A debut collection from an exciting new voice in Alaska poetry, Overwinter reconciles the natural quiet of wilderness with the clamor of built environments. Jeremy Pataky’s migration between Anchorage and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park inspires these poems that connect urban to rural. This duality permeates Overwinter. Moments are at turns fevered or serene. The familial and romantic are measured against the wildness of the Far North. Empty spaces bring both solace and loneliness in full. Past loves haunt the present, surviving in the spaces sculpted by language.
|Publisher:||University of Alaska Press|
|Series:||University of Alaska Press - The Alaska Literary Series|
|Product dimensions:||8.70(w) x 6.00(h) x 0.30(d)|
About the Author
Jeremy Pataky is vice president of the 49 Alaska Writing Center. He divides his time between Anchorage and the town of McCarthy.
Read an Excerpt
By Jeremy Pataky
UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA PRESSCopyright © 2015 Jeremy Pataky
All rights reserved.
The land is made from five parts: shelter,
mountain, ground, and lake. — Nigel Peake
are nothing like barns
nothing like stone huts.
The land is made of glacial flour
and fossilized rivers. The shelters
dissolve back into ground.
Mountains deliver water to the lake.
The lake is new. It shrinks and grows.
The life is made from five parts:
shelter, mountain, ground, lake,
and ash. Shelter, mountain, ground, lake
and lack. The trees don't line up,
the river braids tangle and untangle.
Structures of shelter, here,
don't last, are forest
and creek bed, are gone.
Are old foundations, former bridges
hollowed into ground.
The structures that are shelters, now,
are warmed by fires fed
with wood reclaimed from piles
of structures that have fallen.
Structures of shelter, here,
are drums for rain
played to an audience within.
MANUAL LABOR IN THE ERA OF DELINQUENT WEATHER
We arrived without boats
by way of the ramped-up violence
of a road's frost heaves,
the dilemma of organizing
a road's river stones in low winter water.
We filled the open space
with rescued cables and timbers
before activating through networks of chain letters.
The inferno embers resuscitate.
The cavern we carve is the cavity
aching up into a yardage of spruce smoke,
sudden scratch of a felt pen, a woman behind sunglasses
calling yellow-rumped warblers in
And if the river began
to gnaw out of its habits,
if it threatens the foundation
of the homemade bridge,
could stacking stones one at a time
have convinced it otherwise?
We put forth our sweat faith
and will accept the inundation to come.
WE WERE EXPLORERS ONCE
Ice breaks up each spring —
the ocean and rivers grow teeth
and lose them, place them
under pillows of fog
lose them to drifts of warmth
in the coldest, killingest depths
where small, edible whales
move like clots through a bloodstream,
where their shadows in the shallow seas
are vaguely alive, and vaguely something else,
the shape of old ships, the footprints of old explorers
tromping crabwise through some imagination.
To what end did we venture
out of the old world
to the endcaps of earth,
shelterless, wearing comely myths
we couldn't dream would become truths
up at the globe's neckline?
If our wants are trivial
our best wars are tussles,
our worst weather is rime on road signs,
breath off the water in the morning.
THEN TO NOW
You fret and wring each minute
into being, all cataloged
in long lists amid laughter
and phone-light, the rinds
of friends' aftersobs, their silent blessings.
You slim into a resemblance
of tunnels, tree bark,
last year's cranberries fermented
in the woods by the cemetery.
Are you the precise hour you think you are?
Do you squander the spoils of your prizefighting?
I regret nothing but encounters with you
because I left my last family members
loneliness articulating a flock of waxwings
hungry for red, seedy berries.
Are you the gray world
or the red berries swallowed into birds?
Are you the stark branch
charming it on behalf of nighttime?
In this rebuilt warehouse storing historic dust
we ate the most recent meal in ten thousand meals.
Now the house is skewered by a stovepipe.
Now the blanched flowers fold every petal tight.
We battered dandelion heads, ate them.
Today a green inchworm, inching,
inched along my stitched arm.
REASONS FOR A LONG STAY
Know that others wrestle
with the truncation of the home's compass,
know they calibrate their compass needle
into the declinating metals
of one another, and be the reefs
of their could-be calamities, charted on
on a sheet of graph paper.
Tease sound out of a habit
of winter listening and
stroke a stuffed owl's beak.
Register the ascending synthesizer
of a Swainson's thrush and stay carelessly asleep.
To quiet down out on the deck, full night ablaze,
bulbous moon insignificant, drink
and speak to strangers. Imagine a cobweb
relating air temperature, flood threat,
distance from home, duration of camaraderie.
Deciding, derided, fall to sleep reading by handheld light.
A creek cures quiet,
slurs out the unsounding day of pursed lips,
leads by example, barrels without straining,
stresses what sickens into it, slats the platted bluff,
wrests birches into itself,
rockfall clatter subliminal beneath,
birds calling out their spring needs.
Creek makes a good fence,
better than stone piles, centuries,
a field, bones of fish,
woodpiles, lichen one day
wrapping a cairn into place.
Silence at a creek is daylong,
days long, swollen and uncrossable.
A creek can make a good fence,
neighbor to nothing, grumbling
in darkness through which its erosion
and clatter is just audible,
trees toppling over the steep bluff, into water.
A creek thickened into one channel
tries to braid itself,
is a torrent that seeks to shallow and calm itself
beside me here, living, unfenced, the leaves
patching away the sky and weather,
the nature of this tin roof
as leaves, grown just since middle May,
amplify winds and muddle the water's murmur.
I come from those who trim unseemly branches,
who edit for horizons, lake views.
I climbed trees and cut them down,
got caught in their fine crooks dizzyingly high
then worked my way back to earth
and felled them for the fireplace.
The waver of opaque smoke coughed upward.
My grip has been sticky with pitch
like my calluses, my clothes.
From my grandfather's basement,
cement wood room
with a trapdoor to the outdoors,
a hydraulic log splitter, my own axe,
a pocket knife, the dog eyeing birds.
I'm my own axe, a woodpile.
Fires bundled, left on the stoop.
If one loves trees one almost loves
the self, also almost others?
We nailed birdhouses to trees
and watched birds through windows of our house.
We kept wooden matches at hand.
Fire was our crackling
iteration of a plan to go on
and on we meant to go.
It's morning in the lower west
where you retreated and seasoned in.
And summer heat is a snow slope
where you dug out a hibernation cave,
you landscaped the arid valley
with the rivers passing through,
you drove treelineward with the sunroof
open to the first rain
as birds pummeled the voices of DJs —
drops leap but not free of the stream,
and I shed layers.
The sun grazes close and
ice is linoleum in the valley.
Water magnetized water
and the town held you and your orbit
became a ceremony of trying to go, waterborne,
on out, anonymous, common.
Leave the power lines and wires,
leave behind ditches aspiring onward.
Aspire, break free.
I was the only one going anywhere.
Gravel pelted the underbelly
of the vehicle. I squinted into brightness and
went out from there where you are.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF LANDING HERE
All the phone calls clotted a hum in my inner ear.
And every walk became a thick pencil underlining the same
three newspaper sentences until the paper shredded.
Every vine-ripened song throbbed
into airspace toward fighters looking for you
deckside on your friendly aircraft carrier.
How enticing, the glance you flung
like a neighbor tossing a pail of water onto a house fire.
Signal the birds in then jump.
Twirl your orange sticks like sparklers or hurl them.
How enticing, your good harmonizing,
your tambourine jangling in the back of your rickety pickup —
turn off your turn signal and sing,
something like the note you left on the table,
take the alley home and park cockeyed on the yard
and know this: I am inside pitting your feral cherries.
I am forwarding each piece of your mail.
THE PARTICULARS OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
Jets descend past me
into a pastel town sky
and disappear as stones
sink into water. Mallards and teal settle
on the slush slough of a half-frozen river.
I remember your strangest idea,
the tune slip of your voice under nerves,
common hair growing from your body,
the yellow of grasses under melted snow.
I can guess your altitude,
the airplane window framing your dreams.
You're no given and I have belittled
the habit of correspondence with distant
friends who travel to relish
home water out of a tap.
There's a man in the village
watching the strip your plane will know
and he is the poisoner
of dogs, wolves.
Gaze fraught with gales,
he gillnets the swum awe
of our homing instincts,
dragnetting sea vents, the soft
tissues of your body
which are, I imagine,
the brightest aquatic creatures
inside the opaque gut
of the ocean.
COUNTING DOWN TO A DESTINATION WITHIN BLISS
This valley is a cusp of staying,
this river is bridged and the vertebrae
of the bridge forms a catwalk of metal.
We have more bridges than rivers
in this town of not-quite-giving-in.
This town of every time I try
I hear erosion,
town of the flood,
town without travel.
You can wear the rivers with your eyes,
look between your feet,
another reinhabited nest, a den,
a lodge, real estate, unreal.
The rain makes
a child's broken xylophone
of the tin roof.
The cabin door is open
toward a mountain
obscured from view
by leaves and weather.
I sit with a photograph —
somewhere near the vanishing point
I see myself, exposed
by a horizon
that I sit on like a wall.
I picked sage in the sun
from the bluff by the river
while the engine idled —
it dries, hung in the cabin,
and the cabin smell
includes rain and coffee
but not sage.
Rain makes a motion-stop
sound collage of a campfire
burning bubble wrap.
If this cabin were your ear
I would whisper the names
of every road we drove
to get to the end
of the near-most road.
We wore raingear and rubber boots.
We were incensed with communal living.
We coveted favorite spoons.
The rain sings cat tongue licks of your memory.
The sound tastes me, rough and clean.
The river has swollen, and there's no way to know
which tree will fall off the far bluff next.
You leak into this moment
though you are near saltwater, the city,
are you this water emerging
from the rock levy, are you
the dry bed filling
with pieces of the gray river,
was I the sound of unseen boulders rolled
in the river's last flood?
HERE WE ARE
I listen to every voice I left to be here
repeating the last little words I heard.
I am a pathway out of them.
Why won't they write.
When was the last talk.
I am back in my body, nearly,
I am on the way here by a new magnetism
reminiscent of early, pre-industrial
gravity and cloud shadow,
pastoral landscapes uncanonized by oil.
We paint ourselves with silt mud
without decorum or devotion.
This fallout is a residue of sweat
and our curtains were torn down
and soaked in paint thinner.
We flip the calendar,
enamored with rain on the cabin window.
We may or may not be in this together.
We may or may not remember this tomorrow,
though the story will pass on and on and on.
FIRE IN THE SUCCESSION ZONES
A bee pollinates the fireweed's top blossom
untroubled by mirrors reflecting anything.
I reflect nothing but the light glinting from your skin.
And by the lagoon, in that sun, I could foresee
missing you, the day of the bakery and bicycles.
Your house in the city
sheds rain into streets, the streets
shed rain to sewers. The glaciers grew
from the talismans of their own
homemade clouds, and I live someplace
quietly and well, and the thought
of you is muffled by the hum of this creek
flowing endlessly and loud,
silty, then clear again, and small planes blaze by,
enough intrusion to hollow out this silence,
you are inside it,
you are inside this, aren't you,
aren't you the density of this burning forest's smoke —
the fire line singes the river.
You sweat but your feet are in cold water,
our bodies are in the noise of the river,
in the noise of burning, we're burning,
we're burning, you're burning this down.
Excerpted from Overwinter by Jeremy Pataky. Copyright © 2015 Jeremy Pataky. 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
Manual Labor in the Era of Delinquent Weather
We Were Explorers Once
Then to Now
Reasons for a Long Stay
A Brief History of Landing Here
The Particulars of the Built Environment
Counting Down to a Destination within Bliss
Here We Are
Fire in the Succession Zones
From Here You Seem a Braided River
Contemplation, Composition, Interpretation
How the Mistress, Distressed, Insinuated Herself into Place
After This Life
Address from a Far-off Hill
The Smallest Ice Age
Thumbnail Spring Song
Sky Behind Weather
The Wild Dead