Tag Archives: Wisconsin



Screenshot 2016-07-07 11.46.07This poem is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

We got

9 inches of snow

after 4 was predicted.


While driving home from work

I pulled over to the side,

knowing I’d get stuck,

but a black Chrysler

was beached in the intersection

spinning nowhere.


I started pushing on their trunk

then two other people

scampered up to lean in

and soon they were sliding away.


You don’t thank the other strangers

who also push a stranger’s

car out of the snow,

more nod and smile

at having completed

an unpreferable task



My car was beached

on the 9 inches of snow

so I grabbed my shovel from the backseat

and started shoveling out

underneath my front bumper,

around the front tires,

under the doors.


then from behind

I heard a man’s voice suggest

that I get in and try, he’d push.


I turned toward the voice, then said,

“Oh hey Tony.”


He looked at me for a second,

“Oh hi Ed.”


Chuckling into the driver’s seat,


while tossing the snow shovel

on the passenger seat floor,


that I have the kind of friends

who offer to help

before they recognize you.


Ed Makowski is a poet and writer living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He writes and edits at a nature center and makes drinks at a tiki bar. Ed prefers two wheels to four, but it’s really nice to drive in a car throughout winter. edmakowski.com

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Superior, Wisconsin: The Face of Surrender

Helgi porcupine round two



This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

We adopted Helgi, a Giant Alaskan Malamute, just three days after Thanksgiving, and by our first spring together I recognized in him a shared personality trait, what I like to think of as tenacity, and what others might call stubbornness. Weighing in at 124 pounds, Helgi – Icelandic for ‘celebration’ – is an outdoor dog the size of a small pony with fur frosting white. As a hunter, you can always tell from the quality of his barking what he has cornered, and at four a.m. that spring morning I awoke to the high-pitched yelps that meant Helgi could only be celebrating one thing: porcupine.

I flew out of bed, banded a headlamp around my forehead, and shoved my feet into the first shoes I could find – my daughter’s garden Crocs. Wearing a thin, black slip nightgown, I charged out into the woods.

“No, Helgi. Leave the porcupine alone!” I yelled into the night, no moon, no stars. I followed the barking, left the path, and barreled up a hill that sloped along the east side of our house. The incline spanned a good acre, crammed with deadfall and spindly branches that poked and stabbed through the flimsy Crocs as I wobbled along, screeching, “You will NOT eat this porcupine, Helgi! You will NOT!”

We had other dogs get quilled before, but Helgi was the first dog that tried to eat the bugger. Three weeks prior, when the porcupines came out of hibernation, Helgi came onto the porch, paws bloodied and head slung low. His face wore a thick beard of quills, the ivory points long and tipped elegantly in black. Helgi couldn’t close his mouth or lie down or drink water. He swung his head between bruised paws and stumbled blind with pain.

Five-hundred dollars, forty-eight hours, and one overnight stay at the emergency vet hospital later, he was back to his sweet-natured self: a gentle giant with the tongue of a butterfly.

The first time the vet told us that Helgi had quills inside his gums, through his tongue, and all down the sides of his throat. The second time they speared through his nose like exotic African bone jewelry. The third time the quills were confined to a crowded patch around his snout; the fourth time I was so disgusted I could hardly look.

In the beams of my roving headlamp, I caught him leaping and pouncing around a downed balsam fir, tail raised like a flag. He barked and yipped and jabbed with his snout. I shone my light along the tree big as a canoe, and there was the porcupine, scurrying in circles with the halo of his quills pulsing like a shivering star.

We had spent nearly one thousand dollars on porcupine quill removal, and I was not going watch the last of our savings slip away. I broke off a spiney branch from the deadfall and wielded it like a jousting stick to prod my dog. Helgi snapped and growled. The porcupine dodged sideways and Helgi darted after him. I threw myself between them, standing in too-small shoes on a steep grade littered with woodland debris, wearing a stupid nightgown. I knocked into logs and branches, screaming like a crazy person. We fought and hollered in the dark for what seemed like twenty minutes before we ended up close enough to the house to wake my husband and two kids. They arrived, corralled the dog, and the porcupine escaped.

Porcupines can’t really run. They sort of wobble back and forth, their quills — though deadly in the face of a dog — are really no more than toothpick-sized straws that move together like waves of wheat. He was larger than a school globe but with a small face, and he held his hands in front of him fretfully as he hustled away. The porcupine ended up on our porch, standing in the corner like a chastened pupil, his back to the world. He stayed that way for nearly a full hour.

Meanwhile the sky turned a weak-kitten gray as my husband and I assessed our situation. That was when I finally accepted that as long as Helgi was our dog and that porcupine was in our woods, Helgi would continue to get quilled.

We found a box the size of a kitchen cupboard and nudged the porcupine inside – he went rather willingly. My husband took the kids and drove six miles up the road where they opened the box and let him waddle free.

After delivering the porcupine, we loaded Helgi into the back of the minivan. I had found a country vet willing to inject my dog with tranquilizers for a reasonable fee while I removed the quills. I had never done such a thing before, but the vet and his assistant taught me how to use the tools, how to fold back his lips and check along his gums, how to recognize signs of broken quills and squeeze them free. Helgi’s head is bigger than my head, and it was like rooting around inside the mouth of a lion, but I did it. I pulled the quills, plunked down my money, and drove home with our mighty warrior passed out in the minivan.

I drove alone along the back county roads, properly dressed and wearing sensible shoes. A train pulled up on my left, long and sleek and also northbound. I matched its speed and we sped alongside one another as the fields went flying by. I rolled down my windows to hear its roar and we burst through the orange-gold air.

My dog has the intelligence of a toddler and yet we share a mindset. I also believe that if I just try harder, don’t give up, then I’ll get what I want. But sometimes that way of thinking only gets you a mouthful of quills. Sometimes, the right thing to do is just walk away, let it be, and pay the bill.

Carol Dunbar is a vegetarian food writer and mother of two carnivores living off-grid in the woods of Superior, Wisconsin. Her work has been published in Literary Mama, the Midwest Prairie Review, and in the anthologies Writer’s Read Vol. III, and The Heart of All That Is: Reflections on Home, by Holy Cow! Press.

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Union Grove, Wisconsin: A walk through memory


union groveThis essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

Someday I’ll come back and they’ll be there again, the rolling fields and the small patches of woods, the corn and hayfields, whispering in the midday breeze under a fat sun in a cloudless sky.

They’ll return, and so will my youth, and I’ll run through the tall grass just because I can. My lungs will fill with the warm afternoon air I push through, and I’ll run until I collapse in the cool shade of one of those big oaks just south of the railroad tracks. I’ll close my eyes and when I open them I’ll be dizzy from the fresh air in my lungs. The green of the treetops will swirl with the deep blue of the sky into a kaleidoscope that twirls and spins to the rhythm of my throbbing heart.

After a while I’ll climb up on the tracks and follow them into town, past the empty backyards, the smell of freshly mown grass in my nostrils as I walk passed and on to the grain elevator and feed mill.

Then I’ll be downtown, standing on the tracks in the middle of Main Street, looking south at the storefronts. Everything will be the way it used to be; even the bank will be in that big old granite and marble building. The Ben Franklin store, the pharmacy, the bakery, the café, the grocery store, they’ll all be how they used to be.

I’ll follow the tracks to the old train depot, and it’ll be open again, like it was when I was small, and I’ll step in and sit in the waiting area, brightly lit through big windows by the afternoon sun, dust dancing in the streams of light. After a while, in the distance, I’ll hear the rhythmic hum of my train coming, getting closer and louder, then I’ll hear the clanging of the crossing bells on Main Street as it pulls up to the station. An unattended door will open and I’ll climb up and board the empty and ancient passenger car. I’ll take a seat on one of the wooden benches next to a window. As I sit there, the train will start to move, and I’ll wonder where it’s going to take me.

All I’ll know is that it’s not going to heaven, because heaven will be out my window, fading and vanishing.

David Gourdoux is a lifelong resident of the great state of Wisconsin, born in the rural wooded hills of its northwest and raised in the flat prairies of it southeast and forever attached to both. He is the author of a novel, “Ojibway Valley,” and has had short fiction published in The Midwest Prairie Review and Left of the Lake magazine. He is also a regular contributor of reviews and essays to the web site, “2nd First Look,” and maintains his own web page, djgourdoux.com


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