Friday, August 26, 2016

Lockie Hunter

The Curls of Giaconda Belli

I dream Giaconda Belli braids my mane;
weaves in flowers from the Malinche tree.
My hair a halo of word and orange flame.

Her world a vine-ripened poem, the forest frame,
We sit, baked into stones, far from the sea.
I dream Giaconda Belli braids my mane;

She tosses red curls for me to rename.
The Sphinx moth, Devil’s Viewpoint I see.
My illusion a halo of word and orange flame.

My turn. I begin to weave her name.
My fingers catch on morsels of words and bounty;
I dream Giaconda Belli braids my mane;

Fingers snag on nouns, trip on verbs aflame.
Her curls resist the brush, wedged on debris
Her hair a halo of word and orange flame.

magia, madre, pueblo, quiero reclaim.
Why would you try to separate them from me?
I dream Giaconda Belli braids my mane;
My hair a halo of word and orange flame.

Lockie Hunter
Lockie Hunter is a recipient of a 2013/2014 Regional Arts Project Grant for poetry. She holds an MFA in fiction from Emerson College in Boston and has taught creative writing at Warren Wilson College. Her words have appeared in publications including Hiram Poetry Review, Slipstream, Brevity, Nerve, Gulf Stream Literary Magazine, The Baltimore Review, Main Street Rag, New Plains Review and Arts & Opinion and her satire has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Opium, The Morning News, University of Pennsylvania's Problem Child, and other venues. She serves as curator of the Juniper Bends Reading Series and Stories by the River, and as associate producer and host of the poetry radio program Wordplay on 103.3 FM in Asheville.

Photo credit: Nikki Moon

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ann Bauleke

The Littlest Feminist

My mother Mary turned five years old on April 5, 1919, one month before Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote.

Ann Bauleke
She grew up the oldest girl, with seven brothers, on a Midwest farm, where, by 1919, the Great Depression had already begun. Thus, birthdays were celebrated with a homemade cake on a glass pedestal plate, but no gifts.

Until her fifth birthday. The sounds of the barnyard rode the wind into the house.
The birthday girl had only ever owned dresses made of flour sack prints. Never a coveted, store-bought frock. But you wouldn’t know it, the way she eased her fingers under the dress box lid. Serious as the line of bangs across her forehead, she lifted the lid, tossed it aside, and peeled back the folds of white tissue paper.

The light blue fabric matched her eyes and perfectly distinguished her raven hair. Where the rounds of white collar met, a dark blue scarf.

She took the dress by the shoulders, and held it high. Below the hemline, a ruffle of bloomers.

As if she’d grabbed a fist of thistles, she let the dress drop.

She jumped from the chair, turned on her heels, and walked off. “Pants,” she said, “are for boys.”


The morning after the Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton as their candidate for President of the United States, I checked the New York Times “Style” section to see what the fashion experts had to say about Hillary’s celebratory pantsuit. “Why Hillary Wore White,” by Vanessa Friedman, connects white to the suffragettes pictured in all white—dresses, hats, gloves, and banners reading “Votes for Women.” Ann Bauleke is a writer living in Minneapolis.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Nickole Brown

Nickole Brown

This poem is a collage of answers I slowly pieced together to resolve the burning, sometimes embarrassing questions I had when I first started dating women later in life. It is arranged as a list of those answers, but I've intentionally left out the original questions to each one. My hope is that certain readers dealing with a similar transition will recognize what the different sections are answering and find comfort (if not a little humor and heartbreak) in resonating with each one. I'm looking forward to participating in the Queer Girls Literary Reading in Asheville later this month, and may share it there as well. It was originally published in Bloom Magazine.
Ten Questions You’re Afraid to Ask, Answered


The first time? I thought myself an infant, rooting the breast for dinner.  You too may feel the seamless press of your body to a mirror,

the smudge of your own skin a ridiculousness that need Windex, and quick.  Embarrassed, I asked to be taken home,

but in the car was the bright green of her dashboard lights burning
the clean color of go.


Years before. I even admitted it once to a woman that later sent me poems
about hummingbirds

dipping their beaks into feeders full of cocaine dissolved in sweet,
red water.


Finally came summer, my summer of plain clothing—unironed and cotton and bland—nothing afraid

to get dirty, nothing afraid to be slicked with mud, the forest coming off in a happy heap
on the tent floor.

It was the summer I allowed myself to be bitten enough that the welps rose but dissolved back by bedtime; it was the summer I finally said

come, mother mosquitoes, my reddest blood is ready for your young.


Stupid things, mostly.  That’s how I wasted most of my worry—dumb-ass questions that do not matter.  Who should open

the door?  Who to pay for dinner?  Who to lean in first with whose hands braced strong to the jawline? Who in the tie, who in the dress, and what about all this long, long hair? 


Consider this: a woman’s pH is between that of wine and bread. An imperfect leaven, the kind of crust that betrays the softness

inside.  Cooled to the heat of your mouth, its sweetness dipped in a dry red, the aftertaste of that one oyster you had

from the other coast.  You were slightly repulsed, but then the fisherman pulled it straight from his bucket for you, cut it free

with a small, curved knife.


You will miss it.  Not the man but the normal
the man brings. 


Unfortunately.  All the time.  In the grocery, a mother swung her arm to corral her daughter behind her, protecting her from us—the contagions behind. 

We were hurt, but we stayed in line; we waited our turn.  We smiled at the child peeking from behind the thick coat, and because it was a good day, we felt a little sorry for the mother.  In our basket was red tomatoes and yellow peppers, a riot of greens, the unbelievable brightness of

all we had chosen.


The strawberry is a fruit unshamed of its seeds.  Make no mistake how it is textured
as the tongue.


Thirty years old. 


Too late? Perhaps, but only when you think of evening, the song full and crickets volleying the trees,

the sound from one side then the other, a saturation that can carry the young
down the black river of who they think they should be. 

Think instead of morning.  Not the thin monotony of weak light, but that low, constant pleasuring of the air

that doesn’t try so hard but simply tips your ears
with light. 

Nickole Brown received her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, studied literature at Oxford University, and was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. Her first collection, Sister, was published in 2007 by Red Hen Press, and Fanny Says came out from BOA Editions in 2015. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for four years until she gave up her beloved time in the classroom in hope of writing full time. Currently, she is the Editor for the Marie Alexander Series in Prose Poetry and is on faculty at the Writing Workshops in Greece and the low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Murray State. She lives with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs, here in Asheville.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Nancy Dunlop


Gold Girlfriend is crust brushed with yolk.  Dough after baking.  Pliant in her muffin-muffled skin.  Yeasty and growing and thus quite living.  She a humble muffin rolling o'er the plains.  Near and far flung all at once.  If you don't bake her she will expand up and out and so she is both "bake me at once" and "don't fence me in."  She under steam.  She expansion.  Subtle aeration.  Breathing in a bowl of her own choosing.

Mustard Girlfriend changes hue to match her nerves.  Some days light pink mustard all bright and there on the sandwich in the salad outside on the picnic table linens.  Other days clouded over.   Emotions purpling through her face.  Full flower furling at evening.  Love in there deep set.  Not dislodged.  Eyes dimming brownward.  Inscrutable shutters. 

Pink Flax Girlfriend is named "being outside all the time."   Her hair is pale baby hair and see-through.  Sometimes yellow like hay straw.  Sometimes clear filament.  It tinkles like thin glass pieces tied on string clinka clinking in wind.  Pink Flax Girlfriend is really bunny.  She is Watership Down.  Her face is white with big pink pressing through.  Her eyes are shallow blue morning. 

Green Girlfriend has changed her color.  Before she was Grey Silver Girlfriend the color of city.  Now there's still silver but it's green brown silver.  Like deer fur changing color sometimes mossy sometimes tawny.  Always moving kicking up things.  Her coffee has just a little milk in it, twirling up from the bottom.  Green Girlfriend calls herself "Forest Green" but I don't think she's right.  No moss grows on her stepping stones.

Orange Girlfriend.  And indeed.  But not loud look-at-me orange.  More, an orange with a douse of red—to deepen—bring to substance.  Orange Girlfriend is not tiny or tight but of a piece and all filled in.  Though different than (strictly speaking) the pure sun, she might be certain sunsets over water when there is no wind and your boat relaxes.  A sun simply liking the cool stillness.  Not minding that this moment will end soon.  Orange Girlfriend is fire at rest.   

One Girlfriend is more sound than seen and so this hesitancy of color talk in regard to her.  This Girlfriend a series of swamp sounds.  After-heavy-rain-sounds.  Leaving-no-time-soon sounds.  How to say.  This woman puddly mud.  Webbed feet suctioning from mud—that type of plap of sound.  This thick wet more than brown.  She brown but more.  All colors having lost their boundaries in brown.  The slickest depth of green.  Something old here.  The age of old rain.  What might be moss or aging ferns but isn't.

One Girlfriend is not girl she's woman.  One woman would pull in and harden a moment when called girl inadvertently.  One Girlfriend who is this "woman-only" is buff.  Pearl.  With the slightest dust of pink.  A bisque cream all over.  But porcelain free of crackles.  A tall cream in scarves and fine shoes.  The name of her type of becoming is "buds of chives at point of opening."  The initial fraying—part bud, part sharded, part pink, part rose.  This woman at dusk.  In mist.  Through gauze.  Through increments of weather

Nancy Dunlop
This poem is part of a manuscript entitled, Rebuilding the Meteorite.  It was written at a time in my life when I was prolific in poetry, and therefore I was in close relationship with Language.  I was lexically limber, and words poured out fluidly.  This poem is close to synesthesia, sounds and images blending in my head in a glutinous manner.  I imagined my closest girl friends as vibrations, which turned into colors.  I remember each woman with affection and still see them as colors. 

Nancy Dunlop is a poet and essayist who resides in Upstate New York, where she has taught at the University at Albany.  A finalist in the AWP Intro Journal Awards, she has been published in print journals including The Little Magazine, Writing on the Edge, 13th Moon:  A Feminist Literary Magazine, Works and Days, and Nadir, as well as online publications such as Swank Writing, RI\FT and alterra.  Her work has also been heard on NPR.     

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Jessica Jacobs

In the Canyon II (Fear/Breaking)

[Abiquiu, NM; June 2, present day]

Sun lavas over the cliff lip into my first full canyon day while I watch from the marsh of residual night.

When put in touch with the priest who’d lived here for each of the last three Octobers, I’d written to ask how much food to bring, what other supplies.        
She’d replied with two questions:

What is your experience with solitude?

How are you girding yourself for this time?

At a sound like a Cessna, I turn to see only a hummingbird.

Pressure builds in my chest.

I’ve felt this before,
but only when confined—
in a cave’s crawl-length, in a crowded tent. But here,
nothing but space,
               but air—for me, for a month, alone.

Knowing the root of anxiety is anxere, to be without breath,
I inhale. I try. But breath
is a strangler fig, a ribcage tourniquet. My hands and feet grow honeycombed, carbonated. The dog barks at something only he can see. I ache for a return to bed, for the child’s comfort of sheets overhead—If I can’t see this day, it can’t see me.

Rifling books at random, I find:
God, at Creation, poured light into vessels. Unable to contain it, they shattered and fell.

Tikkun olam: Jews gather these shards to repair the world.

But there was a second shattering, a second type of repair:

Tikkun hanefesh, repair of the soul.

Inherent in brokenness
is breaking open—the ability to hold more than when whole.

How much will I hold when this is over?
--First appeared in Cave Wall

While working on Pelvis with Distance, which is an autobiography-in-poems of the artist Georgia O'Keeffe, I spent a lot of time in the high desert of New Mexico, reading through O'Keeffe's archives and hiking and camping in many of her favorite places to paint. Once that research was complete, I found a primitive cabin way out in the desert in Abiquiu, in a small private canyon where my nearest neighbors were a five mile hike away. There was no electricity, no internet, and no phone, and in a month of that deep solitude I was able to write a poem a day and complete my book. It was simultaneously one of the most terrifying and most wonderful things I've ever experienced. This poem is part of a sequence that grew out of that time.

Jessica Jacobs is the author of Pelvis with Distance (White Pine Press), winner of the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry, an Over the Rainbow selection by the American Library Association, and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and Julie Suk Award. Her chapbook In Whatever Light Left to Us is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press. An avid long-distance runner, Jessica has worked as a rock climbing instructor, bartender, editor, and professorand now serves as faculty at Writing Workshops in Greece. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown. More of her poems, fiction, and essays can be found at

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Emily Hansen

Patrick:  A Portrait

He said he knew women,
understood what they wanted.

He was quiet, an artist.
He wanted to teach children.

On the third night of college, one a.m.,
He took handfuls of my grey dress.

His dark hair matted in curls against his forehead;
this is what you want, he said.

He touched my spine, his fingers on bone
like the striking of a match.

He pressed me against the concrete,
cold and white. I could not breathe.

After he finished, I reached for
my shift, my underwear.

He wrenched them from my hand
He threw an afghan, with pink tulips

and sunflowers across my body
and walked away.

Later that year, with hundreds of women
he marched to take back the night.

I wondered how his hair
looked, beaten by wind, how many girls
touched his hand, thanked him.

He said he knew women,
understood what they wanted.

The Earth Was Still for Her

Hands clasped around an arching womb,
flesh strong and taut against prickly fingers
seeping cactus oil, she is the desert
waiting for waters to leech from stretched skies.

With each moan the landscape shudders and is still.
Her breath is her child’s compass. The desert
knows a universe in its feldspar, in the quaking quartz
and mica that shine on her arms, the stone of her flesh.

The pygmy owl perches and the gila woodpecker
sop up the fetid air in sandstone feathers,
they crown her with a violent flourish of wing.

The air does not move as she reaches for this new
creature, the limp shadow, bloody in
her arms.  And another love becomes the crust of the earth,
welling and dense with our children.

I wait for new paint, new canvas
to stretch my body and douse me in fiery liquid.
I am the landscape, the ebb and flow of earth.

Emily Hansen grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains and collects old cigar boxes. “The Earth was Still for Her” discusses the idea of cycles.  As a painter and a writer, she combines these ideas to create poetry that is vivid and painting-like in its close up perspectives. This poem attempts to tie the earth with the body and discusses loss as a part of the human experience. 

Emily’s poems have appeared in WNC Woman, The Appalachian Anthology, and Aberration Labyrinth.  She has also published an historical research article in a mini-magazine through a project for West Asheville, funded by New Belgium Brewery.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Shelley Marlow

Notes in Kyzyl 

As a kid I played games such as: pretend you are dead as you drift around the crabapple tree in the back yard; pretend that the stone footpath in the front yard is a walkway through outer space; we ‘ordered’ groceries off a 250-year-old stone post that doubled as a TV screen from the future in our minds. Indoors, we imagined that we were on a boat in a cave while only on a bed. I wanted to roam the world to find a true flying carpet.
Shelley Marlow
As a tree worshipper in my art school ‘Religions of the World’ class, I was fascinated to read about Siberian Shamans who traveled into inter-dimensional space through the roots of trees. Years later, when invited to a month long writers fellowship in St. Petersburg, Russia, I thought to continue my travels further east to meet shamans in Siberia. The idea of traveling on to meet shamans appealed to my desire to go to the edge of Western civilization and then jump off that edge. I thought of Russia as strange not only from what I knew about Russian art and history, but from my own familial Russian ties. I still do not know enough about my Jewish great-great grandparents’ pony express in Russia that was closed down after one relative had printed political tracts against the czar.
From what I had read online about meeting Siberian shamans, I was under the impression that they would require me to sing… to help them decide if they could trust you or possibly as a way to read about your life for you. To prepare, I practiced a few songs and wondered what song might pop into my head at the moment, possibly a Beatles or a PJ Harvey song.
Homage to Shepherd
I contacted someone named Mergen via email at while still in New York. Mergen would host me in Siberia and told me about one route to get there, with a flight to Novosibirsk, then a twelve-hour train ride from Novosibirsk to Krasnoyarsk, after which you catch an overnight bus, then take a 6 hour taxi ride. This route would all together add up to a three-day journey. An online advertisement suggested there was a non-stop flight from St. Petersburg to Tuva. However, the airline’s only airplane, a Yak, was out of commission. My friend Dan had traveled to meet shamans four years earlier to Kyzyl, the Dr. Seuss-ian named Siberian city in the Republic of Tuva. He said the shamans helped to heal his serious illness. Dan suggested that I would find my way there once I was inside the Russian Federation. He gave me prints of his photographs of the shamans to deliver to them.
I found Siberian Airlines in the last week of my time in St. Petersburg, with flights over the Ural Mountains to Novosibirsk, which is half way to Tuva. I tried to get a seat on an overbooked flight on Tuvaskya Airlines from Novosibirsk to Tuva. I suggested that they ask for a jump seat, where the stewardess puts her luggage. On my way from their office, I stopped in front of the St. Petersburg Ethnographic Museum, to talk with a guy in a coat made of a familiar yet unrecognizable material. He told me it was salmon skin leather. I dropped by Siberian Airlines a few hours before I was to take off and they had found a seat for the second leg of my trip. They said over and over again, “You must transfer to another airport once in Novosibirsk, to connect with the flight to Kyzyl, Tuva. You must transfer to another airport. You must transfer.”
Do you know the way to the Republic of Tuva
Every time I closed my eyes on the 11 pm Siberian Air flight, I drifted back to another late night party with the other writers in St. Petersburg. Sounds and lights blurred together with my friends’ smiles in close up, then all disappeared as in a dream or on an astral projected tour. The flight arrived in several new time zones, which brought the 4 hour flight to land at 7 a.m. in Novosibirsk. I collected my luggage along with 300 other travelers who pushed and shoved. The cab drivers on the street didn’t understand my broken Russian question about the connecting airport for the flight to Kyzyl.
I let that go and sat on a bench away from the crowds and relaxed for a moment and breathed deep. From a distance, I noticed one person in the crowd that I was certain would know how I can get to the other airport. I walked up to a black haired woman and asked, “Kyzyl? Do you know how I can get to the other airport to catch a flight for Kyzyl?” Then I moved one hand as if it was an airplane that took off from my other hand.
The woman said, “I am from Kyzyl.” She was shocked that I found her among the throngs and gestured to imply: that she waited for the plane from “Moscow” to arrive with someone expected. She would drive this person to the next airport for a flight to Kyzyl and I could go, too. At least that’s what I thought she said.
Kenin Lopsan
From behind me, I heard English spoken. I turned around to find two conservatively dressed Americans from Utah who said, “We do not speak Russian but you could borrow our NATO translator.” They pushed a man in a suit towards me, I read his name tag that included the words ‘NATO Russian Translator.’ He translated the black haired woman named Olga: “I wait for my niece. Once she arrives from Moscow, you can join us as we drive to my apartment, eat breakfast, and take naps. Around 1 pm, we will drive to the other airport for the plane to Kyzyl. My niece must get on the same flight.”
While we waited for Olga’s niece to arrive, I talked to a 6’2” white haired NATO guy from the Czech Republic, who had also arrived on an overnight flight. He complained that he had to give a speech at 9 that morning. I talked to him about how to conserve energy. He appreciated my advice and as the NATO group gathered to leave, he said to me, “Let’s go. Come on, now.”
I said, “I’m not in NATO. I’m on my way to Kyzyl, Tuva to meet shamans.”
He waved his arm insistently and said, “That doesn’t matter. You are with us now. Let’s go!”
I was at a crossroads: Do I continue on to meet shamans in Kyzyl or go to a NATO meeting in Novosibirsk? NATO or Shamans. Shamans or NATO? I chose the Shamans.
At Olga’s place, we had a conversation and passed her Russian to English dictionary back and forth, and with her kids, who attended summer school to learn English.
Olga asked, “How do you feel that you are a woman who travels alone, aren’t you scared?”
I said, “Yes.”
Olga said, “Though, you must be magic. How else would you find me, the one person from Tuva in the crowd of hundreds at the airport.”
I explained, “That was only the magic of observation since you were the only Asian woman in the crowd.” We laughed. Later, her husband drove us to the other airport for the connection of the Tuvaskaya Air flight to Kyzyl.
On this flight, I did have a small seat that the stewardess used for her luggage. I met my internet contact Mergen at the airport in Kyzyl, Tuva. Mergen was slight at 5’7” with a large dark circle over the cheekbone below one eye, which I thought was a bruise from a barroom brawl. With a tape of Abba’s Greatest Hits blasted through small car speakers, Mergen sped through solitary highways that curved through the Steppes, then over and along the Yenisey River. Stretched thin from my travels, I inhaled the vastness of the Steppes.
The Russian government shut off public hot water during alternate summer weeks, so Mergen offered to drive me to a banya. I expected to go a bathhouse with hulking sweaty Russian women in towels, somewhere within the tall buildings of downtown Kyzyl. But instead, we drove to a nearby village with one-story houses and stopped at a brown house with green shutters where his large brother-in-law lived. In a shack in the backyard, the brother-in-law had built a fire under a water barrel, where they left me alone. My mind wandered back to Olga who said, “Aren’t you afraid to be a woman who travels alone?” For a moment, I wondered how anyone would know what happened to me if I was murdered in that little shack in the middle of Siberia. Tired and sweaty ~ I disrobed. I found pots of cold water to mix with the heated water, soap, and shampoo. My fear and stress were washed away. Once dressed, my feet found the mud and grassy back yard. Mergen invited me into the main house for tea and cookies.
Some things had been lost in translation online in my dialogue with Mergen. Mergen wrote that the local hotels sucked and that I could get an apartment with internet and breakfast for $20 a day. Which turned out to mean that I would stay with him and his family. Their living room was simple with blank walls, a hand painted table, a couch, and bookshelves. Mergen’s wife put together huge breakfasts with blinis, fresh fruit, cucumber salad, and tea. Russian gangster rap blasted out of Mergen’s adolescent daughter’s room. She came out to watch the grrrrrl superhero Sailor Moon, from Japan, on TV dubbed in Russian.
Mergen’s wife showed me a photo album that included a photograph of his foot where he’d lost two toes from frostbite. The ‘bruise’ on Mergen’s cheekbone that I thought was from a barroom brawl, was also from frostbite. His wife and kids laughed when they saw the photograph of his foot. They laughed at each other’s suffering, which unnerved me. The average winter in Siberia is minus 27 Celsius. Mergen acted as my translator. Whenever Russian police were nearby, Mergen whispered, “Pretend to be a Russian person and do not speak English.”
Shamans Nadya and Oolya Ool
I showed Mergen my friend Dan’s photographs of the shamans. He phoned a few people who led us to find Nadya at the Dos Deers/The 9 Stars Shaman Center that had a few rustic brown wood one story blue trim and dirt floor buildings, a yurt, and a banya. Nadya had a long narrow nose, broad cheeks and black hair in the photographs. But her hair had since turned white. The three of us sat at a table inside of the yurt. Kind and open faced, Nadya told me that one of my grandmother’s was a shaman, even though she didn’t know it. She also told me that I am a shaman. She offered to teach me how to make a shaman’s coat.
I read Nadya’s palms outside, as we sat on a log. As a palm reader, I get visions over physical reality, then translate these visions.
Nadya gave me a jaw harp as a gift, which she didn’t know how to play. I tried and couldn’t make music either, as a rugged wiry guy with sensitive eyes walked up to us. His head was shaved except for a long braid in the back. His name was Oolya Ool. Oolya put out his hand and took the jaw harp, and then played a very fine, clear song. Oolya played a resonant rhythmic melody that vibrated in his throat, chest and head. Nadya looked deep into my eyes, then pointed upwards to the sky to one hawk. Then several hawks joined that hawk and made wide circles above us. The group of hawks floated close above. Two of the hawks sped into the center of the flock, then gently smashed into each other in a joyful dance. When Oolya stopped the music, the hawks flew away.
Kenin Lopsan
The next day, Mergen and I met the Republic of Tuva’s figurehead shaman: Kenin Lopsang, in his office behind the local Ethnographic Museum among 3000- year-old moustachio-ed carved stones. I waited outside of his door for the right moment, since Kenin had a reputation as temperamental from several journalists that wrote about him online that he yelled at and chased away. He welcomed me in. I gave him the photographs of himself in a green robe taken by Dan Asher. He invited me to take more pictures of him and to choose what he would wear. I picked a purple silk robe and a purple hat decorated with snakey shapes. He flirted with me and flashed a triumphant smile, and asked if I would be his young girlfriend.
Kenin stood in front of a bookshelf full the volumes he wrote on shamanism. Also on the bookshelf was a sculpture of a tiny horse and a demon; a bottle of vodka; a tape recorder; letters; and other papers and a calendar. He gathered shaman’s stories and songs in secret while he survived interrogations by the secret police of Stalin.
Over 700 shamans died in Gulag prisons. Buddhist Temples in Tuva were destroyed and broken hearted Buddhists fled the city, some lived in caves.
After 1989, Kenin organized the usual solitary shamans into a supportive Shaman’s Society. Kenin suggested that I work with a specific shaman. Mergen called that shaman on the phone to set up a time to meet at the Shaman Center.
The next morning, we met the shaman, who turned out to be Oolya Ool, who I’d met a few days before and played the jaw harp.
(more about Kenin Lopsan:, and another Shaman site:

Oolya Ool
Oolya spoke of how he first met Kenin Lopsan. He walked down Lenin Street outside of the Ethnographic Museum, with his son. Kenin ambled towards them with his head down, until he stopped right in front of Oolya. Then Kenin popped his head up with a startled expression in recognition and surprised Oolya, too. They hugged. Kenin invited him into the Shaman’s Society to get shaman assignments.
Oolya Oon told of how as a nine-year-old, he had climbed up an invisible ladder. He climbed in mid air in front of other children, who were frightened and ran home.
Soon after, he fell ill and was untreatable by medical doctors. Oolya described a busty shaman with deep-set eyes, dark thick eyebrows and a prominent nose, who took him home to heal. She returned him fully recovered to his parents after three days. She told them if he practiced shamanism as a young man, then he’d have a short life. She predicted that he would be safe only if he waited until he turned 36. He said could read auras at 24 but didn’t fully become a shaman until he turned 36, which coincided with Perestroika.
In 1620’s, the Russian government fought over territory near the border of Mongolia. Miles long tea caravans and herders dominated the then dirt roads that connected Mongolia with Siberia. After Perestroika, former herders picked up where their ancestors left off, to herd horses, yak, cattle, and reindeer. Soviet’s claim on Tuva melted away, Tuva’s newer officials chose to stay part of Russia. Around 2005, the Russian government defunded Tuva’s local television news and tourist board without explanation.
Oolya Ool read my future with stones. He arranged stones into sets of twos and threes and then into rows in a square. He invited me to go with him on a road trip to take care of a recently deceased shaman’s tree. But I had to pass since this trip would start the day after my rare flight home. Instead we set a date before my departure to have a ritual so that I could learn how to read the stones.
I had one more photograph to deliver to a gray haired shaman with delicate eyes and hands named Goncherov. Goncherov had a reputation as a great storyteller and said he would tell me some of these tales on my next trip to Tuva. We were invited inside of his scrappy house, where he constructed shaman’s drums that were sold in Sweden. We drove Goncherov for a ritual to a sacred site called Beaver Springs. Tough bulky men exited as we arrived. Goncherov put on his shaman’s coat made of animal skins, strung with bells, ribbons, a bear claw, multi-colored woven strands, and a dark blue wool panel in the back dotted with stars. A felt and feather headdress was on his head. He laughed loudly on that summer day about how hot it was inside of his shaman’s coat and boots. A Russian family’s disapproving gaze let us know that they considered us a freak show(that I was happy to be a part of). A healthy and cheerful elderly man bowed with obvious immense reverence for Goncherov.
Goncherov built a fire and offered cheese and flour to the spirits. The flames danced into shapes of spirits. We hiked up a hill to a tree at the source of Beaver Spring. We tossed milk in the four directions, just like some Pagan and Native American rituals. I tied a prayer silk on a tree branch and meditated on my father who’d died a few years before. Back by the fire, I removed my glasses and Goncherov relayed messages from spirits with helpful information such as that I should wear a little bit of red daily to put off aggressive people. After I placed my glasses on again, colors and the landscape appeared to be more vibrant and clear.
I rested in the passenger front seat as Mergen drove us up to the Shaman Center door. Nadya met our car and with a sliver moon smile, reached in the car window and gave my arm a squeeze and pressed her fingertips on my heart center right after I thought about how much I liked her. Nadya had other work to do before our visit and introduced me to another shaman who was from ‘Tiger Mountain’. While other Tuvans share eight of nine kinds of DNA with Navaho. The people of Tiger Mountain have DNA completely in common with Navaho.
Nadya was ready, I followed Nadya inside of the yurt for my lesson in how to make a shaman’s coat. Nadya had a wand that she gently slapped against all of her joints counted 13. She told me these points are also open chakras that are connected to the heavens, too, not just the crown center(on the top of your head). She also said that 13 is a great number.
Nadya drew the details of a shaman’s coat and explained that the 9 metal stars correspond with the planets in our solar system and that Tuvans have been aware of astrology and astronomy for centuries. There were eyes on the coat as well as on a shaman’s hat. She told me about various skins, fur and feathers. Braided fabrics and ribbons represented pathways to the spirit-world, as well as water, fire, air and earth. I remembered a bundle of ribbons in thousands of colors used for divination by a witch that I met years ago.
Nadya had invited Dan, my photographer friend, to stay year round, but he didn’t want to experience the intense Siberian winters. He mentioned that a patient of Nadya’s hunted and brought to her a bear in the middle of one winter. When I tried to confirm, there was a communication breakdown between Nadya and Mergen, and her answer implied that she did not do anything out of the ordinary, or illegal.
Oolya Ool
On Saturday evening, Mergen and I hung out at the local café across the street from a building that used to be the home of the KGB. Some women friends of his spoke English and one said they wanted to about move to America where they might meet a, what they called, ‘a liberated man’. One of the women, a psychologist, spoke in low tones like the cartoon Russian spy Natasha from Bullwinkle, and the other was a historian. I remember when I had my picture taken with them, I was so comfortable that I thought I was Asian, too, until I saw in the photograph. We went to their apartment to drink Tuvan vodka made with deer antlers. The deer antler gave the vodka a clean dirt taste and mythological properties. Mergen ranted about how Americans had elected an idiot president (bush). The historian braided my hair, showed me her family albums, and affectionately pressed her hand against my lower back. Then word came out that Mergen had told them that I was his girlfriend. I told them this wasn’t true. The psychologist screamed at him in Russian for 20 minutes until I insisted that we leave. We arrived at 2 am to his wife who smiled at the door, and kindly offered us dinner. I graciously refused and headed to my room. Drunken Mergen was impressed and shouted, “Shaman Woman!”
My last days in Tuva
Oolya Ool requested that I go out to a remote area of the Yenisey River to find 41 stones to read. Instead, Mergen wanted to go to the big park in the center of town. We wrestled with words for a while, exasperated, until I figured out that he wanted more money for gas to get to the remote area, which totally made sense, and I agreed.
On a gorgeous day, I collected smooth black stones along a remote area of the Yenisey River. After, Mergen led us up to the top of a nearby mountain with sage plants that grew next to miniature gold bark birch trees straight out of the Arabian Nights. We could see horses that grazed on the summer greens and nomads with a herd of sheep on the foothills miles away by the Yenisey River.
On my last day, Oolya Ool taught me how to read the stones. We performed rituals in four locations, north, south, west and east. Before we left Kyzyl, we shopped in a large indoor and out door market for thin Buddhist scarves to tie on branches of a sacred tree, small bundles of dry cedar.  
Mergen drove to us out of town to a nine-foot round boulder that marked the center point of Asia. Oolya found sparkled sugar cookies shaped like like Russian dolls from a nearby tea stand. We prayed and then tossed milk on these doll cookies on the boulder.
Oolya said to think of my immediate circle of family and friends and to say a prayer for them. I prayed for everyone that I knew. Oolya told me to increase the circle, saying a prayer for my neighborhood, which I did, and felt my heart expand. We drove in the opposite direction, and performed a ritual at Beaver Springs. The final location was in a delicate grove of trees where horses and a colt grazed quietly. I was asked to include everyone in my city and my country. And then similar to a Sufi meditation, to extend prayers to this galaxy and to whole the universe. I tied a yellow scarf on a tree branch next to other’s slips of cloth, some with prints of horses or flowers, and some, rags with prayers handwritten in pen.
Oolya suggested that energy and spirits inhabit the stones. He said the spirits approved and that I could learn to read them. We took into consideration the shapes of the stones, which stones sat together, and what these relationships mean. Mergen and I took fast notes and then Oolya performed other rituals so that people would believe me when I returned home.
As we drove on a bridge, Oolya Ool thanked the river below. None of the shamans had asked me to sing, as I had expected. But the windows were open and I sang into the wind and looked up from the car window. Again, several hawks circled closely above us, then crashed softly and easily into each other in an elegant dance. The hawks followed the car for a long time.
This piece originally appeared in the St Petersburg Review, issue 3, 2009.   
All photos by Shelley Marlow except the portrait of Shelley Marlow by Alice O'Malley.
© Shelley Marlow 
Shelley Marlow is the author of Two Augusts In a Row In a Row (Publication Studio, Portland) 2015. Marlow's writing and visual art is found in several publications including LTTR (Lesbians To The Rescue), alLuPiNiT, an environmental magazine, Drunken Boat,, and the St. Petersburg Review. Marlow’s paintings were recently exhibited at Artmarket Provincetown and Valentine Gallery, NY. Marlow wrote the lyrics to the musical, UnKnot Turandot, La Mama Theater, NY; and presented an interactive project, International Witch Stories in the Italian Pavilion for the 48th Venice Biennial.