Janet Rodney & Nathaniel Tarn - "Alashka, Part 2"


(Alashka, Part 2)


Nathaniel Tarn and Janet Rodney



Back from Europe:
          three days in Pennsylvania.
Is this a home?
Have we been to Alashka?
                     Are we going?

near one hundred degrees 
and humidity atrocious, 
twenty-four hours late 
to a bad start
         packing out the house
packing in the world
         to the moving house
the van becomes
         on its rubber wheels.

Kitatinny Mountains: 15.20 hrs.

Not certain
whether ready for movement, or not -- 
moving again, 
we must accept 
movement as mind.
                     We are not sure, 
it seems to us, of time,
         whether this is a night 
in the light of day,
         or one full of tomorrow, 
dreaming of yesterday.
unravels all. We
come and go as we please
in the green dusk
         of Pennsylvania.

Tuscarora Mountain: 15.30 hrs.

Asleep in
the crook of Pennsylvania's arm 
(the old positions, 
familiar movements in the van), 
we can become one another's poem.  
Can we write letters to each other, 
sitting side by side like this, driving, 
lying side by side like this, dreaming?

Allegheny Mountain: 16.30 hrs.

Losing Pennsylvania,
passing into Ohio. Ravenna, Ohio: 6.12.76, 
Campground as nighttime parking lot.  
Attention, Ladies & Gentlemen, we are back 
                      in the world of Nature!

Thick people
         beaten down by children 
                eating thick food, 
death already
         in their arteries-
                        and this death 
clogging the veins of Europe also, 
         homogenizing the world, 
    There seemed moments to us 
    when our cities could not breathe.)
                               At least
    where we go
    we have space.
              in which the leprosy
may not have settled yet. Europe, she chokes.

Later, a road-sign:
(American Breeders' Services)

Wisconsin: 6.13.76



On the first journey: 
gates of great country 
begun far back, 
gate after gate falling down.  
Massacred spring 
turned to scorched August 
in the weekend silence: 
Pennsylvania rush,
Ohio gone by,
Indiana gone by,
Illinois -- the
scramble of the skyway 
into Chicago. Second day.  
Dead pavements, wide roads, 
empty of traffic, 
riot of buildings 
looming in the mist 
of the crazed summer.

The cranes at Sandhill, 
fifth day,
refusing to rise on the wind 
(costly for flight) 
hidden in nesting coverts 
among the rushing waters 
at the far end of (invisible)
Wisconsin infinity.
Tornado, Madison, Wisconsin,
as we pass by,
roof torn off an apartment building, 
a northern English voice, 
soft in disaster:
I don't want this again, 
I've seen it once, 
never want to again, 
don't like it here,
I want to go back to England.

We had always gone back to you, 
daughter of el gigante, 
dead swallow whipped 
across ten thousand lakes 
of forest Minnesota!
Immensity of the Mississippi 
at Oresbach.
Be one of the new Minutemen: 
join the National Guard! 
at Rochester.
All Motels and Hotels 
adjacent to the Mayo 
as the hotels are adjacent to 
the gaming rooms you bet 
at Reno and Vegas.
Gliders outside of Northfield, Minnesota, 
last intimation of soaring 
before we hit some rest.
Could you hear us talking 
above the howling wind 
which has nothing to stop it 
between the frozen poles 
on the way to yet another 
thousand miles of heat and dust, 
of crushing air?

The land unreeled from our fingers 
below the wheels 
like a green scarab 
inching along the chocolate 
prairies of Minnesota. 
the thinly peopled 
interminable acres.
We had talked, in Northfield, 
of whether anyone 
was rooted in this land 
but had to know percents 
of rural to urban 
in order to decide.
Memo: discuss with Gary 
in Northern California.  
Tenth day:
pond every half minute 
in the Dakotas: each one
its resident waterfowl.
We thought we saw
a Yellowheaded blackbird but 
it went by too fast, or we, 
and then we saw a harvest 
of Yellowheaded blackbirds.  
There were tornado watches, 
the skies
became interesting for the first time 
during this trip 
which was already, it seemed to us, 
the most interminable.

The girls at Skelly's truckers: 
Aw, I thought you only 
flew to Alaska! Envy 
gravelled their voices for the rig.  
Trucked on and came at last, 
after days of swaying, 
over the Plains, days of sweat heat, 
mirage and waterfowl, 
headwinds like walls -- 
more like sailing a boat 
or plane, swaying from side to side, 
bucking and slithering, 
dodging the giant rigs 
thru the deserted Republic 
on a Memorial Day
no one remembered:
to the spinal mountains.
Down song of meadowlark
over the rushing waves of Sakakawea.
Meditation in the curtained rig.
Marsh hawk, harried by smaller birds.
Big sky over Montana harsh and louring.
Our old Wyoming
warming her tits to the south.

Thirteenth day. Down from Glacier,
Spruce grouse entering Alberta.
Pintail everywhere.
Waterfowl up like a tide 
from the south, 
homing into small waters.

Tribes all over the map: 
what a reunion to be, 
in the fall, back to south!  
Suddenly, in the rig, 
half-dozen bulky Bloods, 
lead woman drunk a little, 
claiming us for tribes 
we had not heard of yet, 
marrying us
to all her children one by one.
We say: we were married once 
to these children, one by one, 
we knew the tribes: we were priests once 
and knew the rituals by heart -- 
tho not these skins, these pipes, 
but others -- south of here.
Insisted on leaving us their names. 
each one by one,
small parchment,
treaty of some kindness, 
having taken them to Fort McLeod 
where they wished to go.

Consumer madhouse at Calgary.  
Population of goods, a birthday sale: 
these goods buy men,
The wind was saying 
among the mountain pines 
beautiful things in its own name.  
Trails led off 
into the wild.
Dared not quite go.
The sun beckoned
our feet to Sundance Canyon.  
Pine smells, almost to sickness.  
Twittering juncos 
softly among the pines.
Rumor of grizzly, very far up.  
Priesthood on high 
where even the wind stopped singing.  
Now: Banff, Louise and Jasper.  
This is all one land, 
borders are meaningless
Country to country; state to state:
meaningless.  The animals begin to reign.  
Idiots rush at them, gaping, 
clutching cameras,
hands held out, offering bread.
The animals are invisible.
Riding invisible Indians, 
invisible national parks, 
invisible eclipses.  Moon over Sakakawea, 
in full eclipse: behind cloud,
Sunrise, over Lake Louise: 
invisible, behind cloud.
The people: invisible.
Louise, the fourteenth day.
Eleven more days to Anchorage.

Were we really going to the great land?  
Would we ever see the ice?
Would there be freshness?
Eagles?  Would our souls fuck with it?  
Would there be polar bears, body to body? 
Which was which now, would there be whales?  
Which would be the faces 
we would have to speak to 
on pain of dying perhaps?
Held the wheel north -- the wheel unwilling, 
hours bending it to north.
Her name: all that was left of her sound.
We would be old when we got to the sea,
old, smelly, unrecognizable,
she would have nothing to do with us.
When we got to the sea, would she touch us?



      We're finally getting back 
      to everything that matters: 
of Western rivers 
jerking seaward
that grind us like the dead,
                   our silence 
                   below the ripples, 
                   another world 
                   flowing thru ours 
           as we drive past 
           our own shades, 
           a woman and man 
           receding in the mirror, 
    we watch them
    look back at us
                    and suddenly the rain 
falls like arrows 
aiming gleams & notes 
into the moving fields
    and piercing us
    we fall too,
    grafted together,
           one body taking root 
           and trying to remember 
           with all the senses
                   what we only see.

Dandelion flowers 
in British Columbia 
become Provincial Flower 
for the spring 
on a patch of ground 
out of Prince George's city 
become our home for three days 
as we waited for summer
to come out of the ground: 
the raving sunburst of the flower 
when queen of all it surveys -- 
there must be a lesson 
in weed-triumph, "ugliness," 
as it turns to imperial beauty.  
Quiet conversation among 
quiet people ready to go 
along with summer 
wherever it goes: 
not force it -- don't push 
the river, it flows, 
all by itself.
The cat at our thighs 
choosing us as all cats do, 
this one actually looking 
over our shoulders as we wrote.  
Ah! sexual cat, 
let's say, without verbiage: 
pussy in the face.
Summer long days
which never ended, 
flowers and humming wires: 
they were bulldozing down 
small towns as we drove in, 
you could buy a town for a song: 
fifty years from now 
they'd be spending a fortune 
building their replicas.
Photograph the wood, windows, doors, 
get the details down 
before they go down.
In the Canadian Legion,
bulldozer men stamped like bulls 
on the night of our party, 
turning women to cows, 
bringing them down 
with hot leers.
Years of concerted insult
paid off as old world courtesy.

Prince George, B.C., 
pines, birches and space 
seeping in, 
time occupied 
the path we followed, 
the river running with us, 
& dandelions burst 
into small suns, 
at mile zero,
Dawson Creek,
a boy arched in,
at the window:
spent my first
twenty-four years
in Doylestown, Pennsylvania,
now live in Alaska,
I see you have
Penn plates,
you wouldn't be
heading that way?



Driving around
the gods' peninsula
rimmed with dereliction.

The mind like a pet
    wild on its leash
running around the circles 
    of its privileged places 
remembering the loci
    of its treasure hoards: 
an art (unspoken)
    of memory...

The message goes
    from me to you, 
now I carry the words in my mouth 
    now you carry them, 
the poem
    runs between us 
like an invisible animal 
    thru forest trees 
leaving wild wakes 
    ferns lying low 
glazed with the sweat
              of its passing.

We are
among the trees 
    this is the blending place.
Blake sd.
Olson sd.
and city is no doubt
              man's nature 
      work's crown,
we wd. have the forests
              with a thousand hands 
engulf the city
         not to strangle it
         but to purify
         the buildings
         of all base
         weed out all those
         not fit to live
                         with trees.

Rain all day.
After a walk,
after brief sleep,
we might see the mountains.

         The sun shines 
         the white daisy 
         smiles in answer 
         every creature 
         has its right to life, 
         the mountains appear 
         from their cloud capes 
         like brides 
         at a mass wedding 
         with the sun, 
         pine and fern 
         turn from grey to green 
         those who spoke of light 
         remember us as stars 
         their thoughts 
         falling on us 
         in benedictions 
         as we exchange 
         our sexes with each other, 
         the day is saved 
         from ghosts and darkness 
         it is set in the books 
         of record forthwith 
         and the bird rises 
         to become an angel 
         of our joint lives.

Waktikeh Creek: 14.00 hrs. 6.19.76.
A moment later,
                        overcast again.

The tilt
of the earth
blessed us
with long days, 
signs welcomed us 
to Taylor, mile thirty-six, 
gateway to the land 
beyond the River Peace, 
Route 97, B.C.
In tranquillity
this trip could have been 
inside but now 
the road commanded 
an outer cartography, 
the Alkane Highway's, 
from the vision van 
we rode in, 
filling with dust, 
the road changing its skin: 
under the vault 
of the sky, 
snow veins shot 
along the mountains, 
a fire had left 
charred trees, 
in the distance 
a man with a flag waved 
and as we closed, 
became a woman, 
an orange vest 
speaking to us, 
one breast east, 
the other west, 
herself a flag 
pointing us North, 
all boundaries 
an allegory now, 
as was this last frontier 
we chased northward 
thru snakeloops 
to where land's head 
lies breathing 
in slow gasps 
of sleep.



We carry as many people within
                as places
   as outer masks of past lives
                on the edge of definition 
   as inner marks like bells at night 
        tolling unheard by sleepers 
                  each quarter hour 
        eyelids move fast as lightning, 
closed, dreaming.

   the living ferried from Seattle to Bremerton
and Bremerton to Seattle
   while the sun goes down over the Olympics 
and we wait to be ferried to Alashka:
        where are the dead being ferried to
                    in our minds
        or those so far from us
                              under the sea 
        they are assimilated to the dead 
in every element of their bodies except 
                        that of fire?

    Fire spreads over the water
as the ferries ply over Puget Sound
    and the dead come close to mind
                 restless and unforgiving.

                 The cities of the dead. 
Death ploughing thru the middle of them 
        sinking our families in its wake.
Leaving a furrow thru the middle of the living cities,
        (everyone dancing around it)
    over which the darkness settled,
        in the middle of which our families lay down.
Our families like broken trees,
                 like scattered armies,
    fallen giants on Olympus flanks,
and we: still too young to carry the burden

                        of their speech of fire  ...

In a dream
of limbs floating
in hot sulphur springs 
our bodies boiled 
to the caw of gulls 
bringing inland 
sounds of the sea 
as the sun gleamed 
thru willows 
& minnows shone, 
small flints of light 
under the boardwalk.
Our cock
nudged into swamplands 
& we wriggled around, 
opening our mouth 
wide like a crocodile: 
let's fish we said, 
& swim in this bayou forever!  
That very morning 
we consented 
by being silent 
as it rained 
over Liard River, B.C., 
mile four nine six 
to shake out 
our mind-made body, the track it made 
the track it made 
unfathomable as birds 
in flight,
the shell that contained
the genitals
was the blue
of turquoise
& somebody else,
we imagined,
was bringing
a mind set on gnosis.



Woken at four abruptly 
by the ship's loudspeaker
       we are ejected into the world 
as if Haines really existed --
             as if there were houses to be seen 
       and streets to drive thru
             and people living there 
                           in terminal city -- 
                       (but not with terror now 
since we know terror is buried below Klukwan 
                           & that the treasures 
    are underneath.

           Two eagles over the bay.  
    We go in dream quiet 
    thru the vegetation 
    saluting the mountains 
    crossing the Chilkat
         and where the treasure village smokes
    in the early light
         we make no attempt to enter
    desiring nothing more
    by way of a deposit
                        than understanding.

    Mosquito lake,
               the magic place.
    Later we will breakfast
               among enduring trees
    loud with mosquitos
               before driving back into
    the Yukon skylight.

For now, we fall asleep
in the sound of raven and warbler, 
clatter of earth,
whispers of heaven.

Getting van & body 
on the road 
makes you want out 
of the periplum vitae, 
what in Hell 
were we doing here?  
as for a time 
it preserves us 
from tedium, 
the Yukon Motel, 
mile eight zero four: 
pubescent trees, 
jittering with warblers, 
the road-skin tight, 
a banality of names, 
each once a discovery 
throbbing by:
Dead Man, Lone Tree,
Wolf & Cracker Creeks.
Keep the Yukon Green.



We wonder sometimes 
about all this travel, 
fear blurr of images 
               the boat creaks
               shadow passing over shells 
               our forms on the floor,
               waiting for sleep
       silence in our bones
       waiting to grow
       larger than the sea
       or mountains that meet
       the sky around us,
waiting for it to happen
like the crack of ice
breaking us.
               almost touching
               here on the floor
       between the seats,
       rolled in down,
       our body-bags
       waiting for something
like the hail that fell
that evening in Ohio,
small eggs outside our door
               and we held them an instant 
               their perfect shapes 
               melting in the hand.

What we touch,
it appears,
is doomed
     with neither world 
     quite enough 
     by itself
               like a pair of loons 
               at Mosquito Lake, 
               where we headed on arrival 
     the two traveling together, 
     real and reflected birds 
     marrying into water and sky 
               & the rain that fell 
               as drops of light, 
               shattering the illusion.

Mosquitoes take our blood 
carrying us to forest & lake, 
to live under water as worms maybe 
or to fly, as blood no longer,
               in wing or leg, 
               tiny thorax, 
               or energy of flight.

        Mile ten five nine:
        Kluane Lake,
        Dall sheep in motion 
        on the mountain, 
        white specks 
        among conifers, 
        intelligence on the rock 
        high above; Horseshoe Bay 
        frozen by morning, 
        winds galloping 
        around the van, 
        our human module 
        parked under pines, 
        the mind taking 
        nature's shape again, 
        record of icefields 
        tide of an ancient music, 
        sound of topography, 
        clash of crystals 
        on the beach.



The things we leave behind us: 
     ancestral moneys,
             stored in banks, 
     no more than excrement,
             forefathers' words -- 
                  little more than sperm 
wd. have served better elsewhere,
     Lord knows: our own poems even 
locked in their selfhood,
                      too loud in the chorus.

but this adventure now, 
     work    /    working 
the mind set in motion 
     not by wheels only
                      but by reunion 
     of primacies divided:
                          ANDRO    /    GUNE
pure, alchemical water
     to save the planet
from mental garbage
     (polluted airwaves)
          --not cities of the mind.

Our body risen
shown on the radar:
out of our bones:
  as child,
    as new moon,
       as ice-bow along sea-front:
                    the city here, 
old/new Atlantis.

          Bah! world is tired,
             The forest
     is no model for habitation,
             but a barrier
                          hacked into.
Raven flies further
             on the ice, 
forgets the cities
             he has never seen, 
forgets the ice he sees now, 
which is the same as the ice he will see soon,
     remembers only dimly 
where trees and towers met
                 in an idyllic setting 
Cook might have stumbled into 
     or Fuca. or Vancouver.

Meantime, the latest bank branch
                 raises its buildings
in bids to make our money happy, 
                 stuffs the city's throat 
    with bank notes
sends Androgune on her way
          with nothing for food or gas
      EAT   /   FILL UP   /   SLEEP
because they don't cash
          out of State checks
                           in Alashka . . .

       At four o'clock,
       mile one two two one point three, 
       we crossed a boundary, 
       moved an hour back 
       as we drove forward 
       into Alashka, the ghost 
       of Mount Sanford 
       soon floated towards
       Gulkana & Anchorage:
       on the road
       above Matanuska 
       a glacier's snout 
       pushed thru gravel 
       as far as the eye could see, 
       mountains, and 
       moonlike scars, 
       and long waters flowed 
       far beneath the ice,
       cooling the waters
       of the mind.


GUN MOUTH, 6/24/76

We think we hear
but noise blocks out
the half-sounds seeping thru
                          ticking of a clock,
                          like a bomb
                          carried these past weeks
         only now,
         three thousand
         miles later,
         it comes to our attention 
                     that having crossed 
                     four time zones 
                     we're ready to aim 
                     for another, 
like spruce time or
ice heaving down the mountain time 
or, in brutality of silence, 
the wearing down of rock time.
                     We have to know how 
                     to slow down
                     enough to imagine 
                     what we know is happening: 
we become a glacier,
      withdraw & break out as spruce 
                     at the bottom of the sea 
                     we watch the ridges 
                     form on our backs, 
our mind carving
its way thru the block.
      We listen to the deep tones 
      of voices spinning 
      cedar into wool,
                      the warp of time 
                      winding thru 
                      index & thumb, 
      & knowledge of silence 
      flows from behind 
      the scheme of things,
                      the sutures of our passage 
                      thru a gunsight
                      where the birth waters break 
from behind our mouths
     inevitably made
                      to eat this earth some day, 
& we give birth
that morning
in complicity
with all the elements,
                      becoming the many faces 
                      of the land this moment of 
                                 our re-entry.



Head into the wind, 
hit the road again, 
swing round the pocks, 
there are many 
to catch a wheel upon 
and only two of us.  
Go, and there is no spare 
to put in your stead 
we didn't foresee 
what would happen 
if I should unbolt: 
you would inherit 
backpacks, sleeping bags 
portable stove, tent, 
you'd drive on 
to new lands 
holding to the fantasy 
of discovery 
while I bounced thru 
a lunar landscape, 
unbidden as the blast 
of a fallen star, 
one more crater
for you to cross.


    For architecture to be beautiful, a people has 
to believe in duration. A city is designed to stand 
for a thousand years, perhaps for all time. The 
buildings also have to suit -- in shape, size, materials 
-- the prevailing climate, tame it to man's needs. When 
technology is "instant" and when the future is seen 
as uncertain or uninteresting, there is no need for 
architecture.  Provided it is warm, or cool, a house, 
a senate, a cathedral, can all look like, or be, 
quonset huts.

      The destruction of the Californian coast is ac- 
complished. A leprosy spreads from San Diego to the 
Oregon border, or will spread as soon as the pressure 
gets strong enough. Wherever oases have not been es- 
tablished, the coast from Oregon to Alashka will suffer 
likewise. It is a matter of greed and time, both of 
which are plentiful when time means nothing.

       The Native habitat was an adequate response to 
the Alashkan environment.  So was the homesteader's hut.  
As things are now, nothing between that and a visionary 
architecture is an adequate response. Anchorage and 
Fairbanks have sites fit for angels to live in but los 
angeles have already been shipped or airlifted up the 

       The great land can only hope that it will defeat
man yet by being so great that it can never be found.


Copyright © 1979 by Nathaniel Tarn and Janet Rodney.

from Atitlan/Alashka, published by Brillig Works, and now out of print.

Go to White / Out, Part 3 of Alashka

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