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Fall 2020 | Volume 37 | Number 1

EST

1983

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THE CONTEMPORARY WEST Fall 2020 | Volume 37 | Number 1


EST

1983

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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.

No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise. —Marian Anderson

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me—at least before I was a senator.  — Remarks by President Barack Obama on the death of Trayvon Martin (19 July 2013)

BLACK LIVES MATTER Time and again, racist ideas have not been cooked up from the boiling pot of ignorance and hate. Time and again, powerful and brilliant men and women have produced racist ideas in order to justify the racist policies of their era, in order to redirect the blame for their era’s racial disparities away from those policies and onto Black people. —Ibram X. Kendi,  Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Front Cover: Janine Barrera-Castillo

I can’t bring myself to watch yet another video, not because I don’t care, but because we’re all just a few videos away from becoming completely desensitized. The public execution of Black folks will never be normal. —Andrena Sawyer, quoted in Wake Up, White America

But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy— serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body. —Ta-Nehisi Coates,  Between the World and Me


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VOLUME 37 | NUMBER 1 | FALL 2020


EDITORIAL BOARD EDITOR

Michael Wutz ASSOCIATE EDITORS

Kathryn L. MacKay Russell Burrows Brad L Roghaar MANAGING EDITOR

Kelsy Thompson EDITORIAL BOARD

Phyllis Barber, author Jericho Brown, Emory University Katharine Coles, University of Utah Diana Joseph, Minnesota State University Nancy Kline, author & translator Delia Konzett, University of New Hampshire Kathryn Lindquist, Weber State University 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 Washington, D.C. James Thomas, author Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, author Melora Wolff, Skidmore College 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 Mikel Vause

Meri DeCaria Barry Gomberg Elaine Englehardt John E. Lowe

LAYOUT CONSULTANTS

Mark Biddle Jacob Hansen EDITORS EMERITI

Brad L. Roghaar Sherwin W. Howard Neila Seshachari LaVon Carroll Nikki Hansen EDITORIAL MATTER CONTINUED IN BACK


ART 13

VOLUME 37 | NUMBER 1

Janine Barrera Castillo, The Artwork of Janine Barrera Castillo

CONVERSATION 119 127 136 147

Sunni Brown Wilkinson and Abby Gayle Musgrove, Poetry as Radical Activism—A Conversation with Claudia Keelan Courtney Craggett, Sunni Brown Wilkinson, and London Beck, Gratitude, Feminism, and the Limits of Language and the (Un)known— A Conversation with Ada Limón Abraham Smith, Anca Sprenger, and Ben Favero, No Harm Done— A Conversation with Donald Revell Emily January Petersen, The Beauty of Writing About Science— A Conversation with Rebecca Skloot

TABLE OF CONTENTS FALL 2020

POETRY 4 8 11 25 27 28 32 36 42 45 49 146 52 54 57 61

Daniel Bourne, Counting the Coral Beans, Horseshoe Canyon, Chiricahua Mountains and other poems Thomas Brush, Letters to Myself and other poems Jennifer Hartenburg, Deciduous and other poems Ruth Gooley, Red Tail and other poems Kathleen Hellen, I Want This Bread Dennis Hinrichsen, [HORSE] [BUZZ] [CARBINE] Charlene Langfur, Living in the Present and other poems Samantha Lê, Spy (San Francisco, 1983) and other poems Simon Perchik, Five untitled poems Paulann Petersen, How I Learn to Live Underwater and other poems Joseph Powell, Scales of Desire and other poems Donald Revell, A Stranger Todd Robinson, Nebraska City Psalter Vera Schwarcz, A Thirst for Butterfly Words and other poems Loren Smith, In Town and other poems Sunni Brown Wilkinson, Gumballs and other poems

Janine Barrera Castillo..................13

Ada Limón..................................127

ESSAY 64 72 78 80 90 96 101

Christy Call, Reading, Teaching, & Learning in the Anthropocene Abigail R. Dockter, Cultural Horizon Jolie Kaytes, Seven Dam Surprises Walter Metz & Justin Zarian, The Sheep of Rockefeller Center: French Continental Philosophy and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Frederick Swanson, Species in Flight David B. Such, Relinquished O. Alan Weltzien, Four Corners, a Point, and a Circle: The Seductions of Geometry

FICTION 107 Eric Aldrich, A Heliograph to Kin Kletso 111 G.D. McFetridge, The Ascent of Mount Borah

READING THE WEST

Rebecca Skloot...........................147

154


P O E T R Y

Daniel Bourne

Counting the Coral Beans, Horseshoe Canyon, Chiricahua Mountains

Gene Sturla

“The Erythrina seem fine, and are robust as they head into winter. I am praying that we will not have another three-day freeze, and that our field season next year will be like I had hoped, with lots of flowering and a ‘normal’ pattern of growth.” —Lyn Loveless, Dec. 17, 2011 Scramble up, scramble down, always the worries, the slow chew of the prickly pear, sudden strike of a rattlesnake. But usually it is something more mundane, the slight twist of an ankle and a mouthful of dirt, the research assistant who puts the coral bean in the wrong plastic bag. But even that is not so much of a disaster, not like the hard freeze burning the roots of the miraculous plant Erythrina flabelliformis on the northernmost tip of its range. Everything becomes delicate eventually, dwindles down to survival strategies, roots living beneath rock, friendships forged over centuries. The ants that protect


from the hunger of mites, and the Erythrina’s crimson flame providing them with nectar. But this year after ice came fire, its quick tongue grazing the slopes like armageddon’s sheep, nipping off everything green. The benches strewn with black balls of desert spoon like the heads severed by revolution. Scarred yucca. Black bear disrupted from their haunts. Smoke bothering even the trogons in the draw. Scramble up, scramble down, through the black ash, counting the coral beans that survived. There is still always a story to tell, the narrative of biomass and bean, the battle between ant and moth you monitor by flashlight. Maybe no blossoms this year, but life will go on “until it won’t go on no more.” No wonder your own roots run so deep, though invisible beneath your floppy hat as your hands sweep your flock of students up and down the steep ravines, nibbling as they go.

The Dwellings We go down to the place of the high weeds, brown animals and small sounds that make us think of ourselves and our shortcomings. An old well with its smother of moss, the stones breaking in the mouth of the earth. The rat snake basks on the cracked leather of the car. Wasp nests in the window like abandoned adobe, the dry season when the rind of the gourd refuses even to open up to the boy’s knife. I lived there once but I don’t know what happened to the people who made their objects lie in such a hopeless tangle, the flood through the canyon pushing one body to another, their small waists draped in the white arms of the desert aspen. The red bearded penstemon cropping up like dragon seeds. It was so hot but the horned lizard could only raise one leg up at a time.

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P O E T R Y

Co-Existence in Yellowstone

(Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park)

Warned more about bears than these herds of cars, we learned to swerve off the road and park too. There might be moose in a ditch, or a cartoon bear balanced on the heels of his hind feet. But our first grizzly was just a lump across the Yellowstone River, a silver-glistening when his coat caught the sun. The crowd grew, but he stood his ground, pacing the far bank. Only when I returned to our car did I find out the reason: a TV camera on a tripod, pointed at the road’s neglected other side. Green field, brown clump of a dying bison. “She’s been there two days,” the TV guy said. “That bear will come and finish her tonight.”

Fountain Jackpot For Larry Stewart Since Las Vegas did not exist in the 18th century, it had to be invented, the groaning boards of pickled swan and blue meat that made gout so exquisitely mentioned alongside pox and the unfortunate tristesse oblige, the men trying to balance on their heels and the girls in the show lined up in patriarchal matrices. But each smile was a true smile no matter the century. All the men wore wigs or baldness, their heads still large or small, as they are today, and the big acts with smoke from dry ice and tigers and iridescent shoulders were housed instead

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in those multi-story theme hotels we now call novels. Sands of the Sahara. The Blue Nude That Consumed Your Mother. Fountain Jackpot. Outside in the landscape Neon had been invented, but Water had not. Thus, Nevada shone with its own electric dew, and girls like Pamela and Clarissa glistened like cactus spines, sharp blossoms that moved from one novel to the next, each new reader suddenly become dear in a meta-consensual sort of way. And just imagine all the slot machines, the arms yanking page after page of text to be analyzed, the orphic trimeters of fruit. LEMON. STRAWBERRY. APPLE APPLE. LEMON. ORANGE. —Until a professor from the Midwest screams he just pulled three cherries in a row.

Daniel Bourne’s books of poetry include The Household Gods and Where No One Spoke the Language. His poems have appeared in Field, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Guernica, Salmagundi, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, Michigan Quarterly Review, Quarterly West, Plume, and others. He teaches in English and Environmental Studies at The College of Wooster in Ohio, where he is the editor of Artful Dodge. Since 1980, he has also lived in Poland, including 1985-87 on a Fulbright grant for the translation of younger Polish poets, 2013-14 on a New Directions grant from the Great Lakes College Association for a series of collaborative projects with Polish writers and artists, and 2018 for additional work involving translation and issues of place.

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P O E T R Y

Thomas Brush

Letters to Myself Whatever I leave behind won’t be Lost. I’ll paint it on the barrel’s wooden Staves, burn it on the red roof of a barn On the way to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, imagine it On the sides of semis roaring down the interstate, Picture it as shapes of wolves, foxes From magic lanterns on the canvas ceilings Of summer tents, scrape it from the shards Of a dig in southern Utah Where fires are buried Centuries deep. And I’ll spell it Out, right now, here, parked On a sandy bluff overlooking the lake, On this hot July night, writing What I have To, going wherever This fantasy, this fiction Takes me.

Bernard Spragg


My Grandfather’s Ashes My grandfather, the doctor of North Yakima, Stitched my forehead where I’d fallen Against a tree stump in our game of war. He put the stub Of his cigar on the top step of the porch And caught my tears in the sunlight Of July that had driven us Out doors, into the orchards Where we fought with apples and pears, stones Against the unknown, the unwanted And each other. It was both hard and easy Then, the way we approached The world, all whips and kisses, the sky As wide as memory and we dove into it Each day and even now Address the few friends Left with the wish it could have gone on Forever, knowing, Like all wishes, some come True, this time or the next. He said, Take up your bow, Notch another arrow, There are more targets Out there, more to shoot When the time is right. Some, like Jim so full of death, who shot Himself on his 72nd birthday, are buried in the rich soil Of the Horse Heaven Hills, their bones as bright As sparks from a camp fire. Some scattered As ashes in the rivers and streams We waded. Miles and months Away a black bear enters Its den to sleep Through the winter.

Sliding It’s waiting for daylight to break From the yew trees, holding on To these patterns of hope—another day, another prayer— Woven across the western edge

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P O E T R Y Of the Cascades, before the sun drops out, Before owls sing A single note. There’s so much more To do before the night sky Takes this time, leans in, says, “So long, it’s been good To know you,” and is gone. The kingdom of want, of what Happens next that I know So well.

What It Is Seattle 1972 It’s Tim wearing shades and a wide-brimmed lavender hat encircled with a sky blue ribbon standing by his ’60 white-on-white Cadillac convertible a gold plated .38 Special on a .45 frame tucked in the back of his purple bell bottoms it’s Inner City Romance featuring Billy Scream wearing suede fringed gold hot pants on the main stage strutting like the Banty Rooster Mick is it’s Spencer Haywood driving to the nearest precinct tired of being stopped six times in his first two days in town telling them he isn’t a pimp but a player for the Sonics it’s buying dope at the Fresh Air Tavern for $15 a lid straight from Bolinas where it bloomed from sunlight and rabbit shit it’s Jimi playing a long way from Renton and glad of it it’s a human be-in at Gaswork’s Park it’s the full color cover of Seattle Magazine featuring Aaron Dixon in a black leather jacket and black beret leaning out of the driver’s side of a Seattle Police Car asking if they’re hiring it’s singing I’ll take you there and sex free of love and oooh so good it’s blood and body counts it’s napalm it’s Agent Orange it’s Bob Carson facing three-strikes-and-you’re-out rolling on his suppliers found dead in a field just north of Marysville his teeth pulled out with pliers yellow tulips filling his mouth and it was over.

Thomas Brush has published some 150 poems and stories in Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Iowa Review, and other magazines. He has received an NEA creative writing fellowship, two NEH grants, a fellowship from the Washington State Arts Commission, and one from Artist Trust.

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P O E T R Y

Jennifer Hartenburg

Deciduous As with most things in life, when planting, say, a trumpet creeper underneath the oak, it’s best if you don’t second-guess yourself. Perhaps you will, through lack of expertise, at last choke out its life just as you fear. May be your dearth of knowledge as regards the “dripline” and “critical radius” leaves you surprised to find the bulk of roots wound through the top three feet of soil. It will not do you good this late to read that white oak’s known to be “sensitive to severance.” Inelegant strokes of your shovel have already stripped small dark veins down to pale cream-white marrows. Pick up your spade and finish. Get down on knees and gloves and reconcile yourself to clay. Roughen the root ball, fill in, and tamp down. The garden may yet survive, profuse in orange-red blossoms, also acorns.


P O E T R Y

Our Lady of Wooden Comfort Virgin and Child, Northern France Early to mid-fourteenth century, Wood The Menil Collection

Just here beside pale Cycladic figures and Coptic tapestry transposed from other age and place she spreads her giddy grin openmouthed across a youthful wooden face, her arms lovingly embrace a headless Christ. Her hips are thrust upward to bear the Child’s weight. Her belly rises plump and round under carved folds of gown, and down her middle runs a rift that rends breast from breast—linea nigra in negative space, scar from time’s scalpel having as it were pierced her heart and side, lancet through which her God has sprung half-formed yet full of favor, fingers folded, hand held in heedful benediction. Time-rent she smiles seeing still the face beyond our knowing.

A transplant from California to Texas, Jennifer Hartenburg teaches writing in the Houston area. She enjoys studying the classics, dancing, and listening to the rain. Her work has appeared in The Christian Century, The Other Journal, Dappled Things, and The Saint Katherine Review.

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A R T

The Artwork of

Janine Barrera Castillo Persistent Light, oil on canvas, 36” x 48”


Originally from the island of Cebu, Janine Barrera Castillo began her formal art education at the University of the Philippines, majoring in painting and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. While at university, she garnered several prestigious awards, most notably winning first place in the Jose Joya Annual Painting Contest three times.

Japanese Garden, diptych, oil on linen, 36” x 96”


After two solo exhibits and several group shows in Asia, she won a scholarship from the Starr Foundation of New York to study in the United States. She earned a Master of Fine Arts at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.


Left, Green Valley Road, oil on linen, 60” x 49” Top Left, Fire Tree, oil on canvas, 54” x 60” Top Right, Seeing Through, oil on canvas, 36” x 48” Middle Left, Deeply Rooted, oil on canvas, 54” x 60” Middle Right, Branching Out, oil on canvas, 36” x 48” Bottom Left, Oak Grove, oil on linen, 36” x 48” Bottom Right, Follow the Yellow, oil on canvas, 54” x 60”


Janine has since shown her work in several solo and group exhibits and is an active participant in the contemporary art scene in the San Francisco Bay area. Most days of the week, she can be found painting in her studio in North Bay, San Francisco. Her current work focuses on the environment in which she resides. Her creative process begins each morning with a daily hike through oak trees, vineyards, hills, and open space. Her paintings are informed by what she sees in nature.

5 Centimeters Per Second, oil on canvas, 36� x 48�


Permanent Green, oil on canvas, 30” x 48”

Eternal Light, oil on canvas, 30” x 48”


Yellow Horizon, oil on linen, 36” x 48”

Presidio 1, oil on canvas, 36” x 48”


She is less interested in a classically realist representation of the natural world as much as molar, fractal patterns of branches and leaves, shapes and textures. She finds that oil painting best expresses her desire for rich textures, explorations into the subtleties of atmosphere, and the play of color. She seeks a certain “wholeness� in the act of painting, and meditating on natural shapes and patterns provides solace from the uncertainty and transience of the human world.


Presidio 2, oil on canvas, 36” x 48”


Restructuring Blue, oil on linen, 48” x 36”


P O E T R Y

Ruth Gooley

Red Tail Lighter than rain, the mist, but just a smudge on a sycamore, I think, though the light is too dim to tell. Sodden now after my walk, sneakers cold, toes numb, hands in my old jeans’ pockets, I stop, squint, gasp. A hawk, so close I can almost hear his breath, feel the soft wool of his feathers, see my eyes in the black prism of his. Tail clumped, head bowed, wings wrapped, the raptor sinks into the wet, I into the bird on his branch.

USDA


P O E T R Y

After the Burn Scarred by April’s blaze, the black line of hills, my favorite trail, that necklace loop from Sycamore Canyon through small beads of mustard, strings of live oak across La Jolla Valley, rubble now, below the pearlescent crest of the noontime moon. My eyebrows are graying, my knees ache, the pack grows heavy, memories in free fall, no longer singular like gems, each laid with care in its own satin box, but unpolished, plummeting from broken strands of thought. Green shoots from the smoked remains of brush, as hungry as fledglings at their mother’s approach. New hikers are creating their way along the dried stumble of the stream, admiring the fossils that creep out of the hill just above the desiccated waterfall. Nightfall. Dark snaps at the sky. The hiss of a great horned owl, the scream of a rabbit, the uneven settling of ashes. I falter, but will not fall just yet.

Ruth Gooley has published a chapbook called Living in Nature (2018). She has also published her work in Your Daily Poem, Ibbetson Street Review, vox poetica and NatureWriting, among others. She resides in a cabin in the Santa Monica mountains, where she lives in harmony with the abundance of nature.

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P O E T R Y

Kathleen Hellen

I Want This Bread to sink my teeth in— not insubstantial as those sandwiches for tea in erstwhile empires not self-insisting, self-referring slices of such hubris they invent solutions —O the narrow oven of the toaster not Wonder’s bright balloons consuming shelves at Sav-A-Lot I want this salt with sugar/flour/lard— swallowed hard Sustenance that moves with the migration the long walk to concessions I want this iron in the blood The taste when I am cut

Kathleen Hellen is the author of The Only Country was the Color of My Skin, the award-winning collection Umberto’s Night, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Letters and Commentary, Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, Colorado Review, The Massachusetts Review, New American Writing, New Letters, North American Review, Poetry East, and West Branch, among others. Hellen has won the Thomas Merton poetry prize and prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review. For more on Kathleen, visit https://www.kathleenhellen.com/


P O E T R Y

Dennis Hinrichsen

[HORSE] [BUZZ] [CARBINE] i. [horse] Comanche—

—Mother I have betrayed you—I dreamed I was

I had a horse—it was my wealth—

the sky I did not hurt

but claimed only what it spit down willingly—

in this way I was like Whitman— I followed the animal in me—choked it breathless with a rope—

how it eyed me wildly in evening’s

blood obsidian—

and then I cupped my hands around a nostril—

blew breath into its bare-stript heart

until its thrashing calmed—

and its lungs heaved and the ribs settled to

believable wreckage— knees beside it—

and it was tamed—and I again was tamed—on my


ii. [buzz]

—First Battle of Adobe Walls—1864—the last time

Comanche— Kiowa— force a white retreat— Whitman’s in Brooklyn—one brother captured— another going mad— he has already tended thousands—great halls of dying men—bits and pieces of men—

there’s a buzz in his ears—despite the silence—he ails—

Mother—can you heal him—

as he has come to adapt himself to each dire

face—

the consequences—amputation—death—

something to write with in his hands

so a soldier can pencil—

brother I have been brave but wicked— as in— Whenever any of these wounded—[that is/ the Rebels]—attempted to move away by any means—generally by crawling off—our men without exception brought them down by a bullet—they let none crawl away—no matter what his condition—

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P O E T R Y iii. [carbine] woven

—Mother—I am drained—I dreamed I was blood—of this I am

of man driven to ground and his animal taken— 1874—Palo Duro Canyon—

over one thousand horses ordered shot—

it takes a working day to destroy them all—

panicked neighing and then the

stench and then more neighing—live ponies hearing the carbines loaded—

the cracked glaze in their eyes the same cracked

glaze

that filters now in mine—

or in the hands on the

reins— Whitman’s hands—or in the leather on the reins—or in the hide of an animal

set in the sun—

as in— those hot sad wrenching times— as in—

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Whitman at the Second Annex—1891—

the wounded suffering dying—

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as in— trenches hurriedly heap’d by the corpse-thousands— his body broke by it—broke with it— —time-bang’d conch— as in— I am but a little bell of history that cannot stop this ringing—

Dennis Hinrichsen is the author of Skin Music (Southern Indiana Review Press). New work can be found in 32 Poems, FIELD, Muzzle, and Permafrost. He lives in Lansing, Michigan, and served as the area’s first Poet Laureate (2017-2019).

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P O E T R Y

Charlene Langfur

Living in the Present I am looking for wherever I am most alive in the world. This is the way I am trying to live right now where everything is a gift. I have lists of what to eke out and what to revel in. Today I am drawing sunflowers and waterlilies on recycled paper. The sunflowers begin with three circles and turn into petals and stems, I use a yellow Ticonderoga pencil, as yellow as the flower I draw with it will be. The pencils are wood and affordable enough to use with erasers that hold up in the desert. Erasers are the agents of change. The waterlilies have a life of their own. I let them float where they will as I sketch them down, they move across the paper, that is white as milk, soon to be a pond, one I have seen somewhere in my long life in a place with water and lush shrubbery. This is how it is for me in a limited time. Everything small looks bigger up close without artifice or extra planning, it is all like floating in a way. My small brown dog is upside down on the brown sofa with her paws up in the air, she is suspended, half aloft, half asleep, completely aware. Outside the window roadrunners are collecting twigs off the scraggly desert ground, I think it is a search party, birds with feathers the color of abalone. They are moving fast, knowing exactly what to do, trusting the environment enough to gather what they need to live. I try to do the same. Shop for three days at a time, drive less, carry my blue walking cane around as if I do it more for luck than protection from falling down. I take faith in small steps and plans in list form on a pad of paper, lists for the bold and the little, Hallelujah, I say, I am on my way is what I believe as the bees land on the yellow Trumpet flowers, the wrens look for more seeds in the heather. The roses bloomed overnight are opening up the same way I try to open. I know I must be on the right track. Yes.


Sit Like a Mountain This is never as easy as I think no matter how many times I do it. Holding steady and in place, sitting still and breathing deep and long. Counting one breath at a time. I am slowing down but thinking about everything imaginable at the same time, about how the black crows talk over the nubile little dates on the palm trees in the back yard, this is date country, thinking how I need to sweep the back porch. It is time to tidy up again and today on this day when the sky is as blue as my summer shirt, ironed and ready to wear out into the world, today on this day when I have a list of images I want to put into my new poems, all of them, including the roadrunners and the wrens, and the pink poppies in a gully in the deep grass, the flowers that never give up, that keep coming back like in the beginning, like the first time. This is how busy I am in a quiet time. Full of ruminations. Enumerations. Living out loud all over the map and standing still at the same time even as the mind is trying to slow down. This is why I have stopped. To touch the still and the small, the nothing and the now, to learn how.

A Few More Steps I am mindful today. Listing the obvious. Taking one step and another. Planting flower seeds in dirt in an old bucket on the porch. It begins. Starting again. Staying out, taking to what is. Watching nothing. Seeing everything. Breathing deep. It is not easy to be this way, move without calculation or exacting plan in a world full of friends and family and markers of every kind, with routines, and expectations. Today I am walking where I walk over the same ground and liking where I walk every minute of it

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P O E T R Y as if I have never been there before, the same as in a dream, walking from one end to the other. My little dog is walking by me as if she is taking me along with her and we are moving with the same pace as the poem, rising and converging, floating, wafting, words and air and breath. I am learning to start over and rise back up. Carrying seeds around with me again. Planting nasturtium and calendula. Connecting to what way feels right. I think this is how loving deeply starts again. Starting from nothing. Getting on. Listening for the blackbirds in the palm tree overhead. For the brown wrens in the bush.

Beginning Again On another ordinary day. I look for the sun to warm my face on my morning walk. This is why I go out early. In the desert the light is like love these days. Outside I walk side by side with my dog, protect the little, the wrens in the bushes before the heat comes on too strong. They land near the flowers and check for food. The sunflowers along the path are taller than we are. The roses are the color of the moon. This is how I come back to life again over and over. Stand up tall and walk with an easy gait again, looking for balance after falling more than not. Learning to walk again. It takes time. Learning to breathe right again. Watching the roadrunners across the desert sand taking care of their lives from day to day like they know how, collecting twigs. Saving palm tree dates for a rainy day. I know this is how everything around us comes to bear on who we are. The ravens talking on the top of the palm trees. Everything is starting again. The dog stretching for another go. The sparrows moving smoothly, mindful of what they need to do next. I am like them. I know all this matters. When the heart is endangered, it must be protected.

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A Certain Kind of Passion Today I am trying hard to get completely carried away. To go with the first little breeze of the morning as is. Look it in the face during such a hot time as this. Watch the little wrens out the window, they are in the heather again. The dog and I are out walking as far as we can go together. Stepping out as we have learned to do under the palm trees full of the black crows and tiny dates about to grow bigger. Everything around us is growing and breathing and getting on about it in the hot season and we are engaged with what is happening exactly where we are as if we can hold ourselves and the world together this way touching everything from one part of the desert where we live to the other, a short distance in a giant world as if we are all breaking open together over and over and loving that way, all the roses tamed and the wild as well, this little, this much, blooming and budding, what we have at our fingertips, the tall yellow sunflowers and the deep pink cuplike poppies opening all day long

Charlene Langfur is an organic gardener, a southern Californian, and a Syracuse University Graduate Writing Fellow. Her work has appeared in many magazines and journals, most currently in The Potomac Review, Turtle Island/ Room Magazine, Emrys, Hamilton Stone, a series of poems in Hawk & Handsaw: Journal of Creative Sustainability, and essays in The Wilderness Review and Still Point Arts Quarterly.

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P O E T R Y

Samantha Lê

Spy (San Francisco, 1983)

Tysto; Urban~commonswiki

In the dust and noise, the streetlamps come alive one-by-one—faint orange glimmers that grow downward to smear the sidewalks with halos. The man licks his thick lips and kisses his woman for the last time. He shakes off discomfort as another would the wrinkles in a pair of trousers. “What will happen to our future children?” she asks. “Aren’t I your ghazal, your eternal love poem?” The black mold of despair parts her parched lips. The man covers his ears. Dancing Persian hands cut the air with the fluidity of poetic lines. He steps off the curb and crosses into the shadows; the rhythm of the city carries him—wet hands follow wet feet beneath the shadows of black umbrellas. The woman pigeon-steps, connecting circles. Her scarf falls from her shoulders, revealing the dent


between bony blades. That spot on which delicate kisses were planted—each time, an unconscious reminder: his control, her fragility. Rain falls at a steep diagonal. It whittles slats in the orange glow like strips of metal peeling from the world. Water streaks large panes of glass. The flashing red, orange and green of blinking traffic signals. The asphalt glistens. Rivulets gush towards the gutters as water seeks to get back to the ocean. It’s people who stand in the way, our buildings and roads, dams and canals. Our need to hold back and soak up teardrops. Abuela’s hurried sandal steps on the wet sidewalk sound like repeated slaps. Abuela doesn’t look at the broken woman asleep drinking rain. She keeps her chin tucked inside her coat. She carries bulging bags of treasures from the Mexican mask store. Abuela chases down the city bus. She climbs heavy steps without looking down. From my window, I’m a spy. My darkness is alive, humming hymns of old appliances and falling water. “We’re not forgotten,” I comfort the sleeping woman with false words. I know her hollowness— the suffering of one crumbled individual in a vast city made dense by sufferings. Before she left, my mother talked repeatedly about the woman who stood on a mountain and waited for her husband. No one remembers her name. (My mother insisted I remember this fact.) She waited so long her body hardened into a boulder, gathering dampness and decay. This was the lesson to guide me into womanhood: to know that on a nameless, wind-whipped mountain of my motherland,

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P O E T R Y where the rain also falls at a diagonal, there’s a boulder that bears the burden of every woman’s wait until I become the eye inside that woman—see her raw. Elemental. She’s lovely. I’m lovely like her. Our loneliness. Confusion. Our desperation and daily humiliations. The black mold of despair, it, too, is lovely.

A Haven for the Discarded Roaches come out from the drains at night; Dad rustles us from bed and puts on Édith Piaf. We stomp, falling into each other like broken dolls— my sisters in their scratchy, Woolworth nightgowns, my mother somewhere under her hardened clay mask. Roaches scatter like moving musical notes. A cacophony trickles through the popcorn ceiling as the neighbors talk out loud their dreamings. Non, rien de rien, non, je ne regrette rien. A false dawn turns the Tenderloin into a golden haven, and we children look out at the world through naked openings. Sweaty toes clamped the old window frame; I surrender my body to the mysteries of Leavenworth Street. Choked crosswalks. Blasting Boomboxes. The chatters of working girls. A pick-up jumps the curb; two men dump a used mattress in the alley. Non, rien de rien, non, je ne regrette rien. My shadow crawls down the side of the building— to be as lost as a broken kitchen chair, burrowed under disposable cups and stained mattresses. But Dad’s heavy footsteps race from the dark hallway. He yanks me back by the ankles. “I only wanted to see the world from a different place,” I answer his unspoken accusation. A shiver passes through him like a kiss.   FALL 2020

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Mornings With My Mother 1. Many things imitated the arch of the Chinese egret’s neck but none achieved the practiced curvature of my mother’s hips— its silhouette traced the continent’s edge where the sea gave way to land. 2. Three dollops of condensed milk for every three teaspoons of Folgers crystals. I sat opposite her and swallowed one spoonful of sludge at a time. She painted her daily mask. Plucked eyebrows penciled back black against nacre skin. Eyelids smeared charcoal, coral lips, lashes flipped into matching sets of centipede legs. Even if there was no place to go, she still made it up. 3. I stayed in bed and listened to her kitchen noises: the gas stove turning on, the knockings of the pipes as she filled her kettle with water from the tap, and the delicate taps of the spoon against the rim of her porcelain cup. Stir, stir, stir . . . . Three thin sips between puckered lips—careful not to smear the fresh coral outline. Three gentle taps—clankclank-clank—and stir, stir, stir. Everything happened in threes.   4. She stood out from the crowd in her pink sateen blouse. Three gold fish embroidered on each pocket. Meticulously stitched bubbles adorned the cuffs of her pink

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P O E T R Y sateen pants—each deliberate stride, a quiet celebration. On her face was the look of a woman anxious about being taken by thieves, swindlers or worse . . . but was resigned to be defenseless against all acts of aggression. 5. I closed my eyes when she pressed the metal scissors against my forehead. The blade nipped my bangs like a bite. It slid carelessly across my brown line. If only I had been a boy, then she could’ve believed in miracles. “It’s useless,” she declared, throwing the scissors on the table. “Am I ugly?” I asked. “Don’t be vain,” she chastised without creating new wrinkles. 6. I fell off the kitchen stool and my head split on the cement floor—a cracked head on the cracked floor. My mouth, a sea cucumber expelling its intestines—an instinctual act of defense. From far away, I heard her: “Chết rồi! Chết rồi!” she whispered. At my hairline, there’s still a scar the color of tea stain. It takes the shape of a crescent moon and aches when I remember.

The Disappearance 1. Righteousness blows from room to room, slamming shut doors and sweeping dishes off tables. Late at night, he sits in his armchair—lungs wreathed in tobacco smoke, eyes liquored with pride—and curses womankind. A dangerous man. Burned rice sticks to blackened pots; and plastic colanders of varying shapes and sizes, scavenged

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from garage sales and junk shops around the city— my mother’s way of losing herself—teeter on the edge. 2. Her mood came in like bad weather. She drew a circle around herself. “A sinkhole will open and swallow me,” she snorted, making beastly grunts out of human words. Short fingers and fleshy palms—a child’s hands— covered a middle-aged woman’s face. A colorful distortion of emotions. Bent over like a praying monk with the rawness of her knees pressed into the linoleum floor, my mother repeated her penance. “Chết rồi, chết rồi . . .” she cried. She died a hundred times a day but never forever. 3. I’ve become fluid and eternal like the jellyfish. It traps me inside its bell of silence. People lose each other all the time, mistaking loneliness for dignity. Tendrils pass through me as if I were transparent. I sleep. One leg draped over the side of the mattress to anticipate trembles—the sleep of children who worry. Clenched fists stuffed into my crotch like a punch, a smirk on my lips; I’m practicing to smile and be angry at the same time.

Born in Sadec in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Samantha Lê immigrated to San Francisco when she was nine. She now lives amongst the foothills and vineyards of California’s central coast where she paints, hikes, and reinvents old family recipes. A recipient of the James D. Phelan Literary Award and the Donor Circle for the Arts Grant, Lê holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San José State University. Her publications include Corridors and Little Sister Left Behind. Her poetry has appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Hypertrophic Literary, Reed Magazine, Two Thirds North, and other journals.

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P O E T R Y

Simon Perchik

Five Untitled Poems * Even so it’s the darkness, loosened circling down as the only meal you dead can swallow—a single gulp and you are nourished the way the drowned still cling to a rope that’s not yet an arm —miners learn this, they train where there are corners, taught to feel for an opening in the rock out all alone that will become the night after night —you have a chance! your shadow is already near the surface, draining this mountain for its ashes once they’re finished, eat —everything here is evening and you sinking on and on into the Earth more than emptiness and fingertips. * You have the bread weakened and still there are too many rooms —she liked toast and the mornings warmed her the way each slice would never darken enough yet behind the pile a small sky is handing you a night already hardened lets you burn down the house mouthful by mouthful—she liked the smoke as it leaves and you go on by yourself with this wooden table that won’t catch fire or fill.

Karen Murphy


* Exhaustion, crowding, this dirt needs to be tested lets you sniff its breath for mist and fever, is infected and though it’s struggling these graves were dug as if the sky still exists is burning underground—you monitor the way this place pretends it was once a sea again and again by itself curled around the Earth till every stone here touched bottom was breathing on its own already coastline, could resist beat back the waves you bring as flowers, smelling from winds with nowhere else to go. * The silence on edge in your throat helps you breathe, warms your neck the way all gravestones look their best—you take air in though it darkens, is filled with moonlight then salt—what you hear is your chest no longer pretending it’s a sky, has room, time for the slow climbing turn wider and wider, swallowing the Earth till every afternoon overflows with rivers that no longer turn back —you still listen for pieces as the sound a sea makes in rocks coming by to grieve for you.

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P O E T R Y * No, no, not the ink—it’s when her eyes closed the page ran black—even without language there was room in her mouth for melting rock and lips everywhere following the flood until it sinks—the words you hold on to know nothing about a still warm star once paper, is turning over and over in the light shedding the color it needs to see in the dark, carry her along inside the mountain it takes to die —you still hide in her mouth to read word by word till they cover the night that is too heavy, not yet dirt for the corner where she is buried though you point with your finger the way it still imagines each sound is looking for her, sacrifices itself and stone is just another word.

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems published by Forge/boxofchalk. For more information including free e-books and his essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities,” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

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Paulann Petersen

How I Learn to Live Underwater By planting seeds in sandy soil that was once a wide lake’s bottom, ancient lake that swallowed life after life as its wind-riven waves ate at a shoreline. By feeling the weight of long-ago water pressing into my back as I lean into this garden work. By using my index finger to jab each seed downward. By scissoring that finger and my thumb to coax loose soil into making the just-created holes disappear. Creatures—surely countless— drowned in the lake, then sank to its bottom, coming to rest on the very spot where my garden stands. Their deaths, the particulate of this soil. Each seed I plant takes a water-weight into the soil with it, pulls a lake’s ghost into the earth. Each lies only fractions deep, but enough to take hold in a darkness made from drowning. The seed drinks up the heft of a thousand griefs. Its first leaf, looking nothing like the leaves to follow, sings uncountable songs. I watch as—from a water-grave— one small hook of new green life rises.

W.carter


P O E T R Y

Regalia —for Wendy Red Star, the artist who created her Motor Oil Buffalo Dress from black vinyl and synthetic beads

Only an earth-blood both black and viscous could feed the skin that thickened into a hide to make this dark-as-can-be ceremonial dress. Machines taller than ancient redwoods whine and creak, thudding their sing-song as they pump this blood up and into our use. We trust it to never run dry. Long fringe hangs from the yoke of this Motor Oil Buffalo Dress— some strands clotted along their length with jet-dark plastic beads. From its skirt, even longer fringe drags along the ground. These thin strips of the slick black hide grow long enough to stream across the earth. They trickle outward to find, to seep into, the flow of already clouded rivers.

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From this 21st century buffalo dress, a stain makes its way to the ocean. Each wave’s surge splays with oily shadow. At tide’s retreat, a wavering line of dark tar reeks the shore.

Proper Tribute —Wind was the first person to inhabit the earth. —Navajo East of the mountains, where I once lived, wind blew most of the time. Its strafe and chafe whittled me down. In spring it blew the new-fangled green right off the barely leafed trees. In winter it sent braces of rain and snow on horizontal journeys, seeing how long it could keep them airborne before letting them reach the ground. I turned myself straight into its force so my hair wouldn’t whip my face. I kept my head lowered. Had I known then who wind was, I could have mustered more attention, could have paid my due respects. I saw it shatter to pieces a huge lake’s surface. I saw how, when it rose, the birds— crows and grosbeaks, even the egrets— Doug Linstedt

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P O E T R Y disappeared. I could hear the telephone lines singing wind’s day and night inside out first-person meddlesome song. Bowing my head even lower, I could have at least tried to hum along.

Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita, has seven full-length books of poetry, most recently One Small Sun, from Salmon Poetry in Ireland. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Poetry, The New Republic, Prairie Schooner, Willow Springs, Calyx, and Poetry Daily. A Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, she received the 2006 Holbrook Award from Oregon Literary Arts. In 2013 she was Willamette Writers’ Distinguished Northwest Writer. The Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds chose a poem from her book The Voluptuary as the lyric for a choral composition that’s now part of the repertoire of the choir at Trinity College Cambridge.

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P O E T R Y

Joseph Powell

Scales of Desire Aren’t we enlarged by the scale Of what we’re able to desire. —Mark Doty In that almost post-season mating interlude when the hens are nesting, seven mallard drakes on my pond attacked the hen who flew in. For weeks we’ve watched one male defend her from advances by roving others who swoon in and fly off, with him in furious pursuit. How placid was the pond when they alone bobbed heads in passionate consent and he swam in happy circles around her, quacking and flapping in his post-coital green glamor. But now, one swam over and climbed on, and when he was done, another, then another. They kept pushing her under until all seven swirled in a frantic melee, fighting each other and her, to be next. I was frying breakfast sausage, watching the tumbling knot of ducks, like seagulls squabbling over a fishmonger’s gut dump. The wingbeating and the jangling water and her struggle to breathe. I don’t like imposing my ethics onto a universe with its own nameless reasons, but dropped my spatula and rushed out, shouting and clapping like gun shots. All seven flew, and I wondered if she’d drowned. Finally, looking wet and ragged, she resurfaced on the other side and flew off in their direction.

Pearson Scott Foresman


P O E T R Y Caught up in their sexual riot, opportunity’s frenzy, their wild swaggering wing-fight they could have killed her. Cooking again, my spatula felt like a club.

Pack Rats They chewed through saddle blankets, seats, reins, nested in drawers, pissed on everything, ripped open grainsacks, tossed their black pellets like seeds across the floors. Their middens may be archeological reserves, amberat and dry time preserving eons, but when they leap out of opening drawers, or saddle bags, or whisker the dark of your new shop, you want them to pack up and leave. But they don’t, they move in deeper. They laugh at live traps. Then you bring out the old spring-loaded ones grain baited on its little communion plate spread like a hand that can snap shut like a fist. At first, gray fur, spittle of blood; next, a perfectly white foot with cream-colored plantar pads as delicate as a chick’s eye. Then the still live rat, shoulder-caught, eyes perched like obsidian peas on a whiskery pencil-sharpened face. It dragged the trap and chain into an almost reachable darkness. Caught in your flashlight’s beam, it stares into a bright blindness, mouths its own ghost, sniffs the iron solidity of trapped air.

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Clubbed, it screams like a violin string and writhes and shivers to get through a dark portal, a rat hole, its yellow teeth gripped to the wrong side. You turn away until it stops, until it can fall out of the sprung fist, as limp as a gray rag into the hole you’ve dug for something several times its size.

Joseph Powell has published five collections of poetry, including Hard Earth (2009) and Preamble to the Afterlife (2013). He co-wrote a textbook entitled Accent on Meter (2004). His book of short stories Fish Grooming & Other Stories (2010) was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. He was awarded an NEA for his poetry in 2009.

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P O E T R Y

Todd Robinson

Nebraska City Psalter

Ammodramus

Last night, sleepless and sore, I took my body out into the dark with a belly drunk with sobriety and walked. Birds ruled the branches of a tired river town, haze of August heat muddying the starlight, chlorine glow of street lamps and the jolt of coal trains through the gut of steaming America. Down to the river I rambled, bars quiet as the houses of the dead, trees shivering with secrets, bugs bouncing off my forehead. The place seemed ready to tip and tumble into dirty water— nostalgic ghosts keening in cabins, calico dresses and work-shirts quivering on the clotheslines of the past. Westward, I turned


my sweating bones past flower baskets and storefronts glassy as caskets, the world dizzy and dreaming me to the edge of mind where I lay my searching down to take in the canopy. Slowly, the ink darkened over quiet, hot, concrete, holding me still, Job under the apple boughs, rinsed by echoes too sweet to tell, flashes scoring that heaven so remote from summer purgatory. Space garbage or cosmic rocks, it mattered not the whole way home. I slept, for once, like a happy stone.

Todd Robinson’s words have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Sugar House Review, Natural Bridge, Chiron Review, and Midwest Quarterly. He has published two books of poetry, Note at Heart Rock (Main Street Rag Press) and Mass for Shut-Ins (Backwaters Press). “Nebraska City Psalter” was composed in Nebraska City, Nebraska, during a residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts.

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Vera Schwarcz

A Thirst for Butterfly Words Drumbeat upon a leaf, a riot of magenta dots upon the wings of Ghost Brimstone, translucent lover of gardenia powered to flutter a hundred times each minute. Small Postman sports blotches of crimson, Piano Key covers an entire octave of orange bordered by ivory. Blue Morpho ravishes with iridescent indigo and underbelly of ocean amber to ward off predators. Today, two Blue Crackers chase one another around my lawn chair, lavender light heedless of humans deprived of a proboscis to suck hibiscus nectar. How did we ever lose the gift of praising life with lustrous hues of hope? Graphics Fairy


Dark Matter’s Soundless Whispering Is past merely prologue to the same old future? In Geneva, physicists at the Large Hadron Collider have found one piece of God: the Higgs boson. But that was back in 2012. What will happen in the next fifteen years? Maybe nothing. 14 trillion electron volts will continue to smash small beams of protons, 700 million collisions per second, and mass happens. Oh, but where, where is the “stop quark,” the super partner to map the outer boundaries of Higgs? Where is the mysterious stuff whose gravity binds galaxies after the Big Bang? With all that frenzied colliding, mashing revolutions we just might miss dark matter’s soundless whispering.

Dawn Devotion This dawn jammed all my worries into a rusty pickup truck:

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P O E T R Y Someone is packing boxes of moldy schoolbooks. Who spread news of their claptrap? Two hungry hounds circle slime thirsting for blood. Nothing in my fridge but spoiled slices of beef, too meager to quiet this howling. Suddenly, I find a torn tarp, yellowing canvass to bundle books and barks. Beneath this tattered sail, a broken bucket of bruised berries— enough to pry open gates of gratitude.

Vera Schwarcz is a China historian and poet focusing on comparative aspects of trauma studies. Schwarcz received her B.A. from Vassar College, M.A. from Yale, and Ph.D. from Stanford. For the past four decades she taught at Wesleyan University, where she was the Freeman Professor of History and East Asian Studies. Schwarcz has also taught several seminars on Chinese and comparative historiography in the MA program at Hebrew University. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, and a Lady Davis Fellowship. Vera is the author of nine books about Chinese intellectual history, including Bridge Across Broken Time: Chinese and Jewish Cultural Memory (Yale University Press, 1989), which was nominated for the National Jewish Book Award, and, most recently, Colors of Veracity: A Quest for Truth in China and Beyond (University of Hawaii Press, 2014). She has also written six books of poetry includingThe Physics of Wrinkle Formation (Antrim Press, 2015). For more information about her work, see: between2walls.com.

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Loren Smith

In Town

ClassicChevy

My gift to you is the dreamers with unlocked doors and the quiet lights of a town that floats on voices. Both the cigarette thrums of lifelong friends and the hissing of busybodies who carol house to house each year in search of canned food. I’m giving you free ice cream for fly balls. Steak dinners and small town poems made my maids, old and young, at a sociable. Mayors hanging cardboard signs on chicken wire. Dance lessons from high school dance teachers. Jesus Christ doormen and atheist keggers in homes converted to churches. You can have it all. All the books my neighbor hoarded on horticulture. The comic books the town cop owned as a boy. The broken legs of old swing sets. The pottery barn run by the only gay couple in town. The high school students stacking cans at the grocery store.


P O E T R Y You can have the fifty-five Chevy my father drove in parades. The arthritic hands of the mechanic on the corner of main. The volunteer fireman’s mascot, a three-legged deer caught stealing corn from backyard gardens. You can have the farm boy who drapes blankets over his sleeping pigs during fairs. Sixteen-year-old kids on goat carts parked outside of ice shacks. Barrel-racing queens posting signs for lessons on the bulletin board and tinfoil dinner dates cooked in nests of fire. My gift to you is the old birds in their porch chairs petting weathered dogs. The taco man in his truck parked next to the firework stand. The Miss Smalltown glow. My gift to you is the nakedness of Eden in a small town bottle and the holes in stars that feed stillness.

The Cherry Picker My lanky arms throw down the cherries with caves— the sin of birds—the sugared mansion of worms. The trees’ closed branches hide the best children of the tree and poking my fingers through the wooden womb, mother’s nails scrape my arms. I take my haul home to Mom, freckles of fruit and blood splashing my hands and she asks me, “What have you been up to?” and I say, “I picked cherries for two dollars a bag.”

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‘73 Chevy The consolation prize: a ‘73 Chevy for my dead friend. His dad pops the hood, the engine is all grease, black and tar. “Spray some starter fluid into the intake,” he says pointing and I spray. I never once saw this truck, never heard his leukemia son mention a word about it when we absconded to the basement and I know I am the second place winner. His best friend (the real one) already had a ‘74 Ford. “That’s enough,” he says. The can rattling in my hand. “Grab the wrench and give it a quarter turn,” so I do and the wrench slips. “Be careful!” he snips, the pliers in his hand reaching for our father/son cord. When the truck fires up, we go for a spin, the wind in the floorboards screaming as I try to be the good son, Dad bright as an apple tree on the bench seat beside me.

The Good Brother Digging up my brother, I cut off the grave clothes Mom got and give him mine. I put the glasses Dad found in the wreck, snuggling with bits of windshield,

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P O E T R Y over his eyes and comb his hair. He’s got that patent laugh now, a coyote cackling at starlight. Sitting in the grave drinking his favorite, I sing him some songs. I’m better than he ever was and if he was breathing he’d be so proud he’d get his guitar. I tell him some stories about his Cassie, tell him how sweet her hair felt in my fingers, how her freckles glowed like dew in the morning and the town she moved to over the state line. And when I’m as drunk as the moon, I breathe my beat into his heart and let my body go cold as he rises up since the family knows who the good brother is.

Loren Smith is a poet, tutor, and teacher who loves listening to records with his wife, Jordon. Currently, Loren is pursuing an MFA at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK, where he teaches English Composition. His work has appeared in Westview, Straylight, The Santa Clara Review, and many other journals and magazines.

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Sunni Brown Wilkinson

Gumballs My grandfather wanted to make millions on gumballs. This was after the vitamins in hard white bottles he bought by the case that were going to make him millions and just before he sponsored a concert pianist always on the brink of success and during his stint in SoCal real estate when something went sour, and a handful of years after he married my grandmother and they lived in Palm Springs: golf course off the patio, twin Mercedes in the garage. He bought millions of gumballs, golf ball big but smooth, brought a box to our house, asked us to sell them like Wall Street brokers to all the neighbor kids. Instead, we loaded them like pumpkins in a wagon and walked in slow, humiliated steps around the block. My grandfather had been a millionaire but his money was draining and he wanted more, the way, years before, he’d surprise-kissed my grandmother, his good friend’s wife, long and full in the kitchen when they were married to their first loves, a thank you for visiting gone wrong. No one wanted gumballs so the box stayed full in my brother’s closet next to his smelly high-tops and that bag of weed he hid from my parents. This was around the time we fell in love with rock (Zeppelin, U2), caught

Ben Collins-Sussman


P O E T R Y lizards in the foothills. We were young but not small. My uncle said I was blooming and I couldn’t look at him for years. Downstairs the gumballs collected dust. Sometimes we rinsed them off, broke their shells with our teeth and chewed until our jaws hurt and the gum slowly hardened like cement drying and we couldn’t open our mouths except to jerk them suddenly like that jaw-dropping moment a strange man sat on our couch and hugged and kissed our grandma like a kid getting his fill in a candy store.

West Yellowstone The painted trout over Jacklin’s Fly Shop, open–mouthed and arched mid–air, has always been there. He is caught at the end of an invisible line. He has come out of evening’s waters, gulping the world as we did at nineteen in a town crowded with bars and hotels, Dan and the boys exchanging wooly buggers for beers, we girls with our hair curled under Dairy Queen lights. We left after midnight, stereo blasting and the Cavalier jammed with knees, something reckless in our breathing, until we reached

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Firehole River and scaled the cliffs rimming its edges. Then Nick would sit on a rock, shine a flashlight onto the dark waters churning, and the light — a pale yellow circle jerking about — spelled out where to go. It was an easy thing then. Twenty years in the turning of moon to moon. The moss– speak of the ancients we can almost hear. They gather in some soft place we lean into, closer. Dan in a home now and Nick teaching biology somewhere in the Midwest, the rest of us parents— all of us the same: leaping out into a wavering shaft of light then swimming, swimming furiously in the dark.

Sunni Brown Wilkinson’s poetry and essays have been published or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Sou’wester, Adirondack Review, Sugar House Review, Cimarron Review, Southern Indiana Review, and other journals and anthologies. Her poetry collection The Marriage of the Moon and the Field (Black Lawrence Press 2019) was a finalist for the Hudson Prize. She holds an MFA from Eastern Washington University, teaches at Weber State University, and lives in Ogden, Utah, with her husband and three young sons.

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READING, TEACHING, & LEARNING IN THE ANTHROPOCENE CHRISTY CALL Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road, takes place in a thoroughly decimated, post-apocalyptic terrain. This is an increasingly common site for a host of contemporary books, films, and TV programs that imagine the end of the world or, at least, the end of the human in the world. This cultural imaginary is frequently premised in an outlook where modes of hyper-consumption in neoliberal economies corrode collective, life-sustaining systems. In McCarthy’s representation of this desolate afterworld, the “frailty of everything” comes into view again and again (24). Interestingly, the ruin of social and environmental systems exposes the fabric of existence as interdependent and crosscut. As much as this might sound like the basis for existential harmony, interconnections of this type often manifest in ways that lay bare the extent to which our lives are held in the hands of others—and others’ lives are held contingent in our hands. Through this lens, the portrayal of agency reveals a cascade of consequence from a single action or motion. In fact, the actor performing an act often possesses little or no insight regarding the ramifications that follow. In this cascade, anything undone threatens to unravel the whole

tapestry, and the conceit of relation as a chosen condition registers false. In a poignant moment in McCarthy’s novel, the boy of the book enters a derelict grocery store to discover a deer mounted on the wall. The taxidermied head represents a relic as archaic as a dinosaur fossil. In this instance, however, the history contained within the emblem


of the deer head is a record of mass extinction from ways of life in the contemporary age. In this way, The Road recursively presents a view of the future from events of the present. Such a translation of time generates a good deal of tension in the reader. The novel is not, as is probably clear to even those who have not read the book, a work of escapist fiction. There is no reprieve from an engagement with McCarthy’s page. The plot, however, is simple. The story hinges on the exigent struggles of a father and son to merely survive in a world laid to waste. The man and the boy spend their days in efforts to satisfy elemental needs of food, water, shelter, and relative safety. In this struggle, they never move far from the razor’s edge of bare survival. All the detritus of life, the silly and superficial, gets sheared away. The force of the book doesn’t lie so much in the plot as in the dimensions of ethical thought held just beyond the plotline. In other words, existential scarcity and squalor make a compelling screen for ethical issues related to concepts of duty, obligation, and responsibility. These are difficult deliberations in normal settings, but in a setting where familiar and familial orbits have been destroyed, where friendships are lost, where national and religious and economic identities are vacated, the intensities only amplify. If there is to be a surviving sense of obligation in this kind of world, it must occur from ethical extensions made to strangers. This presents a keen challenge. The stranger is not known, and the stranger is not easily self-referential, so any ethical move must happen from the basis of accepted difference. By presenting the reader with these considerations, paradigms that traditionally govern our sense of ethical obligation emerge for critical view. We can see that circles of relation around the self that privilege our own bloodlines and the semblance of our own

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image amount to ethical limitations rather than strengths. In a space of ruin, the paradigms of the past often emerge as incoherent. As Georgio Agamben notes in ‘The Melancholy Angel,” “It is only in the burning house that the fundamental architectural problem becomes visible for the first time.”1 Clearly, this is a highly demanding reading experience. I am responsible for requiring students in an Honors Program course entitled The Construction of Knowledge to read the book and come to class ready for a discussion of ideas. I co-teach this course with Dr. Sue Harley, a professor of botany. In this class, we survey various intellectual revolutions across time for a better understanding of the ways that knowledge has been made and contested. Clutch figures such as Copernicus, Darwin, Einstein, and Lynn Margulis—still known from the basis of two names though she will be down to one in the near future—serve as model thinkers for exploring the achievement of knowledge and the evitable social resistances that follow. Of course, knowledge is different than belief, and this is a point worth underscoring in the class. Figuring out the difference is difficult work. My primary contribution to the course comes from the way that our exploration of knowledge expands to include arts and literature. Learning through literature is a fascinating process to explore, as works of fiction aim to represent and refract the real at the same time that they are obviously composed in artifice. The Road is just one of the texts within the course, but it is representative of the interrogative slant common to the literary page. In a way that becomes disconcertedly clear, the task of reading literary works does not build new knowledge atop old ideas for a kind of seamless edifice. Instead, literary study can be seen to recursively rebuild the same humble

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Clutch figures such as Copernicus, Darwin, Einstein, and Lynn Margulis—still known from the basis of two names though she will be down to one in the near future—serve as model thinkers for exploring the achievement of knowledge and the evitable social resistances that follow. Of course, knowledge is different than belief, and this is a point worth underscoring in the class. Figuring out the difference is difficult work. shack over and over again, for as long as one dares to read. This is because works of literature interrogate tacit assumptions. Knowledge from literature happens tentatively, from the inevitable, recursive patterns of disruption, revision, and amendment. Literary texts rebuke single, decisive interpretations or readings. An interpretation can never be settled because a reading is never stable. Language, too, is never fixed because the terms encode contexts that are always particular and relative. To underscore a point that is increasingly difficult to advance in educational systems that want to see students attain mastery, certainty, and expertise, the experience of learning through literature is an experience that more frequently confronts and undermines one’s certitudes. It is a hard, long way to learn. In the classroom, this learning, to a degree dependent on a host of factors, takes the form of a disruptive, reorienting experience. It can be easy to see how this is not always the preferred model of education in a view that has students merely joining

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already existing paradigms. The combination of science through botany and the humanities through literature marks an unusual configuration, yet the premise of the class is that this transdisciplinary design is necessary for understanding the problems of the contemporary age, problems that overspill any boundaries meant to contain them. In looking backward on intellectual and artistic revolutions of thought, we work forward to engage the realities of climate change, a phenomenon shaped, like the course itself, in a thorough overlapping of nature and culture. In fact, this shape is increasingly vital for an education that means to disrupt tacit assumptions and untested views. The text Arts Programming for the Anthropocene describes artists, teachers, and other thinkers who actively efface the line of separation between the social and environmental to get at the complexity of an age dominated by human actions.2 These new instructional designs upset the normative routines of education. The authors of this text underscore the creative, critical movement toward instructional paradigms that break from a vision of learning bounded in traditional disciplinary formations. This kind of innovation takes the term “Anthropocene” as more than a marker for geological time. The term becomes indicative of the dire need for more just ways of human relation in the more-thanhuman world.3 Another scene in The Road presents a view through ruin of the social and natural mesh. The father recalls walking years earlier through the ruins of a library: He’d stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row. He picked up one of the books and

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thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He’d not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation. He let the book fall and took a last look around and made his way out into the cold gray light. (157-158) The manifestation of physical ruin occurs from the line blurring intrusion of outside elements in an indoor space. The building may have started on fire from the general devastation unleashed on the world, or the building may have been set on fire deliberately, a nihilist torching. The building may have burned from the outside in or from the inside out. Perhaps the details don’t matter. Perhaps the language that would convey the details is insufficient. But if books represent an apex of cultural achievement, their destruction presents a vision of rage against a cultural history that has somehow got something critically wrong. Do the remnant human survivors consider words lost of meaning? Do the morals of the stories seem only disingenuous? Do the philosophies of belief seem only to lead the believers astray? A view to the material objects in the scene has a way of revealing the ordinary as strange. As a common enough site, the library is imbued for us with a host of associations related to touch and texture, smell and sound. Yet, conventional associations are contradicted and thrown into relief in a scene where the normal is put to ruin. Discussing this passage in a classroom opens students’ views about learning, culture, and education. The students whom I work with are not just planning their lives forward but also making sense of their pasts and the broader collective history. Sue and I have taught the class for five years now, and at different points

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in time we have either been in the classroom during these events or in the wake of them: the Ebola outbreak; the Sandy Hook shooting; the Charlestown church shootings; multiple police killings of Black civilians, including Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and Philandro Castile; massive global refugee crises; the Parkland school shooting; Russian interference in U.S. elections; wildfires; floods; melting glaciers; the deaths of concert goers in Las Vegas from gunfire; the resurgence of white nationalism; assault on the free press and science; and, most recently still, the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that starkly proclaimed that we have only a bit more than a decade to fix the trend of planetary warming.

In a way that becomes disconcertedly clear, the task of reading literary works does not build new knowledge atop old ideas for a kind of seamless edifice. Instead, literary study can be seen to recursively rebuild the same humble shack over and over again, for as long as one dares to read. This is because works of literature interrogate tacit assumptions. Knowledge from literature happens tentatively, from the inevitable, recursive patterns of disruption, revision, and amendment. Literary texts rebuke single, decisive interpretations or readings.

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E S S A Y Clearly, our students, like students everywhere, sense the urgency of this age. They know they are in a moment of time when merely entering existing ways of thinking will not be good enough, not for their own lives and not for others, not for plant and animal life forms, and not for air, water, and land quality. In fact, the interstice between their own lives and the lives of others, between their individual fate and the fate of the collective, grows increasingly slim all the time. The boy in The Road is a most intriguing character. Though he was born after the events that wrecked the world, and born outside frameworks of religion, government, courts, and education, he is the ethical center of the novel. He manifests a sense of ethical concern more refined even than his father. Yet while the boy of the book has never known another reality, the father has vibrant flashbacks to life before the collapse. Scenes from his memory play as if on a sepia-tinged reel. There is a day from childhood spent in a canoe with his grandfather on a mountain lake. There is an evening at a concert in a beautiful theater with his wife. Other memories, less bright and marred certainly from the reckoning of ruin, emerge with the force of an indictment. Just such an indictment occurs when the father recalls a scene from his youth when he was only a bit older than his boy is in the book. He remembers standing fixed “at the edge of a winter among rough men.� He watched as they opened up a rocky hillside ground with pick and mattock and brought to light a great bolus of serpents perhaps a hundred in number. Collected there for a common warmth. The dull tubes of them beginning to move sluggishly in the cold

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hard light. Like the bowels of some great beast exposed to the day. The men poured gasoline on them and burned them alive, having no remedy for evil but only for the image of it as they conceived it to be. The burning snakes twisted horribly and some crawling burning across the floor of the grotto to illuminate its darker recesses. As they were mute there was no screams of pain and the men watched them burn and writhe and blacken in just such silence themselves and they disbanded in silence in the winter dusk each with his own thoughts to go home to their suppers. (159) The killing and the going home to a meal happens as an uninterrupted sequence, one as natural as the other. The course of action on the rocky hillside is not out of the ordinary at all. For this to be, the snakes must factor as a nuisance or as pests worthy of extermination. This way of thinking invites some critical reflec-

To underscore a point that is increasingly difficult to advance in educational systems that want to see students attain mastery, certainty, and expertise, the experience of learning through literature is an experience that more frequently confronts and undermines one’s certitudes. It is a hard, long way to learn. In the classroom, this learning, to a degree dependent on a host of factors, takes the form of a disruptive, reorienting experience.

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tion when so much has been eradicated. The killing of the snakes is a scene of violence from a view of self-anointed human supremacy or dominion. The worldview of the “rough men” holds the snake as a bottom-tier creature in what is probably a hierarchical great chain. This lowly ontological status encodes a corollary spiritual rank so that pouring gasoline on them and setting them on fire happens not in violation of reigning versions of morality but in adherence to them. From the standpoint of ruin, when the father can see nothing that hasn’t been destroyed or laid to waste, the scene with the snakes illustrates in kernel form a larger, longer history of human belief and action that sanctions violence as a moral end. In an interconnected world, however, the killing of any one species potentially unleashes a cascade of consequence that exceeds human intention and understanding. In another scene that accosts the reader with its force, the father and son come upon an old plantation home. The “once grand house” is still curiously undamaged. The house was tall and stately with white Doric columns across the front. A port cochere at the side. A gravel drive that curved up through a field of dead grass. The windows were oddly intact . . . They approached slowly up the drive . . . They stood in the yard studying the façade. The handmade brick of the house kilned out of the dirt it stood on. The peeling paint hanging in long dry sleavings down the columns and from the buckled soffits. A lamp that hung from a long chain overhead . . . . Chattel slaves had once trod those boards bearing food and drink on silver trays. (89-90)

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The promise of possible provisions inside compels the man and boy to enter the home. In a cellar, they discover people kept in various states of dismemberment as a food source for the others. There is very little in this novel to indicate placement in a particular region. Readers travel with the father and son toward a coastline, but the road is more general than specific. Much of this has to do with the blurring of ruination. Distinctive features wash gray. Noteworthy buildings become ash. In this scene, however, McCarthy deliberately situates the reader in the South, in a heritage site for a legacy of belief. This is to say that it doesn’t much matter where we are on the road until it matters a great deal, and it matters in this moment because McCarthy wants to evoke the long national history of brutalized bodies. By locating readers in a plantation, the discovery of the cellar does not reveal a rupture from the past as much as resonance with the future. In both phases of time, bodies have been

Clearly, our students, like students everywhere, sense the urgency of this age. They know they are in a moment of time when merely entering existing ways of thinking will not be good enough, not for their own lives and not for others, not for plant and animal life forms, and not for air, water, and land quality. In fact, the interstice between their own lives and the lives of others, between their individual fate and the fate of the collective, grows increasingly slim all the time.

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E S S A Y turned to savage use. The plantation must not be seen then as a setting that showcases the lengths people will go under conditions of duress but instead the lengths people will go from the sanction of their own flawed beliefs. This is grim stuff, but in my experience students are not looking to avoid cognitive or affective challenges as much as they are looking to be challenged in meaningful ways. Grappling with paradigms of belief that distribute a sense of ethical significance to some while foreclosing significance to others is a challenge worthy of attention. Ultimately, the survey of noteworthy intellectual and artistic revolutions in The Construction of Knowledge class leverages an exploration of climate change, an event that is both urgent and enormously difficult to think about. Climate change has a way of forcing reconsiderations about what constitutes knowledge and about what orientations, dispositions, and attunements are necessary to make sense of complex, often paradoxical realities. Increased floods also mean increased droughts. Seemingly small changes of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 degrees in temperature translate to enormous changes in planetary systems and to the human lives enmeshed in these systems. If we thought of climate change as a text, reading it would require the cultivated capacity to connect dots that seem disconnected. We would have to be able to read, for example, the knotted relations among bark beetles, wildfires, floods, and mudslides, among microplastics, ocean gyres, and albatross, among pollution rates, respiratory illness, and income, amongthe ongoing lineages of redlining and racism, affordable housing shortages, and inequities in healthcare. We

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would have to see that severe weather events, such as torrential rains and heat waves, degrade environmental conditions, which in turn contribute to increases in malnutrition, unemployment, political upheaval, and social turmoil. These factors propel surges of migration, as displaced people must move in order to live. Seeing migration as connected to climate change opens a more sophisticated understanding of human displacement. Human life emerges as indelibly interdependent on a host of environmental conditions. The “frailty of everything� emerges for view. It is the gambit of the class that learning in an integrated way from both science and literature will open the learner’s mind to understanding complex, crosscut realities in the age of the Anthropocene.

Climate change has a way of forcing reconsiderations about what constitutes knowledge and about what orientations, dispositions, and attunements are necessary to make sense of complex, often paradoxical realities. Increased floods also mean increased droughts. Seemingly small changes of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 degrees in temperature translate to enormous changes in planetary systems and to the human lives enmeshed in these systems. If we thought of climate change as a text, reading it would require the cultivated capacity to connect dots that seem disconnected.

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Notes

1. Agamben, Giorgio. “The Melancholy Angel.” The Continental Aesthetics Reader. Routledge, 2017. 672-685. 2. Gilbert, Bill, and Anicca Cox. Arts Programming for the Anthropocene: Art in Community and Environment. Routledge, 2018. 3. This phrase was used first in David Abrams’s 1997 work The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in the More-than-Human World.

Christy Call (Ph.D., Univ. of Utah) is an assistant professor in Weber State University’s English Department. Her dissertation on Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy interpreted the novels from fused frameworks of actor-network theory, new materialisms, and critical animal studies. Christy’s research highlights emergent ethical issues in an age of climate change, specifically focusing on how literature and new interpretative approaches may sponsor more just ways of thinking about relations. She is currently at work on a book-length project. Her webpage may be found at http://faculty.weber.edu/ccall2/

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E S S A Y

CULTURAL HORIZON ABIGAIL R. DOCKTER

Jack Delano via Library of Congress

Houses and farms on the Laguna Native American reservation with Mount Taylor in the background.

The first winter I worked in archaeology, we listened to the radio every single morning on the way to the site. Time goes into a vortex when we’re in the field. We forget the days of the week and remember only day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4, day halfway done, day 6, day almost done, day last. Those days we keep track of compulsively with utter accuracy, even though they are all very much the same. We watch the stars coming out over the desert, we watch the sun coming up over Mount Taylor, we dig, and we drink. But in the morning we tune in to the radio,

everyone listening intently, trying hard to remember that other places exist, that things sometimes happen there. One morning in 2013 the pope retires, which apparently he can do. In the vehicle, a brief conversation ensues about this piece of news. The driver is jolting along a new dirt road around the scummy drainage pond, since the road we used to take has been plowed flat and sown with explosives for the next blast. We are working on a coal mine, carefully recording and removing the archaeology sites before they are obliterated from the face of the earth. The


mountain to the south turns spectacular pinks and oranges in the sunrise, and a haze of dark coal dust hovers over the open pit mine in the early hours before the wind picks up. I try to convince myself: There is a pope in another part of the world who has retired. There are places where the sun does not rise over Mount Taylor. The spring winds in New Mexico are brutal. They make doing archaeology much harder. We spend each day being sandblasted as though someone is beating a rug in our faces. It is a special ring of Dante’s hell, designed for archaeologists: You dig out the sand, carry it away, and when you return it has all been filled in again. The wind steals the paperwork, the only record of what little we find, makes it hard to see, hard to walk, hard to string a tight line for creating the perfect grid in which we dig. Grit obscures the horizon, making it more difficult to imagine a time and place outside this one. Once, a dust devil sweeps over the mine, picking up coal dust as it transforms into a swirling black vortex headed straight for us. “Timber,” someone calls, and puts a bucket over his own head. There is not much else to do—I grab my paperwork and cradle it defensively as I drop into the fetal position. I close my mouth, cover my ears, bury my face in my knees. As spring wears on into summer, Edward Snowden talks for so many mornings that I give up trying to convince myself his points are important. The idea of a national government is absurd. The idea of a national institution is absurd, or anything larger than a coal mining company. As far as I can see, there are no buildings or people other than the infrastructure for the mine. Each morning we drive to the

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small guard shack and wave at the guard, who checks us in. Some days it’s the nice guy who chats and makes jokes. “Have fun out there,” he says over the noise of the wind. I break the plastic packaging on a new dust mask. Somewhere, a person named Edward sits at a computer all day long. He probably doesn’t even go outside. Maybe he doesn’t know the weather at any given moment, or feel it rule his moods to a disturbing extent. How do people persuade themselves that a man at a computer is more important than the wind speed in New Mexico at four o’clock this afternoon? What kind of delusion are they living in? If the delusion is ours, it’s uncreative. Chaco Canyon, one of the most impressive, well-known archaeological regions in all of North America, is closer than the nearest grocery store— stone pueblos with hundreds of rooms, bones of macaws traded from Mesoamerica, whole painted pots, precise lunar calendars cut in stone—but here we find virtually nothing. My first day on the job, gently, inexpertly scraping a side wall, I exposed a broken grinding stone. Since then I have found nothing but occasional flakes where someone

Home was a landscape. It was all the places you walked in the course of the year, and all the people who traveled with you. Home was the fire you built, and built again, in a spot where you might return next year or not. Home was perpetually connected to a particular horizon, a moment in time and the people who shared it with you.

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E S S A Y sharpened a tool, and no one else has much better luck. There is only one victory cry all season: a single, nearly complete projectile point. Unfortunately, it is broken at the base, so all the experts crowding around to look have a hard time pinpointing its origins. I like lithics, but I prefer the organics. I reach a layer in the earth where the remains of particular lives appear, people with something in common, and that stratigraphy forms what is called a cultural horizon. There we find the blotchy charcoal stains, deep and shapely enough to be recognized as hearths rather than blowing coal dust. Hearths are what mark the site as a habitation: a series of dark stains in the soil, filled with the remains of many fires. These camps were not meant to be a forever home, because home was a landscape. It was all the places you walked in the course of the year, and all the people who traveled with you. Home was the fire you built, and built again, in a spot where you might return next year or not. Home was perpetually connected to a particular horizon, a moment in time and the people who shared it with you. We know it is Sunday because there is no news in the morning. Instead, we get the gospel hour, and we listen with enthusiasm. Gospel is our only marker of the days of the week. Sometimes a single song lasts the entire trip from the field camp into the site, and we count the number of times they repeat the same phrase. Somehow, it’s pretty easy to imagine a place where people sing crazily at the top of their lungs first thing in the morning. I mean, we’re doing it. I like the people I work with. I would be out of luck if I didn’t. As I pull tiny, human-created flakes of stone out of my screen, I wonder how many

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people walked out here together. The archaeology suggests their groups were small, too. Perhaps they did not meet more than a few hundred individuals in the course of their entire lives. In that environment, constantly surrounded by your family, friends, enemies, exes, how do you picture a way of life that is different? Could you ever imagine that on the other side of your continent, people are gathering unfamiliar plants for strange recipes, or stringing together shells you have never seen, or speaking languages with sounds you could not make if you tried? Here, the big sky holds me like a blanket. There is only this horizon, which absorbs all sound and all thought. Then there is a Tuesday, day almost done, when two bombs go off at the Boston Marathon. The word comes in on the morning airwaves, filling the whole vehicle after a brief conversation about the coyote scampering away over the stony hill. This morning, I want to care. I want so badly to believe in a place called Boston where thousands of people go to run. I hate myself a little for not believing it. I’ve been to Boston—I know there are people who live their lives and run their races while I’m not around, but something about the isolation and routine of the field camp dulls my imagination for such things. I tell myself: right now there are people in hospital beds in Boston, and people in hospital waiting rooms staring at copies of National Geographic without reading them. The people in the magazine pictures are out there somewhere too, doing their otherworld things under the otherworld sun that doesn’t rise over this mountain. Maybe a few of them are dying this morning. Maybe “believe” is not quite the right word. Cognitively I can believe—I know there’s a Boston with people in it.

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The difficulty is seeing them, hearing them, imagining their experience and picturing their lives. Stories come out of the radio like oracles, and we listen eagerly but can’t always reconcile them with our sense of the world. I have been absorbed by the desert, by the work, the schedule, all the sensory experience of a particular situation. It’s easy to hear a story about another place. Maybe it’s even possible to trust the person telling it. The struggle is to overcome the cognitive dissonance between the world I can witness and the infinite worlds I never can. Empathy, where does it come from? Today, this desert is so close to Boston that we can hear the panicked voices. We can hear the blips of three hearts stopping among all the billions in the world. Is it really them I care about, or is it the quick surge of my own heartbeat when I remember someone I love who lived near there, or was going to run that marathon but decided to do San Francisco instead, or lives two hundred miles from Boston but maybe I should call them up just to make sure? Let their voices come in waves over the desert. To call anyone requires the Phone Tree. The Phone Tree is a twisted old juniper marking a spot along the highway where many people get cell phone service. Each day after work, those with faraway lovers and parents wash up, eat, and drive down the highway to the Phone Tree. Sometimes I drive to get groceries forty miles to the south, my phone ringing constantly during the last half of the trip as texts and messages flood in. Internet in the field camp barely loads the weather page. For most purposes, we are living as remotely as it’s possible to live in modern America. All the technology that doesn’t work out here—the phone, the internet,

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even the postal service—is designed to connect us to people who are far away. That connection is our first priority, our most desperate delusion, the greatest convenience of modern life. That connection fuels the kinds of technology we love best, the conveniences that overcome time and space. It motivates improvements in travel. It inspires ways of accomplishing travel without ever leaving home. Right now I am squinting through the dirt caught in my own eyelashes, looking at the dark, oblong stain of a fire pit made by a person with none of this, here at a campsite made by someone who moved fairly often, following the pinyon harvest up the mountain, following the bison down again. Necessary movements. But this person also had to move in order to trade, to meet eligible bachelors, or to learn from faraway teachers. Sure, they wanted the macaw feathers, the beautiful flint and mica from far afield, but I feel certain that this person, this society, sometimes created absurd, elaborate excuses for coming into contact with other people and societies. Without an iPhone or jet plane, they walked long distances and undertook great hardship to get there. I understand why. These people haunt our conversations at the field camp. We talk about them all the time. “They” cut the great old pines from the slopes of Mount Taylor. “They” used stone axes and wore yucca sandals. I stand in their homes and dig through their trash, but I can’t even call them by name. They are constantly on my mind, and I know so little that mattered to them. My solution is to remove the ground beneath my own feet, strict ten centimeters at a time— “they” and I, me and them, communicating the only way I know how. Archaeology is the science of using the observable universe to understand

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E S S A Y

All the technology that doesn’t work out here—the phone, the internet, even the postal service— is designed to connect us to people who are far away. That connection is our first priority, our most desperate delusion, the greatest convenience of modern life. That connection fuels the kinds of technology we love best, the conveniences that overcome time and space. It motivates improvements in travel. It inspires ways of accomplishing travel without ever leaving home. Right now I am squinting through the dirt caught in my own eyelashes, looking at the dark, oblong stain of a fire pit made by a person with none of this . . . Without an iPhone or jet plane, they walked long distances and undertook great hardship to get there. I understand why. events we will never witness and to know people we will never meet. The statements we make in the end may hardly be worth the effort. Archaeological research often produces results like “Fourteen temporary campsites, with dates over the course of two hundred years. One beautiful point made of stone from one hundred miles away. Burned sagebrush. Dog bone.” The vast majority of sites are like that, but the

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impulse to find the parameters of someone’s ancient fire pit feels as simple as the impulse to turn on the radio in the morning: please, tell me a story about another world within my world. Stretch my horizon out beyond this moment and this tiny group I know. I have only one time and one space. Set me free. It is hard for most people to believe, walking through the halls of a museum, that there were people who lived this way and called it normal. Believe— imagine, inhabit. There is so little left to connect us to the ancient past. Archaeology, at its best, is a communication technology like the others we love so much: it connects us to those distant from us. Like those technologies, it is no real substitute for having them here in front of us. We do the best we can. It’s a tenuous, mundane connection between me and the people who lived where I’m living, walked where I’m driving, ate what I’m spraying with weed killer, but it’s there. In the bustle of the city, the wind-scoured bands of hunter-gatherers seem hard to imagine. Out here though, with miles of desert on every side, I think about everyone who ever watched the sun come up over Mount Taylor, and it is easy to believe in them. When the day ends the only human in this hole is me, holding a paper bag full of burned wood like it’s the winning lottery ticket, watching dump trucks many stories tall as they excavate their own larger, more lucrative black smudge. Those trucks work around the clock, with miners coming in twelvehour shifts. The powerful lights, many stories higher than the trucks, shine all through the night, lighting up the mine pit like a small city. The miners never leave; the hearth-makers are gone. They’ve been gone for a long time. They stopped, camped, then moved

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Archaeology, at its best, is a communication technology like the others we love so much: it connects us to those distant from us. Like those technologies, it is no real substitute for having them here in front of us. We do the best we can. on. Now I come, look at what they left behind, and watch from a safe distance as it literally explodes in a puff of toxic smoke. This is the long pipeline that connects the last person who held this projectile point to the late-night lightbulb, the glowing laptop screen, the electric kettles, and the microwaved dinners of thousands of people who can’t stop thinking about each other.

I don’t have to be there to feel empathy. I don’t need to see Boston or meet the people in a hospital waiting room to feel the catch of sadness in my throat. I can’t hear the radio when I get out to open the gate, but I’m still thinking about three people who died on the airwaves right here in New Mexico. I barely need a story. Hardly even need to believe in them to feel their absence, and they of course will never know me. I spend all day missing people I’ll never know. A speculation: The people in the ground never dreamed of this mine or that marathon, but they knew something about fuel and footraces. Conjecture: They did not do archaeology, but they had questions for the past. Fact: They all woke up, as we do, under one warm and distant sun.

Abigail R. Dockter holds an MFA from the University of Arizona and has done botany and archaeology work from the high plains to the Southwest. Her work appears in Terrain, Edible Southwest Colorado, Essay Daily, and deep in the Mesa Verde National Park website. She enjoys long, dry archaeological reports, and usually hikes with poetry.

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SEVEN DAM SURPRISES IN THE COLUMBIA RIVER BASIN JOLIE KAYTES

Bob Heims/USACE

1. Color From the outside, the federal dams in the Columbia River Basin resemble monochromatic monoliths. Go inside any dam’s mega halls, however, and you may behold bold colors. Interiors could consist of lemonade walls, creamsicle ceilings, sage generators, blueberry stripes. Perhaps the colors are intended to soften the dams’ sharp, storm-hued exteriors. Or, perhaps the palette simply reflects popular indoor colors when the dams were built from the 1930s to 1960s. Warm tones. Cool shades. Hot dam!

2. Windows Enter the visitor center of a dam with a fish ladder and discover windows filled with the river’s aqua light and, possibly, shimmery flashes of sockeye, coho, steelhead, or chinook salmon. The fish are migrating back to their natal streams to mate and then die. Their decomposing bodies bring the sea’s nutritional riches inland. As the salmon swim by, consider their arduous passage from the ocean through (up to) eight dams. The fish, too, are windows, into tenacity, capacity, and the many meanings of return.


3. Tricycles While stairs, elevators, or escalators are how employees travel between floors, a horizontal journey within the dams’ massive concrete spaces might involve a big tricycle. The sight of a hard-hat-donning dam operator cycling through the wide corridors of a facility whose purpose is to mechanize a river is certainly unexpected. It also comically expresses the interplay among different scales of work and energy. Pedal powered hydropower. 4. Spiders Deep in the dam’s sterile and regulated infrastructure, near the the intake, near the penstock, near the turbines, you can walk atop metal grates and witness the caged river raging underfoot. Look closely and spiders abound. All over. Thwarting containment, they weave throughout the dam’s caverns, connecting web and flow. 5. Sea Lions During the spring salmon runs, at the first dam upstream from the Pacific, sea lions gather at the narrow entrance of fish ladders for a salmon feed. While the sea lions are outside of their typical range, they willingly travel east for the easy feast enabled by the dam. Like many Pacific salmon, the sea lions are endangered. Even so, they are hazed with pyrotechnics and rubber buckshots, or removed or killed if they stay at what seems like a gift buffet. The scene is an embarrassment of losses.

As the salmon swim by, consider their arduous passage from the ocean through (up to) eight dams. The fish, too, are windows, into tenacity, capacity, and the many meanings of return.

6. Google On the lands adjacent to some dams you could chance upon bucolic cherry orchards alongside behemoth server farms. The farms, owned by global technology companies like Google, provide acreage for digital warehouses that support various Internet services. But the real lure of these rural locations is access to cheap and abundant electricity. Do you Google? Then you, too, are linked to the Columbia River Basin. 7. Poetry Signs posted throughout the dams succinctly instruct workers and visitors about safety, existing conditions, daily practices, and emergency procedures. Read into lines like “gas will emit a wintergreen scent,” “leave area when sirens sound,” “empty dirty rags every night,” or “wear it for life,” and find the poetry of chaos and control.

Jolie Kaytes is a professor of landscape architecture at Washington State University. Her teaching, writing, and images focus on recognizing the complexity of landscapes. Jolie’s work has appeared in The Fourth River, Terrain.org, Camas, and elsewhere. She holds degrees from UC Berkeley and the University of Oregon.

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THE SHEEP OF ROCKEFELLER CENTER: FRENCH CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY AND THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY WALTER METZ & JUSTIN ZARIAN In The Intelligence of Evil, or Lucidity Pact, French critical theorist Jean Baudrillard asks, “Do you want to be anyone else?” (56). The eponymous character of James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty certainly does. A short story originally published in The New Yorker in March 1939, Thurber’s presentation of a henpecked husband escaping his life through adventurous daydreams resonated so powerfully with readers that it inspired two featurelength film adaptations. The first was the 1947 film directed by Norman McLeod, constructed as a Classical Hollywood star vehicle for Danny Kaye. The second, released in 2013 by director and star Ben Stiller, had higher ambitions. Drawing upon Baudrillard’s argument about our impoverished relationship to representation, in which cinema becomes engulfed by computer-generated imagery (a condition the philosopher calls “Integral Reality”), we are able to trace the use-value of Stiller’s contemporary film as the most politically and theoretically sophisticated version of Walter Mitty’s existential crisis. By expanding a fifteen-paragraph short story into a 110-minute feature, McLeod was forced into taking creative

liberties. Unfortunately, Thurber hated the end result after seeing his work turned into a typically conservative post-war American gender piece about the smothering nature of motherhood. In Generation of Vipers, Philip Wylie coined the term “Momism” to explain the coddling of American masculinity by controlling mothers. For the arch-conservative Wylie, this purportedly created a generation of “sissies” susceptible to communist infiltration. Unlike the stagnant arc of Thurber’s Walter, McLeod’s Walter engages in a traditional Classical Hollywood masculinity arc where he must escape not his imagination, but his mother and his horrid fiancé, in order to save the woman he truly loves, Rosalind van Hoorn (Virginia Mayo), from international jewel thieves. Thurber’s Walter Mitty merely escapes his shrewish wife through his generic and adventurous daydreams: he’s a Navy commander sailing through a storm, a wildly inventive and talented surgeon, a wily lawyer, a World War I flying ace, and, as the story ends, the brave victim of a firing squad. Via this Walter, “The Undefeated, inscrutable to the last,” Thurber ended his story with irony and whimsy.


McLeod’s Walter is a lowly book editor, promoted from the short story’s passive consumer of adventure stories into the film’s only slightly elevated character, but at least one involved in the creation of artwork in the culture industry. The sources of his oppression, including a boss who profits off stealing Walter’s idea, and, most importantly, a smothering mother trying to marry him off to a Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye) helps his colleague at the pulp fiction publishing house to ditz with a poodle, lead increase the titillation factor of the cover of an adventure novel in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947). Walter to find a culture willing to pay him for his daydreaming. “Once all transcendence is conjured This significant alteration to Thurbaway, things are no longer anything but er’s original short story undoubtedly what they are, and, such as they are, served as the source of the author’s they are unbearable” (26). He names ire towards the McLeod adaptation. modern art as the prime suspect in colThurber’s story was a critique of the way lapsing the distinction between reality the culture industries have saturated and representation: Marcel Duchamp’s the imaginations of real Americans. “Fountain” (1917)—a toilet repurposed Walter’s seeming mastery of consumer as an artwork —is “the product of a culture was not that of a savvy creator violent counter-transference of all poetic of images, but demonstrated a superfiillusion on to pure reality” (26). cial regurgitation of cultural influence. So how then does Stiller’s adaptaWhen he goes to the grocery store to tion undo the Classical Hollywood buy dog biscuits, the clerk demands a damage to Thurber’s story? On the brand name. Thurber mocks Walter’s surface, it replicates all the same issues attempt to remember the brand—“The that plague the McLeod adaptation. greatest pistol shot in the world thought Stiller, the son of comedy team Jerry a moment”—but Walter can only parrot Stiller and Anne Meara, echoes Danny the brand’s slogan: “It says ‘Puppies Kaye’s mainstream comedy popularity Bark for It’ on the box.” and performance style. His film is also The progression from Thurber’s story longer than the 1947 version, clockinto both this and the 2013 adaptation ing in at 114 minutes, and makes even illuminates the creation and developmore audacious changes to the source ment of Baudrillard’s “Integral Reality.” material. If Thurber were alive upon its Baudrillard links our cultural and politirelease, he likely would have hated this cal troubles to the collapse of distance adaptation too. Yet, Stiller’s addition of between representation and reality: new thematic material is not only richer

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E S S A Y than the McLeod version, but, we argue, is also more culturally significant than Thurber’s minimalist story. Through the elegant script written by Steve Conrad, Stiller’s Walter Mitty is less influenced by the adventurous fantasies of Hollywood and more by the power of photography. Walter works as a negative assets manager (a witty ironic job title, so different from Thurber’s heroes) for Life magazine; meanwhile, corporate hatchet man Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) arrives to prepare the office for the publication’s final issue in 2000 before downsizing it into an onlineonly enterprise. During this time, Walter discovers a McGuffin in the form of a missing photographic negative sent by the magazine’s star photographer, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), for consideration for the final cover. Having worked as O’Connell’s photo editor for nearly two decades, Walter goes off in search of the missing negative. Walter’s fascination with Sean seems rooted in Baudrillard’s praise of the analogue over the digital: “What distinguishes the analogue image from the digital is that within it a form of disappearance is in play, a form of distance, of freezing of the world” (97). This freezing of the analog maintains the requisite distance between the representation and the real, the distance that is collapsed in our contemporary digital world of “Integral Reality” that has destroyed our individual and political well-being. At the start of the film, Stiller’s Walter does not even have an image as he attempts to send a “wink” to his co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) through the dating website eHarmony. When Walter asks for assistance from the customer service representative, Todd (Patton Oswalt), he struggles to find interesting items about himself to put on his webpage.

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In contrast to this digitally driven past, Walter sees Sean’s support of the analog ethos as an escape to a better future. Walter’s assistant, Hernando (Adrian Martinez), praises Sean as a hero for using film instead of a digital camera to the point of it being a “man crush” that praises the loss of “traditional ways.” And it is a photograph, where Walter imagines Sean beckoning him with a gesture, that motivates Walter’s first-act turning point decision to travel to Greenland, as opposed to any banal, digitally influenced fantasies. The experiences that follow are presented in a new register of reality, which Baudrillard labels the “hinterworld,” as opposed to the fantasies Walter indulges in in the first act of the film. Whether it is his first dream of rescuing Cheryl from an exploding building, or his imagining the perfect insult for Ted’s horrid beard that is so ugly only Dumbledore could pull it off, his corporate-masculine fantasies differ greatly from the unreality of the latter two-thirds of the film, driven by Walter’s relationship to Sean. Walter’s journey becomes one of duality, metaphorically, and, in many cases, literally. His initial flight to Greenland is on a large jetliner with only two other passengers. When he goes to rent a car in Nuuk, his only options are a red and a blue vehicle. Even Walter’s connection with Sean, which improbably lacks an in-person meeting despite nearly two decades of partnership, is one that plays upon a dual nature of masculinity that echoes the plots of movies like Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999). The resolution of this duality ultimately leads to Walter’s redemption from Integral Reality. Stiller’s adaptation uses the relationship between text and image to mediate a solution to Baudrillard’s crisis. The cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh uses written text complimented by the imag-

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Whether it is his first dream of rescuing Cheryl from an exploding building or his imagining the perfect insult for Ted’s horrid beard that is so ugly only Dumbledore could pull it off, [Walter’s] masculine fantasies influenced by corporate capitalism differ greatly from the unreality of the latter two-thirds of the film, driven by Walter’s relationship to Sean. His journey becomes one of duality, metaphorically, and, in many cases, literally.

ery as a reflection of Walter’s transformation. The opening credits are embedded within the bricks of the skyscrapers Walter passes by, while the lighting and composition evoke Paul Strand’s 1915 modernist photograph “Wall Street.” In that iconic image, monstrous rectangles of granite and black recesses loom over tiny human figures, where not even the windows receive light. The wall of the Time-Life Building lobby features the motto that inspires Walter’s journey: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, / to see behind walls, to draw closer, / to find each other and to feel./ That is the purpose of LIFE.” Walter’s own work, manipulating photographs and inscribing text, is a reflection of his own Integral Reality of manipulated images and text that seems to provide no hope. Unlike in Thurber’s story, Walter’s experiences with text and imagery in Stiller’s film eventually lead to his development as a functional human being. In an early scene, Walter’s perception of Cheryl is distorted by his glasses even

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at a close distance due to their design to view minute details rather than full pictures. When Walter meets his doppelganger, Sean, he is invited to observe a reclusive snow leopard through a telephoto lens. The shot is presented as an inverse to his photo-editing glasses; this new perspective allows Walter to experience things far away as intimately connected to him. This increasing sense of intimacy evokes Roland Barthes’s influential Camera Lucida as we watch Walter’s progression from simply understanding the studium (the aesthetics of photography) to a greater appreciation of the punctum (the emotional impact of photography on our consciousness). Walter’s transformation occurs because Sean produces no image at all; he refuses to take the photograph of the snow leopard, preferring that emotional experience to be a private one. He simply produces experience, with no photographic record. So much more subtle and nuanced than Fight Club, Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty does not get bogged down in narrative banalities: Are Walter and Sean one and the same person? Instead, the film mirrors Walter with Sean (both produce no image) in order to fight against the ill effects of Integral Reality on human consciousness. In The Intelligence of Evil, Baudrillard laments the death of analog photography as virtual photography replaces what is “real” in the image: “In the virtual image there is no longer anything of that ‘punctual’ exactitude, of that punctum in time . . . that of the old photographic image, which attested that something was there and now no longer is, and hence was testament to a definitive absence freighted with nostalgia” (96). Similarly, Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty laments the lack of punctum in Walter’s life because of his digitally

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E S S A Y driven lifestyle and work. Yet Stiller offers a more optimistic perspective; Walter uses the digital to gain real life experience. This includes the presence of a ‘digital deus ex machina’ in the guise of Patton Oswalt’s customer service representative, Todd, who improbably continues to guide Walter even while our hero is wandering around the remote Himalayas in search of Sean. The disembodied voice delivers Todd’s omnipotence; it serves as a bridge between the digital (Todd’s purported function is to fix Walter’s online non-existence) and the analog (Walter leaves New York to find meaningful experience in his travels around the world). This increasing blurring of the digital and the analog provides structure for Stiller’s film. Where the first act had clear definitions between Walter’s daydreams and his reality, the last twothirds could possibly be an extended fantasy, yet one which produces very real changes in Walter’s character. This aligns with Baudrillard’s claim that “the belief in objective reality is the illusion of finding an original cause for phenomena and hence of inserting the world into the order of truth and reason” (47). Much of Walter’s journey plays out within a surreal aesthetic built upon his motivations. Walter survives a volcanic explosion in Greenland, which leads to his being dropped off at a Papa John’s that seems absurdly out of place in the otherwise isolated tundra. All of this seems unbelievable, until we connect back to Walter explaining to his love-interest Cheryl that he took a job at a Papa John’s years ago to support his family after his father died. Yet, unlike the 1947 film, Stiller’s version refuses to delineate fantasy from reality after Walter descends into Baudrillard’s “hinterworld.” By escaping the influence of Integral Reality, Stiller’s

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Walter is able to replace his old life with a better one that expands his fantasies to include lived experience. This transition occurs during the film’s most stunning sequence, when Walter discovers Sean O’Connell in a blind in the Himalayas awaiting the rare appearance of the snow leopard. A doppelganger, Sean reflects Walter’s “hinterworld,” a place where he discovers the beautiful, elusive, and almost always invisible meaning in life associated with human connection. We experience Sean’s actions via hearsay or by seeing similar actions echoed by Walter. Otherwise, we never see filmic evidence of Sean’s actual existence outside of this one isolated scene between the two of them. We hear that Sean gave a clementine cake made by Walter’s mother to the sailors taking Walter to Iceland. Walter echoes this by again using the cake to bribe Afghan warlords. Sean may be the Walter who is not inhibited by his father’s death. They are a dichotomy of opposites on various levels: nebbish vs. adventurer; artist vs. worker; and Sean

Where the first act had clear definitions between Walter’s daydreams and his reality, the last two-thirds could possibly be an extended fantasy, yet one which produces very real changes in Walter’s character . . . By escaping the influence of Integral Reality, Stiller’s Walter is able to replace his old life with a better one that expands his fantasies to include lived experience.

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Penn, the political activist, versus Ben Stiller, the son of comedic royalty. Like the elusive negative Walter seeks to find, Sean himself is an inverted image that exists in Walter’s “hinterworld,” never to be seen again. It is in this scene, however, that Sean uses the “hinterworld” of their spot in Afghanistan to broaden Walter’s perspective on the transition between digital and analog life. While watching the snow leopard with Sean, Walter receives a call from the customer service representative, Todd, informing him of his rising eHarmony popularity after updating his profile with his fantastical experiences. Instead of praising his success, Sean scolds Walter for talking on his cell phone rather than living in the moment (though neither seems to question how Walter can receive a call all the way in the Himalayas). Sean then describes the beautiful elusiveness of the snow leopard: “It never lets itself be seen,” Sean muses, describing himself as much as the leopard. “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” Baudrillard argues: Digital, numerical production erases the image as analogon. It erases the real as something that can be imagined. The photographic act— that moment of disappearance of both subject and object in the same instantaneous confrontation (the shutter release abolishing the world and the gaze just for a moment, a syncope, a petite mort that triggers the machinic performance of the image)—disappears in digital, numerical processing. (96) When Walter asks if Sean will actually photograph the snow leopard, Sean cryptically answers, “Sometimes I don’t . . . I don’t like to have the distraction

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of the camera. I want to stay in it. Right here.” Baudrillard advises resistance to Integral Reality through analog photography: “The dream would be to be a photographer without a lens, to move through the world without a camera, in short, to pass beyond photography and see things as though they had themselves passed beyond the image, as though you had already photographed them, but in a past life” (102). Stiller’s Walter Mitty, in this moment of clarity, sees through the ideological positioning of a hypermediated society to uncover the punctum, figuratively, and perhaps literally, within himself. In linking Baudrillard with Stiller, we are aware of deliberately doing considerable damage to Baudrillard’s intended critique of cinema. Baudrillard’s disdain of Hollywood is so scathing as to compare the parking lot at Disneyland to Auschwitz, describing American popular culture as “a little like Disneyland: the theme parks are now merely an alibi— masking the fact that the whole context of life has been Disneyfied” (125). Stiller, through a Hollywood film, echoes some of these sentiments in telling the story of a man who literally leaves the United States to find himself, and in so doing finds fellowship, not conflict, with the rest of the world. This is no better emphasized than in the scene with Walter and Sean playing soccer with Afghan tribesmen following their insightful conversation, showing an America that has shed the ideological prison of Integral Reality to create productive relationships with the world, offering clementine cakes and game playing instead of bombs and bullets. Bombs and bullets are unfortunately fully on display in much of the rest of American cinema, though, a system becoming increasingly trapped within a late capitalist factory driven by the

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Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) talks with Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) in a blind in the Himalayas, just before Sean refuses to take an analog photograph of an elusive snow leopard in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013).

values of electronic civilization. To quote Baudrillard: “Machines produce only machines. The texts, images, films, speech and programmes which come out of the computer are machine products . . . . [T]he films are stuffed with special effects, the texts full of . . . repetitions due to the machine’s malicious will to function at all costs (that is its passion)” (80). The automatized nature of Hollywood cinema then results in a primal form of representation meant to merely satisfy the animal turned robot: “Hence the wearisome character in films of all this violence and pornographied sexuality, which are merely special effects of violence and sex, no longer even fantasized by humans, but pure machinic violence” (80). While this can easily summarize a Hollywood blockbuster, Stiller’s film— not coincidentally released during 2013’s holiday season rather than the summer—represents exceptions to this standardized practice. Though it too utilizes computer effects, their purpose is to highlight (and not to collapse) the gap between representation and reality caused by Integral Reality. The most special-effects laden sequence of the

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film, where Walter and his corporate nemesis, Ted, engage in a superhero-level conflict over a Stretch Armstrong doll, expresses a different “hinterworld,” that of the United States’ violent and sexualized cinema space. These images cannot be trusted. They are not real. They have no punctum. And after the first third of the movie, these digital images are pushed away as what should be seen as a parody of the Hollywood blockbusters Baudrillard laments as the instigators of Integral Reality. This also helps explain one of the strangest sequences in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Shortly before embarking on his journey, Walter daydreams a sequence that echoes The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which Walter clarifies that, since he has only seen the movie, he doesn’t know “how it works”). His love interest, Cheryl, seen as an older woman in the daydream, is holding and snuggling a version of Walter in her arms that looks like a “little weird baby man,” much like Benjamin Button. She encourages the mutant to “just nestle in here and die.” The use of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story and its movie adaptation invokes Baudrillard’s vision

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of “a world in which human beings would be born in old age and would get younger and younger until they became children again . . . . Girls of fifty to sixty would find particular pleasure in raising their now tiny mothers in bottles” (200). Baudrillard advises that the only way to reverse this thinking is to ponder less about what happens after we die, and more about what happened before our birth. While all three versions of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty embrace the concept of Baudrillard’s hinterworlds and their assault by the dominance of Integral Reality, Stiller’s film seeks to find an escape into a better world connected to art rather than one determined by the consumer sign. Walter’s loving care of Sean O’Connell’s “hinterworld,” devoted to photography’s elevation of that world, ironically reflects his own title as a “negative” assets manager who himself lacks what Baudrillard demands to give meaning to our lives. Yet, it is through Walter’s looking for Sean, and therefore searching for his own “negative,” that Walter becomes “positive.” Walter escapes his spiritually dead Integral Reality to enter Sean’s “hinterworld,” rather than simply see the representations visible in the photographs. It is through their relationship and eventual encounter that Stiller envisions the hope, indicated by Baudrillard, of a different representation of the “hinterworld”in the real world. Baudrillard argues, “In one of these two lives you may already be dead, doubtless without knowing it. Sometimes it is the dead element that pulls the living along” (198-199). This application of Baudrillard to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty needs to be couched within the already existing relationship between French continental theory and Hollywood. Baudrillard’s

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most famous book, Simulation and Simulacra (1981), served as the focal point of the philosophy found in The Matrix trilogy, a series which pairs existential critiques of “the desert of the Real,” as referenced by the character Morpheus to the protagonist Neo, with specialeffects laden set-pieces where characters violently resist the invasion of Integral Reality upon their “hinterworld.” The appearance of Baudrillard’s words in The Matrix itself becomes a form of “Disneyfication,” a popularization of a formerly radical idea, an outcome that perhaps led Baudrillard to write The Intelligence of Evil in the wake of this unfortunate turn. Baudrillard cites three seemingly diverse but thematically connected movies that eschew Hollywood practices to capture the spirit of resisting Integral Reality. One is Elia Kazan’s career-ending melodrama, The Arrangement (1969), in which a businessman breaks out of his shallow life to escape into a “hinterworld”: “[Kazan] therefore resolves to ‘suicide’ this official Eddie, this conformist version, to find out what his buried double is like, that double of which this ‘real’ Eddie is merely the empty outer shell” (62). The second is Jane Campion’s 1993 film, The Piano, where Baudrillard reads the opening shipwreck leading to the protagonist, Ada, and her daughter falling into the ocean: “one of the Adas falls to the bottom of the sea, another is rescued” (199). The third, released the same year as the first Matrix

[I]t is through Walter looking for Sean, and therefore searching for his own “negative,” that Walter becomes “positive.”

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E S S A Y movie in 1999, is Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich. Baudrillard particularly praises the film’s attention to “fractal, proliferating identity . . . . [Early in the film], it was the others who wanted to become Malkovich, [at the Sean’s photograph of Walter at work as a photo editor outside of the Time-Life Building, replicated to end], it is Malkovform a film strip, the final issue of Life magazine on a newsstand on the streets of New York City at the ich who wants to end of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013). re-enter himself, to tor who marshals his images into the become himself at one magazine, as the heroic figure who will remove” (59). ultimately resist Integral Reality. Once Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Sean disappears back into Walter Mitty’s Mitty continues this tradition by turning consciousness, all that remains is Walter, dramatically from its source material to the everyman worker who continues to interrogate the possibilities of double toil in obscurity. The cover of the final lives. Unlike the films Baudrillard issue of Life magazine, derived from praises, Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter the missing negative that drives the Mitty attempts to find solutions to the film’s plot, turns out to be an image of tyranny of Integral Reality, a path the Walter photo-editing in the lobby of the French philosopher seems to eschew. Time-Life Building. Walter’s labor gives Baudrillard emphasizes the negative the world a gift, one derived from his ways that representation works against attentiveness, his craft, and his care. In a us in contemporary society. He suggests: world besieged by the deleterious effects “It may even be that the only refuge of Integral Reality, this is something from the global, from a total exposure to which—inside of popular cinema or the laws of the market, will once again not—Baudrillard would agree we are in be the condition of the wage-earner, the desperately short supply. ‘social’ with its institutional protection” (53). Stiller’s film similarly positions not the artist, Sean O’Connell, but his support staff, the photography edi-

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Works Cited Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1980. Baudrillard, Jean. The Intelligence of Evil, or the Lucidity Pact. Trans. Chris Turner. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2004. ---. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1995. Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. 1999. Mauss, Marcel. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. Trans. W. D. Halls. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1950. Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The. Dir. Norman McLeod. 1947. Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The. Dir. Ben Stiller. 2013. Wylie, Philip. Generation of Vipers. New York: Pocket Books, 1961.

Walter Metz is a professor of Film and Television Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He specializes in the adaptation of novels to film, contemporary American cinema, and the 1960s television sitcom. His film criticism website can be found at: http://waltermetz.com.

Justin Zarian is a PhD student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He specializes in representation and interactions with religious cinema, film criticism, and film history.

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SPECIES IN FLIGHT FREDERICK SWANSON

Often on these autumn mornings, as dawn replaces the fading stars in Leo and Orion, I put on a jacket and walk up the street to a meadow where I can greet the rising sun. It arrives there a good hour before it reaches our house, casting an amber light on the dry grass stalks. Facing its warmth, I do a few stretches and scan the surrounding hills for anything interesting: a deer moving off into the brush after its nighttime browsing, or perhaps a magpie or jay checking me out from its perch in a tree. This fall, the canyon maples have been especially brilliant, and I search memory for the names of colors—carmine, scarlet, vermilion—that best describe their veined and variegated leaves. A few mornings ago while making my dawn foray, the meadow presented a novel sight: thousands of tiny insects were rising out of the grass and drifting westward on an imperceptible air current. Silhouetted against the rising sun, they were being spirited off as a body, seemingly without intent or direction. It was strange to see them swarm so late in the season. Whether this is an annual event I had missed before, or some new perturbation brought about by the unusually warm weather, I could not tell. The hatch—if that’s what it was—continued for as long as I stood there, a tiny version of the great migrations we expect to see in the fall. The meadow which harbored these insects exists as an accident of development, rather than any conscious effort at preservation. Underneath this strip of

open space lie two pipelines which deliver crude oil and natural gas to refineries and distribution points in the city a few miles to the west. The hundred-foot right-ofway disallows building, so it remains as a slice of partially restored habitat running through the foothills. We in our neighborhood are free to walk along its length, which gives us access to public watershed lands higher up on the hillsides. It’s one of those odd, unintended fruits of industrial development, a linear grassland through the middle of prime real estate. Later that same day I headed out on a longer walk which took me across the pipeline meadow and into a narrow ravine higher up in the foothills. It’s one of several that interfinger with the streets of an exclusive home development—another instance of inadvertent nature protection. The ravine lies on private land, but its thick growth of Gambel oak and small maples offer cover for deer, birds, and the occasional trespasser. Here I came across the same flying insects, this time in much smaller numbers. They had evidently dispersed among the trees during the day. I tried to catch one in my hands, but they were surprisingly quick. After a few attempts at this, I was able to observe one when it landed on a twig. It was less than a centimeter long, with tiny antennae raised in a slight curl. Its wings, held compactly against a slim body, were the color of bark. I still had no idea what it was. Returning home, I wondered about the life history of these insects whose genus


and species remain a mystery to me. Seeing them dance before the morning sun gave me a feeling of joy; I asked myself whether knowing more about them would add to this pleasure. Was it not enough to know that other beings are quietly moving through my neighborhood, and that they all need space in which to live? These tiny aerialists reminded me that the woods are home to many creatures which lead hidden lives. For a few moments, their flight drew me out of my hermetic existence within a culture so removed from nature that we regard it only as a backdrop to our lives. * To get a sense of how another amateur observer viewed creatures in their natural environments, I turned to Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne, first published in 1789. The book is a collection of letters White wrote to two zoologist acquaintances over a period of several decades, in which he recounts observations of animals and plants in a rural parish in the south of England. Browsing a digital edition of this work, I came across a letter from White dated June 8, 1775, recalling an instance more than thirty years earlier when he saw “a shower of cobwebs falling from very elevated regions, and continuing, without any interruption, till the close of the day.” Produced by spiders as a means of taking to the air, these gossamer threads were “twinkling like stars as they turned their sides towards the sun.” White noted that “why these rapturous insects should that day take such a wonderful aerial excursion . . . is a matter beyond my skill.” White’s delight in seeing this airborne wonder equaled mine in the meadow the other morning (never mind his confusing arachnids with insects). I thought about the times I’ve watched spiders, midges,

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or other tiny, sunlit dancers take to the air. Their motion seems to make the air visible, the same way that gently falling snowflakes in a forest give dimension to the atmosphere. They highlight an unseen world which exists apart from us—something that, for me, brings a welcome solace. White was one of the more dedicated amateur naturalists of his day, and his observations, while not systematic, contributed to the field of phenology—that is, the study of seasonal or annual phenomena in nature. Phenology remains one of the few scientific fields in which anyone can make meaningful contributions by taking advantage of online sites which collect data from many observers. Ecologists use this information to track changes in the life habits of plants and animals due to

I wondered about the life history of these insects, whose genus and species remain a mystery to me. Seeing them dance before the morning sun gave me a feeling of joy; I asked myself whether knowing more about them would add to this pleasure. Was it not enough to know that other beings are quietly moving through my neighborhood, and that they all need space in which to live? These tiny aerialists reminded me that the woods are home to many creatures which lead hidden lives. For a few moments, their flight drew me out of my hermetic existence within a culture so removed from nature that we regard it only as a backdrop to our lives.

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E S S A Y climate change, among other things. The Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird count is the oldest such effort, and the data collected in more than a century of counts have been used to document declines in bird populations in grassland and arid habitats, as well as a steady northward shift in the ranges of many birds as they adjust to a warming climate. White wrote at the start of the Industrial Age, when natural history belonged to a genteel upper class with time on its hands. His observations carry a troubling symmetry to those of our time, when the fruits of industrialization and prosperity have become apparent. If he were to publish his notes today, we would expect him to relate his local observations to the worldwide decline in faunal biomass, including the precipitous and alarming drop in insect numbers observed in some countries. Although knowing about these losses colors my enjoyment of natural phenomena, I derive a fleeting sense of optimism when I see masses of wild creatures such as my little insects. They remind me of nature’s power to reassert itself when given a chance. White’s unscientific approach to natural history appears quaint today, but I believe it is still valuable, if for no other reason than to direct our attention toward the world which surrounds us. Even in his time such localized observations stood apart from the classification and systemization favored by most scientists—an approach which went hand in hand with bending nature to human needs. Amateur accounts no longer occupy a central place in the field of natural history, which is rather unfortunate, for although I may not conduct species inventories on my walks, a bit of nature appreciation each day allows my thoughts to rove beyond human affairs into a world that retains meaning and value. I pursue this pastime despite the pronouncements of futurists

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I derive a fleeting sense of optimism when I see masses of wild creatures such as my little insects. They remind me of nature’s power to reassert itself when given a chance. and techno-cheerleaders who proclaim the death of nature. Simply to bear witness to a vanishing world becomes increasingly important as natural spaces—wetlands, grasslands, uncut forests, riparian areas— are pushed to the margins. * My wife and I relocated to this suburban canyon fifteen years ago in an attempt to escape some of the city’s noise and congestion. Like others who have settled in these foothills, we were attracted to the views, the cleaner air, and the attractive natural vegetation. While building our home, though, we learned that our lot had prior claimants, such as the deer which every night follow a trail that runs through our property. The trail emerges from a larger plot of undeveloped land to the east, which offers some of the last sheltered habitat within an area of dozens of homes. Once or twice a year we see a bobcat following this same trail, stalking rabbits or smaller mammals. In our first years of living here, moose would come down from the higher mountains during winter to bed in our yard, where the snow was not as deep. They munched on our aspens, but we didn’t begrudge them their meals—it was their land. Now that the neighborhood has filled in, we see them less often. The process of rural development selects for species such as deer which are more tolerant of human presence.

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Simply to bear witness to a vanishing world becomes increasingly important as natural spaces—wetlands, grasslands, uncut forests, riparian areas—are pushed to the margins. When we built our home we were taking part in a migration that has defined life in the American West for the last seventy years: the flight to the foothills. Like tens of thousands of other Westerners, we occupy habitat which formerly served a wide variety of creatures. We justified our relocation in terms of personal interest: to be close to the changing seasons, to go on long walks in a somewhat natural setting, to see more than just a couple of stars at night. We wanted our young daughter to hear birds in the morning instead of sirens and motorcycles. What we didn’t realize, or chose to ignore, was how our home would add to the pressure on the canyon’s native wildlife. Despite our performing the usual ecological niceties (driving a small car, installing solar panels, composting kitchen scraps), we still live under the same umbrella of waste, sprawl, and consumption that defines most of the urban periphery. A solution to this dilemma eludes me. We’ve reduced our consumptive footprint somewhat, but reminders of what I and my neighbors have done to this place are inescapable. Nothing new here; among my peers, ecological guilt is a cliché. Having built our house, there is not much we can do to alter the course of land development that is taking over these hills. Private property remains sacrosanct in America, and the living things that are found within this landscape do not enter into our real estate transactions.

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Surveying the results of my own choices, I ask myself what would constitute an appropriate response to nature in contemporary American life. Am I not being terribly inconsistent in claiming to appreciate nature while my house sits right on top of it? No good answers come. I go on my walks and wonder whether it is of value to just appreciate what I see—as if taking note of nature will somehow help it survive. * In his 1950 book The Nature of Natural History, the American zoologist Marston Bates distinguished between the amateur naturalist and what he called the nature lover: the latter, he believed, suffered from a “disoriented, emotional attitude” toward the natural world. Bates wrote that it was “impossible for me to look at a bird (or a picture, for that matter) with emotional satisfaction without trying to understand what I am looking at, how it works, how it got that way, where it is going.” Bates wrote as a scientist, although he was best known for his lucid popularizations of natural history such as The Forest and the Sea (1960). One could hardly disagree that scientific understanding of the natural world is critical at a time when species are vanishing from the globe at an unprecedented rate. Systematic observation and analysis trump a sentimental attachment to nature. But I’m not ready to give up the awe and wonder I feel when I observe some breathtaking natural phenomenon, or even some ordinary sight that happens to fill me with joy. I doubt that many zoologists would either. In his 1954 book The Voice of the Desert, the critic and naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch put in a word for simply appreciating nature. Krutch observed that “the acute awareness of a natural phenomenon, especially

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Despite our performing the usual ecological niceties (driving a small car, installing solar panels, composting kitchen scraps), we still live under the same umbrella of waste, sprawl and consumption that defines most of the urban periphery. A solution to this dilemma eludes me. We’ve reduced our consumptive footprint somewhat, but reminders of what I and my neighbors have done to this place are inescapable. a phenomenon of the living world, is the thing most likely to open the door to that joy we cannot analyze.” Still, merely indulging in an interest in nature accomplishes nothing in the way of protecting other creatures or their habitats. One must take concrete steps—but what kind, and what are sufficient? My wife and I contribute to a local land trust which acquires property in our canyon with special ecological values, paying significant sums to landowners who otherwise stand to profit handsomely from developing their land. Such acquisitions amount to only a few percent of the private lands that surround the city, all of which are valuable as watershed and wildlife habitat. It’s a rear-guard action; nature’s retreat continues. I also take part in neighborhood weedpulling sessions, trying to hold back the tide of invasive plants that threaten to engulf the remaining patches of native grassland. A neighbor watches out for the elk which winter on the higher hills nearby, calling the authorities if anyone harasses them or hunts out of season. All such endeavors are worthwhile, but they

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hardly constitute a plan of action in the face of the ongoing destruction of nature that we’ve loosed on the world. Most of my neighbors, moreover, remain indifferent to the fate of these foothill ecosystems. It’s not that they don’t enjoy nature; many have bird feeders and presumably enjoy trips to the mountains or to a national park. The problem is not a phobia or dislike of the natural world, but our mental distance from it. Not seeing what is outside our windows, either because we are not conversant with biological science (I include myself here) or because we are so thoroughly enmeshed in the effort of modern living that the other world out there hardly registers, keeps us from learning about and caring for specific places—even the places where we live. Ecological awareness needs to come home from the mountains, as it were. Love of nature cannot be limited to postcard destinations such as national parks and forests. Caring for places close at hand puts nature appreciation to work. It would be incredibly heartening to see suburban neighborhood associations take an interest in maintaining habitat for living things— to go beyond monitoring the height of one’s turfgrass or making preparations for wildfires. There ought to be equal concern for the native plants and animals that live here, many of which suffer when treetrimming crews (or worse, herds of goats) are brought in to reduce fuel loads. The need to make a place for nature extends to the design of suburban and exurban neighborhoods as well. Development plans in what is termed the wildland-urban interface should include more than human amenities such as fishing ponds and bike trails. We need to set aside wild places that permit deer, elk, bobcats, and other creatures to hide from us. We need strenuous, ongoing efforts to control invasive plants and animals. From

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that starting point, we might learn to pay greater attention to the ways in which we displace native creatures from fields, forests, mountains and rivers everywhere. Orienting ourselves a little more toward nature may not retard the acidification of oceans or lessen carbon dioxide levels, and it certainly does not address the inequities faced by those who cannot afford to live in suburbia. I’m reminded of this when I cross the pipelines above my house. Up here the lines are buried and unobtrusive, but they lead straight into an urban industrial zone where workers and residents breathe petroleum fumes and live their lives among a sadly depauperate flora and fauna. These citizens need access to natural environments as surely as I and my well-off neighbors. Our foothills ought

to be a regulated commons, open to all who will treat them with respect. In a world that is spinning toward new climatic and biotic states we cannot imagine, a dose of optimism would prove invaluable. For me this is most easily gained by stepping outside into what I still consider the real world. In the years that are left to me, I will pay attention to what passes before my eyes in this little canyon. Those sparkling insects I witnessed represent the frayed end of a long cord that reaches back into a non-human past, inviting us to follow it toward a more sensible and aware mode of living. Knowing this, I will go on my walks, try to keep my eyes open, and see where small wonders take me.

Works Cited Bates, Marston. The Nature of Natural History. Chapman and Hall, 1950. Krutch, Joseph Wood. The Voice of the Desert. W. Sloan Associates, 1955. White, Gilbert. The Natural History of Selborne. Benjamin White, 1789.

Frederick Swanson writes about the wild places of the western United States from his home in the foothills of Utah’s Wasatch Range. His books and essays focus on the history, exploration, and conservation of public lands during the twentieth century, including wilderness areas, national parks, and national forests. His website is www.fredswansonbooks.com.

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E S S A Y

RELINQUISHED DAVID B. SUCH

My hat caught sail ten minutes ago, but I will look for it later. A splintered twig scrapes my forearm within the sleeve of my jacket. Sandy grit crunches between my teeth. A small piece of something flung by the wind lodges in the corner of my dominant right eye. Skid marks from my elbows and knees draw lines in the dirt for a couple hundred yards behind me. I now hide behind a small hump on a vast high plain. Rising to a crouch, I peer over the brush. Am I finally within range? The pronghorn antelope herd grazes about a quarter-mile away, the closest I have been after two and a half days and dozens of miles in my boots. Three brown bovine cows browse among the sagebrush a hundred yards to my left, now alert and staring at my crouched posture with suspicion. In unison, they turn and take their lumbering flight toward the antelope. I had hoped the cattle would not contribute to the collective herd alarm system, but they just blew my cover. Now I stand dejected and watch the pale antelope rumps bouncing like ping-pong balls as they grow progressively smaller. My thirteen-year-old son, Marcel, and I are out hunting for pronghorn in the Shirley Basin region of central Wyoming. We joined Larry and Ken at their campsite a couple days ago where they welcomed us with their comfortable, easygoing demeanor. Out here, the

unobstructed wind picks up speed and races across this wide-open terrain. The uninterrupted view stretches out forever from hills on the horizon in one direction to gradually disappearing plains in the other. We had all split up in a subconscious attempt to cover the vast territory that spread out before our eyes. The lure of open country and distant views of pronghorn herds beckoned us to roam, each one drawn to our own elusive vision of success. Eventually, I learn the fruitlessness of chasing an antelope herd, but not soon enough. Intelligent, social predators typically utilize an advantageous strategy called cooperative hunting. For human beings with high-powered rifles and long-range optics, this age-old formula becomes skewed. Ironically, our technology appears to be supplanting our common sense. The social lives of many people

David B. Such


have also been distorted by fascinating new forms of communication technologies. Classic opportunities to develop close face-to-face relationships with fellow human beings pale in comparison. This can drive us to live in our own little virtual world and affect our decision to personally visit family members or nextdoor neighbors—or, perhaps, even to hunt cooperatively. As for me, I am locked into solo stalking mode. I have no idea how far I had walked in pursuit of these wary antelope herds. When focused on a task, I do not monitor miles or minutes. By now, the sun is approaching the western hills, and it is clearly time to head for camp. Through my 10x binocular, I see a distant dot that I presume is our camp near the top of the gently sloping plain. After walking through the sagebrush for a couple miles, the high-altitude cirrus clouds now display a bright orange tint. In the foreground hangs a dark gray raincloud that, in the end, never delivers. I now decipher through the binocular the white and blue dots that assure me that they are our trucks. I consciously force myself to examine the scene several times and study the fading landscape and the long fence line leading toward the camp. I know I must sear it into my memory before the sun sets just to convince myself for future reference, when I know the doubts of darkness will fall upon me. Soon enough I stumble through the sagebrush beneath a moonless night sky with a dazzling display of stars. I reach the fence line and follow it with an undying faith that it is the right fence and that I am going the right direction. Strange as it seems, it requires a significant force of will to stay the course. At one point a Barn Owl circles above and studies me, trying to discern whether I am a threat or rather what I feel like—possible prey.

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To look at a vertical biped from above might be deceiving to a raptor. They may realize that horizontal bodies of deer and antelope are too large for them to eat, but who knows? From directly overhead, a human may look as small as a plump rabbit. Whatever its intentions, I do not enjoy the vulnerable sensation of being examined by a predator. The tables have turned and this sends an uneasy feeling into my gut. The large, white owl eventually flies away in search of appropriate food. Having volunteered for Search and Rescue for many years, I now see what it is like to be on the other end, the end that begins to doubt which way is up. I can see a dim light in line with the fence line. As Mary Shelley wrote in her classic, Frankenstein, “I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead, and found a passage to life, aided by one glimmering, and seemingly ineffectual, light.” This light is my only option, but in my confusion, it appears to be moving further away, even as I walk toward it! In a desperate move that later embarrasses me, I load my rifle and fire off a shot hoping to attract the attention of whoever is shining that light. I had unknowingly walked an incredible distance that day in my attempts to get within range of the antelope, and it is an extremely long walk back to camp. So it seems. I doggedly walk that fence line for what feels like half the night. In retrospect, however, it was only six miles, and it took less than three hours. I finally arrive at camp barely in time for reheated dinner leftovers inside Larry’s warm camper before retiring to my tent. It feels particularly good to be safe within the company of friends, food, and the shelter of our minimal encampment. It is very common for hikers to get disoriented after darkness falls, and

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It is very common for hikers to get disoriented after darkness falls . . . Good search strategies always include the likelihood that the lost person has abandoned the path or gone in a totally illogical direction. Unfortunately, this often happens. I am blessed and encouraged to know those who have faithfully walked a fence line in the dark for months and even years with circumstances much more significant than I experienced that night. Serious injury or illness, death of a spouse or child, abandonment or betrayal, poverty, addiction, depression, or other devastating circumstances can diminish or remove any hope of recovery or purpose. Life is full of situations and struggles that can overwhelm and discourage. subsequent confusion, doubts, and bad decisions cause them to get lost or injured. I had seen it happen many times on search and rescue missions. Good search strategies always include the likelihood that the lost person has abandoned the path or gone in a totally illogical direction. Unfortunately, this often happens. I am blessed and encouraged to know those who have faithfully walked a fence line in the dark for months and even years with circumstances much more significant than I experienced that night. Serious injury or illness, death of a spouse or child, abandonment or betrayal, poverty, addiction, depression, or other devastating circumstances can diminish or remove

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any hope of recovery or purpose. Life is full of situations and struggles that can overwhelm and discourage. Sometimes a relentless bombardment of philosophical materialism can have the same nihilistic effect. Prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. The silence of God is often just as unsettling to a believer as the voice of God can be to an unbeliever. First coined by Saint John of the Cross in the fourteenth century, many call this experience the “dark night of the soul.� I have seen these pilgrims use all their ammo trying to get God’s attention to no apparent avail, yet they continue to endure the confusion and doggedly walk toward that silent, dim light that seems like just an illusion. I have seen legitimately confused people stubbornly hold to the convictions they held during the daylight, and I have seen many of them eventually emerge from the darkness with well-seasoned faith and a more accurate vision of reality. Some I know are still walking. Whether with our physical eyes or our spiritual eyes, it is imperative to gaze repeatedly at our destination and our path before the shadows fall, and to convince ourselves of the right direction before the doubts of darkness cloud our memory and overcome our reason.

As experienced high-plains hunters, Ken and Larry were both able to shoot a pronghorn each. They had skinned and field dressed their game yesterday while Marcel and I were still trying to figure out how to get just a little closer, at least within range of our wavering rifles. I had never hunted antelope before and only knew of two strategies, each requiring different skills. Stalking requires long-distance shooting accuracy. Waiting simply requires patience.

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Marcel and I both default to the stalking method. Perhaps we feel more in control that way. However, neither of us had previously tried to shoot anything beyond a couple hundred yards. I knew the bullet dropped a few inches at two hundred fifty yards, but never imagined we would be shooting far enough for the bullet to drop a few feet. I had no idea how to do this accurately. Marcel and I both fired off a shot from about five hundred yards our first day. All it did was alarm the herd into another one of their joyful jaunts across the prairie. We awaken to our last day of the hunt. I knew what to do, and even where to do it, but anticipating imminent success with stalking, I deferred doing what would be effective. Why was I so hesitant to try waiting? A plateau rises above the plain, and the antelope migrate back and forth between the plain and the plateau, consistently choosing a well-defined route. Our only hope for antelope meat will be to ambush them at the pass. With the afternoon sun over our shoulders, Marcel and I hide behind a large bush halfway up the slope. The well-used game trail weaves down the slope eighty yards upwind. This will be perfect if the antelope actually show up. The sun feels warm as we recline on the side of the hill. Ten minutes pass, and Marcel seems to be dozing. After another twenty minutes, there is still no sign of our prey. This could go on for hours. I use what little patience I have, and after forty-five fidgety minutes, I decide to sneak up to the edge of the plateau to see if anything is coming. After all, we do not want to be caught off guard, dozing in the warm sun while the herd quietly passes by. With rifle in hand, I carefully sneak up to the rim with a furtive crouch reminiscent of John Wayne or Lee Van Cleef. As I approach the top, I notice something out of the corner of my eye

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looking over the edge. I immediately drop to the ground, but it is too late. My folly is undeniable. I see about twenty eyes all glaring at me, and then they are gone, like a fleeting vision of a ghost. If only I had stuck to the plan. If only I had what was required for this technique: patience. I sit down, head buried in my hands in utter remorse with no hope of canceling my blunder. I am proud about devising this ingenious plan, but twice as ashamed of myself for not following through with it. I collapse onto the ground and repent in the dust and dirt. As grieved as I am, my impatience turned out well for the pronghorn that wisely peeked over the edge before descending. Our time on the plains of Wyoming is coming to a close. After facing the reality of going home without an antelope, we drive out through our permitted area the long way around with the remote hope of another opportunity before the sun sets. It had been an enjoyable long weekend on the high plains, with pleasant weather and good company. That was my consolation. However, as we approach the border of our hunting area, we round a curve and see them; two doe antelope lie in the sparse grass a hundred yards from the road. After I bring the truck to an abrupt stop, Marcel slips out the door with his rifle.

Whether with our physical eyes or our spiritual eyes, it is imperative to gaze repeatedly at our destination and our path before the shadows fall, and to convince ourselves of the right direction before the doubts of darkness cloud our memory and overcome our reason.

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E S S A Y I watch helplessly as he loads the gun and gets comfortable in a small clearing off the side of the road. By now, Larry and Ken are parked behind me and watch from their truck. Marcel is now on stage. At the age of thirteen, he is on the brink of manhood and undoubtedly considers the unspoken peer pressure from his audience of grown men. From within, his testosterone-fueled hunter mentality also pushes him toward the kill. Yet, in the mist of this pivotal moment peering through the scope, there must have been something else churning within his head. The antelope stand up, and one of them, overcome by curiosity, takes a few steps toward Marcel and cranes its neck. I watch the doe and wait for the loud crack of the rifle. I turn to look at Marcel, who is fidgeting and looking over his shoulder at me. I nod my approval to shoot. The doe takes another couple steps toward Marcel, then turns and stands broadside. “Now… do it now,” I think, but all I hear is the persistent Wyoming wind whistling through the narrow gap at the top of my window. Both antelope then turn and scamper up the slope and stop to look back again briefly before continuing over the hill, out of sight. I suspect equipment malfunction. Perhaps his bipod kept slipping or the bolt on the rifle would not fully engage.

Was the safety lever stuck? With shoulders slumped, Marcel slowly stands and returns to the truck. “I couldn’t do it, dad. It was so cute, and it was looking right at me.” In those moments looking through the scope, he connected with his prey, understood the gravity of the matter, and decided to let it live. “But, but, but . . .” was all I could think. By the time we turn east on Interstate 80 toward Laramie, the evening darkness obscures the landscape, but the big picture comes into focus. I realize that I had just witnessed a rare scene, a special moment. I am, of course, disappointed to not have the meat, but I am pleased to see that my son understood and respected the sacredness of life, even the life of what we conveniently term “game” or “prey”—the life we turn into meat. The empathy he displayed by his thoughtful, conscious decision to not kill was a refreshing perspective that continues to be much more valuable than the fresh meat Marcel chose to relinquish that day. Little did I know that my thirteenyear-old son would introduce an entirely different dimension into our hunting experience and demonstrate to the old guys a lesson we had long forgotten.

David B. Such is a left-handed mechanical engineer with four decades of experience with turbines and other machinery. Off the job, he retreats to his home in the foothills of Colorado where, contrasted to his industrial work environment, he appreciates close connections with his natural surroundings and enjoys reading, writing, drawing, and gardening. His essays, poetry, and drawings have appeared in South 85 Literary Journal, Stonecoast Review, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Gulf Stream Literary Magazine, Red Coyote Journal, and others (including cover art for EcoTheo Review). Visit David at dbsuch.wordpress.com.

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FOUR CORNERS, A POINT, AND A CIRCLE: THE SEDUCTIONS OF GEOMETRY O. ALAN WELTZIEN

Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management Goosenecks of the San Juan

One warm March day in the Southwest many years ago, my wife, younger son, and I found ourselves turning off Route 160 onto New Mexico Highway 597, aiming for the Four Corners Monument. I had travelled in the Southwest before, and on this spring break we hit, as tourists sometimes say, the nearby national monuments and parks in this arid landscape that had been sculpted by wind and sandstone over eons. Lots of tourists aim for the Monument because there’s no place like it. It represents one triumph in the fantasy of geometry and its

ground application in surveying. The Four Corners goes back to the 1785 Ordinance, or earlier, and our childhood discovery of drawing straight lines with a ruler. Two British surveyors, Mason and Dixon, drew a pair of straight lines demarcating Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania between 1763-67: the most famous lines in colonial cartography. From this northsouth and east-west transect grew a series of other straight lines that, over the next century and more, would mark off many newly birthed states.


E S S A Y Many states, let alone smaller land divisions such as sections, came into being in part through the overwhelming power of the straight line. Too, the western half of the international border with Canada, from Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, to Point Roberts, Washington, wavers along the 49th parallel. The endless work of historical boundary surveyors enacted our common desire. We insistently impose our oldest geometry onto the ground, no matter the topography. Many of us who turn into map geeks begin from the peculiar joy of primitive cartographers, as interested in graphing straight lines as curves. The Four Corners represents the climax of our unswerving fealty to the line. New Mexico and Arizona were the final pair of states in the lower forty-eight to enter the union in early 1912, the latter following the former by five weeks. Thirteen years earlier, a sandstone marker was erected to mark the point where Colorado’s southern line, New Mexico’s west line, and Utah’s east line meet. Two years later Arizona’s northern line was surveyed and met the point. In 1912, that year of late statehood, a simple concrete pad was poured to signify that “X” marks the spot. We love to cross an “X” and fix that spot, even before Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The popularity of orienteering and geocaching in the past generation evidences an abiding pleasure in the act, and GPS technology exponentially enhances the business of pathfinding, of walking—or jogging, in some cases—map lines. More than ever, we find our way by tracing a route between two points, or connecting the dots. Four Corners abounds in ironies. I pay our cheap admission at a worn booth staffed by Navajo, since you enter the Navajo Nation when you drive on 597 northwest for six miles to the spot. So there’s this sense of entering a foreign

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The Four Corners represents the climax of our unswerving fealty to the line. New Mexico and Arizona were the final pair of states in the lower forty-eight to enter the union in early 1912, the latter following the former by five weeks. Thirteen years earlier, a sandstone marker was erected to mark the point where Colorado’s southern line, New Mexico’s west line, and Utah’s east line meet. Two years later Arizona’s northern line was surveyed and met the point. In 1912, that year of late statehood, a simple concrete pad was poured to signify that “X” marks the spot. country because, of course, Navajo land constitutes a sovereign nation: at over 27,000 square miles, it’s the largest reservation in the lower forty-eight. In this case at least, ancient occupancy trumps federal management, as the BLM’s presence here spans not much more than one century. Visitors feel far from home in the Diné’s home desert, and most websites stress the site’s remoteness and lack of many of the usual amenities. That remoteness reinforces the fabulous fantasy of the common corner. I slow my speed as we approach a wide arc where the road splits, and visitors must steer either left or right in search of parking. On this midday, there’s plenty of space in front of a series of low wooden sheds, some frayed and tattered, desert light and sand fading the paint. The Navajo Nation parks and recreation website

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boasts of a “demonstration center,” with Navajo artisans at work, but on this day I find no center. Instead, the usual tribal vendors “stoically” sit behind display cases of the usual turquoise-and-silver jewelry and the usual woven blankets. Maybe the prices run slightly less than those at the fancy museum and store at Window Rock, but I’m not sure. You can buy cold soft drinks or ice cream bars but not a lot more. Some empty booths resemble squared eye sockets gazing forever over the shifting scene of vehicles and tourists walking and talking. This shabby outer square girdles the fancy granite circle divided into four exact directional quadrants, each anchored by a flagpole from which four state flags flutter. I guess we should add, proudly. Of course, most gravitate to the circle’s center. After all, we have come to realize a geometric dream. Attractive benches of a durable synthetic material, painted a full red, ring the terracotta-stained circle. An attractive low-angle ramp, faced in stone, juts forward from Utah’s quadrant so that one may gain a slightly aerial view—and photograph the lover or spouse or kid whose body shadows the point in sundry contortions. You can’t keep a foot in each state, but with minimal effort you can distribute your body more or less equally over the corner, say in a yogi’s graceful downward dog pose, though even then your arch slights two states. But if you spread arms and legs wide enough, or stand with another in similar posture whose arch curves just below or above your own, your shape curves symmetrically over the point. The possibilities are endless, as is the desire to converge and touch. I don’t resist any more than my wife or son. We want to be hands-on: to join the dream of inhabiting four states at once. On this warm spring midday we do not have to wait long to assume our preferred positions and enact our photo

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shoot. A potent gravitational attraction is at work here. Little did I know that my labors in junior high school geometry might lead, someday, to this triumphal ground proof. The occasional Diné vendors shift their rickety chairs slightly to avoid the sun’s shifting lines, and I imagine their bemused responses to the transient panorama at this place near the northeast corner of the Navajo Nation. For most of us, the circle and its point symbolize a sanctum sanctorum as we complete a hadj engendered by cartography and surveying. For at few other spots on earth do such powerful boundary lines converge at right angles. The white genesis of four states, after all, includes this dot. The transits of surveyors, a recent inscription in any long historical view, superimpose themselves like a palimpsest over the far older radial tracks emanating, for instance, from Chaco Canyon southeast of here. “X”—an aluminum bronze marker since 1992—marks the spot. A brief historical review of Four Corners suggests that the spot was not always as fixed as people wish. The second surveyor, Chandler Robbins of the General Land Office (1875), revealed errors in the initial survey by E. N. Darling seven years earlier. The same year New Mexico and Arizona entered the Union and that concrete pad was poured, the fundamental reference point for

For most of us, the circle and its point symbolize a sanctum sanctorum as we complete a hadj engendered by cartography and surveying. For at few other spots on earth do such powerful boundary lines converge at right angles.

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E S S A Y American surveying changed. Until 1912, American surveyors used the Washington Meridian—that north-south line running through the old Naval Observatory, in the northwest District of Columbia—as the accepted benchmark. After 1912, they used the Prime Meridian (Greenwich, England), the world’s 0 degrees longitude and long the international standard for cartography, as the benchmark. The resulting slight discrepancy suggested the marker marked the wrong spot. The unfolding controversy ultimately resulted in a 1925 Supreme Court decision that, according to Steven Hall of the Colorado BLM, “firmly established that monument as the location.” Popular sentiment and legal precedent trumped surveying accuracy. Once we’ve fixed the intersection of four quadrants, we don’t want it messed with. In 2009, a dustup between accuracy and fixity swirled and subsided again, thanks to GPS technology. One online article asserts that “recent GPS readings have pointed the location of the monument to be east of US 160 in Colorado and northeast of the San Juan River,” and these readings indicated ”the monument is anywhere from 1800’ to 2.5 miles off.” According to another article, the National Geodetic Survey’s most recent field work was misinterpreted in May 2009 by the media as saying that Robbins’ 1875 survey was wrong, and the monument should be 2.5 miles farther west. A Washington Post article argues, conversely, that the “intended monument” might be 1800’ or less farther west—just a nudge. William Stone countered those claims in a Post article, “Why The Four Corners Monument is in Exactly the Right Place.” Congress, along with the four state governments, “agreed to change the original longitude and latitude to match the marker” (“Four Corners”). This involved a slight recalibration to the 109th West Meridian’s location.

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Challenges to accuracy yield to the “X” that’s been marking the spot for 140 years now. We established our right-angle story and we’re sticking with it. I’m reminded of the gap between public school representations of earth as a perfect sphere or globe and the earth’s true shape, oblate with its equatorial bulge. A couple of years ago on an Ecuador climbing trip, on the summit of Chimborazo I stood on the far tip of that bulge, closer to the sun than any other point on earth including Mount Everest. The bulge betrays the spherical ideal of earth. Centuries ago we abandoned Ptolemaic epicycles in astronomy, yet we still impose our straight line ideal on the land’s skin. The fantasy of four states meeting in a point proves irresistible to that strand of American history and psychology embodied in the grid, the primary measure of settlement as reflected in monumental legislation such as the Homestead Act (1862) and all its successors. Basic notions such as section and quarter and plat derived from the grid. Writer William Least HeatMoon’s extraordinary literary survey of Chase County, Kansas, PrairyErth, depends entirely upon the grid. Grids enable transects and the orderly genesis of property lines. Grids manifest the tyranny of the straight edge and often separate what’s mine from yours. Straight lines have little to no respect for the infinite variability of landforms, of course. This essential feature in geometry rarely appears anywhere in actual topography. Arguably the clearest application of a straight line on the ground occurs on Australia’s Nullibar Plain, which straddles western South Australia and southeast West Australia. Here one finds the world’s longest straight (“tarred”) road at 146.6 kilometers, and the longest straight rail track at 478 kilometers. But the Nullibar Plain is globally exceptional in its invitation to straight lines. In the U.S.’s Pacific

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Northwest, where I grew up hiking in the Cascades, I learned early about the baleful consequences of the Northern Pacific Land Grant (1864), with its invidious system of checkerboard ownership between public and private (i.e., corporate) lands. This kind of senselessness derives from the abstractions of the grid, as does the Four Corners: the ongoing reign of a mindset detached and removed from applied knowledge of geology or mountains or drainages, for instance. Maybe we should demand a more complex system of surveying, one less dependent upon straight lines. Maybe straight lines lie more than they convey some truth. For the most part, they’re foreign to the natural world. Maybe we never outgrow the joy of pressing, with pen or pencil, along a straight edge, or doing so online. Now that the three of us have hovered over this most famous point, we stroll back to the car. No one stays too long here, as it’s just about a pose and the images that record it. Before reaching the car, though, I pause and take a few steps northeast, trying to picture the San Juan River’s drainage. This tributary of the Colorado winds westward just northeast of the Monument. In this desert, of course, waterways mark lifelines, an indisputable boundary. As I picture the river in detail, I recall reading Wallace Stegner’s Beyond the Hundredth Meridian in college, and specifically how John Wesley Powell’s prescient recommendations for ecosystem boundaries, in this region defined by aridity, were shelved and ignored. Powell’s epic charting of the Colorado River in 1869 and 1871-72 occurred between the initial surveys of the Four Corners. Powell is the subject of endless books, whereas those initial surveyors are historical footnotes, yet their work triumphed as Powell’s did not. I also remember standing above the

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Maybe we should demand a more complex system of surveying, one less dependent upon straight lines. Maybe straight lines lie more than they convey some truth. For the most part, they’re foreign to the natural world. Maybe we never outgrow the joy of pressing, with pen or pencil, along a straight edge. Goosenecks near Mexican Hat, Utah, as famous a series of river canyon oxbows as exist in North America. In this “entrenched meander” which evolved over 300,000,000 years, the San Juan River twists through a series of sharp bends and flows over six miles in what, in a straight line, is one-anda-half miles. The river takes its time, and that straight line has no meaning. But the San Juan River’s age and location and fierce loops carry no value in relation to this mystical meeting of corners, nor does its location within the Navajo Nation. Instead it symbolizes, in the simplest, most elegant geometry, the relatively recent, mostly white master narrative we call American history. And while some like corners, most don’t like to be cornered, as our language and mythology attest. But when four corners precisely meet, we enter a state of rapture at that point. A wandering river border or wavering ecosystem map or mountain ridgeline give way before political fictions engendered by a ruler and surveyors’ transits. In this fiction, shooting lines creates borders, the artificiality of which rules over natural borders suggested by the flow of water, or climate. I shake my head over the willful ascendancy of two-dimensional quadrants, as though a map takes precedence over the infinite perspectives and depths of the land. We drive away along a road that curves

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E S S A Y and joins a highway that dips and rises and curves, and then other highways. Tires, engine, and pavement combine to mask the ways in which we plunge through landscapes. When I hike on trails in Chaco Canyon or Monument Valley, though, my legs and lungs remind me, a peak bagger from Montana, that flatness feels illusory. Particularly in seemingly flat places. And apart from cemetery borders or power line corridors or fence lines, for instance, trails rarely stay straight. We love curves and squiggly lines in nature and art, yet the purity of a straight line seduces us over and over

in geometry and trigonometry and our built environment. It’s a different kind of overwhelming love and dependency, one which triumphs in such unreal spots as the Four Corners. This measure of our historical moment is mocked, of course, by geologic time—by the 300,000,000-year story of the San Juan River’s “entrenched meander” just a few dozen miles northwest. The river’s story reminds us to be wary of our loyalty to this fundamental abstraction. Straight lines—political borders—won’t last for any duration.

Works Cited “Four Corners.” WikiTravel, www.wikitravel.org/en/four_corners. Heat-Moon, William L. PrairyErth. Houghton Mifflin, 1991. Stegner, Wallace. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian. Houghton Mifflin, 1954. Stone, William. “Why the Four Corners Monument is in Exactly the Right Place.” The Washington Post, 15 May 2009.

O. Alan Weltzien, longtime English professor at the University of Montana Western, has published nine books, including the memoir A Father and an Island (2008) and three poetry collections, most recently Rembrandt in the Stairwell (2016). Though a Pacific Northwest native and a longtime northern Rockies resident, Weltzien remains fascinated by the “other worlds” of the Southwest. He has received two Fulbright Fellowships and one University of Montana International Faculty Award. He still skis in winter and scrambles peaks in summer, and finds nothing more joyful than working on a poem or personal essay.

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F I C T I O N

Eric Aldrich

A Heliograph to Kin Kletso

James Q. Jacobs

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arter searched for Violet among the pilgrims awaiting sunrise at the Kin Kletso ruins. His breath condensed in the frigid dawn; the breeze carried vapor ghosts of the things he wanted to say to her through the ruin’s roofless rooms, derelict walls, and open kivas. It was December 21, winter solstice, one of more than 900 since Anasazi hands laid Kin Kletso’s bricks in Chaco Canyon. Carter remembered Violet’s hair, the way it smelled like rosemary and how gray strands had interwoven themselves into the brown braid she draped over her shoulders. Even if she was more gray now, he would recognize her laugh. He’d look for the crooked eyetooth in her smile, all the rings she wore, the shape of her hips. She loved colorful clothes, so she would stand out against the tan bricks, brown grass, and yellow cliffs. Violet was ten years older than Carter, already forty when she left him six years ago and moved to Vancouver. He had planned to go with her, but she ended things and he stayed in Phoenix. They sat on the steps of his apartment and Violet held Carter’s hand as she told him, “You can’t let me do your living for you. I have to write a part for you into everything I do, but that requires giving part of myself with no hope of it being replaced. What do you want to do? You need to find you.” Carter played with a slice of meteorite in his coat pocket. It was a gift for Violet. They found it together in a dry lakebed near Wilcox. Later, Carter had a geologist divide it into four even pieces. Each section displayed a brilliant geometric pattern of crystallinechrome. Violet only ever saw the ferric outer crust, flat brown stone, had no idea what shimmered within. He wrote a note with the piece he brought for her. “Some of us live to admire.”


F I C T I O N The sojourners clustered around the northeastern section of the crumbling structure. They stood insulated in thick parkas, trendy North Face fleece, layers of jackets and sweaters. A ranger stooped over a tourist’s guidebook, speaking as the man turned pages. A mother thrust her arm in front of her young sons to stop them from crossing the rope fence and climbing on the ancient walls. Two older women pointed to features down the canyon. A Diné family pulled their hands into the sleeves of their hooded sweatshirts. Three nuns huddled in long coats, smiling at children nearby. Carter, taller than most, meandered through a few dozen men and women in their twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties, but no Violet. They had texted two nights ago, and she had said she was still going. “G’morning folks!” the ranger’s voice echoed. His white beard and smile shone in the predawn glow. “The sun is on its way up for its shortest transit this year. We’re about to witness the continuation of plans made long before any of us were born.” All grew quiet and listened as the ranger explained Kin Kletso’s design, how the builders oriented the structure so the northeast corner aligned with a cleft atop the opposite cliff. From that vantage point at the corner, the sun emerged from the cleft on the shortest day of the year. Other ruins in Chaco Canyon, he explained, also marked lunar and solar events. The architecture was a calendar. Carter tried to remember what the ranger said so he could repeat it to Violet. In September, Violet friended Carter on Facebook. It was the first contact they’d had since she left. It took him a month to gather the courage to message her. The note he sent was open-ended: “If you ever make it back to the Southwest, it would be great to grab a drink sometime.” Her response read: “I’m living in Telluride. I’ll be observing the winter solstice sunrise at Chaco Canyon north of Gallup. That’s probably about halfway between here and Phoenix if you want to meet up.” “Sounds great,” he replied, but much of it didn’t sound great. Carter assumed Violet was testing him. He had to get up early. He had to drive to a remote corner of New Mexico, alone, all the way from Phoenix. The park website projected below-freezing temperatures. It instructed him to reserve a spot, which meant there would be a crowd. Solstice sunrises at ancestral Puebloan sites must attract New Agers, hippies, hipsters, and RV dwellers. “You have the narrowest definition of fun and a broad set of spoilers,” Violet had told him during their final months together. Yet, there he was in Chaco Canyon. Where was she? Two silhouettes surveyed the gathering from above in the canyon rim. Was Violet up there? It would be like her to break away from the pack, but she would miss the moment of solar alignment. He imagined reflecting the sun off the slice of meteorite, sending it to her. He had watched videos of heliography, of people using mirrors on tripods to flash coded messages to distant observation points. If Violet was up above, what would Carter’s heliograph say? Could light transmit the memory of the time she took him to the hidden emerald pools by Boulder Lake, how they scrambled over huge rocks up the wash to the slot canyon there? Carter was a foot taller, stepped from rock to

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rock while Violet hopped the crevasses between. She called him a secretary bird, touched his long nose and prominent Adam’s apple. Could light send the stories she read him, always quirky or challenging or just a little dark? Violet read in character, howling the dead lover’s woes in Bierce’s “The Moonlit Road.” She coaxed the right melancholy from Ballard’s The Terminal Beach. What had he read since she left? Dune, Lovecraft, and Philip K. Dick. He tried to find Violet’s cadence, but maybe he wasn’t reading the right things. Could light conjure the music festival in Bisbee when he met her longtime friends, bikers, and yoga hippies, who casually dropped hints at wild times and people Carter didn’t share? He was jealous and he went and wandered the haunted halls of the Copper Queen Hotel, perseverating; they think I’m a fling, too young, naïve, ridiculous. “From stories told in Native American cultures that came after the Anasazi,” the ranger continued, “some scholars believe the Chacoans spent the night before the winter solstice in prayer and ritual, adding their spiritual strength to the forces of light that almost succumb to the dark on the year’s shortest day.” Carter wondered if the Chacoans ever skipped the ritual, like everyone had the flu or something, and maybe they noticed that the sun arrived without their help. Violet would scold him for saying that, accuse him of trying to extinguish magic. The sun hadn’t emerged from the solstice notch yet, but it was bright enough for him to see red noses and flushed cheeks as he roved through the group. Some people caught him looking at them. Carter smiled, something he learned from Violet, and people smiled back. Some said “Good morning.” Where was she? Was she still in Telluride, confiding to whoever she was with about the man who used to love her, who still loved her enough to arrive at Chaco Canyon before sunrise? Was she broken down somewhere on the prairie, on the Indian Access Route that lead to the ruins? Did she oversleep? Was she sick, hurt? Did she have second thoughts about seeing him? Tell herself she just couldn’t do it? Regret missing the solstice, regret inviting him and spoiling it for herself? Did she turn around on the dark dirt access road, frost glittering in her headlights like the inside of Carter’s meteorite? He investigated face after face until he paused near a couple about his own age. The man was thin and angular. He wore a Boston Red Sox cap. The woman rubbed her gloved hands on her pink cheeks. She had very big, blue eyes. “Two minutes,” the man checked his cell phone and told the woman. “Two minutes,” he repeated to Carter. It took Carter a moment to realize he was being spoken to before he said, “Thanks.” “How’d you find out about this sunrise thing?” the man asked him. He had the accent and self-assuredness of a New Englander. “I was supposed to meet a friend here. She told me about it. How about you guys?” Carter felt relieved to speak to someone. He had been alone in the car and the hotel for over a day. “My wife saw it on Facebook.” “Instagram,” she corrected him.

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F I C T I O N “The friend you were trying to meet ain’t here?” the New Englander asked. “Naw. I really searched.” “Bummer. Her loss.” “You haven’t heard from her this morning?” the woman asked. “Maybe she got turned around or something.” “No, but I don’t have signal here,” Carter patted his phone in his pocket. “I texted with her last night. She said she’d be here.” “We don’t have signal either,” the woman agreed. “Here we go!” the ranger cheered as he turned to the cliff. All faces lifted upward, some peering through cell phone screens. Carter went back to the time he and Violet watched a solar eclipse, the way she gripped his hand, her tiny fingerbones tight between his as the world went dark. Now, he stood alone—or not really alone, but with strangers—his hands shielding his eyes as sunrays gathered in the distant notch atop the towering canyon wall. He wondered if the people who lived in Kin Kletso put on furs and skins and stood right here and gave thanks their prayers had been answered. Light burst through the crack in the canyontop, flooded the valley, flowed through the empty rooms and hollow kivas of Kin Kletso. Carter blinked, turned to see the ruin’s jagged walls flush. He tried to remember what it felt like to have Violet’s body next to him, imagined they stood side by side like the New Englander and his wife. He felt the meteorite in his pocket. When he faced the sun again, it rested atop the cliff, the calendar cleft lost in brilliance. The awed pilgrims salvaged the scene on cameras and phones. Together they observed the Chacoans’ design, the enduring angle of the house that told when it was the shortest day of the year. “A heliograph to Kin Kletso,” Carter thought as he touched a cold cornerstone. He looked away from the sun, into the ruin. Windows and fallen walls allowed light to cut the shadows. He envisioned someone moving through the tall dry grass within, through the dusty doorways, but he blinked and realized it was only the image of the sun burned into his retinas. He worried about Violet again for a moment, but then allowed himself to be thankful that she had brought him to Chaco Canyon. Carter had spent the sunrise with the Violet who carved out parts of her life for him, the woman who was with him when he found the meteorite. The new Violet from Telluride hadn’t arrived, but who was she? Morning birds transitioned from chirps to songs.

Eric Aldrich lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he teaches writing and literature at Pima Community College. You can find his most recent fiction in Manifest West, The Worcester Review, and Hobart. He reviews books for Heavy Feather Review, Full Stop, Terrain.org, and Rain Taxi Review of Books. Follow @ericjamesaldrich on Instagram for new reviews, sunsets, and coyotes.

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F I C T I O N

G.D. McFetridge

The Ascent of Mount Borah

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rom the pine forest at four thousand feet to the highest snowcapped peak rising almost thirteen thousand, it was a long ascent. Shortly before sunrise distant clouds blazed in shades of amber and rose, and the snow-dappled meadow was beginning to green with spring grasses and a few leafy plants. I tidied my camper van and prepared my climbing gear, taking a last look at the guidebook G.D. McFetridge showing the two main routes to the mountaintop. My brother Nicholas, three years my junior, was a skilled mountaineer and rock climber, just turned twenty-seven, and he was the kind of person who never waited for life to come at him but always went rushing after it headlong. We had planned to meet the previous day, but he had been delayed by a broken fan belt. “Don’t worry,” he’d assured me on the cell phone. “I’ll catch up before you know it.” I admired Nick and sometimes wished I was more like him. I think my older brother, Jonathan, did too, although he never would have admitted it. The truth is, neither Jonathan nor I ever matched Nick’s unbridled energy, his self-abandon, his bravado and frenetic enthusiasm for life. Eventually my brothers were set apart by their differences, and Jonathan had stopped climbing with us two years ago. There were advantages to climbing as a threesome: as a team we understood how to face a mountain on its own terms, how to gather our resources when circumstances seemed threatening or desperate. A dangerous climb tests the core of one’s being, and sometimes includes uninvited self-discoveries. Some are transformational—the power of courage in the face of potential death, or the bonds of trust when one depends upon another for survival. Grandfather, on our dad’s side, was a world-class mountaineer in his day and had left his mark on the sport at the age of thirty-three, having climbed Mount Everest. Nick often joked that we still had plenty of time to equal his lofty accomplishment. By noon I had reached the fork in the trail and stood beneath a gnarled old pine that looked as if it had been struck by lightning. I took a moment to study the unsettled weather clouding the northwestern sky; if a storm hit tomorrow, the final leg of the ascent would be more risky. Nick had promised to catch up but I had an odd feeling he might not make


F I C T I O N it this time. And I don’t know why, except his tone had seemed distracted, as if he was mulling over an impending ordeal. Though it’s hard to imagine what that might have been. No sooner had I sat down to rest on a flat boulder I noticed Nick flying up the trail. He enjoyed a light, almost gravity-free gait that made you think the heavy pack he carried was filled with helium. When he spotted me, he cried out exuberantly, “Hey, Charlie, what are you doing? Taking a nap?” It was a dumb comment but he delivered his little inanities with such perfect timing and silliness that I always laughed, had to laugh, because this was Nick—Nicky, my little brother. He’d spent his young life as the best-looking kid in the classroom, the high-school quarterback and shortstop the cheerleaders whispered about. Everyone said what a charming manner he had; everywhere he was selected, promoted, liked, and envied. He was a person for whom life was the perfect occupation. Confidence and enthusiasm radiated off of him like a golden light, and perhaps that’s why Jonathan came to resent him. Jonathan was the other way around, shy, introverted, and never popular. I was somewhere in the middle. After eating a PowerBar, Nick explained that we could take a shortcut up the rugged and heavily snowbound southwestern ridge. I knew about the trail although the climbing guidebooks discouraged taking it because of potentially unstable snow packs. Nick gave me one of his looks when I cautioned him about the advisories. “Come on, what’s the matter with you? Those wimpy-ass books are for lightweights and weekenders. We’re big-time mountaineers, buddy. Let’s get going before the lightning starts cracking!” It made me uncomfortable when my brother called me “buddy,” and not because it was a dismissal or clichéd expression. It was his way of keeping me enrolled in his program, surrounding everything in a casual atmosphere that didn’t necessarily represent the true situation. I asked if he could freeclimb the chimney we’d have to ascend in order to take the shorter route. He gave me a forbearing look. “Charlie, Charlie . . . you know there’s never been a rock I couldn’t climb if I put my mind to it.” I started to say something but he wasn’t finished. “It’s only a fifty-footer, and from what I’ve heard there’s enough leftover pitons to qualify as a ladder. Really, Chuck-O, it’s going to be a cakewalk.” His eyes shone with the light of his own self-belief. I swallowed my apprehensions and capitulated. By late afternoon we had arrived at a level area between two small gorges, which was enclosed by steep rock and not much larger than the end zone of a football field. “Let’s make camp,” Nick said. “We’ll start tomorrow at four and be through the chimney by breakfast. Then it’s another thousand feet and we’ll be on top of the world!” I was hungry and tired and in no mood to argue. He dropped his backpack on a slab of rock. I walked around searching for a good spot to pitch tents, but the snow was thicker and I was beginning to accept that I would be sleeping on a frozen bed. Then I heard Nick calling. He’d circled around to an escarpment jutting over a ledge. The ground was reasonably flat and free of snow. 114

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Before twilight enveloped the mountain, fading sunlight silvery and ethereal on the highest snowcaps, I took a last long look through my mini binoculars at the steep snowfield stretching between the chimney and the final ascent. A chill shivered down my back. The endless reaches of blinding white, the steep jags and angular rocks seemed like unconquerable immensities. The snow was deep, too deep, and aside from the difficulty of traversing the long plunging slope, the possibility of avalanches remained a factor. Nick futzed with the fire he was constructing. I mentioned my apprehensions. He looked up, eyes reflecting the little flames sprouting from the thatch of twigs. “Don’t crap out on me, Charlie. You can’t play scared money, not out here. You’re getting more like Jonathan every day.” I didn’t appreciate his remark but I didn’t know what to say. Maybe he was right. That was the difference between us. Nick never felt fear, never doubted his abilities. Before I drifted off to sleep that night, I remembered when we were kids and our parents had taken us to the beach for a cookout. The cliffs abutting the shoreline were thirty or forty feet high and made of weathered sandstone. Jonathan and our parents were roasting marshmallows, and Nicky and I had decided to climb the cliffs—or actually he decided and I went along to keep an eye on him. I was fourteen, he was eleven. At first it was easy. People had worn paths across the eroded slopes of the lower cliffs, but as we continued, the paths vanished and the light of the campfire faded. Suddenly I realized we’d reached a point where a serious slip could be fatal. We were thirty-five feet up on decaying sandstone, on a slope so steep it would be impossible to keep from sliding over the high drop-off if either of us lost his footing. This realization froze me in my tracks, my fingers grasping at whatever small holds I could find. I heard Nicky asking why I’d stopped. “Go back, Nicky,” I said. “It’s too dangerous.” The next thing I knew he’d scrambled around me and nimbly made his way across a narrow shelf that only a mountain goat would have tried. He reached a small dome of sandstone and sat down on his haunches and looked at me. Moonlight made contours and high spots more visible, but it also made the plunging darkness of the drop-off appear like a bottomless void. I was petrified, afraid to turn around. My foothold on the loose sandstone was tenuous and I wanted to cry out for my father to save me. Everything was dark and empty with only the sounds of waves washing across the sandy beach. Nick was watching me. “Come on, Charlie. From here the trail goes up, not so steep. It’ll be easy as pie.” I looked ahead at the narrow stretch of sandstone across which he had just scrambled. My God, I thought, I’m dead. Either that or I’m humiliated . . . but humiliation’s better than death, I reasoned. “Watch!” Nicky called out. In a flash he was at my side. “See? It’s easy.”

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F I C T I O N Then he scurried back to the dome and disappeared up and over the top. I nudged myself closer to the ledge and closed my eyes, hating myself for getting into such an impossible position. From the darkness above I heard Nicky. “Remember what Grandpa used to say, ‘When you get to the top of the mountain, keep climbing.’” When I didn’t answer he added, “Do you want me to get Dad?” In a moment that I supposed defined my future as a mountaineer and rock climber, I bit my lower lip until the pain blotted out everything. Death had to be the lesser of evils and I lunged across the narrow passage, flopping on my belly and hugging the little dome. Once I realized that I wasn’t sliding to my death, I spit sand out of my mouth and crawled on my hands and knees to deliverance. Nick was waiting. “See? It was easy . . . just like I said.” Shortly after dawn we’d already hiked another thousand feet. The high peaks were waking up from the starlit night, sharp and ice-carved, illuminated by the pale sunrise. As the sound of our footfalls crunched like faraway gunfire in the crusty snow, it seemed the world was something ungraspable, an image in a crystal ball; yet somehow the image wasn’t real, everything was dreamlike, a lucid ambiguity beyond my reach. Sunlight dispelled the last of the deep shadows and I recalled the most beautiful peak I’d ever seen. It was in the Andes and the mountain rose like a white tiger with faint stripes, sunwashed rills and shadowy crags. I wanted to share my unspooling reveries with Nick, but he just shook his head. “We’re over eleven thousand feet. I think you’re getting lightheaded and having your goofy raptures again,” he said and laughed a big belly laugh. By ten o’clock we were looking up a narrow shaft between solid rocks into a narrow rectangle of bright sky. Nick unloaded his backpack and silently eyed the fifty-foot chimney. I munched on a granola bar. From the ocean of clouds gathering below us, an inky puff broke free and passed overhead, dropping a frantic shower of hail. The pea-sized ice came down the chimney and scattered like a handful of frosted diamonds on the ground. “Not a good omen,” I said. Nick threw a coil of rope over his shoulder and gazed up the chimney. The cloud passed as quickly as it had arrived and the rectangle at the chimney’s top was awash in blue. He reached for a handhold and grabbed a small protrusion, feet set, leaning between the walls, and then glanced down at me. “It looks like some purist geek cleaned out all the old pitons. The only one I see is about twenty feet up. Once I get there I’ll drop a line and you can belay me until I make it to the top—not that I’ll need it,” he said with a big smart-alecky grin. I nodded and watched as he deftly maneuvered from hold to hold. As the split widened, he braced himself in a shoulder-leg move, his hand reaching for a narrow diagonal seam. I held my breath. A mistake could be serious, even deadly. I saw his hand slip into a crack, his arm rotating slightly. He’d balled up his fingers and turned his fist like a locking mechanism, in a spot where the crack widened behind the narrow opening. Then he grunted pain-

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fully as his weight pulled against his forearm and hand, but before I realized what had happened, a leg came round beneath his chest and in a combination of holds and moves he pushed off and reached up, hooking a carabiner to the piton. Grasping the metal loop he made two more quick moves with his feet against the other wall, blocked himself side-to-side, and then with his free hand stabbed the rope through the carabiner. A moment later, in a blur of poetic motion, he’d suspended himself by a loop, his legs dangling as if from a playground swing. Within ten minutes he’d almost reached the top, and in another of his amazing moves, he thrust his arms out in an iron cross; then, his weight shifting side-to-side, I watched as he braced a foot and pushed skyward, his muscular body disappearing into the bright light. His face, a small dark oval framed by blue sky, looked down the chimney and he hollered, “Okay, Charlie, tie off and get your ass up here. The clouds are rising fast.” I wanted to free-climb but because I hadn’t worked out enough the previous couple of weeks, my arms were feeling rubbery. I tried two basic maneuvers to make the transition from the narrow gap in the rock to the wider part, yet each time my grip betrayed me. I cursed under my breath and went for another move; this time I lost it completely and fell several feet before the rope caught me. Nick hollered, “I’ll pull you, Charlie. Just do a sideways crab-walk after you get to the piton. Don’t try anything fancy, we don’t have enough time.” Eventually my head popped above the split and I pulled myself onto the smooth, rounded top of the huge escarpment. Nick’s eyes were alive with the color of the sky and he grinned again, the same acknowledging face I’d seen a hundred times. It wasn’t that he reveled in my inabilities; quite the contrary, it was that he often seemed the patient father, the supportive coach; this my younger brother of three years. It was the same thing that had driven Jonathan away, driven him to a strategy of non-participation. He couldn’t bring himself to terms with the disparity of what he called “God’s gifts.” Nicky had been given everything. I never thought about it like that, in large part because unlike Jonathan I wasn’t particularly religious, but nevertheless I understood. Nick slapped me on the back and pointed. “Those clouds are moving up the mountain pretty fast. We need to cross the snowfield and get up the final ascent.” I caught my breath and took a moment to make my own assessment. The clouds were dark and undeniably rising in elevation, and the air had an odd electrical feeling. “They look like they might be building a static charge,” I advised. Nick canted his head. “You know, Charlie, we could just blow it off and head down. It wouldn’t really matter that much to me . . . one way or the other. We climbed the chimney, the hardest part.” I knew this was for my benefit and it made me furious. It was like the night at the beach when he asked me if I wanted him to go get Dad. Nick

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F I C T I O N knew how to get under my skin. I gave him a hard look. “What the hell are you waiting for?” and I started down the rocky incline to the snowfield. The elongated wall of deep snow and ice looked like a miniature glacier, at least five hundred yards across, rising in elevation only a couple hundred feet but becoming steeper and dropping off radically after the midpoint. Depending on conditions, it was possible we’d have to chip footholds the last hundred yards with ice axes; a slip could result in a semi-freefall down a half-mile of ice-crusted snow. These sorts of accidents are not necessarily fatal but they thrash bodies severely and can break arms or legs, tear tendons and dislocate joints. Not to mention a chance of disappearing into a loosely packed drift or crevasse. Once the snow became steeper and the drop-off more abrupt, we tied together on a safety line. Nick, as always, led the way, leaving wide footprints for me to follow. The strategy was—if Nick lost footing and began sliding— for me to jam my spiked crampons in and lean toward the slope, driving my axe handle in the snow and gripping with both hands; the theory being that between the foothold, my weight, and the ice axe as a handhold, I’d be able to stop Nick’s descent. The tricky part was that I had to execute the maneuver in a matter of seconds. With a little less than a couple hundred feet to go, Nick stopped and looked over his shoulder. I kept my eyes fixed on him. “Charlie, it’s getting really icy,” he yelled above the cold, growing wind. The sun was directly overhead and the churning sea of clouds now less than a thousand feet below. “I gotta cut steps until I get to that stand of rock,” he added, pointing with a gloved finger. “But after that it’ll be a cinch. The snow levels off beyond the big outcropping.” I signaled my acknowledgement and watched as he flailed away with the sharp axe. Particles of ice flew up around him, making crystal-bright halos in the sunlight, and in less than a half-hour he was fifty feet from the outcropping. I couldn’t take my eyes off Nick, not only because I had to be ready if he slipped, but also because I didn’t want to look over the edge into the roiling clouds. I was scared. I’d lost my nerve or maybe never really had it; perhaps I had always depended on my little brother as the source of my courage. As I wallowed in my foolish drama, Nick’s footing shifted. Without any provocation a section of snow pack suddenly gave way. I was so intent on watching him, I’d neglected to notice the slack and before I could react the rope jerked violently. I leaned into the slope but it was too late, and as I started sliding I tried to gain a hold with my axe. The blade plowed through the shattering ice-crust for what seemed like forever. I heard myself involuntarily screaming until the axe suddenly caught on something solid. The blade had struck the submerged tip of a boulder or large rock, and now Nick was dangling on the near-vertical face by the safety line, ten yards below me. I didn’t move, didn’t dare risk the threadbare hold sustaining our lives. Woven into the wind’s icy wail, I thought I heard Nick. I craned my neck and hollered but my words were swept away like a fading echo over the

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frozen snowfield. I listened. Nothing. The rope’s tension remained steady, pulling toward the sheer drop. I was pretty sure I heard him yell, “Charlie, I have a foothold . . .” But what he said after that was lost in a gust of wind. Then the rope went slack and I figured he’d managed to get his feet on something. Now I had to secure myself and prepare to pull him back. We would use line signals. Nick would wait until I tightened the slack and gave a single tug. This meant I had established footing and he should signal back with one tug and begin climbing. Two tugs meant I needed more time G.D. McFetridge and he should stay put. If he countered with three tugs his situation was hopeless and I should go for help. I needed to dig a place to plant my feet. I repeatedly stamped my crampons into the crusty snow, one foot at a time, until I felt secure; then, belly down, I pounded away at the ice, and within a few minutes—my breath frozen to my beard—I’d exposed a point jutting up from a small boulder, perhaps an extension of the same backbone of jagged rock Nick had almost reached before the fall. The point of rock had a concave backside, where the rope could grip, and to one side a rounded base wide enough for at least one of my feet. I hitched a loop around the rock and brought in slack, and then I gave the one-tug signal. I waited, my hands trembling to feel Nick’s reply. The tension remained steady yet there was no return tug. The storm was so close that wisps of fog rushed up the broad snowfield, flying past like ghostly spirits fleeing to a safer place. I gave another hard tug. “Please, Nicky,” I whispered. I felt a tug. But before I could cry out with joy, another tug was followed by yet another. I tugged again, hard, one tug. Three quick tugs replied and the line went slack. He’s cut loose, I thought. I pulled frantically at the rope, throwing loops behind me until the frayed end came dragging up the snow. Now it was a matter of survival, the bonds of one brother to another, the choice to fight or surrender. Why had Nick cut loose? Was he badly hurt? Caught in a crevice with a broken leg? The unstable weather was moving up the mountain and the nighttime temperature would probably plummet below zero. Not only was I faced with Nick’s potential death, I was facing my own, and with less than six hours of daylight, I needed to get down the chimney and back to my sleeping bag and tent. Help for Nick was a moot point, because even if I made it down the mountain at a record pace, no emergency team could reach him before he froze to death.

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F I C T I O N I stared into the vast emptiness beyond the snowfield’s falling edge. I was furious with Nick, furious with myself. How had I let him lead us into this deathtrap? He had promised we would make Borah’s peak by two or three o’clock. “It’s a full moon,” he had explained. “Even if we get held up we’ll still be able to descend. I can see in the dark like a cat.” But this time Nick wasn’t there to prod me ahead, wasn’t there to say, “Should I go and get Dad?” I breathed the cold air. I looked up at the darkening sky, pounding my fists against my chest like an ape trying to gather courage to face a larger rival. “Nicky!” Roiling clouds were consuming the mountain ten fathoms at a thrust. I had to make a decision. I had to act one way or the other, but I couldn’t and bit my lip until I tasted blood. “Damn you, you hardheaded little bastard!” Only the cold wind answered, wailing like a lost child, and maybe that’s when it hit me, like when the hammer strikes the iron anvil. Maybe for the first time in my life I realized the difference between us. Nick wouldn’t leave me to die—he would sacrifice himself without a second thought. I checked the rope’s hold on the rock and stamped a boot into the snow to retest its firmness, and then prepared to repel, back stepping toward the drop-off. I leaned into the nylon rope and felt it stretch but didn’t dare look over my shoulder. Lingering at the edge, the wind blowing hard against my back, I couldn’t make myself take that last step. I wanted to surrender and dive to my death. I reached to release myself from the carabiner and heard a distant voice above the howling wind. I looked up hoping that providence had arrived to pluck me from the frozen earth. But then I heard the voice again, louder this time. I turned. Standing on the outcropping of rock in a halo of ice crystals, hands waving above his head, lighter than air and in all his golden glory . . . was my little brother Nick.

G.D. McFetridge continues writing from his wilderness home in Montana’s majestic Sapphire Mountains. His publications include The Tampa Review, El Portal, The Long Story, The Lost Country, The Lampeter Review, Confrontation, Foliate Oak, Weber, Cottonwood, Big Muddy, South Dakota Review, Louisiana Literature, The Antigonish Review, and Talking River.

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

POETRY AS RADICAL ACTIVISM—

A Conversation with CLAUDIA KEELAN

SUNNI BROWN WILKINSON & ABBY GAYLE MUSGROVE INTRODUCTION Claudia Keelan is a distinct voice in contemporary American poetry. She is the author of eight poetry collections, ranging from Refinery, published in 1994, to her latest, We Step Into the Sea: New and Selected

Poems, published in 2018. She has also collected and translated poems of medieval women troubadours called Truth of My Songs: Poems of the Trobairitz, which celebrates the passion, wit, strength, and


C O N V E R S A T I O N humanity of those forgotten female voices. Keelan values the authentic, responsible voice and celebrates in many of her poems the words of poets, thinkers, and activists she admires. A Barrick Distinguished Scholar at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Keelan directs the MFA program there. She is editor of the literary journal Interim as well as the University of Nevada Press’s Test Site Poet-

ry Series. Her work has received many honors, including the Beatrice Hawley Award, the Cleveland State University Poetry Prize, the University of Georgia Contemporary Poetry Series Award, and the Jerome J. Shestack Award from the American Poetry Review. She lives in the Mojave Desert with her husband, poet Donald Revell, and their son and daughter.

CONVERSATION Sunni: We wanted to start by asking you about your process. You have eight collections of poetry to date, and they’ve each come out about three to five years apart, with your debut starting in 1994. We’re wondering how you stay consistent with your writing. What does your writing regimen look like? I don’t have a regimen. Writing is, and has always been, at the center of my life. I have two kids, and my kids are ten years apart, so I’m now in my second generation of raising a child. Lucie is fifteen and Ben is just about twenty-five—if I’d let interruptions disturb me, I’d never have written a word! Along with writing, I have always taught, and it’s through both writing and teaching that I continue to grow. I believe in enthusiasm and being moved, in the poem coming to me. I don’t mean to say that I go around in a constant state of heightened perception—I mean that I make time for poetry by sitting down and seeing what comes. In that sense, my regimen is a faithfulness to a process, and it doesn’t matter if what comes is in the car, in the backyard, on a walk, or in the middle of paying bills—if a poem makes an appearance, I stop what I’m doing and follow it. I went to Humboldt State as an undergraduate, and Jorie Graham was

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my teacher and the first woman I ever heard speak with such authenticity. She noticed my writing and said, “You’re really good at this. You should do this. What’s your major?” I said, “I’m a music major.” And she said, “You shouldn’t be a music major. You should be an English major.” I changed my major, and that was the beginning. I went from someone who was really confident on the clarinet and the piano, and I was a vocal jazz singer (I had a scholarship for vocal jazz), but I thought, “Who wants to scat for the rest of their life?” It wasn’t me! When I found poetry—my mother was an English major so I’d read poetry since I was a kid—I knew I could stay with it, and that I could become whoever I was meant to be through writing. After I got out of graduate school in Iowa, I went to Boston where I wrote my whole first book, Refinery, on the subway. I wrote in salt and pepper notebooks on the train, and I’d go into the library of the English department of wherever I was teaching—Boston College or Northeastern, etc.—and type it onto a computer, which I’d never used before then, and save it on a floppy disk, if you remember those! By the time I left Boston, I’d finished Refinery and started my second book, The Secularist. Wherever I’ve lived and worked, I’ve found a rhythm that works for writing,

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The poems that seem the truest are ones that found me, over and beyond my idea of wanting to write, or desire to make a well-made object. Poems teach me how to see, to be. and for me a book of poems takes three years. The longer period between the publication of The Devotion Field and Missing Her (which was finally published by New Issues) was due to the fact that Missing Her had a markedly different style than The Devotion Field, so it took publishers longer to bite. Things have sped up a bit lately. I published Truth of My Songs: Poems of the Trobairitz in 2014, O, Heart in 2015, and in 2018 I brought out a book of essays, Ecstatic Émigré: An Ethics of Practice in the Poets on Poetry series, and my selected poems We Step into the Sea. Ultimately, writing is the activity that makes it possible to be who I am. It makes me able to keep trying to be a good parent, a good friend, a good teacher, a faculty senator, an editor of Interim and The Test Site Poetry Series. Poetry helped me take care of my mother in her dementia for ten years before she died. If I didn’t have poetry, I couldn’t have done it.

Abby: How much revision do you do? Is anything ever finished for you, and what does that look like? I’ve never been much of a reviser. The most revision I’ve ever done was with my book of essays, which wasn’t really even revision, it was just adding: adding notes, adding a bibliography, adding the kinds of textual things that were needed. With the translations, I wrote a long introduction to the book, which was a historical summary, and that evolved quite a bit. The more deeply I researched the period, the more I realized that the sixteen young women who were the trobairitz were

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the first women in Europe to produce an oeuvre. Prose tends to take more time, as I write quickly and don’t stop as I write to fix grammar or punctuation until I’ve finished the piece. I need other eyes on prose, and Donald is my first reader, and quite a good one. Poetry is different. I write it when I’m ready to write it, and since my Selected Poems came out, I haven’t written many poems. I wait to hear them, and some are a bit more silent than others. The poems that seem the truest are ones that found me, over and beyond my idea of wanting to write, or desire to make a well-made object. Poems teach me how to see, to be. I describe my process and method by comparing the concept of the poem central to the Troubadour tradition to that of the Greek idea of poesis, which translates into the idea of the “well-wrought urn” in English. Poesis is a concept involved in the craft, the making of a poem, which is involved with authorial intention and adherence to a priori, or already made, forms. The troubadours’ poetry was the first instance of poetry that was written in the vernacular, in the language of their country, which was Occitanian. They all knew Latin if they’d gone to school, but they didn’t write in it. So they wrote in their own language, and they developed a method called trobar, which means to find. They would duel, essentially, with each other, to see who would start the poem, which was often a tenso, a poem in two voices. Their poetics were after the nature of Being and was an improvisational method. I share that pursuit of Being in my poetic process. Montaigne as an essayist was also such a

I describe my process and method by comparing the concept of the poem central to the Troubadour tradition to that of the Greek idea of poesis, which translates into the idea of the “well-wrought urn” in English.

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seeker. He was in search of his subject as he was writing it. When I was younger, I thought I had to start with an idea to write, but then found that the ideas I began got lost, or were less important, to what I found when I wrote.

Sunni: Exactly. Consciousness is alive, as is language. It’s alive and it evolves—and also devolves in certain periods of civilization. Believing in the process of finding, above all, makes me attentive to what is in the present. My father used to always ask me when he was alive (he was very nostalgic, as our culture is in general), “What kind of music was really popular in your heyday?” And I’d say, “I’m still waiting for my heyday. What do you mean?” I still feel that way. I don’t feel that there was a period of my life that was glorious, and I want to go back to that, as if life was like an oldies station on the radio where you can slip back to the past. There have been good and bad in all periods of my life, mostly good because I will it to be so. I want to be happy. I want to love. I want to give that model of can do. I’m really American in that way. Poetry is as much about celebration as it is about grieving constantly. People talk a lot about loss, but I think that what is gone doesn’t want you to miss it. I notice, especially in really young people, the kind of damage that occurs when you accept a reading that someone else gave you—your parents, church, state, politics, all the demographics of socialized life that are there to define you—that it becomes impossible to even get close to what you actually feel because you’ve been defined in advance. The act of being a poet, in my perspective, and in the poets I love—in Keats, Blake, Whitman, Williams, Gertrude Stein, etc., anyone who’s engaged in the process of actual time—is to be awake in the moment, so that you actually feel your own agency. Time is real. As you are engaged in the present, you can feel it passing, while at the same time you are able to imagine a future.

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Understanding time as a continuity is central, which is a religious task. It’s in Buddhism, it’s in Christianity, it’s in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s in almost every book I love. It says, look forward, don’t look backward. Nostalgia is looking backward for home. Home is where you are. Begin there. As Robert Creeley wrote: Here Is where There is

Sunni: I feel like Thoreau hits on that too, right? He says, “I don’t know that I’ve ever met a man who was fully awake.” But to be awake. Yes! In “Walking”?

Sunni: I don’t remember which chapter, but it’s in Walden. You seem to have a very organic sense of poetry. You value authenticity. I value Thoreau especially. I think Thoreau is our great poet. I loved Whitman, I’ve always loved Whitman, but Whitman’s ideology thwarts him in his older age. “Song of Myself” is a beautiful poem, where he sees the connection between human behavior and natural process, that lichen is sister to the wall on which it grows, that flocks and herds follow together, that the moss grows as companion on the trees. Early on, he understands the organic and natural order of the world, and he’s praising it, seeing the god in all things, as all good pantheists do. Even then, however, he mistakes the natural order he sees as connected to the idea of the Union for which Lincoln fought the Civil War. In his later poems, especially “Song of the Redwood Tree,” he adheres to a Christian naturalist doctrine that holds that the earth is put here for human use. He becomes disconnected from the natural world, putting the human above all, and describes the redwood trees as almost happily throwing themselves under the saw for democracy and the modern, as all of the dryads are running away from them. He saw

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The act of being a poet, in my perspective, and in the poets I love—in Keats, Blake, Whitman, Williams, Gertrude Stein, etc., anyone who’s engaged in the process of actual time—is to be awake in the moment, so that you actually feel your own agency. Time is real. As you are engaged in the present, you can feel it passing, while at the same time you are able to imagine a future. Understanding time as a continuity is central, which is a religious task. It’s in Buddhism, it’s in Christianity, it’s in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s in almost every book I love. It says, look forward, don’t look backward. Nostalgia is looking backward for home. Home is where you are. Begin there. that the natural order and the human order were part and parcel, but somehow, he forgot. Thoreau didn’t. Thoreau climbs Mt. Katahdin, and he says he makes contact with something that doesn’t want him, and he understands that. He understands the limitation of his humanism. I think that this is an issue that the liberal arts haven’t fully addressed yet, i.e., that essentially the history of literature is the history of humanism. Of course, there is environmental literature, and ecopoetics, which I teach, though I think it is overshadowed by the central humanism of the Western tradition. Any doctrine that upholds a solely humanist agenda is only partial. The purest poetry understands really how limited humanity is and looks outward to see that the world is alive, and that we’re just a part of it.

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Just think about what the world would be like if we’d actually used some of the beliefs of Native Americans to build our civilization. I recently reread Zitkala-Sa’s beautiful “Why I Am a Pagan,” which was written when she’d been taken from her tribe and put into an Indian school where they changed her name to Gertrude. She calls the school’s daily schedule an “iron chain” and sees the white man’s world as a world of machines. Her immersion into the white world reaffirms her paganism, her belief that everything in nature is alive. We need mythology. We need an American mythology that’s not about religion but about nature — such as Thoreau gave us, Muir gave us, Native Americans gave us.

Sunni: I agree that we would have a very different ideology as a nation. The cars! My goodness, the cars of Utah.

Sunni: Oh yes, giant trucks. Giant trucks! I have the strange fate to live in Las Vegas, which is the West on steroids. It’s ironic that the idea of Manifest Destiny—the idea that “our” sovereign right as AngloChristians was ordained by God—convinced the government that they could seize the land of the “pagan” Native Americans and give it to white settlers, kill the buffalo, and run a locomotive right through the middle of it. It’s not a big leap to see how we would develop into a gas-guzzling, combustion-engine machine that would kill the beauty of what we claimed as ours. I’ve written a lot about that.

Abby: Much of your poetry deals with social justice and violence. Your new collections include several eulogies, one titled “Bright Eulogy, Ferguson.” Your book O Heart focuses on the disempowerment of women, with one section of a poem reading simply, “the woman is not a ruin.” What do you make of Black Lives Matter and the Me Too movements, and what role does poetry play in responding to social justice?

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Poetry, as I see it, must be a form of activism. We live in a society that has never recovered from the Civil War, and we are paying the price for our failure to absorb the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement. I was five when the Civil Rights Acts passed in 1964. My parents were social activists, and we marched in Civil Rights parades. We lived in Oklahoma, and my father was a public defender who spent his time defending mostly people of color who populated the county jails, while my mother taught novices in a convent. In 1964, we marched in a parade in Tulsa, and I remember my father holding my hand and saying “truth wins,” while guys with crew cuts and baseball bats shouted obscenities at us from the sidewalk. He really said “truth wins,” over and over, and we got out of there intact somehow. The Black Lives Matter movement is a beacon of hope and resistance, and of teaching. I’ve been amazed by the calm demeanor of the young activists talking to largely white crowds. The Me Too movement is necessary, I know, but harder as of this moment, to suss its direction. I marched in the Women’s March in D.C. when Trump was elected, and there was such a feeling of solidarity and importance that isn’t as alive now. Often, it seems that the news of Me Too has become another meme, as all the stories share a narrative. I’m cautiously hopeful that the ERA will be wholly ratified, which needs to happen for the conversation to broaden.

Abby: Social justice is a huge thing for anybody my age that’s paying attention. I mean social justice, but also when we talk about class and accessibility to education and health care, and literally any needs. Absolutely. And you’re looking at other generations and asking, “What did they take from us? What did this way of living take?” I’ve looked at it with my parents.

Abby: Where did it go?

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Yes, where did it go? Everybody was upholding an idea of success that involved material success, but material success isn’t the answer, and the fact is, not everybody can have it. We pretend that the American Dream is available to everyone, but it’s not. One billionaire makes sure of that. What our society is suffering now is a result of the lie of Manifest Destiny.

Abby: Rather than a path of destruction. Right. I’m sorry. We always try to control our carbon footprint, but really, living in a modern “First” world, the way that we live, everything is part of destruction. When you go to France and you get wine, you go to a co-op that has a barrel, and you fill up a bottle and use that bottle the whole time.

Sunni: There’s a deeper sense of responsibility in some cultures. The more I realize how the American way of life is destroying the environment, the greater control I want to assert over things like plastics and the microfibers that our clothes put into the ocean if they’re not organic, if they’re not cotton or linen. Just recently people have been doing all these studies on that, and so I’m being proactive. I know that even if I have polyester clothes or acrylic clothes, I can put a filter on my washing machine that will keep these particles out of the water system. That’s cool. I know that having “control” goes only so far, and the best way to control output is to consume less. Of everything.

Sunni: I want to ask you about influential poets. There are beautiful sections, one part in particular in We Step into the Sea, where you list Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy, Adrienne Rich, Brenda Hillman, Alice Notley. There’s a sisterhood there. What about these women’s voices light you up? What is it that you’re drawn to in these particular female voices? Because they are so present in your work.

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Each of them is important in entirely different ways. Gertrude Stein taught us, like many of the moderns, that time is real and that our poetry should be as present as possible. The modernist writers truly wanted to make a living tradition, and I believe they did. Stein did it through manipulating grammar, by often writing in the continuous present, which she does in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and her essay Composition as Explanation. She first delivered it as a lecture to a room full of men at Oxford. The essay’s “theme” is that every time has its own way of doing things, and that modern writers and painters, such as herself and Picasso, are looking at different things than their precursors, and so must find methods of writing, and of painting, to demonstrate the way in which they see. She explores the idea that no generation is ahead of its time, it’s just that everybody is looking at something different at a different time. The modern writer, in her view, had to be looking at what is in the present and create a natural phenomenon of grammar, and that grammar has to be as natural a phenomenon as wind is. Wind is never the same. Wind acts differently. It has different patterns. And it follows its route. Alice Notley is a visionary poet who looks at women’s history really beautifully and importantly in different frameworks. Her stated attempt is to resurrect women’s history and rewrite it. Descent of Alette is amazing. The poem takes place on different cars in the NYC subway, and it’s all written—all the lines are written—in quotes, as if they’re overheard or somebody else’s, which creates a mesmerizing prosody. DOA is an epic poem with a female protagonist whose stated purpose is to re-member the first woman and vanquish the Tyrant, a milk man in a business suit who “owns everything.” The poem Desamere—the protagonist’s name is Des Amere—along with her reenactment of Dido and many others, creates a historical hagiography for women.

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Brenda Hillman has her hands on the ground, on the lichen. She went to Cuba with me, and she had a little microscope and was looking at the lichen on the trees and telling me what kind it was and what its purpose was. Her books on the elements are the best ecopoetic poems I’ve ever read, particularly Practical Water. I first read her books Bright Existence and Death Tractates in the late ’90s and wrote about them for Poetry Flash, and she wrote to thank me. I never had met her; I just reviewed her books, and then she became my really good friend. Adrienne Rich taught me a lot I didn’t know when I was ninteen. As did Audre Lorde. Audre Lorde is absolutely central, and she’s someone I came to about five years ago. Her poems on Emmett Till’s death are profound. Mina Loy is my favorite radical. Her greatest poem is out of print, which is a Jewish woman’s epic, “The Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose,” and the main characters are Exodus and Rose. Not many women poets have written epics, as it’s always been grounded in a male protagonist. I love Loy’s absolute mocking of the Italian Futurists and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who wrote “The Futurist Manifesto,” which argues that the modern is devoted to the machine and speed, and that women should be outlawed. Her early poems and “Feminist Manifesto” parodies his work and his style, and it’s so funny because she’s so much smarter than he is! She’s really the first woman poet I know who dismantles gender roles. Her life was tumultuous, and she lived between Europe and America, where she died. She’s a poet like Lorine Niedecker, who becomes increasingly poor in her lifetime. I love women poets who write toward women’s history, the reclamation of women’s stories, and women’s experience. The poems that move me most are line-driven, i.e., they use the line as a measure and words as notes. Narrative doesn’t interest me much, or the story per se.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N Sunni: I love that you touched on women poets and that rich heritage that I don’t think we’re as familiar with as we should be. I’m so grateful for women poets who celebrate other women poets. The last two issues of Interim are all women’s issues. The 2018 issue, the first one, was an anthology of Brenda Hillman’s poetry, Alice Notley’s poetry, and the poet Sasha Steensen’s essay “Shame.” A few subscribers adopted the

issue as a textbook. The 2019 issue features an interview with Marguerite Duras in 1975, which discusses feminism, to which five women writers respond, and the responses are fascinating. I’ve decided to do all women issues for five or six years. Our historical moment calls for it.

Sunni: Well, thank you so much. This was delightful. Abby: Yes, thank you.

Abby Gayle Musgrove is a senior at Weber State University studying English with a creative writing emphasis and a minor in neuroscience. She was born and raised in a small town outside of Prescott, Arizona; her love for natural phenomena in the desert wilderness helps fuel her passion for poetry and creative nonfiction. She enjoys engaging with literature that explores how humans interact with both wilderness and each other. She plans to pursue an M.F.A. or Ph.D. after graduation.

Sunni Brown Wilkinson’s poetry can be found in Crab Orchard Review, Adirondack Review, Sugar House Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and other journals and anthologies. She is the author of The Marriage of the Moon and the Field (Black Lawrence Press 2019) and winner of New Ohio Review’s inaugural NORward Poetry Prize. She teaches at Weber State University and lives in northern Utah with her husband and three young sons.

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

GRATITUDE, FEMINISM, AND THE LIMITS OF LANGUAGE AND THE (UN)KNOWN

A Conversation with ADA LIMÓN

COURTNEY CRAGGETT, SUNNI BROWN WILKINSON & LONDON BECK


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

INTRODUCTION My favorite poetry is poetry that embraces complexity rather than denies it, poetry that looks at life without flinching, at its sorrow and grief and loss, but also at its joy, at its gardens and horses and hopes, that says, “Life is hard, but I am still glad to be here.” Ada Limón’s poetry does just this. It makes my sorrows feel recognized and my grief less lonely, but most of all it makes me glad to be here, alive on this earth. Ada Limón is the author of five books of poetry. She is the winner of the National Books Critics Circle award and a finalist for the National Book Award and Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. She writes with vulnerability, compassion, and honesty about life’s

hardest moments, somehow without ending in despair. “Say tomorrow doesn’t come,” she writes in one of my favorite poems. “Say the moon becomes an icy pit./Say the sweet gum tree is petrified./...Say, That this would be/enough. Say you’d still want this: us alive,/right here, feeling lucky.” On a snowy day last October, I had the privilege of speaking with Ada about her latest work, alongside poets Sunni Brown Wilkinson and London Beck. We talked about gratitude, and we talked about hope, and we talked about how to acknowledge the terrors happening around us while still looking at the world with love. —Courtney Craggett

CONVERSATION London: One of my favorite questions to ask writers is: What poem ended up being your favorite to write, or which poem surprised you and became your favorite? That’s a great question, thank you. I feel like really it shifts for me all the time based on what poem I need at the time. There are days when I need a darker poem, or maybe on other days I need one with some sort of light in it. I like writing poems that surprise me. And you know, I’m fond of my love poems because I think they’re really hard to write. It’s hard to balance a poem that can be sentimental or verge on saccharine and then flip it and turn it into something that’s poignant and true and authentic. So, those are some of my favorites right now, but it really shifts depending on the day.

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Courtney: I love that you mentioned some days you need darkness and some days you need light because one of my favorite aspects of your poetry is how you balance darkness and light so well. How do you strike that balance? Sometimes I joke that if you’re with a group of teenagers and you say, “Okay, we’re going to write a poem,” I literally think their first thought is, “What’s the worst thing that ever happened to me? Because that will be the subject for my poem.” When did that happen? When did we all have to just write about the worst experience of our life? As much as I believe in writing about grief and trauma, I think it’s important to have something that can be healing. If we’re going to go into some of the darkest parts of our lives and things that haven’t been excavated yet, it’s

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As much as I believe in writing about grief and trauma, I think it’s important to have something that can be healing. If we’re going to go into some of the darkest parts of our lives and things that haven’t been excavated yet, it’s important to have the ladder with us when we go down. So, oftentimes I am looking for that ladder for myself so that I can feel better about even being in it.

important to have the ladder with us when we go down. So, oftentimes I am looking for that ladder for myself so that I can feel better about even being in it. I think I’m very aware of what it is to need the shadow to have the light and need the light to have the shadow.

Sunni: You cover a lot of ground in your work and spend a lot of time ruminating on the human condition, but place also seems to be there very frequently. I’m wondering what it was like for you to move from New York City, where you lived for 12 years, to now living in rural Kentucky. How did that change in your environment shift the way you write? Place has always been important to me. Right now, we’re surrounded by these incredible mountains that are turning with the fall colors, and you can feel them, their presence within this room. I don’t know how to not write about that presence of the earth. Even when I lived in New York City, my nature was the rat or the cockroach, but it was also the windowsill and the movement of people or trains. I think that it’s always been essential to my work, but I also think coming to a rural

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landscape after such an urban landscape was really wonderful. It also gave me more time. I had the luxury of being able to go for a walk and look around, whereas in New York I was, like, “I’m going to walk to the subway and go to work.” That was another kind of shift, so that the ruminations about place could go deeper, and perhaps I could linger a little bit in the wildness in a way that I wasn’t allowed to when I was working full-time to support myself in a city that demands busyness and attention.

London: I remember you saying that you studied theater, and I was wondering how that might have influenced your writing. My undergraduate degree is in theater from the University of Washington in Seattle; it was a great gift for me. One of the things you do as a theater major is read so many plays, so many monologues, and then you perform them. Theater is deep attention to language, how it sounds in the mouth, how it sounds in the ear, how it connects, what dialogue sounds like. Sometimes we don’t think about that. We think about the performance aspect, but so much of it is language. It was hugely essential, not just to the writing process, but also to the performing process, what it is to read a poem and to try to connect to an audience and to consider an audience on the page and on the stage.

Courtney: I am amazed by your endings in The Carrying and Bright Dead Things. I love how so many of your poems start with struggle and then end in a place of hope. Do you start your poems with an ending in mind? How do you know when you’ve reached the right end? I very rarely start with an ending. For the most part I’m trying to discover something, so the ending is somewhat of a surprise. I’m curious about trying to get away from what ending might be just satisfying versus what

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ending is truth. I think right now we all could write a sort of triumphant ending, and there’s a part of me that feels the need to do that sometimes. There’s a part of me that wants to be like Simone Biles and stick the landing again and again. But I don’t want the endings to be answers. I don’t want them to have any sort of false wisdom. I don’t want them to be, “Oh it’s bad but everything’s going to be okay.” Especially in The Carrying I was paying attention to how to switch up my endings. Those endings get really different, and when I read them out loud, people aren’t sure where they end. I kind of love that. I’m interested in the ways in which you can end a poem and try not to do the same thing over and over again. I’m aware of my predilection to kind of slam a door shut, or to leave singing, but what is it to end a poem in an unexpected way, not for the reader but for myself?

Sunni: You have talked about audience, maybe having different audiences for different poems, but you also said that a handful of poems in The Carrying were actually written directly to the poet Natalie Diaz, and that she responded with her own poems. What brought about that poetic correspondence? And how does having a specific poet friend in mind for an audience influence the way that you write? Those poems are really dear to my heart. Natalie kept saying she wanted to collaborate in some way. I was desperately scared she was going to make me draw or something because she’s very creative. So I thought, why don’t we write these letter poems? So I started the series. We really wanted the letters to be real correspondence, not just a performance correspondence, so we didn’t have any kind of other conversation about the work within the emails. We would call each other and text about other things, but the issues that were at play in the actual letters needed to be addressed and responded to within those letters. The other part of the correspondence

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We really wanted the letters to be real correspondence, not just a performance correspondence, so we didn’t have any kind of other conversation about the work within the emails. We would call each other and text about other things, but the issues that were at play in the actual letters needed to be addressed and responded to within those letters.

was: What does it mean to be a brown woman writing to another brown woman, and how does that shift the audience when you’re not thinking about a white reader, not thinking about someone who may not understand your life? I certainly don’t understand Natalie’s—she was raised on a reservation; we had very different childhoods and upbringing—but there are some understandings and truths that we hold dear. What does it mean to write to someone who you think might understand this versus someone who may never understand? That kind of intimacy and culpability was a new way of writing, I think, for both of us. It was really one of the great gifts of my creative life, and I hope it continues. She owes me a letter.

London: I’m an aspiring writer, and I want to get an MFA. I was wondering what advice you’d give to people like me who want to professionalize themselves? I think getting a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is a wonderful, enriching experience. I also don’t think it’s entirely necessary for everyone, although it was necessary for me. I think there are some people who can go into their rooms and sit and read and write and give themselves an MFA and come out just as strong of a writer as someone who goes through an

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MFA program. I wasn’t that person. I needed guidance. I needed instruction. I needed to be pushed. I was very comfortable with writing, and I needed to be stretched and pushed and also influenced by work that I didn’t like. I think that being forced to read things that I would not normally reach out to was important. It was necessary for me. I would not be the writer I am today without my MFA. That said, I think it’s really important to consider programs that have a lot of funding. I, to be brutally honest, still carry debt from my NYU days. It’s whittled down significantly and at some point the loans will be gone, but I don’t recommend going into deep debt over an MFA. I recommend considering programs that allow for full funding. I don’t think people talk about that enough. I think it’s important to talk about funding and not going broke following your dream.

Courtney: I’m impressed by how beautifully you walk the line between private and public life. You’re able to engage with the world but also find the space that you need to write. What does it mean for you to be a poet in the world today? What are some of the responsibilities and challenges? It’s only been the last four or five years where I’ve been much more in the public arena based on the success of Bright Dead Things and The Carrying, and you can’t help but shift some of the ways that you think about things. I think a lot about responsibility. About all the people who don’t get to write, who don’t get to make books, who don’t get to have this life. I really don’t want to experience this life as a blur or a burden. I think there’s a responsibility to talk about how we got here. I like to be open about money, even admitting to student loans. I want to be responsible in the way I portray what it is to be a working artist. It’s a great gift, but I fly a lot, I travel a lot, I perform a lot. I really enjoy it, but it is also showing up and doing the work. I think a lot about what it is to model being a working artist, especially for young

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people thinking about becoming a poet. I don’t want them to think, “Oh you sit down and write that million-dollar poem.” You work really hard and sometimes things hit and sometimes they don’t. It’s great to have another job that you can enjoy and find satisfaction within, and write your poems on the side. That’s still being a poet. That’s still being a writer. Most poets I know have seven different jobs. Maybe one of them is being a mom. Maybe one of them is being the caretaker to an elderly parent. There is a lot of service that goes along with this life. I just want to be very aware of the image I’m presenting as a working artist. I want to make sure that I’m representing that truthfully.

Sunni: You do such a great job of representing how hard you have to work and then also displaying gratitude, like you said, for what you’re able to do. I think there’s a tendency in the creative writing world to talk about the drudgery of writing. To say this thing we’re doing is so hard. You talk about how difficult it is, and that you still have to put the work in, but also you’re so lucky to be doing this.

I think there are some people who can go into their rooms and sit and read and write and give themselves an MFA and come out just as strong of a writer as someone who goes through an MFA program. I wasn’t that person. I needed guidance. I needed instruction. I needed to be pushed. I was very comfortable with writing, and I needed to be stretched and pushed and also influenced by work that I didn’t like. I think that being forced to read things that I would not normally reach out to was important.

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I think a lot about what it is to model being a working artist, especially for young people thinking about becoming a poet. I don’t want them to think, “Oh you sit down and write that million-dollar poem.” You work really hard and sometimes things hit and sometimes they don’t. It’s great to have another job that you can enjoy and find satisfaction within, and write your poems on the side. That’s still being a poet. That’s still being a writer. Most poets I know have seven different jobs. Yeah, we’re so lucky. I just sent a poem to a friend this morning and the subject of the email was, “Is this terrible?” I’m still working without knowing whether or not something is working. Wondering, “Does language mean anything? Is it just falling apart? What’s happening here?” But the fact that I get to do that, as opposed to a seventy-hour shift at a car parts factory, I’m going to take that seriously. I get to wake up in the morning and send a poem to a friend, and that’s not a struggle. I mean, we can talk about the agony of writing, but I don’t buy it. Agony is something else.

Sunni: Piggybacking on this notion of the private and the public, there are so many poems, particularly in your last two collections, about being a woman and about a woman’s body. And I’m thinking of some of my favorites, like “Bust” and “Service,” where it’s just sort of, “I’m just gonna spread my legs and do what I need to do.” And then “Wonder Woman” and this sense of the female spirit and how attached that is

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to the female body and identity and power. In the wake of #metoo, it feels like that’s an important thing to bring to the public sphere. I don’t know if that’s something you were thinking about, how that’s valuable in the public space, but also maybe how that’s valuable to you personally. When I was in graduate school it really felt like writing poems that were feminist in any way was immediately dismissed. And the same was true if you were writing poems that were domestic. You couldn’t win. If you were a woman trying to write about something tender and small in the world of your life, that was not big enough, and then if you wanted to be head-on you were too political. In this book there was a part of me that just wanted to make sure I was singing that song. When I was writing about infertility, I thought it was so strange that people weren’t talking about it all the time. I think that happens to all of us. You go through something big and then you think, “Wait, everyone has lost a parent?” How are people not just lying on the floor screaming all the time? It’s really hard. And then even women who have had successful pregnancies, many of them have had miscarriages or lost children. All of these things seemed to be taboo. And if you did read any kind of narrative about them, the narrative arc was success. I thought, what is it to not do that? What is it also to question that? What is it to also say that there were days when I found out I wasn’t pregnant that I was relieved? Even though I was working really hard to get pregnant. I wanted to examine the multiplicities of feelings that we have within all of us. It didn’t feel like it was examined fully to me in the work that I was presented. That was important to me on many levels. I think all of my work is feminist work, and all of my work is also questioning what it is to be alive in a certain body.

Sunni: You mentioned that your mother has done the cover art for all of your books. Do you feel being close with a woman who

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is also an artist has helped you to see some of the liberating aspects of that? And to give you permission in some way? Yeah, if I ask my mother, “Who were your models?,” she says people like Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe. There was no model in her immediate life, let alone her immediate family. And so how lucky am I to have not only in just my life a model, but in my immediate family? My mom also waited tables. My mom was the caretaker at a forty-acre horse ranch. I knew that being a creative person meant having another job, but you could do both. And that you don’t have to say just one or the other. I am this, and I am also this. That was a great gift to me, not only her encouragement but her modeling.

Courtney: Could you talk about the evolution of gratitude in your work? Has gratitude always been urgent to you, or have you grown in that understanding? I think about that with my earlier work. I like my earlier work a lot. I don’t mean to say that as an egotistical thing, but I’m glad that the woman who wrote that did a good job with what she had. I think one of the things that I’m very aware of is that I wasn’t as free on the page as I am now. Part of that is age. Part of that is success. It really does help for someone to encourage you and say you’re doing good work. I think also with those first books I was really trying to be seen as smart. I always knew that I was a big feeler. Musicality and feeling, those are some of my strong suits, and I think that I was aware that they were undervalued in the poetic movement at the time, so I was trying to show some acrobatics so that I could be seen as intelligent. There’s a distance in the earlier work. There’s a selfprotection. The walls came down in Bright Dead Things and then continued to come down in The Carrying. Part of that is because I’m allowing myself a little bit of tenderness,

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but also I think part of that is age. I’m kind of done pretending to be something that I’m not, and I’m willing to accept those consequences. Having gratitude played a part as I moved forward as a writer. I think my early work is more youthful. I kept thinking, “Oh my god. This is hard. Why do I have to go through this?” And then it became, “Everyone has to go through this.” That shift was a big part of my opening on the page. Everyone is losing something. Everyone is going through grief. People are suffering. That recognition, I think, has also shifted into gratitude for the present moment. Gratitude for the things you have. Knowing that someday you’re not going to have them.

Courtney: I know sometimes in workshops there can be an impulse to display acrobatics for your peers. How was that experience for you? There are only five poems from my thesis that ended up in my first book. And not because I think they were bad poems, but I think they were childhood poems. I wrote a lot about my childhood and youth. And I still do. It’s still in my work. But they were very much like, “I was a child of divorce,” and then you look around and think, “everyone’s a child of divorce.” And everyone is. Not that you can’t make that unique, and not that you didn’t have a significant emotional experience, but I do think I was excavating childhood, and when it came to putting together my first book I had to ask myself: “Do I really want my childhood to be my first book?” And I chose to write a whole different book. I wanted my adult womanhood to be my first book. In a lot of those early childhood poems, there’s a mythmaking of the self. As a twenty-two-year-old I was writing these poems in workshops that were very much about, you know, me, that big “I.” And I still have that “I,” but it’s an open door, and it’s a willingness to accept that this is not just my journey.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N Sunni: I think you have to be introspective enough to follow the path of how your writing has evolved and recognize that the self, at some point, dissolves into the bigger world. At the same time, it’s really interesting to hear what writers are excited about in their most current work. Post-The Carrying, what are you excited about that you’re doing right now? Poems are coming slowly, but they’re coming. I just finished one two days ago, and I think what’s exciting to me about that poem in particular is that it’s really leaning into the muscularity of language. There’s a high musicality, but then it’s got that mix of lyricism with a clear narrative, and then the ending is something that’s exciting for me, an ending without an ending. I’m very interested in that right now. What is it to tell a story in the middle of the story? Not to have completions? Not to have knowledge? I’m interested to be in the unknown. In the failure of language. I’m also interested in what it is to focus on revival. There’s so much focus right now on the apocalypse. As there should be. But I feel like there’s almost some pride that goes along with that. And I guess I’m interested in what it is to make sure we are paying attention with a loving gaze despite apocalyptic thinking or the terror of our era. What it is to acknowledge that insane place we’re living in, the death of our planet, to look at it closely, but also to be loved and to look at what it is to flourish in a world that is a hard place to survive in? Especially when you consider everything that’s happening right now with the border. We’re putting people in cages, and we haven’t even really addressed it yet. We’ve screamed about it, and we’ve chanted about it, and we’ve gone on Twitter and raged about it, but what have we changed? Nothing has changed since the beginning of this horrible, horrible regime. So I want to sort of be clear-eyed about the events, but I also don’t want to surrender to them. I want to make sure I’m paying attention in the work and ask-

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Poems are coming slowly, but they’re coming. I just finished one two days ago, and I think what’s exciting to me about that poem in particular is that it’s really leaning into the muscularity of language. There’s a high musicality, but then it’s got that mix of that lyricism with a clear narrative, and then the ending is something that’s exciting for me, an ending without an ending. I’m very interested in that right now. What is it to tell a story in the middle of the story? Not to have completions? Not to have knowledge? I’m interested to be in the unknown. In the failure of language. I’m also interested in what it is to focus on revival.

ing myself how the work can still be beautiful and meaningful and tender and celebratory, even. And how can we do that in a world that is tumultuous. I guess that’s what is exciting me about what I’m working on now, but who knows how that will come to fruition?

Sunni: I see that a lot in your work. There’s a generosity and a fighting spirit, and there’s very much a voice that can be constantly in awe. Thank you so much for your time.

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Courtney Craggett is the author of the story collection Tornado Season (Black Lawrence Press 2019). Her writing appears in The Pinch, Mid-American Review, Washington Square Review, CutBank, and Booth, among others. She holds a PhD in creative writing and Mexican-American literature from the University of North Texas, where she served as the fiction editor for American Literary Review. She is an assistant professor of English at Weber State University.

London Beck graduated from Weber State Univeristy with a degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing. She is currently attending the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts.

Sunni Brown Wilkinson’s poetry and essays have been published or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Sou’wester, Adirondack Review, Sugar House Review, Cimarron Review, Southern Indiana Review and other journals and anthologies. Her poetry collection The Marriage of the Moon and the Field (Black Lawrence Press 2019) was a finalist for the Hudson Prize. She holds an MFA from Eastern Washington University, teaches at Weber State University, and lives in Ogden, Utah, with her husband and three young sons.

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NO HARM DONE—

A Conversation with DONALD REVELL Dona Shatford Peters

ABRAHAM SMITH, ANCA SPRENGER & BEN FAVERO


INTRODUCTION Under any and all of his titles as a writer—poet, translator, and critic—Donald Revell emits delight. Revell has published over a dozen collections of poetry along with over half a dozen collections of essays and volumes of translations. From his first collection of poems, From the Abandoned Cities (1983), to his latest, The English Boat (2018), he has surprised his readers with every turn—growing from and adding to an open eye full of light. During our interview and the reading that followed, Revell shared riches of whimsical and pertinent truths, presenting his humble, jovial, and wise self that has been pressed into the ink of all his writing. As an advocate of care and thoughtfulness in reading and writing, Revell claims in The Art of Attention: A Poet’s Eye (2007) that poetry is “a plain record of one’s entire presence,” further stating that “[t]his is not creative writing. This is poetry.” His poetry serves as a reflection of his views on attention and writing—that is, perpetuating the stillness and clarity of a moment through the entirety of experience. In Invisible Green (2005), Revell also advises writers to “write where they are,” shifting attention away from revision, which he has deemed to be like sleep, and towards the urgency of the present.

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Revell has published six volumes of translations from French, among which are the works of Rimbaud, Apollinaire, Verlaine, and Laforgue. For him, translation is a risk-free time amongst friends—never feeling alone as he absorbs the lines and words of these poets who have come and gone but stayed through their writing. Born in the Bronx, New York, Revell earned his Ph.D. from SUNY Buffalo. His writing has received numerous awards, including two Pushcart Prizes, two Shestack Prizes, the Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry, two PEN Center USA Awards in poetry, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He has taught at the Universities of Tennessee, Denver, Missouri, Iowa, Alabama, Utah, and Nevada, Las Vegas. He has also been serving as a poetry editor for the Colorado Review since 1995, after having edited Denver Quarterly from 1988 to 1994. Currently, Revell lives with his wife, poet Claudia Keelan, in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he is professor of English at UNLV.

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CONVERSATION Ben: How does being a critic frame the way you approach writing poetry, and, do you feel an anxiety that what you write must adhere to what you’ve written about poetry?

I wrote twenty years ago that I would not write today. What I needed poetry to be twenty years ago is not what I need poetry to be now. The barbarians then are different from the barbarians now.

If I could write poems other than the way I do, I would. As Ezra Pound said, “A poet has to outdistance his admirers.” And I seem to have been pretty good at that but without planning to be, in that all the people I’d win with one book, I’d lose with the next book. So, when my first book came out, From the Abandoned Cities, I was embraced by the New Formalists, which was a big movement in the early eighties, and then when my second book came out, I was a traitor to the New Formalists and so on. As a critic, my models have been the predictable ones: T.S. Eliot, Baudelaire, and Ezra Pound. Coleridge, probably first and foremost. That project is to articulate where you are at that very moment and to try to express all of your prejudices. A critic who does not say what his or her prejudices are upfront is engaging in a kind of subterfuge. My earliest poetic model was Dante as the result of a complete accident. In the seventh grade, one class was selected to be the Dante class, which meant every Friday for the next three years, instead of having English class, we were going to read Dante. And Dante never makes any bones about his critical ideas. That poet? He’s in hell. I wish I could do that when I write my criticism. “The fella that just wrote this godawful book is, I’m happy to report, now floating in a river of feces at the center of the Earth.” (Laughs) But it seemed to me to be honest. If you were to ask Eliot and Pound who their models were, I think they’d also say Dante. I don’t find out what I think in my poems; I think with my poems. But in my criticism I hope to find out and then articulate what I think, but it changes. There are essays

Anca: I’m interested in the difference between being a poet and being a translator. Was there ever an instance when translation was less of a companionable joy and more of a task, when you felt you had to turn your back on a project and a poet?

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Well, I have a rule: I never translate anything for money. I only translate what I love. And I’ve only translated poets that I’ve read and lived with for at least twenty years. I remember my first real task with published translation was Rimbaud, and it took me six weeks for the first line. I despaired at doing it. So many people I love, but I’ve never asked myself why; when you translate you have to say why. I don’t know that I will translate any more because the only other poet that I’ve had such a long relationship with whose work I would like to translate seems untranslat-

As a critic, my models have been the predictable ones: T.S. Eliot, Baudelaire, and Ezra Pound. Coleridge, probably first and foremost. That project is to articulate where you are at that very moment and to try to express all of your prejudices. A critic who does not say what his or her prejudices are upfront is engaging in a kind of subterfuge.

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able, and that’s Stéphane Mallarmé. There is no English Mallarmé that even gets to the door, much less goes through it. At least to me. One of my favorite stories of all time was when Paul Valéry was young and went to visit Mallarmé and spent the day with him, and it was time to get ready for dinner and Mallarmé took off his shirt to wash his hands and put on a clean shirt, and the fact that he did that with Valéry in the room made Valéry break down and cry. And I understand that so well. They had an exhibition in San Francisco in one of the museums there from the Musée D’Orsay, and one of them was the tiny little Manet portrait of Mallarmé. I got in trouble with the guards because I wouldn’t leave it. I must have stood there for more than an hour. I got on a plane, flew to San Francisco to see that painting, and then flew home. And so many of my friends say, what do you see in it? It’s too rarefied. It’s like drinking perfume. And I say, not at all. It’s just exactly what it should be. It’s perfect.

Anca: Many of us have this kind of experience all the time when we read poetry; we look at a verse or a sentence and we are in awe. And we say, “This is how it should be said,” and there is no other way. It’s like when Ezra Pound said poetry is what cannot be paraphrased and Mallarmé, I wish I could—it would be like being in heaven—but it’s not going to happen. But the beautiful thing is, I can’t write poetry every day, but when I’ve been translating, it’s lovely because the task is right there every morning on the desk. I’m already in good company, and no matter how badly I do, the original is still intact. So I come back tomorrow and try again, no harm done. I tell my students, if you’re going to take on translating, then you’re going to have to have a thick skin, and of course you’re going to make what some people call mistakes. If you write a poem in 1911, and it’s shocking, and then translate it in 2019 and it’s no longer shocking, then you’re going to have to update

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the shock factor, and that of course involves being unfaithful to the literal. I’m not in the business of producing forged antiques.

Abraham: I am wondering about Coleridge and Hart Crane. In Drought-Adapted Vine, you note that “it would be foolish not to remember that Coleridge was the best of us.” And in my experience, Hart Crane haunts your correspondences and your poems—you touch on his brilliance and tenderness again and again. I’ll start with Coleridge because that’s a little more remote and I can be more objective. When I read the Dejection ode for the first time, I knew here’s a poet who is writing with his entire being. He’s not going to leave anything out just for the purpose of making the poem tidier or more convincing. “I see them all so excellently fair/ I see, not feel, how beautiful they are.” I mean, that’s the definition of depression, you know. And then to be able to work that up in the Biographia Literaria into a complete way of approaching the imagination—not just the imagination of poetry, but the imagination itself.

I tell my students, if you’re going to take on translating, then you’re going to have to have a thick skin, and of course you’re going to make what some people call mistakes. If you write a poem in 1911, and it’s shocking, and then translate it in 2019 and it’s no longer shocking, then you’re going to have to update the shock factor, and that of course involves being unfaithful to the literal. I’m not in the business of producing forged antiques.

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One of the words that would get me from Coleridge to Crane is “tender.” Because “Frost at Midnight” is maybe the most tender poem in the English language. If you’ve had a really bad day at the university and you just want to assassinate people, the thing to do is read “Frost at Midnight” and go to bed. Okay, I can live another day. He was so whole. And he wore it all on his sleeve. I adore T.S. Eliot, but T.S. Eliot was very good at having a card up his sleeve. He knew where the exit was, you know. But Coleridge was defenseless, which is what I think made Wordsworth nervous about him. Coleridge said, no, I’m going to put it all out there. I’m not going to let politesse, courtesy, restrain me from saying what it is I love. And that’s what I love in a much more contemporary idiom about Hart Crane. He probably is my favorite poet in English for being able to say things like, “I was promised an improved infancy.” He’s not afraid of also being incredibly sentimental because he’s feeling sentimental. We “have heard a kitten in the wilderness,” you know? I don’t know if I could get away with that line. But he didn’t care. And that defenselessness is what I love in so many poets. It might be the thing that connects all the poets I like. And that’s one of the messages that poetry offers to a world that’s got its fists up in front of its face all the time. And so I was saying to that class we visited, they asked me something about who is your audience? My audience is the poem. Okay, what do you want, poem? What do you want to be when you grow up? What is it you want to tell these nice people? Crane was never abashed. And he also had the ear of an angel: “The seal’s wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.”

Abraham: Probably the purest singer of all. Of the Americans, certainly. And he’s one of those three or four poets that I have loved since I was fifteen. So that’s a solid fifty years now. Hart Crane, Rimbaud, Apollinaire, Coleridge, D.H. Lawrence.

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Ben: In Invisible Green, you advise writers to write where they are. My first understanding of this was to not force creativity, but now I wonder if you mean that we should always be writing in the present? Being immersed in the past is different from being in the past. Take Faulkner and Proust, two novelists who I think are very hooked together; they are certainly often immersed in the past. But they are immersed in the past in a present circumstance. You’re always aware with Faulkner and Proust that the writer is living in his current day, in his current state of health, in his current physical and historical circumstance. Faulkner said, “The past takes a long time to happen, it’s not even in the past.” But there are artists who do flee their present circumstance for a sort of fantasia of nostalgia or a fantasia of regret, and that doesn’t turn out well. All that produces is a kind of bitterness and unhappiness, because deep down every good artist is happy in the moment of making the art. Why else would you do it? People say the artist has to suffer; well, so does the orthodontist. I’ve never had a moment of unhappiness because I was in my present circumstance and I was affirming it. I mean, why would you read a poem that comes from a moment that you cannot affirm? Do you know a French poet called Robert Desnos? The things he was writing in a concentration camp seem like postcards from Disneyland. There’s a wonderful anecdote about Desnos and the camp. They were taking a group of people, putting them on a truck to go to the gas chambers, and Desnos is one of them and said to one of the people in the truck: “Let me see your palm.” And he said, “Look at this, you’re going to live to be ninety, and you’re going to have seven grandchildren.” This is a guy who’s expecting to be dead in the next five minutes, so all of these people in the truck are crowding around Desnos and saying, “look at my palm,” and he says, “oh, you’re going to marry the most

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There are artists who do flee their present circumstance for a sort of fantasia of nostalgia or a fantasia of regret, and that doesn’t turn out well. All that produces is a kind of bitterness and unhappiness, because deep down every good artist is happy in the moment of making the art. Why else would you do it? People say the artist has to suffer; well, so does the orthodontist. I’ve never had a moment of unhappiness because I was in my present circumstance and I was affirming it.

beautiful woman,” and, “oh, look at your children.” The guards were just so taken with this mirthful moment that they just got them off the truck and sent them back to the barracks and they didn’t die that day. And that’s a good emblem of what I think a poem is. Nobody dies today. Nobody died in that hour. I don’t mean to write in ignorance of the past or to devalue the past. I’m soaked in it too. I believe in the canon. The canon has been very good to me on many occasions. But to me the canon is a current event. Nobody died. They’re all still there.

Anca: I was very happy to see what you said about Apollinaire, that “he introduced the century to its true self.” Sometimes I find him overwhelming because there are so many layers of erudition and wordplay and layers of allusions, and sometimes even hidden perverse messages. I was lucky because I was the same kind of outsider, because the thing Apollinaire

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wanted most to be in all the world was what he wasn’t, which was French. And so he had to be ten times more French than any Frenchman, and I think he has a kind of ferocity, like I will beat the French at being French. I will know their literature, their culture, better than they do.

Anca: And he was a military patriot! Right, and he’s invented genealogies, and that’s one of the reasons that I loved him very early on. I was the child of immigrants; my father never learned how to read. I’ve been a professor for forty years, and to this day, I feel like an impostor. I have all these colleagues and friends who went to Ivy League colleges, whose parents went to Ivy League colleges. I’ve always felt from the time I was a teenager that I had to know their tradition better than they knew it. I had to have read more Henry James than they had read, even though Henry James might as well have been from Mars in terms of my childhood or background. So I felt this intense sympathy and affinity with Apollinaire. Because if you’re an impostor, you have to be very alert. Apollinaire is the grand impostor, and so in every single one of his poems so much goes on. So many, as you say, allusions, some of them very contemporary. Something that happened this morning in the café. And he had to be irreproachable. And so it was like finally having someone I could confide in. Isn’t it hard when you go to a party and you go to a poetry reading and there’s a real chance that they’re going to see through you this time? They’re going to find out that your passport is invalid. Your credentials are forged. He’s never an insider though he desperately wants to be one. He’s more Parisian than anyone who’s born in Paris, and he proves that. He makes every neighborhood, every backstreet, his street. He was kind of frantic in his poetry. I mean, there’s never a sort of pastoral repose in Apollinaire. And there’s the anecdote of when he was dying

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of the Spanish influenza, and he has terrible fever and World War I has just ended, and everyone in the streets is shouting, “Down with Wilhelm.” He was the Kaiser. And he thinks that they’ve all finally seen through him and they’re all shouting, “Down with Guillaume Apollinaire.” He went to such trouble to get this name, you know. Wilhelm Kostrowicki was his name. It’s a long trip from Wilhelm to Apollinaire.

Anca: He’s inventing himself, and even in his poetry he almost openly talks about that. He doesn’t have an identity: “One day I awaited myself I said to myself Guillaume it’s time Finally to know myself”1 He went to such trouble to get this thing, you know, because Willhelm Kostrowicki was his name. And that’s a word that means a lot: Apollinaire. I think both Rimbaud and Apollinaire were people I identified with because, in a weird way, of my childhood—being the one in the wrong clothes and with the wrong accent. And with the parents that I didn’t want anyone to meet. It was foolish and disgraceful to be ashamed of one’s family who gave one everything, and I happily outgrew that over time to love my parents and to be proud of them.

Anca: “My child I gave you what I did.”2 That’s what Apollinaire recognized at that time. And that made it—I would have never been a Parnassian. And it made it tender for me.

Apollinaire was like the brother I never had that I could confide in and who would understand.

Abraham: Could you talk a little bit about the playfulness in your poems? Your poems shine with erudition and rigor, and they’re also a great deal of sonic fun. I’m nuts about prosody. My notebooks look like a chicken has gone across them because I write little prosodic models on the lines and say, what words would look good there, and they fall into place. It’s sort of like I put out the hummingbird feeder and then the hummingbirds come. I fall in love with the rhythm and then the words just come to join them. And sometimes it is just ridiculous nonsense and, you know, I’ll indulge it for a day or two, but then I’ll realize, Donald, you can’t do that. But sometimes it just won’t go away, this combination of words that would not make semantic sense upon first reading, but then do. That’s not a bad definition of a lot of poetry, you know: phrases that eventually are true. One of the turning points in my life was when I took a prosody class from one of the real noprisoners New Critics and I remember the first day of class he came in and said, this is the best couplet in English poetry: “it is general to be mortal.” And at first it didn’t seem to me to be true, but it wouldn’t go away. A) It’s true. B) It’s a fascinating rhyme, general with mortal, and no, I can’t think of a better couplet, now that you say it. I am grateful for his rigor in teaching us. He had been a colleague and student of Ivor Winters and he had an ear.

1. Un jour je m’attendais moi-même, Je me disais Guillaume il est temps que tu viennes From “Cortège,” in Apollinaire, Alcools, translated by Donald Revell, Wesleyan UP, 1995, p. 63. 2. “Enfant je t’ai donné ce que j’avais travaille” From “La Porte,” Alcools, translated by Donald Revell, p. 87.

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There’s a rhythm before there’s a poem, and there’s a poem before there’s a subject, and the subject is only, if ever, apparent when the poem is done. It’s the insistent rhythm that summons words to it. I often find myself saying this is the inevitable word. I wish I knew what it meant. And then I go to my dictionary and usually it turns out to be okay, that it’s not completely loopy that I put this word in. I think language was originally invented not as a tool, but as something beautiful. My youngest daughter is just beginning to study French, and she’s very frustrated in many ways. And I told her, everything is based on what is the most beautiful way to say this. It has nothing to do with logic. It has to do with beauty. And this is why I always get into trouble with communications faculty: because they think of language as a tool. I say that’s what Home Depot is there for. So to me, I’ll make the poem beautiful and then hope it turns out to be truth. And if it really is beautiful, it really will be true. And beauty is always a surprise. If you have the same idea of beautiful after a poetry reading that you had before, nothing happened. Somehow your definition of beauty should have been enlarged, even if it’s only by a centimeter.

Ben: Again and again, you have written about the eye of the poet, or the poet as a seer. Do you also think of the poet as a prophet? There are prophetic poets who wear the mantle with self-awareness. Like Blake. St. John of Revelation. So that kind of prophecy, I think, is a genre unto itself and as much as I adore William Blake, I would not put myself in that company. But I do think the true poem is in a minor key prophetic, but only in the sense that I’m going to let go of this pen and (pen falls) I knew it would fall. And it’s not because I have access to privileged information, but there are so many people walking around who don’t know what’s going to happen next, even though it’s obvious what’s going to happen

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next. If you do this, this will result, but it seems like civilization is based on this elaborate pattern of denial. You know, you never know. Yes, you do know. Stop pretending you don’t know what you do know. That’s a lot of what poetry does, is urge people to stop pretending that they don’t know darn well what comes next, or what the consequences will be, so in a sense, if you’re paying attention you know what’s going to happen. And this happens to us every day in our lives. You have friends and you see them behaving in a certain way; you know how this is going to go. Or you see a patch of trees that aren’t doing so well. You know where that’s going to go. You’re the oracle of the obvious, which is usually what’s mostly denied. That’s what I mean by the eye. The future isn’t hard to predict if you’re paying attention, and for me that’s crucial for how to make a poem, because the only thing I’m really worried about is the next word. A poem must be willing to be changed by every word that comes along.

And this is why I always get into trouble with communications faculty: because they think of language as a tool. I say that’s what Home Depot is there for. So to me, I’ll make the poem beautiful and then hope it turns out to be truth. And if it really is beautiful, it really will be true. And beauty is always a surprise. If you have the same idea of beautiful after a poetry reading that you had before, nothing happened. Somehow your definition of beauty should have been enlarged, even if it’s only by a centimeter.

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You’re the oracle of the obvious, which is usually what’s mostly denied. That’s what I mean by the eye. The future isn’t hard to predict if you’re paying attention, and for me that’s crucial for how to make a poem, because the only thing I’m really worried about is the next word. A poem must be willing to be changed by every word that comes along. Anca: I’m thinking of someone like Verlaine because there is so much insistence upon music: “De la musique avant toute chose” (“Music before anything else”), especially in Verlaine maybe more than in Apollinaire or Rimbaud. And I’m thinking again of Apollinaire, basically singing his “Le Pont Mirabeau” (“The Mirabeau Bridge”). So when you translate, how do you deal with this music in poetry? You put your finger on all the crucial poets. Those are the three giants looking at me and saying, “ha ha, you can’t do this.” I take a little courage and example from something Emerson said. He said, “Language is fossil poetry.” And I say, okay, something passed through these words and left a trace, especially in these almost perfect lyrics. They’re not Mallarmé, so I took a shot. They were the most daunting things of my translating life: Rimbaud’s “O saisons, O chateaux” (“O sea-

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sons, O chateaux”), Verlaine’s “Il pleure dans mon coeur” (“Warm tears in my heart”), and Apollinaire’s “Le Pont Mirabeau” (“Mirabeau Bridge”). So I said, okay, what happened here? What animal left its trace in stone? What would that animal look like in English? How would that bird fly if it’s flying on English wings under an English heaven? And I don’t feel bad about what I got done. I feel really good about my “Mirabeau Bridge.” I mean, when I die they’ll say what did you do for remembering? I’ll say, I got that right. And they’ll say, fair enough. But it was because I said I can’t make that music. English won’t make that sound. A tuba will not sound like a lute. So you have to say, okay, how am I going to make onion soup without onions? And it’s very hard, but you learn the limits of your own language. The things it cannot do. And that’s good for poets. Because painters learn that really early. There are certain things oil cannot do. There are certain things acrylic will not do, watercolor will not do. So many people think, oh I know the English language. But they never get to that sort of tactile place where they say, oh I couldn’t do that in acrylics. I couldn’t do that in watercolor. And it’s a good experience. It’s a happy experience. It’s humbling, but it’s also delightful. So I’m not ashamed of my “Mirabeau Bridge,” but it wouldn’t be mistaken for the original in a million years. And that’s perhaps the best that we can wish for from translation: that the translation takes the reader back to the original.

Abraham: Thank you so much, Don!

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Abraham Smith is the author of five poetry collections—most recently Destruction of Man (Third Man Books, 2018)—and the co-editor of Hick Poetics (Lost Roads Press, 2015), an anthology of contemporary rural American poetry and related essays. His creative work has been recognized with fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA, and the Alabama State Council on the Arts. He lives in Ogden, Utah, where he is assistant professor of English at Weber State University.

Anca Sprenger (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is an associate professor of French at Brigham Young University. She fell in love with Apollinaire’s poetry and also with doing translation about forty years ago. She has published many articles on Apollinaire and other modern French poets.

Ben Favero is living with his wife, Jenae, in Ogden, Utah, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in creative writing at Weber State University. He has worked as poetry editor for the journal Metaphor and has presented a collection of poems at Weber State’s National Undergraduate Literature Conference. Ben is nearing graduation and plans to further his education in an MFA program.

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P O E T R Y

Donald Revell

A Stranger A sound almost forgotten Of animal noise inside those Flowers closest to the ground When the wind stops, was A name given to this world Before death was a stranger. Nowadays the earth Is one ghost ahead of itself. Seated at every bedside, A flawed and angry mourner Rehearses the sleepers Because death is strange. The wind stops. Four petals, Yellow as butter, white As butter in sunlight, Make inward noise, A nectar to perishing. Still, death is strange.

George Chernilevsky


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THE BEAUTY OF WRITING ABOUT SCIENCE—

A Conversation with REBECCA SKLOOT Manda Townsend

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INTRODUCTION Rebecca Skloot was the featured speaker at the Ogden School Foundation’s Fall Author event in October 2019. Skloot is best known for her book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010), which tells the story of a young African-American mother who died of cervical cancer. Her cells were the first to live outside of the human body in a lab, and they were taken without her or her family’s consent. Henrietta’s cells, called HeLa and still in use, have been employed worldwide in scientific and medical research. Skloot first heard about Lacks and her unwitting contribution to science in high school and never forgot that there was a woman behind the cells. Skloot began researching and writing the story nearly 10 years later, but it took

her another decade to craft the narrative about Lacks. As a consequence of her careful research, Skloot spent much time with the Lacks family, especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who passed away in 2009. Skloot has worked to help the Lacks family understand and benefit from Henrietta’s cells and their contribution to science. Skloot has written more than 200 articles, essays, and book reviews in various national outlets and is currently working on a book about animal rights that focuses on the bond between humans and animals. What follows is our conversation about Henrietta Lacks and science writing. We spoke by phone on January 3, 2020.

CONVERSATION I recently became aware that there’s a portrait of Henrietta Lacks in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. What do you think of it? It was commissioned leading up to when the movie The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2017) came out, and as part of that there was also a traveling art exhibit. The folks at HBO did most of the work on it, but they kind of consulted the Lacks family and me. And it was amazing. It was a really exciting thing, especially for the Lacks family, to have this whole big effort happen that brings attention to the story in all these different works of art. The

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portrait is now at the Smithsonian, but it was initially at the African American History Museum when it had just opened [September 24, 2016], so initially it was put there. That was where one of the movie premieres was. There were a bunch of different premieres in different locations. There was one in Washington, D.C., at the African American History Museum, and it was a big beautiful painting. Dozens of Lacks family members were there, Oprah was there, one of the scientists who was in the book was there, and everyone who had been involved in the movie and several people who were characters in the book were there. It was amazing, and then it landed in the portrait

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gallery at the Smithsonian. So, initially it was moving around, but then it ended up in the National Portrait Gallery. One of Deborah’s end goals and my goal when we started working on the book was to put a name to these cells and the story, and we wanted to show that it was a real living human with a family and that there were consequences to those actions. There’s a human being behind every cell. So to go from that to her portrait hanging in the National Portrait Gallery with presidents is just amazing.

She didn’t have a say in how her cells were used, and your goal to humanize her is admirable. Is there a way that the rest of us can give back? How can we honor or thank her? That’s why I started The Henrietta Lacks Foundation. When I first started working on the book, I didn’t want to be another person benefiting from all of this without offering something in return, something for the family. So, I started the foundation, and the primary goal was to help with education and also to help with health care, when there are needs that are not being met by insurance. I started that before Obamacare happened, and now, fortunately, most of the family’s health care needs are being met, but dental care is not. The foundation helps a lot with that. The foundation has been set up to help people who have made important contributions to science without their knowledge. So, it’s not just for the Lacks family, but they have primarily benefited from it. We have also given out some grants to the family members of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment men, and there have been a lot of people who qualify. At this point, the foundation has been around for a decade, so I would have to look up the numbers, but there have been over twenty-five education grants for members of the Lacks family. One of them went to nursing school, and some of them are in college now. For me, that was the best way to give back to the family. Deborah

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felt like education was such an important part of their story. She and her brothers didn’t have access to education, and she always felt like if they had, maybe their story would have been different. Maybe they would have been able to ask the questions they needed to ask and maybe understand a bit more about what was going on around them. Maybe they would have been treated differently. She wanted future generations to not face that same problem. The foundation can be found at HenriettaLacksFoundation.org, so readers donate and scientists often donate.

Let’s turn to talking about your writing. What have you learned about yourself and your writing over the last few years? I’m working on a book that’s about animal research and animal rights. It is a really complicated story about how we’ve gotten to this strange place where we really don’t know much about animal research and how we benefit from it. I’m working on a narrative that will read like fiction, similar to the first book, but at its core I launched it with the following questions: What does animal research look like in the United States today? How did we get to this place? And what has changed since the ’70s when animal rights activists became big in the United States and research institutions started going underground? I still spend a lot of time talking about the Henrietta Lacks book, but it’s actually a challenge sometimes to stay in the current book. I published the Lacks book ten years ago and I worked on it for eleven years before it came out, so I was working on the first book for twenty-something years, and I continued to work on it very intensely after it came out. So, what I’ve learned in trying to re-immerse myself in a story is that I have to be obsessed with a thing in order to write a book about it. Because you do live with it for years, and you live with it every day. You sort of carry it around with you wherever you go. I also do this kind of crazy immersive research where I

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I’m working on a book that’s about animal research and animal rights. It is a really complicated story about how we’ve gotten to this strange place where we really don’t know much about animal research and how we benefit from it. I’m working on a narrative that will read like fiction, similar to the first book, but at its core I launched it with the following questions: What does animal research look like in the United States today? How did we get to this place? And what has changed since the ’70s when animal rights activists became big in the United States and research institutions started going underground?

just live in the story for . . . a decade, apparently. When the first book came out, people would ask me what I was working on next, and I’d tell them the general idea of the book and then they’d ask me, When can you expect to be done with it? And I was like, it’s not going to be another decade. It’s not going to be another decade before the book comes out! With the animal rights book now, ten years later, I’m sort of where the climax was on the first book. So, I think I knew, sort of intellectually, that you have to be very obsessed with a story if you’re going to tell it. But finding a story you can really live with for that long is a very long process for me in a way that it’s not for other writers. Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote Seabiscuit and Unbroken, is very similar. We do similar kinds of writing, and she published the second book almost exactly ten years after the first book. So it’s an all-encompassing kind of undertaking, and it produces volumes of stuff that need organizing. That’s one of the things that I would do differently. Like, I will organize my materials ridiculously well, and I listed all these things I would do differently in another book and proceeded to do them all exactly the same way I did them the first time around. I created the same mess of materials, and I think there is some part of the writing process that is just sort of accepting who you are and where you are, strength-wise.

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And just kind of sticking with what works. If it works, do it. It works. It just takes forever!

I’m a professor who teaches technical writing, and I’m often trying to convince science and engineering students to enjoy my class, to see the value in the humanities and in writing, and to understand that writing is integral to technical fields. Is there something you could say to help me convince those students of the importance of writing? It’s actually one of the most important things in any of the sciences, and in a lot of ways all writers have a story we tell over and over in different ways. It’s something a lot of writers do. For me, I ask: What is the cost of science? Where do you draw the line on the impact it has on the research subjects and the value of it? And what happens when scientists can’t communicate with the public? So my first book was the story of the Lacks family, and it was a story of scientists who didn’t try to communicate and didn’t think it was important, whether it was in writing or verbally. An incredibly long, damaging tale followed because of that problem. So with Henrietta, they didn’t tell her about her cells, and they didn’t try to tell her that she was dying. So

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that created a problem for her kids, and then when scientists came to them in the ’70s, no one had said to them, “Oh look, this is what a cell is. We took these things from your mother and this is what happened. We would like to take samples from you so we can learn more about these cells.” It’s actually not a very difficult thing to explain, even if you’re talking to a person without a scientific background. You just have to care enough to try. And you have to see these out. In that moment, her family thought they were being tested to see if they had cancer, and that was not what was happening. They were being used for research. And if someone had just taken them and tried to explain what was going on, everything would have been different for them. That one decision in some ways just destroyed the lives of this family. Then there’s the broader story of building trust with the public. Why don’t people trust science? Why don’t they want to donate their tissues? Why are people afraid of the doctor? Because they’re afraid that the doctors are hiding something, not explaining things. So, everything in the Lacks family story would have been different. There would have been no story to tell, in some ways, if they had just told them what was going on. My second book is even more about that. So, if anybody in your class or any people are interested in the sciences and technology, animal research is at the core of what so many of them will be learning, even if they don’t know that yet. It’s a cautionary tale for why it’s so important to communicate, not just with the public, but in writing and in journals. You have to be able to explain what’s being done. We are at this unprecedented point right now with science where trust in science and in animal research is very low. There’s all kinds of things happening in the world of science, and there’s no response coming from inside. So when I’m writing about how we got to this place where the public doesn’t understand—doesn’t

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even know what animal research is or how it affects their lives—it is about the ’70s, when animal rights activists started saying things needed to change, and they were right. Things did need to change. The response from the world of science was just, “Don’t talk about it. Go back into your lab and shut down all paths of communication. Just go back in your labs, do your research, and this will all go away.” And that handed a megaphone to the animal rights groups, where they could tell the public anything about animal research and about science, and the world of science just never replied. That’s been going on for decades now, and you can trace the real impacts that has had, both on science and on animals.

Writing is actually one of the most important things in any of the sciences, and in a lot of ways all writers have a story we tell over and over in different ways. It’s something a lot of writers do. For me, I ask: What is the cost of science? Where do you draw the line on the impact it has on the research subjects and the value of it? And what happens when scientists can’t communicate with the public? So my first book was the story of the Lacks family, and it was a story of scientists who didn’t try to communicate and didn’t think it was important, whether it was in writing or verbally . . . . My second book is even more about that.

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When scientists either don’t care enough to talk to people or they assume people won’t understand, it harms the science, the people, the progress of science, the researchers, and the animals. It harms everybody! Everything is worse when we aren’t communicating about science, and so if you want to be able to keep doing science (no matter what kind of science it is), if you want to have public support, if you want to have tax dollars for your research, then you have to be able to explain what it is and how it’s important. You have to be able to earn the public’s trust and show them what it is and that you’re not hiding things from them. Even if you don’t care about that, so much about science is getting grants, and you can’t get grants if you can’t write. You can hire a grant writer, but the better your ability to explain what you’re doing, the more likely you’re going to be able to get money for it. The more likely you’re going get your papers published. Writing is the foundation of so much science, and it is often the thing not taught. I think this notion that it’s a waste of time to learn how to communicate like this reveals a lack of understanding about how science works in the long term. The most successful scientists and the most successful science programs will be ones where somebody knows how to communicate about it.

We don’t want our experts to be absent from these conversations either. That’s what stands out to me about what you just said. That’s what the animal rights story is. There are all sorts of problems. In some ways, what animal rights activists are fighting for are accurate, and then there’s just misinformation. There are photos of a laboratory that are being used for fundraising for whatever organization, and they are pictures from, like, ’75, and no one has been allowed to do anything that looks like that for decades. And it has sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly been put out into the world, and sometimes there hasn’t been any counter-narrative to that kind of stuff. The real problem is something else,

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but no one is saying that. For people who are activists and for people who are scientists, it’s not helping anyone to not communicate well about it.

I was struck by the moment when Deborah sees her mother’s cells and says they’re beautiful. What else do you find beautiful about science and medicine and writing about it? It’s funny, one of the things that happened that I kind of knew on a gut level as I was working on the book (and as a teacher you’ll understand this) was being able to see and feel the moments when people understood science and they didn’t necessarily think they were going to or that they could. I think everybody, every single person, can understand science if it’s explained to them well. It’s not like there’s a science brain and a not-science brain. I mean some people are more adept, obviously, into the minutiae of it. But I think on a basic level everyone can understand science. There’s something that musicians talk about. When you have a room full of musicians and they are all in the groove, it creates a feeling in the musicians. The flow that they talk about is something really beautiful. As a person who is writing about science, with the scientists explaining it to me and the public reading it, I see something beautiful about that all coming together. It’s amazing to watch the responses of people who consider themselves not to be science people. It’s incredible to watch their responses when they really get it. They’re just so excited. People come up to me at my events all the time, and kids in high school or college will come up to me, and they want my autograph; much of it is because of that thing. They got so immersed in that story about science that they came out the other side understanding something, and that’s my goal. Two weeks ago, I was in a research facility and I saw this happen in the moment. Like, this is the magic. There’s a narrative, a scene that’s unfolding in front of me and the people in the scene are explaining science in this amazing

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way that I couldn’t. In some ways, it has to be part of a story, and I was just like, “This is it. People are going to get this because it’s happening in a scene.” And that’s what happened with Deborah and her mother’s cells. There was emotion, there were complicated characters, and there were beautiful images. And there was also the scientist explaining science beautifully, and he’s doing such a good job of communicating with the family, and to me that moment, when I find those scenes, is breathtaking. And they’re hard to find. This is part of why it takes me a decade to write a book! That doesn’t happen quickly or instantly. It takes so much time to get to a moment like that. So to me that kind of dance, when it all comes together, is an amazing thing. It’s also sort of all these different worlds coming together: it’s creativity, it’s art, it’s science. In my head, those things are not separate. Arts and sciences are so related, yet we often see them as separate. When I see a moment like that, where it is like, “Oh look at that!,” it’s like a painting, and there is art and there is science and there are characters. It’s awesome.

So much about science is getting grants, and you can’t get grants if you can’t write. You can hire a grant writer, but the better your ability to explain what you’re doing, the more likely you’re going to be able to get money for it. The more likely you’re going get your papers published. Writing is the foundation of so much science, and it is often the thing not taught. I think this notion that it’s a waste of time to learn how to communicate like this reveals a lack of understanding about how science works in the long term. The most successful scientists and the most successful science programs will be ones where somebody knows how to communicate about it.

Thank you so much for your time.

Dr. Emily January Petersen leads scholarly conversations in her field about women in technical communication through her qualitative research in the United States, India, South Africa, and Botswana. Her work focuses on professional identities and organizations from a feminist perspective by examining social media, uncovering archival sources, and conducting interviews. In 2019, she received a Presidential Excellence in Teaching Award from Weber State University. Her publications have appeared in many academic journals, including Technical Communication Quarterly, the Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Rhetoric, Professional Communication, and Globalization, and the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative.

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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.

THE AUTRY COLLECTING COMMUNITY HISTORY INITIATIVE The Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, is collecting photographs, handmade posters, and other ephemera documenting recent protests on behalf of the Black Lives Matter organization. As Tyree Boyd-Pates, Associate Curator of Western History, describes the project: Several months ago, the Autry launched our Collecting Community History Initiative (CCHI): The West During COVID-19 as a response to the growing desire to collect the diverse stories and objects that pertain to the American West during this pandemic… As COVID-19 has heavily impacted African Americans, the pandemic has also laid bare how racial inequality affects this community. Particularly, how African Americans—despite shelter-in-place orders—still disproportionally face racial discrimination, bias, racial profiling, and a leading cause of deaths for young Black men throughout the country in encounters with law enforcement…. As a response and in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives across the world, the Autry’s CCHI seeks to assist in documenting, collecting, cataloging, and preserving this critical moment in civil rights history in the American West. Source: https://theautry.org/research/blog/autrys-collecting-community-history-initiative-black-lives-matter-protestswest

THE WESTERN LITERATURE ASSOCIATION & BLACK LIVES MATTER In a statement posted on their home page, the Western Literature Association (WLA) acknowledges an ongoing pattern of systematic racism and injustice that targets Black and brown bodies in the United States. As an organization, WLA supports the fight against such a pattern. We recognize … that the United States is built on a history of stolen lands and bodies and that Indigenous people, as well as other people of color, are targeted by racial violence. In light of these dark realities, we support the right to freedom of speech and the outcry against continuing patterns of government and police violence that have led to protests across the nation. They are both righteous and necessary.… WLA is donating a portion of the registration fees from our upcoming conference meeting to an organization dedicated to social justice, antiracism, and the promotion of equitable political and social practices for Black communities to demonstrate our solidarity. We also encourage scholars to continue their support of Black communities in their classrooms. As educators we can facilitate difficult but necessary conversations and through our syllabi provide spaces for Black voices. Source: http://www.westernlit.org/black-lives-matter/


ORIGINS OF BLACK LIVES MATTER Recently in the Los Angeles Times, Andrea Castillo reported on the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement and its guiding forces: Melina Abdullah, a professor at California State University, Los Angeles, and a mother of three, and Patrisse Cullors, an artist and activist. … It’s been seven years since the group formed after George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. On July 13, 2013, Alicia Garza, an Oakland activist, posted what she called a love letter to Black people on Facebook, telling them, “Our lives matter.” Los Angeles activist Cullors turned it into a hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter. New York activist Opal Tometi built the digital platform. … The movement spread after protests erupted nationwide in 2014 when a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black 18-year-old. … The unprecedented size and scope of recent rallies speaks to how Black Lives Matter has transformed from a small but passionate movement into a cultural and political phenomenon. … Juliet Hooker, a political science professor at Brown University who has studied the BLM movement, called it the most effective Black political mobilization since the civil rights era. “It’s only seven years old and there are these massive protests all over the U.S., all over the globe in solidarity and raising questions about racism in their own local context,” she said. “That’s an enormous potential transformation in political consciousness.” Source: Castillo, Andrea. “How Two Black Women in L.A. Helped Build Black Lives Matter from Hashtag to Global Movement,” Los Angeles Times, 21 June, 2020: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-06-21/black-lives-matter-losangeles-patrisse-cullors-melina-abdullah.

BLACK LIVES MATTER AND NATIVE AMERICANS At a June Black Lives Matter rally in Bozeman, Montana, Shane Doyle, a member of the Apsaalooke or Crow tribe, sang an honor song. Native Americans are Montana’s largest minority group at about 7% of the population. Many in that community embrace the Black Lives Matter organization’s message. Walter Fleming, 66, a longtime Montana State University professor, Kickapoo tribal member, and head of MSU’s Native American studies department, called it an important movement that’s bringing attention to issues his community has had to deal with for hundreds of years. The American Indian Movement formed in 1968 in Minneapolis, Fleming said, because Native Americans wanted to document police brutality—the same city and same issue that sparked the recent Black Lives Matter protests. “This awareness is not new to Native people,” he said. Today, Fleming said Native Americans are concerned about the lack of respect by police agencies for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. That issue has inspired marches in Bozeman, throughout Montana, the Western states, and Canada. “It is hoped, at a greater level, that all these protests will lead to some kind of reform, like finding missing people,” he said. Source: Schontzler, Gail. “Native Americans See Hope in Black Lives Matter Protest,” Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 28 June 2020; https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/native-americans-see-hope-in-black-lives-matter-protests/ article_6fb93041-f029-5d15-a0f7-79da3a5cf027.html.

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ALL AROUND THE WORLD Black Lives Matter protests are occurring throughout the U.S. and the world. According to The New York Times: The recent Black Lives Matter protests peaked on June 6, when half a million people turned out in nearly 550 places across the United States. That was a single day in more than a month of protests that still continue. Four recent polls—including one released by Civis Analytics, a data science firm that works with businesses and Democratic campaigns—suggest that about 15 to 26 million people in the United States have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and others. Source: Buchanan, Larry, Quoctrung Bui, and Jugal K. Patel, “Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History,” The New York Times, 3 July 2020; https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/03/us/george-floyd-protestscrowd-size.html

USA TODAY Network research; Alex Smith / Creosote Maps

Updated: 6/29/2020 This map represents Black Lives Matter protests across the United States

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 © 2020 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.


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ANNOUNCING the 2020 Dr. O. Marvin Lewis Essay Award

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for “Stone, Water, Superstition, and Blood” in the Spring 2020 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. The funding for this award is generously provided by the MSL Family Foundation.


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