Sunday Oct 22

SutterBarton Barton Sutter is the only author to win the Minnesota Book Award in three different categories: poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. His most recent collection is The Reindeer Camps and Other Poems (BOA Editions, 2012). He has written for public radio and often performs as one half of The Sutter Brothers, a poetry-and-music duo. He has had three verse plays produced and was recently featured in Pretty Much 100% Scandinavian: Saga 4, a documentary by the Swedish film company Camera Q. Barton Sutter lives in Duluth, on a hillside overlooking Lake Superior, with his wife, Dorothea Diver.

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Tussocks


Right here on the edge
Of memory and everything
That matters most,
My father leads me from
His father’s house, where
Old people speak Swedish
I can’t understand, and
Here we go, in gloves and woolen jackets,
Up the hill and slanting down
Across the stubble hayfield
Into trees and through
The spooky woods, emerging
At the marsh. Ducks
Explode from yellow grass
And startle me. They fly away,
And everything grows quiet
Once again, more silent
Than before. Quack.
Quiet, quiet, quiet—quack,
A fading sound, far off.

And now my father says
We’re going to cross the marsh.
But how? There’s water,
Splinterings of ice.
He points out
Bumpy lumps of grass,
Like little islands.
These are tussocks.
You jump from hump
To hump, and so
We hopscotch
Cross the marsh,
Frightening and fun.
Towards the end,
I slip. Icy water
Sucks my foot.
My father grabs my hand
And swings me to the land.

We climb a grassy rise
And stretch out, warmed
By morning sun, bare branches
High above. He tells me
How he came here as a boy
With brothers, who are uncles
Now that I’m the boy,                                                           

And one of them is dead (the war),
To watch the wildlife below.
And there! A flock of wood ducks,
Extravagantly colored, coast
Back home and curl the water as they land.
Years from now, I’ll find
His penny notebook with the drawings—
Duck and mink and rabbit—
And excited scribbling, drifting smoke
Of how the turning seasons
Burned with meaning then.

I don’t know too much
This morning on the hillside
Since I’m only four or five.
It will be half a century
Before I learn third-hand
That just a few years earlier
My father woke to find his friend
In the foxhole next to his
Hacked to pieces in the night,
Reported that attack, then joined—
This peaceable and loving man—
His captain’s group
Of volunteers who hunted
Down that Japanese patrol
And killed them, every one.

The world is full of dangers,
But I’m ignorant this morning,
And we’ve crossed the swampy spot
On tussocks, as I’ll cross the world
Throughout my days, remembering,
Deep down, beneath awareness,
How to find this sunshot hillside
Where a faint perfume of woodsmoke
Drifts like incense on the wind
And my father snugs me to his side.





A Nice Little Tavern in the Woods
for Jack Hickerson


You talk about
Your ethnic animosity,
There was a guy—
This was when I was a kid—
Was a Finnish guy
Had a nice little tavern
Back here in the woods—
Just off the curve,
Right back in here—
And he was a Finn,
A Finnish guy,
And he was death on Russians.

You go into his bar—
Nice little bar,
Log cabin place—
And order a vodka,
He’d throw you out.

Beyond belief, I know,
But that’s the truth, that’s it:
You go into his bar
Wearing anything red,
He’d throw you out:
“Out! Get out!” he’d shout.
“No Russians allowed!
Goddamn Commie bastards!”

We laugh about it now,
But I don’t know, but
Maybe he’d lived in Karelia,
Maybe they took his family’s land.
Maybe they killed his cousins.
World War II, you know.

That Finnish guy.
“Out! Get out!”
Lots of innocent folks were surprised.
Remember how they used to wear red
Instead of orange
In deer season?
His business didn’t do too well
In deer season back then.