TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 16
2 poems by Jane Yolan, poem by Donna O’Connell-Gilmore,
poem by Mathew V. Spano, poem by James Dott,
Non-Fiction Story by Amy Law
2 poems by Jane Yolen
The worm’s eleven
we can’t hear, even
when they speed with fear.
Or if in their solemn,
deep, and dark
there’s a wild
and sudden spark
that’s full of poetry
and art, where they may speak
worm to worm
heart to heart,
Eleven echoes soft and fine,
constantly along their line.
On Viewing A Video of A Dead Leaf Butterfly
The brown leaf on the walk
flaps open, exposing
I think of you
in multiple graves,
opening your ash arms
telling me to fly.
Jane Yolen is the author of over 360 published books, NY Times bestseller, award-winning children’s book writer, short fiction has won Nebulas, 8 books of adult poetry, poems in many journals, have won Green Earth Book Award among other Nature-centered awards, author of Caldecott winning OWL MOON, 6 colleges and universities have given honorary doctorates.
poem by Donna O’Connell-Gilmore
There’s A Grizzly in Me
I keep a tight bed with hospital corners,
munch blueberry scones with my tea.
But at night in my dreams
there’s a grizzly in me.
Claws splitting logs
to gobble up grubs.
I heave and I grunt,
dark blue juice slobbering
down my brown chin.
Gray wolf in my sheets.
I wait while the others
lick at my muzzle and whine.
At the scent of an elk
my eyes flare with blue fire.
We pant and we pound
through black tundra of sleep.
A death-white owl
in the old cedar tree.
Blood drops like rubies
adorn my hooked beak.
I eat a soft rabbit,
and belch up its pellet
of fur, crisp bones,
and glints of white teeth.
The alarm brings me round,
tooth brush and hairbrush
and tailored skirt.
But the crouch of the cougar,
there’s the warp and the woof!
Donna O’Connell-Gilmore is a poet and psychotherapist who currently resides on Cape Cod. Her first chapbook, “Africa Is the Mother Who Lies in the Grass” was published in 2015 (Sandheap Press) and received glowing reviews. Her poetry has appeared in Off the Coast, Provincetown Magazine, Glassworks Menagerie and elsewhere.
poem by Mathew V. Spano
The pickerel I lured from the shrouded canal
Had the grin of a Murphy or Hoolihan—twisted smile
Of all who dug by hand the sixty-six miles,
Their bleached bones dumped in an unmarked hole,
Their souls leaching into the leaden current.
Defiant underbite, lips drawn tight
Exposing his jagged grin: the wild-eyed grimace
That follows sharp despair when told
Of the dollar-a-day wage for toil
In a self-dug grave—the cholera,
Shredded hands and feet, bloody rags
For shoes—tattered fins that flail
Against the current; thinly veiled rage
At having to stomach his terms to heed
The starving screams of the suckling overseas.
The hook set, he thrashes his chains
Against the bars of the net.
I’ll flay him and set free his watery ghost,
Make of him a communion meal: raise a Host,
Eat of his flesh, drink sacred wine,
And swallow the soul of all his suffering.
Mathew V. Spano has published poetry, short stories, and essays in various journals and anthologies over the last twenty years. When he isn't fishing for pickerel or playing The Doors on his keyboard, he chairs the English Dept. at a local community college and teaches World Literature.
poem by James Dott
Offering in Blue
Even the deepest, oldest, coldest
is not immune
dilution does not absolve us
every drop in every sea
eventually is tainted
Carve a seabird from lapis
polish turquoise spheres for eyes
insert its cobalt wings
cup it in your palm
fling it into the cerulean sky
watch it arc and dive
bill piercing the cyan sea
it is whelmed in viridian,
drops through ultramarine
past coral polyps
whose reefs will die
before they reach them
into dark and navy depths
is bounced in the turbulence
from a school of irradiated tuna
miles of midnight blue
grazes a sperm whale’s flank
by ships’ thrum, sonar
drifts blindly through marine snow
the slow sift of the descending dead
down five miles, six miles
where the water’s weight would crush
we dwellers of the air
down to the deepest black
the blackest deep
caught at last
cushioned in abyssal dust
O, Ocean teach us again
the way of water
we know so little now
have sinned so much
James Dott, a 2017 finalist for the Turtle Island Poetry Award, will soon see Another Shore, his collection of poems, published in 2019 by Kelsay Press.
Non-Fiction story by Amy Law
I Have No Words
The pile by the front door was gradually growing as more and more last-minute items made their way to the list. My bag, Mykle’s bag, the dry food bag, the pillows, the giant cooler, and a note that read, phone chargers, sunglasses, and groceries in the fridge covered the backseat. Along with the new brightly colored beach towels we purchased on sale, that had been waiting for months to hit the cool grass by the water. Everything was organized as best it could be. At 5:30 I would speed home and load my red Ford 500. As summer was coming to an end we knew our weekend trips over the mountain, to indulge in the sun, would be coming to an end. Soon a dark, long, cold winter would be settling. The sooner we beat the traffic the sooner we could enjoy our time and the sun. A quick stop at the old gas station on 196th street to grab enough ice to fill the enormous blue and white cooler, that took up most of the back seat, and we would be on the road. At least that is what we thought.
Our family’s house in Lake Chelan sits on the south shore just above Hollywood Beach. An ironic name for the laid back, redneck attitude of the residents who live in this heavily wooded area. Of the four narrow gravel chipped roads, our place sits toward the middle of the second row, Anchor Road to be exact. We are just far enough away from town that the tourist weekend crowds don’t bother us, unless the Safeway runs out of beer, which has happened many times. Yet, just close enough to be able to take a midnight run to Walmart when my husband forgets his entire packed bag after a long hot night working road closures, which has also happened.
Every summer the familiar and unspoken worry floats through the air of forest fires, wild fires, and man-made fires, all able to ignite in a moment and consume the land we love. Our house sits on a hillside that backs up to nothing. Beyond the fourth row of houses is steep mountain terrain, lush trees, rocky landscape, and open sky. There is however, one dirt path discovered on an adventurous winter day, when the four-wheeler was all we had to entertain ourselves. This small trail runs parallel to the homes and unbeknownst to us holds an abandoned trailer at the far end of the hill. Eventually the path leads onto what I assume is an old logger’s road, which dips steeply down to meet the main highway.
Wind storms in recent years have taken out many trees on and around our property, but there is still the presence of tall lean pines shading us from the blistering afternoon sun and housing the darting bats just before dark. Pine cones and needles litter the gravel drive and make perfect substitutes as tennis balls for our family dog Paloose. He was born a Cougar, as he is named after the beautiful rolling hills of Pullman Washington. The spelling is unique, just like his personality. My sister went to college at WSU and made the trek through those hills every Christmas, spring break, and summer for almost six years. The word stuck with me, plus it’s a fun word to say out loud.
Thunder and lightning storms are beautiful on the east side of the mountains and something I love witnessing from the safety of my lounge chair and blanket, but I also know the threat and power they possess. On August 14th, 2015 a thunder and lightning storm moved across Lake Chelan and struck our precious land, changing the way I look at my simple Chelan home forever. The First Creek fire, called in at 6:36am, started from an electric charged bolt containing billions of watts of energy in search of ground to startle. And startle it did. This millisecond of light would be responsible for starting the burn of 7,443 acers of land and several residential homes and buildings. The KOZI radio report hummed through the speakers of my dad’s work computer, as it always does. This particular day, I was glad he didn’t follow the company’s outrageous policy and had his station quietly turned on.
KOZI is my favorite local FM radio station that serves the Chelan community and surrounding areas. It is the highlight of mornings at the lake for my family and me. Listening to Jay Whetherbee host his 2nd Cup of Coffee morning show, as we savor cups of strong coffee, is the best part of our mornings at the lake. This early morning radio show features callers buying or selling items, discussing upcoming community events and fundraisers, and simply talking with the locals. I have learned about new wineries, events in town, and discount codes for my favorite restaurants and stores that I would have otherwise missed out on. I think the appeal is the small-town vibe and the direct line with real people, even the occasional familiar voice of a neighbor or friend. Sitting and sipping hot coffee, before the heat settles is the relaxing morning moments that prepare us all for a full day of boating, tanning, and drinking Pacifico on the cool lawn down by the clubhouse.
Before my husband and I can even back out of the gravel drive way of our west side home, I received a frantic phone call from mom which puts an immediate halt to our departure. She informs me of the recent information broadcasting on the news station. This includes an update on the exact location of the flames, the intersection of First Creek and Navarre Coulee Road. First Creek runs right through the back side of one of our favorite places to grab a burger and shake, the Alpenhorn. Being only 3.6 miles from our home, it makes for a convenient dinner run after a long day of floating and playing in the sun. Navarre Coulee Road is our ‘secret’ short cut that turns off from Highway 97A. This bumpy road in need of attention sends the truck tires this way and that as we hit pot holes and grooves in the cement, formed by the chains attached to tires all winter long. It leads us through a valley, surrounded by two steep hill sides. House are spread out and the occasional llama can be seen munching what’s left of the dried grassy pastures. It’s one of those roads where looking behind you in the dark, creates a world so pitch black that your mind instantly conjures up killers or monsters lurking in the background. Don’t tell my mom, but it’s also a perfect road to flash off the head lights for just one quick moment, making passengers gasp with the realization of the remoteness. Cell phone service never works and the shot gun rider’s duty is to help watch for glowing deer eyes that wander too close to the roadway. As you reach the top of the last small curvy climb you are rewarded with a perfect vision of the sparkling blue water that is my paradise. The road winds down and drops travelers on a direct path to South Shore Road, which starts at the intersection of First Creek and Navarre Coulee Road. This is our street address and the exact location of the current road block for the fire.
On August 19th, 2015, the fire reaches the wash out. About a mile before the left turn off into the Lake Chelan Yacht Club Villa, an area of glorified trailers that members call home, an open area extends up to the top of Slide Ridge. In 1993 Slide Ridge was built as a 3,700-foot-long trench to serve as a flood control channel. From the left of the road a ditch measuring 150 feet wide and 15 feet deep dips down past the roads height. This continues up the mountain in one direction and passes under the road in the opposite, all the way to the lake. In the case of a wash out from sudden rain this massive manmade addition to the hillside lets traveling debris move down and under the road and safely to the lake.
As we sometimes kayak and float past this creation on the water, I always pause to look up through the glaring sunlight at its mighty extension all the way up as far as I can see. It can be a little nerve wracking at the end of such a powerful structure. Sometimes, when the rain and wind pound the earth extra hard, the gunk and mud flows so quickly down the hill side that it covers the road way and causes closures. We hoped the gap would stop the flames and act as a premeditated protective barrier.
Sitting together outside on the shaded back porch of my parents’ house, usually with a drink in hand in an attempt to calm our nerves, we religiously listen to the radio. KOZI reports that 1, 022 fire fighters in 23 crews, 108 engines, 21 water tenders, 15 bulldozers, and 6 helicopters are all participating in the efforts to contain the wild beast. Hearing the number of people involved in the fight only adds to the worry we feel as we absorb the situation. Let me mention that while this fire is engulfing the dried trees, brush, and homes that have dehydrated from the past months of hot summer, I am witnessing this event from my parents’ home in Edmonds, 167 miles away.
We are known as ‘coasties’ by the locals who call the east side of the mountains home year-round. My jealousy takes over, not only for their luck of living on such a perfect lake, but also because their dreaded commute home is much easier than ours. Being mostly from the Wenatchee or Cashmere area, our friends and neighbors enjoy a quick straight route home in about 45 mins, give or take a few, and get to avoid the horrific traffic on Highway 2. Morning, afternoon, or night, there is no good time to head home on a Sunday during the summer months. Trust me, we have tried a variety of departure times only to be disappointed with traffic jams every time. On a positive note, with much practice, I have mastered the drive, found the hidden bathroom stops (the ranger station, but don’t tell), know the exact halfway point, and know the precise moment to call mom and have her start the chili dip so I can have a late-night snack after I unload my over packed bags.
Hearing about the fire from 167 miles away was unbearable. There was an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. Here I was at home, comfortable while volunteers risk their lives to protect my home. I couldn’t physically join their forces. I didn’t even know if there was public access to my house. A heavy weight of concern and restlessness crushed my optimism and made me feel so small. There was absolutely nothing I could do. So, I turned to the next best thing, word of mouth and constant opening of my Facebook app, which was my personal saving grace. Posts and updates were constantly being added to KOZI’s, Lake Chelan Yacht Club’s (LCYC), and personal pages. I became friends ‘Facebook official’ with many neighbors I hadn’t known or interacted with before. The community at LCYC joined forces to pass information and keep everyone in the loop, regardless of personal relationship statues. It was overwhelming to see the way this group of human beings could come together in time of crisis. Nothing else mattered in the sleepless days that followed, not who was friends with whom, or who had the biggest house. Everyone in the community was in the same boat, every past disagreement was wiped clean and forgotten. We were all worried, all scared, and all praying for one another. It was refreshing to see the shift in mannerisms. If only this welcomed change in behavior could have happened without a catastrophe looming in the distance.
A few members of the club who lived at the lake year round were great at updating and posting information for those whose homes sat alone. They had a personal touch that the news just did not. Their reliable accounts tell the true stories and sequence of progression. We scanned the internet for new notifications, trying our best to keep ourselves occupied by halfheartedly playing Phase 10 or Rummy. An image would distract us and take us right back into the madness occurring so close, yet so far away. Crossing our fingers and holding our breath at every announcement, we watched and waited and prayed.
The firefighters started setting up dozer and hand dug containment lines in hopes to guide the fires away from structures and homes. The power to the Villa was completely shut off. The main roads were closed to the public, but a lead car would be making trips allowing those who provided proof of residency access. There quick trips, during daylight hours to collect any important or irreplaceable documents got my family and I thinking. I contemplated the idea of going. Was there anything in the house or garage that we needed? That we could not live without? I tried to take a mental inventory of everything I kept over there. Clothes, shoes, a few CD’s. Nothing with great importance or value came to mind until I remembered the tall storage area next to the loft in the garage. My Barbies, my McDonalds kid meal toys, from back when they were good, all my old school papers and drawings, a collection of Beanie Babies that any one from the 90s would be extremely impressed with, and most importantly my bags and bags of stuffed animals were all sitting in dangers way.
Then my mind switched gears and I started thinking of everything else we had in the garage; the boat, the kayaks, the floaty collection accumulated from years of tanning on the water, the movie and comic collections kept in the loft for late nights of relaxing after a day in the exhausting sun. We had more to lose than I first thought. My initial feeling was loss, but instead I tried to remember that those were all things: things we enjoyed and things we could remember, worst case scenario.
Discussing the items that served as our proof of life lived at the lake, brought up memories and emotions. Every single material item was attached to a story. Like that one time we flipped Myke over while he tried with little success to hang on to our blowup floating alligator. He was so mad the rest of that day. Or the rainy day I climbed over the loft walls, giving Mom down below a near heart attack as she was sure I would fall and break my neck. We went through old boxes one day last summer, when a rain storm prevented us from beach lounging. I discovered so many forgotten gems and gawked at the price of old Archie comic books, only 25 cents. I could go on and on listing the way each piece of clutter reminded me of something, but one thing was clear our stuff served as time capsules for all the cherished moments at the lake. The circumstances transformed at that instant into a true threat. Before, the worry had simply been a news report affecting someone else, never my house or my losses. I feared I might possibly forfeit, what I treasure, as the greatest part of my life.
As more pictures made their way to the internet, the danger of the fires became a real visual concept. Level Three evacuation was set for our entire villa and the entire area. While the safety of those who stayed, even after the serious warning cause worry, I appreciated the documentation so close to the action. I had a trustworthy set of eyes looking out for my rustic neighborhood. There are three levels of evacuation procedures set in place by the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office. Three is not the number you want to hear associated with your area. Level three states, “Current conditions present specific and immediate threat(s) to the life and safety of persons within this area.”
Evacuation is requested immediately. When emergency status reaches this level, temporary shelters are set up for those leaving their homes. Emergency service is not available and if you ignore the advisory it is your own choice. You are also warned that “volunteers will not be allowed to enter the areas” until the road conditions are safe again. Basically, if you stay you are on your own.
One neighbor, Tammy, had pictures and a check ins posted every night for the rest of the community to read and see. These updates got progressively worse as the time and days passed by. Her first photo was taken from the dock on the break water, looking in on the swim area. You can see the off-white, sun faded slide that curves off the dock in the background. Instead of the white plastic glaring in your eyes from the bright sun’s reflections, the color is dimmed from the smoke-filled air. As this dock floats in the popular place to jump in for a quick cool off, the once clear blue water is polluted and engulfed in black and gray dust. The only thing on the water’s surface is a thick blanket of debris. No sun could pass through the gunk and no fish dare make its way for a peek above. It was not a dusting from the ash that was continuously falling, but as though someone had taken truckloads of the burned debris from the bottom of a charcoal BBQ and spread it evenly along the lakes top.
As the sun tried to rise behind the accumulating smoke the morning of August 20th begins with a report from a friend on Facebook: “Helicopters dropping water and a bomber on the way to drop retardant. In what universe do those activities make me cry tears of joy.” The emotions were high, and anything could happen. Videos flooded my email showing the slow decent the helicopters took just dangling above the water. With a quick dip their buckets drag across the once calm lake and quickly jolted up, over the heads of the man behind the camera and toward the mountainside. The buckets were not large enough, I thought. We needed one hundred copters to even get started. The familiar yet unnerving steady thud, as the blades struggled to turn through the haze, came beating from behind. Like a rhythmic heartbeat moving from water to land. Other recordings showed jets filled with flame retardant appearing from what seemed out of thin air. It was chilling to hear the engine and see the dust drop, as though you were in the middle of a war zone. As quick as they appear they are gone again. Ten loads would be dropped behind our villas that night.
The brave who stayed behind after the evacuation announcement spent the night in the clubhouse by the water, together. Power had been shut off due to the proximity of the flames, so lines were running across the lake and power was borrowed from the safe side, providing electricity to the clubhouse building. Many people had their boats loaded and ready. In case the fire decided to switch directions in the night or jump the highway that separates the homes from the clubhouse, they would be prepared for a quick escape. Everything was unpredictable, and each moment could change lives forever. A post from the early afternoon of the 20th reveals the matter of fact, yet emotional way words were hitting the internet. One friend wrote, “Early afternoon update, everyone’s safe, villa remains intact, wind remains clam, fire fighters continue to provide ground and structure support.”
That evening sprinkler lines were placed above the 4th row of houses and down both sides of the entire villa. An encasement of water gave me slight relief from the struggle to hang on to hope. As I later learned, firefighters sat on the decks of specific homes in the direct path of the fire, as additional resources to protect each one. The night of August 20th, sleep was a luxury I was not given, and I would put money down to say that no one else following the flames slept much that night either. As I updated the screens again and again to make sure I was getting all the posts, emails, and comments, a picture came across my page that will forever be burned in my memory.
The picture posted in late evening, as dusk settled over the mountain summit, showed the flames as they approached from beyond the left side of the hill. The sky was grey and the smoke had overtaken every ounce of sun and with that, optimism. The gloom that comes with the thick smoke and light ash falling is a calm before the storm. Flames dart and dance in all their glory. What seems to be a straight line of marching fire is peaking the crest and moving toward our homes, toward our lives. The orange glow overtakes everything else in the picture. From a friend’s boat, the camera lens captured a clear view of the marina, the clubhouse and the first row of helpless homes waiting with fingers crossed as the fire showed itself.. The black of the tree line is a drastic contract to the bright lights breaching the mountain. It’s terrifyingly beautiful.
Waking up on the morning of August 21st before I can even truly see from sleep, or more accurately lack thereof, I instinctively grab my phone for updates. Time doesn’t matter and my exhaustion doesn’t matter. I need an update before the day can move forward. I hold my breath as I scroll down the page, waiting for the delay from my slow phone to catch up with my speed. As I read the post without any realization I am crying giant tears. Drops fall over my phone and hand and my chest heaves as sobs shake my body. “Survived the night, the fire has moved past the Yacht Club to our knowledge the fire hasn’t burned any structures” I read. Even as I reflect now, I can’t help but tear up. After all the worry, fear, anxiety, wishing, hoping, praying, emails, posts, phone calls, radios reports, news coverage, we are okay. We made it. The relief feels indescribable.
In time, I make my way to the house for the first time after the near-death experience, and the emotions continue. The drive passes by the waterfront homes, now just bricks from a lone chimney and ground foundation. Everything else disintegrated by mother nature’s rage. The guard rails on the highway are melted to black masses of unidentifiable metal shapes. The villa is covered in a red/orange brink colored haze from the fire retardant that had been continuously dropped along the houses. Upon the first steps to the wrap around deck, I see the evidence that cannot stop me from losing any chance of composure. A single chair had been pulled from the side of the house and sits alone in the middle of the front deck. The same chair I used to lay back and enjoy the lightning’s entertainment on summer nights. It is proof of the presence of a hero. The fire had been in our direct path. If only I could find the name of the National Guard member who sat all night on our green and tan metal chair. How could I ever thank him enough? His bravery and commitment to my home, a stranger’s home, saved my memories, saved an entire piece of who I am.
It turns out, just about every home for that final critical 24 hours had a National Guard member stationed to protect and watch. Flames that night trespassed from behind and came within 100 yards of the fourth row. You can see the sprinkler lines that encased my neighborhood and see the distinct line of charred land. As time passes it is easy to forget memories and how instances in times felt. Working together to clean and wash everything that was covered in the fine brick-colored sentiment was the day I not only feel in love with that color but realized what good can come from a catastrophe, or almost a catastrophe in our case.
What they don’t tell you about wildfires is the way it will bring individuals together.
Chelan County Department of Public Works. Chelan County Flood Control Zone District
Notice to Consultants Slide Ridge Culvert Replacement Project, July 2017, http://www.co.chelan.wa.us/files/public-works/documents/business/FZD503%20Slide%20Ridge%20-%20RFQ%20Design.pdf
“First Creek Fire August 14, 2015.” Chelan7 Chelan Fire and Rescue, 14, Aug. 2016,
Gurnard, Tami. Facebook. 19 Aug. 2015.
“Level 3 evacuations remain in Chelan Fires; more than 50 structures lost.” Q13FOX, 20 Aug.
LCYC. Facebook. 21 Aug. 2015.
“Severe Weather 101 Lightning Basics.” NSSL,
Amy Law is a senior undergraduate student at Central Washington University, enrolled in the Professional and Creative Writing program. She is a published author in the spring 2018 edition of Manastah journal.