About the Prose Garden

“When there’s uncertainty, when you’re looking for meaning beyond this world–that takes people to poetry. We need something to counter the hate speech, the divisiveness, and it’s possible with poetry.” — Joy Harjo, the first Native American U.S. poet laureate

Here in the Prose Garden, we grow stories, prose and poetry to inspire, featuring fresh perspectives, close-ups, close calls, cluster-flucks and koester-pluck, all with a good watering of beautiful contradictions and terrible word plays. Let’s explore the entropy of parenting and life in Southeast Alaska, true tales of venturing off the beaten path, crossing borders real and invisible, and living beyond the imaginable.

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” — Toni Morrison, 1931-2019.

For a parent, there’s only one other day as dreaded as Halloween, and that’s School Picture Day.

I know are probably thinking, What could be more terrifying than having to sew the perfect Minecraft Enderman outfit in time for the Halloween candy crush, only to be followed by red dye psychosis and a visit to sugar crash hell?

Halloween, meet School Picture Day.

Picture day is usually the fourth or fifth day of school, when children are still struggling to get out of bed early and choke down cereal at ungodly hours of the morning. Parents are writing to-do lists for their to-lists as they field back-to-school emails, teacher classroom requests, kids’ lunches, and yell at their children for the eighty-seventh time to brush their teeth, eat their breakfast, and get dressed.

So to further complicate the struggle of getting your offspring ready for school, now you have to get them all pretty and handsome and out the door before they spill cereal milk all over their fancy picture clothes. Which brings me to my daughter’s hair.

My daughter’s tresses are much like her personality: unruly, stubborn, and full of potential! Without attention they form dreadlocks, as they do every night during her sleep. Brushing them only makes her hair frizz up like a dandelion weed. But with love they can transform into the perfect victory curls.

So being Picture Day and all, I let her choose between a bath or shower, so I can wash, condition, and comb out her hair. She just woke up, so naturally she thinks this is a terrible idea. I go through the list of incentives: gum, gummies, pick out the song in the car… One sticks and I don’t have to resort to more threats. After all, I’m starting to sound like the wicked stepmother.

After running her a bath, washing her hair, and combing it out, it’s time to get dressed. Of course she doesn’t like her clothes. She wants to wear her Elsa dress instead! More incentives and threats ensue. For what return? A cute little picture I can stick on my fridge.

Sure, it might just be a small little picture. But what the DINKs don’t understand is that this picture represents my energy, effort, patience, and good parenting skills — all things that don’t come naturally to me, and have taken many years to hone. Now every time I look at this picture of my daughter and her perfect Shirley Temple curls in her miraculously unstained pink dress, I feel like a damned superhero.

This is why so many parents snap pictures of their children and post them online. If you could only see the work that went into getting them dressed, keeping them clean, feeding them, getting them out the door, and maintaining their health, you would totally understand.

Do you think it’s by accident that they still have color in their cheeks? That is from years of disciplined reading and listening to parenting books, articles, and podcasts; teaching myself how to cook and coax my children to eat a balanced diet, to get decent sleep at night, to exercise in nature, all to lovingly and effectively persuade these impulsive, opinionated little humans to do what is best for them. 

And when it all works out of course I’m going to take a picture! Not only are my children still living, they are thriving! And here, ladies and gentlemen, is your proof. You see, photos of my children looking healthy and doing healthy things is often the only documentation of my success in raising them.

As a parent, we don’t ever close a sale, or pass a test, or get a raise, or a good evaluation, that says “Hey, Mom you’re doing OK!” Parenting is the biggest slog imaginable. Every day, every month, every year that goes by, how do we measure our success? Where is the evidence?

So I take photos of my kids. Photos that one day might actually turn into photo albums, to remind me that I gave it my all as a parent, I took my kids to the beach,  we picked blueberries in the rainforest, we made plays (literacy, y’all!). I took them to concerts of all genres, made art!

The proof, as they say, is in the Insta-update. Or whatever.

Go, parents! Keep posting those awesome photos. Your kids look great.

The first five minutes in the Behemoth weren’t good. On first smell I could tell something wasn’t right. Then something in the truck caused my hyper sensitive lungs to react, and suddenly I needed my inhaler. 

On our first corner we climbed a small hill, and our flatbed Chevy Cheyenne work truck slowly putted up the incline, chug-chug-chugging as hard as my lungs. After the hill we finally hit 30 MPH and the rig started hiccupping down the road. Hop-hop-hoppity hop like a bunny rabbit. My husband started laughing. I was starting to have serious doubts that I could make it the full 320 miles while involuntarily head-banging and gasping for breath. My lungs that had oft landed me in the E.R. felt like they were being crushed by a garbage compactor. You see, we were going to travel the Golden Circle from Skagway to Whitehorse, then finally to Haines for the SE Alaska State Fair. A trip we had done once before, albeit in my old car. 

Five minutes later (which felt like thirty), we arrived at the ferry terminal. Late. It was 5:15 A.M. and plenty bright outside. This was, after all, Alaska during the summer. Getting out of the rig I noticed the lettering on the door read “Quality Asphalt Paving”. I was breathing in creosote! That explained the funky smell and asthmatic reaction. “Maybe I should get a snorkel and breathe out the window,” I joked.

Ten minutes after that I lost my voice, which would not return for the rest of the trip. Guess I wasn’t going to be entering in the singer-songwriter competition at the State Fair, or singing along to my guitar around the campfire.

We met up with our friends on the early ferry ride, and after seven hours we unloaded in Skagway. The creosote-saturated rig chugged 20 mph down the busy main road, and soon we started the ascent through the pass that was so foggy you could hardly see the white camper towing a white car with no brake lights ahead. The thick air squeezed my lungs even more. I rolled the window all the way down and tried to stick my head out, and my daughter strapped in to her car seat behind me started coughing. 

“You are the most sensitive person I have ever met!” my husband reminded me, which did nothing to alleviate the pressure on my lungs. I couldn’t respond because my voice was gone and the loud truck engine drowned out my whispers. Which I’m sure my husband appreciated at the time.

It’s too late to bale out now, I thought to myself. There was no cell service, hospitals, or even pull-outs. We climbed higher and higher through the steep mountain pass that paralleled the Chilkoot Trail, where many a miner lost his hopes and dreams — and a few lost their lives — on their way to strike it rich in the Yukon.

Those men and women that came to Alaska to find gold, those were the rugged, the hardy, the fittest, the dreamers, the hopeful, the swindlers, the fools, the brave, the brawny. People like me did not come. The truth is that I would have died long ago back in those days, first at age one when I came down with pneumonia, and again at age four when my asthma landed me in an oxygen tent for a week. Yet here I was, chugging up the pass in the untested Behemoth on its maiden voyage as we traveled around the Golden Circle of yore. 

We finally made it to the summit and on the downhill crossed in to Canada after stopping and showing our American passports to the Canadian official. Once we got off the mountain the air cleared, the sun appeared, the road leveled and straightened and we could pick up the pace. With speed, the Behemoth stopped jittering and Jason, my husband, cracked his window to let in a cross breeze. My lungs relaxed a little with the breeze, although my daughter’s coughing worsened. I quietly started plotting my escape from this toxic truck… I would take the kids with me, fly back to Juneau, as soon as we got to Whitehorse. Jason and the Behemoth could find their way back on their own.

Once we got to Takhini hot springs, my lungs had stopped barking at me and I almost forgot about booking a flight home. Instead, I noticed the beautiful white and black aspen trees. Looking closely one could see their magical eyes. The trees see all…

(To Be Continued…)

Many strange things occurred in that house. First, the toy radio spoke to me, although it was missing batteries and a plug-in. Then came the ghosts. 

The crashes woke me up initially. Loud, booming sounds, like a jet overhead, except it roared in spurts. Is it thunder? It never thundered or lightning’d in the rainforest of Southeast Alaska. 

I looked outside through the round porthole my dad salvaged from a ship and installed in my room for a window. There they were, a tall entity of fire beside a short, squat moon-like blob, making their way down the rocky beach towards water’s edge. Just a few more houses down the Tlingit had carved their marks on the rocks thousands of years ago.

I awoke my little sister next to me, who heard the crashing noises, too. Together we cowered like frightened animals. I knew it was futile to tell her to look outside – they were already gone. But she remembered the scary crashing noises, until her rationalizing mind erased it. Then no one believed me. The ghosts tricked her.

So many strange things happened in that house that after a while it was hard to tell if they had actually happened, or if I had dreamt it. Dreams can feel so real. 

One time lying in bed, I woke to see a ghostly cupid strumming a harp, and from out of the door a thick arm was reaching, fingers crumpling in as if to clasp something, finding nothing, opening again like an anemone to repeat its useless exercise. 

Later, I awoke again and realized my family was downstairs; I could hear them laughing in the kitchen. My mom was making pancakes. Running down the stairwell I was met instead by a cold draft – they were all gone, the living room and adjoining kitchen left dark. Death and fear had banished all sunlight and joy. They had left a while ago. This occurred often.

My mother, who I adored, left me on many occasions. Through the sobs I would beg her to not to go, and I would wake up crying. I don’t know why I had such vivid frequent dreams of being abandoned — it’s not like I was neglected. Sure, my mom worked part time and left us with terrible babysitters, like the time I was five and my sister and I ran away from one particularly mean one, tottering through deep snow down Fritz Cove Road with my little sister on my back. (The sitter didn’t come after us either.)

I had so many nightmares that I experimented with different sleeping positions. I discovered that if I slept on my left side my night mirrors came less frequently. So I tried this, but they would come again, and I would wake up on my right side. 

Nightmares, or “night mirrors” as I knew them, spawned from a magical mirror that resembled the one the evil queen commanded in Snow White. But perhaps they really were night mirrors that reflected my worries and fears. I prayed to God, I ate less pickles, but yet still they came, the dark harrowing mirrors of my psyche.

I discovered in my nightmares that I could save myself by doing one of two things: I could fly, or I could die a self-imposed death. Flying sometimes didn’t work; in these instances I’d look for a way out, either jumping off a cliff or drowning. Dying meant the dream was over, and if lucky I would wake up. But I could never allow the bad guys, the fear, to catch me.

I tried to teach myself how to wake up during a night mirror. One time I force-woke myself up, only to realize I was still dreaming – or was I? To double-check I touched my eyelids with my actual, physical body. They were still closed! 

When I didn’t have nightmares I dreamt of flying. Sometimes I soared over the kids at recess, the ones who were stronger and faster, the ones who laughed at me, who were my best friends then out of blue for no given reason stopped talking to me. That felt wonderful. Sometimes I flew clutching a zip-line, holding on desperately, pulling and pumping my body to escape the bad guys who chased me on land. Sometimes I would rocket up too high, too fast, into the stratosphere. I was out of control. In a panic I would try to come closer to earth and slow my speed, but then I would find myself above waterfall drop-offs in sheer terror.

I had so many dreams of flying I thought for sure I had been a bird in a past life. I thought that perhaps I was the chosen one who had already seen two ghosts and heard God on my Barbie radio. I could be the first human ever blessed with the powers of flight. 

So in my grandfather’s guest room where I lived during weeks out of the summer, I looked in the wooden mirror and prayed to God to let me fly, please just this once, to let me be a bird again, to escape the fear and my insecurities and the laughing kids and the race-winners, to please let this weak thing with only talents for feeling to fly just this once, because the only other option was to be consumed by the darkness that awaited me in my night mirrors. 

I crawled on top of the skinny bed, looked at myself in the inert mirror across the room, and jumped.

Down I thudded onto the hard wooden floor. 

Try again. 

Again! Please, God. Just let me fly, just this once…

Again and again I descended, feet thudding hard onto wooden floor.

I tried and I tried, and I tried again, jumping with all my might. Just this once, please God, let me fly!

After twenty or so tries, I gave up.

Sitting on the bed I gazed at her in the quiet mirror, a pale girl with hair the color of fire, skinny neck and tiny shoulders, eyes swollen with allergies, who wanted to fly away, to not have to face them: my grandfather (“you don’t play to have fun, you play to win!”), the kids, the shame, and the night mirrors.

So when my mom asked me if I wanted to do a high school exchange, I grabbed ahold of a zip-line in white knuckled fists and coursed away from the rebels who didn’t accept me into their tribe and the jocks who called me “a freak”. I flew to another world.

When I jumped out of an airplane everything looking so small and insignificant, little dolls and toy houses I could play with. I flew like a rocket towards the earth. 

When I rap battled in Canada, words and thoughts flew like a missile on point. I was in charge.

And when I built a business in Costa Rica, we flew over windy, misty mountains roads every weekend to buy provisiones to the soundtrack of AC/DC and Rushpast lush coffee farms that emit smells of delicious coffee beans, past cars on blind corners, praying to the wooden cross hanging from our rear view mirror to live. I spiraled up higher and higher into the stratosphere, deliriously out of control.

Then I met a man who on our first date flew me on his Honda CBR 600. We popped wheelies, flying at twice the speed of reason, and within a year I married him and bore him a son. Time flies, too.

And when I gave birth to my son my heart soared right out of my body, caught a warm thermal, and dove right into his.

And then I taught him to fly.

Art by Jane Terzis

June lupine blooms
Cocoon Juneau in hues
Of lavender and blue,
Cormorant and loon attune 
To swoon of spring —
None are immune.
Whispers rise and fall
Soft like balloons
Under the loom of moon 
In full bloom.
Soon strewn throughout, 
lupine seeds commune,
Leaving clues to ruminate
On what once grew 
Under lover’s rune.

Photo by Jessie Herman Haywood