Volume 16 Number 1
Volume 16, Number 1
|Table of Contents||Headwaters|
We at River Teeth talk a lot about what the journal has meant to us during our first fifteen years. What we’ve discovered doesn’t surprise us now, but it would have fifteen years ago. It’s the people: the people we’ve met, the people we’ve published, the people who came of age as creative nonfiction writers reading River Teeth. It’s all pretty damn humbling, to be sure. Read More...
"West of Cody"
I think of you while driving west of Cody, Wyoming, where cattle and horse ranches settle up against the foothills that wind around the mountains. There’s one piece of land in particular, right up under yellow and green pastures that goes for a half mile before disappearing at the base of jagged gray rock. I see you up there a few years from now, sitting outside of the cabin you talked about building, a paper-white cigarette between your delicate fingers and a cup of coffee at your side. Your bare legs are crossed in the early morning, and your breath comes out in circles like spools. You sit there with your chin up like you’re waiting for something.
|“An Inability to Control Objects Around Me”|
April 9, 2013
I was thinking about being seventy-five years old and feeling alone these days and of how much I talk to myself during the day these days and of troublesome anger and of a certain heightened energy and I even thought (I can’t believe this) of a possible need for a shrink and then I began thinking of how that has gone for me in the past and of how many shrinks I’ve seen during my lifetime.
|“Secrets Elk Keep”|
This morning I watched as five elk swam the river. It was early. No one else was around. I stood here, resting against the porch rail, my jacket collar pulled high around my neck. This fog that now covers the valley shifted over the top of the water, down between the willows, and across the tops of distant ridges. The elk—four cows and a tiny calf—moved down from the mountain and along the bank. They slipped quietly through the fog, steam rising from their warm bodies, surely blowing from their wide nostrils. Never pausing, never wavering, they moved steadily off the ridge, picking their way down to the bank between sage and willows.
| “Glacial Gospel” |
On the last day of our kayak trip in Prince William Sound, I sat alone atop a giant mound of burnished bedrock, close to three booming glaciers, and thought about glacial gospel. This was John Muir’s own phrase to describe what he used to preach to anyone who would listen. He meant not just the truth of glaciers, about which he knew a great deal, but his belief that Nature could transform souls—and that glaciers represented Nature on its grandest, wildest, Earth-shaping scale. Be among glaciers, he taught, and you will have to be held in awe; you will have to love the Earth in all its large and small grandeur; you will have to become a better person.
On this Sunday morning in March, I’ve been walking the Snake Road, its tar prematurely dry; our winter was small this year. I kneel to consider twinned, dark marks on the pavement, snake-like themselves. They were probably made last night by some adolescent burning rubber, as my buddies and I used to say as beer-crazed boys.
I won’t continue another mile or so to the turn where a beater Ford Ranger went out of control two decades ago.
|"A Meditation on Pain” |
It’s happening, says the woman I love to someone in the other room. The someone is most likely her sister, and I hear the shuffle of clogs on the ruined carpet, the swish and swirl of her turquoise dress. I feel the shadow of her body in the doorway. I hear her breathing, tiny bursts of air through the nose and mouth. I feel and hear everything, but I am not a body. And because I am no longer a body, I do not register sound or voice. I do not register anything. Even my presence on the scratchy carpet. I do not know that I have been lying in the lap of the woman I love as she soothes my sweat-drenched hair, as she whispers that this will pass. I do not hear her because I do not have ears. I do not have eyes. I do not see the hazy outline of her humid-frizzed hair or the worry etched in her face or how she looks down at me and then out the window, out past the dilapidated houses of this rundown block in Lafayette, Colorado, past the Rockies rising in jagged edges to snowy peaks, past logical explanation. Because right now, I do not register logic. Because this pain is not logical. This pain makes me whimper, makes me produce a noise that is octaves higher and sharper than I can otherwise make. I become a supplicant to its needs. I have a mouth. Of this I am sure. I have a mouth but it acts without my guidance. Saliva seeps from corners. Lips chapped as cracked earth. The woman I love feeds me water. I sip from a straw, but all of it dribbles out from the corners of my mouth. All of it wetting my cheeks and chin, like a child sloppy with food. I am a child. I am helpless. I am without strength. I am without will. I believe I might die. That this might be the end of me, this moment. I believe that death would be a relief from it all.
When I opened the door to the attic, it lay perfectly still on the stairs. At first I thought it was a pair of socks, but when I peered up close, I saw the brown fur, the wings, the ears. I backed away slowly. Abandoning the Halloween box I’d meant to haul up there, I slammed the door.
Later, I implored my husband, Mark, to please take care of the bat.
He was making lemon pasta for dinner. Steam rose around his face. BBC News was rolling low-key from a specialty radio he kept on top of the fridge. “I’m not going to kill a bat,” he said.
“But I’m terrified of bats,” I said. “You know that. It’s actual terror I feel. Terror.”
|We left dinner cold on our plates to meet the shank of day. As we climbed the hill—my children and I—we stopped near the pond, just on that edge between slope and perch, the willow branches all fiery and orange and long for the day, and I wanted my children to put their ears to the ground, to hear the earth swallow, to listen to the night and the hum of a million tiny organisms working to grow the trees, but instead, by the pond in the twilight of a March day, we listened to the frogs. A hundred or more groans and belches and tones. We listened because we couldn’t listen to anything else, the frogs having interrupted our original occasion for setting out. We listened because I wanted my children to hear the row of a day’s end, of nightfall, of what makes our place sound out and brush the sky with song. My son swung a branch against the dry grass, which now, under a prolonged length of day, pushed up new green. My daughter shushed him, as I did too, and put her head to my shoulder and smiled at the ensemble. “Do you hear,” I said to her. “Do you hear,” as if she could not, as if her experience would be different, both of us so fully aware of the cacophony of voices around us, the oasis of octaves—alert, alive, and rupturing the air.|
Backpacking buddies clustered at the homebrew tap. On the piano bench, home-schooling moms compared data transfer rates. Therapists’ children shoved their way toward the fruit plate. An emergency-room doc perched on the cold wood stove recounting zip-lining in Costa Rica. But most of us had crowded into the kitchen, of course. Wedged so tightly our elbows pressed our bellies, drinks held close to our chests, we leaned toward Shannon to hear the story of the tiny, almost featherless baby.
|"Out at Sea”|
|On May 5, 1929, my great-uncle Howard plunged into the choppy surf of Hermosa Beach in southern California. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the shore was littered with towels and umbrellas, families and picnic baskets. Seagulls wheeled and cried over bone-white sand, over coins of light that danced on the water. A wide concrete pier with tiled pavilions stretched one thousand feet into the ocean. It must have felt like heaven to a boy of sixteen, churning through that salty-cool water, feeling the waves’ silky spray pulse through his fingers and tickle the downy-soft hairs of his chest. The push and pull, the weightlessness. Fishy and rank and pure. Losing himself in it, not noticing the tug of the tide, his growing distance from shore.|
|“A Pilgrimage to Dennis Hopper”|
Ron Clinton Smith
|The first time I saw Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider I didn’t think he was acting. I thought he was some stoned-out freak shoved in front of a camera to see what he’d do. When I realized later he’d written, produced, and directed the film, acting took a paradigm shift for me. He was brilliant and crazy as hell, his own kind of signature wacko that got in your face and howled like a hyena. Like Frank Booth in Blue Velvet on his knees inhaling gas, fondling Isabella Rossellini, crying, “Baby wants to fuck!” He’d called David Lynch after reading that script and said, “You have to let me play Frank Booth, because I am Frank Booth.” Like Brando, Dean, Nicholson, he showed you what human beings were really like, really did, not some half-baked vanilla version. If you were afraid to offend, embarrass, horrify, mystify, disgust, or shock people, you were in the wrong profession. If you thought acting was about being pretty, you’d missed it. Not only was he going to show you what people were really like, he was going to reveal the bizarre truth you never imagined.|
"Melt Out: Finding Permanence in the Land of Endings"
This story isn’t about catastrophe—not really. We already know that it’s a catastrophic world out there. Hurricanes rip across sedate shorelines. Little shelled animals are literally melting under acidified tides, like pearly teeth dissolving in a steady chug of Coca-Cola. Islands are disappearing into a rising ocean. It wasn’t long ago that the government of the Maldives—the first island nation scheduled to flood over with a swelling sea—staged an underwater cabinet meeting, clipboards and scuba tanks and all, in an effort to raise awareness of the changes afoot in our world before their world sinks away.
But here, where I’m sitting in the silvery drippage of Alaska’s temperate rainforest, the land is rising from the water.