The Sleepless Crow Wing

In the heart of a broad track of hardwood forest, on a bend of the great Crow Wing just north of Motley, I made a campfire. The night was bluish, foggy. The sliver of moon barely eking through the inert gush of moisture. A sigh recoiling across the pale.

The fire I made of scrub oak and jack pine. You get the fire going with dry oak leaves and jack pine kindling. Then you lay on your jack pine logs, and that will usually go up like a roman candle. Jack pine burns fast and hot. After that you get her good and coaled up you can throw on a slab of scrub oak or two. If the coals are hot enough, the oak will take quickly too. If I wasn’t concentrating on writing, and thinking more about the quality of this fire, I would have gone down for some driftwood elm at the river’s edge. But I won’t. Tonight, mostly jack pine will have to do.

A gaggle of turkeys are skirting the edge of the forest around me. They come from the north, from a young spruce grove, and then follow the river bottom west. There are fingers of islands on the north side of the river, the bank that I am camped on, and it’s this side they seem to enjoy. Perhaps it’s the acorns. The fertile, insect-filled soil. I don’t know much about turkeys except that they are silly birds. Of course wise in their own strange way- their sheer numbers and adaptability to new environments can prove that. But if you hang with the turkeys long, you get the sense they are perpetually shitfaced.

Ten years ago it was a rare sight to see a turkey on this river bottom. In fact, for the first half of my life, I don’t remember hearing a word of the bird in the jack pine forests of Central Minnesota. Now it is a common sight to see meandering packs crossing highways almost anywhere in the state. The gaggle that has been waddling through this river bottom is at least forty birds strong. I counted on afternoon with a friend. You see, turkeys are not sneaky birds, and nor are they hard to sneak upon. There are hunters who will deny this fact. They will tell you that it’s simply not true, that the turkey is a cunning and illusive animal.  The truth is that the turkey is a bumbling bird, a clumsy bird, and a daydreamer. I have observed these traits in the turkey for years now.

My neighbor pack is ruled by one enormous Tom. The bastard wanders with his huge plumage unraveled, his glorious red gobbler wobbling, his neck erect and his eyes furious. In this way he walks about his tribe of luscious turkey vixens, his forty-some feathered geishas that he apparently gets free pick of whenever he chooses. And what does he give in returns? It must be protection.

The human male cannot imagine the life of a male turkey.

The fire burns low quickly. Stirring only patches the gaps. Fixing requires work. More oak to make the night. Superheat the coals before I fall asleep.

I don’t usually use a tent when I camp. Unless it’s going to rain, I don’t see the point. The chances of being eaten by an animal are about as good as being struck by lightning, or less. The weather in Central Minnesota in the spring is fairly predictable (there are always vicious exceptions to every rule in Minnesota). But just to be certain of my safety, I will often bring my trusty old shotgun for protection. It’s an ancient bolt action, but she’s as reliable as any gun ever made and she bucks like a damn mule and sounds like a formidable cannon. Any sane living thing would stand down at the sound of a simple charge of seven-and-a-half shot into the leaves. But bears can be sick.

More to the point, some people can be sick.

Coyotes purl through the willows and the elm at the other bank. They yowl and yammer through the night, from the first hints of sundown to the first hints of sunrise. There are nights when the band on the south bank will begin the eerie chorus, and suddenly there are yammers to the north of me. Like happy ghosts. Pranksters in truth. It does not take long to hear the bizarre humor in their songs. The way they do not fear the darkness and somehow rejoice in their own chaos, in the chaos of the river and the Crow Wing’s long and winding course.

Before I fall asleep, I often hear the echoes of a train whistle, and a barn owl in the oak above my head will answer it. As if the whistle is somehow a question posed by machine, a question asked to a machine in its lonesome transit and the owl whispers the reply onto the drifting wind but that whistle is too loud, and no machine will ever hear the answer over its own racket. It will disappear into the night and go drifting on the southern rim of the Crow Wing. Asking forever, wailing, splitting the soft abyss of the night. The river, on the other hand, is loud and boisterous on most nights. Woodpeckers get restless against the trunks of rotten oaks, gangs of coyotes taunt each other most nights from across the river, turkeys wander like drunkards through the dry leaves, otters splash and play in the shallow pools, and somewhere a wild cat screams bloody murder and stalks the darkness. I never feel quite isolated here. It’s a busy neighborhood, to be honest, and like New York, it never seems to sleep.


Wave Goodbye, Waves

under the royal star

she raked her fingers through earth

bone on bone,

calm as the lake was calm

so that no one could speak it,


who built this basalt cliff?

this Precambrian universe at the verge

of the north,

where you can smell the world

like a city stench

or place polluted

and to go back seems




she picked up two pieces of

igneous art, and tossed them

into the water of two hundred rivers

two thousand streams

she was old;

gray hair

and decades here

someone put their hand on her


told her, “don’t be sad anymore,”

but the sadness would stay,

and the falcon flew

splitting a sunrise into

mirror equators

of fire,

marooning her soul,

a little.


could she be different this time

how it would affect her in ways

that grounded her, held her

head towards the sky, where

dark spires only scraped

a brittle ionosphere,

pavement whispered threats

and billboards said the opposite

of what they meant

and everyone knew enough people

that one could be replaced

like a tire, or upholstery


no human could replace that,

she fathomed, and in that sense alone

staring at the void of sea


timelessness became tangible

apparent, bald as the cliff face

braided like cedar bark

she was among it now

nothing could replace

the sorrow

Star Harvest

harvest the stars

to sugar bush moon songs


at the verge of no one knows

teach the child

say old things to her

to him too

carry on like

white pine brother

coyote sister

pretend into the world

a peace again,

wildness, stout

chaos. chronicle

follies, where victory

may shine over

tragedy, but

let tragedy ascend


in child eyes

imagine into the world

a heart of possibility,

to hear like a drum

in the absence of

wild songs

And Then At Last, She Was Pure White

I knew this girl. From down the road. She was very bright, and she had a laugh like a hyena, and the sound of it would rise through the old oaks at the park at the center of town and send birds exploding into the sky. Blotting the heavens. As if every time she laughed a child released its small balloons from its red and pudgy knuckles. Watched them disappear into the unknown parts.

I watched her go out into the world and she had brightness all over. I tried to tell her, “no one wants to see people bright anymore out there. Must you go?”

She refused. She said she was brimstone. Wrath was all she knew. Not bright.

“Wrath?” I said. “Is that what we’ll call it now?”

Girls can be so cruel. She was pretty enough for them all to hate her. And part of the issue was that she loved men. She saw good in them. She liked the girls that hated her. Boys made her into a monument to something I wouldn’t describe to her but I understood. I told her, “don’t go preaching love. They’ll crucify you.”

“Nihilist,” she accused.

“Realist,” I corrected.

Soon she could see the beasts too, though. At first the sensation was fleeting, she told me, it made little sense. Just flashes of some other world in their faces. Some other alien race transposed over this.

“Like that movie,” she said. “With the glasses.”

“Get out now,” I told her. “Retreat to the hills.”

“But what is there?”


“And nothing else?”

“Perhaps in truth you may find everything.”

“But won’t they crucify me for that too? For truth?”

“Who is they? There is no they in the hills.”

“You’re not being realistic at all.”

“Your brain is beautiful like a forest after a storm. Things are broken but others make homes in the blowdowns. The rain can’t hurt you, the wind only strips away the dead skin. Scrubs you bare. Virginity is a soul thing, sex has nothing to do with it. It’s society that fucks you.”

“They say that sex is everything.”

“I thought that was truth. Truth is everything.”

“You said that, yes.”

But she never went to the hills. I didn’t expect her to, no one does. And soon they were everywhere. Cretin things, creatures that fed on obliteration. On raw quivering blood pools. She told me once she felt like they were sucking out her her-ness. That they were slowly taking every rock that made her solid. Removing her foundation. And they said it was in the name of Transformation.

“It’s called brainwashing,” I said.

“But they said that what I was was brainwashed. That I’ve already been brainwashed, and they’re fixing me now.”

“Can you wash something that has already been clean? When you started you were clean. Maybe you’re dirty now, but you’re the dirty that you know. They’re grooming you. Taking away the grime that makes you clean in your own eyes. And trust me, when they have finished cleaning you, you will be dirtier than you’ve ever felt and you will not know yourself again.”

“How do you know? About me?”

“It’s the same with everyone. I know these vultures. Come back to the hills. To the dirt that is caked under your fingernails.”

“I’m strong, I can bear it.”

“The world itself can’t bear it.”

She wrote me a letter the other day. It was a piece of herself. A piece of porcelain. It was polished white, as pure and snow-white as anything ever was. In the right light it looked Oleander. There was no return address, just this chunk of her that had no name and no identity. But it was pure. I put it on my shelf and drew all over it. I drew stick figures of the things that she used to be. Her family doesn’t recognize her. But they don’t recognize themselves either.

Yesterday I woke up and the moon was rising with the sun. Everything had a holographic glare. I saw that there were cords attached to the heavens and that we had conscripted upon the seas the internet of things. People were in the bays hoisting towers of shimmering electricity. Skyscrapers of lightning. They were certain it would end our trouble. Where is the trouble? I asked my neighbor. Where is it? My neighbor said, All over the world. Are you blind? I said, Yes, that must be it. I am blind. Thanking you for pointing that out.


copyright Taiga Quarto 2017

featured image by Emma Katka. copyright Emma Katka and Taiga Quarto 2017

check out Emma’s work at


Ghosts of Gull Lake

Protect your spirit, for you are in the place where spirits get eaten.

-John Trudell


Went driving north

north of Pillager,

old lands of Hole-in-the-Day

around the bluffs

of Old Gull Lake.

truth is,


I am a white man.


out a dandruff windshield

skeins of sun

there is the land of red clay

orange clay

iron in the blood


ghosts eke through FM stereo.

they pull the steering wheel.


under white pines I stop the car

they were saplings when

East Dakota people

on the move,

buried their dead.


or when the East Dakota and

The Chippewa and

The Winnebago

transfigured into wolves

followed the sun to survive

westward, where begins

the bloody Mississippi.


from the red clay

to the white earth


then we almost killed all the wolves, too.


total silence, for just a moment,

as the forest eclipses the beach

to tease out the memories

draw out the ghosts

for precious little moments

feeble as sheets of mica.


abruptly the lakeshore is revealed

and of course


I am a white man:


great whites washed ashore

giants squids of industry

blubbery and viscid where they

belch oil on the beach

leave rainbows on the wakes

comes out their pores

satellite security systems

golf courses tailor-fit to fat asses

tailor-fit to democracy, the Imposition,

genocide of a thousand colors

ancestor portals and caribou;

passing mansions on sacred hills

where manitou woke yawning to

machine amoeba, gaping mouths

paralyzed myths where they lay


resorts crop up, shoot roots through

tombs to kings;

history is as dead as the bison

as gone as the white-skinned First People

to the north-


even though they too had blue eyes


And so it is known

that what these resort homes

ranches and cabins

four story symphonies of death

spread over seventeen acres of rape

with water slides and daycares

pontoons and Potlatch

what they want to kill is not a pigment

they would like to kill something living

kill the Manitou

they would like to kill the Chippewa

they would like to kill the Dakota


I am white man on a drive

my name is not known to the lake

but ghosts tell me stories

of the white man’s undoing

Manchurian Pageantry


Where the stoicism met mercurial wings,

And tragic circumference of eventuality,

The battered redeemer was calling into pits.

halo of red light

Candles of tallow

Hung on walls of many hopeful iris,

Like great maps of humanity’s color

Illuminated of the boar.

Below the glow the recluse

As alone in this

World, as is the world alone

Among innumerable stars and

Scorched eternal things,

Of which finite subjects populate

The far-flung shores,

Cells that die,

Bones that break.

So swaddle about you your coat of many

Colors, and

empty your ashtray of

Mortal bread.

Recognize the stillness at the center

Of every beast, man, or lady lurks

Manchurian pageantry, so be on your toes

And say nothing quickly.



North Shore, by Annie Johnson

watercolor. copyright Annie Johnson and TaigaQuarto, 2017


Primarily working with watercolor, Annie Johnson has meticulously developed a keen eye for the textures of her favorite medium, and utilizes the almost subliminal effects of those textures and shadows in her works. She often begins with a heavy color wash, and then “carves” until the image is revealed. Powerful depth, texture, and revelation combine in Johnson’s paintings to create a style as unique as the Minnesota landscapes she draws her inspiration from.