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BoreTide Alaska, September 1999 Horse Latitudes The rain has stained these sails A darker shade of white But I can’t turn about I’m still in ocean’s night Without a living gale. The other sailors sailed. Yet here I float alone No wish, no breeze, no route, Without a force, not one, As if in doldrums stilled. No more the currents come No roaring rapids ride— Oh just to turn about I’d settle for the tide To carry me back home. 254 255 The tide’s a kind of Grace I’m not allowed to have: One foot in time, one out, It seems dead calm, yet moves, Horizons shift in place . . . He had a stanza to go but no more to say. How to resolve the song? He’d made a trap of his own rhymes, not as many words rhymed with “out” as he thought, and a song about the doldrums, how could he be expected to make it move? And it had nothing to do with the Yukon or the Klondike, which is where he wished he weren’t, but was. It was early September, and the Alaskan fish nets were filled with ugly salmon they called dog fish, the bad kind, with their lower jaws thin, thorny on the end with teeth like sharp weapons. They tore the nets, and they were green and not worth cutting up, except to feed the packs of sled dogs that bayed all summer on the shore, tied on posts. It was as if the three had brought the rain with them, a drizzle-mist, and an Athabaskan guy snuck up on them while they were staring at the river. His shirt was torn and his beard was sparse around his mouth, not very clean. He looked Mongolian, with sharp-cut eyes set wide in his face. “How ya doing,” the guy said. His breath could be smelled, magnified in the chill. He had the accent of the native who learned English later, though well, and he carefully separated words, lingering over certain sounds that appealed to him, like “mice” and “bucks.” Poets did that, Dennis thought; he did that when composing his water songs. Isabelle said, “We are very fine.” That thrilled this guy, a pretty girl being nice to him. He put out his hand for Isabelle to shake, and Dennis noticed an open sore in his palm, a little grimy at the edges where the skin was torn, and it looked as if it might be trying to heal itself, secreting a balm the color of corn syrup. He went to shake hands with Dennis, too, and though Dennis did, he held his breath to avoid smelling him any more. She pointed to a mountain peak and asked him, “What is the name of that?” He shrugged. “It doesn’t have a name.” Isabelle was in ecstasy. She repeated it. “It doesn’t haveaname!”Odd,untamed.Perhaps,Dennisthought, I’ll name all the peaks after myself, and go to my grave thinking I’ve conquered the wilderness. “I could use a cigarette,” the guy said. “We don’t smoke,” Dennis said, but Isabelle was already handing him one from her pocket. When had she started smoking? “Thanks, girl. I’m Charlie,” he said. He suddenly went on about how quiet it was now but it was usually busy with birds. “Ptarmigans and chickadees and bunches of ducks.” He said the last three words as if they had flavor. He pooched out his lips, his lips were all over the place, surrounding Isabelle. My God, he’s 256 257 coming on to her, he’s being lewd, getting away with it right in front of him. As he was gathering the nerve to scare the stinking man away, he looked down into the river and there was a dying salmon, its mouth hooked down like a modern toothbrush, slowly dying, gasping, its gills opening and closing as it lay on its side, a broken wind-up toy. It was late summer and the leaves were already changing, nature breaking down once again. This is the land of the ends of things, Dennis thought. Later that night, just before dinner, Isabelle said something directly to Dennis. This meant she wasn’t as angry with him as she was before. Isabelle had been gabbing gaily with Charlie, and seemed entirely oblivious to the lecherous way he pitched himself at the sweet French girl. He told them...


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MARC Record
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