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 (www.shiftingpatterns.org ). 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 WHEELBARROW ON AN UNEVEN PLAIN
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
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
I do my work
I see the snake
I pick it up
I shake it out
I toss it at the stars
VALENTINE FROM AMERICA
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
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
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
would pour out –
perhaps a blue wolf would escape
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
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
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
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.
Turtle Island Quarterly
Pepper Trail, George Wallace, M.D. Friedman,
Peter Neil Carroll, Michael Spring, Sara Clancy