Friday, August 14, 2009


I bet it's so beautiful back home right now. I am envious hearing about my brother's class reunion and how he and my sister-in-law hiked into Skilak Lake, the most beautiful place on earth with no exception. I remember camping at Skilak as a Girl Scout and the marshy excitement of bear tracks, and then how we wandered along the shore that lasted forever, where lake-driftwood and old fishing lures meant the chance to collect a handful of jangly jewellery. There were rotting salmon, which were a different kind of (bear) lure.

Camping with my family was always wonderful at Skilak; it was the first time I realised how the wilderness just never stops. Every time we cleared one lagoon on our hikes, eating peanut butter from tubes and hard salami and apples, climbing over bushes for hours, we'd hit another lagoon. Thirty, forty coves; they just never stopped.

The water made me think of pirates as a kid; it was the same colour as in tropical pictures I'd seen, bright blue like in this picture, but Skilak is so cold. It's glacial water. I want to go swimming in glacial water until someone tells me I'm being stupid, to get out before I get hypothermia, to get over to the campfire.

I haven't gone camping this summer.

(I got these pix from Google Images and they were taken by other people who are strangers)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Strawberry Places

Crayfish boiled with grassy dill,
one piece of buttered yellowjacket toast, one shot of vodka.
It’s not the trees, they have such trees where I come from,
And notably more wilderness, and a midnight sun to boot,
It’s the old red barns up here with spinning wheels in attics,
their separateness from Americana,
a fairy tale telling itself in a language with polkadot vowels.
The postcards all have trolls on them. They’re big on trolls in these parts.
The birch trees are trembling.
It’s too late in the season to wear flowers in my hair.
That would have been two months ago,
when my boyfriend slept with another girl on midsummer,
the night they all go crazed with drink
and use the sun as an excuse (which we don’t use in Alaska)
Young men should cheat with me, I’m the type
Early-morning meadow sex;
the sun burns white and moons, a cheeky bastard.
Wild berry patches where I’d rest my head.
I’m a mistress, not a wife. I am not dead.
Pick nine kinds of flowers and sleep with them under your pillow
You will dream of the man you’re going to marry.
Mosippa anemones, liverleaf, marsh orchid, bellflower,
a forest clock, a bellis, pink roses, the sky’s bluebells, daisies,
I want to be a crazy girl.

My boyfriend calls these northerners inbred.
But no more or less than in the hicktown I hail from;
his parents are from here, and he himself
turned out very pretty despite the inbreeding.
We’re not the people we’re going to turn out to be.
Fireweed will be braided to sour dandelions,
I want to run out of this crayfish party
(crayfish, then bread and then vodka, then repeat,
there is nothing new under this stern Scandinavian sun)
screaming, roll in grass,
I want wild roses and purple twinflowers in my hair.

Swedish girls wear silver princess crowns
for their weddings, anti-tiaras, tiny and sturdy.
I am not a Swedish girl.
My crown leaves, wildflowers, leaves, my crown
I could lie down. Here. This glade. This nook.
If I used wild strawberries, I’d live in a storybook,
my boyfriend could eat them from my hair, lady style.
The sun never sets. It is loose.
I’m getting sunburnt towards midnight.

Control your chosen star through lotion.
I supernova by eating ten crayfish,
ten pieces of toast, drinking ten vodkas.
And then we all take off for town and
the annual and local Sour Herring Festival.
You bury the herring for a couple of months,
until they rot, and then eat them in full fermentation.
There are no curing elements of salt or brine, as for
gravad lax. The tin cans of surströmming bulge up and are
forbidden on airplanes, as there have been cases of them exploding.
Surströmming smells, in addition, like a sewer,
and so does this entire village festival.

He’s down in Stockholm. I can’t remember why.
I can’t remember him now,
and I couldn’t remember him then after ten vodkas.
I’m escorted by his brother and his cousins.
We’re laughing like ravens.

The night before was awkward, yet we go forth.
Not enough rooms up in the north.
The relatives assigned us a berth together,
the brother and I. We’re young. We are alive.
We think we’re old. I’m twenty-one and he’s twenty-five.
We hug the corners of the bed. We’re both oldest children.
As such, we always do the right thing, then.
We never take chances. We’re strictly good.
I don’t think to this day I’ve ever had
such a bad sleep, so terrified that I’d wake up,
in the grey muck of that night that never inkens,
think he was my boyfriend, and accidentally stroke his side.
Yes, talk about awkward.
I want to do the unforgivable, like someone else.

I don’t know why I didn’t date
the brother instead. He’s just as good-looking.
He has handsome eyes and a sexy milky heart.
But now we’re like siblings,
walking in a gang through herringtown,
and when I drink more orange Fanta-and-vodkas
and find myself screaming and crying for love lost
by some bushes, beyond consolation,
it is the brother who watches over me.
I’m far gone, but even so it is Swedish policy
(since they have so many suicides)
to take into temporary custody any
young person crying uncontrollably in public,
and since bro objects to this decision
by two strolling police officers and thus defends me,
we both get taken to the station until we sober up.
The cousins join us. By three a.m., my tears run dry.
Brother is released. The authorities agree
that I am not a risk to myself. The cousins
continue to laugh. We walk home in the dawn.
The strawberries and the sun are out.
The wicked hangover of my life.
My boyfriend’s parents, brother, cousins are a little uneasy,
since they knew I never drink that much usually,
and possibly because
I have been cursing said boyfriend’s name all night.
Wailing and screaming. I have left the house.
I have run out into the forest to shriek with trolls.
I have broken the rules.
I want my strawberry place, my crown

I’d love to say it smelled like sour herring that next day,
but I am out for most of it,
and when I wake up it all smells fresh
birch buds and perhaps cottongrass, rose-hips

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Pillage (April 2009)

When she first arrived in Sweden,
she thought: what tidy houses.
One small town was named Sigtuna,
which had to be a joke, or at least a brand of canned fish.

She hadn’t slept for fifty-five hours
when she stepped off the plane.
She’d left moss-covered jeeps
rotting slower than roadkill in backyards
and met the clean blond world where
all houses came from manufacturing templates,
trim slats of red-painted wood,
where no gardens could
be described as shop-soiled offcuts.

She had been working eighteen-hour shifts
in the fish factory previous to that,
punctuated by four-hour reststops.
This wears even on the young, not just the old.
Everything in the blond world was controlled.
People would stare. She had flaxen hair and pale eyes
for her disguise, but they smelled the different brand of fish on her.
A crazy person you avoid on public transport (subsidized).
She was the Viking, not them. She was stepping on their soil.
She might as well have still been wearing fishing boots from the cannery
covered in blood and holding a gutting knife.

She had plans for Sweden, after all.
In Stockholm, she would meet a boy
with a quicksilver mind
and tongue, they’d laugh together while having sex.
In fact, she would aim low, and simply have sex
for the first time, might as well start at the beginning.
They initially would kiss beneath spindly town halls,
the frigid grip of winter,
the ice packs bumping the shore like insistent wolf pups.
The cold would eventually dim the blushes on their cheeks,
but the blushes would still slide down their throats like hot cocoa
and settle in their stomachs, stir them up. Let’s continue.
They’d date for years. Get engaged. Have a kid.
Tie the knot at some point. A tasteful wedding,
perhaps outside by the gazebo.

Mrs. Erica Ravensdaughter.
Father Thor-Bear, newly christened, loves his holy water.
The Vikings settled, you know.
They settled in the new territories
and took native loves;
they settled for orderly lives.
They forgot their dragonboats;
the dragons were carved and gutted,
packaged into tin cans.