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                          Turtle Island Quarterly 6

                               Fall 2014


                                                   CHAPTER FOUR  


       Pepper Trail (3 poems), Erick Mertz (1 poem), Scott Starbuck (1 poem), Joan Colby (1 poem)












Old Apple

                -- for Peter Matthiessen



In this moment of windfall are all other moments.

The brittle winter sleep, the itch of the bud beneath the bark,

the unspeakable release of the opening flower,

the bee’s fumbling embraces, the petals’ fall and

the thousands of leaves at work in the sun.


All beings are travelers.  From the Altai,

center of the world, the apple has journeyed,

taken root, taken many forms, been made

and remade to every taste, remaining always

itself, of its own nature, fleshy, pungent, good.


Through the long summer, the ripening.  Do not

think of one apple, but all apples, on all the trees

everywhere, Friesia and Long Island, Japan, New

Zealand, the highlands of Kenya, and the lowlands

of Nepal. Everything happening, always.


There is harvest.  There are hands tugging, teeth

taking bites, the packing, the shipping, the selling.

There is also freedom from harvest, the fall

into the long grass.  Slowly, the skin creases,

the flesh fails, all is prepared. Another rebirth.







The Swamp Woods



In the swamp woods, it was different.

Sticky but not sweet, no sugar maples here,

just spicebush and ash, and between them

pools of clear brown water filled in spring

with clouds of frogspawn, and newts floating

spread-eagled on the surface taking

occasional suspicious gulps of air.


I would come here in certain moods, marked

with wounds invisible to my mother’s eyes,

but bleeding from my heart down my legs

to soak my shoes as I pushed through the ferns,

was whipped by the osiers, took revenge

upon mosquitoes, traded blood for blood,

went deep as if I was pursued.


Far inside was a low mound, mossy, strange,

free of trees, the sky a circle above, where

I could speak without being heard, see

without being seen. My return home led

through different woods, oaks and

pine, each pace rehearsing the answers

I would need: Nowhere and Nothing.










So much is understood

As, for example, the iridescence

Of hummingbirds

It has all been worked out

The melanins and the carotenoids

How the proteins must be spaced and stacked

Set within each feather’s frame

To flash ruby gold, then with a twist

Go black


How marvelous these mechanisms at first

But then, the poverty of explanation!

How tedious, really, to part the curtain

Reveal the worn ropes and pulleys of life

Straining at their accustomed work


Young, I loved the play of hypothesis and test

Acquired facts, for years learned them, line by line

Now, I find more pleasure in departing from the text

Walking, dazzled, into broken light




Pepper Trail has a Ph.D. in biology from Cornell University, and works as an ornithologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

His environmental essays appear regularly in High Country News and other publications, and he is the author of 

Shifting Patterns: Meditations on the Meaning of Climate Change in Oregon’s Rogue Valley, a collection of essays, poems, and photographs ( ). His poems have been published in Atlanta Review, Cascadia Review, Comstock Review, Spillway, Windfall, and elsewhere.  He was a finalist for our 2013 Turtle Island Poetry Award. He lives in Ashland, Oregon.
















Axe drops to gravel bed

beside the maul.

Sound of metal on metal resonates.

Scent of split, white oak

dances while on the moist, August haze.


Pull glove off slowly.

Patch of work worn flesh revealed at thumb crook,

bare skin, torn

away from blood soaked leather.

My eyes close, thrilling with sting of sweat –


held away from my body, air forcing swoon.

Until you rush through the garden gate, wreath half finished at your back.

Your cool breath falls to fresh wound,

willing lips traced crimson

as you whisper one tiny assurance after another.


Concessions made to your mouth’s gesture – I have surrendered

one hundred times, perhaps more.

This moment feels different though.

When a man recognizes he is worthy of healing

then he may gradually give himself over to real love.




Over the years, Erick Mertz 's work has appeared in numerous publications, from Stringtown to Fireweed: Poetry of Western Oregon to Ink Pot Press to The Vermillion Literary Project.  He has placed work in La Palabra Café’s The Cereal Vox project and in a recent issue of Pedestal magazine.  His work has also garnered a 2004 Kay Snow Award for poetry from the Willamette Writer’s organization. Forthcoming is a chap book, entitled Semi-Urban Cartography, from Semi-Urban Press and an untitled novel about social work.  Short film projects, Old Tom and Closing Time, are ready to embark on their round through the festival circuit.












Drifting Out of My Body in the Dark

Somewhere Near Astoria, Oregon



Reds and yellows ghost the river bridge

as stars fade and I slowly cast, waiting for a strike.

Under ancient Sitka spruce

a headlamp shows my boots in a net

and this reminds me of the boot owner’s

tiny human gill slits

in the womb when all of these salmon

were his brothers and sisters.


When he eats them, they become him

and, like their river fire, his striving

at any cost

to get back home.



A 2013 Artsmith Fellow on Orcas Island, Scott T. Starbuck feels destruction of Earth's ecosystems is closely related to spiritual illness and widespread urban destruction of human consciousness.  He says The National Poetry Series accepting support from Exxon is like God asking Satan if he can spare some change for the cause. Starbuck's newest chapbook The Other History, or unreported and underreported issues, scenes, and events of the 19th, 20th, and 21 centuries  was published by FutureCycle Press in 2013, and he recently guest blogged about eco-poetry at South 85 Literary Journal Blog and poet Miriam Sagan's blog Miriam's Well: Poetry, Land Art, and Beyond  Starbuck blogs about environmental issues, fishing, and poetry in the Pacific Northwest at










We’re happy to end our issue with ARE YOU HAPPY.

Joan’s chapbook PRO FORMA was the runner-up for the 2014 Turtle Island Poetry Award

and was chosen for the 2014 Turtle Island Quarterly’s Editor’s Choice Award.

It will be published by FootHills Publishing in 2014.







He wrote pursuit, knowing

It can be the chase that counts.

The wolf pack bringing down the old elk,

Gorging; they must be happy

Or at least fulfilled. To be happy

Is conjecture; contentment suffices for most

Though it can hobble the way a horse

In a field of fine clover

Doesn’t struggle against its thongs.


Happiness, my father said, involved accomplishment.

The sort of striving Jefferson must

Have had in mind as he deliberated before

Adding the amplifying noun.


Walking into a July morning,

The air full of birdcalls, one perched

On the rim of the birdbath shaking its feathers,

In the distance a dog barking

And everywhere the blossoms opening,

And as I pause a moment, sunlight

In my hair, on my body, warming the day,

For that instant, that perishing instant,

I am happy.



Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, Epoch, and Prairie Schooner.. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She was a finalist in the GSU Poetry Contest (2007), Nimrod International Pablo Neruda Prize (2009, 2012), and received honorable mentions in the North American Review's James Hearst Poetry Contest (2008, 2010).One of her poems is a winner of the 2014 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. She is the editor of Illinois Racing News,and lives on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois. She has published 14 books including  Selected Poems” from FutureCycle Press .”Selected Poems” received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize.  “Properties of Matter” ,Aldrich Press (Kelsay Books).;  “Bittersweet” (Main Street Rag Press) and The Wingback Chair, FutureCycle Press.” Colby is also an associate editor of Kentucky Review and FutureCycle Press.






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