Turtle Island Quarterly Vol. 1 Issue 1
Peggy Shumaker (2 poems), Amy Pollard (essay), Adrian C. Louis (1 poem), Eleanor Goodman (2 poems),
Wayne L. Miller (1 poem and an essay), Carol Hamilton (1 poem)
Peggy Shumaker (2 poems)
Tiny helmet urchin's shining
black shingles, scalloped skirt
Medusa spaghetti worm's
harvesting one minute,
harvested the next.
fed and annoyed
by swimmers in the thermal pond
till its teeth latch on
to bits of mahealani moon.
The goddess Hina
buries the head
of her eel-lover.
From his grave
the first coconut
Songs of women
bark to tapa.
Laughter of women
caressing honeyed papaya
across our own bodies
scarred and stretched
by what we've borne,
by what we still carry.
the whole being
high surf erases
from wind-rumpled faces
Some say that o'hia trees
sheared off by lightning, winds, or
show no rings, offer
no testimony of flood
or drought, wildfire
or freak snow.
We can't tell by looking
how many generations
rooted in this place
this fallen one spread
red fans of lehua,
can't tell how many mahealani
moons this ragged bark
soaked in. Some say
we do not know
how many lives
this tree already lived
nor how many more
this o'hia feeds already
the forest floor, branches
home to tiny mosses, ferns,
spores misted by waters
fallen sky to earth,
cliff to pool,
waters of every ocean,
cell, some say.
Peggy Shumaker's most recent book is Toucan Nest: Poems of Costa Rica (Red Hen Press). Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. She edits Boreal Books, publishing literature and fine art from Alaska, and the Alaska Literary Series at UA Press. Peggy Shumaker was Alaska State Writer Laureate for 2010-2012. Please visit her website at www.peggyshumaker.com.
Amy Pollard (essay)
BLUEGRASS AND BAGS: VOLUNTEERIN’ ON THE FARM
Volunteer work has all the predictability of mystery meat. You never know what you’re taking a bite of until it’s too late. It might be turkey, ham, chicken—or a startling combination of all three. It might be meaty or juicy or dry. There’s no way of knowing. All you can do is savor each bite as if it was your last and wash the flakiness down with cold gulps of milk. Much like “mystery” meat, there’s a reason why they call it “volunteer” work. Only when you arrive at the volunteer site do you find out what your job really is. The possible duties are so varied, both in purpose and in pleasantness, that they are often reduced to euphemisms on the volunteer opportunities list. Filing paperwork becomes “clerical duties.” Picking up dog crap becomes “enforcing sanitation.”
When I signed up as a volunteer for the “Bluegrass Ball,” an on-site benefit for a local farm specializing in therapy animals, I was well aware of the first tenet of volunteerism: you are there to help people, to benefit the community, to enhance the world. Only when I arrived at the farm did I find out about the second one, one that I hadn’t heard before and didn’t particularly wish to: when it comes to workin’ on the farm, it’s every man for himself.
Or every sixteen-year-old girl for herself. I swatted at flies as I walked the length of the place, scoping out the food barn, the face-painting station and the hamburger booth. The whinnying of the horses broke the air like the crackle of a dying transmitter, trying to send me a message. Was it good luck or good riddance? My mind jumbled, I hurried to the supply shed and looked at the volunteer list. I’d been placed in charge of the goat and llama section of the petting zoo—both animals of which I know absolutely nothing, except that the gray goat had a nasty little habit of butting unsuspecting two-year-olds flat onto their faces. The first hour whizzed by as I instructed parents to keep their children close—those pigmy goats, they’re natural-born killers—and tried to explain to visitors who asked that no, llamas and alpacas were not the same, they were, in fact, very different animals.
Nick, my petting zoo partner—and co-conspirator—took a more scientific stance on the matter. “Well,” he started, his husky voice drawing from the smarts of animal researchers past, “llamas are taller and wider. Alpacas are shorter and thinner.”
The visitors marveled at his wisdom.
I chimed in cannily, “Yes, and I believe they also live in different regions,” to which he added an intellectual “yeah!”
During my stint as a goat and llama expert, I had two people ask me if the brown goat was pregnant. Her belly hung low, like a sack of potatoes, and she would hobble slowly from one end of the pen to the other, a young malcontent who couldn’t wait to get off the farm. A woman in a flowery dress stooped down to see the brown goat. “Ooh, is it pregnant?” she cooed.
No, it’s just a very fat goat. I looked at her for a moment, puzzled. She might as well have asked when the baby shower was. I had no clue how to respond. I knew the goat was not pregnant, that the flab hanging off its belly was one-hundred-percent fat, but to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so-help-me-God would reflect distastefully on the farm. Prompted by images of an animal rights activist, a courthouse and a spiraling descent into hell, I replied, “No, it’s actually just very well fed.”
The next to ask was a frail East Indian man who stared furtively at the goats, as if drawing on some mystical wellspring of energy that I had yet to learn of. He looked at me through dark, glinting eyes and dropped his voice to a scratchy whisper. “Is she pregnant?”
I gave him my premeditated answer, but he went on.
“No, she is pregnant. I know this. I had a pregnant goat once. I helped her give birth.” He was staring awkwardly at the goat, as if expecting a little ball of fluff to pop out of its back end at any minute. His beady eyes fell on me suspiciously, the lines on his face meshing as he studied the goats. I just looked at him and shrugged my shoulders.
Petting zoo duty did not last long. I walked to the auction tent, where a lady in overalls, a bright pink shirt and an eccentric feathered hat—a very rough ‘em tough ‘em farm gal—asked me to find some garbage bags, as they were all out. I scavenged through the tent and uncovered some brown paper bags that would do the trick—unbeknownst to me, they were being reserved for the auctioned items. When I grabbed one, the lady shrieked and rushed toward me, her hands flailing as if she’d seen the apocalypse.
“Don’t!” she hissed. “Lisa will kill you. I tried that last year!”
Lisa, the blonde grandma in charge, struck fear into the hearts of all the volunteers. She was the queen bee and, as her worker bees were quick to point out, this was “her tent.” As the paper bags apparently fell under her rule, there were no usable bags for me in the auction tent. So my friend in the feathery hat suggested that I try the food barn. Those people handled the food, the backbone of the Bluegrass Ball operation. They must be in-the-know.
In the barn, I ran across a tall, brown-haired woman who held a salad bowl oozing with yellow dressing. I told her about my dilemma and we looked all over the barn and the tack room, but in the end came up bag-less. It seemed garbage bags just weren’t the novelty they once were. The woman turned to me with a sympathetic smile. “You can check with Marianne. She’s the head of the office here and she knows everything.”
Marianne’s domain was the welcome booth, a tidy little tent equipped with every conceivable brand of ballpoint pen. While her assistants manned the information table, Marianne directed visitors and volunteers alike, and coordinated events with the dexterity of a magician. As she caught her breath between sentences, I asked her about the bags. “I really have no idea,” she said, throwing up her hands. She pointed at the crowd of people in the picnic area. “See that woman in the pink, carrying that pitcher of water? Her name’s Jane, she’s in charge of the tables. She might know.” I took a feeble step toward Jane, then turned around and walked away, thinking, forget it.
The jobs were varied and increasingly odd. I went into the house looking for coffee creamer and came back with a big salad bowl and instructions to tell the food barn “No, there won’t be any cheese for the burgers.” I also became a face painter. During a lull in the rigorous calisthenics of cleanup, I stole away to a nearby bench and sat down. The laughter of the crowds streamlined far above me, a faraway ringing in the back of my head. I closed my eyes, sweat leaking from my forehead. Was this really worth it? Horses whinnied in the distance; dragonflies split the air as they flew. The picnic tables had been moved and now farmers and farm boys and farmhands were dancing and howling in the old eating area. I scraped the sweat off my face and took a deep breath. The thrum of the bass in the bluegrass band and the wild stomping of feet shook the ground. I closed my eyes, my heartbeat quickening, a rhythm all my own pulling me into another world. I could see a therapy horse, its coat bronze and glimmering. I could see a child, after years of hurt and abuse, grasping its rope—shakily, at first—and leading it out of the stall. My eyes snapped open. I’d known all along that I was here to “benefit the community,” but only now did it hit me: everything came down to that child and that horse. All of a sudden, I smiled. The exhaustion didn’t matter. The long hours, the tedious work, the confusion, didn’t matter. It was about a child and a horse—not petting zoos and garbage bags and face painting and administrative chaos. Though my volunteer work at the Bluegrass Ball was jumbled and disorganized at best, it was for a purpose.
The mystery meat doesn’t taste so flaky anymore. I bite into it fully now, savoring it, realizing it isn’t the cheap, slimy, cafeteria type that I thought it was. Rather, the taste is a dry, hard one, of the scars and bruises of the cattlemen who raised it, of the blood and sweat of the butchers who prepared it. It is the taste of toughened meat, cooked for hours.
And it stays with you.
Amy Pollard is a poet, writer and student. Her work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Emerge Literary Journal, Fictitious Magazine, Bradbury Quarterly, and others. For more information, visit https://amypollardwriter.wordpress.com/.
Adrian C. Louis (1 poem)
MANIFESTO OF DOOM
Honeybees are being abducted.
This factoid could spell doom.
The television tells me so.
sooner or later
dehydration will be
earth’s rule & brittle
winds will neatly slice
all gypsy hearts, so now
while your tongues are still
moist, you can & must make hay.
I have no reason to lie.
Christ, it was not me who
abducted the honeybees
so I click the channel &
behold a withered Hugh Hefner
& his twin, blonde lovers who
could be his grand-daughters.
My brain, my old-balled brain
thinks it’s honest & says that
when it deems itself decrepit,
it will cradle the blue metal
flute & charm its soul out of
my skull like a cobra rising
from a basket to an oven sun.
Back on the other channel,
bees continue to vanish.
Obliterated by the world-wide
chemical clouds of Monsanto.
Sucked into the vortexof the Mayan calendar.
I am only selling these snake-oil
scenarios because in the living
mirror of my television, a frail
& liver-spotted Hugh Hefner is
blathering extraterrestrial words.
Maybe he’s buying all the bees.
Maybe he has swimming pools
filled with royal bee jelly
to swim in and reinvigorate
his ancient body & mind-dick.
His disjointed brain trumps time
& in such blankness are vivid
flashes of earth’s end, but he’s
definitely not too senile to be
the abductor of the honeybees.
Do not pity this capitalist,
ghost séanced back to life by
a bevy of blonde soul suckers.
Someone should allow him
the courage, the strength to know
that when we dodder miles outside
the gates of dignity there is a remedy
wherein we simply deem ourselves
too old & quietly offer sleek pistolas
to our own shaky hands.
That’s all I am saying.
I have no reason to lie.
It was not me who
stole the honeybees.
I see the true thief in the dark
& fanciful fabric of the TV screen.
Hef, the quaint & dainty zombie
doddering in silk pajamas may be
the one who swiped all the bees.
Sure, I had his magazine under my
high school bed & his new reality TV
show is spooky with nooky aplenty,
but the fogy’s brain is dead, deader
than his dong so anyone can clearly
see the putrid Oz, the greasy skanks
behind curtains pushing buttons,
rising the collective cock of our fair
nation shamelessly upward &
then shamefully downward
are capitalists, yes, they are.
Again I tell you, it was not
me who stole the honeybees.
It was Hef’s crew & now they’ve
made his head & mine, Jesus,
a buzzing, stinging hive.
Adrian C. Louis was born and raised in northern Nevada and is an enrolled member of the Lovelock Paiute Tribe. From 1984-97, Louis taught at Oglala Lakota College and is currently a Professor of English in the Minnesota state university system. His new book of poems is Savage Sunsets. For more info, see www.Adrian-C-Louis.com.
Eleanor Goodman (2 poems)
Your mother made the earth obey her will.
Not like your father did—no chemicals,
no machinery, no engineered seed.
Her hands were her tools, wrinkled and twisted
from hauling boys around by their collars,
cutting fat into biscuits with her fingers.
At the height of summer, she stood sweating
in the kitchen canning collards, Kentucky
wonders, summer pickles, jellies of gooseberries,
chokecherries, grapes from your Aunt Helen’s vines.
Her garden was a jungle of lust,
thrumming with honeybees and horned worms, aphids
she plucked off and crushed without anger.
She mothered her boys the same way—the time
your brother crashed his motorbike back the lane
and ran home without half of his skin.
Or Jim, who caught his hand in the combine
and lost a forefinger. The granddaughter
born too soon with translucent skin,
so delicate the sun feared to touch her
until she was back in the earth, and Grandma
Dora who drove her wagon into the fence
and had to be watched every minute.
Once we seeded squash together with beans,
row after row in the heady heat,
and she stopped mid-dig to meet my eye.
We’ll make a farm wife out of you yet. She meant
my hands would learn the silken slip of loam,
would learn to pull up thistles by the roots—
she meant my hands would come to look like hers.
Tonight in the Indian summer evening,
after a dinner of store-bought sweet corn,
I crave the feel of earth on my skin.
I am putting my hands into tiny pots
by porch light, potting soil and cuttings,
a Swedish ivy that may yet propagate,
as hardy as a city plant can be,
and I smell drifting up from the street a hint
of fecundity, someone’s autumn-rotted
morning glories, an uprooted shrub,
a row of caved-in carved pumpkins on a stoop.
In the plickplock splash of rain on the pavement
I hear her words again.
ON THE ROAD BACK FROM OHIO, I CONTEMPLATE MY FATHER
Crows hover by the road,
full of hunger—
the frozen river is a silvered sliver
shot through with phosphorous.
Farms dissected by greed,
fields burnt with spray,
the lockstep of family
dissolves into portions and shares.
These red-tipped trees
lining the hedgerows,
their red buds dying in ice,
Guilt follows us like bees,
prophesy of our own making.
Oh, this stark mirroring—
each day the flesh
drips from our bodies,
down to the river.
Eleanor Goodman is a writer and a translator from Chinese. Her work appears in journals such as PN Review, Chutzpah 天南, Pleiades, Cha, and The Best American Poetry website. She has held writing residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the American Academy in Rome, and she is a Research Associate at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. Her book of translations, The Selected Poems of Wang Xiaoni, is forthcoming from Zephyr Press.
Wayne L. Miller (1 poem and an essay)
UNDER THE ROCK
There is nothing under the rock
Just some dust
Synthesized in a supernova crushing a cloud of gas into a new star
Five billion years ago
Fossilized shell remnants from a nautilus
Five hundred million years ago
Flakes cleaved off of a boulder when a pebble hit it during a hurricane
Fifty million years ago
Gastroliths from a crocodile eating nearby
Five million years ago
Colored pebbles gathered by a bowerbird displaying for a mate
Five hundred thousand years ago
Hills ground down from the ice covering the continent
Fifty thousand years ago
Grime dropped from a shoe of a man hunting antelope
Five thousand years ago
Ashes from a fire the wounded men danced around
Five hundred years ago
Coal from a steam train passing nearby
Fifty years ago
Construction debris from building new condominiums
Five years ago
Carpet sweepings from an unhappy home
Five months ago
Smoke from birthday candles for a one hundred year old woman
Five days ago
Sand placed by ants excavating their nest underneath
Five seconds ago
Just some dust
Under the rock
LIVING IN A YOUNG UNIVERSE
Humans see, but rarely behold. Looking at a star, we see a point of light, perhaps of a specific color. Most times, we don’t imagine what that point of light actually is. Might we reach out and create a narrative of its possible reality? Could we behold that point of light as a distant mighty sun, with its planets, comets, dust, clouds of gas, fields of gravity, electricity, magnetism, with its entire being at one still moment in time? Can we imagine it over the duration of its creation and change? Would we fully take in the enormity of the star's eventual demise?
Humanity developed as a creative species. Our use of tools and symbols make us strong. We stretch our knowledge and our imagination in great leaps and in small increments. Reaching beyond the known when the situation demands it is part of our genetic heritage.
Many of us imagine an omniscient being that knows all of time and space. Some of us take very tentative steps towards endless knowledge, ultimately resulting in a very pale imitation of an infinitely complete understanding. Science dares to describe the universe for what it is, hobbled by the limitations of our biological brain, with theories that few can fully understand, fewer can modify, and only a handful can create.
Are humans in the universe, or are humans of the universe? Do we live separately from the encompassing universe? Do we dedicate our imagination only to our day-to-day struggles, our interactions with others, and our faith? Do we feel that reality ends when we end? Or, can we exercise our vestigial imagination to stretch and strengthen it? Can we then use a revitalized imagination to explore and touch the deep reality that encompasses us?
In the give and take of modern life, there is little to stretch our creative muscles. For the most part, we move about in an artificial system created by others, easily and automatically navigating our way through. Perhaps we are creative in our specialty, pushing some boundaries, creating new paths, communicating new thoughts, but almost always, it is the same old, same old. There is little newness in the workaday world. Our frontiers are narrow. Our maps are local. Our reach is limited.
Life in a small pre-modern tribe, without modern technology, was very different from our own. Creativity and integration with nature’s reality were the keystones of the tribe’s survival. A group of one hundred families, who together took on the responsibility of planning the wellbeing of the next seven generations, required strength of will and a flexible imagination to survive. There were many fewer minds to rely on. There was much less specialization. Problems were solved using techniques that are well beyond our typical way of life.
The wolves attack the tribe regularly. There has been no obvious solution. At the council, the chief asks, ‘Who will speak for Wolf?’ One man from the wolf clan says, ‘I will speak for Wolf’. The shaman instructs him and warns him of many dangers. He is given herbs and two assistants, and journeys to a nearby cave to meditate and to cry for his vision. He intends to enter the spirit world in order to negotiate with the wolves. The assistants know how to help the man should he have difficulty returning. Carrying a wolf skin and wolf skull into the cave, he leaves his assistants outside to play a drum rhythm, his doorway back. Wearing the skin and skull, viewing the ancient drawings on the cave wall in the flickering light, listening to the drums, and ingesting the herbs,
he becomes one with the wolf pack, within the time that is not time. He synthesizes his extensive knowledge of wolf behavior, learned by his lifelong membership in his clan, into a simulation within his mind, with the goal of finding a solution to the tribe's wolf problem.
There are no research grants to study wolves. There are no search engines. There are no books. There is no time to lose. There is only a man, his training, his mind, his focus, and his dangerous journey.
When he is comfortable with his understanding, he follows the drum sound back from the spirit world. They walk back to the council, where he announces, ‘I am speaking for Wolf’. As the ambassador from the wolves, he works out an arrangement between the tribe and the wolf pack.
He then washes himself in the river, returns to his tent, touches his wife's cheek, and whispers,
'it is done'.
We, as modern humans, have little need stretch our minds to the extent that had been done in the past. Extensive training and professional supervision are required to safely do what pre-modern humans did. However, in our modern age, without medical substances, we can stretch our minds, in many ways and in many directions, by using literature, song, or guided imagery. Before us are the dimensions of direction, distance, size, time, angle, limit, complexity, interconnectedness, potential, energy, every aspect of deep reality, the exploration of which allows our limited minds to behold only a very small piece of the universe. That small piece of the universe is, however, many orders of magnitude greater than what we need to survive day to day in the modern world. Our day-to-day world is very simple when compared to a long-term view. One must hope that, for us to survive millennia to millennia, stretching our worldview to behold a small piece of the universe is enough.
What might such an imagination stretching experience be like? One relatively tame example is the work 'Powers of 10' (http://www.powersof10.com/, http://www.powersof10.com/film). A series of images is presented, from the largest structures of the universe to a subatomic quark, each image ten times smaller than the previous. This work takes our mind on a journey through the dimension of size, leaving us with an expanded understanding of reality.
Another experience starts by facing an ocean. All you can see is water and sky. Do you feel the curve of the Earth? Most people would not. Now, consider an approaching sailboat on the water’s horizon as seen through binoculars. The top of the mast appears first, with more of the boat being seen as it gets closer, until the waterline of the boat finally is in sight. Do you feel the curve of the Earth now? Just the tiniest bit, perhaps, but it is a start. Can you begin to feel that you can go in any direction and get back to where you started? That is more difficult, but we know intellectually that it is possible. What exactly does the word ‘big’ mean? How inadequate is the word?
A more significant experience would be to look up in the sky at the star Betelgeuse, 640 light years away in the constellation Orion, on the hunter’s left shoulder. Betelgeuse is a star fifteen times the mass, fifty thousand times brighter, and a thousand times the size of the Sun, so large that, in our solar system, its edge would be just inside the orbit of Jupiter. Can you feel it?
Consider if you were part of a one hour guided imagery presentation, your eyes mostly closed, seeing occasional pictures, hearing some words about physics, all as exercise equipment for the imagination. You are asked to focus on the entire life cycle of Betelgeuse, from its birth as a collapsing cloud of gas, to its eventual death as a supernova, transforming itself into a neutron star, with much of its matter going on to form other stars. Such a mental journey can put our lives in perspective. How can one possess an outsized human ego having fully imagined, to have lived through, to have beheld, the life cycle of a red supergiant star? What does the word ‘big’ mean now? What do any of our superlative words really mean?
We do not live in a trillion year old universe which has expanded so much that only the local galaxy is visible, where there is little evidence of other galaxies or a wider reality. We are part of a young universe that is just 13.8 billion years old, which is enough time for two or three generations of stars such as our sun to develop. We are near the beginning of time.
We live orbiting a middle-aged star that will destroy most complex life on Earth within one billion years as it burns hotter and hotter. Even before this ultimate end, there are many external circumstances that can seriously damage Earth’s capabilities to sustain life: asteroid/comet strikes, nearby supernovas, complete glaciation, extreme warming, resource depletion, etc. We are but a young species in a young universe, living solely on a vulnerable, crowded, and aging planet. How will our young species age?
The effort to fully behold a very small corner of our universe keeps us growing. When we develop and stretch our minds, we are as children exploring outside of ourselves for the very first time. As children, we must learn survival skills through play.
After many such children’s exercises, we must then enter adolescence. We focus our energies, learn the problems, behold our planet, see alternative futures, and eventually take responsibility as the adult stewards of Earth’s life.
The facts of our current and future existence focus our attention. Our destiny is clear. We must play in order to learn our survival skills and to plan for our future, near and far. We are to keep Earth alive for as long as we can, and move its biosphere to other homes when we must. We focus on the next year, the next thousand years, the next million years, and the next billion years. The burden is ours.
What path do we imagine ourselves to be on? If we don’t know, then we must make a map. We must send out scouts to report back on what is around us. We must listen with open ears and open minds to their report. We must dream and envision, deliberate and discuss. We must chart a course. We must shoulder the burden. And then, beholding our destiny, we must act.
Wayne L. Miller was born in Brooklyn and now lives in New Jersey with his wife and son. During the day, he wrestles with computer software.
Carol Hamilton (1 poem)
Forty years it has shaped its face
as I have mine,
accidents taken as evolution,
unintended but sculptors
all the same. The mad mix
of color, plate, copper, painting,
weathered chairs with broken braces
and warm lights spreading out
from lampshades ever askew...
it is as familiar now
as the aches and cramping
from overused parts of me.
Old photos surprise as past
eliminates the abundance of days.
Our bare bones will signal
the start of different dreams
while comfort zones turn into history.
Carol Hamilton has upcoming and recent publications in ATLANTA REVIEW, NEW LAUREL REVIEW, TRIBECA POETRY REVIEW, POET LORE, GREEN HILLS LITERARY LANTERN, RED RIVER REVIEW, WILLOW REVIEW, SAN PEDRO RIVER REVIEW, THE PENMEN REVIEW, AUROREAN, COLERE, PRESA, NEBO and others. She has published 16 books: children's novels, legends and poetry, most recently, MASTER OF THEATER: PETER THE GREAT and LEXICOGRAPHY. She is a former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma.