Whether trained specialists or lay people who care about something, preservationists come from every stratum of life. The archivist, the linguist, the local town historian. The paleontologist, the heirloom seed-saver, the family photographer, the Monuments Men. Old two-by-two Noah and taxonomist Linnaeus. The suburban girl who collects enough yard sale books to build up a library and thereby safeguards that most fragile of things: knowledge. All can be preservationists.
This issue includes contributions from Diane Ackerman, Elizabeth Robinson, Peter Gizzi, Kyra Simone, Heather Altfeld, Richard Powers, Arthur Sze, Joanna Ruocco, Andrew Ervin, Julia Elliott, Jessica Reed, Peter Orner, Erin Singer, Daniel Torday, Toby Olson, Mary Jo Bang, Troy Jollimore, Maya Sonenberg, Rae Gouirand, Mauro Javier Cardenas, Nam Le, Maria Lioutaia, Bryon Landry, Rae Armantrout, Robin Hemley, Madeline Kearin, Donald Revell, S. P. Tenhoff, Debra Nystrom, Donna Stonecipher, Robert Karron, Andrew Mossin, J’Lyn Chapman, Frederic Tuten, and Marshall Klimasewiski.
About the Author
Bradford Morrow (b. 1951) is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, editor, and author of children’s books. He grew up in Colorado and traveled extensively before settling in New York and launching the renowned literary journal Conjunctions. His novel The Almanac Branch was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and for Trinity Fields, Morrow was the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Academy Award in Literature. He has garnered numerous other accolades for his fiction, including O. Henry and Pushcart prizes, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship. Morrow is a professor of literature and Bard Center Fellow at Bard College.
Peter Straub is the New York Times bestselling author of seventeen novels, which have been translated into more than twenty languages. His two collaborations with Stephen King, The Talisman and Black House, were international bestsellers. Two of Peter’s most recent novels, Lost Boy Lost Girl and In the Night Room, were winners of the Bram Stoker Award. In 2006, he was given the Horror Writers Association Lifetime Achievement Award. Peter and his wife live in New York City.
Martine Bellen’s most recent collection of poetry is Wabac Machine (Furniture Press Books). Her other books include GHOSTS! (Spuyten Duyvil Press) and The Vulnerability of Order (Copper Canyon Press).
Howard Norman is a three-time winner of National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and a winner of the Lannan Award for fiction. His novels The Northern Lights and The Bird Artist were both nominated for National Book Awards. He is also author of the novels The Museum Guard, The Haunting of L, What Is Left the Daughter, and Next Life Might Be Kinder. He divides his time between East Calais, Vermont, and Washington, DC.
Read an Excerpt
What the River Saw
They're trouble, all of them. My babbling chestnut-green water rolling around this city carries their news and sailors, cheese and spices, peddlers and painters, refuse and toys, lost cockades, twisted virtue, and the lucky dead meeting their maker in a sky that I tie down to earth in my wrinkled mirrors. I carry the cock-a-hoop spirits of their carousers, boatswains, and braggarts, watch schoolboys practice contempt by placing thumb on the nose with fingers spread out, then consulting me to get their gesture right. Their sardine-narrow houses stand tall with long faces along my canals, where hordes of humans throng.
I've seen them all over the centuries, those scurrying creatures, been privy to the full alphabet of human longing. Served as their privy. Everything they are comes to me in the end, all their auras and effusions, even the vapor from their lungs, on chilly mornings, and sometimes the lunging enamel of their teeth, sometimes the newly born. I've watched their wooing and villainy, the modus operandi of their moods, their spinning, panting, pawing, felt their multitudes ride heavy on my body. I've drooled over their shoes, swallowed some people whole. They damn me, have dammed me. But I always have the last chuckle against their boat slips, always the last, long cackle along their quays. This generation believes it's the first and the finest — they all do! — but I've seen so many of them come and go. They like to stroll beside me to play out their dramas. They come to shed secrets, or spill blood, or glisten with love, or moan in ecstasy. Heard them weep with loss too, and mumble endless rounds of self-immolating prayers. They baptize their young in my waters — sometimes on purpose. They've always been immersed in my continuum, and I in theirs, it seems. And I can tell you their forebears came from tougher stock. I used to enjoy their gliding over my long white eyelids in the time they call the Little Ice Age, when my usually mellifluous water for once froze thick. Then I felt them shaving the ice as they maneuvered across me on blades. I liked that, it scratched an ancient, elemental itch.
Wisps of past Amsterdammers drift along the canal walks too. The current locals mistake them for fog, as their predecessors did when they were alive. But I don't fog like that. I doubt anyone else sees or hears them. In their missionary days full of high trade and visions, maybe then. Today I am the sole witness to their past.
Not that it matters, but my name is Amstel, given me by ancient farmers, who hadn't much imagination, so they just called me Aemestelle, which means "water area." It was the best they could come up with, big brains and all. What reckless souls, farming too near my soft banks, digging peat right out from under my arms — I became a furious water wolf, surging across the lowlands, devouring villages and farms, flooding their sheaves, roots, berries, pigs, and cows. Then it occurred to them to mound up thick walls and hold back my gush. Not move their fields, mind you, but rein me in, choke my natural flow. Humans are like that. They'd rather eat sours than mud, but don't mind a little peat in their whiskey and cook fires. Now and then they pump me dry, reroute me and my brothers, rumbling down through a wide moat they've dug around the city to block invaders. I don't suffer much from that, but their peasants pay when, in the process, I wolf down their flimsy houses and gardens.
Humans are such meddlers. They're not happy unless they're interfering with things. They just can't leave anything alone. I use to be able to run out to the sea for a salt lick. But they've boarded me up, coaxed me into channels, curtailed my former freedom. I watch patiently, knowing I will outlive all their triumphs and follies. Now and then, I slide back and forth in time, remembering what I saw. But, mostly, I just watch. Some more than others. I remember when that painter — the one from Rijn who liked browns and blacks so much — painted my shores at nightfall in those sooty-toned scenes. Cleverly, I'll give him that. This new lady who hunts bugs on my banks at odd hours, and lovingly paints my worst pests, I've seen her type lots of times. They usually end up dumping leftover pigments and oils into my depths, which I don't really mind because the surface sheen that ensues is eye-bendingly beautiful. She's just one more character on the human stage that surrounds me. I watch her as I do the other two-legged creatures. Truth to tell, she intrigues me. But, unlike her, I will endure.
In the beginning all was water: the galloping waves of a North Sea so deadly blue cold few but herring and whales braved it. Then these restless bipeds came along and, with colossal labor, drained hundreds of thousands of acres. Chased the fishes out. Squeezed the land dry and rolled the seabed over like an old mattress. Like it was their job to flip the landscape, totally redesign it! Magician's trick, that one. Hocus-pocus! Turn salty world fresh. Build a thousand pinwheels with big corkscrews inside. Pump the mire into sluices and jog it miles to the sea. Gouge a network of canals all over the place. Flank them all with raised trails and roads. Abracadabra! Build brand-new golden cities and farms on the plains. Took colossal effort, plus hardships, injuries, illnesses, deaths. Instead of moving to where there's already dry land, and not battling the sea day after day. For pious people, they sure act a lot like gods, changing water into land and chaotic wilds into well-behaved gardens. Doesn't matter it's naturally barbarous and banshee filled. To them, nature's imperfect, untidy, disobliging, needs to be arranged, embellished, put into working order, fine-tuned, made pleasurable by their oh-so-lofty art. I mean, really. And they're still at it — draining thousands of acres, some boggy, some fenny, some acidic, some alkaline, all heavier than their innumerable sins. Despite having legs, they sometimes flow together like one fluid, full of dark energy. Other times, they toil alone, like bug-eyed optimists, until they stagger and collapse. So contrary, pigheaded. Honestly, they make me tired.
Me, I'm lower key, only hum in the howl of the world, just stay my course, and try to remain unpredictable. Sure, from time to time I add to their troubles, and can't help pouring a thick slurry of muddy goo over my banks. Often when the North Sea boils up a tempest and unleashes sheets of rain. Or sometimes just when these humans piss me off.
Meanwhile, they pump and pump and the polders bleed for months into years, while a heavy layer of decaying vegetation that's halfway to being coal but still soggy — this peat — grows denser, compacting, sagging, slumping the polders lower, down below sea level, making it way more dangerous if a dike breaks. But they figure it's all worth it, since peat yields fuel and salt — two gold mines, if they scoop the peat safely, from barge or boat in shallow water, using long sticks with baskets on the ends. Men pile it all onto barges, and spread it out on the grassy dikes, and women and children stomp it down, and keep turning and turning it till it dries, then cut the peat into squares and stack it all up neat. I like watching that, the natives dancing on sod, their rhythmic whumping and their chatter, with fragrant mountains of peat scenting the dikes for miles when the wind blows.
Tough work and dangerous on those bogs. And deadly to fall into, as people keep proving. Locals don't find the old bodies much now, but will by and by, in a future age of steel diggers the size of dinosaurs driven by humans pounding with monsters' jaws. It's still freakish when a bog man is snared by accident, maybe thousands of years after his death, naturally mummified and perfectly preserved, with eyelashes, chin stubble, and wrinkles all visible; organs, nails, hair, even stomach contents exquisitely preserved; the bronzed hide of skin supple; all the calcium dissolved from the bones, leaving them rubbery and deflated. Bog people are ghoulish denizens of leather and mud, golems or she-devils, lying under a spongy carpet of moss with a few sad trees poking out. I'm surprised how many braved violent deaths, then were pickled in that realm not land or water, but a door to the sky world, so tribes swore, while all the rotting weeds produced tiny flickering lights people hailed as fairies and ghosts. Commoner and king, young and old, wayward wife and unlucky thief, deformed child and outcast, religious sacrifices — all murdered and tossed into deep sog. Some ill-fated fools today tumble in from boats or stumble off dikes after dark and find themselves quagmired. The harder they thrash, the quicker they sink down into loam darkness, where they're cured of life. But by and large turf skippers are a careful lot, working together like a single organism, more like slime mold than bipeds, or whalers flensing blubber from leviathan flanks.
No water, no peat. No rivers, no way to ship the peat fast and cheap to consumers, including the big turf users like brewers, salters, dyers, printers, bakers, distillers, smelters. I am their everything, everywhere, the caution and current of their lives. Thanks to their vast pantry of peat for fuel and inland rivers and waterways, with branching veins and arteries, the Dutch live like their country is twice its size, with everyone leading a double life, their own and the peat cycle's culling and shipping.
Meanwhile, I see them for what they are — sacs of chemicals and salt water on the move, who slosh imperceptibly with every step. Yes, also natural wonders. But exactly half of every man, woman, and child is plain water. Nothing fancy. So it's no surprise they're drawn to me. It's a kind of osmosis, one they hear and find soothing: the lisping sound of water seeking water wherever water mutters, in surf, in gutters, in mills, in fountains, chanting low notes below stone bridges. As I am drawn to their convoluted inlets and outpourings.
They are water vivified and unbound, languid walking lagoons, leaky estuaries, bogs on the move — all under their skin, driven by a nonstop windmill from birth to death. We are kin, so it's no surprise they worship water, their true master and life giver. Makes sense: they're waterworks working water to serve them, connect them all across a planet that's mainly water anyway, not earth. They should have named it "Ocean."
"Are you the river or the rock?" I often hear one ask another, or advise: "Calm down, take it easy, go with the flow."
Clearly, they don't know me very well. I'm moody. I can swell into rapid chaos, seem totally wild, even in stampede — when in truth I'm just rushing to get to safety. My brooks crawl through the countryside like babies. My humble white water crashes from side to side like lions in a cage. Currents corkscrew just below my surface. During storms, my frothing waves run like whippets. I am poetic as water syncopating over pebbles. Shouting mad and charging after people like a bear. Or peaceful and placid, a silver band lying across the land. All of it, and more. That's a lot for one human to grasp. But they needn't understand the powerful beasts they ride.
Oh the slip of their sleek wooden tubs, like open palms skimming across my limbs, it's not something you forget, those lightning-edged flyboats plying Vs through you, opening up deep water routes to where you begin and end, then retracing their path, laden down with an Orient of riches. They're forever racing others across the writhing serpent of the sea, the whole time chasing death, and many finding it, but not before their faces crease like leather left out too long in salt spray and sun, their animal hide showing at last. The sea's too dark a screen for self-scrutiny. Back home, loafing beside me, they gaze into my sunlit mirrors and recoil from the clock-ticking truth when they see how they've begun to mummify. At sea, it happens faster, that's all. That is, if they survive all the floating duels, Dutch versus British, cannons blazing as they charge up and down liquid hills, on battlefields the color of gems — lapis lazuli, malachite, aquamarine — surrounded by an endless ocean without shores, a deep baritone of howling blue. I watch sailors come and go each day, outbound braced with hope and lager, inbound bent low with full pockets and miseries.
It's not really a Golden Age, more an age of pitch and tar. A sailing age. A merchant age. A violent age. They've been warring for as long as I've known them, while they claim to love peace. I wonder. How swiftly they became a seagoing, sea-fighting empire, with boats safely sheltered in the giant protected harbor at my mouth, right on Amsterdam's doorstep, then off-loading goods onto barges that ride me and my kin to markets throughout Europe. All the genius, conquests, and gold of the age, it's only ever been about fuel and transportation in the end, and also transport, the rapture of a life that feels blood-tinglingly new. And water, whose favorable currents buoy up their currency. So, as I say, they'd be nowhere without me. But their floating worlds are dazzling nonetheless. The way they've learned to live and lived to learn, when they're not much more than peat themselves, well, that's a magic trick too, isn't it?CHAPTER 2
There's a little clot of blood on the right side of my left thumb from an injury I didn't even know I received. It travels north to the white of the thumbnail with glacial slowness. As it darkens and turns brown, I wait for the day I can reach in and scrape away this crust of blood.
How long will it take? In the weeks it will take for this injury to move up and away from my body, will Robin die, or will I find a place for him to live? Will his disappeared housing case manager show up and actually look for an apartment for him? Will Pete stay sober enough to remain in the psychiatric respite facility, or will he get frustrated — "I'm getting thrown under the bus again" — and use his SSDI to buy some booze and some friends and get himself kicked out onto the street again? Everyone who knows him is urging him to stay calm, to keep his eyes on the prize, to make it to that hearing so he can try to get off the sex offender registry. Because a man whose only possessions are one leg, a sex offense, and a truckload of lesser felonies is impossible to house. Only person harder to house would be someone who's been convicted of arson, convicted of manufacturing meth, or some combination thereof.
When I get into work, Rick, the probation officer, says, "Your phone started ringing about fifteen minutes ago."
"It's Pete," I say, without consulting the phone.
Pete calls me many, many times a day: "Tell Maria (James, Craig, Tracy, etc.) to call me ASAP, OK?"
He calls back less than a minute later. "Did you tell Maria to call me ASAP?"
"I haven't had a chance to call her yet."
"OK, well, tell her, will ya? Tell her to call me right away."
He usually ends his calls by saying, "OK. I'll talk at ya."
I have no idea what he thinks this means.
Pete likes to tell people that two Indians stabbed him, and that's how he lost his leg. "I know who they are, but I'm not a narc, so I won't tell on them." Pete lost his leg when he got so drunk that he passed out on the sidewalk. He must have collapsed backward, his right leg straight, but his left leg bent double at the knee so that he was lying on his own leg. Two sorority girls found him, unconscious and crumpled in a position so awkward that they were sure no living human could sustain it. They thought he was dead and called the police.
He lost his leg to a phenomenon called "compartment syndrome," in which the blood flow is cut off and no fresh blood can get in or out to nourish tissue. He became his own tourniquet and though Pete didn't die, his leg did. I found out the true story during the ten months that Pete lived in the drunk tank while he recuperated and we desperately sought a place that could and would house a sex offender. A colleague tipped me off that there was an assisted living facility in Greeley that would take anyone.
The police officers I work with take Pete up for a visit, and come back saying that they suddenly know where several people from Boulder had disappeared to. We all thought that Peace Joe, for instance, had died. Tall and gaunt, Peace Joe only ever said, "Peace," and "I have stomach cancer." But Peace Joe is alive, if not well, in Greeley.
When I tell the lady who runs the assisted living that Pete is a sex offender, I brace for her to say that she won't accept him. She just asks matter-of-factly what his offense was. I tell her that it was an underage sex charge.
"Oh," she says, with evident relief. "That's fine. We don't have any little girls here."
I pause, then try to explain. "He was thirty-nine and he had a girlfriend who was sixteen."
"No teenage girls here either."
I suck on my thumb, try to draw the blood up and out, wonder how my nail can be thick enough to contain that blood but transparent enough for it to show through.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sanctuary"
Copyright © 2018 Conjunctions.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- EDITOR’S NOTE
- Diane Ackerman, What the River Saw
- Elizabeth Robinson, Exposure
- Peter Gizzi, Every Day I Want to Fly My Kite
- Kyra Simone, Palace of Rubble
- Heather Altfeld, Obituary for Dead Languages
- Richard Powers, An Interview (conducted by Bradford Morrow)
- Arthur Sze, The Open Water
- Joanna Ruocco, Pud Street
- Andrew Ervin, Readymade
- Julia Elliott, Moon Witch, Moon Witch
- Jessica Reed, Three Poems
- Peter Orner, The Return
- Erin Singer, Bad Northern Women
- Daniel Torday, You Are Traffic
- Toby Olson, Death Sentences
- Mary Jo Bang, Four Boxes of Everything
- Troy Jollimore, Dressed in the Absurd Clothes of the Time: Thoughts on Translation
- Maya Sonenberg, The Cathedral Is a Mouth
- Rae Gouirand, Quince Suite
- Mauro Javier Cardenas, You Don’t Have a Father and He Likes Cheese
- Nam Le, The Dead
- Maria Lioutaia, Potatoes
- Byron Landry, Restoration of the Empress
- Rae Armantrout, Four Poems
- Robin Hemley, Restaurant
- Madeline Kearin, Kirkbride
- Donald Revell, Saved for Last
- S. P. Tenhoff, Diorama: Retirement Party, White Plains, 1997
- Debra Nystrom, After Three Years, He Said, These Little Trees Will Bear Fruit
- Donna Stonecipher, Ruins of Nostalgia: Nine Poems
- Robert Karron, Blue Cupola
- Andrew Mossin, The Day After the Day After
- J’Lyn Chapman, Firmament
- Frederic Tuten, Nine Flowers in Three Sanctuaries
- Marshall Klimasewiski, William Gaddis and the Thoughts of Others
- NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS