Building Fires in the Snow: A Collection of Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry

Building Fires in the Snow: A Collection of Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781602233010
Publisher: University of Alaska Press
Publication date: 09/15/2016
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 833,113
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Martha Amore teaches in the English Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is the author of Weathered Edge: Three Alaskan Novellas and coeditor of Building Fires in the Snow: A Collection of Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry.

Lucian Childs is a writer who divides his time between Anchorage and Toronto.

Read an Excerpt

Building Fires in the Snow

A Collection of Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry

By Martha Amore, Lucian Childs


Copyright © 2016 University of Alaska Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60223-302-7



Rosemary McGuire has been working as a commercial fisherman for fourteen years, on boats from San Diego to Norton Sound. She has also worked in Antarctica and in field camps across Alaska. She has traveled most of Alaska's river systems by canoe. Her collection of short stories The Creatures at the Absolute Bottom of the Sea was published by the University of Alaska Press in 2015.


The night they brought Luke's body back to town, Pete drove out Orca to buy a net. He saw the Arcturus come into view, a black dot in the golden haze of an April night. It passed Seduction Point, heading for town, taking the shortcut because the tide was high. Its lights were so bright it was difficult to see.

He slowed to watch it coming in. Ahead, a pickup ground to a halt. The girl in the front seat was crying. As he pulled alongside, they stared at each other. A green-eyed girl in a T-shirt lettered, "Fuck me. I'm Mexican." He didn't know her, but he knew her face from the Reluctant Fisherman.

"You knew Luke, didn't you?" she said.

"Kind of," Pete said. "A while ago. We went to high school together, anyhow."

"Did you hear about what happened?" she said.

"I heard."

"What was it? I mean, what did you hear?"

"Just that the skipper found him in his bunk."

She rolled the window up, her face crumpling. "I don't know why he died," she said.

Pete shifted up. Out Orca, the cannery loft was deserted. He dug through old gear until he found the right net and pulled it out onto a tarp. The smell of brine and creosote and winter rain rose up around him. A truck rolled in outside. He heard the rattle of the chain hoist, a pallet jack. But no one came in.

Sweat poured down his face as he worked. He was thinking of Luke, the summer they first met, skateboarding outside the library, his nimble body folding in a jump as if he could take flight at last. The rumble and grind as he fell to earth. His shout of exultation. Pete's answering yell.

He shook the net. Let it fall at last, the last fathom out of the bag. He'd flaked all the way through without seeing it.

Two nights later, after the wake, the guys started drinking on the shore. They lit a pallet fire before the weather turned. Rain drove against the flames, hissed, and rose up again as steam, leaving the coals half-blackened with water. The same green-eyed girl with too-heavy eyeliner stood over the embers, crying.

Pete left the harbor on a falling tide. It was blowing when he dropped the hook behind Grass Island. The outgoing tide hissed over hard, gray sand. Above him, a line of boats marched up the slough, facing the current. A gillnetter he didn't know had taken Luke's set. He watched it as his anchor line came taut, waited to see if his boat would drag, until another gust of rain drove him inside.

Inside, the boat jerked at its line. Water splattered in the window leak. He set the drag alarm and turned down the radio. Listened to the flat, monotonous chatter of the fleet.

"Getting pretty shitty out."


"This is the Miss Becky for Trident, we're in Pedall. Give us a holler if you need anything. We got ice and fuel." He flicked it off.

Next morning, he made a low water set inside the bar for nothing. They killed 'em in Softuk, farther east, but the tide was down, and it seemed too shitty out to run that far. He set out by the can in a nasty wind chop and got the line in the wheel on the first try.

"Goddammit. Oh. Goddammit." he shouted at the sea. "Fuck you, fuck you."

Last summer, near the end of May, he'd anchored for a while on the outside beach, the night before the opener began. Luke pulled up on his way east. They side-tied their boats, listened to the slow thump, thump-thump as they rocked together in the swell. The water smooth as silk, a pure, unbreakable blue.

They watched a whale go by on the horizon, its slow progression of breaths. Pete dug through the locker looking for food. "Don'cha eat, Luke?"

"Look on your own boat."

"There's nothing there." He found a half-empty jug of salsa and spilled some out on the hatch covers. "Here." He scooped it into his mouth with a taco shell. "Tastes kinda like chips."

"Kinda." Luke swept up the salsa with quick sweeps of his wrist. He ate like he did everything, like there could never be enough. There'd never been a time he wasn't there and wouldn't be. Just Luke.

The whale, submerged, left bubbles on the surface where it had been.

The fall he and Luke were both nineteen, they took Luke's old skiff out the bar, out Strawberry Entrance into the Gulf. It was a beautiful day. The breakers hissed quietly on the bar. The break was a long one, but they ran straight past the last taint of land and home, until they knew by the long glide of the swell that they were in the Pacific. Luke killed the motor just to listen.

They rocked slowly. A flock of birds passed.

"Murrelets," Luke said. He always knew.

The clouds overhead formed torn white lines. The distant line of white along the beach and all the other blues spilled into each other, the blue of sky and sea and the far-off mountains.

"When we buy our boats," Luke began, because they were both saving to buy into the gillnet fleet, and knew that that was what they'd always do; in class they'd picked out names for their boats. "Sam an' Ella," Luke's was named, because of how it would sound over the radio. "When we buy our boats ..."

But suddenly it was too much to bear, the silence and the enormous sea.

"Let's get out of here." Luke pulled the cord, looking for the familiar rowdy clatter that drowned out thought, preventing panic, preventing doubt.

Nothing happened.

"Fuck." He tried again. "It should be warm." He choked it. Checked the gas. And they were out.

He looked quickly at the bottom of the skiff; saw the gear they'd dropped in for fishing, the Pepsi cans. The slap of brown water in the bilge. No old red dented can of extra fuel. He opened his mouth. Pete'd been carrying the fuel. Pete saw in his mind where he'd set the can while adjusting his load, saw it still sitting on the shore. Looked at Luke, the fear building in their eyes. Between them the knowledge they'd gone too far.

Luke looked back at the shore, too far away. Wondered aloud what it felt like to drown.

"We ain't gonna find out," Pete said, to shut him up, but the words were spoken. Pete's own voice felt hollow.

"Think they'll miss us?"


They weren't expected until night. Pete's parents had gone to Anchorage. He was staying with Luke, and Luke's dad didn't always come home. They looked at the shore. They were drifting out. At the horizon, where the weather would come from, if it came. Again at the floor of the skiff, and at each other.

Pete shifted very slowly in his seat. "I left it," he said. "It's my fault."

"Don't worry about it," Luke said. "It don't matter." He scrabbled in the gear at his feet. Toed out a busted Styrofoam cup. "We might's well bail. Got something we could put over to slow our drift?"

Later, they sat shoulder to shoulder on the bottom boards. Not talking much, only looking at the sea.

"How long do you think it takes?" Pete said.

"I don't know."

"Where do you think we go?"

"I don't think we go anywhere at all."

"Oh," Pete said.

It could've all ended differently. But late in the afternoon, someone just happened to go past, a gillnetter early for the opener. He saw them and realized what was wrong.

"That was thinking," he said, nodding at the sea anchor they'd rigged from a bundle of gear tied together with line. Holding the gunwale, he dragged them in over the side.

"We'da been all right," Pete said, half-joking, giddy with relief.

That night, they walked to Luke's father's lodge in the dark. Got in just before dawn. Luke's dad wasn't there. The two of them went straight up to Luke's bed and slept there together, holding on to each other, without even thinking about it. Two boyish bodies molded in the night, in deep sleep. Only Pete woke up crying in the night, unable to say what he had dreamt. And felt Luke's hand clutch in his hair, holding his head to comfort him. Luke's stale breath whispering, you're all right. And Luke's hard, live kiss under the blanket. Then two of them, young bodies touching vehemently in the night.

Something they'd never done before, and never would again. Something that Pete now could not stop thinking of.

They woke the next morning, crawled separately out of bed. A distance between them they couldn't break through. When Pete said he'd walk back to town alone, Luke looked relieved. Maybe he was afraid, as Pete was, that they would never be like other men. That this was something more than they could handle. But they never were as close after that night.

Luke started drinking harder that summer. Pete saw less of him. He thought he might've dated other men. But he would never know that, not for sure.

That fall after Luke died, a girl came up to see Pete. Rose. He took her to the boat when she got in. It was raining as they went down the dock. She wrapped her wet hair in her sweatshirt, leaned over, and kissed him. He felt her round, pale breasts and springy thighs. But it wasn't as good. It was never as good again. It had none of the clarity of that night with Luke. None of the urgency.

Afterward, she lay back, looking at the photo on the wall.

"Who's that?" she said.

"That's Luke. He died last spring."

"Oh," she said. "I'm sorry. Accident?" She rolled over, rubbing his stomach. He thought she meant to comfort him.

"I don't think. But I don't know. It could've been. I guess I'll never know. The autopsy said overdose."

"I see," she said again. "I'm sorry."

But she fell asleep, her back to him, the covers pulled tight around her unformed shoulders. He lay there thinking about what might've been. Rolled over, face into the pillow. Saw Luke so clearly. The slow contraction of his eyes, his hurried smile. The thoughts running, contradicting, in his mind. But he was gone.

"I miss you," Pete thought, but didn't say aloud. "I just miss you, Luke."

It was true and would be, and life went on. And it was too late to know how much it mattered, the things they'd never talked about and never would. Already, Luke's face was fading in his mind. He didn't want that, didn't want to be growing old while Luke himself would always be young. Didn't want to lose even this hurt. But it happened that way.



Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of the poetry collections Interpretive Work, Approaching Ice, and Once Removed. An instructor in the low-residency MFA program at University of Alaska Anchorage, contributing editor for Alaska Quarterly Review, and editor-in-chief of Broadsided Press, she lives on Cape Cod and works a naturalist.

    Eight Years

    We pulled snowshoes from the back and crossed the five-lane
    by the sports bar between two bad curves,
    headed to the bog. It was midday,

    sky low, traffic a light drone. We cinched
    straps, stomped teeth into the trailhead,
    took snapshots of ourselves and set off

    for the muffle of woods and the snow we hoped
    now would carry us, and mostly didn't, but still
    seemed somehow better as we followed

    tracks, reconstructed pounce and dodge, waiting
    for the place to raise voice. And when it didn't
    we turned toward home, stopped listening, and I

    started mugging for you, showing off, and I thought
    as I ran along the trail, snow slapping up the backs
    of my thighs,
    maybe we have found it, the thing
    where neither is better or cares or clocks the length.
    The thing that makes us beautiful.

    And when I turned
    to shout back, what escaped was

    Moose. Dewlap swinging, shoulder hump

    rocking in gait, heading out of the trees
    the way I'd come, toward you.

    Somewhere, there's a tally sheet that reckons up
    how often we say we're happy and mean it,
    and we, in the messy and reasonable panic
    of our lives, just lost our chance to earn a point.

    The moose ran out from the trees and I ran back
    to you and we stared and backed away together,
    frightened by the huge answer of its body.

    — for Vitus Bering

    They've closed again the gap that you first sailed,
    Russian-sponsored Dane, so cousins on the Diomedes

    are in post–Cold War touch. But you made the map

    that made the border, sighting lands just guessed at
    between Kamchatka and America's west coast. And we
    write history from what's put down officially, maps

    and logbooks made and kept by the survivors
    of your death, of your loss of ambition from years

    line-toeing across the forehead of Siberia. Finally you set sail for

    glory — or not for but from whatever pushes us beyond
    our birth-spots. What pushes us away? I, too, have left
    for some spot unknown by those who claim me, for

    place unhooked from kin and story. I've fled
    the watched life of any hometown where if

    you kick a dog, infect a girl, break a window

    the girl turns out to be your mother's landlord's
    cousin, the dog a beat cop's mutt, and shards
    cut your sister's foot: Each chafed-at thing's a window

    in your glass-house world. So the age-old lust for places
    we pretend are free of consequence. It's the same

    now as it was with Oedipus, poor stiff, running to escape his fate

    and running smack dab into it, an awful
    scene, a nightmare warning we need to keep
    repeating because, of course, fate

    never seems immediate. For weeks Bering's crew feasted
    on the delicious bulk of sea cows (now extinct).

    They played cards, anted up with otter pelts     that promyshlenniki later

    stripped from the shores. Foxes bit the men's toes
    at night. The land ate them as they ate the land,
    calling it need, worrying about it later.

    Roughnecks and Rakes One and All, the Poet Speaks to Her Subjects, Polar Explorers

    I won't write you that voice,
    piggy, crass
    forged by salt &
    cold & isolation.
    Filed to edge
    by time-wrung,
    absence-wrought rasping
    or, if not those,
    by what made you endure.

    I know we're
    bad luck on boats,
    women, worse
    on ice, too humid
    for this hoar.
    And you hate my pen
    tracking through
    your stories. But

    I write you,
    and that's what love you get,
    meted out, doled like rum.
    Through line and vowel, my
    voice chooses
    yours, forced
    by yours.

    I'd like to say
    local deviations
    make this
    true enough
    for polar work,

    that despite my distance
    and the tendency of light
    over ice toward mirage,
    some shape comes through
    that both of us
    can recognize.

    Correcting the Landscape

    Even though the wrecked jeep
    belonged to Pat, it felt like stealing to go through
    chain link into the scrap yard, jack up
    each corner and switch out his new tires
    with our bald ones. It was twelve below.
    The snow squeaked underfoot

    like Styrofoam. We were trying to make it in a place
    where everything we thought we needed
    — sheetrock, tomatoes, polypro —
    had to be shipped in from Outside.

    There was a raven calling, watery cluck
    echoing the lot. There was us cursing
    the lug nuts, then another sound,
    out of place, high and keen

    and you and I startle like any goddamn bird.

    I see your head tilt, ear
    to sky, and while Anne is jumping
    blood back into her toes and Pat is wrestling
    with the left rear, there is within this scene another:
    A peregrine calls and we both look up, catch each other doing it,

    then laugh. Because it's not likely a falcon here,
    February in central Alaska. The call sounds again,
    and a few pigeons startle, birds that arrived with
    the wires and poles. And that's why we hear it,

    set on some timer to cry away
    those pushy opportunists
    at the foothills of the Chugach,
    throats cold in the day's short light.


Excerpted from Building Fires in the Snow by Martha Amore, Lucian Childs. Copyright © 2016 University of Alaska Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Jerah Chadwick
Winter Country
Rosemary McGuire
Elizabeth Bradfield
Eight Years
Roughnecks and Rakes One and All, the Poet Speaks to Her Subjects, Polar Explorers
Correcting the Landscape
Creation Myth: Periosteum and Self
Concerning the Proper Term for a Whale Exhaling
We All Want to See a Mammal
August, McCarthy, Alaska
Martha Amore
Susanna J. Mishler
Anniversary at the Evening Cafe
Poem That Begins in Address to Nikola Tesla and Ends Up Offshore
Tired, I Lie Down in the Parking Garage
Eve of the Apocalypse
Lucian Childs
The Go-Between
Black Spruce
Amber Flora Thomas
Marlboros at Dusk
A Woman’s Jewelry
Hotel Reverie
Lake Shore Deer
Come in from the Sky
In the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Era of a Happy Heart
Alyse Knorr
Anchorage Epithalamium
Moose are over-running the park and this makes me think of love
The Object Towards Which the Action of the Sea Is Directed
The Sleeping Lady
Conservation & Rehabilitation
Teresa Sundmark
Worse Disasters
Indra Arriaga
In the Bay
En la Bahía
There was a time, she said
Hubo un tiempo, ella dijo
19 Crescent
19 Crescent
Egan Millard
Zack Rogow
The Voice of Art Nouveau
M. C. Mohagani Magnetek
Shelby Wilson
Misread Signs
Leslie Kimiko Ward
Amy Groshek
What Goes Around Comes Over
The capacity for true love expires at age 25
Rubia Writes a Poem About Light for a Contest
Dinner at Her Place
Pearly Everlasting
Gabrielle Barnett
Mountain Man
Teeka A. Ballas
Carrots, Peas: in D minor
Cupid’s Arrow
Sandy Gillespie
The Trees Tell the Story
Morgan Grey
Laura Carpenter
Mirror, Mirror
Kate Partridge
Earthquake Park
M 4.0, 21 km S of Knik-Fairview
Dawnell Smith
What Would Derby Do?
Vivian Faith Prescott
The Minister’s Wife
Tales in Fairyland
Can I touch your Chinese Hair?
Before the World of Men and Boys, There Was the Land of Girls
Jerah Chadwick
Cold Comforts
Lesson of Bread
A Sense of Direction
The Life to come
Mei Mei Evans
Going Too Far
Works Consulted

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