Ethnography of Rain / Establishing norms through exclusionary practices

by carol shillibeer

While it is true that clouds have complex ideas about their world
nothing distinguishes their relative simplicity more than the small
puffs that write themselves out, suspend themselves at the edges
of the masses, darken, drowned in peripheral linguistic desires,
intensity becoming pointed, and swirl, energy cavorting
into linearity, lines chaotically white-lighting their artistic irresponsibility
(so say the pale towers). The separation of clouds from their progeny,
becomes a kind of reprehensible prophecy. From the point of view
of the cumulonimbus leaders, recorded stated cultural normalcy,
that moment when the darkening marginals become a definitive drop,
clouds’ hope for them implodes. Dark-eyed drops, their backs
to the far-below, eye the towering mist of their erstwhile home,
one last verse, an aubade of sorts for imminence, arms still reaching
for home, the rain begins to fall.

border running

by carol shillibeer

2AM on a dark road, border running
with no lights. The girl ready
in the distance, an hour yet
but she waits wrapped in a blanket
caught in the wintered dark
him drunk and sleeping
hours yet before he wakes

and in this running hour nearby
a policeman dreams some troubled portent
of robbery, diamonds going out
gripped black bag by some indigent

this hour past ?
the moon sparked river water
elbowed its way through,
the road taking a glancing blow
both kept going, neither giving way

driving past
a bar let out its last drunks
to waiting cars. children
asleep under piles of wool.
homeward in this hour
they will go

running in silence. those in the dark
that remain unaware, sleep
in this comedy of starlight
aeons, the past blinking;
light from history burns, just now
making pale, the dark road arcing
towards the girl’s creeping ghost,
silver in the deeper dark,
pinched pewter by needled boughs

across the line car tires spin
the river’s gravel wash,
rest-stop hidden behind tree limbs bent
low under snow’s crystalline weight,
caffeine, the lull of water and time passing
thinking about all the pain, the endlessness
of it, a few pebbles pocketed
from this crown land, this shared corporeal earth,
what difference can such a theft make?

spits of coffee grounds flung upon the river
its cold enduring power due this gesture of respect,
then off again

I mean, whose duty is the past and future dark?
like, one time, high past in the mountains
to the west, one that 2 years
to this hour
in the dark he was gone with me
the blue grip of his upper
arms now just a night-time
shadow in his bruised stone dreaming,
that boy, now, drifting
under quilted smell of lilacs

true, his tyrannosaur still lurks
plastic jaws agape
on the shelf behind the few books
he had with him that night
he climbed below these blankets
waiting in the car’s deepest shadows,
but now he sleeps away
the blown trial of his living
and it’s hours yet before he wakes.

who knows what he’ll become,
and the girl running, no longer
snow bound, toward the car door’s
opening dark? I don’t know,
but we whose history remains invisible
under the thin prick of star’s spark,
what can the future be?
some deep absurdity? or perhaps
a dangerous engagement with personal authority

Carpenter Road fire takes lives, news at the corner café

by carol shillibeer

All the talk was about fire,
and quieter, the coming years of shortfall water;

how the deer will need to be shot, will starve
of winter with no time for the mountain to re-grow;

how to know if this ends
with anyone left untouched.

Moving amidst the coffee mugs and half-eaten
plates, a hushed crackle of gratitude―

it wasn’t their house, the waitress/cook deep frying a new order
and someone’s sizzling guilt when the newly burnt out

fell to the neighbors’ misfortune.
Men dead. Trapped by smoke

and the blaze that downed
towers and lines as well as houses―phones dead and pets.

Begin the count of the lost.

This gathering place perches at the last corner

before the road back toward home
becomes impassible.

So many weeks into the blistering mountain,
the road glows red even in the daytime.

Here at the café and the flash of news
with the winds, the fire jumps the break,

burning bucks toward the resort at the lake.
Streams of cars start leaving, a few drive by

to work, or grocery runs, to stop at the café for espresso and fries,
picking their way through contained zones

of root fires and smoldering trees.
But then the rain started.

With scraping chairs, everyone stood up to watch
water fall for those few minutes.

It was like seeing a famous person pass by in a coffin.

statement of place: carol shillibeer

My first international move occurred when I was 6 weeks old: I am a nomad. But then (mid-1980s) something happened and I started dreaming of a meadow with a woman standing in its heart, gesturing, sometimes slowly, then later with a force of ire born of growing impatience with my sluggish understanding. That’s how I came to be kin to an extended Interior Salish family, in a particular part of what is also known as Cascadia. When I finally made it to her meadow, I started on an apprenticeship that mapped, amongst other things, what it means to live nomadically here, on this continent, in this place of ancient ways and relations between humans and all else that is. It’s a 4-D cartographic reality. You are never solely in one place or one time; temporal and spatial context is everything. For me, it’s like having shifting poles with a z-axis; the subject (that lives, writes, thinks, identifies) operates as a temporally stable magnetic field generated by those material/locational poles. For a while now, one pole is the Spokane Indian Reservation, and the other is East Vancouver BC. What I write, how I conceive of identity are those processes of field generation, not a noun, but a family of verbs. What I look like to myself is the temporally continuous contoured map of those lines of force generated by the ongoing relationships I have with the material earth, those rivers, mountains, lakes, roads, valleys, meadows and all the varied denizens of such cartographic locations.

hiking near paradise

by patricia clark

Near Paradise Pass, where the icy solitary stream
sent up vapors, I rounded a bend and my heart
thumped a beat to find him down, prone in the road,
his head pillowed on one arm where he lay
smoking. It was the only time I went off alone
with him, overnight, the firs sighing overhead
as we trudged along an old logging road. He eyes
opened, when I got close, and he simply said,
“Reach into my pocket.” I never felt as shy
with him as I did then, fumbling at my father’s
jacket, its lint-lined plaid pocket. A gray-brown
whiskered field mouse hid there, trembling and
squeaking like a bedspring. When I asked he said,
“No, you can’t bring it home.” Two gentle natures,
the mouse’s and his, how I still think of them napping
heart-to-heart a few minutes there before I came
along. I released it away from the stream, the road,
far from any dangers I could imagine, near
a half-rotted nurse-log carpeted by moss.
It disappeared so fast that my hands never seemed
to have cupped or held it, never reached
into his pocket that long-ago day, the deserted road
impossible to find now, overgrown and lost.


“Hiking Near Paradise” was published in The Texas Observer, Volume 96, and in My Father on a Bicycle (Michigan State University Press, 2005)


by patricia clark

He would cut into the belly
of one, at the kitchen
sink, Mother squabbling
in the background, and he’d be
up to his elbows in silver,
blood shining from the knife,
the room smelling of sweat,
boots, coffee, smoke, and though
I’d been at home,
in bed the whole time, I could
see the Puyallup River, the herons
rising, cattails and redwing
blackbirds with their bottlebrush
shapes and streaks of color,
from shore to shore a thick fog,
but rolling up and off like smoke, a reel
singing as the steelhead ran
with the line, the hurry, the thrash
and splashing, feet stumbling
along the shore to keep up,
to keep the line from getting cut.
Surely this was a victory for them,
Father saying it’s a female, then
he’s pulled out the whole orange clump
to show my brothers.
Yes, he is saying, we’ll use the roe
as our next bait, and How about
Saturday, early? He holds them up
in front of the window, though I was never
actually there to see it, scales smeared
on the faucet, on the hump between
the two sinks, his forearms
all silver and orange on fire. The guts
and severed head lay in a mass on
papertowels. Light glinted thick
through the raised orange
globes. Yes, good thing this was a female.


“Male/Female” was published in Slate, April 29, 1999, and in My Father on a Bicycle (Michigan State University Press, 2005)

western slope

by patricia clark

A drink the color of malachite or jade, Green River
from a shaped glass, the flexible straw, long sip,
while you turned, swung, tapped your toes
under the soda fountain bar. The walk down 56th Street
to South Tacoma Avenue, allowance, coins,
the public library, five-and-dime, gone, all gone.

Fretted verdure, the splash of light through green
into the front seat, and two ways to go: up the hill, rutted,
gravelly, and church-roof steep, or the way
where branches scratched the car, and the blind
corner—Father letting you press the horn as your three
sisters screamed and covered their ears.

Water just off the shore where the bottom fell
away—emerald, verd antique, aquamarine.
And the jellyfish floated, a Medea-head, yellow-gold,
big as a cabbage, tentacled, poisonous. The boat’s motor
kicked and the line snapped, pulling you up
on skis, the wake rolling toward you, something alive.

On the cliff, we balanced in wind, three figures,
four—hands in coat pockets, then arms swinging back
and up, so the coats became sails on that salt air, and down
below grew poison oak, the tangled no-path to the bay,
and we teetered there, letting the northwest gusts
buffet us, holding us there on the verge, balancing.

Coming back green, evergreen, down through clouds,
and the airplane flaps lowered with a shudder, jolt,
as though anything could slow the shock. Father gone,
the house sold, Mount Rainier a chilly constant
touched golden in late sun, the whole western slope
a glacier field that never stayed in place.


“Western Slope” was published in My Father on a Bicycle (Michigan State University Press, 2005)