TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 11
poem by Ab Davis, poem by Douglas Cole,
poem by Daniel Allen Solomon, essay by Casey Cromwell
POEM BY AB DAVIS
The Annisquam River runs to the cut –
There’s a drawbridge there.
I am homesick to go
the way a body wants,
to stand in that bog
listen to wind –
the salt tick its own minutes,
to breathe the jagged breath of weather
the deep inhales of ocean air,
go deaf from its passing,
go blind the way a widow weeps at horizon
after horizon –
the bleak water.
There is a place where the muck goes deep,
a place where low tide is palpable.
The smell hangs in the mud –
millions of creatures rotting
millions of years.
To stand inconsequential,
and when night comes
and the shoreline shines like heirloom silver –
a string of jewels that had been hidden, cached
that’s what I want –
that necklace of pearl white where the water comes in,
and black as jet where the marsh lays out.
Ab Davis, raised in an art colony on Cape Ann, Massachusetts spent years on a cattle ranch by the Crow Indian Reservation, Wyoming, and a decade on a remote homestead surrounded by National Forest, in Washington state. She now lives in California and writes with a small group of Buddhist women. Her work has appeared in several issues of the San Pedro River Review as well as the Ilanot Review, Pilgrimage, Big River Poetry Review, Buddhist Poetry Review, Illyas Honey, Decanto (UK), Pea River Journal, Loch Raven Review, Ekphrasis and elsewhere. Her poems will appear in two anthologies, one on Fukushima by Green River Press, and another by Tiger’s Eye Press on drought. She was a finalist for the 2015 Turtle Island Poetry Award and she has completed Unraveling Red a creative nonfiction book set in the California Sierras.
POEM BY DOUGLAS COLE
Half-Cocked Gun Repair
Come this way
east of the river
the road rising and falling
like a wave
children in a school bus
all look out at once
and not one smile within
something in the land
begins to take over
as pine tree shadows
creep across the trail
going back to a tinker’s camp
smoke rising from his fire
and the perimeter marked
by a magic ring of stones
enter and dissolve
and at the crossroads market
bobcat pelts on the walls
cedar shelves of canned goods
hatchets and wood bundles
and blankets enough to start a home
find where the road gives out
at the edge of the lake
the geese laughing in the reeds
and something moving
across the water
eyeless and knowing
working its way back in
Douglas Cole has published Four collections of poetry: Interstate (Night Ballet Press); Western Dream, (Finishing Line Press), The Dice Throwers, (Liquid Light Press), Bali Poems (Wordtech Press), as well as a novella, Ghost (Blue Cubicle Press). His work is in anthologies such as Best New Writing (Hopewell Publications), Bully Anthology (Kentucky Stories Press) and Coming Off The Line (Mainstreet Rag Publishing). His work also appears or is forthcoming in journals such as The Chicago Quarterly Review, Owen Wister Review, Iconoclast, Slipstream, Red Rock Review, Wisconsin Review, Two Thirds North, San Pedro River Review, Badlands, Common Ground Review, The Ocean State Review, and Midwest Quarterly. He received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry; the Best of Poetry Award from Clapboard House; and First Prize in the “Picture Worth 500 Words” from Tattoo Highway. His website is douglastcole.com.
POEM BY DANIEL ALLEN SOLOMON
for Josie from Sacramento
Your children, like ours, hide in the trees.
Also, we crack the stones.
Likewise, our males patrol.
Cracking in rhythm in demon packs
we chew, we too make bamboo
into spears. We call to you,
chimps, we call up, up from grass-world.
Observe our muscles. Where do they reach?
The soil is stamped. Familiar is concrete.
Your muscles and ours flatten the plains.
Your eyes and throats grasp
“sad,” “bad,” and “cry.”
Words like mother's body hair
and breasts, like fastening to footrests.
You other ones, c'mon. We want to laugh with you.
It's your flatland, your plains-world to share.
Your asphalt savannah, your eyeholds
in our face-worlds. Your violent red ass worlds.
It's your sit-pads on a chair-world
your fatty butt-crests and yoga-world pants.
It's the effort required to hoot at you.
To say to the son on our shoulders
lookit, you came from an ape – it's
the effort it takes to be zoo-safe
but sick to touch, to reach with lust.
To just call down from the trees.
We are saying to you old chimps
saying with our hands here, here, givvit.
Rotating shoulder to rotating shoulder
we are two hominids on glass
and one time only she does it –
she reaches her arm forward,
she flaps her fingers givvit.
Daniel Solomon teaches human evolution and cultural anthropology at Cabrillo College and De Anza College in California, and in the interstices he writes. His dissertation research was about the political relationships between humans and rhesus monkeys in Indian cities, and he is now working on a book about that. He also writes about gender and science. When he has the time he hangs out in the redwoods near his home in the San Francisco Peninsula. His poetry has been published in Brain of Forgetting.
ESSAY BY CASEY CROMWELL
Celiac the Snake: Losing My Way and Finding a New One
Brisk, Colorado air stings my nostrils as I pause on the mountainside. One foot in front of the other, I think. Only a little farther. As I hike, the ground doesn’t feel as far away as it looks when I peer over my shoulder. Here, the world follows topsy-turvy rules. The sea-sky soars above me; fellow hikers, dogs and the odd squirrel scurry below.
“It should be just a little farther ahead!” My dad calls, perched on a boulder a few feet above me.
I give him a thumbs up and scale another moss-scarred rock. Up and over, a pattern repeated for hundreds of steps. Until I hear it – a quiet hissing from the bushes nearby – and I freeze. The wind? My mind flashes back to my dad’s usual pre-hike reminder: watch out for snakes. Especially in Colorado where summer coaxes the western prairie rattler out from its den, slowly...
...slithering down my throat, rough plastic strangling my breath from the inside out. My eyes watered as the feeding tube slid deeper, farther than the first try that was hung too low and yanked back up, plastic coated in saliva and snot.
“There you go. All done.” A blur of metal dog tags and blue scrubs leaned over me, taping the tube across one cheek. “Perfect.”
Perfect, I thought. Just perfect. An IV trailed from the hospital bed to my wrist, pricking where taped above a vein; now nutrients were crawling from the feeding bag through one nostril, down my throat and into my diseased stomach. I weighed 84 lbs, stood 5’3,” and was a freshman in college. I didn’t have to read my hospital file to know “Celiac disease complications” was likely typed in bold. For most people diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition where gluten causes intestinal inflammation and damage, a gluten free diet fixes all symptoms. Unless, like me, their intestines don’t heal fast enough to absorb necessary nutrients so their body withers away.
According to Lita Proctor, director of the National Institute of Health’s Human Microbiome Project, “The human body [is] an ecosystem, just like a forest [or] ocean, where microbes of many different species are interacting to support the whole.” By my doctors’ puzzled faces, I assumed that my forest was experiencing a wildfire in the middle of September.
“We’ll figure this out,” they promised. Yet words like “rare,” “patience,” and “more tests” darted around room 2E-210 like bees. Stinging like the acid in my chest after every meal, like the “Why me?” and “What now?” questions echoing in my mind, sharp...
...rocks sprawling as far as my (admittedly challenged) eyes can see.
“The road should be just ahead!” My dad shouts. “Then we can use that as a shortcut back to the house!”
I mutter a vague reply and claw at the scratches on my legs. My sister, the ecology expert, could have identified the plant tattooing my bare ankles and thighs as Scribner’s needle. I only give it a passing glance as I hoist myself over another boulder. She probably would’ve also identified some of Colorado’s 400 bird species; differentiated Douglas fir from Ponderosa pine, and maybe spotted a sibling or parent of the brown bear we saw lumbering down a suburban road only days before.
But, like with my own ecosystem, I knew nothing about the particulars of this one. Except that the worn hiking path disappeared from sight half an hour ago. Except that my legs are aching, brow sweating and ears perked for the nonexistent sound of cars and civilization.
“Dad?” I finally say. “Are we lost?”
Silence if not for a few birds chattering in the trees.
“It has to be right above us.” Dad cocks his head towards the mountainside, granite carved by wind and rain into the shape of a half-moon crashed onto Earth. “Five more minutes.”
Two minutes pass. Nothing but trees. Four minutes. We discover an old basketball, rubber dyed by crushed berries and stabbed with burrs, but no road. Then, at ten minutes, we find it. A car – cars!
“Too bad they aren’t running,” I mutter even as I start to laugh. Three or four decrepit classic cars, likely from the 60’s or 70’s, lay in piles among the rocks, rusted metal protruding from the dirt like half-buried skeletons.
“They must have fallen over the cliff.” Dad points at the rocky ledge above our heads. “Nobody bothered trying to salvage them from here.”
So they sat under the trees, alone, until we stumbled into the graveyard. My dad still claims we weren’t lost, only detoured. “Mother nature can be tricky; just like life,” he says. “You think you are going in one direction and actually find yourself somewhere else.” Somewhere like a patch of fenders and flowers, a tangled nest of old and young...
...children dominated the nearby hospital rooms; at 18, I was the oldest patient in the Gastroenterologist Children’s Ward at Balboa Naval Hospital. I’d celebrated the big “one-eight” a week earlier with a gluten free Chick Fil A’ feast: one grilled chicken salad and a medium order of waffle fries. I didn’t bother saving leftovers. The next morning, my mini fridge overflowed with rows of prescription protein shakes – for me, adulthood meant a liquid-only diet. No plates or bowls needed, just a metal Thermos with a permanent ring of chemical residue. Seeing the raspberry, chocolate and mint syrups on my dresser, my hall mates assumed I was another skinny white chick with a coffee addiction.
Until they saw me sobbing one Tuesday night after a phone call from my doctor. I was going to the hospital, I told them. Not now, not in the middle of the week, not with my class load, but on Thursday after Creative Writing. I wasn’t dropping out for the semester – no matter how my parents and doctor begged. I said I’d be back by Monday. I didn’t know that I meant next Monday after three days in the hospital and a week resting at home. Finally, a quiet sigh: “I don’t know what to do.”
I still didn’t know as I lay in my hospital bed. But my fingers did, spinning a web of hurt and anxiety and frustration and embarrassment into a blog post. I’d only been blogging for three months, spontaneously creating “Casey the College Celiac” a few weeks post-diagnosis. But then “Gluten Dude,” a gluten free god in blogging, shared my post...and hundreds of comments from all over the world flooded by blog.
Researchers have studied writing’s psychological benefits for decades, but in 2014, the American Psychological Association reported that blog’s ability to connect writers and readers further decreased people’s anxiety and depression symptoms. As blogger Erica Jellerson states, “I've gotten so many messages from people who are so supportive. It's been helpful in some ways to hear that you're not the only one."
As scrolled through pages of comments, I experienced the power of online connection for myself. Tracy from Australia, Martin from Toronto, Lisa from London, Isadora from Brazil each offered encouragement and prayer. Of all the comments, though, one stood out. “I have a two-year-old daughter who recently got diagnosed with celiac,” Molly wrote. “My girl needs you to thrive and shine.”
Suddenly, I found my mission. Not the one I expected – gaining the freshman 15 instead of losing it, piercing my ears instead of rocking a medical nose ring, or playing pool without an IV pole trailing behind me. I could represent and encourage newly diagnosed teens or college celiacs; I could connect with others – with food allergies or not, living in the US or internationally, my age, older or younger – reaching...
...for the sky as I stretch during our descent down to the main trail. When I later looked up the elevation of Stratton Open Space, I learned my pink Nikes traveled seven thousand, five hundred feet above sea level. As I think of the footprints I’ve left behind, I remember another exit six months earlier when a girl, still skinny but wearing leggings that fit just a little tighter, walked out the hospital. The girl with an imbalanced ecosystem, an incorrect map and plenty of experience feeling lost – and I smile. I had faced a snake – plastic or otherwise – and made it to the other side.
Update: Nearly two years after my diagnosis, I am proud to say that my body finally began absorbing nutrients and I’ve maintained a slim, but healthy weight for over a year now. I now enjoy cooking and eating gluten free and still love sharing my experiences and connecting with other celiacs at my blog, Casey the College Celiac.