Marilyn Stablein

Marilyn Stablein is a poet, essayist, fiction writer, and mixed-media artist whose collages, assemblages, sculptural artist’s books, and performance art explore and document visual narrative, travelogue, and memoir. Her books include Vermin: A Traveler’s Bestiary (Spuyten Duyvil), Houseboat on the Ganges & A Room in Kathmandu: Letters from India & Nepal 1966-1972 (Chin Music Press), and Milepost 27: Poems (Black Heron Press).


Excerpt from “Isthmus”

There is wood for a shelter, for fires. Many small pieces, no need to chop kindling. With my Buck knife I whittle spear points on long sticks, build an arsenal of spears. Matches, of course, I brought.

“Why do I have to go?” I whined. “Can’t I stay here?”

“Shut up! You can’t wait here,” Father said. “Do as I say.” Dew drops slid down his forehead. His wet T-shirt looked like a saggy dishtowel that hung in the kitchen too long. After Mother left, the dishtowels and T-shirts were always splotched. Mice crept into cupboards. She didn’t want to leave. He made her.

They argued. Over money, over a leaky faucet, over runny eggs, moldy catsup, over me, the night business, the moored boat, the cargo, the take, the patrol.

“You don’t you care about us,” Mother cried. “We can’t raise the boy on jail sentences.”

“Lay off, Eleanor,” he gritted between his teeth. He spat out Eleanor as if she were outside in the back shed, far away. “If you care so much, you take him.”

Excerpt from Statement

The land and the boy’s imagination are both vulnerable. A bleak starkness pervades. On a solo campout of sorts, he watches, explores, whittles, cooks, listens, dreams, frets, worries and thinks about his life, his parents, the ocean, the environment. Physical hardships test personal endurance, bravery and ingenuity. The temporary nomadic, solitary lifestyle may enhance or induce a spiritual or psychological awakening. His situation evokes an intentional, traditional coming of age ritual that a young man may encounter in such diverse traditions as an Aboriginal Australian on a walkabout or an arctic Inuit who temporarily goes off alone to live in an outcamp.

The bleak landscape of dried kelp and large drift logs—common on the beaches of Cascadia—stripped of bark, denuded, twisted and bleached, cast an eerie pall but ultimately symbolize qualities of endurance, shelter and survival.