on doonerak time (journal entries, 1989)
everyone fears something – joe the guide
yellow yoyo on a string
circling mount doonerak
circling the rotting glacier
mango orange in arctic light
river rapids lined with bones.
charlie the marine from southern cal
had been in ‘nam.
he was afraid of bears
still more afraid
that joe the guide would smell his fear
i wasn’t afraid
but then the swollen river snared
my ankles, sucked me under, spat me
out a hundred yards downstream,
my tongue gritty with silt,
my teeth screaming.
the calm indifference of it.
the do not give a shitness of it.
fireweed rings a tussock meadow,
three little tents on aprons
of soft moss, lichen, coltsfoot, a dozen
kinds of saxifrage.
thawing permafrost below—
impersonal, hungry as the river,
but we’re in the sky up here, far above
the arctic circle, far above
the tree-line, glacier runoff sliding
down the mountain’s face like sweat,
far above our lives below—
the analog twitch of all we thought
we knew replaced
by the tick tick
of rotting ice,
yellow yoyo winding time up on its tether.
charlie says he dreams of teeth.
what did the river taste
when it closed its mouth around me?
charlie was the one
who grabbed my shirt that day,
who stood me on my feet.
now in yellow solstice sunrise
I feel him listening wide eyed to the growl
that’s not a bear
tundra is a word like thunder.
stones tumble in the shallows,
loons’ cries stand the hair up on my arms.
outside my tent, dawn’s bright arc sweeps,
wind flattens fireweed, shadows peel
free becoming birds
becoming ice and air.
It’s taken years for me to grow these calluses, for all these scars
to pale and thicken. Old bones calcified, fractures healed to knobs—
ligaments and tendons past their sell-by. All in the preparation
you could say. Like with the pigs my uncle killed, two each year,
blade drawn across the throbbing throats, bodies unzipped.
I still can hear the slurp guts make as they slide free,
a hot stink rising; still can see their bodies strung head-down
by ankles from a branch of the same tree where, my cousin
told me once, a black man hung.
It takes an afternoon. The hog is parceled, pickled, ground—head
& feet & bones, all but the squeal, my uncle says—freezer, smoke-
house, cauldron. Side of bacon. Christmas ham and shadow
of a hanging man.
You & I
You ordered all this crap?
Twelve pairs orange socks
five sets serrated knives
**as seen on tv!**
Who has to pack it up, schlepp it
to the FedEx, send it back
or shove it in the closet
with the rest,
with all the rest?
Whose job is it to cancel orders
weekly secret market tips;
Your Arabian Horse!
FIRST ISSUE FREE!
Stove burner glares, angry orange eye
(you left it on again?)
Shower door unlatched, flooded floor
Front door agape
Where in hell’s the cat?
I say rage is a scrim
drawn over the face of grief
I say rage can burn you clean
or burn you
You and I in that parking lot
dancing to moonlight.
the ocean orgasmic,
coyotes in the hills
behind the hills.
This maze that labyrinth
over, over, over now.
The door swings open.
Come in, go out.
fat as a pillow. The cat
on her pillow, purring.
After you interrogate the empty sky
ask River as it wraps its tender
jaws around your legs: how does it know
whose bones are whose? Ask these bones
now, as someone, someday, will ask
yours: did you hear the river call? Did your
blood press forward electric
in your legs, your breast, bringing you
here, inevitable as the stream
toward ocean’s call, past trees, past shadows,
past wrens and finches going on
about their lives? Now raise your eyes
again. Ask Sun,
ask Earth: in what order
and by what design have these unbroken
hidden circles been the heart
of song? Birth to death, Sun orbits
Earth inside the human heart. Look up:
bellies of lenticulars, curded cumulus,
long lift and sweep of silk-
illusions, tricks of dust mote, light
and air. Ask why we dirt-foot humans turn
our gazes skyward in our search
for god or good or wisdom? Why pray
heaven help us? Why not river
help us, mountainside and lowland
see us safely home?
Sara McAulay is the author of three novels and numerous works of short fiction (Black Warrior Review, California Quarterly, MidAmerican Review, Third Coast, ZYZZYVA, among others). She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the N. J. State Council on the Arts for prose. In recent years she has turned to poetry and flash, with work in Bending Genres, the Brooklyn Review, Hole In the Head Review; Pine Row, Rise Up Review, Stone Poetry Review and others, and has been nominated for Best of the Net.