Review: Mary Sojourner, 29

The West’s misfits and outcasts put up a fight in the new novel 29 by Mary Sojourner (Torrey House Press, 2014). By Ana Maria Spagna

29 cover FNLv2.inddIn Mary Sojourner’s shimmering new novel, 29, Nell bails on corporate life and finds herself drawn to the Mojave—to Twentynine Palms specifically—as a place to take stock, to regroup, to start anew.

Always a keen observer of the natural world, as readers of MG well know, Sojourner describes the desert as “vast, hard, and generous.” Same goes for the characters who live there. Small kindnesses define these sun-worn survivors, from the owner of Saigon Sally’s, the local Vietnamese café, to elders of the local Chemehuevi tribe. Even minor characters leave lasting tracks. A young Greyhound ticket agent sets Nell on her journey and a docent at the Long Beach aquarium introduces her to the Leafy Seadragon, a “ripple of green and pale pink, silver and translucence” that soon glides right into her dreams.

Then there are Diamond and Shiloh, the two women who run La Paloma—an unofficial underfunded home for damaged people, victims of domestic violence or hard living or plain bad luck—and welcome all comers, including Nell, with a bed, food, coffee, and conversation. Though Nell’s damage is never precisely defined, readers glean its cause as equal parts David, her ex, and her own ravenous ambition. Nell has been through the wringer, and this is the right place for her. Diamond and Shiloh put her in touch with a used ’84 Buick LaSabre, cherry red, and a “computer nerd” job at Monkey Biz, the local car repair shop.

Turns out the owner, Monkey, is experiencing visions that may or may not be caused by his liberal use of weed. Early in the story he suffers “a dope hangover meaner than a pissed off boar hog” that seems par for the course. To say that Monkey and Nell hit it off would be understatement. Their banter sparkles, their chemistry smokes. Their insular music references (Little Feat, Chris Whitley) and movie references (Spinal Tap, Life of Brian) and book references (Dickens, Silvia Plath) feel exactly like those of people falling in love. Only they can’t. Or oughtn’t.

Monkey’s married to Jackie, a relationship that’s portrayed as tenuous but tender, and Sojourner’s own generosity here—opting for nuance right when her two main characters are falling passionately in love—is one of the highlights of the book. In the end, Jackie doesn’t deserve the betrayal and, moreover, Nell and Monkey can’t withstand the power of what they’ve shared. Which has larger repercussions.

Nell’s visions of Leafy and Monkey’s late night hallucinations turn out to be part of a much larger plot as the shift in the earth’s polarity, the exodus of bees, and the real threat solar and wind farms pose to ancient sites and dying species converge. The Indians resisting development take center stage late in the novel, and anyone who’s been to a grassroots meeting anywhere will recognize them. No one grandstands. No one flinches. Not even Nell, who resists too-easy narratives with whip smart skepticism.

“She clicked on the Mayan Prophecies and considered the nature of wishful mysticism—this world is fucked, an instant transformation will fix it; no sacrifice or effort on anyone’s part required; you can keep on living just as you have, grasping and glutted.”

We can’t, of course, any more than Nell can. If there’s a message in 29, it’s this: So you can’t find your soul-mate and settle in happily ever after?  You can still do what’s right and love what’s there.

With this in mind, the end of the novel is both unexpected and hard-earned. Nell’s mother, Tara, a peripatetic drunk who carted her daughter around Glass Castle-style through childhood, is moldering away in a Long Beach nursing home when Nell decides to go fetch her and bring her to the desert. Tara has little memory left and doesn’t communicate verbally, but she seems to remember the desert, to be happy there, at least Nell believes she does. And so we end with another damaged soul finding healing, at least partial healing, in a hard forgotten place.

Stories of misfits or outcasts, people running from one thing or another, are common enough in the West, and the props are in place in 29—cigarettes, donuts, a backyard goat, that ’84 LaSabre—but Sojourner shows these characters in a different light. They fight for one another, for the place they love, not in shiny sound bites, but one meal at a time, one meeting at a time, one long deep-rutted drive at a time, until it’s just a mother and daughter on the stump of a fallen Joshua Tree awaiting the moonrise over creosote.

November Poems

Fall is a wonderful time, where the brilliance of summer is harvested, both literally and metaphorically, from our gardens—and our minds. In a poetic harvest of this kind there is, however, an opposite current, a force that carries with it the distinct weight of loss. Often the season of fall is a time of looking backward and forward—of making peace with what’s gone before, and reckoning oneself with the winter to come.

Which is perhaps my way of warning: some of the poems in this edition are heavy. They do not shy away from pain; in fact, they gravitate toward it. In doing so they make a cold beauty. A beauty that contains hope, which can carry us through the harshest of winters.

Happy fall, everyone,


That House on Berry Avenue
—Lois Levinson

A young family has bought
the house behind mine,
the shroud of tangled foliage
that obscured the dwelling
hacked down and cleared away,
the drapes, always closed, now gone,
the naked structure revealed
in the throes of renovation.

I can see all the way through
the ground floor,
its windows squinting in the
unaccustomed light,
its walls ripped down
to skeletal studs.

I wonder if they know
that this house was infested
with misfortune:
the years she never left the house,
the walls absorbing
the toxins of her melancholy,
the decades of caring
for her paralyzed son,
the loss of a daughter,
and then the son.

Sorrow has permeated
the floor boards,
seeped into the foundation.
I imagine workers in hazmat suits
brought in to exorcise
the residue of heartache,
removing it like asbestos,
to bring the dwelling up to code.




Touch Is the Last to Go
—Vicki Mandell-King

I begin to tell her the doctor thinks
she is much closer now. After all
she has said about wanting to die,
I assume this news will comfort her.

But those eyes, that barely stay open
these days, widen and stare. I swear
I can hear the questions
swirling in her head – what’s wrong?
maybe a blood test? do I need surgery?

So I make light of what I’d begun to say
he’s new, you’ll fool him!
and quickly change the subject,
ask her about the past,
chat about my day.

She tires, shuts her eyes.
I brush her hair, stroke her forehead –
as if my fingers could discover
what she really wants.


Trying to Get It Right
—Vicki Mandell-King

Arranging photographs in order
from ceremony through celebration—
until the couple climbs

the staircase, turns
and waves good night.
Laying out the shots with proper

spacing in between,
the ones with edges of sky and stone
extending off the page.

And of course, words – my own,
and those of Cummings, Gilbert, Laux,
and on the last page, Dove’s poetic heart offer—

Here, it’s all yours.
Yet, for all my care and scrutiny,
this album is flawed

in ways perhaps only I would notice—
some photos left out, some
too close or far apart,

a phrase or two off center,
the top of one word’s letters cut off.
Perhaps I’ll try again. Or perhaps

I should accept that
this album will not be perfect.
And my son’s marriage

—like every marriage—
cannot be entirely
free of heartache and quarrel.




Tokyo, 1968
—Anthony Cappo

after a photograph by Andre Kertes

When it’s drab, it’s drab
and the rains will show you
the way.  Or you’ll follow a sign
and be ghostherded
with a will all your own. Walk
between the lines. Hoist
your umbrella like a shield.
It will protect you from everything
but the streams shooting out
of your own body.




The Woman Who Was Not a Bear
—Amy Irish

Every winter morning, the mirror presented proof:
Blunt teeth. Bare skin. Hands.

But every day she lumbered in the cold,
Stumbling, ground unstable under two legs.

And every winter night, exhausted. Every night,
Craving the long sleep. Every night,

Excavating deep caverns under blankets. Every night,
Dreaming what the sleeping earth dreams—

Of bodies curled far below the frost, folded within stone
And fur. Adrift until they catch the smell of sun-warmed dirt.

Then their heavy heads shake and growl away the sleep. Then
She truly wakes. Haunches stretching. Back bristling.

Breath steaming the cool cave air. Senses alive
With scent, nose finally free to press against the flanks of friends

And lovers. Inhaling the musky smell of her mate. Huffing
Her desire. Entangling limbs. Roaring the return of spring,

Of life. Then roaming. Near-blind in the sunlight
Yet sure-footed. Rambling the earth’s roads—stream banks,

Rock cliffs, pine-needle paths. Sniffing her way and gorging herself
On tart berries, meats, every fruit of the dark earth.

Tasting it all, indulging her insatiable hunger until the end
When autumn falls away, and she groans with fullness.

She goes back to the earth-hollow, heavy with her fellow bears.
Then she sleeps again, safe, satisfied. Yet dreams

A winter morning, when she wakes. She is ice cold.
Naked-skinned, curled around herself for warmth.

And every winter morning, she is alone.




Controlled Burn
—Amy Irish

When they advised torching
My life’s dry brush
I never thought to find this –
Me up to me knees in the dead.

Acres of decay I have, and quick to kindle.
Embracing the flames, driving away everything
That could never be. Thirsty for the fire,
Was I. Hungry to let go.

So I burned the dead. And the choke of living weeds?
I burned those too. Burned wild morning glory, flowers
Tangling and strangling me. Burned the pennyroyal,
Mint-sweet poison, jealously uprooting all others.

Burned it all. The smoke passes soon,
Or so they tell me. The ash settles.
I’ll be able to grow something better
In stronger soil. And so I wait.

But until this desolation clears,
With every breath
I breathe in every mistake I ever made
And choke.





Anthony Cappo’s poems have appeared in Connotation Press—An Online Artifact, Stone Highway Review, Pine Hills Review, Yes Poetry, The Boiler Journal, and other publications. His chapbook, “My Bedside Radio,” will be published by Deadly Chaps Press in 2016. He received his M.F.A in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Anthony lives in New York City, where he practices guitar and sings ‘70s pop songs to anyone who will listen.

Vicki Mandell-King’s poetry has been published in a variety of literary journals, such as Calyx, Aries, Slant, Main Street Rag, Plainsongs, and Illya’s Honey. Her first book is entitled Tenacity Of Lace, and her second, Shrinking Into Infinite Sky, is forthcoming from Future Cycle Press.

Lois Levinson is a member of the Poetry Book Project at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where she is working on the manuscript of her first book. Her poems have appeared in Bird’s Thumb, Clementine Poetry Journal, The Corner Club Press and These Fragile Lilacs.

Amy Wray Irish lives in Colorado with her husband, her two children, and her overactive imagination. She is a member of the Lighthouse Writers for her poetry and the Rocky Mountain Women Writers for her fiction. Among her publications is Creation Stories, a chapbook of poems and art to read online at





Spring Poems

Janus-Vatican-2Simply put, spring is a crossover season, often full of dreaminess and mist. The world around us is all about becoming, and change happens every dayevery minute, even. Often our attention spans are short, because we can’t linger on anything too long.

The following poems, while not being about spring directly, embrace that sense of impending change. They’re looking forward, full of hopeand peaceful, too, in the way they’re looking back. Kind of like Janus, the Roman god of doorways, with his two faces, gazing into the future and the past at the same time.



The Dream of an Uncommon Language
—Jordi Alonso

I do not dream
of a common language,
of a phrase I can say in Quito
to be understood in Iowa,
and smiled at in Jordan.

I would not dream
of out-of-work translators.
What would they do
if not carry his words,
and the warmth of his tongue to her ear?

I cannot dream
of describing my love
if not in Arabic.
What else would I
say over dessert?

I dream
of wanting you
in languages we barely know,
of being untranslatable
as we are.


—Bob King

The shadow of a crow wavers
over the river wavering

above the shadows of worn stones
so nothing is real, reflection

upon refection in this life,
except the river, blur of stones,

and, somewhere else by now, a crow.


The Trail
—Bob King

All it takes is a hover of mist
over the next hill to make me think
the hill is an entrance to where mist
becomes a god, dissolving the hills
and pines so each pine likewise becomes
godly, barely there, with a secret.

Two hours later, it lifts and shifts
to clouds—maybe it was always clouds—
and the gods have retreated or fled
to the high peaks I can’t see from here.
But I can the whole of that hill.
I can even see part of the trail
as it curves away. The trail they took.


Legs and Arms
—Laurie Duncan

Easier to wrap legs
than fold arms around love;
chemistry’s lavish thrill
slips away soon enough.

We frittered the heat,
then claimed rectitude:
Dull banter overwhelmed
kindness. Gobbeledygook

blended with self-pity
is a bitter gourd diced
then boiled in turnip broth
of past magical thought.

Kaput. Resigned from love.
Disregard that buzzard
Aphrodite’s whisper:
Get another . . . Get another.


Christopher Mulrooney

in a Milk Duds kind of comfort
feet up at the movies like Paul and Joanne
so that you float down the river like Boudu
meanwhile the nattering booksellers
have their trade and wares and authors rosters


dribs and drabs
Christopher Mulrooney

as if I had insincere notions they were true blue
I never thought of anyone but you and that’s why
am I right or am I strictly from left field
the flowers thrust into your hand burst open
revealing the corollas and releasing heavy scent
you let overpowering us settle on the furniture



Poet Bios

Jordi Alonso is currently is a Turner Fellow in Poetry at SUNY Stony Brook Southampton and has been published or has work forthcoming in The Southampton Review, Edible, The Colorado Review, The Lyric, and other journals. His first book, Honeyvoiced was published by XOXOX Press in November of 2014.

Although Laurie Duncan grew up in the Midwest, she did so close to the mythology and reality of Colorado. Her great grandparents were homesteaders but lost everything during the Depression.  When she moved to Colorado, she began writing poetry after a forty-year hiatus. In the fall of 2014 she joined five others in the Lighthouse poetry book project and is currently at work on a full-length manuscript.

Robert King’s latest book is Some of These Days, from Conundrum Press. He directs the Colorado Poets Center.

Christopher Mulrooney is the author of toy balloons (Another New Calligraphy) and Rimbaud (Finishing Line Press). His work has recently appeared in Poetry Ireland Review, Communion, Tipsy Lit, streetcake magazine, Cut-Thru Review, The Journal, San Francisco Salvo, riverbabble, and Dink Mag.
View previous issue here.

The Rest of Your Life

Sure, skiing, climbing and biking might be the things that draw you to a mountain town, but play in a rec sports league and you can finally call the place home.

Looking back on my brief but transformative life in the mountains, there are many memories to consider when I try to pinpoint the to moment that truly held me here: The drive into town. The first powder run. The first rowdy night out. The first summit. However, while nature and adrenaline can draw you in, to stay in a mountain town you need to feel a sense of community. You must want to be part of that community. Or at least I did.

My sense of community took root not on a peak or a trail but on a flat grassy field surrounded by, of all things in the American West, a chain-link fence.

It was September 2003. I was 24 years old. One month prior, I had visited a physical therapy office at the Breckenridge Recreation Center. Rob, the therapist on duty, had watched me mope around the building for three months while I recovered from foot surgery. I sat on the table and we got to talking about our former lives as athletes. I told him I had played football and baseball in college. He mentioned a town flag-football league that was soon to start.

“What position did you play in school?” he asked. Receiver, I told him. “We might need an extra guy,” he said. “You should come try out.”

I laughed inside. Try out? For a rec sports team?

I went, of course—I missed the idea of being on a team too much not to at least see how bad a ski-town flag-football league could be. When I got to the field inside the fence, I met my would-be teammates. There was Rick, a wide-eyed, thick-necked plumber from Detroit, smoking a cigarette on the sideline. Next to him stood Mike, his best friend and colleague, who, I would learn, weighed 170 pounds but played like 230. There was Pino, the shifty chairlift mechanic; Chip, the Harley-riding web developer; Smoke, the snow-removal contractor; Timmy, the 5-foot-7 carpenter who blitzed like a badger; Dave, the relentless door-and-windows wholesaler; and Todd, the fiery defense attorney/tight end. Off to the side stood Iggy, a 21-year-old rabbit-quick tailback from Holyoke, Massachusetts. He and I soon learned we were the only ones trying out.

We ran some patterns, caught some passes, juked a time or two in traffic. Eventually we split up and played an informal scrimmage. Iggy and I held our own, so at the end of the audition, Rob and Chip—who were both 10 to 15 years older—informed us we were on the team. They said it nonchalantly, like there had never been a question, but it felt good nonetheless.

Our team was called Ullr’s Donkey Punch. (Ullr’s was the Main Street bar that sponsored us.) It wasn’t until our first game that I learned we were the two-time defending champs. We won that game easily, and the next game, and the next. Our only loss during the regular season was to a team called Grand Timber, our archrival and the last squad to win the league before our reign began. We met them again in the championship game. It was tied 23-23 when I went up for a pass in the end zone and tore a ligament in my big toe when I landed. But I caught the ball. We held on to win.

I distinctly remember walking home from Ullr’s that night in my shorts and cleats. I lived three blocks up the hill, it was 18 degrees out, and my toe was injured badly enough that I wouldn’t be able to ski for two months. But I couldn’t have cared less. Winning with the crew we had, in a tight game, then raging at Ullr’s (the manager, Big Steve, served us lobster and New York strips) felt just as good as winning the conference championship my senior year in college. Which astounded me. I remember thinking that night that I could live in Breckenridge for the rest of my life.

The next summer, Rob and Todd invited me to join their Thursday-night men’s softball team. This led to an opportunity with the premier team in the county, Summit Cable, on Wednesdays. Iggy played on that team, as did his brother Matty, who would join our football team that fall (sans tryout). In general, the rosters of various sports overlapped. People moved to and from the county, standard turnover for a mountain community. But for the most part you saw the same faces each season, year in and year out.

I played on a basketball team for two winters as well, alongside Rick and Timmy. I hoisted bricks, but it was worth it just to watch my 6-foot-6 buddy Boffey, an ex-college center, tussle with a 50-something guy under the basket one night while chasing a meaningless rebound. That’s the thing about rec sports. They make you feel young again. You can jostle and scrap, dive for a deep pass, throw someone out at the plate—and feel the rush course through your body like an electric charge.

It’s rad to ski the steep-and-deep and rip down alpine singletrack, too, but it’s not the same. I didn’t grow up in the mountains, I grew up playing team sports. I think that’s why competing for a common goal has always trumped solo contests for me.

This is not to say rec sports don’t cross the line from time to time. After beating everyone in the league but Ullr’s Donkey Punch for five years, Grand Timber got a little chippy (they practiced and had plays drawn up on cards; we drank beers during the game, winged it on offense, and never practiced). One night during the regular season, a fight broke out between one of their guys and one of ours. It escalated into a brawl, and one of our guys ended up with a broken eye socket. From then on the cops showed up whenever we played Grand Timber.

The 2008 Ullr's Donkey Punch champions team
The 2008 Ullr’s Donkey Punch champions team

The Ullr’s Donkey Punch legend grew as we won our sixth straight title. The newspaper covered our games a couple of times a season, and Big Steve mounted a trophy case between the pool tables at Ullr’s. Our rallying cry was “K-Q-B!” in honor of a 6-foot-2, combat-boots-wearing lineman named Kelly Quinn Brennan—the heart and soul of the first Ullr’s championship team. KQB died in a ski accident two months later, in January 2002.

Just as I took great satisfaction from winning, the end of our reign inflicted more emotional pain than I ever imagined rec sports could produce. We were playing a semifinal in five inches of November snow. Shortly after the game started, Iggy tried to cut and felt his knee explode. As he lay writhing on the ground, screaming, we all knew his ski season was over. The other team kept it closer than expected, then, on the last play of the game, they scored to tie the score with no time left. On their conversion attempt (no kicks allowed), their cocky quarterback narrowly eluded my grasp and darted into the end zone for the win. It took me a week to get over the loss.

We came back to win the next year, but due to budget cuts, the town eliminated the league in 2009. I spent six weeks in Nepal that fall while a bunch of teammates drove over to play in Vail’s league, but they said it wasn’t the same. Too much chaos, not enough respect among teams.

In the absence of football, I got more into our softball team. The heart of our crew is a frizzy-haired shortstop who goes by the name of Sideshow, sleeps outside, and moonlights as a sports bookie. For the past five years, we have been known as the Northside Crooks, represented by the classic sponsor combo of a bar and a defense attorney. We don’t win every game, but we win enough to keep the fire stoked, and one time we came back from 12 runs down in the final inning to beat the best team in the league. We scored our last eight runs with two outs. I left my car in town and took a taxi home that night.

By the time I reached my mid-30s, I had made peace with the town’s decision to end my football career, and so had my aging body. But in 2013, in a surprise move, they brought the league back. It was six-on-six instead of the old seven-on-seven, but that didn’t matter. Soon enough group texts were flying around and we had a team again.

Ullr’s had gone out of business (then been revived by a new owner in a new location), and most of our players had moved away or retired. Only three of us remained from the dynasty of the early 2000s: Pino, Smoke, and me. Among our new players was a state wrestling champion named Jake and the prize of the free-agent pool, Joe, the one-time starting quarterback at Ohio State.

We steamrolled like the old days, outscoring our opponents something like 220-40 and finishing the regular season undefeated. Our run continued to the championship game, where a team we’d beaten earlier stunned us on a long touchdown pass with 23 seconds left. It was agony all over again. Worse, I tore my hamstring and couldn’t ski until December.

The 2014 league champs
The 2014 league champs

This past fall, we recruited a few players and returned to right the wrong. After an inauspicious 1-2 start, we found our groove and more or less coasted to the title, winning 30-13 in the championship game. We hit the Motherloaded Tavern (our new sponsor) hard that night, noshing cheese fries and tater tots and high-fiving across the bar. At some point, we determined that our average age was 33, by far the oldest in the league, and that our team contained seven current or former bartenders.

Late that night, I saddled up next to Pino and Smoke and took stock. It was each of their eighth flag-football championships, counting the seven they won with Ullr’s, and my sixth. But as great as it felt, it also rang hollow not to be celebrating with our original squad. So I sent Rob and Chip a photo of us and wrote, “Thinking of you both.”

Chip, by now 48 years old, replied: “Congrats boys. I can still run a 6.3-second 40-yard dash if you need a deep threat.

—Devon O’Neil is a staff writer for and a frequent contributor to Skiing and Outside magazines. His work can be viewed at

Review: Kinds of Winter

Bush pilot, guide, dog musher—Dave Olesen documents what it takes to survive the north in “Kinds of Winter.” A Review by Dick Dorworth

KINDS OF WINTER: Four solo journeys by dogteam in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
By Dave Olesen
Wilfrid Laurier University Press$19.99

olesenDave Olesen is a thoughtful, articulate adventurer who closely notes the details of an extraordinary existence in which the mundane chores of daily life entail severe consequences for inattention, keeps track of his experiences and observations in journals which he turns into books to share with fortunate readers. His latest book “Kinds of Winter” is, to sum up, beautiful. Olesen lives with his wife and two children, forty three huskies and a ninety year old Danish sailboat on a remote homestead by Great Slave Lake next to the Hoarfrost River in Canada’s Northwest Territories where average winter nighttime temperatures are below -20F and there are five hours of daylight in December.

Olesen works as a bush pilot and guide, and, for 15 years, he was a competitive dog musher, finishing the grueling Iditarod Trail Sled dog Race eight times. That’s a long way from the small Illinois town where he grew up, but in 1987, armed with B.A. degree in Humanities and Northern Studies, he fled to the north to pursue a life that inspired Gary Snyder to write of Olesen: “I salute this man and his passion, and his family for giving him space to explore it. An old Inupiaq Eskimo once said to me as I set out in a canoe on a September river, ‘Don’t have any adventures.’”

But the daily challenges of life at Olesen’s home are a backdrop and nutritious foundation for the kinds of winter he seeks and discovers when he and his teams of sled dogs really do go looking for adventure. He explains it thus: “Once a year for four consecutive winters I hooked up a team of dogs and set out on long trips away from our homeland, traveling toward one of the cardinal points of the compass: south in 2002, east in 2003, north in 2004, and finally west in 2005. Having gone out, I turned home again. It was as simple as that.” Yes, as simple as a man alone with his team of dogs going south for 155 miles, east 380 miles, north 210 miles and west 520 miles through the kinds of winter that keep the Northwest Territories sparsely populated.

The adventure alone makes “Kinds of Winter” worth the read, but Olesen is no chest-thumping conqueror of the extreme compiling a resume of achievement for the reader to admire. Olesen, like his literary/spiritual predecessors Muir, Thoreau, Leopold, Abbey and Snyder is reminding himself and the reader of Muir’s admonition: “Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

DSC_1891 - Version 2-colourEvery human being can, with a bit of intentional effort and spirit of adventure, break clear away, once in awhile, and wash the spirit clean. But there are very few who do so who also have the literary skills and discipline combined with the human and environmental insight to realize and write: “Time. It is all nice and fuzzy that: ‘Go out in the wilderness and just let Time flow’ or ‘let Time have no meaning’ stuff, but in traveling between supply caches, or climbing a mountain, or paddling a long river in a short summer, Time takes on fundamental importance—it cannot be ignored. It is the approach of dusk at day’s end, the looming onset of winter in mid-September, the final sack of feed rationed out to a hungry team. Like it or not, folks, the clock is ticking, even ‘way out here’ in la-la land, Today, though, sitting just 75 miles from home, I am long on time. I can rest, and walk, and watch the day go by. Muir and Thoreau would be happy for me.”

We should all be happy for Dave Olesen who has the skills, discipline and insight to make every reader happy he and she took the time from the ticking clock to read “Kinds of Winter.”         —Dick Dorworth

February 2015 Poems

Prufrock_And_Other_ObservationsWelcome to the latest issue of Mountain Gazette poetry.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the magic of language, how it builds within our minds a world that’s been created in someone else’s (the writer’s) head. Which is to say that lately I’ve been thinking a lot about communication: verbal, written, and otherwise. About intention and perception. How it canand often doesgo wrong. You think you’re communicating beautifully with someone, and you really get one another, and then the person you’re conversing with says something like a line from Prufrock: That is not what I meant at all; that is not it, at all.

Communication is a messy experience. (Kind of like eating a peach, yes.)

And yet in these poems I find a miraculous irony: in them, there is a crystal clear embodiment of the moments they’re describing, even though the moments are all about the travails of communication. The successes and failures. They embrace the question: how do we truly know one another? In attempting to answer this question, they brilliantly convey the messiness of speech and connection. And in that I am both heartened and grieved, which is why I go to poetry in the first place. To get both sides of the coin.

Michael Henry
Poetry Editor



—Jonathan Riccio

“One thing I’ve learned: go looking for fire eaters and you don’t know what you’ll find.”
—Thomas Lux

As a fire eater you will never go unemployed.

Your windpipe determines retirement.

Ember jaws, spark gums; the physical is glamorous.

Come April Fool’s Day, the lighter fluid dunk tank.

Do you remember Joe “stilt ankles” Mikelson?

Well now he runs the Missoula circus scene
with his fiancée Carol, Ms. Spinning Plates.

You who were raised on three-syllable commands:


The perfect Jesuit acrobat save for
homosexuality and that dented leg.

If you’re lucky you’ll meet the ventriloquist
with extra knuckles.

Your bellows.
His teeth.

Lord knows where that could lead.



—Jonathan Riccio

You began as a germaphobe?

I prefer the term contagion-avoiding.
Better than running from, he thrived.

Eons, websites after now, they’ll refer
to us as the society that bronzed its

footwear. Gave preservation a new
lukewarmth. Meanwhile, where’s

your microscope? Gander into that
lens and see how long it is before you

petition the committee on household bound.

But if it veers your readers in a Hughesian
direction, germaphobe it is. Either way,

it involved scalding and a lot of Dial.

P.S. That Howard should thank his
bacteria-free stars for Leo D.

I’d have leapt at the chance for some
Gilbert Grapethrob with the countenance
of yesterday’s SpaghettiOs to portray me.

Question to a chronic
hand washer: does your
lifeline rankle at water?

I scrub                         the skin cajoles.

Is it true you only wear
slip-on shoes?

If laces, phobias they’d come undone.
Undone, fear they’d touch whatever

Band-Aid, saliva mane, gum glob,
vector spring or spatter errant

that calls the pavement home.

The ground begat your brand
of awareness?

It could’ve been the ether’s glitch,
the boogey mensch.

How do you function?

By stigma disbursed.

Complete this sentence
as only an agoraphobe
of your standing could:

is the new bullet train
of a wished-for Japan.

Sterile’s a pretty battery.
Affliction takes you so far.



—Sue Robinson

At the edge of the road there were houses
huddled in a suffocating blanket
that wouldn’t let me find you
in those hilly streets, steep roads too new
to know about the star-lit sea we shared.
I turned before the street rose steeper,
hating hills at night, the way a car in front
can teeter in my headlights,
plunge and disappear. When you died
I trembled on the edge.
You worked at it for hours.
Your breath grew shallow, slower—
stop and start and stop.

I hope you didn’t go to heaven,
it’s too perfect to be happy there.
I remember how you played Satie’s Gymnopedie
the way the chords resolved, the rising melody
climbing the hill:
a sudden subito and ritardando
fading into silence.



—Sue Robinson

At first he thought I was a friend he knew
from hot-dish dinners at the church,
he finally knows it’s me and dozes off,
wakes up wondering who I am.
We talk about the Army,
World War II, and his favorite plane,
The Flying Fortress. The radio
is playing “What is This Thing called Love?”
He cries as I beg heaven
not to put me in a place like this
when life gets thin,
slithers off me like a dirty slip.

Here the lobby doors are automatic,
gliding back and forth they hiss and mock
the common room of keening,
barely masked by finches dying in their cage.
My father never hears the birds;
he listens for the dinner bell,
he tells me he has whistling fish inside his head
that never go away.

I knew him best the day he looked at me
and thought I was his wife come back
to cook him breakfast. What’s left of love
are things that touched her hands
dirty cans of poppy seeds and turmeric
whisper curry, coffeecake,
the closet of clothes he can’t throw out,
the red wool dress, the long-sleeved arms
that lift to him at night.



—Don Pomerantz

You say that when the traffic slows
to a trickle then stops, that will be the signal
that the parade is about to begin.

The traffic continues unabated,
though off in the distance somewhere
it sounds like an announcer’s voice

coming over loudspeakers, festively
trotting its swift little journey towards us.
At least here no one honks their horns.

The traffic is slowing—no, now it’s picked
up again. At least there are no trucks—
were there trucks before? I don’t recall.

There is a rumor now spreading in the café:
the parade has not been cancelled but
merely postponed, for reasons no one knows.

But 6:30, 7:30, what’s the difference? We can
just sit back and enjoy the pre-dusk light and shade—
the heat today had come very close to hot.

I say that tonight, at least, in the village square
after the traffic, the shush of wheels,
and the sun have all punched out for the day,

the folk dancers from barely known countries
will come, there will be music then for sure:
playful accordions along with wind instruments

and strings we have never before seen accompanying
the dancers stepping the same wedding celebration steps
as their ancestral kinsmen, the same strange courtship

twittering of feet and high kicking celebrations
of heroic deeds. The women’s long sleeves will wave slowly
again as if to another welcome caravan passing along

The Silk Road as the lone horn trills hypnotically up,
then down. But for now, our drinks are almost finished
and you say that there were posters, handbills as well,

this is the route, the time, the place, wait—
do you hear something? No. Who is this parade’s
marshal anyway, Tartarin? Godot?

I look up now to shrug or shake my head
and I see it, there it is: the parade of wind
in the high leaves above the people, above the streets.

You have not forgotten us, there you are
with your very quiet trumpets of love,
a muted trombone, clarinet, and flutes.

We have discussed it and both now agree
that we will be your antique drum to be played
with sticks of lavender, thumping the old tunes.

You’re still always there, breath without a flag, old friend
marching through the branches with their fattening leaves
and in this way, we will not be so likely to forget.



—Don Pomerantz

Two mallards paddle through their own reflections,
glance at the waver of their underbellies, a singled eye

scouts past us to this and that insensible predilection.
My father and I, hunched into the nearest boat lay

no bread upon the water nor shiny hooks below whose
glint in the sun they could take for epiphany, diving

to capture the morsel, feet left to kick
into a world turned upside down.

In our pedal boat occasion my father and I kick our
way into where we imagine the foot pedals to be,

to the glorious, the elliptical, the watery nowhere.

Looking back through another continuity of interrupted flight,
you call this pond what, this oldish wet and dry?

Looking up through a skylight, just now
before dusk no light can suffice to show if you

are there, or read your lost answer written as it is
in the weightless slipstream of one or more feathers.



After Adolph Dehn’s A Little Joke
Hedy Habra

Like bald eagles fallen over a wooden bench, hands resting over their laps’ folds, fingers curved inwards, claws awaiting their prey, two men empowered by their black cassocks, chatter like old village gossips, distorted figures wearing a feather as a headdress you’d rather imagine bent over a breviary or behind a confessional’s lattice.

For that can’t be serious talk: the tension in their elongated limbs shows they’re sharing something much juicier, a dark string of syllables hushed in secrecy, winglike capes propped in symmetry, rounded eyes doubled by circular binoculars, two sets of eyes facing each other almost as in a duel, yet accomplices of the ebb and flow of words riding the air between the smile stretching their lips, inaudible even in the stillness of the gallery’s collection.

The more I try to decipher this arcane complicity, the more I find myself caught in a net spun by ink strokes in that visibile parlare. I am left with the fear that the artist has led me to a threadless string of invisible words just for the sake of playing a joke on me.





Hedy Habra is the author of Tea in Heliopolis, winner of the 2014 USA Book Awards and finalist for the 2014 International Poetry Book Award, and Flying Carpets, winner of the 2013 Arab American National Book Award’s Honorable Mention. Her work appears in Drunken Boat, Bitter Oleander, Blue Fifth Review, Diode, Nimrod, among other magazines. Her website is

Don Pomerantz lives in New York City where he is a teacher. His poems have appeared in Washington Square, Failbetter, Potomac Review, Eclectica, New Plains Review, Euphony and elsewhere.

Jon Riccio studied viola performance at Oberlin College and the Cleveland Institute of Music. An MFA candidate at the University of Arizona, current and forthcoming poems appear in CutBank, Paper Nautilus, Blast Furnace, Triggerfish, Waxwing and Stone Highway Review.

Sue Robinson lives in Boulder, Colorado. Currently she is working on a manuscript of poems and enjoying a diverse and supportive community as student at Lighthouse Writers Workshop.



In Memoriam, Mike Moore

I had a friend who drank too much
and played too much guitar – 
and we sure got along. 
Reel-to-reels rolled across the country near and far 
with letters poems and songs…. 
but these days he don’t talk to me 
and he won’t tell me why. 
I miss him every time i say his name. 
I don’t know what he’s doing 
or why our friendship died
while we played the poet game.
– Greg Brown, ‘The Poet Game’


“Why Mountain Gazette? Why not?”

That’s the way Mike Moore introduced the first issue of a new magazine “generally about the mountains” in the fall of 1972. Exactly what Moore had in mind, no one really knew.

For example,  here’s Barry Corbet, a noted mountaineer, skier and filmmaker in the 60s and 70s, sounding puzzled: “I have in hand a letter from Mike Moore, editor and manager of this journal. My assignment, should I choose to accept it, is to write ‘from one to sixteen pages about the mountains….’”

He accepted the assignment, of course, as we all did, all the writers who got that letter—Moore’s stable, writers living above 8,000 feet elevation if only in spirit. Mountain Gazette. Why not?

Now, it’s a long way from 1972, and word just came in a roundabout way that Moore died November 20, in Vermont where he has lived most of the past quarter century. This is not an obituary—he wanted none of that: no funeral, no memorial, no eulogies, said the notice making the rounds. Okay, but he can’t stop old friends, old loves from remembering him. Trying to re-member (sic) him through what he brought to our lives in what was the relatively brief but very intense first five years of the Mountain Gazette.

The Mountain Gazette wasn’t actually a startup; it was an acceleration or expansion, or maybe a digression, from another magazine, Skiers’ Gazette, that had entered the field of ski journalism in 1966, a newsprint gadfly journal that was the Village Voice to the ski industry’s array of earnest four-color Wall Street Journals (the romance of ski capitalism).

I became part of Moore’s SG stable of writers while I was running the Crested Butte Chronicle in the Colorado resort town of same name. He occasionally reprinted something I’d written in my gadfly newspaper; and when I left the newspaper business, where the ratio of business to writing was too high, to try to pursue a career freelancing, he offered me a chance to write a column for the SG.

That was great: I invented a mythic ski town, and over the course of that winter unloaded half a decade of observations that would have lost me all the Chronicle advertisers I hadn’t already lost. Moore made sure we writers didn’t worry about the impact of our biting of the hands of the advertisers that fed the SG and our meagre checks; still, we might have hypothesized that Moore’s motivation for expanding the Skiers’ Gazette to the Mountain Gazette was a need for access to a larger body of advertisers to offend.

But that was not Moore’s motive; he wanted to find, nurture and give voice to the 20th-century literature of the mountains, and the strange post-urban cultures springing up in the mountain towns like new mushroom species. Skiers’ Gazette had made him aware that there were lots of articulate and over-educated misfits, malcontents and de facto expatriates slinking around the mountain towns and beyond, trying to piss a line in the snow—dirtbag hippies, burnt-out suburbanites going exurban, lawyers undergoing a Saul-Paul transformation, Lord Jims in orderly retreat, all of whom knew, sort of, what Robinson Jeffers was trying to say: “When the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.” He wasn’t beating the underbrush of the mountain valleys for advertisers but for writers, whom he could lead, push or otherwise nurture or seduce to some greater level…. He didn’t want to just do a Village Voice for the mountain regions; he wanted to do a high-altitude New Yorker: the socio-economo-politico-cultural voice of a place and a time whose writers he believed might have something interesting to say.

Paradoxically, Moore was not a “mountain person” himself. He grew up in Colorado’s Front Range cities— cities that are to the mountains what Boston and San Francisco are to the ocean. He didn’t ski, didn’t climb, didn’t even hike much except on golf courses with a mountain view. As MG editor he mostly came to the mountains to visit his stable of mountain writers, visits that seldom moved beyond the bars of those places.

And by extension, the exemplars he carried in his heart were—I think—the great urban editors and publishers of the mid-20th century – people like Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, the man who “found” and brought to full bloom Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Ring Lardner, Erskine Caldwell, James Jones and others. That was what Moore wanted to do, the life he wanted to live.

I was lucky enough to make it onto the short list in his stable—those not just called but those maybe chosen, after a little serious work and tuning. He was the kind of editor who edited from the front, pre-manuscript, as well as what he called “pissing in the manuscript” after it was in. This often involved 12-to-7 “working lunches” for throwing ideas around that got better as the afternoon deteriorated, in the event that either he or the writer was capable of remembering the ideas – especially since the working lunch usually deteriorated further into just going out and overindulging for the rest of the evening. Moore also worked the phones with writers – and being an insomniac himself, a 3 a.m. call was not unusual.

But most of Moore’s interaction—at least with this writer—came in letters, those things we used for communication before email. I have a whole file drawer of letters from him—and I wrote as many to him. I reread the folder of his letters from the Gazette years the weekend after he died, and some of them would begin, “Responding to your two letters from last week….” What were these letters about? Well, about one to sixteen pages. They might be about a piece I was working on, or he wished I was working on; but they were also ongoing conversations about things he’d read or I’d read or we’d both read (it was Spengler for quite a while), discourses on what was happening in our lives, and –… But that sounds so damn – literary.

I need to downshift and get honest here about re-membering Moore. The letters, the long meetings were a love affair, is what they really were: we were both in love with my potential. That sounds terribly egomaniacal, but I think it is true, and the affair was conducted through this mad blizzard of letters about writing, with a focus on my writing. There was nothing sexual about this love affair – but something he said in one letter about his sex life kind of explains something about his relationship with the writers he worked with.

He said that he took a lot of his self-identity from the woman’s physical satisfaction—“She comes; therefore I am,” was how he put it. So it was with us: if, with his suggestions, support, critique, wheedling, stimulating and stroking, we might finally write something generally about mountains (and what isn’t?) that communicated a little Wright-Brothers-type hopping flight of the soul—then he existed too. I knew of course that he was profligately twelve-timing me with all the other Gazette writers; we all knew that, and jealousy occasionally intruded, but basically we loved him back as profligately: our Max Perkins, shepherd, custodian, editor, lover-of-our-potential.

If you were one of his short-list writers, he would—eventually—publish just about anything you sent him. Even in complete disregard of the “one to sixteen page” parameter stated in that first letter. Between stages in my own life in the summer of 1975, I cranked out a 90-page manuscript in a two-week burst of desperate something-or-other—in many respects, just a longer letter to Moore, but more generally about mountains. I sent it to Moore, with a letter asking him to see if there were any salvageable fragments in it, anything to take out and work up; “I can’t imagine what you could do with the whole mess,” I concluded.

I got a letter back a few days later that began, “We’ll print it, of course; we just have to figure out how and why”—then went into a description of how he had alarmed patrons at the bar where he went to read it, with noisy outbursts of laughter, backtalk, and other manifestations of his tendency to be a very active reader…. We define love too narrowly, too pedestrianly, if it can’t include this – not just “brotherly love,” but loverly love, a kind of shared intimacy involving mutual penetration of each other’s minds and hearts, and the kind of trust that enables that.

Eventually that outpouring became the final part of a four-part series that involved a lot of back-and-forth calls and letters, a couple emergency work days in Denver, and some serious stress on both of us. When done it occupied more than 50 pages of the magazine over four months, and was very well received in the mountain world. For us: how was it for you, did you…? Yes, the peak intensity, climax of our love affair with my potential, through which his potential was realized. We came together on it; therefore we were.

He thought the “Part of a Winter” series should become a book, and started calling in or begging favors from every big leaguer he had ever encountered in the rarified realm of New York publishing. But this was also a time when he was going through a lot of personal trauma—a failing marriage, financial troubles at the magazine, a lot of heavy drinking and the indiscriminate bestowing of random female orgasms. I got a contract eventually, with what turned out to be the wrong publisher—my fault, not Moore’s.

And not long after that, in 1976, Moore left the Mountain Gazette and Denver, to set off on an extended tour of Europe with his family in what even he could see was predestined to be a futile effort to salvage the marriage. The book was edited by a young woman in New York who knew commas but didn’t know what either she or I were doing; suffice it to say that Part of a Winter wasn’t the Look Homeward, Angel or Farewell to Arms that Moore had made us both believe it could be, in the intensity of our affair.

We continued to write letters for a number of years after he left the Gazette, but with increasing infrequency, while he went through a number of editing jobs, and eventually a partnership in a Vermont publishing house. Finally, he stopped writing entirely—not just to me, his partner told me, but to everyone from his “former life”. For almost two decades I heard nothing from him, until out of the blue he called one afternoon a year or so ago—“to say goodbye”: he’d received his death sentence from the doctors.

Well, no eulogy then, Moore, per your instructions, no obit, just this effort to re-member you in my life, keep you a member in my life, and remember how you changed my life, for better or worse. I think we both eventually realized that I lack something—the ego, discipline, drive—to really realize fully whatever potential I have or had in the running for the Next Great American Writer, and that may be why you stopped writing letters. But I thank you from whatever depths I have for your seemingly boundless love for us all during those first intense and exciting Mountain Gazette years, which like all love is given, just given, and not for what we are but for what we might become. Unsustainable, love like that, but how gray life would be without ever having had it.          —George Sibley

Bob Marshall: A Wilderness Original

A Wilderness Original: The Life of Bob Marshall, 2nd Edition (Mountaineers Press, 2014)

By James M. Glover

Reviewed by Cameron M. Burns

My wife and I lived in Montana in the early 1990s, and I always wondered why this guy named Bob Marshall was so heralded. Not many people get a million acres of wilderness (fifth largest in the U.S.) named after them. Heck, I’d like to name a few million acres after people who deserve the credit but will never see it.

Well, this 2014 reissue of a 1986 biography—A Wilderness Original: The Life of Bob Marshall—explains it. Bob Marshall was and remains arguably the biggest advocate for wilderness the United States has and will ever see.51MzbvhMWvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

His feats in wilderness areas proved his obsession with the natural world. He explored the Brooks Range long before most, and studied the local population that lived there. He rambled in Montana’s mountains for three years while studying trees. And he had a massive thirst for hiking—up to 40 miles a day. When he was just a youngster, he and his brother George and Herb Clark were the first to summit all 46 peaks in the Adirondacks over 4,000 feet.

This book, first published nearly 30 years ago, tells the story of Marshall’s forebears’ move from Bavaria to New York in the mid-19th century and much about his father’s life, which ultimately influenced Bob’s (loving wilderness, community involvement, and no interest in the trappings of wealth, etc.)

When this writer’s family emigrated from Australia to the US in 1978, we landed in Syracuse. Some of my first climbing experiences were in Tasmania. Then, weirdly, starting in 1978, in the Adirondacks. My father and I did a 4-day tromp through the “Dacks,” and it was one of the best things I ever experienced.

This was Bob Marshall’s land. He loved (as we all do) and wanted to see it preserved as well as it could be preserved.

In 1935, Marshall formed the Wilderness Society with Benton McKaye to “battle uncompromisingly for wilderness protection all over the United States.” And the Society went on to do many great things in many great places.

This book is a fairly straightforward narrative—Marshall’s family history, his father’s devotion to wilderness and ethical concerns, and his academic and professional career—but what comes through and stands out in Glover’s tome is the unbridled love of wilderness that Bob Marshall had. As a youngster, he hated being outside after dark. But he pushed himself to go out and wander the forests near the family compound in the Dacks. If he’d only hiked 36 miles on a certain day, he’d often go out for an after-dinner walk to make it an even 40.

Although I call this book a “fairly straightforward narrative”—from a reader’s perspective—it has the three qualities that are a must to the art of biography and something that many biographies lack. One, the guy (Marshall) is a real character. Too many biographies are of the ilk that up-and-coming politicians write (“I’m here and this is what I believe” even though they haven’t done sh*t to deserve the public’s attention). Marshall’s definitely worthy of your eyes. Two, Glover’s writing is carefully crafted. I’ve read too many things in magazines and books where it’s quite apparent the author didn’t understand grammar, syntax, typography, and pretty much everything else (hell, I cringe when I read my own work from 30 years ago). And three, it’s an enjoyable story. In many bios the plot gets simply lost, as the expression goes, and a memorable character gets overrun by bad storytelling.

Glover, a writer’s writer, told me he hadn’t zeroed in one Marshall at first.

“When I was around 30 or so I was casting around for something substantive to write about,” he told me via email. “I was teaching college courses in outdoor recreation [at Southern Illinois] and was (and still am) an avid wilderness adventure enthusiast. Anyway, around 1978 or ’80 or so, I happened to read an article about Marshall in Backpacker magazine by Roderick Nash, and also read about Marshall in Nash’s famous book, Wilderness and the American Mind. So I began to dig around for more info on Marshall, with the vague idea of maybe writing a book about him. I didn’t realize, when I first began, quite what a compelling personality he had, and how important a historic figure his father had been, and how strongly committed Bob was to what we sometimes now call “social justice.”

Sure, Jim, his father was important, but mostly because he produced this great soul who was absolutely addicted to wilderness and willing to do everything in his power to preserve it.

It’s a remarkable tale about a remarkable man that, if you’re like me, has hovered in your hazy subconscious for years. This book brings him to light.

“I have to thank Marshall himself for making the book however interesting it is,” Glover told me. “He continues to seem to me one of the most compelling personalities in American history, even though he’s not well known outside environmental and wilderness adventure circles.”

No kidding.

Respect the writer, respect the subject, respect the words.

Read the book.

Assault on El Cap

Jeff Vargen’s film Assault on El Capitan tells the story of the second ascent of Wings of Steel

By Cameron M. Burns

As a kid growing up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, I was a decent surfer. Indeed, I remember at age 10 some older kids at the beach where I regularly went asked me when I was going to go pro. They ridiculed my board, but said I could get a better one if I was planning to turn pro. It was all easy talk. Nothing rough. And, as usual, I was clueless. What the heck was “pro”?

Fast forward 15 years. I was living in LA and working in the film industry. I surfed in Malibu a few times, but hadn’t really surfed since 1978 in Australia. On one ride, another surfer literally tackled me from behind (as we both went down the same wave), later screaming at me that I’d dropped in on him (which I had, accidentally) and telling me I couldn’t surf there because I wasn’t a local. Oh yeah? Sure, I was 15 years out from my glory days as a kid but wasn’t surfing about having fun?

WTF was this? I’m not even sure the guy who tackled me was a “local,” (he had a full wetsuit on and most of the surfers I saw during my attempted Malibu rebirth were dressed like me), but clearly, this was a territory issue.

Any climber who’s spent even a little bit of time in Yosemite knows the story of Wings of Steel, a hard aid climb on El Cap. In 1982, 23-year-old Richard Jensen and 20-year-old Mark Smith arrived in Yosemite Valley with the goal of climbing a new route on the Capitan, one of the most coveted pieces of stone on the planet.

Thirty-nine days later they topped out on the big stone but it hadn’t been without its problems. Yosemite locals—taken aback that two outsiders were on their rock—had harassed them and made death threats. Three locals, whom to this day remain anonymous, went even further. One night while Jensen and Smith were on the ground, these three ascended several ropes Jensen and Smith had fixed, chopped all the bolts and rivets Jensen and Smith had laboriously drilled and placed by hand (and that’s noteworthy because by the early 90s, everything was being Bosched into place on El Cap), and rappelled off. They pulled Jensen and Smith’s ropes, heaped them into a pile, then defecated on them.

Yosemite-based climbers considered the route unworthy of its location on El Cap, although reports circulated that Jensen and Smith’s climb was pretty darn hard. Indeed, a few brave souls who tried the first few pitches (if memory serves, including Rob Slater) came back with stories of tenuous gear and long falls.

Twenty-nine years after the first ascent of Wings, Yosemite hardman and character Ammon McNeely—the veteran of more than 75 ascents of El Cap—decides he should do the second ascent. And, he brings in his girlfriend, Kait Barber, as his partner.

In 2011, filmmaker Jeff Vargen was on vacation on the East Coast and got a text from McNeely that he and Barber were going up on the big stone.

“I asked which route,” Vargen noted in an email to this writer. “He [Ammon] texted WOS. I laughed. No one does WOS and no one would do that slab in mid-summer, but that’s him—do things quietly and under the radar. Word got around that he was doing it and the Supertopo trolls followed his progress as Kait’s mom posted from the wall.”

When McNeely and Barber got down, Vargen went to look at the pictures and video clips that McNeely and Barber had recorded. Vargen was impressed. “One thing led to another and I called a few people I knew and they said they would be happy to talk on camera about WOS,” Vargen noted. “And then it kept going from there.” [WOS is an explosive topic on Supertopo.]

This film starts with a lot of historical discussion about climbing in general, climbing walls, and finally Wings of Steel specifically, including interviews about territory and locals versus outsiders with (Chris McNamara (Supertopo creator), Peter Haan (first Salathé solo), and Eric Kohl (general El Cap bad-ass) are interviewed, along with Hans Florine and Ron Kauk.

Steve Grossman is given the tough cop role, discussing how Jensen and Smith weren’t “forthright” about what they were doing up on the big stone while locals below heard about endless bolting. Grossman makes valid points, which are more or less later left unaddressed as a result of the difficulty of this particular climb and the respect the first ascensionists got from the second ascensionists.

Still, it’s all honest. Vargen told me via email: “Richard and Mark were kind enough to come to be interviewed. I never told them what kind of film I was making and they had no idea how they would be portrayed in the film. They trusted me that it would be fair but I told them it will fall as it falls. They agreed to tell their story and see what happened. they are brave souls. Steve Grossman was the same way. He came and said his peace, wondered how it would come out, but he answered everything I asked in an honest way. We did not chop him up to manipulate the tone. It was said as you see and hear it.”

In general, Assault doesn’t offer a whole lot of explanation for a lay viewer about what hooking is all about (it is scary, BTW), or aid, or wall climbing in general, but that doesn’t matter. The viewer gets the point. This climb is a balls-to-the-walls wall, and the first ascensionists got treated unfairly. And, yeah, the territory thing is always there—in climbing as in surfing.

All that spewed, what’s nice to report is that this is a wonderful wonderful (yeah, that’s two wonderfuls (sorry, three now)) film about McNeely and Barber. It gives us access into the world of a guy many of us have heard about for years (McNeely) and his whole, entirely low-key approach to life. It shows us how he deals with day-in day-out issues, and gives us the firmly backgrounded life that have made him one of Yosemite’s best contemporary wall climbers. The interviews with his brother Gabe are fabulous.

On the Great Slab that is, essentially, Wings of Steel, McNeely took six falls each day. Indeed, he fell more than half the height of the 900-foot Great Slab in the first nine days.

The falls shredded Barber’s nerves and there are several initial scenes in which Barber wants to go down. She hangs in and eventually gets up the wall (I would like to know what Ammon owes her at this point). But Barber and McNeely’s humility and honesty make this film much more than a documentary about Wings of Steel’s second ascent. The issues surrounding Wings of Steel aren’t resolved by the creation of this film, but it is a touching, thoughtful, and exciting film about doing a big wall, regardless of location. (McNeely’s videotaped yanking off flakes with his Talon hooks several times and tumbling yards at a time.)

The ways it’s edited also works well. The Wings debacle comes across as a serious turf war in the beginning, and it’s hard to watch some of the discussion knowing that this is just bickering among climbers. But, Vargen does a great job zooming out to a greater picture of climbing, location, personalities, and other issues, and then turning the film toward personal issues—fear, injuries, pain, and just getting up a damn climb.

In the end, this film is really about communications. In 1982, the communications between Smith and Jensen and the Valley locals weren’t there, clearly. Today, with so much being shared every minute of every day, and with people like Vargen compiling it carefully, communications have improved dramatically. All of the people in this film share the same values and love the same chunk of the earth’s crust. That they got a little sideways with each other is too bad. Hopefully, we’ll never see a repeat of something like Wings.

Starring and with footage by Ammon McNeely and Kait Barber. Also starring Mark Jensen, Richard Smith, Eric Kohl, Ron Kauk, Chris McNamara, Hans Florine, Peter Haan, Gabe McNeely, and Steve Grossman.  More information about the film can be found at

Cam Burns’s most recent contribution to the world of literature was in To Nepal with Love and Adventure at High Risk.

Poems For Fall

Welcome to the October issue of Mountain Gazette, with a new look and feel.

The poems in this edition cover a wide range of topics, from war to the imperfections of memory, to declarations of peace, love, and slow decay. I suppose if there is one thread that ties them all together, it’s this: like the season of fall, these poems show us that while life is fleeting and ephemeral, some things will last. Some of us will cling to the one true thing we know, however difficult that might be.

I hope you enjoy the poems. I also encourage you to read them aloud, and to share them with friends.



—Vicki Mandell-King

A penny for your thoughts, he says. But he
doesn’t really want to know.

For fifty years, two stylized ears of wheat
on the reverse of Lincoln’s commemorative.

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes.
From a child’s ear, the magician takes a quarter.

A penny would be dangerous,
too small, getting stuck.

During the War, made from salvaged gun
cartridge cases. Once made of bronze,

mostly copper, some zinc and tin.
Bet that cost a pretty penny.

During the War, my father gave my mother
a watch of rose gold—

copper blushing the glint and shine.
The nick of time.

Another father and his little boy once put
pennies on the railroad tracks

that ran by their dusty small Texas town.
And when the train came hurtling by,

it smashed the coins flat, thin and wide.
Defacing government property.

Inflated worth.
A penny saved is a penny earned.

See a penny, pick it up.
All day long you’ll have good luck.

Toss them in a spouting fountain.
So many wishes—youth and riches,

the end to war,
a man who can make sense of things.

Water droplets catch the light,
glisten on a woman’s rouged cheeks.

The sky is raining
pennies from heaven.




—Seth Brady Tucker

It is the first day with real summer heat,
mired in our own personal inferno, this Delta
flight frozen on the tarmac, has my back
sweating and cramped while I support Olivia’s
head to provide comfort—her face pressed
to my damp chest, her cell blinking blue, rings
What a Wonderful World it is, and three people
turn to stare at us, confident their own cells
are turned off according to regulations, and they
are lined up like dominoes, and the airplane
engines idle down sadly to nothing, and the air
conditioning whispers to off. The sharp ticket
juts into my cheek, but I am five drinks into it
already, uncaring, a big bloody gin butterfly
taking flight in my heated tissue, a soft liquored
fluttering of drunk and bright blue butterfly
wings in my head, and I don’t care at all for
the hard flexing of this bottom-of-the-deck dealt
world, nor for the poignant meaningless of it all:
all of us travelers, lolling like the olive
in the bottom of my martini, sticky with hot
sweat and bad intentions, our hands rising to ring
for the smiling attendants. We are burning
up on this runway, ready to barter or sell
our way onto any cool escape, onto any
other flight, onto any ascending white airplane
that takes us from this sweaty, business-class
lifestyle. At this point, I would take a bus ticket
to any cold arctic nowhere. Our air is breathed
over and over and back, so I bitterly take up
another spit martini from the stewardess,
and I know I am more slug than bright butterfly,
and I know I am as fractured as the dried
and fetid soil of the low tide Mississippi Delta,
but I also know how to excuse myself, to stop
while ahead, to quaff back the olive drab olive
that I have already personified to compare
to our sad condition on the jet-way, and soaring
from my drink, I escape to the john. I am
out of control angry, and the toilet is a hot cell;
the air is soiled with traveler butt and businessman
urine, this boiling and humid ding-dong airplane
just an envelope of choleric or malarial disease,
or worse, something non-lethal. My air plans
are ruined, and I have made the attendant hate
me by sending back my hot martini. I take out
a cigarette insolently and light it. The smoke
alarm rings and I flap my arms like a butterfly,
still smoking and cursing and trying to force
the smoke down the crap hole, but the Delta
crew is on to me already, and I realize I have
truly fucked up, and I know that Olivia
will be reading from her assortment of literary
magazines when she hears the alarm ring,
and because of me, she will be flying solo
and hating me, and I will be handcuffed in a cell
somewhere in the bowels of the Atlanta airport.
They will take my personal items, break my cell
phone, smoke my cigarettes, and they will taxi
Olivia away, our flight joining brethren airplanes
in the line burned on the skyway, and my empty
seat will be filled by a lonely and ticketless
traveler, some failed salesman who makes
his awkward move on Olivia, on my butterfly,
like some rotten alleyway pigeon. In my airport
prison, I will belatedly lament choosing Delta
over United (I am fully aware of the meaning
now!) and if I know her like I think I do, Olivia
is looking at his soft hands, his ring finger circled
by a white band where his wedding ring
should be. She will notice that he has a nervous
habit of twisting the imaginary wedding ring
when he speaks. He is getting nowhere, but
she is angry with me, so she provides him a cell
number not her own, and makes a promise
to meet him at baggage claim. Off the airplane,
she will head straight for the exit. He will call
her for drinks, only to get Chinese take-out
in Tallahassee. He will imagine what it would
have felt like to kiss her, to unbutton the fly
of Olivia’s jeans, to kiss her like he should kiss
his wife. In the morning, he will fly Delta
again, thinking he is as misunderstood as
anyone on earth. He will look her up, but Olivia
will have provided the wrong name and number,
because she is no dummy, my Olivia,
and when he returns to Ohio, to his wife and children,
he will lie on his bed twisting his ring
on his finger as he stares at his ceiling, unable
to sleep. I will be in Atlanta, in a holding cell,
feet in paper sandals and body wrapped in coveralls,
and on the floor, a metal plate with plain
bagels and runny eggs and cold bacon. I will
bang the bars, demanding my cigarettes, taken
from me by the cops. Olivia will reach Paris;
she will sit in a café decorated with butterfly
figurines. In two weeks, she will trade
in my unused ticket, fly to Prague via Delta.
In Georgia, after three days, I will rub the hot
rings of my wrists after they remove the cold
metal handcuffs, my Delta captors will smile
as blankly as the windows of airplanes as they
hand me my ticket and my broken cell phone,
which I will futilely use to call Olivia home to me.




—Chris ‘Chez’ Chesak

My hand aches because
My hand is empty.
My hand misses the feel,
The weight,
The finality.

My hand misses the ominous grip,
Designed by thoughtful engineers,
Allowing the quick reach of a finger
Onto the trigger,
The steadying sister hand wrapped around the fore-grip,
My cheek welded to the stock,
My eyes searching
Through the site posts
For a target,
For center mass.

My hand is hungry.
Hungry to touch again the steel
The aluminum
The plastics
The power—and the glory.

My hand is hungry,
Hungry for the pull of its fingertip on the trigger that leads to the hammer that
Releases the bolt that drives the pin into the primer that leads to the explosion of
Powder in the chamber;
The 556 round flying, a ripping six-grove, right-handed spin, exploding from the
Barrel upon a wave of fiery gas…
That leads to the chest erupting.
That leads to the ruptured, cavernous exit wound.
That leads to the skull coming apart
In chunks.

My hand misses its weapon.
That weapon pressed into it
By drill sergeants and NCO’s.
The weapon locked to it
By training and exercises,
By repetition
By muscle memory.
My hand misses its weapon,
The one welded into it
Every day for a long, hot, dangerous year,
The weapon
Branded into it,
Branded into the flesh of my hand,
And the grooves of memory,
For life.

My aching hand has me
Clearing my living room
Hunting at bars
Sizing up distances and windage
On the lone figure in the distance,
Looking for a kill shot.




—Vicki Mandell-King

The robber approaches her teller window,
says he’s got a gun,
gestures to his waistband.

At his demand, she empties
her drawer of 20’s, 50’s and 100 dollar bills.
After he leaves and the police arrive,

she gives a detailed description—
heavyset, scruffy,
gray hair in a ponytail

and blue eyes.
At trial, when asked if she sees
the man who robbed her, she points

to Sam, seated at the defense table.
In answering his lawyer’s questions,
she emphasizes those eyes –

she’d looked into them,
they were cold, hard,
and she was afraid.

Casually, counsel shows her
the surveillance photos.
Throughout the robbery, the man

had worn very dark sunglasses.
She doesn’t remember that, she says,
but she insists,
 she knows

that man is the one.
I’d know him anywhere.
The jury believes her.




—Seth Brady Tucker

for Olivia

In order to impress upon you
how wretched the world would
be without your love, I have to imagine
a life without you, where time spins

its tires in the mud of despondency,
where joy pushes the yoke of a mill
in terrible circles, where love punches
a clock in the bowels of a mailroom,

where life itself stumbles and falls
in the bathtub, too far from a telephone,
too weak to call for help. In this new
world, we eat sand and wood chips

for every meal, forever filling bellies
that will never know satisfaction; we breathe
soot, we walk on the bones of our kneecaps,
we mutely sing with shadows signed on walls,

we recite poems of love with our heads submerged
in barrels of thick oil. In this world, without
your love, we lack the energy to lick
our wounds, and we lie naked in the snow

in winter, and bare our bodies to the hot
tarmac in summer. Our energies are devoted
to the search for pain, because if we
know pain in every intimate, perfect detail,

we will also know the touch of the devil,
and that will be enough to fill the empty
void of eternity, until you call me back
and breathe your sweet breath upon my neck.





Chris ‘Chez’ Chesak is an Iraqi war veteran and avid climber, skier, backpacker, and writer, having published fiction in several literary quarterlies and non-fiction in national publications. He lives with his wife Sally and daughters Lillian and Sylvia in Cincinnati, Ohio. Read more of his work at

Vicki Mandell-King has been writing poetry for what seems an entire lifetime, even during her career as a public defender. Her poems have been published in many journals, including Calyx, Illya’s Honey, Main Street Rag, Pinyon, Slant, Tribeca and others. Her first book is entitled Tenacity of Lace, and she and her husband live in an old, constantly remodeled Victorian in Old Town Louisville, Colorado.

Seth Brady Tucker is originally from Wyoming, and served as an Army 82nd Airborne paratrooper in the Persian Gulf.  His first book, Mormon Boy, won the 2011 Elixir Press Editor’s Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for the 2013 Colorado book Award. His second collection, We Deserve the God We Ask For, won the Gival Press Poetry Prize. His poetry is forthcoming or has appeared in the Iowa Review, Verse Daily, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, Connecticut Review, Chautauqua, River Styx, Asheville Poetry Review, storySouth, Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere.