Turtle Island Quarterly Vol. 1 Issue 1
Sara Clancy (2 poems), Maude Larke (essay), Roberta Burnett (prose poem),
Michael Adams (1 poem), Sara Backer (1 poem)
Sara Clancy (2 poems)
You have no illusions about the thing.
But the Sanskrit cast in copper and bronze
appeals like a pennyweight of promise,
a curiosity of metals, with your wish inside.
You can't pass without setting
it in motion. Nagging the fortunes
on his behalf, as if these exotic
accessories of belief can replace
the certainty of your indolent
reason, the weight of peer review
that concludes some double blind trial
with the hiss and ping of an ICU.
Which doesn't explain the dozens of times
you have read about doctors who said he would never...
and yet he did! The secular bulwarks simply fail
you here. Or maybe healing is an estuary
where logic meets optimism, if not faith,
if not the sheer, cussed determination
of hope, cast to the gift on your coffee table,
spinning away from you, harming no one.
THE PHYSIOLOGY OF TEA
Except for you, I would not explicate
each small movement; the way volition
sends its demand from brain to muscle,
my cup lifts and you are realized
in the wonder of every swallow.
But reflection reads like a textbook
and research may be the poetry of optimism
once it's spun down to elementals.
Which is a delicate way to admit that I read
the abstracts with comprehension
a clear deficit.
My brain, uninjured, understands little of this
but tells me I enjoyed the Constant Comment
before scolding in the jargon of euphemism:
dysphagia, so common after stroke and paralysis
might be reversed if only neural
outcasts will risk the back door
escape, the smashed china cup,
the inhospitable road.
Sara Clancy is from Philadelphia and graduated from the writer’s program at the University of Wisconsin long ago. Among other places, her poems have appeared in The Madison Review, The Smoking Poet, Verse Wisconsin, Untitled Country Review, Burningword Literary Journal, Owen Wister Review, Pale Horse Review and Houseboat, where she was a featured poet. She lives in the Desert Southwest with her husband, their dog and a 21 year old goldfish named Darryl.
Maude Larke (essay)
None of them ever seem to get it right. Sometimes I turn off the radio rather than listen. Conductor after conductor goes through the second movement – titled "Scene at the Brook" – of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony as if it were an urban bus ride, if not an express train. I can only conclude that they have never had the chance to sit or lie by a flowing brook and simply be. It is true that this haste – of every conductor but Klemperer – may also come from too much focus on the clichéd notion of the "babbling" brook. They are trying, perhaps, to make Beethoven's movement "babble". But his music is not about the noise of the brook; it is about the calm that the moment brings.
I will admit that this disagreement is not entirely the fault of the conductors. I am most particular about that movement, that symphony, because I mentally choreographed an entire ballet to it (under Klemperer's "direction"). It was meant to be a filmed piece, not a staged one, and so it would have been danced in woods and fields and a village green. The gentle second movement served, of course, for the love story between the visiting schoolmistress and the local woodcutter, an extended and lyrical pas de deux.
My "Beethoven brook" – a completely imaginary stream – meanders slightly but levelly, through a tender forest of young trees with straight trunks, widely spaced, leaving clearings for the couple to do lifts in when they are not interlacing figures among the trees. The ground has a tranquil carpet of leaves that moves little but provides spring for the jumps. The lovers can dance through the entire movement while moving with the flow of the water. The brook never ends, never glides under a fence, never becomes jostled by interrupting stones, never trips and spills into a larger watercourse. It is an infinite brook.
I will also admit that "my" real brook was not like that. It was on my grandmother's farmland, since sold. The trees were young, but they stood closer to it, jumbled naturally. The uneven ground, the banks, the stones were mossy, moist. Finding a spot in which to lie flat, relax, enjoy the sun and the flow, was not the simplest thing. But it was the closest thing to home that was calm and I drank that calm. I could walk down the field, through the woods, and disappear for a while.
It seems to me that I was less consciously entranced by the sound of the brook than by watching the water, as fascinating and as monotonous as watching flames in a fireplace. Whatever roaming I did around the brook, I always ended sitting by a mini-waterfall that curled around a sapling that dared thrust itself up midstream. The water was clear, with sudden smiles of mercury-like silver, very cool. It shimmered, winked, shifted its small paths in its separate leaps, long liquid fingers. I would sneak down to that brook as often as possible, as alone as possible – nothing against my younger brother, mind, but he did bring an altered atmosphere – do the correct thing and follow the brook upstream to be sure no dead animals had made the banks their coffinsides, come back down to "my" part of the brook and sit, lean, stretch, curl, ponder, dream, reach some first quaking virtual fingers into the child's homemade ashtrays of beginning acts of imagination.
Somewhere further along on the opposite bank a young tree held my initials for some time. I had at one point been trusted – or simply had made off with – a pocket knife, an old one carrying the Boy Scout insignia, that never closed quite completely, and which I used conscientiously except for this spontaneous attack on a sapling. If the tree is still there, the bark has probably grown over them.
And I say that it was the sight of the water that most fascinated me, but I can tell that my ear was surreptitiously attending. It is tuned to the "babbling" like a prodigy's to a violin's vibrations, and it subtly pushes me into my prose and poetry rhythms.
This is perhaps why I settled so well in that tiny park in that little village in the Lot region in the south of France for a week three summers ago. On three of the evenings of that week I rose to a hilltop village and entered a most incongruous, ornate seventeenth-century chapel to hear two marvelous quartets perform stunning Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schoenberg. But each day I left my hotel room in the lower village to walk upstream along the wide, calm Lot River, then step away from it to sit in the shade of a remnant of viaduct on the ground in a park that was nothing but green, one picnic table, and a brook that flowed straight, upstream to the Lot, then bent at a right angle and spilled into it. For every day of that week I was alone there but for a mother duck who floated up and down the brook, her brown-and-dusty-yellow ducklings following her militarily or clustering around her when she settled in a hollow of the bank. The babble was quieter, the brook calmer, but it still spoke to me, dictated to me poems, short stories, novel chapters, and possibly the first seeds of a first full poetry cycle which did not burst from sowing to dandelion profusion for another two years.
I did find a babbling to rival that of the farm brook, when I became old enough to bicycle farther from home, and did so enthusiastically, wherever I could find roads bare of noisy mechanicals. I was taking a final uphill climb to the road that would lead me down hill to home, a road that had been dirt in my childhood when we went into it, our little 4-H group, to practice marching for the Memorial Day parade. Pedaling up hill produced a more detailed perception of what lay around the road than the more rapid car ever had, or the marching and the need to attend to the domineering group leader. Pumping allowed me to see more of the brook leaping down right alongside the road, a stream which I had only caught splash glimpses of before. But the rock made me stop in mid-mount. A wide detail that captured me quickly. It was flat, and brazenly planted in the middle, forcing the water to straddle it. In spite of the gush, it was dry. I dropped my bike gently down the bank, off the road, so that it was unseen. There, I took a wide step from the bank and passed dry-soled onto the stone, sat, closed my eyes, and followed the melody.
Still later, as a college student, I would look for untamed places to wander in to take a rest from the studies. My favorite was at the far end of the loop that I would do on my bicycle. I would stop and drop my bike gently down a bank, off the road, so that it was unseen, turn my back on the byway, enter the calm forest. There was a tender forest of young trees with straight trunks, widely and evenly spaced. The ground had a tranquil carpet of leaves. I wandered peacefully. but neither there nor in the other untouched corners that I found at other universities did I find a brook. I never sat still. I meandered, circled back to the bicycle, lifted it to the road, pedaled away.
first published by Sugar Mule
Maude Larke has come back to her own writing after working in the American, English and French university systems, analyzing others’ texts and films. She has also returned to the classical music world as an ardent amateur, after fifteen years of piano and voice in her youth. Winner of the 2011 PhatSalmon Poetry Prize and the 2012 Swale Life Poetry Competition, she has been published in Oberon, Naugatuck River Review, Cyclamens and Swords, Mslexia, Cliterature, and Short, Fast, and Deadly, among others.
Roberta Burnett (prose)
See a full fish hold as a close-up: The color of the amassed fish in the hold is pure Jackson Pollack. In my memory, the aqua colored nylon of the nets shows like dark vague accents with random pattern among the dark galaxy of colors, whites and silvers in the circles of eyes with non-staring black dots within silver-green outlining dots. There is red somewhere, not bright enough to be accents, mixed in with glistening black and gunmetal of thousands of still full skins; fish blood that spouted out of gills, the now-burgundy of gills themselves, all fanned and serrated, in a tough organza like Queen Elizabeth’s ruff, pried open by the grasping net and fish gasps, the tangled, knotted snouts distinctly shaped.
The real fighters are obscured by their craft of reweaving and unraveling in their struggle to make some freeing sense out of this new––and last––problem they had. There’s strength of will and intent in each baroque twist of their bodies, with each strangling loop of knot, they say how much they wanted to live, how much energy they had for the fight, the right to propagate, their tight, tough skin protecting them against all but teeth and nets.
Roberta Burnett has lived in Arizona for more than forty years. She's had a kaleidoscope of careers, including journalist, poet, adjunct professor, business owner, and she has learned to thrive. “Looking” an excerpt from Salme, The Leaping Fish: Memories of a Fisherman’s Wife, an unpublished memoir about commercial Alaska salmon fishing in the early 1970s.
Michael Adams (1 poem)
There is the fire, the old scratch
camp along the river, coffee
boiled in a can.
Down valley, the empty unglassed factories,
vacant lots, towns choking on the charnel ashes of our neglect.
I throw punk wood onto the embers for morning coffee,
as I think of her, what has been broken,
and flames creep low in the pit,
Remember what it was like
to be a young man,
free and wild, heaven waiting,
all the roads taken
just to see where they go,
the young women, their laughing
eyes, the years stretching like a great
western plain before me.
How I would walk for the sheer joy of movement,
the perfect balance of soul and body.
But now the road is not one of freedom but necessity.
The land, treated like an old whore,
smeared with the cold grease of industry,
and the highways are filled with the legions of dispossessed,
cast out from the towers of gleaming steel,
human discards along the weedy verges of crumbling asphalt.
People make promises to each other, words like forever, as if nothing
outside their small orbit mattered.
At that time of night just before the first faint light of dawn we walked
with fingers lightly laced, as lovers do, through the quiet city, stopped
in front of a Catholic church. From a lighted second story window across the street there was the soft sound of a saxophone, low and mournful, the most lost sound in the world. We stopped, she took both my hands in hers, said, let’s get married. I laughed, said, now? Is this a joke? She said No! Yes! Now, right here. We made our vows under the vapor lamp of a streetlight, and meant it with all of our hearts and souls, we were so in love with life.
Always I love you I take you for my
Heartfelt, as deep as anything either of us had ever done.
We walked on and as we reached our street the sun rose saying love, love
and I wanted the night to be always in love with the day, the storm with the
sun and believed in the simple ecstasy of living.
We were both so young, had no idea what life held in store,
the jokes that it would play on us.
America is a molten sea of power and wealth. I took a job, work that made people small, work I had earlier sworn never to do, the booze took the edge off. Her escape was drugs, speed and pot . We couldn’t find the way back to that magic time and were too young and naïve to understand that there aren’t any crutches to lean on, sometimes there are blows you just have to endure.
Time to kick the fire to ashes and move on.
My few possessions fit on my back.
The day I left it was raining, a low
steady fall that carried the grit of the city down.
She stood on the curb, brown hair rain-plastered
to her head, looking smaller than she was
in the rearview mirror, no final gesture,
just a shrinking away, then gone.
Nothing special, the highways
and cheap motels tucked amidst
the storage sheds and junkyards are full
of men with no place to go, men who missed
some boat they never knew was leaving.
Memories come unbidden, camera flashes in the dark.
A mountain brook, deep-shadowed in the pines, long brown hair, wet from rain,
sun on wet rock, freckled breasts, her long warmth against me.
A June snowfield, hellebores in the new melt water.
Riding the back roads of the Pennsylvania mountains on our ancient black BMW, her arms around my waist, the golden October leaves swirling up from the road as we passed.
I walk into town, just one more in the long fraying rope of life.
A dog chained in the yard of a shack
locked in a drought of hopelessness,
left to spend his small life running
the arced earth bare.
The verge of the road strewn
with cigarette butts and plastic fast-food cups,
a plastic bag hooked high in a blooming magnolia,
blood smear, the flattened hindquarters of a raccoon.
I tell you, we built this country,
turned our hearts to steel and stone for her.
Fire smoldered in our eyes.
I tell you, these towers of arrogance,
these steel rails, these highways –
we did it all.
The sun burns low in the sere west.
There’s no way to recapture what is lost.
Nothing left to do but move on.
Hell is not being cast by God from his sight. It is when the eyes still see, the soul yearns and remembers, but the heart has turned to brittle iron.
On the far edge of town, the rail yards,
empty ore cars racked and covered with graffiti,
a few men, flint-hard and brittle, some
look up as I walk amongst them,
a curt nod here and there,
men I’ve seen in other camps, a loose-knit
and beaten tribe.
The whole land is filled with places like this,
shadow towns of the abandoned, with no one to speak for them,
men and women who have all cultivated distance
until it’s become a way of life,
and treasure the companionship of their ghosts more than that of each other.
I go down to the river of dead factories and cold fires,
this dream-choked and haunted stream, dip my hands
into its waters, pour the cold runoff of distant mountains
over my head and raise my eyes
to where the clouds brood over the green hills.
Somewhere far in the distance of hardscrabbled years
a horn plays low and muted, the sound so much older,
finer and more lost, the art of arthritic fingers,
a heart and breath that have seen their share of life and his jokes
and still can say, lord, give me one more day.
Michael Adams is the author of nine books of poetry and has been published in numerous anthologies, literary journals, newspapers, and general interest magazines. His most recent books are Steel Valley (Lummox Press, 2010), and If You Can Still Dance With It (Turkey Buzzard Press 2012). He has worked as a laborer in a steel mill, an urban planner, a climbing and rafting guide, a college instructor, and a natural resources manager. He lives in Lafayette, CO with his wife Claire.
Sara Backer (1 poem)
WHAT CROWS DON’T KNOW
My visitors don’t know I only pretend
to be unconscious because they bore me.
I hear phrases—it’s so sad—relatively young—
didn’t have much—end of pain—perhaps it’s best—
and only when one says my name
do I understand they are talking about me!
The crows outside laugh with me; they know
I’ll come around again. I have been ill
since I was six, one foot trailing in the gutter
of death for decades, yet keeping my balance,
resilient as a dandelion, adept at squeezing
my life into sidewalk cracks, yet when I try to open
my eyes, to burst out of this bed (ta-da!), I can’t.
Why is it so hard this time? I hear limited life
and kept to herself and wonder
why my thoughts don’t move my lips.
I call a big favor from one who owes me,
whose life I have saved and defended.
Take me back!
And he does, the scruff of my neck in his teeth.
I return to the world where I can not
communicate with woodchucks.
The crows are gone. I'm tired; my body aches.
I suppose it will get harder each time, until I run dry
of favors in one world and friends in the other
who will finish me off with sorry and sad.
I will never have the last word about myself
Sara Backer’s novel American Fuji was a book club pick of the Honolulu Advertiser and a nominee for the Kiriyama Prize. She is also a poet whose work has appeared in numerous literary magazines including Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, The Seattle Review, and Slant. She has taught creative writing classes for Cuesta College, Maui Literary Circles, Northeast Cultural Cooperative, and New Hampshire Institute of Art. She currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and lives in the woods in New Hampshire. http://www.sarabacker.com/