Diversity has always been central to Alaska identity, as the state’s population consists of people with many different backgrounds, viewpoints, and life experiences. This book opens a window into these diverse lives, gathering stories and poems about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer life into a brilliant, path-breaking anthology. In these pages we see the panoply of LGBTQ life in Alaska today, from the quotidian urban adventures of a family—shopping, going out, working—to intimate encounters with Alaska’s breathtaking natural beauty. At a time of great change and major strides in LGBTQ civil rights, Building Fires in the Snow shows us an Alaska that shatters stereotypes and reveals a side of Alaska that’s been little seen until now.
|Publisher:||University of Alaska Press|
|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
UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA PRESSCopyright © 2016 University of Alaska Press
All rights reserved.
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.
"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.
"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.CHAPTER 2
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.
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,
forged by salt &
cold & isolation.
Filed to edge
or, if not those,
by what made you endure.
I know we're
bad luck on boats,
on ice, too humid
for this hoar.
And you hate my pen
your stories. But
I write you,
and that's what love you get,
meted out, doled like rum.
Through line and vowel, my
I'd like to say
for polar work,
that despite my distance
and the tendency of light
over ice toward mirage,
some shape comes through
that both of us
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.
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Table of Contents
Jerah Chadwick Winter Country Introduction Rosemary McGuire Luke Elizabeth Bradfield Eight Years Legacy Roughnecks and Rakes One and All, the Poet Speaks to Her Subjects, Polar Explorers Correcting the Landscape Creation Myth: Periosteum and Self Remodeling Concerning the Proper Term for a Whale Exhaling We All Want to See a Mammal August, McCarthy, Alaska Martha Amore Geology Susanna J. Mishler Anniversary at the Evening Cafe Poem That Begins in Address to Nikola Tesla and Ends Up Offshore Hemispheres 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 Aubade 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 Here Alyse Knorr Fact-Checking 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 Trespass Indra Arriaga Fragments Pedazos In the Bay En la Bahía There was a time, she said Hubo un tiempo, ella dijo 19 Crescent 19 Crescent Egan Millard Mondegreen Agni Koimesis Vacation Zack Rogow The Voice of Art Nouveau M. C. Mohagani Magnetek Creep Shhhh-Be-Quiet Shelby Wilson Misread Signs Fireweed Leslie Kimiko Ward Nest 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 Breakers Laura Carpenter Mirror, Mirror Kate Partridge Model 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 Legacy Returnings Lesson of Bread A Sense of Direction Stove The Life to come Mei Mei Evans Going Too Far Works Consulted