Nebraska Center for Writers

by John Struloeff

They fly down from the mountains
in their high-rise trucks with half-mufflers
rumbling and rattling, burnt diesel
trailing, scenting the air until long after
theyíve passed. It is Friday,
and shortly after you sit at the bar,
numb and sore from flipping sticks
at the mill, their trucks will roar
into the gravel lot, and they will park
at the far edge and slam their doors.
They talk and laugh loud
like veterans of an artillery unit,
and when they push through the door,
theyíre all you hear.
They smell like overheated engines
and moss, and wherever they stand or sit
they shed wood chips and fine dust,
order mugs of watered sap,
tell stories metered in board-feet.

Mondays, after theyíve returned from hidden
lives in houses far in the trees,
they chew their sandwiches in the Mini-Mart,
looking out at their trucks beneath the cloudy skies.
They are trying to remember the trees
yet to be faced, sawed, and felled.
They are still feeling the jump
and kick and hum of the saws
in their hands. Too soon, the crew chief
starts his truck, and as it idles —
the knock-knock of diesel — the others
rise and ease their way outside,
nodding at the young woman cashier.
Their trucks clatter to life,
and they all back away and bump
onto the road, snarling and rasping
back up into the trees.

Reprinted with permission
from The Atlantic Monthly, June 2004
Copyright © 2004
by John Struloeff

from "Wallowa"
by John Struloeff

It was time for Sheena and me. The decision to go somewhere, away, was made finally. We packed her car with our sleeping bags, pillows, and enough clothes to get us through a week. She said we could stay with her cousin in the town of Joseph, in far eastern Oregon, and then go from there. We didnít know where. It was January, and we packed in the numb morning air of the north Oregon Coast, worrying about the weather ahead in the Columbia Gorge, whether we would make it as far as we needed to go. But we went, watching the cold gray expanse of the river narrowing as we moved east, the water darkening under the cloudy sky and rippling in the wind. We passed Portland with its hills of houses and then into the snow — wet and large flakes, deepening the heavy sky into an unnatural dusk. The cars pulled together in a cluster as the snow thickened, and Sheena slowed. Headlights glittered off the tops of cars and through windshields. Our wipers swept the constant snowy flutter away across the glass. Straight east were the Rockies.
Sheena gripped my hand and looked at me, smiling. I hadnít seen such tenderness in her eyes in a long time, and I smiled.
"Youíll love Steveís house," she said quietly. "The walls are hand-cut wood."
I pulled her hand up to my lips and kissed her knuckles.
"Iím so glad he moved up there," she said. Her voice softened. "Itís in the mountains near Wallowa Lake."
"A friend of mine fished Wallowa years back," I said. "He said heís never seen fish like it anywhere."
"You could fish," she offered. "Iím sure Steve would take you."
"No fishing," I said. "I just want to see it."
We were quiet then. The dusk turned to dark, and the snow eased to a light mist. It had been wet snow for hours, leaving the road a gray slush. We descended from a rise, a valley opening in front of us and spread with a wide scattering of lights. The exit signs said Pendleton, and we took the first exit that offered gas.
We kissed carefully after she turned the engine off. I held my hand on her warm cheek, looking into her eyes. She looked back, her eyes a deep brown, an amazing color of darkness like rich earth. Then she rolled the window down, letting in the cold air, and asked the gas attendant to fill the tank. I sat back, closing my eyes.
Six months before, I had driven my Celica off Highway 101 into the Pacific, a stupid mistake that she had taken upon herself to rectify. Until then I had driven her everywhere. I had always felt I owed her, for her tenderness and patience, for her beauty. But when my car was gone, she bought an old Escort and began staidly repaying me, mile after mile. I felt helpless with her giving.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2004
by John Struloeff

from "It Comes Back"
by John Struloeff

The path led from our field into the trees where the morning haze had thickened. I was following my father, watching his boots sink into the mud. He held his shotgun in both hands across his waist, the barrel pointing towards the ground to his left, and as the trail sloped down to where the brush thickened, he began to walk slowly, crouching, his ankles and feet becoming faint in the mist. Ahead, the howling began again, long and steady, distant through the trees. It was a dog we'd never heard before, a dog with powerful lungs. Our own black lab was silent, somewhere hurting, or dead.
I had never been out like this with my father — he had always gone alone when it came to shooting — and I did not know why he made me follow this time, though I sensed he wanted to show me something. He had roused me from bed by rattling my doorknob loudly and then kicking the bottom of my foot. The sky had only begun to light, and I had looked up at him, the hall light shining brightly behind his head. "Come on. Gus is fighting something," he had said, then he had walked down the hallway, leaving the door open.
On the path, my father stopped and turned towards me. "Stay close now," he whispered. "And stand back behind me if I shoot." He looked me in the eyes, nodding slowly, serious. I nodded back.
We stayed on the path, and I handled the knife in my jacket pocket that he had given me before we had stepped outside, feeling the cold, smooth steel of the blade. He hadn't explained what I was to do with it, though he had handed me it and stuffed shells into his pocket in the same motion, and I had felt some sort of duty in this act.

Reprinted with permission
from The Literary Review
Copyright © 2001
by John Struloeff

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