Authors: Kim Barnes
Kim Barnes is the author of the novels
A Country Called Home
, and two memoirs,
In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country
—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—and
Hungry for the World
. She is coeditor with Mary Clearman Blew of
Circle of Women: An Anthology of Contemporary Western Women Writers
, and with Claire Davis of
Kiss Tomorrow Hello: Notes from the Midlife Underground by Twenty-Five Women Over Forty
. Her essays, stories, and poems have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including
The Georgia Review
magazine, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. She teaches writing at the University of Idaho and lives with her husband, the poet Robert Wrigley, on Moscow Mountain.
Books by Kim Barnes
In the Wilderness:
Coming of Age in Unknown Country
Hungry for the World
A Country Called Home
Circle of Women:
An Anthology of Contemporary Western Women Writers
(coeditor, with Mary Clearman Blew)
Kiss Tomorrow Hello:
Notes from the Midlife Underground by Twenty-Five
Women Over Forty
(coeditor, with Claire Davis)
FIRST ANCHOR BOOKS EDITION, MARCH 2001
2000 by Kim Barnes
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Villard Books, a division of Random House, Inc.,
New York, in 2000.
Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the Villard edition as follows:
Hungry for the world / Kim Barnes.
1. Barnes, Kim—Childhood and youth. 2. Women poets, American—20th century Biography. 3. Barnes, Kim—Homes and haunts—Idaho—Lewiston. 4. Lewiston (Idaho)—Social life and customs. 5. Young women—Idaho—Lewiston Biography. 6. Family—Idaho—Lewiston.
WE ARE BLESSED
We are, I know not how, double in
ourselves, so that what we believe, we
disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn
When thou hast enough, remember the time of hunger
WAS A GIRL IN
, Idaho, there were two downtown movie theaters, a drive-in that showed second-run films from June through August, a pea-processing plant, and a railroad that ran the perimeter of the town’s north side. There were two buildings with elevators to the second floor, and in one sat an elderly man on a chrome-runged stool, his hand on the lever that would take us one flight up and back down. We ate egg salad sandwiches on the mezzanine of Miller’s Department Store, where our written receipts were hung by clerks from a wire that turned on its pulleys and carried the paperwork to the accountant upstairs.
Many of the old buildings no longer exist, gutted during a run of summers in the sixties and seventies we all remember as the time of fire, when Main Street seemed destined to burn to the ground, one historic structure after another: the Elks Temple, C.O.D. Laundry, the Hotel Idaho, Kling’s, Hughes, The Smoke Shop, but not the store with diamonds and pearls in its windows, whose dividing fire barrier would soon bear a plaque inscribed
THE WALL THAT SAVED THE WEST
. Had it not been there, the flames might not have been stopped, continuing on to Gibson’s Clothing and Aleuridine’s
Hall of Cards. A few blocks east, a bar advertising karaoke hides the charred remains of Dave’s Drug, where a policeman, responding to an attempted burglary, had thrown himself atop a homemade bomb and saved his partner’s life. I can still see the newspaper photo—the single, black shoe left strangely upright, its laces still tied, as though the officer had simply evaporated, let his soul leap up and away.
I remember those mornings thick with the dust of harvest and wind, weeks when the blue sky became something oppressive, not pure but hateful, and the clouds that blossomed atop the Blue Mountains and the Seven Devils at first caught our hope and then our resigned disinterest: not rain but another forest burning, another call for volunteers, another plea for food and supplies. Plumes of smoke rose black and oily from the city’s four corners: one day it was the National Guard Armory, torched by an arsonist to protest the slaying of students at Kent State. And then Payless Drug, Shell Oil, Lewiston Tire and Supply. The heat lay in the valley long past midnight, when the old-timers sat on their porches after their garden suppers of tomato-and-cheese sandwiches, cucumbers and Walla Walla Sweets floated in vinegar, late corn made tough by too little water and not enough night. They watched the tugs push their slow way up the Snake, past the confluence and into the narrower current of the Clearwater. They saw how the flat-bottomed barges wallowed heavy with their loads of grain and lumber, and they remembered before the dams and levies, when the rivers had meant something other than commerce, when the bums had claimed the sloughs as their own and slept beneath the cooling leaves of cottonwood.
N THE SPRING OF
1976, when I turned eighteen, there was the whisper of another such summer. The promise was there, in the early bloom of lilacs and dogwoods, in the way people left their windows cracked open at night. My grandmother, Nan, planted her tomatoes early, and she forgot to watch the buds of her cherry trees for signs of late frost. “It’ll be a hot one,” she said, nodding at the surety of her prediction as she leaned on her rake, scooped a fingernail of dirt from the garden and sniffed it for moisture. Although severely crippled by a childhood illness, she worked her large lot in the cool of the morning and evening, hooking the heavy loops of hoses with her hoe, limping across the yard she meant to keep green. Afternoon was her time of rest. Before her nap, she and I would sit at her dinette, deafened into silence by the swamp cooler’s roar, drinking tumbler after tumbler of iced tea, eating the backs and legs of fried chicken. I watched as she snapped the bones and sucked out the marrow—the best for last, she said. I knew, even then, that I would never know such hunger, an appetite birthed by childhood poverty and neglect.
I attended my last week of high school that year in rooms gone still with afternoon sun, my teachers and peers nodding drowsily over their books. There was something in the air, some lull, a husbanding of easy days before the intensity of June and July, the long hours of light.
Vietnam was over, our boys all home, and even in the wake of Watergate, there was room to take a breath, room for the eighteen-year-old males to cast their fate against something
other than the draft. The war was a memory now, no danger to us and our dreams, not even mentioned in our class on American history.
Across the top of my binder I had inked the words
. It distressed me to see the sacred message mocked: the next presidential election was approaching, the first since Nixon’s resignation, and placards had sprung up in yards around the city announcing
. This stays with me now—the way I viewed the banners and buttons with a kind of horrified fascination, my response tied to the teachings of the Pentecostal Church of God, which pronounced such use of the Savior’s name as blasphemy and denounced Jimmy Carter, himself a Southern Baptist, for allowing it. Such sacrilege could bring down the wrath of God upon all our heads and would surely doom the Democrats to defeat.
This was when the world made sense because it had been divided for me into a simple pattern, a perfect plan: on one side, God; on the other side, the Devil. Every man and animal, every celebration and catastrophe, every bloody murder and charitable deed, every bit of food that passed our lips, every drop of liquor that didn’t; every fire in every town, every degree of heat and rivulet of water, had been created for one purpose, and that purpose was the glory and magnification of God. What was good in us and the world came from God; that which was evil was allowed by God. Satan had this time on earth to win what souls he could, either through temptation or, as in the case of Job, monstrous injury and pestilence. The Devil could bribe or barter, break us to our knees, but only the failed will of man could allow him a soul.
The fires those years were not simply fires, but periods of testing and purgation. Nixon’s betrayal was not simply the
act of a power-hungry leader but the manifestation of some deeper rot. Fires and floods, scandal and the failings of men in high places—all were signs of some sin or a need to remember from whom all blessings flow. There was no such thing as luck, good or bad, no such thing as an accidental blaze or an incidental pattern of weather. The rains failed to come for a reason, and the fires began for a reason, and that reason was so that others might come and know the wisdom and worship of God.
Our faith brought with it, as faith will do, a calmness, a patient observation and tallying of signs, for we believed, also, that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent and that fire and drought and evils unleashed forewarned of the Antichrist and the Beast whose number was 666. The Last Days, we called them, and we looked knowingly and with pity on the marchers in Satan’s army: the hippies with their long hair and peace signs; the protestors who burned flags and defamed our country—the chosen country, the USA, born of religious freedom and keeper of the Christian flame but fast losing its way.
I had been waiting all my years of awareness for Christ to sound His trumpet and call me to His side. The clouds would gather, then split apart. The earth would shudder, the graves open, and we who were saved would rise, the quick and the dead, in the wink of an eye caught up, made new. But
the pure and the holy, those whose sins were forgiven, those who had been born again, whose stains had been washed away by the blood of the Lamb.