DISAPPEARANCE: A MAP: A Meditation on Death and Loss in the High Latitudes by Sheila Nickerson
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DISAPPEARANCE: A MAP: A Meditation on Death and Loss in the High Latitudes

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All manner of things get lost in Alaska, and they are the subject of this grave contemplation, vulnerable and delicate as a baby's breath, from Nickerson, the state's onetime poet laureate (1977-81). ""I live in a place where people disappear. Alaska. Too large to comprehend."" So Nickerson starts her study of the disappeared, and she goes on to chart the long, sorry history of those who seem to have fallen into a black hole, never to emerge, while within the strange force field thrown by the 49th state. Some are well known: Sir John Franklin, questing for the Northwest Passage, and US House majority leader Hale Boggs, who vanished while on a campaign tour. Then there are the legions remembered only by their nearest and dearest. The author also touches upon the ghosts and echoes of the Tlingits and the eradication of their culture; the rapid wasting of the state's primary economic resource, oil, up at Prudhoe Bay; the near-choking sadness of a family's youngest child being packed off to college--all disappearances of one kind or another. When all is said and done, Nickerson is a poet, and everywhere she finds a subcurrent of terror and grinding confusion conjured by loss. On writing: ""Words are not only markers along the way. Monuments of fear, they can be obstacles to acceptance of ourselves as larger beings. As beacons of truth, they oscillate and cannot be trusted."" Or the portent of a chanced-upon bird: ""It is part of the map of disappearance. It has to do with concentrating on the small things, celebrating beauty: the oracle of the hollow bones."" Each episode gives Nickerson pause to plot her own earthly coordinates, and they are as wobbly--and as inscrutable--as the peregrinations of the magnetic north. For those who are fascinated by disappearances--unexplained, unexplainable--forget the Bermuda Triangle. Try Alaska, and let Nickerson be your guide.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Doubleday