penguin against a rope


We all know Bentley doesn’t read most of the books in our book group, but he doesn’t know we know. He isn’t here tonight when we discuss The People of Forever Are Not Afraid. By show of hands some of us loved it and some of us had otherwise to say about it.

For example what was up with the rental with a bedroom and a half—what was that? It shows up in the latter part of the book. And what about the line that said something about how the more sound was taken from us something something the more we turned into a song? Where did you read that? We pick up our books with the yellow cover and thumb through the pages. One of us finds the line.

The room gleams, two walls are glass, sheeted in 4 x 10 lengths. On the other side of the glass sit two men with laptops balancing on their knees, books stacked on the table between them. The window for our room fades to white when the sun goes down. Green technology, energy star efficient. We can stay here until we decide we are finished. The window stays white until sunrise and then you can look through it again.

“I didn’t actually finish the book.”  Someone admits to this.

“How far did you get?”  someone else asks.

“Page 55.”

We turn to page 55 and nod our heads: This happens.


What also happens is the way the soundtrack at the gyros shop is only 25 seconds long. At the peak of the singer’s soar, just as he is declaring undying love to someone named Adonia, the music stops. You can imagine easily the scratch of a record skipping, someone crossing a room to reset the needle. Five seconds and then the song begins again.

“Maybe the shop could only afford the free sample to this song.” My daughter gestures with one hand, the other is busy with a gyros because once you pick one up, you cannot set it down just so you can use both hands to talk.  Cucumber dressing dripping, tomato pitching forward. If you are going to eat it, you better bite in now.

So we do the math. Soundtrack plus delay equals thirty seconds. That is two pieces of the song every minute. Okay, so we’ve been here thirty minutes so we’ve listened to this sixty times. We agree we won’t leave until management finds a different song.


I want to buy old cigar boxes, but the cigar shop next to Bottles and Shots is closed. A bold blue sign on the outside of the door warns, “These doors must remain unlocked during business hours.”

Another sign says the store opens at 9:00 A.M. It is 8:49 A.M, but he doesn’t want to wait and so he takes me home. We’ll get the boxes another time, he says. Then he drives away.

Front door unlocked, happy dogs to greet me. I fill their water bowl and start a load of laundry. In this way ten minutes pass. His car returns. The cigar shop is open now, he says.


Why a penguin against a rope: this.

notes while waiting to decide how long to leave the ashes on my forehead

fishCrazy M has no employees and answers the phone five times a day because people call to ask what is cod, what is halibut.  At least five times a day. People in Montana don’t know their fish, she says.  She reaches over the bar and sets two baskets of halibut and fresh slaw before us.

First I take this photo.  Then we ask for forks. The way she serves her fish no utensils are required. But what about the slaw?

Oh! She laughs, disappearing behind a curtain to find two clean forks. Back there is where she makes her secret batter. Out here, everything is on display. What you get is whatever it is you see.


Last week I dreaded leaving my house in 30 below wind chills to work at our art museum’s annual art auction. In that kind of cold you can’t walk fast, but walking fast is the only way you want to move. Given enough time a person learns to slide or never leave the house.

I wore a volunteer badge and until the auction began, I had no artwork to wrap for patrons. This was when I came across Rabbit’s son participating in a Quick Draw exhibit. The same slow boom, the same authentic reach. Though we had never met before, and though I was not a patron who had paid $150 for a seat at the auction, he took time to find his wife and introduce us to each other. A warm gift wrapped in quiet paper—this hospitality. Later, I would wrap one of his paintings that had sold for thousands. Eight feet by eight feet, resting on my packing table. What does promise look like? Close your eyes and see: layers of Khowshisgun deep red evening smears.


Find me in the wilderness. These stained-glass lyrics and the thorns, piercing. Whatever society we live within, whatever century, we link. No matter I don’t believe in the pope or follow faithfully Catholic doctrine the way  I was raised to do.  Ashes on  my forehead administered by the man with fat thumbs. To dust you will return. We are connected. Each of us to each other. No matter the century, the sidewalk, the phone calls we don’t make.


These ashes come from burning palm leaves because we can’t burn the stars.


Crazy M talks while she cooks, peering at us over the counter that separates us from her grill. This place feels like home. On the counter is a framed note from the Governor commending her for her fine fish, but she says she doesn’t remember serving him. Was he really here? She already has some steady customers: one with crutches and a bad leg stretched out in the narrow pathway in her fish hut.  She tripped on his leg the first time she served him and asked him to move his leg, not realizing his situation. How it took both hands and torque. Now, he eats there every other day, but she tells us she won’t ask what happened to his leg. Because, she says, what if it was self-inflicted, we all know how that is.


two dozen tamales

weedThe night before we load Derby for a market show, I shovel my driveway, building a clean path. Piles of discarded snow accumulated over three months serve as bunkers lining the drive, the walk. Derby is parked akimbo, on top of the snowdrift that will overtake everything without Derby there. Akimbo, a vehicle without hips and elbows, but still—imagine the steep slant, each tire gaining purchase on the crusty drift.

My shovel and breath are the only sounds on the dead-end street. A street light illuminates falling snow until motion sensors detect my movement and then the light turns off.  It should be the other way: Sense motion, turn on; Sense stillness, turn off. But no, I shovel in the dark, staying ahead of the snowfall. The scrap of blade is soothing, rhythmic. Between strokes, a trace of train whistle reaches me from the distant river valley. I welcome this dark calm, accepting that it stays as long as I keep moving.


Before we would believe in the cave, the  desert mountain was removed slope by slope until only the interior remained.  This from the autobiography of Richard Rodriguez, Darling. I hope he will tell me that when we ask for proof, we destroy the proof in the process. But I’m only on the second chapter.


We, my daughter and I, fill Derby with Whitewash product for the fundraiser at the south side community center.  We set up next to the tall Crow Indian whose slow booming, chanty voice warms the gym we are in. Rabbit is an artist; his tables spread with deep blue and red blankets abut our table of purple, green and burgundy.

We bring an old vertical bread box from home. It stores the dog biscuits and now the pups are confused. Where has the bread box gone? Now it is on a table in a gym with Whitewash magnets on it. The male vendors have their eyes on this box. One by one, they stop by to see if it still functions. Oh yes, it does. The turquoise knob turning to unlock the creamy white metal box. Even after Beth dropped it in the snowy street hauling it indoors. I had just stepped out of the gym to unload more from Derby and could hear her laughter muffled by the naked elm trees lining the boulevard. Stars blinking, bending down to look. An empty bread box lying in the street.

We haul it in, fresh sparkly Hollywood snow wedged in its cracks. We know how to fix it- it’s the one thing we always drop. Tonight with the snow falling outside, we kneel and open our boxes of pendants and scarves, welcoming the center’s teachers to an early look. Hands dive in. Decisions are quick. Purchases are bagged and stored for tomorrow when they will return to pay us in cash or fresh-made tamales.

Tomorrow: we’ll be slow to notice a power outlet six feet up the wall, an electronic cigarette charging, the charger glowing red. Tomorrow: Rabbit, the Crow artist, changing his outside hat for his inside hat, which is wrapped in two plastic grocery bags. China bells ringing across the gym. A donated organ hauled in through the back doors, the furnace blowing, table clothes flapping. A two-fingered Ode to Joy.

Our pendants sell one by one, two by two. Dennis, the kind janitor, is nearly moved to tears when he purchases Divine, a gift for his struggling daughter.  Three times we are asked if we have any Hope pendants. Our customers don’t know we try not to do hope. We offer instead, Let A Little Dust Fall. A version of acceptance, we suggest.

In the distance we notice the vendor who had arrived late, borrowed price stickers from us, a pen from the tamale-makers. She tucks her head in the pink purse on her lap. Faint puffs of smoke result. She’s been trying to quit she tells us when we stop by to visit. The electronic cigarette helps until it doesn’t help anymore. When it rains it pours and you start smoking again and then you go on Xanax. We buy three 1946 Life magazines displayed on her empty Girl Scout cookie box. They are in fair condition, carrying the attic scent of cardboard box, a hint of sidewalk snow.

Rabbit wants to trade one of his prints for one of our collages. Every time he returns to his booth, he counts his paintings. He started with thirty-six and after our trade he is down to twenty-nine. We buy three raffle tickets for a chance to win one of his paintings at a fundraiser being held in April. Don’t worry, he tells us, it will be on the up and up. A security guard will pick the winning ticket.

The desert is the water’s fossil.

Pork tamales in the morning, Indian tacos for lunch. The lady running the antique booth next to the kitchen calls each of us Honey. We know whenever her booth is empty of customers because she walks over to the organ beneath the basketball hoop and plays Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater with her knuckles. Out in the hallway, the children are running a bake sale. Everything costs one dollar. One cookie, one dollar. One full loaf of banana bread, one dollar.  No one buys the organ, but the banana bread sells out.




I want to talk about the bonnets, she wants
to talk about the deer.

The winter road to her farm crests higher,
dips lower with approaching dark.

There, where the county road T’s
with the road to Pryor, last night’s meadow

was filled with grazing deer, and spotted with light beams
bouncing from her Jeep. If you knew how to squint,

she tells me, the deer looked like stick figures
etched on a limestone wall. For a moment,

we were both inside that cave.


My cell phone rings. Someone’s car
won’t start. Someone needs a lift.

What sound do you hear
when you try to start it?

Silence, he tells me, nothing but
silence when I turn the key.

This is what I want.


The Chinook was bending
prairie grass along the highway ditch.

Our car bucked the headwind.
Up ahead, one abandoned homestead.

Tumbleweeds bounced west to east
across the barren stretch.

There, for a moment: between the collapsed
wood shed and the garden plot,

two sisters in bonnets
and three brothers chasing hats.


Thanks to Untitled Country Review, this poem first appeared in their journal. Here.

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