VITAL SIGNSrnLITERATURErnWisconsinrnApocalypsernby William MillsrnSince 1 was going to fish in the Northwoodsrnof Wisconsin, I decided hkernan bookish person to read some booksrnabout the place. I expect I own all ofrnGordon Weaver’s ten or twelve books,rnand I went digging throngh them againrnto sec which ones \ ere set in Wisconsin.rnBesides growing up in Wisconsin,rnWea’er lived a long time in Mississippirnand then Oklahoma, and some of his fictionrnis set in those two states. I re-read hisrnnocl Circling Byzantium, where the actionrntakes place in Milwaukee and upstaternin the resort area around Wautoma.rnThen there are the short stories in his collectionrnSuch Waltzing Was Not Easy, setrnaround wild and woolly fiayward in thernNorthwoods.rnAsking aroimd, I came up with thernname of Anthony Bukoski, a short storyrnwriter who lives in Superior, whoserngrandparents were Polish immigrants.rnHe has written hvo collections of storiesrnwhich are jewels. Children of Strangersrnand Polonaise. A few of these stories reflectrnhis Marine experience while servingrnin X’ietnam, but the rest are about Superiorrnand its peoples: Poles, of course, butrnJews, Finns, Germans.rnSince I was born in Mississippi andrnreared in Louisiana, mucli of the worldrnGordon WeaverrnWeaver and Bukoski write about is like arnforeign country to me. There were largelyrnGelHc and African people in the MississippirnI can remember, and in LouisianarnCajvm French and Italian as well. Irnremember being in a school play with arnkid I thought was German because hernhad a slight accent and onlv discovered asrnan adult that he was a German Jew whosernfamily had made it out in the late 30’s. Irnfeel sure there nuist have been somernPoles and other Germans, but we did notrnknow about them. Thus in World Warrnn, there were no problems like the onesrnin St. Louis, Ghicago, or Wisconsin,rnwhere there were many Germans, hi St.rnLouis, streets with German names werernoften renamed, one after General Pershing.rnWhen Germany invaded Poland,rnmv familv had been living briefly in Buffalo,rnNew York, and I remember my fatherrnsaying that we must retmn to thernSouth now that diere was going to be arnwar. For me, then, Milwaukee andrnnorthern Wisconsin have the fascinationrnof another world.rnMost of the stories by both writers havernurban settings, and even when hunting,rnthe woods, or Indians come into play, therncharacters always return to town. In CirclingrnByzantium, families come fromrnMilwaukee or Ghicago to a lake resortrnbut must return to the cit)- to make a living.rnOne old character obser’es that thernresort is there “to separate a Yahoo fromrnhis money during his annual two weeksrnfree of the chains they use to keep themrnat their machines in Ghicago and Milwaukeernfictories.” This same character,rnLeland Spardding, Jr., was a boy beforernWorld War I and remembers the lakernarea as serene and idyllic, with onlv fivernor six cottages around the lake. But allrnthis will change later, none of it for therngood. Meanwhile, his family goes to arnbar and restaurant. Otto Pfaff s MoosernInn, where on display is the head of thernlast moose killed in Wisconsin, a tellingrnicon.rn”Granger Hunting,” Weaver’s story setrnaround Hayward, concerns a di-orced fatherrntrying to re-establish connectionsrnwith his sons, meeting them at his huntingrncamp in the wild Northwoods. Thernfather tries to teach his youngest son torntrack and kill deer, but the whole attemptrnfails. The boy loses the compass, the fatiierrnis lost, and an Indian has to guidernthem back.rnAnthony BukoskirnI’he presence of Indians is felt in thernstories of both writers. In Weaver’s work,rnthe Indian still hunts (often illegally) andrnpossesses woodscraft. In Bukoski’s stories,rnsome of the old ways are still there,rnbut so is the alcohol and the tension overrntieaty rights and fishing. At the fringes ofrnBukoski’s town of Superior there is stillrnhunting. In the bizarre stor’ “Dry Spell,”rna one-time Catholic deacon is rrow freelancingrnas a priest. He hears confessionsrnand does spiritual healing for his neighbors.rnThe Gatholic faith has fallen onrnhard times in Superior, with only onernchurch left (at least in the story), and it isrntoo far away for the rural people. Thisrnfreelance priest has bought the statues ofrnthe closed churches and lined them uprnon his property. As part of absolution forrna client, he takes the “penitent” through arngrove of birches, where the client is horrifiedrnto see a deer hanging.rnThe deer’s carcass has beenrngnawed. “I’he one dog, the tan one,rnis at the chest nov’. The two blackrndogs are full of blood. “Thingsrnseem more direct with these boyce.rnThe bo}ce rim down weak deer,rnkill them, feed right on the bloodrnwith the crows and other eaters.rnHumans create sin but don’t tasternGod’s Blood. When the wildrnboyce eat right in front of us whatrnthey found, they are a lesson to usrnabout His Body.”rnIt is the Polish-American world andrnSuperior that Bukoski focuses on primarily,rnand very often it is not a happy place.rnThe iron ore and coal industry that hadrnmade the cit’ a bustling port have fallenrnon VST)’ hard times. Many people are onrnwelfare, and only the bar business seemsrnNOVEMBER 1999/43rnrnrn