Travis Stephens, a grad of university of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, is a sea captain who resides with his family in California. Recent credits include: Stoneboat Review, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Consumnes River Journal, Apeiron Review, Pennsylvania English, Gravitas, Rue Scribe, Sheila-Na-Gig online, the Scriblerus Arts Journal, HCW Review and Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.
Amy Drives Fast
At fifteen Amy had a crush on a ranger
at Glacier National Park. Freckles
across a sunburnt nose. Her family
arrived in late June, the sedan a
nest of books, clothes, fishing gear,
teenage worry and hiking boots.
The ranger was to brief camping parties
on the back country. Three families
gathered in the log center, benches
made for giants, cold stone fireplaces.
Poison oak and rockslides. Racoons.
Hypothermia and snow in the passes.
How to hang a bear canister. Ticks.
The ranger held up drawings that could
have been done by ten year olds. She
wore a brass name tag that read Brown.
Amy’s father told her repeatedly that
the way to remember someone’s name
was to use it three times when speaking
with them. Amy watched her father raise
a bold hand, stop the ranger from a
riff on blueberries versus huckle.
“Ranger Brown, do we need a fishing license?”
“Pamela,” she answered. “No, it is a National
Park. No license needed.” The ranger held
up a drawing of a thick deer. Elk. Her
wide belt had pine cones embossed in it.
The letters USNPS. Strong.
“Pamela Brown, are all the trails open?”
“As of last week, yes. Some upper lakes
are still iced over.” Someone wearing Disney
oohed. Amy knew enough about ice.
Didn’t need any more snow. She saw that
Pamela Brown had just a lick of downy
mustache, a racoon mask tan of sunglasses.
Take care where you bed down at night.
Some meadow trails are bear trails and
you might be putting your sleeping bag
on their highway. Boil your water. Amy’s
mother was gathering fliers, extra maps.
Porcupines are not dangerous. Where her
hair emerged from her hat the ranger had
streaks of light, split ends. Amy chewed
on a ponytail in sympathy. She tanned
well and fast to where the hair on her
arms became invisible, hair white. Last
night her father had her practice fly
casting with him in the parking lot,
swinging the rod up and back, up and
back, ten to two. Lofting lazy waves
of line into the long twilight, a magic
trick of pause and motion. Her shoulder
was sore today, the new bra strap chafing
new flesh. Pamela Brown wrinkled her nose
when Amy’s father said her name. Smiled
at Amy, a tiny wink.
Three days later they were
eating trout fried on a campfire.
Amy was practiced at setting up
her own tent, a nylon sculpture of
turquoise. She left the rain fly off
so that the night stars were visible.
Her father had joked about rain flies,
coaxing smiles at horse flies, fire flies,
rain flies, what next? trout flies. Chevy
flies, faculty flies and ice cream flies.
One night she heard her parents make love.
Her mother checked, daily, her supply
of Kool menthols. Sunburn like a blush.
Years later Amy would be driving across
Kansas and Nebraska, her pickup an
easy pal, when a local station played
that Tom T. Hall song done by somebody else.
“I’m the guy who didn’t marry
pretty Pamela Brown,” the song went,
“educated, well intentioned, good girl
in our town. I wonder where I’d be today
if she had loved me too..”
Amy turned it up loud. Fields gone blond
with late summer, the freckles of
houses and towns beneath a wide sky.
She was crossing the country for a
new job in a town she didn’t know.
Her thermos was still half full.
By the third chorus she sang along,
“I guess I owe it all to Pamela Brown…”
Amy in the Park
Amy takes her lunch in the park;
she is careful where she sits.
Sun warmed bench or concrete
fountain, depends. Sometimes
she sees children out of school,
the tight knots of girls, elbows,
knees sharp as glass. Boys,
pebbles and gravel, tumbling.
Other times Amy will sit
amid the strollers, listen to soft
voices debate the notion of
a city too clean, leading to asthma,
allergies to circumstance. Peanuts.
Amy thinks of dirt. The miasma
of childhood, clothes on a line.
Toys already loved to pieces when
she got them in brave ceremony.
How much is too much,
how much is never enough.
Today there is not enough mayo
in her chicken salad, too much
celery. Next time, cashews.
Grapes. Unpeeled apple chunks,
raw and dangerous. And salt.
Amy has a vaccination scar
she covers without thinking. She
has been thinking about Native Americans
and how when others—Chinese, Europeans,
Vikings, whoever—crashed their stinking
wooden boats ashore, they sailed
for glory, wealth and for spices to
make their food eatable. Alas,
they found a continent in the way.
Met distant cousins
with a hundred strange tongues
who lived in waterlogged rainforests,
and in arctic deserts.
A plague on them, the sailors murmured,
for not giving us gold, or even a pig.
A chicken. A cow.
Amy might have Native blood, a little,
a twenty-third or less. She has read
that scientists theorize that the
Europeans, crowded, unclean,
have antibodies in their blood from
sharing sickness with livestock.
Born in a manger, perhaps.
Pass it on. Easier to carry than a flag,
a cross or crescent moon. Amy thinks,
sometimes fondly, of her lover.
His humid warmth on cold nights,
yeasty laugh and business-like embrace.
Usually good sex, so a small prick
of conscience; she left.
Split the blanket. What remains,
she hopes, is a phagocyte, Hungry.
A secret immunity in her blood
protecting her from another
handsome, unforeseen stranger