TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 7
Richaed Broderick (3 poems), Joan Colby (1 poem),
Michael Spring (1 poem), Judith Arcana (1 essay)
3 POEMS BY RICHARD BRODERICK
Stop and Go
Every time you end up
waiting at the one stoplight
in some small Midwestern town,
you think you should pick up some flowers
and drop them off with the residents.
You know what it feels like to be abandoned,
how isolation isn’t just loneliness
but the breeding ground of chaos,
how memories, unchecked,
can turn around and consume their host.
But then you think about the catch
in the throat of some old woman
when it’s time to leave,
the offer of one more cup of coffee,
the invitation to stay for dinner,
the desperate plea that you wait
just a little bit longer until the lemon bars
cool off enough to be eaten.
There’s only one merciful thing to do.
When the light turns green,
you keep on going.
For Local Poets Everywhere
To you the mystery of the missing signpost,
directions to the swimming hole,
the best place to pick blackberries (or raspberries
in season) and the quickest way
to jumpstart the old car.
And to you the now nearly forgotten name
of the family who lived in the house over there, the one
that just sold again for the second time this year,
and the old lady with the German accent who walked
her blind dog in every kind of weather,
both of them limping from hip dysplasia.
And to you the drama that took place
in front of the upstairs window every evening
and what things looked like
before the freeway came through
and the bottling plant shut down
and the annual company picnic called it a day.
And to you the taste of milk delivered
to the front door, the cream forcing open
the caps on winter mornings,
the melancholy gaze of the drunk who lived
with his parents and the ambulance that came
one rainy morning and took him away.
And to you the sound of your mother’s voice
across the years, thinner, higher,
then falling silent, and of the clatter
over dinner next door, arguments across
the back fence, the whine of mosquitoes
on close nights, and dogs barking
as the mailman made his way down the street.
And to you the sight of kids running free
on sunny days, lightning bugs in a jar,
arguments about how far away the stars were
or the rules to made-up games, when whoever won today
might win the next and you could leave off
when it got too dark to see anymore because you
knew someone else was bound to come along
tomorrow and finish whatever you started.
Portrait of the Young Artist
with Her Stepfather
He moves right in,
leaves his crusty toothbrush
on the bathroom sink.
Pats her head.
Calls her “Sweetheart.”
Smiles behind his hand
when she’s trying to play the piano.
Makes her mother laugh
a forced laugh.
God, she hates that.
Sometimes she catches him
looking at her.
Sometimes he catches her
looking at him.
Winks and jokes
that she better be careful
and not let any boy
trick her into swallowing
At night, she tiptoes down the hall
and stands at the door to their bedroom
and watches the dark mountain
of his body looming
on the far side of her mother.
she’s going to write about all this.
Rich Broderick is a recipient of fellowships from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Minnesota Book Award, and was a finalist for the Frost Foundation Award. He is the author of five books, including a collection of short fiction and two collections of poetry. His work has been widely anthologized, including in the definitive The Book of Irish American Poetry: From the Eighteenth Century to The Present (Ed. Daniel Tobin, University of Notre Dame.) Rich is former Literary Editor of Minnesota Monthly and Co-Editor of Great River Review
Poem by Joan Colby
The rain’s held off so he can paint
The barns. Old dried blood freshened
With arterial brilliance. Transfusing
The farmyard the way a new century
Extends anticipation. Curious how
We keep thinking we’ll outlast
Trends we gnaw like gristle,
The way every generation wrings
Rags of posterity. The flags
Of a condition ancient as the ice that
Scoured this land to good black loam.
The barns slapped wet and crimson
As newborns will last more years than we can
Count on. Fat as corn-fed hogs, red and white
As the interior of our bodies.
The brushes thrust in turpentine
Soften for the next occasion.
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.
Essay by Judith Arcana
The Bear Came Over the Mountain, Again
Long ago and far away – actually, Chicago in the seventies – the Bear came to me. Before that, in what I see now was a preface to the Bear, I played the what-animal-would-you-be-if-you-could-be-any-animal? game, and chose the dolphin – a creature with qualities and skills I admire and desire (vitality, wit, the capacity for joy). I was serious: on my thirtieth birthday, in February of 1973, I got my first tattoo – a leaping dolphin on my left shoulder.
Then, slowly, over the years, I moved – as we all do in life, as we grow, as we learn, as we change. I moved into a new realm. Probably I should say I kept moving, as I’d never stayed in any one place very long, had never been any one thing very long; what I mean is that I moved from my dolphin time to another time. Mind you, I didn’t give up the dolphin; I added to it.
I was at that time a member of The Magic Book, a small group of women artists organized by the late Lois Nowicki. The six of us worked mainly in different forms and met monthly to cross-pollinate; each meeting was designed and directed by one of us. One time, we borrowed a big studio so we had lots of room to spread out. Lia Gaty was running our show that night; she told us to choose a place, get comfortable, and stay there. She turned out the lights, lit one candle, and began chanting. She led us into a trance, suggesting each of us would encounter an animal spirit. Lia was patiently relentless – and I was ready. After all, by then I’d been reading the Tarot for nearly ten years and had gotten a pentacle tattoo, marking myself with that ancient symbol of cosmic magic.
If I used to remember what she said that night, or what I thought while she was saying it, I sure don’t remember now. What I do remember is this: After concentrating fiercely, following Lia’s prompting until her voice was inside my mind, I suddenly knew there was – and then I saw (lying next to me where I’d sprawled on the floor between some beat-up metal filing cabinets and a big old wooden desk) – a bear. A big, dark bear.
She was looking at me while I was looking at her – her eyes held that shockingly tiny glimmer point you get when you’re in almost complete darkness with the smallest possible light source. We were close enough to touch but not touching; I thought – ah, we must have been hibernating together, and now it’s time to get up. Maybe it was the spring equinox, a good time for bears to awaken. That’s definitely what time it was the night I told this story at the Jack London Bar in Portland, Oregon in 2014, joining other performers on stage for an event called BEAR WITNESS.
After that extraordinary meeting-as-gift, that visitation in the dark studio, I began to read about bears, to learn about their lives. I found bear symbols, pictures of bears. Lois gave me a small wooden bear, and pages of pictures torn from National Geographic. At some point I got – don’t remember how or where – a bear fetish, a strong, heavy one. I took the Bear into my spirit life, my magic life.
And the Bear became, though I kept moving, my primary teacher for more than twenty years. Occasionally I got help from the wisdom and habits of other animals, most notably the magpies I met in Taos, New Mexico – they flew away with me. For more than ten years, I was a bird woman – the gift those trickster magpies gave was flight, a source of joy.
Then, not long ago, not far away – here in Portland, Oregon where I live, on October 8th 2013 exactly – I found out I had cancer. With the good Doctor Kim, Jin-Hee Kim, I watched the most real reality TV there is: on a giant screen in her office we looked inside of me – and saw the tumor. Next day, in a hospital surgery, she took it out.
A few days after that – still in shock, not yet able to think about what this would mean for the rest of my life – the Bear came to me. I recognized her. She came into my mind – I saw her rising inside my mind. She looked at me; she looked in my eyes just as she had years ago. She was, I understood then, the spirit guide I would need for my cancer time. I did a ritual at the next new moon, on a Sunday/Monday, formally asking the Bear Mother to help me.
I pulled out my bear books, poems and stories and science. I put bear tokens up in my home, began to carry and wear them. I whispered and chanted the name of the Bear in the languages of my life: when I was growing up, my people said ber in Yiddish, médved in Russian. I pondered hibernation, what it’s for and how it works; I thought about honey-eaters, berry-eaters, fishers with thickly furred arms and great curving claws.
And, because cancer patients absofuckinlutely require hilarity, I re-read the paragraph about bears in Michael Burgess’ book – Uncle Mike’s Guide to the Real Oregon Coast. I knew it would deliver because the late Michael Burgess, Uncle Mike to us faithful readers, a man who lived almost his whole life before global warming spawned air conditioning in the Pacific Northwest, always made me laugh out loud.
I listened – several times – to Lyle Lovett singing Steven Fromholz’ “Bears” and copied out one line: “Me, I just bear up to my bewildered best.” I had sustained shock, trauma and a little low level hysteria, along with the physiologically toxic aftereffects of surgery drugs (four of ‘em!) – “bewildered” seemed an appropriate label. It’d be a good vanity plate, if I had a car.
Through this new round of research, I learned that in many places on earth, including Siberia, in the Inuit tradition, shamanic women are actually called “bears.” I learned that in the Southwestern United States, notably in Zuni tradition, the bear is associated with curative powers, with breath, the life force. I saw that in places attached to my own history, the bear has long been a healer, a teacher. I found that many bears live a solitary life. They seem to have balance and comfort in solitude; we can learn from them to seek silence and respite, to experience an integrity of spirit that’s definitively rare. The spirit of the Bear can ground us.
By the end of December I’d begun to feel almost competent again, begun to think more clearly. I could go inside my work – not flying, but writing and reading, walking and thinking as I had for years before the sudden terribleness of cancer.
Then, at the end of January, we – the good doctor, her good nurse, and me – looked into the big screen again, and found another tumor. Next day, another surgery. The shock, the fear, the poison drugs.
For centuries people have asked the bear for guidance, seeking to direct and focus human energy. Bears in the wild are models of courage and stability. Bears are admired, respected – and feared – for their power. I’m seeking bear power. I talk directly to her, the Great Bear Mother, looking at her image – rather like my Catholic girlfriends in grammar school with their saint cards.
Early in my cancer time, two of my best beloveds sent me strong bear fetishes, and because they did, on the 2014 spring equinox when I told this story to a couple hundred people in a bar, I gave away my first bear fetish, that strong heavy one. I took it with me to BEAR WITNESS that night, put it on the table near the door and said to the audience, the people listening to me tell this story you’re reading now, If you need it, one of you here – take it away with you. That’ll be a good thing.
Wonderfully, when all the stories on stage had been told, a woman came to talk to me. Like me, though a few decades younger, she’d been living her life, doing her work, thinking serious thoughts about how to be in this time, in this world – when she got a sudden bad diagnosis. She took the strong heavy, very small bear away with her, and that was a good thing.
Ferociously foraging in books and online, I found a poem called “Night Visitor” – in it, the poet has made the Bear a symbol of death, an embodiment of death. This poem crushed my heart – I sobbed when I read it, because it seemed to contradict all I’d been thinking and feeling about the Bear as my guide to living in health and strength.
When I stopped sobbing, I began to think, and soon realized that the complexity and contradictions of this situation could provide much of what stirs my spirit. Think about it: there’s nothing wants to live more than cancer cells do – those maniac little killers are wild to live! Also, I know this: Though my own recurrent cancer, my own eager little tumors, have not been horrific (so far, so good), cancer is horrific – it pushes us to think of death, and it fosters fear, big fear.
I like what this poet, Grace Butcher, has written about fear. These excerpts from her poem, which include her final lines, serve now as the final lines of this essay.
… where I had camped at dusk/Death walked into the clearing/doubled over on all fours/in the guise of a great bear…. I stood motionless/in the doorway of my tent,/fear … took me nearly to the ground…. The knife in my hand was very small,/but I was ready then, and calm …. The bear padded slowly/past my tent and me/as if we were not there …. Now … as I tell this,/I realize the bear is always there/at the edge of the clearing;/the knife is always too small …. The joy is in pitching my tent/over and over again/to wait for the morning/whether it comes or not.
Judith Arcana is a writer of poems, stories, essays and books. Her work appears in journals and anthologies, both online and on paper; she has performed for many audiences over many years. Her books include Grace Paley’s Life Stories, A Literary Biography; the poetry collection What if your mother; and the poetry chapbook 4th Period English. Her most recent publications are a chapbook of poems, The Parachute Jump Effect (2012); a prose fiction zine, Keesha and Joanie and JANE (2013); and a set of three broadsides, The Water Portfolio (2014). Through 2013-14, a sandwich was named for her at the lovely&amazing Fleur De Lis bakery/café in Portland, Oregon. Listen to Judith read poems on SoundCloud (https://soundcloud.com/judith-arcana) and tell a story at KBOO (http://kboo.fm/content/bearwitnessjuditharcana); for more info/links, visit
Poem by Michael Spring
foraging goats near Lone Mountain, OR (
the goats move like a controlled burn, foraging
below the rocky ledges of a mountain
I look at storm clouds sublimating shadows
between us and the distant Lone Mountain
last night I dreamed of a saber-toothed tiger
with fur as reflective as water
I believe the ancient cat was an embodiment
of all that is wild inside the mountain
your fingers touched the reflection of your fingers
as you stirred the water in the pond
koi fish swam into the reflection of your body as your body
stood in the reflection of a mountain
the goats found their way to the garden as we yelled
and clapped and stamped our feet
but they wouldn’t budge and continued browsing
glancing up with the sagacity of mountains
the trail I chose brought me to a dead end unless I dare
to wade through a bog of cobra lilies
I won’t pretend I know where I’m going – although
I’m not lost – I can see Lone Mountain
Michael Spring has won several awards and distinctions; including: The 2004 Robert Graves Award
and our own 2013 Turtle Island Poetry Award for his chapbook "blue wolf." His third book, Root of Lightning, was awarded an honorable mention for the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award. In 2014, he was named Writer-in-Residence for the Oregon Caves National Monument and Featured Artist for the Illinois Valley Art Council’s ArtWalk. In 2015, he has been selected as a featured reader for the Silverton Poetry Festival, Rusk Ranch Nature Festival, and Poetics Corvallis' Annual Poetry Festival. New poems have or will soon appear in Absinthe Poetry Review, Gargoyle, Hermes Poetry Journal, Poetry Pacific, and Toe Good Poetry.