by Jeremy Pataky


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781602232532
Publisher: University of Alaska Press
Publication date: 03/15/2015
Series: University of Alaska Press - The Alaska Literary Series
Pages: 60
Sales rank: 769,267
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


Copyright © 2015 Jeremy Pataky
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60223-254-9



    The land is made from five parts: shelter,
    mountain, ground, and lake.
— Nigel Peake

    Shelters here
    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.


    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
    through poplars.

    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.


    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.


    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
    for landscapes,
    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.


    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
    amplifying rainfall
    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.



    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.


    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.


    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?


    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.


    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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Five Parts
Manual Labor in the Era of Delinquent Weather
We Were Explorers Once
Then to Now
Reasons for a Long Stay
Wood Heat
A Brief History of Landing Here
The Particulars of the Built Environment
Counting Down to a Destination within Bliss
Barometric Pressure
Here We Are
Fire in the Succession Zones
From Here You Seem a Braided River
Fata Morgana
Contemplation, Composition, Interpretation
How the Mistress, Distressed, Insinuated Herself into Place
In Review
Field Work
After This Life
Address from a Far-off Hill
Trash Burning
The Smallest Ice Age
Ablation Zone
Thumbnail Spring Song
Sky Behind Weather
The Wild Dead

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