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Sara McAulay

on doonerak time (journal entries, 1989)

everyone fears something – joe the guide

solstice sun

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

and laugh.

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 fears

becoming ice and air.

Family Tree

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

with penguins,

**Amazon’s Favorite!**

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


from quack-cure-of-the-month;

weekly secret market tips;

Your Arabian Horse!



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.

Satellite radio,

the ocean orgasmic,

coyotes in the hills

behind the hills.

This maze that labyrinth

one step

same step

over, over, over now.

The door swings open.

Come in, go out.

The moon

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-

strand cirrus—vaporous

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.


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