Jul 152011


The rant comes easily to nonfiction writers—especially environmental and nature writers.  Most feel the need to write about nature either out of pure love for the natural world or out of concern for its well-being.  Inherently, the writer will offer opinions on who is at fault for perceived ills and what we should be doing about it.

Earlier in this series of essays on nature writing in America, I have noted that Edward Abbey rants plentifully (I even admit that I often feel he’s kicking me in the butt).  The targets of Abbey’s criticism are very specific, beginning with the National Park Service and certain corporations and extending in some cases to specific individuals associated with projects he hates.

Not so with Edward Hoagland.  In my previous piece on Hoagland, I mentioned how this author’s early works hooked me hard and how I wasn’t entirely sure why.  Curious, I looked more closely, comparing his early work to the most recent collection, Sex and the River Styx.  Beginning in The Courage of Turtles and on up through the big compendium Hoagland on Nature, the writing is nearly devoid of finger-pointing.  I didn’t notice it at first because I clearly understood Hoagland’s message about caring for the natural world without throwing humanity out with the pond-water, as it were.  But a careful reading brings no villains—characters, yes, even characters acting in ways Hoagland seems to want us all to avoid, but there is never any specific criticism, like Abbey lofts at the Corps of Engineers or Loren Eiseley levels (more softly) at academia.

How does he do this?  In this installment, I’m taking a short break from the regular personal-reflections-on-a-mid-century-environmental-writer format to provide a craft essay.  And like any good craft essay (especially one to be read on-line), I will narrow my scope—to one work.

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Jul 142011


I met Eliot Wilson one evening during a coffee house open poetry reading in Lafayette, Colorado. Sitting beside one another on a tattered couch, our conversations seamlessly leapt from writing to our favorite local restaurants to a lighthearted (okay, playfully sharp-tongued) running commentary of any poems that weren’t quite resonating with us that night.

Fast forward four years and I’ve come to know Eliot as a friend and vital contemporary poet who is the author of The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go, published by Cleveland State Poetry Press. He has received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Pushcart Prize, a Bush Foundation Fellowship, the Hill-Kohn Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the Robert Winner Prize from the Poetry Society of America. He currently teaches at the University of Colorado Denver.

Eliot is a worldly thinker whose writing offers a seemingly effortless lyrical grace woven with historical, political, and cultural awareness as well as substantive introspection, evocative cynicism, unique wit, and often laugh-out-loud humor. His work is purposeful in that it shows us a distilled individuality, albeit imagegistic, sullen, comic, or all these things, conjointly. These are smart, wild, vivid pieces—enjoy!

-Martin Balgach


Three Poems From Eliot Khalil Wilson


Wedding Vows

…and I’d like to add that I will mind like a dog.  I will wear whatever you like.  I will go wingtip.  No more white socks.  A necktie stitched to my throat, turtlenecks in August. New York gray or black, only colors that dogs can see.   I will know of squash, vermouth, and wedges.   I will do all the grilling because I love it so.  I will drive the wagon, man the bar, weed-whack compulsively.  I will make money, the bed, never a to do.

I will build like an Egyptian, a two-mile pier complex, a five-story deck.  I will listen like a bat, attend to the birth of sounds in the back of your throat. I will remember like an Indian elephant, recall requests made of me in a previous life.  Your date of birth will be carved in the palm of my hand.  I will make good. I will do right.  I will sleep on the pegboard on the wall in the garage.

I’ll have a tongue like a sperm whale, eyes like a harp seal, biceps like a fiddler crab.  I will have gold coins, gold rings, stiff gold hair like shredded wheat.  I will be golden at receptions, gold in your pocket, Paganini in your pants. Money will climb over the house like ivy.  Excellent credit will be my white whale.  I will always. I will everyday. I will nail the seat down.  I will let you pretend I am your father.

I will be a priapic automatic teller machine, never down, never a usage fee, a stock prophet, a para-mutual seer, tractable, worshipful no matter what.  I will always want to. I won’t notice what you don’t point out.  I will entertain your friends, say how your love saved me. I will convince them.  I will talk, really talk, to them.  Deep meanings will be toothpicked and passed around.

I will need zero maintenance. I will be a utility or a railroad.  There will be no breakdowns or disconnections. I will allow you lovers, Moroccan teenagers and Turkish men.  I will adopt them. I will not cry.  I will respond to grief by earning more. My sweat will smell like drug money, like white bread baking. I will be as clean as a Mormon, wholesome like Iowa.  I will lead.  I will be a star, a rock, like Rock Hudson.

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Jul 132011


The Sky is Red at Bordeaux: Photographs

by Natalia Sarkissian


At sunset, the sky shines red over Bordeaux, the city and its châteaux.


Right Bank


In the afternoon, the sun gleams golden.



Planes fill with wine-drenched tourists from Japan and China—just off the bus from château-touring and Bordeaux-tasting, on their way home via Paris. The cabin fills with their boozy breath. They snooze and dream of arrivals and beginnings and tastings, not of endings and leaving. Their heads bob gently, right, left, then against their headrests as the plane flies off.


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Jul 112011

On March 3, 2005, four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers were ambushed and murdered near Mayerthorpe, Alberta, north of Edmonton. I remember reading and reading through the reports I found on the Internet, at first mystified by how the massacre took place and then just shocked at the diabolical killing field the policemen had inadvertently walked into. Years before, in 1992, Marina Endicott, an old friend, a novelist and poet, settled with her Mountie husband, Peter Ormshaw (also a poet and journalist), on his first posting in Mayerthorpe. Luckily, they were long gone when the massacre took place. But the impact was huge. Marina’s essay “How to Talk About Mayerthorpe” is in the 2011 PEN Anthology, Finding the Words. The poems published here—“The Policeman’s Wife, some letters”—were short-listed for the CBC Literary Awards in 2006. Marina’s novel Good to a Fault was a finalist for the 2008 Giller Prize, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, Canada/Caribbean, and was a Canada Reads book in 2010. Her new novel, The Little Shadows, about a sister act touring the prairies in early vaudeville, will be published this September.



I desired my dust to be mingled with yours.
Ezra Pound, “The River Merchant’s Wife, a letter”


What you taste like

Tears, blood.
Water from our own well, best known,
a coddled egg in a china cup.
You taste of yourself, golden
current runs through you.
You taste of me, of beets, plums,
blue plums in a spilling pile.
A gold bead held in my mouth,
a gelatin pearl, it will melt.
Light spills between gold curtains
in a separate room, a yellow room.
A saint over the door.

St Peter’s Abbey, Muenster, 1991
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Jul 112011

My First Job

by Steven Axelrod

Salesmen Wanted

It was the summer of 1971 and Manhattan was molten in the summer heat. The air wavered over the softening asphalt and walking the furnace streets I felt like I’d been dipped in grease and dredged in grit. My girlfriend Marian and I were living in my Mom’s apartment on 82nd Street, looking for jobs. I’d been turned down everywhere.

It shouldn’t have been my first job, anyway: a nineteen year old should have some kind of résumé, even if it’s only delivering pizza or babysitting. But my summers had always been devoted to leisure. At least I did my school reading and kept my room clean.  It was my mother’s idea. She figured I’d be working most of my life and wanted me to look back fondly on these sun-dappled, unstressed months between school years, when I had nothing to do but dawdle and dream. I was grateful for that, but those years were emphatically over.

Still, I couldn’t find a job and the newspapers were no help. The New York Times ran plenty of ads for medical technicians and school superintendents,  and ‘systems technicians’, but I couldn’t imagine even faking a résumé for any of them.

So I was ready on a humid Thursday morning, when I saw the ad for “Encyclopedia Salesmen Wanted”. Marian was just as desperate, so we went down to the office together.

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