The Catfish by David Bottoms

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The Catfish
by David Bottoms

From a traffic jam on St. Simons bridge
I watched a fisherman break down his rod,
take bait-bucket in hand, and throw
to the pavement a catfish too small to keep.
As he walked to his car at the end of the bridge,
the fish jumped like a crippled frog, stopped
and sucked hard, straining to gill air.
Mud gathered on the belly. Sun dried the scaleless back.

I took a beach towel from the back seat
and opened the car door, walked to the curb
where the catfish swimming on the sidewalk
lay like a document on evolution.
I picked it up in the towel
and watched the quiver of its pre-crawling,
felt the whiskers groping in the darkness of the alien light,
then threw it high above the concrete railing
back to the current of our breathable past.

SOURCE: Poetry (November 1978).

IMAGE: Vintage postcard showing drawbridge across the Frederica River, connecting Brunswick and St. Simons Island, Georgia. SOURCE: The Tichnor Brothers Collection, Georgia Postcards, Boston Public Library, used by permission.

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NOTE: St. Simons is a barrier island off Georgia’s Atlantic Coast midway between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida. It is the largest of Georgia’s Golden Isles (along with Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and privately owned Little St. Simons Island). Visitors are drawn to the Island for its warm climate, beaches, outdoor activities, shops and restaurants, historical sites, and its natural environment. Originally inhabited by tribes of the Creek Nation, the area of South Georgia that includes St. Simons Island was contested by the Spaniards, English and French. After securing the Georgia colony, the English cultivated the land for rice and cotton plantations worked by large numbers of African slaves, who created the unique Gullah culture that survives to this day.

PHOTO: Pier, St. Simons Island, Georgia (2013). Photo by Darryl Brooks, used by permission.

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NOTE: Catfish are a diverse group of ray-finned fish. Named for their prominent barbels, which resemble a cat’s whiskers, catfish species live inland or in coastal waters of every continent except Antarctica.

IMAGE: “Catfish,” watercolor by Juan Bosco. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Bottoms was born in Canton, Georgia, in 1949. He earned an MA from the University of West Georgia and a PhD from Florida State University. His poetry collections include Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch (2018), We Almost Disappear (2011), Waltzing through the Endtime (2004), Vagrant Grace (1999), Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems (1995), and In a U-Haul North of Damascus (1982). His awards and honors include the Levinson Prize, an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, an Ingram-Merrill Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1979, Bottoms won the prestigious Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for his first poetry collection Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump. Robert Penn Warren, the contest’s judge, described Bottoms as “a strong poet, and much of his strength emerges from the fact that he is temperamentally a realist. In his vision the actual world is not transformed but illuminated.” Poet laureate of Georgia from 2000 to 2012, Bottoms lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he holds the John B. and Elena Diaz-Amos Distinguished Chair in English Letters at Georgia State University.

Author photo by Rachael Bottoms

Paris Stories: One by Diana Rosen

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Paris Stories: One
by Diana Rosen

On the lush green slope to the side
of Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
where the crumbling concrete
tombstones of Molière, Colette,
Hugo rest, I find myself seriously
Lost, wave down a solitary figure
to whom I plead,
“Sortie, s’il vous plaît, sortie,”
cobbled from the words for Please
(a must in every language)
and Exit, which I learned
riding the Metropolitain.
He giggles,
bobs his index finger down and up
and down again toward the earth,
like dipping his tea bag in hot water
to release the flavor of oolong.

PHOTO: Molière’s grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.  Photo by Karayuschij, used by permission.

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NOTE: Molière, the stage name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-1673), was a French playwright, actor, and poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in world literature. His works include comedies, farces, tragicomedies, comédie-ballets, and more. When Molière was 21, he abandoned his affluent social circle and pursued a career on the stage, where he spent the next thirty years of his life—and became a favorite among the populace. Under French law at the time of Molière’s death in 1673, actors were not allowed to be buried in sacred ground, as they were viewed as dangerous, immoral, and pagan.  Molière’s widow, actress Armande Béjart, sent a plea to the King, Louis XIV, requesting a traditional burial for her spouse. The King made a formal request to the Archbishop of Paris, who authorized a nighttime burial, without ceremony, in the section of St. Joseph’s Cemetery reserved for unbaptized infants. During the French Revolution, in 1792, Molière’s remains were brought to the Museum of French Monuments, and in 1817 they were transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

IMAGE: Frontispiece and title page from the first volume of Moliere’s works translated into English printed by John Watts in 1739.

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NOTE: Père Lachaise Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Paris, France, is visited by more than 3.5 million people each year. Established as a cemetery by Napoleon in 1804, it is named for the confessor to Louis XIVPère François de la Chaise (1624–1709).  Père Lachaise is still an operating cemetery, but will only accommodate individuals who die in Paris or have lived there. Many renowned people are buried in Père Lachaise.

PHOTO: Entrance to Père-Lachaise Cemetery, 16 Rue du Repos, 75020 Paris, France. Photo by Guilhem Vellut (2016) used by permission.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Diana Rosen is a poet/essayist/flash fiction writer with credits in Tiferet Journal, RATTLE, Existere Journal of Arts & Literature, among more than 70 publications in Canada, the UK, Australia, and the U.S. She is also the author of 13 nonfiction books on food, beverage, and lifestyle topics in the U.S. Find more of her work at authory.com.

The Cranes, Texas January by Mark Sanders

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The Cranes, Texas January
by Mark Sanders

I call my wife outdoors to have her listen,
to turn her ears upward, beyond the cloud-veiled
sky where the moon dances thin light,
to tell her, “Don’t hear the cars on the freeway—

it’s not the truck-rumble. It is and is not
the sirens.” She stands there, on deck
a rocking boat, wanting to please the captain
who would have her hear the inaudible.

Her eyes, so blue the day sky is envious,
fix blackly on me, her mouth poised on question
like a stone. But, she hears, after all.
                                                         January on the Gulf,
warm wind washing over us,
we stand chilled in the winter of those voices.

Copyright ©2011 by Mark Sanders from his collection Conditions of Grace: New and Selected Poems, Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2011.

PHOTO: Whooping Cranes, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Austwell, Texas. Photo by Cheryl Allison, used by permission. 

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NOTE: The whooping crane, one of the largest North American birds—standing five feet tall, with a wingspan of over seven feet—is an endangered crane species named for its “whooping” sound. In the wild, the whooping crane’s lifespan is estimated at 22 to 24 years. Pushed to the brink of extinction in 1941 by unregulated hunting and loss of habitat to 21 wild and two captive whooping cranes, conservation efforts have led to a limited recovery. The total number of cranes in the surviving migratory population, plus three reintroduced flocks and in captivity, is estimated at 800 birds, according to a March 2018 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report. Learn how you can help at whoopingcrane.com

PHOTO: Whooping crane in flight over Texas, 2011. Photo by John Noll, U.S. Department of Agriculture, used by permission. 

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NOTE: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is a 115,324 acre protected area in Austwell, Texas, situated on the southwest side of San Antonio Bay along the Gulf Coast. It also includes the majority of Matagorda Island, a 38-mile barrier island. The site was established on December 31, 1937 by Executive Order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.  Bird life includes ducks, herons, egrets, ibises, roseate spoonbills, and the whooping crane, whose population has recovered significantly since the 1940s, but remains endangered. Watch a short video about conservation efforts at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge at youtube.com

IMAGE: Map showing location of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Sanders is a poet, creative essayist, fiction writer, and literary critic with more than 500 publications in journals in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Canada. His collection Landscapes, with Horses, won the Western Heritage Award in the category of Outstanding Book of Poetry for 2019, His short story, “Why Guineas Fly,” was selected as one of 100 outstanding short stories for 2007 by Stephen King in Best American Short Stories, and his essay, “Homecoming Parade,” was selected as one of the outstanding works of the year in the 2016 edition of Best American Essays. His writing has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes more than a dozen times and been listed among the notable works in Pushcart. His poetry has been featured in American Life in Poetry, a syndicated series published by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, and on the Poetry Foundation website. Sanders is the long-time editor of Sandhills Press, a small, independent press he started in 1979. His most recent collection, In a Good Time, was published by WSC Press in 2019. He is associate dean and professor of English in the College of Liberal and Applied Arts at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

January in Paris by Billy Collins

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January in Paris
by Billy Collins

A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
—Paul Valéry

That winter I had nothing to do
but tend the kettle in my shuttered room
on the top floor of a pensione near a cemetery,

but I would sometimes descend the stairs,
unlock my bicycle, and pedal along the cold city streets

often turning from a wide boulevard
down a narrow side street
bearing the name of an obscure patriot.

I followed a few private rules,
never crossing a bridge without stopping
mid-point to lean my bike on the railing
and observe the flow of the river below
as I tried to better understand the French.

In my pale coat and my Basque cap
I pedaled past the windows of a patisserie
or sat up tall in the seat, arms folded,
and clicked downhill filling my nose with winter air.

I would see beggars and street cleaners
in their bright uniforms, and sometimes
I would see the poems of Valéry,
the ones he never finished but abandoned,
wandering the streets of the city half-clothed.

Most of them needed only a final line
or two, a little verbal flourish at the end,
but whenever I approached,
they would retreat from their ashcan fires
into the shadows—thin specters of incompletion,

forsaken for so many long decades
how could they ever trust another man with a pen?

I came across the one I wanted to tell you about
sitting with a glass of rosé at a café table—
beautiful, emaciated, unfinished,
cruelly abandoned with a flick of panache

by Monsieur Paul Valéry himself,
big fish in the school of Symbolism
and for a time, president of the Committee of Arts and Letters
of the League of Nations if you please.

Never mind how I got her out of the café,
past the concierge and up the flights of stairs—
remember that Paris is the capital of public kissing.

And never mind the holding and the pressing.
It is enough to know that I moved my pen
in such a way as to bring her to completion,

a simple, final stanza, which ended,
as this poem will, with the image
of a gorgeous orphan lying on a rumpled bed,
her large eyes closed,
a painting of cows in a valley over her head,

and off to the side, me in a window seat
blowing smoke from a cigarette at dawn.

From the author’s collection Aimless Love © Random House 2013

PHOTO: Statue of the prophetess Veleda by Étienne Hippolyte Maindron (1844), winter, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris, France. Photo by David Mark, used by permission.

NOTE ON PHOTO: Jardin du Luxembourg, known in English as the Luxembourg Gardens, was created beginning in 1612 by Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France, for a new residence she constructed, the Luxembourg Palace. The site, which covers about 56 acres, is known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, model sailboats on its circular basin, and Medici Fountain, built in 1620. Admission to Jardin du Luxembourg is free, with opening and closing times that vary, depending on the time of year. 

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NOTE: Paul Valéry (1871-1945) was a French poet, essayist, and philosopher. Nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 12 different years, Valéry is best known as a poet, and is sometimes considered the last of the French symbolists. In 1898, at age 27, he quit writing and didn’t publish a word for nearly 20 years. When, in 1917, he finally broke his “great silence” with the publication of La Jeune Parque, he was 46. Composed of 512 alexandrine lines in rhyming couplets, which had taken him four years to complete, the poem secured his immediate fame—and is considered one of the greatest French poems of the twentieth century. A collection of Paul Valéry’s work is available in The Idea of Perfection: The Poetry and Prose of Paul Valéry; A Bilingual Edition (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020).

PHOTO: Portrait of Paul Valéry by Henri Manuel (1925).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Billy Collins, named U.S. Poet Laureate in June 2001 and reappointed to the post in 2002, has published seven collections of poetry, including The Art of DrowningPicnic, Lightning; and Questions about Angels. He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York (retired, 2016). Collins was recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library (1992) and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004 through 2006. In 2016, Collins was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. As of 2020, he is a teacher in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton.

New Year’s Haiku by Matsuo Bashō

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New Year’s Haiku
by Matsuo Bashō

New Year’s Day—
sun on every field
is beloved

PHOTO: Mount Fuji, the sun, and a field in Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi, Japan. Photo by Tampatra1, used by permission.

NOTE: Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan, standing 12,389.2 feet. An active stratovolcano, Mount Fuji last erupted from 1707 to 1708. The mountain stands about 62 miles southwest of Tokyo and can be seen from there on clear days. Mount Fuji’s exceptionally symmetrical cone, which is snow-capped for about five months of the year, is commonly used as a cultural icon of Japan. In 2013, Mt. Fuji was added to the World Heritage List as a Cultural Site. According to UNESCO, Mount Fuji has “inspired artists and poets and has been the object of pilgrimage for centuries.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matsuo Bashō was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. His poems were influenced by his firsthand experience of the world around him, often encapsulating the feeling of a scene in a few simple elements. During his lifetime, Bashō was recognized for his works in the collaborative haikai no renga form; today, he is recognized as the greatest master of haiku (then called hokku). He is also well known for his travel essays beginning with “Records of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton” (1684), written after his journey to Kyoto and Nara. Bashō believed his best work lay in leading and participating in renku, saying, “Many of my followers can write hokku as well as I can. Where I show who I really am is in linking haikai verses.”

IMAGE: Poet Matsuo Bashō meets two farmers celebrating the mid-autumn moon festival in a print from Tsukioka Yoshitoshi‘s Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1891). The haiku reads: “Since the crescent moon, I have been waiting for tonight.” (SOURCE: Toyko Metropolitan Museum of Art, used by permission)

New Year’s Eve by Warren Woessner

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New Year’s Eve
by Warren Woessner

5 p.m., corner booth
Oak Bar, Plaza Hotel,
New York City, Center
of the World of all
that matters.

Where a Belvedere martini,
up with a twist, contemplates you
like a languid goldfish
in a clear garden pool,
or a suspended tear

that you can take back inside,
like that first full breath,
in case you need it,
as the world gets ready
to start all over again again.

Poem copyright ©2019 by Warren Woessner, “New Year’s Eve,” from Exit-Sky, (Holy Cow! Press, 2019).

PHOTO: Oak Bar at The Plaza Hotel, Fifth Avenue at, 10 Central Park S, New York City (Dec. 27, 2009) by Tony, © All Rights Reserved.

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NOTE: The Oak Bar was established in its current location on the northwest corner of the Plaza Hotel in 1945, when the hotel was under the ownership of Conrad Hilton. For the 1945 opening, a 38-foot oakwood bar was installed, along with three Everett Shinn murals, which remain in place—at a current estimated value of one million dollars each. The Oak Bar is designed in Tudor Revival style, with a plaster ceiling, strapwork, and floral and foliage motifs. A sign on the Oak Bar’s Central Park South windows reads, “Since 1907,” but the bar has been closed since 2011 except for private events.

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PHOTO:  Belvedere Classic Martini prepared with Belvedere vodka, dry vermouth, and a pink grapefruit twist, the “languid goldfish” from the poem. (Courtesy photo from belvederevodka.com)

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NOTE: New York City’s Plaza Hotel, a French Renaissance-inspired château-style building, contains 21 stories and is 251.92 feet tall. The building, which faces Central Park, was designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh and built in 1907, with a later addition by Warren and Wetmore from 1919 to 1922. Since its inception, the Plaza Hotel has been an icon of New York City, and has appeared in numerous books and films. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the hotel’s exterior and some of its interior spaces as city landmarks, and the building is also a National Historic Landmark.

PHOTO: The Plaza Hotel, New York City in 2007, the year that marked its 100th birthday. Photo by Matt Weaver, used by permission.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Warren Woessner is a poet and patent lawyer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He earned a BA from Cornell, where he studied with A.R. Ammons, and later earned both a JD and a PhD in organic chemistry from University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1968, he co-founded Abraxas Magazine in Madison, Wisconsin, with poet James Bertolino. He was also a founder of WORT-FM and hosted its poetry program. His poetry has appeared in PoetryPoetry NorthwestThe NationMidwest QuarterlyCutBankPoet Lore, and 5 A.M.  He is the author of many books, including Clear All the Rest of the Way (The Backwaters Press, 2008), Greatest Hits 1965-2000 (Pudding House Publications, 2003), and Our Hawk (The Toothpaste Press, 2005). His awards and honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wisconsin Arts Board. He was a Loft-McKnight Fellow in 1985 and won the Minnesota Voices Competition sponsored by New Rivers Press in 1986.

Federico García Lorca, Little Ballad of Three Rivers

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Little Ballad of Three Rivers
by Federico García Lorca

The Guadalquivir river
Flows between orange and olive.
Two rivers of Granada
Come down from snow to wheat field.

Ah, Love, the unreturning!

The Guadalquivir river
Has banks of ruddy garnet.
Two rivers of Granada—
One weeps, and one is bloody.

Ah, Love, lost in the air!

Seville has a highway
For stately sailing-vessels.
But for Granada water
Only the sighs go rowing.

Ah, Love, the unreturning!

Guadalquivir, high tower,
Wind among orange-blossoms.
Genil and Darro, lowly
And dead among the marshes.

Ah, Love, lost in the air!

Who says the water breeds
Will-o-the-wisps at twilight?

Ah, Love, the unreturning!

Bear olive and orange-blossom
Seaward, O Andalusia!

Ah, Love, lost in the air!

Translated by Rolfe Humphries

SOURCE: Poetry, April 1937 

PHOTO: Guadalquivir River, Seville, Spain. Seville is the capital and largest city of the Spanish autonomous community of Andalusia and the province of Seville. The city is situated on the lower reaches of the Guadalquivir River, in the southwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula. At 408 miles, the Guadalquivir is the second longest river in Spain, and the country’s only river navigable by large ships, currently navigable from the Gulf of Cádiz to Seville. Photo by Gerhard Bögner, used by permission. 

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FROM Granadainsider.com: As the city of Granada, Spain, expanded in the 18th Century, the Darro River was paved over to control its flow and prevent floods. Another of Granada’s rivers, the Genil, travels from its source as spring melt in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and is dammed upstream and channeled into reservoirs supplying the city.  After picking up the Darro, the Genil continues its journey west out of the city, where it is joined by a smaller tributary, the Monachil, before merging with the Guadalquivir—one of Spain’s foremost rivers. These three rivers, the Darro, Genil, and Guadalquivir form the basis of one of Federico García Lorca’s most famous poems, “Baladilla de los tres ríos.” In the poem, the poet contrasts the expansive, free-flowing Guadalquivir with the paved-over Darro and dammed-up Genil. (Adapted from “The Two Rivers of Granada” by Derek Dohren, Granadainsider.com.)

PHOTO: Darro River, Granada, Spain. Photo by Erlantz Perez, used by permission. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Federico García Lorca  (June 5, 1898-August 19, 1936) was a Spanish poet, playwright, and theatre director. García Lorca achieved international recognition as an emblematic member of the  Generation of ’27, a group consisting of mostly poets who introduced the tenets of European movements (such as symbolism, futurism, and surrealism) into Spanish literature. He is believed to have been killed by Nationalist forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil WarHis remains have never been found. 

Cold Cabin by David Bachner

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Cold Cabin
by David Bachner

The Maine winter set in. Up until then, we would find isolated
places outdoors to make love, our two sleeping bags zipped together.
But when it got too cold for that our options were limited: neither
of us had a car; all of our friends lived in dorms, like us; we were
too young to get a motel room; and even if we had somewhere to go,
in Maine, circa 1962, you could be arrested for having unmarried sex.

Then we had a windfall. The family of Marsha, Phyllis’s roommate,
had a cabin on Mooselookmeguntic Lake, near Rangeley. “You can
use it this weekend,” Marsha said. “Pete”—her boyfriend—“and I
are kind of taking a break from each other. The cabin’s not heated,
and there’s no electricity, but it’s got a fireplace. Just make sure
you have enough wood. And don’t let the fire die out.”

Marsha dropped us off that Saturday night, lit a fire, said she’d be
back to get us in the morning, and drove away. Later, sated and
drowsy from wine, Phyllis and I fell asleep in our zipped-together
sleeping bags. We awoke to the terrible cold. The fire was out.
There was no other source of light. The only wood I could find was
hard and frozen. Soon there were no more matches.

We considered walking our way out. But walk where? We couldn’t
see, and the closest village, Oquossoc, was miles away. We figured
the sleeping bags were our best bet and huddled there like one body.
“We’ll die here,” Phyllis said. But she wasn’t crying, so I tried
not to. We spent the hours talking, whispering our regrets for what
we would never be or do, sharing our most intimate secrets.

A flashlight woke us up. “It’s freezing in here,” Marsha said
as she poured two mugs of hot coffee from a thermos. “I was
at a family friend’s house down the lake and got worried when I
didn’t see any smoke or firelight here. Damn lucky I came back.
What were you two thinking? This is Maine.”

The three of us walked to the car. Marsha drove and searched
for music on the radio. In the back seat, Phyllis and I covered
ourselves with the sleeping bags and held each other. Outside,
the black Rangeley night encompassed us. No one spoke.

PHOTO: Cabin and boathouse on Mooselookmeguntic Lake, western Maine, in winter, with frozen lake in background. Photo by tripadvisor.com, All Rights Reserved.

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NOTE: Mooselookmeguntic Lake’s maximum depth is 132 feet and its surface area is 25.5 square miles, making it the fourth largest lake in Maine. Located just a few miles from the Appalachian Trail, the southern portion of the lake features two islands—Toothaker Island and Students Island. At 17 letters, Mooselookmeguntic, an Abnaki word for “moose feeding place,” is tied for the longest place name in the United States, along with Kleinfeltersville, Pennsylvania. Mooselookmeguntic Lake is the location of the action in Magic Thinks Big, an illustrated children’s book by Elisha Cooper, that features paintings of one of the islands in the lake, as well as a panorama of the lake.

PHOTO: Mooselookmeguntic Lake in autumn, with one of its two islands visible and Maine’s Western Mountains in the background. Photo by Haveseen, used by permission.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Mooselookmeguntic is one of six large lakes in the Rangeley Lakes region of western Maine, close to the state’s borders with New Hampshire and Quebec.  It’s a beautiful area, but bleak and forbidding in winter, when nighttime temperatures regularly drop below zero.  This was weather I was hardly prepared for as a first-year student, from New Jersey, at Bates College in the 1960s.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Bachner is a retired college dean and professor, most recently at American University’s School of International Service. His research, teaching, and program administration focused on international education and intercultural relations, career-long specializations that were deeply influenced by his experiences as a university student in Japan and Peace Corps volunteer in Korea. David lives in Washington, DC, and is a frequent visitor to upstate New York, where he participates in an ongoing poetry workshop sponsored by Bright Hill Press and Literary Center of the Catskills. His recent publications include Capital Ironies: Washington, DC Poetry and Prose (Woodland Arts Editions, 2020) and four poems selected for Seeing Things: An Anthology of Poetry (Woodland Arts Editions, 2020).  Several of his haiku will be published in Sequestrum in 2021.

Robert N. Coats, Searching for Arborglyphs

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Searching for Arborglyphs
by Robert N. Coats

In the Jarbidge Range, my seventeenth year,
I drove up dusty dirt roads,
across clanging cattle guards,
hiked into high meadows and aspen groves.
There I found the spot
where in 1929, Efrain Madariaga
of Iparralde, Spain scribed his name,
and a record of his loneliness and desire:
a Picassoesque image of a woman
drawn with great skill
in explicit and erotic detail.

At every chance now, in the watersheds
of the Humboldt, Carson, Truckee, and Walker
I look in aspen groves for the records
left by Basque sheepherders
who worked alone all summer,
gazed out across the arid valleys,
thinking of family left behind.

Those men, their dogs and longing
are gone now. All that remain
are the silent testimonies of men uprooted
and these will not last.
Still, cobwebs of virga hang
from afternoon thunderclouds.
The up-canyon wind shivers the aspen leaves,
carrying the scent of sagebrush and Wyethia.

Previously published in the Fall 2014 issue of Windfall, and in the author’s collection The Harsh Green World (Sugartown Publishing, 2015).

PHOTO: Arborglyph carved by a Basque sheepherder on an aspen tree. Photo by Kent Vertrees, All Rights Reserved.

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NOTE: The Basque are known as Europe’s first family since their language and culture is more ancient than any other on the continent. Basques are indigenous to and primarily inhabit an area traditionally known as the Basque Country, a region located around the western end of the Pyrenees Mountains on the coast of the Bay of Biscay that straddles parts of north-central Spain and southwestern France. Starting with the 1849 Gold Rush, Basques sought their fortune in the American West. After failing to find gold, most of were employed in the sheep business. To express their feelings, Basque sheepherders carved words an images on aspen trees. Today, there are very few aspen carvings dating before 1900, since aspen trees only live about 100 years. Most of the carvings are names and dates, and many are in the Basque language, Euskara.  The Basque sheepherders skillfully carved without injury to the living tree.

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Excerpt from “Basque Sheepherding in the American West” by William A. Douglass: By the 1940s, the sheep industry was experiencing a severe labor crisis. To remedy this situation, the U.S. Congress passed a series of “Sheepherder Laws” conferring permanent residence on Basques who were herding sheep as illegal aliens. Sheepherders created the Western Range Association to recruit herders (mainly in Spain) for three-year labor contracts in the American West. From 1950 until the mid-1970s the system introduced several thousand Basques workers into the United States. The struggle over access to public lands between ranchers and environmentalists that limited livestock grazing permits, along with the improved economic conditions in Europe’s Basque Country shifted the recruiting efforts toward Latin America (Mexico, Peru and Chile). By the mid-1970s there were fewer than 100 Basque sheepherders in the American West.

PHOTO: Basque sheepherder on horseback with his flock on mountainside with aspen trees, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Photo by Teri Virbickis, used by permission.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In the first half of the 20th Century, ranchers in the Great Basin recruited men from the Basque villages in Spain and France to work as sheepherders. For information about the tree carvings and the Basque communities in the Intermountain West, see: Speaking Through the Aspens, by J. Mallea-Olaetxe (University of Nevada Press, 2000). The poem is based on my experience in a remote area in northern Elko County, Nevada, where I was fortunate to spend summers during my teenage years.

PHOTO: Basque tree carving of highly stylized numerals on an aspen tree near Bridgeport, California. Photo by the author.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert N. Coats has been writing poetry for more than 40 years. His poems have appeared on the Canary Website, in Orion, Zone 3, Windfall, Song of the San Joaquin, in two anthologies (Fresh Water: Poems from the Rivers, Lakes and Streams and Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California, and in his book The Harsh Green World, published by Sugartown Publishing.  He is a Research Associate with the University of California Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

Native Village by Fuyuji Tanaka

japan zeptems licensed

Native Village
by Fuyuji Tanaka

A smell of dried flounder broiling
At lonely noon-time in my native village

Houses, their shingled roofs
Weighted down with stones…
Frugal smell of dried flounder broiling
This lonely noon-time in my native village.

On the empty white road
A snow-vendor from the mountains walks alone.

SOURCE: Poetry, May 1956

PHOTO: Shirakawa-gō village, Japan. Photo by Zeptems, used by permission.

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NOTE: The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama are one of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The cultural property consists of three historic mountain villages over an area of 170 acres in the remote Shogawa river valley in central Japan. Shirakawa-gō  translates to “White River Old-District.”

PHOTO: Ogimachi Village, from Shiroyama viewpoint, Shirakawa-gō, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. Photo by Bernard Gagnon, used by permission.

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IMAGE: Evening Snow at Kanbara by Utegawa Hiroshige (1833), part of The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō, a series of woodcut prints created by Hiroshige after his first journey along the Tōkaidō road in 1832. During the winter months, the village dwellers subsisted on dried fish, as mentioned in the poem. 

fish drying rack

FROM The Japan Times: Japan is famous as a nation that loves raw seafood. But dried fish has a much longer history and has played an important role in Japanese society for hundreds of years. There are basically two kinds of dried fish products in Japan. The first, which goes by various names, is dried (sometimes after fermenting) for a long period until it’s rock-hard and keeps very well, such as katsuobushi—fermented and dried skipjack tuna or bonito that is shaved like wood and used in dashi stock. The other type is usually called himono (roughly translates as “dried things”), which is typically grilled and eaten as-is. (Excerpt from “Before Japan ate raw fish, there was himono” by Makiko Itoh, The Japan Times, Nov. 20, 2015.)

PHOTO: Fish drying on bamboo rack in Japanese village. Photo by marketplace.secondlife.com, All Rights Reserved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fuyuji Tanaka (1894-1980) was a poet from Japan. Seven of his poems appeared in the May 1956 edition of Poetry.