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Turtle Island Quarterly

Fall, 2013

Chapter Three 



Pepper Trail, George Wallace, M.D. Friedman,

Peter Neil Carroll, Michael Spring, Sara Clancy







Three Poems by Pepper Trail




Toward the White



We move up the river on our snowshoes
carefully, laying the broad pads slowly on the water.
It is a special knowledge, how not to break the trembling surface.
Beneath us we see the red-backed salmon,
swimming north into new country, bewildered.
On either side, the muskeg is green and thick
with tamarack and willow, the black snags of spruce
leaning drunkenly, their roots drowned in the melted earth.

Of our white world, there is almost nothing – memories
and the pale gleam where the mountains meet the clouds.
So we travel always toward that frozen light,
stopping every night to open our rolls of fur,
to bring out the icicles kept cold within,
the dwindling fuel for our blue fires,
in whose flames we see white bears rising to stand
and fat seals, their blood red upon the ice.

In the village that we left behind,
sinking now in mud and kerosene,
they think that we are dead,
and most likely they are right.
But there are many ways of being dead,
and this is the way we choose –
faithful to the cold,
moving always toward the white.









On the Blackbird Deaths in Arkansas


For reassurance, we are told
Something is always dying en masse somewhere
On New Year's Day it was Red-winged Blackbirds, fallen
in Beebe, Arkansas, crumpled banners lying
Alongside Highway 31

For reassurance, we are told
The cause has been discovered; no plague or poison
Just the dark night, fireworks, a sleeping flock
Roused to panic, flying blind, smashing into buildings
Wires, trees — blunt force trauma, nothing more

For reassurance, we are told
Just recently fish washed up in Brazil
Dead crabs carpeted the coast of Kent
And birds dropped from Swedish skies,
All perfectly normal

For reassurance, we are told
Trust us: you'll know the apocalypse when you see it
And this isn't it





Love and Gasoline



They are a match, the boy and girl pumping gas
Marooned together on the full-serve island,
Straw-haired and glowing, they tend to the SUVs
That shudder to a stop, grow quiet at their touch
Intimacy in their practiced moves and how
They brush past each other, without a word.

After work, after dark, do they shift to the back seat
Of his car, take off each other’s clothes,
Run fuel-stained hands everywhere
Young skin stretched and stiffening,
Dissolve their day-long sweat
In the solvent of desire?

And in the greater dark decades hence,
Will their thin and weary bodies somehow
Kindle and rise to that remembered scent?
All long since burned and forever gone,
That most combustible thing



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.







Two Poems by George Wallace









I am a small wheel-
barrow on an uneven
plain, a great green
lawn a quarter acre
wide and a quarter
mile from the inevitable
sea, this plain once a place
for hooves to trample, once
a place for ploughmen to
plow, for potatoes and grain
and hops for making beer,
wild grapes and mushrooms
grew thru the forest floor,
shit and the silent gestation
of sour faced cows, deep
in their deepest cohabitation,
the aroma of piss in soil,
and the voices of Matinecock
before any of them, skin,
nail, gods of fertility
and their bare bones,
death by smallpox
and farmwives besides,
button shoed and
lonely, a child who
only made it to his
fifth year is buried
here. The silence was
incredible! Frightening 
big and more wonderful
than any European city!
And the sky! So very tall!
And the curved necks of egrets,
turtles feeding in shallow water,
muscovy ducks pecking among
the cow patties, redwing blackbirds
hanging on in the face  of the
new wind in spring. Skunk
cabbage! Johnny in the Pulpit!
And a great green snake, greener
than the greenest green, which came
gliding across the face of the world
and bit a man -- and the man
died, and he left us here
to do our work  under
the lonely new
American sun.

I do my work
I see the snake
I pick it up
I shake it out
I toss it at the stars







i am the acid rain which turns brick back into smoke --
the magnet that’ll gather up your metal filings & dump
Them out at the edge of town. tar dye runs out of my
ears, i have jaws like a cement mixer & don't mind using
them. i am the teargas canister you open on every street
corner, you won't see me advertised on late night tv. i am
a songbird sitting on top of your ashpit, the line of coke in
your nose, yellow dawn owes its name to me. o watch out
boy or i will hack your factory gate back to the stone age,
i will force feed you this poem with a 12" wooden spoon.
like a prisoner on a prison ship, like a hunger strike or self
made millionaire. i am your poet of industry & ruin. my
signature is the dead rat lying on the subway track -- fat
as graffiti on a city wall. satisfying as a poisoned tooth.


George Wallace is author of 26 chapbooks of poems, Writer in Residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace, and an Adjunct Professor of English at Pace University in NYC NY. A regular performer on the NYC poetry scene, he maintains a regular international travel schedule to conduct readings, lectures and workshops.








Poem by M. D. Friedman




The Goddess Eats at Arby’s



Hers is a difficult beauty, from a world

where the night is blistered gold, and

dark trees bristle with blue, hair-like leaves.

Feathery fish swim the summer wind,

while eyeless serpents burrow

with flat, black beaks

through silvery whiffs of sand.

What she ate is still a mystery.


Perhaps salad.  Perhaps she lives on air.

What matters, though, is all of sudden

there she was as amber and shimmering

as the last light of a dying candle.

(I still see her, pulsing on the curtain of my eyelids.)

She was chewing something, grudgingly

inhaling the oily smoke of rush hour,

exhaling our choking world like a sputtering tailpipe.

Translucent, dreamlike, iridescent, this creature

of sparkle and moon milk, sat three tables away

as real as the flickering fluorescent lights,

chomping down her lunch.  Disregarding all signage, she wore

no shoes, or skin, for that matter.

What clothes she had licked her like flame.

Leaving a trail of diamond dust, she slid resplendent

into the yellow plastic booth where I sat, as if to chat,


yet the goddess did not speak.

Nor did I, although I could hear

the echo of pain in her soul.  Sad

as a black hole, veins surging blue starlight,

bleeding as calmly as a fading red giant,

her lungs wheezed laboriously with each expansion

and contraction of the universe.  I wanted desperately

to help her, to somehow make things right,


but drunk with greed, we frenzy feed

upon the glowing bowl of her heart,

lapping up her luminous essence

like a pack of gluttonous dogs.  There is no

end to what we take, while her breath

whispers through all that lives

she is dying.                                                         




M .D. Friedman writes from the moment chiseled fresh with revision. He draws influences from sources as divergent as William Butler Yeats and the delta blues. He has fifth volume of poetry, Leaning Toward Whole, was released by Liquid Light Press in 2011. He has won numerous awards including the New Zealand Poetry Society 2008 Poetry Contest.  His spoken word performances often incorporate musical elements such as blues harmonica and sound sculpting with live effected Theremin.







Poem by Peter Neil Carroll





Fracking Dakota



The skinny woman behind the bar pops

bottle caps with two hands, never stops.

She’s lived five years on Bakkan Basin, sink

of deep oil, natural gas. Big changes, she brags.


Clear skies in summer, tawny hills swoop

to the horizon, spacious

as a dry ocean, maze of yellow-browns

hinting at tangles underground.


High-pressure chemicals pour

through earthen cracks, promise

four billion barrels of oil, enough

to make normal people tolerate turmoil.


A farmer in overalls crosses the blacktop.

I don’t see another human for 160 miles

except a driver at the crest of a 24-carat acre

taking pictures of sunflowers.


The billboard reads: A SMILE INCREASES

                                    YOUR FACE VALUE


Farmers live off camera, leave traces:

fence wire, water tanks; coils of hay

ripen by the roadside. A shed implodes,

a silver tag hangs from a cow’s ear.


A white pickup scorches over yellow lines

to pass five eighteen-wheelers, racing

head-on into traffic. The driver veers

left to the dirt shoulder, gray spirals rising,

shoots back two lanes. Thirty seconds,

two hundred yards, not bad, man in a rush.


At Ludlow, a craftsman carved a cross high

as an A-framed church; in Buffalo, a thresher

hovers like sculpture. Over Bowman

a crop duster crawls, the pilot a shadow on glass.


Taxes up as land values rise, shrugs a man

on a barstool. Yeah, says the guy working

his sixth Fat Tire beer, now I got to buy

flood insurance. Paying the tab, thumbs

pick open a roll of hundred dollar bills.


At the center of a flaxen field splashes

of unearthly blue break the spectrum,

oil pumps bowing toward the land

like mechanical horses drawing oats.


The woman brewing coffee says blue pumps

aren’t worse than silver windmills. Those men,

her head tips vaguely west, send paychecks

home; an’ when the boom’s done

the digging stays underground, I hope.


Tanks shaped like hayricks cast

shadows on fresh-mowed wheat. Swarms

of spidery backhoes grind into

the soil. A gas-flare tints the sooty air.


Fractured earth belches, coughs up gas,

grassland pulsing above subterranean seas.

Darkness carries dreams of power, vapors

lured from the underworld. Wake

the demon: bedrock prepares to heave.



Peter Neil Carroll is the author of a new collection of poetry, A Child Turns Back to Wave: Poetry of Lost Places (Press Americana, 2012) which won the Prize Americana from the Institute for American Popular Culture. A previous volume is Riverborne: A Mississippi Requiem (2008). His poems have appeared recently in HEArt Online, Sand Hill Review, Poetry Bay, American Atheneum, Written Rivers: A Journal of Eco-Poetics, and New Mexico Poetry Review. He lives in northern California with the writer/photographer Jeannette Ferrary.







Three Poems by Michael Spring




blue wolf


the howl rises from the forest

turning the black night blue




I shift my weight

from heel to toe

persistent and slow


as if wading

through a field full of deer




if my breast bone were cracked

and pried open I swear

something other than my heart

and lungs

would pour out –


perhaps a blue wolf would escape

and disappear

into the black ridge

heavy with trees




I tilt my head, listening


with the concentration of stitching

a wound closed





leaving Hell’s Canyon

             for Pamela Steele


when we closed the root cellar door

we knew we wouldn’t be back


we left the yams, beets, and greens

obscured in the dark


an assortment of fruits

and pickled vegetables

visceral in glass jars


you said the sod roof

would eventually break through

and the root cellar will rot

hidden in thickets of chaparral


a perfect den for rabbit or snake


when we walked away

the scent of sage and juniper

sweetened the air


and the dust

no matter how lightly we stepped

rose like smoke from the path





wind storm

           for Paulann Peterson


it never occurred to me until this storm-day, while swinging in the wind,

that trees are travelers….

           - John Muir


no longer nestled in the understory

of groaning branches

I brave the storm


lashed by wind

I clutch the pinnacle

of the pine tree


I won't turn away

if life flashes before me

I don't have a death wish


I'm simply traveling

with the trees


thrashing into the numinous

swaying back and forth

and back again



Michael Spring is the author of three poetry collections. His latest, Root of Lightning, was awarded an honorable mention for the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award. His most recent chapbook, blue wolf, was awarded TIQ’s 2013 Turtle Island Poetry Award. The poems published here are included in blue wolf. New poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Atticus Review, Cirque, Flyway, Gargoyle, Hermes Poetry Journal, Innisfree, Lummox, and Spillway.






Two Poems by Sara Clancy





The Poet Turns Las Vegas Into


a dandelion
dried by the desert to a sphere
any architect would admire.
It will pimp its reflection

to the duplicity of Lake Mead
before dispersing its payload
of want. Not a still-life

blossom, but a common weed,
precious as an inside straight,
the roots, resolute

and propagated to every state,
the stems and leaves
supple with the color
of spectacle.



Despite a cautious advance
your startle reflex jumps
and stirs the nest hidden

between your revulsion and clumps
of barrel cactus by the patio.
That you dart away like a diamond

backed dilettante, whose longing
for a deciduous alternative,
you tell yourself, is instinct alone.

Or farce, when you mistake
the whip of an irrigation hose that lies
in calcified rust and pack rat shit,

a frown of contempt coiled
around your vase of lobelia
hissing its punch-line like a parody

of sin. Reminding you that hesitation
is an offense to the border between
what you thought was the refuge

of your fairy lit porch
and the twist of sinuous flight
that slips between your sandaled feet.

Sara Clancy a Philadelphia transplant to the Desert Southwest. Her poems have appeared, or are forthcoming in The Madison Review, The Smoking Poet, Verse Wisconsin,  The Linnet's Wings, Burningword Literary Journal, Owen Wister Review, Pale Horse Review, VAYAVYA and Houseboat, where she was a featured poet. She lives out in the toolies with her husband, their dog and a 23 year old goldfish named Darryl.




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