Volga River Review
Volga River Review features the literary work of Upper Iowa students, faculty and staff from the residential Fayette campus, as well as educational centers, along with a few alumni submissions. The magazine was created as a project-based learning experience where students in the creative writing program can edit, publish and publicize a literary journal.
Volga River Review Volume I Spring 2013 ÂŠ Volga River Review UPPER IOWA UNIVERSITY 2013 Founding Editor Adrianne Finlay 1 FACULTY ADVISOR Adrianne Finlay EDITORS Salman Afzal Allyson Rose Herkowski William Kenney Don Kuykendall-Burnette Tiffany Stouffer Kaitlin Marie Thomas COVER DESIGN Allyson Herkowski COVER PHOTOGRAPH Michael Strydom The Editors would like to thank the UIU School of Liberal Arts, the contributors, and the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Upper Iowa University. 2 TABLE OF CONTENTS POETRY Diane Boltz Helen Chappell Kate Davis Autum Gauley John Grummel Kristen Hansen Tyler Harms Allyson Herkowski Donye Kuykendall-Burnette Kathleen Serley Seeta Mangra-Stubbs Daniel C. Marvin Bill Mech Connie Smith Melle Starsen Tiffany Stouffer Kaitlin Thomas 21 38 5 37 29 20 11 45 55 2 28 10 40 19 32 46 54 FICTION Skip Afzal William Kenney Quentin McReynolds 47 49 12 CREATIVE NON-FICTION/ESSAY Susan Arias Ed Copley Ricardo Martinez Jacquie McTaggert Michael Strydom 3 30 7 41 23 Kathleen Serley MY GRANDFATHERâ€™S FARM Nameless grasses claim the field where once beans stretched straight toward the afternoon sun. My grandfatherâ€™s industry calling neighbors to harvest. I joined them, pulling beans from under wide warm leaves, connecting to the chatter of distant cousins as we labored toward lunch rows picked clean, cool drinks waiting in the soft shade of bordering pines. Over time, our labor grew obsolete. Machines moved in to silence conversation and we retreated to toil tucked in cubicles, bowed over rows frozen in crisp, white light. Seasons passed. The machine lumbered on to larger tracts, our field forgotten until teased by memories I gave up solitary work drawn to this field where trampled grasses weave unconnected patterns leading nowhere certain. 2 Susan Arias THE KISS In the year I turned 18, I stayed with my Grandfather and Grandmother--who lived near Boston— during the summer break from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. I had already spent one semester on my own and felt very grown up. Before I left for college, I had a terrible crush on the youth minister, an older man of 21, and had written to him while I was away at school. Now, you must understand that Waban, Massachusetts, is an exceedingly small town—everybody knows everybody. Anything that happens in private becomes public within 24 hours. In other words, the town knew I had returned from New York. The phone rang; my grandfather answered it, and proceeded to listen in on my side of the conversation. It was the youth minister, asking me to go to a movie that evening! Because the person calling was from the church, my Grandfather took the phone from my hand and spoke to him—grilling him. To the minister’s credit, he convinced my Grandfather to let me go on the date. My Grandmother dressed me. Yes, she chose an old dress from the closet that I hadn’t worn in 3 years! It looked like a sailor dress from the Eloise stories. I looked 15 in it. Arguing with my Grandmother was never an option, so I donned the horrid thing and sat downstairs, waiting to be picked up. The youth minister arrived, driving the church station wagon. That car was 20 years old and creaked loudly. We escaped as quickly as we could and left for the film. The movie had two kissing scenes in it. I don’t remember the scenes because I was watching the minister’s ears and nose turn red while the kissing happened. He took my hand as we left the movie and we went to a local muffin house for a bite to eat. My muffin was green and my hands were shaking so badly, it turned to powder when I picked it up. I didn’t want green crumbs in my teeth, if I were to smile. After we both, nervously, didn’t eat our muffins, he 3 said it was time to head back to my Grandfather’s house. The minister had promised to bring me home early. We hardly spoke a word on the drive home. It started to rain, and the sound of the creaky windshield wipers was like a metronome. He did say one thing about rain being nice. Once we arrived, he left the car running; he put on the parking brake and froze. We sat there for 5 minutes, just staring at the wiper blades. Finally, I heard him start to inch over toward me. He was taking forever, so I inched over toward him. Inch by inch we were both getting more and more embarrassed about what was going to happen: The Kiss! Just as his face came within reach of mine, I grinned a full-on, toothy, smile. His teeth scraped my teeth (which hurt) and he jumped up in the seat and hit the steering wheel with his elbow. The horn got stuck and it was loud! Suddenly, neighbors began coming out of their houses and my Grandfather appeared on the front porch with a broom in his hand, shouting, “Susan Margaret Braunig, You get in this house now!!!” I tried to open the passenger door, but the door handle came off in my hand. It wouldn’t open. The horn still blaring, the minister jumped out of the car, came around to the outside of the passenger door and tried to pull while I pushed. The door flew open, unexpectedly, and I fell out of the car and landed on top of him in the grass in the rain—just as the neighbors showed up and my Grandfather came down the steps. The minister tried to brush off the mud, realized that he was touching me, and froze. My Grandfather told me, years later, that it was the funniest thing he had seen in a long time. 4 Kate Davis PLAINS HOUSE He owned the house resting on green plains. The deed—come down on generational lines— held his name, but the house was not wholly his: wood planed by other hands, glass someone else made dirty, walls designed by men who are only more names to him now. He must fix it as he does his fences, all year patrolling his borders, back curved against the earth and its sway, wrists sore, pulling wires as they all tilt away. His father passed down no pictures to hang on the wind-cracked walls. But pictures would be a lie, showing faces—not the true things handed down man to man, not the stoop of a shoulder, not the shout (like a punch to the gut), not dread blooming at the edge of a laugh. No dusty false-images of a family, on hooks, displayed like dead moths on their pins, The son unsure—was he heir to houses or sins? A storm from south winds approaches, and his eyes are turned up, turned out, watching the wrong fear. He shouldn’t find it in the sky but the sink where the spigot leaks, unable to hold the pressure in pipes snaking from a forgotten sluice, a remnant of the sea that once covered these plains. Ancestral water drains down to a cup in the sink—the past steals in one drop at a time until the son pours out what his father denied. His harvest is outside, sighing, swinging its stalks beneath growing threat. He has prepared, the shingles are strong, the windows 5 sealed against such lasting elements. He can’t curse the weather over his inherited earth—he’s a passing man, a brief visitor who also tried to take shelter from history, build a raft on the sea, place a mat on the sill— draining the wounds while the cup refills. He leans at the window, a thunder crash pulling it shut to cut a careless hand. Blood on his fingers, blood on his shirt. He opens the faucet but water can’t clean what water first stained. Red lines the sink, searches the bowl for some path that doesn’t lead down but returns to the plains. The cup is unmoved, water trembles at the rim, the tension breaks, the blood runs thin. 6 Ricardo A. Martinez THE AMERICAN DREAM “What are you staring at? Look at your books and paper! Don’t look at me! Do you see any of the answers written in my eyes or on my face?” That unnerving tirade was my introduction to the public school system. The person screaming at me in Spanish was my first grade teacher, Miss Pena, who was attempting to teach us how to read, write and speak in English. Her hate-filled harangue shook me to the core and felt as if thousands of mosquitoes had landed on my face, stinging me in a stupor of blood-sucking frenzy. Yet her looks belied her lack of understanding and compassion. For up until that moment, I had been smitten with Miss Pena as only innocent, naïve little boys can be. Miss Pena looked like a “dream.” Petite, porcelain-skinned, light brown hair, and eyes like the proverbial ‘amber waves of grain.” However, her desk-side manner was nightmarish. At least to this six year old boy in his first couple of weeks of school. I suppose Miss Pena’s utter disdain for me and others of my ilk could, in certain circles in Laredo, Texas, be understandable and perhaps even acceptable. For you see, I had the misfortune to have been born on the other side of the tracks. Born of poor, uneducated, working-class Latino parents who neither spoke nor read English well, if at all. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall ever speaking the “Queen’s English” at home before entering public school. How and where could I have mastered what was, in my humble abode at least, a foreign language? Only Spanish was spoken in both my nuclear and extended family. Miss Pena conversely, however, was to the “manor born,” albeit to my impressionable six year old mind. How could such a vision of “Castillian” beauty not be? She was a school-teacher after all! College educated, rich, poised, dressed to the “nines” and with a command of the English language befitting her station in life! And, the “piece de resistance,” she was a “white Latina.” For in the Mexican or Latino culture, light skin is much valued and envied! If you 7 are a “guero” or “guera,” your passage and acceptance into mainstream society is assured. However, lady luck was not so kind to me. I was dark-eyed, dark-haired, and darkskinned. A “morenito,” to use the Spanish vernacular. Damned luck of the draw! The Gods had obviously conspired against me! I didn’t have to be born a “morenito,” as my Mother was also a “white Latina,” a blue-eyed, light-skinned Mexican. Can you imagine, just a little bit more of her DNA, a dash here and a tad there, and, whoosh…presto, the keys to the kingdom could’ve been mine! As a side-bar, a short vignette from my childhood will help to illustrate just how insipient this Latino obsession with “gueroism” can be. One of my earliest childhood memories is when I was about five years old and we lived with my paternal grandmother. As I recall, one afternoon my grandmother, Mama Cuca, gathered my four siblings together and escorted them to her room to give them some sweet treats. Seeing this, I rushed to join them, but Mama Cuca hurriedly ushered them into her room and deliberately closed and locked the door behind her. Crestfallen and not aware as to why I had been excluded, I went to my Mother and asked why? My mother fell silent and seemed truly upset. After a couple of minutes she regained her composure and told me not to worry about the incident. However, as five year olds are wont to do, I kept asking and finally she told me the unvarnished truth. Evidently, the only reason I had been excluded was because my siblings were, unlike me, either lightcomplected, had “colored” eyes, or both. Well, fast forward some fifty years and, by hook or brook, I obtained the “keys to the kingdom” and am steadfastly ensconced in mainstream society. Somehow, this “morenito” who was shunned and made short shrift of by his grandmother, teachers, and other assorted obstructionists and nay-sayers, graduated from high school; received, against all odds, two graduate degrees; and reached the pinnacle of American law enforcement, entering the ranks of the FBI as a Special Agent. This is dedicated to those poor souls who, like myself, through the accident of birth, class, or ethnicity, have struggled to reach and hold on to the “American 8 Dream.” Despair not, for with ambition, perseverance, a “can-do” attitude, and a little bit of luck, anything and everything is possible! 9 Daniel C. Marvin A HEROâ€™S BURDEN Wipe it off, Wipe it off, Wipe it off, Scrub the skin till you can't see anymore Scrub deep down till you are sore, Wash your hands of others blood Wash your hands of all the mud, Marked you now are, All the death will leave a scar, Your mind will never be the same, You don't know who to blame, Never tell others what you have seen, Now a hero you have been deemed, Your eyes are heavy with remorse, You have to let life run its course, Die you will with all your thoughts, Then you will be happy, yes happy lots. 10 Tyler Harms WHAT I SEE. I see a generation that has been brought up watching false reality passed along as real life. I see many kids growing up too fast, and folks just past those kids in a hurry to get married. People in a hurry to stake their claim, but what are they claiming? I see the desperate hands of thousands wildly pinching at a status, grabbing for money, smiling as they tell others how good they have it. I have to ask about what I cannot see, what is the drive for, is the goal to simply be better off than the next? I don’t believe I can live like this…competition is heating up with dirty tricks and I will piss on a participant’s ribbon. I see the crooked politicians and those who serve them closing in, the last thing I want to see is my time or money in the hands of corrupt giants. I see the bottom of their foot as they stomp out the ideas of the thinking man. I see problems producing solutions and solutions creating problems, it’s a blanket of lies and few actions. I have spotted simplicity going out the window; we never noticed it was gone. I see blue skies with a touch of grey better off being real, I see a doomed culture and society please tell me this isn’t true, I’ll tell you what the problem is man it starts with you. 11 Quentin McReynolds WEIRDOES When I was a kid, my uncle, who had been divorced I don’t know how many times, owned this dive bar. A real hole-inthe-wall. It was dark, dingy, smelled like urine and vomit and made no money. He drank all his profits away and how many ever friends he had came in for free booze. A dozen televisions and maybe two of them worked—sometimes— when it was sunny out. It occupied the middle third of a city block right between an adult book and video store and a decrepit, rundown gentleman’s club. So obviously the patrons were unsavory lowlifes and strippers between shifts. Perched on the first stool, I was given first-hand knowledge from some of the less worldly men on where to find easy lays while the “lovely” ladies from next door furthered my education in the proper ways of pleasuring a woman. The floor was sticky with tobacco spit, blood, and piss. A single pool table sat in the corner unevenly supported by cement bricks. The felt was worn away in patches and stained with beer. Ten rickety wooden stools bolted to the floor ran along the bar. I saw pictures of the place years later and he was right to torch it. I was surprised he waited so long. But before it burned to the ground, he used to tell me a million stories about all the bums and losers he had to put up with and even though Earl and Ruth had died long before the “accident,” he told me of their story or at least what he knew of it. They’d been coming to my bar for years but I never woulda classified them as a couple. When two normal people are in a relationship, specific factors bring them together. A future, common interests an’ goals, spending time together, communication. Hell that’s a big one. Ya know, sometimes it’s jus’ great sex. But it was summan else that defined what they had. Don’t get me wrong, they did have a few similarities. They were roughly the same age, but I tell ya, each looked a decade older than what they really were. 12 Neither one had been married, they had no friends, at least no one I knew about, an’ for a while, they were in the bar at the same time. Not a whole lot ya could build on, ya know? Earl wasn’t much to look at. He had gray an’ white hair with thin streaks of black in it. Seemed to be pasted to his head. He always wore a tight fitting, navy-blue tee shirt tucked into a pair of denim cut-offs even Magnum P.I. wouldn’t wear. White socks an’ grubby, white sneakers. Looking at him from the waist down was like lookin’ into the sun. The pocket of his tee-shirt constantly held two packs of Marlboro Red 100s, soft pack, an’ he carried a beer coozie wherever he went. He had a giant ring on his left hand in the shape of a skull. Said it was sterling silver an’ tore it from the finger of a Hell’s Angels biker he rolled once. I doubt it. He had a patch over his right eye, which we all ‘spected was a fake until I found out for sure. He had passed out—again—arms dangling toward the ground, head on the bar, drooling. He was gone. I don’t think a fire woulda woken him up. I reached over the bar an’ lifted up the patch. Now I seen me some horrible things in my life, but tha’…tha’ jus’ shocked the shit outta me. Where his eyeball used to be were a shitload of tiny boils filled with yellow an’ green pus. I can’t tell ya how much I wanted to take a toothpick an’ pop ‘em all. He said it had summan to do with his first day on the job as a carpenter an’ brought the hammer back too fast. ‘Fore that, he had served a couple of tours in Vietnam an’ it showed some forty years later. He’d pace back an’ forth in front of the bar, hours before I opened, repeating the same thing over an’ over in a throaty whisper: “They’re coming. Here they come. Kill the motherfuckers! They’re coming!” But as soon as he walked in, the craziness stopped along with all communication. He stared straight ahead at the TV with a dead look in his eyes. That man had a helluvu time holding down a job—too many D.W.I.’s, an obvious alcoholic, an’ accused, yet never convicted, of molesting that Crawford boy. After he was evicted from that shitty little one bedroom shack he lived in, he moved back with his parents, suposebly on a temporary basis, but when he turned sixty—last fall I think—he was still there. Man, what a bum. Well shit! Ya 13 know, now that I think of it, my bar was the only place in town that didn’t ban his drunk ass. Hell, most of my customers stopped coming in jus’ ‘cause of him, but he spent a lot of money in here so what the fuck, right? The only time I saw that ol’ boy smile was during happy hour when beer cost a buck. Cheap bastard. Otherwise, he had the same calloused frown. That single expression told me all I needed to know. No dreams. No aspirations. Only the end. Unfortunately for me that didn’t come fast enough. It didn’t say much for Ruth if she could snare that fine specimen. Boy, was she ugly. Ugly. She wore these huge, round, soda-pop bottle glasses that obscured a third of her face—which didn’t cover enough to tell ya the truth— an’ they were pushed all the way up to her eyelids. She had dark, red, curly hair, an’ all them boys at the bar kidded her by saying—goddamn, what was it? Oh yeah. It was styled by a one-armed retard in the final stages of Parkinson’s. She claimed it was hip. Maybe it was—in the circus. Her skin was as tough as an old catchers’ mitt but hung real loose on her face. She always wore the gaudiest colored lipstick; purple, bright pink, black, blue, orange, whatever the color, it was smothered on with a paint brush. I had to soak her coffee mugs in bleach an’ then scrape the crap off with steel wool. Her fingernails were bitten down to the nub, yet she still painted them, along with her fungusinfested toenails, each one with a rhinestone imbedded in the nail. She was in the habit of wearing the same tight, one-piece body suit with leopard spots, a loose fitting sweater that fell off one shoulder, an’ plastic sandals. Made me sick to look at her. An’ that woman never stopped fuckin’ talking. She was always in the middle of a conversation. There were times when someone would come in to the bar, a lost tourist I imagine, an’ make the mistake of striking up a conversation with Ruth. They’d ask her summan, usually directions on the fastest way outta the neighborhood, an’ her mouth wouldn’t stop jawing for nothing. I don’t think she ever answered any question she was asked. An’ the crap that spewed from her mouth—she gave everyone a running commentary of everything that happened to her as 14 she walked from those uuhhh, assisted living apartments to the bar. “I saw a used condom on the ground on the way over here, who throws a condom on the sidewalk and that homeless man is still on the corner, I wonder if it’s his, though if he had money for a condom, he should have money for food, he really needs to get a job, what do you think, boy is it nice outside, do you think it’s nice outside, I haven’t had a bowel movement in three days, do you think that’s bad, maybe I should see a doctor, do you think I should see a doctor, he’ll probably just tell me to eat more lettuce and charge me a hundred dollars, I don’t know what to do. Did I mention, there was a condom on the ground, right in front of my building, probably Mr. Henry’s, he’s a weird old man…” Positively mind numbing. Now I don’t know how she spent the rest of her day, but when she came to the bar, she followed a strict schedule. Right before the “A” squad came in to replace the rookies next door an’ the rush of dead-beat dads ready to blow their kids’ college money on “Jersey” an’ “Monique,” who by the way are very nice ladies…’specially Jersey. Mmmmmm. Uuhh, oh, right, Ruth. She’d saunter her rickety, old bones up to the bar an’ have the same thing: a cup of coffee, eight creamers, six sugar packets, a straw, napkin, book of matches. She’d take two drags off of a Virginia Slim, drink half of her coffee, grind her cigarette into oblivion an’ scrawl out a check for twenty-five cents. I can’t tell ya how many times I warned my employees not to look directly at her. If they made eye contact, forget about waiting on the rest of the customers. They were in for the long haul. Now, I’ll admit, when Ruth first started coming to the bar, I tried real hard to keep up with her yakking, but after twenty minutes, I jus’ gave up an’ started nodding an’ grunting an’ eventually walked away. I doubt she noticed. Since none of us ever looked at her or heard whatever the hell she was saying, I can’t recall how long it was ‘fore we noticed how beat up she was. Purple an’ yellow bruises all over her face. Black, swollen eyes. I tole ya before she was ugly as a mule, this certainly didn’t help. She did try to conceal it ya know, by plastering more make-up on her 15 face. Let me tell ya, it did not help. I honestly thought she had taken a header down the steps of her apartment complex an’ softened the fall with her face ten or twenty times. Despite her new physical abnormalities, she was in better spirits. Granted, she still prattled on an’ on an’ on, but it was in a…cheerful tone, ya know? Now even though they drank at the same time every night, none of us wanted to imagine these two getting together, not in public or private. They sat on opposite sides of the bar, never looked at one another, talked to one another, or acknowledged each other. After they started doing each other or whatever it was they did behind closed doors, they still didn’t communicate. When Earl bought a round for the bar, he pointed to everybody except Ruth. They never sneaked off to the bathroom to steal a kiss or made a sideways glance at one another across the bar, like they do in the movies, ya know? It’s like…they had agreed to ignore each other on purpose. It was real weird. They were definitely an odd pair. He would sit in silence with a scowl on his face an’ she wouldn’t shut up. An’ they never left together. She’d sip her coffee an’ talk to herself all the way home. He’d slam a case of Schlitz an’ stagger out the door three hours later. I was able to piece together some sorta, impression, I guess, of a connection between the two a few weeks later. His parents admitted him to that clinic north of town—ya know the one, it’s where they sent your daddy. I guess they jus’ got tired of bailing Earl outta jail. Anyway they sent him there to try, an’ I stress the word “try,” to cure him of his alcoholism. So we were without his lively disposition for six or eight months an’ during that time Ruth’s facial discolorations began to fade. Well, when her bruises had disappeared completely, so had Ruth. Rumor was, she had tried to commit suicide ‘cause she was tired of being alone, but slashed her arms the wrong way or summan—made a terrible mess. Old Doc Hanson made a house call that night. Said there was blood everywhere. He said she used a plastic knife to cut her skin. Woman couldn’t do a damn thing right. She returned with bandages on her wrists an’ arms an’ immediately launched 16 into some rant about how Doc said she wasn’t allowed booze anymore an’ she had to switch to decaf coffee, which was separated by another discussion on Mr. Henry’s perverse nature an’ her lack of bowel movements. An’ with the absence of Earl, her ramblings became more an’ more heated. Before, she spoke barely above a whisper, but now she was shouting an’ scaring away my regulars. On more ‘in one occasion me an’ your cousin Teddy had to throw her out. Now she wasn’t a strong woman, anybody in the bar coulda taken her, but she’d bite, flail her arms, kick her legs. Caught me in the crotch once, couldn’t fuck for a week—Jersey wan’t too happy ‘bout that. She was definitely a handful. Once she yanked a full bottle of beer outta Doc’s hand an’ smashed it on the back of Teddy’s head. He jus’ laughed, folded her arms behind her back an’ shoved her out the door. She’d come back a day or two later apologizing, seeing the error of her ways an’ so forth an’ be civil for a week before we’d do it all over again. Shoulda banned her for life, but I never was tha’ smart. We went a whole month without seeing either one of ‘em but I knew Earl was back when Ruth came in one evening with an indentation shaped like a skull on her forehead. But she wasn’t yapping this time, she was singing “Zip-aDee-Doo-Dah.” An’ Ruth wasn’t hummin’ a few bars either; she was beltin’ it out as if she were the star performer in a Broadway musical. Half my customers left, scared outta their minds by her colorful rendition. I nodded at Teddy an’ he jumped up from his barstool, pinned her arms to her sides an’ escorted her to the sidewalk. Earl was back in the bar that night with the same pissy attitude an’ shit look on his face. An’ he still found time to ignore Ruth. From time-to-time she acquired fresh bruises an’ even once sported a cast from her left elbow clear down to her fingertips, but she never complained. In fact, whenever he stumbled into the bar, Ruth would stop talking mid-sentence an’ hum “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” until she left. The first time my uncle told me that story, I didn’t believe it. Why would anyone in their right mind stay in that kind 17 of relationship? But after looking back, plenty of nut jobs had come through the front door and sat at that first barstool. 18 Connie Smith AN AUTUMN EVE Cold bare branches hanging in mid-air Dry withered leaves clinging in despair A bitter icy wind whispers through the night The full moon rising, shining, brilliant white 19 Kristen Hansen DREAMS IN WONDERLAND She was three feet away from falling into space Smoking her cigarette Tears running down her face She got lost in a Van Gogh painting Trying to find someplace Her dreams were like fairytales Like wonderland and Peter Pan And stars like Marylyn Monroe In the forest things got dark at night She screams where do I belong The queen came to judge her trial Says she thinks the girl did something wrong The mad hatter sat beside her To listen in on faith He knew she was different And had brought her to this place All the colors and maples trees Words fell with raindrops in mid may The girl stumbled onto the boulevard Forgetting what the queen had to say No one can tell me who I am Nor where this road may lead But all in all I found myself All I had to do was fall asleep 20 Diane Boltz YOUR ROOM AT THE END OF THE HALL When I see your room at the end of the hall It seems so empty, it seems so small. It held so much life for 18 years It held the some triumphs and a few silent tears. Sports medals, artwork and your old basketball shoes Pictures and clippings from the news. Prom pictures and old notebooks with assignments still on, And then suddenly it’s quiet and sure enough, you’re gone. I’ll see your new room at the end of the hall In your dorm I’m sure you’ll be having a ball. All on your own and learning some as you go The world doesn’t deserve you, but it needs you I know. I’ll want a hug and a kiss when I head off to bed But I’ll have to settle for a phone call instead. I Love you and I’ll miss you and I want you to know That it will be so hard to see you go. I climb the stairs and see your room at the 21 end of the hall And once again filled with pride, know itâ€™s been worth it all. 22 Michael Strydom AN EXPLOSIVE SITUATION As the piercing scream broke the serenity of the night I knew I was in trouble. I was not ready for this. I had spent six weeks “in country” but always under the watchful eye of the chief. Codenamed “Life-Source” the chief had become a legend in our small community of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Specialists. She had what was called a “natural instinct” and went about her business fearlessly and effortlessly. It was as if, during disarmament, Life-Source and the device were one and the same. I had admired her style countless times as she navigated the complex set of wires, hitches and buckles that come with modern explosives. I however, did not have a “natural instinct” and had spent the bulk of my first tour nervously following Life-Source around as she patiently showed me the secrets of bomb disposal. She was a patient teacher and never forced me beyond my capabilities but I could feel her patience was starting to wear thin. Recently she had tried to test me by allowing me a solo effort. This had ended with a god-awful mess and several hours’ worth of clean up. I can only shudder as I recall the horrifying aftermath of my last failed attempt. I was beginning to doubt myself. When I first signed up for this duty, it was with the sound of applause and adulation ringing in my ears. I thought I would be a hero; the type of guy women adored, men admired and little boys wanted to be. In my fantasy I had big strong shoulders and a square jaw, perhaps riding a Harley through the streets. In reality, I had spent most of my first tour mired in blood, vomit and feces and still hadn’t diffused a single explosive successfully. The scream came again; louder, longer and more shrill than the previous one. I had been frozen to my seat, hoping that the noise would simply go away but I knew with the second scream that something had to be done. But what? Damn the chief for leaving me alone tonight. She knew I wasn’t ready. I opened the door to the adjacent room in the direction of the scream. The stench hit me like a tidal wave. It smelled like a Bangkok street deli. Fighting 23 my nausea I stepped inside and got my first view of the hostile. He was lying face down on a mattress surrounded by wooden bars that were keeping him in place. He was naked but for a small package tied neatly around his waist. His flailing limbs and glassy stare told me that was panicked and scared. I shouted for him to stay still for fear of what might happen to the package around his waist but my words had no effect on him as he desperately tried to kick his way through the barriers. Through the tears draining from his sleep deprived eyes I could see the regret and remorse. They always felt regret at this point but in the heat of the moment there is no thought or rationality. My training kicked in and I heard the words of life-source in my head. “Take a breath, gather yourself and remember S.O.D.A. “she said. Situation, Options, Decision, Action. I had heard the Mantra repeated many times by Life-source but it was always received with a certain sense of detachment never believing I would be the one in this position. As I stood motionless, staring into the face of evil, the mantra seemed so much more poignant than it ever had before. “You can do this” I said loudly to reassure myself. The words came out shallow and mousy and I gained no confidence from them. First I needed to assess the situation. My trained eye scanned the area for obstacles between myself and the hostile. As I approached the hostile he reached out to me in panic but this was a trap. I knew that if he were to latch onto my clothing he would never let go and the outcome of the mission would be irreparably compromised. I forced myself to look away from the hostiles pleading gaze and settled on the device that had been crudely strapped around his waist. It was a type I had seen before but this didn’t give me any comfort. IED’s (Improvised explosive devices) came in all shapes and forms but the one in front of me was a common one used by most of the hostiles I had met up until this point. It had become popular during the 90’s because of the delayed incendiary characteristics that made it lethal. The tight packing that conformed to the line of the body allowed the explosive to detonate in a controlled environment with minimal damage until such time as the outer layer is removed at which point all hell breaks loose. Known in the business as “The Widow Maker” this type of device used 24 special sensory liquids designed to confuse and disorientate any would be diffusers. It had been the cause of much damage and devastation throughout the world. My first time solo and I was up against the most lethal bomb ever devised. As the stench threatened to overwhelm me and my lungs started to burn I knew I needed to regroup before taking this on. What were my options here? I could leave the hostile in the hopes that Life-Source would return from purchasing detail but that could take hours and even if the hostile was pure evil, I couldn’t do that to another human being. I could try and teach the hostile to remove the device itself but the language barrier was vast and his capabilities were limited. I could call one of the other agents in the area but I would never hear the end of it if they had to rescue me again. There was nothing for it and I reached a decision. I had to do this myself. First, I needed my equipment. While Life-Source was famous for her ability to work swiftly free of any protective armor, I knew that I wasn’t at that point yet. My lightweight armor was military grade material that extended from my toes all the way to my neck leaving no skin exposed. It was stifling and hot but necessary to protect any good agent from the poisons that he was dealing with. The bright yellow OSHA approved gloves extended well past my elbows and I made sure to minimize the chance of spillage by taping them to my biceps. Last but not least: the all-important gas mask. I had purchased my own gas mask – The M-40 field protective mask specifically designed to deal with chemical and biological agents -- after the agency failed to allocate me one at the start of my tour. Scissors – check. Pliers, wire-cutters, screwdriver – check. Reinforced biohazard can and first aid kit – check. I was ready. Slowly I opened the door and immediately the hostiles struggling increased. I would need to calm him down before I attempted the device extraction. I placed my hands on his head and through the muffled voice box of the claustrophobic gas mask I began to sing. I don’t know why I sang the song I did but in my subconscious I realized that it was a song my mom used to sing me when I was little and needed me to calm down. “Hush little baby, don’t you 25 cry, Papa’s gonna sing you a lullaby”. It worked. The hostile stopped crying. He looked with desperate eyes and started to talk. I assume he was begging me to get him out of this situation but I didn’t understand his panicked mutterings. I moved my attentions down to the device now. It was a tricky little thing. A double looped mechanism attached to some sort of Vulcan technology on the sides. While the material still held I could see it weakening from the force that the ever increasing poisonous liquid was adding to it. I had to be quick but I knew from Life-Source that “haste makes waste” and I forced myself to slow down and think clearly. The side straps would need to come off first but in their current state they were twisted and mangled from the force of the original detonation. While the training guide says to work them apart gently I knew time was of the essence and I made the decision to cut them. Which one first? The one on the right or the one on the left? I closed my eyes and prayed before making my incision. Life seemed to pause as my mind replayed the important moments of my life. I remembered the joy I felt at scoring my first touchdown and the relief on my parents face when I told them I had graduated high school. My wedding and the birth of my son, both recent events, seemed to belong to another world as I waited for the inevitable explosion. It never came. My eyes watered with relief but it was short lived as I realized the tricky part was still to come. Separating the device from the hostile and getting it into the reinforced can would be hard enough but controlling the panicked hostile to limit the blast range at the same time was the stuff legends were made of. I slid my gloved arm under the arch of the hostiles back. He tensed, poised to jump but I had been waiting for this and I calmly used my other hand to hold him flush against his cage. He didn’t like this and started to scream again but there was nothing I could say to calm him at this point. I had to work quickly now. I slipped the device down over his backside causing him to howl and then bunched the front with the back causing the dangerous liquids to slosh together. My body was tense but my nerves held as I performed the one handed bunch-and-bag maneuver that I had never successfully performed before. No problem! I was in the zone. I slammed the blast-proof container shut and could 26 now focus my efforts on the hostile. Where the poison had squelched against him, his skin had become tinged with an unnatural looking green and orange and I knew that I had to cleanse him thoroughly and quickly if there was any chance of survival. He was more cooperative now that the device had been removed but it still took all my efforts to get him to lean at an angle so that the ooze could drip onto the sheets below. The sheets were the least of my concern and would not be salvageable anyway. As the bulk of the poison glooped down his legs into a bubbling, hissing puddle of disgustingness, I grabbed the chemicals and the brush and scrubbed mercilessly. The hostile didn’t like this and fought hard causing the puddle to slosh. Did he not realize I was doing this for him? I wasn’t going to falter so close to the end and I doubled my efforts to make sure that he lay in one place while I finished the cleansing process. Even now the grotesque smell of the poisons wafted into my nose penetrating the protective coating of my mask. I couldn’t handle much more of this when suddenly I realized that I was done. The IED had been disposed of, the poison had been neutralized and the hostile had been cleansed. With the relief of a kudu who has outrun the hunting lioness I realized I was out of danger. I looked down at the hostile expecting to see only the terrifying creature but I was surprised. The face of evil had been replaced with a cute and cuddly bundle. I picked him up and kissed him gently on the forehead. At that moment, back from her purchasing detail at last, Life-Source walked into the room taking in the scene. She smiled lovingly at me through her all-knowing eyes. “Hi Honey. How was your day? I see you finally changed the baby’s diaper?” she said. “Don’t tell mom” I whispered to my perfect and beautiful boy as he fell contently back to sleep in the comfort of my arms. 27 Seeta Mangra-Stubbs CINQUAIN Marriage: Ballroom dances of patience, respect, trust . . . except neither of us knows how to dance. 28 John Grummel A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN ARTIST/TEACHER A room full of canvasses, there are twenty or so (each in their seat). Each has been painted with colors a many, with both brights and pastels. But not one … is more than half-way done. A person, brush in hand (pencil behind ear), paint at side (book on desk). A wondrous picture, each is unique. A life of their own does each of these “canvasses” take. Artists and Canvasses! Teachers and Students! Somewhat alike, but all take heed: For in the beginning a canvass is lifeless, but a student is not! 29 Ed Copley FOR KATHY Do you remember the first time you read a word? Do you remember the first sentence you read? I do. I like winter, I like snow, I like icy winds that blow. This is the first sentence from a little blue book that was tattered and torn in the hands of a three year old boy. While most little girls at the age of seven were playing with dolls, my sister Kathy was playing teacher, with me as her sole student. And I am eternally grateful to her for that loving act. In the summer of 1966, the nation was bogged down in Vietnam, citizens were marching for civil rights, and the ‘summer of love’ was in its psychedelic heyday; but none of that mattered to me. I was three years old, and along with my parents and two older siblings had just moved to a grand home in the country. I say it was grand because our previous residence was in a trailer park in a nearby town. Our new home was a ten acre farm, complete with a barn, a milk house, and seemingly endless places to explore and play. But it was a little room on the south side of the house that I remember best. The magic room was once a porch, but the previous homeowners had installed full jalousie windows, allowing the room to be used yearround. It was in this space that our toy box ended up after the move, along with my sister’s school supplies and used workbooks. In northern Ohio, there were many rainy days; therefore, I and my sister spent countless hours in the playroom. She was four years older than me, already an accomplished student of the second grade! She imagined herself a teacher, and clearly had a passion for education and structure. She fashioned a chalkboard for herself by using pieces of slate roofing tiles that Dad had found in the barn, and made a desk for me out of an old crate and a discarded TV tray. I still remember the fleur de lis pattern on the tray, as I spent many rainy afternoons in that makeshift classroom. First, she made flash cards for the alphabet, and then graduated to three and four letter words. She was 30 patient but firm, and I remember that successful effort on my part was always greeted with genuine praise, along with the occasional handful of oyster crackers. She took our roles very seriously, even using a broken cane fishing pole as a pointer for emphasizing lessons on the chalkboard. In that old toy box was also a small blue book. I Like Winter. Each page contained a colorful illustration along with a simple sentence. After many sessions in Kathyâ€™s classroom, I could read the entire book. Not from memory or word association; I could read at three years of age. Forty six years later, I still have that book, but more importantly, I still have my sister. Each Christmas, in the card for her family, I write these words: I like winter, I like snow, I like Icy winds that blow. 31 Melle Starsen SALISBURY PLAIN Walking around the stones, taking photos drooling smiling offering to take photos of couples having them take a photo of me. It was so real & yet magical a time machine. I saw stones levitating in my mind. Is the journey complete? Did the stones break through my barrier? Post and lintel. the nub the catch the slot. Is it a calendar or as I thought -- a model of our solar system our universe? There were birds perched, standing on the stones Who's watching who? The hill meets the horizon The road, unaware, goes by full of cars and trucks. This magical mystery tour of the eternal cycle rises, then stops, this is the last place a good place, the stone rise and fall where they lay, Lay where they fell, with a mighty wump that wafted across the plain echoing nowhere 32 and everywhere. The criss and the cross, the stone nub the yin and the yang and no one's the wiser unless they look in the right place, the write place the chorus of celestial music. my head is so full of images & sounds & words, that no one can hear. The long shadows at dark chase me, and I am under the spell still though miles away, even from the fireplace in the Tower, even from the fire-pits, the barrows around the circle. Not the inner circle, the outer circle the outer limits, the spell is cast, as the shadows of light and shadows of dark, the shadows of memory and the light of questions race across the plain. The air is awash with human grit we will not capitulate. follow us, the birds tweet watching from atop the father stone, the guardian stone. Do they know? No, they're only birds. Not the sheep. Nor the cows. The dogs know, as one greeted me as I left the circle. The circle in the circle. The circles never meet. They are doomed eternally to only see each other 33 but never touch. But the stones can. They can fall over and over and touch the earth from whence they came crushing no one and everyone. The sun creeps up & down the outer stones, gazing stoically, flatly unemotionally burning blazing light eating the color of the stones devouring the surface that flings itself out beyond the circle and never comes back. The stones are a battery a kaleidoscope of time stone earth rock & field the breath of stone the pulse of rock the smell of earth so the concert goes Stones have not lost ability to renew affect sharpen the words in my head flowing pouring onto the page the aura of the stones overflows wafts washes the air cleanses the unsuspecting visitor captures the glance 34 forever. the stones are a magnet of power & time wonder no more. The answer is long gone their standards were impossibly high, these ancient people & their need to move stone from so far away, to lock them into place then stand back and admire why this hill? The rumble of conversation, the murmur of voices blended into a not unpleasant cacophony. Life sharing on a train single conversations blend words bounce off and combine in random patterns that make no sense. focus hops from one conversation to another. Like a frog on steroids. Even backwards. English is subverted in the babble the Babel scrabbling nails against stones -the stones win. so many images as though energy was low and needed a recharge the stone battery of Salisbury plain the tube the ant culture the mole culture moving stones around from under the ground. I love the feel of the train the gentle buzz of the engine the security of being transported 35 w/o having to focus on driving -the train knows where to go wrapped in gentle vibration and speed without fear I could live on a train, dark silhouette of other trains passing passing we are all museums the magic continues. 36 Autum Gauley THE LOSS Single mother, all alone, two kids, one home. Broken, cold, only growing old. Pictures in a frame, only one family name. Name on a stone, under one tree all alone. Pictures burned, a house over turned. All alone, no place to call home. Four small hands, three broken hearts. Yesterday is so far away. 37 Helen Chappell IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT, EDGAR ALLEN POE Once in my bedroom bright, I was writing with all my might an English paper of philosophic lore. While I typed, my mind a wheeling, suddenly there came a feeling, of something, greatly reeling, reeling at my mind’s core. “It’s just stress,” I muttered, “reeling at my mind’s door. Only stress, and nothing more.” Yet my frustration began to peak, and a scary voice did speak, a voice which no student can ignore. Frantically, I continued to type, tried to jumpstart my creative hype. I wouldn’t fall into that archetype of students on the day before… who aren’t finished with their paper on the day before… Please, dear writer’s block, do not make my fingers sore. I begged the writer’s block to go away, to come back another day. To please let me write just a little more. But no matter how hard I did insist, the writer’s block would not desist. And sadly, I could not resist, resist as it saturated my mind’s core. Cackle the writer’s block, “Ha! I score!” And that, dear teacher, is why my paper is late. I simply could not stop fate. Preventing the writer’s block is such a horrific chore. Please, teacher, do not be mad. I would be 38 so very sad. Please donâ€™t give me a grade so bad that it would make me faint upon the floor. Already I fall helplessly to the floor. For I shall have inspiration, nevermore. 39 Bill Mech ON CONSTANCY As moon will wax to full and wane, while does its monthly courses run, My love for you will grow and dim, though not so do I want it. Your love for me is constant, steady, warming as the summer sun; And so my love for you would be, if yours but shined upon it! As sun illuminates the moon, your love illumines mine to glow With brightness more than any light celestial can show. 'Tis but the world that comes between, and dims the visage of my love. Shine full upon the earth when darkness on my face betides, That, glowing bright, the earth will cast some light on dark'ning moon above, And earthshine give it semblance, showing love still there resides! O, would I had your inner fire that, self-sustaining, always burns, Despite my changing as the earth upon its axis turns. But it suffices me to know, that faith looks to a coming day Your love will unimpeded be, with naught to interfere: For interposing world will cease, and all that is will fall away And I will then reflect your love, all constant, bright and clear! 40 Jacquie McTaggart WAKEUP CALL My hands trembled as I handed my husband the sealed, addressed envelope. "Please take this to the post office and mail it immediately,” I murmured. "If you don’t get it out of the house now, I’m apt to change my mind." After ruminating about the situation for weeks, I had made a decision. I would accept the Independence, Iowa school district's early-retirement offer and trudge off to that dismal world of blue-haired, early-bird-special retirees. To say I was less than enthusiastic about my pending “opportunity” would be an understatement. I was, in first grade terminology, one unhappy camper. I taught squirming little six-year-old bundles of energy in five different school districts over a span of forty-two years, but it never felt like work. A teacher has a job. A good teacher has a passion. I think most students, parents, colleagues and administrators regarded me as passionate. I know that I loved the classroom and everything that went with it. Well, almost everything. The pay was skimpy and the uncompensated overtime hours were endless. Much of the paperwork was state and/or federally mandated busywork, and staff development sessions vacillated between boring and inane. I looked forward to seeing those annoyances in my rear view mirror. There were, however, many things that I would miss. I’d miss hearing the nervous little six-year-old read a fiveword sentence for the first time. I wouldn’t get any more precious handcrafted pictures with "I luv u" notations scribbled at the bottom. There would be no more “World’s Best Teacher” ornaments for my Christmas tree. I’d never again hear the excitement in a little kid’s voice when he blurted out, “NOW I GET IT!" I’d miss the support of parents, the leadership of administrators, and the camaraderie of colleagues. And finally, I would forever lose the satisfaction that comes with belonging to a group of people working toward a common goal. 41 I replayed these positives, and countless more, over and over in my mind as I struggled to make a decision about retiring. But the record always ended with the same question. What’s best for the kids? Finally, after weeks of soul searching and more than a few tears, I knew what I had to do. Little munchkins deserve a teacher who can run and jump and climb on the monkey bars and crawl on the floor, and maintain patience - at all times. I had fulfilled that role for more than four decades, but those days were behind me. It was time to move on. Move on? Phooey. Where would I go? Retirement was a place where old people went to brag about their grandkids and complain about their aches and pains. It wasn’t my idea of fun. The following weeks evolved into a never ending self-pity party, a party without the gifts of sympathy or empathy. Parents, colleagues, friends and family members all seemed to think my elevator had gotten stuck on the way to the top. Earlier retirees told me in great detail about all the advantages they were privy to (including early-bird specials), and my younger friends whined about how much they envied my pending opportunity. Nothing helped. I was in a funky, self-imposed black hole. Fortunately, I wasn’t there too long. On my sixty-second birthday, May 1, 2002, a former student gave me a copy of Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul. I lived vicariously through all of the stories, but John Wayne Schlatter’s “I Am a Teacher” was my wakeup call. “Material wealth is not one of my goals,” he wrote, “but I am a fulltime treasure seeker in my quest for new opportunities…” A-ha! There, on page 203, was the solution to my problem. If I wanted my retirement to be as fulfilling as my teaching career had been, I had to stop wallowing in self-pity and start looking for new opportunities. It wasn’t rocket science, but it was definitely a worthwhile goal. Shortly after the school year ended I began writing From the Teacher’s Desk, a help-your-child-succeed book for 42 parents. My book didn’t come close to making the NYT bestseller list, but it did open doors that I hadn’t known existed. In 2004 I founded an interactive website for educators at http://www.theteachersdesk.com. I update the material on six of the site’s links on the first day of every month throughout the school year, and email monthly newsletters to more than 1100 subscribers. I have written countless articles for parenting magazines and academic journals, as well as single chapters for two reference texts: Visual Literacy and Reading in 2010 and Beyond. My most recent book, If They Don’t Learn the Way You Teach…Teach the Way They Learn, was released in 2011. When I’m not on the road I try to keep up with what’s new in the world of education by subbing in my local school district and picking the brains of exemplary teachers, many of whom were former colleagues. I serve on the public library board in Independence, and on the Upper Iowa University Press Advisory Council. I provide professional development training throughout the Midwest during the school year, and teach several literacy workshops each summer. International Reading Association State Conferences are the fragrant flowers in my retirement pasture. To date I have been one of several featured speakers at seventy-two IRA conferences, with several more on the docket. These stimulating and enjoyable venues have made it possible for hubby and me to visit nearly every state in the union, to participate in new activities, to try new foods and to make new friends. Ah yes, retirement is great. And no, my hair isn’t blue. Alexander Graham Bell said, "When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us." Teacher John Wayne Schlatter illuminated my open doors through his “I Am a Teacher” story, and the memory of 1500 former students inspired me to walk through those doors. It was a powerful lesson that has served me well. 43 OUR EDITORS 44 Allyson Herkowski BEAUTY AND FOWL Wrapped in gentle silk, inhaling the scent of wild lilacs— a scent more real to her than the artificial rose once gifted by a million potential lovers— she walks along a hidden shore, protected from prying eyes by the massive trunks of evergreens. Mingling with waters made of crystal, the golden grains of sand beneath her feet match the golden strands of her hair, and were just as indulgent. Looking past the willow trees, branches swaying tenderly in the salty summer wind, Leda sees him, the object of her wildest fantasies, embodied in white feathers, soft with down, and delicate in their immortality. The beak of her beloved— dipped in obsidian— brushes along her skin. Harsh and feral kisses trail across the ivory surface, a mix of the rough and the fragile, enticing and inviting warmth to creep upon them. Golden eyes stare into her. She revels in her enlightenment as her soul soars— she finds her match. Beauty and fowl, coupled as the most supreme power. Cygnet. 45 Tiffany Stouffer FIBONACCI I want to think about things that do not need constant attention to pattern yet somehow I end up with the struggle against rules, subconsciously conforming to the common patterns that exist around me. 46 Skip Afzal THERE ARE NO CINDERELLAS “I want what all men want. I just want it more.” -Achilles I stood there in the middle of the gym, my clothes soaked from perspiration as I worked my way around the trainer’s pads. Every sharp move I made was followed by a loud breathless grunt and tiny clouds of sweat dispersed from my five-foot-seven lanky frame, shimmering in the glare of the bright lights above. The trainer kept up the relentless onslaught, burying me with a barrage of furious punches from all directions as the hands on the clock lurched towards midnight. One! Two! Three! Overhand! Four! Five! Six! Duck! Seven! Eight! Duck and left hook! C’mon now, keep up with me! I launched hundreds of blows, bobbing and weaving to the trainer’s reaction, and occasionally wincing in pain whenever a counter-punch would crash into my ribs. After each intense session of sparring came a twominute break, a microscopic space in time to expend all the air in my lungs and get back into a proper stance before the battering came again. And again. And again. As my body screamed in agony, begging for me to stop, my mind remained inexplicably calm. I wanted the pain, wanted the opportunity to cleanse myself of the missed hits, the chin-strikes, the sloppy footwork, and above all else: the unembellished, embarrassing thought of failure. A slow, blood-curdling sense of rage started to boil from within me. It rose in crescendo, colliding against the walls inside my skull in waves. I began developing a rhythm, aligning my madness to its melody, drowning out any body ache I suffered into a muffled harmonious tune. A Muhammad Ali poster pinned to the wall observed me from behind. There was plenty of action to witness. A gruesome half-hour later, I took my long walk toward the locker room; my whole body was encased 47 within transparent bags of ice and a collection of towels. As I opened the door, I heard my trainer speak from what seemed like miles away, “It was a good loss, son.” Glancing back, I gave him a weak, sheepish smile before answering with a wistful, “Yeah…” But we both knew he was lying, there was no such thing as a good loss. There was only the question of, ‘What now?’ Was here, finally, the moment where you laid down and just melted into the floorboards, crushing your status quo under the weight of your defeat? Or perhaps there was no clock tower announcing your doom; perhaps there was simply the next line, the next run, on and on... until you eventually crossed over. Whenever I traverse back in time to this particular memory, I realize that I had let my life become a victim of my losses. It was then I decided that enough was enough, that I had to introduce change. Sometimes, the fear of continued failure fractures your state of mind, freezing you in a time continuum where there are no cinderellas, no fairy tales to guide you along in life. The recognition that must be established now is not whether this notion is true, because it always is, but what must be done to embrace it and move forward. During that evening, I had lost against an opponent at practice. Four hours later, I understood that what truly mattered was not the logic behind losing, not the science behind skill, and certainly not the biological transfer of natural talent. What truly mattered was to have faith in something that was never there. And so, I made the kind of choice I would normally scoff at, the kind of choice I was afraid to believe in because in reality, it was impossible to attain. I chose to never lose, ever again. “As you think, so shall you become.” -Bruce Lee 48 William Kenney THE WAITING ROOM The scarlet filled the needle slowly. Some people are squeamish at the sight of their own blood leaving their body, but not Nate. The nurse asked him to hold a piece of gauze over the needle as she withdrew it. He watched as the blood slowly grew until the gauze was almost completely drenched. The nurse put the bandage over the gaze. It was right in the middle of his tattoo of a Celtic cross. He had never been much of a religious man, but he liked the design. It would have been hard for her to find a space on his arm not covered in ink to take the blood from. The nurse smiled and asked him to go back to his room and wait for the results. She said if everything went right it would only be fifteen minutes. Her voice was as casually as the waitress telling you that your meal would take that long. The blood being taken had sent a shiver down his spine, and he put his leather “Hell’s Angels,” jacket back on and began the walk to his room to wait for the doctor. Nate sat in the room awaiting the results from the blood test. He left the door slightly ajar to listen to the people in the hallway so he wouldn’t feel as alone as he knew he really was. He glanced at his watch 2:47, “If the results will be ready in fifteen minutes from now that would make it…. 3:02?” First the X-ray results would be in to determine if he had the cancer, and the blood test was to see if it had spread. Nate had been coughing for the last month, and as he sat in the white room he began to cough. He pulled a tissue out of his pocket and coughed into it. He was bent over wheezing, gasping for air before the fit finally stopped. “Aw, fuck,” he said aloud, his eyes red from the strain put on him. Nate’s leg was jumping up and down as his finger tapped the side of his chair. If these results are bad, I don’t know what I will do. He looked around the room. The plain 49 white walls were supposed to be soothing. The room had a sink in it, a computer for the doctor, a pile of magazines, and bare walls except for a lone watercolor of a family on a sailboat. His lungs felt heavy; Nate knew he had cancer. If it comes back negative, I’ll start going to mass. I’ll help old ladies across the street, anything to make it go away God. After years of being absent from mass he knew his prayers wouldn’t be answered. He was willing to do anything, even sell his own soul for another chance. He checked the time. 2:50; it had only been three minutes. He picked up a magazine to get his mind off everything. Good House Keeping, too girly, Wall Street Journal, too political, so he settled on Field and Stream. He had never been much of a hunter, but it was the best thing he could find. The pages of the magazine showed men holding deer’s antlers or the newest shotgun. Nate was halfway through a story about a man narrowly escaping a grizzly bear encounter when he was ambushed by a cigarette ad. The picture was of a twenty-year-old girl taking a drag from a Marlboro Light and sitting on a red Harley Davidson. The girl had dark hair and a cold stare, her clothes were more revealing than a swimsuit, and she was curvier than a rollercoaster at Disney World. The first he ever smoked a cigarette was when him and Timothy Johnson stole some out of Tim’s mom’s purse. They were twelve at the time and hide in the woods. They each took a couple drags and practically hacked out a lung each. They felt like bad-asses. It quickly grew into a habit and by age 18 Nate was smoking at least a pack a day. In high school he had always told himself he would eventually quit, but twenty years later low and behold, he lit up every time he stepped outside. It was just never convenient to stop. His life was always too stressful. His job was always a little too much pressure on him, or his girlfriend would be nagging him too much. He’d light up right now to release the stress if he wasn’t in a doctor’s office, and if him being there wasn’t a direct result of smoking. If he had quit ten years ago, maybe he wouldn’t be in this predicament. He cursed Tim Johnson, wherever 50 that son-of a bitch was. If it wasn’t for Tim, he thought, I might not be in this doctor’s office. God dealt me a hard hand to live with. He felt a sudden jolt of pain shoot through his back from one of the permanent bruises on his shoulder and thought of his life. All the bruises his mother had left him, a dad that ran off before he could walk, and him nearly failing out of high school. He’d been stuck in dead end jobs that he’s been forced to take. Everyone else has had it so easy. He heard a squeak echoing in the hallway and turned and looked out the door. There was a small child with dark ashy skin in a wheelchair. His body looked so frail that it would probably crack in half if too strong of a wind blew threw. The boy was smiling at his sister who was making a face at him. Nate looked back down at the magazine, a lump forming in his throat and stomach. Those little white devils had just been a crutch he’d used through out life. This isn’t some twelve-year-olds’ fault; this fault was his alone to bear, and he felt the full force pushing down on him right now. Always putting off what he could do today until tomorrow, feeling bad for himself when he had more opportunity than most of the rest of the world. He looked and saw the Wall Street Journal, remembering “Occupy Wall Street.” America’s the 1% of the world, he laughed to himself. Lung cancer this was real. He’d always say it won’t happen to him, or I’m young and healthy, that happens to old people in nursing homes. Why did he smoke? Why didn’t he just stop when my friends warned him? Or when Valerie threatened to leave if he didn’t stop? Probably because he thought it was an empty threat. Valerie O’Toole. He hadn’t thought about her in years. It was the only person who really ever cared about him, and he took her for granted until the day she finally left. When these results come back positive, should I call her? I wonder if she still has the same number, or if she would even care. He looked at his clock. 3:05. The doctor should have been in with the results by now. Nate feared the 51 worse. He looked at the picture on the wall again. A mother, father and son stood on the boat, in a sea of blue. He thought about their lives, and how it could have been his. If only he had tried for Valerie. Perhaps in another life that was him; one where he didn’t wait for life to take its course, one where he actively worked to make it better. One were he didn’t make excuses. If I would have paid attention in school instead of thinking about my next tattoo I would have been able to do better in high school. Hell I might have even been able to go to college. He saw himself on a sailboat, with Valerie, and a kid calling him dad. The sea was relaxing, with the gentle up and down, as the waves endless hit the boat. The sound of waves crashing upon waves crashing upon waves. The scent of the salty sea filling his nostrils with each gentle breathe. A small child tugged at Nate’s hand as his gaze was stuck on the sunset. Nate’s eyes were closed and his mind brought him more relaxation than a cigarette ever had. He was pulled back to reality by a knocking at the door. Dr. Hettrick walked in, his wrinkly hand shaking, holding the papers. He sat down and looked at the results. Nate could feel a bead of sweat run down his forehead. The spot in his arm where he had the shot suddenly stung, and he swore he could feel a weight on his lungs. The doctor put the image of his lungs up on a board and turned the light behind the X-ray on. It might as well have been a picture of an alien’s heart, because Nate had no idea if it looked normal. “Well?” Nate said The doctor put his circular glasses on and inspected the image, then looked at the blood test. His eyes seem to linger over ever word on the page as Nate sat there, tapping his hand on the paper faster than his heart was beating. The packet of cigarettes in his jacket pocket felt heavier than a bowling ball as he searched the doctor’s face for a clue. Dr. Hettrick placed the results on the table, and turned the light behind the X-ray off. He tucked his glasses into his jacket pocket. As he looked Nate in the eye he could swear the doctor’s twinkled as he smiled. “Good news,” the doctor said, and Nate’s heart 52 nearly stopped from shock. Nate he stepped outside the doctor’s office, head held high and took a deep breath. The fresh air hit his lungs and he breathed in the fresh sent of the flowers in bloom. He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes, as was his habit every time he got a breath of fresh air. He put one in his mouth and walked to his car. He pulled his Zippo out and was about to light it, but something stopped him. He thought about the sailboat, and Valerie. He pulled away from the parking lot, and in his parking spot was a crushed cigarette, as well as the rest of the pack by its side. Nate pulled out his phone, and dialed a number he hadn’t for years. It rang three times before a woman answered it. “Hello Valerie? It’s Nate.” 53 Kaitlin Thomas WHAT IF What if your mom was cooler than you? What if everywhere you went people asked “Where is your mom?” What if your best friends called your mom their best friend? What if your mom was beautiful, inside and out? What if your mom was easy to talk to? What if your mom always listened? What if your mom had an amazing sense of humor? What if your mom was really smart? What if your mom was your best friend? What if you and your mom fought like sisters? What if your mom was the strongest woman in the world? What if your mom was resilient through all the trials in her life? What if your mom was your hero? What if you wanted to be just like your mom? What if this was your mom? I guess that wouldn’t be so bad, would it? 54 Donye Kuykendall-Burnette FRIEND ZONE I’ve decided to stop chasing you around My only reason for doing so, was for me to win you over I’m stressed out and worn down To chase this illusion, I’d need more than a 4 leaf clover So impossible to catch, I’ve grown tired For me to end this problem, you need to be fired For all the things that I’ve gone through I feel that I no longer need you The games you’ve played has taken its toll Like a puppet on strings, I was under your control From the cards, letters, poems and everything To the nights on the telephone, for you I’d sing You would laugh and call me cheesy when I profess my “love” for you I was slow, stupid, I didn’t have a clue But now I get it, I understand You only wanted me as a “friend” Through strength and dignity, I’ll rise above You’re just an idea, a concept. You’re no “true love” Concentrating on you, is the reason for chances blown Fuck this nonsense. I’m leaving the “friend” zone 55 CONTRIBUTORS SKIP AFZAL is a senior at Upper Iowa University. He is majoring in chemistry and minoring in creative writing. He is from Brooklyn, N.Y., and enjoys watching basketball and boxing. SUSAN ARIAS is adjunct faculty for UIU teaching online introductory writing classes. She also teaches 7th and 8th grade English Resource classes at Nanakuli High & Intermediate School in Hawaii. She has been a public school teacher since 1990 and a college professor for several universities since 2000. She often composes poetry in class to demonstrate that anyone can write. DIANE BOLTZ is a 50 year old student at UIU in Elementary Ed. She is married, and she and her husband farm. Her three children are 20, 22, and 24. The oldest is married and all are students or have graduated from the University of Iowa. HELEN CHAPPELL, an aspiring writer, works as an English professor for Upper Iowa University's Fort Sill Center in Oklahoma. Her solitary background as a military brat traveling from place to place taught her to turn to stories and poetry for inspiration and comfort. Though published in a small way, she continues to write about everything she sees and knows, from her love of literature and film to the bitter windy state of Oklahoma. ED COPLEY is a full-time online/distance learning sophomore majoring in Business Administration. He is from Marlow, Oklahoma. KATE DAVIS is an alumna of Upper Iowa University. She graduated in May of 2010. AUTUM GAULEY is a student at UIU in Cedar Rapids taking online classes for her B.A in Human Resources. She 56 was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her husband is Tony Gauley, and she has two children, Kailey (4) and Kaleb (8 months). Her poem “The Loss” was written while thinking about the families of friends who have served their country and lost a family member. JOHN GRUMMEL is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Upper Iowa University on the Fayette Campus since 2008. His research interests focus on direct democracy, minority politics, turnout, and the teaching of political science as well as the intersect of political and popular culture. When not reading too many textbooks, he enjoys reading science fiction, particularly dystopian fiction, and fantasy. KRISTEN HANSEN is a psychology major at Upper Iowa University. She is originally from Tripoli, Iowa and has been a student at UIU for three years at the Waterloo campus. She also takes classes online and plans to graduate May 2014. She writes poetry in her spare time, and has ever since she could pick up a pen. TYLER HARMS is 23 and a student at Upper Iowa University’s Waterloo campus. ALLYSON ROSE HERKOWSKI is a student of Upper Iowa University, Fayette Campus in her sophomore year. She is originally from Milwaukee, Wiscosin, and is currently working on obtaining a degree in English Literature. WILLIAM KENNEY is planning on graduating in 2016. He is from Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and attends school at the Fayette UIU campus. As of now his major is undecided, but he plans on a minor in Creative Writing. If he is not reading or writing creative fiction or poetry, he can be found jamming out on his guitar. DON KUYKENDALL-BURNETTE is a non-traditional freshman student at Upper Iowa University, with a major in English. He is originally from the Northern Chicagoland area and joined the Fayette campus in January of 2013. His interests range from writing poetry to writing songs. His 57 favorite authors include the biographers David Ritz and Alex Haley, and novelist Ralph Ellison. RICARDO MARTINEZ is an Upper Iowa University Instructor and a retired FBI Agent. He also embraced collateral duties as an EEO Investigator, Special Agent Assessor, Police Instructor, EEO Mediator, and Crisis Negotiator. In addition to his investigative experience, he also spent a number of years as a “street cop.” He served as a uniformed patrol officer in a marked unit. For him, education has resulted in a difference between merely existing and living a full, purposeful, and productive life. SEETA MANGRA-STUBBS is an adjunct instructor for the Des Moines campus of UIU as well as for Des Moines Area Community College and William Penn University. MangraStubbs is also the co-editor of ciWeek Magazine. She enjoys spending her free time traveling, playing Plants Versus Zombies, and watching Top Gear with her husband, Doug. DANIEL C. MARVIN is the QC Center Director for Upper Iowa University. He is from Mayfield, KY and moved to the Quad Cities with his wife. They have 3 wonderful children, two boys and one girl. He has been in education since 2004. He is a Certified Juvenile Counselor for the State of Kentucky, Coordinator of Recruitment and Retention for West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Macomb Campus Director at Spoon River College, and an adjunct faculty member teaching business courses. His hobbies include working out, golf, stock trading, and spending time with his family. QUENTIN MCREYNOLDS, who received his Bachelor’s degree in English from Upper Iowa University (May 2000) and his Master’s in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from University of Northern Iowa (May 2011), is an iterant Adjunct Instructor of English at Upper Iowa University in Fayette. His Creative Nonfiction has appeared in The Collegian and he is currently writing an historical novel set in the early 1900s. 58 JACQUIE MCTAGGART ('64 alum) is a longtime educator and writer who lives in Independence, Iowa. She has one husband, two sons, six grandkids and 1500 former students. As a brand new adjunct instructor at West Des Moines campus, BILL MECH finished his first course for UIU, REL 120, in Term 4. He graduated from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul in June of 2012 with a Masters in Theological Studies, and is delighted to put that degree to use. Bill's day job is that of a credentialed actuary, working for GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines. Prior to moving to the Des Moines area in 2010, he also taught both math and statistics for Cardinal Stritch University while living in St. Paul. Bill is married to Diane, an accountant (imagine the dinner table conversations!), and has two grown children who, thankfully, are self-supporting. KATHLEEN SERLEY is an instructor in English at the Wausau Center. She has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from UW-Madison and enjoys hiking, gardening, and writing poetry. CONNIE SMITH is a mother of three who has worked as an Administrative Assistant at Upper Iowa Universityâ€™s Waterloo Center for six and a half years. She enjoys nature, arts and crafts, and reading. DR. MELLE STARSEN is a self-admitted, hard-core Anglophile who has been teaching communication at Upper Iowa University since 2000. Before UIU, she taught for 10 years at Northern Arizona University, where she previously was a television producer/director/writer/videographer/editor for seven years. Dr. Starsen was also a freelance video producer for nine years. She collects vintage salt-andpepper shakers, and sea glass and sea shards from the United Kingdom. She has two cats, Katie and Smokie, who use her as a pillow. TIFFANY STOUFFER is a sophomore at UIU in Fayette, Iowa. She is from Jewell, Iowa and loves experimenting with different poetry styles, painting, and being actively 59 involved all over campus. She is an English major and is hoping to someday work in the editing/ publishing field. MIKE STRYDOM is currently a sophomore at Upper Iowa University after having returned to school at the age of 33 to obtain a Bachelorâ€™s degree. He is pursuing a degree in History with a minor in Art History. He is also the former editor of the UIU Collegian. Apart from his job in the writing center as a consultant, he also works part-time at Wartburg College as the Assistant Tennis Coach to the Men's and Women's teams as well as working a full-time load at Allen Hospital in the Mental Health Unit as a UnitCoordinator. He has two boys, aged 5 years and 8 months, and lives in Oelwein with his amazing fiancĂŠe Holly. KAITLIN THOMAS is a sophomore at Upper Iowa University. She has a major in Psychology and a minor in Creative Writing and Communications. She graduated high school from North Fayette in 2011. She is the vice president of Psych Club and a consultant at the Writing Center. She has lived in Fayette all her life. Her family owns a cup cake shop in Decorah that she bakes daily for. She enjoys running, photography and baking. 60 If you are a student, faculty, staff, or alumni of Upper Iowa University and would like to submit original work to next yearâ€™s Volga River Review, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line VRR 2014. Include a .doc file with up to three poems, or up to 3000 words of fiction or creative non-fiction. Include your name and contact information, as well as your affiliation with Upper Iowa University. We look forward to reading your work! 61 62 The Volga River Review would like to also give a special thanks to all of our sponsors for their contributions to the 2013 edition. 63