TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 4
Debra Shirley (1 poem), Judith Arcana (1 poem and an essay),
Bill Yake (2 poems), and Matt Pasca (2 poems)
POEM BY DEBRA SHIRLEY
Before the Age of Twelve
Mapped the surrounding terrain, Oakey Mountain to Stamp Knob, a system of criss-
crossing trails: turkey and deer traces, pig ruts, footpaths of the Scots-Irish, the Cherokee.
Collected and catalogued an extensive menagerie of specimens: rocks, minerals, insects,
the sloughed skins and bleached bones/shells of various birds and reptiles.
Studied the bark and leaf structure of the pignut hickory, the pines and a dozen species
of oak, contemplated the force of energy generated by the germination of a single acorn.
Recorded the oral histories of my kin, the telling sparked by the glint of quartz points
and clay shards turned up by my father’s plow, plied the art of planting by the signs.
Learned how to candle an egg, cradle a chick, stroke a sleepy briar, listen to the news
bees, find wild ginseng and yellow root, let the Eastern Indigo snake pass unharmed.
All the subsequent years I have spent trying to recall what I knew: the taste of wild
honeysuckle, the necessity of meandering A to B, how to read the phases of the moon.
Debra Shirley grew up in Northeast Georgia in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and has lived in Colorado since 1991. Debra studied Professional Acting at East Carolina University. She is the Director of after school and summer arts programming for two elementary schools in Arvada. Her children’s picture book, Best Friend on Wheels, was published in 2008 by Albert Whitman & Company. Her poetry and other work has been included in Tar River Poetry, Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry, The Cortland Review, Decompression Poetry e-zine, Margie Review: The American Journal of Poetry, The Main Street Rag, Halfway Down the Stairs, The Adirondack Review, Untitled Country Review, Melusine, Untitled Country Review, Word Riot, Playwright's Showcase of the Western Region and elsewhere.
POEM AND AN ESSAY BY JUDITH ARCANA
Tom always asks the visiting poets about their influences; this time, it’s nature poets.
I did see what might have been
a kind of kingfisher, dark blue
perched in a white March aspen
tufted head displayed in profile.
Mary Oliver was nowhere nearby.
When my sharp intake of breath
– my surprise and tiny awe –
startled the bird into flight
I thought of her, the ways
into my urban mind she had
opened, years ago. I thought
of her prayers, her questions
and of my own.
Walking the woods in deep snow
I gave myself to quiet, readily
as I’d ever given myself (not
surrender, gift). Frost’s poem
– the one with the little horse –
learned when I was fifteen
given to me though he didn’t
mean to, was in my mind. His
words had taken me to trees
in the snow back then, so
trees in the snow took me back
to those words. No birds.
Flown south by now.
Walking the Lake’s Edge in Winter
Everyone who knows Chicago knows winter there is cold, really cold, and pretty often filled with snow. The snow lands thick, in great dunes that blanket the city's dirt. Or it lies hard and gritty in the street, like the salt crystals scattered to break it down to slush. Or maybe the snow never lands; it just cuts, sharp and hard, slashed by the knife of the wind.
Not everyone knows what Chicago winters do with the big lake; few walk the ice edge in early February. Lake Michigan is so big it freezes only rarely, and the wind in winter moves the water much as it does in the hot months, lifting it into waves as clear in their hearts of gray light as summer’s waves of green. The lake's body rises and falls all winter long.
By February of a freezing winter the shore is no longer flat, and the lake no longer throws its fans across the sand. By February there are ice caves, built up and hollowed out by the waves, some four and five feet high above the beach. Most days the sky is low, colored milk, and sand suspended in the wave-carved ice is coarse enough to smooth fresh cut wood. But when the low sky opens, and the brittle winter light pours through, its pale gold illuminates the waiting shadow of the ice caves. Suspended sand glitters like gemstones; hollows become diamond mirrors.
Between Fullerton Parkway and North Avenue, a stretch with a breakwater of long narrow concrete piers, the ice caves gleam green and silver. Even the white of that frozen architecture glistens. New waves make no splash, but crack where they land. They shatter as they freeze.
I walked that shore in February. I want to go to the beach, I said inside my head, and pulled on high boots lined with fleece. My mind was changing like the landscape; I needed to be there. I needed the comfort that comes when inside and outside are one thing, no separation.
I understood this, why I was going to the lake, when I crossed under Lake Shore Drive and the cars roared over my head, trembling the walls of the concrete tunnel, rumbling its dark cracked ceiling. On the other side, the hotdog-popcorn-icecream wagon was boarded up, and the drinking fountains covered. There were no gulls, and after the roar of the Drive, the beach seemed silent.
Then, in that sudden quiet after the tunnel, I heard the creaking ice, moved to sound by the insistent lake, heard my bootsteps crunching the dense snow. I saw that the long piers were gone – no, they were invisible, a skeleton for the carved ice and frozen sandsnow.
No fish smell, but the smell of my own body rose on the heat coming out of my collar, warming my throat, wrapped in its layers of flannel and wool. I stumped over to what had been the summer edge of the beach, and stopped. There I saw that light was trapped in the ice, shining. The sand itself shone, silica and mica glistening like tiny stars in icelocked space. The ice looked green as I approached it, silvergrey when I finally stood there, watching water from Gary and Milwaukee come to freeze at the tips of my boots.
Here was the science lesson made palpable: all about freezing, all about how one thing, water, could be many things, and yet be itself. Solid – the ice, and liquid – the lake, even gas – my wet breath like hot steam; and in all of these, itself. Was this true of me? My mind expanded like the lake at freezing, and took new shapes, like the ice caves.
Here was the philosophy lesson, biology of the spirit, teaching the physical nature of mind in Chicago, as fresh water mingles with salt when the St. Lawrence finds the sea, that briny offshore current freshening then, there, just there and then in a moment – and all of it changing: going, coming, moving, changing, coming on through the Great Lakes to me, here on this winter beach. Like the water that makes me, the water inside me, moving from lips to heart, cells to systems and back again in tides of myself, so this water, rising from the heart of the continent, surges from Mackinaw City to Toronto, from Portneuf to Riviere au Renard. Here was the lesson that teaches how everything changes, how transition is never complete, how whatever we are is whatever we’ve been, whatever we ever will be.
Judith Arcana writes poems, stories, essays and books. One of her stories came out as a zine in 2013; another will be published as a chapbook in 2014; two related pieces are online in the Fall 2012 issue of Serving House Journal. Her 2012 poetry chapbook is The Parachute Jump Effect, and her Maude poems, a project supported by grants from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council and Portland’s Celebration Foundation, are part of a current manuscript-in-progress. In 2013, a sandwich was named for her at the lovely & amazing Fleur de Lis Bakery/Café in Portland, Oregon. Listen to her read on SoundCloud; for upcoming events/more info:
TWO POEMS BY BILL YAKE
- for the now-abandoned villages of Haida Gwaii
Begin with our present, tenuous foothold
by the sea. Walk inland and the green moss of forest
will swallow and hide you. Paddle seaward and the sky will swallow
you in cloud and the village in alder smoke. The sea drags
our long lines down. Our halibut hooks. We have seen
the Strait swallow whales whole. Walk backwards,
this time time will swallow you whole, tuck you
out of sight behind the house-skin, beneath
the earth-skin, turn you blue beneath the tricks played
by light on water, by water doing Its dance of waves crossing
waves, by the flickering of candlefish. Nearby,
you hear a heart you cannot see;
six kin-Ravens, gossip over food behind
a damp sheet of mist; their voices like trip-hammers
striking at small, wooden boxes. Specific pollens are falling
on water, years hence they’ll be keyed from layered sea muck
and bog varves: Cloud Berry and Calder’s Lovage.
Stories await decoding. All these slights
of hand, smearing winter tallow
and the char of shelf fungus
on our faces to face
the sea with all its death,
all death’s riffs and rifts. Survive this
and by the next turning you’ll hale midsummer’s
Fair-Weather Woman with sweet-meats of blue mussels
roasting open by the house-fire. Even ghosts linger
when they catch, as they must, the scent
of this rich and wistful world.
South Seattle Rose. Thin Cat.
Unfurling intricacies – furies of green design –
rose leaves rise nearly crackling
from fine-thorned branches dark as char
& punctuated, like difficult
sentences, with last years'
hard, black, wrinkled hips.
Wild, feral, or domestic;
heeled in or shat out unkempt
into this parking strip --
a ransacked snarl of rose
whiskey bottles, horse mint,
and flaring dandelions
while beyond and half-concealed
a thin cat with swollen nipples
slips into brick-lined shadows.
Bill Yake has two full-length collections of poetry; This Old Riddle: Cormorants and Rain (2003) and Unfurl, Kite, and Veer (2010) both from Radiolarian Press, Astoria OR. His poems show up in magazines and anthologies serving the environmental and literary communities – from Wilderness Magazine to Anthropology and Humanism, from Open Spaces Quarterly to Fine Madness, from Rattle to ISLE . Recent tree-inspired poems have been featured in an essay in Poetry, in Robert Krulwich's NPR Science Blog, on Seattle's NPR station, and in Between Earth and Sky, a book by the renowned instigator of forest canopy research, Nalini Nadkarni. One poem has even inspired innovative fabric art.
TWO POEMS BY MATT PASCA
WALKING AROUND MONACO
Flight 1935, turbulence
near Tampa, my son, six, asks
Are we almost there?, his little
brother floating between
sleep and nausea. 56 minutes,
I say, battening down
His impatience ebbs, eyes
blinking blue and gold,
the search engine of his
mind a whirring casino slot—
56 minutes, he says,
is how long it takes to walk around
the whole country of Monaco, did
you know that? Now—
I have somewhere to go
as this jet rocks side
to side, my astral feet
pacing the imagined
square of a real country,
guided by facts of finitude
and the sweat of
MUSEUM OF THE HEART
I am at war with the obvious.* – William Eggleston
Sunlight, rain, thunder’s acrid thrash,
chlorophyll—all bend towards ephemera.
The universe recedes: Persephone’s strong
arm palms Hades’ face then does not. Students
break my daily bread then do not. My face
swims in the glass of a Cypriot relic then is
gone. My son, age 3, wore each Yankee’s
T-shirt as he swung through the lineup.
Then, not 3, unaware of what Yankees
are. I cannot recall what my ex liked
to eat, my father’s last words or how
much living once hurt. We fix broken
tiles and sagging roofs, learn customers’
orders and what our children will say before
they say it. We carry one another’s swapped
bags at an airport terminal. Time
corrects the mistake. I want to correct
time, yank the boy from the busy street, tell
the woman to stay home where her
sweatpants swish in the hallway and
no one is weaving drunk. How appallingly
fraught each flinch of a clock tick.
To age is to collect disappearances;
museums mark our having been.
I am even at war with the tide
rushing in, then back
to the mocking sea.
*from a conversation with author Mark Holborn, Greenwood, MS, 1988.
Matt Pasca’s poetry has appeared in more than a dozen journals, including The Paterson Literary Review, Georgetown Review, Kestrel, Naugatuck River Review and Pedestal Magazine, as well as nine print anthologies. His first book, A Thousand Doors (2011, JB Stillwater), was nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize in Poetry, has sold 650+ copies and is currently taught at two New York high schools. A 2003 New York State Teacher of Excellence, Pasca has been excavating literature and igniting creativity with students since 1997 and advises his school’s oft-acclaimed literary-art magazine The Writers’ Block. Matt maintains a steady performance, workshop and keynote itinerary and serves as a reviewer and workshop coordinator for the Long Island Authors Group.
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