Isiah Smith


Nobody had asked me what my opinion had been. Nobody had been around to. Though I had snuggled up beside the nearest sandpile, and was reading a note left there by another stranger, before last summer it seemed, I couldn’t imagine ever talking. My boots had become unlaced, too, and filled with several tiny stones apiece, bits of blue I had stumbled upon four miles or so north of the Mexican border, ninety miles south of Tucson. Even there, when I had dined with people, I had been put to their side, served alone outside the purview of ties, dresses, and light but good morning laughter over sausages, eggs, and steaming muffins. Any words, like table crumbs, had been smoothed away and I was forgotten. Now that my heart had been emptied of blood, and my mind had become a near vacuum of human desire, I was as ready as the Rose of Sharon to bloom in Jehovah’s own desert somewhere in a land I had never seen, beside a boulder near the foot of mountain where nothing before had taken root.

Patricia Macos

lost notebook

I had already not spoken for some time. Even to the cat I was quiet. To go out, I would knock against the back door, and she would slip away. Watching her paws pressing into the mud, I knew she would be back soon. The rain had continued for weeks even. And I was not afraid of running out of any supplies. Even as a child my parents rarely spoke to each other or to me. Supper was candlelit and never impolite. I can’t recall feelings of anything being, or ever having been, incommodious. My riches and fine belongings were locked away in Oregon. Turnips, burdock, and beets made up a great amount of my daily diet. There was a chance that I would see the late sugar frost and tap the maples. Then for days I would light a fire and boil it gently down to syrup. Further needs, if there were any, had been taken up by the sawing and splitting of wood. At night when I washed my skin down with handfuls of snow I could see still how beautiful my body was.

Thomas J. Langhorne, Jr.

western hills

Nobody had been less sure of changing from ash to aluminum than I was myself. There was a feel that I’d known, and there was a sound too. Anyway, that was done and what’s done in baseball could be done better in other ways. Cars themselves today are faster. Kids learn quicker and more. Gamma rays halfway shooting from across the universe arrive overnight now. I keep opening the same Swiss blades I’d been given as a gift, an old army knife, fat as a mushroom from a woman who was about as terrible as I had ever seen or known one. She’d had her belly button, lost after earlier operations under the flesh of her stomach, found there in her gut after another. And replaced to where it belongs, right in the center. This was in her forties actually. When I was just a kid she showed me that, her tits and everything. That she was my step-parent only made what was already terrible worse. I’d have given her the bat right back then if I could have. Imagine that. Imagine what a mess that would have caused. Anyhow, it’s got nothing to do with the sky above, always blue somewhere else. And it’s got even less to do with the ground below. You can take a lifetime, any one of them, and put everything that ever happened in one of them and put all of them, every small incident that ever happened, into a small yellow-colored envelope, a small enough one with a brass clasp on it, and close it, folding back the wings of the clasp to close it like that—and without even licking the gum seal of it. Put them all away, all the envelopes. All bats they were made of wood once, solid ash. Now that’s all gone. Beetles. Invasive species. Killed them all. All the ash. Gone. Under the bark. Killed all the ash tress that ever grew. So what? Now the core is different. Different sound, different feel. The balls go themselves farther in some cases. The kids growing up have fun. That’s only the point of it for them.

Garret Samuel Terpenning


alien homes 4

Yesterday, I was on the road and a woman left me kisses. The next day I was whipped by a man for nothing that I had done. Two days hence some children laughed at the hump of flesh that was my back. And years later, I was hanged by a crowd who laughed until I was nearly dead. Stepped on by an ox. Chewed through by a panther. Crowned. Disrobed. Disgraced. And so on. When near the end of my life I was asked: How is that of all these experiences you have had it is as though you had never been affected, the response I gave was: “Oh, him, I remember him long, long ago. He was playing next to a small pond where there were a bunch of tadpoles swimming that he was watching, and I believe he may be still there.”





The Staircase Of Noble Wood

deserted mine

There wasn’t enough cash left to get two cans of high temp paint to spray the woodstove black. It’d have to do to let it burn through the winter this time, grimy and rusty in spots. Next year will be better. And the switched out pair of snows had just enough tread hopefully to pass inspection if he did it one or two months earlier than the windshield sticker said to in February when by then making it up the hill would be impossible and down’d be deadly.

Fortunately, the cat wasn’t balking at dry food which per pound per meal was much less change to spend than can after can, even by the case, of wet. She’d gotten used to the dry crackle of kibbles in between her teeth, mushed in with a little wet around sundown when she’d come inside for the last time before nightfall. And the cat purred anyway so long as she was treated kindly stretched out on his chest, or balled up on the colored striped blanket folded on the corner of the bed.

He’d go about his business, felling standing timber, cutting it up, and buying a new chain now and then when the spare broke, as happens from time to time. And then the rest was split by hand which, as work, is a decent way of forgetting everything. Making firewood is a good way to live. It takes only calmness, focus, steady breaths, and enough strength to lift a maul above the head before the grace of Earth’s gravity lends her own hand to travel swiftly down between the seam unseen to the human eye.

Maybe one day his name would be posted in the middle pages of the local newspaper with all the others whose land and homes were in arrears. But that could be some time yet. That could be some time before the sheriff came. Things by then could change, maybe for the better, maybe not. Years back, when he was rich, he’d had a lawyer who’d gibed, “You can’t squeeze blood out of turnip.” So to turn turnip, so to turn rock. There never was shame in being poor.

For gifts, he’d give away a pretty enough feather he’d find (or had found) lying somewhere in the woods. A first edition of The Lives of Cells, by Lewis Thomas, would be nice from his bookshelves. A diamond unearthed from the great days swinging a sledge at Herkimer would please him immensely, too. There were enough rocks and minerals and handfuls of Apache tears to give away to others for years.

An American Hero Foresees His Life

mountain outlook

Somewhere even from himself he hid all his past scribbled books. In their calendars perhaps were lists of goods to buy and a moment’s revelation. In them were his dreams of dreams, the sentimental schmaltz of his ventures near the mountaintops of Wyoming, and the calumny of his darkest human betrayals.

Like unseen glyphs, these had all been rubber-banded and put aside. Unimportant now, living behind the picture screen of a wall-sized TV, he lay stymied by the day, and frozen by the night. He lived by the wintry solace of the Sun, and was mesmerized by the cycles of the Moon whose cutlass grew until it punched a solid hole through the black pall of night, once more.

A collection of shirt sleeve buttons fallen off cuffs, and assorted hair pins could hardly console him. Camisoles leftover from elsewhere would not wash his own dishes. He tore off his pillowcase half-way each night he slept anyway. The gray light of dawn illuminated the pale trunk of the butternut who’d lost all its bark back winters ago.

A one room house without a door, only a doorway, drew him inside. Its bare earthen floor, its rough hewn walls let in just barely some light between the siding. A woman dead and yellowed lying on a bed alone inside for days made him scream and scream and scream. And he woke to the midnight torture of his mind amok to that.

Concupiscent urges had become handfuls of thumbtacks pressing in. Love cries once in his lover’s arms, were today her cries of war, hidden behind a neighbor’s wall. The constant keening ululation mourned his own death, of a thousand Baker Dancers, ten thousand of them, celebrating themselves behind ten thousand beautiful folds, in exchange for his life force, their victory.

From the distant unhewn cliffs there must have been flown a note of this, completely covered with a bottle spilt over it of India ink. It must have tumbled by roadways and shabby towns, it must have bedded itself in a rusty sink whose dried waters smelt of human blood, out into the reddened dusk of South Dakota where animals in shadows grazed not too close to each other.

Purple Mountain Wood Stove

mountains arizona

Already, my wood stove is burning. I stacked the cords myself. I fear six cords of wood may not be enough. Winter is long and full of deep snow. I had once had another pair of hands to help me. But they are gone. That was a time I do not regret, and have not seen that in a while, a life like that when the tandem knocking of each piece of wood laid against the growing long stack our wordless work kept the coldness of winter out. And I get on, je me débrouille, because I now must. That is the way with things, with spiders nested in the corners of bathroom shower stalls, soldiers stationed on a foreign front, or men and women somewhere listening to an easy-going book as they commute back and forth between their city office buildings and glass-lit evening houses lit up and down the streets. In any case, I’m not sure there’s enough wood to sustain me before the tubers in the ground have all grown (or rotted). I had better scour the deadfall with my saw and ax soon. The meager fronds of the ferns are already yellowing. The bears are circling wider and wider in these searching final days before they disappear until May. Cries of geese overhead, these are common. How with my jolly heart and glad-eyed ways I became myself here to be living at the foothills of the Rockies, it is no mystery to tell at all. It is only to be remarked upon, I think, that unexpectedly I made myself saddened by all the passing of everything that I had known and all there was standing once before such great purple majesty.

Midnight Cowboy Sleeping Underwater

western grass and sky

There was some Western, some movie on last night. But he didn’t know what it was. Something hanging by a noose or a noose with somebody’s name on it pinned to a tree. At any rate, he didn’t know. He just woke up in the same clothes he’d gone to sleep in. And he didn’t know it. He didn’t know that. He just woke up turned ninety degrees body around in bed in the same black morning darkness he always woke up in. Except that he was all dressed already. And they were nice clothes. Nice pants, nice shirt, and a nice moleskin jacket. He didn’t know how’d it happened. It just did. That’s all there was to it. Now he knew and remembered that he’d been discouraged that night before. Everything was pretty much shipwreck. But that’d never stopped him, not from watching some old Western where men mete out either death or life according to some ad hoc game among the tumbleweed and dirt they play by and by, each man and each gun according to each man and each gun’s rules. And he kind of liked that a lot. No, he damn well liked that. A world where life itself isn’t ever held to be the summum bonum. Heck, no. It was how a man lived was how a man died. Which was always for good watching when he was feeling low and pretty ruined, which could have been that that did it, even to him. But he’d always felt some notice before. Some clanging and whooping some doomed submarine’s hollering wail or the fatal sounds of Comanche warriors swarming down the silhouetted embankments that meant one thing. The night before? That was just a silent night. Sleeping into the ether death or sleep or whatever spent dreams there were during those lost hours. Well, hell, he just got up as though it had been a regular night and didn’t bother to shower or shave. He was too finely dressed to change out, and the clothes were warm. He just got going with a fresh pot of coffee, a good, solid breakfast, and headed out to walk the day as he walked every and any day, past the garden, past the newly fallen dead white birch at the back, and straight up his own mountain, up the steep pitch where the sun and the ferns and the old brown leaves and the chips of half-broken bluestone and the old farmers’ low stone walls belonging to nobody always were when he went there that time of day.

Bullet Hole Sign

bullet hole sign trimmed

For the most part he considered the law his foe. When signs were put up posting this or that sort of prohibition, he’d get up on moonless nights and take them right down. When the colors of license plates on cars changed across the state, he’d keep his old one on until a trooper had pulled him over, right in his own dirt driveway. “It’s rusted right in, right where I bolted it,” he’d told the officer, pointing to the four screws he’d screwed in to hold it in place. When notices for jury duty arrived in his mailbox he tossed them in together with the junk mail. He never opened one of them, never let his fury rise by reading one of the questionnaires that preceded jury candidate selection. When presidential elections came he voted for the candidate he felt some disfavor toward just to show himself how pointless the whole thing was. Why, if he’d had one, he’d marry his own sister just to show how meaningless that was, too. The law was bunk. History was bunk. You couldn’t believe in such lies as a free market system when all the gas stations within an eight mile radius overnight had the same gasoline prices within 1/10 of one penny with each other without the whole entire thing being a racket. And so long as they skimmed their taxes off the top, like cream, the government played along with the whispering conspiracy that had to go on in the bleak nighttime hours between Exxon, and Chevron, and Lukoil, and whoever else was playing. It was all one great big lie, one big hoax. Just for fun, when he’d take a drive in the wee hours of the morning, he’d find a road with double yellow solid lines in the middle, cross those lines, and drive for as long as he could on the other side of the road. He took it in stride the several times he’d been arrested, and felt no animus toward the gun-carrying men themselves. It was the law itself he abhorred and which he had abjured. He had nothing against people.

Windswept Horizons


There are places I have known, and regardless of my affections and whatever leanings, this way or that, which I may also have, the somber reminder is there. Cattle die. Kinsmen die. All men are mortal. So said, I read once in a fearsome kids’ book I have never found again, the Viking. When this is seen, not as a marble monument in Washington, nor as some great waxen get-up lying in state in Moscow, but off upon the grassy roadside in the prairie fields of America, death by the wayside strikes another note which is neither religious nor symbolic.

There is instead the blanched grouping of seven well-arranged crosses, none of these lives crucified atop a Roman hill, but all them at once talking, swearing and laughing, teasing each other and probably gossiping about the evening, just enjoying the open speed of the open country in a car together at night, just all slipped away at once. All together. Just like that. Very quietly. These sad reminders are, in fact, everywhere out West in the U.S. They are not anomalies. They are not rare at all. They are there at just about any small bridge or cement-walled overpass you see while driving, clusters of white beautiful crosses, like bright white wildflowers planted by many different pairs of caring human hands grieving across the plains of America.