Turtle Island Quarterly Vol. 1 Issue 1
Katherine Soniat (2 poems), William Doreski (3 poems and an essay), Joan Colby (3 poems),
Joseph Bruchac (2 poems), Michael Spring (3 poems)
Katherine Soniat (2 poems)
THE PETRI DISH LANDINGS
This dream won’t talk but opens a door
to the kitchen where I am classified.
So here they hide. Man,
woman, and their young charge disguised
in layers of each other—bodies that redden
and swim as if in a darkroom.
But this is the man whose eyes snapped alive
at our beginning.
Tonight’s experiment moves
his hand for mine when three petri dishes bang
down on the counter, and the friction between
us collapses—each dish labeled, No touching with
fingers Onion and lemon juice arranged n combustible
How come no us, why this joke on proximity?
The way we’re not who we are.
for myth—the lovers disarmed at the cave exit.
Eurydice stuck solidly in darkness
Eclipse crawls another silvery ball,
and I feel ahead with my feet.
Black, some say, equals simplicity,
a lack of intricacy—the way my student wanted
"nature to be straightforward, all those dumb personifications
set aside. After all, it's just a place where the animals eat each other up."
Soon I'll have the moon to myself
and need to move on.
Me, my own
pawn in the where-to.
Once I was sure of something.
The Russian port of Murmansk
had an animal that sounded like it,
and then I recalled marmot.
In that mouthful lived what I'd been looking for,
not furry exactness, but the yearning out
of ahs and ohs.
That flash before the word comes for mountain.
One can look years for the right tilt of departure.
The dog howls after the car drives away.
He waits under the tree, his protest,
its own arrival.
Katherine Soniat’s fifth collection of poetry, The Swing Girl, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press, and A Raft, A Boat, A Bridge, from Dream Horse Press in 2012. Earlier collections include A Shared Life, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize. New work appears in recent issues of the Iowa Review, Antioch Review, Hotel Amerika, Image: Art, Faith, and Mystery, Tiferet, and Mid-American Review. She now teaches workshops in the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNC-Asheville. Visit her website.
William Doreski (3 poems and an essay)
FROM THE SPIRIT-GARDEN
Sprung from balls of matted rootlets,
parasitic and clammy white,
Indian-pipe so pleased Dickinson
that Mabel Todd painted it
to emboss on the cloth binding
of the poet’s collected letters.
As you kneel to stroke the waxy stems
to see them blacken from handling
I recall that Mohicans derived
eye-lotion from part of this plant.
Was it from roots? Stem? The flower
that eventually crowns each column?
Much as I like this morbid growth
I fear that touching it might spread
the concept if not the fact
of decay. You laugh because
I keep my distance, cringing
as I watch. Nothing frightens you;
nothing in nature disturbs you
the way your failing memory does,
or your lapses into the Polish
you can’t remember learning
as a child. Every June this species
ratchets up beside the driveway,
this corpse-plant or ghost-flower
lacking chlorophyll and leaves;
and every spring we admire the way
it grows erect with fruiting
in honor of the rotted matter
on which all fresh effort feeds.
HOWLING WITH THE WOLF PACK
Wolves have come down from Canada
to howl on my stoop. Their eyes
burn like incense, their teeth gleam
with expertise. They want me,
even expect me to drop
on all fours and howl with them
all the way back to Canada,
to Labrador to prey on seals.
I want to say I don’t believe
in wolves, in Romulus and Remus,
don’t believe in the wolf-man,
don’t believe that howling instead
of speech will solve me. Canada
has always felt too small, too sane
to fill me with sufficient resolve
to break the cycle and convict me
of the animal within. Meanwhile
neighbors complain about the howling,
which frightens dogs and children
and burns the air a nasty shade
of ash. I beg the wolves to stifle
that woodsy racket but they claim
it’s their nature. Who can blame them?
I ruffle their wooly hides
and feed them steaks from the freezer.
They eat them unthawed, their jaws
powerfully leveraged, appetites
the sort of simple fact I’ve tried
all my life to deny. Today
I have to drive to work and teach
young people to speak clearly
without digression or stutter
or unnecessary barks and howls.
I explain this to the wolves
but they point their long snouts north
toward the border, their logic
inexorable. In chorus
they howl and I howl with them
and find myself on all fours moving
with the pack. I’ve always wanted this
but I’m afraid of the raw meat,
the blood on the forest floor.
Too bad. I’m one of them now,
all fang and claw, my students
forgotten along with the speech
I taught as if I were human,
the primal forest absolving me,
a rough warm pelt concealing me
from whoever I used to be.
MY FAVORITE MICAS
We found my favorite micas—
biotite, muscovite, lepid-
olite— at the Chester Mica Mine,
a site abandoned so long ago
that the gravel road up the slope
had disappeared in forest long
before my father and I scouted
for hand-sized specimens museums
would envy. Biotite: brownish black,
greenish black, pearly, colorless streak.
Thin plates tough and elastic.
Monoclinic crystals. Muscovite:
white or colorless, sometimes pink,
yellow, greenish. Perfect cleavage.
Occurs with albite and tourmaline,
two of my favorite minerals.
Lepidolite contains lithium,
crops up in granite rather
than pegmatite, and commonly
looks pink or lilac. All three
flourished in the mine talus
at Chester, where pegmatite
had extruded through granite and cooled
into masses of feldspar and quartz
with grave black tourmaline speared
through the matrix. My father and I
bagged our specimens and slid
or skipped down the rubble-slope
and found my mother sound asleep
in the car, the white light of summer
resounding, the AM radio
crooning, the sack of minerals
a hefty and comforting sample
of the familiar post-glacial view.
On “My Favorite Micas.”
When I was in my early teens I became obsessed with mineral collecting. Before then, I had peered through a microscope at pond water protozoa, generated stinks and pops with my chemistry set, and built and fired a model rocket that speared into the roof of a neighbor’s barn. My commitment to science was deep and absolute. A friend’s father worked at the Springfield (Massachusetts) Museum of Natural History as curator of the shell collection, lecturer on astronomy in the little planetarium, and janitor. Under his loose supervision, I spent hours browsing the museum’s impressive mineral collection, learned enough astronomy to lecture to crowds of grammar school kids, and on Saturdays displayed the resident python by allowing it to entwine me while children gasped. More important to me, though, than the cosmos or the zoological world, the minerals spoke from the depths of the earth, and I had to have my own collection. So on weekends I nagged my parents to drive me to the various mineral localities described in a pamphlet issued by the museum. I scouted every old mine and quarry in the Berkshire foothills, assembling a modest but satisfying collection.
A poem however, is more than subject matter. The descriptive language of science has a richness of its own, and I framed this with a simple narrative, triangulated by my father, mother, and me. Without the family dynamic (the father shares his son’s interest, while the mother remains indifferent but cooperative) to overlay on the simple act of collecting the specimens, the poem would probably seem too thin. The detail of the AM radio “crooning” helps place the poem in time. Without that detail it might seem entirely a poem of material, spatial relations. Although the topic might be the physical basis of our existence, the narrative crosscuts that with movement and memory. Although fictional in the sense that this is a compression and redaction of probably a hundred similar trips, using an actual place name keeps the poem anchored to the world beyond the imagination.
William Doreski teaches at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His most recent books of poetry are City of Palms and June Snow Dance, both 2012. He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Atlanta Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Worcester Review, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and Natural Bridge.
Joan Colby (3 poems)
Let us testify to the integrity of linen.
The winnowing, retting and scutching,
How it is heckled with combs.
The mummy wraps of archeology
Retained in the sarcophagus
Of the unearthed tomb.
Leviticus proscribes against
Mingling linen and wool.
Abomination of animal and vegetable
Kingdoms. The purity of linen
Must never be questioned. Linen
Of good intentions, of the flaxen fields.
LINEN POEM II
Observe the colonial
Diplomat in his linen suit
Strolling the boulevards
Wiping his damp brow
With a linen handkerchief.
The irregular polygons
Coarse and cooling.
Watch the woman in a
Slubbed linen sheath
Lift her glass of G&T as she
Lounges in a lawn chair
Viewing a cricket match in the year
Before the Great War. Look up
Into the night sky as the moon rises.
There floating like stars are angels
Clad in fine white linen.
LINEN POEM III
A cedar chest of hopes
Carefully folded so on an eventual
Afternoon when someone takes her hand
And promises, she will open it, nervous
And curious as Pandora
Searching for any infestation.
She shakes out her caution: the linens
For the bed she’s made and must lie on.
All that was cherished loses crispness
In the closet where the monograms
Design, washed and ironed over and over
Fades into anonymity. The savor
Of their bodies, disinfected,
Bleached and starched.
JOAN COLBY‘s most recent collection is Dead Horses, published by Future Cycle Press. She has been the editor of Illinois Racing News (a monthly publication for the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation) for over 25 years. In addition to seven previous poetry collections, her work has appeared in Poetry, Portland Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and Western Humanities Review, among others.
Joseph Bruchac (2 poems)
When you speak,
seeing not through
your self but through
the eyes of the land,
the voice you hear
is no longer yours.
You have not planned
the words you speak,
your only script
is the indrawn breath
that brings to you
the scent of pine,
brings to your throat
the first morning mist,
brings to your lungs
the cedar smoke
from the fire
are heartbeat of flame.
So you speak
and what you say
when it is given
voice this way
speaks with the wind
and all things that breathe,
wli dogo wongan,
all our relations.
My favorite comfortable brown slippers,
the denim shirt I put on this morning,
the lenses that sharpen my sight,
the watch strapped to my wrist,
all are destined to be broken,
worn out or lost in time.
Nothing that I own will remain.
Even this body,
on which I’ve relied
will not stay faithful
to my breath
but make new alliance
with microbes and earth.
Yet, for some reason
I cannot explain,
I’m smiling at
a wet winter leaf
pressed like an open hand
on the clear window pane.
Joseph Bruchac is the founder of the Greenfield Review Press, a leading publisher of work by Native authors. Joseph Bruchac’s own honors include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas and a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry fellowship. Author of over 130 books, his work often reflects his Abenaki ancestry and his lifelong commitment to preserving indigenous stories, traditions, and languages. His newest book of poetry, a bilingual collaboration in Abenaki and English with his son Jesse, is NISNOL SIBOAL/ TWO RIVERS (2012).
Michael Spring (3 poems)
the neighborhood dogs didn’t hear me
when I climbed over the fence
and passed the yellow plastic Buddha
and the smashed grocery cart tangled in ivy
I walked around the brambles
and the hobo camps
where hotdogs burned on garbage can lids
when I found the red clay banks
I followed the river
looking for rainbows on the surface of fish
I walked under the tree
where Regina hanged himself
beyond the brown scum of river shallows
and the muck gripping tin cans
and broken bottles
I walked over mildewed clothes
to avoid stepping on the dead gull
I’m lucky the neighborhood dogs didn’t hear me
as I followed the river
over boulders and fallen trees
into a field of tall grass
there’s the rattlesnake again
this time in my waking dream
yesterday a dead branch
latching onto my foot
today, submerged in dry leaves,
the eroding bungee cord
I’ve been holding on
to the coiling image, the actual
rattlesnake I saw last year, carefully
in a glass aquarium I formed in my mind
I’m tired of timidly studying
its movements and reactions
I smash the glass
allow the snake to pour forth
and follow the stream of muscle –
the flexible scales
I pull the draw blade over the fir pole
peel back the dry, brittle bark
until I reach the moist
and flesh-like limbs of the wood
I do this for the aesthetic value
and for strengthening
the integrity of the pole for the building
I see evidence of the cambium bark beetle –
the arterial script –
engraved passages that worm the distance
of the pole I will now stop peeling
originally slated to be a rafter for the roof
will now be a lintel over the door, or an exposed perling
above our bed
an ornate and numinous muscle
holding the roof above our heads
Michael Spring is the author of three poetry collections. His latest book Root of Lightning was a finalist for the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award. New poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Atticus Review, Cirque, Flyway, Gargoyle, Innisfree, LUMMOX, Neon, Sleet, Spillway, Toe Good Poetry, and What the River Brings; Anthology of Oregon River Poems. Michael lives in O'Brien, OR. He is a natural builder, a martial art instructor, and a poetry editor for The Pedestal Magazine.