountain Film" of the 1920s and early 1930s in the context of World War I, the ensuing affect of defeat, and the militarization of alpinism after the war.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

27


F I C T I O N

Trevor Conway

Lansha's Way

S

he sees the horizon as a stretch mark along the sky. Waves darken in thin strips below. Her focus snaps to a smudge on the windscreen. Two plaited pigtails arc from her temples, tied together at the back of her head. She jerks the car into gear, revs. It lifts like a simmering pot lid. The handbrake slams down hard. Spinning tires shave Free Images strips off the grass. She pulls from first to third. The cliff edge is twenty metres away. No need to reach for fourth. Just as it did a year before, sweat oozes out in a cold instant. How well has she thought this through? The face of her daughter flashes through her mind. She stamps on the brake. The car slides much further than she expects. It slows to a stop at the cliff edge, its front sniffing the salt of the sea. The water’s high, she thinks. She feels the ground give way. The car noses down, its windscreen zooming in on the water like a camera lens in an action film. At the moment of impact, her forearms shield her from the hardness of the steering wheel. Strange as it seems, the strength of the sea offers comfort, holding the car’s weight. She sees water rushing in over the bonnet, hears it lurking all around her, almost chattering. As the car drops, she pulls at the door handle. But she knows it’ll be impossible until the car fills with water, the pressure equal on both sides of the glass. Wet to her waist, the coldness of the water drags the breath out of her. She leans to the passenger side, gorging on a shrinking pocket of air with pulsing nostrils. In a matter of seconds, her pigtails rise. Her last breath is a long one. The car rests on the sand. The door won’t open. She kicks at the glass, thinking she’ll die with air available just a few feet above her head. She can see the sun quiver


through the water, a circle of melting butter. She finds some give in the door, shoves it with her shoulder and springs off the back door. Still a distance from the surface, her stomach begins to convulse. She kicks and flails, trying to slow the stream of bubbles from her mouth. But her body won’t let her. The last bubbles trail away. Her head penetrates the surface. The first breath is wonderful, though the air stings her throat. She hangs in the water. Her body wants more, but there’s no time for that now. She swims for the shore, stumbles out of the surf. Water drips like cobwebs from her arms and legs, her nose, hair and chin. Her face sinks into the sand. She pictures the envelope she angled against the TV, the name “Carrie” scribbled on it. What will her daughter do when she finds it, she wonders? If she phones her grandparents, the social workers would surely visit again. This time, they might not be so sympathetic. She gouges two fistfuls of sand, pushes herself up. I’m sorry tiger. I didn’t want to put you through this again. But this time it’s for real Carrie sits on a swing in the back garden. Her eyes are closed, hands pressed together. She hums a tune, imagines herself walking down a church aisle. Her eyes open. She notices the light shining through the daffodil heads, illuminating their petals like a boulevard of street lamps. The last is dull and ragged, vandalised by the shade. She steps off the swing, walking to the centre of the garden, where she drops. She presses her lips together to kiss a bending blade of grass. What time is it? she wonders. Her mother is always home when she returns from school. She wanders around the garden with her hand across her cheek. A copybook lies open on the ground. She steps on the corner, leaving a bony fossil print. Words such as “excellent” and “great work” brighten the pages with red ink. She has stared at these words many times before. Her homework is usually preceded by some procrastination, but not this much. She walks around the garden again, her head lowered. It was unlike her mother not to let her know she’d be late. By the fence, she notices an uneven hump in the grass. She pulls at it. A sod comes up. It has an odd kind of weight, flopping to the ground. In the hollow, she finds a dirty, metal container. There’s a bag of white powder. Some powder is caked into the edges of the container. She presses it onto the tip of her finger. I know it sounds strange, but I did this because I love you Behind Lansha, a row of cars crawls along the road. Horns moan at various pitches. “Get off the road!” one man shouts. Lansha keeps running. Her wet clothes make it harder. A sudden swerve takes her

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

29


F I C T I O N up a driveway, round the back of a white house. Clothes hang crucified from the line. Lansha pulls off a few, takes them to the side of the house. It takes a great effort to drag her heavy clothes over her head. Naked, her legs are long and muscular, her thighs smooth as submarines. The blue shorts she steps into are tight. She buttons a purple shirt over her breasts, designed to fit snugly to a man’s chest. As she looks down at her cast-off garments, she wonders what triggered this latest episode. She has no idea. I wrote you a letter coz I know you’ll have some questions to ask The city seems a great big obstacle. Pigeons flutter away over shoulders as Lansha comes near. Traffic lights halt her progress. A bike is propped against a stand full of bananas, its bar scabbed with dark rust. She pedals down the path. A man in a shapeless, off-white T-shirt shouts, running after her with a bag of grapes. She stabs her thumb at the gears. The chain’s too loose. Pedestrians lunge out of her way. She turns into an alley, but the man in the T-shirt is faster. He pulls her to the ground, ripping a button off her shirt. She feels the slime of squashed grapes under her back. He raises his fist. Lansha eyes the jagged silhouette of his knuckles, and half relishes the impact. “Why did you take my bike?” he says. “I just saw it.” “So, it’s okay to steal something just because you saw it?” “I’m sorry. I needed it.” “You’re lucky you didn’t do it to somebody else.” He eases off her. Lansha wobbles to her feet. She can still smell his sweet scent mixed with sweat. Please don’t hate me. And please don’t do anything bad to yourself. You’ll feel better again sometime. I promise. It just takes time She sprints past the university’s grey, ivy-bearded buildings, between lines of ambling students. She collides with a tall man in a long leather coat. “Lansha!” He helps her up. “Are you okay?” “Professor.” Her voice is breathy. “How have you been?” A smile forms as he takes in her attire. His left hand is malformed, barely able to clasp his folder. “I’m good. I’m good. But I have to—” “Hold on. Are you gonna come back to us or not? I sent you some emails.” “I don’t know. I didn’t get them.” “What good’s an unfinished PhD?” “I know.” “You could always come back and teach some classes, undergrads. There’d be some money in it. Not a huge amount, but pretty good for the work involved.”

30

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


“I’ll think about it. I have to…I might go back to Germany.” “To study?” “Just…someplace new. Anyway—” “Lansha, can I ask you a question?” “What?” “Is everything okay?” “Yeah, fine.” “You know, there’s great scope for your paper. I mean that. It’s not something I say to most students. And there’s so much interest in biochemical resources now. Really, it’s silly to just leave it as it is.” The mixture of hope and disappointment on his face is too much for Lansha. Look, just fuck off. I’m not interested, she wants to say. Instead, she pushes past him, thinking it best to shout back some explanation: “I need to go! Sorry. My daughter’s at home on her own!” I was never a good mother, Carrie. I know that. I just wasn’t born that way Carrie holds the cocaine under her nose. The garden feels colder now. She drops the metal box, taking the bag with her. Picking up her copybooks, she runs to the kitchen. Up on the window sill, she sees past the raindrops on the glass. There’s something very wrong, she feels. She sees her mother’s phone on top of the microwave. Her chest heaves. She smacks the glass repeatedly and then imagines her mother returning: “What was I supposed to think, after the last time?” she shouts. “And I know what you have hidden in the garden. I should go to live with Grandma and Grandpa!” She walks to the TV room. Her mother’s collection of vinyl records is stacked along the wall. She bends down to comb through the covers. Lansha’s letter sits nearby. Carrie pulls out a record, sets it spinning. Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” kicks into life at full volume. In the bathroom, Carrie presses the towel to her eyes. She takes the bag of cocaine from her pocket and throws it hard into the sink. It splits, a fine white dust thrown up. I know you’ll blossom into a beautiful woman some day. That’s my biggest regret, not seeing it. But I know you’ll be okay Lansha rounds the college fountain. Light raindrops pull goosebumps from the water. She hopes Carrie’s been in the garden all this time, but fears the rain might drive her inside. As Lansha moves deep into the suburbs, the rain thins and the sun emerges. Tears flow back toward her ears, catching the light like arms of barely visible glasses. The professor’s face comes back to her, a man who has more faith in her than her parents ever did. Maybe he’s right,

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

31


F I C T I O N she thinks. Maybe she could return to college, finish her PhD. Another year of hard work, and she could shape up her paper, maybe even produce a fine piece of research. She could get a new counsellor, refer to herself as a former addict. The thought makes her smile, turning onto the street and seeing her house up ahead. I will, she decides. I’ll go in on Monday and see if I can go back to where I left off. And this is the last time I’ll do this to Carrie. I’ll promise her. The front door is open. Van Morrison sings of midnight. Lansha calls Carrie, but there’s no reply. She takes the needle off the groove, calls her daughter again. She picks up the envelope. There are no smudges, no obvious signs of disturbance, yet she feels certain it’s been moved. She calls again from the hallway. The bathroom door is closed. She knocks. “Carrie, you in there?” She knocks again, tries the door handle. It’s locked. The toilet flushes. Carrie comes out, her eyes red. “Hey, tiger. You okay?” “I was in the garden. The hay fever.” “Oh, that’s starting up again. Sorry I’m late.” “Why are you wearing those clothes?” Lansha looks down, throws out her arms to admit that she has no answer. “What’ve you been up to?” Lansha asks. “Reading. Why are you so sweaty?” “Oh, what did you read?” “Different things. You look awf–” “Did you do your homework?” “Yes. And I got yesterday’s results.” “What?” “Two ten-outta-tens.” “Well done. Did you do gym today?” “No.” “It’s important to be active.” “I sat on the swing,” Carrie retorts. She raises her finger, displaying a daisy ring. “Look, I’m married to the garden!” There’s something odd about the way she looks at her mother. “Oh, don’t be so childish. You hungry?” Lansha asks. “Sure. I guess so.” “Why don’t you start the dinner.” She follows Carrie into the kitchen. “There’s mushrooms, peppers and onions in the basket. We can have fajitas,” she says. Carrie slices a pepper down the middle. Lansha leaves to place the letter in a drawer in her room. When she returns, Carrie is peeling a carrot with long, measured strokes. “You’re putting in carrot?” Lansha remarks.

32

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


“I like carrots.” “We’ll have to fry them well.” Carrie cuts thin, round slices, some of which roll off the chopping board. “So, where did you go?” she asks. “Just here and there.” “Here and there,” Carrie mutters. “You didn’t mind being on your own, did you?” Carrie looks out the window. The raindrops have almost faded. She turns to her mother. “Where’s your car?” she asks.

Trevor Conway, a Sligoman living in Galway since 2005, writes mainly poetry, fiction and songs. His work has appeared in magazines and anthologies across Ireland, Austria, the UK, the US and Mexico, where his poems have been translated into Spanish. These publications include ROPES, Decanto, Read This, Fusion, The Literary Yard, Cuadrivio, Periodico de Poesia, Poetic Expressions and Poetry Salzburg Review. He has an MA in Writing from NUI Galway. He is a contributing editor for The Galway Review, and his first collection of poems is due in November 2015 from Salmon Poetry.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

33


P O E T R Y

Connolly Ryan

Impossible to Paint, Nature Persists That stillness that fills you larger than up, smaller than down, like circles of ducks upon circles—micro-replicas of any inkling imagined or un-, awash with motionlessness and the commotion thereof. The way the illumined blob of sunlight elongates in increments across the lake is miraculous. It’s as if God is inside everything that is outside. Today in Boston a pair of bombs at the Marathon finish-line— shattered glass, splattered blood— left three dead, a hundred wounded, de-limbed and counting— the city and the terror of its ways. But here in Look Park, a beaver nibbles for decades on a long twig, rapid twitchy lovebites creating tiny plosions in the water, then a bird-blur, possibly a phoebe, snags a dragonfly in the throes of aerial cursive. News of the blast creeps through the park, insinuating its menace upon the pastoral strollers— rumors of terror,

Kristin Jackson


homegrown or imported, possibly of cells, obligingly abound. But the ducks, the phoebe, the beaver (who, with a perfect oily sleek flip vanishes then resurfaces twenty yards away, new to itself) and the lake, with signature resignation, sustain their modest ecstasy, wisely oblivious to the spectacular unkindness unique to mankind: the only entity to whom God and Love are intangible.

And Now a Word From Our Refusal to Evolve The best worst time ever to be a human is the epoch in which the jackboot of hubris has Mother Nature writhing under its unrivaled arch: the last ten thousand years is about right. The idea that our planet is shedding precious species after precious species at a constant rate due to our own ungrounded fear of death (which is really a fear of life, whoa!) is just one of those things. Pardon the tangent, but sometimes being a gadfly on mankind’s testicles is not as enviable a task as it may sound. Socrates knew that what he didn’t know outweighed what he did know by a long shot, what he didn’t know was that that long shot would cross the finish-line of truth exactly at the same time that Nature would begin to irreversibly kick our asses with the same merciless abandon with which we ridiculously tried to kick her ass. Oh wait, Socrates DID know that. But did Jesus realize that of all God’s creatures it was man alone who was too incompetent (aka intoxicated by his own inflated sense of competence) to know HOW to live with an empowering sense of surrender, at the mercy of Nature’s laws, embracing not resisting Nature’s flaws? You bet your propellered skull-cap he did bucko!

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

35


P O E T R Y

Usufruct : the legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of something belonging to another On the prairie there is a loam pristine. Inside our heads too, though untapped. Minus the manufactured stress and surplus of disease and regret, hope persists, and Nature, the only genius, prevails. My heart goes out to the family farmer who, with a ledger to his head, produces compromise. Heart goes out to the farm animals whose function is a dreary extension of their own extinction. My heart goes out. My heart goes out. There it goes, out the window, over the avenues, past the coagulated populace, beyond the hijacking of coherence and defection of clarity, above the hypodermic playgrounds, scoliotic schoolyards, macerated meadows and consumptive summits— my heart goes—bobbling, bobbing, bobsledding now— landing finally, elevated at last, in and on and of the prairie. Inside my ready head a fractured harmony reconvenes: a John Coltrane meets Willa Cather affair— on the prairie a loam supreme.

Connolly Ryan was born in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1967. He is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he was thrice a finalist for the Distinguished Teaching Award. His poetry has been published in various journals including Bateau, Ditch, Umbrella, Citron, Satire, Scythe, Slope, Meat For Tea, Pannax Index, Satire and Old Crow. He is also a multiple Pushcart nominee. He has two finished manuscripts: Fort Polio and The Uncle Becky Chronicles.


P O E T R Y

Jan C. Minich

Winter Solstice

Dennis Udink

It isn’t hard to feel the drought that’s coming to this high desert, too many berries on the junipers, and the sage, with so little rain, still look healthy, though its tint of blue has darkened. Imagine back east, small explosions far down to the Marcellus shale, or the rusted-iron bear traps in a corner of an outbuilding where the winter solstice means nothing and goes unnoticed like a lowering lake level or a water turbine on a now stagnant river. Distance is only here on earth where there are no people and the only towns are small abandoned outposts on the edge of a vast wilderness.

Jan C. Minich lives in Wellington, Utah, hiking the canyons of the San Rafael part of the year, and the other part cruising Lake Superior in a small boat. He has published a book of poems, The Letters of Silver Dollar, and two chapbooks, History of a Drowning and Wild Roses, poems in the voices of women who ran with the Wild Bunch. His work has also appeared in over forty magazines. Former wilderness studies director and literature professor at Utah State University Eastern, he is now emeritus faculty.


Phred, acrylic, 36 x 36 in., 1990.


A R T

The

L A C I S IM

WH

work

of

r e g gin

wallace


Ginger Ellis Wallace was born in Ogden, Utah, in 1924 to parents Wallace and Gene Browning Ellis, who believed that a daily dose of laughter was required for one to remain healthy. Ginger thus filled her life with whimsical art, practical jokes, outrageous parties, and lots of family and friends. She attended the University of Utah before graduating with a BFA and MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago. She studied photography at the Chicago Institute of Design and Utah State University. While in Chicago in the early 1950s, she operated The 750 Studio, which exhibited the works of many local and national artists. Art was the center of her life. She painted in both abstract and realist styles; excelled in portraiture; sculpted in clay and paper mache; spent a summer in Taxco, Mexico, learning the marriage of metals; crafted jewelry from bronze, silver and enamel; and created 16 mm films to rival any insane French surrealist. After marrying Bob Wallace, she moved to San Diego, where they reared their children, Janet Wallace, Matthew Wallace, and Sally (Scott) Browning, immersed in humor and color. Her final one-person show, Ginger Wallace: Her Art, Her Wit and Relationships, was held at the San Diego Art Institute in 2007. Ginger Wallace passed away in 2010.

Young Self Portrait, oil, 19 3/4 x 13 1/4 in., 1940.


Everyone had heard about the fabulous, seldom-held Rock Garden Tea Party, and wanted to be invited. Unfortunately, because of a limited rock supply, only a very select few were invited, watercolor, 12 x 10 in., 2005.

FALL 2015

41


Portrait with Plastic Sunglasses, acrylic, mixed, 24 1/2 x 30 3/4 in., 1989.

Self Portrait as a Professional Native Flamenco Dancer, photograph, 2 3/4 x 3 1/2 in., 1987.


Self Portrait as Goya’s Two Portraits of the Duchess of Alba, mixed media, 2 1/2 x 3 1/4 in., 1987.

A very tasty picture form the National Archives on the Important History of the Root Beer Soda, watercolor, 12 x 10 in., 2005.

FALL 2015

43


Mom Throwing Chocolate Cake, gouache, 22 x 13 3/4 in., 1952.


Lady on a Navajo Rug with Oranges, ceramic, 3 1/2 x 9 x 10 in., 1985.

The Family Slide, ceramic and wood, 10 x 10 1/2 x 5 in., 1985.

FALL 2015

45


Shapes, acrylic, 5 x 7 in., 1943

Dog Pin, enamel and copper, 2 x 1/2 in., 1955


Dancing Girl, oil, 25 x 17 in., 1949.


Tea Party Set, sculpture mixed media, 21 x 20 x 13 1/2 in., 1970. Detail. From the Turkish Sultan Series: The Banquet, watercolor, 8 1/2 x 9 3/4 in., 1988.

Fowl Tea Set, ceramic creamer, 10 x 5 1/2 x 5 in., 1982.

FALL 2015

48


P O E T R Y

Dave Nielsen

Metamorphosis Spring, in the foothills of the Uintah Mountains I meet a bear that has come down to eat what I suppose bears eat— the pink and purple wild flowers? the sweet baby leaves of the aspens? I’ve been spotting its scat for days: not the smooth marble pellets of deer.

Dennis Udink

A more ominous pile, and claw marks in the soft yellow heart of a pine. Male? Female? I wouldn’t know— think of a dog, but bigger. Think un-interpretable dark eyes. Imagine thick fur spiking, tongue like flypaper. Say the word beast. Try sucking on a leaf: no thought but instinct. Whatever you came down for you’ll carry back in your teeth or not at all.

Monica Linford

Dave Nielsen was born in Salt Lake City. He earned a master’s degree in English from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. Currently he teaches writing at Xavier University. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Parnassus, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and other magazines.


E S S A Y

Barry Laga

Swapping Memories

M

emory can be like a long, halflit tunnel, a tunnel where one is likely to encounter phantoms of a self, long concealed, no longer nourished with the force of consciousness, existing in a tortured state between life and death. —Susan Griffin, Chorus of Stones

My dad adored swap meets, but local events didn’t offer enough for a connoisseur of the used, the discarded, the botched. On warm Sunday mornings, my dad would drive 40 miles to the Redwood Drive-in Theatre in Salt Lake City, home to the valley’s largest swap meet, a grand gathering of vendors and scavengers, white seagulls and black crickets. The rest of us would plant ourselves in golden oak church pews until we returned home to a backyard covered in debris. The contrast gave me whiplash. I spent my morning listening to well-meaning adults with a passion for self-denial, discipline, and reverence, but my backyard offered a different ethos. My dad’s purchases testified to the pleasure of impulse, accumulation, and surreal logic. I imagined my dad hovering around a battered cardboard table, its legs buckling under the weight of chipped plaster Visitor7

lamps, yellowed photo albums, and rusted, pitted, Folger’s coffee cans full of well-used and mismatched nuts, bolts, screws, and washers. My dad, I’m sure, would pick up something that caught his eye, say, a bicycle sprocket, and turn it over and over in his grease-stained hands, speculating on its potential as he checked the teeth for excessive wear. “I’m sure I can find a use for it,” he might say, and pay the vendor fifteen cents as a touch of old transmission fluid wafts from the next table. While my dad’s sense of utility differed from ours, he shared our quest for order. Spying from the kitchen window, I couldn’t help but notice a modern Carl Linnaeus classifying each hubcap, radiator hose, and deflated football into its proper kingdom, phy-


FALL 2015

WEBER

seams or loose caps. Turpentine now competed with the smell of our lilac trees. Layers of paint clung to palette knives. Oils, acrylics, watercolors, stiff and frayed camel-hair brushes, broken pastels, crushed charcoals, and blackened and blunted blending stumps. The sheer number of items appealed to me. Winnowing the wheat from the chaff offers its own secret pleasure.

§

lum, genus, or species. But his desire to order and redeem these orphaned objects also reminded me of the stories of lost sheep, coins, and prodigal sons I just learned about in church. I imagined my dad approaching these drivein theaters in his sea-foam green, 1949 Studebaker truck, paying his five dollars, and then walking the aisles in pursuit of undervalued merchandise the way Jesus would seek soggy fishermen, lepers, and prostitutes. To the bowling ball with holes drilled for another man, my dad would command, “Come follow me.” For a twelve-year-old son of a steel mill machinist, I had an overdeveloped bourgeois aesthetic. I knew these newly redeemed objects were kitsch. The growing accumulation of tennis rackets, fly-wheels, and hand-saws embarrassed me. Despite my aversion, I have to admit I was curious, so I would wander outside to take a peek. Most of the items only appealed to my dad: a rusted clutch from a 1963 Ford Fairlane, a piston for a Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine, an ice auger without a handle. But every now and then he bought something for me that I tried to accept as coolly as I could. A stamp set. A badminton racket with authentic pigeon shuttle-cocks. Old oil paints. Those oil paints were a nice gesture because my mom was the one who drove me to community art class. Before I even saw the paints, I rubbed my fingers over the wooden box with its dovetail joints and tarnished lacquer finish. The box offered authenticity, unlike the mouse-gray plastic paint sets sold at K-Mart. As I opened the lid, I disguised my disappointment. Instead of bright shiny tubes, plump with burnt sienna, titanium white, or yellow ochre, I found a melange of tubes, sticky with oil that leaked through

I stumble upon a box of old 5.25inch floppies. Using my pants to rub off the dust, I remember too late that static electricity can scramble the ones and zeros. The seams on the black disk are detached in spots, much like a poorly sealed envelope. I take care not to touch the part of the disk exposed by the window. I’m holding a holy relic. When I find someone who still has a computer with a 5.25 inch drive, I insert the disk, but the disk bends, a fragile record not meant to last. I probably destroy more ones and zeros. I copy the files onto a 3.5-inch disk and return to my computer. The drive whirrs as I gloss the files and discover an unsent letter I composed twelve years after the divorce. Two sentences awkwardly attempt to extend a hand: I no longer have the ill feelings I used to harbor. Again, I am still confused about many aspects of our relationship, but I no longer feel any animosity towards you.

But another two pull it back: I realize that a simple letter cannot undo years of separation. I am realistic enough to know that even if we wanted to, we could not simply forget the past, close the gap, and move on.

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

51


E S S A Y My letter, stored in binary code, is never sent and never arrives.

§

FALL 2015

WEBER

I no longer have the ill feelings I used to harbor. Again, I am still confused about many aspects of our relationship, but I no longer feel any animosity towards you. our faux-wood paneled Ford station wagon, conducting her own perverse vigil as she awaited the bridegroom. The vinyl seats were now cool and smooth and brittle after being roasted by the summer sun, her eyes focused on the carved double doors with thin iron handles, a Spanish villa parody. As dancers opened the door, a flash of light would alert my mom as she inevitably asked herself, “Is that Frank?” When he did leave, with a woman clinging to his left arm, my mom made him sleep on the living room couch. I don’t recall how long the entire process took, from her late night vigils to sweeping him out the door. An uneasy silence settled on our home because I didn’t want to open graves, despite the embarrassing body parts that worked their way to the top of the soil.

§

Third Sunday of June: Father’s Day. I call my sister. Our dad comes up in conversation, bobbing to the surface, only partly present because I haven’t seen him since my parents divorced, some 25 years or so ago. Oddly enough, I don’t really remember the last day I saw him, no specific moment to lament or revere. I can’t circle a date on a calendar in Day-Glo orange or place crooked ivory tapers in a half-circle. The ambiguous date prevents an annual hike to the top of a nearby mountain to toss those sticky tubes of paint. I lack a ritual. The divorce was underway when I was in high school. We traveled to the courthouse every now and then, but I forget why. We waited outside the judge’s chamber in a long, sterile hallway, interrupted by dark oak benches placed outside heavy oak doors, with uniform off-white linoleum tile under our feet. White plastic signs flagged each door. Wingtip shoes offered an occasional click-squish as charcoalgray suits walked by, leaving a contrail of Brut. An older brother was there, but we didn’t testify or answer any questions a judge might pose. I suppose we were there to support my mom or antagonize my dad. My dad behaved badly. He would attend dances without my mom and leave with women from the greatest generation, returning home in the wee hours of the morning. My mom lacked the nerve to act until she was certain, so she began to follow him. She sat in her car for hours waiting for him to leave the dance hall. I imagine her sitting uncomfortably in

The drive whirrs as I gloss the files and discover an unsent letter I composed twelve years after the divorce. Two sentences awkwardly attempt to extend a hand:

My dad’s absence doesn’t provoke any emotion or movement, no stick in my ribs, no tickle in my throat. I

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

52


feel the need or desire. I am, however, admittedly curious to see what he looks like. I prefer to go to a viewing, the corpse encased in slick white satin, the pale cheeks covered with a pasty orange known to the undertaker as “flesh tone,” the eyes and mouth sewn shut. I want to look, but I don’t want the gaze returned.

§

don’t say to myself, “That poor old man… I need to call him up.” Nor do I say, “That bastard. I hope he rots in hell.” I’ve never made an effort to contact my dad, but guilt doesn’t burden me, weigh on me, or push me around. Besides, he has a phone, too. He knows how to write a letter. My memories of him just gather dust on a flimsy shelf, inert, unmoved, like the hollow plastic flamingo in our sheet-metal utility shed purchased at a swap meet. But can I be that numb, that empty of sensation? Why am I taking time to write about my dad? Does a blank white page invite black letters? Does nature really abhor a vacuum? And yet, “making sense” of the past suggests a fabricated resurrection, a synthetic memory, a kind of prosthetic limb for a gimpy leg or a glass eye that sees nothing. Flannery O’Connor insists that “no writer is a pessimist; the very act of writing is an optimistic act. I think of it primarily as a gesture of sympathy.” Writing of his own father, Paul Auster tells us that, “Instead of burying my father for me, these words have kept him alive, perhaps more so than ever.” Or maybe we write about the absent for the same reason we build monuments to the fallen. The initial impulse to memorize events, James Young reminds us, “may actually spring from an opposite and equal desire to forget them.” My wife asks me if I will ever visit my dad. I don’t

This narrative is, of course, so clichéd. Ruminating on coming of age novels, John Barth asks, “Is anything more tiresome, in fiction, than the problems of sensitive adolescents?” The same is surely true of sons who write about their fathers. How many sons seek their fathers in a search for origins and identity? Oh how Sophoclean! Is this the moment when I confront the Father, assert my virility, kill him, and sleep with my mother? I feel so dirty. The search embarrasses me, and the narrative doesn’t satisfy. I lay it aside. The book of Genesis tells us that knowledge brings pain and sorrow. Adam and Eve provide the foundation of textbook writing prompts that ask students to write personal essays that end up becoming “sadder but wiser” narratives. We move from naiveté to enlightenment, child to adult. This newfound wisdom separates us from others, yet we romanticize the transcendent, albeit poor, suffering, brooding, sensitive, and alienated artist, drenched in sweat. This narrative doesn’t satisfy either. I lay it aside.

Adam and Eve after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Courtesy Karen Watson

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

53


E S S A Y

§ As I walk down the dirt path, I’m drawn toward a table sagging under the weight of books, papers, and albums. I gloss the table with my fingers, lightly touching every cracked plate, misshapen saw, and rusted milk can as if to confirm what I see. Instead of hand-sewn, leather-bound tomes, I see nothing but torn copies of Popular Mechanics and National Geographic, paperbacks whose gum bindings are losing grip on their stained pages, and photo albums whose black and white prints now slide around like a loose deck of cards, the carefully licked corners having parted company from the heavyweight black paper that helped anchor them in time. This fragile tower collapses into old postcards whose stamps have been soaked off and calendars with 1950 pin-ups that require the lifting of a tinted transparency to peek at excessively plump and perky, color-saturated breasts. I notice an address book, filled with names, addresses, and phone numbers. Who would buy another person’s address book? I pick up the thin, faux-leather volume. The pages still cling to the binding, but the threads have grown thin over the years, allowing the

pages to extend beyond the hard cover. Humid climates or wet countertops have created stiff, rippled pages. Errant drops of water have caused individual letters and numbers to spread like stars. A whiff of mold reminds me of clothes stored away in a damp closet. As I turn the pages, my children’s pleas to keep moving become distant echoes. Names have been crossed out and replaced with others. Faded blue fountain-pen script overlaps excessively tight, black, ball-point pen scribbles that overlap left-leaning penciled notes. I read the marginalia jotted next to entries. The traces of previous writing persist… a palimpsest, of sorts. The book testifies to layers and layers of code, lost connections, and displaced yet visible, misshapen memory, a textual Osiris in need of an Isis. I look for a chair and find a faded yellow, cotton-stuffed children’s version of a grown-up rocker. I sit beside the vendor’s table and read, no longer looking or wandering about. I have no use for the address book, its pages saturated with script, but I’m content enough to sit, conjuring connections, deciphering the traces of memory, separating the wheat from the chaff, the kernel from the husk, as a touch of old transmission fluid wafts from the next table.

Barry Laga (Ph.D., Purdue University) lives in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he teaches American literature, literary theory, and film studies at Colorado Mesa University. A recipient of two Fulbright Lectureships (Antwerp and Leipzig), Barry has published an eclectic assortment of articles on topics that range from Native American fiction and contemporary film to avantgarde comix, religious monuments, and experimental literature.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

54


P O E T R Y

Dinitia Smith

The Great Grigsbys Many American families trace their ancestry to John Grigsby who settled in this country at a very early day… [The Grigsbys] have been noted for their refined tastes, gracious manners, broad mindedness and liberality, and entire absence of anything like narrow clannishness, in religion or political matters, and for unswerving devotion to the interests of higher education. —From the story of the John Grigsby family, written by his descendant, Henrietta Hamilton McCormick, in 1897

John Grigsby of St. Paul’s Parish, Stafford County, Virginia being in good health and sensible of the uncertainty of this mortal life on March 17, 1728, did make his last will and testament —in the name of God, Amen!— dividing up his 800 acres, his hogs, cattle and his Negroes among his six children. To his son, John, Junior, Grigsby left a tract of land extending from the branch of the spring to the upper corner tree by William Smith’s old fields. He also gave John three Negroes— the word “Negro” capitalized— their names: Sambo, Dick and Thom. To his second son, Charles, Grigsby gave land from the swamp to Mr. Chandler Fowkes’ line. Plus, Charles got two Negroes, Robin and James. Grigsby gave no land to his daughter, Mary. But he did give her four Negroes, Jeremy, Will, Toney and Bess. Grigsby gave his third son, James, the land from Jones Branch up to the Spring Branch and three Negroes, Jack, Ben, and Ball.


P O E T R Y And likewise to his son, William, Grigsby gave the land from the Spring Branch up to John, Junior’s land. And three Negroes, one named Allow, (a careless name. Possibly the Negro had repeated over and over again, “Sir, will you allow me,” or, “Sir, if I am allowed…” and Grigsby had simply thrown that name at him. ) The other two Negroes were named Jane and Grace. To his youngest child, Thomas, Grigsby gave the remainder of his land from the end of Wolf Pit Point up to Jones Branch and three Negroes too, Nan, Genny and Mary. “And their unborn children,” Grigsby added. Thomas also got all his father’s hogs and half his cattle, the other animals to be divided among his other sons and his daughter. Thus, did John Grigsby, noted for his refined taste, gracious manners, broad mindedness, liberality and entire absence of narrow clannishness in religion and politics perpetuate his legacy on all of us, his descendants, descendants of those slaves having a least one drop of them within us.

Copy of the originial will of John Grigsby. Courtesy the Virginia County Circuit Court Archive.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

56


Poem for Teresa Knight on Setting Out to Find the Bodies of Her Murdered Children For two years you have pictured in your mind the rain and snow coming down on I.S. 80. You’re worried that the spring floods have swamped their graves, that when the new green appeared on the earth in that lonely place where he buried them, your children, Sarah and Philip, that the waters have broken apart their bodies and made them unrecognizable—when at last, at last, you find them. You say you don’t dream anymore. But now that the weather is warm again you must find them. I.S. 80 is your route, going west, looking, looking for five or six large cylinders, maybe sewage pipes a rocky mound, shade trees, a tall wire fence, a concrete platform, and, of all things, a water pump with a green lever. Manuel had had another defeat, fired again, and that meant he could lose them to you for good since the Court said in the divorce decree that to see them he had to have a job. After the fireworks display, Manuel and Sarah had a fight. Sarah didn’t meet up with Manuel as they’d planned, hadn’t charged her cell phone and Manuel couldn’t reach her . Philip defended her and Manuel yelled at them and the children cried. They got in the minivan and then Manuel shot them so that he would never, ever have to leave them again. And then he drove. He drove from Concord, New Hampshire, to Newburgh, New York, 245 miles. On to Emlenton, Pennsylvania, another 346 miles and to Grove City, 23 miles. At Grove City he bought the following: one pick-axe, plastic garbage bags and duct tape. And then somewhere between there and Iowa City he buried them. He said he used the duct tape to make crosses on their chests.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

57


P O E T R Y And so now you are setting out on your great journey. From what Manuel told the cops after they found him in California and before he shot himself: there is a place somewhere between Grove City and Iowa City off an exit, on a two-lane highway up a slope through an opening in tall grass. There, somewhere there it could be anywhere, maybe somewhere near a building, yellow or tan he said, near big trees like willows only with broader and darker leaves their limbs bending to the ground there, there, Manuel said, you will find your children.  

Dinitia Smith is the author of three novels, including The Illusionist (Scribner), a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, and she has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation and the McDowell Colony. She has also written the screenplays for several films, including Passing Quietly Through, which was chosen for presentation at the New York Film Festival, and she is the winner of an Emmy Award. Ms. Smith was a long-time culture correspondent for the New York Times. Her new novel, The Honeymoon (The Other Press), is scheduled for release in May 2016. These are her first published poems.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

58


F I C T I O N

Tom Cantwell

Country Fair

Tom Cantwell

H

enry strolled the path, savoring the moist earth beneath his bare feet. Sandals strapped to his belt for the Honey Buckets. Dappled shade of oak and maple, relief from the sun, though the upside to the heat was the quick shedding of clothes. Guys like Henry shirtless, girls stripped to bikini tops and bras. Three girls passing on the far side of the path flaunted bare painted breasts. Probably in high school, bouncing with interlocked hands, swirls of pink and fluorescent green highlighted with splashes of silver glitter swooping over and around their breasts. Henry flushed and looked away, them barely more than kids. “Mind if I take a picture?” A balding man with his own shirt off, white paunch beneath grey chest fuzz, expensive camera strapped around his neck. Henry paused, took a moment to make sense of the thin shaft of metal extending from one sleeve of his cargo shorts. An artificial leg capped with a sneaker matching the one on his good leg. The girls looked to each other and hurried away laughing. Henry felt bad for the guy, even if he was a pervert. He flashed on the girl from elementary school who came and went inside a month. They’d secretly called her Peg, some kind of birth defect, lumbering around like Captain Ahab. Henry had secretly found her pretty, wanted to be nice to her, knew all about teasing because of his birthmark. But she had left before he did anything nice. And now the man with the camera was looking at Henry’s birthmark.


F I C T I O N “May I?” he asked, gesturing with his camera. He acknowledged Henry’s green top hat, a St. Patrick’s Day score from Goodwill, minus the shamrock and buckle. There was also Henry’s mustache, slicked to fine points with High Life Stash Wax. Henry had spent all winter and spring growing a beard so he could shave it for this, his latest attempt to distract from the big birthmark on his right cheek, suddenly not so big compared to an artificial leg. “Sure.” The shutter snapped. The man smiled and strode confidently in the direction Henry had been going, his gait seamless. Impressive technology here at the cusp of the millennium, way better than whatever young Peg had kept hidden beneath her long pants in the late ’80s. Henry ambled by craft booths and noted photo ops: a male stilt walker dressed like Little Red Riding Hood, a middle-aged couple dressed like elves, three punkers with spiked mohawks. The getups streaming across the bridge at Jill’s Crossing: tie-dye and sun hats, Birkenstocks and tiaras, devil horns and kilts. Strawberry Lane, where the path opened with a view of the Long Tom River to his right. Henry paused to lean against the log fence and take it in. The water slow and brown, different than most Oregon rivers. He imagined the Long Tom creeping all the way up from the South, winding on itself like a bloated water moccasin, widening at the bend like a bulge in the snake’s midsection where it had swallowed a duck. The muddy banks were thick with deadfall, weathered limbs splayed like old bones. Insects screeched in the dry grasses, everything out there baking under the hot sun but surrounded by green trees and hills that hugged the valley. Distant drumming pulled Henry up the shaded path. The Fair was a figure eight with a drum circle at its navel. The tribal beat rose and fell like rolling thunder, louder as Henry hurried and saw the dust cloud kicked up by the dancers, hands reaching up and twisting in the sunshine. A breeze carried Thai food, citrus, and burgers from food booths around the nexus. Henry homed in on the drums, their heads taut and sharp from the heat, cracking and thumping and boring their way inside him, spreading like the rush of his blood. He craved a toke. Stoned here was like a portal to the primal. But he didn’t have any, didn’t even smell any, the deal he’d made with himself and the warnings from the Lane County Sherriff. They’d put pressure on the Fair to clean it up, no drinking or drugs in the open or there would be officers in uniform to enforce it next year. Plenty of folks determined to get higher than ever, but Henry taking the opposite approach, the radical plan to remain totally sober. Last year he got high enough for two Fairs, woke fetal in the yoga booth Sunday morning after a twelve-hour binge of mimosas, marijuana, mushrooms, and rum. Maybe Ecstasy. This year an all-natural experiment, partying without partying.

60

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


He let his limbs move with the drumbeat, closed his eyes to the sun, the fire beyond his eyelids, and when he opened them, he noticed a girl dancing near the hay bales. Topless and beautiful, maybe eighteen or nineteen, just a few years younger than he was. His heart had been racing with the beat and now it felt huge in his chest. He couldn’t swallow. He moved toward the girl slowly, stealing glances. She seemed unattached. Dark skin, soft with a powder of dust. Skirt maybe black before the dust turned it gray, same color as her bare feet shuffling the ground. Henry fell in behind her and to the left, heels brushing hay bales as he danced. She had long black hair and looked Jewish or Middle Eastern. Except for the skirt and Fair wristband, same purple as his, she was unadorned: no jewelry, tattoos, or piercings. No tan lines. The slightest rise and fall of her breasts with each movement of her body. Eyes closed, lips curled in a perpetual smile. How to proceed. Maybe ease into the open space beside her. Maybe wait for the drums to stop. An overweight hippie lady in an orange muumuu spun into the circle and took the open space, arms flapping like a wounded bird. Henry watched. The girl’s wristband meant she was camping, easy to imagine their bodies coming together in the darkness. The same coating of dust on his chest and feet. Maybe they’d shower together at the Ritz, dust sliding off their skin as they kissed beneath the stars in a solar-heated spray of water. Fair Magic, they called it, and Henry figured he was overdue for a healthy dose of it. The beat faded and stopped. The drummers smiled at the applause, wiped away sweat. Henry waited for Muumuu to leave, but she whispered something to the girl. The girl nodded, still grinning, and looked down at her feet, still shuffling. Henry took a deep breath, sour body odor mixed with patchouli and ganja. Someone had lit one up. The new beat slower, less insistent, and he couldn’t keep his eyes off her. He could watch her all day. But he wasn’t the only one watching her. A man on a hay bale divided his time between the girl and a camera bag in his lap. Older than Henry, late twenties, overdressed in a collared shirt and jeans. Black-rimmed glasses half hidden beneath a mop of black hair. Henry imagined the hair hiding a birthmark bigger than his own. He inched to the right, halfway behind the hay bales, and the girl chose that moment to turn and look at him. By the time he softened his face and mustered a smile, she’d turned away. Henry flushed with embarrassment and retreated up to the hay bale, swinging his body to get a good look down at the bag, and there she was. The topless girl danced in the man’s bag, perfectly framed on a camcorder view screen, small enough to fit in Henry’s palm. The red recording light glowed against the inner fabric. Henry felt nauseous as he stared at the screen, something

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

61


F I C T I O N being taken away from him, from the girl. He thought of the primitive tribes who believed a camera could steal your soul. There was a rule, he thought, against videotaping at the Fair. He couldn’t look away from the screen, more disturbed the longer he watched. The girl would belong to this voyeur forever while Henry hadn’t mustered the guts to make a move. He blinked hard and looked to the girl, the real girl, dancing blissfully unaware. The moment calling him, the drums pounding like his heart, sweat rising from his palms. He hopped off the hay bale and the girl spun toward him, dark eyes narrowed in distrust, shoulders slouched to shield her breasts. She had him all wrong. Her eyes lingered on his birthmark and he faltered, anger rising, the real creep just a few feet away. Henry pictured himself on the view screen, his soul getting sucked out by the second. He turned to leave and slammed into Muumuu’s soft girth. One flailing arm knocked off his top hat. As he scrambled for it, one of them, either Muumuu or the girl, said, “What the hell?” Henry pushed through the crowd until he found the path, drumbeat receding like the tail end of a passing storm. He lay alone in the darkness behind the booth, laughter and conversation trickling in from the path. The afternoon had been long and tedious, the incident weighing on him. Mickey’s Gumbo hadn’t sat well, no other music had grabbed him, and he couldn’t even appreciate the women, looking away from their topless figures. He avoided the drum circle on his way back to the booth, where Little Bear was stoned as a statue, leaving Henry to deal with the customers, and sobriety didn’t help. He had hoped to see the Fair through a child’s eyes, but now he felt more like an old man. And this supposedly the highlight of his year. All day he’d re-imagined the scene. In this version, he kept his cool, mustered his courage and explained to the girl what the man was doing, her relief leading to the two of them out there right now enjoying the Friday night. But Henry had chickened out like so many times growing up: failing all eighth grade to ask out Christine Collier, doing nothing when the Lund brothers threw rocks at ducks, saying nothing to the hunched-over crossing guard when a girl in a carload of teenagers yelled, “Hey old man, you make me wanna puke!” A girl laughed on the path and Henry racked his brain for better memories. Elizabeth. Slightly overweight Southern belle with a wild streak, but the one girl Henry could call a serious girlfriend. Her secret confession the night they met at Mississippi State, how on a high school spring break trip to Myrtle Beach she’d danced on a hotel table, thrown off her top and twirled her bra like a lasso. That image, its innocence, still more potent than anything he’d actually experienced with her. Elizabeth who introduced him to drum circles and the Grateful Dead. They drank mushroom tea in Atlanta and his face hurt from so much smiling. But for all her spunk, Elizabeth was a down-home

62

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


girl from a traditional family. Henry dropped out of school to follow the Dead; Elizabeth dated a seminary student. Henry stayed out West, where everything felt wide open and free; Elizabeth stayed down South and probably had at least one kid by now. “Get off me!” Henry startled awake in darkness, arms confined, and it took a moment to remember he was in his sleeping bag. Hushed voices laughed on the path. It had been a girl’s voice, maybe from a dream. Henry turned his ear, heard conversation and snorts of laughter. Teenagers. Roaming the night in giggling packs, high on hormones and whatever else they could get their hands on. Henry dropped back to sleep. “I’m serious, get the fuck off!” That was real, the laughter that followed husky, male. No one else in the sleeping area behind the booth moved. Henry wiggled from his bag. Dim glow from the lantern, booth shielded from the path by sheets hung across the front, the moon high and bright, maybe two in the morning. Henry listened to the low murmur of voices, a boy repeating Come on and a girl answering No, the annoying back and forth kids play. “Maybe she needs more,” a different boy said. Henry stepped out and saw the huddle of their bodies slumped under the moonshadow of a tree twenty yards up the path. “What y’all doing?” The kids jumped up, maybe four of them. “Come on!” a boy said. The last one off the ground staggered into the moonlight, long hair swinging around her head. Two boys grabbed her hands and started pulling her up the path. “Who’s that?” she said. “Come on!” the boy repeated. “Wait!” Henry called, but the girl had turned to follow the boys, clinging to one of their hands and stumbling after them. Henry stood in the path in his boxers, the night cool and his sleeping bag waiting like a warm cocoon, though he’d probably just lie awake now. He started walking and ducked into a nook to pee, breech of Fair rules but no way he was stepping in a Honey Bucket without sandals. He continued up the path, more exposed every step from the booth. No money, no flashlight or shoes. Long Tom like a funhouse mirror reflecting moonlight. The drum circle quiet, just a handful of drummers and two women dancing face to face in flowing white dresses. High-pitched laughter, but different kids. These playing with light-spheres that pulsed like rainbow-colored strobes. Henry stopped to watch, heard the chorus of crickets and frogs from the Long Tom and flashed on the memory of fireflies down South. Summer nights behind his house, toes in wet grass, green lights blinking on and off. “Dude, I’m totally tripping!” a boy said. “I’m losing it over here.” “Me too!” said a girl, dropping her sphere and collapsing in giggles.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

63


F I C T I O N Henry kept walking. If he had kids, they better be boys. Raise them as gentlemen. A girl he’d raise smart and strong and pray she didn’t go the way of his mother, one sketchy dude after another. He paused on a dark section of path where dancers wearing headphones silently twirled with glow sticks. A young guy worked a radio with a long antenna. Silent rave. The millennium knocking, and what a free-forall that would be. Here this kid sent positive vibes to the ether while somewhere the creep with the camera dragged the topless dancer onto the Internet, her figure the only light in dark rooms where desperate cowards like Henry remained hidden. Though here he stood in his boxers. A young woman twirled toward him with her eyes closed, and he let her bump into him. A loud giggle and he apologized but she didn’t hear him over the headphones. Didn’t even open her eyes, just kept twirling, and her giggle stayed with him, how loud it was since she couldn’t hear herself. And that was it right there, what Fair was all about, doing your own thing without worrying about anyone else. You could giggle as loud as you wanted, spin with your eyes closed, walk around in your boxers, dance topless and trust the people around you. Really trust them. Henry found Wolfman at the Ritz, Wolfman a friend of Little Bear’s, a big lovable beast of a man high up on Security Crew. One of the funniest things Henry’d seen at Fair, three years ago when he first passed through, Wolfman crammed into a canoe paddling after a naked female swimmer in the Long Tom, no swimming allowed. Wolfman had tipped as he leaned to catch the girl, then dragged her and the canoe out of the water to boos that got louder when he took off his huge SECURITY shirt and draped it over her. Topless was fine, but naked wasn’t allowed, except at the Ritz. Wolfman had waved and smiled at the catcalls, did a little dance that set his belly and man-boobs bouncing. Now he sat naked around the fire outside the showers, talking with Gretta, gold tooth glinting in the firelight when he smiled through his beard at the sight of Henry. “Sit!” he said, lifting a smoldering roach. “No thanks, Wolfman.” Henry locked hands and nodded to Gretta. “But you can do me a favor.” Wolfman hit the roach and blew smoke at the moon. “Name it.” Henry lowered his voice. “Let me borrow your SECURITY shirt. Or hook me up with one.” Wolfman coughed. “What for?” “Gotta take care of something.” “Little Bear know about this?” Henry shook his head. “Hmmm.” Wolfman passed the roach to Gretta and raised his eyebrows. She studied Henry as she hit it, nodded to Wolfman and passed

64

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


it along. “All right,” Wolfman said. “But keep my name out of this, and I need it back by Sweep tomorrow.” He lifted his massive body, scratching his hairy butt as he walked to the cubbies. Henry got to the drum circle too early the next morning, jumpy from coffee and lack of sleep. He’d left his top hat at the booth, his mustache limp and unslicked over his lips. The day just warming. Neither of them there, so Henry killed time walking the top of the loop. Stomach tight when he returned, still no backbone to the beat, no girl, but the man sat on the same hay bale, head buried in his camera bag. He wore a Baltimore Orioles cap and filmed two women with painted breasts, neither as attractive as the girl. Henry ducked behind a tree, heart pounding. He could abort, walk right back up the loop, but he took a deep breath and pulled Wolfman’s huge SECURITY shirt from his pack, realized his hands were shaking. He was such a chickenshit, wouldn’t even be there if the girl hadn’t been so beautiful. But chivalry had to start somewhere, and he slipped into the shirt. Which hadn’t been washed in a while. Wolfman’s body odor made Henry woozy for a moment, but when he snapped to, the stench gave him courage. Like wearing battle-tested armor into the fray. He slipped into his sandals, entered the drum circle, and marched directly into the camera’s line of sight. The man looked up and adjusted his glasses. Nose sunburned. “Need you,” Henry started, voice too meek, “to come with me.” “What?” The man looked from Henry’s shirt to the crowd. Henry cleared his throat. “We can do this quiet,” he said, then louder, willing authority into his words, “or we can make it public. Come with me, please.” The man took in Henry’s oversized shirt, his expression settling into skepticism. Henry should have tucked it in. What was he thinking? He hadn’t been thinking, just trying not to chicken out. And now he looked like that swimmer girl Wolfman had pulled from the Long Tom. What a joke. The man gripped his camera bag and looked around, tensed to flee, and Henry grabbed his collared shirt. The man huffed in surprise, lifting his furrowed face to appear offended. Henry just as surprised to find the man in his grip. It felt good. The man glanced around the drum circle for support, a few people watching. He was calling Henry’s bluff, wily and brazen all of a sudden, maybe been through this before, but Henry didn’t let go. He was in the right and couldn’t be bluffed. The SECURITY shirt didn’t even matter. “Last time I ask nice,” Henry said, voice low but firm. “Come with me, please.” “What do you want?” “I think you know.” Henry released the man’s collar and pointed out of the circle, smiling at the growing number of people watching.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

65


F I C T I O N The man zipped up his bag with another huff and strode through the crowd. Henry stayed close, laid a hand on the man’s shoulder, but he flinched away. “I need those tapes,” Henry said. The man hesitated, pulled his cap down low. “Hand them here,” Henry said. The man sighed and kneeled beside his bag, unzipped it with a shaking hand. Took the tape out of the camcorder and slipped it into an empty case. “All of them,” Henry said. The man reached into a side pocket and handed Henry another tape. Henry kneeled beside him and sifted through the bag. “Thanks for your cooperation.” The man avoided eye contact. “But I’m keeping a bead on you, Baltimore. I see this crap again, I’m breaking your camera over your head. It’s guys like you messing up Fair. Let the girls be girls, man.” Henry stood and walked away, tapes in hand and heart racing. He slipped the tapes and SECURITY shirt into his daypack and kept walking. Couldn’t contain his smile. People must have thought he was high. A woman in a tie-dye tank top winked as she passed and for a moment he was stunned. “Elizabeth,” he half-called. The stranger blended into the crowd and Henry saw young Elizabeth on that hotel table, swinging a tie-dye over her head. She’d be proud of him today. Henry felt proud, too, but now he faced something darker, something he hadn’t wanted to think about. What to do with the tapes. He neared a garbage can, paused, but kept walking. He wouldn’t kid himself; he wanted to watch them. He wanted to buy a television and figure out how to play them, rewind and fast-forward until he found the girl. Nobody would know. He remembered her soul getting stolen and wondered what that would mean for his soul. Sweat dripped off his brow. He could watch the footage over and over, pressing rewind and play, rewind and play. Practically jogging now. Like running away from something. From how good he’d felt a few minutes ago. When he saw the Long Tom, he knew what he had to do. He put the SECURITY shirt back on and scrambled down the overgrown bank, crouched and waited for people to stroll by. The reek of Wolfman again, battle tested and comforting. The Long Tom smelling like the turtle tank Henry kept as a child. He fished out the tapes, labeled by date. Slid today’s out of its case and tossed it into the river like old bait, barely registering its plop in the brown water. Yesterday’s tape he lifted from the case, slight trembling in his fingers. Baltimore’s hands shaking when he unzipped his camera bag. The tape in Henry’s hand a live grenade all of a sudden. He flung it into the river, where it

66

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


landed with a splash well beyond the other tape bobbing on the lazy current. Both tapes drifting slowly now like small, charred pieces of wood, waterlogged and diffused, no threat to anyone. “You littered.” Henry startled and turned to find the voice, a small child with one hand reaching up to hold a tree branch, the other waving a long length of grass. Hard to say if it was a boy or girl. Red plaid shorts and nothing else, maybe three or four, messy shock of blonde hair and berry stains around the mouth. “You’re right,” Henry said. “Where your parents?” The child looked up at the Fair and shrugged. “I should get that garbage, huh?” The child nodded. Henry pulled off the SECURITY shirt, kicked off his sandals, and slipped out of his shorts and boxers. He felt so much lighter, ready to break every rule and get scratched by blackberry thorns and poison oak in the process. He’d have a shot of whiskey when this was over. In the distance the drums rose from the gathering heat like a primal pronouncement to any living thing within earshot: We are here. We are strong. Do not fuck with us. That was the real Fair Magic. Henry waded knee-deep into the muck, toes squishing down on mysterious things.

Tom Cantwell holds an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. His fiction has appeared in Whitefish Review, Newfound, Cirque, New Ohio Review, and Flyway. He lives in Eugene, Oregon, with his wife and two children.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

67


P O E T R Y

Michelle Bonczek Evory

Final Hike We are exhausted. The sun going down on the Yellowstone gateway one last time before we can no longer turn our heads and see it there

Dennis Udink

its July skies frisky with lightning and hail, its wind so strong it blows our eyes open: white snow on Mt. Holmes Mt. Bunsen’s crumbling stones otters slinking and tumbling like individual whirlpools in Trout Lake. The last family poses for a picture in front of the sign, the last bear bumbles across a distant field. We are so tired of hot springs, we’ve passed on Mammoth, our feet sockless and sweaty, blistered red from Specimen Ridge where we sat on the edge of a fossilized redwood accomplished and cursing the hard path we planned on giving three hours that took us six. On the way down we opted for meadow, divot and hole threatening our ankles, rather than sliding down

Michael Wutz


risky stripped paths. We followed bent grass left by elk and bison, crawling on all fours, the wild flowers dusting our skin with their pollen.

Milk Behind short white fences, newborn calves in my neighbor’s yard chew grass while their muscles soften for Bolognese. But here, lavender, pink, orange roses—my grandmother died before she could tell me their names—sweet in my gloved hands. I breathe in the must and mold, look up in anticipation. I seed birdhouses, slip roses into vases, pull from a downstairs shelf, brie, milk we’ve let age until the stink is solid enough to melt on our tongues. It takes time for our senses to learn to savor such delicacies. To distinguish complexities of wine—raspberry, plum, clove lurking in the body, opening on our palettes. I sip and watch gray flakes begin to separate from the bellies of clouds,

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

69


P O E T R Y

the wind lifts them, swirls them, some switch directions and fall up instead of down, the closer ones falling faster. Soon, the garden will be a patch of white, leaves wilting, dark splotches on white canvas, smooth as a calf’s fur even whiter than snow. Their bodies are so untouched they shine. As children, we’re taught uniqueness through snowflakes stuck on windshields, snowflakes caught on woolen mittens. Through analogy we are taught to see ourselves as individuals. As parents we teach with awe this fact. And, scissors in hand, we learn to define beauty, to cut these shapes from paper.

Michelle Bonczek Evory is the author of The Art of the Nipple (Orange Monkey Publishing, 2013) and the forthcoming Open SUNY Textbook Naming the Unnameable: An Approach to Poetry for New Generations. Her poetry is featured in the 2013 Best New Poets Anthology and has been published in over seventy journals and magazines, including Crazyhorse, cream city review, Green Mountains Review, Orion Magazine, and The Progressive. She holds a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University and an MFA from Eastern Washington University, taught most recently at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and mentors poets at The Poet’s Billow (thepoetsbillow.com).

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

70


F I C T I O N

Victoria Ramirez

Ma Loves Jete

B

ack when I was working like crazy, trying to start up a plumbing business and putting in long hours, it wasn’t unusual for me to get home after seven at night, when Yankee games from the East Coast were already into the third or fourth inning. I’d wash up and enjoy a beer while watching the Bombers with Ma, and my wife Chevegny didn’t mind eating in front of the TV on tray tables so we wouldn’t miss any of the action. Ma moved to Utah to live with Chevegny and me right before Yankee spring training in 2006. She’d lived in a Florida condo since my dad died, but her arthritis was getting so bad she needed to be with one of us. My brother Eddie, who shared a house with a really neat woman, got disqualified from the start since living in sin was a big Shutterstock issue for Ma. My sister Angie lived in Queens and had a big enough house. But long ago we’d secretly nicknamed Angie’s husband mini-Mussolini, and we all detested him including Ma, who showed uncharacteristic tact when in the jerk’s vicinity. That left Little Connie and me, and my sister assumed Ma would naturally choose to live with a daughter. Dom, Little Connie’s husband, is a sweet guy—he’d have to be to put up with my sister—but their three young sons all were on football teams, and Ma was dead-set against kids so young playing a sport worthy, in her eyes, of mooks and thugs. Even worse, Little Connie was a rabid Mets fan, and to Ma, a Bronxite raised in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, rooting for the Mets was close to a mortal sin. In the end Ma came with us, even though her care fell to a daughter-inlaw and not a daughter, and even though living with us meant leaving the East. Ma was OK with it because her sunny room overlooked our backyard and in the distance, a view of the Great Salt Lake. She quickly scoffed at my suggestion to attend games of the Ogden Raptors, our hometown double A team, arguing she couldn’t spare time away from her TV in the summer and miss a Bombers’ game.


F I C T I O N I’d already researched the availability of getting Yankee games in Utah, because the inability to view them would have been a deal-buster for Ma. I signed up for a sports package through cable, and by late April Ma was in front of our big-screen TV in the living room enjoying games from the Bronx. She’d taken over the one piece of furniture that had any importance for me—my Lazy-Boy recliner—but I was content to let it go when she said how comfortable it made her feel. My spot on the couch wasn’t bad because it put me next to my honey and our kid, two months old when the first ball was thrown out in Yankee stadium that season. One day as I joined Ma half-way through a game with the then-Devil Rays, I noticed her pouring some clear liquid from what looked like a small vase into a demitasse cup without a handle. I asked her what she was drinking and she said with careful pronunciation, “Sah-kay.” This shocked me, made me realize how little I knew about my own mother even though we were again living under the same roof. Then I thought back to my teen years and remembered that she hadn’t known one-tenth of what I was doing then, so I felt better. “How come you’re hitting the Chinese booze?” I wasn’t being a pain-in-the-ass, I really wanted to know. This was a woman who, when we were kids, drank a glass of red wine each night at dinner with her pasta. “First,” she said with dignity, “it’s not Chinese, ‘sake’ is Japanese. And second, none of your business.” I was willing to conduct research to get to the bottom of this mystery and called my sister Maria. She reported that in Florida, Ma had been introduced to different wines while dating a guy named Henry Blades, a tall Cuban with a toupee and sweet moves on the dance floor. According to Maria, when the music started Ma would hobble on her arthritic knees to join him, suddenly turning into Rita Moreno. But Ma’s golden swinging days were long behind her now that she was confined to the Lazy-Boy in front of the TV. Watching Yankee games with Ma was like the Star Trek manifesto, To boldly go where no man has gone before. That year Matsui went on the disabled list early, but Ma kept confusing Matsui with Wang, and whenever she’d see Wang on the pitcher’s mound, she’d crow, “Thank God Matsui’s back. We need his big bat!” Chevegny and I relished how Ma would parrot the words of different sportscasters, something she did when we were kids and the likes of Joe Garagiola and Phil Rizutto were announcing from the Bronx. That year was Randy Johnson’s last with the Bombers, and his presence seemed to unnerve Ma. “The problem with Randy Johnson,” she insisted, “is that he’s too tall.” When I pointed out that height was an asset for pitchers, she looked at me over her sake cup and said, “Upto-a-point.” Messina, being Italian, was to her the greatest-ever Yankee pitcher, though her maternal eagle-eye sharply noted bags under his eyes each turn on the roster. “That boy isn’t getting enough home cooking,” she said with a sniff.

72

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


And like all the TV announcers, each time Messina made an appearance Ma couldn’t resist mentioning for her audience’s information that he was a graduate of Stanford. She invariably followed that with the Messina motto: superb athlete and brainy. But Giambi was another Italian on the team and she held deep feelings for Jason, though they were complicated since her admiration was diluted with concern over his admitted use of steroids. “They better not threaten Jason in any way,” Ma threatened the TV. “Some, whose names we won’t mention— like that Bonds and McGuire—take drugs and lie about it. Giambi’s a good boy.” I nearly rolled off the couch with laughter, but Ma yelled at me to show respect for what she considered the first baseman’s unimpeachable honesty. It was around this time that it occurred to me the entire Yankee lineup was just a larger version of the family she’d raised in Brooklyn in the sixties and seventies. Based on snippets she’d glean from the New York Times—we had it delivered daily so Ma could read reviews of games in the sports pages—and from facts sportscasters would drop, my mother dreamed up a complex and dramatic version of the Yankee team as her children. All the anxiety she’d felt raising the six of us was now transferred to what I suspected she thought of as her and Joe Torre’s bambinos. For if she was the maternal wing of the outfit, Joe was surely its father figure. She agonized over what she thought were lapses in, or special challenges to, Torre’s fathering. “He’d better tell Alex Rodriquez to get his act together,” she grumbled in response to the third baseman’s lackluster hitting that season. Of Sheffield, Ma sipped her sake and observed that he was a born troublemaker. “And what’s the deal with that crappy bullpen?” she muttered one day, upset that the starters were all over-the-hill, in her humble opinion. “If Steinbrenner hires another geriatric to solve Joe’s pitching problems, someone ought to treat him to cement shoes,” she said darkly, trying to shake another drop of Japanese wine from the jug. No compliment was too great, of course, for Derek Jeter, whose name she insisted on pronouncing in the clipped tones of Queen Elizabeth. One day when Chevegny’s brother Dave Jansen was watching the Yankees with us, he praised Ma for her knowledge of the game and her fund of Yankee trivia. Though, when she said she thought Johnny Damon was Italian, Dave countered that Damon was Indian. I could see Ma chewing that over, and later she privately asked me whether I thought it was true that Damon was a Hindu. In response to Dave’s correction, she simply asked if he knew his own name was special. “My name—special, Mrs. Bisesi? What do you mean?” Nothing less than the fact that Dave’s initials were the same as the Yankee captain’s. Changing the subject, she offered us her thoughts on the team’s mid-season acquisition, Bobby Abreu. “What a slugger!” she said so loud she woke our son Chris from his nap. “Derek Jeter doesn’t have to build up his confidence.”

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

73


F I C T I O N Ma moped when the Yankees failed to make the pennant that year, and fell into what Chevegny and I thought might be a post-season slump. To help her through I bought her Moneyball on the off-chance she could get her baseball fix that way, help bridge the gap to spring training of 2007. Now, Ma had not been one to read books, her hands so busy with all of us she never had a free moment to herself. In fact, I couldn’t remember her ever reading anything, even after Dad died and she was on her own. She’d watch Doctor Phil or Oprah, but I never even spotted any magazines around. Moneyball was a different game altogether, no pun intended. When she asked what it was about, I told her it treated how poorly-funded teams could vie with money-bag outfits like New York and Boston, and she said it was about time someone looked into that. I thought that in parts the book might be a bit technical but that didn’t seem to bother Ma, or she skipped over them, reporting in a coy voice that she’d been reading about her boy, Jason Giambi, and with tears in her eyes said she now understood why he had such a keen sense of the strike-zone. She got so into that book that one time Chevegny called her to dinner and Ma finally limped in several minutes late, apologizing for not coming on time but explaining that she had to read to the end of the chapter. Trouble brewed in April of 2007 when we were not sure, right up to before the opening pitch of the season, if we could still get the Yankees with our cable. Ma was panicking and I kept calling the cable company and two local satellite dish businesses to find out what was what. Negotiations to get every red cent had Yankee fans country-wide biting their nails in terror that they would have to resort to buying MLB’s games over the Internet. We had no computer in the living room near our big-screen TV, and the logistics of using the Internet to view the games had us reeling. At the last minute we learned one of the dish companies offered the sports package, and all became well in our happy home once again. Except for the alarming news at the start of the 2007 season that Yank after Yank was going on the disabled list. Ma was beside herself and concocted a dark and unlikely scenario to account for what was happening. “Don’t they see,” she cried, “that the Red Sox have sent an evil spy into the Yankee organization to ruin our chances this season? If they can’t win honestly . . . .” I had to cut her off. “Ma, your paranoia’s getting to you.” As soon as I’d said those words, her face crumpled and I felt ashamed of myself. I recovered from my error by assuring her that there certainly seemed to be mismanagement at the highest levels of the Yankee machine, but she cut me off and said I should ponder the meaning of the general manager’s name—Cashman. She argued, “I’m not saying he’s in cahoots with Boston. I’m saying they sent over a spy trainer at a discount price from the Red Sox whose secret mission is to make sure all Yankees get hurt.” It was then

74

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


that I suspected that Ma had a far darker view of human nature than I would’ve thought. Once the team solved that problem, though, Ma brightened because Rodriguez, whom she now called A-Rod, was hot. “His bat’s on fire!” she chirped, mimicking the announcer. As usual, there were ongoing problems with the Yankee bullpen. She had a particular dislike for Farnsworth. “Why can’t he be more like Petitte?” she demanded of the TV screen. Ma despaired that not even Jeter’s tremendous leadership skills could make headway with the statuesque Farnsworth. When I argued that he wasn’t so bad and that he could be an asset to the team if he’d only settle down, she looked at me as if I had two heads. Then she said with great patience, “Joey. Farnsworth has one pitch—a fastball. That’s the good news. The bad news is he can’t keep it in the strike-zone. He either walks batters or they hit him. Whatsamadduh with you?” Whenever Ma got difficult I’d tease her to lighten the mood, though she didn’t always think my jokes funny. To change the topic I said, “By the way, Ma, did you know Jeter is Italian?” She slowly arched an eyebrow at me and shook her head in disgust. “Frankie, that’s not the type of thing to make fun of. As a matter of fact, Jeter’s parents were at yesterday’s game, and his father is a black physician. His mother looks Irish. Certainly not Italian.” She went on to talk about Jackie Robinson, and how that great man made it possible for the Sheffields and Jeters of the baseball world. “Though in the case of Sheffield, the less said, the better.” The 2007 season ended in more disappointment and over the winter Ma seemed to hibernate. Again I was able to cheer her up with a baseball book, this time Yogi Berra’s autobiography, which had her laughing aloud as she read. As a special Christmas present we all chipped in and booked Ma on a flight to Florida for the early spring. I went with her and we stayed a week at Maria’s so I could take Ma in a rented wheelchair to the Yankee training camp. She talked about it non-stop for days, even when she returned to Utah. “Joey, can you believe the size of those boys? They look small on TV, and then you see them in person and realize, hey, they’re giants!” At the beginning of the 2008 season, I noticed that she referred to Derek Jeter as Jete. “Where’d you get that?” I said. She rolled her eyes and urged me to get with the program. “That’s what Paul O’Neill calls him, and Paul should know, being his teammate when Jete moved up to the majors,” she said as casually as if she were Ken Singleton. Or Paul O’Neill. Then she complained for a while that the Yankees should make O’Neill the permanent Voice of the Yankees. I reminded her that she always said she had trouble hearing O’Neill’s admittedly clever comments. What delighted her at the beginning of 2008 was that the Yankee pitching roster struck her as especially deep, and she thanked God with rosary beads in hand that Joba Chamberlain was now staying on the mound for more than one inning. “He’s a young guy,” she argued

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

75


F I C T I O N louder than usual after Chevegny had mistakenly filled up her sake decanter a third time. “With an arm as tough as a bath bubble!” Her shouting upset my son, who was wearing a Number Two Jeter shirt that Ma’d bought him for his second birthday, and which fit him like an overcoat. Then, despite the announcer’s excited voice, the roar of the Texas crowd as Milton Bradley walloped the ball out of the park, and the baby’s screaming, Ma fell asleep in the Lazy-Boy and was snoring. The rosier pitching picture was offset, of course, by the absence of Joe Torre, which had Ma in tears the first game of the season. She held it against Steinbrenner’s sons, but I made the case that Torre was better off. “For starters, he no longer has to deal with any Steinbrenners,” I said, “and second, he’s in a warmer place. Anyway, New York’s a tough gig at the best of times.” She agreed that although she missed many things while living in Utah—good pizza, delicatessens, and males she considered “real men”—she liked the pace of life where we lived, and the beautiful mountains. “Besides,” she said on another day, picking up our conversation about Joe Torre, “Joe Giardi—look at him! He’s a baby, a bambino. He looks younger than half the players.” This brought up a topic she couldn’t bear to think about: the retirement of this wonderful Yankee team. “Mariano, Messina, Posada, Giambi, Damon, even Jete—how long can they last?” But other, weightier matters loomed, namely the rumored separation of A-Rod from his wife, Cynthia. Information concerning this gripping development Ma hadn’t gleaned from the Times sports section, but rather, when Chevegny took her for their weekly outing to go food shopping, and Ma spied the report in a tabloid. When I got home that night, and with beer in hand joined Ma to watch the game, she pressed the mute button and asked me if I knew who A-Rod’s new soul-mate was. “Is this a trick question? Is it Jete?” “Oh, really,” she said scathingly. “It’s that slut Madonna. Who is old enough to be A-Rod’s mother!” Chevegny jumped in to defend Madonna’s age. “Um, I think she’s only in her forties.” You couldn’t easily pull the wool over my wife’s eyes when it came to celebs, since she subscribed to People magazine. Ma adored Chevegny but had never held that discretion was the better part of happy family relations. “I beg to differ. The local Sunday paper lists Madonna’s birthday this week, and says she’s fifty. If A-Rod’s in his early thirties, then . . .,” but Ma left us to do the math for ourselves. “What does it matter?” I said. “I hear that he meets women in the stands who sit at third base. He’s handsome and rich, Ma. What’s it matter if Madonna’s his soul-mate?” She looked unhappy and muttered that it didn’t matter at all, and then something about what was the world coming to when baseball

76

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


players could act so shamefully. Oh, like Mantle was an angel, I thought, but kept my comment to myself. I did point out that Jete was above approach. It pleased her to think that the Yankee she loved best was also what she considered a good man. I never understood the degree to which she regarded Jeter until midway through the season, when I returned home one late afternoon under a sky uncharacteristically black with clouds. The house was dark and only the TV screen offered any light in the living room. As soon as I saw her in the Lazy-Boy with arms hanging by her sides, seated slightly forward with her chin resting on her chest, I panicked and rushed to her side, suspecting a stroke. I snapped on the light, and she squinted at me. “Jeez, Joey, take it easy.” Before I could ask her what she was doing sitting there in the dark, a rumble filled the air and in the distance we both saw lightening stab sideways like a foul tip. A wall of water was creeping east towards the house. “Ma, where’s Chevegny, and Chris?” She leaned back in the chair and reported they were downstairs, napping. I looked back at her and could see something was very wrong. She became agitated and said she wished I’d been there to witness what had just happened, maybe they’d replay it. “I don’t get why Giardi would risk Jete’s life by having him play second base. Doesn’t anyone care? And then Boston can finally get rid of the Greatest Yankee Player of All Time, for good.” At that moment the rain, a dark downpour that engulfed the house, hit. With childlike wonder in her voice, Ma said as she looked from the outside to the TV screen and back, “Isn’t it amazing how it can be raining so hard here and be so sunny where the Yankees are playing.” We both watched as the camera panned the crowd at Fenway Park, cobalt skies above and the white dots of players on a baize of emerald. I tried to make sense of what she was saying about Jeter. “Ma, Jete’s the short-stop, not second baseman. And of course Giardi cares about all his players’ safety. How could he not?” Her eyes flashed as she insisted Jete was playing second—which I did not believe but also did not argue—and how when David Ortiz hit a line drive, he charged straight for the Yankee captain. Angrily she observed that Big Papi, though not a fast runner, eventually picked up speed and nearly trampled the skinny Jete. I needed a beer in the worst way and noticed she hadn’t had her evening’s sake, which, she always said, made her aches and pains go away. I grabbed a cold one and poured some Geikkoman into the little vase, nuking it for a few seconds as I’d seen Chevegny do a hundred times. I placed the decanter and the cup on a small lacquered tray, which I eased onto the end-table next to her. Ma looked up at me, all smiles, and said that Chevegny had never thought to put her sake on a tray, an especially nice touch. The wine soothed her and she offered the play-by-play of events leading up to Señor Papi’s at-bat. “The thing is, Boston for years suf-

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

77


F I C T I O N fered under the Curse of the Bambino. No, Joey, don’t laugh at me, because I could sense their pain all that time here,” and she thumped her chest. “I’m afraid they’ll do anything to make the World Series every year, even if it means crushing Yankee players.” I kept quiet and we watched Damon hit a pop fly with two outs and two runners left on base. She drained her cup as a commercial blared and we discussed what was going to happen, since the score was tied and Mariano most likely would work his magic yet again, and keep the Red Sox from scoring. When the Yanks trotted onto the field, Ma gasped at the realization that since Ortiz’s near fatal collision with Jete, the Sox had gone through their entire lineup. Big Papi was once again at bat. “Joey, thank goodness you’re here!” I, too, was glad Ma didn’t have to face this situation alone. As subtly as I could I pointed out that Robby Cano was on second, with Jete at shortstop. Ma’s tension had irrationally spread to me. As she sat in the LazyBoy, clutching her rosary beads with every muscle rigid in suspense, I found I was holding my breath each time Mariano hurled one of his slow but unpredictable pitches. But Big Papi knew all about Mo, and simply bided his time. With the count full, Ortiz was forced to chase a pitch that dropped over the outside edge of home plate, swatting the ball up into the blue of a summer evening in Boston. Ken Singleton’s voice became a whine as the camera held Jete’s image, waving away Cano and Melky Cabrera. Ma and I both let out a gasp of relief when the Yankee captain, blowing a pink bubble, gloved the ball. I got up for another beer and said I’d refill her jug of sake. “I don’t want to be a bother,” Ma called after me, laughing.

Victoria Ramirez writes short stories and has a novel she's just finished. A graduate of SUNY Stonybrook and Binghamton, she entered the Weber State University faculty in 1999. In addition to teaching literature, she is the past director of WSU's Creative Writing Program and offers courses in long and short fiction. A displaced New Yorker in Ogden, Utah, Ramirez's mother came from New York to live with her in 2006; "Ma Loves Jete" is lovingly based on, and dedicated to, Barbara Ramirez and her undying Yankee fandom.

78

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


P O E T R Y

Betsy Martin

Before It Closes Splatters of chocolate clouds sweeten the evening sky like syrup spilled on a pale blue tablecloth, as my new friend and I hurry to reach the museum before it closes. Inside we wander almost alone among the guards and art. We must have inhaled too much of the May air because we’re fifteen, gabbing loudly and joking, Rembrandt or Michelangelo, it’s all the same, and making fun of the blue and white porcelain plate with the naked nobleman in the middle. The ceiling lights, bored with the masterworks, have taken delight in my friend’s still-red hair and kindled a fire in it. If we were fifteen, rather than fifty-something, we’d go now laughing into the empty streets and turn them upside down, looking for ourselves in the dark, gentle dust, then lie on a hill as soft as ice cream and watch the sky, turned a deep blueberry, pour over us.

Dennis Udink

M. Buschman


P O E T R Y

Traveling with My Mother I imagine her source was a glen with bright stones and ferns in dappled light. The water burbled up with primal wonder. When I woke in a boat, brook had become river that wound snakelike and hissed against rocks. I almost capsized, but little by little the waves relaxed. I saw my reflection in the turquoise sky, felt cradled in love, though it was never clear what lay beneath the water’s skin. Dipping my hand into her supple current to drink or wet my face, I longed to swim, to have her embrace me unconditionally, but it was forbidden. When we reached the ocean I pulled out my boat, reluctantly, while the river returned to the whole. I walk on alone. The surface is firmer, but I’m thirsty, always thirsty.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

80


The Worm The gray maw of the windshield slowly swallows the winding gray road, like a larger worm consuming a smaller one, as stripped trees fade to the will of dusk. On some errand or other, the vibrations strangely lulling, we, in the front seat, coil steadily forward and swallow everything in our path, the little hills, the grass, houses, minutes, the dimming light, our own breath.

Betsy Martin works at Skinner House Books in Boston and has advanced degrees in Russian language and literature. She lived in Moscow for a year, studying at the Pushkin Institute. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Assisi, Barely South Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Limestone, Minetta Review, Sanskrit, Front Range Review, Gemini Magazine, The Alembic, Pirene’s Fountain, and others.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

81


F I C T I O N

Jeffrey Rindskopf

Full of Poison

Desi Mendoza

A

ndrew’s mom’s Volkswagen ground over the loose gravel as we pulled into an unmarked space in the far corner of the lot. Before Andrew even switched the car off, I produced the two 40s of Miller High Life from the plastic grocery bag stashed near my feet. We clapped the bottom ends together in cheers before unscrewing the aluminum caps and tossing them into the hopeless clutter of the backseat. We wouldn’t need them any longer. Andrew downed his in record time. I tried to keep up at first but had to stop when I felt the fizz coming through my nose. It burned and brought tears to my eyes, so I set the half-full bottle in my lap for a moment. Andrew didn’t skip a beat. As I watched, the amber beer swirled steadily out of the bottle until it was all empty, save for the white bubbles coating the glass sides. He belched and smiled big when he finished. “What, you’re still here?” he said and laughed in his usual way—gums showing and eyes obscured by folds that would one day turn to wrinkles. I flipped him off and continued at my own pace while he started fiddling with the radio. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll catch up with me someday.” “Practice makes perfect, right?” “Amen.”


He crossed himself and laughed again as I got to what remained in my bottle. My stomach felt heavy and the High Life tasted luxurious compared to what we were used to. We were usually forced to settle for the bottom shelf stuff because Andrew’s sister demanded a cut when she bought us beer. We had to sacrifice our dinner money most of the time just to get our hands on some of that vile piss called Keystone Light. Less food, at the very least, meant a quicker buzz. Tonight, we were blessed with extra spending money because the act at the Chain Reaction was truly unknown, even in the world of local hardcore—a four-piece called Corpse Incorporated. To us, it meant lower ticket prices and higher-end alcohol. I finished my 40 to the last drop. Andrew flung his door open and jumped out of the car with bottle in hand. He turned to the dry riverbed, a mess of cracked dirt and jagged brown weeds running alongside the parking lot. He drew his arm back. “Think it’ll shatter?” “I’d like to see you try,” I said as I fumbled out of the car. He tossed the glass with all his might. It spiraled through the air, reaching its apex and coming down to earth. It landed among the weeds with a hollow thunk. “We should’ve put money on it,” I said. “I’ll bet you can’t do much better.” “Bet what?” “Fair point.” I circled the car to his side, weighing the empty 40 in my open palm. I pulled my arm back and lifted one leg up to give the throw some real power. I chucked it and watched it spin in the air like Andrew’s. A sharp pain shot through my shoulder like a can opener. The bottle shattered with a crash on impact and I clapped my hands together once in victory. “I’ll be damned,” Andrew whistled. “You must have bought a breakaway bottle or some shit.” “Right, because I knew we would do this,” I laughed. We started walking. I could feel my head going light and my gaze turning pleasantly fuzzy. We stomped toward the building, zig-zagging. The venue was a flat-roofed white stucco place wedged between the riverbed and an ugly strip mall with a dry cleaning shop and a family pizza joint. It was unimposing from the outside, but anarchic fury erupted within each Friday and Saturday night. Those nights, it turned from unused office space into the Chain Reaction, an all ages venue for hardcore punk frequented by meanlooking townies and weirdo adolescent cliques from the surrounding neighborhoods. Andrew had introduced me to the cheap concerts, but I already felt I understood their meaning better than he ever would. For him, they were simply about chaotic fun, but I knew it to be something bigger. Two days a week, it was a place of unrepentant nihilism nestled discreetly in the hopeless domesticity that was our hometown. The Chain Reaction was a place where nothing meant anything and that meant freedom in a place otherwise bereft of such a foreign concept.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

83


F I C T I O N We came to the ticket counter and each wordlessly slid a ten dollar bill through the slot in the glass. The piercing-clad attendant slid flimsy ticket stubs back at us. We went to the door and the usual hefty bouncer ripped the stubs in half and waved us through the double doors. We crossed the threshold and I felt it all leave me. My miserably unrequited love, my crushing issues of self-worth, my parents’ pending divorce—all of it gone like that. In here, I wasn’t a rational, thinking human, but a beast driven by raw emotion without reason. The inside of the venue started with a narrow hallway opening into a sprawling square room, empty except for a black wooden stage jutting out of the wall, raised three feet off the ground. Save for that, everything was gray concrete, spotted and cracked and mean and hard. A crowd that matched the concrete was gathering in the center of the room, all yelling over each other. Andrew and I didn’t quite blend in—no piercings, tattoos, or jet black hair—but we did our best. He wore a black vest with ragged patches ironed on and his hair gelled up in points, and I wore a band shirt from another concert and a pair of old blue jeans cut into shorts with dull scissors I stole from school. We joined the crowd at the edges and talked and called each other drunk and laughed about nothing. A few people recognized Andrew and he introduced me briefly. They talked and I stood idly by with nothing to offer, a familiar phenomenon. I didn’t mind being sidelined like I usually did though. I just stared off and enjoyed the beer buzzing pleasantly throughout my body. The bitter taste of it lingered on the back of my tongue, so I spit on the floor. No one noticed. I liked being drunk—really drunk—so I decided to take advantage of the ace up my sleeve before the show started. “I need to go grab something from the car,” I said to Andrew, interrupting his conversation. “Go ahead.” “Can I get the keys?” “It’s unlocked,” he said. “You leave the car unlocked?” I asked. “You couldn’t pay someone to steal the piece of shit.” I trudged out of the place, past the bouncer and through the parking lot to the car. I fished my tattered backpack out from amongst the fast food wrappers in the backseat. Unzipping it, I dug past a stack of notebooks and felt for the slick metal that had sunk to the bottom. I smiled at the thin flask I held between my thick fingers. I felt the heat from another car’s headlights on my back, so I got into the car and slammed the door behind me for the sake of discretion. I popped off the flask’s cap and took my first pull from it. It tasted like gas and went down my throat like fire. I didn’t know what it was. I’d found it digging through my dad’s desk drawers in search of paperclips and felt the liquid sloshing around inside. I recognized what the dull metal canteen was for, so I stashed it until the right day came around. This wasn’t to share with Andrew, though—this was mine. I tilted it back again and coughed as

84

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


it went down, some of it leaking through my lips and down my peachfuzz chin. It even felt hot on my skin. I drank more still until it was all gone and slammed it down on the dashboard before stepping out of the car. I was disappointed at first that I didn’t feel much drunker than before. But walking back to the building, I felt my legs struggle to move straight and watched the world swirling into a soft focus. I laughed dumbly, knowing it had done the trick and then some. The music had started. It came through the outside air, mostly the relentless thump-thump-thump of a harsh snare drum that shook the rocks on the ground. I imagined the sober, steady people sitting in the pizza place yards away, an adult contemporary song drifting through the speakers, and sneered. The bouncer’s scowl deepened as he smelled the rubbing alcohol stench coming off me. I dug through my pockets and produced the ticket stub. He waved me in. The concert was in full-swing. The band played a song that plodded along with angry abandon. The drummer threw his long hair back and forth as he brought the sticks down hard. The bassist played the same three chords until it looked like his fingers might fall off. The guitarist moved one hands along the neck of his V-shaped guitar and tore his other hand up and down on the strings. The singer had the microphone cord wrapped around his bare chest, doubled over at the edge of the stage so he could scream into the faces of the crowd. The acoustics of the venue were horrible, but it only added to the industrial, raw clatter of it all. It felt good, feeling the music coursing through me and driving my heart rate up. People punched the air, all of them in a circle to allow a mosh pit in the center. It moved like a whirlpool of some two dozen people, all pushing and running and throwing fists. I found Andrew at the rim of the pit. We smiled at each other wordlessly before scowling again so we’d blend in. I joined him in shoving everyone that strayed close enough to us. I pushed a skinhead with one hand as he stomped by. He turned back with fury in his flashing eyes, but I paid him no mind. He was tall and gangly, with shiny hairless skin, his shirt tucked into his jeans so his pink torso was on full display. The song died with a final snare kick. I managed to get a word in to Andrew. “Why aren’t you in the pit?” “I was in the fucking pit,” he yelled, gesturing to his face, red and blotched with sweat that threatened to ruin his meticulously unkempt hair. I punched his arm in good humor, appreciating the sonuvabitch in the rare way you only do when you’re full of poison. The guitarist hit a hard chord and the next song started like a stick of dynamite. “Your turn!” Andrew shoved me into the mosh pit, and I didn’t bother to resist. I embraced it all and felt the beat of the new song, which sounded exactly like the last. I bent over so I was facing the ground and moved along to the rhythm, kicking my feet and fists into the air, feeling my sneakers slide on the smooth concrete ground. I kept moving with the cur-

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

85


F I C T I O N rent of people. My mouth filled with foul tasting spit and the throbbing in my eardrums spread to my whole head. I stayed and sweated out some of the beer in the pit for a few songs before I suffered a shove from behind that knocked me onto the floor. My stomach hit first, and then my chin. The bone went numb and the air rushed out of me. Lifting my head, I made out the skinhead stomping away at a steady pace. The adrenaline numbed any pain the alcohol didn’t take care of, and I felt a surge of sweet hatred rising in my stomach. But hatred isn’t what came up my throat and out my lips. I felt the foul stuff coming and clapped my hand across my mouth. Some of it overflowed and spilt between my fingers so a splatter of vomit landed inches from my face on the concrete. I stood and ran to the bathroom in the corner of the venue. I found my way into one of the stalls, tossing the thin door shut behind me and letting it all flow out of me and into the toilet bowl. I felt better afterwards, except for a clogged feeling in my throat like heartburn. I stood up and leaned into the concrete partition to keep my balance. I tried to hold the toilet bowl in focus, but it wouldn’t keep still. I hit the bar to flush it with my sneaker. The brown liquid, tinged red with blood, swirled and went away. When I went to leave the stall, I noticed a man hunched over the counter beside the only sink in the room. I stayed in the stall, silent and watching him through a crack in the door, half-fascinated and half-disdainful of his getup. He wore a pair of beat-up Nike sneakers beneath a businessman’s outfit, complete with dark creased slacks and a starched shirt, the ends of it untucked and wrinkled. The man moved a little as he brought in a sharp breath through his nose—snorting something off the counter. He stood straight and sighed with a hoo-ah sound, throwing his arms back and forth. When he left, I saw his face in profile. That was enough though. I recognized him as my father. His face was more hollow than usual and his normally well-kempt hair was falling over his eyes, but it was him. I stepped up to the sink in a trance and watched myself swaying in the muddy mirror. I tried to focus on my reflection, my ruddy-spotted face and bruised chin, for what seemed like a long time, trying to divine if I’d really seen what I thought I had. The flecks of white dust left on the counter seemed to confirm it. My face screwed up in confusion. The music broke through the bathroom’s relative quiet as a song outside grew in intensity and volume. I remembered where I was and splashed water on my face and bared my teeth. I went back into the large room with my hands in fists, letting the hate surge through me once more. I cursed my father for daring to invade and tarnish this sacred domain. I felt tight and strong and a little sick. I kept my eyes peeled for him as I went back toward the front of the crowd. I saw him in the mosh pit, stomping and dancing like I had done moments before. He was an odd sight—a forty-something man wearing formal clothes in the midst of a hardcore punk show crowded with kids in their

86

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


late teens. No one but me seemed to mind. Some even spurred him on with enthusiasm. Without thinking, I stepped into the current of the pit again and stayed upright, following with a heavy gait. He didn’t see me behind him. As I felt the song fading, I turned around to go against the current. He came around, eyes on the ground. I bent low and drove my fist straight up through the air and into his face. It hit hard, and he fell backwards onto his ass. “Fuck,” he said. The song ended abruptly. He looked up at me and our eyes met. Deep red blood started seeping out from both his nostrils. It coated his lips and chin. I couldn’t take looking at him, so I turned and sprinted through the crowd and out the door. I didn’t stop until I reached Andrew’s mom’s car. I felt the sting of tears in my eyes and fought to keep them from spilling out onto my cheeks, hating myself like I hated my father. I looked toward the riverbed, black in the moonless night. I sucked in deep, labored breaths and felt too much all at once. Shame, fear, confusion, loneliness, sorrow, anger—all of it rising inside me like ice water until it just turned to numbness. I wretched and I wished I could vomit more, so it would all come out of me, but I was empty. Gravel crunched behind me, signaling someone’s approach. I knew who it was, so I crossed to the far side of the vehicle. The crunching got closer and finally stopped a few feet behind me. I tried to keep my eyes dry and defiant for the relentless scolding I knew was coming. He could punish me as much as he wanted, but if I stayed resolute and angry, it wouldn’t matter—I would win. I heard him sigh and then I heard his voice, which only inflamed all my emotions again. “Listen,” he began in a soft tone that surprised me. “Don’t… Please don’t tell your mother about this. If she knew she would use this. She’d call me an unfit parent—and I might not get to see you or your sister anymore. Please, I can forget this—if you just… don’t tell your mother.” His words were like white noise but the meaning sunk in. His voice sounded humble, ashamed, and almost pleading, even scared. My father—scared. I realized I had actual power over him, but didn’t know how to use it. I sniffed and said with a mean edge to keep my voice from shaking: “I saw you in the bathroom.” “Christ,” he hissed, more at himself than me. He kicked at the rocks on the ground and groaned desperately. “What were you doing?” I asked. “I was… reverting. Or trying to—revert to a younger age I mean. Like your age,” he dodged. I didn’t press him—I knew what he was doing. I just wondered why in the hell anyone would ever want to be my age after they’d passed it for good. “Just—please. Don’t tell your mother.” I felt him hovering behind me but still didn’t turn to look at him. My father sniffed behind me. “You don’t have a napkin, do you? I’ve just got a lot of, uh…”

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

87


F I C T I O N I went into the car and fished out a crumpled fast food napkin. I handed it to him, looking into his face for the first time since our eyes had met inside. He brought the napkin to his upper lip. The blood looked black in the dark as it soaked through the brown paper until that was all black too. He twisted one end and wedged it into his right nostril. “You really shouldn’t punch your father,” he said, and looked down with uncertain eyes. He said it with his usual authoritative tone, but it didn’t sound right anymore. “You reek of alcohol,” he said. “Vomit too,” I muttered. I wanted to be angry at him again, and I tried, but it wouldn’t come. I went to the inside of the car and came back with the flask. I put it in his hand. I noticed the circles under his eyes, wet and shiny in the ambient light, as he accepted the flask and shook it to hear that it was empty. I went back and leaned on the hood of the car. He gradually sidled up to my side and discreetly leaned on the hood of the car too. It sunk a little closer to the ground beneath our weight. I wondered, for the first time, why he’d come here if he hadn’t anticipated seeing me, which he plainly hadn’t. I didn’t bother asking because I knew he wouldn’t answer. I would never know that about him. I would never know much about him at all, like I hadn’t known he could be humbled or ashamed or scared before that night. He likely wondered the same about me—all he would never know and never understand about me. He, too, didn’t ask. We stood in silence. I watched the streetlights in the distance through bleary eyes, and they stood still for a moment. I felt some sort of peace coming through my throbbing head and hot cheeks and dry lips as I looked past the riverbed to the town and listened to the crickets’ chirping blended with the whooshing of the cars going home. After a while, he stood up. The car lifted higher off the ground without his weight so my feet weren’t touching the ground anymore. “I’ll see you Sunday morning,” he said and pocketed the flask. “Sunday morning,” I echoed, and he left, tucking in his shirt tails.

Jeffrey Rindskopf was born in suburban Los Angeles and grew up in nearby Orange County. He later attended film school at Chapman University. He currently lives in Fullerton, California, working as a content writer for several websites.

88

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


P O E T R Y

Charlene Langfur

Finding the Right Amount This is how it is these days. Risk versus reward. Deciding how much is enough, how much stuff to keep, buy, throw away, what to keep for a rainy day. Today I’m collecting scraps of paper from around the house, collecting them in a bin, everything I don’t need goes in, biodegradables, what is not savable, and more, a polish and wax on an old pair of shoes, they are black and shiny as the night sky without any stars, I think I have saved the world one single act at a time.

Dennis Udink

I can’t go back now. None of us can. I recite Buddha’s prayers to ward off attachments, a boon, a good luck charm, of Buddha’s 84,000 pieces of advice this one works best right now. I plan a garden, of beans and peas, anything I please, protein, pea plants climbing up toward heaven, their tendrils like little hands, holding on for life, growing higher up, its buds becoming snow pea pods, dozens of them. No quirks, nothing irks, joy in the morning at the first light of day, giant fat clouds, heather blue sky, who will say grace, say how what shines in darkness lightens much, such small qualities follow, a day of no harm, a walk instead of a drive, accidents of pure felicity, ordinary moments become extraordinary as if the mind has a way with things of its own, changing the unchangeable. I practice measuring all this as if it is possible, the mystical, the practical, I practice toting rulers, counting bytes, calculating cell phone minutes

Karen Watson


P O E T R Y

like minions, nanoseconds of the infinite, online and in house, all the counters and all the spoons. The practice, the slow dance, the little song in the big wind coming

Climate Change in the Mind None of it is easy. Land washed away without warning. Storms of ilk and strength and drive, enough to break a world in half. So it seems in the moment. Nothing easy, staying alive in the storm is the only focus. The fixing of it isn’t easy either, the giant-overhaul, change big enough to capsize a world as is. How to back up? Step forward? Dream a new one, build what’s needed and not what is used to. A storm blasts in, drought follows, simple to see we move too fast in a life lived slowly. Today I am making a list for a garden, set it in pots and old cans on a tiny porch, reclaimed dirt, coffee grinds, organic seeds, everything I need to remind me how we can grow again, it doesn’t take long, tall green stems, I watch them take root, fly up. They know what to do, break open with petals yellow in the sun, and I have only begun with the plans, small ones, how to change a whole life, drive less, garden more, cultivate patience, ideas of how much is enough as if any of us actually knows how much to keep anymore. Do we? We use too much and talk of too little. Today, petals yellow in the sun, lighter than I imagined. Seeds drying in the wind, enough to feed a bevy of birds, a herd of small children, you, me, for a day or a year or a lifetime, out in the sun, planting seed, counting flowers, ready to gather up what comes next

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

90


Some Say All There is for Some of Us is Making Do But there is more than this to it, the incredible lightness of less, the delight of stars and the moon at night, making up for what’s right, the glowing and the deep, the heart adrift returning and the still small voice, how it never leaves even in the snow with no place to go, finding home, the happiness of losing and starting over anyway, all about what trembles and flies the tintinnabulation of the soul, bliss over a single kiss but more than this, wanting a life back even when it does not want us, flying out wide over a fat dark, landing where it seemed impossible before, finding a smaller simpler home, vegetables in a tiny garden, giant sunflowers, a bower of little white ones, sweet berries in the morning, the old problems gone off like little birds, wrens come spring off and away, the moon’s shine, glow in the night all the way until day breaks, how the sweet big wild blue sky comes on like never before a big sky come again, giant with so much life under it, completely luminous.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

91


P O E T R Y

The Land The dream about the gardens in back of the house sticks with me even now, loose soil, rich and full of loam, chard at the end of the yard growing in staggered rows, its leaves elliptical, the tiniest, the finest of them with light green leaves, at first look little mysteries with yellow centers, petals to make tea from in even more difficult times, signs of more, not like the bunches from the store, free ones like these, carrying seeds, blowing messages in the breeze, of what perseveres, simple as that, materials for going on, it’s a start, the idea, the land here, a love affair with the air, early morning, astronomical delights on a starry night, the human globe, the astrolabe on earth, in the day I see the rose colored peaches finally ripe, red radishes up, out of the ground row by row, a potato or two to dig in the earliest light, the fantastic six foot tall sunflowers round and yellow as moons

Johnny Automatic

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

92


The Moon Through the Window Last night in my dreams I constructed ideas about a future. All the material in the universe in one place. But always there is more. Today, this morning on my front porch, a little garden, a single plant near the front door covered with blue flowers infinitely small, on a white table, a white geranium in a brown pot, on the ground the yellow asters that come back year after year. In the distance, snow on the top of the mountain. Tonight, the moon through the window.

Charlene Langfur is an organic gardener, a college teacher, a southern Californian, and a Syracuse University Graduate Writing Fellowship holder. Her work has appeared in The Adirondack Review, Literal Latte, The Stone Canoe, The Toronto Quarterly, Assisi, Ninepatch, The Hampden Sydney Poetry Review and Pinyon. Charlene has forthcoming publications in Poetry East, Spoon River Anthology, Stone Voices, and others.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

93


E S S A Y

John Nizalowski

Night at World’s Center

I

t was a strange night. Later, I would learn that I had spent it at the center of the world. But at the time, I only knew I was camping in a place both beautiful and alien, filled with eerie wonder and odd dreams. Back then, in the mid-1980s, the Blanco trading post stood where the road to the great Pueblo Indian ruins complex at Chaco Canyon cut off from Highway 44, and since it was drizzling, and the guidebooks warned that the Chaco roads could become muddy and impassible in the rain, I decided to stop in for advice. While Patricia, my wife of those days, waited, I got out of our pickup and headed across a poorly graveled lot towards a low, white cinderblock building with iron grillwork on the windows. Inside, I discovered a surprisingly large room bursting with an amazing variety of goods—racks of Winchester rifles, burlap sacks of beans, coils of rope, stacks of Stetson hats, piles of Pendleton rugs, bridles hanging from the ceiling, and shelves filled with Corn Flakes, jars of sweetened peaches, and Chock Full ‘O Nuts coffee in yellow cans. Here and there, slender Navajos in jeans and cowboy shirts looked over the goods. One was

Kae Burden

hefting a rifle. A boy of about twelve was peering out the window. He seemed to be studying our white Toyota pickup and its Virginia plates. No one looked at me. I was in a very different world from the one I’d grown up in, and it was a world that was beginning to seize my imagination. Across the back end of the trading post, facing the door, stood a series of glass


cases topped by a long oak counter. The cases were crammed with Navajo silver jewelry—bolos, rings, bracelets, and belt buckles. Behind the counter, a tall, stooped, thickset man perched on a stool. His thinning white hair caught the cloudy gray light from the windows and the dim glow of scattered fluorescent tubes overhead. His skin was very pale, with a reddish tinge, like a permanent sunburn. I walked up to the counter, said hello, and asked him if he knew the conditions of the roads to Chaco Canyon. “No, I sure don’t,” he said in a voice that was gruff but not unfriendly. “I heard that they can get slick when it rains. Has it rained enough to be a problem?” “Couldn’t tell ya’. It might have.” “Is there a phone I could use to call the park headquarters?” “I’ve only got the radio phone. You’re welcome to use it, but it’ll cost you ten dollars.” For a moment I thought that he was kidding. His steady gaze and unchanged expression convinced me otherwise. “No thanks. I guess I’ll just try to get there in a day or two.” And that was that. The man said nothing more. I muttered a goodbye and turned to go. The Navajos were silent through the entire exchange. When I got back to Patricia in the truck, I told her what had been said, and we decided to head north on the highway and look for a place to stay the night. As we drove, the day began to fade, and the cloudy, grey sky grew even darker. Now and then rain spattered the windshield. “I guess we did the right thing,” I said. “Probably,” Patricia answered, her long brown hair and round, pleasantly Slavic face tinged with silver in the polarized light. “Maybe we should find a motel,” I suggested.

FALL 2015

WEBER

For a time, Patricia watched the rainwet road, an asphalt ribbon stretched out between barren hills and wind-eroded shale bluffs. Most of the cars on the highway had already turned on their lights. The coming nightfall and the rain made the idea of a motel very attractive. But we were on a six-month, cross-country sojourn, and motels were costly, a drain on our limited funds. “What’s the next town?” she asked at last. “Bloomfield.” “Let’s see if there’s a good place to camp before we reach town. If not, we’ll go ahead and get a room.” For us, all of this was new country, and everything was fascinating. We passed a hospital complex with clean white buildings and a tall water tower with black letters that proclaimed in Navajo—Dzilith-NaO-Dith-Hle. Nearby, green fields stretched out towards the west, irrigated by huge wheels connected by aluminum tubes, like a Tinker Toy set of the gods spewing water. But mostly there was a sage vastness broken here and there by ragged piles of shale, their turquoise, blue, and lavender shades vivid in the damp air. I had grown up on New York’s lush Allegheny Plateau, and had just moved from Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where maple, ash, hickory, and oak cover long, rolling ridges, and rhododendrons or thick grasses fill in the few open spaces. By contrast, in New Mexico a scrubby juniper as high as a sagging shed was tree king of an arid empire. After maybe twenty minutes, we passed a rectangular green sign that read “Bloomfield—18 Miles,” and I figured we would be under motel sheets that night and forty bucks lighter, when another sign flashed by, a brown one with white letters spelling out “Angel Peak.” The sign’s arrow pointed right. Beneath was another sign bearing a stylized white tent. I turned to Patricia and with a nod she said, “Let’s check it out.”

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

95


E S S A Y So we turned back, and a fifteenminute drive down a good dirt road brought us to the Angel Peak campsite. What greeted us, even in the half-light of dusk, was genuinely impressive. It was as if a chasm to the earth’s core opened out before us, revealing jagged, wind-carved spires of shale and sandstone, mostly beige in color, that seemed to glow under the silver-gray clouds. At the heart of the abyss stood Angel Peak—a tall spire surmounted by a winged shape that could be anything from an angel to a bat. Scattered across the basin, a few natural gas wells pumped away, the kind that look like Erector Set dinosaurs, stabbing at the earth in a steady up and down rhythm. Somehow, though, they didn’t take away from the surreal beauty of what stood before us. We couldn’t believe our luck. The place was intriguing, no one else was there, and at that moment it wasn’t raining. Besides, it was a BLM site, so the camping was free. We quickly set up the tent, fired up the Coleman stove, and had a quick supper of instant miso soup and thick pieces of whole grain bread. By the time we were finished, the light was totally gone. Yet, with the lull in the rain, we decided to sit outside anyway, recounting the day’s adventures and watching the far-off flicker of lightning. Insects buzzed and ticked in the dark desert. An occasional animal would scurry in the brush. Finally, we grew tired and crawled into our army surplus sleeping bags. After the usual squirming to find the best dips and folds in the hard ground beneath us, we fell asleep. As I said, it was a strange night, filled by violent storms, odd noises, and broken sleep laced with bizarre dreams. By midnight, the thunderstorms, which had seemed so far away when we turned in, raged overhead, dumping rain right on us, with wind and lightning all around. When they finally passed, I poked my head out of the tent to find a clear sky

FALL 2015

WEBER

scattershot with thousands of stars—Pegasus, Cassiopeia, and the other autumn constellations already past zenith. Soon after, the coyotes, the trickster animals of Navajo mythology, started in. At first, they barked and yapped from a distance. By 3:00 a.m. they were padding across the ground right outside, sniffing at the tent seams, brave in their curiosity. But far more troubling than the coyotes were the dreams. The ones I remember best were of masked, dark-skinned men walking in a slow procession across a rolling desert far more sandy and barren than the one outside the tent. Their masks were like Maori creations—all loops and spirals the color of dried blood, with big eyes and circular mouths. Upon waking, I would hear the coyotes, and then slide back into the dream—the row of dark figures forever moving across their desert from unseen origin to unknown destination. So I was certainly grateful when the rising sun set the Angel Peak basin aflame. When the dawn blazed across the tent wall, we pulled ourselves out of our sleeping bags, lit the Coleman, and started a breakfast of oatmeal and black tea. A few torn, gray clouds scudded across the sky, but largely the heavens had become startling clear and deeply azure, like poured blue ink. As we ate, Patricia and I discussed the coyotes, the thunder, and our dreams. She too had seen strange things in her sleep. Seeking confirmation of the night’s occurrences, we searched the ground, but found no tracks. It was almost as if the coyotes had been phantoms. It came to me then that something mysterious had happened, that our evening’s encounters possessed a numinous quality. That night at Angel Peak—with its unsettling alchemy of the storm’s fire, masked dreams, and wild canines—had opened my consciousness to the southwestern desert’s magic reality, an interior realm that penetrates appearances and gives them a transcendent depth and texture.

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

96


That sacred realm would fully emerge at Chaco Canyon.

I had entered the realm of the ancient and powerful, and I felt the changes that had started at Angel Peak grow within me like an exotic flower. It was as if an internal compass were shifting, my beloved green hills of Appalachia giving way to the cinnamon deserts of the Southwest.

With the warming sun overhead, we didn’t stop at the trading post. Instead, we drove down a dirt road towards the once mighty center of the 12th century theocratic civilization of the Anasazi, the deep root We spent three days at Chaco. In that of contemporary Pueblo Indian culture. time we explored all of the canyon’s major The road bumped and weaved through multi-story ruins, called by archeologists shale hills past scattered octagonal log the “great houses,” several major pueblos hogans and the occasional abandoned car. beyond the canyon’s rim, and a handful of Here and there, Navajos herded sheep, the minor structures. their scruffy dogs nipping at the heels of On our first day, we barely got started. strays. Twice we crossed through washes We had decided to whose wet, sandy botexplore the canyon toms made the truck I had entered the realm of systematically, so we weave as if I were began with the ruins driving through heavy the ancient and powerful, closest to the campsnow. It became clear and I felt the changes that ground. Resting on the why the road would had started at Angel Peak rocky slope directly be so treacherous in a above the glass and rainstorm. grow within me like an stucco visitor’s center, An hour of driving exotic flower. It was as if Una Vida, a largely brought us to a sign unexcavated ruin, was announcing the canan internal compass were a humble assemblage yon. There was a sharp shifting, my beloved green of crumbling walls turn, a duck-shaped and several kivas—the sandstone hoodoo, and hills of Appalachia giving underground circular then a plunge through way to the cinnamon deserts stone temples within a break in the 300-foot of the Southwest. which the Pueblo canyon walls onto the Indians perform their canyon floor, where the sacred rites to this day. road changed to blackBut since this was our first ruin at Chaco top. At that time, a traveler entered Chaco Canyon, we were utterly fascinated, and from the northwest, past the ruins named spent a great deal of time studying the Casa Chiquita, Kin Kletso, and Pueblo del fine workmanship of the walls, with their Arroyo, their ancient multi-storied stone intricate interconnected stones the size of structures perched on the edge of Chaco expensive art books. Our boots whispered Wash’s deep sides. Beyond, more ruins on the fine sand covering the stone slabs dotted the wide sandstone canyon, and and trails, while a slight breeze rustled the we watched them stately pass by as we sage and salt bush. The air had by then drove towards the ever looming Fajada lost its rain-washed freshness and posButte, site of the famous sun dagger, a prosessed instead the flinty smell of heated jection of sunlight against a spiral petrorock. In the white sky, the sun blazed glyph that had once marked the solstices forth from its zenith, illuminating a set of and equinoxes before the rocks shifted in shining clouds to the east. The few other 1989.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

97


E S S A Y

Kae Burden

people visiting Una Vida were, like us, hushed, respectful, sensing that we were in a sacred place, like a medieval cathedral or an Egyptian pharaoh’s tomb. From the rise upon which Una Vida stood, there was a sweeping view to the south. There, the canyon opened out into a vast plain dominated by Fajada Butte. After Una Vida, we drove a mile upcanyon to Hungo Pavi, another medium sized, unexcavated ruin. This one stood almost against the canyon wall, and its walls were more intact, rising in places to nearly three stories. Along its back, facing the cliff, there was a long wall, inset here and there by rectangular windows. This wall gave the structure an impression of size and breadth, and we left feeling great anticipation for the next day’s planned exploration of Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl, the largest great houses in the canyon.

FALL 2015

WEBER

That night we stayed in the National Park Service campground. It spread beneath a cliff face to the west of the canyon’s mouth. The campground had its own small, single-story pueblo ruin, and at dusk we sat in it for a time, looking out over the campground’s scattering of campfires, humble camper trailers, and nylon tents, their colors—beige, rust-red, dark blue, and dull green—fading in the growing darkness. As the last light played on Fajada Butte, a man of about fifty joined us in peering out across the early evening’s landscape. Wearing jeans and a faded denim shirt, he was short, lean, and wiry, with shoulder-length silver-black hair and a goatee. He greeted us in his soft, unassuming voice, and explained that he had spent his life travelling the world, supporting himself as a mechanic, working at jobs just long enough to raise the money to reach his next destination. This was his third visit to Chaco Canyon, one of his favorite places on the planet. He asked us if we had been to Pueblo Bonito yet, and when we told him we planned to go the next day, he nodded and smiled. “It is a most amazing structure—five stories high and a thousand rooms,” he stated in his quiet tones. “And none of it built out of fear, or power, or coercion. Instead, they constructed it from faith, faith in the Sun Father and the spirits of the earth. Just think of it—a thousand years ago these people created the sacred dances and told the holy stories that today’s Pueblo Indians still dance and sing.” He paused for a long time, studying the campfires, the vanishing desert scrub, and the stone bluffs. Finally, as he stood to return to his camp, he pronounced his drifter’s benediction. “For all its hardships, it must have been a beautiful life, living here and practicing your ceremonies year after year, knowing your place in the universe. Probably as close to utopia as humankind has ever come.”

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

98


Later, as I stared into our campfire, watching the flames form phantom shapes that danced and changed, I thought about his words. After the stars came out hard and bright and clear, we entered our tent and I slept a profound, dreamless sleep. It was a sharp contrast to the night at Angel Peak. The next morning, we set out to the far northwestern end of the canyon to explore Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito. These structures, so massive and complex, yet so pure of line and at one with the land, more than fulfilled the promise made by Una Vida and Hungo Pavi. When it was completed 1115 C.E., Chetro Ketl consisted of nearly 500 rooms and stood four stories high. Built along the north side of the canyon to take full advantage of the winter sun, Chetro Ketl includes a continuous stone wall that runs for 500 yards. Far greater than the formation that had impressed me at Hungo Pavi, this wall gave me the truest sense of the great size of Chaco Canyon’s con-

structions. As I walked slowly down the wall’s length, gazing up at the stonework, peering into its occasional rubble-filled window, the image of that wall, so filled with mysterious power and architectural simplicity, drove deep into my heart. After Chetro Ketl, we walked the half mile under the blazing, late-morning sun to the massive five-story, bow-shaped Pueblo Bonito. With 700 rooms and thirty-three kivas, it is the canyon’s apex structure and covers nearly five acres. I remembered the drifter’s words about “knowing your place in the universe,” while entering its stone depths. There, the multi-layered corridors of connected rooms, rectangular doorways and corner windows evoked for me the Cretan labyrinth at Knossos, or the multi-chambered sacred temple of the Eleusinian Mysteries near Athens. In some of the rooms, cool from the sharp shadows cast by threestory high walls, stone metates lay on the smooth dirt floors, as if awaiting the return of women a thousand years gone to again patiently grind the corn to feed the children playing in the great, arcshaped courtyard. But it was during our final day at Chaco Canyon that I encountered the ruin that captivated most deeply and completed my southwestern metamorphosis. Casa Rinconada, which stands on a small rise across the wash from Pueblo Bonito, is the largest kiva in Chaco Canyon. Strangely, the pueblo ruins at the base of its slope are rather humble in size and appearance. But the kiva, a grand, circular structure over sixty feet in diameter, is a revelation of the sacred. When I made this first journey to Chaco, the Park Service still allowed visitors to enter Casa Rinconada and stand on its sandy floor. Today, Pueblo Indian elders have forbidden such excursions, and for good reason. As I was to discover, Casa Rinconada is a sacred and powerful space and should be respected as such. A

Kae Burden

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

99


E S S A Y prayer stick planted in recent times by a vaults constructed from low stone walls, Pueblo Indian priest now stands as a senwas completely silent. try against intruders. When I had completed my circumBut three decades ago, one could ambulation, and I was standing again at descend into the kiva, and so we did, the north entrance, I closed my eyes and walking slowly down the stairs through entered a state similar to Buddhist meditathe rectangular antechamber in the tion. I could feel the sun on my face, an structure’s north side. At the base of the aching weariness in my feet and legs, the stairs, we ducked under the wall through binding of my watchband. a small, tight passage, and came out into a And then it happened. For a moment, spacious circular space. The roof had long I had a vision of the masked dancers from been absent, and above there was only the my dreams at Angel Peak. Then came a blue sky and the sun of rushing sound like an heaven. I stood still for ocean surf, and with it a time, feeling strangely the sensation of flying. For a moment, I had a vision alone and vulnerable Light-headed and down under the earth’s of the masked dancers from dizzy, I couldn’t feel surface and surrounded my feet on the ground. my dreams at Angel Peak. by the great 900-yearI believed for all the old circle of stone. It was Then came a rushing sound world that I was huras if the infinite horizon like an ocean surf, and with it tling through the sky had been captured and into the sun. within these rock walls, the sensation of flying. LightFrightened, I and the gods would at snapped open my headed and dizzy, I couldn’t any moment peer down eyes, and saw Patricia, feel my feet on the ground. I at me from the kiva’s ten feet away, smiling believed for all the world that at me. rim to challenge my presence in their temple. I was hurtling through the “You felt it too.” At last, I began to “Yes,” was all I said sky and into the sun. move with measured in answer. steps, like when I was an altar boy carrying As I stood at the the crucifix on Holy Friday around the great kiva’s center, the transcendent vision periphery of the church. I walked clockthat had entered my unconscious like a wise around the kiva alongside the wall’s seed during my strange night at Angel low stone ledge, and peered into every Peak sprouted from the Chacoan earth square chamber built into the wall. Later and embraced my soul. Only in the SouthI found out that there are thirty-four of west do I encounter this way of seeing these niches, and they were created for the and feeling. For me, this region weaves a storage of sacred objects—copper bells, reality that is vital and mysterious, beautistone fetishes, eagle feather fans, and other ful and dangerous. Ever since my stay at spiritual totems. Angel Peak, there are certain southwestToday, all of them are empty. I could ern places that evoke this deep vision, hear the sound of my boots crunching on from the gothic sandstone spires of Utah’s the stone-strewn earth, my steady breathFisher Towers to the pre-Cambrian granite ing, and that was all. There was no wind, abysses of Colorado’s Black Canyon. It is and Patricia, who stood in the center a state of being I deeply cherish. It keeps between the large, earth-filled rectangular me sane in an overly complex, materially

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

100


driven world, and it is what convinced me to leave my native Appalachia and settle in the Four Corners region. Years later, I would discover that this Angel Peak revelation—a gift of masked dancers, coyotes, and lightning—came to me at the center of the world. In the 11th century, nearly 400 miles of roads radiated from Chaco Canyon like the rays of a stylized sun. Designed for foot travel, some of these roads were twenty to thirty feet across. Along them journeyed messengers, priests, warriors, workmen with ponderosa logs for the great multistoried buildings, and traders with packs loaded with corn, pottery, turquoise, and even more exotic products like shells from the Pacific Ocean or parrot feathers from the Mexican realms of the Toltecs and Mayas. The roads were absolutely straight, and largely ignored the natural contours, moving directly over mesas and across valleys. To some anthropologists, the geometric perfection of these roads suggests that they served important religious and symbolic roles besides their practical function of facilitating foot travel across the desert. Most of the Chacoan roads head south or southwest towards the fertile foothills and canyons west of Mount Taylor, where thousands of farmers grew the grains that kept the Chacoan civilization alive. An exception is the North Road, which begins at Pueblo Alto, at the top of the Chaco Canyon across from Casa Rinconada and above Pueblo Bonito. This major road heads directly north and passes through the ruins named El Faro and Halfway House, both of which were way stations and guard towers along the road. After crossing thirty miles of

nearly uninhabited territory, the North Road arrives at Kutz Canyon and Angel Peak, where centuries ago it descended a wooden staircase and ended at the canyon floor. For decades, archeologists have assumed that from Kutz Canyon the road continued northwest to reach the Anasazi cities of Salmon and Aztec, but no such extension has ever been discovered. In his book Anasazi America, University of New Mexico archeologist David E. Stuart retells a conversation he had with Pueblo Indian anthropologist Alfonso Ortiz concerning Chaco’s North Road. Stuart complained to Ortiz that the North Road had served no discernable purpose, because even in the 11th century it traveled through a sparsely populated region and ended in a desolate and uninhabited canyon. Ortiz responded to Stuart’s assertion by challenging its cultural assumptions. As Stuart describes, “Alfonso smiled enigmatically and suggested that road went nowhere as defined by my world— not by his.” Stuart then describes archeologist Michael Marshall’s theory that the Pueblo Indians at Chaco Canyon believed that Kutz Canyon was the place of emergence, the chasm where the first people ascended from the previous world to enter this one.

Courtesy National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

101


E S S A Y In Pueblo Indian belief, there have been four previous worlds, and each time one was destroyed, the survivors entered the next realm through an opening in the ground, the Sipapu, commemorated by a hole in the earth in many kivas. Today’s Pueblo Indians identify many different locales as the emergence point, including the Grand Canyon by the Hopi and Blue Lake on Taos Mountain by the Indians of Taos Pueblo. Regardless of where a particular tribe believes it to be, it is a place of primary sacredness, the sole entry-point into our new universe—the center of the world. Some pilgrims, seeking the geographical center of their faith, journey to Jerusalem. Others, with different beliefs, find their way to Rome, Stonehenge, Delphi,

Mecca, Benares, Lhasa, Tai Shan, Mount Fuji, Mount Kilimanjaro, Ayers Rock, Teotihuacan, or some other storied place, famous in the annals of human history and religion. By accident, I found my way to a humble canyon at the end of a dirt road barely noted on the official New Mexico state highway map. There, before a spire named for the Christian version of Pueblo Indian kachinas, next to a sacred canyon scarred by natural gas pumps, I encountered a night of masked gods, the holy Trickster, and the blue fire of Quetzalcoatl, the mighty Plumed Serpent of the Toltecs. This encounter opened up my soul to a new reality—a new way to see the world, a new land to call home.

John Nizalowski is the author of three books—Hooking the Sun (Farolito Press), The Last Matinée (Turkey Buzzard Press), and Land of Cinnamon Sun (Irie Books). Most recently his work has appeared in Digital Americana, Under the Sun, Gobshite, and Measure. He teaches creative writing, composition, and mythology at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. Brenda Wilhelm

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

102


P O E T R Y

Christopher Cokinos

Logan Dry Canyon The rain they said would come has not. Beneath blue and cumulus field, the yellow pincherry. We gather coneflower heads and the seeds of rabbitbrush. Nuthatch, flicker, chickadee, a call I’ll learn to know without naming: solitaire. In two hours, we will be home. In three, we will pare apples from our trees. In four, we’ll clean house, and, after, Dennis Udink we will make love. Above that trail is a cave we may come to, earth that cups its dark beside those maples, the sun a step away.

Karen Watson

Christopher Cokinos is the author, most recently, of Bodies of the Holocene, a collection of lyric prose from Truman Press. “Logan Dry Canyon” comes from his new chapbook, Held as Earth, from Finishing Line Press. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of Arizona, where he is also an affiliated faculty with the Institute of the Environment.


F I C T I O N

G.D. McFetridge

The Lost Cabin

W

hy did I drive north at the crossroads instead of turning east or west? It was a decision made in the moment without reflection, so I suppose it was only an impulse. Maybe it was something that welled up from the secreted realm of my unconscious. My thoughts and reflections often drift into the past, for there is more of it than remains of my uncertain future. Thoughts sometimes appear to have a will of their own and yet I still wonder why I drove north. In the rearview mirror I saw my face, my eyes—the face of a stranger? Far from the paved two-lane highway, on a dirt road, the cabin sat on a knoll with pine trees behind and on both sides. I almost didn’t notice it as I drove past. What caught my eye was the metal real estate sign with bright red letters that said “For Sale.” I was driving slowly and not paying much attention to anything other than my thoughts and the images coming at me like a movie through the windshield. I knew that I was in this movie but I didn’t know where the movie was going or what plot was unfolding. Many miles in the distance gray-blue mountains rose up behind green-forested foothills, and scattered clouds lay beyond and above the mountains, yet the sky was mostly blue. The sun shone brightly through the driver’s side window, which I had rolled down after leaving the paved highway, and a cloud of powdery dust floated behind my car, dissipating as it drifted with the breeze. I stopped and looked at the weed-speckled road leading to the cabin, then rolled backwards a few feet and turned the car up the road. I parked about halfway to the top of the knoll. I don’t know why I didn’t drive all the way. I guess I didn’t want to seem intrusive, although with no vehicle parked by the cabin nor any sign of anyone being there, I don’t know why I would have felt that way. Smoke wasn’t rising from the chimney, but then the day wasn’t cold, so why should there be? Not many people drive to the backwoods on dirt roads without good reason. Nothing is more desolate than a cabin in forested land miles from the nearest town, and I don’t think any of these roads had seen much traffic since the days of logging when big trucks rumbled in and then drove out loaded with timber, when lumberjacks arrived each morning and departed in late afternoon. On roads like this, it’s easy to get lost if you don’t pay attention, if you don’t recall whether you took a left fork or a right, or if you find yourself in a place where the forest is high and deep and you have no sense of direction. Driving on dirt roads you can forget the world you left behind and lose yourself in the scenery, lose yourself in the sounds of Monica Linford


the engine and tires crunching over gravel—in this perpetual and uninhabited landscape. I guess that’s why I left the paved highway. I had things I wanted to think about, things largely from my past. The cabin was shaded by pine trees and set back from the rim of the knoll but only a bit, and behind the cabin the knoll fell off at a gentle angle and then joined a low ridge that was thick with trees and seemed almost impenetrable. It was a small cabin but it was made of real logs, and it had a gable roof shingled in wood that over time had greened with a thin patina of moss. A door, with window next to it, was off to one side, opening onto a covered porch with cracked and twisted floorboards and rusty nail heads poking up. Out of the corner of my eye, as I was looking to one side of the cabin, I thought I saw the window curtains move, though when I looked a second time they hung still, yellowed and pulled together leaving only a few inches between them. I thought no more about it. To the right side of the cabin, some many feet, I saw what looked like an old wellhead with a rusty motor and hand pump, but there were no power lines, so I thought I would look closer to determine what it really was. The forest was silent. I noticed this as I stood looking down at the wellhead. It was an electric pump all right, and I spotted a long section of white housing wire running over pine needles and weeds to a shed attached to the far end of the cabin. Inside the shed was an old gasoline generator, its green paint faded and half-flaking away. Behind the cabin, as I peeked past the first shed, I saw a larger shed with a pitched roof covered by mineral-coated tarpaper, half of which was missing. The door hung aslant from a single hinge and the planking had split, and where the ends of the planks settled into the dirt, they were rotten. It seemed odd why someone would try to sell this place. Who would want to buy it? Unless of course someone bought it because the sign specified that the sale included ten acres. Even though what the acreage encompassed, other than forest, was in question. I chuckled to myself. Who had lived here and why? I heard a bird make an oscillating call somewhere in the woods. Other than that, I was alone in the middle of nowhere listening to a bird I couldn’t see. It had been quite a long while since I had done something like this, driving out of the city hundreds of miles to a location where few others ever went, but I had nothing better to do and so my being there was as consistent, in a logical way, as anything else I had ever done. I had time to waste if that was what I wanted to do. Time seemed less important to me as more of it slipped into the past. My brother’s sudden and unlikely death haunted me. He was eight years older than I was but had died in prison long before his so-called allotted time, serving seventeen years to life for killing his wife. He had shot her at close range three times in the head with a .22 rifle and then disappeared into the vast reaches of America. The homicide detectives caught him the day he showed up at our father’s home to get money. Then came the trial, the judgment and his conviction. My brother and I were very close a long time ago but had drifted apart as we grew older, and although I never visited him in prison, we saw each

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

105


F I C T I O N other once while he awaited trial in county jail. By that point we were strangers and I wanted to see him as he had once been. Despite his horrific circumstances, he seemed, oddly enough, more relaxed than I’d seen him in years, his expression no longer wrought by anger and pain. The rage that had driven him on that dark day was something I would never understand. It takes a lot of rage to put three bullets into someone’s head. From behind the glass partition that separated us, we talked about small things and unimportant things. Neither of us wanted to talk about the real things that had brought us to this time and place. Perhaps he had lost his mind. Not that my conjecture meant anything in legal terms. The only thing that had any real meaning was the fact that he might never leave prison, or that he might only leave as a frail old man with little left of what he was before murdering his wife seemed like the only solution. Dying sooner than expected might have been the best thing for him. I can’t imagine living for so many years in prison. I walked all the way around the cabin and realized it was larger than it appeared from the front. A second room extended off the rear wall. It had a slanted roof and seemed added on because it wasn’t made of logs. It was planked the same way as the larger shed but the planks hadn’t rotted and had a coat of brown paint, faded and showing through in places. In a flat area behind the cabin were two old apple trees, hung heavy with small green apples that would likely ripen come the fall. Beyond the two trees a narrow path led down into the shallow ravine and then disappeared into the forest on the ridge. I wondered where the trail went. Then another thought came to me. What would it be like to live in this cabin so far from everywhere? During my youth I worked as a union carpenter for a few years and had retained most of the skills. I could buy and renovate the cabin and turn it into a vacation getaway. Why not? The price couldn’t be much. I needed a hideaway, a quiet place to forget my job and the stress of city life. It would be good to have a cabin. I could spend a summer here and quit smoking. Without stress, quitting would be much easier. I walked downhill to the sign to call the phone number, but my cell phone couldn’t find a signal. I wrote the number on a business card in my wallet. I lit a cigarette and glanced up at the cabin. Maybe the door is unlocked, I thought, or the window cracked open. I decided to check. Seeing inside the cabin would fill out the picture. As I approached the front door, an old man came around from behind the house. He was thin as a leaf, bent slightly, and wore a plaid long-sleeve shirt and faded coveralls, with a red baseball cap pulled down over his bushy gray hair. His rimless glasses perched low on his nose, his face somewhat wrinkly but clean-shaven. “What are you doing here?” he said, and peered at me suspiciously. He had an odd voice, croaky but higher pitched like a woman’s. “I was driving by and saw the real estate sign.”

106

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


He walked closer and looked me straight in the eyes. “Where the hell were you driving?” His eyes were pale behind his glasses. Like faded green marbles. “I was just driving … nowhere in particular,” I said defensively. He surveyed my face and his eyes turned downward as if noticing my clothes. I suppose you could say I looked the part of a city person—L.L. Bean shirt and blazer. Tan chinos from an expensive clothing store, looped with a brown leather belt that matched my loafers. To break the silence I said, “Do you live in the cabin year round?” It seemed unlikely; he didn’t quite look the part. I hadn’t decided how he should look but rather assumed he’d arrived from somewhere else. Where that somewhere might be remained in question. Another nearby property, perhaps, hidden in the forest. “Been living here for twenty-four years,” he said. “Moved here after my spouse left me.” His use of the word spouse seemed peculiar to me. Or maybe quaint is a better word. “Spouses will do that,” I said and grinned. “My wife left me a couple years ago.” “Did she leave with your best friend?” “No.” “Mine did. I should have shot them both.” A snapshot-like image of my brother popped uninvited into my thoughts. I had never imagined that he might have killed his wife for cheating—but now I wondered. I fished a cigarette from my pack. The old man watched. I reached the pack to him. He shook his head. “The sign says for sale,” I said and blew smoke into the air above us. “Are you a buyer?” “Maybe. I guess it would depend on the price.” “You’re the first to stop since I put out the sign months ago.” “You need a bigger sign closer to the road.” “Before I tell you my price, you should have a look inside.” I wasn’t sure I wanted to go any further with this undertaking, but after dropping my cigarette and stepping on it, I thought it might be interesting. I was curious about how this old geezer lived, and seeing inside the cabin would shed some light. I followed him to the door and we went inside. The first thing he did was pull back the curtains. Another smaller window I’d not noticed was on the left wall. It had no curtains but let in little light because a bushy pine shaded it from the afternoon sun. Wood planking much like the wood on the added-on room paneled the interior walls, and an old iron stove sat in one corner with pots and a frying pan hung on pegs to one side. A blue enameled coffee pot rested on top of the stove. There was also one wooden chair beside a small wooden table, and makeshift shelves with books, assorted knickknacks and mismatching dishes. Another set of shelves held row after row of canned foods, and beneath them a battered cold box with a dusty lid. The small room in back had a bed with two pillows and chest of drawers, a hat rack hung with several baseball caps and a heavy coat, and a bedside table with a stack of books

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

107


F I C T I O N and a kerosene lamp. In both rooms naked light bulbs dangled from electric cables with short pull chains. I guess the overall impression met my expectations, although there was something cozy about the way things fit together, a compact arrangement of necessities with everything in what one might say was its appointed place. Simple austerity. But what I couldn’t fathom was how anyone could live in such a small space for twenty-some years, apparently without a car, without regular electricity or phone service, without running water. Not even a mailbox. Who was helping him out? Who stopped by for a visit? What if he took ill? Clearly an untold story was at hand. As my eyes wandered about the room, he fiddled with something on the shelf and then turned to me with a quizzical look. “We haven’t introduced ourselves—my name is Nadeen, Nadeen Henry.” I started to say my own name but suddenly recalled that Nadeen was a woman’s name. The mother of one of my boyhood friends was Nadeen. Was it possible? One of those names that went both ways? Like Carol or Gale or Gerry? While I hesitated, wondering how to get out of the situation without seeming rude or oblivious, I glanced down at Nadeen’s upper body and noticed what appeared to be a vague suggestion of breasts. “I’m Jeff,” I said and hesitated again. “My friend’s mother is named Nadeen.” “You wouldn’t be the first.” “With a friend whose mother’s name is Nadeen?” I said, at a loss. Nadeen offered a hint of a smile. “No, not the first to mistake me for a man.” I laughed. “How did you know?” “I read your expression.” “I’m sorry if I seem unaware. I don’t have my glasses. I’m very farsighted.” That was a lie but seemed the best way to go. “Fifty thousand and you can have all this plus the ten acres,” she said. “But first you should see the entire spread. My land includes a crick and a pond.” “A what and a pond?” “A crick … a creek to you city folk.” I laughed. “A crick.” Buying the cabin had been at best a passing thought, and I don’t know why I considered it to begin with other than I didn’t have anything better to do. My one thought now was to extricate myself from what would surely become more complicated with each step forward, and I didn’t want to proceed on false pretenses. “It’s a long drive back to the city and—” “It’s a short walk. You’ve come this far so why leave without seeing the prettiest part? The pond and the meadow and the crick.” Fifteen minutes later we had hiked the dusty path behind the cabin up the low ridge and down the other side, where the forest opened to a broad green meadow with a meandering stream that spilled into a pond about the size of a football field. On the way, I had asked Nadeen how she managed out here on her own without transportation or any of the normal amenities

108

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


of life. She said she had an old Ford pick-up truck but it was in the repair shop, and her nephew lived in the small town ten miles up the main highway and visited several times a month. She also received a Social Security check each month to cover expenses, which were few, and had one old friend who lived in the same small town. Occasionally she visited the friend and then did whatever shopping she needed to do. She also volunteered at the library twice a week. “I’ve come to enjoy my solitude a great deal, and I read a lot,” she added. “Amenities are for those who need them. But no matter what else, they always need more.” The meadow was, as she had said, quite lovely. Something Monet would have painted, and even though the creek was down to a trickle, the pond was full and had schools of silvery trout swimming lazily in the clear water near the shore. “I fish here when I feel like having trout for dinner,” she explained. “I’ve never fished,” I said. “But you have to admit this is a beautiful piece of land for the price.” “It is indeed. But if I were to buy it, where would you live?” “Oh … that part will take care of itself.” She said this with what struck me as a strange finality, as if perhaps her future was already planned. From the meadow we walked the trail up and over the ridge to the cabin. The sun was lower now, and the first suggestions of apricot and rose that would later fill the sunset sky highlighted the puffy clouds to the north. A hint of chilliness was in the air despite it being late summer, but I reminded myself that the elevation was probably well above four thousand feet and cooler than the flatlands. As we approached the cabin it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen an outhouse. I asked Nadeen. She pointed to a small shack partly hidden behind several pine trees. I asked her who had built the cabin. She said an old man, a retired lumberjack who’d lost his foot in a work accident in the fifties. At the front door I hesitated and said I really needed to get going. I would think about buying the cabin but I wanted to be honest because it seemed like a long shot; for unlike her, I was not someone who could live in such an ascetic manner. She laughed and said I just needed to get a little older. I noticed her voice sounded more feminine than before. “Come in and we’ll have a glass of wine, then you can get on your way.” I knew she wanted company, that much was obvious aside from her stalwart posturing, and I suppose the idea of drinking a little wine sweetened the deal. As I mentioned before, I had nothing better to do, and having nothing better to do was something that had become more frequent in my life since my divorce. We sat at the small table—her in the chair I had seen earlier, me in another folding chair she retrieved from somewhere in the bedroom—facing each other in the yellowish light of a kerosene lamp she had lit. The wine bottle, along with a half-dozen others, stood in the cold box, and though there was no ice, icy water remained in the bottom and the wine was pleasantly chilled. We drank from large coffee cups. I wanted to smoke but didn’t, and I hadn’t had any alcohol in several days, so the wine went to my head and offered a warm relaxing sensation that reminded me how tense I was. I’d been tense for weeks, maybe months.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

109


F I C T I O N She began telling me about her life, in bits and snippets, and I half listened. She’d been an army nurse in Korea, but I couldn’t relate to her stories because that war was over long before my birth. My thoughts drifted back to my brother. If he had evaded capture, he might be living a life much like hers, isolated, off the grid, alone but not in prison and still alive. Prison had killed him. Before he went to see my father, my brother had come to me asking for money. I lied and said I was broke, and then handed him a handful of twenties and two fifties, all the money that was in my apartment. He gave me a grateful look and patted my shoulder, but behind his mask, hidden in his eyes, I saw desperation. They caught him a week later. I was making good money and had five thousand in my bank account. I could have given it all to him, but despite the mitigating tale he had told during the trial, I knew he was guilty. I knew my brother— I had witnessed his decline. Before my divorce, I almost never thought of him. When I drained the last of my wine, she reached for the bottle and poured more into my coffee cup, and then refreshed her own cup. If I stayed much longer, driving all the way back to the city would be a chore so I would probably think about getting a motel for the night. “Is there a decent motel in the town you mentioned?” I asked. “There’s a little place but it isn’t what I’d call the Ritz,” she said, and went to the shelves with the canned food and pulled a box of crackers from between the cans. Then she walked into the bedroom, returning with half a package of cheese, which she placed on the table and sliced into bite size pieces. The cheese had that darker orange color that comes when it isn’t refrigerated. She looked at me straight on through her glasses, her pale eyes squinting slightly as if examining something in detail. “Why did your wife leave you?” I offered my stock answer. “She wanted to get pregnant and I wasn’t ready … ready to make that step.” There was more to it but that was the easiest way of making my point. “How long were you married?” “Five years.” “Was it your first marriage?” “My first, her second.” “You married late.” “Yes. I was thirty-four.” She placed a slice of cheese between two crackers. I did likewise. “Why did you wait so long—to get married?” “I was ambitious about my work. And the idea of marriage wasn’t something I was keen about. My parents had a rotten marriage and so did my brother … maybe you see my point.” “I’m old enough to see most points, one way or another, but that doesn’t explain why you married.”

110

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

Monica Linford

FALL 2015


I felt like having a cigarette. “Would you mind if I stepped outside to smoke?” “I smoked when I was a nurse in Korea and a few years after, but I quit in nineteen-fifty-six. Hardest thing I ever did.” “I’ve quit ten times but it’s never taken. I always go back.” “And you will until you don’t. Go smoke.” I lit up outside standing on the little porch. The sun was slipping behind the distant mountains and the sky was as I had thought it would be, a mix of apricot and rose, the clouds still there as if they’d hardly moved, the air chillier than before. I suddenly realized I had to pee and hurried toward the outhouse. The tallest pines were high overhead, swaying in a breeze that was now closer to being a light wind, making airy sounds in the needles and loosening a few pinecones that made muffled sounds when they fell to the ground. Inside the outhouse, I flicked my lighter to see where to aim, and after I’d finished I dropped my cigarette into the foul-smelling pit. I could never live this way. It was time to go home and return to my routines, to my townhouse and television. I walked to the cabin and glanced through the reflections on the window. I didn’t see her. I opened the door. “Nadeen?” I said. The almost empty wine bottle sat on the table beside the cheese and crackers, and the kerosene lamp made flickery shadows on the walls. I peeked inside the bedroom. She wasn’t there either, so I stepped outside and called her name. The wind kicked up and made louder whistling sounds in the high trees and more pinecones fell, and the sun was behind the mountains and the sky was a dying violet color. I felt inside my pocket for my keys and called out again, louder. “Nadeen? Are you here?” The keys weren’t there. Must have left them in the car, I thought. But if I couldn’t find them, what difference would it make? I would walk back through the dark forest to the meadow by the pond to find her standing at its edge, moonlight shimmering on rippled waters above the shadows of silvery fish, embraced by something only she understood.

G. D. McFetridge continues writing from his wilderness home in Montana’s majestic Sapphire Mountains. His work has recently appeared in The Long Story, The Lost Country, Confrontation, Foliate Oak, Cottonwood, Big Muddy, South Dakota Review, Louisiana Literature, The Antigonish Review, and others.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

111


P O E T R Y

Gale Acuff

Timex In Sunday School today the light went out but I was the only one who noticed and anyway it was 10:45, leaving fifteen more minutes of God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost to go, not that I was counting but I did check my Timex, I got it last Christmas, to see how much time was left, I mean time in class, not time as in the end of the world since no one knows when that will come and I’ll be   dead by then, I guess, though I’m only 10 now. Miss Hooker says so, I mean that no one knows when God will blow things up or in whatever other way He’ll wind things down. Sometimes I don’t listen too good in class, Satan is probably what that is and I must fight him. I think that when I croak   my soul goes straight to Heaven to be judged —or maybe I’ve got to wait inside me, my soul inside my body I mean, ‘til the end of the world. I don’t like to be bored so I hope I can stay busy in the dark like that. And inside a box. And underground. And six feet of ground at that. Whew. If my soul can get out of that then   for sure, Our God is an awesome God, just like Miss Hooker says. She’s 25—she’ll die before I do unless God calls me early. I don’t want to go at all but I don’t make the rules down here, I’m a kid, but neither do the grownups, they’re just kids, too, to God. That’s a good reason to love   Him. I honor my father and mother like Miss Hooker tells us. It’s not real easy

Karen Watson


these days. They don’t come to church. Right now they’re back home, in the kitchen, smoking Salems and sipping Yuban and sharing the big newspaper. When I get home they’ll still be in their ratty robes. Father doesn’t shave on Sundays. Mother won’t put on her face. I’ll walk in all dressed up, like I’m getting buried. They’ll say hello but won’t look up from the news and sports and color comics.   Near the end of class the light came back on and again I was the only one who saw. But we didn’t need it anyway. We were just wasting power. That’s a sin. I should’ve said something but I’m not quick.

Getting to the Bottom Father’s a plumber. He goes under, with spiders and crickets and rats and mud and in all kinds of weather. I follow him when he takes me along on Saturdays, when I’m not in school, or in the middle of the night when someone’s pipes bust. It’s not fun, he says, but the money’s pretty fair. And sometimes I get some of it when folks pay in cash. Then I can buy comic books but I don’t see Superman unclogging someone’s toilet full of cigarette butts and wrappers and little plastic soldiers and marbles and BBs and jawbreakers. How does all that stuff get in there, I ask. Just be glad it does, he answers, so you   can go to college in about eight years but until then you’d better study like Hell. Yes sir, I say. Which means that I can’t grow up to be just like Father. I’ll be more like Mother. She’s a hairdresser and

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

113


P O E T R Y went to cosmetology school and has the diploma to prove it. I don’t mind being smart but I’m getting used to dirty work. Sometimes it pays better. Once I asked Father if he believes in God —He and Mother don’t come to church. He said no but swears he saw the Devil one time under Grandma’s house. She gets her busted pipes fixed free. What did he look like, I asked. Like a man without a college degree, he answered. Oh, I said—I know the kind.  

Gale Acuff’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals, and he is also the author of three books of poetry. He has taught English in universities in the U.S., China, and Palestine. He currently teaches literature at Sichuan University for Nationalities in China.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

114


P O E T R Y

Helen Wickes

California Mission Suite Death wouldn’t stay out of the poem, he crept in through every breath, through the arthritic hands of the old man propping up the olive branches. Death sauntered into San Juan Bautista with its six types of lilac into whose spell we delivered ourselves while arguing about the six separate sorrows:

Dennis Udink

the gently trained, the espaliered, the harshly pollarded, the one that’s dwarfed to fit the pot, one that languishes from lack of sun, one from never being noticed. At San Miguel’s, death stared from the huge eye in a yellow triangle painted above the altar, as if from a Freemason rite, and trailed us down Highway 101 to Our Lady of Soledad where the cat slept under that crucified man, whose delicately nailed-down feet have become a scratching post, and here it lurks in San Antonio de Padua’s roped-off garden. Flowering cherry, pear, and an old well. I wanted to enter the garden, throw in a penny, and make a prayer, but the priest said, No, you cannot enter this garden.

Johnny A


P O E T R Y

It’s about our insurance. You might drown. In the well, he said, and we’re not insured. Neither for suicide nor for clumsiness. You’d become my dilemma, he said, don’t you see?

Helen Wickes worked for many years as a psychotherapist and holds an MFA from Bennington Writing Seminars. Her first book of poems was published in 2007 by Sixteen Rivers Press. “California Mission Suite” is from her forthcoming manuscript, Dowser’s Apprentice (Glass Lyre Press, 2015).

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

116


F I C T I O N

Max Orkis

A Sunset in the Sunset

I

open the car door, and the sounds of the Sunset ink into the interior. Shine On You Crazy Diamond gags at its zenith. I step out into the picture. The canvas soaks me up. A smudge of gray and eggshell, I descend the vertebrae of a hunchback street. Structures inflate, drifting past me as I seep into the cubist cityscape. The deadbeat San Francisco sun brushes a stainless pallor across the autumn blue. The design I’ve hatched is to pace myself into a stupor and through the cartoon I’m doodling. At this point, the artwork on the city’s unlikely museum walls throbs more animated than my embryonic movie. My eye nets a graffito across the street. Its coat of beige paint is cracked into cartographic fractures coursing towards yolk. Unwelcome beauty. I roost at an outside table of a café to have a stab at deciphering this temporary tattoo.

Nedoka Singer

§ A sandal oscillates above the concrete at the next table over. Each swing a gumcracking slap on the heel. The toenails glimmer scarlet. In a series of strokes, I sculpt two bare legs crossed at the knees, a short weightless dress, thin forearms, freckled chest and shoulders. Blinding red hair shatters sunbeams into radiant fragments — a stained glass mosaic. A jukebox plays Now there’s a look in your eyes like black holes in the sky. I zero in on her irises, bay-green. Her gaze — a cliff behind billowing fog. Is the young lady high? Nothing would be less inspirational than a sober conversation. The hypnotic metronome of the slaps ceases. Blind-spot check — no, she’s smiling at me. She says, “Your character dreams he used to be a wall, right?” A cloud may have eclipsed the sun, or the Earth skipped a notch or prematurely twisted an extra fraction of a degree. My gluteus unglues from the seat.


F I C T I O N

“He does, repeatedly,” I exhale. “But you’re afraid the idea might be a blighted ovum.” There’s something of a predator’s jaw in that snapping slipper, toenails like scales. “You weren’t talking to yourself. Sit.” “Who… How…” Gravity sextuples around my chair. “Atta boy.” Her sandal shuts up again. “I’ll be your friendly case worker. You were actually slated for one of my sisters. Ovulation’s cyclical, though, so here we are.” She sinks her teeth into layer cake. Crumbs dot her empty table. “Tea?” My palm feels suddenly gravid with a scalding mug of steaming green liquid. It sways turbulent as the vessel emergency-lands on my table. “Want me to egg you on?” She licks her fingertip as if to flip a page, then caresses the crumbs off the table and into her mouth. “You’re Grand.” “Thanks. You’ve seen my work?” “Everything. But what I meant is you remind me of Joseph Grand from La Peste.” “Camus,” I say. “You know your fellow patients. Sorry — clients.” Her lips wink me a kiss, then blow — as if on tea or a wound. “Grand never advances past his novel’s first sentence. So, let’s begin ab ovo. Before you get unblocked and back to drafting your sketches, how about we break down the premise? That’s where you hit a wall, isn’t it?” She taps an electronic tablet. The screen blinks awake, then dims, the way her eyes were a minute ago. “What is your wall?” “Maybe it belonged to a fortress?” I demolish castles in the air. “Ruins?” “Very concrete.” She lifts a clipboard and a small trident fork from her table. “The wall’s marinated in prisoners’ spirits,” I say. “How?” She reclines in her plastic chair and presses her knees together. “They engraved parts of their souls into it.” The sun effuses across the city like an oil spill. It flows over the hills and floods an enormous sky hanging on the peaks of the bridges. It rolls with each wave of tepid ocean air, like the summer fabric of her dress. Sail on the steel breeze decants into my silence. She downs an espresso. Red polish has chipped off a fingernail, silver glitter peeking through the chinks. Her eyes and lips twinkle — the splash from a dive. I inhale. “A vulgar rhyme? Obscene drawings?” “Captivating. So, what’s this monumental film about?” “Who’s more real – the dreamer or the dream.” I tip warm Americano into my mouth. “Our session’s drawing to a close,” she announces. “Wait, what? No… ” “Oh, how I’d love to commit to a solid idea like yours, to raise a wall of my own perhaps. Unfortunately, inconceivable.” She sweeps caviar-like

118

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


poppy seeds off her table and cocks her head. An orange leaf — dribbling, twirling — has caught her eye. Or is the neighborhood pirouetting around this bony sail? I stir to… jump table? Beg? Whom? The wisp of vapor whirling across the street, where the mural of veiny fissures squiggling towards a dilated hole is eyeballing me from? A double take gleans an oval table and chair painted on the café wall and flaking. She’s gone — one can hardly be more self-effacing. She even brings her own furniture.

§ The Sunset’s riding the stormy hills. I feel a little seasick. Come on, you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine. The music brims. Thoughts spread on my palette, sharp and comforting. My tabula’s no longer rasa. Sanity’s a small price to pay for such a stroke of luck. The new begins with a steamroller, knife, whiteout. Pile on many more layers, the song pulses on. Can the dreamer be a figment of the imagination of a wall he himself builds in his visions? It dawns on me — an image cannot create itself, the art the artist. The sun lends itself to breath. The day ebbs to a tightening squint creasing the unfolded folia of roofs. I need to strip the streets of myself but sense I mustn’t let the city out of my sight. It could up and float away on ocean waves, earth’s strata peeling off, paint crumbling, sliding.

Max Orkis has had his English prose published in The Milo Review, Words with JAM, Gravel, Empty Sink, and Thought Notebook. His Russian poetry has appeared in the 2011 Grigoryev Competition Anthology, Topos, Polutona, and Prolog. He lives with his family in the Bay Area and works as a writer/ editor in a high-tech company. Max is one of the founding members of Zürich’s Café Schober Writers.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

119


P O E T R Y

Lawrence Eby

Your Children There is a glass on the hood of your car with wine, red, halffilled, a drop rolling down the side like your window, now. You have spent the day in the car you died in. There, I imagine, is a hole in the window shaped like an industrial fan. If nothing is sacred then everything is a Sunday death wearing a white gown, waving to the last of your unborn children. Their lives are only ghosts to me if I believe in them.

Dennis Udink

Inorganic Take the seed from the plant. Take the heart from the mouse. There is a posterboard here the color of mountain. It needs its parts. The skylight in this house is a tunnel for the dead to enter or leave as they please. The easel is littered with the bodies of a dozen Christs pinned to its wood. A cello in the kitchen searches for humidity to counter the dry cracking of its skin. Atomic hawk sliding between the trees and through the windows of this cabin, it will find its target and glide.

Karen Watson


The Oak is Not an Oak A sparrow has taken the oak sapling’s bare root. I’m in a cave, I’m emerging from the cave. A forest made of old homes, concrete soil, the street lamps are trailing along towards a subway entrance. No bears in the halls, but a wolf may lurk in the maintenance shaft. I find the root taped to a map and take it, hide it under my lip. You, sparrow, do not see how the lightning rail reflects on a sweater hung over a bench like a wilted lily.

Numbers Coal burns up the mine and I’ve found a pilot hiding in the stone, his plane sketched in charcoal on the wall. The elevator alight with headlamps, tangled in the wires of itself. There’s something in the shadows. I search again, to bring the sky below the earth, my breathing, my breath luminescent against the caverns, exposing the grainy

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

121


P O E T R Y

earth. I dig, clench rocks, a gas pocket breaks ignites the air and at once my body is a mass of antimatter colliding with the pilot, his wings in flight for the both of us.

Lawrence Eby’s first book, Flight of August, won the 2013 Louise Bogen Award. His work has appeared in Passages North, Arroyo Literary Review, the Superstition Review, as well as others. He is the founder of Orange Monkey Publishing, a small poetry press, and is poetry editor for Ghost Town. He volunteers time on the Inlandia Board of Publications and is a founding member of PoetrIE, a writing collective in California’s Inland Empire.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

122


F I C T I O N

Michael McGuire

Sleep with the Angels

S

lowly. Slowly. Don’t lean forward. Save your strength,” said Pepe. “You lose enough into the sand.” “...footprints..!” gasped Pilar. “Not much we can do about footprints. Look how many. Ours are no different. Wait. Here we can look back. See? Nobody. They don’t even know we’re gone.” “...mañana...they’ll know...” “They’ll know, but we won’t be worth the effort. We’ll be across. Now,” said Pepe. “Turn. Look! That’s Ursa Major, the Big Bear. That’s Cassiopeia, a bow drawn back, an arrow aimed at that little star...blinking...not much to look at... Polaris. That’s the North Star.” “...the North Star...” “Listen, wetbacks, your mamás and papás had their chance. Tomorrow’s the day—mañana—the Man vyi day you’ll be out of here. Whether they’ve bought you out or not. One way or the other. So settle down. Sleep well or...as we’d tell our children if we had any...” Here he seemed to play with the words. “...sleep with the angels...” Years have passed since Pilar received that bedtime blessing; since, with a little help, she got past the secuestradores, followed old Pepe out across the desert—at least to the point where he, unable to go on, pointed the way—and lived to see Juan and Juanita grow up, well, more or less. Juanito to that point in pubescence when, if it wasn’t virtual, it wasn’t real. Juanita into that eternity of adolescence when everything left her dazed, except the hand glued to her ear, a girl who could only talk to someone who wasn’t there. Pilar’s children had undertaken the crossing of the border with her, when her husband Juan had gotten word to them to cross. His children on the other side of town, the family he’d created as he worked to pay the way of his first family north,


F I C T I O N was the family she would learn about on arrival, as her own, crammed in the remains of a borrowed cradle and overlooked by putti painted years ago, slept the sleep of exhaustion. There are nights when Pilar, alone in the marriage bed, looks back to that last night sequestered on the border when she thought the worst was coming up quickly, too quickly—mañana—just as she recalls daybreak not that much later, when she and her children had outpaced old Pepe and she was looking for a pay phone to call Juan; nights when she wonders if she had made the right, or wrong, decision and, if so, how so, and when. Was it when Juan had made one of his quick trips home, during the years of waiting: had she not been warm—or hot—enough? But the deeper mystery, surely, was how, in this world of hardship and sudden setback, she and the children had managed to survive at all. Though possibly, thinks Pilar, as with so many things in this life, survival just happens or, put differently, survival comes on its own terms: our decisions don’t have that much to do with it. And survival, oddly, is one of those things that doesn’t just happen once; it happens, when it happens, again and again. It must. It has to. The door slammed, the bolt thrown on the other side, and seventeen...not counting her children in the corner...hunkered down, not for warmth, but because cross lashed bindings, wrists stuck out behind, left little room for maneuver. To slowly, unknowingly, stretch out—to awaken suddenly—either way was to drag heavily—or jolt—three or four either side of you till one, or several, pulled back. Dominoes sprung to life. Pilar, and her fellow travelers, had come a long way from the border. The southern border. They’d been grabbed only meters short of the northern. At that instant, as long as her children lived to tell the tale, she was without regrets Honduras had been violence and poverty, Guatemala poverty and violence. In Mexico she hadn’t given anything up to la Policía Federal she hadn’t given up years before. Her two had sat in the bushes, heads turned. After Tapachula it had been straightforward. She couldn’t climb to the top of the swaying, clanking cars that made up la bestia, not with her two, so she made a kind of nest of herself for them under the overhang of a car, one with a niche at either end. A week later la bestia clattered and clanked slowly parallel to three strands of old wire, not the new high tech wall erected where it had been, until then, relatively safe to cross. Pilar took one of her two in each arm, jumped to absorb the shock of the fall with her legs. She succeeded, along with others like herself, if unburdened with the fruit of late, or even young, marriage, but, on the plus side, she had had a man, waiting, Juan, husband and father, he who had gone on ahead and now, years later, sent for her. From not very much to a little bit more, Pilar, years later, might reflect, was certainly better than the route so often followed in this life:

124

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


from nothing to less than nothing. They had made it. They had survived. Juan’s income was a little stretched, what with those two families, and Pilar, without papers, was cleaning, cleaning, cleaning that which certainly needed cleaning. Juanito and Juanita now had a father, if part time; they had clean water, at least one good meal a day, and school. If they freed themselves from the mindlessness of youth, they might have a future, and who was the future for if it wasn’t for them: the children? Los migrantes must have tripped some alarm or maybe los gallos had only to look at their flashy watches to know when they’d be jumping, for they were there immediately, pulling up in pickups, one dump of a truck larger than the others, all of them scattering sand and sand dust; some of the young men sullen; some, for some reason, angry, one of whom issued the directive. “In the truck, emigrantes, if you want to see home again.” Pilar knew there was no choice when she was knocked against the metal as an older man traveling with her group was thrown in the dirt and one of the angry gallos waved a gun at him. “Want a lesson, viejo? We’ll give you a lesson. Get up and in and your children and grandchildren will have the same chance to buy you back as your pals’ mamas and papas. Someone does want you back, I suppose.” “Sí, sí,” said the older man who’d jumped from the moving train with Pilar and must have thought at that moment how it was all for family, how a trip through hell would surely get something home to them. Scrambling to his feet the first time, he’d had only the desert in front, a desert others had crossed before. This time he had strutting young men, gallos, throwing him down to watch him scramble up and little was likely to make it through to his family beside a ransom note. “Come on, señora, get it up there!” One gallo, one of the angry ones, shoved a hard thumb into Pilar’s behind as she got to the back of the truck. Another, one of the sullen ones, pulled one of her children from her. “Señor...” admonished Pilar as her youngest, Juanito, looked up in terror. The sullen one, without a sound, signaled Pilar to climb with a raised chin. Juanita was already up in the truck bed, face twisted with the effort not to be a burden to her mother. Pilar climbed as directed and, without a sound, Juanito was handed back to her. “Gracias,” said Pilar, but the sullen one was also a silent one and the angry one was poking his gun in the older man’s ribs. “You’ve got to move faster than that, viejito, we don’t want you going before your time.” It was touch and go, the angry man eager for a reason to pull the trigger, to make an example, but the old man moved with amazing

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

125


F I C T I O N speed and rolled up in the truck beside Pilar. Her fellow travelers, young men different in kind from los gallos but, like them, a generation younger than she, were already there. The angry gallo, maybe angry because his trigger finger still itched, slammed the tailgate, chained it in place. “Don’t get ideas about jumping,” he said. “We go a little faster than your bestia ever did and we’ll bounce right over your dead bodies.” One deeply amused gallo, maybe a little older than the others, had not herded them onto the truck but stood back, watching the scene unfold as if he were God himself looking down. Another gallo, as young as any, also stood a little to the side, as if, young as he was, maybe he’d seen it all once too often; maybe, as if he’d had enough. In time she’d learn his name was Jaime; that, just as she had noticed he was different from the others, so he, his eyes anyway, had singled out Pilar and her children. Perhaps, for some reason, she made him think of his mother. Perhaps her dark skin, her head tilted toward Juanita and Juanito, brought the Virgin of Guadalupe to mind. Pilar would never know, for Jaime, even when she knew his name, would never, even when it was all over, have spoken to her. The big truck lurched and everyone grabbed metal or the nearest person. Those who had fallen got up as soon as they could. It was too hard banging on the bed over a back road in a truck meant for dirt and cattle, and that’s what they were now, dirt, if not cattle, pay dirt in the eyes of the gallos following in the pickups. Pilar held her children close and looked around. The young men, her companions since the southern border, some of them mere teenagers, were keeping quiet, exchanging looks. They expected to get through this. They wouldn’t be raped, or worse. If possible, their families would pay. They’d be on their way, their lives before them, not too much harm done. They’d still have the backs, legs and brains that had carried them this far; backs, legs and brains that would carry them the rest of the way. The kidnappers were of a different sort, some nearly as young as the young men traveling with Pilar and her children, one or two in their thirties, mean looking. They’d have to be mean, and angry or sullen, to settle for a migrant’s meager ransom. It didn’t measure up to what they could command other ways, but maybe they were taking orders, taking what they could get along the border where little grew beside ransoms, except maybe bribes, and that only if you wore a uniform...or, if you worked for el jefe, the big man...that is your cut of the real crossborder trade, the white lady magically transformed into greasy green dollars. Maybe the kidnappers, in their way, were on the bottom too, even the amused one who, if he were as all-important as he seemed to think he was, wouldn’t be doing this.

126

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


Pilar and the others didn’t know how long they’d been in the shed they were herded into. A couple of young men had been ransomed and, as far those who remained knew, set free at three strands of rotten wire where they could start the process all over again. But what if it wasn’t like that at all? Those still in the shed had heard no shots, but the young men might have been taken far enough away so the rest wouldn’t witness las ejecuciones, even with their ears, and refuse to make the next desperate appeal to their families; or perhaps, growing up fast, decide they’d asked enough of them already. “Mañana,” mumbled Pepe, the older man tied to Pilar on one side. “Tomorrow they’ll tire of keeping us alive. If they’ve cashed in...if they haven’t cashed in...they’ll let us go.” “God willing,” said Pilar, looking at her children curled in the corner. One of the gallos had also said “mañana.” Then he’d added “sleep well” as well as “sleep with the angels,” which might mean tomorrow they’d be machine-gunned where they were—they’d proven too much trouble, the money was too slow coming—and tossed in a common grave. Pilar, looking over Pepe’s shoulder at her children, knew at least one of them was looking back at her, doing her best not to make a sound. The ne’er-do-wells hadn’t always been secuestradores or, when required, asesinos. Jaime, anyway, had started life fairly innocently as a petty thief. He went to mass, attended christenings and quinceañeras, his sister’s and his sister’s friends’. The rest of the week he hung out with the gang, doing...well...not very much. He didn’t break into cash machines or hold up mom and pop’s. He bided his time with the rest until a target was chosen, then rode up behind a buddy on the back of a motorbike, whipped the bag off the woman’s shoulder, roared around the corner laughing before the startled señora realized her wherewithal for the week was gone. Roaring through a barrio safe as a church, they rifled the bag, tossed incriminating evidence, found their dealer—they didn’t have far to look—bought their Acapulco gold and settled down to an endless afternoon of...well...not very much. It was only when they’d made the acquaintance of the white lady— known to her intimates as el hombre—that they knew they needed more greasy greenbacks, more plata in any form, than they had before. And steadily, because you had to pay every time you wanted it and you wanted it pretty often. That was when they heard there was employment, up north, on the border, that sometimes you were paid with a little sniff of the white lady right on the spot. What appealed most to Jaime and his buddies was that, as before, they didn’t have to do very much...once they’d learned how to pull the

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

127


F I C T I O N trigger...not that they did that that often. Usually a little roughing up was sufficient, a mere extension of the bullying they’d learned as kids in la secundaria. Jaime wasn’t a bad looking boy and he knew it. He was always showing off photos he’d taken of himself holding a gold-plated AK47 or in front of a truck that, when started, lit up like a pyramid on a programmed light show. Then, sometimes, he was just looking around him, taking things in, like the connection, whatever it was, between Pilar and Pepe. There was also something else in his face, something the photos never caught. But what? Second thoughts? An intelligence unacceptable in a youth of his calling? But it wasn’t Jaime that Pilar was afraid of. It was the laughing man or, more precisely, the man who was always on the point of laughing. Everything amused him, not just the migrants trussed up like chickens bound for market, though they did too, but whatever his sidekicks did or didn’t do. Then the laughing man was right there, eyes twinkling, teeth shining in the half light of the shed. It wasn’t he who’d suggested to los migrantes that they sleep with the angels. Pilar was sure he wasn’t the one who might have shot the boys who were no longer there. He was just the one who’d ordered it. The one who might, or might not, have watched. The one who, somehow, knew what was going, or not going, to happen. Pepe’s wife had looked when he left as if she’d known something he didn’t. She’d only said he was too old for the trip, to stay, they’d get by. Somehow she’d known he wasn’t going to make it. Now he knew it too. Hard to accept: that was that and this is it. No appeal to make and no one to make it to. Pepe knew his señora didn’t have the money, so he hadn’t given the right address for los gallos’ business associates to drop in on. No point in tormenting her, leaving her to believe that, in some way, it had been her fault. What did a poor old woman have to offer? Not even her labor. Los gallos didn’t need a cleaning woman. They needed gunmen and gravediggers, types they could come up with at the nearest rehabilitation center where their buddies and their bosses offered their God as well as recovery of a kind, and then, a choice: take up the gun and the shovel or get down in the hole yourself. Pepe’s wife’s last words had been “think of yourself, Pepe, think of yourself and you’ll get through.” “What are you thinking, Pepe?” Pilar and Pepe, as Jaime may or may not have guessed, were friends of last resort. It had been natural enough. They weren’t of the same age, Pepe could have been Pilar’s father, or grandfather, but their experiences had been similar and they had more in common with each other than with their traveling companions, the young men who were, they suspected, despite the invulnerability of youth, being disappeared. One by one.

128

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


“I’m wondering how my wife will get along without me.” “You should have thought of that before,” said Pilar. “She’ll never know for sure.” “You mean what happened to you?” “She’ll know well enough. Los asesinos won’t be coming around for their blood money but, when they don’t find her where I said to look, they’ll call ‘home.’ These gallos will take the call and it will be just as if it had been God’s will I leave my bones in the desert.” “You want to give me your right dirección?” asked Pilar. I’ll give you my husband’s, which I didn’t give them either. That way, if one of us makes it and the other doesn’t...” “I don’t want to put my dirección where they might pry it out of you,” said Pepe, “and I couldn’t remember yours.” For a while they listened to the others breathe. How well the young slept, thought Pilar, as though they didn’t have so much more to lose than the old, who sat up half the night. Then she thought of something else. “You know which way north is.” “I do,” said Pepe, who was fairly knowledgeable when it came to rough country and finding his way through it. “If we get the chance,” said Pilar, “if only by playing dead when the time comes, or if they don’t consider us worth the bullets, you’ll lead me, me and my children...” Pepe knew the time in the shed had taken more out of him than it should have and he considered the unlikelihood of their escape before he answered. Then he considered Pilar’s hopes and dreams for herself and her children and gave a simpler answer than he would have otherwise. “Yes.” Jaime, barely recognizable in the half-light, entered silently, separated Pepe and Pilar and led them, and her two, out into the night. The children weren’t really awake and Pepe expected the worst, though he was keeping quiet about it and moving at the speed the young man wanted him to. The others, their fellow travelers, wakened, had watched them go, unsure whether it was to the here and now—this was it—or the hereafter that might or might not follow. They also kept quiet. The night was clear and cold. It must have been two, three a.m. The rats were sleeping, though Pilar thought she could hear a kind of snickering from an outbuilding, maybe that of the omniscient one who told Jaime who to take and what to do with them; the one who knew that, if you thought about it, it was all really, well... Hilarious. Including the efforts of a little party of four who hadn’t a chance in hell of getting where they wanted to.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

129


F I C T I O N Jaime didn’t say a word. He dropped behind them when they got to the dirt road, led them from there. One hundred meters, two hundred. Surely they were out of earshot, certainly for the small caliber pistol Jaime always wore. Pilar knew her own eyes must be white in the darkness, did her best to conceal them from her children, mainly Juanita, who would know terror in her mother’s face when she saw it. They passed the dump of a truck they’d ridden in on. At maybe three hundred meters they came to a smaller, fancier outfit, probably Jaime’s own, an old mini pickup dressed up as if it were new. He gestured them in back, got in the cab himself. Unguarded as they were, Pilar could see Pepe contemplating a jump and a run into the night when the moment came. Pilar shook her head. She had a feeling this wasn’t it. Pepe saw her, rethought his impulse, let her know first with his eyes, then with a definitive nod of his head, that he agreed. They must have been on an incline they’d been unaware of because, when Jaime released the brake, they began to roll. The young man didn’t start his jewel of a wreck until they’d rolled another couple hundred meters. Then he popped the clutch and they were off, Pilar with legs as well as arms around her shuddering children, Pepe doing his best to keep track of direction, of distance, placing the border, the cities beyond it, as well as he could. The surprising thing, thought Pilar, thinking back on that night, was that Jaime had never spoken, as if the sound of his voice might give something away he didn’t want given away. She’d wondered then, once they were gestured out at the all-too-recognizable three strands of barbed wire with the footprints of the host that had preceded them visible even by moonlight, how he would get back in with his buddies after setting a couple of their detainees on their way without ransom. But, if he’d been on his way back to them, he was certainly taking the long route. Pilar and Pepe had stood a while watching him go, watching the miniwreck bounce onto México #2 in the distance, continue the same way they’d been going, away from the gathered outbuildings, the shed where their companions were tied in a wretched circle of youthful misfortune and parental loss, gaining speed as he went. Then it was through the wire and into the night themselves, Pilar with Juanito whimpering in her arms, Pepe with the silent Juanita in his. At first, they’d set a good pace, considering the loss of strength into the sand. At dawn, with Juanita on her own feet now, Pepe sat down on a rock, pointed the way to Pilar. “...I’ll...catch you up...there...I’ll meet you...there...where you cross the road...” Was that the moment, thinks Pilar, looking back, the moment she made the decision to plod on...and on...as Pepe got smaller and smaller

130

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


till he was hardly a speck in the landscape behind them? Maybe. Maybe not. For Pilar wouldn’t realize until later Pepe had been carrying her daughter with the last of his strength, that it had been God’s will all along he leave his bones in the desert. But that didn’t settle the matter, for Pilar had known in her bones that Pepe would never rise from that rock, had known that Pepe had known it too, had only pointed into the distance so definitely, with such certainty, to keep her going. But that didn’t settle it either, for there had been the survival of three to consider, two of them now comfortably, or uncomfortably, hoping to survive the trials of youth in the promised land. Pilar had begun her peregrination on wings of love, but she’d landed on feet that still hurt. That first night Juan had informed her, as gently as he could, of the other family, how, in his own words... “I love you all.” On the thought that it was all something to think about, and the knowledge that she needed her sleep, Pilar closed her eyes. Tomorrow, or the day after—pasado mañana—she would have time for looking back, for deciding what decision made at what moment had caused things to happen more or less as they had.

Michael McGuire’s stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review, Hudson Review, and New Directions in Prose & Poetry. His plays have been performed by the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Mark Taper Forum of Los Angeles, and many other theatres, and are published by Broadway Play Publishing.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

131


P O E T R Y

Abby Rosenthal

High Plains Quartet i. High Plains Happiness It’s not the kind of day I’d ever ask for. Sun barely scales the mountains, clouds lug rain off to Nebraska, asters frazzle sadly in a ditch. The wind that taught me how to love my own good restlessness is not this wind, blasé among the irritated aspens. But the life of the world moves through me as it must. I breathe and eat while somewhere miles away the gladness of hogs washed clean in sudden rain includes me also. No, nothing auspicious. Yes, more or less, I’m happy. Karen Watson

ii. High Plains Religion Over the wide-open hymnal of the plains the grasses bow down broken-willed, muttering … the sumacs in terrified covens clatter out prayers of wood the dark pines are damned while the aspens ascend


in a golden convulsion of wind. And here come the antelope, penitent, picking their pilgrim way just into range. iii. High Plains Purification It’s hard not to notice the grasses straining eastward. It’s hard not to hear the wind assailing the hills. It’s hard to ignore the bluebell’s cry when the thread of its root strikes granite or the moaning for water which lives on the skin of the stone. It’s hard to accept the great distance of the rainbow. It’s hard to swallow the dryness of the air. It’s hard to plod on after mountains that never move closer except in illusions formed of snow. It’s hard not to pity cities of humble lichen. It’s hard not to hurt from the poverty of the soil. It’s hard to imagine a future for the seedpod or an end to the anger expressed in the grasshopper’s whir. It’s hard to be hunted by storm clouds in open country. It’s hard to have ghost herds of buffalo trample you from above. It’s hard to take note of a gully or cave you know you’re too lost to return to and hard to admit how much everything looks the same.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

133


P O E T R Y It’s hard not to skulk like a coyote or mimic the jackrabbit’s zigzag. It’s hard not to beat up on wings like a bird over vistas of unmastered fear. It’s hard not to see yourself dying as birds do, or mattering little as they do, and hard not to learn the true story of your life. It will certainly never be easy again to lie. iv. High Plains Small Town Shopper A woman carrying packages in her arms. A woman some man has done all right to love. Her face: red cheeks a little rough, blue eyes alive beneath a blue bandanna. Now watch the bird-like hop she takes, though burdened, leaving the curb to launch herself into the street’s fierce wind, straight on into the elements and time. And when has wind here ever blown so hard? The rattling storefronts almost seem afraid … their peeling paint, their porous bricks … afraid. But not this woman, willing to be weathered.

Abby Rosenthal has lived in downstate and upstate New York, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C., before teaching and raising a family in Memphis. She has published a book of poems, Ardor’s Hut (Alembic Press), and in journals such as Alaska Quarterly, Carolina Quarterly, Chicago Review, Kansas Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, and Stand. She has an MFA from Cornell University.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

134


E S S A Y

Michele F. Valenti

Bonneville

S

ø and I reach the Utah flats late in the afternoon. The sun hangs low behind the Silver range, behind Grahm and Cobb’s twintoothed peaks. We camped last night in the Nevada desert, a half hour out from Las Vegas, then followed highway 15 almost 400 miles into Utah. We pull off 15 for interstate 80. Sø draws his finger along our beat up road atlas, following the long day’s progress on paper. “Shit,” he says. “That was it.” “That was what?” “Our turn,” he says. “We missed our turn.” He goes back to the map, looking to see what’s ahead of us. “Looks like the next exit’s in—” he

uses his thumb and forefinger to measure the miles out in front of us against the scale key. “Fifteen,” he says. “No problem then,” I say. “We can make it back to the flats in half an hour, forty minutes tops, and still get some driving in before dark.” I-80 runs the crest of a berm like a causeway, the steep sides slope down to a flat, dull brown expanse on either side. It is a split two-lane, each direction traveling along isolated from the other. We drive on, me behind the wheel, Sø navigating. I’ve done the bulk of the driving since Sø got us stuck in a ditch outside Spokane. We were only nosed down for ten minutes before a woman in a Chevy Suburban came along and hauled us out. She had a thick breaded tether close at hand in her trunk. “You do this often?” I asked. “You’re the third today,” she said. I laughed about it but Sø was pretty shaken—he is not used to driving standard in the first place and the ditch rattled his already fragile confidence. He’s a good navigaFamartin


E S S A Y tor though, and when he’s not mapping our route he studies Turkish, repeating the words out loud, or reads beat poetry—Ginsberg and Bukowski or Ferlinghetti. I don’t mind driving. After twenty minutes, I take the off ramp for the next exit, but there’s no overpass, nothing connecting one side to the other, no way back to Bonneville. We pull back out onto the highway heading east towards Salt Lake City. Another ten minutes and the gas light comes on, glowing dull orange on the dashboard console. I check the trip odometer; it reads close to twelve hundred miles. The car is fourteen years old, a 1993 Honda Accord, and the gas gauge is broken. Most of the time the needle reads empty but every so often it climbs up randomly—sometimes three quarters full, sometimes a quarter. We use the odometer to keep track of fuel, measuring miles per gallon, stopping every six-hundred or so to fill up. I forgot to reset it with the last full tank. Now the needle holds steady at half, but the gas light is on. We’ve covered close to six thousand miles in the three and a half weeks since we left Boston, driving sun up to sun down most days. The initial energy, the focused desire to get out of Massachusetts and really see America, burrowed into me while reading Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing. I used to watch the film every night also, learning the opening lines by heart— ”We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.” Suddenly the desert opened up for me, became this strange and supernatural place. A place of transformation, and selfdiscovery. A place to see. Sø shares my love of Thompson, and when I told him—over a year ago

FALL 2015

WEBER

now—that I planned to drive out to Nevada and spend a week in the desert, he decided to come along. “But what about the rest of it?” he’d said. “What’s the rest of it?” I said. “America!” he said. “For spacious skies and amber waves, the purple mountains’ majesty and the fuckingfruited plain. America, America, America. Let’s see it all, the whole damn continent!” “Why not, “ I said. “I mean, if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” “Damn straight,” he said. The sun sets in orange and pink soft pastel strips as we reach the far end of the Great Salt Lake, and still no sign of a gas station. I press my hand to the window and feel the night turn cold. Inside the car is warm. The heat of the day trapped. I fish a cigarette from my pack and light it, then roll the window down. Wind blows the dry, almost bitter taste of dust and salt through the car. In the cool air, I let go of any thought of turning back, of reaching the flats tonight. The gas gauge burns orange like the sky. All I want, what I’m desperate for now, right now, is a gas station. We drive on, past the next exit and the next. Sø’s eyes glance at the dash, then out at the road in front of us, then back. “Damn,” he mumbles and rubs his chin. I set my teeth, grinding out the next five miles. Sø had a year left after I graduated. I hung around Boston and worked odd jobs. I bought a three-by-six map of the continental U.S. and pinned it to the wall of my bedroom. Sø came back from Connecticut during his school

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

136


breaks, and we’d talk and plan and of the water and the black of the sky. collect places we wanted to see—the The desert extends beyond us, flat and Badlands and Grand Canyon, Yellowyawning white in the half-light, a barstone and Big Bend, Yosemite, Chicago, ren lunar wilderness. Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, There was an ocean here once, a L.A., Las Vegas and Bonneville. great inland sea, deep and ranging We left Boston fueled by exalted beneath a broiling sun. Over three milexpectations. We were on a mission. lion years the lake receded and surged We envisioned ourselves continuing and receded again, then again. In great the lineage of the great explorers— mineral breaths it pushed and pulled Hernando de Soto, Lewis and Clark, the earth beneath it, forming and and of course, the sainted Kerouac. reforming the Utah desert landscape, Men who set out until the Great Salt to discover this Lake and the brining country— now our salt flats are all that’s There was an ocean here once, left. country—and found something that trans- a great inland sea, deep and Up ahead, just a formed themselves mile or so in the ranging beneath a broiling and us. Our trip was darkness, I see the sun. Over three million one part of a long humming green neon line of great pilgims, of the Sinclair sign. years the lake receded and seeking truth in the Relaxed, I ease the car surged and receded again, American landscape. off the highway. then again. In great mineral Once we crossed As I fill the tank, I the Cuyahoga—the remember back when breaths it pushed and pulled farthest west either I was a kid and my the earth beneath it. of us had been—our dad told me about the momentum carried us time he drove to Las west from rolling Ohio Vegas from L.A. in hills through new landscapes—first the spring of 1969, with a half-empty through spacious cornfields and then tank of gas and a skull full of Acapulco a straight line across the prairie, back Gold and All Along the Watch Tower into mountains and pine and redwood blaring on the eight track. It was night forests before finally reaching the then also, the empty Nevada desert Pacific. We burned through the Mojave black on either side of him. He told me and slept beneath an open, black and he was struck by the nothingness of it, starred sky in Death Valley. Now all we how cold and eerie the landscape felt have left is the unbroken grey of the around him, how alone he felt and highway and the long white painted how that excited him. He drove on line leading us home. for endless miles until he was almost We drive on, the deep navy of the convinced he was alone, maybe the lake on one side, the darkening desert last person on earth, just him and the on the other. Another twenty minutes soon to be permanently astral Jimi and the sky turns black. The lake Hendrix. Then up ahead he could see spreads out like an endless sea. I can a faint band of white light tinting the barely draw a line between the black darkness, almost like a sunrise. Within

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

137


E S S A Y minutes the darkness was stripped back, exposing the dazzling facades of casinos and skyscraping hotels clustered tightly around the Vegas strip, silhouetted against the glaring neon dawn. “It was surreal, man,” he told me, “really far out.” Last night, Sø and I made the same drive. During the almost forty years that separated my father’s trip and our own, Vegas expanded, choking out urban sprawl for miles back along interstate 15, almost reaching L.A. and the ocean. There were patches of darkness, but they came and went so frequently that our eyes never adjusted to the night. What am I doing here lost on this endlessly expanding salt-pan? We reach Salt Lake City and drive to the In-N-Out Burger. Exhausted, we find a cheap motel with thin walls and no heat. It’s Sø’s turn for the bed. I sleep badly on the cold, carpeted floor. Hunter S. blew his brains out two years before we headed west. He left instructions for his wife and son to pack his ashes in a cannon and blast him out over Colorado cliffs.“Oh yes, it’s in the will,” Thompson said during an interview, “You know, it’s all described.” At the time I thought there was no better way to go—a mad burn across life’s desert, a smoldering fuse drawing ever closer to a massive explosion, then calm and settling, mix-

FALL 2015

WEBER

Ricraider

ing back into the earth. A man in full control of his own destiny, dictating terms. Hari Kunz wrote of Thompson as “one who often makes himself ugly to expose the ugliness he sees around him.” Maybe that’s true; I mean, no one can say Thompson lived a clean and sober life, or that he ever pulled his punches. He held nothing back, gave no quarter. That’s what he is known for, and rightly so. But there is beauty in Thompson also. In all of Fear and Loathing there is one moment, a single moment of exquisite reflection and self-awareness, a moment in which Thompson holds the power of transformation condensed, and waiting. Thompson writes: “we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the highwater mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” I came to the desert to dig Kerouac’s America, to trace Morrison’s

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

138


slow progress beneath the stars, to ride lake, a real landscape exists, forming William Least Heat-Moon’s blue highand reforming, surging and receding, ways, to touch McPhee’s limestone, growing each day in depth and comand I keep trying to see Thompson’s plexity beyond any abstract design I rolling, receding wave or at least, some can bestow upon it. Held in the alkaline trace of the high water mark. I am flats is the aggregate memory of some trying to reform history, to burn my three million years, and no matter how mark on the unfurling American soul, hard I try to force some meaning from to force memory, an idea or ideal into that span, I cannot change the nature the right shape. And how often have I of it. The flats will go on until they no followed the lines laid down by others longer do so, and a million years from before me, the maps now, somewhere back they have drawn—my along that line I will The flats will go on until they have existed, though heroes, my father— and come up short no longer do so, and a million there may be no sign against weighted left to speak of. Someyears from now, somewhere expectation? I came where back along back along that line I will to the desert to see that same line, we all through their eyes the have existed, though there exist for a short time things they had seen, only, and are bound may be no sign left to speak to reenact the things always to what has of. Somewhere back along they had done. But I come before. Still, we do not have the same are left to find beauty that same line, we all exist kind of eyes as these in the way things are for a short time only, and men, and it is hard now—with our own are bound always to what to walk where they eyes—and to ride the stood. These were wave with as much has come before. Still, we are men, each within their intensity as we can left to find beauty in the way own right, who set until it breaks. out to conquer a land- things are now—with our We get up early scape—whether seek- own eyes—and to ride the the next morning, ing wealth or fame, we grab breakfast justice or knowledge, wave with as much intensity and retrace our as we can until it breaks. or freedom—just as route through the I have set out to do. desert, reaching the Still, the landscape is Bonneville Speedunconquered, and will remain so. The way exit. This time I make the turn wave will rise only to fall away again, and follow the access road to a small, broken at last by its own strength. In barely noticeable, turnout. Crystallized the same way, no greatness can carry salt-earth crunches beneath the wheels on forever. No human being is without as we pull onto the flats. Ahead of us flaws. lay forty square miles of hard packed, Somewhere along that last fading pure white salt-pan—the remains of line of light, pressed between the old Lake Bonneville. I drive out onto black-starred sky and the reflection the flats slowly at first but gaining of the sky in the black mirror of the speed. We hit forty-five and I shift into

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

139


E S S A Y fourth, riding the gear to maximum. Sixty, and I slam into fifth letting go of the stick, riding the gas peddle to the floor. The Honda flies. The jagged mountain ridge beside us blurs. The world becomes the royal blue sky and the pure-white salt flats ahead of us. Eighty-five but it feels more like a hundred-and-ten. Without painted white lines, light posts and mile markers, distance disintegrates. All we know is speed. At one-hundred-and-three miles per hour, the roar and rush of the wind moving over the car and the rev of the engine match frequencies creating complete silence. I no longer feel the roll of the tires over smooth earth. We are taking flight. I can feel the nose of the car lifting off the ground. At one-hundred-andten, the steering wheel shudders sending a throbbing hum through my hands, traveling through my arms to my chest. My teeth chatter. Sø hollers, “Waaaaaahhhhooooo,” and lifts his arms through the open sunroof. I try to look over at him but am afraid to take my eyes from the horizon.

I take my foot off the gas and let the car settle into a comfortable eighty miles per hour. I slow the car shifting back down easily through the gears, allowing the engine to dictate the pace. Finally, ten miles from the turnout, we roll to a stop. We get out of the car and, looking back towards the access road, I can only barely make out the slight rise of gray cement. Sø takes pictures of our tracks, then the car. I reach down and pick up a good-sized chunk of salt and hold it up to the sun and the blue sky. I run my tongue slowly over the rough surface and hold the salt in my mouth. My eyes water; I close them and hold on. I squeeze them tightly. The saltbrine and bitter taste is painfully sour. My tongue burns. I can feel my taste buds rise to welts. I press my hands up over my eyes and breathe hard through my nose. The stars and the sky, saltwater and mineral-earth, green-neon and burning orange, the roaring wind, vibrations and speed: a thousand years condensed to a single fragment, resting on my tongue.

Michele F. Valenti earned a BFA from Roger Williams University and an MFA from Minnesota State University Moorhead. He lives in Cambridge, Minnesota, with his wife, CJ, and writes for the Isanti-Chisago County Star and the Braham Journal. He is currently working on a novel set in Teddy Roosevelt National Park and the Bakken shale formation. You can read more of his work at: www.m-valenti.com

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

140


P O E T R Y

Sarah Rehfeldt

Traveling with Light You ask me why I’m leaving. For no other reason than light and air, The depth of blue — that long half dark of color that wasn’t here before — Beside it, sun glinting off tree branches, fastening to nothing — Because (for whatever reason) this is the way the clouds flow.

Leaves, Rain, Return When spring comes, it will be the rain again that draws you forward, pulls you into the straight green grass, unburdened, and the memory of it whispered on the leaves and in the branches, Come and be forgotten.

Cloud Song, November Just over the hills, a scattering of wings

Sarah Rehfeldt


P O E T R Y

and white fog — all the time in the world to piece yourself together— gray on white white on gray — there is no pattern, clearly, how brokenly the mist, it pulls from branches, its slow walk up the mountain going, for the most part, entirely unnoticed. In this land of hushed giants, in my still standing, I remember, I, too, once was part of sky.

On Learning How to Look But see, if you look behind the waves, beyond each single stroke of silver-threaded water, to where the sky connects in an ever-increasing pattern of ruffled light and darkness — that is where, I swear, you’ll find it — inches above the water, hovering — a world so quiet, even the remotest of sounds can vanish into it. You need only to look. At least, that’s the way I see it.

Sarah Rehfeldt lives with her family in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains near Issaquah, WA. She is a writer, artist, and photographer. She has work published or forthcoming in Border Crossing, Presence Journal, Appalachia Magazine, and Daily Haiga, among others. She was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Sarah is the author of Somewhere South of Pegasus, a collection of image poems, which is available through her photography web page at www.pbase.com/candanceski.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

142


P O E T R Y

R. Steve Benson

We howl brotherly to every empty belly as we lope along a ridge above a river valley where fresh deer forage. We trace invisible trails clearly marked by tasty animals. It’s cold but I’m not cold inside my cozy homegrown coat. We can run all day like this without feeling tired or lazy, slow or old. All those running closely with me know what we need and feel without being teased or told by taming some wild word. We gargle a natural growl, a high howl or quick yip like a nip or yell, to tell each other not to slip on ice or loose stones. We trust boundless belief in muscles and bones, strong jaws, sharp teeth, and our nuanced nose.

Dennis Udink

Pearson Scott Foresman

R. Steve Benson studied poetry with the late James Hearst at the University of Northern Iowa. A retired art teacher, married with three children in Mt. Vernon, IA., he has had poems in North American Review, Poet Lore, Christian Science Monitor, South Carolina Review, Snowy Egret, Briar Cliff Review, Mudfish, Margie, and others.


F I C T I O N

Evan Morgan Williams

The Repair Job

M

ichael turned the VW bus into the picnic grounds along the creek. He parked in the shade of the cottonwoods, killed the engine, and got out. He took it all in: the heat on his skin, the smell of cottonwoods and creek water, the silence in the still air. Over the past year, his memories of Wyoming had withered to these fragments, and then Wyoming had become just a word, and now it was real again. He heard one thing, a magpie high in the trees, picking its way along a rattling branch, and that fragment became part of it too. Michael stretched his legs. Nothing he couldn’t put together again. Karina was in the front passenger seat, sleeping. Michael left her there. Michael knew the climb into the Bighorns would be an eight percent grade, with ten percent down the other side. The old microbus had not been sounding too good. Michael walked around back, lifted the hatch, and dug his toolbox out. Chris was sprawled on the back seat. “Go back to sleep, you bum,” Michael whispered. Chris pulled a Mexican blanket over his head, knocking over his books with his elbow. Karina, in the passenger seat, stirred. Michael left the hatch up, and set up his tools on the grass. The Landcruiser, with Jenny, Brian, and Artie pulled in. They got out. Brian and Artie were laughing about something. Jenny suggested a walk to the ice cream parlor they had passed in the town. They would all go. She said, “Where’s Chris?” Michael said, “He’s asleep. Don’t worry about him.” Karina awoke and got out. She snuggled against Michael. They had been dating for four months, and Michael liked her just fine. She finger-combed her hair and gazed at the trees. Michael smelled Karina’s hair. He was thinking about how to fix the bus. Karina pointed at the magpie. “Michael, what’s that bird?” They walked to the ice cream parlor on the main street, and they bought double scoop cones and ate them on the way back to the park. Karina unfolded a blanket beneath the cottonwoods, and everyone relaxed on the blanket while Michael worked on the engine. The blanket was a good idea. Chris finally awoke, and he staggered out of the bus. He wandered toward the creek and the tallest cottonwoods with broken limbs in their crowns. Redwinged blackbirds sang along the creek. Michael had not noticed them before. A red pickup with an extended cab, dual axle, and horse trailer rumbled in. The trailer was decorated with red, white, Mailsparky


and blue streamers. Seemed to be a family heading home from a fair. Two teenage girls got out of the extended cab and walked back to the trailer. They each had long blond hair and fluffed up bangs, and they wore red cowgirl blouses, tight Wrangler jeans, and tooled leather boots. The taller girl climbed onto the fender, reached into the trailer, and touched the horse. Jenny looked down and spread her hands around her hips. She wore a peasant skirt and a tie-dyed t-shirt. She said, “Could I fit into those jeans?” She tried fluffing up her hair, but frowned. “And I don’t even know how to make my bangs do that.” Karina said, “I think those girls are cute, in a Cheryl Ladd kind of way.” She kicked her sneaker at a dandelion at the edge of the blanket. Michael crawled beneath the van. He began unbolting the engine block. As usual, Chris was no help. Michael was used to this. September of junior year, when Chris had shown up with the bus, it was already in tow, and Michael had gotten it running. Michael could fix anything. His arms were strong. He paused beneath his work and looked across the lot at the Wyoming girls. The younger girl had climbed back into the truck cab, but the older one stayed back with the horse. She nuzzled her face to the horse’s nose. She was singing to the horse. Her blond hair glimmered in the sun. Michael’s dad owned a share of a hunting lodge on the Wind River, and Michael had seen a lot of ranch girls, and they were always sweet and pretty. This girl was pretty. He liked how she conducted herself around the horse. “How old do you think she is?” Artie was kneeling beside Michael’s toolbox. He held a spanner upside down. “She’s college.” Brian was sitting next to Artie. He wore a tie-dye, but his hair was cut like a businessman’s. “Nah, she’s high school,” Artie said. “No one dresses like that in college.” “They do in frickin’ Montana,” Brian said. “This is Wyoming, Mr. Master of the Universe,” Artie said. “Wyoming, Montana, same difference. Just ask Michael.” “He can’t see her. He’s working his magic on the bus.” “I can see her fine. And there’s a huge difference.” “I’d like to work my magic on her,” said Brian. “Hey, don’t say that!” Karina socked Brian. She scooted off the blanket and kneeled next to Michael. “Hey yourself.” Brian rubbed his shoulder. “Karina, you’re new, so let me explain,” said Artie. “You have to sleep with Brian before you can sock him.” “Just ask Jenny,” said Brian. Jenny socked Brian. She laughed. “Come on, Artie,” said Brian, “you can sock me too. You know you want to.”

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

145


F I C T I O N “Stop it, all of you.” Karina looked away. Michael thought, Maybe this was a mistake. He watched the Wyoming girl run forward to the cab and climb in. As the truck and trailer drove off, Michael saw her silhouette through the rear window, and then a flash of sunlight off her hair as the truck turned onto the road and drove away. Michael climbed out and asked Brian and Artie to help him pull the engine. He explained that pulling an engine from a VW was routine. It took all of them, and the engine scraped loudly and looked small and alone on the ground. Karina stepped back. Michael gazed at the engine, but he was thinking about the ranch girl. Artie said, “Uh, Michael, you going to put that thing back together in the near future? How about before Monday? Some of us have real jobs now.” Brian looked at Artie. “Since when is saving the gay whales a real job?” “It’s a Sierra Club internship, and it is a big deal, you sell-out.” Artie sat down and folded his arms. Michael was under the bus, but only for a few minutes. He came back out. “We can put it back in now.” “What?” “I just wanted to get to the clutch cylinder. We’re going to fry it on the hill. The extra grease might help.” They lifted the engine and bucked it back in. Michael bolted everything down. He worked in a bike shop, and he had German spanners and Italian spanners and twelve-pointed sockets so you could do square bolts if you had to. Things fit together for him. He could make anything fit together, and as he lay on his back and bolted the engine into the compartment, he laughed knowing he was good. Who needed a fucking real job? “VWs are a bitch,” said Artie. He held another spanner. Not the right one. “Fucking prima donnas,” said Brian. He had moved behind Jenny and he was rubbing her neck. Jenny leaned against him. “Fuck yes,” said Artie. “Will you guys please not talk like that,” Karina said. “Yeah, come on, guys,” said Michael. Not quite done. “Since when did you become no fun?” said Brian. “That’s the ticket,” said Jenny. She leaned back and closed her eyes. Karina nudged closer to Michael as he worked under the bus. Her hand found his leg, and Michael could tell she was tracing his tattoo. Sophomore year, he and Chris had gotten tattoos passing through Jackson Hole on their way to the lodge. Chris had wanted to copy a passage from On The Road onto their backs, but they had settled for simple Indian designs on their calves. Medicine wheels. There was a medicine

146

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


wheel in the Bighorns, and they would pass it in a few hours. Karina’s finger went round and round on his skin. “Guess what I heard,” Jenny said. She was lolling her neck and soaking up Brian’s massage. “I hear Amy Shetfield is up in the Bighorns.” “Amy?” Michael said. Almost done. “You know: tall Amy. Long-brown-hair Amy. Jean jacket and the French braids.” “I knew Amy,” Michael said. “She was a looker,” Brian said. Karina had stopped tracing his tattoo. “She hugged that senator who spoke at graduation,” said Artie. “That right-winger dude? Alan Simpson. Shit, everybody knows everybody out here.” “Chris hugged him too, you know,” Brian said. “Chris didn’t know him.” Jenny said, “Chris only did it to provoke him.” She tossed a pebble at Michael’s leg. “I hear you and Amy were a thing senior year. I hear you had something.” Brian said “Giddyap.” “Fuck you,” said Michael. “Come on, she was a horse girl.” “Please.” Karina’s hand was tight around Michael’s calf. “It was nothing,” he said. But it was something. Michael liked thinking about her. He liked having something like that. He liked working on the engine and thinking about having that. “A lot of guys liked her,” said Artie. “I liked her.” “But you didn’t score her,” said Brian. Jenny said, “Chris liked her too. Didn’t they have something one year?” “Where is he, anyway?” Artie asked. “He’s off somewhere, being Chris,” said Brian. “Maybe he’s just sitting by the water,” said Karina. “Karina darling, Chris is never just anything,” said Jenny. She pulled away from Brian and sat behind Karina. She began braiding Karina’s hair. Karina held erect and still. Michael reconnected the fuel line, and he unscrewed the cooling panels so plenty of air was getting back. There wasn’t much else. He stood up. The bus would make it! It was a classic model with chrome trim, split windshield, and narrow skylights along the roofline. He thought about Amy Shetfield. They did have something. One July, he and Amy and Chris had taken the VW up into the Bighorns, and all day they had hiked up a hill, higher than the clouds, and they sat in the dry grass and watched the setting sun. Chris wandered off. Michael and Amy, arm in arm: that was as happy as he’d ever been.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

147


F I C T I O N He looked off toward the grey cottonwoods. The magpie was gone. Karina and Jenny loaded luggage and books from the bus into the Landcruiser, then went to use the park’s restroom. Artie and Brian wiped the grease from their hands, peed in the bushes, and climbed into the Landcruiser. Karina came out of the bathroom and walked up to Michael and held him. Her hands met at his spine. She always snuggled in Michael’s arms in the morning, and he liked that, and whenever he rushed to go to work at the bike shop, Karina would hold tight, and his t-shirt smelled like her shampoo. “You can’t come in the bus,” he said, patting her braided hair. “We can’t afford any extra weight.” Karina looked down, and she held tighter. “Who’s going with you?” “Chris and my tools.” “Let him go alone. You said he’ll be fine.” “Never mind what I said.” “Well, you guys go first, so we can see you. In case, you know…” “Nothing is going to happen.” “How come you didn’t tell me about this Amy?” “There was nothing to tell. It didn’t work out.” “Michael, you should have told me.” “Where is Chris?” “I don’t know. Apparently, I’m the last to know anything.” “It’s alright. I’ll find him.” Karina climbed in the Landcruiser with Brian and Artie. Michael heard Karina yell, “Knock it off!” as Brian and Artie laughed. Michael headed toward the cottonwoods, but he came across Jenny returning from the bathroom. She was fishing the Landcruiser keys out of her peasant skirt. “Nice wheels,” said Michael. “Law school present from Daddy?” “Ha ha. You’re just jealous. Fix a lot of flats in that bike shop, do you?” “Yes.” “Karina’s dad owns the shop?” “He owns a lot of shops.” “Do I get a discount?” “Where you’re headed, you won’t need a discount.” Jenny took Michael’s hands and stepped close. Her voice was low. “What the fuck are you doing, Michael?” “What? Karina?” “Not Karina. You.” “Just follow us up the road, okay?” Michael looked for Chris. He went into the cottonwoods, and the air beneath the trees was cool and wet. The sound of the creek came up, a late-summer trickle from one stale pool to another. Michael stepped down the bank. Mergansers and black-crowned herons bolted from the water, and the air felt cold, and Michael stepped back.

148

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


He found Chris on a log, reading On the Road. Flipping through it, anyway. Senior year, Chris had disappeared for weeks at a time, and he always had taken the book with him. Michael didn’t know how Chris had managed to graduate, but he must have pulled it together; he really did hug Senator Alan Simpson on the podium in June. “Hey Chris.” “I don’t like this book anymore.” “We got to go.” “I used to like it, but not anymore. It used to feel true, but now it doesn’t.” “It’s not your story.” “How was the fix?” “Easy. I greased the clutch cylinder. Took off the cooling panels.” “That won’t work.” “It worked last time. Remember last time? Remember?” “We’ll be alright on the climb. The downhill is the real bitch.” He closed the book. “So. You and Karina. There’s a story. Does she ever ask about the tattoo? “No.” “No one asks me either. They ask about these.” He held out his wrists. “Come on, Chris. We got to go.” The cold air from the creek was rising. “You’re not my keeper. Get a fucking real job.” “Come on.” One hour later, they were climbing switchbacks into the Bighorns. Maybe they would make the Wind River lodge by midnight. Michael drove. The road was steep and the engine was hot, and they only made ten miles per hour. It was getting dark. Jenny’s Landcruiser passed them easily, even though it was supposed to stay behind. Brian and Artie flipped them off from the passenger windows. Michael didn’t see Karina. Maybe she was asleep in her blanket. The air turned cold and thin, and the starry sky floated all around them. The road climbed through rocky slopes and dark patches of forest, and the land dropped off so steeply you could see stars below you on the horizon, then farm lights and freeway lights, then the city of Sheridan glowing creamy white with dust. Michael said, “So Jenny was saying that Amy Shetfield is up here.” He had to yell over the engine. “She’s on an archeology dig,” said Chris. “How would you know?” “She still writes me. I write her. She asked about you, by the way.” “About me? She asked about me? When was this?” “Like a year ago. Do you want me to tell you what she said? I guess it doesn’t matter, does it?” “Chris…” “I mean, the point is that she’s asking, right?”

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

149


F I C T I O N The climb was over, the road leveled off, and the bus built up speed. The top of the Bighorns was a plateau of meadows and smooth rolling hills, and the stars became so bright you could look across the meadows and see pronghorns and deer plain as day. They passed an owl perched on a milepost, and then another. Chris said, “Karina sure is nice.” “Yeah.” “She really loves you. Do you and Karina ever, like, talk?” Michael drove into the night. The Landcruiser was far ahead, in and out of view on the curves. “So, about Amy...” The curves got worse, and Michael felt like he was fighting the steering wheel. Chris said, “You still like her, don’t you.” They drove farther, and the air felt cold, and Michael turned the heat on full, but still it was cold. Chris spoke slowly. He stared straight ahead. “Listen. The thing is, Amy and I never worked out. I liked her a lot. Maybe more than you did. I don’t know. To me that’s a lifetime ago. I can’t go back and think about it anymore.” In another hour, they reached the west side of the Bighorns, and the plateau began to drop off, and the dark empty Bighorn basin came into view below them. It was black down there. No farm lights. No roads. No towns. The air welling up smelled like desert sage. “Hey,” said Chris, “Let them get ahead.” “Okay.” Michael didn’t understand, but he was up for an adventure. It would be like old times. On the Road! He slowed until the Landcruiser’s red tail lights were gone. “Douse your lights.” Even without headlights, Michael could see the road just fine. Plenty of starlight. They kept driving. Neither spoke. When they came to a side road, Chris said, “Turn off here.” Michael pulled onto the side road, and the bus bumped along. It was tough going. Michael heard something crack in the undercarriage. They climbed into a side canyon. It was cold. The bus bottomed out a few times, and the clutch smelled hot. The canyon opened to a meadow. They came upon a circle of white government trailers with a spotlight rigged on a pole. Michael stopped. The engine cooled. Chris pointed. “Her address is a post office box down in Shell, but I happen to know this is where she lives.” “You’re fucking crazy.” “No, you’re crazy, because you’re going to go see her.” Chris reached over and took the keys. Michael got out. It was cold. Really cold. All he had was a t-shirt and shorts. I’m crazy, he thought. This is fucking crazy. Chris started the engine and yanked the door shut.

150

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


Michael turned quickly. “Hey, you can’t ditch me here.” Chris looked out the window. “You’re the one who got out.” “It’s a ten percent grade. You can’t handle that.” “I can manage. Anyway, Shell Canyon is the real bitch. That’s where it’s going to happen. If anything’s gonna go wrong, it’s gonna be in Shell Canyon. Maybe I’ll take the express.” He winked. Michael watched the bus bump away. It was really cold. What about Karina? He didn’t know. He looked at the trailers parked in a circle. The spotlight was bright, and Michael moved closer to it. A tall female shadow moved inside one of the trailers and peered from the window. Michael stepped into the light. He realized he did not have his German tools and his Italian tools anymore. He wondered whether it was possible to fix anything.

Evan Morgan Williams has published stories in Witness, The Kenyon Review, and Antioch Review. His book of stories, Thorn, won the Chandra Prize at BkMk Press and has just been released. He attended Colorado College and the University of Montana, with a stint in the National Park Service in between. He now lives in Portland with his family. He is hard at work on a novel and a new collection of stories.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

151


P O E T R Y

Changming Yuan

My Fortune Teller Says According to the eight Chinese pictographs Set right at the moment of my birth My original being is actually a huge body Of water, predetermined to move Around like a strong stream, with an Ambitious and transparent heart, I was meant To find great joy in traveling through woods Absorbing metal elements along the way Until I join the western sea, but I should Avoid earth, which hinders my progress Preventing me from reaching my destiny

Dennis Udink

Water-fated as I am, let me keep flowing Forward, among words, woods, and worlds

GDJ


September 7: For Allen Qing Yuan The other night, I dreamed I carried my teenager Son in a big brown-colored paper bag under my Left arm, trying to plod my way to the hospital In the rain in a strange town; as I trudged forward I found him somehow shrinking into two femurs And vanishing into the sky, like the yellow crane In a legend of my native land. In grief, I cried my Heart out, until I saw him returning to my mom’s Mud-floored, straw-thatched home, big and strong Smiling in his boyish face. Suddenly thrown into Such ecstasy, I could not help kneeling down, kowTowing to him as if he were my Buddhist master. When I told my mother the next day, she laughed Aloud on the world’s other side: it was good omen Meaning our Allen is going to survive and succeed

Yuan Changming, 8-time Pushcart nominee and author of 5 chapbooks, grew up in rural China, began to learn English at 19, and published monographs on translation before moving to Canada. With a Ph.D. in English, Yuan currently edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver and has poetry appearing in Best Canadian Poetry (2009,12,14), Best New Poems Online, Threepenny Review, and 1089 others across 37 countries.

FALL 2015

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

153


T S E W E H DING T

REA

read-ing [from ME reden, to explain, hence to read] – vt. 1 to get the meaning of; 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to; study.

DAM REMOVAL The organization American Rivers maintains a record of dam removals in the United States and uses the information to argue the benefits of dam removal. The organization takes credit for 20 of the dam removals on the 2014 list. Of the western states, California had the most: 12 dams removed. Communities in 19 states, working in partnership with non-profit organizations and state and federal agencies, removed 72 dams in 2014, restoring more than 730 miles of streams for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and people.

Map of Dam Removals, 1936-2014

Source: American Rivers, http://www.americanrivers.org/initiative/dams/projects/2014-dam-removals/

LARGEST DAM REMOVAL IN U.S. HISTORY The largest dam removal in U.S. history was on the Elwha River of Washington State. The dam was constructed 1910-1913 and demolished 2011-2012. The U.S. Geological Society recently released information on the effects of the project.


“These studies not only give us a better understanding of the effects of dam removal, but show the importance of collaborative science across disciplines and institutions,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the U.S. Geological Survey…. One finding that intrigued scientists was how efficiently the river eroded and moved sediment from the former reservoirs; over a third of the 27 million cubic yards of reservoir sediment, equivalent to about 3000 Olympic swimming pools filled with sediment, was eroded into the river during the first two years even though the river’s water discharge and peak flows were moderate compared to historical gauging records. This sediment release altered the river’s clarity and reshaped the river channel while adding new habitats in the river and at the coast. In fact, the vast majority of the new sediment was discharged into the coastal waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where the river mouth delta expanded seaward by hundreds of feet. “The expansion of the river mouth delta is very exciting, because we are seeing the rebuilding of an estuary and coast that were rapidly eroding prior to dam removal,” said USGS research scientist and lead author of the synthesis paper, Dr. Jonathan Warrick. Although the primary goal of the dam removal project was to reintroduce spawning salmon runs to the pristine upper reaches of the Elwha River within Olympic National Park, the new studies suggest that dam removal can also have ecological implications downstream of the former dam sites. These implications include a renewal of the sand, gravel, and wood supplies to the river and to the coast, restoring critical processes for maintaining salmon habitat to river, estuarine, and coastal ecosystems.

Source: http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=4125#.VbaEpLNVhHx, and http://pubs.usgs.gov/ fs/2011/3097/. See also 5 papers published in Geomorphology, http://www.journals.elsevier.com/geomorphology)


R E A D I N G

T H E

W E S T

THE GLEN CANYON DAM Glen Canyon, completed in 1963, was the second of two high dams on the Colorado. In 1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Hoover Dam, the first of nearly 50,000 large dams built worldwide, 90 percent of them since 1950. One cost of the project was the drowning of Glen Canyon, which western explorer John Wesley Powell described as an “ensemble of wonderful features—carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments.” The dam also radically changed the Colorado River downstream in the Grand Canyon. The Colorado delivers enough sediment to Lake Powell to fill 1,400 ship cargo containers each day. The dam traps it all, leaving the water below clear and starving plant and animal species in Grand Canyon of the sediment they need for habitat and spawning. In 2012, the Interior Department announced a major change in dam operations to more frequently implement controlled floods. Recently scientists reported that three years in, the new strategy is working as intended. Today, some 95 percent of the fine sediment that once churned through the canyon in a river the color of creamy coffee is trapped behind the dam. For the beaches, this means that though the river still robs them of sand, as it always has, it no longer gives much back, as it did when sediment-rich spring floods were common events. For decades, the beaches have been slowly eroding away.… “The enormous policy decision that was made by this administration was to ... not put political or administrative hurdles in front of having a flood. A flood could occur anytime nature allowed it.” And for the last three years, nature has delivered just the right conditions. Productive monsoon rains washed ample amounts of sediment into the Paria River, the first tributary downstream of Glen Canyon Dam, and the main contributor of sediment to the Grand in the post-dam world. Scientists monitor the accumulation of sand in the mainstem Colorado during monsoon season, and if it passes a certain threshold, controlled floods can be used to churn it up and deliver it to sandbars. Source: Cally Carswell, “Grand Canyon Floods are Rebuilding Sandbars,”High Country News, 22 June 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/annual-floods-in-the-grand-canyon-are-rebuilding-sandbars

Source: http://geology.usgs.gov

156

WEBER

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

FALL 2015


DAMS — A RELIC OF THE INDUSTRIAL AGE? Last November, California voters enthusiastically approved a $7.5 billion water bond, which requires the expenditure of $2.7 billion on water storage, which usually means dams. Some critics suggest this will keep California mired in the 1950s. Dams are a relic of the Industrial Age, a brute-force solution to water scarcity that sets off a cascade of environmental collapses, from the upstream tip of the reservoir to the river’s mouth and beyond. They’re particularly ill-suited to the era of extremes— heat waves, floods and droughts—that climate change has brought on. High temperatures intensify evaporation from reservoirs. Massive floods threaten dams with overtopping and breaching. Droughts defy the very reason for dams’ existence: They drop reservoir levels, wasting the “capacity” that goes unused, and cause hydroelectric output to dwindle. Source: Jacques Leslie, “Editorial,” Los Angeles Times, 27 July 2015; http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oeleslie-dams-wont-fix-california-water-20150712-story.html#page=1

MILL CREEK DAM REMOVAL Mill Creek was named after the first flour mill in the Salt Lake Valley, which was built on its banks to become the primary source of refined flour and other grains for the local population in 1849. The heavily wooded canyon also provided much needed lumber for the communities. It is reported that, at one point, up to 20 sawmills were in operation in Mill Creek Canyon. Currently there are efforts to remove the 1910 dam and other infrastructures such as pipes in order to restore the Mill Creek watershed to more natural and historic conditions. Of particular interest is revitalizing the creek for the return of Bonneville cutthroat trout, Utah’s state fish. The cutthroat was proposed for protection under the Endangered Species Courtesy Pioneer.utah.gov. Act, a step that was averted in 2000 with the development of a conservation agreement among the four states and other partners. Those partners are vast and include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Anglers Coalition, PacifiCorp, and the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which has multiple camps up the canyon. Aside from the restoration of the aquatic habitat, Cowley [the project lead for the Forest Service] said the project will vastly improve flood control measures along the stream; educational signs will be installed for the public’s benefit; and a boardwalk installed more than 20 years ago will be replaced. Source: Amy Joi O’Donoghue, “Native Fish Habitat, Improved Look Part of Mill Creek Restoration Project, KSL.com, 28 June 2015, http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=35278097


R E A D I N G

T H E

W E S T

A map showing the Mill Creek restoration project area. Posted by Trout Unlimited. Source: http://www.tu.org/blog-posts/restoring-living-history-the-bonneville-cutthroat-trout-in-mill-creek-ut. Image courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resource

REHABILITATING UTAH’S DAMS Almost $30 million in federal funding—41 percent of the national watershed rehabilitation funding— will be distributed in Utah to rehabilitate 19 dams. Natural Resources Conservation Service assistant chief Kirk Hanlin called the state “very proactive in preparing for dam rehabilitation.” These upgrades are meant to increase capacity in Utah’s dams while maintaining the infrastructure. The dams are upstream from commercial and residential developments, posing a potential threat if they aren’t maintained, Hanlin said. Those factors, along with an additional $11 million in state funding, make Utah’s dam rehabilitation projects ideal for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s funding. Utah’s 19 rehabilitation projects encompass dams from Weber to Washington Counties, including Dry Creek Dam in Lehi, Millsite Dam near Ferron, Sand Hollow debris basin near Monroe, and Gypsum Wash debris basin near Washington City. Source: McKenzie Romero, “Feds give Utah nearly $30 million to improve dams, increase water storage,” Deseret News, 9 April 2015, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865626102

EDITORIAL MATTER

ISSN 0891-8899 —Weber is published biannually by The College of Arts & Humanities at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah 84408-1405. Full text of this issue and historical archives are available in electronic edition at https://www.weber.edu/weberjournal Indexed in: Abstracts of English Studies, Humanities International Complete, Index of American Periodical Verse, MLA International Bibliography, and Sociological Abstracts. Member, Council of Learned Journals. Subscription Costs: Individuals $20 (outside U.S., $30), institutions $30 (outside U.S., $40). Back issues $10 subject to availability. Multi-year and group subscriptions also available. Submissions and Correspondence: Editor, | Weber State University 1395 Edvalson Street, Dept. 1405, Ogden, UT 84408-1405. 801-626-6473 | weberjournal@weber.edu Copyright © 2015 by Weber State University. All rights reserved. Copyright reverts to authors and artists after publication. Statements of fact or opinion are those of contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the sponsoring institution.


©1998, Kent Miles

ANNOUNCING the 2015 Dr. O. Marvin Lewis Essay Award

to Phyllis Barber for “Great Basin DNA” in the Fall 2014 issue The Dr. O. Marvin Lewis Award of $500 is presented annually to the author of the best essay published in Weber during the previous year.

Dr. O. Marvin Lewis passed away on February 8, 2015, after a long and productive life. We would like to extend our condolences to the family and acknowledge the longstanding generosity of the MSL Family Foundation for supporting Weber’s annual Dr. O. Marvin Lewis Essay Award.


EST

1983

WEBER

Nonprofit Org U.S. POSTAGE PAID PERMIT No. 151 OGDEN, UTAH

THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

Weber State University 1395 Edvalson Street Department 1405 Ogden, UT 84408-1405

www.weber.edu/weberjournal Return Service Requested

Spotlighting personal narrative, commentary, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that speaks to the environment and culture of the American West and beyond.

FALL 2015—VOL. 32, NO 1—U.S. $10 CONVERSATIONS

Neil Gaiman

ESSAYS

Wilfried Wilms, Barry Laga, John Nizalowski, Michele F. Valenti

FICTION

Trevor Conway, Tom Cantwell, Victoria Ramirez, Jeffrey Rindskopf, G.D. McFetridge, Max Orkis, Michael McGuire, Evan Williams

POETRY

Connolly Ryan, Jan Minich, David Nielsen, Dinitia Smith, Michelle Bonczek Evory, Betsy Martin, Charlene Langfur, Christopher Cokinos, Gale Acuff, Helen Wickes, Lawrence Eby, Abby Rosenthal, Sarah Rehfeldt, R. Steve Benson

ART

Ginger Wallace

https://www.facebook.com/weberjournal

http://www.weber.edu/CAH

Weber—The Contemporary West Fall 2015  
Weber—The Contemporary West Fall 2015