Monday, November 25, 2013


sweetly she sang for a swarm of us
tucked into the dimly lit room
sleeping snow outside, she grew still
closed her eyes.

when speaking softly is heard with a roar
when admirers sit up in their chairs
intoxicated with the hush and lilt of her
voice, only 23

she long ago chose sacramental 
colors white, violet, red
writing songs, underlining moods

she spoke of lonely hotel rooms, life
on the road
something missing
lost, then found
drag queens, bars
sisters, guitars and, of course
love, effortless

her music both wild and sweet
dark and happy

celebratory, though not music for the dance floor or
barroom, not songs for the mind

but a graceful force perfumed for the heart.

when the quiet first hits you, you
know and understand

what it means for a woman
to be passionate, to stand

deeply in love
with her he(art).

*I first heard Seattle based singer-songwriter, Courtney Marie Andrews play a few songs at Anchorage's Arctic Entries, a storytelling venue that creates community, "one story at a time." Her voice was so soft yet packed a lot of power and made me take notice. Her tone is alluring, poetic. She'd been playing shows in house concerts around town, and we ventured out to a small venue (20-30 people) at the Super Saturated String band's studio.

She tuned her guitar many times during the show, going in and out of an open tuning format. Her music is enchanting; she has a gentle lilting voice with a full range that has been likened by a few to match that of Joni Mitchell's...though that's a mighty tall order for me, I can't argue. Her lyrics are hauntingly beautiful...about love, loss, lonely hotel rooms, home, in all its fantastic glories, disappointments and contradictions.

Courtney is a woman who feels and knows full well how to translate her perceptive experiences to her audience. She sings with ferocious depth and emotion, exposing a vulnerability that is a trademark of her performance. Great show.

See photos of her Anchorage, Alaska tour on Tumbler and listen to 
Woman of Many Colors

Monday, November 18, 2013


Eklutna Lake

Back in the old days when there were no streetlamps

we played outside after school under a bright moon.

We were just kids then and we did not consider it dark

we did not know that anyone else had the sun

while we had just the day-moon.

Does not everyone everywhere share the same moon?

On the playground and all through the village when a bitter wind blew

we did not consider it too cold or too windy or too this or too that

how the rivers froze and how the earth turned cold did not matter to us.

Often our sun was cold like a penny hiding behind the moon but

we did not consider it bad.

The earth glistened in the pitch black night

the sky hollowed in the clear light day

and our vision spread far off, away.

As a man, I read about

a place so still you could hear wax melting

down a lit candle.

They must have been talking about

my village, where on the coldest nights

the silence is so deep and vacant

each breath stands still as fractured stars.

How this poem originated: Eklutna Lake is the largest lake in Chugach State Park and provides the water for the city of Anchorage. The above picture of the lake was taken last April, before break-up. Eklutna is a native village (near my hometown of Eagle River), population 70. First settled more than 800 years ago, Eklutna is a Dena'ina Athabascan village, the oldest inhabited location in our area. 

I got to thinking about the darkness that descends upon us now, come winter, and how the villages above the Arctic Circle exist in the extreme weather. I remembered the date Nov. 27, clearly now, because I was an itinerant therapist working in the hospital in Barrow, and on that day, many employees went to the windows and doors to take a "last look." This would be the last day they would see the sun until the end of February. 

The sun rides low now. I live in a valley, with mountains arching up on three sides. The sun peeks through notches, but in Dec. and Jan. the sun will be too low to clear the notches. It is then we leave town and go tropical.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Whale Decides

The Whale Decides

Rocky took me out on the pack ice
by way of the captain, who granted us permission

Like being on the moon.
spring ice, blue snow
white birds over head

Rocky wasn't carrying a rifle like most do.

Three miles out we reached the camp tents
white canvas facing a black sea

When a north wind blows, a lead will open.

We spotted three whales, twenty-ton giants
they say a-ton-a-foot
flukes rising, blow holes spouting

Rocky said the hunters couldn't take them.

Not until the first one is butchered
and there's nothing left of it but

bones for the polar bears.

Not taking too much is a way of gratitude.

You should not be on the ice, with baby
a hunter scolds me.

Ice floes split in the sun, snow machines
gun up, and we jump the gap as

dense fog closes in.

It's not a baby, under my
parka, it's a long lens, hidden

from the cold

So I can take pictures of a 100-year 
old bowhead cut up in slabs 

stacked on freight sleds, bouncing 
on the burnished trail

racing back to town.

Today I woke to two feet of new snow on the ground, and being a lover of the lacy white stuff (excitedly digging out my cross-country skis), I thought of my time on the ice with whalers in Pt. Hope, Alaska and a poem I had written from that experience. 

Indigenous cultures of Alaska still hunt and fish as a way of life, melding the conveniences of the modern world with their old ways and traditions. It was in the early 90's I traveled to Barrow and Pt. Hope for the spring whale hunts. Using a film camera, and not fully practiced on shooting in the glare of ice and snow, the above photo was taken. I actually like the graininess and dirt spots on the lens, giving it the feel of a time long past.

The whale decides is a common phrase used by hunters to indicate it is not their explicit taking of the animal for sustenance that counts; rather more importantly, it is the animal deciding to give itself to the hunter. Living and dying, giving and taking are a part of the great circle of life, a fact that, in our modern world, we so easily forget.

Monday, November 4, 2013


You look at your bewildered face in the mirror, knowing

or, maybe not knowing

you are powerless to decide the day, to

find your keys and lock the door behind you

to drive to the store for a quart of milk

I took your keys away, remember?

angry and confused you said, "damn it

so you're one of them now too, huh?"

You shook your cane at the doctor, though

I don't blame you; he talked of

your condition as if you weren't in the room, as if

old men everywhere weren't already shelved with

their curling blank pages, yellowed

and much too brittle to touch

But we exist outside the circle of drooling incognizant men

Dad, don't we?

You empty your closet,

piling all your clothes and shoes on the living room floor

and with a grandiose gesture and eyes peeled skyward

you announce in your best voice "I  am  coming  home."

You would have thought it funny how

my little boy, he tried to die once

He lay down on the sofa and shut his eyes

every twitch and flinch controlled

stiff as he could make it, but

his sweet breath kept rising and falling and rising

Mom, I can't do it

I can't be dead he said

The way you looked at me at the lake

when I was ten, hair in a long braid down my back

following a trail through gold colored beach grass, heads

tipped back and laughing, watching

the seamless flow of clouds

my hand so small in yours

Where will I be?

Where will you be

after your body turns cold

slack-jawed, tangled in the bluebird sheets I

gave you last Christmas, dentures

in a cup by the bed, your tattered green robe dangling

on a hook behind the bathroom door

Exactly what is the next grand becoming

shuffling across our blood-fired paths?