Kenneth Jakubas


My Grandfather made an inspiring promise to his sons after all three of their marriages lasted ten years. If their marriages made it another ten years, he’d be taking them to Alaska. “That’s where they kill you. Silenced pistols,” my sister said ten years later, when our parents’ twentieth was approaching. We were at the dinner table and my parents were trying to explain the promise. My sister looked down the sights of her fingers shaped into a gun and closed one eye, pointing it at me.

In the months before the trip, my father started talking about Barrow. He’d joke about wanting to see the furthest thing from America while still being inside it. Barrow is the northernmost city in the United States. He called it by its former name, Barrow, but Mom learned the real one on Wikipedia after he became fixated on it, even learning the pronunciation, a reminder to him and anyone listening that Utqiagvik might as well be on the moon. She didn’t like his little obsession.

When the trip was confirmed and the planning started, it was 2009 and my father had resorted to talking to me exclusively about his dream of Utqiagvik. He’d call me on the phone with certain factoids and talk about the myth of a town nobody wanted to go to if they had the entirety of Alaska to choose from. “Sixty-five straight days of darkness. I know you aren’t married, but when you are, things tend to go dark—I’ve never told anybody, but I’ve always known I would go. Just to see it.”

“Ok, I would like you to stop talking,” I said. The more we called him crazy and the more my Mom reminded him that this was an anniversary vacation, the more he’d giggle and quote his father. “He said to pick one place, for a one-day excursion. I want to go to Barrow.”

“You want our anniversary to be a barren wasteland? It’s called Utqiagvik,” she snapped back, her arms crossed. It started to sound like he was being called to participate in a pilgrimage of suspicious origins. It was like a place he’d made up in his head and he wanted to find out if it was real—another white man dreaming of a native land that could be his.

The story goes, when they got there they rode an ATV through town while my mother had a panic attack. She was already nauseous from the plane ride in, and the culture shock made her feel claustrophobic and irrational. The plan was to stay the night, although, during this time of year in Utqiagvik, there was no dark, not for weeks. The lifestyle and people of Utqiagvik were far from any idea of America my parents had ever experienced. The homes were on pilings and the men hunted polar bears and whales. It was the desert’s opposite, ground zero for climate change research and home to the Inupiat as far back as 500 AD. I don’t know how Dad reacted to being there, other than that it must have been some kind of dream.

I picture how he might have interacted with the people given the language barrier and what his face was saying as he ate halibut in a small diner with old wooden tables. I picture him standing in a bathing suit on the edge of a chunk of ice, ready to jump into the freezing water. This was another dream, to do the polar plunge in Barrow, thereby solidifying his belief that anything is possible. The water was so cold that when they gave him the plaque, it had the temperature etched into it. When he got sick a month later, all I remember is that he wouldn’t stop shivering.

Kenneth Jakubas’ fiction and poetry have appeared in decomp, Pheobe Journal, Passages North, and december, among a few others. He holds an MFA from Western Michigan University, where he served as poetry editor for Third Coast magazine. His mini-series, Reliever, is currently live at He lives in Battle Creek, MI with his wife, son, and preteen cats.