John Estes

Place to Call Home

The imaginative use of factual material, what some consider a fair cross-media definition of the documentary process, had put a bug under Bert’s skin after Super Size Me prompted him to quit fast food and The Smartest Guys in the Room convinced him his father and every other so-called businessman was by definition a criminal. So at seventeen he took his GED and joined some activist filmmakers traveling the Dakotas gathering footage on hydraulic fracturing, with the intent of having a film ready by the next year’s Sundance, with the dream of moving the needle on this issue at the polls. They hit a snag when their director, Beth-Ann, fell hard for a well manager (who was ABD in comparative literature, to be fair) and decided to stay in Williston to see what might come of it; she apologized profusely, even kissed Bert farewell on both cheeks, but love is thicker than oil, she joked. Two towns later, the crew now under Steven’s leadership, Bert lost his virginity in a strip club to a woman calling herself Crimson Rose, compliments of three shalemen, and he started wondering if the group’s intentions to bring the fracking industry to its knees wasn’t maybe short-sighted, maybe missing the boom’s human dimension.

Steven had cut his cinematic teeth doing investigative work on quahog fisheries, which inspired his degree in Native American economics, his thesis exploring the link between wampum and Indian casinos. One thing leading to another, as things tend to go, he met Beth-Ann while investigating a skeezy developer on a Ho-Chunk reservation, and before embarking on this venture had collaborated on a volume of poetry about environmental degradation in the Dells, narrated by a Virgilesque Aldo Leopold. But after Beth-Ann stayed behind, he sunk into a deep depression, blaming himself for never telling her how he felt, doubting everything he ever thought he knew, his stalwart belief in the strength of their partnership, that romance would blossom and mature in time from the ground of their shared beliefs, the rightness of their cause. But even his technical concentration went to shit, and no longer could he be counted on to edit a tracking shot with precision, or ask the hard question. Bert, fortunately for all involved, had proven a quick study, a capable gaffer and boom operator, and helped take up some of the slack, not to mention cut Steven off each night. Camped out in the Badlands, fire burnt to smoking embers, a crescent moon engulfed by a trillion stars, a couple of empty fifths at his feet, Bert felt at peace with the futility of their project, with the present age and all its ills, and the notional fact that everything burning and ridden with life, everything the heart of God ever dared to love will, given time, end up hollowed out and cold as stone. So let the rich inherit the earth; all he cared to think about was red, red, red.


John Estes is the author of three volumes of poetry— Kingdom Come (C&R Press, 2011), Stop Motion Still Life (Wordfarm, forthcoming) and Sure Extinction, which won the 2015 Antivenom Prize from Elixir Press—and two chapbooks: Breakfast with Blake at the Laocoön (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Swerve, which won a National Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America.


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