Reading the north

Real Alaskan Magazine: What Is a Real Alaskan?

Jeff Brown ($10)

The blurb: With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the annual publication takes a satirical look at life in the North Land, sometimes so accurately one is tempted to actually believe it.

Each issue (this is the fourth) has garnered praise from current and former residents, as well as people whose knowledge of Alaska is limited to what lies within its pages.

This year's edition can be found at leading bookstores around Alaska, as well as a few shady backrooms, or purchased directly from Brown at or by mail at 214 Dixon St., Juneau, AK 99801.

Excerpt: "Striking Up a Date With Adventure" -- If there's one thing about REAL Alaskans, it's their love of the outdoors and their willingness to take normal indoor activities and put them out in the wilderness. And bowling is no different. It takes real dedication to pack in the ten pins required for regulation games, as well as lugging the dense wooden balls that seem to get heavier as the remoteness of the "lane" sinks in. For diehard players, the harder the location, the greater the challenge.

Leagues consist of whoever shows up. Usual games consist of three to six bowlers.

Scoring is flexible, with points awarded for pins knocked down and subtracted for balls that go off-trail or hit other players.

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River of Light: A Conversation with Kabir

John Morgan, artwork by Kesler Woodward ($19.95)

The blurb: This is a book-length poem that takes the reader on a weeklong raft trip down a wild river in Southcentral Alaska. Bears, eagles, moose, seals, otters and salmon inhabit the poem's world, and the river's shifting landscape of glaciers, mountains, rapids and waterfalls energizes and enriches its meditative mood. The trip becomes a spiritual journey as well, since the poem includes commentary by the 15th-century Indian mystic poet Kabir (pronounced kuh-BEER), who serves as a kind of mentor for the poem's narrator. Kabir often speaks in riddles, but his core teaching is clear: organized religions are useless, and spiritual truth can only be found by looking inside yourself. The raft trip described in the poem took place in 2003, the year that saw the start of the second Iraq War, so the war is on the narrator's mind and becomes a metaphor for his inner struggles. But the main story of the poem is the trip itself, as the river's waves and currents influence the shaping and pacing of its lines, and the wildlife and scenery provide frequent surprises for the travelers.

Excerpt: "The Cosmic Beast"

Over the clouds the air thins, a contrail crosses the sky

and the moon is as faint as this page. I'm lost in the strangeness of travel, unsure

what my duties will be.

All the rails have been taken away that brought the hard wealth from

the mines, smelted down to make steel for our wars. I open my inward eye

and guess where these channels may lead.

When a sudden squall splutters and spits, the river spits back at the sky.

A loon by the bank, flaps spray and gulps down a fish. We move without push or

pull on the back

of the seasonal melt that rocks us placidly like a camel plodding the dunes.

All the streams that flow into the Ganges, become the Ganges, he says.

And I feel a wildness inside, a diaphanous dislocation, as my soul

reaches out toward the heights where the moon finds a new vantage point, winking over the western rim. Having slept for millions of years, Kabir asks, isn't it time to wake up?