Turtle Island Quarterly
Lisa Aldridge, Rodney Nelson, Maureen Tolman Flannery,
Roger Desy, Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, Sean Prentiss
Prose by Lisa Aldridge
Some Truths Fade
Rapid City, South Dakota. June 1975. The summer of tube socks and tennis shoes, Terry Jack’s Seasons in the Sun, station wagons, and tragedy. The black-and-white Polaroid images captured on my first camera faded. Their ghost faces barely haunt the picture now, including the photo I took of Sacajawea’s gravestone in Wyoming, which experts now believe is not really where she is buried at all. Truth fades like old photographs.
The end of the school year meant a three-month road trip to various Indian reservations in the west. My grandparents raised endangered species of pheasants, peafowl, and quail. Each year when the birds molted, we collected the colorful feathers. Mom, my nearly twelve-year-old brother, and I would load up our station wagon with water, food, and feathers, which were separated into clear plastic bags according to color, type, and size. Then we headed for the reservation.
We were on our way to the Lakota Sioux reservation to trade our colorful feathers for handmade pottery, jewelry, blankets, or other goods. It was June 26th. It was hot and we drove with the windows down. When I finally got my turn to sit in the front, I stretched my hand out the window to funnel the warm wind toward my face as we drove toward Pine Ridge. Mom drove about seventy on the back roads where you could see forever. A bug hit my hand, leaving a large, red welt like a relief map of where the bug had been. I cautiously kept my hand inside the car for the rest of the ride, even after the welt faded.
My mother was from Oklahoma. She was a single mom and a teacher. Even when school was out for the summer she couldn’t help but sound like a teacher, so it was like one big field trip from June through August. We moved around a lot; Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, South Dakota, Arkansas, even Alaska, but never back to Oklahoma. She said she didn’t miss much from there. I think she missed her Native American roots and ancestors though.
There was a gas station outside the reservation where we fueled up because Mom said, “It’s a long stretch to the next one.”
“Where ya headed?” the gas station attendant asked after washing the buggy windshield.
“I wouldn’t go there today,” he said. “It’s dangerous. Bad stuff going on.”
Mom believed him, so we headed south. The Lakota reservation lands faded in the rear view mirror. We went to the Navajo reservation around Ganado, Arizona instead.
It wasn’t until later that we heard about the gunfight between the FBI and AIM, we learned how deadly the situation turned. Dead Indians, dead agents, and the largest manhunt in US history. Mom said it was Wounded Knee all over again. First the massacre in the 1800s, then the protests last year, now this. She bought the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
The events of that summer left a scar on our nation that hasn’t healed. They left a scar on me too; it’s still there. I realized that when I took a teaching position in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I could feel it, sore and raw, when I taught Native American studies. I thought it would fade with time.
But every semester, now teaching American Diversity classes in Missouri, I feel it again and again. It doesn’t fade because there are too many lies. Every semester I teach my students about Leonard Peltier, who was at Pine Ridge, a few miles from me when we stopped for gas. Still an American political prisoner. I teach them that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was first organized as part of the War Department. I explain to them that the FBI agents chased a suspect onto the reservation because they thought he stole a pair of cowboy boots. A ludicrous amount of firepower and authority to investigate missing boots. Evidence that would help clear him was “accidentally” lost or destroyed by the FBI, witnesses were intimidated and threatened, but these truths have faded.
Every semester I teach students the history of Wounded Knee, like my mother taught me that summer, and I feel guilty because I can’t seem to do anything to help free Leonard Peltier. That hasn’t faded; but the truth is trapped in faded photographs.
Lisa Aldridge is a writer who lives in Missouri where she teaches sociology courses at a local college. Her poetry and flash fiction have been published or are forthcoming from the University of Arkansas Press, Northern Liberties Review, Poetry Pacific, Lunch at Giverny, and Running Out of Ink. She is a Samuel C. Dellinger Award recipient. She was awarded 2nd place in the Lindenwood University Symposium in 2013 for her non-fiction and poetry. She also presented her research and writing “Pregnant Women Can’t Make Pickles” at UCM's Scholar’s Symposium.
Three Poems by Rodney Nelson
A PIT ON THE MOUNTAIN
and why remember a pumice mine
on ponderosa mountain
and the day’s sunny lack of weather
where men had dug and taken and done
not filling it in again
with pallid rocky overburden
where rabbitbrush was gaining rootage
not many other flora
and no one went or came anymore
why not remember the climb better
and getting torched on the arm
in the empty air above treeline
where dead krummholz had gone white of it
and distance prompted the eye
to a canyon and other mountain
and the meanings of overburden
were easier to make out
than at an abandoned pumice pit
DIRECTIONS FROM ENLOE
you go over the bridge and turn right
at Enloe where there is nothing now
only snow-freaked dirt and you head north
a spell or two taking a left at
the intersection you want
and drive up to the key farm in stealth
a shystress may be living on it
commuting to a future to which
no winter is key and Enloe has
not yet happened but you may walk in
and snitch the one look you want
at a dotard building in gray trees
the more miles were worth how much that got you
into Apache County
of PETRIFIED WOOD MOCCASIN CLOCKS on
the way but the road to the mountain had
a warm look to it
not of another
no you knew what awaited
and who but of arrival at the find
a glister day
in the pink rock where you
would have to be all there all of the time
to make it your New World
to part-own it
and store the light in mind when you drove back
to your old
the miles would be worth that much
Rodney Nelson is the author of twelve books of poetry; including: to go (Scene4, 2013), Swede Poems (Shearsman Books, 2007), Bytime in Yangland (Sugar Mule, 2006), Cowboy Village (Scene4, 2005), Harvestman (Retort Magazine, 2004), and Villy Sadness (New Rivers Press, 1987). He was a finalist for our Turtle Island Poetry Award.
Two Poems by Maureen Tolman Flannery
Fireflies in a Thai Forest
In the moon-dark blackness of a grassy wood
far from human habitation,
trees, all at once, become illumined
as if it were Time Square--
next second, obscurity again,
sky on fire,
And for centuries no one sees this.
Mythic legends circulate,
but the time and place elude all seekers.
What fidelity does a small bearer of light
pledge to its counterparts?
What encoded message transmits to fixed stars?
What promise do they make each other
for the duration of their brief, bright lives?
Darkness asks much of its inhabitants.
What pact have they consented to abide by,
night into eclipsing day--
beaming in unison through all their generations
compliant with constraints on free-expression?
I offer no conjecture, merely my awe
at millions of fireflies blinking in perfect synch
unseen in the dark lonely backwoods of Thailand.
Corral on the Mountain
Dry winds have sculpted indentations
in weathered gray poles of the old corral.
Cracks open ridges to the core of logs
long ago etched by bark beetles.
The cross-beamed gate clings on one hinge
and gapes like a crooked grin.
The was of the place is inquisitive—
presses the heat of day for explanation.
Only phantom herds mix up on nearby hillsides
and need no separating here.
The ramp, now an incline to nowhere,
rises toward remembered noise of stock trucks backing up
to be filled before hauling down the mountain
truckloads of range-fed, market-bound wethers.
A few cedar posts, no horses tethered,
have rotted at the ground and not been fixed
so the round corral lists westward.
Elk come out of the timber at dusk
to graze surrounding mountains
and jack rabbits bound through sagebrush,
but grass is thigh-high inside the coral.
Chutes for working sheep lean against
the empty space where their bleating
fails to muddle clean mountain air.
No lambs were docked here last spring.
There’ll be no mouthing-out this fall.
Men the likes of those pioneer ranchers
lie deep beneath other tall grasses that no sheep trample.
Maureen Tolman Flannery’s most recent volume of poems is Tunnel into Morning. Her other books include Destiny Whispers to the Beloved;, A Fine Line; and Ancestors in the Landscape. Although she grew up in a Wyoming sheep ranch family, Maureen and her actor husband Dan have raised their four children in Chicago. She is a wood-carver, toy-maker, and home funeral guide. Her poems have appeared in fifty anthologies and two hundred literary reviews, including Birmingham Poetry Review, Xavier Review, Calyx, Pedestal, Atlanta Review, Karamu, North American Review, Poetry East, and Santa Fe Literary Review.
Poem by Roger Desy
draft of fragments veering in the direction of a perspective
— it’s nice to think things are marginally even if just
a few of them — if only for a moment — in control
— bedded by day — the synthesis of their acuity
studies the scent of movement on the distant stillness
— they’re most aware — receptive to the sheer exposure
when least aware of being aware of their awareness
— at night — blowing farther and farther away into itself
a lucid dust freezes its seizure to the frost at hand
indifferent in its routine movements to the velocities
nervous in squalls that out of nowhere cross the fields
between the browse before them and the graze beyond
— in the extremes of cold pricked by lit bits of an insensitive
excruciating heat — lost in their needs — intensities
of shadows bolt over the very center of their periphery
Roger Desy has taught literature and creative writing and edited technical manuals. His poems have appeared in several journals, including Blue Unicorn, Cider Press Review, Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, The Pinch, and Poet Lore. He is currently restoring a one-room community schoolhouse and ever finishing a forty-year cabin project in the deep-woods.
Poem by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington
You do not know your hands,
if at all. Not the way you personally believe—
hands, picking lint off imaginary
suits, while wringing psychological towels.
Hands. Leaving marks like a web-making
spider, a body turban, a tight flesh mask
over hollow, bloodless husks of courtesy.
You have been paused too long now
between an urge to touch with grace, without feeling.
You tend to trust too much, although
the slightest simple wave hello, goodbye,
is leveled as a magician’s trick,
flashing like cold thin coins worn
faceless, shown, spun, balanced,
flipped, hello, goodbye, surreptitiously, then lost up clever sleeves.
Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet and journalist living in Santa Fe, NM. He has previously published work in Boston Review, Chiron Review, Ashville Poetry Review, ABZ magazine, Pedestal, and other places.
Poem by Sean Prentiss
Six days before I enter the woods for a six month
Hitch, a salesman carries over an eight inch high
Westco boot with logger tongue & a logger heal
Thick as a burled fist of wood. Two hundred &
Twenty five dollars, he says. They’re worth every
Dime. I will earn the cash in three days of building
Dusty trails & switchbacks—one Pulaski swing
At a time or running a hot Stihl chainsaw until my
Biceps & triceps scream louder than the four-stroke
Engine could dream of whining, but my feet, no matter
The miles—& there will be hundreds—will never
Complain. I’ll take them, I say, sliding soft feet deep
Into their new leather home.
Sean Prentiss is the editor of a forthcoming anthology on the craft of creative nonfiction. This book, The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre, is being published by Michigan State University Press. His essays, poems, and stories have appeared in Brevity, Sycamore Review, Passages North, ISLE, Ascent, River Styx, Spoon River, Nimrod, and many other journals. His essays have won Honorable Mention in The Atlantic Monthly’s Graduate Student Writing Contest and won Fugue’s nonfiction contest, and he has been awarded the Albert J. Colton Fellowship for Projects of National or International Scope.